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Sweet Surrender

by the lady of shalott

it doesn't mean much
it doesn't mean anything at all
the life I've left behind me
is a cold room

"You can reach me on the cell, Simon... No, nothing's wrong, he's being released. We're going to check into a hotel for a few days. I don't want him staying at some shitty motel." Jim said tiredly. He listened to the question from the other end of the line. "I can't get the furniture back up here in time," he answered evasively. "After he's feeling better... No, Simon, all right?" he finally snapped. "I don't know if he's moving back in yet." He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. It's just..." his voice trailed off. "Yeah, I'm okay. Thanks, Simon. Yeah, it'll work out... All right. I'll talk to you later."

Jim put the phone back on the hook and looked blankly around the loft, still empty of furniture and so cold his breath fogged in front of him. Unwelcoming and barren, the entire apartment was a cutting reminder of all he'd thrown away. All he'd nearly lost for good.

He slowly walked upstairs and sat on the sleeping bag he'd tossed onto the hard floor to replace his bed, then started going through the pile of clothing he'd dumped out of his dresser. His head hurt from too little food, too little sleep, and too many hours of tension and waiting, and his hands were slow and clumsy as they sifted through the messy heap.

Mindlessly sorting through clothing was good. It was just fine, as long as he could keep from thinking.

And that was anything but easy, even with his head doing its best to split in two and his fingers trying to tie his shirts into knots. How could he help but think, when he was here, where absolutely nothing was as it should be. Where everything was as it so easily could have been... Where everything was as he'd left it(cold, empty, lifeless. Just like... He shook violently, all over, like a dog trying to shed water from its coat, and pushed thinking away for a little while again as he started shoving clothes into a bag with no thought for wrinkles.

Going downstairs hurt all over again, but he couldn't help looking through the gaping doors with their glass-pane eyes, the room beyond them so achingly empty it was more than simply vacant. He wrenched his eyes away and grabbed his jacket, hurrying out the door.

He didn't bother locking up.

I've crossed the last line
from where I can't return

After he flashed his badge, the motel manager reluctantly let him into the room, filled with cardboard boxes and bags. Jim stared the curious man down until he retreated, then locked the door with a critical scowl at the cheap deadbolt before starting his search.

He found clothing in the third box he opened, too unsettled to use his senses to track down the faint smell of fabric softener and detergent. The worn flannel was soft on his fingers, fragrant with the scent of Blair's body still lingering on the fabric. Slowly, unable to resist, he brought the shirt to his face and inhaled deeply, over and over, until his senses were filled, his whole body suffused with the scent, and the faint traces of it no longer strong enough to satisfy him. He shook desperately and dropped the shirt, diving into the box for the half-buried laundry bag, which he dumped out on the bed. His hands trembling with compulsion, his mind deliberately blank, refusing to think about what he was doing, he sat down and started going through the items, stroking them with his fingers, nuzzling the ones with more of Blair's scent on them.

The heater kicked in, pipes banging loudly for a few moments, and he shucked his jacket automatically as the room warmed up. The long-sleeved shirt he wore followed after a moment, and now he could bury his arms among the fabric, almost feel Blair's presence around him, and he took off his undershirt and sprawled himself over the garments, gasping softly now as his chest brushed against cotton and silk. His nipples caught on lightly ribbed elastic, and he found himself trembling, aroused and terrified all at once. His hands, sifting restlessly through the clothes as he shivered, found an oddly hard sheet of fabric... He pulled out the pillowcase and brought it close... and then he was panting as he struggled out of his pants, burying his face into the stiff spots where Blair's semen had dried, his own cock heavy and full and urgent in his hand.

He spared half a moment for hysteria before his body took over, writhing feverishly on the bed, hips pushing up into his pumping grip, his eyes squeezing shut so nothing could distract, so he could breathe in Blair and sex and heat and for one blinding moment imagine that the hand on his body was different, long fingers wrapping around him, driving him, claiming him, and oh he was coming, short cries of pleasure choking in his throat while the scent of his own come flooded the room.

He lay on his back and listened to the sound of his own breathing for a while, keeping his hand very still, trying to ignore the cooling slickness on his fingers and stomach. As his heart stopped racing and his lungs slowly calmed, he mechanically lifted the pillowcase and cleaned himself off. He pulled himself into a sitting position and neatly folded it up, the new wet spot on the inside, and looked aimlessly around the room. The boxes hadn't shifted, the dingy walls remained mute. The world was still spinning.

