Disclaimers: Not mine, and that's a good thing, because I think there's
enough of us in here already.

Rating: NC-17 for language, m/m sex, and skating on some thin consensual
ice.

Summary: Smut and angst, basically.

Acknowledgements: This story first appeared in RaC's zine 'Wounded
Heroes', and I'd just like to say that she was an absolute dream to work
with, and that I adore her, and that I'm honored to have been a part of
her pet project. In addition, of course I wouldn't have made it through
the writing process without substantial help from Bone-- and it was
darned nice of her to help me out on this one, 'cuz it's not her cuppa
at all. Honeys, I am blessed!

Author's Notes: Sometimes I just really like to sit around and dwell on
Jim's darkness, and then stuff like this happens. Behold the brain
tug-o-war...


Shadows And Light

By Mairead Triste and Aristide


Three dinners. Two lunches. One movie (bad). One jazz combo (good).
Tonight, she'd cooked him dinner at her place.

A month's worth of dating. The careful step-by-step escalation of the
professional mating ritual; a formal observance of all necessary
conventions, culminating in that all-important Dinner At Her Place, and
then...

And then... nothing. Some more wine, sipped while they sat on her
expensive leather couch. Some conversation. One or two hot and maddening
kisses. And just when he'd put his wineglass down in order to take her
face in his hands so that he could do it right, she'd smiled that
quick, polite smile and murmured something about how she had to be in
court early tomorrow morning.

So Jim smiled politely back. Nodded. Got his coat and his keys and
walked purposefully out of her well-furnished condo, trying not to look
like a guy who was nothing more than one big ache from one end of his
body to the other.

He carried his ache to the truck, got in, and headed for home.


Home. Where, of course, Sandburg was still up. Still working. Still
making an ungodly mess in the living room with nothing more than a
laptop and a sheaf of papers and a book; an academic explosion in
miniature. Just looking at it made his teeth hurt.

"Hey, you're home early." The pen caught between Blair's lips made the
words hard to decode, but he caught them.

"Mm." Jim slid out of his coat and tossed his keys, already anticipating
the taste of beer. "Turns out she's got court in the morning."

"Bummer." Blair replied absently, obviously less intrigued by Jim's
courtship trivia than he was by whatever weird tribal thing he was
studying these days.

"Yeah," Jim muttered quietly, heading for the fridge, "bummer. Right."

He got his beer, took a good, long pull on it, and realized only when he
lowered his head back down that he'd had a lot of wine tonight, and
that he actually was pretty fuzzy-headed at the moment, and that he
probably shouldn't have driven home.

Fuck it. Too late to worry about that now. He finished the beer where
he stood, and got another bottle. He was home now, and there was plenty
of beer in the fridge, and he could just settle in and drink and wait
for the turbulence in his body and mind to just die the fuck down. He
could even use the time constructively; plan out all the ways he was
never going to ask another lawyer on a date, for example.

A good plan. Just the plan he needed, actually, but there was only one
problem with it-- he couldn't settle.

Over the course of the next five minutes he leaned against the counter,
sat on the unoccupied couch as far away from the Sandburg blast zone as
he could get, perched on the kitchen table, went to the bathroom and
came back out, and even went up to his bedroom before deciding that that
was just too far away from the beer supply. His body was restless, his
mind was restless, and he was debating whether or not going out for a
run would be too risky given the hour and the amount of alcohol in his
bloodstream when Blair spoke up, jerking him out of the strange space
he'd been in where Sandburg's mess registered on his awareness, but
Sandburg himself didn't.

"What's up, man? What's with the prowling?"

He frowned fiercely. "Nothing. And I'm not prowling."

Blair looked at him skeptically, peering over his glasses with that
UberProfessor look that always made Jim feel like he was back in school.
"Hey, I've traveled the world, Jim. I watch National Geographic
specials. I know prowling when I see it."

His head buzzed, full of vague and thunderous uneasiness. "I'm not
fucking prowling, Sandburg," he insisted sternly, because he knew that
he was.

Blair blinked at him speculatively. "Uh-huh. Is this something to do
with your date-- ahh," he interrupted himself, blue eyes now gleaming
with discovery. "I take it you didn't get any?"

"Sandburg!" He was glad, distantly and remotely glad that Blair had
given him this excuse, this reason to let out some of the tension.
"That's none of your goddamn business!"

Blair looked absurdly pleased. Of course he would-- the little shit, he
had women falling all over him all the time, and Jim would have bet his
pension that none of them ever offered up that damn polite smile at
the end of the evening. "Okay, okay, Jim. Don't sweat it-- it's no big
deal. Really." He was working as he spoke, gathering up papers and
jamming them into the book that had been open, fingers flying over the
laptop keys.

"What are you doing?" Jim had no idea if he really wanted to know the
answer to this.

"Going for a walk," Blair replied calmly, flipping the top of the
computer down with a final snap. "I'm going to go wander around for a
while, and you can... take care of whatever you need to take care of,
and then we'll be cool. See?" He said this as if he fully expected it to
make sense.

"Take care of..." it took a moment, but finally it sank in. "Oh Christ
you've got to be... don't bother, Chief. I'm not about to..." he
couldn't complete the sentence. His face felt red-hot, and he was
abruptly dizzy enough to think that maybe he shouldn't have had that
last beer.

