Author's disclaimer: The Sentinel characters belong to Pet Fly Productions and Paramount. Written for pleasure, not profit. For adult readers only, please. Contains male/male sex and wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap language.

Author's notes: SenToo continues to haunt me. I consider this therapy. ;) Nods of gratitude to the usual suspects: Kady Mae, Kat and Melissa for beta duty, and to Rache and Lyrica for catching those things that needed to be caught.

Feedback? JBonetoo@yahoo.com

Territorial Imperative, Part 7 [NC-17]

by Bone

Okay, so here's the thing about having a near-death experience. Not even near -- having a death experience: When you drag yourself back to the land of the living, all the shit you used to worry about's still there waiting for you, but you can't bring yourself to care, not even a little bit. And all the stuff you love, well, you just love it even more. You love it so much people look at you funny. You love it so much you're standing in line at Wonder Burger, hoping, hoping, hoping they just made the fries fresh because now you can't get over how much you love Wonder Burger fries.

You'll forgive the weatherman for that sucky forecast because a rainy day is better than no day at all. You'll let the totally irritating things your mate does slide because you've gotten this glimpse of not having a mate, and the view's terrible. You'll forgive just about anyone just about anything because you're alive now, and that means second chances and extra time on the clock and the opportunity to let bygones be fucking bygones.

Of course, for this to really work, the mate has to be up for it.

My mate hasn't been up for much of anything, sad to say. At first, he wouldn't even get close enough to help me to the bathroom -- Simon came and stayed for awhile, and I'll tell you, I wondered sometimes just which one of us was the patient.

I've got to give the Major Crimes guys credit. They took our lives plumb over. It was like a church circle rallying around a widow. Food appeared regularly, the bills got paid, and we were hardly ever left, just the two of us, for more than an hour or so. I camped out in my old room so I didn't have to climb the stairs. So I could nap whenever I wanted, which in those early days was twice before lunch and twice after.

And Jim hibernated. That's the best word I can think of. He went up in what should be our bedroom, crawled under the cave of the covers and just slept. For about a week. 'Stress,' Simon whispered. 'Stress,' Joel said, when it was his turn.

Stress, my ass.

Jim screwed up something really important and now he can't figure out how he's supposed to fix it. Like it's fixable. Like he could take a hammer and nail and board it up and have it be done with. It's not like that. I try to think of it in that Zen way, that accept it as it is way, because anything more detailed than that still makes my blood pressure go up, and they're monitoring that, like, daily, and the absolute very last thing I want to do is go back in the hospital, so I'm in a real accepting mode right now.

What I'd really like to do is forget it ever happened.

Whatever that fierce thing is that grabbed ahold of Jim and made him do whacked out stuff -- like throwing me out and deep sixing the couch -- seems to have resolved itself. Probably, with Miss Priss gone, his biology's settling down again. He looks like Jim. He even sounds like Jim, when he talks, which isn't much these days -- I'm starting to think maybe he used up his word allotment for the year while he was talking me back to the here and now in the hospital. But some crucial thing that makes Jim Jim is still seriously AWOL.

He worries about me. I worry about him. We just don't get into it, that's all. I'd like to get into it. I wouldn't even mind a shouting match hand flinging thing, if it would get him over this apathetic lump part. But what I'd really like to do is curl up in our bed and get him to put his hands on me.

Yeah, I know, how can I be thinking about sex? Well, it's one of those imperative, life-affirming things, I guess. I know we're not propagating the species, but that drive to connect is still just as strong. Of course, my body's way behind my libido. Now that's something new. Probably has something to do with all those IV antibiotics. The chunks of lung I still cough up from time to time. I still get tired just thinking, let alone doing anything, let alone trying to raise the energy to get aroused. And at this point, I know I'd be doing it by myself anyway. All by my lonesome, reduced to jacking off in my dumb little bed again, like I used to do when he worked late and I had the loft to myself.

I've got to face it: Jim won't come near me.

I don't know if it's fear or guilt or self-loathing, but whatever it is, he's keeping his distance. I still can tell he's glad I'm here. Glad I came back to the loft, I mean.

It's not like I have anywhere else to go.

I catch him watching me sometimes, and my heart feels like it just got squeezed from the inside out. Nothing I say, nothing I do, could possibly hurt this man as much as he's hurting himself. He's wearing a hairshirt the size of Texas.

As soon as I can stay awake for more than three hours at a time, Jim and I are going to have a little talk. Then I'm going to corner him somewhere until he lets me hug him. Once I get that far, I'm pretty much home free, I figure. I know my way around that Ellison body. Give me twenty minutes and he'll be putty in my hands.

I just have to get him to let me in. C'mon, man, don't you hear me knocking?

Open the damn door.

I would give everything I own to be able to rewind the last month of our life and just do it over again. Start from scratch. Then I would tell Blair the minute something strange happened. And he would tell me about Alex Barnes, and we'd put everything together faster and I wouldn't let him out of my sight, and then he wouldn't have to die.

He died.

My Blair died.

Just thinking about it still gives me the shakes.

