"Da! Watch me. Watch me! Are you watching, Da?!" Joey's insistent, excited voice drew his father's attention from the paper he was working on yet again.
"I'm watching, I'm watching!" chuckling, Blair shut the lid on his laptop, as his sons insisted he do, to prove to them that he was actually paying attention. It had been Joey, of course, that had started that - at two he had taken the computer mouse from Blair's hand and by four he was walking up and slamming the laptop closed with the demand that he 'pay 'tention!'. Now his father knew that the only way either of the boys would believe him, as prone as he was to flights of academic fancy, was if he had nothing in his hands or lap to work on.
The sturdy little boy several running steps and threw himself off the end of the board into the large swimming pool, which was practically deserted this early Friday afternoon. Students were preparing for a night on the town, faculty was going home to families, etc.
And Blair was here, at the pool, waiting for the boys' mother to drop by and pick them up.
In the last year, as Blair had settled into peaceful academia, doing what he'd always wanted to, Frances had struggled.
Although she had always been a gifted researcher, she just wasn't cut out to teach full time.
Joey's irritated shout snapped Blair back to full attention.
"That was great, Rainmaker," he determinedly turned his attention to the boys. Nathan was paddling in the kiddie pool not five feet away from him.
"I'm gonna try a flip!" Flinging himself up the ladder, Blair's oldest son scampered around the pool to the board, even as his father set the laptop aside and pulled off his t-shirt.
"Hang on, wait!" Blair scolded. "Don't run around the pool, and no fancy stuff until I'm there to catch you, okay?"
Ignoring him, Joey climbed the ladder and stepped out on the board. Taking a deep breath, Blair gave voice to the roar he'd been developing, for this express purpose; to make his headstrong son pay attention to him.
The bellow, as always, got the kid's attention, and he drew his arms in and took a step back on the board.
"Sorry, Da." His voice was small, and Nate was staring at him wide-eyed over the edge of the kiddie pool.
"That's okay, big guy." Blair said affectionately, speaking in a normal tone now that Joey was listening. He swung into the pool from the ladder and stroked out to the middle of the deep end. "There are just times you just have to mind me, okay?"
"Okay, Da!" Happily Joey agreed and Blair silently thanked his mother for that lesson. She had used 'that' voice on him maybe a total of five times in his childhood, but whenever he heard it he'd stopped in shock.
Of course, he'd used it on Joey at least that many times this month...something told him he was in for a wild ride with his oldest child.
"I'm ready, come on, big guy!" he shouted, treading water, prepared to catch the boy if he screwed up the dive and needed help.
Still watching from the kiddie pool, with a finger stuffed securely into his mouth, Nate watched with big eyes. The habit bothered his mother, but Blair never mentioned it to the boy. He figured drawing attention to the behavior would just make it more important.
"I'm gonna do it, Da." Joey said, balancing carefully on the edge of the board.
"Take your time." Keeping his voice low and encouraging, Blair watched as his son struggled briefly with fear. Joey had never been hurt doing things like this, but he'd been taught to consider the consequences of any action.
Then he overcame the fear and bounced once on the end of the board, sending his small body into the air. Blair watched, holding
his breath, as he curled up and then straightened out on time, hitting the water feet-first and shooting toward the bottom.
With a quick glance at Nathan, to be sure he wasn't going anywhere, Blair dove to grab his older son and pull him quickly to the surface, not wanting him to be frightened at being so deep.
"That was excellent, dude!" he praised loudly, hugging Joey to him while the boy giggled and squirmed.
The new voice made Blair turn in the water, Joey shifting to his back and clinging like a wet monkey.
"JIM!" Stunned, Blair stared at the older man, who was standing at the side of the pool looking down at him.
"Unca Jim!" Nate's shout was followed by a flurry of splashing and then the big cop has his own wet monkey clinging to him as the smaller boy hurried over and begged to be picked up.
Since Jim was still wearing a suit, as if he'd just come from work, Blair smirked as he climbed out of the pool, Joey firmly attached to his back, little legs locked around his waist. But Jim wearing a suit was odd, as he must have just gotten off a plane after a three-hour flight to get here.
Stopping in front of his friend - his Sentinel, his secret lover - Blair studied him carefully.
