Title: Venture Forth

Author:  SassyInkPen

Fandom: The Sentinel   Jim/Blair

Rating: Adult 

Part: 1/1

Warnings:  None, other than m/m

Summary:  First time fic.  Blair thinks Jim needs a few lessons in spontaneity and dares him to go on a road trip together.  Special thanks to Hakkais_shadow for invaluable help with the brainstORming. And to Brooklinegirl for the superfast beta - you all can thank her for the hotel sex you get instead of a hotel conversation.

Prompt:  187. Stop spilling herbal tea in the damned truck, Sandburg!

Venture Forth

by SassyInkPen

*****

Friday Evening, 5:36pm, Loft.

 

"I'm telling you, man, spontaneous human combustion is a documented phenomenon," Blair said, setting down the bag of food they'd picked up from the deli.  It was warm out so they'd opted for an easy dinner of sandwiches and potato salad. 

Jim followed him into the loft, kicking the door shut and setting a case of beer next to the food.  "That's crap, Sandburg, where do you get this shit?  Ask anyone in the fire department, every one of those cases eventually gets traced back to a cigarette or a candle or something like that."

"There is report after report of eyewitnesses who've seen it happen and will swear there was no external source of combustion and no kind of accelerant around."

"There's plenty of reports of people seeing UFOs too," Jim said.  He pulled two bottles of beer from the box and stashed the rest in the fridge.  On his way back to the table, he snagged a couple plates and forks from the dish drainer.  "And just this morning I took a report from an eyewitness who saw some other guy get his shotgun out of the trunk of his car, shoot a store clerk, and then put it back."

Blair rolled his eyes as he heaped a gob of salad onto the plate next to his sandwich.  "I'm talking about reliable witnesses with evidence to back up their claims and no immediate threat of getting arrested."

"When I was in Vice, there was a guy who had evidence of alien abduction." Jim grinned, "He was pretty pleased about it, but you're eating so I'll spare you the details."

"That's charming, but that's still not what I'm talking about."  After he whisked away the bags and wrappers, Blair sat down opposite Jim and opened his beer.  "I'm talking about credible accounts of an unexplainable phenomenon."

"Yeah, see, what I don't get is how you can be such an intelligent guy so much of the time, and a complete whack job the rest of it."  Jim took a swallow of beer and then bit into his sandwich, tucking a stray length of bread crust into his mouth.

Blair shrugged.  "It's a gift," he said with a grin.  He speared a chunk of potato, pointing it at Jim.  "Your problem is that you're too narrow minded.  Your thought processes are so regimented that you can't even consider anything that exists outside of them."

"That's a load of crap," said Jim indignantly.  "I took to this whole senses thing pretty well.  I'd say that's outside of most people's 'thought processes', wouldn't you?"

"Sure I would," Blair agreed, taking a swig of beer.  "But I wouldn't exactly say you took to it well.  You had no choice but to deal with it.  You'd never seek out an experience like that on your own."

"What...are you trying to say I'm not adventurous, Sandburg?  Because I think I have the war stories to prove you wrong."  Jim ripped off another bite of sandwich.

"Ok, I'm willing to concede that you probably get enough of that on the job, which is a mitigating circumstance, but no, you're not especially adventurous when left to your own devices...or spontaneous.  Or especially open to new things..."  A grin crept over his face as he continued needling Jim.

"I am so," was Jim's well thought out response.  "At least, I can be when I want to be."  As he spoke he was intently poking cubes of apple out of the potato salad and pushing them to one edge of the plate.

"Yeah.  Ok," said Blair, watching this with an amused expression.  He looked up.  "Ok, how's this - you've just started a week's vacation here, what are you planning to do?"

Jim shrugged.  "The balcony needs a serious cleaning, and I thought I might look into replacing that back window.  Maybe take in a game or something.  I don't really have any definite plans."  He looked up triumphantly and grabbed his beer, pointing.  "See?  I'm spontaneous, I have no plans.  I can do whatever I want this week."

"No, you're pathetic.  You've got a chance to have some fun and you're going to clean up cement."

"Have you looked out there recently?  Try seeing it from a slug's perspective."

Blair reached across the table with his fork and stabbed up several bits of apple.  He held it out to Jim.  "Come on a road trip with me, adventure boy."

"You've got classes," Jim said, eyeing the fork.

"I'm actually spontaneous," Blair told him.  "I can get them covered and be ready to go in an hour."

"Where would we be going?"

Blair shrugged.  "Don't know."

Jim knitted his brows together.  "Then...how do we know which roads to take?"

"Doesn't matter."  Blair waved the apples around in front of Jim's face, taunting him.  "If that's a little too much for you, we can throw a dart at a map or something.  Baby steps, man."

"Baby ste-" Jim scowled and yanked the fork out of Blair's hand, stuffing it in his mouth.  "You can eat my baby steps, Sandburg," he said, chewing.

 

*****

Friday Night, 11:17pm, Truck.

 

"I'm not seeing much that looks like a hotel, Sandburg.  Now what's your brilliant idea?"

"That's why we brought the sleeping bags and the tent, man.  Have beds, will travel."  Blair grinned and gave him a cocky little eyebrow raise.

Jim chewed his lip.  Life was never dull with this one.  Blair was daring him to bitch about the fact that their first plan of action wasn't panning out like they'd thought.  Well...like he'd thought, Jim reminded himself.  Blair clearly didn't give a rat's ass what happened.  It was all a cosmic adventure to him.  The idea was that they were going to drive just far enough to be officially out of town and then find a hotel to kick back in, drink the rest of their beer, and decide where to go next.  Jim would have been perfectly happy doing that at home, where there were chips to go with the beer and no strangers had done god-knows-what on the sheets, but Blair called him a coward and started throwing their shit in the truck before he could formulate a good argument.

"You promised me TV and beer," Jim grumbled.  Then he grimaced and mentally kicked himself in the head.  He'd bitched, dammit, and he hadn't even meant to.  Maybe Sandburg was right about him. 

"No way, Jim, no promises.  This is purely off the cuff, I can't tell you what's going to happen.  That's the fun of it.  Besides, we have beer."

"Yeah, but no place to drink it."

Blair held his hands up spread wide.  "We have all of Washington state to drink it in, man.  We own the world right now."

Jim drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.  The thing was, certain parts of the world had indoor plumbing, ESPN, and coffee makers on the desk.  Whereas certain other parts of the world had leaves for toilet paper, mosquitoes as roommates, and significantly less ESPN.  Not that he couldn't handle that, of course.  He was fine with it.  Good at it, in fact.  But given the choice between comfort and roughing it these days...he usually went with plumbing and sheets.  He chewed his lip a moment, wondering if that made him old.  There was a time when he didn't bat an eye about his sleeping conditions.  But then again, that was when things were a lot more unpredictable and he needed to be prepared for anything.  This time, he'd already been planning on relaxing and being comfortable.  Which suggested he was set in his ways.  Dammit.  Not only was he getting old, but Sandburg was definitely right about him.

"Please don't zone when you're behind the wheel, Jim," Blair said, leaning over to peer at him. 

"I'm not zoning.  I'm looking for a good place to pull over." 

With that, Jim veered off the highway and down a dirt road he'd just spotted.  A quick glance didn't reveal any Private Drive or No Trespassing signs, so he figured they were safe.  The road was old, bumpy, and gradually going downhill.  It had enough curves that Jim could never see very far ahead to determine what might lie at the end of it.  He thought he could smell water, though, so he kept going.

He took a thoughtful breath.  "Do you think I'm getting old?" he asked, keeping his gaze fixed on the road.

Blair laughed.  "Give me a break, man, you're fuckin' Conan the Barbarian.  Godzilla with a gun."

"I'm serious," Jim said gruffly.

"So am I," Blair shot back.  "I mean, look at you - you're built, you work out all the time, you have a high-action job that you're currently at the top of...and no one's ever going accuse you of getting hard of hearing."

Jim rolled his eyes at that last comment, but the rest of Blair's assessment bucked him up slightly.  "You don't think this lack of spontaneity is a sign that I'm slowing down?"

"Nope.  I think you've been that way all your life.  You're a brontosaurus, man."

"...What?"

"You know, you're like this huge, gigantic thing with enormous feet, lumbering around thinking about stuff like survival and shelter, until you get hungry and then it's 'Ooo! Leaves!' and you charge on over..." The corners of Blair's mouth curled higher the longer he spun his nonsense.  "Only in your case, it's hamburgers."

Jim nodded.  "I think I liked it better when you were comparing me to Conan the Barbarian."

"Totally man, you are.  You are G.I. Joe.  Only anatomically correct." Blair smiled at him.  "I'm assuming anyway.  You are anatomically correct, aren't you?"

"Not only am I correct, but I'm the last damn word on the subject."

Blair broke into convulsions of laughter, and the road gave way to a grassy clearing with a small lake to one side.  Jim swung the truck around and parked it at an angle, switching off the engine.  "All right," he said.  "We're here.  Wherever that is."

"This is great," said Blair, pushing his door open and hopping out of the truck.  "This is really beautiful.  See I told you, Jim, this is gonna be great."

"I'll take your word for that, Chief," Jim said.  He had to work at his usual exasperated disinterest.  In truth, he was feeling pretty good at the moment.  Granted Blair said he was a dinosaur, but he also said he was built, and there was some genuine appreciation in his voice when he said it.  Oh yeah.  It was good to be noticed.

Blair was right.  The spot was pretty nice.  Quiet, secluded, with a kind of other worldliness about it.  A light breeze wafted around them and whispered through the trees, while crickets played a constant backdrop.  Across the tiny lake, a band of frogs croaked occasionally, and unseen creatures rippled the surface of the water.  A nearly full moon overhead cast silver light over all of it.  Jim studied the area, searching out hidden dangers or signs of other life.  He didn't find anything more disturbing than a few discarded cans that proved this was a good place to drink beer after all.

When he turned back, he found that Blair had shoved things around in the bed of the truck and was rolling out the foam pad for the sleeping bags right there.  "Hey," Jim said, walking up and draping his arms over the side, "What about the tent?  We're not sleeping right out in the open like this, are we?"  He was still feeling a little petulant.

"Why not, man?" Blair asked, looking up with one sleeping bag still in his hands.

"Well...we'll get eaten alive by bugs."

"Too breezy," Blair said dismissively, going back to setting up the beds.  "You've done this a million times, Jim."

"It might rain," Jim argued.

Blair looked up.  "I don't think so, the sky's crystal clear.  Besides, you'd smell it if rain was coming."

Jim screwed up his face.  "I might be good, Sandburg, but I can't smell the weather."

"Can't you?" Blair looked honestly surprised.  "You always grab your raincoat on days when it ends up raining.  You never miss, even on days when no one saw it coming.  I thought for sure you had it all figured out.  Are you saying you don't do that on purpose?"

Jim thought hard for a moment, trying to work through his thought process of any given morning, hoping to pinpoint that moment that made him decide what to bring.  He gave up after a few minutes.  It felt too much like work and he was on vacation, dammit. 

"Guess not," he shrugged.  He hoisted himself into the bed of the truck as athletically as possible, putting his weight heavily on his arms so the muscles bulged.  He hoped Blair was watching.  Let's see a brontosaurus do that.  Flipping open the ice chest, he pulled out a beer and screwed the top off, passing it to Blair who was stacking pillows against the tent and duffle bags to make a sort of couch.  Blair flopped down against the pile, stretching his legs out, and reached for the bottle.

Jim grabbed one for himself and joined him, taking a long pull off his beer.  He drank fast, making up for lost time.  Not that he wanted to get seriously drunk, but that smooth mellow feeling he usually had after a few drinks would be welcome right then.  When he finished that one, he reached into the chest for another and looked around, nodding slowly.  "Ok, you sold me, Chief, this...this is pretty nice, I've gotta give you credit."

"Yeah?" Blair grinned boyishly at him.  "This beats the hell out of cleaning the balcony?"

"Yeah."  Jim grinned back, studying Blair's face.  He had to admit, he'd always enjoyed basking in the irrepressible intensity of that personality.  That force that was Blair Sandburg.  He wouldn't have turned down this trip for a million dollars and a Wonderburger.  It was gonna be one hell of a ride.  Jim leaned back, crossing his legs, and took another swig of beer.

Blair reached for his backpack and pulled a tattered half-size notebook out of it. 

"What are you doing, Chief?" Jim asked, frowning.

Blair flipped through the pages, peering so close in the dim moonlight that his nose nearly touched the paper.  "I just want to make some notes about the weather thing.  If you're using your senses subconsciously, that could be really significant."

"You can't see to write.  I'm sure that's not good for your eyes."

"I can see well enough to get a few keywords down," Blair said, scribbling blindly.

That notebook was nearly as familiar to Jim as Blair's face was.  Everything.  Everything that happened went in that book.  It was a constant in their lives.  It went wherever Blair did, even places Jim didn't get to.  He suddenly found himself irrationally jealous of the damn thing.  It was taking Blair's attention away from him, and he didn't recall inviting it along.  He polished off his beer while these thoughts warmed through his brain.  Then he set the bottle down.  Leaning forward, he snatched the notebook out of Blair's hands and tossed it into the weeds.

"Jim!"  Enormous blue eyes gaped at him.  "What the hell?  Those are my notes, man.  That's really important.  That's....that's like...years of work right there."

"Don't worry..." shrugged Jim.  "I can see it."

"Then, get it, dammit!  Now, before something happens to it."  Blair was up on his knees, glaring at him.  When Jim didn't move right away Blair smacked him on the back of the head.  "I'm serious, Jim, get your ass out there and get my notebook or the next tests we do are gonna involve jumper cables."

Jim chuckled and got up slowly, hopping out of the bed of the truck and wandering over to where the notebook lay among the leaves.  He picked it up and brushed it off, figuring he was pretty lucky it hadn't gotten wet.  He could hear Blair behind him muttering, "You are such an asshole..."

While Jim walked back, he opened the book and flipped aimlessly through the pages, catching snips of notes; just random words and phrases, most of which were familiar to him.  But not all.  There were a couple little nuggets he filed away to spring on Blair at some unsuspecting moment.

"Jim?  Jim?  You're not reading that are you?"  Blair was peering over the side of truck, straining to see into the dark while his hands clutched at the rail.  "That's not really for public consumption, Ellison.  I'm warning you..."

"You're warning me?" Jim laughed.  He stopped just short of Blair's line of sight.

"You don't think I could kick your ass?"

"I'm Godzilla with a gun," Jim said, thoroughly amused.  "I could just step on you with my giant brontosaurus feet and squish you like a little ant."

"Bring me my notebook, you irritating prick."  There was a wet rattling noise from the ice chest and then, "I have beer over here, big guy...come and get it." 

Now Jim could hear the amusement in Blair's voice too.  He shut the notebook and decided to play fair, returning to the truck.  As soon as he got within arm's reach, Blair snatched it out of his hands and inspected it like a mother tiger with a cub.  "That was a really shitty thing to do, Jim.  You could have destroyed all my work here."

"Yeah, yeah, it was shitty."  Jim grinned.  "But you have to admit it was spontaneous."

"Cocksucker."

"Where's my beer, Sandburg?  That was the deal."

Blair held out the bottle, but when Jim reached for it he flung it out of the truck.  "Can you see that, man?" he said with a wicked grin.

Jim turned with an exaggerated air of resignation and tromped back into the weeds.  No point in wasting perfectly good beer.  When he was sufficiently far away, he called out, "Ooo!  Leaves!" just to hear Blair break down in a fit of giggles.

Later, when they both lay tucked into their sleeping bags, gazing up at the stars, Jim turned to look at Blair.  "Thanks, Chief."

"For what?"

"I dunno...everything.  You're nice to have around."

"You are a sentimental drunk, Ellison," Blair said, grinning in the dark.  "Do you need a round of Auld Lang Syne before we go to sleep or are you good?"

Jim thought about that a moment.  "No, I'm good.  G'night."

 

****

Saturday Morning, 9:48am, I-90 Gas Station.

 

Blair spun a rack of road maps another quarter turn and leafed through the available offerings.  He wanted a good old touristy 1950's kind of thing that brought to mind wood-sided station wagons and freeze-pops.