He just seemed to have fallen off somewhere along the way.

where every step I took in faith
betrayed me
and led me from my home

Jim sat just outside the door of Blair's room, staring down at his knotted fingers and listening to his sleeping Guide's heartbeat, trying to ignore the smells of disease and death clogging the hospital air. The two lumpy bags of clothing were lying inside, waiting for Blair to wake so they could leave, but he'd fled to the hallway after only a few moments of sitting in the cool, dark room, breathing in Blair's scent, feeling the warmth of his body radiating from the bed.

His mind chased itself around in panicky circles, just as in those disastrous days when he'd pushed everything and everyone away in a desperate attempt to narrow down his world, to stay in control... forgetting conveniently that he'd never really been in control in the first place.

Inside, Blair's breathing paused for a moment. Jim found himself on his feet, halfway into the room before his brain interrupted the motion to inform him that Blair had just been shifting in his sleep. He leaned against the doorframe and breathed slow and deep, trying to push away the sharp-clawed memory of those frantic moments when Blair's heart and lungs lay slack.

He stumbled back out into the antiseptic hallway, mind already back on the familiar track of self-blame and regret. Slumping into the institutional chair, he rubbed his face and wondered with numb despair why his life was so screwed up and how he'd managed to fuck everything up so badly. And whether Blair would really forgive him.

He'd just been so confused... who was he kidding? he thought with sudden savagery. He had been, still was, scared shitless. Scared of his senses, scared of his instincts, scared of his needs(scared of one need in particular: Blair. Now more than ever.

He remembered the week when he'd discovered that Blair was a necessity with unpleasant clarity. He'd felt so tense, so restless(and so sure that all he needed was a break from his work, his friends, and most especially Blair's constant presence. He'd even told Blair as much, he remembered, wincing at his own stupidity. And then, when Simon and Blair had finally left him alone, he'd spent the rest of that miserable week turning to share something with his partner, panicking in the middle of the night in the absence of his Guide, growing even more tense and irritable with every day.

His lips twisted as he remembered how he'd broken and come home two days early, unable to stay away any longer. He'd come through the door sheepishly, expecting Blair to tease him, and instead found dinner and a fire waiting, and Blair welcoming him back with such evident relief that he didn't have to feel embarrassed at being so glad to be back home himself.

But that hadn't been enough of a lesson, he supposed, hunching over slightly. Or maybe too much of one. He could hear his father's voice even now if he tried, almost like overhearing a distant conversation. "Don't ever depend on anyone but yourself, Jimmy(a real man doesn't need anyone." He swallowed down a bark of unamused laughter. Funny how some lessons just didn't let go, even when he'd lost all respect for the teacher. He'd been so scared by the thought of needing Blair that he'd done his best to chase him away. Snapping at him over the thesis, picking fights with him... throwing him out of the loft... accusing him of betrayal... he shook so deeply the chair rattled against the floor.

What was going to happen now? Would Blair want to move back in after he'd been so unceremoniously evicted? Would he want to rejoin the partnership after he'd been so harshly rejected? Would he want... would he even consider... Jim sharply pulled his thoughts away from that direction, still unwilling to deal with the confusion of his feelings.

An unspoken truce had ruled the days since Blair had awakened, and they'd carefully avoided speaking of the discord before the accident. He'd caught Blair looking at him sideways from time to time, a little anxiety in his eyes, but his partner hadn't said anything(and he'd followed Blair's lead. And at first, Jim had been grateful, feeling strained and fragile after the long days of agonized waiting. But now, with Blair ready to leave, the uncertainty of the future was crashing in on him. The hotel would only be a temporary reprieve, and then what if Blair left him? The thought alone was enough to terrify him. He wrapped his arms around himself and leaned back against the wall with his eyes closed, wishing vaguely for everything to be all right again.

and sweet
sweet surrender
is all that I have to give

Jim nudged the door open with his shoulder and carried the bags into the cool, pristine hotel room, dropping them on the dresser before taking off his jacket.

Blair followed and locked up before sitting limply down on the king-size bed. "Room service," he declared firmly, "and bed." He looked at the fat pillows and the soft comforter. "Not necessarily in that order," he added, shrugging out of his jacket and heeling off his shoes.

Eyeing his partner wryly, Jim came over and collected Blair's clothing as it was shed, folding each piece and setting it neatly on the armchair. He finished balling up the socks and turned back to find Blair, down to his underwear, looking at him with a quizzical grin. "What?"

