Jim quietly let himself into the loft then turned to close the door. Automatically he checked for sight of Sandburg; either fallen asleep on the couch or still studying. It wouldn't be the first time Blair had sat up all night deep in his books.
Recent memories of his very pleasant, if late, evening ran through his mind. Eileen was a lovely woman, interesting, bright, good-looking and sensual. He'd left her apartment so he could get a few hours, uninterrupted sleep in his own bed before he had to report for duty. Lovely though she was, he just found it difficult to sleep with someone else in the bed with him. His mouth creased into a private smile as he headed towards the stairs. Suddenly he stopped. A strange mingled scent wafted towards him. Strange but he had smelt it before. One of the mingled scents was Sandburg; Jim could have picked him out of a crowd. His natural scent always smelt warm and comforting, with a slightly cinnamon overtone, before he added on the deodorants and body sprays. The spicy overtone increased when he was aroused and that's what Jim was smelling now; Sandburg's arousal. Pulling a face Jim leapt lightly upstairs, he didn't particularly want to eavesdrop on his housemate pleasuring himself.
A whispered endearment brought him up short. The voice whispering wasn't a woman and wasn't Blair's. He had heard the accent and the voice before. Quickly he searched his memory. Got it! Sandburg's limey pal had flown in to Cascade two days previously. He had met the man briefly. What was his name? Chris. Chris Wilding. He'd accompanied Sandburg on a few expeditions in the past and they'd kept in touch. He was in town for a series of seminars at the University so Blair had elected to go out with him on their precious time off. Jim stood absolutely still listening properly. No, he wasn't imagining it! Chris and Blair were having sex, in his house! A flash of annoyance ripped through him then just as quickly subsided. He wasn't sure if he was more annoyed that Sandburg was getting off in his house without mentioning that his pal would be staying the night, or that he was getting off with his male friend. He also knew he wouldn't be getting a whole lot of sleep until they'd finished. Growling to himself he went back downstairs. A three quarters full wine bottle was sitting on the worktop. When he picked up the bottle he saw it had made a ring. He quickly wiped it up, collected a clean glass and, making no effort to be quiet, he stomped across to the door which led to the fire escape.
Sitting on the third step down, he poured himself a glass of wine, carefully placing the bottle between his legs he looked out over the nightlights of Cascade.
Blair wriggled out from the embrace of his sleeping lover. Looking down into Chris's peaceful face he smiled. He stretched and reached for his bathrobe and padded across to the kitchen area for a glass of water. As he was drinking, a cold draught blew around his bare legs. He saw the door to the fire escape was standing open a couple of inches. Putting the glass down, he approached warily. When he saw Jim sitting on the stairs he let out an audible sigh of relief.
"Jim man, what are you doing there? You nearly gave me a heart attack."
Jim didn't react.
"Jim? You alright?" Blair asked, sitting down on the step and putting his hand on the bigger man's shoulder.
Ellison shrugged his hand off and took another healthy gulp of his wine.
"I'm fine," he replied, his voice tight and flat.
Blair could feel the annoyance radiating off him in waves.
"Evening with Eileen not go according to plan?" he tried again.
"Eileen's fine." He took another sip then continued, "I see your evening went very well."
Sandburg was a little confused.
"Yeah, I always have a good time with Chris. He's good company and we go back a long way."
Then he thought about it and closed his eyes.
"You haven't just got in, have you?"
"You heard us?"
"…and, at a guess, I'd say it bothers you - a lot?"
Ellison didn't even reply; his back stiff with anger.
"Sorry, man," Sandburg said. "I didn't think you'd be this bothered. You haven't minded when I've brought women back here and you must have heard us on those occasions."
Ellison turned incredulous eyes on him.
"That's a little different, don't you think? Bringing women back is, well normal! We've both brought girlfriends home," he paused to gather his thoughts. "We've shared this place for what, two, three years now and you didn't think it worth mentioning to me that you're bi?" he hissed.
"Well, no. I tend to like women more than men anyway. I suppose I'm a bit odd for a bi. I have to be very good friends with a man before I'll make love with him…."
Jim snorted at the phrase.
"What? You don't think two men can make love, they can only have sex?" Sandburg knew his voice was getting louder, but this attitude was annoying him.
"Keep your voice down!" Ellison growled at him.
"Right!" Blair said, standing up.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to wake Chris, pack a few things and leave. It's what you want, isn't it?"
Jim hesitated a fraction of a second too long. Sandburg pursed his lips and pulled open the fire escape door with unnecessary force.
"Sandburg! Blair, no, don't wake him. That's not what I want."
Blair sighed, paused and sat down again, pulling his robe tighter. It was cold sitting on the ironwork in the middle of the night.
"Are you mad because I sometimes sleep with guys or are you mad because I didn't tell you?" he asked quietly. Keeping his voice down was quite an effort for him at the moment.
Ellison looked down into the depths of his nearly empty glass trying to decide on his answer.
"I don't know," he replied honestly. "I'm just...," he stopped again. "Surprised is an understatement."
"Because I don't come across as anything other than straight?"
"With your one track mind I would have put money on you not being interested in men."
"I'm an anthropologist, Jim. I'm interested in people."
"I meant sexually interested in men!"
"I know what you meant. Give me a couple of days to sort something out then I'll move out. OK?"
Ellison waited a few seconds then nodded. Sadly Sandburg got to his feet and went back inside.
Ellison continued to sit on the fire escape. He was damned sure he didn't want to share his home with a bi-sexual man. Sandburg moving out was the only possible thing to do. So why did he feel so desolate at the thought? Being a methodical, logical man by nature he tried to analyse his own reactions. He hadn't thought he was so homophobic. He got on well with the few gay cops he worked with. In the army it had been different; the ones who knew they were gay were forced to keep it secret in order to retain their jobs. As long as they had been discreet and it hadn't affected their work he'd turned a blind eye to their liaisons. So why was he reacting so badly to finding out that Sandburg liked sleeping with men occasionally? Or was that the reason? Could it be that he was upset that Sandburg hadn't confided in him?
Was that why he was feeling so… betrayed?
They'd shared everything in the last three years. Danger, laughter, knowledge, even the odd sexual partner, not that Sandburg knew about that one. At least he didn't think he knew about that one. Jim grinned into the night as he remembered the Mayburn twins. Tall, red-headed, built like goddesses and very energetic. They'd had a wonderful evening together and ended up back at the twin's apartment for a nightcap.
Blair and Sally had retired to her room whilst he and Patty had gone to her room. They'd made love a couple of times then Patty had gotten up to use the bathroom. The woman who returned to the bed hadn't been Patty though; he could smell Sandburg all over her but he hadn't said anything, just had plenty of fun playing along with the twins' little game. If Sandburg had suspected anything he certainly hadn't said anything.
Dawn was painting rosy fingers of colour in the sky as he finished the last few drops of wine in his glass. Going over his memories of all the time he'd spent with Sandburg had intensified the ache in his chest; an empty, cold feeling which seemed to spread along his limbs adding to the cold from sitting outside in the chilly early morning air. Then the truth suddenly hit him as he stood up, he didn't really want Sandburg to leave, he'd miss him too much.
Later, whilst he was in bed, Jim heard Chris leaving the loft. He shamelessly listened in as Chris said quietly,
"I'm really sorry, Blair. I didn't mean to disrupt your life like this."
"You didn't. I honestly didn't think Jim would react like this. He never seemed to have a problem with gays and now he's found out I'm bi, he's flown off the handle."
"Perhaps it's because you didn't tell him before he found out?"
"It's not really something which crops up in conversation. Yeah, dinner was great, by the way, Jim, I sometimes like getting it on with good-looking Brit anthropologists as well!"
Chris guffawed at that.
"No, I don't suppose it is something which comes up in conversation too often. If it gets too bad whilst you're trying to find somewhere else to live, you know where I am. You can come and stay with me."
"Thanks Chris. I don't think he will get petty. He's a good man."
"He's already gotten petty!" Chris replied crossly.
"Just leave it, Chris. OK?"
Jim heard them share a gentle kiss then Chris said,
"You can tell me I've been working in the field too long after this but, do you possibly think he's reacted like this because he's jealous?"
"Jim, jealous? Of what?"
"Me. I'm the one who shared your body and bed last night."
"No!" Then he repeated the word, sounding less sure, "No, I don't think so. He's never shown the slightest interest that way. I would have noticed that, it's part of my job to keep note of his reactions."
