In The Eye Of The Beholder: Audiotape

by Francesca

Author's disclaimer: Not mine, all theirs, whatever.

Author's notes: Right, okay — this story is one of a number that bear the larger title of "In The Eye Of The Beholder." There are three others: ITEOTB: Videotape, Photograph, and Keyhole. Thing is, I call them a series but they're not really a series — they're a group of individual stories that deal with a specific theme: voyeurism. All separate storylines, no intersections, dig? Anyway, I haven't done a Beholder story in a while, and so I'm warning you: this story is a Mucho thanks to Owlet, Em Brunson, and the ever-devoted, long-suffering Miriam for making this a much better story than it would have been otherwise. Feedback and suggestions for other Beholder stories sincerely welcomed.

Blair knew he was being an asshole, but somehow he just couldn't stop. It didn't matter that it wasn't Jim's fault; it didn't matter that this was something he should have anticipated if he was half the scientist he pretended to be; it didn't matter, even, that Jim kept apologizing to him.

The whole thing just freaked him the fuck out.

"I can't believe you eavesdrop on me!" Blair said, for like, the fiftieth time.

"I'm sorry," Jim replied, also for the fiftieth time. "Honest to god, Sandburg, I don't mean to. I try not to, I swear. It's just that — well, you try not listening to — "

"You do a pretty good job of not listening to me most of the time," Blair said angrily. "At the station, on stakeouts, during tests, at breakfast for god's sake..."

"That's not true." Jim's voice was weary. "And it's not fair, either. I keep trying to explain to you — you're the one who's not listening."

This was true, but it did not affect the reading on Blair's assholometer.

"I'm not talking about conscious listening, okay?" Jim leaned toward him across the kitchen table, an earnest expression on his face. "I'm talking about — like — listening before you even know you're listening. Like suddenly becoming aware that there's — I dunno — jackhammers outside, or that your favorite song is playing on the radio. It's like the background suddenly becomes fore-ground and — "

" — suddenly you're listening to WBJS, Radiofree Sandburg, is that it?" Blair crossed his arms.

"Yeah," Jim admitted guiltily, apologetically. "But when you realize it then you turn the radio off. I swear I turn it off. But you have to know it's on before you can turn it off, see? So there's always this moment or two when I realize I'm tuned in and — "

" — listening to me shit, fart, jerk off?" Blair felt furious and violated and embarrassed; his face was flaming hot, his palms were sweaty. "Listen to my private fucking phone calls, listen to me wash my ass in the shower — "

Jim sighed and massaged his forehead with his fingertips. "Sandburg, give me a break already. I was in the army for eleven fucking years, sleeping in a barracks — taking communal showers, okay? Not to break it to you, but everyone has an ass, and most people wash it now and then."

"Well, I'm not in the fucking army," Blair retorted.

"Didn't you, like, live in a commune or something?" Jim was finally beginning to lose patience. "There's no such thing as complete and total privacy. I would have thought that you'd be Mr. 'The-Body-And-Its-Processes-Are-Beautiful-And-Natural' or whatever."

"Hey — they're beautiful! They're natural!" Blair yelled, throwing his arms into the air. "That doesn't mean I wanna take a shit in front of an open window or anything!"

"Look," Jim said edgily, and this was it — this was Jim coming to the end of his rope, "you were the one who wanted to live here, okay? I said I was sorry, I said I was doing my best — "

" — oh, yeah: not like you bothered to mention to me that you've been tuning into Radiofree Sandburg for the last three years — "

" — and if you feel like you can't live under these conditions, then that's your choice, all right?" Jim's mouth was compressed into a thin line; he extended his arm toward the door. "There's the door, nobody's holding you hostage. I said I was sorry. Other than that, it's your call." Jim slapped the table hard with his palm to signify that the conversation was over, and then got up and stiffly headed into the living room.

"That's it?" Blair said incredulously, turning to watch him go.

"That's it," Jim replied tersely. "Conversation over." He grabbed the remote control off the coffee table and tuned the television to the second half of the Jags game.

Blair got up huffily. "Well. So it's my call, huh?"

"It's your call." Jim didn't turn around.

"Well, I guess I'll have to think about it, then."

"You do that."

"And in the interim," Blair said, knowing what a totally assholic thing it was to say, "I'll be staying at the HoJos."

Jim stiffened slightly, but didn't say anything.

"It's on University Drive," Blair said — totally, fully, cognizantly knowing he was being an asshole but absolutely unable to make himself shut up.

Jim stared intently at the screen. "Fine."

"Around the corner from the science building."

"I know where it is."

"Fine." Blair turned toward his room.

"Fine," Jim echoed, but clearly it wasn't fine, because a moment later he switched off the television and got up, crossing the room to grab his coat off the hook.

"Where the hell are you going?" Blair demanded.

"I'm gonna go to Nightingale's." Jim shoved his arm into his jacket sleeve. "Have a drink. Watch the game."

"I won't be here when you get back."

"Good," Jim muttered, and left, slamming the door behind him.

Goddammit, Blair thought, whirling around and kicking at the doorjamb to his room. His heart was pounding; he felt absolutely high on a cocktail of fury and embarrassment and guilt. Okay, so maybe he was being an asshole — but goddammit, this wasn't anything like a fucking commune! At a commune, you at least knew when you were being observed and when you weren't. It wasn't the random fucking surveillance that Jim was dishing out — and it didn't matter that it wasn't his fault, it was still a fucking fact.

He felt slightly sick, thinking of all the times he'd jacked off in the shower, all the times he'd pressed the telephone to his ear and whispered to lovers in the dark, all the times he'd eaten beans, for Christ's sake. If he'd only known Jim was listening —

Except he should have known. That was really the thing. He, of all people, should have known — he knew the range of Jim's senses, he'd done the tests himself. What the hell had he been thinking — that he was granted some kind of holy exception from the human shit-detector living upstairs? Of course Jim was listening to him — what the fuck had he been thinking? Some anthropologist he was...

Still, Jim could have said something. Three years ago would have been nice. Friends should tell you when you've got snot hanging out of your nose, or your shirt is coming out of your fly, or you've got toilet paper on your shoe, or whatever.

"Hey, Chief," Jim could have said. "Listen, I know this is awkward, but I should just tell you that I can hear you sometimes. I can't help it. You might just want to be aware of that, okay?"

That's all it would have taken. And then he would have watched himself, at least.

But Jim hadn't said anything — -Jim had just let him jack-off and sweet-talk and eat three-bean-salad with nary a comment. And then to find out, by accident, after three fucking years...

Blair kicked at the doorjamb again.

"It's Marie's birthday," Blair had told Jim after dinner — what — a mere two hours ago? "I don't know what to get her. Help me think of something?"

Jim had thought about it for a moment. And then he said, "Why don't you take her to that blues festival they're gonna hold in Cascade Central Park? I could probably scare you up a couple of VIP tickets — they're asking the CPD to do security."

"Hey, yeah!" It was a brilliant fucking suggestion — Marie would dig it, he would dig it; it was just perfect. "That's a great idea," he had said, and the world had been bright and sunny until it suddenly occurred to him to wonder how Jim knew that Marie De Santi liked the blues. Especially since Jim had never even met Marie De Santi.

Suddenly Jim's idea seemed a little too fucking perfect.

