A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter One
There was a burst of static from Dave Findley’s radio followed by a voice asking calmly, “Findley, this is Dispatch, what’s your 10-20? Over.”
He grabbed the radio, which was lying on the seat of Jim Ellison’s former truck, and replied, “Dispatch, this is Findley and I’m leaving the parkin’ lot of the I-40 truck stop, headin’ back to Sweetwater. What’s the disposition regarding the 10-28 and 10-30 requested at the roadblock on Highway 23? And has Dillon come back from his escort duty yet? Over.”
“Findley, they hit the jackpot at the roadblock.” The voice on the other end of the radio kept to a professional tone, but Dave could hear the excitement behind the words.
“The officers found an opened beer container on the back seat floor in plain sight; they did a search and under the seats was an unlicensed gun, and a rag in a baggie. That rag was soaked in something the labs will have to identify, but Clayton, he took a sniff at the rag -- and he thinks it’s chloroform. There was a shovel and sheets of plastic wrap, duct tape and garbage bags in the back of the jeep. One of the suspects had a capeus filed for not appearing at a court hearing on November 10, and the other one is on parole, so his probation officer will violate him for being in possession of a firearm. Both suspects have been arrested and are being 10-16’ed back to the station. Dillon’s checked back in and is back out on patrol. Over.”
“This is Findley. Signin’ off now. I’ll be back in about an hour and ready to drink a pot of coffee, I’m gettin’ that sleepy. Over.” Findley made sure to answer the dispatcher in his usual laid-back manner, then placed his radio back on the truck seat. His hands gripped the steering wheel like it was somebody’s neck he wanted to be squeezin’. Two somebodies.
Those sons-of-bitches! He took a deep breath and released it and shifted his feelings into the place he’d named ‘not at work.’ He couldn’t afford to let his anger take charge while he was on duty. It was one of the first things he’d learned to do as a police officer.
The city cop’s plan had worked like a charm. Ellison had dangled Blair in front of the suspects for bait, and they had followed Blair while he was a passenger in Ellison’s truck, right to the roadblock. Findley nodded his head thoughtfully as he headed for the parking lot exit. The cops on day shift had set it up so that by the time the men in the vehicle behind Ellison and Blair had seen the police cars, they couldn’t turn around without looking suspicious. Then Findley had switched trucks with Ellison at Miller’s barn, and Dillon had escorted Ellison and Blair to the county line, just to make sure nobody else bothered them.
He took a sip of the large coffee he’d bought himself at the truck stop, and turned onto the Interstate entrance ramp. He was pretty tired; he’d been working since late last night. But he weren’t as wore out as Blair had been all this week, ever since Findley had helped arrest him for driving those drunk kids in that car they’d stolen. He wondered if the boy’d finally told Ellison what was wrong with him. Now that Blair was in protective custody, Findley had included the doctor’s instructions with the paperwork, in case Blair kept bein’ so stubborn about explainin’ the reason for the fevers and feelin’ exhausted. The boy was Ellison’s responsibility now; Findley was pretty sure the detective was going to have his hands full on the trip back to Cascade.
Findley drove down I-40 towards Nashville -- still playing decoy for Jim Ellison. At the truck stop, he’d even introduced himself as Detective Jim Ellison because he wanted any witnesses to report that they’d seen ‘Jim Ellison,’ the big man with the Jags baseball cap, leave in the old blue-and-white classic truck and head west. It was a good thing he and Ellison were both tall. He hoped the clerks would remember him; he’d made a to-do about buying coffee and asking if anybody had seen the curly-headed hitchhiker he’d picked up in Sweetwater. He’d pestered them to call Blair’s name over the PA system, telling the clerks he’d wanted to buy the boy a meal, so they’d remember the name ‘Blair Sandburg.’
When there was no response he’d told them Blair must have gotten a ride east to North Carolina, while he used the restroom earlier. He’d tried to disguise his Tennessee accent as best he could. Jim Ellison was from Washington, and they talked a mite different out there. He’d had his fingers crossed the whole time that he wouldn’t run into anybody who knew him while he’d been plantin’ the false trail. He trusted that if any more gunmen came lookin’ for Blair, they’d be detoured all the way to Charlotte, so Blair’d be safe. For a while, anyway.
Findley saw the next exit coming up and he moved into the exit lane. He planned on taking some back roads to return to Sweetwater. He had to take this truck to Harley’s farm where it would stay hidden for a while in the barn. Ellison was lucky that the Findleys were related to about half the county, since his second cousin had made Ellison a good deal this morning, when they’d driven to Harley’s car lot on the edge of town. Ellison had swapped his 69 Ford truck for the ‘94 Ranger and Harley would hold Ellison’s check, plus keep his mouth shut about the sale for a week.
While he left the Interstate and drove the back roads, he pondered what he’d learned about Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison. He’d met a guide and his sentinel, and it was strange to think of legends he’d heard about when he was a child being real men with real lives and their own troubles.
He yawned and rolled his shoulders, then rolled down the window to let some cold, fresh air blow into this old truck.
Blair was troubled, but he was no troublemaker. He been nothing but cooperative while he’d been housed at the Sweetwater P.D.; all the cops knew after the first night that he’d done nothing wrong in Sweetwater and the charges would be dropped. He’d have been let go that day if it hadn’t been for the order from Cascade to hold him for questioning, which was a tad on the irregular side. Findley had taken a liking to the small, curly-headed drifter, who wouldn’t complain about feeling sick and who’d played an old guitar with a fair amount of skill. He’d been kept the best part of a week in the holding cell, till Ellison had arrived and questioned him about the death of a Cascade woman, the Chancellor of Rainier University, where Blair used to teach as a grad student. Findley had felt that Blair was a good kid and he was pleased when Blair’s alibi had checked out. He’d agreed with Ellison that Blair should be placed in protective custody both to protect him from an attempt on his life and because his testimony was the only link to another suspect, but he’d hated to see Blair taken away against his will. Even if it was for the best.
Findley drank the rest of his coffee as he drove one-handed on the familiar roads. It’d been an interestin’ week dealin’ with the sentinel and guide pair. Blair was a strange one, though, and so was Ellison. When Ellison had met up with his guide at the Sweetwater P.D., the sentinel had gone into some kind of odd state and mauled Blair sexually. Findley and several other cops had pulled his attacker away from Blair. Ellison had stayed in that strange state and only Blair, his guide, had been able to bring him back out of it. A guide and a sentinel – despite all the news stories from Cascade that had made Blair out to be a liar – and he’d witnessed Ellison spirit wandering and Blair cajoling him to return. Blair had put together a wild story about ‘low blood sugar’ and ‘stigmata’ to cover up the fact that Ellison had bit him. Then, unbelievably, he’d managed to have a new stigmata mark show up on the back of his neck, to keep his sentinel from being charged with assault.
He shivered a little, remembering Blair on the interrogation room floor, knees pulled up to his chest, blood soaking through the back of his jail-scrubs. He’d pulled the shirt away from Blair’s skin and seen the angry looking, bloody bite. He’d reviewed the security tape later, after Blair’s injury had been seen to, and the boy’d been alone the whole time, sitting quietly on the floor. Blair had dealings with the mysteries, it seemed. So had Heart-Soul, according to grandpa’s stories.
The way that Ellison and Blair had acted, plus the background research Findley’d done on Blair’s past, had helped forge the connection to the stories he’d heard since childhood about the Cherokee sentinel and guide who’d saved most of the town’s ancestors.
Findley’d initially considered Ellison’s behavior as abusive, but he’d changed his mind as he coaxed the truth out of the sleeping guide and challenged the sentinel about his actions. He shook his head slightly, remembering how Ellison had resisted coming clean with him. He could see why – the man had two secrets he was keeping: the gay-love he’d had for Blair and being a sentinel – but Findley’d needed to know what really was going on between the sweet-natured small drifter and the big, tough cop. Although Blair’d lost some of that sweetness when Ellison had prodded at him during his interrogation about the Edwards murder; he’d yelled at Ellison and was certainly not afraid to tick off the man.
Still, he’d seen with his own eyes Ellison pinning Blair to the wall, and the driving, sexual hunger in the otherwise blank expression on Ellison’s face, and he couldn’t in all conscience turn Blair over to a man who looked likely to rape him, at least. He’d worked enough domestic violence calls to know the extent of harm a person could do to somebody they said they cared about.
The truthfulness Ellison had finally shown about bein’ a sentinel and Blair’s lover had removed most of Findley’s doubts concernin’ Blair’s safety with the Cascade detective. The old stories had said that the bond between the Protectors such as Agateno-Dikata, Scout-Eyes, and his Adonvdo, Heart-Soul, was lovin’ and protective of each other. He’d given Blair one last chance to say if Ellison was abusive and again the boy’d denied it, even though he’d been angry and resisting being placed in protective custody at the time.
Ellison had said Blair’d fight the custody, that he’d think he could keep himself safe from whoever had ordered the hit on him and keep away from anyone out to kill him. Findley shook his head when he thought about Blair’s behavior earlier today.
He’d thought after Blair’s initial protest, the boy’d see reason and not kick up much of a fuss about having to go back to Cascade. After all, he didn’t have a job, and the money he had wouldn’t go far. And Findley knew Blair’s secret wish to be able to go back home to Cascade. He’d hated to cuff and shackle Blair, but there’d been no time for letting Blair ponder about agreeing to protective custody. He guessed he hadn’t really seen the stubborn side of Blair before, except when it had been about the doctoring he’d been given.
At least they’d caught the men who had planned on killin’ Blair, slick as could be, after Ellison overheard with his sentinel hearing the killers planning to rape and murder Blair. Handy thing to have, those extra-fine senses of his, although they could have their drawbacks, according to what Great-Great-Aunt Nettie’d written in her family history about Protectors, and what his own grandpa, her nephew, had always told the young’uns at Homecoming every Fourth of July.
Findley smiled as he remembered the hot summer holidays where every year he’d heard the old stories passed down through the generations.
Grandpa would gather his grandchildren, the great-nephews and nieces, and all the cousins’ kids and grandkids together after the food was packed up. Before the fireworks started, he would sit them all down in front of him, looking over the assorted blond, brown, black, and red haired young’uns; then his voice would thunder out, askin’ if they knew what blood ran in their veins. Every kid there knew the answer to that question. It was a ritual Grandpa had every Homecoming.
“Tsalagi,” everyone would shout. Cherokee.
Then Grandpa would tell the ‘Legend of the Cedar Tree,’ reminding the young’uns that the tree was special to the Cherokee. He’d pass out small cedar wood animals that he’d whittled for the little ones to take home. He’d tell other legends, too, like ‘Why the Possum’s Tail is Bare,’ which always made the kids giggle and laugh.
He always saved for last the story of how the ancestors had tricked the soldiers sent to take the Cherokee to Oklahoma. He’d say that the Tsalagi of old, had Protectors of the tribe. And here, when the Cherokee were in danger of havin’ to walk the Trail of Tears, Scout-Eyes and his Heart-Soul had saved the People by learnin’ of the soldiers’ tactics before they could capture the families that lived in the farmlands. Scout-Eyes listened from far away and cast his eyesight beyond what any man could see to steal away the soldier’s plans. Heart-Soul, closer to him than a brother, and who was ‘u,’ strong of heart for Scout-Eyes, would wrap his arms about Agateno-Dikata – Scout-Eyes – and then Heart-soul would speak soft words to Scout-Eyes, to keep his spirit from wandering away while his senses ranged from his body.
Together, they warned the families to flee to the mountains, and Adonvdo – Heart-Soul -- convinced the reluctant ones because his power of speech was strong, and his care of their people well known among the Tsalagi. He was also said to have mysterious powers of the spirit, which helped him to persuade the Tsalagi to hide.
The soldiers searched the mountains, but never could they catch the People, for the Protectors kept watch on the soldiers’ camps, listen’ to their words, and would send warnings when the people needed to change their hiding places. When the Protectors told them it was safe to return, the People did so, and in thanks to Agateno-Dikata and Adonvdo, promised to teach each new generation of the ways of the Protectors.
Grandpa had always ended the tale by sayin’ that Protectors were honorable people and that perhaps one day, some of the children listenin’ would be like Scout-Eyes and Heart-Soul. ‘Course, the kids would play at being them, but Findley’d never thought about meeting Protectors in today’s times. Cousin John was the one who now told the stories at Homecoming, since Grandpa’d passed on.
Well, today’s Protectors were on their way to the West Coast. Ellison had a plan to stay incognito and under the radar while they traveled to Cascade. He had Findley’s cell phone and using it shouldn’t alert anybody to the two men’s whereabouts. Ellison had swapped his blank check for Findley’s cash, so he wouldn’t have to use his credit card, although Findley would hold onto the check till it was safe to cash it. Findley’d arranged where they’d sleep the first night by using his credit card, but again, that shouldn’t reveal their location to whoever had set up the hit on Blair.
Findley was worried some about Blair; the boy’d had mixed feelings about his sentinel. He’d been like a little wildcat when Ellison told him he was in protective custody; he’d had to be restrained, till he wore himself plumb out. Still, Findley knew Blair loved Ellison. And Ellison had ended up talkin’ about Blair while picking up supplies for their trip. He’d said he was goin’ to try and patch things up with the boy. Findley supposed they were in for some interestin’ conversation as they drove back to Cascade. He’d be in touch with them off and on, till they reached Cascade, but he didn’t believe he’d ever see the Sentinel and Guide again.
I was worried that Blair was still so quiet; it just wasn’t his natural state. It’d been hours since we left Sweetwater and he just sat slumped in the seat of my new truck. I’d given him apple juice and water, and a yogurt drink; he’d left them all on the seat unopened. I’d tried to buy him food more appetizing then the crap they’d served him in jail. He wouldn’t answer me when I tried to ask him questions; just kept his eyes shut, for the most part. I wished he would go to sleep; he seemed so exhausted, but he was awake.
We were headed for Patoka Lake, Indiana, and maybe an hour away from the little cabin that Findley had rented for us. It was unlikely that we’d be spotted at a Motel Six or Holiday Inn, but I was being careful. I didn’t know how much hacker capability our unknown enemy had, and I didn’t want him checking national motels databases. And with Blair still in cuffs and shackles, I wanted to stay away from populated areas and crowded motels. With this out-of-season cabin we might not even have to check in. It was paid for already, and I intended to call and see if they’d leave the key hidden by the cabin.
I had a cooler full of food and drinks, and a few new clothes for Blair, plus a couple of extra blankets, one of which I’d laid over him during the drive. He’d drawn it up to his chin, but never said thanks or even grunted. About an hour ago he started running a low-grade fever again; I could feel his skin heating up.
I’d looked through Blair’s backpack while he was being processed out of jail back in Sweetwater. He didn’t have much with him: an extra pair of jeans, a couple of shirts, some boxers and socks. There was a heavy, hooded sweatshirt, its cuffs frayed and worn, which he’d put on in the police station, but no coat, no gloves. He had his notebook journal, a pen, his reading glasses, a bandana and a used paperback anthropology book. The book was cheap, only fifty cents, and old, and it must have felt comforting to Blair to re-read Coming of Age in Samoa. He had a harmonica with him, too; I never knew he could play anything other than the guitar. I’d confiscated his Swiss army knife, and slipped it into my own pocket. Until he promised to be good, I wasn’t leaving anything accessible that he could use as a tool to ditch the handcuffs.
I’d thumbed through his wallet; he had several hundred dollars with him, which wasn’t going to take him far. He had his CDL license and his welder’s certification card. His blue-collar credentials. The smartest guy I knew and the best he could do now was driving a truck or welding. Before, if I’d said that to him, he’d probably have given me a lecture about assuming people who chose blue-collar work didn’t have intellectual abilities and desires. Probably quote me some passages from ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ or some other philosophical book. I’d like that. I don’t like what he’s doing now, this withdrawing into himself.
He also had a picture of us taken during a fishing trip and one just of me, smiling at something. Something which had been him. I’d remembered when he’d snapped that photograph; I didn’t know he’d took it with him when he left Cascade. And I’d found something else he’d chosen to keep, even though he’d gotten rid of so many of the bracelets and necklaces he’d loved to wear.
My necklace. The silver star one. The necklace I’d given him one Christmas, to show him how I felt about him being my guide. I’d called him my lodestar. My guiding star. And I couldn’t keep my hands off of him that day we’d walked on the beach, down at Deception Pass State Park. I’d hugged him and held his hand and snugged him up next to me while we walked back to the truck in the dark. I’d been attracted to him since I met him in his office, but I hadn’t yet admitted to myself that I would someday take him to bed. I had been orbiting him, just waiting for gravity to pull us together. He’d kept my gift to him, and I had to believe that at some level he wanted us to be together again.
I looked over at Blair because he’d shifted in his seat, but he was now staring straight ahead. He moistened his lips with his tongue and uttered the first words he’d said since being hoisted into this truck hours ago.
“I have to pee.”
I nodded that I’d heard him, but then I realized he hadn’t seen me. Sighing, I said, “Blair, please look at me. I’ve really had enough of the silent treatment and you pretending I don’t exist; I’m sorry six ways to Sunday that I fucked up with you. What do I need to do to get back in your good graces?”
Blair looked dully at me, then pulled the blanket down and raised his handcuffed hands from off his lap as an answer.
“Are you ready to promise you’ll stay in protective custody with me, no tricks, no trying to get away? You’ll accept that for now you need police protection, and not try and handle hit men on your own?”
Blair didn’t answer me, but he dropped his hands back into his lap.
I sighed again. I knew going into this that Sandburg would be a pain in the ass. “I’m guessing that means no. All right, Chief. With you cuffed, going to a gas station would be tricky. I don’t want to leave any sort of trail that could be picked up and me escorting a prisoner to the bathroom might be something people would remember. And I’m not going to uncuff you without your promise. You’re too damned clever about getting out of custody. Joel still talks about how you bamboozled him when he tells his war-stories.” I rubbed my forehead as I figured out how to take care of his needs without compromising the mission.
“I need gas anyway; I’ll see if I can find a station with the bathrooms on the outside of the building. If not, I’ll find you a tree to water next to a side road.”
I got gas, but wasn’t able to let Blair use the bathroom there, and all the other stations we’d passed also had indoor restrooms. I turned off the Interstate towards our cabin for the night and looked for a place to pull off. He still wasn’t communicating with me, and I wondered how to break through to him.
After I’d parked, I went around to Blair’s side of the truck. He’d awkwardly managed to undo his seat belt, and after I opened the door, he scooted off the seat, his feet hitting the ground a little unsteadily. I took his arm and escorted him to the edge of the woodlot and around a large maple tree, which still had a few of its orange-red leaves. But they wouldn’t be clinging to the tree for long; a storm was coming up pretty fast and the wind was rising.
“Need help, Chief?”
Blair shook his head no, and slowly got his zipper down and his dick out. I shrugged and got my own dick out, and said to him, “Bet I can piss farther than you, Chief.”
It was there and then gone again, but I’d seen a grin flash across his face. And with this brief glimpse of my Blair back, I felt more hopeful that I could turn my fuck-ups around, that Blair’d forgive me, and we could have a second chance together.
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Two.
Ball and Chain. Chapter Two
It was too dark for me to see easily by the time we got to the rented cabin somewhere in Indiana. I had let Jim’s words and questions on the drive just wash over me without really paying much attention to the details. It was too much effort to talk to him; there was too much between us that needed talking about, but I couldn’t summon any energy to start the process. Don’t start what you can’t finish, right? That was good advice, wasn’t it? Somebody used to tell me that all the time, but right now I couldn’t remember who it was… Man, I was tired.
I felt like I belonged on the ‘Most Wanted’ list, wearing my handcuffs and shackles, but I accepted that it was really me who held the key to them. Jim just wanted assurances that I’d be a good boy for him, and then he’d take them off.
Trouble was, I didn’t feel like being anybody’s good boy -- let alone Jim’s -- right now.
Theoretically, I was pissed that Dave and Jim had ganged up on me and hustled me into protective custody. In practicality, though, I was feeling too limp -- physically and emotionally -- to work up any sort of righteous indignation. I’d blown up about it hours ago -- shot my wad, so to speak -- and now I mostly wanted to lie down. I wasn’t good at keeping anger at a white-hot level anyway. The rage I had occasionally felt in my life had almost always kind of evaporated away leaving me dealing with an adrenaline crash. Like now.
Until I could make Jim listen to me and come up with another option about custody, we would be together. And maybe I could look at this time as a kind of mixed blessing. Be careful what you wish for… I’d wanted to spend some time with Jim before we parted, but not for very long. I wouldn’t be able to stand that. Not while my ex-lover was my jailer. This had to be hard on him, too. He said it was his fault for making his loyalty test too hard, but it was me who had flunked it. God, I wish I could turn back time; I wish I could have a day from the past, when we were friends and Jim loved me.
Jim was finishing signing rental papers with someone who’d been inside the cabin when we drove up. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. I think Jim had debated handcuffing me to the steering wheel while he did the paperwork, judging from the look he’d given me, but he hadn’t done it. Probably he’d thought, correctly, where the hell was I gonna go tonight, with a bad storm waiting to break over our heads. I sighed and closed my eyes.
I heard the SUV drive away, and forced my eyes back open. I struggled to get the truck door open, but my coordination was falling down on the job. While I jiggled and fumbled with the door handle, I kept thinking that was pretty funny and I felt a wave of hysteria wanting to roll though me, but I managed to keep it down to low chuckles when I thought about trying to explain the joke to Jim. I pictured the puzzled look on his face if I said to him, ‘Coordination, see -- falling down on the job. Get it, Jim? Falling down on the job’, and then the door was yanked open and I saw Jim’s puzzled face for real – probably wondering what I was sniggering about -- and that pushed me all the way into hysterical laughter.
“Jesus, Sandburg. What the hell’s so funny?” Jim’s eyebrows did this squiggly thing that just sent me further off, so much that when I tried to explain the joke, all that came out was gasped and mangled syllables. I couldn’t make out what I was trying to say, let alone Jim. I tried to stop my insane giggling, but I couldn’t and I thought to myself, ’Here it comes, Jim’s gonna slap your face, just like in the movies.’
Instead, Jim pulled me out of the truck and tried to get me to walk to the cabin. But ‘second verse, same as the first;’ my coordination fell down on the job again, and I almost kissed the ground, except good ol’ Jim, my sentinel pal -- he caught me. Unfortunately, this just set me off into more hysteria. I was laughing so hard now that tears were coming out of my eyes and my throat felt like it was on fire, but I couldn’t stop doing it, especially when Jim got tired of me trying to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other and scooped me up into a fireman’s carry.
Things got kind of blurry after that. I could hear myself laughing like a loon and I felt the tears running down my face and I could see the ground, and Jim’s legs taking steps, and then I was coming off his shoulder because we were inside the cabin. I was still laughing; I couldn’t stop it. I wondered if he would grab a pan from the kitchen and throw cold water on me, but his arms stayed around me, holding me up.
“Sandburg,” he said, giving me a little shake, but when I kept on with the clown noises he sat down, pulling me onto his lap.
Jim had sat down in one of those oversized rocking chairs, the ones that looked like they were built for giants to sit in, and he lifted my legs so that they were hanging over the edge of the rocker’s arms, then he settled me sideways against his chest.
’Rock-a-bye-baby,’ I silently howled in my head and continued to bray what passed for laughter. It was like my brain was split into Normal Thinking and Bizarre Land, and Bizarre Land had Normal Thinking in a chokehold. I gave up trying to shut up and just let myself laugh, complete with waterworks. Jim rocked me; he kept saying ’shush… you’re okay… you’re just tired… I’ve got you…’ Eventually, the cackling laughter died down, but the tears kept burning their way down my face. I knew I should feel embarrassed and I should get off Jim’s lap, but I couldn’t move. My head felt like it had swollen up five times its normal size and my nose was running. God, I was a mess, snotty and teary and with those occasional crying hiccups that hurt your chest.
This went on for a good long time while we rocked in the dimly lit room, till my eyes stopped leaking. Finally, I guessed that I could make a stab at talking, so I tried it out. I coughed a couple of times first and tried to wipe off my tears with the back of my hand. Both hands. Damn handcuffs.
“Yeah. Blair? You feeling better now, buddy?”
“I need a kleenex, man.”
“Here, let’s try this. My shirt’s a wreck anyway.” He maneuvered me around till he could pull off his soft, long-sleeved shirt, and then handed it to me. “Use this to blow your nose.”
Crap, Jim was using his soft and gentle voice, the one he used with scared kids and crazy people.
I blew my nose and wiped my face off and started to wriggle off of his lap, but Jim tightened his arms around me and snuggled me back against his bare chest. I went limp and whispered – to myself, mostly -- “I’m a mess.”
“You’re a mess, all right… But, Chief, you’re my mess. Just… sit here with me and try to relax and catch your breath.” He started rocking us again, and I thought how ridiculous I must look, with my shackled legs over the chair’s arms and Jim holding me securely against him. I started to feel embarrassed, so I pushed harder against him and swung my legs down to the floor. I lurched off of his lap, dropping his shirt on the floor, and turned around to face him.
“I used to be your mess. I’m not anybody’s mess now,” I reminded him.
Jim stood up and put his hands on my shoulders. “I want you to be my mess, Chief. I want us to fix what went wrong and for you to be with me again. I heard Shit-head and Scumbag planning your murder and it hit me, when I pictured you dead, that I couldn’t stand to see you that way. Not for a second time, Blair. I was an ass for the way I treated you back in Cascade, and I’m sorry.”
My eyes widened as I processed what he’d just said. Be careful what you wish for… And it kind of staggered me, his saying that he wanted me back, but my common sense came to my rescue. This couldn’t be real. Jim sounded sincere to me, but it was probably just an overreaction on his part. He’d change his mind again after he’d actually had me around for a while.
Still, maybe we could do a time-out, just for tonight, and I could pretend that he loved me again. I’d be fooling myself, but I’d know I was fooling myself, so that would be okay. And, God -- I had missed him. Missed touching him, missed him touching me. If -- for one night… or two -- we were like we’d been before everything got so screwed up, what would it hurt, really? I had never stopped loving him, but Jim… Would it be wrong to say yes to him, before he remembered all the reasons why our love hadn’t held our friendship together, back in Cascade?
Jim had stepped closer to me and slid his arms loosely around me. I let him. What the hell… ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye can,’ or some such shit. Make a memory to keep when we went our separate ways again. I couldn’t lead him on, though; I’d better be straight with him.
“Jim… I don’t know. I think you mean what you say right this minute, but I’m afraid you’ll change your mind later about you and me. But I’ve missed you, and I’ll take what I can get for now. So d’you want to call a truce, and we can pretend we’re okay, just for tonight?”
“I’m not pretending, Sandburg. But it’s a deal.” Jim gave me a satisfied look.
“And no interrogation, either. I know there’s a shitload of things we need to talk about, but my brain hurts just thinking about that agenda, and I… just not tonight, okay, man?”
“One exception, Chief. I have to know what’s wrong with you so I know how to take care of you. You’re sick, Sandburg, and I haven’t read your medical file yet because I wanted you to tell me what’s wrong. But if you don’t want to talk about it tonight, I’ll just read what’s in the folder. You ‘down’ with that, Junior?”
I gave a small snort. ‘Down’ with that? Since when did Jim want to sound like one of the cool kids? He sounded like me, not that I was one of the cool kids. No, I was definitely one of the uncool kids, a nerdy, homeless beggar…
Jim gave me another small shake. “Sandburg, are you lost in your head? I asked about reading your file.” He added patiently, “I’m going to do it anyway, so you might as well agree to it.”
Another snort from me. That’s my Jim, all right. “Yeah, go ahead.”
Jim pulled me closer to him into a real hug and kissed the top of my head. After a minute of hugging, he asked me, “Now, buddy, what do you want to do? You haven’t eaten anything since breakfast; do you want to eat now? Or take a shower?” I shook my head no to those suggestions. I rubbed my cheek against his chest and gave a sigh. I was so tired.
And Jim kept hugging me and rocking me silently on my feet and I felt sleepier. I should tell Jim I’m falling asleep, so I can go lie down on a bed, but it’s too much trouble to talk… I’ll close my eyes for a minute first… And then Jim shuffled me awkwardly backwards, to what felt like a couch, and pushed me down onto it, lifting my still shackled legs up onto the cushions. ‘I coulda done that but he beat me to it.’ I drew up my knees and let myself slide further into sleep, listening to him opening the cabin door, then later walking back in, and moving around the room. I dozed off and surfaced briefly, startled, when he dumped firewood on the floor. He walked over then and felt my forehead. Jim… I bet he got badges in fire building and first aid when he was a Boy Scout… me, I was only a Cub Scout for a couple of weeks…
I remember him taking off my shoes and covering me with a blanket, and then I guess I did fall asleep because he was shaking me awake.
I sat at the kitchen table, tracing the grain of the wood with my finger, and thought about taking care of Blair. I hated to wake him up, but it was for his own good. His fever had gotten higher and he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since early this morning, since he’d turned up his nose at the apple juice and water I’d given him in the truck.
After Blair had fallen asleep, I’d secured our belongings, done a few chores, locked the cabin up, and talked to Findley; then with a sense of trepidation, I’d sat down at the kitchen table, and had picked up the folder the man had put together for me. At least I knew Blair didn’t have AIDS, thanks to Findley cluing me in at that Sweetwater diner. I slowly opened the folder and read what the doctor had diagnosed. Sandburg hadn’t lied to me. What he had was a virus; he was going to be low-energy for months and there could be complications. I wanted a look at his throat and to check his skin. For this evening, I refused to think about how this virus had been passed to him.
Yeah, I wouldn’t badger him tonight; he was exhausted, but there’d be a few questions about who passed this illness to him and what his life had been like this past year, before we arrived back in Cascade. I’d have to work hard at not sounding like a jealous asshole, but he’d left home with somebody; a guy who apparently hadn’t stuck around for some reason, although this illness was too recent to have been caught from him. Well, I thought the ex-boyfriend was ancient history; my past inquiries into Blair’s whereabouts hadn’t found any mention of a lover.
Blair stirred a little on the couch, and then was quiet again. He’d been so angry earlier today that, actually, I was surprised that he’d become so cooperative after we’d gotten to this cabin. It must be the fatigue he was feeling. I still wasn’t sure what the hell had set off his fit of the giggles, but when his hysterical laughter had altered into quiet tears and occasional sobs that he hadn’t been able to stop -- it had worried me. I’d known Blair for a long time – he talked a good game about it being acceptable for men to cry, but you hardly ever caught him actually crying. He’d cried a little about Maya. Teared up a few times on other occasions. Now that my guide was sick and worn out, he didn’t seem to have any emotional reserves left, and I’d really thrown him a curve ball with the protective custody. No wonder he’d lost it. At least now he had finally gotten some sleep.
Before sitting down to read his folder, I’d put together a simple meal, one that somebody with a sore throat would be able to handle. I’d also built a fire -- which was needed, despite the electric heat -- because the temperature had dropped and the wind was really blowing. This cabin must’ve had a few leaks in it, since it was damned drafty in here. Ten degrees colder and we’d be looking at blizzard conditions, but for now we could expect rain. It’d be coming down like a bastard any minute now. I got up from the table, stretched, and walked over to the couch. It’d been a hard couple of days for me, too. Now to take care of my guide, whether he wanted me to or not.
My shaking Sandburg finally produced some results. He blinked his eyes at me and then closed them again, ready to sink back into sleep, but I shook him again and pulled his blanket off of him.
“Upsy-daisy, Sunshine. Time for a med check and supper.” I grabbed his shoulders and pulled him to a sitting up position. He tucked his knees up to his chin and yawned.
“S’it mornin’?” My guide was rumpled, flushed with fever, and still not coherent enough to follow conversation, and I wanted nothing more than to strip him and check every inch of him… every sweet inch of him. I wanted to scent his neck and his groin. I wanted to taste his mouth and lick his lips. I wanted to trail my tongue over his nipples and down his belly to his dick. I wanted to suck his balls and swallow his dick down my throat. I wanted to watch him orgasm; I wanted to scent his pheromones. I wanted to taste him in my mouth. I wanted to see him dazed and compliant, face down on the bed, mewling under me while I fucked him to orgasm again.
I’d settle for a look down his throat and seeing him eat his soup.
I took out my cuff keys and freed his hands and his legs. He wasn’t in any shape to run for it while I was awake. And I’d hidden the truck key. Tomorrow, maybe, he’d give me the promise I needed, and I could stash the cuffs away for the rest of the trip.
I felt his forehead and nodded to myself. Tylenol time. I took him by the elbows and levered him off the couch. I moved my sleepy partner over to the table and after he’d sat down, I placed two capsules in his hand.
“Take ‘em, and don’t give me any crap about the benefits of letting a fever run. You’re right, but not when a fever’s this high.” I stroked his cheek and then pinched the skin on his arm. “And you’re dehydrated, Blair. You can’t ignore your body’s need for fluids. Start drinking.”
Blair rolled his eyes, but he complied, wincing as he swallowed his meds. He drank the bottled water without protest but looked at the plate of sandwiches and frowned.
I headed off his protest at the pass. “Those are mine, Chief. I’ve got chicken soup heating up for you. The salt in the broth should make your throat feel better.
“And speaking of your throat, I’m going to need to take a look at it. Open up and say ‘ahhh.’”
He looked up at me and asked grumpily, “If I do, do I get a sucker?”
I winked at him. “Yeah, sure. I’ve been wanting to give you something to suck on, Chief, but it will have to be later, when you feel better.” He rolled his eyes again, this time at my attempt at humor, and I leaned over him and tapped his nose. “Open up.”
“Sheesh. I might be contagious.”
“I’ll be looking, not touching. Open up.” He laid his head back a little and opened his mouth wide. I looked all right, and I didn’t like what I saw. His throat was as red as a fire truck and there were white spots on his tonsils. I put my finger under his chin and shut his mouth, then with both hands I felt the lymph nodes on his neck – they were swollen and tender.
“I’m pretty sure you’ve got a secondary strep infection. Tomorrow, we’ll get that antibiotic script the ER doc wrote you filled.” I shifted my hands upwards and very gently tugged on his hair. “And after you eat, I want you naked.”
Sandburg raised his eyebrows. “Going to fuck me?” Blair was yanking my chain, but he couldn’t hide the note of yearning I detected. Something inside of me relaxed – Blair was still attracted to me. And just as capable as ever at teasing me back. God, I’d missed him.
“You get a rain check on that too, smart-ass. I want to check for the rash that goes along with mono. You didn’t have one when the doc diagnosed you, but it shows up later a lot of the time with mononucleosis. If you have a rash, we’ll fill the steroid script too.” I walked over to the small stove and ladled out a bowl of soup, and placed it in front of Blair. “Get as much of that down as you can, then drink more water. There’s a yogurt drink for dessert.”
The rain began then and it pounded down as hard as I had predicted. We’d be lucky to not lose the electricity tonight, another reason I had lit a fire.
I watched Blair slowly eat, radiating a distinct lack of enthusiasm about his soup. I worked my way through my own stack of sandwiches and kept to our agreement not to ask the questions that were in my mind.
But, for one thing, I wanted to ask him why the hell hadn’t he told me that he’d picked up mono. I wanted to tell him I’d been worried he had AIDS. He had probably thought I’d give him shit about having the ‘kissing disease,’ so common to teenagers. And to be honest, I probably would have made some stupid comment if he’d told me yesterday. And since I was being honest with myself – I did want to know how he’d gotten it. Had he come out of a relationship with somebody who’d given it to him? Or just gotten it from a one-night-stand?
People his age weren’t as likely to catch mono, but they could. I would bet his immune system had taken a beating this past year from the stress he’d been under. It wasn’t surprising that he’d been vulnerable to viruses. I’d wager he’d had more colds or flu this year than he’d ever had before. Tomorrow, maybe we’d talk about his problems. Tonight, I wanted to make him comfortable.
Later, after he finally finished his soup and drinks, he stripped his clothes off for me in front of the fireplace, and I looked over every inch of him. He was a lot thinner than he’d been, but his legs and arms were still muscular. He’d been doing physical work so that wasn’t a surprise. Looking at his hands, I could see old burns and cuts, and calluses that hadn’t been there a year ago. Under his slightly golden skin tone his face was pale; it wasn't as full as it had been, his cheekbones were more prominent, and his eyes seemed larger to me.
I walked slowly around him again, and before I settled down to look at him for medical purposes, I indulged myself with purely aesthetic appreciation of Blair’s physical charms. He wouldn’t agree with me, I knew from experience, but he was beautiful. And he had a chameleon kind of quality that was influenced by what he wore and how he wore his hair, and even whether you were looking at him full in the face, or at his profile. He could look exotic, especially when he was wearing his necklaces and wristbands, his hair a loose cloud around his face, dancing to some slow beat of music. He could look like somebody’s little brother, with his tilted up nose and flannel shirts, and a baseball cap on his head, his hair pulled back into a ponytail. He could look like the hippie-witch-doctor-punk I had called him the second time I looked him over. Blair seemed to catch on that I wasn’t just looking at him to play medic, and I could see a flush of color begin on his chest and face. But he didn’t say anything and reluctantly, I began to play medic.
There was no rash, but I did more than look. I indulged my need for him by running my hands over his body. Surprisingly, as tired and sick as Blair was, his dick became halfway hard for me, even though I’d only ghosted my hands over his groin. If I’d touched him, intending to arouse him, we might have cashed in those rain checks tonight. And this evening, he needed soothing, not fucking.
I was glad he’d agreed to this time-out; it gave me a chance to make up for some of the way I’d acted when I’d come to Sweetwater for him. And it was bittersweet to be with Blair this evening knowing I’d chased him away; we’d lost a whole year’s worth of being together. With Blair asking for a night of ‘the-way-we-were,’ I hoped he’d decide soon in favor of being lovers again.
He pulled on one of my clean t-shirts, and I escorted him to the bathroom; I sat on the closed toilet seat while he took a lukewarm shower. He didn’t ask me for privacy. Guess he knew it would have been futile. He wasn’t going out of my sight without that promise. He finished cleaning up for the evening and peacefully walked with me -- naked except for my t-shirt -- into the bedroom with the larger bed. He looked sleepy and smelled of soap and his own sweet scent. He always made a face when somebody told him he was cute, but in my shirt, which came down to the middle of his thighs, well… he did look cute. At least I was smart enough not to mention it to him. Blair had been so accommodating with letting me touch and hug him that I didn’t want to do anything that would rile him up tonight.
I pulled down the covers of the bed and gave him a little push towards it. He sat down with a ‘what now’ look on his face. I smiled reassuringly at him.
“Would you take off your shirt, Blair? I promise I’ll keep you warm tonight.”
“I admit I’m hungry to touch you. But only touch, okay?”
“You know I feel pretty fucked up about us, Jim. But… this has been nice, tonight. So, okay.”
Blair pulled off the shirt he was wearing. He flopped around for a bit on the sheets trying out positions; he stilled when I undressed and climbed in the bed next to him. I whispered to him to relax, and started running my hand lightly over his arm and chest. I then got down to business and started massaging his skin, searching out the knots in his muscles. He lay quietly on the bed, eyes shut, only occasionally sighing, while I stroked his body.
The rain was still coming down hard when the low lights in the living room went dead. I placed my hand on Blair’s chest to ground myself and listened intently. I tuned out the rain, but I heard no suspicious noises, no bad guys breathing -- no indication that this blackout was anything but a natural event. I’d locked the doors and windows and put my gun under the bed before I’d woken Blair up from his nap on the couch. Findley had called not long after we’d gotten here to report that those two assholes had been arrested, so I was ninety-nine percent sure we’d thrown Blair’s killers off our track, but checking for intruders was just prudent.
The power loss didn’t matter. What I wanted to do with my guide, I could do in the dark as well as the light. I nudged him to roll over, and with another quiet sigh, he did so. I massaged his back and legs, keeping him covered, until I was sure he was deeply asleep. Then I slid out of bed, and after taking care of my own bathroom needs, picked up one last object from the living room.
