This one is dedicated to S and to all like him. On the edges of the storm, in the center of upheaval, at the rim of chaos, and on the shores of madness, the strong stand and reach out pulling in the shattered souls. Some just do it with a hard hand and velvet gloves and need never be asked.
In a circular fashion the lines began to descend, encircling them all in a loving concern. The wise ones passed on and the younger stepped in and the neophytes joined in the ring. The love and the caring did slowly amend and soon they all did learn. As the circle encompassed them all in and made it a family thing. Now if circles continue to loop and descend, then surely a spiral it draws. As in and out and around it bends, and often sets down all the laws. The lines of descent are a spiral shape and they travel not up nor down. They encompass them all in a loving cape and hug them with warmth all around. (From the Lines of Demarcation)
Trying to stretch enough to relieve the small cramps in his muscle, but not enough to disturb his lover sitting next to him, Blair Sandburg, anthropologist, police observer, guide, shaman and most importantly, lover of Jim Ellison, sighed and glanced over at the sleeping man next to him. Hoping against hope that he was waking up so Blair would not have to disturb him to go walk around the plane. They were only two hours into their 7-hour flight to London from Atlanta and Blair was already restless. They had caught a plane that morning from Seattle to a lay over in Atlanta, and were now on the Trans-Atlantic portion of their trip. Looking out the window, he could see nothing but darkness. Not sure if they were over water already or simply above the clouds, he decided it really didn't matter. No matter where they were now, there wasn't anything he could do. Glancing over at Jim asleep in his chair, he briefly thought about accidentally nudging the detective, simply to have someone for conversation. The lines of exhaustion, the twitching muscle as his jaw clenched in sleep, and the slightly unhealthy pallor of the other man tugged at Blair's heart and he knew there was no way he could wake Jim up.
A stewardess walked quietly up to him and whispered so as not to disturb the other passengers enjoying the movie, "Sir, do you need anything? Would you like something to drink or an extra pillow?"
Noting the uncomfortable position of the sleeping form, he smiled, "Yes, please -- a couple of pillows and a blanket would be nice. Thanks."
She returned quickly, carrying a thermal blanket and two pillows.
Accepting them, he flashed her a warm smile, "Thanks."
Noticing that these were almost normal pillows, not the small little airline pillows that the other passengers back in Coach were trying to get comfortable with, Blair decided that flying First Class definitely had its advantages. When the tickets for their London vacation had come in the mail, Blair had opened them and was surprised to see that they were booked on First Class.
"Jim," he had called out to his lover in the bedroom, "they messed up the tickets, you have to call the travel agent and get them fixed."
Coming down the stairs, Jim reached for the tickets. "Here, let me see. What's wrong?"
"We're booked on
First Class, man, not the regular fare."
"Oh, no, that's not a mistake. I booked that."
"Why?" Blair asked, surprised. "That must have cost a fortune."
Jim smiled at him, "Yeah, it was more expensive, but I have flown Trans-Atlantic flights before in Coach and am not doing it again. Long flight as it is, it seems like an eternity stuck in little seats next to screaming kids and people who talk all night. Not my idea of a relaxing way to start or end a vacation."
Now comfortably seated in a large seat with a pullout footrest reclining to almost flat, he had to agree it was well worth the extra cost. Glancing over at Jim again, Blair smiled.
"Come here, love," he muttered, "let's see if we can get you a little more comfortable." Pushing up the two armrests that separated the seat, Blair reached over and gently touched Jim's shoulder. "Jim," he said softly, "wake up for a second for me."
Slowly opening his eyes, Jim looked at his partner, "What's wrong? Do you need something?" he asked wearily.
"No, love, it's okay. I just want to get you a little more comfortable. Here, sit up for a sec."
Jim sat up and stretched a little, "Where are we?" he asked, looking around.
"On a plane. Remember?" Blair answered teasingly.
Jim shot him a glare.
"I don't know, we've been flying for about two hours." Blair reached across the bigger man and pressed the button, lowering the seat. He lowered his own seat the same amount. Putting up the footrests on both seats, he placed one of the pillows behind his back and leaned against the bulkhead of the plane. Opening his arms, he said, "Come here, lay down on me and try to go back to sleep."
Jim glanced at him and then glanced around the darkened cabin.
"Jim, no one cares, no one knows who we are, and they don't care what we do. Now," he said in a mild show of authority, "come here and try to get some sleep. You look exhausted and I don't want your friends to think I don't take care of you as well as you take care of me."
Jim gave one last look around the cabin, satisfying himself that no one was even remotely interested in what two men in one of the back rows were doing, and gently laid his head on Blair's chest.
Pushing a pillow underneath his lover's lower back, Blair could feel Jim start to relax again. Picking up the blanket from next to him on the seat, he spread it out on top of the other man and let the soft warmth relax him even more.
"See, isn't this more comfortable?" he asked, wrapping an arm around one of Jim's shoulders, the other, grasping his hand.
"Yes, much, I can hear your heart beat so clearly," Jim mumbled, his voice heavy again with sleep.
"Good, now close your eyes and try to get back to sleep."
The other man glanced up, "You too, Junior, you need your sleep," trying to sound stern, but the sleepiness ruined the effect.
"I'm heading that way myself."
A few minutes later, he felt Jim take a deep breath and relax back into sleep.
As tired as the younger man was, he did not feel like sleeping. It was too amazing to watch Jim sleep, to feel the heaviness and warmth of the other man so relaxed against him. The last six weeks had been extremely hard on the detective and his health had suffered. Blair had done what he could, making sure that the other man ate at least somewhat healthy food and slept as much as possible. Jim had been plagued by horrible nightmares that Blair had been helpless to prevent or control. Many nights, he had awoken to find himself alone in bed, and a small light in the kitchen softly illuminating his lover standing out on the balcony staring off into the city he was sworn to protect, but was failing so miserably.
The case had involved the bodies of young adults, men and women, each victim seemingly younger then the last. All had been discovered hung by their necks; feet or toes barely touching a small stool or box placed under them. All had gags on with large dildos forced down their throats and all had been brutally raped with various objects left in the rooms as vivid evidence of what had happened. They were found in various low-rent hotel rooms staged for snuff films. The films had come out on the market about a week after each victim was killed. Fifteen young people found dead, before Major Crimes was able to stop the killer.
The case had wrapped up over two weeks ago with the killer's confession, but Jim was still on edge. He needed to relax and forget about the case, about crime and the horrors of the world and it's inhabitants for a while. After several long talks between Blair and Simon – both men concerned and worried about their friend, he had extended their requested, two weeks off to over three and Blair was looking forward to the extra time in England. They had planned the trip earlier, and the timing was perfect to get Jim away from it all. By mutual agreement, he was not teaching this term, concentrating on his dissertation and his work with Jim, so the extra time off had been easy for him to swing.
Now, they were heading east to visit Vincent Cade and his partner Damien St. Claire. Blair smiled at the remembered excitement in Day's e-mails as they chatted about what to see and where to go. He was looking forward to meeting the man who had been so helpful in dealing with the ups and downs of the discipline relationship he was trying with Jim. The six-month trial-period was coming to an end in October and he knew that it would be his decision if they were to continue to make discipline, rules and consequences, a part of their life or not.
Their relationship was steadily improving since the incident during spring finals, when Blair had taken the law into his own hands to help a troubled student. June had been a little rocky as Blair adjusted to the strict time constraints---about how much time he was allowed to spend on police work---Jim had placed on him. By July, things had settled down and Blair had to admit that a semester had never gone smoother. They seemed to have found their niche with each other and in their relationship. The comfortable ease of their lives jointly met at angles to help ease the strain of their different worlds. Blair was flourishing under the steadying hand of Jim. Summer term had come and gone smoothly. The happiness and peaceful sailing was disrupted in mid-August with the first gruesome snuff film.
The detective with heightened senses perhaps would not have been so deeply affected by the crime, if it were not for the age of the victims. No doubt, looking into the youthful face of the one who mattered most to him in the entire world each morning did much to personalize the case. As the body count rose, Jim pushed himself beyond human levels of endurance, oftentimes angrily brushing Blair’s concerns and ministrations aside. He acted like a one-man crime force and refused to share any blame as the death toll mounted.
It was Jim’s sense of smell that had eventually recognized the faint aroma of tobacco. Finally identifying the expensive imported stogies, they were able to pinpoint the dealers and eventually set up a database to tag potential suspects. Within twenty-four hours, their man was trapped and a confession extracted.
The lack of physical care had taken more than its toll on Ellison. Even their relationship had been pulled taut and thin by the fiery exchanges. Blair had felt out of control and the situation was only eased by his correspondence with Damien. Many times a “Vin won’t be too happy to hear about that,” had reassured Blair that there was someone he could turn to should the situation become critical. Thank God the case had ended before it had ended their relationship.
Still thinking about the past five months with Jim and their new arrangement, Blair drifted into a restless slumber.
Seemingly mere minutes later, he was awakened by a gentle, but persistent nibble and kiss on his lips. Opening his eyes, he stared directly into the blue orbs of his lover.
"Morning," Jim whispered. "We are about an hour out and I thought it was time you woke up, sleepy head."
"Jim, did you just kiss me? In public?" Blair said, trying to keep the happiness out of his voice, only to magnify the shocked awe.
"Well, I figured if anyone cared about what we were doing, we really didn't leave much to the imagination last night with me sleeping all over you. Plus," he said, glancing around, "didn't you tell me that no one knew us and no one cared?"
"Yeah, but that's never gotten you to do anything before," Blair said with a laugh.
The same stewardess from last night walked over, "Sir, we will be serving breakfast for the next thirty minutes, may I get you something?"
Blair looked up, "Umm, yes please, just a Danish or muffin would be good. Thank you."
Nodding, the stewardess hurried away, returning shortly with a plate of several muffins, jams and clotted cream. Jim had already finished off a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. Now he nursed a cup of coffee as he watched his lover adjust to the day.
Breaking apart a muffin, and spreading jam on it, Blair asked, "So, how are we going to get from Gatewick to Vin's apartment in London?"
"Vin wasn't sure if he and Day would be able to meet us or not, I think he had some meeting this morning to go to. If he's not there, we'll just catch the Gatewick Express that takes us straight to Victoria, and then we'll just grab a cab. I have the address in my wallet."
"How far away is it, do you know?"
"About thirty minutes by train, maybe forty by car. Don't really remember, but it's an easy ride."
"Sounds good, I'm going to be happy to get off this plane. How'd you sleep?"
"Pretty good, I'm a little tired, but I think it's more about all that's been going on this month than just not getting a full eight hours last night."
Blair nodded, "I didn't really sleep that well, but I feel fine. I think I dozed some."
"You seemed pretty out of it until I woke you up. I hope I wasn't too heavy, Chief.”
"No, not at all. I don't know, excited about the trip, excited about meeting Day and Vin, excited about spending three weeks with you, no work, nothing to get in the way, nada,” Blair finished with a laugh, a huge yawn closing the statement.
Jim smiled at him, "I think a nap when we get to the apartment would be a good idea for both of us."
Before Blair could comment, the stewardess came by to collect the breakfast tray and announce that they were beginning their approach into Gatewick.
As soon as she left, Blair glanced at Jim. "I'm not tired and I'm anxious to get out and do something. I don't want to nap like a little kid. Don't start being a dictator again."
Jim sighed, "Let's not get into it here, love, I don't relish taking you into the bathroom and spanking you or having to do it first thing at Vin's, and that's exactly what's going to happen if you keep up that tone of voice,” he finished sternly.
Blair glared at him. "Then you stop being such an ass and let me do what I want."
Jim stared at the younger man for almost a full minute, as if in shock at what he had just heard. "That's it, Blair, you and I are going to have a discussion about this attitude of yours as soon as we get to the apartment. I highly suggest you don't make the situation worse by keeping it up."
Blair opened his mouth as if to say something, his eyes flashing, but Jim cut him off. "I'm not kidding, Blair, drop it and don't get yourself into any more trouble."
His face flushed as if just realizing how quickly things had spun out of control and how much trouble he was in a matter of a few minutes.
The plane landed safely and they both went through customs with no more then a brief glance at their passports. Stopping in the main greeting area where friends and family awaited those arriving, Jim looked around for his old friend.
"Hey, Jim, " Blair said, the first none monosyllable he had said since his outburst on the plane, "think he's for us?"
Jim glanced in the direction that his lover was pointing and saw a well-dressed gentleman in a dark suit holding a sign saying, "J. Ellison/B. Sandburg" walking toward them. "Yeah, Chief, I would think so."
The man walked up to them, "Mr. Ellison, Master Blair?"
"Yes, that's us. I'm Jim Ellison."
The older man smiled, "And I am Robert Patrick, I work for Mr. Cade and Master Damien. They were detained at home and asked that I come and pick you both up. If you will follow me, I've got the car through here." With that, he took hold of the luggage cart and began to wheel it towards the doors leading to the outside.
Walking in step with the driver, Blair asked, "So, you work for Vin?"
"Yes, I am his driver while in town and I take care of the London flat while they are in Salisbury. I have worked for him for over six years now. My wife was their housekeeper until she died several years ago and I retired. Mr. Cade needed someone to watch over the London place and has kept me on salary for that. Ah, here's the car," he said as they came upon a black sedan.
Opening the back door, he ushered the two men inside, placing the luggage in the trunk. Walking around, he got in the front seat, glancing at his two passengers through the rearview mirror, he said, "Sit back and enjoy the ride, we should be there in about 45 minutes."
"Great, thanks," Jim replied. Blair sat and stared out the window as they quickly left the airport grounds and made their way to the highway.
"Blair," Jim said softly, extending his arm, "come here."
Blair looked at Jim for a few moments, trying to decide if he was still annoyed about the incident on the plane and if Jim was still committed to the promised discussion once they reached their destination. Deciding he would rather relax in Jim's arms than pout by himself, he leaned over and allowed himself to be pulled into a strong embrace.
"Let's talk about what happened on the plane, okay? I really did not want to spend the first few hours over here spanking you."
"JIM!" Blair hissed embarrassed and angry, jerking his head toward the back of the driver's head.
"What?" Jim asked, "I'm sure this discussion is not coming as a surprise." Raising his voice slightly, he said, "Patrick, do you know what sort of relationship that Mr. Cade and Damien are in?"
"Which relationship would that be, Sir? The fact that they are in a homosexual one or a discipline one?"
"A discipline relationship."
"Yes, sir. I am fully aware of that relationship. In fact, Master Damien found himself being---shall we say---“attended to,” on the car ride up from Salisbury last week. I was under the impression that the incident he was pouting about had happened earlier in the day and was being continued by him once they got in the car. Mr. Cade was not pleased about that and dealt with the inappropriateness of that action for some time. From the sounds of it, Master Damien now understands that it was not appropriate." Glancing back briefly at Blair, he continued, "Don't be embarrassed, Master Blair, there is nothing shameful about your relationship. It would only be a shame if you did not accept it for the beautiful and wonderful relationship it can be."
Blair glanced down and mumbled, "We are still trying this and working out the details. Not sure if we are going to continue or not."
The driver smiled at the younger man in the mirror, and said gently, "Well, it's something you have to decide for yourself."
Jim smiled to himself and nudged Blair again, "Come here, lean back with me and let's talk about this morning."
Blair sighed and leaned back, worming his way under Jim's arm so that it draped over him. "I'm not tired, Jim. I don't want to lie down."
Glancing at his watch, now adjusted for British time, he said, "Blair, love, it's three a.m., Cascade time. You said yourself you didn't sleep much on the plane and you are definitely cranky."
Jerking up and away from the warm arms, Blair glared at him, "Fuck you! Stop being so bossy. God, you can be such a fucking dictator at times."
In the front seat, Patrick's eyebrows raised in surprise at the tone of the younger man's voice. Having been privy to similar scenes of rebellion and attitude on the part of another young man, he was fully expecting to hear the sounds of an attitude adjustment coming from the back seat. Instead, he heard an older voice, one weary of the fight say, "Fine, Blair, but you and I are going to have a serious discussion when we get to Vin's house. I will not allow you to use that tone of voice."
The only reply was a barely audible, "Go to hell, Jim."
The rest of the car ride was in stone, cold silence, the only sound coming from the tires on the payment. Patrick glanced back once or twice to discreetly check the mood and temperature of his passengers, noting that the icy chill was all too familiar. Sighing heavily, used to the games of this particular warfare, he concentrated on the ease and grace with which the Sedan hugged the roads.
After carefully but efficiently navigating the busy streets of greater London, the car pulled in front of a row of town houses on a residential street of Kensington.
"Here we are, sirs. " Patrick said, stopping the car and getting out. Coming around, he held open the back door as Blair and Jim climbed out.
The front door of the house swung open, revealing the large form of Vincent Cade. Smiling wide, he hurried down the few steps to the street to meet Jim. The two men embraced warmly like friends separated too long.
Holding onto Jim, Vin pulled back slightly and seemed to give the other man a quick once over, brown eyes trapping details, noting demeanor, mood and pallor. Embracing again, he said softly into Ellison’s ear, “It’s truly good to see you again, little boy. Perhaps it was just in time. You seem to have neglected your general health in these past weeks. What kind of example is that on your partner, hmmm? Not a very good one I would think." The detective nodded once and hugged the other man back, briefly resting his head on Vin's shoulder, a gesture that reminded Blair of someone finally coming home.
Blair could swear he saw Jim relax. The large man who he loved more than his own life seemed to expel all his control. He deflated into the larger man, as though fearless and sure of some haven now reached.
“Give it up for now, you are in my hands. I have control. Just let it go.”
The words seeped into Jim’s soul. He fragmented himself, pushing the fears and horrors of Cascade out of his mind. Someone else held the reins, and he was happy to just ride for a while. "Yes, sir. Thank you."
Blair noted the quiet exchange, unable to hear the precise words. Jim suddenly seemed more tired then on the plane, a little more fragile. Feeling guilty over his earlier outbursts, he glanced nervously at his shoes. Looking up, he saw with a flash of jealousy that the two men were still holding each other tightly and speaking in hushed tones.
Feeling the earlier annoyance and attitude come back with a force, he stepped forward, clearing his throat none-too-subtly.
Jim looked up and smiled, "I hadn't forgotten you, Chief---promise."
Blair flashed him a small grin, "I wasn't too sure there for awhile."
Vin released Jim and took a step forward, frowning at the younger man's tone and words. Making a “tsking” with his tongue, he said, "You know better than that, little boy."
Then smiling and sticking out his hand, he added, "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Blair. You have done a world of good for our boy, Jim, here. I hope you are benefiting as much from the relationship." A note of doubt laced the moot question.
"I am, Jim and I are very much in love," Blair answered, choosing not to refer to their other relationship, his tone bordering on rude.
Raising his eyebrow at the younger man's tone and implication, Vin glanced at Jim.
Stepping forward, Ellison made for a save, "You will have to excuse Blair. He didn't really sleep on the plane and is tired. I think, if you don't mind, we would both benefit from a nap and Blair and I have to discuss some of his comments on the plane and just recently in the car." The two men exchanged looks of understanding.
Vin laughed and smiled, allowing Ellison his rights of control over the young man, "Of course, Damien and I are in the middle of having our own discussion right now. That's why we were unable to meet you at the airport. I hope Patrick found you without any trouble."
Jim smiled at the driver and said, "Perfectly. He was waiting just outside customs with a sign and introduced himself right away."
Seeing a break in the conversation, Patrick quickly spoke up, "Mr. Cade, I'll take the car around back and bring up the luggage. What room do you want it put in?"
"Oh, that'd be great. Thanks." Pausing for a moment, he added, "I think Brittany cleaned and prepared the back bedroom for our guests."
"Very good, sir.”
“Sirs, " he said, looking first at Jim, then Blair and then back at Jim, "I'll have your luggage to you in a few minutes."
"Do you need any help?" Blair jumped in, suddenly wishing to delay going into the house and up to the bedroom with Jim.
Patrick smiled, fully aware of a diversionary tactic when he saw one, said simply, "No, thank you. You best go with your partner. Putting it off won't make it go away." He nodded toward Jim waiting for him on the steps. "He's waiting for you."
"Come on, Chief, move it,” Jim called, motioning impatiently, holding the door open.
Walking slowly up the stairs, Blair scooted past Jim into the entryway. Glancing to his left, he saw the living room and down the hall, what looked like a kitchen where Vin just came from carrying a glass of something.
Handing the glass to Jim, Vin asked, "Blair, would you like something to drink? We have…”
He was suddenly interrupted by the sound of someone running down the stairs. Glancing up, he glared at the sound. A second later, rounding the corner and coming to view on the landing was a grinning young man hurrying down the stairs. His feet barely touched the runners, as he hung from the banister and swung off unto the floor.
"JIM! BLAIR!" he yelled, happily. "You're here! Finally!"
Skidding to a stop at the bottom, he was caught and held tightly by his partner.
"Little boy,” the gruff voice would have frozen others to the spot, “you are supposed to be contemplating what you did yesterday.” Vin said sternly.
A flash of a pout crossed his face, "No, you said to stand there for 30 minutes, it's been 30 minutes,” he said as if talking to a slow-witted child. Breaking free with the slightest show of irritation, he gave Jim a hug. "Jimbo! It's great to see you again. It's been way too long. What? Seven, eight years? Boy, I can't wait for you to see Hell! So much has changed and it's improved and…” he stopped suddenly as Vin grabbed him again.
"Damien, take a breath,” he said calmly with a trace of humor. "Let's not forget our manners." Turning to Jim, shaking his head for lack of comprehension, he said, "I tell him to be home at a certain hour and he acts like the concept of time is a foreign one. I tell him he is standing in the corner for thirty minutes, and he knows when he has been there fifteen seconds too long."
Jim laughed, "Hi, Day, it’s good to see you again, too. I'd like to introduce…"
"BLAIR!" the young man interrupted, pulling away from Vin again. The older man stared at his empty hand as though realizing for the time how hard his prize was to hold onto.
Blair laughed, catching the enthusiasm, "DAY!" he yelled back.
The two quickly started talking to each other at once, hands flying, words and voices mixing together into a deafening roar, especially in the small entranceway.
Vin and Jim stood next to each other, smiling at their partner's excitement. Jim's ears perked up as he heard Day say something about wanting to show Blair the sights and his lover eagerly reply that they should go soon, as in a few minutes.
“Blair…” he called out, warningly.
Blair glanced at him with a mixture of embarrassment and anger.
"No!" Jim cut off all objections, shaking his head. "You and I have some business to discuss and I want you to lie down for a couple of hours."
"And you, young man," Vin said, picking up that Jim had overheard the two make plans to go out, "are still in trouble. We are not through discussing your latest actions."
"Jim, nooooo! I want to go out." Blair said in a whiny voice, throwing his best puppy dog eyes at his lover.
"Vin, come on, forget it. I said I was sorry. " Day said at almost the same time, face set in a classic pout.
Walking over and gathering Day in his arms, Vin kissed him on the forehead, "I'm sure you are but we are not done discussing it, yet. Don't make a scene in front of Jim and Blair, little boy," he added warningly.
"Now, take Blair upstairs and show him where he and Jim will be sleeping for the next few days and then plant yourself back in the corner of the office. Don't move until I come up there, I won't be long."
While Vin was quietly talking to Damien, Jim had walked over to Blair. He was speaking gently to him, trying to avoid a full-blown tantrum brought on by tiredness and uncertainty. "Blair, love, stop pouting," he ordered gently. "A few hours nap is not going to hurt you. I'm not happy with your attitude this morning, when you get to our rooms--- I'm going to be down here a few minutes with Vin---I want you to pick a corner and stand there. Think about what you said and why and collect yourself, I won't be long. Promise." He kissed Blair gently, "Okay?"
Blair nodded and looked unhappy. The sound of a sharp swat made him glance over at his new friend. Day was standing there, rubbing his hip where Vin's hand had made contact, nodding now in agreement, apparently convinced by the larger man’s hand.
Flashing Blair a smile, Day never lost a beat. Walking to the stairs, he pulled his friend along. "Come on, it looks like we are both in trouble. No sense making them any madder.” Then, making sure he was out of Vin’s reach, added with a laugh, “God knows they're grouchy enough as it is."
The room was tastefully appointed in various shades of blue with white accents. The dark mahogany furniture was warm and inviting. Eyeing their luggage discreetly placed on luggage racks near a tall armoire, Blair marveled at the quiet efficiency of Mr. Patrick. Choosing a corner three feet from the large window that overlooked the small garden and other houses, he slightly turned allowing himself a birds eye view of green vegetation, colorful flowers, and a small Japanese maple. A quick readjustment, a slight turn upon hearing Jim and he would be within the ordained pre-punishment position, contemplating his crimes as he studied the corner.
His thoughts eagerly turned to Damien St. Claire. He was everything he expected him to be and more. The vibrancy of the youthful spirits, the laughing eyes that spoke of mischief and humor, the friendly acceptance that pulled Blair in as an old and treasured friend, were all tributes to the warm and tender spirit Blair had detected in the e-mails.
Vincent Cade was another matter entirely. Blair had mentally braced himself over the long months of correspondence with Damien for a frightful and formidable figure. Well, that wasn’t the half of the image he had gleaned in the short time he had been in the man’s presence. Vin carried himself like he was in full command of everyone within his realm. The man’s appearance was a clear window to his thoughts and the slightest attitude detected would no doubt crease the face with displeasure. How the hell does Day put up with him? Blair thought to himself. I guess I should be thankful Jim isn’t like that.
Jim waited until the two brats were safely ensconced behind closed doors, hopefully in their respective corners before allowing himself the luxury of surrender.
Vin stood by watching the blue eyes that carried a soft veil as they watched the young man he had grown to love move up the stairs. There was a tender quality to the tight lips, but even that could not hide the strain his old friend was under.
Walking forward, Vin took the glass and placed it on a table. He wrapped a strong arm around Ellison’s shoulders and walked him over to a small loveseat near a clock in the hall. Pulling him near, never saying a word, only allowing the tired veteran of street wars to be at ease, Cade took over. Ellison felt the strength of the man beside him, the sureness of his place next to him, the easy knowledge of knowing exactly what the detective needed; Vincent Cade was a man to seek shelter with in any storm.
Jim slowly opened his mouth, but the only sound that came out was a deep hitch. He cleared his throat in embarrassment, eager to try again.
“Hush, not now. There is plenty of time for baring your soul. Just accept that I’m in charge now.”
Ellison rested his head on the larger man’s shoulder. Vincent allowed him a few minutes to gain some composure, arms tightly wrapped around tired shoulders. Then with an air of authority only those long accustomed to command can deliver, he said, “Now, it’s up to your room and some sleep. We have dinner reservations at eight. We'll plan on serving lunch in about two hours---that should be a nice rest. Oh, and, Jim, my boy, you are not to leave the room until I call for you. I think you need a nap as much as your brat does.”
The detective pulled away and met the brown eyes gratefully. He nodded his head, gave a warm smile and wearily trudged up the stairs to deal with his petulant partner.
Hearing the heavy footfalls in the hall, Blair turned towards the corner, as though deeply into the punishment, contemplating his sins in solace. He heard the door open and close, as Ellison expelled a sigh. Blair’s heart ached for his friend and lover. He really never should have put Jim through this, not when the vacation was long overdue and the mental stress of the prior weeks detrimental to the man’s health.
“Jim,” he started, not turning around, “Jim, man, I’m sorry for the attitude. You don’t need this right now, and I promise I won’t give you any more.”
Jim sat down on the bed. Wearily he positioned the pillows lower on the bed. “Come here, Chief,” he beckoned the young man.
Blair turned, his expression resigned to the possible punishment that awaited him.
“Come on, off with the shirt and jeans.”
Blair stripped quickly, not wishing to put up a scene with Vin and Day in the house, the garden windows open, Mr. Patrick no doubt lurking about and who knew who else was on staff. When he was only wearing his boxers and a T-shirt, Jim patted his lap.
Blair came over and eased himself face down over his lover’s thighs.
“Chief, I know you’re tired, and I know most of the attitude was from the long flight, but you know the rules and when I called you on it, you persisted. That earns you at least a short refresher course.”
Reaching his fingers into the waistband of Blair’s boxers he eased them down in one fluid motion to his knees. “I’m sorry, Jim. You’re right, I am tired.” Blair felt concurrence might earn him a lesser sentence. He was right.
Jim raised his hand and delivered a series of six sharp swats to the tender, white mounds. His handprint emblazoned on the spheres, the warm heat of the stinging pain, and he felt vindicated and dutiful. His guide had been brought back in line.
Blair felt the lack of enthusiasm in each swat, the strained effort in each smack to deliver repentance. After six blows, Jim eased him up and off his lap. “Now,” he said, lifting Blair’s chin, pulling the downcast eyes to meet his own, “how about that nap we talked about.”
Blair, thankful for the gentle reprieve threw his arms around Jim and hugged him, “Man, I love you. I love you so much.”
“I know, love, I know.”
Within a matter of minutes, Ellison stripped down to this own briefs and T and joined his guide in the comfortable bed. Ellison’s breathing evened out in a matter of minutes and a soft snore escaped his parted lips. Blair snuggled into him, trying to get comfortable, not really feeling much pain coming from his bottom, basically exhausted, he still could not find sleep.
Thirty minutes later, still energized with excitement, he quietly snuck out of the large bed. Grabbing his jeans and shirt, his shoes and socks, he quietly tiptoed to the door. The stealth of a Covert Ops expert could not have mimicked the quiet exit.
The hallway was quiet. There were three doors down the corridor, one at the far end, one opposite the hall, and the other midway between on the same side as their bedroom door. Laying his clothes and shoes on the top of the landing by the wood banister, he remained in his boxers and T-shirt. Listening for any sounds coming from the first closed door, he carefully opened it. It was a study, paneled in a dark, rich wood. There was a desk in front of the window, neatly organized, a wooden paddle resting on a small pile of papers. Pushing the door open more, he leaned his neck in and peered along the wall finding the inside corner. There, standing quietly was Damien, standing up straight and dutifully contemplating his sins, probably because he thought it was his significant other checking on him. He, too, was only in his boxers and a T-shirt. A small sob escaped him, and Blair almost burst out laughing.
“Day, it’s me,” he whispered. “How long do you have to stay there?”
The tall blond turned from the wall, a smile forming on his lips, but Blair noticed the red, swollen eyes, the running nose, and the red cheeks. The hazel eyes were bright now as they looked up at his friend. Then as though a mirror were reflecting a dark shadow, Day’s eyes glazed over, the smile drooped almost comically, and a small “uh oh,” escaped his lips.
Blair tensed, feeling the shape behind him.
“If he moves from that corner before his time is up, he will get another thirty minutes tacked on,” came the hard voice behind him.
Before Blair could turn, he felt two strong hands on each shoulder. Glancing at Day, looking for help, he realized none would be forthcoming. The experienced brat quickly turned his head into the corner and sighed heavily, seemingly forsaking his friend right now.
The hands slowly backed Blair out of the room and pushed him against the hall wall. Vin closed the door after giving one final look in to make sure his lover was following his orders.
“I thought you were told to take a nap, little boy,” Vin asked as though he were gently quizzing a small child on how his day at school was. The large man now leaned both hands against the wall, one on each side of Blair’s head, trapping him.
“I wasn’t sleepy.” He didn’t know what else to say.
“Seems to me you were due some punishment time as well. I hardly believe that could have been conducted in so short a time. Especially if your attitude earlier was any indication of what it was on the plane.”
“Well, maybe Jim and I have a different type of relationship than you and Day have,” Blair answered coldly.
“Oh, I see,” came the soft, gentle response. Vincent was speaking to him as though he was a confused and lost little boy, and right now Blair felt like just that. This man confused him, threw him off kilter. Even his powers of obfuscation seemed to fail him when those brown eyes pinned him.
“Let me clarify something for you, Blair, so that our time together can be enjoyable. I feel the best way for people to be comfortable with each other is to set the guidelines beforehand. Do you agree? Don’t you think understanding is the key to us all getting along?” The voice was getting softer and softer until Blair felt a chill run down his spine. He was being led to slaughter like a lamb and he knew it and was at a loss how to avoid it.