And of course, there was this saying about not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but hell, he'd been trained to be the metaphorical equivalent of an equestrian dentist, so of course he had to ask Jim how he knew that Marie liked old style Louisiana blues.

And of course, he hadn't liked the answer one bit.

"Whattd'ya mean, you heard her say so?"

That had been his first fucking question. The answer had been Jim's first fucking apology out of fifty and after that, he just had to keep asking and asking and asking until he found out about the shitting and the farting and the jacking off and then he had waayyyyy more information than he wanted.

He'd never really believed that ignorance was bliss — but man, this situation made for a very persuasive case.

He sighed and went into his room, threw a change of clothes into his backpack. Jim could have said something. Or he should have hidden it better — should have hidden it forever. God, all this bullshit about armies and communes — surely Jim had to understand that being under constant scrutiny was one thing, but being under scrutiny when you were unaware of said scrutiny — that was totally something else.

He'd had the metaphorical equivalent of broccoli in his teeth for three fucking years and Jim had never said a goddammed thing. Some friend.

He turned off his desk lamp and then spied his interview tape recorder. Huh. Now there was a plan. Maybe Jim didn't understand the difference between overt and surreptitious scrutiny — but this just might be the way to make the difference crystal clear to him.

He picked up the tape recorder and fumbled a blank cassette out of the desk, loaded it up. He flipped the switch to 'voice-activated' mode and then pressed RECORD.

"Testing, testing: one-two-three." The red light blipped on, the gears lurched into motion. After a few moments of silence, the machine switched itself off.


He rewound the tape and double-checked the settings, then stole upstairs and slid the tape recorder under Jim's bed, grinning nastily.

There. That oughta do it. See how Mr. Super Senses liked being on the other end of the monitoring process.

Feeling like he was getting a little of his own back, Blair grabbed his backpack and left the loft.

Despite the bullshit he'd been spinning himself, it only took about twenty minutes after check-in for Blair to start feeling like a complete and utter shit.

He'd arrived at the motel in high spirits, telling himself about a thousand times that this was just great. It was great to be alone, great to have the huge king-sized bed to himself, and hey! look! wow! cable television! Blair stretched out on the bed, propped himself up on the pillows, and reached for the remote control. Yeah, this was the life — big bed, TV, clock radio. Sink. Bathroom. Just look at all them towels, towels galore...

By the time he'd catalogued the advantages of the two small soaps and the three miniature shampoo bottles, he knew damn well that he'd been a total shit to Jim.

Okay, so maybe it was awkward and embarrassing that Jim had been listening to his conversation, masturbation and personal ablutions — but hey, it had to have been at least as embarrassing for Jim, right? You could hardly call it entertainment or anything — nobody, so far as he knew, was lining up to hear him bathe, shave, or take a dump. Really, Jim should have been yelling at him — the poor guy had been listening to his literal and metaphorical crap for three years. And when it came to that sort of thing, the short end of the stick definitely went to the listener, not the listenee.

Moreover, Blair thought glumly, pulling the thin motel blanket up around his shoulders, he'd been enough of an asshole to do the one thing he'd never wanted to do. He'd treated Jim like a freak. And goddammit, if there was one person who really ought to understand that this was not Jim's fault, it ought to have been him. It was bad enough that he'd been stupid enough not to anticipate the situation — but then he'd blamed Jim for his own intellectual shortcomings.

He sighed and switched off the cable television. He didn't deserve the treat.

Lying back, he stared up at the stuccoed motel ceiling and tortured himself. Called himself a lot of insulting, inventive names. And then he glanced at the glowing red numbers of the clock radio, and decided it was still early enough to call Jim and apologize.

The phone rang six times before the answering machine picked up. Shit, Jim wasn't home yet.

"This is 555-4167. Leave a message at the tone."

The machine beeeeeeeped, and Blair took a deep breath and said: "Hey, Jim. It's me. Look — I just wanted to apologize, okay? I was being an asshole, and I'm really really sorry. Really sorry. It wasn't — I mean, I know it's not your fault. I was embarrassed, and I — uh — acted like a dick. So I'm sorry. And, um — if you can stand living with me, I, uh, really want to keep living with you. If you can forgive me. Okay?" He swallowed hard and then rushed on, "Look, I'm in Room 218 over here, so if you, um, want to give me a call when you get home, just , like, go ahead — otherwise, I'll be home tomorrow morning. And I'll — uh — take you out for breakfast, okay? Make it up to you." He paused, took a breath. "So call me. 218. Or I'll see you tomorrow. Bye."

He dropped the phone back into its cradle with a sigh, and switched off the light. He lay back on his pillows and stared up at the ceiling.

Jim didn't call.

The next morning, Blair woke up and dressed quickly and hightailed it back to the loft, thinking all the while about where to take Jim for breakfast.

A huge, hot, greasy breakfast. The works: eggs and bacon and pancakes and homefries — the whole nine yards, Jim's wet dream of a breakfast.

He'd decided on the Pancake Palace by the time he'd pulled the Volvo into his usual space. He jumped out the car and slammed the door — and then noticed, as he crossed the street, that Jim's truck wasn't parked anywhere within view.

This, he thought with sudden fear, was a bad sign.

He found himself running up the stairs to see if Jim had been home at all. Maybe he'd been called into work. Maybe he'd zoned at the fucking bar! Shit — maybe he'd picked up one of those Amazonian redheads he seemed to go for every six months or so.

Trying to catch his breath, he shoved his key into the lock and swung the door open. "Jim?" The living room was empty. "Jim?" he repeated, and walked over to the answering machine.

The light wasn't blinking. Jim had gotten the message.

He sighed and looked around the empty loft. Man, this wasn't good. Maybe Jim wasn't gonna accept his apology. Maybe Jim had fallen off the end of his rope.

Badly needing a cup of coffee, he wandered into the kitchen — and then saw the note on the fridge.

Dear Blair:

Apology accepted. Need to run a quick errand but will be back for breakfast. I suggest dim sum at the Grande. Since you were such an asshole.

Welcome back, asshole.


Blair leaned against the counter, relieved, feeling the grin spread across his face. Okay, so things were okay. Jim'd forgiven him, and if Jim wanted dim sum at the Grande, Jim would get dim sum at the Grande. The check would set him back a bit, but it was the least he could do after —

— the fucking tape recorder! Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!!

He raced up the stairs to Jim's bedroom, desperate to remove the fucking tape recorder before Jim found it. Cause Jim couldn't have found it. If he'd found it, he would probably have made some sort of reference to it in the note. "Enjoy the tape of me farting," or whatever. Blair skidded around the bed and bent down to peer under it.

Still there. Duh.

He snatched the small machine up, and flew back downstairs to his room. Thank god — finally! — a lucky break. No harm, no foul.

He took the recorder back to his desk and hit the eject button. The tape popped out, and he was about to throw it back into his desk —

— when he noticed that it was three quarters of the way full.

Oh, shit.



Blair Sandburg knew perfectly well that the only sane thing to do was to erase the tape. The fact that Jim didn't know about his adolescent revenge strategy — well, that was a complete and total mitzvah, there, and so he ought to just count his blessings and erase the tape.

He shook the tape between this thumb and forefinger, listening to the little spools rattling in the plastic case.

