The Price of Fame by Katef

The Price of Fame - Katef

Cascade Natural History Museum

Sentinel Jim Ellison stood behind his excited Guide and lover, gently squeezing the small figure with powerful arms wound comfortably around the young man’s waist.

Dropping a quick kiss atop the curly head tucked beneath his chin, he said, “It’s really great, Chief! You’ve done yourself proud here. When the exhibit opens to the public tomorrow, I think it’s going to be a real crowd-puller. I’m very proud of you, baby!”

And he smiled tenderly down into the beautiful face of his Guide who twisted slightly in his arms in order to gaze up at him, glowing with love and pleasure, wide blue eyes sparkling with adoration.

“Th thank you, Jim! I’m so glad you like it. Eli picked out nearly all my latest illustrations, and he s s seems to like my displays too. I I just hope other people like them also.”

“No doubt about that!” came Jim’s confident response.

“And knowing Dad, he’ll already be pushing the exhibition big-time with all his friends and business cronies, so the environmentalists should benefit from some much needed advertising and financial donations. You’ve done well, baby!”

-------------------------

As Blair leaned back contentedly against Jim’s broad chest, feeling loved and protected, he allowed himself to experience a certain amount of self-satisfaction which, added to the overwhelming love and gratitude he felt for his beloved Sentinel, made him feel puffed up almost to bursting point with happiness.

Thinking back, he knew that he had been exceedingly lucky.

Barely a year ago, he had been an inmate in Conover Psychiatric Hospital; the mute, brain-damaged and badly burned victim of an explosion which destroyed his warehouse home.

Suffering from terrible nightmares, and physical and mental distress, he had been looking at a bleak future of institutionalisation, until it was revealed that not only was he a Guide, but he was compatible with Jim Ellison; eldest son of one of Cascade’s leading businessmen, and CEO of Ellison Enterprises.

After an inauspicious start, the two had grown to love and respect each other, finally bonding fully, and from which point as far as Blair was concerned, things had only gotten better.

Although he would never again be the brilliant anthropology student he had been before the explosion, he had learned to speak again with Jim’s whole-hearted encouragement, albeit very deliberately and inclined to stammer when excited, and his ‘Swiss cheese’ memory was improving gradually as time went by.

Even though he still couldn’t write well, his artistic talents were burgeoning, and following the success of his collaboration with his old mentor, Dr Eli Stoddard, to illustrate the professor’s latest anthropological report, he had gone from strength to strength, receiving more and more requests to provide illustrations for other academic papers and periodicals.

A more than useful and growing sideline was provided by frequent commissions for individual and family portraits by Cascade’s ‘great and good’ who were quick to take advantage of William Ellison’s talented son-in-law.

-----------------------

When a group of wealthy benefactors and environmentalists had come together to create an exhibition of South American artefacts and displays at Cascade Natural History Museum in order to draw the general public’s attention to the danger that deforestation and industrialisation posed to the indigenous people, Eli had immediately called upon Blair to help set up the display and to create the beautiful backdrops and information boards.

Such was the influence of Blair’s adopted family, who founded the successful Ellison Enterprises, Inc that even business acquaintances who stood to lose out by supporting the environmentalists’ cause were drawn in to the project, hoping to make up for lost profits in South America by garnering public goodwill for their forethought and understanding.

The overall result was spectacular – at least in Jim’s admittedly biased opinion – and would not only benefit the environmentalists’ cause, but wouldn’t do Blair’s reputation any harm either.

-----------------------

Cuddling his beloved Guide close, Jim was lost in thought as he gazed around the large exhibition hall.

The preservation of these native peoples’ habitats and lifestyles was something very dear to him as he had had close contact with one such tribe – the Chopec – during his short and ill-fated military career.

He still recalled with gratitude the help offered to him by their shaman, Incacha, when his senses had run amok during a botched exercise designed to defend the Chopec Pass from paramilitary drug dealers and terrorists.

Although at the time he hadn’t given much credence to the shaman when he insisted that Jim would find his true Guide back in Cascade, he was only too grateful that the man had ultimately proved to be correct, and the result was the warm bundle of Blair in his arms.

-----------------------

Just then, a cheerful greeting drew both men’s attention to the approaching figure of William Ellison, who was crossing the hall along with Dr Stoddard and Sally, the Ellison’s live-in housekeeper and stand-in ‘Mom’ to his boys.

William was beaming proudly at Blair as he took in the display, and, once the group reached them, he patted Blair reassuringly on the shoulder.

“Well done, my boy! Well done! I hope you don’t mind that Sally and I talked Eli into giving us a sneak preview. Sally couldn’t wait – well, me either, truth be told!” and he smiled paternally at Jim and Blair as the tiny Asian woman gave Blair an enthusiastic hug.

“I’m very proud of you, Blair. This is a wonderful achievement,” she said as she pulled away to smile into her third ‘adopted’ son’s shy but happy gaze.

Holding him away from her with her hands on his shoulders, she looked from him to Jim and back as she continued, “Dr Stoddard has agreed to show us round, and I should love it if you two would come with us. I want to hear everything!”

Her smile grew even wider as Blair replied, “Thank you, Sally. I I would be p p pleased to show you round.” He glanced up at Jim to see his Sentinel’s grin and nod of agreement.

As the small group wandered around the large exhibit, listening avidly to Dr Stoddard’s informed commentary, with appropriate additional comments from Blair, William was once again forced to recognize how lucky his eldest son had been to discover this talented young Guide.

He was ruefully aware that he had been less than impressed at the first meeting, and it had taken several weeks before he could even tolerate the damaged youngster, but once he had gotten over his ingrained distaste for the pair’s intimacy and realized how incredibly beneficial the gentle young man was for his son, he had finally accepted the bond with open arms, and had done his best to provide the means by which Blair could regain some purpose and happiness in his life.

He was also extremely glad that he had taken the step to formally adopt Blair as his son-in-law after a more than unfortunate confrontation with the young man’s natural mother, truly believing that his family was blessed by the welcome addition.

-----------------------

Eventually coming to the end of their private tour, William and Sally left for home after thanking Eli for his time, and saying that they would see Jim and Blair back at the Mansion in time for dinner, as the pair would be spending the rest of the day at the office.