“Yes, I think I understand completely,” was the only response he could think of, said with enough sarcasm to make him wish he could bite his tongue off.
“I don’t like smart-mouthed brats who don’t listen. And I don’t like lovers who manipulate for their own selfish needs, ignoring what their partners are going through. So I’m going to give you a choice. You can go quietly back to your room, get your butt into bed and take that nap Jim told you to, or----or, my little boy, you can march right back into that office, where I will talk to you about actions and the consequences of them over my knee. You can then join Damien in the opposite corner.”
Blair’s eyes widened, his mouth fell open and he could only gape at the threat.
Vincent pushed off from the wall, allowing Blair an avenue of escape. He watched as the young, curly-headed man, cautiously slid out of his grasp.
Blair pointed an unsure finger towards their bedroom and said in a humorous attempt, “I think I’m a little sleepy right now. That nap sounds about right.”
As soon as he cleared the danger zone, he rushed forward, grabbed his clothes and quickly went back into their bedroom, quietly closing the door behind him.
Placing his clothes on a chair, he eagerly slid back into bed, beside his sleeping lover. Putting his arm around Jim, he luxuriated in the warmth the man generated, easing the chill from his spine, the imprint of dread that Cade had left him.
Man, that guy is so mean. I feel sorry for Day. I don’t know how such a fun-loving guy could love anyone like that. I’m just glad Jim isn’t so strict.
As though reading his thoughts, Ellison came groggily into the day. “What’s the matter, Chief? Why’s your heart racing?” The detective tried to open his eyes and focus, but he was having a hard time of it.
“Nothing, Jim, go back to sleep. I just had to use the bathroom and I got lost,” he said, as he willed his heart to slow down.
“Chief,” Jim said slowly, licking his lips to remove the film of sleep, “they just drive on the wrong side, the bathrooms are still indoors. “ Jim smiled at his weak attempt at humor.
“Yeah, man, very funny.”
Then he added, very quietly, “Don’t mess with him, Chief, he doesn’t play around.” With that final piece of advice, Jim pulled Blair closer to him. Soon Ellison was snoring softly. Blair thought he would never sleep again, but the contentment he felt in Jim’s arms, the reassurance, soon had him following close behind.
“Hey, Chief, come on,” Jim Ellison said, as he finished buttoning his sports shirt. “Lunch is ready and you were all eager for sightseeing before.”
Yawning and stretching, his young companion looked delectable lying there all warm and foggy and pliant. Lunch was the farthest thing from Ellison’s mind, but he knew the wakeup call from Day was a directive from Vin. No refusals to eat would be tolerated.
“Blair, Vin gave us ten minutes to get our butts down there.”
As though some magic wand was waved, Sandburg jumped out of bed. Dressing quickly, he followed closely behind Jim as they left the room.
The back terrace was part of a small walled in garden area along the alleyway. Room enough for a table and four chairs, and a side cart for serving. There was a large array of fruits, cheeses, muffins, and a tray of small sandwiches.
Day was already happily munching away on a muffin topped with jam and a large slice of cheese on his plate. “Blaaaar, Jim,” he tried to get out around the contents of his mouth.
Vincent sent him a corrective scowl, but Day merely shrugged and continued his welcome, “Cumeet,” then picking up a sandwich from his own plate, he showed it off like a trophy. “Look, Cucumber sandwiches…. I just had to have cucumber sandwiches for you guys."
“Demon, enough with the cucumber sandwiches,” then by way of apology to Jim and Blair for their exclusion in the joke, he clarified, “Day has been telling me how most British plays have always had cucumber sandwiches served. They just happen to be a favorite of his, so we have cucumber sandwiches…enough for an army I’m afraid.”
Jim chose a chair between Vin and Day, leaving the opposite side of the table for Blair. He noticed how the young man stood close to him, unsure of leaving his side. Looking up he caught a look pass between Vin and Blair.
“Chief, would you rather sit here?” Jim asked, rising slightly.
“Hey, no man, I’ll sit over there,” he started to move around Day, but the blond haired man rose before anyone could say a thing. He quickly took the chair closest to the wall and Vin and reached over to pull his treasured plate in front of him.
“He bit me already,” Day said laughing, “ and I’ve had my rabies and tetanus.”
The small joke broke the tension and even Vincent Cade broke out into a huge grin, shaking his head at Ellison in a see what I have to put up with sort of way.
The rest of the meal was easy. Jim and Vin kept to their own conversation of old friends and current events. Day and Blair listened most times, but every so often would break off into a discussion of their own about sights to see and things to do. By three o’clock, Blair was bouncing in his chair eager to hit the streets of London.
All four men pitched in to clean up the lunch. Dinner was scheduled at Vin’s club for eight. That gave them at least four hours of free time out on the streets of London.
“Jim, you have to see the gallery,” Day said. “I’ll bet you can’t guess how popular VC’s Conceptual Chaos paintings are.”
“Damien, let’s not talk about that,” Vin said.
Blair could have sworn the older man looked embarrassed.
Eager to peel some layers off of the formidable figure, Blair persisted, “What paintings?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of VC?” Day asked, showing little patience in his tone for anyone who hadn’t.
“Yeah, isn’t he that abstract painter all the art critics are always talking about? I hear he can take any idea and paint a picture around it. Of course, being abstract, you can just about see anything you want to…” noting the look that came across Vin’s face, Blair turned to Day for guidance.
The young man was laughing, “Oh, Blair, you are absolutely right and for that reason Vin hates them.”
“Well, I hear he’s popular. He must be making big bucks on those things, but I don’t call it art.” Blair was still quite clueless.
“Blair,” Jim tried for a save, it was time he helped his friend, “VC is Vincent Cade.”
Blair’s face paled a light shade of gray. He grimaced, “Oh, hey, man, I didn’t realize, I mean, I didn’t mean anything, I’m sure they’re really very…”
“Blair,” Vin’s face softened, “it’s okay. They are trash and I feel ashamed to make money off of them. This little Shylock has made quite a name for his gallery selling those paintings and I can assure you, if it were not for him, I would not do another one of them.”
Day shrugged his shoulders, looking for all the world like someone who didn’t care what Vincent Cade felt about his paintings.
“They keep Hell burning bright for you, Vin, I think that should earn them a place of honor if nothing else.” Damien seemed to have touched a nerve with the older man. His face creased into a deep frown.
“Yes, they give me Halcyon Heights and for that I should be grateful.”
Whatever passed between the two men was unreadable, but Blair saw a look of love and devotion ignite between them that said whatever it was, it was lasting and strong.
The next two hours went by pleasantly. They walked the streets of London taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling city. The Tower of London was the only sight time allowed, but there would be more time tomorrow and the next day before leaving for Salisbury.
They had their cab drop them several blocks from home in front of a discrete building, the small sign displayed on the door reading, "The Art Critic".
Day unlocked the small shop and stood aside with a wide, proud grin upon his face. Blair could see the love the young man had put into the little gallery. No more than thirty pictures stood upon easels or were mounted upon the wall, but each one was lit or positioned for maximum effect and advantage.
Along the right wall, in a place of honor were two abstracts, brightly colored, sharp lines edging into each other, pinpricking the nerves with their pointed crispness. A tastefully discreet sign above the pairing said: “VC’s Concepts in Chaos.”
Blair moved quickly to the paintings and studied them.
“Not something you would expect from me, I assume?” The heavy, deep voice came from Blair’s left.
Straightening, a bit unnerved, he shifted from foot to foot. “I guess you just don’t look like a painter, period.”
“Actually I do paint,” he said.
Blair gave him a quizzical look.
The large man smiled, “I mean besides these monstrosities. Come, I will show you.”
Extending a friendly arm around Blair’s shoulders he pulled the young man towards the back of the gallery. Blair nervously looked for Jim who was admiring some landscapes in the back. Vin drew Blair up beside the other two men.
“This is my passion.” Vin pointed to the landscapes. They were exquisitely detailed. The British landscape was captured in soft strokes that seemed to actually make the trees appear to be bending in the wind. Lighting almost like the morning mist still lingering over the craggy cliffs and ocean views faintly softened the lush green countryside.
Blair didn’t know art as well as his college professors had hoped he would, but he knew talent when he saw it. Vincent Cade was a shadowman. He was fragments of color and shading that were far more than met the eye.
“This is good,” Blair stated in a shocked voice.
The three other men laughed.
“I keep telling him that, but he won’t believe me. These things would sell faster than he could paint them if he’d let me tell everyone that he is VC,” Day said, wagging a finger at his significant other.
“Little boy, you know what happens when you try to deal my paintings without permission.” The warning was obvious in the statement.
However, the blond man was not put off by the formidable figure. He merely shrugged. “I had a good price for it; you just won’t see reason.”
Realizing rudeness in the discussion by excluding their guests, Day chose to enlighten them. “Vin does portraits of me, too, showing off my full glory.” Then laughing he winked at Jim and Blair, “If you get my drift.”
Vin came up alongside Damien. Placing a restraining arm around his shoulder, he slowly arched it highly ensnaring the neck; trapping the laughing young man in a chokehold he pushed his head forward, rubbing his head.
“Those paintings are private gifts…for our viewing only, my little Demon.” Releasing the wild locks to the ministrations of his lover, he allowed the younger man to stand straight.
“The brat, here, decided to try to sell one of the paintings I’ve done of him. He had a buyer and surreptitiously brought the painting into London. I happened to receive a call yesterday evening from a good friend who recognized Damien here. He called to let me know that my partner was poising al natural for someone. It seems he had an American friend over here who had just purchased the picture. Needless-to-say, I was a bit put off by the robbery, I am buying the picture back from him and been forced to give the brat a lesson in the consequences of pilfering artwork.”
“Jim, Blair, it’s not like that at all. The buyer was from the U.S. No one would have recognized me; it was so vague, it might as well be a friggin abstract. It was just bad luck that someone who knows me saw it.”
“Your mouth, little boy,” the only warning needed to make Day mumble, “sorry.”
“It’s just that we’ve been trying to reach the States and even if the landscapes don’t appeal to the Americans, the nudes would have. It would have been a great way to get our foot in the door,” Damien persisted, deeply annoyed by the lack of appreciation for his efforts.
Ellison moved in to set things back to the pleasantness of the afternoon. “Vin seems to be doing rather well over here. Perhaps a large American market will decrease the mystery and rarity of owning a Vincent Cade landscape.”
“Well, it worked with the VC’s, but he don’t care about them. He pushes them off like they are some form of prostitution. His treasured landscapes are too limited by the region. He needs to travel to America and do some landscapes there. The nudes would have been a great introduction to the Yankees.” Damien said, directly to his lover, and walked a bit away slightly worried that he would be re-educated right in the gallery.
“Day, now is not the time to bore our guests with our domestic concerns. Enough, right now.” Vincent, the authoritarian, had spoken. The subject was closed.
Jim put an arm around Blair as Day headed for the street in a bit of a huff. Vincent followed the group and locked up when they reached the stoop.
Day turned from his place in the lead and with the late afternoon sun gilding his head, making him look angelic, he returned to his good cheer. “Blair, how’s about we go off and check out the shops?”
Vin watched as Day took over. Amazed as usual by the ease with which he could change from night to day. So appropriate a nickname for him, he thought, but then so is Demon.
“Off with you both, then,” Vin said. “Back at the flat by seven. Do I make myself clear?”
Day grinned, grabbed Blair’s arm and pulled the confused young man along. Blair waved at Jim as he was swept along in the tide. Jim laughed and blew him a kiss. “Have fun.”
Vin roared, “DO I?” And Damien St. Claire trotting along with his captive in tow merely gave a backward and childish wave in answer.
“I swear, Jim, there are days it’s a wonder he lives to see the sun set.” Cade’s voice lost all threat in the soft and amazed wonder of his obvious love for the young man.
"Blair, I'm in deep trouble." Day whispered, leaning in toward his new friend as they sat in a small coffeehouse on a busy street.
"What's wrong?" Blair asked, also whispering but not exactly sure why.
"Last Monday, I was doing a little …. um …. cleaning and I found a ring that Vin was going to give me on our anniversary next month."
Blair interrupted, "Cleaning or snooping?" he asked with a laugh, knowing which it probably was.
Day colored slightly, "Well" he hedged, "Vin would say snooping, I would say I was just looking around."
"Around where?" the other man asked with a laugh, enjoying his friend's discomfort and knowing it could be just as easily him in the situation.
"In his drawers, but that is totally beside the point." Day looked around the café carefully as if expecting to see Vin or Jim walking in. "I was so excited about the ring, I mean, it is sort of like this outward sign that I belong to him, that he is telling the world that I am his and he is mine and …." Day trailed off, embarrassed by his emotions. "Sorry, I'm sure that seems silly to you, but it's important."
"No, not at all. I understand, man."
"So, I was excited and I wanted to wear it but I knew I couldn't actually wear it, so I put it on a chain and wore it around my neck."
"Ok, so did Vin find out? Is that what you are in trouble for? I would think that if he had found out already, he would have dealt with it."
"Oh yeah, trust me, I mess up, I know about it immediately. No, the thing is, I lost it," Day finished on a sad note.
"You lost it! How could you loose it?"
"I don't know!" Day said defensively, "I was in trouble and Vin was making me work out in the garden doing all this crap for him and when I came back in hours later, it was gone, the chain was broken and I guess it fell off somewhere."
"Did you look for it?"
"Boy, Blair, what a great idea!" Day said sarcastically. "No, I'm sorry, I'm just upset. Yes, I looked, I've spent every free second I have on my hands and knees looking but I haven't found it. Vin thinks I'm insane."
imagining the other man's thoughts about his lover spending time on this hands
and knees walking through the gardens.
"What did you tell him you were doing?"
"Treasure hunting." Then at Blair's raised eyebrows, he added, "Hey, it's not that stupid, we have actually found some semi-precious stones and a bracelet on the property in the gardens when we were digging. We don't know if they are from the original owner of the house, the bracelet is from the Fifteenth Century. I sort of like to imagine some lady hiding it from raiders during the War of the Roses or something,” Day finished, laughingly.
"Okay, so Vin thinks you are treasure hunting."
"Yeah, except he has given me strict orders to stop wasting my time. We got into a big fight about it on the car ride up here. He laid down the law and I didn't take it too well."
"So, what are you going to do? I hate to say it, but it sounds like this thing is gone for good."
"Nope! " Day said excitedly, " I have a plan but I need your help." Then flashing a smile that said 'trust me', he added, 'We won't get in any trouble and it's only going to take a few minutes, an hour, tops."
"I don't know, Day….." Blair said, uncertain, "What are we going to do?"
'Come on, I'll show you." Tossing some bills down on the table, he grabbed Blair's arms and almost dragged him out of the café and down the street.
Five minutes later, they stood on a small side street, with little traffic. Day looked up and down the street, like a spy in an old James Bond movie, full of secrets and hidden motives. Opening the door to the small shop, he pulled Sandburg in before he could even get a glimpse of what was in the shop window.
The shop was basically a hardware store. There were many pieces of equipment that Blair could just not place. Looking up over the counter in the rear, he saw the sign, “Treasure Chest.”
Damien walked proudly over to a strange looking object. At first Blair thought it was a crutch of some sort. It had a circular end that fit along one’s arm for support. The long crutch then bent into a flat, round piece that looked like a satellite dish.
“Here it is,” Day said proudly, standing back to watch Blair’s appreciation of the item.
“What the hell is that?” Blair asked.
“That, my friend, is The SHADOWx2”
“The what?” Blair still gawked.
“The SHADOWx2 is 32 ounces of tough, sophisticated muscle, custom built for high performance and designed for basic and simple operation,” Day read the small sign under the displayed object.
“What’s it for?”
“That, my friend, is for finding lost treasures---or rings as the case may be.” Day now rubbed his hands together gleefully, a man so satisfied and smug, it bode an ill wind for the pair.
As the two young men entered the front door, at a little past seven, Blair carried the carefully wrapped package. It took Damien a full twenty minutes to convince Blair to help him in his scheme.
“Vin has me on a tight budget. Any purchase over a hundred pounds needs his authorization and approval. If you could buy this, Blair, charge it to your credit card, I swear, buddy, I will pay you back over three weeks, you'll have your money back before you even leave.”
The hazel eyes had pleading down to a craft, skillfully somber and longing, he played Blair like an instrument. The purchase made, the promises reiterated, and there was still more to the game.
“Okay, now if you can just take it with you. Tell Vin you bought golf clubs for Jim and it’s a secret if he asks. Man, he’ll buy that one. The package is wrapped nicely, he’ll never suspect.”
“Day, I just don’t feel right lying to my host. I mean, I’m his guest, he’s Jim’s best friend, this just doesn’t seem right.” Then pausing, he shook his head for a moment disbelieving that he could actually admit it, “Besides, he scares me.”
Day burst out laughing. “Hell, he scares me, too, why the hell do you think I’m asking you to transport the damn thing.”
At the logic of his admittance, Blair burst out laughing, too. The joy and camaraderie had sealed their partnership, but also their fate.
The two young men were able to dress and present themselves in the small parlor room without the slightest questions or suspicions thrown their way. No doubt Jim and Vin, having returned early from the London trip, had spent some time talking in Vin’s office.
Patrick pulled the car up in front of the small townhouse and the four sharply dressed men got in. Patrick exited the driver’s seat and Vincent Cade took over.
“Have a nice dinner, sirs,” Patrick said as he stood aside and waved. The sleek Sedan quietly sped away.
The Club was British, all male, and quite stodgy. Jim seemed uncomfortable initially, but soon relaxed.
Day seemed not in the least perturbed, and was his usual chattering self. On the way to their table, he made several side trips to greet friends and would have made many more, Blair thought, if Vin had not taken him firmly by the arm and made him walk beside him.
They were shown to a small alcove with a cut glass bay window. The frosted, colored and beveled glass did not allow them a view, but the streetlights filtered in with a warm glow. Several tables away, a stone hearth blazed with a warm fire, well appreciated on the cool fall evening. Poking Blair’s ribs several times he made hilarious comments about some of the older gentlemen who were seated in the small, well-appointed room. Dark wood bordered the domain that smelled of tobacco and leather and the enticing aroma of gourmet food.
“It is a selfish and foolish dream, Jim,” Vin said, completely aware of the affectation of it all.
“What?” Ellison seemed to be lost by the thread.
“This,” he passed his massive hand around in a gesture encompassing the whole club. “When I came here, it was the only place I felt safe. Like being accepted here made me feel like it was my country. I know how foolish such pretension must seem to you, but it is merely a sanctuary. I’ve learned much here about formality, expectations and the appreciation of the simple things,” he finished, looked lovingly over at his animated lover.
No one would have believed the chattering young man was listening, but apparently he always cocked an ear towards his older lover. “Vin needs affirmation. I don’t. I wouldn’t love him so much, except I know he’s still home country, still a grass roots American Yankee deep down inside.”
Vin stared at his lover, as if first seeing him in his full glory, a small amazement in his eyes at the astute observation.
“My little demon speaks the truth. It is a failing of mine, this need for acceptance here, but Day is slowly converting me to the cruder aspects of life.” Then Vin winked at Jim and all four men laughed.
The meal was delicious. Vin and Jim both opted for the prime rib dinners, with baked potatoes, and peas. Damien went with pork chops with mushroom-bread pudding while Blair decided to try Shepherds Pie. Well sated after the meal, a fine desert of poached pears topped off their sweet tooth.
“How about an after dinner drink?” Vin asked. Taking the nodding heads of the two young men as confirmation and with Jim’s agreement, brandy snifters soon rested before each member of the quartet.
“Blair, what did you two do after we left the gallery?” Jim asked, finally having a moment to catch up with his lover on the time they were apart.
Turning his head down deeply into his brandy, Blair avoided meeting Jim’s eyes, remembering all too well the rules and Number 2, no lying. “We walked up and down the residential section. Some of those shops are amazing, Jim. Lots of Old World charm here.”
“More than just charm, Blair,” Damien eagerly caught the ball, “history. I guess I never saw England for much of anything except a country that spoke English and we beat in the Revolution, but since living here for the past nine years, I’ve come to appreciate its history. I can’t wait to show you Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral. You are going to flip if its Old World charm you want.”
“Little boy, I don’t think Blair will flip. He’s a well-traveled young man. I’m sure an anthropologist is well used to seeing the history in any place he visits,” Vin complimented the curly-headed young man.
“Tell me, Blair, how is it you and Jim first met,” Day asked, sitting back and nursing the brandy, finally seeming to downshift for the first time.
Blair quickly looked at Jim, questioning how much these men knew.
“Blair was researching police structures for his dissertation. My captain, Simon Banks, and I both decided his astute eye for cultural diversity could come in handy in finding motive and ritual in many of the ethnic crimes we deal with daily,” Jim averted the disaster.
Although Vincent Cade was well aware of Jim’s senses, Damien was in the dark. The ex- Lt. Colonel did not feel a soul as excitable as Damien’s could handle such knowledge without the enthusiasm that might cause disaster. Cade kept a firm grasp on his lover and very little got through to the blond man that was not first passed by him.
"Wow," Day said impressed, "that's got to be exciting. More adventure than's around here."
“Let’s just say, Blair, that Damien’s view of the world can oftentimes cause fires. I’m afraid my young friend sees magic in places others only see dirt and cobwebs. Where you are a police observer doing a job, Damien would see a dynamic fighting duo, somewhat crossed between Batman and Robin and Hercules and Iolus,” Vin said, lifting his brandy glass towards his lover. The hazel eyes were now glaring at him.
“I’m not a child, Vin,” Damien pouted, as he sat further back slumping now into the soft leather chair.
“Posture, brat, sit up straight.” Vin’s tone sharpened.
“I’m relaxing,” Day said, sulkily, making no effort to right himself.
“One,” the count was started softly. It was not the voice that Vin had used throughout the meal of friendly warmth. This voice was cold with an undercurrent that almost sent out electrical friction.
Blair involuntarily jerked himself up. Jim smiled watching the reaction in his partner. Day slouched deeper, taking another slow sip of his brandy, defiance in his eyes.
“Twooooo,” was softer, drawn out in a languid promise.
It was the slow easing of Vin’s glass towards the table and the inevitable “three” that was nearly forming on his lips that caused Day to position himself upright, pull his chair in, and pout down into the golden liquid.
“When we get home, Demon, we will discuss the necessity for two, in detail.”
Damien tipped his snifter back and downed the remainder of his drink. Slouching forward now he crossed his arms on the table and laid his head down on them. Blair saw it as surrender and looked over at Jim, then at Vin. He could not believe the firm hand the older man used on his friend.
“Damien forgets himself sometimes. We talk and his memory comes back,” Cade explained.
The remainder of the evening went by quickly. They sat for another hour talking, catching up on things. Day’s mood changed back to amicable ease. Oftentimes during the evening, Blair wondered at the relationship between the ex- Lt. Colonel and the activist. There was surely more to it than the relationship he was trying to accept for himself with James Ellison.
Later that night, Blair lay in Jim's arms, his head resting on the larger chest beneath him. Jim was slowly stroking his hair.
"I'm sorry I was such a brat this morning, love. You're tired and really don't need me adding more stress and problems. I won’t get into any trouble this trip, I promise."
"That's okay, it's over, don't worry about it. Let's just enjoy these next few weeks and relax." Jim gave a small laugh before adding, "Don't make promises you are going to have a hard time keeping, Chief. I think you and your buddy are going to be getting into all sorts of things."
Looking up, Blair tried to decide if his feathers should be ruffled by the prediction or just accept it for an obvious truth. Day’s playful attitude seemed as genuine as in his e-mails and Blair didn’t doubt for one moment that the energetic imp would have a hard time staying out of trouble for two days. "I don't know, Jim, if I had Vin watching what I did, I think I'd be an angel. What was that all about at dinner tonight? What sort of relationship do they have? It's a lot different than ours," Blair said.
"They have a relationship that fits their needs---both of their needs. It's not up to you or me to judge it."
"I know," Blair said quietly, snuggling up closer to Jim. "I wonder what happened to Day tonight? I hope he's okay."
Jim cocked his head slightly to one side, "He seems fine. Remember that Day is choosing his relationship as much as you are choosing yours."
"Did Day get in trouble tonight?"
"Yes," Jim answered simply
"Did he get spanked?"
"Yes. Chief, this really isn't our business."
"I know, but I can't help but think about it."
Before he could say another word, Blair found himself lying on his back, with Jim pressed on top of him, faces inches apart.
"Weeeellllllllllll," Jim said with a large hungry smile on his face, "I bet I can get your mind off it."
Blair laughed, his own smile reflecting Jim's. It had been several weeks since they had much more time, or Jim had enough energy for anything other then a quick grope and Blair missed this side of their relationship. "I don't know, man, you are going to have to work pretty hard at…."
The rest of his words were swallowed as a hard mouth captured his, tongue plunging deep.
Two more days in London, mostly sightseeing, and Vincent was eager to return to Halcyon Heights. Blair and Jim agreed that the country would be a welcome change from the hustle and noise of the city. They decided to leave Saturday morning.
Jim walked wearily down the stairs, frustrated and annoyed with himself for still being tired. Determined not to put a damper on Blair’s holiday, he smiled as he rounded the landing and started down toward the main level of the town house.
Jim saw Vin standing by the door speaking with Patrick about when they would return to London and a few minor repairs to be taken care of. Damien had managed to pop the soap dish free from the tile wall that morning and a workman needed to be called in to repair it. He looked up at the sound of footsteps.
Vin caught the tired angles of Jim’s face, the long drawn creases around the eyes that made him look spent.
“Morning,” Jim said, “Have you seen Blair around anywhere?”
“Good morning, and yes, your brat and my brat took off a few minutes ago with strict instructions to be back within thirty minutes. Looks to me like some caper, too much whispering bodes an ill wind with Day.” Vin paused for a moment, remembering the looks on the their faces, “If I know Damien, they are up to something; they both looked suspiciously discomfited.”
Jim laughed, “Well, I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later what they’re up to. Sandburg doesn’t wear guilt very well.”
Vin laughed, knowing that he was right. “Come and have breakfast. Day, with his wonderful sense of timing, won’t drag Blair back until their thirty minutes are seconds away from being up.”
“Oh, that’s okay, I’m not really hungry. I think I’ll just go sit out in the gardens until they get back.” Turning quickly, not wanting to hear the ‘you need to eat’ order from Vin, he walked swiftly down the hall to the kitchen, disappearing through the swinging door.
Patrick raised an eyebrow at the disappearing figure as Vin opened his mouth, about to make the comment that Jim knew he would. Then, seemingly to think of a different tactic, he hesitated.
As they finished their conversation about the house, Patrick asked in a conversational tone, “I wonder if I might suggest a good tailor while you are in Salisbury for Mr. Ellison, I’ve noticed that his slacks seem a bit loose, as if he’s lost weight recently. Heavens know why, he is barely anything but muscle and bones now.”
Vincent looked at him, “Point taken and one I agree with. Let’s see if we can’t do something about that problem.”
After loading up a tray with breakfast foods and two glasses of juice, Vin carried it to the garden and set it on the table. Jim was relaxing on a small swing near a rose arbor.
“That’s a lot to eat,” Jim commented, trying to add humor to a battle he knew was around the horizon, “better watch it or Day will start getting wandering eyes.”
Crooking a finger towards Jim, he beckoned the man towards the table. “Cut the crap for me, Jim, you know exactly who this is for.”
Sighing, the other man complied and settled himself in a chair across from Vin. He watched dispassionately as the older man filled a plate with several muffins, fruit and opened a small container of yogurt.
Stirring the yogurt as though for a child, Vin held out the spoon and the container, he waited for Jim to take it. Several seconds passed, neither man speaking---each engaged in this small battle of wills.
“James, you have two choices, both involve eating this breakfast. One comfortably seated, the other not so comfortably. Your choice, but I might add that I’m not in the most patient of moods this morning.”
"Those are some choices," Jim mumbled taking the yogurt, “and since when have you ever been in a patient mood.”
"Young man, I really don't think you want to be getting an attitude this morning. Do you?"
Jim didn't say anything, he simply stared into the creamy white mixture as if it held the answers. "I don't know what I want," he said quietly several minutes later.
It pained Vincent to see the lost look on Ellison’s face. It was the look of a man who was not quite certain who he was anymore. Vin had seen it on Jim’s face when he came to visit after Peru, before he understood the spiking senses that oftentimes assailed him---before the insightful anthropologist came into his life.
At that time, Jim had been filled with remorse and guilt over the loss of his men in the jungle. The assaulting senses were not issues with his last visit, but the knowledge that something was not quite right with him plagued him into moody and hostile bouts of antagonism. Vin met the antagonism head on and dealt with Jim appropriately. Now another approach was needed at least until Jim could sort out some of his chaotic emotions, fine-tune his thought processes to the clarification he needed, as the events of the last month chipped away.
"Come here, little boy," he said, rising. Grabbing Ellison by the upper arm he led the compliant man to the small garden swing again. Sitting down, pulling the man onto his lap he offered comfort in the familiar arms. Jim struggled slightly to get free, to retreat back into his shell, safe and protected. A hard swat to his hip from Vin stopped his struggling.
Vin slowly began to rock the swing.
"Blair held me like this on the plane coming over," the other man said out of the blue.
"Did he?" Vin questioned. "Did you like it?"
"Yes, I could relax. I knew he was there."
Not breaking the motion of the swing, Vin asked quietly, "What do you mean, you knew he was there? Where else would he be?"
Jim did not answer for some time.
Vin allowed the silence to engulf them, knowing that Ellison was seeking the answers on his own.
"Gone. Kidnapped like the others. Afraid I would find him hanging, tortured and I would be powerless to save him like I was powerless to help the others," he answered in a quiet voice.
"That's right, you were powerless to help them. The ones already dead. You’re a good detective. You’ve told me that yourself. Even good detectives need time and clues to solve crimes, to bring criminals to justice. But you did help other ones. You saved countless lives by catching the man. He would have gone on, kidnapping and torturing and killing until he ran out of victims or interest or God only knows what passion was fueling him. As long as there was a lucrative market for these snuff films, he would have continued. Perhaps in time he would have taken children."
Jim shivered, "I don't want to talk about it right now. Okay?" Jim asked, as though he were a child asking to be dismissed from the dinner table.
“You will in time, and I’ll be here for you.”
"I know. That thought has always kept me going, especially before Blair," Jim smiled and tightened his arms around Vin's chest. “I remember many times when a thought kept me from taking action, one simple realization of ‘Vin would have your butt over his knees in a second for this.’”
Vin laughed, "Well, little boy," he said with a trace of humor and mock sternness, "I will be more than happy to reinforce that message while you are here. Just keep up the fast and see what happens."
They stayed on the swing for several more minutes, lost in their own thoughts.
Jim sat up abruptly. "They’re home."
Vin looked at his watch. "What did I tell you, twenty-nine minutes with thirty seconds to spare. That boy loves living on the edge."
"Damien!" he raised his voice, "Get out here, immediately!"
Both men stood up and while they waited for the younger men's appearance, Vin looked pointedly at the waiting food.
Jim smiled, walked over and sat down. Reaching for a muffin, he cocked his head, tuning in to the conversation in the house. Looking at Vin, he said in a stage whisper, "Day is worried, he's asking Blair how long they were gone." Laughing, he added, “Blair says they were gone thirty-three minutes. I don't think you'd be too happy with what Day is saying."
Vin grinned, imagining the conversation and the excuses that his partner was going to come up with.
The back door opened slowly and a blond head peered out cautiously. A curly, darker head was just visible behind him, wanting to see what was going on and offer support, but also wanting to run if trouble was in the forecast.
Masking his face in serious lines of concern, Vin crossed his arms. Looking pointedly at his watch he tapped his foot.
Jim could hear a small “Uh oh,” from the doorway as Day came out onto the small patio. His face flashed a series of emotions, ending with a full-blown pout. "We're not late, Vin. It's only been thirty minutes."