"Jim, it's not a big deal." Blair wasn't blushing, that's for sure.
Blair looked as mellow and amused as if Jim had just told him some
stupid anthropologist joke. "Look, we live together, you know? It goes
without saying that we're going to be exposed to each other's natural
bodily functions--"

"Yeah, well, just because I've adjusted to being 'exposed' to the
bacteriological warfare you leave behind you in the bathroom doesn't
mean I'm going to..." He drifted to silence again, and a clamp of pure
embarrassed pain squeezed his chest.

The fact that Blair was now looking more interested than amused did
nothing to lessen his discomfort. "Um, the common term is 'jerk off',
Jim. And it's not against the law."

"I am not having this conversation with you," Jim mumbled through numb
lips. And he wasn't. Problem was, he wasn't doing anything else either--
he felt like his feet had been sunk in cement, and all he could do was
stand there like an idiot, staring at Sandburg.

He couldn't stop staring at Sandburg. He really was drunk.

Blair rose to his feet, laptop under one arm and paper-filled book under
the other. "What's the problem, man? I told you-- It's no big deal. I'll
take a walk. I'll be gone. I'm not a Sentinel--"

Blair's eyes were as sharp and perceptive as Jim had ever seen them, and
Jim suddenly felt terribly vulnerable, terribly naked. "But you'll
know."

Oh shit. He couldn't even believe he'd just said that. That was it--
no more wine, no wine ever again. Wine-- bad. Wine followed by beer--
worse. His face was flaming, incandescent with liquor and mortification.
And the ache in his body had returned, worse than before. For a moment
he wanted to panic, run out of the room and not look back.

Blair just rolled his eyes. "You've got to be kidding me. Like, what;
I'm supposed to live my entire existence believing that Police Detective
James Ellison has never once in his whole life waxed the dolphin? This
is so not a big deal--"

"Will you stop saying that?" The snap of threat in his voice was real,
but Blair didn't appear to feel very threatened. As Jim watched he sat
down again and piled his materials on the coffee table, put his feet on
top of them in some bizarre show of defiance, and crossed his arms.

"Okay," Blair said very carefully, very much like he was speaking to a
drunk person. Jim felt a sudden urge to throw something. "Why don't you
tell me why I'm wrong, then."

Jim had forgotten all about not having this conversation. He studied his
shoes for a moment, thinking. It wasn't every day that Blair invited him
to demonstrate his wrongness, after all; this was an opportunity worthy
of some careful thought. "Because it's... private. Personal. Private,"
he couldn't choose between words, so he just used both.

"Okay," Blair said again, still careful. Jim's jaw clenched
automatically. "And how exactly is it an invasion of your privacy if I'm
nowhere in the same building with you at the time?"

Jim's turn for eye-rolling. This wasn't Blair being wrong, this was
Blair being stupid. On purpose. Just to piss him off. "Because it is,
okay? I mean-- why don't I just whip it out right here in front of you
and go for it? Would that be a big deal, Professor?"

There were times, probably too many times, when he hated it that Blair
smiled so much. This was one of those times. "Nope. Be my guest." This
last was accompanied by an undeniably suggestive eyebrow-wiggle.

It was at that very moment that it first occurred to Jim that Blair was
playing a mean game of fuck-with-the-drunk-guy. And winning.

"Huh?" he said. It was all he could come up with.

Blair shrugged, still smiling. "Wouldn't bother me. I mean, I know
you're human, Jim; I know it's gotta kill you to hear me say that--"

"You're utterly full of shit, Sandburg." Ah-- that's what he'd been
looking for, that perfect tone of disdain. "I don't know what kind of
game you think you're playing, here--"

"No game, Jim." Blair interrupted smoothly. "Just life. The natural
world, man; thanks to whoever thought it up. I told you it's not a big
deal to me and it's not--"

Thoughts flashed on, faster than he could keep up. Moves and
countermoves, and suddenly the flaw in Sandburg's logic came clear to
him. He straightened his shoulders, trying not to sway. "No? Not a big
deal, huh, Sandburg? Okay, then... you do it." He came up with a smile
of his own, knowing he'd won that one.

But Blair didn't look defeated. In fact, Blair's expression never
changed a bit from the mellow, patient smile that made Jim's palms itch.

"Sure."

For a moment his heart lurched in his chest so hard that he thought he
might just follow it over and clatter to the floor, but he was saved by
the simple virtue of his own rigid muscles, locked tight with disbelief.
Sandburg wouldn't, would he? Wouldn't dare to...

...Clever fingers undoing a button, a zipper; feet pulled down from the
coffee table to spread wide into a relaxed V...

Oh shit he would. Jim stopped breathing. He would he would he would
he... was.

"Awk--" He hadn't the faintest fucking clue what he'd been going to say,
but whatever it was there was no way it could encompass the entirety
of his shock in this moment. No way.

It was huge, enormous within him, a deep warm flush of amazement and
near-terror that blocked out everything but the rush of his heart and
the struggle of his lungs to get some air and the heat-tinged,
overwhelmingly raw sight of Sandburg with his naked, burgeoning dick
in his hand.

Sandburg, sprawled on the couch, lazily jerking off and staring at Jim
with half-lidded eyes. Holy fucking shit.

