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Sanctuary by L. Bright

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Sanctuary


by L. Bright


An NC-17 "Sentinel" story. The following is not intended to infringe on any copyrights belonging to Rysher Entertainment, Pet Fly Productions, or any other possible copyright holders.


I wrote the bulk of this story in the summer between 1st and 2nd seasons... As you can imagine, I was stunned at the 2nd-season premiere plot about Blair possibly going away for a year. Only in my story, he went. My Jim's reaction was a complete 180 from TV Jim's.

[Note: In my story, there is a half-bath off Blair's room and a full bath upstairs off Jim's room. Some people see bathrooms where there never were, and say "why not?"]


Prima Facie

From the window of a PacificAir flight, wide-eyed under a battered tan fedora, Blair Sandburg waited for his first sight of Cascade, Washington in over a year.

For fifteen months he'd been in Brazil as part of a picked team of anthropologists led by Thomas Gleick from Rainier University. Their study of the barely-known people and culture of the upper Xingu River had taken them into the remote and steaming "green hell" of the Mato Grosso, 2,000 square miles of virgin rain forest.

After living inside that emerald intensity for a year, the plane seemed stultifyingly quiet; cool and still. For Blair, the absence of the constant whine of mosquitos and other insect life was like being deaf; the filtered air was dry, carried the smell of machinery, aviation fuel. The thought occurred that he was getting a taste of what being hypersensitive was like for Jim.

The opportunity to go to Brazil had been once-in-a-lifetime BIG for a young grad student's career. And despite the critical nature of his working relationship with James Ellison, it would've been stupid--as Jim had very bluntly pointed out to him--to turn Gleick down.

Blair smiled to himself. Jim wouldn't let him turn Gleick down; he'd practically packed Blair's bags and seen him to his seat on the plane.

"It's for your own damned good," the big man had said, planting a threatening finger in the center of Blair's chest.

Blair's smile faded. He'd missed the man attached to that finger--missed the playful threats, the good advice, the big brotherly scolding...the whole package.

Sure; a golden opportunity; the kind he'd've walked across burning coals to get his hands on, once. Only, it seemed, he wasn't that person anymore.

He'd left the country with mixed feelings, enthusiasm tainted with doubt.

Being away from Jim for almost a year and a half had been much more...uncomfortable... than Blair'd expected. Sure, they'd been living in the same place, seeing each other almost every day. A professional bond had developed between them--Jim's technicolor senses in line with Blair's scientific judgment--a working relationship that had really begun hitting its stride.

But missing Jim...

Blair'd always been independent, the kind of kid who carried his own party with him--never lonely and never alone, if he didn't want to be.

An only child, coddled and indulged, he'd concentrated on himself; on travel, experience, academic achievement, to the exclusion of all else, including a few interpersonal skills. They'd moved around a lot; Blair'd learned not to invest too much of himself. For better or worse, with friends, he was always needed more than he needed; his friendships were miles wide and an inch deep.

For this pilgrim soul, missing somebody--feeling deprived of somebody's presence--had been a surprising daily ache; a cloud over experiences that should've been diamond-clear: the wide-bending river; warm southern constellations and the yellow moon hanging over limitless jungle; the Xingu people's faces burnished by fire-light. He'd longed to share those things with a friend.

There'd only been that ghost, always at his side, and somehow...somehow more real than anyone else stood a chance of being.

His psyche had been rubbed raw worrying about Jim working alone back in the States, in the war zone of a big city's streets, without a guide, without back-up.

The two men had done a lot of mental exercise before Blair left; meditation, even some hypnotic suggestion--exploring ways to deal with the "zone-out" factor especially; how Jim could bring himself out of a sensory break, and more importantly, how to avoid falling in.

They'd talked three times in a whole year; brief calls made whenever the expedition supply team caught flights on a ramshackle C-20 transport plane back to Belem. But the shaky connection, their jocular, "just-pals" voices on a static-ridden phone, had underscored a deeper closeness that was still clumsy, half-grown. How much friendship did they have? Or want?

It felt real for me, back in Brazil. He's the one I wanted with me.

All three times they'd talked, Blair had resisted the urge to blurt, "I miss you." In the end, full of doubt, he'd refrained; he'd never said a thing.

Jim had not spoken. He was not a man shy of display; he showed what he felt and said what he meant without reservation. Did he feel the weight of the friendship the way Blair did? That, he wouldn't--couldn't?--show.

Blair sat back in his seat. The sun broke through a rent in the clouds, pouring gold over the mountain's dark-timbered face, the sea and the sound. And Cascade.

Can't wait to see the big guy. Maybe I'll tell him how I feel; come right out with it and say, 'Jim, you're my best friend.'

The notion stunned Blair a little. He hadn't thought of Jim that way, before. Best friend. Is there somebody, finally, I care about more than I care for me?

They'd made no arrangement for meeting. Blair doubted if Jim even knew what flight he was arriving on; he figured on just taking the airport shuttle into town.

Burden of Proof

He got off the plane, came through the tunnel, marveling--as a man who'd just spent a year in a series of huts and lean-tos in a place with no roads, no power, no toilets--at the massive infrastructure of an American airport; of America itself.

All of us, so cocooned, protected. We don't need to get a foot wet, in all this, if we don't want to. Amazing.

