“Seven seconds,” Blair said tightly.


“An animal,” Jim said. “I can feel four legs and a tail. An animal crouching, lashing its tail, over a letter – “


“Four seconds,” Blair said, his voice distinctly unsteady now.


“Hmmm. The animal’s darker than the letter,” Jim said thoughtfully. “Maybe – “


“Time’s up,” Blair said desperately, grabbing Jim’s wrist and yanking his hand out of Blair’s pants by main force. “Do you know what it is or not?”


Jim opened his eyes, meeting Blair’s gaze squarely, seeing what Blair couldn’t quite manage to hide, wondering how he’d never seen it before. He didn’t have to fake the wonder in his voice.


“It’s a panther,” he said. “Over the letter ‘J’.”


Blair went completely, absolutely still, the color draining from his face. Jim laid his hands on Blair’s shoulders, just to hold him upright if necessary. Riiiiight.


“Am I right?” Jim murmured.


Blair’s voice was the merest terrified croak.


“Jim, man, please don’t kill me, I was drunk and – “


Jim leaned closer.


“Am I right?”


Blair was trembling violently now.


“Jim, I never – I mean, I didn’t want you to – oh, shit.”


Closer. Their faces were mere centimeters apart now, Blair’s eyes so dilated they looked black, caught between fear and arousal.


“Am I right?” Jim asked again, very, very softly.


Blair’s eyes closed, and his answer was a mere breath.




Jim smiled, unseen, and closed the distance between them. Blair’s eyes shot open as Jim’s lips pressed against his and Jim’s arms enfolded him. For a moment the younger man stiffened, gasping; then a profound shudder passed through his body and he relaxed, leaning against Jim’s chest.


Jim kept the kiss soft, gentle, almost chaste, not wanting to frighten Blair with too much passion too soon, wanting Blair to know there was more than blind lust between them; he could feel in the surprised shift of Blair’s muscles, the tentative response of Blair’s lips, the very moment that his Guide got the message. Jim pulled back slightly, enough to gaze down into wide, wondering eyes.


“Can I assume from all this,” Jim said softly, “that there’s something you’re having a hard time telling me?”


Blair nodded silently.


“Since I’ve miraculously rendered you speechless,” Jim said, “probably for the first time since birth, can I play detective now, sum up the clues and tell you what I think?”


Blair nodded again.


“Since you had the picture of my spirit animal and my initial tattooed on your body, and since I definitely detected some participation in that kiss, and since I know that’s not a gun in your pocket,” Jim said, “can I draw the conclusions that you: one, want me?”


Another nod, accompanied by a deep blush.


“And two – “ Jim fought hard not to tremble. “ – love me?”




Jim’s knees threatened to give out in sheer relief. He forced himself to stay upright. Parts of him had no trouble with that directive.


“Now, since you got that tattoo in a not-very-visible place, since you had to be falling-down drunk to do it, and since you went to a hell of a lot of trouble to hide it afterwards,” Jim said slowly, “not to mention the fact that you’ve never breathed a word to me, plus the ‘Please don’t kill me’ line, can I draw the conclusions that you were afraid to tell me because: one, you thought I might take the announcement badly?”




“Two, you didn’t know I was bisexual?”


Nod, accompanied by widening of the eyes.


“Three,” Jim said, very softly, “you didn’t have the faintest inkling that I’ve been deeply in love with you for quite a while now, and deeply in lust with you for even longer?”


Blair nodded silently, his eyes full.


“Well, now we both know something we didn’t know before, don’t we?” Jim whispered.


Blair swallowed.


“I know,” he said, very slowly, “that if you don’t kiss me again, like, very soon, I’m going to have to either faint or flee.”


Jim closed the distance between their lips again, and this time Blair’s mouth opened under his, and Jim wondered whether he might not be the one to faint under the taste of chicken satay, jasmine rice, iced tea, and above all, Blair. Then, on second thought, he realized he might just come instead.


He pulled back before either could occur.


“Now you can faint if you have to,” Jim said softly, stroking that beautiful crazy hair that was just as silky as he’d always dreamed it would be. “But no fleeing allowed.”


“Um, if I’m going to faint,” Blair murmured, “couldn’t I do it someplace more comfortable? Like – “ He jerked his head at the bedroom. “In there?”


