Make your own free website on Tripod.com
tepid apocalypse

Tepid Apocalypse, part 1
by Molly
August 2000

"Paronychia is a dreadful pain. But what made me suffer most was that I could not cry out. For I was in a hotel. Darkness had just fallen and my room was trapped between two others where people were sleeping." -Henri Michauz, "Shriek"

It was a crazy day; maybe the craziest. Which was saying something, there, but not as much as that it was also one of the quieter ones.

Jim said something, off-key and out of the blue, something normal like, "How 'bout we hit the deli for dinner?" and Blair just nodded, but he wasn't ready to leave.

Because yes, the badge was back in hand, and Simon had looked rather pleased to give it back after the firearms training crack. But then he'd just looked tired, and he and Megan and Jim had all three begun to look like pain medication was on the agenda. Which, in its own way, cleared the bullpen, because Taggert took Simon home and Henri took Megan, and Rafe wandered away to check on some paperwork, and it wasn't all that surprising that Naomi had ducked out right away. She did things that way, but she would call later.

She always did.

And it was kind of early, but Jim was relaxed in his chair and talking about dinner, and Blair had a badge. He agreed to the deli idea and then must have looked strange, because Jim asked, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Blair muttered, shaking his head. "What do you say I give your crippled ass a head start to the truck? There's, um. There's something I sorta need to do."

Jim just nodded and slowly caned his way to his feet, no questions asked, leaving Blair to stand in the quiet office and wonder where that implicit trust and acceptance had been a few days ago.

He shook it off. There were other things, other, littler things, things that weren't so consuming and left him less confused. There were some big things, too, but Jim had gotten pretty good on that cane already, so the head start couldn't be too long.

He went back to Simon's office. He still needed that last look around--there were things people said about other things, like memories, and milestones, and safe space. Things would be different, next time he was here.

Last look around. On the way to the elevator, he wondered by how many inches he'd missed being the third strike for Zeller's bullet. The patch on the doorframe was just about level with his neck.

Funny thing, luck. Blair took the stairs.

***

He chose ham on rye, a little unusual for him but well within the bounds of acceptable behavior, and he ate it slowly, tense and barely moving at the table. He had some potato salad on the side, but there was too much mustard in it and he just wasn't very hungry anymore, so he wasn't sure he'd finish.

Jim did, finish that is; he finished and moved into the kitchen, gentle in his silence. And Blair stripped a length of crust from his sandwich and ate it in small bits, tearing each one off and staring at it for a moment before pressing it between his lips.

"I don't think I can do this," he said softly. Too softly, but Jim glanced over from the fridge.

"Full?"

"No. Yes. I mean-- that's not what I mean."

Jim's jaw tightened. "What do you mean?" he asked carefully.

Blair paused, gazed up thoughtfully into Jim's eyes. Like flint, except they weren't gray, and Blair felt like sighing at how many things Jim was like, except for the not actually being them part. Like a first-class asshole, except he wasn't and never would be, not really.

"Nothing," he said, and he got up to put some plastic wrap over his plate and stick it in the fridge. "I think I'm gonna go to bed, okay? You should, too; it's been... weird, lately."

Jim snorted lightly. "Yeah. Weird."

"Okay... good night, Jim."

***

He hadn't expected to sleep, not after everything, so it wasn't a surprise that he didn't. The ceiling got boring at midnight, the wall at two, and letting his eyes roam just took too much energy, anyway. So he crawled out of bed with a good deal of time left before sunrise, and there used to be places he could go at times like these, but odd how all the ones he could think of were on campus.

It was cold out, but he found himself walking in a nearby park and shivering his way through the remainder of the night. It was long in lasting, and the sky was only hinting at the coming shades of day when he just stopped, and sank onto a bench to stare bleakly at a nearby tree.

He didn't hear an approach, and his ear was so numb the gentle tug on it only sent a flash of burning sensation to his brain, which he was still registering when the lilting female voice asked, "Blair, what do you think you're doing? It's freezing!"