He spent two weeks in the hospital. He hates hospitals. I'm sure I got on his nerves. I literally couldn't force myself to leave him for any longer than it took me to get a sandwich in the cafeteria and make a pit stop in the men's room. I guess I wore myself out. All I know is that when we finally brought him home -- home! -- I crashed. Relinquished the Blairwatching to Simon, or Joel, or H, or Brian, or whoever showed up on the doorstep to relieve the day shift, and then I went to bed and slept for days.

I did that, off and on, for a couple of weeks, I think. I stopped keeping track. I ate what they put in front of me, showered when they made me, and kept one eye on Blair every minute I was awake. I'm surprised he didn't just get out a gun and shoot me. It had to be driving him crazy.

But Blair surprised me. Again. Even now, almost a month later, he's still going out of his way to reassure me. He smiles for me, sometimes, and I don't see him do that for the others. He eats more when I'm sitting at the table with him. He sleeps better on the couch when I'm sitting in the armchair next to him.

So I do that. I do whatever makes Blair feel better faster.

And I sometimes sit on my hands so I won't reach out for him. I'm back to sitting on my hands, after almost a year of filling them with Blair whenever I wanted. I think I've lost that privilege. I know I have. I'm afraid to even try and find out. Don't you think it's too much to ask that we go back to the way things were? Before Alex Barnes came.

We've had close calls before, and he understands the risks, but it's different. This is all different. I feel responsible, even though he screwed some things up, too. What he screwed up didn't kill me.

So I don't know how we could go back to the way things were. Before I killed him. That doesn't stop me from wanting it though, or from wanting him. I still want him, just like always. More, maybe.

That taste of life without Blair scared the shit out of me.

You know I love Simon, right? I mean, he's a rock. Nothing fazes him. Believe me, if you'd seen what my lungs produced those first few days, you'd understand why a constitution of steel would be a desirable quality in a friend in that particular situation. He'd wipe me up like I was Daryl at age four, wash his hands and get ready for the next round. The man's a prince.

But if he doesn't get the hell out of my house, and take his stakeout crews with him, we're going to have words. I keep hinting that we're good now, that we can take care of ourselves, but he's not budging.

Yesterday, I stayed up for four hours. Sat up for two of them, which is a real accomplishment. I'm getting stronger every day. Pretty soon, I'll be back to chasing Jim around the coffee table, fighting for the remote. And Jim hasn't had one of his hibernation episodes in over a week. We're showing real improvement here.

I sent Jim out for some Chunky Monkey. I make him get it in pints so I can finish one every couple of days and have a ready-made excuse for getting him out of the loft for a few minutes. The man's livin' in a world of hurt, and cooping himself up in the sickhouse twenty-four hours a day isn't helping. Besides, I might have to get snappy with Simon, and Jim would hover, telling me not to get myself worked up. So I spooned up that last goopy bit at the bottom and begged for more.

He's pathetically eager to please. I hate that. I want my vaguely sarcastic, get-it-yourself Jim back. I miss getting snapped at. Pretty sorry, huh. Me, I mean. I liked things the way they were. A lot. I liked it when we were trying to navigate the old territorial waters. I want it like that again, and Jim can tell you, I generally get what I want. I'm stubborn that way.

Trouble is, so's he. That's how things got this out of hand in the first place. We were both too goddamn stubborn for our own good. Looks like maybe we need to target that stubbornness. I'll start. I'm going to get him to touch me again. I'm going to get back in his bed. I'm going to make things easy and normal and futureful for us.

I will.

You just watch me.

I don't know what Blair's problem is today, but he's getting on my nerves. Part of me loves that because it feels like it used to, and we haven't had that feeling around here too much in the last few weeks. I'm actually enjoying how much he's irritating me.

He banished Simon. Finally. It didn't seem like my place to tell Simon we could handle things ourselves. I'm not the one who ended up face down in the fountain. Blair had to do it, and he finally did, while I was out on my tenth trip for ice cream this week.

Blair's not subtle. He wants me out, so out I go. That's easy enough. I can tell by the rate of ice cream consumption just how much he needs time to himself. He's put back on some of those pounds he shed in the hospital. Ice cream's good for him. And to be honest, the walk's good for me. My world has four walls at the moment, and even a walk to the corner store helps remind me that there's more to my life than Blair and the loft. I even have a job, remember? It's waiting for me. I'm on family leave.

Family.

I'm Blair's family. They're still tracking down Naomi. She went more into the wild than usual and even our good police sources haven't pinpointed her yet. So I'm all the family Blair's got. I like that more than I should. I should want him to have cousins out the wazoo. I should want nieces and nephews to be sending him get-well cards and calling to talk to Unca Blair. But I don't. I'm taking any advantage I can get right now, and the fact of the matter is that Blair's only home is the one he's living in.

I put all his stuff back. It's not like it was organized to begin with, so I just had to go by how I remember it. The books alone took a day. I started to alphabetize them, but he clucked behind me and reached for my shoulder, so I had to stop that and do something else, where he wouldn't touch me.

I'm not ready for that. Actually, I'm too ready. I don't trust myself not to just crush him, I want to touch him so bad. I'm afraid that if I ever do touch him, letting go will be a problem. A big problem.

And he's not making it easy for me. That's what's so irritating. I think he's doing it on purpose, but he's good. I can't point to any one specific thing and say, "There, Blair, stop that." How could I explain it anyway? Maybe I should say, "Blair, if you don't stop sitting there like that, I'm going to jump you." Somehow, I don't think he'd appreciate that. But I know he's doing it on purpose, and that's ... humbling.

