The Faceless Man

by Annabelle Leigh

It seemed like too much trouble to pull the covers back, so I just lay on top of the bed, fully clothed, too tired to get up and undress. Or maybe I was just too defeated. I don't know. I suppose it doesn't really matter.

I tried keeping my eyes open, but the inside of my head hurt too much, my thoughts so loud, so chaotic. So I closed my eyes instead, but that didn't help either. It's not like the lights were bothering me or anything. I'd never even turned them on when it got dark, not enough energy for that either. What I wanted to blot out was not something in the loft, but what kept reverberating inside my own mind. It was less like memory than instant replay gone mad, happening not just once, but over and again: Blair standing there by the door, keys in hand, tossing me a casual good-bye over his shoulder, his face set with such grim determination that it gave me chills up and down my spine.

I could almost swear that if I listened closely enough I could still make out the last faint echo of the door banging shut after him. I mean, objectively I know even my hearing isn't that good. And yet, there was some kind of disquieting resonance, setting me on edge. I'm going out now. His words still hung in the air too, as if he'd said them moments instead of hours ago. I don't know. Maybe it had less to do with my hearing than with perception. Maybe the significance of where he was going, what he was about to do was so huge and momentous and terrifying that I couldn't accept that the evidence of it could just dissolve into silence and thin air, like nothing had ever happened.

Maybe that's how Blair felt two months ago, after the fiasco with Veronica, when it was finally over and we came home, sitting down for that talk he insisted we needed to have. Maybe that's how the loft sounded to him after he told me what was so important it couldn't wait until morning, and I'd answered him the only way I could, and we'd both had nowhere to go from there.

I didn't explain it to him very well that night. It's impossible to be clear about what you don't fully understand yourself. So it came out sounding harsh, abrupt, cold, not what I intended, not how I really felt. But Blair had already been so unlike himself since the whole fucked up thing with Alex that I just couldn't take any more surprises. I mean, I'd already watched him lose his cool over the Ventriss case, which was so out of character for him. I'd looked on helplessly and at a loss as he transformed himself from the nutty, crunchy, scattered hippie I knew and loved into some new, no-nonsense version of himself, keeping his hair pulled back all the time and the earrings out, business-like, serious.

I'd already felt like I was losing something. When he told me he was in love with me, I panicked. I can't go there with you. I said it so adamantly, my arms crossed over my chest, my jaw locked, no room for discussion. Blair's face closed up like a fan, the last of the sweet, hopeful light dying out of it. After that, he'd been even more grave, more soberly diligent than ever, focusing all his energy on work, but just going through the motions somehow, without his usual joy and enthusiasm. My sense of loss spiraled out of control.

But he wasn't uptight or closed off that first night when he went out. In fact, he was all mellow and yielding, hair down, soft and sensual around his shoulders. His worn, faded jeans clung to his body like an old friend, not tight, not obvious in any way, more like a hint, a subtle tease. It was the first mild night of the spring, and he'd thrown off his layers. There was a wild freedom in that somehow, like he'd been caged all winter in flannel and wool, and now he was finally unleashed. His shirt was soft, long-sleeved and cotton, with some vaguely vegetative design embroidered down the front of it. He left the top three buttons undone, showing his skin. He'd tied one of his native fetishes around his neck, and it lay on his chest like it was happy to be there. The silver earrings were back, and they glinted in the light whenever he tilted his head at a particular angle.

It didn't matter that he wasn't wearing leather or skin tight pants that would have to be peeled off his body. He still gave off the same vibes, still looked like exactly what he was, a man seriously intent on getting laid.

I tossed restlessly on the bed. Eyes open, eyes closed, it made no difference. I couldn't stop the images from forming inside my head. I felt a stab of guilt. It was almost like spying on him. But I watched anyway, watched Blair as I imagined him, at the club, standing casually by the bar, a faceless stranger edging up to him, brushing his arm, no accident, trying to get his attention. I watched Blair turn and smile at the faceless man—not the serious, brooding Blair of the last few months, but the one who'd left the house that night, the free and easy, flirty Blair hardly anyone could resist. I watched him reach out, brush imaginary lint off the stranger's sleeve, an invitation. The faceless man began moving closer, and Blair let him, until the stanger was wrapped around him like a second skin. I watched Blair gesture with his eyes toward the exit, the faceless man following his gaze, nodding enthusiastically when he understood the question.

That was as far as I could imagine it, although I knew it wasn't as far as Blair would take it. I'd totally fucked up, and now Blair was out getting himself fucked by some faceless stranger he picked up in a bar. I lost touch with time. The details didn't matter anyway, the hours, the minutes, all of it unimportant. Time had been condensed for me into two broad categories: the time when Blair was out God-knows-where giving his body away to God-knows-who and the time when he would once more be home where he belonged, safe and sound.

Eventually the former turned into the latter, and I could hear him outside in the hall, the jingling of his keys, the forced exhalation as he worked to get his breathing under control, a technique he often used when he was anxious about something. Or in pain. That thought vaulted me off the bed, onto my feet and down the stairs. I was standing there, at the bottom of the steps, staring at the door when he came through it.

He started when he realized I was there, just for a second, and then his face filled with a bitter sort of smugness, as if he'd known I'd be waiting in that very spot, as if he also realized that it changed nothing between us. He turned on the light and hung up his coat without a word. Jagged energy poured off him, a determined aggressiveness in place of the earlier softness. His eyes glittered, bright with new found knowledge, but knowledge that was overwhelming, like he'd been taken too far outside himself, the way drug addicts often look. Only with Blair, it had nothing to do with drugs.



"Did you have a nice evening?"

"It was fine."

"Are you okay?"

Blair turned to look at me then, exasperated and impatient. "Leave it alone."


"I mean it."

He headed for the bathroom, and the deliberate way he walked said that he was sore. I thought about stopping him to make sure that he was all right. He must have guessed, because the look on his face froze me to the spot. He closed the bathroom door with a loud bang, and a few moments later, I heard the shower start. I crept over to the door and stood there, like I was keeping vigil, although I don't know exactly why. He'd come home in one piece, and the last thing he wanted was to talk to me about it. Or really even to see me.

I stood there anyway, listening to the sound of the water streaming down his body. I closed my eyes and leaned my forehead against the smooth, painted wood of the door. I couldn't help thinking about what he was washing away. I tried not to think about where he was washing it away from. Finally, it dawned on me that although I'd smelled another man on him, it hadn't been the strong, distinct odor of cum. He must have used condoms. Blair was always so safety conscious. The relief staggered me. The idea of my partner with another man's semen in his ass was way beyond what I could stand.

I must have been concentrating on that thought a little too intently, because he took me by surprise when he opened the door. I almost fell into his arms, and that startled the hell out of him.

"God damn it, Jim! What do you want?"

I backed out of the way to let him pass. "I just...did he hurt you?"

Blair's face was completely shuttered. "He didn't do anything to me that I didn't ask for."

"Fuck, Chief," I muttered.

Blair's normally generous mouth pressed into a thin little smile, bitter and humorless. "We sure as hell did, Jim."

He pushed past me into his room, and I let him go. What else was there to say? I climbed back upstairs to my own bed. I took off my clothes this time, stripping down to my boxers, and slid between the covers. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. The pictures came crowding back at me: Blair spread out like a banquet on some seedy motel bed, his legs in the air, the faceless guy between his thighs, using him, Blair's long curls flowing wantonly over the pillowcase, his face intently focused, transported, as he got exactly what he'd asked for.