"I have maps, Sandburg," Jim said.  He stood at the end of the aisle clutching an armload of chips, beef jerky, a six-pack of pop, the Cascade Times, plastic sealed hard-boiled eggs, a bag of doughnuts, and a large cup of coffee.

"Yeah I know, but I want new one, just for the trip.  That way we can write on it or stick postcards on it or whatever."

"What is this, third grade?  Are we gonna collect leaves and pictures of the state bird too?"

"We might," Blair said, sliding a map out of the rack and tucking it under his arm.  He grinned at Jim as he slipped past.  He knew damn well that Jim was having a better time than he was letting on.  When he'd woken up that morning, Jim was already up and skinny dipping in the lake, floating around aimlessly and looking more or less pleased with the world.  In Blair's view, that was a ringing endorsement of his trip and a very good sign of things to come. 

Blair moved through the store, collecting the fixings for sandwiches, a muffin and coffee for his breakfast, and a pair of cheap sunglasses.  He caught up with Jim at the counter paying for his food and gas.  Reaching across to a bright yellow display, Blair snagged a box of film and dropped it on his pile.

"You're planning to create photographic evidence of this wild goose chase?" Jim asked, grabbing his bag and standing by the door while Blair checked out.

Blair looked at him quizzically.  "Well, yeah.  Nothing says 'I had a wild road trip' like a picture of you and your friends standing in front of the fifteen foot statue of some farm animal with the name of a restaurant painted on it."

"You don't say..."

Blair smiled impishly at him while he paid the clerk and piled all his things in Jim's bag.

Jim cleared his throat.  "And you think we're going to find such an animal?"

"Yup," Blair told him.  "They're everywhere.  I used to think it would be really cool to hitchhike across country finding them all and having my picture taken at every one.  I'd have like a whole album of them.  Actually, I'd still kind of like to do that."

"You would, Chief."

Blair picked up his coffee and a free booklet titled "Northwest US Tourist Guide" and followed Jim out of the store.  He spread the map out on the hood of the truck while Jim grabbed a squeegee and washed the windows.  After Blair located I-90, he traced his finger along it, reading town names and checking out things like scenic stops and state parks.  "Oh hey," he said chuckling, "There's a town on here called George.  We should go there for the night.  It's not too far away.  That would be perfect."

"What's in George?" Jim asked, wiping the edge of the squeegee with a paper towel and coming around to the passenger side to scrub down that window.

"What's in-" Blair gave him an incredulous look.  "What does it matter what's there, man?  It's George..."

Jim stared at him blankly.

"George, Washington?" Blair said.  "Get it?  Come on, how can we not?  That's totally classic, Jim."

"We should stay there because of the name?"

"Yeah," Blair shrugged.  "You got a better idea?"

Jim cocked his head, considering.  "Nope, I guess not.  Let's go then."  He dumped the squeegee back in the bucket and went around, pulling the door of the truck open.

While Jim drove back out onto the highway, Blair pulled his backpack up onto the seat between them.  He took out his camera and loaded in the film, winding it up to the first exposure.  He was excited and feeling pretty optimistic.  Things had been a little stressful lately and it was starting to take its toll on them.  He'd been getting kind of a weird vibe off Jim, too.  Not enough to create any real problems to speak of, they still got along all right, but enough to make certain moments feel awkward.  He grinned and held the camera up to his eye, turning to snap a picture of Jim while he drove.

Jim kept his eyes on the road.  "I'm gonna wish you hadn't brought that, aren't I?"

"Knowing you? ...Probably."  Blair grinned and scooted across the seat, leaning back against Jim's shoulder and holding the camera out at arm's length so he could take a picture of the two of them.  With any luck it would come out off center with the top of Jim's head cut off and too much window.  A classic tribute to bad vacation photos everywhere.  He slid back over and stashed the camera so he could he could leaf through his travel guide.

They drove along in companionable silence, listening to the radio and eating their breakfast.  Every so often Blair would read descriptions out of the travel guide for Jim, grinning at the expressions on his face.  "When in Ellensburg, be sure to take time to see Dick and Jane's Art Spot.  Here you can see wild and whimsical art made from junkyard scrap and found objects.  Don't miss 'Big Red', the pink female sculpture with road reflector breasts."

"They actually say breasts in there?"

"Sure, what's wrong with that?  Breasts are cool, I mean...you know, wellspring of life and all that.  Well, actually I suppose that the womb is the wellspring of life, but then the breasts would come a close second since suckling mother's milk is our first source of nourishment and bonding combined in one primal experience."

"Hey, I'm eating here..."

Blair chuckled, "Oh man, you have such a white bread, vanilla existence."

"I beg your pardon.  Just because I don't want to discuss the miracle of birth while I'm eating eggs for breakfast doesn't mean I'm white bread."

"Jim, let me direct your attention to last night's dinner conversation and the reason why we're on this trip."

"Yeah, ok, you think I'm not spontaneous.  But that doesn't make me white bread."

"No, getting grossed out by natural human functions makes you white bread.  Not being spontaneous makes you uptight and regimental."

Jim scowled.  "Not keeping your mouth shut makes you far more likely to wind up thumbing a ride back home."

Blair grinned and snickered quietly behind the booklet.  It was only when Jim got too quiet that he worried.  A snarking, ornery Jim was still a pretty amiable one.  Usually.  On the other hand, this had all been just a little too easy - getting Jim to agree to this trip.  When Blair tossed in Jim's questions about getting old, he became even more certain something was up.  Maybe that had something to do with the tension he'd been feeling lately.  He tucked all these ideas into a corner of his brain to let them stew for a while and see what came of it. 

When he looked up again, Blair saw an exit sign for Salmon le Sac/Roslyn.  "Here!" he blurted out, pointing and whacking Jim repeatedly on the shoulder, "Turn here!  We've gotta go into Roslyn, man.  That is just too cool, I'd totally forgotten about that."

"Christ, Sandburg, you have a map, give a guy a little warning," Jim snapped as he cranked the steering wheel around and made an obscene turn at the exit.  When the truck righted itself, he said, "Is this another name thing?  You date someone named Roslyn?"

Blair shook his head, exasperated.  "You know nothing of pop culture, do you, man?"

Jim shrugged.  "Some.  Not everything, obviously. Is this presidential, too?  Did Jimmy Carter live there once?"

"Northern Exposure?"

"The TV show?"

"Yeah, man," Blair smiled.

"Didn't that take place in Alaska or something?"

"Well, yeah," Blair explained, "But they filmed it here in Roslyn.  I loved that show, man, I used to go hang out in the student lounges to watch it every week.  It was a total trip."

"This doesn't surprise me, Chief."  Jim said with a wry grin.  "Something tells me you would have fit right in on that show."

"You watched it?"

"Some.  Enough to remember what it was like.  It was a little....fruity for me."

"Fruity?" Blair asked, "Wait...are you saying that I'm fruity?"

"Hey," said Jim cocking his head and flexing his fingers on the steering wheel.  "If I'm regimental, than you're fruitier than hell."

 

*****

Saturday, 11:39am, Roslyn.

 

Jim folded his arms across his chest and stood toeing the sand in the gutters next to the Roslyn Cafe while Blair trotted up to a woman carrying her groceries down the street.  The woman looked faintly bemused when he asked her to take a picture of them posing in front of the mural painted on the side of the building.  Jim figured it had probably been about eight years since anybody had come around to gawk at it.  She probably took them for total freaks.  She'd probably be right.  Well...half right.

"Oh man, that's really sweet of you, I mean it," Blair was gushing at her as they came up to Jim.  "This is gonna be perfect, it's so cool."

Jim met the woman's eyes and smiled indulgently.  "I only get to take him out of the center one weekend a month, so I try to make it special, you know?"

She laughed, but set down her bags and took the camera from Blair, who turned to Jim with narrowed eyes and a silent snarl.  Jim grinned at him.  "Ok," she said, after examining the camera quickly, "Go ahead, this seems simple enough."

Jim went to stand in front of the mural, and Blair stepped up next to him, nudging in close and putting a hand on the small of Jim's back.  Blair stood in that unnaturally stiff way that people do when being photographed, which struck Jim as odd for someone who was as loose and free as Sandburg..

The woman lowered the camera and spoke to them over it.  "Most people usually stand at the other end for pictures.  In front of the 'AN' in 'An Oasis'."

"What difference does it make?" Jim asked.

She broke into a broad grin.  "Look over your right shoulder."

Jim did and found himself roughly face to face with the painted ass of a camel.  Just underneath the tail at any rate.  Blair looked too and started to giggle.  "Oh man, that's bad.  We gotta have one at this end, too, just for the hell of it.  I mean, how funny is that?"

Jim groaned, but felt he probably owed him for his earlier crack, so he turned back to the woman and flashed her his best smile, trying not to look pained.  As she put the camera back up, he lifted his arm and made rabbit ears behind Blair's head.  When they took the picture in the "proper" location, he behaved himself perfectly, and when they stepped away to thank the woman he had to admit that it would probably be a pretty nice shot.  Maybe they'd frame it and put in the bookshelf.  The camel-ass version would go on the fridge with a yet to be purchased souvenir magnet. 

The woman handed back the camera, took her groceries and went on her way with more effusive thanks from Blair.  Blair then rounded on Jim with a hard look.  "You know, that was totally uncalled for, making a crack like that to her."

"What? About the center?"  Jim furrowed his brow.

"Yeah."

"Hey," Jim said, pointing at him, "in the last twenty-four hours you have called me narrow-minded, regimental, unspontaneous, pathetic, white bread, an asshole..."

"But none of that was in public," Blair interrupted, getting frothed up.

"...a dinosaur, uptight, vanilla, and a cocksucker."

Blair snarled, "Yeah, well if the cock fi-" and then froze in mid sentence. 

Jim chuckled.  "If the cock fits?"

"Ok, maybe that saying doesn't work here, but you know what I mean."  It was obvious that Blair was struggling to hang onto his anger, but close to losing it to his own amusement.

"Sandburg, you can derail a conversation faster than anyone I know."

 

*****

Saturday Evening, 8:47pm, George.

 

Jim stood on the steps of Martha's Inn, patiently waiting while Blair fussed over the postcard rack on the hostess counter just inside.  He felt comfortably full of prime rib and french fries and was not in any particular hurry to do much of anything.  The evening air was pleasant enough, let Sandburg have his fun. 

"Check it out," grinned Blair waving the cheesiest card Jim had ever seen like it was a carnival prize.  "How hideous is this?" 

The card had the head of George Washington superimposed over a bright yellow shape of the state, surrounded by a red, white, and blue spangled border.  A red star marked the town on the map.

"It's painful.  Put it away before I zone on it."  Jim pushed away from the railing he'd been leaning against and started to walk towards the truck.  After a moment, he realized he was the only one doing this and turned back to find Blair sitting on the steps with the postcard perched on his knee.  He was hunched over and writing on it.

When Jim got close enough, he tilted his head so that he could read:  Having a great time so far, even if Jim is cranky.  George is not much of a town, but Martha's makes great spaghetti.  Will probably go fishing tomorrow if the weather is nice.  Blair added: Wish you were here.  He chuckled to himself and then signed it...and then addressed it to the loft.

"What are you doing, Sandburg?"  Jim asked as Blair pulled out his wallet to get at a book of stamps.

"I'm sending postcards home," Blair told him.  He pressed a stamp on it and stood up, stuffing his wallet back in his pocket and walking over to the mailbox on the corner.  "Oh, did you want to sign it?"

"I..." Jim was going to point out that mailing postcards to themselves was a really weird thing to do, but that invited a conversation that might upset his dinner.  "Yeah, why not."

 

*****

Sunday Morning, 5:13am, Wanapum State Park.

 

"Eat me," mumbled Blair, stuffing his head under the pillow and trying to kick Jim from inside the confines of his sleeping bag.  All he did was manage to twist it all up.

"Up and at'em, Nature boy," chirped Jim, prodding him in the ass.  "You said you were going fishing with me."

Blair grunted and wriggled away from Jim's hands.  "I have spontaneously decided to blow you off in favor of more sleep.  You neglected to mention that we'd be getting up in the middle of the night to do this."

Jim laughed.  "It's not the middle of the night.  The sun's coming up and the fish are getting excited, now get your ass out of bed or else."

Blair shrunk deeper in his cocoon.  George, as it turned out, didn't offer a whole lot in the way of lodging.  So, no matter how good the food might be, they'd opted to track back a little ways to the state park and camp out again.  Jim was looking to get in a little fishing, and Blair was hoping to check out the petrified forest area.  It was suddenly quite clear which activity they would be doing first.  He resolutely ignored Jim's chatter and the muted commotion of tackle boxes and fishing rods being brought out with as little noise as possible.  Like the fish were gonna know what he was up to.  Moron.

When he heard the tailgate popped and lowered, Blair furrowed his brow, wondering vaguely what the hell Jim was up to, but not interested enough to poke his head out to see.  Unfortunately, the reason was made plain when he felt Jim's hands clamp around his ankles and he started sliding toward the rear of the truck, sleeping bag and all.

"Jesus, Jim, get the hell off, man," he groused, struggling against Jim's grasp, but being too tangled in the bag to be very effective.  He felt like an overgrown caterpillar.

"Nothin' doin', Sandburg.  You're going fishing whether you like it or not."

"Ok, all right, fine.  Have it your way," Blair said, resigned to his fate.  He started to push his head out of the top when he was suddenly hoisted up onto Jim's shoulder and found himself viewing the world upside down through the mess of his hair.  "Oh...this is not cool, man.  Put me down, I said I'd go already."

"You had your chance," Jim told him.  He sounded disgustingly cheerful.  Asshole.  "I tried to get you moving and you wouldn't have anything to do with it.  Now I'm ready to go."

Blair hung limply and contemplated the back of Jim's vest as they headed down the bank towards the water.  Struggling, he'd already found, was not terribly effective.  Plus, from this height it could get him seriously injured, and he'd rather nurse a wounded ego than a cracked skull.  Reasoning didn't seem to be going down that well either.  Maybe all this 'let's get Jim to be more spontaneous' stuff wasn't such a hot idea.  Maybe if Jim didn't equate being spontaneous with being obnoxious.

"Hey," he said, noticing the thermos strapped on top of the tackle box.  "Is that coffee?"

"Yup."

"Cool."

"Thought you'd appreciate that," Jim said.

"Yeah, I do.  I'd appreciate being put down, too."

"In a minute," Jim told him.  "We're almost there.  I scoped out this spot last night, it's great."

"That's marvelous."  Blair bumped along helplessly.  His head was starting to throb slightly from all the blood pooling in it.  As screwed up as this situation was, though, he had to admit that part of him was lazily thrilled that not only did he not have to get out of bed for this, but he didn't have to bother walking either.  The morning air was crisp on his face, but the rest of him was still snug and warm in his sleeping bag.  Jim could eat dirt if he thought he was coming out anytime soon.

"Here we are, Sandburg.  End of the line."  Jim crouched down to unload the tackle box and rods, and then deposited Blair on the ground.  Blair immediately snuggled down into the bag again, but peered out warily when Jim poked him.  "Here's your pillow," Jim said.

"Hey, man," Blair said with a grin, "You're all right.  I guess I don't have to kill you after all."  He popped a hand out and grabbed it, pulling it inside and disappearing again.  He could hear Jim chuckling as he started to rig up his pole.  This wasn't so bad.  Jim could fish, he could snooze.  There was coffee.  Life was good.

 

*****

Sunday Evening, 7:58pm, Wanapaum State Park.

 

"If I ever have to look at another petrified leaf," Jim groaned, flopping onto his back in the bed of the truck.  "I'm gonna shoot you through the head."

"Come on, man, it wasn't that bad.  I thought it was really interesting."

"You think broken pottery is interesting."

Blair grinned and folded his arms on the rail of the truck bed.  He stood hanging over the side, regarding his friend.  "I take it from your position there, and the fact that we haven't packed up a damn thing, that we're staying right here again tonight?"

"I already paid the guy while were up at the center, I hope you don't mind.  I'm beat."

"Nope," said Blair shaking his head.  "I don't mind, it's a nice spot.  But I'm telling you right now, man...I am not getting up at the crack of nothing to go fishing again."

Jim chuckled.  "You didn't do that today, either."

