The Times of My Life - Blair's Life Story by Marion

The Times of My Life – Blair’s Life Story - Marion

It was one of those perfect days that happen all too rarely. They’d woken early, made love leisurely and gone back to sleep, waking again and then eating a late breakfast before doing some chores. And, wonder of wonders, they’d received no phone calls ordering them out to some crime scene. Now they lounged – Blair half-lying between Jim’s legs, Jim’s torso supporting Blair’s – on the balcony soaking up the sun and each other’s company. Blair’d made sure both of them had sun protection on and the rich smell of sweat and the so-called un-perfumed lotion filled his nose. The temperature was just right and not too hot. Down below cars crawled along Prospect, their radios blaring out the latest hits, but none of it really registered, not when he had this time with his lover, just relaxing and chilling out.

The only thing that bothered Blair was this sense that Jim had been building up to ask him something. He wasn’t sure what it was, but every time Jim started to say something, he seemed to hesitate and back off. Far from driving Blair crazy with curiosity as it would once have done, now he felt patient enough to give Jim time. His lover would come out with whatever it was soon enough. Still, he admitted to himself that it was a minor irritation. Hopefully Jim would say something soon, because Blair still had some limitations.

Jim trailed his fingers over Blair’s bare arm, causing Blair’s skin to goose bump in pleasure.

“It’s at times like this I love being a Sentinel,” Jim whispered in Blair’s ear.

“Not that I’m at all critical of you enjoying your senses, but why especially at times like this?”

“I can relax, let go, take pleasure in them, take pleasure in you.” He nibbled Blair’s earlobe, gently pulling at the plain gold ring that sat there, with his teeth.

“Far be it for me to stop you. I guess it’s at times like this I love you being a sentinel.” Blair moved his head so Jim could have access to the column of his neck.

Jim moved Blair’s hair away and took up the offer, kissing the exposed skin. “You love me anyway.”

“True enough,” Blair agreed.

There was a moment of contented silence and then Jim said, “You know everything about me, from the C-section onwards.”

“I know… most things. There are still some parts of your life that I know better than to bug you about, things that are definitely still on the official secret list, although if it’s something that’s likely to come back and bite us, you can be sure I will always try and worm it out of you. On the other hand, couples should have some secrets left unexplored. Adds to the mystery, keeps a man interested.” Blair turned his head to wink at Jim.

“You have no problems keeping my interest. You just have to wiggle that cute ass and I’m there!”

Blair laughed. “And I thought you loved me for my intellect!”

“I do!”

“Yeah, right! My brain, my ass, my dick… not to mention your interest in my hair.”

“Well, I love your hair too.” Jim brushed his fingers over Blair’s locks, these days shorter, speckled with grey, and with what Blair referred to as his ‘ever increasing forehead’.

“I had noticed.” Blair grinned. “You’ve had something of a hair fetish going on since we met!”

“Have not!” Jim replied, indignantly.

“So the fact that you grab my hair whenever we kiss is what? A coincidence?”

“Okay…” Jim conceded, “maybe I do have a small ‘thing’ going for your hair.”

Blair rolled his eyes. “Small thing… It’s a fetish, Jim, live with it, but it’s one I personally don’t have a problem with.” He settled back in Jim’s arms. “What you’d grab a hold of if ever I go bald….” He let his words hang in the air.

They were silent again and then Jim took a breath as though gearing up for something. “Is that why you’ve never told me your secrets, Blair?” he asked. “You’re worried that you’ll lose me? ‘Cause I have to tell you it’ll never happen, you’re stuck with me forever. But I’d really like to know about your life. I feel that it’s a largely unknown part of you.”

The tone of Jim’s voice was light but Blair could tell there was a degree of nervousness within it. For some reason Jim was unsure over asking about Blair’s life. Though why he should be…

Maybe, Blair thought, maybe I can find out what’s been going on in that brain of his and we can work through it.

“What do you want to know? You read all the paperwork when I first joined up with you and I know Simon did a whole plethora of background checks on me.”

Jim continued to stroke Blair’s arm. “They just covered the basic facts, not the events that made you, you.”

Blair shrugged within the encirclement of Jim’s arms and turned slightly to face his lover. “Like I said, you only have to ask. What exactly do you want to know?”

“Okay,” Jim paused, considering. “How about your earliest memory?”

“My earliest memory? My earliest memory that isn’t just flashes of images?”

“Yeah.”

Blair thought for a moment. He tapped a finger against his lips. “That would be the trip we made to Lapland – or Saapmi, as the indigenous people call their land.”

“You went to Lapland? What, to see Santa Claus?” Jim asked, a smile in his voice.

Blair chuckled. “No, Naomi never took me to see Santa, too commercial! No, we went to see a shaman….”

***

Blair’s mind traveled back to the flight over Saapmi. All he could see was snow. It was so white and clean from up in the plane. And he couldn’t wait to be down there with it, building snow-people and throwing snowballs. He was almost bouncing in his seat.

Nor could he contain his excitement during the landing and the check-out through customs. Then there was the long taxi ride to Lars’ family home. But at last – finally – he was allowed out in their yard with the fields behind covered in the wonderful snow.

Lars was a friend of Naomi’s that they lived with. He had a little pale, pointed beard, wore weird clothes – like the big hat with flaps that came down over the ears, that he let Blair wear, even though it covered most of Blair’s head and his face – and he treated Blair like a kid brother. Blair thought he was ‘excellent’ – one of his favorite new words. Lars was, Blair quickly learned, Sámi, the name of the native people in that part of the world, and his family lived at the top end of their country. They wanted to fit in with the rest of the world and had pushed their son out and away from his culture, far enough away that he’d set up home in the US, but not so far that he didn’t return on a regular basics to see his elderly grandfather, usually staying with his parents when he visited. This time he brought Naomi and her son to meet them.

Though Blair was fascinated by everything, it was the novelty of the snow that held his undivided attention. It was so deep in places that he was sure he could build a house or igloo in it and no one would know where he was. He could stay there forever! He wanted to roll in it, to do all the things he’d seen done in books and, once allowed outside, that’s what he did, getting himself covered in the clean, white, wet snow.

Lars’ parents had been concerned that he’d stay out too long and not realize just how cold he was becoming, but Naomi told them that once he felt really chilly, he’d come in, and anyway, she’d wrapped him up very well. Blair finally came in with cheeks aflame, nose aglow, and eyes full of wonder and excitement. He must have talked the ears off everyone. Later Lars showed him how to build an ‘excellent, enormous’ snowman and they had hot, bitter chocolate with marshmallows to warm up again.

The next day, Lars took them to meet his grandfather, Henrik, who was a shaman, a ‘noajdde’ in his native tongue. At that time, the title of shaman meant little to Blair, but Naomi was excited to meet him so Blair was excited too. Henrik lived in a grand old timber building with lots of colorful carving on it, on the edge of the forest outside the town.

He took to Blair straight away. He invited his visitors out to find his herd of reindeer, who roamed free on Henrik’s land, bundling Naomi and her son up in furs as they sat on the sledge drawn by Alaskan huskies that panted and whined impatiently as they waited for the command to go. Henrik wore big, thick boots but he loaned Naomi his gloves that were so large, Blair could fit his own hands in as well as his mom’s. Henrik wore a blue padded jacket and stood behind them on the foot-run at the back of the sled, shouting out instructions to his excited dogs who obeyed his every word. Blair gazed in delight at the virgin snow and the so-white-they-were-almost-blue paw prints the dogs left behind as they pulled the sled along, the snow flying in all directions as they raced through it.

The light was so bright there, the air so clear and sharp, and, when they found the herd, the reindeer were so big and ‘excellent’; Blair was enchanted by it all.

Back at his home, Henrik invited them to share a meal, but Lars and Naomi insisted on doing the cooking for them all. After they’d eaten, Blair and Naomi showed Lars and Henrik how to make snow angels. They formed teams and had snowball fights. It was a truly excellent day.

Later, after they’d dried and got warm again and it had grown dark, Henrik had taken them back out to watch the stars. They stood, well wrapped up, in a clearing and waited.

Blair wasn’t all that sure what they were waiting for. He knew it was something special enough to keep him up past his bedtime, but he was sleepy, his energy had begun to dissipate… and then something truly magical happened.

At first it was dark, all you could see were the stars in the sky and a bright moon, and then a glow formed over the mountains.

“Look!” Blair said, excitedly, pointing.

“Shhh,” whispered Lars. “Don’t point at them, just watch.”

Blair’s hands dropped to his side and then his mouth fell open as a great, green, curved curtain suddenly appeared as if by magic and danced across the sky, then behind it came another, and another, with white flowing through it and a hint of red and blue at the bottom edge like a rainbow gone crazy. Blair felt so small, small and all tingly as he stared up at the curtains of lights. It was as if someone had a set of switches in the sky and as they played with the settings, the colors and patterns changed. It was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen. Though there was all that movement in the sky, it was eerily silent, making it even more strange and exciting. The lights had an oily quality, like gas in puddles. Once the lights appeared to come shooting at him and Blair ducked, which made Naomi laugh and her son blush. He could see the stars through the glowing colors, hundreds and hundreds of stars, shining through these beautiful patterns. Blair looked up at his mother’s face and understood how moved she was too. He gave her hand a squeeze and after a moment, got one in return.

Blair had been told what the lights were, Lars had told him all about space winds and magnetic flows and… stuff like that, but he liked Lars’ grandfather’s explanation much better.

“Here, they are seen up to two hundred times a year,” he told a wide-eyed Blair. “We call them ‘fox fires’. Once upon a time, so the story goes, there was a fox, a red fox, and he was out alone in the dark of winter. He was scared to be out alone. He wanted to get somewhere warm and snug, but the cold wind blew up and made weird noises through the woods and he began to run. He ran faster and faster, ‘til his brush – his tail – started fires behind him spraying up the crystals of ice so that sparks flew off into the sky and they followed the fox as he ran.”

“Did he get home?” Blair asked.

“Oh yes. Then there’s another story that says that the sea is so full of fish that the light from the moon reflects back from their scales and shines in the sky.” Henrik smiled and his face crinkled up. “But I like the fox story better.” Then he leaned down into Blair’s face. “A good shaman can whistle them up so they come towards him.” He put his pipe back in his mouth with a satisfied air as he straightened.

Blair’s eyes opened even wider. “Is that what you did?”

“Blair, really, Sweetie….” Naomi began.

The old man laughed. “I didn’t need to, child; you summoned them all by yourself.”

“I didn’t do that!” Blair’s voice was scornful, but then he turned big eyes to his mother. “Did I?” he asked, hopefully, fearfully.

Naomi took his face in her gloved hands, bending down to do so. “Blair, you can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it.” She let go and stood up. “I think that’s what Henrik means.”

But Blair wasn’t listening. A shape had detached itself from the forest around them and padded softly though the shining snow towards Henrik, wrapping itself around his legs. It was a large, red fox. No one else seemed to notice it except Blair. He looked up to the old man’s face in awe. Grandfather Henrik tapped the side of his nose with his pipe and winked and the fox detached itself and wandered away into the night.

After a while the light show faded away and they went back inside, Blair looking over his shoulder all the time, just in case they returned. He felt as if the lights had known Blair was there and that they laid on a special show, just for him, him and Naomi.

Inside the cabin, as they drank warm milky drinks in front of the real log fire, Lars’ grandfather sang songs and told them more stories about his land and its people. They were such rich and colorful tales, and the old man was such a good story-teller, Blair could almost see the hunters who killed for food and clothing for their village, in the dancing fire. He settled down on the couch wrapped in a warm, cozy blanket and stared into the flames as if it was a TV set. He watched with sleepy eyes as the flames became golden hunters who tracked their prey for days, he watched as they kept down wind of the animals, watched as they singled out the weaker animals that would put up less of a fight. The hunters dressed in the skins of the beasts, both to keep warm and to disguise their human scent.

The golden men finally moved closer to their prey, ready for the kill, but Blair didn’t want to watch anymore. He wanted to warn the animals, he wanted to shout, but was too sleepy and somehow couldn’t speak. Then one of the hunters stopped, turned and looked straight at Blair as if aware of how much he had wanted to alert the prey and Blair found himself looking into eyes as blue as the denim jeans he wore back home. Those eyes could see right through Blair to his very soul. He gasped, then someone shook him and the picture disappeared.

“Come on, Sweetie, time we set off for Lars’ parents’ home.”

“Ahhh, mommmm…” Blair whined. He was warm and the pictures were so exciting. He wanted to see how the story would end and what happened to the blue-eyed hunter.

Henrik laughed and picked up an ember from the fire. Blair thought he was going to light his pipe, but there was no fire on this burnt stick. Instead Henrik leaned over and touched Blair’s forehead with the end, mumbling something silently. Blair’s mouth fell open as warmth seemed to spread through his body down to his toes.

Next moment he was bustled out and into the back seat of the car while Naomi sat in the front with Lars. Once inside Blair became more active. He started to talk to Naomi about the pictures in the flames. She smiled, indulgently, at him in the mirror. Lars, driving, noticed.

“My grandfather is a weaver of spells, eh, Blair? I have seen many such pictures myself.”

“Lars, Blair has a good imagination without you encouraging him.” Naomi smiled to take the bite from her words. “It’s late and he will be fretful in the morning.”

Lars frowned. “You didn’t see the figures in the fire, Naomi?”

Naomi hesitated a moment too long. “I’m not sure what you mean, Lars.”

