FAULT LINES

 

By Mason-Dixon

 

 

 

Authors’ disclaimer: The Sentinel and all related characters are the property of Paramount Pictures and Pet Fly Productions. No copyright infringement intended.

 

WARNING: This story contains non-sexual, disciplinary spanking; it is slash and adult in nature.

 

 

 

We, Mason-Dixon, would like to dedicate this story to T & B.  To thank them for the lightness of their being, the variegations of their souls, and the joy they bring us in the knowing.

 

 

 

I do more than walk the line I sometimes cross it. The lines are not barriers. They do not contain me, they are merely boundaries that help define me and keep me true to form. I rise within the lines, safe and secure---for there are no limits to what I can be---only guides to get me there.  I have never reached so far beyond my limits…than when love drew lines for me.  (From the Lines of Demarcation)

 

 

 

The morning light spun the loft in a golden haze, languorous and warm.  Blair hugged the pillow next to him still lingering with the scent of his beloved.  He stretched his compact form to cover the imprints of heat that had moments ago come from James Ellison’s body. Still wishing to push back morning’s daunting reality, he allowed his mind to drift back to the night.  They had not made love, but that was fine with him.  Sometimes it was just as nice to curl his body around his lover's and drift to sleep, feeling safe and warm. Trying to catch the fleeting memory, he curled more tightly around the pillow. 

 

“Sandburg, get a move on it.  Breakfast is almost ready and I am not waiting for you.”  The first warning burst forth upon his pleasant memories of a night in Jim’s arms.  Well, so much for the lover in Jim. Gone were the lazy mornings at the beginning of their relationship when Jim would wake him up with small kisses, leading to tender lovemaking.  Cop Jim was in full force this morning just as surely as he had made his appearance at dinner yesterday.  Blair grimaced into the pillow at the memory. 

 

They had just sat down to dinner, one of Blair’s culinary creations.  Spinach-Cheese pie and cornbread graced the table as Jim lowered himself into the chair opposite his lover and roommate.

 

“What is it?” Jim asked in a peculiarly curt tone, staring at the food in front of him.

 

“What’s what, Jim?” Blair questioned the inquisitor, a bit perturbed, himself. “It’s vegetarian, full of nutrients and flavor and you can at least give it a try.”

 

“Well, I don’t feel like experimenting,” he said as he took a whiff of the pungent cheeses, their odors still strongly abrasive to his senses. He sat there, glaring at the food.

 

“You know, if you just tasted it, you’d find it quite delicious. Can’t you just try something first before you make one of your faces.”  Blair took a large slice of the pie for himself.

 

“I just expect a little more effort on your part, Sandburg, that’s all. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of you at the station for the past several weeks.”  Jim reached over and spooned a small helping of the questionable meal onto his plate.  Putting a huge spatter of butter on his cornbread, he pointed his knife in the direction of the living room.

 

“You haven’t been keeping things clean around here, either, and I’m beginning to wonder if the rules of communal living have slipped your mind.”

 

“Man, you are so anal.  I can see why Carolyn had a hard time living with you," Blair retorted, yanking the butter away from Jim, "Don't use so much, it is not healthy,” he griped, still smarting from the lack of appreciation for his dinner and Jim's attitude. 

 

True, he had originally entered Jim Ellison’s life as a Guide.   The true meaning of the word slowly became evident to him as their partnership deepened.  The eager student blessed with a discovery he could only dream of, never imagining it to be true. A real live Sentinel crossing his path, becoming a willing topic for his dissertation…well... almost willing...semi-cooperative at best, but still within his realm to monitor and assess.

 

"SANDBURG!" The call came louder, more threatening.

 

Dragging himself out of the bed, clad in pajama bottoms and a tee shirt, he grabbed his robe from a chair? Stumbling down the stairs, he spotted the object of his affections cracking eggs into a bowl.

 

"I'm up already, no need to yell.  You better have saved me some hot water, Jim. It's freezing in here."

 

"The days are getting warmer, Chief. No sense in wasting heat."

 

"Well, I'm cold," a pouting voice came back at him from behind the bathroom door. Then more quietly, knowing full well that Jim could hear him, "Seems it's always the temperature you're comfortable with. I live here, too, you know."

 

Jim shot a frustrated look toward the bathroom and shook his head as he beat the eggs more fervently than necessary. They were both getting on each other's nerves lately.  For two years Blair had pretty much fit into the loft, tucked into the corners, quietly leaking out into his daily routine.  It was an unexpected surprise to the hard-ass cop that this antithesis to all the discipline and control he had practiced most of his life could have charmed and bewitched him so subtly.

 

In a matter of months, he recognized stirrings beneath his hard shell. First, friendship quietly prodded the sealed chambers of his heart, opening them wide to the need and comfort of someone to share space with and toss around ideas like a football into the early morning hours. Then, desire had lit a flame beneath the cold exterior of macho self-control.  At first he denied the passion and attraction the blue eyes evoked when they turned to him with sadness or fear or concern. However, when the spark lit in the kid's eyes and he realized it was indeed a two way street, the detective, like a primal animal bidding for the attentions of his mate, took charge in a proprietary and decisive fashion.  The futon was immediately relegated to the basement and Blair Sandburg, friend, Guide, and doctoral candidate was safely ensconced beneath the constant protection of Jim Ellison.  Once they shared a bed, he put an even tighter rein on his young lover.

 

Now, one year later, the fibers of that nest were beginning to prickle and tease.  He loved the damn kid, there was nothing he could do to deny it or change it and he didn't want to if he could, but the little things were beginning to chafe.

 

The last few weeks alone were a sore spot.  Blair had practically spent all his time at the University. There were piles of reports that needed to be filed, sitting patiently on Detective Ellison's desk.  If Blair didn't get his butt down to the station soon, he would just have to tackle them himself… a chore that would surely press and crease his sharp edges to an even finer point.

 

The kid works long hours; he has a life at the University, Jim reasoned as he scraped the last of the eggs onto a plate, I can't always expect him to give me all his spare time.   Then the little child in him, afraid of being forgotten and unloved, surfaced and took over his reasoning.  I just wish he would make the effort to cut back a bit on his teaching assignments. This guide thing can't work very well when he's never with me anymore.

 

"Man, I froze my butt off in there." His thoughts were interrupted by his lover's appearance. Jim set the pan on the table, then turned quickly to the curly-headed young man. Blair's head was down as he tightened the belt of his robe against the chill. Jim grabbed him by his shoulders and passionately kissed the lips that were still pouting.  The peppermint taste of toothpaste mingled with the sweet warmth of Blair's lips.  Jim pulled playfully at the lower petal, tempting the soft flesh, while making a low, primal growl out of,  "Good morning, love."

 

Blue eyes met blue eyes in a fiery glance of recognition.  For all their differences, all their polar views and contrary opinions, when they met on that plane of pure passion and emotion, all the colors and hues that shaded their personalities melted into one burning rainbow.

 

Blair's eyes were smoky, like they were wont to get when Jim ignited the flame of passion. The smaller man leaned into the larger man’s embrace and tightly gripped Jim's shirt.  Torn between his desires and the responsibilities of the day, he seemed to be contemplating how far to take this kiss.

 

"I thought that would warm you up," Jim said teasingly, "not to mention, shutting you up."

 

"Damn it, Jim, I wish you wouldn't do that." Blair laughed. "Not when I have to get to the University." He pushed off and backed away from Ellison. Lowering himself into the chair, he reached for a slice of the freshly toasted bread.  "You are such a tease sometimes.  You leave me in bed without even a good morning kiss and then you tempt me in the kitchen only to say 'no’ just when I was starting to enjoy it." 

 

They both lapped into a comfortable silence enjoying their food and paper for a few minutes.

 

“I’m going to be late tonight, so I was thinking maybe we could do carry out,” Blair said, as he forked a large portion of the fluffy eggs into his mouth. Following the eggs, he bit into the toast and immediately grabbed his mug.  The look on Ellison’s face already began to mold with frustration and anger.

 

“Hey, man, I know I haven’t been spending a lot of time with you.  I know I promised you at least one night this week to shuffle the paper trail up and away from your desk; but, Jim, I’ve got some students I’m counseling and I have an appointment this evening with one of them.”

 

“I think you need to settle down, Chief. You’ve been operating at full throttle for the past two months and not holding your end of this relationship up.  I’ve done the shopping, cooked the meals, washed the clothes, and basically tried to keep your end up, but you still haven’t organized your life.  I’m always willing to help you, but I expect you to see the problem and start working on a fix.”  Jim eyed him, trying to see if he was making his point. He didn’t want to sound like a fishwife, complaining all the time, but Sandburg’s life style was out of control.

 

“Next week is spring break, right?” Jim asked, stabbing his utensil in the air, aiming the tongs towards Blair trying to keep the petulant tone out of his voice.

 

“Yeah, we talked about this, Jim, quality time, just you and me. You cleared it with Simon, some time off, right?” Blair asked, using his own slice of toast as a weapon to punctuate his question.

 

“Don’t worry about me keeping promises, Chief. Just make sure you have some time for me.  Of course, after some time in bed, I might have to put you through obedience training one more time.  I admit you haven’t spotted the carpet in awhile, but you haven’t hit the hamper in weeks and I’m tired of picking up the wet towels off the floor.”  Jim finished off his eggs and immediately took his plate to the sink.  Downing his coffee, he rinsed his cup and left it in the sink.

 

“Well, I’m off, Sandburg,” he said as he came up behind his lover and planted a firm kiss on the upturned lips.  “I want your butt back here no later than midnight tonight. Got it?”

 

“Yeah, got it.”

 

“Have a nice day.”

 

“Yeah, you, too, Jim. Love ya.”

 

As soon as the door closed, Blair leaned back and shook his head at his lover's behavior.  Jim was definitely feeling neglected. Taking several deep breaths, trying to get rid of the tension of the past several weeks, he smiled eagerly at the golden sun rising beyond the city.  One week in the mountains, just the two of them, it was just what they needed.  What good fortune that Professor White’s wife needed that emergency hysterectomy. Well, not good fortune for Mrs. White, Blair admitted wryly, but definitely good fortune for Jim and me.

 

Professor White needed someone to cover his advanced Anthro class for three weeks so he could be with his ailing wife. Their 35th wedding anniversary was in a week and he had planned to take his wife up to a secluded mountain cabin. Since she was in no shape to travel, the professor had eagerly given the keys to Blair in payment for taking his class load.  It would be a surprise for Jim. One year together and they needed the time alone. 

 

They needed some quiet, stress-free time to reconnect and just enjoy their love. Blair's schedule had been especially hectic this term and the strain was beginning to show on them both.  Jim had come to expect Blair's help around the station, but when he was busy at the university, the detective had a tendency to become possessive and pensive.

 

When he entered into a sexual relationship with Detective Ellison, he knew what he was getting into. There were no blinders on his eyes. Naomi Sandburg had long ago opened her son’s eyes to the ways of the world.  Men like Ellison didn’t shed skins when they loved someone, they still chiseled out lives to degrees and specifications, bending themselves to no one’s will, they sometimes seemed cruel and uncaring.  Blair knew differently. The cold, hard casing housed a tender man. The loving nature that crept out in the shadows of their bedroom, the prying mind that pulled and teased information from his sometimes, troubled Guide, the soft whispers in the night of tender feelings and promises of forever showed Blair the secret man.

 

He loved Jim. He loved his tight-ass ways, for they were merely pillars to lean on. He loved the strong, silent moods that often pulled him back to safety---the watcher in Jim, gauging the situation at all times.  With eager, careless steps Blair rushed in head on to meet the situation, while Jim assessed and waited and calculated, oftentimes to Blair’s quiet thanks.  The Blessed Protector name only seemed to broaden his shoulders.  From then on, the simple things, flu, sleep-robbing finals, suggestions of tattooing, all brought out the defender ready to kick ass to ensure Blair’s safety…even if the ass in need of kicking was Blair’s.

 

Blair thought back to finals last term.  He had graded 175 final papers and approximately 200 essay finals in four straight marathon days.  He had slept less then 2 hours a day and ate almost nothing, save vending machine cheese crackers.  Knowing that he was behind on his grading and knowing that Jim would not allow him to pull the grading marathon he needed to do, Blair lied to him.   Saying that he was busy grading, talking to students and posting grades, he swore it would be easier for him to stay with a fellow professor on campus.  Jim had not been happy about the situation.  It was only when Simon pulled Jim onto a temporary witness protection case that Sandburg's plan fell into place.  He avoided the loft and Jim's calls, leaving messages for the detective when he knew the other man would not be around to answer the phone.  His plan had worked.  He got through with his grading and posting in time and was beyond exhausted.

 

He was also in deep trouble with Jim.  After stumbling home, his lover had immediately tucked him in bed, saying nothing except they would talk about his behavior later. 

 

The next morning, after sleeping almost 20 hours, Blair woke feeling refreshed and somewhat guilty.    Sitting up in bed for a few minutes, trying to decide if he was getting up or going back to sleep, he heard Jim walk up the stairs to the bedroom. 

 

Jim stopped for a moment just inside the bedroom area, looking at Blair with a mixture of anger, concern and disappointment.  

 

The younger man did not move or say anything.  He looked down at the quilt, not wanting to see the disappointment or anger that he read in the detective’s face.  He was startled when he felt the mattress shift and strong arms wrap around him from behind.  He allowed himself to be pulled in a quick hug and settled in a warm embrace on the other man's lap.  Grasping the hands that held him, Blair whispered, "I'm sorry."

 

"I know you are.  But we need to talk about it."

 

"Not now."

 

"Okay, but soon."

 

"Are you going to spank me?"

 

"Did you deliberately lie to me?  Did you act irresponsibly when it came to taking care of yourself by not eating or sleeping?  We talked about it.  We made an agreement when this sort of thing happened at the end of Summer Term, that if it ever happened again you would be spanked.  It is something we both agreed we needed and wanted to do.  Right?"

 

"Yeah, I know.  I don't like it."

 

"You're not supposed to.  That's why it is called a punishment."

 

"I love you, Jim," he whispered, snuggling deeper and closing his eyes.

 

"I love you too, love," the other man whispered back, feeling the most important person in the world to him relax back into a light sleep.

 

 

Blair shook his head at the memory of the discussion they had later that morning, and the spanking that had followed.  It had been his second disciplinary spanking from his lover and although Jim had threatened several times since then, his behavior had not called for one.  I think that's going to change soon if I don't get my act together.  We have been snapping at each other lately. I've been rude and not keeping up my end of this relationship.  The stress, the hours and we're taking it out on each other.  We need to get away.  Yes, indeed, he thought to himself, as he collected his own breakfast dishes and washed then in the sink, a week in the mountains is just what we need right now.  We've got a great thing going here. It's time I saw a relationship through for the distance.

 

Blair's life under the guidance of Naomi Sandburg had been ethereal and enlightening. The free spirit of counter-culture pulled both mother and son into corners of the world other children only dreamed about. Adaptability was a cloak Blair wore well, but always with the thought that it was only an overcoat, soon to be discarded as they moved on to brighter and newer things, when a coat of different colors was needed.

 

Now, for the first time in his restless life, Blair wanted roots. Looking up from the chore of wiping the counter, he gazed with pleasure on the place that he had come to think of as home.  Home, what a simple word to most people, not one reflected on much, but taken for granted in the busy scheme of life. To the uprooted, socially mobile Sandburg, it had come to mean much, much more. Jim Ellison embodied the rock solid frame on which structures were built.  He was the quiet security of reason, trust, and commitment. The military efficiency that ran his household operations like an army camp was soon downshifted into a more relaxed hum. True, rules, lists, chores, and everyday little 'no-no's' still peppered their day, but communal living had taught both men to compromise.

 

On cold, bitter nights, warm lamps now glowed brightly; a fireplace tempered the chill with crackling insistence. Often while he and Jim sat side-by-side on the sofa… one channel surfing for worthwhile viewing, the other deeply buried in a book braced against his knees as he leaned back into the other's strong arms…their world looked picture perfect.  In fact, even before they had admitted the mutual attraction, they were developing a close relationship in which they were learning to overlook the small annoyances that each one had.  Their love simply enforced this commitment.  One man, so totally antithetical, had pulled the young man off course and settled him snugly into a warm and loving routine.

 

However, over time tiny flaws can threaten the most solid of structures. Earthquakes topple trees, bring buildings crashing down, and fracture the earth.  Small fissures become large and obtrusive when they are not addressed and filled and watched.  Blair valued the relationship too much to lose what he treasured above life itself.

 

Yes, he thought, a week away is just what we need. The fact that Jim has no idea about the cabin, well, it'll make the treat all that much sweeter.  Shaking his head vigorously, smiling smugly to himself, he went upstairs to get dressed.  As he picked up his backpack and jacket on the way out of the loft, he gave his home a quick glance and found himself smiling with the simple joy of it all.

 

 

 

The phones were a heckling crowd in the background, pestering Major Crimes with their insistent ringing.  Although the crime rate had been down in the city the past several weeks, the paper trail had stopped its slow progression and settled contentedly on Ellison's desk.  Grimacing at the pile of forms in his in-box, Ellison looked up to see his Captain and friend, Simon Banks glaring down at him, disapprovingly.

 

"Jim, why is this pile of forms the same size it was yesterday?  I thought you said Sandburg would be in this week to help you process all the paperwork."  The tall, black man placed his hands on his hips, daring his best detective to tell him more lies.

 

"Sir, he's busy today, and, he has some meeting late this evening. I'm sure he'll make it in tomorrow. He gave me his word, Simon," Jim said as he stood, eyeing his friend hopefully.

 

"Captain, I was wondering, things have been slow around here, today, could I maybe hit the streets and do some leg work on that skin head group that's been harassing the local businesses?" Jim looked hopefully at the formidable man who hadn't budged from his spot in front of the mountain of forms.

 

"No, Jim, you cannot leave the department. You have more than enough work right here, mister, to keep you busy until quitting time and probably long after," Simon said authoritatively. Then pointing a finger at Ellison's vacant chair he said, "Sit. I'd suggest you get busy."

 

Then turning towards his office, he paused briefly, "How about lunch today, Jim? I have a craving for Thai if it's okay with you?"

 

"Sure," Ellison said as he held his head in his hands and grudgingly pulled the next offending form in front of him. "Sandburg, you owe me big time, buddy."

________

 

The late morning sun sparkled through the trees, dancing brightly in patterns along the walk towards Hargrove Hall. Blair Sandburg hefted his backpack high on his shoulders, a smile playing along his lips. Thoughts of the week ahead, the surprise treat for Jim and their one year anniversary together, the spring break that would take him away from the political and social problems that were raising their ugly heads on campus lately all made him feel lighthearted.

 

"I told you to stay out of my way, Shrimpboat," an angry voice broke out of the shadows that sprung around the corner of the building.

 

Blair stopped and watched as a figure tumbled back from behind some shrubs. Staggering, regaining his balance, Blair watched Ben Cutler, push his long hair behind his ear.  "I'm tired of you telling me what I can and can't do, Bailey."