"I was just wondering what you'd do if I handed you my boxers," Blair teased. "What happened to the 'clean up after yourself' rule?"

Jim flushed and answered the second question. "Temporarily suspended, Chief, until you're better. Just don't get used to it," he added, trying for a joking tone without much success.

Too tired to notice Jim's discomfiture, Blair just smiled up at him and wriggled under the sheets. "This is great," he said, voice already drowsy. "Beats my futon. Will you order something up?"

"Yeah, just relax and try to get some rest," Jim said, flipping through the room service menu. "You still feeling all right? Not too cold?"

"M'fine." Blair snuggled deeper into the covers, his breathing easily smoothing out into the steady rhythm of light sleep.

Jim called in an order for some simple food and turned down the lights, then prowled the room restlessly for a few minutes. Giving up, he settled onto one of the uncomfortably overcushioned armchairs and let his gaze rest where it wanted to(on the sleeping face, the lips slightly parted, the lashes dark against pale skin. He didn't stir until the knock came, calling him reluctantly away to answer the door.

Setting the tray down on the small table, he walked over to the bed and leaned over to wake Blair. His hand trembled as it hovered over the younger man's shoulder, his fingers desperately wanting to slide into the tangle of hair and tilt Blair's head up just a little, his lips dry with the urge to lean just a little further and taste the warm skin and mouth lying(so close!(in front of him. He stayed there, half-crouched over the bed, fighting himself in mounting panic, the stalemate of his urges broken only when Blair stirred beneath him and edged towards wakefulness.

He jerked away. "Blair!" he said loudly, not daring to go back towards the bed, his heart still racing.

"Wha?" Blair sleepily pushed to a sitting position and blinked with a tousled expression Jim would never before have called adorable. "Oh, great, food," he said enthusiastically, half-turning to prop the pillows up against the headboard. "You mind letting me have the tray?"

Jim stayed frozen for another moment, then forced himself to move to the table, grateful that Blair wasn't looking at him. He had nearly finished setting his share of the food out on the table before it occurred to him to protest Blair's eating in bed. He almost spoke up but decided it would seem silly, and he settled for bringing the tray over with an air of disapproval. He held it out to Blair stiffly, keeping it at arm's length and quickly retreating to the table when Blair had taken it from his hands.

"Thanks..." Blair's voice trailed off, sounding a little puzzled. "Hey, are you feeling okay?"

Jim sat down on the far side of the table and tried not to meet the questioning blue eyes. "I'm pretty tired," he said, hoping the admission would throw Blair off.

"Well, come to bed when you finish eating, then," Blair said, digging into his pasta. "No reason to stay up any later. Oh man, you have... mmmm rmmph mmrm... no idea how good it is to have real food again," he continued, talking with his mouth half-full.

Jim ate mechanically, staring down at his food in blank terror as Blair continued to rhapsodize. He hadn't really thought about the sleeping arrangements when the hotel had offered this, the last remaining room; he and Blair had shared a bed before. "I'll sleep on the floor," he blurted without thinking.

"...and don't even get me started on that disgusting excuse for rice pudding(huh?" Blair paused in his litany against hospital food to give Jim a strange look. "Why?" he asked, looking over at the vast expanse of bed to his right. "There's practically more space in the bed than there is on the floor."

Silently cursing himself for saying anything instead of just waiting for Blair to fall asleep, Jim lamely offered, "You need to rest."

"So do you," Blair pointed out reasonably. "Come on, Jim, this bed's big enough for you, me, and half of Major Crime. And you know neither of us moves around much anyway."

Jim poured himself a cup of coffee and gulped down the cooling brew. "Just go to bed, Sandburg, and don't worry about me."

Setting the tray on the nightstand, Blair sat up and fixed Jim with a narrow glare. "Okay, man, out with it. What's going on?"

"Nothing," Jim said with all the nonchalance he could muster. "I'm just trying to make sure you get enough rest."

"Uh huh." Blair noisily blew out air in a sigh. He grabbed one of the books he'd brought from the hospital and settled himself against the pillows. "I'll just read until you're ready to come to bed."

"I said("

"I know what you said," Blair interrupted. "And it doesn't make any sense." He lowered the book and gave him a direct look. "Look, Jim, you do guilt better than anyone else I know, but I'm not going to let you get away with it." He sighed a little and added, quietly, "We've got a lot to talk about, but we both need to get some rest first, okay? Just come to bed. We'll work things out in the morning."

