Many thanks to Annie as always for the beta and for her support and love and to Patt, for artwork and likewise for her support and friendship.
"Well, this really sucks," Jim muttered, borrowing one of Sandburg's favorite expressions. With more violence than was truly necessary, he stuffed another load of laundry into the large washing machine and frowned. What a waste of a perfectly good day off. His turn to do the laundry and he'd gone down to the basement to discover the washing machine had died. He'd phoned a repairman whose quote for being called out on a weekend had almost stopped Jim's heart and with a growled, "Forget it. I'll call you during the week," Jim had gathered up his laundry, tracked back through Sandburg's room, in search of wayward boxers, socks and t-shirts that seemed invariably to sneak under Blair's bed, and headed for the laundromat.
It might not have been so bad if his partner had been here to pass the time. Blair's almost nonstop chatter got on his nerves sometimes but there was something to be said for having someone to talk to and maybe plan something fun to do after the chores of the day were done. Instead he had to sit here alone, reading a ten year old magazine and struggling not to allow the hypnotizing sight of clothes flying round and round the washing machine to zone him out.
With a frustrated groan, Jim dragged his eyes away just as he realized he was in danger of doing just that and stood, shifting to the next machine to start another load. Hauling a pile of Sandburg's clothes from the laundry bag at his feet, Jim muttered, "Fuck you, Sandburg." Then in an uncanny imitation of Blair's voice, added, "It's not always about you, Jim. This is about me." Reverting back to his own voice, he voiced his own worrying thoughts, "I know it's not about me, Sandburg. I was hoping for this weekend to be about us - Fuck!" Something had snagged in the bag and Jim yanked on it, almost sending himself flying back onto his butt when it came free suddenly.
"Language, young man," a reed-thin voice said from behind him, "There are ladies present."
Jim looked around, embarrassment heating his cheeks and gave the old lady he hadn't heard come in an apologetic smile. "Sorry, ma'am. Bad day."
"Hmm," the woman replied as she pushed a couple of coins into the slot and then settled on the chair behind her, picking up a bundle of knitting.
A muffled titter had Jim glancing to the corner where he saw two young girls huddled together, whispering and laughing. Jim looked down at the clothing he held in his hand. Blair's favorite t-shirt. He'd been wearing it last week before he left for Seattle and Jim could still smell him on it. That earthy, spicy, musky fragrance that was pure Blair. He lifted the shirt to his face and breathed deeply, allowing the familiar odor of his guide to soothe and calm him. Belatedly he startled when he felt himself drifting and then realized his erection had woken up and was begging for attention. Shit!
Instead of throwing the shirt in with the rest of the wash, Jim sat down and held the shirt in his lap, opening his sense of smell just a bit so that Blair's essence seeped into his senses. He could see himself, in his mind's eye, slowly stripping the tee from Blair's sturdy body, gradually revealing the tempting sight of thick dark chest hair that almost hid dusky pink peaked nubs and the glint of silver from Blair's nipple ring. He could taste Blair's salty skin as he leaned in to lap at Blair's neck then shifted his mouth lower to tease at Blair's nipples, his hand skating over the hair that arrowed down and disappeared beneath the waistband of Blair's tight jeans. He could feel his fingers unbuttoning Blair's fly, his hand reaching in surely to cup Blair's hot, rock-hard erection, could hear Blair's breathy moan as he arched up into Jim's hand, could smell the arousal wafting off them both as Blair rocked against Jim, taking Jim's own orgasm to soaring heights -
"Excuse me, are you going to load that machine or not?"
Jim's eyes flew open and he saw the old woman standing in front of him, her lips thinned, her eyes narrowed in disapproval. Flushing when he realized his cock had taken a very appreciative interest in his lusty daydream, he crammed Blair's t-shirt onto his lap and nodded. "Sorry," he croaked, his mouth suddenly as dry as a desert, "Just zoned out a little there." He smiled weakly.
"Hmm," she said again and turned away, going back to her knitting. In the corner, the two girls whispered behind their hands and giggled. Disgusted with himself, Jim stood and tossed the t-shirt into the machine then fed coins into the slot. Staring out the window, he noticed the park across the road, seemingly deserted despite the beautiful summer day. Leaving his laundry to wash, Jim walked out of the laundromat and headed for the nearest park bench.
