“Harder – oh, God, Jim, harder!” Blair screamed, biting hard into the pillow. Sweat ran in rivulets down his skin; more sweat plastered tendrils of his hair to his forehead, temples and in his eyes. His muscles were starting to cramp from tension and his thighs ached from their strained, widespread position and his balls throbbed with a tight, painful fullness, and his blood was on fire, his nerves in utter meltdown.


He had never felt so good in his life.


Jim groaned something incoherent and kept up the hard, steady thrusts, so deep that his goal appeared to be reaching Blair’s tonsils via the far southern route. He leaned harder into his thrusts and proceeded to drive Blair’s face deeper into the pillow.


Even imminent suffocation, however, only fueled Blair’s ecstasy. He felt the telltale throbbing inside him and clamped down with every muscle south of his sternum. He was rewarded by an unearthly howl from the human jackhammer behind him, a series of thrusts so hard and deep that under other circumstances Blair might have feared permanent damage, and the long, hot spurts of Jim’s semen filling him to overflowing. The awareness of all these things, however, was completely lost to Blair’s consciousness as his brain crashed and burned and his body shattered into a trillion sparkling sharp-edged shards of ecstasy.


Blair gradually returned to consciousness, slowly becoming aware that between his afterglow, the pillow into which his face was mooshed, and the weight of Jim’s body on top of his doing the mooshing, he was about to learn more about erotic asphyxiation than he’d ever wanted to know.


“Mflmph,” he said intelligently.


No response from the moosher.


“Grglfnfrmph!” he said, more emphatically.


Jim rolled off his back with a tired chuckle, allowing Blair to roll out of the wet spot.


“Is that one of those Slavic languages, Chief, with a whole lot of consonants and no vowels in the words?”


“What,” Blair gasped weakly, “you don’t recognize pillow talk when you hear it?”


“Ah, I get it,” Jim panted. “So what we were just doing was body language, right?”


“By George, I think he’s got it,” Blair grinned.


“I just did get it,” Jim said affectionately, rolling over to stroke the hair out of Blair’s face. “Or, by some definitions, you got it. Twice, actually.”


“Don’t I know it,” Blair said ruefully. At least one certain part of his body was very, very aware of that fact.


“Blair?” Jim’s voice was anxious; Blair should have known better by now. Before he had time to protest, Jim had rolled him back onto his belly (in the wet spot again, no less), gently parted his buttocks and proceeded to carefully examine his ass from stem to stern. “Was I too rough? Did I hurt you? Are you – “


“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Blair said patiently. He tried to roll out of the wet spot, but Jim wasn’t yet finished with his inspection of the premises. Blair sighed resignedly and relaxed; once Jim went into Blessed Protector mode, there was just no stopping him.


Fifteen minutes later, when Blair had been ever so tenderly wiped clean, his irritated ass anointed with soothing Vitamin E oil, after Blair had forced himself to endure considerable cuddling, petting, kissing and other post-coital endearments, Blair was finally allowed to get up and attend to his bursting bladder so he could return to bed and enjoy the remainder of his afterglow in comfort.


“So... what were we talking about before you pounced bodily on me and completely distracted me?” Blair asked innocently.


Jim groaned.


“Oh, come on, Chief, have mercy,” he said. “We’ve been over this again and again and again for days. I can’t take another one of these discussions. I mean, we just go around and around and end up nowhere. Can’t we just, I don’t know, agree to disagree or something?”


“Jim, man, this just isn’t an ‘agree to disagree’ issue,” Blair said patiently. “I mean, it’s got to be one or the other or something else entirely, and we’ve got to come to some kind of understanding here. We really can’t put it off much longer.”


“Shit.” Jim grimaced and sat up, pulling two beers out of the bucket of ice beside the bed. He handed one to Blair, then opened the other himself. “You’re just not going to give an inch on this one, are you? I mean, it’s only fair, considering that I just gave you several inches. Repeatedly.”


“Jim,” Blair chided gently. “This is serious. You can’t dodge the issue anymore. Now come on. You promised me you’d give it some thought.”


“I have,” Jim sighed. “And I still say the Jags season tickets are the way to go.”