He groaned and shoved the cassette back into the recorder and pressed REWIND.

Stupid. This was totally fucking stupid — he knew that totally, fully, cognizantly. But he just couldn't help himself — and so he grabbed a set of headphones out of his desk drawer, plugged them into the machine, and drew them over his head.

Taking a deep breath, Blair sat down on the edge of his bed and pressed PLAY.

There was a moment or two of soft, empty tape hiss before he heard the sound of Jim's quick footstep on the loft stairs. Crossing the room. Sound of the lamp clicking on. Creak of the bedsprings as Jim sat down. Scrape of the wooden bedside table being opened, sound of Jim rummaging through it.

And then the sound of a distant voice.

A distant voice?


The sound of a distant voice that wasn't Jim's.

"I really like what you've done with the place."

"What?" Jim sounded distracted.

"All the Mexican stuff. It's nice looking."

"It's Peruvian. It's my roommate's."

"Who?" the other voice asked.

"My roommate. He's not here right now."

The sound of footsteps on the stairs. "Since when do you have a roommate?"

"Since a while. Long story."

"Well — he's not going to be back any time soon, is he?" The other voice was closer, now.

"Nah...he's gone for the evening. Who knows: he might be gone for good." The drawer protested as Jim shoved it closed.

"Oh yeah? You sick of him?"

"Think he's sick of me, actually," Jim said. "Whatever — we had a fight — he feels like he doesn't have enough privacy."

"He — now, waaaait a minute..."

"Yeah, I know, I know."

"He doesn't have enough privacy? You're the one exposed to the air up here."

"Yeah, well, he wasn't thinking about that, I guess."

The other man snorted. "It sounds like good riddance. He sounds like a jerk."

"Nah, he's okay. No, really," Jim insisted, and this was just torture, having to hear Jim defend his jerk-off behavior to some stranger. "He's a good guy, and it's — you know — nice to have somebody around to eat with, watch the game, whatever."

A deep sigh. "You could call me now and then."

"I know. I'm just — I just don't have the energy some minutes. Most minutes. It's just one thing after another around here, Hally — if I've got two brain cells to rub together in my spare time, it's a miracle."

"Yeah, well, still — you don't need to be taking crap from some Peruvian."

Jim laughed. "He's not — just the stuff is."

"You're not having money problems, are you?"

"No, no," Jim said.

"Because if you were — "

"I'm not."

" — you could fucking call, Jim."

"I know," Jim said, and Blair could hear the smile in Jim's voice. "But I'm not. Really. Thanks anyway, Hal."

"All right," Hal relented. "You just don't need to be taking crap from anyone."

"It's not crap," Jim said. "He's know...young. Still thinks he knows everything. Whatever — that's good, that's healthy at his age."

"God, he sounds like Sammy."

Jim burst out laughing. "Oh, yeah. That's it exactly. Though he's smarter than Sammy."

"Could hardly be dumber than Sammy."

"True enough," Jim said, voice full of amusement. "Dumb as a rock, that kid. Okay: so picture Sammy — pretty like Sammy — with more hair, more brains, and snappier clothes. That's Blair, pretty much."

A long, soft whistle. "Sounds like a nightmare."

"Naahh...well, you know — you have to like the type."

"Whatever happened to Sammy, anyway?"

"Don't you remember? He married that girl." The bed creaked slightly as Jim shifted. "The daughter of the 'Shoe King of Chicago' or whatever-the-fuck."

"Oh, right, right!! He sent the unit a picture! She was a plain girl, right — ?"

"Yeah. Poor thing."

" — this poor, plain girl, staring at Sammy like he was the fucking sun and the moon and the stars, and Sammy grinning out the photograph like it was a fucking headshot."

"Yeah. Kid shoulda been in pictures." Blair could hear the smile in Jim's voice. "I think the deal was that he kept Daddy's Little Angel happy, and that made Daddy happy, and Daddy made Sammy happy. Think he got some cushy bullshit job in — like — the Chicago Shoe Emporium." Jim laughed again.

"That kid was such a player. Mister Personality, Mister People-Person. God, is that what your roomie's like?"

"Yeah, sort of. Smarter, like I said," and Blair found himself absurdly grateful that he had something on the mysterious Sammy. "So the ego is slightly more justifiable. Less self-serving than self-absorbed, but whatever — I'm quibbling. Essentially the same type, yeah."

"You sure know how to pick 'em."

The bed creaked again, louder. "Who said I had any taste?"

"You in love with him?"

"I dunno. Alternate Tuesdays."

Blair was staring into space, trying to process what that meant, when he suddenly became aware of the soft rustle of fabric. Quiet inhalations of breath. Wet sound of flesh meeting flesh, of lips meeting and parting and-

The world faded from his eyes. The whole world was in his ears. Fabric rustling. Bed creaking. Low moans in his ear. The whisper of kissing...kissing...

Jim was kissing that guy. That guy was kissing Jim. That guy was — Jim was —

He stared across his room and he could see the bed, could see the pale yellow sheets, could see Jim and this guy, Jim holding this guy, fisting his lapels and pulling their mouths together. He could see Jim necking with this guy, could see the muscular arm slung around Jim's neck, pulling him close, holding him in place.

"You have no taste," Hal murmured.

"I know."

" taste at all...never had, Jim..."

"...I know...yeah..."

The murmur of kissing became louder, more focused. A flurry of rustling fabric, more creaks as the bed protested. And then there was relative silence, broken only by a hushed, content-sounding moan and the wet-obscene sounds of mouths on skin.

Blair gripped the tape recorder tightly, willing himself to turn it off, turn it off. In a perverse way, he felt like turning the tape recorder off could somehow make the events stop — like Jim and that guy were overhead right now, doing it now

" — do it now — "

" — okay — "

" — I'm ready, come on — " Jim urged.

— right overhead, right above him, because he could picture the queen sized bed and the pale yellow sheets and the two, hard tangled bodies above him —

" — here — turn — " Hal directed.

— yeah, okay — "

" — okay? — "

"Fine," Jim said breathlessly.

— fists clutching the metal railing, foreign hands sliding up Jim's smooth, long sides —

"...oh yeah...stay right there..."

"...yeah, okay, right..." Jim gasped.

"...god, the view from here you can't imagine the view from here..."

Laughter. "No, I can't, actually. I totally can't."

— the rippling muscles of Jim's back, and —

"...missing out, man..."

" — I'm sure — yeah, just like that, just like that — " Jim breathed.

— the tension in his arms as he held on.

" — okay, yeah. Slow. Oh — good, very good — "

" — more? — " Hal asked.

"Yeah. More is good. Could do more," Jim gasped.

"Fucking fantastic view."


"Fuck off."

"I'm game. Just come on already and — ohhhhh, yeah..." Jim was panting hard, now.

"I'll shut you up..."

"...yeah...yeah...right...just tilt up — "

"Slow down!"

" — tilt up already! and — "

His finger was poised over the button — just a small push and it would stop — it would be over.


This was torture, this was going to kill him, listening to this, always listening...

" prick, Ellison — you bastard..."

Rhythmic thump, thump, thumping, and in the background, a soft ringing sound.

"...yeah, you talk tough, Hally, but — oh yeah, like that, just like that and — wait! wait!"

"What?" Hal gasped. "What?"