Upstairs Ellison frowned. Was he jealous? Did he secretly want Sandburg? He heard Sandburg and Chris share a longer kiss at the door. Did listening to them turn him on? He tried to tell himself his elevated breathing was annoyance but in his heart he wasn't altogether sure.
He got quietly out of bed and pulled on his shorts. Sandburg was leaning his head against the closed outer door, seemingly lost in thought. Jim ghosted up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.
Sandburg nearly leapt out of his skin.
"Don't do that!" he gasped, looking at Jim with wide, startled eyes, and his back plastered to the door.
"Sorry Chief, didn't mean to startle you."
"It's OK," he managed to say peeling himself off the door.
"Listen Blair, about last night…."
"It's OK. I'll make finding somewhere else a priority," he replied holding up a hand and making to go past Jim back to his room.
"No, that's not what I was going to say. You don't need to move out. It's my problem and it's me who needs to sort through it, not you."
Sandburg looked up into the blue-eyed gaze.
"Hey man, it's your place, if it makes you uncomfortable I'll go."
Ellison shook his head.
"I don't want you to go. You and Chris, or whoever, are welcome."
"You sure?" Blair questioned, sounding just a little suspicious.
"Thanks man," he said smiling and putting his hand on Ellison's upper arm. Ellison flinched slightly at the touch. Sandburg's smile turned sad at the reaction recognising they had lost a good deal of the trust from their relationship.
"I'm sorry," Jim said, conscious of his face colouring up a little. What the hell was the matter with him? Sandburg was just being his normal tactile self, not coming on to him.
"Guess I really did blow your mind more than a little," Sandburg said softly. "Look, Chris has invited me to a couple of the late night classes tonight, tomorrow and the day after. I'll probably stay over with Chris so I don't disturb you by coming in late."
"Blair, you don't need to."
"We could both use the time apart, I think."
Ellison dropped his gaze and then smiled sheepishly.
"Yeah, you're probably right."
The day started off hectic and continued that way. It began to tail off towards the end of their shift but still they ended up working later than planned. Ellison drove them both back to the loft.
"What time does the class start?" he asked.
"Seven thirty," Sandburg replied running to his room.
"Get your gear together and I'll drive you down there."
"It's alright, I'll take a cab," Sandburg replied, a little muffled from having his head inside a bag.
"You'll never get there in time," Ellison shouted back.
Jim had a point.
"Thanks man, it's appreciated!"
Ellison got his gym kit together deciding to get a good workout in whilst Sandburg was out at lectures.
His workout finished, Ellison came back to the loft to put together some dinner. It seemed unnaturally quiet without Blair's chatter in the background. When he finally went to bed Jim found it very difficult to get to sleep. The loft felt too different now, as if Sandburg had plastered his personality all over the place and now he wasn't here it felt too big, and echoey, like a family home after the family had left. He would be very glad to see him back in his room, along with whoever he chose to sleep with, man or woman.
The next day on shift Sandburg turned up ten minutes late and sporting shadows under his eyes. His attention wasn't on the job either.
"You sure you're up to this, Chief?"
"You look like hell, is why!"
"Yeah, long class," Blair replied, rubbing his face.
Ellison looked disbelieving, conscious once again of a brief spike of anger, but didn't say anything.
Simon handed them a case where five men had been mugged after visiting bars downtown. The muggings had been getting steadily more violent; the last victim was still in a coma. They ended up interviewing bar staff from two of the named bars. The last bar, Rizzo's, had the most staff to go through. Ellison took three names from the list whilst Blair took the last two. Blair was still talking to one of the bar staff when Ellison had finished. The barman was young and good-looking with very dark brown hair and the most amazing green eyes. In fact he looked a lot like a younger version of Chris Wilding. He was leaning over the bar talking conspiratorially with Sandburg. Jim was aware of a tightening in his guts at the sight. Sandburg was smiling and almost flirting with the man, who appeared to be lapping up the attention.
The young man leaned closer.
"Nice watch," Sandburg said, noticing the heavy gold bracelet.
"Yeah. Joe gave it to me."
"Wish I had friends like that!" Sandburg replied. Unless he was very much mistaken the bracelet on the watch was solid gold. It must have cost a fortune. "Is he your boyfriend?"
"No! I've been with him a couple of times, but he's not really my type."
Sandburg raised his eyebrows at the casual confidence, correctly surmising that Pete had put out after the 'gifts' but had turned down a relationship.
"This is his address. We were both on duty the evenings those people were mugged but he might be able to help you more."
Angrily Ellison stalked up behind Sandburg.
"You about finished?"
The young barman drew back quickly.
Blair was waiting whilst the barman finished writing on the back of a card. Jim tuned in and read part of a telephone number. Were they swapping phone numbers?
The barman smiled and handed the card to Sandburg, who returned the smile.
"Come back when you've spoken to him," he invited Sandburg. It wasn't lost on Jim that he hadn't been included in the invitation. "We can have a drink. I get off at eight tonight."
"Sorry, I'm busy this evening," Sandburg replied, sounding genuinely regretful.
"How about Friday?"
"OK. I think it'll still be running then. Thanks. I'll do that," Sandburg replied happily.
"Is that your boyfriend?" the barman asked, dropping his voice.
"No, I'm his partner," Ellison growled joining in the conversation.
"Oh!" The fear in the young man's eyes was quite real.
Ellison bared his teeth in a parody of a smile before dragging Sandburg out of the bar and into his car outside.
"Jim, what the hell's wrong with you?"
"Me? What was all that about? We're supposed to be interviewing the bar staff not chatting them up and swapping phone numbers!"
"I wasn't swapping phone numbers!" Sandburg yelled, "He was giving me the number and address of another barman who was working each night when three of the victims got mugged coming out of the bar, including the last one."
A profound silence fell in the car.
"Yes, oh!" He handed Ellison the card. "You can interview him yourself, as you don't seem to trust me anymore."
Sandburg sat straight in his seat, arms folded and stared stonily through the windscreen.
"Sorry Sandburg. It just looked like you were flirting with him…."
"You know two days ago that thought wouldn't have crossed your mind!" he shouted.
Ellison remained silent. Blair was totally correct.
"He's interested in old films. So I was telling him about a cinema downtown….."
"….the Palace! Shows a bunch of forties films once a month," Ellison finished for him. He felt like a complete idiot.
"Jim, you've got to get away from this idea of a stereotypical gay man. I do not try to get any guy who crosses my path into bed."
Ellison rubbed his forehead. He was confused by his own conduct but he didn't really know why he was acting like this.
"Can we start again?" he asked.
After a pause Sandburg agreed, then added,
"Remember, it's still me. I'm still more likely to ask a women out, than a man. OK?"
"OK. We'll interview this one together. And…. I'm sorry."
Sandburg grunted, which Ellison took as an 'apology accepted' sign.
Ellison paused in the act of starting the car, waiting meekly for the next instalment of his rollicking.
"This guy Joe has been giving Petey presents. Very nice and exceedingly expensive presents."
The fact that the sentence was connected to the case threw Ellison for a few seconds.
"Pete wouldn't be the first guy or girl who puts out for presents. Or were you thinking that there's a connection with the muggings?"
"Both. Pete admits he repaid in kind but says Joe isn't really his type. I'm willing to bet Joe doesn't know about that bit."
Thoughtfully Ellison started the car and drove to the address on the card. Knocking on the door of the apartment he produced his ID.
"Good afternoon, sir, I'm detective Ellison this is my associate Blair Sandburg."
This guy is hiding something, was Sandburg's first thought. Joe looked shifty and suspicious.
"Detective. What can I do for you?"
"We'd just like to ask you a few questions about the nights of the third and seventh of last month and the fifth, fifteenth and twenty-first of this month. Five men were mugged leaving downtown bars, one of them being Rizio's."
"I work there, but I didn't see anything," Joe replied. "Who gave you my address?"
"Your friend, Petey," Blair replied, deliberately using the more friendly sounding version of the young man's name.
"You a friend of Pete's?" Joe asked, lighting up a cigarette.
"Just a mutual interest in old films," he replied, prevaricating.
"Yeah. Going to make an effort to catch the forties fest this week."
"Jim doesn't like films which are older than him!" Blair quipped.
"Very funny!" Ellison replied, smiling down at Sandburg.
