by Francesca

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

Author's notes: Just a little thing that I'm finally remembering to post. Hope you like it; if not, I'll have some other stuff coming soon.

Suffocation. Choking. Dialing up his eyesight didn't help, just made the room brighter, and Jim pushed himself up into a sitting position and extended a shaky arm. Touch was up, he should be able to feel this smothering cloud that he couldn't see...gas? fumes? what? —

Heartbeat. Sandburg's. Pounding.

Christ, what — ? and he forced himself to breathe, and the air was cold, suddenly, in his lungs, cold and normal, and his room was the same as it always was, neat in the darkness made bright by Sentinel vision.

Sandburg was awake, Sandburg was sitting downstairs in the dark — hell, what time was it? Four-thirty. *Four-thirty?* and Sandburg's heart was pounding, Sandburg was downstairs, in the living room, fucking freaking — freaking the fuck out by the suppressed sounds and scents of him.

Jesus god, and he didn't even bother to grab his bathrobe, he just got up, and quickly descended the stairs in his boxers.

Sandburg was sitting on the sofa, staring down at the floor; he looked up at Jim with wild eyes when he was about half way down the steps. Sandburg was tense and pale and staring like he'd never seen him before; his heart was pounding and the room reeked of the bitter, sweaty smell of panic.

"What's the matter?" Jim asked. Sandburg looked confused by the question, and Jim descended the few remaining steps and turned the small table lamp on. "Chief, are you okay?"

Sandburg opened his mouth, and then shut it and swallowed. "No," he muttered, finally, looking away.

Jim frowned. "Are you sick?"

"No," Sandburg said. His voice had gone that into that really deep register which meant he was nervous or unhappy or scared stupid. Most men's voices rose when they panicked: Sandburg 's dropped an octave.

"What then?" Jim casually sat on the coffee table opposite his partner, though he didn't feel casual at all. He felt goddammed freaked out, in fact, but Sandburg was still looking at him without any real recognition, and Jim suddenly felt the need to sort of remind Sandburg that his name was Jim Ellison, he was a cop, he lived here, they knew each other, and this was his coffee table to sit on. So he sat down.

Sandburg seemed to get the message, but seemed oddly unpersuaded by it. Sandburg's look was assessing now: Yeah, you say you're Jim Ellison and that we know each other and that this is your coffee table, but I don't believe you.

What the hell was going on here?

Then Sandburg frowned, almost to himself, and said, abruptly, "I'm fucked."

Jim blinked. "Fucked?" he repeated, and Sandburg nodded. "Fucked how?" This whole situation was taking on an air of unreality; the loft, in the dark pre-dawn, had gone weirdly surreal.

Sandburg wasn't helping any. "I can't ever leave," Sandburg said, carding nervous fingers through his hair.

Okay, this was too much, this was getting annoyingly fucking cryptic, now. "What the hell do you mean?" Jim asked in the most normal tone he could muster, which happened to be irritation, which, in this case, was luckily apropos. "Who are you — Patty Hearst? You can leave — you can go any time you want." He raised his hand and gestured toward the loft door. "Door's open, I'm not holding you prisoner or anything."

Sandburg nodded in apparent agreement. "No, I don't mean that. I mean..." and suddenly his heart was pounding faster still, and Jim fought down a wave of sympathetic anxiety. "I mean I can't ever leave. There's no me to leave, see?"

"What?" The word was out of his mouth before he could stop it, and it sounded angrier than he wanted it to.

"No me to leave," Sandburg repeated, and he was close to hyperventilating now.

Jim grabbed Sandburg's arms and gave him a rough shake. Somewhere in the back of his mind he realized that he was holding Sandburg's arms too tightly, that he was going to leave bruises. But he didn't let go. "What the hell is the matter with you?"

"No me," Sandburg insisted, seeming to think he was clarifying things, which he wasn't. "I'm not — there's no... See, I used to have, there used to be... I'm lost, man," Sandburg said finally, in that same deep, dark, frightening tone. "I'm totally fucking lost, here."

And hell, Sandburg did look lost. Totally lost. Which was unbearable, Jim thought angrily, because he only knew where he was half the time because he knew where Sandburg was.