Sydney Ingle hopped around from behind his bench, jogging in place and rubbing her hands together, and Blair forced a slight grin. An old girlfriend he hadn't seen much of since his undergrad years, she was tiny and just far enough on the better side of plain to qualify as pretty in a dignified way. And she was bobbing up and down, her already ruddy skin flaming red at the cheeks, a healthy glow that spread all the way to the fleece headband protecting her ears. "Hey, Syd," he murmured. "Little early for a run, isn't it?"

"Nah." She was slowly going still, but still bobbing and blowing short puffs of lung-warmed air up over the tip of her nose. "This is the best time for it. Nobody else is out."

"I'm out."

"And why, may I ask? Blair, I mean, thank god I'm not your mother or anything, but sheesh, that jacket is a bit light for this weather."

"Oh... I hadn't really noticed," he said, and he was shivering but it was true. Just numb.

"Yeah, okay." She smirked, unconvinced. "Well, look, come walk with me. I'll make you coffee, get you warm, and we can catch up."

"Catch up... Syd, have you been-- elsewhere, recently? You can't possibly not know what's going on."

"Sure I know." Sydney reached out and tugged a lock of his hair. "Don't personally care much, except being sorry everything blew up in your face."

And there it was, the blunt force of her words that had been too harsh back when they dated, and were just comforting in their reality now. Blair stood up and fell into place beside her, fell into the yawning, illusory semblance of nonchalant acceptance that she was offering. She talked, so much, her words as driven and self-involved as her steady motions towards her apartment. He remembered being drawn to her as a sophomore, to the contradictions of her tiny body and giant confidence, and he remembered carefully ignoring everything that just didn't jive. For months, letting her be her, and himself be hers, and for awhile he lost himself there, until life was classes and homework and Syd and her personal anecdotes.

He stopped just shy of remembering breaking up, because he didn't need any more of things being his fault. He just hadn't measured up, and though if he thought about it now he wouldn't really be sorry about that, back then it had followed him to sleep at night, a constant, nagging knowledge that he hadn't been able to do enough.

So he didn't think about it, or much else. Sydney talked about everything she could, and not much at all, and Blair obliquely gave her answers to the random questions she would toss out about his life.

Those were few and far between, and he liked it like that.

***

Her apartment was cheap but warm, and the coffee told him exactly what kinds of things she spent her extra money on. And it wasn't a surprise, because she'd always been one to go for the creature comforts; the good food and the soft bed were just more satisfying than a uniformly painted wall.

And when she took his mug away and leaned in, it was like that again, and Blair was a comfort, a creature to comfort her, and it felt very, very easy to let her let him kiss her. To let her not care, to let her make everything no big deal. She was so tiny, so very much a flicker of different times that there could be no mistake, but he made her say it anyway.

"This," he mumbled, thumbing the waistband of her leggings where it fell just below her navel. "This is this, right?"

She laughed, soft and light and rich, all at once. "This is what we do, Blair. I'm fired up and you want to be warm, you know you do. Quick fixes are what the two of us are about with each other, right?"

"Right," he got out, and she tasted like hazelnut and cinnamon, but smelled like fresh sweat and remnants of peachy soap. She wasn't soft, had never *been* soft; she was angles and muscles and a wonder of anatomical physics that allowed for just the right amount of skin to cover just the right amount of bone.

Her fingers took his attention, over and over, scraping across his flesh in wicked plays for purchase. Blair saw flashes of desire that had so very little to do with him, lurking in her eyes, and he felt talons digging in and taking him back to years ago. But it was working, he was working, breath fast and hard, and he was getting warmer, flushed with heat, and she was tucked around him from above.

She took care of it all, and he wound up with the carpet rough against the back of his thighs, and her silky and sweet against his chest. And she moved, determined and secure, her heat all around him, and he must have been doing all the right things, because she was doing her thing, panting and smoothing her lips against the base of his ear. Moving, always moving, taking him in and making him warm and it was all a blur of heat and skin and straight brown hair tumbling into his face.

Fast and thorough, and his head was spinning when Sydney slipped away and leaned against the sofa, tracing the tip of a fingernail up and down his arm. "I should be getting ready for work," she said idly.

"Mmm." Blair blinked up at her lazily. "What is it you do these days?"

She grinned, a teasingly feral flash of tooth. "Why, I'm a corporate drone, Blair. I knew you weren't listening to me."