"What's wrong?" He asked it so softly that the water dripping from the wet bodies seemed loud in comparison.
Gathering Nathan closer, Jim nuzzled into the curly hair that was so much like Blair's.
"Later," he said, nearly as softly. "I can only stay the night."
Blair's face tightened as the impact of the situation hit him. If Jim could only stay the night then he must have just snuck out here, and only something terrible would make him do that.
Then the gate to the pool clattered and Frances stepped onto the pebbled surface and both boys abandoned their respective perches to pelt toward their mother.
"Mamae, Mamae!" Shouting together, they cuddled close to her as she knelt and opened her arms to them, kissing their damp faces and beaming down at them.
Then she stood, Nate on her hip and Joey holding her hand as she walked closer to the men.
Blair summoned a smile for her, tinged with great sadness.
He had loved this woman deeply. They had been so good together. But circumstances - combined with a measure of professional jealousy - had compounded to flavor that love with pain and the anger that followed it. Until the love itself had faded to a shadow that only haunted them when they came together this way.
Knowing that, despite all appearances to the contrary - Frances still had a room at Blair's home and they still took the boys out together and did things with them as a family. But the love that had brought these children into the world, that had created them, was gone.
"Blair." Her smile was soft, but her eyes were hard as she stared at Jim.
"Frances. They're all ready to go." Blair said, shaking himself slightly, water hitting Jim in the face as his hair bounced.
"The bags are in your jeep?" She asked, since she still had keys to it.
Blair nodded his head. Jim took a step forward and held out his hand to her.
"Hi. Long time no see." he offered lamely.
Shifting Nate, she shook his hand, her smile not slipping.
"You're down for a visit?"
"It's a spur-of-the-moment thing." Jim said softly. "I just needed to talk to Blair. In person."
"Blair is great to talk to when you have a problem." There was a sadness in her voice, too, that proved she knew what they had lost as well.
"Are you going to bring them back next Saturday?" Blair asked her, crouching to draw Joey into hug. Nathan squirmed until his mother put him down and he climbed over his brother to get close to his father.
"Da come too?" he asked, giving Blair a kiss on the lips.
"No, Da is going to spend sometime with Uncle Jim. You're going to go see Nana and Pawpaw at the reservation." Blair cuddled his sons. "You're going to ride the horses and go into the desert."
"I like the horses!" With a bounce Joey kissed his father and scampered back to his mom. "Can I ride by myself this year, Mamae? Can I? Can I?"
"Let's see what Pawpaw thinks of that." They all smiled at his excitement. But Nate was less eager.
"Da come too," he repeated, insistently this time.
"No, Sandstorm, I need to stay here this time. I'll come to the res with you next time, okay?"
With gentle hand Frances began peeling the boy from him. Nate's chin quivered, but he didn't cry, just allowed himself to be passed from Blair to the leaning Jim and on to Frances.
"Need any help getting their things?" Jim asked her as he handed the boy over.
"No, we've got it." She still didn't really smile at him. "Have a good week, Blair. Nice seeing you, Jim."
At a loss, Jim just nodded and echoed the words back to her.
"Nice seeing you too."
Blair straightened and stepped close to her, enclosing her and Nate in a hug. He paused there for a moment, his lips pressed to her neck, and sighed deeply.
Her free hand rubbed his bare back tenderly.
Then Blair moved away and they exchanged a smile, and then she and the boys left, Nate looking back over her shoulder at his father, and Joey bouncing alongside her, chattering a mile a minute.
Then he looked at Jim, and Jim looked at him, and Blair was stunned to see the tears in his friend's eyes.
"Not now." He said, almost to himself. "Let's get back to my place, okay?"
Without a word Jim grasped Blair's hand and drew it to his face. Closing his eyes, the older man pressed the back of that hand to his cheek and seemed to sway where he stood.
Wrapping the arm over his shoulder, Blair steered Jim toward the pool gate and together they went down the sidewalk to his faculty house.
Once inside, it was cool and dim. The air conditioner was running, a quiet hum in the background.
Jim sat on the big sofa that faced a large wall-hanging, one that Blair and the boys had been working on since they moved here.