As they also took their leave of Eli, after confirming that they would arrive in plenty of time for the formal opening of the exhibition the following afternoon, Jim and Blair made their way to the company limousine awaiting them, to be whisked away to the offices of Ellison Enterprises Inc.

-----------------------

CEO’s office, Ellison Enterprises Inc.:

As Jim and Blair made their way through the executive wing of Ellison Enterprises Inc to the private elevator which would take them to Jim’s office suite, they were greeted cheerfully by several other employees, all of whom smiled pleasantly and unaffectedly at Blair, having grown used to his shy presence and genuinely taken by his unassuming and gentle personality.

Recognising that the young man had also had an extremely beneficial effect on their CEO, many of his staff members were only too glad to give credit where it was due, and now Blair was a firm favourite with all but the most narrow-minded and misanthropic individuals, and these few learned to their cost to keep their miserable opinions to themselves.

Not only were their mutterings likely to be easily picked up by Sentinel hearing should they be foolish enough to express them when Jim was in or around the building, but their own colleagues were also prone to leap vociferously to the young Guide’s defence!

-----------------------

With his arm looped companionably around his Guide’s shoulders, Jim recalled how nervous Blair had been for the first few times he had accompanied his Sentinel to the office, and how proud he had been when the young man had put on a brave face, determined not to let Jim down or cause any trouble.

Now however, although still not overly confident, Blair no longer worried about meeting other employees or visiting businessmen and women as long as Jim was close by, or, failing that, their mutual friend and Jim’s PA, the Australian ex Police Inspector Megan Conner.

Megan absolutely adored her ‘Sandy’, and spoiled him rotten knowing that he would never take advantage of her good nature and was always extremely grateful for her attention and friendship.

As the pair pushed open the door of the plush outer office, Megan looked up from her desk and beamed at them both, saying cheekily, “Hey, Sandy! And Boss-man! I didn’t think you would be in today. Have you finished setting up the exhibition then? Tell me all about it!”

And she stood to take Blair’s hand and lead him to his desk next to hers, where a new copy of ‘Anthropology Today’ awaited his attention, although she knew very well that Blair would always complete his allotted tasks first before enjoying his treat.

Knowing that Blair would be well taken care of and fully occupied for the rest of the afternoon, Jim retired contentedly to his own office to look through the paperwork for several new potential deals which needed his attention and approval.

-----------------------

Bayside Waterfront Apartment Complex, Cascade:

Even as Blair sat down to chat to Megan about the exhibition, little did he realise that his mother Naomi was actually in Cascade herself, having arrived with the intention of not only checking out the possible impact the upcoming exhibition could have for her and her fellow environmental activists, but also to see how her son was progressing, as she still harboured a deep desire to ‘liberate’ him from the despised capitalists who had, in her opinion, abducted him while he was emotionally incapable of making his own decisions.

Although she had not seen Blair since that intensely disturbing confrontation at the Ellison Mansion where she had been devastated to hear her beloved son defend the ex ‘pig’ who had taken him as Guide, she remained convinced that, despite William Ellison’s subsequent legal adoption of Blair under Sentinel and Guide Law, she could snatch him away from their clutches by whatever means necessary, and de-programme the young man so that he would once again be free to travel the world with her as he had done as a child.

Whilst envisioning an idealistic future of mother and son joining forces with her activist friends, righting wrongs and fighting for just causes from a global perspective, she conveniently forgot that she had, in fact, selfishly welcomed his decision to settle in Cascade to study at Rainier University as it had freed her to pursue her chosen lifestyle unhindered in any way.

She also had no idea that Blair was in any way involved in anything as important as an exhibition, not having cared to follow up on her son’s actual progress during her absence, certain that he could only be suffering the indignity and servility implicit in his role as Guide to a Sentinel such as James Ellison.

Realising that her ruminations were causing her temper to rise uncomfortably as she paced the floor of the luxurious waterfront apartment owned by one of her many more affluent acquaintances, she breathed deeply, saying firmly to herself I am letting this go before settling down in a full lotus position in front of the huge picture window.

Sinking with practised ease into a meditative state, it never occurred to her that her beliefs or physical situation were in any way hypocritical. Yes, her friend Miles’ apartment was indeed well-equipped and expensive, but she had long ago given up the conviction that protesting and fighting for worthy causes could only be done from poverty-stricken hovels and student squats. This version of ‘champagne socialism’ perfectly complemented her self-centred preference for comfort and no-strings-attached relationships, such that she and her like-minded friends could smugly throw as many proverbial stones as they wished, while conveniently ignoring their own ‘glass houses’.

-----------------------

Sometime later, the gentle whirr of the apartment’s electronic locking system announced the return of her friend Miles, who was accompanied by three of their mutual acquaintances from the Action Group for the Protection of Global Environments.

As Naomi stretched luxuriously and rose serenely to greet the arrivals, both she and Miles were blissfully unaware of the true opinions of their younger companions.

All three were younger, sterner and generally scruffier in appearance, and still harboured the single-minded desire of the true radical to overturn what they considered to be social injustice in whatever shape or form, using whatever means available to them.

To that end, they were quite prepared to take advantage of any opportunity, even if provided by members of a generation they considered to have sold out in succumbing to the temptations of material wealth. None of them felt any guilt over dirtying their hands with financial aid and contacts secured through sources such as Miles and Naomi, who had both inherited enough wealth from their hard-working middle class parents to be able to live a life of relative luxury whilst their ostensible roles remained as dedicated protestors.

On this occasion, the three visitors were, in fact, cynically using Miles’ influence to effectively gate-crash the invitation-only grand opening of the Museum’s new exhibition as they wanted not only to see the display for themselves, but, as free-lance journalists, they also wanted to obtain the sort of ‘in depth’ report their underground newssheet ‘The Green Machine’ thrived on, exposing such displays for what they were – politically correct sops to the environmentalist movement generated by the established academic world and their wealthy industrial backers who would no doubt be enjoying the undeserved favourable publicity and financial gains made from the visiting public.

Truth be told, they weren’t completely incorrect in their cynicism. There was undoubtedly an element of manipulation in the creation of the guest list for the opening, since the originators of the exhibition had had no qualms about inviting Cascade’s most affluent and influential members of society, knowing that they would benefit from the inevitable overt display of generosity even as the guests enjoyed their exposure in the society pages of the mainstream newspapers and magazines.