Crooking his finger, the stern-faced man beckoned the younger one near.
"Blair," Jim called out, motioning for his own partner to quit hiding in the house and join them.
Day slowly and reluctantly walked towards his lover. Stopping just out of arm’s reach, he said again with conviction, "We are not late. You need to get your watch fixed if it says we're late because we aren't."
Blair watched Vin and Day out of the corner of his eye as he walked over to Jim and sat down.
Still not coming within Vin’s personal space, Day stayed safely on the perimeter, poised to run if necessary. Suddenly an arm snaked out and grabbed his upper arm. Before he could offer protest, explanation or plead for mercy, a resounding kiss covered his pouting lips. "I never said you were late, brat. I just missed you."
Laughing, Day playfully smacked the larger man’s shoulder. Wrapping his arms around the solid neck Day returned the favor. “Missed you, too.”
Jim pulled Blair down on his lap. Whispering softly in his ear, "Did you miss me, love?"
"Nah, not for a second."
Jim started to laugh, but was cut short by the capture of his own mouth.
Pulling back a few moments later, Blair smiled, smacking his lips for effect. "You taste like blueberries."
"Vin is making me eat."
Blair threw a grateful look towards Cade.
The brown eyes met his in acknowledgment. Blair nodded his appreciation.
During their on-going e-mail correspondence, Blair had learned a few things about Jim’s past. The constant attention Vin directed towards Ellison, the concern for his health and welfare were satisfying to realize. Everyone had someone, Blair thought, and I’m lucky I have Jim. It was satisfying to see that the past relationship the two men had was still strong and Vin would not hesitate in enforcing his own brand of retribution and guidance on those he felt needed it. Blair offered a silent prayer that he would not fall into that category.
Thirty pleasant minutes later, mutual agreement urged the four men towards the country.
"Look! There it is!" Day said excitedly, motioning out his back window at a white shape in the distance.
"There's what?" Blair asked, leaning over his back seat companion, "I don't see anything." Then a second later, he said, "Oh, wait. That white building? Is that Hell?"
Day laughed and said, "Yep, that's Hell. Trust me, it's a lot nicer than my old minister told me though."
Blair laughed and the two were off chatting and joking with each other again. There was a childlike ease between the two young men.
Jim exchanged smiles with Vin.
It’s good to see him so happy and alive, Jim thought, unlike those other young people. Catching himself falling into somber reflection, noting the concern that flashed his way from the driver, he fortified himself with the beautiful landscape. "You know, Vin, I will never figure out how you saw the house in the first place. What, it's got to be ten miles off the main road."
"I don't know either, to tell you the truth. I was just driving along, and I looked over and there it was." Vin glanced over and could understand what Jim was saying. Even now, even knowing what he was looking at and for, the house was not much more then a vague shape of white set against a field of green. Yet his memories of that day held the house bright and clear and beckoning in the green grassy distance.
"Oh well, who knows how he really found it." Day voiced in from the back, "His overly romantic story of seeing it rising out of the mist is probably more from his firm desire to be considered lord of the manor than the truth." Then laughing to take any sting out of the words, he added, "Knowing Vin, he hired some realtors and had them scouring the countryside looking for some little piece of property that he could rule over." The younger man leaned into the front seat and kissed the cheek of his lover who was trying not to smile, feigning a look of annoyance at the defamation of his character.
"Little boy, sit back and fasten your seat belt,” was the only comment.
From Blair’s seat behind Jim, he could clearly see the smile and the love on the other man's face. Day, for his part, didn't need to see it, Blair could tell by the matching expression on the young man’s face that he knew the abiding love was there.
The car pulled up to the gate twenty-five minutes later.
"Wow! What a great house," Blair said from the back seat.
"It was built around 1900 by some banker named, Ogden, who used it as a summer retreat." Vin pulled under a porte-cochere at the front of the house. As they got out and began to unload the luggage, Vin continued his history lesson. "The Ogden family sold the house in the 1950’s to another couple, but the man died a couple of years later and his widow lived here until about ‘86. She was old and really let it get run down. Then after standing empty for so long, it really got in bad shape, which made it even harder to sell. Plus, it's a big house and not that close to town."
With everyone pitching in, they were able to get everything out of the car. Walking to the front door and unlocking it, Vin opened it grandly and bowed at his guests with a smile, "Welcome to Halcyon Heights!" The pride and contentment etching his face brought laughter to the other three men.
Day moved past Vin with a smirk on his face. When he cleared target range, he yelled gaily, “Better known as Hell!”
“Daaaameeeeeiiin,” was the long-drawn out reproach.
Jim and Blair followed Vin up the main staircase to the upper floors. Day made a beeline for the kitchen.
"I wasn't sure what bedroom you would want. I was thinking of the front one with the fireplace. It has it's own bathroom. But, if you want the one that overlooks the gardens, that's fine, too."
"No, I like fireplaces,” Blair said eagerly, thoughts of romantic nights in mind.
“With the cost to heat this place, I’m sure a fireplace will come in handy. If the owner of this establishment fails to meet our needs, we’ll seek lodging elsewhere, Chief.”
"You know, James," Vin yelled over his shoulder as he pulled the drapes back to bid entrance to the bright sunlight, "I think that little comment jus earned you KP duty in getting lunch ready."
Jim laughed, "Why does that not surprise me?"
As they were putting their bags on the bed, Day appeared happily munching on a cookie and carrying several more. "Mrs. Tweedham just made these and they are great." He held out several cookies for any takers. Blair grabbed one.
"Day," Vin said, "while Jim and I get lunch, why don't you show Blair around and try to get him familiar with the house. Okay?" Then looking at his watch, he added, "No more cookies."
"Sure," he replied around a stuffed mouth, crumbs falling from his lips.
Blair nodded in agreement, curious to see and explore the house.
As the two would-be cooks disappeared down the stairs to the kitchen, Day looked at Blair, "So, let’s start up and work our way down?" he directed. Reaching into his back pocket he pulled out a stash of cookies wrapped in a napkin and divvied up the remaining treats.
"Sure, lead on," Blair said, biting into one of the offered cookies, "you're right these are great."
As the two men left the bedroom, Day took on a serious British accent as he began his tour. "Come, come, no stragglers please. If you get lost, I will hold the white paper napkin in the air, simply find the napkin and you will find me." He lectured in imitation of all the tour guides in London who carried brightly colored umbrellas for quick and easy tour group identification for lost tourists. Unable to keep up the act, they were soon laughing hysterically. Down in the kitchen Jim and Vin looked up towards the ceiling, then at each other. The boisterous pleasures from overhead put them in their own good cheer.
Walking the short ways to the end of the hall, Day opened the door to reveal a large room. “Not really sure what this room was used for but now we just use it for storage. Vin keeps some of his extra canvases up here; he paints down off the kitchen, in the old servants’ quarter. Which, judging by the space they had a bunch of, back in the proper days of the gentrified.” Day said with exaggerated propriety.
"There are the back stairs," Day said, pointing out a small hall with stairs running in both directions. "They will take you directly to the kitchen. The other ones go up to the attic."
Continuing down the hall, they passed the now occupied guestroom. Day showed Blair the other bedroom they could have stayed in, overlooking the terrace and gardens. Walking past the main staircase, to the other side of the house, Day opened up the door and gestured inside, explaining this was the master bedroom. The large room was warm and welcoming. The dark beige throw rugs on the hardwood floor, the king-size bed covered in a hound’s-tooth bedspread, made the room masculine, yet not overbearing.
Walking in, they went through another door and into the tower room. Day spoke with easy candor, "Vin doesn't believe in disciplining in the bedroom, unless there are no other options."
"Yeah, Jim is the same way."
“So of all places, this used to be the old nursery. Vin says it’s rather like poetic justice. He even had one of the contractors build that corner over there,” Day pointed to a small desk fashioned between two bookcases, jutting out considerably from the round room. “I keep a regular office for the gallery downstairs, but I have to work up here if I have lines to write or something. You’ll notice with the work station there are now two corners.”
Blair’s mouth dropped open. “You mean he built that just so you’d have a corner to stand in?”
“Yep, Vin doesn’t overlook a detail when my best interests are at stake.” Day could have said this with bitter sarcasm, but Blair could only hear pride and love in the explanation.
Proceeding down the main staircase, they came into the great hall that cut the house in half. The back, terraced gardens could be viewed as well as the porte-cochere through the front entrance. The high ceiling with exposed wooden beams gave old world grandeur to the house. Turning right, they passed a small bathroom that overlooked the front drive.
The lower tower room, under the nursery or Day’s discipline room, was a library. A large window looked out the front of the house and bookshelves lined all the walls. A beautiful antique desk was situated in front of the window.
The living room was next and Blair decided that this was his favorite room. Stepping down into the spacious area he moved towards the fireplace on the east wall. The mantel was a collector’s dream; small figurines of cats littered every available space. However, it was not clutter, but personality displayed, treasured items finding a place for viewing.
“What’s with the cats?” Blair asked.
“It’s sentimental,” Day said, blushing slightly. “I broke a crystal cat when Vin first brought me here. Everyone of those cats was a gift from Vin.” Day seemed a bit embarrassed, but he eagerly segued into a save. “Which reminds me, you’ve yet to meet Desi.”
With that said, he proceeded to walk swiftly down the main hall, yelling, “Desi! Desi girl!”
Blair stood down the step into the living room and watched his friend calling the strange girl’s name. Until he saw Vin approaching from the other end, hands on hips, a stern look upon his face. “Hell, Day, do you have to yell like that. The damn cat’s probably outside.”
Blair took one look back at the crystal, China and papier-mâché collection of cats and understood completely. Racing after his friend, he knew he had a lot to learn about his young friend and Vincent Cade.
The first day at Halcyon Heights was relaxing. After lunch, Day grabbed Blair’s arm and with the excuse of finding Desi, they headed off towards the terraced gardens and beyond. Jim and Vin cleaned up the kitchen and a barbeque was decided on for dinner.
Vin had office work to attend to and Jim decided to lounge on the terrace with a book, which quickly turned into a nap in the warm sun.
The brats were eager to explore, but more importantly set about their plans for ring hunting. The gazebo, old and in disrepair, made a fine clubhouse of sorts. Damien sat on the wooden bench, a sketch of the gardens and where he had been that day marked on his lap. Blair sat on the railing, swinging his legs nearby, offering commentary when necessary.
“Day, so where exactly did you go? Where were you when you noticed it was gone?” Then pausing, looking back toward the house over the wide expanse of grass and gardens, he sighed. “Chances of you finding something now are pretty slim.”
“I’m not giving up, Blair. I need to find that ring. But – we can’t tell Vin or Jim. He will kill me. I’ve told him I think there’s buried treasure in the lawn and that’s why I’ve been spending so much time out here. He feels I’m being foolish and told me to stop. Right now, with him here, I’ve no choice but to obey. I know I may never find it, but I’ve got to look. I’ll hate myself if I don’t find it.”
“Day, that does remind me of something I was going to ask you?” Blair sounded hesitant.
“Sure, Blair, ask away,” Damien encouraged.
“Well, it’s not really my business, but Vin just seems like such a hard ass. I mean, Jim doesn’t get on me the way Vin does you, about every little thing. I know I couldn’t take that and I’m certainly glad Jim isn’t that hard with me.” Blair sighed, reflecting his appreciation of having Jim Ellison for a lover.
Damien St. Claire looked up at his new friend, anger passed quickly over his features, but then he pursed his lips and seemed to consider the source. “Blair, you’re new at this discipline thing. I know that, but you’re right - it really isn’t any of your business.”
Blushing, Blair mumbled “Sorry.”
Day smiled and continued without anger, “Vin and I have exactly the kind of relationship I need and he feels I need and I’ve never been happier. But, you know, it’s more than that,” he paused as if searching for the right words to say what he was feeling, “I’ve never felt more loved, more cared for, more cherished and more in control of my own life.”
Seeing Blair’s quizzical expression, Day laughed. “Yes, control.” Smiling, at the past, he continued, “You see, when I first came here--- to England and when I found Vin---I had a chip on my shoulder bigger than all of the UK. I was testing waters right and left, I was fighting against everything and anything I could. I had even experimented in some pretty heavy D/s scenes, I even looked at getting into a Master/slave relationship. I needed something, someone, to give me balance in life, set up guidelines. I needed rules and structure, clear and solid consequences that I couldn’t fight my way out of.”
Sandburg laughed, “Yea, I know about guidelines, Jim’s pretty good at setting up rules, regulations and guidelines.”
“I’m sure he is and I can see you’re benefiting from them, but with Vin and me it’s still different. I don’t usually get warnings. I break a rule, I’m face down over his knee, bare-bottomed being spanked. Not to mention the hour in the corner for reflection. That’s just what I need though. I need him to be strict with me, not give me any leeway or room to maneuver. If Vin warned me, he’d be warning me all day, because I always push the envelope. It’s just me.” He shrugged his shoulders as if those last three words explained the essence of everything. “ It took us a little time to get everything in balance, between what I think I need and what he knew I needed. But, now, ” he said with a smile, glancing back at the house, “we are good. Things are as they should be and we are both really happy. So, with all due respect, Blair, don’t draw any conclusions about Vincent until you get to know him and, yes, me, a little better.”
Blair nodded, pushing his hair back behind his ear, “I’m sorry. I guess I don’t understand a lot of things.”
“But you will,” Day winked at him. “I bet you and Jim are still struggling between finding that perfect balance. It takes time. Vin and I worked on it for a couple years and we still are fine-tuning it. It’s a big change for most people. Hell, it was for me. It’s hard allowing someone else to take control over you and your life. It’s hard letting someone else tell you what to do and then allow them to punish you if you don’t.” He stopped and studied his friend. “You and Jim have been doing this for how long now?”
“Five months, we started in March. I have to decide next month if I want to continue this relationship.” Blair said softly.
“What are you going to decide?” Day asked gently. “You seem to be happy.”
“Yeah …. “ Blair said, his voice trailing off, “Just certain things bother me.”
“Like what? The rules you guys have?”
“No, not so much the particular rules just … ummm… I don’t know, just the whole he-controlling-my-life thing. This summer was hard in the beginning, I was being stubborn but then it just sort of clicked and felt so … so right.”
Day smiled, “I know, Blair, I know what you mean. But, I think that if it feels right, then if you stop fighting it and just accept your relationship, things all fall into place. It’s when you are fighting and struggling that they don’t seem to fit and it makes it hard.
Just then a small furry object plopped down on Day’s lap. Blair jumped off the railing, but Damien St. Claire merely grabbed the creature and hugged it. “Desi, Desdemona, sweet little girl,” raising the tabby up to show Blair, he continued, “Desi, meet Blair Sandburg, Blair, my Desi.” Blair saw the look of love in the hazel eyes as Day stroked the small cat. His friend had a soft spot for helpless creatures, and no doubt about it, Vincent Cade had an even greater soft spot for wayward brats.
As they started back up toward the house, Day playfully bumped Blair in the shoulder, “Trust me on this one buddy, just go with it and life suddenly fits into place.”
The next several days went by in easy camaraderie. Every day a new sight was visited. Salisbury Cathedral left them in awe and Vincent noticed how silent and reflective Jim had become. Vincent gauged his friend quietly from the sidelines, not making comments, just private observations on the general mood of the detective.
That evening over dinner on Sunday, Blair made a small comment about Jim’s lack of appetite. The detective came back with a harsh answer that was totally uncalled for. Day broke the tension with a slight joke and soon the meal resumed in basic good cheer.
Stonehenge was uneventful, except the two brats were becoming a bit boisterous. A firm command from Vin to Day and an equally less tolerant comment from Jim to Blair brought them both back in line in record time.
It wasn’t until they walked the rolling plains for Sarum, the old site of Salisbury, Monday afternoon that Vin noticed the first major signs of Jim’s distress. Blair and Day had run up and down the hills trying to get a proper view of the surrounding countryside from the different mounds. Vin and Jim, who were following a little further back, didn’t know what they were doing. But several times they became overly eager in their discussions. Day pushed Blair in a heated debate, no doubt more in jest than in actual anger, but Jim had bolted toward them, grabbed the blond giving him a sharp shake in the process.
“Keep your hands off of him,” Jim ground out.
“Hey, man, what’s up, Jim? We were fooling around,” Blair broke the contact by pulling Jim’s hand off of the shocked young man.
“I don’t want anyone laying a hand on you,” Jim continued to stare into the confused hazel eyes. Blair edged his way between the two men and faced Jim.
“What the hell’s the matter with you? Where is all this coming from, Jim?” Blair looked frightened and if Jim had been himself, he would have listened to the rising heartbeat of his friend and Damien, he would also have heard the angry steps coming from behind.
“Enough!” The loud command brought everyone up and about in time to see Vincent Cade fast approaching. Jim’s face hardened as though fighting some unknown enemy even he could not recognize.
Thumbing the two younger men aside, Vin waited until they got the hint and walked side by side up another hill overlooking the ruins. Vin waited until they were out of earshot, but he held Ellison’s glare with an equally powerful one of his own.
“I’ve suspected as much,” Vin began. “Blair voiced concerns to Damien along the way about how this case was eating you up and how you were disrespectful to him, your relationship, and any efforts to help you. Even Simon Banks had talked to Blair about the possibility that this time you needed professional help.”
Jim shook his head in shock and disbelief. “Thanks, that’s good to know that your lover and best friend are scheming behind your back to have you committed,” and with that, he started to turn and walk away.
The other man was not to be put off that easily, reaching out, he easily snagged Jim's arm and pulled him close. “Liiittttle booooooy.” Vin had a way of dragging the phrase out that for all it’s soft, mesmerizing inflections, it held far more threat than any loud command. “Tell me what that was all about.”
Jim shook his head, “It’s nothing, I can deal with it. Let’s just drop it.”
“Ha! I don’t think so. We are not going to drop it. You won’t talk to me about it, you insist on keeping it all closed up inside, eating away at you, instead of discussing it and letting it out so it can heal. Well, I know how to make you very open on the subject of communication. This weekend, you and I take a trip to London, alone.” The simple itinerary for the coming weekend was relayed like a tour, pleasantly, quietly, and with all the finality of directing an execution.
Jim started to speak, but Vin held up his hand, “You were given all the opportunity to talk, now we do it my way.”
Jim looked back up at the hill where Day and Blair were pretending to view the scenery. From the conversation Jim picked up, it was more a conversation about his health and well-being that had Blair clearly upset.
Looking back at Vin, Jim nodded his head, knowing full well what was in store for him and the necessity of such action. Indeed, if asked at that moment, Jim would have admitted he felt a strange relief to be back in the old, familiar hands of Vincent Cade.
That night after a delicious dinner, the warm autumn night was littered with stars. Blair and Damien both went out of their way to be cordial and in good cheer throughout the meal, but Jim could tell it was straining and tiring, like walking on ice, careful of every step.
“Vin, do you mind if I forego the evening gathering in the living room?” It had become customary since their arrival to meet every night in the huge living room, for quiet discussions, catching up on their lives and an occasional parlor game of cards or board games.
“No, of course not,” the older man watched his friend as he pulled Blair up by the arm and whispered in his ear.
Whatever the suggestion, Blair seemed surprised, then pleased. He flashed a huge grin at Vincent and ran out of the room.
“Blair’s getting a jacket, he’s always cold. We’re going to enjoy some of this beautiful night.”
Damien winked at Vincent and Vincent nodded at Jim, “I understand completely. Don’t stay out too late. This old place might be drafty, but when that mist settles on the hills, it gets pretty chilly out and I’m sure you’ll find your room a welcome retreat. I’ll see the fire’s lit in it before I turn in.”
Jim smiled gratefully, then turned. Stopping before he left the dining room, he came back the few steps to put him in front of Damien.
The blond young man stood stock-still. He never once looked for Vin and Jim’s respect for the man increased. Damien St. Claire could hold his own any day in battle.
“I’m sorry, Damien. I owe you an apology about this afternoon. I wish I knew….” he paused, unsure of himself, “I wish I could…I wish it never happened. It never should have.”
Extending one hand to place on Jim’s shoulder, the other sought his hand. A quick shake, a smile that held only friendship, and Damien didn’t even need to utter one word. Ellison nodded and turned to look at Vincent. “Either you’ve chosen the best, Vin, or you’re one man who can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”
Vincent let out a laugh that resounded in the paneled dining room. Damien huffed and puffed, but barely suppressed a laugh of his own. Jim Ellison went out into the night to mend some bridges to his soul.
Blair jammed a sharp elbow into Ellison’s side and was pleased with the “Ow” it earned.
“I would have been like so pissed at you, man,” Blair said, only half jokingly.
“I apologized to Damien, Chief. I was wrong and I have no excuses. I know I haven’t been the easiest person to get along with lately, but it’s going to be all right. Vin and I…well, Vin and I will be going to London this weekend,” Jim said.
Rising up on his elbow, Blair slid off of his lover, turning to lie forward on his chest. Looking up with big, soulful blue eyes, he said, “Day is going to be really upset, we had some plans for this weekend, exploring around here.”
“No, Blair, Vin and I are going to London, alone.”
“Why?” Blair asked, saying the first thing that popped into his head.
“I’ve got some stuff built up inside that I can't deal with. Even as much as I want to talk to you or Vin about it, I can't. I can't get it into words what I'm feeling. I'm off balance, feeling out of control. Vin knows how to bring me back in line.”
“Oh,” Blair said, remembering a conversation with Day on the phone several months ago and his friend’s inadvertent revelation about Vin’s relationship with Jim.
Looking down at him suspiciously, Jim heard the increased heart rate. “It's a good thing, Chief. I know to you right now, it might not make the most sense, but I think in time you'll understand. Things need to happen and they will, there’s no sense in questioning them. Which brings me to another point. I accidentally overheard your conversation with Damien about his relationship with Cade.”
“Oh, man, I forgot about you. I didn’t mean anything by it, Jim, I only wondered about it and I wanted to make sure he was okay with it.” Blair snuggled into Jim, causing the larger man to wrap his arms more tightly around him.
“It’s all right, I’m sure we can both be grateful for Damien’s tolerance and self-assurance, at least so far. He can get defensive, too, you know. Damien needs a firm hand to keep him in line. I remember when I first came here and realized what type of relationship they had, they were so happy together and Day was at such peace with things. I really envied him that, it was something I had not felt in years. Just don’t make waves, Chief, in places you don’t know your way around.”
“Well,” Blair said, not getting upset with the censure, too eager to take it in another direction, “why don’t you show me some of the sights.” Then with eager lips, he kissed the firm mouth of the man he loved more than life itself.
The next day, Tuesday, it rained. Day and Blair went into Salisbury early in the morning. Vin had supplied him with a grocery list and Damien said there was something he needed to get in town. The brats off on their mission, Jim and Vin decided to spend the day cleaning out the large attic. It really wasn’t something that needed to be done precisely at this time, but Vin decided that Jim needed a chore to do, to help keep his mind off the coming weekend and to help him relax again in an old routine.
Vin suggested that a night out in town at one of the local pubs might just be the thing to add that extra British flavor to their friend’s vacation.
Jim sat before a huge box of books, albums, and memorabilia from Vincent’s army days. “Hey, Vin, do you remember this?” Jim held up a photo of the two men in Washington, D.C. in front of the Lincoln Memorial. “It was just before I shipped off to Peru. You had just given up your commission. You were leaving for England.”
“Yeah, I’m amazed how it all worked out,” the brown eyes reflected memories. “If I hadn’t of come here, I never would have met Day. Two Americans who never would have connected if it weren’t for coming across an ocean.”
“Does he know about what you did in the army?” Jim asked cautiously.
“NO!” came the sharp answer. Vin looked at him for a long moment. “He doesn’t need to know that, not now and not ever. It’s history and that’s where I want it to stay…buried.”
“You know he won’t hear it from me.”
Vin sighed, “I know, Jim, I trust you. Sorry, I just love him so much. He’s put a lot of things behind me, he doesn’t even realize. He thinks I’ve saved him, brought him out of some kind of darkness into the light. Maybe I have if I’ve saved him from a life of silent screaming. That’s what he said he was good at, silent screaming. Protesting things that he raged against, but not really becoming involved, only show. I keep him in line now, that’s for sure. I know Blair thinks I’m harsh, but Day needs it and he’ll be the first to agree.”
“No, Blair’s just new to all of this. He’s still got some serious thinking to do himself. Our six-month trial is up next month. It’ll be interesting to see what he decides.”
As Jim talked, he kept rummaging through the box. Lifting an item, he blushed crimson. Vin caught the cessation of conversation and turned from his own task. Jim held an oak paddle in his hands.
“Good thing we cleaned. I’d forgotten where I’d put that thing. Bring it to London,” Vin said it so simply, as though it were common everyday things.
“I remember now how much this thing stings. I’m surprised you don’t use it on Day,” Jim said rubbing his hand over it, sorry he ever found the damn thing.
“Oh don't worry, Mr. St. Claire has several of his own. We’ve been meaning to head out and buy a new one. There’s one with a slight crack in it, need I explain from all the use it gets,” Vin said, laughingly. “If you like, you might want to bring Blair and we can make a purchase together. Might put Blair at ease. God knows, Day’s an old pro at having paddles made for him.”
“I don’t know, Vin, I don’t think Blair’s ready for that kind of purchase, yet,” Jim hesitated, still concerned about whether Sandburg would agree to continue the relationship.
"What are you guys using now?" Vin asked.
"I bought a wooden hairbrush the first time and we use that for the serious stuff and I spank him for the less serious offenses."
“Well, let me know if you change your mind. Damien and I are due a trip. The craftsman’s in Bath and we could make a day trip of it before you leave back for the States.”
“Unless he does something really stupid, I don’t think now’s the time,” Jim concluded, hopeful and ignorant of the future.
Stopping off at the small post office, the brats had retrieved the metal detector. The awkward box was placed carefully in Day’s jeep, a seriously old vehicle with probably true war experience, but Day looked at her as if she were a classic. There were things to Day’s soul, Blair was beginning to realize, that touched on sentiment and loyalty and a deep caring for things. He projected no affectations, but in all the small gestures of his heart, he showed class. Blair was proud to have met him.
“Okay, here’s the plan. I found out from Vin that he and Jim are going back to London for the weekend. I think your Mr. Ellison is in for some time across Vin’s knee. Remember that I told you that Jim was here about three years ago---I guess right before he met you. I swear that one week, it was either me or Jim lying across Vin's lap getting our butts beaten.” Day laughed as he forced the large package snuggly up against the back of the front seats.
Locking the door, he pulled a list from his back pocket. “Okay, some serious grocery shopping.”
Blair’s eager eyes took in the small town shops. Most were tourist attraction type shops with souvenirs of Stonehenge and the Salisbury Cathedral. The Bull’s Head Tavern was on the corner of Twingate and Towes Road. “That’s where we’ll be having dinner this evening. Great steaks and the best place for a pint in all of England, if you ask me.”
“I’ve always wanted to go to a genuine English pub,” Blair commented, following his energetic friend along.
“Well, if you’re up for a dart game, I can take you hands down,” Day stated, seriously. “I’m the best in town. I even beat Vin and he used to be some kind of school champion back in his college days.”
“I think I know my way around a dart board,” Blair said, giving Damien a conspiratorial smile. “How about we make it serious. You up for a little bet.”
“Sure, if you don’t mind losing, I don’t mind getting richer.”
A “humph” was the only reply as both shoppers entered the market.
Dinner was a relaxed affair. The pub was alive mid-week with tourists as well as locals. The guys had managed to secure a table in the far corner. It was far enough away from the fireplace where all the tourists seemed bent on milling around.
As soon as the plates were taken away, another round of pints was ordered. The two younger men jumped up eagerly and took off for the back room where a dart board and other games were set up to distract the locals.
“Vin, you’ve really got it made here,” Jim said, easing back in his chair now that they were alone. “I guess I always wondered why you decided to settle in England, but this place makes me wonder why I don’t chuck it all and move over here myself.”
“Too many memories back home, too many men’s families I’d just as soon not run into. It suits me here. Halcyon was the final pull. Once I saw that place, I just knew I was home.”
“You haven’t even visited in over ten years. Don’t you think Day might be right? You could come over for a few weeks or a few months,” Jim said with a smile, "maybe try some American landscapes. I’d like to introduce you to Simon Banks. You two have a very similar threshold for tolerance,” Jim laughed, raising his mug in a mock salute to men of little patience.
The throaty laugh of Vincent Cade was warm and musty from the beer. It was the laugh of a man still not sure it was acceptable in him.
“Day says I need to loosen up more. He says I walk around with a stick stuck up my butt most times. That boy has a way of putting images in your head about yourself and they’re not always good ones.” Vincent almost drained his mug after that admission.
"You picked a good one there, my friend. He is an amazing person."
Vin smiled, "He is. He is a contradiction; he has a good head on his shoulders and is smart, but too many people would or have overlooked it because he needs a firm hand and a tight leash to keep him in line. I can't imagine life without him." Vin smiled and glanced over his shoulder to make sure that their partners were not coming back. "You've got a really special young man yourself. He's smart as a whip but not stuck up or conceited. Seems to be a very genuinely warm and loving person.”
“That he is,” Jim said with a smile. “He blows me away sometimes with how much he knows, but he would never dream of making anyone feel less because of it."
“Have the two of you settled down into a good routine yet? He seems to be bucking your discipline some,” Vin observed.
"Yeah, some I think. He's a tough one. I don't want to break his spirit, and I'm afraid that if I'm too harsh or push him that's exactly what will happen. Blair's too special to risk doing that to. We are still working on it. Hell," Jim said, taking a big swig of his beer, "I don't know if he will even agree to do this full time."
"I think he wants to, Jim, I think he needs to, just don't know if he's aware of it."
Just then the two young men returned to the table, cutting off whatever Vin was going to say next.
Day’s face was flushed and Blair seemed upset. “Come on, Vin, let’s go. I’m tired,” Damien said, placing a hand on Vincent’s arm, as he sat down.
“Don’t be rude, little boy, it’s not about what you want tonight,” Cade glared at his brat who had slumped rudely down. One look and Day straightened, grudgingly.
“I’m kind of tired myself,” Blair said, joining in with his request for an early evening.
Jim and Vincent exchanged quizzical glances. Jim shook his head to confirm he wasn’t listening to what was going on in the other room and he was as much at a loss as Vin to the change about in their moods.
Neither man pushed, deciding that it was a squabble the young men could handle on their own.
The next day, the brats had seemed to start fresh. Whatever fight had caused the early cessation to the evening’s entertainment was put aside. Damien and Blair made breakfast in the kitchen, each taking a tray upstairs for their lover.
Blair knelt on the bed looking down at Jim. Watching the tired detective relaxed and youthfully innocent in his sleep, made Blair’s heart ache with the certainty of his love.
Planting a firm kiss on Jim’s mouth, he brought the man into the daylight. “Chief, that is not the way to get me out of bed,” Jim moaned greedily, pulling the young anthropologist on top of him, pinning him to his chest. The rising desire was proof of his effect on this man.
“No, Jim, breakfast. Then if you’re a good boy, I’ll see about joining you in bed again.” Blair pulled away and placed the breakfast tray across Ellison’s lap as he scooted up and leaned against the headboard.
“Vin will expect me down for breakfast,” Jim said regretfully.
“Nope. Day’s waking him much the same way right now.” Blair grinned lasciviously, “probably keep him in bed for at least another hour.”
Cocking his head exaggeratedly towards the outer hallway, Jim smiled and nodded. Sandburg took his pillow off the bed and swatted Jim playfully on the head. “I thought you were only supposed to use your talents for good. Isn’t that like so unethical in the superhero manual.”
“When you start teaching a course, Sandburg, I’ll read the manual. Right now I’m pretty much making up the rules as I go along.”
Blair sat cross-legged on the bed watching as Jim ate his breakfast. His appetite, though not completely back, had improved some. Once Vincent laid down the law, Jim seemed a bit more careful about following them.