Jittering through customs, impatient to get back to his life, he kept finding Jim in his mind--smiling, scowling, baffled, aiming a gun, smelling an orchid, puttering in his kitchen, sensing danger with a 1000-yard stare. He'd never studied another man so closely, not even his father, his mentor.

Exiting the customs queue, Blair heard a familiar voice.

"Hey, chief, you're cultivating quite a crop of peachfuzz, there."

"Jim!" Blair ran to his friend and they bear-hugged, both laughing.

"I'm amazed to hear myself say this," Jim said, "but I missed you." His blue eyes were smiling, laugh-lines etched around. "Turns out the world's an empty place."

Blair looked up at him, amused by how easy reunion had turned out to be. "Man, I missed you, too." A silence began, but they hugged again, safe inside it.

"Wow," Blair said, awed by the goodwill between them, the perfect vibe.

They parted. Was that reluctance, in Jim's backward step? "How'd you know to pick me up today?" Blair asked.

"I'm a detective," Jim dead panned. "Come on, we've got work to do." He took Blair's elbow. "We've got to get you a shave. You're committing tonsorial suicide."

"Huh?"

"Take a hint, pal: and lose the facial hair."

"Well, what do you want to do first?" Jim asked, helping Blair with his bags, putting them in the back of his 4x4. "Go out to eat? I'll treat you to dinner. I'll even let you choose the place, God help me."

"Whoa! I can not pass up an invitation that rare," Blair chuckled. "But first things first; I want to get home and have the hot bath of my dreams!"

"I've been dying to ask you; how's it been, working the cases? You know."

Jim shrugged, down playing the question. "Great. I've finally gotten a real handle on it. I think. I can juggle, now, with more confidence; and not one zone- out." Nodding, Blair listened avidly. "I'm beginning to realize," Jim went on. "It's like having a tool chest. And it's a matter of knowing what's in it, when to use the tool, then how to use it. I'm getting there." He glanced at his passenger. "I'll tell you what helped--fishing; being in the mountains, finding a nice stream. Something about the quiet..."

"Yeah? Keep going."

"Something about it took your place," Jim said. He seemed puzzled about that himself. "Crazy as it seems..."

"Don't tell me; you've outgrown your guide, Jim?"

Jim pretended to give it some thought, then laughed at Blair's expression. "Hell, no. Frankly, I don't think I want to." His hands were easy on the wheel as he negotiated a clump of traffic. "But I did...all right. Look, I'm in one piece."

"Amen."

"Been any other changes in my absence?" Blair asked, looking around. A new yellow Benbladt armchair, a new shade of green on the kitchen walls, a brighter throw on the couch; Jim had been busy. "Got a gorgeous girl living in the apartment?"

"No. And believe me, visits are rare."

Blair sank down in the cradling heat with a groan of helpless satisfaction. The bath was a religious experience.

"Hallelujah."

He shampooed and shaved, dazzled by the luxury of it all, wondering when these things would become commonplace again for him.

Wrapped in a thick bathrobe afterward, feeling like a prince, he came down to discover Jim deftly julienne-ing zucchini and carrots; the aroma of garlic sauteing in the wok, pots steaming.

"No restaurant?"

"Well, I started thinking that after a fifteen-hour flight and a hot bath, you're probably more ready to hit the hay than the street. I'm giving you a rain check, though. For the restaurant."

"I'm not gonna argue with you. This is extremely appealing. Need some help?"

"Nah. Well, open one of those bottles of wine. A local white somebody recently introduced me to."

Blair lit up at that. Jim's love life interested him--he liked to see the big guy get out and enjoy himself. "Ahh. Somebody interesting?"

Jim made a face. "Who knows. Y'keep tryin', right?" He looked Blair over, indicated the clean-shaven jaw. "Better."

"Hey, I'm back!" Blair rubbed at a cheek. "I have to admit, it feels better."

"You're thinner," Jim observed. "And really brown."

"That's what living in the Brazilian rain-forest for a year will do to you."

"How'd you handle the experience?"

"Jim, the Mato Grosso was the most grueling, fascinating, grueling, astounding place I've ever been. It might even have changed me a little."

Jim stared, comically. "Don't tell me... You developed hyperactive senses? Well, say; we can team up, be sentinels together."

"No!" Blair had to laugh. "Shut up. I mean I'm more centered, more minimalist--. Jim, spending a whole year in this primeval ecosystem, I found out what life's real priorities are! What's crucial and what's not. The Xingu tribes live by three words: 'Keep it simple.' "

"Sounds like a definite change for the better," Jim teased. "Will you hand me the salt?"

"It's right there."

Jim reached for the salt. "You know? I didn't realize how thoroughly you'd grown on me."

"I seem to have that effect on people. My mother always says 'you can drop Blair down any place on earth and in a day, somebody would want to adopt him.'"

"I've had that thought myself," Jim said with raised brow, taking down a new bottle of teriyaki sauce from the cupboard. "More than once."

"What're we having, big guy?"

"Teriyaki shrimp, stir-fried rice, vegetables."

"Outstanding." Blair poured them both wine, and they toasted each other.

More wine went down with the food. Blair talked about his year, and dug out videotapes, his journal. Jim lit the fire, opened another bottle. They lounged on the couch, laughing, satisfied with each other's company.

For Blair it was a way--at last--to share all the places he'd been.

They laughed more than Blair remembered.

"We are getting damned silly," Jim commented, with sham disgust.

"I know; it's great, isn't it?"