However, although the activists couldn’t know it yet, in this instance, the hoped-for outcome for the exhibition as a whole was that it would generate a much longer-lasting benefit far beyond lining the pockets of its backers.

-----------------------

As Naomi drifted across to the group, smiling in welcome, Miles made the introductions.

“Naomi, my dear, I should like you to meet Suzi Devoran, Mitch Jameson and Archie Schwartz. They’ll be crashing here tonight so we can all go together to the ‘Grand Opening’.”

As he spoke, his voice modulated to an unpleasant sarcastic tone.

“Perhaps you can get them something to drink while I sort out the guest rooms? We’ll send out for some food later on.......”

And he smiled smugly as he went about preparing his guests’ accommodations.

-----------------------

Ellison Mansion, evening:

As William presided over the family dinner that night, the participants were not unsurprisingly experiencing very different emotions.

Sally, who although had declined joining her ‘family’ on this occasion, was perfectly happy to prepare and serve one of her excellent dinners, nevertheless made a point of spoiling her youngest ‘adopted’ son, Blair, knowing that the following day would inevitably be a trial for him.

She was only too aware of the conflicting emotions that had to be assaulting the young man right now. He was certainly thrilled and justifiably proud of being included in a project with so much potential for educating the general public in the importance of protecting the habitats of indigenous peoples, while at the same time assailed by doubts about his ability to perform under such a weight of expectancy.

She was also well aware of his nervousness in public situations, especially where he would be expected to converse with strangers, so was very glad that he would be fully backed up by her Mr Jim, who she had no doubt would be at his small partner’s elbow every inch of the way.

Because of her understanding, she didn’t fuss or complain when Blair didn’t manage to do justice to her cooking on this occasion, serenely accepting his sheepish apology and simply carrying on with serving the dessert.

As Jim smiled and gently squeezed Blair’s knee in support, even William made no adverse comment so that Blair was able to relax a little, knowing that his family would be there for him whatever tomorrow may bring.

-----------------------

Later that night after Jim and Blair had retired earlier than normal since Jim wanted to try to ensure that his Guide got a decent night’s sleep, they settled comfortably in their bed after sharing a shower, needing to bond fully in order to enjoy some mutual comfort and support.

Having carefully washed and cleaned his lover, Jim now straddled the slender figure lying passively beneath him, eyes full of trust and adoration.

Taking his weight on his knees, Jim cupped Blair’s face with both hands, looking his fill at the beautiful face, and fully appreciating the open and relaxed expression he could see before him as he gently stroked the delicate skin beneath the wide blue eyes with his thumbs.

As he spent an indulgent few minutes in contemplating his lover’s face, Jim once again felt a slight pang of guilt, recognising and accepting the fact that he secretly relished the knowledge that he was in complete control of their lovemaking.

Although Blair had declared that he trusted Jim completely, their bond providing him with all the proof and reassurance he needed that Jim would never deliberately hurt him, Jim himself felt guilty on occasion that his small Guide was so accepting and submissive, allowing Jim to use him however he chose, believing unquestioningly that his Sentinel would always exercise enough self-control.

Such a depth of trust naturally brought with it a burden of responsibility for Jim insofar as he was duty-bound as the dominant partner to do so, but the reward for such rigorous restraint was the freedom to enjoy his young lover in ways that he would never have believed possible in contrast to the stiff and stilted relationships – mostly with women – that he had engaged in up until now.

At such introspective moments, Jim would wonder if the feisty ‘old Blair’ that had been described to him would have been so accommodating. He often thought that there might well have had to have been much more give and take – or rough and tumble - in a Sentinel and Guide relationship with a pre-accident Blair. As it was, he often felt like it was him who was doing all of the ‘taking’, while Blair gave of himself unstintingly without complaint or any show of reluctance.

However, he had also come to the unwilling but realistic conclusion that he would never know. The ‘old Blair’ was gone beyond recall, so he would simply accept and cherish the gift of this ‘new Blair’ whom he loved beyond price, hoping that his small lover gained as much pleasure from their coupling and bonding as he himself did.

As Jim took his weight onto one arm, allowing his free hand to card through Blair’s soft curls, he noticed the slightly quizzical expression growing on his Guide’s lovely face.

Realising that his sensitive partner had intuitively picked up on his mental disquiet, Jim smiled down into the questioning eyes, hoping to head off any disconcerting enquiries.

However, Blair was far too tuned in to his Sentinel to let any potential unease in his partner go without due consideration, so he could not help but ask, “Is there something wrong, Jim? Did I do something? Please tell me if you’re upset with me. Or is it my body?” he continued sadly.

“I know the scars are still there, and they must look so much worse in your eyes. I’m so sorry. If you want me to get more treatment so I’ll look better to you, I promise I’ll do it!”

Truth to tell, Blair’s back and buttocks still bore very obvious areas of scarring where the worst of the burns which had required skin grafts were located, and, indeed, always would, but Jim would never admit to his young partner just how harrowing it was for the Sentinel to witness the evidence of his little Guide’s suffering.

Stricken to the core by Blair’s undeserved assumption of guilt, Jim was quick to reassure him.

“No, baby, that’s not it at all! You’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, and I would never ask you to undergo surgery just because you feel a need to please me. You’re already beautiful to me, and you always will be, baby.

"No, what I was thinking just then was that you are always so quick to agree to anything I want. Sometimes I wonder if you are enjoying our lovemaking as much as I do. I’m hoping that you’ll tell me if I ever do anything to you that you don’t like, baby. I don’t ever want to hurt you. You’ve had enough of hurt to last a lifetime.”

Unable to prevent the surge of relief flooding through him, which was more than visible on his expressive face, Blair replied, “Oh Jim, I love you so much, and I owe you so much. I know you’ll never hurt me, and I trust you in everything. I’ll do whatever you want - whatever gives you pleasure. The bond means everything to me, and I owe it all to you. Please take me. I want it, Jim. I love you!”

So Jim did.