I quickly opened my eyes again and gave up on sleeping.

The next week at the station, we both tried to get back to normal, or at least what was currently passing for normal between us. Blair kept his face buried in the computer, helping me catch up on my mountain of reports, answering everybody with a grunt and an impatient wave of the hand. That left the rest of Major Crimes glaring at me like I was some kind of monster, figuring I must have done something awful to Sandburg, again, to make him clam up like that. Of course, they were right, although I think they probably had in mind my yelling at him about messing up the bathroom or reaming him out for not staying in the truck when I'd told him to. I couldn't decide which they would have found more impossible to believe, that Sandburg loved me or that I'd turned him down and broken his heart.

"Hey, Chief, are you almost finished with the Henderson case?" I asked, not really needing to know, just wanting to hear his voice, hoping he'd talk to me.

"Almost," he said, not looking up.

I rubbed my hands over my face. I regretted every time I'd thought that Blair talked too much. Even more, I regretted the times I'd actually said it out loud, most especially when I'd said it to him. The truth was that Blair's not talking filled me with terror. It was like the earth tilting off its axis or the sun not coming up one morning. It was the most unnatural thing I could imagine. It left me on shaky ground, off center, profoundly unsettled.

But I couldn't pry, couldn't make him open up to me. That would bring up what he'd done last weekend, and I wasn't allowed onto that sensitive ground. That was our deal. I had to honor it.

The morning after he told me he loved me and I couldn't accept it, I found him in his room packing his duffel bag, just shoving everything into it haphazardly, frantically. I stood in the doorframe watching him, and the terror leaped in my veins.

"Don't, please, Chief," I begged, desperately.

"I have to."

"You're going to leave me too?" I asked.

I was one hell of a son of a bitch, using emotional blackmail like that. But I would have done anything in that moment to get him to stay.

And it worked. He stopped packing and looked up at me, beseechingly, as if he really hoped I'd be able to tell him something that would make it better. "How am I supposed to stay?" he asked.

I really panicked then. I didn't know the answer. I just knew we had to figure it out. We were a detective and an anthropologist for God's sake; figuring things out was what we did. Surely we could come up with something when it was this important. I stared back at him, a little helplessly, begging him with my eyes to tell me how to fix it.

Blair sighed heavily and stared off into the distance a long moment. "Never bring it up to me again, man," he finally said. "Keep your hands to yourself. I can't take your friendly little touches, not now, not any more. Let me salvage whatever dignity I still can. I'm going to try to get on with my life and you're going to have nothing to say about it. Agreed?"

I nodded eagerly. I would have agreed to just about anything right then.

He sighed again. "Okay then. I'll stay, as long as you keep your word. But you've got to understand, man. I'm serious here. I need you to keep up your end of the bargain. It's the only way I can take seeing you every day, living here. We're not going to have this conversation again. If you cross over the line into my comfort zone, I'm out of here. Got it?"

"I got it," I said swallowing hard, hoping to God that I could manage it, especially the not touching part. Sometimes, my hands just seemed to have a will of their own where Sandburg was concerned.

Hell, maybe I shouldn't have agreed to it, but then again, I didn't have much of a choice. I just wanted it to be okay. I just wanted him to stay and for everything to be the same between us. I had no idea that it would mean he'd stop talking to me entirely. I had no idea it would mean things between us would change so radically I'd hardly recognize us anymore.

I watched Blair hunched over the computer keyboard, his hair shielding his face, his shoulder's squared as if to fend off my gaze. I had no idea just how sick at heart it would leave me.

"Ellison! My office!" Simon bellowed.

I got up from the desk. I half hoped Blair would come with me, if only out of habit. But Simon hadn't yelled for him, so he just kept typing, not looking up.

I went into Simon's office and shut the door. "Yeah, Captain, what is it?"

"The Crime Prevention Conference in San Francisco at the end of the month. A weekend away. I thought it would be good for you to go."

My thoughts flipped immediately to what Blair would be doing while I was gone for an entire weekend. "Are you crazy, Simon?" I asked, much more heatedly than was necessary. "I don't have time for shit like that right now."

Surprisingly, Simon didn't snap back at me. He just sat there in his chair, rolling a cigar between his fingers, studying me. "I thought you could take Sandburg along," he finally said.

I looked away. "I don't think that would be possible."

"Want to tell me about it?"


"You're sure?"


"Well, I guess that's all then."

I nodded and headed for the door.


I turned around. "Yeah?"

"Whatever you did, you should just go ahead and make it up to the kid, so everything can get back to normal around here."

I rubbed my temples, feeling really pretty shitty. "If only it were that simple."

When I got back to my desk, Blair was exactly as I'd left him. He didn't look up when I sat down. He didn't ask what Simon wanted. I tried to go back to work, but I didn't get much done. It's pretty damned hard to concentrate when your anchor in the world won't so much as meet your eye.

"Don't wait up, man."

That's what Blair said the next weekend just before slamming the door on his way out. I felt the reverberation travel across the floor and up into my body, just the way it had the last time. I went upstairs and lay on my bed again, closing my eyes and then opening them, once more unable to decide which was better. It was becoming something of a ritual.

My imagination switched on, and there was no shutting it off. The faceless man was back with a vengeance, and this time with kinky intentions. I saw Blair naked on the bed again, face down, legs spread, pillows tucked under his belly, his ass high in the air, hands restrained, cuffed to a belt that encircled his waist. The faceless man had blindfolded and gagged him, but because it was all in my head, I knew there was the beginning of fear in my partner's eyes. I could hear his little whimpers, sounds of pure dread.

I watched the faceless man run his hands over Blair's body, like he owned him, free to do whatever he pleased to him. It made me want to throw up. I didn't know why I was torturing myself like this, but I couldn't stop it. The stranger took out a truly monster-sized dildo and began working it into Blair's ass, violating my friend's tender flesh with something that was too large to fit, stretching him far past the point of pleasure. Gagged or not, I could hear Blair's howls of protest, but the faceless man couldn't. Or didn't care. He kept at it until the dildo was all the way in and Blair's face was red with strain.

The faceless man pulled back, admiring his handiwork, and then he got off the bed and reached for an evil looking whip. I could see Blair trembling all over. The man stalked back and forth around the bed, deliberately, taking his time, drawing out the anticipation. My Sentinel senses interwove with my imagination, and I could suddenly hear Blair's terrified pulse racing, like his heart was about to explode in his chest. Stop, stop, stop. I begged my own mind. I didn't want to see it. The faceless man stepped forward and began laying on the lashes with his whip, leaving angry red marks on Blair's pale, innocent back.

It seemed to go on forever, like a particularly painful scene in a horror movie, only it was in my head so I didn't have the luxury of turning away. When the man had finally finished brutalizing my partner with the whip, he crooned to him, telling him how good it had been, how he was going to make it even better. He knelt beside Blair and began to fuck him with the dildo, pulling it nearly all the way out and shoving it back in. At the same time, he traced the lash marks on Blair's back with his other hand, playing in the blood, laughing as he inflicted yet more pain. Blair's shoulders heaved with terrified sobs, and his entire body shook. The faceless man just kept laughing.

"Shit!" I screamed at the top of my lungs as I leaped up from my bed. "Blair!"