"What am I doing here?" Sandburg asked him. His blue eyes were wide, and the question was in deadly earnest. "What am I doing here? Where am I supposed to be? How did..." Sandburg trailed off, his head dropping so that he was staring vacantly at Jim's bare chest. "I mean — geeze," Sandburg said in a soft, stunned voice. "Geeze, you know?"

Jim's head hurt suddenly — what was the right answer here? He took a last stab at normality again, already knowing it was futile. "Come on, you know why you're here," he said with a confidence he didn't feel. "You're a doctoral student, you're doing your dissertation and — " Sandburg looked up and the words died on his lips.

Lies. He knew it and now Sandburg knew it. Lies.

Complete bullshit.

"I'm not," Sandburg said, and the words were like a smack in the face. "I'm not. You know it. I know it. I don't — " Sandburg took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "I'm not an anthropologist. That was all — it was always — pretense. " Sandburg opened his eyes and stared at him as if he were trying to read his mind. "I mean, *wasn't* it?" he asked. "*Isn't* it?"

Jim debated lying, debated denying it all. He could go on the offensive, say, "What do you mean you aren't an anthropologist? That's not what you told me, Darwin. " But to do that would be — a betrayal. It would be cutting Sandburg loose, cutting him off even further when Sandburg was clearly in need of some sort of a lifeline, here.

"Maybe," Jim admitted quietly. "Maybe so."

Sandburg seemed relieved. "I mean, you know, I used to think so....I did think so...but..." He stopped and looked around the dark living room as if it maybe held the answer. "But it just isn't true, is it?"

Jim hesitated for a moment, then shook his head no.

"It isn't true," Sandburg said again, like he was trying the phrase on and finding that it fit exactly. "It isn't true."

"It isn't true," Jim confirmed, and hell, it did feel good to say, finally.

Sandburg took a deep, nervous breath. "Except, you know, it was the only truth I had," he explained. "I haven't got another one," and the look of loss on Sandburg's face was devastating.

Jim released Sandburg's arms and then rubbed them with his hands, wanting to soothe. "I'm sorry," he said, meaning it.

"I always figured, you know, that people would like, talk to you before you lost it," Sandburg mused. "Like an intervention, you know? 'Hey Blair, I'm worried about you, you don't seem to know what you're doing here.' Except there wasn't anyone, you know? so it didn't..." Sandburg swallowed hard. "No one even knows I'm missing," he added in a terrified voice that grew deeper still.

"I know," Jim said, wanting to comfort.

"You don't count," Sandburg protested, shrugging off Jim's hands. "You're biased. You — this is your world," Sandburg said, waving his vaguely around the living room. "Your house, your job — and Simon and the station and — like, I know all your friends and — "

Sandburg stopped; his eyes were dilated with dark fear. "I mean, what the hell — am I a pod person or something? I mean — like — am I the kind of person who goes off and joins a cult? Is this a cult? Like, a cult of one, the cult of Jim or something?" Sandburg was looking seriously worried. "I mean — what the hell?" Sandburg muttered darkly. "Why didn't anybody — why wasn't there anybody to sit me down for a little talk and say, "Blair, man. This Sentinel thing is getting out of control, you're losing it here..."

"Blair," Jim said softly, but Sandburg just shook his head sadly and looked away.

"You don't count," Sandburg said again, nervously. "There should have been someone else. But there wasn't — and now I'm just absorbed and — now there's no me left to leave, there's no me that wants to leave, that has a reason to leave and there fucking well should be, shouldn't there?" And now Sandburg was hyperventilating. "Some me that, like, had something else going on that was, like, worth leaving you for — "

"I need you," Jim said quietly.

Sandburg snorted. "Yeah, man, I know that, and it's not making me feel any better, okay? You need me, and that's friggen' terrific for you, but its not helping me explain why I'm thirty years old and living on a futon in your spare room not writing my dissertation, okay?" Sandburg's hands instinctively moved back up to shove his hair away from his face. "I mean, that is the fucking question that is keeping me awake, here — and, for lack of a single fucking objective person who could give a shit, I am here having a little intervention with myself right now."