Jim shook his head regretfully, gesturing at the recording equipment.


“I have to monitor those,” he apologized.


“Um – we could turn them up loud?” Blair suggested.


Jim was sorely tempted, but duty was duty.


He started to shake his head; then another thought occurred to him, and he walked over to the couch, pulling Blair with him. As he’d hoped, the couch was a pullout. Blair caught on when Jim pulled the cushions off the couch, and joined in to help Jim pull out the bed and fetch in pillows from the bedroom.


Once the bed actually lay there before them, however, Blair stopped, gazing at Jim with marked anxiety. Jim stepped to his side, stroking Blair’s hair again.


“Uh-oh, he’s gone speechless again, so I guess it’s not time to retire the detective yet,” Jim said softly. “Hmmm – more deductions?”


Blair shrugged sheepishly.


“Okay.” Jim thought. “Now, Spokes is a gay bar, and as you said, it’s a great place for guys to go dancing, but it’s also a real pickup joint, so a guy dancing there is probably going to get groped a bit. But judging from the amount of booze you must have consumed, together with the fact that you didn’t come home smelling like somebody else, you didn’t do any dancing at all, which means you weren’t exactly comfortable with that kind of contact.”


Blair looked down at the floor.


“You’re too good at this,” he muttered.


Jim chuckled.


“If I was that good, it wouldn’t have taken us this long,” he said practically. “Chief, I guess I’ll just flat out ask – have you ever been with a man?”


Blair swallowed heavily.


“Uh – kind of.”


“Kind of?” Jim repeated. “Is that something like ‘a little bit pregnant’?”


“Um – “ Blair blushed deeply. “Does it count if two twelve-year-old boys jerk each other off – “


“You only get half a point for that,” Jim chuckled.


“ – but we get caught by his mother before we can finish?” Blair finished sheepishly. “Who then kicks me out of the house, literally?”


“Ouch,” Jim said. “Correction: You get two points, mostly out of sympathy. Okay, I get your ‘kind of’. Come here, Chief.” He eased Blair down slowly to the bed.


Blair let Jim stretch him out like an offering on the lumpy mattress. The younger man gazed up at him so solemnly, Jim had absolutely no inclination to try for another witty comment.


“I will never,” Jim swore from the bottom of his soul, “do anything to you, or with you, that you don’t want.”


Blair smiled tremulously.


“Uh, Jim, that leaves an awful lot of open territory,” he said softly. “The only problem is, I could, like, seriously use a road map.”


“Well, right now we’re looking at a stop sign,” Jim said gently.


“Huh?” Blair said, gazing at Jim blankly. “But I thought – “


“Ch- -- Blair, we are not going to have sex five minutes after our first kiss,” Jim said patiently.


“We’re not?” Blair repeated, looking comically surprised and disappointed.


“No, we’re not,” Jim said, chuckling. “Blair, even if we wanted to – “


“You don’t?” Blair said pointedly.


“Okay, okay,” Jim grinned. “Even though we want to – “


“That’s better.”


“First of all, we’re on duty,” Jim reminded him. “Which means that although there’s nothing likely to come across on those monitors, we have to be ready to move if something does. As opposed to running across the street stark naked with erections a-bobbing to arrest Shelburn. Although he probably wouldn’t resist arrest, because he’d be too busy laughing himself to death.”


“Oh,” Blair said disappointedly.


“And second,” Jim said patiently, “I don’t know how much you know about male-to-male sex – “


“I have a pretty good theoretical knowledge,” Blair said staunchly.


“ – but certain aspects, at least, require condoms and – “


“I have condoms in my backpack,” Blair said cheerfully.


“ – and lube, and, thank you very much, a little preparatory cleanup,” Jim said sternly. “And I don’t happen to carry the requisite supplies around in my pockets on a daily basis.” True, though he’d briefly considered bringing some, just in case. That, however, would have certainly tipped Blair off that he’d been well and thoroughly conned, and Jim didn’t plan to confess his manipulations until they were a little more secure in this relationship, at which point he’d come clean and take his lumps.


“And even lacking all those obstacles,” Jim said gently, “I don’t want our first time together to be a slapdash affair in a strange apartment while I keep one ear on those monitors and the other on the door in case one of our coworkers decides to show up.”


