Butterscotch by akablonded

Butterscotch - Akablonded


Notes: This story was originally published in the zine, DEDICATED HEARTS.


"Tell me again how this happened, chief."

"I've told you, like, a million times –"

"Twice. You told me twice. Tell me a third time why I'm breaking my back –"

Everything that Jim says is with a pinched look on that handsome, sweat-soaked face of his. It's the look he's perfected over the years we've known one another. Without words it says, "Here's another fine mess you've gotten me into, Sandburg." I consult the numerous layouts, charts, and scraps of paper I've brought with me – in short, everything but a message from the Oracle at Delphi. And she wasn't at home this morning when I called. To the casual observer, my plot plan makes Rommel's invasion of Northern Africa look like child's play in comparison.

"Let's go over it again," I say pedantically and so condescendingly that even I know it's going to irritate my roommate, Jim Ellison.

"God, anything but that," he huffs under his breath. You have to love this guy. And I do. Let me tell you about Jim Ellison. Among other things, Jim's a 40-something, crew-cut wearing, Detective-of-the-Year four years running here in Cascade, Washington. Big, patrician-looking, smart, strong, intimidating, and, more times than not, unwilling to suffer fools gladly. (Particularly if the fool's within swatting distance.) He's also the one true, unspoken love of my life.

Yeah, there's nothing about the cut of Jim Ellison’s jib that I don't like. And crave for. And lust after. And dream about.

But that's where it begins and ends. A raw, consuming hunger engulfs me in the middle of the night, and leaves with the first light of day. "Multa aqua sub pons passabat quid Pulchro Negro." Bad Latin translation: A lot of water's passed under the bridge since Black Beauty. What's it mean, you're asking yourself? Same question that hits me between the eyes every time I realize years – freaking years – have flown by at Mach Five, and I'm still in a "booth in the back in the corner in the dark," metaphorically speaking.

Practically speaking, I continue living in a small, cramped room under Jim Ellison's bedroom loft steps, destined by fate to stay there until a year from Shavuot.* If you're not Jewish, substitute "never," and you'll get my drift. When I was a kid – I mean when I first met Mr. Macho there – I could have taken a shot. I should have taken one. Who knows? There might have been an infinitesimal glitch in the space-time continuum when Jim and I might have been an "us” – sometime before Alex Barnes killed me, and my mom, Naomi, finished the job, by virtually destroying what I had with Jim Ellison.

Now, it's too late. I guess it wasn't meant to be. Jesus, it took an Indiana-Jones leap of faith, and pretty much ditching everything I held sacred, just to get us where we are today. We’re Sentinel and Guide. Frick and Frack. Yin and yang. We’re police partners and life partners. Just not life partners.

This business of being … neither -- not moving forward to something more, and scared to backslide into something even less -- it’s wearing me down. Hell, it's killing me.

I joke about having been in therapy since I was in Pampers, but I've had to actually talk to someone about all of these unresolved issues. A friend of a friend hooked me up with a high-priced, non-P.D. psychiatrist. Strictly on the Q.T. (Repeat after me, boys and girls: if you're connected to the police in any way, shape or form – even if it's unofficial and on the city’s dime -- you NEVER go to a department shrink. The fiat to that: if you do, you NEVER share that factoid with anyone.) Dr. M. Stanley Leland helped me cope with my raison d’etre -- the non-fraternal love I harbor for my best friend, Jim Ellison -- dying a slow, unfulfilled death. It only took my getting Stan’s kid through the SATs with flying colors.

I should have "Will tutor for therapy" tattooed on my butt. It’s not like anyone would see it. Correction, anyone who mattered.

So, thanks to the good doctor’s help, I came to terms with what was – and what was never going to be.

After that, I became a cop, dated a few women, one or two men, and got on with my life.

How am I doing? It’s not as bad as I thought it would be – having Jim so close, but never that close.

It’s worse.


Back to why I’m sitting here like a benched Little Leaguer, right ankle bandaged and propped up, while Jim pokes around viciously in the soil and digs his umpteenth trench, getting everything prepped for the fertilizer that's arriving later today at the Prospect Avenue neighborhood garden.

