The Right to Remain Silent

by Justine and Kass

This story is set a year after TSbyBS, back when Internet companies were still worth something. Thanks to Terri, Sihaya and Lucy for the beta-reads.
The boys are theirs, the words are mine. This is news?

Club Doom, Blair decided, was not what it had been.

He was there with Todd Castine and some of Todd's friends from sociology, and while it was great to hang with a friend from his days at Rainier who was speaking to him, he wasn't sure he was actually having fun.

He felt like a cop, honestly. All he saw were clandestine transactions in drugs and prostitution going down in a crummy old warehouse with rampant underage drinking. The worst crime of all was the music: badly played grunge with no sense of history. Whiny white boys in flannel who'd never heard of Kurt Cobain, never mind Jimi Hendrix.

Todd caught his eye and crossed over to him. "Not your scene anymore, huh?"

"It sucks," Blair confirmed, well aware that it was he, not Club Doom, that had done the bulk of the changing.

"Come on." Todd hollered something at one of his friends, and led Blair out of the club.

"Tell me I'm not getting old and establishment," Blair begged him.

"You're not," Todd comforted’—though he was Blair's own age, so how would he know? "The band was sucking."

"Thank you."

"Lagerhaus is at the Phoenix," Todd said, opening the car door for him.

The Phoenix was Cascade's only gay club; the only one Blair knew of, anyway. "More your scene than mine," he told Todd. The band was a good one, though.

"Are you actually looking for women, or did you just want to jump around and have a couple of beers?" They pulled out of the parking lot and turned left.

Blair was silent. Todd had been trying to seduce him ever since Blair could remember.

"Or are you just chickenshit?" Todd suggested. "You can take on the Maori and the Kobai and the cops, but a bunch of gay men are gonna scare you off?"

"Don't even," Blair said dangerously, trying to keep his sense of humor. He'd been looking forward to this night out all week, and it wasn't going the way he'd wanted. He could remember having fun at Club Doom, not that long ago. He wanted to be able to recognize himself in that crowd.

Todd made little chicken noises, brawk brawk brawk, staring at Blair with a little smirk on his face.

Annoying. But then, Blair was feeling a little counterculturish after a long week of place-your-hands-where-I-can-see-them and you-have-the-right-to-remain-silent. He'd chosen being a cop, and he was damn good at it, but that didn't mean he had to lose hiscapacity for enjoyment. And he hadn't, damn it; he hadn't. It was just the music. Give him a better band and he'd be his old self again. "Drive on, man," Blair said. "Never let it be said that Blair Sandburg is chickenshit. I'll dance anywhere the band does not completely suck."

They got out of the car outside the Phoenix, and Blair felt the familiar little thrill of confronting a foreign culture. "What do I do?" he asked Todd.

"Use your powers for good, man," his friend told him. "That ol' ABD in anthro's gotta be good for something. Don't slug guys if they come on to you."

"You honestly think I'd’—"

"Don't know these days," Todd said. "You're looking pretty dangerous, lately."

The comment scraped him. "Look," he snapped, grabbing hold of Todd. "I'm still me, you got it?"

Todd looked down at where Blair's hand threatened to bruise his arm. "Whatever, *detective*."

"Shit. I'm sorry."

"No, I get it, Blair, okay?" Todd leaned over and straightened Blair's jacket. "Let's go on our field trip, class."

Blair half-grinned and followed Todd into the club. Lagerhaus was in fact playing, one of the few grunge bands in Cascade that still knew what they were doing. The place was innocuous at first, surprisingly so; a bunch of guys just hanging around in a pleasant, well-lit club, mostly drinking beer and talking to each other.

Then his eyes reached the dance floor, and it took every amount of anthropological training Blair had in him not to gape or flee.

The band was playing a ballad, and guys were out on the floor in couples, pressed together, hands on asses, swaying back and forth. The freedom of it.... His unexpected envy hit him like a gunshot. It was so simple’—guys just being themselves, after long hard days of being something else. It made his throat ache; it made him want to turn around and run.

"Sweet, huh?" Todd said behind him. "Or are you shocked?"

"Shocked?" Blair made himself laugh, the sound a little tinny in his ears. "I'm unshockable, man, you know that."

"Dance with me, then," Todd dared.

"Like that?" Blair said, and his voice jumped half an octave, like he was still some kind of kid. Todd just laughed and bought him a beer.