“Come on, Jim, just one more slice of bacon and finish the toast,” Blair still wanted a clean plate.
“Chief, knock off the mother-hen routine. I’ve got enough with Cade breathing down my neck,” Jim said irritably.
“I’m just trying to put some weight back on you. You lost quite a bit the last few weeks. The country air has given me an appetite. I just want to see you eat with your usual gusto.”
Jim put the tray on the floor and pulled Blair back down on top of him, nuzzling his ear. “I can show you gusto, Chief, if it’s gusto you want.”
Pushing off of Jim, Blair sat back crossing his arms over his chest, playfully teasing. “You eat the rest of your bacon and toast, you’ll get me.”
Ellison reddened, pushing the covers back he stood beside the bed, his hands on his hips, dressed only in his boxers. “So now sexual blackmail. Any other devious little tricks you have in mind, Sandburg.”
Blair’s mouth dropped open. Jim was not joking. He was raging. “GET OUT! Let me take my shower in peace,” he yelled. Totally uncalled for, but quite sincere. Blair jumped off the bed, grabbed the breakfast tray on the floor and opened the door.
Vincent Cade stood in the hall just outside the door carrying his tray back to the kitchen. No doubt in Blair’s mind that he had heard the outburst. Closing the door, feeling protective of Jim, he shrugged his shoulders. “Morning doesn’t seem to become Jim right now. Must be the bacon, all those sulfates,” he said adding humor to the situation.
Vin raised an eyebrow but simply followed Blair to the kitchen.
After they unloaded their trays, Blair started to beat a hastily embarrassed retreat to the back gardens.
“Blair,” Vin called out, halting the younger man, “hold on and I’ll join you.”
He turned and looked at his host. “Isn’t Day going to be expecting you back in bed?”
Vin gave him what on anyone else would be a smug smile, “No, he’s asleep and won’t be up for an hour or so. We have time to talk.”
“Oh, okay,” Blair said, less than thrilled about the prospect.
Vin smiled again, ignoring the wary attitude, “Come on out to the terrace so we can talk,” he said, handing Blair a glass of juice.
After they were seated, Vin wasted no time in small talk. “How long has he been this on- edge, Blair?”
Blair took a long sip of his juice, avoiding the question----wanting to protect his lover yet wanting him to also get help. “Umm – we had this bad case that started in August and finished two weeks before we got here. Jim was running pretty ragged after the second body was found.” He stopped, remembering the haunted look in his lover’s eyes.
“How long did this go on? How many people were killed?”
Blair swallowed and glanced down into his juice. “Over a month and he killed 15 people.” He paused again and Vin did not interrupt. “It really bothered him, he wasn’t sleeping or eating and wouldn’t let me or Simon or anyone else help him,” the pain that he was not able to help his lover evident in his voice. “He wouldn’t let me help him, Vin. I tried, I really did.”
“I’m sure you did, son. It’s not your fault. Jim’s always been like that, or at least as long as I’ve known him. Sometimes you simply don’t give him the choice, you yank the control from him.”
Blair stared off into the distance, looking at the river and the rolling grounds before mumbling and shaking his head, “I’m not that strong. Maybe before, but not now.”
Vin looked at the younger man, puzzled by the comment but he did not say anything.
It was over lunch on the terrace that Cade voiced his plans. “Jim and I will be leaving for London in the morning.”
“I thought we were going Saturday, tomorrow’s Thursday,” Jim said, a bit confused and very much unsettled.
“I just feel we need this trip a little sooner than expected,” he helped himself to a sandwich and a large helping of potato salad from the local deli.
Watching Jim’s face crease in concern, he saw him push away his plate, no longer interested in food. Cade reached over quite nonchalantly pulled the plate toward him. Putting two sandwich halves on it and a scoop of salad before pushing it back to the other man. A quick look at Jim’s stubborn grimace, a raised eyebrow of warning, and Ellison soon began eating.
Blair watched the exchange, feeling a bit uncomfortable. The image of this man punishing Jim didn’t set well with him. No more than he could come to grips completely with the relationship he had with Damien. Not realizing he was staring, his mouth drooping in quiet wonder, he felt a sharp kick to his shins.
Day’s head, lowered to his plate, attention given to his sandwich, looked up with hazel eyes and a quick shake to his head. In Day’s mind, things were looking up. More time for exploration, digging around and a better chance of finding the missing ring. Blair nodded quickly, understanding the need to be discreet, but still not quite happy with the proceedings.
It wasn’t until evening misted over the landscape, that the chill of the night brought out the heat of debate. It started out peacefully enough. Jim sat on one huge winged back chair, Sandburg sitting in his lap, resting his head on his shoulder.
Damien was lying on the sofa with his head in Vin’s lap, as the older man stroked his hair. “How long do you think you’ll be in London?” Day fished for exact timing.
“Oh, I think Jim and I should conclude our business by Saturday, Sunday at the latest. It all depends,” Vin cast a look at Jim.
The blue eyes darkened with pain, “Yeah, a few days,” Ellison said, realizing how much he needed Vincent and the time they would spend together. He knew once the stronger, wiser man had him properly positioned, he would extract more information, instill more painful realizations, and start the healing faster than any session with a shrink could ever do. Vincent’s technique worked wonders on the memory and the soul---at least for him.
Blair raised his head and looked into his lover’s eyes. “Jim, maybe you shouldn’t go. I mean, you don’t have to. This is supposed to be a vacation. We could walk every day over the hills, maybe even take a picnic basket and eat down by the river.”
“Shhhh,” Jim said softly, placing a finger over Blair’s lips and stilling the avoidance he recognized. “It’s all right, Blair. It’s okay. I’m fine with it and I want to go.”
Blair threw a scathing look at Vin, hostile in the knowledge of what was to transpire. Day caught the look and bristled, “Vin knows what he’s doing,” he murmured but was quickly hushed by Vin.
“Does he?” Blair asked. “Ow!” a sharp swat to his rear made him look hurtfully at Jim.
“Don’t be disrespectful.”
“Well, does he, Jim? Does he really?”
“I think it’s up to Jim to decide that, little boy, not you,” Cade said quietly.
“I’m not a little boy. I’m a man. Jim treats me like a man,” Blair said haughtily. Then seeing Day’s expression, he amended, “well, most times.”
“You’re always a man, Blair, you just get treated like a child when you act like one. Don’t you think you’re acting like one now?” Jim narrowed his eyes, pinning Blair with an icy blue stare.
“I’m sorry,” he laid his head on Jim’s shoulder, not wanting to fight this last night together. “I just love you, man. I love you so much.”
“I know. I do know that, Blair.”
“Hey, how’s about a game of Trivial Pursuit,” Day raised himself up, eager to bring some fun back into their lives.
“Sounds good to me,” Jim said, tickling Blair, “and I know Blair loves to play.” Within moments the laughing younger man was nodding his head furiously trying to escape the torture and also the painful thoughts.
Vin smiled at Jim, watching the play between the two men. Ellison pushed Blair up and landed a firm swat on his rear. He grinned at Vincent nodding his head in a mutual concurrence that all was really well or soon would be.
The game started out by the rules, nice and even and moving right along. An hour later, the mood had shifted. Jim and Vincent were winning. Both of their pieces were filled and about to start the way up the centerline and they were gently teasing the two younger men. Blair was missing two triangles and Day was missing three.
“Come on, Professor,” Vin said with a laugh as he replaced the card that they had just missed. “It doesn’t get much easier than this. What name did Vincent Van Gogh sign to his paintings?”
Jim laughed as Blair blushed. “You couldn’t come up with ‘Vin?’”
Blair laughed and shook his head, “Don’t worry, Day and I are just planning a big come from behind rally. Aren’t we?” he asked his friend, nudging him.
Day didn’t answer and only gave a small, faint smile.
Blair gave his partner a strange look, unsure about this competitive side of his new friend. He had seen it last night at the dartboard. Damien had been confident and happy when they started, but once Blair started winning he had become withdrawn and upset. Several times Blair had heard him chastising himself. Blair had let it go by morning, thinking it was just a strain of having guests in your home and wanting to impress a new friend, but now he realized Day placed a lot of his self-worth on winning.
“Day!” Vin said sharply as he noticed the other man’s withdrawn attitude. “What have I told you about winning all the time?” Vincent pinned the young blond man with his brown eyes.
“You guys are getting all the easy ones. It’s not fair, I’m getting all the hard ones and you’re making fun of me. I’m just getting upset, that’s all,” he tried to explain.
“Well, don’t.” The simple statement made him bristle all the more. “No one is making fun of you, it’s a game and we’ve talked about the importance of lack of importance in winning. Haven’t we?”
Several minutes later, he picked up the dice and rolled, landing the piece on History.
Vin pulled the card and read the question, “Who was Paul Revere’s wife?”
“Bullshit!” Damien yelled out, rising from his chair. “No way are you going to tell me you aren’t giving me all the hard ones!”
“Damien ….” It came out slowly, silkily, and threateningly.
“NO! It’s NOT fair! I am not as stupid as you are making me seem!”
“Day, no one thinks you’re stupid, it’s just a dumb game,” Blair burst out disbelievingly.
Day’s response was a sweeping hand over the game board, pieces flying in different directions, the cards joining them on the hard wood floor.
The next several seconds were basically a blur to Blair. Day was standing there one moment looking outraged, his hands on his hips in self-righteous anger. The next moment Vincent had Day’s butt facing Blair as the blond young man was draped over the large shoulder.
“If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I need a word with Damien. Don’t clean up the room, he’ll be more than happy to do so in a short while. Also he’ll be coming to your room later this evening to apologize.” With that statement, Vin turned around and strode purposefully up the small step and out into the hallway heading for the staircase. Blair watched as Damien still raged, trying to grab hold of Vin’s belt and right himself.
As large as the house was, Blair could hear the loud, resounding swats of a wooden paddle on bare flesh, several minutes later, the reverberating cries that echoed each smack and the argument that was still ensuing. By time they reached their bedroom, the arguments were more pathetic with more pleadings intermingled. Jim shook his head as they closed the door. He walked over to the fireplace and turned on the gas logs.
“Don’t feel badly, Blair, he brought this upon himself.”
“I just don’t know what got into him. He was like this last night with the darts. I mean, just because I was winning, he got all upset with himself and really down.” Blair stood in the middle of the room, looking towards the door, still hearing the vague cries of distress.
Jim walked over to him, put his arm around his waist from behind and drew Blair back to the large lounge chair by the fire. Sitting down he pulled his lover onto his lap. “Vin loves him. Damien feels he has to win, has to be the best to be worthy of Vincent sometimes. It’s something they’re working on, but Day just needs to be reminded every so often.”
Blair lay his head back, “I don’t like you going tomorrow, Jim. I don’t like the idea of him hurting you. It sounds like Day is hurting.”
“Chief, he’s not going to be hurting, he’s going to be helping me, like he’s doing with Day. Yeah, there is going to be some discomfort – maybe even pain – involved but it’s okay. I never believed in discipline myself until after Peru. When I came here to spend some time with Vincent and Damien, I had no idea what type of relationship they were in. I was confused and lost, I was hurting and turning those feelings back on myself. I was unsettled, angry at the world and felt guilty as anything over loosing my men. I was so jealous of their relationship and wanted it so badly, wanted that peace that Day seemed to have but I had no idea how to get it. It wasn’t until I walked in one day to see Damien over Vin’s knee being punished that I realized what was going on.” He kissed Blair on top of the head, reassuring himself as well as his partner that everything was fine.
“When Vincent saw me, he motioned me out, not wanting to embarrass Day. However, we talked about it and he wanted to try it with me. Said I had to agree, but he thought it would help me come out of myself, break down emotionally and talk to him about what was really bothering me. Well, Chief, I talked and I cried and I talked some more and it worked like I don’t think anything else would have. I’m not saying it was always pleasant and didn’t hurt. It was probably one of the most painful---both physical and emotional---things I’ve ever done. He was disciplining me, harshly and firmly, but I knew I was also loved and cared for. It was a good feeling. After being responsible for eight men’s lives, it was good to give up that responsibility to Vincent Cade. I’m perfectly willing to do that again, Chief…perfectly willing.”
They sat there for over an hour, watching the flames dance in the fire, the cozy warmth expelling all their fears. A soft knock on the door and when beckoned in, Damien opened the door. Vincent could be seen standing out in the hallway, arms folded across his chest, watching the proceedings.
”Jim, Blair, I’m sorry for the way I behaved this evening. I hope you can forgive me,” the red eyes could barely meet their gaze.
“Of course,” Jim said. He nudged Blair. “Yeah, sure, Day. No problem, man. We all get carried away sometimes playing games.”
Damien sniffled pathetically, wiped at his eyes, then unconsciously brought a hand back to rub his butt. “Thanks,” he muttered and turned, not leaving the room until Vincent nodded his head.
“Manners, little boy,” Vincent still demanded more.
Damien turned, “Good night, Jim. Good night, Blair.” Then he left, no doubt to proceed downstairs and clean up the board game.
“Let’s get to bed. I want to hold you close. I’ll miss you until Sunday.”
Then with eager fingers, they undressed each other and climbed beneath the covers. The weekend would be long and eventful for both men.
Jim and Vin left early. After a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast in the breakfast room, the four men proceeded out to the front drive and amid warnings, threats and hugs they parted company.
Damien was in an unusual mood. Sullen and quiet, he practically hung on Vincent when it came time to leave. No doubt in Blair’s mind that the brat had been in a sulk since the board game last night, too caught up with his own internal struggles to pay much attention to anything else. Now when the object of his love was leaving for three days, he was remorsefully seeking to make up for it in a matter of minutes.
Vincent pulled him off to the side as Jim and Blair had private words between themselves. Blair caught a slight smack to the blonde’s bottom for some uncalled for comment, but in the final moments Vin trapped the face of his lover and planted a resounding kiss to his lips.
“Behave, Demon,” he growled out in warning, as he moved towards the driver’s side. Jim took his cue, kissed Blair one last time and slid into the passenger seat.
Rolling the window down, Jim added, “You, too,” as a final reminder to Blair.
As the black sedan moved out towards the long driveway, the young men waved, solemnly.
“Well, we have at least two full days to go over every inch of the yard. You game?” Day asked his friend.
“As long as we stay out of trouble. Let’s start with the gardens and pray we find it. The lawn’s going to take the longest. ” Blair said, already taking charge.
“Righto, my friend,” Day seemed in a cheery mood now that he had a purpose to life.
“You know they’re up to something, don’t you?” Vincent asked casually as he peered into the rearview mirror.
“Yeah, I heard them planning every chance they got. I think Day wants to go treasure hunting.”
“Damn it, I’ve talked myself blue in the face, but I should have known Day only hears what he wants to hear,” Vin took the turn a bit too sharply as he accelerated, throwing Jim against the shoulder harness.
Catching the look thrown his way, he eased up on the accelerator, “Sorry, Jimbo, the Demon gets into me sometime.”
“They’ll be all right. Blair has a solid head on his shoulders and he’s used to dealing with enthusiastic students on anthropological digs. They’ll be fine.” Jim leaned back, closed his eyes, and hoped for the best.
Vincent tightened his grip on the wheel. Enthusiasm is a mild word compared to what Damien’s capable of, Vin thought. Blair better watch it isn’t contagious. The sedan hugged the road and traveled on towards London.
Day motioned Blair over several inches, the headphones locked into place on the golden head, the metal detector beeping away. “There, dig right there,” he pointed towards a row of flowers carefully planted in a circular pattern of color.”
“You know, this would have been a hell of a lot easier if you hadn’t been digging, planting and spreading fertilizer all day.” Then pausing, looking at where Day was pointing, “What about the flowers?” Blair asked, hating to upset the carefully laid garden.
“Blair, this ring is a lot more valuable and important then the flowers. Besides, winter is coming on and their days are numbered anyway.”
Digging into the earth Blair tossed each shovel full onto the mesh they had layered over an old bucket. The earth sifted through fallen to the bottom while rocks and any items would remain on top for closer inspection. When several feet of the earth was upended and sifted through, the metal detector still unequivocally demanded their attention. Finally, the flowers teetered over, no longer strong enough to withstand the assault. Blair realized there was no way of saving them now.
Day turned off the machine and carefully poked around the items on top of the mesh. A rusty nail, the shirt clasp of a fountain pen, and a piece of metal no longer recognizable.
“Nothing. Okay, let’s continue.” Day hefted the equipment up and was once again scanning the terraced gardens.
By lunchtime, half the gardens were uprooted. It looked like a disaster zone after a war.
Soup and sandwiches and the brats were onto the next section. This time Blair manned the metal detector and Damien dug. Day was far less careful of his attack. The slightest suggestion from the detector and Damien was digging deep and thoroughly, covering the areas around. “Hey, man, go easy here. Vincent is not going to like coming home to his garden looking like this. You have a death wish?” Blair wondered, fearful of having the older man’s anger directed at him.
“I’ll just tell him Sam Cutler’s dog got loose. Last summer, Bozo came digging around chasing some rabbits. He dug up most of Vin’s freshly planted flowers. I thought Vin was going to kill that dog, but you want to know something funny?” Day asked, as he squatted near the bucket ciphering for his ring.
“What? He drowned him in the river?” Blair asked, seriously.
“Nah, Vin’s a soft touch. Same thing with Desi. He acts like he hates her, like she bothers his allergies. I saw him once through his office window. She was sitting on his desk and he was feeding her cat treats he has locked away. Talking to her like they were soul mates. Never let on that I know. I’ve learned to play the game with Vin, he likes seeing himself as a hard ass and he likes others to see him that way, too. Actually, he’s a soft touch,” Day explained.
They stopped, having found a small round object that turned out to be a brass fitting. Day grimaced, “Well, like I was saying,” he continued his story as he started digging deeper, “Vin put a rope around the dog’s neck, tied it to the back porch and then brought out a series of dishes. The damn dog had a buffet table set up for him. Vin called Mr. Cutler bitching up a storm. Just as the guy comes rushing over here, Vin cleans up the dishes and plays Mr. Put Upon Neighbor. I almost laughed out loud when Vin said he’d have the dog and Mr. Cutler locked up if it happened again.” Damien chuckled. “Vincent is never what he appears to be. He’s hard, Blair, but underneath he’s only hard to hide the softness.”
“Besides, animals can tell about people. Bozo and Desi love Vincent and so do I. We dumb animals, we know stuff like that,” Day laughed, and then barking loudly, he stood stock-still. The shovel had hit something metal, something large, something stubborn and now hissing.
The London flat was empty. Patrick had been instructed via a phone call to make himself scarce for the next few days. The weather forecast was for drastically dropping temperatures. A frost would be overlaying the countryside and the chance of rain was ninety-percent.
“That should keep the brats indoors and out of trouble,” Vincent said as he turned the remote off. He and Jim had casually eaten lunch in font of the television, making themselves at home again in the flat.
“Yeah, Blair hates the cold. Day will be hard pressed to get him scavenging the countryside if the temperature drops below fifty. He didn’t really bring anything heavier than a cable knit sweater. I think we’ve got the weather babysitting for us.” He lay his head back on the winged back chair and closed his eyes. No doubt to Vincent the soul searching was coming to the forefront.
Getting up, he collected the plates and glasses. When he returned he sat on the sofa.
Sighing heavily, he looked at Jim Ellison, tired, eyes closed, head back, a man lost to some painful fears he could not shake.
“Go get it, James.”
Jim’s eyes shot open. He stared at Vin as though he didn’t quite hear right.
“You heard me. Go get it.”
Rising wearily, Jim did as he was told. Up the stairs to his room, he opened the suitcase and took out the wooden object Vin had instructed him to pack, him to bring, and him to be responsible for…the old paddle.
Returning to the living room, he handed the instrument to Vin. The older man shook his head and pointed to the coffee table in front of him. The detective put it down within easy reach of the ex-Lt. Colonel.
“Take ‘em down, Jim, and assume the position.” Vin spoke in short commands, easily catching Ellison in the voice of authority and the obedience military men just fall into out of habit.
Slowly unbuckling his belt, he unzipped his pants and pulled them off. Taking several deep breaths, he knelt down next to Vin’s knees, and carefully laid himself across the strong, muscled thighs.
“We’re here to talk. To find out what’s got you all tied up and upset, we are going to get it out in the open, deal with it and start you back on track,” Vin said gently as he rubbed Jim’s back. “You talk, I listen,” he continued, his voice now taking on a sterner edge. “You don’t talk or insist on BS’ing me, then I paddle, spank, then stop. You get a chance to talk again. If you don’t talk or aren't honest, we start the procedure again, round and round, until you catch on. Got it?”
“I’m just tired, Vin, that’s all. The case. It was hard,” Jim said softly, resting his head on his folded arms resting on the couch. He knew, even as he spoke, that Vincent Cade could not be fooled and would not allow him the easy route.
“You’re a cop, Jim, you’ve been a cop for over eight years now. Don’t tell me you’ve not built up some protection against seeing some of the cruelty you’ve seen this past month.”
“No, you never get used to some things,” Jim said, buying time.
“No, not used to it, but why did you let it absorb you like you did?”
“I don’t know.”
“Not a good enough answer. Not good answers by a long shot, my friend.” Vin shifted Jim into a better position for his attentions. Pulling the boxers down, he picked up the paddle.
“I think you have better insight into the problem than you are letting on. You’ve ignored Blair’s entreaties to eat, his general concerns for your health and well-being. Do you think that’s right? He’s your lover. He cares about you as you care about him.”
There was only silence. The stubborn pride of a man brought to this point. A man who could understand loving someone, but could not acknowledge the same needs for caring and nurturing that he could so easily give himself.
Vincent Cade raised the paddle high. Bringing it down without warning, he imprinted a red region to the right check.
“This isn’t fair, Vin!” Jim cried out.
In answer to the fairness of it all, an equally severe swat landed on the left check. Jim groaned, biting down on the pain, refusing to cry out.
The paddle intoned itself with a steady rhythm, sound and fury, anger over careless regard for self and Blair, the equalizer demanded justice. Vincent paddled hard, reddening the surface in an equally fine measure, toning the skin to rosy hues.
By the twenty-fifth stroke, Ellison was crying softly.
Cade laid the paddle on the table and softly stroked the red globes. “Why? Answer me, little boy. Why did this one bother you so much?”
Jim wiggled seeking some relief to the region. Vin delivered a sharp spank to settle him down. “Talk to me or do I continue paddling you?”
“I saw him there,” he broke down. “I saw him there every time we found another one. I realized how easy it could have been him. How these boys, these young men..” Jim stopped to catch his breath. Vin pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and handed it to Jim. Blowing his nose, he paused to regain some composure. Then he continued, “They were a Blair to someone. There was someone out there who loved them the way I love him. So, in truth, I failed him. And it hurts.”
“Shhh, little boy, shhhh,” Vin continued the soft strokes reaching higher now to rise above Jim’s waist. Comforting, offering solace and understanding, he still held him firmly down, but he was pinning him with safety as well as the threat of punishment.
“But you still didn’t answer me. Why did you ignore Blair? Were you taking it out on him? Making him pay for being a victim, because you couldn’t make those other young men pay anymore?” Vin went for the throat, toppling the man across his lap into a realm he was not ready to go.
“NO!” Jim shouted out. “Damn you, Vin! NO!”
Cade took a deep breath. This time using his large hand, he started smacking the reddened bottom, covering the distance with a vengeance, eager to force the issues at hand. Jim wiggled in a vane attempt to escape the pain. Vincent pressed down firmly on the small of his back refreshing his memory to the feelings of helplessness, comeuppance, time to pay the piper. Jim sobbed, gulping large masses of air, choking off cries of pain and frustration and guilt.
“I hated him!” Jim let it out, hating himself as he said the words. “I hated him, Vin, hated him as I hated them for getting themselves killed. I hated him for making me love him the way I do, for putting me in the position of caring so much that if he was one of them I would not be able to live.”
Vin stopped his hand in mid-flight. It was said. The truth was clearing the air and now they could search deeper. The doors were wide open now and Jim Ellison was a man again, not a silent super hero bent on quiet suffering and self-recrimination.
Lifting the figure, he helped the detective rise up, turning him quickly to fall back upon his lap. Ellison winced as his hot flesh made contact with the rough cords Cade wore. “It’s okay, now, Jimmy, it’s okay. We can deal with it. We’ve got a few days and we can find out how to make it right,” he said as Jim cried on his shoulder, releasing the pain and guilt that had festered inside.
The late afternoon sun filtered through the shades, igniting the room with a tribute to the day, bright shards of light seeking every corner, finding entrance through the smallest crack---just as a soul will seek the most unobtrusive entrance and move towards a friend to find some light.
British Gas pulled out of the driveway by six o’clock that evening. The gas line was severally damaged and the best that could be done was a shut off of service until the lines could be repaired on Sunday. The old house would get pretty damn cold this evening, but Day wasn’t worried about the chill in the air. His concerns were for the rising temperatures upon Vincent Cade’s return.
Now as both brats reflected over their quiet meal, heads bowed into their soup bowls, imagining the worst possible scenarios upon their lover’s return in a few days, all enthusiasm was long gone.
The scream pierced the night, echoing off the walls. Vincent Cade was down the hall in a matter of seconds, heading directly for the cause of the disturbance. Throwing the light switch he was on the bed in no time grabbing the flailing arms, calling out assurances, “Jim, it’s all right, Jim. Wake up.”
Blue eyes focused, turned outward until they met the rock solid, earth tone eyes of Cade. One could ground yourself in those eyes, for they were firm and solid, hard and unyielding, yet deep when they wanted to be. Now they looked into the ocean depths with the quiet calm of logic and compassion.
Pulling away from the hands, Ellison wiped a weary hand over his face, drawing downward the pain and confusion until it fell away. “I’m sorry. I must have been dreaming.”
“No?” Cade asked, surprise evident in his eyes, humor softening the expression.
A smile flashed the somber face, “Didn’t have nightmares about the case before.”
“Could be you weren’t sleeping very much, enough to have any dreams or nightmares,” Cade argued.
“So it’s a good thing now?” Jim queried, looking for a fight.
“Yes, it’s a good thing you’re acknowledging how hard the past few weeks have been on you. No, it’s not a good thing you’re having nightmares, but that only means you need more time, more discussion. No, it’s not a good thing to show me attitude at two o’clock in the morning. And yes, it’s a good thing you’re going to spend the rest of the night with me.” With that he drew back the covers and waited patiently for the detective to get up.
Jim opened his mouth to protest, then a quick hand raised and he doubted a whole platoon would have been willing to take on Vincent Cade, hair disheveled, look of mild annoyance and much taller in the shadows of the lamp. He looked powerfully built with the white T-shirt straining against his muscles. The lightly graying temples only highlighted his features in the soft lighting.
Besides, Ellison thought as he stood up, can’t think of a better place to be when I need to feel safe, than next to Vincent Cade.
“Damn it, Blair,” Damien said for what seemed to him the hundredth time that night, as he pulled the blankets up around him, turning on his side on the couch to face the fire. The house was cold. The gas heating was useless with no fuel and most of the rooms had fireplaces fueled with gas as well. The large living room was the only natural log fireplace. “It wasn’t my fault. You were there. Why didn’t you think of power and gas lines? You were just as eager as I was to unearth that thing. Huh!” He harrumphed as though adding more credence to his statement.
Blair slept on the floor closer to the glowing fire. Cold was not a favored state to him. The brats had collected just about every available blanket from the house and brought them into this room. The coffee table was moved away from the hearth, the couch pushed closer in towards the warmth, and all the blankets piled around looked as though some giant animal had begun nesting in the great room.
Letting go a long shiver, Blair, wrapped his feet closer in. “This is so not my idea of a vacation. Why don’t you just call Vincent and tell him. Maybe we can all go back down to the flat in London until the heat is fixed.”
“NO!” Day yelled, getting tired of Blair’s logic. “Not until I find the ring. I just know it’s out there. I just know it! And this is going to be one of my only chances to find it!” He would not be swayed.
Blair watched the fire leap and lick upward, wishing he could sit himself on those logs and be consumed in the blaze, as cold and dejected as he felt. He was beginning to really care for Damien St. Claire. He was so like the brother he never had or childhood friend who never stayed too long in Blair’s peripatetic life. But, and it was a big but to Blair right now, he could do without the stubborn, pigheaded, one-track mind that was pulling both young men fast into more trouble than either one could handle.
“Blair?” the quite voice lacked the cocky-sureness that had plagued him all evening.
“What?” the anthropologist asked not turning around.
“I’m sorry. Don’t be angry with me. Vin always lectures me about responsibility and the right thing to do and all that crap that puts people in boxes and ruts. I just don’t want that with you. You know, man, I just want it to be different with you.” There was so much longing in the small speech that Blair rolled over and faced the young man lying on the couch a few feet above him.
“Day, we’re in for a penny, we might as well be in for the pound.” Seeing the grin that spread across the blonde’s face, he added, smiling himself, “Where do we start tomorrow?”
That was enough to set the dreamers off on plots and plans and locality…enough to wile away a good chunk of the cold, bitter night.
“Oh, man, why didn’t I see it before?” Day said, his voice filled with happiness. He was laying on his stomach, looking down through the floor of the gazebo, the fading sunlight just revealing the glint of gold half buried in the dirt. “You’re amazing Blair, fucking amazing.”
“Just saw the glint as I was tying my shoe. Must have been the right angle of the sun or something,” Blair said happily. At least they had accomplished their goal. They would have that to think about right before their lover’s killed them.
All morning the two young men had dug small holes in the newly sodded lawn sloping down from the terraced gardens towards the river. The lawn looked like it had been attacked by a legion of ground hogs and moles, but neither Damien nor Blair seemed too concerned about the state of the lawns.
“Now, how do we get it out?” Blair asked, walking around the structure. After retrieving a hammer from the garage, they carefully pried several boards up, allowing Day to jump down to the ground.
"NO!" he yelled a second later.
"What's wrong?" Blair asked, concerned.
"It's an earring, some old gold earring," Day said, the disappointment clearly evident in his voice.
Several minutes later, the two friends were sitting on the edge of the gazebo, both too tired and too depressed to move.
"I'm never going to find it," Day said, softly.
Blair looked at him and decided that the truth was probably the best, "I know Day," he said nudging him, "I think we've looked everywhere. Judging by the state of the lawn, I think we've dug up everything that beeped."
Day surveyed his once pristine lawn. "Vin is going to have my head."
"Yeah, well, mine's going to be right next to it," Blair said with a laugh, knowing that when their lover's saw the destruction, laughing would be the furthest thing from their minds.
Day flopped backwards, lying on his back staring at the ceiling. Neither man said anything until Day broke the silence, “Hey, Blair, look here,” he called to his friend.
"Come here, what's this? He said, lying on his stomach, looking through the hole they had made. He pointed to a semi-visible outline of a square in the dirt.
"I don't know, let's see."
After both lowering themselves to the ground, they began to clear off the dirt around the area. Half of it went under the edge of the gazebo and was covered by the grass.
"What do you think it is?" Day asked.
"I have no idea," Blair said, "maybe a bomb shelter from World War II?"
Day smiled, "Want to try to open it?" he asked with a laugh, mischief gleaming in his eye.
Blair laughed, "I don't know if we can. Plus, that wall," he said, pointing to the north side of the gazebo, “is on top of it."
"Oh, come on, a little adventure, a little excitement. I bet we can take a couple of the lower boards off and that'll give us enough room to at least open it up and see what's inside."
Blair nodded, curious and not seeing that it could be that big of a deal.
Another half hour wasted collecting tools and equipment and it wasn’t until around three in the afternoon that the assault on the Gazebo actually began. Walking down the slight hill from the house carrying a crowbar, Day was stopped short.
There on the edge of the lawns stood Mark Coletrane, hands on his hips, eyeing the lawns with a puzzled look on his face.
“Day veered off track, dropping the item. “Oh, Mark, hi, how’s it going?” Day started casually as though torn up sod and mud piles were a common occurrence at Halcyon Heights.
“My God, Day, what the hell happened here?” Coletrane looked like he could cry.