They looked at each other. Blair's emotions were unedited, unexamined. He was completely looped and happy. "Never has a year been so long," he smiled. "It hurt, being away from here; from home, and you... You've grown on me, too, man. One giant wart."

Jim laughed, then sat back, quietening. "When you moved in, I saw it as an imposition."

"Oh, it most definitely was. Absolutely."

"But I see now that resistance was futile. This scenario we're playing out here has been played out a thousand times before us, probably. And the outcome is probably always the same: the guide stays with his sentinel. It's his calling; same way I'm a cop."

"It's a commitment," Blair agreed, softly. "Which I didn't seriously examine before I took it on. But I-I welcome it; you should know that. I'm around for as long as you need me around, Jim." He laughed. "Maybe longer than you want me around."

Jim looked into him, as if searching for a truth he expected to find. "I can deal with that," he said, mildly. "Partner."

"Deal, partner," Blair grinned.

Propelled by--a rush of affection, fraternal feeling?--Jim reached out to pat Blair's head. But his fingers stayed; they sank in, conforming to the shape of Blair's skull.

The spark, the stunning rush Jim's touch caused, struck Blair like a cop's tazer. His breath went out of him and he sighed, back and thighs breaking into a sweat, looking at Jim goggle-eyed. Surprised... Like Jim, who stared back, eyes like chips of sky. He's touched me a hundred times before now.

They'd both felt it--friendship diving, in an act of sheer suicide, into desire. Nowhere to turn and too late. No denying it in their heart of hearts. Blair felt the Sentinel could hear his, beating faster.

Jim's hand, and glance, withdrew slowly, with care. "Anyway," he said. "I'm a little plastered, it's getting late, and you need your rest." He drained his glass and stood, stretching nonchalantly. "I'm for a hot shower and the rack."

Blair looked up at him, rift between total admiration and terror. He'd never--. There'd never been anything--. No way. What? Jim was a complete mystery; exciting, an hypothesis worth pursuing.

"Yeah, me, too, I guess," he swallowed. "This is a little...abrupt, though. Isn't it? Jim?"

"What?" Jim half-turned.

"Your hasty departure. I'm not that tired."

Jim turned, hesitating. The intuition--weird, gut-level--hit Blair, that this man was ripe for seduction. I could wrap him around my finger... Anybody could.

"Don't go, huh, Jim?"

But Jim shook his head, a model of mute denial. "I'm not the kind of guy who gambles everything on an impulse," he said warningly, expression mild.

Blair looked at him, feeling confident. "Yes, you are," he said. "I am, too."

"We're both drunk."

Blair probed. "And we're both men?"

Jim said nothing for a moment, then, quietly and firmly said, "That, too."

Blair nodded. Disappointed, he still understood. The step he'd been contemplating, once taken, would be irrevocable. Right now they could still shake off the spell, front for each other. This...whatever it was...was still just a vague imagining, slipping hurriedly back into shadow, and most importantly, still unnamed.

Better that way.

"G'night, Jim."

"'Night, Sandburg." Smiling a little, Jim walked upstairs.

Blair sat on his bed in a blue funk, hair in his eyes, tape-player whispering Portuguese love songs. Sleep being out of the question, he was listlessly working his way through stacks of his correspondence. Rent and other bills had been taken care of while he'd been away, but the mail had really piled up. None of it interested him.

He could hear the shower running above. He heard it stop. Jim would be sliding into bed, now, between clean sheets. Restless, like me? No, not him. He'll sleep like a hibernating bear.

Tossing the mail onto the desk by the phone, he saw his phone book and picked it up. Fifteen minutes later, he'd called a certain easy-going beauty of his acquaintance, and arranged to meet. He threw on jeans, T-shirt, grabbed his leather jacket and his car-keys and went out into the night.

Code Blue

Thoroughly satisfied with the way things had turned out, Blair left Nina's apartment the following evening.

Drove home with a smile stealing at his lips.

The lights were on in the loft. He climbed the stairs, unlocked the front door. Dropping his keys into the basket by the front door--noting Jim's--he drew off his jacket slowly, looking for other signs of life. No hint of dinner, but a fresh pot of Blue Mountain sat, not more than five minutes old.

He went into his room with a steaming mug and closed the curtain, removed cowboy boots, clothes. He slipped on a pair of pajama bottoms, a fresh undershirt, and tied on his favorite robe. He sat at his desk, flipped open his lap top and sipped coffee, looking at the closed curtain, straining his ears.

When he heard a familiar step on the stairs, his heart raced in response.

This made no sense. For crying out loud, he and Jim had gone out chasing women together. And why now?

What was happening was almost supernatural; something they couldn't do anything about; a free-floating compulsion acting on them without their knowledge or consent. Could this have anything to do with Jim's Sentinel powers? The train of thought eluded him; he couldn't follow right now.

Cold sober, he regretted his blithe attitude of the previous night. What was I thinking?! This could destroy everything we've built. Even discussing it! He heaved a sigh. I'll pretend nothing happened to us. There-was-no-spark.

A knock at the doorjamb, gentle, but not to be refused. Blair waited like a truant. "Come in."

Jim pushed the curtain aside. "Hi." Once inside, he paused, a soldier not a bit at ease. "Where've you been?"

Blair bridled a little at the tone. "Hi, there. I've been out, obviously."

"I'd assumed you'd be going in to work with me, one of these days."