Things got easier after that. The beer’—a few’—went down and the band picked up and pretty soon Blair forgot he was in a gay bar; he was just dancing, which he hadn't done in a million years. And if men flirted with them, well, he flirted back. When in Rome, right?

By the time the music slowed down again and Todd led him out onto the floor, it was easy to let his head fall onto Todd's familiar shoulder and to sway with Todd's strong hands on his back. The air was different, he could swear the air was different, he would have to ask Jim about it, he thought wildly, feeling Todd's mouth close over his own. Something in the air. Or the water, maybe.

"You like this," Todd breathed into his ear, and Blair just nodded hazily. It was just a few minutes back to Todd's car, and the cold air outside didn't much help him regain his equilibrium.

"I think you want to come home with me," Todd said after a few long, lazy kisses. "Don't you?"

Somehow the import of this statement reached Blair, even with his mouth open and his cock hard, and for once Blair was left stammering, without words.

"I don't know," he said finally. "I think.... I think I'd better go home."

Todd kissed him again. Blair liked it’—a lot. It was powerful kissing, not like kissing women, who just parted their soft little lips and let you feed on them. This was hungry, sensual, and Blair took to it like the first time he'd played poker, when he'd won all the chips on the table.

Like a natural.

"Home," he gasped. This way lay madness’—anybody could see that.

"Fine," Todd said. "Home." He pointed the car toward Prospect. "Home to Jim, never mind that you haven't had sex with anybody in two years, there's no frustrated homoeroticism there ’—"

"The only frustrated homoeroticism in this car is yours, man," Blair said tightly.

Todd laughed, a bitter little noise. "Cleopatra, you're soaking in it."

"Piss off," Blair suggested.

"Here," Todd said, pulling up outside the bakery. "You're home, okay? Call me if you buy a clue in the next decade."

"Todd, look, wait." Blair took a deep breath. "I had a good time tonight. I admit it, okay? I just can't handle another major life change right now."

"Fine, Blair, fine," Todd said, gesturing toward the door. "I don't know why I keep trying with you, I honestly don't. Go home. Good night."

And Blair found himself on the sidewalk, running his fingers over his warm lips, closing his jacket around himself in the chilly air as he made his way toward the door to the loft.

Jim had promised not to wait up for Sandburg, and he hadn't, not really. He was just still awake when his partner got home.

"You're still up," Sandburg said accusingly, toeing off his boots by the door.

"It's only one-thirty, and I'm almost done." Jim waved his book in the air.

"Andrew Greeley? What is this, busman's holiday?" Sandburg looked different -- well, he hadn't been out with friends in a while. But his heart rate was wildly elevated, and he smelled strange, looked wild-eyed. He was faking nonchalance, however, so Jim let him get away with it.

"How was the club?"

He shook his head. "Deep hurting. These kids have no idea what they're doing with a guitar, just whang whang whang," he air-strummed in illustration. "They wear flannel because that's what the Gap is selling, you know?"

"Whereas there was once some good countercultural reason for it?" Jim asked skeptically.

"The meaning behind the grunge movement," and Jim could almost smell Sandburg getting into a good lecture, "was to get the glam and pretty-boy androgyny out of rock and focus on the emotion of the music. Granted, that emotion is usually mindless rage, but what a way to sublimate. Ergo, flannel, once the clothing of the disinherited farm worker, becomes a symbol for digging in the dirt of rock and roll."

"A mind," Jim said, "is a terrible thing to waste on bullshit, Sandburg."

"Talk to the hand, man. You're the detective reading a mystery novel."

"So you stayed out at a club that was playing shitty music until one AM? That won't hold up in court. What was her name?"

"Don't start," Sandburg said. "I went hopping around town with my buddy Todd."

Jim remembered meeting Sandburg's friend Todd, who had described Sandburg as his 'token straight friend'. "The guy from the sociology department? Castine?"


"Okay," Jim joked, "what was *his* name?"

And was surprised to watch Sandburg's face look shocked, and a little guilty, before his fake cheerfulness returned. "Definitely not my scene," he said, "But we had fun, anyway."

Jim was tempted to press; Sandburg was hiding something. But the guy was his partner, not a suspect, he reminded himself, and so he let Sandburg wave good-night airily and head into the shower, and he started to shut down the loft for bed.