Jim stared at Sandburg for a few moments, noting the lines of exhaustion around the blue, blue eyes, the cloud of dark hair framing the unhappy, tense face. He swallowed hard and said, "I, uh, know that one."

"I'm fucked," Sandburg said again and then he stopped and looked hard at Jim. "You know what one?"

"I actually know that one," Jim admitted in a low voice. His cheeks were feeling hot, and he hoped that Sandburg couldn't see him all that well in the dim light.

"What do you know?" Sandburg asked, frowning.

"The answer," Jim muttered. "To — you know — the question."

Sandburg exhaled irritably. "I'm lost, here, man — I don't know what the hell you're talking about."

"I," Jim said and then he steeled himself, because this sure as hell looked like the worst of all possible times, what with Sandburg all weird and irritated and halfway to a nervous breakdown, but on the other hand it was clearly the right time, because Sandburg was weird and irritated and halfway to a nervous breakdown. It was finally shit or get off the pot time, here in 307. "I — you're living in my spare room — because — " and now Sandburg was staring at him with abject curiosity, mouth hanging open slightly, " — I've been — I've been too chickenshit to — "

He couldn't say it; there was no way he was going to be able to say it; but Sandburg was there and staring and waiting for him to finish the sentence. And he couldn't, but he had to, and so he raised his hand and touched Sandburg's arm again — differently, he thought. But that just didn't do it, Sandburg still wasn't getting it, and so he slid down to the floor between Sandburg's legs and let his hands gently fall onto Sandburg's thighs.

He heard Sandburg's small gasp of surprise, and lowered his head to stare at the hem of Sandburg's white t-shirt. This was it, shit or get off the pot time for sure, and Sandburg wasn't moving, Sandburg was just sitting there stock still and Jim felt like he was waiting for judgment, judgment on his life and his lies and his total fucking cowardice.

"Oh," Sandburg said, finally. Just that, just "Oh," and nothing else, and Jim thought he might break from the tension, might just snap the fuck in half. And then Sandburg's hands were on his head, in his hair, and Jim felt himself go weak, let his torso sink down into Sandburg's lap.

"Oh," Sandburg said again, and Jim could hear his voice in a weird sort of stereo, from the air above him and vibrating down through Sandburg's body underneath him. "So," Sandburg said, and Sandburg's hands were in his hair, carding through his hair, caressing his head, and Sandburg's hands at least seemed to be with the program. "does that mean — "

And he couldn't really bear to hear Sandburg try to articulate what it meant, because while Sandburg was good, was a talker, knew his way around the English language and several others, he wasn't going to hit this right, he wasn't going to be able to say what this meant. And anything less than exactly right was going to diminish this, and Jim didn't think he could stand that, not now, not after having been chickenshit all these years and having pushed Sandburg halfway to a nervous breakdown.

He pulled back slightly and began to scrabble at the fly of Sandburg's shorts, which shut Sandburg up immediately, cutting off all analysis forthwith. "Jim," Sandburg said nervously, and suddenly Sandburg's hands were out of Jim's hair and grabbing instead at Jim's wrists, trying to stop him. Sandburg tensed, thighs suddenly hardening and flexing and tightening, trapping Jim between them.

Jim raised his head and met Sandburg's eyes. "Please," Jim said softly. "Please let me — " and Sandburg suddenly had this goddammed haunted look, like he understood, now, that this was it, that it was shit or get off the pot time, that this was his last possible chance to leave, to get the hell out of here, to go off and become someone else...

And then suddenly, with a little groan, Sandburg dropped his hands and let his legs fall apart.

Jim let out a breath of desperate relief and moved his fingers back to Sandburg's fly. Soft gray flannel, held together at the front by tiny metal snaps — and then he was tugging and the snaps were coming apart with tiny clicks. Pale, soft belly, dusted with dark hair. Dark hair narrowing downwards, the lushness of full curls suddenly, dark hair suddenly, pale cock curving upwards, hardening with blood, reddening with blood.

Jim leaned forward to take his first taste, moving his lips to the side of Sandburg's cock, caressing it carefully with his tongue. Soft, fragile skin, slightly damp with sweat, sliding over steel. He kissed his way down to the base and then buried his face there, in the sweet, crisp muskiness of Sandburg's pubic hair.

