"I can't say I was ever lost, but I was bewildered once for three days." Daniel Boone
Don't ever let them kid you. Size matters a hell of a lot, and big isn't necessarily better.
Have you ever watched a basketball player squeeze into a coach seat on an airplane? Or seen a weightlifter try to buy an off-the-rack suit that doesn't need to be altered? I mean, there are advantages to being five nine and a hundred and seventy pounds.
For example, when you're stuck in an alley the middle of a fire fight between two rival gangs with enough weapons to take over a medium-sized country and the only shelter around is a small but sturdy dumpster tipped on its side, with a narrow opening, it's pretty easy just to dive inside. So I did.
"Jim!" I yelled, sticking my head out long enough to spot him crouched behind some packing crates. "Get your ass over here! That's an order!"
Now technically Jim is the senior member of our partnership, even though we both hold the rank of Lieutenant. Yeah, he's held that rank for five years, and my badge still has that shiny-new-toy look, but in cases like this, seniority be damned. I was trying to save his life.
I ducked back inside when another couple rounds whizzed by, thankful that neither side was really aiming at either of us. In this particular instance, we weren't targets, we just happened to be in the way. If we got hit, well, too bad and all that, but them's the breaks. Still, accident or not, dead was dead, and I was going to make damn sure that it didn't happen to Jim. Or me.
One piece of good luck in all of this was that I'd gotten a call out before the shooting heated up, and backup was on its way. But it would be another five to eight minutes before they got here, and we had to stay alive during that time. Hence the dumpster.
"Jim!" I shouted again, and peered out between the lopsided metal doors. He looked over at me, nodded once, and then shifted his weight in the way that meant he was going to make a break for it. I slid to the side, trying not to think about exactly what I was sliding on, and held my breath. I didn't know I was holding it until later, but by then... Well, anyway. I was watching him when a barrage of bullets sounded, then another, and then there was a lull. That's when Jim made his move.
He burst out from between the stacks of crates like a world class sprinter from the blocks, headed straight for me. I slid back and to the side further, to give him enough room to dive right in, so I lost sight of his shoulders and head. Then another clip emptied and Jim was almost here. I could see his legs pumping hard and then he kind of stumbled and his arms were stretched out in front of him. He was diving right for the opening, a perfect, smooth dive in a great position that would've cut water like a knife. Hell, I'd bet that he even pointed his toes.
The doors of the dumpster were propped part-way open, kind of dug into the asphalt and gravel in the alley. I'd tried to kick them open wider, but they weren't moving for nothing. Jim was twisting as he dove, trying to fit his shoulders through the opening, like putting a penny into a slot, or the Millenium Falcon going through the guts of the Death Star.
It was perfect, except that he missed.
Maybe the noise distracted him, or maybe when he stumbled he got mis-aligned. It really didn't matter what caused it, though, because I could see what was going to happen a second before he did.
It was the absolute worst second of my life.
His eyes got impossibly wide and he twisted like a worm on a hook, but it was too late. His head glanced off the sharp corner of the door with a sickening bang. It caught the tender depression in his skull next to his right eye, jerking his head back and smacking it hard against the metal, and he finally landed in a heap half in and half out of the dumpster.
"Shit," I muttered, swallowing hard against a wave of nausea, and scrambled to pull Jim all the way into the dumpster before he was riddled with bullet holes. "Oh man, you hit that hard..."
Groaning, he lay huddled on the floor, his arms wrapped around his head. I crouched over him and tried to pull his arm down so I could see the extent of the damage.
"Jim, c'mon, let me see." I tugged at his arm and he mumbled something I couldn't understand. "Jim, you've gotta let me have a look."
There was another burst of gunfire, and then all hell broke loose. I could hear rounds hitting both of the metal sides of the dumpster, and dropped to the floor, my arm around Jim's chest. He was shaking hard, flinching at the din of the barrage surrounding us, and all I could do was hold him tight and try to stay calm. Oh yeah, and pray that we didn't get hit.
After a couple of minutes the firing eased, and I crawled up and pulled his arm away from his head.
It was hard to see in the semi-darkness of the dumpster, but there was blood smeared all over the side of his face and a dark patch that glistened to the right and above his right eye. I cradled his cheek in my hand and turned his head gently - the whites of his eyes stood out lividly against the blood. I grabbed a bandanna from my pocket and laid it against the oozing spot, and could feel a knot on his temple practically growing beneath my fingers.
"Hey, how're you doing?" I leaned over and peered at his eyes, but it was too dark for me to see his pupils. He groaned again and closed his eyes. "C'mon, Jim, buddy, talk to me."
"Shit, Sandburg," he whispered hoarsely, "I get cracked on the head and you want to start a conversation? Gimme a break."
I grinned and patted his shoulder, some of my fear dissolving at his answer. He seemed to be thinking clearly, and was still full of the ol' Ellison... charm. "Open your eyes, Jim. Can you see me?"
He blinked and flinched when another round screamed by and I dropped to the floor, which in this case was his chest. He made a breathless whuffing sound, like I'd knocked the wind out of him, so I tried to slide off to the side. Suddenly his arms surrounded me and he held me tightly, so I just stayed where I was and tried not to put too much weight on him.
As soon as it quieted down again, I wriggled out of Jim's clasp and knelt over him.
"Okay, look at me, Jim. Can you see my face?"
With another groan he opened his eyes and blinked up at me. "Fuck," he said weakly. "It's bad enough having one Sandburg, Sandburg, but what'd I do to deserve three."
Well, that answer almost scared the shit outta me, until I heard a dry huffing and realized that he was laughing, the bastard.
"You prick." I checked the bandanna, which was soaked with blood, a lot of blood, and quickly shoved down my fear. Where the hell was our backup? What was taking them so long? I shrugged off my coat and folded it up, lifting his head a little to slide it underneath. "You should be so lucky to have three of me on call."
"Oh god, I don't think the world's ready for that..." His voice suddenly cut out, his eyes half-closed, and his head lolled to the side, mouth slack.
"Oh Jim, man, don't do this..." I checked his pulse and didn't like what I found. I'm no doctor, but it seemed pretty slow and there were some hesitations and skipped beats that sent a trickle of ice down my spine. I wondered if he'd been hit somewhere else. Maybe he was losing more blood than from his head wound, so I checked him over as well as I could, considering that we were squashed together in the dark. I didn't find any other wounds.
Okay, so maybe he was concussed. In that case, I needed to rouse him until he could get some medical treatment. Which would arrive once the damned backup got here. I couldn't believe that it was taking this long for them to arrive - I mean, they had goddamn sirens that they could use and the cars had fucking accelerators that were part of the standard equipment...