"Hang on!" The thumping stopped abruptly.

Oh god, he could hear his own voice on the answering machine...

"Hey, Jim. It's me. Look — I just wanted to apologize, okay?"

He sounded faint and far away — hell, he was faint and far away, and whose fault was that?

"I was being an asshole..."

— and that would be absolutely right, absolutely totally fucking right —

"...and I'm really really sorry."

And now he was sorrier. Sorrier still.

"...acted like a dick," he burbled, "...and I'm sorry..."

"Awww," Hal teased.

"Shh!" Jim hissed.

"...if you can stand living with me, I, uh, really want to keep living with you. If you can forgive me. Okay?"

"Man, he's got it bad."

"Shh!" Jim hissed.

"You didn't tell me he had it that bad."

"Just shut up a sec."

" Room 218 over here, so if you, um, want to give me a call..."

"Oh brother," Hal muttered.

"...take you out for breakfast, okay? Make it up to you..."

"Well, that's nice," Hal said, and Blair heard himself saying goodbye, and hanging up. "That's sort of sweet, really."

"Yeah, he's basically okay," Jim said.

"Sammy wouldn't have offered to buy you breakfast."

"Sammy would have made me buy him breakfast."

"Sammy was a jerk."

"Yeah. So move already."

Hal laughed softly. "Don't you want to call your roomie?"

"Right now? No. Right now I'd like you to fuck me stupid."

"Ok, right," Hal said. "Can do. Hang on — " and then the rhythmic thumping began again, and Jim started groaning again.

Each thump, each groan, each muttered curse from Jim was a torture, a blow to his solar plexus. It seemed wrong to be listening, but it also seemed wrong to stop — because stopping would have felt so much better, because stopping would have ended the punishment. He had to listen. He had to listen to it all, and take every blow that was coming to him.

It seemed to him an apropos punishment for someone as self-absorbed as he was — objective fucking proof that he wasn't the center of the universe.

Apparently Hal was pretty good in bed. His main proof of this was the fact that Jim kept saying so, but the fact was equally supported by all those moments where Jim was too out of it to form coherent English sentences. And who knew that Jim could make sounds like that? Who knew that Jim could sound so completely unbuttoned, unrestrained, unhinged? Who knew that Jim liked it hard and fast?

Hell, who knew that Jim liked it at all?

God almighty, some researcher he had turned out to be. Whoo-hoo, Sandburg, way to go. Top notch observer skills right here. The whole damn thing was ass-backwards: Jim clearly ought to be writing a book about him. Self-Absorbed: The Physical, Cultural and Mating Rituals of the Northwestern Sandburg.


"...god...god..." Jim was chanting, "just keep on like that, just like that, right there, rightohhhhhhhhh..." and Blair squeezed his eyes shut, willing the blood vessels in his brain not to explode, please, before he'd had a chance to set things to rights.

Another two thumps, a soft sigh, and the sound of Hal collapsing down on the bed. "...god, that was good..."


"...great. Fantastic..."

The tape hissed and clicked as the recorder switched itself off and turned itself on again.

"Jim?" Hal whispered. "Jim?"

"" Jim asked sleepily.

"I should go."

" — nuh, nuh, dun't — stay..."

"I shouldn't..."

"No, stay," Jim murmured, and Blair heard the soft sound of bodies shifting, twining closer together. "Kid's gone for the night, nice to sleep with somebody..."

Blair could barely hear Hal's reply. "...yeah, okay..."

" with the morning..." Jim said softly, and Blair sighed, and opened his eyes —

— and fuck it, there was Jim!! — leaning against the doorframe to his room and looking at him with a familiar expression of exasperation and affection. Blair tried to fumble the tape-player off, but his hands were sweaty and he bobbled it and it crashed to the ground, jerking the headphones off his ears and down around his neck. The connector flew out of the jack, and for a horrible second Blair was convinced that the audiotape would start playing out loud, so that, if by some miracle of karma Jim hadn't already heard what he was listening to, he now wouldn't be able to miss it. But thankfully, the impact knocked the tape player open and sent the tape skittering out and across the hardwood floor.

Jim grinned. "Jumpy much?"

"Didn't have any coffee." Blair scrutinized Jim closely — but Jim didn't show any sign of having overheard the tape.

Like he'd know. Sigh.

"Typical. Jumpy before coffee. So where's my breakfast?"

Blair bent over and picked up the tape recorder, set it carefully on the desk. "Coming right up, man. Coming right up."

Turned out that Jim had only been yanking his chain about the Grande, and in fact, his eyes lit up at the suggestion of the Pancake Palace. Which was hopeful, anyway.

He watched in a sort of fascinated horror as Jim ordered pancakes, and three sunny-side-up eggs, and ham for god's sake, and then, when they arrived, piled them all onto the same plate — one giant heart-attack, coming right up.

Jim glanced up at him only once to check his reaction, and seeing that he was biting his lip, grinned and returned to cutting up his food.

Clearly Jim had decided to take advantage of the situation to get as much fat and cholesterol into his body as possible.

"So, uh," Blair said, pouring a restrained amount of strawberry syrup onto his modest stack of pancakes, "what did you end up doing last night?"

"Oh, I ran into an old friend at the bar." Jim was wielding his knife and fork in a crisscrossing motion to cut the whole plate up into bite-sized pieces. "A guy from my army days — I spent the night with him."

Blair put the syrup down with shaking fingers, impressed to the core. He felt totally, utterly humbled, because that was mastery, right there. Holy canoli — what a difference a syllable made. "I spent the night with him," Jim had just said, whereas, of course, Jim had spent the night with him. Either way, Jim had just told the absolute fucking truth in a way that wouldn't have made him blink twice if he hadn't just spent the last hour listening to Jim yelling, "God, Hal, just do it! I need it!"

Said screamer was now calmly adding pats of butter to his masterpiece.

Well. At least now he knew where Jim got his appetite.

"What about you?" Jim asked, happily reaching for the syrup dispenser. "How was your night?"

"Oh, it was okay." Blair stabbed his fork into his own pancakes.

Jim's lip curled. "Hotel not so good, huh?"

"No," Blair answered truthfully, before realizing a second later how wrong that sounded. I mean, he hadn't come back to the loft because the hotel was bad, which was what Jim was implying, wasn't he? "I mean, no, it was great," Blair quickly amended. "It's a very nice place. They had HBO," he added, feeling like an idiot.

"Whoo-hoo," Jim said gamely, smirking.

"Look, I didn't mean — " Blair said, feeling horridly, unexpectedly inarticulate. Jim watched him, his mouth working as he chewed. "I mean..."

What the fuck did he mean? Okay, he knew what he meant, but what the hell was he actually gonna say, here?"

Maybe the truth. What a concept. "I just mean — I didn't come home because the motel was bad. I came home because you were right and I was wrong and I felt really bad about being a shit to you."

Jim looked at him thoughtfully, then swallowed, smiled, and waved his apology away with a sticky fork. "It's okay," Jim said kindly. "Don't worry about it, Sandburg."

Shit, Blair thought, because that wasn't enough anymore. Maybe 24 hours ago he'd have been freakin' delighted just to know that Jim was the kind of friend that would put up with your shit now and then. After all, that was a pretty great thing; not everybody was lucky enough to have a friend like that. But now, god help him, he wanted more, because it turned out that Jim was the kind of guy who would put up with your shit now and then because he was vaguely in love with you, and then screw an old army buddy when you flounced off in a huff.