But something made him pick up his hearing, and he could swear he heard Blair subvocalizing, "oh shit oh shit oh shit" underneath the whssssssht of the shower. He wasn't playing with himself, either; this was a panic attack.

Well, Sandburg sometimes had them; he led a dangerous life, but the panic never held him back. If he didn't want to share, that was his business. Jim had had five years now to train himself in respecting Sandburg's privacy.

Jim just wanted a heads-up, if shit was en route to the fan.

"Sandburg," he said when his partner got out of the shower, and Sandburg jumped half a foot in the air.

"Thought you'd gone to bed," he said, his face nervous in the darkened living room.

"Just tell me one thing, okay? Is it something serious?"

"Is what serious?"

"Whatever you're not telling me," Jim said.

"You're good, man," Sandburg said quietly.

"I know you, Chief."

"You don't know me." He shook his head. "I don't know *myself*."

That didn't sound good. "You going to be okay?"

"I don't know," Sandburg said in the darkness, "but it's personal, all right?"

Jim sighed and headed for bed. "I trust you, Chief," he said, pausing at the foot of the stairs, "and if it's personal, then it's personal, fine."

"Good, then." Lightly. "Good night."

Jim stopped him before he reached his bedroom. "Look. You were panicking."

"I do that. You know I do that."

"You haven't done it in months," Jim said. "And whatever's up with you. I mean. Look, I don't want to come home and find you hauling furniture down to the basement."

Sandburg laughed a little. "Territoriality is your vice, man, not mine. When the going gets tough, I just bolt."

"Well, *don't*, is what I'm saying. I seem to remember you telling me that friends help each other."

"I hear you," he said, still in that lost, hollow voice. "I do, Jim."

"And sometimes," Jim said, "you make a big thing out of little things, or a little thing out of big things, so I'm just trying to get a grip on the size of this one."

His partner looked up at him. "Todd kissed me," he said.

It was Jim's turn to hide his reaction. Sandburg sometimes did things, Jim told himself. Just to experiment. He was that kind of guy. It didn't have to mean anything.

"I have no idea how big that is. I'm not sure if it was just a statistical blip, or I've been living a life of denial, which is what Todd thinks."

"Todd just wants to get into your pants."

"Yeah." That little laugh again. "He made that pretty clear."

"It doesn't have to mean anything, Blair," Jim told him, echoing the mantra in his head.

"'Blair'?" his partner mocked. "See, I knew if I told you, you'd wig out."

"Did you like it?" Jim couldn't help himself.

"See, that's the problem," Blair said. "I think I did. But I'm thirty, you know? And it's not like I'm some kind of homophobe. I'm in touch with my sexuality. I like women. And people's sexualities don't just *reverse* on them. So I'm figuring, this is just some kind of displacement thing I've got going. A hankering for the countercultural. Which makes sense, really, after cleaning up all that paperwork at the station this week. I mean, not just participating in hierarchical culture, which believe me is bad enough, but filling out *forms* for the hierarchy, that's a little beyond the pale. So I think it's just a blip on the radar, ignore it, okay?"

Even after five years, Jim couldn't always grasp the convoluted logic that went on in Sandburg's head, but he could see where this was going. "You're going to do this all night, aren't you?"


"You're going to talk yourself in and out of a crisis all night."

"We have tomorrow off," Blair shrugged, keeping it light.

"Blair. You can kiss a guy and not be gay, okay?"

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I've heard that. But’—"

"Look," Jim said, and kissed him. It would have been a chaste, small kiss, just to prove his point, but Blair's mouth opened against his and it quickly became aggressive. He had to back away. It'd been so damn long since he'd kissed anybody, he told himself, and the fact that he was fond of Sandburg was hardly news. "See?" he said, more weakly than he'd intended.

"Sure," Blair said. "Like *that* helped."


"Jim, if I were going to have a thing for a guy, it'd be you, okay?"

"Good," Jim said firmly.

"So don't contribute to the confusion’—what?"

"What, what?"

"You said 'good'."

"Oh." He couldn't look Blair in the eye. "I guess I did."

Blair took a deep breath. "I'm going to bed," he said. "Go to bed."

Jim nodded and went up the stairs, where he slept no better than Blair, his mind full of questions and confusion, and the taste of Blair's mouth on his own.