"Let's not split hairs, ok?"

"Yeah, sure.  I'm just sayin'."

"I fished."

"You did."

"I caught a nice one too."

"Very nice."

"All right then.  Do we agree?  No pre-dawn activity of any sort?"

"Yes," said Jim, "We agree.  I'm not planning to get up that early either."

"Good."  Blair walked around the end of the truck and lifted the lid on the smaller cooler.  "We've pretty much got sandwiches for dinner, if you don't mind that.  There's some chips and stuff.  Probably enough to make a meal out of."

"Sounds fine to me," Jim said, sitting up.  He stretched and started straightening things up in the bed of the truck, spreading the sleeping bags back out and stacking the other stuff up at the front.

Blair carried food over to the picnic table nearby and laid out sandwich fixings and what was left of the snacks.  He pulled four slices of bread out of the bag and arranged them side by side.  "What do you want on yours?" he asked over his shoulder.  "There's turkey and a little bit of roast beef left."

"I'll have the roast unless you want it," Jim said, coming up to the table.  He set a couple bottles of beer down and unfolded the top of a half-full bag of chips, reaching in to grab some.

"So..." Blair ventured.  "Seems like you're having a pretty good time in spite of the glaring lack of an itinerary..."

"You know, Sandburg, I'm not nearly the anal-retentive freak you make me out to be."

"Color coded Tupperware?"  Blair grinned, but noted the hint of irritation in Jim's voice.  Something was cutting a little close to home, but he wasn't quite sure what.  Jim's Type-A personality wasn't usually a sore spot for him.

"That's practical, not anal.  Especially since you moved in."

"Perhaps.  On the other hand, it displays a fear of the unknown so deep that you won't even risk getting something unexpected to eat."

"How 'bout if I just want to get what I wanted to eat?"  Jim scowled and sat down with his sandwich.

Blair opened the beers.  "Ok...what's the wildest thing you've ever done?"

Jim gave him an incredulous look and opened his mouth to answer, but Blair cut him off with a hand.  "Not that you had to do, or were ordered to do, or forced to, but the wildest thing you ever chose to do."

This gave Jim a little more pause.  "I pushed a bike I'd been working on up to about a hundred and twenty miles per hour out on the highway.  It was nuts, especially when I whipped around a couple cars and dodged a semi.  I wasn't used to judging traffic at that speed.  I'm probably damn lucky to be here."

Blair nodded with approval.  In all honesty, it was kind of a sexy image.  "Not bad," he said, "How about the last time you-"

"What?  That's not good enough?" Jim snapped.  "I'd say that proves I can cut loose a little."

"First of all, I'm guessing that was back in high school, and second, that's the same kind of danger dynamic that you deal with every day.  That type of fear is not your weak spot.  Your hang up is more in the area of having to deal with things you're not familiar with."  Blair took a quick sip of beer.  "When's the last time you dated anyone more than once or twice?"

Jim leveled a gaze on him.  "You're the perfect example of why that doesn't have anything to do with anything."

"Ok," Blair acknowledged, "When's the last time you dated anyone you really cared about?"

"You know what," Jim said, getting up and taking his beer and the remains of his sandwich.  "This conversation's getting tiring.  I'm going for a walk."  Then he turned and headed off down the path towards the water.

Blair watched his back as he went and fiddled with the corner of the label on his beer.  So, another close hit.  It wasn't exactly the direction he'd been expecting either, what with the musings about getting old and all.  Blair figured that Jim was maybe worried about losing his edge or starting to make mistakes on the job.  This, though...this was something else all together.  And it interested him.

 

*****

Monday Afternoon, 3:16pm, Route 195.

 

"I still say it's totally narcissistic," Blair said.  "I mean, ok, carving fifty-one faces onto a bunch of logs and making a monument that stands sixty feet in the air-"

"Sixty-five."

"Excuse me, sixty-five feet in the air is an amazing feat of art and engineering.  But the fact that it was commissioned by one of the guys on the pole, and the amount of time and energy they spend promoting the thing is just a little skeezy to me."

"Skeezy?" smirked Jim.  "Is that an anthropological term?"

"Yes it is.  It means self-indulgent ego gratification."  Blair opened up a bag of pretzels and stuffed one in his mouth, then held the bag out for Jim.

"You just think that because you're not used to seeing a monument in its baby stages.  If that thing were eight hundred years old, you'd be wetting yourself right now.   I'm willing to bet the guys who built the pyramids pranced around for a few years, putting up billboards and trying to get tourists to visit."

Blair snickered and swallowed his food.  "I don't think a chainsaw carving commemorating a geriatric grudge match can really compare to the Great Pyramids, Jim."

"Hey, I think you should have a little more respect for the sport of football, Spanky."

"They named it the Codger Pole, not me."

"Yeah well-"  Jim's attention was suddenly caught by an odd sound from the rear of the truck, and a slight change in the handling.  He let up on the gas and steered for the side of the road.

"What is it?" Blair asked, raising his eyebrows at Jim and then craning his head around to see if he could tell.  "What's wrong?  Why are you pulling over?"

"I think we've got a flat tire," Jim said, coming to a stop.  He squeezed his eyes shut and sighed.  This just wasn't their day.  The mood between them had been strained all morning, which Jim took full credit for, and it wasn't until they stopped in Colfax for a late lunch that things seemed to be getting back to normal.   In fact, they were just starting to get along really well.  Now this, dammit.  What was worse, he could just tell Blair was itching to talk about the incident from the night before, and he wasn't really sure he was ready for that.  He didn't understand it very well himself.  Not that he was willing to explore in great depth.

"Oh," said Blair.  "Well, we have a spare don't we?  I mean, you have a spare tire for this, right?"

"Yeah, I have a spare.  It's a bitch to get at, but I have one."  Jim pushed the door open and climbed out of the truck, walking back to look at the rear driver's side tire.  Sure enough, it was slowly going flat.  If he concentrated, he could hear the hiss of air escaping.  They must have driven over a nail or something.  Damn.

Blair came around the back of truck and stood next to Jim. "It doesn't look flat."

"It will soon enough, Chief, trust me."

By the time Jim had gotten out the spare tire, the jack, and the tire iron, even Blair could see the tire sagging.  He paced around, filled with nervous energy, and chattered while Jim started to get to work.  It wasn't until Jim called him over to hold lug nuts that he settled back down.  "Well, there has to be a worst day, right?" he said with a philosophical air.

"What?" Jim grunted as he cranked on the tire iron, trying to loosen the last lug nut.

"Worst day," Blair said.  "Out of any given set of days, regardless of what's going on during that time span, one of them could be judged to the best, and one of them could be considered the worst.  It all depends on personal perspective, of course, but usually they can be given some sort of ranking.  Out of the three days of our trip so far, I would definitely call this the worst.  I'm hoping I can still say that at the end of the week."

Jim pulled off the flat tire and rolled it off to the side.  "I think you just pretty much guaranteed that it won't be."

"That's really optimistic."

"You just said it out loud.  You jinxed us."

"You don't really believe that, do you?" Blair said with a bemused grin.

"Chief, I have seen so much weird shit in the past few years, I don't know what I believe anymore."  His irritation with the tire and the situation in general came through in his voice and he winced slightly.  He was about to say something, but Blair started first.

"Look, Jim..." he knelt down and held out his hand so that Jim could take the lug nuts as he fitted them back on.  "I'm sorry about last night.  I didn't mean to push, I just..."

"Don't sweat it, Sandburg, pushing is what you do best.  I should be used to it by now."

Blair grinned.  "Still, I mean...  I wasn't thinking, I should have been a little more..."

"I'm fine.  I was just tired."

"Ok.  If something's bugging you though, or you want to talk-"

"You're pushing."

"Right."

 

*****

Monday Evening, 5:22pm, Twilight Motel.

 

"I know it's a dive," Jim sighed, leaning his head back against the truck window.  "I don't care.  I need a shower.  You need a shower.  I want a hot meal, and a real bed, and I'm sick to death of being in the truck."

"Ok, hey," said Blair, "I can hack it.  I've stayed in worse places than this plenty of times, but I, ah...don't have the ability to fully appreciate it that you have.  I'm just thinking of you, here."

"I'll be fine.  I'll keep a lid on the senses and try not to think about it too hard.  Let's go, that supper club across the road is frying all sorts of wonderful things and I plan to make a pig of myself this evening."

Blair chuckled and got out of the truck, following Jim into the motel office.  In truth, he was just as anxious as Jim to get off the road for a little while and enjoy some of the finer things in life, such as plumbing and clean sheets.  But he was very wary that this rat hole they'd stumbled across in the middle of nowhere was only going to make Jim's strange mood worse.

His concerns were not alleviated when they got inside their room.  Musty was a polite word for the smell, and a pretty sure sign that things probably weren't as clean as they should be.  His only solace was that the layer of dust over everything made it pretty clear that no one had used this room in a good long while.  Whatever it was that was making the smell...at least it wasn't fresh.

Jim set his duffel bag on one of the two double beds and glanced around.  "Home sweet...dump," he said, wrinkling his nose.

"It's ok, man...fried things.  Red meat.  Cold beer.   Eyes on the prize, Jim."

"Get in the shower," Jim told him.  He had look of serious intent that gave Blair pause.

"Don't you wanna go first?"

"Nope.  I'm going to clean this place up while you're in there.  And, Sandburg..." Jim pointed at him, "Don't use all the hot water."

Blair wanted to point out that it would be pretty difficult to do at a motel, but thought better of it.  He'd rather have Jim's irritation directed at something other than himself.  Instead, he took a fairly fast shower, opting not to jerk off even though he really wanted to, but allowing himself the luxury of a slow careful shave.  He combed his hair out, brushed his teeth, and slipped into clean underwear.  When he looked at himself in the mirror, he grinned and decided that not only did he look human again, he felt it.  He could only hope the cure would work the same way for Jim.

The change in the room itself was nothing short of a miracle.  When Blair came out of the bathroom, all the furniture had been wiped down and both bedspreads were folded neatly and wedged into the corner.  Jim had cracked open a window, too, and the air was much fresher than it had been.  Jim, however, was standing in the center of the room with a look on his face that wavered between horror and disgust.  He was unnaturally stiff and held his arms out slightly as if he were in pain.

"Jim?" Blair said, rushing over with concern, "Are you all right, man?  What's wrong?"

"Get out of my way," Jim said in a low voice.  "I think I can feel dust mites on me, I need to get into the shower now."  He bolted into the bathroom and slammed the door shut.  Blair heard the water and the sounds of splashing so soon after, that he was certain Jim had gotten into the shower fully dressed and then started to take his clothes off.  Not for the first time, he was definitely glad he wasn't the one with super senses.

Blair felt around in the pockets of his bag and found a packet with a few incense cones.  He lit one and set it on top of the TV.  If the room was going to smell, it may as well be with something pleasant.  After he got dressed, he tucked all his things away neatly and then went out to the truck to carry in the ice chest, and the cooler.  They'd picked up some more beer and a fresh bag of ice during the day.  He broke the bag open, dumping the cubes into the water at the bottom, and stirred it around, laying a couple bottles on their sides to get as cold as possible.  Then he poked around the room aimlessly, just in case there was anything else he could do to make the evening more pleasant.

He heard the water shut off, and listened to the other quiet sounds of getting cleaned up.  When he figured Jim was about finished, he grabbed one of the coldest bottles out of the ice chest and met him at the bathroom door.  "Beer's cold," he said, holding it out.

Jim paused for a moment and sniffed the air, then he smiled lightly and took the beer.  "Thanks, Chief," he said with a nod.

While Jim dressed, Blair got a beer for himself.  "Hey, man," he said, tossing the cap in the garbage can.  "You gotta check this out.  Vibrating beds."

"I'm not the least bit surprised."

Blair flashed him a shit-eating grin.  "Oh sure, I can totally see it for just one.  But both beds vibrate.  I mean, you've gotta be expecting some serious shit to be going on if you're putting two vibrating beds in one motel room, you know what I mean?"

Jim turned and clamped a hand over Blair's mouth, pinning him with another hand at the back of his neck.  "You have to shut up now, or I won't be able to stay here."

Blair started to laugh, but the sound came out through his nose as a muffled snarfle over the top of Jim's hand.  He met Jim's stare with a wicked gaze.  It wasn't a half bad position to be in.

"I'm serious," Jim said, narrowing his eyes.  "Not another word, or you can kiss your vibrating bed goodbye."  He held Blair's gaze a moment longer, then released him and went back to getting dressed.

"You are so vanilla," Blair poked, taking a swig of beer.

"Hey, it's not the thought of group sex or whatever that bothers me, it's all the...stuff that gets on the mattress."

"They've got waterproof mattress pads," Blair managed while giggling.  "I checked."

Jim shuddered visibly.  "Could we change the subject, please?"

"Yeah, sure."  Blair polished off his beer and tossed the bottle.  "How about we go and get some dinner?" 

He pulled open the door and stepped out into the parking lot, squinting against the setting sun.  Jim followed him and paused, inhaling deeply.  "You're a very lucky man, Blair Sandburg," he said with a satisfied hum.

"Why's that?" Blair asked, giving him a sideways glance.

"Because I just got my appetite back."

 

*****

Monday Evening, 7:48pm, Smithy's Supper Club.

 

Jim mopped the last of the gravy off his plate with a hunk of fluffy white bread and stuffed it in his mouth, smirking at Blair's horrified expression.

"You have gravy on your chin, you pig," Blair pointed out.

"Good," Jim answered, mouth still full of food.  "More for later."

Blair made a face and cracked up, and Jim hailed the waitress so he could order another round of beers.  The mood between them was considerably lightened from earlier in the day, and Jim was genuinely enjoying himself.  He could tell that Blair was still hovering on the edge of trying to analyze him, but seemed to be keeping those urges under control for the time being.

"Geez, Jim," Blair said, catching his breath.  "This is like, the fourth round of beers here.  You on a mission or something?"

Jim shrugged.  "We're on vacation, it's been kind of a lousy day, we've only got to make it back across the street.  Why not?"

"You have substantially more mass to soak it up with, man."

"I don't exactly see you falling behind."  Jim arched an eyebrow at him and thanked the waitress as she took their plates.

"Are you calling me a lush?"

"No, I'm just saying it doesn't seem to be a problem for you.  Why?  Are you getting drunk already?"

Blair pursed his lips and nodded thoughtfully.  "Yes...I think I am, a little."

"Oh for pete's sake," Jim said, rolling his eyes.  "If you have to think about it that hard, you're not doing it right.  Drink up."

Blair giggled.  "Are you trying to get me drunk?"

"Well no, but now that you mention it, there's a high potential for amusement here."  Jim smirked at him across the table.

Blair smirked back and took a healthy swig of his beer, then licked his lips and grinned wickedly.  It occurred to Jim that just maybe he was getting in over his head.  He wondered why in the hell he'd pressed the issue.  After all, there was an equally high potential for disaster.

 

*****

Monday Night, 9:18pm, Twilight Motel.

 

Roughly an hour later, as Jim decanted a limp and giggling Blair onto one of the beds, he was less concerned with disaster, and thoroughly amused.  He went and got himself a beer, cracking it open.

"Is that for me?" Blair slurred, lifting his head.

Jim grinned.  "I think you've had enough, don't you, junior?"

Blair snickered.  "It was your idea, man..."

"If I told you to jump off a cliff, would you do that too?"

There was a long pause where Blair was very still, then, "I think we already did that once."

Jim had to admit, the kid had a point.  "Do you want another beer?"  He went over to stand next to the bed, looking down at Blair.

"No...I don't think so," Blair managed.  He lifted an unsteady hand into the air, aiming it in Jim's general direction.  "I want...a quarter."

"What for?"  Jim furrowed his brow.

"I wanna ride the bed, man!"  Blair's tone made it perfectly clear that he thought Jim must be the biggest moron on the planet.  He snapped his fingers and held his hand open again, arm swaying erratically.

Jim tried to stifle his snickers as he dug in his pocket and fished through the change, coming out with not one, but three quarters.  He caught Blair's wayward hand and pressed one into his palm, holding it there until Blair managed to grasp it.  Then he sat down on the edge of the other bed to watch.  The amusement factor just tripled.

Blair peered at the coin, smirking.