 

Gus Bailey's tall, lanky form pulled from the shadows, neatly groomed, golden hair, short and wavy, falling in soft wisps over his brow.  Blair knew for a fact many co-ed hearts were stopped by that innocent boyish face. If only Gus' grades were as important to him as being top man on campus, the charm could have been put to better use. "You'll mind what I tell you, punk."

 

Gus walked off never having spotted Blair.  Ben Cutler's face hardened as he watched his persecutor walk off into the shadows. Blair stood his ground as Ben turned slowly and spotted him. A flash of embarrassment added heat to the small man's features. Blair had been counseling the young student for the past few months. Ben Cutler's sharp mind and high-level of achievement had allowed him to enter college at sixteen. Since Blair had experienced all the anxieties and problems younger students are beset with, Dean Evers had clearly thought Sandburg could help out Cutler more than any other advisor.

 

Although Cutler was not in any of Blair's classes, the seventeen-year-old was constantly bringing him essays and papers that other professors had graded too harshly or critiqued with a biased eye. Nothing Blair could say or do could convince Cutler that the rest of the campus held nothing against him. Recalling his own feelings of exclusion and rejection, Blair gave the boy as much time and encouragement as he could.

 

However, last week, one of Cutler's professors had left an irate voice mail for Sandburg telling him that the student was his problem now and he needed to talk to 'that boy about his attitude problem.’  Apparently, Ben had done a presentation on subcultures that are detrimental to the campus social life.  Jocks, Greeks, and all social bonding systems within the world of academia had fallen under his sharp, bright, rapier wit.  Professor Dane's message had said it took all his best efforts to keep the class from rioting and tar and feathering the obnoxiously bright, younger student. No doubt, Gus Bailey had gotten wind of the offending paper and poor Ben was going to be the object of much abuse.

 

Why does he do this to himself? Blair asked as he waited for the boy to approach him. However, Ben turned abruptly and headed off in the opposite direction Gus had taken.  Okay, Ben, you better keep your appointment...I've got all evening set-aside for you and we need to have a talk.

 

­­­­

Blair climbed the stairs cautiously.  Bypassing the elevator, lest his Sentinel hear the chains and pulleys of the lift, he carefully placed his key in the lock and turned it.  Moonlit patches speckled the interior with warm welcome.  A soft sigh escaped his lips as he quietly set down his backpack and slowly stripped off his jacket.  He tiptoed across the floor, passing the couch along his route to the stairs.  Stopping at the foot of the stairs, he paused to give his plight full consideration.

 

If I wake Jim up, he'll probably start in on a long lecture about my hours again. I must admit three a.m. is pushing his patience, when he insists I get my butt home by midnight. He started slowly backing up with each page of the argument flipping across his mind. He'll probably start in again about my absence from the station and all the forms that I've been promising him daily I'll get to. Inching further back towards the couch, where logic told him, he would find rest from the long and trying day.

 

"Didn’t I tell you to be home by midnight. Where the hell have you been?" a voice barked out from the upstairs bedroom.

 

Blair yelped in surprised,  "Damn it, Jim, you almost gave me a heart attack, man," his indignation quickly becoming the forerunner to all other emotions.

 

He slowly climbed the stairs, not wanting to deal with his annoyed lover any sooner then he had to.  Jim was sitting up in bed and clearly had not been asleep.  Undressing quickly, he got into bed, snuggling up to the older man.

 

Jim easily rolled Blair on top of him, settling him against his chest, securing him there with his arms. 

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Jim asked, trying hard to be patient and understanding.  His plans for an early evening shattered when he realized most of the time he focused his hearing on the sound of his lover’s heartbeat. Not hearing that sound for several hours eventually led him to give up and just wait for the younger man to get home.

 

“Jim, you remember me telling you how I started college at sixteen.  College is a change for any eighteen year-old leaving High School and all his friends behind. Academia can be a little daunting when you still haven’t reached an emotional and maturity level equal to your classmates,” Blair began, gently nudging Jim's chest with his head, his normal indication he wanted his hair stroked.

 

Jim brought one large hand up and began to slowly massage the hair that was tickling his chin.

 

“Well, one of the kids I counsel, Ben Cutler, he’s so like me at that age.  A real smart ass, know it all, who thinks he’s in college to enlighten everyone else, the profs included.”

 

“Yeah, I can imagine what a pain in the ass you were, Chief. Simon can vouch for first impressions where you’re concerned,” Jim laughed, remembering Simon’s incessant doubts and objections to Blair’s tag along status.  The know-it-all attitude had proved true and after a few insightful angles presented on cases, Captain Banks had developed a quiet, respectful awe of the younger man.

 

“Why don’t you just set him up with a hard ass cop and let him set him straight,” Jim suggested, giving Blair a firm swat on his bottom, "not that I am doing that good of a job right now with you."

 

“Come on, Jim, be serious. I feel for this kid. He means well. His approach is all off. We sat in my office for several hours going over his assignments and his attitude. He just doesn’t get it. This kid is brilliant, Jim, a real thinker, but his delivery of his ideas sucks big time.”

 

“Don’t worry about. He’ll come around, you did.”

 

“It’s not that simple, Jim. He’s antagonized some campus heavyweights. I’m just afraid that if he doesn’t do a quick turn around or at least soften his views, he’s in for some rough times. I just don’t want blood, man. You know how I hate blood.”

 

"Want to invite him to go to the gym with me and I can teach him how to defend himself?" Jim asked with a laugh.

 

"Seriously, though, I know what this kid is going through and it’s bringing back all the fears and frustrations. I just want to help the boy. Is that so wrong?”

 

"No of course not, you want to help him.  You understand what he is going through.  But there is only so much help you can give someone who is not asking for it.  Sometimes people just need to learn their own lessons, telling them doesn't work; they need to learn for themselves. What is wrong is you letting this kid take advantage of you and getting you into trouble. What time were you supposed to be home?"

 

"He is not taking advantage of me, love.  It was my fault we were out so late, he left around midnight and I just got caught up working and…" Blair's voice was interrupted by a huge yawn.

 

Smiling down at his lover, Jim said, "Let's finish this tomorrow.  You are about to fall asleep and we both have to get up early. "

 

Blair just nodded sleepily, allowing himself to be rolled on his side and spooned.

 

Within a matter of minutes, the even breathing of his sleeping lover sent the Sentinel into a deep and restful slumber.

 

 

Morning warmed the loft in a golden film, casting her glow on the cozy dwelling.  The smells of breakfast teased the air and the morning routine was under way.

 

Jim exited the shower when his senses were assaulted with burnt toast and the crackling sounds of sparks.  Rounding the corner he zoned in immediately to the electrical plug where the toaster unit was still connected, then focusing out, as his instincts led the search, he saw his Guide ready to stick a fork into the toaster.

 

Racing forward, Jim slammed into Blair, knocking him back against the counter, the fork flying to the floor. 

 

"Damn it, Jim! What the hell is wrong with you?" Blair yelled, anger heating his facial expressions.

 

Pushing his hair out of his eyes, the rough treatment shaking more than his equilibrium, he angrily shoved Jim back and away from him.

 

Ellison stood his ground and pointed at the plug.  "Did it ever occur to you to disconnect it?"

 

Blair blushed, his face turning a deep crimson, heat warming his flesh, a droplet of sweat tipping his hairline. "Oh, man! God, Jim, I swear I thought I unplugged it."

 

Jim reached over and unplugged the unit from the wall socket. He picked it up and shook the burnt toast out into the sink.

 

Blair shook his long locks as though shaking off some fugue state that threatened him. "I swear, Jim, I really thought I did."

 

"Well, you didn't, Chief." Jim growled out angrily.  Then turning his back, he headed for the bathroom, leaving a frightened and confused young man standing alone staring at the fork now lying on the floor.

 

 

­­The afternoon sun rested casually on the horizon, silently sneaking beyond the day. Blair looked at his watch. Four o’clock, time to meet Jim at the station or my lover is not going to be into any romance next week.  Collecting his papers and stuffing them as neatly as possible into his backpack, he paused briefly at the sound of running feet in the hall. Suddenly his door was pushed open wide; a frantic figure, long hair whipping wildly, burst into the room.  Turning quickly the figure closed the door and positioning himself securely against any intrusion, he exhaled a sigh of relief.

 

“Ben? What’s happened?” Blair came around his desk and caught the young man by his upper arm, half the intent of securing him from further flight and half to grab the attention of the fugitive.

 

“Mr. Sandburg, they think I did it. I didn’t. I know I said I would, I know I wanted to, God, did I ever want to, but I didn’t.” 

 

“Ben, do what? What do they think you did?”

 

Suddenly, a loud raucous could be heard in the hall. The young man’s eyes turned desperately to Blair, an agonizing plea for help.

 

Blair didn’t think. This kid was frightened and he needed help.  Pulling the dazed student with him, he opened the metal cabinet that housed camera equipment, overhead screens and miscellaneous larger equipment.  Pointing to the bottom of the cabinet, he whispered, “Get in there and keep quiet.”

 

Once Ben situated himself in the cabinet, Blair handed him his backpack and pressing his index finger to his lips, signaled silence.

 

Returning to his desk, he quickly bent his head and got into the act.  As a knock sounded on the door, he inhaled deeply, calming himself for his performance, “Come in,” he called, wiping his face of all emotions.

 

“Sorry, to bother you, umm ... Mr. Sandburg,” the tall, muscular man wearing a campus security uniform said, glancing quickly at the lettering on the door,  “but there’s been an incident and I was questioning one of the students. We have every reason to believe he’s our perp.  He ran out on us during questioning and we have reason to believe he entered this building.”

 

“If he did,” Blair said, evenly, “he’s not here," casually shrugging his shoulders.  The tall man scanned the area, and entering quickly, looked behind the door.  Blair looked amused.

 

The large man grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, not doubting you, Mr. Sandburg, but he could have had a gun on you or something.”

 

“You new here?” Blair asked, not recalling having ever seen this mountain of a man on campus before.  “Where’s Will Temple?”

 

“Oh, he took early retirement. It was sudden. His wife’s mother became ill and they just decided to move to Florida.”  Then as though suddenly remembering his purpose, he straightened to his full height.

 

“Kid’s name is Ben Cutler, long-haired, neo-hippie type.  Typical troublemaker, dresses like a freak.”

 

Hearing the stereotypical tags that had long attached themselves to his own life, Blair bristled.  “Mr. Err?”

 

”Ed Tarrington, Chief of Campus Security.”

 

“What did Ben Cutler supposedly do?”

 

“Just beat the living crap out of Gus Bailey.  Poor kid. He’s a real jock and chances are he’ll never play again…after the beating he took.  Baseball bat. This Cutler’s dangerous. Hippie radical types always are,” he said with a slight smirk on his face as he deliberately stared at Blair’s long curls.  Then he turned to leave. Pulling the door closed behind him he peered back at Blair, “you be sure and lock this door after I leave and call security if you see anyone strange around here.”

 

“Only one strange around here is you,” Blair mumbled to himself as he got up and turned the lock on his office door.  Waiting several minutes, he went to the metal cabinet and opened the door.  Motioning for Ben to come out of hiding, he grabbed his backpack and helped the visibly shaken refugee to his feet.

 

“Mr. Sandburg, I didn’t do it. I swear. This Tarrington, he’s got it in for me, always has.”

 

“Ben, just stop it.  Not everyone on campus is out to get you. This paranoia is getting out of hand,” he said, rubbing a hand across his face.

 

“No, it’s true,” Ben pleaded, grabbing Blair by the arm. “He hates the way I dress; everything about me. He’s called me a faggot, a Mama’s boy.  I saw him talking to Bailey the other day, they were laughing at me.”

 

“What do you know about this assault on Gus Bailey?” Blair perched one leg on his desk as Ben sat in the chair in front of his desk. “And don’t lie to me, Ben, I saw you arguing with him yesterday in front of Hargrove.”

 

Just then the door burst open and Ed Tarrington, accompanied by two other security guards, pressed into the room. Grabbing Ben by the arm, Tarrington twisted it behind his back.  Blair reached out a protective arm, “Hey, there’s no need for this.”

 

“Stay out of this, Professor,” Tarrington ground out.  “Your kind always sticks together.” 

 

Years of repressed resentment in Blair overcame all reasoning. Years of being the object of derision, the smaller, weaker man, harshly and cruelly labeled by his trappings, had finally boiled over.  He pushed Tarrington away from Ben.

 

“Grab him,” Tarrington yelled to the other guards, and before Blair knew what was happening he was being cuffed and marched out of Hargrove Hall alongside Ben Cutler.

 

 

“Where the hell is he?” Jim mumbled to himself as he checked his watch for the hundredth time.  What the hell was Sandburg’s problem lately?  He kept making promises he seemed to have no intention of keeping, putting Jim off like a bothersome chore.  The kid was making no effort to make this relationship work. Sandburg, it’s time you and I sat down and discussed this whole commitment business.  I think you’re missing the whole point.

 

Lately Blair had been so preoccupied with school and counseling that he was endangering himself. Running himself ragged with commitments beyond his ability to meet and an erratic eating schedule.  He was constantly putting himself in danger as he had only this morning with the toaster.  Jim had absolutely no patience with the offhanded attitude he sometimes took regarding his own health.

 

The morning’s episode was only one of many in the past few weeks.  Just last week a similar incident confirmed Jim’s growing suspicions that his guide needed guidance.

 

Jim came out of the bathroom in a burst of energy. The squealing of brakes had not gotten his attention, the horns blaring had not done it, no, it was the loud, anxiety ridden voice of the one he knew like no other. "I'm sorry. Jeez, mister, I'm sorry. I never saw you."

 

The response, "Damn it, I blew my horn at you. What the hell is the matter with you? Where the hell is your head, you idiot?"

 

Jim tensed monitoring the situation from above in the loft; he had a pretty good visual idea in his head of what was taking place down below on the street in front of the loft. His reckless guide had no doubt done something stupid again, something totally dangerous and life threatening.

 

Another, new voice, added to the assault, "Young man, I saw you. You totally ignored the horns and you never even bothered to look before crossing. You are a nuisance. If you never learned how to cross the street, you should stay indoors," the elderly, maternal voice chastised.

 

"Yes, ma'am, sorry," the penitent replied.

 

Jim focused on the heart rate---the increased rhythm that showed the scare his guide had indeed suffered.

 

Then the heartbeat began its ascent up the elevator. Jim leaned back against the counter, the towel wrapped around his waist, his arms crossed high on his bare chest. He looked like a Viking Lord not quite happy with the peasantry at the moment.

 

The door opened slowly, Sandburg's downcast eyes lost in some perusal of floor tiles. Looking up he saw an angry and impatient Sentinel awaiting his return.

 

"What's up, man?" Blair questioned, hoping the scene below was not monitored by the mother ship.

 

"What the hell just happened out there, Chief? Or maybe I don't really have to ask. Maybe I can write the scenario line for line now. It's the same one last week with the broken light bulb and wet hands, or the short fall down the stairs not watching where you were going, ...or,"

 

"Okay, man, okay. I get the picture. I've been a little pre-occupied lately, so what? You have things on your mind and I have things on mine...it works both ways.  No big deal."  Attitude had clearly surfaced and Jim maneuvered the arms now onto his hips...clearly not happy with the change in temperature.

 

"Saannndbuuuurrrg!" Jim growled out in a low and even rumble.

 

"No, really, man. What is the big deal? Like you don't drive like a lunatic and risk our lives every day?"

 

"You are NOT putting this off on me right now. Let's deal with the issues here, Chief. You've been a walking trouble magnet since the day I met you, but this total lack of interest in your own welfare is getting me just a bit pissed. I want your butt in bed tonight before Midnight." With that he turned to go back into the bathroom and finish his morning's sartorial.

 

"Jim, I'm not tired and I'm not..."

 

The cold look in the blue eyes that turned his way, cut his explanations and excuses short. Then the simple phrase cut the air in a clear, crisp, no-prisoner's- taken tone, "We will NOT have this conversation again."

 

“JIM!” Simon’s voice cut through his thoughts. Captain Banks was a man who bellowed, usually startling his men into instantaneous compliance.  Rising quickly, Jim walked into his boss’ office.

 

“Close the door, Jim,” Simon said, lighting his cigar.  “There’s been some trouble on campus.”

 

“What kind of trouble?”

 

“Sit down,” Simon said, pointing to the chair with his freshly lit cigar, “it’s under control, or at least it better be. It seems Sandburg ran interference during a routine campus arrest and harbored a suspected felon. I thought he was on our side, Jim? What the hell’s the matter with the kid?”

 

“Where is he?” Jim asked, rubbing his chin, trying to contain the anger and frustration that twitched along his jaw line. The tense muscle indicating how tightly strung Ellison really was.

 

“Some uniforms have him downstairs. Campus security called them in. Jim, it’s Ed Tarrington. He’s Chief of Security at Rainier now.”

 

“Tarrington?  I’ve heard the guy's a straight shooter. I can’t believe Sandburg didn’t charm the pants off of him. Who’s the suspect?”

 

“Ben Cutler, a seventeen-year-old trouble maker from what I’ve gathered from the reports the University faxed over.  He’s against everyone and everything. One of the students was worked over pretty good with a baseball bat. Another student pointed the finger at Cutler. The kid’s been writing reactionary, anti-establishment, anti-conformist, anti-everything you can think of papers and raising a few voices all over the place.  It was a known fact, Bailey and Cutler were having differences of opinion.”

 

A burst of noise broke through the glass barriers that separated Simon’s office from the bullpen. “What the hell…” Simon’s voice trailed off as he and Jim rose in unison.  Blair was marching towards Simon’s office, sandwiched between a tall security guard and Joel Taggart.  The smaller man kept pulling indignantly out of both men’s grasp.

 

“Jim!”  Blair said, finally managing to pull free, rushing into the office and immediately positioning himself behind his taller friend. “Jim, this goon has been manhandling me for the past hour.”

 

“Jim, I don’t know what’s got into him,” Joel Taggart’s soft voice tried to push reason back into the room.

 

“Me?” Blair cried out, “Me? This military reject started pushing one of my students around.”  Then seeing the stern look Captain Bank’s threw his way, the apologetic look that passed from Joel to Tarrington, he came forward to stand next to Jim and look up to his best friend and lover for understanding and acceptance.

 

“Jim, he’s arresting Cutler because of the way he looks, the long hair and earring, he’s making judgments based on how someone looks not on any tangible evidence.”

 

Jim reached forward and grabbed Blair by both shoulders, “ Okay, calm down; what happened?”

 

“Cutler came into my office, scared, real scared, Jim,” he emphasized, throwing a scowl at Tarrington, who stood silently by never saying one word.  “He just needed to talk to me, tell me the whole story.  I would have talked him into turning himself in, but no, Jim. No! Campus security broke into my office, the door was locked, they just took it for granted that I was harboring him, because of the way I dress, Jim.”