Blair sighed dejectedly.


“Well, when you put it that way – “ He frowned. “Then why did you pull the sofa out?”


“So we could cuddle.” Jim pulled Blair close, nuzzling his neck. “You don’t like cuddling?”


“Cuddling?” Blair groaned as Jim’s fingertips traced his nipples through his shirt. “Cuddling you can do with your cat. Can’t fool me, Jim, this is – ohhhh, God, do that again – definitely foreplay.”


“Well, heck,” Jim chuckled, nibbling the sensitive skin just under Blair’s ear. “Learn something new every day.”


“Well, that’s the point,” Blair panted. “I want to learn something new. But you keep saying no.”


“Blair, my beautiful, tasty, sexy, cuddly beloved,” Jim breathed into Blair’s ear, “As I told you before –“


Jim’s cell phone rang, causing both of them to jump approximately eighteen inches above the surface of the bed.


“ – this is a good time and place to get interrupted,” Jim said wryly, reflexively straightening his clothes as he retrieved his phone. “Ellison.”


“Don’t growl at me, Ellison,” Simon growled back. “I’m just calling to tell you you can pack it in. They picked up Shelburn at his girlfriend’s condo, just as we expected. We still want the phone tap, just in case any new dealers call in, but you can put it on recorder.”


Jim turned the phone off, slightly dazed.


“What?” Blair asked. He was sitting up now, looking pensive.


“That was Simon,” Jim said. “They picked up Shelburn at his girlfriend’s place. We can go home.”


Blair grinned broadly.


“Oh, man, this is, like, a sign from God,” he said. “Come on, Jim, let’s see how many speed limits we can break.”


“No broken speed limits,” Jim said sternly. “And we have to stop at the drugstore, remember?”


“I told you, I have condoms,” Blair offered.


“Lube?” Jim said pointedly.


“You don’t have any at home?” Blair said, raising his eyebrows.


“No,” Jim said, rolling his eyes. “It’s been a while since I’ve been with a man.”


“A while?”




“Oh.” Blair blinked. “Well – uh – yeah, I have lube, if you don’t mind cherry flavored.”


“No thanks, Chief,” Jim said, grimacing. “That stuff smells like cough syrup.”


“And you would know because – “ Blair began mischievously, then blushed and shook his head. “Never mind. I do not want to go there.” He hesitated. “Um, Jim, are we – uh – definitely headed for something involving the need for lube?”


Jim pulled him close and kissed him deeply.


“We’re definitely headed for whatever you want to do, no more, no less,” Jim said firmly. “But in sex, as in police work, ‘be prepared’ is more than a motto, it’s a life choice. Which is, I assume, why you carry condoms in your backpack even to a stakeout with me.”


Blair chuckled sheepishly.


“I guess you’ve got me there,” he said.


Although Jim was grateful to adjourn back to the loft early, he knew the interruption and delay while they drove back, while Jim dashed into and out of the drugstore, while they hauled their leftovers back up to the loft, would have certain negative effects – such as time for erections to subside and for second thoughts to set in. Time for Blair to come down out of his euphoric headspin and realize that he was imminently headed for sex with another man. A glance at Blair’s pensive expression told Jim he was right. Jim’s heart ached, but he forced himself to smile when Blair began uncomfortably, “Uh – Jim – “


“’No’ is always an option,” Jim said gently. “But before you say it, there’s one thing I do insist on.”


“Mmm?” Blair looked downright worried now.


“I want to see that tattoo,” Jim grinned. “I won the bet, didn’t I?”


“Oh.” Blair blushed. “Yeah, I guess you did.” He made a vague gesture toward his bedroom. “You want – uh – “


“If you’re all right with that,” Jim said softly. “If you’d rather, I can look right here in the kitchen.”


Blair swallowed.


“No, it’s okay,” he said with a rather forced smile. Jim followed him into the tiny bedroom. Blair flopped down on his bed on his stomach, and Jim sat down on the edge of the bed, touching the waistband of Blair’s sweats.


“May I?” he asked softly.


“Unless you’ve developed x-ray vision,” Blair said wryly. “Which wouldn’t surprise me at this point. Here, wait a minute.”