"Go on," Jim said.  "Show me how the thing works."

Blair flipped over onto his stomach and crawled toward the head of the bed.  He leaned close to the little box on the nightstand, apparently getting a fix on where to put his quarter, then he took a stab at it.  The coin fumbled through his fingers and bounced off the table, rolling across the floor.

"Jiiiiim...."

It was truly slapstick at its best.  Priceless.  Jim laughed and got up to give Blair another quarter.  This one lasted long enough for three tries before it hit the carpet.  "You're pathetic, Sandburg, seriously."

"I'm just having a little technical difficulty, man, gimme a hand, will ya?"  Blair rolled back onto one hip and tipped his head, grinning.

"Doesn't take much to make you happy, does it?"  Jim reached over and dropped his last quarter in the box, twisting the knob on the timer to five minutes.  He had no intention of cleaning up after a seasick drunk.

"That's why I hang out with you," snickered Blair, "I like the simple things in life."

"Asshole," said Jim.  He punched the start button and the bed sprang to life with an obnoxious buzz.  The vibrations were so powerful Jim could feel them through the floor, running up his legs.

Blair fell on his back laughing like a loon.  He rolled around clutching his sides and giggling.  It was the sorriest thing Jim ever saw. 

"Jim, you gotta try this," Blair gasped through his laughter.  "It's a riot!"

"I see that," said Jim, taking a sip of his beer. 

"Come on, man."

"Thanks, but I'll pass." 

"But you're missing all the fun..."

"Oh no, Chief, trust me, I'm not," Jim grinned.  "And I get to have more fun tomorrow, too."

"You do?"

"Yup.  When I torment the shit out of you over this."  A sly grin crossed his face as an idea occurred to him.  He went over to where Blair's backpack was propped against the dresser.  Returning with Blair's camera, he said, "Smile pretty, Chief."

Blair gaped at him for a moment and then doubled over with mirth again. Jim snapped about four pictures, then shook his head and settled back on the other bed, leaning against the wall and stretching his legs out.  Blair's bed went silent and still, but he carried on for another minute or so before he, too, fell quiet.  He was so limp that for a moment Jim thought he'd passed out.

Then his head popped up, and he grinned, "Jim, I can't believe you missed all the fun.  You are so square, man, I swear to god."

"Oh, don't start with that again," groaned Jim. 

Blair rolled onto his stomach and propped his head on his hands.  "Ok...what's the wildest thing you've ever done in bed?"

"We are not having this conversation."

"Prude."

"Tit for tat, Sandburg.  You tell me what's the wildest thing you've ever done."

"In bed?"

"Yeah.  And this doesn't count," Jim said, gesturing to the vibrating bed.

"Funny. Very funny."  Blair sat up cross-legged and raked his hair out of his face.  "I was in a threesome once.  With my roommate and his girlfriend."

"And how was that?"

Blair shrugged.  "It was all right, but I guess I like it better when my attention doesn't have to be divided like that, you know?"

Jim raised his eyebrows.  Although Blair had always hinted around at being pretty open, he'd never come right out and admitted it before.  It gave Jim a certain amount of satisfaction to know that his hunches about the guy were right. 

"Ok," Blair said, grinning at him, "Your turn.  'Fess up."

"Well...I used the cuffs on Carolyn once or twice, played around with whipped cream a few times."  He drained the rest of his beer and tossed the bottle at the garbage can, sinking it cleanly.

"That's it?" smirked Blair.

"Think about it, Sandburg," Jim protested, "I've been in the Army or on the Police force most of my adult life.  There's not exactly a lot of room to get real wild and crazy there.  They tend to frown on that kind of thing."

"Ahh,"  Blair cocked his head, trying to stuff that thought through his muddled brain.  "So then...what is it that you want, but haven't been allowed to do....?"

"Oh, you know....whips and chains, shoe fetish, a little bestiality.  I've always had kind of a thing for chickens.  All those fluffy feathers."

Blair fixed him with the most enigmatic gaze he'd ever seen, and suddenly Jim felt absolutely naked.  He had the feeling that Blair could see right through him.  In fact, he was sure of it.  The thought was chilling and comforting at the same time.

"Seriously?" Jim asked, turning to study the nightstand intently.

"Yeah," Blair said, quietly.  He leaned forward, wobbling a little.  "I mean, you know...if you want."

It took another long moment before Jim spoke again, eyes firmly fixed on the wall.  "Guys."  He cleared his throat.  He wanted another beer, but didn't want to call enough attention to himself to get up and get it.

"Wow.  Really?"

"No, Sandburg, I just made it up," Jim snapped.

"Easy man," said Blair, "I just never realized.  I'm usually pretty good at picking up on that kind of thing."

Jim frowned.  "I thought you knew, the way you were looking at me just now."

Blair shook his head.  "How long?"

"I don't know...I guess I've been curious on and off since high school.  I've never done anything about it, though."  It wasn't as if he hadn't wanted to, but there was never a good time, never a safe opportunity.  Those weren't the kind of chances he was willing to take, at any rate. 

"Nothing?" Blair asked, looking more concerned than anything. "You ever even been kissed by a guy?"

"Nope."

"Want to be?"  Blair was eyeing him intently from under his thick lashes.

Jim stared at him a good long time.  Long enough for Blair to get up and crawl over onto his bed.  He was still weaving pretty good and Jim didn't know what to say.  Hell yes, he wanted Blair to kiss him, but what then?  What if he wanted more - was Blair going to offer that too?  Not like the kid was in any shape to be doing much of anything.

Blair straddled his legs and hooked a hand under his chin, coaxing him to look up.  Jim did, meeting those huge blue eyes.  He'd always liked Blair's eyes, so intense and expressive.  Like now.  He'd let himself zone on them once, just for the pleasure of it.

"You're thinking too hard, Jim."  Blair was practically purring.  The sound made Jim's mouth go dry.

"Sandburg..." he said, licking his lips.  His heart was pounding in his chest.  "Blair..."  He put his hands up on Blair's waist, not sure if he meant to push him away or pull him closer.  He could feel the warmth of Blair's body seeping into his own, hear the drag of his breath getting heavier.  Blair's hands were on his neck, light and sure, angling his head just the way he wanted it. 

"Shhh..."  Blair smiled, then bent forward and kissed Jim slowly.  He pulled back, brushing his lower lip against Jim's mouth and kissing him lightly a few times before capturing his lips again, teasing with just a hint of tongue.  Blair's mouth was hot and a shiver raced down Jim's spine.  He moaned and tensed his fingers on Blair's hips, grasping, hanging on for the ride.  Whatever lack of coordination Blair might be suffering from the beer, it didn't apply to his technique.  The guy could kiss, and Jim melted into it, allowing Blair to have his way.

Then Blair was urging him down, falling back and pulling Jim with him to the mattress, still locked in that heated kiss.  God, where were they going with this?  Jim tangled his fingers in the thick curls that spread out over the blanket.  Blair's teeth grazed over his lip and made him feel weak, and then Blair's hands were at his neck caressing and guiding him again, holding him captive.  They kissed fervently until they were both breathless.

"Not too shabby, hmm....?"  murmured Blair, almost too soft to be heard.  His eyes were closed and his face relaxed and calm. 

"No," whispered Jim, "not...not at all..."  It was work to form a sentence.  He was acutely aware of the length of Blair's body pinned half under him, hard and warm, and far more willing than Jim thought he could handle at the moment.  It was a dangerous thing.

"Blair," he said, thinking that they needed to take a step back before things got any more out of hand.  He had been worried about disaster, after all. "Blair...?"

Blair moaned softly and his head lolled against Jim's shoulder.  "Blair?"  Jim patted his cheek, a light touch at first, and then harder when Blair didn't respond.  Jim sighed and smiled ruefully, listening to deep even breaths.  Blair was out cold.

 

*****

Tuesday, 11:12am, Route 195 heading south.

 

Blair pressed his forehead to the cool glass of the truck window.  The sky outside was gray and pretty much matched his outlook at the moment.  He'd woken up that morning with a severe headache, several other symptoms of a classic hangover, and a lingering suspicion that he'd made an ass out of himself the night before.  He was still nursing the headache...and the suspicion.  Jim had been nothing but nice to him all morning.  First big clue right there.  When do you not harass a pal with a hangover?

"Uugghh..." he groaned, sitting up straight. 

"Hey," smirked Jim.  "You are alive.  I was about to poke you with a stick."

Blair nodded and gave him a weary smile. "Hey, Jim?  My coffee's cold, can we pull over somewhere I can get some hot water?  I want to make some tea.  That'll be easier on my system."

"Sure.  Unless you want a little hair of the dog.  I could just grab you a beer out of the back."

"No, no...thanks for the offer.  I think I outdid myself last night."  He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to focus.  "I'm really sorry, man....I didn't mean to inflict myself on you like that.  I hope it wasn't too bad."

There was a long pause, which made Blair increasingly nervous.  Finally, Jim said, "You don't remember?"  His tone was inscrutable, and when Blair looked at him, Jim was intently studying the road signs up ahead.

"Oh man..."  Blair let his head bounce back against the seat, making his headache spike.  "How bad?"

"You remember making a huge pass at me?"

"I what?" Blair squeaked, head snapping back up to gape at Jim.  Shit, how tasteless was that - his first shot at Jim and he couldn't even remember it.

Jim glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.  His face was as unfathomable as his tone.  "How about the three hookers?  You remember them?  I have to admit, I had no idea you were that flexible.  If that's what yoga does for you, you're going to have to teach me a few moves."

"Jesus, Jim," Blair groused.  "You really are an asshole."  He wasn't sure if he was more pissed that Jim had managed to freak the shit out of him, or that it hadn't really happened.  He felt mildly nauseous from the swift detour into fantasyland and back again.

"Well, you know...if the ass fits."

"Yeah, yeah..." muttered Blair.  "Seriously, how bad?"

Jim looked over at him, then back at the road.  "You played around on the vibrating bed, then we talked for a while....and you eventually passed out."

"Ok," Blair nodded.  Then, "And by 'played around' you mean..."

Jim smirked at that.  "You giggled a lot and called me a prude.  It was cute.  You didn't...I mean, you didn't do anything to worry about.  It was all right."

They drove along in a weird silence for a while, and Blair wasn't entirely sure he believed Jim.  There still was the glaring lack of shit to account for.  What was worse...when they stopped for hot water, Jim presented him with a postcard from the gas station that had a picture of a little yellow bird on it and a banner that said: Willow Goldfinch, Washington State Bird.

 

*****

Tuesday, 1:19pm, Still Route 195 heading south.

 

"You can see forever, Jim, are you telling me there's no end to this construction?"

"For the third time, no.  There's not.  And I can't see forever."  Jim scrubbed at his forehead with one hand.  He was starting to get a headache. 

They'd been stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for forty-five minutes and apparently would be for the foreseeable future.  Other than the restroom when they'd stopped for lunch, he hadn't been able to get away from Blair long enough to think about recent events, or just what the hell he was supposed to do about them.  And to top it all off, Blair was making a colossal mess of the truck.  He had his map spread out all the way, and had strewn colored markers and other assorted office supplies all over the place.  If MacGyver had been a geek, he would have carried that backpack.

"Well, it doesn't really matter where we go, why don't you just turn off and take another road?" suggested Blair.  He consulted his travel guide and then peered at the map, scanning until he found whatever it was that warranted a red circle with blue dots around it. 

Jim chewed his lip thoughtfully for a long moment.  "My god, Sandburg," he deadpanned, "Why didn't I think of that?  There are so many to choose from.  See, I think that's been my problem all along.  I was just overwhelmed with options...."

Blair looked up at him and straightened his glasses.  "You don't need to get testy with me, how was I supposed to know?"

"Maybe because you're sitting right the hell in front of twelve square feet of road map."

"I'm marking out where we've been, I wasn't looking for where we should go."  Blair picked up his cup and took a sip of tea, then jammed it back in the groove of the seat.  Jim winced as a little bit splashed out and dribbled down the side of the upholstery.

"Yeah, great," grumbled Jim, "because that's the best use of maps."  He watched out of the corner of his eye as Blair flipped him off and then picked up a stapler to attach the bird postcard somewhere up near the top of the map.  Sections of notebook paper with Blair's handwriting scrawled tiny and neat where stapled all over it, too, interspersed with bright markings outlining their route, bold arrows and comments by the places they'd stopped.  If Jim unfocused his eyes a little it looked like cave art.

Traffic started to move forward again and Jim inched along, car length by car length.  Blair fiddled with the tea bag in his cup and took another sip, holding it gingerly and attempting to time it with the lurching of the truck.  More tea splashed out, and Jim heard a marker hit the floor and roll under the seat.  He thought he could smell the worms in the back of the truck.

"Look," Blair said, pointing at the map, "If you cut off anywhere along here and head south-southwest, there's plenty of places we can camp for the night.  Looks like there's a ton of rivers and even a couple state parks.  We can drive until we get tired and then set up the tent and do some fishing."

"That would be a terrific idea if we ever came across any other damn road but this one."

"Well, look at it this way, Jim, the longer we go without seeing a road, the more likely there is to be one right ahead.  You just...you need to put yourself in a Zen space and deal with the traffic until we can break away."  He picked up his tea.

"Fuck zen," Jim offered. "I have a headache, my sinuses are raw from breathing exhaust fumes, and it looks like a kindergarten blew up in here."   He stomped on the brake as the car ahead of him came to an abrupt halt.  Blair coughed into the cup and spluttered tea in a fine mist over the rim. "And stop spilling herbal tea in the damned truck, Sandburg!"

Blair jerked from the force of his outburst and turned to look at him slowly.  "Ok, man, take it easy, it was just a couple drops.  Road rage does not become you." 

Jim was about to make a rude observation when Blair sat up straight and leaned toward the side window.  "There!" he pointed, "There's a road, right up there.  I told you so.  A lot of other people are cutting off onto it too, but at least the traffic is actually moving there."

Easing over onto the shoulder a bit, Jim was able to see it too, and the only thing between them and relative freedom was a dusty, unused field.  Five seconds of consideration and a close-up scan for obstacles was all it took for him to make up his mind.  He cranked the wheel hard and the truck dove down into the shallow ditch, bouncing and lurching obscenely before it popped up the other side, sending markers, paper, and office supplies flying all over the truck.

Blair clutched the dashboard and turned with wide eyes, looking from Jim to the tea splashed all over the windshield, and back to Jim.  He held up his empty cup.  "This was not my fault, man..."

Jim smirked and cranked the radio up, barreling in a diagonal across the field.

 

*****

Wednesday Morning, 8:29am, Sacajawea State Park.

 

"I'm up!"   Blair sat bolt upright in his sleeping bag.  "I'm up, I'm awake.  I'm awake, man..."  He blinked the fog from his eyes and glanced around for Jim.  "Fishing....I'm up..."

A low chuckle from outside the tent caught his attention and he crawled over to the door, poking his head out the flap.  Jim was sitting at the picnic table with his tackle box and a pair of needle nosed pliers, repairing a leader line.  The sky was gray like the day before and a cool breeze whipped around.

"Jim?"  Blair pushed the hair out of his face.  "What time is it?  Why didn't you wake me, man?"

"You were sleeping pretty soundly, I figured you must need it.  You know, after killing all those brain cells." 

"Nice.  That's very funny, Jim."   Blair climbed out of the tent, rubbing his arms against the chill.  He reached into the back of the truck and pulled a flannel jacket out of his bag.  "I still think you need to take some of the blame for that.  You were totally egging me on."

"Did I hold a gun to your head?"

"No, but..."  Blair shrugged and went around the other side of the truck to take a pee.  "You knew what you were doing."

"Sandburg, I never have a clue what I'm doing with you."  Jim finished with the line and put it back in the tackle box.  "You want some something to eat?  There's coffee and beef jerky."

Blair made a face, and sat down at the table.  "Breakfast of champions."

"There's bread too," Jim said, peering into the cooler, "and a little bit of cheese.  I might be able to do kind of a grilled cheese sandwich thing."

"That's ok," said Blair.  He watched Jim as he moved around, thinking that he seemed...pale somehow, or listless.  "You don't need to cook for me, I can just eat it as-is.  I'll have some coffee though."