And of course, the smart thing, the sane thing to do would be to just
call off this ridiculous farce altogether. Retire from the playing
field, forfeit the game, and just get the fuck out the door and try to
retrace his steps back to when he'd entered the Twilight Zone. Just get
out. Out. Get out.

He wasn't moving.

Suddenly Blair gasped a little, very softly, but when he did Jim gasped
himself in reaction, and then he had air again and felt not so much like
he was about to pass out. Air. He could breathe. And if he could
breathe, he could talk. Theoretically.

He cleared his throat. "What the fuck are you trying to prove,
Sandburg?"

Blair sighed, and slid a little lower on the couch. His hand moved
gracefully over his now-full erection, up and down, and every time Jim
saw his fist tighten the pain in his own temples squeezed in just...
that much... more. "Proving nothing, man," Blair whispered breathily.
"Just trying to get off. If I wanted to... prove something, I'd tell you
to get over here and do it for me."

Oh good fucking Christ he did not need to hear that. His eyes were
stinging, burning, and belatedly Jim realized that it was because he
couldn't bring himself to blink. He seemed to have lost whatever
synaptical connection it was that let him do things like blink. And
move.

Sweating, though; he had that one down. A droplet trickled suddenly from
his armpit to his waist, and he shuddered powerfully. His dick was like
hot and heavy iron in the confines of his trousers. Hot and heavy.
Sandburg was speeding up, starting to get a little hot and heavy himself
and Jim still couldn't... fucking... move. "You've lost your goddamn
mind." He didn't know which of them he was speaking to.

"C'mere," Blair murmured, and Jim couldn't move under his own power but
apparently he had no problem moving under Blair's, because as soon as
the words reached his brain his feet were stuttering forward, bringing
him closer in ungainly increments to the sight and sound and (oh god oh
Jesus) smell of Blair doing this, stroking himself, Blair loving
himself and who after all deserved it more, who had more right to love
than Blair, Blair who was beautiful all the time and sometimes crazy but
never ever more beautiful and crazy than he was right now, cheeks bright
pink and cock flushed red and his forehead dewed with sweat that Jim
would have sold his soul to lick off.

"I can't." He was just talking, they were just words, words that he had
to say. True words. He couldn't-- whatever it was, whatever Blair was
asking of him here, he couldn't. He knew he couldn't. When he fell to
his knees in front of the couch, he didn't even feel it.

"Gimme your hand." Blair's free hand was held out to him, reaching out
for him and really, when had he ever been able to refuse that, to reject
it? Not now. Not right now. Blair's strong hand slipped tight around his
wrist and Jim groaned with the perfect lovely pain of it-- Blair's blood
rushed fast, a fast and devilish rhythm that hissed and sizzled through
him in waves. Blair pulled hard, dragged him forward and Jim gave in
and had to close his eyes and turn himself away a little because his
hand was right on Blair's heart, over Blair's heart, and it couldn't
have been any worse for him if Blair had just taken his hand and put it
right on his cock. Everything was alive and sparking, everything was
rushing, pumping, surging up with vital pleasure that just swelled and
grew. Blair's moans stopped his breath altogether and then Blair was
doing it, giving it to him, giving all of it, and Jim felt every single
burst of flaying pleasure jolt his nerves and he had to turn his head to
the side to his own arm and find the muscle through the fabric and bite
in deep and hard to stop himself from coming, because he couldn't.

Couldn't.

He kept his hand there, warm over Blair's slowing heart, for a long,
long time. He left it there until Blair lifted it away, until Blair
pushed him back and looked him carefully over, taking him in from top to
bottom, lingering at the fierce bulge of his crotch in a way that made
him twitch. Insane. This was insane now. What the fuck had he done?

"Uh," Blair began hesitantly. "That's. This isn't really how I meant
this to go down, you know?"

Blair checked his eyes one more time, and then reached for him.

Jim fled.


Of course, he couldn't stay away forever. He knew that. But he stayed
away all night, driving, endlessly driving and finally parking on one of
the hills away from the city. There were a few other cars there, kids
making out who made sure to stop and sit up every hour or so when a
cruiser went by, high-intensity light making glittery, starfished
patterns on steamy windows.

There was no steam on Jim's windows.

He sat straight and rigid in the driver's seat, deep iron pain digging
into his lap, pain that wouldn't go away, pain he wouldn't ease. Every
so often he'd slip under and into a haze of memory and he'd start to
shake, breath caught high and hopeless in his throat, but each time he
pulled himself out of it, pulled himself back, kept himself upright and
rigid and husked out with wanting.

By dawn, his was the only car left.

He took the turns carefully on the way down from the hill. No sense in
being reckless.


Blair was already at the station when he got there. Jim endured the
first careful, questioning look, refrained from trying to interpret the
following silent nod, and settled into work. The lack of sleep left him
buzzing, drifting a little while things moved and shifted around him, a
grainy backdrop of unreality mis-set in the middle of some busy stage.
Simon's voice was too loud, Megan's too nasal. He retreated by degrees,
and eventually people stopped asking him what was wrong.