Ever since I was an undergraduate at Rainier University, I anted up a lot of volunteer hours -- to do something helpful for the community whenever I could. One year, it was painting a mural at the local high school. The next, it was getting rid of tons of graffiti blighting the old section of town. After that -- still pre-Jim -- I was on Habitat for Humanity's work crew when we built five houses in the Lakes section of town. (To actually see any lakes, you'd have to stand up tall, head for the airport and wing your way to Chicago or Erie.)

I’ve hammered and sawed and nailed and dug and filled in and polished and sanded and watered just about everywhere in Cascade at least once.

It’s a nourishing kind of thing, especially during the first days of spring, when anything feels possible. Other times, when it's closer to summer, like now, the earth's warm and ready, and needing a little extra help to get this community project moving in the right direction.

Why do I do it? Because as good as it is for the neighborhoods, it's even better for my soul, which sometimes can use a little “AA” – "Aura Adjustment." (My mom Naomi's words, not mine.)

Jim would never admit out loud to enjoying any of this, much less having his essence knocked back into alignment. But I know he does. His soul has gotten a spit shine more than once from helping me and the city, not necessarily in that order. You should have seen him last year, explaining in that precise, no-nonsense Ex-Army Ranger voice of his, to a pack of wide-eyed, six-year-olds just how important it is to spread layers of cedar chips thickly and evenly, all around and under the swings and monkey bars to make sure nobody gets hurt in a fall. (The kids couldn’t get over having a real-life “G.I. Joe” help them make P.S. #9 safer.)

Or when my partner's doing an impromptu seminar on "street smarts" for a cadre of elderly ladies at Cascade's Retirement Home – and having each one of them take turns pinching or patting a part of that magnificent body of his, all the while feeding him cakes and cookies until he fairly bursts at the seams … well, it's worth the price of admission, believe me.

This year, the project is an entire vegetable and herb garden for the residents of the other end of Prospect Avenue. If you're new to town, Prospect winds through the entire Westside area, from near the bay -- where my partner has his loft --way the hell over to here, in the less … gracious Fulton area where the only crops seem to be despair and weeds (yes, weed, too). Smack-dab in the middle is an acre and a half of previously-fallow, now-planted land that a white-collar slum landlord "donated" to the cause. I'd been … the technical term you might use is instrumental in brokering the deal. Mr. Kress wisely chose charity and an ankle bracelet instead of spending the next 18 to 36 months in Starkville Correctional as the unwilling date of Cellblock 11. For the hefty sum of one dollar, Mr. Kress sold the land “Fulton Farms” to a non-profit action group who would bring life back to a barren piece of earth.

Our boss at Major Crimes, Simon Banks, says I’ve raised manipulation to an art form to get the win/win results I want. "You're a damn sight better at it than Ellison, Blair, my boy. When he goes Covert Ops on the bad guys, all we get is reams of pesky paperwork." (Don't even think about asking what Jim did during his stint in the military. After the first time I tried, I never did again, and I live with the guy, for God's sakes.)

Anyway, back here to what the gold shield detectives laughingly refer to as Sandburg's South 40. It was time to fertilize, to help out the lettuce, and chard, and beans, and tomatoes, and about 20 other vegetable and fruit crops we'd planted, along with a terrific herb garden that included oregano, chives, thyme, and my particular favorites, basil and verbena. We were awaiting a truckload of free, natural fertilizer to fill in the furrowed rows Jim and a handful of other denizens of Metro had been digging all morning.

As self-appointed crew chief, I'd been pumped up to take command of the day's activities. Armed with a whistle, a shovel, and enough attitude to bully the ragtag group of detectives, police officers, and PD clerical staff, into doing my bidding, I was ready to show them all how it was done. (Hey, I hadn't spent half of my life in communes and on kibbutzim for nothing.) Of course, that was before my little mishap.