"Sorry," he said, though he wasn't, really. It seemed the thing to say, like sitting up seemed the thing to do. Sydney stretched back to snag his shirt from the arm of the sofa and handed it to him without hiding her amusement. "I'd say I'm surprised, but... you're probably damn good at whatever it is you do."

"Huh. I don't do much at all, and hence the drone part of the equation. And I won't be much good today, most likely. I'm beat."

"Sorry," he said again, and this time she really laughed.

"You're so quiet, Blair," she said suddenly. "You always were."

He shrugged, focusing his attention on the task of getting dressed. "I never was, Syd. You just overshadowed me."

She pushed a lock of hair behind his ear, a frown clouding her face for an instant. "Yeah, I guess maybe I did." And then it was gone, and she was getting up and pulling on her sweatshirt, which swallowed up her nudity even though she left it unzipped. "Okay, I really do have to get ready... It was nice seeing you again, Blair. This was nice."

Blair just looked away and reached for his jacket. "Yeah, Syd. It was-- nice."

***

There were quiet places in Cascade-- a lot of them, actually, but relatively few that Blair really liked going to. Yet somehow he managed to while the day away, moving from spot to spot; there was brunch at The Lucky Hunter and a long, quiet walk by the water, where he watched two patrol officers shoot the breeze in the easy calm of settling winter before heading home early in the afternoon

There was a note there from Jim, saying he was at the station to do a little work and just see what might be new. It seemed to Blair to be carefully worded, in a not altogether unsuccessful attempt at casual, and after he crumpled it up and tossed it towards the trash, he didn't bother picking it up from the kitchen floor.

He was sprawled on the sofa when it hit him-- Sydney's scent clung to him even without a refined sense of smell; it seemed the day out in the cold had frozen it all, stilled it within space and time so that it would linger, cling, badger him throughout the day.

So it was after a shower that he submerged himself in the warm myriad of scents in his room and set about mindless cleaning. And it helped, mostly in discovering lost pouches of potpourri or tea or bags of incense sticks tucked under his bed or in the back of a drawer. He could hold each one to his face and make *that* his world, his reality-- something apart and separate from anything else. No Syd, no Jim, no police, no scholars. Nothing specifically attached, nothing with concrete meaning.

It felt good to forget.

***

A week of very little sleep, and two days of absolutely none, was gearing up to hit Blair hard when Jim came home and drove fatigue far from his mind. Jim limped in and filled the space-- the sleepy space, the angry space, the space that felt crumpled and sore and emptier than anything else.

Blair was sitting at the table, absently poking the detective's shield with one index finger and playing with the corners of an unopened newspaper with the other hand. Jim stared at him for a minute before finally saying, "Hi."

Blair glanced up and his neutral expression wavered for a moment. Dull to duller, in a way, but then he forced a casual smile.. "Hey, man. Everything cool at the station?"

Jim relaxed a little, put at least partially at ease by the feigned easygoing mood. "Not a chance," he snorted. "Connor insisted on coming in, too; she kept spitting out certain choice phrases when she realized she couldn't type, write, or do pretty much anything of use without her right arm."

"Pick up a little vocabulary, at the very least?"

"The glass is always half-full with you, isn't it?" Jim teased lightly.

But Blair frowned, and simply said, "No."

Jim flicked his eyes to the newspaper. "Thinking of catching a movie tonight?"

"No," Blair said again. "Did you know unemployment is up this year from last?"

"What?"

"It is. Only half a point, percentage-wise, but really. How many people do you think have to go from like, *something*, to nothing, to equal half a percent? I mean, I guess it's only population figures; it just boils down to point-oh- oh- five of all the people in Cascade. It's... a number."

Jim had gotten a beer from the fridge and was now watching Blair with wary concern. "Chief, you know, it's okay to tell me if you hit your head or something."

"I didn't hit my head," and Jim was staring but he was getting fired up now, animated as he hadn't been in awhile. "When does that happen, you know? When does something go from being fascinating and news-worthy to just being-- another number? When do people just start fading into the background like it's *okay* that they can't see much reason to do much of anything?"