Slumping onto the seat, Jim tiredly ran his hands through his hair, then sat back and closed his eyes, tilting his face toward the warmth of the sun. He hadnt slept worth shit since Sandburg had left and while his senses hadnt done anything really whacky, he felt as though he was treading a fine line, just waiting for them to either overload or disappear entirely. Strange how, in those first weeks after meeting Sandburg, thats precisely what hed wanted. Hed even asked Blair how he could turn them off. Even more recently, when hed taken off for Clayton Falls, hed been cursing his hyperactive senses, his gift as Blair liked to refer to them, wishing theyd just go away. Hed been sick of being under the microscope, sick of being Sandburgs lab rat, having everything he did minutely examined as though all hed become was an interesting curiosity, a freak.
Of course hed also still been dwelling on Lilas death and the trip to Clayton Falls had clarified a few things in his mind. After losing Lila and Danny, seeing Blair collapse and then carried off to the isolation tent looking like death warmed over, Jim had admitted his deep feelings for Sandburg, at least to himself, and vowed to keep Blair protected as much as he could.
Blair of course was blithely unaware that their partnership, at least from Jims point of view, had taken a sharp turn from friendship into love territory. It had been a long while since Jim had felt love and lust for another man, and the last relationship hed been in had left a bitter taste in his mouth. His marriage to Carolyn had been just as disastrous and left Jim wondering whether he was just lousy at the relationship thing. That in itself was enough for him to keep his feelings toward Blair to himself and just be happy to know that Blair would be there, at his side, for as long as he needed. He'd wondered sometimes if his feelings were reciprocated. Blair's hand would linger occasionally on his back when he was grounding Jim, and where once each would sprawl out on separate couches to watch TV, these days both seemed to unconsciously head for the same sofa and sit comfortably side by side, their bodies just touching. Blair would often sag sideways as his body finally gave in to the need for sleep, something he did precious little of, after studying, working on his doctorate and helping Jim. And with heightened senses, it wasnt such a bad deal, being able to savor Blair close-up, and have those sensations stored in his memory to take to bed at night where he could dream his most secret fantasies of what hed do with Blair if they truly were together.
Wasnt going to happen now though. Jim let his thoughts drift back to the night a week before when hed come home and Blair had dropped his bombshell.
One Week Earlier:
Blair stared at Jim for a moment, a tiny frown deepening between his eyes. "I told you. My friend, Dan has been asked to set up a huge display of South American art and artifacts. He knows about my expertise in the area of South American culture and asked me to come give him a hand. It was perfect timing actually."
Jim ran a hand over his face, frustrated at his inability to say what he meant. "Why now?"
Blair rolled his eyes. "The exhibition is in six weeks and -"
"No!" Jim held up a hand to halt the expected flow of words. "What about the sentinel stuff? What about your thesis? What about " He broke off, knowing he was beginning to sound like a whiny child. What about me, what about us? he wanted to say, instead, he rephrased his question. "What if something happens with my senses or I need you to guide me through something?"
Blair seemed to read between the lines. "I told you already, Jim, I have more than enough information for my doctorate, except a few final tests, which may or may not ever get done. Secondly, I'm a phone call or a short drive away, if you need me." He seemed to slump in on himself and sighed. "Like I said, it couldn't have come at a better time. I need some time out, man. I've been running on fumes for weeks now and my time management skills seem to have disappeared. I'm getting hauled over the carpet to explain why I was away for a week after we went to Clayton Falls -"
"It's not your fault you got poisoned, Chief," Jim interrupted.
"But if we hadn't chased you up there " Blair left the rest unsaid. "Anyway, my doctorate committee wants to see a draft of my first chapter and I'm nowhere near ready. I've got the information but I haven't even begun to collate most of it."
"So take a few days off from riding with me and work on it. Things are quiet at the station right now and I'm going to be tied up in court for the rest of the week anyway. Then on the weekend we could go to the beach, maybe run some of those tests you've champing at the bit to do." He gave Blair a hopeful smile, too aware of his heart hammering in his chest. His hopes died when he saw the set look on Blair's face.
