Leaning And Falling
by Kalena

Author's notes: Love to Resonant and Livia and JiM and Ness.

The darkness pressed at him. The river of grass flowed away from him, mile after mile. The voices of the night creatures rose, circled, descended, repeated. He wished he could scrub the overwhelming sound off his skin like dirt. Blair fought the panic of being lost and alone. The ocean was nearby; he could hear it flex against the beach. If only he could find it, maybe he could get home. A new sound joined the others, guttural and menacing. It made Blair's forearm hairs stand at attention and try to march. Florida panthers were history, right? Somehow it didn't whet Blair's appetite for anthropological discovery to think that he might see the last of their kind.

Hungry green eyes followed his movements as the Housecat from Hell took Blair's measure. "Nice kitty," he muttered, trying to remember if he'd ever known what to do in this situation. Bells on the shoelaces? Back away slowly? Climb a tree? But there was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Abject terror trickled from his pores as the feral thing quit stalking and began to lope at him. Time bent, like light rays through water.

As he stood, uncertain, the beast leaped, body-slamming Blair into the ground with its weight and momentum. His lungs whuffed for lost air as he dug in with his heels, trying to push away. Sawgrass and rocks scored his naked back with every movement, but the implacable mass on top of him kneaded his chest as if it must tenderize its meal, a sick parody of a kitten trampling for mother's milk. Its deadly claws were mercifully sheathed, for now. Blair whimpered in horror, turning away as it leaned its huge head down for the first taste. Oh, yes, he'd seen lions licking the flesh from the bones of their prey with barbed tongues.

Its breath was hot, so hot against his skin. The sinuous tongue streaked wetly against his chest. Blair tried to squirm into the dirt, but it seemed that the ground underneath pushed him up into the animal. He began to shove at it, but only succeeded in losing his hands in the luxuriant ebony fur. So soft, and the ropy muscles underneath so hard. Despite himself, he began to push and pull at the beast as it rubbed its muzzle against him, marking him as its own. Its tongue continued to ignite lines of fire along his ribs, rasping against the hairs on his chest and belly.

Blair clutched at the enormous feline in earnest, moaning as the electrifying tongue lapped sparks against his knotted nipples and laved its way downward. The big black cat pushed its blunt nose against the waistband of his boxer shorts, lifted its lips delicately, and flared its nostrils, cataloging every nuance of Blair's excitement as it exposed its gleaming teeth.

Blair gulped at the brackish air and opened his mouth to yell out his desperation, his need--

His eyes popped open audibly. The big hand attached to the hot, muscular arm that pinned him to the tent floor gave a last rhythmic squeeze to Blair's shoulder and relaxed. Blair pulled his own left hand out of his boxers as if it were caustic, and gingerly he lifted away the errant arm. The guy must have the metabolism of a flame thrower; no wonder he could eat all that crap. Jim snuffled a bit and rolled over, leaving Blair to ease his aching body upright.

His bladder was so full that it hurt to sit up. The pebble that yesterday was so insignificant it couldn't be seen in the harsh afternoon light had morphed during the night into Mount Rushmore, and Lincoln's craggy nose had gouged a home for itself between his fifth and sixth rib. Fumbling for a shirt, he unzipped the tent and lurched out, cursing the memory of his own words "Jim, we can travel light, man! How bad could it be? The whole state is made of sand!"

Clicking on the penlight he'd grabbed, Blair peered longingly at the low-growing scrub around their tent site. But it was no use; he couldn't relieve himself right now anyway. His cock was harder than the sand he'd spent the night on. Shaking his head to clear away the clinging fear and want, he followed the narrow beachside road toward the sodium halo that heralded the bathroom.


Jim shifted, his sleep disturbed by the empty space beside him. His consciousness surfaced slowly, giving him plenty of time for decompression. As he gradually came up, he passed by the fragments of dreams: Sandburg, lost. Smelling the other man's fear. Finding him, pummeling him, not enough to hurt, just enough to get revenge for worrying his Sentinel. Bringing him home.

Ellison eased open one eye, and realized he was still dreaming. His broad, heavily padded hand was covered with a soft black pelt, and when he moved his fingers, rapier claws extended Goddamn panthers. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Or was this what his father had always meant about masturbation... Assuring himself that Sandburg was trudging down to the bathroom, Jim submarined back down among the delta waves as a small but satisfied smile briefly softened his features.


Whew! There was just something soul-satisfying about successful bodily functions sometimes; it was one of those things he never thought about unless the process was temporarily impossible. Blair wandered back along the road, clicking off his penlight when he realized that it was light enough to see after his eyes adjusted. He truly loved the dark. Not the inside dark, where you were always wondering what gross and icky things would creep up from the basement of your month-to-month rental, but the outside dark, where you could be wrapped up gently and enveloped by safety and wholeness. Comfort and succor, your very own womb with a view.

Especially here, where the dark was so warm and welcoming. For the first time in years, he could see the Milky Way. So-lo-pi he-ni, the Spirit Way for human souls to travel to the City Of The West. The Peninsula People, Seminoles, believed that the human soul never came back from the City In The Sky. It hadn't been too long ago, maybe 1860, when the last of them had hidden out in the Everglades, under the same faint shimmer of the waning Little Spring Moon and the everlasting Spirit Way, after the Third Seminole War.

Blair scuffed himself a softer spot in the cool sand next to the splitrail fence along the road and settled in with his back against a post, absently fingering the grit. The oceanscape looked like one of Naomi's Wyland prints, life imitating art. Moonlight melted and draped over everything. The ocean was unnaturally still, so calm and so perfectly reflective that star trails gleamed against it. If he stuck his head under the oddly motionless surface, no doubt the undersea creatures would be frolicking, all Peaceable Kingdom.

He'd never seen big water so very still, as if it were waiting, anticipating the moment that all aquatic hell would break loose and monsters from the deep sea vents would suck the whole Eastern seaboard into the realm of Atlantis, land of his archaeological dreams.

Dreams, oh, yeah, now that had been an interesting dream, he mused, as he drizzled sandy pyramids from his fist. Royal road to the unconscious? Ha. It wasn't like he was unaware of the animal magnetism of his studly partner. Far from it. After surfing the first wave of euphoria at finding the Holy Grail, he realized that he had also found the most staggering example of gumshoe gorgeous known to man, and, of course, woman.

In the best interests of his degree, his friendship, and his sanity, he'd squashed the attraction as flat as possible and mentally shoved it under the mattress, which he thought of as the appropriate place for it. He even tried his damnedest to keep from being ambushed by stray fantasies while in the loft, as if physical distance was the thing that would keep Jim from reading his mind.

By osmosis, he had memorized all the graffiti in the basement men's room in the Anthro building. It was the most private one, well-suited for his needs For the most part, the tactics worked. Only occasionally would he awaken, sweat-drenched and less than completely satisfied, from an erotic dream starring his partner. The suckiest part of this dream was that he'd been cheated out of the good stuff. Like the part where the panther morphed into Jim, and the dream continued in a nice cozy bed.

He'd been actively looking for a nice girl (or to be politically correct, woman) to fill up the empty space in his heart he'd gradually noticed about two years ago. It was a space the approximate size and shape of Jim Ellison. Mr. J. You-Ain't-Gettin'-Any-Of-This Ellison. Not that the guy didn't love him. Somehow that made it even worse. This friendship was anything but casual.

Blair was the cruising catamaran of casual. No-strings girlfriends, of course, but also casual male friends. He thought back to some of his friends from earlier times. Jocks, one and all. In college, Blair had widened his circle a bit as he'd pursued his own interests, but in his younger days he'd always gravitated toward jocks. They were pretty smart, some of them, but they seemed...easier than other people. Simpler, almost. Focused on some concrete sportsy goal, they didn't waste time with much else. He envied their comfortable, fearless physicality and had a certain appreciation for the benefits of being friends with guys who could bench press a Volkswagen.

Life as the perpetual New Kid, younger, shorter, and geekier than everybody else, was made easier by jocks. Jocks, in turn, were happy to bask in his undivided attention and uncomplicated admiration, with the occasional three-page paper thrown in. Some things never changed. Hanging with Jim and doing Jimstuff got him a different kind of respect than he got in academia. He'd never get introduced first, and they still called him 'kid' at the station, among other things, but he got the kind of silent approbation that the big dogs got Other things also never changed. He was doing Ellison's paperwork now.

Even though he wasn't the scared new kid anymore--which he'd been on a daily basis, in his memory--the experience was lasered into his cells. He could learn to wear post-hippie camouflage, to look confident, to say what sounded good so fast nobody'd bother to argue--but he couldn't learn to how to take the lonely kid out of the adult. This was the friendship that accepted the lonely kid. Took him in out of the cold, and let him stay.

Jim didn't need a rapacious tongue; he had gone straight to the bone without ever breaking the skin. His casual touches seeped into Blair's marrow, and they forged his lifeblood daily. Sometimes Blair's skin hunger overwhelmed him; it was all he could do to keep from wrapping himself around the big guy and bonding to his epidermis like human Superglue. Really Good Reason #227 for not even hinting that sexual attraction could be a part of their relationship.

Confession meant consequences. Jim was no homophobe, but what would be worse: incredulous laughter or confused compassion? A decent man, Jim would never want to lead his friend on in any way. Even if Jim didn't ask him to move out, Blair's source of lifegiving touch would dry up, leaving him bloodless and desiccated. Keeping Jim ignorant wasn't just a good idea, it was the law. Of the jungle.