I looked down at Jim lying there, still and bleeding, and figured that me losing it was not particularly helpful, so I took a deep breath and calmed down. Okay, I took a couple of deep breaths, and some of the nausea passed. Calm was pretty much beyond me. I had to rouse Jim, and I had to do it without smacking him around or shaking him until his teeth rattled, both of which sounded tempting right now. Of course all this was Jim's fault: for insisting that we check out the report of gang activity, even though this wasn't a case; for leading us down the alley so that we got stuck in the middle of the fire fight; and, most of all, for hitting his thick skull and then passing out.
What the hell was I saying? Get a grip, Sandburg.
All the deep breathing was making me hyperventilate, so I switched back to scared panting and looked down at Jim. I didn't want to jar his head any more than necessary, so I stroked the side of his face, calling to him softly.
"Jim, c'mon, up and at 'em. Time to open those baby blues and let me know that you're back in the land of the conscious."
His face was slack under my fingers. Damn, he looked so young, all his habitual tension smoothed away, like he was sleeping. But he wasn't sleeping, and that fact made my hand shake and my pits feel as hot and humid as the Amazon.
"Jim, open your eyes, please..."
I slid my hand down to his shoulder and gave it a little shake.
"Jim, shit, you're scaring me, man, and you know what a basket case I can be when I'm scared. And if this is some kind of weird payback shit for when I died on you, well, all I can say is that that kind of behavior is beneath you."
My hand moved back up to the side of his face, my fingers dragging on the short stubble on his cheek.
"Please, Jim, wake up," I whispered.
I felt Jim's jaw move and held my breath, hoping that he was coming around. A second later he winced and blinked, than squeezed his eyes shut again and groaned.
"Welcome back, man," I said, giving his cheek a pat and blowing out about a ton of stale air from my lungs. My head jerked up as I heard sirens in the distance. It was about damn time...
The shooting had slowed down, with only an occasional 'pop, pop' interrupting the growing wail of sirens. I grinned down at Jim as he gingerly cracked open an eye.
"Sounds like the cavalry's on the way. How're you feeling?"
"Blair?" he breathed, and even though he slurred my name, the sound of his voice was sweeter than listening to the latest hit from Meat Helmet Mahatmas.
"Yeah, I'm here."
He reached up and grabbed weakly at my shirt. "Don't leave me..."
"No way." I wrapped my hand around his and held it to my chest. "We're partners, remember?"
"Partners, yeah," he said, speaking slowly and carefully but still slurring his words, like a drunk trying to pretend he's sober. "I like being partners..."
"Me, too. I like it a lot." I tried to gauge how far away the sirens were, but it was hard to get a fix from inside the dumpster.
"I like you, Blair."
"Same here, man." The firing had definitely fallen off, and I heard a couple of shouts of 'police!'
He pressed his fist gently against my chest and blinked slowly, a strangely sweet smile spreading across his face like honey. "Nah, more'n that. Love you."
"Hey, love you, too, Jim."
The sirens were screeching at full bore - the cavalry was, at goddamn last, here. I could hear shouts and a few more shots, and then Simon's voice yelling something I couldn't quite understand.
I looked back down at Jim, who was now frowning. "Don't worry. We'll get you out of here and off to the hospital-"
"But I love you."
I patted his shoulder. "Yeah, I love you, too."
"No!" he said petulantly, then shook his head once and winced. "I mean I love you."
"That's really nice, man."
He closed his eyes and sighed, his hand falling away from my chest. I suddenly felt dizzy, and shook my head to clear it.
He didn't move or open his eyes, but his words were quiet and clear. "I mean that if I could have a baby, I'd want to have yours, Blair Sandburg."
What the fuck?
"In here, Simon!" I carefully crawled over Jim and stuck my head out of the dumpster. Simon was standing at the end of the alley, scowling as if the mayor was nipping at his ass. "Get an ambulance. Jim's been hurt."
And I felt like someone had just hit me over the head with a two by four.
The doctor finally let me in to see Jim after three hours on those hard, plastic, butt-numbing chairs in the waiting room. Before they took him into emergency, I'd managed to tell her about Jim's extreme sensitivity to drugs, and she'd promised not to give him anything without checking with me first. She shot me a pretty dubious look when I first cornered her, but Simon was there and backed me up, and muttered words like 'lawsuit' and 'expert' and 'witness.' I figured she'd be damn careful about giving Jim so much as an aspirin.
Jim's wounds had bled a lot, but none of the tests indicated that he'd received anything more serious than a bad bump on the head. Even so, he'd been admitted for observation overnight. I found him sitting up in bed with his head swathed in a big, white bandage, glaring at the dinner tray in front of him.
"Hey, Jim. How're you doing?" I grabbed yet another hard, plastic chair and scooted it over beside his bed, silently telling my butt to shut up and deal with it.
"I'd be a hell of a lot better in my own bed, eating real food," he griped, poking savagely at an unhealthy looking lump of mashed potatoes.
"Well, you got a pretty nasty bash to that thick skull of yours. It's probably a good idea to stay here overnight, just in case something happens."
"Nothing's going to happen, Sandburg." He picked up a spoon and began to maul the radioactive lime green jello. "I just want to go home."
"Yeah, I know. But Simon agrees with the doctor, so whaddaya going to do?" I shrugged and stole some carrot sticks from his tray. It was getting late, and I hadn't had any lunch, much less dinner.
"You gonna engineer a breakout?" he looked up at me hopefully, and then grinned.
"Tomorrow morning, first thing. I promise." I returned the grin and crossed my heart.
He dropped his spoon and sat back with a sigh. He looked better than he had when the ambulance first brought us in, but then again, that wasn't hard. But his color was still bad, and I could see his hands shake a little as he raised them to rub his face.
"Can I get you anything?" I asked. A book, a magazine, the phone, a baby...
"Nah," he shook his head and closed his eyes. "I don't feel like reading."
I looked at his full tray. "Why don't you eat?"
He turned his head and sighed, but didn't open his eyes. "'M not hungry. I can hear your stomach grumbling, though. Go ahead, knock yourself out."
I hesitated a minute, then dug in. If Jim got hungry later, the nurse could bring him a yogurt or something. It wasn't bad for institutional food, and I polished it off pretty quickly.
I looked up at Jim's dry chuckle. "Glad to see you've still got an appetite, Junior."
"I hate to waste food, man."
"I can see that."
I idly tapped the fork against the dish until Jim reached out and pulled it from my fingers.
"Oh, sorry. Just thinking..."
"'Bout what, Chief?"
For one second, I had the insane urge to actually tell him. I could imagine the look on his face if I said, 'Actually, Jim, I was wondering if you really did want to have my baby, or if that was just your head injury talking.' Oh yeah, that would go over like a lead balloon. Still, maybe I could find out...
"How much do you remember, Jim? Of this afternoon?"
He gave me a dubious look, then leaned back and closed his eyes. "I remember the gunfire," he said softly. "Watching you disappear into that damn dumpster like the White Rabbit down the hole."