God, get a grip here, man, it’s lawn just fucking lawn, Day thought. Never one to understand the thrill of gardening, a pleasure that Vincent was always trying to teach him, Damien liked his earth natural and on the other side of the window.
“Just a little accident, that’s all, Mark. Don't go all postal on me. Vin’s aware of it. We’re looking for a gas leak,” partial truth is always good, Day reminded himself.
“I got sidetracked this week with the rain we had at the beginning. Vin said it would be fine to do the lawn on Saturday.”
“Yes, yes that’s fine, but just the front lawns, okay? Wouldn’t want the mower to hit that bad line now would you. Puff!” Day accentuated the situation with a hand gesture throwing the earth up in an explosion.
“Are you sure?” Mark still didn’t quite buy the explanation, watching Blair move around the gazebo with more tools.
“Did you call the gas company?” the gardener asked.
“Of course we called British Gas,” Day said exasperatedly. “Look, do you want me to call Vin out, he’s painting, but if you insist?” Day bluffed, laying his cards face down on the table, praying to whatever gods looked out for brats.
Mark looked at him strangely. He could have sworn that his lover, Peter Bailey, had mentioned Vin was planning on a trip into London this week with his American friend. Vincent had wanted to make sure Doc Bailey was in London, too, in case his friend needed medical attention.
“Fine, Damien. I’ll do the front and I’ll come back mid-week to finish up the back. How does that sound?”
“Great, that’s super, Coletrane, just super.”
Mark turned and shaking his head at one last look at the ruined lawns, he went around to the front of the house.
Running to pick up his tool, Day hurried towards the gazebo, eager for his and Blair's adventure to begin.
Jim sat on the small garden swing. Lunch was over and Vin was demanding more introspection. A mutinous look had shadowed his eyes momentarily, but rather than the command to assume the position, he was sent outside to reflect in the garden.
Vincent had gone off to make a phone call. He said he needed to check on the brats.
When Vincent entered the garden, he didn’t seem too happy. “No answer. That’s odd. I told Day I wouldn’t call until this evening, but he usually takes the phone with him when he’s out sunning on the terrace.”
“It’s probably too cold. Blair hates the cold and he won’t be too keen on sitting out if the temperatures are as low as they said on the news this morning.” Then thinking about it, he added, “Maybe they went off to do some shopping. I know Blair likes trinkets, souvenirs of places he’s been.”
“Possibly,” Vin sat looking at the flowers reflectively, but not really seeming assured by the suggestion.
“I just know my brat and I think you were right about them being up to something. I’ll just try again later.” Coming over to Jim, Vin motioned for him to rise. Vin seated himself on the swing and reaching up pulled Ellison down on his lap. Jim twisted, still uncomfortable with the gesture, fearing Patrick might show up.
“Sit!” Vin said sternly. “I want to talk to you, Jim, before we go back inside and give you more opportunity to express yourself.”
He could feel Ellison relax, knowing that he was not one to pour out his soul, and Vincent almost smiled at the simple shift in weight. So alike all men in facing their demons, so eager to run away rather than voice their fears and concerns, Vincent knew they sometimes needed a push---a strong man to back them into a corner.
“I’m just concerned that you’re not handling your brat right.”
Jim tried to pull away, but Vincent held him firmly in place, raising a suggested hand near his bottom in case he didn’t see the reason for sitting still.
“I can’t handle him the way you do Damien. He wouldn’t respond well to that type of relationship and I know he’d just up and leave if it came to an iron hand.”
“That might be true, but I’ve seen him show a lot more attitude than I think is good in the beginnings of even a mildly disciplinarian relationship. You’re only setting him up for more hurt down the road. Are you afraid he won’t agree to continue the relationship?” Vincent forced the issue, making Jim realize his own fears in the commitment.
“No, if he says he doesn’t want to continue, that’s fine, it’s his choice. I’ve always told him that. I love him. I don’t care if he has a few faults, I love him for the faults, too, but he admits he needs the guidance right now. We’ve had some close calls these last few months and they could have been avoided if he didn’t feel so unraveled.” Jim paused as though weighing his next words carefully. “He wants me to discipline him, take him in hand, but he’s still afraid.”
Looking up at Vin’s brown eyes, he continued cautiously, “He’s been expressing concerns about how you handle Damien.”
Instead of the anger Ellison was sure to see in the muddy eyes, Vincent looked down at him and burst out laughing. It was a gut wrenching, belly laugh that had Ellison sitting up thinking Vincent had lost his mind.
Tears were pooling in the dark orbs and Vincent swiped at them with a huge hand. Coughing, trying to regain some composure he looked at his friend, “I’m sorry, Jim, it’s just funny from where I’m sitting, I guess. Day can appear to be the sweetest, gentlest soul on the face of this earth. It’s so apropos he uses the Saint portion of his last name in his e-mail name and all, and he’s that, I admit, but he’s a lot more as well. Blair doesn’t know the brat that I know. Most times after he’s punished or awaiting punishment, Day will accuse me of being too easy on him. I think he actually wants the firm hand and if I ease up too much on him, he just keeps pushing until I have to take him in hand again.”
Looking at Ellison, he creased his brow in a query-like look of a teacher to a student, finally asking the one question that’s really going to require some thinking. “Do you think maybe even by his concerns for Day, that maybe Blair is asking you if it’s the same kind of firm hand that he needs?”
“No,” Jim said a little too quickly. Then seeing the look Vin gave him, he thought better of such affirmation, “well, possibly, but I really don’t believe so, not yet anyway.”
“Well, we’ll see. I just think that if Blair truly felt Day was in an abusive relationship, he would do everything in his power to get him away from me.” Vincent stood up, stretching the kinks from his back. “Well, let’s concentrate on you again, Jimbo. Come on,” he called as Ellison still sat there thinking through their conversation, “let’s get back to you.”
The old gazebo was barely recognizable. Damien, figuring the crawl space too tight for serious digging, decided to upend some of the floorboards above. Structurally, it was a bad idea. Several of the floorboards, which were initially removed with all intentions of repositioning them when through, were rotted and held in place with rusty nails. One more floorboard along the outer rim and half the railing toppled as well.
Blair looked at his friend growing concerned with the demonic possession that seemed to have consumed Damien St. Claire. “Day, my God, the whole thing could topple down on us if we remove any more boards.”
Day stopped prying at one of the boards and seemed to only then realize how much had been destroyed. "Oh, wow," he muttered, "Guess I was sort of taking my frustrations about my ring out on the building here."
Blair gave a small laugh, "Well, I guess it's cheaper than therapy."
As they finally eased their bodies down into the space under the Gazebo, they realized they would have had to bend from the waist to stand. It was only a four-foot clearance above the soft earth. Day jumped through the floorboards first, pulling the pick and shovel with him. Blair came next with two flashlights. The earth was much softer here in this corner. Blair’s feet sunk into the thick mud. The earth didn’t get any sunlight under this portion of the gazebo and no doubt the rainwater flowed freely here coming down from the house and moving towards the river at the end of the slope.
Damien started with the shovel, but soon he hit something solid and hard. Picking up the pick he stood up over the broken floorboards and angled back. Losing his balance he tumbled backwards hooking the end of the pick onto some more boards, loosening more of the flooring of the gazebo. “Ooops,” was his only comment on the accident.
However, once striking something hard, he could not be swayed. He leveled his pick again, this time however he struck home. The pick was solidly imbedded in a large object, no doubt made of wood. “Are you sure it’s not another gas line?” Blair asked, looking very worried.
“No…you heard me ask the British Gas worker if there were any other lines on the grass, he said no…only around the house, through the garden and again out front. So, we’re clear, man, home free here.”
“Now, are you going to help me get this pick out or not?”
Blair laid his hands on the pick and both young men pulled with all their might. So concentrated on their efforts, they hardly felt the earth shift, the mud move beneath their feet as a huge maw opened into the earth. Their last recollection was sliding downward, Day sitting in Blair’s lap like two little kids on a bobsled ride, gliding down a hill. Mark Coletrane who was riding the mower off towards the long driveway could not hear the scream they both emitted in unison.
The time was six o’clock, Saturday night, and the phone was ringing persistently inside the huge Tudor home. A hundred miles away, two ex-military men were growing mildly concerned.
Blair fought the rising panic during the long slide downward. It wasn’t so much that they traveled far, but that the angle was directly down. Injured bones would have been unavoidable, except for the surrounding earth being mostly soft mud. It did not keep them from landing on their bottoms with a heavy jarring. Day’s head hit Blair’s chin, causing him to bite his lip. Day tumbled forward and hit the side of the shaft that was shored up with boards. There was still enough twilight filtering through the remaining floorboards of the gazebo above to show both brats that they had fallen into a small, underground room.
Blair eased himself up into a sitting position. “Are you all right?” he asked his friend.
Day rubbed his head frantically. Touching a warm, sticky matting of hair, his voice quivered slightly, “I think so, I’m bleeding though.”
Blair felt along the pile of earth and planks that had accompanied them down into the shaft. When his hand hit the cold metal he eagerly grabbed the cylinder. Lighting it quickly, he aimed the beam at Day. Scooting over on his hands and knees, he checked Day’s pupils. They were fine, but Day was not encouraged.
“I could have a concussion,” he pouted, obviously feeling more vulnerable than Blair. He should be partnered with a cop, he’d get used to the small hassles of life, liking getting shot at, roughed up by rednecks, and jumping into waterfalls, Blair thought. This is kid’s stuff. However, when Blair aimed the flashlight overhead, the child’s play was shelved in his mind. This was indeed serious business. The gazebo had fallen in as well, a muddy mess rimmed the edges of the hole, boards and earth teetered above. It was too high to climb out of; yet, the simplest disturbance might bring the whole gazebo and all the surrounding mud on top of them.
Once again, James Ellison, detective in Major Crimes at Cascade Police Department was lying over Vincent Cade’s knees. His butt bared and vulnerable, red and warm he felt like a little kid in the hands of a loving and devoted father. Embarrassed by the scenario, yet feeling relieved and open, he still fought to hold back the one piece of information that weighed heavily upon his soul.
“What else is bothering you, Jim? You know what it is. You woke up last night because of it.” Vincent waited patiently, the paddle lying on the sofa next to him, ready to be picked up and used again. For a quick moment his mind’s eye brought another figure over his knee, the one he was growing more and more concerned with as time progressed. Realizing his responsibilities to the man now positioned for his attentions, he pushed that thought back for later analysis. He needed to give his friend his full attention right now, but in a short bit, he would be more than willing to give his full ministrations to Damien St. Claire.
“Vin, I’ve told you everything I’ve felt or thought since this crime started. I can’t tell you anything else. Let’s just let it go. Let’s forget it.” Ellison didn’t sound very convincing. There was an underlying desperation in the speech, not for an end to the paddling, but for the fear of discovery.
“Still not cooperating, Jimbo. Still not aware of how this particular game is played.” Vincent reached for the paddle. “Your problem is you’re still too much in control.”
Vin took a heavy and deep inhalation of breath, steeling himself for the performance. He changed, as though cloaking himself in another persona. “ENOUGH!” he yelled.
Ellison jerked in surprise.
“I’VE HAD ENOUGH. YOU’RE NOT IN CONTROL ANYMORE, MISTER. YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER ANYTHING.” With that final, loud appraisal of the situation, Vin began a hard and rhythmic assault on the uplifted globes. They were still red and stinging from ministrations a few minutes before.
Jim began to cry again at the fist stroke. “Vin, please. It hurts.” Jim stated the obvious.
“I certainly hope so, little boy,” Vin taunted. “I hope it stings. You want it to hurt, though, don’t you?” Vincent asked, gauging the situation by far more than the reddened flesh.
“Don’t you?” he yelled, delivering several extremely harsh blows.
“Yeessss,” the sob escaped.
“Why, Jim. Just tell me why?”
“Because I was happy they were dead. When it was all over, I was happy it was them and not Blair. I can’t forgive myself that selfish thought.” Ellison crumbled like a leaf, brittle to the winds, dried up and lifeless, no more resiliencies in his spirit to ward off the truth.
Vin pulled him up quickly, turning him in his lap. Ellison began to cry like a man who had lost his soul. He mourned his own humanity.
“Talk to me, Jimmy. Talk to me.” Vincent spoke gently now. A man of many fragments to his whole, he pieced them into place as the situation called for.
Jim buried his face deep against the sturdy shoulder, grabbing pieces of the cable-knit Vincent wore, he wanted to get inside this man, hide beneath him as though he could find peace there.
“It wasn’t enough being aware of how easy each and every one of them could have been Blair; it wasn’t enough hating Blair for making me love him as I did; no, I had to actually find happiness when it was all over that it was them and not Sandburg.” He paused, taking the handkerchief Vincent once again offered him. Blowing his nose, wiping his eyes, he seemed to gain some composure.
“I remember looking at their photos when Brickstone confessed. One final look to acknowledge who and what they were. I’ve always done that after a case is closed. It’s like I have to give them that one final audience, promising to remember them. But this time,” the tears started fresh, he choked up, “this time, I remember looking at them and smiling, thinking I’m glad it wasn’t Blair. Thanking them for being the victims and sparing someone I loved.”
“Maybe it’s just time I quit being a cop. I just know that’s not how a cop is supposed to feel.”
“Jim, you can’t control thoughts like that. None of us can. When I was a Major, I took a platoon into Viet Nam. We lost one man on that mission. I didn’t like him. He was brash, and he had a chip on his shoulder. I felt terrible that I had lost a man, he was my first casualty. And when it was over, I remembered sitting in a bar and drinking myself into a stupor, because I was glad if I had to lose a man, that it was him.” Vincent ran a tired hand across his face. Then seeing the blue eyes boring into him he smiled.
“Yeah, Jimmy, we’re human. We think things after a stressful situation that we can’t help. It just comes to the forefront and we have no control over it. It doesn’t mean we are bad. We don’t even mean it, I don’t think. I think it’s just our mind’s way of dealing with situations we have no control over. Putting them into some kind of sense, some semblance of order in the universe. If you couldn’t stop these men from dying, you had to justify it with some counter balance in the light of day. So the one good thing to you was it wasn’t Blair…you hung on to that thought like a drowning man to a rope. Just as I did that day in Nam.”
Ellison slowly eased himself from Vin’s lap. Sitting next to the solidly built ex-Lt. Colonel, he felt small and helpless. Vin reached his arm around him and pulled him close, resting his chin on the other’s head. “We’re not bad men, Jimmy. We’re just survivors, hoping to rise up and fight again.”
The phone rang loudly, shattering the silence of their reflection. Ellison straightened, Vincent stood up, “It’d better be Day,” he ground out.
“Vin, how are you?” Dr. Peter Bailey asked.
“Fine, Pete. I’m sorry I didn’t call, but I won’t be needing your help this weekend. So if you wanted to head back to Salisbury tonight, that’s fine.” He looked over at Ellison assuring himself that his friend was fine and handling the revelations well.
“Actually, that’s why I was calling. Just to make sure you meant this weekend. Mark called me and said he went over to Halcyon to cut your lawn. Day met him and said you were home painting. I thought that was strange considering the state of the lawn and the gazebo.”
Vincent Cade straightened to his full six foot four inch frame. His eyes slit into fine lines of burning fire. Ellison caught the look, wiped his eyes with the handkerchief and rose as well. Something was wrong.
“What state?” Vincent ground the words out like a wood chipper each syllable edged with concern, harsh and demanding.
Damien was cold, wet, and sore all over. The slide into the twenty-five foot pit had brought enough debris down on their heads, to cause minor cuts and abrasions, but not enough to climb out. There was still a deep side to the enclosure. Blair had deducted that it must have been an old icehouse, used during the early twenties.
“I’m cold,” Damien muttered for the umpteenth time, petulantly jutting his lower lip out.
“Well join the club. You think you’re the only one uncomfortable,” Blair said, as he tried to stand. A steady rain had started overhead. It was the icy chill of a frosty night, picking up the cold winds from the river, it angled down between the broken boards overhead and fell relentlessly.
Blair eyed the area, the soft mud dripping along the side walls, the puddles that were starting to fill the small area. His concerns right now were directed towards drowning.
“Day, we’re going to have to start thinking of a way to get out of here. It rains a lot in England, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, especially this time of year. Hey, let’s yell. Coletrane might still be here.”
At that, both men started yelling in turns, “HELP!” “HELP!”
They kept it up until their throats were raw. They kept it up while hope still shined brightly in the corners of their soul. They kept it up until the rains started pounding down. Then in desperation they sank slowly into the mud, each lost in the misery of his own self-realization.
“I’m sure you can handle this car better than this,” Ellison grumbled hanging on for dear life as it was. “Maybe I should drive,” he suggested, catching the harsh glare Cade threw his way.
Cade was making the drive in record time as it was, but he was well aware of Ellison’s penchant for reckless endangerment when he was mad, upset or worried and behind the wheel.
“It’s ten, we should be there in another twenty minutes. Here,” he took his cell phone out of his breast pocket and handed it to Jim, “try Coletrane again. Then the house.”
Ellison repeated the dialing procedure they had memorized since leaving the flat. Coletrane must have gone to a pub after his week’s work was done and since his lover was out of town. As concern grew, Ellison had to restrain himself as well as Cade from calling in the police. It would have been highly embarrassing for both young men, but he was just as concerned as Vin.
“I swear, Jim, if he’s hurt or…” he slammed his palm against the steering wheel.
“You’ll take care of him and forgive him,” Jim said logically, used to hearing the wild threats.
“Oh, I’ll take care of him all right, but someplace where he’ll remember for quite some time the fright he gave me.”
As they pulled in front of the house, the only lights visible were from the living room. Both men rushed into the hallway and headed directly for the large room. A fire glowed, barely alive now, illuminating a pile of pillows and blankets so deep and so widespread, Cade froze on the step into the room.
Then casting concerned glances at each other, both men raced forward thinking that whatever they were looking for must surely be trapped beneath the landslide of wool, polyester, and down. The realization of the icy coldness in the house finally struck them.
“It’s freezing in here,” Cade noted, rubbing his hands together.
“DAMIEN!” he yelled.
“BLAIR!” Ellison added.
Silence echoed the hollow halls. The rain pelted against the windows increasing its fury.
“Jim, can you hear them? Are they in the house?” Cade asked.
Jim’s face was drawn from the self-introspection forced upon him these last two days. He stopped to stair off into the distance, and then turned to Vin. “No, there’s no one in the house but us.”
“Can you try outside? Do we need to go out there to help you hear?” Vin asked, a little confused on exactly how his friend’s hearing worked.
“Okay, but you need to know something. I have periods when I zone out. When I focus so intensely on one sense that I lose all others. You have to watch me and if it happens, you have to call to me and bring me back. Can you do that?”
“Jim, right now I can do anything I need to do to find Day and Blair.”
Walking to the window overlooking the back gardens, Jim concentrated. He heard the rain loud and persistent, then he heard the mewing of a cat. He turned to Cade.
“I can’t make out much other than the rain, but I hear your cat.”
“Where is that stupid animal? Maybe she is with them.”
“Outside, come on,” Jim took off at a run and Vincent Cade was right behind him.
The mud was in his hair, his mouth, every orifice seemed to ooze with the thick, black goo. Even the heavy rain that was un-relentless had little effect on cleansing. Blair cupped his hands together for the third time, leaning his sturdy frame up against the shored off walls of the pit.
Twice before they had tried this routine and twice before, like a circus act gone bad, they had tumbled down into the water now at least three feet deep. The soft earth beneath Blair’s feet only softened the more with the added weight of the blond man. There was no way Blair could gain purchase on the soft earth to boost Damien up to the edge of the hole.
“It’s no use,” Day said, as he wearily placed his foot in Blair’s joined hands, “we won’t make it. I’m cold and I want Vincent,” he moaned like a child demanding his mother.
“I’m cold, too, Day, but giving up is not an option. The guys might not return until tomorrow. We could drown down here before then, or be buried in a landslide of mud,” Blair began teetering almost immediately as he tried to help Day up along the wall.
“Hold me, Blair, hold me. I can’t take another dunking,” Damien whined.
“Then grab onto something. You have to try harder. You’re not even trying, St. Claire,” Blair was getting totally disgusted with Damien’s lack of resolve. For someone who could not be swayed from his objective, for someone who wanted to win so badly at everything he did, Blair could not believe how childishly reticent he could be when placed in a dangerous situation.
Where Blair was used to finding a steel-like shaft within his backbone when necessary, Day seemed inclined only to complain and bitch. Sandburg’s quick thinking had saved him just as often as Jim’s intervention.
Day tried to position his shoe on Blair’s shoulder, but he was so intent on watching his feet, making sure they were securely positioned, he made no attempt to grab high onto some anchor. Teetering again, Blair tried to remain steady, but the added weight with little or no assistance from Day made it impossible to stay upright. Falling back again, a loud splash echoed the enclosure as both young men were submerged below the fast-filling pool.
They sputtered up together. “God, I’m not doing anything, nothing else,” Damien whined, spitting water from his mouth, mud plastered to his hair. He looked like a refuge from the Titanic. “Vincent will come. I’ll just wait for Vincent.” This was said firmly as he walked the short distance to the corner and leaned back into it. The water was now up to both men’s waist.
Sandburg rose out of the water, not like a bedraggled survivor, but with a rage at the circumstances, the weather, and one very uncooperative friend.
He grabbed Day’s shirtfront and pulled him forward, pushing him back against the corner of the pit. “You listen to me, Damien St. Claire, you are not going to sit here on your laurels and wait for anybody. We don’t have that option. I’m sure Vin and Jim will come. I’m also sure we’re going to regret our actions today, but I am not going to let you sit here feeling sorry for yourself.” The hazel eyes rebelled. First slitting into small windows of contempt. The blue eyes narrowed as well, each fighting the silent battle for power.
It was Day who finally broke eye contact first. Looking at the rising water around them, the quivering blue lips of his friend who was trying to help them, he felt a moment of shame. Biting his lower lip, he nodded in acquiescence.
“Good. Now take a few minutes to think. Help me find a way out of here,” Blair said, releasing his shirt.
The soft mewling was the only sound Jim could discern with the harsh pounding rain. Rushing out into the night, Vin on his heels, he tripped as soon as he hit the lawns.
Vin helped him up and looked angrily around, the lights from the large window in the living room highlighting the lumps and clumps of sod and dirt piled everywhere. It looked like small land mines had been set off sporadically around the grounds.
“Damn it,” Vin growled, “what the hell happened here? Mark wasn’t exaggerating.”
“Come on,” Jim said, testing his leg. “This way.”
Desi was walking back and forth in the rain along the side of what used to be a gazebo. Now, though still standing, it was lopsided and structurally skeletal. Large portions of the side railings and trelliswork along the bottom, and floorboards, were pulled up and angled off. Jim’s first impulse was to run up into the Gazebo, but his foot landed on the step and Sentinel hearing took over. The whole structure trembled, the frame squeaking in protest against the added weight.
Extending a hand to stop Cade who was just as determined to find his brat, Jim pushed him back. “It’s weak. Wait a minute.” Now he could hear it. It was the one sound that centered him in the entire world. This was the one sound that assured him of his own place in things. Sandburg’s heartbeat, steady and strong, called out to him. The other one was picked up as well, but this one was accompanied by a soft hitching sound, someone very much upset.
“BLAIR!” Jim called out.
“JIM!” the answer came back to him. “JIM, WE’RE UNDER THE GAZEBO.”
“I’M COMING.” Jim called back.
“Vin, go get a sturdy rope, maybe some planking if you have it.”
Before Vin followed instructions, he stooped low looking under the gazebo, past the broken trellis to the large patch of mud under the broken floorboards, “DAY! Is Damien all right?”
“VIIIINNNNNNN!” a loud wail pierced the night. It was so shrill that Ellison cringed at the assault to his senses.
“ARE YOU ALL RIGHT, DAY?” Vin still was not assured.
“I’m COLD, I’m WET, I’m MISERABLE…”
“ENOUGH! I’m COMING!” and Vincent Cade took off to collect the necessary objects.
The brats were both dressed in flannel pajamas. The brand new clothes were still in their plastic wrappers, gifts Cade had received through the years, not recognizing his need to sleep in boxers and a T-shirt only. Blair wore a blue plaid pair. Freshly showered in the remaining hot water left in the gas hot water tank, he was now wrapped in a blanket seated on one end of the couch drinking a hot cup of cocoa.
Damien, similarly dressed and ministered to, wore red pj’s with bright yellow flags on them. He sat on the other end of the couch holding his mug to his lips like a petulant child none-to-thrilled with his treat.
Seated in the armchair next to Blair, Jim leaned forward his hands on his thighs trying to watch both boy’s faces as Vincent Cade marched up and down in front of the raging fire. He had banked it and fed it nicely as no doubt his own temper was fuming as well, while the brats were securely wrapped for an audience.
“I cannot believe you,” Vin shouted, catching both young men in his glare, “either one of you.”
Blair had the good instincts to look down into his mug, brushing his still damp locks behind his ears. Day, never one to sit patiently through one of Cade’s scoldings, daringly stared back at the man, his mouth forming a tight line of anger.
“Do you have something to say, little boy,” however Vin raised his hand before the blond could answer, “well, of course you do. You always have some kind of explanation. You are the database of explanations for the whole brat population of the world, aren’t you?” Vincent ranted.
"Shut the fuck up, Vin!" Day yelled, "I'm cold, I'm tired, and I sure as hell am NOT in the mood to be lectured!" He stood up, knocking the blanket that was around him from his shoulders, slamming his drink down on the table. Standing there he glared at his lover.
Vincent looked right back, then taking a deep breath to calm himself, he replied, "And I, little boy, am not in the mood to be fishing you out from an abandoned ice house in the freezing rain, worried sick about you. Not to mention dragging someone out with you and putting them in danger."
At that comment, Blair who was sitting there in awe of his friend standing up to his lover, jumped into the conversation, "Hey, wait a minute. I didn't get dragged anywhere…"
"Blair, stay out of it," Jim ordered.
"No way, man. This is important. I went willingly with Day. I am as much of a participant as he was."
Day flashed Blair a grateful smile for his loyalty before returning to look at his lover, a sarcastic smirk on his face.
Vin took another deep breath and briefly closed his eyes, then walking purposely toward Day, he said, "Come on, little boy. I am in no mood to deal with your attitude, your language or this whole situation." Gripping his arm firmly, he frog-marched a protesting Damien toward one of the far corners of the room. "Plant yourself there until you can find a more civil attitude. You are already in enough trouble, Demon, I know you don't want to get in any more."
Day opened his mouth as if to say something but a hard swat to his bottom and a simple 'don't' from Vin seemed to change his mind. He turned and faced the corner, arms crossed, an air of anger rippling off of him.
From his chair, Blair also seethed. "Vin," he said angrily, upset by the treatment of his friend and the unfairness, as he perceived it. "Don't you dare punish Day for getting me involved, I went willingly, I helped, I encouraged, I am to blame as much as he is. You…"
"Blair!" Jim barked, standing up and towering over his lover. "This is not your business."
"Shut up, Jim! I can say what I want and I can stand up for what I believe. You can’t control that and he" Blair said jerking his head in contempt toward Vin, "can't lord over me like he does you and Day. I DO NOT see him as the end all of how I should behave." His rant finished, and now facing his angry lover and an annoyingly amused host, Blair seemed to sink back into his chair.
"Little boy," Vin said calmly, "Damien is being punished for how he spoke to me. He is not being punished for getting you involved. I allow disagreement, but I do not allow cursing or being disrespectful to your partner. Damien knows that and he knows that he can face the corner until he gets his attitude in check and is willing to discuss what happened calmly. Now," he said pausing, "what your lover allows is different matter entirely."
Holding out his hand to Blair, Jim said, "Come on, I want to talk to you."
"What if I don't want to talk to you?" Blair said sullenly, burrowing slightly more into his blankets.
"Well, you have a choice; you can either come with me so we can talk or I can haul you out of that chair, put you over my knee and spank you and then we can talk." Looking at his partner, he added, "I would think the first option is the best."
"Those choices suck, Jim."
"So does your attitude right now and if you keep it up, option number one is going to be gone."
"Fine, fine, fine." Blair said, throwing off the blankets and stomping down the hall where Jim had indicated.
Jim sighed and shook his head at his lover's back.
As he passed Vin, the older man gently grabbed his arm, "Jim, he is working things out, trying to deal with the conflicting sides of what he sees, what he thinks he should feel and what he actually does. He needs a firm hand and he may not like it, but he knows he needs it. You just have to let him figure that out for himself. Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re---gentle in manner, firm in deed."
"Thanks, I'll try." He gestured toward Day who was cautiously turning around, "looks like you have your own brat to deal with."
Vin nodded, "Give me about 15 minutes before coming back in here, if you would."
"Sure, no problem. I think it will take that long with Blair, too. He may be contemplating his actions in a corner as well."
"It works well. Bring him back in here though - don't want a Blair-icle in the dining room." Vin added just as Jim was turning to follow his lover, "Jim, I do want to talk to you about the punishment for these two. I want to make sure we're on the same page. Maybe when they've gone to bed."
Jim nodded, "OK."
As Vin watched his friend walk down the hall heading toward the dining room, he mentally steeled himself for dealing with his own lover. Turning back toward the corner, he said, "Are you ready to talk?"
Day nodded, "I'm sorry I cursed at you earlier and that I yelled at you."
Sitting down on the loveseat, Vin held open his arms, “Come here, Demon."
Day hurried over and almost threw himself into the waiting arms, gripping the front of Vin's shirt as he curled up.
Bringing the blanket over from the back of the couch, Vin draped it over both of them, tucking it in snuggly around his lover. "You are still cold,” he muttered, pulling Day in closer.
"What do you expect, you made me stand in the corner," Day said, exhaustion creeping into his voice.
"Little boy, you are lucky that you were not standing there with a soapy mouth and a red bottom after the way you talked to me."
"I know, I'm sorry. I just got all mad. You were mad, Jim probably will never let me near Blair again, not that Blair would want to come near me after I got him in so much trouble. I didn’t want to tell you I lost your ring and I’m so sorry for that. It means more than anything that you wanted to give it to me. I couldn’t help myself; I had to wear it.”
“Well my little demon, we are in this relationship to maybe get you to start trying to help yourself when something tempts you. Right?”
Day nodded, knowing where this conversation was going and not liking it.
“And you’ve been doing good about thinking before you do something. Haven’t you?”
Day nodded again, “I’m trying, I swear I am. I just forget sometimes.”
“I know and I know that we are going to be spending this week making sure that you don’t forget anytime soon. I think spending tomorrow on punishment detention will help. The last month or so, you seem to be forgetting more and more---the painting, your tantrum over not winning, the argument you got into with Mark, just to name a few.”
“I know and I’m sorry,” he burrowed his head in deeper and gripped Vin’s shirt tightly. “Don’t be mad at me.”
Vin hugged him close and kissed his head, “Little boy, I love you more than anything in the world. I may be frustrated with you, I may look forward to turning you over my knee and impressing upon you just how displeased I am with you, but I am not mad at you.”
“Are you going to spank me tonight?” Day asked a few minutes later.
“No, not tonight. Tonight, I am going to get you tucked into that nest of blankets by the fire with the rest of us. I’ll paddle you tomorrow morning after breakfast. Sometime this week, I think we are going to be going down to Bath to see Levi, you need a new paddle and I think after this stunt, Jim is going to want to go shopping with Blair.”
Day nodded, not saying anything, simply enjoying being held, being close to his lover.
In the dining room, Blair was pacing around, hands waving in angry gestures in a futile attempt to get Jim to agree with him. “But, Jim, it’s not fair. I was as much as a willing participant in this as Day, Vin shouldn’t punish him for getting me involved.”
Jim leaned casually back on the table, arms crossed, “Blair, stop for a minute and listen to me.” When the younger man barely paused, Jim uncrossed his arms, reached out and snagged his partner. Pulling him down across his body, Jim delivered two hard swats to his partner’s bottom. “I said to stop.”