Blair realized that his ruminations had left him sitting there almost until sunup. He watched as the darkest of the night sky appeared to slide back toward the western horizon, as if the planet stood still and he was watching day and night revolve around him An odd colorlessness creeping up from the rim would be the forerunner of a spectacular sunrise.

The absence of color in the faint light and its ocean reflection washed everything around him in neutral, making him think about how many colors made up the world and how often he took them for granted. This, he imagined, was what it was like to see from a cat perspective, colors grayed, but the ability to see in nearly complete darkness. I should ask Jim sometime what the dark looks like, he thought, then realized that there was something much more pressing on the horizon. Sunrise, Jesus, what was he thinking?


"Jim, Jim, come on, man, get up!" Sandburg's frantic call seemed to echo in Ellison's ears as he snapped awake, senses casting around the area for danger. All he heard was the pounding of bare feet and breathless demands that he leave his bed, which was warm if not soft. "You gotta see this, the sun's gonna come up!"

"It comes up in Cascade, too, Darwin, but you don't see me hauling your ass out of bed to go look at it." Jim, disgruntled by the early-morning call of the Irritating Sandburg, didn't bother to unwrap his cocoon.

"Yeah, but sunrise over the ocean is incredible. It's going to be awesome, and not only do you really want to see it yourself, but I want you to see it for me! I really need you to come watch and tell me what a Sentinel sees. Please? You can sleep anytime!"

"Not on vacation with you, Sandburg." But, as usual, the pleas of his guide were irresistible. He wrestled with his jeans, wondering how the denim managed to fight back, wondering when he had gotten so old. He didn't remember camping being this painful. After last night, when they'd lost their reservations at the state park on Key Largo ("But they had my credit card number! How could they give the campsite away?" cried Blair piteously), they'd had to spend the night on solid rock, or so it seemed.

They had one of the last campsites at what was now known as the Indy 500 Campground, with their heads about twenty feet from Highway 1. This led to an interesting discovery which neither of them had thought about before: when there is only one highway, the traffic never ends. The vibration and noise from the passing semis was enough to keep even Blair awake most of the night.

Jim stuck his hand out of the tent and let Blair pull him to his feet. "I swear to God, Chief, if I ever suggest we go camping again in this tent I want you to shoot me. In fact, I think we should burn it right now. It's not bad enough that neither of us can stand up in it, that I have to pull my jeans on lying down and get out of the tent on my hands and knees, but the zipper's whacked. I thought I was going to have to find your Swiss army knife and cut my way out. And my back is killing me. I don't care where we stay tonight, but it's going to have a bed. And then we're going to buy some decent gear."

"I really like this tent. It has character."

"Yeah, sure. Maybe you can have your first year students do a project on it. You can probably carbon date it back to the Incas. I'll keep it especially for you, but I'll be damned if I'm sleeping in it another night. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to take the longest walk."

They managed to get settled just in time. From beneath the edge of the world, a long shallow ribbon of deep rose crept over. Small ripples appeared in the expanse of water, as if the color had to push the ocean out of the way so the sun could nudge by. The two men sat shoulder to shoulder in silence broken only by the hush of the wavelets. The rose ribbon slowly and carefully gathered itself toward the midpoint of the horizon and began to expand upward in an arc, the intense single color becoming brighter as the sky above it was softly tinted with gold. A few small clouds wafted in the gold, reflecting the rose as pink.

Instead of hijacking Jim's sense of sight, extorting it from him and leaving him deaf and dumb in a smothering cocoon of red, the sunrise flowed into him and into all his senses. He would have sworn he could hear the rays of light striking faraway dust particles, a sound of tiny chimes that ran all over his body. Then his own molecules were dispersing among the dust, as if he too were dust; he was in the sunrise and the light beams tinkled against bits of him He could touch the light as it touched him, and it tasted of infinity He could still smell the sea, and feel the man beside him, and hear the creaky cries of the sea birds, but he encompassed all of these things. His senses were joined, not overmastered.

Surprisingly enough, Sandburg was quiet, allowing Jim to float in the color world as he listened to the music. Jim felt gratitude that his friend was beside him, a tiedown without whom he could not safely float. He wished that he could tell Blair how thankful he was to have him there, helping him, but did not have the words to explain. He put his arm around Blair's shoulders and snugged him up close. In the end, he said nothing.


Jim was willing to ditch the map and do creative driving around Key West just to look around. There was no possible way to get lost, since there was one way in and one way out. They'd drive into the ocean eventually no matter which direction they went. The place was a typical tourist area, half of the island for locals and the other half for gawkers. One thing they didn't find a lot of was signage reading 'vacancy'. In fact, there was none.

Spring break was going full bore, and it was Conch Shell Blowing Contest weekend. Whatever that meant, it had been going on for 38 years, so it must be important. Finally, they parked the truck near a laundry and dropped off their bedraggled clothing, getting a promise that it would be done by five. It was a lot less trouble to park away from the main drag and walk into the tourist area than to search for a closer parking spot.

They walked companionably through Old Town's peaceful residential area, admiring the Painted Ladies, stopping short at the sight of a particularly attractive and stately Victorian mansion proclaiming itself to be 'The Mermaid And The Alligator.' On the sign out front, the two water creatures shared a distinctly unerotic kiss.

"I wonder if that's some local legend? I'd like to go in and ask about it." Blair looked at Jim inquiringly.

"Forget the legend, let's go in and ask about the room." Sure enough, a young woman had just come out to change the 'no vacancy' sign. They followed her into the charming lobby and were assured that there was, indeed, a room available for the night.

"We had a cancellation just now. It was a honeymoon couple. The bride broke her leg at Disney World, poor thing. I hope it hasn't ruined everything for them. Anyhow, the one we've got is the Caribbean Queen room," she informed Blair with a giggle and a wink, which he sincerely hoped that Jim didn't notice. "It's got a king-size four-poster bed."

Jim looked over and shrugged. "The bed's bigger than the whole tent, anyway."

"I sure hope this is on you, man."

"My credit card can take this a lot better than my back can take another night like the last couple."

"Well then, you'll be glad to know that the room has a Roman-style soaking tub big enough for two," the receptionist offered, and gave them the key. "It won't be ready for an hour or so, but you can put your stuff up there and go off to do whatever."


Naturally, Sandburg had to do and see every damned thing, and if he could have humanly done them all at once it would have been even better. "Chief, do the letters ADHD mean anything to you?" Jim's question went unanswered as Blair babbled on relentlessly about yet another incredibly important facet of the history of the Conch Republic.

Jim liked Hemingway's house. The shady garden was an oasis in the late-afternoon swelter. Sprawled on an uncomfortable bench while Blair and 67 other people followed a tour guide through the house's narrow halls, he idly fondled the ears of one of the ubiquitous snowshoe- footed cats. This whole cultural tour was not really his idea of a good time. The area seemed to have an overage of famous dead people, for one thing, and they all had houses. Except for the ones in the white-stoned cemetery, with its oddball grave marker inscriptions ('Devoted Fan Of Julio Iglesias'). Even given his general lack of interest in being in a cemetery, it was pretty OK.


Hot and exhausted but satisfied, they ambled down the main drag after sunset. Feeling a little guilty for dragging the man around all day, Blair hadn't even tried to get him to join the circus at Mallory Square. They watched sunset from a quiet street nearby. As they moved through the crowd, he noted once again that when he was with Ellison, crowd traffic flowed around him rather than smacking straight into him as if he couldn't be seen. Not that that didn't have its upside, of course, he thought, fondly recalling warm spring days and scantily dressed coeds who couldn't watch where they were going.

"I'm dying of thirst. Let's get a beer," said Jim, pausing in front of the least noisy tavern on Duval.

"Yeah, me too, but Jim, I think this is not your kinda place," he pointed out, tilting his chin toward several handsome, laughing--all right, giggling--young men all trying to exit through the too-narrow double doors arm in arm.

"If there's beer, it's my kinda place, Sandburg. Besides, they're all gay bars down here." Having made this pronouncement, the Sentinel of the Great City strode toward the right door and held it open, bowing slightly and clicking his heels together as best he could wearing Tevas, gesturing for Blair to proceed.

"Man, you look like a demented maitre d'."

"You got part of that right."

All the barstools were taken, as well as the tables, and the two men leaned up against the bar near the wall, in one of the few vacant spots. Neither had finished the first tap of Hurricane Reef when they discovered why the bar had been so comparatively quiet. The DJ was back on duty, and in minutes the tavern was a riot of thumping techno, flashing lights, and writhing dancers.

"Jesus, Chief, I gotta get outta here," Ellison bawled over the din. "I had a headache already; this is gonna detonate every last brain cell."

"Got it, let's go."

"Nah, finish your beer. I gotta go take a leak, anyway."

Stalking across the floor, the herd parting like magic before him, Jim rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. Who knew that headaches could go from zero to 60 in ten seconds or less? He gratefully closed the men's room door on the welter of input. He supposed he was a little dehydrated; today's high caffeine intake assured that. He might as well have had an IV needle in his arm as wasted all that effort swallowing.

On the other hand, it was the only good-tasting coffee he'd found in the state so far. What was it about South Florida and bad coffee? Every damned restaurant they'd been in had bad coffee. Just this morning, at the Festival O' Grease Diner, he'd been forced to check carefully to see if his tonsils were still intact. He'd only tasted worse at the PD. Shuddering, he washed his hands and rubbed them, still wet, over his face.

Refreshed and dripping, he walked out of the men's room and slammed into the wall of sound and color. German technometal drove into his inner ear like rusty nails. He blanched and lost his balance, staggering back against the wall. The vertigo ratcheted up his anxiety, making everything feel unstable, magnifying the pain in his ears. It was worse than he could have imagined. He needed to get out of here, and he wasn't even sure he could do it without crawling.