 

“SANDBURG!” Simon bellowed, “I won’t have my office and a member of my department, making accusations of wrongdoing to another officer.  Especially upon finding a suspected felon hiding out in your office moments after you were told to be on the look out for the suspect.”

 

“Tarrington, what do you have to say for yourself?” Simon asked the man who at one time wore a uniform in the same precinct.

 

“Sir, he shoved me during the arrest. However, we were only going to take him in to the office and find out what was going on. We were advised the student in question wrote several papers whereby he suggested certain ways to eliminate campus dissension.  Apparently all these papers were in Mr. Sandburg’s possession and we found out the night before, Mr. Sandburg and Cutler burned the papers in back of Hargrove Hall. It just looked awfully suspicious that maybe Mr. Sandburg and Cutler were aware of how compromising these papers would prove when Cutler finally whacked Bailey.”

 

“I was counseling the kid…Jim, tell him,” Blair’s voice cracking with frustration, “tell him I was trying to get the kid to use a different approach to expressing his ideas.”

 

Tarrington snorted his disbelief, derision clear in the note.

 

“You’ve prejudged him and me, haven’t you? Where do you get off just taking over from Will Temple and making character evaluations based on other student’s likes and dislikes. It’s a common fact you’ve been friendly with Gus Bailey.” Blair's voice rising in anger and frustration.

 

“I’m just doing my job, Mr. Sandburg.”  Then turning to Simon, he added, “which I think I’ll get back to. I didn’t know Mr. Sandburg was a friend of yours, Simon. I’ll let you handle the situation now.”

 

"Thanks, Ed, I will," Simon said, briefly replacing the glare he was aiming at Blair with a smile for Tarrington.

 

As soon as the campus security chief left, Blair turned his frustration toward Jim. "Thanks so much, Ellison.  Way to support your partner!" the hurt and anger being evident in his voice.  With that remark, he stormed out of the office, through the bullpen toward the elevator.

 

"I thought you had that kid on a tighter rein, Jim?" Simon said with a mixture of humor and disbelief.

 

"I am trying, Sir.  I am trying," he replied wearily, heading toward the elevator where his partner waited.

 

Why do these stupid elevators always take so long, Blair thought to himself.  He glanced over his shoulder and saw a frustrated Jim coming toward him. Not wishing to continue the discussion from Simon's office, he turned and bolted toward the stairs.

 

"SANDBURG! Stop right there!  Do not make me chase you!"  Jim shouted after him.

 

Pausing briefly, Blair seemed to consider stopping, then turned and raced down the stairs.

 

"Shit," Jim muttered to himself.  Grabbing the arriving elevator, he hoped to get to the parking garage before Blair did.  The fates were with him and he made it to the ground floor with no stops in between.  Extending his hearing, he could make out Blair running down the steps, breathing hard.  Stepping into the stairwell quietly, he waited for his runaway Guide to come to him.

 

Blair was running at full speed, certain that he could hear Jim behind him.  He was mad and upset and did not want to talk to anyone; especially his so called partner who refused to support and defend him in front of his attackers.  He skidded to a stop at the bottom landing when he saw Jim waiting for him.

 

"What do you want, man?  I don't want to talk to you right now,” Blair said, crossing his arms and glaring down at the detective.  

 

"That is fine, I don't want you to talk.  You did enough of that upstairs; you are going to listen.  Sit. Don't talk," Jim said, pointing to the stairs, scowling at the younger man.

 

Sitting down with a pouting expression on his face, Blair crossed his arms, “Fine!  Talk."

 

"Be quiet, Sandburg, what part of 'don't talk' is confusing to you?"  When Blair did not say anything, Jim continued, "You made some pretty harsh accusations up there, of me and of another officer.  You accused me of not supporting you against him.  But, how could I, when you storm in after resisting arrest, harboring a fugitive, and accusing someone of false arrest?  You want me to jump to your defense but you made it almost impossible for me.  I am a police officer, what you did was against the law.  This other officer might have been wrong in assuming you were protecting this kid because of the way you look, but," Jim emphasized, pointing his finger at Blair, "his hunch was correct.  You were hiding him."

 

"But, Jim, it isn't fair, Ben is being accused because he has a different opinion than the majority, because he dresses a little different!  That is the ONLY reason!  You know it!"

 

"Blair," Jim said, a little more softly, coming up the stair, "you don't know that is the only reason.  It may have been a reason, but there has to be something else."  He sat down on the stairs, next to his lover.  Picking up one of his guide's hands, softly stroking the palm of it with his fingers, he continued, "You cannot take this personally, this isn't about you.  Me not jumping to your defense in Simon's office was not about you and me; it was about a detective not automatically distrusting a fellow officer.  This kid has problems that you don't need to be taking on; you have enough going on.  You have to understand that."

 

"No, I don't!" he said, jerking his hand away from Jim. "By you not sticking up for me in front of everybody, you basically told them that you don't believe me; that you think I am some sort of radical, who is against the establishment just for the hell of it!  You don't trust me!"

 

"What?  Where in God's name are you getting this from?"  Jim said, trying to control his anger, but failing.  "I never said I don't trust you.  I never said you were against the establishment.  What I said was you broke the law several times and by doing so and acting irrationally upstairs, you made it impossible for me to defend you up there."

 

"Same thing man.  You don't like me; you want to change who I am!  You are always doing that with all of your house rules and your 'do's and don'ts ' and your superior attitude that you are the only one who knows anything!" he said standing up, his voice rising in anger and hurt.  "I know what I am talking about!  I know this student and he would never, could never, do this to someone.  He is lost and confused and just trying to prove to people that look down on him just because of his age or how he dresses or what he believes that he is smart and is not lesser then he is!  Don't you understand?  I was him; he is me at that age; just trying to prove to everyone that he belongs somewhere!"  Blair finished in a half sob, choked with anger and emotion too powerful to contain any longer.  Spinning around, he fled down the stairs and out into the parking garage.

 

"Blair!" Jim cried, trying to snag his lover before he escaped, but missing.  Jumping up to follow him, he ran into the parking garage in time to see his truck drive out onto the street.  Cursing the fact that he had given Blair a spare key to the truck in case of emergencies, Jim headed back to Major Crimes.

 

"So where is the kid?" asked Simon, when he saw Jim coming in alone.

 

"Driving off in my truck," was the curt reply.  Jim sighed, "I don't know what’s gotten into him,” following Simon into his office, he settled down in a chair while the police captain poured two cups of coffee.

 

"Thanks," Ellison said, accepting the coffee. "I cornered him in the stairwell near the parking garage and he went off on me about how I was trying to change him, how I didn't accept him for who he was and how I showed that by not immediately jumping to his defense this afternoon."

 

"Jim, there was nothing you could do about this afternoon.  Sandburg came in here ranting and raving, accusing a former officer of discrimination without evidence one way or the other, it would have been inappropriate for you to take sides.  I thought you handled the whole situation well; you stayed pretty neutral and let me handle it."

 

"I don't know, Captain, he was upset.  He is taking this whole case very personally.  Speaking of which, what is happening with Cutler?"

 

"Brown and Rafe are interviewing him now.  But there is no direct evidence to link him to the beating and until Bailey regains consciousness and can hopefully identify his attacker, there is not much to go on.  The baseball bat used was wiped clean of prints.  Forensic is over at the kid's dorm room looking for blood traces, but I haven't heard yet if they’ve found anything."  Simon sipped his coffee. "Why is Sandburg taking this case so personally?  You two having problems on top of this?"

 

"I don't know. No, we are not having any major problems.  He has been testy lately and I have gotten on his case about not being around here more.   In the stairs he mentioned that Cutler was the same as he was when he was that age.  You know that Blair started college at sixteen, don’t you?"

 

"Yeah, I remember that now."

 

"I think he just can relate to how difficult it is to be accepted by your peers; you know, younger, shorter and probably more intelligent than they are.  He mentioned something about overcompensating to be noticed, equating 'being noticed' to 'fitting in.’ Blair has always thought he didn’t fit in anywhere, moving around so much I guess can do that to you."  Jim trailed off thinking of his lover and the insecurities the young man brought to their relationship.

 

"So what are you going to do about this.  Tarrington told me that the University is not going to press charges against Sandburg for harboring that student; they caught him and that is all that matters to them.  Brown and Rafe seem to have it under control.  You made a noticeable dent in that pile of paperwork on your desk, why don't you go home and see about Sandburg?"

 

Jim flashed him a smile, "Thanks, Sir, I think I will. I appreciate it.“

 

Jim stood and walked out of the office, gathering his stuff, he paused.  "Shit," he said, remembering that his truck had driven away an hour ago with his guide.  Walking back into Simon's office, he smiled. Simon was putting on his coat and gathering his stuff. 

 

"Forget that your truck went AWOL this afternoon, Detective?"  Simon asked, with a laugh, "Come on, I'll drive."

 

 

City lights sparkled brightly in the panoramic view.  A soft fire glowed in the hearth. Earth music filtered the air in soft tinkles of zither, cello and flute.  One lonely anthropologist sat cross-legged in the middle of the patterned carpet, thumbs pressed into palms, eyes closed, breathing in and out as though the exercise gave life and eased his troubled soul.

 

Jim will be home soon. Man, I don’t want to deal with this. I just don’t feel like hashing this out again. He’s like so into not seeing my side of things lately.

 

A deeper breath filled his lungs. Clear your thoughts…that’s it...easy…no Jim, no Simon, no Ed Tarringtons and Gus Baileys…relax. 

 

So into the exercise of concentration and acceptance, he never heard the door open nor saw the large figure looming over him.

 

Catching the shadow in his peripheral, he jumped. “God, Jim, I don’t have your hearing, man. Can’t you make your presence known before you give me a heart attack.”

 

Jim glared down on him, hands on hips, dour countenance showing full displeasure.

 

“Do you want to explain the truck-jacking, Chief? I had to have Simon drop me off.”

 

“Well, you and he are cops…don’t you think you owe each other a lift now and then,” Blair mumbled sarcastically.  Trying to rise from his cross-legged position, he felt his arms grasped above the elbow as he was unceremoniously hauled to his feet.

 

“You want to can the attitude, Chief.  You never did stay to hear out my little talk.”

 

Blue eyes challenged bluer eyes; both ignited by anger and the passion of the self-righteous.  “Oh, yeah, I forgot. I listen; you talk. You make rules; I obey.  You set guidelines I follow. You outline the parameters of this relationship and I stay within the lines.  Well, I never mastered coloring and you can ask Naomi, I always went outside the lines.”

 

Still holding the arms of his lover, Jim gave the captive a slight shake. “Will you just stop it. Put the poor me attitude away and let’s talk about this, Chief.  We’re drifting here and if we don’t make the effort to connect, we could be in serious trouble.”

 

“And whose fault would that be, Jim? Mine, because I have a life outside your little boys in blue setup?  Well, I do.  I’ve never stopped being me, Jim, just because I happened to fall in love with a hard ass cop.”  Tears began to well in the blue pools, threatening to overflow.  All the protective instincts that monitored the emotional and physical well being of Blair Sandburg came bursting forth.  The large man pulled the smaller one into his arms.  Turning the petulant mouth up, he firmly kissed the quivering lips, silencing all protest, rebellion, and doubts.

 

"Fuck you, Jim!" Blair said, pushing back angrily from his lover.  "Don't do that!  Don't pretend a kiss can make everything all better because it can't!" The last part almost screamed out as Blair turned quickly and fled into his office.  Slamming the door behind him, Blair collapsed in the soft recliner in the corner.  Drawing himself into a small ball, he tried to ignore the feelings of hurt and disappointment at Jim's actions, and, Blair admitted with hesitation, his own.

 

Oh God, he thought to himself, I have so messed this up.  I had a wonderful relationship going with him and now I have gone and totally fucked it up.  It's over and it’s all my fault, me and my stupid, stupid problems.  Blair sighed and curled up deep into himself.  The little voice in his head, the one that told him he did not fit in, that told him that nothing he would do would ever be good enough, was going full tilt.  Tears ran down his face and his breath came in short gasps that he did not have the energy to try to control.

 

A few minutes later, a knock on the office door startled the younger man from his latest round of why he was such a bad person.  Looking toward the door, he said wearily, "Come in, Jim."

 

The door opened and the detective came in carrying a cold, wet washcloth.  Walking gently towards his lover, he said, “Blair, I am sorry.  I never, ever meant to say that the small problems we are going through are your entire fault.  When I saw you upset and I couldn't think of the words to say to make it all better, I did the only thing I could think of doing to comfort you and to let you know how much I love you.  I am sorry, I never meant to hurt you even more."  The older man suddenly looked uncomfortable with his admission.  Leaning forward to place the washcloth on the small table next to the chair, he said softly, "Here, I thought this might make your eyes feel better." Laughing almost to himself, he continued "You know how your eyes get all red and puffy when you cry.”

 

Blair grabbed his arm before its retreat.  Pulling the other man closer to him, he said simply, "Please stay with me.  I don't want to be alone."

 

Jim sank to his knees in front of his partner, gathering Blair’s hands together; he drew them to his lips.  He kissed them softly and whispered, " I swear to you, Blair Sandburg, as long as I am alive, you will never be alone." Tears ran down his face, thinking back to the cold loneliness that was his life before the bright, life-filled imp came to him.  "There is no problem in this world, that you and I cannot face and overcome together.  You have to believe me."  The Sentinel bowed his head and rested it in his Guide's lap.

 

Blair curled protectively over him, whispering in a sentinel-soft voice, "I'm sorry I ran from you.  I am sorry I didn't trust you.  I am letting old insecurities hurt us, I have to get past them somehow."

 

They stayed that way, holding each other closely, using each other to help banish the fears temporarily from their minds.  Jim shifted slightly and Blair lifted his head up and smiled down. 

 

Laughing he said, "Is your pride starting to have problems kneeling before me?"

 

Jim kissed him as he stood up and said with equal humor, "No, not my pride, my knees."

 

Sharing the laugh, Blair allowed himself to be drawn up and nestled close to Jim.

"I love you,” he said as he burrowed himself deeper.  "I hate it when we fight."

 

"Me too, love, me too." 

 

"But," Jim said a moment later, "making up can be fun," as the hands that were wrapped tightly around the younger man's waist dropped lower and began to gently knead the jeans-covered butt.

 

Blair shifted back into his lover's hands, welcoming the feel of the gentle, but insistent, hands on his body.  Briefly taking his hands from around Jim's chest, he unbuttoned the detective's shirt and freed it from his pants.   Slowly running his tongue around a sensitive nipple, he heard Jim groan.

 

"I don't think this is fair, Chief," he murmured, lifting Blair's face upward.  "You always keep this beautiful, perfect body hidden.  I think we need to take care of that. "

 

Quickly stripping Blair of his clothes, Jim stepped back and smiled.  "You know, I take that back, you need to wear more clothes when you go out.  I don't want anyone to get a hint of how amazing you are."  Laughing he continued, " I think it might put a damper on our relationship if I have to kill someone defending my property.”

 

Blair laughed, "Property?  I am your property?  Well, I guess that means you belong to me, too.  And, I for one, never buy anything sight unseen.  I think I need to inspect the merchandise."

 

After hungrily peeling Jim's clothes off, Blair stepped back and eyed him appreciatively.  "Oh yeah, I think you'll do.  In a pinch."

 

"In a 'pinch,' Sandburg?" Jim said laughing, "I'll give you a pinch."  Grabbing the younger man gently and pulling him closer, the detective silenced the laughter with a kiss.  Weaving his hands into the thick curls, he held the object of his desire in place while he drank his fill of what his soul knew only as "lover.”

 

Turning up his sense of smell and taste, the Sentinel allowed himself to almost zone on the essence of Blair Sandburg.  The combination of herbal shampoo and conditioner mixed with the slight tang from the coffee he had drunk earlier and the unmistakable scent of arousal and sweat all combined to form a solid image in his mind.  Jim briefly thought that he could locate Blair in a crowd by scent alone.   The rational part of his mind was quickly replaced with the more primal one as Blair plunged his tongue into Jim's mouth. 

 

Untangling one hand from Blair's hair, he slowly trailed an outstretched finger down the sweaty back, bringing the hand to rest cupping a cheek, fingers curved into the cleft.

 

Blair shifted, spreading his legs farther apart, never breaking the kiss, allowing Jim better access.

 

Reaching down, Jim teasingly tickled Blair's opening, briefly plunging a finger in, never going in too deeply, never quite giving the younger man what his body was screaming for.

 

After a few moments of such teasing, Blair broke the kiss laughing.  "Let's take this upstairs where you can finish what you've started."

 

Looking down at his lover, the detective smiled, never taking his hand from between Blair's cheeks.  "I don't know, love, I am a little tired, I may be done for the night."   

 

He laughed as Blair swatted him across the butt.  "Okay, okay, no need to threaten me."  Leaning down as if for another kiss, he scooped the smaller man up and settled him in his arms. 

 

Blair gasped and laughed, wrapping an arm around the broad shoulders.  Rubbing a hand on the hard chest that was cradling him, he said, "I love it when you do your caveman impression."

 

Laughter echoed their progress up the stairs.

 

 

 

Later that night as Blair lay snuggled against Jim’s chest. Face down, cheek pressed against the furry expanse, he silently listened to the heartbeat of the one he loved more than life itself.  Jim brought his hand down in even, soothing strokes, settling the troubled young man into a nest of contentment.

 

“Want to talk about it now?” Jim asked, quietly.

 

At first only silence met the question, then a deep, soul-wrenching sigh, expelling fears and secrets in one tired effort, and Blair nodded, further burying his cheek against Jim’s chest.  Tightening his arm around the smaller man, Jim offered reassurance.

 

“It was hard for me, Jim. Hard to move around and change my persona from day to day, trying to fit in but not.  Do you know what that’s like?”  Lifting his head slightly he peered up at Jim, the tousled hair giving him an innocent look.

 

Brushing the hair back from his face, Jim nodded his head slowly.  “It’s hard for all kids.  Finding peer group acceptance is tough, Chief.  We all have horror stories of our own ineptness, tales of embarrassment and rejection.”

 

“I know that, man. I know I’m not the only one.  Ben Cutler is living proof that history does repeat itself and most people get through it.  But it’s still with me, Jim. It’s with me every day when I stand next to you during an interrogation and I get the looks from them.  People who just can’t place the hair and clothes and my size with the image they have of cops, and authority, and protection.”  He rolled off the chest, laying his head next to Jim's.  “I can look that doubt in the eyes, Jim. I can stare it down and never back off. I can meet it head on and reach out and show them that I am still a strong and formidable force in my own right.  But, love, I can only do that because you’re there for me. You’ve always been there for me. Just knowing that you believe in me…that’s kept me true to myself. But now…”

 

“Whoa…” Jim said, pushing himself up on one elbow, balancing close to his mate’s side.  Schooling his face into stern lines, he said, “Just stop right there.

If you’re back on that scene in Simon’s office, you’re out of line, Chief, way out of line.  I was trying to get the facts, while you were jumping head over heels around all reason and reacting with your gut, instead of your head.”