The picture had changed considerably. And Blair felt, somewhat unfairly, that he'd like to cut out the middleman. He had seen — okay, heard — he had heard The Promised Land and now he wanted in.

But how? That was the problem. He could hardly tell Jim that he'd just listened to a solid hour of the man's most private moments. "Well, you see, Jim, ha-ha, I actually put a tape recorder under your bed and heard you tell your fuckbuddy Hal, there, that you were in love with me on alternate Tuesdays, but I swear I turned the tape off before you guys really got down to it — " oh, yeah, that would go over just great.

His mind raced as he put on the warmest, most thankful smile he could manage. His best "Jim-you-just-rock-for-forgiving-me!" smile. Jim smiled back at him and then dived back into The Breakfast You Should Have To Report To Your Health-Care Provider.

And then suddenly — out of nowhere — he had it. He totally had it. It was fucking brilliant — he turned it around in his mind frantically, examining it from all sides, looking for holes, but there just weren't any.

By George, he was a genius.

"The thing is, Jim," Blair began slowly, choosing his words carefully. Jim politely looked in his direction. "I know I overreacted last night. About you being able to hear me and stuff. I went a little ballistic there, but it's my problem, not yours."

Jim's amused expression indicated that he already knew this and believed it to be the case.

Blair pressed on. "You see, the truth is, I've been hiding something from you. For a long time, now. And I've been just terrified of you finding out." He paused the appropriate amount of time that he thought he should have paused if this were, in fact, true.

Jim looked at him expectantly, and so he gathered himself and continued.

"Except last night, when I cooled off, I just thought — well, I really shouldn't keep this from you any more. Hell," he added, fidgeting with his coffee spoon, congratulating himself on what he felt was a masterstroke, "you probably already know anyway."

He paused again, and glanced up at Jim. Jim looked blank, but encouraging.

Okay, so here goes. Ahem.

"Jim, I'm gay," Blair said, and damn! if it wasn't entertaining to watch Jim's eyebrows do that!

"You're what?" Jim's fork paused in the air, a piece of ham balanced precariously over his lap.

"Gay," Blair repeated, and now he was home free, because all that any reasonable guy would do after outing himself to his roommate at the Pancake Palace was babble, and he was an expert babbler. "Jim, I'm sorry," he began, really gearing himself up for it, "so sorry, I know I should have told you long before now, but see, when we met, I just didn't know you, and I wanted to work with you on the Sentinel thing and, okay, maybe I had a bit of a bias against cops, and so I thought it was better not to say anything and then I was just living a lie, man..."

"Wait, wait, wait," Jim said, raising his hand.

"I know it was wrong, I know it's a betrayal, but I swear to god I didn't know then that you were you. I thought you were, like, some big homophobic cop who would punch me or something, and so I kept my mouth shut and I was so careful, so careful Jim, but of course I'm only human and when I realized last night that you could hear me and smell me and god only knows what else — well, I just freaked out."

"Just hang on one minute..."

"But I see now that there's no point in denying it any longer. I have to come clean and take the consequences..."

It suddenly occurred to Blair that his brilliant plan wasn't working as well as he had predicted. Because Jim wasn't looking happy, or pleased, or reassuring, or on the verge of a reciprocal confession.

Jim was looking — well, suspicious. Blair shut up quickly and decided to let Jim get a word in. Maybe there really was some sort of secret handshake or something.

But all Jim said was, "That'"

"Interesting?" Blair echoed.

"Yeah. I mean — I had no idea." Jim was watching him speculatively, and the words had an odd undercurrent of...accusation.

"Well, like I said, I tried to hide it."

"Well, you...did a good job," Jim replied. "All the...uh...women... were a nice touch."

"I didn't sleep with them," Blair said.

Jim shot him a sharp look.

"I mean, I didn't sleep with most of them," Blair amended angrily.

"I know," Jim said.

And what the hell did that mean? "Oh, so you know that, do you?"

Jim blinked and immediately looked sorry. "I — I mean, I didn't — "

"How the hell do you know?" Because this was really too much: he'd never had sex in the loft, when he had sex at all, which was rarely enough. How the hell did Jim know who he slept with? "Are you smelling me up?" he demanded.

"No, no..." But Jim sounded guilty.

"Oh god — you do, don't you? You fucking smell me up..."

"Okay," Jim sighed. "All right. Sometimes you smell like girl-sex to me," Jim admitted. "Or what I might have wrongly interpreted as girl-sex," he amended, trying to placate. "Whatever. Maybe you're bi," Jim added helpfully.

Blair couldn't help it — the fury was building again. "Goddammit, if I say I'm gay, then I'm gay, all right?"

"All right, all right!" Jim hissed, glancing around the restaurant nervously. "You're gay!"



"Thanks!" Blair stabbed his fork into a piece of pancake, and thought about eating it, but really, he'd lost his appetite. He was living with a human shit detector, who was the kind of guy who might put up with your shit because he was vaguely in love with you, but who wouldn't make a reciprocal confession even after you lied about being gay, clearly preferring to fuck his old army buddy the minute your back was turned.

And he wasn't one step closer to The Promised Land.

Blair threw his fork down onto his plate and flounced out of the restaurant in a huff.

He sat in the parking lot of the Pancake Palace, one hand on the car's ignition key, torn between the desire to just get the hell out of there and the bone-deep knowledge that he was being an asshole again, and that to leave Jim stranded after not buying him breakfast was an act that neither he nor Jim might ultimately be able to forgive.

So he just sat there.

Eventually he heard a soft tapping and looked over; Jim was peering through the Volvo's passenger window.

Blair popped the lock.

Jim opened the car door and bent to stick his head inside. "Gimme a lift?"

"Yeah," Blair said, feeling guilty as all hell, but Jim merely nodded and slid inside the car, pulling the door shut behind him.

They drove home in silence, parked in silence, took the elevator up to 307 in silence. Blair felt like he was absolutely roasting with guilt, burning from the inside out. He had done it again, he'd been a shit to Jim again, and this time he had done it in the middle of his apology for doing it the last time.

No wonder Jim preferred fucking his army buddies.

He sighed and slumped down onto the sofa.

"Blair?" Jim said from the kitchen, and Blair quickly turned to look at him. He couldn't believe that Jim was talking to him. If he had been Jim, he certainly wouldn't be talking to him.

"Yeah?" he answered, trying to make sure that Jim heard the apology in his voice.

Apparently Jim did, because he sort of smiled faintly and nodded. And then, as if he were making up his mind about something, he wandered into the living room and sat down on the coffeetable across from Blair.

Blair blinked, feeling suddenly frightened. It was totally clear, from Jim's face, from his posture, from his position there on the coffee table opposite: Jim wanted to talk. They were going to talk now. And he should have known that they were going to talk eventually, because you couldn't treat a guy like shit for two days in a row and not expect a pretty severe talking to. Or worse. Jim had already been more than accommodating, giving him a second chance after last night, but he'd earned his second strike by fighting over breakfast and his third strike by taking off and leaving Jim with the check.

And now he was out, and he felt a cold, stabbing fear in the pit of his stomach.