Blair raised his hips up slightly, and to Jim’s surprise pushed his sweats and boxers completely down over his hips. Jim sat frozen, almost unable to breathe, staring at the tight, beautifully rounded ass he’d fantasized about for, years, so long.. He swallowed heavily, trying not to drool.


No, Jim. Down, boy. Blair’s had second thoughts. This is just for the memory, something for those late-night one-handers.


Almost reluctantly Jim forced his eyes to the tattoo. It was as beautiful as the picture the artist had showed him – more beautiful, of course, because it was drawn on such a gorgeous canvas. His initial, his spirit animal, his mark on Blair. Jim wanted to weep.


"Um, Jim?" Blair said softly. "I don't suppose you'd put some antibiotic lotion on it for me? Since you're right there and all?"


Jim fought to steady his voice.


"Sure. Where's the - “ Blair handed him a small bottle of the aloe-based first-aid gel he got from the health food store. "Right."


Jim squirted a little of the gel on his fingers. It was colored blue and smelled strongly of mint and felt a lot like lube. In fact it would probably be a pretty good –


Away with that thought.


Jim let his fingers warm the gel slightly, just enough that it wouldn’t be a tremendous shock on the irritated skin, and slowly stroked it over the tattoo and the skin around it. Blair let out a ragged sigh.


“Oh, God, that feels so good,” he murmured contentedly.


To you? If you had any idea how long and how many times I’ve fantasized about touching this beautiful ass – God, Blair, your skin is just as soft and firm as I knew it would be.


The inflamed skin was well coated with the gel; Jim was out of excuses to keep touching Blair. He fought down a spear of pain as he took his fingers away.


“Want me to tape some gauze over that?” he said neutrally.


“Uh-uh. The air feels good on it.” Blair had had his head pillowed on his crossed forearms; now he turned his head so he could gaze at Jim from behind the curtain of his hair. “So did your fingers.”


Jim wiped his hands on the bottom of his t-shirt and brushed the hair back out of Blair’s eyes.


“Chief, I can take a yes or a no,” he said quietly. “But I’ve waited too long to play guessing games.”


“I’m not playing,” Blair said, almost in a whisper. “I’m scared. And confused. I do love you, Jim, and I do want you. I know that for sure. I’m not saying ‘later,’ I’m not saying ‘no’, I’m just saying ‘slow’.”


Jim smiled as he felt his heart opening, opening like a flower that had closed up tight against an early killing frost.


“Slow is good,” he said simply. “What did you have in mind?”


Blair smiled shyly.


“Well, since I’m lying here with my pants halfway off,” he said, “maybe I could just kick them off – “ He matched deed to words, “ – and pull off my sweatshirt too. And then – your hand felt so good touching me, Jim, that maybe…maybe you’d like to touch me some more?”


Jim felt the joy swell up so big in his chest that for a moment he thought he might die of it.


“As you would say, Chief, I think I could get with that,” Jim said, his voice uneven. He reached down and helped Blair pull the sweatshirt over his head, and then the white t-shirt under it, peeling off the Blair layers one by one to reveal the treasure underneath. And then there he was, his beautiful Guide, compact and perfect, not heavily muscled like Jim but small and sturdy, not an inch of wasted space, just a masterpiece from head to toe.


So perfect.


Brushing Blair’s hair aside, Jim laid both hands on Blair’s shoulders and started massaging slowly, his thumbs creeping up to rub the back of Blair’s neck to the base of his skull. Blair groaned happily.


“Oh, God, that’s good,” he sighed.


Jim chuckled.


“Well, I’m not in your league,” he said. “I’ve always thought it was so magical, the way you could seem to rub a headache right out of me.”


“Yeah, but you’ve got, like, the perfect hands,” Blair murmured contentedly. “Nice and strong, those long fingers, and yet so sensitive – it’s like you’re reading instructions right off my nerve endings, just how hard to press and where. Ooooohhh, man, I’ll give you, like, sixty years to cut that out.”


“Only sixty?” Jim teased gently.


“Well, that’ll put you pretty damned close to the century mark,” Blair chuckled. “At which point you’ll need somebody to help you up onto the bed with me, and then I’ll probably kick you out because your Depends is leaking.”


