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Doing Sandburg

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Shit. Something's wrong with Sandburg.

I wince my eyes closed against the suddenly too-bright light as my senses zoom, trying to bring me as much information as possible about my home and its surroundings, trying to find out what the problem is instantly.

Nothing dangerous stands out – no toxic odors, no added heartbeats or nonusual sounds or sensations. I filter through the information one sense at a time, the way he taught me. Sound first: I focus in on his room and his body. Heartbeat slightly elevated; breath hitching lightly; the scritching of his body as he moves restlessly against the sheets. Nothing besides him moving in there.

I blink my eyes and set the coffeepot on the maker as I sort through smell, hitting the on switch and filtering out the bright sharpness of the coffee beans, again as Sandburg taught me. I can do this without zoning, because his scent, his heartbeat are my anchors, and it's him I'm investigating. That rich scent of his permeates his room, the clean clothes and his mattress and quilt as well as his sheets and laundry, so I always have a baseline from which to judge his current odor. And he's a little lemony-sour this morning – an odor I've come to associate with his dismay.

But he's only just now waking up, and there's nothing different in his room from overnight, and he was fine last night when we hit the sack. I grin as I move to get out the eggs and cheese from the fridge, moving through my breakfast routine. It must have been a dream, then. I go through another exercise that he taught me while he starts his getting-up noises. As a sentinel, I keep running track of my personal territory even when I'm asleep, and if I try, I can go back through the sensations and remember what went on.

When he first moved in, I tried to give him some privacy by not paying any attention to him when he was in the bathroom or his bedroom, but I gave up on that the second time lunatics broke into our place after him. Anymore, I listen in on him any time he's within hearing range, which these days is about a mile and a half, and keep tabs on his odor when he's within smelling range, which varies with what else is in the area. It's just easier to have the advanced warning.

Well, that last dream before waking seems to have been a nice one – anyway, the breathing and heart rate were those associated with comfort and mild pleasure, and so was the smell. Deep sleep before that; then more of the same.

Hm. My grin turns into a smirk. Must have been one of those dreams where you're doing something you wouldn't do awake, and it seems perfectly natural. I sympathize; I have a vivid memory of playing guitar on a live turtle while it harmonized.

I would dismiss the entire thing, except when he comes out to hit the can, his heartbeat rises when he sees me.

"Uh, morning, Jim."

"Morning, Chief. Breakfast's almost ready."

Now, that was interesting.

I pay more attention the rest of the day, taking care to be unobtrusive about it; he always knows when I've caught something unusual, and demands to know what it is. Sorry, buddy: not about to tell you I'm spying on you.

It's a little game I play now and then: detecting Sandburg with my senses. Even though the kid will talk for hours on every topic imaginable, he rarely gives up any information about himself, and what he does say, you can't trust. He's a real chameleon: always fitting himself into the group he finds himself in, so he says what'll do that. So I pay attention to his personal scent and how it changes, to the scents that stick to him through the day, to the way his energy levels change, to his voice and heartbeat. And I match them up with what's going on, and with what he's saying.

Sometimes I get to match up other people with their scents when I go to get him at Rainier. So far I've been able to spot librarians, study partners, some of his students and several dates. And some women who didn't become dates for whatever reason they may have thought up. I hide my amusement: some teasing is fun, but I have to watch out for the land mines. Sandburg is fragile in some unexpected places.

He's unexpectedly tough in others, though. Like anyone, he starts with a preconceived notion, like the way he thought the PD was full of a bunch of macho bigots. He wouldn't say anything of the sort, of course, but you could tell by the miniscule flinches when he was teased about his hair and his height and his earrings and such. It's a notion most civilians have of us, and really, given TV and the movies, you can hardly blame them. But I swear it wasn't more than about three weeks before he had his new vision all mapped out and ready for refining.

Now, that's not to say that there aren't bigots among us. But Sandburg located them and fit them into their place in our hierarchy really quick. It's why he laughs in my face – and in Simon's – when we roar at him.

Anyway. That's all to say that I have a habit of figuring out Sandburg. So I'm able to tell he gets back to normal really quick today. Except that every so often he flinches at me. I pretend not to notice, but I keep wondering about the content of that dream. Maybe he was entering data on my toes or something.

The next morning I wake up to a change in his breathing, and his heartbeat rising again. I run a quick check on the loft, but it's clear and safe. Backtracking through my memory, I detect another pleasant dream. Hm.

The clock says 5:30, which is a good hour and a half before I'm supposed to be up this morning. I close my eyes again and keep track of Sandburg, who goes back to sleep after a while. Just as I'm about to drift back off myself, I catch a burst of pheromones and the erratic heartbeat and breathing of a wet dream.

Yes: I've tracked those too. Believe me, it's useful to know the difference between a wet dream and a nightmare. Saves wear and tear on the stairs. Nightmares I'll wake him up from. He may be a garrulous hyperactive furball, but he's my buddy. And my Guide. And he's earned a lot of those nightmares tagging after me.

I wait through it, just to see if he'll wake up again, and he does. And his smell goes into full panic. I wait again to see if he hyperventilates, which is dangerous, but that doesn't happen. I leave him in peace.

So he's having a wet dream about an inappropriate person - or thing. I sternly resist a snicker. Wonder if it's some ancient member of his diss committee, or the lobster we saw last week in the restaurant. Go back to sleep for the few minutes before I have to get up.

When I head down the stairs for my shower, his heartbeat rockets off the scale. Holy shit! It was me!

I think about this under the hot water. Dreams are funny things: bits or characters or even actions can mean something else entirely, and it all depends on your own internal landscape. Or they can be pieces of repressed memories. Or they can be precognition, especially in our case, but still be full of symbolism. This is all stuff I heard from Sandburg, and confirmed myself later. I don't tell him I read up on his more interesting lectures. It's more fun to defy his assumptions about me.

So my presence in a wet dream of his could mean any number of things, from a problem with the dean being too demanding to a memory of something traumatic in his childhood to a serious desire to jump my bones. I'd rather it wasn't something traumatic – really, really rather not – but that's not up to me.

If it's the dean or similar, it'll work its own way out. Blair is nothing if not competent. And forceful.

As I shave, I consider the question of bones-jumping. Well, obviously the issue bothers Sandburg big-time, as witness the panic. Does it bother me? Assuming, of course, he ever gets beyond the panic.

I've turned down all previous offers, but I have to say that the idea itself never bothered me one way or the other. About the third time it happened, a week or so out of Basic, I decided to experiment and see whether men, in general, turned me on. Face it: you see a lot of hard-bodied guys in the Army, in all stages of undress, and if you're gonna get hot over 'em your best opportunity is right here.

Nothing. They left me absolutely cold. Of course the other side of the question is whether the whole idea makes your gorge rise. I used some of the mental exercises they'd given us to test that one. No: no problem that side either.

Just for the fairness of it, I tried the same thing on women. After all, you never know: I mighta been designed as a monk. But the ladies did start my motor, so I dismissed the question as straight but not narrow, and left it at that.

So: what about Blair?

Look, one thing is absolutely true: if he decided that I needed to hang upside down, naked and painted blue, from the flagpole over the Capitol, I would bitch and argue and fume and refuse even as I was finishing up the paint job and hauling myself up the pole. So he could definitely manipulate me right into the sack if he decided to do it, and there would be damned little I could do to stop him. I have no defenses against him.

It's a good thing he's as honorable as he is.

So, that question aside, what about Blair?

I muse over that the rest of the day while I ignore his jitters and spasms and such. The question has only a small chance of ever coming up, but I do like to be prepared for things when I can.

I love him, I do, and the feeling's mutual. We know that after all this time, after the things we've done for – and to – each other. Couldn't imagine my life without him. Never want him to leave: if he marries, damnit, I'm buying him a house with enough room for his wife, his kids, and me. If he decides to go on a dig, I'm taking a long-term leave of absence and getting my shots up to date.

Me marry? It is to snort. Carolyn was warning enough, and the ladies I've, err, been involved with since her have only confirmed that. Sandburg's the only person I've ever met with the balls to stand up to me and the force of will to wiggle through my barriers.

The thought itself demands a noogie, which I do not explain to him.

I keep musing over the next several weeks. I know I have the time, because Sandburg has gone full-fledged into denial – read, dating someone new every single night for three weeks straight – and it could well be I never need to … meet the challenge. Not that any of these ladies would keep his attention on a long-term basis. He's just reconfirming the plumbing. The rest of the Major Crimes crew go into total tease mode; me, I just smirk. The plumbing apparently works fine, every fourth or fifth date, though he implies more than that. Who he's trying to convince is obvious, since he has more wet dreams the while. Apparently still starring me.

The plain fact of the matter is that I like to touch him. He's … comforting, maybe. Grounding, certainly. He's no threat to me, the way all other men and a surprising number of women are: he fits right inside my personal space with no trouble. A level of physical trust, entirely apart from the other kind, that has been entirely missing in any other relationship I've ever had, bar none. He just fits.

I could definitely do the snuggle thing with no problem. Hell, we already do that sometimes. I am not letting him sit on my lap, though: that is one solid anthropologist, and I like my legs awake, thank you very much. Kissing? No problem there, either. I mean, the major issue would be taste, which is damn close to smell. I've smelled his morning breath on a regular basis, from really close up (especially camping), and though I've always felt honor-bound to complain, it doesn't bother me in the least.



That's the question, isn't it?

Okay. I do know what can go where, and how. Some of my snitches while I was in Vice were fairly explicit before they would get to the point. And I just have to say: ouch.

Okay. I'm a Ranger. I don't believe in asking anyone to do what I'm unwilling to do myself. Which already puts me a slew of blow-jobs in debt. Though I don't currently owe the other; guess neither I nor any of my own ladies were ever that adventurous.

Although I happen to know Sandburg has been. Hey, it's no skin off my nose to pretend that that whole showering thing is sufficient, but all it really does is to take things down to more-or-less background smell. And, as I said, I have a baseline for Sandburg anyway. So I know … things … about his love life that I will never tell him I know. One of those is that he's adventurous. Another is that he's good at it: whenever he's been dumped, it's never been on the basis of bad sex. Another is that he has not dated a guy since he's moved in here.

Okay, the pattern of flinches over the years has indicated that one, he has dated guys in the past and two, he's never had sex with them. I already knew that. I did. It wasn't an issue then. It isn't now, except to indicate that, should we actually take this step, we'll be each other's first, and he knows what he's doing.

Huh. That's interesting. All I worried about was the ouch factor, not the whole, you know, vulnerability thing. But I guess that goes back to our trust levels.

So I guess that would take care of the sex thing. I am also thinking that it is not actually a very good idea to bring up the whole idea of desire until the question is posed by Sandburg. I mean, if this is a flash in the pan for him, no need to start up my own motor ahead of the flag. I mean: it could still be the dean.

On to other worries. Or issues, or whatever. Would we be talking a buddies thing, scratch the itch, a night or a week and, thanks, that did it?

That causes me to stop in the middle of typing up a report. Thankfully, Sandburg is on campus today, not around to seize on this evidence of Something Wrong With Jim, so I can actually think about it.

I … don't like that idea. Really don't.

Damn. So I really am thinking about getting married again. Well, if anyone could stand me in that way, it would be Sandburg. Balls, you know, and force of will. Kids …? My mind skitters away from that one, and I file it under Stupid Things Cops Do And Shouldn't, for discussion if the idea ever comes up.

Okay, the next question is, naturally, out or in. This one is a bit tricky, but not for the obvious reasons.

Cascade PD has its share of out gay cops; the city has an anti-discrimination policy in place, and Major Crimes actually helped ferret out a nasty cadre of creeps that had been using the badge as a shield for gaybashing a couple of years ago. Not in my city, not on my watch, not with my uniform.

I suddenly realize Taggert and Brown are staring at me, and work on relaxing my jaw. Take a few deep breaths.


Okay, so the question is not one of safety, or backup, or anything like that. We've got all the diversity-training things in place – thanks, actually to Sandburg, come to think of it – and a chapter of GOAL that throws a party for the entire city several times a year. Mayor's been coming recently. Major Crimes attends as a group at Mardi Gras.

No, the tricky part is that I would feel like a bit of a fraud.

See, they keep giving this piece of nonsense Cop of the Year award to me. Like the arrest record is my doing and not Sandburg's, for Pete's sake. And then they natter about my responsibility to give speeches here and there, which, mostly, thank God, I can weasel out of on the grounds of not having any people skills to speak of. But if we go public, it'll be the same as coming out, and Sandburg will convince me that we need to upgrade our membership in GOAL from associate to professional, and the next thing – the very next thing, I can see it as clearly as my monitor – is that GOAL will send me to go speak about being a gay cop in the high schools. And I will not know a single solitary thing about it. Damn it.

Well, that, and Sam might firebomb the loft. But that's an ongoing threat anyway. Girl needs Prozac, and no mistake. This thought puts the above in context, and I let it go. Paperwork will be a bitch, but when is it ever not?

Any more issues? Well, family; Naomi's pretty much gotten over the fact that I'm a cop, and the fact that Sandburg's settled down, so I don't expect any problems there. My dad and Stephen? Frankly, I could not possibly care less about my dad's opinion about it, and he seems to be past the whole arrange things so Jimmy doesn't ruin his life attitude, which would be my real problem there. Stephen, well, it would hurt if he decided to take against us, but I have a feeling he wouldn't. Have to wait and see.

Last two questions: the office pool and weddings. Commitment ceremonies, whatever. Well, that one would have to be discussed with Sandburg, anyway. Like I said, he's fragile in some unexpected places, and he might not be into that idea at all.

Pool. Let's see. They've re-started it twice over the last two years. Brown's got a side-bet going, but since never, nuh-uh, no way is contingent on my last day at the PD, no one's really been paying attention to it. Rafe's on the last of this month, Rhonda has blocked out the second week in May, Conner's got several days picked out – including Hallowe'en, just for the laughs – and Simon has July 4th for some reason.

Damn, they're staring at me again. I work on wiping the smile off my face. More deep breaths.

I think that covers it. I can file this all under Pending, Forget Until Needed, and go back to work.

Ah. Sandburg approaching. Sounds like he's on the bus. I swear the Volvo is just going to shudder into rust piles one of these days. I'll be able to ask him about this recent set of gang fights. There's something unusual going on here, and I think he said something a few months ago that might relate.

His heart rate is steady, but up. Wonder if he just faced down a bunch of profs or football players or some such. I save the report I've been working on, grab the other file, and start laying things out to show him.

Hm. His BO precedes him as usual, and he's been turned on for a while. Must be a really hot prospect for this evening's date. Maybe that explains the heart rate.

He comes through the door at his usual bounce, flinging greetings and pieces of conversation here and there, and fetches up against the side of my desk, his backpack skidding into the corner. He has that calm smile on his face, the one that says he's come to a decision he's sure of.

"Jim, man, we need to talk."

I just smile back.

Chapter Text

It's not enough for me to physically drown, noooo. It's not enough for my best frigging friend to throw me out of my home and lust after my murderer, no no no. It isn't even enough for me to throw my entire academic life away for said friend, credibility included, and take up an entire new, very different - very very different - violence-soaked career on his account as well. Uh uh. Not enough.

Blair Blair Blair. What would Christine say? What would Michelle say? What would Joy say?

Oboy. What would Sam say?

Okay okay okay, I did date a couple guys as an undergrad, but shit! Just those two! And I never ...

Jim'll kill me, Jim'll kill me ...

Focus, Blair!

Okay. Reconfirm your basics. You date women. You are in fact currently dating women. Lots and lots and lots of ...


I am calm. I am calm. I am soooooo in trouble!


Ow! Walls aren't supposed to be that close.

Okay. Let it go. Let it go. Focus. I am calm.

Better sit down for this. Floor is good, yes. Candles are not good, no, not in this office. I'll just, just, just stack these papers over with those essays, yep, that'll do it. Okay, back on the floor. Right foot on the left thigh and left foot on the right thigh. Ooof!

Well, obviously it's been far too long since I meditated. That might be my whole problem right there.

Hands ... back ... inhale ....

Exhale ....

Ah. Okay. That's better.

Okay, my life is shattering to ruins. In every direction. This feels familiar. Not, not, like, okay, this has not happened to me like this before, but the whole life-in-ruins reminds me of stuff I read about, what? This volume? Noooo .... This one? Nuh uh. This ...

Yeah. Okay. Right.

When everything is in ruins, the person becomes an outcast, and is forced to become a shaman.

I close the book gently, and put it back on the shelf. Right.

Okay, let's think about this logically. Incacha named me the Shaman of the Great City.

He promptly died, leaving me holding a title with no substance to it, and more responsibility for my Sentinel - but no real instructions on what that responsibility entailed. I mean, it's not like anyone else knows I'm supposed to be a shaman, no one treats me like one, heck, no one even knows what they can ask of me as a shaman! But -

I sit back down.

I'm not really untrained, am I? I mean, I've got years of university study on all kinds of cultures, their rituals, their interactions, everything from aboriginal cultures through gang society. And wholly outside of that, I've got my years travelling with Naomi, experiencing firsthand folk culture in all kinds of earth-based forms, from migrant camps through Sierra Club cocktail parties through farming communities like that one in the south of France where we did that way cool dance on the second of August out in the rye field. Heh. And sneaking away in pairs was a vital, heh, part of the dance.

I have the, like, rituals aspect down too. I mean, I've taken part in all kinds of rituals during fieldwork, all different kinds of rituals during, like, my undergraduate years - catch any more esoteric subgroup than sophomore guys, I dare you! Man, even Major Crimes has its rituals ...

Yeah, and I've overseen a few. Not only things like Poker Night, but also, right, with Naomi, I mean you have to count the Induction Into Seafoam Commune I made up, clover blossoms and all. And like that.

Okay, this is no longer a sitting-down kind of process. This is becoming a pace-around-outside kind of process. Just lock the door and ...

"Oh, hi, Katy."

"Hi, Blair! Is Professor Stoddard around?"

"Nah, he went home earlier today. I was just finishing up some grading for him."

"Oh, bummer! I was hoping he'd explain to me that thing about the rivers and the flooding, do you know what he means about that?"

"Egyptian or Amazonian?"

I get Katy sorted out on the relationship of immediate but regular disaster to long-term farming benefits, the whole destruction-as-re-creation cycle, hike my backpack over my shoulder, and go down to lock it in my trunk. Eli has been a trump, simply the best, and interning in this kind of quasi-official way for him has given me some, I don't know, maybe like some air to breath. I love the folks at Major Crimes, believe me, but it's nice to be able to talk ... no. It is vital to my continued existence to talk to people who start with the same basic information I already have. I would lose what is left of my alleged sanity without it. He also made sure I retained campus and library access to go with it. I may be a bit of a ghost on this campus, but by Hecate, Athene and Apollo, I sure do have haunting rights! Boo, you old Chancellor!

"Hi, Ms. Tomaki!"

"Hello, Blair. Where are you parked?"

"Right over there in the lot, see, by the maple."

"And where are you going?"

"Just to walk around the campus. Okay, okay, I'll be right here in the quad. I might go into the library."

"And where is Detective Ellison?"

"At the station today." I do not sigh at the interrogation. I know why this is happening.

"Is he working on anything I should know about?"

"No, ma'am, not that I know of. He is doing paperwork for closed cases today and tomorrow. Everyone is in jail that should be in jail as of this morning, and we have not been notified of anyone being released."

"Good, good. Have a nice walk." As I head on down the path, I can hear the Security Chief notifying the day shift of my presence on campus. It's a minor alarm. If we have an ongoing investigation, she calls in the off-shift, and I start getting escorts who call in at 10-minute intervals.

It's just easier on everyone concerned. Even after my mom's interference with my diss, Campus Security's outlook is that an informed Detective Ellison is a nonlethal Detective Ellison, and a nonlethal Detective Ellison is worth the overtime in terms of wear and tear on campus property and Incidence Forms.

Mom. Hah. Naomi, the original Strange Attractor, warping everything around her into new and unexpected patterns that still all have a bizarre similarity to each other. I bounce thoughtfully on the roots of the big oak at the west edge of the quad. You know, the unique thing about all this is that Naomi has always caused chaos, always; including some things that, looking back with an educated historical view, terrify me, like the time she invited the supervisor of the guards in that watchstation on the East German border to have a picnic with us and his guards, and the general came down and started shouting in, I think, Serbian, and we wound up living with him for two months. But that chaos never affected me while I was living with her. It's only started affecting me now that I'm out of her orbit.

You know, I think Simon would argue that I am a strange attractor all by myself, can you imagine? When it's Jim who -

But I mean, anyway, if you look at the Mother images of Chaos, what you see is that it is this great creative mass, this, this huge boiling ocean of potentiality, out of which every single solitary thing arises, creation and destruction alike. Shamans work with Chaos, they do; they walk in it and bring things back to the tribe, just like they walk among the spirits and bring back messages. Shamans are not affected by Chaos or by the Spirit World.

Well, except that they are, of course. Shamans die and come back to life specifically so that they can walk among the spirits, and I have yet to find a culture in which shamans are not supposed to be more-or-less insane simply on account of dealing with spirits. And the Chaos thing, well, naturally, shamans all have had their options for living socially normative lifestyles removed by one thing and another, insanity being one of the methods.

Homosexuality being another.

Great Rhea.

You know, back to what I was saying earlier? About the training? I had the blasted training, and I have been using the blasted training, and the only thing I didn't have at the time was the initiation rituals. The destruction of the former lives in their several spheres. The whole death and rebirth thing. The assignation of outsider status, complete with, okay, here we are, right where we came in, nonstandard sexuality, usually after a period of normative sexuality.

"Damn you, Incacha! This is your fault!"

Oops. Didn't mean to say that out loud.