They both noticed the almost imperceptible tightening of Joe's lips, quickly covered. Ellison heard the elevated heart rate too. The man was angry at the news Sandburg was seeing flicks with someone he believed was his boyfriend.
"Pete does have some odd tastes," Joe replied lazily, the double meaning not lost on either man.
"His taste in watches looked pretty good to me," Sandburg replied. "He tells me you gave it to him as a gift. Very generous of you. Must have cost a fortune."
Ellison looked down at Joe's watch. That too looked like an expensive model, more than a barman could afford.
"Or perhaps you have the exquisite taste?" Ellison asked silkily.
"The kid gets hit on a lot when he's working. They tend to back off when they see the watch. They think he has a rich sugar daddy or mommy in the wings."
"And you do nothing to spoil the illusion?" Ellison asked.
"I do everything I can to foster it," Joe replied softly. Then he turned his head to look at Blair. "Some of the men can be quite unpleasant when they've been drinking all evening."
"Good thing he has you around to look out for him," Sandburg said.
"I do my best."
Ellison took a card from his wallet and handed it to Joe.
"Well if anything comes to mind about the muggings or you see anyone acting suspiciously, give me a call, OK?"
"OK, detective," he replied taking a long drag on his cigarette.
Jim smiled then strode away. Joe remained at the door looking after them, watching Sandburg struggling to keep up with Ellison's longer strides.
"Good call there, Chief. Think I need to get back and do a little digging on Mr Joe McCready," Ellison said, starting the car and moving off into the traffic stream.
"You want me to come with you?"
"No thanks. I'll check him out on the computer. If I find anything we can plan what to do tomorrow. I'll drop you off at Chris' hotel. You can be early for your lecture."
"Very early. This one doesn't start until eight thirty."
"I'm sure you'll find something to do to pass the time," Ellison replied, his lips twitching.
Blair coloured up but laughed, understanding this was Jim's way of making an effort to come to terms with the new information in their relationship.
Ellison drew up in front of the hotel and Blair opened the door to get out.
"Watch your back."
Blair and Ellison shared a look.
"Will do," Sandburg replied giving a cheery wave.
He watched Sandburg enter the building then turned and went back to work, failing to notice the dark car which pulled in outside the hotel behind him.
Mr Joseph Kevin McCready had led a chequered life, Ellison found when he typed McCready's name into the computer. He had two convictions for petty larceny but that was twelve years previously then three years later arrested for suspected violent assault but released for lack of evidence when the victim, his partner, had refused to press charges, even when released from hospital. Nothing since that point. So, he'd either become better at covering his tracks or had gone straight. Ellison sat in front of the terminal lost in thought. He wondered if Pete, the barman, knew he was playing with fire. Probably not. Looking like he did, he would be used to the bar's patrons hitting on him and by the way he had handled Sandburg he seemed well able to take care of himself without having to resort to violence. Looking at his watch he decided to go home and think about this some more. He could discuss the fruits of his cogitations with Sandburg in the morning.
Sandburg ran up the five flights of stairs to Chris's room. He already had a key so he knocked briefly and went straight in. Chris was just pouring himself a drink before a leisurely shower. The leisurely shower turned into an erotic couple of hours in bed followed by a quick shower and change of clothes. They ran down the stairs and out of the hotel hoping to flag down a taxi. But even using Sandburg's local know-how, available taxies were in short supply. They walked on quickly keeping an eye peeled for anything resembling transport.
"We can go down here, and cut across on fourth," Sandburg said, coming to a quieter road. "We'll be less than five minutes away then."
"OK, whatever you say."
Chris followed Blair's lead both talking about the forthcoming lecture. It was the one they had been looking forward to seeing. Headlights cutting through the gloom from behind them made Sandburg move closer to the wall, pushing Chris in front of him on the narrow sidewalk. Subconsciously something alerted Sandburg that all was not well with the vehicle behind them; it was driving too fast down the narrow street for a start. He turned quickly seeing the headlights getting nearer a lot quicker than they should be doing. Instinctively he pushed Chris into the wall, there being nowhere else to go as the car mounted the sidewalk. Blair, curled around Chris, taking most of the impact as the car struck them, the front wing scraping along the wall before the driver managed to pull it back onto the road. One headlight was smashed and the buckled fender was rubbing against the tyre. The driver pulled over a few yards down the road, killed the engine and got out. He glanced behind once checking that both men were still down and unmoving then he stopped and looked all around him. Moving lightly he walked to the bodies and riffled through their jackets. He whistled low under his breath when he found the 'C' note in Sandburg's wallet. He couldn't free it with his gloves on so he removed one and pulled the note free along with the rest of the cash. He then emptied Chris's wallet too, flinging both in a trashcan he passed whilst running off into the night.
Silently a pool of liquid, dark under the streetlights, began to spread around the motionless men.
Jim tossed and turned in his silent bed. He had become accustomed to a certain degree of noise from his flatmate so now that noise was missing he was unable to get to sleep still. Sighing he turned over again, and irritably punched his pillow. Eventually he drifted into a doze. Then he heard his mobile phone give a little click before it began to ring.
"Jim, it's Simon. I'm at the hospital."
A cold shiver went down his spine.
"It's Sandburg. I got a call from traffic that he'd been picked up unconscious, looks like a hit and run."
"How is he?"
"He's in OR. I think you'd better get down here."
Jim barely hesitated before saying,
"On my way!"
At the hospital Simon looked as rumpled as the ungodly hour of four forty five in the morning permitted.
"How is he?" Ellison asked immediately.
"Out of OR. Both him and his friend had been lying in the street for a while before someone decided to call the police."
"And don't tell me, it took a while for them to go and investigate what they thought was a pair of drunks passed out on the sidewalk?" Jim asked his face tight with suppressed anger.
"That's about the size of it."
"Can I see him?"
Simon shook his head.
"What are his injuries?"
"Broken ribs, internal injuries and head injuries. Must have been more of a glancing blow from the vehicle, there are no pedestrian injuries."
Ellison's face snapped around in shock at the last in the injury list. Sandburg's brilliant mind possibly damaged!
"It looks like he tried to push Mr Wilding out of the way and took the brunt of the impact which threw him forward where he struck his head hard on the wall."
"Broken ribs, broken arm, torn lung but no head injuries."
"Has anyone called Naomi?"
"Thought it would be better to wait until we have spoken to a doctor."
Jim nodded and sank down onto a chair to wait.
A grey, wet dawn was breaking over the city before a doctor came to speak to them.
"Mr Wilding is responding well to treatment. We've pinned his arm, repaired his lung and immobilised his ribs."
"Mr Sandburg isn't doing quite so well. He has a torn kidney, multiple bruising and lacerations, we've had to remove his spleen and he has a hairline fracture of the skull. We're keeping him under close observation."
"And?" Ellison asked, hearing the minute breaks in the doctor's speech pattern.
"He's… he's slipped into a coma so we've had to put him on a respirator. Currently it's breathing for him."
"Can't you do anything else for him?" Ellison asked loudly.
"He is under very close observation in intensive care."
"What are his chances?" Simon asked. His quiet voice contrasting sharply with Ellison's.
"He could go either way. His brain has received a huge insult, we're trying our best to keep the swelling to a minimum so that any possible damage is kept to a minimum. Do you know how to contact his next of kin?"
Ellison, who had been pale before, now looked bloodless besides Simon. The doctor thought Blair was going to die.
"Can I see him?" Ellison asked quietly.
The doctor nodded and guided him to Blair's bedside.
He looked a mess; his face was bruised, white bandages obscured most of his head. He had tubes running into his arms and the backs of both hands while the tube from the respirator was stitched into his throat. His eyelids had been gently taped shut as well. His face, where it wasn't bruised, was pale and his lips were white.
In the bed on the other side of the ward Chris Wilding was beginning to come round from the anaesthetic.
Jim sat down in the plastic chair at the side of the bed and picked up Blair's hand. His skin felt clammy and cool. He made a silent promise to the young man in the bed; if it took the rest of his life he would track down the person who had done this to him and make them pay. Justice was forgotten in the heat of his anger.
The steady hiss of the respirator matching the artificial rise and fall of Blair's chest was strangely soothing. Jim made himself believe that as long as the machine was working away Blair couldn't die. It was pumping oxygen around his body, feeding his brain so that wouldn't be damaged either. Sandburg had to survive, he just had to.