Jim poured him a cup and brought him the bread and cheese.  When he set them down, he caught Blair watching.  "What?"

"You feeling all right?" Blair asked.

Jim shrugged.  "Yeah, I guess so.  Just didn't get a lot of sleep last night, that's all, what with getting in so late.  I could hear thunder coming, I think we're gonna get rained on pretty good before the day is out."

Blair looked up at the dull, ash gray sky.  "You think?"

"Smells like it," Jim said with subtle smirk.

Blair threw a piece of bread at him and finished his coffee.

By noon, Jim's prediction had come true.

 

*****

Wednesday Night, 9:03pm, Pines Motel.

 

"...and after that everyone just always called him Nubby."  

"My god," laughed Blair. "That's one of the nastiest things I've ever heard.  Did any of you get in trouble?"

Jim shrugged.  "Who was gonna tell?"

The rain was still pouring down and it was dark.  Only the lights by the motel room doors gave them anything to see by as they strolled along the covered sidewalk on their way back from dinner.  Jim hunched up his shoulders against the damp mist that the breeze was blowing in at him.  Despite the nasty weather, he and Blair had been getting along pretty well most of the day, falling back into their usual easy pattern of philosophical banter, inane conversation, and insults.  He was relieved.  Mostly.

The weather had made sightseeing nearly impossible, but the driving wasn't too bad, so they'd continued south into Oregon, angling back towards the west until they felt like stopping at a motel near Stanfield.  As luck would have it, the motel had a restaurant on site, so Jim treated Blair to dinner, and they didn't get wet.  Much.  Jim spent a lot of the meal trying not to think of Blair as a date.  He spent the rest of it doing exactly that.  He was in it deep now...

When they got to their room, Blair pulled the key from his pocket and unlocked it, pushing through the door and shucking off his jacket.  "I'm getting a can of pop," he said, heading for the ice chest.  "You want anything?"

"Not yet, thanks.  I'm gonna take a fast shower." Jim told him.

Blair raised his eyebrows as he snapped the pull tab.  "It's not dust mites again, is it?  This room seems a lot cleaner to me, but I guess you're the expert."

"No, no." Jim shook his head and hung up his jacket.  "I just can't seem to get rid of the chill from being damp.  I thought maybe a good hot shower would do the trick."

"You want me to turn the heat up?"

"Maybe a little.  Don't make it too warm in here either."

Blair smirked.  "It's like living with fucking Goldilocks, man.  You want me to check the beds too, see if one is too hard and one is too soft?"

"Look who's talking, Hairboy."

The hot water did do the trick, and Jim stretched leisurely, bracing his hands on the tile and letting it pour over his back, finally warm and relaxed.  He thought back to dinner.  It wasn't the first time he'd done that, thought about Blair, but it always seemed safer before.  Nothing wrong with a little harmless consideration.  Now, though...now there was an actual possibility that it could happen.  Now he knew what Blair's mouth felt like and there was no way he'd ever get that out of his head.  Maybe he should consider a cold shower.

There was also, of course, the unsettling position of being right back in the same situation.  It had been easy enough to pretend like nothing happened when they were collapsing into sleeping bags in the middle of the night.  Not for nothing had he pushed the driving so late.  But now it was all warm beds and early nights, and sober Blair.  Jim wondered what difference that would make.  Would Blair have kissed him at all if he hadn't been drunk?

Finally, he pulled on a pair of boxers and raked his fingers through his short hair.  He couldn't hide in the bathroom forever.  Maybe there would be a good movie on TV and they could focus on that.  He hung up his towel and pulled open the door.  As soon as he stepped into the room, he could sense something was different...wrong.

Blair was pacing a short path in front of the dresser.  He looked bristly, like a cat puffed up with rage.  When he heard Jim, he whipped around stared at him with hard, dark eyes.  The look on his face was anger mixed with hurt and confusion, and all of Jim's chill returned on the blink of an eye.

"Blair...?" he asked warily.  "What's the matter?"

"Why don't you tell me," Blair snapped.

"What are you talkin' about?"  Jim started toward him, but Blair's eyes narrowed and stopped him dead in his tracks.

"You...asshole," seethed Blair.  "You...What, were you just not gonna tell me?  Just pretend like it never happened?"

"What-"

"Stupid, drunk Blair, right?  You...you," he was so mad he was grasping for words.  His voice nearly shook, and it was so low it made Jim's skin crawl.  "Was this just gonna be your private little fucking joke?!"

"Blair, I don't-"

"Yes, you do," he barked, stabbing a finger in the air.  "You know exactly what I'm talking about.  You knew I didn't remember, and you didn't fucking tell me.  You prick.  I sat down on the bed to read and I...it all came back to me, everything that happened the other night.  Every fucking thing you left out."

Jim felt faint.  "Look, I can expla-"

"Why the fuck didn't you tell me?!"   It must have been a rhetorical question, because before Jim could so much as inhale, Blair was out the door.  He slammed it so hard, the window shook and Jim's ears hurt. 

Jim stood frozen there another moment while the electricity in the air settled.  Outside, he heard the slamming of the truck door and he felt a twinge of panic.  His gaze darted to where he'd put his keys on the desk while undressing.  They were still there.  He let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.  Then he bounded across the room and lifted the edge of the curtain with his fingers so he could peer out, looking through the rain to see inside the cab.

Blair's knees were the only visible part of him.  After a moment, Jim saw Blair's arm come up and flop back down, and he could visualize him sprawled across the seat on his back with his feet propped up and that arm draped over his eyes.  He felt hollow and shitty.  And so so stupid.

***

"Blair?"  Jim's voice sounded plaintive through the glass, what with the din of the rainstorm pounding down on the roof of the truck.  Good.  Let him be fucking plaintive.  Let him stand out there all night like a fucking soaked rat.

There was the sharp tink-tink-tink of a key rapping on the glass.  "Blair, come on..."

Blair lifted his arm slightly and peered over his knees.  He could make out Jim standing just outside the driver's window, naked shoulders hunched over against the rain.  Jim was peering back at him.  "Look...could we just talk about this?"  Thunder rolled in from a distance, making Jim's words muffled.

Blair ignored him and put his arm back down.  God, how could he have been so stupid.  He'd managed for so long to just...not think about Jim.  That way.  Much.  Well, not in any realm of reality anyway.  Cardinal rule number one was you don't try to fuck around with straight men or gay women.  Neither ever worked out well...no matter what they told you at the time.  But dammit, this was Jim, and Jim had fucking lied to him.

The sound of the key in the lock roused him, and he sat up just in time to smash the button back down with the palm of his hand.  He glared at Jim through the rivers on the glass.  "Just stay the fuck out, man."

Jim made a pained face and then held his hands up in agreement.  He showed Blair the keys and then reached over and set them on the hood of the truck in plain view, like he was dropping a weapon.  He came back to look inside, speaking, but a gust of wind spattered rain hard against the rear window drowning out all the words but "sorry", "dumb" and "didn't".

Blair growled in frustration and yanked the lock button back up.  The pissy part of him hated giving in, but the hurt part of him wanted some answers.  When Jim opened the door, Blair scooted over to the passenger side and held up a hand, pointing.  "You stay out there.  This is just so I can hear what you have to say.  Which better be fucking good, Ellison, because I swear to god..."

"Yeah, but..."  Jim was clearly distressed.  He gestured to the wet seat, "the rain's getting all inside the-"

Blair narrowed his eyes at him.

"Which, hey," Jim held his hands up and tried to backtrack.  "We needed to wash the tea out anyway."  Water ran off his elbows and streamed down his face and chest.  He only had on his boxers and those were soaked through.

"You lied to me."

"Not actually, no," Jim said, cocking his head.  "Everything I told you was true."

"God dammit, Jim, a lie of omission is still a lie."

"Yeah.  I know.  But what I said about you not doing anything to worry about...that was true."

"And you were just, what? Letting me off the hook?"  Blair raised his eyebrows.

"No, I just....You didn't remember, and I just thought..."  Jim cast around helplessly, and looked genuinely at a loss.  Blair took a certain smug satisfaction in that.  At least they were both suffering at the moment.  Good.

"Thought what?  Spare poor stupid Blair the embarrassment?"

"No!  Jesus, Blair..." groused Jim.  "I just thought, if you didn't remember, then maybe things could just stay the way they were."

"Except you knew," Blair pointed out.

"Yeah."  Jim shook his head.  "I don't know what to say, Blair.  I just..."

"I don't get it, Jim.  You were totally into it, I know you were.  We both were.  And it's just, you know, the whole idea of it, man...I mean...a lot of stuff makes sense now.  Why....back away from it, then?"

So maybe it wasn't just that Jim had lied to him.  Maybe it was that he finally had a chance with Jim, and at the first available opportunity, Jim had washed his hands of the whole situation.  Maybe it was just that he'd been lying to himself about just how much he wasn't thinking about Jim that way.  Fuck.  Blair chewed his lip and stared at the seat.

Jim stepped forward so he could poke his head in the door.  "Look..."  He paused and took a deep breath.  "I had this girlfriend in high school.  And it was really cool...until I fucked it up, and she's not around anymore.  And you know, I was married to Carolyn, and I fucked that up...and she left me.  And how many of the women I've dated since you've known me do you see hanging around?  None.  I fuck it up and they're out of my life.  And it's just...."  He fell silent.

Blair looked up at him, waiting.

"If I let this happen and I fuck it up...then you're gone too.  I don't...I can't let that happen."  Jim cleared his throat.  "I guess I thought it was easier to try to keep things as they are.  I fuck up now, and you just throw shit at me."

Blair smiled faintly at that.  He took a long deep breath.  And another.  Just...damn.  Because this wasn't just the straight guy freaking out about a little lip action.  This was...he could work with this....  Blair licked his lips.  "So, we...I think...I think we have a bigger issue here than just making out and oh, whatever should we do about it."

Jim nodded.  "Yeah.  I'm...sorry...I didn't mean to."  He didn't say anything else, just straightened up out of the door and turned to head back inside, bare feet splashing through the puddles.

"Hey, Jim..." Blair said softly, watching his back.  "I said we...think about that a minute."

When Jim stopped and stood there in the rain, Blair took one more deep breath.  Then he climbed out of the truck and shut the door.  His t-shirt was drenched almost instantly, and his hair stuck to the sides of his face.  He raked it away with his fingers.  "Do you get what I'm sayin', man?"

Jim turned around and walked back slowly.  Blair swallowed hard and tried to judge the odd expression on his face.  Jim opened his mouth, but paused, considering maybe.  Then he tried again, "What you're saying...is that for all your touchy-feely, free-spirited bullshit...." he cocked his head, "...you're just as big a guy about this as I am.  You can't say it."

"Say what?" Blair wiped the water off his nose.  "What is it you think I'm trying to say?"

Jim straightened up.  "That we're...well, probably not just friends anymore..."

Blair scoffed, "And what does that mean, exactly?"

"Well...you know..."

"You know?!"  Blair arched an eyebrow.

"Hey," said Jim, giving a kind of shrug, "I'm not claiming to be especially evolved here, either."

Blair started to say something else, but then Jim's hands were cupping his face and he was saying, "It's pretty obvious we want the same thing...do we really have to name it right now?"

Before Blair could answer that question, Jim's mouth was on his, which was fine really, because that was pretty much what Blair would have said anyway.  And they were kissing...hot, wet, wet, kisses with the rain pouring down on them.  Blair ran his hands up Jim's back, slick with water and chilled on the surface, but radiating so much heat.

Jim shoved him up against the truck, and he moaned with surprise and desire, and held his arms up while Jim dragged his shirt off.  Then Jim was on him, pressed solidly against him, slippery wet bodies grinding against the side of the cold truck.  Jim was hard, so fucking hard, and hot against Blair's hip as he shoved against him insistently.  His need was so painfully evident, and it was pretty obvious that he didn't quite know what to do about it.  Blair pushed up onto his toes and tore at the buttons of his jeans forcing them down in front to free his cock.  Thunder rumbled in the sky.

He tugged Jim's boxers down, just enough, and pulled Jim's body against his.  Then Jim had the idea and he was thrusting, hunched so that they fit together tightly.  So fucking tightly, just like their lips as they kissed.  They were both panting helplessly, and Blair broke the kiss to suck rainwater off Jim's neck and moan, "Harder.  Shit, Jim, harder..."

Jim wrapped one arm around his shoulders and the other around his hips and he did it harder, and fuck, it felt so fucking good.  Blair moaned and thrust in time with him, shuddering as cool rain pelted down on them, trickling between their bodies and warmed instantly by hot skin.  And it wasn't long before Jim's tempo was faltering and Blair could hear him groaning low in his throat, panting through gritted teeth, and Jim came hard and hot against Blair's hip.

Then Jim relaxed and slowed a bit, and Blair grabbed his arm, following it down.  He pulled Jim's hand to his cock, breathing heavy and shaking the water off his face.  Jim hesitated and gave him an uncertain look.  Blair said, "It's ok, just...do me like you'd do yourself."

Wet, warm fingers curled firmly around his cock, and Blair moaned out loud, dropping his forehead against Jim's shoulder.  He rocked his hips urgently, helping Jim set the pace.  Jim's other hand slipped into his hair and pulled him back for another kiss, tongues sliding together with unpracticed clumsiness.  And then Blair was crying out and bucking, because shit, it was Jim's hand and Jim's mouth and Jim's touch and just knowing that pushed him over the edge.

And finally, finally they stood panting, trying to catch their breath, looking at each other warily.  Blair leaned back against the truck, letting the rain wash him off, and Jim pulled his shorts up.  The thunder boomed closer now, and Jim said, "Maybe we should get inside..."

 

*****

Thursday, 10:14am, Columbia River.

 

"One thing, man..." 

"Just one?" Jim fiddled with his reel.

Blair rolled his eyes.  He stood knee deep, bent over at the waist while his arms hung down into the water, hands spread and absolutely motionless.   "For now, yes.  One minute you were willing to pretend like nothing ever happened because you were afraid of fucking up...and the next you were all over me.  What happened?"

"I don't know...I guess once the cat was out of the bag, it seemed like walking away would have been the fuck up."  Jim shrugged.  He pulled in his line and cast again.

"Once the cat was out of the bag?  Oh, man...you are one of the old time romantics, aren't you?  That's sweet talkin', right there.  Just...wow."

"Shut the fuck up, Sandburg," Jim said. 

Things were better, now that they knew what they were dealing with.  At least...some of the tension was gone.  But they weren't perfect.  For one thing, Jim didn't know how to deal with them very well, and for another, he still questioned the sanity of this.  Blair, on the other hand, apparently wasn't all that phased by the whole thing.  He was just bouncy Blair rolling with whatever life handed you.  Brat.  All this was so fucking easy for him.

Blair chuckled softly.  "Just tell me, Jim...have you thought about it before?"

"Thought about what?"

"Oh, come on, are you gonna make me work for every little thing?"

"Yes."  Jim smirked to himself.  If he had to deal with issues, he sure as fuck was going to share them with Sandburg.  He glanced over to where Blair was standing, still frozen.  "What the hell are you doing?"

"I'm trying to catch a fish."

"With your bare hands?"

"Sure.  Various tribes of Native Americans used to do this during the salmon runs, or whenever, if they didn't have spears or nets handy."

"Right," Jim said.  "Good luck with that."

"So...?"

Jim shrugged.  "So...what?"

Blair gave an exasperated little huff that made Jim smile.  "So, have you thought about it?  Us, I mean.  Like that."

"Like...you mean with the truck?  That thing last night?"

"Yeah," Blair said, "that 'thing last night', Romeo."

"Well...I thought about it Monday night when you had your tongue stuffed in my mouth."

Blair's head snapped up and he gave Jim a hard look.

"Yes," Jim said quickly.  "Yeah, I've thought about it before.  Probably a lot more than I should have."  He focused entirely on his fishing rod, but he could practically hear Blair smirking.

"Yeah?"

"I just said it, didn't I?"

Blair chuckled.  "You ar-"

"If you tell me I'm repressed, I'm gonna hold your head underwater 'til you catch a fish with your teeth."

"Ok, I'm sorry," Blair said, all contrite good humor.  "I'll be serious.  Which, you know...there really is some stuff we need to talk about."