I haven't been able to bring up what happened. Neither has he. I suppose eventually we'll have to do it. Bite the bullet, sit ourselves down and discuss it. I'm willing to put it off. But he seems to be moving beyond it already, in ways I can't really describe.

He doesn't seem to hold it against me. He really doesn't. He seems to want to be close to me again. He squirms his way closer and closer on the couch every night, until I finally give up and go sit in the armchair. He brushes against me in the kitchen. He talks about things we might do this summer, when it finally warms up and we can get outside.

He wants things to be the way they were. That much I know.

So do I.

I just don't know how to get from here to there.

I don't even know where to start.

Seems to me, this is a great place to start. Jim's ruffled. I got him going with the leg thing, which I don't think he even figured out. I'm sitting with one foot on the floor and one foot on the coffee table. And I'm just moving that coffee table leg back and forth a little. If I'm doing it right, he's starting to get little whiffs of me.

Yup, yup, that's what happening. I can see his nostrils flare, and he flushes a little, and there he goes -- off the couch and into the chair.

I could set my watch by that maneuver.

I know, I know, we've got issues on the table here. Betrayal, anger, the whole death thing. But isn't this more fun? Isn't this better than submerging ourselves in the Big Questions? Come on, admit it, isn't this better?

I've got a new life here. I don't plan to waste it hashing over shit that already happened. Not when we're back here, where we should be. Not when it's just the two of us, like it used to be. Not when we're both alive and kicking and if we're having trouble looking at the past and imagining the future, hey, right now is okay. What's that bordering-on-trite saying that's still so dead on I'm willing to repeat it?

Today's a gift: That's why it's called the present.

A little gooey, but still, it's true in ways it wasn't before I watched the butt of Alex's gun come down on my head and heard a splash and had just enough time to think, "Oh, shit" before it all just disappeared.

I'm sorry, maybe I should be huffing up and making him pay, but frankly, I don't feel like wasting time on all that. If I can't bring myself to tell him it's okay, we're okay, everything's going to be okay, maybe I can just show him.

He's for damn certain not making the first move. So it's up to me.

I can live with that.

I can live with that.

I don't know what Blair's up to, but it can't be good for him.

He's watching me; I can feel his eyes on me, and I can practically hear his brain work. He's building up to something, and I wish I knew which direction he was headed in so I could start working on my defense.

It could be any number of things. It could be something as simple as asking for something special for dinner. It could be the start of The Conversation, which we've both been avoiding like the plague. What it feels like, and I don't trust it to be that because I'm sure he'd tell me I'm projecting my own desire, but it feels like he's trying to lure me. Like he used to. Back when the only thing better than Blair naked was Blair naked and so excited he couldn't even wait to get horizontal somewhere.

I'm projecting, right? He can't want that. Not after what happened. Not now, when he's still so puny.

Can he?

He still isn't quite himself yet. It's been almost a month since it happened, and he's still really pale, too skinny, and sleeping like he's a Dr. Spock baby on a regular timetable.

But the thing that I notice most is that he's lost his energy. He used to just crackle with it. He could hardly sit still sometimes. He told me once that Naomi started him on meditation so she could have half an hour a day where she knew exactly where he was and what he was doing. So he can do it -- center himself, be still. It's just not his natural bent.

I used to think of his hair as the receptacle for all his excess energy -- I'd picture it just bubbling up out of him into this riot of curls, all of them standing on end, trying to absorb all that electricity he generates. I liked imagining his hair as this living thing, poking out into the world with all his energy and purpose inside it. When I caught myself thinking like that, I realized it wasn't necessarily something a straight man would dwell on, and I had to rethink some things about myself.

This is the kind of stuff I think about now. About how far we've come -- from being as opposite as two guys can get to getting as close as two people can be. I didn't used to think this way. Blair gets inside my head sometimes, I think, and draws pictures and plants seeds and the next thing I know I'm following him down whatever road he chooses, jogging to keep up with him.

So I miss that energetic, talkative, follow-me Blair. He's trying hard. Too hard, sometimes, to pretend things are normal, like they used to be. Except that he's sleeping downstairs, and I can't bring myself to touch him.

But if he doesn't stop doing that, that leg thing over there on the coffee table, I will touch him.

Is that what he wants?

Six weeks ago, you'd never have heard me say this, but I sure wish he'd talk to me.

The walls, they are a' tumblin'. Hallelujah. He's cracking. His fingers are trembling and he's doing everything he can not to look at me. Yeah, this is down and dirty, I admit it. I'm going to get him with sex. It's abundantly clear to me that we're never going to get anywhere if we can't close this gap we've got going here, and while we don't always do so great with the old vocal cords, the bodies have always known what to do.

It's probably an ancestral leftover. That Sentinel/Guide dynamic at work. More like at play, really. You know, if you've got two guys basically dedicating their lives to protecting The Great City, the least they should get out of it is some hanky-panky fringe benefits.

And we're going to get back to that -- the work. He's going to get up one of these mornings and tell me he's back on the job. I'm going to take some baby steps and maybe sit in on a class, maybe jot some notes down, and tiptoe my way back into the anthro world.

We didn't survive all this shit to quit now.

He's the Sentinel, and I'm the Guide.