Caught by Blair's words, Jim couldn't find any other argument to offer, his mind immediately focusing on the looming danger of the impending 'talk'. Moving almost blindly, Jim stacked his plates onto the tray and set it outside the door, hanging the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the outer knob. He carefully locked up and checked all of the windows as well, pulling the curtains securely shut and making sure the heater was at a comfortable temperature. He turned the overhead light off and headed for the bathroom to escape the faint pressure of Blair's gaze between his shoulder blades.

Stripping off his clothes, he started the shower running. "I'll just stay in here until he falls asleep," he muttered aloud, climbing into the stall.

"By the way, Jim, don't think you can stay there until I fall asleep," Blair's voice floated through the door and straight to his sensitive ears. "This is a really good book, so I'll be wide awake until you get out here."

Jim stared at the dials, thought about sleeping with Blair, and grimly turned up the cold water.

Twenty minutes later, having dragged things out as long as he could stand, Jim crept out of the bathroom, chilled and damp, hoping despite the faint glow of light from the reading lamp that Blair would be asleep. The blue gaze that met him was sleepy, but very definitely conscious. Jim swallowed and set his folded clothes on a chair. He rummaged in his bag, nearly desperate with relief as he found a pair of sweatpants. The room wasn't cold, but he pulled them on anyway.

He slid beneath the covers, determinedly not-looking at Blair as he curled up on his side and turned his face towards the wall. He heard Blair shifting and carefully avoided connecting the soft rustling with the slide of cotton sheets over his skin.

The light flicked off. "Night, Jim," Blair drowsily murmured.

"Night, Chief," he whispered back, holding very still. When his senses told him that Blair had fallen asleep, he carefully fixed his eyes on the distant wall and tried to relax.

Moments later, he shifted restlessly, unable to get comfortable. He tried to stay on his side for long moments, then finally turned onto his back and stared at the ceiling, breathing deeply through his mouth. Blair was right there, right next to him... Some insidious part of his mind suggested that Blair was fast asleep and probably wouldn't even notice a light touch, an arm draped casually over his body. Maybe even a kiss...

He bit his lip until his eyes watered with the pain, drove his fingernails into his palms, and wrenched himself back onto his side, then over onto his stomach, burying his face in the pillow, pretending the harsh noises he was muffling were only deep breaths and not closer to sobs. The craving was building in him again, slow and inexorable, demanding that he touch, taste, caress... Then suddenly heat was blooming all over his back, strong hands gripping his shoulders, and he climaxed helplessly as Blair curled close around him, whispering, "Jim?"

He wordlessly rode out the waves of pleasure, far beyond wondering what Blair would think, beyond anything but sensation as he shook under Blair's hands, moaning into the pillow. His body slowly calmed, coming down reluctantly from the heights. Blair's hands were very still, and he could hear his partner's heart thumping rapidly. "Sorry," he managed finally, cringing at the inadequacy of the word.

The hands stopped him, moving in gentle circles over his back. "How long?" came the soft question. Blair didn't need to be more specific.

"I... I don't know," Jim whispered, and meant it. With the walls of his self-deception crumbling, he could see how desire had slowly grown in him for years, content to feed on friendly touches, on scent, on constant closeness, gradually growing the teeth of possessiveness, the claws of jealousy. But he hadn't the faintest idea when it had first drawn breath. "A while. It just..."

"Got out of control?" Calm and understanding, Blair's voice held nothing that should have made him afraid, and yet he shivered. "It's okay," Blair added, gently caressing his shoulders, long fingers running over his neck.

Jim shivered again, this time with renewed desire, and pushed himself up slightly, unsuccessfully trying to draw away from Blair's touch. "How is it okay?" he snapped defensively, his shoulders trying to hunch up but unable to defy the soothing pressure of the warm hands.

Blair's lips touched the back of his neck, and he startled violently, getting tangled with Blair's legs and tumbling them both over. He struggled around to face his partner. "Blair?"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," Blair said softly but firmly, his fingers reaching out confidently to touch Jim's face lightly, to stroke over the brows and the hard jawline.

"But... you... we..." Jim stammered incoherently, until Blair's fingers, then Blair's mouth, stopped his lips, and they were falling to the bed together.

you take me in
no questions asked
you strip away the ugliness
that surrounds me

His hands tried to go everywhere at once, until finally he settled on wrapping one in Blair's hair and the other around his waist, fingers splayed across the smooth back. Blair made an approving sound against his lips and pushed his sweatpants and boxers down, squirming out of his own boxers at the same time. Jim groaned eagerly and wrapped his legs around Blair's thighs, hand sliding down to cup Blair's ass and press their groins together, his cock already surging back to attention. "Please," he managed, saying everything and nothing with the one eager word as Blair pushed himself up a little, dark hair falling around them like a curtain, his eyes very blue and intense as they looked down at him.