I drop to the ground, incidentally rebruising the right hip that I fell on in phys-ed at the Academy last week while flashing on the previous morning's Dreams Of Jim(tm), and bury my head in my arms. Because, the thing is, nobody ever deliberately goes into shamanism as a career choice. I mean, "So You Want To Be A Shaman" would languish, dust-strewn and unmoved, on the Careers For Kids shelf. You get dragged into shamanism, kicking and screaming and yelling "No! No! I have a life!" and not being paid any attention to. Which, actually, is probably a really good foundation for the necessary insanity.

It is all of a piece that the cops of Major Crimes find me so amusing and annoying and, let us not forget, useful. Section A, subpart iii of the Shamanic Job Description. Even my own personal style is now biting me in the ass: subpart ii: Unique Appearance.

I scrape my fingers through my hair, uselessly, and dig in my pockets for a hair tie. Really, the only question left is, will the Silly Faggot (I'm allowed to jeer at myself: Section B, subpart i: mockery, appropriate targets of) be solitary, or is he permitted to be paired up?

Because, you know, this all begins and ends with Jim. It's because of the dream of Jim that I'm in Cascade in the first place, because of the reality of Jim that my life underwent all the changes it has, because of new dreams of Jim that I am, apparently at the instigation of the spirit world as vocalized by Incacha, abandoning twenty-nine years of enthusiastic heterosexuality. I've lost Jim before, three times. The requisite three times, if you're counting from a European viewpoint. Which would, if this actually does make sense and is not the product of my fevered imagination, indicate that I will not lose him again. But whether I am keeping him as the concerned and supportive friend who permits me my hopeless crush, or whether I can gain him in a whole new way ...

I guess that's not up to me. It's not up to Incacha, or the spirit world, or Chaos Itself. That's up to Jim. It's time to let him know what's going on.

I wave at Tyrell Burnside as I head to my car, and he waves back, muttering into his walkie-talkie. Stand-down on the Sandburg Alert, I imagine. Well, a temporary stand-down, anyway; the Volvo is unresponsive, again, and I haul out my backpack and have Tyrell walk me to the bus stop. I use the twenty-six minute trip to clear my head, to drop the worry back into the ocean of Chaos, to let go of all expectation, all desire for specific outcomes. To just breath and be here in the moment. Letting go of the memory of Jim-hugs, letting go of the imagination of Jim-kisses, letting go of the thought of Jim-touches. It's a continuous effort.

Lucretia LaMont is on the desk at the PD, her Nigerian features doing that whole cool-and-calm-dispenser-of-justice thing, very nice, the gold braid on her uniform just the right touch, and so I tell her. Got to be the rush of a lifetime, being that first person that victims and criminals and enforcers see here within the halls of the whole Temple of Enforcement Of Social Norms, the first one to offer help, the first one to get you back on the track of righteousness. She is just so perfect in the role, I love to see her here, and she waves me on through to the elevators with that amazing smile she has.

Bob, Bob, Bob Greenholt, that's it, is in the elevator with some sad individual with waaay too many piercings for his age cohort. I ignore his guest - because you never know exactly why someone is here in cuffs, and unless you have the time and, face it, the right to explore all that, it's simply more polite not to inquire. Mandy, right - I dig in the front pouch of my backpack for the book.

"Here's the coloring book I was talking about, see, with the everyday and dress-up outfits for kids of the Narawak tribe."

"Yeah, hey, that's just as small as you said it was. Great, thanks! Can you put that in my pocket here? I can use that in the car this evening." It doesn't do to let go of a suspect. From sighting to the courtroom they have to be assumed guilty and dangerous. It's the jury's responsibility to consider them innocent until guilt is proven. It took me a while, but only one break-out, to learn that one. I slide the small coloring book into Bob's left front uniform pocket.

"Yeah, that forty-minute drive from the daycare to home can be killer. Gotta have something for little minds to work on besides your nerves, man."

"Sing with them," the suspect offers, surprisingly. I smile up at him. "Little kids, they love the music but they love that you're singing it."

"You are absolutely right there, but you know, a throat can only take so much. See you later, Bob."

The doors close on the fourth floor. I look up at the lighted numbers, inhale and exhale. Get off on the sixth floor. Push through the doors into Major Crimes.

The crew greet me with the various names they have given me, and you know, it is simply more confirmation of what I've figured out: shamans lose their names, or at least are not called by their true names but by everyday labels. Hairboy, Sandy, Kid, Darwin: these are insulators between my, hm, my team if you will, and the outside world: them protecting my identity by not using it except in ritually specific situations. Even "Sandburg" becomes such a use-name, because it is my family name rather than my personal name. Like identifying me as a Levite or priest rather than as Aaron. They call me "Blair" only when it is serious. Personally serious.

There's Jim, laying out some folders at his desk, turning to greet me with that little smirk he has been using recently. I know he knows some of what has been ... okay, be plain. I know he knows I've been unexpectedly warm for his form and having trouble dealing with it. He's very polite about pretending not to notice things, but shit. We've done tests on exactly these sorts of things: smell, hearing, interpreting specific odors and sounds and rates of things within context. He has been trained by me personally to know what these things can mean. He anchors himself within my personal physical reality in order to keep himself functioning well. It's that very politeness and smirk that has let me know that I won't be brutalized or tossed on the street or otherwise terminally rejected when I finally speak to him. I cannot express completely the sense of security this gives me. I launch my backpack into the corner and smile back at him.

"Jim, man, we need to talk."

The smirk turns into a real smile, and he gestures expansively toward Interview 2, the one without the observer's window. He flips the "In Use" sign on the door and locks it behind us. Suspects and witnesses are never brought into this room: it is for officers, lawyers, and visiting officials only. He turns the back of one chair to the table and straddles it, leaning on his forearms. I consider sitting on the table, and then remember my bruise and take a chair instead.

"You know I've been going through some weirdness recently." Plain truth, and more accurate than "Jim, I am hot for your bod; how about it?" He nods, allowing me the time to speak what I need.

"I've worked out that it's related to my job as your shaman - as the city's shaman, I should say." There's surprise in those glacier eyes. "I'll tell you my reasoning later, if you're interested. But I've decided that I can't avoid it, can't get over it, and can't hide it." Oh, now that's interesting; that's the look he gets when a new piece of information slots into a puzzle he's mostly worked out. "I ... won't be dating any more. At all. It's pointless, and would interfere with what I've got to do next." There's the cat-by-the-mousehole look. And people call this man hard to read! I finish what I have to say, what I must communicate, in this talk. Everything else, anything else, is gravy. "I will not leave you, James Joseph Ellison. Whither thou goest, I will go. Thy people shall be my people, and thy god, my god. I am yours until death," and I swallow here, "in the room under the stairs, or upstairs. As your brother, or as your lover. Always as your partner. As much as you want of me is yours."

He blinks, slowly, waiting to hear if there's any more. I blink back at him. Then he speaks, in that low, level gravel of his.

"I will not leave you, Blair Jacob Sandburg." Oh shit. My eyes are overflowing. "Whither thou goest, I will go. Thy people shall be my people, and thy god, my god. I am yours until death. And," he adds in a more prosaic tone, "I expect you to teach me everything I need to know about sex with a Sandburg." I can't help an incredulous, wet chortle. "And I think I have all the necessary paperwork pulled together. But I have one request." I am wiping my eyes with my sleeves, my cheeks hurting from the grin I can't control.

"What would that be?"

"Can we wait to hand it in until the second week in May? I think Rhonda deserves the call."

Then he's holding me while I laugh and weep, and I think there might be some tears in his eyes as well.

"Sure, man. Whatever you want."

Chapter Text

The important thing is to do this right.

Sandburg's concept that his new lust for me is all part and parcel of the whole shamanism thing – with footnotes and examples, for Pete's sake! – would be insulting if I didn't suspect that it was true. I mean, what? I'm not good enough just on my own? We gotta pull destiny in here?

Of course that's just James Joseph Ellison being contrary. Face it, if it was anyone else, even the thought of dumping heterosexuality with no prior warning at forty-one would creep me right the hell out. Just like visions in blue and seeing ghosts. But this is Sandburg, and this is my life, and we're good. So it's important to do it right.

Purification is basic, even I know that much, and Mr. Clean is who I am, so the loft is getting done as it has never gotten done before. Sandburg is out of town for the next week, and has left this whole part of the deal in my hands, so I am doing as I like.

I am moving furniture. I am very happy.


This is far too important to mess up. Much, much too important: I gotta get it just right. Which is why I am not even considering any of the shamanic pharmacopoeia of which I have such extensive academic knowledge for this, you will excuse the term, trip. No: we are considering the context. We are tailoring the ritual to the situation at hand. I am not working up to be the shaman of the Chopec, or of Peru. I do not have to deal in any kind of day-to-day way with snakes and herbs and hunting parties. Or at least not for food.

What I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis is cops, who have to deal with crime and with drugs and with chases and with solving mysteries. Oh, and paperwork. Of which we have more than enough, thank you, and it is not in my best interests to have to fill out a bunch more explaining that these particular elective hallucinogens are not, in fact, illegal.

Which is why I have spent ten days on a macrobiotic diet, followed by three days of broth, and my current pushing-tea situation.

"Man, if you spot another …"

"I'm on it, B. How you doing?"

"Not bad, not bad. Vision seems pre-ter-naturally clear, and I would be dizzy if I were walking, I think. But this stretch of road is kinda …"

"Yeah, even my bladder is complaining. Ah! Eureka! Serendipity!" Ham smiles that huge smile of his while steering smoothly off the highway to the truck stop. He very kindly helps me out and to the men's room. For the seventh time since we started out from Cascade three hours ago.

I love Ham, I really do. He's being my coach and my spotter for this thing. He's one of a very few select University people who stood by me after the whole diss thing. He's too cool. What he did, see, is he came in to the station to swear out a noise complaint against Jill Daggerskold, who lives three doors down in his building. And he got done with that, and hit the stairs on the fourth floor, but headed up instead of down – to the sixth floor. And he made sure that he was alone in the stairwell, and started talking, very low. To Detective Ellison. About me. Said something like Burg's a stone-cold liar, and I know why. And I want you both to know that whatever I can best do to help, I will. From no contact to outraged support. You tell me. Burg knows how to get hold of me. My name is Abraham Pronchick.

I'd gone on three different field studies with Ham – Laos, Burundi, and Bogota – and then he'd switched his field from Anthropology to Comparative Religions. We'd co-written several papers. He knows more in-depth stuff about shamanism than I do, and he is Being Here For Me.

I am very, very happy.


I pull the sleeping bag up over my shoulder, and run a last check through the building for who's in, who's in but getting ready to go out, who's out, and who has company. We discovered that I sleep a lot more easily if I do this, and then filter out the expected noise. I hate surprises, I really do, and while the white noise generators were good while I was getting control of my hearing, we've been snuck up on enough times that I … really don't use them anymore at all unless I'm sick and Blair's at home. This way I wake up if someone comes in who is not a part of the building, but otherwise folks come and go as needed.

I also wake up if one goes on in my vicinity. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I pay attention to Mrs. Wawrziniak's heart for a minute, then Mr. Callahan's breathing. They're good at the moment, and my subconscious will let me know if that changes. Did I mention that I hate surprises? If I'm the one making the 911 call for the ambulance, it's not a surprise.

The loft echoes a bit with all the furniture out of it. Well, not all of it, of course: I kept the bookshelves, the desk, and the kitchen appliances. But everything else is gone. That was my life as a bachelor. My life with Carolyn. I invited Blair into that life, but what he's invited me into is something altogether different, and deserves new furniture. Hey, I live a sparse life. I make things last. I can afford to replace it all.

I hope Blair likes it. The moving company will deliver it tomorrow, after I leave. They have detailed instructions on what goes where. The housekeeping crew has the new sheets and towels and all, and will come in the next day to set that up. The personal shopper comes in after that with the dry food and the canned and frozen stuff; he'll stock the fridge the day before the wedding. Mrs. Wawrziniak has the key, and was delighted to help when I told her what was going on.

"Such a nice idea, and did you know, also very traditional in certain parts of European nobility, do you think that's where you got the idea? And of course, then any new changes you make, you'll make together, like turning the office into a child's room." She did that on purpose. She likes to embarrass me when she can. It's not an easy thing to do usually.

I hope I like it too. I won't be back here once I leave tomorrow morning until after the wedding; I'm staying with Simon. Much to his delight.

It took me a while to figure out how to tell Simon. Not whether; that was never in question. He's been in on the discussions of were we or weren't we from the beginning, and his attitude has always been, "When it's my business, they'll tell me. Until then, it isn't yours either." But how.

I wanted to do it by myself. Simon and I have been friends since before I was human, and I … I just … oh, hell, Sandburg understands, so I don't have to. I finally decided to take him to Black's. Porterhouse steak, still bleeding, huge spud dripping with sour cream, even asparagus. Brandy and cigars in the parlor afterward.

You pre-pay at Black's. When you make your reservation. Everything's covered. For some things, it's worth it. This was one.

We'd had a great time at dinner, actually carried on a conversation, which I can do with Simon. I could see him looking considering and deciding to wait. Now he sat back in his chair, swirled his snifter, and tapped his cigar out in the ashtray beside him. His glasses flashed at me.

"So give."

"I'm getting married, and I'd like you to be my best man."


"Yes sir."

"'Bout time you made an honest man of him. So … His experience was pretty broad, eh?"

"Ah … no. But he's doing research."

Simon shot a considering look at me. "Your experience was …?"

"Nope." I grinned into my brandy. His eyebrows went up in what very much looked like approval. I could have been mistaken.

"So you were each others' first!"

"Will be." I glanced up, interested to see this look. The square glasses perfectly framed the round bewildered eyes.

After a moment, his lips snapped shut into a grim suspicious line. "What are you two doing? Is this even gonna work?"

I rose, cutting off the rest of his tirade, which is only going to echo worries I've had, and have put aside. "Sandburg should be back at the loft by now. He can answer a bunch of your questions. And you can meet his best man."

It was an interesting evening. I snuggle a little further into Blair's sleeping bag, grinning, and fall asleep.


It's about 9, and the last of the sunlight is fading behind the mountains. The air smells like damp earth and crushed grass. Man, this place is beautiful! Ham has set up the tents, and is just finishing laying out my sleeping bag.

"In with you, B. I'll wake you at midnight."

"Thanks, man."

As I struggle out of my clothes and into the bag, I can hear him finishing the camp set-up, and the gurgle that means he's picked up a couple of the water jugs. I peer out through my closing eyelids, and see the faint bobbing of his headlamp as he makes his way up the rest of the path to the little meadow near the summit. I close my eyes, and miss him coming back down for the rest of the water. I sleep so hard that it seems only a minute later that Ham is quietly calling my name. It takes me a moment to remember where I am, and what I have to do next.

Naked, I crawl out of the tent into the chill blackness of an April midnight, shivering before I've stood up. Comfort is so not what is happening here. Ham takes my hand, and leads me over to where the path up to the meadow begins. I lean down, patting the edges, and begin to make my way up, leaving him behind.

I can hear my own teeth chattering, can feel my body shaking. It's a good thing neither of us know what the other is doing: Jim would have thirty cat-fits if he saw me making my own self colder and damper than necessary. There's some rock in this path. I carefully feel my way forward with my feet, leaning down and patting the ground when I'm not quite sure.

The mountain goes down at my left hand: way down. Yonder, man. This is, like, my worst nightmare: height, and unable to see to avoid it; cold, and nothing to relieve it; exhaustion, and no way to rest. I clamp my teeth together hard, and !shit! stub my toe on an invisible rock. I stumble off the path into wet grass, the bruised cucumber scent bursting around me, slide a little, and catch myself into stillness. Shit shit shit! I can't catch my breath. Jim'd kill me if I went and got myself dead while getting ready for our wedding! Panic lances through my head and flickers numb spots on my skin. I scrabble for the path and, finding the muddy edge, clamber back onto it.

I barely register the length of the rest of the trip to the meadow, focused on my feet picking far up off the ground, sloowwwly swinging forward, bearing down to the ground gently before pressing any weight down. I locate several more stones in good time to put my weight elsewhere, my neck in spasms from the tension of trying not to fall down the mountain and kill myself and make Jim mad at me. My own breathing, harsh and sobbing and irregular, fills my hearing, deafening me to all else. I can smell my own rank fear-sweat, catching the light night breeze and adding even more cold to my chilled skin. My muscles feel stiff and useless, and muttered half-completed jeers fill my head.

Rough wet grass brushes the tops of my feet, and my panic surges as I stoop to find the path. It's completely gone. It takes me a few minutes more to realize that this means I've reached the meadow, and several stumbling steps in erratic directions before I remember what we've planned for me to do next.

It's hard to think. Lightning slashes my eyelids from the inside, and I feel razors slicing my brain to ribbons. Ham has left something up here for me to sit on, if I can find it. I know – I remember – that the meadow is fairly small, only about forty feet in diameter, with a nice boulder barrier so that a body doesn't stumble unknowing down the edge. But it feels huge, football-field sized, and I dart around feeling nothing but grass. I'm whimpering with fear and with pain and with cold; my mind is roaring with no meaning; I can't breathe through my nose, and not very well through my mouth. Nothing is working right! Nothing is doing as it should! I can't fix it, and I should be able to!

I cry out in anguish. No one comes to comfort me. I keen in loneliness. No one comes to make it right. I roar with rage. No memory arises from my so-called brain to guide me.

I fall to the dripping, dagger-bladed grass, sobbing.

I'm all alone.

Over the course of what feels like a thousand sunless years I gradually calm, and make minute movements that eventually leave me lying on my back. After a while, I begin to use my eyes.

Tiny lights pepper the blackness above me. As I watch, my mind completely silent, huge dark shapes begin to loom at me, receding and approaching as my eyes film over and I blink. For a time, utterly calmly, I wonder if they are coming to get me, but then I realize that this isn't at all true.

They don't know I'm here.

They do not even know I am present.

The center of my personal body, which has always been the center of the universe at large, suddenly and painfully shifts, relocating a little to my left and a vast distance down. My body shivers into barely-touching slivers, between which the wind seeps, the dew oozes, the grass lifts. Glass-thin, micron-thin, no longer holding coherence at all, the slivers of my body slide slowly into the soil, slithering minutely apart, dispersing the fragments of my being. I am incorporated into – made of one body with – the flesh of the mountain itself.

I'm no longer cold. I don't feel particularly wet.

After a time, I feel the air moving over my skin, and a tickling – probably an ant or some such. I sleepily open my eyes, letting them fill with the velvet charcoal of the night sky, vast and lovely. I have no desire to move at all, but I can't see what's tickling me. I open other eyes here and there, and espy the source of the tickling; tiny four-legged furry creatures, tiny two-legged creatures. Tiny wheeled creatures.

It is very very important that I not turn over and get up. In some remote corner of my mind I find that thought funny.

Cool silk is sliding over my legs. I open more eyes and see the ocean, open my ears and hear its vast rumbling chorus, the life singing dissonant harmonies, the corpses of creatures and machines humming bass chords as they reincorporate with me.

Tiny piping zings add themselves to the music. I focus, and perceive the merest hint of light wavicles, popping and fizzing as they herald …

I am stunned into perfect stillness. Eyes and ears burst open greedily to take this in. The outrunners of Dawn are surging, singing, over my skin and up into the sky, colors stretching and dancing, catching on clouds in percussive glory. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Life Itself roars in a harmonic melody that shakes through me, thundering into interior ears, becoming visible to my eyes as something that the designers of Persian carpets have been attempting to capture forever.

With a sensation like the tide receding in stages, I retreat back into my own small human body, my mouth open and dry, my eyes open and dry, my spine upright, my gaze fixed upon the east. The sense of dislocation is severe. Just in time, I avert my eyes as the rim of the sun peeks over the mountains.

Every hair on my body is raised, extended. It feels like tiny fishing line attaching me to … to … I don't know to what, to something. I take in a deeper breath, and creakily turn my head, feeling the tug of those fishing lines, but looking for the water jugs. Not that direction. Dampness signals itself from my right. I turn that direction, and there they are, gently pulling at me. I lean over, and struggle toward them, dragging myself through the drying grass. Eventually I get there, and drink down all of one water jug, coughing and gasping as I overload my mouth. Drink a second one. Blink, raspily clearing my throat. This time, when I open my eyes, the light has a blue tinge to it. I wipe my arm across my mouth, and look around as humid jungle winds its way over the crisp mountain meadow where I sit. A wolf trots into my clearing, tongue lolling out, and morphs into a dark, straight-haired shape I have seen before.

"Incacha," I greet him.

"Pusaj," he responds. "I greet you. I welcome you. May you survive all that you must do."

As I draw breath to demand just what the hell he means by that, he smiles, waves his hand, and disappears. Together with the jungle, the humidity, and the blue light.

Well, hell.


The door dings as I open it, and a light drawling voice sings "Just a minute" from off to the right, through a hallway door. There's no one behind the desk with the rainbow banner above it, no one else in the front room at all, but then I get tackled from the hallway door with a wildly excited shriek of "De-Tec-Tive Ellison! My dear! Have you finally come to take me away from all this???"

I work one arm loose from my captor, and pat the tall, plump man gently on his back.

"Hello, Mr. Nagin."

"Looie, Looooie, I told you!"

"Stop groping the cop, Lous, let him breathe." As Louis Nagin, director of the Cascade Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, whines and releases me, Catherine Ekstrom, its treasurer, reaches to shake my hand.

"Where's your better half?" the stocky short-haired woman asks, while Louie does a really good mime of delight that he isn't here. I have to grin.

"He's, unh, he's on retreat. Up in the mountains." Two alarmingly shrewd pair of eyes fix on me.

"This business or pleasure, Tec?" Louie's voice has dropped half an octave and gone flat. These two were part of my shadow taskforce on that gaybashing thing I mentioned. I put on a reassuring face.

"It's business, but yours rather than mine."

Louie goes back to shrieking in delight. "Cancel my meetings and derrrop! me from the phone lines, honey, I'm going to go Get Seduced!" He more-or-less drags me down the hall to his office while Catherine laughs behind us. Louie has been flirting outrageously with me from the get-go, but his scent and heartbeat have always informed me that it was a test of my character rather than attraction on his part. I'm not his type. Rafe is, but he isn't Rafe's type, according to the strongly-stated opinion of that gentleman.