In the background he could hear Simon talking on the telephone at the nurses station, mobile telephones being banned in the hospital, issuing instructions and listening to reports back from the crime investigation team. He had no idea of how long he had been sitting there willing his own life force into Blair. He guessed it had been some time when he looked across the bed and saw Naomi crying softly for her son. Tears he hadn't realised he had shed had left dried tracks on his own face. She reached across for his hand which he gladly gave. He felt better seeing Naomi there. Blair would never do anything to hurt Naomi; if he died, that would hurt Naomi, ergo, he couldn't die now she was here.
He must have dozed for a while, lulled by the busy quiet of the intensive care room and the steady hiss of the respirator. He half dreamed he saw a dark car pulling in behind him at Chris's hotel; Joe McCready's face again, looking down at Sandburg speculatively. Then he knew who was to blame for this. He sat up suddenly, startling Naomi.
"Jim! What's the matter?" she asked him.
He shook his head as he stood up. He leaned over and whispered in Sandburg's ear,
"I know who did this to you and Chris. I'm going to bring him in." He paused then added even more quietly, "Don't you dare even consider leaving me! I love you whoever you choose to sleep with."
For one of the few times in his adult life, Jim kissed another man's face, as he gently touched his lips to Blair's stubbled cheek.
"Jim, where are you going?"
"To find the man who did this," he replied softly. Leaning down he kissed Naomi's lips.
Simon ran into him in the lobby and immediately put an embargo on him driving anywhere. Ellison barely knew what day it was and he had no idea that he'd been sitting at Sandburg's bedside for two days straight. Simon put him in the passenger seat of his own vehicle and set off following Ellison's directions. It didn't take long to reach McCready's apartment block. When there was no answer to Ellison's repeated hammerings on his door he bethought himself to ask the time. On being told it was two thirty in the afternoon, he muttered something about 'working' and went back to the car.
Rizio's was quiet and McCready was hanging over Pete like a lovesick dog. Ellison wasted no time on preliminaries. He drew his gun and stalked towards McCready. Pete immediately moved back out of the way. Ellison looked like an avenging angel; unshaven, wild haired and eyed. Despite having not a shred of hard evidence Ellison shouted across the bar,
"McCready, I'm arresting you for the attempted murder of Blair Sandburg and Christopher Wilding!"
"Jim, what are you doing?" Banks hissed urgently.
"What!" Pete cried.
"Your boyfriend has been mugging customers to pay for all those nice presents he keeps giving you…" Ellison continued.
"He's not my boyfriend!" Pete immediately refuted.
McCready's face was incredulous as he let loose with a string of expletives.
"I did it all for you, to get you nice things!"
"I didn't ask for your presents," Pete shouted back
McCready picked up the nearest item and swung it at Pete's head. Ellison intercepted the bottle before it found its target. McCready was dragged, kicking, screaming from the bar and swearing undying vengeance on 'that little whore!' Incriminating dialogue poured from his lips, enough to put him away for several lifetimes but both Ellison and Banks knew he probably wouldn't make it to trial. A plea of insanity was a certainty.
The clean-up took less than an hour. In less than three, Ellison was once again sitting at Sandburg's bedside. He had refused Simon's order that he go home to get some rest. He was dead on his feet but he knew he would not be able to sleep until he knew for sure Sandburg was out of danger.
Naomi welcomed him back with the news there had been a small change just after he left. The doctors had turned the respirator off for a few seconds and Blair had taken two breaths on his own before they had switched it back on.
He smiled at her and hugged her before resuming his seat. Tired as he was he couldn't prevent his hearing tuning in to the cadence of the respirator again, but this time he could hear another sound. It wasn't the purely mechanical sound of the machine, he was sure he could also hear physical sounds of Sandburg's lungs beginning to work on their own, assisting the machine. He listened for a few more seconds just to be sure then pressed the call button.
"Nurse, I can hear him breathing on his own."
"No sir, when that happens the machine emits a signal to tell us."
"I can hear him," Ellison said slowly.
The nurse looked at him and pursed her lips. He should be elsewhere getting some rest not making her life harder but just to be sure she went and checked the respirator. It was functioning normally, all alarms switched on for preset levels and none of them had gone off.
"I'm sorry sir….." she began to explain again but was interrupted by a steady beeping tone.
She turned and checked the machine again; this time the respirator alarm which signalled the patient had begun to assist the machine was sounding.
Ellison and Naomi clung to each other as they were unceremoniously ejected from the area around Sandburg's bed by the bevy of doctors who were crowding around him. Naomi hung onto Jim trying to prepare herself for the worst news any parent could receive. Jim hugged her back whispering,
"It's going to be alright, he's coming back to us."
"Did you really hear him breathing again?" she asked tearfully, afraid to believe Jim in case he was wrong.
A few minutes later the crowd of medics thinned out leaving just two doctors.
"Please, what's happening?" Naomi asked.
"Your son is breathing unaided, Mrs Sandburg," the man replied. "We've taken the tube out of his throat and put him on an oxygen line."
"He's going to be alright?"
"It's early days yet, but Blair is young and strong and it looks more hopeful when the patient can breathe unaided," Doctor Wiseman replied patting her arm.
"Thank you, doctor," Jim replied leading the way back to Sandburg's bed.
Sandburg was put on fifteen minute observations. Jim counted five visits from a nurse before he detected any other changes. Naomi was visiting with Chris on the other side of the ward, talking softly to him and trying to soothe his fears for Blair. Jim heard a tiny cough deep down and saw Sandburg's eyes moving more rapidly under his closed and taped eyelids. Standing, he carefully removed the lightly applied tape and waited. Sure enough a few seconds later Blair's eyes flickered open.
"Jim?" he whispered his voice croaky and his throat sore from the tube which had been in there.
"Yeah, it's me, Chief."
Blair licked his dry, pale lips and asked,
"Chris is OK," he said, reaching for the cup of water with a straw. "Here, try a sip of this," he said, offering the straw.
"Thanks," Blair replied, after taking a soothing drink.
He nodded, beginning to look sleepy.
"I'm going to call the nurse she'll want to take a look at you. OK?"
Blair nodded again.
"Naomi!" Jim called softly pressing the call button again.
Naomi came running just in time to see Blair's eyes shut as he went back to sleep again.
Jim could not stop grinning.
Recovery took time, rather more than Blair was prepared to tolerate. He wanted to get back to work much quicker than his mending body would allow. He had been left with a slight weakness in his left hand, a legacy of the small amount of brain damage he had sustained. Otherwise, as he acknowledged, Sandburg had been amazingly lucky there. His complaints of being bored became much worse after Chris left to go back to England. There were times in the couple of weeks afterwards when Jim heartily wished Sandburg had gone to England with Chris then he remembered how quiet and deathly still the loft had been without him so he bit his tongue and helped him with his physiotherapy instead.
Winter turned to spring, greening the parks and trees. An unseasonable warm spell hit Cascade bringing on an early silly season to the city. Crimes involving alcohol rose sharply as did petty theft and burglaries.
Jim and Blair were walking back to Jim's car from interviewing a couple who had been burgled whilst hosting a barbeque on the patio. The precinct were short staffed due to the mini crime wave so everyone had been drafted in temporarily to help out. The burglars were obviously cheeky as well as professional, only items which were easy to fence had been taken. Jim had taken the details whilst Blair had listened, stepping in now and again with a question of his own. They passed three driveways and were just traversing the fourth, both deep in conversation, when Jim heard a sports car start up and reverse at great speed out of the garage beside them. Reacting quickly he pushed Sandburg out of the way, both men rolling onto the lawn of the next door's garden. The sports car shot out onto the road and stalled. Two young lads, who had obviously been drinking, were sitting in the front seat. Jim could smell the alcohol from where he lay winded. Quickly checking Sandburg was OK he strode over to the two boys just as their irate father catapulted from the house.
A three-way argument ensued. The boys' father breathing fire on them for drinking and then taking his precious restored car without permission, the boys' themselves trying for mitigating circumstances that they weren't that drunk and Alex's foot had slipped, and Jim, trying to keep the peace, in the middle.
Eventually it was sorted out. Mr Dunblane drove the car, carefully and slowly, back into the garage, and stated he didn't want to press charges. Alex and Philip were ushered, unsteadily, back into the house with instructions to sober up and not to do it again.
Jim wandered back to Blair, who was still sitting on the lawn, looking pale and sweaty, accompanied by the householder who was offering him a glass of water. Ellison could see where Sandburg had lost his lunch suddenly.