Sandburg's cock was warm against his cheek, and wet at the tip where it slid against his neck, and he pulled back and applied his mouth to the shaft, kissing and sucking and wetting it, learning its contours and shapes, its sweet spots. Sandburg was sort of sliding back, sinking deeper into the sofa cushions, spreading his legs wider, giving him better access. Jim ventured a glance upward when he reached the tip and saw that Sandburg was staring down at him.

"You okay?" Jim whispered.

"Yeah." Sandburg's eyes were dilated and huge.

"You liking this?"

Sandburg moaned softly. "Yeah," he confessed, and hell, his voice went deep when he was aroused, too. "I want... to watch you do it. Don't stop."

Jim nodded and then bent his head again to Sandburg's cock, covering it with slow, wet kisses. He took his time, making his movements deliberate, because Sandburg wanted to watch him do this, because Sandburg was clearly enjoying the steady, low-level stimulation of his mouth, in no hurry to come. And he could do that, he could keep Sandburg there, he could follow orders.

Finally, he slipped the tip of Sandburg's leaking cock into his mouth and the dusky, rich, complex taste exploded across his tongue. Sandburg hissed above him and then he was breathing hard and whispering, "Suck it," and so Jim did, sucking gently on the soft, smooth head.

"Tongue," Sandburg breathed, and Jim immediately obeyed, circling the rim of the head with his tongue, and this made Sandburg gasp — Sandburg was gasping suddenly and then Sandburg's hands were back in his hair, caressing his hair, massaging his scalp. "Oh god," Sandburg was whispering, "oh god, oh god," and he knew Sandburg was watching this, and he could only hope that it was good enough, good enough to answer all of Sandburg's goddamned stupid questions.

It was answering all of his, anyway. Sandburg's cock was in his mouth and Sandburg's flavor was in his mouth and Sandburg was hot and soft and hard and deliciously textured. He worked his way deeper, taking more, wanting more, and then he caressed the pulsing vein on the underside of Sandburg's dick with his tongue.

Suddenly Sandburg was holding his head in his hands, in strong hands. Sandburg was holding him steady and pulling his cock back and then gently thrusting just the head of his cock between Jim's lips, in and out, in and out. Jim closed his eyes and let Sandburg do it, let Sandburg fuck his mouth. And Sandburg was being so gentle about it, so controlled and gentle with him. Hell, Sandburg deserved this — Sandburg deserved his mouth and deserved his subservience and deserved a goddammed fucking explanation, and this was the best he had, the only one he had.

He swirled his tongue around Sandburg's cockhead the next time Sandburg pushed in, and Sandburg choked out a gasp of surprise and came abruptly, flooding Jim's mouth with cool, bitter fluid. Jim swallowed, and swallowed, and swallowed again, though it was coming almost faster than he could handle, but he was okay, it was okay, because Sandburg was still holding his head, thumbs stroking his temples, and he liked that. He liked that a lot.

He continued to gently suck Sandburg's dick till it softened, coaxing him through the aftershocks, soothing him through the trembling, gasping stimulation of it. He kept Sandburg in his mouth until suddenly Sandburg was pushing him back, tugging his cock away, and then he let Sandburg slip out of him and opened his eyes.

Sandburg was lying back against the sofa cushions, relaxed and boneless and staring like he'd never seen Jim before. The color had returned to his face, though, and his hair was wild around his head, hair was peeking out of the top of his white-t-shirt, hair was arrowing down to his groin where his cock lay, damp and spent, nestled in the black curls.

He looked up at Sandburg and waited. Sandburg frowned and adjusted the hand cupping Jim's head so that he could slide a callused thumb across Jim's lips. "Hmmm," Sandburg said finally. "C'mere," and then Sandburg was tugging him up, and Jim let himself be pulled up and then he was awkwardly sprawled across Sandburg and Sandburg was kissing his come off Jim's lips.

Jim moaned slightly, feeling Sandburg's strong arms come up around him. God, Sandburg's mouth...why had he waited so long? why had he been so damn chickenshit? He'd punished himself, he'd punished Sandburg...and for what?