"Yes," Blair murmured softly back, dipping down with mouth and hands to cover his throat, his chest. The first touch of Blair's soft mouth on his nipple sent an explosion of pleasure through him, and he couldn't help crying out so loudly that Blair withdrew. "Did I hurt("

"No," he gasped, reaching up to coax the full lips back, doing his best to wrap himself around Blair, his whole body craving to be part of Blair, make Blair part of him. He moaned as the warm rough slickness of Blair's tongue rubbed over his nipple, sliding back and forth like velvet sandpaper.

Blair shifted, and his cock slid neatly into place against Jim's, both shafts cradled snugly against Jim's abdomen. Jim cupped them together with his hand, slowly stroking the velvet flesh, gulping air in short swallows as he felt the stroke of his own fingers, the soft pulse of blood through Blair's cock resonating through him(he wondered if it was only his imagination that his heart was beating at the same excited pace. Above him, Blair sighed wordlessly and pushed forward, and Jim felt those slender, skillful fingers curling around his balls, bringing the soft sac forward and pressing it against Blair's own. So right, to be so close to Blair, so nearly one with him, and all he wanted was for this to go on forever.

"Touch me," Blair whispered to him, and Jim let his free hand slip out of its nest of hair, stroke down over the sturdy shoulders, his fingers digging in a little to feel the muscle banded around them. A quick trip down the spine for each vertebrae to be counted, stroked, loved, then he stroked tentatively at the very top of the soft cleft between Blair's buttocks. "It's okay," Blair said, hips lifting just a little to encourage. "Anything you want is okay."

Jim shivered hard, terrified and enthralled simultaneously by the soft promise. He licked his suddenly-dry lips and slid his hand further to explore the private region with light, petting touches. He circled the puckered entrance with a fingertip, pushing gently to hear Blair's breath catch in his throat. The idea of being inside Blair, of having Blair inside him, trembled through him as he felt the soft flesh yield slightly. "I don't know what to do," he whispered finally, his hand still moving gently on their cocks, keeping them together.

Blair's hands cupped his face like a benediction. "Then we'll take it slow."

Jim closed his eyes as Blair's mouth covered his, tongue dipping like honey into his mouth, and Blair's hips started moving musically against him. They did take it slow, slow and sweet, his body rocking against Blair's, their cocks sliding gently through his grip. This time his climax was like the breaking of a slow, rolling wave, and he felt as though he was dissolving into it, into Blair, complete and sated.

are you an angel
am I already that gone
I only hope
that I won't disappoint you

A line of sunlight was brightening on the carpet, streaming in below the edge of the curtains when Jim opened his eyes. He turned his head. Blair lay sprawled over his half of the bed, a smile still warm on his lips, dark curls tangled over the pillows. Jim turned onto his side and pillowed his head on his hands, studying the sleeping face opposite his. Blair's lips were slightly parted and moist, dark stubble shadowing the still-pale skin around them.

He reached out and toyed with a long strand of hair that was outflung towards him on the pillow, remembering other nights, other people he'd shared a bed with. Carolyn's hair had been long when they'd married. He remembered the disappointment he'd felt when she'd cut it, his fingers missing the long locks as he'd tried to cup her head, and he wondered whether Blair would miss the sensation as well. He rubbed a self-conscious hand over his thinning hair and hoped not, shuddering at the idea of growing his hair long.

Anxiety chased after that thought. Here he was, lying here thinking about growing his hair out, when he didn't even know what last night had meant to his partner. After the way he'd treated Blair, he couldn't believe that he'd be so easily forgiven, much less forgiven and accepted all at once. He hadn't even apologized yet. He swallowed hard and rolled onto his back to stare at the ceiling. Blair loved him, and he loved Blair. That was a given. But he was bitterly certain that it wasn't going to be that simple. He'd loaded so much baggage onto their relationship, with his half-hysterical accusations of betrayal, his cold rejection... how could he even begin to make things work between them again?

"You still don't trust this, do you?"

Jim sat up in surprise, turning to find Blair looking up at him. "I do trust you," he said quickly, eagerly, snatching at the chance to begin to take back some of those vicious words.