He craned for a look over the sea of bobbing heads. There was his Guide, across the room, looking in his direction, smiling that core-of-the-sun smile.

Relief was blindsided by astonishment to see another man standing next to Sandburg, leaning intimately toward him. Making contact, making him smile that smile. Jim had to get over there before Blair ended up with somewhere else to stay for the night. The kid was unstoppable. Jim hadn't ever competed quite so directly with Sandburg's social life, but now was a good time to start.

The floor seemed to be inching a little closer or a little farther away with each step he took. Putting one foot carefully in front of the other, he picked his way across the room. Strobes scanned his retinas as computer-generated bass thrummed in his body. His stomach swayed sickly with the dancers that crowded his line of sight. He didn't want to lose it on the dance floor, but it was more important to get out than to try to make it back to the men's room.

The trip across the room might as well have been a hike up Pike's Peak.

By the time he got to the other side, he was as battered and relieved as that lost dog that had traveled a thousand miles to find its owners. He let his hand fall heavily on the shoulder of Blair's youthful admirer, but it was only ten percent intimidation tactics. The other ninety percent was to make sure he stayed standing.

"Sorry, but this is my dance."

The look on the blond boy's face said, "Go to hell," but when he found himself eyeball to pectoral with Jim, only the vowels came out of his mouth. With a hasty goodbye to Blair, the boy chose the better part of valor and escaped into the crowd.

"What the hell's going on, Jim? You look like shit! What's wrong?"

"I'm not feeling too good. Let's go, OK?"

Good thing Sandburg was strong enough to shoulder half of Jim's weight, because his body wouldn't mesh with what was left of his mind, and his balance was almost nonexistent. Together, they managed to lurch out the door like a couple of drunks. The sharp cessation of noise left his head empty for a moment. The saw of crickets was the first thing he heard against the faint thumping from the bar as his hearing filtered back. Blair helped him over to a dim and quiet alley and tilted with him against the wall.

"Have you noticed that I seem to spend a lot of time leaning on you, Sandburg?" His attempt at humor rose up and bit him in the ass. If not for the senses, or for breakfast, or for help at the station, he was leaning on the kid to clean the goddamn bathroom already, get his car fixed, stay in the truck. They were so freaking attached that if he stepped in horseshit, you were guaranteed to find Blair scraping it off the soles of his own shoes. Had someone neglected to mention this over the last couple of years?

He liked it.

He depended on it.

He looked down on Blair's smile and shrug, admiring the faint highlight along the edge of his upper lip. The pitch of the lip was steep against the teeth, the highlight dropping off onto a shadowed enamel barrier. He followed the lure of light into darkness. As he did, he could feel that dream slide back into place, taste the skin and salt under his tongue, hear the insects drone. He reached for broad shoulders, kneading and clinging. Blair was a solid support underneath him as he sank into that wet mystery. Reality tasted sweeter.


What the hell was Jim doing? As if he couldn't figure it out. Those felt like lips, and he'd always thought of lips on lips as kissing. This was not like any kiss he'd ever encountered. Ellison assimilated his mouth like the Borg Collective. No way he could say no to this; it was too much like the last fantasy he'd had while grading midterms.

Held up by the grip on his shoulders, Blair heard his spine pop as most of his body went limp against the wall. Way cheaper than chiropractic, and twice as much fun. The dark, sensual noise coming from deep in Jim's chest sounded like the voice of his own lust. Ticker tape and confetti celebrated behind his closed eyes as a well-tempered thigh was pressed between Blair's, conveniently massaging more blood into the last remaining body part he could think with.

Blair drank feverishly at the mouth cemented to his, small sounds fretting at his throat. The feel of Jim pushing against him was simultaneously comforting and crazy-making. He wanted to climb Ellison like the REI wall, searching for subtle holds along the rock face of abs, chest, and shoulders. As if he were not satisfied with testing every possible sensitive spot in Sandburg's mouth, Jim suckled his way across to the whorls of an ear. Blair could feel a tongue tip teasing each indentation. If they were ear to ear, could Jim hear the ocean?

Blair's musculoskeletal system was cooperating enough now so that he could rock his hips and clutch frantically at Jim's ass at the same time. Jim bit at his neck, and it was like getting electroshock therapy. His whole body convulsed. Holy fuck, he was too young to stroke out. He'd waited a lifetime, maybe several, to get his hands on those glutes, and now that he had his chance, the goddamn endorphin rush was gonna kill him.

Except that they were in public.

He pushed at Jim, sliding away against the wall, and had to quell a whimper at the loss of the big man's heat. There might be confusion running around his brain, but his body knew what it wanted. One kiss and the Florida peninsula in his pants was heading due north.

Jim blinked hard once, his smile vague, and pulled Blair back, wrapping brawny arms around him. It felt wonderful, and he didn't bother to push away again. His partner dropped a kiss on top of his head, then just stood there for almost a full minute, breathing in and out.

Despite the pleasant, dry evening and the warmth radiating from the man holding him, Blair shivered. Now what? The only thing that could possibly outshriek his screaming hormones was the deep need to torture out of Ellison exactly what the fuck was going on here. Just having his taciturn buddy kiss him so sweetly, and then look so happy about it, was enough to fry Blair's brains. He could just see Ellison in this morning's crappy diner. "One Sandburg, over easy, with a side of hash browns, whole wheat please, and can I get KY on the Sandburg?"

Something was wrong, the guy had to be on drugs. Who could tell what he'd gotten into accidentally? Or worse yet, what if it was some crazy-ass territorial thing lying dormant for years--hell, the senses had--and all of a sudden appeared full-blown? He shuddered at the very idea, as well as the free-association. That would kick the hell out of his love life. Not his sex life; obviously that would be improved greatly, but it wouldn't be quite what he'd been pining for all this time. Blair reminded himself that there were still options here. The situation could be remedied. He took a deep breath.

"Sandburg, you're thinking again," came the unusually mild comment from above his head.

"Somebody's got to!" Goaded to frustration, he pulled away from the sheltering arms. "Who flipped your coin, man? For two days I was on a nice, relaxing vacation with my roommate, who somehow got an alien implant today while I wasn't looking. I wanna see your neck now, you nutty bastard!" So much for remedying the situation.

Where were those throngs of tourists, anyway? If only they would trample past, ending this disaster.

"Change is good." Despite a faint flush of sunburn, the cold bluish light from the streetlamps dulled Jim's features to gray. Only his eyes had life. They blazed like emergency flares on a desolate highway.

"I never thought I'd hear you talking like Steven fucking Covey! What, you bought one of those Franklin Planners and now that you've figured out all your goals for the new millennium, number 72 is to become one with my ass?"

"Don't put yourself so low on the list. Calm down, Chief, you're twitching." Annoyingly, he was. "Look, how much does it surprise you that it would take me a few years to get my clue ticket punched? You know me. I was featured on the 1995 calendar to raise money for the Association For The Advancement of the Repressed. You can even buy a coffee mug with my picture on it."

Never having heard Jim joke about his own limitations, Blair was more than willing to stick with the alien implant theory. Definitely a major personality change here. Blair could always count on Jim to be easily understandable; it was his mainstay in a life where so few things were simple and everything came in shades of gray.

In short order he'd had all the pieces of the It Walks! It Talks! Jim Puzzle sorted, tagged, and mounted on foam core. He was just not expecting to be whacked upside the head by strange pieces that didn't fit the picture, and could only leave them piled up on top. Not 'two- dimensional', but 'way too dimensional'. This whole discussion was just getting to be too much.

"Oh, sure, I'm going to hop in the sack with you on some bizarre whim of yours. That's a good idea. And I'm going to be left with what, precisely, when the whole thing blows up in my face? After it doesn't work out with my only really good friend of all time? Why don't I just save myself the trouble? I'll just cut my heart out right now and drop it in a blender! Oh, man, I did not say that! I am so fucked!" Aghast, Blair looked frantically up and down the quiet evening street as if he would find something to blame for his vulnerability. Not finding anything, he started to back up, ready to flee to the relative safety and anonymity of the bar.


It didn't take anything special to see the panic on Blair's face, feel his dismay. Jim put out his hand, the way he would approach a strange dog before petting it. "Sandburg. Blair. Just listen to me for a minute, OK?" Ellison knew he was on shaky ground here; he'd seen Sandburg less anxious when covered with poisonous spiders. As for his own eerie calmness, he suspected he was mildly in shock. He knew he ought to be disgusted by this new development, hysterical even--the masculine version, of course, being impassive silence. Hadn't he been trained to feel those things? To react that way? Instead, he was awed.

Something had cracked. Something that coated the outside of him like plaster, something so familiar that he had not even known it was there, had broken and was falling away in chunks. It was then that he realized that he had never had trouble with letting people in. The real trouble was that he could not get out, and he had stopped trying so long ago. Now his prison lay crumbled around his feet. He was...new, no longer quite fully formed, expectant in a way he could not remember. How could he ever explain such a thing to his vibrant and life-giving friend? The man thought 'reserve' was a place for endangered animals.

"Chief, do you remember when we met? When you were pretty sure that you had just found a Sentinel?" Blair looked stumped by the question for a moment. Jim went on, certain that his Guide did remember. "How much time did it take you to decide what to do about it?" Ellison curled his fingers, coaxing Blair to come closer. The other man advanced a little, warily.