-----------------------

The following morning, after pretty good night’s sleep, thanks to the attentions of his very conscientious Sentinel, Blair felt, if not exactly self-confident, at least in a more accepting state of mind.

Despite this, however, Jim deemed it best if they spent a few hours in the office that morning, where Megan’s attention and a few routine tasks would hopefully keep Blair from growing anxious as the Grand Opening loomed closer.

After having their usual breakfast – and Sally was pleased to note that Blair managed to eat a bit more than she had expected him to under the circumstances – the pair left for the office after assuring Sally that they would be back at lunchtime to give themselves plenty of time to change for the afternoon’s events.

-----------------------

Bayside Waterfront Apartment, same morning:

As Jim and Blair were making their way to Ellison Enterprises’ offices, Naomi, Miles and their three visitors were making their plans over a relaxed breakfast.

As far as Naomi and Miles were concerned, they were using their invitation, obtained through one of Miles’ less scrupulous contacts in the mayor’s office, to see for themselves if the upcoming exhibition did indeed fulfil the promises made in the advertising ‘blurb’ already released.

If it did so, all well and good, but should it fail ultimately to live up to expectations, they would voice their dissatisfaction via the mainstream press, leaving it to their three colleagues to do their own reporting in ‘The Green Machine’ for the benefit of more radical activists.

What they did not realise was that the journalists were already predetermined to manipulate whatever nugget of information they could get their hands on, or any hapless individual they could pressurise in order to ensure that the report would be suitably extreme whatever the outcome. In their minds, the issue was not whether the exhibition was successful or not rather than a means to provide more ammunition for their anarchist readership.

Thus it was that, while Miles regaled his covertly disdainful houseguests with his grandiose tales of wrongs righted in his student years, and Naomi was already mentally choosing her outfit for the afternoon, Suzi, Mitch and Archie were planning how they were going to entrap their ‘secret weapon’ who remained as yet unknown to their hosts – the exhibition’s primary artist and Naomi’s own son, Blair Sandburg.

-----------------------

Afternoon, en route to Cascade Natural History Museum:

At around 2.00 pm, Jim and Blair were being chauffeured to the Museum in one of the company limos, since Jim had decided that he didn’t want to have to deal with the hassle of negotiating the city’s afternoon traffic while his partner was twitching and jiggling with nerves as it was.

Although the official opening wasn’t scheduled until 3.30 pm, they wanted to be there in plenty of time to do any last-minute checks, and to welcome early arrivals into the exhibition hall, since it went without saying that there would be many guests who genuinely wanted to view the exhibition before the speeches and formal reception began.

Stifling a grin, he thought back to how Megan had done such a sterling job of diverting the young man’s attention during their office hours that morning, assuring Blair when it was time to leave that she would see him later on at the exhibit, since Jim had ensured that she receive an invitation.

After a somewhat hasty lunch provided by Sally, the pair had changed for the afternoon’s function and Jim was only too glad that the attractively dressed young man sitting beside him in the limo was his and his alone!

Blair had chosen to wear an open-necked royal blue silk shirt that clung in all the right places, and highlighted his amazing blue eyes. Along with fitted charcoal slacks and black formal shoes, he had elected to wear his soft black leather jacket, which had been Sally’s present to him for his 20th birthday, barely a month ago.

Although he had been reluctant to accept the beautiful gift, believing it to be far too expensive, Sally had told him gently but firmly that she wanted him to have it, and that she would be offended if he didn’t take it, so he had accepted with love and gratitude for the tiny housekeeper’s generosity.

The overall effect was mouth-watering as far as the Sentinel was concerned, although it had to be said that Blair was, as usual, completely and delightfully unaware of his charm and appeal to Jim and to the many people who knew him.

As for Jim, he was wearing a simple but beautifully cut dark grey suit with a paler blue shirt and tie, and, also as usual, his physical stature and unconscious grace and dignity ensured that he would undoubtedly catch more than a few admiring glances at the gathering.

As the limo pulled up outside the main entrance to the Natural History Museum, Jim reached over and gently squeezed Blair’s knee, momentarily stopping the incessant bouncing.

“OK Chief? Time to go greet your admirers! Come on, baby,” he continued, as Blair gazed back at him with anxious eyes, swallowing hard as nerves began to overtake him.

“You’ll be just fine, love. I’ll be with you all the way, and I guarantee you’ll relax a bit after the initial entrance. Dad and Sally’ll be there later, and Megan also, so you’ll have plenty of support.”

And with that, he patted his Guide’s face before Blair climbed out of the car, the driver having stepped round to open the passenger door for them.

Once out of the car himself, Jim thanked the man, telling him that he would ring him when they were ready to be collected, then he looped a supportive arm around Blair’s shoulders and steered him towards the wide flight of stone steps leading to the main doors.

“I I I’m sorry I’m being such a w w wuss,” whispered Blair, who was blushing with embarrassment, and wanted nothing more right then than to hide behind his Sentinel’s broad back.

“I I know that it’s a good cause, a a and I have to b be here, but it’s the f first time I’ve m met so many people all at once. A a at least, I think it is!”

He finished softly, wishing once again that his memory of his pre-accident life wasn’t so elusive, and hating that his nervousness had worsened his stammer.

“It’s OK, little one. You’re not being wussy. Anyone with any sensitivity would be anxious on such an occasion. I’ll bet even Eli’s got a few nerves! After all, if the funding Rainier gains from the exhibition’s donations are as good as he hopes, it’ll be quite a coup for him and the anthropology department. Now, chin up, and here we go!”

So saying, the pair stepped through the automatic doors into the vast lobby, where a large sign, resplendent with one of Blair’s illustrations, pointed the way to the exhibition hall.

As expected, there were plenty of people milling about already, and more than a few were studying the exhibits with unfeigned interest.

Spotting Eli across the hall, Jim and Blair began to make their way over to join the Professor when they were waylaid by Jim’s brother Steven, with his beautiful but vacuous wife Melinda on his arm.

“Hey, bro! And Blair! Good to see you both! We’ve been around the exhibition already, because I wanted to see what you’ve been up to, kiddo! It’s really great – interesting and very well executed. Congratulations, kid!”

And he patted Blair on the back, grinning happily from him to Jim and back.