Blair wasn’t sure why, but he knew Naomi had said the wrong thing. He leapt to her defense. “It was cool, wasn’t it, mommy, when that hunter turned and looked straight at you. He had really blue eyes, did you see?”

Naomi sighed dramatically. “Now he won’t go to sleep tonight, and you and I will not be able to connect.”

Lars ignored her. “The hunter looked at you, Blair? That must have been truly special, and blue eyes, you say? I didn’t see that. Was there anything else about him? Did he speak to you?”

“Lars!” Naomi’s voice rose and Blair snapped his mouth closed on anything else he was going to say. The rest of the trip was made in stony silence.

He was sent to bed almost as soon as they got back. He lay on the small camp bed in the guest room, listening as Naomi and Lars argued though the wall. Lars’ voice was softer than his mother’s, but Blair could clearly hear their words. He wondered if it was disturbing Lars’ parents.

“I am not taking my son back to your grandfather just so he can tell Blair some story about his idea of Blair’s future! That child will make his own destiny, just as I have, not have one foist upon him.”

“Naomi, listen. What Blair saw was a vision….”

“Baloney! What Blair saw was obviously due to your grandfather’s weird ‘spell weaving’. If he put something in my child’s drink, so help me….” She took a breath. “I know Blair is special; he’s a bright child and creative too, but this idea of your grandfather’s…Blair has an overactive imagination as it is. This could give him nightmares for months! We should never have taken Blair. You should have visited Henrik alone.”

Naomi’s voice dropped as though she realized that Blair could be listening, and although she sounded calm and controlled, Blair couldn’t make out the words anymore. The talk went on for a long time, sometimes quiet, sometimes louder, though he still couldn’t make out the words, and then a door closed and there was the sound of soft crying. Blair hid his ears in the pillow. Even at that age, he knew where this was heading and he didn’t want to leave this magical land so soon. The next morning, Naomi had them packed and Lars was driving them to a hotel near the airport. They didn’t see Lars again.

***

“Did you ever see the Northern Lights?” Blair asked.

“Once, when I was… oh, about ten, eleven?” Jim frowned. “It must have been the year Bud died. I remember Dad took me on one of his business trips. I guess he was trying to make me forget what I’d seen... I think I was told that it was a good year for solar activity. I remember we stood in the roof garden of the hotel with a small group of people and watched the skies light up. It was beautiful. I’ve never forgotten it.”

“That would have been in the early ‘70s….” Blair looked at Jim with delight. “You may have seen them the same year as I did! Wow! Imagine, the pair of us, watching the same light display at the same time but in different parts of the Northern Hemisphere!”

“I hardly think that is likely, Junior.”

“Fate, my friend, is a strange woman. Take the time Naomi took me to India…”

***

Blair felt ill. His stomach was all churny and uncomfortable. He was hot and sweaty. Naomi had her arm over his body, her hand stroking his arm, his head against her breast. She was humming a Beatles’ tune off-key. It should have been comforting but the movement of the bus, the smells from the wet goat that bleated piteously in the aisle, the bumps on the uneven road, and the damp, stale body odor, some of it his own, made him more nauseous.

They had come to Rishikesh in India because Naomi wanted to meet the yogi who changed the Beatles’ lives. She wanted to sit at his feet and learn, she said. She wanted to try tran-scen-dental meditation… whatever that was. It was hard enough to say, let alone find out what you did. She’d learned to meditate in order to help her give up smoking. But the tran-scen… whatever! was somehow better. You just sit and let your mind drift, Naomi said. What she would learn when her mind ‘drifted’, was more vague.

John, Paul, George and Ringo had long since moved back to the Western world. The year the ‘Fab Four’ had holed up in the ashram in Rishikesh had been the year Naomi had discovered she was pregnant with Blair. It had taken her a while to be able to be able to afford their trip across to India to ‘find who she was’. Blair privately thought that was plain silly. She was Naomi Sandburg, his mother, a star-child. What did she need this Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to tell her what she already knew?

On the old transistor radio, which hung, perilously, from a bit of string from the roof, a game of cricket was being broadcast. It was the old adversaries, India versus England, and, by the sounds of it, India was wiping the floor with England. Every so often, a loud cheer would go up from the men in the bus. Blair shifted against his mother. It was hard to get comfortable when he felt so… yucky. He’d developed a slight fever before they left the last city and the doctor Naomi took him to, suggested that they stay over, give Blair time to rest and ingest a lot of fluids. Naomi said he would be able to rest on the bus, that she had plenty of water to drink; they needed to press on. And normally he would have been able to rest, even on a moving bus, and he wished he could go to sleep, but sleep just wouldn’t come. The monsoon season should have helped him. The sound of rain often lured him into the Land of Nod, but it just pounded on the metal roof, odd flashes of lightning burning into the back of Blair’s eyes and making the radio crackle.

Just then somebody must have scored in the game because a loud cheer went up at the same time as a bolt of thunder shook the bus. The driver, cheering the home team, took his hands off the wheel to cheer with his passengers… and the bus swerved out of control. People were thrown against one another. The world tipped….

Blair was dreaming. He knew that because he often saw ‘The Boy’ when he was dreaming. The Boy was Blair’s friend, although Blair didn’t know his real name. He was older than Blair; taller with blue eyes. They talked together, played together. The Boy helped Blair understand the grown up world. When someone picked on Blair, The Boy was there to offer support and advice. When The Boy needed someone to tell his problems to, Blair listened. Sometimes he didn’t understand, but he did his best for his friend.

Today The Boy didn’t seem to realize Blair was there. His friend kneeled in front of a large chest. It looks like a treasure chest, Blair thought excitedly. It was made from plain, dark wood, but it had leather straps and a brass padlock hung open from it. The lid was pushed right back against the wall and Blair could see the chest had a red lining.

Blair watched as The Boy started to put things in.

First went in some sketches; vibrant sunsets, a portrait of a woman with smiling blue eyes and warm cheeks, a laughing little boy. These were carefully laid flat, The Boy almost climbing into the chest to put them in.

Next he put in some old 78 records, still in their paper covers. They were a bit ripped here and there, but they’d obviously been cherished. They must have been heavy for he had to put a few in at a time. He reached for a wooden music box and tenderly opened it. Blair could hear the strains of a sweet lullaby. The Boy carefully closed the box and placed it in the chest to one side of the records.

He picked up a pale blue sweater and, for a moment, buried his face in its softness. Then this too went into the chest, followed by a sports shirt with a Cascade Jags logo on it, and then he selected an item that made Blair smile. It was a soft toy in the shape of a timber-wolf. The Boy stroked the animal over its head, a half smile on his face, then he kissed the plastic nose, and gently put that in as well. Blair frowned. Something was terribly wrong here.

Next he put in several little perfume bottles. He unstopped one and took a deep sniff. Blair caught a whiff of some light flowery scent, but The Boy started coughing until his eyes watered and he put the cap back on, drawing another breath to try and stop the coughing, before that too followed its companions.

The Boy sat back on his heels.

He took a piece of candy out of his pocket, unwrapped it, and popped it in his mouth. It seemed to help him recover from the coughing spasm. For a long moment he just sat there, quietly sucking. Then he smoothed out the candy wrapper and placed that in the chest too.

He knelt forward and reached over, slowly closing the lid. The padlock snapped shut loudly and Blair started screaming….

Blair was shaking when he woke up. He was in a hut in an Indian village. The people had pulled the survivors out of the crash and brought them to safety, Naomi and Blair amongst them. It was another week before the authorities arranged transport out of the area and Naomi’s trip to the Maharishi was put on indefinite hold.

***

Jim’s arms had tightened around him.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Blair stroked his lover’s arm. “It was a long time ago. We got out in one piece.”

“Yes, I realized that, call it a knee-jerk reaction to the thought that something could have taken you away before you came into my life… Did you ever dream about your friend again?”

“No. I thought about him now and again, but that’s all,” Blair said, sadly.

Jim shifted to get more comfortable. “What about all that ‘I went to three World Series, five NBA playoffs’? When did you get to fit all that in?”

“You know, sometimes I regret coaching you to use your sense memory! Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little about that, but once I realized Naomi’s boyfriends wanted to please her through me, I took advantage! I was a manipulative little bastard.”

“Was?”

“Hey!” Blair smacked Jim on the chest. “Okay,” he conceded. “Maybe I still am – with you – sometimes, when you are doing your ‘de-nile is not a river’ bit, but these days I only use my powers for good.”

“If you say so.”

Blair decided it wasn’t worth arguing about and shifted gears. “Did you have an imaginary friend when you were growing up?”

Jim shook his head. “I don’t remember. It was so long ago… I have a vague memory of needing someone to share things with around the last time I saw my mom. I know that was a rough time for both me and Stevie.” He shook his head again, this time obviously to try and shake away some bad memories. “A long time ago,” he concluded. “So, what was the deal with you and the Nixon mask?”

“Oh that! I was in the third grade and we were living in a commune near Cascade at the time. The adults thought I was a little radical wunderkind. I just thought it was cool that I was getting so much attention! I remember I went trick or treating…

***

Samhain, All Hallows Eve, Halloween, the Wicca Sabbath – Blair had heard October 31st called by all sorts of names. Naomi talked of ‘the thinning of the veil’ which Blair didn’t totally understand, he just accepted it. Tonight Naomi was giving Tarot readings at the commune, children not invited.

The bigger kids at school tried to scare the little ones by telling them ghost stories or bogie tales, but Blair loved staying up late to watch the old black and white movies, his face half hidden behind a pillow. He loved being scared by things like that. And, as Naomi didn’t want him around and going Treat or Treating meant joining in, dressing up, and getting free candy, it sounded like a great idea to him.

Each of the five children from the commune was wearing home-made costumes; Sally was a pink fairy with a net skirt and shiny wand and wings, George was Frankenstein’s monster with a pretend bolt through his neck, Twilight was a good witch, and perversely for her name, Pixie Bell was dressed as a ghost. Blair wore a suit with his Nixon mask. They each had a bag ready for their treats and had been instructed to be polite and only collect from houses that had porch lights on, or Halloween decorations outside.

They were chaperoned around the town by an older girl who made it plain she’d rather be off doing something else. All was well until her boyfriend arrived and they slunk off together.

Blair stopped to examine the contents of his bag. So much candy; Naomi would have a fit! He frowned. He’d have to hide them before she got him up for school in the morning. He looked up and his frown deepened. He couldn’t see his group. His night vision was poor and the Nixon mask meant he couldn’t wear his new glasses. There were lot of children in costumes running around, but where were Sally, George, Twilight and Pixie?

Just then he saw a flash of pink lace heading around the corner so he ran to join them, his bag of candy bumping against his legs.

He skidded to a stop just before he bumped into the fairy. She turned and glared at him, pushing back her fairy crown that had slipped down over her glasses. Blair mumbled an apology when he realized it wasn’t Sally.

Left alone, Blair stood and looked around.

He didn’t recognize the street he was on. The houses seemed more up-market than the ones he’d called at and none of the groups of children scattered about looked familiar. He felt a small knot of fear form in his stomach.

His mom had a practical approach to dealing with authority. She didn’t like policemen, she called them pigs, but if ever Blair was lost, she told him to tell a policeman his name and her contact number. Unfortunately at this time, there wasn’t a cop to be seen. Blair supposed he could knock on one of the doors, but all the houses on the street looked intimidating.

He turned in a slow circle, trying to find someone to ask and he noticed a group of older boys who looked even more out of place in this neighborhood than he did. Then they spotted him standing alone and they didn’t look very friendly.

He knew trouble when he saw it. Blair turned to walk away as quickly as he could without running, but they surrounded him.

“What do we have here then?”

“I am not a crook. I am not a crook.” Blair replied in his best Nixon voice, hoping that he’d make them laugh as he did the adults back at the commune.

The boys did laugh, but not kindly. They began to mock him. “He is not a crook.” They said in silly voices. “He is not a crook.” Then they began to push him, back and forth, trying to take his bag of candy away from him. Blair held on, but the pieces of candy were falling out and Blair was trying not to cry in fear and anger.

A voice rang out. “Hey! Leave the kid alone! Pick on someone your own size!” And a tall, lanky boy ran over.

Blair pulled his bag back and held on to it tightly with both arms. He looked up through wide blurry eyes at this other boy. Blair had noticed him in passing when he tried to get his bearings. This boy had a plastic Batman mask and a cape on over black jumper and jeans. He’d been chaperoning two small kids, a vampire and a pirate girl, who now stood waiting with wide eyes, on the sidewalk.

The group around Blair didn’t seem at all fazed by this new arrival. “Well look-y here! Who do you think you are? Blunder Boy? Stupid Man?” Their leader sneered to laughter from his gang.

Batman had an inch or so on the leader of the gang, but he was thinner. He stood chest to chest with him. “Someone telling you to back off, Dumbo! Leave the kid alone.” Batman pushed the other boy away, but he came back up with his fist clenched and the two of them started to grapple with one another, trying to pin the other down. Fists and legs were flying, the gang egging them on. Blair stepped forward to back up his ‘Caped Crusader’ but his arms were grabbed and held. Even so he kicked the shins of the boy who held him and yelled for help at the top of his voice.

Luckily the yelling brought some adults out and the fight was soon broken up. Batman was escorted back to his kids and, after Blair explained who he was, he was taken back to the commune. He never forgot his Batman though, and for ages after would pretend he was Batman’s faithful side kick.