"Sandburg-- "

"I need a job, Jim. What do you think the odds are that anyone will hire *me* over one of the perfectly honest half-percent of Cascade residents who also happened to go belly-up this year? "

Suddenly Jim's stare had become an angry grimace, and he folded his arms across his chest. "You are perfectly honest, Blair."

And Blair's smile was sad, but unwaveringly. "Nah. Not perfectly." He got up and went to the glass doors, and in the deepening twilight he could see the barest glimmers of drizzling rain.

"Sandburg," Jim tried again. "Blair. You have a job."

"Right. Right, man. A job... listen, I'm gonna go lie down, get a little rest. Can we figure out dinner a little later?"

Jim hesitated. "Yeah, Chief. Whatever you want."

***

"So I began to bring out from my skull big bass-drums, horns and trumpets, and an instrument with more resonance than organs. And exploiting the prodigious strength given to me by my fever, I made with them a deafening orchestra. Everything pulsated with vibrations." -Henri Michaux, "Shriek"

Naomi called early in the evening, not long after Blair had left Jim and retreated to be alone. Her voice was chipper, insistently happy. "Hi, honey!"

"Hey, Naomi. You made it to Vermont okay?"

"Oh, of course, sweetheart. I just got all settled in and wanted to check in with you... how are you?"

Blair closed his eyes and leaned against his desk, suddenly even wearier than he had been. "I'm fine."

"Really? Honey, you don't sound... "

"I'm fine, Mom, really. Just a little-- tense, you know?"

"Yeah, I hear that. Well, sweetie, you could make yourself some bergamot tea. It'll balance some of that nervous tension - or, oh, maybe some jasmine or lavender, to help you relax and get some rest... you need your rest, sweetie."

"I know, Mom. I'll be okay, really. And I know perfectly well what kinds of tea I should make. You taught me well."

Naomi paused, and the tinny sound of her voice slanted a little over the line. "Blair... I know I did. I wonder how, sometimes, because I make these mistakes, but... you've become such a wonderful person."

"Aw, Naomi, c'mon."

"It's true, sweetie! I-- You know, I've done so much thinking, and I really think I've come to some peace with the-- the police thing."

Blair swallowed hard and felt his temples begin to throb. "Oh," he said weakly, and moved to sink onto his bed. "Some peace, huh?"

"Well, yes, honey. You know how I feel about the police force; I can't hide that, but... you're you, Blair," she said, and her tone suggested that the meaning behind her words should be obvious to anyone and everyone. "I've told you before that I'm proud of you. I have faith that you're strong enough make this a good thing."

"Mom, that - oh, man, that means a lot, really it does," he sighed, nausea suddenly rolling up, fast and steady. "I thought... well, you left so soon and all, and-- aw, man."

"Honey?"

"It's nothing, Mom. Never mind."

"If you say so," and the carefully accepting voice she used prompted Blair's unease to move its way up into his throat. "So, have you and Jim had a chance to talk about-- everything?"

That was it. "I have to go," he said abruptly, and he hung up the phone to concentrate on breathing. Huge, gulping breaths, getting sharper and more painful every second, and the nausea rolled through him until he had no choice but to stumble to the bathroom, because it was too much, all of it.

He caught himself thinking about how the porcelain under his fingertips was cold, and how it might just be that his skin was hot, was flushed and hotter than he could stand, and he thought about Jim finding him like this and he just didn't care. It had been years since his last full-blown panic attack, and right that second he only wanted to go with it.

So he did; he let it flood through his body as he tucked himself against the wall and rested his cheek against the tub. he still couldn't breathe, and he still felt far too hot, and everything was pressing in, deep behind his eyes, pressing into his head: the dissertation, the academy, the blood getting thicker and wetter between his hand and Megan's shoulder, Jim's voice, low and rough and god, so betrayed, telling him to just let it go, leave it alone-- don't bother.

And he hadn't realized that Jim would hear, hadn't noticed the footsteps, hadn't even looked up as Jim's legs appeared before him and knelt down. The days were getting crazier, true, but this was all the same; Jim was so very much the same, even though everything else was different.

Jim didn't make soothing noises; he didn't make a sound. He just gently felt for what Blair knew he must have already sensed-- no real fever, no sickness. And so Blair's mouth was wiped, his chilled sweat toweled away, and only when he was offering a hand to help Blair up did Jim say things, little things about breathing and relaxing and how everything would work out.