I climbed back into bed with Blair and fastened one end of the long leg shackle to my right ankle and then clicked the other end around his left ankle. I positioned us so I was lying with my chest against his back and my leg between his legs. The key was in the other room, and there was no way now that Blair could sneak out and leave me. I put my arm around my guide, and breathing deeply of his scent, slipped off to sleep.
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Three
">A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain: Chapter Three
“Oh, fuck,” I groused to myself. I knew what was happening, but I didn’t have to like it. Sandburg was fascinated by my dreams of the spirit plane, but I could do without them. Didn’t seem like I was going to have a choice, though. And the sooner I just embraced whatever moral or message or mind-fucking madness was in store for me, the sooner I could wake back up or slide into normal dreams.
I’d happily gone to sleep wrapped up around my guide, secure in the knowledge that there was no way he would leave me as I slept. Okay – so I’d shackled him to me. I wasn’t taking any chances on Blair Sandburg wriggling off my hook before I’d landed him.
The truce we’d agreed on for the night was, for me, the first step towards reconciliation, but for Blair -- I suspected he thought of it as a strange interlude, a bubble of familiarity and comfort that would be popped with the coming of daylight. I was committed to working out our problems; I wasn’t sure Blair was taking things more than an hour at a time.
Everything around me was turning blue and I grumbled that the first time in a year that I get to be in a bed with Blair and my subconscious or whatever gets dream-napped. This wasn’t a good time. I wanted to be able to keep monitoring Blair. The last time I’d surfaced from sleep and checked my watch – and Blair -- it was just past three in the morning. At least the Tylenol I’d given him earlier had lowered his fever, so I hadn’t had to wake him up for meds. Blair was being double-teamed by the strep and mono – his stamina and immune system was shot to hell right now – and I couldn’t rely on him to tell me how he felt. What if he needed me and I couldn’t respond because I was stuck on the spirit plane?
Fucking mystical shit.
’These dreams where I’m back in the jungle and every thing is blue…’ Christ, I couldn’t help but remember when I’d shot the wolf – Blair’s spirit animal – who had turned into a dead and naked Blair. I was not fond of these dreams at all.
I found myself walking along the edge of the jungle, the thick growth of vines and tropical plants somehow weaving together to barricade me when I tried to actually step into the jungle. I was dressed again as the sentinel for the Chopec, a combination of the remnants of my camouflage uniform, tribal markings and skin. I wished I had a machete to cut through the growth so I could get into this strange place. I wasn’t thrilled about entering, but it made more sense than just wandering around the outskirts here. I tried pulling the vines away, but they kept growing back faster than I could yank them away. Christ, this was frustrating. Why the hell was I having this dream if I couldn’t even get in the damn jungle? I hadn’t had any contact with the spirit plane since before Blair had left Cascade. Hadn’t seen my animal spirit sunning itself on the balcony, hadn’t dreamed of big cats and wolves, hadn’t visited the blue jungle.
This wasn’t working, this trying to force my way into the jungle with my hands. I had a hunch, reached into my pants pocket, and felt a familiar shape. I pulled out Sandburg’s pocketknife, which I had placed there for safekeeping -- and to keep my clever partner from getting out of his handcuffs and shackles. I flicked open the biggest blade and tried cutting a vine. The vine parted easily and I quickly slashed my way into the jungle. Once I was past the barricading vines, the jungle looked fairly normal – if being blue could be considered normal.
So now what? Ask for Incacha, look around for my spirit animal, Blair’s spirit animal, camp out, take a nap? What?
I decided to wander around for a while. I hadn’t asked to come here, so let the spirit world approach me.
I thought about how Blair’s knife, the special bar mitzvah knife he’d had since he was thirteen, had assisted me in getting through the perimeter of the jungle. Things didn’t happen on the spirit plane without some meaning attached to them. And I wasn’t dumb. I figured the knife symbolized how I needed Blair’s help. Yeah, I got that already. I wanted to resume our life together, but I was going to have to convince Blair that it was the right step for us. I figured we had some arguments coming up about how that should work. I had the advantage right now since he was in my custody; he couldn’t take off to avoid me.
I hiked for a long time, drank water from a spring spurting out of a rock wall, walked some more. I kept testing my senses, listening and looking for anything that would clue me in about what my task here was. Finally, I stopped and closed my eyes and asked for help from my spirit guide. I took deep breaths to center myself and contemplated the anger that had fueled my feelings about Blair for so long now. After yesterday, I knew that some of my anger at him was anger at myself, for acting the way I had with him. So, why had I acted like such a horse’s ass, and widened the split I’d seen forming between us into an even larger gulf?
Fear -- I was figuring out that my anger had been born from fear. I’d allowed the fear I’d lived with for the last year, no -- longer than that -- the fear I’d felt when I realized Blair was slipping away from me every time he left for his bar job, to take hold of me. So I’d used a highly successful Ellison tactic and poked at my fear with a sharp stick. Only, Blair hadn’t caught on that I was acting out and wanting his absolute reassurance that he loved me and would stay with me. Unconditional love is what I’d been asking for, although it made me cringe now to think of myself as being that needy. Blair, I believed now, had taken my bad moods, nasty comments, and draping myself around Melissa as proof that my feelings for him had changed, and that to avoid talking to him about breaking up, I’d just showed him I had already done the deed. Christ, I’d been such an idiot.
And the sorrow I’d felt when he left me -- I’d buried it deep within the anger that had taken over me. I’d refused to deal with my emotions – I could practically hear Sandburg snort at that revelation – and the result was I had been a surly bastard the whole time Blair was gone. I wouldn’t even talk to Simon about it. But then, how could I when Simon didn’t know the truth about us. He thought I was missing my friend and guide. Losing your lover who was your friend and guide was much worse.
While I was being insightful and all, I at last heard a sign of life in this jungle of mine. A jaguar roared in the distance and my hearing locked onto the location. I opened my eyes and did the piggybacking trick with my eyesight-- that yeah, Sandburg had shown me – and saw my spirit animal up on a ledge of rock. I started after him. I wasn’t sure what would happen when we faced each other, but I figured I needed to do this, if Blair and I were to have a chance of being together without screwing up again.
The path I was on kept narrowing down and the jungle on both sides became thicker and more and more draped with the heavy vines that had stopped me earlier from entering the jungle. Finally, I was very close to meeting up with my spiritual helper. Just a bend in the very narrow pathway to travel, and I’d be able to climb up to the rocky ledge the big cat was lying on, his eyes intently observing my progress.
Except when I made that turn I saw such a thick tangle of vines blocking my way that I knew I was going to have to use Sandburg’s knife again to cut through them. I reached into my pants pocket – but the knife wasn’t there. Ah, shit – I’d lost it. It was special to Blair and I’d lost it. I hadn’t cared for it like the treasure it was, I’d been careless, assuming it was okay where I‘d stashed it. I hadn’t checked on it, hadn’t run my fingers over it to make sure it was where I needed it and in one piece. God, I couldn’t be trusted with gifts like this; only it wasn’t a gift, was it? I’d liberated it from Blair’s backpack and now I was going to have to tell him this special knife of his, one of the few mementos of his childhood, was gone -- destroyed by my carelessness.
Kind of like how my carelessness about Blair had destroyed our relationship.
Crap. I hated it when the spirit world decided to teach me a lesson.
While I was standing there berating myself, the big cat got to his feet and jumped down on the other side of the vine barrier. But after that the space he occupied became a motion of color and textures, and then my mirror image was facing me. He was kind of hard to see because of all the vines in the way and I tried to pull them away again. No luck.
“James Joseph Ellison, Sentinel of Cascade,” my spirit-self called and I stepped closer to the barricade.
“Detective, Captain, Ranger, ex-husband, son, brother, friend.”
The spirit seemed inclined to stop there so I prodded him.
“What about lover?” I crossed my arms and waited.
“What I named is what you accept about yourself and will allow others to know about you. You are the Sentinel of Cascade, as you were the Sentinel of the Chopec. During your time with the Chopec, all the tribe knew you as sentinel. Few know you as Sentinel of Cascade, but these few – Simon Banks, your guide, your family, Lee Brackett – accept you as a sentinel.” My spirit-self mimicked my actions and also crossed his arms.
I didn’t like Brackett being placed in the group that I trusted with the sentinel shit, and I certainly didn’t trust him – but he did know that I was a sentinel.
“What about lover?” I wasn’t going to get sidetracked here. This trip to the spirit plane was about Blair and me. I wanted to cut the mystical crap and get to the reason I was here.
“What about your lover, Sentinel of Cascade?” he replied in a tone of voice that dared me to answer him.
“Okay – I’ve figured out I was wrong to treat Blair the way I did. I didn’t need a trip to the spirit world to help me know that. Surprisingly, I’ve come to that conclusion already. I want to make it up to him. I want us to go back to being lovers and I want to take care of him. Satisfied?”
Sandburg would flip out at the disrespectful tone of my voice towards my spirit-whatever, but I was getting tired of the run-around here. Although… thinking of the lecture Blair would give me if he could, I decided that maybe I should watch my mouth; I had asked for help, after all, once I’d been shanghaied into the spiritual plane. And I did owe the spirit world a great debt, for helping me to bring Blair back from the dead.
I cleared my throat and tried again, without the lip. “Why was lover not listed along with friend?” I dropped my arms and waited for his reply more respectfully. No eye rolling; no mentally bouncing a ball against a wall, a bad habit of mine when I wanted to blow somebody off. Instead, I practiced being patient.
“Who have you told about your lover?” the spirit-sentinel asked me.
I thought about that a moment and answered, ”Findley. I told him about Blair and me so he would let me take Sandburg into protective custody.”
“Willingly?” And the answer to that was, of course – no, I hadn’t told him without having my arm twisted. I had to do it. I couldn’t let the murdering bastards after Blair have a chance at killing him.
“No. I didn’t want to tell Findley. I did it to keep Blair safe.”
I added wearily, “And you know, it isn’t anybody else’s business about my love life. Blair knows he’s my lover, or he was my lover, and I hope he will be my lover again.” I knew as I said it that I was missing the point.
“I’m missing the point, aren’t I?” Might as well admit it. I’d asked for help and I needed to listen to what this guy could tell me. I wasn’t going to like it, but if it would help me get Blair back as my lover, then I would deal with it.
“Why did you keep knowledge of your guide as lover to you secret from those close to you?” There was heavy disapproval in the spirit-guide’s tone of voice and on what I could see of his features.
“I was just waiting to see if it was going to work out between us. I was afraid…”
Fear again. I was afraid Blair would leave me and afraid of everybody’s pity that my lover – tolerant, intelligent, engaging Blair; my guide -- had decided he couldn’t love me anymore. And I was concerned about upsetting my father. I didn’t want to do it for nothing.
“Sentinel. What of your guide’s feelings? What were his actions when you forbade him to tell of his lover’s heart for you?” Still disapproval in my interrogator’s voice; of course, he was a part of me, so a part of me must have thought I was doing the wrong thing last year when I told Blair we should keep our being lovers to ourselves.
“Blair said that it was okay. He understood that it was private, just our own business. And he was happy, at least at first he was.” I started to shift on my feet, waiting for the boom to be lowered on me.
My spirit-guide shook his head. “Your guide told you what you desired to hear. He submitted to your wishes, but they were not his wishes. You have a task, when you return to your body, to find the truth for yourself about his feelings regarding being hidden and denied his status as your mate.”
Homework from the spirit plane – but I would talk to Blair and not let him get away with telling me what he thought would please me.
I bowed to my spirit-guide and prepared myself to leave the jungle. Usually, I just woke up but nothing was happening.
“Nothing is happening – what’s the deal?” I asked my spirit-guide, who had remained quiet.
“There is danger to your guide.” I wasn’t sure if he was asking me or telling me, but I nodded yes.
The spirit-guide thrust both of his arms through the vines that separated us and I grasped his forearms in a two handed warrior’s clasp. We held on to each other and images flashed through my mind, images of Blair’s spirit animal and of Blair naked, as I had seen him before in my jungle dreams.
Blair’s spirit-self had spied on me. Blair in his wolf or human form had crept around or hidden near me in my jaguar or my sentinel-spirit form, and I had seen him -- only to ignore him. I -- me -- my spirit form hadn’t interacted with him till just a few days ago. Had to be when I was on my way to Sweetwater and all I could think about was how mad I was at him. Then I had hunted him in my cat form and he ran from me, hid from me. When I did catch him I – I licked him. He’d been scared, afraid of me, but I felt his relief when I didn’t tear his throat out. God – that poor kid. I saw what had happened in the interview room at the Sweetwater PD. I saw it in double vision – me mauling Blair and trying to kiss him, and biting him on the neck, and also the black jaguar licking the wolf’s neck.
I saw Blair asking for help from my sentinel-spirit because of the bite I’d given him. I saw Blair aroused, naked, driven wild by the touches of my – the sentinel spirit’s—hand, and as he orgasmed with pleasure, I-the sentinel-spirit, bit him hard on the back of his neck. Christ, that was how he got the stigmata. I didn’t know it had really hurt him. Jesus – was there anything that Blair wouldn’t do to save me? I swore to make it up to him.
I also saw images of wolf-Blair’s many lairs that had been destroyed. Something, some other predator was hunting him. The sentinel-spirit had observed the torn apart dens where Blair’s spirit had rested, but had done nothing to protect or comfort wolf-Blair. That had been my fault, I realized. I saw Blair in his human and wolf form during the many times he had been forced to find another place in the jungle to hide. He couldn’t disguise the misery he had felt. And I-my spirit-self hadn’t bothered to make sure my guide was safe. My spirit-self didn’t know who was tracking my guide because in the physical world I had locked him down by repressing my emotions about Blair. My spirit-self was pissed at me, but I silently vowed to him that I’d do better. I wanted to take care of Sandburg now, while he was sick and in need of a friend, and also be there for him in the future. Whatever he needed from me.
The sentinel-spirit let go of my arms then, and the blue jungle faded away.
I opened my eyes to see cabin walls, not vines and branches. It wasn’t dawn yet, but it would be soon. Blair was next to me, still asleep. I felt his forehead, and he was starting to feel warm again. His temp was 99.5, so it was low enough to leave it alone for now.
I thought about what I had learned during my dream. Those torn apart lairs – in the physical world Blair had had to leave places he’d hoped to get settled in at because of either the harassing letters he’d believed were from me, or the official ones from Rainier that damned him. ‘We need to talk, but till he wakes up, I’ll savor this time. I’ll scent his skin and I’ll taste him when I kiss his shoulder.’ I stroked his hair off of his forehead and he gave a small sigh.
‘My little shaman. My guide. My friend. My lover. My lodestar. Who hates you enough to want you dead? Is it Bergman, or do you have another enemy, hiding in the shadows? I promise I’ll do everything I can to find and stop this hostile. You’re my treasure, Blair, and I won’t be careless with what’s precious to me anymore.’
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Four
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Four
Hot… can’t move… Heat all round me…
I drifted in and out of sleep for a while, feeling uncomfortable and listless, but not awake enough to do something about it. I felt my skin being touched and heard a smattering of syllables, until a voice pulled me totally out of unconsciousness.
“Sandburg, you’re mumbling. Wake up, Blair. You need Tylenol again. It’s morning and we need to leave.”
Jim. And he was in bed with me and he felt like a furnace. I pushed at him, without opening my eyes. “You’re making me too hot.” I tried to wiggle over to a cooler part of the bed, but I couldn’t get far because… my ankle was being held… by a shackle. God Damn It!
“Jim, your prisoner needs to go to the bathroom. Think you can unshackle me from the bed?”
“Chief, you’re going to have to open your eyes. We have to get up together because you’re not attached to the bed; you’re attached to me. And you’re hot because you’re running a pretty good fever. C’mon, Blair, quit being cranky and make some effort here. My shackle key is in the other room.”
I opened my eyes, annoyed at being called cranky; it hadn’t been me who’d decided to shackle us together, and it was just too damn bad if it was now inconveniencing the oh-so-clever-detective who’d come up with this bright idea.
Jim was raised up on his elbow, half leaning over me, and he lowered his head and kissed me on the forehead. “Are you really awake now?” he inquired. “I’ve been trying to get you up for the last fifteen minutes.”
“I’m talking, aren’t I?” I muttered. I tried to roll over, but Jim’s arm snaked over me and held me still.
Jim snorted and brushed my hair off of my face. “You’ve been known to practically give a speech and still be sound asleep. Even Findley figured that out.”
Huh? “What d’ya mean? Did Dave tell you I talked in my sleep, or something?”
“What about?” I hoped it was something trivial, something not too personal.
“About how you felt towards me, and that I hadn’t abused you.” Well, there went that hope. I could feel my face flushing from embarrassment. Maybe Jim would think it was from my fever.
“I told him you had never hurt me before, and you wouldn’t do it now -- I told him that stuff when I was wide-awake.” I frowned. Damn my blabber-mouth subconscious anyway.
Jim must have thought my head was hurting because he started to gently massage my forehead.
“Ah, it sounded to me like he asked you about all of that again when you were conked out. He told me not to get pissed off at you, because you didn’t know you’d given it away about us sleeping together.” Jim offered.
“I guess he thought I was lying to him.” And that stung, that Dave hadn’t believed me.
“Blair,” Jim’s voice had softened. “He was just trying to make sure you were going to be okay with me. Findley’d picked up on the fact that you’d do anything to protect me. He’d read about you calling yourself a fraud regarding your dissertation. He told me that while he didn’t have any idea how you managed it, he knew you’d gotten yourself that stigmata mark to keep me from being charged with assault. And by the way… I know how you did it. How you got yourself hurt for me, again.”
Jim gave a last comforting rub on my head and grinned at me enticingly, “Come on and get up, take some Tylenol and eat, and I’ll tell you how I know what you did.”
Fuck. He was pushing my buttons. The ones labeled curiosity and sucker-for-Jim-being-charming.
I gave out a mighty sigh. And yes, I knew I sounded petulant and pouty. So what if I did. I was tired, still exhausted, even after all the sleep I’d gotten last night. I wanted to indulge myself in feeling lethargic and sleepy and just stay in bed. I’d been so stressed over what Jim had told me yesterday, not to mention plain old sick, that all my energy seemed to have been drained right out of me.
Poor, poor, pitiful me. Time for a pep talk; I was good at lecturing myself. I stared up at the ceiling while Jim started using his finger to doodle on my chest.
’Suck it up, Sandburg. Use adult style communication; don’t act like a spoiled brat, if you want Jim to listen to you about not needing protective custody. His impulse is to protect you, according to his spirit-self and -- oh, your four years of observing him. Whining like a kid isn’t going to make him trust you to take care of yourself. You took a giant leap backwards yesterday, crying while he cuddled you on his lap. You’ve got to show him you can be reasonable while you sell him on your ability to disappear off the map. Just close the door on how you really feel – tired and sick and disheartened -- and put on a show. You’ve done it before lots of times. You’re a pro, Blair old buddy. And stop talking to yourself and get your scrawny ass out of this bed.’
“O-kay, Jim.” I pushed the covers off of both of us, and the cool air in the room felt soothing against my hot skin. I wiggled my shackled ankle and told him, “I guess you’re my partner for the three-legged-race. How about you scoot over first and I’ll be right behind you.”
Blair pulled himself together this morning, although he kept giving the bed longing looks when he didn’t think I was watching him and pointedly did not look at the big rocking chair or say anything about how I’d taken care of him yesterday.
Right. I’m a detective, and I detected that he was still feeling embarrassed about falling apart last night and me rocking him on my lap. I didn’t tease him or say anything about it. I had been glad I could offer him some comfort, but if he wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened then there was no need to bring it up.
He did a double take at the sight of the beat up guitar case by the door, then smiled when I explained Findley had given it to him. I wondered where his Jimi Hendrix guitar was but shelved that question for later, in case there was an unhappy ending to that story.
At first, I’d kept the conversation fairly light after I’d unlocked the shackles around our legs – just questions about how he’d slept and if he was hungry. After he mumbled that he’d slept okay, I brought up news of Cascade while I dressed and wolfed down a leftover sandwich from dinner. He grinned to hear that Henri was going to be a daddy in a couple of weeks and raised his eyebrows upon learning that Rafe had applied to Quantico. Blair chattered a little bit about their futures, while he pawed through his backpack for clean clothes, almost sounding like the man I’d lived with for four years.
Still talking about H’s new baby, he headed to the bathroom, clean clothes in hand, and I went along with him; he could’ve climbed out that window in a heartbeat. I accompanied him into the small room, despite the huffing sounds he made, but then he smiled sweetly at me and said he understood.
I remembered that smile. It meant that Blair thought the recipient was an idiot, but he was going to bump up his Karma by going along with said idiot. I was getting the hang of Blair-speak, again.
It was evident from the way he trudged back to the kitchen that he was still wiped out. I wished I could indulge him -- let him lounge around and sleep in a comfortable bed -- but we needed to leave. I handed him a couple of Tylenol and he didn’t even fuss about taking them, which confirmed to me that he felt like shit.
I sat down at the table across from him, where he was finishing eating some applesauce for breakfast, to bring up the handcuff question again.
I really didn’t want to have to shackle and cuff him again, so I was hoping that with a full night’s sleep, he’d have seen the necessity of being in custody and agree to it voluntarily. Blair shoved his half-eaten bowl of applesauce away and looked earnestly at me, folding his hands together on the table; the puppy-dog eyes were in full force and I braced myself for the onslaught.
“Jim, I need you to listen to me. It’s important. I know that you want to protect me and hearing those thugs in the Jeep Cherokee wanting to snatch me revved up your ‘look after Sandburg’ dial, but I really can take care of myself. I can disappear and stay away from the usual ways to trace people. I… uh, I know some people who could make me a false ID, and I can do the underground economy thing, get paid under the table for work, so there won’t be a paycheck trail. I’ll avoid the kinds of jobs I’ve done before, no welding or truck driving, no teaching or social services work, no orderly jobs like I had at Conover. The kinds of work I’d do wouldn’t be the kind you need an employment application or a background check for. I won’t stay where I have to fill out a rental application, and my fake ID should be enough for a casual look at it.”
I reached over and took his hands in mine. It had always been hard for me to deny Blair anything he asked for, but I wasn’t going to let him persuade me to turn him loose. Sure, I had my personal reasons for wanting to keep him by me, but the police reasons were solid.
“Chief, I talked this over with Simon, and he ordered me to take you into custody. Even if Findley had blocked me – and he threatened to sic Adult Protective Services on me before I came clean about being a sentinel – another Cascade officer would have come down and done it. And this was before I discovered your life was in danger.”
“But Jim --”
I cut him off. “You’re coming with me, Chief. Now do you want to do it in hardware, or are you going to give me your word to not try to escape?”
Blair jerked his hands out of mine and shot me a furious look. I sighed and reached down to my pocket where my cuffs were stashed.
“C’mon, Sandburg. It won’t be so bad staying with me and letting the State of Washington pick up your bills. You won’t have to spend your own money on food or rent. Your meds won’t cost you anything, and Blair… you aren’t well enough to work right now. Mono and strep together – you’re going to be sick with a fever for at least a few more days. The mono will probably keep you from being able to work for another month. How are you going to keep a job, when you don’t have the energy to do the work?”
“I’ll take my chances. And I could probably stay with a friend or hole up in a cheap flop– a cheap boarding house until I feel a little better. I’ve got enough money to tide me over.” And Blair was back to making big eyes at me again.
Manipulative little shit. No – it was unfair of me to call him that. He was more scared of staying with me than the chance of being found and killed. And Blair didn’t scare easily. This was my mess; I’d have to fix it.
I tut-tutted at my guide, “Blair, four hundred bucks and some change is not going to last you a month on the run. There isn’t one good reason to turn you loose on your own, not on a you-and-me level and certainly not on a security level. You are going to stay a protected witness. I’m sorry that you can’t wait to see the last of me; I was serious last night when I said I wanted us to be together. “
Blair’s heartbeat had increased and I could see the signs of anxiety on his face and in the way his body was tensing.
“You don’t believe me, do you, Sandburg? When I tell you that I want us to go back to being lovers and living together. You’re my guide, Chief. I don’t want anybody else.”
Blair swallowed, and it looked like a painful process. The kid needed to get started on antibiotics and we were just spinning our wheels here. Time to get this show on the road. Blair had to either agree to be good and not try to get away, or I was going to cuff him. Gently, though. I would hate to do anything that would get him bruised or roughed up. I hoped he wouldn’t fight me like he’d done when we switched trucks. Blair started to speak, using all of his persuasive voice tricks, but I wasn’t going to buy it. Still, I let him talk. Maybe I could learn what his fears were this way. I pasted on my best ‘I’m listening’ look and nodded at him as he gave his spiel.
“Jim, I know you think you mean what you say – now – but you’ll change your mind. You’ll decide I fucked up something and I’ll see my stuff boxed up again. You’re saying you want me to keep being your guide, but I’m… I’m just not the right guide for you. And I shouldn’t have ever tried to be your lover. I’m a fuck-up. You’ll remember that, once we start spending time together. I can’t do this again, Jim. I just can’t. Let me go, please. Please --don’t do this to me, Jim. I won’t be able to stand it. Last night was like a dream, a sweet memory to cherish when I’m by myself again. But it wasn’t reality. Reality is… I love you and I always will, but I can’t live with you. And you need somebody else, not me. You don’t trust me, you’ll remember why if I stay with you. ” Blair’s eyes looked wet. He was breathing too fast, his words tumbling out in his haste to make me understand him.
“I had thought maybe we could keep in touch as friends, but I think even that would be like torture to me, to see you and know that I can’t really be with you ever again. God! Jim, you’re just having a reaction to seeing me; you don’t really want me. I’ll stay in touch with Simon about the case. I’ll take care of myself; I won’t get myself killed. Simon will understand. I don’t want to go back to Cascade; everybody will know I’m just a failure. Jim --” and his heart was beating way too quickly and he lost his words as he started to hyperventilate.
Shit, he was having a panic attack. I grabbed a paper sack off the table, dumping out the beef jerky that was in it while I hustled over to his side.
I opened it up and held it against Blair’s mouth and started rubbing his back, while he gasped and jerked in the seat, his eyes full of dread. His breath was still erratic and too fast as he breathed into the bag, so I gave him a countdown for breathing out and rubbed his back, and he began to settle down. Poor kid. After a long ten minutes, his heart rate was in an acceptable range and his breathing had slowed down enough for me take the bag away and fold it up. I was keeping it handy in case he needed it again.
What little reserves he’d built back up by sleeping had just been blown to smithereens. He looked like he’d just run ten hard miles. I shook my head at him and leaned over and kissed the top of his sweaty head.
“I love you, Blair, and I’m going to take care of you. It’s okay to let somebody help you, Mr. Independent, especially if they care about you. And I do. And I will -- you know, keep caring about you -- so let me help you. We’ll keep working on the trust thing. Now, I want to get going so we can get your script filled. So, once more, Chief; will you agree to stay in custody and not try to get away?”
Blair looked down at his lap and wouldn’t look at me. Sighing at my stubborn guide, I got out the cuffs and quickly secured him, leaving his hands in front of him. I decided that unless he gave me more trouble, I wouldn’t use the leg shackles. The way he was swaying in his seat, I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t just trip over his own two feet anyway. He was mumbling to himself, something about ‘fuck adult communication.’
I left him at the table and quickly finished gathering our things, moving him over to a chair by the door so I could watch him while packing up the truck. After cleaning up the kitchen and placing the key on the table, I gathered up my guide and settled him in the truck, before climbing in myself and starting the engine. Blair was shivering in the cold air and I reached over to feel his forehead. The Tylenol hadn’t kicked in yet; his fever was still fairly high. My poor, sick partner. I shrugged out of my jacket and handed it to him.
“You can use it as a pillow, Chief.”
Blair bunched it up and scooted around in the seat till he was more comfortable. The heater in this jalopy wasn’t the greatest; I’d cover him up with a blanket again when his fever went down.
“Thanks,” was said so softly even sentinel ears barely caught it. I reached over and patted him on the thigh.
“It’s going to be okay, Blair. I promise you; we’ll work things out and everything’s going to be okay. Go to sleep, I’ll wake you when I get your antibiotics.” Blair closed his eyes with a small sigh.
He slipped off into dreamland as soon as I hit the main highway. A half-hour later, I went through the drive-thru at Walgreens in a small Indiana town. He woke up long enough to swallow his medicine and half a bottle of water, and then went right back to sleep. And I drove for hours while he rested, thinking about how to build his trust in me again.
Blair stirred on the bench seat of the truck, blinking and yawning. He’d been bobbing up and down from the land of nod for ten minutes now. This time, though, he sat up straighter and scrubbed at his face with his hands, his dreams fading from his eyes.
“Oh… man. Where are we? What time is it? Where are we going? And don’t tell me Cascade, you made it very clear I’m going there; I mean where are we going now? And is there a bathroom or a tree available in the near future? Is it cold in here, or is it just me?” And he pulled the blanket I’d tucked around him tighter against himself.
I grinned at him; if he had the energy for this fount of questions, he must be feeling a little better. I reached over and laid my palm on his forehead. He rolled his eyes, but let me do it. Just a low fever; he’d fuss if I made him take more Tylenol now.
“Let’s see… the heater doesn’t work worth a damn; Findley’s cousin, who sold me this truck, failed to mention that detail. I bought some sweatshirts for you; do you want to put one on? They’re big, so they’ll fit over your old sweatshirt easily.
“It’s…” and I looked at my watch, “quarter to one. You’ve been sacked out for hours. We’re on Interstate 65, we passed Indianapolis about an hour ago and we’re coming up on Lafayette. We’re bunking tonight in a cabin near Lake Michigan. I made the arrangements while you were sleeping.”
Blair glanced at me, a puzzled expression on his scruffy-Botticelli-angel face. To keep his brain from getting overtaxed, I decided to explain what Findley and I had arranged.
I changed lanes to get past a jerk who was only going about forty-five, and as I eased the truck back into the right-hand lane, I patted Blair on the thigh.
“Before we left Sweetwater, while you were cooling your heels in court, Findley and I set up a plan for him to locate off-season, isolated vacation rentals or state park cabins in the areas where we were going to end up each night till we reached Cascade. I called him earlier and let him know we’d be within a hundred miles of Chicago tonight and he found us a nice little place. He’s paying for it with his credit card. Before we left, I gave him a blank check, which he’ll use to settle up what I owe him.”
Blair had an incredulous look on his face, listening to me explain the arrangements to keep him safe.
“I’ve got his cell phone, so anybody trying to track us by my phone will hit a dead end. I’ll mail his phone back to him when we get to a Cascade safe house. Simon’s got the number for Findley’s cell phone, and he’s going to only contact us from a secure site – not his house or the station – in case the phones are tapped or the records get pulled.”
I smiled at him, sure that he’d welcome the next part.
“Chief, we’re booked for two nights at the cabin we’re going to this evening. You can sleep as much as you like in a comfortable bed, and give the antibiotics a chance to work.”
“Uh – Jim… Do you really think all this cloak and dagger stuff is necessary? I mean, I appreciate your efforts – kind of – but what I said this morning is still valid. I can watch out for myself now that I know about the problem. But, hey, the bed sounds good; I get really tired and I can hardly keep my eyes open. Shoot, most of the time I spent in jail, I was asleep.”
I nodded at him thoughtfully. “I could be overdoing it, yeah. But, Chief, we don’t know what kind of resources our enemy has to use against us. I’d rather err on the side of caution where your safety is concerned. And if Bergman’s behind the hit contract, then he has a source or an ally at the P.D.” “If it is him,” I said slowly. I rubbed my forehead with the heel of one hand. “Have you pissed off anybody else in Cascade? To the point where they’d spend a lot of money to hire hit men?”
Blair was shaking his head no. “If I did, they didn’t say anything to me about it.”
I frowned. “Bergman is the obvious suspect, since your testimony can link him to what is probably the murder weapon. Damn, we have got to find that car.”
Blair made a face. “I hate to think of my baby being used to run over a human being. Even Chancellor Edwards. Although it’s easy to see how she could have invited cold-blooded murder from her employees. Or did invite it. Her death still doesn’t seem very real to me.”
I made a non-committal listening sound. And it occurred to me that if Blair felt like talking about the case -- falling back into our old partnership ways instead of building up more anxiety about our future together -- I was all for it. It wouldn’t hurt to ask him to help me. And his skills were formidable when it came to putting together clues and understanding people’s behavior.
“Chief… about Bergman. You know this guy, you’ve talked to him, know what his reputation on campus is like. Why don’t you tell me everything you remember about him, no matter how trivial; maybe we can get an idea of what he did with the car. Would you do that? Unless your throat is too sore for much talking and you’d rather be quiet. And that reminds me --”
I reached down on the seat between us and handed him a small bag. In it were cough drops, his medicine, and a box of tea. Blair had always kept this tea on hand in the loft -- it was some herb or root that was supposed to be good for a sore throat -- and he used it whenever his throat was feeling scratchy. He’d made me drink it a bunch of times; the stuff helped.
Blair rummaged in the bag and pulled out the cough drops. He popped one in his mouth while he was thinking, and I congratulated myself on distracting him from our emotional minefield. I was concerned that he’d had a panic attack this morning over our relationship. It would be good to just spend time with each other, without getting into the heavy stuff every time we opened our mouths. Let him feel his way back to being comfortable with me.
“Jim, let me make some notes for you on Bergman. He seemed like a nice guy; I never heard anybody really dissing him, ya know, not the way people liked to complain about Edwards. He had a lot of pity directed his way for having to put up with her on a daily basis. Where’s my – oh, there it is. I’ve got a notebook in there and a pen.” Blair leaned over and pulled up his backpack. He sat there with it for a couple of minutes, playing with a zipper tab, lost in thought. Then he shook his head and opened the pack.
Some asshole was on my butt, and I tapped the brakes quickly to warn him to back off. “Pass already,” I muttered. I could hear Blair sucking on his cough drop and looking through his belongings. He started to mumble anxiously under his breath.
“What’s the matter, Chief?” Good. The asshole behind me had decided to pass.
“My knife. I can’t find it. Oh shit! I must have left it in Sweetwater. I know it was in my backpack when I got arrested. Maybe it was locked up because it was a weapon.” There was more frantic scrambling through his pitifully small amount of belongings. Right, time for me to come clean.
“I’ve got it; it’s safe. I’m sorry, but while you wear cuffs, I can’t take the chance that you’d use that handy knife of yours and free yourself.” I looked at Blair, who’d pulled his notebook and pen out of his pack, and who had an expression of relief and annoyance on his face.
“I know your knife is important to you. I haven’t told you yet about the dream I had last night, but your knife was a big part of it. Remember this morning, I told you I knew how you got the bite on the back of your neck? I found out in a blue dream – one of those weird jungle experiences. I haven’t had one since you left Cascade, but last night I did.” I was watching him while I was talking and I saw the body language signals that telegraphed to me that he was hooked on what I was telling him.
I spotted a sign that said the next town was fifteen miles away and decided to get off there for gas and food. I had something in mind to keep Blair with me, without the cuffs being seen.
“I went to the spirit plane last night, after I was asleep – not that I wanted to go, exactly – but once I was there I learned a thing or two. Like, you went to the spirit world when you were meditating in that interview room back in Sweetwater. I bit you, or my spirit half or quarter or whatever bit you. I made you orgasm, and when you were high on it, I bit you hard on the back of your poor neck. I made you bleed.” I reached over and squeezed his hand. “You asked for that bite to protect me. You did it because you love me. How can you think that you aren’t the right guide for me? You fit me, Blair, like… pancakes and maple syrup… like… peanut butter and chocolate… like… bacon and eggs.” I stopped because Blair was snorting to himself.
“You’re hungry, aren’t you, Big Guy.” And there was a fond, indulgent look on his face that I hadn’t seen for a long, long time.
I grinned back at him, glad that he was relaxing more with me. “I could eat. There’s a town coming up in about ten minutes and I thought we’d take a break, get a meal. If you’re ready to promise about staying in custody, we can pack away the cuffs…”
Blair looked at me seriously, “You know, I seduced you into becoming my lover, and it was a decision that totally fucked us up. You say you want us to be lovers again, and I can’t help but feel that history is going to repeat itself. I’ll hurt you, and you’ll hurt me. And it feels to me that agreeing to stay in protective custody is the first step towards that slippery slope. I don’t like the shackles or handcuffs, but in a way they keep me safe. If I’m your prisoner, then I’m not cooperating in my own slide into this fantasy that we can forget how we acted towards each other and just pick up where we left off. I know you, Ellison. You see a problem; you want it fixed right away. That’s okay, I want to fix problems too, but if we don’t know why we went wrong, it’ll happen again. Like… like, replacing a fuse when the real problem is in the wiring. That fuse is gonna blow again. Is any of this making sense to you, Jim?”
“I hear you, Blair. I hear you. And I mean my kind of hearing, not Naomi’s. It makes perfect sense. And we are going to fix the wiring, pal. I won’t push you… much. I just don’t like restraining my partner. I mean, I wouldn’t mind handcuffing you to the bed and shackling your legs so they’re wide apart, and doing indescribable things to you, Blair. Things that would make you melt into a puddle of goo. But that would be just for fun.”
Blair’s eyes had widened with that thought and I caught the scent of his arousal. I would have liked to tease him by describing the indescribable acts, but I had to get through to him about the danger he was facing. He was equating resisting protective custody with resisting renewing our relationship. If he escaped because he wanted to run from living with me again…
“There is a real danger to your life, and you’re in protective custody because of it. And… your life is too unstable to count on you being available as a witness. I didn’t tell you what the Sweetwater cops found in the Jeep, did I? What those hillbilly hit men had in mind for you? Findley told me they found chloroform to put you out, rope to secure you, condoms so they could rape you without leaving any trace evidence, a gun to kill you, and shovels and plastic bags and sheets of plastic to bury you on some forgotten land. You can’t run on your own, Blair. I wish you’d see that. I don’t doubt that as smart as you are, you’d figure out a way to maybe stay out of sight. Maybe.” I lowered my voice. “Your plans involved contacting people you know and asking them to hide you or help you. Did you stop to think that by doing that you’d be putting those people in danger?”
Blair made a choking sound and looked kind of shell shocked; I hoped I wasn’t pushing him into another panic attack, but he needed to get his head on straight about all of this.
“I stopped you from going into that gas station in Sweetwater not because I was being a jerk, but because those guys were watching us. Their plan was to pick you up hitchhiking when I let you out on the interstate, but I couldn’t take the chance that they’d impulsively decide to shoot you instead, or run you over. And if they had gone for it at the gas station, they might have hurt other people too.” Ah… No, it didn’t look like he had thought about that aspect of it. He had the deer-in-the-headlights look.
“Blair. To be honest, I do hope that spending time together convinces you that we can make us – you and me -- work. You said you never stopped loving me. Well, I never stopped loving you either; I just buried it under a load of anger. And I’m willing to talk about all of that. I want to fix the wiring, Chief.”
Blair was biting his lip and looking down at the handcuffs around his wrists. I willed him to tell me he understood, that he wanted to stay with me and would agree to protective custody.
“Jim…” Blair spoke softly and hesitantly. “I need to process what you’ve told me. I’m sorry. I don’t want anybody to be put in danger because of me, but I can’t tell you I agree. I want to meditate on it. Don’t be mad, okay?” And he looked at me with those big blue eyes of his, and I caved.
“I’m not mad, Blair. I’m just worried about you. If it makes you feel better to be handcuffed, then you can be handcuffed. You don’t have to promise me anything. You can tell yourself truthfully that I forced you to be with me. Processing and meditating – that’s good, real good.” I saw my exit coming up and flipped on the turn signal.
“I didn’t finish telling you about my dream. I’ll tell you after we eat, okay? How about helping me look for some kind of deli? We’ll get you more soup.”