Fuckin' A.

Not that we're doing The Great City much good holed up in the loft day after day. I know; I'm probably pushing it. I'm still weak as a runt kitten. My brain (and my dick) are way ahead of the rest of my body. What else is new? But we've got to start somewhere, sometime. It might as well be today, right? Haven't we harped on that enough? Gather ye rosebuds and all that crap?

Buddy, we're not getting anywhere with you sitting all the way over there. You need to touch me, don't you? You used to touch me all the time. You touched me before either one of us ever even dreamed we'd slip the slide like we'd been born to it, like you'd been designed just for me, and me for you.

Touch is key, man.

If I push him away now, that would be bad, wouldn't it? Even if it's for his own good. Even if I have good reasons. He knows it, too. He knows I won't. He knows it would take a gun to make me push him away again.

But I still have to try.

"Blair."

"No. Come on Jim, let's not talk," he says, and he's down on his knees in front of my chair, pushing my thighs apart. "Bet you never thought you'd hear me say that, did you?"

How he can make jokes I don't know. He's made of sterner stuff than me, I guess.

"Yes, talking," I say to him. I'm already incoherent. I can smell him again, and my fingers literally itch where they're resting on his bare arms. I move them a little, and now they're tingling.

"Why? So we can feel rotten all over again? Been there, done that, sent a postcard," he says, and now he's leaning his forearms on my thighs, bringing his face close to mine. I can see the circles under his eyes, and his cheekbones and jaw are sticking out because he's still too skinny. But mostly I'm looking at his eyes. They look all right. Clear, bright, aware.

Whatever he's up to, he does have a purpose.

He hasn't steered me wrong much since he shanghaied me in the hospital that very first day, using his pilfered labcoat and his mouth to convince me he could help. I wasn't sure then. I wasn't sure if I could trust him. But I needed help, and he offered. I'm not sure now. I don't trust myself. But I need help. And he's offering.

I'm not strong enough to tell him no, so I guess he's going to get what he wants.

Maybe it'll all be easier to talk about later.

After he --

After this.

Oh my God, I missed this. I didn't even know how much. I must have done some serious sublimating or else all those antibiotics were screwing with my head because weak as I am, I want this man. I want to get his clothes off. I want to stretch out on him and heat myself up on him.

I'm willing to risk a relapse for this.

He's pulling me up now, into the chair with him, facing him, and I've got both legs outside his now and we're together. Has it only been a month? Because it feels like it's been a year since I did this -- put my face in his neck and felt his heart beat under my mouth.

He's still holding my arms. Not holding me away, exactly, but not bear-hugging either. He's spooked. I don't blame him. It's been a spooky kind of time: Resurrections, bizarre animal visions, psychotic episodes. I'd just as soon not go through it again any time soon.

But it's over now.

"It's over," I whisper to him, and I can feel his heart jerk. I raise my head up and get him to look me in the eyes and I say it again. I want him to be absolutely clear on this.

"It's over."

He's blinking up at me and his hands are leaving bruises that will make him crazy tomorrow.

"How can --" he starts to say, but I don't plan to turn this into True Confessions. If he still wants to hash it over later, that's fine, but right now I just want him to kiss me again.

So I stop him the best way I know how. I just lean right over, lay my lips on his and oh yes. That's it. Just like that. It's just us, Jim, just like always. Except it's better somehow. Maybe that month of enforced celibacy has its hidden virtues, because as much as I appreciated Jim's mouth before, right now it's something I'm willing to worship at. I'd sacrifice something for that mouth.

He's giving way a muscle group at a time. The mouth dove right in -- you've got to appreciate that. The mouth knew what it wanted. Now the arms are getting into it. He's finally losing the death grip on my biceps and sliding his arms around, bringing me in. Yeah, yeah, this is what I wanted. I can feel his thighs relaxing and he's pulling me in closer, wrapping me up, touching me wherever the chair lets him.

All his heat, all that strength, all that love, back on me where it belongs.

His dick's the last thing to join the party. Shell-shocked, I guess. Come to think of it, mine's not exactly at its most raring to go. Maybe it's not so much about that. Maybe it's more about this, this hugging thing, this not sitting on opposite sides of the room thing.

Whatever.

He's shaking real lightly, all over. Like it's the first time he's relaxed all those muscles and they can't quite get used to it. I know that feeling. String yourself tight enough, for long enough, and yeah, you're going to hear a protest or two when you cut the knot. That's what his body's doing now.

I'm petting him, talking soft to him, all the things I should have tried to do when he first started seeing jaguars. Whenever I let go of his mouth to say something reassuring, he pulls it back. We're drugging ourselves on kisses. Beats the hell out of Demerol. No hangover either. Of course, kisses like this are addicting, but I don't think that's a problem. If I can just get him over this hump -- oh, man, that was a bad pun -- I don't think either of us will have trouble getting our fixes.

This man does not kiss like he's getting over pneumonia.

I'm almost forty. I've survived a plane crash, months alone in the jungle, a couple of gunshots and Joel Taggart's chili. All that should make me reasonably mature, right? Nope. Not where Blair's concerned. I have lost control over my body. My brain's screaming that we should not do this until we've worked out a few things, but my body sniffed him in and just went ahead without me.