"Time? What time?" he scoffed. "It was a no-brainer! You were there, I was there, I had to do anything and everything I could to convince you to help me. To let me help you."

"Then you know what's happening now. I don't know why I kissed you, and I really don't care. I only know that it was important." Jim was in unfamiliar territory, trying to win without knowing what the rules were, even what the game was. But even if he lost, how could he be worse off than he'd already been? He couldn't go back to that mind- numbingly lonely existence. He'd spent so much time doing things he didn't like, things that hurt. He wanted something better so badly. "I need you." He was begging, but he couldn't stop himself. He flinched as he broke away another piece of plaster. "Help me."

The words were gentle, level, hypnotic. They carried clearly on the soft air. Blair gaped at the man on the sidewalk, flipping through his mental file drawer A-J, pausing at 'Hallucination,' scanning Jim's streetlit form for a gilded halo. There was none to be seen.

Whatever was going on in his Sentinel's head, sex or territory or none of the above, it was big-time weirdness. De-tangling the Sentinel was his job, even more difficult than combing his own hair--but in the end, far more worth the effort.

Moving slowly forward, Blair took the offered hand, and together they walked back to the bed and breakfast.

Standing in the soothing yellow room with Ellison hanging onto his hand and looking at him with those wide, hopeful eyes was a very strange experience. He was not prepared for this. 'Go with the flow' was the Blair Scout Motto, but it didn't always work. Right now, he was swimming upstream.

"Jim, man, why don't we just relax here for a while. You can do a few laps in that Olympic-sized bathtub, and I'll just read a magazine or something." The hand attached to Blair's reeled him in, until he was braced solidly against all that prime acreage. A slow-moving, all- enveloping glow teased him to melt where he stood.

"Well, I was sort of hoping we could swim together and practice our strokes."

Blair immediately felt about a quart low. He was sure Jim could hear the pounding of his blood as it stampeded from his brain trying to get down to his groin. He tried to ignore it. "Jim, you know we don't have to, like, get physical. I mean, not that kind of physical. Don't you think we should pause for a little reflection here? This is, um, I guess you can tell how I'm feeling, but it's not like I'll dump you if I don't get any." Blair laughed weakly and cringed to realize how many times he'd said the same thing or something like it to women, and how it always worked, and how little he'd ever meant it compared to how much he meant it now.


"Sandburg, there is nothing I want less right now than you going all noble on me. It's not a good look for you." Jim curved his hands around the bottom of Blair's ass and lifted, dragging the smaller man slowly up his thighs, smirking with satisfaction to hear Sandburg suck wind when hard met harder. He'd never been happier about all that time spent sweating in gyms, risking testosterone poisoning from just breathing the air. Lift and release. Up and down. The rasp and slide of denim on denim sang along the high-tension wires of his nerves.

Oh, God. He craved the pressure of Blair's body against his the way he'd craved salt in the Peruvian jungle, with a burning under his skin. Hauling the kid up farther, he lipped and tongued at that unbelievable blowjob mouth with animal gratification. The stiffness that had plagued his back this morning had long since migrated to the front. It was painful to roughly the same degree, but he was no longer complaining. He felt Blair fasten surprisingly strong legs around his waist and grab onto his twisting shoulders, chafing every available body part on the field of feeling that was his chest.

With effort, Jim walked into the bathroom with Blair locked around him. Moist noises came from somewhere under his collar, where the other man was indulging his obvious oral fixation. It was playing hell with Jim's balance and concentration. When a picture of Blair doing the same thing at his crotch coalesced in his few remaining brain cells-- wild curls twining with his pubic hair, urgent mouth cajoling his dick to bursting--his knees jellied unexpectedly, almost dropping both of them to the glossy tile floor.

"Down, boy," Jim ordered. Blair swung his feet to the floor, hanging onto Jim's neck for balance. He leaned back, face flushed and grin devilish, charming Jim all the way down to his inner child.

"I like your neck. Most men your size don't have necks anymore. I always think their heads are going to start wiggling like those dogs in the back window when I was a kid. You are one big mother." The admiring assessment turned into concern. "You're looking pretty solemn here, James." Jim lifted a hand and absorbed the texture along a prominent cheekbone with two fingertips, then smoothed back the springy hair.

Nobody had ever been his friend the way Blair had. And he'd never given him a damn thing that really counted.

He wanted, more than anything else right now, to give something that would matter to his partner. Not like those birthday gifts given by well-meaning relatives that you couldn't even figure out how to say thank you for, they were so far from anything you cared about. Not even like something normal--a flannel shirt, or pair of tickets to a Jags game, or a place to stay.

What was the thing Sandburg valued most? The thing that annoyed him most was certainly no secret--Jim's determination to have control over everything, from lighting to leftovers, in his domain. Could he trust Blair to be in control now? Jim hadn't not been in control of a sexual act for--years.

Sex was the most dangerous activity he knew of. Car chases, armed robberies, and bomb threats all paled in comparison. Sex was a loaded gun in the hands of someone he loved, an emotional hostage situation. Somehow he'd never been able to fork over the ransom payment--couldn't even translate the ransom demand--and ended up shot through the heart every fucking time. But now he needed Blair, and so he had to go ahead without even asking for mercy: I'm unarmed. Please, don't shoot.

"I just wanted to tell you, Sandburg, happy birthday." Ignoring the blank look he got in response, he leaned over and opened the bathtub taps. Then he stood back up and began to unwrap the present.


Blair couldn't move a muscle as he watched Jim strip. Ordinarily graceful fingers fumbled at the buttons; Jim stared at them uncomprehendingly. Was he trying to convince them to undo themselves? Giving up, Jim tugged the shirt out of his jeans and over his head. The well-worn cotton stroked lovingly against the ridges of muscle.

Blair's throat knotted. When the shirt dropped, buttons clattering against the tile, he stopped blinking. When the long, strong hands undid the belt buckle, he stopped breathing. Jim hooked his thumbs in the waistband and took a deep breath, still looking down. Visibly collecting himself, he slid the button free. Blair could have sworn he heard the click of every tooth as the zipper went down. Jeans and boxers fell, the belt buckle rapping like a rifle crack in the small room.

Jesus Christ fucking almighty. Even living with Ellison for years, touching him and dreaming about him and ogling his ass covertly, had not prepared Blair for full erect frontal nudity. "Oh, shit," he exhaled.

"Do you want this?" The quiet question wasn't taunting, as Blair would have imagined, nor even teasing. He sounded a little uneasy, like he really cared about the answer and wasn't sure what it would be. There was no expression on his face. Blair saw him swallow.

There were so many suave replies he'd saved up for just such a momentous occasion, but anything connecting his cool with his mouth had disappeared when the last of Jim's clothing did. So had all his spit. What croaked out was, "It's you." He held out his arms. James Ellison, his best friend and the most mouth-watering thing he'd ever seen, walked in.

"Oh, man, Jim, Jim, you are just awesome. Screw Paris; it's you that's the moveable feast." Blair reached around, massaging with forearms and hands, fingers spread to grope as much of the big body as he could; anything to quench the maddening itch in his palms. And it was a feast, a plenitude, an embarrassment of riches.

"God, Jim, you have muscles as big as my face. There's so much of you, and you feel so goddamn good." Fascinated, he ran his hands over the powerful arms and sculpted back muscles, hauling him forward, squeezing handfuls of everything he found in rhythm with Jim's now-raspy breathing. The feel of all that...that...Jim in his hands, so immediate, so there--the fine-grained skin on his back, the unmarred perfection of his chest, the amplitude of his shoulders--made him want to yowl like a tomcat. It made him hunger to bite, to gnaw, to fill his mouth with the solidity of Jim.

"Do it. Take it." The low, urgent voice tickled his ear. He stopped resisting and bit down.

He wouldn't have been surprised to find himself flat on his back under a ton of Sentinel. He'd have expected just about any response but the one he got. There was a fragment of sound from above him that registered through Blair's haze of lust as Not A Sex Noise, and the body under his hands seized up like a dry motor.

"Shit, man! Oh, hell, I'm sorry, fuck! I didn't mean to hurt you, I forgot about the senses. I'll try not to bite anymore, OK?" He backed up, trying to give Jim some room.

"No, that's not it, I'm fine, I'm OK, it's just that...I'm not sure I can do this."

A delicate sheen of moisture had formed on Jim's upper lip. His breathing had disintegrated to jerky and shallow, and Blair was pretty sure he'd need a paper bag in a minute. He tried very hard not to feel like everything he'd ever wanted was going down the drain of that stupid-ass bathtub. The important thing was to keep anything they had left together intact.

"OK, stopping now, we'll just stop right here, and we won't go any further. I'm your friend, man, I care about you." This year's winner in the 'Understatement' category was the erudite Blair Sandburg. "Look, we'll just, like, put our clothes on and..."

"No, I, that's not what I meant. I still want..." Jim shivered, shifting from one foot to the other. There was no indication that a few moments ago he'd been rock hard. "I still want you, us." Mortification suffused the other man's face, what of it he could see, as the pained eyes looked anywhere but at him.

"Breathe, Jim. Get some air. Tell me what's going on in here." Blair rubbed lightly against his friend's skull, letting his fingers wander through the mink-soft hair.

"I can't. I can't explain," he began. "I wanted to give you something, something that would make a difference. But I'm no good at that, I can't."

Jim looked infinitely vulnerable, like the whole fortress of him that Blair usually saw was missing. No sturdy battlements, no moats with alligators, no archers with flaming arrows promising a fiery death to intruders. All that was left was the great house, and the enormous wooden doors were wide open. The whole idea of Jim defenseless was scary, and he wasn't sure which of them he was more afraid for.