 

“Jim, I really think this Tarrington is prejudiced against Cutler,” Blair stated firmly.

 

The hard, cold reasoning that ran Jim Ellison’s world with facts and deductions softened into a stream of compassion.  All the reasoning in the world sometimes couldn’t chase away nightmares and memories. He, too, knew the impressions left on souls on frigid, lonely nights.  Sometimes all anyone really needed was a companion in the dark to keep the fears at bay, an anchor to keep you from drifting beyond the limits of your sanity.

 

“Okay, Chief.  I’ll check into it.  I’ll do a background check on Tarrington and maybe do some follow up work on campus.  I’ll make sure he’s cutting Cutler a fair deal.”

 

He found himself being gently pushed backwards as his Guide and lover laid his body over his, kissing him passionately.  “Whoa, Chief, enough. I’m an old man. I think it’s time we got some sleep.”

 

"Maybe," said a laughing voice.

 

“Stop for a second," Jim said, putting a hand on Blair's chest, holding him still, "Chief, one thing I’m asking of you…no, I take that back. One thing I’m demanding of you as part of our relationship. I want you to trust me, and I want you to come to me with any questions you have. Just ask me and I’ll explain why I’m handling a matter a certain way. No more running off half-cocked, leaving me running after you. Got it?”

 

“Got it, Jim. I promise I will come to you first, before doing anything foolish. I rather like when you take charge,” Blair said impishly.  Wrapping both arms around the one love of his life, he concentrated on the rhythm of that other heart, soothing, constant, and the one true purpose to his life. 

 

Within moments, both men were slumbering towards the dawn.

 

 

Friday dawned with promise, bright and hopeful like the spring.  Jim had risen early. Planning his day with the exuberance and fortitude found in the last eight hours before a week’s vacation, he playfully swatted his sleepy lover’s bottom.

 

“Rise and shine, Chief. I’m off to the station.  I promised Simon I’d have the last of those forms clearing my desk by noon.  Then I’ll stop by and have a word or two with Tarrington.  You have a nice day, and keep your cool, you hear me?” Jim said.

 

A low mumble was his only reply, as Blair grabbed Jim’s now vacant pillow and pushed his face deep within the folds, reluctant to forsake the pleasures of the night.

 

Jim stood watching his lover’s half-hearted efforts to meet the day.  Putting his badge in his pocket and holstering his gun, he smiled down at the disheveled form.

 

“Okay, Chief, suit yourself.  It’s only nine, you should have plenty of time to make your nine-thirty class.”

 

He stepped back quickly as one frantic anthropologist jumped out of bed, and raced down the stairs, swinging off the railing he sprinted towards the bathroom door, angrily looking up at the laughing face of his friend and lover.

 

“Damn it, Jim, this is so not funny. I told you, man, never let me sleep past eight.”

 

Jim continued a low, pleasant laugh as he came down the stairs. He heard the shower turn on and wondered at the reaction his partner would give when he finally looked at the clock and realized it was only seven-thirty.

 

 

The morning passed with grace and rhythm.  The paperwork seemed to be filling in itself with little of the resistance that usually met Jim’s efforts to put fact into form and substance.  Surprised by the empty in-basket, by late morning, he stood up and stretched with a smile on his face.

 

Walking spryly into Simon Bank’s office, he grinned, widening the voltage with a charm and ease that had Bank’s looking skeptical.

 

“You look like the cat that swallowed someone’s pet bird? What’s up, Jim? Or maybe I shouldn’t be asking,” Simon said as he turned to refuel, adding more of the thick, black liquid to his half-full mug.

 

“Vacation next week, remember, Simon?” 

 

“Yeah, I remember. I won’t say I’ll be happy not having you here for a full week, but you need the time off, Jim. Besides, I think you and Sandburg need the time together, anyway.”

 

“Yeah, and I think we’ll be using the time wisely.” He grinned even more broadly and Simon shook his head at the implied activities.

 

“I assume that paperwork is finished, mister?” Simon said, in a fully authoritarian voice.

 

“Yes, sir. Just put my John Hancock to the last one. If you don’t mind, I’d like to head out to Rainier. I thought I’d check with Tarrington and see if he has any other leads on the Bailey case.”

 

Simon reached for a folder on his desk. He stretched his arm out offering the folder, eyeing his best friend and best detective with a steely gaze.

 

Jim raised his eyebrows in bewilderment, but took the folder.  In bold letters ED TARRINGTON spread across the top.

 

Simon looked amused, “I figured you’d want to check the guy’s files yourself.  Go ahead, Jim, it’s relevant to the case and I know you promised a certain anthropologist. I think this will set your mind at ease.  Tarrington may be old regime, but he’s honest and he was a good cop.  I’ll vouch for him myself.  Trust him, Jim, you won’t be disappointed.”

 

“Simon, I appreciate this.” Jim sat at the conference table and began reading. Simon stood up, poured a mug of coffee and set it down in front of Ellison. “I’m off to meet with the mayor about the budget. Take all the time you need and make sure that file stays in my office.”  With that Simon grabbed his coat and headed out the door.

 

 

Jim knocked sharply on Tarrington's door. Pausing briefly to catch the sound of one heart beating, he knocked again.

    

The door was opened by the tall, powerfully built man whom Jim had seen in Simon's office yesterday. "Mr. Tarrington, may I have a word with you?"

    

Tarrington paused, looked out into the hall, and then sighed heavily. He reached an arm back into the room and snatched his jacket from a coat hanger off to the side, out of Jim's view.

     

"Actually, Detective, let's take a walk. I could use some fresh air."

    

As they rounded the outer corner of the building, the long stretch of walkway was covered in shadows. The early spring air was still crisply damp, but the sunlight of late afternoon, still burnished the perimeter with warm, inviting patches.

 

"Detective, I was on the force for twenty years before I took this job. Simon and I go back a ways and I know if he thinks as highly of you as I'm judging he does, then I can trust you.  What you saw yesterday was a staged performance for the benefit of all parties concerned."

 

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Jim asked, pausing along the walkway.

 

"Easy, Ellison, take it easy."  Tarrington once again looked around, checking out the shadows.

    

He reached out a tentative hand and hooked Jim's upper arm.

 

"Come on, let's keep walking."

 

Pausing for a moment, he continued, " I've had my suspicions when I took over security here at Rainier that the security team was on the take. I've noticed some students never get hassled or checked, blatantly disobeying school policies and seem quite chummy with my staff.  Crimes of harassment and theft are up considerably in the last year. Will Temple was a good guy, but he was just too old and too inexperienced to realize what was going on behind his back. Gus Bailey's girlfriend, well, ex-girlfriend came to me about a month ago. They'd had a major blowup and she told me he was bragging about how he and some of his Frat Brothers had broken into some membership data base of The United Order of Brotherhood or something like that; a local group of idiot skinheads. They had made a copy and were blackmailing some of the more visible members.  According to the girlfriend, several members of my force are listed as members. He was proud about the fact and it was becoming common knowledge around Greek Row. I was on the job for about a week before Bailey came to see me.  He actually had the gall to come to me about his little scam.  Told me about it and suggested that if I didn't want it to get out, how Security was on the take, it would be worth my while to overlook certain activities he and his Frat House were involved in.  I took the bait, wanting to see how deep this kid was in it, if you get my drift.  I told one of my guys, Jason Page, what was going on.  I've known him for years and know he is not involved.  He has gotten in close with my two main suspects and is keeping an eye on them for me."

    

Jim only nodded, slowly seeing where Tarrington was going with this.

 

"Well, Bailey then started harassing Cutler, probably for no other reason then just kicks.  I've seen it myself. The kid's begging for trouble, if you ask me, but he's young and I've been keeping an eye on him.  Cutler's feisty and when one of the students said he was the one most likely to beat Bailey, I jumped at the chance to pull the kid out of the fray.  However, he's out and his attitude is still too cocky.  Bailey's girlfriend thinks the skinheads beat the crap out of him looking for the disk.  Now, I don't know if it was some of my guys who did it or just some of their associates.   My problem now is I want that disk. I want to clear the campus of these guards. “

 

"So, bringing Cutler and Sandburg to the station yesterday, that was all a show?" Jim asked, deciding that Simon was right about Tarrington, he was a straight shooter.

 

"Yeah, Ellison. Let my guys think it's a clear-cut case against Cutler, take the suspicions off of them.   Page told me they suspect a disk instead of a hard copy of the membership list.  I heard Bailey's Frat room was trashed.  I know I would have heard about it by now if a disk had been found.  Plus, Bailey's Fraternity threw a rather loud party last night and not a word was said to them by Security.   He must have stashed the disk somewhere or given it to someone.”

 

"Do you know who he would have given the disk to?" Jim said, watching the facial expression of the man who stood a couple of inches over his head. The man was one of the few men who matched Simon Banks foot for foot.

    

"Not a clue.  But that is not going to stop me from pretending I do.  Page told some of my guys that I think Bailey hid it with Culter, trying to take the heat off of himself.  Think about it. If you hated someone, and you wanted them to take the fall for you, wouldn't it be relatively simple to slip something in a kid's backpack. He'd never even know he had it." 

  

"That might work." Jim said, rubbing his jaw.

    

"I want to force the guilty parties' hand.  I want them to go after Cutler trying to get the disk.  Jason told me he would know before anything happened and he would make sure nothing happened to Cutler," Tarrington said, as they reached the end of the walk that now wrapped around the library parking lot.

 

   

Blair had just returned the last of his library books. Kris Barrett poked her head out of the back room.   

 

"Blair, how convenient. Could you give me a hand with the paper cutter? The thing is just too heavy for me and it's in the back room. I need it up at the front desk for a couple of days. Will you be a sweaty, please," she said, fluttering her soft, golden lashes his way.

    

Laughing out loud at her obvious antics and feminine wiles, Blair headed off in the direction of the back storage area. Having worked many hours as an under-grad in the library, he knew the layout well.    

 

Passing the many shelves of labels and binding equipment, tapes and boxes, he reached the back work area, under the windows. The cool breeze that wafted through the open windows excited him with the promise of his week off.

 

Dreaming of some time with his lover, wrapped in his arms, he suddenly heard Jim’s voice, and that other guy, Tarrington.

 

Blair peered out over the high ledge of the window. There they were: Jim and Tarrington. He froze, listening.

 

“Is your friend, Sandburg, going to give me a hassle?   I have to make sure it looks like Cutler is guilty.  I want it to seem real.  I admit, I’ve never gotten along with the hippie radical types,” Tarrington said, quietly.

 

Jim laughed, then stopped. His hearing picked up a familiar heartbeat. Smiling to himself, he said, “I’ll handle Sandburg, don’t worry. He knows to do what I tell him,” Jim said smugly, knowing that full well his Guide was within hearing distance. “I’ll explain things to him when the time is right.”   Jim looked up at the window, and could see Blair duck down below the sill.  You’d better be paying attention, lover, because I mean it. This trust thing is being put to the test right now.

 

Focusing back to Tarrington, he said, "Just make sure Cutler is safe.  I don't want anything happening to him."

 

"Don’t worry.  I have it covered."

 

 

 

Blair grabbed the paper cutter and raced forward.  Dropping it quickly on the front desk counter, not waiting for Kris’ thanks, he ran out the side door and headed for his office.

 

He’ll do what I tell him. Blair thought.  What the hell is that supposed to mean, Ellison?  What the hell are you going to stand by and let Tarrington do?

 

Calming himself with deep breaths once his door was closed, he sat down, trying to call forth the voice of reason.  Take it easy, here. Jim’s got to be playing along with Tarrington. Maybe it’s just a trap. That’s all. He’s going to bust Tarrington at his own game.

 

Just then a knock sounded on his door, so faint that Blair at first thought he was mistaken. Again, the soft pounding broke through his thoughts.  Rising from his chair he opened the door to see a very frazzled, frightened Ben Cutler, backpack stuffed with clothes and books and a small duffel bag brimming with what looked like all the kid’s possessions.

 

“Ben, what’s the matter now?” Blair asked, stepping aside and allowing the boy to enter.

 

“Mr. Sandburg, they’re after me.”  His bright blue eyes alive with excitement and fear.

 

“Who’s after you?”

 

“Everyone!  No one.  Oh, hell, Mr. Sandburg, I don’t know. I just know some security guards have been following me. I heard them talking about pointing me out to the skinheads, letting the Aryan race rid the campus of my kind. I’m scared, Mr. Sandburg. Tarrington’s got it in for me and no one seems like they want to believe me anymore. I didn’t do anything. It’s true I disliked Bailey, but I never did anything to him. He started by hassling me over that presentation I did and ever since then, he’s made a point of showing up wherever I am.  It wasn’t me who beat him up. You’ve got to believe me, Mr. Sandburg.”

 

Blair saw the long hair, curling around the young face. The youthful features still holding the memories of tears and warm cocoa and scraped knees touched his heart. So like the little boy he lost but a few years back. How many times was he pushed and shoved and played with simply because of his clothes.  Many times in his childhood all people needed to do was see Naomi with her free-spirited garments of gossamer wings that matched her even freer mind. Soon Blair was labeled in the same box, put away on a shelf only to be taken down when someone needed to be blamed or made an example of. Now he was the authority figure here, the one who could make a difference in any memories Ben Cutler pulled along with him into maturity.

 

Going to the metal cabinet where Ben had hidden the previous day, Blair pulled out a small gym bag. One change of clothes was always on the ready for quick trips out of town with Jim or long nights pulled at the office grading papers and keeping up with two jobs.  Having cashed his check just this morning, planning on springing the surprise trip up to the mountains on Jim this evening, Blair knew he had enough money for food and supplies along the way.

 

“Ben, I don’t know what’s going on, but I think you and I need to get away for awhile."

 

Grabbing his backpack, laptop and duffel bag, he pulled the confused student along with him, turning only long enough to lock his office door. Well, big guy, all plans are off. This trust thing is a two way street and I won’t be party to running this kid into the ground…whatever your reasons are.

 

 

Jim left Tarrington near the library, he thought briefly of finding his lover and setting the record straight, but just then his cell phone rang.

 

“Ellison here.”

 

“Jim, I just finished with the mayor. If you’re free, I’ll buy lunch. I assume you’re at the University?”

 

“Yes, sir, I just got done having an interesting talk with Tarrington. You were right about him, sir, he is sharp and I think he may have a lead on those skinheads we’ve been trying to nail. How about meeting me at the Spice and Shaker, I’ll fill you in on what he told me.  I think it might be all over by the time I get back from vacation."

 

A low chuckle came across the airwaves.  “It’s a deal, this is one lunch I won’t mind buying.”

 

Blair drove quickly, using his map and the directions Professor White left him, and made good time. Beating rush hour traffic out of the city, he was also lucky to avoid the weekend rush to the mountains and the even more frantic passage of college kids towards airports and bus depots. Before five o’clock, the Volvo was well out of Cascade and nearing the town closest to the cabin hideaway.  A quick stop provided them with provisions for enough meals to last several days.

 

At the start of the ride, Ben had been a basket case, rambling on and on about sub-cultures and conspiracies within the campus political structure. Finally, having heard enough of the paranoid kid’s rants, Blair burst out, “Ben, please, just give it a rest. I believe you about Tarrington dealing with you from the bottom of the deck, but this persecution complex has got to stop.  You’re hurting your own credibility when it comes time to present our case to the hierarchy.”

 

What hierarchy?  Blair thought, Simon? I can’t trust him when he’s the president of Tarrington’s fan club. Jim? Hardly---the man’s a control freak and right now he’s got me pegged for being right under his thumb.  Well, think again, big guy. I gave you my heart and soul, not my mind.

 

A bump in the road brought him back to the present.  Turning, he saw the hurt in Ben’s posture. Slumping forward, hair covering his face, the kid was studying his hands, now folded neatly in his lap.

 

“Look, Ben, life isn’t always fair, but I’ll do everything I can to help you clear this mess up. Just trust me, okay?”  The young blue eyes turned towards him, a small smile played upon the lips and Blair returned a full voltage one of his own. Immediately, all forgiven, Ben re-adjusted himself in the seat and began to tell Blair some amusing stories about life on campus.

 

In a short while they were pulling off the road and into a large wooded area.  Driving back off the road, along a two-lane rutted road, they found a rather large, one-floor cabin.  For an agonizing moment, Blair felt a hitch in his throat at the painful realization that his planned week of romance was not the only thing ruined. He realized the foundation of trust and commitment was fast crumbling around him. Biting his lip, he bit back the repressed emotions that threatened to overcome him and smiled wanly at Ben.  “Home sweet home,” was all he could manage.

 

 

 


At lunch earlier in the day, Jim had filled Simon in on Tarrington's plan to use Cutler as bait for the corrupt guards.

 

"I don't know Jim," Simon started, "it sounds like it could be dangerous to the student."

 

"I know.  I am not saying that it is the smartest plan I have ever heard, but Tarrington swears that his inside man will know before anything happens.  Who knows, if they find out who beat up Bailey, they could put a stop to it before Cutler gets hurt." 

 

"Well, Brown and Rafe are stilling working on the case, they may be able to find out who did the beating before Tarrington's guys go after the student.  They are supposed to go interview Bailey this afternoon.  He regained consciousness briefly this morning."

 

"Well, if you find out something before Saturday morning, give us a call.  Blair and I are leaving around 9."

 

"Where are you two going?  I hope someplace warm," Simon said with a laugh.

 

"I honestly don't know.  He didn’t tell me.  All I was told, last night, was to not make any plans, pack casual and be ready to go on Saturday."

 

 

The afternoon seemed to crawl by.  All the paperwork completed, Jim spent his remaining hours organizing his cases for his return in a week.  Typing up some notes for Rhonda, Brown and Rafe to keep them up to date on his caseload, he stopped every half-hour to call Blair at the loft. Where the hell is he? He said he would be home after noon.  The university was his next target, but the voice mail was his only answer.

 

Rising irritably, he decided a snack from the machine might brighten his mood and save one very, irritating anthropologist’s life.

 

Simon’s voice pierced his concentration, “Jim! Get in here.”

 

Turning to join his superior in his office, he saw Tarrington coming down the hall, accompanied by Rafe and Brown. Now what? he thought.

 

“Jim, Bailey talked this afternoon.  Seems Tarrington was right, Gus hid the disk in Cutler’s backpack.  Then he sent an e-mail to security and The United Order of Brotherhood.  Cutler is one very sought after boy right now.” Simon started the ball rolling.

 

“However, Jim, my man, Jason Page has been keeping an eye on the kid. He said the two security guards I suspect have been following Cutler all morning.  He kept a close tail on them.  Seems your friend, Sandburg, and the kid left the University in a green Volvo around one.  Page called me immediately and I radioed Drew and Brad in.  Bailey said there were two men who beat him up and he said Drew and Brad were on the disk. All suspicion points to them at this point. If we get our hands on that disk, we’ll have all the probable cause we need to arrest them for attempted murder.”  Tarrington watched Ellison’s face.