I feel like I did when I dislocated my shoulder and Coach Greene put a tennis ball under my arm and popped it back into place. The actual popping hurt like hell, but almost right away, the shoulder felt better. Getting Blair back in my hands feels like that -- almost painful, but right. Like I'd been out of joint and now I've got full range of motion again.

If he never wants to do more than just this ever again, that's fine with me. If I could just keep him here, where I know he's safe and plenty warm, and reasonably content, I'd do that. I don't know how parents let kids out of their sight. I know it's not the same. It's not a paternal feeling, exactly, but it's going to be a long time before I'll be able to let him go his own way without worrying.

I might never get over that. The worrying.

If we're going to work this out -- and I'm almost afraid to say it, but it looks like we're headed that way -- I'm going to have to figure out how to not be with him every minute and still maintain some semblance of sanity.

What I'd like to do is just stay here, just like this, where I can hear his heart beat and hear him breathing. It's a wonder to hear him breathe without that horrifying rattle that lived in him for a couple of really scary weeks. Now he sounds pretty much like he always did. I can trace the air going in his nose, down into his lungs, and back out again. I could listen to that all day.

I could zone on it.

But he's tugging on my shirt, pulling his mouth away from mine, talking.

"Over here, Jim, let's go over here," he says, and he's leading me to the couch, pushing me down on it and coming down on top of me.

It was good before. This is amazing.

He's wiggling, dropping one leg between mine and I can feel my hips automatically thrust up, trying to feel him. He groans at that, then props himself up on his elbows and looks at me.

"This okay?" he asks me.

Okay? It's perfect.

"Yeah," I answer eventually, and he smiles at me and rocks his hips back and forth on mine. He's still got my eyes locked and there's something really sweet about watching him while our hips do their thing three feet lower. Easy as pie. This is easy as pie. After everything we've been through, should this really be so easy? His head starts to droop and he's rocking harder now, digging a knee in the couch and pushing up, rubbing his crotch on mine.

"No, stay with me," I tell him, and I hold his head up so I can watch him.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm here," he says, and he puts both hands on my chest and pushes his hips even harder. I can feel him through the denim. I never thought I'd feel him again. That familiar hard heat of him. I can feel the minute he lets go, feel the wet seeping through his jeans onto mine, feel the jerking in his body and I roll us, so he's on his side up against the back of the couch and I bury my face in his neck and lunge the couple of times it takes me to join him.

It wasn't romantic. It wasn't the best orgasm of my life.

But it's the one I think I'll remember when I'm eighty.

He's crashed again. Not too surprising. That's probably the most physical activity he's done since he got out of the hospital. I check his vital signs. Heartbeat's a little fast, but that's no surprise. Breathing fine, clear. I pull an afghan off the back of the couch over both of us and shift so he's lying on my chest again.

We could both use a washcloth and a change of clothes, but I think I'm just going to hang on to him for awhile.

It might not help him any, but it's doing me a world of good.

I'm starting to believe that maybe he's right. Whatever else we have to go through, I think that awful part is over, just like he said.

I hope it is.

I really hope so.

The words "Jim" and "hangdog" don't really belong in the same sentence. Hangdog Jim is not a pretty sight. And it's getting on my very last nerve. I'm almost normal again. Well, as normal as I get anyway. I'm running up stairs again without having to bend over and hock up a loogie at the top. My laptop and I are best friends again, and I'm back doing classes.

With an escort.

I tried making jokes about having the only pony in the Ellison stable, but y'know, after working Vice, escort jokes fall a little flat with him. He's still hovering like we're going to have to go through all that shit again. As if that particular set of circumstances could ever be recreated: Him already on edge with me; a gorgeous, female, completely immoral Sentinel falling into my lap; one miscue and misstep after another. I dunno, it just seems unlikely.

In the extreme.

But that's what he's taking this to -- extremes.

I think if he didn't think it was kinky, he'd handcuff me to him.

I understand where he's coming from. I do, I really do. I'm his Guide, and his friend, and his roommate, and his just plain mate it seems like now, and he wants to protect me because that's what Sentinels do. You think the Great City's under some good protection? Try being Blair Sandburg for a day. The only reason he lets me pee by myself is because I threatened to hose him the first time he tried to follow me in there.

We've got some things to work out.

But hey, I'm just grateful for the opportunity.

The daily grace of living thing is still like a big glowy ball everywhere I look. Like the Golden experience, without the nasty side effects. So while this apron-string thing is annoying, and we're going to have to talk about that time Jim almost decked a guy who accidentally cut in front of me on the way in the door at the Anthro building, mostly I'm just happy to be here.

Happy to be smothered by an overprotective Jim.

It's just time he cut me loose a little. I don't mind handing my life over to him, but I've got to be able to squirm around a little, you know?

Loosen the leash, man.

I know I look ridiculous sometimes. I sit with the other students while he's teaching and I'm not only fifteen years older than most of them, I'm about twice the size. Is there some height requirement for going into anthropology? I never saw so many pipsqueaks in one place in my life. So I feel like Gulliver. I don't even fit in the desks. My legs take up half the aisle on either side.

Blair just looks at me knowingly when I point this out. He's been really patient with me these last few weeks. I know I'm driving him nuts. I know it, but it's still less important to me than making sure he's okay. I'm running out of excuses though, and Simon's on the phone daily now, asking me when I'm coming back.