***

“Did you ever Trick or Treat, Jim?”

“No, not really. Steven wanted to one year while dad was away on business and Sally talked me into chaperoning him and her niece, but dad didn’t approve. He called it begging and no child of his would ever beg for something dad couldn’t provide.”

“That sounds a bit harsh.”

Jim shrugged. “That was dad. I got into bikes about then. Something dad wasn’t really interested in.”

“How did you get involved?” Blair asked. “Come on, don’t leave me hanging.”

“School Principal’s idea. He felt that sport shouldn’t be the be all and end all of a boy’s life and an outside interest in mechanics would help calm us down and maybe give us a trade. Of course dad didn’t approve because as far as he was concerned his sons would follow him into business – which made the scheme even more attractive to me.” Jim grinned.

“So what did you do?”

“I got to work with an old guy. He used to say that a well tuned bike purred when revved up, like the hum of a satisfied woman. I’m surprised he wasn’t part of your early studies into enhanced hearing. He would get this look on his face as he listened to an engine and swore he could tell, just by the sound, what was wrong. Then, once he’d fixed it, he’d close his eyes and smile contentedly. What?”

Blair was studying Jim. He turned away as he spoke. “I have got to get you some bike leathers for my birthday.”

“For your birthday?”

“Oh yeah, huh huh!”

“To run more tests on me?”

“No, because motorbikes are a total turn on and the thought of you in leathers…”

Jim chuckled, sending delicious vibrations through Blair’s body. Before he could act on them, Jim said, “Tell me about your first kiss.”

Blair almost groaned in frustration. Still, he answered his lover. “Shirley Danbush.”

“Shirley Danbush? Daughter of the famous Mrs. Danbush, whose tree you fell out of?”

“The very same. I was, what, nine? Ten? Anyhow I was just at that age when girls were getting to be more interesting than my guy friends and almost as interesting as books! Shirley and I went to the same school for a while. She was blonde, with big blue eyes and this pout…. I later realized that she used it to get what she wanted; it was pretty devastating. She didn’t have a lot of time for me, but it didn’t stop me pining after her. This particular day, I happened to pass her garden on my way back from the school library. The teachers allowed me to borrow books from the older reading section as long as there was someone free to supervise me out of school time. I remember hearing her crying and pleading with someone.”

***

Blair couldn’t see what it was, even with his glasses on, but whatever it was; it was hidden in the branches and leaves up the tree in Mrs. Danbush’s garden.

“What’s wrong, Shirley?” he asked the unrequited and unknowing love of his life.

Two big, soulful, blue eyes turned towards him, tears glistening on the long lashes. “Blair? Oh, Blair,” Shirley sobbed as if her heart would break. “There’s a poor little black pussy cat up the tree and it’s stuck.”

Blair was faced with his beautiful damsel in distress and, wanting her to, at least like him, he climbed over the short garden wall to get a closer look. He could just make out a pair of unblinking eyes staring at him through the leaves high up, very, very high up. “Cats are good at climbing trees. I’m sure it’ll come down when it’s hungry,” he said, hoping against hope that Shirley would agree with him.

But she was shaking her head. “No, I’m sure it’s stuck. I brought some meat out for it, see?” In the palm of her pale hand were some chunks of best steak, bloody and raw. Naomi would be screaming about bad karma if she saw this young girl with that in her hand, Blair thought.

He looked up into the tree again. The two golden eyes blinked at him, almost as if the cat was waiting, teasing him by being out of reach. He looked back at Shirley whose blue eyes were pleading for him to do something.

He lowered his backpack from his shoulders to the ground and took a deep breath. “Okay, cat. Let’s see what you’re doing up the tree.” He began to climb.

Heights and Blair had never really gone together. There was something about the way the ground seemed to spin when he was high up, but Shirley reminded him of one of the maidens who needed rescuing in the Greek myths. He could be her hero, her… Perseus, her Jason. Okay, so neither hero rescued cats from trees as far as he knew, but you had to start somewhere and he didn’t know any Medusas, although there were a few women who could turn you to stone with a look, especially when you were trying to create a volcano in the kitchen of the boarding house….

Blair’s thoughts distracted him long enough to get up to the same branch as the cat and he pulled himself up and sat, his back to the tree trunk, his hands and legs gripping tight to the thick branch. The cat seemed content to lie on the branch, its long black tail flicking, just out of Blair’s reach.

“Here, kitty, kitty. Come here, puss. Come to Blair.” He held on with one hand and wiggled his fingers invitingly – he hoped – at the cat.

For a moment the animal ignored him. Then it arched its back, did a turn that had Blair’s heart race, and then strolled over to him, curling itself up against his groin.

Blair gripped the branch tighter with his thighs and stroked the cat. It began to purr loudly. He could feel the vibrations through his body, giving him an oddly pleasant sensation.

Down below, Shirley clapped her hands. “Oh, you clever thing! Now, bring it down… carefully,” she ordered.

Swallowing, Blair lifted one hand to the limb above his head, while trying to slip the other hand under the cat. The animal had other ideas. It didn’t like being removed from its warm perch. It dug its claws into Blair’s groin. Blair yelped. The denim jeans and his cotton underpants did nothing to protect his sensitive areas from the needle-sharp points. He let go of the branch and tried to remove the cat from his groin. The cat let go reluctantly, choosing to jump up on his shoulder, unbalancing Blair…

and he fell… vaguely aware of Shirley squealing and the ground coming up to hit him hard. A burning hot pain shot through his arm. He was ready to scream when the cat landed near him and wrapped itself around him, rubbing itself over Blair’s face. For a moment, all he felt was the warmth, then the pain set in again and he passed out.

For the next few days, Blair was Shirley’s hero. She visited him in the boarding house. She even allowed him to kiss her, chastely, on the mouth, while she was stroking the cat that refused to leave his side. But the cat itself declined to have anything to do with Shirley and she got bored with a boyfriend who got more attention than her because his arm was in plaster so she moved on to older boys. The cat seemed to lose interest too after that, and within a short while, Blair and Naomi were moving on too, to another town and another of Naomi’s forays into finding herself.

***

“A black cat, eh, Lancelot?”

“Yep, a jealous, territorial black cat.”

“Protecting you from the wrong kind of women. I like that idea.”

“I thought you would. Hey, you want a beer?”

“Yeah, why not.”

Blair got up and went inside to the fridge, turning with two uncapped bottles in his hands.

Jim had followed him and took one, tilting it back to drink. Blair watched, mesmerized as Jim’s Adam apple bobbed as he swallowed. Jim was relaxed. His eyes half-lidded with a lazy, casual air about him that was so damn sexy, and he’s all mine! Blair thought as he felt the tingle of arousal in his groin. He realized Jim was saying something.

“Huh?”

“I said,” Jim began again, his bottle swinging from his fingers, “where were you for your bar mitzvah?”

“Oh, sorry. Right. Brazil.”

“Brazil?”

“Yeah. Naomi wanted to see the Carnival.” Blair leaned against the kitchen support beam and took a swig from his bottle.

“As it happened, there was a small Jewish community there and I felt the time was right to explore my roots and declare myself a man. You know, it’s a fallacy that it’s the actual ceremony that changes the status of the boy, or the bat mitzvah for a girl, from a child into an adult. Once a Jewish child turns thirteen, he or she is automatically an adult and expected to take on responsibilities. The bar mitzvah is just the first Sabbath where the child is allowed to take part as an adult. It usually takes place that first Sabbath after the thirteenth birthday.

“Anyway, we found a rabbi who was prepared to instruct me and he and his wife sort of adopted me and mom for the time it took. It was wild! Suddenly finding out all this stuff and being a part of something, of a big family. But, then soon after my birthday, we were off again. The big difference for me was that this time, I could have stayed with my adopted family and let Naomi go alone, but somehow, I couldn’t do that just then. The knife was a parting gift from the rabbi. He thought it would be useful to me.” Blair took another drink.

“Well it’s certainly proved its worth since you and I have been working together.” Jim walked over to the couch and sat down, leaving room for Blair to sit beside him. Once he had, Jim laid his head on Blair’s lap, swinging his feet up to rest on the arm of the couch. “What about the ‘in and out of therapy’ line?”

Blair leaned back against the couch and began to play with Jim’s hair. “That’s true. You see I’d been all over the place with Naomi. I’d seen things in real life that main stream kids only read about or saw on TV. Once back in the public school system, I acted out. After being treated like an adult amongst adults, I felt I had a right to say what I thought, and if my opinion was different from the teacher’s, then I expected him or her to discuss things with me, not tell me to sit and be quiet. Nearly every school I attended had me visit their therapist to help me adjust. A number of the small town ones decided that Naomi was the problem – which of course led me to defend her and cause more trouble.”

“Understandable that you’d leap to her defense. She is your mom.” Jim tipped his bottle back to his mouth only to realize there was none left.

“See, you get it, so why didn’t they? Anyway, finally one therapist decided that I just needed a more challenging education, but that was later on.”

Jim took Blair’s empty bottle and put it on the floor beside his. “Okay. Tell me about the microscope.”

“Yes, oh Master! Let’s see. I was 14 and I got bored very quickly. The only things that held my interest were basketball and science.” Blair smiled ruefully. “I knew I wasn’t tall enough to be a junior basketball star, even though I was a pretty good point guard, so my dreams were of becoming famous as a scientist. I was convinced that the secrets of the cosmos were hidden at a microcosmic level; all the answers were in our genes and it was my destiny, my duty to discover them. The one problem was that I didn’t own a microscope and as Naomi liked to travel light, she was unlikely to agree to something as heavy and bulky as that and I was desperate to get one. I tried to raise the money, thinking if I had bought one, she couldn’t argue. Fait accompli. But I could see the signs, she was getting restless again and we’d be moving on soon so I had to resort to something desperate.” He looked down at Jim. “You remember McKinney’s Toy Emporium?”

“Yeah, I knew the son, Ben. We were on the same softball team at one time.”

Blair stopped petting Jim’s hair. “Really? I guess you’d be around the same age and build. I had a terrific crush on him, a serious case of hero worship. Not that I’d ever tell anyone. It’s not the kind of thing an undersized fourteen-year-old would talk about.”

“I think Ben would have understood. Last I heard he and his boyfriend had set up their own jewelry business in San Francisco.”

“No way! Wow! Wow,” Blair repeated, lost in thought for a moment. He resumed his stroking of Jim’s hair.

“So anyway, McKinney had this impressive display of junior science equipment upstairs, along with a pinball machine in the corner. I had been sort of adopted by this gang, who had a game ongoing with this other gang over which who could get the highest score on the machine. This day they took me along as their lucky mascot but all I wanted to do was to look at the scopes….

***

Blair remembered the particular smell of the place, the noise, the harassed staff members as the gang of kids ran around the store, picking up this, pressing that… but mostly he remembered the black shop cat that seemed able to go wherever it wanted without anyone complaining.

While the other lads were engaged at the pinball, Blair was in another area, squatting on his knees comparing the prices to the level of magnification on each box, with the cat rubbing itself against his legs, when some shouting broke out between his gang and their newly arrived rivals over an allegation of cheating. The noise level escalated, bringing the gangs to the attention of the shop security and also frightening the cat. It jumped up onto Blair’s shoulders, then from there to the high shelves and then up to where there was a security mirror. The cat jumped across from one shelf to another, knocking the mirror screwy as it did. Blair looked up, realizing that he was out of sight of any of the assistants – who by now were trying to break up a fight between the two gangs; no one would see him because the mirror was now angled in a different direction…. As though in auto-pilot, he’d hidden the microscope in his rucksack and pulled over the flap to cover it in the blink of an eye.

The police arrived with Ben. The two gangs were rounded up and marched down the stairs to the entrance with the aim of throwing them out of the store, Blair with them. He felt almost light headed, thinking he was home free – when the cat decided to run between his legs.

Blair slipped down the last three stairs, his backpack flew open, and all its contents fell out.

There was a sudden silence and then Blair was helped to his feet, dusted down to make sure he wasn’t injured and then frog-marched away from the other lads and into a small office. Behind him he heard a commotion as the gangs were evicted from the shop.

For a few minutes he was left alone, just him and the backpack, the microscope sitting on the table in front of him as if in accusation, and then a policeman came in with Ben and Mr. McKinney. They were nice, wanted to know if he was okay, then asked where and when he’d gotten the microscope. Blair said he’d saved up and bought it the other day, but wanted to show the other boys where he’d got it from. He was very careful with his stuff; he knew how valuable they were. That was why it was still in its box. No, he didn’t have the receipt. Why would he keep it? He’d bought it in good faith – Blair had heard his mother use that same expression often over items in shops. He even pointed out one of the older members of staff who was getting short sighted as the lady who he thought had sold it to him.

Oh, he was convincing, really credible. He kept it simple and just kept repeating that he’d bought it, saved up for it. He even got all teary eyed at the mere suggestion that they would think him a thief.

The policeman and Mr. McKinney left the room, leaving Blair with a silent Ben. Blair didn’t know whether to feel relived or scared. He couldn’t believe that he’d done it and, it seemed, got away with it. But, after a while the silence began to unnerve him. He asked if his mother had been called.

Ben replied “she’s on her way” and then lapsed back into silence. Blair sat trying not to fidget.

After what seemed ages, Naomi burst in and smothered Blair in one of her hugs, demanding to know what these pigs had done to him.