Blair nodded and looked out the window as we left the interstate and turned towards the row of restaurants and gas stations near the exit. Gas first, then lunch.
I let the conversation drop. I felt we were making progress, and it was unrealistic of me to expect everything to be cleared up immediately. I was a chump for wanting do-overs. I had a history with my past relationships of trying to jump start them again without really trying to figure out why we’d bombed in the first place. Lila, Veronica, even thought about it with Carolyn when I’d kissed her in the rain that time. Luckily, my ex-wife had more sense than me. It appealed to me to dive into the water without looking to see if it was safe. I was tempted to do it now, with Blair. Just seduce him – and I could; I could tell from his reactions to me – and think everything was fine again.
No, Blair was right. It wasn’t enough to just change the fuse; that was the easy part. The wiring needed an overhaul. It would take time but it was the only way to really fix the problem.
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Five
A Fair Distance:Ball and Chain. Chapter Five
I couldn’t believe what Jim wanted me to do. I couldn’t believe Jim Ellison wanted me to walk into this restaurant with him, holding his hand. But Jim was calmly unlocking the cuffs to free my right hand, leaving them dangling on my left hand. I wasn’t sure I’d gotten through to him what agreeing to his custody meant to me emotionally. Hell, I wasn’t sure what it meant to me, which is why there was going to be some serious meditation in my near future.
We were at the far side of the parking lot; there weren’t any cars near us at all, and Jim had come around to my door, opening it with a grin and holding one of the sweatshirts he’d bought me in his hand. He had told me his plan – and Jim always had a plan – to let us go into Quiznos without people noticing that the short, scruffy guy was in handcuffs.
“Jim, they’ll think we’re gay.”
The big galoot was laughing at me. “Sandburg, I’m hungry, and you need to pee. Now, I can go through the drive-thru, but that won’t solve your problem. Do you think you can wait till I find us some isolated road and pull off?”
I consulted my bladder, which was emphatically screaming NO! “O-kay, O-kay. No, I don’t want to wait. But how are you going to hide the handcuffs?”
Jim tapped my nose, which made me want to bite his finger, and unfolded the sweatshirt. He dropped it over my head, which also annoyed me greatly. I quickly threaded my arms through it before he could decide I was a three-year-old and needed the help. I pulled it down, and then down some more. It was pretty big on me and the sleeves covered my hands. Fishing out a hair-tie from my pocket, I pulled my hair back and twisted it up. When I pointed to his hat, Jim handed it to me. I jammed it on my head, and I tucked my mop of curls under the orange University of Tennessee ball cap.
Jim took my left hand and attached the loose cuff to his right hand. He had two big extra-thick rubber bands on his wrist and used them to secure the handcuff as high as possible on his arm. He tucked my hand into his and tugged at me to slide off the truck seat. With my sleeve practically covering my hand and our hands clasped, the cuffs were hidden.
“All right, Jim. I bow to your genius. Those are the rubber bands you keep in your wallet in case you go to a crime scene; am I right? To put over your shoes so your footprint won’t be confused with a perp’s? But… everybody is going to think we’re a gay couple out on a date.” Jim started walking toward the door and I hustled to keep up. Sometimes, I think Jim forgets just how long his stride is.
“Sandburg, we are a gay couple.” Jim was laughing at me again.
I slowed down from surprise. Jim had never said that before. Ever. He tightened his hold on my hand and towed me along, till my feet got the message from my brain to catch up.
“Man, if people think we’re on a date, they’re going to wonder what rock you turned over to find me.” I was conscious of the fact that I needed a shave. And that this giant sweatshirt was dwarfing me.
Jim turned and looked me over top to toe and smirked. “You’re cute as a button. They might think you like an eclectic look, part hippie, part adorable.”
’Hippie?’ “Why would anyone think I look like a hippie? They can’t see my hair, and I’m not wearing any necklaces or earrings. And I am not cute. Or adorable.”
But Jim just grinned at me again. ‘I am so not cute or adorable. Kittens and puppies are cute and adorable. What I am is scruffy. Jim is just yanking my chain. Negative reinforcement is called for here. Ignore his comments about being cute. He’ll get bored and stop.’
Jim reached the door first, of course, and pushed it open, ushering us in together. I spotted the men’s room and made a beeline for it, Jim trailing me for a change. Luckily, it was empty and meant for only one person at a time, so we were able to lock the door. We both relieved our bladders, and I thought about yesterday, when Jim had made a joke about seeing who could pee farther.
“You know, I totally won yesterday in the pee contest.” Jim zipped up his pants, and waited for me to do the same.
“So what’s my prize?”
“This.” And Jim leaned down and tilted my head up with his free hand and gave me one very fast, hot kiss. Until I remembered I was contagious, and I pulled away from him so quickly I could practically hear the ‘pop’ as our lips parted.
“Shit. Jim, are you nuts? I’ve got mono and strep. Jesus Christ, what were you thinking? Quick, rinse your mouth out.” And I pulled him over to the sink; he washed his hands – and mine – and then cupped his hand to bring water to his mouth. He rinsed and spat several times, while I reached in my pocket and got out the package of sore throat lozenges. Jim had bought the kind we’d used at home; they wouldn’t hurt him. They had herbs in them that could hopefully keep the germs from getting a foothold.
I let one of the Zinc Echinacea Cherry cough drops fall into his hand and glared at him while he tossed it in his mouth. He looked at me sheepishly, and mumbled, “I forgot.”
“Uh-huh. This is why you need a guide – somebody needs to watch out for you.” I was still kind of steaming. Jim didn’t need to feel like me. If I felt this bad, he would probably feel ten times worse with the sensitivities he had because of his senses.
“You’re right, Sandburg. I need you to be my guide.” And Jim was looking at me hopefully, and I felt such a wave of tenderness for him. My Jim. Shit. That slippery slope had just gotten a little closer.
I gave him a little push towards the door. “If we don’t leave now, everybody in the place is going to think we’ve been doing lewd and lascivious sex acts in here.”
Jim smiled at me and let me manhandle him. The big galoot.
We opened the door and stepped quietly out and I concentrated on sending ‘Nothing to see here, folks. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for’ vibes out into the seating area.
We walked hand in hand, like love’s fucking young dream, up to the counter. Jim proceeded to order me two helpings of chicken soup and himself, after I nudged him when he asked about the Black Angus Steak Sub, a large Tuscan Turkey Sub. To go.
And all the time while we waited, hand in hand, in full view of a fairly crowded lunchroom, Jim acted as relaxed as if we were at home, scooted together watching a Bonanza marathon. I couldn’t figure him out. He had never taken my hand like this when we were lovers, not outside of the loft.
The counter guy acted as bored with taking our order as he did for the next two customers, and soon we were making our way back to the truck, still hand in hand, with Jim carrying our food.
Once we were situated in the truck, handcuffs off of Jim and back on me, Jim taking manly bites of his sub and me mostly slurping my soup, I asked if anybody had commented on us when we were inside. Jim swallowed his mouthful, and nodded yes.
“Man -- what did they say?” And I braced myself for Jim’s face to darken in anger at being called a fag or a queer. Me, I didn’t care. I had been called every derogatory name for being a homosexual by the time I was in sixth grade. Unfairly, too, since that was years before I fooled around with guys. Name calling just didn’t crank my case. But Jim -- football star, quarterback of his team, Army Ranger, Detective – Jim, he might not have had the same toughening up that I’d gone through.
Jim smiled that maddening smile at me again – like he was a fucking Zen Master -- and said, “The two girls in the corner thought we were hot. Specifically, that I was built, and you were the cutest little guy, ever.”
I choked on my soup and Jim took the carton out of my hands and smacked me on the back. When I’d finished sputtering he switched to rubbing my back. I found my voice, and asked, “Nobody said any shit about us?”
Jim replied, “One guy said we were being a bit flamboyant, which started an argument with his lover – his male lover. Apparently his lover would like for them to hold hands once in a blue moon. An old couple remarked to each other that the gays seemed to be coming out of the woodwork and in their day you wouldn’t see men touching like that in the middle of the day.”
Jim shrugged and rested his hand on the back of my neck. I shivered – my neck is so an erogenous zone for me – and he asked if I wanted to finish my soup. I said no; I was done. He withdrew his hand and finished off the last bites of his food, balled up the paper debris, stowed my uneaten soup in the small cooler and started the engine. It had gotten chilly in the cab of the truck while we were inside. Or I should say, chillier. I went to fasten the seat belt around myself, but Jim stopped me.
“Scoot over here, Blair,” and he pointed to the middle of the bench seat. I looked at that space and how close I would be to Jim and I felt myself slide another ways down that slippery slope, again. Because I did it. I snuggled myself right next to Jim, who fastened the middle seat belt for me, and fixed the blanket so I would be warm. He felt my forehead and made ‘hmm’ noises.
“How high is it? My fever doesn’t feel too bad to me.”
“You’re right, it’s around a hundred. You can skip the Tylenol for now.” And Jim backed the truck out of the parking space and turned towards the Interstate.
We headed north, towards Chicago, and I leaned into Jim’s shoulder feeling like once again I was saving up a memory for when this all blew apart. Again. I was starting to think that there was no way I wasn’t going to be in mucho pain whether Jim gave me my walking papers or if I left on my own. Maybe I should just take the sweet before I was forced to have the bitter.
“You awake there, cutie-pie?”
“Shut up, Jim. I am not cute. Those girls must have needed glasses.”
Jim laughed, and I felt like we had fallen into a time warp; Jim teasing me and me grumbling about it. Cutie-pie. If he added that one to the long list of nicknames for me, I’d…
“You want to hear about the rest of my dream from last night?” Jim asked good-naturedly. Man, he’d been in a good mood ever since I woke up. It was nice to see him smiling and laughing. He’d stopped being happy months before I left Cascade.
“Sandburg, you in there or are you falling asleep?”
“No, I’m awake. I want to know what happened. You tell me yours and then I’ll tell you mine.” And I slumped a little more against him; Jim put his arm around me and hugged me closer.
“I couldn’t get into the jungle. I kept going around the perimeter and the vines were too thick; they were impenetrable, until I got out your trusty Swiss Army knife, which cut through them like a hot knife through butter.”
“Cool. Why my knife, though?”
“It was a symbol for you, I think. I figured out that I’d lost it when I found my spirit-guide and I needed to cut through more vines to reach him. I realized I’d been careless with it – with you – and if I didn’t do better I wouldn’t be able to keep you.”
I felt one of those lumps building in my throat, and I swallowed, trying to get rid of it. Jim started rubbing little circles on my arm as he continued.
“My sprit-guide was pissed at me because I’d locked him down by being so angry that I wouldn’t even think about you or how you were. Well, not much anyway. And I’m afraid that I jumped to some conclusions, but all that can wait till later to talk to you about.”
Hoo-boy. I’m sure Jim’s conclusions weren’t flattering to me at all.
“Anyway, my spirit-pal filled me in on how he, or I should say me, I gave you the bite on the back of your neck. How’s that feeling, by the way? We should put some more antibiotic cream on it tonight.”
I shrugged. “It’s healing up.”
“Ah… then the spirit-guide showed me – you would have really liked this part, Chief – by grasping my arms through the vines. and he, ah… transferred his knowledge to me. How you had been near him the whole time while we were apart. You had been keeping an eye on me, sometimes as the wolf and sometimes in human form, but doing it secretly by hiding a lot and running from me when I got too close. And I saw all your lairs, your new homes, all torn apart. He warned me that someone was out to hurt you and seemed determined to keep on hounding you. He couldn’t tell who it was, though. That was my fault, because I’d been so blind to you in the real world.”
Jim fell silent and I realized he was done recounting his dream. Oh, man. This was a lot to take in. The lump in my throat was still there and I made a real effort to contain my feelings. I was in Jim’s truck – there was no privacy. Not that there ever really was, not with Jim’s senses, but in the past I’d at least had the illusion of privacy.
I needed a distraction from all this heavy-duty shit. Jim arm wrestling – kind of – with his spirit-guide, Holy Krishna, I’d have given up Jags tickets to see that. I thought about how cool it was that he’d made a connection back to the sentinel spirit. Jim seemed more in harmony with himself, and I was guessing that was why. His inner spiritual self and outer physical body were in synch now.
Maybe a little humor would be good. Lighten things up. Make this lump disappear instead of filling up my whole throat till it was released in tears. I wanted this truck to be a no-crying zone.
“So, you got the blue-light special last night. Me, I’ve been there a bunch of times since I left Cascade. You know, I think that the spirit plane – at least the plane I’ve been visiting – is your visualization. If it was up to me, I’d have landed on the beach with a stack of books, and cold beer, or maybe Pina Coladas or Mai Tais…”
Jim snorted. “Yeah, alcohol in many and sundry forms – got that, Chief.”
“And a hammock, a big one, big enough for two. I’d save you a place in it, Jim. You could surfboard, and I could snorkel and look at all the tropical fish…”
“Sounds like somebody needs a vacation. We get this mess cleared up, and we’ll go there, Chief. On an airplane, not the spirit plane.”
I laughed; I had missed hearing him crack jokes.
“And I’m always naked when I’m in human form in your spirit world. Man, why is that, anyway? You get to wear your cammies.”
“Well now, Chief, I don’t think I want to give up seeing you naked. On our vacation, we’ll find some private beach and I’ll get rid of your clothes. You’ll be my golden boy, all tanned and warm from the sun. I bet the sun will make the reddish tints in your hair stronger, too… You’ve always been naked in the blue jungle. Guess I wanted you that way for a long time.”
I wiggled a little bit against his side, feeling squirmy, and felt a non-feverish flush spread over my face. Jim could make me blush like nobody’s business.
“Well, um… anyway, I didn’t remember going to Blue Jungle Land until I was in jail at Sweetwater. But as I found out, in my sleep I would go there and creep around in my wolf or human form and spy on the panther or the sentinel spirit. And I kept finding my dwellings all wrecked and I knew I had to locate a safer place. I didn’t know if you were doing that or not. Um… really, I thought it was you. I thought it was because you were still mad at me, even though I believed I’d done what you wanted. And for a long time, I wasn’t sure whether you’d attack me if you caught me. But spirit-you ignored me until real-you was driving to Sweetwater; I knew you were coming, Jim. Spirit-you started to hunt me and I kept running away and hiding. I was scared, but still I was drawn to watch you.”
I drew a shuddery breath, remembering the fear I’d felt as the panther chased me through the jungle and up to the high places.
“The first time you caught me, I was in wolf form; you were the panther, and I was so afraid you were going to tear out my throat. Instead, when you held my head and lowered your mouth to my neck, this light blitzed me and threw me out of Blue Jungle Land, and I remembered all the other times I’d been there. Before that I would forget when I woke up.”
Jim didn’t say anything, but I had felt his body tense up as I described my fear of him. I could have spared him the descriptions, but if there was the slightest chance of working it out with him, then we had to be really honest with each other. It was the only way to fix the wiring. I still mostly thought the Chaos gods would have their fun, and our relationship would continue to spiral out into nothingness. But in the tiny bit of hope that we could re-form what chaos had torn apart, then the truth had to be told.
“When the panther caught me again, it was when you had pushed me into the interview room and up against the wall. It was strange, but I felt it happening in real life – felt you touching me and felt the wall against my back – and on the spirit plane. The panther licked me instead of tearing my throat out, and I felt your emotions, Jim. You felt abandoned by me, when I left. I’m really sorry, Jim. If I’d had any guts, I would have talked to you after seeing you in the bar, and maybe this whole damned last year wouldn’t have happened. I’m really, really sorry…”
Jim held me securely in a one-armed hug and made shushing noises and I concentrated on some deep breathing and willing the tight feeling in my chest to go away. After a while, Jim stopped trying to soothe me and instead made a disparaging comment about a car that was parallel to us. Hearing Jim growl at other drivers was very familiar and in its own cock-eyed way, comforting.
“Simon hasn’t made you take that courteous driver course yet, I see.” My voice wavered only a little bit, and Jim hugged me again.
“He threatens to every time he has to ride with me. I’m just pointing out a few home truths here, Chief. There are so many idiot drivers out there. Hell, you must have seen tons of them, when you were driving a truck.”
And people thought that big, gruff Jim Ellison couldn’t be tactful. He was giving me an out because he could tell I had been close to crying again. ‘Thanks, Jim. I love you for that.’
“Man, there was this one time I was driving a load of milk from a dairy in Wisconsin…”
Blair told several stories about stupid drivers from his trucking days and then petered out. His breathing got heavier and he started blinking slowly. I didn’t say anything to him, just kept him tucked up next to me, his head resting on my shoulder. He eased off into sleep, and I thought about what I hadn’t brought up with him.
I hadn’t talked about my homework assignment from my spirit-pal. All this time, I’d assumed that Blair had been okay with being discreet about us being lovers. He certainly hadn’t objected to not telling anybody. He hadn’t made physical gestures out in public that would clearly spell out that we were a couple.
Of course, we had always touched each other a lot -- had since he’d hornswoggled me into showing up at his office at Rainier. I’d pushed right past his personal space boundaries and shoved him against the wall, irritated at him for trying to sell me such a looney-tunes idea about my senses being enhanced. And because he made me horny. He’d tripped my buttons right from the start, and I didn’t like feeling attracted to this little hippie conman. I was feeling mean about it when I slammed him into the wall, holding him off his feet, and pressing my entire body into his smaller one. I was hard, but Blair’d never said if he had noticed my erection that day. Maybe I’d ask him about it before we return to Cascade.
I’d been attracted to him, but I had kept it locked down – sort of. The way I’d touched him wasn’t the way most male friends touched. But Blair never pulled away from me, never seemed to catch on that I’d crashed his boundaries pretty inappropriately. I’d figured out what I was doing, helped along by overhearing many comments from other people speculating about our sleeping arrangements. I didn’t stop it, though. No, I liked doing it too much to stop. And once Blair had taught me about pheromones and signs of arousal, I knew for certain he was hot for me, too. But he didn’t act on our mutual attraction, not until everything else in his life had been shit-canned.
It had been sweet to finally have him. To lay him out on my bed, touch him in all the places I hadn’t touched him before his admission of desire for me. I could make him mewl and scream, hold him down as he shuddered from my teasing him to the peak of arousal. I liked to cuddle him after sex – he liked it, too, the little shit – but he would always give this great suffering sigh, like he was only letting me hold him as a favor to me. It amused me, mostly.
Towards the end of our time together, it had felt so damn ironic – like a farce – that he would let me hold him physically when I felt he had left me emotionally. I knew it was unfair of me to think he was acting like a whore with me by doing that. But that thought had rooted itself in my mind and it had made me so jealous of whoever was stealing him away from me.
And I hadn’t asked him yet about his lover from Cascade, although whatever relationship they’d had obviously hadn’t lasted very long. I’d decided that I would forgive him; after all, it was me who’d pushed him away at the end. Besides, I didn’t want to hand him too many emotional hot potatoes at a time. Blair was stressed and vulnerable; I’d only seen him have a panic attack once before, after a nightmare about Lash. Findley had told me he’d had a panic attack in jail, and this morning he’d had another one. I couldn’t dump everything I had been angry about – to be honest, some things I was still angry about – on him at once.
And I wanted to make him remember the good times we’d had together. I had never had a friend like Blair; he was so much fun to have around. We’d hang out at home or Blair would drag me to bars to try and pick up girls, but I had usually just enjoyed his company more than cruising for chicks. We went to basketball games and grocery stores together. We camped and fished, hosted poker night, and he’d take me to lectures and museums with him. Blair fit me and I fit him. I wanted us back. I wanted us to grow old together.
I would find out if he’d just caved in about my not wanting to tell anybody about the change in our relationship. Blair tended to put other people’s needs before his own. I should have remembered that about him and not taken it for granted that he’d tell me if he didn’t agree about not being out of the closet.
I had enjoyed holding his hand today. I think that had surprised him. I glanced down at my sleeping friend. My cutie-pie. I chuckled, remembering the look on his face when I’d relayed what those girls had called him.
I couldn’t tease him a lot, though, about being cute. Blair could be inventive and he was a genius. He would take his revenge if I pushed it too much. Still, I could think it all I wanted. As long as he didn’t develop mind reading powers.
I drove and Blair slept for another two hours, until he fidgeted himself awake. He pushed away from me and shook his head a little.
“Yes, my little genius?”
Blair gave me a narrow-eyed look, which he spoiled by yawning before he was done intimidating me into dropping the pet names.
“How ya doing there, champ?” He was starting to look halfway alert and I wanted a status report.
“I’m fine. Just need to wake up a little more. And I’ll drink some water already, so you don’t have to tell me, Mother Hen.” Blair leaned down and removed a bottle of water from the cooler, and drank half of it. He wormed his hand into his jeans pocket and brought out the cough drops, shaking one out and popping it in his mouth. Yawning, he stretched and flexed his legs, and then reached over and picked up his notebook and pen from the floor, barely reaching them. His backpack was also on the floor, and he hooked it closer with his foot, then heaved it up onto the seat.
“What are --”
“I didn’t write down my information on Nathan Bergman before I fell asleep. I thought I’d do it while we’re on the road, and we can talk about the case afterwards. I want to know everything that’s been checked out. And it’d be better to do it now, while I can still think. Because when my fever gets too high, my brain just turns to mush.” He retrieved his glasses, and right before my eyes, Blair Sandburg, Teaching Fellow at Rainier University, appeared.
Blair opened his notebook and started making categories on different pages and methodically filling in the pages. We had maybe another hour before we finished skirting around Chicago, and then another hour or so till we reached the cabin at Kenosha, on the shores of Powers Lake, one of those small lakes that pepper the Wisconsin area near Lake Michigan.
I was ready to be done for the day. And I hoped that Blair would agree to another time-out for tonight. I was hungry to touch him again, and to sleep curled around him – hopefully without shackles this time. Soon, but not this evening, I wanted to make love to him, to make him remember what was good about us. I wanted him to be able to recover his energy and to agree to let me help him. And tomorrow I would talk to him about the things that had pissed me off so much, back in Cascade.
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Six
A Fair Distance:Ball and Chain Chapter Six
Blair looked up from the couch where he was supposed to be finishing writing down his thoughts and questions about the Edwards case. Earlier this afternoon, the kid had started doing an analysis of what he’d known about Nathan Bergman and Marie Edwards, brainstorming ways to connect him with her murder, while on the last leg of the ride to this pretty little cabin on Powers Lake.
Supposed to be writing down his thoughts. In actuality, Blair had been staring out of the big picture window at the lake for some time now, although it was doubtful what he could actually see. It was dark; there was a new moon and there wouldn’t be any moonlight for another week.
“Yeah?” It took him a couple of moments to respond.
“Are you okay?”
He stood up, letting the blanket he’d brought in from the truck fall to the floor. A lackadaisical shrug answered my question. Blair reduced to shrugs and monosyllables -- I didn’t need to feel his forehead to tell that the mono and strep had ganged up on him, and he was losing the fight.
He was definitely feeling worse. His face had flushed up and the energy surge he’d had in the truck was long gone. After I’d uncuffed him, he’d eaten half a bowl of soup, drunk more water and a cup of herbal tea, taken his medication, and sucked on a cough drop; now he managed to look both restless and exhausted.
“Do you want to go to bed?”
He shook his head and whispered ‘no.’ When I’d felt this way as a kid, Sally had produced coloring books and cartoons. Something mindless to do until you either felt better -- at least enough to read in bed or do the homework a friend had dropped off -- or you had relaxed enough to fall asleep.
Well, coloring books were out; I wouldn’t want to suggest them, even if I had any here, not after I’d rocked him last night. Blair was bound to be a little touchy about anything that implied he’d gone the age-regression route.
Cartoons – probably not. He’d never much watched them back at the loft. I had, occasionally. Bugs Bunny, The Flintstones, Road Runner -- the classics. I’d stared at them to just unwind, if a game wasn’t on. But it wouldn’t hurt to ask him, though.
Blair had walked over to the doors that led out to the patio while I was wondering what I could do for him. And now he leaned his forehead against the cold glass and sighed.
“Tylenol isn’t helping yet, is it?”
Another shake of his head no.
“Have you got a headache, too?”
“You want to watch TV? Cartoons, or something else where you don’t have to think about what you’re watching?”
Blair halfway smiled as he turned around to face me. And I could see him force himself to act light-hearted and pump up energy he didn’t have to spare to answer me.
“That’s what you’d do, isn’t it, if you felt like shit? I don’t want to watch the boob tube, but you can if you want to. It’s got to be about as much fun as watching paint dry, hovering over me. I’ll be all right. You don’t have to take care of me.”
You don’t have to take care of me. He was doing his old distraction technique, turning things around so that my needs were dominant. Well, not tonight, buddy-boy.
I walked over to him and laid my hands on his head, my thumbs rubbing small circles on his temples.
“Listen up, my Brave Little Toaster. This is partly where we got off track, back in Cascade. I want to take care of you, when you could use a hand. I want you to let me in, Blair. Let me help you; don’t pretend that everything is okay, be honest with me. I know you feel really tired, but you can’t relax yet, can you? You feel hot and sticky, uncomfortable with the grime from today. Your clothes feel harsh on your skin, don’t they?”
Blair was looking up at me, nodding a little, as he took in what I was telling him.
“How about this for tonight’s agenda. We shower together in luke-warm water, and I use my hands to lather soap on your skin, ‘cause a washcloth would feel too rough right now. You put on one of my t-shirts again; it’ll be loose and won’t bind you. Then, I give you a quick massage -- to finish loosening up your muscles. After that, how about another cup of tea, and we get comfortable in the bed, and I read that book to you, the one that’s in your backpack. So, how about it, partner? Can we try this novel idea that you don’t have to carry the load by yourself?”
Blair bit his lip and then said softly, “The sentinel spirit, he told me you desired to take care of me when, ah… I need to recharge my batteries. And I thought about that, while I was lying in my bunk at the jail. I… well, I’ve blown you off, a lot of times, you know… before. And I was doing it again. I’m sorry. All of that stuff, it sounds nice.”
I pulled Blair in for a light hug, mindful of how his skin was probably feeling overly sensitive. As I released him, I snaked my hand over his forehead. His temp was quite a bit higher. I’d say it was a little over 104 degrees, but the Tylenol should start bringing it down.
I turned him towards the bathroom, and as we headed there, my arm around his waist, he muttered to me, ”Brave Little Toaster?”
I shrugged. What could I say; apparently, I had cartoons on the brain.
Blair didn’t feel much better the next morning; I’d had to give him more Tylenol in the middle of the night. He’d drifted off into a doze yesterday evening when I’d massaged him, but when I opened Coming of Age in Samoa to read to him, he’d roused enough to start an anthropology lecture, telling me that Margaret Mead was only twenty-three when she’d gone to Samoa, and that follow-up studies had cast doubt on the veracity of her account. I laid my finger across his lips to hush him, because this was not what I’d had in mind; I wanted Blair to be soothed off to sleep. He’d sighed, but stopped trying to talk and I began to read.
He’d lasted for about twenty minutes before the light doze he was in deepened into actual sleep. I’d continued reading his book to myself for a while, then finished my nighttime rituals, which included shackling our legs together again, feeling that we’d made progress. Yeah, last night Blair had let me into the inner sanctum, and I was prepared to make it my permanent dwelling.
It was after breakfast that I remembered what day it was.
“Sandburg, how would you like to watch a parade?”
Blair had been made comfortable on the couch in his boxers and another one of my shirts. I’d dosed him up again and he was drinking more tea. His hair was an unruly mass of wild bed-head curls; I itched to run my hands through it… or maybe brush it so that the curls were halfway tamed. While I debated finding a brush, Blair stopped gazing out the big window towards the lake, and looked at me.
“Parade of what? Ducks?”
“Floats, Darwin. It’s Thanksgiving and the parade will be on TV. Do you want to watch it?”
“Thanksgiving. Man, I totally lost track that Thanksgiving was this week. Sorry, Jim. You should be at home, maybe at Simon’s house or visiting with Steven and your dad. Sorry you’re stuck with me. Hey, let me take a look at the groceries you’ve bought; maybe I can make something holiday-ish out of them.”
I tut-tuted my finger at him. “Blair, you’re not getting up and cooking for me because you think I’m missing out on a holiday. I know you feel like shit; let me worry about the menu for today. And I’d rather be here with you than with anybody else, including Simon and my dad. You rest, partner. Do you want to watch the parade, or would the TV bother you?”
He sighed resignedly, and I decided he needed a foot massage for a distraction, so I went over to the couch and re-arranged our bodies so that his feet were in my lap. Blair wiggled around adjusting pillows, until he had his nest all feathered, then tossed me the remote.
“Here, Jim. You drive. See if you can find the parade. Did I ever tell you I watched it from the street one year? Naomi and me, we watched it when I was… seven. Yeah, I was seven and mom was seeing this guy, and we went with him and his daughter. She was a year older than me and bossy. She was all excited because of this Disney float, which had Snow White up on it; she adored Snow White, and she kept wanting me to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ with her about it, but man… it was just too girly. Mom took me aside and made me listen to the ‘I hear you’ lecture, sort of an offshoot of the ‘if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all’ sermon that I think most kids get. She didn’t take her own advice, though. She and the boyfriend got into a fight later about how wasteful she thought the parade was, using all that money and all those resources that could be better put to improving the world. We moved on soon after that.”
I had found the parade, which would be starting in maybe ten minutes, and muted the sound; we could watch and skip the endless commenting that would be accompanying the parade. I pulled Blair’s right sock off and started carefully running my hand over the sole of his foot, grasping his ankle firmly with my other hand. Another day, I might tickle his feet, if I felt like being obnoxious or if he’d been a pain in the ass, but today I just wanted to help him relax.
“We contacted your mom, Chief, when we were looking for you. She said she hadn’t heard from you since July. Was that true? Or was she just not wanting to cooperate with the cops?” I was truly curious to know if Naomi had been straight with us. She had told Simon, who’d elected to be the one to get in touch with her, to tell Blair to contact her if we found him.
Blair tensed against my hands. “How did you find my mom? And no, I haven’t talked with her since summer. Was she okay?”
“She’s fine. We tracked her down by calling that boyfriend of hers, the one who wanted to publish your dissertation -- the guy you wouldn’t sue for publishing parts of it when he didn’t have your permission. He’d kept in touch with Naomi in case you changed your mind. He’s a persistent bastard, all right. Said whenever you changed your mind, they’d print it under the terms of the original contract. Simon wouldn’t let me talk with him. Good thing, because I probably would have threatened to sue him myself.”
Blair tried to withdraw his foot from my massage, but I wouldn’t let him. His heart rate had jumped, and I wasn’t surprised that what I’d said had gotten this reaction from him. I was touching on something that we hadn’t agreed on, back in Cascade. Blair had always refused to talk about why he wouldn’t sue Sid Graham and his publishing house. It had annoyed the shit out of me that the jerk could get away with what he did.
Or was Blair reacting because I’d mentioned Naomi, not because I had reminded him of Sid’s part in him renouncing his work?
I decided to probe a little more. “I could probably sue the bastard based on what he printed about me. My lawyer said the case would be stronger if I sued you also, Chief. I told him that was out of the question.” I stopped massaging Blair’s foot and laid my hands on both of his ankles. ‘Stay put, Sandburg. Talk to me.’
“Jim, please -- just let it drop. Just… let it go. I don’t want to sue Sid.” Blair was starting to breathe faster. I didn’t want to push him into a panic attack, and maybe I was being a bastard myself, trying to worm why he wouldn’t sue out of Blair now, while he was sick and vulnerable, but… Jesus. This was one of the things that had gotten me so angry with him, after the dissertation fiasco. This was always going to come up between us, unless he would tell me why?
“Why won’t you tell me, Blair? I’ve asked you a dozen times to explain it to me. Why the hell won’t you sue the god-damned arrogant jerk who published your words without your permission? Because I just don’t get it. You’ve got a really strong case against him. And you could sure use the money. Pay off your student loans. Give it to Greenpeace, if you want, or to your mom. Put it away for your old age.” I tightened my hold on his ankles. “Chief, he should be punished for what he did.”
Blair was trying harder to pull away from me, and I caught the scent of fear emanating from him.
I gave up. Whatever his reason was, he wasn’t going to share it with me. I didn’t want him to feel afraid of me. Not like he’d been afraid of me in the spirit world. Not my Blair. He freed his legs from my hands and started to slide them to the floor. ‘You idiot. You’re kicking in his flight reflex again.’ I reached over and stopped him by smoothing the bare skin of his thighs.
“Look. Just forget I asked, okay? You’re scared, Chief. Don’t be scared of me. I can’t stand that you’re scared of me. You can keep your secret. I won’t ask you again, and maybe if neither of us brings it back up, it won’t come between us like it did before. Just calm down, Blair. You don’t have to worry about telling me about it.”
Blair had relaxed his legs, indicating, I thought, his relief that I’d dropped the subject, but then I caught a new scent from him. Shame. ’Funny, isn’t it, Chief, how those tests you gave me to identify scents with emotions worked the best with you -- my guide.’
“Don’t, Blair. Don’t feel bad. I guess I’ll just trust that you have your reasons and they must be good ones, because you’re a good person, Blair. I won’t pester you anymore. Hey, look. They’ve got Snoopy in the parade again this year.”
I talked about the floats and recaptured his foot and continued my massage, changing to the other foot later, while we watched the ballons drift above the New York City streets.
Blair was quiet; his eyes were on the TV screen, but I didn’t think his mind was really on the floats. I let him be. And I told myself firmly that I’d made him a promise to drop my questions about suing, and I could damn well keep it.
After the parade, and another round of Tylenol and soup for Blair and for me a couple of peanut butter sandwiches, we settled down to watch the Detroit Lions kick the Patriots’ butts. I liked watching football, but I had loved playing it. I still missed playing sometimes. I gave a running commentary of the game and the different plays while Blair alternated watching the game and watching me. I didn’t let on to him that I knew he was doing it. He was stewing about something, I thought. But I wasn’t going to push him to spill the beans; he’d either tell me or he wouldn’t, and I recalled my resolve to accept his keeping things from me. I didn’t like it, but if I wanted to keep Blair in my life, I’d better learn to accept it.
Blair said he was tired of lying down on the couch; he scooted and wiggled until he was upright, and I reached right over and tugged him next to me. I wanted him as close as I could have him. I’d missed him, this past year, missed touching him and scenting him and tasting him. The few things I’d been able to find of his that retained his scent had kept my reduced senses in line, but now I was mainlining the source and it felt so good. Blair as my drug of choice – I wondered if he’d be amused by that thought or horrified by it. I wondered what he’d think if he knew how much satisfaction I always felt when I could scent myself on his skin. My scent and my teeth marks on his body -- I wanted him branded as mine. I wasn’t sure if this was a sentinel thing or just a Jim and Blair thing. I hadn’t felt that way about Carolyn or other lovers. When he’d cut back on sleeping with me during his stint at the bar, and I couldn’t find my scent on his body, it had made me feel that he was slipping away from me. This time, I wasn’t going to let him sleep by himself. He belonged in my bed and that’s where he was going to sleep.
Blair relaxed against me, limp and heavy, and we watched the next game; I had a bet riding on this one with Simon. The Vikings had better win, or I’d have to hear my captain gloating about the Dallas Cowboys for weeks.
Thinking about my friend reminded me that I needed to call Findley tomorrow and have him relay a message to Simon, asking him to call us. I wanted an update on how the case was going. I also wanted him to talk to Blair. Maybe he could convince my stubborn partner to accept being in custody. Blair had said yesterday that if he agreed to stay in custody, to him that meant he was agreeing to come back to me. His logic escaped me, and I wasn’t having much luck getting him to cooperate. Simon was an authority figure for Blair, sort of a cross between a boss and an elder of the tribe; not quite a father figure, but there were overtones of that connection between them. Hopefully, he could talk some sense into Blair.
Blair had fallen asleep by the half time show, and I eased myself off the couch. I rummaged around the kitchen, looking through the supplies I had bought so hastily. Canned tuna fish, beef jerky, peanut butter, bread, bananas that were finally getting ripe enough to eat, applesauce, a few containers of yogurt, apple juice, and some more cans of various chicken soups. Chicken with Rice, Chicken with Stars, Chicken with Vegetables – I think Blair was getting tired of chicken soup judging from the face he’d made at lunch when I gave him his bowl of soup. Maybe he could handle a peanut butter and banana sandwich. If he couldn’t, it was chicken soup again, or yogurt and applesauce for Thanksgiving dinner. We’d eat when he awakened.
Blair woke up cranky, which he didn’t appreciate me pointing out to him. I felt his forehead, and his fever had dropped back to a hundred degrees. He huffed and puffed for a few moments, which altered to him almost pouting before his more usual cheerful mood took over. I’d seen this transformation a thousand times before, back in the loft. Blair was not a morning person. He wasn’t an after-a-nap person, either. Usually he needed coffee and that disgusting green drink of his before he was really able to communicate with words instead of grunts. Since we didn’t have either, it took him a little longer to join the human race.
“Hey, Chief, which would you rather have, chicken soup, or maybe a peanut butter and banana sandwich? Or some plain tuna?”
“If I eat any more chicken soup, I’m going to start squawking and laying eggs. Peanut butter and banana, please.”
He sat down at the table and watched me fix our holiday meal. I kept an eye on the tube and crowed in satisfaction when the Vikings beat the Cowboys.
“Simon owes me fifty bucks.”
“How is he, anyway? And Daryl?”
So I caught Blair up on the changes in their lives over the past year. I thought it was encouraging that he was asking about people he’d had ties with before he’d left town. Then he asked about our friends’ Thanksgiving plans.
“Simon’s at Joel’s house for Thanksgiving this year. Daryl went to his mother’s place.”
“Were you going to go to Joel’s too? Or were you eating with your dad and Steven?”
“I was going to go to Dad’s house; Steven was coming too.”
Blair sighed, and I just knew he was going to start kicking himself for being the reason I wasn’t eating Thanksgiving dinner with Dad and my brother.
I pointed a banana at him. “Don’t even start trying to take that guilt trip, Chief. It’s not your fault. After this Edwards mess is cleared up and you’re not a target anymore, we’ll go over and Dad can wine and dine us both.”
“Do you want to call him? Does he know why you aren’t sitting at his table, stuffing turkey in your mouth?”
“He knows I’m out of town on police business, Chief. And I’m not breaking security to contact him.” Blair frowned at me, and I wondered if he wanted to call Naomi.
“Jim. He’s your dad. What would it matter to call him using Dave’s phone, or a payphone?”
“You’re probably right, but when you set up security protocols, you don’t mess with them. Sorry, Chief. You probably want to call your mother, but we can’t do that. If you want, when Simon calls us, I’ll have him contact her and let her know you’re okay.”
Blair shrugged. “I’ll wait and call her when I’m a free person again. If Simon talks to her and doesn’t tell her where I am, she’s liable to picket his office. And I’ve had enough of Mom storming in and demanding control over my life.”
“Chief, she’s your mom. She just wants you to be safe and happy.”
Blair looked less than happy right now. Why hadn’t he kept in better touch with his mother? He loved her wholeheartedly and had always wanted me to make allowances for her ways in the past. Burning sage that made me sneeze for hours and feng-shitting my furniture came to mind.
I put our sandwiches on the table, and took the soup off the stove and poured it into a bowl. Blair looked askance as I put the bowl on the table, then relieved when I slid it over by my plate.
“I’m not sick of chicken soup.” I smacked my lips over my spoonful, and Blair rolled his eyes.
After I’d eaten half the soup, I decided to feel around a little, about Naomi. Even if her visits were few and far between, they’d talked on the phone at least every month, and Naomi loved to send him long letters extolling the virtues of whatever place she’d wandered over to, or confiding she’d found a new man and what fascinated her about him. Blair had enjoyed the descriptions of her adventures and worried over the new boyfriends. But he’d never put off talking to her before.
I waited till he’d finished his sandwich and juice.
“Want another one, Chief?” Blair patted his belly and shook his head no. He needed to put on more pounds. I’d try getting him to eat more bananas. They were jammed with calories.