Jim was staring down at the carpet between the table and the sofa. "Look, about what happened — " He stopped and shook his head, then looked up to meet Blair's eyes. "Blair," Jim said, apparently starting over. "Just tell me something I can believe."

Blair felt slightly dizzy, and he leaned back into the support of the sofa cushions. It was an odd thing for Jim to say, but what was odder still was that he knew exactly what Jim meant.

Jim wanted the truth. Jim wanted him to tell the truth about everything — what a concept.

And this was his last chance at redemption, here — it was the bottom of the ninth and this was his last time up at bat. It was now or never — it was time to be good.

"I'm sorry I was such a jerk to you," he said.

Jim nodded slowly, and gave him a look of encouragement.

Blair took a deep breath. "I lied about being gay," he said. "I only said so because — " and this was the hard part, the part that was going to hurt them both. "Because of Hal."

Jim's blue eyes widened slightly, but he didn't ask any tough follow-up questions, and he didn't look like he was going to rip Blair's throat out. Thank God.

"I was — I am — jealous, I guess," Blair confessed hoarsely. "I don't want it to be him. I want it to be me."

Jim frowned, looking genuinely confused. "You...never showed any interest before."

"I didn't know you did guys before," Blair confessed. "I thought it was just the biannual redhead. But — I mean — if you are doing guys," he added fervently, "it just has to be me, Jim."

"Why?" Jim asked curiously.

"Because," Blair said. But Jim didn't seem to be satisfied with that — his hands were rubbing over his thighs, back and forth, back and forth, restlessly. So Blair took a breath and tried to think of a better answer.

Because I need as much of you as you can give me. Because I need to be the center of the universe. Because I need to be the center of your universe.

"Because," Blair said finally, "I need to be first."

Jim stared at him and Blair suddenly felt that Jim understood everything about him. All the things he hadn't said and couldn't say.

I need to be first with somebody. I need to be first with you.

"Blair," Jim said, and now it was Jim who was choosing his words carefully, "you're already first around here. It's not about sex."

"I want it to be about sex," Blair said.

"You're not gay," Jim pointed out.

"I want to be with you the way Hal was with you," Blair said. "I don't know what that makes me."

Jim sighed and stared at the carpet again. "I don't get it."

"Do you want to do it with me?" Blair asked, and to his surprise Jim instantly flushed red.

"Yeah," Jim muttered, not meeting his eyes.

Blair's heart soared. "So," he said, leaning forward excitedly, "what's the problem, then?"

Jim looked up at him and Blair could see the problem in his eyes. Jim had a thing for self-absorbed, people-persons — maybe on the principle that opposites attract — and they'd all treated him like shit, probably. It was just the nature of the beast, Jim would have said. Cats scratch, dogs bite, and self-absorbed assholes break your heart. Whatever — that's good, that's healthy.

And so Jim had hit upon the solution of keeping it platonic with this particular long-haired, people-person — but goddammit, he was going to break type, he was gonna be the exception to the goddammed rule.

If Jim would just give him the chance, if Jim would just take the risk.

But Jim was already starting to shake his head no. "I don't think it's — "

Blair reached out and grabbed Jim's hand tightly, as tightly as he could. "I've got it bad for you." Jim looked cautious, and skeptical, and — hopeful underneath, hopeful deep down. "I swear to God, Jim, I've got it veryvery bad." He was trying to imprint the words on Jim's brain. "Give it a chance," Blair pleaded. "Just give it one more chance, man..."

Jim laughed softly, still shaking his head — but now the gesture looked rueful, not negative. "It's a terrible idea," he said.

"It's a great idea," Blair insisted.

"Oh, god, it's awful," Jim said, but his smile grew wider, and his blue eyes were sparkling with amusement. "You're the wrong guy for me, I'm the wrong sex for you — "

"I'm the right guy," Blair interrupted.

" — and this is the wrong relationship, at the wrong time, for all the wrong reasons. I mean, it's a textbook wrong idea, you and me," Jim said, seeming to find the whole subject hilarious. "I mean, I'm not always the smartest guy about relationships, but even I can call this one."

"You're calling it wrong."

Jim tilted his head to the side and squinted at Blair. "Oh yeah?"


"Says who?"

"Says me," said Blair.

"Oh yeah? And what the hell do you know?"

And there was no answer to that, no verbal answer anyway, because the answer he had wasn't a word or an explanation or a label. The answer was in the way his heart was soaring and his blood was pumping. The answer was his current state of emotional overwroughtness as he looked at Jim and thought about him standing at the counter of the Pancake Palace, paying for his own pancakes and eggs.

The answer was in the way that thought broke his heart, and the fact was that there could be only one heartbreaker in any goddammed relationship. And the only heartbreaker here was Jim — it was Jim, paying for his own apology breakfast — and that meant —

— well, that meant that it wasn't him. The heartbreaker wasn't him, whatever Jim thought, and nothing else really mattered.

Before he knew what he was doing he was leaning forward and upward and grabbing Jim's shoulders and yanking their mouths together. He felt the a fleeting, soft contact with Jim's mouth before Jim jerked backwards, protesting — but he couldn't let Jim get away so he pressed forward, hanging on.

He must have been heavier than he supposed or Jim must not have been prepared for him to do that, because Jim sort of leaned back at a dangerous angle and Blair followed, hanging on, and it suddenly hit him in a flash that there was no way they were gonna stay suspended in space like this, hanging backwards off the coffee table — and sure enough they didn't.

Jim sort of flailed for the ground with his right arm but failed to find it, and then suddenly they were falling, Jim was falling backwards, ass sliding off the back of the coffeetable, and Blair was right on top of him, and Blair heard the ow as Jim crashed and the thud as Jim's head connected with the floor, and the ooof as Blair crashed down hard upon Jim's chest, driving the air right out of him.

There was a horrible split-second where Blair didn't know what to do. That thud had sounded pretty bad, like maybe Jim had given himself a concussion or something, and he was crushing Jim either way, so he had to move. But he couldn't move — their legs were intertwined together and still draped over the coffeetable, two pairs of sneakers on the surface in blatant violation of house rules.

And Jim was underneath him, wincing and maybe concussed, but also trapped for the moment and looking — well — very very cute. Blair had the sudden thought that if he did somehow manage to get up and off Jim it would mean, most definitely, that their first sexual attempt had ended in disaster, and that would be the nail in the coffin, right there.

Jim would most likely come away with the idea that if this was Blair's idea of a kiss, he didn't have enough health insurance for anything more complicated.

"You're trying to kill me," Jim said then, which only proved his point.

"I'm not, I swear," Blair insisted. "I love you," and to prove that he bent his mouth to Jim's and kissed him. Jim groaned into his mouth softly, and Blair was unsure if that was a love groan or a pain groan or a 'god, get off me' groan, but he couldn't move anyway, and so he just kissed Jim harder. He tried to memorize the way Jim's mouth felt against his (soft, wet, sweet), the way Jim's body felt against his (hard, solid, sexy), because if this all went the way it looked like it was going he was going to be out on the street in about twenty minutes. Half an hour, tops.

To his surprise, he felt Jim grab a handful of his hair, and then his head was tugged closer still and, for a brief moment within the larger kiss, Jim was kissing him, was distinctly kissing him, and it was an unmistakable, heady, wonderful moment. But then Jim tightened the fist in his hair, and pulled Blair's head upwards gently but firmly, pulled their mouths apart.