Eyes closed, he frowned and shifted restlessly on the bed. "You... yelled at me to get in there... ordered me." His lips curled up for a moment. "More gunfire. I was too exposed, had to move. You looked out. I ran. Tried to make it..."
Fingers clutching the blanket, Jim suddenly opened his eyes, his frown deepening. "The door... I knew I was going to hit it, but there was nothing I could do."
I nodded. "Yeah. There was nothing you could do. What else do you remember?"
He winced. "It hurt. It hurt like hell. You wanted me to talk..." His voice trailed off and he looked confused.
"And then?" I prompted.
"And then..." He shook his head slowly. "I don't remember anything else until the doctor was shining a light into my eyes and asking if I knew my name."
"Why, Sandburg? Did something happen that I should remember?"
"Nah. Nothing happened at all."
Jim gave me a sharp look, like he didn't believe me, but he didn't say anything else. A nurse came in and told me in no uncertain terms that 'visiting hours were long over and Mr. Ellison needed his rest,' and added with a smile that I looked like I could use a bath and a good night's sleep, as well.
"Guess I'd better go," I said, as the nurse waited impatiently by the door.
"Don't go wild tonight, Chief. No loud parties while I'm gone."
"Yeah, right. Like I'm in any condition to party tonight." I started for the door.
"Spring me in the morning, right?" There was more than a hint of scared little boy in his voice.
"You got it. Sleep well."
"In here? You've got to be joking."
"Better you than me, man," I muttered as I left.
"I heard that, Sandburg!" drifted out as I closed the door behind me. I couldn't help but smile.
Not surprisingly, I had trouble getting to sleep. Every time I'd start to become one with the pillows, I'd feel Jim's sticky blood coating my hands, smell its metallic tang, see it smeared across his face, and I'd jerk awake. It was long after midnight when I finally settled, and then I started to dream.
I was in a forest, but not one of the ones around Cascade. There were no redwoods or pines and the air was warmer and drier. I looked around in the dim light, trying to identify the leaves I could see above me. These trees were oaks and poplars and maples. I spotted sunlight up ahead and walked toward it, coming out of the woods into a rocky clearing.
There were mountains rolling into the distance as far as I could see. Hell, I was on the side of one, but they sure weren't in the Pacific Northwest. For one thing, they were much too old - worn smooth by countless years of erosion. And the air was different, too. The distant peaks were blue-gray, cloaked in a smoky haze.
I didn't see any sign of other people, or of animals, either, except for a flock of maybe half-a-dozen big, black birds in the distance, circling above the trees.
One bird swooped down into the trees, only to rise up again a second later and resume its circling. My feet were already starting down the side of the mountain by the time my head caught up and I realized that the birds were turkey vultures, and they were waiting for something to die. It was up to me to stop that from happening.
Even though it looked like clear sailing through the forest, I kept stumbling over rocks and roots, or getting my jacket or hair tangled in low branches. It was one of those dream journeys that take forever, when you're hampered at every step and you know you're never going to make it in time... It was vitally important that I get to where the vultures were circling, vitally important that I stop them. From doing what? I wasn't sure. I lost sight of the vultures, but I could hear them occasionally, a raw scream of frustration that gave me hope. Whatever they were stalking wasn't dead yet.
Then the screams turned into human ones, hoarse, rasping, terrified shouts that sent a chill up my spine, made my hands clammy with sweat, and spurred me on. Faster, I had to get there faster...
I was panting and wheezing, my arms up in front of me trying to push away the damn branches that clung and grasped at me as I passed. The only sounds I could hear were the crashes as I pounded through the trees and the desperate cries of whoever was ahead.
I could see the strong sunlight of another clearing up ahead and willed my aching legs to keep pumping. There was another scream - human and bird voices blended together into a horrible shriek. I was almost there, I could almost see past the trees, but then I tripped and stumbled and I was falling in slow motion, falling onto an outcropping of hard, granite rocks, their wicked points piercing me as I landed, impaling me on a bed of nails, and my screams mixed with the others.
Well, shit, of course I woke up after that. I threw back the blankets and checked my chest, but of course there weren't any gashes from the rocks, or nails, for that matter. Then I checked the time, and it was almost five am. There was no way I was going to get back to sleep, especially with the thought of those dreams waiting for me.
Definitely no more sleep. I'd go to work, put in a couple of hours, and then pick up Jim and bring him home. Even though I hadn't been hurt yesterday, our current caseload wasn't its usual erupting volcano, and Simon had told me to take it easy and keep an eye on Jim for the next day or two. So I didn't need to bust my ass covering for him.
I got to my desk around six and cleaned up a lot of paperwork, typing up the report of our adventures yesterday, which made me feel good. Not about what happened, but that the report was done. At least I could tell Jim that he didn't need to worry about it. Jim hated paperwork, but insisted on getting it done asap, and he'd be grumpy as hell until it was finished. For me, on the other hand, it was a chore that I didn't really enjoy, but it didn't bother me, either. I just didn't bust my butt to get it done yesterday. I mean, I never turned it in late, y'know, but I'd let it ride for a bit before getting around to it.
I called Jim around nine, and he sounded like he hadn't slept all night.
"So, when're you getting here," he said.
"Has the doctor been by yet?"
"No, but I'm fine, Sandburg."
"Yeah, I can tell." Before he could say anything else, I hurried on, "I'm just finishing up the report from yesterday and I'll leave in a few minutes, okay?"
He hesitated. "Okay."
There was something in his voice that sent up warning flags. "What's up, Jim?"
There was another pause. "Nothing." Suddenly, I could hear voices in his room. "Gotta go, Chief. The doc's here."
"I'll be by soon."
It only took me another fifteen minutes to finish up at my desk, and I was at the hospital in forty-five. A nurse met me at the door to Jim's room.
"Are you here to collect Detective Ellison?"
I nodded. "Yeah. You ready to let him go?"
She rolled her eyes and flashed me a quick smile. "The sooner the better. He's just waiting for his paperwork to be processed and then he can leave."
I went in and found Jim sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed and frowning. The big bandages from the night before were gone, and there was just a small dressing over the place where the door had gouged him. But man, he was developing some really spectacular bruises all over the side of his face.
"Hey, Jim. Wow, look at those bruises! You could be the poster child for the Rainbow Coalition," I said, and he looked sourly at me. "The nurse said you can get out of here in a few."
"Fucking paperwork. I'm ready to get out of here, and they want me to sign everything in triplicate and then make copies of it."
"Just like institutions everywhere," I said, and shrugged. "It makes 'em feel important and covers their asses at the same time. So, how'd you sleep?"
"Like the dead, Chief." For a second there he looked horrified and turned, wide-eyed, to me. Then the guy from admissions showed up with Jim's paperwork and a wheelchair, and Jim's face settled back into a scowl as he sat down in it. "I hate this," he muttered.
