~~Love is fire that burns without flame,
Wound that hurts and can't be felt,
Pain that causes madness without hurt~~
Luis Vaz de Camoes, 16th Century Portuguese poet
"It was a nice wedding," Simon stated, lighting a cigar.
"Yes," Henri nodded with a grin, "it was."
"Well, I for one can't believe your brother actually did it, Ellison," Rafe remarked as he gazed at the older man. "I mean, getting married?! Tying the knot?"
"And what's wrong with that?" Jim asked as he watched the newlyweds waltzing on the dance floor. It felt good to see his brother so happy. "He'd been living with Kathy for over a year. They just felt it was time to take that final step."
It was a good day for a wedding; the mid-summer sun was high in the sky, a soft breeze flowed through the lush-green gardens where the party was being held, making the heat bearable. His father had rented a mansion especially for Stephen's wedding party and Jim had to admit everything looked great. Huge white tents spread throughout the grounds, there were bubbling fountains everywhere, a small pond with exotic fish, mountains of food and beverages, and loud music.
"When are you going to follow your brother's footsteps, Jim?" Henri joked. "You've been divorced for more than two years now. In that time you've dated most of the women in the PD, not to mention half of Cascade's female population. It's time to settle down, get the house with the picket fence, the 2.4 kids."
Jim snorted. "Yeah, right! After Carolyn the last thing on my mind is marriage, H. I'm quite happy the way I am right now."
"Are they going on a honeymoon?" Rafe asked.
"Um, yes. Two weeks in Hawaii. Should be heading out soon, the plane leaves in a couple of hours," Jim replied with a grimace. The noise was starting to give him a headache. He'd be glad when the bride and groom finally left so he could make his own escape. "I need a drink."
He moved to the largest tent just as the bride was throwing the bouquet. Caught off-guard by an unexpected push from an over-eager matronly woman, Jim stumbled and fell -- right into the person next to him, both of them landing on the hard floor. When his vision cleared, Jim found himself gazing into the deepest blue eyes he'd ever seen, belonging to a face framed by long, chestnut curly hair.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled to the young man beneath him.
The other cleared his throat. "Uh, no problem. Nice to meet you."
Jim chuckled at the impish grin directed his way. "Likewise. I'm Jim Ellison, by the way."
"Blair Sandburg. Ellison? Are you --?"
"Ah," Blair said intelligently, and Jim watched as a sudden flush began to cover the other man's face. "Think you could let me up now?"
Jim felt his own face heating as he realized they were still on the floor and that he was still lying on top of Blair. "Sorry." He practically jumped to his feet, then extended a hand to help the younger man up as well.
"Thanks, Jim," Blair grinned. "See you around," he said, then walked away.
Jim looked around, relieved to see no one had given them any attention, then after getting his much-needed drink, joined his friends. "Who is that, any of you guys know?" he asked, nodding towards Blair.
"Blair Sandburg, friend of the bride or so I've heard," Rafe replied. "He's also a TA at Rainier. Seems he's somewhat of a genius, started there at the age of sixteen."
Without knowing why, Jim spent most of the day watching Sandburg. There was no real explanation for it; his eyes just seemed to follow him around of their own volition. He was powerless to stop them. He watched Blair move around, dancing, laughing, talking excitedly, his whole body giving out a level of energy that was enough to exhaust just by looking at him.
It was getting dark, the newlyweds long gone, when he realized he'd lost his unaware siren from sight. Thinking Blair had left already, and seeing that most guests had gone as well -- including his friends -- Jim decided to take a stroll through the now silent gardens.
He found Blair sitting on a bench, looking up at the sky. He approached quietly, studying the upturned face, trying to understand what was drawing him so much. Not able to reach a conclusion, he simply sat on the bench.
"Hi," he greeted softly.
Blair smiled at him, "Hey, there! Not going to throw me on the floor again, are you?"
"Not planning on it," Jim replied, unable to smile back.
"You know, my mother always told me never to talk to strange men," Blair joked.
Jim chuckled. "Well, if it makes you feel better, I'm a cop."
"You are? Oh. That's different then."
A comfortable silence settled between them as night slowly replaced day, a full moon bathing the gardens with its light, giving everything a silvery glow.
"You play poker?" Jim asked suddenly.
"Next Saturday I'm hosting a poker game for some friends. I thought maybe you'd like to come."
Blair stared right into his eyes, looking for what, Jim did not know. Finally, the young man smiled, "I'd like that. Should I bring anything?"
"No, that's okay. Just be there at eight," Jim told him, giving him a card with his address and phone numbers. "If by any chance you can't make it, let me know."
"Okay. Thanks for the invitation."
"It's the least I could do after throwing you on the floor like that," Jim quipped, and his heart missed a beat as Blair laughed.
"You mean your way of making it up to me is asking me to a game where I'm sure to lose my life savings? Gee, thanks!" Blair huffed, but there was amusement shinning from his eyes.
"Blair!" a voice shouted from the direction of the mansion. "We're leaving! Blair!"
"I've got to go," Blair said as he rose. "See you next Saturday," he promised as he shook Jim's hand. "Goodnight."
It was a long time before Jim found the will to rise and leave the mansion gardens to go home. It had been a very nice wedding indeed.
Blair reached apartment #307 on 852 Prospect wondering if he wasn't making a mistake by coming to the poker game. The only person he would actually know was Jim, and he'd only met the man once. A week earlier. Chances were the other man might even have forgotten he'd been invited. There had to be something wrong with his head for agreeing to do this, he thought ruefully.
He could hear men's voices and music coming from inside, so he knew he was probably the last one arriving. He was about to knock when the door suddenly burst open and a wide grinning Ellison waved at him.
"Hey, Chief! I wasn't sure if you'd come," Jim stated as they shook hands, but Blair was too busy trying not to stare at the other man to listen. Ellison was wearing a pair of well-worn jeans and a black -- and very tight -- tee shirt, showing off the powerful body.
Forcing his brain to work, Blair swallowed, "Yeah," he breathed, holding the other man's hand a little longer than necessary. Finally shaking himself out of his haze, he released Jim's hand and asked, "How did you know I was here?"
If anything Jim's grin grew wider. "I'd tell ya, but then I'd have to kill ya. Come on in, let me introduce you to my friends."