"Oh, man, Jim, get over here." He pulled the other man up close, held on tight, and began to rock them both gently from side to side. "It's OK, it's all right now. I've got you. Don't I always take care of you? Mmmm, yeah, that's the way. We'll just get in the tub and take it from there. We'll start over." He continued to rock, making soothing noises and petting until the tension drained away. A feeble smile was his reward. He moved away to turn off the taps of the now-full tub, and started to strip.

He knew the yearning look on Ellison's face was the same one he'd worn himself while trying to convince Jim to be his research project. Blair felt a nip of guilt at taking advantage of someone so obviously conflicted. Jim, standing in the tub, looked like the male version of Venus on the half-shell, minus the cherubs; all gleaming pale skin and a little apprehensive. If only the man had enough hair, Blair suspected he'd be trying to cover himself with it.

Truth be known, Blair himself wasn't much less conflicted. He shouldn't touch this situation with an eight-inch pole. But his most painfully suppressed desire was eating him alive, and he couldn't resist the temptation any more.

"Sit down, Jim, make yourself at home." Obediently, Jim sat. Where to start? The visuals alone were overwhelming; he wanted to take a picture like some people did of their Thanksgiving spread before the family dug in. A wet, naked Jim was a very good thing. A wet, naked Jim who looked at him like he was a life preserver a hundred miles from shore, was even better.

Start at the bottom. Blair liked feet in general, especially women's feet, especially with toenail polish. They were nice, friendly, harmless. Feet were hard working, mostly overlooked, and highly underrated as a pleasure source. Right now, they were certainly the least intimidating part of tonight's repast.

He soaped up the sponge (fake, not real; no way was he giving a push to the teetering sponge population) with that special baby-safe liquid soap that Jim dragged everywhere, and began to wash. The feet were nice. Long and strong, with a high arch; nails trimmed just so, skin smooth. He experimentally dug his thumbs into the arch, not too hard but hard enough to avoid tickling, and then relaxed to just enjoy.

His thoughts receded as he worked his thumbs into the foot held securely in his lap, letting the heel brush against his half-hard cock just for added interest. The almost-too-hot water was stewing him into cream of wheat. Sliding the pads of his fingers between the bones on top of the foot, he impulsively leaned down and kissed the sole. The man at the other end of the tub squeaked and tried to jerk the foot out of his grasp, but the toes wiggled, beckoning him.

"Did you know that your toes curl during orgasm as an involuntary response? You can't stop it, any more than you can keep from blinking with a surprise sneeze." He punctuated his words with languorous wet swipes up the arch. "They think it's because the motor area of the cerebral cortex, the part that controls toe movement, is right next to the part of the somesthetic area that receives impulses from the genitalia. Rubbing up against each other, so to speak. It's possible that that's the whole basis behind foot fetishism, and also why feet have been considered erotically appealing in many cultures."

He slid his lips around several of the toes and sucked them contemplatively. How incredibly satisfying; they were so damned cute, an adorably manageable piece of his enormous, and sometimes intimidating, friend. They were appealingly helpless. Pretty hard to take a swing at someone when you're lying down in a giant bathtub and said someone is giving you a toe job. He giggled around the toes, tongue slipping between them, teeth nipping at the ball of the foot. Judging from the heavy breathing of his experimental subject, the experts were right.


Jim tried to loosen up when Sandburg picked up his foot. It wasn't exactly his idea of a passionate overture, but given how freaked he'd gotten, that was probably a good thing. Where the hell had the frightened virgin routine come from? Let Sandburg run the show; that was the idea. Seemed like a nice surprise for someone who had everybody and his brother telling him what to do. Was he honestly afraid of his best friend?

It was kind of nice to be washed, and he leaned back, a sultan with his harem boy. Lying in hot water, with Blair thoroughly massaging some of the most sensitive spots on his body, he felt so very cared for. Then Jim felt a fan of breath cool the wet skin, and soft lips touched the bottom of his foot. He'd opened his mouth to protest when the tongue between his toes completed the circuit--the dim room brightened as his pupils dilated involuntarily--and sex became Jim's fourth-grade science project.

The heat between Sandburg's malleable copper and Jim's unyielding iron had atoms swapping electrons in every fiber of his being. He could feel them swarm up his body, cascading from Blair's generous mouth, meeting with no resistance. He remembered the name for that--thermocouple. He laughed out loud.

The vibration only increased as Blair swam up to meet him. It prickled and inflamed him. His skin ached. Only Blair's firm hands on the rungs of his ribs could soothe him; only the suction of Blair's mouth on the tender spot along his collarbone gave respite. It had been so long since the last loving touch, and he wrapped his long legs around Sandburg's, glorying in the slippery compact feel of him, muscle over muscle, striving for the most possible contact. He wished he could bind around the other man like a boa constrictor. He tried to hold on to his wet, sweaty friend, but his fingers wouldn't grasp, and his hands slithered off ineffectually. Jim moaned, and the sound carried through both of them.

"Jesus, Sandburg, more, please, it's gotta be now!"

"Yeah, I'm right there with you, just move up a little. That's it."

Panting, smiling, riveting Blair. Who was on his lap, about to give him what he so desperately needed; who always gave him what he needed. Jim couldn't look away from that face. It should be as open and familiar to him as a turned-down bed. Blair was glowing, pink all over with exertion and heat, head tipped back and pulse pounding in his throat. Passion made Blair wild and fearless, a stranger, someone he had never expected to meet.

Was Blair ever who Jim used to think he was? He never probed the spaces between Blair's words. This was the man who would take him apart, and Jim didn't recognize him. There was no kid left. He hesitated to give over the last bit of himself to the unknown, an agitation of uncertainty and desire, and it made his cock a steel girder. The stranger tilted his head toward Jim and grinned, becoming familiar again in that moment, familiar and loved, but the odd impression remained. He didn't understand how his partner had gone from a thorn in his side to a piercing through his heart.

"Incoming." Flipping the cap on the bath gel, Blair turned the bottle upside down and squeezed. Jim gasped as the soap squirted over him, shocking his overheated skin. Blair began to lather them by the simple expedient of using his body. Water sloshed around them as he undulated against Jim with a twist-and-lift, using Jim's shoulders for leverage. His slick hard-on rode Jim's, chest hair scrubbing Jim clean. He could hear the lather popping and spitting between them, the breath laboring in Blair's throat, the splash of water against the tiles.

Jim finally managed to get a hold on that perfect ass, fascinated by the bunch and release filling his grip. Pulling the strong body in closer, he stretched against it and looked up at his partner. Blair rubbed his face against Jim's, cheek to cheek. Wet strands of long hair stuck to Jim's face like spiderwebs. The exquisite slip of Blair's cock against his, combined with the delicate scrape of coarse hairs, was as much as he could take.

As Jim's hips rose up without his will, trying to follow Blair, he slid farther into the water, until his shoulders were down against the bottom of the tub. His face was under water too, but that didn't matter, because he could only deal with one thing at a time right now, and air wasn't that thing. He was under the water and out of his mind and he was coming, oh Jesus, and he'd never be afraid of the water again.

The water soaked up the words as he groaned Blair's name, and then he was floating, shuddering, gulping air, licking at his wet lips; they were wet with bath water and the taste of soap and come, his and Blair's. He hadn't seen the other man come--hell, he hadn't even noticed. He would notice next time, he promised himself. Longing curled tendrils in him. He needed to see Blair come.

He needed to say thank you, thanks for everything, and know that Blair understood.

Sturdy wet shoulders shone with the room's diffuse light, and tiny soap bubbles winked from the fleece on his friend's chest. He blinked and broke away his stare when he realized he was looking at his own dazed reflection in them.

The shadow of the stranger was gone. Blair was slumped against the side of the tub, looking well-used. "Hey, Chief. You with me?" All he got in response was a slow smile and a mumble. He was wondering if there was a way to get both of them dry and in bed without cooperation, when Blair shook himself. The smile remained, and Jim smiled back. He knew he would go through all the senses shit all over again, just to get to that smile. He handed Blair a towel.


Jim unlocked the door and walked into a scene of devastation. The loft was trashed. The furniture was all right, in its proper place and all in order, but everything easily breakable had been broken. Hunks of crockery lay on the floor. Hell, there was so much broken glass on the floor he had no idea where it had come from. He was shuffling through it, trying not to ruin his shoes. It littered the tables, the chairs, and the couch throw.

All the dishes, all the glassware, all the artwork on the walls had been smashed beyond recognition. He got a broom and tried to clean up the pieces, but somehow there was always more glass. He was pulling the shards out of his skin and swiping at the droplets of blood that appeared. His mouth was full of glass. He kept trying to spit out the sharp fragments, but there was always more glass. Blood seeped around the base of his teeth, and from his lips as he spat, staining all it touched.


Not being able to breathe through the sinus congestion woke him up. His ribs felt like they were cracked, and it hurt to move. He choked for air, grateful to discover that his lungs worked. His face was cold and wet. He scoured the dampness away with his arm. Oh, Christ, what a horrible dream. The warmth he had clung to during the dream was the comforting solidity of his sleep-sodden Guide.

That wasn't looking like a good thing.

He had felt euphoric, drunk with the release of realization. He'd gotten all over his only friend in the world, without any warning, and then had the nerve to ask him for help--the one thing Blair found irresistible. He'd been overwhelmed by his own feelings, not sparing a thought for his partner. He could still see the confusion on the shadowed face. An hour later, he was getting off in a bathtub with a man who looked rendingly like Blair. He wondered how far Blair would go to give him what he needed. Jim's face prickled with heat; he had thought he'd outgrown shame.