The pillowcase was cool and dry against his cheek, and a washcloth cold and wet against the opposite side of his neck. Jim fell silent, stroking Blair's hair back and away, thumb brushing Blair's temple on every sweeping motion. It was nothing, really, but it was enough, so Blair closed his eyes and the taut ache in his chest slowly faded.

***

"And then, sure at last that in this tumult my voice would not be heard, I began to shriek, to shriek for hours, and little by little I managed to find relief." -Henri Michaux, "Shriek"

"I couldn't really picture it," Jim finally said quietly. They were out in the living room, and it was late but they were still up, and there was a documentary on, which was just the right kind of excuse for Blair to avoid trying, and failing, to sleep. Plates with scattered bread crumbs were stacked on the coffee table, left, for once, until later. "I tried, you know, when you told me you had panic attacks, and I've seen you upset, but-- I've never seen you like that."

"Welcome to the wonderful world of neurosis," Blair muttered, letting his head fall back against the sofa. His eyes drifted closed, so that there was only Jim's proximity and the lulling explanation of how worker bees defaulted to be female in the absence of reproductive function. "You tried to picture it?"

"Yes," and Jim's voice was tight. "I never could... I guess I've seen you maybe bordering that, at times, but you've never let me see it all. You hid it."

"I didn't hide it." Blair sighed and cracked a weary eye open to peer up at Jim. "You've seen the worst of it, before. It's been a pretty long time since I... not since I was a kid." He stopped for a moment. "So you-- wondered? Why?"

Jim shrugged, his jaw clenched. "I just, uh. I guess I wondered how what you see with me isn't the worst of what you've seen."

"I don't get you."

"I mean, if everything that's happened to you, to us, hasn't sparked... ah. Then what was so horrible before that it was worse."

"Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"Yeah, nothing." Shifting, Blair grimaced as a joint in his shoulder popped. "Sometimes Naomi and I would actually stay in one place for awhile, you know? Like this once, we lived in South Dakota for nearly a year. In fact, she was engaged to this scholarly guy who was teaching her about Lakota Sioux legends and traditions-- did you know that Mount Rushmore is a holy place to the Sioux? All of the Black Hills, man; they're absolutely sacred, like Garden of Eden sacred, but then.... never mind."

Behind his closed eyes, there was Corbin, leading Naomi away to talk about the creation myths. "I was about nine or ten, then. Not the first time I had the attacks, not by a long shot, no way, but they were bad up there. Got a little better after we moved on, better still when we kept moving."

"You didn't *like* being settled?"

And Blair saw it, that he probably couldn't make Jim understand, but that it didn't matter so much, anyway. And so he shrugged and played with the hem of his shirt. "I don't know what the problem was, Jim. I'm just saying, that's one time I remember it being bad."

"Any other times?"

Another shrug. "Naomi says I was always a very nervous child. Like, from toddler years, man. It leveled out as I got older-- a little therapy here and there can work wonders." Blair let out a nervous laugh. "Except I'm still a mess, you know?"

"No, I don't," Jim replied evenly. "You're not, not the Blair I know."

The anger sparked, sudden but clear, bright in its vengeance, and Blair jerked to sit up straight. "And who says you know me, Jim? You know me but you-- you believe these things about me, that I'd sell you out?"

Jim's jaw clenched again, and Blair fell back once more, wishing he had simply hidden away in his room, avoided this entire conversation. A lamp glowed in the corner; the shades were drawn against the streetlights outside, and the loft was dark around the flickering light of the television, the shadows etched onto the walls for the duration, and Blair thought it was maybe a little unfair that Jim could see his face when he couldn't see Jim's. Balances: a little skewed, ad infinitum.

"It's not going to be so easy, is it, Chief?" Jim asked softly, eyes dark and nervous.

And he didn't know exactly what Jim meant, but there seemed only one answer to so many of the possibilities, and so Blair just said, "no."

"Got any hints about the best path, here, then?"

"I'd be first on it, man. First on it, dragging you all the way."

"Did I mention I regret how this all went?"