"I'll go get the truck," I said and shot off, letting the orderly wheeling the chair deal with a grumpy Jim. Hey, it was only fair! This guy wouldn't see Jim again, and I was going to be stuck with him for the rest of the day.
Other than griping about my driving habits, he was quiet on the way home. When we got inside, he walked over and kinda collapsed on the couch, leaning his head back to stare at the ceiling.
"Can I get you something? A soda or some juice?"
"Nah." He sounded exhausted. "I'm going to take a shower. I feel like the bottom of a bus."
"Why don't you take a nap afterward? You look like you didn't sleep very well."
"I don't need a nap," he said, stifling a yawn. "I just want to get clean."
I went into my room to grab a book I was in the middle of, and when I got back into the living room Jim was fast asleep, already listing to one side. I grabbed my pillows and propped them on the arm of the couch, just before he completely keeled over onto them. I smiled to myself - excellent timing, Sandburg. I managed to untie his shoes and slip them off, then hoisted his legs onto the cushions. He was so zonked that his breathing didn't even break rhythm. The poor guy looked totally blasted.
I made myself a cup of coffee and settled down on the other couch to read. It was a good book, but my restless night was catching up with me, and I kept yawning and rubbing my eyes. Even the coffee, which I'd made extra strong, wasn't helping, and I guess I must've fallen asleep.
It was like the dream hadn't been interrupted. I was sprawled on the rocks, the wind knocked out of me, and man, did I hurt! My chest was on fire, my groin was aching, and not in a good way, and I must've hit my knee, because when I moved it, a sharp pain made me gasp. Even though the rocks were poking me uncomfortably, I didn't move for a couple of minutes, just tried to catch my breath.
A sudden flapping of wings startled me - a turkey vulture landed about two feet away from my hand and peered at me hopefully.
"Go away, you bastard." I tried to yell, but something was pressing hard into my stomach and all that came out was a weak rasp. It hopped a little closer, not moving even when I lifted my arms and made shooing gestures.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not dead yet." I started to lever myself up, wincing and cursing as I shifted on the rocks. The damn vulture hopped back a couple of feet, but kept one bright black eye on me. Eventually I was standing, and I lifted my shirt to survey the extent of the damage, then quickly lowered it. Nothing life-threatening, just a bunch of scrapes and cuts and lumps that were going to turn into pretty colorful bruises. My knee still hurt, but I flexed it experimentally and decided that nothing was broken. I wiped my forehead with my hand, and it came away bloody. Great. I blinked and turned my head carefully, but I didn't feel dizzy or anything, so I figured it was just a surface gash.
The vulture offered a disappointed squawk, and I took a couple of threatening steps toward it, growling. Lazily, as if it had all the time in the world, it took off and joined its comrades above the trees.
I followed its flight for a minute, and then remembered. The clearing. I hadn't heard any more human-sounding screams since I fell, and wondered if I was too late. My heart pounding, I limped toward the sunlight, not sure what kind of scene to expect - a rescue or carnage. I found a long, thick branch and hefted it in my hands. It would be a good club if I had to fight to keep the vultures off of whoever it was over there, alive or dead... When I broke through the trees, though, I stopped short, surprised.
The clearing was empty.
The grass in the middle was flattened, like something had been lying there for a while, so I went over to investigate. There was blood, a lot of blood, coating the blades and pooling at one end of the disturbed area. I circled it, trying to figure out exactly how the person had been lying. I got around to the spot where there was the most blood and tripped over something in the tall grass.
"Shit!" I bent over and parted the stalks to see whatever-it-was better.
It was a gun.
It was Jim's gun.
I knew it unequivocally, like I knew my own name. It was Jim's gun and that had been Jim bleeding on the grass and it was Jim that the vultures were stalking.
I could see the path he'd taken through the grass into the forest, so I used the branch as a walking stick to take some of the pressure off my aching knee and followed him, yelling his name.
Now I'm an experienced camper, but I can't track things worth a damn. This time I could easily follow Jim's bloody path - hell, the man was bleeding so much I felt like I was stuck in the middle of a re-creation of Hansel and Gretl done by Stephen King.
He was moving uphill. Why, when downhill would've been a lot easier? Beats me. I could pick out his bloody hand prints where he'd rested against a rock or tree trunk, see the small, red splashes on the leaves and dirt of the forest floor, and I followed, shouting his name occasionally.
There was something buzzing at the back of my mind. Something that didn't really register but was there, unnoticed for a long time. A dull, pounding roar in the background that I wasn't really consciously listening to, but my mind was processing anyway. It was like hearing but not hearing Muzak in an elevator, and then suddenly realizing that you're listening to a song by Hole done with strings and a really smooth horn section.
The scream startled me, and I dug my stick into the ground and limped faster up the slope. I knew what that roar was, and I didn't like it. The second scream made me stumble, but fortunately I caught myself and kept going. The roar grew louder, and I knew it was water, a hell of a lot of water rushing over a cliff.
I jerked awake, cutting off a strangled yell as I blinked and sat up. Jim's shout startled me half-way off the couch, and by his second one I was kneeling in front of him, trying to grab hold of his arms that were wrapped protectively around his head. He fought me for a moment, then, panting like he'd just run a marathon, he opened his eyes and stared at me, terrified.
"Hey, hey, calm down," I said quietly, feeling his biceps twitch and tremble under my fingers. "You had a bad dream. It's okay, you're fine..."
He blinked twice, his breath coming in little panting gasps, then pulled away from me and sat up, rubbing his hands over his face. I waited a minute before I got up and went to the kitchen.
"Have a drink, Jim," I said, handing him a glass of juice. "You want to talk about it?"
He drained the glass and shook his head. "There's nothing to talk about." He stood up and grabbed the back of the couch, looking pretty shaky, but he waved me off when I reach out to hold him steady. "I'm gonna take that shower."
"Okay." I glanced at the clock. Damn. It was after two. We'd slept for over three hours. "I'll make us some lunch."
On his way to the bathroom, Jim stopped at the kitchen table. I'd put his gun there last night, after I got back from the hospital. The EMTs had handed it to me before they loaded Jim into the ambulance, and I wanted to make sure it didn't get lost. Jim reached out and trailed a finger down the barrel and over the handle, frowning at it like he was trying to remember something. Then he shook his head and headed into the bathroom.
After we'd finished eating and cleaned up, with Jim insisting on helping, we settled back on the couches, me with my book and Jim with a new history of the Pacific theater during World War II. We read quietly for a couple of hours, breaking only to refill our coffee cups.
It was dusk and I'd just turned on the lights when Jim put his book down and stood, stretching slowly and wincing.
"How about some dinner," he said. "My treat."