Louie gets me settled in a fairly comfortable chair, and presses coffee into my hands – better than the breakroom stuff, though not as good as Sandburg's. He silences his phone, puts paper and a pen close to his hand on the table beside me, and sits down on my side of his desk.

"So tell me how I can be of service, Detective."

"Jim." His pale eyebrows go up, and he nods. "I'm getting married in a couple of weeks. To Blair Sandburg."

He freezes for an instant, and then his body language goes all over the place: shock, disbelief, delight. "Congratulations! I wish you both very happy!" He takes in a couple of breaths, and his eyes narrow shrewdly. "And so for how long have you considered yourself gay?"

"Three weeks. I was hoping you had an introductory package. I'm," I have to swallow a short sharp stab of panic down, "not at all sure what I should do next." In a flash he has dragged his chair beside mine and draped his arm over my shoulders.

"Can you say it out loud?"

"I'm gay," I rasp. My throat feels like it's swelling shut. I'm shaking, and his arm tightens around me.


"I am gay." I'm gasping for air is what I am, and I discover a use for fat on men: Louie's arm feels like a quilt around my shoulders rather than bruising me.


"I'm a queer." And I burst into tears, harsh repulsive sounds, feeling that something irreplaceable is being ripped from me. Louie reaches for tissues, and then wraps both arms around me. In the back of my head, my father's voice is sneering that men don't cry, and men don't make fusses, and men aren't queer. I thought I didn't care what he thought. I refuse to care what he thinks, and mop my face with some of the tissues.

"I'm queer." Now Louie is finally speaking, murmuring very low that's it, say it, let it out, go ahead, just a background of encouragement.

"I am gay!" I hawk into a tissue, blow my nose, and straighten up a bit, glaring at Louie. He keeps hold of my shoulders, staring fiercely into my eyes.

"I'm gay!" He nods sharply, encouragingly. I suck in a lungful of air-conditioning, mop my face with a handful of his tissues.

"I am in love with a beautiful man, and I am gay."

"Other way up," he mutters softly.

"I am gay, and I am in love with a beautiful man." Pain throbs in three-inch circles here and there on my skull. My lungs hurt. My hearing is fading in and out. Louie pulls my head onto his shoulder, and I put my arms around him, my eyes closed, breath shuddering in and out of my lungs.

"I am a homosexual, and everyone will know, and nothing will ever be the same again," I whisper.

"That's right, honey, that's it, say it all," he croons softly. I didn't know, I really didn't know, that these mattered to me.

"Will I change, Louie? Will I act different?"

"Only if you want to, darlin'. Only if you need to. This is all about being who you choose to be."

"Oh God." Heat and pain are flashing up and down my arms, my legs, my chest; my attention is far too split for me to zone out, thankfully, and I keep breathing through this pain, the way Sandburg taught me.

He teaches me so much.

I breathe more deeply, and more deeply still, slowing down. As I exhale, weight leaves me. When I finally sit up and look Louie in the face, I feel lighter than I have in … God, in years.

"I'm gay," I say to him in wonder.

He smiles, and nods, and says, "Welcome to the family, Jim."


Ham comes up to get me, bringing sweats and soft slippers and a first-aid kit that he uses to clean and bandage my various scrapes and cuts. I flinch at the stings, but I'm too exhausted to yelp and curse and put on a good show. He doesn't seem worried by this: like me, he knows that some of these initiation rituals can be much worse.

At the campsite, I crawl into my sleeping bag and go comatose. I don't even feel the ground. Hours later, when I rouse a bit, Ham helps me over to the designated bush, and then gives me hot broth to drink. It tastes incredible; I can feel the liquid seeping warmth into my body. It relaxes me again, and I fall asleep once more.

He packs up the camp the next morning, then packs me into the car while I'm still blinking. I get more hot broth, and while I'm still purring over that, I become aware that he is pulling off the highway – what, we got back on the highway that quick? – into a short-order restaurant, where he offers me tomato soup.

After the watery diet I've been on, this is very filling. I smile at him in thanks, the expression feeling full of effort.

A couple hours later, when he's helping me out of the car and into his house, I realize that I haven't said anything at all for two days. I haven't really thought anything at all today. And I think I've been mostly completely still.

He puts me to bed in his room, and I conk out again.

The next day, my brain starts to come back online, primarily encouraged by an urgent message from my stomach that the nose has reported the smell of eggs frying. I go to kick my way out of bed, only to get tangled in the sheets and fall on the floor. The whole thing strikes me as hilarious, and Ham comes in to discover why I'm cackling madly in the middle of his bedroom. He frees me from the vicious sheets, and hauls me into the kitchen, setting eggs in front of me. I discover that two eggs do not a Sandburg fill.

"Ham, can I have some toast? You got some sausage – can I have some of that? Oh, good, OJ, great, and oh wow, can I have some of the cantaloupe too?"

"B - "

"Ooh, Cheerios, I love Cheerios, do you remember how they were invented?"

"Burg -"

"And you got that goat's milk from the organic store, that stuff is sooo wonderful - "


I catch myself. How embarrassing.

"Oh, man, I'm so sorry, you've got plans for all that, I can't believe I just demanded the entire contents of your kitchen, shit, I'll bet some of that's date food, no prob- "

He cuts me off with his hands over my mouth.

"Sandburg, ask yourself this. You're sitting at my kitchen table. The fridge is behind me and closed. How do you know what's in there?"

After a moment, he shoves toast into my open mouth.


Ten days and counting. Simon drives me in to the station every day, and then back to his place at night. I'm grounded while Sandburg is away, but my paperwork is all caught up, and I'm acting as researcher and consultant for the others. It's boring work for me; I prefer to be out on the streets, finding things out myself. But my brain works as well as ever even if I can't quite trust my senses without my guide here, and I've been of use to the others.

They haven't been told yet why Sandburg is on retreat. And they keep watching me for signs of lethal temper and total meltdown since I'm without him, but I flatter myself that I have been calm rationality itself. Well. Maybe a little jumpy. But helpful.

It's poker tonight, at Simon's, and Taggert arrives early, with his version of Sandburg's ostrich chili. I let him in and take the pot over to the stove while he dumps his coat on the guest bed as usual. Simon follows him in with bags of chips and dip: we're taking advantage of Sandburg's absence to have the crunchiest, deepest-fried, unhealthiest snacks we can dream up. Including pork rinds. Bliss! I head out to Simon's car to bring in cases of beer. Including some brands, okay, that Sandburg introduced to us. Not everything he offers is awful. Actually, most of it is pretty good. But a man has his pride.

Rafe arrives after all the loads have been carried in, of course, bringing Connor with him. They live in the same building, and often come together to these things. They pass me, jeering in their inimitable fashion, and Rafe takes a big bucket of chicken wings to the table while Connor stashes their coats. Rafe is in his version of casual clothes – knife-creased khakis and a sweater of some interesting shade of green carefully rolled up to the elbows. I say this so precisely because all of the rest of us are in jeans and tee-shirts. Mine says Cascade PD in faded letters. Simon's says Stolen from the Jags Locker Room – a gift from his son. Taggert has on something orangy-yellow with Chinese brush-painted mountains down one side. Connor's has ants crawling all over it, and she furiously defends the artist, some weirdo from down under. Ants. I ask you.

Brown is panting when he arrives, his round face shining in the hall light. He immediately begins complaining about the parking situation, being that he had to walk from the end of the block to get here. I just smirk and take his coat, so that he can haul his contribution to the festivities on into the kitchen.

When I return to the dining room, all four of them are standing around the table with their arms crossed, staring at me suspiciously. Simon is bustling around in the background, fighting a grin.

"Right, mates," Connor begins, her eyes narrowed, her blade-slim form aggressive. "Let's run the list, shall we?"

"No Sandburg in sight," Rafe accuses in fine prosecutorial fashion.

"And yet!" Connor picks up instantly, "Ellison has not snapped my head off this entire week!"

"A complete absence of the kid," Taggert rumbles, his ebony hound-dog face intent.

"But ain't one of the uniforms lost it in the break room," Brown muses, fingers at his chin. I fold my arms and lean against the door, sternly ruling my expression.

"Sandy is missing!" Connor exclaims, tossing her arms skywards in one of her extravagant pseudo-femme gestures.

"But!" Rafe holds up a finger portentously, "Not only is Ellison not trying to track him down, he has not ground down his teeth at all." I breathe shallowly, trying not to snicker.

"'Cept when he found that note about Ferguson," Brown adds, trying for fairness.

"Yah, well, my teeth were a bit worn at that one too," Connor allows. But we did get the scumbag, so I nod at her.

"We got no Hairboy at all," Brown finishes, glaring anew.

"So why then are you still human?" Taggert inquires.

Simon's lost the fight, and has the most evil grin on his face as he crosses to hand me the envelopes. I calmly put them in order and begin handing them out with the most innocent look I can manage.

There are a few minutes of general rumbles, and then Connor shrieks. I have been expecting this, and have lowered my hearing accordingly. This is swiftly followed by shouts from the others, and then a madhouse of questions. I herd them toward the munchies, get them settled, and then sit down myself, Simon at the other end. His grin has turned ferocious.

"May 12th, people, Simon's backyard here. Rain gear is recommended." I reach for my chili.

"You two are really lovers??" Brown is incredulous. I swallow, and take a drink of beer before answering.

"Actually, we're waiting until we get married." Now everyone except Simon is incredulous. Laughter is boiling through my system. Connor leans her long arms on the table, full interrogation look on her face.

"Is this some sort of sick joke," she asks, deadly serious.

Fair question. I am not the only one in Major Crimes that feels the need to protect Sandburg. I let everything I feel about him out onto my face, deliberately lowering what he calls the Great Wall of Ellison.

"No. It's real, it feels permanent, it's going to be open." Satisfied, she leans back, a faintly smug smile curving her lips.

"Sooo," Rafe begins, a calculating look in his eye. "You two even kissed yet?" I knew it: the pool. I smirk at him.

"Nope. Sorry." Teasing and jokes out of the way, I lean forward and explain, as best I can. "He's on retreat this week, getting ready, doing meditation and what-all with a friend of his from the University. Me, I've gotten the loft ready, and I'm staying with Simon. I'll be talking to my brother and my dad this weekend, and I think Blair's planning to call his mom too. You know how long it takes to get hold of her." They know. There's been enough times we've had to call her to let her know Sandburg's in the hospital. Again. The fear spikes through me, but I breathe it out again: not a current situation.

"It's not really anything either one of us ever considered before, and it's going to be a hassle, but we both think it's worth it." The expressions on people's faces are interesting. We've moved from the prurient to the romantic, and I for one am glad of it. I hate answering personal questions, and intimate questions give me hives.

"Now if everyone is quite done, maybe we can play a little poker here," Simon rumbles. I breathe out in relief as the spotlight leaves me.


Eight days. My dreams are, well, let's just say that if I could design and use a dream-cam, I could make a killing in the erotic movie market. Some mornings I make notes, just so's I can remember particularly interesting moves.

Jim is a very sensual guy – hey, big surprise, there! But I know, because he told me, that he's never had sex with a guy before. Well, neither have I, but I appear to be receiving instructions, hah! And also, like I need to say it, doing my homework. But the thing is, I am very concerned about his ladies. I don't think the whole sex thing has ever been quite what it should be for him, just watching him after some of his more successful dates – sporadic as those have been. And watching Carolyn, talking to her. I mean, she did not look like someone who is thinking, Damnit, the sex was fantastic, but I just couldn't stand the guy! She was more responding in a, Well, the sex was quite nice, but you know, I think my vibrator and I do just as well sort of way. I know both of those looks from Naomi. She would always talk about her relationships with me. She figured the more I knew about why things worked and why they didn't, the better chance I'd have of not getting trapped in something horrible.

And I think Jim was being expected to, like, carry the whole action load: like no one ever really touched him back, you know? Just from how he normally responds to my touch. And if that's all he's ever really known, he might fry his circuits when I get him horizontal. I gotta take steps to prepare him.



What? I sniff deliberately, trying to catch that odor. Sandburg? My hearing zooms dangerously high, trying to catch his heartbeat, but it isn't there, and the other sounds start to overwhelm me. I wrench my hearing back, concentrating on a joke Brown is telling to give me focus. Why am I smelling Sandburg if I can't hear him? He isn't dead – that odor doesn't have any corpse-smell or even injury-smell about it.

Just as I'm getting up to go looking for the source of it, I realize that the smell is approaching. I'll wait until it settles to hunt it down.

Oh, there's Pronchick, I see: that's where it's coming from. He smiles at me, waves, but heads for Simon's office. Aaand back out again a minute or two later, nothing verbal more than a hi, see you later exchanged. Waves at me, back in the elevator.

There's really no reason for me to feel like I've just been run over by a speeding visit. But the Blair-smell is now coming from Simon's office. I'm highly distracted the rest of the day.

The smell comes home with us, but I refuse to ask. Comes in the house, stays on Simon as we go through dinner. We clean up, put things away, and then, like a stage magician producing the rabbit, Simon pulls a letter out of his pocket.

"Here. Go to your room. And Ellison, I don't want to hear anything at all, you understand?" Well, no, but I'm sure I will.

Letter, it's a letter from Blair. I lean back against the door of the guest room and just inhale. I miss my guide, oh how I miss him. Oh, the little shit: he rubbed this letter over his chest. I open it, carefully, and pull out the sheet of paper inside, nearly dizzy, nearly drunk just on the smell of my best friend.

Waken O Watchman and see the red sun
Light overfloweth the kingdom you won
Smell the hot spice of the marketing day
Feel the sun burning the night-mist away
Taste the new bread as new life it may bring
Hear my heart's music when I start to sing.

Fairly bad poetry, Jim, I know. I'll work on it some more. I love you. I miss you. I can't wait to be with you again.


My breath is catching in my throat, and I scrub my sleeve over my eyes. It is fairly bad poetry, as he said, and yet my whole body is thrumming with it. I look around the room for some paper to write back, and have to go out to ask Simon for some, and an envelope.

I miss you too. I liked the poem.


So it isn't the longest letter ever written. Words are not my strong point. I seal it up, write his name on the envelope, and give it to Simon for delivery.

I go to sleep with his letter under my head.


He wrote back! What a sweetie!

I've finished my shower, air-dried, and have carefully rubbed my next piece of paper on the inside of my thighs. Once the paper is dry, I compose my next note.

I've been worrying over how you'll let me touch you. You know what the difference between a friend and a lover is? A friend will slap you on the back or pat you on the butt. A friend will swallow his pizza, haul down your pants, jerk you off and go back for another slice of pizza before a lover has finished caressing your shoulders.

I want to caress you, Jim. I want to smooth my hands over your shoulders, over your back, over your arms. I want to stroke the skin of your ass until it tingles. I want to rub your chest like I'd rub a cat's belly, slow and gentle. I want to lick your neck under your ear, lick the inside of your elbow, chew on your thigh muscles. I want to rub my cheeks on the soles of your feet.

I hope this plan meets with your approval.



You know, that kid is bad. I don't know what I thought I was worrying about. I am going to go take a shower and … meditate on those images. Yes.



Four days. My mom has flown in, bringing me a, get this, wedding dashiki from Nigeria that someone had been working on, but the groom died, so she gave it to Naomi. Five days ago. Synchronicity, man: I have to shift my thinking into the space where everything I need comes to me at the right time. I used to live there. I kind of lost it a bit along the way – not that it wasn't still true, it was just hard to recognize it at times, and face it, Jim is the world's original pessimist. But this is a bit much to overlook.

Ham adores my mom, and considers her way out of his league, thank the Gods, because she's staying with us, and I just couldn't deal with that sort of thing right now. Run gibbering into the night, no doubt. I called Simon to let him know I was back in town and how to get hold of me, and he offered to get Megan to take her in, but that would be way too much for any of us. Better she should stay with me.

I worry about how Jim's talks with his family went. They both can be a bit rigid and conservative, but the fact of the matter is that they could all lose contact over this, and Jim has made it blasphemously clear that his choice is me, and they don't get any say in it. But I hate the thought of them stopping talking to him again.

Synchronicity again: I have to have faith that if that is what happens, that is what Jim needs right now. Me? Well, I like Stephen, and I don't hold his childhood against him. Mr. Ellison is harder for me, though: every time I think about what he put Jim through, it's like fire runs up my back and into my vision. I have to physically stop and let it go, so I try not to think about his behavior then unless Jim needs me to. I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive him totally, but I know it's important for me to try.

Physical arrangements are Jim and Simon's job. Ritual is mine. Simon let me know right away that all of Major Crime, including Rhonda, are coming, so I knew that we'd have at least eight people in the outer circle. There's no telling if Mr. Ellison and Stephen will be coming, but I can't write them into the ritual anyway: they would be too weirded out for words. If they do come, I have some things they can do to be part that won't suffer if they're not present. I just sent the bits off to Simon, Eli, and Jill by Ham yesterday, so people can practice, or whatever. Yeah, Jill is coming. Anyone who would let a noise complaint get sworn out against her just to let Ham get into the police station is important enough to come to my wedding.

"Sweetie? Phone for you!"

I stop pacing through the back yard, and go take it from her.

"Blair Sandburg."

"Um, Mr. Sandburg, this is William Ellison." His cultured voice is hesitant.

"Oh, hello, sir! What can I do for you?" There is a small silence on the other end in which I can clearly hear 'Stay away from my son,' but he chooses not to give voice to that.

"Jimmy told me I should contact you about coming to the wedding Friday. Where I should come, what I should wear, what I should bring." He clears his throat. "What I should expect."

I listen to his tone of voice, to the strain in it, the pain that lies behind it, the fear of me, of the unknown, of this new freakish thing that his son is doing, and my heart breaks for him. If anything I can do can heal this man, short of further injuring his son, I will do it.

"I think we should meet in person, Mr. Ellison. Would you like to come here, or would you prefer me to come to your home, or is there a public place you would like to meet?" The Gods all help him if he comes here, with Naomi present. No telling what might happen. But he needs the choice. Chaos must have its chance.

"If you wouldn't mind," he says, still curiously hesitant, "I'd rather you came here. I understand you're staying with a friend at present?"

"Right," I answer, and set up a time, get directions. Not that I need them, but it preserves his sense of control. His son is completely out of his control now, and it's my doing, so it's necessary to allow him this much.

I dress carefully to meet him. To do him honor as my fiance's father, I must be neat and clean. To do my fiance honor, I must dress in the style Jim loves on me. So, jeans, but the new ones – no holes. No tee-shirts or flannel, but instead the Egyptian cotton shirt with my patchwork vest on top. Dockers rather than sneakers. My silver earrings rather than the droopy rainbow string ones.

I wait down the block until five minutes before our agreed time, then drive down and park in front of his house. The long walk and the white columns would be intimidating if I weren't so focused on my – mission, call it. Or objective. Let's be all military and guerrilla-ish, because I am surely infiltrating enemy headquarters, here.

William Ellison opens the door personally, which since he has a housekeeper indicates the honor that he is doing his son, and by extension me as emissary for his son. This bodes well. He ushers me to the living room – in this house, it does duty for the old-fashioned parlor, in which uncomfortable conversations with strangers and mere acquaintances get held – and offers me anything from his wet bar. I name something mildly complicated, to give him the honor of creating it, which he does with aplomb. I sip and praise it while he makes his own drink; he smiles warily, and sits opposite me.

I decide to open with the putative topic of this meeting, and wait my chance to pull in the rest of his agenda. I give him my best energetic charming smile. It often works on committee members. I see a slight relaxation in Mr. Ellison. Man, he's gonna be a tough audience.

"You know the wedding's on Friday. It starts at 11 am, but you can get there any time after 9 and before 11, and we should be ready for you. We're holding it in Simon's backyard, rain or shine, which brings me to: you may want to bring an umbrella or a rain hat." He nods, and I let him ask the obvious question.

"Why not just inside? Is it a space issue? I have room here." Oh, he's good, he's so good, trying so hard. Here's where some of Jim's profound courage comes from, this willingness to make a decision and stick to it, no matter what the consequences. I save that to tell Jim later, when he needs to hear it.

"For the kind of wedding we're having, it has to be outside. Did Jim tell you that it's a very nontraditional ceremony?" Oh yeah, like it isn't nontrad enough with two guys. I watch him refrain from shuddering – his relationship with Jim is soooo important to him!

"Yes, he did say I should ask you what to expect." Mr. Ellison did his best to look inviting rather than intimidating and terrified. I relax my posture further to pull him in, and pull the folder with his copy of the wedding ceremony out from beside me, hand it to him. He takes it but doesn't open it yet.

"Like all weddings, this one is a public acknowledgement of a situation that already exists, so we'll be pledging to be there for each other, to back each other up, to support each other, to take care of each other, permanently. Nothing that wasn't already true, but we're saying it to witnesses, making it public. Because of our jobs, we are also making a commitment to our community, to protect it, to promote its well-being, and to promote justice within it to the best of our ability. And our community, in the form of the rest of you, makes the same commitment back to us."

Jobs, yeah right: same commitment whether you think of us as cops or as Sentinel and Shaman Guide, but I leave it ambiguous for Mr. Ellison at the moment. Only as much freak factor as he can handle, moment to moment.

"The folks from Major Crimes are there as our shared community; you'll be there, and Sally and Stephen if they choose to come, as Jim's personal community; and my mom and two people from the University will be there as my personal community."

I can see a shadow in his eyes as he contemplates not going, not allowing Sally to go, Stephen not going: what this would mean for Jim. As he should. I continue.

"Once we're done with all that, we go indoors to clean up and dry off, as necessary, and to have lunch. Then we load up in a van to go downtown so Jim and I can file the Domestic Partnership Registry papers, and then off to the station so we can file the paperwork there. Some of it, like emergency contact and next-of-kin and life insurance, have been on file, but we'll refile it with our new status." I see the flicker in his eyes as he realizes just how public we plan to be with this.