Blair had stood to gain some height. "I'll go in with you on Monday morning, OK? Like we planned. The work goes on." He hesitated, unsure. "If you want?"

"Except I was...concerned about you. You drove away from here intoxicated, Blair! You shouldn't've been behind the wheel of a car."

"Jim, don't take it that way. Just...leave it alone, please."

"Be happy to." There was a tight pause. "Did you get--whatever it was--out of your system?"

Blair considered that. "I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing, here, Jim, but, no. When I went out I was positive I'd averted a disaster. I didn't." He laughed, uncomfortably. "Might as well wrestle a mountain lion."

Jim's look pierced him. "You've been talking to Caroline?" he asked, smiling wryly.

"Maybe I should." Blair couldn't look away from Jim's gaze, fascinated by the ambiguities of this conversation. "With me, it's more a matter of will-you-respect-me- in-the-morning, if--? Would we be able to work together, if--?" Hesitant, he went on. "Can we still be friends, if--? That kind of thing."

"Oh."

"Jim?"

"Yeah? I'm all ears."

"Last night, the girl I was with--we mostly just talked. We kissed... I fully intended to sleep with her; man, I wanted to. But she saw right through me; told me I was forcing it. She knew my mind was completely focused on...somebody else."

"Oh, carrying a torch for some little Brazilian honey are you?"

"Jim..." Blair sighed his frustration. "Jim, c'mon... You know what I'm talking about. I just wish we could deal with the--whatever it is--openly. It's not even as if I necessarily wanted--. You know, what comes after the 'if.' It's such a gigantic step."

"I want you to stop this, Blair," Jim ordered. "Stop talking about it as if there was a chance of hell of it happening."

"Oh, yeah? Then what, Jim? Ignore it, like some crazy old aunt in the attic? And why are we calling it 'it'?"

Jim shook his head. "Once we say the words--."

Blair interrupted him. "I know. Once we say the words, we make it real."

"We're risking everything! We've got a good relationship, here; we're working together! And you want to go fooling around with dynamite? Blair, solid man/woman friendships have foundered on less."

"I agree. And I've never--never!--had a friendship as good as this one. You're my best friend. But it's like trying not to blink with sand blowing in my eyes, Jim--. I--."

"No!" Jim shouted, stunning him to silence. "No. For me, it's trying not to see this face," he grasped Blair's jaw to make the point but let go immediately, "in my mind, in every doorway, every mirror, every day for the last year! Missing somebody like--I'd miss an arm. Trying to reconcile what I want with what I'm supposed to want--. And not sure what either of those choices means."

Blair wasn't on firm ground, here. What to say in the face of Jim's revealed struggle?

"You've been thinking about me?" he asked, rubbing ruminatively at his knees. When had he sat down?

Jim didn't say anything, but the great head lowered.

"You know," Blair said. "When I saw you again at the airport, after a year, it was like...plugging back into the main circuit; getting back to the source of a good thing...belonging. I knew we had a real bond, finally. I had this great feeling of triumph, success. I'd won you over. Then this whole other thing happened. And I'm scared to death. But, because this involves somebody I like very much...somebody I love...I'm attracted, too." He caught Jim's glance. "And yes, I acknowledge the fact that we weren't sober last night. That muddied the water."

"I know what I felt," Jim said, sternly. It was a stoic admission, ripped out of his guts, his masculine pride. "Something happened."

"Yes. And you know what else? Last night I could've seduced you. I mean, I knew I could do it, man; there was no doubt in my mind."

"Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you, Blair?" Jim shook his head with a rueful laugh. "What stopped you?"

"C'mon; you did, unequivocally. You warned me off. Not in so many words, but..."

"And why do you think I did that?"

"Give me credit for knowing what you meant, Jim. Because it would've been risking way more than we should be willing to let it, just like you said--."

"What do you call what you're doing right now?"

"Okay! I don't know, okay?" Blair shrugged, defeated. "Pissing into the wind?" He felt at a complete loss, throwing up his hands, turning away. "Going down with the ship."

A stillness came down, filling a volume of space between them that, for a limpid minute, seemed prepared for a blessing to come.

Then Jim came forward into the space, across it, like an assassin or a rescuer--a man with only one mission in life. Without being invited to, he turned Blair to him, took him into his arms.

"I'm sorry." He leaned in, sank his nose into Blair's hair, rubbed his back. "None of this is your fault," he said. "I'm hurting you for no good reason and I'm sorry."

Blair's arms slipped eagerly around the big man's middle, and he practically sobbed his relief, feeling Jim's warmth the length of his body, right through his clothes.

"What're we gonna do?" he whispered, unhappily. "I don't want to lose what we've got, Jim. But all I can think about since last night is you and me, wrapped up in each other, in bed--." Feeling the blood heating his face, he buried his forehead against Jim's shoulder. "And everything's changed."

"Blair, I can't put back the rain," Jim answered. "Nothing stays the same."

Blair drew back to get a fresh look at him, feeling shy, and solemn. His nervousness was showing, but he didn't want to hide it.

"Have you ever--?"

"No, never."

Jim's eyes were softly alight, interested in him. Calm and clear, holding an unmistakable message.

The attraction wasn't one-sided--if it had ever been.

"I'm a little vague on the mechanics..." Blair admitted.

Jim grasped his face, gently this time, rubbed a thumb across his lower lip, coming straight to the point. "Nice mouth."