 

“Where the hell did Sandburg go?” Jim asked to no one in particular.

 

“That’s what we were hoping you would tell us, Jim,” Rafe said softly.

 

“He’s probably not in any immediate danger, but Cutler needs to be put under protective custody until we can find that disk.  Too many people would like to get their hands on it, Jim,” Simon said as he took a cigar out of his pocket.

 

 

The cool night air surrounded him with the sounds of the forest. Standing on the porch of the large, rustic cabin, he ached with misery. Jim should be here with him, standing beside him right now, holding him.  All the plans for making things right, talking them out and finding the easy grooves of their earlier relationship were scattered back in Cascade.

 

Now he shared a cabin with a hyperactive, paranoid teenager, too bright for his own good. Turning his head slightly, he heard the click of keys from inside the modernly appointed cabin.   The façade of rustic charm did not sacrifice the conveniences of modern man.  Ben was surfing the Internet with the passion of his obsession.

 

Sighing heavily, Blair turned and entered the cabin. The lodging was tastefully appointed in earth tones, Apache artwork and Indian prints lined the Knotty Pine interior.  As one entered, a large room was divided into three rooms by furniture only. To the right a living room was well appointed with a round wooden coffee table in the middle, a large sofa on one side and two comfortable armchairs on the other.  A large stone fireplace covered the outside wall. Two doors opened on the adjacent wall each leading off into the bedrooms. The left portion contained bookshelves and a dining room table that was used far more conveniently as a desk. In back of this area was a well-appointed kitchen with a small bay window. A bathroom lay off the kitchen.

 

Now, Ben sat typing away, totally absorbed in some quest in Cyberspace. 

 

“How about some dinner?” Blair asked as he made his way into the kitchen.

 

“Yeah, I could eat something,” the young man said, not bothering to stop or look up.

 

A simple meal of soup and sandwiches left them in much better spirits.  After quickly tending to the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, Blair drifted out onto the porch.

 

Romance decorated the night in soft, twinkling stars and an intimacy that demanded to be shared.  There is no time like the night to become yourself, to go into the unguarded areas of your psyche. However, there is also no more tender a time when two people in the shadow of the moon can merge their souls. No more welcome could ever be extended than the soft darkness and the quiet at close of day. Blair ached for Jim and the sharing they were in need of.  All was lost.  Damn it, he thought, I had to get Ben out of there. I owed it to him. He’s my responsibility as his counselor. Jim screwed this up, not me. The freshness of the morning’s conversation he had overheard between Jim and Tarrington allowed the self-righteous insistence. Yeah, he thought, maybe if I keep insisting I’ll actually believe it myself.

 

Turning to re-enter the cabin, he saw a very exhausted, very young looking Ben Cutler curled up on the couch, fast asleep.  Not bothering to wake the tired fugitive, Blair slowly entered the first bedroom to find his own peace at the end of the day.

 

Jim Ellison sat on the sofa.  How long, he didn’t know. The night brooded with him through the large glass windows, easing his stress and strain and offering understanding.  Where the hell are you, Sandburg? he asked himself for the hundredth time.  Is this what our relationship boils down to, this fine thread of trust that can be so easily snapped.

 

Sandburg had fought the relationship from the very first. Oh, sure he came willingly to Jim as friend and guide and student. Always willing to learn and take part, always a major factor in solving the cases and assisting Jim when needed, but always resistant as well. Sandburg was not a cop, and as many times as Simon and Jim repeated the litany themselves, they did not believe it.  No matter what excuses they could give to exclude the young anthropologist, he made them better at their jobs, and for that they needed him.

 

When the first bright sparks of mutual attraction could no longer be ignored, Jim moved in like a man who always knows what he wants and how to get it.  Blair opened to him, like a well-read book, allowing himself to be turned and situated for comfort and ease.  It was the Blair Jim was always used to, the mediator, the conciliatory agent, the peripatetic student learning how to make a home everywhere.

 

Then time steamed the starchiness out of the relationship, and all became relaxed.  There was a comfort in their duo; a pairing that truly joined them, as some would say ‘at the hip.’

 

However in time, the new creases of their domestic bliss chafed the young man as he fought the stiffness that Jim needed to function. The rigidity of a place for everything and everything in its place soon left his Guide frustrated and moody. Blair slouched into the days while Jim stood stock-still and uncompromising, knowing the course he had planned and insistent that all passengers stay seated.  Mutiny was on the horizon and Jim just chose to ignore it.

 

The sunlight tickled his eyes, he turned away, groaning, burying his face in the soft folds of the sweater he had slept on bearing the strong scent of the one who was gone.  Ellison fought the dawn as weary spirits usually do. Gone was the energetic man in control, now he needed escape and sleep offered a dark and empty world.

 

 

“Boy, I knew it,” Ben said suddenly. Reaching down he pulled his backpack up off the floor and threw the heavily loaded pack on the table.  Riffling through each compartment, he frantically sought some missing object. “Hey, where the hell did this come from?” he asked no one in particular.

 

Blair walked bleary eyed and bleakly from the bathroom.  The night had given him comfort only in his weariness, but the sleep offered no renewal of spirit.  Without Jim, with the simple thought that their relationship could be over, Blair found little energy to move through the morning.  The thick sludge of his resistance made all acts a Herculean effort.

 

“Coffee?” Blair asked as he noticed the fresh pot on the burner. The kid was thoughtful he noted, plus an early riser.

 

“Yeah, please.”

 

Blair poured two cups and trudged over to the table that Ben had almost completely covered with books and notes.  Sitting next to the overly energetic student, Blair sat moodily staring deeply into the thick brew.

 

“Oh, Mr. Sandburg, I’ve been researching the history of revolution for my class, I want to do a paper on insurrection among the intellectually gifted,” Cutler said, pausing only briefly to sip the hot liquid, then quickly returning his fingers to position over the keyboard.

 

“No?” Blair asked, sarcastically, “who would have guessed?”

 

The irritation was lost on the fireball burning brightly next to him.  Blair glanced quickly at the eager face, young and alive, full of promise and possibilities.  Shaking his head, disgusted with his own treatment of the student, he quickly added, “I’m sure you’ll get a good grade. You’re a good student, Ben, if you would just try to stay away from inciting a riot with every paper and presentation you do.”

 

Blair started looking at the books and papers Cutler had strewn over the table. A diskette lay on top of one book.  The only writing on the label was a small green swastika.  

 

Seeing the familiar symbol of hate, Blair picked up the disk.

 

“Where did you get this from?”

 

“Hey, I don’t know,” eyeing Sandburg with the suspicious look Blair recognized as trademark Cutler. “I never saw that thing before.”

 

“Do you think you can read what’s on here?” Blair asked.

 

Cutler smiled, “Piece of cake,” and he eagerly loaded the diskette into the drive.

 

 

Simon Banks stood irritably outside the loft door.  Knocking the third time, juggling the large pizza box in one hand, he yelled, “Jim!  Open up.”

 

The door opened quickly presenting a haggard face, unshaven and unhappy.  Damn, just what I thought, he hasn’t been to bed and probably didn’t even eat dinner.

 

“I suggest you take a shower, shave and get dressed, Jim.  You’re on vacation, not dead.”

 

Jim grunted, “I’m on vacation, so I don’t have to.”

 

“Jim, it’s almost noon. If we get a call about Sandburg’s whereabouts, don’t you think you should be ready to move.”

 

Placing the large box on the table, Simon looked sternly at the mess before him.

 

Embarrassed by the warranted inspection, Jim shrugged, “Yeah, I guess I could use a shower.”

 

 

Simon sat at the table, a very irritated Sentinel across from him. Both men hugged beers in their hands, a box of pizza lay open on the other end of the table.  Seeing the frustration that plastered Ellison's face, he threw in what reason he could muster himself.

 

"You know, Jim, Sandburg was pretty upset about that scene in my office. I admit I should have given him more consideration. He's a teacher. Of course, he's going to go out of his way to protect one of his students. You said so yourself he's counseling this kid. I know how protective he is of you. Sandburg's just being Sandburg."

 

The blue eyes pulled back into the room, leaving their intense viewing of the city landscape through the large window.  "I know, Simon," Jim sighed.  Then a smile played quietly in the corners of his mouth, "I guess that's why I love him so much, but he's so damn frustrating at times."

 

"He should be okay. I have an APB on the car. Highway Patrol should notify us immediately and they have orders to detain for protective purposes."

 

"I just want to know where he is right now.  Then I want to get Cutler and the diskette safely back here. After that I have some adjustments to make."  Ellison gritted his teeth in some silent promise to himself.

 

Simon's dark eyes caught the fervor and promise to the last statement. "Jim, don't go doing anything foolish and ruining your relationship with Sandburg.  You two are perfect together and you know how pigheaded and high-handed you can be at times.  Sandburg won't tolerate any megalomaniac controlling his every move. He's a spirited individual with a sharp mind and free soul."

 

"I would never want to change that, but he's always willing to go off without thinking of the consequences, putting his life in danger to help me or someone else and worrying about the repercussions afterwards.  This could have all been avoided if he had just talked to me, asked me about the things he heard and what my plans were.  Matter of fact, he swore to me he would trust me from now on.  Fact of the matter is, he lied."

 

Simon nodded, "I agree, but I can't say I blame Sandburg completely. Tarrington needs to adjust his own attitudes and opinions."  Simon chuckled, then took a long pull on his beer. "I remember my own biased opinions of the kid, just because of his hair, his constant chattering, and that habit he has," Simon used his fingers to express a flighty gesture of bouncing a basketball, "like the Energizer Bunny."

 

Both men caught the image in the hollows of their mind's eye.  Laughter filled the loft and some of the tension eased its way out the door.

 

Just then the phone broke in, like a long-awaited guest to the party.  Jim reached a long arm back to the counter and picked up the cordless unit.

 

"Ellison, here."

 

"Jim?" the unnecessary question came out quietly.

 

Jim closed his eyes, looked into the worried face of Simon, nodded his head and pulled in a deep and calming breath.

 

"Sandburg," he said patiently. "Thank God.  Are you all right?"

 

"Yeah, Jim, I'm fine. I have Ben with me."

 

"I know. My next question is the obvious WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?" 

 

Simon threw up his hands in disgust.  James Ellison's tact and finesse were comparable to most mob boss' hit men.

 

Jim saw the look on Simon's eyes, and tried to calm himself.

 

"Jim, I'm up in the mountains. That's not important right now. Ben found a diskette in his backpack. He swears he doesn't know how it got there. I believe him. Jim, it's evidence. I mean this disk lists names, security guards at Rainier, businessmen who support the skinheads. Hell, Jim, there's even some city councilmen's names on here.  They were obviously blackmailing people into cooperating with them…they…" Sandburg hardly took a breath.

 

"Chief, settle down," Jim tried to bring the turbo in for a landing.

 

"We know all that. Bailey talked. We have the two suspected security guards, Drew and Brad, under surveillance. We need that disk back here to have hard evidence. Bailey didn't see the men who beat him up, but he said there were two of them and we strongly suspect this pair. Tell me where you are."

 

"I'll bring him back, Jim, we'll leave right now."

 

"NO! You stay put, you hear me?  Bailey sent a notice on e-mail, not only to the security office, but also to the United Order of Brotherhood.  We don't want you riding around, visible. We have reason to believe they saw you leave with Cutler and know your car and plates. Tell me where you are and Simon and I will come and get you."

 

"I'm sorry, Jim," came the penitent voice, "I screwed up again.  I have this cabin for the week. It was to have been a surprise for our one year anniversary."

 

"Blair, baby, you did indeed, but we'll get it right. I'm asking you to trust me."

 

Blair gave him quick directions to the cabin.  The three-hour drive would get them there by late afternoon.

 

Jim hurriedly packed his duffel putting in enough clothes for a week.  Then he packed another bag for Sandburg.  The mountain cabin would be a great place to talk with no distractions, no demands on their time. The week was theirs and he damn well planned to work on his relationship once Cutler was safe and the diskette marked as evidence.

 

Simon saw the two bags and smiled. "I'm glad you're not going to let the cabin or the week go to waste."

 

"Sandburg might have reason to regret the location, when I get through with him, but the quiet will be good for the both of us.  I am still officially on vacation, right?"

 

"Yeah, Jim, as a matter of fact, I insist.  We'll drive up in my car. I'll bring Cutler back. You can stay up there with the kid, by that time the Volvo won't be a highly sought after item.  All the shit will have hit the fan while you and Blair are safely tucked up there."

 

Then in the rhythm of friendship, the long easy strides of routine, the two cops went to collect some valued things.

 

 

 

Blair set the phone down and looked across the room at Ben. They had positioned themselves in the living room, Ben slouching with certain arrogance in one of the armchairs, Blair on the sofa. Steaming cups of hot cocoa sat on the huge coffee table before them. Neither one had much of an appetite; the discovery taking all their energy with the possibilities of the outcome, the criminal jurisdiction that could clamp down on the skinheads at least in the Cascade area.

 

"I guess this Ellison is going to be pretty upset with you," Ben said, then added, "and me, too."

 

Looking up Blair saw the faint glimmer of fear in the blue eyes, so like his own even now, unsure of his own worth, concerned about his actions, and doubting all fairness in the world.

 

"I guess I'm in trouble. They'll think I stole this disk. It's going to look bad for me, no one ever believes me."

 

Reaching down, Blair picked up his mug and sat back.  There was nothing now for them to do but wait and the silence would only enhance the fears already fogging both their imaginations.

 

"You know, Ben, you and I are a lot alike.  We've already discussed my early years in college and the fool I pretty much made of myself. I was quite the know-it-all and I can tell you I really made more enemies than I was able to realize."  He took a long sip on the thick, sweet drink, then setting his cup back down, he continued, "I screwed up pretty badly, probably was even a bigger pain in the ass than you are."

 

Cutler let out a small laugh, then shyly looked at Blair, "Yeah, I guess I am at that."

 

Blair laughed along with him, "Not as big as I was.  Even when Jim and I became friends, I let a lot of my insecurities get the better of me.  This whole thing never should have happened. I realize that now. All I had to do was tell Jim about security hassling you, even go to Simon with my doubts, but no, I had to take matters into my own hands."

 

"What do you think they'll do to us?" Cutler asked, looking young and very much the little boy. Pushing his long hair behind his ear, more so to occupy his hands than out of any need, he pulled both legs up on the chair and sat Indian-style. For a moment he looked like a Boy Scout at a camp out.

 

"You'll be placed in protective custody until all the guilty parties can be round up. Then, I don't think you have to worry. You didn't do anything, except leave the city, and I'll have to take responsibility for that."

 

"Do you have any pull with the cops?"

 

"I'm not sure I have much influence on them one way or the other right now, but Simon and Jim are both professionals. They know who's guilty in this little fugitive drama and I'm afraid it's me."

 

Both men shivered at once, then laughing at the synchronization of the gesture, Blair got up.

 

"I think I'll make a fire. I doubt either one of us feels like enjoying the majestic splendor outdoors right now.”

 

 

 

Simon pulled the burgundy Chrysler down the narrow, rutted road.  The setting sun pierced the treetops easing the chill out of the dark forest.  The cool, crisp, mountain air chafed the skin.

 

"Remember, Jim, I expect you to conduct yourself professionally in there.  Cutler's safety is our first priority and the disk.  Once Cutler is in my custody, you're officially on your vacation."  Then turning in his seat as he cut the engine, he pointed a threatening finger at his best detective. "I'd better not get any calls about any murders in the mountains, and in one weeks time I expect to have all parties accounted for, alive and well."

 

Jim reached for the door handle and smiled wearily, not eager himself to deal with his wayward guide.

 

 

Simon looked at the two men before him.  He could see the anger, but more importantly the hurt in Jim's eyes.  He knew Blair could see it, too.  The kid had a hard time meeting Simon's eyes and quickly gave up, dropping his own to the floor of the cabin. 

 

Playing it straight-faced and totally professionally Simon acted indifferent and unaware.  He wanted the anthropologist to realize how much his actions hurt Jim, but they also snubbed his authority as well.  The damn kid could have and should have brought his doubts to him.

 

"I'm going to bring this runaway back to Cascade," Simon said, tugging none too gently on Cutler's arm.  "What about that one?" he asked, nodding in the general direction of the self-conscious anthropologist, playing the stern commander.  Knowing full well Jim’s intentions, he wanted Blair to know Jim could play the hand in a manner totally unfavorable, if he so chose.

 

"Don’t worry about him, sir.  Blair and I were planning to spend the week up here and that is exactly what we are going to do.  We have some things to work out between us."

 

Blair looked up eagerly, proving that hope did indeed spring eternal.

 

“Did you want to stay for supper?” Jim offered.

 

“No, I think I’d rather leave you two alone.  Billy the Kid and I can grab some burgers on the road.”  Simon winked at Jim.

 

Simon patted Blair on the back as he walked Cutler out the door, "Don't be too hard on the kid, Jim.  He was just protecting his student."

 

Blair returned to his intense scrutiny of the floor.

 

Not answering, offering no reasonable leniency Jim simply said, "Good night, Simon.  Drive carefully.  We'll give you a call when we get back to town next weekend."

 

Blair did not stop studying the carpet at his feet as Simon walked the student outside and to the car and drove away.  

 

Jim stood watching the car as it drove down the rutted lane.  The large picture window allowed him to see the vehicle as it turned onto the main highway.  Swallowing his annoyance at Blair, he turned away and walked into the small kitchen.  Blair stayed frozen in place, still not looking up.

 

"I'm hungry, I haven't had dinner.  Have you?" asked Jim, peering into the cupboards.

 

"Umm," Blair stammered, "no, I haven't eaten, but I'm not really hungry."

 

"No.  You need to eat.  Now, what do you want?"  Jim said, trying not to be annoyed.

 

"I SAID 'I'm NOT HUNGRY!" Blair shouted, his anger and worry at the situation venting.  Looking at Jim for a moment, he turned around quickly and raced into the bedroom he had slept in last night.  Slamming the door, he threw himself on the bed.

 

Jim stared at his lover's vanishing back and winced, as the bedroom door slammed shut.  Shaking his head and sighing, he shut the cupboard and went into the living room.  Sitting down on the couch, he leaned his head back and focused his hearing in on the bedroom and his partner.

 

He could hear his lover lying on the bed, muttering to himself, fluctuating between anger at 'his pig-headed lover' and himself.  Jim smiled as the anger turned toward a bootlace that had become tangled into a knot, listening to Blair try to slide it off his foot.  His smile turned to concern as he heard the hitch in his voice and the muttering stop.  With the sounds of that hitching filling his ears, he stood from the couch and walked towards the bedroom.

 

Pausing for a second outside the door, he debated about knocking.  Thinking better of it, he quietly opened the door and slipped into the darkened room.  He could see Blair laying face down on the bed, one boot on, the other off.  The younger man did not move with the opening of the door.  Jim walked over and carefully sat on the bed, at his lover's feet.  Gently picking up the boot-clad foot he slowly undid the lace and slid it off.  Putting the foot back on the bed, he looked down at his partner's face.  Eyes closed, a few tracks from frustrated tears marking his face, he looked lost.  Jim scooted back on the bed and stretched out, lying next to Blair, facing him.  Reaching out, he stroked the long curls, brushing them back from his face. 