“So… Why haven’t you kept in touch with your mother, Chief?” I cocked my eyebrows at him and waited to see if he’d give me an honest answer.
Evidently Blair had guessed I’d ask him this because he didn’t look surprised or alarmed at my question.
“Mom was happy when I was denied the chance to become a cop. You knew that, right?” I nodded at him.
“At first, when I would land somewhere and get a job, I’d call her and tell her about it, but after a while, when I kept jumping from place to place… She didn’t approve of my jobs, either. It would have been fine if I told her I was hitchhiking across America to see the sights, or traveling with a lover and living off their coattails, but… she wasn’t comfortable knowing I was driving trucks again or welding. She kept pestering me to join her and the latest boyfriend. She’d gone through two new ones when I last talked to her in the summer. They both had money and of course they’d have been infatuated with Naomi; she would have made them pay for me too, but man… I’m thirty–one years old. I’m not letting my mother support me. She kept getting more insistent the longer I kept moving around. I finally told her I’d call her when I was settled.”
He’d brought up living with lovers, so…
“Chief, what happened to the guy you left Cascade with? And it’s okay. I got over it. I drove you to leave with him, which you know I’m sorry about. You’re off the hook for cheating on me. But I would like to know about it. I haven’t seen anybody since you left and I think it would help clear the air to get all the other relationships out in the open.”
Blair hadn’t been expecting me to ask about his lover. He looked gob-smacked.
“Come on, Blair. It’s okay. I know about him from your co-workers at that sleazy bar you worked at before you left.”
Blair looked at me without answering and he still looked bewildered. I felt like snapping my fingers under his nose to jar him back to the here and now. I wasn’t mad at him for having hooked up with somebody else. I‘d forgiven him for that already. But if he lied to me about it, there would be fireworks.
“Don’t lie about it, Sandburg. I told you I already know you left Cascade with a lover. And I said something to you about it before we switched trucks. You ignored me then, and since you were upset enough I let it slide, but like I said, we should clear the air, since we’re getting back together.”
Blair’s look of bewilderment and confusion at being caught gave way to anger. He narrowed his eyes at me and he pushed himself away from the table and stood up in a sudden, violent move.
“Two hand jobs from strangers do not a relationship make, Ellison. I had no lovers. Period. In Cascade or in any of the other cities or places I landed in. I could have. There were people interested in sleeping with me; people who wanted me – men and women. Except for those two times that I weakened and just wanted some human contact because I was horny and lonely, I wasn’t interested in finding a new lover. I was grieving for you, you jerk.”
Blair turned and walked away from me, every line of his body tight. Now I was confused. Blair didn’t smell of deception, just anger and sorrow.
“Hang on, Chief. The evidence I gathered from several witnesses stated they’d seen you talking intently to a tall, blond-haired man in his forties several times before you left. You met him at your bar. And you told your co-workers you had a better opportunity coming up and you thought you might just take it. That guy gave you money, Blair. It was noticed. He paid for your drinks, and your dinner, too. He touched you while you sat together; he touched your face, god-damn-it. Are you telling me those witnesses lied? You’d better remember what I can tell with my senses.”
Blair turned around, and his face was flushing and his hands were balling up into fists; then he answered me, and his hands were talking right along with his mouth.
“I know who your ‘witnesses’ meant. What – you handled this like it was some police investigation? Did you flash your badge, too? Jesus Christ. His name was Jack, he was a kind of talent scout for people to work at the bar I saw you with your non-girlfriend at, the one I came to for a job interview.
Blair moved towards me and then caught himself and shifted several steps away.
“Yes, I let him buy me drinks and dinner while he made the pitch. He touched my hair, said it was beautiful and they were looking for lively, attractive people to work there to make it a fun place for people to entertain. He’d watched me work the crowd at The Meeting Place, and said I had a talent for being entertaining as a bartender and when I waited tables. And I was good at it, Jim. I put on my happy face and I flirted with customers. It was a job. I told you back then to get over it. It was a frickin’ job. I never touched Jack or any of the customers. I smiled at them. I gave compliments. I teased them. That’s all. Jack gave me money when I agreed to come for an interview and see the place. I never saw him again after that. He wasn’t even at the bar when I saw you, when I came to talk about a job there. They were going to pay me twice what I was making at The Meeting Place.”
He looked angrily at me and said, “Does your nose tell you I’m telling the truth? Well, here’s a message for your eyes.” He gave me the finger and stomped over to the other end of the living room, and stared out the patio glass doors.
I had used my senses and he was telling the truth. Shit. But he’d left out the part where the job offer included prostitution and how he’d been grabbed all the time at The Meeting Place. I wasn’t going to leave that thread hanging. I’d pull it and see what else unraveled.
“What about all those times you were forced to sit in customer’s laps? You weren’t touching them, but they sure as hell were touching you. They’d run their hands over your butt all the time. They touched your dick, god-damn-it! I saw that and it made me seethe. Why the hell do you think I kept asking you to quit that job? I would have covered your bills; you know I would have done it gladly.”
I got up from my chair, too agitated to sit there any longer, and moved halfway towards where Blair had turned from the window to listen to me. He wrapped his arms around himself, leaning against the glass doors, and I considered keeping the rest of my thoughts to myself, but… no. This had been a long time coming and I wanted him to know how his actions had torn me up.
“You would come home in the morning and take a shower before even coming close to me. The morning, Chief. I knew what time you got off work. You were avoiding me until you could clean up so I wouldn’t smell the scents of other men’s and women’s hands on you. Why was that better than letting me help you? And did Jack, the employment procurer, mention that he was a procurer in flesh too? That the new job you were interested in included fucking select customers in exchange for their money? Did you ever stop and wonder why I was undercover there? The place was a front for prostitution and gun running.”
“It was what?” And Blair’s eyes had widened with surprise.
“A front for gunrunning and prostitution. I guess they hadn’t made that part of the job offer to you yet. Your guy Jack, he probably got the idea you’d be willing to fuck for money by watching you let strangers handle your body, and all you’d do was chuckle at them and wiggle off their laps. God, it drove me crazy to watch and not be able to stop them.”
Blair stopped shaking his head at what I’d been saying and his face tightened. He glared at me; I realized that I’d said more than I meant to, but – what the hell – this clearing the air went two ways.
“And how, James Joseph Ellison, did you see what anybody was doing at my job? Fuck. You were spying on me, weren’t you? You didn’t trust me, you used your vision -- your gifts -- to sneak and watch me. My own lover was stalking me. And I didn’t do anything wrong! They touched me; I didn’t encourage them. I had to let them. I needed the job so I could pay my share of our bills. I couldn’t let you think of me as sponging off you. Not like --”
Blair didn’t finish that sentence but he and I both knew he meant his mother.
“Blair. Why didn’t you tell them no? You have a right not to be molested. Why was it okay to think of yourself as a commodity at work, to be fondled and touched to make money, just so I wouldn’t think you were what… trading sex for rent and groceries? I would never think that of you. You’re my partner – we share. If I was broke, you’d split whatever you had with me. You know you would. Why didn’t you tell me what was going on with you? It wasn’t until I started this investigation that I found out about all the other jobs you lost before you went to work at that bar. Why didn’t you tell me you were getting the shaft? I would have looked into it. At the least, I could have been there for you, instead of thinking you were getting itchy feet, quitting those jobs before you hardly got started in them.”
Blair was staring at me, the smell of his distress so strong I felt inundated with his scent.
I waited for him to say something – anything – till he whispered, “I wanted to protect you.”
Then his voice grew a little stronger and I wasn’t sure if he was talking to himself or me.
“When you love someone, you don’t tell about things that would hurt or bother the person you love and have to protect. You suck it up; you deal with it yourself. I didn’t want you to worry about me; I didn’t want to be any trouble for you. If I was high maintenance, you might get rid of me.”
He was trembling and he ran his hands through his hair. I was listening hard to his words because he was handing me a key here to understanding him. I don’t think he realized he was doing it; I wasn’t sure he had ever put these words together before now.
“I… molested? No, it was okay if they touched me because I let them. I couldn’t lose that job; I couldn’t keep any other job, not in Cascade. So I had to let them because touching me made them happy and I could keep working and making money to pay my bills and I had to pay my bills. You wouldn’t want me around if I were just your rent boy. You wouldn’t respect me, but hey – I guess that backfired because you don’t respect me anyway. Because I didn’t stop strangers from touching me, and you spied on me, and you saw them doing it to me. I thought it was different if I didn’t respond but apparently not to you. I always suspected you thought I was a slut – all those table leg comments – and now I know you didn’t trust me. You thought I cheated on you. You thought I was signing on to be a whore when you saw me at my job interview. God, how can you say you want me back when this is what you think of me?”
Blair held out both his hands palms outward, like a shield between him and me.
“No… I can’t talk anymore. I want to be by myself. I want to process what happened here. I’ve had no privacy for over a week now; I’ve been watched – in the jail, by you – and I need some time, man.”
Blair looked around and spotted the old guitar Findley had sent along with us. He walked over and opened the case, lifted it out and carried it to the biggest bedroom. He turned to look at me, and I saw the bleak despair written all over his face.
“I know you want to make sure I’m not climbing out the window, so here’s the plan. I’m going in this room and shutting the door. I’ll be making sounds on the guitar so you’ll know I’m still in there. I can’t climb out a window and play chords at the same time, so that’s your assurance I’m still here. If you try and handcuff me right now, Jim, I swear I’ll fight you with everything I have. Just let me be. I have to work through what you said and what I did.”
He opened the door and went inside, and I watched the door shut. I heard him sitting down on the bed. The guitar was out of tune, and Blair spent some time getting the old beater back in shape. Then he began some slow blues tune that rolled and flowed, the sound a mournful reminder of just how fucked up two people could be with each other.
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Seven.
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Seven
I’d been playing so long that the ends of my fingers were sore, but I wasn’t ready to put this old guitar down yet. I’d lost myself in the music, letting my subconscious have free range to analyze, dissect, and reassemble my fucking life.
Those words I’d said earlier tonight – about the choices I’d made that resulted in me losing Jim, the only lover I’d ever actually loved – had sounded like an echo to me. Protect him… Protect her.
I needed to meditate; clear my mind and really reflect on why I had thought not telling Jim about my employment troubles would protect him. Or was it that I’d thought it would protect me?
Protect me from Jim’s disappointment in my ability to take care of my own self? Protect me from Jim thinking I was too much trouble to keep in his life?
I stopped doing anything with the guitar except lightly strumming it, not even bothering to play any chords. I was wiped out but still wired from the confrontation with Jim. There was no getting away from the fact that I was going to have to abandon this bedroom and face him again.
Ah, shit. I’d known the hiatus wouldn’t last, anyway; I was a fool for starting to believe Jim and I could be friends and lovers again. Jim was so disgusted with me; he’d just forgotten about it for a while. My eyes watered as I thought about him spying on me at the bar, watching men and women touch me, and how he must have thought I’d enjoyed what they were doing. I hadn’t; I’d figured it was something I just had to put up with in order to keep my job. When I thought back to all the insinuations Jim had made before I left him – including bringing up that fucking stupid table leg comment again and the remarks on the way I dressed – well, now they made sense. From a Jim point of view, anyway.
And the way he would slap my ass when I left for work… I’d known he wasn’t doing it to be funny, but I hadn’t understood what he meant by it. Tonight, I’d figured out he’d wanted to punish me and that was how he had sublimated that desire into a symbolic gesture. Except, when his hand had landed on my ass, it had stung. So maybe not entirely symbolic, after all.
Jim really did think I was a slut. My chest felt so tight when I thought about how he was sure I’d just dumped him and turned around and left town with somebody else. He’d been so angry with me for a year for supposedly doing that, and I just bet he thought I’d been sleeping my way across the country. Either being promiscuous for sexual relief or trading my… assets, in order to be able to eat and have a roof over my head.
God, I shouldn’t have weakened and enjoyed our moments together the last two days. But I had.
Man, love sucks.
I lost track of time, just strumming every minute or so. My body was giving out for the night, but I really didn’t want to see Jim right now. Procrastination, thy name is Sandburg. I felt stuck; this ‘clearing of the air,’ as Jim called it, wasn’t finished by a long shot. I guess it was good for Jim to know I hadn’t cheated on him, but I wanted a break. Meditate. Meditate. Meditate. Except I was too tired and fuzzyheaded to even begin the process. And I didn’t want to look in Jim’s eyes, knowing the low opinion he’d held of me – still held of me. How could he want to get back together when any time I was out of his sight he’d probably be wondering if I was flirting or coming on to somebody? Or letting them come on to me. Letting them touch me. He’d drive himself nuts and take me with him. We’d have a repeat of ‘The Final Days of Cascade.’
‘The Final Days of Cascade…’ Huh. That sounded like an old Roman movie, and my brain started sliding sideways into imagining Jim in a toga; of course, he’d be a noble Roman, a centurion who’d come back from whatever war and was now a senator. And I would still be a Jew, his scribe, a captured scholar coerced into handling his correspondence or doing research for my Roman master… or, or be a bath slave forced to give the noble senator massages and oil his muscles and scrape them down with -- what was it called? Oh, that’s right -- a strigil. But… I’d probably talk too much, or he’d think I let the slave master touch me without protesting -- making me a slut, and he’d want me gone or punished… Would lashes be a bit over the top just for a slave talking too much? For being in a position where I didn’t have control over who was allowed to touch me, or who made me touch them?
Maybe I’d be hit with a rod instead… Would that hurt less? But finally, he’d get tired of putting up with me, the talkative slave who couldn’t stop people from touching him, and sell me. Or maybe I’d run away. Yeah, I liked that better. I’d miss him… no, it would hurt more than just missing somebody; it would tear me apart, but wouldn’t that be better than staying and feeling the heat of his derision?
I was interrupted from the last scenes of the movie in my head by a knock, and then a note was slid under the door. And I heard Jim talking tiredly to me.
“Just read it, please. Since I seem to screw up so much when I open my mouth, maybe this will work better. I keep telling myself not to hurt you and I keep on doing it anyway. But see, I didn’t know I’d be stepping on a land mine when I told you I forgave you for leaving town with your new boyfriend -- your non-existent lover. You’ve been through a lot, and I shouldn’t have pushed you. Jesus, you’re sick and worn out; and crap, Sandburg, I feel like I’ve kicked a puppy. Just read the damned thing, will you?”
A puppy? Jim felt like he was picking on poor little me? Fuck. I needed to stand up to him. Go toe to toe. I’m not fragile, damn it. I’d just needed some time to gather myself. Well, time was up. Jim Ellison wasn’t going to bed thinking of me as some poor-lost-sick-little-mutt. I was going out there and kicking some Ellison ass. But I’d read his note first. I heaved myself off the bed and picked up the note. It was folded over, and I straightened it out. And read it. Twice.
I’m sorry as hell that I pushed you again to tell me your secrets. I just wanted us to be straight with each other to avoid any more jumping to wrong conclusions. But I want you back even if it’s with the condition that I keep my mouth shut about things that used to bother me and, to be honest, will probably keep bothering me.
But somebody’s helped screw up your thinking, somewhere over the years. And I’m at fault, too, for not emphasizing that switching from friends to lovers meant to me you wouldn’t keep your troubles to yourself anymore. You’ve always been independent as hell, Blair, and I’ve always felt that I needed you more than you needed me. But please, you don’t need to protect me by keeping your problems to yourself-- I want to know about them. I want to help. I won’t think you’re ‘high maintenance’ and kick you out the door. You will never be too much trouble for me. You know, we met because I had problems that you knew how to fix. It’s been way too one-sided since then, though. I think maybe we fell into a pattern where my problems became what we both would focus on, and your problems got shunted to the side for you to deal with on your own. And I haven’t always taken your issuess seriously in the past; I’m thinking about Brad Ventriss. No wonder you doubted that I’d want to help you when you needed it.
And I was an ass about the way I treated you when the diss hit the fan. If we had seen that mess as our problem to work out, instead of it being your problem to make right -- no matter the cost to you -- maybe we could have come up with an answer that didn’t call for you to take a bullet for me.
I’m promising you right now that I’ll treat your problems seriously and they will be our problems to solve.
I apologize for spying on you. I knew you’d be pissed, and you can kick my ass about it.
I’m not pushing here. I won’t say a word to you about this unless you bring it up, but what you said about the reason you let yourself be molested, that’s just not right. Yes, molested; you know the definition as well as I do. You felt coerced because you wanted to keep the job, because you thought I’d dump you if you didn’t contribute. That letting yourself endure sexual touching was an acceptable price to pay so I wouldn’t realize you had problems, problems you were convinced I wouldn’t want to know about, and if I did, I’d decide you were too much effort to keep around.
Blair, what happened to you to make you think that way? I don’t ever want you to feel that you can’t tell me or anybody else NO to unwanted advances. And I’m wondering -- have I ever touched you when you didn’t want it? I’m not sure, after what you’ve said this afternoon, if you would have stopped me whether you wanted sex or not.
I guess, also, I found it hard to really believe that you could settle down and commit to me after dating so many others. That was my hang-up, and I’m realizing now how it slanted my perceptions of you. I never even considered that the guy you were seen speaking with was talking to you about a job. Some detective I am.
I’m running out of paper, so please come out and talk to me. You talk; I’ll listen.
P.S. I love you.
Of all the stuff he had written, I couldn’t stand it that Jim was thinking he’d maybe raped me, and I yanked open the bedroom door. He was standing by the sliding glass doors, gazing at the lake. He didn’t turn around, and I knew he must’ve heard me – unless all this emotional bloodletting was screwing with his senses – which worried me even more. I practically ran over to him and put my arms around his chest, laying my head on his back. I squeezed him tightly, and said, “Jim, can you hear me?”
“Yes. And I’m sorry, Blair.” Jim’s voice was quiet. Not looking at me and not talking with his usual confidence. This was not good.
“Listen. You have never touched me sexually that I didn’t welcome it, okay? Have you got that clear? You have never raped me. You have never…” I stumbled over the word, “molested me.”
“Do you know how uncomfortable I felt watching the video of me pushing you against that wall in the Sweetwater PD? I know what I did, Chief. Findley was probably right. I wanted you on that table, and I was no doubt going to rape you. And you didn’t want me touching you then, Blair. You told me no, and I ignored you.”
I sighed and loosened my arms from around Jim’s body. I stepped away from him, far enough to accomplish my purpose. Then I raised my foot and kicked him in the ass. Not hard, just enough to really get his attention.
“I said to listen to me. I’m not lying to you. And that day in Sweetwater, I told you no because we were in a police station, and because you were trying to kiss me. I didn’t want you to catch my germs. But Jim, if you’d laid me on that table and fucked me, it wouldn’t have been rape. I’d have felt embarrassed if we were caught, and annoyed at you for picking the wrong place and time, but I wouldn’t have felt raped. So, do I need to kick your ass again, or are you going to believe me?”
Jim turned around and asked, “Are you sure, really sure?” and I nodded yes and raised my foot.
“Okay, Chief. I believe you. You can put that deadly weapon down.”
He looked at me then, and I realized he was patiently waiting for me to spill my guts about his letter. Did I want to? Not really. Well, not about some of the stuff he’d written. That was going into the meditation checklist first. But right now I was going to make him admit to considering me a slut. And that he hadn’t trusted me not to cheat on him. And I wanted to hear him explain why he thought he had the right to spy on me. I’d bring that up first.
“Some stuff I don’t want to talk about right now. But I want to hear why you thought it was necessary to spy on me.” And I crossed my arms and waited for Jim’s confession.
Jim turned me around. “You’re tired. Hell, I’m tired, and I don’t have mono. So let’s do this on the couch, okay?” He settled his arm around my shoulder and walked me back to the seating area. He dropped onto the sofa and pulled me down next to him.
I waited for Jim to begin, and after a few throat clearings he started to talk. But he wouldn’t meet my eyes.
“See, when I went with you to your job, those couple of times, I could hear what the customers were saying about you. And I could smell their lust. I told you about it, but you didn’t seem to care. I know you told me it was only a job and to get over myself, but I’d be at home, wondering if you liked what they were saying, or doing, and I’d go over to check it out.”
Jim rubbed both of his hands along his jaw for a moment, then continued after glancing over at me.
“I know you didn’t start anything, Chief; they always made the advances, but you seemed to like it. You would laugh at them, and they’d just do more things. I focused my sight on you when I was across the street hiding out in the truck, and then piggybacked my hearing to find out what the ones who couldn’t keep their hands off of you were saying. With your regulars it became kind of a bet to see who could finally get you to say yes when they propositioned you.”
Jim picked up my hand. He kissed it and then held onto it. He still wasn’t meeting my eyes, and I realized how hard it was for him to tell me all of this.
“You have no idea how beautiful you are, Blair. How attractive and graceful you can be when you’re ‘on.’ And you were pumping your energy into making sure people were having a good time. You’d smile and laugh and tease, and after watching you put on a show, I came to the conclusion that what we had wasn’t enough for you. That you needed more than I could give you. That maybe you weren’t cut out to stay with one lover. It made me feel bitter, and mean, but I didn’t want to tell you what I’d seen because I was afraid that would be the excuse you would need to leave me.”
Jim’s eyes met mine and he tightened his grip on my hand. I felt a little stunned. Jim had worried that I was looking for an excuse to leave him?
And I hadn’t known some of the customers had made harassing me into some kind of perverted game where sex with me was the prize.
“I should have stayed home, but instead I would go over and drive myself crazy. Sometimes, I stayed until the bar closed down and watched to make sure you got to your car okay, if I didn’t like what I’d heard the assholes saying about you that night. Sometimes I’d have words with the ones waiting outside who wanted to ‘persuade’ you to keep partying. I, uh, did flash my badge and suggest it would be in their best interests to move along.”
Jim glanced down at our hands, grimaced, and met my eyes again. “I was always short of sleep and that made me cranky with you – not to mention frustrated because I kept trying to get you to quit, and you wouldn’t. Since I didn’t know the reason why you’d left those other jobs, it just reinforced to me that you wanted the job at the bar because you needed to feel desired by a lot of people. I’m sorry.” And he waited to see what I’d say.
I didn’t feel like kicking Jim’s ass anymore. I’d been blind, apparently, to a lot of stuff that had been going on.
And my head was aching, but I needed to make sure I understood Jim’s words to me. And there were still things I wanted to hear him say. The truth shall set you free, right? Wasn’t that what Jim was asking for between us now? Yeah, and be careful what you wish for because then the chips will fall where they may. I shook my head a little, hoping to clear it. Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, Blair, concentrate and quit thinking up clichés.
“You realize that it was wrong of you to spy on me?”
“I’m not pleading the fifth here, Sandburg. Yes, I knew it was over the line.”
“You were worried about me. You were jealous of the customers who were touchy-feely.”
“Yes and… Okay, yeah, I was jealous.”
“You thought I was a slut who missed getting laid by a lot of people.”
“No, I never said that. Not like that. I just figured that you liked the attention, that you had a need for more than what I could give you…”
“Don’t bullshit me, Jim. You thought I liked a promiscuous love life. And you’ve thought that for a long time, way before I got the job at the bar. Do the words ‘table leg’ mean anything to you?”
Jim was staring at me, and in no hurry to put his foot in his mouth, evidently. Well, he’d been honest; I could be honest, too.
“Before we became lovers, I tried very hard to keep things separate in my relationships. I had friends who I didn’t want to change to lovers, because I felt close to my friends. I had lovers who I enjoyed sex with and they enjoyed sex with me, and that’s all we wanted. I didn’t feel close to my sexual partners at all; I just liked them in a superficial way. Sex was a way of scratching a mutual itch. Then there were the people I dated. Dating, for me, was the process where I decided if they were going to be a real friend – which meant emotional attachment, but no sex -- or if they were going to be a lover, which meant sex with no strings, emotional or any other ones. If a lover wanted more from me, I ended the relationship… or they did, when I wouldn’t go along with it. And I never asked friends to sleep with me; well, not until I asked you to be my lover. So, I dated a lot of people, kept some as good friends, and had flings – usually fairly short ones -- with my lovers, and told a fair number that we just weren’t going to work out. I’ve had lots less sex than you think I’ve had, Jim. So, tell me the truth. Did you consider me promiscuous?”
Jim sighed, and I squeezed his hand hard.
“Blair. Are you sure it’s a good idea for me to answer this question? I don’t want to hurt you. Why do you need to know?”
“I’m tired of guessing about what you think of me. I want to know.”
Jim sighed again, and looked at me. He traced the outline of my lips with a finger, then dropped his hand back to his lap.
“Yes, I used to think you were kind of promiscuous. I mean, you were going out with a ton of people all the time. And you would say something inane indicating you were trying to sleep with somebody, or double book your dates, or look at someone sometimes like a kid turned loose in a candy store, and it all made me think you were always checking people out as potential sex partners; remember when you’d drag me with you to the bars? But I never thought of you as a slut, somebody who’d do anything for sex. I… I thought you were young, with a strong sex drive, and that you weren’t ready for a serious relationship. I had no clue that you’d developed a system -- and Chief, your system seems pretty cold; I’m not sure how I fit into it… But the longer I knew you, the way you ‘dated’ increasingly annoyed me. I think I can safely say now that it was because I was feeling more and more strongly about you.”
Well, I’d wanted to know what he thought, and I fought to keep my feelings from showing on my face.
“When we got together, did you think I could stop being promiscuous?”
Jim nodded yes, then qualified his answer. “At first, I thought being with me would satisfy you, but after you seemed so attracted to the bar life, I started having doubts. I blamed myself for not being enough for you. And I started to resent you, Blair, for making me feel that way. By the time you saw me with Melissa, I was sure you wanted to play with fire, applying to work at a place where you’d be asked to sleep with the high rollers. I was so angry you were there that when I got home I was going to lay the law down to you about sleeping only with me. Of course, you were gone when I did get home, and I thought the worst of you.”
“Yeah, about that ‘worst’ thing. You really believed I had a Plan B lover waiting around ready to leave town with me whenever I decided to cut and run out on you?”
“Well… I told you I checked with your coworkers at your job; their statements convinced me that you had left town with the guy you were seen with there, so, yeah -- I did believe you’d left with him. Then Edwards was murdered, and Simon okayed the investigation into your work history. I saw how much traveling around you’d been doing, and all those gaps in between the jobs on record. I thought you’d been…”
“Bedhopping. Right? You thought I’d been sleeping my way around the country.”
“Uh… I hope you know what you’re doing, Sandburg, with these questions, because it sounds really bad to hear it laid out like this.” Jim looked highly uncomfortable, but I wanted – no, needed – to hear what he had thought of me.
“Answer the question.”
“Yes. I pictured you latching onto lovers and following them wherever they went. I figured the restlessness I ‘thought’ I’d seen happening in Cascade was still burning in you. I don’t believe that anymore. Now I have a whole new set of pictures that torment me. I see you sleeping in your car because you didn’t have rent money. Staying at shelters and eating at soup kitchens when your jobs fell through, and needing a doctor, but not going because you couldn’t afford it. I see you going hungry, and hitchhiking in the hot sun or the rain. Look at me and tell me I have a good imagination, Blair. Tell me those things didn’t happen to you this last year.”
I squeezed his hand again. I couldn’t tell him they hadn’t happened, but really it wasn’t a big deal at all. “Jim, I was fine.” And I had been; I’d survived just fine.
“Blair…” Jim looked troubled by my answer, but I didn’t want to get sidetracked by stuff that didn’t matter, so I shook my head at him.
I had a very important question left to ask Jim. I held his gaze with mine, and felt my heart speed up.
“I’ll own to being promiscuous in the past, though not to the extent you’d imagined. Can you really make yourself trust me not to want that back, if you and me become lovers again? Because I crossed a line for you – and okay, it was my line, so if anybody could change the rules about it, I guess I could -- and I did, Jim. I just sailed over the friendship line right into lovers’ lane with you. You weren’t like anybody else I ever slept with, because you were my friend and my lover, and it was weird for me. I wanted a connection so very badly, Jim, when everything else that tied me to you was being severed, that I broke my own rule. I took a huge fucking chance and it looked like it was working, and then it wasn’t and I couldn’t go back to being friends, and you couldn’t go back to being friends; although when I got out of jail I thought maybe we could try being just friends again, but you want to be lovers and it’s so fucking scary because I’ve never, ever, ever felt so fucking bad before as I did when I left Cascade -- I thought you got tired of me, and I don’t know how to be in a real relationship--”
Jim gently put his hand over my mouth and started kissing my forehead.
“Sh – Sh -- Sh. Settle down, here. Shush now.” He hauled me over, hugging me so tightly that I could hear his steady heartbeat while I rested against his chest.
“You and me are going to be okay. I understand more about you now than I did, and the more I know about you and the more you know about me, the better our chances are gonna be that we’ll make this work. I don’t think I’ll get worried about you wanting other people, not anymore, but if I start to feel that way I’m going to tell you. We aren’t going to let stuff fester this time. New mottos, here. ‘My problems and your problems are our problems.’ And ‘I trust you and you trust me.’ Also, ‘We are committed to each other and anything that threatens that commitment gets hauled out of our heads and dealt with pronto.’ We’ll make a list and call them relationship rules. And Chief, they’ll be a hell of a lot more important than the house rules ever were.”
I felt shaky and scared. This was much more terrifying than jumping out of an airplane or off that cliff had ever been. The first time I made the decision to invite Jim to be lovers, I really hadn’t known what I’d be asking of myself. Now I did know – Karma and physics and the whole yin and yang aspect – and for every high that being Jim’s lover and partner would bring there was also the potential for just as much of a low, if we failed again. Trapeze-swinging without a net, relying on Jim to catch me, and he’d have to have faith that I’d wouldn’t drop him, either. Shit. As much as I’d babbled a little while ago, now I felt like I’d been struck mute. I didn’t know what to say to Jim.
“I can see the panic in your eyes, Chief. Don’t worry; you don’t have to say anything right now. Just understand that I love you, and think about what I said. Now, how about some tea and a blanket?” And he got up and walked into the bedroom and brought out a quilt and dropped it around me. He stroked my hair for a moment, then went into the kitchen and while I huddled under the blanket, kind of in shock, he made me tea and brought it and a half-peeled banana out to me. And more medicine.
I sipped the tea, which he’d dumped too much sugar into, but ignored the banana till Jim sighed and picked it up and wrapped my hand around it.
“Look. You’re underweight and you aren’t taking in enough calories. Eat the banana, Twiggy. It’s full of calories and vitamins, and you might as well get used to the idea because there are a lot of bananas in your future.”
I raised my eyebrows at him, but man, I should pick my fights and I was too tired to get roused up about a flippin’ banana. Besides, I had to admit Jim had a point. I was too thin. But if I didn’t give him at least a token protest, he’d keep up the mother-henning until he started clucking and laying eggs.
“I’m about the same weight I was when I started college.”
“Exactly my point. I’ve seen your freshman pictures, Chief, the ones with you and Naomi. You were a good three inches shorter and a skinny teenager. How do you feel about protein shakes?”
We argued about the merits of artificial food supplements, and I felt myself relaxing with the familiar back and forth banter. I felt better; not great, but better. Maybe there was some hope for us after all.
“Chief, there’s one last thing we need to talk about tonight.”
I tensed up. Maybe there wasn’t as much hope as I’d been starting to believe.
“Jesus, Sandburg, relax. It’s only that you really need to take a shower. Me, too.”
“Are you telling me I stink, Ellison?” But I had to grin with relief.
“Yeah. There were some powerful emotions going on tonight, and they each have their own smell. Anger and fear, sorrow and despair -- I can’t sleep next to you smelling all that pain on your skin. So, come on, let’s make the ecologically right decision and shower with a friend.”
Jim pulled me up off the couch and we headed to the bathroom. Later he’d check me again for a fever and then shackle us together. A Jim Ellison special -- two parts nurturing, one part cop, and one part lover. I was thinking I could maybe live with that.
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Eight
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Eight
“I don’t know, Chief. I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.” Blair had run another fever around 3:30 in the morning, after all. I walked over behind him and felt his forehead again, just to make sure his temperature was normal.
“Jeez, Jim. You did that five minutes ago, remember?” He'd been looking at the lake again through the window, but turned around to face me.
I’d scanned the beach area when he’d asked to have some time to himself down there, and we were alone here. The people in the other cabin down the road had left earlier. I thought it would be safe.
But… I didn’t want him making himself sicker, either.
I eyed him up and down, and he was too pale and tired-looking for my peace of mind. Still, the less Blair thought of himself as my prisoner, the better for getting him to agree to be my lover.
“Come on, man. I won’t be out long, and I really need to do some processing. I’m too restless to try meditation. And anyway, we’d have to leave before I really got myself settled.” Blair looked up at me and solemnly held two fingers up together. “I promise I won’t run away while I’m walking on the beach.” He grinned mischievously, and added, “Or while you pack up the truck or when your back is turned or anything. This offer good until… we’re back on the highway, okay?”
I grumbled, “It’s not that. I just don’t want you wearing yourself out and making yourself feel worse. And it’s three fingers for the Scout Oath, Junior.”
“I know. I did learn that much before Naomi found out I was secretly attending Cub Scout meetings and made me quit. But since I don’t agree with the Scouts’ position on gay leaders and gay Scouts, I don’t want to use their symbols. So, the Blair Sandburg promise uses two fingers.”
He grinned cheekily at me, and, of course, I caved. “Dress warmly. It’ll be colder down by the lake. Damn, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish you still had your Fargo hat.”
Blair leaned closer to me and stood on his tiptoes. Pulling my head down, he planted a big juicy kiss on my forehead. He stepped back and looked ruefully at me. “Somebody shopping at Goodwill got a real bargain with my hat.” He batted his eyes at me, exaggerating his flirting, and coyly said, “Christmas is coming.” I groaned and turned him around and gave him a pat on the butt, to send him on his walk.
“Yell if you need any help.” And I walked over to the kitchen area and started cleaning things up.
Blair left; I decided that if he wasn’t back in thirty minutes, I’d walk down myself and fetch him in. Meanwhile I listened for any cars or human movements, just in case I was wrong about it being safe. With Blair in so much bodily contact with me, my default setting for being grounded against zones was normal again. I’d held him last night in bed, pulled tightly against me, and whispered a litany of love into his ear, smelling contentment and a low level of desire at times rising from his warm skin. Along with exhaustion.
This morning, I wasn’t worried that he was trying to trick me. He hadn’t been lying to me, according to his body, and Blair’s promises were solid. He was still sick, though. And I wondered if he was reaching the point where he’d become a pain-in-the-butt patient. I knew the signs. We both usually would do too much when recovering and then would regret it. Funny how we never seemed to learn from it… I might have to sit on Blair if he got too frisky before he really recovered.
“Here, Chief.” I handed him the atlas, then turned the Ranger back towards the highway. “Put your truck-driving days to good use and pick us out a route. Just remember which is your left and which is your right.” Blair rolled his eyes; teasing him about getting lost was familiar territory. “Let’s try and get about four hundred miles in today. I need to check in with Findley, and he’ll want to know where we plan on staying tonight.”
Blair muttered to himself as he calculated time and distance while I got us back on the highway. He’d returned from his ‘processing’ walking slowly, and had collapsed on the couch while I’d packed and loaded the truck. I figured he’d conk out fairly soon when we started driving. I was curious about what was going on in that curly head, but I wasn’t going to push him. Not like the way I’d done last night.
Blair glanced up from scrutinizing the atlas. “Tell Dave to look for places around St. Cloud, Minnesota. And we need to get on Interstate 39/90, then onto Interstate 94. We can take 94, and then 90 all the way to Washington.” He scrubbed his face with his hands and then smiled ruefully. “You’re going easy on me, aren’t you? When I was driving a truck, I’d be behind the wheel for ten hours at a time. We should get to St. Cloud around six hours from now.” He yawned, and I patted the space next to me.
“Scoot over here, Chief. You do realize that mono is going to ambush you for maybe a couple of months, right? If you’re tired, you should sleep.” I hadn’t put the handcuffs back on him and he hadn’t said anything about it. Till we had to stop, I thought it was safe enough; he wasn’t going to be jumping out of the truck.
Blair obliged me and made himself comfortable with the blanket and leaning against my shoulder. He managed to stay awake until we were on the interstate, and then let himself sleep.
He still hadn’t said what the heck he’d been processing.
While he was asleep, once I was past Madison, I called Findley. Findley didn’t sound any too awake either, he must’ve been getting ready to sleep after coming off the night shift. He said Scumbag and Shit-head hadn’t named any names yet and had denied being hired to kill Blair.
At least they weren’t going anywhere for now; they both had been refused bail until they went back to court on their other charges. Findley promised to keep sweating them and to relay a message to Simon for me. He apologized for yawning on the phone and said he would see to arranging another cabin for the night. I ended the call and switched the phone to vibrate – I didn’t want to disturb Blair, he needed to rest and regain some energy -- and soon afterwards I exited onto Interstate 94.
Thirty minutes later, Findley had arranged our next place for the night. He asked to talk to Blair but understood when I said he was sleeping and mentioned he’d been wondering if Blair had agreed yet to protective custody. He muttered ’stubborn little cuss’ when I said he hadn’t. I explained we were trying to work things out and that Blair’d been pretty sick the last couple of days, but I thought he was starting to feel a little better today. I arranged to talk with Findley again tomorrow and put the phone in my shirt pocket.
It was pleasant driving along the rolling green and brown hills, watching cows graze under the deep blue of the sky, and I enjoyed the weight of my guide leaning against me. I took deep breaths, occasionally, of his scent. I’d missed him on such a fundamental physical level; I didn’t ever want to lose him again.
Blair slept for several hours, then did his usual slow ascent back into consciousness. It never failed to amuse me to watch him visibly gain IQ points as he became more alert. He stretched and wiggled around, till he was back with me again.
“How’s your throat?” I wanted a status report – an honest one. He hadn’t run a fever since very early this morning; maybe he was starting to feel better.
Blair swallowed and thought about it before he answered. “It’s still pretty sore, but not as bad as it was a couple of days ago.”
He leaned against me and closed his eyes again, but he didn’t go back to sleep. In fact, he wasn’t that relaxed at all. But I took his closed eyes as a signal that he was still processing whatever problem he’d been thinking about this morning, and I didn’t disturb him.
Later, I exited off the interstate to head for a gas station and to get us something to eat. The moment of truth was coming up for Blair; he was going to have to promise me he wouldn’t try and get away or I would have to handcuff him. It felt like he was mellowing about the idea, but I needed to hear the words.
“Chief…” And I nudged him with my shoulder. He sat up as I pulled into a Shell station.
“Blair, why don’t you just do what you did this morning. Just promise me you won’t try and leave while we fuel the truck and ourselves back up.”
Blair bit his lip as I turned off the engine at pump six. He looked indecisive, so I reached over and grasped his hand.
“I’d like the chance to hold your hand without being handcuffed to you, Chief.”
He muttered, “Yeah, try and sway me with sweet talk, Ellison.”
“Is it working?”
Blair used his free hand to make his promise symbol. “O-kay. I promise not to escape until we leave this town. Although, you know, I think you’re giving me more credit for being Harry Houdini than I deserve. So, can I actually walk into the bathroom by myself?”
“Didn’t think so. You’re still checking for hired guns, aren’t you?”
“I won’t take your safety lightly, Blair. But I think it highly unlikely that anybody has tracked us. When we get to Cascade, Simon will start trying to trace the leak. We’ll set a trap and see who passes along the information about where we’ve supposedly got you stashed.”
“Why wait till then? Why not start trying to narrow it down now? Does Simon suspect which department supplied the tip-off about me being in Sweetwater, or -- God – does he think it came from Major Crimes?”
I let go of his hand and ruffled his hair. “Ah, Chief. You would have made a hell of a detective; the Chief of Police was a dick for kicking you out. Simon’s going to call us sometime today. We can hash it out with him then.”