And always, there was Blair. At his side and in his mind and pulling at
the blood in his veins, always Blair, Blair, Blair; tempo and aggregate
and totality of his own personal underworld. He was being sucked under,
except that somehow he knew that the drowning, the drawing had already
happened. It had happened years ago. This was no new news, despite the
fact that the sum of his body wouldn't stop tingling with the shock of
it.

The day passed with slow hours, and while it was awful to be where he
was he had to be grateful for it, because here there were distractions,
there was work-- a whole world of other people's problems and disasters
that demanded his attention. He gave it willingly. Even the numbing
grind of paperwork presented unexpected opportunities: a clean, blank
space for him to focus his eyes on. The strokes of his pen were exact,
placed with a great deliberation that was miles away from his customary
scrawl. He used punctuation.

But despite these sacrifices and the endless murky quality of a day of
policework in the rain, the time did come, finally, when the last form
had been filled out and the last file replaced. Jim lingered on as
everyone else went home, then shrugged into his jacket slowly as the
night shift filtered in. He headed for the elevator reluctantly,
searching his brain for anything related to his work or his desk or his
case files that he might have forgotten.

He drove home, and took as long as he could about it. But eventually,
despite dragging his heels at as many yellow lights as he could find, he
arrived.

Home, where everything was... normal, as far as he could tell. Blair in
the kitchen with his hair pulled haphazardly back; no apron, but a
large-sized dishtowel tucked into the hip of his jeans, already smeared
with about five different colors. Bay leaf and oregano and spicy tomato
in the air.

Comfortable Blair, making comfort food. He supposed he should have been
soothed by it. But he wasn't.

He was used to danger, dangerous things happened around him all the
time. He was a brave man; but maybe it was time for him to reconsider
what the word 'brave' meant, because the humble sight of Blair working
simple magic on a spaghetti sauce presented such a threat to him that he
abruptly wished he was off in the middle of some gunfight, or drug war,
or some other safely dangerous cataclysm. He would have gladly traded in
his current suit of sweat for a Kevlar vest and a good dose of
adrenaline.

"Hey man," Blair said calmly by way of greeting, and Jim jumped. "Good
peasant stuff on the way, here-- ooh, sausage, tell me you're not, like,
totally excited about this--"

"Need help?" He made the offer automatically, then pressed his lips
together tightly.

Blair shrugged, stirring sauce. "Nah. I'm almost done. I'll call you
when it's ready."

And that was that. Normal.

But he found, when he went to wash his hands for dinner, that he'd dug
his nails into his own palms hard enough to break the skin. And he
hadn't felt a thing.


"How are you feeling?"

Jim stiffened, amazingly noticeable as a clench of muscles from one end
of his body to the other-- noticeable because he'd actually started to
relax. Blair hadn't brought up any uncomfortable topics; not through
dinner, not through the massive cleanup that followed since Blair had
somehow managed to use almost every kitchen item Jim owned to make
spaghetti for two. Blair had worked quietly on his laptop while the game
was on, and Jim had what was probably one or two beers too many but it
seemed okay, now; okay because nothing was said, because everything was
normal.

Until now.

"What?" It wasn't like he hadn't heard Blair (he always heard Blair),
but he didn't know what else to say.

"I said-- how are you feeling?" Blair looked honestly interested, both
hands fisted under his chin for support and his elbows on his knees; a
compact and curious triangle with two sharp and inquisitive eyes neatly
balanced at the top.

Jim considered the question-- not for an objective assessment of how he
was feeling, but for the right words to use to answer. "I'm fine, Chief.
A little tired. I think I'll head up--"

"Don't go yet." The directive stilled him, and he sank hesitantly back
into the couch, now fully alert while his stomach tightened and bright
streaks of energy zipped through his limbs-- fight or flight, this is
what that feels like, this is it *exactly*-- "I want to talk to you
first."

"Mm." Go to hell was really much more appropriate, much closer to what
he really meant, but where was the danger for him to point a justifying
finger at, after all? Where was the threat, except for what he carried
with him?

Blair got up and came closer-- slow but casual, as if all of this was
still okay, still normal, and sat next to him on the couch as if he'd
done it a hundred times before.

Which, of course, Blair had. New and not new, normal and not normal, and
where the hell was he supposed to put his feet when the ground kept
shifting under him?

"Did you fix your problem?" A touch of humor there but nothing to be
provoked by-- it was affectionate humor, and so it left him
weaponless.

And it occurred to him, as if out of the blue (because it was) that he
hadn't, that he'd had an on-again, off-again erection accompanied by
that terrible ache all day; that he hadn't noticed, that he was hard,
that he was aching, right now.

His mouth was open, but nothing came out. He had that to be thankful
for, at least.

"Mmm." Blair hummed considerately, as if Jim had offered up some complex
response. "Okay."

All this time, all these years of protecting Blair, and he'd never
known, never had any inkling, of how very dangerous Blair was all on
his own. This man didn't need his protection. This man was a threat to
the Western hemisphere in general.

And to Jim in particular, of course, since Jim was the one who was
currently being burned alive just by the light reflected in those blue
eyes.

Blair leaned closer, still slow, still casual, telegraphing the punch
but making nothing of it-- so that when he did it, when Blair arched up
and scored a direct hit on his hot and hungry lips it would all be
immaterial (normal!), something that happened just because it
happened...

"Don't," he whispered. He couldn't turn away, but he found that one word
somewhere, some last-ditch shred of sanity that interposed itself
between him and the abyss. "Not that."