 

"Blair," he began softly, "look at me, love."

 

Blair seemed to curl up into himself at this lover's voice, his eyes not opening.

 

Jim waited a few minutes, still stroking the curls, before speaking again.

 

"Blair, come on, let's talk.  We have to talk; we have to trust each other.  Please…" Jim said, his voice trailing off.

 

Blair, eyes still closed, relaxed some.  Slowly inching his way toward Jim, he sought the safety and comfort he was hoping to find there.

 

Scooping his lover up in his arms, Jim cradled him closely to his chest.  He felt strong hands grab the front of his shirt and hang on tightly.  Leaning close, his lips almost touching the tangle of curls, he whispered, "Love, you can't keep shutting me out, you have to trust me; we have to be honest with each other." Smiling he added, "I'm going to keep repeating that until I think it is sinking into that brain of yours.  I care too much about our relationship, about you, about us, to see it self-destruct."

 

Jim heard Blair mumble something, but even with his hearing, he was unable to understand.

 

"What did you say, baby?" he asked, slightly pulling away from the younger man.

 

Blair sighed, "I said, we won't self-destruct, I'll destroy us, all by myself."

 

"Don't say that," Jim admonished. "What makes you think I am going to allow you to destroy us?  You think I let go of something I care this much about, let it go so quickly because you are afraid?"

 

"I'm not going to give you the choice.  I'm going to drive you away; I'm going to do something so bad that you won't be able to stand the sight of me.   You are going to hate me." A few tears began leaking from his closed eyes.

 

"No, love, I swear to you.  I couldn't hate you; I can't imagine anything that you could do that would make me feel that way.  I want this, us, to work out.  I can't imagine not spending the rest of my life with you."

 

Blair just shook his head, unable or unwilling to believe what his lover was saying.  Doubt clouded his judgment and a shell was forming around his soul.

 

"Blair, why don't you believe me?" Jim pushed, before the casing became hard and unyielding.

 

Blair didn't answer. Gripping more tightly to Jim's shirt he wiggled, trying to move closer to his lover.

 

Tightening his embrace around the shaking shoulders, Jim brought a quiet surety into the room.  "It's okay.  We have all week to talk about this.  We are going to discuss it and we are going to get our relationship back in line."  He paused for a moment, as if waiting for Blair to say something.  When no response was forthcoming, he continued the soft litany of reassurance, "We are going to be okay, love.  We're going to be able to work this out and get on track.  Trust me, all right?"

 

He could feel Blair nod against his chest and he heard the low mumble, "'Okay."

 

They lay together for almost an hour.  Jim’s strong arms wrapped tightly around the smaller man, giving strength and assurance to the distressed figure.  Gradually, Blair's breathing slowed, as the grip on Jim’s shirt relaxed.  The arms now wrapped around him in a normal embrace, not the eager desperation of the lost. Jim simply lay there, holding him, occasionally stroking his hair back.  The large hands gave stability. Each methodical stroke was sending a calming rhythm to Blair.  The outward control was all façade, for inside he gnawed at his own insecurities and failures.

 

His mind drifted over the years of their friendship and the last year as lovers.  When he first met the younger man, he had seemed so confident and sure of himself, and, on the subject of Sentinels, he was.  In the academic world, he was safe and felt comfortable spreading his wings; he knew what was expected of him, he knew he could excel and he did.  However, as they spent more and more time together, Jim could see that some of the confidence was a façade.  It was amazing to Jim to watch the transformation of his partner.  One moment he would be joking and making smart alec comments with Simon and the other detectives, but then on the car ride home or during quiet moments in the loft, Blair's insecurities would surface.  He would turn quiet and thoughtful or question and apologize for whatever he had done.  Many of these fears had diminished over time and with his support, but they were never totally gone.  If they had a fight about something, the insecurities would jump to the surface; if a case didn't go right, Blair would blame himself.  Now, with these incidents with school, the anxieties were going full force.  Thinking about it and what had gone on over the last few days, Jim could see the connection.  As much as Blair might deny it or not believe him, he could understand where his guide was coming from and sympathize with him.  Kissing the top of the curls in front of him, Jim knew it was this compassion and the ability to accept others that endeared him to Blair so much.  It was a rare and precious gift, but it could be harmful if not handled correctly.

 

A slight rumbling from Blair’s stomach interrupted his musings.  Laughing, Jim shook the figure slightly, “So, you hungry now?”



Pulling back slightly, the blue eyes sought his, “No, not really. You go ahead. I don’t want to eat anything right now.”

 

Jim glared at him and sat up on the bed.  "Nope, wrong answer, love,” he said, giving Blair's butt a hard swat.  "I think we have had other discussions about your eating habits.  Do we need to go over it again?" 

 

Blair glanced at his lover's raised hand and sat up, "No, it's okay.  Fine, I'll eat.  I'm not happy about it and I'll probably be sick and it’s going to be your fault."

 

Standing up with him, Jim smiled, "That's okay.  You won't be sick.  And even if you were, I'd still love you."

 

Blair laughed---a pleasant sound to the Sentinel’s ears.

 

They shared a simple and light meal of hamburgers and chips.  After helping with the dishes, Blair wandered into the living room and stood by the window, looking out into the night.

 

After a moment, he saw Jim come up behind him in the reflection of the room.  Smiling slightly, he welcomed Jim joining him at the window.  "I'm sorry I've messed everything up," he said quietly.

 

Wrapping his arms around the younger man, Jim rested his head on top of the curls.  "Baby, you've not messed anything up.  We're together and we can get us back on track."

 

Encompassing his lover with strong, sure arms, Jim nodded appreciatively as he saw their images merging into the glass.  The opaque silhouettes seemed like one figure---enhancing the reality of the other---reflecting off the darkness. To him, he was looking at life itself, without Blair, his life would be empty, barren and not worth living.  He wondered if Blair felt the same way about him.  Reaching up he stroked the soft curls bringing his hand to rest gently on Blair’s shoulder.

 

Leaning back, the younger man pressed his head into the large hand. Sighing softly, contentedly, he eased his body back molding it against the hard, rock solid form.  In a soft duet of warm caresses, Jim felt the body relax into his. Hands meeting hands, wrapping and unwrapping, seeking that perfect embrace.

 

Jim whispered, "I love you." 

 

"I know.  I love you, too," Blair whispered back.  "I'm scared,” he added after a moment.

 

"Of what?  Of us?  Of me?"  Jim asked, concerned that Blair was maybe having doubts about their relationship.

 

"No, not of you.  I love you.  I love 'us.’ I'm scared I'm going to mess this up.  I am going to do something and drive you away and you are going to hate me and you are going to leave and I'm never going to see you again and I'm going to be alone and it's all going to be my fault.  Again."

 

"Blair, love, didn’t we just have this conversation.  I told you, YOU are not going to ruin this relationship.  You can't, I won't let you."

 

"I know, you said that.  But, I've done it in the past.  I've driven people away, people have gotten sick of me or I've done something and they didn't tell me and they've just left and....." 

 

“Blair, hush.  That is not going to happen this time.  Other people may have left your relationships at the first sign of trouble, but I’m not them.  I am not going to do that.  If we split apart it’s not going to be because of something you did---something bad you did.  I’m not like that.  You have to trust me, love.  You have to, otherwise….” He trailed off, "otherwise, our relationship can never be as wonderful as I know it can be."

 

Twisting around in Jim’s arms, Blair hugged him.  "I know, I'm trying, I really am."

 

Jim said simply, "I love you,” as he pulled the doubting Thomas in closer.

 

"Me, too."

 

"Come on, let's go to bed.  It's been a long day for both of us."

 

"Let me make love to you,” Blair said, earnestly, his eyes looking up pleadingly.

 

"Your wish is my command, love,” Jim answered with a smile.  Bending down he kissed his lover, holding the sides of Blair's face, plunging his tongue deep into the waiting mouth.  He could feel Blair's eager hands quickly unbuttoning his shirt, sliding it off his shoulders.

 

"I want you tonight, I want to be in you," Blair whispered, momentarily breaking from the kiss, as his hands further helped Jim undress.

 

"Anything you want, love, I am at your disposal."

 

"Ah, and I would have to forget to bring my handcuffs with me," Blair laughed, as he initiated the next kiss.  Hungrily attacking Jim's mouth, he grabbed the taller man's head and held it in place. Bringing one leg up and wrapping it around Jim's, Blair ensured that his lover was not going anywhere.

 

Reaching one large hand down, Jim cupped Blair's now naked butt, softly kneading it, almost in rhythm to Blair's leg movements on his hip.   Stopping his kneading for a moment, he brought his hand up to the swollen lips.  Almost instinctually, without a word, Blair took the offered finger in his mouth and slowly sucked on it. 

 

Smiling slightly at the sounds his partner was making, the need and yearning so obvious in the passionate moment, Blair took his time sucking and nibbling the offered finger.

 

"No, no, no," Jim said, withdrawing his finger from Blair's mouth with a smile, "I have plans for this, I don't need you eating it."

 

"Oh," Blair said, pretending to pout, "I guess I will just have to make due with something else," he said, attacking Jim's lips again with a renewed fervor.

 

Bringing the wetted finger down to Blair's butt again, Jim lightly teased his partner's opening, quickly darting in and out.

 

Moaning, the curly-haired young man hiked his leg up more, opening himself further to Jim's fingers.

 

"Do you want to continue this in the bedroom or should I let you ravish me right here on the living room floor?" Jim asked minutes later.

 

"Bedroom," Blair answered breathlessly, "Lube?"

 

"My bag on the nightstand."

 

"Always the Boy Scott, huh?"

 

"Hey, one of us needs to be."

 

Stepping back from Jim, Blair smiled wickedly, "Come on," he said, "I don't want to be kept waiting."

 

"Yes, sir," the other man replied, laughing, "your chariot awaits."  With that, he stepped closer to Blair, sweeping him up into his arms, cupping his seat.

 

Blair gasped and quickly wrapped his legs around Jim's waist.

 

With his hands supporting Blair's butt, his fingers were allowed to resume the exploration of his guide’s body, finishing the journey of promise they had begun.

 

"Let's go, Chief. You may be a little smaller then me, but you are not that light."

 

Laughing, Blair nuzzled into Jim’s neck and allowed himself to be carried into the bedroom and deposited on the bed.  Bouncing up he hungrily sought the tube of lubricant in Jim’s toilet case.  Laying down, laughter still evident in the bright eyes, he waited while Jim joined him.

 

"Ready?  Sure I can top?" Blair asked, waiting for final approval.

 

"I am more then ready and I love it when you top."

 

Smiling at the older man's answer, he swiftly oiled his cock with one hand while he gently stroked Jim's with his other. Lifting his lover's knees to his shoulders, he quickly plunged into the now relaxed, lubricated orifice with one smooth motion.

 

Jim opened his mouth to moan, but was stopped by Blair's questing tongue filling the enclosure with his sweet taste.

 

The younger man lay on top of him for a brief moment, allowing Jim to adjust to the penetration, before pulling up to begin thrusting into the waiting body.

 

There is almost nothing as good as this. Jim beneath me---open and willing---his blue eyes wide and dilated with arousal, Blair thought as he increased his thrust.

 

When Jim gave a small moan, Blair reached down to stroke the now erect cock. "Come for me, Jim. Come with me, love."

 

The younger man's breathing increased as he began to vary his thrusting---quick, short spurts and then the long slide out before shoving back in again as hard as he could. For a brief moment, he considered whether he was hurting Jim, but one look at the almost heavenly pleasure that lit Jim's sweaty face and the thought quickly disappeared.

 

Wrapping his legs around Blair's waist in an effort to take even more of his guide into him, Jim strained with the effort.

 

Shaking his head “no,” sweat droplets fell to mingle with the streaks of moisture on Jim's chest.  God, I love this man, Blair swore.  It was the trust his lover placed in him.  He knew some men considered it unmanly to ever bottom, but Jim had no problem giving up that control; even though he topped most of the time, it was never actually a given with them.

 

"Jim, I'm going to come, baby," Blair gasped.

 

"I love you, Blair!" Jim screamed as he contracted his inner muscles at the peak of the thrust and felt Blair's shutter as he came.

 

Frozen and trembling, he squeezed Jim's cock and was rewarded with copious, milky fluid splattering them both, as their orgasms seemed to go on forever. 

 

Slumping heavily over Jim's heaving chest, his hair damp with exertion, Blair sighed.

 

They lay like that for several minutes before the younger man made a move to slide off.

 

"No, stay inside me just a little longer.   Please?" Jim asked rather tentatively. "I love the feel of you in me."

 

"Of course love, anything."

 

Jim gave a tired, contented sigh and drifted off to sleep.  Still inside his lover, Blair joined him in tandem, riding the smooth surf of fulfilled desire.

 

 

 

 

Jim awoke with a start, momentarily confused, not seeing the familiar warmth piercing through the skylight in his bedroom, but Blair was curled up next to him, peacefully sleeping, so it didn’t really matter where he was.  Settling down into his pillow and snuggling back up to the smaller body sharing his bed, he did not fall back asleep immediately.  His mind wandered back to Friday night and sitting alone in the loft.  Fluctuating between worry and anger at his guide, he debated about what to do.  The loneliness of the night allowed him to ponder their relationship, it's problems and what viable solutions were at hand.

 

After much deliberation and a long, emotionally engaging phone call to old friends in London, Jim had reached his decision.  He only hoped that Blair would accept it.

 

 

 

 

The next morning, Blair awoke slowly.  Stretching and yawning, he looked around, trying to figure out where he was.   Falling back into the softness of his pillow he remembered his flight from the University with Ben, Jim and Simon tracking him down.  Jim had said they would talk about it today.  Lying quietly, contemplating pretending to be asleep, he thought about yesterday.  He knew Jim was not mad at him, disappointed, maybe---probably---but as he said several times, they would get through this relationship crisis.

 

He heard Jim walk down the hall and pause outside the bedroom door.  Listening, Blair thought.

 

"Come in, Big Guy, I'm awake," he called out.

 

"Come on, Chief, up and at 'em, it's 9:30 already, I've got breakfast cooking and I don't want it to get burnt or cold waiting for you."

 

Blair sat up, giving Jim his best puppy dog look, "No good morning kiss? No 'thank you for fucking me until I saw stars;’ all I get is a 'up and at 'em?’"

 

Jim laughed.  Walking over to the bed, he flopped down next to his guide.  Kissing him gently on the nose, he said, “Good morning, love.  Thank you for fucking me until I saw stars last night."

 

Blair kissed him back, "Much better, and you’re welcome."

 

 

Placing both plates of pancakes on the table, Jim sat down.  Blair had already set down their coffee cups. 

 

"We need to go shopping today and get some more food." Jim said, as he began to butter his stack.

 

"I know, there's a grocery store in town that's not that far."  Blair stopped for a moment, then hesitantly he added, “Jim, I'm sorry about yesterday and running away...”

 

"Chief, we need to talk about it, " Jim said, interrupting him.  "But, first, before we do that, I have something else to talk to you about.  Let me tell you a story.  You think you can sit there quietly and not interrupt too often?"

 

Blair laughed, "Okay, few questions, I promise."

 

Jim smiled at him.  "Okay.  Have you ever heard me mention Vincent Cade and Damien St. Clair?"

 

"Yeah, that's your old commander, right, the one who lives just outside of London?  He and Damien are partners."

 

"Right, they've been together for years now.  They live in Salisbury.  Cade retired from the military when I was in Peru.  I spent some time with them---over a month---when I got out.  It was peaceful there, walking or just looking out on the Plain.  So different from Peru"

 

"I bet."

 

"But, what impressed me the most was them.  I already had some male lovers, if you could call them lovers.  Most of them were just quick lays, a good hard fuck once in awhile.  It was sort of depressing and that's what I really thought gay relationships were.  Nothing committed, nothing stable."

 

Blair nodded, he had gone through lovers like that, "It is lonely. It’s depressing to think that is it." 

 

"Yeah," Jim said, reaching over and giving Blair's hand a gentle squeeze.  "But, they were different.  They were totally in love, totally committed to each other, true lovers---emotionally and physically lovers.  They rarely argued, both seemed at peace with each other and with themselves, there was a sense of order."

 

Blair blushed and looked down at his plate, knowing that order and peace was something rarely seen at the loft.  Especially lately, with his schedule, he seemed to be running around half the time, not sure if he was coming or going.

 

"Vincent and I spent a lot of time together, walking around or just sitting on their porch talking.  I already knew I was at least bi-sexual, if not totally gay, and we talked about that.  When I told him how impressed I was with his relationship with Damien, and I asked him how he found someone so perfect, he just told me that they had an arrangement that worked for them, kept the peace and kept Day on track and in control.  I gathered from what Vin told me, Damien had some trouble staying in school and was just out of control when they first meet.  I think he had even had some minor trouble with the law."

 

"What sort of arrangement did they have?"  Blair asked.

 

"I found out one afternoon.  I had gone for a walk over to the Cathedral, but had gotten a headache and came back home early.  I walked in and heard Day crying.  I thought he was hurt or something horrible had happened.  I rushed into their bedroom, without knocking and found him curled up on Vincent's lap, crying.  He didn't seem to notice me, but Vin nodded to me and motioned for me to leave.  I did, totally puzzled by what I had seen.  I went out on the porch and about an hour later Vin joined me.  He told me that Damien had been rude and had been punished."

"Oh!" Blair said quietly, "I wondered where you learned to spank me."

 

Jim smiled, "Yeah. We talked a long time about the arrangement they had come up with.  They found that being in a disciplinary relationship worked.  Day did better, he was happier, less stressed, felt more in control, as a result their relationship worked better.  They had a set of rules that they agreed upon for Damien and they agreed that he would be punished, mainly spanked or paddled, for breaking them."  He stopped, looking at Blair for a minute.

 

Blair looked down at his plate, not meeting Jim's eyes.

 

"Blair, love," Jim began, placing his large hands on top of the smaller, trembling ones.  "I talked to them both Friday night, when you were missing.  I told them about how stressed you've been, how out of control you've seemed.  We talked a long time about the stress our relationship's been under.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seemed to be better, happier, less stressed right after I spanked you those two times.  I was keeping you in line, for a little while right after that, then I would slack off and you, we, would go right back into the old patterns for awhile until the next time I reached my limit and punished you again."

 

Blair nodded, and mumbled, "Yeah," hating to admit the truth of the matter.

 

"That's not fair to you.  Most people need consistent expectations and I was failing to give that to you in our relationship.  I would be frustrated and punish you for pushing yourself and doing too much, but then I would allow you to do exactly the same thing a month later.  That's not fair, that's not helping.  Vincent and Damien both suggest, think it would help, for us to try a disciplinary relationship."

 

Blair's head shot up with that and he looked startled.  "What does that mean?  What do you mean by that?" he asked, quietly.