I pumped and paid for the gas – and this time didn’t have to handcuff him to the steering wheel – and then headed out to find a Chinese place to eat. Blair thought he could handle the noodles and vegetable dishes better than a hamburger joint. Although he may have just been trying to save my arteries.
All through lunch he’d been alternating between chattering about some of the places he’d been this past year and being silent and looking worried. ‘Processing’ still, I thought. And I wondered if he’d let me in on what was making the wheels go round in his head. He might not. I’d promised him I wouldn’t push him to tell me his secrets. But I hoped he would talk to me.
I surprised him when we left the restaurant by taking his hand. But he covered it well and kept on telling me how he’d learned to cook Chinese food when he worked as kitchen help in a friend’s father’s restaurant. When we got to the truck, I pulled him into a hug, and kissed his forehead before turning him loose, and smiled at the look on his face. Sandburg with a shy look on his face – I wished I had my camera with me.
We’d been driving for about an hour when Simon called, and I updated him on Blair’s health and where we were. I explained that Blair was still against being placed in protective custody but that he was being more cooperative. Then I told him Blair wanted to talk to him about the leak. I handed the phone over to Blair, who reluctantly took it. Other than me, I think Simon was the first friend from Cascade who Blair had talked to in over a year. He looked uncomfortable and guilty. Simon wasn’t yelling at him, exactly, but he was making his displeasure at being out of contact with Blair known. After that, he invited Blair to go fishing with him when the case was over. And then told him to tell Ellison he was invited too, and grumbled at me to stop eavesdropping on their conversation.
I laughed and turned my attention back to the road. Blair quizzed Simon on how the news about his stay in Sweetwater had been discussed within the PD, and they came up with a plan to start leaking information to each of the departments two at a time, starting this afternoon. I listened in to their conversation and then asked Blair to let me talk to Simon.
Blair handed the phone back to me. Simon explained that if there weren’t any bites on his line in a two-day period, he’d drop the hook in another pool.
“So, sir, if I’ve got this straight, you’re going to have a two-man team and cameras set up at each place that each department was told was Blair’s safe house. You’re hoping that if a hit man shows up at, say, a place on Western Avenue, then you know the leak came from Vice, because only they were told that particular address.”
“That’s right. I’ll only set up two departments at a time; I can pass along a different address to each department by coming in on their daily briefing and pretending that since I have a manpower shortage I might need to borrow some of their people.” He snorted. “Normally, I could expect the different department heads to deny my request, but I thought I’d pitch it as a punishment detail for the detectives or uniforms who are currently on their shit list. This bait should be too good to pass up by the person responsible for setting hired guns on Blair’s trail.”
We discussed various locations for the list of fake safe houses and then ended the call. “Chief, you sure got Simon all stirred up,” I said as I put the phone back in my pocket.
“God, I didn’t mean to upset him. Were you listening when he told me he didn’t have so many friends that he could afford to have one drop off the face of the planet?” Blair looked at me with worry so plain on his face and in his eyes that I stopped trying to tease him.
“Not about you leaving. I meant you got him all stirred up about wanting to go fishing. He kept using fishing terms like bait and hook. But he did miss you, Blair. He kept checking with me to see if you’d called. I didn’t tell him why you’d left, just that you’d had a better offer out of town. He didn’t really buy it -- knew, I guess, from the way I acted that we’d had problems – and told me I should try to find you and make it right between us. But, you know – fishing does sound good.”
Blair shot a look at me, but this time he’d masked whatever he was thinking. “Would you like to go fishing, Chief, the three of us?”
“Let me think about it. It’s hard to imagine making plans like that… And anyway, I need to get a job.” Blair slid his glance out the window and went back to his stewing over whatever the hell he was trying to decide about, and I hit the gas and passed another idiot driver who couldn’t read the speed limit.
Blair’s fever decided to make its reappearance shortly before we got through Minneapolis, and he fell back into a light doze. He was actually asleep when I pulled up next to our new cabin and moved our stuff inside. Tonight’s stop was a pretty little place about thirty minutes from Interstate 94. Findley had, as usual, gotten us the most isolated cabin in the bunch, very close to the edge of one of the Horseshoe Lakes.
“Babe, wake up.” I could get away with calling him ‘babe’ if he was mostly asleep. Blair batted away my hand and tried to snuggle back into my jacket, which had been pressed into service as a pillow when I unloaded the truck. I persevered, and eventually Blair found himself in bed, dosed and watered, and he fell asleep almost immediately again. He really didn’t have any stamina at all.
Some time later while leaning on the porch rail and enjoying looking out at this beautiful part of the country, I wished we really were on vacation and could spend some time fishing in this lake. I remembered other fishing trips we had taken together and how much I’d enjoyed teaching Blair to fly fish. He’d been so damn cute and eager to learn. If we went fishing with Simon, I hoped that for a change no crooks would interrupt us to spoil the trip. I was debating the merits of camping versus renting a cabin when Sleepyhead stumbled out of the door. I pulled him into a hug and snugged him up in front of me, rearranging the blanket he’d dragged out with him to cover him better. It was cold; I wasn’t going to let Blair stay out here long.
“Hey, how’re you feeling?” I felt his forehead, and while his fever had come down, it was still noticeable. 101.5, I would say.
Blair didn’t bother answering, just plastered himself closer to me. I kissed him on the top of his head and said, “I was just thinking about that possible fishing trip with Simon. Simon and me, we haven’t gone fishing together since you left; I guess I was being too much of an asshole for Simon to subject himself to me while on vacation. But my dad and I went a couple of times. I probably wasn’t much fun for him either, but he put up with me. Dad prefers cabins to camping, though. I haven’t been camping with anybody or by myself for a long time. What would you like to do, camp or rent a cabin?”
Blair shrugged. He cleared his throat and said, “Jim, I have something I want to tell you.”
So, whatever he’d been stewing about was ready to dish up. “Okay, Chief. I know you’ve had your thinking cap on all day, and I’m ready to listen to you. But let’s go back inside. You’re sick, in case you’ve forgotten about that, and it’s really too chilly out here for you.”
I stepped back from him and took him by the shoulders to point him in the direction of the door. “Let’s go get comfortable, and I’ll make you some of that tea for your throat.”
Blair sat with me on the couch, ignoring the steaming cup of tea I’d made him and biting his lip. Whatever it was he needed to tell me, he was nervous about it. I waited. When you interrogate people for a living you learn the value of silence in pushing a person to fill in the void. Not that I was going to pressure him -- this was his idea, after all – but the principle was the same.
Blair heaved himself off the couch and faced me. I stayed put. There was a power dynamic at play, with him now taller than me, and if it would give him more confidence to start this ball rolling, then he could look down at me.
“Jim, you forgave your dad for not being Mr. Cleaver, right? The two of you are closer now than when you were a kid; you visit him a lot and you do things together, go fishing -- Steven, too? So despite some mistakes in the past, you were able to get through it and love them for who they are to you, your father and your brother.”
This I did not expect. I had no clue why Blair was bringing up my family. But I kept my questions to myself. He was talking now and this, no doubt, was only the tip of the iceberg. I watched Blair’s hands fly through the air as he continued talking about making allowances for loved ones.
“Um… so, you know, just keep that in mind, okay? We might get annoyed with family and exasperated by the incredibly stupid stunts they pull, but we still love them.”
He was rocking back and forth on his feet, as he worried his lip again.
“Naomi… she’s so beautiful. And she is so great at making things fun, when you’re hanging out with her, that it’s really easy to become entranced with her. So many guys have fallen like a ton of bricks for her, and she’s kind of used to just doing things the way she wants to and charming her way out of sticky situations, and okay -- maybe I do that too, at times. The schmoozing and charming thing, I probably learned while I was still a rug-rat, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or anything, but I hope I’ve learned that doing the old razzle-dazzle isn’t the best way to handle things sometimes. Sometimes you’ve got to do a little thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong and not what’s expedient, but I’m really not sure Naomi is capable of learning that; I don’t care how many trips she’s taken for enlightenment and how much time she’s spent on meditation.”
Blair shot me a look, and I nodded my head at him. ‘Family members who screw up, but we love them anyway’ seemed to be the theme here. I wondered what Naomi had done. She’s a sexy, sensual lady, but she can resemble a hurricane with the chaos she strews around her.
“And I love my mom. My mother is… my mother. And I know I’m kind of keeping my distance from her right now, but sometimes I have to have strong boundaries – castle wall kind of structures -- drawn with her or she barges in to try and take control of my life like I’m a five year old, which is really, God, so ironic, since when I was five she didn’t pay attention to what was going on around us at all. And that’s not what I want to tell you about. But Naomi needs people looking out for her, and I’ve done that about as far back as I can remember, trying to protect her from having to worry about stuff and especially about me. She just doesn’t think things through very well before she goes and does them, and she trusts the people she just recently met too much when she shouldn’t. I don’t know how many times I told some guy who was hanging around Mom that I was watching him to see that he didn’t hurt her. Or I did once I was older. Hell, I’m still doing it – remember Charlie Springer?” He shook his head in exasperation, but then bit again at his lip with his teeth. “But the point is -- Naomi does things and she doesn’t mean to cause problems, but she could be in some serious trouble here.”
Blair went silent then, and I did some ‘processing’ myself while watching him perform a magnetic to and fro kind of dance by advancing two steps towards me and then reversing three steps backwards. He’d said she could be in trouble. That meant now.
“Blair…” I said it supportively. I didn’t want to spook him into clamming up, but he looked like he needed a nudge to keep going.
“And maybe there’s some Karma at work, too, because I did forge her name on the Cub Scout permission form, which I shouldn’t have done even if I really wanted to be a Cub Scout like my friend Joey Pemberton and go camping and learn knots and make a race car like he did with his dad. Mom thought they were the next wave of jack-booted thugs, and when she found out where I was, she stormed into the school cafeteria and gave the leaders and the Scouts a lecture about quasi-military indoctrination and made me quit. So you see, Jim, when she marched into Simon’s office to make him cut me loose… Well, she does stuff like that.”
Blair came closer and grabbed his cup of tea and gulped it for a moment. I suspected it was a delaying tactic on his part. And I could smell the anxiety on him.
He’d babbled, but what had he really been saying? Good thing he taught me how to bring back up memories by using my senses. I would need to analyze carefully what he’d let slip.
I reached up to him and took him by the arm with one hand and divested him of his tea with the other.
“Blair, I know this is hard. Sit down with me, please. I want you to feel me anchoring you, like you’ve been my anchor so many times when I’ve been lost in my senses.” And I pulled him down next to me and pushed him sideways a little bit so I could put both of my arms around him. I was aware of the tenseness in his body and I tightened my hold so he could feel me there, setting some boundaries of my own.
“The Karma thing…,” I prompted him. Blair took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He repeated the breathing pattern, trying to calm himself down.
I kissed the side of his face, and waited. All those years of stakeouts were paying off. Apparently I’d learned I could be patient, if I needed to be. Finally, he gave a big sigh.
“The Karma part is that I forged her name, man. And she forged mine.” He shook his head. “I always wondered why everybody was so sure that Sid had overstepped his legal obligations when he made parts of the diss public. The guy was one of his company’s top execs. He wouldn’t have made a boneheaded decision like that, setting himself up for being sued. And he didn’t. When I told him on the phone that I didn’t want him to publish, he contacted Naomi right away. Naomi told him she’d get me to change my mind, and he faxed her the permission forms. She forged my name and sent them back.” He stopped and took another couple of deep breaths.
“I can’t sue Berkshire Publishing and Sid Graham for releasing the diss, because they would drag Naomi into it. Sid made it very clear to me that they would have no qualms about doing that. They acted in good faith and stopped when I contacted them again and emphatically told them I had not signed anything of theirs at all. Naomi admitted what she’d done when I cornered her. She told me she’d signed my name because she knew I would come to my senses; she wanted the world to see how brilliant I was, and she was sorry I couldn’t see it that way. “
Blair started breathing faster. “Jim, she could be liable for criminal charges, not to mention being left holding the bag if you or I sued the company. She’s my mom. I love her and I have to protect her. I know it made you mad and upset with me, when I wouldn’t just sue the pants off of Sid; I… I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid for my mom. So I kept it secret – what she had done.”
I could feel him trembling against me. He made to push away from me, but I wasn’t letting him go anywhere. I made a sh-sh sound at him and kept my arms right where they were.
“All right, Chief. Calm down. Naomi put you in a bind again, didn’t she? I’m glad you told me, and I’m not mad, okay? Your mother is… something else. But I’m not going to sue and take you and her down. Trust me. I love you, Blair, and I meant it about following relationship rules. Remember? ‘Your problems are my problems,’ and that includes Naomi. But I hardly think you deserved all that heartache as Karmic payback just because you forged her name to join the Cub Scouts. You were, what -- seven or eight years old? Naomi is an adult; it was incredibly arrogant of her to override your decision about the diss. Was she ever sorry she did it?”
Blair relaxed against me, and I felt hopeful because he’d made this step. This was huge, for him. I’d been after him to sue or to at least tell me why he wouldn’t sue since shortly after the whole mess had happened.
“She was sorry that there were problems between you and me, but she wasn’t sorry she’d signed my name. She still thinks I should let Sid publish my diss, and she bugs me about it every time I call her. She just doesn’t understand how she trampled over your right to privacy. She did it with a good heart, don’t you know, and thinks I’m being stubborn and unreasonable. A mother does what’s best for her child, even if the child in question is pushing thirty. It just burns me up sometimes, the way she acts – she let me be an adult when I really was a kid and too young to make the decisions I did, and now when I am an adult, at times she wants to treat me like I’m a child. When she decides to focus her attention on me, that is.”
He breathed heavily in exasperation. “Naomi is like the light in a lighthouse; it’s intense while it’s on you and then it swings away and is intense somewhere else until it swings your direction again. I love her, but man, when she does shit like that I can be so mad at her, and I don’t want to feel that way about my mom. And Christ, I’m just venting now, there really hasn’t been anybody I could really talk to about my mom before – this is kind of nice.”
He swiveled so he could look up at me. “Jim?”
“Are you really okay with me telling you about her?”
“I’m more than okay; I’m happy that you trusted me, Blair. Protecting your mom, I can understand that. If you’d told me back in Cascade, I would have let it drop. Since I didn’t know why you refused to stand up for yourself, it bothered me that you wouldn’t get what was owed to you, and most of all because you wouldn’t share your reason with me. But I have to wonder. Do you think Sid guessed your mom forged your name, before you called him back and straightened him out?”
Blair sighed and nodded his head. “I suspect it was awfully convenient for him to have my name on his document, and he didn’t ask too many questions about it. He didn’t try and call me to confirm it, that’s for sure. So maybe he figured Naomi had signed my name for me, but it suited his purposes -- so he went with it.”
I nuzzled his hair, and since he no longer was a flight risk I switched from holding him securely to running my hands up and down his arms. He was kind of drooping, now that the adrenaline from his anxiety was disappearing.
“Anything else you want to tell me? Any confessions about lusting after my best flannel shirt, which don’t think I didn’t notice whose closet it kept ending up in, Sandburg.”
“I gave it back, when I left.” Blair sounded wistful. It had been a chamois shirt from L.L. Bean and just the color of his eyes. I’d let him get away with ‘borrowing’ it because he looked good in it. And I’d liked looking at him.
“You can have it back, as a welcome home present, when you move back into the loft.”
Ah, shit. Blair had tensed right back up.
“It’s an open-ended offer, Sandburg. No expiration date, no deadline. I love you; I want to be your lover again. Shit, I’d marry you, if we could do that. But I’m willing to wait for you to get to that point without beating you over the head about it. I’m just laying my cards on the table for you to read.”
“What if I just want to be friends?” Blair smelled sad now, the icing on the cake, atop the other scents of anxiety and fear.
“It would kill me to see you be with somebody else, but I’d learn to live with it. If we can’t have what we had before, I’ll take whatever part of yourself that you can share with me, Blair.” And now I could smell a trail of sadness rising from my own body.
“I’m not asking for you to choose, Blair. We’ve still got things to, uh, talk about and work out. And a case to solve. We’ve got time to figure out where we’re going with the you-and-me stuff afterwards.”
Blair became quiet, and I thought about his mother. Beautiful, thoughtless Naomi. She’d given Blair the reddish highlights in his hair and his cheekbone structure. She’d taught him Yoga and meditation and influenced how he felt about the environment and war. He had her way of looking at the world as something to be explored and treasured. And she’d also taught him how to slide by with people -- to use his charm to get what he wanted. And that relationships were temporary and to end them when things started getting difficult. He’d changed, though, matured in ways far beyond Naomi’s level of love ‘em and leave ‘em.
Blair had a solid foundation of principles that Naomi’d never had. You wouldn’t have ever found her standing at a podium sacrificing what she’d spent half her life attaining, out of love for another human being. She’d have twisted herself all around, telling herself why that wasn’t the right thing to do. And then she’d have packed her bags and left, leaving bewilderment behind her.
I’d had my ups and downs with my own parents.
My mother – she’d walked out on Stevie and me. As an adult, I understood very well about divorce. But when Carolyn and I couldn’t make a go of our marriage any longer, we’d ended it fairly amiably. Dad and my mother, though -- it had been bitter between them. Most of the time, I’d wished I couldn’t hear the things they said to each other.
I thought it unforgivable, however, that she’d cut off contact with my brother and me. At least Sandburg’s mother had kept a relationship with him over the years, even if he had spent more time as a kid living with other people, both with and without Naomi, than was probably good for a child to experience. He’d never had much stability, never really had a man who’d acted as a father to him. He’d compensated, though, with finding men who’d acted as mentors to him when he got older.
I’d had a father all throughout my childhood.
My father had been harsh as a parent when Stevie and I were young. He valued competition and set his sons against each other in some convoluted Darwinian theory of raising tough sons. It had worked, too. I’d become so emotionally hard that I left and lived my life for decades without talking to him.
But Dad had changed over the years, and I was glad that we now had a good father and son relationship. Thanks mostly to Blair, who had encouraged me to keep in contact with my father after Dad had nearly been killed by that whacko who used to be on my football team. Dad had kept tabs on me while we were estranged, and it had touched me to look through the scrapbooks he’d kept of my life.
He’d gone way out of his way to see me after Sandburg left – of course, I hadn’t told him the details – and he’d gotten me to spend a lot more time with him. I caught on that the problems with cabinet doors or electric switches he called about were just excuses to see me, and after a while, it just became a weekly habit to have dinner with him and sometimes Sally. And I went because I was lonely after Blair left me. No, after I drove Blair to leave.
And Dad would throw out invitations to car shows and ask me to go fishing with him. Making up for when he’d been too busy to spend time with me as a kid. So, I understood about loving your parent even if they’d made mistakes in the past.
I wondered, however, if Naomi had learned anything from the mistakes she’d made, like my dad had learned from his.
I sighed and contemplated again the enormous step Blair had taken today. He’d trusted me to keep his mother safe; from the sound of it, it’d been a lifelong habit of his to protect her. Protecting her – she should have been protecting him. But he loved her, and I kind of considered her my mother-in-law. I snorted a bit to myself; I bet Naomi never considered herself as mother-in-law material.
Blair wiggled against me a little bit, getting comfortable. He was getting drowsy again and I really should get up and fix us something to eat, but I loved feeling the sleepy, pliant weight of him too much to give it up right now. Yeah, I was mainlining another hit of Sandburg. And these memories would have to sustain me, if he decided he couldn’t live with me. So hell, I’d be greedy and store up the feel of him resting against me and turning his cheek into my chest, the silky feel of his hair against my chin, and the way his breathing was slowing down. For the moment, he smelled contented again, and I prayed right then to every god Sandburg had ever mentioned that I could have a lifetime of him cuddling up against me.
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Nine.
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Nine.
Inhale… hold… exhale… I focused on my body’s position and my breathing pattern as I lay flat on my back, relaxed on the rug at this night’s cabin.
A quiet voice interrupted the completion of my yoga session.
“Are you falling asleep again?”
I opened one eye; Jim was watching me. “Nah. Just doing the corpse position.”
Crap. Jim’s face telegraphed fear and dismay for an instant before he sucked it up and resumed a look of mild interest in what I was doing. Merciful Kuan Yin guide my thoughts, I should have known better than to have reminded him of me dying at the fountain. And he had heard men plotting my demise only days ago. Telling him I was imitating a dead man was oh, so not helpful.
I bent my knees, pushed myself to one side, and then regained a sitting position. Jim was stretched out on the couch and still watching me with an affable expression.
“Going to give meditation another try, Darwin?”
“Yeah. And, um… sorry about…” I waggled my hand indicating the floor where I had been lying. He nodded, acknowledging my words; his expression said to let it go.
So I did.
“Man, I can’t believe I fell asleep earlier while I was meditating. That’s like such an amateur thing to do. Maybe the half hour of yoga I just did can get me back on track because I really need to get my head clear.” And to quit teetering on the edge of crankiness.
“Well, Chief, if at first you don’t succeed…” And the big goober winked at me. I made a face back at him.
“You are just a fount of wisdom, Jim. Have you ever considered a career with Hallmark? Or writing Chinese fortune cookie sayings?”
“Still on the grumpy side, I see. But if you’ve got the energy to be a smart-ass, you must be getting better.” Jim smiled at me, and I couldn’t stay annoyed any longer; I gave him a half-hearted smile back. I had been out of sorts ever since I'd woken up from my second – no, third – nap since we'd arrived at this cabin. I'd stumbled out of the truck and Jim had steered me over to the queen-sized bed; I'd crawled into soft inviting covers, half asleep still from riding in the truck. The second nap… yeah, I'd fallen asleep on Jim's shoulder after we talked on the couch, and third snooze had been when I'd recently attempted to meditate. Blasted mono -- making me sleep all the time. And shit, that last nap was embarrassing. I might have to swear Jim to secrecy. I sure didn’t want Naomi to hear about it – man, she taught me better than that.
Jim pushed himself off the couch and walked over to me. He pulled me up and gave me a hug that would have knocked the stuffing out of me, if I'd had any stuffing. He pushed me away, just far enough so that he could kiss my forehead -- which was getting to be a regular routine with him – and then pulled me close to him, his hands wandering down to my butt, and lifting me against his groin.
“No fever. If you’d rather make out than meditate…?”
“Tempting. But no. Before I decide which – if any – base I’m heading for, I need to get my head screwed on right. Jesus, Jim. First I thought you dumped me for some chick, then you were sure I left town with a lover I was keeping in reserve. My job interview turned out to be an audition to be a prostitute – and I never even caught on. I found out you didn’t write those fuck-Sandburg-over letters, but that you had spied on me at work. I thought you hated me, but now you want us to be lovers again. My brain needs some serious down time to process.”
Jim kept a tight grip on me, and I could feel his dick hardening against mine – which wanted to join in the fun but this was one time I didn’t want to let my dick do the thinking. Jim and me -- crap, we were too important to screw up with a quick fuck. Still... if he pushed for sex right now -- I’d do it. And feel like shit about it later, probably. But hugging, and yes -- admit it to yourself, Sandburg -- cuddling was good. My skin was hungry for Jim’s touch. Yet, we could have just a platonic friendship and touch like that. We’d done it for years before I jumped the do-not-cross-over line from friends to lovers. Shit, I so needed to meditate.
Jim must have figured out my turmoil -- probably from my changing scent, which I couldn’t help but think was just so cool every time he identified emotions from their scent signatures – because he gave me one quick last squeeze and then released me, my hand lingering on his for a moment longer before we separated.
“Go meditate. I’ll be in the bedroom waiting for you when you’re done. Do you promise…?”
“Yeah, yeah. I won’t sneak off tonight or in the morning. But I’m not ready to promise for longer than that. Is that okay, Jim? Can we skip the leg shackles tonight?”
Jim nodded, and I gave his hand a last stroke. A promise without words that there would be a connection kept between us – even if I wasn’t sure what form that connection would take.
Ambling back to the rug, I sat down in my usual meditation position and closed my eyes, listening to Jim checking the doors and windows. He made a side trip to the john, then went into the bedroom and shut the door. I smiled to myself before getting serious about starting my breathing exercises; it was a nice thought, to know that Jim would be waiting for me to join him in bed. Then I began the familiar process of altering my brain wave patterns, and hoped some clarity and insight into what I should do would come to me.
After finishing my meditation, I did a few more yoga stretches, then walked over to the large picture window. Standing by windows was getting to be a habit of mine on this little forced excursion. I supposed it gave me the illusion of freedom.
The meditation had helped; I did feel a little more settled. A little. Jim was asking me to make a huge life decision and I wanted to get everything right this time.
For one thing, I'd believed as a sentinel he needed me, but he seemed to have managed well enough with his senses while I was gone this past year.
Now that I wasn’t just reacting to whatever he told me, I was starting to wonder about what he hadn’t mentioned to me. I breathed on the window and created a frost-flower, then idly doodled around the edge of it thinking about when I lived -- had lived -- in Cascade with Jim. I’d learned so much, and not just about Jim’s senses; I’d learned I valued Jim over my career. “It’s about friendship,” I’d told Jim when I turned down going to Borneo. And I’d tried to make things right, after the diss had been released. The bottom line had been that I fucked up, and I couldn’t make Jim pay for my mistake. I should have protected my work from my mother. I knew how nosy she could be and how easily she could bend promises around to suit her. Ah, well… I breathed a second flower on the cold glass.
But, being a guide to a sentinel… I’d loved helping Jim use his senses to the fullest extent he could. It was just so fascinating, and I didn’t think I’d ever get tired of watching him use his gifts. However, for the most part, after I’d been blackballed from the P.D. I’d been excluded from being an active guide for him. That was what had convinced me that we needed to have a different kind of union. A carnal bond. Man, I’d used sex with Jim like a band-aid to cover the wound being separated from him had caused. And I’d loved being physically intimate with Jim -- knowing him on a whole different level. But it just seemed to cause more secrets and tension than were healthy in a relationship -- and I did, theoretically, know what was needed to maintain a good relationship with your partner; secrets and tension were not it. And man, really loving the person you were tangled up in the sheets with... that had been uncharted territory for me.
I drew a heart this time on the window. Why had I kept so many secrets from Jim? those reasons seemed stupid now, when I thought about it. Crap, I’d overreacted. Way overreacted. So what illogical thoughts had been in my head that made keeping the guy I loved in the dark about my employment problems seem like the right thing to do? Not telling him about Naomi signing my name to Sid’s papers – okay, I had been protecting my mom. I knew why I hadn’t told him back then. And after I’d fessed up tonight, I'd been so glad that Jim hadn't been mad at Naomi or me. Although, I could live with him being a little mad at her. I still was, just a bit, but I was working on letting that go.
But Jim was right. I should have told him about Edwards' campaign to keep me unemployed. I should have told him I'd filed a grievance against her, and that Rainier had denied my petition. Or had they? Nathan had filed it for me, and he was the one who, it seemed, had set me up for Edward’s unlamented-by-probably-everybody-on-campus demise by buying my car. At the time, I'd thought he'd been doing me a favor by giving me cash, since I hadn't had a current bank account, but now I had to wonder if he'd done it instead so that there wouldn't be a check that proved he had bought my car. And I had thought he was on my side when he’d handled my grievance and sent me the letter denying my petition. Now I wondered if he’d been truthful with me. Man, I needed to talk about this with Jim. It shouldn’t be too hard to check out my grievance without alerting Nathan about it.
A Barred Owl hooted its strange cry somewhere in the woods surrounding the cabin and I felt a little lonely as it called again. I thought of Jim waiting for me in bed, warm and muscular; if I slipped in beside him, he would pull me tightly to him and I would feel his strong arm lying across my chest. And I wanted that suddenly. I didn’t want to think anymore about the case, or my grievance; I didn’t want to weigh the pros and cons of living back in Cascade as Jim’s lover. I didn’t want to think about how my mother’s actions had hurt me in the past.
I wanted Jim. And I moved away from the window, visited the bathroom, and then quietly crawled into bed. He sleepily snuggled me against him, spooning with me; I held onto his arm and felt that loneliness drift away as I slid into sleep.
“Jim, we could make it back to Cascade in two days, if we push it. I could spell you for driving.”
Jim snorted and changed lanes. “No way in hell, Chief. I’m not putting you behind the wheel; you’ll fall asleep and we’ll be road kill. There’s no real hurry, anyway. Once we get there, you’ll just be staying at a cabin again. We can’t use any of the regular safe houses. So pick us a place for the night and I’ll call Findley. Or you can. He wanted to say hi to you yesterday, but you were asleep. Simon should check in with us, too. I wonder if he’s getting any nibbles on his find-the-leak line.”
Jim zoomed past an ancient truck that seemed stuck on forty-five miles an hour. It was a wonder somebody hadn’t driven right up the guy’s tail pipe because traffic was flying on Interstate 94. I looked up at Jim from where I was tucked next to him, his arm around my shoulders. I needed to convince him that I wasn’t a helpless invalid. So far today, I’d only run one low fever. My throat was better and I felt lots more energetic.
I was getting impatient to get my life back. I could ditch Jim and go into real exile, or I could work this case and get myself out of protective custody.
I tried again to convince him to let me help drive. “I can stay awake. I’m just about over the mono.”
Jim snorted again. I’d have to let him know that was a really unattractive habit he had there.
“Chief, did you even read the handout the ER doc gave you? You’re not over it yet, and you’re going to be feeling the fatigue effects for weeks, buddy. You haven’t even gone one day without running a fever since we left Sweetwater. And if you’re tired, you should sleep.”
I shook my head.
“I’m not tired, and I’m telling you I can stay awake." I was quiet for a moment, then I nudged him with my shoulder. "Jim, I want to help with the case when we get to Cascade. Just listen to my plan, okay? Now, Bergman needs to be tied in with my car, right? If you find the car, there'll be trace evidence linking it to Edwards' murder. You need some proof that he was the current owner of my Volvo when the chancellor was killed.”
I wiggled away from him, my hands gesturing – I could always explain things better if I could move my hands. “Right now you don’t have enough probable cause to get a search warrant served on him. So I’ll call him, tell him I’m at a truck stop on the outskirts of Cascade and I’m debating returning to Rainier and appealing my grievance. I’ll tell him I'm sitting on the fence about it, and I'd appreciate his guidance in hashing my options out. I’ll offer to come to his office or see if he would like to let me buy him a coffee at the truck stop. He won’t want me anywhere near the university, so he’ll come to me. I’ll be wearing a wire, and I’ll bring the conversation around to his buying my car. It’ll be on tape that he admits to being the owner – bammo, search warrant time – you find the car, arrest him, and I’m done with protective custody.”
Jim had listened, but he was shaking his head. I could feel the Sandburg stubborn gene gearing up. This was a good plan and I was going to get him to agree with me.
“He’ll come, Jim. He doesn’t want me on campus asking questions; he’ll come to talk me out of it. And hey. I’m thinking that he never filed the grievance for me in the first place. I want to check on that. I could still, maybe, be allowed to finish my doctorate.”
Jim took a deep breath and blew it out in a gust. “Look, Chief. I appreciate that you want to help, but for one, you’re sick, and two, you’re not a cop. You can’t put yourself in harm’s way like that anymore. I won’t let you and Simon won’t either. Your grievance not being filed… How about we ask Kelso to do some quiet digging into that? An ex-CIA guy right there on campus should be able to get the records without tipping off Bergman.”
I also took a deep breath, but let it out slowly. Yelling at him wouldn’t accomplish anything. “I was in harm’s way plenty of times when I was an observer; you and Simon have both asked me to do undercover stuff before. I won’t be in harm’s way this time, though, because I’ll be in a public place and you can be listening and there can be plenty of undercover guys hanging around to watch. Shit, I’ll wear a vest, even. But he won’t shoot me. It would attract too much attention, and besides, I've been thinking about why he used my car to kill her and didn't just shoot her or strangle her. Want to hear my profile?"
Jim nodded, and I held up my fingers, ticking off Bergman's actions. "Whatever his reasons for killing her, they must be intensely personal -- possibly for revenge or hatred. He's organized, plans ahead, and is patient. He's resourceful; he has a reputation at Rainier for being a guy who can come up with solutions to problems."
Jim was really listening, which made me feel good. It had been a while since I'd used my brain and instincts like this. "He exhibited that patience and resourcefulness by buying my car for cash and not registering it. And he made sure it was ticketed so that there would be proof that there was a green Volvo belonging to me on campus the night she died. He needed to throw suspicion my way -- I had a motive to kill her because of her throwing me out of the doctorate program -- and at the same time he was making sure I didn't stay in one place too long by sending those letters to my employers. Jim, I think he was stalling, hoping that the investigation would fizzle out over time. And he's kind of a fastidious man; I don't think he'd want to deal with blood spray or be that close to somebody while they finished dying. Maybe that's another reason he hit her with the car -- all that metal protected him from being too close and then he could leave the mess behind when he drove away. We won't give him an opportunity to do another hit and run. So, I think it'll be okay to meet him at the truck stop. And he might get panicked after he convinces me to leave town again, and go check on the car to move it to another location. If he’s tailed, he might lead the cops right to it.”
Jim frowned. “He might not even have the Volvo any longer. He could have sunk it in the bay. Or sent it to a chop shop -- although we’ve checked out the chop shops and couldn’t find any leads there. And you’re not an observer now, and did you forget the orders from the brass that make it clear you’re not to be allowed to participate in any police investigations or even be in non-public areas in any police station?”
I looked over at Jim and said, “Fuck those orders. I’m already involved in this investigation, and how long, I wonder, will the brass okay protective custody, once they find out it’s me who's got hired killers after him.”
“End of discussion, Sandburg. You aren’t going to be bait. Not this time. I’ll call Kelso and ask him to check your file about the grievance, but you aren’t meeting with Bergman. It was a good plan, Blair, but I’m not risking you getting hurt.”
He cleared his throat and then changed the subject. “Now, how about our stopping point for the night?”
I picked up the atlas I’d laid down on the seat earlier and reopened it. Okay, I guess Plan B was going to have to go into operation. I hated to do it to Jim, but the soft, reasonable approach hadn't gone over, so it was time to play hardball with him. I needed him to look at me as a partner, and not try and coddle me. And I would stay awake for the rest of the day.
I slowed down for construction as we were approaching the border for Montana, and I felt Sandburg start to wake up as he lifted his head from my shoulder. I didn’t intend to say a word to him about falling asleep after he’d been so adamant that he wouldn’t. Blair was used to telling his body what he expected from it; he wasn’t used to his body calling the shots instead of his willpower. Occasionally during finals, after he’d pushed himself way past reasonable limits, I’d seen him collapse and fall asleep – once or twice even sitting up at the table -- but it only would take a short power nap and he’d been able to go back to half killing himself with studying or grading tests.
Blair resettled himself against me and gave a contented sigh as he went down for the count again. He’d probably do this a couple of times before he was totally awake. He’d actually lasted longer than I thought he would; he’d made it two hours past the lunch we’d eaten at a pizza place before conking out.
He hadn’t mentioned his scheme to me again for getting Bergman to admit he’d bought the Volvo, but I was sure I hadn’t heard the last of it. He had told Findley about it this morning, when Blair called him to set up tonight’s cabin. The guy had agreed it was a good plan, and Blair’d shot me a triumphant look. Too fucking bad. I still wasn’t going to let him do it.
I’d lost him twice now – once, when he’d died at the fountain and the second time when my stupidity had driven him to leave Cascade – and I wasn’t going to risk losing him for a third time. I’d gotten him back the first two times, but my luck wasn’t that good to chance his life again. The silver lining to his being denied the detective shield he’d been promised was that he wasn’t out there risking his life on the job anymore. Although he would have been great as a detective -- he was smart and creative and fast on his feet. Like he’d told me when I first was getting to know him, anthropology used a lot of the same reasoning skills as police work. I think he would have been wasted writing tickets as a uniform, but detective work was right up his alley. The brass had okayed Simon’s recruiting Blair because Simon had the stats to show the increase in case closures from our observer’s assistance; in no way had the proposal been about doing me and Simon a favor. And we never could get a satisfactory answer as to why the Chief of Police had rescinded the offer made to Blair, just some baloney about ethics.
Blair had quizzed me this morning about how my senses had behaved while he was gone. It had been kind of galling to have to admit how much using the sentinel stuff depended on regular contact with him. I’d had to tell him I’d cut way back on using my senses, and that when I’d felt too shaky, I’d had to rely on listening to our answering machine to hear his voice and opening the sealed bags where I’d shoved the cut up soiled sheets he'd last slept in so I could breathe in his scent. I’d told him about the hairs from a brush I’d kept that I would finger every so often. I hadn’t told him how angry I’d felt each time I’d had to do those things. It had been like rubbing salt in an open wound to me.
I had seen the wheels going ‘round in that curly head, and I’d been sure he was coming up with reasons why I seemed to need such a physical connection in order for my senses to range safely. So after lunch, partly to save myself from being interrogated some more, I’d given him Findley’s family history. He’d been thrilled to find another source of information on sentinels in a tribal society and had moaned and groaned about the wasted opportunities to interview Findley, if he’d only known about the Cherokee sentinels and guides while he had been ‘rotting’ in jail. That had kept him busy till he’d fallen asleep.
Traffic had slowed down to an absolute crawl by the time Blair finally shook himself awake. At this rate, it would take us another two hours to get to tonight’s rental, and I was tired of driving. We needed to restock our supplies, too.
Yawning and stretching, Blair reached for his bottle of water and gulped down half of it. He was quiet as we cleared the construction zone at last, and I thankfully was able to push the truck back up to the normal speed limit. And then some.
“For what, Darwin?”
“For not riding my ass about me falling asleep. I tempted Karma too much, I think, by saying I wouldn’t nod off any more.” I pulled him back closer to me. I think I’d driven the majority of this trip, after the first day, with Blair right next to me. I liked it – I liked feeling him against me and scenting him.
“It will pass, Blair. Just give yourself some time to get better. Hey, we need to get some supplies. Want to make a list?”
Blair busied himself with his backpack and notebook and checking with me on what we needed. He seemed nervous – couldn’t be about shopping. I figured he was going to give convincing me to agree to his game plan another shot. Blair Sandburg never in his life gave up on anything easily. He could be really annoying when arguing his point sometimes -- but effective. Just look at how many times he’d gotten me to do something I wasn’t crazy about. But I wasn’t giving in this time. On the plus side, if I could convince him to take another chance with me, then I knew that stubbornness would make him stick to me like glue.
That idea, I liked.
Blair fiddled with the shopping list, folding it and unfolding it, and then started doodling on it. I decided to cut him off at the pass.
“No. You’re not going to meet with Bergman. It's not up for debate. Why don’t you keep thinking of other ways to connect him with Edwards' murder instead?”
“Shit, Jim. What? Are you psychic now? How did you know I was going to try and get you to see reason here? And – hell, yes – we’re going to discuss it again! It’s a good plan. It’s safe for me. You’re just being an overprotective mother hen; even Dave – who, believe me, has mother hen instincts of his own – thought it would be worth trying. You’re not being objective enough. You can’t wrap me up in cotton batting, you know. I can handle myself, Jim. Fuck – I was going to be your official police partner. You can’t let the fact that you've slept with me make me into some… some… kid who needs you to hold his hand to cross the street. I’ve been in dangerous places and situations long before I ever met you. I can take care of myself, Ellison.” Frustration and annoyance darkened his expression, but I didn’t care; I wasn’t going to budge. But I would try to sound reasonable when I responded to him.
“Look – you profiled Bergman and predicted he wouldn’t try violence face to face with you. But what if you’re wrong? And what if he contacts hit-men to take you out at the truck stop? And yes, I know you’ve lived on the edge before – and you’ve been damned lucky not to have been killed. That rathole of a warehouse you were living in? The fire marshal said it was a death trap. The electrical wiring was not up to code and would have eventually caused a fire. Not to mention living next to a drug lab! Shit, Chief. And those rats were big enough to carry you off.”