Blair glared at him when he was allowed up, “Fine, I’ve stopped, stopped trying to defend a friend’s actions, stopped speaking my mind and voicing my opinion even though you swore to me that you would never use our relationship or our agreement to do that to me!” Blair’s voice rose until he was almost screaming, “You swore to me and you did it anyway! I knew this wasn’t going to work! I knew you were trying to change who I am!”
Jim looked at his partner in almost shock. He had no idea where this was coming from and didn’t know how to handle it. He reached out, “Blair…”
“Don’t touch me! You swore to me that you wouldn’t change who I am but you have and you are going to keep doing it!”
“Blair, I have no idea what you are talking about,” Jim said, trying to keep his emotions under control, figuring that at least one of them should. “Explain to me what you mean.”
“No” Blair spat out, “I don’t have to explain anything to you, you’ve changed me and you swore you wouldn’t. I don’t even want to talk to you right now. Get away from me!”
“Fine, you don’t want to talk. Great, we aren’t going to talk, but I am not going to let you go stomping off by yourself. We have an agreement and this tantrum of yours is out of hand.” With that, he grabbed Blair’s arms and moved toward the door back to the living room.
“Let go of me! You are not going to spank me! You…”
“Be quiet, Blair. No, I’m not going to spank you,” Jim said, still pulling the other man back toward the living room, “but you are going to stand in the corner until you calm down enough to speak to me like a rational person. I am not going to listen to you ranting without an explanation.”
“Jim…” Blair began, indignantly.
“Don’t speak to me in that tone of voice, Sandburg,” was all Jim said.
"I hate you! Get off me! You promised and you lied to me!" Blair continued to yell as he was walked into the living room, still pulling and struggling to get out of Jim's grasp. "You lied to me and I thought I could trust you and I can't!" That final revelation seemed to break the younger man, tears sprang up.
Jim stopped for a moment, and looked at his partner in amazement, "Blair," he said gently, reaching out to comfort him, "Talk to me, I don't know what you mean, I don't know what I did to get you so upset, I swear to you, I haven't tried to change you. I love you."
"Don't say that!" he yelled again, twisting to break free.
"Fine," Jim said, his patience gone. "When you decide to talk to me, I will be willing to listen, But, until then, you can stand in the corner and get yourself back under control. I refuse to deal with you when you are acting this way."
Pulling the still struggling Blair into the living room, past a startled Vin and Damien, Jim pushed him into the far corner that Day had recently vacated.
"I hate you," Blair spat out, "you lied to me."
"Well, you know what, Chief, you are not my favorite person right now either. Now, I seriously suggest you shut your mouth and let us both calm down."
The two men locked eyes until Blair broke first and turned and faced the wall.
Vin and Day sat on the loveseat, stunned.
Vin spoke first, "Jim, come with me please." Leaning down as he stood up, he whispered to Damien, "Speak with Blair little boy and find out what's going on."
Damien nodded, still shocked by the amount of anger and raw emotions that had been displayed just moments ago.
Jim followed Vin up the step and down the hall into the kitchen. Once there, Vin leaned against the counter and simply said, "Explain to me what just happened."
Jim sighed, and rubbed his hands over his face, "Honestly, I don't know Vin. We were in the dinning room and Blair was going on and on about how he was a willing participant in the little stunt this weekend and how it wasn't fair that Damien was going to be punished for his actions. I was trying to tell him that he was in deep trouble too and I didn't think that Day was in much, if any trouble, for bringing him into it but he wouldn't stop. I told him to stop a couple of times but he wouldn't so, as he passed me, I reached over, grabbed him, bent him across my lap and gave him a couple swats. They weren't that hard, more just to get his attention than anything else."
Vin nodded, "Yeah, I do that with Day sometimes when he isn't listen"
Jim barely acknowledged what Vin had said, lost in replaying the scene in the dinning room, "He seemed to lose it. He went off on how I was changing him even though I promised I wouldn't and he said that I was and I was going to keep doing it. And.." he took a deep breath, his voice shaking slightly with the hurt, "he said he hated me. He's never said that before to me." He fell silent for a minute then added in a quiet voice, "what if he really means it."
Vin pulled him into a quick hug, "He doesn't mean it, little boy, he is upset and hurt about something and wants you to be the same. Don't worry, we'll figure it out and get through it."
In the living room, Day got up from the loveseat and approached his friend, "Blair?" he asked cautiously.
"Go away, Day, I don't want to talk to you."
"I think you might feel better. Just tell me what's going on? What happened?"
Blair turned from the corner, "Jim tried to change who I am and he's done it and I'm not going to let him do it anymore. Being in a discipline relationship might work for you and I'm glad but it's not who I am. I don't want to be changed, I'm happy with who I am." With that, he turned and faced the corner again.
"Ummm…. Okay." Day said. He stayed there a few more minutes and then walked into the center part of the house to wait for Vin. Peaking down the hall into the kitchen, he caught Vin's eye.
Vin motioned for him to come in. "What did he say, Damien?"
"Ummm" Day said, looking between Jim and Vince, "He says he doesn't want to be in a discipline relationship and that Jim is trying to change who he is and he's happy with who he is." Then looking between them again, he added, "But, he's still standing in the corner. Which would seem to me to indicate that he still wants to be in your relationship, but is scared. That's how he seemed to me, scared about something."
"Day, do you think he's scared that he is really going to be punished for your actions this weekend?" Jim asked.
Day blushed, "We both knew we were in trouble yesterday and he didn't seem overly concerned. I mean," he said glancing at Vin, "neither one of us is looking forward to being paddled but he didn't seem to say anything that seemed weird."
Vin nodded, "Okay, I'm going to go talk to him and get what's bothering him out." As he pushed off from the counter, he said to Jim, "And, Jim, if I even get the hint that you are listening in, I swear, I have a strap upstairs and I will use it on you so hard and so long that you will be feeling it next week when you leave. Understand me?"
Jim nodded, "Yeah, I got it."
Damien jumped in, "Come on, Jim, we'll go back into Vin's studio and I'll show you some of his new stuff. This way you won't even be tempted to try to listen. Okay?" Slightly tugging the other man's arm, Day led him through the swing door that separated the kitchen from the breakfast room and Vin's studio.
Vin watched as they went through the door and then walked upstairs to the tower room. Opening a drawer in a low cabinet, he studied the instruments inside. Deciding finally on a small paddle with more sting and noise then actual pain, he carried it back down to the kitchen. Pouring a glass of water and adding ice, he carried both into the living room. Setting the paddle down on the couch, he carried the glass over to Blair who was still standing nose to the corner. He was hunched over slightly as if in pain, his arms wrapped around offering himself comfort.
"Blair," Vin said softly, turning him around but the shoulder, "here, drink this. You need to calm down."
From the look of Blair's face, he has been crying since the argument. He tried to turn away, embarrassed to be seen, but Vin wouldn't let him. Taking the glass, he sipped a little before handing it back to the older man.
"Come on, son, let's sit down and talk and figure out what's going on."
"I don’t want to talk. Jim lied…."
Vin held up a hand, "No. Stop. First rule, we are going to talk, but first we are going to sit down on the couch. Second rule is that you have to explain yourself, not just make general comments like 'Jim lied' or 'Jim's trying to change me.’ Now, come on, let's sit down and we will talk."
Blair allowed himself to be lead over to the couch, his eyes widened when he saw the paddle sitting there, pulling away, he said, "You are not going to paddle me."
Grabbing the other man again, Vin’s voice grew hard and no-nonsense. "Not if you talk to me. If you don't talk to me, then I will take whatever action I feel is appropriate to get you to talk." With that said, he placed the glass on the table within easy reach and sat on the couch. Pulling the unresisting man down with him and settling him on his lap, he wrapped his arms around him and held him tightly.
Blair sat stiffly, not wanting to relax into the comfort that seemed so natural to accept.
"Now, little boy, tell me what's going on in that head of yours."
"Jim is trying to change me. He's done it already and I don't want to be changed."
"How, little boy?" Vin asked softly, one hand rubbing Blair's back in an effort to get him to relax some.
Blair bit his lip as his eyes filled with tears again and simply shook his head.
"Blair," Vin said, his voice growing sterner, "I asked you a question and I expect an answer: how did Jim change you?"
Blair shook his head again, slightly this time, but still not answering.
"Okay, little boy, I guess we are going to do this the hard way." Quickly, with the ease of someone long accustomed to the action, he stood Blair up and then resettled him face down across his knees.
Feeling himself in a position he knew too well, Blair screamed and began to struggle, "NO!! STOP!! You can't do this! Jim won't let you! Jim is the only one who can spank me!!"
"No, little boy, you told him that you didn't want that sort of relationship with him, so I am treating you like a houseguest, a friend of mine, who is being rude, and acting like a brat when we are trying to help him. Jim has nothing to do with this."
In the studio, Jim shuddered and gripped the edge of the table he was standing next to at the sound of his lover's scream.
"It's okay, Jimbo," Day said quietly, "You know how it is. You know he has to fight some and let whatever is bothering him boil out of him before you two can fix it. You know Vin won't hurt him."
Jim nodded, not saying anything, willing himself to dial down his hearing as low as possible and concentrate on the scenes of beauty around him and not focus on the other room.
Back in the living room, Vin had wrapped one of his legs around Blair's to hold him down, a strong arm was around his waist to keep him close, "Now little boy, are you going to talk to me or not."
Blair did not answer, only struggled as little as he could against the strong arms holding him down.
"Your choice." With that, Vin tugged down Blair's pajama bottoms and underwear until both were well below his now bare butt. Leaning over slightly, he grabbed the paddle from the cushion next to him and raising his hand high, brought is down sharply on Blair's exposed bottom.
Blair screamed long and hard, much longer than the simple swat deserved. Vin knew he was screaming and struggling against something much greater but until he told him what it was, he would be unable to help him. Delivering three more stinging swats, all to the center of the exposed bottom, he laid the paddle down again and began to rub the red spots. "Tell me how Jim changed you, little boy," he said gently.
Blair was sobbing as if his heart was breaking, "I need him," he said through the thick sobs.
"What do you mean, 'you need him'?"
"I need him to be there for me," Blair said, still crying. "Please let me up, I don't want to talk anymore."
"I'm sorry, Blair, but we are going to talk. Does that scare you that you need him to be there?"
Blair did not answer, only laid there and cried.
Sighing, Vin picked up the paddle again and gave the bare bottom a half dozen stinging swats scattered across the surface before Blair finally yelled out "YES!"
"Why?" Vin said, not putting down the paddle, "You love him. He loves you, you need each other."
"I don't know."
Vin raised the paddle and brought it down hard several times, saying, "Don't give me that, little boy. You know why. So tell me."
Blair was sobbing hard.
Vin put down the paddle, and lifted the younger man up and situated him on his lap. Blair hugged him tightly and cried. Vin stroked his back and said quietly, "Tell me, little one, tell me what's got you so upset."
In a quiet voice filled with tears, he said, "I need him to be more than just my lover. I need him to keep me in line and I hate that." That admission seemed almost too much for him and he cried harder, struggling to get away, "Please let me up, please let me go and handle this by myself."
Vin hugged him closely, "No, you are right where you need to be. You don't need to go and handle this by yourself."
"But before Jim,
I could have handled it by myself. I
was strong and self-reliant and I didn't need anyone telling me what to
do. I was independent and my own
person. But now…." His voice trailed
off, the tears still going, the self-hatred so evident to Vin.
"Blair, you are still strong and self-reliant and your own person. Did Jim change you in that way."
Blair nodded but didn't say anything.
"How?" Vin asked gently.
Not answering, Blair shook his head.
Vin sighed and after pulling Blair's hands free from his shirt, he quickly flipped the younger man over again. This time delivering two hard swats with his hand, he said, "Blair, talk to me. Do I need to use the paddle again?"
Still face down, Blair talked. "During this case, when Jim was so tied up, and upset and I couldn't reach him, he was so distant and I couldn't reach him."
"Yes," Vin said encouragingly, rubbing his back with a large hand.
Blair continued, "I could feel myself after a couple of weeks almost testing him, doing stuff that I knew I shouldn't just to see what he would do! I was causing stress for him just to get a reaction out of him! Have you ever heard of anything so selfish, my lover is hurting and instead of helping him, I am causing him more grief. What sort of horrible person would do that! I would never have done that before we got into this relationship and I hate it."
"Okay," Vin said.
"Jim changed me, he turned me into this horrible person who needs him, who is dependent on him, who wants him to have some control over his life! He swore to me that he wouldn't change me but he did!" Blair broke down again, the anguish and self-loathing that he felt toward himself coming to the forefront. "I don't want to have the same relationship that you and Day have, I want to be my own person and I want to be independent. I'm sorry, I know it's right for you and him, but I'm scared of it. I'm scared of giving Jim too much control because what if he leaves me or dies or something and then I'll be left alone and I can't need him that much or be too dependent on him because even now, I don't think I could stand it if something happened and he wasn't there any more." The last of his fears spilling forth in one long cleansing breath shook his body with tremors.
Scooping up Blair again and holding him close, Vin slowly rocked him, rubbing his back, allowing him to cry out his fears. "Shhhhhh, it's okay, little one. Let it out. That's an awful big fear to have kept to yourself, no wonder you are all upset. Shhhhhh, we can deal with it." Slowly rocking the younger man clinging to him, Vin thought about his next step.
Vincent sat with Blair for some time. Gently stroking the distraught young man’s back he held him as any man would hold a confused and frightened child. Slowly rocking back and forth, interjecting a “shhhing” sound when he knew nothing else could console his guest.
When Blair had settled down enough, Vincent pulled him up, “Come on. You need to get to bed.”
Helping the anthropologist up, he walked him over to the cocoon of blankets and comforters and pillows. Leaving him standing on his own long enough to make two separate beds in front of the hearth, he positioned one of the numerous pillows down in the middle and helped the pajama-clad younger man down.
Pulling the covers up and over him, he brushed the hair away from his eyes.
“Where’s Jim?” Blair said, still needing the man he loved more than life itself.
“He’ll be along, shortly. He’ll be right next to you, here. Just rest. Let it go and give yourself up to sleep. Lord knows you’ve had a trying day. The Demon can try the best of men.”
He saw a small smile twist itself into view, despite the red eyes and tear-stained cheeks. “He does have a way about him,” Blair said, though there was a fondness in the accusation.
“He has a way all right, but his way usually heads him towards hell.”
Blair yawned and nodded his head as he turned towards the fire, hugging the pillow. Before Vincent could even say “good night,” he was fast asleep.
Vincent found Jim and his brat having a half-hearted discussion about heating problems in old homes, nothing as obvious as over-zealous gardeners digging up gas lines, but Damien seemed to like to bitch and moan about things he knew little about.
“Jim, he’s sound asleep, but I wouldn’t push him for any answers just yet. He’s dealing with a lot of fears and self-recriminations right now. I don’t think he can even pinpoint exactly what’s gotten him so upset. I think I need to sleep on it.” Then looking at his own brat, eager-eyed and no doubt glad that all attention was taken off him for a short while, he narrowed his gaze.
“I need to think on Damien’s punishment, too. Both our boys have been through a great deal today. I think all of us could use a good night’s rest.” Damien smiled, glad for the reprieve. However, when Vin jerked his thumb towards the door, Day ran like the fires of hell were lapping at his heels.
Shaking his head at the antics of his beloved, he smiled at Jim. “Don’t worry, I think I have a good grasp on Blair’s problem and I think I know just the way to make him see it more clearly.”
Extending an arm out he put it around Jim’s shoulder and both men followed after Damien. The fair-haired young man was already crawling beneath the blankets next to Blair. Jim took his place on the outer side near Blair and Vincent eased his tired frame down next to Damien, sandwiching the two younger men in for the night.
It wasn’t long before Vincent Cade could discern the even, restful sounds of three exhausted men at peace. Only then, with a firm plan set in his mind, did he join his comrades in the distant land of dreams.
The next morning, Blair awoke to the tempting smells of coffee, sausages, scrambled eggs and English Muffins. The cold house was quite the deterrent for rising, but someone had rebuilt the fire in the hearth and there were extra blankets wrapped around him. He also noted that a chair had been placed near the large hearth and on it his jeans and a cable knit sweater were toasting just for him. Jim, he thought, you know how I hate the cold. Thanks, man.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Jim said from behind him.
Rolling completely over, not yet willing to abandon the nest, he saw Jim sitting on the sofa hugging a hot mug of coffee, still steaming. He was dressed in jeans and a thick, Irish-cable-knit sweater, the chilly English morning obviously even piercing Ellison’s thick skin.
“Good morning,” he yawned and stretched beneath the covers like a cat preparing himself for the tortures of dressing in a cold room.
“Come on, Chief, it’s not as bad as it looks. Once you have your clothes on, it’s actually quite warm in here.”
“Morning, Blair!” Day’s voice reached him from far behind Jim.
“Good morning, Blair,” Vin’s deeply resonant voice followed.
Blair winced at Vin’s voice, no doubt recalling the appropriately childish measures he needed to employ last night to bring him under control.
Jim noted the embarrassment. “Come on, Sandburg. It’s a new day.”
Vin took the cue. Rising, he headed towards the hallway. “I think I’ll get a plate ready for Blair. Make sure he has a nice hot cup of coffee ready for him, Day,” he called over his shoulder as he left the room.
Damien immediately took the pot from the electric coffee maker that they had set up in the living room and eagerly took a cup over to his friend. Blair was sitting up, still wrapped in the blankets.
“Here ya go, Blair,” Day said cheerfully, obviously not the least bit perturbed over the threatened punishment due him this morning.
“Thanks,” Blair said.
Instead of leaving, Day sat down on the couch next to Jim.
He watched Blair sip the hot liquid. “You know, Blair, it’s really okay.”
Blair put his cup down on the quilts, holding it between both hands. He looked up questioningly at his friend, then at Jim. Jim nodded his head in concurrence.
“I’m going to get it, but I’m okay with it and you should be, too. I just want it to be over with. I want to know I’ve been punished and I’m forgiven.”
Blair didn’t answer for the longest time; instead he looked at Jim as though he held the answers.
Turning to Day, Jim offered him the support he wanted from Blair. “You’ll be fine,” and he patted his knee as he rose, deciding maybe Blair felt awkward in front of him, he added, “I think I’ll help Vin in the kitchen, Chief. He might not be aware of your terror of cholesterol.”
“Very funny, very funny,” Blair said.
When they were alone, Blair pushed the hair behind his ear, and decided to say what was on his mind. “I guess I kind of made a fool of myself last night. I never realized how eagerly you can search your soul when you’re over someone’s knee.”
“Vin really cares, Blair, that’s why he pushes and forces the issues. He’s only trying to help you and me and Jim. You have to learn not to fight it so much. Just be happy in your relationship with Jim and you should even be happy that Vin cares enough to back you into a corner. I’ve seen him just write people off he doesn’t feel are worth his efforts.”
“I know. I guess I haven’t been the best houseguest in the world.”
“I’m having a great time,” Damien said happily, apparently not upset in the least about what the day held for him.
After breakfast, Jim volunteered them for KP Duty. Collecting the trays and dishes, he and Blair headed for the kitchen. Damien and Vincent remained in the living room, to conduct the promised business of the day.
Once privacy was insured, Vincent said in a matter of fact voice, “Go get it.”
Damien hesitated for a brief moment, but a hard look from Vin sent him hurrying out of the living room and up the stairs. Moments later he returned with the paddle.
“Okay, little boy, you know the why’s and the wherefores and the how comes. Do you have any questions or anything you want to say on your behalf.” Vincent sat on the sofa, as he took the paddle from Damien.
“I just loved it, Vin. It was so beautiful and sentimental and I don’t even care if you paddle me. I feel miserable over having lost it.”
“Well, little boy, all you had to do was come to me and tell me. A simple little, ‘Vin, I’m sorry, I snooped like I shouldn’t have and then I took a ring that I really had no idea was going to be mine, I wore it and I lost it.’ Vincent looked at his very miserable lover.
“You still would have spanked me,” he mumbled.
“Oh, yes, indeed, but not as severely as you are going to get it now.”
“I don’t care. I want another one, Vin.”
“Whoa, hold on, you do not dictate to me, little boy. I’ve told you that there are two things you really have to break yourself of. One is the need to win all the time, the other is your insatiable curiosity into things that do not concern you.”
“But this was my ring, Vin. You were going to give it to me. I just wanted to wear it for a little while. Show Mark that I wasn’t just a boy toy.”
“What?” Vincent asked, unsure he heard his significant other correctly.
Day had the good grace to look down at his shoes as he scuffed the threads on the large area rug in front of the hearth. “A boy toy. That’s what he thinks I am. Just a brainless boy toy. He’s always thought that. Just because his mom and I were close.”
“I can’t deal with that right now, Damien. I’m not even sure this is a legitimate complaint. Knowing you, you are simply trying to confuse the issues and get leniency and it is NOT going to work.”
Damien’s face dropped in a short veil of anger and disappointment, confirming Vincent’s suspicions that his little imp was once again trying to run rings around him.
“Drop them and over my knee. NOW!” Vincent took on the voice of authority. It was the angry, no-nonsense voice that Day knew better than to question or rebuke.
The blond hair fell forward over his forehead as he unbuckled his belt, dropped his pants and two stepped nearer to Vincent. The large man, losing patience, reached forward and pulled the penitent across his lap.
Damien stiffened, knowing the routine, but unable to relax. Fully aware of what he was in store for he clenched his cheeks tightly and stiffened his spine.
The large man raised the sweater above the slender waist. Pulling the boxers down he saw the white globes tensing and dimpling as the younger man prepared himself for the expected pain.
For a brief moment, Vincent’s heart tightened. A deep and abiding love for this troublesome brat overrode any and all frustrations at behavior that oftentimes had him clenching his jaw in determined anger. Whatever hollows echoed off this young man’s heart, whatever occupied the barren halls of his past and made him chase after the prize of winning, the need for some show of affection to wear like a badge of honor, were imbedded deeply into his psyche. Time alone could not heal them, but Vincent was damn determined that he be patient and never give up the effort to win that trust.
Raising his hand, he delivered several sharp, stinging slaps to the soft, white flesh. Damien jerked more in surprise at the hand spanking his bottom than the pain. Vincent always started long, hard spankings with his hand. Warming up the flesh with his own personal touch kept Damien constantly aware that Vin was there, not some executioner who cared not a whit for the boy.
Groaning at the promise of the severity this punishment would take, Damien tried to throw some stones of reason into the pond, perhaps to veer the tide of anger in another direction. “Mark saw me digging. You know, Mark could have helped me look. He could have helped and put the grass back.”
“I’m well aware of
the stories you told Mark Coletrane, little boy. You wasted the man’s time,
sent him off with lies about me being here.
Well, you are going to apologize to Mark. You are going to pay for lawn
care for the rest of the month so Mark won’t lose his income; but Mark is not
going to be doing our lawn work, Damien, you are.
“NO!” Day had the audacity to yell.
The spanking intensified, the flesh bounced and reddened as an angry Vincent reminded his young partner of who was in charge. “Ugh, No, Please, Vin. Please. It hurts.”
“Hurts? I’m just getting started, Day. Surely even you know that.”
Damien pressed his face into the cushions, praying that Jim and Blair could not hear him. When Vincent gauged the flesh hot and stinging, he rested his hand on the small of Day’s back, allowing him to compose himself before the final chapter of his spanking began.
“Any thoughts you’d like to share at this moment, Mr. St. Claire?” Vincent wanted to pull the brat back out. Concern for the crying figure over his lap compelled him not only to rub small circles in the back, but to bring out the feisty youth who challenged and amused him most times.
“Only that life sucks big time,” Day mumbled as though he were the philosopher for all ages.
Letting out a signature Vincent Cade laugh, he recognized the returning truculence and spirit. Picking up the paddle he turned his attentions on the final lessons to be learned.
Blair and Jim were trying to keep their conversation light. Still not willing to voice any concerns to Jim, Blair talked about England, the Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge as he grabbed a plate Jim handed to him. Wiping the dish, he winced every time a cry or sounds of the paddle reached them from across the huge house.
Jim’s own hearing was turned down, blocking out the painful sounds that often accompanied the resounding smacks. His concerns for the victim were long shelved after hearing the soft comforting sounds Vincent made every so often or the warm advice tendered to the young man receiving all of Vin’s attention.
Even in anger, Vincent Cade demonstrated a warm caring for Damien St. Claire.
“Gentlemen,” the voice broke through their strained conversation, the intercom connecting them to the two men across the house. “Would you please join us in the living room.”
Blair looked questioningly at Jim. Grabbing the towel from Sandburg, Jim wiped his hands and put a guiding hand on Blair’s shoulder. “Let’s go, Chief.”
Upon entering the huge room, Blair eagerly sought out his friend. Damien was crying miserably, face pressed into a corner, his pants were pulled up, but askew, his sweater still high above his waist. His hands clenched at his side, frantically wanting to rub at his bottom.
“Damien has something to say to you, and especially to you, Blair,” Vincent announced, though it was said more as a command than a documentary comment.
The figure turned from the corner half ways. Lifting his tear-stained face, he looked at Jim and then at Blair. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Jim for ruining your vacation and for causing you concern about Blair’s safety. Thank you for saving me.” Then casting a quick glance at Vincent, who stood with one hand supporting his frame against the hearth, he continued, “Blair, I’m sorry for ruining your vacation, for getting you into trouble and almost killing you. I’m not a very good friend.”
Damien then started to unleash fresh tears that coursed down his cheeks in a strong and steady flow. Blair rushed forward and put a hand on Day’s back as he turned back into the corner.
“Is this necessary?” Blair asked harshly. “I mean, he’s sorry and he’s been punished, what more do you want from him?”
“Blair!” Jim intervened, but Vincent raised a hand.
“Blair, Day is well aware of the routine when he steps out of line. He’s due a day of punishment. He stands in the corner for one hour. Then he will go outdoors and try to make amends to the natural world for his harsh treatment of her. After lunch, he will be in the corner again for some quiet moments of reflection. Back outdoors and then corner time again before dinner. He will eat by himself as children are often made to do and while we dine he shall stand in the corner, quietly repentant. Afterwards he will receive a bedtime spanking and be tucked away by eight thirty.”
Blair paled, “You can’t be serious.”
“Day, am I serious?” Vin asked, quite pleasantly.
“Yeah, he’s serious.”
Blair’s jaw tightened at the perceived mistreatment of his friend. Noting the slight shake of Jim’s head, he raged out of the room, not sure how long he could contain a sharp and bitter tongue.
“Damien, do I abuse
you?” Vincent called out, making direct eye contact with Ellison, noting the
blue eyes hardening into him, demanding an explanation.
“No. You just put me back on track. Take the steam out of my engines,” Day let out a little laugh. Then rubbing his butt, he lost some of his humor, “but you paddled awfully hard today.”
“You almost got yourself killed and you almost took your friend with you. I think it was deserved attention.”
“I know,” Day sounded genuinely sorry. “I really am sorry, Vin, Jim.”
“No more talking. Quiet reflection is what you need now, little boy.” Vincent put his arm around Jim and walked him over to the small tables by the window. Looking out onto the driveway, they could see Blair walking towards the trees, no sense of direction, lost in thought.
“I think I might lose him over this,” Ellison said, sadly. “He needs the discipline, but seeing this,” he waved a hand that was meant to pull in the quiet blond in the corner, “he’s scared and confused.”
“Tomorrow I think he’ll see things a little more clearly. Why don’t you take him into town today. Lunch at the tavern, some gift shopping for friends. Day won’t feel like civilized company anyway. He tends to get pouty and sometimes quite petulant on a punishment day and I’ll need to tend to him immediately. Dinner will be around seven. I’ll send out for pizza. It’s Day’s favorite. The least I can do for him.”
Jim Ellison smiled. There was no doubt in his mind that Vincent Cade, hard ass ex-Lt. Colonel loved the golden-haired youth. For all of Day’s wild ways, his irritatingly childish attitude towards life, there was one man who loved him with all his heart and soul. Why was it so simple for him to see, yet so difficult for Blair to piece together the puzzle that relationships often were.
“I guess you’re right. He’ll only get upset seeing Day punished when he feels just as responsible.”
Vincent placed a hand on Jim’s arm. “He’ll come around. He’s afraid he’s changed. We need to show him, if he’s changed at all, it’s only for the better and it’s not diminished him in any way. I know just how to do it. Plus, he has no closure. He feels just as responsible as Day and he won't be happy until he’s paid his dues.”
“I can’t really punish him when he’s so put off by it. I know we have the agreement for six months and we have another month, but he was only helping Day.” Ellison sighed, then
the blue eyes returned to the window watching with loving concern the troubled young man with the gentle heart.
Jim and Blair spent a pleasant day in town. The shops were busy, but they took their time studying small items, judging the value of certain purchases, filling spaces in the loft with treasured memories of this trip and their time in England. A pleasant lunch in a more tourist-catered restaurant and more shopping for Simon and Darryl filled their afternoon. Blair insisted on buying a wind chime that danced with different colored cats each in a different position of springing or running. Jim cautioned him that Vin might find the noise of chimes irritating, but that sealed Blair’s determination all the more and he decided to drop it. In turn, Jim picked up a black onyx paperweight for Vincent’s office. It was a natural stone, roughly cut, jagged in parts, but smooth and shiny in others.
The Demon’s day was not so enjoyable. Close contact with the earth was not something Damien St. Claire enjoyed at any time. He felt death alone should deliver him into a close enough relationship with the earth and until that time, he liked to view it’s wonders from afar. This thought often sent Vincent into long periods of reflection on a man who was introduced to him while fighting for environmental protection. There was no accounting for the colors that painted St. Claire’s world, but colorful as it was, it was shadowed and tinted in areas that sometimes made the colors run and fade. In the eight years he knew the young man, he was still seeing patterns in his prism.
A slight altercation at lunchtime when the truculent prisoner decided corner time was not for reflection, but better suited to bitching and griping. A quick turn over and a well-placed hand soon had him eagerly seeking the solitude and relative safety of the quiet corner. Damien knew the day would continue as Vin had decreed no matter how much he complained, but the persistent little demon in his head popped its ugly head up enough to bring added discomfort to the sorrowful young man.
When Jim and Blair returned to the house it was five o’clock. Both men were exhausted from the pleasant but tiring day of gift purchasing for friends. From the huge foyer, they could see out in back upon the lawns. They spotted Vincent Cade, hands clasped behind his back chuckling, standing under the staircase watching the toiler in the fields.
Blair could see Damien St. Claire, dressed in jeans and ripped sweatshirt, golden hair blowing in the wind pounding a shovel flat against the grass. The furious expression on his face, the vindictive exuberance of every blow, did indeed look comical. Jim pulled Blair close as they walked up to Cade.
“He’s taking that well, I can see,” Jim said in a mildly conversational tone.
Vincent let out a loud laugh that was trademark Cade. “Day takes everything with charm and good grace….” Casting his hand toward the window for effect, “as you can see.”
All three men laughed. Even Blair shook his head at the determined petulance of his friend.
“Did you gentlemen have a good day?” Vin asked smiling at the way Jim and Blair leaned into each other.
Jim winked, “Great, we have some gifts for you and Day, but I think they’ll be well-received on another day. Right now, I think we’re due a nap. When is dinner?”
“Seven thirty,” Vin said, then looking at Blair he added, “Day has corner time and a bedtime spanking due him, then an early night. He’ll be a free agent after that so I imagine, Blair, he’ll be in need of a fun day tomorrow.”
“I imagine he will,” Blair said, with just a note of sarcasm in his voice.
“See, Blair, Day will feel fine tomorrow. He’s vindicated himself and he knows I love him enough to call him on his conduct. He pays the dues, then he’s allowed the joy of a clear conscience.”
Blair looked nervously at Jim. Pulling his lover by the arm, he commented from a distance, “We’re actually quite tired. I think that nap sounds good.”
Vin merely smiled recalling how Blair could manipulate situations to his advantage.
“I’ll see you at seven-thirty,” he added, totally fine with the escape.