Morning brought a phone call from Simon with an apologetic summons to a hostage situation. "He has other detectives," Blair griped, rolling over in bed. He'd finally fallen asleep around 4:30; he felt like he was back in grad school.

"Just drag it, Chief," Jim yelled back from the shower, and Blair was warmed by the nickname; it meant Jim wasn't ready to deal with that thing last night, either. He put bagels in the toaster, poured the coffee, and waited until Jim was out of the bathroom before he went in to shave.

"We've got fifteen minutes," Jim said as they crossed paths. "Simon says they're in a holding pattern."

Well, good, Blair thought, scrubbing his face and reaching blearily for his razor.

He'd gotten old overnight, he thought sometimes, looking at the shorter hair, the long lines on his face. Maybe it was just because he'd prolonged his adolescence as far as humanly possible, until he'd actually turned thirty, and there wasn't any prolonging anymore. He was a detective, which had crept up on him without the slightest hint, and he liked his work, which was even stranger. Who the fuck was this guy in the mirror?

Shower. Right.

The thing was, it was the spin you put on the story that created the tale. He was a postmodern shaman and guide, protecting his sentinel against the dangers of the urban environment. He was a failed anthropologist hiding a life-or-death secret regarding his former dissertation subject. He was a cop well out of his rookie year, junior partner in the best partnership on the force. He was a thirty-year-old man living with his thirty-eight-year-old roommate.

But the sentinel, the subject, the partner and the roommate were all Jim Ellison. Who had shyly kissed him on the lips last night, to prove (in a twist of logic that had made some sense at the time) that they weren't gay.

What were they, then? Didn't there come a point at which two lives were so entangled that they might as well surrender to the inevitable? Blair tried to imagine things being different: he'd have his own apartment, maybe; a girlfriend, a wife. But he knew these were not his fate, his *moira*; he was tied to Jim. Other possibilities existed in some strange universe where there was no Jim, and Blair didn't find them attractive.

He stepped out of the shower. I like my life right now, he told the gods silently. Please don't make me fuck this up.

"How long's it take, Sandburg? Crime in progress, let's go."

"Can I help it if you're hairless?" he said, dressing quickly and grabbing his bagel, now spread with vegetable cream cheese, from Jim.

"Who called who a throwback?" Jim said easily. Maybe he'd just repressed the whole thing. Life would be easier, Blair had often thought, if he could learn to employ that particular defense mechanism.

"Don't expect snappy dialogue at eight-thirty on a Saturday, man. I have a delicate constitution."

"Since when?"

"What did I just tell you?" he said, following Jim down to the truck.

A geek at one of the little downtown start-ups, ValkiriNet, had apparently snapped, and was holding several of his co-workers hostage. "Devin Grebczeski," Simon told them. "Systems administrator. Taggart took the call half an hour ago. Says he wants ten million wired to an account by noon, or he says he's going to start killing people, starting with his boss."

Jim whistled. "There's no way a little start-up like Valkiri can cough up ten million by noon."

"Maybe in stocks," Sandburg suggested. "A lot of these little companies have some serious financial support."

"Whatever. Is Valkiri negotiating with him, sir?"

"The real problem is that there's no one outside to negotiate with. Our guy has the whole staff’—six people’—at gunpoint. Nobody can make the calls. He's completely snapped."

"So you want to listen in while I negotiate, and Taggart and Jim are meanwhile going to sneak up and take him down," said Sandburg.

"I like this guy," Simon said to Jim, indicating Sandburg. "Where'd you find him again?"

"He just kind of showed up," Jim said, but he gave Sandburg a clap on the shoulder and steered him over towards Taggart, who was shaking his big head in dismay.

"I don't like it, Jim," Taggart said. "Kid hasn't said a word to me in five minutes. Something's up."

"We're going in," Jim said. "Slowly."

"Wires," Simon said. "And if Sandburg says stop, you stop, got it?"

"Absolutely, sir."

Taggart unmuted the phone and spoke into it. "Devin? You still there?"

A sigh came from the speakerphone. "What do you *want*, man? I'm busy here."

"I'm putting on our negotiator. He's going to get you what you need, okay?" Taggart nodded to Sandburg, who accepted the headset.

"Devin? This is Detective Sandburg. You've been pretty quiet. What's going on up there?"