Jim took a deep breath.  But before he could say anything, Blair was splashing and whooping with excitement.  He straightened up and triumphantly held out a wriggling greenish fish no longer than his own hands.  "Look!  Look at that! I caught one, Jim!  I told you, man!"

"Saved by the bass..."

"Take my picture," Blair said, beaming at him.

Jim arched an eyebrow.  "Chief, that thing won't even register on film."

"Come on, quick," said Blair, "this guy is really slippery."

Jim sighed and trudged for shore.

 

*****

Thursday Afternoon, 3:36pm, Sam Hill's Stonehenge.

 

"So this is what Stonehenge looks like?" Jim asked, peering up at the ring of symmetrical blocks they were standing in.

"Ah, well," Blair pushed his sunglasses back up his nose.  He twisted around to see it all and then turned back to Jim. "I guess it does if Pre-Druid cultures had hired contractors to do the job."

They were standing in a full scale replica of the ancient monument which was created entirely of identical, precision cut cement slabs, given a roughed up surface for verisimilitude.  The guide book had said that it was started around 1918 and finished in the early Thirties.  Finished being the operative word. 

Blair wandered deeper into the rings of concrete. "See, the real Stonehenge was never this complete, and it's eroded a lot over the centuries.  In a way this is kind of cool because it gives you a feeling of what it might have been like five thousand years ago.  Only, you know, not as neat and tidy.  Plus, you can't get anywhere near this close to the real thing."

"It's weird."

Blair chuckled as he climbed up onto the ceremonial altar stone.  "The perfect blocks are kind of an ironic commentary on the original, whether they intended it or not."  

"How's that?" Jim asked, wandering to him with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his shorts.

"Well, one of the really amazing aspects of Stonehenge is the time and effort that must have gone into shaping those stones the way they did.  Whereas the irregular, imperfect stones of the ancients are a mind-blowing feat of craftsmanship, these absolutely perfect blocks, indistinguishable from each other, are a representation of typical modern day mass production."  Blair glanced around them thoughtfully.  "Which makes the original a truly mystical place, while this one is just...lifeless."

Jim nodded, listening to him with interest.  "It's still weird."

"Yes it is," grinned Blair.  He stretched out on his back on the altar.  The stone was hot and the late sun shone down on him.  He moaned and reveled in the warmth from both sides, feeling cat-like and relaxed.  "I think I must have been a lizard in a past life, man."

"You remind me of a lizard," Jim told him.

Blair turned his head toward Jim and found him looking back with a hungry gaze.  Now that he knew it for what it was, he realized this was far from the first time he'd caught Jim looking at him like that.  The thought made his cock stir.  He swept a hand up his stomach, bunching his t-shirt to expose his skin to the warm sun.  Jim smiled.

"You like what you see, big guy?"  Blair brushed his other hand down over the front of his khaki shorts.  The sun and the fresh air and the way Jim was staring at him made him harder than hell.  He popped open the top button and moved his fingers down to the next.

"What do you think?" Jim murmured.

"Tell me," Blair moaned softly.  He peeled open the front of his shorts and pushed his underwear out of the way, tracing his fingers lightly along the length of his erection.

"Blair..." There was a hint of apprehension in Jim's voice, and he glanced around, moving so he could see through the stones to where the road was.

"No one's coming?"

"No," Jim said, seeming satisfied, "No one's coming."  He licked his lips and turned back to watch Blair, wary but interested.

"So?" Blair urged, wrapping his hand loosely around his cock and caressing it with lazy strokes.

"Yeah," said Jim.  His voice sounded low and thick.  "Yes, I like what I see.  You, um...you're...God, you're somethin' else, Sandburg."

Blair couldn't help but grin at that.  He liked the almost...helpless tone of Jim's voice.  Like he just couldn't stop himself, even though he was trying.  Which, Blair supposed, was exactly what must have been going on for a while.  A wave of lust rolled through him and he rocked his hips, giving his cock a harder squeeze. 

He looked over at Jim again.  "Come here, man..."

Jim shook his head.  "No...no, keep going.  This is good.  I want to watch you."

"Oh my god," Blair moaned, arching up into his hand.  He started stroking himself in earnest, letting his knees fall open and trying to keep looking at Jim.  It was hard, though, because it felt so fucking good, out there in the warm sun, knowing that Jim could see him like nobody else could.  He wanted to close his eyes.  He wanted to throw his head back and just give in to the amazing sensations.

"Quit fighting it, Blair," Jim said, moving closer.  He was breathing hard.  "This is...fuck this is hot.  You smell good, and I can...I can hear your hand rubbing against your skin, and your heart beating so fast.  I've wondered what you look like when you...do this."  

Blair moaned and sped up, fisting himself hard and hanging on Jim's voice. 

"And, ah...I hope you won't get pissed, but...I've...listened in a couple of times."

"Oh fuck," Blair cried out, thrusting his hips and spurting all over his stomach.  "No...No," he panted, stroking his cock all the way to the finish.  "I'm not mad....It's...pretty hot...."

"So's this," Jim groaned in a rough voice.  "Son of a bitch...get over here."

Blair sat up and scrambled over to the edge of the stone where Jim was standing.  As soon as he got there, Jim's hands were tangled in his hair, pulling him into a fierce, dirty kiss.  Blair shoved his hand down the front of Jim's shorts, but no sooner had he wrapped his fingers around Jim's hard-on, than Jim was moaning against his mouth and coming hard.

"Oh god," Blair gasped, steadying Jim as he rested his forehead on Blair's shoulder.  "Are you usually this much of a hair-trigger?"

Jim snorted.  "Thanks...that's very tactful.  Jesus, you're an asshole."

"Well, no, it's just," Blair laughed, "we're not exactly teenagers, here, you know what I mean?"

"Yes, jackass, I get what you're hinting at.  It just so happens that I still had my senses tuned way up from watching you and playing guard dog.  You just...you caught me by surprise, that's all."

Blair snickered.  "Oh, ok, next time I'll give you a little warning.  'Dial down, man, I'm about to grab your dick'..."

 

*****

Friday Evening, 6:41pm, Ike's Corner Laundro-Mat.

 

"I'm serious, Jim," Blair said with a sigh of exasperation.  He was sitting on top of a washing machine while Jim loaded their whites into the one next to it.  "I'm still a little freaked out by the whole you not telling me thing.  Why were you planning to pretend like nothing ever happened?"

Jim sighed and added soap.  He really wasn't ready to discuss this. He reached over and set the knobs to hot water, regular wash.  So far, in his mind, none of it counted because they were on vacation.  It was a fantasy world that had nothing to do with the reality waiting for them back home.

"Because...it was a little overwhelming, Blair.  Put some quarters in that."  He pointed to the coin box, and then moved over to the next machine to starting piling in dark things.  "I mean, you had no idea what had happened, and how was I going to explain that?  By the way pal, I know you feel like shit right now, but last night, while you were drunk, I took advantage of you?  I wasn't even sure you'd believe me."

Blair rolled his eyes at him and hopped down, digging in his pocket.  "You didn't take advantage of me, Jim. I might have been drunk, but I wasn't completely out of my mind-"

"You didn't see yourself on that bed."  Jim gave him a sideways glance.

"Could we stay focu-"

"I took pictures though."

Blair grinned sardonically and shook his head.  Jim smirked and Blair gave him a good-natured shove.  "Shut the fuck up, man.  You didn't take advantage of me, all right?  Could we put that to rest?  Whatever happened, I'm clearly ok with it since I've been begging for more ever since."

"Yeah, all right." Jim agreed.  He could live with that, the kid had a point after all.  He started the second washer and turned around to lean back against it, crossing his arms over his chest.  "Still, though....I'm not sure....I mean, I don't know if this is really a good idea, this thing between us."

Blair cocked his head and leered at him.  "You sure, man?  'Cause you certainly seemed to think it was a good idea last night..."

"That's not what I mean and you know it."

"No, I know it's not," said Blair, sobering up.  "You're worried that 'this thing' could blow up on us and wreck our friendship."

"Yeah, exactly, and there's-" he lowered his voice as a woman came in with empty baskets and went up to a dryer at the far end of the room, "there's a lot of reasons why it shouldn't work out."

"Like what?" Blair asked.

Jim took a deep breath.  "Like, I'm too old for you."

Blair dismissed that with a wave of his hand.  "There's really not that big an age difference between us.  Besides, I have a very old soul."

"Christ, Sandburg, I've tried to pick up dates with that line."

Blair gave him that wide-eyed, incorrigible grin of his, and Jim wanted to point at him and say, that's why I'm too old for you.  You're a perpetual college student who bounces to the radio, and I've killed guys with my bare hands just because I was ordered to.  Instead he said, "I've never had a...a thing like this with a guy before.  I don't even know what I'm doing."

"It's just the same as dating women, except you don't have to negotiate for sports as much, and the sex works a little differently.  Less perfume."

Jim looked at him dubiously, and Blair shrugged and said, "You know, I've gotta say, man, with what you've been tellin' me...I thought you'd be a little happier about this."

"There's another thing," Jim said, not looking at Blair.  "You remember the other night when you were asking about my dating, and you wanted to know when was the last time I dated anyone I really cared about?"

"Yeah."

"Well...a really long time.  And I'm tired of messing around.  I'm not just looking for some steamy little fling."  He paused and gave Blair a hard look.  "Maybe that's why I'm too old for you."

Blair bounced on his toes once, nodding.  "You're really serious."

"Yeah," said Jim, furrowing his brow.  He was a little nonplussed by Blair's reaction, and the expression on his face didn't tell him anything.  "Yeah, I'm serious, Blair.  What the hell do you think I've been talking about all this time?  I'm very serious."

Blair stepped closer to him and put a hand on his arm.  "You've said that you've been thinking about us for a long time, right?  And you once pointed out that I've totally wrapped my life around yours, almost from the moment we met...."

Jim looked down into Blair's big eyes and swallowed hard.

"It's already happened, Jim.  That 'thing' that you're so worried about...we're in it, man, so we might as well enjoy it."

The frightening part about it was that Blair was absolutely right.  And it didn't even matter if Blair was in it or not, because he was in it.  He'd been in it for a while now and he was fucked with a capital F.  And maybe four days ago it was enough to keep that fantasy tucked away and just peek at it now and again.  Maybe it was ok to enjoy going out to dinner a little more than he should have, or working the protector role more than was strictly needed.  Not now, though. 

"It's not a game, Blair."

"I know that."

"I've already been divorced once.  I'm not going through that again."

Blair's eyebrows shot up and he poked his toe at a wad of paper on the floor.  Then he looked up.  "If you're asking if I'm serious...I am.  I'm totally serious.  This isn't an impossible concept for me, contrary to popular belief.  If you're asking for guarantees, though," he cocked his head,  "I mean, there really isn't such a thing, is there?"

Right.  Well.  Couldn't really argue with that.  No guarantees, that was the truth.  That wasn't what he wanted to hear though.  Jim pushed himself away from the washer and strode toward the door.

"Jim?" Blair scowled and threw up his hands.  "Where the hell are you going?"

Jim paused, but didn't turn around.  "I don't know.  A walk...get a drink maybe.  I need to think."  Then he left.

He kept right on going until he reached the end of the block.  Only then did he turn around and look back.  When he focused in through the windows of the laundromat, he could see Blair flinging their clothes into the dryer with far more force than was necessary.

 

*****

Friday Night, 11:03pm, The Anchor Bar.

 

Blair stood just inside the door of another seedy, dive bar.  The fifth one he'd been in so far.  Thankfully, they were lined up like dominos so he didn't have to walk very far between each one.  When he'd adjusted to the smoke and the noise, he started looking around the room, studying the faces.  He finally picked out Jim sitting way down at the end of the bar, on the corner, hunched over a glass of amber liquor.

"About damn time," he muttered to himself.  He had his hair pulled back, but that still didn't make him feel as if he fit in with the working class crowd of dirty men and female barflys.  He started to thread his way through the small crowd of people.  If Jim was aware of his presence, he wasn't showing it.

When Blair finally made it down to the other end, he was both relieved and pissed off.  Deep breath, focus on the positive.  He stuffed his hands in his pockets and said, "Do you realize that I've been looking for you for two hours, asshole?"  Well, ok, blow off a little steam first.

Jim lifted his eyes, but didn't budge more than that.   "Well, you probably could have saved a lot of time if you'd looked here first."

Blair's eyebrows shot up and he stared at Jim with irritation.  "Oh that's really nice, man.  Very sympathetic.  Yes, I did finish the laundry, by the way.  You're welcome."

Jim's brow furrowed as he thought this over.  "Well, see?  You had stuff to do anyway."  He shrugged and patted the bar.  "Sit down, I'll buy you a drink."

"I don't want a drink, I just want to get you and go.  We still need to talk."

"Go where?"  He flagged down the bartender and held up his glass.  "Bring me another round, Dale, and one for my friend, here."

"I walked down to the Super 8 and got us a room.  Did you hear me?  I don't want a drink."

The bartender set a second glass next to Jim's and filled them both.  Jim threw a ten dollar bill on the bar.  "This is Dale.  He's the bartender.  He gives really good advice."

"Really."  Blair sucked his teeth for a moment.  "And what kind of advice did he have for your particular situation?"

Jim opened his mouth to answer, but he froze and his eyes went blank.  "I don't remember." 

He raised his hand to call the man over again, but Blair caught it and pulled it back down.  "Dale is busy right now, Jim.  Are you drunk?"

"Define drunk."

"I'll take that as a yes."  Blair gazed up at the ceiling for a moment.  He supposed turn about was fair play and all, but this didn't bode well, and he suspected there would be more to deal with than a lot of giggling and a drunken kiss.  He should only be so lucky.

Jim twisted his arm around so that he was grasping Blair instead and yanked him down onto a stool.  "Here," he said, pushing a glass towards Blair, "Drink up."

Blair eyed the drink.  "What is it?"

"Scotch."

"Oh.  Great."  Blair could already feel the heartburn he was going to get from this.  "Maybe I'll just ask Dale for some ice..."

"No, come on.  Here..." Jim set Blair's hand on top of the glass and then held up his own.  "Here's to us, Chief."

Blair sighed and nodded, picking up his drink and returning the toast.  "To us, Jim."  He took a sip and wheezed helplessly as it burned its way down his throat.  His eyes watered.

"Atta' boy," Jim said, whacking him on the back forcefully.  It was like a bad parody.

"Ok, can we go now?"

"What are you talkin' about, Chief, the night is young."  Jim took another drink of his scotch.  Blair marveled that he could do it without so much as an eye twitch.

"You know why a brontosaurus is so stubborn, Jim?"

Jim blinked quizzically at him.

"Because it's got a little tiny brain the size of a walnut,"  Blair told him.  He held up two fingers to illustrate.

"Are you saying I have a little tiny brain, Sandburg?"

Blair smirked.  "No, I'm saying you're being stubborn, now let's go."

"I really don't think I like your tone.  I'm staying right here."  Jim turned his attention back to his glass.

"Look, Jim, it's late and I'm tired, and I really want to talk, but I don't think this is the best place for that.  Could we please go?"

Jim's face turned dark.  "What's there to talk about.  You made yourself pretty clear."

"Are you still expecting me to be able to give you guarantees?"

The only answer he got out of Jim was a sniff. 

Blair groaned and sat back down, leaning close.  "Jim, all I said was that guarantees aren't realistic.  They're not possible.  That doesn't mean I'm not taking this seriously."  He put a hand on Jim's arm, which Jim stared down at dubiously.  It might have been cute if they were talking about anything else.  "Am I willing to give up dating? Yes.  Am I prepared for the long haul, yeah.  I have been for a long time, this is just a new spin on it.  Can I guarantee that everything will always be swell?  No.  Just like you can't do that for me."

Jim scowled and opened his mouth, but Blair cut him off.  "And don't try to tell me that you can, because that's bullshit.  You don't know for sure where your head will be a year from now, or five years from now, or whatever.  You don't know any more than I do.  That's life, Jim."

"You know, just for the record, this is not how I pictured my life turning out."  Jim winced then and added, "That...sounds harsher than I meant it..."

Blair softened his gaze a little and said, "I know, man.  I can imagine that this is pretty strange for you, especially on top of all the sentinel stuff.  I do get that, you know."