Blair sat down on the couch and looked up at his partner. "Jim, remember when you went to Clayton Falls because you said you needed some time out? Well, that's what I need. We've gotten pretty close the last year or so and when you went away that weekend, it made me question whether I was doing the right thing staying here. I mean we're together pretty much all the time. I just need to think things over, figure out where I'm going. Where we're going."
"Are you saying you want to move out?"
"No! Yes! Maybe." Blair sighed. "I don't know." He stared at Jim for a moment, his face troubled. "You're my best friend, Jim and I don't want to lose that. I just need some time to think about everything. At the moment, I feel like everything's closing in on me. It's all just too much."
"Okay." Jim turned away and headed for the kitchen. "Go to Seattle, Sandburg, do your thing, have your time out."
"Jim " A hand touched his arm and he jumped, not realizing Blair had followed him. "I'm sorry," Blair said. "Please try to understand." Blair's dark blue eyes looked hopeful and sad all at once and it was all Jim could do to stop himself from taking Blair into his arms and begging him not to go, to confess how he really felt. Then anger surged and he shook Blair's hand off. "Like you understood when I went to Clayton Falls, Chief? Let me promise you one thing, I won't come chasing after you, butting into your time alone."
Blair remained where he was for a moment. Jim crossed to the fridge and pulled a beer from within. As he twisted off the cap, he heard Blair's footsteps retreat then his bedroom door quietly closed.
Blair didn't emerge from his room for the rest of the night and Jim fought the urge to go in and tell his partner how he truly felt, certain that his admission would be the wedge that fractured their relationship completely.
Blair left two days later with neither man speaking further about the situation. Jim berated himself for being a fool and a coward but couldn't bring himself to own up to Blair about how he truly felt. He shook Blair's hand when he left, told him gruffly to look after himself and waved away Blair's assurances that he'd phone every day or two. He watched Blair drive away, unsure if his partner would ever return.
"This seat taken?"
Jim kept his eyes closed as a defense against the rays of the sun and waved a vague hand, still too caught up in his memories to want a conversation with anyone. "Knock yourself out." There was a small shift in the wood as the man sat and then silence reigned for a few minutes.
"You zoning on the sunshine, man? I'll admit it's a beautiful day but you didn't hear me come up and you didn't recognize my voice. I've only been gone a week. I'm hurt."
Jim's eyes popped open at the familiar, much-missed voice. "Sandburg?" He sat up and turned to see Blair grinning at him.
Jim couldn't stop the smile that threatened to split his face. "What are you doing here, Chief?"
"Well, I could say that I missed Simon yelling at me, H calling me Hairboy and everyone fighting over me when it's time for paperwork to be done or a computer's gone down but I won't."
"Then why? Your work in Seattle finished already?"
"Actually that was a bit of an obfuscation," Blair said quietly. He gazed down at his hands. "Dan didn't exactly ask for my help. I heard about the exhibition and asked if I could give him a hand. Only once I got there, I realized that time alone I was so intent on having wasn't what I needed at all."
Jim nodded. "So you're back for good?"
"Depends ." Blair shifted closer to Jim and rested one hand on Jim's thigh. Jim stifled a groan as his dick took an interest in the proximity of Blair's fingers. He tried to stay still as Blair's palm began an idle stroking along his leg. "We've become good friends, right?"
"Best friends," Jim agreed hoarsely. He fought to concentrate on Blair's words and not on the maddening, wonderful caress.
Blair nodded and dropped his gaze. "Thing is, when you went away to Clayton Falls, when I thought you were mad at me and I thought you wanted me out of your life, it made me realize that I wanted to be more than friends -"
"Sandburg Blair -"
Blair shook his head and raised his free hand in a silencing gesture. "Let me finish." He took a deep breath. "I know you feel the same way about me and that scares me."
Jim's hand seemed to rise of its own volition and cup Blair's chin, lifting Blair's head so Jim could look into his eyes. "Why does it scare you?"
Blair's free hand came up to curl around Jim's own. "Because I've never been with a man before." Jim watched Blair's Adam apple bob as he swallowed nervously then gave a small chuckle. "I mean sex, I love sex but what if I can't do that with you, no matter how much I love you?"
Jim's thumb stroked across Blair's stubbled jaw, the rough hairs sending sparks through Jim's already responsive body. "I love you, Blair. I have for quite a while now and all I care about is having you in my life. The rest we'll take slowly, as slowly as you need."