"Does that mean you're sorry, Jim, or does that mean you've got a headache and a new partner?"

"Um. Both. Or, no, all three."

"All three."

"Pretty much, Sandburg." Jim was tense, coiled to spring, and Blair wondered if he should be so close, safety's sake involved and all. "Because... I am, and I do, and god, I do, and you think I didn't notice that it scared the living hell out of you yesterday?"

"No. You always notice."

"No, I don't, and it got you killed and nearly did the same with Simon and Connor."

"It-- what the hell are you talking about?"

"You know damn well what I'm talking about."

Blair found it remarkably interesting that he did in fact know, and even more so that somewhere in the midst of the self-denial and compromising instincts that made up life lately, he understood perfectly. He stared hard at Jim, weighed different words, and finally said, "Yeah, Jim, I guess I do."

"I'm sorry for that, too."

Blair snorted softly. "God, Jim, I know that. I know you wish you could change it somehow, but you can't. It wasn't just *you*. Ever. I mean, we both managed to be complete-- "

"I don't wish that," Jim broke in quietly.

Blinking, Blair frowned. "Wha-- You don't?"

"No. It's done."

"Yeah right, Jim. No way you're gonna convince me you don't have any regrets. You just *said*-- "

"Of course I have regrets, Sandburg," Jim growled. "But changing things means going back, and I don't like to think about going back, that's all."

"Why not? Back to what?"

"Back to... I don't know. To anything. Back to before you, okay? Hell, back to a good deal of *during* you."

Blair jerked his head around hard. "Pretty shitty, man,"

"Aw, Christ, Blair, I don't mean-- Fuck. It's-- I mean, what do you change? There's so much I *could* want to, when I've really practiced using my gift of being a total prick, gotten you hurt... " Jim stopped and stared straight at him, and Blair thought, absently: here we go, man, and the walls they came a- tumblin' down. "You know, you're right. What the hell is there for you, huh? Why the hell *should* you stick around? You've got fucking scars, Sandburg, that prove you're right. You should just go."

"I should just-- " Blair stared right back. "I can't 'just go.'"

"So. See?" Jim said, a little pointedly and rather nonsensically.

And Blair couldn't help it; he could only laugh at that. Low, rumbling, echoing out of his chest in bitterly amused vibrations. "You're insane."

"But in like company," Jim shot back, a small smile slipping.

"Low blow," but he smiled, too, just slightly. "You guys really threw me for a loop with this detective stuff, you know?"

Jim was watching him carefully, and he suddenly wished he could take it all back. "We were trying to make things right for you," Jim said quietly.

"But that's just it, don't you see? I, um. I don't know that being a cop is right for me. I don't know that I can do it."

"What if you're wrong?"

"What if you consider for a minute that you were right? Ride's over, Jim. I really don't want to say you don't need me, because to be honest I hope you do in some way. But that way isn't for work, man-- it's not necessary that I be there, and it hasn't been for awhile."

Jim shifted to sit on the edge of the sofa and rubbed his face wearily. "And so what if I don't need you? Does it matter at all that I *want* you? To be there, to be my partner?"

"You want me there." Blair tried that out, then sighed and nodded, lapsing into a thoughtful silence. Finally, he said, "You wouldn't change it, huh?"

Jim hesitated. "Chief-- Right here, right now, I can still want to change this. To have done something differently, avoided how screwed up it got... But the past, Sandburg; the past is gone. Change one thing, you lose everything after, and... it's just all stacked up for me, you see?"

"Dominos," Blair said as agreement.

"Exactly. Knock one over, take it out of the running, and I'm left standing with a big messy pile of painted wood."

And Blair hid a grin, because Jim was so serious-- because *this* was so serious, but it was nice to be able to smile again even though it wasn't a game. "Naomi," he said suddenly. "It was Naomi on the phone earlier; she said I could make this a good thing. I could make it work."

"Smart lady," Jim said in unadorned agreement.

"You really think that?"

"Sure I do. I mean, this whole, ah, incident aside, you know your mother sits pretty well with me."

"No, I mean-- you think she's right? You're like, really okay with this?"