Blair's knees shook, wanting to buckle. Eyes closed, he caught fistfuls of Jim's shirt, just to hold on.

If that's one touch, he thought, what's the rest like? Notions boomeranged through him, fearful, needful... What do I do if he kisses me? I am not ready for that. I mean, I don't want to stop him...I want him to, I think, but--.

"Is this a zone for you?" Jim asked.

"Yeah," Blair nodded, burning inside. A blind man, he reached up to encompass what he could of Jim's face. "What about you?"

Jim leaned in and took a shocking first kiss from him. Warm, brief; compelling. Just one whisper of the odd texture and taste sent Blair panting, instinctively, after more.

Their mouths met softly at first, a few times, before settling into a lengthy trial run, all about tasting, arousing each other; tongues touching, caressing. They grew noisy, serious. Blair discovered so much hunger in himself, roaring up like virus, with only one remedy, it seemed--.

Jim's body, and the sweet nature dwelling inside it.

Nervous, almost reverent, Blair belatedly realized he had the right now, to touch all this.

Yet, alien and hard--belly so flat and cut, back like a mountain slope--Jim's form daunted him. So much; a continent. Diminutive all his life, Blair'd never felt as small as he did right now. A guy could get hurt.

Jim claimed him, though, moving in closer and then, impossibly, even closer, hands at Blair's waist, introducing Blair to his heat. Realizing what it meant, Blair breathed, "Oh, God," and glanced up.

They both stopped, exchanging a dizzy, horny look. At once they were all over each other, kissing and grabbing everything within sight or reach... Passion was something Blair hadn't expected, somehow; and now it had taken him over. This road was familiar, if the gender of his companion was not; no going back, from this point.

Jim smoothly divested him of the robe, the undershirt, bending to mouth his throat, making him laugh in delight; he cradled Jim's head in wonder as his nipples were sucked and laved, kissing the close-cropped hair as ten fingers slipped silkily between the waistband and his skin. Hands, familiar, cherishing, slid down his flanks, taking his reason--and his cotton pjs--with them. Blair tackled the metallic buttons of Jim's denim shirt, tore every one of them off as he pulled the shirttail out of Jim's jeans, yanked the material down from Jim's shoulders and off to nuzzle silky shoulder, neck, jaw...

Stooping, Jim lifted his feet by turn out of the pajama trousers, tossed the clothing aside as he stood. He touched Blair's cockshaft for the first time, looking straight into Blair's eyes, pulling him close again. "Where've you been hiding this?" he asked.

A white flare burst behind Blair's eyelids. He searched, by instinct, found his friend's zipper, then his sex, freeing it... He heard his sensitive lover sigh, growl, sharply catch his breath. By then, Blair'd stopped thinking with anything but his own senses.

Prima Facie II

So early, the lower level of the apartment was still drowned in gray. Hard to make out details, even of the warm form next to him.

Lying there, he took in Jim's proud prow of a nose, just as a coin of silver sunlight touched it. Firm mouth closed, face smoothed by sleep and satisfaction-- distant...Jim was beautiful; a stranger, a man out of myth.

They were lying close, crowded in what was left of Blair's bed. The night before...

Last night was a blur--of muscled, sweat-sheened limbs reddened in lamplight; men at work--teeth and tongues, yells and whispers, the scent of cock, the glint of ejaculation. The best he'd ever had; sex so good, so sweet, so hot, he shuddered remembering. Oh, God, Jim, last night... Last night just could not have been real...

He remembered...

The two of them tearing each other's clothes off, kissing like madmen--falling onto this bed, blind to everything but their bodies.

He remembered how Jim looked, naked... And finding his own male beauty in the way Jim looked at him.

The first time, over so quickly; a crash course in friction. And the second...

He remembered his lust reawakening; and trepidation--Jim, too; his lover's eyes clouded at the prospect of--something more.

Not that he'd offered any resistance. He remembered--very clearly--wanting penetration, inciting it, and finally, glorying in it. It had been like the creator had designed them for each other.

He could still feel the first tentative contact, the instant he'd known he'd never be the same.

Jim's willingness, his patience, had surprised Blair. He'd let Blair take the lead; prepare him, persuade, delight him, until...

Maybe Blair had led him too far.

How can he be so...oblivious? Blair lay looking over the expanse of man in his bed. Jim stirred a little, but didn't wake. Look at him; completely at peace. Blair sat up, shaking his head. How can he respect me?

The afterthoughts came, unpleasant, unworthy of either of them.

He got out of bed like a cat off a griddle. What to do? Where to hide? He dashed past their scattered clothes and into his bathroom, behind a closed door until he could get his thoughts and emotions to agree...

Jim must have gone to use the bathroom upstairs off his own room.

This is better, Blair was thinking, hurriedly grabbing a shirt, avoiding a glance at the wrecked bed. This is definitely the healthiest way to go... Avoid the issue. He buttoned the shirt, rushed into the kitchen.

Jim came out of the bathroom, came downstairs.

He made an impact; BIG guy, shirtless, blue eyes serious and direct. That neck... Could anything bend it?

But then Blair saw the way Jim juggled that white sweatshirt he was about to put on from hand to hand; saw his vulnerability. Always so very moving in a man, but in this hulking tough guy--gut-tearing. The events of last night had bitten Jim deep. Me, too. Last night, I kissed this man; I sucked him off. Fell in love with him... Why am I running away?