"What if I can't ?"
Jim smiled, realizing this was the easy part, that he didn't care about having sex with Blair but that he deeply wanted to love Blair and be loved by him. "If you love me as much as I love you, it won't matter. We'll go as slowly as you need."
"I love you, Jim -"
"Then let's go home and I'll show you how good it's going to be."
Blair nodded and Jim stood then reached for Blair's hand. Arm in arm, they wandered back through the park, oblivious to the lengthening shadows and the evening chill creeping in.
"How did you know where I was?" Jim asked.
"Saw your truck outside the laundromat and a lady inside told me you'd headed this way. You must have really charmed her, man."
"What makes you say that, Chief?" Jim felt himself blushing as he remembered the fool he'd made of himself in front of the disapproving old woman.
"She was folding our laundry. Told me you looked like you needed looking after. And she told me if we were going to have a quarrel that we should make up before we went to bed. Never let the sun go down on an argument with those you love."
Jim stared at his partner. "She said that? I thought " He shook his head then leaned down and gave Blair a soft, barely there kiss that was full of promise. "I'll never go to bed angry with you, Chief."
"So you want to go home and make up?" Blair looked up at the sky. "Daylight's fading fast."
"Lead the way, Chief.
By the time they'd reached the loft, it was dark and Jim moved around the apartment, turning on the lights then going into the kitchen to find something for dinner. He looked at the meager contents of the refrigerator and decided ordering in was probably a better option. Expecting Blair to be gone for a while, he hadn't bothered to shop, and truth be told, hadn't been particularly interested in eating while his partner was gone, anyway. Now though, he was starving. He looked around to ask Blair what he wanted for dinner and heard the shower running. Making a unilateral decision, he called in an order for Thai, ensuring he ordered all Blair's favorites, then made his way to the bathroom and knocked on the door, noticing the water was no longer running.
"Blair?" he called, when there was no answer to his knock.
"Um, I'm up here."
Jim turned and looked up, seeing Blair looking down on him over the railing of the upstairs bedroom. Suddenly feeling inexplicably nervous, Jim walked up to join him.
Blair was seated somewhat stiffly on the edge of Jim's bed. "I hope you don't mind ." he said, a wave of his hand conveying what he meant. He was clad only in a towel wrapped around his waist, with another fashioned into a turban around his hair.
Jim's mouth went dry at the sight of Blair's tanned chest, the soft hair arrowing down to disappear beneath the towel, just as Jim had seen it in his daydream, the nipple ring gleaming. He swallowed hard, as he felt his cock stir beneath the confines of his jeans. "Of course not," he said after a moment. "Mi casa es su casa," he added, smiling. Then he sat next to Blair on the bed. "I, ah, called out for Thai. They said it'll be about an hour. That okay with you?"
Blair nodded without looking at him, his hands twisting nervously together in his lap.
"Blair, look at me," Jim whispered, and waited till Blair turned his head. Then he placed the fingers of one hand beneath his partner's chin and tilted it up. He leaned in and placed a chaste kiss on the full mouth. "I told you, Chief. We don't have to do anything, not tonight, not until you're sure it's what you want. I'm just glad to have you in my life, in my heart and to know I'm in yours. Okay?"
Blair nodded then bent forward and kissed Jim's chest, over his heart. "When I said I was scared, I didn't mean I didn't want to try, Jim. I'm more afraid of disappointing you than anything else."
"Oh, Blair, you could never disappoint me. I love you. Even if we never have sex, that wouldn't change, don't you know that?"
Blair nodded again, a smile tilting his lips up and making his eyes crinkle at the corners. "I still want to try," he said.
"Good. I do too. But after dinner, okay? And go put some clothes on, will you, please? I'm starved, Chief, but there's no way I'll be able to keep my hands off you long enough to eat if you're walking around looking like that." Jim looked pointedly down at his groin, where an unmistakable bulge tented the front of his pants.
Blair laughed and stood up. "I love you, Jim," he said as he trotted down the stairs.
Jim shook his head. He had a feeling having Blair as a lover just might be the death of him. Then he grinned as he stood and followed Blair. Oh yeah. What a way to go.