It's been eight weeks now since it happened.

It.

I'm still not naming it, and we're still not talking about it.

Physically, he's fine. He's got his color back and his face is filling out again. I watch every bite that goes in his mouth. He's back to staying awake during the day and sleeping at night. Sleeping with me, which is the last thank you I send up to the heavens before I go to sleep.

I never prayed so much in my life.

The thing that gets me about Blair is that he can operate on several levels all at the same time. He lets me know I'm getting on his nerves, but at the same time, he accepts it. He gets it. He probably understands what's driving me better than I do. He could probably name it, classify it and prescribe treatment, if I were ready to listen.

I'll do it soon. I'll ease up on him. I will.

Just not today.

It's not over.

I mean, yeah, it is. The nasty part. But you know what? I think I made a strategic error. Once I knew the screw was tight again -- so to speak -- once we'd re-established that critical connection, I should have just sat up on his chest right there, pinned him to the couch and made him spill it. All of it. All the stuff he thought I did wrong, all the stuff that made him so mad. Then I could have yelled right back. Told him how fucking cold he'd been; how I'd tried to tell him and he wouldn't listen.

We could have been done with this weeks ago, maybe.

I'd just figured first things first. No way was I going to start down that long dark road without some reassurance that he was along for the ride. Re-establishing touch seemed the way to go. Getting some in the bargain was just a nice perk.

So I'm not really dropping a whammy on him.

But it's not over.

Not as long as he's still sticking to me like gum on a sneaker.

I'll tell you something else I've learned in the last eight weeks. It goes back to that whole discussion we had about taking it as it comes, seizing the day, all that: There's no time like the present.

We're walking back to the truck. It's a beautiful day: About forty degrees and foggy. There's just nothing like dying to make you appreciate a crappy day like this. I had to push him away when we left the building because I think he was about to zip up my jacket for me and that was it. That was the final straw. You're not zipping me up, and you're not wiping my nose. Not anymore. I'm not a kid, Jim, and I'm certainly not your kid.

Maybe it's time to really remind him what we've got going here: That we're two grown men who happen to share one amazing gift and some incredible physical chemistry. It's a partnership.

I think he needs reminding.

I think he needs some proof.

And as soon as I get him behind a closed door somewhere, I think I know just how to give it to him.

Blair's horny. I could tell the minute we got in the truck. He reached down and adjusted himself and I could see it, laying there in his jeans. It's too cold out here for those kinds of shenanigans, so I'm just going to dial it all down until we get home and we can get in a nice warm bed.

I've tried to be really careful not to overdo it, in that department. I make him get on top - I'm not about to take a chance of crushing those lungs, not now, not to mention the two ribs I cracked. I keep the heat up so even if he's not under the covers he won't get chilled again. I'm probably overthinking it all, but it seems to be another symptom of Blairitis. Post-traumatic Blairitis.

And I don't care what he pulls on the way home, the days of doing him in the truck are over.

I reach automatically for his backpack when we get to the loft, but he takes it from me, slings it over his shoulder and takes the steps two at a time. There's a perfectly good elevator, but I guess he's trying to show me how much better he's doing.

By the time I get in the loft, he's got his shirt off.

"Slow down, Chief," I tell him, picking up his shirt off the table and hanging it on the back of a chair.

"Nope," he says, just like that, and he's already shucking his jeans.

"Come on, let's go upstairs," I tell him, and I've got him by the arm, pulling him.

I guess that was a mistake.

Next thing I know, he's jerking his arm away and he's pushing me against the back of the kitchen counter. He's stark naked and I've got all my clothes on, so I feel like I should have the upper hand, but I'm not even close.

"Stop babying me," he says. "You need to just chill."

He's got his arms on either side of me, bracing himself against the counter, leaning in, then leaning back, over and over. I'm hard by the second lean. By the third I can hardly pay attention to what he's saying. It's always like this. I'm the one with the super senses, but he knows exactly what to do to make me forget anything exists except him.

"I'm fine, Jim, really, really fine," he says. He takes a deep breath. "Hear that? No snot whatsoever."

He leans in and nuzzles up under my chin, licking me. I love it when he does that. "I'm not going to break, I swear, I'm not," he whispers, and I can feel his breath moving on me.

He leans back and looks me in the eye. "But I'll bend for you if you want."

Two seconds later we've switched positions and he's the one braced against the counter. He flips so he's facing the counter and he's bending already, pushing his hips back; he's there, ready for me. I lean over his back and even through my shirt and pants, I can feel that's he's warm, and solid. He's just like he used to be. He's strong. He's supporting some of my weight. I'm making him take it, just a little at a time.

"See, Jim?" he says quietly. "See?"

Yeah, Chief, I see.

"C'mon, man, don't leave me hanging here," he says, and I slide a hand around to grab him. He's hard and hot and leaking already. I think he's getting off on being naked while I still have clothes on. I test it -- I rub along his back and he shivers a little.

Well, all right. It's no stranger than doing it on the kitchen table, I guess.

He's stretching over the counter and finally scoots himself up on it, reaching into the drawer on the other side. "Aha!" he says and he holds up a condom and a tube of lube like it's an amazing archeological discovery. He hands them over and assumes the position again.