The only thing that kept me from going to look for him was the absolute knowledge that he would move out if I did. It took a good, long while to calm down, telling myself the whole time that it was all just my wild imagination. I paced the living room, muttering that like a mantra under my breath, until I finally heard his heart beat coming up in the elevator.

I was standing in pretty much the same spot where he'd found me when he came home from the previous weekend's outing, and he was just as pissed off.

"I told you not to wait up," he snapped.

There was a different smell on him, a different man this time, but again no cum. No blood either, no pain or fear. I thanked God.

"I just wanted to make sure you're being careful," I told him.

"I'm way too old for a lecture on condoms, and you're so not my father. Not to mention the fact that you're dangerously close to crossing over that line we talked about."

"I don't mean condoms, Chief. I'm talking about who's fuck...who you're with. It can be dangerous out there."

"Jim, not every gay man is a psycho, no matter what shit you used to see when you were back in Vice."

"Gay?" I said, nearly strangling on the word, even though it shouldn't have come as any surprsie.

"Yeah, man, gay. How many straight men do you think want to fuck my ass?"

I flinched. I couldn't help it.

"Good night, Jim," he said, his voice filled with the bitterness that was becoming way too familiar. "Next time don't wait up. I mean it."

He stomped off to his room, and I just stood there gaping after him. Eventually, I came back to my senses, as much as possible, and headed upstairs. It was four o'clock in the morning. It seemed pointless to try to sleep, so I just lay down on the bed, not bothering to undress. Gay. My mind reeled. All the terrible things I'd ever known to happen to gay men, the hate crimes and beatings and serial killings, came floating back up from the bottom of my memory. My imagination had a whole new realm of nightmares to explore, and it was off and running.

The next week at work, I was the one with nothing to say. Gay. I couldn't quite wrap my mind around it. Not content with the material my memory could provide, I pulled old case files and read gruesome details that thoroughly sickened me, even after all my years of experience with the dark side of human nature. I snarled at anyone who made the mistake of speaking to me. I was wired so tight I felt like I was going to burst apart, like pieces of me were suddenly going to go flying across the bullpen.

I saw my partner in every one of those cases: Blair being gang raped by a bunch of brutal skinheads, Blair being beaten within an inch of his life, Blair being humiliated and tortured. And so much worse. In these bone-chilling, waking nightmares of mine, the faceless man was always there too. Sometimes, he ditched Blair and ran away, sacrificing him to save himself. Other times, he crossed the line and became one of the tormentors, betraying Blair's trust, turning on him, hurting him. The expression on Blair's face was always the same—an agonizing combination of desolation, pain, terror. Worst of all, he never once cried out for my help. Even in my imagination, we were too estranged for him to turn to me, not even in his despair, not even to save his life.

I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, as if that could make the pictures stop, as if they weren't inside me and beyond my control. My head pounded violently.

"Ellison, where are those eye witness statements on the Roberts case?" Simon asked.

"You'll get them just as soon as I have a chance to finish them. It's not like it's the only thing I've got to do. I don't know what the hell you people expect from me around here," I yelled, completely losing my cool.

Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing to stare at me, including Blair who hadn't looked me full in the face for weeks.

Simon couldn't hide his extreme surprise, but he kept his voice neutral. "Well, I just need a copy as soon as they're ready."

I nodded at him. My hands were shaking. Simon walked away, and everybody else went back to work, except for Blair who couldn't stop staring at me. I couldn't stand it. I couldn't return his gaze. I grabbed my coat and took off. I figured a few laps around the block were definitely in order. Or maybe a hike to downtown Seattle.

The next weekend, Blair said: "Don't expect me home tonight."

Then he left, the door slammed, I freaked out, the usual. Just for a change though, I stretched out on the sofa, instead of lying on my bed. I don't know how long I sat up waiting for him. There was light on the horizon; I remember that. Finally, I felt too broken to stay up any longer. He'd said he wasn't going to come home, and there was just no point in waiting there pathetically hoping that he would.

I went upstairs and actually fell asleep. But my eyes popped open the instant I heard him outside the loft, like his heartbeat was my alarm. The sun was streaming in the windows. I tried to clear the sleep out of my eyes and groped for the clock. It was already one. He'd stayed at the faceless man's house until one o'clock in the afternoon.

I threw back the covers and ran downstairs. He was in the kitchen, making coffee. He turned around when he heard me, and his eyes went wide and flickered over my body. I wasn't wearing anything but boxers. I'd been in such a hurry to make sure he was really home and all in one piece.

"I was just..." I said, pointing to the bathroom.

I went in and pulled my bathrobe off the hook on the back of the door, put it on and tied it tightly around my waist, making myself respectable, no skin showing. Then I went back out to him.

He handed me a cup of coffee. "You look like you could use this," he said.

I nodded and took the cup from him, carefully avoiding his fingers. No touching. God, I hated that. It was like having the most important words struck from my vocabulary. I didn't know how to reach him if I couldn't use my hands.

He drank his coffee and watched me over the rim of his cup. I was using my senses on him, and he probably realized it. I held onto my own mug with a grip so tight I thought it might shatter in my hands. I could smell the faceless man, and I could also smell his cum. His cum was all over my partner. Maybe inside my partner. My hands shook. Blair had slept in the man's bed, stayed with him all night and into the next day, and had come home reeking of his semen.

Blair set down his mug and yawned, stretching his arms over his head. "Well, I'm going back to bed. I didn't get much sleep last night."

I cringed. He turned and went to his room, closing the door. I heard him flop down onto the bed, the springs creaking. Suddenly, I was tired too, much too exhausted to stay on my feet, to keep my eyes open. I dragged myself back upstairs and sank down onto the mattress. I closed my eyes, and it all started up again. Only this time the images were the most harrowing of all: Blair in the faceless man's bed, curled up next to him, head on his chest, his long, auburn hair tumbling over the man's shoulder and onto the pillow, Blair's lush mouth next to his ear, whispering words of love.

It took me a while to realize there was wetness on my face. The tears had just snuck up on me, and my defenses were weak, non-existent. My whole body shook, and I had to press my hand hard over my mouth so Blair wouldn't hear me. I couldn't remember ever crying before, certainly not like that, like my heart had shattered in my chest, not even when my mother left us or later when she died. Maybe if I had, if I'd cried for any of those other losses, if I'd put them to rest, none of this ever would have happened. Maybe if I'd managed to figure out what I did wrong with all of the other people I'd loved, maybe I wouldn't be losing Blair now.

Crazed lunatic. Stark-raving madman. Big, old pain in the ass. This was me the next week down at the station. In retrospect, it's kind of surprising that the whole of Major Crimes didn't put in for a transfer or demand that I be traded back to the minors. It took all my energy not to fly apart at the seams. I didn't have the luxury of subtlety or basic consideration. I yelled. I insulted. I hurled sarcasm like it was an Olympic sport. I probably lost friends. It didn't matter to me. Nothing mattered without Blair.

Simon didn't put me on desk duty, but he didn't assign many any new cases either, saying he wanted to give me a chance to catch up on all my paperwork before sending me out on anything else. He probably feared some kind of incident that would put the Cascade PD on the evening news. There's a reason he's the captain. For once, the decision to keep me off the streets didn't piss me off. It gave me more time to sit around and chew on what would happen the next Saturday night, to work myself into a frenzy imagining Blair staying over all weekend with the faceless man, gradually spending more and more time with him, moving his stuff over there little by little, until there was nothing left at the loft, nothing left of Blair in my life.