"Okay," Blair said again, as agreeably as if Jim had asked him to put
his seatbelt on. He reached out with one hand (clever, very clever that,
since two would have sent him running), and traced with one smooth
finger from Jim's cheek down his neck to his chest, a stripe of
sensation that Jim lived in, felt like he would live in, from that
moment on. "This?"

"You," he managed, the only word that fit the thousands of shades of
need in him. "You..."

"Ah." Blair had his eyes; Jim was drowning there. "Okay." Third and last
time. A charm. A homecoming. A welcome. A blessing. A soft sound loud
enough to deafen.

Blair's hand moved on his own body with the same grace and ease that it
had moved on Jim's, but better here, because it wasn't a forsaken gift.
Jim watched, as objectively and distantly as he could, while Blair
unbuckled, unbuttoned, unzipped, undid himself (and Jim, undone by
proxy, by proximity) with a few unselfconscious movements. The head of
Blair's cock was flushed and slick, tempting with the ripe perfection of
a flawless plum, and Jim had to pull back a little in order to maintain
his own insistence that he was just watching this, that's all. Just
watching.

He watched Blair's hand, limiting himself for the moment to just that
much, just that overwhelming portion of a whole he couldn't even
comprehend. It was almost like he was in some stranger's body, the numb
and motionless body of someone unknown to him, someone with no blood, no
heart, no cock to thump and pound in sympathetic pleasure. That distance
lasted until a deep breath brought Blair into him, a scent that revived
everything it touched so that he was filled and his vision filled and
all of his senses filled now, top to bottom and from his center right
out to his pores with Blair, animated and stimulated and glorious.

He lost himself, then; lost track of all the edges of things that had
threatened to cut him so deeply and just reached out and cupped Blair's
face. Touched. Suffered the shock and brilliant lancing pain of contact.
Blair was open to him, warm; eyes bright and alive with the glittered
pleasure of watching Jim watch him. Jim slid his shaking hands from
Blair's cheeks to his shoulders, palms burning as he instinctively
turned it up, up up up-- as much as he could get, as much as he could
have of this quiet and easy thing, this marvel.

Blair like this was more concentrated, more pure, somehow, so that every
breath Jim drew in dizzied him like illicit smoke. When Blair eased his
head back against the couch and bit his bottom lip, Jim groaned.

"Touch me," Blair told him, and Jim obeyed. He mapped Blair's body with
his hands one slow inch at a time, pushing aside folds of clothing like
the irrelevancies they truly were, because this, this, was a body that
was made to be naked.

He touched, worshipped, with his hands only. Only that. Blair's smooth
hips fit his palms like nothing else ever had, and for a long time he
just held there, lost in the rhythm of rocking, watching mesmerized as
Blair's hand slipped up and down, stroke after stroke of increasing heat
that glowed against his skin.

He was wordless, voiceless, slack-jawed with shock and lust while Blair
gasped out his name and arched up towards him, his hand speeding faster
until Jim was panting, shaking, desperate but entirely lacking the words
to ask for what he needed.

Blair leaned towards him, moving fast and with his hand a blur, and
despite Jim's efforts to keep some distance between them their bodies
bumped together roughly, a scorching, terrifying touch that made the
hunger in him leap up and cry out, struggling against the tentative hold
he had on it. He was on his back, now, laid out and defenseless with
Blair kneeling over him, and he grabbed onto the couch as hard as he
could because if he didn't he was going to reach out, and even gravity
was an enemy now because if Blair sank down on him that would be it,
he would lose it completely.

"Open your shirt." A hoarse, dark, lush command, and his hands went to
his shirt buttons at once, dutiful as always to that voice. "I want to
come on you."

And he barely got his shirt out of the way, ripping through the last few
buttons savagely, before Blair did. His nipples tingled fiercely from
the intimate touch of nothing more than air and then he was being
seared, scalded, his hips twitching even though he tried to hold them
still while Blair rose up above him, moaning, shuddering, spattering his
chest and throat with hot wet ecstasy.

"Fuck... oh fuck. Fuck!" His own voice, dim and far away compared to the
wild thunder of Blair's heart. Jim twisted in the cradle he'd made for
himself, caught up in his own agony of focus as he hooked his mind to
that inner refrain that reminded him that he could not, was not
going to come from this-- no, don't do it no don't don't don't don't--

"Nothing... to be afraid of," Blair husked to him, and then Blair's hand
touched his stomach and slid up, rubbing it into him, and Jesus Blair
was touching him, slicking over the aching points of his nipples and
Jim was losing it, hanging on that edge with his body telling him that
this was it, it was either come or die.

Jim wrenched himself sideways, tumbling off the couch but not caring in
the least that the floor was hard because he had to get away, had to
grab some sort of sanity for himself before it was too late. He hit hard
on his shoulder, and the pain helped. Jim spared one glance at Blair to
make sure that he was okay-- halfway off the couch and wide-eyed with
concern and surprise but okay, yes-- and then he skittered backwards
until he could roll to his feet, almost lurching as he made his way to
the bathroom, to the privacy and the door and the lock and the solitude
and the sanctuary.