The pizza was delicious. England didn’t separate itself from this American pleasure by much. Day was positioned in the corner near the blazing hearth, nose pressed firmly into the narrow area. He had showered and now dressed in his pajamas, he was ready for bed, like any brat after a spanking.
Vin had stood by as he showered and dressed for bed. Exiting the shower stall, he threw his towel down in a pique, tired of being denied the pleasant company of his houseguests.
“Pick it up and hang it to dry,” Vincent said as he sat on the closed toilet seat.
Day stood there naked, arms folded across his chest, taking his stand.
“One, two, three,” Vin said quickly, never allowing Day warnings on Punishment days, he pushed the brat over the sink, grabbed the large wooden bath brush and applied a series of hard swats to the now pink and rosy globes. Day kicked and tried to push up, but Vincent held him firmly by his neck.
When released, he angrily picked the soppy towel up and threw it over the shower door. Vincent relented and allowed the temper tantrum as he neatly straightened it and followed his brat into the cold bedroom.
Vincent had laid out the Dr. Denton pajamas that he had bought for Day last Christmas. Day loved the cozy and warm pj’s, but embarrassed with Jim and Blair sleeping next to them, he froze in his tracks.
Anger still visible in his demeanor, he picked up the pajamas and threw them into Vin’s face. Needless-to-say, his bottom was once again attended to, his outcries only exacerbated his kicking and screaming. Vincent sat the brat on his lap. A moment of staring each other down, and Day dropped his hazel orbs. Vin picked up the Dentons and dressed his brat. Putting his feet into them, he pushed him off his lap and raised the bottoms up over the reddened flesh. Day winced, but didn’t struggle, didn’t cooperate either as he stood stock still, but he knew better than to put up a fight.
Now standing in the corner, remembering his own lonely meal in silence. The tasty pizza, reminding him of days of camaraderie with his earth buddies over a beer, only boiled the resentment all the more.
His eyes remained tightly closed as he listened to the pleasant chatter going on in back of him. Vincent was eagerly questioning Jim and Blair about their day in Salisbury. A small shop noted here, and Day wanted to jump in and add his comments about his experience there. A pleasant memory chalked by Jim’s remembrances, and Day had to bite his tongue to keep from adding more substance to the experience. Finally kicking his feet angrily into the wall, he brought attention upon himself, unfortunately, not the kind he wanted.
“Do you want some attention over there, little boy? I can assure you, it won’t be the kind you are thinking of.” Vincent quickly brought a finger up to his lips, to keep Jim and Blair from objecting on the penitent’s behalf.
No answer, a low groan and some mumbled words of expression. Jim’s hearing allowed him to catch “controlling bastard,” but he hid the smile that threatened to break across his features. Vincent caught the save and merely shook his head, knowing full well the image Damien had of him right about now.
“Do you?” he repeated the question.
“No, Vin, I don’t want your da…your attention.”
“Good, because I can assure you, Demon, you will regret it long into tomorrow.”
“I regret it already,” Day persisted, having to have the final say.
“ENOUGH!” Vincent took back control.
“Not by a long shot,” Day had enough himself. He turned from the corner, stomping his encased feet like a brat beyond control. “It’s not fair, Vin. It’s fucking not fair. Fuck you!”
Vincent rose swiftly. Placing a large hand on the back of Day’s neck he guided him forcefully out into the hallway towards the bathroom, placing sharp smacks to his bottom as he urged him along. “NO!” Day wailed, well aware of this procedure, “please, Vin, I just had pizza, don’t ruin it.”
“You ruined it yourself, little boy.”
Vin sat the disgruntled captive on the toilet seat and closed the bathroom door. Opening the small cupboard under the sink he took out a paper-wrapped object. It looked like a Popsicle or sucker, but Day starting whining immediately; still hoping against all hope that Vin had only taken him into the small room for a spanking.
“Vin, please. I won’t say another word, I promise.”
“I know you won’t, little boy,” Vin ran water on the object which was approximately three inches long and one and half thick inches thick. “Open,” Vin directed as he glared down at the petulant mouth.
Vin shoved the foul-tasting Backtalker into the smart mouth.
Day’s face twisted into a contortionist expression of anger, resentment, distaste and acquiescence in a matter of seconds. The hard look on Cade’s face promised a really bad evening if any more antics were displayed. St. Claire of the quick mind chose surrender.
When Damien was ushered back into the living room, a sucker protruded from his closed mouth. However, upon closer inspection the foaming soap that bubbled at the edges of his mouth and the sour expression on his face were evidence enough that it was soap in his mouth, no child’s sweet treat.
One final hard smack to his bottom, a groan from Damien, and the blond was once again cornered for reflection and some savoring of the moment.
Vince joined Jim and Blair at the table again. “Backtalkers,” he said, by way of explanation.
“Excuse me,” Blair asked, bristling.
“Backtalkers---it’s soap. Actually made in Phoenix. Soap on a stick with a particularly foul taste for brats who can’t control their tongues. I’m afraid we buy them by the case lately.”
Jim and Vin resumed their conversation while Blair’s mind went off down avenues that crossed at every juncture.
After the meal was over, Vincent excused himself from the table in the living room and grabbed Damien’s shoulders. Damien rushed past him and water could be heard running in the bathroom as he rinsed and spit and coughed up the foul-tasting soap. Vincent met him at the entrance to the living room and marched the dejected figure over into his office and closed the door.
The loud cries coming from Vin’s office were punctuated by a wince on Blair’s face. Each harsh stroke against the bare flesh, resounding in sharp slapping rhythms, followed by an equally forceful wail, left the young anthropologist wringing his hands.
“Sit down, Blair,” Jim finally said, as he pulled his passing lover from the path he had worn on the large area rug. “He’s fine. It’s almost over with, the whole day. Damien knows what he can expect when he misbehaves. It’s all part of the routine. He finds safety and assurance in that fact.”
“Meaning I don’t,” Blair answered sharply, trying to pull off of Ellison’s lap. A large hand landed a reminder to his own rump. Blair groaned, but settled in easily and looked up with a pout at his own lover’s angry face.
“It means, Chief, that we can work on our problems, but it doesn’t mean you can work on Day’s and Vin’s. Do I make myself clear?” Gone was the Ellison who was trying to cut him some slack, give him that inch or two of leeway to concede his own needs and desires for the relationship. Now James Ellison was in fact stating where the line ended. Blair bit his lip unconsciously and nodded his understanding.
Vincent’s hand relentlessly met the target area with a force that hopefully instilled a long remembrance into the brat he loved. Feeling a sense of relief himself that the long-tortuous day was almost over, he allowed his only feelings of irritability to make their statement. The brat deserved this treatment and he would see he collected all his points. A final hard swat on each reddened cushion sent a long howl into the air. The figure deflated and lay motionless across his knee.
Pulling the warm pajama flaps up and over the hot flesh, he started making small circles on his back, soft reassurances to the distraught young man. When Day quieted enough, Vin pulled him up and onto his lap as the leather sofa in his office cracked and snapped with the movement.
“I’m sorry, Vin. I’m so sorry. Do you love me? Do you still love me?” Damien was a little boy again, a lost soul unsure of his place in the scheme of things.
“Oh, little boy, I will always love you. I don’t like your actions, there are times I don’t like you, but I always---always Demon---love you.”
Day broke down even more; as though once the damn was broken the major flood now pushed down all defenses and was determined now to drown out all false pretenses. The tired, bedraggled figure clung to Cade with a childlike intensity, the fingers grasping his shirt in large clumps, the legs pulled up tightly, knees into his chest, curling himself into a ball hoping to fit into this man’s pocket.
Cade rapidly rained kisses on the top of his head; brushing the wild locks away from his forehead he marked every area with the reassurances of love.
“I love you. I love you so much, Vin. Don’t ever stop loving me. Pleeeeaaase!” he wailed out the last.
“I should spank you again for that, little boy,” Vin said harshly as he pushed the sniffling brat from his chest. But the hazel eyes looked so sincere so disbelieving that Vin merely grabbed the face with both hands and planted a hot, possessive kiss on the quivering lips.
The young man, in total denial, found faith and assurance in that one hard kiss. As he pushed the face back the hazel eyes looked droopily up into his own brown ones.
Laughing, Vincent lifted the small figure to his chest and raised himself from the sofa. “It’s bed time for you, brat. You’re not of sound mind right now. No court could convict you of any transgressions the state you’re in.”
Day’s head fell onto his chest and he cuddled into the warm hammock the arms made.
Vincent carried the semi-sleeping form to the fireplace and laid him gently into the nest of blankets. Kneeling down he smiled benevolently as he tucked the feet and hands beneath the blanket and captured his prize with one final good night kiss. The day was over and the healing would begin.
Returning to join Blair and Jim at the table, Vincent sighed heavily. “I think he sometimes enjoys punishment day, because he knows I suffer right along with him.”
Jim gave a quick glance at Blair. Smiling he noted the confused look on his young friend’s face. “He’s right, Chief, in these relationships there’s a great deal of sharing...some I don’t think you’ve even begun to imagine.”
Blair nodded, trying desperately to deal with his confused emotions. The trouble with enlightenment is that it comes from out of the blue and it’s never what you expect it to be.
Lying down in the nest of blankets, Vin tugged the sleeping form of his partner closer to him. Day opened his eyes at the movement, “Shhh, go back to sleep little boy. It’s late,” Vin said in a whisper, not wanting to wake up Jim and Blair.
“Are Jim and Blair asleep?” Day whispered back.
Raising his head a little to look over Day, he saw the two other figures. Blair was asleep on his stomach facing Jim---his hand inches away from grabbing hold of the other man’s T-shirt but still not able to cross that line. Jim was on his side, facing Blair fast asleep. “Yes, as you should be.”
Vin sighed, he was tired and as much as he loved his partner, he really didn’t feel like talking tonight. It had been a long day and he was physically and emotionally spent. “Why not little boy?” Vin asked, his voice carrying the edge of impatience.
“My butt is too sore.”
Vin shook his head, “Damien, I did not spank you that hard. Roll over on your stomach and you’ll be fine.”
“It hurts,” Day said pitifully.
“It’s going to hurt a lot worse if you don’t roll over and go to sleep. I mean it, young man.”
Day sniffled spicing the show with self-pity.
“One more sound out of you and you can spend another day on punishment duty.”
“Okay,” came a small voice.
Just about to drift off to sleep, the figure next to him squirmed out of his grasp and sat up.
“What the hell are you doing now?” he whispered, completely annoyed now.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” the indignant voice answered, “it’s either that or I can pee right here.”
Vin sighed wearily; it was going to be a long night. “Come right back, I do not want you up roaming around in the cold.”
Vin reached out a hand to help steady his partner, easing him up among the blankets and pillows scattered about. He watched as Day made his way to the bathroom, fully aware of the reason for the small act of defiance under the pretense of nature’s call. After spending all day by himself, his brat was in need of attention and reassurance that all was forgiven and he was as loved and cherished as ever. Getting up quietly, Vin stole into his office just off the living room, returning a minute later with a small tube and a towel. Getting back between the blankets, he waited for Day’s return. A few minutes later, the bathroom light shut off and he could hear the soft sounds of his lover returning to the nest.
Day quietly slipped back in front of his lover, once again sandwiching himself between Vin and Blair. However the extra cushions positioned between the two younger men kept them from touching. This precaution had been necessary when both brats had started fighting on the first night.
“Are you all settled for the night?” Vin asked in his ear.
“Good,” Vin said, as he began to tug down Day’s pajama flaps.
Day wiggled away, “No, Vin, I’m sorry. I’ll be quiet. I promise.”
“Damien, hush, relax.”
Day’s squirming had helped the movement and he was now bare in the back.
Pulling Day close so that he was lying almost spooned directly in front of him, Vin gently stroked the now bare butt.
The younger man groaned softly, arching his back, opening himself up to the exploring fingers.
“Demon, be quiet,” Vin ordered softly, stopping his fingers just before they dipped into the opening clef.
Day nodded and bit down on his lip as the fingers began to move again. Reaching down and unbutton some of his front buttons, he started stroking his own cock in rhythm with the other fingers in back.
Vin smiled at the soft sounds his lover was making and the slight movements under the covers. Removing his hand, he quickly opened the lube and spread it on his own hard cock.
A soft whimper escaped Day’s lips at the absence of his lover’s touch.
Not saying a word, Vin positioned himself behind the younger man, the tip of his penis barely touching his lover’s opening.
Wiggling back slightly, Day was halted by Vin’s hand on his waist. “Noooooo,” he said, frustrated by the lack of movement afforded him, his hand stilling in order to prolong his excitement.
“Little boy, hush. Don’t make another noise or I’ll put a ring on you, shove a plug up your ass and let you stay hard all night.”
Day could not control the small laugh, “Oooohhh,’ he said, “I like it when you get all rough and kinky with me.”
Vin leaned in to whisper in his love’s ear, “You are just going to have to be patient, little boy, this is going to be quiet. We are not putting on a show for everyone. Think you can do that?”
Day nodded his head, “What do I get as my reward for staying quiet?” He whispered innocently.
“This,” Vin said, shoving himself deep into his lover.
Already relaxed, Day’s body allowed the large, hard member to slide home with little resistance. His breath caught for a minute, no matter how many times they did this, it still took several moments for the feeling of tight pressure and fullness to be replaced by the glorious feelings of being entered and made a part of his lover. He tightened his muscles to indicate to Vin that he was okay.
Vin slowly began to rock ever so slightly inside of him, moving his hips just inches but enough to send waves of pleasure coursing through both of their bodies.
Day reached back with one hand and gripped Vin’s hip as if to help with the movement, his other hand rapidly bringing about his own climax. His internal muscles tightened and his hand turned talon as it hooked into Vin’s hip as he came hard.
Vin could feel the slight tremors course through the younger man’s body. With three harder thrusts---each one impaling him on his lover---he came hard. Letting out a quiet moan, he felt himself pumping into Day and the returning acceptance and reward of their union.
The sensation of drifting held both men for several moments, complimenting their lovemaking with a sense of peace.
Day could feel Vin starting to get soft and pull out of him, "No," he said, "stay with me."
"Sorry, little boy, not in this position, I can't. My arm is asleep already." Vin said, regretfully.
Day rolled over so that he was now facing Vin and forcing his legs in-between the larger man’s, he curled up close. Sighing contentedly as Vin’s warm breath brushed the top of his head, strong arms securing him in place, he came home.
"I'm sorry I was such a brat today," Day whispered.
"I know. It's over."
"I love you," Day said, "Those words don't even begin to express how I feel about you. They're inadequate to tell you just how much."
"I know. Now, go to sleep, little boy, you've had a rough day. I love you, too."
Within moments the contented drifter settled into sleep and his older lover joined him in tandem, closely entwined in the afterglow.
Blair Sandburg eased his breath out in careful silence. Confusion heightened his already distraught state. His friend, lorded over and strictly held in line, was complacently accepting in his chains. So much so, that he seemed genuinely contented with the way things were. Tonight, for all the punishment endured by his blond friend, Blair Sandburg was the one most upset. The young anthropologist snuggled beneath his blankets, guilty and upset, wishing for all the world that it was he who had been punished and forgiven.
Sunday came into their world with a golden halo, warm and promising. Damien dressed quickly and with very little cajoling convinced Blair to join him for services at the Cathedral. Amazed at the good cheer and enthusiasm with which his friend met the day---following the emotional storm he weathered just the previous day---Blair wanted to please Damien---be there for him.
The Gas Company workers were arriving just as they were getting ready to go so Vin and Jim stayed behind in case there was trouble. Day glanced guilty at the arriving truck as they left the house. Shaking his head, he muttered to himself, "No, don’t go there, it's over."
"What did you say?" Blair asked, not having caught the softly mumbled words.
"Oh, I was just telling myself not to get all guilty about the pipe. It's over, it's being fix and Vin has forgiven me. When I get caught up in my guilt about something, I get really bratty until Vin catches me and sets me back upright." He glanced at Blair, "so, what's going on with you and Jimbo? You off the hook for the gardens?"
"I don't know. I need to think about what I want and make some choices I guess, tell him what I want," Blair replied quietly.
The other man made a face and said, "Glad I don't have to do that. It's hard to ask to be punished. I've only gotten my nerve up a couple of times."
They pulled in the already crowded parking area for the Cathedral and got out and began to walk in. Suddenly Day stopped and laid a hand on Blair's arm, "Just remember my friend, what you want and what you need is not always the same thing." With that, he started off quickly into the church.
They emerged an hour later, neither one really talking. Day reflecting on the sermon and still struggling with his feelings about organized religion. Blair struggling with his own feelings about Jim and their relationship and how to get out of the mess he seemed to have created.
Day seem to shake his contemplative mood by the time they reached the house fifteen minutes later, bursting into the kitchen with a loud "We're home!”
Vin looked up from the frying pan full of bacon and glared at him briefly, then turning to Jim he said in a mock upset voice, “I thought I told you to change the locks while they were gone!"
Jim laughed. Day stuck out his tongue and crossed his eyes at his lover, who unfortunately for him turned around in time to catch him.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to do that or your face could freeze that way, little boy?" Vin asked, waggling a finger in the classic no-no gesture.
Day broke into a huge grin and fell into his lover, burrowing his face deep into his chest, "But you would still love me, right?" he asked, completely sure of the answer.
He was rewarded with a kiss on his hair and a gentle, loving, "Of course, little boy, always."
"Where is your partner in crime, Day?" Jim asked, encompassing the grounds with his hearing trying to locate his guide.
"I don't know, he said he would be in shortly,” Day said, snuggling up to Vin and totally unconcerned with the outside world.
"I'll go see if I can't find him before breakfast gets too cold." Jim slipped quietly out of the kitchen, giving his hosts a few minutes of privacy.
After breakfast, since gas and heat would be returning to the house before the morning was out, it was decided to clean the living room up and return it to its normal neatness. Throughout the cleaning, Damien practically hung on Vin. Several times Jim caught Blair’s attention with a wink and the young man would turn to see Day, arms wrapped around Vin’s waist from behind, head resting on his back practically being pulled along as Vincent tucked cushions back on chairs and folded blankets.
Then a resounding swat to the brat’s backside and Day would---with grudgingly good cheer---resume his own ministrations on the labor force. It was as if the young man could not get enough of his hard, unyielding lover.
When they were finished, they walked out onto the terrace for a bit of fresh air. “What are we doing today?” Blair said as he looked out at the beautiful grounds, the green lawns crisp in the September sun as it burnt off the last layers of English mist.
“You guys are on your own until Noon,” Vin said.
“Oh..I know just the thing,” Day said, excitement coloring his eyes a light green. “There’s this rocky crag off about two miles along the river, the view is spectacular. Remember that painting in The Art Critic, the one with the mist blanketing the river, this is the landscape Vin painted. It’s quite breathtaking and there should be just enough mist left when we get there to duplicate the painting.”
“Great,” Blair said, “I’ll get my camera. Jim, you up for a hike?”
Jim looked to Vin for an indication of any planned discussions between them, but Vin merely shrugged his shoulders.
“No, Chief, count me out on this one. I think I need a quiet Sunday morning with a cup of coffee, the newspaper, and I might give Simon a call and find out how things are going back in Cascade. You go ahead and have some fun. Besides, I’ve seen the place before.”
With that and little else by way of encouragement, both young men headed out into the slowly warming countryside.
Jim hugged his cup and waited for Vin to put his paper down. The older man tried to read, but several times he scrunched his face in irritation, aware that his friend across the small breakfast table was anxious to talk.
Finally, sighing heavily, he folded the paper and laid in dramatically down on the table, “Okay, Jimmy, what is it?”
Laughing at the obviousness of his concerns, he shook his head, “I guess fooling you is just about impossible.”
“I’ve dealt with more than my share of brats and I’ve come to know the looks of guilt and uncertainty. I’d say yours is more uncertainty now…the need for reassurance. Spit it out.”
“I’m just not sure where to go with Blair right now? I’m about ready to call the whole discipline relationship off. It’s just too hard on him and me, emotionally.” Ellison took a long swig of his coffee and put the cup down. Rising slowly he walked to the window that overlooked the driveway, and watched the Gas Company's truck slowly pull away from the house and back onto the main road, their work finished.
“Jim, the relationship would be working just fine if you had stuck to the promise you made the young man. You’ve been vacillating this whole time, so much so that Blair is confused; he’s not sure any more where he stands. You should have paddled him Saturday morning when Day got his punishment. You screw up, you get punished…right away, no time to think about it, no room for discussion, simple cause and effect. Now he’s pulled away and you need the whole courtship dance again, like a trial lawyer presenting your case and convincing your jury. Well, the way I see it, when Blair agreed to six months, he was sentenced and he should have served his time. The only negotiations allowed will be in one month’s time when the contract gets renewed or not.”
“Well, it’s not going to be easy convincing him of anything after he witnessed Day’s punishment. I’ll never get him to recommit now and I just can’t bring myself to spank him when he’s so torn by the whole relationship.” Ellison came back to the table and sat down.
"Jim, he wants to be in this relationship with you. He's hurting right now, he is confused and unsure of himself and what's going on. You need to take him in hand, make him live with the relationship like you agreed. You have one month left to show him the joys and peace of being in a relationship like this, be strict, be demanding and he will respond. Have you done that or have you been fooling around the whole five months?"
"No, this summer, I really had him on a short leash. He has a tendency to run himself ragged so I made him keep a time sheet. He was not allowed to work more then 45 hours a week. If he was putting in long hours at school, that meant he spent less time with me at the station and vice versa. When his 45 hours were reached, unless it was a special situation, the books got closed and the computer was shut off."
"And how did he respond to that?"
"It was hard the first week but he settled down and things went smoothly. He got everything done on time, he was able to work with me, but it was at a normal pace. There was very little stress and he seemed happy…” Jim's voice trailed off.
"He told me he was happy because he knew where the stop sign was and didn’t have to look for it and he knew he was going to find it and there was nothing he could do about it."
Vin smiled, "Exactly. That is what he needs; you know and he knows it. He needs someone to put boundaries on his behavior, on his actions, so he can enjoy all that he has accomplished instead of focusing on what hasn't been accomplished."
They sat in silence for several minutes, Jim, thinking about the summer and his actions now, Vin, simply watching and waiting.
“You said something Friday night about knowing how to fix this problem, what did you mean? I think I need some help with him,” Jim said softly.
“So, James Ellison is not afraid to ask for help when he needs it,” Vin laughed, his voice kind and nonjudgmental, “seems the sessions over my knee worked just fine.”
The detective shook his head, laughing, remembering all the times that Vincent Cade had made him see himself, understand himself, and pour out his deepest thoughts most times looking at the floor or carpeting with his butt blazing sore and hot.
“No, I’m not afraid to come to you and ask your help. You’ve always been there and you always make it right.”
It was the larger man’s turn to laugh and Ellison smiled at the wonderful sound. The strong, deep resonations of his good cheer when something struck him funny was an indication of the man’s love for life and friends and family. Cade never did anything insincerely or halfway.
“You’ve met Peter Bailey before, your last trip here four years ago.”
Ellison nodded his head remembering the quiet, unassuming young doctor.
“Well, you might not know it, but Mark Coletrane, our gardener, is Peter’s partner.”
“Coletrane? When you mentioned him before I’d wondered where I’d heard that name before,” Jim said, rubbing his jaw trying to piece together the puzzle.
“The inimitable Mrs. Coletrane, no doubt comes to mind.” Cade let out another belly laugh as he watched his friend’s face open in amazement.
“NO?” Jim said shocked, “not his mother?”
“Yes, indeed,” Cade laughed harder. “Damien’s own fairy godmother, the one and only Mrs. Agnes Coletrane, storm trooper, nursemaid and disciplinarian in her own right. That woman was an angel. There were times when I first brought Damien here that I swear, Jim, I would have killed the brat if it weren’t for that woman’s intercession.” Vincent paused and frowned at some sad memory, “I think there were times when she came pert near to killing him herself, but he ate out of her hand like the wild birds and squirrels I saw her tame.”
“I’m sorry, Vin,” Jim said, realizing how much his friend missed the strong, forceful woman in his life.
“I think Day started thinking of her as a mother and he took her death pretty hard. Hell, I took it hard.”
Then as though realizing how far off track the train of thought had gone, Vincent cleared his throat, pushing back his emotions, “Peter and Mark are coming here for a barbecue this afternoon. I called Peter and he was kind enough to pick up some great steaks before he left London from this shop where I have an account. I think your brat is about to be in for a little self-realization.”
The self-realization began at first meeting, although Blair Sandburg had no idea. Peter Bailey caught his attention immediately when the pair arrived at Noon. They were a marvelous contrast in personalities and physique. Although both men were well built and proportioned nicely, Peter was slightly taller, but slimmer in frame and, although six-years-older than Mark, at thirty-six he took the back seat initially, quietly sitting back and watching. It was obvious the two men were deeply in love. Mark continuously pulled the quiet man to him, hugging him over the smallest pretense.
Peter Bailey had long brown hair that covered his ears. The brown eyes that looked out from behind the round, wire-framed glasses were always alert and questioning as though he were afraid he might miss something if he rested them for a while. His mouth most times set in a small smile, as though not quite sure to be in awe or simply laughing at the idiosyncrasies of the world around him.
The striking contrast of his partner made Peter seem at times frail, although there was nothing fragile in his nature or his demeanor. It was all illusion when foiled by Coletrane’s bronzed skin, sun-tinged brown hair and hazel eyes. This man literally glowed with good health and stamina and Bailey looked washed out at times and mousy.
To the casual observer, these differences made Peter seem at times meek and compliant, although in reality, there was nothing weak in his nature or his demeanor. It was all illusion he seemed to have no problem with.
The lesson began immediately.
As Bailey and Coletrane entered the living room, Blair and Jim both rose to greet the new guests. Vincent walked them in, an arm on each shoulder, one on each side of him. Damien had run the steaks into the kitchen and was getting beers for the guests.
“Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg, I would like you to meet two very good friends of ours, Mark Coletrane and Peter Bailey.”
Both Jim and Blair shook hands with the two men.
“Blair,” Peter said, the first conversation he jumped into since their arrival fifteen minutes earlier, “I hear you’re an anthropologist. I can’t tell you how much I’ve heard about you from Vincent and Day. As a matter of fact, I’ve already read a few of your journal publications. Quite the presenter of facts and theories, you changed my views almost completely about the physiological adaptability of nomadic peoples. Although some of your theories on the lack of social classes in these people seem to differ greatly from your peer's opinions.” The man smiled making it quite clear that different was not always frowned upon by him.
Blair shifted weight, relaxed and seemed to come out of his little shell.
Mark laughed at Vin as Peter and Blair immediately began a serious discussion on tribal warriors and their abilities to adapt physically to protect their tribes.
“He has found a soul mate. I’ll never get him away from here, today, Vin, “ Mark laughed again, shaking his head. “He’s a man starving for intellectual conversation. The very fact that Mr. Sandburg didn’t take umbrage tells me those two are ready for a good debate.”
The afternoon went like a charm. Even Damien, who often bristled around Mark, was relaxed and friendly. Although he stuck to Vin most times, always eager to help in the kitchen or light the grill or watch the steaks as they grilled, anything to work next to Vin, touch him occasionally and be hugged back, he was still showing courteous interest in his guests and even joined Peter and Blair in a heated debate about art and it’s moral obligation.
The only crimp in the day came when Mark and Day got into a slight altercation over the heated grill. Vin had returned to the kitchen to get some sauce for Mark. Damien was left to turn the steaks and Mark offered assistance.
“Hey, go easy with those steaks. You keep slamming them over like that you break the searing and the juices seep out. I hate dry steak.”
Damien, although not the domestic sort, considered himself a master of the grill. It was the one outside activity, besides lovemaking under the stars, which the indoor athlete liked. “Coletrane, you grow grass, it doesn’t make you an expert on outdoor cooking,” Day said sarcastically.
“Brat, it was just some friendly advice, you’d do better if you would just listen to other people once in a while,” Mark shot back.
“Deeeemmoooon,” the slow threat came from behind him, just as the blond head snapped back ready to deliver a retort that no doubt would have had Coletrane ready to take the younger man in tow.
Day quickly lowered his head and concentrated on turning the steaks. Mark glanced away, staring off to the gardens, embarrassed by his own tone.
“Do I need to tell you to apologize?” Vincent whispered quietly into Day’s ear.
“You don’t even know what it was about,” Day hissed back. “You just assume I’m wrong.”
“I know you and Mark and I know it’s your back he bristles.”
Vin waited, keeping a warning arm around Day’s shoulders as he turned the steaks, slamming them down now on the grill with a vengeance.
“I’m sorry,” he said, somewhat harshly.
Gently lifting his partner's face, he leaned down and kissed the pouting lips long and hard, ending the bad mood as quickly at it started. Mark laughed and walked away to join Jim, Blair, and Peter as they conversed at the patio table, drinking beers and discussing a thousand and one things.
Blair Sandburg was in heaven…or surely he had entered some time warp, some academic black hole that allowed ideas and concepts and philosophy to fill it with good grace. The afternoon was fantastic. Peter had the young anthropologist in deep admiration. Peter had ideas about health care that were eons beyond his contemporaries and he was not adverse to studying ancient cultures and garnering ideas about lifestyles and herbal remedies in the treatment of illnesses.
Yet, for all the hard work he turned towards the healing arts, he still had time and interest in art, literature, music, and philosophy. There was not a subject he did not seem comfortable conversing on and he was always eager to hear Jim or Blair or Day or Vin’s opinions on things. Mark, joined in occasionally, but it was obvious that the younger man loved his partner and was just as eager as the others to listen to him expound on his ideas.
As the sun was setting, dinner was coming to an end. Vincent suggested everyone adjourn to the living room. The house well heated now that the gas lines were fixed.
A quick clean up with all men pitching in and coffee and cheesecake were awaiting them in the fire lit room.
“How is Mrs. Dunn coming along?” Vincent asked Peter.
“Not too well, I’m afraid,” Peter said as he forked a large piece of cheesecake into his mouth.
“I might send her to a hospice soon, but I’m not really ready to give up yet," Bailey said as he gave a surreptitious look at Mark who was conversing with Jim about a landscaping job he had done a year ago and found a corpse.
Blair caught the look, but didn’t give it a second thought.
“She just needs me there a bit more. I can gauge her pain levels better and adjust the treatment,” Bailey pursued in a softer voice.
“You will get someone else to do it or you’ll be standing in the corner with a sore bottom while I get someone else to do it.”
Blair’s eyes widened, he jerked his plate and almost spilt his coffee. For a small moment in time, the day was shattered, crimped in that one spot as though a fine ribbon now bore the markings of a knot.
Instead of being embarrassed, instead of shrinking off under the guise of humor, Peter looked lovingly over at Mark’s stern face.
“I know, I was just thinking.”
"Don't. That sort of thinking lead to the trouble you got into a few days ago," Mark said, quietly, but sternly.
Peter smiled at him, nodded once and then leaning against him, said softly, "I love you."
"I love you," Mark whispered back, squeezing his shoulders.
Peter laughed as he saw the shocked look on Blair’s face.
“I’m afraid I don’t act responsibly most times in my profession," he began casually, standing and refilling his coffee cup. "Oh, I don’t mean as a doctor but about my own stamina and health care when dealing with other’s who are sick. Mark has paddled me raw on more than one occasion when I’ve run myself into the ground trying to keep someone else from sinking.”
Vin watched Blair’s face. Jim stopped, and seeing the epiphany dawning on his young lover’s face, he caught Vin’s eye and was answered with a wink.
“You mean…you and him…I mean it just doesn’t fit,” Blair said, hoping that this one man could explain the incongruity of these relationships to him.
Peter Bailey laughed. "What doesn't fit Blair? The fact that he is younger than me? The fact that I am a doctor? What?" There was no anger or censure in his voice, just calling attention and forcing the other man to discard his previous assumptions. Both he and Mark had been briefed at what was going on and knew their parts well. He walked back and casually sat on the arm of the sofa, placing his cup on the small table beside Mark.