Sandburg was kissing his face, now — kissing him with that odd, clumsy enthusiasm with which he seemed to approach everything. Even him, it seemed.

"Jim," Sandburg was murmuring.

"Yeah?" Jim whispered back.

"You blew me off." Sandburg's voice was a dark mixture of wonder and disbelief.

Jim nodded and nuzzled the side of Sandburg's face. "Yeah."

"Did you like it?"

"Yeah," Jim admitted.

"Hmmm," Sandburg said: he seemed to need to process this. He relaxed back into the sofa cushions, propping his feet up on the coffee table, and then pulled Jim close against him, encouraging him to do the same. They sat there for long minutes, just holding each other as Sandburg processed. God, Sandburg was warm and muscular and wonderful to hold.

"So," Sandburg said finally, "are you saying that this is a sex thing? That there's been this deep, unconscious sex thing, holding me here, keeping me with you?"

Jim frowned. "No," he said.

Sandburg moved his hand into Jim's lap and slid it into the fly of his boxers, closed it around Jim's erect cock.

Jim groaned softly; god, that hand felt good. "Well, sort of," he admitted, "but that's not the whole thing, you know?"

"Not that I'm complaining," Sandburg muttered, stroking Jim's erection.

Jim inhaled violently. "There's more to it."

"I mean, the deep unconscious sex thing is sort of working for me, here," Sandburg said.

"There's more to it," Jim insisted. God, he could hardly think, what with the way Sandburg was moving his hand. "I mean, there's the friendship thing."

"I remember that thing," Sandburg said darkly. "That was my thing, the friendship thing, but I gotta tell you, Jim: it's not as good as your thing."

Jim ignored this. "And then there's the Sentinel thing," he added, determined to make Sandburg understand.

Sandburg seemed to be ignoring him right back. "I mean, I'm definitely liking the way you answer epistemological questions here," Sandburg said, moving his hand faster along Jim's cock. Jim squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to moan. "I think I'm going to have you answer all the fucking questions from now on."

"I'm serious," Jim gasped.

"So am I," Sandburg said, and he did in fact look extremely serious. "Higher education is overrated."

"Sandburg, listen, " Jim implored.

"I never even thought of this," Sandburg said, stroking steadily. "Only booksmart, clearly. And terrifically freewheeling in the abstract — but I've been begging and pleading to have sex with girls a hell of a lot less interesting than you. Way to cut the Gordean knot, man."

"Sandburg," Jim protested through the cloud of pleasure. God, he was hating his brain right now — he didn't want to talk, he didn't want to explain anything, he just wanted to feel this, feel this arousing thing, Sandburg's hand on his cock.

"Sandburg," Jim said again before realizing that Sandburg was almost, there, really — Sandburg had almost gotten it, almost understood. Except he himself was almost there, too — he could feel the orgasm balling up in his spine, building and building. "What you said," Jim said, breathlessly. "About girls. See, with Carolyn — " and he gasped suddenly and spurted come into Sandburg's hand, and hell, that was surreal, coming with Carolyn's name on his lips and Sandburg's hand on his dick.

Small blessings, though. Could have been the other way around. Much worse if he had still been married, if it had been the other way around.

"You with me?" Sandburg asked softly.

"Yeah," Jim said, letting his head fall back exhaustedly against the sofa cushions.

"Was that okay?" Sandburg asked.

"Yeah," Jim said.

"Because I never — " Sandburg began, and then stopped and laughed. "Well, no, sorry, I mean I do it all the time, I do it constantly, a lot — just not to anyone else."

Jim glanced at him. "Never?"

Sandburg had made excellent progress from pale, and was now headed top speed toward flushed. "Never," he admitted, coughing slightly.

"Oh," Jim said.

"Not that I'm averse or — " Sandburg stopped. "I mean, I want to."

"You want to?"

"Yeah. With you: I want to. What were you saying about Carolyn?"

Jim blinked. "What?"

"Carolyn," Sandburg said. "You were talking about Carolyn for some strange reason I prefer not to analyze."

Jim tried to remember what he'd been thinking about Carolyn. "Oh," he said after a moment, and then he felt his cheeks grow warm again.

Sandburg noticed, because suddenly he was grinning at him. "What?" he pressed, poking Jim with his index finger.