I pretty much lost my mind at that point. Like hell. Like bloody fucking hell I was ever going to let that happen. I got up from my desk decisively and stormed into Simon's office, shutting the door with a bang.

"Detective? Is there something I can do for you?" Simon asked, leaning back in his chair, arching an eyebrow at me, almost bemused.

That pissed me off. I stalked over to his desk, until I was pressed right up against it. "I do a good job for you, right?"

Simon looked at me appraisingly. "When you're operating with a full deck, there's nobody better."

I let the implication slide that I was not currently operating with a full deck and forged right ahead. "So maybe it would be a good idea to reward me once in a while. Keep me motivated."

"What did you have in mind?"

"The Crime Prevention Conference in San Francisco. I changed my mind. I want to go. You haven't sent me on one of those things in years. It's my turn."

"It's a little late, detective. It's this weekend. Registration has probably closed, and airline tickets at this point would cost a fortune."

I slammed my hand down on the desk. "Damn it, Simon! When was the last time I asked you for anything? I need this. Please."

He watched me a long moment and then opened his desk drawer. He took out a little bundle of papers and tossed them over to me. The item on top caught my attention. It was an airline ticket.

"I had the feeling you might change your mind," he told me.

I stared at it, like I was holding salvation in my hands. "Sandburg too?"

"Yep. You're both booked on the first flight out on Saturday morning, registered for the conference and have rooms reserved at the hotel."

I clutched the tickets against my chest. "Thank you, Simon. Just...really, thanks. I can't tell you..."

"And frankly, I don't want to know. I just want you to go and fix whatever it is and come back the level-headed Jim Ellison I've grown used to. It's time to give the hard ass routine a rest. Got it, detective?"

I nodded. "Got it. And thanks again, Simon. I owe you...well, it's probably not something I can repay."

He rolled his eyes. "You seriously underestimate what a relief it will be for you to be less of a dick around here. Now go tell your partner he's got plans for the weekend, and then you might even try getting some work done, if that's not too novel an idea."

"Yeah, yeah, Simon," I said. "Anything. You got it."

I heard him let out a big belly laugh after I closed the door, but I didn't even remotely care. I had tickets. I had a plan. All I needed was my partner's cooperation.

I jumped on Blair the moment he walked into the bullpen, grabbed him by the arm, dragged him after me into the coffee room.

"Hey, man, I know I'm late, but I do actually have a life outside the station. This isn't the only thing I have to do. And you're forgetting about our bargain again," he said, staring pointedly at my hand on him.

I dropped his arm immediately. "Sorry. I just needed to talk to you. Simon wants to send us to the Crime Prevention seminar this weekend in San Francisco. It's important. I need you to go with me."

It didn't sound convincing even to me. What? I was going to be in mortal danger of zoning out on the umpteenth boring speaker of the day and need him to bring me out of it so I didn't fall off my chair? Truly lame. But it was all I had.

He watched me a good long while and finally said, "Okay, Jim." And then he just turned and headed back to my desk, without another word. No questions. No curiosity. No request for more information. No discussion. No protests. Nothing. Hardly the Sandburg I knew, but at least this time the weirdness was working in my favor. I wasn't going to argue with it.

Sometimes, it really seems like I just can't buy a break. Needless to say, the trip to San Francisco did not go as planned. With the breakdown in communication between Blair and me, somehow I managed not to inform him that we were booked on a 6:30 a.m. flight. He actually growled at me when I went in at five to get him up. Even then, that didn't give him much time to get ready. Of course, Mr. Last Minute hadn't packed the night before, and I heard him in his bedroom frantically throwing things into his overnight bag. That meant no shower. We drove to the airport with him grumbling the whole way about how he hoped his deodorant was going to hold up.

When we arrived, we found out that weather conditions in San Francisco were delaying all flights into the city. Blair wanted to go home and get ready properly, but the ticketing agent advised against leaving the airport since the situation could change at any minute. Of course, Blair glared at me like it was all my fault. We sat down in the waiting area together, but as per usual, we didn't talk. He put on his glasses, pulled out some work and lost himself in it. I stared off into space, wondering just what I was hoping to accomplish with this trip.

Hours passed, and then more hours. By the time we finally got to San Francisco, the conference was already in full swing. Blair wanted to go check in and then come back to register. But the one session I had any interest in attending was just about to start, so I insisted that we go to it and then take our stuff up to our rooms afterwards. He stomped his feet and complained, but eventually gave in and came with me. He didn't want to admit it, but he was interested in the topic as well. We went to the session. One thing led to another, the way it always does at these conferences. I ran into people I knew, got caught up in conversations about how much worse it was getting out in the streets every year, the usual cop talk. Blair couldn't even pretend he wasn't fascinated. All of that raw material had his anthropologist's brain working overtime. So I didn't feel like what happened later was all my fault.

When we finally made our way down to the front desk, we were told that the hotel was overbooked, and we were going to be sent to one of the overflow hotels. Blair's entire body radiated fury, as if I'd done this on purpose just to annoy him. He was too pissed off to talk to me or to the reservation agent, so I handled it, getting directions to the new place, which wasn't a hotel at all, but a bed and breakfast on the other side of town.

"I'm sorry, sir," the woman at the desk explained. "We have three conventions going on at the same time, and there just aren't any other hotel rooms left in the city."

I nodded and took the map she'd drawn for me. Blair followed me out to the rental car, becoming more and more petulant by the minute.

"I know this isn't how it was supposed to be, but I'm doing the best I can here, Chief," I told him.

He crossed his arms over his chest, tired and angry. "Not how it was supposed to be, Jim? That doesn't even come close to describing it. I really don't know how this day could get any worse."

Unfortunately, the fates seemed stacked against us. We drove over to the B&B and went in. We found a man inside, the owner, and told him who we were, that the hotel had sent us over.

"Oh yes," he said, leafing through his reservations book. "That's one king size room."

Blair quickly piped up. "Actually, we need two rooms."

"No, I don't see a second reservation, and I'm afraid we don't have any other rooms available."

"There has to be something," Blair insisted.

"No, really, there's not. We have three..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. Three conventions," Blair said. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples, like he had a terrible headache.

"Why don't you go up and look at the room? It's one of our nicest. I think you'll like it," the man offered, smiling faintly, knowingly, probably thinking we were a couple who'd just had a tiff and all we needed was a comfortable, serene place where we could patch things up. It was San Francisco after all.

"Come on, Chief," I pleaded. "Let's just go look at it. Maybe there'll be enough room for both of us."

He didn't say anything, just sighed heavily, but he did follow me upstairs. When we got to the room and went in, I could hear his vital signs sail off the charts as he went into panic mode.

"No way, man. No fucking way!" he said, looking around.

It was hardly an impersonal hotel room, more like a romantic hideaway. Everything had a Victorian sensibility to it, in keeping with the building's architecture: the lace curtains, the window seat with its embroidered throw pillows, the fireplace with elegant wrought iron grate and carved wooden mantel, the gold gilt mirror above it, the deep piled Aubusson rug on the hard wood floors. Then there was the bed. It was very large with simple brass head and foot boards, a fluffy, white eyelet comforter, a mountain of pillows, quite clearly a bed for lovers.

Blair stared at it with his mouth open. "This is just great, man. You know, I made a big mistake when I said this day couldn't get any worse, because here it is, worse."

"Come on, Blair. We can..."