"You sure, Blair?" I ask him.

"Oh yeah," he says. "Hard. I want you do it hard," he says, and if I ever had any intention of doing it any other way, it's gone.

I can do hard.

I haven't ever tried it this way, but I just unzip, take my dick out, and leave all the rest of my clothes where they are. It looks obscene just hanging out there like that. More naked than usual or something. He's watching me over his shoulder and he has this look. This ancient, knowing look. How did he know this would turn me on so bad? How did he know?

"What're you looking at?" I growl at him.

He just grins. "Just get over here, will you?"

And so I do like he asked. I get over there, stretch him out, hold him open and do him hard. Harder than I've let myself since it happened, maybe harder than I've ever done it. Maybe I could have slowed down a little, maybe I could have not leaned on him so much, if he hadn't kept talking to me, urging me on, pushing back against me so hard he almost threw us off balance.

There's nothing careful about this. There's nothing moderate about it. We are defintitely overdoing it. Forget his lungs; he's not going to be able to sit down. And this is how he wants it. He's panting, holding onto the edges of the counter so hard I can see his knuckles are white, and he's rolling his hips under mine, squeezing his butt and rolling from side to side, making me crazy.

He comes about three thrusts before I do, and it's not so much about the smell, or even the feel of him clamping down on me that does it this time. It's how much he wants it. How much he wants it like this -- hard and fast, and not careful at all. He's still pushing against me, and I realize he's practically holding me up now. My legs are wobbly, but he's solid, he's okay.

He's solid.

He's okay.

I get it, Blair, I get it.

He could have just told me, but I have to admit, his way's more fun.

I've been putting this off. This conversation we've pretty much got to have. Maybe subconsciously I've been waiting to feel strong enough to take it if he flips out on me again. Or maybe I've been waiting to see if Jim's strong enough to take what I might dish out. Just in case Zenning my way through this turns out to be wonderful in theory, but impossible in practice.

I've been known to have a temper.

I'd given half a thought to doing this while he was still really patently vulnerable -- still putting his hand on my chest at night to feel me breathe, still hovering six inches from whatever I was doing all the time, but now I see that would have been a big mistake. Mean, too. And I'm over that particular inclination. Bad mood? What's a bad mood? Let me look that up. Oh yeah, I remember those. No, we're not doing those anymore.

So now that things are about as normal as they get in our particular twilight zone, maybe now we can get into it.

He's been back at work for a week now, and I taught my unchaperoned first class today. He went to the station and I went to the U. What a concept -- him doing his job and me doing mine. And we met again back at the loft for dinner. I cooked. And now I'm doing the dishes. It's just a regular Jim and Blair day -- the first one in about two months. It feels damn good.

And he only called me six times to make sure I was okay.

That's real progress.

My reason for waiting this long's not entirely altruistic. Between the hospital and Simon's moonlighting home care service and Jim's smothering, I haven't had much time to process everything. Haven't wanted to.

Just as well, really.

It's not a pretty picture. Jim lost his mind. I really think he did. I really believe that. My favorite theory about why is that he must have started reacting to Alex long before we even knew she was on the scene. That would explain a few things. Think about it. He was antsy before all that stuff blew up in our faces.

So while it might not excuse his behavior, I think it helps explain it. When you take away everything else, I believe he wasn't in charge of his emotions. That's something we can work on. Looking back with these nifty keen 20/20 hindsight specs I've got, I see a lot we could have done to avoid what happened, if we'd caught it in time, and if I hadn't been so distracted.

Distracted. Nice word, geekboy.

Why not try 'myopic' or 'self-centered'. They work just as well.

It all boils down to a serious lack of communication. This isn't anything new, from his end or mine, but it resulted in some pretty dire circumstances this time. It's been an issue since we met, and I'm sure it will be one again, but today I think we need to try to open up a little, lay some things to rest.

Give him a chance to see this isn't really a case where blame falls only on one person.

Now I just have to convince him of that.

Blair's out in the kitchen, washing the dishes and humming to himself. It's a happy little sound. I haven't heard it in a while. I think this is the first day I've really felt like myself again. Maybe because Blair's acting like himself again.

I had to make myself get a beer, plop down on the couch, and turn on the tube. I'd like to go take the dish towel from him, get him another sweater and sit him down while I finish cleaning up. But since the other day, the day I fucked him raw while I still had all my clothes on, I've been making a conscious effort not to baby him.

And he's been helping by monitoring himself. He goes to bed earlier, eats better, dresses warmer, than he did before, and I appreciate that. And he keeps his cell phone on all the time. He doesn't even sound exasperated when I call him, again, to check on him.

We're working it out.

It'll still take some time, I'm sure. I still feel the weight of everything we haven't talked about sitting on my chest. But if it's going to be brought up, he's going to have to do the bringing.

I've learned my lesson.

From now on, I follow where he leads.

I can't promise I'll enjoy the ride, but I'll go.

I've run right out of excuses. Procrastination, thy name is Sandburg. I put up the leftovers. I dried the glasses. I even wiped down the counters. Yeah, I know, somebody take my temperature. I sort of hate to fuck with the equilibrium, but this balance we've achieved still feels pretty damn precarious. There's still some stuff that's got to be said. Ah, fuck it. The sooner we do it, the sooner it's done. Here goes nothing. I get my own beer and go sit on the coffee table, facing him.