"What's going on is that I have a gun and I'm going to shoot these people," Devin said.

"I got that part, man, that's why we're here. We don't want those people to get hurt." Sandburg nodded 'go' and met Jim's eyes. Be careful, he mouthed.

Good luck, Jim whispered back, and he and Taggart took off, listening in on the wire as they broke into the building. The lock was easy: the door opened soundlessly.

"You're the sysadmin, right?" Sandburg was saying, his voice echoing oddly over the wires as it slowly faded from Jim's natural range. "That's a rough job."

"It sucks shit," Devin replied. "I've been here since Tuesday morning with a crashed server."

"That does suck shit," Sandburg agreed. "Still, you're pulling down, what, 30K a year?"


"Solid. Better than twice what I'm making."

They were moving down the hallway towards where Jim could hear Devin's voice’—and, if he tried, a tinny rendition of Sandburg's from Devin's end of the phone.

"Don't be friends with me. I've got a gun."

"So do I, Devin," Sandburg said quietly. "So does every one of us out here. But it doesn't have to be like that."

"Tony's making a hundred thousand," said Devin, "and he only comes in to work every other day."

"Tony's your CEO?" And Jim could hear Sandburg covering the phone and agitating for a list of names.

"I'm gonna put a hole in his head," said Devin. "I swear to God."

"Devin," Sandburg said reasonably. "You've got a shitty job, you haven't slept or eaten in days, I bet... cold pizza and coffee, right?"

They were at the hallway's end, bathed in fluctuating fluorescent light. Jim gestured to Taggert to stop, and they waited, guns at the ready.

"How would you know?" Devin's voice was slightly higher in pitch: surprised, Jim thought.

"Used to code on a Unix box, back in the day." Another one of Sandburg's effortless lies. How did he do it?

"Fuck you," said Devin. "Now you've got the whole insight into my psyche, is that it?"

"Here's what I know about you, Devin," Blair said. "You put down that gun, you walk out of there, you'll get all the help you need."

"And what if I just start shooting?"

"Then a lot of people get killed. Maybe even you and me. And then you're the bad guy, and we can't help you."

"You think I need help?"

"You tell me, man. I see a decent, hard-working guy holding up his coworkers with a handgun during a Saturday morning staff meeting. He's not a bad guy, he's not even sick, he's just had it, he's stressed out, and he's making a cry for help."

"You think?"

"I do think. And now that you've made that cry, well, we hear you, understand? Don't make a busted server be the end of the world here. You're a smart guy. You know that's not right. Put the gun down and just walk out of there. My partner's outside the door. He'll get you out safely."

"I just couldn't take it anymore, you know?"

"I do know," Sandbug said. "It's going to be okay. Put the gun down."

"I put it down," said Devin Grebczeski. "I'm going to the door."

"Jim, be ready," Simon said into the wire, as a short, pudgy white man in an ancient Def Leppard t-shirt opened the door, unarmed.

"Are you Devin?" Jim asked him gently, and the little man started to cry.

"Hell of a job back there," Jim said as they hopped back into the truck. Even the paperwork was getting routine. Freaked-out neurotic, check; possession, check; hostage situation, check; reckless endangerment, sign here; thank you, detectives, have a nice weekend.

"Guy wasn't serious." Blair shrugged. "He just needs therapy, a few nights' sleep."

"Yeah, but you figured that out right away. How'd you do that?"

"I don't know," said Blair. "I just kind of knew. A guy like, say, Garret Kincaid, he's an actual psycho. He'll get on the phone and tell you how brilliant he is. Megalomaniac. Somebody like Warren Chapel, he'll talk on the phone and try to scare you, wants to hear you breathing hard. Poor little Devin had run out of stuff to say five minutes before I got there. He was just scared, like a cat up a tree. He didn't know how to get out of it."

"All I'm saying," Jim said, "is that knowing the difference is a skill."

Blair wasn't sure how to handle Jim's praise, but he liked it. It was something, to have a strength and be able to use it, to save lives with it -- not by accident of fate or sheer guts, as had happened in the days before he'd officially joined the PD, but by real application of skill.

"Was just thinking," he said into the car window, trying to figure out how to share this with Jim. "It's good, you know? That I can... this makes me sound like an asshole... that I can do something you can't." He knew Jim would be frowning at this; he didn't even look over. "I mean, it's not like I can hand a guy his liver, like you can, and I certainly don't have the experience you do, or, obviously, the senses, so it's just good, you know, I mean, it makes me less Tonto, a little more Lone Ranger. I can contribute."