Sticks, stones, feathers and scraps of other things were stuck through the loose weave of the multi-colored material, making it an ongoing history of their lives here.
Up high in one corner was the tattered remains of Joey's baby blanket that he'd slept with until he was three, made by tribe members in Africa.
And somewhere near the middle, a flash of bright blue, was a bluebird feather Jim had found while walking with the boys on his last visit here, nearly eight months ago.
The patch of feathers in that spot, maybe nine inches wide and seven high, was beginning to take on an actual form. Jim stared at it while Blair grabbed a towel and dried off, putting his laptop on the coffee table before going to get them both a beer.
"A peacock." Jim accepted the cold bottle and pointed at the feathers. "I thought this was supposed to be abstract."
Blair grinned briefly, just long enough to light up his face.
"It's supposed to be whatever it becomes, man." Swigging down half his beer, he turned to Jim, his body still damp, goosebumps rising in the cool air. But before he could say anything the larger man was reaching for him, his eyes shining with need, his hands closing tightly around Blair's shoulders, and Blair was pulled into Jim's lap, set straddling him, and Jim was kissing him with a ferocious hunger.
"Mm!" Trying to set the bottle down, Blair gave up and dropped it, knowing that it would spill and not caring. He squirmed into a better position, his groin pressed to Jim's, and allowed the older man to retain control of the kiss.
Jim kissed him, jaw opened wide, tongue delving deep into his mouth, until Blair's lips felt bruised and swollen, and then he only dropped his head to Blair's shoulder, his big body shaking.
Gasping for air, Blair said the first thing that came to mind.
"Just like old times, Jim?"
"No!" Startled, Jim yanked back, dumping Blair off of him and onto the couch, where he sprawled. "Not like that! I didn't mean that, Sandburg!"
Towering over the couch, Jim clenched his hands into fists at his sides and closed his eyes. Awkwardly Blair scrambled to his knees and reached for him, murmuring quiet, soothing words.
"no, no, man, I didn't mean it like that. I'm here, I'm here with you, this is what I want too..."
He wrapped his arms tightly around Jim's waist and pressed the side of his face into Jim's hard stomach, feeling the muscles quivering there. After a long moment Jim's hands closed over his head, petting restlessly.
"I'm sorry." he whispered. "I should have called, should have told you I was coming. I'll never treat you like that again."
There was a silence as they both remembered those early days - when the need had been strong, and the harder they fought it the more they'd hurt each other. Even Simon and Joel had become involved, there had been pain and humiliation and, at last, acceptance.
Acceptance that had freed them enough to let them live separate lives, coming together in secret whenever they had to, every four months, then six and now eight.
Blair tilted his face upwards, still pressed to Jim's body, and spoke gently.
"It's okay, man. You're always welcome here, whether I'm here or not, whether you call or not. Whenever you need me, man, I'm here."
Staring down at him, face drawn with a sorrow Blair didn't yet understand, Jim whispered the words tightly.
"I need you."
In answer to that need, Blair carefully stood on the sofa. Using Jim's shoulders for balance, he stripped out of his swim trunks, and then used both hands to undress the older man where he stood. Jim's slacks and briefs pooled around his ankles, but he used both hands on Blair's hips to pull the smaller man close and ignored them.
"Can you -? Are you -?" Hesitating, Jim's fingers stroked the soft skin of his loins and butt.
Curling over him so he could touch his lips to Jim's, Blair whispered.
"I'm fine. Always ready for you, you know that."
"Thank God." Breathing the words like a prayer, Jim lifted Blair by the hips and carefully lowered him onto his aching erection. The movement was painfully slow as Blair's body opened to take him in, a quarter inch at a time, each measure gained earning a gasp from both men.
The cooling of the air conditioner wasn't enough to withstand the power of their coupling and both men broke into a heavy sweat, the scent of it filling the room.
At last Blair gave a long low groan and slid the last fraction, clinging to Jim with his legs and arms, wrapped around the larger man as securely as he could.
Jim's hands beneath him both supported him and stimulated him, fingertips teasing at the edges of the stretched opening, Blair's cock trapped between their wet bodies.
"Don't say anything." Jim mumbled against Blair's open mouth. "Just let me feel you."