Melinda smiled and nodded mechanically also, but it was pretty obvious from her overall demeanour that she would much rather have come later so she could enjoy mingling with the other socialites without having to exercise her brain cells actually looking at the displays with pretended interest.

The only reason she was even half inclined to tolerate Blair was because he was Jim’s Guide and well thought of by all the Ellison’s, otherwise she wouldn’t have given the shy young man the time of day!

It didn’t hurt her either to be associated with him through his prodigious artistic talent, since she, like many of her acquaintances had portraits by the young man, so she was prepared to gush insincerely in his praise when necessary.

Unaware of her dismissive attitude, even though Jim and even Steven were pretty much wise to her, Blair smiled happily at both of them as he said, “Th thank you, Steven. I I hope you b both enjoy the rest of the afternoon!”

“Sure will, Blair! We’ll catch up with you both later on,” replied Steven, before leading Melinda over towards another group of friends.

Just then, Eli appeared in front of them, grinning cheerfully at Blair and then at Jim as he said, “Well, young man, I think we may well be onto a winner here! All the visitors I’ve already spoken to are most impressed, and some of them even know what they’re talking about!” he added, chuckling wickedly.

“Let me introduce you to some friends of mine who are visiting from the Seattle and Berkeley Anthropology Departments. Now, don’t worry, young Blair!” he continued when Blair paled a little at his words. They have all expressed their appreciation of your work, and they won’t bite, I promise!”

Slightly reassured, Blair smiled a little, and, with his Sentinel’s hand resting lightly in the small of his back, they followed Eli over to where a cluster of rather obvious academics were engaged in animated discussion beside one of the dioramas.

As they were invited into the group, Blair soon found to his relief that all the visiting anthropologists were at pains to make him feel welcome, no doubt forewarned by Eli, so that soon he and Jim were comfortably joining in with the conversation, Blair’s stammer becoming less noticeable as his confidence increased.

As the number of guests grew steadily, and the actual official opening hour approached, Jim and Blair necessarily had to circulate more, but Blair was now more relaxed, knowing that Jim was looking out for him, and also having the backup of William, Sally and Megan, who had all arrived more or less together.

Knowing that the start of the ceremony was only a few minutes away, Blair excused himself to go to the Restroom, confident enough by now to make the trip across the large exhibition hall by himself, although Jim naturally tracked his progress.

Once he saw Blair disappear into the Gents Restroom, Jim dialled down his hearing in order to give his Guide a little privacy, although he remained on alert for anything untoward happening.

However, while chatting to William and Sally, Megan having gone to look around the exhibits again by herself, Jim stopped in mid-sentence as he detected a well-remembered scent.

As William and Sally looked on in puzzlement, Jim dialled his hearing back up, and, sure enough, easily made out Naomi’s tinkling laugh as she entered the lobby on the arm of a rather supercilious-looking older man.

Followed by his father and Sally, Jim excused himself to stride across the room, halting in front of the newcomers, but dismissing as unimportant the three younger members of the party who had already broken away from Naomi and her partner.

Steely ice-blue gaze fixed uncompromisingly on Blair’s mother’s face, Jim virtually growled, “Ms Sandburg! Fancy seeing you here! I’m very familiar with today’s guest list, and I know for a fact that you weren’t sent an invitation....!”

However, at his words, the older man butted in stating snidely, “Ah, Mr Ellison, but I was! Mr Miles Upjohn and Guest. That’s what it says on here.” He smirked unpleasantly as he waved the offending card imperiously in Jim’s direction.

“Naomi is here quite legitimately as my guest, so, if you’ll kindly step aside, we’d like to take in the exhibition!” He took Naomi’s arm to lead her away.

Nevertheless, instead of leaving immediately, Naomi paused long enough to stare up into Jim’s face, her own expression set and angry as she demanded, “Where’s Blair? Where is my son? If you’re here, he must be. I’d like to see him!”

“You keep away from him, Ms Sandburg! I don’t want you anywhere near him again!”

Jim snarled in response, only for her to reply brusquely, “He’s my son, Mr Ellison. Mine, despite that ridiculous Guide adoption law! And if I want to see him, I will!”

And she marched off with Miles, nose in the air as they strode past William and Sally and on into the exhibition hall.

-----------------------

Having been distracted by the altercation, Jim failed to notice the three journalists who had quickly made their way towards the Restrooms, having already seen Blair enter, and so he was somewhat tardy in picking up on what happened next.

-----------------------

As Blair finished washing his hands and was about to leave the Restroom, he found his way barred by a young woman and her two male companions who stood uncompromisingly in the doorway.

Gracing them with his usual sweet smile, Blair said, “Excuse me, please.”

However, he found himself more or less pushed back into the room by the men while the woman stood on guard outside.

In truth, Suzi had been almost disarmed by the innocent smile and the lack of guile in Blair’s open expression, and had to reprimand herself sternly to concentrate on her role in their task to gather information for their radical news article.

Archie and Mitch had no such qualms however; as they backed their quarry into a corner of the luxurious restroom’s seating area.

Holding out his small tape recorder while Mitch used the mini digital camera he had smuggled in, Archie snapped out, “So, Mr Sandburg. Care to tell us just how much you and your ‘philanthropist’ cronies are going to make out of this travesty of an exhibition? How much did you get paid to do all those illustrations? What made you switch sides to align yourself with the capitalist pigs? And where will all that donation money end up? We all know it won’t be going to benefit the tribes you’re claiming to support.....”

He continued with his aggressive rapid-fire questioning as Blair cowered back against the wall.

“I I I’m not getting anything! ” he cried.

“W W W we’re all d d d doing it v v voluntarily!” then he added sotto voice.

“P p please Jim! P please come!”

By that time, Jim had caught up with the action, having overheard everything, and was even then rushing to the rescue.

Furious, he raced over to the Restroom, and barrelled past the young woman who was ineffectually trying to prevent him from entering, and ruthlessly shoved the two journalists violently out of the way as he wrapped his trembling Guide in his arms.

Turning to face the men, who were vainly trying to rescue their equipment whilst removing themselves from the irate Sentinel’s immediate vicinity, he snarled, “Get out! Get away from him, and get out of the building unless you want to be thrown out! Believe me when I say I’d relish the chance to kick your worthless carcasses out onto the street!”