"Okay," Blair replied quietly as he looked around the loft. He noticed a young woman sitting on the living room, surrounded by four men, all of them arguing rather loudly.
"Guys," Jim called out, and everyone quieted down. "This is Blair Sandburg. Blair, this is Megan Connor, Joel Taggart, Brian Rafe, Henri Brown and Simon Banks."
"I'm also their boss," Simon chimed in. "I'm here to keep them in line," he added, ignoring the snorts that greeted his last statement.
"Okay, since we're all here, how about we get started?" Henri asked, rubbing his hands together. "I feel lucky today."
Rafe thumbed him on the back, "Hey, there's a first time for everything, H. Maybe you'll actually win something tonight!"
"Ha ha! I'm laughing to tears here, Rafe. Just shut up and deal already!"
"So, how's your brother? Any word from them?" Megan asked, looking as the cards were being dealt.
"They're on their honeymoon, Connor. Might as well be MIA for all we've heard of them," he replied to the others snickering. "I'm guessing they won't see much of Hawaii, except for their room's walls. What kind of hand is this? Rafe, you're not trying to cheat us, are you? Nobody gets such a lousy hand by accident!"
"Hey, man, I don't cheat! Don't need to, you're all such big losers!"
The evening wore on and Blair lost most of his money to the detectives, the talk lively as the game kept going. He was surprised at how much he was enjoying himself. His poker companions were extremely entertaining and he suddenly felt as if they'd all been friends for years.
"I'm out," he finally admitted. "You people cleaned me out. Aren't you supposed to be the good guys?"
"Not when it comes to poker," Taggart grinned. "All's fair in love and poker, son."
Blair chuckled, "I see. I'll know better than to trust you guys next time."
"Hey, Sandburg, next month it's my birthday and I'm going to throw a party," Rafe told him. "Consider yourself invited."
The young man smiled, "Thanks, I'll be there."
"Great! One more present," Rafe smirked, making the others laugh.
Blair remained at the table watching the game, his eyes drifting towards Ellison occasionally. Every time he looked, Jim was gazing back at him, their eyes locking until one of them was forced to look away. He felt his blood run cold. It was a mistake to feel attracted to Ellison, the man's whole body language screamed heterosexual, but Blair felt helpless to prevent it. He seemed to be drawn to the other man like a ship to a siren's call; he'd felt it at the wedding as well and it seemed to be growing stronger.
When Megan finally won everyone's money, they decided to call it a night. Blair said his goodbyes to the detectives and Jim escorted him to the door.
"Thanks for tonight, I had a great time," Blair told the older man.
"Even if we left you without a penny to your name?"
Blair laughed, "Even so."
"Good. Listen, next week the poker game will be at Simon's house. He already asked if you wanted to join us."
The young man grimaced, "I'm sorry, I can't. A friend of mine organized a viewing of a few of Fellini's most famous movies and I promised I'd go."
"Oh, okay. No problem."
Blair couldn't resist Jim's forlorn expression. "Uh, maybe you could go with me? I mean, you don't have to, there's the game, I didn't mean... uh, it was a stupid idea, I'm sorry."
"Actually, I'd like that," Jim told him with a smile. "There will be other poker games, they won't miss me."
"Great!" Blair exclaimed, nearly vibrating with excitement. "Maybe we can go for a beer afterwards?" he asked, hesitantly.
"That would be great. Where will we meet?"
"Can you pick me up at my place at six? My car is having some problems, I'm taking it to the shop first thing Monday morning."
"Cool. Here's my address," Blair gave him a card. "Goodnight, Jim."
Blair practically ran out of the building. Maybe he was making a huge mistake, but each time he looked into Jim's clear blue eyes he felt a draw to the man he was unable -- and unwilling -- to resist. He would just have to risk it.
Jim stared at the young man sitting in front of him sipping his beer. Surprisingly, the Fellini film viewing hadn't been all that bad. They'd watched a total of three films -- La Dolce Vita, Satyricon and Amarcord, and although a little too artsy for his taste, he'd actually enjoyed himself.
Or maybe it was the company.
He wondered if he ought to tell Blair his secret. He felt he could trust the other man, but he wasn't sure what Blair's reaction would be and he wasn't ready to destroy the friendship that seemed to be growing between them.
He himself had trouble believing it all sometimes. Heightened senses, Sentinels and Guides, protecting the tribe. Everything that Incacha had told him while he lived with the Chopec seemed like a far away dream. But he could control his senses enough to work and his closest friends knew. It would be enough until he found his destined guide as Incacha predicted would eventually happen.
Seeing the amusement in the other man's eyes, Jim decided it could wait. "What were you so excited about when I arrived to pick you up?" he asked instead.
Blair's face lit up like a Christmas tree, "My anthro teacher and one of my old archeology professors are planning a huge anthropological exhibit to take place in a few months time at Rainier and they asked for my help. I still can't believe it, man. They asked for my help! God, it's going to be so cool, Jim!"
He kept babbling about the future exhibit and all he would have to do, while Jim only half-listened to what he was saying. Instead he gave his senses free reign, allowing them to catalog everything about Blair; the soft voice, the musky scent, the excited gesturing.
"Want to go out again next week?" Jim asked abruptly, silencing the other man's words.
Blair blinked, clearly surprised, then nodded, "Sure. Why not? Where?"
"Well, since you picked the movies we got to see tonight, next week I'll get to pick something."
Blair grinned. "Oh, yeah? And what will we see? Rambo?"
"Funny, Junior. I'll let you know on Saturday."
"That's low, Ellison," Blair chuckled. "But you're on."
"Good. I'll take you home, then. Come on."
They climbed into his truck and Jim drove them to the warehouse district where Blair was living. They hardly said a word, just listening to the music pouring from the radio, but once again it was a comfortable silence. Jim suddenly realized he hadn't felt that relaxed in years. And it was all due to the man sitting beside him.
Blair couldn't help laughing as Jim and Henri tried to 'gargle' happy birthday to Rafe with their mouths full of whiskey. It was way past midnight and most of Rafe's guests had left already. Considering the amount of whiskey still going around, it was amazing that the remaining partygoers were still standing -- himself included.
Rafe grinned wickedly at the last survivors, "I've got an idea. Why don't we play the dice game Megan gave me?"
"What are the rules?" Simon asked, obviously sober enough to smell a rat.