I clenched my teeth. Blair may have been in tight spots before meeting me but the danger to him had increased tenfold when he’d become an observer. My observer. Kincaid. Lash. Alex. Parachuting into jungles. Jumping off of cliffs. Drugged. Dead. No more.
“You’ve had too many close calls for me to agree to put you back into danger. You’re just going to have to live with that, Chief.” Live being the operative word in that sentence.
“Fuck. Fuck! You’re letting your fears be in the driver’s seat, Jim. Life is dangerous, man. Even if you keep me locked up in a tower, like Rapunzel, I’m still going to die. I could get cancer, or trip and break my neck. And I triggered this overreaction of yours by falling apart the other day, didn’t I. I lost it and you rocked me, like a kid, and now that image is overlaying how you think of me. I’m not a child – even if I cried like one that night. And you took care of me, and I… yes – I needed that then -- but I don’t need you to do that now!”
“And what if I want to do that, Chief? What if I want to love you and cherish you and keep you safe? Are you telling me that you don’t deserve to be protected by me?”
Blair looked up at me and shook his head. “No, Jim. I’m not telling you to stop protecting me. Just balance it out with understanding that I’m a competent adult and trust my judgment when I say I can handle something. Shit, man. You handed me a gun and trusted me to protect a whole busload of people when the Switchman took the tour bus hostage. I’m still that same person, Jim.”
“Look, Blair. In this case, I don’t think the gain outweighs the risk. I know you’re not a kid. The rocking thing? I was glad that I could be there for you and hold you. Shit, you’d been through a tough time and you were sick and exhausted. It was okay, buddy, to let me try and make you feel better. Someday, you can return the favor, all right? But my decision is final about meeting with Bergman. It ain’t gonna happen.”
Blair undid his seat belt and moved over next to the door. He was pissed at me, but I was through letting him take wild chances with his life.
“All right – I get the message. You’re ticked off. But you still need your seat belt on. Okay?”
Blair complied and then said, to the window beside him, “I’m not promising anymore, Jim. You’d better handcuff me when we stop.”
“Chief, is that really necessary?”
“You’re not treating me like your partner, so you’d better treat me like your prisoner.” And Blair turned sideways in the seat so he wouldn’t have to look at me. He smelled of anger and annoyance and… regret. Well, hopefully, he’d cool down and see my point.
I tried to get that damn stubborn kid to promise to stay put, or at least to agree to come in the store with me, after I’d refilled the gas tank. He wouldn’t, of course. I surveyed the parking lot of the little grocery store and listened in to a lot of mundane conversations and decided he was safe enough. I took his backpack and put it in the back of the truck, just in case he had something he could use as a tool to pick the handcuffs. There was nothing in the truck he could use and I still had his Swiss Army knife in my pocket.
“Blair, c’mon. Don’t make me do this again.”
“You do what you think you have to, man. And I’ll do the same.”
“What, this is like chaining yourself to some tree to stop loggers? Some kind of protest thing?”
“Naomi taught me well, man. I’m just living up to my hippie heritage. I’ll say it again, Jim. If you won’t treat me as your partner, then you have to treat me as your prisoner. And partners don’t make arbitrary decisions for each other. Even with the best of intentions. Hey, I know you’re scared for me. Don’t you know that half of the time we were working together I was terrified of you getting hurt? Especially with your tendencies to jump onto moving vehicles – like helicopters and semis? When your old commanding officer kidnapped you, I just about went nuts. Ask Simon sometime about it.”
“You’re a civilian.”
“I’m your partner. That trumps everything else. You say you want me to be with you again, and to me that means I’m your partner. I’m not going to be cut out of your life ever again, Jim. Even if we never have sex at all, I want to be your partner. I’ve figured that much out about myself, anyway. But it’s a two-way street. You have to let me be your partner and not keep shutting me out. Take the bitter with the sweet, man. You can’t stick me on a shelf somewhere and only take me down when you want to play. So, Jim, will you really listen to my plan? If you’ve got technical problems with it – then let’s hear them. But if it was somebody else – say Rafe, for instance -- who wanted to wear the wire, would you have the qualms you have now?”
I didn’t say anything and after a moment Blair sighed. He held out his hands and said, “Do it already. We should be able to get to that cabin in about half an hour and by that time I’ll need to pee.”
I shook my head, but I cuffed both his hands together, after passing the links through the steering wheel.
“Yell if you need me or if you change your mind.”
And I left him there.
It took longer than I thought to get our supplies. There was only one cashier, a long line, and every woman in front of me had a shopping cart full. While I waited for my turn to pay, I checked on Blair, pinching myself to avoid zoning while I listened to him mutter about stubborn sentinels. Reluctantly, I kept thinking about what he had said – about being partners again. And that I wasn’t treating him like a partner. I – uh – maybe was feeling more protective of him. After all, he was sick, and he'd had those panic attacks. And he'd been such a forlorn and exhausted bundle in my lap following his hysterical giggling fit his first night in protective custody.
He just seemed kind of vulnerable to me, and maybe Blair was right in accusing me of wanting to wrap him up in cotton batting. And maybe I was being a bit hypocritical about using him as bait, because that’s what I had done to get those hired guns to follow us to the roadblock when we left Sweetwater. I had used him as bait. But I had been right there next to him and I knew I could control what was going to happen. Perhaps that was it. I couldn’t be next to him if he talked to Bergman and I couldn’t control the situation. Well, shit.
I walked out of the store and headed back to my truck. My new truck. I was going to miss Sweetheart. I decided that Bair and I needed to talk once we got to the cabin and settled in. Thinking over what I’d said to him -- End of discussion, Sandburg -- I had been a little… authoritarian with him. My gut reaction had been to say no, without compromising… Shit, I’d sounded like my father. My dad not being willing to listen and take my point of view into consideration had been one of the prime reasons I’d cut off contact with him for so long. We’d gotten past that now, thank God. Yeah, I should tell Blair that we’d talk about it tonight, and that I would really consider this plan of his. Even if I didn’t like it.
I opened the truck door, my mind mostly on the conversation we’d be having in a moment, and then I dropped the bag of groceries.
Blair was gone!
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Ten.
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Ten
I whirled around to see if I could spot Blair; maybe he hadn’t hitchhiked away from me yet. Nothing.
Jesus! Fuck! Jesus. I wasn’t -- I couldn’t lose him again. I had to find him and as I listened for the sound of his voice, I grabbed the groceries I'd dropped and tossed them into the truck – just an automatic reaction -- and then I heard the most reassuring sound in the world at the same time that I spotted the note he’d left me.
That little shit!
He’d torn out a piece of paper from his notebook, and on it -- in capital letters that he’d gone over several times, so they were dark and noticeable -- he’d written: DON’T PANIC !! There was an arrow on the paper pointing to the other side; I picked up the note and turned it over. I already had figured out what the note said from the sound of his heartbeat, and I walked around to the back of the truck, let down the tailgate, and lifted the back window of the camper shell.
And there he sat, cross-legged –an infuriating and wonderful sight – with a concerned look on his face.
“Jim, man, you okay?”
I didn’t trust my voice yet; I might yell at him or chant his name in a litany of relief that then would escalate to yelling if I opened my mouth.
“Uh, hey, are you all right? Shit, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, but you just wouldn’t see reason – I wanted you to understand that I can take care of myself. But I didn’t leave you; I stayed in the truck, just like you always wanted me to do when we investigated cases. I know I didn’t do it as much as you would have liked back then, but I only would get out of the truck if you needed me. And I helped you, Jim. All the time, I helped you. I can still do that.”
I could feel my skin flushing as Sandburg was running his mouth. When I’d seen the empty handcuffs dangling from the steering wheel it had felt as if every drop of my blood had rushed to my toes and I probably had looked pale as a ghost, but now anger was heating my skin. And I needed to be careful; If I unloaded that anger on Blair I could destroy the tentative bridge we’d been building together.
“Jim. C’mon now, I left you a note and everything. I could have disappeared, could have grabbed a ride while you were in the store, but I didn’t. I just want you to treat me as your partner. Your capable partner. I need that from you."
Blair ran his hands through his hair as his voice picked up speed. "And I could have gone to meet up with Bergman on my own, kept a voice recorder in my pocket, and then turned it over for evidence. I didn’t leave because I was hoping you’d see reason after my little demonstration, and we could work this case together. You and me. Sentinel and guide. Ellison and Sandburg. Jim? Try a few deep breaths, my man.”
He was starting to look a little wild, and I made a stab at calming down. I did take a few deep breaths, as suggested, and then I handed him his own damned sign back and pointed to where it said ‘DON’T PANIC!!’
“That’s good advice, Sandburg. Let me add my own. Don’t say another fucking word right now. I’m trying to not blow up and I’d appreciate it if you’d get your ass back up front so we can leave here. But I promise you – we will talk and I’ll listen to your plan.” And as I reached in to help him scoot out, I -- maybe, kind of -- yanked a little hard on him because I pulled him free of the truck with enough oomph that he landed against me as he tried to regain his footing.
Christ, it was all I could do not to strip him where he was standing and run my hands over every inch of his naked skin. And it wasn’t because I wanted to make love with him. No, I wasn’t aroused at the sight of him. I wanted to take inventory, really be sure that he was unharmed. Fuck. I needed to get us to the cabin and then maybe I would do exactly that. Let Blair see what he’d unleashed with his little stunt.
I did give him a tight hug, hard enough that he squeaked out “Jim,” before I walked him to the cab of the truck. I opened the door and lifted him in. Yes, I knew and he knew that he could have climbed in easily enough on his own, but I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my arteries and I needed to be physical to settle down. I really should have dropped and done fifty pushups, but I was afraid that would've drawn too much attention to us.
I didn’t ask him to sit right next to me – too unsure of my own reaction to chance driving off the fucking road and smashing into a tree – but Blair reached over and grabbed my wrist, pulling my hand off the steering wheel. He held tightly to me and I let him. I let his hot, sweaty hand keep my temper anchored as I drove to our destination for the night. I’d held his wrist just this way when I’d put him in protective custody. I’d needed that connection back then, and I guessed, right now, Blair did, too.
Jim was still radiating anger as he escorted me into our cabin-for-the-night. I wasn’t scared of him, though. I knew the origins of his fury and I intended for us to deal with… these, these, fears of his.
These fears -- that he couldn’t keep me safe, that I would leave him. Not that his fears weren’t legitimate or anything. I’d died for Christ’s sake! And… I did leave him. I wouldn’t do that again.
Somewhere over the last day, a decision had emerged from the murky depths of my brain. I wanted to be Jim’s partner again. Partner in the... partner thing. Watching his back. Guiding his senses. Looking out for him. Hadn’t decided about sex – sex was another whole dimension to the Twilight Zone that was our lives together. And, Goddammit, I wasn’t going to let him push me aside under the guise of protecting me. He was just going to have to deal. I hoped me showing him that, man, I had skills, would aid him in accepting my active help. And the Chief of Police with his restrictions could just blow me. I wasn’t going to let anybody separate us again.
Jim had dragged me with him while checking out the doors and windows. I wondered if he was going to handcuff me while he brought in our things or if he would let me help him this time. Then he returned to the front door and locked it, still holding tightly to my arm.
“Shut up, Sandburg. I’m indulging myself. And you asked for this, little buddy.”
Jim unzipped my sweatshirt and tossed it on the floor. The floor. Oh, shit.
My other sweatshirt and shirts quickly were heaped up on the floor, and Jim took my hands and slowly raised them until they were close to his chest. He stroked my thumbs and studied my palms, then turned them over and frowned at a small scrape I’d gotten climbing into the back of the truck. I hadn’t paid it any attention, but Jim touched the roughened skin, smoothing it with his finger.
He ran his hands down my arms and firmly across my ribs, then palmed my nipples. The heat from his hands felt good to me and I shifted a little on the balls of my feet.
What was going on with this strange little meet-n-greet? I thought he’d be demanding that I explain my actions, not reverently touching my skin. He shifted his hands to my shoulders, then he probed and found a sore area on my neck. He turned me around and massaged my neck muscles; I started to feel a little boneless and my eyes felt heavy. I shut them and longed to lie down.
“Be quiet, Blair. I’m listening to your body," he commanded.
That made my eyes open back up; I turned my head and saw that Jim had his head cocked to one side in that very familiar pose of intense listening.
“What are you hearing?”
Jim didn’t answer me, just shifted a hand up to my mouth and traced my lips. The boneless feeling grew and I swayed a bit till he gently settled me, my back against him, and he let both of his hands drift through my hair, lifting it off of my neck and scenting it. I shivered, feeling him along the length of my spine. He dropped his head to the side of my neck and licked the skin. Over and over, moving slightly each time so that a new section of my skin was tasted. My nipples pebbled up and my dick hardened.
Jim took a deep breath and I realized that, of course, he smelled my arousal. His hands moved down my belly to my belt buckle and he tugged my belt away a little from my body. It was loose – too loose – and he was able to easily slide his hand down into my boxers.
I squirmed and tried to think about if this was a good idea or not. But his hand felt warm against my dick and my body voted to continue. Before my brain voiced its vote, Jim had withdrawn his hand.
He slid his arm around my waist and walked me into a bedroom and sat me down on the bed. Oh, man – I didn’t know what to do. That slippery slope I’d been inching down suddenly became like a bobsled run and I felt myself flying down it towards probably a big mistake. Shit, shit, shit. And Jim had knelt and taken off my shoes, and was caressing my bare feet. Should I stop him? I didn’t want to. This was Jim. And yeah – I’d been telling myself it might be for the best if we left sex out of the equation… but, this was… Jim. And I wasn’t going to tell him no. I was going to let it happen. Whatever he wanted. Because this was Jim.
Jim unbuckled my belt and unzipped my jeans. I lifted up so he could pull my boxers and pants off of me. Which he did, slowly, and so unhurriedly that I tried to finish yanking them off myself, but Jim captured my hands and laid them against the bed, then he went back to gradually inching my clothing down my hips and thighs and finally down my legs. I kicked my boxers and jeans the rest of the way off before Jim climbed on the bed and pinned my lower legs by sitting on them. I couldn’t move very much and I wanted to. I wanted to pull him down against me and thrust against him. Fuck, he hadn’t taken a stitch off. He just continued to look me over, smoothing the skin on my belly and thighs, and when my hands reached up to pull him down, he grasped them and held them pinned down on the bed, and bent his head to my groin, sniffing deeply before licking a trail around the base of my dick. Begging suddenly sounded like a great idea and I started moaning a disjointed litany of Jim, please... God -- I wanna come. Jim stopped what he was doing and just watched me, and I surfaced out of my lust haze enough to realize that something was weird. Jim didn’t look erect. Of course, he had his clothes on, but – I was pretty sure about this – he didn’t want to fuck me. What was he doing? And he couldn’t leave me like this.
“Jim, c’mon, lose the clothes and join me. I’ll make you feel good, I promise.” And I licked my lips and tried to thrust up again.
Jim bent down and tongued my nipples and nuzzled my armpit. But then he moved off of me and said softly, with no anger in his voice anymore, “Roll over, Blair.” I did as he asked and tried to get on all fours, so he could fuck me if he wanted to, but he pushed me flat against the bed. He started at my ankles, employing his mouth to lave my skin up to my butt, then did the same thing on my other side. He spread my cheeks and licked his way down to my hole and the delicate skin between my hole and my balls. Jesus, he was killing me here.
“Please,” I whined.
He just laid his head on my back, with his ear against my skin. Still listening to my bodily functions, I guessed.
Then he licked around the spot on the back of my neck where the stigmata bite had appeared. I went wild and writhed for all I was worth. God, if he didn’t join this party soon it was all gonna be over before he even made an appearance. He didn’t stop tormenting my neck, and I started to pant.
“J…Jim… so close. Come with me. Let me touch you.”
Jim breathed out a long sigh, a very relaxed sound that didn’t make sense to me. I was so tense you could have bounced a quarter off of me. How could Jim sound so mellow?
He kissed my neck, lifted himself up, and stood next to the bed. No. No-No-No-No! He wasn’t quitting now!
I heard him start to walk away. Fuck. He was punishing me. This was his revenge for my tricking him in the truck. I felt like yelling at him that using my sexuality was dirty pool. I also felt sad that it looked like we still had major problems, if he could do this to me.
“Jimmm... Don’t go.”
Jim stopped, and sniffed the air, then turned and walked back. I rolled over and looked up at him, feeling miserable, with a hard-on that wouldn’t quit. And yeah, I could jack off but Jim had started this. I wanted Jim to finish it.
“Are you that mad at me for getting out of the handcuffs that you’d set me up like this, and leave me? Jesus, Jim. Is this your idea of revenge because I hadn’t decided about being lovers again? You’re teaching me a lesson, right? That you can seduce me and I’ll roll right over for you, easy as pie? I thought we were getting somewhere. Didn’t you hear me in the truck? I said I want to be your partner again.”
Jim shook himself slightly, and said, “Babe, I’m sorry. I was kind of on my own mission and I didn’t realize you were hurting. You want me to touch you again, Blair? You want me to make you come? I will. I’ll make you come so sweet, if you want me to. Just tell me what you want – you can have my mouth or my hand.” And Jim knelt down on the floor next to the bed and started playing with my dick with his hand. Not like he did before, which was with a kind of detached air, but sweetly teasing me and I felt myself start to reach the point where I’d spill. I grabbed his hand with my own and made him hold me tighter while our hands together made slow, exquisite slides up and down my dick. I reached out to him with my other hand and held on tight to his bicep as my body bowed up and I came so damn hard. It had been forever since I’d had Jim touch me like this. Except for that time in the spirit plane when I’d been bitten as I climaxed.
I felt tired and lethargic after the sharply pleasant after-orgasm feeling evaporated away, and I felt my eyes closing. Dimly, I felt a blanket being laid over me. And then I was falling asleep. I knew I was going under but I was powerless to stop it, even though Jim and I had so much to talk about.
Emerging into what I gradually realized was the spirit plane, I became aware that I was walking down a tunnel in Blue Jungle Land. Well, it was trees bent over the path, but the effect was tunnel-like. It was dusk and the fading light made the jungle look more blue than normal. I was naked – as usual -- but I was comfortable. I felt that I was in synch with my spirit self – whether in wolf form or in jungle boy persona -- and that I was open to understanding the lessons offered on this level of the spirit plane.
Jim’s spirit plane.
I gravitated to Jim’s dreamscape like iron to a magnet. Well, that wasn’t too surprising, since in the mundane world I had had a constant attraction to Jim. He had fascinated me since I’d met him at the hospital – me disguised in a lab coat, although my crummy sneakers would have given me away if he’d noticed them. And if he hadn’t agreed to let me help him? Who knows? I might have become a stalker.
I wanted to talk to the sentinel spirit; I had concerns about the way Jim’s fears were impeding our return to a full partnership. I also was keeping a wary eye out for whatever, whoever, was responsible for the destruction of my previous hiding places and lairs. However, despite being watchful, I walked along enjoying the jungle. I had rarely been able to do so before Jim and I'd reconnected. Most of my prior experiences here were of hiding from Jim in his sentinel form or his black jaguar form -- or of spying on him.
I passed brightly colored tropical vines and I looked closely at a beautiful one with five pale pink petals to the flower. I’d seen it before on expeditions. It was one of the many varieties of ayahuasca that could be found in the jungle, and I touched it reverently. Shamans used it for soul journeying; it was a sacred medicinal plant. Stupid thrill-seeking idiots took it hoping for a quick lift to enlightenment. I’d never taken it; I'd rather send myself into a trance through drumming or meditation, but I hadn’t ruled out using those kinds of drugs. Of course, Jim would rule it out for me. Still, on impulse I asked the plant for permission and picked the flower, tucking it behind my ear. It was just a flower. The power of the plant resided in the vines.
I walked the jungle paths for a long time, till night had fallen and I was tired, hot, and sweaty. Finally, by moonlight, I found where a spring flowed into a pool about the size of a couple of hot tubs. I stuck my feet in the water and decided I was going about this all wrong. Jim had had these fears about losing people he loved for a long time. With reason. He had lost a lot of people, through death or abandonment. He was trying to keep me safe to protect himself from the pain of another potential loss. Well, that was partly it; he also genuinely didn’t want to see me get hurt because he cared about me, but that didn’t make my theory invalid. I suspected his spirit guide was reacting to that fear of loss by avoiding me. That was about to change. And once I could talk to Jim’s spirit guide, I was sure I could get him to be my ally.
Jim and I were linked; I had no doubts about that. My presence here in Blue Jungle Land was proof enough. And earlier, Jim had spent time mapping me with his senses -- because that was what all that licking and touching and scenting was about. He had said I’d asked for it – I hadn’t. Not verbally anyway, so I guess my actions triggered his impulses. He’d said he was indulging himself. He’d indulged me, too, when I needed to come. And that act of orgasm released energy. Psychic energy. Energy that I thought I could tap into right now because it had strengthened our connection. His hand, my hand, my dick all touching together – there had to be a residual signature from the sex I’d had that I could trace, here in the spirit plane -- if I tried.
I moved a little way from the pool and sat cross-legged in a meditation pose, then took the ayahuasca flower from my hair, setting it on a tall rock so that it was almost at eye level with me. I would focus on this flower from a sacred plant -- use it to help deepen my trance – and project to Jim’s spirit guide that I desperately needed him.
As I ended my meditation, I sensed that the sentinel spirit guide was standing near me; I opened my eyes to see a golden shimmer that wound from me to Jim’s spirit double. That... that was our bond, the manifestation of the tie between us. And there were more colors emanating from us -- cool! I was looking at our auras! -- and I realized that there was a trick to seeing our bond and our auras. I kind of had to look from the corner of my eye – not directly -- or the layers of shimmering colors would blink out of sight. Sort of like a hologram. And this was so fascinating; Naomi had taught me the meanings of the aura hues and she would feel proud that I could see my own multi-layered, colored aura energy field as well as Jim’s. Although... some of the tones in Jim’s aura were not quite right – muddy blue and gray -- instead of a clear shade. That worried me for my lover. My own hues were mostly fine, except for some black holes at the edges, but right now the emerald green for healing was dominant.
Healing. Shamans did healing on the spirit plane. I was here in the spirit plane. I had been named a shaman – although I was untrained in shamanism – and Jim was in need of healing from his fears. The dull colors in his aura told me that. And I had a long history of winging it and being a fast learner. I could try this. Because Jim’s fears were hurting him.
I rose and bowed to the sentinel spirit. “Thank you for coming to me. Enqueri denies my place at his side out of fear of harm coming to me. And he wishes for us to resume as lovers – but there is poison in his heart from his fear that I will leave him. It transmutes his care and concerns into jealousy, anger, and depression. I want to help him, but I am untutored in the ways of those who walk two worlds. I ask for your help.”
The sentinel spirit placed the palm of his hand over my heart and was still as he looked deeply into my eyes. The heart. The fourth chakra. I knew as much about chakras as I did about auras – basically what my mother and various teachers had told me and what I had read on my own. I tried to convey how I felt about Jim, willing him to understand, and bit my lip. The sentinel spirit guide pressed his hand against me for another long moment, then he moved his arms until they were crossed over his chest and gazed thoughtfully at me before he held out his hand.
“Walk with me, Little Shaman. Enqueri learned much at Incacha’s side, although he chooses to not remember most of his time with the Chopec. Incacha knew you for one like him, and blessed you. I will show you what to do.”
I took his hand and he examined the trees as we walked. “Damage was done to you long ago, Enqueri’s Lover. When you were a child, when you should have been kept safe, others forced their desires upon you. You have done well in mostly healing yourself, Little Shaman, but the evilness you experienced is still casting a shadow on the love you have for Enqueri. You must untwist the tangle to fully heal. Enqueri suspects what you have not told him. The snarl must be made smooth before the binding will succeed.”
He stopped speaking cryptically, and guided me to where branches from a tree were scattered on the ground. He snapped a branch into several pieces and handed them to me.
“Scent them.” I did so, and I recognized Palo Santo. The smoke would help me with what I had in mind to do for Jim.
I thanked the sentinel spirit for his knowledge and the tree for its gift. And I gathered up as many branches as I could carry.
We had returned to the pool I had found, and the heavy, pleasant smoke of the Holy Wood drifted around the two of us, as we stood facing each other across the tiny fire I had lit. I was feeling my way here, with no real clue about what I was doing, but I knew I was going to work with energy and I was going to do it in a ritual. My own ritual, taken from what felt right from various disciplines. This was going to be eclectic to the max, but then that was the way I operated in life. The spirit plane would reflect that style. At least I thought so. Well, I’d find out, anyway.
I looked into the sentinel spirit’s eyes and raised my palms. He matched his palms to mine and gave me a tiny smile with the corner of his mouth crooked up. Jim’s smile. The smoke drifted up to our hands, but the fire was so small that it wasn’t anything but pleasantly warm.
“Enqueri. James Joseph Ellison. You are loved.” I repeated this two more times. The power of three, man.
I looked again at Jim’s aura. I could see where the gray patches were gathered. That had to change because I didn’t want Jim to become sick from the imbalance in his aura. The dull blue shade – that indicated the fears that he guarded against revealing. Probably he was ashamed of them.
“I ask your permission to become closer to Jim’s inner self.” The sentinel spirit nodded and closed his eyes.
Our auras were touching but not mingling with each other. I closed my eyes and focused my energy by chanting a mantra – I love you – while I visualized my aura blending with Jim’s. I let go of my sense of time passing and stayed in the moment. I directed my love and care towards Jim and slowly felt a change occurring between us. Without looking, I knew that Jim had allowed me into his aura and I searched all through the different shades seeking out the imbalances and sharing my own energy. I could sense where there were old wounds in his psyche – negative energy from his mother’s abandonment, the deaths of his men in Peru, his friend Danny’s dying in his arms, seeing me dead at the fountain, the anger and loss when I’d left him. So much fear and grief and anger – oh, Jim. And I knew what to do to end this imbalance for good, not just give him some immediate relief. Shamanic tradition recognized the damage such energies could do; shamans would do an extraction.
I had no idea how much time had passed – for that matter time had to be relative on the spirit plane anyway; I admonished myself to keep focused and not drift off into such speculation – and I opened my eyes and looked at our blended auras. We were beautiful together. I really hoped I would be able to remember this sight when I returned to my body. I slowly began to shift my aura away from Jim’s, and I watched to see if his aura had healed. When we were separate again, I carefully examined the shimmering colors and was pleased that the muddy tones in his had disappeared. But I knew this was a temporary cure. Unless the negative energy-wounds were removed, Jim’s fears would return and sabotage our love for each other. And I hadn’t forgotten the sentinel spirit's words to me. I needed to do my part in healing myself of my injuries from long ago. I hadn’t realized how much hold on me they still had, as evidenced by the black holes I had seen in my own aura.
“Sentinel, I ask again for your guidance. I see what needs to be done for my lover, but I need his permission. Can you grant it?”
The sentinel spirit shook his head. “Enqueri is still divided. He has not accepted his spiritual self, as you have, Little Shaman. You must speak to Enqueri when you return to the world. I will be here, at this fire, when you come back. But you must rest first, and come again only when you feel strong again in your body.” He took his palms away from mine and drew his hands up to my face and kissed me deeply. The smoke swirled so densely around us that I couldn’t see him anymore, only felt his kisses, drugging me to a sensuous haze. I closed my eyes, lost to everything but the feel of Jim against my lips and the taste of him in my mouth. When I opened my eyes, Jim was kissing me… and I was lying in a bed. Our new cabin.
Jim smiled at me from where he was kneeling on the floor. “Hey, time for supper. And I’ve been sitting out on the patio, mulling things over while you slept. I’m not angry at your disappearing act, Houdini. Not anymore. You told me you wanted us to be partners; that’s what I want, you and me together again. Are we lovers, too, Blair? I… yeah. I maybe was over-reacting about you being involved in dangerous things again."
Jim got up and pulled the covers off of me and stretched out his hand. I took it and he pulled me up, kissing me again, and then he laid his head on top of my hair.
“Um… Jim? Aren’t you worried about getting sick from kissing me?”
“The blood tests I was given when I first met you, Dr. McKay, showed that I’ve got immunities against mono. And somebody very wise recently told me that life was dangerous. If my partner is going to be risking his neck in police business, then I think I can risk a few strep germs, although, I think enough time’s gone by since you’ve been on meds that the hazard is low. Will you try and keep the odds low on your side, Chief? I mean, there’s taking a calculated risk and then there’s working without a net. Just tell me that you’ll always have a net under you for safety when you’re doing your crazy-ass stunts, okay?”
“Okay. And wait till I tell you how I got out of the cuffs.”
Jim chuckled, and said ruefully, “You’ve made Joel a happy man, Chief. This will top his story of how you got out of his protective custody.”
He moved away from me and ruffled my hair. “C’mon.” He walked over and handed my shirt to me from off of the top of the dresser. I grinned to myself as I put it on. Jim throwing clothes on the floor was a real indicator of the urgency he’d felt to check me out with his senses – taste, touch, hearing, sight and smell all focused on me. But when he’d relaxed? He could no more let clothes lie on the floor than I could let an anthropology journal sit on a table untouched.
“I picked up some major protein for dinner. How long has it been since you ate a rib-eye steak? And I’ve got real butter and sour cream for the baked potatoes. You need the calories. And after supper? We’ll talk, Blair. And after we talk, I want to make love to you. Both of us, this time. You scared the be-jeezus out of me when I saw you'd ditched me while I was in the store. I didn’t read the ‘Don’t Panic’ sign fast enough. And I, uh, well, when I found you, sitting like Buddha in the back of the truck I wanted to check every inch of you. That’s what all that licking and sniffing was about once we were inside this cabin. I was so intent on satisfying my senses that you were here and all right, that I kind of missed the boat on how it affected you. I’m sorry. I wasn’t punishing you. You do want to be lovers again, don’t you, Blair?”
Jim started to look a little anxious and I looked at him out of the corner of my eye and did my hologram-aura trick. Bright, clear colors still radiated out around him. Right now, Jim was happy and content. I planned on making sure he stayed that way.
“Yeah.” I reached out and took his hand. “I want to be your lover. I never want to stop being your lover. I’m committing myself to you, James Joseph Ellison. Enqueri. I tell you three times that I’ll love and stay with you till my death. And after that? Probably then, too.”
And this time I kissed Jim. Three times.
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Eleven.
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Eleven
While Jim busied himself with cooking our steaks and checking on the baked potatoes, I sat at the kitchen table and talked to him about my plan to get Nathan Bergman to admit he had bought my car. Jim had a couple of niggling questions, but really, it was a solid plan and he agreed that I could handle it.
He thought Simon would get behind my strategy. A little cynically, he pointed out that if the higher-ups gave Simon any flack for involving me in another police operation, our captain would just pull out the big guns – the ever-tightening budget projections– to justify moving the case along because doing that would save a bundle on the cost of protecting a witness.
Ah, money. The ever-lovin’ bottom line.
We enjoyed our dinner, and I found that my sore throat was definitely getting better. Okay, it still hurt but it didn’t feel like I’d swallowed broken glass anymore when I ate something. Jim shooed me out to the living room while he cleaned up, and I sat on the couch and did my usual staring-out-the-windows routine. Like the answers to all my questions could be found by looking at trees or the sky or the lake.
I felt – lightened. I’d made the decision to be Jim’s partner after meditating and carefully examining my motives and our interactions. We’d been such good friends, and I wanted that back. The sex? That, I kind of, um… oh, hell. That hadn't been as well thought out. But I was feeling greedy now that Jim had made love to me, and I was feeling reckless. In for a penny, in for a pound. I wanted more. I wanted to touch Jim and bring him off. I wanted to watch his eyes and hold tightly to him, to hold tightly to his hands as we gained back what we had lost.
What was it about Jim anyway that inspired me to literally and metaphorically jump off cliffs and out of airplanes?
Hell, the guy’d had me climbing a tree soon after I met him. A tree! Now, I love trees. I’ve protested to protect them, but I don’t like climbing them. After breaking my arm falling out of one when I was a kid, and practically getting nosebleeds from ascending to the Kombai Tree Peoples dwellings while doing research for grad school, I'd learned to be perfectly happy keeping my feet on the ground.
But shortly after we'd met, Jim had told me to fetch him that bird’s nest, and -- damn, I’d gone up a tree.
Shit, for Jim I’d done things I’d never imagined myself attempting. And now, he was asking for the biggest damn jump of all – being his lover again. His committed lover. This decision was scary and exhilarating and worrisome. Could we avoid the problems that had come up before? Right now our intentions were good, but how would they hold up over time? Would we find ourselves repeating the same mistakes that had caused our last crash and burn?
“Jim?” Crap, I sounded scared even to myself.
Jim returned from the kitchen with a cup of tea for me that he placed on the end table, then he sat down next to me on the couch.
“Having second thoughts?” Jim didn’t sound worried. He’d been in a fantastic mood all through dinner. All that anger he’d been seething with for the trick I'd played on him had just gone away.
“No second thoughts, not exactly. But… can we keep from messing up again? We were happy the first time, too. Remember?”
Jim chuckled. “Relationship rules, babe. We’re going to sit down and make some guidelines for ourselves.”
I scowled at him. But I was only pretending to be annoyed. “One of those rules had better be no silly names without express and written permission. Or calling your partner cute.”
Jim just grinned at me. “Sandburg, the world thinks you’re cute. You might as well relax about it. You’ll be cute when you’re ninety years old.”
I made a fake face of annoyance at him, and he reached over and picked up my hand and kissed my palm. Then he put my mug of tea in my hand.
I took a swallow. “Jim, you understand why I got out of the cuffs, right?”
Jim nodded. “If you want to hear me admit that I was being an overprotective ass, well, I admit it. I still don’t like to think of you being in danger, but I’ll have to let you make your own choices. Just, uh... understand that it’s hard on me. If you’d gone through the academy, I probably would have freaked out the first time you had to handle a bad situation without me.”
I shot him a look. He grimaced, having correctly read it. “Yeah, I know. You have handled yourself without me being there. I never liked it much, though, and I guess I lost some perspective after you kept getting hurt doing police work. I know I'll have to work on that.”
I gave him a nod, and sipped my tea, the warmth of the mug soothing my hands.
He leaned back on the couch and put his hands behind his head, relaxing. “ So, partner. My handcuffs. What did you do, anyway, Houdini? I thought maybe you’d dislocated your thumbs, but I saw your hands were okay when I checked you over.”
I finished my tea and put the cup on the floor. “Well, actually, I have you to thank for my escape. Before I left Cascade I’d bought this handy little gizmo from a guy at the bar. I was going to give it to you for a Christmas stocking stuffer.” I reached in my pocket and brought it out. I handed it to Jim. “Merry belated Christmas, man.”
Jim held the two pieces in his hands and fitted them back together. It made a small, gray, plastic circle, which was about the size of a nickel, with a handcuff key silhouetted in the middle, and I waited for him to figure it out.
“I’ll be damned. A plastic universal cuff key. I’ve heard of these, but I’ve never seen one before. Where did you have it hidden?” Jim handed me the pieces back again.
“In plain sight, for the most part. I had it in the car when I left Cascade, and decided my beat-up old backpack would be a good place to keep it – in case I really was the trouble magnet you guys in Major Crimes kept accusing me of being. I kept it on one of the zipper tabs till today, then when I decided I might have to actually prove to you that I could take care of myself, I transferred it to my hair when I got my notebook out of my backpack.”
“Huh. I held your backpack on my lap while you were getting processed out of jail and I even looked through it, but damn – I didn’t notice it. Selling them is supposed to be restricted to law enforcement agencies.”
I shrugged. “I didn’t ask too many questions. It was one of those ‘I know a guy, who knows a guy’ kind of things.” I was amused when Jim shook his head.
“And the ‘Don’t Panic’ sign you left me? It was kind of familiar, like I'd seen it written like that before.”
“Um… Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I know you've read it. 'Don't Panic' is on the cover.”
Jim looked sideways at me and chuckled again. I stood up and faced him, and shifted my vision. His aura still looked good, but I knew that in order for Jim to stay balanced we would have to deal with that negative energy he was carrying.
“Hey, Jim. I talked to your spirit guide earlier when I went to Blue Jungle Land. He helped me do some shaman stuff.”
I then recounted to Jim what had happened, about blending our auras and why I had done it, except not the part about the sentinel spirit telling me I still had some problems from the sexual abuse I’d experienced when I was a kid.
“You saw our auras? Why am I not surprised... my sentinel spirit... threw Holy Wood...”
Jim was talking, but I was fading in and out of listening to him. I was working out a dilemma.
I wanted to make love to Jim tonight, and I thought admitting that two sick fuckers had messed with me would kill any sexual desire on Jim’s part. But I made myself a promise that I would tell him soon. It had worked out okay telling him about Naomi forging my name and I knew I could trust him with one of my oldest secrets. Yeah, I could trust him. I could. Just not tonight. And maybe not tomorrow. But soon. I’d do it really soon. It wasn’t like it was something I was looking forward to revealing. I didn’t want Jim’s pity and I didn’t want him to treat me differently. I had dealt with what had happened to me. Survivor – not victim. I’d have to make sure Jim understood the difference when I did tell him. Just… not yet.
I’d evidently lost track entirely of what Jim was saying to me because he had gotten up from the couch and taken hold of my biceps. He looked concerned.
“You back with me, Ace? You haven’t heard a word I’ve said for the last couple of minutes.”
“Sorry. Daydreaming, I guess.” Jim looked at me, the weight of his careful examination making me feel like I should just go ahead and get telling him about my past over with. But he didn’t press me -- I remembered that he’d said he wouldn’t push me to tell my secrets – and instead I asked him a question.
“Your spirit self said you could help me learn some things. What do you remember about Incacha acting as a shaman?
Jim pulled me into a hug and rested his cheek on top of my head. “Incacha… Not a whole lot.”
He was silent for a while and I relaxed against him. This was going to be okay, our resurrected partnership. Yeah, it would be okay.
“I remember he chanted. And painted symbols on his skin. Sandburg, he took ayahuasca, but I don’t want you taking crap like that, I don’t care if it gets you into the express lane for the spirit world or not.”
“I don’t have any to use.”
“Relax, Jim. I can try drumming. Yeah. For both of us, because we both should try and be in a light trance.”
“Did I miss the boat here? What are you thinking about doing and what’s this ‘we’ business?”
Jim pulled away from our embrace and looked at me. He seemed a little apprehensive so I rushed to reassure him.
“Jim, don’t worry. Trust me. I balanced out your aura when I was in the spirit plane, and that was really cool – the colors were fantastic – but it was just a temporary fix. I could see where you’re still the walking wounded. There’s energy attached to you that doesn’t belong there; energy from some of the shitty things that have happened to you in your life. I want to try and release that energy – it’s not healthy for you, man – so you’ll feel better about yourself. But I need your permission. Your spirit guide said you were divided, that you haven’t accepted your spiritual side and so he couldn’t give me a thumbs up about doing it.”
Jim raised his eyebrow. “You want me to trust you to do some kind of ritual and take out my emotional trash because it’s polluting my spirit side. Is that it, Sandburg?”
“Yeah, essentially that’s what I want to do. But Jim, it isn’t only in the spiritual world that negative energy like yours does harm. It can make you physically sick, too. It’s so interesting the way our emotions and our minds affect our bodies. I want to do more research, of course, when this case is over and I don’t have to be a wanderer anymore.”
I gave Jim my best try-it-you’ll-like-it winning smile, and grinned even wider when I saw him roll his eyes… but also nod his head.
“All right, my little shaman. But not tonight. It’s getting late and we’re both tired. And one of us is recovering from mono and needs extra sleep.”
“Jim, you called me what your spirit guide calls me. Hmm. Um… Okay, we’ll do it in the morning.”
And with that settled I moved close again and put my arms around him.