"You always contributed," said Jim. "But I like that you've found a niche. It's fun to be your sidekick."

"I thought we didn't say the S word anymore," Blair said. "Partner."

"Yeah," Jim said. "Okay. Partner."

Blair took in the route Jim was driving. "Did you turn left on Macintire? You're taking the long way."

"I just... look. You wanna get out of here for the rest of the weekend?"

God. Did he ever. "Camping? In November?"

"I don't know. Something. You're always telling me to trust my instincts. My instincts are telling me to just keep driving."

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. "Is this about last night?"

Jim blew air out through his lips. "Maybe. Yeah."

"Keep driving," Blair said. "I think we're going to have a conversation."



Silence, except for the sound of the windshield wipers against the rain. Jim left the wipers on even after it stopped drizzling, and they made a squeaking sound against the glass. "Don't tell me you don't hear that," Blair said finally.

"Oh," said Jim, and turned the wipers off.

"You good to drive?"

"I'm fine, Sandburg." Then, "why'd you kiss him?"

Well, there it was. The ball was now in the air. "He kissed me," Blair corrected. "Kind of like you did."

"Did you like it?"

"Which time?"

"Either time." Jim pulled onto the interstate. Where the hell were they going?

"What am I supposed to say to that?" Blair said.

"The truth would be nice."

"Yeah, well." Blair watched the station wagon on the right as they passed. Some happy family of four and their Irish setter, for Christ's sake. A bumper sticker reading "My kid and my money go to Rainier Preparatory Academy." One of those little silver fish with the feet: DARWIN. "I liked it," he said finally, not wanting to turn this into a fight.

He was the lead negotiator, right? He could damn well negotiate. "I liked it a lot. Both times."

Jim was silent.

"Am I supposed to say it was better kissing you? Because it was. But what I don't know here is whether you meant it. Or what you meant." That was it, but it wasn't all of it. "Or." He paused, reaching for it. "Or what you want."

"I want." Jim cleared his throat slightly. "I want to not fuck up," he said finally, and Blair could tell he was scared into honesty. "My first instinct is to run screaming and forget about it. My second one is to beat the shit out of you for bringing it up."

"Try it," Blair said quietly, teasing.

"Hey," Jim said. "You should be proud of me, here. I'm scared shitless and I'm admitting it." Jim spared a glance away from the road, and his eyes held something like what little Jimmy Ellison must have had on his face when he brought home his first straight A's.

"I think you're beautiful," Blair said. "I'm thinking I can't live without you. How much honesty do you want, here?"

Jim's clenched jaw jumped a little, but Blair could tell he was pleased.

"And you're right," he added. "I'm scared this will mess up everything."

"I never wanted to talk about it."

"I never even knew it was there."

"Really?" Jim asked. "You?"

"Yeah," Blair laughed a little. "Me. Totally repressed. I admit it, okay?"

"I'm just surprised," said Jim, and he brought his hand over and rested it on Blair's leg, and Blair liked that, and put his own hand on top of Jim's to let him know it was okay. Jim's hands were big and warm; it was strange, but pleasant, like the first time he'd tried vindaloo, or heard Maori chanting.

"So," Blair said, "where are we going?"

"Well," Jim said, "I was thinking I might pull over and kiss you again."

A flush of not-quite-pleasure, not-quite-fear. "And then what?"

"I don't know, Sandburg," Jim said, and the familiarity of that impatience set both of them to laughing.

They were passing the city limits, Blair noticed idly. Heading into new territory. He almost laughed.

"Did you’—if you didn't want to talk about it, that means you've’—"

Jim took a terse breath. "It's ... not news."

Blair felt his palm, the one on top of Jim's hand, grow slightly damp. "To you."

"To me." Acknowledging.

The conversation seemed to have stalled again, without getting where Blair wanted it to go. "Damn it," he said after a long silence. "This is hard, Jim, you're’—"

Jim's stone face finally broke, in a snort which sounded suspiciously like muffled laughter.

"Oh, you ’—" Blair started, and couldn't think of an appropriate curse or imprecation. Jim was chuckling now. "You are *so* not helping."