The birthday boy opened the small box containing the dice and picked up a card with the rules, "Okay. We need lost of space, preferably on the floor. The idea is to make a circle and throw the dice. Once we start the game, we can't stop until either everyone passes out drunk or ends up naked."
"What do you mean, 'naked'?" Rhonda asked, a blush settling over her already flushed face.
"This is an adult game, Rhonda. What do you think?" Megan answered for Rafe. "Read them the rest of the rules, mate," she added with a wicked grin that matched Rafe's.
Rafe chuckled, "Here it goes: each person takes a turn rolling the dice. If you roll one, everyone takes a shot of something. Tequilla, whiskey, wine, beer, etc. Since we only have whiskey left, it's a shot of whiskey. If you roll two, you strip an item of your clothing. If you roll three, you pick two players to kiss. If you roll a four, you pick a player to strip an item of clothing. If you roll a five, you pick a player to take a shot of whiskey. If you roll a six, you pick a player to kiss."
"Are you insane?" Samantha scowled. "That kissing scene... I might end up kissing Rhonda or Kicki. And one of you guys might end up kissing another guy!" she exclaimed, giving him a 'eww' expression.
"Come on, cuz," Rafe chided. "Don't be a spoil sport. We're all adults here, right? It's just a kiss. A mouth is a mouth whether it belongs to a girl or a guy. What do you guys say?"
"I'm in," Megan stated. "Sandy?"
Blair startled, his brain having ceased functioning as he realized he might actually have to kiss Ellison, "Um..."
"Great!" she crooned. "Sandy's in, I'm in, and Rafe's in. Who else? Come on, mates! It's just a game!"
"I guess I'm in as well," a new cop from Vice called Becky added. She looked at her partner. "Kicki, what do you say, girl?"
"Might as well," the other shrugged. "God willing, I'll be too drunk to remember any of this in the morning!"
"Okay, so we have Blair, Megan, me, Kicki and Becky," Rafe counted. "H?"
His partner sighed, "Why the hell not? I'm in."
"Count me in as well," Simon added.
Blair watched as one by one, everyone finally gave in and decided to play. They moved the furniture to the side and sat on the floor in a circle. To make it more interesting, they alternated between man and woman. Jim, Kicki, Blair, Rhonda, Rafe, Megan, Simon, Becky, Henri, Samantha. Rafe gave each one a shot glass and brought two more bottles of whiskey with him and the game was on.
An hour later, Rhonda and Kicki were sleeping it off on the floor, H had a pillow to cover his 'modesty', Samantha had been forced to french kiss a giggling Megan, and everyone else was more than half-drunk and half-naked. Becky hiccupped as she rolled the dice. The seven players left groaned as she drew a one and were forced to take another shot of whiskey. Samantha swayed slightly in her seat and Rafe tried to steady her.
"'M 'kay," she assured her cousin just before passing out face down on the carpet.
Since she was in the way, Rafe and Megan moved her to lay with the so-far four losers. The others adjusted their positions in order to make a smaller circle.
"Who's next?" Simon asked.
"I am," Blair replied, rolling the dice. His heart nearly stopped beating when he got a two. He was already down to his jeans, that would leave him in his boxers only.
"Come on, get on with it!" Megan leered. "Take them off! Take them off! Take them off!"
"Alright, already! Keep your pants on!" he scowled, causing the others to laugh hysterically. "It's not that funny," he pouted, as he rose to take off his jeans. He shivered as he felt three very hungry gazes settling on his body. That Becky and Megan were two of them didn't bother him much, but that the third belonged to Jim... He shivered again, and nearly fell on his butt.
Next one to play was Jim and he also got a two. The man had been extremely lucky, clothing-wise. Only his shoes and white socks were gone. On the other hand, he looked about ready to keel over, Blair mused with an inner chuckle. His chuckle soon turned into a pant as Ellison got rid of his shirt, uncovering his hairless chest and powerful torso, causing his wayward lust to go off the scale.
When Rafe rolled a three everyone left in the game stopped breathing, "Oh, I love this," he purred evilly. "Okay, who hasn't kissed yet? Ellison, you haven't kissed anybody yet, have you?"
"Nope," Jim replied as he shook his head.
"Great! I want you to kiss... Blair!"
"Shit!" he muttered, and the world turned dark.
"I can't believe I'm doing this!" Jim muttered to himself as he stared at the pizza box in his hands.
It had been a week since Rafe's birthday party, and he was unable to forget about that night. Or the kiss. And the way Blair had felt in his arms. Of course having someone pass out right after you kissed said person to distraction wasn't exactly flattering, but he was certain it'd been the whiskey, not him.
Reaching the ancient-looking warehouse, and grinning inanely, Jim rang the bell.
"Who is it?" Blair's voice called out through the intercom.
"Pizza," he replied, disguising his voice.
"I didn't order anything."
"Isn't this Blair Sandburg's house?" He could almost see Blair frowning before the door opened.
"I can't believe you did that!" Blair laughed as he saw him, box in hand.
"I had to see you," Jim stated, immediately regretting his words when the amusement was replaced by a guarded expression.
He was surprised when Blair actually joked, "Haven't you heard harassment is against the law?"
"Really? Well, I have a pair of handcuffs right here," he replied, relieved when Blair smiled and stood aside to let him in.
"Is that pizza?" a male voice called from the couch. Jim eyed the other man wearily, feeling a strange pang in his heart as he took in the red hair and wide green eyes in the handsome forty-something face. He looked like a librarian, soft spoken and obviously well bred. "Good idea, Blair. I'll fetch us some plates."
"Who's he?" Jim asked as soon as the man disappeared into the kitchen.
"Aaron Newman. He's the archeology teacher I told you about, the one who asked for help with the anthro exhibit. What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I thought we might go out, being Friday and all," he said, his explanation sounding lame even to himself.
"I can't, Jim. I have to work."
"Honest. I'm sorry, man. If you'd called before --"
"How about tomorrow? Dinner?"
Blair chuckled. "You're not going to give up, are you?"
"Fine, tomorrow then. Pick me up at nine, okay?"
"You got it, Chief. See you tomorrow."