 

"It means pretty much whatever we want it to mean.  But, basically, we would sit down and write out rules for your behavior, expectations for you, with clear consequences for breaking those rules.   We could agree to this for a trial period of time, say ... six months.  After that time, we would talk about it and see how it's working for us."

 

Blair did not say anything, just sat at the table, twisting his paper napkin until it began to shred.

 

"Blair, please, look at me."  Jim waited until his guide finally raised his eyes and looked at the older man.  "I love you so much, I hate to see you hurting yourself, stressing out, being out of control.  I don't like what it does to our relationship.  I really think that this might work.  I think we need to do something.  Please, trust me, give up control to me and you will find a deeper, better control over your life.  I can't force you; I want you to decide on your own.  I am not going to leave you, even if you say ‘no,’ but I think we need to do something."

 

Blair nodded, "We have to do something," he agreed, softly.

 

Jim knelt down next to Blair's chair.  "That's all I ask love, think about it.  We can talk about it later.  Just think about it right now."  Kissing the younger man gently, he stood up.  Picking up both plates, he walked into the kitchen, giving his lover the space he needed.  Running water, and adding soap, he looked over at Blair still sitting at the table.  The younger man looked up and gave Jim a small smile.  Smiling back, Jim's heart felt lighter. 

 

Blair stood up and carried the butter back and put it in the small refrigerator.   Grabbing a sponge from the sink, he began to clean the counters.

 

As they cleaned up after breakfast, Blair asked, hesitantly "Jim, I know that we need to talk about this...”

 

"Yes, we do."

 

"Umm, I have some things I need to figure out first, can we do it in a little while, like maybe this afternoon or something?"

 

Jim put the plate down that he was drying and stepped closer to Blair.

 

"Love, we have all week to talk, take as much time as you need, we can do it whenever you want.  We have some big issues to talk about and I want you comfortable.” He paused for a moment, debating about saying something and then deciding, he continued.  "You know, whatever you decide, we will work with it and deal with it, so don't worry about what I want or what you think I want, you have to make this decision."

 

Leaning over, hands soapy and wet, the younger man kissed him, leaving wet handprints on his shirt.  "I love you."

 

"Me, too."

 

 

Blair walked up a path near their lodging to the middle of a small waterfall, an easy half-mile walk from the cabin.  The path ended into a rocky outcropping into full sunlight.  Sitting down comfortably on a rock, warmed by the sun, he looked up at the cascading water spilling over the edge of the waterfall---rushing, plunging onward, not knowing where it was going, not knowing what lay before it or what would happen when it got to its final destination.

 

Smiling, feeling a sort of kinship with the water, he relaxed.  Looking down, he could see still ponds around the edge of the stream, fed by the waterfall, but safely protected from the whitewater by rock or tree branches.  Blair became absorbed in the churning excitement and foaming movement created in the whitewater directly at the base of the flowing water.  A small twig fell over the edge and was carried along with the current.  Tracking its place and movement absentmindedly, he saw it churn and turn, trapped in the turbulent water, not going anywhere, not continuing its journey, just spinning.

 

Suddenly, through some force of nature, it was able to free itself and continued along its path down the river.  Blair watched it float away in the water, knowing that it would find other waterfalls and face other struggles in its journey until it found a safe resting place.  The calm pool around the edge of the stream had a mixture of twigs and leafs that had decided to end their journey in this beautiful spot.  Knowing it was stupid, he still could not help but wonder, which twig was happiest.

 

The young man sat there, thinking of twigs and journeys and Jim and himself for almost an hour.  Sitting straighter and stretching, he debated about what to do next.  A peace had come over him; a decision had been made.  He did not want to leave his perch, but wanted to explain his decision in the spot where it had made the most sense to him.

 

Feeling confident that Jim was respecting his privacy, but also equally confident that his Blessed Protector was also keeping an ear out for him, he said in a normal tone, "Jim, I'm ready to talk if you want to."  Pausing for a moment, then, suddenly afraid, he added, "but not if you're busy, or don't want to talk right now.  I'll understand ... we can do it whenever you want.  There's no rush."

 

Nervously fidgeting for a few moments, he forced himself to take a deep breath and relax.  It was out of his control now, he had chosen a path and he was going to see where it went.  It was not his to worry about and stress over because he had handed the problem over to a man he trusted with all his heart.

 

Ten minutes later, he heard a warm, gentle voice behind him, as strong arms wrapped themselves around his chest.  "Love, I am never too busy for you.  You are my top priority, you are above everything else."

 

Smiling, Blair did not turn around, but gave a stage whisper, trying not to laugh, "Oh Bob!  You shouldn't be here.  Jim, my possessive and overly protective lover is going to be here in a few minutes.  He has a tendency to go a little crazy if he finds me with other men.  He wants me to have 'property of JE' branded on my forehead."

 

Laughing, Jim bopped him on the head, saying, "Yeah, and don't you forget it!"

 

Settling down behind his guide, the Sentinel surveyed the waterfall and the stream,  "This is a beautiful spot you've found, Chief."

 

 "It is."

 

Several moments of silence eased them into a familiar comfort, as Blair tried to shape his thoughts into structure.

 

His partner waited patiently, knowing that this was a leap in trust his friend had to make on his own.  His only job right now was to be supportive and protective and be there when that leap came, catching the young man in a web of strength and promise.

 

"Remember the first time you spanked me?" the younger man, asked finally.

 

"Yeah, this summer; you were not sleeping or eating...but telling me you were.  You ended up crashing your car, because you fell asleep driving home."

 

"You basically carried me home, put me to bed for two days.  You weren't too mad at me."

 

"I was scared, Chief.  You could have gotten seriously injured."

 

"It hurt."

 

Jim knew immediately what he was talking about.  The day after Blair's accident, he had gone upstairs and the younger man was blowing the whole thing off.  He didn't seem to understand how important his health was or how frightened Jim had been by his carelessness.  The older man, acting not as a roommate or a friend or a police detective, had reacted solely as a lover, frustrated at his partner's actions and out of a need to get through to him how wrong his behavior had been.

 

Jim had sat down on the bed, pulled Blair over his lap, pulled down his boxers and spanked him.  It had been a short, but hard spanking that had left Blair sobbing.  The tears were caused more by embarrassment and the knowledge that he had scared the detective rather than real pain or damage.  Later that day, they had talked about it and Blair admitted that while he did not enjoy the spanking, he understood it and was fine with it.    

 

"It was supposed to hurt, love," Jim answered, pushing the memory from his mind.

 

"I know."  Then falling silent again, Blair reworked his thinking, gathering his courage to make the final leap.

 

Time matched the steady flow of the stream, constant and moving.  The two men sat quietly watching the water both lost in thought.

 

"I was sitting here thinking," Blair said, breaking the silence, "and I saw this twig floating in the water.  It went over the waterfall and got caught down below in the turbulence.  It looked like it was trapped there, but somehow it managed to break free and continue on down the stream.  It seemed to pause for a second, as if it were thinking about going into the calm area, in that little pool over there."

 

Jim looked to where his partner was pointing and saw a calm, peaceful little patch of water, protected by some larger rocks.  "Ah huh," he said, not wanting to stop Blair's speech, but wanting to be encouraging.

 

"I kind of felt sorry for the twig, it chose to continue down the river and it's going to face more waterfalls and more turbulence. It doesn't know what it's like to feel safe and at peace and it may never find it,” he finished, twisting around so he faced Jim.  "I want what you offered this morning, I want to give you that control over me.  I want to feel safe, Jim, for a time."

 

"Blair, you don't have to give me control for us to continue.  I love you, no matter what," Jim said earnestly, knowing this was a big step---wanting Blair to make it for the right reasons.

 

"I know, Jim, I really do.  I thought a lot about the last months and the time when you did discipline me or make me walk some line.  I was a better person, and we were better together.  There was less stress and I felt calmer, more in control and I got more things done.  I was a better person, knowing that you were there, ready to pull me back in line if I strayed too far."

 

"Blair, you are always a good person, you will always be a good person.  I don't do that, that is you...all by yourself."

 

"I know.  I am smart and everything, and before I met you, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to travel.  I didn't want to settle down.  I enjoyed following the river, not caring what I was leaving behind or what I was facing, I had to keep moving."  His voice trailed off, once again allowing silence to reign between them.

 

Honoring the silence, not wishing to push, giving Blair the freedom to make his own decision, Jim stared off into the distance.

 

"Now," he began, almost whispering, "I don't know what I want.  I'm out of control.  My schoolwork is suffering, my teaching is suffering, I'm hurting myself and I'm hurting our relationship.  I need you to take control for a little while, I need a firm constant in my life.  I need to know that you are there.  I need to find out who I am and what I want."

 

"Blair, love," the older man said, hugging his partner tightly, "I will always be there."

 

"I know," came a small voice, "but I need this; I need you, I can't do it by myself anymore."  With that final revelation, a sob broke free and Blair seemed to fold up into himself.

 

Pulling the huddled figure closer, Jim began a slight rocking movement.  "It's okay, it's going to be okay.  You'll be fine.  We'll be fine.  We'll get you back on track in no time."

 

Blair nodded, hugging tightly to his own rock in the stream, sighing heavily.

 

Time moved forward half cloaking the once sunny rock in shadows, burnishing the landscape with the golden solemnity of late afternoon.

 

"Chief, I think we should be heading back.  We need to run into town for some supplies and I don't want to be out too late."

 

"Okay," Blair said, slowly moving out of Jim's arms and standing up.  "I don't want you to spank me," he whispered quietly, not looking at the Sentinel, studying the stream intently.

 

Throwing an arm around the smaller man's shoulder, giving him a hug, the other replied gently, "That's not your decision anymore, Chief."

 

"I know."

 

 

Walking through the aisles of the small grocery shop, they discussed what they needed for the week.  Blair had gotten some supplies, but they needed what Jim referred to as "real food.”

 

"Sandburg, why don't you go pick out some potatoes to go with the steaks." 

 

"Okay, but I am also getting stuff for salads, just because we're on vacation, doesn't mean that I'm going to let you eat whatever you want," Blair said, laughing dictatorially, as he walked off towards the produce.

 

Smiling to himself Jim watched him disappear around a corner.  Blair had been quiet and subdued on their walk back from the stream.  The older man was determined to show him that little was going to change in their relationship now that Blair had agreed to answer to Jim about his behavior.  In Jim's mind, they were still equal, neither one of them having more say about their lives than the other one. 

 

His smile vanished, replaced by a more thoughtful look, knowing that they were going to have a rough night tonight.  He knew he needed to punish Blair for taking matters into his own hands and for running away.  He had jeopardized Cutler’s life as well as his own. Blair knew that it was going to happen---would have happened even if they had not reached their agreement this afternoon---but, Jim knew, just because his guide knew it was deserved, knew he had agreed to it, he would not go quietly.  He expected and understood the reaction.  It was a natural one, no matter how much you deserve something and almost welcome it a part of you is still afraid---does not want to be hurt  

 

Driving up with Simon yesterday, he had given Blair's behavior and the consequences of it a lot of thought.  Now, with their recent agreement, Jim knew that he would have to go beyond a simple spanking.  Dismissing using a strap or a belt as too harsh, he decided that a paddle would be best. 

 

"Hey, man, you've barely moved since I left," a voice came from behind, startling the older man.

 

"Oh sorry, Chief, just thinking.  Did you get everything we need?"

 

"Yeah," Blair exclaimed, proudly holding up a multitude of bags.

 

"Okay.  I need to get some shampoo, I forgot to bring some."

 

"You could always use mine.  Hey, don't be making a face!  If it's good enough for all of this,” he said indicating his curls, "I'm sure it can handle your…. Umm… hair."

 

Laughing and teasing each other, they walked to the hair product's aisle.  Picking up a small bottle of his normal shampoo, Jim paused by the hairbrushes, studying them.  Seeing one that would work, he picked it up and threw it into the basket.

 

Blair noticed the new addition, picking the large brush up, he looked puzzled, "Jim, this isn't going to make a dent in my hair.  I use a comb, plus I don't think half these bristles will ever get a workout on your head."  Reaching over to put it back on the shelf, he was stopped by Jim. 

 

Taking the brush from his hand and tossing it back into the basket, Jim said gently, almost matter-of-factly, "It's not for your hair, love."

 

A look of puzzlement and then embarrassment crossed Blair’s face.  Glancing around quickly to see if anyone else was close enough to overhear his lover's statement, he lowered his voice and stammered out, "Not for my hair?"

 

"No," the other man replied calmly.

 

"Oh!"

 

As they finished shopping, Blair could not keep his eyes off of the brush.  No matter what he threw into the basket, the brush remained on top, in plain view, a constant reminder of what was coming.  He could not help staring at it.  I'm crazy, he thought to himself; I'm a grown man that is going to allow my lover to discipline me when he feels it's necessary.  I have no say in the matter.  Oh God, what was I thinking?  I can't do that! I can't allow that to happen to me!  Feeling the rising panic, he tried to control his breathing enough to get the words out, say something that would cancel their agreement. 

 

As they rounded a corner into an empty aisle of cereals, Jim suddenly stopped the cart and gathered Blair into a quick hug.  "It's okay, Chief, you've made the right decision, it will work out.  You have to trust me and you have to trust yourself."

 

Blair gave a small laugh, "How did you know I was freaking out?"

 

"I figured as much.  Plus I could hear your breathing and heartbeat going off the scale.  It's a scary thought.  But," he said, looking down into worried blue eyes, "it's the right thing.  You said it's what you want and what you think you need.  I agree with you.  You have to have faith in me and have faith in yourself; you may be scared, you may be having second…"

 

"Try fourth, man."

 

Jim smiled, "fourth thoughts, but think back to the river this morning and what you told me, what you figured out.  I think if you look deep inside yourself, you'll see that this decision is the right one."

 

Blair did not speak for several minutes, just allowing himself to feel safe in Jim's arms, trying to re-capture the feelings he had this afternoon.  The image of the twig caught in the turbulence and not finding peace flashed through him.  Breaking free, he sighed, "You're right.  I'm just scared.  Seeing the hairbrush that you are buying, knowing what you are going to do with it.... "  He paused for a moment, searching for the right words. "It just makes it seem so real, so 'this is my life'. "

 

"It is real, buddy.  This is your life…at least for the next six months.  It's going to be okay."

 

"I know, I do know you’re right; I know I'm right, but I'm still scared," he finished with a nervous laugh.

 

"You have every right to be.  Come on, let’s finish this and go home, it's getting late."

 

 

After unpacking the Volvo and putting the groceries away, Jim went into the bedroom they were using and grabbed a book from his bag.  Settling on the sofa in front of the fireplace he listened to Blair grab something from the fridge and walk into the living room.

 

"I'm going to go sit outside on the porch for awhile.  Okay?"

 

"You want some company?"

 

"Umm, actually..."

 

"Say no more...it's okay.  I'll do dinner tonight.  In about an hour?"

 

"That sounds good."

 

Blair opened the door, but stopped.  Not looking at Jim, he asked quietly, "When is it going to... when are we going to... when are you going to spank me?"

 

Rising from the couch Jim walked over to the smaller man.  Gathering him in his arms he kissed him softly on the forehead.  "After dinner, we will sit down and talk and then you will go into the second bedroom and wait for me.  I'll come in and put you over my lap, pull down your pants and boxers and paddle you.  We can talk again afterwards or we can just cuddle or I can leave you alone.  Your call, we can do whatever makes you comfortable."

 

Swallowing hard, Blair nodded. "Thanks, I hate not knowing what's going to happen."  Stepping outside, pausing just before he closed the door, still looking down, he asked, "Is it going to hurt?"

 

"Yes."

 

Nodding slightly, Blair shut the door to the porch.  Jim could hear his soft footfalls on the wood planking then the creak of the swing chains, and ultimately the steady, even rhythm of his glide through space.

 

Pausing for a moment, gauging the other's vitals, Jim walked back to the sofa. Lifting the book from the large coffee table, he tried to refocus to the page, but it was futile.  Concentration eluded him like a soft butterfly, fluttering out the window to the porch, to the one who mattered the most to him.  Listening with his heart as well as his senses, he latched onto his love, wanting to protect him from anything harmful, including himself.

 

 

Sitting in the cool of the evening, allowing the motion of the swing to relax him, Blair thought back over the past several years of his life with Jim, the last year since they had become lovers and further back to the time before Jim.

 

He had always prided himself on being smart, driven, sure of himself, but deep down inside he knew that it was a lie. The lies were fabricated as shells to protect him, keep him safely tucked into a world where he had control, where he could strut his stuff with surety and purpose.

 

The younger man grimaced thinking of how like Ben Cutler he really was: cocky, almost to the point of obnoxious, when he started college, overly eager to enlighten the realm of academia and blow them all away with his insightful wisdom.  What few people saw was that the cockiness was just a mask, just a cover to hide his fears, his insecurities.  Bringing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them, he hugged himself.  Trying to keep the long suppressed fears and feelings of inadequacies at bay, he knew that these fears were still driving him today. 

 

Fear of falling short of the mark plagued him in all his roles. If he wasn't perfect; wasn't a wonderful teacher, insightful guide, caring and attentive lover, brilliant consultant, then he would not be deemed worthy by whatever gods or fates controlled these things.  It would all be taken from him and he would be alone again---tossed without choice back into the river to face the turbulence and whitewater again, without support or guidance, alone again.

 

Rationally, he knew this was the force driving him, trying to do too much and failing at all.  No! he told himself,  not failing, just not succeeding, not enjoying much of it.   He shook his head as if trying to rid himself of such depressing thoughts, and pushed back on the swing to get it going again.

 

Thinking back to his arrangement with Jim and what was going to happen this evening, he began to concentrate on that.  He was still lost in thought, fluctuating between a calm acceptance and the knowledge that it was the right thing to do and a cold fear that settled into his stomach.   He contemplated calling the whole thing off when Jim quietly opened the door and announced that dinner was ready.

 

 

Dinner was a simple meal of soup and crusty bread, broiled with garlic and oil.

 

Sensing the distress associated with the coming event, Jim set off the meal with an explosive barrage of questions, all focusing on the vacation, the time to relax and enjoy each other's company.

 

"What do you think we should do, love, with our time up here, anything special?  I was thinking some hiking, maybe catch some scenic sites, or we could just lay around here, read, or..."

 

"No way, man. This place is magnificent, Jim. I did some reading about the local sites and historical dramas in the region…"

 

With that Blair jumped in. The remembered plans for their week together kicking in and going full throttle. Blair took off on ideas and expectations.

 

Jim listened attentively, nodding his head, withholding the smile that threatened to break. This was the Blair he wanted out more often. This was his eager charmer of tales and plans and dreams, spinning with bright blues eyes and quick-witted hope webs of delight.

 

"…And Jim there is a trail about 10 miles from here that leads to a series of three amazing waterfalls. It’s supposed to be an easy hike from the tourist lot near the Point.  So, you think we can go tomorrow?"