It's like the ongoing saga of my life. Take one bad guy and put him within 20 miles of former anthropologist and now Detective Blair Sandburg. Then start looking for bandages and a gallon of antiseptic. Ed Hackman, crime boss Lennie Lombardi's part-time lackey, decided that making me a hood ornament for his black Camaro would just be some good, clean fun for an up-and-coming family thug. Perhaps it appealed to his warped sense of whimsy. Who knew? Anyway, he opted for that, rather than coming into the police department to chat about the less gentle aspects of bookmaking and the collection business as practiced by the criminal element in Cascade.

Even as Jim yelled at the top of his lungs, "Sandburg, look out!" I was doing a pretty bad Superman impression, flying through the air sans cape or any special powers, to speak of. And, as you may or may not know, gravity has never been a particular friend of mine. That's how I ended up decorating a pile of concrete rubble that someone had carelessly left lying around -- and how my ankle and I got so banged up.

My partner called for back-up to chase down the aforementioned Mr. Hackman; and, per usual for us, his second call was for an EMT unit. While we waited, Jim ran his large hands all over me. After a few seconds, the angry/worried look on his face softened.

"Nothing's broken."

"Oww. Oww. Owwowwowwowwowwowwoww…"

"Sorry, chief." His fingers continued probing other areas of my body, checking for additional damage.

"Could you stop doing that? Please? Or, at least give me a bullet to bite on."

"Bite me, Sandburg." Leave it to my partner to come up with a better idea.

Just then, the ambulance arrived, and I was on-loaded to one of my least-favorite modes of transportation. My sentinel swung his face in my direction, listening with all his senses, checking … always checking. "I'll follow you guys in the truck." The statement sounded more like a question. The big guy needed everything to be okay: Cascade and the world in general; his guide, lying in squalor, in particular. I gave a nod, and as much of a smile as I could muster.

Back to my story, even as Jim's skin – now sans tee-shirt, which he ripped off about a half-hour ago – is glistening in the sun, with the honest sweat of someone who's moved like a ton of dirt since 6:00 AM. Today's heady mix of flora, dirt, sunscreen, and other people's sweat could have gotten the better of Jim's senses. So I’d suggested he turn them "off." (They wouldn't mix very well: the guy with five super-active senses and the stuff that came out of the business end of Tim's Ponies, a favorite attraction at the Cascade Pier since forever.)

Yeah, pony patties. Horse sh- manure. I'd hate to see those baby blues of Ellison's shoot through the top of his follicle-challenged skull and into the stratosphere from the smell.

Jesus. Jim's skin is looking positively … golden. I don't have any special gifts in the eye department, but that's the only word that fits.

It's like someone with a wicked imagination drizzled butterscotch all over his torso.

All over that chiseled body.

In every visible nook and cranny, and probably a half-dozen that aren’t.

And whoever was doing the pouring was doing it s-l-o-w-l-y. Some drops of golden sweat cling in the wells behind the sharp collarbone and in the valleys of bent elbows; others scatter in different directions, like frantic children, along the sinewy arms, caroming down the ropes of muscles before finally banking off the elegant hands and fingers.

Yeah. Butterscotch. That's the ticket. It's always been one of my favorites. The way it looks. The way it feels in your mouth. The best.

Just like Jim.

I have to cut this out NOW. It's no good having thoughts like this for my blessed protector … and poster boy for every wet dream I've had over the last couple of years.

Before I met Jim, I thought that nobody who was "real" looked like this. How many people do you know who are the perfect combination of great genes and even greater discipline? I mean, all that exercise? Day after day, month after month, year after … That's one of the reasons I'll never look like him. (I mean, besides the height thing.)

I think I'll just sit here and content myself with looking at him, using, what? The eyes of love? Or the eyes of lust? For Jim? I've got both, in just-about equal proportions, with the former edging out the later. But just.

It's tough to realize that my hopelessly straight roommate is never going to have any of those for me. He's never going to be crazy for the taste of me, or the feel of me, or the need for me. He's never going to want me every way he can get me.

There are times when I wonder how the hell I got myself into this fix, of being abandoned by my baser instincts and neutered by my better ones.