"Dammit, Sandburg, how many times am I going to have to say it? I fucking *hate* how this worked out. But I like the idea of you being my partner. I like you, I like your incessant chatter, I like knowing that you're the one watching my back. I want this. Got it?"

"Huh. Yeah, Jim, loud and clear."

And he thought that could be it, but then Jim added, softer now, "It bugs me that you're gonna get disillusioned pretty fast."

Blair hesitated. "Already happened, my friend."

"Not like it will, Chief. Not like... you could always take a step back. You're gonna have to teach yourself how to do that again, because I promise you, you'll forget, in the beginning. You'll think it's like before, like the past three years," and Jim broke off and stared at him, lips twisted in a worried scowl. "And it's the same, you'll be right, but Sandburg, *you'll* be different."

"Are you trying to talk me into or out of this, Jim?" Blair asked with an uneasy laugh. Something in Jim's eyes was haunting him, was screaming with ghostly, iced elegance that there was no getting around this truth. "Sounds like you've got some demons I don't know about."

"No, not really. Just-- I remember thinking that I should be able to go from the army to being a cop with a minimum of fuss. Just the way I like things, you know? And it was okay, easy enough. But really, it was a whole different ballgame. By the time I admitted that to myself, I think I'd just automatically adjusted."

"So I'll adjust," Blair said, and he put his hand on Jim's arm. "Jim, if you want this, why do you look so bothered? You don't think I can handle it after all? Is that the problem?"

"Not quite, Chief. You'll handle it pretty well, I think. That's what bothers me. You're going to change again. Because you have to."

"Because I have to," Blair echoed.

"Because I made you," Jim modified stiffly.

"I hate to break it to you, Jim, but you're not making me do anything. I may not have my doctorate, but I have a hell of a lot of education and can do some pretty fancy verbal footwork. I could find something else, if I needed to." Blair found himself wondering where he was coming up with so much confidence.

"Do you need to?"

Blair could hear the worry there, the hope veiled behind the gruff voice. And it made him feel better, somehow, made him quite certain that this was Jim Ellison being thoroughly intimate with honesty. "I-- I don't know, Jim. I don't think so. But-- look, it's not like we can go into this with even the illusion of it being one week, or something." Blair cracked a brief grin. "It's permanent. Like, officially permanent. I gotta admit that freaks me out a bit."

"Then what's it going to be, Sandburg? Can you stick this one out?"

"You okay with permanence, Jim?"

"You okay with at least giving it a shot?"

And he didn't really know what he was doing, because it wasn't a thought he'd ever, *ever* consciously entertained. Jim. Jim was Jim, and there was no place for him, Blair, to be kissing Jim. Yet some foreign rush of desperate curiosity and insistent longing forced him forward, and the first go was clumsy.

It wasn't even a go. A miss, pure and simple. Blair's lips grazed solidly across a plane of rough evening stubble, and he drew back for an instant, just long enough, just far enough to regroup and find Jim's mouth. And at the same time as his lips parted, all ready to utter the apology even before pulling away, Jim pulled in a sharp, short gasp. Stole the silent words from deep within Blair's mouth, drew them out with the borrowed air, and Blair was suddenly trying to catch up, trying to figure out exactly when this had become mutual.

There it was, plain as day. Jim's mouth had opened, and this was no woman's mouth. The click of enamel, tooth on tooth, echoed in Blair's head, quickly replaced by the somewhat clinical realization that Jim's tongue was heavy, was dense and wet and was like almost all of the rest of Jim, most certainly muscle. Muscle, pressing in--

--And Blair only wanted to press right back, as it got better and harder and sweeter, he wanted to never remove himself from Jim's mouth, so it got harder and rougher and they were both pressing, but he guessed that Jim was just pressing harder because he found himself going back, and back, and back even more, until there was the sofa arm and the sofa back and him, wedged in between, letting that support him.

Support them. Jim's thumb was scraping hard across his cheek, callused but soft, and his other hand was pressed into the sofa arm beside Blair's chest, his wrist tucked between elbow and ribs, propping him away a bit, and every so often Jim would tear himself up and take the slightest of seconds to stare down and take it all in before-- before dipping in again, taking it all in once more time.

And finally Blair twisted his mouth away and whispered, blinking rapidly, "Oh, fuck."