“You’d kick your poor, crippled, incontinent mate out of bed?” Jim protested, inwardly delighted to hear Blair talking, even jokingly, about an extended future together.


“Nah,” Blair said cheerfully. “I’d clean you up and put you back to bed myself. But I’d put a rubber sheet down first, and you sleep in your wet spot, I’ll sleep in mine.”


“I suppose that’s fair enough,” Jim agreed. “But unless we have a substantially wider bed than this, the point’s kind of moot.”


“You got me there,” Blair chuckled. “I guess we’ll have to use your bed.”


“You in my bed,” Jim said softly. “The stuff fantasies are made of.”


“Well, I have to say, I haven’t often pictured you in mine,” Blair admitted. “Even in fantasies, I knew you’d never fit on this little cot.”


Jim bent down and kissed the back of Blair’s neck.


“Chief, for you I’d sleep on a footstool.”


Blair groaned.


“Oh, man, that turns me on,” he whispered.


“What, this?” Jim murmured, nibbling at the back of Blair’s neck again. “Or this?” He slid his hands slowly over Blair’s buttocks again, carefully skirting the tattoo.


“Yes,” Blair said. He glanced at Jim again. “So – uh – you want to move this upstairs?”


“That depends,” Jim said softly, his heart pounding. “Are you going to let me see the other side of Blair Sandburg?”


Blair blinked for a moment, then grinned sheepishly, rolling over, and Jim closed his eyes briefly, dazzled.


He wanted to shower kisses over every inch of that beautiful, strong, compact body. He wanted to spend hours running his fingers through the curling hair that covered Blair’s chest, belly and groin. He wanted to nibble one nipple, then the other to see if the one with the ring through it was more sensitive. He wanted to kiss his way up those legs from toes to hips, bite the creamy skin inside Blair’s thighs hard enough to leave bruises. He wanted to build a shrine to that beautiful erection, just on the high side of average in length, but oh, God, so beautifully thick and hard and dusky with passion. Jim’s mouth was watering, and he knew he had to have Blair this way first. He’d heard his Guide, seen him, touched him, smelled him for years, but now finally, finally he had the chance to taste him, to complete the indelible imprinting of Jim’s Guide upon his body, heart and soul.


Blair glanced at Jim’s face and froze, his eyes dilating darkly in desire.


“Oh, man,” he whispered. “You should see your face. I’ve never had anybody look at me that way in my life.”


“Like what?” Jim asked distractedly, still busy feasting his eyes on Blair.


Blair swallowed.


“Like – like you’re a starving panther and I’m the juiciest filet mignon on the planet.”


“I am,” Jim said softly. “And you are.”


“Oh, man, oh, man, oh, man,” Blair moaned. His erection jumped violently. “Are you just going to look, Jim? Because I’m, like, dying here, and you have me seriously at a disadvantage.” He plucked at the bottom of Jim’s t-shirt.


“Don’t worry about me,” Jim said softly. “Not right now. Right now – “ He moved over Blair’s body, straddling him on his hands and knees, gazing directly down into Blair’s eyes. “Right now I want to taste you. I want to fill my senses with you. And then after I suck you dry, whatever you want, anything you want, just tell me and it’s yours. If that’s not too fast for you.”


“Oh, man,” Blair breathed. “Talk about an offer I can’t refuse.”


“Oh, you can refuse,” Jim said, lowering his head so that Blair’s breath fanned his face. “You can always refuse. But you don’t want to refuse, because then you’d never know…“


He nibbled his way up the side of Blair’s neck.


“How hot and wet my mouth would feel against your skin,” he murmured. “You’d never know how it felt to be savored, inch by inch, by a Sentinel with taste buds so sensitive that I can tell the difference between your skin oil here – “


He licked the hollow of Blair’s collarbone.


“ – and here – “


He darted down and sucked briefly on the point of Blair’s hipbone.


“You’d never know whether I’d suckle ever so gently at your nipple – “


He licked his way softly around Blair’s ringed left nipple, then sealed his lips around it, sucking it into a hard little bud.


“Or whether I nip.”


He gave Blair’s right nipple the gentlest of nips; then, when Blair groaned approvingly, a slightly harder one, just to the very edge of pain, and Blair cried out, his fingers digging into Jim’s shoulders.