Resolve badly shaken, Blair took a heavy breath. "Are you okay?" he asked.

Jim shrugged, passing close in front of him. "Sure." He stopped. "What about you?"

"Great! Really... I feel pretty...fantastic..." Blair hesitated. "Actually."

"Really? No wounds inflicted?"

"No... I don't think so."

Just wounds? Man, you destroyed me! They stood face to face. Blair couldn't've predicted--or prevented--his visceral response, sudden sharp excitement, heart bucking, breath hissing in his nostrils, cock stiffening at Jim's freshly-showered odor, the meaty swell of chest and arms, the tactile memories of all this stupendous real estate.

"No? That surprises me," Jim said, softly. "I would've thought I'd make more of an impression." He put on the sweatshirt.

"You--you did," Blair laughed, nervously, knowing his face was reddening. "Absolutely, you did." Oh, boy.

Jim smiled at him with strange kindness. "Did I thank you?" he asked, then.

Blair felt himself blush, hotly. "For what--? C'mon, you don't have to--." He was completely flustered. "You know..." A hand touched his hair, lifted the curls gently, tugged and let them fall. "You don't have to thank me."

"Why deny it?" Jim asked, pointedly. "I loved loving you. It was amazing. I'm adult enough to say so, right here, right out loud."

"And I'm not, obviously."

Jim grasped the counter edge. He was intent--yet there was a paradoxical lightness about him; he seemed...relieved. Content. His choice made.

"Passion is not negligible, Blair. It's something you learn to grab when it goes by. And we had it last night. Last night was rare. You gave me a gift... So, please, allow me to express my appreciation."

"Okay! Okay..."

"You want to talk about whatever's goin' on with you?"

Blair confessed then, in a diminished voice. "Excuse me, if I'm a touch freaked-out. Last night I had impulsive hard-core sex with a man. With my best friend! The most powerful sexual experience I've ever had, with anybody. How can you stand there so...so--on balance?"

"Blair, getting a chance to show you how much I appreciate you--how I thank God for you--was something I wanted to do. So I lost control of my emotions with you. I'm happy about it." He paused, searching Blair's eyes. "You got to me." He shrugged, minutely. "And I'm not sorry."

Blair's eyes stretched. "You thank God for me?" The words meant as much as any he'd ever heard. "I thought you'd lose all respect for me, man."

Take a Breath

"No." Jim looked down into his friend's wide azure eyes. He'd almost forgotten what being madly in love with somebody felt like.

"Did you stop respecting me?" he asked, coaxing a smile.

Blair shook his head. "No. You're wonderful. Really."

Jim pushed the cloud of dark hair back, gently. There was a spot, right there, near the outer corner of Blair's mouth that he wanted to kiss; other places he wanted to return to and explore, nape, side, belly... I don't know how this happened! But somewhere on the journey, you became...necessary. Their year apart had scarred Ellison-- and had led directly to this.

His own desire was undeniable, and somehow unarguable. He'd been broadsided by the attraction, but last night he'd gone past doubt. Talking had never gotten the two of them far, anyway.

This is my life companion, chosen for me by some trick of genetics. A pistol. Sensitive and smart; sensuous and adorable. All courage. Making love to him for the first time was a privilege.

Looking into this imp's face, with its tumble of curls, big, full mouth, upturned nose, fine bones, fine skin...the bluest eyes in the Western hemisphere, Jim thought, If he had any hint how much I want to take him back to bed right now, he'd be shocked. I'm shocked.

"No pressure," he said, despite every impulse otherwise. "You want the physical intimacy, I'm here. If you don't, it's okay. We can certainly define the relationship."

Rain, then Rainbow

Blair looked at Jim, wondering what he'd taken on, becoming this man's lover. "When we met," he said, gaze falling to the floor. "I-I tried so hard to win you over. But I think I really am in over my head." He sighed, eyes grazing Jim's chest at that moment with a longing that was frustrated--and involuntary. "I'm so nuts about you, Jim--. You're overwhelming."

"Blair, what do you want to have happen?" Jim asked, tensely. "I will do whatever the hell you want!"

"Why the hell should you?"

Jim made an empty-handed gesture, brow creased with care. "Because I'm nuts about you, too..."

Blair moved, legless, toward his friend, until Jim gathered him up, stopping his forward fall.

This was reality, in the light of morning, bumping noses and knees and chests; the scratch of unshaven cheeks...

Jim pushed him down, gently. "We better--."

"What? What?!"

"I want you..." Jim said, eyes warm and beseeching. "I can't seem to help that part of it."

Blair refused to let his friend apologize for the miracle of desire. "Let's just go upstairs, huh?"

New at this kind of love, still Jim was practiced at taking--and giving-- pleasure.

"Let's try it this way... Easy... I won't hurt you."

"You never hurt me--."

Blair let himself be molded, accepting Jim, no room for anything else right now in his world. In the maelstrom of this intimate act, Jim was his shaman, his life- force, his gentle god. Til Jim, he'd never experienced sex like this. From the inside it had the power to shatter any resolve, a lifetime of behavior, a soul.

Overcome with love, he cradled Jim's face, kissed him, sucked on his tongue, loving the deep sound of his friend's moan. So easy to make love to; responses like the play of summer lightning.

They looked amazed into each other's hot eyes, moving together, muscles flexing. Jim's hand controlled him like a joystick, timing wickedly off, sensations maddening. "Oh, God... Jim..."