 

Jim smiled at his lover, glad to see the nervousness and hesitation that had gripped the younger man earlier was almost forgotten.  "Sure, Chief, tomorrow or Tuesday---remember, we have all week."

 

Nodding his head, in eager agreement, lost in the joys of planning the vacation, he concurred.  "Okay, that sounds good.  Whenever. Fishing, too, Jim, let's do some fishing."

 

He stood from the table and carried his and Jim's bowls into the kitchen.  Looking out the bay window, he saw a deer and fawn grazing off some berries in the thick foliage.

 

"Jim...Jim," he said softly, motioning with his hands for the man to join him at the window.

 

Ellison came up behind him and pulling Blair back against him he hugged the man to him. They stood for a few seconds enjoying the beautiful creatures. Then a noise from the road, some unknown predator scrambling through the thick growth, or a danger only they could sense, and they were off and away in their graceful dance of flight.

 

Pulling away, Blair started filling the sink with water.  "So what do you want to do tonight?"

 

Calmly and evenly Jim said, "I think we have some business to take care of this evening.  Why don't we see what you are up to after that."

 

Blair blanched, feeling ridiculous. How could he have forgotten? Jim had made him so relaxed throughout the meal, how could he have actually forgotten. "I'm sorry,” he said quietly, "I can't believe I forgot.  I'm sorry."

 

Jim walked over to him quickly, taking the dish from him and kissing his hand.  "Blair love, there is nothing to be sorry about.  It's not something to look forward to, I am not surprised you forgot.  You didn't do anything wrong by forgetting, okay?  I'm glad you were allowed to focus on the week ahead and enjoy the meal. It was my intent."

 

"Oh." 

 

"Okay.  Why don't we finish these dishes later, come sit down with me and let's talk."

 

"Why do we need to talk?  I know I screwed up and I'm sorry.  I don't want to talk, let's just do it and get it over with," Blair said, following Jim into the living room.

 

"Blair, come sit down with me.  I want to talk about it; I want to make sure you know why you are about to get paddled.  I don't want to just discipline you without it being clear which actions are unacceptable." Settling himself on the couch, Jim reached his arms out for his lover.  "This is a big step for you, I want to make sure you are comfortable with it and understand how it works."

 

"I know, but...” the rest trailed off too quietly for even the Sentinel to hear him.

 

"What did you say, Chief, I didn't hear you?"

 

Blair took a deep breath and let it out quickly, saying, "I'm embarrassed, I'm sorry and I don't want to talk about it, I just want to get this over with it."  He paused for a moment, then taking another deep breath, he added, "Please, Jim."

 

The other man thought for a second and then nodded, "All right, Blair, if that is the way you want it.  We can talk later.  Right now, I want you to go into the second bedroom, take off your jeans and stand in the corner.  I'll be there in a few minutes."

 

Blair looked at him and then nodded once and walked quickly into the other bedroom, just off the living room.

 

Jim walked into the kitchen, grabbing a coke from the refrigerator, he stared out the window, thinking.  This was not the first time he had disciplined his lover, but it was in a way.  The other two times had been out of frustration and fear, the only way he could think of to reach the thick-headed, stubborn, whirlwind...the only attention grabber for the eager mind.

 

Tonight, they were going to enter a new stage; a new height to their relationship built on trust, love and hope.  Consensual, disciplinary relationships worked well, when both men understood the purpose and benefits gleaned from it. He hoped, prayed, that it was the right one for them, that it would make them stronger and happier together.  In his heart, he knew it was right.  He knew that Blair had made the decision on his own and this afternoon seemed confident that it was the right choice.  Still, Jim had fears, hurting someone you loved, having that kind of control over the smaller, weaker man, honed Jim's conscience with the doubts of all men in power.

 

Steeling himself to follow through on the agreed upon routine, he put his coke on the counter and walked into the master bedroom.  Picking up the newly, purchased hairbrush from the dresser he proceeded into the second bedroom.

 

Seeing his lover standing in the corner, the slight tremors passing through his body, head bowed, Jim zoned in on the beating heart. Sitting on the bed, laying the brush beside him, he said, "Blair, come here, please."

 

Jerking his curly head up at the sound of the older man's voice, Blair took a deep breath and turning, schooled his face with a brave smile.  Walking towards Jim, he avoided the brush on the bed, focusing on the man he trusted.

 

Reaching out his hand, Jim said, "Come and stand next to me.  It's okay."

 

"I know, I'm sorry.  I know you aren't going to hurt me."  Stopping to the right of his lover, Blair took a deep breath and said, "I'm ready."

 

Jim simply nodded, gripped him by both arms and gently but firmly drew him across his lap.  Blair didn’t resist, but he didn’t exactly cooperate with the maneuver.  Holding himself stiff and rigid, he braced himself, tightening his buttocks, squirming on Jim’s lap, testing his freedom of movement.

 

Realizing he was a captive audience to this event, Blair folded his arms and rested his head on them on the bed, allowing a small gasp to escape his lips as he felt Jim tug down his boxers.  "Please, Jim, don't take them down."

 

Jim ignored him.  "Blair," he asked, rather harshly, "what are you getting punished for?"  Blair wiggled uncomfortably, whether it was his position or the question, Jim wasn't sure.  Either way there was a struggle, a small sign of resistance showing from the penitent.

 

"Um ... I..." Blair started. 

 

Jim brought his hand down hard on the right cheek.  Satisfied with the red imprint, he asked again, “What are you getting punished for?”

 

Blair shivered, then said, "I’m getting punished for lying to you and for running away with Ben yesterday. For not coming to you with my concerns and fears and for not trusting you and for not believing you when you said that you would look into what was going on with Ben."

 

"That's right, but mainly, you are getting paddled for lying to me about coming to me with your questions, for taking the law into your own hands. You could have been hurt---you endangered Cutler's life, too. You said you would trust me, and you lied.  Lying breeds distrust and without trust, no relationship, no matter how strong, can survive."

 

"I know, I'm sorry." the other man whispered, sniffling a little.

 

"I'm sure you are in your present position, but I'm going to make sure you're going to be a lot more sorry in the next few minutes."  With that statement, Jim picked up the hairbrush from the bed, raising it he quickly and sharply brought it down on Blair's left check, producing a matching set of red imprints.

 

Blair gasped out loud and tried to squirm away from the brush as it landed again and again on his unprotected bottom.  “No!” he voiced his protestations.

 

“Please, Jim.”

 

Jim answered his pleas by pulling him tightly up against his stomach, holding on to his lover as he swatted him repeatedly.

 

"I'm sorry, Jim.  Please, stop!  I'm sorry.  Please!" Blair cried out.

 

Jim watched with a detached fascination as the soft globes changed color. The perfectly white, tender flesh now ripened to a cherry red, hot and angry.  The mounds arched and wiggled as Blair sought some surcease from the assault.

 

Pulling himself back to reality, he was shocked by the fact that the angry flesh brought no compassion, only a more heated rage at the need to punish the one he loved more than life itself.

 

"Lying will not be tolerated at all.  Distrust will not be tolerated at all," was the older man's reply, punctuating each word with a swat.  Increasing the force of the assault as he brought his anger in for a landing. Stopping with the final word, he laid the brush down and slowly rubbed his lover's back.

 

Lying across Jim’s lap for several minutes, Blair tried to gain control over his emotions. The great gasping sobs now eased into a steady murmuring of sorrow.

Finally bringing himself under control, he slowly raised up.  Wiping his eyes, he stood and turned to leave.

 

"No, Blair, wait.  Come here, love," Jim said, grasping his arm and not letting him escape.

 

"No, Jim," Blair said, his voice catching in his throat, "Just let me go, I need to go...  I need to leave...  I need…." he said desperately, trying to tug away from his lover, as his crying increased on the final need.

 

"Blair, Shhhh!” Jim said, standing up and gathering the crying man in his arms. "It's okay.  I really think you should stay here.  There's nothing to be embarrassed about, nothing to be ashamed of, cry, get it out of your system."

 

He stroked the curly head and felt the young man slowly relax against his chest as he muttered nonsense words and sounds, not meant to make conversation, just add an air of comfort.

 

Wordlessly, he led Blair into the living room.  Sitting on the couch, Blair instinctively curled up in his arms, perching on Jim’s lap.

 

Wiggling uncomfortably as his sore bottom made contact with Jim's hard thighs, he gripped Jim's shirt and buried his face, trying to hide the tears that were once again flowing.  "I'm sorry, please forgive me," came the muffled voice heavy with regrets.

 

"Love, it's over.  All is forgiven.  Once you have been punished for something, that's it, it's forgotten and over."

 

Remaining firmly committed by their embrace each man tried to sort through the ramifications of their new arrangement, the responsibilities each had and the trust that needed to be forever evident in their dealings with one another.

 

"Blair," Jim said softly, not wanting to disturb the peace that had fallen over the cabin.  "I think I know that if you put your complete and total trust in me that you will be happy.  I think right now, you are struggling so hard for control over everything---school, teaching, police work, us, your personal life---that you can't possibly get it.  That makes you more frustrated and more determined to do everything and gain control over everything and, in the end, you loose it even more.  Six months, that’s all I’m asking---give up control for six months and see.  Just relax, leave the decisions up to me and trust that I will be there for you."  He paused for a moment, giving the weight of what he had said, time to sink in.  "Can you do that?"

 

Pulling back slightly, locking on the man he loved so much with his soft blue eyes, he nodded solemnly. “I can, Jim, because I do trust you.”

 

 

 

 

The days following were the most relaxing Blair could remember spending with his love.  The easy trust and confidence he had placed in his Blessed Protector only seemed to intensify his feelings of love and devotion. The remaining days eased by with calm dalliance, peaceful and gracious in their timing.

 

Fishing, long walks, lying in the sun by the stream, nothing more than spending time with one another, enjoying each other’s presence.  Now the last day of their week, the overcast sky promised little outdoor activity.

 

Breakfast over with, Blair sat on the swing enjoying the growing turbulence around him. He loved the time before a storm, the building of pressure, the totally overpowering sensation of atmosphere, and the eager rush his own soul built.

 

The wind was picking up, swirling leaves around his feet in angry cyclones.  He wanted to see the stream one last time.  It would be too muddy after a heavy rain and he didn’t relish the muck and goo he would have to trudge through. The stream was the focal point of his commitment to Jim, the rambling friend who convinced him that sometimes you did indeed have to give yourself up to someone to truly discover yourself.

 

“Jim,” he called into the cabin. “I’m going up to the stream. I’ll only be a half hour or so.”

 

“Okay, Chief,” Jim called back as he continued drying the dishes, his concession to Blair for the great blueberry pancakes he had made for breakfast.

 

“Just don’t stay out too long. It looks like a storm’s brewing. Half hour and I want you back here.”

 

“Yeah, Jim, probably less than that.”

 

Blair was off at a good pace. The trail was uphill most ways, and normally an easy walk. However, the strong gusts of wind that periodically pushed through the trees made the climb seem more arduous.

 

Reaching the same rocks he had made his life-altering decision from several days ago, he sat down upon the perch.  Perhaps the spot was Feng-shui, with the position of water or the stars, or whatever Naomi Sandburg preached in her constant desire to re-arrange Jim’s furniture. A soft laugh escaped and he shook his head. Life is indeed interesting if nothing else, he thought.

 

The rain started almost instantaneously. No soft droplets promising the torrential downpour, no simple moisture pocking the air, but a curtain of harsh, skin-prickling rivulets came drumming down upon him. Jumping up immediately, his foot slipped on the now slippery surface of the rock.  The foot pushed down harshly between another boulder wedging itself deeper and angling downward.  Gasping at the pain, he tried to brace himself against another rock, trying to take the pressure off of the foot pinned to the ankle in a crevice.

 

Finding no purchase on the rocks, no easy stance to alleviate the pain in his foot and ankle, he awkwardly balanced himself.  His foot was tightly wedged, but he felt an urgent need to free it before it swelled. Surely some bones were broken, and now would be the best chance to pull free.

 

Grabbing the boulder with both hands, he carefully eased his whole body up, the slippery, wet surface becoming slimy as the rain continued in torrents. His hair plastered his face, and it was difficult to see through the curtain of water that would just not let up.  He raised up on his knees, angled his foot in different positions, seeking the less painful, and with one great effort, biting his lip at the pain, he managed to pull his foot out, minus the shoe.

 

Looking down at his foot, the sock torn and bloody, he thanked God that the shoes were sturdy. It could have been a lot worse. Gingerly placing the foot on the mud-soaked earth, he eased his body weight forward.

 

“Oh God!  Ow…ow…ow…” he cried out as his foot slipped in the mud. A bright burst of lightening blossomed across the sky followed by a loud rumble of thunder that seemed to shake the ground. Blair tried to walk again, easing himself gently forward while leaning against the rocks. His good foot lost purchase and he slid forward into the mud-drenched earth.

 

 

“Damn it,” Jim muttered as the lightening and thunder assaulted his senses.  Positioning himself on the porch he had scanned the surrounding area, listening for signs of Blair.  Surely the damn fool was half way back by now. However, the sensual search proved ineffectual.

 

Grabbing his jacket off of a coat rack just inside the door, he started off up the trail towards the stream.  Running up the path, now slick and thick with black goo---portions of the trail actually had mini streams rushing downward---he struggled several times for footing. 

 

Stopping suddenly, he grabbed his ears. A loud roaring assaulted his sense.  It was a flash flood---remembering the sound from his past experiences, he let out a cry of desperation, "SANDBURG!”

 

 

Sandburg struggled to pull himself up. How did I end up in the stream? he asked himself, realizing that he was in the water now, not alongside it.  Somehow he had failed to notice when the stream became a raging river.  Feeling his body uplifted, he struggled to grab hold of something.  The rocks he had fallen near were no longer there. The harsh, beating rain made everything seem foggy, blending the scenery into one thick fishbowl of murky madness.  He could no longer demarcate branches or roots or rocks...all was raging water swelling around him, angrily demanding his cooperation.

 

The tugging current increased its strength lifting him up. He started moving in quick short excursions of pain, his leg twisting in the water, snagging a rock or stone, his arm banging against a boulder. Desperately reaching around him for anything to delay his eviction from the spot, he was finally able to grab what appeared to be a long vine reaching out from what surely was the bank at one time.  It's a flash flood. I've gotten myself caught up in a flash flood, panic rose up in his thoughts.

 

With eager hope he dared one hand a short flight to his face, brushing away the wet tendrils of soggy hair. Water continued to plaster him with defiance.  He raised his head up to the heavens and in the trust all men place in God and friends, he directed his cry to both, "JIM…Please, let Jim hear me."

 

 

 

 

Ellison heard the cry for help.  With determination bred from love and need, he crashed through the undergrowth, veering off the path, finding leverage and assistance from the thick foliage alongside the weathered trail.

 

Crashing out into the opening, he pulled back, quickly hugging a tree. The complete bank where he and Sandburg had so lazily lain days ago, was no longer...the quiet, gentle stream had changed into a raging river...angry and violent and uncontrollable.

 

"SANDBURG!" He shouted in competition with the drumming sounds of rain and the roaring rage of the river.

 

"SANDBURG! WHERE ARE YOU?"

 

"Jim...Jim, I'm here. Help me!"

 

The quiet sound reached the Sentinel's ears. Focusing in, panning the turbulence before him he saw an arm upraised several yards up river, fighting the rushing waters to stay erect.  There was no way to get to him.  The whitewater crashed violently towards him, reaching out in eager swells to pull him in.

 

There was only one thing to do. No time to go back for a rope, no time to think. If the river didn't sweep him away within the next few minutes, surely he would be pulled under and drowned or battered by the passing foam and the debris that churned in the madness.

 

Pulling a firm, but pliant branch down from the sturdy tree he held onto, he cautiously moved forward into the path of the water.  Immediately he felt the pull of current pushing and heaving him backwards, away from Sandburg.

 

"BLAIR. LISTEN TO ME!  LET GO! I WILL CATCH YOU!"

 

"JIM, I CAN'T. THE CURRENT IS TOO STRONG."

 

"TRUST ME!" He yelled back. There was nothing else to say. It all came down to those two words. The whole week, the whole relationship, the final call would lay in those two words.

 

Blair heard the final command. It was not a request. When Ellison said those words, they were not said in any invitation to a party, ‘trust me and we'll have fun.’ They were given as orders with only one thought intended...DO IT!

 

Blair raised his water-swollen eyes to heaven, sighed deeply, raised his hand in a final gesture, and let go, as his body and soul tumbled towards its only destination---Jim.

 

 

Jim saw the small circle the hand made in the air, the thumb and forefinger forming a small loop. He smiled at the spunk the kid showed. The "gotcha" that was implied was so typically Sandburg...the trust so much a given in their relationship.

 

Then all thought pushed into a clear cool pool inside his head.  The practiced ranger, the detective in charge, the man who commanded situations and was not commanded by them, reached out a large hand and snagged the passing jacket...for that was all that was visible above the raging tide.

 

The soggy anthropologist sputtered and gasped.  "Grab hold of my belt, Chief. Don't let go," Jim yelled above the chaos.

 

"Don't worry, Jim. Getting me to let go might prove a problem later."

 

Jim smiled as he concentrated all his efforts now on pulling the extra weight back out of the force of water.  The large muscled arms crossed hand over hand along the branch in quick rhythm, easing both men up and out of the raging tide.

 

Collapsing on the now solid ground amid the trees, Jim turned and grabbed Blair's arm.  "You can let go now, Chief," he encouraged gently.

 

The bedraggled form laughed, almost hysterically, then threw himself into Jim's arms, burying his face against the broad chest.

 

"I was so scared, Jim. It came out of nowhere."

 

"I know, Chief, that's why they're called flash floods."

 

"Jim, I don't think I can walk. I think I might have broken some bones in my foot. It was wedged between some rocks just before the water swept me away."

 

Jim pushed him gently away, stationing him against a tree.  He pulled the injured foot up onto his lap and tugged off the ragged sock. Blair winced, but said nothing. Jim focused in on his heartbeat and gauged the pain as he fingered the foot and ankle. 

 

“Chief, I don’t feel any broken bones, but I can’t be sure. There are so many small bones it could be undetectable. The foot is pretty badly swollen.”

 

Blair nodded. “I don’t think I can walk on it.”

 

“No problem.”  Jim rose.  He bent and lifted his love to his chest with ease.

 

“I just love the caveman in you, love,” Blair said sheepishly, wrapping an arm around the tall man’s neck.

 

“Well, I’ll expect you to wait on me hand and foot when my back starts realizing I’m not young any more, Chief.”

 

The other merely smiled wanly and laid his head upon his rescuer’s shoulder.

 

He started off cautiously down the slope.   The treasure held snugly in his arms. The rain had eased a bit and the clouds moved off over the mountains with disinterest.  All immediate danger was gone; only the ravages of nature’s forces remained.  The sun would return and the lands would dry and before long the small stream would gurgle along with trusting twigs and lost anthropologists in her wake.

 

THE END

 

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