And you know, I still haven't even kissed his son. I swallow hard at that thought, and continue.

"There's a reception bit in the station afterwards – nonalcoholic – and then people will go hang out at the bar for a while. You and the other 'civilians' are welcome to come to both of them." I draw in a breath: this is the part that actually frightens me. People's inhibitions will be down, and we'll get closer to a true reaction from the cops that join us. But it has to be done.

"And then everyone goes home, my mom goes back to my friend's house, and Jim and I … go home." He hasn't told me what he's doing to the loft, and I haven't asked. But when we were talking about the paperwork, he mentioned that we would need to stop by the Recorder of Deeds. This is also terrifying.

"There won't be a reception at the University?" Interesting that he should choose to ask that question. I smile at him wryly.

"I don't have much of a presence at Ranier these days. Nothing formal. They prefer it that way." He frowns - another interesting reaction - opens his mouth, then thinks better of it for a moment.

"I heard about the press conference." I wait, arms loosely on my knees, my posture unthreatening and open. "That was rather like your committing suicide." Very interesting color to his voice on those last two words. His body language is stiffening up in an entirely new way, one that indicates a whole other realm of discomfort than what we've been dealing with.

"Very like academic suicide, yes; but I'm here to deal with the consequences of my actions."

That gets his attention for certain. He jerks and twitches and then launches himself to his feet with a muttered apology, striding around the room for several minutes. Finally he alights at the fireplace, his back to me, his hands gripping each other in the small of his back – another Jimlike thing to file away.

"My father committed suicide." His voice is thick and hoarse. I am frozen: Jim never said anything about this. "I was eleven. It's …" His voice seizes up. I wait for him, feeling those tiny fishing wires extend from my body in his direction. They tremble. "It was February of 1945. My father's best friend had been drafted a couple of months before, and he had been very moody. And then Uncle Mac's mother called and said he'd been killed in France. My father just – just shut down. We went to the memorial service, and came home, and my father shut himself in his den and hanged himself." His voice chokes off again. He swallows several times, his hands clenching and unclenching. "I found him when I went to call him for dinner."

Mr. Ellison swings around and glares at me, the same glare Jim uses when he feels profoundly about something and the very strength of it terrifies him. "I swore that day that I would never depend for my life on another person that much. And when I had children, I did my best to ensure that they would never depend on another person for their lives that much either." His face is working, and my heart is breaking. I try to send support his way. "I thought I had succeeded. It was worth it to me for them to hate me, so long as they never killed themselves over someone else. But you - you killed yourself over him, but you stayed alive, and so did he. And I think, I think that if you die, he'll kill himself over you."

The whole key to the Ellison dynamic, right there in that one story Jim probably doesn't even know. I file away for later thought the idea that his grandfather might have had his own Guide, and his own need for one.

"Sir, I'll try to make sure that if anything happens to me, he'll have no need to commit suicide." I can't really promise anything, and I pray to all the powers that be that Mr. Ellison never needs to find out the results of this oath, but hey: if a shaman can't accomplish a simple haunting, what good is he?

"Mr. Sandburg – may I call you Blair?" I nod enthusiastically, and he continues. "And please call me Bill. Blair, I've never told my sons about that. Maybe I should." Again I nod, using the slow, deliberate, 'that would be a good idea' version. He closes his eyes and inhales deeply, painfully. When he exhales, he seems smaller, older, and more open, more relaxed. I watch a decision clicking over in his mind. "Would you excuse me for a moment?"

I nod once more, and he leaves the room. I stretch unobtrusively, my hands by my sides, and scoot back just a bit in my chair. All the practice with hostile groups is paying off: I've been able to control my baseline activity level well enough not to freak him out, but the effort is wearing on me. I can hardly wait to leave.

Those little fishing wires are stretching about, showing me his location. Odd. Also, they no longer tremble, which has to be a good thing. He comes back in, holding something small, and crosses to me. I stand to meet him.

"I want you to consider this house open to you at any time. Please use this key if no one is at home. I will inform the security firm that you are my son-in-law."

If he were a different man, he would hug me and say, Welcome to the family, but William Ellison has made this statement, has given me this key, and shakes my hand, hard.

"Thank you, sir." I give it a beat, then continue, "Shall I leave you to read through the ceremony on your own? You may call me at the same number with any question you come up with."

"Yes, thank you," he says gratefully; like myself, he cannot bear this situation for a moment more. "And I'll see you on Friday."


Naomi has agreed to meet me, and I'm taking her to lunch. We're walking to a nice place near the station; the look on Simon's face when I mentioned borrowing his car was … a little intimidating.

We keep it nonchalant while we're ordering, let the waitress bring our food, and get comfortable. Naomi chatters about her latest trips, I ask a few intelligent questions, and then we order dessert. Now we'll have a little privacy.

Naomi plants her elbows on the table, flashes that brilliant smile at me, and says, "I know you are not going to ask my permission to marry my son. And after all this time I know you'll take care of him the best you can. So what can I do for you?"

I don't like talking; I prefer to listen. So I've practiced this so that I can say it in a non-accusatory fashion.

"I would like to know what you can tell me about how you raised Blair. I know a little, but whatever you can tell me, I want to know." I take a deep breath; the next part is hard. "He is the most important thing … person in my life. I was raised very differently. Badly, and differently. Whatever I can learn about him helps me not to be stupid with him. And I guess whatever you would be willing to tell me about your life would help."

She smiles at me with those brilliant eyes, glances into her memory, and murmurs, "Now what would be best to tell … "

She takes a deep breath in and begins.

"You know I'm only five years older than you are." I nod. "You know that this means that I was only fifteen when Blair was conceived, right?" I nod more slowly. "Let me tell you about that, and I think then any stories I might tell you later would be a little more in perspective.

"My family was mildly religious, but very conservative. This is different in a Jewish family than what people expect in Christian families. It meant that we were all committed to various civil rights causes and environmental causes, but that good Jewish girls did not go out into the world to do things.

"And I wanted to do things. Oh how I wanted to do things. I've always felt very strongly about injustice, and we could see injustice everywhere. My first encounter with it was when I was eight, when my best girlfriend took me under a bush, swore me to secrecy, and admitted that she was adopted. And she cried, because her real mother abandoned her to strangers. And she was supposed to never tell, never know where she was from, nothing. It broke my little heart.

"We always talked about politics and news and the war – it was the Vietnam War, remember, and our babysitters had older brothers who were coming home not quite right, or not in one piece – or not at all. And our father – you know I had two brothers, right? Just one, now. – our father would rant about how it was the poor and disenfranchised who were being sent to die simply to give experience to upper-class white officers with more hair than brain – and he would always add, 'And have you seen those haircuts?'"

I rub my hand rather self-consciously over my head, and she nods, smiling and spreading her hands.

"Exactly. Exactly. And you know he was right, MacNamara admitted it in his book, everything we always suspected about that war was precisely correct. And it would infuriate us, because the young men going were our neighbors and classmates, and when they came back some of them, gentle souls they had been, were … they couldn't be with us any more. They'd been ruined for civilian life, most of them. It was horrible. We had classmates that were terrified of the older brothers that they had been terrified for. And my oldest brother, Jason, had a draft card. We discussed back and forth what to do about it. Whether he should go to Canada. Whether that was only more oppressive to the inner-city black boy who would have to take his place. Whether he should be a conscientious objector. Whether he should show up for his draft board and declare that he was a Communist and a homosexual. Whether he should actually go through basic training and then declare himself Communist and homosexual, so as to have forced the Army to waste all that time and money training him – because of course they couldn't send him over then. He had a friend that was willing to back him up for that if necessary. You know: what would have the best effect.

"And the feminists were declaring that young women should be drafted too, or that no one should: that it wasn't fair otherwise."

"They did?" I blurt. I'd always heard that feminists were anti-war. "They wanted to be drafted?"

"That it shouldn't be a different standard for boys than for girls. That if people thought they could stand to see their sons coming home in body bags, that they might change their minds if it were their daughters. They hated the war, and they hated the draft, and they hated the unfairness, and there were gangs of eighteen-year-old women hounding the draft board to get their cards and being turned away. Of course, I couldn't do that yet; the whole point was that you had to be old enough."

She eats some more of her chocolate cake, obviously gathering her memories, and I prod her a little about the cake: Sandburg would have a fit if he saw me eating it. She laughs.

"Never get between a woman and her chocolate, Jim!"

I laugh too, and then say, "You were telling me about the feminists."

"No, I was telling you about our arguments. Well, the thing was that Jason was getting ready to go to college, and Robbie was a junior in high school, and I was a sophomore, and the two boys were making plans to go to demonstrations of one sort and another and I wasn't allowed to go. I was a girl. Nice Jewish girls don't date, nice Jewish girls don't put themselves in the public eye, and nice Jewish girls certainly do not contest the government: that is a job for nice Jewish boys."

She licks a bit of icing off that lush mouth of hers, and looks at me very thoughtfully.

"My parents considered older brothers to be a sufficient chaperone for a sophomore, and had made plans to spend a couple of weeks in May with my mother's parents in upstate New York. My oldest brother was making plans to sneak off to college to take part in a ROTC protest that was coming up. Robbie was determined to go as well, and they couldn't leave me at home alone; plus I was determined not to be left out."

There is a look of old grief on the beautiful face.

"We drove down to a campground outside the city, and set up a couple of tents – one for the boys and one for me. There were a lot of other people there planning to take part as well. Then we piled back into cars; there must have been twenty or thirty of them. We did the demonstration, which was noisy and active and full of police presence – I got chased down a few blocks before I ducked a direction they hadn't expected, and lost them. There were several hours when I was on my own, then I made my way back to where the cars were parked." She sips her water, her eyes hooded, looking into the past. Takes a deep breath and leans forward on her elbows, looking at me to make sure I hear, that I understand.

"We celebrated back at the campground. There had been a lot of press coverage, to show that there were Americans who were against the war, who were engaged in peaceful protest but who were disrupted by the police. This was great, this was exactly what we wanted. So there was singing, people were playing guitars, there were drums, people were wandering all around, folks would grab you and give you some soup, or a sandwich, or some cookies, or punch or whatever. It was a party. And I was fifteen. And I had done something: achieved something."

Oh shit. Suddenly I know where this is going, and she nods at the look on my face.

"I didn't know the punch was spiked; we didn't drink in our house, nothing more than rather sour wine for our parents. And I laughed, and danced, and accepted everything that was given to me. I got kissed and hugged by a lot of people, just for the glory of the day. I don't know when I passed out. I have a vague memory of Robbie helping me into my tent, but that's it.

"Four months later, when my parents demanded the name of the father of my child, I protested that I wasn't pregnant. My periods were irregular enough that I hadn't guessed; I thought I was just putting on Eliasoff weight, like my mother. And as far as I knew, I was still virgin. They were furious, thinking that I was lying to them, that I was defying them, that I was a Bad Girl."

She smiles, and shakes out her hands in the classic Sandburg Letting It Go gesture.

"At this point in my life, I no longer believe that they would have really disowned me and thrown me out of the house. However, I am still certain that they intended that I would be sent away to have my baby where no one would know, and would be forced to give him up for adoption. So I ran away. Fifteen, remember: not the best planning skills in the world, although they were pretty good for my age."

More chocolate cake. You know, I've worked with runaways on the streets, now as well as when I was in Vice. I know how many different ways there are for very young girls to get pregnant. But I had still always assumed that Naomi Sandburg had slept around of her own will as a very young girl. Well, I did have cause: she has certainly slept around of her own will since then. But I had assumed that she had been careless about birth control, and that's just not what had happened.

She swallowed, dabbed at her mouth with her napkin, and set aside her plate.

"I had my address book with me; I did do some planning, you know. There had been some women at the campground that I had really connected with, who had given me phone numbers. By the end of the day that my father told me he no longer had a daughter, I was in Cincinnati with a half-dozen women who were planning on joining a commune in West Virginia."

She twinkles at me. I have no idea what my face looks like, because she's trying to be re-assuring and teasing, here. "They had all kinds of radical ideas there on the commune, Jim. Like: cigarette smoke is dangerous to people who breathe it, whether it's them smoking or not! Like: all the things you put in your body affect your child! Like: biofeedback is safer than Valium!"

That gentle silvery chuckle. "Simply horrible and against all accepted medical practice! Well. It was a Feminist Wiccan environmental, you know, earth-based, commune. Some of the women there were midwives, some herbalists, we were growing organic food and collecting free-range eggs, purifying our bodies. Doing yoga, even with me all swollen with Blair. I think that there was a five-gallon barrel of rubbing alcohol, that they used to make rubs and tinctures and the like; otherwise no alcohol at all. We had three men in the commune, and about five boys. Two of the men were gay, and the third one was Belinda's cousin, who was still a virgin when everything broke up, although he was a lot less tense."

"Everything broke up?" I indicate fascinated curiosity with an eyebrow, and she swallows hastily.

"Right. This is where it gets bad. In December of 1970 I was seven months pregnant, looking forward to giving birth with massage and midwives there on the commune grounds. We had stores of food in the root cellar, the chickens had been moved closer to the house, we had a goat and were experimenting with winter fodder and milk production, and we were weaving. And then co-, um, police from the nearby town came out and arrested us all. I never got to hear why or what happened; my own charge was of being delinquent, and they accused Bobbie of 'contributing to the delinquency of a minor,' because obviously if I was pregnant and he was there, he was the father of the child. Wholly disregarding the fact that he'd never touched anyone but Geff, and wouldn't have quite known what to do with me if I'd tied him up and attempted carnal knowledge without his cooperation. We decided that the four-week sentence for contributing to my delinquency was preferable to the twenty-year sentence he'd have gotten for sodomy if we'd explained about Geff."

I wince. There are places where this is still the way the law is enforced, though not in Washington. Not in Cascade.

"Lisa and Carrie-Ann and I were put before a judge who sent us to a group home the next county over. Within three days, the older boys at the home had raped both Lisa and Carrie-Ann, and the adults had accused all three of us of lying about it and locked us in our room."

Her lips are pressed into what I can only describe as an annoyed line. Annoyance like that gets Chiefs of Staff fired with extreme prejudice.

"I wasn't very mobile at that point, so we couldn't go out the window, but I managed to get the three of us out of there and on the road. I called one of my contacts back in Cincinnati, who gave us the name and number of someone she knew in Philadelphia. We just had to get there."

She looks straight at me, willing me to understand. "We caught rides. But it wasn't easy. We got arrested four times, sent to more group homes, had to escape again. Lisa was angry, but Carrie-Ann was hysterical. We had to protect her. And then I went into labor while we were under arrest, before we'd gotten sent to the next group home."

Naomi carefully sets her fork and knife and spoon on her empty plate, sets it out of the way. Drains her tea. Sets her cup out of the way. Folds her arms on the table and finally looks back at me.

"Because I was a flight risk, they handcuffed me to the gurney. I was protesting the entire way – in between being speechless with pain. They ignored every single thing I said, and put me right out.

"Three days later I woke up with no baby, no ovaries, and a couple of big scars, one on my belly and one for the episiotomy. They did bring me back Blair, and let me nurse him, and he had a scar of his own. But they wouldn't let me keep him with me; they had him on oxygen because he'd gotten distressed during the birth. Jim, if you give new babies oxygen, you can mess up their lungs. He has never, ever, been able to handle hyperventilating. He always calls them panic attacks, but they're really just that original lung damage. One of the reasons I taught him to meditate so young was so that he could control his breathing, so that he could be in stressful situations and continue to breathe."

She swallows, her eyes full of unshed tears.

"So much for the gentle, natural, drug-free, stress-free birth I had planned for him. So much for not getting him circumcised until he could choose it for himself. So much, in fact, for me ever having a child by my own choice. Because I was a multiple runaway and a pregnant teenager, the law in Virginia allowed the hospital to choose to sterilize me. I don't trust hospitals and doctors, Jim, because the first time I ever had to deal with them in any meaningful way, they completely changed my life without consulting me at all."

I consciously separate my teeth, and work out the kinks in my jaw. A lot of things have changed since then, and many of them for the better. A sudden thought hits me, and I look up at her.

"Were those some of the causes Blair talks about you being involved in?"

The brilliant Sandburg smile. "That's right, you are exactly right. And they all linked together. It's all about respect, you know: respect for people who are different from you, respect for the places you find yourself. And a lot of disrespect was written into the law, and we just had to do things about it. That woman in Philadelphia? Lisa called her and told her what was happening, and she sent down some people to pick us up and take us back there. The Quakers took us in, cared for us, and we worked with them for a long time. I still see some of them every year."

She gathers her gear together, and I pull her chair out, give her a hand up. Settle her coat on her shoulders, hold the restaurant door open for her. As we walk back to the station, she says, "The law is first, Jim. You have to change laws first, and that is so hard. Then social expectations are next, and they're even harder to change. I had to learn how to detach from my relationships with love, because when I tried to hold on, or he would, and it was just wrong for us, there was so much anger. And sometimes that could lead to violence. I would not stand still for that, could not, my son had no business seeing violence in a love situation. But I learned such important things from every man or woman I was with, Jim, and so I had to learn to let go with thanks. And sometimes I think I was able to teach things too – not that I know what, because what a person learns from relationships depends on what they start from. And that rules what you expect from other people, and how much, oh, maybe strangeness, you allow other people to engage in."

I think she probably taught a lot to a whole lot of people. My mind boggles at trying to decide exactly what.

"But the last thing is the moral, Jim: not what people expect other people to do, but what they expect themselves to do. And you can't even begin to make changes in that before you are fully aware of what those changes grow out of. So I go from teacher to teacher, from church to temple to coven, all over the world, to see what kinds of things work and how, and what kinds of people they work for. What works on me, what doesn't work on me but works for Sarah Geatle. What doesn't work for either of us but works for Daren Lightfoot. And how we learn to accept that other people have their own best way which may not be our own best way, but which it is important to let them do without forcing ourselves to do it too."

Oh my God. Suddenly a whole lot of Naomi Sandburg makes sense. Suddenly a whole lot of Blair Sandburg makes sense too. Studying people to help them be better at being themselves is just what these two do. It's what they've always done.

Naomi leaves me at the station door with a kiss on the cheek, a wave, and a whole lot to think about.


I shudder to think what Naomi may have discussed with Jim. I hope she wasn't regaling him with stories of my first girlfriends. It's a toss-up which would be worse: him thinking of me as a teen-aged, and rather inept, Casanova, or him going all jealous that Anyone Else Touched What Is His. You have to watch out for both, with Ellison.

Day after tomorrow is the big day. I can hardly believe that he's giving this to me: this level of acceptance, this level of public commitment. This level of trust. Gods Above and Below, I need to be worthy of this. I need to make this good for him.

I know I can be a good partner, a good husband to him; what else have we been doing the last five years? I know I can keep his secrets and I know I can guard his back. And I'll finally have the right to protect him against the Bimbos of the Week. Being open, being out, will make that much easier. I wouldn't have asked it of him, but he seems to have assumed that this was the obvious thing to do.

It's up to me to make sure that that last element that we are adding, that whole sex thing, is profound for him. It's almost as if it were something I had been training for my whole life.

Hm. I wonder if my microtape recorder still works?


Oh God. Simon has just handed me a package, not an envelope, given me a sharp look, and very pointedly gone off to start Billy Holiday in the living room. I go off, shut my door, and slit open the tape.

My nose fills with the scent of pheromones, sex-sweat, and semen, coming from a dry washcloth. On top is a plain note reading

Dreams of you. Dream of me.

Underneath these two things is his miniature tape recorder. I blink a couple of times, inhale suddenly, and stumble over to the bed. Suddenly regaining my planning capacity, I lay the package down on the bed, then strip to my boxers, drape the washcloth on my pillow, hit the light, and lie down. Decide to cover myself up.

Start the tape player.

His breathing, oh God, his breathing, and his heartbeat; I feel like actual sound has come back into a muffled universe. I soak this in, my nerves settling down and blossoming after their long dry period.

I relax.

After a while, his heartbeat speeds up slightly, and his breathing starts to hitch. Oh, I know this pattern. It's a wet dream. I inhale deeply, and am filled with the scent of his arousal again. The hair on my body all stands up, and blood rushes everywhere. Without warning all the muscles in my body lock up in my own arousal, and I pant, trying to regain equilibrium.

Now there are tiny little moans in his breathing – deepening – becoming groans … The hitches are turning into actual gasping, and I can hear him writhing against the sheets. I'm sweating, and find I'm groaning too. I turn my face into the pillow to muffle myself, and find my nose right in that washcloth.

I can see his sleeping face behind my eyelids, the dark lashes lying curled against his cheeks, the square jaw darkly shadowed with beard, the generous mouth lying softly open. The long curls shadowing his neck. The darkly stenciled chest hair curling over the neck of his tee-shirt. My imagination sets him into motion, the sounds leading, and I can see him, can see him, oh so beautiful, and my body demands attention too, my groans blending with the recorded ones, and an idea fires my brain, no time to think it over, and I grab the washcloth and ah!


I just lie there for a while, shuddering occasionally, listening to his own shuddering breaths beside me, the scent of my own arousal and semen blending with his, so good, so good. I don't even notice drifting off to sleep, but I dream of the weight of his arms over my waist.


The light creeping through the window wakes me. For a moment I am caught between wonder and terror, and do not know why.

Then I remember.

Today I get married!

Chapter Text

I stand in front of the closet, sliding suit after suit across the bar. This is ridiculous.

I turn back to the page of instructions that Mr. Sandburg - that Blair gave me, and read again the part about what to wear.

"Once you have read through the ceremony, and remembering that this is Cascade and it will probably rain, choose clothes that, to you, indicate your feelings about this wedding."