Castrated by caring.

Gelded by guilt.

Sometimes, I fucking hate Jim Ellison, the big dope. So smart about everything else, so oblivious to me and my pain.

“You’re not putting your back into it, Jim. Chop-chop.”

“Sandburg, I have two words for you, and they're not ‘Happy Birthday.’"

Look at him now. Muscles rippling back and forth under the taut skin. Sure, there are scars. Lots are on the outside. But the ones on the inside are worse, and harder for Jim to get rid of … scars from being afraid … a freak … different than everyone else … and the worst -- of feeling unworthy of love.

That's something Jim and I have in common. I've got quite a few scars myself. Oh, not from being Captain America or Top Cop. Some are from being Naomi Sandburg's kid, and always being out-of-step no matter where we landed. I usually didn't mind being different, but sometimes, you end up being odd man out. And what people used to say to me -- I can still hear the stiletto-sharp edges of those long-ago voices.

"Hey, hippy, did your mom chase a bum for those clothes?"

"Hey, four-eyes, I hear she's 'anybody's."

"Hey, pretty boy, I hear you're anybody's."

But newer ones are no less hurtful.

"I call it a violation of friendship and trust."

"I thought we were friends."

"I don't know if I can get past this. To me, it was a real breach of trust and that struck really deep with me."

The only thing worse than the words were who said them. And there's still that little kid inside me – all knees and scabby elbows – screaming, "Take it back. Take it all back." As though I could "un-hear" what Jim had said -- spat at me, actually -- in ear-range of people who knew us, colleagues, friends.

I don't think I've even been lower – not even when I died.

But, somewhere, somehow, the cosmic Good Guy/Gal took pity on the two of us, and Jim and I got past it.

There’s a boom-box blasting away “Into the Night,”** by that one-hit wonder, Benny Mardones. Man, I’ve ALWAYS loved the lyrics. “If I could fly, I'd pick you up. I’d take you into the night and show you a love like you've never seen … never seen before …” How can you not sing along? Ask my surly partner, who’s stopped to take in the mini-concert, looking irritated and amused, in equal amounts. Jim wipes his forehead with the back of his hand. Remarkably, it leaves no dirt.

"Thanks for the serenade, chief. Nice pipes. And I'm sure everyone here appreciates all your help and support." Jim's humor tends to be as dry as the dust he's digging. "But could you maybe cantilever that bucket butt of yours to the left and give me—"

"--the spade?"


"— sunscreen?"


"I give up. What do you want, Jim? Sound it out. Use hand gestures."

"Don't even tempt me, Sandburg. The water bottle. Let me have it."

Oh, Ellison. You do not want me to go there.

"All you had to do was ask."

"—Jesus Christ, chief, what do you think I've been doing?"

“Being the Jim Ellison we all know and love?” You have to laugh. Who knew when I was a rug rat watching "Sesame Street" on an old black and white TV set in West Bumfuck, New Mexico, that my ultimate lot in life would be to room with the real-life Oscar the Grouch? I'd better do as he asks. There's no sense making him cranky. Make that crankier.

I toss Jim the bottle and watch him easily snap it out of the air. He pops the cap open with his thumb, and pours the contents over his head and shoulders. It's to the left of a religious experience. Shaking his head back and forth under the stream of water, Jim sends droplets of the Poland Spring in every direction. (It's the only brand my sensitive buddy can tolerate.)

If there's anything sexier, I've never seen it. The funny thing about Jim is that he has absolutely no idea how incredibly sensual he is. Oh, sure, he knows he can throw "The Smile" out there and women will sit up and take notice – and quite a few guys wouldn't get out of its way, either.

But has Jim considered what he does to … me? Ever? He knows we're connected, on multiple levels. Sentinel and guide. Cop and observer. Friend and, well, friend. Our friendship is the most important relationship either of us has, bar none.