"Just that — well — Carolyn and I — we had the sex thing," Jim admitted. "For a while, anyway. We also had the tremendous social pressure thing, which you and I will never have to worry about," he added, snorting. "But we never had the friendship thing, let alone the Sentinel thing, and — "

"Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait," Sandburg said, raising his hands. Sandburg looked sort of shocked, and Jim exhaled nervously and thought, oh, shit, he's got it now. "You're saying," Sandburg said, "that the sex thing isn't the whole thing. Because there's the friendship thing and the Sentinel thing. " Jim nodded. "And probably other things. Whereas with Carolyn you had a sex thing and a social pressure thing."

"Right," Jim muttered.

"So, I mean, reading between the lines, here — you're saying that this is a marriage thing," Sandburg said, waving his hand between them. "This thing right here. This thing I didn't even know we had until a minute ago."

"Well," Jim equivocated. "I mean, sort of. Metaphorically."

"Marriage is already a metaphor," Sandburg objected, crossing his arms.

Jim frowned. "It is?"

"Well, yeah, it's an abstract concept, it's not like this table, is it? " Sandburg kicked at the table. "I mean, it's already more than half a matter of language and — well, maybe it's not exactly a metaphor, but it's a cousin of a metaphor, you know?"

"No," Jim said. He didn't know what the hell Sandburg was talking about.

"It's — this is not important," Sandburg decided suddenly. "What's important is — you're saying that I'm here, living with you, not writing my dissertation, because we have a marriage thing, which is part friendship thing, part Sentinel thing, and part deep, unconscious sex thing which we weren't acting on?"

Jim considered this. "Yeah," he conceded. "Mostly, sort of — yeah. Sure." Sandburg nodded slowly. "I mean, so what do you think about that?" Jim asked.

Sandburg exhaled slowly. "Well...I mean, hey. It does give perspective, at least. And precedent." Jim looked confused and Sandburg clarified. "You know : people doing stupid things when they get married, messing their lives up and all. I mean, not exactly what I expected but, whatever. My expectations have always been pretty wonky anyway."

"So: it's okay?" Jim asked.

Sandburg reached down and rubbed Jim's leg soothingly. "Yeah," Sandburg said, sounding surprised at himself. "It's okay. I mean, I think it's okay. Because it is already. So it must be okay. It is, therefore it's okay," Sandburg concluded. "Okay?"

"Okay," Jim said. In his experience, things were generally okay when Sandburg said they were okay. So: okay.

"So," Sandburg began, looking up at him. "Since we've now decided that this is okay, can we maybe go back to exploring some of this deep, unconscious sex thing?"

Jim grinned helplessly. "Sure."

"Because, you know, my sex life has always been a little ramshackle," Sandburg explained earnestly. "What with constantly moving all the time, and then needing to study a lot, and — you know — being short and sort of funny-looking." He shrugged.

"You're not funny looking," Jim protested, slinging a protective arm around Sandburg's shoulders. "Or," he amended, " if you are — it's only in the nicest possible way."

"Awww," Sandburg said, grinning up at him. "That's nice."

"That's the love thing," Jim explained, brushing Sandburg's hair out of his eyes.

"Oh, there's a love thing, too?" Sandburg asked.

"Sure, there's a love thing. And a partner thing and a cop thing. And a camping thing. And a Chinese food thing."

"That's great," Sandburg said, "but at the moment I'm really mostly interested in the deep, unconscious sex thing. I mean, it's got all the thrills of novelty, unlike the camping thing and the Chinese food thing, which we've really explored already. Those are, like, rock solid," Sandburg explained, making a fist to illustrate.

"I see," Jim said, nodding.

"See, it's the deep unconscious sex thing that's really occupying my mind at the moment. I'm thinking, you know, I'd like it to be more conscious from now on. You dig?"

"I dig," Jim confirmed, reaching over to slide his other hand up underneath Sandburg's white t-shirt, noting with pleasure that Sandburg's cock was stirring again. "You want it to be the deep, conscious sex thing."

"I'd like that. Deep. Conscious. Yeah," Sandburg said breathlessly, and then he didn't say anything for a very long time.  

The End