"Chief, you OK?"
Sandburg swallowed hard before replying quietly,
"Yeah. I'll be fine."
Ellison wasn't so sure. Throughout the course of the afternoon he kept pressing until Blair finally lost his temper.
"I'm fine man, just, just leave it alone will you!"
He stalked away trying to put some distance between himself and his partner. The sudden silence in the wake of his outburst was deafening.
"What's eating him?" Simon asked from the door of his office.
"Think he's still shocked from nearly getting hit by that car this afternoon."
"Do you think he needs counselling? He refused it when he was injured last time."
"Don't know, Simon. I'll leave him to cool off and then try to talk to him. I'll let you know."
Banks nodded and returned to his office.
Strictly speaking it was still a few minutes to the end of their shift but Ellison decided to call it a day as there was nothing else pressing. He tracked Sandburg down in the toilet. The distinctive odour of vomit hung in the atmosphere. Blair was swilling his mouth and his face.
"Sorry I yelled, man," he apologised. "And thanks for saving my butt back there," he added drying his hands and his face on a paper towel still not making eye contact with Ellison.
"All part of the service. You about ready to go? Before Simon finds us something else to do."
Blair smiled at him.
"Yeah. Let's get going."
Sandburg was quieter than normal all the way home but he readily agreed to a workout in the gym, where he seemed to be attempting to tire himself out. When they returned he offered to cook too. Cooking was therapy to Sandburg so Ellison let him knock himself out. The meal was delicious and very welcome; it had been a long time since lunch. He noticed Sandburg not eating much but decided against saying anything.
With the lingering heat, the workout and the good meal inside him, Jim wasn't long in getting to sleep that night. Vaguely he heard Sandburg puttering about downstairs then go to his own room.
A couple of hours later Ellison woke with a start. He lay listening for a few seconds, correctly identifying the sound which had woken him as Sandburg having a nightmare. He hadn't been plagued with night terrors after he got out of hospital, but after today Ellison wasn't too surprised that he was having a nightmare now. It didn't sound like he was waking up so Ellison got out of bed quickly and went to Sandburg's room.
"Hey, Chief, wake up!" he said, shaking the other man's shoulder.
It took several attempts before Blair woke up with a start. He was bathed in sweat and breathing hard. Ellison made a conscious effort to ignore the other sign of terror clearly outlined under the bed sheet.
Ellison rubbed his back as Blair leaned forward over his bent knees.
"Oh man! What a dream!"
Blair nodded. "Sorry I woke you."
Ellison nodded then got off the bed. He fetched a small towel from the bathroom and threw it across the room to Sandburg.
"'Night Chief," he muttered, on his way back to his own bed.
An hour-and-a-half later, the same thing happened again, only this time the sounds of distress were louder. With a sigh, Ellison flung back the bedclothes and padded back to Sandburg's room.
"Chief! Chief, turn over," he instructed gently, pushing against Blair's shoulder.
With encouragement he turned onto his side, without waking, but he was shaking and sweating as badly as before. Ellison picked up the discarded towel and blotted his skin then finished by stroking his back, as if he were a child. After a while the soothing motion had the desired effect and the shaking stopped; the cadence of his breathing falling into the rhythm of peaceful deep sleep. Ellison decided to stay where he was for a while in case Blair went into another nightmare.
When he next awoke it was to find himself alone on top of Sandburg's bed. Sandburg was scrambling eggs in the kitchen and there was the giveaway smell of crisp bacon and toast too.
"Morning Chief. Another courtship ritual?"
"As I woke up with you in my bed, I think it's a bit late for courtship!"
Ellison grinned and went into the bathroom to shower and get ready for work.
After the shower as he was sitting down to eat he asked,
"So why the nice cooked breakfast?"
"Wanted to apologise for waking you up last night," Sandburg replied ruefully.
"Really sorry about that, man."
"Can you remember what you were dreaming about?" Ellison asked in between mouthfuls of egg, hoping to get a chance to persuade Sandburg to take up the offer of counselling.
"McCready. He was driving the sports car from yesterday."
"Only to be expected. It reminded you of your previous trauma."
"Not exactly your 'firm under fire' type, am I?"
"You haven't been trained for that kind of mission. You're doing OK, Chief. Don't sweat it."
The second night Jim was awoken three times before he once again stayed with Sandburg. The third night, only once, because he made the decision to stay in his bed after the first occasion. Oddly enough Jim found no difficulty in sleeping soundly when sharing a bed with Sandburg.
The strain was beginning to tell on them both but Sandburg, physically, looked the worst. His face was pale, the shadows under his eyes and cheekbones throwing his pallor into sharp relief. Jim noticed his weight loss from five days of eating very little, too. If he continued like this he would be recommending to Simon that perhaps psychiatric help maybe required rather than counselling. The following day was the start of three days off, Jim thankfully noted. Sandburg seemed to be in no great hurry to go to bed that evening either, despite being incredibly tired due to constant sleep interruptions. Ellison decided enough was enough and got ready for bed. Blair noted the activity without a word until he saw Jim heading off towards his bedroom rather than Jim's own.
"Jim? Where you going, man?"
"Bed. I need a night of uninterrupted sleep and if that means I need to share your bed to get it until you get over these night terrors, then that's what I'm going to do!"
Three minutes later he felt the bed dip as Sandburg got in the other side.
"'Night Chief," Ellison muttered.
"'Night Jim. And thanks."
Ellison didn't reply.
Ten and a half glorious hours of deep sleep later Jim awoke. For a second he couldn't remember whose long, dark wavy hair was spread out on the pillow next to his then memory of the previous few days returned. Sandburg snuffled in his sleep and turned over to face Ellison. Jim didn't move a muscle. It wasn't often anyone had the chance to study a good friend and mentor whilst he was sleeping and vulnerable. He was so busy studying the curve of his cheek flowing down to his full lips that he didn't notice he was being studied in return. Looking into his blue eyes from a distance of around eight inches, Jim painted a carefully neutral expression on his face; neither encouraging nor discouraging.
Blair studied his face, trying to see what lay behind the calm exterior.
Jim could read the intention in Blair's eyes well before he acted upon it.
Leaning in the necessary few inches Blair touched his lips to Jim's then drew back slightly. When no violent reaction was forthcoming he kissed him again.
Jim accepted the sensory input. Blair's lips were firmer than a woman's but just as mobile, the texture pleasant. A tingle in his groin told him his body had no objections, as yet. He found the experience of kissing Blair as pleasant and stimulating as he would have found kissing any other good female friend.
Blair pulled back and again tried to read the dispassionate expression on Jim's face.
"Is this an experiment?" he finally asked.
"I guess," Ellison replied.
"How far are you going to take this?" Blair asked.
"How far do you want to go?" Ellison asked reasonably.
"Probably way beyond anything you'd want to try," Blair admitted smiling.
Ellison smiled. He didn't deny he was curious as to what it would be like to share Sandburg's body. He liked to know what made his close friends tick but this was one thing where he couldn't see why sleeping with a male friend appealed to such a hedonist like Sandburg.
"As long as you remember I'm not into pain, giving or receiving, the world's your oyster, Chief," he whispered in a sultry tone.
Blair's eyebrows rose nearly into his hairline. He let his hand drift down and rubbed the pad of his thumb across Jim's nipple, which immediately hardened to pebbled rigidity, the pectoral muscle behind flinching. Lightly he scratched across the bumpy surface with his nails then soothed with the palm of his hand. A quick intake of breath and a light film of perspiration along his top lip were Ellison's only outward signs of reaction as both men maintained eye contact.
Blair licked across his top lip and then kissed him deeply, sliding his tongue into his friend's mouth.
Jim tasted his own sweat on Blair's tongue before Blair's natural taste covered it. This kiss was stronger, harder, more exciting. Jim realised he didn't need to be careful of his own strength here. He could be comfortable with his desires, however powerful they became; Blair was young and strong and able to fight back. Now he could see the attraction in this; why this could be so good. For once he could be totally himself knowing he wouldn't be liable to hurt someone so much weaker than himself. It was liberating and exhilarating. He kissed back with a passion, rolling so that Blair was lying on him.
After a couple of minutes of using Jim's body as a mattress Blair rolled them again so they were once again lying side by side. He slid his thigh between Jim's legs, brushing his erection against Jim's hip. The kisses they had been trading had turned Blair on, fast. He still wasn't sure if Jim was completely serious about continuing. Feeling the evidence of his arousal would probably see his bedmate running from the room. To his amazement he felt an answering firmness against his hip.