Blair started to tell his lie again, but then he saw Ben look at him, just look at him with sadness in his eyes, and suddenly Blair found that he couldn’t keep it up. He felt tears stinging his eyes and blurted out that he stole it, but to his surprise and horror, no one would believe him. They went quiet for a moment and then began shouting over him; Naomi the loudest, saying that they’d brain washed him into confessing and they’d abused his human right to a fair hearing. Finally he and his mother were politely shown out of the door, without, he noticed, the microscope. Somehow that had disappeared in all the noise. As he looked back, Blair saw Ben bend down towards the lower shelf were the microscopes were placed on sale and placing it back….

***

“Another cat, eh?”

“What can I say? I just attract felines. Anyhow, I never went back in that store. I just couldn’t face Ben or old McKinney ever again. Luckily, Naomi had found a new interest and she didn’t ask too many questions. We’d moved on to Alaska within the month. I never stole anything again.”

Jim took his hand and kissed the palm. “Not strictly true. You stole my heart.”

“You smooth talker. Anyone would think you were trying to get in my pants!”

“You mean I can’t?”

Blair grinned lecherously. “Any where, any time, Jim. I’m all yours.”

“Hmmm, later. So what was in Alaska that was so special?”

“Another of Naomi’s boyfriends! He had this dream of building an ice hotel. We slept in igloos to see if we could sleep in them. Let me tell you, igloos are only warm in comparison with the air outside! You need all weather, thermal sleeping bags, even then it’s difficult getting to sleep.” Blair shuddered dramatically.

“Did he ever build the hotel?”

“Eventually, I gather, but it quickly went out of business. Last I heard it’d been abandoned.”

“Okay, next question, why do you only collect cards and stuff from 1961.”

“Well…” Blair studied his fingernails. “It was the year you were conceived.”

“Now that one I don’t believe! You collect cards from ‘61 because of me?”

“No,” Blair laughed, “I’m only teasing you. Your ego is big enough as it is! When I started collecting cards and stuff, there were more things about from that year – that I could afford – than any other, simple as that.”

“Okay, so when did you start college?”

“You know I was taking courses at 16 – I met up with Roy while looking for someone’s address who was selling a special collector’s edition card, but it was out of my price range. Then I saw this guy surrounded by a bunch of red-necks and I dived in.” Blair smiled. “The rest of that story you know.”

“It must have been hard taking courses at that age and being on your own, watching your mom walk away, alone.”

“Yeah. It was weird though. Before I didn’t always want to stay behind, but that time, it was my choice to stay. I worried about her being alone a lot and I spent a good deal of time at the Bay, just watching the lights on the boats. Don’t look at me like that. I know it sounds lonely, but it wasn’t. Even when I didn’t have some attractive company, I didn’t feel alone. It was almost as if something or someone was watching out for me.”

“Your wolf spirit.”

“Or your jaguar.” Blair noticed the skeptical look on Jim’s face. “I know, Jim, it’s far out there. But I can’t deny what I experienced. We were preordained, predestined you and I.”

“I’d prefer to think we had some say in our lives.”

“Well yeah, we had a choice all the way through. You could have cut me loose any time. As soon as you had control of your senses you could have chucked me out. But you didn’t.”

“Likewise you could have walked away anytime yourself, Chief.”

“That’s what I’m saying, Jim. You know I wasn’t lying that time when I said I had enough for 10 dissertations.”

“So….”

“I was obfuscating when I said it was about friendship, you remember when we got back from Peru? I’d already fallen in love with you then. I was sure you’d say ‘that’s really nice, but I don’t walk on that side of the road.’ And that would have broken my heart.”

“And there I was thinking that if you wanted me, you’d come on to me! The number of times I wanted to snap your head off when you mentioned some female you were…”

“Boffing?” Blair suggested.

“Whatever. And then you’d turn and say something or do something and you’d smile and I couldn’t stay angry.”

“Until the next time something got under your skin.”

“Yeah, well…”

“The truth is, Jim, the pair of us were fooling ourselves, big time, thinking we could go on for the rest of our lives as ‘just good friends’ all the while wanting one another, and being miserable.”

“We needed a kick in the pants, big time.”

“And thank gods we got one!”

“Not how I’d preferred it to happen, but….tell me about your first time.”

“With a girl or boy?”

“Either.”

“First base or home run?”

Jim scowled up at him from his position on Blair’s lap. “You told me that I was the first guy you went all the way with!”

Blair just smiled enigmatically…but quickly buckled under Jim’s stare. “Okay, okay!” he laughed, holding up his hands in mock surrender. “You were the first man I trusted enough for that.”

“And the only man you’ll ever…”

“Goes without saying, Jim,” Blair said seriously. “Goes without saying… So, may I continue?”

“Please do.”

“First time with a girl was just before her high school prom. Emma Johnson was her name. I was part of a dare. Each of the girls in her gang had to deflower a virgin before the prom night and she picked me.”

“What happened?”

“What do you think? I went off like a fire-cracker as soon as her hand touched my dick! But I convinced her to let me try again. We were in the back seat of her dad’s car – she’d taken his keys – and I used all the tricks I’d read about in the sex guide books Naomi insisted I read, to make Emma ‘pop’ before I came inside her. Funnily enough, after that, I got to be very popular with the girls Emma knew….”

“So if that was her high school prom, she must have been…”

“Before you start on how young we both were, she was not a blushing virgin herself!”

“You mean…”

“Yep. Girls in that part of the woods started young! My first time with a guy, well, let me tell you about the time I…”

***

Blair’s uncle climbed out of the huge rig and stretched until his back popped. “Durn it,” he chuckled, “a couple of hours on the road and my back’s already feeling like it’s done a few rounds with yer aunt!”

“Too much information, there, Unc.” But Blair was grinning as he swung out onto the running board and dropped to the ground to join his uncle.

Mike grinned back. He squeezed Blair’s shoulder. “I’m mighty glad you came along, Curly.” He ruffled Blair’s short hair affectionately.

Blair, good naturedly, swatted Mike’s hand away. “All I need, Unc, is another nickname! You have no idea how many I’ve got labeled with back at Rainier.”

“Lordy, son, I can imagine, and I can guess what yer ma says about labels.”

Blair’s grin grew wider. “You should always peel back the label for the material underneath.”

Mike laughed out loud. “Sounds just like yer ma. She’s a fine lady, but she does have some mighty strange ideas.” He looked sideways at Blair. “No offense meant.”

“None taken, Mike.”

“Good. Now I need to take a leak. Order us some of that pie, ya hear.” Mike called back as he walked away. “Best made pie in this area, is Sal’s. It’ll set us up for a goodly mile or two.”

Blair smiled. Mike was an okay kind of guy. His wife and Naomi were old friends from way back and they regarded Blair as an adopted nephew. Mike had been more than happy to have Blair ride shotgun for him on the road during the summer break. And Blair really needed a break away from the books for a while. Every time he felt like he’d found his main topic, the one thing that would keep his interest long enough to earn him the letters after his name, it didn’t pan out. He’d even sat in on a couple of classes on Design, just to get ‘something’ different in his head. The pressure seemed to build up until he really needed to get away.

The only problem with riding with Mike in his rig was that the throb of the motor made him horny. Not that he would ever make a pass at Mike. It would feel too much like incest and besides, Mike was as straight as they came and devoted to Lindy, not to mention a good number of years older than Blair. Then there was the fact that the female sex was too easy on the eye and Blair had never – well, almost never – thought of walking on the other side of the street.

He shook his head and willed his erection away. It wasn’t as though he’d get lucky here. The rest stop was near to an army camp and Uncle Mike said the soldiers came here as their last and first slice of freedom. Any available females would be more interested in some macho jar-head than some four-eyed college kid. He walked over to the café with its neon light declaring it was ‘Sally’s’.

Inside was warm and busy. Coffee percolated at the back of the counter and the appetizing aroma of home cooked food drifted towards him. A group of soldiers were sitting, laughing with one another at two of the tables. Blair stood for a moment; getting his bearings and enjoying his view of their physiques. He tore his eyes away as he became aware of being appraised himself by a pair of cold, unblinking eyes. They belonged to a solitary soldier sitting in a booth near the back. He looked as if he could break a jaw with just a glance and though Blair shivered, he found himself taking a step towards the man when another soldier stumbled as he stood, and split coffee over Blair.

“Oh, man. I am sorry!” The soldier’s friends were laughing their heads off.

“Way to go, George!”

“Nice one!”

The soldier blushed under their teasing. “Here,” he said to Blair, “let me buy you a drink or clean you up or something.”

“No, no, I’m fine, honestly. No harm done. The coffee wasn’t even that warm.” Blair tried to reassure the soldier.

“All the same… Sal! Can we use your rest room a minute?”

That brought on more hoots from his friends.

The soldier quickly ushered Blair out of the main eating area and along a maze of small corridors into the bathroom where he began to wipe Blair down with a sponge. Blair’s cock, which had never really deflated, immediately sprang to attention again and he stammered an apology.

The soldier slowly stood up, his eyes half lidded, his manner relaxed. “You want me to take care of that too?” He pointed with the sponge towards Blair’s groin.

“Here?” Blair was amazed his voice didn’t squeak.

“No, out the back. Anyone could walk in here.”

Blair could hardly believe his luck. “Okay,” he said, sure he’d wake up and find he was having one hell of a wet dream in the truck.

The soldier hurried Blair out a side entrance and between two eighteen-wheelers. His jeans were quickly undone and pulled down, along with his boxers.

The soldier was tall, brawny and brunette. He oozed testosterone like it was going out of fashion. Yet he dropped to his knees and went down on Blair like he was dying for it.

Blair gasped out loud in surprise and then in pleasure. He wanted to just grip the soldier’s head and ram his cock deep down the guy’s throat, but he didn’t. He spread his legs a bit more and tentatively placed his hands on the guy’s hair. It was soft, in contrast to the hard body that knelt before him. Blair chuckled at the contradictions. He was going soft in the head, but his other head had never been so hard.

The soldier stopped his actions and looked up, looking more puzzled than angry. “What you laughing at?”

“Hard and soft.” Blair knew his words made no sense, but they were better than the whimper of protest that had almost escaped his mouth when the delicious sucking and licking had stopped.

The soldier didn’t seem to care. He, to Blair’s blessed relief, went back to what he was doing.

Blair let his hands fall to his sides. In reward, the guy pulled him closer and started to play with Blair’s ass, his hands clutching and releasing the soft mounds of Blair’s ass cheeks. A finger ran over the crack and then tapped at his anus, sending waves of sensation through Blair’s body.

“I guess the army doesn’t offer much in the way of opportunities for guy-on-guy action?” he said, breathlessly, trying to hold off coming.

The soldier stopped his slurping long enough to answer. “You might be surprised. But then most of the guys who I’d like to blow aren’t interested and the others will stick it anywhere. No subtlety, just lust. But you,” he nuzzled against Blair’s cock and Blair could feel every bit of stubble on the guy’s chin. “You’re a sweet son-of-a-bitch. I don’t think anyone would turn you down. I could eat you forever.”

Blair wasn’t sure if he’d just been insulted. But any confusion was swept away as the soldier’s mouth enveloped him again and deep-throated his cock. Blair groaned, throwing his head back hard against the side of the truck. Luckily the pleasure over-rode any pain. Every nerve ending was singing out in delight and everything was focused below his waist. When the soldier pressed a finger into Blair’s tight virgin hole, Blair fell apart.

As he returned to his senses, he realized the soldier had come against a wheel of the truck, without Blair even touching his cock.

The soldier stood on shaky legs and buttoned up his flies.

“I thought maybe you wanted to…” Blair couldn’t say the words.

“You thought I wanted to fuck you? You’re still cherry, aren’t you? I’d love to, but I don’t really have the time. Take it from me, kid, when you offer again, make sure he’s a good’en and do it somewhere that he can take his time with you and do you right. Your first time should be special, okay? No quick fuck in a truck park.” He patted Blair’s face. “Thanks for that. You take care, now, you hear?” With that he strode away, whistling.

Blair stood there too stunned to move. “You too!” Then, after a moment, he called out. “And thanks!”

By the time Blair had gotten himself together and returned into the café, the soldiers had all left and his uncle was sitting at a table, two plates of pies in front of him.

“You all right, son? You look flushed.”

“I’m fine, Unc,” Blair said, as he eased himself in to the chair opposite. In fact he felt anything but fine. He’d just had a mind blowing experience, so why did he feel like he’d just missed something vitally important?

***

“Did you ever see your soldier again?”

“No, I only knew him by his first name. Didn’t even know the name of the base.”

Jim chuckled. “These ma and pa places often popped up near military bases. My sergeant once recommended one to me that did this melt-in-the-mouth peach cobbler. Said it was something to think on when I had to eat bush rations.”

Blair smiled. Uncle Mike had a peach cobbler in that café; said it was the best in the state…. “Mike’s sons taught me the difference between a ‘twang’ and a ‘lilt’.” Blair gave a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows.

“Really? So, Little Joe, although Mike was off limits, his sons weren’t?”

“Let’s just say that that soldier showed me something I’d only suspected about myself. And for your information, both boys came on to me, not the other way around.”

“And how old were they?”

“Old enough to know what to do and how good it could feel.”

“Your cousin Robert part of that family?”