Jim went back to his truck feeling a myriad of confusing emotions. He knew he was interested in Blair, but the fact it was the first time he had even looked at a man sexually made him feel uneasy. And the wave of emotion he'd felt when he saw Newman made him feel even more uneasy. The only reason to be jealous of someone was if love was involved. And he wasn't sure he was looking for that kind of relationship. Especially with another man.
Blair regarded Jim with a mix of annoyance and amusement, "Why don't you tell me where we're going?"
"I told you, it's a surprise. We're nearly there."
Not five minutes later Blair recognized the gardens where they'd first met. Jim stopped the truck and they got out.
"Surprise," Jim said softly as he led him to a patch of lush grass.
It wasn't the grass or the beauty around them that caught Blair's attention, though. It was the neatly set table, the dinnerware, the wine breathing, the tape recorder playing soft, romantic music.
"Your dinner awaits," Jim gestured towards the table.
"Trying to woo me, Ellison?" Blair asked, unable to keep the steel out of his voice. "I'm not one of your women."
Jim seemed genuinely puzzled, then chagrined. "I didn't mean it that way, Blair. We can leave, if you --"
Blair sighed wearily. "No, it's okay. I guess I over-reacted. Let's eat, I'm hungry," he lied easily.
They sat at the table and Blair forced himself to smile and make small talk as they ate the splendid dinner by candle light. He knew the other man meant well, but he also knew that all that apparatus was something that Jim had probably tried more than once on his female dates. He didn't need the hearts and flowers, he just wanted Jim to be true to him and to himself. He didn't need a staged romance, he wanted spontaneity.
Life would definitely be easier if he loved someone like Aaron, who had no problems admitting his bisexuality. Just the day before, Aaron had hinted he was interested in something other than friendship. But what could he do? He did like Aaron, enjoyed being with him, but as a friend.
Jim, on the other hand, was his idea of the perfect companion, the person he'd choose to spend his life with. Someone who accepted him for who he was, who helped him relax by just being there, who made him happy by smiling at something he'd said that wasn't even particularly bright or funny.
Once the food was out of the way, Jim rose from the table. "Dance with me?"
Blair took his hand, allowing the other man to lead as he laid his head on a strong shoulder, "Jim, I like you a lot. I really do."
"But?" Jim prompted into his ear, causing him to shiver.
"I can't do this. I talked to your brother. You've been married and all your dates have been with women. You've been straight all of your life. I don't want to be just an experiment. I especially don't want to get hurt."
"I don't want you to be an experiment either, Blair. And I won't hurt you, I promise."
"Don't make promises you can't keep, Jim," Blair chided softly, staring into the clear blue eyes looking so affectionately at him, and feeling his defenses weakening. "Fine," he finally sighed. "But I have one condition."
"If you're really interested in me, you'll wait. If you're able to resist women, *any* women, for the next six months, I'll give myself to you."
Jim nodded, his eyes soft as he cupped the young man's face, "You've got yourself a deal."
"Good," Blair brushed his lips over the older man's mouth softly as a thank you, then grinned. "Professor Newman is having a little get-together next week for the people involved in the exhibit. I can bring a friend. Want to come along?"
"Do I have to?" Jim teased with a smile.
"In that case I'm all yours, Chief."
"We'll see, Ellison, we'll see."
A week later Jim was certain the whole world was out to get him. He was barely out of the PD to go home and get ready to meet with Blair, when two idiots decided to rob a convenience store. He'd been the closest police vehicle when the call came through and was forced to respond. He'd caught the perps, but then had to question them, write the report and finally hand it over to Simon.
Running to the loft with only a few minutes to spare, he showered and shaved, got dressed and was out the door... only to discover some joker had slashed his front tires. When the taxi he'd called arrived twenty minutes later, Jim could almost feel the smoke coming out of his ears.
He paid the cabbie and gazed at Newman's house through cop's eyes, wondering how someone on a teacher's salary could afford such a Hollywood-type mansion. Making a note to check the man first thing in the morning, he told himself it had nothing to do with the fact that he'd met the man at Blair's house.
The door opened almost as soon as he rang the bell and Jim blinked as he recognized his sister-in-law grinning up at him. "Kathy! What are you doing here?"
"Hey, Jim. Blair asked me to join the team, the one responsible for the exhibit. You know about it, don't you? Stephen's here too, by the way. Come in."
"Where's Blair?" Jim asked as soon as he was standing in the large hall.
"Upstairs talking with Professor Aaron and Professor Sophie. You can go up."
"Thanks. I'll meet up with you and Stephen in a minute."
He climbed the stairs two at a time, wondering behind which of the many doors visible would he find Blair. He was about to use his senses to track the young man when he noticed a woman speaking on her cell phone in the veranda. She had her back to him. All he could see was a long head of raven hair, and the slim and curvy figure covered by a black dress that clung to her like a second skin.
Approaching silently, he heard her end the call and guessed she was probably the 'Professor Sophie' that Kathy had mentioned. When she began to mutter under her breath, he moved closer.
"Are you alright?" he asked, touching her shoulder lightly.
Obviously not expecting him to be there, the woman gasped and turned suddenly, dropping the phone right into the pool below. A pair of extremely angry gray eyes glared at him. "Are you a moron or something? I don't believe this! What am I supposed to do now without my phone?"
"Uh, I'm sorry, ma'am. I can give you mine, if you'd like. After all, this is all my fault."
"Of course it's your fault! I have all my important numbers in that phone!" she gestured towards the pool. "Why would I need yours?"
"I'm truly sorry," Jim apologized anew, feeling like a total jackass. The day couldn't possibly get any worse.
"There you are, Sophie! We were starting to wonder what had happened to you!" a familiar voice stated from behind them, and Jim turned to see Newman walking up to them. Blair was standing just a few steps back, frowning slightly.
"I see you finally made it, Jim," the young man remarked flatly.
"Yeah. Sorry I'm late, today just hasn't been my day."
"Or mine," Sophie muttered. "I seem to have dropped my phone into the pool," she added as both Newman and Blair gave her confused looks.
"You know each other?" Newman asked curiously.
"Not really," Jim replied. "I was looking for Blair when I sort of stumbled into..." he gestured towards the woman standing next to him.
"Oh, I'm sorry. This is my friend Jim Ellison. Jim, my former archeology professor, Aaron Newman, and my anthro teacher, Sophie Harris."