“A partnership is about both parties being able to take the lead, wouldn’t you say, Jim? It was your turn this afternoon to check me out – and I really liked it when you got all primal on me, except the part where you didn’t notice I was needing some attention to my cock – and I think the guide should have his turn at checking out his sentinel.” Then I reached up and nuzzled his neck. “And Blair, just plain Blair,” I swiped my tongue just under his ear, feeling the edge of his stubble, “wants to have make-up sex.” I dropped the teasing tone from my voice. “I missed you so god-damn much, Jim. Make me forget this miserable year. Please?”
For an answer Jim tilted my head up and kissed me, sweetly at first, and then more insistently. I thought briefly that he’d better be right about my contagious period for strep being over and that he had immunities against getting mono, and then I concentrated on getting to know my lover all over again.
He tasted good – his mouth and the salty taste of his skin – and I fumbled his buttons open, clumsy with haste, and stripped his shirt off, dropping it to the floor.
“It had been an eternity since I had been able – allowed – to touch him like this. I greedily ran my hands over his warm skin and pinched his nipples, then dragged my tongue over the upraised nubs. Jim gave me encouraging groans and slid his hands under my shirts, caressing me, and then he yanked off my over-shirt and pulled my T-shirt over my head.
I spread my hands over his chest and pushed him towards the bedroom door – gently at first and then as he acquiesced, a little harder. He didn’t resist when I transitioned into actual shoving, and that fed something in me. Something that became even hungrier as I manhandled him into the bedroom, my hands sliding from his chest to tightly grasp his upper arms.
I stopped his movement and plastered myself against Jim so I could bury my face against the hollow where his arm met his chest. I don’t have Jim’s sense of smell, but the regular human ability sufficed as I reacquainted myself with Jim’s scent. The sense of smell is totally tied in with memory and I found myself hardening as my brain identified Jim as lover, friend, partner, sentinel – mine. Yeah, we’d slept together the last couple of nights but that had been comfort-orientated – even though we’d been naked and touching each other. And Jim had run his hands all over me earlier this evening – arousing me to a state of whimpering neediness -- but I hadn’t allowed myself to touch Jim in a directly sexual way. I had a whole fucking year’s worth of lost time to make up for, and I softly raked him with my fingernails to show him I owned him. Right now, right here; he was mine!
We didn’t talk to each other, just let our hands do our own version of sign language against each other’s skin, and our mouths communicated our building need without the use of words. And even while I loved the freedom to touch Jim, to pull his clothes away from his body, to rest my hand over his groin and cup the hardness I felt there under his boxers, anger was growing in me, too. Anger at this wasted year of our lives. Anger at Jim for giving me his stupid trust test, and anger at myself for just passively accepting that we were over. I should have marched over to Jim and Melissa at that bar and demanded that Jim tell me what the fuck he -- my lover – was doing hanging onto some floozy-chick.
A tiny rational thought reminded me that at the time I thought Jim was undercover but I tuned the voice of reason out. Instead, I started a litany of disjointed phrases in between my increasingly frantic kisses on Jim’s skin and lips. Words like – mine, nobody touches you, don’t ever, ever screw me over again.
We ended up kneeling on the bed, eventually. Both of us naked and erect, and I gripped his arms, his strong, muscular biceps, as hard as I could and pushed him, his legs splaying out, so that he was lying face up on the bed, I climbed on top of him, sitting on his thighs, pinching and soothing his nipples again and again. Jim groaned and bucked up under me, his penis straining and needy. He started to speak and I used one of my hands to cover his mouth. My face felt tight and hot, and I warned him not to talk. I took both of his hands and clenched them as I extended myself so I was lying on top of Jim, with our groins together and erections touching. I kept my grip on his hands where I’d placed them next to his head.
“Lie still. Don’t move. Don’t you fucking move, Jim.”
I caught his gaze and didn’t look away. Without words, I challenged him to keep looking in my eyes and I willed all the hurt and sorrow I’d felt this past year to show in them. We were so close that I could feel his breath on my face and then I started to move on top of him.
I went slowly at first, warning Jim by squeezing his hands, if he started to counter-move against me, that I was in charge; I was setting the pace. The anger that I was feeling fueled my movements and I fucked him, our cocks sliding together between our hot, slick bellies.
I was whispering to him now. Telling him in probably mostly incoherent language of my lonely nights driving a truck across the country. Of watching couples banter and touch each other and feeling the phantom pain of my own severed relationship. Of imagining how happy he was with Melissa, how if he ever thought of me it was to only shake his head about the poor choice of a lover he'd made before coming to his senses. Of how I couldn’t stop the pain of loving him but had tried to replace the memory of his touches with other men’s hands – and how it'd only served to remind me more poignantly of what I had lost.
I rocked against him faster and faster, trying to erase with my body those unhappy memories. Jim’s breathing deepened and quickened in the way I remembered and, despite my earlier instructions to lie still, he arced up, lifting me like an ocean wave, and with a grunt and clenched jaw, he came.
I watched the pleasure/pain look on his face and felt the anger dissipating from me. I let go of his hands. I was hard, but I felt any interest in completing my own orgasm slipping away. I wanted to slip away. This wasn’t how I had envisioned making love to him when I told him I wanted make-up sex. I guess my repressed feelings had staged a revolt and stormed the Bastille, and I was tired now. And sad. I started to slide off Jim.
Jim took his freed arms and stopped me by wrapping them around me, and one big hand reached up to my head and drew me back to lay my forehead on his shoulder. He started rubbing my back and I felt the tears gathering in my eyes. I tried again to pull away from him – I didn’t want Jim to see me crying, not again, not like when he'd ended up rocking me days ago – but instead he rolled us over so that I was under him, his weight anchoring me. I shut my eyes.
“Forgive me. I promise, I promise I’ll do better this time.” He kissed my eyelids; he kissed where my traitorous tears were slowly leaking down my face.
“I love you; God, don’t be sad anymore. I’m so sorry you had to let other guys stroke you to get rid of my touches. Sh-sh-sh.”
He kept kissing my face but I didn’t want to open my eyes and I felt myself softening. Shit. Way to go to ruin our lovemaking. Jim felt my erection disappearing, too. He rolled off of me and gently ran his hand over my groin.
God, if he said anything about me crying I was going to kill him.
“Let's go get cleaned up. What do you say, hot water sound good to you?”
I mumbled something that sounded affirmative and Jim got up and hauled my ass out of bed. My eyes flew open and I told myself to find some guts; I looked at Jim when he steadied me.
He looked beautiful and strong, and he smiled at me.
“Let me take care of you tonight, Blair. Okay?”
I was feeling tired and listless, but I didn’t want to crawl back into that big bed yet, so what the hell. I nodded, and let him put his arm around my waist and walk with me to the bathroom.
Jim got the shower running and got a bar of soap out of his kit. I was silent. What was there to say, anyway? -- ’Sorry for spoiling the mood?’ Jim stepped into the shower and held out his hand to me. I took it and stepped in front of him, where the water could sluice his come off my skin.
Jim started murmuring in my ear as he soaped up my arms.
“I’m going to wash away those other men’s touches, Blair. You’re not dirty to me… don’t ever think that. But I think you feel dirty to yourself, from what you said in bed. Let me help. I paid more attention to your lectures over the years than you ever realized, you know. Rituals and ceremonies and the human needs they satisfy… I think we need our own ritual tonight.”
I leaned back against him. Jim, devising a ritual for me -- that was sweet—and I felt my melancholy mood lifting into something partly amused and partly grateful.
He carefully washed my hands, my belly, and my groin. He turned me around and washed my neck and my back. He knelt down and washed my legs and my ass. And all the time he was anointing me with soap he was murmuring over and over, ‘I love you.'
He stood back up and angled me so that the soothing water rinsed all the soap off of my skin. Then he gently washed my face. He gave a solemn kiss on each clean part of me, and I felt renewed.
He turned me so I was facing him and fingered my hair, which was wet and streaming. “Did either of those two men touch your hair?”
“Yes,” I softly told him.
One of them had run his hands over and over through my hair and used it to pull my head down to the dick that was hanging out of his jeans while we sat together on a secluded garden bench at a raucous party in Austin. But I told him no blow-jobs; instead, I fucked him with my hand and he made me come, his hand tight against my cock. I think he told me his first name, but ten minutes after we’d straightened our clothes, and I rejoined the friends who'd dragged me along with them, I had forgotten it. He’d been tall and buff, and in the dark, when I closed my eyes, I had tried to pretend he was Jim. It hadn’t worked. Hadn’t worked the second time either, with the other guy...
“Oops. Forgot to grab the shampoo. Can I use this soap on your hair, Sandburg?”
“Just a touch. For ceremonial importance. I like what you’re doing, Jim. It’s… helping.” And it was, feeling Jim massaging my head and his hands playing with my hair. He leaned me back a little so the spray soaked my hair again.
Jim put the soap down and touched my lips. “What about these, Chief? Did you kiss those guys?”
I told him honestly, “No. I didn’t kiss anybody else.”
Jim kissed me then. Several times. Then he changed places with me and quickly washed off his own body. He turned off the shower and declared, “You’re clean, buddy. This part of the ritual is finished but there’s a second part to get ready.” He stepped out of the shower and handed me a couple of towels, then grabbed one himself and briskly dried the water rivulets that were slowly tracking down his body.
He grinned at me and I realized he knew I’d been caught up in watching that mesmerizing dance of water and skin. I blushed a little and started drying my own skin.
Then he looked puzzled, and I raised my eyebrows.
“Chief… If you didn’t kiss anybody, then how did you catch mono?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I have a theory. Quit smirking at me, Jim. I’m a scientist; of course I’ve got a theory. Anyway, I was at a harvest party about six weeks back held by some people Naomi and I had hung out with about twenty years ago -- they’re organic farmers – and I knew I could work for my keep there, so I stayed with them a couple of weeks. So, big party, lots of music, dancing, kids of all ages running around. I was jamming with my harmonica and I’m guessing that I left it out and some kid started playing it and passed me the virus. Or else, maybe drank from my cup and I didn’t realize it. Anyway, that’s my best guess, but I’ll never really know.”
Jim made a 'hmm' noise, then gave me a quick hug and told me to wait in the bathroom because he’d be right back. I fished his toothbrush and toothpaste out of his kit and brushed my teeth while I waited for him to return. Peed, too.
Jim gave me a pained look when he returned and saw I’d used his toothbrush, and it was such a normal look that it made me laugh and then I was feeling totally okay again. I laughed harder at him, till he shut me up by kissing me.
“Someday, Sandburg, I’m going to finally housebreak you.” Jim mock growled at me.
“Yeah, yeah. What’s the second part of our ceremony?”
For an answer, he wrapped a towel firmly around my waist and draped one around my shoulders. He grabbed a couple of dry ones and took my elbow. “Close your eyes and let me guide you.”
“Okay. Trust walk kind of thing?” I shut my eyes.
“Well, I suppose, but mostly I just want to surprise you. C’mon.” Jim took me out of the bathroom and after we'd walked through the cabin, I heard him slide open a door. By the wave of cold air I felt when he tugged me forward, we were out on the patio.
“Open your eyes, Chief.”
“Oh, excellent. I’m going to really enjoy this. Last one in is a rotten egg.”
I stripped off my towels, but Jim beat me getting into the hot tub since he was already naked. He’d dumped the dry towels on a nearby bench and was already submerged when I scrambled into it.
“You give good ritual, man.”
Jim looked smug. “C’mere.” He held out his arms.
I went to him. Kind of symbolic, really, because I think that I will always go to him when he asks.
He held me, my back against his chest, and started playing with my body. He licked around my ear and tweaked my nipples, slowly ran his hands down my chest, then stopped to circle my belly button before cupping my balls. I relaxed against him and felt any tension still remaining in my muscles exit quietly. It was a chilly night, but still well above freezing, and the moisture was steaming up from the hot tub in a fog. I wasn’t cold at all, not even my face, although I sank down a little lower in the water till my chin was practically in it.
My cock filled out again and Jim started moving his hand more purposely and whispered to me to let him know when I was ready for his mouth.
The stars were brilliant above us and I lay back with my head on Jim’s shoulder, watching those faraway, fiery furnaces and letting him bring me to the edge of ecstasy. I stammered his name, and he pushed me away as he stood up, then lifted me up to the seat on the edge of the tub. He stepped between my legs, making them widen out, then knelt down, slipping my cock into his hot mouth.
I felt elemental, sitting there with the mist rising around me, my legs safely in the steaming water, the cold air pebbling my nipples and a light breeze teasing at my hair -- and a god at my feet, such a beautiful man, the muscles shifting on his back, his strong arms holding me steady while his mouth worshiped me.
I stammered his name again, a warning this time, but he didn’t let me go. I came, hard, and maybe I whispered a prayer to the mer-god who had done this for me.
I was pulled carefully back into the water and enjoyed the sensation of my cold skin heating deliciously up again, and every bone in my body softened into submission, as Jim held me and soothed me. He kind of was rocking me and it felt nice.
“You’re pretty sleepy, aren’t you, Chief?”
Jim helped me out and dried me off, wrapping a towel around my body and one around my hair. He ran one over his own body quickly, and put his arm around me as we went back inside. Once in the bedroom, I toweled my hair again to keep the pillow dry, and he pulled back the covers before picking up the wet towels and leaving. Man, fresh sheets. Jim had put on fresh sheets, and I thought this must be what heaven is like as I slid into bed.
I was almost asleep when he came back into the bedroom and for a moment I thought he was going to shackle us together again.
“You need something, babe?”
Babe, again. Well, I’d let it slide this time.
“Y’ didn’t make me promise.”
“Not t’ leave you. To stay in cus’dy.”
“I trust you. Sentinel and guide, remember? Ellison and Sandburg. Jim and Blair. The last of the red hot lovers.”
I breathed out a soft laugh, almost totally out, but I managed to stay awake while Jim slid into bed beside me and wrapped me back in his strong arms.
“Think ‘m developin’ fetish for you’ arms.”
Jim gave a snort, then mock growled at me again.
“Go to sleep, Sandburg. I love you, you dopey little goof-ball.”
“ 'kay. Love you too.”
I closed my eyes and slid into dreams.
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Twelve.
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Twelve
“Sandburg, I think you should eat breakfast first before doing all this hoodoo-voodoo stuff.”
I shook my head. Fasting was one of the shaman’s tools, like drumming, and I had the feeling I was going to need all the help I could get.
“I’ll be fine, and I need to do some preparation to get myself ready for entering the spirit plane. You should too, Jim.”
“I already ate my Wheaties. Chief, are you sure this is a good time to try this? I mean, according to you this bad energy has been in me a long time, so what does it matter if we wait to try this healing when things aren’t up in the air so much? Why not wait until after we’ve got Bergman behind bars?”
Jim looked honestly baffled, but I was feeling almost a compulsion to stop any more damage from happening to my lover. My lover… still was a little hard to wrap my head around the fact that Jim was my lover again. I walked over to where Jim was standing by the island kitchen counter and placed my arms around his neck. Gently, I urged him to bend down and I kissed him. Jim was my lover. I could do this now, I could kiss him like this – but just when we were private. Alone. We’d keep things to ourselves – like we did before. Jim hadn’t thought it was anybody’s business but our own that we were sleeping together. That’s what he had told me the first time we hooked up.
I cupped my hand under his jaw, smooth from shaving this morning. “It bothers me – a lot – now that I know the damage you’re carrying. I saw it, Jim. You know, Incacha recognized something in me, something that made him pick me to learn shamanic tradition. He trusted me to help you. I want to heal you, man.” I dropped my hand and waited for Jim to agree to the healing or to put me off. I couldn't begin to do this unless he wanted it.
Jim looked at me intently for a moment, and then gave a sigh of agreement. Bringing up Incacha’s name made me wonder…
“Hey, Jim? I just had an important thought. Man, I can’t believe I never asked this before. Did you participate in any rituals when you were in Peru? Why didn’t Incacha do a healing extraction for you when you lived with the Chopec? Did he ever talk to you about it? Surely such a powerful shaman would see the same thing a beginner like me noticed. Or... did he do a ceremony but it wasn’t successful? Jim, this is important. You should tell me about these things -- ”
Jim brought his finger to my lips to shush me. “Well, maybe I would, Sandburg, if I could get a word in edgewise.”
I waved my hands in a ‘get-along-with-it' gesture and arched my eyebrows at him.
“Yeah, let me think... you know my memories are kind of fuzzy about Peru.” Jim was silent for a few minutes, brow furrowed, eyes shut. Then he spoke tentatively. “He… ah… Yeah. He told me that my… I guess soul… was unbalanced. He asked me if I wanted to be cured. I didn’t really know what he was talking about… I don’t remember having any blue dreams back then. So, I told him thanks, but no thanks. Anyway, Incacha told me it was my choice but that I should observe him helping others for a while. Which I did. Then I was found and taken back home. There was no time for a ceremony even if I had changed my mind.”
“You’ll do it for me?”
He stared at me, then nodded his head, muttering, “I was more accurate than I realized when I called you a witch-doctor jerk, the day the garbage truck almost creamed me.”
“Hey, who you calling a punk?” Jim said that in his mock-growl that always made me want to grin.
“Me. You called me a punk that day, not a jerk.”
“Oh. I must have been thinking it instead. All right, my little punk, go do ritual preparation stuff. I’m going to pack up the truck.”
“Okay, but then you should do something to put yourself in a quiet frame of mind. Ummm... leave me Dave’s guitar. You’re going to need it.”
“For what? Sandburg, I can’t play the damn thing.”
“I want you to set up a drumming rhythm on the body of it. It will resonate just fine and help both of us go into a trance.” Jim frowned. “Just a light trance, Jim.”
“You sure about this, Chief?”
I gave him my sideways-aura-look, then nodded. “The colors of your aura, in places they’re starting to go dull and grayish again. C’mon. It’s not western medicine, but it’s a valid way of healing. You need to have faith, man. Trust me.”
Jim stepped over to me and hugged me again. “And you feel up to it? You haven’t run a fever since yesterday morning, which is good, but you aren’t too tired, are you?”
“I slept great and I’m not too tired. I’ll be fine. Hmmm. I think I’ll do some yoga, then meditate quietly for a while by myself. The actual ceremony… I think will be done on the patio. Yeah. Earth to ground me, and water – the hot tub – to transmute the energy when it’s removed. Wind as the representative of the third element. We need fire. I’ll see if this place has any candles.” I moved over to the island and started pulling open drawers.
“There’s one of those outdoor portable fireplace heaters out on the patio. You probably missed it yesterday when we were out there. Go take a look and see if that will work. I’ll make a fire in it now if it does.”
I did as Jim suggested and grinned back at him.
I closed my eyes, listening to the harmonic beat of the drumming rhythm that was filling my consciousness. My body felt loose, relaxed from the yoga and meditation I’d done to prepare myself. I sat upon the stone flag floor of the patio, and acknowledged the elements that surrounded me. Water to my left, fire to my right, earth under me, and air above me. I mentally chanted a mantra in time to the deliberate sounds coming from the guitar Jim held across his lap.
‘Fire, water, earth and air.’ Time lost meaning and I fell into the pounding rhythm that echoed my slow heartbeat. I asked for help from the spirit plane, and again visualized myself, naked, walking into a tunnel formed by trees arching over my path. I pictured the trees and air gradually shifting from the normal greenish hue to blueish green to the blue I associated with Jim’s spirit plane. The path went into Blue Jungle Land, and I followed it, sure of where I was heading.
I came to the little pool where Jim’s sentinel spirit had talked to me, and saw the ashes of the campfire we’d made of the Holy Wood. The flower bloom I’d picked to meditate upon had withered. I was alone. The sentinel spirit had said he’d be waiting for me, but he wasn’t there.
I sat down by the cold, dead fire and settled myself in a lotus position. I closed my eyes and thought about the love I had for Jim. I asked for his animal spirit to come to me. I practiced being patient.
Soft growls made me open my eyes. Jim’s panther spirit was facing me. He circled around me, then moved behind me. I could feel his warm breath on the back of my neck. I stayed calm. This was Jim and he wouldn’t hurt me. The big cat started licking my stigmata bite. I bent my head forward a little more and the cat gave a purr of approval. My bite was soothed, the itch I refused to acknowledge satisfied. The long tongue shifted to give me a warm swipe on my ear, then I felt two hands on my shoulders and the sentinel spirit was standing behind me.
I rose and turned to face him. I wanted to bow to him but we were standing too close together for me to manage it, so I nodded my head respectfully.
“Shaman, you have returned.” The words were breathed in my face, warm across my skin.
“I have, and I ask for your aid. Jim has agreed to let me remove the energy that weighs so heavily on him. I have never done this before. Jim has said that he watched Incacha do healings. Will you assist me, spirit of my sentinel?”
The Sentinel spirit kissed me on the forehead. “I will, Little Shaman.”
He indicated the beautiful small pool with his eyes. “Refresh yourself. I will return shortly.”
I did so, and enjoyed the feel of the cool water on my naked skin as I floated on my back, watching the clouds, content for the time being. Relaxing, I pictured what I must do to free Jim from the residual effects of the grief and anger he’d carried for so many years.
Jim’s spirit self returned, set a small bowl down on the ground, and beckoned to me. “Build the fire with me, Munay.” I left the pool, water running down my body in rivulets, and I helped feed small pieces of Holy Wood from a modest stack into the fire that the sentinel spirit started, glad that we had gathered enough on my prior visit. The fragrant smoke drifted through the clearing, and I breathed it in deeply and felt it settling on my skin.
The spirit guide turned me to face him and took my arm and held it out, parallel to the ground. He picked up the bowl and showed me the liquid. “This is Huitol. I will mark you with it.” He took a small, delicate brush from the bowl and began to draw sweeping lines, turning my arm over at times so the pattern – a vine – encircled my arm. He continued the design across and down my back, to the bottom of my spine, back up and down my other arm. It was pretty. It was blue. In the physical world, Huitol could take a couple of weeks to wear off. Idly, I wondered if it would remain on my skin when the healing was completed and I left Blue Jungle Land.
“Has the vine a name?”
“You know it as ayahuasca – the vine of the dead. Incacha used it to journey. I am drawing it for protection when you perform the healing.”
He painted a spiral on each of my cheeks; I recognized the shape of the design from the pressure of the brush. He painted a large spiral on my front, with my belly button serving as the center of the spiral. I loved that he chose spirals to symbolize this healing. Spirals were way cool, and they were found as a pattern throughout the universe, from galaxies to flowers to our own DNA. A symbol of searching, of journeying, but with the center holding fast. Yeah, very cool.
Finally, he put the bowl down. “Call your guide, Little Shaman. It is time.”
I had to slap down a quick irreverent thought of giving a whistle for my wolf spirit guide. This was a sacred ceremony; similar ones were utilized by shamans of many different cultures. I really shouldn’t let my sense of humor loose.
I thought on my own spirit guide, the blue-eyed wolf I had seen merging with Jim’s panther spirit when I died. My first self-aware journey into the spirit plane, but not my first presence there. From what Jim had told me, I’d showed up in his blue dreams in both my wolf and my naked form before Alex killed me. Jim had told me all the details after we were lovers.
I heard a friendly sounding whine and my spirit guide walked out from the jungle to the campfire, brushing against my bare legs. He jumped up and put his paws on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes. He merged with me, becoming transparent as he and I shared the same space. I felt the influx of power within me. I felt strong. Aware. My vision changed as I experienced vertigo. Once again, I could see and feel the spirit world and see and feel the physical world. It was a strange, strange sensation to see my outstretched arm painted with the Huitol designs and at the same time see my sweatshirt-clad arm in the physical world.
“Spirit of my sentinel, I begin,” I said to Jim’s spirit guide. In the physical world I rose from my lotus position and circled around Jim, who was methodically slapping his hand on the guitar’s body. The beat was slow, a delta rhythm enticing the brain to relax. I found myself looking at Jim's aura, at the different chakras that spiraled in his body. I knelt behind him, and slowly touched the crown of his head, his brow, and trailed my fingers down his back to the base of his spine. I saw where the gray, muddied shades were returning to his aura. I saw within him the heavy blackness of negative energy that was attached to his body.
On the spirit plane, I had also risen and gone to Jim’s spirit guide, who calmly stood before me wreathed in the smoke from the Holy Wood.
“Take what does not belong, Little Shaman. But protect yourself as Incacha would do. Do not allow the energy to enter you; place it in the pool, so the element of water may free it.”
I took a deep breath – on both planes of my existence – and on the physical side I pressed my hands hard against Jim’s lower back, while in the spirit world I reached through Jim’s aura and into his body, grasping the blackish-gray weight that was alien to his being. I pulled, hard, willing the energy to separate from Jim’s body and slowly it came away, becoming almost intolerably heavy. I put every ounce of strength I possessed into holding onto it, not letting it flow back to the spirit guide standing before me – or Jim sitting on the patio – so he could be free of it.
The design on my arms and back began to glow as I finished shifting the heavy energy from Jim to me. I could feel Jim’s black pain trying to find space within me to flow to, to fill up vulnerable areas of my body. The area around my heart was exerting a kind of attraction to it – like a magnet to iron – and I remembered the sentinel spirit advising me that my own healing from sexual abuse was not complete. I began to chant what flowed in my head – well, gasp it, really – and a distant part of me felt like rolling my eyes.
‘Stop – In the name of love, before you break my heart.’ I sang the phrase over and over as I staggered to the jungle pool. Back in the mortal world, I was lumbering over to the hot tub, both my biceps knotted as if I was lugging an anvil in my outstretched arms.
The drawing of the ayahuasca vine on my skin started to pulse, and I could feel its effect on the energy I’d taken from Jim. It was forcing the energy to not enter my body, and I was grateful the sentinel spirit had given me this extra protection.
I plunged my arms into the cool waters of the pool – and the steaming water of the hot tub -- and the weight in my arms was gone. The water had neutralized it, had absorbed it safely. I gave a sigh of relief. I was suddenly exhausted, and I wanted to end this dual existence and leave the spirit plane. I stood on wobbly legs and prepared to bow to the sentinel spirit and end this spirit walk. At the same time I was standing by the edge of the hot tub, holding onto it for support, my sleeves dripping wet and starting to turn cold. This double vision would no doubt cause me a headache now that this healing ritual was over.
Then I froze, thinking furiously.
I was an idiot. A class one, absolute moron.
Man, I knew that nature abhorred a vacuum -- I understood that concept -- but I hadn’t applied it to the state of Jim’s being, now that I taken that old pain-energy away. The ritual wasn’t complete yet. I needed to do something to protect the spaces I’d opened in Jim’s spiritual body. If I didn’t fill the opening with something positive, then other, harmful energy might find its way to him. This was Shamanism 101 and I knew this stuff – well, as much as reading up on the subject could teach someone. But I’d forgotten to plan for it. I’d have to fix my mistake, now, before any mishaps happened to Jim.
I centered myself, and walked unsteadily to the sentinel spirit. In the physical world, I stumbled to my knees in front of Jim, who was still slowly beating the guitar, the sound – a combination of a drumming sound with an echo from the guitar strings – reverberating through me. I clumsily slid the guitar away from Jim and put my hands on his shoulders.
Then I pushed with my own life energy. I shook with contractions as I expelled my life-force out of my body, following the spiral path painted on my belly, the healing force exiting through my belly button – the place where I had once been physically connected to my mother. I pushed my life force into Jim. I gave over everything I could, because it had to be enough to keep Jim safe.
I shifted my vision and saw his aura brightening back up into the vivid, healthy rainbow colors that meant he was balanced and whole. I looked carefully – with fading sight– at his inner self, and saw no gaps where he could be damaged by energy that didn’t belong there.
This was Karma. Giving my energy to him felt like the right thing to do. We’d shared our life force before – bonded, in a way – when I’d died. When his animal spirit had jumped into mine, Jim had given me his life force and anchored me to this existence. I had given him mine just now, and it would protect him and complete his healing. Yeah, Karma. But I was tired now… So tired.
I dropped down to the jungle floor and curled up in a fetal ball. I needed to rest… I couldn’t move. My doubled sight was darkening, but I vaguely saw that I had slumped onto the patio near Jim. I was shivering from my wet clothes. I closed my eyes – on the spirit plane – and when I opened them again I no longer had the twin vision.
The Sentinel spirit sat beside me, and stroked my hair.
The last thing I heard was his voice, murmuring sounds that I couldn’t understand.
I was flying. That was bad. Bad things happened after I was in the air and moving. Wait… I wasn’t flying… I’d been mixed up. I was being carried. I could feel arms under my legs and around my back. Jake? Nononono – he wasn’t supposed to do that anymore. I started to kick out and move against his chest, trying to make him put me down.
‘Lemme go! Naomi stopped working for you. I don’t have to anymore. Let me go!’ I struggled more while Jake spoke unintelligible words to me. Bastard. He’d gotten me to be ‘nice’ to him lots of times before but… wait… Wasn’t he dead? So who had me now? Bad things happened when I was picked up and carried. I kept on struggling, but I was so weak. I was trying as hard as I could to get free and I could barely wiggle.
Jim! Jim would help me. He’d freed me before when Lash… Wait. Open your damned eyes and use your brain. It was hard. My eyelids were so heavy. Too heavy.
Shit, who had me? Was it Jake or was it the bogey man? Oh, God, was it Lash? Or some other thug? Whoever was carrying me was talking again.
“Chief? God, wake up, Blair. I am never letting you talk me into doing this again. Your ass is going straight to the hospital.”
I tried very, very hard and croaked out, “J’m?”
He stopped. Jim was carrying me. Okay. No bad guys. Just Jim. I relaxed against him. Jim.
“Blair. Can you talk?”
I snuggled against him, rubbing my face on his warm flannel shirt. Jim. ‘No. Too much trouble.’
I wanted to go to sleep. I was really tired, and I hadn’t asked Jim to carry me to bed. That’s kid stuff. But since this was all his idea, he could just keep on going. I’d yell at him tomorrow for picking me up, instead of just waking me wherever I’d fallen asleep. A bed sounded really good right now. He could carry me upstairs to our bed. I liked our bed. I liked the big skylight above it. But he wasn’t moving.
I made an effort. “Gid’y up.”
“What the fu-- Giddy up? Jesus Christ, you’d better be all right.” He started walking again.
When he stopped, I opened my eyes. No bed. I swallowed my disappointment. I was put in the new truck, not Sweetheart -- Sweetheart was taking a vacation in Tennessee -- but our get-away truck. Our cold truck. I started to try and complain about that to Jim, and the events of the morning started coming back to me. Oh, fuck! I’d overextended myself with the extraction and passed out. I’d better talk to Jim and make some sense this time – giddy up? sheesh – or my ass would be sitting in the ER before I could say, ‘Blessed Protector.’ I so regretted ever telling Jim that’s what he was after he had saved me from Lash. Jim played that card whenever he did something that he said was for my own good.
I licked my lips and opened my mouth. “Jim.”
I sounded weak to my own ears, so I tried again, and said a little louder, “Jim.”
He looked over at me from where he was starting the truck. “We’re going to the hospital, so just relax, buddy.”
No! I didn’t want to go there. I shook my head at him, and felt a stabbing pain in my head.
“Yes, we are, Sandburg. You were unconscious. Unconscious and unresponsive. You’re probably borderline hypothermic, with the wet clothes you have on. They need to come off. Damn this lousy heater anyway.”
Jim pulled off my wet shirts, then helped me put on a couple of dry sweatshirts. He placed a blanket over me and buckled me in.
Then he went back to the patio, and I watched him douse the fire and return carrying my guitar. He stowed it in the back of the truck before climbing in the cab and fastening his seat belt.
I tried again to get through to him that I was okay. Tired, sure, but I was all right.
“I’m fine, Jim.” There. That came out much better.
He just looked at me, assessingly.
“I’m not hurt.” I tried a rueful smile at him. He didn’t relax. “There’s no point in going to a hospital; they’ll just say I need to rest. What would we tell them anyway? That I’d made a mistake in calculating the limits of my endurance while I was doing a curing ceremony in the spirit world? Jim, they’d restrain me and call for a psych consultant.”
“Blair, I want to make sure you haven’t made your mono worse or, or damaged something internally.”
“You do it, Jim. You can check me out. I’m just really tired and need to go to sleep. I let my batteries drain down and I need to recharge. I can sleep in the truck. Besides, you don’t want to leave a trail, do you?” I doubted very much anybody was tracking us, but I wasn’t above using Jim’s sense of – well, it’s not paranoia if they are after you – overdeveloped worry to ditch the hospital idea. Besides, I didn’t need another damn bill to pay off.
Jim snorted. That was good. That meant he was starting to drop out of hyper-vigilant mode.
He reached over and felt my forehead. He slid his fingers to the side of my neck and felt my pulse. He slid his hand over my belly and probed, but he didn’t touch anything that felt tender.
“You seem orientated. Count backward by sevens from one hundred.”
I dutifully proved that my mind was still working.
“Jim, I’m okay. I’m sorry I scared you.”
Jim let out a long sigh. “Your vitals are acceptable. You’ve stopped shivering. You’re making as much sense as you ever do. Okay, the hospital is on hold. But, if I can’t wake you up then you’re going to the ER. End of discussion.”
I nodded my agreement and I unbuckled my seat belt and slid over to him, and he helped me fasten the middle belt. My eyes were already shutting. It had been hard to keep myself from falling asleep as we talked. I leaned against Jim and made miniscule wiggles to get comfortable. I breathed deeply of Jim’s scent and felt myself start to drift off.
“Go to sleep, Chief. We can discuss what happened to us during that ceremony later.”
I let Sandburg sleep till we got back to Billings from the small cabin we’d rented near Pictograph State Park. Blair would have enjoyed stopping at the park and looking at the prehistoric cave art, and if he hadn’t been so out of it, I had planned to let myself be talked into a little side trip to check out the ancient drawings.
We had to skip it. He was too tired to do anything but sleep. However, he needed to eat, so I was going to go through a drive-thru, if I could get him to wake back up. If I couldn’t then we were headed to the hospital instead, and I wanted to know which direction I was taking before leaving a town where there was a hospital.
He came awake with about as much grace as he usually exhibited, but he did wake up enough to be fed and watered and dosed with meds. He asked for Tylenol, saying he had a headache. No fever. Yet. I fully expected him to be set back after he’d passed me his life force. When he’d recovered some of his strength, I’d tell him how I knew what he’d done. But not now, he’d get too worked up and excited and not rest like he should.
I held him securely as he slept leaning against me, and I’d tucked the blanket around him to make sure he stayed warm. He’d come too close to hypothermia for my peace of mind.
I’d called Findley after we’d eaten and asked him to find us something close to Lolo, Montana. God, the mountain ranges we were driving through were majestic. It was too bad Blair was mostly missing the scenery. Tonight would be our last night on the road. We could make the rest of the drive to Cascade in about eight hours tomorrow. We’d drive today for six or seven hours, then call it a night.
Tomorrow we’d meet up with Simon.
Tomorrow -- I would have to decide to be out with Blair or keep us both in the closet.
Did he want to come out? He might prefer not to, after all.
I’d put off doing what my spirit guide had asked. I hadn’t talked to Blair about what he’d felt before when we were together regarding being in the closet – at the time he’d said he understood and was okay with us being private. Had he been trying to accommodate me, telling me what he thought I wanted to hear? I wouldn’t put it past him to do that. What about now? Did he want me to openly acknowledge he was my lover?
Did I want to tell my family about Blair? What about my friends? Co-workers? The cashier at the grocery store? Nobody or everybody?
I didn’t really give a hoot in hell what casual acquaintances thought or strangers who might see us holding hands or touching each other in a way that couldn't be seen as a straight-guy-hug-your-best-friend-way.
Coming out at work… Hopefully I’d built up enough creditability with the department that I wouldn’t be unduly harassed. Still, it was a strong possibility. There were gay cops across the U.S. who had filed lawsuits for being harassed and not being backed up on the job. I wasn’t afraid to mix it up with any bigoted idiots on the force. It’d be a hassle, sure, but I could handle it.
Friends. Well, if they couldn’t accept us being lovers, then they weren’t really friends, were they?
Family. Blair had the better deal than me. Naomi would be accepting of Blair having a male lover, I was sure of it. Now, having a cop for a lover, well, she probably would have to ‘process’ that for a while. She would come around, though. My family… Rucker, my cousin, would be amused, but he’d be accepting. Steven would be awkward about it at first, but he was basically a tolerant guy and would give Blair a fair chance. It was important to Steven that he and I stay on on good terms, so he'd make an effort to get along with us.
Dad would be a problem. He hadn’t ever been coarse about voicing his opinions about homosexuality, but I knew he didn’t approve of the idea. Dad would take some talking to, and if I had told him years ago that I sometimes had relations with men as well as women, he’d have pushed me away. But our separation had changed him. Age had changed him. He really wanted me to be his son, and I thought he would overlook things he found distasteful. Besides, my Blair was a charmer, and if anybody could get my father to relax about his son being lovers with a man, Blair could manage it. All he would need was time to talk with Dad.
What about everybody else that fell between family and strangers? There had to be a sensible way to deal with that. If they ask, then tell? Break the good news to a few friends? Ask them to keep it to themselves or just let the gossip mill run with the news? I didn't know if people who knew us would really care. If it were me, learning about, say, Rafe, being gay, I wouldn’t give a shit about it. And Lord knows, a lot of people had speculated about Blair and me over the years. Maybe people wouldn’t be surprised at all.
What the hell, I'd planned on telling Simon and my family about Blair the first time we were together, after I was sure we were going to make it. I hadn’t shown much faith in Blair’s ability to commit, that’s for sure. It was fear of embarrassing myself with news of our breaking up within weeks of getting together that had made me cautious before. I wasn’t worried about that anymore.
Simon would be okay with knowing, after he got over the fact that I hadn’t told him when Blair and I first got together. He would be pissed at me for not trusting him enough to tell him. He wouldn’t yell at Blair, though. Me, he knew I could take a reaming out as just him venting his frustration. If he exploded at Blair, the kid would look stricken and go mute, after initially trying to explain himself, and Simon would end up feeling like a horse’s hind end for hurting him. Simon had learned that the hard way. The power of the Sandburg eyes – they were great for invoking guilt.
It would be nice to be able to show Blair the kind of affection in public that a man wants to show his mate. Holding his hand on this trip – it had felt right. Blair had been a little awkward about it, which was endearing, but he had let me do it. He was getting better about trusting me – physically and emotionally.
I thought that touching him and holding him, like I was doing now, had helped fill a deep well of loneliness in Blair. I had a strong hunch that Blair’d had some bad experiences in the past, which made it even sweeter that he would relax when I touched him.
He’d come clean about a lot of things since I’d come to Tennessee. I appreciated that he was trying to be more open with me. Hell, he had only kept things from me because he’d been trying to protect me from worrying about him – just like he'd done with his mother. He’d never really had a real relationship before ours, and we’d both made mistakes, but I knew we could learn from them and things would be okay. He still had his secrets, though. Maybe he would someday tell me why he’d developed the dating system that divided casual sex from emotional intimacy. I had promised him I wouldn’t push – I’d keep that promise.
My stomach rumbled, interrupting my thoughts. I was hungry, but I’d been putting off stopping anywhere while Blair was still sleeping off his exhaustion from his efforts on the spirit plane. I did feel a sense of acceptance when I thought about some of the things that had torn me up in the past. My father’s misguided actions when I was a kid and a young man, for instance. Bud’s murder. The deaths of my team in Peru. Losing Danny, who’d been like a little brother. Incacha’s pointless death, far away from his home and people. The ancient hurt I’d felt because of my mother’s abandonment – the feeling that it was my fault she left us – was tempered with the understanding that her decision was not based on what either of her children had done. Intellectually, I had known that for a long time, but now, I felt it was true.
Blair had done this for me. My Little Shaman. My Munay. I was keeping him. And I was keeping him safe.
Blair hadn’t realized when he named me his Blessed Protector that it was a job description as well as a title.
I would be his backup. I wouldn’t stop him from doing the things he felt were his to do, but I was going to make damn sure he would survive doing them. Then I would take him home and make love to him till he knew in every molecule of his body that he was loved.