"That's not what I said," Blair shook his head, sitting up and folding his legs beneath him. "I'm talking about this(what's between us." He reached out and took one of Jim's broad hands in his, and placed it over his heart, stretching out his other hand and covering Jim's heart. "You can call it the Sentinel thing, you can call it a spiritual bond between a Sentinel and a Guide(or you can call it love. Whatever label you want to put on it, it's real, Jim, and it can make everything work, as long as you trust it."

Jim stared into Blair's clear, determined eyes, felt the steady heartbeat beneath his hand, and wanted to believe. Wanted to. "But I(" I hurt you, he tried to say, his throat closing on the words. I threw you out. I shouted at you. I rejected you. I left you. I left you to her. I left you to die.

Blair took a deep breath, his eyes water-bright as he heard the words Jim didn't say. "We made a lot of mistakes here, Jim. I'm not saying we can just forget them(" He put a quick gentling hand on Jim's arm as tension clenched all of Jim's muscles. "I'm saying that they're not going to break us up. They're not going to destroy what we've got(not these mistakes, and not any that we make from now on. You have to believe that(have to believe in us."

"How?" Jim said hoarsely, his free hand clenching restlessly on his thigh. "How can you be so sure? What if... what if I... what if you leave?" The words, the fear, slipped out before he could stop them. He swallowed down bitter self-disgust. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I can't believe I'm sitting here giving you a hard time after everything I(" It would serve you right if he left, a voice whispered nastily in his brain. That's what you deserve.

"You're not giving me a hard time," Blair said firmly, his voice pushing away the dark internal one. "You're being honest, and I want—no, I need you to be. Just like I have to be with you, do you understand? No more hiding, not if we're going to make this work." He shifted on the bed, gripping Jim's shoulders with both hands. "Do you want me?"

"Want you?" Jim asked incredulously, startled into looking up and meeting Blair's eyes. "Want you? I need you. I don't even know how I lived without you anymore. I practically fell apart on you from a touch last night and you're asking me if I want you? Of course I want you."

"Well, I want you, too," Blair said plainly. "For every second of every minute for the rest of my life." He reached out and took Jim's face in his hands. "I want you. I need you. I love you. And I'm never going to leave you."

"You died!" Jim exploded, his eyes blurring. "I was holding you, and your heart... I couldn't hear your heart." His voice dropped to a whisper. "You were cold. So cold." He gulped air desperately and yanked Blair into his arms on pure instinct, wrapping himself around the warm body, burying his face in the curve of Blair's neck. And it was my fault, he thought. "My fault," he whispered.

Blair simply held him, stroking his back in long, gentle caresses. Jim finally pulled himself up, ungracefully wiping his nose with the back of his hand. He nodded awkwardly to Blair's soft "You okay?" hunching up a little bit as he slid back to rest against the pillows.

Blair watched him silently for a moment before sliding over and settling next to him, easing a comforting arm around his shoulders. "I can't promise not to die, Jim. But I can promise not to leave. Never again. I shouldn't have done it before."

"I threw you out," Jim muttered tightly.

"I still shouldn't have gone," Blair said firmly. "Jim, you went off the deep end the last few weeks, but I've been screwing up here for a while. In the beginning I had the sense to follow my gut, and it worked okay. But ever since Incacha died..." he shrugged a little helplessly. "I just got... freaked out by the whole thing, and I ignored what he told me about my role. I haven't tried to be a shaman for you at all."

"Blair, that was just Incacha's way of saying that you were my Guide," Jim protested. "I don't think he meant for you to start doing the Chopec rituals or anything like that."

"He didn't mean for me to become a Chopec shaman, Jim, but he did tell me to follow the way of the shaman. And he wasn't saying 'keep doing what you're doing', either," Blair said decidedly. "Being your Guide is more than studying you, keeping you out of zone-outs, and helping you maximize the Sentinel abilities. If that's all it was, we'd be done. You haven't had a zone-out in months, you've got the senses under control."

"No!" Jim said sharply, his gut twisting even at the suggestion. "I don't have any control over this. Hell, I don't have any control over myself. I couldn't deal with this without you."

"That's my point!" Blair pounced on his reaction. "It's not just about the, the mechanics of the Sentinel abilities. It's about us working together—and that means I have to start contributing on my own, not just propping you up. And I haven't been doing that, Jim."

"Oh, come on!" Jim pulled away and turned to face Blair. "You've gone through hell and back for me, and you've practically done half my job for the last three years."