I looked at him suspiciously. "Your treat means your choice. What is it this time? Fettucine alfredo? Pork rinds? Or a double bacon cheeseburger with fries and onion rings?"
"Nah," he grinned, "I just don't want to cook. I thought we could try that Malaysian place Megan told you about."
"Okay..." I wasn't sure what had prompted this outbreak of generosity, but I was sure there was a catch somewhere.
Well, the catch was that they didn't deliver, so I had to go out and pick it up, but I didn't mind. Jim had the table set and the beer out by the time I got back, so we settled in to eat. The food was good, and it was fun trying out the different dishes. Jim was trying to identify all the ingredients, and his comments were getting sillier and sillier.
"I don't care if they aren't ingredients in Malaysian cooking," he said with a shrug, "I can taste licorice and oregano."
"Oh, man, you are so full of it." I grinned at him and he crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "And doing your Mr. Spock impression isn't going to convince me."
He cracked a smile at that and relaxed back in his chair. He looked at me for a minute, then his smile slowly faded and he leaned forward, resting his arms on the table.
"Chief, are you still... okay with being my partner?"
I put down my chopsticks and blinked at him. "Where did this come from, Jim?"
He stood abruptly and grabbed his plate. "It didn't come from anywhere, Sandburg. I just wanted to know..." He turned and walked over to the sink. "I just wondered if you were still okay with being my partner." His voice was a little too loud.
"Yeah, of course I am. I'm still here, aren't I?" I took my plate over and joined him at the sink. He was silent. "Aren't I?"
"Well, then, that answers the question, doesn't it?"
"I... I guess so."
"You guess so?"
"Okay. It does. That answers my question."
Another thought struck me. "How about you, Jim. Are you happy that I'm your partner?"
He looked at me intently, then nodded, a quick jerk of his head.
"Good. We both want to be partners." I finished clearing off the table, dumping cartons into the trash, and rinsing out the bottles for recycling. Jim just stood there, watching me.
"I just wanted to check," he said finally.
For some stupid reason that remark irritated the hell out of me.
"Jesus, Jim, how many times do I have to say it? I want to be your partner. I want you to be my partner. I want us to be partners." I stood in front of him and poked him in the chest. "Like I said yesterday, I like being your partner."
He frowned and tilted his head to one side. "Yesterday? When did I..."
The memory slammed into me: when Jim had said that, and what else he'd said, like 'I love you.' I turned and went back to the couch, my knees suddenly turning to water. That was a hell of a time to tell me he loved me. In a dumpster in an alley, in the middle of a fire fight. Shit, Jim could've been killed. We both could've been killed. And he said... I held my hands between my knees to stop them from shaking - damned delayed reactions.
He sounded so confused, so vulnerable, like he had yesterday.
"Sorry," I said, and looked up at him standing in front of me. "It was after you'd blacked out in the dumpster. You came around for a little while, and I was trying to keep you talking, because I thought you had a concussion. You..." I cleared my throat nervously. "You asked me not to leave you, and I said that I wouldn't, 'cause we're partners. And then you said you liked being partners, and I agreed with you." I couldn't look at Jim any more, so I looked out the window. He didn't move.
"I don't remember," he said softly, and then sat down beside me. "But it's true. I like being your partner."
"Okay, then." I pulled my hands from between my knees and sat back, looking over at Jim.
"Okay, then," he repeated with a nod, and nudged me with his arm. "Now where'd you put the damn remote?"
We both went to bed early. I was worried that I'd dream again, but I didn't. I slept through the night and woke up feeling pretty good the next morning.
Jim came down as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee. His bruises had blossomed overnight into a psychedelic happening all over the side of his face.
"How'd you sleep, man?"
He tightened the belt on his robe. "Good. A lot better than in the hospital."
I got him some coffee. He held the cup in both hands, cradling it under his chin, like he was trying to soak in the warmth.
"You going in today?" I asked, spreading a little Philly on my bagel.
"Yeah." He eyed my bagel speculatively, but I took it over to the other side of the table and sat down. "Want to ride in together?"
"Sure." I took a big bite out of my bagel, and he sighed and got his own out of the bag. "You might want to wear a paper bag, though. Your face could be dangerous to people with weak hearts."
"Thanks for your sensitivity and support, Chief."
"Any time, Jim," I said, and opened the newspaper.
It was good to be working together again, sitting at our desks, passing papers and comments back and forth. We were in synch, in the zone, working together like one unit. It felt good.
Until I started to think about what Jim had said, really think about it, without stopping to remember how close to death we both had been.
He loved me.
No. He loved me.
He'd said it, but he didn't remember. Did that count? I mean, most of the time when you say something and don't remember it, it doesn't count, it's not real. You can get away with saying "Oh, I don't remember saying that," and it's forgotten.
I couldn't forget his words, even though I had no idea what to do about them. Yeah, I'd said "I love you" back, but that was just conversational filler, something to say to him so he'd stay conscious.
I looked at the clock and realized I'd just spent twenty minutes obsessing about three words my partner had said when he'd just about cracked his head open, when I was supposed to be checking Manny Lopez's deposition for inconsistencies. Good job, Sandburg. Of course Jim loves you, in a hearty, mano-y-mano kinda way. Just like you love him.
I could have bought that line of reasoning, except for his comment about wanting to have my baby, if he could have babies at all. Which was weird. Definitely weird.
He had hit his head, though, and so I could kind of understand how some bizarre things from Jim's hidden depths could rise to the surface. Remember, this is Jim Ellison we're talking about. The man with the hull-crushing, light-devoid, Marianas Trench depths, here - no seaboard shallows or sandbars for that guy.
"You done with that deposition, Chief?"
I looked over at Jim, startled. "Uhh... Not quite yet." At that point I set aside all thoughts about anything Jim had ever said to me and concentrated on my work.
Which is a good idea in theory, but a hell of a lot harder to put into practice.
I was just starting to think about lunch when Jim suddenly dropped the reports he was reading and turned to me with a frown.
"What's up, Jim?"
He picked up the top sheet and stared at it, then handed it over to me without a word. I glanced at it. Page fourteen of Manny's deposition. It still said the same things it said when I read it-
"Uh, Jim, I'm so sorry..." I could feel my face grow hot as I looked at the page.
He pulled the paper from me and tore it into little pieces, dumping them into the trash can. "It would probably be a good idea if we printed it out again."
"White out might have-" I began, but bit off the rest when Jim looked over at me. "I'll make sure it's re-printed," I finally said.
"Hey, Jim, let me explain."
"Not now, Sandburg," he said, but not unkindly. "I've got work to do. We'll talk about it later." He didn't sound mad.
"Sure." I buried my face in my report, lunch completely forgotten.
The afternoon dragged on. Jim would look at me in that cautious, puzzled way, like he was trying to figure out just when I morphed into something other than Blair Sandburg, but he didn't say anything, didn't let me say anything.