Introductions made, Newman tilted his head as he looked at Jim, "Your face looks very familiar. I know you from somewhere, don't I?" Before Jim could open his mouth to answer, Newman shook his head. "Never mind, it'll come to me. Let's go back downstairs and begin to plan everything. We're already behind schedule."
Once downstairs, Jim soon got bored with all the technical talk, and after spending some minutes speaking to his brother wandered outside. His eyes fell on the phone lying at the bottom of the pool and he made a decision. Kneeling down by the edge of the pool, he tried to reach it, but his arm was a few inches short.
"You know, you really don't have to do that," he heard, turning to see Sophie smiling down at him, all anger gone from her eyes. "It was actually quite funny, after I cooled down enough to realize what happened."
"I owe it to you," Jim replied, his grin matching hers. "I really am sorry for all of this. I'm not usually this clumsy."
She chuckled, "I'm glad, or I'd be afraid to come near you!"
"Give me your hand," he asked, abruptly.
"Why?" Sophie stared at him suspiciously.
"Maybe I can reach it with a little help from you."
Smiling slightly she knelt beside him and gave him her hand, "Go for it, then."
"Be careful, Jim."
He was just about to touch the phone when Blair's startled voice echoed in the night, "Jim!"
He heard Sophie give a little surprised yelp and suddenly he was diving head first into the cold water. When he came back for air he was laughing, Sophie's phone safely tucked in his hand. "This is definitely not my day!" he sputtered as the woman laughed with him.
"Are you insane?" Blair snapped.
"I was just trying to get Sophie's phone," Jim replied, still chuckling softly.
"And he did!" Sophie exclaimed happily. "Thank you, Jim! You're a life saver."
"No problem. Like I said, it was my fault in the first place," he got out of the pool, accepting the towel Newman brought with him as he approached them.
"Well, now that I've got my precious phone back, I really have to be going. Thank you again, Jim, if nothing else, for a very interesting evening. I hope you don't catch a cold because of me," she quipped. She kissed him briefly on the cheek and with a parting wink was gone.
"Now I remember you!" Newman exclaimed. "You're the pizza guy!"
"Maybe you should go home to dry," Blair stated, ignoring Aaron. "After all, we wouldn't want you to catch a cold, would we?"
Something in his voice made Jim freeze for a moment. Blair sounded almost like he was jealous. But that didn't make any sense; he hadn't done anything wrong. Before he could utter another word, Stephen and Kathy were there. And before he knew it, he was being ushered into their car and driven home. Time to think about it all later. All he wanted at the moment was to get rid of those wet clothes and forget that day had ever happened.
Blair left his office for the lecture hall with a heavy tread. For the first time in the two months they'd known each other, he hadn't seen or heard anything from Jim in over a week. Not since that night at Aaron's place.
Maybe he'd brought it down on himself for his petty reaction, but it hurt to see Jim standing so close to Sophie, go to all that trouble for her, to see the unconscious way he interacted with her. He couldn't really fault Jim's interest in Sophie; she was a beautiful woman. Not to mention in her early thirties and the right sex.
He sighed. Maybe he was seeing too much in the whole thing, maybe he was simply seeing something that wasn't there. He really should call Jim when he got back home. They needed to talk.
Reaching his destination, he peeked inside. The hall was full to capacity and Sophie's lecture was already in progress. He was about to go in when a familiar face caught his attention. Ellison was sitting right in the front row, eyes following Sophie around, slight smile playing on his lips.
All good intentions scattered away as Blair realized that while the two of them hadn't been talking that week, Jim certainly had been talking to Sophie. "Bastard!"
Forgetting all about the lecture, he strode away in a fury, leaving Rainier and driving home. As soon as he arrived, he disconnected his phone and set out to finish whatever pending stuff he had to work through. He didn't accomplish much; his thoughts kept straying to a certain blue-eyed detective currently driving him insane.
Jim frowned down at the cards in his hands. It was Saturday night, he was playing poker with his friends, he should be having fun. Instead he couldn't shake the feeling there was something missing.
When his last dollar fell into H's greedy hands, he excused himself from the game and walked over to the window.
"What's wrong, Jim?" Simon asked from behind him.
"Don't know exactly," he shrugged helplessly. "Lately my life's just one problem after another."
"Is Sandburg one of those problems?" Jim turned, startled by his friend's insight, and Simon chuckled. "Don't look so surprised. I was a detective before I ever made Captain, Ellison. I've seen the way the kid looks at you when he thinks no one's watching. I've also seen the way you look at him."
"I'm a mess, Simon," Jim admitted with a sigh. "When we're together I feel happy, relaxed. I can be myself. I feel close to him, sometimes it's like I've known him for years, not just two months. I'm also attracted to him, sexually. But... last week I met this woman, one of Blair's teachers. I don't feel any of the other stuff, but the attraction's there as well."
"How long since you've seen Blair?"
"About a week. You know how hectic this week has been, case after case, the Malloy court case... I went to the university yesterday to see him, but the teacher I told you about saw me and invited me to one of her lectures. Said Blair would be there too. He wasn't, and I've spent all of last night and today trying to call him, but his phone's always busy."
"Jim, I like to think of myself as an open-minded person. I'm also your friend, and as your friend I have to tell you that I like Sandburg. A lot. Although if you ever tell him that, I'll deny having said it. Just think carefully about what you're going to do. Don't destroy what might as well be the best thing that happened to you these past years for a good fuck," Simon said crudely. "Go see Blair. Talk to him, make things right between you. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try and win my money back from Brown."
Jim stood gazing out the window for a long time, thinking about what Simon had said. It was too late now to go to Blair's house, but first thing tomorrow he'd be knocking on the young man's door. They were going to have a long talk, or his name wasn't Jim Ellison.
"Good morning, Chief."
Blair turned with a groan as he heard Jim's voice. The man was leaning against the warehouse wall, a bright smile lighting up his face, the muscled body clad from head-to-toe in black. He groaned again. It was just too early in the morning for a confrontation with the other man.
"I'm late for a meeting, Ellison," he scowled, hoping the cop would take the hint and leave.
He wasn't that lucky.
"I'll go with you," Jim replied, the smile still bright on his face.
For an irrational moment, Blair felt like hitting him. "No, you won't!"
"Chief, I'll just follow you around all day if I have to," Jim told him, all amusement gone from his eyes.