"You like this?"

"Yes-sss--." Agitated, Blair bit his lover's lower lip, palms grazing the big man's excited nipples, the solid chest, fingers pinching and pulling.

They got lost in the fierce give and take, struggling to keep it up, sweating in battle, until Jim pushed Blair over to finish it his way.

Happening together, knotted in ecstasy, they hung, a pure sculpture suspended for an unendurable moment before collapsing in one piece.

A breeze lifted the curtains at the tall windows of Jim's room, drying their sweat, bringing with it the sounds of the boats on the bay. Jim pulled the single coverlet over them both, kissing Blair's temple and cheek. "We're good together," he breathed, relaxing into a close, drowsy spoon. "Perfect." He whispered into Blair's ear. "Like a lock and key."

Pensive, Blair accepted the deliberate stroking Jim knew he needed after love. Where there should have been peace, and afterglow, turmoil stood in the way. He was torn, appalled that this kind of sex came so easily to him.

And angry, disappointed that it presented him with such a trial.

Except, he was satisfied. Being held by a guy--this guy--loved; it was like a memory from another, sweeter, life. A life he wanted to live again.

But who was I before? Who am I now?

"Hey, shorty."

Blair didn't answer Jim's soft, playful call.

They'd made love all night and half the morning--and he hadn't taken one second to analyze it.

Jim was all goodness; all man, natural, real--intensely lovable...the tenderest lover. Blair knew he was lost--won?--and groaned out loud. This is it for me; I'll love him as much as it hurts to; forever.

"You are there," Jim said.

"Mn... Floating inside my head. Trying not to land." "I'll catch you." Jim tightened his embrace, kissed Blair's shoulder. "It's what I'm here for."

"Don't let me go, Jim. Please... I can't do this alone."

"You want to continue?"

Blair felt his own rueful smile, and his trembling. "You need to hear me say it? After what just happened?"

"No. I guess not."

Blair sighed, eyes closing. To his own surprise, water slipped from under his eyelids. He just couldn't speak.

"Hey, what is it?" Jim lifted his chin. The wet traces were touched. "Did I cause these?"

"Ah, Jim..." Blair shook his head. "No. Only indirectly. I'm wondering if I can accept happiness at any price."

"Keep talking. What price?"

"Feeling without thinking. Acting without comprehension. Consequences without consideration. They all cost."

Jim frowned, confused. "Consequences? What kind of consequences?" "It worries me that...that I can--that it's--."

Supportive but silent, Jim waited a minute.

"I'm sorry," Blair breathed. "I'm spoiling it."

"Nonsense. Take your time, Blair. Take a deep breath and talk to me."

Blair found he had to whisper to make words come. "I turn over for you, so easily, Jim. You touch me and there is not one drop of resistance in my body. It should've posed more of a problem for me, shouldn't it? There was no crisis; I dived right in. And I have never even experimented with a guy, Jim; you know? I've always known I was straight--thought of myself as a straight man. There've been women--exclusively--since I was 16. Now, here I am, with you... I thought I knew myself. How could I not know I was capable of this?"

"Taking you seemed natural." Jim spoke plainly. "I never even considered..." Blair craned to get a better look at his friend, found Jim slightly red-faced.

"Consequences without consideration..." he repeated, as if hearing the words for the first time. "Should've occurred to me--this has to be different for the man who's--for the guy on the receiving end. I never considered the effect it might have on you, psychologically. I should've made sure you were really ready to take that step."

"It's not you, it's me. Man, I love it with you. God, from the first second--. I'm just confused about why. Is it something about me? Something in me that maybe made you think--."

"Hey, if you're asking me whether you're easy," Jim said. "The answer is 'no.' " His embrace tightened its comfortable knot. "You're spooked," he said, "like me, with this Sentinel thing; scared of not being in control, going in too deep?"

"Exactly." Blair felt, suddenly, more at ease, becalmed. He took a cleansing breath, shifting to face Jim. "I guess you know about that?"

Jim nodded against his forehead. "We'll handle it a day at a time... An hour at a time."

"Could you tighten it to half an hour?"

"Whatever it takes." Jim moved to look into his eyes. "Blair, if you like what we do; if it feels good, is that a crime?"

"Well, you know, it's hard for a Jewish kid to accept guilt-free happiness."

They looked at each other, lingering in the wonder of what they seemed to be forging. Union. Made to last.

Jim's visage was dreamy, yet beam-clear. "There is something I've been meaning to say to you. The kind of thing I've never been any good at saying--."

"Anything," Blair said, extremely taken with this man. "You can say anything."

"There's a couple of things I maybe should've said to you before we got together like this. I just want you to know... To tell you that you rescued me, rescued my sanity. I feel safe with you, protective of you; I take great pleasure in you." He took Blair's hand. "And I'm very much in love with you."

"I'm in love with you, too," Blair said, forgetting his own name. "I love you, so much, Jim--."

The kiss was welcome to both, needed--bought and paid for... They spent some time at it.

"I've decided that's the best part," Blair confided to his lover, after.

Jim lay back with a sigh. "We could spend the whole day, here," he said. "Have a bath, order in Chinese, drink ice-cold beer. We can talk, watch the shipping go by. Or not talk." He looked over, searched Blair's eyes. "No pressure for anything physical. I just want you with me."

"Where else would I be?" Blair asked.