Why couldn't he have simply said "Morning formal," or "Peace beads," or something of that nature? I am absolutely certain that a tuxedo would be neither appropriate nor appreciated, even though I certainly would have worn my tuxedo to my son's wedding. But not, naturally, outside in the rain. However, these suits all look - noncommittal.

I have been sufficiently noncommittal in my life to have built a sizable fortune, to have driven my wife away, and to have estranged both of my sons. I am through with being noncommittal. I want something that will make a statement.

The statement is the question, of course. Do I wish to state my support? Do I wish to state my grief? For I surely do feel grief; I tried for years to protect Jimmy by hiding him among normality, and today he will be flinging normality overboard with no lifejacket, clad in a pair of concrete galoshes. Which definitely means that he will no longer be safe. But of course he was never safe, he has never chosen a safe lifestyle. Military; Army; Rangers; Special Ops. Police; street work; Detective. Is being shot at more safe than being stared at?

And what about this waif, this street-child, this hippie flashback? That such a person is marrying into my family is absurd. That such a person is also male is outrageous. That such a person persists in encouraging my son to go outsides the bounds of normality ... has saved his life and his sanity, apparently.

Perhaps I should rush out and purchase a purple-and-red striped silk caftan. No; no. If I were to have made a gesture like that I should have done so yesterday. My feelings ... my feelings.

A thought strikes me. Absurd; and yet, the symbolism ... Well, the young man did say 'to you.' Smiling, I move to the dresser to begin clothing myself.

I am so full of excitement that I am humming with it, singing almost, dancing around the room. I could ground it out or meditate and calm myself, but I choose not to do so today. No, today I shall take this energy and channel it into the ritual. Joy fountains through me, and I have to laugh out loud.

My son, my only child, is getting married today! And by this traditional act, and to such a traditional partner, he shall strike such a blow against traditional thinking that the very earth Herself will shudder! The government shall tremble in its foundations! Hatred itself will be given pause!

My laughter edges into tears, because I know - who better? - the risk he takes, he and his love as well, in taking this step. He is closer to Death today than he ever has been in the violent world he has chosen to inhabit. My peaceful mediator, who has smoothed the waters of many a crime scene and gentled the recalcitrance of many a criminal, today is painting a clearer target on himself, and who can tell what kind of person will lift a gun to aim?

Of course, those tears bring Blair in directly. He wraps his arms around me and rocks me for a while. We have had this scene before, though usually it is me painting a target on myself. Master-Teacher Jesus ben-Miriam knew that sometimes the only way to change the world is to allow it to kill you, only then to discover that you had become immortal. But the gunmen have always held their fire until now, the tanks have always stopped for me, the bombs have not yet detonated while I was in range. Blair has not been so fortunate, and bears, quite literally, the scars of his work. We squeeze the breath out of each other and then, ritually, step back, each one's hands on the other's shoulders, looking in each other's eyes.

"I love you now, I have always loved you, and I will always love you," I say to him again. He says it back to me: our pledge to each other.

"I respect your choice and I am so proud of you, sweetie, so proud." I break down again and have to hug him to me once more. But I will have to let him go, once again. All the practice that I've had over the years has not made it any easier.

I show him my gown for the wedding, and he laughs, laughs so hard he begins to wheeze, and I laugh at him, listening cautiously to his breathing. No; he seems to be doing well. I know Jim will keep an ear on him, now that he knows the root of the problem. Jim is a good man. Blair has already made a great many good changes for him, and I anticipate his performing more. He's always been profoundly capable as a sexual healer, which Jim shows all the hallmarks of needing. Poor dear.

And Jim has been making a great many good changes for Blair as well, for which I am so grateful. Single parenting was so difficult, not in caring for my darling; he was such a lovely child; but in ensuring that he was exposed to enough differing points of view. When you only have one person as a constant in your life, you tend to adopt their worldview entirely, which is so not the point! Well, my brother helped with that, and Blair's fascination with cultures and individuals has served him well, but there's nothing like being wholly invested in another person's life to really incorporate their worldview into your own. And Jim certainly has provided that!

I'm in the kitchen before Ellison this morning, which is different; he's been up first these entire two weeks. It's been a pain having him in my living space: even though he has been as meek as milk, having someone else so dominant in among my things is unnerving. I keep thinking that we're going to yell at each other, or that I will have to lay down the law. It's like stepping on a step that isn't there.

I'm doing a lot of that stepping on missing steps, with this. I keep thinking that I should be more weirded out by the whole thing: one of my men is marrying another one of my men. Ellison is marrying a hippie. The station is throwing a by-God reception for a gay couple. I am going to have both Naomi Sandburg and William Ellison in my home. At the same time.

Come to think of it, I am weirded out about that last.

I try to shake the thought out of my head, and stuff some pop-tarts into the toaster. Pop-tarts, coffee, and oranges, I tell you: a breakfast of champions. And probably the last time Ellison will see pop-tarts outside their box in this lifetime. I smirk at the thought. As a divorced man - I never thought I would use that phrase with pleasure - I can eat whatever the hell I want, whenever the hell I want it. Except when Daryl's here. Which he will be in a few hours, so I need to chow down while I can.

Ah, here comes the blushing bridegroom now: looks like he took the time to get cleaned up.

"Still time to catch that plane to upper Saskatchewan, Jim."

"Nah, he's got friends up there that'd track me down. It's too late. I'm doomed."

The easy smile belies the gloomy words. He glances up at me as I pass him the pop-tarts, and his eyes are clearer than I have ever seen them. This really will be good for him.

Am I jealous?

His gaze follows me, and I know he's picked up on my sudden pensiveness. A lifted eyebrow invites me to comment, but I shake my head, smiling. No need to share this, at this point: Ellison's got enough on his plate today.

Now, mind: I wouldn't have Jim's life for five million dollars. I've seen him crippled by the same senses he uses to solve crimes for me. I've seen him frozen in guilt for not catching a perp soon enough, where everyone around him was gasping that he'd managed it at all. I've seen him deliberately enraging all of his coworkers, in an effort to protect himself from being responsible for any more friends' deaths.

And I've seen Sandburg change all that. Watched him bring order into a neat-freak's life by bringing chaos into it. Watched him bring self-acceptance into a martyr's life by guilt-tripping him into believing in a larger level of responsibility. Watched him open a recluse up to friendship by being himself so very alone.

Watched him wrench an entire department full of suspicious individuals into a level of teamwork and trust that makes me the single most-envied captain in the city. Now be very clear: I had a good team before. But I know for a fact that it was our own hyperactive hairball that took up where I left off, and pulled them - and me - together.

But Sandburg has always fastened his focus directly on Jim. The effect on the rest of the department has been peripheral, which is terrifying when you think about it. What would it be like to have that focus directed at me?

I shudder at the thought.

What would it be like to have Jim back as my best friend bar none? No Sandburg? No weirdness?

But I remember those days. They were horrible for me and worse for him.

Nah. I smile at Ellison, who is considerately letting this whole thing slide. Weirdness and all, this is much better for both of us. For all of us. That being the case, I will carry the ring and throw the rice and dance at the wedding.

Not with the happy couple, though. That would just be a little too weird.

North Pacific sea-salt: yep. Moonless midnight Cascade rainwater: got it. Chunk of rock from the construction site downtown: a-firmative. An entirely weird candle crafted by Cathy Dolittle herself, oh yeah. That woman has a hand with the beeswax, and the things she made me get to put into it! Ne-ver mind, son, just you neeeeh-verrr mind!

Gun, baton, and shield, check. Captain Banks borrowed these for me from the Fraternal Order of Police's local museum, which who knew there was one? Dissertation, parchment and pen, got them together yesterday and they're stashed at Banks' house under his mattress. Man, I'd rather have charge of a currently-disarmed nuke, it'd be less dangerous. But it's needed.

I hear B and his mother laughing and crying down the hall. What a pair, I tell you. B is the most consummate scholar I know: an Indiana Jones without the attitude, a Stephen Hawking without the vocoder. And his mom! Be still my heart! She's a cross between Susie B and Cleo, and if I were a stronger man - and maybe only five years younger than she is, instead of fourteen - I'd make a play for her. After winding up my affairs and making out my will. And updating my immunizations and passport. And ... no. no. Can't think about that. Gotta get through this day.

Okay, got my dress field clothes, the ones with all the pockets that I wear the first few days of any trip, until it's safer to wear the ratty jeans and tee-shirt. All pressed and Dr.-Livingston-I-Presume.

Got my academic gown and cap. Shoes? The field boots, naturally, but not during the ceremony itself.

Paint - where's the paint?!

"Burg! Where's the paint?!!"

"Don't have a cow, man, the paint's in the jar next to the salt. The brush should be there, too, is it?"

Oh golly, yes, it's here. "Yes, got it! Thanks!" Heh. Wonder if he knows I just took advantage of him? That little trick is gonna come in handy, oh yes.

This town will never be the same. I've been keeping notes, from the moment I heard Burg was riding with a cop - a cop! Sandburg! But I knew what he'd been hunting down, and a police officer made sense. I've been keeping trend-lines and news clippings by month, and ever since they got engaged it's been day-by-day. I'll keep them over the next year as well, and the paper I write at the end of it will go directly into the lock-box with Sandburg's diss, and the witness signature sheets. And nothing on a computer that's linked to the Net.

Those of us who think this way knew, when the dissertation was prematurely released last year, that there were Forces at work to change Burg's career path. I mean, Naomi Sandburg does have a name for causing chaos wherever she goes, but the chaos is generally very fruitful, as witness the exposure of that South African arms dealer who was another guest of her host a few years back. Last I heard, the entire conspiracy had been unraveled, about forty-fifty people were in custody for fomenting armed rebellion (or some such; they have a different legal term for it), and another twenty or so were in counseling.

Poor dears.

So we knew, we did, that it was one of those necessary changes, and that the dissertation couldn't come out in this lifetime. But it is criminal to allow that knowledge to be lost, and criminal not to add to it as circumstances allow. My Uncle Joey helped Blair set up a series of shells and trustees to ensure that the contents of his lockbox are released for publication after, but not until, he and Jim have both been dead for ten years. It's good to have family in the law profession, oh yes. Blair and I and a very few others are adding papers to it as they occur to us, again for posthumous publication.

"Involuntary Procession Through Shamanic Stages: Effects of Formal Permanent Association With a Sentinel Upon The Guide" should be interesting.

Okay, that should be everything. I think that's everything. I can't think of anything else. I wander down the hall, poke my head in the door.

"You folks ready to chhhhannnge venues?" They grin at me, and we head for the car.

One of the best things about working for impossible rich men is that they pay you very well, knowing that no one else will put up with them. Another is that you get to steal their dearest treasures, and they will not even notice.

One of Mr. Ellison's dearest treasures, now mine, has done me the honor of inviting me to his wedding. Jimmy has successfully refused each and every plan made for him by his sire, culminating in this one. I am vastly pleased by his choice. Mr. Sandburg is a highly educated, passionate, and exuberant individual, the antithesis of everything Ellison. If all goes well, I will see to it that they are offered a baby to raise.

One of the most interesting things about the formal invitation I received (as compared with the real one, issued in person by Jimmy), is the direction on what to wear. I smile to myself as I take the dry-cleaning bag off of my grandmother's red silk chi pao: nothing less than full traditional glamour is sufficient for my Jimmy. My red oiled-paper parasol will provide as much protection as I need from the rain.

My small book of recipes is already written and wrapped. I never gave these to Caroline: she would have neither appreciated nor used them. But Mr. Sandburg cooks, and causes Jimmy to cook. I have included all his childhood favorites, along with some of my family's traditional favorites that were never attempted in the Ellison household. Affiliative immortality is still immortality, and with my own son dead, this is my choice.

"Sally! You ready?"

I join Mr. Ellison in the hall. We will be there early, but this is appropriate: we are, after all, family.

"Good morning, Jill. You are looking quite ... handsome today," the professor says, his eyebrows up and laughing. I sweep an elaborate bow: the best part of wearing a velvet suit is the formal body language that goes with it.

"Thank you, Doctor Stoddard! I see you are wearing your opinion on your sleeve, and a snippy opinion it is, too!"

The professor twitches the folds of his academic gown a little more securely into place, tugs down his "hood," and harrumphs.

"Not that I expect the Detective to be able to read it. Your comment is far more accommodating. Poetic romance, Jill?" He sniffs, his expressive face very disapproving. I laugh, check for my keys, check my doorknob, pull my door shut, and start down the hall.

"So what are you going to do when everything gets wet?"

"I might well ask you the same question. All this has been extensively Scotchguarded; I expect I shall be fairly waterproof. And yourself?"

I hold up my ace in the hole: a transparent rain poncho. The professor throws back his head and laughs, and we head out to his car.

It's a small house, in a neat but unassuming neighborhood, pale in the midmorning drizzle. As I reach the front door, Jimmy throws it open, smiling, and then hesitates. I throw my arms around him. Hey, it's not every day your brother gets married! He hugs me back, hard, and then holds me away to look at me. An unholy grin crosses his face.

"Dad is going to have a cow when he sees you. Be warned."

"What?" I glance down at myself: grey tuxedo, satin lapels, blue boutonniere, perfectly appropriate for a morning outdoor wedding. "My tux fancier than his, or what?"

Jimmy snorts, a sound that takes me back about thirty years. "Or what," he answers calmly, waving me into the house. A crowd of people, you would think just the sort of thing I was used to, but this is not your ordinary meet-and-greet, not even an ordinary wedding.

Not even an ordinary gay wedding, thank you very much, I have indeed attended several. You want to make a business flourish with my age group, you wind up working with unabashed gay folks. You do it well, you get invited to weddings. Not something our dad ever taught us, but I suppose that's what a peer group is for.

Here is a tall scary black man, square glasses flashing in a square face: our host, Captain Simon Banks, shaking my hand and speaking a few words about horses. He and several other men are dressed in police uniforms, all men I remember from that horror my brother nearly arrested me over. A tall scary beautiful woman is dressed in a very different uniform - Megan Connor, an Australian with a kind of gleeful suspicion in her face.

A hefty blond girl in a black page-boy outfit, all velvet and lace, is talking to one of the officers, a brunet white man with an intriguing semi-English accent: Jill Daggerskold, one of my brother's fiance's friends from the University, with a Brian Rafe. They both greet me with a kind of challenging heartiness, as though expecting me to be weird about their friends. Well. One of the gay weddings I was at taught me a bit about why: George's mother had hysterics and threw wine all over him and his husband, and had to be carried out screaming by her children. And she had seemed to be doing so well ...

Oh God. "Hi, Dad!"

"Hello, Stevie." Haltingly, he offers to embrace me, and I hug him, then step back. We study one another. A golfing outfit? Complete with hat and plus-fours?

"I, errr, I didn't think a tux would be welcomed." His face is growing rigid, blast; I know this look of old.

"I notice I'm the only one here in one, so you're probably right. Darn it, I hope they won't take offence, I don't really think it would be a good thing to go home and change at this point." He's buying it, softening his expression, starting to look a bit patronizing rather than humiliated.

"I've found they're rather forgiving, so you're probably all right. Have you met everyone here? Ms. Sandburg and ..." He looks around; the officers have been leaving, and only Jimmy, Captain Banks, Ms. Daggerskold, and a great shaggy bear of a man in full academic regalia are left in the room. Oh, and Sally! Great! Cool, her red silk!

"Gentlemen, this is Doctor Eli Stoddard, Blair's mentor from the university," Captain Banks rumbles. I reach to shake his hand after Dad does. The old bear favors us with a rather grim smile.

"And it is time to take our places. Jill and I will see you in the back yard. Captain Banks?" He does a strange little bow, and leaves.

"Don't you have to dress, Jimmy?" Dad asks, going a little rigid again. He's right, I think abstractedly; Jimmy's got on his uniform pants and boots, but only a kind of camouflage muscle shirt; he needs to put on his good shirt and coat.

"You're right, Dad. Simon?" Captain Banks goes over to a strange-looking safety box, unlocks it, and pulls out a ... a couple of guns, actually, and holsters, and a bandanna? Jimmy pulls on the holsters, checks and loads the guns - my eyes are feeling a little stiff, and I remind myself to blink - and ties the bandanna over his head. He turns and reaches again, and Captain Banks puts a rather long spear! into his hand! I suddenly remember to close my mouth. Jimmy rotates his shoulders back and smiles at each of us.

"I've got bowls of rice for each of you by the back door," the Captain says. "Are you ready?" We nod. I hope I'm ready. I've studied my copy of the ceremony for days now, and though I don't have to say anything much, I don't want to trip over any toes, either.

In the back yard stands a tight circle of uniformed and armed police, mist-dampened helmets on their heads and the unmistakable shape of kevlar armor under their shirts. They are facing outward from around some table arrangement. A round-faced black man and a rather competent-looking older white woman step toward us.

"Who are you, and why are you here?" says the man, lifting his gun! And pointing it at us! The woman holds a plexiglass riot shield in front of the two of them.

"I am Simon Banks, and this is my home, you are my people, and this is my friend. I am bringing him to unite his soul with its other half."

Well. Okay.

"Who are these you bring with you?" says the woman, not giving a single inch. That gun is pretty durn steady, too. I'd comfort myself it was probably empty if I hadn't just seen Jim load his. These people are insane!

"Here is James Joseph Ellison, son and sentinel of the city of Cascade, Detective of Major Crimes of the city of Cascade, Captain of the Rangers of the Army of the United States, friend to me and to my family.

"Here is William Ellison, father of James Ellison. Here is Sally Wong, foster-mother of James Ellison. Here is Stephen Ellison, brother of James Ellison."

"Do you answer for them within this ceremony?"

"I answer for them with my life."


The man holsters his gun and the woman lowers her shield. They turn to pick up something from the table behind them, and move toward us. Banks lowers his head, and they - they paint on his face. Banks takes the paintbrush, and turns toward Jimmy, who turns up his face. Odd to think of someone he can literally look up to being his boss. Jimmy steps past them, into the circle, and it's Dad's turn to be painted. And then Sally's. And then mine. The paint tickles, and I can see that the patterns on Jimmy's face are different than the ones on Dad's or Sally's. I step past Banks and his two people, and he stands between them, the bowl of paint handed off to the woman. I forget about it.

"William Ellison, will you stand with us and be a fair witness to this union?"

"I will," Dad answers, and he is taken around the far side of the circle to stand between Megan and Brian.

"Stephen Ellison, will you stand with us and be a fair witness to this union?"

"I will," I answer, and I'm taken around to stand between Megan and the round-faced man.

Sally answers the same, and goes to stand by Dad. As always.

The door to the garage opens, and four people come out: Blair in something big and white, someone who can only be his mom - and who doesn't look like anyone's mom!, Dr. Stoddard, Ms. Daggerskold, and a linebacker-looking academic guy with laughing eyes and a huge proboscis. Megan and Brian do the shield-and-gun thing, and challenge them.

"I am Abraham Pronchick of the University of Rainier, this is my world, these are my people, and this is my friend. I am bringing him to meet his destiny."

Um. They're not exactly doing word-for-word balance, I guess. This was all shorthanded as "challenge and response" in the write-up I got.

"Who are these you bring with you?" says Megan.

"Here is Blair Jacob Sandburg, child of the universe, student of humanity, Shaman of Cascade, friend to me and to you all.

"Here is Naomi Sandburg, mother and first teacher of Blair. Here is Jill Daggerskold, partner in studies and partner in tricks to Blair. Here is Eli Stoddard, learning's father to Blair."

"Do you answer for them within this ceremony?"

"I answer for them with my soul."

Okay. I hear a clear difference of values here.

They all get painted and spotted around the circle, leaving Blair and Jimmy in the middle, facing each other over the table, which I now see is loaded with ... stuff. Stuff I can almost recognize. It's all dewed with mist, although the air seems to be clearing.

A large older black man with a basset-hound face speaks next.

"We are the guardians of Cascade. We hunt down those who break its laws and who threaten its peace. Blair Jacob Sandburg, are you a threat to the city of Cascade?"

Blair has a clear, very young tenor voice. "I am a threat so long as I am solitary. With my proper partner, I can help guard the peace of Cascade."

This was written in as "Challenge to the couple." I blink, and listen.

"James Joseph Ellison, are you a threat to the city of Cascade?"

My brother's buzzing tenor: "I am a threat without my proper partner. With him, I will guard the peace and the people of Cascade."

Why threats? I add to my list of Questions For Blair, who will tell anyone anything, almost.

"Who is the proper partner of James Joseph Ellison? Simon Banks, you answer for him within this ceremony: what is your knowledge?"

"I know that he works best with Blair Jacob Sandburg. I know that he lives best with Blair Jacob Sandburg. I know that he flourishes with Blair Jacob Sandburg. I have seen this, and so have you all."

"So have we all," respond every uniformed officer present.

"Who is the proper partner of Blair Jacob Sandburg? Abraham Pronchick, you answer for him within this ceremony: what is your knowledge?"

"I know that he sought out James Joseph Ellison over continents and time. I know that he has given up privacy and independence for James Joseph Ellison. I know that he has sacrificed his life, his work, and his sacred honor for James Joseph Ellison. I have seen this, and so have we all."

"So have we all," respond Ms. Sandburg, Ms. Daggerskold, and Dr. Stoddard. Interestingly, the officers chime in.

"James Joseph Ellison, do you agree that Blair Jacob Sandburg is your proper partner?"

Jimmy's face takes on a look I have never seen before, a strange mix of guilt and trust and fierceness.

"Blair Jacob Sandburg is my proper and only partner. Without him, I cannot live. With him, I can do anything I need to do."

"What will you give to him?"

"I will give him my trust and my obedience. I will give him my protection and my care. I will give him my heart and my body."

Whoa. Did Blair write that, or did Jimmy make it up himself?

"Blair Jacob Sandburg, do you agree that James Joseph Ellison is your proper partner?"

Blair's face is blazing, and wet.

"James Joseph Ellison is my proper and only partner. Without him, I have no purpose. With him, I can do anything I need to do."

"You have already given him much. Is there more you will give to him?"