"What do you want, Jim?"
"Ever heard of a new invention called telephone?"
"Been trying to call you since Friday night. Kept getting the busy signal, so I thought I'd try it in person."
"Couldn't you have tried sooner?"
"I'm sorry, Blair. I had a full week. Cascade seems to be turning into the most dangerous city in America. I was up to my neck in cases and criminals."
"Amazing how you managed to make some room in your busy schedule for Sophie's lecture, isn't it?" Blair heard the sarcasm in his voice, and didn't mind one bit.
"That was just a coincidence, Blair. I went to Rainier to see you, not her. She caught up with me when I was looking for your office. She invited me for the lecture, that's true, but she said you'd be there."
Blair felt some of his anger draining away. "You went looking for me?" he asked, softly.
"Yeah," Jim whispered, his hand brushing over Blair's cheek gently. "I wanted to ask you out."
"Really. So, what about it? Dinner next Saturday?"
"Sure. That'd be great."
"Good. I'll call you during the week to work everything out. Now, how about a ride?" Blair nodded and they climbed into the older man's truck. "Where to?" Jim asked.
"Rainier, James, and don't spare the horses," Blair ordered, happy when Jim chuckled.
"You're going to work on a Sunday?"
"I knew what I was getting into when I accepted Aaron's offer, Jim. It'll be worth it when the exhibit is done."
Traffic was light and it took less than fifteen minutes to arrive at the campus. Blair got out of the truck, followed closely by Jim. "There you go, safe and sound," Jim grinned at him.
Blair grinned back, "Thanks for the ride, Jim."
"Don't mention it. I'll call you."
"I'll be waiting."
Blair stood watching by the entrance as Jim got back to his truck. The detective was opening the driver's door when another car parked next to him. The young man held his breath as he saw Sophie getting out of the car, sauntering over to Jim and kissing him on the cheek. He watched them exchange a few words, then Jim waved goodbye and drove away.
Sophie walked over to him, shades firmly tucked into place, "Good morning. Beautiful day, isn't it?" she queried with a smile. "I love summertime!"
"Blair, tell me something. Jim's your friend, isn't he?"
"Yes," he replied cautiously, not liking the look on her face.
"You know if he's seeing someone?"
"I think so."
"Is it serious?"
"Does it matter?" he asked back, his patience wearing thinner by the second.
She sighed, "Of course it does. If he's not in a serious relationship, maybe he won't mind going out with me."
"Don't you care about what the person he's seeing might feel?"
"I'm not getting any younger, Blair. Jim is the kind of man every woman dreams about -- handsome, strong, dependable, honest. It pours out of him in waves. I'll probably end up marrying the opposite type of man. So if I can at least have some fun, make a few good memories with a man like him... Besides, what is the saying? All's fair in love and war? I just want to borrow Jim for a while."
Blair couldn't help being surprised by the bitterness in her voice. A woman with so much to offer both physically and mentally shouldn't have any reasons to feel that way. He felt almost sorry for her. Almost. She didn't mind playing crooked and that he couldn't tolerate. Especially when it was Jim they were talking about.
It was a pain trying to sleep in an unfamiliar bed, Jim decided after spending the last two hours rolling from side to side on the uncomfortable mattress. If he didn't know any better, he'd swear Aaron had given him that room on purpose. He, Blair and Sophie were spending the weekend at Aaron's country house, a celebration of sorts for the four of them. The anthropology exhibit was finally ready. Next Wednesday there would be a press conference for the media, Saturday it would open for the general public.
The last three months had gone by in a flash for Jim. Between his police work and spending time with Blair he couldn't really complain of boredom. The only down about the whole thing was that Blair had spent most of the time working, which meant Jim had been forced to put up with Aaron and Sophie's company.
Two things bothered him about that; one, Sophie was permanently coming on to him, even after he'd mentioned he was seeing someone; two, Aaron was interested in Blair. It was hard not to miss the hungry looks, the smiles, the a-little-too-friendly pats on the back. It was hard not to pounce the man and punch his lights out, but he was a cop after all, and he was sure Blair wouldn't enjoy the caveman routine.
Finally giving up on sleep, Jim got up. He needed to go to the bathroom, then maybe he'd take a stroll in the woods surrounding the house. Summertime had given way to autumn, but the weather was still warm and sunny, an unusual event for Cascade. It was almost as if summer were waiting for something to happen before letting the next season take its rightful place.
He left his room, swearing under his breath as he realized he didn't remember where the bathroom was located. He was fairly certain it was downstairs; but they'd only arrived a few hours earlier and he'd too busy ogling Blair -- and escaping Sophie blatant seduction attempts -- to pay any attention to Aaron's tour of the house.
"Guess I'll just have to wing it," he muttered, trying the first door to the left. It led to the living room. "Wrong one."
He moved silently through the corridor, thankful for Sentinel sight, until he reached the next room. It wasn't the bathroom either, it was Sophie's room. She was behind a desk working on some papers, but he must've made some noise, because she looked right at him. A slow, sensual smile grazed her lips, "Jim," she whispered softly, tongue licking her bottom lip delicately. Jim felt the temperature rising.
"Sorry, I was looking for the bathroom," he said, explaining.
She chuckled, "It's not here."
"I gathered that already, being a detective and all," he quipped. "Still working at this hour?"
"I don't consider it work, I love anthropology. My grandfather's fault really, he's also an anthropologist. When I was a child we used to sit together for hours and he'd tell me fascinating tales about other cultures and peoples. We still do it occasionally."
"I better go and leave you to it then," Jim said, moving to the door.
Sophie left the desk and walked over to him, "You could stay, you know."
Jim smiled, somewhat dismayed at her insistence. It was getting harder saying no. "It wouldn't be right, Sophie."
She looked into his eyes for a moment, then nodded, "I understand. But if you ever change your mind..." she added as she hugged him tightly to her body.
Jim allowed his senses to focus on the soft, fragrant female in his arms as he hugged her back. Then with a regretful sigh he moved away. His heart might belong to Blair, but his body still responded to the allure of a beautiful woman.
"You too, Jim. You too."
He left the room before he did something he'd regret for the rest of his life. Finding the bathroom he relieved himself, then went for his stroll in the woods. He needed some time to get his raging hormones back under control.