Seeing the real threat of imminent death and destruction in the big man’s cold-eyed expression, Archie and Mitch simultaneously decided that on this occasion discretion was most definitely the better part of valour, and they scrambled out of the room, collecting a shaken Suzi as they went.

Outside, they were met by William and the three hefty security guards he had alerted, and who were only too happy to show the three the quickest way out of the building, waiting until they were satisfied that the journalists had truly retreated with their tails clamped firmly between their legs.

With William returning to stand guard on this occasion to try and secure a modicum of privacy for his son and son-in-law, Jim pulled a shaken Blair onto his lap to cuddle and comfort him.

As Blair hid his face in his lover’s neck while he tried desperately to regain some measure of equilibrium, Jim rubbed his back in soothing circles as he said, “It’s OK, baby, they’ve gone. I’m sorry I didn’t get here quicker, lover. I got distracted by something. Will you be alright to watch the opening ceremony? It’ll be starting any time now.”

He decided not to describe the nature of the ‘distraction’ for the time being, until Blair had himself under a bit more control.

After a long moment, Blair pulled himself up and drew away far enough to be able to look into Jim’s worried face.

Taking a shuddering breath, he sniffled a bit before saying tearfully, “W Why would they s s say such things, Jim? It it’s supposed to b b be a ch charity event. N n none of us have t t taken anything but ex expenses to c cover materials. A a and I didn’t even do that!”

Shaking his head sadly, Jim replied, “I’m sorry, little one, but that sort of fringe journalist isn’t interested in the truth. They only want sensationalism, and if they have to lie and cheat to get it, they will. And everyone involved in the event knows you gave your time completely free. Dad was only too pleased for you to use some of the materials he gave you for your birthday for such a good cause.”

The materials to which Jim referred were part of William’s main present for his adopted son-in-law.

Having decided to nurture Blair’s talent as much as possible, with Jim’s help and encouragement William had had one of the bright loft rooms of Ellison Mansion converted into a proper, fully equipped studio to the young man’s amazement and undying gratitude. Even though he was peripherally aware of building work going on in the large house, Blair had had no reason to believe that it involved anything to do with him, and he had been speechless with joyous surprise when he was led in by William, Jim and Sally on his birthday morning.

Taking another deep and steadying breath, Blair said, “Th thank you for looking after m me, Jim. I I think I’ll be alright now.”

And he slid off Jim’s knee to stand up in front of his Sentinel.

Smiling in appreciation of his Guide’s courage, Jim hugged him again, then turned them both to leave the restroom, with Blair tucked firmly into his side.

-----------------------

Meanwhile, in another part of the exhibition hall, Naomi was undergoing something of a mini-crisis and major epiphany herself.

Not having bothered to do much research into the event other than discover what it actually entailed and the nature of the group behind its creation, she had had no idea that her son was personally involved at all.

Knowing that the Ellison’s company was listed as being among the financial backers, she hadn’t been surprised to see them here en masse mingling with Cascade’s social and business elite, but she was stricken with amazement to see her son’s name quoted as the exhibit’s main artist and designer.

Staring open-mouthed at the information board, then slowly turning in a circle to take in the many beautiful backdrops, scenes and dioramas, she gasped,

“Oh goddess! I had no idea! I mean, I knew he was good at drawing – he showed me some of his field notebooks once – but I never thought he could do this! Oh Miles! How could I have been so wrong?”

She paused for a second, feeling a surge of remorse overtaking her before continuing, “The Ellisons haven’t hurt him – they’re helping him! And I thought I was his only friend and hope! I have to see him, to be sure!”

As she spoke she gazed around her, desperately seeking out her son while Miles muttered peevishly, “Oh, come on, Naomi! What does it matter anyway? Now you know he’s well taken care of, you can let him go with a clear conscience. Discerning the nature of this exhibition’s more important right now” he added pompously.

“We need to find out if it’s genuine in its intentions to be of benefit to the native tribal habitats. Let’s not get distracted here! And where have those three journalists gone? They’ve got work to do!”

Snapping crossly at him as she pulled her arm out of his grasp, she said, “Fine! Go ahead and do your ‘thing’! I’ll catch up with you later once I’ve tracked Blair down. Anyway, the speeches are about to start, so we may as well listen since we’re here! We might even learn something!”

Her tone was sarcastic as she turned to face the podium where Dr Eli Stoddard had just stepped up to address the assembled guests.

As Jim, Blair and William quietly re-entered the room, making their way as unobtrusively as possible over to join Sally, Megan, Steven and a rather bored Melinda on the edge of the crowd furthest away from where Naomi and Miles were standing, Eli began his welcoming speech.

Tapping the microphone to gain the crowd’s attention, he began.

“Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you all for coming here today. Before I hand over the podium to Mayor Brody to declare the exhibition officially open, I should like to say a word or two about how this exhibition came to be, and what we hope to achieve from it and from your generous donations.

"Initially the brain-child of a wealthy local collector and philanthropist who wishes to remain anonymous, and whose private collection of South American native artefacts forms the basis of the exhibit, this event grew as a result of the collaboration between supporters of the environmentalist camp, some of Cascade’s most influential and respected businessmen, the staff of this wonderful museum, and the Anthropology Department of Rainier University.

"As you can see for yourselves, the results are truly spectacular, and I am particularly proud to draw your attention to the work of our own up-and-coming young artist, Mr Blair Sandburg, who, may I add, donated his time and energy entirely for free!”

At this point, he paused while the crowd turned towards Blair, applauding him freely with genuine appreciation as he blushed deeply at their attention even as he smiled shyly in response, unashamedly taking comfort in his grinning Sentinel’s one –armed hug.

Smiling widely himself, Eli continued.

“Now to the important part, in materialistic terms at least!” he said with a somewhat sardonic chuckle.

“With your very generous donations, and the income from the general public once the exhibition is officially open, we intend to do several things.

"Firstly, we need to make the public aware of the dangers to indigenous tribes in the jungles of South America, not just through visiting this exhibition, but by creating an entertaining and informative website and providing a comprehensive educational package suitable for distribution initially to our local Cascade schools, then hopefully, to a much wider range of schools and colleges throughout the state, and perhaps eventually even the country.