He was annoyed, but he was also pleased; some barrier seemed to have been broken, the air in the cab was approaching being breathable again.

"Bite me," Jim said, affably.

There was really no excuse for it, except that Blair was feeling a little giddy; he complied.

He'd handled everything fine until Sandburg fucking bit him. That was what Jim told himself, afterwards, when he looked back on the events of the day: it was the bite that sent them over the cliff, it was totally Sandburg's fault.

His attention had been on the big rig nosing its way into his lane. The spitting rain had picked back up, just enough to slick the road, and he was steering one-handed because his right hand was in Sandburg's lap. Which was weird enough by itself.

And then Sandburg picked it up, as if to examine Jim's knuckles or nails, and without warning sank his teeth into the meaty part beneath his pinky.

It wasn't a hard bite, but it was startling. "Fuck!" He jerked his hand away and jerked the steering wheel all at once; they half-swerved onto the shoulder and then back.

"You asked," Sandburg pointed out. Cheerfully. Maybe too cheerfully.

Right about then, Jim became aware that he could still feel the wet heat of the inside of his partner's mouth, even though his hand was on the steering wheel and was drying in the air.

Wet. Heat. He slammed the blinker on and pulled right, slowing down.

"Where are we going?"

"I'm pulling over," Jim said.

"You told me that already."

"Yeah, but now I'm doing it."

Thankfully, that seemed to silence Sandburg, at least for the moment. A blue sign floated by: rest stop, 1.2 mi., no facilities. That suited him just fine.

For what purposes...he didn't really want to think about that part. Except that he also did.

An old beater of a car was parked at the far end of the rest area, near the picnic table and the dumpster, but a quick scan revealed the car was empty, and probably had been for a while, from the smell of it. Rodents nesting.

They sat there for a moment as the engine ticked and hissed its way to silence.



They stopped, over-polite. No, you go first. No, I couldn't possibly, *you* first. No, no, I insist.

"This is weird," Sandburg said. He made a sudden abortive move with his hand, which Jim recognized’—his body was acting on the impulse to wrap a curl around one finger and yank on it. It was like a poker tell: Sandburg was nervous. But his hair was too short to fiddle with, now.

For some reason, Sandburg's nervousness made Jim feel better. It was reassuring that he wasn't taking this lightly, maybe, or else maybe only one of them could freak out at any given time.

"We've always been weird," Jim found himself saying, and Sandburg nodded.

"Yeah, okay." A half-shrug. "So, ah ’—"

"You said you liked the kiss."

"Didn't *you*?" A faint hint of challenge in his tone.

Two could play at that game. Jim took a deep breath, knowing it expanded his chest, wanting on some deep level to awe his partner. "Yeah. I did."

Whether it was his little preening display, or the sudden scratch in his voice, something was making Sandburg redden. Gratifying.

"Okay, then. We try it again."

When had Sandburg taken control? Because there he was, making the suggestion Jim had been going to make, sliding a little ways across the seat to slip an arm around the back of Jim's neck and press their mouths together.

By the time they kissed’—for the second time in as many days, although the gap in between had seemed interminable’—Blair thought he had let go of his doubts. The labels weren't going to matter: what mattered was that, for once, they weren't fucking things up. They'd hit a crisis point and they were running through it with flying colors.

When Jim's tongue entered his mouth, Blair realized that he *had* still had doubts’—and that they were now completely, totally, irrevocably blown out of the water. Because whatever they had been, they were dust’—they couldn't stand up to this.

His right knee was bent against the gear shift, his jeans were pulling uncomfortably at his crotch, and every neuron in his brain was busy focusing on Jim's tongue.

Blair slipped a hand inside Jim's leather jacket and ran it around his back, holding on, and Jim made a muffled sound of encouragement. They kissed some more, getting sloppier now. Jim's hand, which had been clutching Blair's hip, moved to cover Blair's erection.

Holy shit, that felt good. The flat of Jim's palm, pressing at the base of his dick, releasing and pressing again.

Some remote part of his brain thought they were moving a little fast. The rest of him was acknowledging, finally, that they'd been waiting for almost five years’—that they were coming off of perhaps the worst case of blue balls in human history. Blair moved his own hand, skimming it around the place between ribs and hip (which felt muscular and solid, even through Jim's shirt) and made it to Jim's groin. He felt like he was fumbling, but he had to be doing something right; Jim sighed into his mouth and bit his tongue.