"I will give him my trust and my obedience. I will give him my protection and my care. I will give him my heart and my body."

And for this he repeated Jimmy's words exactly. Innnteresting. Oh, and notice? They are both going to 'obey'?

Dad is vibrating, his face red and his breath short. I hope he makes it through the ceremony. It'd be a real bad omen for the parent of one of the participants to drop dead of a heart attack during the wedding.

The basset-faced man says, very carefully, "There is no thesis without antithesis. Let those who care for Blair speak against this match now."

Doctor Stoddard speaks immediately.

"This partnership has cost my protege academically for years. A man who I awaited as a colleague and, indeed, as a teacher has abandoned his practice and his studies and, now, his commitment to the truth in order to serve this man. Our knowledge has already been irreparably harmed by this partnership; to enhance it threatens to cause more damage still."

Blair is hopping up and down, but his lips are pressed shut.

"Would any answer this charge?"

"This knowledge is not being lost," says Mr. Pronchick. "Copies of the original research and supporting, clarifying and enlarging research are being kept safely hidden until the time that it can be released without harming either Blair or his sentinel."

Blair whirls to look at Doctor Stoddard, who bows - in acceptance, I guess - and folds his hands.

"This partnership has cost my son physically for years," says his mom in a soft, lovely, but firm voice. "He has been exposed to extreme physical and mental violence, and bears scars from his attempts to serve this man." Gee, how impersonal can you get? Don't they want them to get married? "My son has already been irreparably harmed by this partnership; to enhance it threatens to cause more damage still."

"Would any answer this charge?"

Blair is absolutely trembling with his effort not to speak. He's getting as red in the face as Dad now.

"Blair has never been safe," Ms. Daggerskold answers. "He has faced danger and has been harmed in the pursuit of his ordinary studies since before he met his sentinel. He has been irretrievably changed by his experiences, and this is a good thing. He has grown immeasurably in ways not accessible to someone who is safe."

Blair dances in place, biting his lips as his mother sweeps her robes into a curtsy, and folds her hands.

"This partnership has cost my mate emotionally for years," Megan speaks up, startling us all. "Ellison doesn't treat him with any decent respect, and I for one don't intend to stay silent about it."

Blair slumps, casting his eyes up. Jimmy reverses his spear and thumps the head into the ground, but before he can speak, his Captain answers.

"Three things. First, Jim has improved a lot in that regard. Second, he's in counseling for it. And third, I commit my entire department, including you, Connor, to calling him on it if he backslides." There is a rumble of agreement from the various officers, including the one leading the ceremony, and Jimmy nods in acceptance.

"Are there any more challenges on Blair's behalf?" the older man asks. No one answers. "Do the answers to the challenges satisfy you all?" There is a murmur of agreement.

"Then let those who care for James speak against this match now."

The round-faced man speaks immediately, which is a good thing, as I am caught on the hop. Was I supposed to think up reasons for Jimmy not to marry Blair? Was Dad?

"Jim has never been homosexual a day in his life. He's only agreeing to this because Hairboy can talk him into any damn thing he pleases."

Well. I see no punches are being pulled on either side here. But I am also beginning to see a rationale for this particular process.

"Would any answer this charge?"

"Frankly, Blair could talk any one of us into any thing, H," says Brian Rafe. "But that's not the point here. The point is that they already love each other, and why should any woman have to put up with either of them?"

The round-faced man - H, I suppose - puts up his finger in a "touche" gesture, and nods.

"Won't this," and Dad stops to clear his throat, "Won't this marriage put both of them at a great deal of risk from their fellow officers?"

Yep, there's the rationale right there. Let the objections be a part of the ceremony instead of a carping background.

"Would any answer this charge?"

"Nah," replies the man called H, "One, the entire PD thinks Ellison's too weird to mess with, and enough of them think that Hairboy's too cute for words to let any of the others feel easy about messing with him - plus of course there's Ellison to think about." Jimmy puts up an amused and - rather smug eyebrow while Blair rolls his eyes. "Two, admin is coming down hard on any kind of prejudice since that trouble we had a few years back, that Ellison and Hairboy between them sorted out. So, another city maybe, but not here."

Dad actually looks relieved, and nods. I haven't thought of any more objections, and we wait a while to see if anyone else comes up with any. No one else speaks: I guess everyone thinks this is a better idea for Jimmy than it is for Blair.

Huh. It's easier for me to think of him as Blair now. This is good.

"Are there any more challenges on James' behalf?" the older man asks. No one answers. "Do the answers to the challenges satisfy you all?" There is a murmur of agreement.

"Are all here in favor of this marriage proceeding?"

We all answer some variation of "we are," and I roll my shoulders, shake out my arms. It feels like we're moving into the next phase now, and everyone is solemn.

"The union of shaman and sentinel marries mind to instinct, knowledge to sensation. The union of sentinel and shaman marries heart to soul, sympathy to comprehension. This pair will serve Cascade with all of their being. Do we here witnessing all promise to support them, privately and publicly, so that service does not kill them both before their time?"

I don't understand exactly what he means by this, but I'm willing to support both of them regardless, so I answer "I will" along with everyone else. Blair and Jimmy are staring into each other's eyes, and both of them seem to be standing a little more relaxed.

"The community of warriors supports you both. Your communities of blood and heart support you both. Are you willing to continue this ceremony?" A really formal 'You sure you know what you're doing here' for the two of them, and they answer "I am."

"Let the shaman take up his weapons." Blair picks up a big plain-bound book, tucks it into the crook of one arm, picks up a fountain pen and puts it into the hand of that same arm.

"Let the sentinel put aside his old weapons, and take up his new." Jimmy lays down the spear and one of his guns - some huge cannon - and picks up a cop's baton and hooks it onto his belt. He puts another gun already on the table in his holster, and then picks up a badge and pins it onto his muscle shirt.

Banks takes a great chunk of rock out from under the table and puts it on top, right between the two men. He digs out a lumpy, weirdly beautiful candle and sets it on top of the rock, like a solitary birthday candle. Blair picks up a box of matches in his free hand, and Jimmy strikes a match on it, a little awkwardly, and lights the candle. They set those things down, and each of them puts a hand on the rock, right beside the candle.

"By the body and heart of Cascade, I pledge my body and heart to it and to you," Blair says in a voice deeper and more musical than he generally uses. He's still staring right into Jim's eyes, and I get goosebumps.

"By the body and heart of Cascade, I pledge my body and heart to it and to you," Jim answers back, his voice like gravel in a river. I'm shivering now: the air feels like a thunderstorm about to happen.

Pronchick pours water into a bowl, and stirs what looks like salt or sugar into it. I hope it's salt; mosquitoes and bees were really not on my agenda for today. Dipping his fingers into it as needed, he dabs the water on Blair's eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands; then does the same to Jimmy.

"The blood and bones of Cascade are pledged to you both," he says, and turns to do the same to each of us in the circle. I'm beginning to get spots in front of my eyes, and try to remember to breathe.

As he gets done, almost impatiently Blair sets the book down right in front of Jimmy, right on his side of the rock and candle.

"My work is your doing: I cannot do it without you."

Jimmy disarms himself, guns and baton as well, and sets them down carefully right in front of Blair. The officers in the circle tense up, and start looking everywhere, not just at those two.

"My work is your doing," Jimmy repeats. "I can not do a thing without you."

Ah, there go the rings finally. I thought they were going to do this whole thing without rings. And they lace the fingers of both hands together, and lean far over the table, and they kiss.

They're still kissing. I've got world-class shudders, like the air is frozen only it's not, and don't even think I'm weirded out because my brother is kissing a guy, but I can't stop shaking. When I peel my eyes off them and glance at the others in the circle, they are all having the shivers as well. I look back at my brother and his - husband, yet? - and they are still kissing, and ... they seem to be ... glowing?

And there's a kind of soft boom, and they stop kissing, looking a little dazed, and turn back to the rest of us, and with a kind of grim satisfaction, the older gentleman says, "Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Sandburg-Ellisons."

So we throw rice, and H says, "I ain't kissing no bride nor no bridegroom neither, can we eat now?"

And everyone laughs, and none of us are shivering any more, and we all troop inside to be made presentable and to eat. And Ms Sandburg changes out of that ... whatever that was, all blue-green and feathery and in strips, into a kind of gypsy outfit that is much more ordinary. But Blair keeps on what I can now see is a white embroidered dashiki, very fine, and Jimmy goes and puts on his dress shirt and coat.

Nope. Not an ordinary wedding at all.

Chapter Text

Jim eats - of course he eats, the poptarts and oranges wore off hours ago, and he is simply starving, so naturally he eats his way through several helpings of barbecued chicken and garlic-artichoke mashed potatoes and those glazed Chinese string beans he loves which are usually too spicy for him. No sweets, though, there's no dessert here because there's a reception at the station later and he will be required to eat cake. And probably other things. So he's packing in the protein now.

And he's holding onto Blair with his left arm like he's holding his guts in. That's fair, Blair's holding onto him with his right arm just as hard, and he's eating left-handed, but then Blair's always been very competent, able to do things no one expects with stuff no one considered. Like one James Joseph Ellison, formerly military, formerly hard-nosed, formerly straight. Formerly nuts.

Strictly speaking, Jim isn't gay yet - well, not by most classic definitions of gay anyway. That - kiss, whatever, in the ceremony was the first time, the very first time, that he'd kissed Blair with intent. He has to stop and think about that, because, one, he's kissed Blair before, on the top of the head or on the side of the face, just happy to have him in one piece again. And two, although what happened out there could probably be defined as a kiss, strictly speaking, it would be like describing the Battle of the Bulge as a walk through some woods. Just thinking about it makes the heat bloom through him again, and he can feel Blair paying attention to him, considering his state, and deciding that he's fine.

He means, of course, theoretically he's gay, has been since he decided to accept Blair's challenge - proposal, actually, but it felt like a challenge. It's just - he really hasn't ever done this before, this waiting-until-marriage thing, and the delay between knowing you both want it and actually doing it has let him become anxious. Since he only knows what to do theoretically.

Jim swallows hard, and sits up a little straighter, snugging Blair even closer to his side. His Guide will get him through this. He always does. Everything will be fine. Right. Blair squeezes him back, comfortingly.

Jim fingers the small box in his pocket again. It's a little hinged metal box that started life as a mint-container, but Blair painted it with enamel and did some sort of inlay on the top. It's full of small paper hearts, kind of peachy-pink, with "Jim Blair" written on them. The "Jim" part is in his handwriting, carefully inscribed over the course of several evenings, and then returned, via a skeptical Simon Banks, to Blair for his part. The rest of this has been spooky and weird - well, spooky and weird is his life - but the box frightens him.

He releases his grip on the box, and tunes back into the conversation.

"But that's totally the wrong way to think about it," his Guide is arguing cheerfully. "Traditional marriage has hundreds of definitions, and the only one that is being meant here is a narrow one based on Roman law as claimed incorrectly to be supported by the Torah and filtered through Puritan expectations."

"Oh, bosh, Sandy," Megan scoffs, "Name me five other traditional definitions of marriage!" And then her eyes go wide and her hand goes over her mouth - she knew better, Jim knows she knew better, but sometimes they all forget. He smirks to himself.

"Okay, let me use the right terms to describe what they mean by 'traditional' so that you understand the contrasts when I name them," Blair laughs, wiggling the fingers of his right hand instead of waving the whole thing. "They mean novilocal patrilineal patriarchal nondissoluble bigendered monogamy. But right away you got all the traditional polygynies from the Mormons through the Arabs, mostly among Moslems but also from the pagan groups, through the various polygynous groups in Africa and India. So, one that everyone recognizes. And plus, most of those are patrilocal, which everyone forgets in this insistence on the 'nuclear family.'

"You also have alllll the traditional forms that allow for dissolution, and we're talking written into Jewish law here, so 'of the Book,' also the Moslem form, also pretty near fully three-quarters of all non-Book groups, plus the Christian groups that allow it."

Megan has both hands over her eyes, and H, Rafe, and Simon are glaring at her. Amazingly, Blair is still eating, bites in between his sentences. The man is adept at multitasking.

Jim's brother Stephen is looking around at the guys in puzzlement, Joel is looking smug, and ...

Oh God Help Us. Naomi is talking to Jim's dad. Sally appears to be listening to both conversations. Jim tunes into it for a moment, just a hazard-assessment, not really eavesdropping.

"But the thing is that the financial costs are never fully counted until later when it all blows up in management's face, and then it's called an unpredictable accident. Which is nonsense, it is perfectly predictable once you have counted all the costs, not just the ones that show up on the ledgers."

"So what sort of non-ledger costs would you be considering, Ms. Sandburg?" Huh. His dad is not only polite, if disbelieving, but also interested. Jim swiftly sets up a list of keywords on which to pay more attention, and then focuses back on the gorgeous voice in his ear.

"... Navaho groups for one, tracing bilineality, kind of like you guys do with horses, but you have to have a fixed population for that, although any full outsider is generally assumed to be unrelated. And they tend to be matrilocal as well, and puh-lease don't try to tell me they're not traditional."

"Breathe, Blair," comes from three different directions. He gulps air, and then his wine.

"Not to mention that cute trick some South Indian girls are allowed to do, with the window-husbands," his friend Jill chimes in.

Pronchick - no, he's called "Ham" - snorts. "That may be traditional, but you won't find anyone outside that group that would call them husbands, or the setup marriage. But there are several different cases of polyandry. Although I wouldn't be a native of the source cultures on a dare, myself."

Polyandry? Ham catches his puzzlement. "Multiple husbands, one wife. Generally they're all brothers or very close cousins, and the wives tend to be about a generation younger. Lots of female infanticide in those groups. Iccch. But you know, everyone comes up with a different solution for scant resources."

"Then," Blair says, glaring at his friend, "you have a few cases of matrilineal matrilocal matriarchal marriage, like the ones in a small province in Mexico, where the women are bigger than the men and they run things. Legally for once, rather than the extralegal shadow running of things you usually get. Not common, but it's there. And finally, you have the most common marriage form of all: dissoluble novilocal equitable monogamy, with lineality negotiable. And that's while you're still talking about bigendered marriages. When you get into single-sex unions, you have a lot of examples from all over the world, although in all places," and he has to raise his voice above the jeering, "in all places it is rare."

"Considering," Doctor Stoddard booms quietly, "the size and distribution of the population involved, that is scarcely surprising.

"... be willing to send me some literature on this process?" his dad is asking Naomi, who coos that she would be just delighted to do so via Blair. Oh boy.

"Um, folks, maybe we could get this show on the road?" Jim asks, hoping to derail both conversations. To his profound relief, he is successful.

The van is rowdy and crowded, with even Dad and Stephen joining in the, for lack of a louder word, conversation. Even Sally adds some words, and Doctor Stoddard seems to be relaxing a bit. Jim had been certain that the good Doctor was planning an assassination, namely of one James Ellison, but he seems to be a bit more accepting of him now. Threat level of imminent annihilation reduced to mere overt surveillance. Not that Jim blames him for his touchiness. If Jim were not Jim, and if he were not absolutely sure that Blair would suffer from losing him, he'd have taken himself down years ago for the pain he's put Blair through.

"Don't you agree, Jimbo?"

That is Connor, taking advantage, so he just grins at her and says, "Don't call me Jimbo. And ask my husband." For which he gets another squeeze and a chuckle, plus hilarity from the peanut gallery.

His Guide can do the talking for both of them, as always, so the conversation, which now seems to be centered around the possible effects of dropping cooler substances, such as living human bodies, into near-eruption volcanoes, can be safely ignored. Not that he has any opinions on that topic anyway.

No; what he has right now is anxiety. Incredible anxiety. As though, should any air come between Blair and himself, the world risks dissolution. Getting into the van, and the belts fastened, had been a trial. No food, he doesn't have to drive, and no one is demanding that he speak: he can take some time to pin this down.

Physical first: rule out any present danger. Safe in the arm of his Guide, Jim runs through sound, scent, and touch to check out his companions and their vehicle. No problems here. Gingerly, he peers through the windows to see what can be seen, which, as he'd suspected, isn't much. Nothing that signals danger, which is the goal. He loosens his hearing, spreading it out gradually, checking the area in expanding concentric rings.

All sounds normal, so he tightens his hearing down, and expands smell, checking for anything out of place. Again, everything smells in-place, normal for a city with untuned cars and a manufacturing industry.

He tunes back into the conversation, which has turned to a spirited discussion of the relationship of favored car types to genii locii. Bizarre. But Sally's laughing, so it must be making some sort of sense. Momentarily, it's not Blair that's talking.

"Chief? I want to check the vibes. Can you ground me?" Blair nods sharply, his eyes fiercely fond, taking Jim's other hand. Jim closes his eyes, secure in the knowledge that Blair will not take his attention from him until he's done.

Sorting out physical vibrations is a little trickier than, say, identifying air currents, but again he filters out known things as he recognizes them. It takes a bit longer than sound, but eventually he's down to the grinding of the tectonic plates, and as they feel as they have felt each time he's checked this, that pretty much indicates normality. He rises back to local awareness just as they arrive at City Hall.

"What is it, Big Guy?" Blair's voice is soft enough not to alert the others as they go up the steps.

"Anxious. Nothing's flagged on the physical level, so it's up to you, O Shaman," he replies in the low tones that are more effective than whispers at avoiding notice, his lip curling up just a tad. Blair casts him a wry look, but nods, and appears to retreat a little into himself.

Jim plays guide for this next part, steering Blair where they need to go, making sure his feet hit only stairs and not air, murmuring him back to the surface when it's time for his signature. He's just thinking that this level of abstraction is going to work to his benefit when Blair shoots him a very sharp look outside the Register of Deeds. As the crowd variously cheers and jeers, Blair carefully set his name down on the title to the loft, right beside Jim's, and glares in his general direction. Jim just grins at him.

And then the bottom falls out, as the clerk calls out, "Oh, Blair! Congratulations!" and comes out from behind the desk to give his Guide a big hug. Then she turns to him and says, "And you must be Jim Ellison. I'm so glad to meet you!" And she holds out a little pink paper heart that reads 'Blair.'

He takes it with as good a smile as he can manage, while Blair introduces her as Ginny Planget.

"We dated for a while my sophomore year. Ginny really saved my butt with Professor Elkhart, do you remember him, Gin?"

"He wasn't that bad, Blair, you just reminded him too much of himself is all. And you saved my butt in English that year."

Jim sniffs, very discreetly, and can smell sincerity, friendship - but no lust. And he looks in her open brown eyes and can see a will to friendliness and the clear message: hurt my bud and I will slaughter you. Blair is going on about the couch Ginny lent him, and Ginny is retaliating with some asshole named Cady, who apparently was a real waste of oxygen but had convinced Ginny it was her fault until Blair had a word with her.

Something cold and fearful cracks open inside him. This woman has slept with his Guide - his husband - it's true, but they stopped, and they stayed friends afterward, and rescued each other. And would still rescue each other, it's there in their reactions to each other. Jim feels a bloom of warmth that rises to his skin as a real smile.

"Such a good friend of Blair's is a friend of mine as well," he says, digging out the enameled box in his pocket and opening it. She receives back the peach-pink heart with a smile, shoving it into a pocket, and wraps her arms around him.

"Group hug! Group hug!" Blair shouts gleefully, and wraps them both up in his strong arms. Okay. Jim can go with this, and hugs them both back, firmly, ignoring, as he has so far, the laughter of his friends and family. It's all a part of it. The cold fearfulness crinkles into pieces and dissolves, and a good chunk of his anxiety with it.

The rest of their pilgrimage goes similarly: requesting papers, getting interested and always sympathetic smiles - amazing -, and every so often a young woman hands him a pink heart with Blair's name on it. A story gets told, and Jim winds up handing her a peach heart with his and Blair's names on it.

"Totally your call, man," Blair had said when they'd discussed this process. "I know my history and memories with these women, and I'm willing to accept that my judgement may not always have been the best. I'm also right there with the concept that you won't like everyone I have liked. But this is my family, in a way, and I don't want to lose them simply because we share a past. If you're willing to accept the woman, you hand her the heart. If you're not, you don't, and I drop the connection. Simple as that."

"What about my ... people?" Jim had responded hesitantly. "I don't have the female network you do, Chief, but I do have friends that I want to be your friends as well."

"Absolutely, if you want me to do that, we will surely do that side of it as well."

So when Sergeant Coraday stumps up to them outside Courtroom 7 to hand Blair a pink heart reading "Jim," Blair is ready for her, digs out the story of the siege that one prisoner did, what was his name, something Polish, um, like he-wanted-out-ski - Iwanowski, that was it. Grabbed a gun from one of his guards, shot three people including the judge, tried to go out the wire-mesh window - classic suicide-by-cop maneuver. But he and Coraday had trapped him. Wounded, not dead, just like his victims, and his next visit to the courtroom had been in a wheelchair. In restraints. And Blair hugs her, hands her one of his hearts, but Jim refuses to hug Coraday and instead they slap each other on the back.

"Got a live wire here, Ellison. He'll be good for you." And Coraday gives him a grim twinkle. And some more of that anxiety crumples into dust.

So when Blair pats him on the back as they return to the van and murmurs, "Wedding jitters, man, nothing worse, but I'll keep tabs on it," he's prepared for that answer, has proven it to himself fourteen times now. He can relax his vigilance to local threats only, and as they reach the station, he runs a quick auditory recon on the immediate area and then on the station itself.

They're the subject of discussion everywhere, of course. The buzz is a little overwhelming, but he adds in smell, sniffing for the stress-scents that mark fear and anger in combination with the specific odor of gun holsters. This is complicated, and more than he would ever have agreed even to try a few years ago, but he's working out ideas of his own about how to use the whole thing to his benefit now. He'll have to tell Blair about this later.

Okay, no one is stressing out about him and Blair who are actually talking about them. Jim decides to retain an alarm for the scents, but he can't quite work it out.