"We also intend to create a new scholarship in Rainier’s Anthropology Department to benefit a post graduate student wishing to follow a course of study into the effects of modern civilisation encroaching into native habitats. This will be in the name of one of my favourite ex-pupils; himself once a talented and promising anthropologist before going on to pastures new – again, I give you, Mr Blair Sandburg!”

The applause was even louder now as Blair looked on, mouth hanging open in genuine shock.

As he underwent the hugs and back-slapping congratulations of his family and friends, Eli once again called the crowd to order as he handed the platform over to the Mayor whose task it was to declare the event well and truly open, and to announce the very significant sum of money already promised in donations from the wealthy guest list.

With the speeches over, the crowd drifted away towards a side room where champagne and an impressive buffet awaited them, except for the Ellison group, who were still hugging, cuddling and generally showering a thoroughly bemused Blair with love and encouragement.

However, just as the party had settled enough to consider moving towards the reception area themselves, Jim glanced up to see Naomi striding purposefully towards them, with a plainly irritated Miles in tow.

Oh crap! was Jim’s immediate reaction, as he quickly turned to his bewildered Guide.

“Um, baby, er...that distraction I was on about – she’s approaching!”

Before he could say anything further, Blair’s mother had arrived, and had placed herself firmly in front of her shocked son.

Before anyone could react, though, she said gently, “Oh baby! It’s so good to see you! And looking so well! I’m so sorry we parted on such bad terms. I truly believed I had to rescue you, sweetie, but now I see how wrong I was. I still don’t like everything your new family stands for,” she admitted honestly, "but you’ve obviously thrived nevertheless. I had no idea you were so artistically talented, even though I always knew how clever you were before the accident. I hope you can forgive me, sweetie, and that we can be friends again.”

And she enfolded her son in her arms, realising with no little amazement that she had missed his physical presence so very much.

As Blair hugged her back hard, he was unable to prevent silent tears of relief and reaction running down his face.

“Oh Mom! I missed you s s so much! I th thought you h h hated me! I do love you, Mom. It’s just that, I I have Jim now, and he’s everything to me. Please t try to understand!”

Kissing the top of his head, Naomi replied gently, “I do understand now, sweetie. I do! Even if I may never completely reconcile my fundamental political and social opinions with where you are now, I’ll always love you, and I respect and am grateful for what your Sentinel and his family have done for you. Congratulations, darling! I love you so much!”

Mother and son hugged again, wrapped up for a few precious moments in a private reaffirmation of their familial bond.

A few minutes later, aware of the group of Blair’s friends and new family looking on with expressions varying from irritation to bemusement to friendly acceptance, Naomi pulled back, whilst gently maintaining her contact with her son, rubbing her hands up and down his upper arms.

Never one to hide behind social niceties or shallow platitudes, Naomi straightened her spine and looked around the group before saying, “I apologize for my previous behaviour towards you all. I had no reason to believe that you meant for my son to be any more than a tool to be used at will by his Sentinel. I realise now that, despite my misgivings, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to him after his accident. I truly believed that I needed to come riding to his rescue, but I am forced to accept the conclusion that I couldn’t have done for him what you have done, and for that I am truly grateful.

"Mr Ellison,” she continued forthrightly, looking at William, who was still in two minds as to whether he should be angry or offended at this woman’s presence. “I hated you for ‘adopting’ Blair. I admit I thought you just wanted to make sure your own son was taken care of, without taking heed of my son’s needs. I was wrong, and I’m sorry.

"And Jim,” she went on, gazing unflinchingly and openly at the Sentinel. “I assumed you would use Blair as needed, and that he would never again be allowed to be his own person. I was wrong again. All I want to say now is that, I’m so proud of what Blair has achieved, but I’m well aware that it would most probably not have happened if I had taken him away.

"And now,” she said, visibly shedding her stiff and serious demeanour and resuming the sparkling and undeniably attractive personality she was wont to display, “I’ll leave you all to enjoy the rest of the reception. And goddess, was that hard for me to say!”

She chuckled wryly, and with a final kiss to Blair’s cheek, and a squeeze of his shoulders, she turned to go, saying quietly for her son’s benefit, “Take care, sweetie! I love you, and I won’t leave it so long next time to come see you!”

As she swept regally away, virtually ignoring the puffed-up and visibly annoyed Miles trailing in her wake, the Ellison group shook themselves slightly and looked around at each other in some bemusement.

Quickly stepping up behind his Guide to wrap supporting arms about the slender waist, Jim huffed loudly before saying, “Well, baby, I have to say that your Mom’s something else! If she really means everything she said, then I have to admit that I was mistaken about her, and I’m truly glad you’ve had the chance to meet up and talk, however briefly. I may not ever agree with all her half-assed idealism, but I believe now that she does care for you, if in her own inimitable way. Are you OK love? Do you need to go home?”

Frowning a little in consternation, Blair twisted round to look up at Jim before turning back to take in the rest of the group.

“Th thank you, Jim. I I honestly can’t say h how I feel right now, but it was s so good to see Mom again, and find out that she still loves me. D d do you mind if we go home now? I d don’t know if I w want to stay any longer.....I’m sorry,” he finished softly.

“No problem, little one. No problem at all! Let’s blow this pop stand and make the most of a quiet evening. We’ve got a lot to think about! OK with you all?” Jim gazed questioningly around at his friends and family as he spoke.

When they received positive comments from all concerned, beginning with Megan’s firm, “No worries, mates!”

Jim steered his Guide and lover gently towards the doors, skirting the jollity of the reception and reaching the relative calm of the street outside, where he used his cell phone to call up their driver.

As they waited for the limo’s arrival, Blair leaned into his Sentinel’s side, wordlessly soaking up the comfort the big man offered, and turning over the events of the afternoon in his mind.

-----------------------

Epilogue:

By the time the limo deposited the pair outside the Ellison Mansion, Jim was more than a little worried about Blair’s continuing silence and deeply pensive air.

Knowing that the young man must be reeling under the onslaught of a myriad of different and opposing emotions, he turned his Guide to face him as soon as they had stepped into the house, tilting Blair’s face up to meet his gaze with a finger beneath the young man’s chin.