"You're really not winding me up, are you?" Blair asked in surprise.
Ellison came back to earth with a bump.
"You thought I'd do that to you?"
"I thought you might lose your nerve and back-off," Blair admitted. "You've never thought about bedding a man before, why now?"
He tried to shrug whilst holding Blair in an undemanding hug.
"Curiosity," he replied succinctly.
Blair was uncertain.
"Jim, I don't want to lose a friend as well as a possible lover if this doesn't work out."
"You won't Chief, you won't."
"Answer me one question; tell me why you like having sex with men?" Ellison asked.
"Told you, not just any men, I need to be really good friends first."
"OK. I think I qualify. Why?"
Blair frowned in concentration for a second or two, before replying a little hesitantly,
"It's comforting and quite often amazing because I'm very relaxed with the person. Usually it strengthens the friendship as well. And it's not having sex, it's making love!"
Jim grinned down at his soon to be lover.
"So stop analysing and make love to me," he said softly turning his words into kisses.
More than happy to comply, Blair returned his kisses moving his lips down to Jim's neck and shoulder, following the line of his breastbone on his perfectly defined chest. He licked a nipple, lightly suckling on its raised peak, noting the sensitivity as Jim, again, flinched slightly. Softly he blew across the wet roseate hardness hearing the soft sigh of appreciation. He applied his lips to its mate wanting to hear more from Jim. He hadn't expected him to be a very vocal lover, given his normally stoic nature but he was being pleasantly surprised. Tasting the sweat springing out from his pores Blair decided to move onto safer territory before his encounter could finish before it had really begun. He licked and kissed a trail down Jim's hairless chest to his navel, briefly dipping the point of his tongue in before moving to the side and slowly licking along the inside of his hipbone then he blew along the same path. He could see and feel Jim's stomach muscles tense and heard the strangled moan as Jim tried to move away from his tormenting tongue but at the same time didn't want to take himself out of its range. His hands were twisting in the sheets. Blair grinned at the sight then grinned even more at the sight a few inches in front of his nose. Jim had a fantastic body; sculptured, very fit and well looked after. His other attributes were just as generous. Sandburg couldn't wait any longer. He leaned over and softly kissed the head of his erection, lapping at the juices beginning to leak out, the salty musky taste defining itself as 'Jim' in his mind. Like himself he was cut, the head smooth and flaring out above his stiffened shaft. Dreamily his lowered his mouth as far down as he possibly could. He'd never actually mastered the art of 'deep throating' but judging by the enthusiastic response from the head of the bed it wasn't going to make much difference. He settled in to enjoy himself, varying the pace and level of suction, his hand worshipfully mirroring the action and grip of his mouth and lips. He was losing himself totally in his world of sensuality and pleasure, his eyes closed as his lips and fingers and tongue became his instruments of joy. Blair's own erection was rubbing lightly against the sheet but that level of stimulation wasn't quite enough. Whilst he would be quite happy to let Jim come in his mouth, an event which wouldn't be too far in the future if he didn't back off a little, he really wanted to get this lovely throbbing tower of pleasure inside himself but he thought that may be just a bit too much for Jim's first time out. He snaked his other had down to touch himself, ringing himself just as he liked it, rubbing at a little point under the head which made him shiver.
Jim had other ideas. So far all this had been a bit one sided. While Sandburg's talent in the blow-job department was quite stunning, and in his experience, unsurpassed, (he should have known those lovely lips would be good at this), he wanted to touch Sandburg as well. He gripped Blair's shoulders, signalling him to stop, when he didn't he pulled him off forcefully and up the bed to lie beside him. Blair looked at him with barely aware confused eyes as Jim kissed him, tasting the essence of himself in the other man's mouth.
"I want to touch you too," he whispered.
Blair smiled and lay back on the bed, his arms outstretched and bent at the elbows, silently offering his body. An offer Jim wasted no time in taking up even though it felt very odd to be sexually touching a body with chest hair! He kissed Blair where ever the fancy took him; the end of his shoulder, inside his elbow. His lips encountered the scar where the doctors had removed his spleen after the hit and run.
Kissing his scars Jim remembered how he had felt when Sandburg's life was hanging in the balance. Having him back with him, fit and healthy, felt like the icing on the cake. Smiling he continued on his explorations kissing the underside of his wrist, his waist – a sharp intake of breath on that one, then he hit the jackpot, he kissed his ribs. Blair was exceedingly ticklish there and tried to move away from the light tormenting touches but Jim wouldn't let him. Slowly the teasing touches became firmer, more sensual, until Blair was writhing and moaning continually. Taking leave of that area Jim moved down to his goal. There was no way he was going to be as good at this as Sandburg was but he was going to try his best. He took his length into his mouth and sucked slowly, moving his lips up and down, his head bobbing with the motion.
Sandburg opened his eyes wide at the first touch and looked down his body to see Jim lying between his legs, his mouth stretched around his engorged cock giving the act his complete and absolute concentration. The image was too much, with an inchoate cry he wrenched himself free and turned onto his side, knees bent and both hands gripping tightly just behind the crown of his cock, desperately trying to stop himself coming. His chest heaving and his skin slick with moisture he screwed his face up and tried to think of his usual delaying tactic images, overfilled ashtrays being the one which usually worked but the sight of Jim and the phantom feel of his lips and velvet tongue would not go away.
A large hot hand stroked up his arm while those warm lips kissed each vertebrae along his spine until they reached the back of his neck by which time he had partially recovered. He leaned further over pulling open a drawer in the night-stand and fishing around in there until his fingers encountered the cool tube of lubricant and a foil wrapped condom.
Decorum be damned, he wanted Jim inside him as soon as possible. It felt imperative, of incredible, vast importance that their bodies be joined, however briefly. Why he felt that now he didn't know; a few minutes ago he would have been deliriously happy to have sucked Jim off and masturbated himself to climax but not now.
Jim watched him feverishly rip open the packet and roll the latex sheath on him, picking up the tube he squirted a generous dollop into his palm and stroked it over the condom, his hands following Blair's.
Taking the tube from him, Blair coated his own hand and perfunctorily prepared himself, holding Jim's gaze whilst he did so. Looking up into that widely dilated gaze whilst performing such an intimate act on himself was an amazing turn-on, not something he exactly needed at that point. Coating his hand again, Jim put it between Blair's legs and followed the other man's fingers. He pushed a finger inside, gently forcing Blair's hand away then he tenderly and thoroughly prepared him. A couple of times his fingers touched a bump inside, each time Blair jerked and gasped, and pushed back hard on his fingers. It obviously wasn't painful! Stroking firmly over the bump for a third time Blair cried out,
"Jim!" and rolled Jim onto his back, quickly positioning himself and lowering his body down.
Ellison rested his hands on Sandburg's bunching thigh muscles, his grip tightening as his cock was taken, inch by inch, into his hot, tight passage. His hips wanted to move immediately but somehow he knew that would hurt Sandburg. He shifted his grip to hold both of Blair's hands whilst Blair's own body weight impaled him on Jim's shaft. Blair, kneeling astride Jim's pelvis, his head thrown back and his skin sheened in sweat, appeared to be in agony. Again, the knowledge flowed to Jim that he was hurting but the hurt would fade soon, his guts gave a brief sympathetic twisting spasm. He kept as still as possible under this erotic torture as Blair adjusted to his bulk. Slowly, so as not to cause him any pain, Jim bent his knees, feeling Blair shift down and fit snugly against his pelvis. Blair gasped then slowly relaxed. He lifted himself a tiny amount and settled back again, both men gasping together. That felt impossibly good! Blair's eyes opened wide at the sensation as did Jim's. God, if he'd known fucking a man could be this good he would have turned gay years ago! Experimentally Jim gave a gentle thrust, again the pleasure from that small movement ripped through him making Sandburg almost sob. Jim felt the sensation travel up his spine and into his mind like a wave, his grip on Sandburg's hands tightened. Strangely, he could feel an answering, phantom touch on his own hands then he lost the ability to analyse anything as his body took over, his anarchic hips pumping into Sandburg, lifting his body so he could slide down and he could fill him again and again. Filling being filled, over and over, their grip on each other's hands sliding and loosening with sweat. An echo of the intense, white hot ecstasy Blair was feeling rippled through Jim's mind, just as the sensation of unbearable bliss of pumping into the hot tightness of Blair's body felt by Jim, twined itself around the pleasure centres of Blair's brain. The feelings echoed between them quickly becoming stronger and stronger, overwhelming them both until Blair screamed his release, the sound ripped from twin throats, their over stimulated minds shutting down immediately.