“If you’re asking what I think you’re asking, Robert and I never did anything together. He got away from the family as soon as he could and escaped to Dallas for a while. It was only when the heat got too hot that he came up to Cascade and we hooked up again – not in that way. Now, what about your first time?” he asked.

“With a woman or a man?”

“Which ever.”

“Okay. I’ve never told anyone this, but I was seduced by a much older woman.”

“Really? How much older?”

“One of the helpers at high school.”

“You had a Mrs. Robinson? I bet she was a red-head.”

“No surprise there, Sherlock. Much like your first time, I exploded as soon as she got her hand down my pants, but she worked me up for a second round.”

“How old were you?”

“Let’s put it this way, these days I would have to arrest her.”

Blair frowned, suddenly concerned over what Jim wasn’t telling him. “Seriously, Jim. How old?”

“Relax, Conan. I was over 15. She was maybe 30? She made it special. Looking back, I guess she was lonely. Her husband was away on business a lot. She was a lot younger than him too, very pretty as I remember.”

“A trophy wife. What was her name?”

Jim had a sweet expression on his face as he replied. “Mary.”

“You had a crush on her.”

“Yeah, guess so. Her husband’s business crashed soon after that summer. They had to move away to a smaller house.”

“What about your first guy?”

“Oh, I fooled around with Matt. Nothing serious, probably more exciting because it was that air of doing something perceived as ‘wrong’, you know?”

Blair nodded. “Yeah, I hear that. So you didn’t go all the way before me?”

“You know I didn’t!”

“Some things are worth waiting for.”

“Yeah.” Jim paused. “What started you on the subject of Sentinels?”

“Who rather than what. Eli Stoddard did.”

“I’m glad he came around and supported you over the mess at Rainier.”

“Me too. I would have hated losing him as a friend. I just wish you hadn’t had to demonstrate your abilities to him.”

Jim shrugged. “It was only him and a small group of our friends. And I was thinking that you needed someone from the academic world. All your friends are from Major Crime. Also he could validate your character. His word carried a lot of weight.”

“True,” Blair conceded. “Without that, I doubt if I could have stayed your partner in any shape or form. The first time on the stand and the defendant’s lawyer would have torn me to shreds.”

Jim nodded. “So even if we had to do things the back way…”

Blair sniggered. Jim’s eyes narrowed.

“Lap it up, Shecky! Even though we had to do things slyly,” Jim amended, “it was because of his backing you that you got that PhD.”

“Yes, he’s certainly shown his worth. And when Edwards retired due to exhaustion…”

Jim chuckled. “Hiding all that money she got from wealthy parents who wanted their darlings to get good grades, that must have really exhausted her!”

Blair grinned. “Good thing we had Jack on our side too. Getting a warrant to go through her accounts would have been a nightmare. His hacking skills proved invaluable, and when it came down to his job or hers, Sidney Oldham suddenly found university politics much more black and white.”

Jim looked puzzled at the last part of Blair’s comment.

Blair waved his hand dismissively. “Just something he said to me about the Ventriss family money.”

“So... Eli?” Jim pressed.

Blair understood Jim’s desire to change the subject. He hated to be reminded of how dismissive he’d been over the Ventriss saga. It was much later he admitted just how scared and shaken he’d been over Blair’s death and the business with Alex Barnes. It’d colored his behavior for months afterwards.

Blair admitted, privately, that he’d not been at his best either. He’d come back wanting more, but unable to ask for more, partly because he wasn’t sure what ‘more’ he wanted, or how to ask Jim for it. He’d felt angry and confused, and unable to express himself – something that was a new experience for him. Now with hindsight, he could see just how much his dissertation had affected his relationship with Jim. It brought them together, right enough, but then it had grown into this time bomb that neither of them wanted to face, but one they couldn’t ignore. Each time it had exploded, they’d pulled things together, but the tension was driving them both crazy. Blair just prayed that there would be no more collateral damage to either of them.

“Right. Only first I have to pee.” He pushed Jim up so he could climb off the couch. “Oh, and could you get me some water? This life story stuff is thirsty work.”

“Okay. Do one for me while you’re in there, Chief?” Jim joked.

“No way, man. That’s one mission you can accomplish all by yourself!”

Two minutes later and Blair returned, grabbed the glass Jim offered and made himself comfortable again. Jim took his turn in the bathroom and then Blair held his glass up while Jim lay back down.

“Now, where was I? Eli was – still is, even though he’s now semi-retired – an amazing lecturer. His lecture circuit was one of the most popular and easily the most anticipated of all the anthropologists. I was lucky enough to get a seat during one of his talks and I found myself totally fired up by him.

“I don’t know if I was naive or still arrogant – my tutors at the time would have said arrogant.” Blair smiled. “Maybe I was a bit of both, but I kept sticking my hand up to ask this world renowned professor questions during his lecture. It got so that the guys around me were groaning every time my hand shot up, then they started throwing books and pencils at me, but Eli, he always answered, often with a question for a question. It was an unbelievable lecture. Anyway, afterwards he caught me hovering by the plinth, waiting to talk to him, and he asked me to make an appointment with his secretary to see him in his office – which I did – and, well, he developed in me a focus, calmed me down. Because of Eli I realized some teachers are worth listening to. He encouraged me in ways none of my other teachers ever did.”

“Sounds like you had a crush on the man.”

“Good God, no! That would have felt as much like incest as with Uncle Mike!”

“But it was Eli who introduced you to sentinel study?”

“Not exactly. He introduced me to Richard Burton. Told me how the man had totally integrated himself in an Arab life style in order to travel and visit the Hajj in Makkah. Eli got me interested in searching out Sir Richard’s books, and he also got me an introduction to someone who may have been my first sentinel….”

***

A door, the green paint on it flaky and faded, blocked the alleyway. A decorative, pierced-iron grille covered it, hiding most of the wear, unless you looked really close. There was no lock, just an empty hole where the lock once was.

Blair put his hand through and felt for the catch. He had to fiddle a bit with it, but then it gave way, and the door opened without a squeak. Behind, the alleyway was enclosed by walls on both sides, with a vaulted roof above carrying the floor of a shop. Blair stepped through and closed the door behind him.

A few yards in and the roof opened up to the pale winter sky, though the walls on either side were still too tall to see over. Blair walked along the alleyway to where it took a sharp turn right. Around the corner the passage opened to a hidden courtyard. Two row-houses faced him, boarded on either end by the back of businesses. It had an air of stagnated elegance. It may have been a charming oddity years ago, but now it seemed largely forgotten.

He knew that at least one of the houses was still occupied, even if the appearance seemed to indicate otherwise, and he crossed to the left-hand dwelling. Like the gate to the alleyway, the front door had elderly green paintwork. In the center was a blackened brass doorknocker and Blair gently rapped it against the paneled door. For a long moment nothing seemed to happen, then he heard bolts drawn back and the door opened.

A bald-headed, little old man stood there, an expression of wary curiosity in the pale brown eyes that peered out behind metal-rimmed spectacles. He was clad in old gray trousers, pink sweater and faded embroidered carpet slippers. Blair noticed a slight odor of aniseed and eucalyptus.

“Mr. Papadopoulos?” he asked.

“I am Papadopoulos,” the man confirmed.

Blair smiled one of his most winning smiles. “I’m Blair Sandburg. I rang yesterday?”

Mr. Papadopoulos hesitated for a moment and then stepped back. “Ah yes. The anthropology scholar. Come in. My house is yours.”

Blair stepped into the dark behind the door and heard a click as Mr. Papadopoulos switched on a single, dusty light that did little to illuminate the hallway and stairs.

“Did you have any problems finding my residence?”

“No, your instructions were very clear and concise, thank you.”

“Good. Now you expressed a wish to see my library?”

Blair smiled again at the elderly gentleman. “Yes, if I may? I was told you might have something in your collection by Sir Richard Francis Burton, the Victorian explorer? I was hoping to discover more of his writing for my Ph.D. at Rainier University.”

“Captain Burton was a client of my grandfather. My family has a long tradition of working in the legal profession.” The old man turned away and continued up the bare wooden stairs that led to the second floor. Blair followed behind. He could smell that particular musky scent that came from old books, lots of old books. It was a smell he was very familiar with; libraries were his favorite buildings.

“Captain Burton,” Mr. Papadopoulos was saying, “was concerned that his wife might not give his work the respect it deserved and so he left copies of some of his monographs and books with my grandfather. As I’m sure you are aware, he was only too correct in his assumptions.”

“Yes, I know Lady Burton burnt a number of his papers after Sir Richard’s death.”

Mr. Papadopoulos nodded. “Our copies remained in the company vaults until we had to sell our business. By then we couldn’t find any descendants of the Burton family, so most of the collection went into an archive library, but I was able to secrete some away.” He turned and winked at Blair.

They had reached a door on the landing and Mr. Papadopoulos opened it with a flourish.

The room was gloomy and what light there was came around the edges of large shutters. Mr. Papadopoulos crossed the room to open them and light flooded in.

Blair slowly turned around. Each wall had floor-to-ceiling, glass-fronted bookcases crammed full of leather-bound books. He was stunned into silence for all of a couple of seconds, and then he said, “Wow!” He crossed to the first bookcase and drew near to the glass to study the titles.

He almost didn’t see the small satisfied smile on the elderly man’s face, but he didn’t notice his host slip away until he returned a few minutes later with a tray containing a decanter of sherry, two glasses and a plate of cookies.

He ushered Blair into one of the two chairs in the room, put the tray on a tiny round table and sat down to face Blair. “So, Mr. Sandburg, tell me more about your dissertation.”

Blair took a sip of his sherry, tried not to grimace at the bitter taste, and then began. As he talked, Mr. Papadopoulos nodded and asked questions, drawing Blair out. Blair spoke of his work, his dreams, his plans, and his enthusiasm for anthropology. How he discovered Burton, thanks to a favorite professor. How he had stumbled across stories and legends about special warriors with sensory abilities beyond the norm. Then a few sentences in an article mentioning a monograph by Burton had intrigued him and he started looking for any other mention of that book. It was in the hope of finding something else that had led him to Mr. Papadopoulos’ door.

It was growing dark as Blair slowly wound down. Mr. Papadopoulos was gazing at him under bushy eyebrows, the rim of his glasses catching the last of the light, and Blair shifted in his seat, suddenly embarrassed at droning so long.

Papadopoulos stood to switch on the light. This was brighter than the one in the hall and it bounced off the glass in the bookcases, making Blair blink.

“You seem very young to be at college, Mr. Sandburg,” Papadopoulos noted.

Blair flushed slightly. “So some of my peers have mentioned,” he said, dryly. “I guess I have a quick mind and a fast tongue.” He smiled.

“Oh, I’m sure you are more than that.”

Blair’s blush deepened. “I think you should have a word with my professors, Mr. Papadopoulos.”

“You will just have to prove the doubters wrong, Mr. Sandburg, and to that end…”

The old gentleman took a tiny key from his jacket pocket and opened one of the cases. He drew out one of the books, studied the brown binding for a moment and then turned towards Blair, rubbing the spine as he did. “I think this is the book you are looking for.” He reverently handed it to Blair and returned to his seat.

Blair held the book in his hands as if it was the most precious thing in the world. He laid it on his knees and carefully opened it, with the utmost delicacy turning the pages. The “Wow” this time was barely breathed. When he came to a lithograph of a warrior, Blair wasn’t sure he could breathe.

“This is… amazing! Do you think,” Blair looked up, “I could come, perhaps once or twice a week, and study this, take some notes? I promise I’d take good care not to damage it.”

Papadopoulos studied the youth before him. It was a long moment before the old man said, “Yes, I think that would be acceptable.”

***

“What happened to him? How did you get the book?”

“He had a cleaner who ‘did’ once a week. She was never allowed into his library. One day she sees the door open and he’s sitting in his chair, eyes wide open, and he’s dead.”

“Ah, Blair, I’m sorry….Wait a minute, eyes wide open… you said he was a sentinel? You think maybe he zoned out and there was no one there to bring him out of it?”

“That’s my theory,” Blair said, sadly. “His body shut down, that’s for certain. I’m pretty sure he had at least two enhanced senses. He had excellent night vision and hearing. Not sure about his sense of smell and taste. Those candies he liked were very strong.” Blair smiled wanly. “Of course, his senses may have been dulled to old age, or maybe he was just tired of protecting.

“He certainly had the moral fortitude to be a sentinel. He donated his collection to Rainier with the proviso that they should be open to any student, or teacher, or researcher interested in Anthropology, except for that book, he left that to me, along with a letter with a photo. In the letter, he described his friend, Feodor. Reading between the lines, I believe he and this Feodor were lovers. They were, for want of better words, protectors of the innocents, the civilians caught between the Greek and the Turk extremists. One day, while rescuing a mother and baby caught in the aftermath of an explosion, a second bomb went off. Feodor used his body to protect the baby and got shrapnel in his back. He later died. Mr. Papadopoulos wanted to follow his friend, but Feodor had obtained a promise from him, to live and carry on their work. So that’s what Mr. Papadopoulos did, though his heart wasn’t in it.”

“He obviously meant a lot to you.”

“Yes, he did, but I like to think he’s with his Feodor now.”

“You’re a soppy romantic; you know that, don’t you?” Jim smiled gently.

“Takes one to know one, my friend.” Blair brushed his lips over Jim’s forehead.

Jim smiled at him and then asked, “How did you get involved with St. Sebastian's?”