“Jim, you gave Simon Jags season tickets for his birthday last year,” Blair said patiently. “And you know every time he tries to go to the game, something comes up at the station and he has to cancel. You only want to give him those tickets because whenever Simon can’t go, he ends up giving his tickets to you.”


“Hey, not true,” Jim protested. “Most of the time I end up going with him.” Jim frowned. “He never seems to have a date anymore. I thought he was going out with your friend Chad, wasn’t he?”


“That was Chad’s cousin Jeff,” Blair said. “And he was going to ask Simon out. According to Chad, Simon said no.”


“Oh.” Jim sighed. “I don’t think he’s had more than a handful of dates in the last year.”


“Well, I still say he’ll get more benefit from us renting that cabin for him for the weekend,” Blair said staunchly, firmly forcing the conversation back on topic. “Great trout stream, lush wilderness, peace and quiet – “


“And most likely an invitation for us to go with him,” Jim said pointedly. “And if something comes up and he can’t go, he’ll just tell us to go instead, right?”


“There does seem to be a common theme here,” Blair sighed. “Okay. What can we give Simon for his birthday that’s for him instead of us?”


“Damned if I know,” Jim said, sighing too. “We can buy him some of those cigars he likes – “


“Uh-uh,” Blair said emphatically. “I can’t stop Simon from making a mess of his lungs, but we are not helping him do it.”


“Or we can give him some of that fancy coffee he likes, except that everybody in the bullpen is probably doing the same thing,” Jim said resignedly.


“No, no, man,” Blair said, shaking his head. “We’re his closest friends. I mean, come on, Jim. Between the two of us we ought to be able to think of something that would be really special to him. Okay. Let’s start out easy. You did get him to take that Saturday off, right?”


“After I guilted him out with how disappointed you’d be if he didn’t let us celebrate his birthday,” Jim said with a sigh. “Yeah, he’s off that weekend.”


“So where should we take him for dinner?”


“Nowhere,” Jim said immediately.


“One more time?” Blair said, raising his eyebrows.


“Simon eats out all the time,” Jim explained. “He’s too exhausted or too rushed to cook for himself, or he has to do lunches with the Commissioner or the Mayor or whoever. If you want to make it special for him, we’ll have him over here and make him a nice home-cooked dinner. Listen, Simon has plenty of obligatory meals out, more than he wants. He lives in his work clothes. What he really likes is spending time with people he cares about. Why do you think we keep getting invited to share the Jags tickets and the fishing trips?”


“Oh.” Blair thought about it. “Man. He must be really lonely.”


“He is,” Jim said softly, and Blair glanced at his lover, surprised by Jim’s tone.


“Story there?” Blair guessed.


Jim shrugged.


“Not really,” he said. “But anybody who has to be guilted out of working on his birthday… I can just sympathize with where he’s at right now. His breakup with Joan was fairly nasty, worse than my divorce. That kind of thing leaves a bad taste in your mouth, Chief. When I got divorced, I got drunk, I screwed around a while, blew my top at everybody around me, and then buried myself in work. Simon never got to have his blowout, not in his position, and he’s not the casual dating kind anyway. Then he realized he was bisexual, and that kind of rocked his world too. It’s been tough. He went through a real brief screwing-around phase, but he’s just not the casual sex type, and that didn’t last long. Since then he’s hardly dated; apart from the time he spends with us or the other guys at the station, he’s pretty much alone, and they’re just, you know, casual friends, not real close to him.”


“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Blair said softly, remembering how many years he’d kept his own heart carefully insulated, buried under piles of warm, willing bodies. “At least he had you to talk to.”


“Yeah, we looked at the bottom of a lot of beer bottles together,” Jim agreed.


Blair reached over and took Jim’s hand, twining their fingers together.


“How do you feel about Simon?” he asked. “I know you two almost dated. I mean, if you hadn’t needed somebody who could play hardball with you, how do you think the two of you would’ve done together?”


Jim glanced at Blair sharply.


“Hey, Chief, are you going to do a jealousy thing here?”


“No, I am not,” Blair said firmly. “Come on, Jim. We know what we are to each other. I already told you that if I hadn’t been so gone on you, I might’ve made a play for him myself. I just want to know, okay?”


