Author's webpage: http://www.concentric.net/~phoenix4/slashdex.htm
Author's disclaimer: Characters by Pet Fly Productions. Minimal use of lyrics by Sarah McLachlan. Not mine, no money made, don't distribute without permission. Raise your hand if you didn't know this already...Introspection warning. No sex. Very mild spoilers for Cypher and Blind Man's Bluff.
with a plot) during my lunch break, when Jim pulled up a chair and started talking about walls and darkness. (Metaphorically speaking, of course; otherwise, the other people in the break room would have been looking at me funny.) Then on the way home that night, they played Sarah McLachlan's "Possession" on the radio, something nearly unheard-of here in St. Louis. For the first time, the lyrics just screamed "Jim" to me, and the story flowed from there.
A much-belated thank-you to everyone who sent feedback on "Seeding the Fields" and "In a Different Light"; my turn-around time on responding to e-mail is shameful. All comments have been read and are very much appreciated, but Real Life and a new hard drive kind of got in the way of sending responses.
Standard disclaimer: Characters by Pet Fly Productions. Minimal Lyrics by Sarah McLachlan. Not mine, no money made, don't distribute without permission. Raise your hand if you didn't know this already...
It's funny, really. The smartest guy I know -- a genius no less -- and he hasn't got a clue. An observer of human nature so intuitive, complete strangers immediately trust him with their darkest secrets, and he has no idea. Yeah, it's funny, sort of like when you have to laugh to keep from crying.
If he knew, he wouldn't stand so close. Wouldn't lay his hand on my back like a benediction, a lifeline. Wouldn't give me that beautiful, blinding, innocent smile that makes me burn to lay waste to that innocence. Wouldn't trust me so completely that it makes me weak with the fear that someday I'll fail him. He'll drown, the elevator will drop, the bad guys will aim better, the bomb will go off...and I won't be there in time. Then I'll be lost in the darkness again.
I'm no stranger to the darkness. Sometimes I think I have hidden away more of me in the darkness than is left in the light. Peru, most of my childhood, all firmly banished to the shadows and penned behind high stone walls. Rangers and covert ops just made me more proficient at locking things away from myself.
You see, you start to expect your life to go a certain way, and you wear the darkness like a second skin, until you don't even notice it anymore. You go to work, do your job, go to sleep alone and get up again for more of the same. What pleasures you do find most often cost more than money. You pay for them in blood. You pay for them with pieces of your soul.
Soon it all starts to feel normal, as much as you let yourself feel anything. And if sometimes you feel like your life is one big Pause button on a pretty uninteresting B movie, well, you just push that feeling into the darkness too.
Then a long-haired grad student tackles you under a garbage truck, and someone hits Play. All the sounds, all the colors you have lived without damn near all your life are suddenly poured upon you in abundance. But before you drown in the chaos, this manic anthropologist, this kid, lifts you to higher ground. Feeds you strange food. Convinces you to keep a journal...
Listen to me: "you" this, "you" that. Sandburg would shake his head if he read this and tell me that I'm distancing myself emotionally by using "you" instead of "I". Sort of the grammatical equivalent of saying, "I have this friend..." And he would be absolutely correct. Hell, you take a man who's lived underground all his life and throw him out in the sun, it's going to take some adjusting.
And I don't adjust gracefully. I can plan an assault on a militia stronghold, anticipate every step a murderer will take, and second-guess a trained assassin; but learning to share my life with someone has been as big a challenge as learning to control my senses. Papers all over the living room, weird food in the kitchen, his discarded shoes by the door, long hair in the drain...I don't think there's anywhere in the loft Sandburg hasn't left his mark.
Except the one place I need him the most.
Oh, and that was a whole city block full of stuff I'd repressed. Curiosity that got slapped down hard by my father, stray thoughts I murdered in their infancy about the soldiers around me. Being just a little too good at my job in Vice. When Blair came along, it was the first crack in a sea wall of denial. Unfortunately, he gave me more to deny to myself in one month than I'd accumulated in almost forty years. The wall couldn't hold.
James Ellison -- cop, Ranger, and Sentinel -- is hopelessly in love with his very male Guide.
Aren't you supposed to feel better after confessing your darkest secret? Isn't there supposed to be a weight lifted from your chest? I think I got robbed here, because seeing the words on the paper isn't making me feel any better and I still can't breathe.