"You were right about me," Jim said, tipping back the last of his scotch.  "I am just a great big brontosaurus.  I don't adapt well to change."

"Yeah, well, you're my brontosaurus," Blair said.  "I'm getting pretty used to it by now.  Are you ready to go?"

"Yeah."  Jim pushed himself up off his stool and leaned on the bar a moment.

Blair stayed close to try and catch him if he went down.  Though he'd probably get squashed in the process.  "You need help?"

Jim shook his head.  "I'm not really all that drunk."  To prove it, he stepped around the end of the bar and strode towards the door.

Blair shook his head and followed in his wake, relieved to be getting out of there.  The place was getting packed and he had to weave through a bunch of people standing around to watch a heated game of pool.  One of them turned suddenly, and Blair sidestepped him, but ended up jostling a rather nasty looking man just lining up his shot.  Before Blair could even stammer out an apology, he found himself slammed up against the jukebox with the foul breath of the pool shooter wafting over him through the guy's greasy handlebar moustache. 

"What the fuck you think you're doin', shorty?" he hissed.  "I got twenty bucks ridin' on this game and you just blew my best shot!"

"I'm really sorry, man," stammered Blair, hoisted up on his tiptoes.  The guy's ham-like fist twisted in his shirt, making it even harder to speak.  "It was just an accident, I swear."

He looked around frantically for Jim, but he was long gone, already outside when the trouble started.  Blair could only hope that he was paying enough attention to realize no one had followed him out.

"We don't like your freaky little hippie types in here, punk."  Some of the guy's friends were starting to crowed around with bloodlust in their eyes.

"I know, I know, man.  Take it easy, I was just leaving, I mean it..."

Then the slavering crowd started to scatter and, much to Blair's immense relief, Jim appeared silently behind the guy.  He bent low, so that when he spoke, his voice sounded at shoulder level to the man, disguising his true size.  Blair loved that trick.  Bad guys were always so fucking cocky until they actually got a look at him. 

"I think," Jim said evenly, "that you should let go of the hippie freak right now."

"Oh and who the hell are you?"  The guy didn't bother to look.  "The jealous boyfriend?"

Blair's heart stopped and he sagged in the man's grasp, but Jim smirked and arched an eyebrow.  A shit-eating grin spread across his face and he grabbed the guy by the shoulder and spun him around.  "That's exactly what I am," Jim said.  Then he punched the guy square in the face and shoved him backwards onto the pool table.

Jim straightened up and glanced around the room menacingly.  "Anybody else wanna take a crack at him?"  No one said a word and Jim nodded and looked at Blair.  "Let's go."

This time he waited for Blair to leave first and then followed. 

When they got out onto the pavement and had walked a little ways, Blair said, "Not that I want to dampen your burgeoning acceptance of us as an item or anything...but that was pretty stupid, man.  You can't pull shit like that in public bars.  Especially not ones like that.  It's dangerous."

Jim nodded.  "Yeah, yeah...I know.  That's another thing that'll take a little getting used to."

"It was actually pretty hot, though...." 

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Blair smirked in the dark.  "How's your hand?"

"It hurts," Jim said.  "I'll probably need to be nursed back to health.  Waited on for a few days, that kind of thing.  I like hot coffee first thing in the morning, preferably before I'm out of bed, you know, so that I can sip it while I wake up..."

"Go fuck yourself, Ellison."

 

*****

Saturday Morning, 9:46am, Super 8 Hotel.

 

Jim lay perfectly still and sniffed the air quietly.  Coffee.  Melon.  Some kind of steamy sweet thing...oatmeal maybe.  Bagels with raisins.  He could hear Blair moving painfully slowly, trying to be as silent as possible.  Jim took a personal inventory.  He was pretty sure than when he finally moved, he would find that he had a headache, but over all he felt pretty good.

He should, he supposed.  His...what was Blair now, anyway?  Boyfriend?  Lover?  Partner?  None of those sounded right.  The hot young creature he was sharing his bed with.  Jim smirked.  That guy, whatever he was called, had snuck out and brought him breakfast in bed.  Their bed.  Well...the hotel's bed, but it was theirs for the moment.  They'd slept in it together.

That had been an interesting moment.  They'd gone back to the truck and driven over to the hotel where Blair had reserved them a room and checked in already.  When Blair let him in, Jim was faced with one big king-sized bed.  And Blair was watching him cagily.  Point taken, Sandburg.  Things are different..."this thing"...was really happening.

He peeled open one eye.  Blair had already dropped his sweatpants and was taking off his shirt as well.  He picked up a tray that held their breakfast and brought it over to the bed.  "Good morning, sunshine," he said, then smirked.  "You want me to get the aspirin?"

Jim flipped him off.  "Yes, please."  He turned so he could study Blair's naked body as he walked around the end of the bed.

"Tell the truth, man," Blair's voice drifted out of the bathroom.  "Were you drunk last night or not?  I couldn't tell half the time."  He came back and held a hand out with two tablets on it.

Jim propped himself up on one elbow and swallowed them with a sip of coffee.  It was hot and fresh, and it tasted marvelous.  He groaned happily and smiled.  "No, I wasn't ever really drunk.  Just...buzzed up enough to act like an ass."

Blair nodded and sat cross-legged on the bed, reaching for his bowl of oatmeal.  He dumped a little cup of cream over it and settled in to eat.  Jim shoved a piece of melon in his mouth and took a bagel.  They ate in friendly silence for a while.

Then Blair set down his bowl and picked up his cup of coffee, holding it gingerly.  He stared down at it for a moment and then looked up.  "Are you going to be able to handle this, Jim?"

"Handle what?"

"This.  Us.  This thing that's going on.  You're not exactly taking to it all that well..."

"I'm still...I'm learning the ropes, Chief.  Give me a little time."

"Fair enough," Blair said, nodding again.  "And all that stuff yesterday?"

Jim inspected the weave of the bedspread with great interest.  "Well...as you so aptly pointed out, we're hip deep in it whether we like it or not, right?  Doesn't matter what I think about that."

Blair scowled and Jim figured that answer wasn't up to his personal standards.  Nice thing about Sandburg, though, he could usually be counted on to clarify his concerns.  "It's just..." he put his coffee on the tray and pushed it well out of the way.  Then he crawled over to Jim, straddling his blanket-covered body, and leaning on the palms of his hands.  "I get the feeling that because I don't believe in guarantees, you think I'm not sincere about this."

"Blair," Jim rested his hands on the strong thighs framing him, "I'm just starting to realize how much I wanted this...and it's a little unsettling.  But it's not you I'm worried about, it's not having you that I'm afraid of."

Blair nodded, staring at him thoughtfully.  Finally, he got off the bed and picked up the breakfast tray, carrying it back over to the desk.   Jim wondered what was going on in Blair's mind, because this kind of silent acceptance wasn't really his style.  Then Blair returned to pull the covers slowly off the bed, and Jim started to get a clue.  He shivered lightly as the cool air of the room descended on his naked body.

When Blair crawled back onto the bed, he had a wicked gleam in his eye and something gold held gently between his teeth.  Jim peered at him and recognized it as a pat of butter that had been sitting on the plate with the bagels.  He felt breathless for a moment.  Then Blair was straddling him again, sitting down firmly on Jim's rapidly hardening cock.  The full curve of Blair's ass felt good and warm, and Jim moaned, smiling lazily.

"What you don't realize, Jim," Blair explained, taking the gold pat from his mouth, "is that you're stuck with me, whether you like it or not."

"Oh, I knew that already," Jim smirked.  "But getting laid will be a nice bonus."

"Can't argue with that."  Blair peeled open the butter and smeared the square onto the palm of his hand.  He tossed the wrapper on the floor and started warming the stuff between his fingers, spreading it around and softening it.  Jim could smell the sweet oiliness of it.  His breath grew thick as he watched Blair's capable hands.  When Blair reached down to smother his own eager erection with it, Jim got a little nervous.  He wasn't entirely sure he was ready for this.

"Ah....Blair...." Jim stammered warily.  "You know, I'm not sure I can just jump right to the fucking.  I mean, isn't that something you, ah...I don't know....work up to?"

Blair grinned.  "Anal is something you work up to, yes.  Fucking is any vigorous activity two, or more, people get up to for the purpose of having fun and getting off."

Jim screwed up his face.  "I thought fucking was fucking."

"Fucking is way too cool a word to relegate to just one act, man."  Blair shifted back so that he could rub his butter-coated hands over the length of Jim's cock.  "Fucking is an attitude....it's a way of life."

"Christ," groaned Jim, focusing on the feel of Blair's strong fingers.  "I knew getting mixed up with you was crazy."

Blair laughed and leaned over Jim on the palms of his hands, rocking his hips to slide their greasy erections together.  Blair groaned deep in his throat and his hair fell forward into his face.  Jim reached up and tucked some of it back behind Blair's ear.  Blair turned and kissed his hand, and Jim thought he could handle this pretty well.  When Blair ground down hard against his cock with a sly twist of his hips and sparks shot through Jim's body...he was sure of it.

Jim ran his hands up Blair's arms and over his shoulders to stroke his back, making Blair smile and arch like a cat.  Jim said, "I guess I thought anal was the way guys had sex..."

"Well, see," Blair said, settling further down onto his elbows and finding a rhythm to his thrusts, "there's a whole segment of gay society that believes frottage is really the true masculine expression of sexual love and affection with other men."

"Frottage?"  Jim could feel Blair's chest hair against his skin, soft and different.  He brushed the backs of his fingers against it.

"Dick to dick; cockrubbing," said Blair, "just 'Frot' if you wanna sound cutting edge.  In other words, what we're doing now.  That is, if you work with me a little here..."  Blair wiggled on top of Jim, fitting their bodies together better.

"That doesn't sound cutting edge, it sounds dorky," muttered Jim, grasping Blair's hips for leverage.  He rocked upward, and groaned, "Fuck, yeah..."

"Much better..." Blair agreed and grinned at him with lust-heavy eyes. "Hence my use of the word fucking for stuff like this."  He worked back into that lazy rhythm they had going.

"How is this the true masculine....whatever?"  In all honesty, Jim didn't care very much, he just wanted Blair to keep talking.  Keep pouring his low honey voice out of that perfect perfect mouth.

"The really serious guys will tell you that anal sex unnecessarily emasculates one of the partners by subjugating him into a feminine role, and that frottage is gay sex at its purest because it's truly genital to genital sex."  Blair dipped his head to flick his tongue over one of Jim's nipples until it hardened, then he sucked it into his mouth.

Jim moaned and matched Blair's increasing pace.  The weight of Blair's body pressing down on him was erotic and exciting.  He worked his fingers into Blair's thick hair, tugging ever so slightly, and Blair closed his eyes and resisted blissfully.  Jim said, "So you don't, um...."

"Oh, no, no, no," smirked Blair, turning to give Jim's other nipple the same treatment.  "Don't get me wrong.  I love anal.  But I'm not about to let you go Godzilla on my ass without a few pointers, you know what I mean?"

"You're gonna let...."  Jim panted, pulling Blair hard against him and kissing his neck.  "My god, Blair...I'd love that."  He paused as Blair kissed him on the mouth, doing lewd things with his tongue.  Jim copied them with his own, and then added, "Not that I don't like what we're doing now.  I mean...I love this, too.  I think I'm probably gonna love whatever you come up with..."

Blair's face was flushed with effort and arousal, and his breath was hard and fast.  "You think?" he panted.  "Please tell me you've had sex in more than one position in your life?"

"Fuck you, Sandburg, I'm not that repressed."

"I'm just checking, man," Blair snickered.  "I don't want to totally outstrip you with my wild sexual creativity."

Jim curled his lip and wrapped his arms around Blair tightly, flipping him onto his back.  Blair yelped with surprise and clutched at him with butter-slick fingers, leaving oily streaks on his sides and shoulders.  Jim grinned at him.  "Whatever I lack in imagination, I make up for in strength and power..."  To prove it, he shoved his cock hard against Blair, dragging their bodies together slow and tight. 

"Ohmygod," gasped Blair, writhing beneath him.  He bucked his hips, trying to encourage Jim to keep going.  "Do that again.  Just....oh man, please....do that a whole lot..."

Jim did it again, and again, speeding up until they were fucking at the pace Blair had set before.  Both of them were panting rapidly, and the temperature in the room felt at least ten degrees warmer.  Jim could smell sweat and butter and sex, and he bent his head to capture Blair's mouth in a kiss as he came, moaning desperately.  Blair cried out and pulled away from Jim's mouth, letting his head roll to the side as he came too, panting hard and matching Jim thrust for thrust, until they finally calmed down.  Only then did he turn back to finish the kiss, winding his arms around Jim's neck as they relaxed into a tangle on the bed.

 

*****

Saturday Evening, 8:38pm, Mount Rainier National Park.

 

"Sandburg!" Jim hollered from the water's edge.  "Get your damn nose out of that bag before I come up there and beat the hell out of you!"

"Come on, what's with all the cloak and dagger shit?  You've been acting weird since we stopped for lunch."

"You just never mind about that.  You'll know when I'm ready for you to know."  Jim cast his line again and smirked to himself.  It was so fucking easy to get Sandburg going.  Just clue him into the fact that there's something he's not allowed to know...and he goes insane.

"Well, when's that going to be, man?"  Blair huffed.  He wandered away from the truck and down to perch on a rock by the water.

Jim grinned.  "Not 'til it gets dark."

"What?" Blair gave him a look that was equally incredulous and amused.  "What the hell is that?"

Jim just stood there serenely fishing and listening to the various noises of frustration Blair was making behind him.  He was pretty sure he could tell the moment that Blair hit the wall.

"How about just one hint, Jim?  Seriously.  Please?"

"How did you survive your birthdays when you were a kid?"

"Naomi learned pretty early on to placate me with an early gift in the morning.  That usually held me."  He stretched his legs out and leaned back on the palms of his hands. Then he licked his lips and grinned, rubbing a hand across his groin.  "How about if I earn it, man..."

Jim considered that for a split second, then reined in his raging libido and said, "You just keep that in your pants for now, Junior.  You're gonna need it later."

"Really?"  Blair sat up straight, hair bouncing around his face.  "That's got something to do with the big secret?"

An hour later, Blair sat on that same rock staring out over the moonlit water.  "Come on, man..." he groused.  "Enough with the games already.  Can I turn around now?"

"Not until I come get you.  Now behave yourself."

Jim pulled a bottle of wine and two paper cups out of the sack and carried them around to the front of the truck.  He climbed inside, setting them on the seat next to him.  Then he stuck the key in the ignition and started it up.  He grinned when he saw Blair's back stiffen.

"Jim?" Blair asked.  There was a note of definite concern in his voice.  "Jim, man, where are you going?  You're not leaving me here, are you?  Because, I gotta say...that's not a very good surprise."

Jim chuckled as he backed the truck up and angled it so it faced out over the water, pulling as far forward as the slope allowed.  Then he shut the truck off, much to Blair's apparent relief.  He turned the key another notch toward him so that the radio would play, and tuned in a good station.  Pulling out his pocket knife, Jim opened the wine.  Not the easiest of tasks with the choice of tools he had available, but he managed it.

He poured two glasses and set the bottle on the floor, then he climbed back out of the truck.  "Ok, Chief," he called, "You can come up now."

"You said to stay put until you came to get me," was Blair's reply.  Jim could hear the cockiness in his voice and seriously considered leaving him there, but his own desire was getting the better of him.

"Get your ass up here!" he barked.

Blair chuckled and hopped off the rock, walking up the bank towards him.  He was leaning forward slightly and peering in a scattered fashion, not quite able to see through the dark.  Finally his eyes fixed on Jim and he smiled.  "Ok, man, what's the big deal?"

Jim shrugged.  "You know how you told me that dating men was pretty much the same as dating women?"

"Yeah. I mean, more or less."

"I figured I may as well try a few of the patented Ellison moves on you."

"You have moves?"

"Yes, I have moves, asshole," grumbled Jim.  "I'll have you know, I happen to be quite the ladies man."

"Yeah, but I am no lady."

"That's what they're sayin' around town, Chief," said Jim shaking his head.