But, late at night, when there's no one else around, when I know that Jim can hear my breath hitching because I'm in the middle of getting myself off, does he wonder who's kick-starting the old libido? And if he knew that he was the undisputed star in virtually all my x-rated fantasies, what would he say, I wonder? Any sentence that started with, "Pack up and get out, you little neo-hippie, witchdoctor punk faggot …" I'd be one unhappy camper, let me tell you.

"Sandburg … Sandburg!”

Jesus. I'm crotch-deep in Ellison ponderings, and didn't even hear him bellowing at me.

"What? Stop yelling. I'm not deaf."

"Could have fooled me. So, what do you want me to do now, 'Fiacre'?"

Fiacre. This man slays me. Fiacre's the patron saint of gardeners and herbalists. (And cabbies, too, but I couldn’t tell you why.) Jim's knowledge about things outside the parameters of police work, freshwater fishing in the Pacific Northwest, and 1,001 things you can do with ground beef, is freaking amazing. People make a big mistake when they look at his broad shoulders and figure he stood in the "looks" line twice, maybe missing the "brains" one altogether.

Huge mistake.

"Hoe, my son." I pointed to a patch near my injured foot.

"Your son's a 'ho?''

"Very funny. Not. Dig."

"You know, Sandburg, you're going to have to do something pretty damned spectacular to pay me back for this."

"It's not my fault I'm infirm." Well, it is, but why quibble.

"It sure as shit is. Are you ever going to learn what 'call for back-up' means?" His voice is hot, dry, and exasperated, but I can hear the sudden overlay of fear. The one Jim gets when I've come close to buying the farm. Know how that particular phrase became synonymous with dying? It's been around since the '50s. Some linguistic brainiacs theorize that an American soldier's G.I. insurance was sufficient enough for his family to settle the mortgage back home. So, death in battle was succinctly described as "buying the farm." I prefer "taking the dirt bath" myself. I mean, I can see that. (Or kicking the bucket. That one comes from the way a pig was slaughtered historically – throat cut, hanging upside down by one foot from a "buchet." As it was drained of blood, it would, in its death throes, always kick the buchet.)

"Just around the same time you learn that 'anal-retentive' isn't necessarily a good thing."

The sun's moving lower in the sky. Now it's touching every inch of Jim Ellison's body, particularly caressing those thighs and butt like a truly jealous lover, daring me to try to lay claim to one square inch of that choice piece of property. Hell, the light's bouncing across the Easy Glide on those old cutoffs, making whatever's underneath seem to pulsate. Looks like a "big" something.

But, then, having been Jim's roomie for over three years, I'm sort of in a position to know. I saw "the little Sentinel" angry once – the morning Lila Hobbs ran out of our loft, and Jim's life. Silent, stunned, hurt by whatever the now-dead Tong assassin had said to him, my partner turned on his heel and hit the shower. The mystery woman's hasty retreat left me with a full roster of questions and an even fuller bladder. See, I'd just rolled in from a night with Samantha from Forensics. (Don't get me started on the train wreck that is my love life.) I had to apologize my way into the bathroom to relieve myself. Apparently, relief was on everybody's mind. Jim needed a lot of it. My eyeballs nearly popped out of my head, right up until the point where he turned toward me, understandably embarrassed and pissed off. He growled more than spoke in that inimitable Ellison voice.

"You got one of your own, Sandburg. If you're so interested, go do something with it. Somewhere else."

Translation of the Jim-speak: "Go fuck yourself and get out."

We didn’t exchange more than a half-dozen words the rest of the day.

Now I think it wasn't catching him with Rosie Palm and her best friend, Jill. It was because I'd seen Jim Ellison smarting from another betrayal – betrayal at the hands of someone who loved him. Or at least wanted him.

After that happened, Jim became the unwitting star of every mind-fucker fantasy my fertile little brain could whip together. When I needed to get the old creative juices flowing, I'd bring out ‘Mountain Man Ellison,’ the handsome hermit who'd find me, half-frozen and snow-blind, in a winter storm. Rescuing me from certain death, he’d strip down and climb into his big bed, I'd feel the massive chest warming my back – and then my front. Once I’d sufficiently recovered, the only acceptable way to show the gratitude I felt to my savior was to screw him into spring.

