Author's disclaimer: It's all JiM's fault. It was her idea, honest.
Author's notes: Heartfelt thanks to Ness, JiM, and Mandalee for beta and handholding.
"Kiss me," he blurted out, his stare hot with embarrassment and determination.
That was an eye opener. Jim squinted at the flushed face and noted the frantic heartbeat. Reaching across the table, he pressed his palm to Blair's sweaty forehead, only to have his hand batted away.
"I'm not sick, you jerk!"
"Are you sure?"
Blair took a deep breath. "I need you to help me out here."
"Then explain it to me in little words so I can understand it. I'm listening." Blair had been acting pretty strange lately. Sometimes, he could feel the blue laser burn on the back of his head. Jim had almost broken down yesterday and asked what the hell was going on. Now he was glad he hadn't. This was definitely a disaster in the making.
Blair's eyes were fixed on the table, but the bags under them were obvious. Whatever the problem was, he hadn't had a decent night's sleep in a while.
"I'm having. . .I've been thinking about. . .men." Blair looked down. Jim looked at Blair.
"Since two weeks ago when Gary made a pass at me." Gary, one of the freshmen he'd been tutoring.
"You're upset because you got the hots for one of your students?"
"Well, not for him, specifically, but it's been on my mind ever since, you know? And I'm really having a tough time with it."
"And you want me to kiss you?" Jim was getting a little uncomfortable himself.
"You're bi, man, it's no big deal to you."
"Ignoring the fact that I don't just go around sucking face with whoever wanders by, what's your point?"
"My point is," now he was looking less determined and more defensive, "I'm freaking out here. You, of all people, should know what it's like to wake up one day and find out there's something weird going on, something you never had to deal with before. I've spent my whole life one way, and now I'm just going, 'What the fuck!' Hey, I'm not asking you to get naked. I'm just asking you to kiss me."
"Look, Chief," said Jim, digging past shell shock to friendly concern, "I'll do whatever I can to help you, but I don't think a kiss will do much good."
A glow of relief lighted Blair's face. "Sure, it will! See, here's what I think. I never was interested in men, but now I've got the idea stuck in my head, and I can get rid of it with a reality check. You kiss me, I don't like it, problem solved! Thanks, Jim, I knew I could count on you." His whole body relaxed perceptibly, and his smile could have been harnessed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"Has anybody ever told you you're an asshole?" Jim gave in. Why prolong the suffering? As if he'd ever denied Blair anything.
Blair shrugged. "I'm a nice asshole."
"Well, are you ready? We can get this over with right now."
"You wanna do this now? It can't wait until after work? Jesus, you are the romantic type. No wonder they're lining up."
"Jim, this is a serious problem, with a reasonable solution. If I want to sleep nights sometime soon--and I say, the sooner the better--we'll just get this over with." The smile, again.
"Oh, all right. Go brush the algae out of your teeth. I'm not going one-on-one with sea life."
Jim didn't as much care about the green crud as he needed a minute to regroup. This sucked. He'd spent all this time dealing with his infatuation; he kept telling himself to get over it, and he did, every day. Like the low-grade ache in his right knee that throbbed minutely in bad weather, he could almost ignore it. It rained a lot in Cascade.
Now he was about to become his roommate's guinea pig. Get a grip. It was just a kiss, after all. Nothing to get too wound up about. Sandburg was having some kind of early midlife crisis, or something.
Jim could bite the bullet.
Blair came out of the bathroom and stood by the kitchen table. "I'm ready." When Jim stood up and walked around it, though, he glanced to either side for an escape route.
"This is pointless. You don't have to do this, Blair. Forget about it. You'll be fine."
"I can't. I haven't been fine. I need to do this." He closed his eyes. Jim had heard of keeping a stiff upper lip, but he'd never seen it happen on somebody's face before. Jim swallowed down against what felt like heartburn.
Blair's whole body was rigid, except for the thumb tap-tap-tapping against his thigh. Stand him up against a wall, all he'd need was a firing squad. Even Jim couldn't hack the suspense anymore, so he leaned over and pecked Blair on his stiff lips.
All the pent-up air left Sandburg with a whoosh.