Blair came up to him laughing and took the cup of wine Jim held out to him.  He took a sip.  "Nice, man....you're not kidding here."  Jim could have sworn Blair batted his eyelashes at him.  If he did, he decided, then he was giving him shit.

"No, I'm not kidding," Jim said.  "Get in the truck."

"Where are we going?" Blair asked, cocking his head.

"We're going parking, right here." Jim motioned towards the water and the moon and the truck.

"Whoa, really?" Blair smiled broadly and giggled.

For a moment Jim hesitated.  "Too corny?"

"No!  No, man," Blair assured him hastily.  The look on his face seemed pretty sincere.  "No, this is really cool. I mean it."  He climbed into the truck and slid across the seat to make room for Jim.

"This is a good surprise?"

"This is a very good surprise..."  Blair cocked his head and gave him a flirty little glance, face illuminated by the amber light from the radio dial.

Jim took another sip of his wine, then set the cup on the dashboard.  "Come here..." he said, reaching to slide his hand around the back of Blair's neck.  Blair moaned softly and stroked his fingers through Jim's hair as they kissed long and slow, while the Doors played in the background.  It was incredible and Jim leaned into it.  When he pulled away just for a second, to peek, Blair's eyes were closed and his breath was warm.  He followed Jim's mouth to catch it and Jim let him.

It wasn't too long before kissing turned into necking and Blair was practically in his lap.  He was solid and heavy and comfortable.  One hand was in Jim's shirt, fingers lightly stroking over his skin.  Every so often, they tensed or stilled as Blair became more preoccupied with other pleasures.  Jim paused to catch his breath, leaning his head back against the window, and Blair's mouth was on his neck, kissing and sucking at his skin, biting softly.  He thought he might melt right there on the seat.  "Fuck, Blair, you're gonna drive me wild."

"That's the idea," Blair murmured against his earlobe.  Then he traced his tongue along the edge of Jim's ear.  Jim moaned loudly and started panting.  When he was pretty sure he couldn't stand any more, he grabbed Blair and kissed him hard.  Then he pushed Blair down on the seat and stretched out over him, pressing down with his hips and sliding a hand up his shirt to brush his fingers over a hard nipple. 

"So you're mine now?" he whispered. 

"Yes," Blair moaned, arching against him.

"Just like that?"

"Just like that," Blair told him, smiling.  "You make it sound like it was a tough choice or something..."

"Wasn't it?"

"Nope.  Not a doubt in my mind."

Jim kissed along the edge of Blair's jaw line, inhaling his spicy scent.  "You really mean that, don't you?"

"Of course I do.  Everything happens for a reason, Jim.  We were supposed to end up like this."

"Now who's the romantic one?" Jim said.  He kissed Blair on the lips, savoring the soft touch. 

"Sorry, man," Blair smirked, "Should I start talking about what a huge cock you have instead?"

Jim considered that a moment.  "That's never a bad approach, really."

Blair snickered and pulled him down for a filthy kiss, filled with moaning and a lot of hip action.  Jim didn't think it was possible to get any harder than he already was.  Then Blair's hands were squirming between them, tugging at buttons and zippers, and Jim felt the cool touch of his fingers in the very best place to be touched by someone who could kiss that dirty. 

Blair moaned into his mouth and then pulled back.  "Sit up, Jim," he panted.

"Why?" Jim asked, but he was already moving.  Blair's hand was doing fantastic things to his dick, so he figured whatever the guy wanted, he should get.

"Because I'm gonna suck you off."

Yes.  He should get that.  Far be it from Jim to stand in the way of anyone who wanted to suck him off.  His temperature skyrocketed, and he found breathing to be just a little difficult.  "My god," he groaned.  "Do you know how many times I've stared at your mouth and imagined my cock in it?"

"Probably about as many as I've jerked off thinking about it."  Blair grinned and pushed him back against the seat.  "Get comfortable."

Jim smirked.  "Have you ever actually been uncomfortable while getting a blow job?"

"Well, no," Blair chuckled, "You have a point.  But it can mean the difference between a good one and a great one."

Blair's fingers were back on his cock and Jim slouched a little lower in the seat, spreading his legs as Blair slipped down onto the floor of the truck and got into position.  Jim reached over and adjusted the tilt of the steering wheel to make more room.  Licking his lips, Blair bent down, but Jim stopped him and said, "Wait, look at me first."

Blair glanced up with a curious expression, and Jim reached over and traced along his lower lip, anticipating.  The whole situation was unbearably exciting, giving him the same thrill as the first time he ever messed around with a girl.  Perhaps more,  because Blair wasn't scared or nervous or doing it because he thought he should be.  He was there because he wanted it just as much as Jim did.  Blair caught his finger and sucked it,  and Jim said, "Yeah, ok, go ahead..."

Kissing wasn't the only thing Blair Sandburg could do dirty.  When Blair went to work with his mouth and tongue, Jim thought he was going to go right out of his mind, and he had to clamp down on his senses in a hell of a hurry.  "Christ, Blair," he moaned, "if I had known you could do this, I would have gotten you drunk years ago."

Blair chuckled around his cock, and the sensations shot straight through Jim's body, cranking his pulse up another notch.  The sound of Blair sucking him was so sharp and close that he might've sworn Blair's mouth was at his ear instead.  He swept Blair's hair up out of the way and held it in his fist so that he could watch.  Blair's full lips were flushed and dark, and the muscles of his neck were working as he took Jim's cock nearly all the way into his mouth.  Then he pulled back to curl his pink tongue around it, smirking up at Jim.  Jim groaned and let his head fall back against the seat, panting breathlessly and rocking his hips.

"Fuck, Blair..." he groaned, at a loss for anything more original.  Blair reached up to press his hand against Jim's belly, dragging his fingertips along his torso.  Then he did something with his tongue and the back of his throat, and Jim was coming hard, clutching at Blair's shoulders and moaning through clenched teeth.  There were a few moments where he thought he might be hurting Blair, and a part of him that was appalled that he wasn't stopping to find out.  But it seemed that Blair was holding his own, because even then Blair was still working his tongue like an expert.  Jim finally let go with a deep sigh and went limp on the seat, hands still tangled in Sandburg's hair.  He loosened his grip and smoothed it back, stroking him as Blair looked up and smiled, completely disheveled. 

Jim tugged lightly.  "Come up here."

Blair crawled up his body, making Jim catch his breath, and then they were kissing again, and Blair's tongue was deep in his mouth, his hands everywhere.   He was the one panting now, and in the close confines of the truck, he was all Jim could smell.  It was intoxicating.

Blair pulled back grinning.  "You fogged up all the windows with your heavy breathing, you big pervert."

"I'm not the only one, Chief."  Jim ran his hands up Blair's body, caressing him firmly.  He smiled when Blair shuddered and closed his eyes.  He trailed his fingers down over the hard bulge in Blair's pants, making him moan.  "You're going to have to teach me how to give head like that."

"You can count on it," Blair panted.  "I'm far too selfish not to."

Jim laughed and started to unbutton Blair's fly.  Blair was kneeling on the seat, straddling him, and he rose up, butting his groin against Jim's chest.  He put his hands on Jim's shoulders and rocked his hips, looking down him.  "Hey Jim," he said softly. "Take your shirt off..."  He sat back to give Jim room.

Jim pulled his shirt up over his head, tossing it onto the seat.  He took Blair's off also.  Blair's body was thrilling to look at, strong and muscular, and very very male.  Jim could hardly take his eyes off it.  "What do you have in mind?"

Blair pushed his pants out of the way, and got up on his knees again, pressing his cock against Jim's bare chest.  It was hot, and felt foreign and exciting to Jim.  "Fuck," Blair groaned, "I love your smooth skin. Smooth and hot...You're so fucking perfect." 

He grabbed Jim's shoulders again and thrust against him a couple times, lightly.  Then he spit into the palm of his hand and coated his cock with it, making it slick, so that when he tried again, it slid easily and made him breathless.  Jim had never seen anything half as erotic, and he wrapped his arms around Blair's hips, pulling them tight together.  Blair gasped and said, "Oh...Yeah...that's it...."

It didn't take them very long to figure out how to move together, and soon Blair was muttering a constant string of breathless obscenities, fucking hard against Jim's chest.

"Damn, Blair..." Jim grinned.  "You're so hard you're gonna leave bruises."

"Price you pay, man." Blair panted, fingers tense and thighs flexing as he moved.

Jim pressed his face to Blair's body, kissing and mouthing soft skin.  If he lifted his head just right, he could tongue Blair's nipples and make him swear loudly.  He liked that.  Seemed like Blair did too, because the fourth or fifth time he did it, Blair cried out and nailed him to the back of the seat, coming in thick jets onto Jim's skin.  Jim looked down and watched, breathless and wide-eyed.

Then, to Jim's great shock, when he finally slowed and caught his breath, Blair sat back and leaned down to lick the traces of his come away.  He lapped it up slowly like cream, and was in a kind of post-sex haze.  Jim thought he might die.  He was crazy and Sandburg was way out of his league,  and he wondered what it would take to get another week off so they could just keep right on doing this.

Finally, finally, somewhere after a lot of petting and touching and fondling, they were both sated.  Calm, and back to kissing slow and lazy.  Jim reached for his cup of wine and took a sip, then offered it to Blair.  Between the two of them, they finished the bottle, all the while necking and talking, and in the wee hours of the morning they zipped the sleeping bags together and slept like stones.

 

***** 

Sunday Afternoon, 4:29pm, Loft.

 

Blair entered the loft, set a bag on the table, and dumped an armload of stuff on the floor.  Stretching his back and taking a deep breath, he looked around the place.  He was struck with that odd feeling like he had just been there, and at the same time like it had been years.  It was the kind of feeling that usually made it pleasant to be home, once you settled in a bit.  Jim was stashing the camping gear down in the storage unit and then he'd carry up the rest of their stuff.

They'd gotten into town mid-afternoon and stopped at the store for groceries and other supplies.  Blair had splurged on one-hour processing because he was anxious to see their vacation pictures, and Jim had snuck around being mysterious again.  That had made Blair grin and he shook his head, thinking back to it.  It astounded him how vastly their lives had changed in one week, and how utterly natural that seemed.  Everything about them was a contradiction in terms.

He took the grocery bag into the kitchen and then went back to get the other stuff out of the way of the door.  His backpack, he stashed in his room.  The bag of dirty laundry, he tossed into the bathroom with the hamper.  Then he went back and picked up his duffel bag and his pillow.  He started to head to his room automatically, but it suddenly occurred to him that he might not be sleeping there.  All things considered, he didn't want to be sleeping there anymore...but he wasn't entirely sure they had ever actually settled that question.  Jim was still running hot and cold, clearly interested in pursuing things between them, but not completely convinced it was a good idea.

Blair stood there with his bag, hovering on the point of indecision.  Should he make the bold statement and put his things upstairs...or would that freak Jim out?  He could take the safe road and put the stuff in his own room, but Jim might see that as a sign that he'd changed his mind.  In the end, he set everything in a neat pile on the floor, halfway between the stairs and the door of his room.  It was in the way of everything, and if he left it there long enough, Jim would get irritated and deal with it himself.  Then Blair could see where he chose to put it.  He smirked and went to put away the food.

Jim burst through the door with his bag slung over his shoulder, lugging the cooler.  "I thought you were gonna take care of the worms this morning, Sandburg," he grumbled.  "They spilled all over in here and the whole thing reeks."

Blair bit his lip and winced.  "Oh, um...sorry man.  I was a little preoccupied this morning, you know."  He flashed Jim a cheeky smile.  Jim just blinked evenly at him, so Blair added, "I'll wash it out as soon as I'm done here."

"Damn right you will," said Jim, "And make sure you do a good job.  I don't want my sandwiches tasting like worm the next time we go camping."

"No worm sandwiches. Yes, sir."  Blair saluted.  Jim saluted too, only in a much ruder fashion.  Blair turned away with a smirk to put the milk and cheese in the refrigerator. 

Out of the corner of his eye, he kept watch on Jim's movements, waiting to see if he did anything about the duffel bag and pillow.  Jim left the cooler by the door and took his own bag upstairs.  After a lot of shuffling around and commotion that was ostensibly unpacking, he came back down with all the clothes that had been neatly folded in the bag and dumped them in the hamper.  Blair shook his head.  He was on the verge of pointing out that washing clean clothes just because you've returned home and unpacked them was a waste of water and electricity, but he figured Jim would say they smelled like worms too.  He sniffed his own shirt.

Jim came back out and kicked Blair's bag with his toe.  "Are you gonna pick up your shit or what, Sandburg?"

Blair shrugged.  "Yeah, sure, you know...eventually."  He kept his head down and steadfastly ignored the stern look he was getting.

He opened the cooler and salvaged a bottle of orange juice that he didn't think would have been affected by the carnage.  Then he scooped up a foam carton and sorted through the cooler, rescuing the worms and unloading the rest of it into the garbage.  After filling the cooler with hot water and baking soda, he bagged up the garbage and took it, and the worms, outside.  The garbage he canned, and the worms he set free.

When he got back up to the loft, Jim was at the table.  He had the pictures spread out and was scanning them.  Blair peered over his shoulder.  "Hey man, you're supposed to wait for that.  Looking through vacation pictures is a ritual that's meant to be shared."

"A ritual?"

"Yeah," said Blair.

"Right."  Jim sifted through the photos and pulled out the ones of them standing in front of the Roslyn Cafe mural.  "I just needed these, Chief.  I promise I didn't look at any of the others."

"Then how did you manage to select out those two?  Blind luck?"  Blair grinned.  "They're all over, of course you saw them.  I've seen them."

"Then we shared," Jim said, shaking his head.  "Don't you have chores to do?"

"What do you need them for?" Blair asked, poking around at the bag of things from the store.  Jim slapped his hand.  Blair yelped, "Hey!"

"I made plans for these," Jim said, as if that cleared up everything.  He didn't hide it, though, when he pulled a small wooden picture frame out of the bag and flipped it over to take it apart. 

"Oh wow, man, that's...That's really cool."

Jim gave a nod of his head but didn't say anything.  He fit the good version of the picture into the frame and put it back together.  Then he walked over and rearranged a few things on the bookshelf to make a place for it.  Blair twisted around to watch, smiling.  If that wasn't a ritual, he didn't know what was.  He opted against pointing that out to Jim.

Then Jim came back and picked up the other photo and went to fish something out of his coat pocket.  From there, he went to the kitchen to stick the picture on the refrigerator door.  Blair reached over and flicked through the other photos with his finger.  When he found the second picture he took, of the two of them in the truck, he plucked it out and went to the fridge also.  Jim had stuck the comic version of the Roslyn picture up with a cut-out magnet of Sam Hill's Stonehenge.  Memories of warm sun and Jim's hot gaze snapped into Blair's mind.  He wedged his picture under the top of the magnet so it held them both.

"Well," he said to Jim, turning to face him.  "Now that we're back where we started, do you think the trip was a good idea?"

Jim mused on that for a moment.  "Yeah.  I guess the jury's still out on that a little bit, but...I'd like it to be a good idea.  Wish I knew what to expect.  I don't...I'd rather not sleep with you than not have you at all."

Blair put his hands on Jim's chest.  "This only makes it more likely that I'll always be here, not less.  Neither one of us knows what will happen in our lives, but this...this has more rewards than it has risks.  Just think of it like a much longer trip, Jim.  You survived the first one without a guarantee."   Blair smirked, "And look how it turned out...."

Their eyes met, and Jim nodded, seemingly mulling that thought over.  Jim pushed away from the counter where he was leaning and put his arms around Blair, pulling him close for a kiss.  A slow, quiet...homey kiss, that told Blair a whole lot more than Jim's words did.

When they finally parted, Jim went over to Blair's things on the floor.  He shook his head and sighed loudly for effect.  Then he picked them up...and went upstairs.  Blair did a silent mental cheer and a little dance.  After a minute, he ventured upstairs.  Jim had his bag on the chair and was pulling clothes from it.  His pillow was tossed with the others at the head of the bed. 

Blair peeled off his shirt and snapped open the button of his pants.  Then he climbed into the center of the bed, kneeling there until Jim looked up at him.  Blair grinned at him saucily and arched an eyebrow.   "So," he asked, "Are you ready for your first cock sucking lesson?"

END