Jim gazed at him suspiciously for a long moment, then shrugged awkwardly.


“Apart from you, he’s probably the best friend I’ve ever had,” he said quietly. “We’ve been through a lot together. Yeah, I found – find – him attractive. I care a lot about him. You know that.”


“Yeah.” Blair digested that for a moment. A plan was forming in his mind. “Jim... do you think he knows about us?”


“I doubt it,” Jim said after a moment’s thought. “If he knew, he’d have said something to me. He might suspect, but I think we’ve been pretty discreet.”


Blair laughed outright in astonishment.


“Discreet? Jim, you gotta be kidding, man,” he said. “We’re, like, the worst kept secret of the Major Crimes division of Cascade PD.”


Jim blinked.


“Excuse me?”


“Oh, come on,” Blair grinned. “I thought you were the Sentinel here. Everybody in the bullpen thinks we’ve been at it for years, probably since I moved into the loft. You didn’t know that?”


“Not a chance,” Jim protested. “Where the hell do you get that idea?”


“Duh, Jim,” Blair said sarcastically. “When big bad loner Jim Ellison suddenly moves a young, liberal – how did you put it? Neo-hippie witch doctor punk? – into his loft for a week which turns into several years, lets him mess up the holy Tupperware and hang tribal masks on his wall, you don’t think a few tongues started to wag? Also, let’s face it, Jim, that while you’re naturally a touchy-feely kind of guy, you do tend to take it to a new high with me – not that I’m objecting, mind you – “


“Hey, I haven’t been touching you more since we became lovers,” Jim argued. “Not at the station, at least.”


Blair chuckled.


“Lover, I think by that time the damage was done,” he said. “Let’s face it, a lot of situations that came up because of the Sentinel-Guide thing probably got a whole different spin in the guys’ minds. I mean, I’ve been hearing the rumors pretty much since day one. I think they consider it, like, an inside joke.”


Jim looked poleaxed. Then he shook his head firmly.


“Not Simon,” he said. “Simon would have said something to me.”


“Well, considering that everybody else knew the truth even before we did,” Blair said patiently, “I think maybe it’s only fair to tell Simon, don’t you?”


Jim shrugged resignedly.


“You’re right,” he said. “We probably should have done it sooner. But why are you bringing that up now?”


“Because I’ve got an idea,” Blair said quietly. “Something we can give Simon. Something really special. But it calls for plenty of time to talk about it and plan.”


Jim raised his eyebrow.


“What, Chief?”


Blair explained. Jim had questions and reservations. Over the next week they discussed it again and again – proposals, counterproposals, questions, answers, pros and cons. Doubts were carefully explored until they both admitted that anticipation had replaced anxiety.


Then they began to plan.




“Oh, man, what’s that incredible smell?” Simon said, pulling a bar stool up to the kitchen counter. “Man, if it’s long till dinner, hand me some napkins to wipe up the drool.”


“That incredible smell is a rib roast with some kind of herb crust that Sandburg invented,” Jim chuckled. “Also fresh-baked bread, glazed parsnips, steamed asparagus and salad – “


“’Salad’,” Blair mocked. “Try pea sprouts and baby greens with goat cheese and raspberry vinaigrette.”


“Salad,” Jim repeated. “You’d better like it, Simon, I’m warning you. He’s been slaving over a hot stove all day.”


“Pass the napkins,” Simon laughed.


Dinner was jovial and Simon praised each dish lavishly, eating enough to substantiate his compliments. The wine flowed freely, and by the time Blair trotted out the homemade carrot cake with cream cheese icing – Simon’s all-time favorite – everybody was uncomfortably full and mellow beyond legal driving limits. Simon, somehow incongruous in jeans and a pullover sweater, flopped down on the couch and kicked off his shoes.


“Oh, man,” he groaned. “This may be the best birthday I’ve ever had. Good friends, good food – what more can a man ask?”


Blair glanced at Jim, who gazed back steadily. Blair knew what a risk this was for Jim. They’d talked about it, Jim had said he was sure, but now that theory was about to become practice, he might not be quite so certain.