His control was the only thing that had kept him sane and alive all this time. It had kept their friendship intact despite his--go on, admit it, now--more than brotherly need. Yes, it had been slowly strangling him, but this, this horrible exposure, was unendurable.

Too bad it took until now to remember that there was a reason why he held everything inside. Reach for what you wanted and someone was going to notice. Neediness and loneliness were fine in their place--fuck, they were a given--as long as that place was so far underground that moles and earthworms could never find it.

Now everything was on the surface, even things he'd tried to hide from himself. He knew all of his weaknesses now, and wished he could go back to the comfort of not knowing. He felt fragile, thinner, transparent. A tug on one thread would undo him completely, and he would be gone. He felt saliva draining along his molars and rolled out of bed, stumbling toward the bathroom.


Blair awoke to the gut-wrenching sound of Jim vomiting what little he'd eaten last night. No. Oh, no. Three Mile Island. Chernobyl. The sight of Jim crouched by the toilet fueled his sense of impending doom. He knelt by the shaking man and put his arms around the clammy shoulders.

"Go away." The haggard face and cracking voice told him things he didn't want to know about Jim's reaction to last night. The planet darkened, and the global atmosphere cooled seventeen degrees. He wondered how Florida would be affected by nuclear winter.

Nothing like a little bitter cold to wake one up bright and early; say, one a.m. Yeah, I'll just leave you alone in here to puke your gonads up, since it looks like we won't be sharing them anymore. The spark of hate arced through Blair, ripping his hope away, and then it was gone. Get a grip, man. He'd seen this coming like a fucking garbage truck. Was this what it was going to be like? His I'll-follow-you-anywhere puppy adoration mutating against his will into anger, resentment... How long could he live like that?

He had been so careful, for so long, only to lose everything this way. He felt like he'd been in free-fall all this time, happily unaware, until the unexpected ground rose up to smash him. He'd thought about what might happen, yeah, but, like most things in life--like last night's exquisite loving--nothing could compare to the real thing. Blair closed his eyes against the bile scalding his throat. At least the sink was available.

Some of his pain must have shown around the rapidly raveling edges of his concern, because Ellison made a noise like a corroded hinge. "'S not you. Bad dream." The acid-abraded voice scratched at Blair's ears, and the ebb of adrenaline left them ringing.

He wanted to make some pointless comment, anything to prove that he hadn't been taken from everything to nothing in the space of a few words from Jim, and was not even now crawling back to something, but he was mute. He filled a glass of water, demanding that his uncooperative fingers work, and held it to Jim's lips. The multiple rinse and spit calmed him enough to pull up the bigger man and help him back to bed.

"Jim, don't scare me like that." Not bad. Truth, but only a tiny portion thereof. Blair pulled the covers over them and wrapped around the cold man at his side. The body heat and creature comfort slowly relaxed both of them. They lay in silence for a few minutes, each trying to recover his equilibrium.

"Fuck, you think you're scared." Both the words and the matter-offact tone in that wrecked voice caused a double take.

"Not of me," Blair blurted, startled out of surreptitiously engraving the feel of Jim's body on his own. Jim just stared at the ceiling. "What? Was that what the dream was about?"

Even after Jim told him the gist of the nightmare, he was uncertain. The whole 'bad dream' theory of Ellison barfing his guts out still stuck in Blair's throat, but at this point, he was going to try to swallow whatever reassurance he could get. Maybe he was being too paranoid. Who had he learned that from?

"Sounds like you broke down some serious barriers. I think that's what the broken glass represented for you, and all that breakage didn't sit too well with your subconscious. You tried to get rid of it, to clean things up the way they were before, but you couldn't. Jim...are you, uh, all right with the...uh..." Uncommonly at a loss for words, he trailed off.

"Blair, I've seen and done a lot of things in my life that I wish I could forget," Jim responded softly, "but tonight wasn't one of them."

"Where do you think that dream came from, then?"

"You know, I'm not the most open guy in the world," Jim began, hesitating, sounding every bit as if he had just come to this conclusion himself.

Blair refrained from rolling his eyes, and rubbed Jim's shoulder reassuringly. "Yeah?"

"I have a hard time with, you know, the important stuff." The raw look etched itself on Blair's heart. So rare and sublime, the essence of James Ellison, and in this moment it was Blair's. He was grateful; he was invincible. He would walk in front of bullets to protect this man.

"Yeah." More gentle massage.

"In the dream, you were gone. I couldn't do anything about it. I just had to trust you. With everything. It really sucked, no offense. Still does." The hunted look on his face assured Blair that that was the unvarnished truth. His voice dropped as he spoke to the opposite side of the room, so low that Blair could barely hear it, as close as he was. "You're pretty bright, Darwin, don't you get it? Last night you turned into the most dangerous man alive."

Jim, eyes averted, obviously saw nothing funny about such a statement. Blair, with effort, stifled his chortle. A picture of himself as Clyde, towering over a tiny, freckled Bonnie, hefting the firepower like in those old photos, appeared in his head. They'd be ambushed by sheriff Jim Ellison on a lonely Louisiana road. Blair Sandburg, the FBI's Most Wanted.

Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison's Most Wanted?

"When you take a risk, Ellison, you don't mess around, do you?" His voice softened. "But hey, it worked, right? You trusted me, and it's OK, because I'd, well, I'd do anything for you."

"Uh huh. I bet you say that to all the guys."

"You can't be serious. Man, you're the only one. Do you understand me when I tell you that?"

"Chief, I'm thinking that's the problem," said Jim gravely. "We're not exactly coming from the same place here. I grew up in Cascade, but you live on Planet Blair. I'm not sure how to get there, much less speak the language. I don't even think I can meet you halfway."

"Hey, man, you're covered. I have a pretty good idea where you live. And I think I know how we can open diplomatic relations." He punctuated his remark with a kiss to Jim's temple, letting his breath stir the soft darkness at the hairline, gaining a small sound of pleasure for his trouble.

"I'm willing to negotiate."

"Let's get some sleep first. I think we both need it." Blair nudged his way to comfort on Jim's shoulder. He fell asleep wrapped up in Jim, lulled by his beating heart.


Jim froze, shocked awake by the barrel of a gun jammed into his kidneys. He sagged with relief as he remembered where he was, and who was in bed with him. Blair Sandburg, anthropologist and, apparently, contortionist. How'd his elbow get down there? His mouth turned up at the corners. This was a good omen for their future love life. If they were going to have a love life. There was no guarantee that his partner had any such thing in mind.

His mouth tasted like a latrine. Puking and then sleeping had been a very bad idea. Fuck, it was four in the morning. Toothbrush, now. There were hours of rack time left to enjoy, sans toilet breath and imaginary guns, if he could sleep through Blair.

Jim came back into the bedroom to find the light on and his partner posing on the canopy bed like a porn postcard. It seemed that Blair couldn't sleep through him, either.

"You're up," Jim said stupidly.

"That's what they call it."

The fake-Tiffany lamp on the bedside stand was painting yesterday's morning in gold and rose on the ridges and banks of Blair's body, and the western slopes were shrouded with fascinating shadows of varying darkness. Jim wanted to climb over the ridges and rappel down into the shadows, to see just how deep they were. Desire unfurled in him like spring leaves, new and fresh. Eight hours of insanity had already eclipsed four years of obliviousness, and he knew he'd wanted Blair from the cradle. He just hadn't known what he was looking for until now.

"James, my man, not that I'm not flattered or anything, but I could use some company here." The husky, probing voice cut through his concentration, and he looked up at a mischievous grin. "Wow, you are sex on a stick, big guy. Today's first lesson is 'sharing.' Come give me a bite." So he did. Bending down, Jim applied square white teeth briskly to the sensitive skin in the hollow of the hipbone. Blair yipped, and his reflexive curl left a wet spot on Jim's cheekbone.

"Watch it, willya?" Jim scolded, wiping his cheekbone with two fingers. "You could put someone's eye out with that thing." He looked at the stuff on his fingertips, spreading it around with the pad of his thumb. Even to him it didn't smell like much, not compared to the heady scent that was already surrounding him. Blair in heat smelled like camping: sunwarmed earth and a faint sweetness like toasted marshmallows, overlaid with the tang of wood smoke.

He held up his fingers, making sure Sandburg was paying attention, and taste-tested by sucking them between his lips, moving them slowly in and out, taste buds chasing down their prize in the whorls on his fingertips. Not only was it an interesting flavor, but the show brought beads of perspiration to Blair's hairline. "I had no idea you were so ticklish, Sandburg."


Jim's December-sky eyes took on an unexpected gleam. Blair had a nanosecond to be surprised at how wicked his friend could look before Jim jumped him. The two men rolled and wriggled, wrestling like puppies across the big bed, laughing idiotically. Bodies collided in a luxury of touch. Blair had been touched plenty of times by plenty of people, but that all seemed canned, bland, and anonymous in comparison: cat food to caviar. Jim was trying to reduce Blair to a giggling puddle, and Blair just wanted every square centimeter of Jim that he could get. He ended up flat on his back, huffing and puffing like he'd found himself a brick house.

"There goes my life's dream of taking on Stone Cold Steve Austin. I give, man, I give."

"Good. I've got a different kind of Wrestlemania in mind." The laughter had helped settle the tension left over from last night's confusion and this morning's emotional upheavals, leaving tenderness and desire in its wake. Jim wove his fingers into the thicket of hair at Blair's scalp and leaned in with a probing kiss. Blair was sure his mouth had never been so thoroughly known. This was big knowing; it was Biblical.