"Hey!" His roommate was positively chortling with relief. "I was right, it was nothing, I--"
But Jim wasn't listening; he was watching the now-soft lips turn up in that appealing way he always tried so hard not to notice. His hard-won layer of protection had been dissolved by Blair's breath against his skin. Things were coming in--the subtle scent of Blair's body under the oatmeal soap, his dissipating fear, the teasing warmth of him that reached out and pulled Jim closer. There was something Jim couldn't find inside, and he stopped looking for it, seeing and feeling only Blair.
There was the almost-smoothness of the closely-shaven jawline, the weight of his head in Jim's palm, the coarseness of his hair as it trailed over the back of Jim's hand. There was the spike of shadow from Blair's lashes as his too-blue eyes closed again, and there was more heat inside Blair's mouth, heat and wet, splashing onto the withered cold place inside of Jim.
Watered-down sunlight broken by the windows hurt Jim's eyes and he had to close them, but when he did he lost his reference point. He was dizzy. Sensation jostled around and through him, and he clutched Blair tighter, hearing only the beat of their blood and the moan that sounded from his own chest.
Blair's push backed him up, almost knocked him down. Both solid hands were in the air, one warding Jim away and one raised toward his mouth, as if to wipe off the feel of Jim's lips against his. "Shit, Jim, what was that about? What'd you do that for?" The injured look slowly changed to incredulous as comprehension filtered in.
"Not you, too! Damn you, I live here! I thought you were the one who liked me! One person in my whole lousy life who isn't looking for a grade or a ring or a fuck or somebody to kiss their academic ass. Oh, man. Just, just, get the fuck away from me."
The door closed behind him with a whump.
Jim moved mechanically toward the coffeemaker, desperate for anything that could make him feel better, or better yet, not feel. He drank down two blisteringly hot cups while standing there next to the counter, but coffee couldn't wash away the taste of Blair.
When he trudged up the stairs at six, he was surprised to hear Blair rattling around in the kitchen. He hadn't been sure his roommate would even turn up tonight, much less make an apology meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It was true, after all, what Blair had said this morning. Love and want were all mixed up together, and Jim couldn't separate them anymore, no matter how badly he needed to.
Dinner was quiet. Blair kept giving him looks, like he was afraid of what Jim might say or do, and it was exhausting being watched. Jim went to bed early. His knee hurt like a bitch.
Life went on like usual, except that Blair kept being, well, nice to him. Making meals when he said Jim looked tired even if it wasn't his turn, buying him barbecue potato chips on the deli run, helping him work on the truck without complaint even though he hardly knew one end of a crescent wrench from the other. Cleaning the bathroom, fixing him hot and cold wraps when he limped, tending Jim like a child when he was so sick from a 24-hour bug that he couldn't even tell Sandburg to leave him alone.
It went on so long--days, weeks of small, almost tender attentions, that Jim forgot to wonder what Sandburg wanted. He found out one Saturday night after grilled salmon and most of a bottle of good chardonnay.
"Jim." Sandburg's husky voice floated over his right shoulder as he wiped his hands after doing the dishes. "Will you kiss me?"
Jim leaned heavily against the counter, not looking at anything. "We did this once already, Chief. That was enough."
The calm certainty did not deter Blair. "I'm sorry, Jim." Still that low, hypnotic voice. "I didn't know."
Calmness fled, and his shoulders tensed with the need to be somewhere else. "Know what?"
"That you were in love with me."
"You. . . You. . ." Bastard, he wanted to say, but speech tumbled after calm as his hands twisted into fists, and he took a shallow breath.
"That I was in love with you."
His voice was back, but it cracked under the pressure. "You have no idea what the fuck you're talking about."
"Now I do," Blair replied ruefully. "Hey, it was only two questions, short essay. Why did you kiss me? Why did I want you to? I didn't really have to be Einstein to figure it out. I just had to ask myself."
He couldn't stop the snide retort. "I suppose you're expecting an A."
"No. I just want you."
Then Blair's arms were around him, and the touch of lips against his own was the sweetest heat he'd ever tasted. "Hey," Blair whispered, his hard chest pressing Jim's, his breath painting pictures of pleasure on Jim's neck. "Let's get you off of that knee."
"Yeah," Jim agreed hoarsely. "Yeah." But the truth was, Jim was feeling no pain. No pain at all.