Inter-

Fluffing his pillow, Jim paused, leaning on an elbow to watch Blair, swimming in a robe not his own, cross the room and turn down the stairs.

He smiled, sheepishly, at his newly conditioned response to Blair's slim shape. Who'd've thought this elf would have his number?

Blair had gone into the kitchen. Jim came up behind him, arms coming around as Blair opened the refrigerator and took out a jug of apple-papaya juice.

"Thirsty?" Blair asked, from under his disheveled hair, turning to Jim.

"No beer?"

"Fruit juice is better for replacing lost fluids."

"If you say so."

They stood together, passing the jug, embracing lightly, Jim stroking Blair's hair away from his forehead.

"Mmn."

"Good, huh?"

They swayed a little, gazes leveling meaningfully.

"Blair, we've gotta slow down," Jim said, not believing a word of his own warning.

"Very simple plan," Blair chuckled, softly, "very hard to implement. I had a tally going for a while; you know: you, me, us, me again, us, you... But I have SO lost count."

"Feels like I've dislocated something," Jim said, working a shoulder. "I'm not kidding."

"You'll heal. C'mon, Jim..."

"You never quit, do you?" Jim had to laugh. "Baby, I'm completely drained, here. The well is dry. I've got nothing left to offer you; not even clean sheets."

Blair grinned. "Well, how about doin' a friend a favor?"

"Like I haven't been?" Jim said, laughing. He grew serious as he leaned near.

The kiss was sweet, quiet.

"Actually, you're pretty amazing in that area," Blair complimented. "Impressive..."

Jim smiled down at him. "Well, I've got a good dance partner."

Blair couldn't believe his luck, the insane destiny that had brought him his very own Sentinel. "You know, big guy?" he said, caressing and gently smacking Jim's face. "I wouldn't want to change a thing."

Epilog

"First time out in the world, together, huh?" Blair said, smiling hopefully at the driver of the 4x4. "So are we in or out of the closet?"

"What?"

They planned on dinner at Losala's, a favored Indian restaurant at Bayside, and a movie afterward.

Jim cocked his head, eyeing Blair. "We're having dinner," he pointed out, making a right turn. "Not going dancing."

"OK, we behave as usual. Just two pals, heading out for a bite to eat!"

"Which happens to be what we're doing," Jim said. "This is a side of you I don't like to see," he went on, eyes twinkling.

"Jim, we've got to think about this kind of stuff, don't you think? Not just walk out cold. This is a whole new existence we're talkin' about here. All kinds of completely unforeseen situations could pop up. I mean, do we hold hands in public? If I lay my head on your shoulder at the movies, are you going to shove me off? Do we demonstrate affection in other ways...?"

"How do you feel about it?" Jim asked.

"I don't know... I don't know if I'm ready for the scrutiny."

"I think we should do what's true to our characters, first," Jim said. "And, then, what feels natural. You want my honest take?"

"Absolutely."

"Okay. I'm not comfortable with the public hand-holding--I probably never will be--but I'll never shove you off if you're trying to be close to me." At that, Blair moved near, placed his hand on Jim's knee.

"I mean, look," Jim continued, "the department--hell, the whole city--has a liberal policy toward sexual preference. It shouldn't be an issue."

"But..." Blair gestured to Jim's whole persona. "You're...you. The toughest cop in the precinct. I mean, you're a great guy, and I'm overjoyed you're mine, but you've got to believe there are people in the department who are going to be disillusioned; who'll behave differently toward you... Me."

"First of all, I've never been anybody's role model... Second, nobody's gonna tell me how to conduct my private life."

"That's what I'm talking about! If we don't want this part of our lives known, for as long as we're together we'll live a private reality and a public facade!"

"You don't think everybody does, one way or another? What's really behind this, Blair?"

Blair looked away from him. "I know, I know; I'm acting like a real jerk," he said. "The truth is, I-I've never had a man in my life, before." He looked back, amazed at what he was saying. "This is a definite first... I haven't got a clue how to behave."

Jim took up and held his hand, with wordless understanding. "Me, either. But we'll do okay. I guide you, you guide me."

"Perfect evening."

"I've got to agree," Jim answered. "This is special." "You were right," Blair said. "I shouldn't've worried. It's like...nothing can hurt us, because we love each other."

He looked up at the stars, ecstatic, and grateful. Quite a night; a great Tandoori meal, candlelight and music; and now this spontaneous wandering along the bayside quay, with his companion.

Who was smiling at him, and asking, kindly, if he wanted a gelato, as they passed a stand.

"Sure."

Jim paid, as he had for dinner, the movie; wouldn't hear of Blair reaching for his wallet. Kind of old-fashioned, that way.

They sat, spooning up the confection. "Jim, next time we go out, would you PLEASE let me pay for something?" Blair complained. "I'm serious, now."

"Tell me again how much a teaching fellow pulls down?"

"Point taken. But, when I do get paid, it's my turn. Got it?"

"Yaah."

They exchanged strawberry and kiwi tastes with their spoons. Eyes on Jim's gentle mouth, Blair considered a reckless move--thought better of the idea. One day, maybe.

Just then, Jim kissed him, the gesture so unforced, so generous, Blair could only let it wash over him, no protest. He looked around, after, feeling cross-eyed, a little delirious. The vice squad had not been summoned. No-one had noticed.

They found each other's gaze, sharing the open secret.


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