Blair smiled as he heard the door opening quietly. He'd been unable to sleep, aching inside, knowing Jim was so close and yet so far away. He should have known the other man would be feeling the same and would act on it.
He remained by the window, gazing up at the stared sky, listening as the soft footsteps grew nearer. Strong arms wrapped possessively around his waist and he leaned back against the other man with a contented sigh.
"Knew you'd come," he whispered. "Weren't able to resist sleeping under the same roof, were you? I thought about going to your room, too. But I need to be sure you're ready for this, Jim."
The arms embracing him tightened unexpectedly, and the startled gasp from behind him, made him turn around. "Aaron! What are you doing here?"
"I thought --" even in the darkened room Blair could see how pale the other man looked.
"You thought? You thought what, Aaron?" he gritted out furiously. "That it would be okay for you to walk into my room uninvited and, and --"
"It would've been fine if it had been Jim," Aaron interjected with a hiss. "You're making a mistake with that man, Blair. What can he give you that I can't? Not to mention he's as hetero as can be! Have you seen him and Sophie together? What are you thinking, man?"
"What I think or don't think is none of your business, Aaron! Get out of here!"
"Get out! Now!"
Without another word, he watched Aaron leaving the room. All his happiness had vanished in a haze of anger. He knew what he was risking with Jim, knew it every time he saw the older man with Sophie, talking, laughing together. He didn't need anyone else reminding him or twisting the knife any further. But he couldn't help feeling hopeful. Over three months had gone by since they'd made their 'no women' deal and Jim had kept his word so far. Maybe it was going to be all right after all.
The walk in the woods had been just what Jim needed. Not only was his body back under control, but he was feeling mellow enough to be able to sleep. He was closing the door to his room when he saw Blair's door opening. Thinking that it might be the young man coming to see him, he stayed silent, waiting for his chance to drag Blair into his room for a little snuggling session.
He wasn't prepared to see Aaron walking out, clad in a tee shirt and boxers. He tried to think of any reasons why the man would be leaving Blair's room at three in the morning wearing close to nothing, but only one thing came to mind.
"Damn..." he whispered brokenly, closing the door and leaning his weight against it.
It was a long time before he managed to fall asleep, his mind bringing forth erotic images of Blair and Aaron together in a loving embrace. He hated the way it made him feel.
Blair stared tiredly as Jim spoke on his cell phone. Something was wrong. Sometime during their stay at Aaron's place things had changed between them and he had no clue as to why. All he knew was that Jim was acting distant, colder. He was losing the other man and he didn't even know what he'd done.
The press conference was about to begin and he wanted the other man close. It was a little intimidating standing before all those cameras and microphones and he needed the support.
But Jim's phone had rung a few minutes earlier and he seemed to be involved in an intense conversation with whoever was on the other side. He couldn't hear what was being said, but a name slipped through the noise surrounding him. Sophie. Jim was talking to Sophie. She was supposed to be there as well. They were all waiting for her to start the conference. And she'd called Jim.
With a sick feeling in his stomach, Blair waited for the call to be over and for Jim to approach him.
"I have to go," Jim told him, and Blair could almost believe the regret in his voice.
"Police work. You know how it is."
Even expecting the lie, it still hurt. Now he was beginning to understand Jim's behavior since the weekend. The six months deal was off.
"Yeah, I know how it is. You better get going," he said softly, the weight of the world resting on his shoulders. It was true when people said love hurt, but nobody had told him it would hurt that much.
"See you later, Chief."
"Where's he going?" Aaron asked as he joined him at the table.
"Ah. Damn, where the hell is Sophie? We need to start the conference!"
"We should start without her," Blair stated, trying to appear interested. "I don't think she's coming."
"Very well. The two of us should be enough anyway," Aaron remarked. Tapping the microphone in front of him, he began, "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the press. As you know, we're here today to speak about..."
Blair tuned Aaron and his surroundings off. The happiness he so craved was slipping through his fingers and there was nothing he could do about it. All he could think as the press conference proceeded, as he flatly answered whatever questions flew his way, was that at that moment Jim was probably in Sophie's arms.
"I don't like having to lie," Jim told Sophie as she let him into her apartment.
"I know, and I'm sorry. I just... I don't usually do this, but I needed to talk to someone," she led him to the living room. "Want anything? Coffee? Beer?"
"No, thank you. What's going on, Sophie? What was so urgent?"
To his surprise, her eyes filled with tears. "I'm not usually remiss in my obligations like this, Jim. I know people think I'm a shallow bitch, but... I needed... My grandfather died and I..." The tears fell and he couldn't resist her sorrow.
Wrapping his arms gently around her slim waist, he let her cry, carding his fingers through her silky hair as she let her pain out.
"It's my first, you know?" she told him between sobs. "All my close family is still alive, my parents, brothers... I wasn't expecting it. It hurts so much."
"The first one is always the worst," Jim said quietly. "It gets easier."
"I hadn't seen him in months, and God, I missed his birthday. I wasn't there for him! I never got to tell him how much I loved him, how much he meant to me, how much he influenced my life."
"He knew, Sophie. You chose to follow in his footsteps, you shared his love for anthropology, you stayed together for hours just talking about everything and nothing. That told him all he needed to know, believe me."
She leaned back a little in his embrace, just enough to look at him. Blue eyes locked on gray and suddenly they were kissing frantically, tearing at each other's clothes, falling on the carpeted floor in a tangled heap. Half of his mind was screaming at him to stop, the rest of him was just too far gone.
When his sanity returned, he was laying naked beside her, body sated, mind in turmoil. "I have to go," he finally said when the silence became too awkward to stand.
"You have to go, or you want to go?" she observed wisely, no judgment in her tone.
"I want to," he admitted shamefully.
"I'm sorry," he sighed, giving her a parting kiss before getting dressed and walking away.
Blair looked at the other man as if he'd grown a second head, "You woke me up at two in the morning to ask me about the press conference?"
"Not exactly, no."
He watched Jim pace the room restlessly for a moment, then turn to face him, "I came to tell you I failed."
Blair stared down at the floor, his heart breaking as his suspicions were confirmed. "Sophie," he whispered. He forced himself to stand tall as he looked straight into the other man's eyes. "Get out," he ordered softly.
"Blair, please let me explain!" Jim begged desperately.