"Chief, need some help here," he murmurs as they climb out of the van. It's easier to let go his stranglehold, although he still loops an arm over Blair's shoulders once he's out.

"You got it, man, what do you need?" They're part of the group, laughing and moving to the doors, but still this private conversation going on. The sheer wonder of it fills him in a rush, and he grins at his partner. His husband.

"Need to set up a kind of a trigger for two specific scents, if they get close to us." Blair nods, not asking what scents or why.

"How close do you want it triggered?"

Jim quickly calculates the sizes of rooms in the station. "About twenty feet."

"Here to the wall," Blair mutters, tugging him to a stop. "Okay, I want you to close your eyes and think about the two smells you want. Imagine them as two birds, a pigeon and a robin. Got that?" Jim assigns fear to the pigeon and anger to the robin, and checks his visualization against the interior of the station. His imagination of it is now full of the two birds, nearly all of them separate from, but close to, the holster-smell. He nods, his eyes still closed.

"Now, listen to the echoes coming to you from the station wall. Nod when you have it nailed." That one is simple, and Jim nods almost immediately. "Starting right there, draw a circle of light around you at that distance, on the ground. Tell me when you see the circle, when it's complete." This takes a couple more minutes, and he can hear his brother asking what's going on, but Sally shushes him, and the group just mills for a moment, waiting for them.

The circle links to itself, and he gives it a minute, making sure it will stay firm, and then nods. "Okay, right, now imagine the light rising like a fence made out of net. Gonna go straight up and straight down, pulling in like a globe, until it's twenty feet over your head, twenty feet under your feet, totally stable. Say when." Blair's hand is on his forearm, his voice low and steady, slightly different from the voice he uses when he's bringing Jim out of a zone. Easy to listen to, easy to obey. The net globe is solid, and Jim nods again.

Blair puts his other hand on Jim. "This is a net for catching robins and pigeons together. Only robins and pigeons who are together will get caught in this net, and you will feel it shake. You now have a robin-pigeon perimeter net." As he speaks, Jim kind of feels the words settling into the net globe, making it a little sticky. Weird. Interesting.

He blinks his eyes, and the net globe remains in place, like his awareness of the hair on his skin. He grins down at Blair, growls, "Good work, Darwin," and Simon bellows "Can we go now? Are you done?" in that exasperated voice that says 'I do not want to know' to his friends. And they all troop in.

The next several hours pass in a kind of roar. An amazing number of uniforms and detectives pour through in search of wedding carrot cake and punch and the traditional snacks for a police pitch-in, and no few number of them stop by to give Jim some variation on "Hurt one hair of his head, Ellison, and I don't care how big you are ..." It's weird is what it is, but it's a good weird.

Jim exchanges a few more hearts, and watches Blair hand out a few of his own. There is actually some space between them now from time to time, as Jim's anxiety level has dropped way down. Someone has brought in a CD-player, and music echoes from the walls of the gym. It's noisy and it stinks of antique sweat and the light glares, but this is familiar, a daily part of his world. Jim inhales in satisfaction.

Blair dances with Sally, who seems to really like him. Steve is dancing with Jill Daggerskold, who is babbling in his face. Jim's dad is dancing, very carefully, with Mrs. Wawrziniak, who is apparently rocking his world. Jim grins in unholy delight: Mrs. Waz is 87 years old, and the only time he's ever seen her shocked in the nine years he's lived there was that time he was nuts and put Sandburg's stuff out.

She made him pay for it, too.

Naomi is dancing some Middle-Eastern thing, like belly-dancing while clothed, her earrings jingling and an increasing circle of people around her mimicking some of the steps. Louis Nagin does the best job, his hands in the air and his head thrown back, while he whoops and people clap at him, laughing. Catherine Ekstrom is talking to Bob Greenholt while several other people listen to them. Jim focuses in on the conversation for a moment, smugly ignoring Blair's usual strictures on when not to listen to other people.

"The problem is the kids' parents and how unpredictably they react."

"But - their own kids?"

A weary snort from Catherine.

"You're a cop, Greenholt, you know how families can be. The fact that they have a lot of societal support for just getting rid of their kids in these circumstances makes it worse. The fact is, I have to consider it a plus if the kid just gets tossed on the street rather than being beaten or killed. Acceptance is up, but it's up from five percent to twenty-eight percent. Which ..."

"Really leaves a lot of room for improvement, yeah," Greenholt mutters, and one of their onlookers says, "But doesn't that just make it more likely that a kid will turn gay? I mean, the acceptance?"

Everyone in the group turns and stares at him - Chaplick, from Property Crimes, Jim thinks. Blair nudges him slightly for eavesdropping, but he shakes his head in that 'important' signal that they have, and his husband subsides, going back to his conversation with Sally, who is gulping water.

"Look, idiot, if Ellison wasn't glued to Sandburg's hip, would you make a play for Sandburg?" Jim chokes on his cake and misses the rejoinder. Blair pounds him on the back, muttering "eavesdroppers ..." but Jim gets the cake out of his throat and smiles brilliantly at him. He doesn't dare kiss him, not here, not now, no telling what might happen; but oh, he wants to.

"... but you just said queerness is so seductive that just knowing about it inevitably drives people into doing it" - that's Ekstrom, sounding reeeeally dry - "when I'm here to tell you that there is nothing, not even chocolate, that is that persuasive."

"Heroin," say three cops, sounding depressed.

"Okay, granted, heroin, but gay sex is not heroin. Heck, sex of the appropriate sort isn't heroin," and she's overridden by Chaplick asking "You mean straight sex?" and she rides right back on him, "No, I mean the sort that trips your personal trigger. I mean, women are appropriate for me, Blair's appropriate for Ellison no matter what Lous says about it - " Jim misses the rest of it in the general uproar over why Louis would say any such thing, but he's heard the end of this conversation before, and turns away.

Blair rubs a circle on Jim's back, which feels really good, even better than usual, and Jim smiles down at him before letting himself be dragged off to dance with Rhonda.

It's really going to be okay.

Blair makes his way from the crowded well-polished bar through the throng of merrymakers and well-wishers, an astounding number of them from the University, and jumps again, skillfully avoiding spilling any beer. Damn it, he was going to get to his marriage bed with dozens of bruises on his ass and none of them with Jim's fingerprints! And you would think someone would bring a man beer at his own wedding ...

"Got to kiss the bride!" O gods. Hanrahan. Drunker than he should be, but not as drunk as he's pretending.

Sighing a deep sigh, Blair whispers under his breath, hands the two mugs to a nearby friend, grabs Hanrahan around the neck, swoops him into a deep dip, and kisses the breath out of him. Not one of Blair's best kisses, naturally, simply one of the charm-them-senseless ones. No tongue needed. When the man is panting and glaze-eyed, Blair drops him the other six inches to the ground, smiles his sweetest evil smile, and says, "Missed your chance, Boyo. Hope that one lasts you." He retrieves his beer, and makes his way over to Jim.

Jim takes his beer, and motions to Blair to take a drink. He watches him, narrow-eyed and assessing, then nods, takes a drink of his own, and takes both mugs and sets them down. He gives Blair the trapeze-artist's look - I trust you to catch me when I fall - takes his face between his hands, and kisses him thoroughly.

There is no space between Jim and Blair at all; Blair grabs Jim around the waist and hangs on for dear life. And just like during the wedding, warmth blooms between them, intense and sweet, muffling all sound around them as their mouths make love to each other, and every nerve ending on Blair's skin stands straight up, dancing to the tune of log-drums. Jim's scent, strong with the amount of time he's spent in his suit, flows through Blair like a storm-surge. Pleasure bursts in his mouth and along his neck and arms and thighs, and in the moment before they would both simply disappear in the glory of it, he gently closes both their mouths, leans his forehead against Jim's, and pants for a few minutes.

There is cheering around them, and very vaguely Blair is aware of someone saying, "See? You just ain't the man for that job, never have been, never will be." He feels Jim shake with laughter.

"That should take care of that," comes the gravel murmur in his ear.

"I ever tell you I admire your grasp of tactics, Ellison?" he murmurs back, and Jim laughs out loud.

Daryl pulls them apart because he wants to boogie with Blair; the orange wristband he wears marks him as under-age and allowed to be in the bar by special invitation. It also means he gets all the fancy virgin drinks he wants. Daryl is as giddy as if he had been drinking, and Blair laughs, his head thrown back, delighted at all the support.

At one point he'd been planning on how he and Jim would live, ostracized from their jobs and city.

Eventually, someone starts a line-dance, and everyone gets into it. Including Simon. Who begins bellowing that he had not planned on dancing with the bridegrooms, what are people thinking. But Bill Ellison is on the other side from Jim, and Naomi is on Blair's other side, and Blair has never been this happy in his entire life.

Until Jim reaches out and takes his hand. And smiles at him.

Chapter Text

"So I kissed him! So fucking what? He waza bride, wazn't he?" Hanrahan looked almost pathetic, shaking the end of his cock over the urinal there in the bar. I tried to ignore him, but the guy was loud.

"Wore white 'n everything. An', you know, Ellison sure ain't the bride in that house, nooooo."

I tucked myself away, and went to wash my hands. Unlike Hanrahan, this was only my third trip to the john tonight. Beer sure goes straight through you. But I'd at least stayed away from the champagne, except for the toasts. Hey: fellow officers, you gotta dance at the wedding, you gotta drink to their happiness. Even the Odd Couple out there. They'd been good to me and my squad, and we were being good to them. But Hanrahan's an asshole.

The door banged open, and somebody else came in - Clive, from Vice, his mouth already open. I swear, those guys blab more than anyone else on the Force.

"Did he knock your socks off, then, Hanrahan? You ready to switch teams, huh? Hey, I know: you can come on the next sting! I gotta dress'll look reeeeeal nice on you!" And he laughed raucously.

Time to divert. Hanrahan was all red, and he might be an asshole, but at least he's on my squad.

"Hey, Clive: Sandburg ever work with you guys?" Like a charm. Clive swung around to face me, then remembered what he was supposed to be here for, and headed for the urinal, already unzipping.

"Yeah, no, well, not really, not worked, you know, but he's helped out sometimes, you know how it is, you got experts, you use 'em, where's the harm in that, eh? But no, we've never put him on the streets, no money in it, Bulldog'd scare off all the johns and what good would that do?"

I'd be out the door already, but I was committed to staying at least long enough for Hanrahan to finish washing his hands. And the asshole had to open his mouth.

"Like I'd switch teams for you anyhow. Yer just uuuuugl-!" I swooped him out the door, and hoped to God that Clive would wash his hands.

Once back out in the crowded bar, I looked around, try to spot a decent place to stash Hanrahan. It was tough. He crossed two lines tonight, trying to kiss a guy like that right out in the open, and then trying to put down Sandburg, of all people, by kissing him, trying to make him out to be girly. I snorted to myself, remembering the dip-and-drop. Ah: secretaries. They should be safe enough. I steered him that direction.

As if. I mean, I've dated some of the uniforms after Sandburg - well, you're gonna be behind some guys, ahead of some others, unless they're just not dating at all, which does happen. But anyway, so I've followed him a few times, and sometimes I got insulted, and sometimes I learned something new. But none of the girls ever thought the rumors about him and Ellison were true. They would just kinda - smile, this little tiny cat-smile, when the subject would come up. Wonder what they're thinking now? But you know, I'm not sure they were wrong. You know, at the time.

I mean, I dunno that much about qu - about gay relationships, but I don't think it's required that one of them has to be girly. It sure didn't look like it when Sandburg kissed Ellison, there after he rocked Hanrahan's world. I dropped off the asshole with the secretaries, who all had this, this really dangerous-looking smile on their faces. Lord. But they're safer than Vice.

Turning, I bumped into a tall, flabby-looking guy with short hair - um, okay, one of Sandburg's friends? I stuck out my hand.

"George Burnmaster, Burglary. Having fun?" He had a surprisingly good grip for a flabby guy.

"Louie Nagin, GLBT Resource center. Nice to meet you. Yes, I never thought I'd see the day, but you cops are really changing here. When I worked with Jim on those gaybashers a few years ago, I thought it would never happen, you know? This is simply astounding." OH, okay, that qu- gay guy Ellison worked with on the Tarnished Shield case. A thought went through my head, beer-driven.

"Hey, maybe you could answer a question for me." The guy looked suspicious, and I didn't blame him, but I forged ahead. "Is it true that most guys who slam - gays the loudest are really gay themselves?" I was pretty proud of that. No words I shouldn'ta used at all.

"Well, it's been somewhat consistent, yes, but you know nothing is a complete predictor."

I grinned, and start to move him over to the secretaries. "I got somebody I want you to meet. He's a little confused. Hey, Hanrahan!"

After a little invective, I got him settled - Burnmaster, Society Hostess, that's me - and headed back into the party.

It was weird, having Ellison out like this. Having our highest-profile detective come out big-time, having a queer wedding, for God's sake, with the whole PD invited! It wasn't natural, and if I thought about it too hard, I got the queasies and had to take antacids. But as my mom pointed out after my dad's bypass last year, surgery isn't natural, and see what kind of good that does. And he did do good, even if he was a hard-assed sonofabitch. And Sandburg did good, too, even if he was a first-class Brainiac on speed.

So, it's an honor to Serve And Protect alongside guys like them. And you gotta look at the bright side.

Neither one of them is gonna be taking up the available girls!

Chapter Text

"Ginny! Over here!"

Jim Ellison, suit coat open, tie askew, and smelling very beery, tugged the young woman into a corner of the crowded noisy bar. She turned bright brown eyes up at him, her face wine-flushed.

"I have a question to ask you. Please."

James Ellison was feeling no pain, but he thought his brain was still in fairly good shape. He was switching to soda any minute now, because he'd hate to go through this entire thing and then not be up for anything later. But there were things he wanted to know, things that Ginny was the first person that had a chance of giving him an answer for.

"Why is it - I'm sorry, this is a rude question, but I have to know. Why did you and Blair break up?"

Ginny laughed out loud, her humidity-frizzled hair bouncing.

"Oh, Jim! I think that's a compliment! But you - " she stopped, and stared narrowly at him. "You just don't know, do you? No. Come here," and she dragged him further around the corner into the restroom hall, killing the noise of the bar a little. Jim staggered a bit in relief, and braced himself against the wall.

"So, tell me. Was it you, was it him, was it," and Jim's face twisted into a hilarious mask of horror, and he whispered, "was it his mom?" Because, if Naomi had been sabotaging Blair's relationships ...

But Ginny laughed out loud again, laying a warm hand on his arm.

"No, no, no. Unh. Okay. You may have noticed that Blair is a bit intense?" She grinned as Jim nodded, his own face very intent. "Well, for me that was a lovely thing, a very wonderful thing, because no one had ever paid me that much attention before, ever, you know? And I thrived on it. But after a while, after I got the idea that I am in fact a very desirable person, it got to be ... a little much." She bit her lip in a wistful smile, looking off into the past. "And then I noticed that, even while he was focused so much on me, that he seemed also to be a little - absent. Like he had more attention to pay than he was even giving me." She looked up sharply at Jim. "That terrified me, and I broke up with him. It broke both our hearts. He sat and wept with me for a couple of weeks before we could even talk about it."

Jim's eyebrows went up in a ridiculous expression of surprise, and she laughed at him. After a minute, he laughed too, the beer a warm glow in him, giving him permission to relax.

"So, go on, what then?"

"So when I could actually explain it to him, he was just horrified and apologized all over the place. And we stayed best friends. You know, he concentrates very hard on his friends, but it's a lot easier to take than that whole lover thing. At least, I could take it better. He introduced me to my current boyfriend last year, and, well, I'll have to get you two together. We might make it permanent. But I noticed after that, that he kind of backed off a bit with his girlfriends. At any rate, most of his breakups since then have been a lot more calm and gentle on both of them. But you!"

She grabbed him by his loose tie, and he obligingly bent down his head so that his eyes were only a few inches from hers.

"You are intensity-city, you know that?"

Jim blinked, and hammed, "Moi?" - but he knew what she meant. He thought.

"Yes, you. And you know what else?" She nodded, very seriously, as he shook his head in puzzlement. "He pays his entire attention to you, and you just soak the whole thing up. You two are both intensity-city, and you deserve each other. Anyone else just couldn't compete!"

Well. Intensity-city, huh? Jim carefully tucked that concept into his back-brain for consideration, and then took Ginny's hand in his.

"Thank you. Very much. I'd be delighted to meet your boyfriend, and, uhhh - " he looked up to the ceiling to try and remember what else manners required him to do - "would you like the next dance?"

She laughed once more in delight, and led him back into the bar.

Simon was watching Sandburg bounce faster and faster. The youngster had had some champagne and some beer, but it didn't seem to have slowed him down any. He'd been having a blast, dancing up a storm - and the move he'd pulled on that idiot Hanrahan had been priceless - but there was a different quality to his movements now.

Simon's lips stretched in a suddenly comprehending grin, and he began pulling his people together - a look here, a look there, and the detectives were gathering around him.

"It's time, folks. Megan, Joel, you're on Sandburg. Henri, you're with me on Ellison. Rafe, you get the car. If you see Naomi or William, let them know so that they can cover." Four sharp nods contrasted with as many lewd grins, and he and his people scattered.

In five minutes, the two had been gently and unobtrusively cut out of the crowd and ensconced in the back of the impound LeSabre that Rafe had arrived in. The South African-born detective was canny enough to avoid passing the extravaganza that Ellison's truck had become as he drove them away. It had been decided that the traditional drive through city streets while honking up a storm was one thing more than either man could cope with, and Steps Had Been Taken. The truck would stay where it was, in all its shaving-creamed and becondomed glory, until 2AM, at which time it would be cleaned and parked outside William Ellison's home.

Simon peered over his shoulder, but could not see the other cars. Good. The plan was for the loft to be staked out all night, on shifts, and if he couldn't see his team then it was unlikely that others could. Probably nothing would happen, but the tall Captain of Major Crimes had not survived the past five years without learning to take obvious precautions.

In ten minutes, he was taking the report of another of his obvious precautions. Building clean, no suspicious people entering, the three men they'd found in the overlooking building with sniper rifles had been removed to the station and booked, and the guy with the slogan-painted car with the loudspeaker had been persuaded to move his operations to daylight hours, and sent home.

Behind him, Sandburg was helping Ellison out of the car and rubbing his own arms briskly. Ellison stretched his arms to the sky, shrugged his jacket back into place, and tilted his head in That Look. Simon left him to it and sent Robidoux and his team on back to the party, which they had left some two hours previously, since the next shift was now here.

"Um, Simon?" Ellison's voice was low, and slightly amused. Simon raised an aggrieved eyebrow at him. "Why the ..."

"Because I don't want to get home only to be called in on your kidnapping, that's why!" Simon burst out in a rage comprised of equal parts embarrassment, worry, and guilt, but Ellison was shaking his head, his hands held out in a placating gesture more reminiscent of Sandburg.

"No, no, I mean, why the directional mike?"

Simon stared at him, dumbfounded, for two interminable minutes, then inquired in awful tones, "Where?"

"907 Prospect, sixth floor, third window from the north corner. Kaulins and Pennycook."

"Not one of my stakeouts." Simon inhaled deeply, his thick brows lowered, and then an unholy smile lifted the corner of his mouth. "Why don't you two go ahead inside, and I'll deal with this. Anything else I should know about?" Ellison shook his head, a similar smile on his lips, glanced at Sandburg, and led the way across the street.

Simon ducked back into the car with Rafe, and hit the mike. "Connor."

A brief crackle of static, and the answer. "Sir."

Simon filled her in on the situation, suggested that she take Taggert with her, and sat back to keep his eye on the immediate neighborhood, in the pleasant glow of anticipation of Australian sarcasm and fatherly reproval being applied to a couple of jokers who were going to be on reprimand and traffic duty for, oh, maybe three weeks ... or months ...

Jim unlocked the door to the loft and stepped through, in the same anticipatory silence in which they'd come home. He cast a brief glance around with the feeling that an eighty-pound backpack had just been removed, dropped his keys in the basket, and hung up his coat.

Blair stepped through the door and fell to his knees, gasping for air, his eyes unseeing. Jim swooped him off the floor in alarm, kicked the door closed and locked it one-handed, and half-carried Blair to the overstuffed leather couch that now had pride of place in the living room.

"Can you hear me? Blair, can you hear me?" His husband's heartbeat was rapid but strong, and the smell of his skin spoke of panic but not fear. The man's hand lifted, apparently with much effort, and reached to pat his face.

"Okay," he rasped, very unlike his normal smooth tones, "very okay. 'S home."

"Yes, we're home," Jim answered worriedly, scooping up Blair's torso so that he could sit with him and hold him. Blair shuffled a little in place, getting comfortable, then drew in a deep breath and focussed on him.

"Give me a minute here, okay?" At his nod, Blair closed his eyes, relaxed into his hold, and started the meditative breathing with which Jim had become familiar over the years. Jim petted his arm, feeling a little weird about interfering with a meditative state, and cast his eyes around the loft.

It looked good. Looked real settled. That decision at Simon's to trash the metal bookshelves after all and go for the tall wooden ones had worked out well. The echoes sounded different now, more mellow, less clangy. Jim leaned back in satisfaction, and was listening to Blair's heartbeat settle into its normal speed when Blair opened his eyes and smiled up at him.

"I like it. I really like it. You did good."

Jim raised both his eyebrows. "Something you need to tell me, Chief?"

"Yeahhh, a bunch of shamanic stuff, but not yet. Not yet. You, uh, why don't you lock up, and I'll do a little more work here. You, um, you wanna shower? Need me to?" Blair blinked up at him, lapis eyes full of concern for his comfort, and Jim smiled back down at him, deeply contented.

"Shower with me?"

Lust blazed through Blair's smile, and he nodded, then scooted back into the couch as Jim rose to lock up properly.