Jim's lips pursed in just the sort of serious teasing that he could manage perfectly. "Not on the first date, huh, Sandburg?"

Blair sighed and pushed Jim gently back, but left his hand resting on Jim's shoulder. "Right," he muttered. "God, I'm tired."

Jim just slipped a hand around to the back of his neck, tugging him firmly forward and against the hard wall of muscle, and Blair blew out a long breath and let his eyes close. "Had to do it honestly, Jim. Get *everything* out front, you know?"

"Yeah, Chief," came the gruff reply. "I know."

***

His fingers blazed with fire as he woke; Blair registered that the heavy heat of Jim's hand was resting on his own long before anything else settled into his brain.

And then he winced, because Jim would be hurting later on, or maybe soon. Or maybe now. Sitting on the floor for some reason, leaning against the sofa and using his outstretched arm as a pillow, Jim looked uncomfortable though he was sound asleep. And he saw that the lamp and TV were still on, and the dishes still out, and he smiled a little at how hard it must have been for Jim to ignore it all and-- stay put.

Or maybe it was easy, but Blair didn't know up from down lately, and Jim had never been much of a middle ground. And so Blair thought about extremes, and turned his hand to face up and he squeezed a bit.

Jim jerked, lifting his head and groaning at what must have been a stellar crick in his neck. "Wha-- Oh... Chief. What time is it?"

Blair grunted. "Jim, do you see glasses on my face? No way I can see the clock from here."

"But on the plus side, you're getting better at logical reasoning first thing in the morning." Jim smiled slightly, and his head fell to rest again on his arm. "Sleep well?"

"Like a rock, man," Blair said, and then he regretted it because maybe it crossed some line, admitting he slept better with Jim right there than he could on his own. But he let that go, and Jim's hand was still warm and strong against his, and he didn't realize he was squeezing again until he... was.

And Jim squeezed back and it was nice, and as Blair grinned into the sofa cushion, he wondered just how deep the crease in his cheek from the seam was. Three seconds into that thought, he realized Jim's thumb was moving slowly across the knuckles of his own, and that Jim's breathing was so deep and steady he might have still been asleep, except for that motion, that light and lazy and gentle caress, and Blair felt his own breath hitch.

Jim immediately shifted his head to peer at him, icy blue eyes liquid-clear and red-rimmed from sleep. "You okay?"

"Yeah, sure, I mean, of course." But then he stopped, because something was different, and he realized what it was. And so he tried again, smiling, knowing that it wasn't so much a lie. "Yes. I'm okay. And I'll be okay. Okay?"

"Okay," Jim murmured, and promptly yawned. "Okay. Good."

"Good," and Blair grinned. "What the hell are you doing sleeping like that, anyway? Last I remember, you were up here somewhere."

Jim snorted. "You move a lot when you're asleep, you know that?"

"Oh. And you're surprised by this?"

"Not really," Jim said, and laughed. "Okay, no. Not at all."

"Stiff?"

And Jim looked briefly amused, which made Blair want to laugh stupidly. But it passed, and Jim squeezed his hand again. "I'm fine. My leg is gonna make it hell to get up, though."

Blair winced. "Aw, jeez, man."

"Sandburg. Blair. I'm fine."

"Okay," Blair said, without argument.

Jim nodded. "There's hope for you yet, Chief. Wanna help me up, here?"

Blair got up, and really all he had to do was stand by and make sure Jim didn't fall as he pressed his palms to the sofa cushions and pushed up on his good leg, and Jim didn't even waver the slightest bit, but when he was on his feet he put a steadying hand on Blair's shoulder, anyway. And Blair wondered who exactly he was trying to steady.

But then it didn't matter anymore, and Jim gave him a small, goofy smile and a rap of affectionate knuckles to the top of his head, and said, "I'm getting a shower," and then he hesitated before pressing a dry, almost chaste kiss to the corner of Blair's mouth.

Almost chaste. Almost, which was good enough for right then.

Making breakfast, Blair noticed his badge still sitting on the table with the classifieds next to it, and he stepped away from the skillet in which he was scrambling eggs just long enough to grab the folded newspaper.

He gazed at it, and then threw it away.

**end**