"No!" he said, growing increasingly agitated, beginning to pace. "I can not stay in this room with you. This is not what I signed on for when I agreed to come on this trip. God, Jim, don't my feelings matter to you at all?"

"Of course they do."

"Well, here's a news flash. They haven't changed. I still...nothing has changed. And now what? I'm supposed to sleep in the same bed with you like that's not a problem? No fucking way."

"I'll sleep on the floor," I said softly, trying to calm him down.

He still looked like he was going to have a stroke. "That's not good enough! It's bad enough trying to live in the same apartment with you, knowing that you're just a little bit disgusted by me, that you...that you don't love me. But this situation sucks. I can't be here. I just can't be here."

He buried his face in his hands and just kept saying that over and again. I can't be here. I can't be here. I watched him with a sick feeling churning in the pit of my stomach. I was so helpless, unable to do anything to comfort him. I didn't know what to say. I couldn't touch him. He was right. It really did suck.

Eventually, I heard him put his breathing into a calming pattern. He looked up at me again, and his eyes sparkled with anger. "You're just going to have to do something about this, Jim. I don't care what. I don't care if you have to call every hotel, inn, bed and breakfast, YMCA, flophouse, whatever. I don't care if you stay here or I do, but one of is definitely going somewhere else. And if you can't find another room, then I'm going back to the airport and getting on a flight home. And if there aren't any more flights tonight, I'm going to sleep on the floor of the United terminal. Because anything is better than this. But right now, I'm tired and a little hysterical and I smell bad. I'm going to take a bath, and when I come back, I just want you to tell me that it's fixed already. Okay?"

I didn't get a chance to answer. He snatched up his bag, stomped off to the bathroom and slammed the door before I could say anything. I flopped onto the bed and rubbed my hands over my face. There was nothing I wanted more than to fix it, really fix it, not just solve the problem of one bed and two of us. Suddenly, I wanted to repair things so that one bed and two of us wouldn't be a problem.

I could hear the sound of his splashing in the bathroom. I got up and went in. He looked up at me with wide, startled eyes, but he didn't say anything, too surprised, I guess. I knelt down beside the old claw-footed bathtub and folded my arms, resting them on its rim so I could look him in the eye.

"You could never disgust me, Chief, and I never said I don't love you."

He stared at me, brushing his wildly unkempt hair back from his face with one wet hand. "So you love me, but you don't want me. I'm not sure how this helps anything."

"I also never said I don't want you. Don't put words in my mouth."

He looked completely torn, like he really wanted to find some hope in what I was saying, but was too afraid of getting hurt again. All his defenses were down, and his face was so sad, defeated and helpless, like he was at the end of his rope and didn't know how to get back. His lip trembled a little, and I had the terrible feeling that he might cry. I'd never seen Blair cry before, and I never wanted to.

I reached out and touched his curls. The force of that contact plowed into me, reestablishing our connection. No wonder we'd been so distant from each other. This was one of the most important ways in which we communicated. Nothing could ever be more right than our touching each other. My hands had known that all along. It was my pig-headed mind that had spun out a thousand false reasons why we shouldn't do this. Now there was no choice. We either made the leap, or we lost each other.

I will lose Blair Sandburg over my cold, dead body.

"Your hair's a mess, Chief," I told him, gently teasing.

He scowled at me, but there was playfulness in it and more than a little relief. "Who's fault is that, man? You made me get up before the crack of dawn. I didn't have time to wash it."

"Now that I can fix for you," I told him, casually, as if I weren't kneeling there fully dressed while he lay naked in the bathtub.

He studied me a long moment, and I held my breath. Finally, he gave me just the slightest nod of his head. I reached for the bath sponge out of the basket of amenities. I unwrapped it and dug Blair's shampoo and conditioner out of his bag. I soaked the sponge in the bathwater, careful not to touch his body, not yet anyway, and used the sponge to wet his hair. I applied the shampoo and worked up a lather, holding his head in my hands, running my fingers luxuriously through his hair, massaging his scalp. His eyes were closed, and he made little noises in the back of his throat, contented sighs, murmurs of pleasure. I drew the process out as long as possible, lingering, dialing my senses way up to fully enjoy the sensation of those silky, soapy curls twining around my fingers.

Eventually, I had to rinse. I used the sponge in one hand and the other hand to shield his eyes, to keep the shampoo out of them. Then I applied the conditioner, combing it through his hair with my fingers, working it out to the ends. Even then, I still wasn't ready to take my hands off him. I used my fingers to delicately trace the bones of his face, not exactly caressing, more like feeling my way, mapping him, making him mine. He kept his eyes closed, and I could feel his muscles relaxing beneath my hands, as if he too was relieved to have our tactile connection reestablished.

I picked up the sponge and wet it again, opening the bottle of grapefruit body gel, pouring some onto the sponge. I began to wash him. I started with his fingers and worked my way up his arm: wrist and forearm, the inside of his elbow, the strong muscles of his biceps, his shoulder, the hollow beneath it. I leaned across his body and did the same to the other arm. I could hear the sharp intake of his breath and feel his eyes pop open. But I kept my attention focused on his body. I knew his face was filled with questions, and there would be plenty of time later to try and answer them. For now, I just wanted to touch him.

I pressed my hand to his shoulder and urged him to lean forward. I washed across his shoulders and down his back. I used my bare hand to rinse away the suds. Blair's muscular back felt so solid beneath my palm, slick and heated from the bath. When I'd finished, he leaned back again, and I moved the soapy sponge across his collarbone and down his chest. I felt his nipples harden as I brushed them, but I didn't linger. If I did, I knew I'd never finish. I washed down to a spot beneath his belly button, at the place where his pubic hair began. I pulled away and moved down to the other end of the tub. I took his feet in my hands and began working my way up his legs: soaping his toes, feet and ankles, the hard cords of his calves, his knees and the warm, soft skin beneath them, the firm, muscular thighs.

I was breathing hard, and my hands shook. I pressed my erection against the cool porcelain of the tub, trying to keep control, but I still ached so desperately I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to survive it. Finally, all that was left to wash were the delicate areas. I dropped the sponge and squeezed some of the gel into my hands, working it into a lather. Somewhere in the back of my head was the rationalization that my hands would be more sensitive than the sponge, better suited to Blair's tender parts. I reached down and touched him very gently. In my head, I was still calling it washing, even though what I was actually doing was holding my partner's genitals in my hands.

He had already been half hard before, but as I stroked him, he grew fully erect. He leaned back against the tub, his body almost limp he was so relaxed. He closed his eyes again, his face intent on his pleasure, his breath coming from deep inside him, in short, sharp gasps, almost little grunts. I gave up all pretense of bathing him. I was making love to him with my hands, and I wanted it to be good. I fondled his balls with one hand and stroked his cock with the other, the bath gel making the perfect lubricant. I used my senses on him and let his responses guide my hands, wanting to give him as much pleasure as possible. His hips began to move, as he thrust into my hand. As he became more frenzied, the water sloshed over the side of the tub, onto me, onto the tiled floor. I felt his whole body clench as he approached his orgasm. When he came, his white, milky semen shot into the air and fell onto the water, floating there for a second, before dissolving and disappearing.

I pulled my hands away and watched him. His eyes were tightly shut, and his chest heaved as he worked to catch his breath. He had his fingers hooked over the edge of the tub, and his knuckles were white.

I reached for a towel. "Chief, can I..."

He shook his head. "I just need a minute to get myself together, and then we need to talk."