He turned the shower on full with the dial set all the way to cold, and
turned down tactile sensation so that he could get in fast without
screaming. In the bottom of the tub it was easy to huddle, to make as
small and compact a package of himself as he could, and once he was
there, curled and controlled and safe, he turned his senses back up all
at once and howled into the muffle of his cupped hands as the frigid
stab of water crashing down on him beat him flat, a thousand separate
points of punishment that left him gasping and limp on the blameless
porcelain ice.


So unreal. Such a sharp knife between the halves of his life-- and it
was like that, stuff of substance screaming at the cut, deep dark
terrifying gash where he was afraid to look as things were splitting,
rending, carving a fissure into something he'd always thought of as
intact.

Half of him had drifted away, locked tight into the suspended animation
of waking, working, sleeping. It made him feel too light, too dizzy most
of the time. He found himself glancing at his feet at odd moments, just
to make sure they were really on the ground.

And the other half-- well, that was kind of innately perfect all by
itself, wasn't it? Reward and penalty, all wrapped up in one convenient
package; intrinsic. He touched Blair (a little). Blair touched himself
(a lot). Blair caressed, seduced him with words and moans and beautiful,
shivering ecstasy, and then Jim went away still full of need. It hurt,
yes; it hurt all the time now. But still-- Jim found an unsuspected key
to his existence in what he did, what he demanded of Blair; perfect and
ideal and utterly transcendent for those few moments, seconds stolen
right from the source of misery and made into something... eternal.

Afterwards, he paid. Sweet black denial and a face he could show to the
world, clinging tight to that horrid, indispensable pain that never left
him entirely anymore, a man who was nothing more than a vessel for want.

He was his own shadow. And his own source of reflected, refracted light.

And he dreamed, always, of kissing Blair. Always. And only that.


There was no way, he knew, that he could walk away from it. When Blair
tried to touch him or tried to talk to him about it he ran, yes; but he
always came back, and as they went on Blair tried less and less. Some of
the worst guilt, the worst pain came from his knowledge that he was
using Blair, absorbing him without giving anything in return, but no
amount of guilt was strong enough to keep him from taking what he
needed. If he went too long without it, his hands shook.

And then there came a time, a time when he had Blair actually in his
bed-- Blair who had come to offer early-morning coffee and then stayed
to offer everything else when Jim begged him for it-- actually in his
bed and spread out on his sheets like sacrificed perfection, moaning and
shaking under his hands. His hands, and that never stopped killing him
with awareness-- he still touched with hands only; one cradling the
sweet curve of skull slipping on soft, damp hair, the other buried deep
inside Blair's body, slick and hot-- and every squeeze and flutter of
muscle around him echoed and reverberated through nerve endings already
deluged but still craving. Always craving, he would always crave more of
this.

Mouths no more than an inch apart, he lived on the moistness of mingled
breath while he stared into Blair's eyes, wide coronas of blue that
overflowed with pleasure and reproach. He accepted both.

"Jim," Blair gasped, and that spiked his heart because it almost never
happened-- Blair almost never talked to him, anymore; not while they did
this. "Please, give me, let me..." His peripheral awareness told him
that Blair's hand had slowed on his erection, and that caused a tickle
of panic around his heart so before Blair could reach for him he thrust
in hard, seeking and sliding and pressing in deep until Blair cried
out and arched up, coming fast and fierce and helplessly. Jim soaked it
up, and when Blair lifted towards his mouth he pulled back, hissing with
pain and lust.

And afterwards, in the quiet, Blair's steady, soft voice:

"I can't do this anymore."

That right there showed him the difference, the distance between pain
and pain. He had it now-- this was it, the heart of it, right here.
Bloodless, but dying nevertheless.

And Blair said "I'm sorry, Jim," and they were both sorry, there was
sorrow enough and to spare as the air leached to grey around him, and he
turned his face into his pillow and squeezed his eyes tight closed so he
wouldn't have to see.


Surprising, after that, to go on living. To find the pulse of normal
once again in what had been a long-neglected corpse.

But equitable, and ultimately understandable, he supposed. After all,
the gift that had been withdrawn had never been meant for him in the
first place-- not his and not destined for him, but visited upon him by
some vast mistake of misplaced chance. Things were right, now.

Things were still grey. That, too, was right. A monotone life, and his
heart never staggered in his chest anymore but simply kept counting out
the calm beats of whatever time he had to endure until he could be done.

Sometimes, he tried to remember what fear felt like. He remembered the
circumstances well enough, but not the experience-- all of that had
happened to someone else, someone who had only the most limited
understanding of what it was like to have something to lose.

Now he had returned, somehow; now everything had swung back in balance.
This was his life. This emptiness was his. He wore it like he wore his
skin.

So, weeks later, when Officer Denise Radbury approached his desk late
one Friday afternoon and asked him if maybe he might like to go get a
pizza, he said yes. Smiled. Met her eyes. Which appeared to be grey.

His voice was steady as he asked her how she felt about sausage.


Three dinners. Two lunches. One pool-hall competition (he won). One
evening drinking too much coffee and playing chess (she won). Tonight,
she'd cooked him dinner at her place.