I tried to explain, but every time I opened my mouth, he'd cut me off with a "Later, Chief." Even in the truck.
By the time we got home, I was beginning to consider the merits of just disappearing into my room for, say, about forty years or so. I could do that, no problem. But Jim didn't give me the chance to make a run for it. As soon as I closed the door, he was there in front of me, with that same damned look on his technicolor face - a mixture of confusion, assessment, surprise, and plain old amusement.
"So, Chief, you want to tell me how page fourteen of Manny Lopez's deposition ended up with the handwritten additions 'Jim loves Blair,' and 'he's having my baby?'"
"Well, y'see, Jim..." The floor's a really interesting place if you stare at it long enough, especially when the alternative is to look into your roommate's eyes and tell him the truth.
"I could use a beer," he said suddenly, and moved into the kitchen. "How about you?"
"Yeah, sounds good." I gave up all thoughts about hiding in my room. Jim had to know what he said two days ago, and I had to tell him. I collapsed on the couch, and he handed me a beer, then sat down next to me.
"You want to tell me what's going on?"
"Okay." I took a big swig of my beer first. I needed it. "Remember yesterday, when I told you what you said in the dumpster? The stuff you didn't remember?"
He nodded and took a drink.
"Well, there was more..." I turned the bottle in my hands and picked at the label. "After you said you liked being my partner, you said that you liked me."
"But I do like you," he said with a shrug. "I've said that before."
"Yeah, and then you said you loved me."
His mouth quirked and he chuckled. "So? I've said that before, too."
I grimaced and watched a drop of water slide down the bottle neck. "But you said it again, like you really meant it, meant something more. And then..."
He twisted around a little, facing me, but didn't say anything.
I took a deep breath. "And then you said that if you could have a baby, you'd want to have mine." I waited for the explosion. After a few silent seconds, I looked over at him.
He was just sitting there, kind of pensive, his lips working in and out. Then he turned to me.
"Wasn't that a line from a movie?"
"Jim!" I punched his arm.
He took another drink and then shrugged. "I don't get it. I'd hit my head. People say all kinds of stupid things when they've been hit on the head. What's that got to do with you writing that junior high school stuff on the deposition?"
"I was thinking about it, and I guess I doodled a bit..."
"Great, Chief. I guess I should be pleased you didn't doodle it on a menu in the break room, or on the roster, or-"
"Oh, shut up," I interrupted, glad that he wasn't really angry. "And besides, it does mean something. It was your subconscious talking, telling me your true feelings."
"Sandburg," he said, standing up. "This is my conscious speaking, so pay attention. I'll go with the bits about wanting to be your partner and even with loving you, but there's no way in hell I'm ever going to have your baby, no matter how much help science can give. Got it?"
"Got it." I nodded, vaguely disappointed in Jim's reaction, although I didn't know why.
"Good. Now get your lazy ass off the sofa and help me get dinner."
He was quiet as we ate, but he didn't seem bothered by what I'd told him. Occasionally, he'd look at me like he was trying to figure out something, but when I asked him about it, he'd just shrug it off. We cleaned up, and Jim wandered over to the windows and looked out.
"I need to stretch my legs, Chief. I'm going for a walk."
"You sure? How's your head?"
"It's fine. And it's dark, so I won't frighten the tourists." He turned and grinned at me.
I met his grin tentatively. "Good plan."
He hesitated, like he was waiting for something, and then quickly grabbed his jacket. At the door, he stopped.
"See you later."
"Yeah, have fun."
He closed the door and suddenly I felt like I couldn't breathe, like he'd sucked out all the air when he'd left. I was dizzy, my palms were sweaty, my shirt was sticking to my back. I couldn't stay, I needed to get out...
Classic panic attack.
I staggered over to the balcony and opened the doors, stepping out and hanging onto the railing, drawing some deep, calming breaths. I could see Jim, lit by the streetlights, walking down toward the waterfront. No surprise there - he loved to walk along the shore, just watching the water and the birds. Sometimes he'd point out a school of porpoise way off in the distance, or even, once, a pod of whales.
I watched him until he disappeared around a corner, then went back inside. I picked up my book, then put it down. I flopped on the couch and turned on the TV, flicking through the channels. Talk about a wasteland...
Maybe Jim had the right idea. Stretch the ol' legs, breathe in some fresh air, walk off the tensions of the day. Yep, definitely a plan.
So I snagged my coat and ran out the door.
He was pretty much where I expected him to be, standing on the end of the breakwater, looking out to sea.
"Hey, Jim." I stopped a couple of feet from him.
"Chief," he said, not turning around.
"I thought..." My voice trailed off and I stuck my hands in my pockets.
"You thought what?"
"I dunno. I just thought."
He laughed and turned to me. "Only you could make that into a semi-intelligible statement, Sandburg."
I took a step closer and stared out over the choppy sea. Turning, Jim followed my gaze. We didn't say anything, just stood there for a long time, watching the moonlight slide across the water.
"Thanks for telling me what I said."
"It must've been... strange for you."
"Well, yeah, but we're talking about you, Jim. Strange is pretty much a given."
"Right. Like you're Mr. Normal, Sigmund."
"Who wants to be normal? Kiss o' death, man."
Jim went very still. "There was a time when I would've given anything to be normal," he said softly.
"What about now? Do you still want it?"
He sighed and shook his head. "Nah. Besides, wanting it doesn't make it happen. I am what I am."
"Didn't Popeye say that?"
He laughed, a short bark, and then turned to me. "I don't know. Probably. How about some coffee?"
"Sounds good." I started back across the rocks of the breakwater. "You buying?"
He snorted. "I usually do."
"That's 'cause you have seniority and the fatter paycheck."
"No, that's because you've trained me."
I laughed and ran a few steps ahead. "Nah, it's because you love me."
"Keep saying that and you'll be lucky not to end up in the coffee, Sandburg."
"Gotta catch me first, man." And I took off down the street.
Jim's a great long distance runner, with excellent endurance, but I'm the sprinter of this team. We weren't that far from home, so I was already inside putting the coffee on when he pounded up the stairs and burst in.
"Sit down, man, before you have a stroke. I'll bring it over when it's finished."
He was sitting on the couch, flicking through the channels, when I brought our mugs over and handed him one.
"Sorry about the 'you love me' crack, Jim. I promise I won't keep bringing it up."
He shrugged. "Just keep it out of the station."
"Hey, I'd never-"
"Who was the one doodling on depositions?"
"Oh. Yeah." I winced, remembering. "It won't happen again, I promise."
He finally stopped on a show about the bomb testing on the Bikini Atoll, and we watched that, then the news.
Jim was yawning, and went up to bed right after the sports scores. I read for a while before turning out my light and drifting off.
And I ended up back in that damned forest.