"Please. I'll be right there."

I nodded and left him. I was halfway to the bed when the terror hit me. My legs almost buckled, and I had to quickly lay down before I fell, staring up at the ceiling as if it held the answers. I was wet through to the skin, and I was shivering. But it wasn't from cold. The only thing I'd ever wanted since I met Blair was for things to stay the same, so I'd never lose him like I'd lost all the others. And now I'd just gone and changed everything. It felt like I was balanced on the fine edge of disaster, and the arbiter of my fate was in the bathroom picking out his hair.

Finally, Blair finished in there and came out, dressed in his bathrobe. The anticipation was enough to kill me or at least make it next to impossible for me to breathe.

"Are you okay, man?" he asked. "You're kind of pale." He sounded genuinely worried, like maybe he was afraid I was going to have a heart attack and die on him.

"I don't know," I told him. "Are we all right?"

He laughed, a short, sharp little noise. "I don't know, man. To be honest, I don't know what we are right now. This really isn't what I was expecting to happen."

He sat down on the bed and then stretched out beside me. I could feel his warmth radiating off him, and something about that made me ache in a place so deep inside myself that I thought I might break.

"So when you said that you couldn't do this with me you were being completely literal. It wasn't that you didn't want to or the thought of it disgusted you. You just couldn't let yourself do it. Am I reading too much into what happened in the bathroom just now? Or is that really it?" he asked.

I nodded, although still not looking at him, keeping my eyes on the ceiling. "No, you're not reading into it. That's pretty much it."

"But why?"

I sighed, trying to frame the words. "I'm a fuck-up, Chief. I've got a trail of bodies behind me. All the people I've ever cared about I've lost in one way or another. My mother, Steven, Danny, Carolyn, my men in Peru, Lila, Incacha, and now Veronica."

"You know, Jim, pretty much none of that was your fault."

"That's not how it feels. You're the only one who's lasted, Chief. The only one who's never left me. I know it's going to sound stupid because of course things always change, but I just wanted everything with us to always stay the same. You've already been so different since you die...with everything that's happened."

"And you don't think you've changed too, man? You're completely different from the guy who first threw me up against the wall in my office."

I smiled, a little wryly. "But I could stand the improvement, Chief. You were fine just the way you were."

He sighed. "I'm older now, Jim. What did you expect? I had to grown up sometime. And maybe I have toughened up some from my experiences of late. But at heart, I'm still the same person I always was, and in your heart, you know that's true."

"I just...I rely on you."

I heard the sharp intake of his breath. "God, man. That's got to be the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."

"When you told me you loved me, I freaked out. It's not at all what I was expecting. It was like the ground fell out from under my feet. All I could think to do was push you away, push you away hard, like it was some kind of survival impulse. I can't tell you how much I regretted it later, but in the moment, it was the only thing I could do."

"But why did it seem like my loving you was the same as losing me? I mean, shouldn't that have made it feel like you had me more than ever?"

"You've seen what happens when I get romantically involved, Chief. Do you know how many people have died in my arms? That night when you told me, I'd just walked away from Veronica's body. It seems like all my former paramours are either in prison or in the grave. I couldn't think about you like that, as a potential lover. It threatened everything that's important to me, everything I hold dear."

"I admit my timing sucked. I shouldn't have laid the big love thing on you when you were still in shock over Veronica. But I just couldn't stand to watch you keep throwing yourself away on people who don't deserve you, not when I'd be so good to you, so good for you. I just didn't want to see you hurting anymore."

"And then I ended up hurting you. I'm so sorry, Blair."

"I know you are, man, but I have to tell you that it really did hurt like hell. Nothing has ever hurt that bad."

"If it makes any difference, I wasn't doing much better. I kept imagining you with all these guys, and...well, I was going nuts."

Even without seeing his face, I knew he was smiling. "Yeah, I did kind of notice the meltdown. And it doesn't make me very proud of myself, but you know, I was kind of glad to see that I wasn't the only one suffering."

"That's definitely the word for it: suffering. It was sheer, fucking torture. I have a much bigger imagination than I ever suspected. I just kept picturing it in really vivid and all these faceless men."

Blair made a little snorting noise. "They may just as well have been faceless. I always pretended it was you, with every one of them."

I swallowed hard at hearing that, part of me so grateful, another part sick at heart that it hadn't been me. It should have been.

Blair got to his knees and leaned over me, looking down into my face. "Can we start over? Can we just pretend that I never had lousy timing and you never got spooked?"

"Do you really think we can do that? A lot has happened in the last few months."

He considered the question very carefully. "Maybe we can transform what happened. Maybe we can reclaim it." He put his hand on my chest, letting me feel his heat. "Finally, I can put to good use all the stuff I learned from those faceless men."

"I don't know, Chief."

He rubbed my chest. "Trust me," he said and then he leaned down to whisper in my ear. "Take off your clothes."


"You heard me. Take off your clothes. I know what I'm doing here. We need this."

I guess I should have known all along that it was love. Who else have I ever listened to the way I listen to Blair? I got up from the bed and stood there, nervously shifting my weight from foot to foot.

"Undress for me," he urged, his voice soft and sultry, sinuous, twining itself into my thoughts like a vine.

I pulled my shirt out of my waistband and unbuttoned it, my fingers shaking, making it slow going. He watched me intently, his eyes so wide and bright. My breath became more labored, my ribs moving up and down with the effort. I let the shirt fall to the floor. I unbuckled my belt and pulled it free from the loops, tossing it over my shoulder, starting to get into it. He grinned at me, apparently enjoying my little attempt at panache. I unzipped my pants and stepped out of them, kicking them away. I pulled off my T-shirt and let it slip from my fingers. I looked to him, and he nodded at me. I slid my thumbs into the elastic of my briefs and pushed them down my body. I was completely naked, and he was staring. My ass muscles clenched and unclenched with the excitement of having his eyes traveling over every inch of me. I was so hard I ached.

He smiled and held out his hand to me. "Come back to bed now."

I took his hand and joined him. He pushed me flat on my back and leaned over me again. His hair was tucked behind his ears, making him look younger and somehow vulnerable. His face was filled with such fondness that it was hard to believe it was meant for me. No one had ever looked at me like that before. It suddenly struck me that it's not the hard emotions that can break you, but the soft ones. I felt laid open by tenderness.

He smiled at me, gently, reassuringly, like he knew what I was thinking. Hell, he probably did know. No one has ever understood me the way Blair does. Again, it amazed me that I hadn't recognized all along what this connection between us signified; only love could explain it.

"You know, there was only one thing missing from that mind-blowing experience in the bathroom," he told me, as his eyes moved greedily over my body. "I didn't get to touch you back. Can I, Jim? Can I touch you like you touched me?"

I don't think I can adequately put into words what that simple request did to me. He asked with his voice all soft and eager, like a little kid and all he wanted for Christmas was to put his hands on me. His desire was palpable, and I felt the thrill of it in every part of my body. My toes curled. The hairs on my arms stood on end. My thighs trembled. My throat went dry. My cock twitched. I'd never wanted anyone more in my life.

He smiled again, only this time it wasn't so innocent. "I'm going to take that as a yes."

Blair scooted a little closer and took my hand in his, holding it between his palms, turning it over in his hands, exploring it with his fingers. My senses were dialed up so high I could feel the worls and ridges of his fingerprints. I memorized the pattern, greedy for intimate knowledge of him. If I could have focused my Sentinel sight to the minute level of his cells, to read the chemical code that made him who he was, I would have done it in an instant, eager to know his mysteries.