"Not the important job, Jim. Just the practical one," Blair corrected. "Your job—our job—is protecting the tribe. Police work isn't the same thing, it's just a useful cover for doing it, and we've both been ignoring that difference. And so I've been going on, doing the sidekick thing, when what you needed was a Guide. And that's what's been bothering you—that's why you ran off on that trip, why you got freaked out over the dissertation, why you pushed me away over Alex instead of talking to me. Because I wasn't doing my real job."

"Blair, you're acting like I had a right to act that way," Jim said sharply. "I didn't, and I'm not going to sit here and let you somehow turn this into your fault. You've done everything you possibly could to help me. I just hated feeling like I needed you, so I tried to pretend I didn't," he admitted, forced to honesty.

"I know. And yeah, you should have talked to me, and you shouldn't have pushed me away. But there were some reasons why you acted the way you did. What I'm trying to tell you is that it doesn't matter. What you did, what I did—it doesn't matter to us. We both made mistakes, and we both need to learn from them. But that's all. It doesn't make me love you any less. It doesn't make me any less your Guide."

Jim absorbed Blair's words silently. "And you really think it's that simple?" he asked doubtfully. " 'We have to learn from our mistakes', and everything's back to normal?"

"No, Jim. Not back to 'normal'—normal wasn't working. We're going to have to work at this, find our own balance. I have to start guiding you, and you have to listen to me and trust me, and I don't think it's going to be simple for either of us," Blair said. "I've been a student all my life—and I've been happy just following your lead, pretty much. And I don't think you've trusted anyone completely for a long time."

Jim sighed and fixed his gaze on his interlaced hands. "Try never. Blair, I do trust you—I mean that. I just... I'm not exactly used to taking anything on faith." He looked back up and met Blair's eyes, his own determined. "But I'll do my best, Chief," he promised.

"And so will I." And Blair was reaching over to him, pulling him close, and everything really was going to be all right.

when I'm down here
on my knees
and sweet
sweet surrender
is all that I have to give

They slid down together, sealing the promise with their hands and lips, their bodies tangling sweetly. Jim laced his hands into Blair's hair, pulling their mouths together, his legs wrapping around Blair's thighs as they wrestled the twisted sheets out of the way. Then Blair pushed his shoulders flat against the mattress and propped himself up. Jim let his hands slip to Blair's sides, stroking the smooth skin there while his eyes feasted on Blair, poised above him, dark hair spilling over the ivory skin of shoulders and throat.

"Can you hold still?" Blair whispered softly, smiling, eyes bright. "Hold still for me." And he started covering Jim's body with slow, sucking kisses, tongue drawing patterns over Jim's skin.

Jim groaned, desperately, his body arching, writhing—he couldn't hold his hands back, wanting to touch Blair, wanting to lie still and have that perfect mouth cover him forever. He pushed himself up on his elbows. "The belt," he panted. "Over there." Leaning over the side, Blair caught the smooth leather strap off the armchair and silently handed it to him, eyes smoky with comprehension. He looped the strap through the heavy headboard, then through the buckle, and laid his wrists against the length of it, looking at Blair with mute demand.

Almost reverently, Blair leaned over and wrapped the soft well-worn leather around his wrists in a pair of figure eights, tucking the end into Jim's hand before sitting back. Jim tugged on the strap, gripping the length that stretched from the headboard to his wrists, then slid down on the bed until his arms were extended full-length, silently offering himself up to Blair, his whole body visibly trembling.

Blue eyes almost glowing in the shadowed room, Blair looked at him with such obvious desire that Jim felt his cheeks heating with the intensity of that gaze. He watched as Blair slid to the foot of the bed, waiting for the first incendiary caress on his skin. He didn't realize that he was holding his breath until it exploded out of him in a gasp as Blair's hands circled his ankles, the slender fingers gripping firmly. Blair glanced up at him and smiled again, reassurance warm in his gaze, and didn't move, waiting. His body calming slightly, Jim licked his lips, then deliberately lay his head back down on the pillows and closed his eyes, yielding everything.

Quiet moments slipped by, while all sensation narrowed down to the warm points where Blair's fingertips rested against his skin. Finally, he felt Blair's weight shift and sighed in soft approval as the warm hands began to slide up his body. The lazy, glowing pleasure of relaxation spread through his legs as Blair's hands kneaded his calf muscles, traveled over his knees, then started massaging his thighs. The last echoes of tension faded from his body under the gentling touch, and he wriggled a little against the sheets, letting his body relax completely into the mattress.