My lover started stirring next to me and I started whispering endearments to him. I loved to tease him with the cornball names he would object to when he was fully awake, during this time of balancing between consciousness and unconsciousness. He never could quite remember if I’d really called him babe, or short stuff, or any of the other hundred goofy names I had for him.
I felt contented.
I whispered my thanks to him, and felt myself smiling as Blair reached out in his half-asleep stage and gave me a one-armed hug around my chest.
Blair had made his decision to be my partner and my lover.
Life was good.
Continued in A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Thirteen.
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Thirteen
I woke up and was a little surprised that we'd been driving for hours. Jim said he was hungry, so we pulled off Interstate 90 for a late lunch at Ryan’s Steakhouse. I was just going to order some clam chowder, but Jim insisted that I eat a steak and baked potato. I protested that I’d had the same thing the night before, but he told me that after the exertion I’d put into helping him, I needed more protein and carbs. It was sweet, in an annoying way, that he was giving me nutritional advice, and I ate my he-man meal to make him feel better. I was feeling a little guilty that I’d given him a scare this morning by passing out.
I’d really missed being able to cook and eat good food this past year, except for the times I’d stayed with organic farmers or friends who liked things like lentil soup. I’d found out that scrounging nutritional food that was affordable while I was on the road wasn’t easy to do. A lot of times I wouldn’t eat the available crap – hot dogs at gas stations or white-bread sandwiches that had been sitting in a cooler for who knows how many days -- and I supposed that had contributed to me getting skinny. Well, that and being broke most of the time. Jim didn’t like it that I’d lost weight. He kept giving me bananas to eat.
I was full when we hit the road again, and my intentions of staying awake and keeping Jim company fell by the wayside when I took another unscheduled nap. When I woke up this time, Jim said we were close to our stopping point. I watched the gorgeous Montana scenery roll by and felt… happy? Yeah. I felt happy. Wow. I looked up to study Jim’s face and he seemed serene.
“Jim. How are you doing, man?”
“I’m good, Chief. Things are finally straightening out, and I’m looking forward to going home. With you, buddy; the loft’s been way too boring without your jungle music and stuff scattered around for me to trip over. Where do we send for your belongings, anyway?”
I eyed him. I thought he knew…
“Jim, I’ve got everything important to me right here.”
“That’s really nice of you to say that, Blair, but I meant your stuff. Do you have it stashed at a friend’s house or in a storage unit somewhere?”
I patted Jim’s thigh. “No, Jim. I wasn’t quoting a Hallmark card, although yeah, absolutely, I have everything I need sitting right next to me. I don’t have any other belongings. I sold them, gave them away, or they were stolen from me. There wasn’t any sense in accumulating things when I traveled so much. What’s in my backpack is it, except for Dave’s guitar. Mine was stolen, and Naomi’s going to be sad when I tell her about it. Jimi’s ax. It was a real rite of passage when she gave it to me when I turned twelve. She made a little speech about the end of childhood and entering adulthood. My guitar and when I was given my Bar Mitzvah knife later, symbolized that change of status. Hey, I guess I can have my knife back now, right?”
“You don’t have anything but your backpack? What about your photos, your books, your masks and --”
“Gone. Don’t worry about it, Jim. I mean that.”
“Blair – anything you need, you just tell me. Anything at all.”
Jim looked troubled. Shit. I’d better clear this up pronto. I nudged him with my elbow. Right in the ribs.
“Look, Jim. I don’t want you trying to replace stuff I used to have. I’ll do that when I’m working again. I’m your partner; you aren’t going to be my sugar daddy. And I like to think that being free of possessions is a liberating Zen life lesson. I’m sure there’s a quote out there that would sum it up.”
“Christ, this is my fault. If I hadn’t run you off --”
“Cut it out right this minute, Ellison! It is not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault, except maybe a couple of thieves'. Do I need to kick your ass again, because I will if you don’t stop making with the mea culpa noises. You got that?!”
Jim fell silent and I sighed.
“Let it go. it’s not the first or even the second time I’ve had to pretty much start over. Most of the stuff in the warehouse fire ended up unusable, and there were times Naomi and I had to cut our losses and leave. I’m used to it.”
Jim glanced down at me, concern plain on his face, and I snuggled in tighter to his side. The big galoot.
“Look, let's compromise. I’ll replace my stuff when I can afford it and if I think it's necessary. You can be in charge of making sure I don’t starve. Okay, Jim?”
“Add in that I’m allowed to indulge in buying you presents and you’ve got a deal. I believe you said it yourself. Christmas is coming.”
“That never stopped you from enjoying Christmas. And I’m fine with giving you Hanukah gifts, too. Uh... you don’t have to spend money on me, Chief. Make me up some of those coupons like you did the first year you lived with me. Only this time, besides ‘will cook on your turn for dinner for a week’ you could put down something like ‘will give morning blow-jobs for a week.’ You’re creative; surprise me.”
I snorted, but I liked the idea. I was pleased that Jim was shifting back to the relaxed state he’d been in when I woke up from my last nap. I wondered how long it would be before naps wouldn’t be part of the daily routine. At least I hadn’t run a fever today.
“If you want your knife back you can slide it out of my pocket. Just don’t make me wreck this truck.”
“Don’t tell me which pocket it’s in! Searching should be half the fun.” I glanced at Jim, feeling mischievous. “Man, sometimes I fantasize Brackett doesn't give you a choice about how to pull the wire out of your pants. Instead of letting you pull it out, he makes me put my hand down the front of your boxers and although I know the wire is there I can’t seem to find it and my hand keeps nudging your dick, which is getting harder the more I’m rooting around down your pants, and… well, you can guess how it ends.”
“There’s no way I would let myself put on a show for that prick Brackett. I’d think about Mrs. Murphy -- the oldest, meanest, ugliest teacher I ever had -- and imagine her hands fondling me instead of yours, to keep from throwing a boner for him to smirk about.” Jim looked disgruntled. Well, I couldn’t leave him like that.
“Jim, Jim. Fantasy, my man. But let's change it to your hands are handcuffed behind your back and he leaves the room, tells me I’ve got an hour to remove the wire –“
“And have the surveillance team listen to an hour’s worth of you sticking your hands down my pants and jerking me off. I seriously doubt that you could keep quiet, Chief, and I probably would at least make some sounds. Then we’d have to deal with the fallout of everybody at the P.D. knowing we had sex. Crap, it was hard enough to shut them up with just Brackett’s comment about you and --”
I interrupted him. “What? Wait a minute. In real life, are you telling me you were given shit about Brackett asking you if you wanted me to remove the wire? Jim, you never told me anything about that!”
“I took care of it.”
Yeah, I’ll bet. The Ellison intimidation technique was scarily effective.
“That must have really bothered you, your colleagues thinking we were together. Even if we weren’t at the time, Brackett must have picked up a vibe from me to make that assumption. Sorry, Jim.”
Jim shook his head. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry about. But what if some of the guys at the P.D. did know we were lovers – what would you think about that?”
What would I think about that? Why was Jim even asking me? It wasn’t my decision. I really had nothing to lose, except possibly some friendships that I’d drifted away from anyway.
“Does anybody know? Did you spill the beans while I was gone?”
“No. But my spirit guide said to find out what you really thought back then about the secrecy we kept. He seems to think you probably went along with what I wanted, without telling me how you really felt. Tomorrow we’ll be in Cascade. We need a game plan about coming out or not, and this time tell me what you really want, Blair.”
Well, shit. The teasing game I’d planned on playing by 'searching’ for my knife in Jim’s jean pockets just gotten dropped like a hot potato. I straightened up a little and wiped both of my hands on my thighs.
“Jesus, Jim. I… I’m not sure what would be the right thing, except it’s really you who would be most affected and I’ll go along with whatever you decide.”
Jim turned slightly and assessed me with narrowed eyes. “Score one for the jungle-cat-guy. You’re going to go first because I don’t want to influence you. So, how did you feel when you couldn’t tell Naomi that we were lovers? What about when the guys would tease you during poker nights about any new girlfriends? How about having to maintain the fiction that you still slept in your own room instead of my bed, except… well, after things started spiraling downward you did sleep in there a lot, so I guess technically that wasn’t fiction, was it?”
I reached over and grabbed Jim’s hand. “Let me think on it before I just spout off. This is our future you’re talking about and Jesus, Jim. You think I didn’t research what coming out has meant to other gay cops? We’re talking about how the private and public areas of our lives intersect and it’s not a god-damn math problem; it’s not a fucking Venn diagram. It’s… not as clear-cut as dividing friends, family, and strangers into groups on paper and seeing who should know and who shouldn’t. And I get that there is a price that’s paid by keeping silent. The denial of something fundamental about our lives can feel rejecting, like who we are to each other is something wrong, since it has to be hidden. I… I’m not sure what the right thing to do is, Jim. I’ve already cut my ties with almost everybody I knew in Cascade, but… you’ve got family there and friends like Simon, and you’re respected at the P.D. and it could be dangerous for you.”
Jim squeezed my hand. “Let me ask you something, Blair. How did you feel when I held your hand in public the last couple of days?”
I slumped in the seat, not letting go of his hand. “I felt…like I wasn’t alone anymore. And a little nervous.”
“Do you want to meditate before deciding what you want to do, babe?”
“Yeah, I think so. Maybe later this evening.”
“You know, before we broke up, I had planned on eventually telling my family and Simon, at least, that we were together, after I was sure we wouldn’t self-destruct. But I never explained that to you. I was testing your commitment to me; I thought if we made it for six months then we could come out of the closet. I didn’t think about the lack of commitment to you I was showing by having that condition. I’m sorry.” Jim raised my hand to his mouth and kissed my knuckles.
“Wow. You were going to tell your Dad? I don’t think he likes me very much. He looks at me like I’m from another planet. And how do you think Simon would’ve reacted to hearing we were sleeping together?” The thought of those conversations made me feel kind of twitchy.
“Simon would’ve been okay about it. I even offered to tell him over the phone back in Sweetwater, if it would’ve helped Findley decide to trust me with your custody.”
Jim gave a low laugh. “If I'd spilled the beans back when we first got together, I think Simon would’ve taken me out for a drink and in his very unsubtle way made sure I knew that he expected me to treat you right. Not that he’d ever tell you he’d said anything like that. I don’t think he’d have had the same chat with you, though. Probably wouldn’t think it was necessary since he’d witnessed you sacrificing yourself for me on TV. He probably would have told you to let him know if you were being harassed by anybody in the P.D. No, Simon won’t be a problem if we decide to tell him. Although he might be peeved that we – meaning me – didn't tell him last year.
Jim moved to drop the visor down to block out the sun, then put his arm, warm and heavy, reassuring, back across my shoulders.
“Dad would come around if we confided in him, and you are underestimating your ability to soothe savage Ellisons. We’d spend time with him, which is something I’ve done a lot this past year while you were gone, and he’d get to know you better. You’re very likable, Blair. He’d grow to be fond of you, and he’d end up accepting us because he wants me on good terms with him. My brother would be okay after a few awkward get-togethers. So don’t worry about my family.”
Jim turned onto the county highway that would take us to our cabin for the night, and I fell silent, thinking about the ramifications of coming out. I’d had plenty of friends who were bi, like me, or gay, and I thought about their experiences in being out. Not that I’d hidden my bisexuality from anybody except the cops, and that was to protect Jim from any fallout from associating with me. Still, people died every year due to their sexual orientation. I’d run into prejudice because of being Jewish or a hippie – although I still hadn’t been able to pin down what exactly made a person be tagged as a hippie – and from being a bastard. Jake had managed to insinuate I was inferior for all three reasons, although he was careful to say things in such a way that if I’d complained to Naomi, it wouldn’t have sounded like anything at all. There'd been something in his body language and tone of voice that let me know he considered me beneath him, and that he was doing me a great favor by allowing me to redeem my second-class self by sucking his dick or being fucked by him. He’d fucked with my head as much as he’d fucked with my body, and it took years before I was really able to sift through his lies and manipulations and see him for the power-hungry pedophile he really had been. I was glad he was dead, and I didn’t care if feeling that way meant I’d sent my Karma down a notch.
Jim nudged me and I focused back on the road as he slowed the truck to a stop. There were elk meandering across the blacktop, and I marveled at the size of them. I supposed Jim had stopped a good distance away in case they got too interested and charged us.
God, Montana was beautiful. I wanted to come back here someday with Jim and really spend some time in this wilderness. Nobody here would care if two gay men camped or rented a cabin together or if we were seen kissing or holding hands. Sure. I remembered a news story from a couple of years ago. A young man who’d been beaten and tied to a fence in imitation of a scarecrow had slipped into a coma from his injuries surrounded by beautiful Wyoming scenery. Matthew Shepard, twenty-one years old, died because of a hate crime. He'd been openly gay.
Jim’s job was already dangerous. Did I have the right to put him into more danger?
On the other hand, were we mice or we were men? Living in fear of being outed was bound to be soul-sucking in its own right and at the end of the day, could I look in the mirror and like the person I saw standing there if I denied to others such a basic part of myself? Could Jim?
Man, I did need to meditate. Maybe he sensed my trepidation, because Jim reached down and held my hand tightly as we waited till it was safe to drive again.
After checking into the cabin, we both put off discussing anything else relating to our future in favor of taking care of mundane chores. I did laundry while Jim made spaghetti. After supper, I was banished to the couch and Jim washed up the dishes. I lay down and stared at the ceiling, listening to him sweep the kitchen floor and plotting how to finagle a massage out of him. I could have just asked outright for one, but it would be more entertaining to artfully wince a couple of times and rub my lower back. I made a bet with myself that I would find myself face down on the bed with Jim’s big hands seeking out the knots in my muscles within ten minutes of my first groan. That plan was put on hold when Dave’s cell phone rang.
Jim carried the phone into the living room and made himself comfortable on the couch by lifting my legs and sitting down, my lower legs and sock-covered feet now cradled in his lap. He asked me if I wanted to explain to Simon what we had in mind to trap Bergman. I was feeling lethargic and lazy, though, so I told him to go ahead.
Jim outlined the points of our campaign succinctly and gave Simon a list of what we would need in the way of electronic equipment, Kevlar vests and backup. He and Simon discussed having Bergman’s office already staked out when I made the phone call, in case Bergman did something unexpected. Jim told Simon that we should wait another couple of days before setting our trap, but I interrupted and said that I wanted to do it tomorrow. I knew what Jim was thinking, that I was recovering from being sick and I’d exhausted myself this morning doing the extraction, but I had some counter arguments all warmed up and ready to go. I held out my hand for the phone and he reluctantly passed it over.
“Hey, Simon. Besides the fact that I really want to wrap this whole protective custody thing up as fast as possible, I’ll still look the part tomorrow of a down on my luck hitchhiker. I’m going to save the clothes I wore today and I’ll change into them before meeting Bergman. I’ll look and smell a little stale from being on the road; it’ll lull him into believing I’m the desperate guy with no resources he thinks I am. That, and the fact that I’ll look washed out and pale and stiff from driving eight hours. But I’m not sick enough to have to wait a couple of days. We’ll meet our backup at the truck stop on the loop exit – Roady’s – and get the vests and the wire set up, then they can go ahead and get in place at the Petro place on the Main Street exit. That’s the closest exit to Rainier. Jim and I will go there, and I’lI call Bergman from the pay phone.”
Simon had a few questions about some of the details and reported that no hit men had taken the bait with the false safe house addresses. So far, then, the leak hadn't sprung from any of the P.D. departments Simon had spoken to. Maybe the person responsible for passing along my being stuck in Sweetwater hadn't been notified I was supposedly in a safe house in Cascade right now. Simon was still carefully baiting that trap.
I handed the phone back to Jim and made myself comfortable again. I gathered that Simon was grilling him about whether I really was well enough to pull this off, but Jim backed me up. He said he trusted me to know my limits, and it made me really feel like his partner again.
I’d dozed off when the phone rang a second time. It was Jack Kelso. Jim talked to him briefly, then ended the call.
“Blair, are you awake?”
“Yeah… So, um… Jack find out anything?”
“There was no grievance filed by Blair Sandburg. Bergman played you, partner.” Jim went back to massaging my foot.
“I’m not surprised. I am going to file one after we get Bergman behind bars. Actually, Bergman’s behavior should make it easier for a genuine grievance to be awarded to me.”
I got up awkwardly and stumbled to the bathroom, making sure to rub my back where Jim could see me. Sure enough, when I came out, Jim intercepted me and felt down my spine and laid his warm hand on the back of my neck.
“You’re a devious little shit, Sandburg. I could smell you plotting mischief earlier and just now. But, you’ll get your backrub anyway. C’mon.”
The backrub led to Jim’s hands massaging other parts of my body, which led to some exploring by my hands of Jim’s anatomy and ended with some mutually satisfying exchanges of bodily fluids and spiking of dopamine levels, followed by prolactin inundating the pair of us into a near coma.
God, I’d missed having sex.
I slipped off to sleep contemplating how connected I felt to Jim today. I wondered if our bodies had produced high oxytocin levels when I’d given my… life force, my energy, my… love to Jim this morning to protect him from any intrusive energy zeroing in on his exposed vulnerabilities from the extraction. Oxytocin -- bonding hormone – maybe… a connection between the physical and spiritual planes… just so interesting…
Sandburg was having a nightmare. He’d woken me up with his fearful mutterings and when my shushing him and stroking his back didn’t ease him into restful slumber, I gently shook him awake.
He sat up in bed, holding his body rigid, then with an annoyed sigh slumped back down onto the mattress. I waited to see if he would roll over and go back to sleep, but he didn’t. He just lay there. Thinking.
“Sandburg, do you want to talk about it or go back to sleep?”
“What?” He sounded bewildered, not petulant.
“Your nightmare. Do you want to analyze it to death or just divert yourself from thinking about it? I’ll help distract you, if you want.” If it was me, I’d pick door number two, but this was Blair, so Mr. Psychology might want to expound on dream analysis.
Blair sat up in bed again and ran his hands through his hair, his curls becoming even more abandoned- looking as he scrunched fistfuls of his hair before dropping his hands onto his lap.
He started to slide out of bed, but I stopped him.
“Where are you going?” If it was just to pee, no problem; if it was to brood by himself, no way.
“I don’t think I can go back to sleep and I don’t want to keep you up. I’ll be all right, Jim. Don’t worry about me.”
“I’m citing the sixth commandment of the relationship rules. ‘Thou shalt share what is bugging you with your partner.’ So start sharing.”
Blair stared at me for a long moment, then murmured, “I guess now is as good a time as any.” But he just sat there. Brooding.
I pulled him down and snugged his back against my belly. I tightened my arms around him and said, “I’ve got you. Go on, tell me what’s on your mind.”
He let out a long, drawn-out breath, his body still tense. I waited.
Finally, Blair relaxed against me and said, “It happened a long time ago. I thought that I had dealt with it but apparently I’m still a little confused from the fallout. And thinking about how I reacted to having had a real, honest to god serious relationship, I have to agree with myself on that one.”
I had a sudden mental image of several Blairs nodding their heads together in agreement. I tossed that ridiculous image out of my head and made a supportive grunt.
“What triggered my dream tonight was probably a combination of some recent thinking of mine about the past and being picked up and carried this morning. I have some bad memories about having somebody hauling me around. Although once I knew it was you that had me, I was okay.”
“Carried, huh? Lash?” I flashed on Blair’s recounting to me of how he’d been trussed up and thrown over that crazy fucker’s shoulder and conveyed around that deathtrap of a warehouse. That was one shooting that I’d never regret doing.
“He was sorta icing on the cake. One more bad guy, like Maya’s father’s thug, carting me around before trying to kill me. But I wasn’t talking about them. It was… Shit, Jim. This is hard to do. I never wanted you to know this stuff about me.”
Blair’s heartbeat was picking up and he was tensed up again. I’d have to watch him carefully to make sure he didn’t slip into a panic attack. He took a couple of deep, slow breaths, and then gave a sigh.
“I don’t see myself as a victim; I survived being abused and I always thought that I’d done a pretty good job with getting my head together. Only -- not good enough. I see that now, after meditating and talking with you this week. I’m telling you because I don’t want to mess up this second chance we’re taking with each other. You asked me the other day why I thought letting strangers touch me – molest me -- was acceptable. Shit, I did think it was okay and that sounds so weird…”
Blair trailed off and I couldn’t say I was surprised at what he was tap-dancing around telling me. I’d known for a long time that he’d been high risk for being abused because of the unstable home life he’d had and the constant moving around.
I hugged him hard and kissed the back of his head. “Chief, I get that you were abused in some fashion, probably sexually. Why don’t you just start at the beginning and tell me what happened.”
Silence for a moment, and then another sigh.
“I’ve told Brother Marcus about me. And therapists. So it shouldn’t be so hard to tell my lover. Okay. Well, when I was five years old, Naomi and I moved into her boyfriend’s home. It was a pretty big house, at least to a kindergartener, and his fifteen-year-old son lived there, too.”
Blair’s voice had gone flat and monotone, like he was reading the instructions on how to assemble shelving.
“The son, uh… well, we played games together. And those games shifted from him tickling me to him molesting me. He didn’t try any penetration, but he did do oral sex and taught me to do it on him. He gave me stuff as a reward for playing with him, and he made me promise not to share our secret.”
Blair give a little shiver, then took a couple of deep breaths again before he began to speak.
“But even back then I had a big mouth and I chattered to my teacher about the new games I’d learned from him. All kinds of shit hit the fan then. I remember the screaming and crying my mother did when she was told and how angry and sad she was when we moved out. Her boyfriend didn’t believe me, and his son denied the allegations. There was an investigation, but the son never was actually charged with anything. However, Naomi’s ability as a parent to be protective of me was questioned. I was sent to counseling, and I learned I shouldn’t play those games. I only went maybe three or four times before Naomi and I moved away. Of course, I didn’t put all of that together when I was five, but I understood it later when I was at Rainier and I went back into counseling for the third time.”
“Ah, Chief. I hate that you had to go through that. Naomi was what? Twenty-one? When did you have counseling for the second time? Seems like something’s missing from your story.”
Blair laughed, and it was a mirthless sound.
“There’s more. See, what I got out of the first experience was that it was my fault that we had to move away and I shouldn’t have upset my mother. I should have kept the games secret and not told anyone.
“Fast forward to my thirteenth year. We had moved to Seattle, and I was the smallest boy in my class. By then I’d lived a lot of places and I wanted to have friends, which, of course, is natural for teenagers. That meant I didn’t want to travel around; I wanted to be able to stay in my school and keep the friends I’d made. Not too long after I had my Bar Mitzvah, Mom met a guy named Jake Boles and started working for his company. She really liked him. I really liked him, too, because he did cool stuff with me, and treated me like an adult friend.”
Blair was shaking his head very slightly. “I know now that he was grooming me, and that probably he’d targeted Naomi because she had a son -- a son who looked years younger than his actual age. We moved in with him and for a while nothing happened. Then he made Mom a buyer for his company. It was called… Fair Exchange. He bought unique third world crafts and marketed them, giving the native craftsmen a fair price. Naomi could really get behind that philosophy, and she started traveling -- just short trips at first, then longer and longer as she explored new sources of craftwork for the business. She got paid to do what she loved, and Jake was very effective at making me see how much my mother wanted that job. He convinced me that it would be selfish of me to want her to stop traveling and reinforced that I was grown up and didn’t need my mother to be with me all of the time. After all, I’d been given Jimi’s guitar and I’d celebrated my Bar Mitzvah. And I wanted to stay in Seattle where my friends were. So I was set up just where Jake wanted me.”
The flat, dead, rehearsed tone of voice Blair was using made my heart ache for him because I knew where this story was heading. I'd heard too many similar ones as a cop not to know.
“He was just as good at convincing Mom that it would be the best thing for me to stay with him and let him take care of me while she was gone because he was such a good male role model and I needed stability.”
Blair swallowed audibly. “At first, I enjoyed his attention. He let me drink with him when Mom was gone, because I was growing up, but I had to keep it a secret. Apparently I passed that test, because he upped the ante. We started watching adult movies together. One movie night he got me drunk, maybe he slipped something else in the drink, too, because when I was practically out of it he picked me up and carried me to his bed.”
I tightened my arms around him again, letting him know I was there, I'd be his anchor.
“That was the first time. He had a real fetish about cradling me in his arms while he took me to his room and a lot of times he’d get me from my bed and I’d wake up while I was being carried. That’s why I started to freak out this morning until I knew it was you.”
Blair was still speaking like the life had been sucked out of him. I wanted him to stop… and I wanted him to proceed. Spill all the poison out of him. Go back in time and find him and take care of him and not let that emotional vampire Boles anywhere near him. I could only listen and let him tell me the rest.
“He was excellent at seduction; he made me enjoy what was happening to my body. I didn’t know anything back then about the prostate gland or involuntary bodily responses. He mixed in the seduction with mind-fuck games, too. He told me, and I believed him, that he could tell I really wanted him to mess with me and said the proof was evident when I’d get aroused and have an erection.
“He said it was my fault that he was forced to touch me and… and… perform penetrative sex and oral sex on me. Listen to me here, I’m using clinical terms to distance myself from what happened, like it happened to someone else. Penetrative sex – he fucked me, Jim, and made me blow him. He sucked my dick, too.
“He got me to buy into my own victimization by telling me if I told anyone then I’d be in trouble; everybody would agree that I was just telling lies for attention. They would take me away from Mom and put me in detention where I’d get raped. I didn’t know that what he was doing to me was rape also. I just knew it was wrong, and I felt trapped."
“Jim, I didn’t have anybody I could ask about that stuff and trust that they were telling me the truth. And I remembered when Child Protective Services had talked to Mom before, about Jeremy molesting me, and I could tell that they hadn’t approved of her very much. I didn’t want her to be in any trouble.”
Blair shivered, and I covered us up with another blanket from the foot of the bed, and resumed holding him against me. I whispered to him that I was sorry he'd been hurt and that I loved him. Blair squeezed my arm back, and was silent for a moment, then haltingly began to talk again.
“Jake kept telling me how much Naomi liked her job and how nice it was for her to have a home to come back to after her buying trips. He told me how she would hate me for spoiling everything for her if I told anyone what the two of us were doing.
“He didn’t act so charming towards me anymore; he’d pretty much switched to plain blackmailing me -- Naomi’s happiness for my sexual services. He started isolating me more and more, so I could be available and under his thumb. He took me out of public school – away from my friends and any teachers I might have told about what he was doing – and home schooled me. He wouldn’t let me see my buddies. He always had a plausible story to tell Naomi – I wasn’t being challenged in public school; I’d outgrown my friends.
“I felt sick and angry and trapped. I wanted to protect my mother and I remembered all too well what had happened when I was five. I figured I was grown up and I could handle it. And I lived for the day that Naomi would decide that it was time to move on. Except she didn’t. She’d come back and Jake would charm the socks off of her and I’d have to pretend everything was fine. I wasn’t fine, though, and after the sex became a regular occurrence – and he always told me that he loved me while we were having sex – I started having panic attacks. Luckily, I never had one in front of Naomi.”
Blair repeated that ugly laugh.
“Things came to a head the day that I stole a microscope from a store and was caught. I lied about stealing it; said Jake was supposed to have made arrangements to pay for it. Nobody believed me and I had to go to court. I almost told the truth to the judge, but I didn’t. I think… I wanted to get caught. I remember feeling so reckless before I did it and so angry about everything, including Jake not letting me finish my school science project.
“I didn’t go to Juvie. Instead, I had to do community service – a lot of it – at the library and the Burke Museum. That was great, actually. It kept me away from Jake. I had a probation officer, too, and he was a good man. He had me play basketball twice a week with his probation group, even took us boys up to Cascade to see Orville play – the tickets were donated – and he’d just show up sometimes at the house. Jake didn’t like that, and it cut down on the number of times I had to have sex with him. But I never told anybody what he was doing with me -- not even the counselor I had to see for a year. Mrs. Johnson would ask me if anybody was molesting me. I always denied it. I was afraid of the repercussions if I did tell."
I almost bit my tongue so I wouldn't say anthing right now that would derail Blair from telling me what had happened to him, but how I wished all those well-meaning people had been able to put Blair's abuser behind bars. Nowadays they might have a kid in Blair's situation examined for physical signs of abuse, but back then an exam was less likely, especially if the child denied he was being sexually abused.
“So, that was the second time I had counseling, and it helped in a round about way. But since I wouldn’t talk about what was happening, their hands were tied. It wasn't their fault Jake kept on abusing me,” he said briskly. Hmmm... he sounded like he wanted to rush past what he'd just said, and all of a sudden it clicked in my head why. Damn it. Even after all the counseling he'd had, he still had some doubts about whose fault it was that he'd been abused.
"Chief, it wasn't your fault. You were just a kid. Kids think like kids, not adults. Your reasons for not telling made sense to you, don't beat yourself up about it now. The only one responsible for what that asshole did was him."
He fell silent for a little while and I felt so sad for him. I kissed him softly on the back of his head again. He shouldn’t have been in such a vulnerable position, and I wondered how Naomi could’ve been so blind and not seen that something was wrong. But it wasn't her fault, either.
He cleared his throat and went back to speaking in a detached manner. “I think my counselor and probation officer suspected Jake was fucking me. They recommended I go back to public school, which was a relief, but that I also take extra courses through the home schooling program. They knew I wanted to go to college – I saw it as a way out for myself, without having to tell Naomi why I wanted to leave home so young. I took some classes for dual credit at North Seattle Community College, after I turned fifteen, to help finish up my high school credits. I stayed very busy and very much away from home. I spent time with my friends again and I had fun, but I couldn’t be honest with them. Any friendships I kept stayed on superficial levels.
“Counseling ended a year after I went to court, but Mr. Wells kept me on probation till my sixteenth birthday. He also insisted that Jake put a lock on my door, once I admitted that I had nightmares about somebody breaking in. It was as close as I could come to telling the truth. Jake still made me have sex with him, but at least I wasn’t being snatched out of my bed.”
I promised myself that unless he was passed out to be sure he was awake if I needed to carry him. At least now I knew why he might panic if he woke up like he did this morning, cradled in a man's arms.
Blair shivered again and pushed against me, his back to my front. He cleared his throat before going on.
“I graduated and turned sixteen in May. Scholarships and financial aid had been awarded to me from Rainier – I didn’t want to stay in the same city as Jake -- and I planned to move out to a dorm when the first term began in August. Not that Jake wanted me to leave. He was trying to get me to enroll at Washington State University and commute, but I knew leaving to go to school was my ticket out of hell with him.
“Then Jake was killed in a car accident. I knew I shouldn’t be glad about that, but I was relieved the son-of-a-bitch was dead.”
Blair stopped then and I craned my neck to look at his face. He was chewing his lip.
“I was too old for magical thinking and I knew the car accident had nothing to do with me, but still… I felt guilty that I’d wished him dead so many times. And in the beginning he was nice to me, took me to the Super Bowl right after he met mom. I thought if things had been different, if I hadn’t caused him to want to have sex with me, then he’d have stayed a fun guy.” Blair shook his head, making a swishing sound on the pillow. “Pedophiles are so manipulative. I didn’t understand back then that I didn’t make him do anything. He’d only been nice to me to get me to trust him. Taking me to games had been the bait on his hook.”
I made a sound that I hoped was soothing, but evidently was more like a growl, because Blair patted me on the arm. “It’s okay, Jim. I pretty much did get my head straightened out about what he’d done, and he’s dead, man.”
“Saves me the trouble of going after him,” I said, not bothering to keep the anger out of my voice. “So, you were free. Did you tell Naomi then what had happened?” I suspected he hadn’t.
“No. I’m never going to tell her and I want your promise that you won’t either. It would only cause harm to her and it wasn’t her fault.” Blair had a determined tone to his voice and I promised him I wouldn’t tell her.
I thought that Naomi did bear some responsibility for giving Blair the mindset as a child that he was supposed to protect his mother, not the other way around. That bastard Boles had picked up on Blair’s protectiveness about his mother and used it to his advantage. Still, I would respect my partner’s wishes. I might have to have some quality time with a punching bag when we got back to Cascade, but I’d practice some self control and I wouldn’t blow up at his mother.
“Was Naomi home when he died?”
He shook his head. “Till Naomi came home, I stayed at a friend’s house, my friend whose family had a Chinese restaurant. I already worked part time for them in the kitchen – that’s where I learned to make some of those Chinese dishes. The company fell apart and Naomi’s job was over, so we spent the rest of the summer traveling together until I started Rainier -- to help us both heal from our loss. And I was a total mess, Jim. Naomi thought my attitude was from grief and that in time I would return to being the cheerful kid I had always been careful to seem. I didn’t. I was a brat when I first went to Rainier. I was socially awkward with the older kids, and I tried to bolster my self-esteem by being an obnoxious know-it-all. And I didn’t have sex at all. For years, Jim. I felt like anybody who showed an interest in me would be getting a bad deal. I was dirty and no amount of washing was going to make me feel clean again. I didn’t trust my body anymore, since it had kept betraying me with Jake.”
I thought of all those times I’d called Blair a table leg and I felt ashamed. But he must have gotten over his decision to not have sex, because I knew he’d had plenty of sex after I met him. Although, his late entry into the whole dating scene did explain why sometimes he’d acted so immaturely. He’d reminded me of a kid in a candy store at times when we’d have dealings with beautiful women. A sticky-handed kid whose gawking seemed out of place with the sensitivity and intelligence that was his usual M.O.
“I threw myself into my school work and I took as many classes as they would let me. Things started changing for me when I took a psychology class that covered the effects of sexual abuse. I recognized some of my own behaviors and feelings.”
I noticed that Blair began sounding more animated as he told me more.
“I read as much as I could about boys being abused and about pedophiles. Hell, my getting a minor in psychology was entirely motivated by my desire to understand myself better and to figure out a way to be normal. And I wanted normal. I wanted to be able to kiss a girl or let a guy touch me again. See, I also figured out that I was bisexual, and I was so relieved to learn that being sexually abused by a man couldn’t turn me gay. Any feelings of desire I experienced for, oh, rugby players or a male TA were just part of my normal sexual orientation. Man, I devoured Kinsey’s research. And I began really listening to the professors who gave me suggestions on how to act in class. And out of class.”
Blair added, “More than one prof suggested I check out the student counseling service. And in my junior year, I finally did. I told my counselor the truth. And it was very hard and it took a long time to make that decision. But it was also freeing. We explored my feelings and I had a lot of misconceptions straightened out. Everything that son-of-a-bitch had lied to me about got neutralized and I started to feel better about myself. I felt like the old me was back, and I started making good friends, friends I cared about and who cared about me.
“Dating was hard but learning to be sexual was a part of my recovery. I found that I could have sex, and that I was good at it. I felt relieved and I… uh, maybe overdid it. Soon after I began going out with people, my counselor left her job, and I was transferred to a new counselor. By the time I got some trust and rapport going with him, he also left for another job. I figured I was doing pretty well by then and I didn’t want to start over again with a new person, so I ended my sessions. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake. I guess my little system of not dating friends, and not getting emotionally involved with my lovers was part of the damage from being sexually abused. Talking with you has shown me I’ve still got some blind spots. I’m sorry, Jim.”
“What have you got to be sorry about? None of that was your fault! You do know that, right? I know that!” I felt fiercely protective of him and be damned if I was going to let him blame himself.
“I’m sorry because I should have told you a long time ago. I was quick enough to want you to talk about the times in your life when you were a traumatized kid or about your repressed memories of Peru.”
“The important thing is that you did decide to trust me with your secret. Thank you, Blair.”
Blair wiggled away from me far enough to roll over so that he was facing me. “Jim, I didn’t tell you before because I was worried knowing about me would change how you treated me. I didn’t want you to feel sorry for me or to handle me like I was going to break.” He gave me a look that was half serious and half joking. “I will kick your ass if you try, so I’m giving you fair warning -- I’m a survivor, not a victim. And us survivors are tough.”
I moved so that I was on top of him, and I slowly bent my head to kiss him. He was warm and pliant under me, and, yeah, this was a test. After Blair brought up the abuse he’d suffered, I wanted to see if he could handle physical sensations. The first hint of anxiety and I would stop. But he just opened his mouth and invited me in. I kissed him until I was satisfied he wasn’t reacting badly to my touch.
“Did I pass, Jim?” Blair was looking up at me with a knowing look.
“Yeah. But I know that being carried is a trigger for you --”
“Only if I’m asleep and wake up. You could pick me up right now and it wouldn’t bother me.”
Well. I couldn’t let that pass. Besides, I thought Blair would welcome a bit of joking around after all that heavy shit he’d talked about. He wanted normal, and normal for us included clowning around.
I rolled off of him and the bed, and stood up. I dragged him across the bed, ignoring his screech of “Jim!” as I reached down and hauled him into my arms.
I tuned out his demands to put him down since they were said with an undertone of laughter. After a minute, I pretended to drop him and he grabbed me tight around the neck.
I carried him through the dark bedroom easily and went to the living room window. One thing all these cabins had in common was nice, big picture windows so renters could see why they’d ponied up for the scenic view instead of Motel 6. Dawn was just starting, the sky lightening up, but the sun wasn’t in sight quite yet.
Blair was blushing. I could feel the heat from his face as he said to me, “What now, Rhett Butler?”
I snorted. “You’re no Scarlett O’Hara, Chief. I just couldn’t resist teasing you when you threw down that challenge.”
“I didn’t – Oh. I guess I did. Okay. Hey, I might as well make the best of this undignified and unmanly position I landed myself in.” He tugged at my head until he could meet my lips and kissed me again. Several times. I was contemplating acting out the rest of Gone With the Wind and carry him back to bed, when the sun bursting over the horizon caught our attention.
“No matter how often I see the sun rise, it’s always like the first time,” Blair said, almost dreamily.
“What you just said? That’s how I feel about making love with you.” I kissed him again before letting his feet slide to the floor. We kissed in front of the window in the light of a new dawn, and I felt like we were blessed.
We watched the sun move on its path into the sky, Blair in front of me, his back against my front, his hands covering mine. We’d both gone silent, but we were communicating without words. I felt his trust and contentment and I knew he could sense the commitment and trust and love I felt towards him.
There was something I wanted to do. Something that would capture this moment for us and give us a tangible reminder of how we felt about each other. Things would get crazy when we returned to Cascade later today and I wanted him to have something of this calm before the oncoming storm to help anchor him -- and me. I wanted to be able to look at him and see my gift to him.
“There’s something I need to do. Will you stay here a moment and wait for me?”
Blair nodded and I strode into the bedroom and opened his backpack. I found what I needed and tucked it into my fist so it was hidden. Then I returned to his side. He looked so beautiful to me, naked in the morning light.
I faced him and showed him what I held. “I gave this to you once, in friendship and gratitude for your help. You kept it, even if you couldn’t bear to wear it, while we were apart.” Blair’s eyes told me that I’d gotten that part right.
“Will you wear it for me, again, Blair?” He softly said yes and started to reach for it, but I gave a small shake of my head to halt him.
“I love you, Blair Jacob Sandburg. You’re my friend, my lover, my guide. You’ve been my lodestar ever since you saved me from death by garbage truck. I don’t want to live without you anymore. Will you wear this as a symbol that we’re together again – for the rest of our lives?
Blair’s eyes looked shiny and wet, and he cleared his throat before answering me. “Yes, I will. I tell you three times, James Joseph Ellison, that I love you and I’ll be with you till death do us part.”
I raised his necklace to my lips and kissed it, then slid it over his head. It gleamed on his naked chest, the many-pointed star resting a few inches below the hollow of his throat.
He drew me to him, the lodestar necklace between us. I could feel its imprint on my skin. We touched each other, and I wrote my love for him on his body with my hands and mouth. He bent his head at an angle, like a bright-eyed bird, and laughed as he said our auras were glowing.
And while the sun filled the room with a brilliant dazzle, we sanctioned this covenant, these sacred promises to each other, with cries of joy and completion.
TBC in Comes a Time, the final arc of A Fair Distance.