“Oh that was the first Christmas at Rainier. The library was closed for the holidays; I was on my own so I decided to help out at a soup kitchen. The monks of St. Sebastian’s ran it. Once they heard I was on my own for the season, they invited me back to the monastery. That’s also where I learned to use a blow torch.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. They try to be as self-sufficient as possible. The following summer cousin Robert had to lay low so I couldn’t use him to place my bets. I needed money so I got a job at a sheet metal plant – I soon learned the difference between helping the monks and earning my own living! Man, the pace there was fast! I’m still surprised no one got seriously injured. Still, I went back the following summer. That was where I got these.” He pointed out to Jim the small scars on his arm. “And the ones on my legs.”

“I wondered.” Jim rang his fingers over the pale lines. “You could have been badly scarred.”

“You’d have still loved me, right?”

“Yeah…”

Jim was studying them so seriously, Blair was worried. “Hey, don’t zone out on them.”

“Just thinking how much they must have stung at the time.”

“Only for a while, and let’s face it, I’ve had worse.” Blair’s eyes narrowed. “You aren’t thinking of going down there and causing trouble, were you? ‘Cause the plant’s been closed a long time and if there had been any problems I would have sorted things out for myself.”

“I might have had a quick word with someone from health and safety. But as the plant’s closed…”

Blair shook his head in fond exasperation. “James Joseph Ellison, what am I going to do with you?”

Jim laughed out loud. “Anything you damn well please and well you know it!”

Blair’s eyes twinkled. “How about we go up to the bedroom now?”

“After you’ve finished the story and no saying ‘The End’ before we get there. This old man needs longer recovery time after last night and this morning!”

“‘Old man!’ You’re more like a little kid at times, you know that, right? Okay. Where was I? Oh yes, three months with the Kombai Tree people, my very first official expedition. We went up the Brazza River to meet them. My first sight of them was wild! The naked warriors were standing on the banks of the river screaming at us, brandishing bows and barbed arrows. The only bit of clothing they wore was in the form of bird’s beaks which they wore over their penis.” Blair shivered theatrically. “The mere idea of sticking your dick in a bird’s beak, even a dead bird’s beak…”

“So what happened?”

“Well you see….”

***

Blair stood with his motley group of students while their leader and professor talked, through the guide and interpreter, with the leader of the warriors. These people had, until recently, been cannibals. The heads of their arrows were made of bone, and opinions were divided over whether it was animal or human bone. They wanted no white men on their land. They had heard tales of laleos who made people disappear, or left them weak minded. They wanted no part of these white demons.

Blair tried to keep still, afraid of bringing anyone’s attention to him; afraid of disrupting the delicate negotiations. As always the case when it’s crucial you stand still, he felt an itch tickle his back. He tried to move to ease it, but only succeeded in making it worse. Just when he thought he would go mad if he didn’t scratch it, he felt something large brush against his leg. He looked down and took a deep breath. There, beside his leg was a wolf, big, grey, with shockingly blue eyes. Blair took a step away, turned, stumbled, and landed face down in the mud. The wolf disappeared into the jungle.

There was a stunned silence and then the Kombai warriors started to laugh out loud. They pointed at Blair and said something to the translator, which Blair later discovered, was akin to how uncoordinated this spirit was! If all these white spirits were that clumsy, they posed no threat to the Kombai!

They took Blair and his group to the village and Blair gazed up in wonder at their houses in the skies. The trees were tall and incredibly thin. One high breeze and they’d break. But in the leaf canopy at the tops of these trees were perched wooden ramshackle huts. Then Blair saw the ladders leading up to each house….

“How about I stay down here and do my study from ground level?” he ventured.

The warriors laughed as the translator relayed Blair’s words. One of the men slapped Blair’s back, nearly knocking him over. “You will be safer with us than with the big snakes down here that would gobble you up!”

The tribesman went on to describe in great detail, with large hand gestures, how massive pythons would drop from the lower trees, slither onto unsuspecting sleeping prey, wrap themselves around said prey and squeeze the life out of them, and then carry on crushing the bones until the victims were as thin as an arm, and then swallow them whole.

Blair looked back up at the top of the trees and the flimsy looking huts. “I guess I’m sleeping up there then,” he said. “You know, vertigo is not the fear of heights, that’s acrophobia. Vertigo is the dizzy feeling you get when you look down.”

“You’ll be fine, son,” their team leader said, slapping Blair on the shoulder as he walked past.

“Yeah…”

As karma would have it, Blair was adopted by a couple living in the highest tree house. It took him a while to realize there was something special about the warrior who lived there – his eyesight was incredible. His house was in the highest tree because he could see farthest and warn the tribe of danger.

Unfortunately that good eyesight didn’t help Blair when one of the warriors decided he was fair game because he was an outsider and young. The warrior got Blair drunk on the local hooch, mixed with something to make him lose his inhibitions.

Luckily his adopted mom burst into the hut just as the warrior had Blair naked and on all fours, and was lining up to rape him.

Later his ‘parents’ explained that they heard a wild cat cry out as if in pain and that alerted them to his danger.

Not that Blair was going to mention that to his lover. That Blair’s mom had laid into his attacker with a broom in front of the whole village and chased him down the ladders and into the jungle, would probably not reassure Jim. Nor would knowing that the warrior was banned from the village during the group’s stay and if he ever tried to rape anyone again, he would have been castrated; his genitalia hung around his neck and if the shock of the castration didn’t kill him, they would leave him to bleed to death. Justice was swift and deadly in the jungle.

Now that was something Jim would appreciate.

It was, however, a long time before Blair processed the feelings of shame and embarrassment he felt, even longer before he felt brave enough to date a guy again.

***

“So you lived in the trees, but have you ever done any actual tree-hugging?” Jim broke into Blair’s thoughts.

“I chained myself to the redwoods with Janet, if that counts.”

“Before or after the anti-nuke rally?”

“After.”

“Must have been special.”

“Actually, it was. Good memories. There were some… good times getting to know those redwoods up close and personal, even if it was only the trees I got intimate with.”

Jim laughed as Blair intended.

“So you and Janet… you never…?”

“No, when they cut us free, they dragged us all away. We got fined, locked up for a few days, and then released to go our separate ways. But even with Janet or any of the other lovely ladies I spent time with, I moved on and never or rarely got back in touch with them again. We parted on good terms, at least I hope we did, but that was it; ‘detach with love’ as mom says. The only one I ever thought I may have come close to being ‘the one’ – before you – was Molly. You remember Molly? Around the time Alec skated into our lives.”

“I remember. Pretty girl, intelligent, friendly – I wanted to ship her out to darkest Mongolia.”

“Why? – and by the way, Mongolia isn’t as ‘dark’ as it may once have been.”

“You were in love with her. That was reason enough. Strangely, I was never as worried about Sam. Admittedly I wanted to lock her up, or maybe lock you up for being interested in her!”

“Sam was… different. Scary and different. Although truth be told, sometimes I wondered what I saw in her too.”

“Did you succeed in saving the redwoods?”

“Yeah. There are very few successes in environmental protest, but we held out just long enough for legislation to be brought it to save them.”

Jim smiled. “As Megan would say, Good on yer, mate.”

“You know, I think your Aussie accent is getting better! Yes, I’m pleased, not just for the trees, but for Janet too. That something she did made a difference.”

“Something you both did, Blair.” Jim corrected.

“Well there were more than just us two, but thanks. It just felt good to know that a group of people can make a difference.”

“You make a difference to this one person each and every day, my little eco warrior.”

Blair smiled softly. “Goes both ways, my man, both ways.” He paused. “You and Incacha… You loved him didn’t you?”

“I was wondering if you were ever going to ask me about him.”

“Well?”

“Incacha was closer to me than any man I’d ever met before. Most of the men in the village had… ‘loving friends’ as well as wives. The men spent more time with each other than with the women. As long as they returned to their women folk, nothing was said.”

“So…did you and he…”

“Once, just the once, just before I left the jungle. I don’t know if I’d call it love, like I feel for you, Junior, but I respected him, even admired him.”

“So you never took another lover in the jungle?”

“I thought we were talking about your life!”

“Just give, Jim. It’ll be easier in the long run.”

Jim sighed dramatically. “Okay, no I didn’t take another lover while in the jungle. Okay now?”

Blair nodded.

“They took me out of the jungle to the nearest American base. I slept most of the way. Then, suddenly there was noise and confusion, smells that had me gagging; it was as if someone had thrown open the door on a hurricane. I was sure I was going stark, staring mad.”

“All that input all in one go, how did you cope?”

“At first I don’t think I did! I just had to keep it all together. I remember being more terrified of being sectioned than of the condition itself. I was sure I was going to get locked up in a padded room, and the idea of that and a straight jacket… Even so, I couldn’t help reacting to different things, loud noises, smells…” Jim looked at his lover for understanding before continuing. “I must have given something away otherwise Brackett wouldn’t have latched on to us, but sheer stubbornness kept me from falling apart. Luckily, the doctors on the base decided my symptoms were down to exhaustion, and I was very tired. I thought I saw Incacha and then the senses settled down, became normal.” His voice trailed away.

Blair stroked his fingers over Jim’s cheekbones. “I wish I’d been there to help. You could have gone into a downward spiral.” Blair shifted position causing Jim to sit up, but he stayed close. “When I did that semester working nights at Conover, I came across this woman with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. She’d been taken hostage in a bank hold-up. At first, she was okay. Then her husband got rammed by a car while at an intersection. That seemed to be the second trigger. At first, it was little things; a man who seemed to act suspicious at her daughter’s school… she mentioned him to a beat-cop who checked him out and found no evidence of any crime. If her husband reached for her while she was asleep, she’d hit him one.”

“Thinking she was being grabbed by one of the bank-robbers?”

“Or someone out to do her harm, yeah. Then she started to copy down the numbers of any strange car that parked near her house, or if they slowed down near her house. She couldn’t eat properly, couldn’t go out, didn’t want her husband and daughter to leave the house in case the robbers had hired someone to grab them or even kill them. She knew it wasn’t rational behavior, knew she was getting more and more obsessive, but couldn’t stop herself. It came to a head when she started sleeping during the day and staying awake all night. Her husband finally told her that if she didn’t get help, he’d leave and take their daughter with him.”

“What happened?”

“She ended up in Conover getting treatment. Dr. Mitchell, who worked there for a time, told me that only around 40 percent of sufferers make a full recovery. With all that you went through, the chance of you developing it….” Blair realized he was getting too somber. “So then there was Lila….”

Jim rested his head heavily on the back of the couch. “Yeah. They’d sent me on R and R to recover. After her and Bali I only returned to the base long enough for the docs to decide I wasn’t fit enough, physically, to return to active service with covert ops and they pensioned me out. Though now I think that that was just an excuse. I think Oliver needed me out of the way to stop me from investigating what had gone on. If I’d remained on camp, someone might have said something and I might have started to put things together.” Jim shrugged and sat back up to glance at his lover. “After that, I put my emotions on hold. The old Ellison shield went up. I doubt if even you could have reached me. Anyway, weren’t you out of the country at the time?”

“Oh yeah, first a brief stint in the Fijian islands – you remember I told you about that fire dancer having a great body? Well, I sort of misled you there. She was a he and the way the fire made his skin glow as he danced…”

Jim glared and Blair burst out laughing. “Man, you are so easy sometimes!”

Jim started to move away but Blair pulled him back. “Hey! Hey, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Come on, Jim, just relax. I promise I’ll behave.”

He waited until Jim complied, though Blair could feel a tension in Jim’s body that wasn’t there before. “I remember,” he began again, “heading out from Cascade Airport and seeing a large posse of media guys converging on one guy but I couldn’t see who they were after. Someone told me it was a local hero who’d been MIA. You?”

“Maybe. I know someone alerted them. I just wanted to lie low and not see anyone. Truth was though, I had to earn a living until the money from the military came through.”

“Did Bill or Steven contact you?”

“Dad did, once. He said it was the right time for me to, now how did he put it… buckle to and join the company. In a couple of years, he said, I could take over from him.”

“I guess you told him what you thought of that!”

“Yeah. I couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk after what I’d seen and done. I didn’t see or hear from him again until that business with Aaron Foster.”

“And Steven?”

“I think he was in China at the time building his own corporate ladder. Sorry, that sounds harsh.” Jim glanced apologetically at Blair.

“I guess that was how you felt about him then. At least you get on better now.”

“Thanks to you for pushing.”

Blair smiled. “You’re welcome.”

“So, the Fijian islands?”

“Right. Right. From there I spent a month in Malaysia. After that I back here for a couple of months before I ended up the Amazon studying the Yanomamo. They are really incredible people, you know? The only metal they have is traded to them. Their numbering system is one, two, and more than two. And their medicine men are known as ‘Pages’. Amazing stuff, eh? Anyway, that was when I nearly got eaten by a crocodile.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Okay, not actually nearly eaten… I made a classic mistake. I went to step on a log that wasn’t a log, just got pulled back in time by someone who noticed eyes on that ‘log’. God, I was so young then. Hey! I have that CD somewhere… the one I was playing when you first came into my office?” Blair started to move. “Maybe I should look it up for our anniversary.”

This time Jim pulled him back. “You intend to spend it alone then?”

Blair pouted. “It’s one of the things that brought us together.”

“I thought mystic powers or that nurse brought us together. Beside, the best music is still…”

“Santana, yes, I know.”

“You didn’t complain when we did the horizontal samba in time with the music.”