"You're nuts," Jim said, and he looked like he was on the verge of laughter. Or hysteria. Or something. "You're totally nuts, Sandburg."'

"I love you," Blair said. It was the only thing he could say.

"I'm glad. Wouldn't want you as an enemy." Jim's lip was curling up. "I'd be, like, dead already."

"I'm sorry," Blair said softly, and meant it.

"I'm just trying to figure out," Jim said, from underneath him, "if this is part of the attraction. The vague sense that you're going to kill me in some way. I'm wondering," Jim said, "if I've got some sort of masochistic death wish which somehow survived my father, the army, covert ops, Peru, the police force and Carolyn. Maybe," Jim said, thoughtfully, "I'm sort of a fucked-up adrenaline junkie."

Well, that wasn't particularly flattering, but at least they were still in dialogue, and Jim didn't seem to be paralyzed or anything. And they had managed to get sort of horizontal together. It was a start, if not a particularly good one.

"I know this hasn't started particularly well," Blair admitted, "but —

"Hasn't started particularly well?" Jim echoed incredulously, and now he was laughing out loud.

" — but nothing between us has started particularly well," Blair finished, glaring down at him. "I mean — it's all wrong, we've always been wrong, but that hasn't stopped us from being successful, has it? I mean — there's no good reason on earth why we should be friends, let alone roommates, let alone partners! — "

" — so why not go all the way, is that it?" Jim finished.

"Exactly. How bad could it be?" and Jim sort of rolled his eyes and gestured around to the fact that they were sprawled flat out on the floor with their legs tangled up on the coffee table. "How much worse could it get? Blair amended instantly. "At least there's no garbage truck, right?"

"Well, you've got a point there," Jim admitted.

"Look, let's just — like — try it once. No harm, no foul. Let's just do it and see how it goes."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Do what?" he asked wryly.

Blair swallowed nervously; ok, that was a test, and he hadn't really studied. "Well — whatever. Whatever you want to do."

"Whatever I want to do?"

"Yeah," Blair said, swallowing.

"That's very tempting," Jim said; he appeared to be thinking about it seriously."

Blair pressed his advantage. "Just do it with me once. Just, like, a test run." He should have tried to get Jim drunk, he realized belatedly. This whole thing would have gone a lot better if he'd taken Jim out for mimosas or Bloody Marys instead of to the goddammed Pancake Palace. At the very least, the falling down on the floor part would not have been so obviously his fault.

"Yeah, okay," Jim said.

Blair blinked and stared down at Jim. "Okay?"

"Yeah," Jim said, and man, that was a shocker. His feelings must have been clearly written on his face, because Jim laughed again and said, "Well, I mean, I'm not exactly sure why I should be protesting, here." Jim raised his hand and touched Blair's hair again, more gently this time. "I mean, yeah, it's a terrible idea, but I know that already, and if you're in some sort of homosexual experimentation phase — well, why not with me? It's been a shitty couple of days," Jim added.

Jim's fingers were slowly twining themselves in his hair — slowly, sensuously — and so maybe it was going to be okay after all. Looking down at Jim now, Blair felt like he could see the guy who was in love with him on alternate Tuesdays.

Though it wasn't Tuesday, Blair thought a second later. It was Sunday, and —

Jim sort of bucked underneath him, lifting both their legs off the coffeetable and maneuvering them to the floor, and then they were rolling, Jim was rolling them over smoothly so that Blair found himself on his back, staring up.

Jim was lying on top of him now, staring down at him, and Jim's hands were skimming the sides of Blair's legs, caressing him. Blair felt a sharp pang of anxiety, because Jim was looking at him like he was pancakes and eggs and ham all together, like he was a heart-attack on a plate. And Jim wanted him: it was perfectly, totally, and utterly clear that Jim wanted him. And he'd never been on the other side of want like that.

Jim gave him a warm, slow smile and then pulled back slightly so that his hands could move more freely over Blair's body, over his thighs, hips, abdomen, chest. Blair stared; Jim's eyes darkened as he caressed Blair's body through his clothes, and he was breathing hard and fast.

God, Jim really wanted him.

And suddenly Jim's hands were at the waistband of Blair's jeans, undoing the button, pulling down the zipper. Blair felt that pang of nervousness again, only much, much sharper than before, because Jim was going to touch his dick, now, and he had this odd, residual feeling that he shouldn't let Jim touch his dick. You didn't let other guys touch your dick. Before he could stop himself, argue with himself, tell himself that this was pretty damn near the point of the enterprise and that he wasn't going to get far as a gay guy if he couldn't get over this part of it, he'd reached down and grabbed Jim's hands in his own, his fingers tightening into steel bands.

Jim stopped and moved his eyes from Blair's groin back up to his face; the movement seemed to require real effort on Jim's part. "Second thoughts?"

"No," Blair said instantly, but he was unable to loosen his fingers, unable to let go of Jim's hands.

Jim nodded slowly at this. "Right, okay."

They stared at each other as Blair willed his fingers to relax. And then they did relax, and he let go of Jim's hands and then reached into his own open fly. He slid his palm into his underwear, and found, to his surprise, that his dick was hard.

He closed his fist around his shaft and pumped once, twice, gently, before pulling his hand out and tacitly offering his cock to Jim. It would be okay, now. He'd touched himself first — he was in control now. Now, he was offering.

Jim was wearing that faint smile again, and Blair was convinced that Jim knew exactly what he'd been thinking. He took a deep breath as Jim's hands moved back to his fly, and his eyes were locked on Jim's face as Jim tugged his pants and underwear down.

And then Jim was looking at Blair's cock, reaching for it, taking it into his hand. The thought struck Blair hard: Jim's gay. Because there was no other way to interpret what he was seeing: his reddened, erect cock was in Jim's hand, and Jim was holding it, touching it, stroking it. Jim clearly liked his cock — man, Jim was gay.

It took him another second to notice that his cock really liked Jim. He blinked and looked down and — hell — Jim and his cock were in some sort of relationship over there, and his cock was straining away from his own body and toward Jim's like it was planning to defect or something.

It took him another second to identify the loud chuffing sound in the air as the sound of his own ragged breathing, because he had never made noises like that before. But nobody'd ever touched his dick like this before — no woman had, certainly. Women, in his experience, tended to touch your dick like it was some sort of small animal that they were trying to befriend — a hamster, or a baby chick. Women tended to touch you like they would break you, and they'd look like they were on the verge of cooing some sort of pet name ending in a "-y" or an "-ie".

Not so Jim. And maybe it was a Jim thing, or a gay thing, or a man thing, but Jim was handling Blair's cock with an assurance that said that he knew what it was, how it worked, and what it was for. It was like watching a master carpenter use some incredibly dangerous piece of equipment — -a band saw or high-speed power drill, something that would slice the fingers off a novice — with quiet confidence. It was fucking beautiful, the way Jim touched him, the way Jim's fingers moved right where he wanted them before he even knew he wanted them there. It was the best hand-job of his life, and he found himself sweating, and moaning, and bucking up into Jim's hand, wanting more.

Jim's eyes were locked on Blair's face even as he fondled Blair's erection roughly, expertly. "Maybe you are," Jim muttered. "Maybe you really are at that..."