Mark reached muscular arms up and over and grasping the upper forearms of the older man, he pulled him forward in a roll, easing him gently onto his lap. Day walked over to Vincent, who occupied the other winged back chair and was quite glad the group had moved into a more intimate stage. He was hungry for some attentions of his own.
Blair still sat shocked on the loveseat. Jim, noting his reaction, sat down next to him and placing an arm around his shoulders brought him near. Stiffening at first, Blair seemed to fight the evidence before his own eyes. Here was a man who kept his identity, his individuality, his own remarkable oneness and, yet, gave himself up into a disciplinary relationship with a younger man who could not hold a candle to him in either experience or education. Yet, there was love and it was deep and abiding and accepted.
“It’s easy, Chief,” Jim whispered into Blair’s ear as he felt him relax against him, “all you have to do is accept it and accept who you are.”
Burying his face into Jim’s shirt, Blair hung on for dear life as though he had been drowning for days or weeks and just now realized it. Now he held onto the one thing that could pull him up and out and he just didn’t know how to ask.
The winds whipped up and the occupants of Halcyon were glad they had heat. Ellison rubbed a weary hand across his face, resting his lower arm on his forehead, frustrated with the uneasy night and his even more restless partner.
Blair had tossed and turned, fluffed and puffed the pillow, moaned and groaned along with the howling night until Jim was ready to tie him down. Instead he hooked out a steel band, trapped the other’s waist and pulled the younger man to him, anchoring him firmly to his side.
“That’s it, Sandburg, you’re wearing yourself out with all the floundering, just lie still and relax.”
“I can’t, Jim, I just can’t seem to find a comfortable position.”
“Why can’t you sleep?” Jim asked, trying to find out the cause of his discontent. “I thought you had a nice day. You and Peter sure seemed to hit it off.”
“Actually, I did. It’ll be quite memorable in more ways than you think,” Blair mumbled cryptically against Jim’s neck, the warm breath tickling the hairs in that region. He yawned and took a deep breath, his mind exhausting him with unwanted thoughts.
“Care to share the mystery behind that remark, Chief?” Ellison asked, having a pretty good idea he already knew.
“I guess self-realization only goes so far. I think epiphanies are great and all, Jim, but if you analyze your insights into things they lose their moment of glory.”
“Sandburg, you’re talking in riddles. Make sense or go to sleep,” the detective growled, “as a matter of fact, I’d rather you go to sleep.”
The smaller man pushed off with one hard shove and rolled out of bed. Wearing the warm flannel pajamas Vin had bestowed on him the night the Gazebo fell, he looked lost in the long limbed garment. Not even bothering to roll up the fallen cuffs and sleeves, he moved away from the bed.
Jim sat up, confused.
“I mean, man, we had an agreement, a commitment. I thought it was binding for six months.”
With that said, he opened the door and swiftly left the room, barefoot and confused.
Ellison sighed wearily, and clad in his usual sleepwear of boxers and t-shirt, he followed after his upset lover.
The embers still glowed in the dying fire. The soft wall sconces lit the way into the huge room. Blair threw himself face down on the large sofa and kicked his legs violently up like a child in the early stages of a tantrum. It’s so unfair, he thought, Vin and Mark make it so easy for Day and Peter. They don’t give them choices all the time, vacillate between being in and out of the relationship. This whole thing is Jim’s fault, and he wasn’t even aware he had spoken this thought out loud.
As Ellison came down the hallway, he passed the library. The light glowed inside, the door cracked open enough to show the large man sitting at a desk, a glass of brandy in one hand, the other stroking Desi who sat like an Egyptian icon on his desk. Handing the cat small treats from an open desk drawer, he pulled his head back indicating entrance to Jim.
“He just flew past into the living room,” was the only commentary made.
Then putting down his snifter, he opened the second drawer of the desk and took out a wooden paddle laying it on the desk. “How long are you going to make him suffer when this should have been over with by now?”
Jim picked up the paddle and looking one more time at Vin, he nodded his head, “I think he just asked me for it in his round about Sandburg way.”
Vin picked up the snifter and offered a small salute to Jim with his glass. Then as though some guru having given all the advice he could on a subject, he swept the cat into his lap and turned the large leather chair to face out onto the front lawns. The trees bent and danced in the winds and Cade lost himself in his own memories of the night.
Jim left him to his musings and decided to set his brat back on track.
Jim never said a word, as a matter of fact, Blair was so busy muttering comforting accusations against his sentinel, not caring whether or not he heard him, he never realized the man was standing over him. When Jim heard the final aspersion against his character, “It’s all Jim’s fault,” he grabbed the younger man by his arm and hauled him upright.
Sandburg gasped in surprise, but all thought processes were halted as Jim quickly took his place on the sofa and pulled the anthropologist face down over his knees.
“Damn it, Jim, don’t,” Blair once again tried to intercede, “it’s not really what I want.”
“Sandburg, be quiet. It’s not what you want, but it’s what you need and it’s not your decision. You’re right, it is my fault; but I won’t fail you again. You have nothing to give up to me anymore, because you already have and I’m in control. We’re not negotiating every turn in the road. You have a month to go and you don’t have a say in the matter.”
With that, Jim raised the oversized pajama tops and hooked his hand in the waistband of the bottoms, pulling down the pj’s with the boxers in one fluid movement.
Sandburg yelped as the paddle christened his tender flesh, first one white globe, and then the other. Jim focused in on the heat emitting orbs as he paddled feverishly each cheek getting its due.
“Owe! No! Stop! Please stop!”
The loud smacks filled the large room and Blair bit his lip, not wanting to wake his hosts, fearful lest he call an audience. The paddle was small and round and it left no doubt that it stung like the Dickens. Jim was past caring about the minor concerns, putting his full trust in Vincent Cade and any implement he would use on his own beloved brat, he paddled with the surety of a determined man.
As the cheeks heated and glowed, Blair wilted with acquiescence. The stiff figure that had been pulled across Jim’s lap, the buttocks clenching in anticipation and hopes of avoidance, now limply lay in surrender.
Gauging the spirit of the penitent as well as the condition of the target area, Jim saw the wall crumbling before his very eyes. Sandburg let out heavy cries as the paddle made its final round, harsher, more intense, he recognized the farewell voyage of the wood. Jim always spanked hardest the final round, bringing the lesson home with a force that belied a regret for the need.
Pulling the bottoms and boxers up over the raging mounds, Jim carefully raised the sobbing young man across his lap.
Wincing with pain on contact with the hard thighs, Blair grabbed Jim’s t-shirt, hitching up a sob, he gasped for breath, needing to express some thought.
Ellison pulled him close, steadying the trembling figure, giving him a home base to return to, reassuring him that nothing had changed.
“I’m sorry,” Blair mumbled the words into Jim’s shirt, “I’m sorry. Thank you.”
A smile broke across Ellison’s face, he had guessed right. Placing a soft kiss on the curly head he simply made his own admissions and promises, “Next time, Chief, you won’t have to ask.”
Vincent Cade watched the tall man carry the compliant figure down the hallway towards the stairs. Turning off the light in his office, he looked back in to see Desi curled tightly on the sofa, warmly snuggled in the afghan Vincent had pulled from the closet shelf and placed there for her benefit.
“Good night, kitty cat, and thanks for the company.” The tall man walked slowly towards the staircase, lord of the manor. Smiling to himself, he shook his head and said to the empty hallway, “Mrs. Coletrane, you are absolutely right, houseguests can be trying at times.”
Monday wiled away in languorous bliss. Both brats seemed to want nothing more than to keep their lovers snuggly with them in bed. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were “everyman for himself,” and the day was used to replenish the soul and tighten bonds.
Jim held off telling Blair about his request to go paddle shopping with Vin and Day until just before bedtime. It did not ease the argument in the slightest, but it did give him less exposure to the complaining and uncooperative attitude.
Blair sat on the bed in their room watching Jim change clothes, trying not to pout but not doing a good job of it. "I don't want to go, Jim."
When that pronouncement failed to draw a response from his lover, he said louder, "I do not want to go. You can if you want, but not me."
Scooping his wallet from the dresser and slipping it into his back pocket, Jim turned to face his lover. "This is not open for discussion, Blair," he stated matter-of-factly. "I would have thought that after spending an hour in the corner last night for this very argument you would have gotten that fact across to you."
Blair opened his mouth to object again, but Jim cut him off.
"One more word about it and I will go and borrow one of Vin's paddles again and use it on you."
As his lover's face twisted into a pout, Jim reached for the door and began to open it.
"Okay, Okay, I won't say another word. You don't have to go bother Vin. I'll go."
Blair bounded over to the door, a huge fake smile on his face, "See, here's me happy as a clam about to go paddle shopping with my partner. What could be more fun?" He glanced back at Jim to see what sort of reaction he was getting. "Oh, let's see… maybe shopping for a new car, maybe having your wisdom teeth removed, maybe having major surgery without anesthesia, maybe…"
His next comment was cut off by a quick, sharp swat to his bottom. "One more word, Sandburg," Jim said, having lost his patience, but determined not to let it show, "and you will find yourself over my knee for a long period of time." The older man glared down at his sullen companion. "I don't care if you are happy about this shopping trip or not, we are going. I don't want to hear it. Is that understood?"
The other man did not answer, instead finding great interest in his shoes.
Jim grabbed him by the arm and turned him slightly, delivering two hard swats to his butt. "I asked if you understood."
"Yes," Blair said grudgingly
"Ummm… am I interrupting something?" a quiet voice asked from the hall. "Vin sent me up here to see if you guys were ready." Day looked back and forth, watching the war of wills being played out. "I can tell him you guys will be down in a few minutes…" his voice trailed off.
Jim looked at Blair, "Are we finished here and ready to go? Or do we need to discuss it further?" he asked.
Jerking his arm away from Jim's hold, Blair said, "No, we’re fine. I'm ready. Let's just go and get it over with."
The three men walked down the stairs and out the front door to the waiting car. Vin drove with Jim riding in the front. Day and Blair climbed in the back and quickly were in an animated conversation. Jim was lost in thought, staring out the window until a quiet yet understanding voice brought him out.
"I take it your brat is not too trilled with the shopping trip."
Jim looked over at the older man and smiled. "No, he's not. I think he's embarrassed about it. Not to mention a little apprehensive about what we are going to buy."
"Well, there's really nothing to be embarrassed about. But I can understand. Levi knows what he's doing, understands the relationships and is a complete professional. He makes first rate implements."
"I know," Jim laughed, "but I remember going with you that time. I tried to play it so cool, but I was terrified and embarrassed and couldn't wait to get out of there."
Vin laughed with him at the shared memory. "If I remember, young man, you put up a fuss going, too. I believe you were sporting a red behind when we got to the store."
Jim blushed, still embarrassed by the memory. "God, that was so long ago, so many things have changed…"
Vin reached over and gave Jim's neck a slight squeeze in a comforting gesture, "But, son, so many things are still the same."
Looking over at his mentor, his constant source of support and guidance, Jim smiled.
Forty minutes later, Vin pulled the car into a long drive that led to a modest, two-story, red-brick house. Ivy covered one corner with rose bushes decorating the opposite side. A second building, also brick, was half-visible in the back. After he parked the car in the driveway, Vin and Jim opened their doors and got out. Day quickly followed; his attitude a little more cautious and subdued than what it had been earlier. Blair remained in the back seat of the car, his arms folded across his chest, face set in a determined look.
Jim sighed and opened the back door. Holding out his hand to his partner he said softly, "Come on, love, it's not that bad. I promise."
Taking a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves and loosen the knot that had settled in his stomach, Blair took Jim’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled out of the car. Still gripping the offered hand tightly, he walked with Jim up the sidewalk and to the front door where Day and Vin were already waiting.
Day turned as they approached and gave Blair a warm and comforting smile.
The door opened to reveal a smallish man, slightly shorter than Blair, but outweighing him by a good fifty pounds. The balding head and glasses added a roundness to his face, and the added genuine smile made him look like a kindly shop owner from a children’s movie.
"Vin, Damien," he said, shaking their hands, "perfect timing. I'm so glad to see you both again. And this time you brought friends from the States."
“Is it that obvious?” Jim asked, wondering how he knew they were American. Surely he could not remember Jim’s one visit almost eight years ago.
“Americans have a way about them. For all the years Vin has been here, he still looks like a tourist.”
“Levi, for a man who shortened his name from Leviatus, just so he could sound like a pair of American blue jeans, I wouldn’t be pointing fingers at what’s obvious and what isn’t. Actually, I should start demanding a commission for all the sales I’ve brought you in the past few years,” Vin responded.
The other man laughed, good-naturedly, “Well, like Mr. Strauss, I like to think I get to the seat of most problems.”
“That you do,” Vin said, ushering Damien ahead of him.
Levi winked at the younger man, offering a slight pat on the shoulder for support.
Day blushed and said, “They are very well made, I just wish I didn’t see them as much as I do.”
A hearty laugh escaped the smaller man.
Vin motioned for Jim and Blair to step up, saying, “I would like to introduce two good friends of mine. You might remember James Ellison, he and I had a relationship several years ago. This is his life partner, Blair Sandburg."
"Ah, yes, I knew you looked familiar, James. You were in the army, or had just gotten out of the army the last time you were here, right?"
Jim nodded. "Yes, that was about eight years ago. I'm now a police detective in Washington State." Pointing to Blair, he said, "Blair and I have been together over a year now, but this type of relationship is new, only since April."
Levi smiled at Blair and shook his hand, patting it with his other. "Don't be afraid young man, I won't bite. Are you a police officer, too?"
As much as he wished to dislike this man, not be friendly in any way, he couldn't help himself. He smiled back, "No, I teach anthropology at Rainier University in Cascade; I assist Jim on some of his cases as a police consultant.”
"Ah, a full plate I see. Well, come, come, let's go to the workshop and decide what you all want,” Levi said.
Linking arms with Blair, he pulled the younger man along as though they were involved in some conspiracy all their own.
“Now, little boy, I have dealt with many people new to a discipline relationship, so I know what you are going through. I want to tell you what I’m going to do once we get inside so you can prepare yourself. Your partner doesn’t look like he is putting up with any attitude today. Am I right? I know Vin wouldn’t hesitate for a moment putting Damien over his knee if he threw any attitude around here.”
Blair nodded, remembering the conversation before they left the house.
"Okay, when we get there, I am going to deal with Day and Vin first since they won't take much time. Then, " he paused, "it's your turn."
"I'll take you and Jim into the back room and let him put you in the position he wants a paddle for; over his knee, over an object, however. Then we take some measurements, and talk about style. It's quick, I promise you. Maybe about ten minutes of you being in position and the rest is discussion."
Blair nodded, not really trusting his voice.
"Just relax," the other man continued, his voice low and easy, sort of soothing, "don't be embarrassed at some of the questions I ask you and your partner. Just think as me as your doctor in a way." He gave Blair's shoulder a quick squeeze as they reached the door to the second building.
"Come, come,” he urged. “Would any of you like tea or coffee?" unlocking the door and ushering the men inside.
Blair stepped in and was startled by the interior. It looked like a living room of anyone's house. There was a couch and several chairs positioned around a low coffee table with end tables and lamps. On the other side, there was a long dining room table with eight chairs around it. A silk floral arrangement sat in the center. This was not what Blair was expecting.
Levi noticed Blair's expression and laughed, "Not what you were expecting? No chains and spikes all over the place. No sounds of screams and whips coming from behind closed doors."
Blair laughed and seemed to relax some.
Walking over to him, Day said in a loud stage whisper, "They have all that stuff down in the basement…. Whatever you do, don't go behind that door." Shuddering, he pointed to a closed door behind the couch.
"Damien!" Vin barked, "Stop."
Then turning to Blair, “Ignore him. That's the bathroom."
Damien caught Blair’s threatening look and shrugged in a typical ‘what do you expect from me’ kind of way.
Vin and Damien were then ushered into the back room.
Blair nervously walked around the room pretending interest in various objets d'art. Various twisted shapes made of wood and leather accented the room, presents no doubt with some meaning to the craftsman of discipline. Passing the sofa he realized Jim was thumbing through a photo album. Stopping long enough to view the photos of paddles, switches, and various other objects, he noted the yellow stickers Jim eagerly marked the pages with.
Vin, Damien and Levi came out of the back room and each took a seat at the large table. They, too, had picked up a photo album and were browsing through the many pictures. Levi had brought a small card file out and was thumbing though it.
“The small oval paddle that we bought several years ago has gotten a small crack in it and we need to get a new one,” Vin was explaining.
Levi located the correct file. “Ah, yes, the seven inch oval.”
“It got a little too much of a work out, I’m afraid,” Vin laughed.
Damien shifted his weight and grimaced.
“Well, that’s what they are made for. Do you want the exact same paddle? Same wood and everything?”
“Yes, please. It’s perfect.”
“Fine. Should take about a week or so to make it and send it up to you.”
Several other selections were discussed and business was concluded.
Levi glanced at Blair, “Jim, Blair, I’m ready if you are.”
Blair shifted from foot to foot looking to all the world like he would bolt at any moment. Vin moved slowly nearer the door as a precaution and Damien looked nervously around, no doubt wondering whose side to take if all hell broke lose.
There was a loneliness about the curly-headed young man at that moment that set him off alone in time. The blue eyes brightened in dismay as his mouth parted in a soft pout, awed by the suggestion that the reality was upon him.
Standing up, Jim carried the album towards the back room. Realizing he was the only one moving in that direction, he turned staunchly, ready to assert control.
Levi, of the experienced heart, quickly moved in like a wind churning the leaves towards the compost pile. Hooking his arm through Blair’s, he turned towards Vin.
“Vincent, I think you and Damien should check out those new climbing ivy I’ve decorated the arbor with. You would do well to plant those as covering near your portico. I think it would take care of that draft problem near the entrance hall.”
Vin, waking from his own ignorant stance, reddened slightly from his lack of insight. Pulling Damien by the arm, he headed for the door, “Day and I will check it out.”
Jim softened, too, realizing his own insensitivity in matters. Coming forward he put his arm around Blair’s shoulder taking him from Levi, “Come on, Chief, it’ll be over soon. It’s okay.”
The back room was more along the lines of what Blair was expecting. Along one wall were various paddles of almost every different size, shape and thickness imaginable.
"Jim, how do you usually discipline Blair?" Levi asked, all business now. No doubt realizing that it would be in the young man’s best interest to be professional and efficient.
"We have a small room in the house, I sit in a straight back chair usually with him over my knee. Occasionally, I will be on the couch, but he is always over my knees. I never discipline him in our bedroom; that room is reserved for the finer aspects of our relationship."
“Good idea. Good rule to follow. There is indeed a time and place for everything,” Levi expounded. His career had placed many doms and subs in his realm. He studied discipline relationships from every aspect, angle and foil. A man who believed in discipline, he abhorred cruelty and never stooped to the clientele who would cheapen his trade.
"Okay, why don't you have a seat here," he said, pulling out a chair from the wall, "and put Blair over like you would have at home. Go ahead and remove his jeans and boxers if you do so normally."
Jim pulled Blair quickly along. The next few minutes, though strained, were nothing more than a blur to the anthropologist. Jim quickly pulled his jeans and boxers off and positioned him over his knee. Rubbing his back reassuringly, he never let his hand leave Blair for even a second.
The young anthropologist didn’t say anything, but Jim tried to make casual conversation trying to refocus Blair’s own thoughts up and away from the routine. “How many years have you been doing this?”
"Going on fifteen, but my father had the business before me. Now, Jim, when you are paddling Blair, what do you consider your strike zone?"
"Umm, usually from about here," Jim said, gently touching a spot on Blair's bottom just below the clef separating his two checks, "to about here," pointing to a spot just below the crease under the checks.
"Okay, you know you can actually go about another inch down without worrying about any damage," the shopkeeper said, still taking a few measurements. "All right, Blair, you can get up. We are through with that part."
Blair scrambled up and quickly pulled his jeans back on. Brushing his hair behind his ear, he continued to fidget with his clothing, a button here, a belt loop there, constantly allowing himself the pleasure of the mundane tasks.
"Why don't we go sit at the table and discuss exactly what you are looking for," Levi said, smiling at Blair, "See, little one, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
Blair shook his head and mumbled, "I guess not," though his reddening cheeks foretold the emotional toll.
Jim saw Vin standing outside the window talking to his brat. Calling out to the man through the open, screened window, he watched as Vincent sent Day on another mission and entered the house.
Levi motioned for everyone to take a seat at the table. The craftsman sat at one end and the other two men sat on either side. Vincent pulled up a chair next to Jim.
“All right then, gentlemen, let’s talk about what you want,” Levi began. “Jim, what exactly are you looking for? What results do you want? Sting or thud; just an attention getter or something for some serious, hard discipline sessions?”
“Most of Blair’s paddlings are short, quick, and not too harsh.”
Blair raised an eyebrow at this and could not retain a snort.
The paddlemaker glanced at him and smiled. “Blair, I’m sure that it doesn’t seem like it, but it’s all relative.”
“I think we want something that can be used for regular punishments, and maybe something bigger or heavier for serious offenses. Is that okay, Chief?” Jim asked Blair.
Blair grimaced, “I don’t think we will use the bigger one at all. This relationship will be over in one month’s time.”
Ellison looked quickly at Vin. Vincent just stared at the curly head, watching the nervous hands shift the hair constantly behind his ear. “Blair’s in the trial stages,” Vincent clued Levi in.
Ellison smiled in agreement, “No, I’m sure we won’t. But if you change your mind, Chief, we want to be prepared.”
Levi waited for the sharp glances that passed between the three men to find their home base back on him. He leveled his own clear, blue eyes on Blair. “Advise to you, young man, don’t be so quick to call off a relationship you have merely tasted. Go the whole nine courses, then give the critics the reviews.”
Then as though his sales pitch were never interrupted, he continued his queries, “All right, now, are you looking for something with more sting than thud or more thud than sting?”
“Sting, definitely. I don’t want to risk bruising or marking at all.”
“Okay, so no holes then, either. Give me a moment and I’ll see what we have.” He got up from the table and disappeared in the back room, returning quickly carrying about a dozen paddles. Spreading them out on the table in front of the men, he explained their different uses and feels.
“Here, James, try this one. It’s one of my more popular ones for a standard paddle. It’s light with good rebound for plenty of sting. The shape makes it easy to concentrate on one spot or encompass both cheeks if you want.” He handed Jim a rounded paddle about eight inches long.
“This looks like the one we just ordered, Levi,” Vin said.
“Yes, it’s similar. Yours has a little more weight behind it for a greater sting, but with this little one,” he said, smiling at Blair while shaking his head, “I don’t think he can handle as much as your demon can, at least not right now.”
Vin nodded in understanding and turned to Jim. “It’s a good paddle and makes quite an impression on Day.”
Jim ran his sensitive fingers over the smooth wood, noting the lack of imperfections and the careful care taken to smooth the edges. “It’s beautiful. It handles well, very balanced,” he said, giving it two practice swings as if paddling someone.
“Now, this one,” Levi said, handing over a slightly larger paddle, “I think you would use for more intense discipline sessions or more serious offenses. It’s too large to concentrate on one spot easily and will strike both cheeks all the time.”
Jim took the offered paddle. The blade was over nine inches. Shaking his head, he handed it back, “No, I think that’s too much.” Looking up at Blair, he couldn’t help but notice a small hint of shock on the younger man’s face. Meeting eyes, blue contacting blue, a secret passed between them, an acknowledgment of need and control, but also of love and patience and kindness with a firm hand.
“All right, let’s go for more sting than just bigger.” Selecting another paddle, he handed it to Jim. It was about the same size as the round one, slightly curved, but longer and narrow. “This is really several thin pieces of wood glued together. It has excellent rebound and sting. It’s long enough to strike both cheeks at the same time, it is great to concentrate on the sit spot and the upper thighs.”
Jim nodded as he took this, “I like this one better.” Slapping it against his hand, he winced slightly. “Boy, this one does sting.”
“Yes, it’s good for those who want sting but do not want to go the leather straps or tawses.”
“No, I don’t’ want to do that.”
Handing the paddle to Blair, he waited for the other man’s opinion, choosing to make his lover feel a part of the proceedings, not just an object of them. Blair swallowed hard and handed it back. “It’s good. I don’t think we will be using it though,” he said, as the litany of denial continued.
“I’m sure we won’t, Chief, but better safe than sorry.”
Levi continued to discuss blade length, hardness of woods, instruments that delivered more sting than thud, and generally enlightened Jim on the various instruments at his disposal. Blair listened, only slightly embarrassed now. Levi spoke like a man who researched his craft and he was very eager to instruct Jim on instruments of persuasion not cruelty.
As they concluded the transaction, Levi reached over and grabbed Blair’s arms as he nervously toyed with one of the paddles. “I’ve handled many transactions, young man. Many younger men less lucky than you. James, here, loves you and every question asked, every choice made, was with your best interests in mind. I’ve a sharp mind and and a keen insight into these relationships. You’ve chosen well. Rest assured.”
Blair mumbled a confused, “Thanks, I guess I have,” as he caught Jim looking at him. Still not thrilled with the proceedings, not convinced of any necessities for the purchases, he would not acquiesce too easily, but Jim noted the straightening of his back and a grin passed between him and Vin as they rose. The kid was secretly proud and pleased at Levi’s observations.
It wasn’t until the ride back to Salisbury that Blair gained a certain insight into the whole proceedings, his anthropological, scientific nature getting the better of him.
Damien had eagerly pleaded with Vin to ride in the front with him and Blair seemed just as eager to ride with Jim in the back. As they each circled the car arranging the seating positions to everyone’s liking, Vin passed Jim and whispered in his ear, “Day, and no doubt Blair is too, always feels the need to cuddle on the drive home. Don’t ask me why?”
Halfway towards the estate, Blair raised his head from Jim’s lap where he had tried to nap while the large detective stroked his hair. Quickly glancing in the front he saw the blond head resting against Vin’s shoulder, a soft snoring sound accompanying the classical music Vin had the radio tuned to.
“I hated it, Jim,” he admitted, once again resting his head in his lover’s lap. Jim resumed the stroking motion and looked down into the blue eyes as they stared at the back of the leather seat. “But I feel more connected somehow, more assured for some reason. It’s like a right of passage, a realization that you’re serious about me and about our relationship.”
“Was there ever any doubt about it, Chief?”
“No, I mean, man, I know you, you’re pretty stubborn, Jim.”
A slight swat to his behind, brought a smile to his face, “I guess there’s just more commitment in it, now. I know we won’t need those paddles, Jim, I know it was more a token gesture, but I realize these relationships are very real and very necessary. No doubt Levi sells more than he needs to live in comfort.”
“No doubt, Chief, and I’m sure we’ll have very little use for all three paddles, but we’ll be ready in case we do.” Glancing up, he caught the brown, somber eyes reflecting back from the driver’s seat. The conversation was acknowledged in a quick wink and a smile. The simple attempt for understanding showed the young man was turning over leaves within his own mind and marking pages for his life.
The remaining time at Halcyon Heights was idyllic simplicity. Marked with hours on the terrace, long walks by the river, picnics on the lawns, the friends cherished each moment and willed the time to slow.
On the day of departure, Blair gave Day the cat wind chimes. The young blond head nodded several times as he opened the small gift bag and pulled away the paper. The tinkling sound seemed to delight him and he hugged Blair with a force that belied need and misery. “I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you so much.”
“Hey, we got e-mail and there’s always the chat rooms,” Blair piped in overly-cheerful, hiding his own misery at the goodbyes.
Vincent graciously accepted the onyx paperweight and he pulled his old friend into a forceful bear hug. “You call, Jimmy, you let me know you’ve arrived safely. You also keep me posted on your eating habits and your state of mind. I’d best get reports every twenty-four hours or Simon Banks gets a call from me. Got it?”
“Got it, Vin, and I’ll be expecting you in the States within the year.” Jim turned to Damien, “Day, I’ll expect you bring him like we discussed.”
“No problem, Jimbo, the Art Critic is anxious to carry a new painter and I think Vincent Cade, American landscape artist, will be a big hit back here as well as the States. You’ll see us real soon.”
Even Desi came into the large living room and stood anxiously by mewling softly in agitation at the distressed emotions of the departure. Day swooped her up into his arms and dangled the chimes for her as she swiped the dancing cats with her paw.
Patrick had driven up to drive them back to London and the airport and he discreetly stood by to lend assistance.
The final farewells were manly gestures of swatting arms, backsides and heads. Much good cheer echoed the landscape and the sleek car pulled away and headed the American men one step closer to the States.
Blair’s head rested on Jim’s shoulder throughout the long transatlantic flight. The lights in the cabin were dimmed and most of the passengers, easing the boredom of the long flight, had decided to watch one of the offered movies or sleep. One or two sporadically placed individuals read or pecked away at keyboards.
Jim, unable to find rest and uninterested in the movie, his head filled with memories and concerns, was somewhat startled to realize his sleeping partner was staring up at him with wilted blue eyes.
“What’s the matter, Chief,” he asked quietly, consideration for the passengers.
“I’m not sure I want to continue after the six months, Jim,” Blair said.
Jim’s jaw clenched, his own musings similarly drifted that way as he ruminated over the past three weeks.
“But I don’t think Vin and Day have such a bad relationship, at all.” Blair paused, as though still arranging some thoughts within his own mind. “But I can assure you, if we do continue, you’ve wasted your money in Bath.”
Ellison raised his eyes to heaven, not so much in exasperation or thanksgiving, but in total amusement and befuddlement. Just when he thought it was over, it was only the beginning. He pulled the head down again onto his shoulder, patted the cheek gingerly, and glancing out into the clouds he mouthed into the glass, “Thank you, Cade, thank you.”
Vincent Cade stood looking out upon the lawns, his arms folded across his chest, looking like lord of the manor in every sense of the word. The soft slant of his mouth hinted at anger from anyone not knowing the older man. Upon closer inspection, upon viewing the golden haired young man who walked out to pick up the late summer blooms for the breakfast table, one would realize it was a loving humor that marked his smile now.
The orders were given with a sharp smack to the grouchy young man’s bottom. “Breakfast on a day like this requires fresh cut blossoms, don’t you think, brat?” Cade set the plates on the breakfast nook table and looked out at the green lawns, dew crested and sparkling as the sun claimed the misty countryside.
“Off with you now. Remember, it’s Goldenrods and Purple Pansies that’ll brighten our table this fine morning.” With that he smacked the defiant bottom a few times, sending the younger man off in a stomping fit to collect the treasured blooms.
Vincent set down the breakfast preparations as he saw his lover move sulkily towards the flowerbed. It was one of the few spared lots from the day of destruction.
The older man moved quickly towards the huge window in the grand entrance hall. Folding his arms across his chest in typical Vincent Cade style he watched as his petulant brat bent down and tugged hostilely on the tender blooms. Shaking his head, muttering to himself, Cade shifted from foot to foot. “Get down and pull them gently, young man,” he directed from the sidelines, fully aware that no one heard him, let alone the young man on the other side of the glass who was yards away.
He watched as the golden head bobbed up and down as Damien collected a fine bouquet. “Look, Demon, look for once instead of sulking with your eyes half closed to the possibilities of the day.”
Then, as though he could indeed instruct from behind the thick glass, the young head turned slightly and then quickly returned to stare at a spot in the garden bed.
“By George, I think he’s got it,” Cade mimicked in a sophisticated Rex Harrison imitation.
The sunlight caught the golden locks, but the smile that broke across the young features melted any and all attempts at golden glory. Damien St. Claire bent low to retrieve his treasure. His joy evident as he turned his face heavenward and whooped.
Vincent Cade merely smiled. Finding the ring on Sunday under the barbecue grill as he prepared it for their guests, he had planted the find near the goldenrods. “Let the Demon think he’s won this time, Mrs. Coletrane,” he offered up his benediction to the heavens, “Lord knows, it’s me who gets to keep the prize. “
We thank you for reading and hope that you have been entertained.