"You make a better door than a window, Sandburg," he says, motioning me away.

Oh yeah, Jim's back.

So I shift over a little, pick up the remote and mute Dick Vitale's latest enthusiastic ramble. And people say I talk a lot.

"What're you doing?" he asks, reaching for the remote. I hold it over my head, out of reach.

"I want to talk to you about something," I tell him, and his hand drops like a rock. Just like that, I have his undivided attention. I can see his protective instincts standing up, one by one.

"You okay?" he asks.

"Fine, Jim. Really," I tell him, reaching out to pat him on the stomach. "Come on, I thought we were over that mother hen thing."

"We are," he says, trapping my hand on his belly. "I just --"

"I know, I know, it's fine," I say, rubbing a little, reassuring. "Nice to know you care."

He subsides back on the couch, stretching out. He lets go of my hand and I take it back.

"I just don't want anything to go wrong," he says.

"Let's talk about that," I say.

"What?"

"What went wrong."

Jim goes completely still. He doesn't even blink. "Now? After all this time? Now you want to talk about it?"

His voice gets a little louder with each question and he's pulling himself up, sitting up on the couch, bracing himself.

"Don't get testy on me, man. That's how this whole thing got started," I tell him, sitting up straighter, bracing myself.

"You said we didn't have to talk about it," he says, with what looks like an accusing finger pointing in the general direction of my nose.

"No, I didn't." I'm going to be patient. I'm going to be patient. I am. "What I said was that it's over. And it is. I'm here. You're here. We're here. It's over. But I still think we ought to clear the air a little."

If his jaw gets any tighter, they're going to have to pry it open with a crowbar. Hang in there, buddy, we're doing good.

He shakes his head, reaches for his beer and slugs back a good half a bottle, then drops it back down. No coaster. Uh-oh.

"I should have known it was too good to be true," he says with a sigh.

"What was?"

"You, letting all that go. Not talking it to death," he says.

I think I'm offended. And that was a pretty poor word choice there, Jim, but I'll let it slide.

"I don't want to talk it to death," I tell him, "I just think --"

He stops me with a sharp motion of his hand. "What do you want to hear, Blair? I fucked up. I fucked everything up. There, are we done?"

He wants to get up -- his legs are already propelling him up, but I put my hands on his knees and make him look at me.

"We both fucked up, Jim."

He's still looking at me. "So?"

"So, I'm just saying it wasn't just you. We both screwed up. We switched formulas mid-stream."

I'm going for matter-of-fact. I'm afraid it comes out a little academicish, but that's better than dovetailing into his fear response, which half of me is still inclined to do. I'm thinking about instituting a new house rule: Only one of us can freak at any given time.

He sits back, giving us a little distance, but he doesn't move his thighs out from under my hands. I'm taking that as a good sign.

"Enlighten me," he says.

Oh yeah, definitely a good sign.

"You didn't rely on me to help you get through it, and I let you push me away. That's not how we get things accomplished, and you know it. We went way off our pattern, Jim," I tell him, and he's looking at me with his head cocked and his eyes narrowed. I may have the advanced degree, but this man's brain is a well-oiled machine, and I can see him working through what I'm saying.

I'm going to press the advantage.

"Neither of us has had much practice at depending on someone else; especially not another man. The guys in our lives weren't very dependable, you know? We both sort of had an 'every kid for himself' philosophy at work. But we've been managing to work stuff out, right? Making it up as we go along? But this time, for some reason, when the going got rough, you went in your corner and I went in mine, and we tried to solve things alone. I think we can pretty safely say that was a bad decision."

Jim's mulling that over, seeing if it fits with his version of events.

"We do better together," he finally says.

Exactly. Couldn't have said it better myself. I nod at him.

"We're supposed to be together, Jim. You agree with that?"

Now he's the one nodding. "I wouldn't switch teams for just anybody."

Oh my God. Humor. Just like that, the testiness is gone. What do you know. I don't believe it. He's teasing me. Teasing me, in the middle of this free-for-all. Hell, yes, we're going to get through this. I'm seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and it's got nothing to do with dying.

"Oh, no?" I'm grinning at him, and he's got that look that makes him look about ten years younger; the one he gave me when he dialed down pain for the first time, the one he gave me when I told him I wasn't going to Borneo. I think he saves that look for special occasions.

I sure do love this man.

He's quiet for a long time, thinking things over. Then he says, "I didn't want any of that to happen." I can see in his eyes all those nights sitting with me in the hospital, all those hours of not knowing how to fix this.

He didn't want it to happen.

He doesn't have to tell me that.

"I know."

"It's like it wasn't even me," he says, and he pushes his lips together hard.

"I know."

"You really think you can stop something like that from happening again?" he asks me.

"No," I tell him. "I think we can stop it."

He's standing up, pulling me up with him, hugging me so hard my ribs ache. It's a small price to pay.

"Can I at least tell you I'm sorry?" he asks.

I nod into his shoulder.

"I am sorry," he says.

"Me, too," I say back to him, and he nods, too. I can feel it against the side of my head.

And that's where we're going to leave it.

Bury it.

It's history.

Live and learn.

We've got better things to spend our energy on.

Why look back when the scenery up ahead is so damn good?

the end