Another favorite was "Soldier of Fortune Jim Ellison," a tough-as-nails mercenary who, like VI Warshawski, could be hired for a dollar and a just cause. In my daydream, he'd help anthropologist-turned-treasure-hunter Blair Sandburg track down the "Holy Grail" – whatever the hell it was at the time. When I imagine our first time – me bent over some piece of exotic landscape – he'd crack wise that I was the most exotic piece he'd ever had his hands on. That thought -- my being Jim Ellison’s be-all and end-all --would have me coming like a tornado hitting a Texas trailer park.

But the hands-down jewel of the collection is the seldom-used scenario where Sentinel Jim Ellison turns to his Guide, Blair Jacob Sandburg over a Saturday morning breakfast of coffee and pastries from the bakery downstairs. I'm reading the paper, figuring out what we're going to do with the whole weekend, when Jim mumbles around a mouthful of muffin, "Chief, I … Blair, I … " Slamming his cup of java down hard, he growls reluctantly, "Jesus Christ, Sandburg, say you love me as much as I love you, so that my entire weekend doesn't go down the crapper." Those icy blue eyes of his suddenly dance white-hot like the inside of a Bunsen burner flame, and “The Smile” broadens across that handsome mug. Next, he leans across the table, pats my cheek the way he's done a million times, right before pulling me slowly -- as slow as butterscotch rolling uphill -- into the vortex of his powerful embrace. Fantasy Jim’s lips invite me to come in and play for the rest of our lives. We kiss for about 11 hours. By that time, my inhibitions are, understandably, lowered. Lowered? Hell, they'd be pounded down into minus territory.

In no time flat, we're boffing like bunnies, and that's how we spend the entire weekend. Until the alarm goes off. Then, I'm shocked back into this reality. Bereft of the physical pleasure, with my soul aching so much I can barely stand it, I'd shake myself into RL, knowing that what I'd left behind was a dream that was never going to be any more than that.

“I’m thinking meat.”

“What?” Again, Jim’s half-serious, half-laugh breaks into my fog. “What are you thinking about meat?”

“That you owe me a big slab of it. Here comes the –” He didn’t need to finish the sentence. I was inhaling enough pony fumes to grow a couple of inches myself.

"Jesus, Jim, I'm sorry! Dial it down."

"Already done." I look at my sentinel, feeling a strange mix of awe and pride – awe at just how incredible Jim's sensory abilities are and pride at his being able to control them so well these days. Okay … and maybe a little pride that I helped him get to where he is now.

As graceful as any 6,' 200 lb. cat could, Jim jumps out of the way, as the truck does a 180, preparing to drop its cargo. Even the slight gesture of pointing his index finger to indicate exactly where the deposit should be made, bulge the muscles in Jim’s arm.

Jim Ellison, naked from the waist up, sporting tight cutoffs and skin drenched in buckets of golden sweat. If there was anything more heart-stoppingly perfect, more heart-achingly beautiful at this moment in time, I'd be hard pressed to tell you what is was. In point of fact, I'm just hard.

The busload of volunteers from Joel Taggart's church arrived a little while ago and are now lending a couple dozen pairs of helping hands. They’re beginning to spread the richly-aromatic manure around the fava beans and the Kirby cukes with the garden tools I got Home Depot to "lend" to the cause.

"Taggart and his troop will get this finished up. C'mon, chief. Let's get your sorry carcass up and out of here."

"Hell, Jim, I shouldn't leave—" My partner can read me like a cheap novel. I’m feeling exhilarated and exhausted at the same time, and I have to look like I’m, what's the expression, "rode hard and put away wet." I guess it’s a combination of good vibes, good drugs, and a little too much sun. (Jim threatened to leave me at home this morning if I didn't take the painkillers and have something to eat. So I did. FYI: Percocet washed down with an algae shake isn't the official breakfast of champions, but it could be.)

Indicating we’re heading back to the truck, which we parked on Ainsley Avenue before the sun rose this morning, Jim nods to Joel, who gives us a big grin and a thumbs-up sign.