“Hey, Jim,” he said quietly. “We’d better put the cake up before the icing gets gooey, and I’ll make some tea. We’ve probably all had enough wine for the moment.”


Jim nodded and accompanied Blair to the kitchen, placing the rest of the cake in a container while Blair brewed herbal tea. Blair leaned in close to murmur to him Sentinel-soft.


“Are you still okay with this?” Blair whispered. “If you want to back out, now’s the time.”


Jim turned and leaned close, his breath fanning Blair’s ear.


“I’m okay if you are.”


Blair searched Jim’s eyes.


“You’re sure?”


Jim took Blair’s hand, surreptitiously pressing it to his groin. Blair could feel the hot, hard length under his jeans.


“Does this feel like I’m sure?”


Blair grinned.


“That feels pretty damned sure, Big Guy,” he said. “Okay, lover. Let’s go drop the bomb.”


They carried the tea into the living room and Blair poured Simon a cup.


“So what’s next on the agenda?” Simon asked, sipping his tea.


“Um. Well, that kind of depends on you,” Blair said carefully. “See, first of all we’ve got something we need to tell you. Actually we probably should have told you a while back – “


Simon glanced at him warily.


“Uh – Sandburg, maybe you shouldn’t – “


“Blair and I are a couple,” Jim said.


There was a moment of silence. Then Simon groaned, put his tea down, and buried his face in his hands.


“Ah, shit.”


Blair glanced worriedly at Jim, who gazed back. Whatever reaction they’d expected from Simon, it wasn’t this.


“Uh, man, does this mean you’ve, uh, like, got a problem with us?” Blair said hesitantly.


Simon let out a ragged sigh, then gave Blair a weary smile.


“Nah, just means I’ve lost my clear conscience the next time the Commissioner drops by my office. Up till now I haven’t had to actually lie to him about you two. I figured what I didn’t know couldn’t hurt you, you know.”


Now Jim looked worried, and Blair clutched at his hand.


“You’re not going to tell him, are you?” Jim asked. “He’d pull Blair’s ride-along status, you know it.”


Simon shook his head.


“No. I’ll say whatever I have to.” He sighed again. “I can’t say I like it, though. There’s good reasons for not letting significant others ride together. It clouds their judgment, affects their work. And it goes against my grain making an exception for you two.”


Jim leaned forward in his chair.


“Simon, Blair and I were an exception long before we became lovers,” he said. “To tell you the truth, by that line of reasoning you should have had me driving a desk as soon as you learned about the whole Sentinel thing, because that’s sure affected my work and my judgment. Frequently. And Blair’s been a hell of a lot more to me than a partner, right from day one. I couldn’t have kept working – hell, I couldn’t have kept my sanity – without him. I still couldn’t. You think that doesn’t affect my judgment and my work? You know better. But despite that, Blair and I have the best arrest record in Major Crimes – hell, practically in the whole station. The quality of that work hasn’t changed since we became lovers, and it isn’t going to, either. We’re not asking you for any exception you haven’t been giving us for years now.”


Simon took a deep breath.


“Okay,” he said cautiously. “I see your point. Listen, if you don’t mind indulging my curiosity, how long has it been?”


Blair grinned.


“Couldn’t you tell?”


Simon looked abashed.




“Since the Shelburn stakeout,” Jim said. “About two months now. And if you had to ask, that should tell you that it hasn’t hurt our work.”


“You’re the only person we’ve told, except my mother,” Blair said.


Simon chuckled.


“How did Naomi take it?”


“Well – “ Jim said.


“She’s happy for us,” Blair said a little wryly. “It just took her a lot of processing to get there. Naomi isn’t a big believer in commitment.”


Simon was silent for a long moment; then, to Blair’s relief, he smiled.


“I’m glad you told me after all,” he said. “Hell, it’s worth talking around the Commissioner.”


“Well, we kind of had a particular reason for telling you tonight,” Blair said, glancing at Jim. Jim swallowed.


“Should I – “


“Not yet, Big Guy,” Blair said softly. “Simon, Jim told me that you and he almost dated back a few years ago – “


“Oh, shit,” Simon groaned, putting his face in his hands again. “Thanks a lot, Ellison.”