When they met a few minutes later at the bathroom door, Jim took Blair by the shoulders, put his nose on top of the curly head, and inhaled deeply. Blair's face lit with laughter, but he held still. Jim sniffed lightly across his forehead, then down the side of his neck, tickling him as he pushed back the hair and snuffled the back of his neck. Blair shook with suppressed chuckles, but maintained his silence until Jim lifted one arm and started to work his way down it.

"Wait, wait, whoa man," he chortled, "Help me out of this thing first, okay?"

"Yeah," Jim grumbled, pulling the soiled folds of fabric up over his husband's head, "this is why guys don't wear white to their own weddings, Sandburg-Ellison." He grinned into Blair's crinkled eyes, tossed the robe and dashiki into the bathroom laundry, then led Blair on into the room and closed the door behind them. Blair patiently held out his hand again.

Long resigned to the fact that he would never have a grown man's chest hair, Jim was fascinated by the younger man's hirsuteness. He'd seen many hairy bosoms in his own careers in the military and in law enforcement, from light-colored patches to full and scraggly body-beards, but he had never seen anything like the elegant swirls that decorated Blair's torso and climbed down his arms and legs. To have permission to stare was wonderful. And he saw in Blair's calm, delighted face permission to do whatever he wanted.

They had all the time in the world.

He closed his eyes and went back to discovering all the things Blair had been through that day, all the people and things he'd been in contact with, all the things he'd done and felt, forming his own odor-graph of his wedding day to bring back later. It was no use trying to smell himself: like any other mammal, he was largely immune to his own scent. But Blair was different; the smell of Blair was his constant, his home.

He wanted to remember all this before washing it away.

Blair kept quaking with laughter - well, the hair tickled his own nose, so he supposed stirring it tickled Blair as well. The man laughed out loud when Jim buried his nose in the lush moist hair under his arm, the teriyaki richness of it luring him to taste, luring him to suck at the flesh and tug gently at the hair with his teeth, making Blair moan and gasp and mutter. But he held still.

Here on his body was recorded mostly Blair's own actions and feelings from the day, nervousness and anticipation, anxiety and glee and lust and rock-solid expectation. His hands and clothes and hair carried the contact with other people and with things, the food and items he'd picked up, the people he'd danced with - an amazing number of women had sent their husbands to dance with Blair, although none of the men had danced with Jim. Not that he'd asked any.

Jim tugged at the drawstring of the baggy pants, and Blair shimmied, letting them fall down into puddles on the stiffly-embroidered cuffs. Jim knelt, and gave his hand to Blair, who silently stepped out of them. Jim tossed them into the laundry, and looked back to find Blair regarding his own fully-dressed state with amusement. He put up his eyebrows, begging just a little more time, and Blair nodded once in agreement.

The silk boxers clung damply to Blair's hips and gently-rising cock, and Jim inhaled the osmyrrah of lust and sweat and urine before lowering and removing them, running his nose in satisfaction down the grooves of Blair's groin, catching the current and increasing odor of Blair's arousal. He hesitated, wanting to taste, but not wanting to ... to ... he was still smelling his Guide, he didn't want to have sex here in the bathroom. Not now. Not yet. He swallowed back the saliva, and turned his attention to Blair's legs.

Blair obligingly put one foot on Jim's knee, cocked up its toes, and rested a hand on Jim's head for balance, struggling not to wiggle as Jim sniffed the bottom of that foot, finally snickering and nearly falling over as Jim delicately tasted it. Jim rescued him, putting the foot back on the floor and wrapping his arms around Blair's waist, leaning his head into the firm belly, and puffing out a few laughs of his own.

"Thanks," he whispered. Blair patted his head soothingly.

"Any time, man. My pleasure."

They stayed there for a few more minutes, until Blair's hilarity overcame him again and he had to pull Jim up and undress him, muttering happily over skin and muscles and oo big, and Jim couldn't stand it anymore himself and bustled them into the shower. Without discussion, they washed each other thoroughly but firmly, both anticipating getting out and dry and horizontal. Blair's breath stuttered as Jim cleaned his groin. Jim exhaled something that he swore was not an eep when Blair stuck a soapy finger into his anus. Jim's scalp massage when he worked the conditioner into Blair's hair made Blair's feet skitter on the slick tub, but he caught his balance on the tiled wall and hummed happily. Jim actually purred when Blair dried off his back.

Finally dry, clean of mouth and jaw, they threw speculative, daring looks at each other and then marched, stark naked, out the door and up the stair.

"I love this bed," Blair announced, trying to hurl himself onto it and only managing to catch his waist on the edge of the mattress. Jim laughed.

"There should be a ..." he started, crouching down and peering along the bottom of the bed, where only the drawers met his sight. "Damnit!"

"What is it?" Blair braced himself on his hands, and hoisted himself up onto the wine-colored spread. The combed cotton surface felt soft against his skin, and he turned onto his stomach to watch Jim pacing around to the other side of the bed.

"Oh, here it is." He rose to his feet triumphantly, holding a deep-walnut carved footstool. "It goes on that side ..." he hesitated, then looked at Blair. "Unless you'd rather get in on this side?"

Blair sat up, folding his arms, unconscious of suddenly looking like a pocket genie. "Which side is mine?" he asked, matter-of-factly, already suspecting the answer. Jim's face filled with an amusing mix of apprehension and determination.

"Over here. Next to the wall."

"Cool. Leave it there, then. If I need to get in on this side, I can hop up or you can help me up." His eyes flashed as he watched the muscles in Jim's back flex putting back the footstool. He cleared his throat. "So. You need to use that thing?"

Jim straightened and sent a smug look his way. "As if."

He leaned a hip on the edge of the bed, hopped a bit, and, firmly seated, rolled over toward Blair, winding up resting on his left elbow. He reached out hesitantly, and stroked through the dark hair on Blair's thigh. Blair smiled down at him, his damp curls swinging forward, and smoothed a powerful square palm over the muscles of Jim's shoulder. His breath caught, and he could feel the blood rushing to his skin, could feel his cock filling further. Jim peered knowingly at him, and tugged him down to lie skin-to-skin, hitching himself further onto the bed to align them.

Blair clutched him suddenly, burying his face in the hollow of Jim's neck.

"Hi, there," he muttered, feeling insane, feeling giddy. "Come here much?"

"Not here, no," Jim chuckled back at him. "My first time."

Blair cackled, and smoothed his hand down Jim's back, feeling the twitches, listening to the sighs. Finding good spots to stroke, and spending the time to get hums from Jim, who wasn't wasting his chances either. There just below the shoulder blade was good, and Blair contentedly licked Jim's neck as he petted him, jerking absently under Jim's hand on the smooth spot just under his rib. Ran his hand gently up Jim's ribs to tangle in the hair of his armpit, one of only three places on Jim's body where the hair had color, feeling the breath hitch in Jim's throat. Felt Jim's muscular belly quiver against him, and his cock rise, slowly and implacably, dragging across Blair's thigh, against his own determined prick, to curve casually over the top of Jim's hip. Blair's breath stuttered like it had in the shower, and he hoisted himself onto his right arm, kissing Jim's face in little blooms of heat that Jim kept trying to catch with his mouth, and gently pressing Jim's shoulder until he lay back on the bed, his face calm, still, eyes slightly hooded, mouth ever-so-gently quirked in an I-know-what-you're-doing expression.

Blair pinned Jim's right hand above his head, sucked on that wrist, and began licking his way down the arm, grinning against the skin as Jim twisted and giggled - giggled? - helplessly and moaned. He rasped his tongue over the sensitive skin of Jim's armpit, growling, a little for the fun of it, a little because that's what his breath was doing, a little because Jim was fighting himself to get away, to come closer, shuddering with the effort of doing nothing. Blair wrapped his right arm firmly across Jim's chest and squirmed down, rubbing his cock carelessly across the larger man's thigh, licking and sucking his way down the curve of Jim's pectoral muscle, slurping across the nipple as he came to it, hanging on through the earthquake Jim became just then.

Blair slid onto his hands and looked at Jim's flushed face, at the dazed look in his unfocused eyes, at the pale sculpted mouth slack and panting unevenly. His own mouth curved into a wicked, wicked grin, and he lipped a sloppy kiss right into the center of Jim's chest, rousing a gasp. Bracing his knees either side of Jim's hips, deliberately heedless of the exquisite way their cocks brushed against each other, he smoothed his hands in wide arcs over his husband's bare chest, licking and sucking his way down the center where a pale thin stripe showed the stretch of the skin over the firm muscle. A little whine came into Jim's breathing, and when Blair glanced up again, he could see him blinking at him. Blair smiled reassuringly at him, licked the dent of his navel, and then sucked at the side of it, holding onto his hips. Jim yelped, jackknifed, and grabbed his shoulders.

"Jeezus Christ, what - " he gasped. Blair snuffled into the ridges of muscle beside his navel.

"You never had anyone do that before?" Jim shook his head repeatedly, stopped and dropped back to the bed, and then shook his head some more, panting.

"How about this?" Blair asked, and licked the underside of his knee.

Jim made a sound that sounded roughly like "Ngyaaaa," and his dick began leaving drool all over his belly. His own breath coming unevenly, Blair scooted back up to it, grasped it firmly, and licked the top. Jim wailed and came all over Blair's face and hands and his own belly, and Blair dropped his head down on Jim's stomach, wrapping his arms around the pale strong hips, and clung to him through the shudders, his eyes closed.

After a while, he licked pensively at the semen next to him on Jim's belly, feeling waves of some huge unidentifiable emotion rolling down his back and over his arms. His ears were ringing and his eyes were watering, and it felt as though the soles of his feet were pulsing. Slowly he became aware that Jim was patting him on the shoulder.

"'Mup here," he was muttering. Blair wriggled his way up, peering through his tangled wet eyelashes. Jim snorted helplessly, and dragged over a corner of the sheet to wipe off his face without at all shifting his own position on the bed. He snorted some more, and Blair lay back down on and beside him, gently humping Jim's thigh.

"Chief," Jim said softly after a while. Blair patted him, and earned a purr. Jim's skin had goosebumps rippling across it.

"Chief," he said again. "Y'wore me out. 'M'n old man." Blair quivered with chuckles, still running his hands over the goosebumps.

"No, really," the big man tried again. "Allllll relaxed now. Want you inside."

Blair froze, his cock leaping helplessly. He hadn't planned on getting to that sort of thing for - days, weeks even, and he had planned on going first. But the idea seized and shook him. He licked his lips.

"Could hurt, man," he muttered. But oh, if he could ... He felt, profoundly, that they needed to have each other's sperm inside them. He'd hoped to just lure Jim into a mutual blowjob, but it seemed all his plans were turning upside down. Good thing they were both certified clean; neither of them had ever taken protection carelessly, and the tests the Police Department insisted on had confirmed this.

Jim turned his head to gaze at him with winter-sky eyes, so clear, so calm. That feeling shuddered all the way through Blair again.

"Please," he pronounced. Blair squeezed his eyes shut, quivering.

"Okay," he muttered, "okay. Um. Lube?"

Jim smirked at him. "If that personal shopper did what I asked, should be in the drawer there." Blair rolled his eyes - Jim had balls no one would ever believe! - and reached for the drawer, finding the pop-top bottle of Slippery Stuff neatly set in the front. Good: Jim had listened to his lectures on sentinel-friendly sex aids. He braced himself up onto his knees, and poured some of the viscous fluid onto his left hand, rubbing it between his fingers. This he knew, was familiar with; some of his many girlfriends had been fascinated by anal stimulation, and one absolutely refused vaginal sex at all due to her family's intense fecundity. He pressed the lid back down, and looked at Jim, smoothing his right hand over the man's knee. Jim blinked back at him and wiggled a bit into the mattress, smiling faintly.

"This way? Want to see you," he murmured, and Blair nodded, kneeing his way over between Jim's legs, bracing himself on his right hand and kissing him. His head spun again, and he raised himself back up, sliding his hand down Jim's face, down his chest, patting his long soft cock affectionately. He drew broad fingers over Jim's balls, cuddling them in their warm sac, and then stroked the smooth perineum behind them, where a woman's vulva would be, the flesh as sensitive as the folds of labia. Jim stretched complacently under him and hummed. Blair poised the fingers of his left hand over the russet furl of muscle, brushing it gently, and watched it twitch as Jim snuffled faintly above. Blair smiled, stroked his right hand along Jim's belly, and smoothed his left more firmly along the crevasse of Jim's muscular ass, dipping the pad of his middle finger in as he passed the anus each time, feeling it grab his finger a little more strongly, let it go a little more loosely each time.

Blair scooted down onto his belly, and rubbed his nose over Jim's balls, luxuriating in the texture and the smell, warm and pungent and delicious. He lapped gently at them, ignoring the faint "hey!" from Jim, enjoying the feel and the shape of them; then he licked his way back over the smooth soft flesh, down to the beginnings of the wrinkles of Jim's asshole. Jim's buttocks clenched as he raised himself slightly, and Blair wrapped his whole right arm around Jim's left thigh as an anchor.

"Shh, shh, it's okay," he murmured, and stroked his tongue broadly up the crease of Jim's right thigh, still resting his fingers against Jim. The muscle spasmed open, and a fingertip slipped in, to rest against the interior ring. Jim rumbled, flexing and gripping with his exterior muscle. Blair rubbed his face down over the springy curls of Jim's groin, nudging against his perineum with his nose, then began lightly licking at Jim's asshole again, tiny catlicks alternating with luxuriant strokes of his tongue, vibrating his fingertips where they rested. Long fingers came down to pet his hair.

"Complicated ... process ..."

Blair curled his tongue around his finger, then swiftly substituted tongue for finger, probing gently at the interior muscle. Jim cried out, then panted, fighting to relax his legs. Blair let saliva collect on his tongue, and dripped it down into the slack anus, pushing it against the still-wary inner ring. Slippery Stuff advertised itself as taste-free, but still ... Blair pushed more firmly with the flat of his tongue, and his lips curved in a smile as the interior ring yielded to him. The bitter earthiness of Jim's insides was finally exposed to him.

"Whatzit taste like?" Jim panted. Reluctantly, Blair removed his tongue, smooching the outer ring deeply, and then inserted a well-lubed finger to keep his place.

"Kind of like patchouli smells, I guess, or a garden in the spring, after the rain but before it's planted." Blair leaned up on his right elbow in time to see Jim smile, his eyes closed. He inhaled deeply, and Blair froze, knowing that Jim was taking in the scent of his own ass on Blair's lips, using synaesthesia to bring in the flavor as well. Jim blinked, and smiled back down at him.

"Well, if you don't mind, I guess ..."

Blair grinned back at him.

"No, it's cool, you taste good." At that moment, his finger slipped all the way in, and both men jumped. Jim panted a bit, and Blair watched him narrowly.

"You doing okay?" he asked, fully prepared to disregard anything the stoic ex-Ranger might say in favor of the answer his body gave.

But Jim's anus flexed around him, gripping rather than attempting to expel, while his husband answered in a thoughtful voice, "Yeahhhh ... it's weird, but interesting. Keep going." Gently, Blair moved his finger, keeping his eyes on Jim's face, his attention on the responses of his body, deeply grateful that he'd trimmed his nails down almost to the quick.

They lay there for a timeless interval, Blair's fingers oh-so-slowly relaxing the inner muscle, Jim persuading him to switch around so that he could pet Blair's thigh and cock, taking the opportunity, finally, finally, to taste him, to draw the sensor-rich flat of his tongue up the length of his cock and grin smugly at his shudder, smacking his lips and raising his brows like a wine connoisseur. Blair retaliated with a raspberry on the top of his thigh, and warned, "Be good to the man with his hand up your ass!"

"Two fingers only: I know when there's a hand up my ass, and now is not it. You going to go any faster than this?"

"Nah, I figure I'll just wait till you fall asleep, and put off the whole thing to tomorrow."

Jim growled. "You better not! Give me another finger!"

Blair laughed, and scooted himself back around, folding his third finger in and pressing gently, finding the entry surprisingly easy now. Maliciously, he bent forward and dragged his hair across Jim's lower belly, causing an involuntary sit-up and yelp, and they lost connection. Jim leaned forward and pulled Blair into his arms, burying his face in the offending curls. Blair wound his arms around Jim's neck, tucking his nose up under his husband's ear.

They rocked together for a while, eyes closed, listening to the small sounds of the apartment, gently patting each other's backs.

After a while, Jim said, "Shame to do all that work and not take advantage of it."

Blair shrugged without moving his nose.

"You must be aching by this time," Jim tried. Blair snorted, but said nothing. Exasperated, Jim sank his senses into Blair, listening to breath and heart rate, smelling the layers of his scent, registering the myriad muscular twitches just under the skin.

Finally, he murmured right into Blair's ear, "You're wrong, you know." He could feel the motion of Blair raising his eyebrows. "It's not a sacrifice for me. I'm not just trying to give you something I think you want." Blair indicated skepticism with a small puff of air. Jim pulled back enough to take Blair's craggily beautiful face in his hands, and stared down into the eyes of his best friend. When he felt that Blair was paying enough attention, he said, quietly and forcefully, "I want this connection. This is our wedding night. I'm entitled, you're entitled, and you are the one who knows how to do it."

Blair inhaled deeply, thoughts shifting across his face, nearly as plain as print to the man he'd taught to read them. "We have all of our lives to make love all the ways there are. But we have only this one night for our wedding night." Agreement - scholarly agreement, interestingly enough - straightened Blair's mouth, and he nodded decisively, kissed Jim and pushed him back on the bed, and started pushing lube into Jim's ass. Jim smiled to himself, reveling in the sensations - nice to be able to play with his level of sensitivity - and gently squeezed Blair's finger once in a while.

"Lift up," Blair ordered, and Jim set his feet flat on the bed and raised his hips and back. A pillow made itself known - another - and then Blair's voice saying, "Okay." Jim lowered himself, finding a curl in his spine, finding that it was more comfortable to keep his knees bent. He gazed down his body at Blair's serious face. "I will stop," Blair warned him, "if at any time I judge that it is not safe to continue. You," he continued with a severe nod at his amused spouse, "will tell me if anything goes wrong that you think I have not noticed. Evidence of my not having noticed it's wrong is if I haven't stopped yet." His eyebrows went up in the middle, and his mouth went down at the corners. "Clear?" Jim nodded, trying not to laugh. "Okay."

Blair positioned himself. "Take a deep breath." Jim obediently expanded his diaphragm and chest, feeling smug as Blair's eyes crossed. "Push," gasped Blair, and he pushed, they both pushed, and Jim relaxed further, further, letting Blair in as he had always let him in, to his life, to his home, to his heart, to his body, and Jim groaned as he braced himself and lifted toward Blair, and Blair pushed toward him, leaning, and sliding oh so Goddamn sweet all the fucking way in to his throat -

And suddenly it felt like Blair had nudged Jim's heart with his cock, and he bellowed from the joy of it, he reached down and grabbed his knees, rolling back a bit and yelling hoarsely, "Again, again, harder," and Blair scooted that last bit in and rolled his hips, striking the gong within him again again again and the vibrating shiver of it was pure gold, it was the same gold as when he kissed Blair only deeper, more solid, he could see it spreading from within him where Blair's cock was stroking him so sweetly, so sweet, and hotter than the forge in Shop class that had sent him shuddering from the room. He could hear the slide and squish of Blair's cock within him, could feel the broad flexible fiery length of it, and damn him to hell but his own cock was stirring again. He was actually going to get hard twice in the same night, and the thought brought an incredulous smile to his face.

Blair moaned down at him, wordless, made aphasic by the joy, not that Jim had any words he could use either. The room was filled with the gold of their mating, and the glory of Blair's expression made Jim's chest hurt, and white exploded within the gold, behind Jim's eyes, and he shrieked, Blair shrieked, an incredible choral shout burst through the loft, and Jim was filled with fizzing sizzling warmth that struck the gong within him one last time, and his own seed burst from him again.

After a long frozen moment, they both gasped for air, and Blair slumped forward as Jim dropped his grip on his own legs and gathered him in. They panted together for a while, sporadically patting each other in desperate reassurance.

Finally Blair grunted out, "Gotta move, man, back's killing me."

Jim let him go reluctantly. "You need a chiropractor, Sandburg." Blair grinned helplessly.

"No, no, I really think the yoga's gonna be enough." He carefully disengaged, laid his fingers over the slack and pulsing anus, and ordered, "Clench your butt." Jim duly clenched, and could feel very clearly the shadow of Blair's phallus within him. He paid a bit more attention to the muscles, and tightened them again, feeling his rectum reluctantly resuming something like its ordinary configuration. Blair patted him a little.

"We'll soak you in a hot tub in the morning. Oh, man." He was shaken by a sudden yawn, and Jim pulled him to his chest, reaching for the sheets and blankets. "No, wait, wait - " Blair scrambled free and investigated the bedside table again, whooping in triumph when he found a pristine package of personal wipes. Swaying, he wiped both of them clean, and then subsided into Jim's embrace.

Jim rubbed his cheekbone over the top of Blair's head. Something in him felt complete, whole, as if the entire cold spot that Blair Sandburg had been relentlessly attacking for five years had suddenly filled with permanent warmth. He smiled, and blindly pressed his lips to Blair's curls.

"Love you."

"Love you, Jim." Blair nuzzled his neck, and fell asleep.

Jim spread out his senses in his nightly pre-sleep check. Mrs. Wawrziniak was finally home - so was Mr. Callahan, and although both of them were panting slightly, it was simply the leftover from the party, and no hazard to either. The rest of the residents are snug asleep, and the building should be secure for the night.

Outside, the pattern of traffic was exactly what it should be for two of a Saturday morning. Sleepily, Jim cast his hearing out for the teammates from Major Crime that he knew would be standing guard for him this night. He had almost given up on finding them when he heard Joel.

"Do you think we should call in that gold light from their apartment?"

Suddenly alert, Jim struggled to open his eyes. After a minute or two, he heard Connor say, in a meaningful voice, "What gold light, mate?"

As sleep ambushed him, he heard Joel respond, "Oh, sorry; must've been dozing. Right."