Slowly Jim came back to some kind of vague awareness. A heavy weight was resting on his chest, making it difficult for his labouring lungs to function. He opened his eyes to find Sandburg had fallen forward onto his chest, his hair spread out and he too was breathing very hard. He put his arms around his lover and carefully rolled them onto their sides, his softened organ slipping wetly from Sandburg's body as he did so. Sandburg seemed to be semi-conscious. Jim gently kissed his lips, absurdly delighted at the response. When he drew back Blair opened his eyes looking into Jim's, awe and surprise in his gaze.
"Is it always as intense as that?" Jim asked softly.
Sandburg shook his head.
"I've never felt anything like that!" he whispered back. "Man, if I'd known you were this good in bed I'd have seduced you the first day I met you!"
Jim grinned at the compliment,
"Ditto," he replied, stroking his hand along Sandburg's flank.
A ghostly touch stroked along his own thigh. Startled he looked down at himself then back at Blair.
"Did you feel that?"
"'Course I did."
"No, I didn't mean it that way….," he broke off unable to put what he did mean into words. "Touch me!"
"Jim, man, I can't get much closer to you," Blair said, looking down at their bodies plastered together from chest to knees.
"Touch my arm, stoke me!" Ellison said quickly.
Sandburg gave him an odd look but complied then the same look of shock crossed his face.
Sitting up slightly he ran his fingertips all the way down Jim's arm. He could still feel the sensation on his own arm but it was fainter this time.
Jim reached out and stroked his leg, this time the echo of feeling on his own body was fainter still.
"I take it this is something which has never happened before?" Ellison questioned.
Blair shook his head.
"When I was entering you, you were hurting a lot," Ellison stated.
"Well it's been quite few months since I last had penetrative sex," Sandburg replied, a little defensively.
"The pain radiated up your back and across here," he stroked across Sandburg's flat stomach.
"How did you know…..," Sandburg broke in but Jim continued as if he hadn't heard him, sorting back through his recent memories.
"It felt like your guts were being twisted."
Sandburg lay very still. That was exactly how it had felt for a few brief minutes.
"You felt all that?"
Sandburg thought back to how he had felt whilst they were making love.
"It felt very hot, and very tight being inside me."
"When I bent my knees I went into you a little deeper and it hurt again then faded fast because I was touching that magic little bump inside you."
"The happy button," Sandburg supplied, smiling.
Tentatively he reached out and ran his fingertips down Jim's chest, and across his nipple. There was no answering echo across his own chest.
Both men gave a sigh of relief.
"That could have been hell to live with," Blair said, "But it's incredible that I could feel what you were feeling!"
"It must be your sentinel abilities."
"Then how come you could feel what I was feeling as well? You're not a sentinel."
Jim paused then said, "But you are the shaman."
"But I don't have any special powers."
"Incacha said he was handing over the way of the shaman to you."
"Believe me, all I felt at that point was fear and dread that a good man was dying! There was no sudden dawning of light or anything."
"There's no documented cases of anything like this happening before?" Jim asked, changing his tack.
"No. I would have remembered that. But…."
"All the shamens I have read about seem to be celibate."
"Picked the wrong man for the job with you, then," he said dryly.
"Very funny!" Sandburg countered.
Ellison yawned and put his head back down on the pillow.
Blair looked down at him and smiled excitedly.
"We need to do some more experiments with this. We need to know if it was a one-off or will it happen every time."
"Right now, I need to get a little shut eye."
"You've just woken up!"
"I'm on three days off!"
"Jim! Come on man, we need to get this documented….."
Ellison shut him up with a long kiss.
"We'll 'experiment' later and there's no way you are going to document what we get up to in bed! Remember what happened last time you pulled that stunt."
"Oh! Yeah. OK, no documentation."
Jim pulled him into his arms and prepared to go back to sleep. Sandburg lay beside him, his eyes wide open thinking and reliving his incredible experience, which had a predictable effect on part of his anatomy.
Ellison's eyes flew open.
"I thought we said later Chief," he whispered.
"Ummm," Blair replied intelligently.
Sighing Ellison kissed him and then quickly and expertly masturbated him to orgasm. This time there were only extremely vague echoes of pleasure in his own body leading Jim to believe that perhaps the whole amazing thing had been a one-off.
Blair and Jim spent several exhausting but very pleasurable hours 'experimenting'. There were vague echoes of each other's pleasure but nothing like that first time. It was only when Jim entered Blair's body again that the experience became nearly as intense as the first time. While indescribably pleasurable it was also very draining. This time both men needed to sleep for a few hours afterwards.
It was also an addictive experience. Even after their three days off they still continued to sleep together.
Ellison didn't think his behaviour towards Sandburg had altered at all, both strove to maintain a professional demeanour at work but something in their attitude towards each other had changed. Captain Banks was the one who brought it to their attention.
"Is Sandburg alright?" he suddenly asked Ellison.
"He's fine, as far as I know. Why?"
"Is he seeing someone?"
"Don't think so," Ellison replied becoming confused and also a little defensive.
"Maybe you should take him to a doctor," Banks continued.
"Simon, what is the problem?" Ellison finally asked in exasperation.
"I saw him, with my own eyes, walk past seven good-looking women on the way in, and he didn't hit on any of them!"
"Maybe he's turned over a new leaf," he suggested, guiltily remembering he'd been pretty demanding of Sandburg the previous evening.
"Sandburg? I don't believe it. Maybe someone's dropped some bromide into his coffee," Banks said, as he closed the door to his office.
Still grinning Jim applied himself to the report he was trying to finish but the nagging thought wouldn't go away. The fact that Sandburg's behavioural change was attracting attention wasn't a good thing. He was by no means ashamed of his relationship with Sandburg but he was, by nature, a private man. Having the department know who he was sleeping with every night didn't sit well with him. They'd been so wrapped up for the past few weeks in the new sexual and empathic element of their relationship they hadn't been out of each other's company for very long at all. Perhaps now might be the time to get themselves back into social circulation.
When he mentioned Simon's observations that evening Sandburg was amazed.
"I did what?"
"Apparently you walked past all seven of them," Jim replied, continuing to chop onions.
"Man, I need to get out more!"
"You must be reading my mind, Chief," Jim said, grinning at Sandburg's horrified expression. "Think we should get out and have a few dates."
"No, I meant dates with women, like we both used to," Ellison elaborated.
"Oh right, yeah. But what about…" he trailed off gesturing towards his bedroom.
"We can make time for both," Jim replied. Like hell he would be giving up the most mind blowing sex he'd ever experienced!
The suggestion seemed to bear fruit. The next evening Sandburg went out. Jim spent a couple of hours in the gym, came home and read a little then went to bed. It was fairly late when Sandburg returned. He waited a few minutes and sure enough he could hear soft footfalls on the stairs then the door creaked open. Jim felt the bed dip then Sandburg's arms went around him.
"Yeah, not bad. You?"
Jim felt a soft kiss land between his shoulder blades so he turned over. Sandburg seemed to be in a hurry this evening. His hands were all over Ellison's body, stroking him, arousing him.
"Hey, what's the rush, Chief?" Jim asked in between being kissed senseless.
"I want you!" he whispered, putting Jim's hand on his erection and pushing into his grip.
Blair came quickly leaving Jim way behind. As he massaged Blair's spilt semen into the skin of his stomach Jim could feel an amorphous unease at the back of his mind, which quickly dissipated. That was coming from Sandburg.
Sandburg dropped his head against his chest, still panting.
He remained like that for a few seconds, kissed Jim then slid down the bed to indulge himself in a long slow bout of fellatio. Jim stroked his hair and his held his shoulders as Blair took his time and drew him out, keeping him on a knife edge before he let him plunge into orgasm, feeling the soft wash of extended pleasure as Blair came for a second time.
Sandburg was uncharacteristically quiet for a few days afterwards but still as enthusiastic in bed. Then he threw himself into a veritable frenzy of dating. He was out virtually every evening. But every evening ended with his creeping into Jim's bed.
Banks noticed the return of Sandburg's usual behaviour.
"The kid's back to normal, glad to see it. What did you do?"