And afterwards, on the couch, she took his wineglass out of his hand
herself and took his face in her hands, and he could tell that she was
doing her level best to do it right, but it wasn't right. She smelled
good and she was warm and promising but it wasn't the right smell or the
right warmth, and it was altogether lightyears away from the right
promise. And for the first time in what felt like forever something
surfaced in him, something made its way through all those dense layers
of resignation and relinquishment and cold blind apathy, and his heart
stuttered, caught, and then pounded like it was trying to beat its way
out of his body.

This way, this option, this life was closed to him now. Nothing left of
it but ruin. His rage at that lit him up from one end to the other, and
evidently she sensed his fury because she pulled away fast, her grey
eyes wide and apprehensive.

When he made his apologies and left, she didn't seem reluctant to let
him go.


Home, where he'd told Sandburg that he'd be out until late so he wasn't
expected, home where Sandburg and his date were sitting on the couch,
wineglasses in hand and turning surprised towards the door where he
stood.

Jim felt himself start to shake. "Need to talk to you." He didn't
recognize his own voice.

He vaguely heard the excuses and apologies manufactured, something about
the nature of police work and stress management and the fictional death
of a close friend. He stepped aside to let Sandburg's date out, but that
was all.

He waited five seconds, ten seconds, fifteen, while footsteps retreated
down the stairs and Blair stared at him, frowning with confusion, his
heart beating too fast.

"What the fuck was that all about? You've got no--"

"Take your clothes off."

For a moment, there was nothing but smooth silence, an absence of words
backed by the hot rush of two heartbeats. Then something nameless flared
in blue eyes, and Jim's heart curled and singed at the edges, praying
that he could survive, could transcend that pity. "Jim, I'm not... I
can't do it anymore--"

"Take them off."

There was no time. No time to put any of it into words because if he did
he'd be trapped again, so when Blair turned away with a sad shake of his
head he didn't use any words to stop him but used his hands instead, his
hands which had been through all this and knew exactly what he was
risking, exactly what was at stake here.

In the first five seconds he got Blair pinned against the door, facing
away from him, only the tip of a nose one flushed cheek visible behind a
cloud of hair. He couldn't see Blair's mouth but he knew Blair was
saying something; there was a vague hum in his ears, a pressure that
meant that somewhere, very far away, there were words being spoken.

"...can't take any more, Jim; you have to stop--"

"Can't." He'd turned his hearing up and now he was stuck with it, had to
endure that low snarl that didn't sound like him, not like him at all.
"I can't. I don't dare."

Flashes of dark, flashes of light; images that crashed into him like one
blow after another...

...Buttons flying...

...Cloth tearing...

...His own throat constricted, choking on sobs...

...Blair's heartbeat, strong and fast and wild; ruling him, itching in
his blood...

...Spit in his mouth, sour and electric and full of horror...

And one word, repeated over and over (his word? Blair's?) loud and
desperate and endless:

"Please! Please, please pleasepleaseplease..."

His word. His.

And then everything went still, everything stopped, and he was once
again just a man at the end of things, holding Blair's stripped and
trembling body up against the door with his own, his saliva-coated cock
hard hard hard against yielding muscle, nudging towards soft heat then
shrinking away, pulling away while things tried to close down around
him.

"Blair. Please." The last of him said this, whispered while his forehead
dropped down onto a smooth and blameless stretch of shoulder and his
hands crept towards Blair's, linking so that he couldn't push, couldn't
shove himself away. "Please..."

"Jim." Soft, dark and soft and overwhelming; his hands tightened.
Squeezed. "Oh, Jim."

Blair guided him, brought his hand down and down and then his heart just
went wild to feel hot velvet skin, tender over hardness that was
familiar and yet utterly new, and he winced his eyes shut tight to stop
them from burning.

"Hold on," Blair told him, and he found that he could. "Just like that."

Blair brought his other hand around to wrap tight across his waist,
locking them together; and then Jim had nothing, nowhere to go and no
escape at all. He moaned, and when Blair pressed back against him his
moan became a cry, because Blair was hot and alive and breathing-- Jim
could feel him breathing everywhere-- breathing in and out and then
he was in, in Blair, and he started to shake and he started to panic
but Blair just held on tight and worked back onto him, took him in and
didn't... let... go.

"Can't-- God! Blair..." pulling hard, trying to get away but Blair had
his arms locked tight so that only brought him closer, took him deeper
into that sweet dark squeeze of torment that threatened to annihilate
him.

"Can," Blair sighed to him; holding, moving his trembling hand with
slow, persistent strokes. He felt it, felt Blair thrusting passionately
and shivering and taking something he wanted, and his palm tingled
against Blair's soft skin while his mind went dizzy, and distant, and
faraway. It distracted him, obsessed him with intensity, so that when
his knees weakened and he realized it and forced himself up he was
shocked to find himself suddenly there-- all the way inside Blair and
throbbing hard.

"God--" this was burning him, burning; and he would have crawled out of
his own body if he could have because his body was caving, crumbling
apart, something was dying, here, some bright and irreplaceable
darkness sputtering out and leaving only ashes, unquiet ashes.

"Jim-- hold on..." Blair moved on him, moved him, dragged him past the
monolith of his fear and horror and allowed him his lamentations,
allowed him to grieve, allowed him anything at all as long as he just
kept moving.