Whenever my senses go out of control, the first thing I do is reach for my Guide's heartbeat. It's a towline thrown into the chaos, and I use it to pull myself back. I do it now, and the steady rhythm calms me. I match my breaths to his, and the pressure on my chest eases. I can almost hear him whispering to me, telling me to dial it down. But how am I supposed to dial down emotions?
There's this song he plays, one of his "alternative" CD's. Whenever he's depressed or upset, he plays the damn disc over and over.
//My body aches to breathe your breath
Your words keep me alive.//
And I do ache. Sometimes, when he's standing close, I can time my breathing just right and steal a taste of him on the air. As for his words, well, there's no question that they keep me alive. They bring me back from zone-outs. They focus my concentration when I'm using my senses. And even when he's not guiding me, his words wrap a net around me that keeps me anchored in the present.
Where I'm breathing his breath. Fucking pitiful, Ellison.
He's playing the damn song now. Holed up in that closet of a room, brooding over the latest example of viciousness I've dragged him into. Kids are the worst; damn me for not lying to him and sending him home before Simon mentioned the runes found by the body. And damn Simon for not keeping his mouth shut about the forensics report later; Blair really didn't need the details.
The night might be my companion, but it shouldn't be his. And solitude isn't my guide anymore. My guide is in there alone and hurting, because he doesn't think I'll understand. Thinks I'll respect him less because his heart is too big to be hidden away in the darkness like mine.
I've stumbled through one betrayal after another since I was ten, until I gave up believing in honesty. Too many covert ops missions. Too many criminals. Too many lies I told myself. Then the greatest obfuscator I have ever known barges into my life with his naked, honest blue eyes. I learned real fast to watch those eyes and discount half of what comes out of his beautiful mouth.
//You speak to me in riddles
and you speak to me in rhymes.//
Huh. The writer must have known Sandburg. He uses words to protect himself the way I use a gun. It's not because he's a wimp or a coward, God knows. He's just a pragmatist and a gentle man who learned a long time ago how to talk himself out of trouble a hell of a lot bigger than he is.
Now there are two words most people would never associate together: "pragmatist" and "Sandburg". But it's true; he picks his battles when he has to, and bends before the wind the rest of the time. Not like me. All those stone walls don't allow for much flexibility. So everything becomes a battle, and the battles I lose spread more cracks through the walls.
I wonder how much longer until they crumble?
Walls. Reminds me of a class experiment Blair was bouncing around about this afternoon, before we left the station. Something about personal space and how the distance required for comfort between two people varied from culture to culture. I had been listening with half an ear, just letting the words pour over me in a sweet waterfall while I tried to think of a way to keep Blair in the truck and away from the body.
But tonight I started thinking about it again. With my senses, having someone that close to me just bombards me with input. Their smell, the sound of their body processes, their heat signature. If I'm not prepared for the intrusion, it can be damn painful. I've gotten used to keeping a healthy buffer between me and everyone else. That buffer was already in place, though. God knows my father was never a believer in hugging. Covert ops trained me to keep potential enemies well away, to give me time to anticipate an attack. I came back from Peru with a personal space the size of a basketball court. Sure, I let Carolyn in while we were married, but only to arm's length, never behind the walls. After the divorce, that space just got bigger. Thank God she hadn't been a snuggler; I don't think my nerves could have taken it.
I would bet my truck that Blair is a snuggler.
Considering my craving for personal space, it's pretty amazing what happened when Blair came along. It was like he couldn't read the "Keep Out" signs or see the walls. He just breezed through them and kept coming until I could feel the heat of his body warming mine. And he acted like he had every right to be there behind me, his breath on my neck. Did I tell him to back off, to quit following me so closely that he'd bump into me every time I stopped?
Hell, no. I told him to stay closer and just rebuilt the walls around both of us. I very carefully refused to think about what my acceptance meant, just in case someone noticed and snatched away this wonderful gift. I wasn't alone behind the walls anymore. I had his scent, his heartbeat and his voice to fill the empty darkness. He felt so right, like I'd finally found the missing puzzle piece and put it in place.
And now I want more. I want everything. I want all of him.
Hell of a thing to be pushing forty and finally realize why sex
was never that great. The one night stands, those dead-end first dates,
could be blamed largely on a lack of interest. Except for Laura, I guess.
But that little pheromone-sniffing trip was such a nightmare, I avoided
dating at all for months. Oh, I still get the itch, like any man, but
it usually seems easier - safer - to
scratch it myself. I can still see the amazed look on Sandburg's face the last time we went to a bar together and I acted oblivious as the women prowled around me. He couldn't believe I wasn't jumping them where they stood. The boy is just too horny for his own good.