“Hey, little one!” he murmured gently. “Penny for them, or are they worth a whole lot more than that? I’m thinking that it might be a good idea for us to go upstairs and relax a little before the others get home. What do you think?”

Grateful for Jim’s intuitive understanding of what he needed to regain his equanimity, Blair took a deep, shuddering breath before saying softly, “Yes please, Jim. I I need you so much!”

And he gave himself up completely into his Sentinel’s care, trusting him implicitly to look after him in the aftermath of what had turned out to be a really quite traumatic day.

Leading his smaller partner up towards their suite, Jim recalled how he had been concerned that he was always in the driving seat when it came to bonding and love-making, but in this instance at least he knew that it was right, and just what Blair needed.

Closing the bedroom door behind them, Jim turned his Guide to face him, then carefully took the succulent mouth in a deep and loving kiss, assaulted immediately by the warmth and addictive taste of the young man, even as he revelled in the deep, needy moan his action elicited from his partner.

Breaking apart when breathing became a necessity, he looked down into Blair’s beautiful face, now flushed and heavy-lidded in arousal, lips reddened and kiss-swollen, and he smiled slightly predatorily at the tempting sight.

Carefully stripping his Guide of his clothing, he laid the young man down on the bed before swiftly undressing himself, and proceeded to make passionate love to his Guide, exploring the slender body laid out willingly for his pleasure, and knowing that Blair was truly content to give him total control.

Kissing, nipping, licking and stroking every inch of skin he could reach, Jim soon had Blair moaning and thrashing in desire and need, so that, by the time he had carefully prepared the younger man for his entrance, their simultaneous climax and the bright flash of the mutually healing and comforting bond were swift to occur, leaving them both replete with satisfaction and drowsily snuggling in the aftermath, Blair pulled up to more or less blanket his Sentinel’s powerful body.

Just before dropping off into a much-needed nap, Blair murmured from where he was pillowed on Jim’s chest, “Thank you, Jim. I love you. Thank you for making everything better....”

Touched by his lover’s honest comment and feeling his heart swell with love for the young man, Jim relied, “You’re more than welcome, baby! Sleep tight!”

And he bent to drop a kiss on top of the curly head nestled beneath his chin, even as he knew Blair was already asleep.

-----------------------

Some while later, showered and refreshed, Jim and Blair made their way downstairs to find William and Sally in the kitchen, enjoying a late supper and waiting to make sure that Blair was in a more relaxed and settled frame of mind, although truth be told they were both of the opinion that Jim’s care and attention were almost guaranteed to do the trick!

As the pair sat down, Blair blushing a little at their knowing smiles, Sally set out some more cold cuts and fresh bread for them to make thick and tempting sandwiches before pouring fresh coffee for them all.

Since Steven and Melinda had chosen to go home after the opening ceremony as they had to change for yet another evening function Melinda was intent on patronising, William was content to have a quiet night in with his son and son-in-law, while Sally was equally happy to have an early night to herself once she had seen to feeding her menfolk.

Having satisfied their appetites, therefore, William, Jim and Blair retired to the den after thanking Sally and wishing her goodnight.

Settling down side by side on their favourite comfortable sofa, Jim accepted a large snifter of brandy from William, while Blair was content to sip a soda as he wasn’t that bothered about alcohol – which, as Jim had laughingly pointed out, was no bad thing since at barely twenty years old, he wasn’t legal yet anyway!

As William took his seat opposite them, they sipped their drinks in companionable silence for a few minutes, watching the dancing flames of the fire Sally had had the forethought to light for them, since although it was supposedly late Spring in Cascade, the evenings were often still chilly and damp.

Arousing himself from his contemplation, William addressed Blair, a friendly smile creasing his face.

“Well, young man, I think we can honestly say that the exhibition will be a great success, due in no small part to your efforts. I’m very proud of you, lad. And to have a scholarship in your name at Rainier is no small feat either, but it’s only what you deserve. I’m just sorry those moronic journalists spoiled the event for you.”

“Thank you, Dad,” replied Blair, knowing that the older man appreciated it when he used that term. “I I I’m sorry I g got so upset, b but I didn’t understand why they should s say such things! I I mean, everyone who was involved in s setting up th the exhibition tried to do it for f free if they could!”

Sighing, William nodded in sympathy, even as Jim added, “It’s like I said before, Chief. They weren’t interested in the truth, just what they could make of the exhibition in terms of ‘creating’ a piece of sensationalist nonsense for some left-wing rag. I don’t think it’ll even be read by many genuine environmentalists, baby. It’s aimed more towards radicals and the anarchist fringe. I just wish I had cottoned on to them faster before they got you cornered.”

Smiling ruefully at his larger partner, Blair said, “It’s OK, J Jim! I I mean, Mom’s enough to distract anyone! B But it was good to see her,” he added quietly. “And to know th that she’s forgiven me....”

“There’s nothing to forgive, son,” declared William.

“At least, not in your case! I think it was the evil Ellisons that she needed to forgive, for having their wicked way with her only son, and, you know, having spoken to her this afternoon, I think I do understand her fears to a certain extent. After all, I was pretty unpleasant to you when you first came to us, Blair. I honestly thought we’d gotten a bad deal, and I couldn’t see any way out of it if Jim was to benefit from finding his true Guide. I’m sorry, son. I know I haven’t said that very often, but I really mean it!”

Face radiant with happiness at the older man’s candid admission and implicit acceptance, Blair said, “Thank you so much f for saying that, D Dad! I I know I w was scared when I first arrived, b but it was m mostly b because I w was having such awful nightmares, a and I t truly believed I was going to Hell. It’s silly, I know that now, but once Jim h helped me to get over them, I f felt I was worth something again, and you all helped me f f find out what I could still do. But the m most important thing for me will always be to g guide Jim.”

Continuing sincerely, he turned to look adoringly into his lover’s face which wore its own expression of love and appreciation at his resolute declaration.

“My Sentinel, always,” he finished softly, even as Jim pulled him into an unaffected hug.

“My Guide, and my life forever," Jim replied with conviction, smiling as he glanced up at his father over the curly head resting on his shoulder to see the older man, eyes misty with unaccustomed emotion, raising his glass to them in a heart-felt toast to their lasting happiness.

The End

Back to Index