"Explain what? You really think there's any explanation for what you did?"
"Probably not, I don't know. I failed you and God, I'm so sorry! But damnit, I'm only human!"
"Christ, you've got some nerve, Ellison! What did you expect me to do? To hear you say you fucked Sophie and then tell you everything was going to be okay? That nothing would change between us?"
"What about you and Aaron?" Jim snarled at him.
"What about it?"
"I saw him leaving your room when we were at his place. How can you get mad at me when you've been with him behind my back?"
Blair opened his mouth, closed it again completely speechless. "You mean that's why you've been acting weird all week?" he finally asked. "Because you thought Aaron and I were... You bastard! Nothing happened and I could've told you that if you'd only asked! Yes, he wanted it, and yes, he came to my room. But I sent him away! I can't believe you actually thought I could do such a thing, man," he said in a rush, the hurt clear in his voice. "I love you, you moron!"
"I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry!" Jim gushed out tiredly. "Look, I never said I was perfect. I make mistakes just like everyone else. I spent the afternoon with a beautiful woman and I felt nothing. All I could think about was you, I wanted to be with you, I came back to you. What does that tell you?"
"That I'm second best," Blair replied despondently. "A consolation prize. I can't do this, Jim."
"Blair, I'm sorry. Please, just --"
Closing his eyes to Jim's suffering, Blair gritted out, "Too little, too late, man. Too little, too late. Go away, leave me alone," he finished with a whisper.
When he finally opened his eyes again Jim was gone. Fighting back a sob, he slid down to the floor, letting his head fall to his knees. He'd lost.
Jim wandered aimlessly through the gardens, paying little attention to his surroundings. He hadn't heard from Blair in two weeks and was feeling miserable. He ached to see the younger man, to be with him. He didn't know what made him return to the gardens where they'd met; maybe it was because he had good memories of the place.
A noise to his left caught his attention and he moved closer to its source. Blair was sitting on the exact same bench where they'd talked during Stephen's wedding, staring up at the sky just like that day. He seemed lost in thought, an aura of sadness about him that made Jim's heart break because he knew he was to blame.
"I'm sorry," he found himself saying.
Blair turned around, visibly startled, "Jim!"
"I'm sorry," he said again.
His eyes followed Blair as he got up from the bench, "I don't --"
"I do, Blair. I'm not sure if I had to go through all of this to finally understand, but everything's crystal clear now. I'm one hundred percent certain it's with you that I want to be. I love you, I'm in love with you. I want to change... with you. Help me, please?" Jim pleaded.
The young man stood silent for a long time. "No," he finally whispered, and Jim felt his new found hope vanishing in the night air.
He watched as Blair moved closer, until their bodies were a heartbeat away from each other. "No. I'll change with you," he replied with a smile and Jim felt his own smile shining through.
He cupped Blair's face gently and proceeded to kiss his breath away. He felt Blair's arms embrace him tightly as they gave themselves over to the kissing, letting their pent-up emotions tumble through and set their bodies on fire. It was then that Jim realized it was raining. It was finally autumn.
Blair couldn't help moaning when the head of Jim's erection touched his well-lubricated opening. It was finally happening; they were making love. He watched, awed as Jim pressed inward, slowly, giving him time to adjust to his impalement. The clear blue eyes were closed, the lips parted as he panted for breath.
"Don't stop," he sighed happily.
He felt Jim pull back slightly, then pump in deeper, repeating the rocking motion until he was all the way in. Their eyes locked, foreheads pressed together as they stayed motionless.
"How does it feel?" Blair asked breathlessly.
"Fantastic. Like coming home," Jim replied softly, wonder clear in his voice.
Blair grinned wickedly, shifting slightly. His muscles tightened around his lover's cock, causing Jim to groan helplessly. He did it again and again, until Jim couldn't stand it any longer and began to move, slowly at first, leisurely movements that pleasured them both. Soon it wasn't enough, his body craving more, a deeper, harder contact.
His hands roamed through the hard body blanketing him, urging him on, until finally Jim took the hint and began to move faster and more forcefully inside him. A hand snaked between their bodies, grasping his erection and Blair moaned, arching into the maddening touch. Jim was stroking him in the same frantic rhythm he'd established, driving them closer to the abyss and Blair pushed back against the punishing thrusts and the hand, wanting to go on forever.
Finally he surrendered to the other man's body and will, shuddering and crying out Jim's name as his seed spilled over his lover's hand. His orgasm was enough to drive Jim over the edge; one last, hard thrust and Blair felt warm fluid invading his passage, before Jim collapsed against him, gasping for air.
They remained silent for a while, resting in each other's arms until Jim slipped from his body. Still half-dazed from their lovemaking, Blair felt Jim roll over onto his back, taking him with him, obviously reluctant to release him. Feeling pretty much the same way, he snuggled up to the other man with a contented sigh.
"So, how was it?" he finally asked.
He could feel Jim chuckling from his perch on the other man's chest. "Amazing. I'd forgotten how different it is to make love instead of having sex. Of course, we could probably do better. We should do it over and over again, just to be sure we're making it right," Jim quipped.
"I'm with you, man." He really wanted his brain to shut down for a few hours, but it was not meant to be. Knowing he was probably going to ruin the mood, he asked, "Now what?"
"Now we sleep. And in the morning..."
"Yes?" he prompted when Jim hesitated.
"In the morning we'll talk about our future. Together."
Blair felt a huge smile grazing his lips, "Sounds great."
"It will be, Blair," Jim replied, and Blair knew he wasn't talking about their conversation. "It will be."
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Author's notes: "Love is a fire that burns..." comes from one of my favorite sonnets by Camoes. I've read
the 'official' English translation, but I felt it lost something along the way, so the translation used is my own.
So sue me, I'm not a poet.
Author's Acknowledgments: Thanks to everyone at MME, I'm enjoying the experience immensely.
DarkCherry and Sue, thanks for the amazing beta-ing. Finally, thanks to Barb and the artwork department
gals for totally ruining my keyboard with their amazing pix.
Author's Acknowledgments: Thanks to everyone at MME, I'm enjoying the experience immensely.
DarkCherry and Sue, thanks for the amazing beta-ing. Finally, thanks to Barb and the artwork department
gals for totally ruining my keyboard with their amazing pix.