I hobbled forward, toward the sound of the water. Just as I broke through the trees onto a rock ledge, I saw a dark shape drop through the air and another scream came from below me.
I peered over the edge, and I could see Jim sprawled, face down, on another ledge about twenty feet below. A vulture was perched on one side of the rocks, and it hopped forward, toward his head. I grabbed a nice, golf-ball-sized stone and heaved it at the bird, shouting when the stone hit it square on the back. With a squawk and a flurry of wings, it took off.
"Jim?" I yelled above the roar of the waterfall, trying to find a relatively safe way down the cliff to get to him. He didn't move, didn't respond. "JIM!"
He moved, and I breathed in relief. He was still alive. I sat down and started to inch myself forward, down to another outcropping just under me. The rocks were slippery with the spray from the falls, just over fifty feet away. I could see the drops hanging in the air in front of the main cascade, making dozens of rainbows shimmer.
My knee and other bruises and gashes made moving difficult, and I was hampered by my walking stick, but I didn't want to leave that behind. I got down safely, and leaned over the edge, above and to the right of where Jim lay.
"Jim? Can you hear me?"
He moved again, slowly drawing his arms under his chest, and rolled onto his right side, facing the gorge. I thought I heard him say something, but I couldn't understand it - the rushing water was way too loud.
"I can't hear you, but I'm coming down. Don't move, okay?"
He lifted his hand in acknowledgment - the back was streaked with red.
I scoped out the cliff wall, and it didn't look good. The next bit was going to be tricky. I needed to climb across to a tiny bump-out, and then use part of a chimney to drop to the next ledge. From there it would be a breeze down to Jim.
I looked over the route I needed to take, and my mouth went dry. Even without a busted knee and assorted cuts and scrapes, it'd be tough, but now...
A vulture dropped and circled, then landed on Jim's ledge with a shriek.
Jim threw his arms over his head and rolled away so that his back was to the bird. I picked up another stone - baseball-sized, this time - and threw it at the bird, but missed. It hopped back a couple of feet, but didn't take off. Right. This is war.
I got two more stones, and this time I aimed carefully, planting one on the bird's back, and another onto the rock right in front of it. It lurched and screamed, hopping back until it tumbled off the edge, but it recovered in time and soared slowly up out of the gorge.
Okay, Sandburg, you've run out of time.
I couldn't carry my walking stick as I climbed, so I threw it over to the ledge I'd hopefully end up on. It skidded across the rock, but stopped short at the edge. Good.
"Hang on, Jim." I didn't say it very loud. I think it was for my own encouragement more than his.
Curling my fingers over a handhold, I felt around for the toehold I'd seen earlier. It was there, but not as big as I'd hoped, and I had to balance carefully before reaching out with my right arm. I inched my way across to the bump-out, slipping once and scraping more skin off my hands, but made it there in one piece.
I had to stop for a minute and catch my breath before tackling the chimney. It wasn't very wide, which was good, but it was going to be a bitch to get in to, which was bad. And I wasn't sure how my knee'd be able to hold up to the pressure of keeping me from sliding all the way down.
Just before I got ready to slide over and get into position, I looked down at Jim.
"I'm almost there, buddy." I balanced myself and leaned over to grab the handhold.
"Go back! It's too dangerous."
"And leave you for the vultures? I don't think so." Shifting my weight, I got my foot up and secure.
"Shut up, Jim. I'm busy." And I swung around and into the chimney, jamming my back and feet against the sides and waiting a minute until my heart slowed down a little. After that it was just a matter of inching my way down, careful not to lose my balance and drop to the bottom. I reached the next ledge and swung out and to the left, hitting the rocks hard and rolling.
Shit, that hurt.
I crawled to the edge and grabbed my walking stick, and then leaned back against the cliff wall, my muscles screaming and shaking in protest. I felt like I was made of jello, really soft, squashy jello.
"Sandburg?" His voice was clearer now.
"Yeah." I looked at my scraped hands. "Gimme a minute to rest, and I'll be right down."
I closed my eyes for a second. I heard a loud flapping, and the skin on my arms began to crawl. Something was watching me.
I opened my eyes and lashed out with my stick at the same time, catching the bird off-guard. It rolled and flopped, staring at me indignantly before shrieking in protest and taking off. I grinned. We're not dead yet, boys.
It was an easy scramble down to the ledge Jim lay on. I knelt beside him and tried to pull his arms away from his head.
"Hey, I'm here. Are you hurt? Can you walk? Did you break anything when you fell?" He fought me silently, turning his face toward the cliff wall. I finally pulled away and sat back on my heels.
"I told you not to come down here, Chief." His breathing was fast and shallow, like he was in pain.
"Where are you hurt, Jim?" I said quietly, looking over his body, trying to find any obvious wounds. His clothes were smeared with blood, but I couldn't see anything. I reached out and rested a hand on his arm, still drawn up over his face. It shook under my fingers. "Let me see."
"Go away, Sandburg."
"C'mon, man," I coaxed, still holding his arm, but not pulling on it. "Let me look at you, and then we'll get out of here."
He started to laugh, one of those horrible, hollow laughs that make your hackles rise. "I'm not going anywhere," he said, and then he rolled onto his back and lowered his arms.
I wanted to puke. I could feel the bile at the back of my throat and swallowed hard.
He flinched and rolled away again, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. I put my hand on his shoulder.
He nodded. "I... hit my head and then when I awoke... pain. I could feel their beaks on my face, digging... I screamed and tried to pull out my gun, but my hands were slippery with blood, and I dropped it." He laughed again, bitterly. "Not that I had eyes any more to aim..."
I didn't say anything. Hell, what was there to say? I just pulled his shoulders up into my lap and held him. He shivered and tried to move away, but I held on tight. Finally he reached up and patted my hand clumsily.
"Partners?" he asked.
"You bet." He relaxed against me.
"We can't go back up." I looked up the cliff face. No, there was no way, not even if we both could see.
"If we stay here they'll keep coming back until we're too weak to fight them off."
"You could probably do it on your own," he pointed out, sounding very reasonable.
"No, I don't think so."
"How far's the drop?" His voice was calm, like he was asking how far to the corner deli.
"'Bout three hundred feet."
"Water at the bottom?"
"Yep. Nice big pool."
"Good. I could use a bath."
I chuckled at that, even though it wasn't really funny. I gave his shoulders a squeeze.
"So, when d'you want to do it?"
I shrugged. "Now's a good time, I suppose."
"Okay. Just point me in the right direction."
"Down's easy, man."
We struggled to our feet, Jim leaning heavily on me. He'd lost a lot of blood and the bits of his face I could see through the carnage were pasty. I led him to the edge.
"Hey, Sandburg," he said, staring out over the gorge as if he still had eyes to see. "I love you."
"Yeah. Me, too."
"But I'm still not having your baby."
"I wouldn't ask you to, man."