"But—" And before I can finish my thought, let alone my sentence, Jim's arms have slipped under my legs and around my back, and he's hoisted me up. Pressed against his bare chest, I'm enjoying this stolen moment of purse bliss. All too soon, it's over as he deposits me pretty damned gently into the passenger side of the truck. He swings my leg in, careful not to let the bandaged ankle hit anything.

"Don't go anywhere, chief." "The Smile" flashes up at me, happily blinding me with its warmth. "I'll just grab our stuff." Jim pats my knee smartly before closing the door. A few droplets of golden perspiration have fallen from his hand, and now sit on the surface of my trousers. It’s as though the butterscotch is clinging to the fabric. I touch one of them and bring the taste of Jim Ellison to my lips. I close my eyes and drift into forbidden possibilities that involve that tall drink of water. If this is as close as I'm ever going to get, I want to savor it.

"Sandburg, what the hell—"

"Jesus, scare a guy, why don't you?" It will never cease to amaze me how such a big man can sneak up on me, and catch me with my pants down, so to speak. "I was –"

"You know, chief, if you just asked –" Jim puts his shirt on, before sticking his head through the window, and kissing me soundly.

And not just full on the lips. It's the kind of kiss that's deep, artful and probably illegal, not to mention fucking expensive, in about 45 different states and countries worldwide.

It's the kind of kiss that sweeps over all your teeth, and plays hockey with your tonsils.

It's the kind of kiss that makes your dick sit up, take notice, and beg that it's next in line.

It’s the kind of kiss you don’t give your mother, your maiden Aunt Rose, or a first date – unless you mean business.

As my partner pulls away – still smiling – I do the only logical thing I can. I stutter – and drool a little. "J-j-j-i-m … w-w-w-h-a--t …" Before I can wipe the spit from the side of my face, he does it for me. Then he kisses me again; this time, in the middle of my forehead.

"So, tell me more about this butterscotch thing …"

What? Did I … could I possibly have said all that stuff out loud?

"Stop thinking, chief. I can smell the rubber burning. And you should know by know that you can't say anything 'under your breath' when you're around a Sentinel."

Cripes. "I—"

"So, you think that I'm a hot number, huh?"

"Don't flatter yourself, Ellison. I was just –"

"— doing your usual pre-mating ritual?"

"You're such a dick."

"But, you're gonna be happy to know that I'm a big dick."

Before I can think of something half-articulate – or rude -- to shoot back, Jim smiles his way through another kiss. This time, he gives me a big "smooch" on the side of my jaw.

"Sandburg, I love you to pieces." I can see he's chuckling, as he walks around to the driver's side. Smug Jim isn't all that attractive. That's a lie. Smug Jim is just as hot as every other version of the guy I've glimpsed in our shared history. I suck in a lungful of air, and can still taste "pony." Showering will be on top of the list of things to do when we get back to the loft.

Unless my blessed protector has something else in mind. Something involving being naked and together. In which case, the shower can wait until the day after a year from Shavuot.

Hopping into the Ford, Jim puts it in gear, and pulls out into traffic. As I take a drink from the water bottle he handed me, Jim pats the back of my head fondly. The way you'd do to a cocker spaniel.

"And who knows, chief. Maybe when we get close up and a helluva lot more personal, it'll taste like butterscotch, too."

The spit-take I do hurls a mouthful of H2O onto the windshield. Jim's laugh can probably be heard all the way to Cascade Pier. Hope it doesn’t spook Tim's Ponies.

The end

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to all my fellow Mongoosians (editors, writers, betas, artists, et al) who continue to encourage me and one another. Ya gotta love ‘em!

*Shavuot -- The Feast of the Weeks, the Jewish holiday celebrating the harvest season in Israel. Shavuot, which means "weeks", refers to the timing of the festival which is held exactly seven weeks after Passover. The term "year from Shavuot" means never.

**"INTO THE NIGHT" by Paul Harrison, Larry Muller, Adam Clayton and Dave Evans. Sung by Benny Mardones. 1980.