He strove to return the favor, wrapping his arms around the broad shoulders and doing his damnedest to siphon off Jim's soul by mouth. The weight of Jim, the substance of him, held Blair down like a force of nature, keeping him from spinning away. He squirmed, looking to maximize contact between Jim's hard abs and his now-aching cock. The contrast of smooth lips and scratchy stubble made Blair's nerve endings light like matchheads.

Jim moved lower, sucking at his escalating pulse, nipping along his collarbone. A skein of gooseflesh rose behind curious fingertips as they inspected the curly chest hair. "I always wanted to know what this felt like," confessed Jim a little shyly. The rapt look in his eyes as he glanced up made Blair realize how beautiful Jim must have been as a boy. "Whether it was wiry like pubic hair, or soft like your arm hair."

"You could have asked. I'd have given you a guided tour." His voice hitched as he tried to replenish lungs that were now vacant. Just thinking about Jim thinking about his chest hair was enough to send the last of his oxygen-carrying red blood cells down to join the others.

"I wasn't ready to paw your chest, Chief. But right now, it seems like a good idea."

"I'll be happy to point out a few of the local landmarks." Jim's eyes widened when Blair smoothed a hand over the fur. Yes! Those ice-blues were locked on target, watching Blair tweak and tease an innocent, unassuming nipple into something resembling a pencil eraser.

"Where's the nipple ring?"

"I lost it last week. But if you're nice to me, I'll let you pick out the new one." The husky tease inspired Jim to start lapping at the nipple's mate, hardening it, scraping it lightly with his teeth. Blair lifted into the hot, wet mouth, grabbed Jim's head and held on. "Oh! Oh, yeah, there! That's nice!"

Then, amazingly, Jim seemed to grow many new hands, and all of them were somewhere on Blair. Hands were stroking his legs, cupping his jaw, squeezing his ass. Each touch redefined his boundaries, moving them out in concentric circles, as tingles radiated from every point of contact. In the total focus of Jim's gentle touch, Blair felt like a prized and valuable work of art, examined thoroughly and found
blessedly worthy.

Odd needy noises burbled from Blair's lips. He rolled from side to side, his body blindly trying to follow the hands, until they grasped his hips and held him firm. Lips wandered from his now-cold and lonely nipple and dallied along the curve of his rib cage, moving over to investigate the belly button, a pointy tongue dabbing inside. He moaned, struggling against the confining hands, desperate to rub against anything that might be available. He was goal-oriented in a way he'd never been.

Sex was supposed to be a pleasure, something that tantalized and entertained, to be enjoyed and wallowed in. That's what it always was, not this frantic drive to orgasm. What the hell was this about? He was beyond ten on the Mohs scale, so hard he could scratch glass, so horny that with just one lick, just the right touch, he'd drench the both of them. Without that, he was gonna spout a nosebleed any minute. He was fast becoming a mindless mess of frayed nerves, and every one of them was screaming at Jim to touch his cock, please, for God's sake, just touch it!

"Easy, Chief, easy," Ellison was answering in a distracted voice, but Blair wasn't sure whether he'd actually been begging or the man was just making a reasonable assumption.

"I can't get any easier than I already am," he wailed, hearing his voice crack.

"God, Blair, you smell so good."

Blair saw that dark head slide even lower, stubble scratching his belly, and felt one of the hands leave his hip to caress the puckered skin of his tight balls, the other taking firm hold of his erection and stroking down. He opened his legs wider and pushed upward, just as the man he loved sucked in the head of his cock. It was like easing into a blast furnace, scorching away the inessential and leaving only desperation. He flushed all over as the heat surged up and down his body, incinerating everything in its path and coming out of his mouth in an exultant howl. He did his level best to get as much into that mouth as possible, forgetting Jim's inexperience until a scrape of teeth convinced him that he'd better settle down, if he valued his manhood.

"Jim, I gotta see you, man." Levering up on his elbows, Blair gazed in wonder. Jim shifted so that Blair was watching his cock slide into Jim's mouth, wet and solid and incontrovertibly real. This was really the man he'd followed into insane risk just to be beside him, really the touch that he'd starved for, really the finely-molded mouth that had him crying out in his dreams.

He wanted to warn Jim that the flood was coming--to get out of the way or build an ark, whichever was faster--but his brain was stuck in neutral. Orgasm rolled over him with the boom of a huge breaker folding over onto itself. Shocks of pleasure stabbed through him. Jim startled back when Blair came, and the next pulse spattered onto the big man's face. Moving out of the way, he continued to stroke and caress until Blair quit shaking.

Blair felt himself gathered into the Jim's embrace as the aftershocks shivered through him, but was too wasted to respond to the kisses that were scattered across his cheeks and eyelids. He leaned his head back against that welcoming chest as Jim scooted behind him, collecting him up. Broad hands rested over his heart, holding him carefully.

"Jim," he began, but his voice wasn't working too well. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Jim, you have my come on your face."

"Yeah? And what are you gonna do about it?"

"You sound pretty cocky for a guy who hasn't gotten his yet." Blair grinned, feeling some of his energy return. He twisted himself up and Jim's head down, licking at the splatters, shifting his ass against Jim's still-hard cock to feel him and savor his groan. While he was there, he got distracted by the feel of Jim's soft skin against his lips. Turning around for a better angle, he decided it was time to stop reacting and start getting a few more of his fantasies made reality. The end result of all this was still questionable, after all, and he'd better take what he could get while he could get it. Jim had gotten something pretty big off the launch pad, but no way was the orbit stabilized.

"Christ, Jim, you are so fucking gorgeous," Blair murmured as he brushed his lips against the faint lines radiating from the corner of Jim's eye. Once those words were out, others started agitating for freedom. His chest hurt with the pressure to say the things he'd kept secret all this time. Words were roiling through his insides, and he was going to fracture if he didn't let them out.

He followed along the proud forehead with the tip of his tongue, then closed his teeth along the arch of Jim's eyebrows, biting delicately. "I've wanted you for months, for years, Jim." Blair let his whisper float through the soft hair, knowing his Sentinel could feel the bending of every follicle in his scalp, knowing that his voice filled Jim's ears.

"I go on stakeouts when I'm exhausted just to be with you in the dark in the middle of the night. I put the water glasses on the top shelf so you have to reach for them." He trailed tiny footprints of kisses along the bones of Jim's face, admiring the structure, nipping along the jawline and feeling the bristle of new growth against his teeth. "I work out with you so I can watch you sweat. I see you all the time. You're in my eyes, even when they're closed. You're in my whole life."

Blair realized on the way down to Jim's mouth--so temptingly parted, just enough to slide his tongue right in--that this would be his first kiss: the first time he had reached over all by himself and covered Jim's lips with his own. They were his for the taking, right now. It rocked him. He looked into Jim's low-lidded eyes, even now expecting to read Police Line -- Do Not Cross. Instead, something healing in them flowed out, soothing the sore spot under Blair's ribs where his words had been.

He wanted to lay everything he had at Jim's feet. Diamonds, rubies, pearls of wisdom, the shirt off his back. This acceptance was so profound and unexpected that it was beyond his ability to process, much less recompense. He didn't actually have anything Jim needed. Not material, anyway, and the immaterial was already Jim's. So he kissed him.

It was miraculous, the human mouth; so many useful and marvelous qualities. He cataloged those warm confines: the hard slippery teeth, the ribbed palate, the agreeable tongue. He spent some time comparing the top lip to the bottom lip for width, depth and firmness, measuring with his teeth. He explored the smoothness inside Jim's cheek as if he might find the source of the endless supply of dry comments.

Without losing his place in Jim's mouth, he reached for the body oil he'd grabbed from the bathroom last night. Warming some in his palms, he began to stroke Jim's neck and shoulders, oiling down to play with the nipples that wrinkled against the smooth chest. Eyes closed, he let the taste and feel tingle him, oblivious to everything else. Jim's moans resonated against Blair's teeth as he erased every bright vestige of spearmint and began to feed on more subtle flavors. He'd thought that he was starving before; that if he could just get a taste, one helping of Jim might somehow satisfy him.

Now, with Jim's mouth under his, he knew what real hunger was.

His body was a void, howling to be filled. Only the sensation of Jim against him reminded him that there was still an outside, a shape surrounding the emptiness that was Blair. He pulled away from Jim's mouth, loath to lose that feast, but his hollowness brooked no opposition. Gasping, he stared at his partner. Jim looked perilously debauched: lips swollen, darkened eyes imploring for release; his dripping cock ready to serve Blair, to fill him. He poured himself a palmful of oil and wrapped his hand around Jim's shaft to the beautiful music of the big man's pleas.

"Blair, make me come, oh, God. Need you so bad it hurts." Jim, who never asked anyone else for anything. Only Blair.

"Yes, baby, yes. Soon, I promise."

On his knees astride Jim's lap, he could feel the heat merging between them. Squirting more oil into his shaking hand, Blair managed to reach back between his legs and lube himself awkwardly.

"Let me, please?" On Jim's face was a mix of tenderness and avidity. Dreams did come true, then, didn't they? He folded Jim's right hand between both of his, slicking Jim's fingers; then guided them behind him as he lay against Jim's chest with his ass in the air. The wall almost had his gray matter for decor when Jim rubbed his knuckles deep into that sensitive spot.

"In, now!"