Arousal flared along his nerves when he felt Blair ease his legs apart and kneel between them, the firm head of Blair's cock nudging the soft skin of his inner thigh. He started panting, his own cock a heavy weight blazing heat against his abdomen, as Blair's hands slid over his chest. He arched his back a little in anticipation as the slender fingers paused at his nipples, gasping softly as Blair pinched the tightening nubs, rolling them between thumb and forefinger. The soft puff of moist breath over the sensitive skin wrung a cry from him, and then Blair's mouth was closing on his nipple, wet and hot and sucking, the leather around his wrists pulling tight as he almost mindlessly strained towards that exquisite pleasure.

His cock was trapped between their bodies, and he couldn't help pushing his hips up to press it against Blair's firm abdomen, sliding through the furry curls, each one of them a tiny silken caress. "Oh... Blair, please..." he gasped, almost frantic with need.

Blair obligingly slid down his body, pausing briefly to nuzzle his belly. Jim panted helplessly as Blair kissed all around his cock, so close that he could feel the breath from Blair's nostrils puffing against him. Craving reduced him to wordless moans, his cock mutely begging for more with faint twitches until Blair finally wrapped a strong hand around the base of his shaft and tilted him up, just a little. The wet, lush warmth of Blair's mouth surrounded him, the full lips eased down his shaft slow, slow, slow, and just kept going, the head of his cock sliding perfectly into the tight grip of shifting throat muscles. Blair's lips touched the base of his shaft now, and he couldn't speak, couldn't think, just clung to the tight leather and tried not to thrust while tears leaked from his eyes.

Without letting his cock slide free, Blair pressed a finger against his entrance, cool and wet with lubricant. Jim pulled his legs up, breathing deeply as the finger eased into him with purpose. By the time the third finger was moving easily inside him, Jim was lost in an euphoric daze from the twinned pleasures, his cock massaged by the working throat muscles even as the stretching and caressing continued inside him. He moaned faintly as his iron-hard cock was finally released, the air cool on his shaft after the cradling warmth of Blair's mouth.

"Love you," Blair whispered softly above him, warm lips pressing a kiss to the center of his chest. He tried to wrap his mouth around the same words, but he couldn't manage more than a soft moan, his whole body quivering as Blair shifted forward, pressed in, and the heat of Blair's cock drove deep into him and joined their bodies together. He moaned again as Blair thrust forward, pleasure exploding through him like fireworks blooming against the sky. Then Blair wrapped one lube-slicked hand around his cock and started pumping the shaft in time with his slow thrusts. Overwhelmed, Jim shouted and climaxed, his whole body taut and rigid, pulling the leather binding tight as his cock pulsed urgently through Blair's hand.

When he finally relaxed into a limp, dazedly smiling heap, he blinked up at Blair, whose eyes were thirstily drinking in the evidence of his pleasure. "Oh baby," he whispered faintly, squeezing down on Blair's rigid cock, still buried inside him. Blair caught his breath, eyes closing involuntarily at the movement. "Good?" Jim asked, grinning as Blair answered him only with a moan. He squeezed again, then Blair gripped his hips and thrust into him again, once, twice, and came inside him, and he couldn't help laughing out loud at how absolutely wonderful he felt.

it doesn't mean much
it doesn't mean anything at all
the life I've left behind me
is a cold room

"Well," Blair panted, setting down the box of clothing, "that's the last of it."

"Thank the Lord," Simon said, wiping sweat off his forehead. "If I had to lug another carton up those stairs, I think my back would go on strike." He tramped down from the loft and headed for the refrigerator.

Having pushed the dresser back into place, Jim took the opportunity to steal a quick kiss from Blair while Simon was out of sight. When they broke apart, Blair grinned joyfully at him and bounced down the stairs. "Hey, grab me one, Simon?" he heard Blair call out. He started down the stairs, then paused, looking down over the living room.

Cartons and bags were piled in every corner, atop the restored furniture, even out on the balcony. The couch was covered with Blair's collection of masks and pottery, waiting to be put back on the walls and shelves. Books and magazines lay scattered all over the floor, and he could smell the congealing remains of the pizza they'd had for lunch mingling with the tang of freshly opened beer, and knew that there would be a small mountain of bottles to clean up later. In short, his formerly pristine loft was a mess.

He grinned and went downstairs, glad beyond belief to have it that way.