“Jimjimjimjimjim – “


Jim realized that Blair was reaching a peak more pain than pleasure, that perhaps his younger and more eager libido simply couldn’t take the sustained plateau of prolonged arousal as well as Jim. Not that Jim’s jeans were anything but tight, confining agony at the moment, but that was unimportant. This was for Blair. His Blair. Better for Blair if Jim concentrated on his pleasure. Safer for Blair if Jim didn’t unleash his own passions. Jim slid down Blair’s body, spreading his thighs wide.


“You’d never know,” Jim said wickedly, “whether I’d lick my way up the bottom of your cock, all the way up from the root to the tip – “


He licked slowly, drunk on the taste of Blair, the essence of smeared pre-come, reeling from the hot pulse of Blair’s blood just beneath the skin. Daringly he traced the very tip of his tongue over the leaking head, taking in the potent elixir of Blair’s pleasure, and for a moment he had to pause, to get himself under control again.


“Or whether I’d just take you in in one huge gulp.”


Jim took a deep breath and opened himself, took in Blair’s beautiful hard cock, tip to root, in one glorious stroke. Blair cried out something unintelligible and came up off the bed, his entire body shaking on the edge of climax, but just before he could come, Jim retreated, leaving Blair moaning and writhing under him.


“And most of all,” Jim whispered, “you’d never know if I swallow.”


Jesus Christ Jim will you please shut the fuck up and suck me!” Blair howled, grabbing Jim’s head and yanking it down by main force.


Jim smiled, opened his mouth, and obeyed.


Blair was way beyond aroused now, he was well on the road to insanity, and it took only a few strokes up and down his cock, a few squeezes of Jim’s throat muscles before he screamed and came, almost hard enough to pass out. Jim held Blair’s hips still and nursed his deflating cock through the final spasms as it softened, then kissed his way slowly back up Blair’s body. He paused only briefly to savor (I may never see this again) the vision of a beautifully sweaty, semiconscious and sated Blair Sandburg.


“I love you,” he whispered, and pulled Blair close, squeezing him hard. “Jeez, what a guy has to go through to get a look at a lousy tattoo.”


Blair laughed, a little breathlessly, his eyes only half-open and still glazed with pleasure.


“Man,” he whispered. “Oh, man. Thank you, Jim.”


Jim raised his eyebrows.




“For saying that just that way.” Blair pushed back a little so he could turn his head up and meet Jim’s eyes. He grinned shyly. “You know, when I’d think about…us? I could picture in my mind something happening to, you know, get us to the bed. And I could picture us in the bed. Kind of, I mean, because like I said, my knowledge was only theoretical, and I never actually got a good look at you completely naked, much less excited or anything. Well, I haven’t seen you naked yet, have I?” he added a little surprisedly.


“Your point?” Jim said, chuckling.


“Sorry, man,” Blair said with a distinct lack of contrition. “Anyway, like I said, I could imagine us getting to bed, I could imagine us in bed, but then my mind would always kind of shy away from afterwards. I mean, I couldn’t picture James Ellison getting all goo-goo sentimental, and I couldn’t picture – well, no, I didn’t want to picture – you just giving me a slap on the ass and booming, ‘Hey, Chief, thanks, great fuck,’ you know. So I just couldn’t imagine the afterward. And that kind of, I don’t know, spoiled the whole fantasy, see? I couldn’t imagine what you could, or would, possibly say or do that would make it right.”


‘Hey, Chief, thanks, great fuck’? Jim felt vaguely – no, more than vaguely – hurt.


Blair immediately saw or sensed the hurt and snuggled a little closer in Jim’s arms.


“I didn’t mean the ‘Thanks, Chief’ comment,” he whispered. “I’m just nervous, you know?”


Jim felt better.


“I know,” he said softly. “So where is this all leading?”


“Well – “ Blair blushed. “When you said you loved me, I mean, it still seems strange hearing you say that kind of thing. But then you gave me that big hug, and then the joke… I mean, it was perfect. It was the way, you know, the way I could never think of. The afterward that made it all right. Does that make any sense, or am I a total babbling moron here?”


Jim chuckled.


“Yes,” he said.


Blair chuckled too.