"Put Viagra in his orange juice," Jim replied, straight-faced.
Banks guffawed and went off to his meeting. It was the same day that Jim met up with Eileen again. He'd almost forgotten was a lovely lady she was. They chatted for a while. She seemed to be genuinely glad to see him again so he asked her to dinner.
Jim cooked dinner at the loft. Sandburg was out so they had the place to themselves. They finished the wine and drifted upstairs to Jim's bed.
Hours later Jim heard the outer door close softly then Sandburg stumble on the stairs. Beside him Eileen slumbered on. The door creaked open and Jim could see Sandburg outlined, his shoes in one hand and his shirt unbuttoned. He checked on the threshold at the sight of two bodies in the bed, then turned and crept back downstairs.
Moving slowly so he wouldn't waken Eileen, Jim extricated himself from the bed, put his trousers on and went downstairs, his bare feet making no sound on the wood. He could feel a cool draught on his feet so he knew Sandburg was outside on the fire escape. He went to the fridge and took out two bottles of beer, opened them then went outside and sat down beside Sandburg.
He passed one of the bottles over to Sandburg and took a drink from his own.
"Sorry, man. Didn't realise you had company," Sandburg apologised taking a sip of beer.
"It's OK. You didn't wake her." He paused unsure of how to bring up the question he wanted to ask.
"Did you have a good evening?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, fine. Zara's a nice girl, interesting to talk to."
"Yes, talk. It is possible to be just friends with a woman."
Ellison spread his hands in an attitude of surrender.
"Sorry, thought you were out on a date, that's all."
"I'm a gentleman, I don't kiss and tell," Sandburg replied irritably, taking another swig from the bottle.
There was an awkward silence. Jim put his beer down and then took Sandburg's bottle off him. Maybe he wouldn't have to ask any embarrassing questions, he could find out by empiric research. He kissed Sandburg, long and hard, fucking his mouth with his tongue. After a few seconds of surprise Sandburg joined in with his usual enthusiasm. Ellison felt a familiar tingle in his groin then heavy pulses of blood as his cock filled and lifted, firming his erection. He was so happy to feel this that he didn't notice, at first, that Sandburg had stopped kissing him.
"You found out then?" Sandburg asked accurately reading the relief on Jim's face.
Ellison opened his eyes.
"Found out what?"
Sandburg's eyes widened for a second then he pulled out of Jim's arms and picked his beer up again.
"Found out what?" Ellison repeated.
"Look," he said finally. "I'm not asking for details but, I mean I saw her in your bed and everything, but did you ummm, you know?"
Ellison raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"Oh hell! Could you get it up with Eileen?" he asked crudely and looking away from Jim.
Ellison rubbed his mouth with his hand and shrugged.
"You couldn't?" Sandburg persisted.
"No," he finally admitted. "I've not be able to get it up all evening, as you put it."
He took Sandburg's hand and placed it on the bulge in his pants. "Until now."
"Well she didn't walk out on you," Sandburg said brightly, giving the bulge a gentle squeeze then regretfully removing his hand.
"I'm a resourceful man!" Ellison replied with a half smile. Sandburg grinned appreciatively.
"You already knew though. The same thing
happened to you?" Ellison asked.
"When did you find out?"
"Just after you suggested we start dating again. Lorelle was gorgeous. Man, I wanted her so badly, really wanted her."
"But you couldn't."
He shook his head.
"I came back here, got into bed and kissed you and suddenly everything is standing to attention and then I'm coming like a steam train."
Jim quickly thought back.
"That was three weeks ago. Why didn't you say anything?"
"I was hoping it was just me. She was the first women I've really been out with since the accident. It thought maybe it was a touch of performance anxiety, or I really did have some brain damage they hadn't found, but I was always alright with you. So I started looking around and found a really obscure folk tale about a shaman and the sentinel of a tribe. The sentinel was promised to the chief's daughter. The wedding took place and there was much rejoicing in the village. The couple seemed to be very happy. Some time after the wedding took place the chief's daughter found she was pregnant. Then her husband and the shaman were discovered together by the chief's daughter. She was so angry at the betrayal that she cursed them and all shamen and sentinels throughout the ages. As they wanted to be together so much, then so be it. If a sentinel should ever bed his shaman then they would, physically, no longer be able to bed another."
"Oh great!" Ellison said at the end of the story.
"I thought it was just allegorical. You know, like a warning against adultery."
"But it's not. This is ridiculous! We cannot be the victims of some nameless woman's curse from goodness knows how long ago."
"We seem to exhibiting all the signs."
"Sandburg, keep looking!"
By the way he took a huge gulp of beer Jim knew there was something else.
"What?" he growled.
After a pause Sandburg went on,
"In a few, a very few, tribes there is said to be a ceremony. After the sentinel has had his children sometimes the shaman and the sentinel decide to form a closer relationship. It generally translates as 'the bonding'. Like you used to do when you were kids to make someone your blood brother, prick your finger and drink a few drops of each other's blood. At times of high emotion they claim to be able to feel what the other is feeling."
Ellison looked worried.
"I take it there is a downside to all of this?"
"Only hearsay remember, but there are also stories of sentinels being killed and the shaman dying at the same time, even if he is several miles away."
"That has got to be just a story," Ellison said with feeling.
"That part may be, but a biologist took some blood samples from a man who claimed to be a tribal sentinel and from the shaman. He had the blood analysed. The sentinel secretes something which replicates like a virus but acts like a pheromone type chemical. It was present in his blood. The shaman also secretes a similar virus. When both came together they bonded into something else entirely. It became none viable very quickly outside the blood medium and the bonded chemical or virus is entirely none infectious to any other human. The biologist came to the conclusion that the blood sharing passed these virus chemicals to the other."
"We haven't shared blood."
"Don't need to, not if we're both secretors."
Ellison rubbed his forehead knowing exactly what Sandburg meant. If both of them were in the eighty percent of the population who secreted blood type antigens into other bodily fluids, such as saliva and sweat, they had already exchanged this chemical virus, dozens of times over.
"How come you've suddenly managed to find some hard evidence on sentinel abilities after all this time?"
"It was seven extremely obscure lines, in a paper on blood types in sections of ethnic populations. It was no where near my usual track of anthropology."
"How did you find it?"
"I did a search on pheromones. I figured maybe there was some hormonal substance at work here because physically there's nothing wrong with either of us."
"Wonderful! So why didn't it happen when Incacha was my guide."
"I guess because the Chopek don't practise the bonding. Then again how many times did you French kiss Incacha or taste his sweat?"
Ellison closed his eyes, mainly in disgust. Sometimes Sandburg's way with words was far too graphic. He'd loved Incacha as a brother, no sexual element there at all.
"Would I be correct in assuming we have these virus or pheromones?"
"Don't know. I'm an anthropologist not a biologist. We need to find someone to do the tests who won't ask too many questions."
"Assuming we do have this thing, how did you get it? Are you born with it?"
"For you it's probably genetic. The only thing I can think of is Incatcha passed it to me. He held my arm just before he died; he had blood on his hand."
"He passed to you the way of the shaman," Ellison repeated, hearing the words in Chopek in his mind.
Jim sat in silence for a few minutes sorting out all this new information. Then he decisively finished the rest of his beer and dragged Sandburg to his feet.
"Right, three things; I want you to track down a biologist who can keep their mouth shut and get us a blood test."
"Depending on what they come up with, we go from there. Secondly, in future whatever you find out about this sentinel thing, pass it on, don't keep it yourself."
Blair nodded apologetically.
"I also want you to take the 'phone to your bedroom and about six o'clock ring my mobile and say there's an emergency down at the station, OK?"
"OK, but why?"
"Blair there's only so much impotence embarrassment I can take!"
"Ah!" Sandburg had already forgotten about Eileen.
Quietly they re-entered the loft. Sandburg left his bottle on the counter and went to his room. He was very surprised when Ellison followed him in and shut the door.
"I thought you wanted the call at six?" he whispered.
"I do, but right now I have a problem here that only you or my right hand can take care of," he replied just as quietly, unzipping his trousers. "And you're a lot more inventive than my right hand," he added, getting onto the bed.
Blair grinned and got out of his clothes as fast as possible, leaving them where they dropped. Whatever their mutual problem really was, whether caused by ancient curses or biochemicals, Sandburg thought to himself, it did have some excellent compensations!
Sioux © August 2003