Blair's head was swimming. "Maybe I...what?..."

"Take your shirt off," Jim whispered urgently, still stroking him.

"...what? I..."

"Take your shirt off," Jim repeated, stilling his hand and tightening his fist around Blair's cock for emphasis.

Blair's hands flew to his collar and moved downward rapidly as he undid his shirt buttons. He pulled his shirt open, finally, and above him Jim groaned.

Blair looked down his own naked body, down past his heaving chest, down to where Jim's hand was grasping his straining erection, and all he could say was, "Jim, please..."

Jim obediently began to fist his shaft again, but his eyes were roaming Blair's body hungrily. God, Blair could hardly believe how much Jim wanted him, how much he wanted Jim, how good this was turning out to be after all, after everything.

"Touch your nipple ring," Jim murmured above him.

"...yes, Jim..." Blair gasped, and did.

"Pull on it," Jim murmured. "Keep pulling on it..."

"..yes, Jim..." and each tug on the nipple ring set off a chain reaction — each tug made his cock jump in Jim's hand, and each jump of his cock made him cry out, and each of his cries pulled a reciprocal moan out of Jim, and just when Blair was about to beg Jim to just end it already, to make him come already, Jim clutched his cock tightly and bent his head down —

and put. It.

in his mouth.

Blair felt his eyes widening as he watched the top two inches of his cock disappear into Jim's mouth, and he didn't even have time to really feel it, because his eyes were locked on Jim's face and Jim was staring at him as he did it. Jim was letting Blair watch him do it — hell, Jim wanted Blair to see him do it, and so it was only two inches into Jim's mouth when Blair yelled and bucked upwards and came hard, the orgasm smashing into him with crushing force. He hadn't even felt it, but he had seen it — his cock in Jim Ellison's mouth — and that was enough to make him come his brains out.

He shuddered and trembled as he came, eyes glued to where Jim was still sucking him, to where Jim was sucking the come right out of him (coming in Jim's mouth, he was coming), sucking gently like it was a religious experience, like it was a gift, Blair's cock in his mouth, Blair's come in his mouth...

Blair squeezed his eyes shut and tried to pull himself together: he'd never felt so completely out of his depth. He was shaking and frightened with excitement, and —

He felt Jim moving up his body, and then felt Jim's mouth touch his. Instantly he wrapped his arms around Jim and hung on, hung on tightly as Jim kissed him deeply, as Jim slid his heavy, wet tongue into Blair's mouth. Blair hung on, wanting the kiss to last, and it did last...thirty seconds became a minute, became five minutes, became ten, and somewhere in there they rolled to their sides to make the making-out easier.

And at some point Blair realized, dimly, through a cloud of competing sensations (the soft pressure of Jim's lips, the tight muscles of Jim's arm, a strong hand in his hair, pulling) that Jim had unzipped his pants and freed his own erection. Jim was — Jim was humping his thigh — and suddenly he could feel it, feel that and only that. Jim's smooth-velvet cockhead was sliding against his leg, leaving a trail of cool, sticky wetness.

The sensation was striking enough that Blair lost his ability to concentrate on the kiss, and soon he had to twist his head away to breathe. Jim simply moved his lips, first over Blair's jaw and then to the skin behind his left ear.

"Uh..." Blair said dizzily; Jim was clutching at his hair, fondling his hair, rubbing the strands between his fingertips, and hump hump humping his thigh — no, his hip...

He got only a vague murmur in return — "Nnuhh," Jim said — and it suddenly occurred to Blair that Jim was gone, that Jim was, like, totally pre-verbal now. Jim was breathing hard and moving against him rhythmically, instinctively — hell, Jim was chasing an orgasm now, chasing an orgasm over the field of his body.

Blair had the sudden, horrible feeling that he had ceased to exist, that he wasn't really there. Because Jim wasn't — well — with him. Jim was clearly internal and pre-verbal — Jim was making love to some dream-Blair and using his scent and his hair and his hip for — well — realism.

And okay, maybe that was a stupid idea, because of course he was Blair Sandburg, at least he was the last time he checked. So it wasn't like Jim was making love to him and thinking of Brigette Bardot or someone — Jim was making love to his body, and thinking of him. But Blair still knew that the him that Jim was thinking of wasn't quite the him who was being kissed and humped.

It was him but maybe more mature, less solipsistic. Him if he'd been more naturally gay and less naturally flaky. Maybe just a little bit older. Maybe just a little more prepared. That was who Jim wanted, but Jim was stuck kissing his face and clutching at his hair and masturbating desperately for the Blair-Who-Might-Have-Been.

Blair swallowed hard: the idea hurt him. Proving once again that there was only one heartbreaker in this relationship, and it wasn't him. He had the sudden, horrific premonition that he was going to end up smashed. Mushed. Crushed into bonemeal, ground up into bits.

He moved his hand and tried to reach for Jim's cock. He wanted to touch it — he wanted to feel it hot and sliding in his hand, but it was trapped between their bodies and he couldn't reach it.

"Let me," Blair whispered.

Jim's face was buried against the side of his neck; Jim was breathing hard. "Maybe," he murmured.

"Please let me." Blair's hand rubbed Jim's hip insistently, feeling the warm, smooth flesh there, but wanting more, much more.

"Maybe," Jim gasped. "Later." Jim's hands suddenly tightened on him, tightened in his hair and tightened on his arm. Tightened hard enough to hurt, hard enough to leave bruises. And then Jim was panting hard against Blair's skin, and his hips were pistoning frantically, and his cock was rubbing against Blair's hip — fast, faster, fastest and —

Blair wrapped his arms tightly around Jim's back as Jim groaned and came, shuddering. It was the only thing he felt he could do — hang on. It was the only way he could really be there, with Jim, and he had a sudden desire, beyond the capacity of his ability to express it, to be with Jim as he came, to be the cause of it, to control it. To make Jim feel safe enough that they could be together in that moment, really together.

He held Jim close as Jim's breathing calmed down. He could try, Blair thought, rubbing Jim's back gently. He could try — he could give it his best. What was the worst that could happen?

He could get smashed, mushed, crushed into —

But — so what else was new? All right, so Jim was being careful — well, Jim was older and more experienced and had learned to be careful. Whereas he — he was doomed to be the novice, doomed to be the one who got shot at and banged up and knocked around. That was how their relationship had worked since the beginning, so why should this be any different?

And he was tougher than he looked. He had patience. Endurance. Staying power.

Hell, even Jim knew that.

"Nice," Jim muttered sleepily into his collarbone. "That was really very nice..."

I mean, all right, so maybe they'd agreed to do this only once. But then again, they'd agreed that Blair would only stay at the loft for one week. The number "one" seemed to have some sort of flexibility here in 307. Or maybe, Blair thought with a grin, he was a living embodiment of Zeno's Paradox.

Fact was — he had always lived in the endless space between zero and one.

So maybe patience would do it. Patience and staying power. The determination to be more of a one, and less of a zero.

"Yeah," Blair murmured in Jim's ear. "It was nice. Very nice." He cupped the back of Jim's head with his hand and pulled Jim's mouth back to his, eagerly anticipating living his life within a mathematical impossibility, in a world of endless Tuesday afternoons.

The End