He learned me in his own way, the braille method, feeling every inch of my body. He picked up first one arm and then the other, so he could run his hands over the tender skin on the undersides of them, the inside of my wrists, my forearms, elbows, upper arms, even my arm pits. He didn't shortchange any part of me. In fact, he spent so much attention on my chest and stomach it was like he was making a topographical map. The only place those eager, questing fingers of his neglected were my nipples. Every time he inched close to one of them, he would pull away at the last moment, leaving me straining for his touch, right at the line that separated need from desperation. I'd never taken Sandburg for a tease, but apparently I'd misjudged him.

He made me half turn on my side so he could explore the back of my neck, my shoulder blades, the curve of my spine, the dip at the small of my back, the mounds of my ass, his hands lingering there a good long while, kneading my cheeks until I was moaning loudly. He urged me onto my back again and moved down to my feet. He worked his way up, ticking my insteps, stroking the arches of my feet, tracing the bones in my ankles. He cupped my calves in his hands and squeezed. He kissed both my knees and stroked the hollows beneath them with his thumbs. He spent so much time on my thighs and hips, made me so sensitive, that when his hand snaked between my legs and began stroking the inside of my thigh I seriously thought I was going to come.

"Do you like that, Jim?" he asked, a wicked grin on his face.

I nodded wildly.

"Wouldn't you like it even more if I was touching your cock like that? Can I, Jim? Can I touch your cock?"

"Please!" I wailed, hoping this wasn't more of his teasing.

Fortunately, it wasn't. He lightly fingered the length of my erection and cupped my balls. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I'd never before allowed my senses full rein when I was making love, too afraid of what might happen, that I'd zone out during an important moment. But with Blair, I was safe enough to unleash them, and the result was devastating sensual pleasure.

Blair took my cock in his hand, and I stared at the sight. I'd never realized before just how huge my partner's hands are, strong and capable, wide palms, prominent knuckles. Truly manly hands, and they were wrapped around my cock, stroking me, doing things that caused a constant stream of little whimpers to flow out of me. I'd only ever had a woman's hand on my dick before, so maybe it should have seemed strange, should have felt uncomfortable or even upsetting. But as stupid as it may sound, I just kept thinking that I was in good hands with Blair. Nothing ever felt more right than his skillful, expert touching, bringing me right up to the edge without letting me fall over it.

Eventually, he pulled back, his chest heaving with his breath, as turned on by touching me as I'd been from being touched. I let out some kind of desperate sound when he took his hand off my cock, kind of a cross between a sob and a snarl.

He smiled at me and cupped my cheek with his hand. "Don't move. I just have to go do something. I'll be right back."

I made a mad grab for his arm. I didn't want him to go anywhere or do anything that didn't involve me, not for a very long time.

He caressed my hand, the one that was holding onto him with a death grip, coaxing me to let go. "I just have to get myself ready..." he stammered, blushing a little. "There's preparation involved here, Jim."

Finally, his words filtered through the haze of my arousal, and I understood what he meant. I'm sure my face showed my surprise. I'd never given the mechanics of men having sex together much thought. Before Blair, there had never been a need.

"It'll only take a minute. Don't go anywhere," he said, his grin suddenly a little shy, reminding me that this was all still pretty new to him too.

When he got up from me, it was like he took all the warmth in the room with him. I couldn't help shivering. I could hear him in the bathroom, unzipping his bag, rustling around in it. I heard the pop of the cap as he opened the tube. If I'd let myself, I could have pictured what he was doing in there, but at this stage of our relationship, I wasn't quite ready for some of the more graphic details of how we would love each other.

The longer he was gone, the colder I got and the harder I shivered. Finally, he came back, and he felt my shuddering. He stroked my chest. "Jim? Don't worry, huh? It's all going to be all right. Just put your faith in me. Okay?"

I nodded. "Just don't leave me again, Chief."

He shook his head. "Never," he said, apparently understanding that I meant much more than that I wanted him to stay in bed with me.

He bent down to me, rubbed his cheek gently against mine, breathed against my skin. It sent chills down my spine, made me tremble. He brushed my lips with his, not quite a kiss, not enough pressure for that, just his warmth and the briefest, lightest touch of his mouth.

"Are you ready?" he asked me.

I nodded.

"Tell me," he said.

"Yes. Please. Now."

His face lit up with a smile. "Good."

He undid the belt of his robe and shrugged out of it. I got to see him naked again, all of him, and he was so beautiful. He ran his hands over his own body, letting his head fall back, moaning softly. My breath caught in my throat.

He smiled at me wickedly. "Do you want me, Jim?" he asked.

"Oh God, yes."

"Good," he said, triumphantly.

He reached for something on the nightstand. When he turned back to me, I could see it was a condom.

"I was always careful," he told me. "But my last test was three months ago. Until we both know we're clean, I want us to be safe."

He ripped open the foil package, took my dick in his hand, brushed back my pubic hair and carefully rolled the condom onto me.

"You wouldn't believe how much more difficult this is to do to someone else than it is to do to yourself," he told me. "But it makes it worth the effort when you're doing it for the man you love."

He was killing me. I didn't know how I'd ever last. Then he straddled me, and I pretty much stopped breathing. He reached behind himself to take my cock in his hand and guided it to his opening. His face was set with concentration, and I could hear his heart speed up a little. He was nervous, not a virgin any more, but not exactly a veteran at it either. I caressed his thighs, trying to reassure him, and he slowly began to push back onto me.

"Blair!" I screamed as I felt my cock entering him. He was all hot and slick inside, and it was almost more sensation than I could handle.

"Just keep breathing, Jim. Don't move. Let me do this my way."

He slowly lowered himself until I was all the way inside him, and his bottom was resting against my belly. He began moving up and down, impossibly slowly, maddeningly so. I really thought I was going to go crazy. It was such excruciating pleasure.

"You know why I always did it this way? Why I wanted to be on top? It wasn't so I could do this," Blair said. He leaned forward to kiss me, and it felt like the cosmos was moving into alignment. My dick was buried deep inside his hot, sweet, tender body, and his tongue was playing in my mouth. I held his head between my hands, stroking the hair that framed his face, kissing him back feverishly.

He pulled back from me and moved himself up and down on my dick some more, still agonizingly slowly, teasing me. "It wasn't so I could do this either," he told me, running his hands across my shoulders, using his thumbs to caress the hollow beneath my collarbone. "Or this." His hands slid down to my nipples, and he brushed them with his fingers, finally. He would only touch me lightly at first, still teasing, but then he started stroking my nipples in earnest, arousing me. I could feel myself getting harder inside him.

He realized it too and smiled, pleased and smug. "Or especially not this." He bent over, really quite limber, and licked and sucked first one nipple and then the other, going back and forth, lingering, as if I was the best thing he'd ever tasted.

All I could do was thrash my head on the pillow and groan loudly. My nipples were on fire, and my cock throbbed inside him. He finally pulled back, and even in my wildest imagination, I'd never pictured him like that, a portrait of eroticism. His curls were sweaty around his face, plastered to his cheeks, and his eyes were heavy lidded, dark with lust. He began to ride me a little harder. I clutched his hips, unable to speak.