"Okay." He took a deep breath. "Can I be Paul Newman?"
"Sure." I grinned. "I'm not exactly Robert Redford, but I'll do my best."
"'S okay. I still love you anyhow."
"Almost." I was surprised when he turned to me and brushed a kiss over my forehead. I could feel the sticky trail of blood left behind, but I didn't care. I leaned over and kissed his cheek, a small bit of skin that was still intact.
The vultures were circling about ten feet off the ledge, waiting, as if they knew something was going on. "You'll have to find a meal somewhere else, guys," I said, and wrapped my arms around Jim's waist. He held on to my shoulders, and we gave each other a squeeze and stepped out into nothing.
I sat up straight in bed, my stomach still churning from the jump, my arms holding on to... Oh shit, where's Jim?
Stumbling over the blankets, I skidded out of my room and pounded up the stairs. "Jim?"
I could see him in the moonlight, rolling over in his bed, and stopped short. What the fuck was I doing? It was a dream, and Jim was going to be so pissed at being woken up.
"Blair?" He sounded shaky, and I could see him fighting the blankets, trying to sit up.
"Come over here. I need to see you." He held out his hand.
I walked over and sat on the edge of his bed, but he grabbed me and pulled me close. His skin was damp, and he was breathing hard. He held my face between his hands and looked at me, his eyes dark in the moonlight. After a minute or two, he nodded and his arms curled around me. "Oh, man..." He heaved a huge sigh and rested his forehead on my shoulder.
"Bad dream?" I snaked my arms around his back and held him tightly.
"Yeah, pretty bad." His voice was muffled, his breath warm on my neck. "There were these vultures, see, and-"
"And they'd ripped out your eyes, and we jumped off the cliff together," I finished, hardly believing what I was saying.
"Yeah... How did-"
"Because I've been having the same dream."
He raised his head and tried to pull away, but I wouldn't let him.
"It's not possible," he said flatly.
"Oh, yeah? When did you start dreaming this?"
"In the hospital."
"Right. Mine started that night, too. Only I was far away, and I could only see the vultures circling in the distance." He shivered then, and I ran my hands over his smooth back. "I didn't get to where you were that night, not until the next day when you came home, and then you were gone. In the dream, I mean." I was babbling, I know, I just hoped he understood me.
"I had to leave," he said. "Keep moving. I was lost, I couldn't find you anywhere. But I could hear the water and I thought..." He shrugged and suddenly held me closer. "I don't understand why we're dreaming the same dream, Chief."
"Me neither. Maybe one day I'll figure it out, but right now, I don't have a clue. I'm just glad it was a dream."
He sighed and his arms loosened. "Yeah." I let go of him, and started to get up. His hand shot out and he grabbed my wrist. "Chief?"
"I said it again in the dream, didn't I?" He tugged my wrist and I sat down again. "You know, I love you."
"Yeah, you did. And I said it back."
"I think..." he began, and then suddenly let me go. "I think I meant it the second way."
"The second way?"
"Yeah. The making babies way."
"It's okay if you only meant it the first way. It's fine."
"Do you mean you want to have my baby?" I asked cautiously.
"No." He ran a finger slowly down my arm, a warm trail. I had trouble breathing. "No babies. But I love you that way."
"Oh." I reached out and put my hand flat on his chest, right over his sternum. I could feel his heart rate increase. "I don't want any babies either, but I think..." I scooted a little closer. "I think that's how I love you, too. The second way."
He was silent for a minute. Then, "Yeah?"
We sat there for a minute, staring at each other, then a huge smile broke across his face.
"So what do you want to do about it?"
I yawned and he cracked up. "Yeah, well, romance is dead unless I get enough sleep," I said, and grinned when he yawned as well.
I leaned forward and put my hands on his shoulders. "Can I kiss you?"
His eyes got wide, but he nodded. "Be my guest."
So I did. I put everything I had into that kiss, and man, he met me more than half-way. By the time we broke apart, I didn't have the least inclination to close my eyes, or even crack the tiniest yawn.
"Y'know, Jim, romance might just have gotten its second wind."
He leaned back and eyed me speculatively. "Oh, yeah?"
I reached out and ran my finger across his chest, circling his nipples. I could feel them draw up, and then continued down. His stomach quivered as I passed, and he held his breath when I hooked my finger in the elastic of his shorts.
He let it out with a whoosh, and I pulled the elastic out and down, exposing his hard cock. Whoa. Big, buff and cut could be applied to Jim in two ways, and I mean that as a compliment. I grabbed the back waistband of his shorts with my other hand, and he lifted his hips as I tugged them down his thighs. He started to push them off the rest of the way, but I covered his hands with mine.
"Nah. Keep 'em that way." I pushed him back against the pillows, and knelt next to him, running my hands over him from neck to knees, rubbing, pulling, pinching, making him groan. He reached for me and tried to pull my tee-shirt over my head, but I grabbed his hands and shook my head. "Not yet. I'm not done..."
I kissed him again, shifting over to straddle him, his cock pushed straight up against my ass. I rubbed against it, only the fleece of my sweatpants keeping his cock from sliding between my cheeks. I groaned, the pressure felt so good... Jim pinched my nipples, then slipped his hands inside my sweatpants and stroked my cock.
Oh, man, I thought I'd come right then and there.
I guess he realized how close I was, because he let go of my cock and reached around to cup my ass, and that felt really good, too. He pushed my sweatpants down enough so that his cock rubbed the tender skin between my cheeks, and I closed my eyes and leaned forward, rocking back and forth.
His fingers shifted and he got a grip on my cheeks, pulling them wide, so that his cock moved more freely. It also stretched the skin there, making it more sensitive, sending little darts of shivery pleasure from my ass to my groin. I grabbed his nipples and stretched up to kiss him, groaning deep in my throat.
I pressed down against his stomach, my cock swaddled in the folds of my sweatpants, and rubbed hard. He sped up his thrusts, pulling me even wider, and I let go of his nipples, dug my fingers into the mattress and rocked frantically back and forth. It felt so damned good...
He came with a groan, and I came with a shout, and then collapsed onto his chest. My sticky pants were trapped between us, and I could feel his come dripping down my ass, but I didn't care. It was done. We'd done it. And it was better than I'd ever expected.
We used my tee-shirt to wipe us off, and I shucked my sweatpants, climbing in next to Jim when he held the sheets up for me. I yawned, a real jaw-cracker, and he chuckled.
"Romance snuck in under the wire, eh?"
"Yeah," I said with another yawn, draping an arm across his chest and relaxing into the pillows. "Just made it, too."
He settled in beside me, then whispered, "Works for me."
As I buried my face in the curve of his neck, and felt Jim sinking into sleep, I wondered how many other couples could consider a dumpster as their fairy godmother. Not too many, I expect. But then again, neither of us was into being normal.
Boy, am I glad.