“Okay, I admit you’ve got the hip movements down pat.” Blair grinned. “Where was I? Oh, yes. So by the winter of that year, I’d gotten my BA and Mom was in New York at the time so she invited me over for a break. She’d become involved with a guy from the theater set and someone had told her about this religion Santeria where they channeled their gods through their own bodies. Of course, Naomi wanted to take part in a ceremony and I went along.”

“So what happened?”

“Mom became convinced she could be a channel for the love goddess.”

“That would be… Oshun?”

“Yes, that’s her.” Blair squirmed a little. “It was kinda embarrassing. They basically told her she hadn’t a hope in hell.”

“Ouch! So what happened then?”

“We jetted off to Nepal.”

“Nepal? Wasn’t that where that story you told Joel took place? What really happened?”

“Well, the bulk of it was true. I did get ‘stuck’ and the guide did talk me over, but I was obfuscating just a little. I couldn’t tell Joel that I never did conquer my fear of heights completely, now could I? Not with him having a crisis of confidence. I got back to Rainier in time to join the expedition to Kenya.”

“Where you learned your cold remedies?”

“That came from the Genjaka Indians. And they would have worked the first time around if you’d had just opened up a bit and didn’t try that over-the-counter poison.”

“And what did Simon discover when I did try some? Huh, my little witch doctor? Can we say hallucinogenic?”

Blair sniffed in distain. “Niktabi Root, Jim, is only slightly hallucinogenic. And we both know that Molly was no hallucination.

“Anyway, then I spent a couple of months,” he said, changing the subject, “with the Monbuttu tribe in Kenya. They made these beautiful harps that would only be played during their court rituals. They shared some similarities with Egyptian carvers. Amazing craftsmen, beautiful artists. It was their harps that led me into archeology and Emily Watson.”

“Hold that thought.”

To Blair’s puzzlement, Jim climbed up and went into the kitchen. Any confusion disappeared a moment later as Jim lifted out a packet of microwave popcorn from the cupboard and proceeded to ‘nuke it’, before returning. He settled back down, his head resting on a cushion on Blair’s lap, the bowl of piping hot popcorn balanced upon his stomach.

Blair laughed. “What am I now, your own personal cinema?”

“Yeah. Roll them, Mr. DeMille.”

“Why did I ever start this? Okay, share your bounty and no one will get hurt.”

Jim lifted the bowl so that Blair could grab a handful, then placed it on his chest within easy reach of them both.

“It was just before I met you,” Blair said, around a mouthful of ‘corn.

“You mean before you took over my life! Why I didn’t arrest you for impersonating a doctor, I’ll never know.”

“Oh, come on, you were as turned on as I was when I pushed back. That’s why you let me down to the floor again!”

“More likely scared stiff of losing my mind.”

“Do you regret it?”

“Meeting you? Never! Some other things… the pain and trouble you got into because you joined up with me, always.”

“My choice. It brought us here, so no guilt trip, okay?”

Jim smiled. “Okay.”

“Sidney Oldham was in charge of the anthropological side of the dig, Emily Watson, handled the archaeological areas.”

“That’s how you knew her so well.”

Blair frowned. “Yes, though not as well as I thought. I didn’t know her well enough for her to tell me about her diabetes. She and I were part of the team stranded together. She always said that her job was like reading a book backwards. You start at the end – our time – and read downwards into the past. I don’t know if it was an original quote, but it does fit.”

***

The sun had dipped nearly below the horizon and the sky had turned the color of blood. The heat was quickly evaporating leaving a cool breeze that would quickly turn cold. The evening coolness would soon bring out the nocturnal critters. He’d seen bats flying at dusk the day before, swooping and circling creating swirling black ribbons in the sky, looking like some great flock of black birds.

They’d only been in the area a short time. At first the heat was wonderful – tiring, but lovely – however, after a while, the clear, blue, arid skies had everyone longing for rainy Cascade.

The region of As Saloiyah was home to nearly sixty archaeological sites belonging to the Mesopotamian period. The Rainier team had checked out the caves where the bats roosted as soon as they arrived, and although impressive and educational, the caves had been very well explored and documented. The team had moved further north to an interesting, new site which was showing some noteworthy finds.

Blair had to admit to himself that he found the desert very calming – which was probably why he’d been chosen as part of the team. Personally he felt he’d grown up a lot since he’d met Eli, but there were still some of his tutors who thought Blair was too much of a radical to fit in to the university. For his part, Blair thought some of the academics should venture out into the real world now and again! The trip gave both parties some breathing space.

With political tension running high in Kuwait, they’d been quartered in a US military base – to the team leader’s annoyance – before they set off for the desert. There was even a military escort provided, something else the leaders objected to. Blair, however, was having no problems with the military. In fact, his gay-dar had ‘pinged’ and homed in on one pilot, named Earl, a young man with skin the color of rich mocha. Blair loved seeing the contrast of their skin as they had sex; loved the forbidden, dangerous pleasure taken in dark, secluded places so that Earl’s commanding officers never discovered the pilot had a penchant for men, though Blair had a sneaking suspicion that Earl would have gotten into more trouble for being fucked by a civilian than simply because the civilian was obviously male.

Earl even smuggled Blair in to fly the simulation for the Apaches. In fact during one memorable occasion they’d managed to do a bit of their own stimulation inside the simulation. Something Earl hadn’t thought possible before Blair convinced him to try.

It was stupid and reckless. They could have been caught at any time and Earl would have ended up with some serious disciplinary action – not to mention the homophobic shit that would follow – but it was also wild and exciting, like death was hanging over them and life was for celebrating. So they went for it – big time.

Unfortunately, Earl had other duties and was not part of the escort that stayed with them on the dig. The men assigned that duty soon decided that the academics were in no immediate danger and relaxed, asking questions and even shifting some of the rocks, though their guns stayed on their shoulders.

Blair found himself caught up in the day to day routine, but, oh boy, did he find the work back breaking! Scraping away, brushing away the sand that had covered the site for centuries, taking the greatest care that nothing was missed… if he ever gave a thought to switching to archaeology; the sheer tedium of the field work soon changed his mind.

Then they spotted a train of nomads heading their way. Their local guides knew the visitors and soon a kettle was brewing the famous tea and both groups were catching up on news. It was then that one of the visitors mentioned a collection of ruins a few miles away.

Emily grew excited as she pressed their interpreter for more details. She was almost vibrating on the chair she sat on. “Sidney, we have to check this out!”

“Emily, we can’t. We don’t have permission from the government to do anything more than this site.”

“But, it could be something of vital importance. We should at the very least see if there is anything there worth investigating at some future time. We could just send a small team of volunteers, just for a day to inspect the area, to plot the locale on the map. We really would be negligent if we didn’t do that.” She could see that her colleague was weakening and played her strongest card. “Just think what prestige it would bring to Rainier if we found a new unknown site from the Mesopotamian period. Just a day, Sidney, two at the most.”

To no one’s surprise, Emily got her wish.

Their escort had to be split in order for them to have a military guard, something the soldiers weren’t happy about, but Sidney and Emily did some fast talking with their superiors and things were smoothed over. It was only supposed to be a brief recon after all.

It’d had taken them over half a day to get there and Emily wanted to survey the area immediately – something their guide tried to talk her out of. Still Emily took a slow walk around, studying the ground, while the others sat under an awning and waited out the heat.

It was eerily quiet. In fact it felt even less alive than the other area they were exploring, nothing moved except Emily and the shimmering air, but Blair knew that to be deceiving. Even here life existed, hidden in the rocks, buried in the sand – only emerging when disturbed or during that brief period between the heat and the cold – last thing in the late afternoon and first thing in the morning.

They’d just started exploring some rock formations when one of the military radios crackled into life. In the quiet of the desert, the sound carried and it didn’t sound like good news.

Geoff, having heard his orders, turned to address his charges. “Okay, people, pack up your stuff. We’re getting out of here now.”

“What?” said Emily. “No way, soldier! We’ve only just gotten started!”

“Sorry, Ma’am,” he replied. “We have to leave now.”

Everyone picked up on the guy’s tension, but it was Blair who asked.

“War,” Geoff answered shortly. “Iraq has invaded Kuwait.”

“Jesus!” breathed one of Emily’s team. “How far away are they from us?”

“Not far enough. Now get moving!”

They set off in the land rover, but were driving too fast, when a sudden explosion nearby had them careering into a large dune.

Their escort quickly got them out of the vehicle and under some cover, then radioed for help and waited, all of them full of fear and anticipation.

The sound of choppers arrived out of nowhere and both a Chinook and an Apache helicopter arrived and landed, sand flying everywhere.

The civilans were shepherded into the Chinook as their guards kept an eye out for any more missiles.

Blair gave a wave to the pilot of the Apache, recognizing Earl who had opened his window.

“You running into trouble again, Blair?”

“Oh, you know me, Earl. I only do it so you big, bad military types can come in and save my ass.”

“Well it’s a…” Whatever else Earl was going to say was gone as a shot rang out and Earl slumped in his seatbelt. Blair was off and running towards the Apache before he’d even thought about it; the other soldiers laying down covering fire even as Blair and Earl’s co-pilot struggled with Earl’s limp form.

“Shit!” Blair hadn’t realized there was another soldier – a medic – with him until the man cursed. “We have to get him into the Chinook so I can get him stabilized.” The medic looked towards the other chopper. “It’ll be a tight squeeze getting you in as well,” he said, looking back at Blair.

Blair glanced at the Apache co-pilot. “I could ride with you. I won’t touch anything. Earl let me try out the Apache simulator back at your base.”

“You Earl’s friend?” The pilot put a slight emphasis on the word ‘friend’.

Blair nodded.

“Okay, but don’t touch anything unless I tell you. More than just my job rests on you keeping your word.”

Blair was already in Earl’s seat and fastening himself in. They were in the air before he knew it.

“Did Earl teach you to keep this bird level?” The words came through the helmet that Blair quickly put on. “You know which controls do that?”

“I didn’t crash the simulator.”

“Okay. Hold on.”

The chopper shifted in the sky. “Here’s your chance, kid. Just keep her steady for me for one minute.”

Blair was looking at the controls in front of him and panicking. Suddenly he heard a voice, clear as a bell, in his head. “Concentrate, Chief. You can do this. Don’t look down.”

“Yes, Obi Wan,” he thought, chuckling to himself, but he took a breath and took control. A few minutes later they were wrestled out of his hands and a voice through his helmet said, “Good job, kid. Relax, I’ve got her now.”

Blair stretched out his fingers slowly, allowing the tension to leave them, and rolled his shoulders as the pilot got them safely back to base.

It was only later that he realized while he was holding her steady, the pilot was taking out the sniper who had taken a shot at Earl. Blair hadn’t seen a thing except the controls.

***

“Did Earl survive?”

“Yes, he escaped with just a new scar to add to his collection. One more to show me in private…”

“Didn’t he get reprimanded for allowing you in the Apache simulation?”

“Oh yeah. He left the force soon after. I think the heat got too much for him and I don’t mean the desert heat. Emily and Sidney were banned from entering the country for three years. I think she was still petitioning to explore the area when she died.”

“She sounded reckless.”

“I prefer to think she was enthusiastic about her subject. It’s what made her a good teacher.”

Jim took a moment to absorb Blair’s words. “As I remember, I’d just joined Major Crimes the year the first Gulf war broke out.”

Blair gave a smug grin. “That picture of you from News Update magazine? Earl had it pinned up in his locker. Said it was his ‘pin up boy’.”

“God, one of your old friends beating off to a picture of me… that sounds really…”

“Interesting?”

“Not the word I’d go for here, Sandburg.”

“How about if I beat off to your image?”

“Better. Much better if I can watch.”

“You know, I never knew you had so many kinks until we became lovers.”

“Not kinks… more desires.” Jim grinned.

“Kinks, Jim. I know a kink when I hear one.” But Blair’s eyes were twinkling as he spoke. He decided not to tell Jim about the voice that spoke to him in the cockpit of the Apache. He had a feeling Jim would just make some wise-ass comment about feeling the force.

“So does that take us up to the time we first met?”

“Let me think… I was going out with Ann, the nurse I mentioned. She whom I was…”

“Boffing?”

“Tutoring. Actually it was her I went sky-diving with. She has such a sensitive touch… Hey!” He rubbed the arm Jim had pinched.

“No more fantasizing about past lovers while you’re with me and conscious, Sandburg!”

Blair chuckled. “You have no competition there, Ellison. You are the one and only for me, awake or asleep. I was going to say she had a sensitive touch when taking blood and such.” He stretched. While he was talking most of the day had gone and lights were coming on in the part of Cascade he could see through the balcony windows. “Time we put the lights on, man. You bored with the story of my life yet?”

“I don’t think I can get bored seeing as I’m in so much of it.”

“You’ve always been there, Jim, in one form or another. I was just waiting for you to show up in the gorgeous form you are now.”

Jim sat up to kiss Blair’s forehead. “I love you too.”

“I knew that, right from the moment you didn’t throw me out after the shit hit the fan when Naomi sent my diss to Sid.”

***

Blair and Naomi walked through the concourse towards the check-in desk, Blair carrying his mom’s large bag.

“You could still come with me,” she ventured. “We could get a ticket for you. Jim could send on your luggage when we get settled and put the rest in storage. You wouldn’t have to leave Cascade forever, just until the press loses interest.” She looked so hopeful, Blair couldn’t be angry with her.