And Blair was hot and tight and smooth and perilously good, and Jim knew
that he'd been right to be afraid of this, that there was a very good
reason that he'd run, turned himself away, denied himself; because this
was the essence of irresistible threat, the final lure of devastation.
He was caught.

"Oh no." His throat could barely manage it, and the words came out
sounding strangled at the source.

"Yes," Blair was around him everywhere, pulling him on, holding him;
undeniable. "Take it... take me... take me there."

Something dark spilled over in his chest and then he was moving,
thrusting, jolting forward as if he'd been galvanized. The door
shuddered under the weight of their bodies and Blair groaned, but Jim
knew it wasn't pain. He kept his hand wrapped tight around Blair's
smooth cock, stroking the pulse there even as he stroked himself deep
and hard into Blair's ass; all on his own now since Blair's hands were
against the door and were no longer guiding him. He was doing this.
Him.

He couldn't stand it. His eyes fluttered open and closed again. Dark.
Light.

"You're... fucking me, Jim."

And he didn't know what led Blair to such cruelty, but he knew that it
cut him. "God-- no." Nothing more than a rasp of air.

"Yessss..." Drawn out, sensual, seductive and irrefutable. He shivered.
"Hard. Good. So good so good you are so good at this--"

"No!" He punctuated the denial with a brutal thrust, and Blair cried out
and throbbed fiercely against his palm.

"Oh yeah-- fuck me, make me come-- just like that. Just like that. Ohh
Jim I'm gonna--"

Pulling back, he was pulling back now, flailing to get away from hot
bright terror and something that he couldn't, just couldn't face; but
Blair was hungry and Blair wanted him, and Blair was fast. Blair
grabbed onto his arms with all the insistent fury of crazed lust and
held him there, moved on him pushed him and slammed back into him,
screaming his name and holding them locked tight together while Jim
moaned to himself in frantic desperation No, No don't can't don't no no
no NO--

And then did.


He knew, the moment he opened his eyes, that he was sane. That in and of
itself was vaguely disturbing.

Different. He felt different.

And sore. He felt sore.

The reason for that was immediately apparent-- he was on the floor, and
the floor was pretty hard. It occurred to him that he had probably been
moving at a good clip when he landed there-- at least, the painful lump
at the back of his head seemed to suggest so.

He was... on the floor. With a pillow. And a blanket tossed over him.

And he felt different.

Jim sat up, groaning; unable to decide which he should hold onto-- his
spinning head, or his spasming back. He settled for one hand on each,
sighed, stretched a little, and then wished right away that he hadn't.

Blair was in the shower. Didn't even need Sentinel senses to figure that
one out.

Jim stood slowly, swaying on his feet until he had to put one hand on
the counter to steady himself. He felt hollowed, emptied-- but it was
different, different from before, when he'd somehow managed to embody
emptiness. This was just... wiped out.

He fumbled with scattered clothing until he found his own, and managed
to get into his pants without falling over again. He struggled with his
shirt until he noticed the lack of buttons, frowned, and finally decided
that the Mayor probably wouldn't be dropping by anytime in the next
hour. He left his shoes where they were, and took his various aches and
pains over to the couch, where he could enjoy them in relative comfort.

His eyes closed of their own accord, and suddenly he felt very heavy.

Blessed darkness. Blessed quiet. Relative quiet, anyway.

Jim pulled in a deep, deep breath, deeper than any he could remember
taking lately.

When he let it out, he started to shake.

There were lines of tension on his cheeks, dry now but still perfectly
tangible to him, everything there pulled tight. The sensation as new
tears moistened the skin seemed terribly clear. He noticed it
objectively and minutely, allowed it to occupy his entire attention, and
kept his eyes closed.

Later, when warm, Blair-scented steam drifted around him he shook a
little harder, but still kept his eyes closed. The couch rocked a
little, and Jim went with it.

"Jim." Blair's Voice of Reason. He had expected that.

"Yeah."

"Are you... how are you?"

And he thought maybe, someday, if he ever found the real answer to that
question he would tell Blair, just to see the look on his face. "Fine."

"I... oh. Okay."

Then there was more quiet, except it wasn't really quiet because he
could hear Blair wanting to move, wanting to say something, and
altogether being very very loud about sitting still silently.

He sat there, listening to all that impatient quiet, until a few subtle
creaks and an elevated heartbeat informed him that even this flawed
stillness was about to break apart. Jim opened his eyes.

Backlit with faint light from the lamp in the corner, Blair looked like
he had a halo. Big eyes and a halo-- it was really kind of funny, under
the circumstances, but Jim felt no urge to smile. He just stared.

"Jim." Blair's Voice of Atonement. He'd expected that, too.

"Yeah." Another funny thing, how he'd never noticed how much he knew
about Blair-- how there was so much to see, so much information given
out just by this one frank glance, drawn at the edges with concern.

"Can we... Do you want to talk about this?"

And he wondered what it was, what kind of sad, misguided, but
everlasting hope made Blair do that, made Blair ask those kinds of
questions. "No."

Jim reached out with one hand, one hand only, and touched the corona
around Blair's head. Warmth sank into his fingers.

Then, as slowly and irresistibly as an advancing glacier, he leaned
forwards...

...And kissed Blair Sandburg right on his beautiful, dangerous mouth.
 

~End~


Mairead and Aristide share a brain at: mtriste@hotmail.com