Then again, if he wanted to direct those hormones my way.
The damn song is still playing. All about wandering through the night, afraid to take the path that will lead to morning. Yeah, I can relate. It's so much safer here in the darkness. No surprises. Damn little comfort, too.
//Into the sea of waking dreams
I follow without pride
`Cause nothing stands between us here
And I won't be denied.//
Waking dreams. My spirit guide warned me in Peru that this would take my heart and soul. Now both are gone, laid at my Guide's feet.
Please, Chief, pick them up.
A tiny hitch in his breathing alerts me, and I ball my fists in frustration. He won't let me see him cry. Just another of those bullshit macho rules that he thinks will disgust me if he breaks them. After Lash tormented him, he was too drugged to react when I got him free. The nightmares afterward left him gasping and shaking, but completely dry-eyed. He came close to breaking down in that parking garage when he was stoned on Golden and so shit-scared he was willing to pick up a gun and shoot at his demons. I don't think I've ever been so terrified in my life as I was when I heard his voice trembling beneath the tears in that garage. Even when Maya broke his heart, he kept his back to me while every muscle in his body screamed his pain.
How do I tell him that I had the tears burned out of me so young that I can't remember how to cry? How do I explain how much I envy his ability to feel so intensely without letting it break him or make him push the emotions away in sheer selfpreservation ?
Please, my Guide, teach me to bend.
He's so much stronger than I am. Not physically, of course, although he throws a mean right cross. His strength is in his patience, in his tolerance, and his willingness to embrace change. For so long, I didn't see it. I thought he was scatterbrained and naive. Lectured him about leaving his heart at the door, as if Blair could ever see someone suffering and not do everything he could to make it better. I am so afraid that if I let him know what I need, he'll give it to me whether he wants it or not. But I can't resist this need anymore. The walls have fallen, and his silent pain is more than my defenseless heart can bear.
I'm at his door with no memory of descending the stairs. The emptiness echoes in my ears so loudly, I can't hear his heartbeat. He turns over, quickly swiping the evidence from his face, and pushes away the tears under concern for me. No, I'm not all right, Chief. The walls have fallen, and I need you to hold together what's left of me.
He's waiting for me to say something, but I can't push the words out. They just lie there in a wretched heap in my head, like they always do. The moonlight darkens his hair to black and makes his eyes painfully blue. Looking into them, I have the dizzy feeling that I've fallen back into that jungle where I met my spirit guide, and that strange blue light is transforming the familiar into the unworldly. He's so beautiful, and I wonder why it took so long for Sentinel eyes to see.
The yearning drags me closer. He deserves the words, damn it, deserves to know what he'll be agreeing to if he lets me into his bed tonight. But the walls have fallen, and I can only stand there in mute offering.
Please, my Beloved, take me.
Then, like so many times before, he understands what I can't say. A Guide thing, a Shaman thing, or just a Blair thing, it really doesn't matter. He's moving over, lifting the covers and giving me a soft, coaxing smile. As if I'm a nervous virgin he's trying to gentle into his bed.
His arms are around me, my head nestled on his chest above his heart, our legs twined together. The walls have fallen, but instead of releasing the darkness, sunlight touches me for the first time in decades. I never knew it would hurt so much.
The t-shirt beneath my cheek is wet, and I strip it off him. I stroke my face against the soft chest hair; when I notice that the skin beneath is wet now as well, it finally dawns on me that I'm crying.
He doesn't ask questions that I can't find the words to answer; he just cuddles me closer and strokes my hair with a wordless murmur. The tears can't wash away all the filth I've hidden behind the walls, but they do finally ease the stranglehold on my mouth. Saying it is easy now.
"I love you, Blair."
The rich, warm voice catches, and his words and tears pour down on me. He whispers his love over and over, until I believe him. I can't bear not to believe him.
Finally we lay still in his cramped bed, our skin sticking together with sweat and tears. Our heads share his pillow, our lips barely touching, and his breath is filling me. It blows away the rubble and warms the emptiness left behind. I feel light, my thoughts are wrapped in soft wool. I know I should be worrying about whether I'm forcing something on him that he doesn't want, but he stops the stumbling words with a slow, gentle kiss and a contented smile.
"Did you have a nightmare?" he asks softly, no doubt wondering just what caused this sudden revelation.
I don't even have to think about the answer. "Yes. A long, long nightmare; but now I'm finally awake."
The walls have fallen, and now I am free.