Blair shook his head. “Not going to happen, mom.”

“Why not? I still don’t believe you are going to…”

“Join the Academy? Become one of those ‘pigs’?”

“You know what I mean, Blair.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“I still don’t understand how you could give it all up. If Sid’s offer wasn’t any good, the chance of a Nobel prize….”

“Now you know that was never going to happen, don’t you? It’s a lovely idea, and I love that you are so proud of me, but no.” Blair smiled, gently. “ABD students do not get awarded Nobels on the word of someone’s hairdresser.”

“Masseur, Lars was a masseur for one of the committee members.”

“Lars Guap? From Lapland?”

Naomi looked bewildered. “Who? Lars is from Sweden, I think, or Norway perhaps?”

Blair signed. It was typical of Naomi to forget the names of her ex-boyfriends, even if Blair remembered some of them. “Whatever. It wouldn’t have happened, mom.”

“It might have,” his mother petulantly replied.

“No, Naomi.”

“You could still…”

No, mom.”

“But why?” Her voice rose.

“I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”

“I just don’t understand you anymore! I get that Jim is special, I could tell that from his aura the first time I saw him, but why give up your whole life for him? You could have gotten the money, you could have gotten such a good deal, Sweetie.”

“I couldn’t do that to Jim.”

“He would have understood in the end,” she insisted. “It might have taken some time, but he would have got it.”

“No, he wouldn’t and I wouldn’t have wanted him to. Mom, Jim… Jim is more than special. Special doesn’t even begin to describe him. The other night, I had an epiphany. I realized it came down to two careers, mine or Jim’s. I could go on and become famous, travel the world, do all the things I ever wanted to do, but ruin Jim’s career, in fact ruin his life…”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Blair.”

He took her arm. “Believe me, Naomi, Jim would be in all sorts of danger, he may still be. And if I had taken that offer, I’d have lost him, lost the friendship, lost everything I have. When it came down to it, I couldn’t do that. You see, I love him.”

Naomi shook her head. “Love is transitory, Sweetie. It doesn’t last. Oh, it feels wonderful at first, but slowly they require more and more from you, of you, and you lose who you are. That’s what’s happened to you.” She cupped Blair’s face in her hands. “You’ll get your heart broken. Detach while you still know who you are, while you still can. It’s best for you both. Being in love means someone gets hurt, and I don’t want it to be you.”

Blair gently shook off her hands. “You are not listening to me, mom. I know it’s hard for you. You’ve been in love, but not loved someone. There’s a difference. I love him. I’d do just about anything for him. And it doesn’t matter if Jim never gives me the physical relationship I’d like to share with him, I know he loves me by the things he does. He may be scared stiff about the idea of being loved and loving another man, but I know, deep down, he loves me too. Look how he didn’t ask us to leave, even during this debacle? There’s so many ways he shows me.”

“It’s your home too, Blair.”

“It feels like home, mom, yes, but it’s Jim’s name on the lease. He could have shown us the door any time, but he didn’t.”

“What if his fear drives him into the arms of a woman? What then?”

“Then I’ll let him go,” Blair replied, matter-of-factly, “knowing that no one can love him the way I do.” He smiled. “No one would put up with him the way I do, the way he does me. I’ve thought it through, Naomi. I’ve looked at every angle. I’m not leaving him, it’s that simple. If it means attending the academy and becoming his partner on the force, then so be it.”

“If he loves you the way you think, why would he let you give it all up, knowing how much it meant to you?”

“If I know Jim, and I do, he’s been trying to find a way to make things up to me somehow, to try and save me from myself. But we’ll work it out, that’s what we do. That’s what couples do.”

She stroked his cheek sadly. “You’re not my little boy anymore.”

He put his hand over hers and kissed her palm. “I’ll always be your little boy, just now you have to share me with someone else.”

“I’d better catch that plane.”

“Yeah, just don’t disappear, okay?”

“I’ll be in touch, I promise. This time I’ll be reachable. I’ll have to be, I may hear of a wedding soon.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t go that far!”

“Just be careful, okay, Blair?”

“You too, mom. You too.”

She started to walk away, but then stopped and turned around. “Blair, if you love him and you truly believe he loves you, then tell him. What if he says yes? You’ll miss so much, unless you tell him.” She turned and carried on walking.

Blair stood very still, thinking.

By the time he got back to the loft, he’d decided to broach the subject with Jim. He still wasn’t ready to come right out with the words, I love you, but maybe he could tell Jim that he was bi.

When he walked in Jim was making tea, in itself an unusual event. “I thought coffee would just keep us awake and anything stronger….”

Blair hung up his jacket by the door and put his keys in the basket. “You’re still not allowed because of your leg.”

“Yeah. Your mom get off okay?”

“Fine.” He took the cup Jim offered, sniffing at the aromatic scent with pleasure. “Good choice.”

“You must be rubbing off on me,” Jim said with a smile.

“Talking of rubbing off…”

Jim’s words cut across Blair’s. “Did she try and get you to go with her?”

Blair blinked. “Yes, how did you know?”

“Simple. She doesn’t want you to join the police force. She gets how dangerous it is.”

“Yeah, well she doesn’t understand that I’ve been in and out of danger for years. Life for an anthropologist is not spent in a lab.”

“Maybe not, but you can’t say you haven’t had more than your fair share since joining with me.”

“Are you thinking of cutting me loose – ‘cause I have to tell you it won’t work. In fact, I’ll fight you every step of the way.”

“No,” Jim ducked his head but Blair noticed the smile. “I realized,” Jim continued, “I couldn’t do that, not anymore. But you do deserve better than being treated like a pariah because of me.”

“Jim…”

“No, listen to me, please. Dad and Steven are suing both the publishing firm and Sid Graham. They’d like you and me to join them in that. Also they think you should sue Rainier.”

“I don’t think I have a leg to stand on there, Jim. I declared myself a fraud.”

“Well, we’ve been talking, Dad, Steven, Simon and me. We think we have a way around that, but it would mean covering a lie with another lie.”

“I’m listening.”

Jim sat forward, clasping his hands together. “Okay. Suppose you tell the world that the thing Naomi emailed wasn’t your dissertation, well, it was, but it was also a novel you were working on. You left my name in until you came up with one for your character, The Sentinel. When Naomi sent it to Sid, she didn’t send your dissertation, but a copy of your novel in process. When you declared yourself a fraud, you did it because you were trying to get the press off my back so I could catch Zeller. You could add that I have 20/20 vision and exceptional hearing, but nothing outside the norm.” He paused. “What do you think? It’s a bit rough, I know, but it would cover a lot of what you said and what happened.”

“It’s good…. As you said, it needs working on, but, yes, it may work.”

Jim smiled, obviously relieved. “So, you’ll join us in the legal thing?”

“I’ll certainly talk to your lawyer, if you think he’d listen?”

“Good. He’ll listen. Dad pays him enough. Well, I think I’ll turn in.” Jim got to his feet with the aid of his cane.

“Jim, wait, there’s something I want to tell you.”

“Yeah?”

Blair looked at the man who’d captured his heart… and chickened out. “Never mind. It can wait. Good night, my friend. Sleep well.”

“You sure? Everything okay?”

Blair smiled. “Yeah. I just wanted to say, thanks. Thanks for not yelling at mom. Thanks for not throwing us out.”

“You’re welcome. Anyway, you still owe back rent.”

Blair laughed. “See you in the morning.”

“Night, Chief.”

***

“I was going to tell you that night that I loved you, when I got back from the airport.”

Jim nodded. “I think on some level I knew that, but I wanted us to be more equal, to come together without some of the baggage we’d both accumulated.”

“So you stopped me.”

“And you drew back yourself.”

“Until you got shot again! Man, all that blood. I was so scared!” Blair shook his head. “I was sure that this time we’d used up all our luck, and I wouldn’t be able to bring you back the way you did me and I knew I didn’t want to live without you,” he finished quietly.

“You gave me something to live for with those three words.”

“What the ‘You shit, Ellison’?”

“Those and the ones before that. The ‘don’t you dare die on me, I love you, you great, fucking moron.’ I knew then that it had to be love.”

Blair chuckled and then yawned. “Man! I don’t think I’ve talked so long in ages!”

“You just need some fresh air. Come on.” Jim stood and held out his hand to Blair.

“Where’re we going?”

“How about we go for a walk to that fish restaurant you are always going on about? Then later, when we get home, you can show me some of those point guard skills.”

“Really? Sounds good to me, as long as you’re buying.”

Jim sighed, long-sufferingly. “Don’t I always?”

“Only because, as senior detective in this partnership, you get the bigger paycheck!”

Epilogue

“You know the best skills for a point guard, Jim?”

“Good ball handling?” Jim asked breathlessly.

“Yep. And the ability to focus on the ball.”

Blair gently rolled Jim’s ball sac.

“But what makes a good point guard into a great point guard is the ability to know when to pass the ball to the right player.”

He lowered his mouth and sucked at Jim’s balls causing Jim to groan loudly and grasp at the sheet under him, arching his back off the bed.

Blair firmly pushed him back down. “Of course the ball handling and passing are very important, more important than scoring sometimes.” He pulled away and reached for the lube.

Jim opened his eyes. “What?”

Blair grinned. Jim was so distracted he probably didn’t even know what Blair was talking about. “On the other hand,” Blair coated his fingers with the lubrication and began to prepare his hole, unable to resist probing for that little nub inside his body. “On the other hand,” he repeated, closing his eyes and losing his train of thought for a second.

He quickly removed his fingers before he came, and wiped them on the sheet. Then he took Jim’s cock in his hand and slowly lowered himself down onto it. “A good point guard…” He pushed down… “knows when… to…” He took a deep breath as Jim’s cock breached the tight muscle… “take one… for the team!”

Jim held on to Blair’s hips and thrust up.

Blair gasped and threw his head back as pleasure soared through his nerve endings. “God… YES! Again… harder…” Blair opened eyes that had been screwed shut and locked gaze with Jim. “Come for me, Jim. NOW!”

He tightened the muscles around Jim’s cock and Jim howled, his seed filling Blair’s passage, triggering Blair’s own orgasm.

Blair eased himself off Jim’s softening cock, and collapsed on the bed, flinching only slightly as his ass connected with the sheets. One arm he swung up on the pillow, the other lay on his heaving chest. He closed his eyes in sated bliss. After a moment he felt Jim move and then his lover instructed him to ‘turn over, Chief.’

Blair did as he was told, with just a little ill grace at having to move, and a moist wipe was run over his ass. He groaned and wiggled as Jim gently rubbed some cream over his hole.

“Stop that, or I shall spank it.”

“And I should take that as a threat, or a treat?”

For that he got a light slap.

“We’ll save that kink for another time.”

Blair chuckled but he was too tired to rise to that bait. He felt the bed dip as Jim lay down beside him again, pulling a sheet over their rapidly cooling bodies.

“Why didn’t we do this before?”

Blair opened one eye to stare at Jim. “What? Make love? I thought you were too…”

Jim was shaking his head. “No. Talk properly about stuff.”

Blair closed his eye again. “Guess it’s a guy thing. We don’t talk about ‘stuff’ unless pushed.”

“It’s unlike you not to push.”

Blair shrugged. “It didn’t seem that important. Did you know all about Carolyn?”

“I guess I knew more about her life than she did mine.”

“There you are then. Guy thing.”

He felt Jim turn towards him. “You’ve still got stories to tell though, Sandburg.”

“Like what?”

“Let me see… Okay, how about the Watumsa Indians and Pinecrest, for example?”

“You have stories too you’ve not told me about.”

“For instance?”

Blair turned to face his lover, his eyes traveling over Jim’s chest. He licked his lips, slowly, and focused his attention away from Jim’s lazy, sexy, oh so knowing, smiling face and back onto their conversation.

“Your interest in Asian studies, for instance. You can’t tell me there’s not a story there.”

Jim opened his mouth to talk, but then yawned. “Rain check?”

Blair grinned. “Yeah.” He wrapped himself around Jim.

“I won’t forget, Chief,” Jim said, sleepily

“I wouldn’t expect you to.” But I can hope, he thought. Pinecrest and Sheriff Blackstone were a bit too fresh in his mind. He remembered being on edge the day they headed out to the Watumsa Basin, in case they bumped into someone who recognized Blair, and he really, really hoped Jim hadn’t seen anything significant in his behavior. He clung to the hope that Jim had been too busy dealing with Cassie Welles, not to mention investigating a complicated case, to pay much attention to what was going on with Blair.

He hadn’t been altogether surprised that Blackstone had been replaced. The man was a bully and a bigot. Jim didn’t need to know about Blair’s encounter with that officer of the law – or about the dream that had him racing back to Cascade just in time to receive the phone call from Ann. One day, maybe, when Jim accepted that there would always be a mystical side to being Sentinel and Guide.

He lifted his head slightly to look at his peacefully sleeping partner. He really loved this man. They’d gone through so much to get here, but it’d been worth it. Worth the red-heads, and the nameless men, worth the bad guys with guns, spears, knives…and syringes. Worth the helicopter rides and jumps into rivers. Worth it all.

He closed his eyes again, tucking himself closer to Jim, feeling Jim tighten his arms around Blair even in his sleep. Blair smiled drowsily. Yeah. So worth it! He drifted off to join his lover in dreamland.

The end

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Acknowledgments go to Maggie, Sheila, Nancy and Kathy, and also to Patt, all of whom encourage and nudge me :-)