"It wasn't even that I needed to be in control," he said "I just didn't trust those faceless men enough to turn my back to them. It would have been easier to imagine it was you that way, but still...I just want you to understand that, Jim. I only ever wanted you. I wanted you to be the first and the last and the only. But when I couldn't have you, I did the next best thing. I went with other guys and pretended it was you."

I rubbed his thighs and hips with my hands. I wanted to tell him that it would never be anybody but me ever again, but I couldn't form words. I hoped that my expression and the way I touched him said it for me.

"It was hard though," he continued, moving his body in a slow, deliberate rhythm. "They never were you. The first one...I couldn't admit it at the time, but it really did hurt. I was nervous and couldn't relax, and I didn't want the guy as much as I just wanted to get fucked. No matter what he did to try to loosen me didn't really work. Finally, I just made him do it, shove it in, fuck me. I just wanted to close my eyes tight and be filled up inside and pretend it was you. But I bled. I hadn't expected that. And when I got home and found you there and you wanted to know if he'd hurt me, I couldn't tell you that he had. 'Cause I really had asked for it."

I jerked to a stop and held his hips, preventing him from moving. Someone had hurt him, made him bleed. I didn't know exactly what I expected to do about it, a month after the fact, while I was in the middle of having sex with him. But I wanted to do something.

He caressed my hands. "No. It's okay. Don't stop. That's over now. I just have to tell you, so it's not between us anymore."

I hesitated for a long moment, but then I let go of his hips. He began to move again, and I rocked my hips in the same rhythm, making love back to him.

"The next time, I thought drinking might make it easier, easier to take the pain and easier to pretend I was with you," he said, rubbing his hands over my chest as he continued to fuck himself on my cock. "The guy seemed okay at first, but when we got back to his place, it was like some kind of leather fantasy on acid, really scary shit. I remember thinking that he was nothing like you because he wanted to hurt me and you always try so hard to protect me. I got the hell out of there, but I couldn't go home yet. I didn't want you thinking I was pathetic. That's why I started going out looking for faceless fucks in the first place. Didn't want to seem like I was moping around the loft pining after you. So I went to my office and did some work. When it was late enough, I finally came home. I was really hoping you'd be in bed, but I should have known better. When you asked me if I was being careful, it seriously pissed me off. I mean, how dare you not want me and then be right about my freaky ass date?"

I didn't stop this time, but I did clutch his hips tighter and close my eyes. The words were just bubbling up out of him now, and I didn't want them to stop. Only in that moment did I fully understand how much I'd missed having him talk to me, how it had left an empty place so deep in my soul that it felt like the end of me. At the same time though, his words tore into me, and I wished none of it, none of it had ever happened. I wished I'd never become too scared to be honest with him and myself. I wished he'd never thought I didn't want him. I wished he'd never been out there picking up other guys, putting himself in danger. I wished to God he'd been in my bed the whole time.

"But I did take your advice to heart," he continued. "The next time I went out, I went looking for somebody nice. He took me back to his house, even made me dinner. When it was over and he insisted that I stay over, I did, but not because of him, but because of you. I thought it would feel more like I'd been with you if I stayed with him. I mean, I'd never get up and leave your bed in the middle of the night. And I thought if I stayed out all night, maybe you'd be a little jealous. I wanted you to miss me like I missed you. But in the morning, the guy just wanted sex again, and all I wanted was to get home to you. So I let him rub himself off against me, to save the argument and to get out of there quicker. The worst part was that he kept calling it making love. It wasn't." Blair took my hands in his own and kissed my palms. "This is making love."

I didn't have the intellectual wherewithal to form actual sentences, to tell him that it was making love for me too, that it would never be anything else between us. Somehow, I don't think the grunt I managed in response got across the same message, but it did seem to amuse him, making him smile.

Blair interlocked his fingers with mine and held on tight. "And then you asked me to come with you this weekend, and I didn't hesitate, not for a second. Even if you never loved me, I'd rather spend every day of my life just being in the same room with you than even one night doing anything with anybody else."

I stared up into his face. It practically shone with his love for me. My heart did something funny in my chest, like it was turning cartwheels out of sheer, unbelievable joy.

He pressed my hands to his chest and searched my face. ""I don't know what you think of me to believe you can't trust your heart to me. But if it was ever true, it isn't anymore. I'm not the same stupid, careless kid I once was. And I'm getting way too old for faceless fucks. I just want to love you and have you love me back. Can you do that, Jim? Can you let me love you?"

"Wasn't you...I didn't trust...was me. Couldn't...tell much...."

"Tell me now."

" I hurt you."

"Make it up to me. Say it."

My face was warm and flushed. Wanting him so desperately, loving him so much, the words just kind of tore themselves out of me. "I love you," I told him.

Blair smiled and began to move faster, riding me in earnest. "Oh yeah, Jim," he said. "Love you too. Gonna really do it now. Gonna give myself to you. Gonna make such sweet love to you that you'll never regret being with me."

"Could never...regret it. Love you, Blair," I said, tightening my arms around his waist. "Always...loved you," I told him, bucking my hips, thrusting up into his body.

He panted heavily and began to stroke his own cock."No more fear," Blair said, making me promise.

I nodded. "No more...faceless men," I said, asking for a pledge in return.

"Just us," he managed to say, breathless now, getting close, starting to move more frantically.

"Oh God, yeah," I said, rocking desperately beneath him. "Only us, ever."

He came first, his head thrown back, his eyes squeezed shut, mouth open in ecstasy. Even though it was his orgasm, I screamed. I had never felt anything like that, the way Blair's body shuddered and spasmed around me. It ripped my own orgasm out of me, and it felt like falling off the edge of the earth into some kind of primordial darkness. It was pure, undiluted pleasure, an overwhelming experience. Only love brings such rapture, and only love makes you strong enough to bear it.

He fell forward onto my chest, and I wrapped my arms around him as tightly as I could without squeezing the breath out of him. We lay there together, and it was as if the moment was created of quiet. We couldn't have spoken if we'd wanted to. We were content simply to hold one another.

Eventually, I softened enough to slip from his body. I pulled the condom off and managed to get it into the trash can, a good thing, since there was no way I would have gotten out of bed if I'd missed and somehow I didn't think the inn's owners would have appreciated a used condom spoiling their expensive French rug. I moved Blair onto his side and turned to face him, so we could lie in each other's arms.

"Mmmm," he said, snuggling closer, his eyelids fluttering, so sleepy.

I smiled at him fondly and pulled him closer. He'd told me everything that was in his heart and loved me with everything he had, and now he was exhausted. I could hear his pulse and breathing falling into the gentle patterns of sleep. I had never felt warmer or more whole in my life. I finally understood that I didn't have to try to stop him from changing to hold onto him. I finally understood that no matter how he changed, whatever his outward behavior, however he might surprise me sometimes, he was still my Blair. He always had been, always would be.

That thought filled me with a contentment I cannot even begin to explain. I stroked his hair and let the serene cadence of his heart beat lull me to sleep. Briefly, before I drifted off into my dreams, sweet ones for a change, I wondered what Simon would say when he found out we skipped the rest of the conference. Because there was no way I was getting out of bed or letting Blair leave it until we had to catch our flight.

I fell asleep with a smile on my face, contemplating all those hours of lovemaking with my wonderfully imaginative partner. Somehow, I figured Simon would still feel it was money well spent. After all, I was going to return to Cascade a much kinder, gentler Jim Ellison, just like he'd ordered.



 Back to the Library.