He wanted to unbutton Jim's jeans and get his hand inside, but fine motor control turned out to be impossible with Jim's hand pushing at his dick and Jim's mouth on his. Wanting to take the initiative in something, Blair pulled away and fastened his mouth on Jim's throat.

He'd barely worked that spot when Jim jerked under him, shuddering. Blair closed his hand, hoping he was being gentle enough, and hung on.

As Jim came he tightened his own hand’—hard to say whether it was intentional or just part of his body's arching’—and Blair sucked in a quick breath, pushing back into Jim's fingers. Watching Jim come (hell, *making* Jim come) had urged Blair to the cliff edge of orgasm. He pushed into Jim's hand again, not quite believing that he was doing this, that Jim was letting him’—but Jim let him. Encouraged him, even.

"Come on," Jim murmured into the hair above his ear, applying pressure in just the right places. "C'mon, Chief." And that was it: wham, bam, thank you sir.

Blair slumped boneless over Jim for a minute or two, until the aching muscle in his right thigh started to spasm. He winced and pulled back, clapping a slightly sticky hand on his hip to try to massage the tension.

"You okay?"

"Leg cramp," he bit out. "Gearshift."

And then Jim was moving, pushing him to his side of the cab, placing his hands along Blair's thigh to push and press the spasm away.

Blair closed his eyes. Damn: if this was going to be one of the perks of their new status, they should have done this a long time ago.

Eventually Jim receded to the driver's side. Blair opened his eyes.


Jim shrugged, magnanimously.

There was a pause.

"So where to, Chief?"

Blair looked down at himself, a little ruefully. "I'm a mess."

Jim laughed. "You and me both. Time to hit the showers."

The innuendo of that’—probably unintentional, but hey’—made Blair's heart quicken. "No facilities here."

"I noticed."


Jim's lips tightened for an instant. "No."

Blair waited for elucidation.

"I just don't feel like it. I want to get the hell out of town."

"O-kaay." Playing along. A shadow crept along the edge of his euphoria as it occurred to him that Jim might not want to take their new thing home -- might not be able to deal, somehow, with being what they now were in the place where they lived.

He didn't want to ruin this. But he couldn't not say it. Wasn't that what the last few years had taught him’—that not-speaking his fears was almost always worse than the alternative?


"Mm?" Jim's face was clear; didn't look any different than usual. Maybe that was encouraging.

"It's not. You don't." Deep breath. "Is it that you don't feel right about us ... doing this ... at home?" Way to be awkward.

Jim seemed to consider the idea for a second, then shook his head. "Nope. I just want to be somewhere else for a night. Once I would've split town without you. These days I'd just. Rather have you around."

Blair would never have admitted to the tightening that last sentence produced in the region of his heart. "I'm useful," he hazarded, starting to smile.

Jim grinned, which damn near illuminated the cab, steamy windows and all. "I guess I can find some purpose for you." He turned the key and brought the engine to life.

Blair shrugged. "Whatever, man. Head north. I can stand being messy if you can." Oddly enough, having wet shorts wasn't as bad as he remembered from high school (the last time backseat fumblings had been so impossibly exciting). It was a constant reminder of what they'd just done’—what they'd just started doing. It was kind of hot, actually, when he thought about it that way.

Jim rubbed at the window with the sleeve of his jacket, then gave up and rolled it down.

"Hey!" Blair protested. "Cold out there." Maybe having wet shorts wasn't such a good thing, after all.

"Can't see. Roll yours down for a sec."

So he did. And then they cranked them back up and turned on the heat. And Jim backed out of their parking space’—gravel, tufts of wet grass, nothing remarkable about it except what they'd made of it’—and got back onto the highway.

Blair turned on the radio: WCPR was playing Marvin Gaye's "Nightshift." He almost made some crack about oldies hour, but Jim was obviously enjoying it, so he left the dial there. It wasn't a bad song, actually.

"We've worked our fair share of those." Jim's voice was calm, almost contemplative. The windshield wipers clacked back and forth, their rhythm reassuring.

"Maybe now we'll get to play a few." Blair was pleased to see Jim blush, a little, and even more pleased to see that he was smiling again. They were both smiling.

The rain was light and the road stretched on ahead further than either one of them could see.

The End