Jim hastily pushed two fingers into Blair's passage, and Blair roared his approval. Then he was fucking himself on Jim's fingers and their cocks were lined up so sweetly together, greased and ready, and he was moving, rolling between the invading fingers and the hardness below. That wasn't enough, though, it wasn't what he wanted, needed; he had to keep his act together for just a few more minutes so he could...pull Jim's hand away, slide up, and oh, fuck! sit down. Oh, yeah, it hurt but it was worth it just to hear Jim shout, and pain was already fading into full and more and Christ, yes, Jim!

His thighs were made of butter; oxygen was only a fond memory. He couldn't get his movements coordinated. Jim took over, holding Blair's ass in long, firm fingers. Blair gulped as the man simply lifted him up and down, sinewy arms cording and slacking, breathing deep, shuddering, working his own rhythm. A droplet of sweat shivered along Jim's temple, and Blair leaned forward, catching it with his tongue, sucking at the salty liquor. Each drop onto Jim's rigid length forced harsh cries from somewhere deep in his gut.

Emptiness drained away--how could something leave that wasn't there?-- more emptiness gone with every stroke, until Blair was not just full. There was more fullness than he had enough room for. It was Jim; the solid inches of Jim suffused his entire body. Blair wasn't alone inside himself anymore.

As Jim's hands lifted him up--overwhelming, bigger-than-life Jim-- Blair's present met his past at a strange angle. He could see himself a long, long time ago, a little kid frozen at the sight of an enormous animal. It was ten times his size, its glossy dark coat stretched over sturdy haunches, shining in the sun. And then somebody was lifting him up onto the horse, and Blair thrilled with fear and excitement. He was up so high, moving so fast, he could see the whole world. Riding the horse was power and communion and completion, things that he knew then but didn't have all the words for.

The view was the same, now.

His world abruptly shifted as Jim rolled them both over, looming above Blair, still buried deep inside him. Runnels of sweat traced his heaving chest, and he propped himself on his hands while he caught his breath. It was a picture of Jim that sizzled in his brain. "God, you're magnificent. You're an animal." He twisted his hips and moaned at the blitz of pleasure ripping through him.

Jim answered with a feral white smile and a growl. He went after Blair's mouth like it was his last meal, tongue demanding unlimited access, doing a move with his hips that ground Blair's cock between them. Low moans were devoured by the man over him. He jerked like a marionette as his body couldn't decide what to respond to first. His ass throbbed, and his clenched hands were numb. Every muscle he owned was wound up like an alarm clock, and he was about ready to go off.

Jim was nailing that sweet spot now with every surge forward, his eyes glazed. Feet hooked in the small of Jim's back, Blair raised up to meet him, canting his hips down and arching his back on Jim's outstroke.

He was going to go sky high any minute, and he was determined to drag Jim's orgasm out of him in the process, because there wouldn't be anything left of Blair afterward. Three times in one night was more than he'd known he had in him. Maybe this was the good part of celibacy, like the way banging his head against the bricks of Jim's defenses felt so damn good to stop. He was up on the edge, with only surface tension to hold him back, and then he was spilling, and Jim was making little lost noises in the back of his throat, his eyes screwed shut and his mouth open.

As the last fireworks spangled off into darkness, Jim sort of crumpled on top of him. The full weight of him was reassuring and stifling. He hugged his partner hard. "Jim, you're squashing me, here."

"Sorry." Jim fell off to the side, like he'd forgotten he was still attached. Blair grunted in surprise and pain, and even Jim's stoned countenance registered shock. It might have been comical, except that it seemed so fitting. When Jim pulled out, it was going to hurt both of them.


Blair woke up first. Like yesterday, his respiration was hampered by a telephone pole lying across his chest, and he ached all over with soreness and satisfaction. The sight of Jim snoozed out so peacefully next to him, almost-snoring, wrung his heart like a dishrag. What was he going to see when those pale eyes opened? Shower, he had to get a shower, he couldn't concentrate surrounded by Jim and the warm sleepy smell of sex.

He had to think, and Jim's nude body was not conducive to thought. He couldn't shake the idea that he'd taken advantage of the man, even though he knew it was improbable. Physically, anyhow. And emotionally speaking, 'taking advantage' implied that Jim wanted something Blair wasn't willing to give. Or that Blair had taken something Jim wasn't willing to give. Christ, he was getting a headache.

They'd both spilled their guts last night, though not in the same way. Jim hadn't said anything about the nature of his newfound need to get naked with Blair, if he even knew. Was that just Jim being Jim, or was last night the weirdest one-nighter in history? Jim said it was about trust, but what exactly did that mean? Blair had learned early that you could only trust people to be who they were. There was no percentage in expecting them to be who you wanted them to be.

Standing in the shower thinking was getting him nothing but wet, and he felt tension tearing away the beautiful remnants of making love with Jim. Fuck that shit. Voltaire notwithstanding, this was a problem that could not be solved by sustained thinking. After toweling off and making a half-assed attempt to dry his hair, he crawled back into bed. He was rewarded by a couple of grunts and a bodywrap that Houdini wouldn't get out of. He made himself comfortable against the vast treeless plains and went back to sleep.


Morning was so awkward that Jim knew Blair hadn't understood that everything was OK. They moved around each other as if they'd exchanged personal space during the night and didn't know for sure where either of them began or ended. They were either all elbows and asses and Blair tripping over Jim's feet, or across the room from each other. He could try to explain that it was Blair's call; he should decide who they ought to be. Friends, partners, lovers, whatever. What Jim wanted here didn't matter; he would take Blair on any terms, as long as the man stayed.

Or, instead of fucking it up beyond all recognition, he could just keep his mouth shut and hope that things would work out on their own.

By the time he'd almost bankrupted himself buying camping shit--and it was worth it--things seemed to have settled back into something like normal. The habit of years was hard to break, and Jim sent silent gratitude to anyone available. Blair was chattering about the Key deer. It was hard to tell the difference, though, between regular Blair chatter and nervous Blair chatter.

Sandburg had been so worried that he wouldn't see a deer. He'd brought the 10x50 binoculars. If he'd owned a spotting scope, he probably would have brought that, too.

"They're so little, and there aren't hardly any left. You know how hard it is to catch a glimpse of a deer. You've just got to find one for me."

The park ranger for the National Key Deer Refuge assured them, in between flirting with Sandburg--yeah, that hurt a little--that they would be able to see the deer in the low-lying areas. She gave them a map of Big Pine Key and sent them on their way, with a warning to drive slowly.

Jim had practically inched the truck over the bridge while minutely surveying the swampy area to the south, but Blair had seen the first deer himself. It was standing under the street sign on the corner on the other side of the road, with its two pals lying down a few feet away. They looked like kids waiting for the school bus.

"Huh. I guess the park ranger couldn't say that if we drove slow enough, the deer would run up to the truck." Sure enough, that's what they'd done for the people parked further along the road. Twenty feet from a sign saying 'Unlawful To Feed Key Deer,' the deer, unable to read, were nibbling bread from the hands of the car's occupants. Jim was disgusted at the people's ignorance, and tempted to photograph the car's license plate along with the unlawful feeding, but he knew it wouldn't do any good. He could only be grateful that they didn't have any food along.

He was a sucker from the word go for the huge, luminous eyes that somehow managed to project pathos and starvation. Yeah, they really needed a gutful of Cheetos. The deer themselves were tiny, hardly taller than a German shepherd. They had really long eyelashes, eyes way too big for their heads, legs that looked too frail to hold up their bodies, and an air of insatiable curiosity that reminded him inescapably of Sandburg. He knew right away that these deer would have gotten him to hand over all his junk food in a hot second.

Jim was highly entertained by the sight of Blair crouched down to take pictures of them, especially since they would walk right up to see if there was any food behind that camera. After a while, most of the unfed deer had wandered off in search of more obliging tourists. The two men had almost gotten settled back in the truck when they heard a couple of faint metallic thunks. A small, black, wet snout appeared through the open window, coldnosing Blair's bare arm. His partner's yelp boxed his ears about the same time he heard the whack! of a head against the roof. As the startled deer bounded away, the truck was filled with colorful phrases, some in languages he didn't recognize.

If not for the center console, on which his friend was now seated, Ellison would have been proud possessor of a lapful of squirming Sandburg. He laughed helplessly, arms holding his stomach, until tears dripped on the steering wheel.

"Goddamn you! Laugh at me when I'm covered with deer snot! That's so you, Ellison. You suck!"

"Don't hand me that shit. I know you love me." He hadn't asked for a moment of silence, and he wouldn't have expected to get one even if he had. But suddenly, there was one. A chill flicked away the heat of the day as he realized what had come out of his mouth. It used to be just a joke...didn't it?

Blair stared at him, not curious but just watching intently, until Jim could feel his bones fluoresce white on black. "Yeah, man," he said. "Yeah, I do."

The bare bulb in the upstairs closet shed some light at last. That was what he needed to thank Sandburg for. And he couldn't do it with sex, or not just sex--that wasn't what Blair would understand. Blair did words, and Jim had to repay in kind.

"Me too, Blair."

He tasted the words as they went over his tongue, but the flavor wasn't quite right. There had to be something else. There they were, the right words, lined up neatly behind his teeth--eager to jump, no parachutes. "I love you."

Maybe light-years weren't as far as he'd thought.

The oof of Sandburg crash-landing in his lap and the burn as Blair welded them together at the lips told Jim that his Guide had come to a verdict and it was in his favor; so much so that the steering wheel digging into Blair's back didn't seem to matter. Jim's eyes were watering again. Before being sucked whole into Blair's kiss, he could have sworn he saw a flash of jungle cat out in the swamp.

[the end]


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