Nodding caused Blair's hair to brush Jim's shoulders, the grey standing out in the dimness of the room. Then he closed his mouth over Blair's and sucked the air from him, breathing it into himself.
Carefully, gingerly, with graceful movements and delicate balance, Jim managed to toe off his shoes and step out of the remainder of his clothes. That put him in the middle of the floor, and he turned to back to the wall, landing in an open space on the hanging, where nothing had yet been placed. Then he broke the kiss for air and Blair gasped against his neck, his breath warm and sweet where it bathed Jim's skin.
Allowing himself one hissed moan, Jim began to move.
Blair's legs tightened around him, the strong muscles of his thighs working in time with Jim's thrusts to rise and fall with him.
A few grunts escaped Blair's control, but Jim was silent, needing every ounce of willpower to absorb the experience, imprinting Blair upon every anguished cell in his straining body. He moved one hand up to the small of Blair's back, pressing there to increase the pressure on the younger man's cock, and arched further back to go deeper into him.
Teeth bared, Blair fastened them onto Jim's neck and moved faster.
He bit down harder as orgasm approached, Jim's cock brushing his prostate now, sending shivers of electricity along his nerves.
Then everything coalesced into a bolt of lightning, and he came hard, jerking unevenly in Jim's arms, his teeth breaking the smooth skin of Jim's neck.
With a sigh that could have been relief...or pain...Jim thrust up one more time and held that position while he came too, deep inside Blair's trembling body.
Then he stumbled around the coffee table and fell onto the sofa, with Blair beneath him, shuddering.
When he raised his head and began kissing Blair's face tenderly, tears were running down his face, warmer than the sweat. Blair clung to him and offered the comfort of his touch, while Jim cried in his arms.
"I have to go. I can't miss my flight." Lying flat on his stomach on Blair's big bed, Jim stroked his lover's furry stomach slowly. Each individual hair caught it's tiny dose of electricity and stood beneath his fingers' passage.
"When are they going to start the chemo?" Rolling to his side, Blair ran his hand affectionately through Jim's short hair, more grey than brown now.
"In a couple of days. I need to make arrangements at work, hire a home nurse. Or maybe just someone to help around the house help with the cleaning and Jade and stuff."
"Maybe Jasmine could come." Blair suggested. Jim's stepdaughter was very close to her mother.
"She's in Italy, doing a show. If she left now her reputation would be damaged."
"But it's her mom, man." Not understanding, Blair sat up, arms crossed over his chest. "This really sucks, Jim. I am so sorry."
Joining him at the head of the bed, Jim lay with his head pressed to Blair's chest. There were just a few white hairs threaded through the coating of fur there.
"So am I, Chief, but I feel -" He paused and swallowed heavily. "I feel like this is my fault."
"Jim, c'mon..." Protesting, Blair wrapped both arms around his lover's head, squeezing it closer. "How can this be your fault? Cancer doesn't play favorites."
"I've spent so much time these last ten years - ever since we figured this out and finally started dealing with it - praying that you stay safe, that you stay well - I don't think I worked as hard for Alex."
Blair's head bent and his hair, tangled and still damp from the shower they had shared, surrounded and caressed Jim, brushing his shoulders, filling his lungs with Blair's unique scent, soothing him as tears threatened again.
"Do you want me to come help? I can take a leave of absence. You're family to me, they'll understand. The boys could stay with their mom a little longer...."
"No." Pulling away and sitting up, Jim rubbed both hands briskly over his face before speaking again. "I don't want to flaunt it, Chief, I don't want to rub her face in it. If you're there, in the house, I - I won't be able to help myself."
"I probably wouldn't either." Blair agreed, somewhat bashfully.
"No." Jim repeated, sliding off the bed to stand at the side, nude, staring down at Blair. "I'll do what I have to do. I owe her that much. I do love her, Chief..." He closed his eyes, hands fisting at his sides, "...but you'll always be home to me."
"And I'll always be waiting for you." Crawling over the bed, Blair sat on the edge and pressed his face into Jim's stomach, nuzzling at it, his arms around the tall man's waist.
They stayed that way as long as they could, until Jim had to leave for the airport.
~~ end ~~