World Without End

Calista Echo

 

The snow muted the sounds of the cars whooshing by and the whole world was cloaked in a white veil that softened the edges, making Cascade look clean and innocent. I knew the ugliness and violence that was layered below the white drift, but it was no longer my concern. My days of ridding the city of crime were over. A mentally ill cop was an ex-cop. No getting around it.

The wind picked up, sending the snow vertically and I opened my mouth, capturing a few flakes. A year ago, the snow would have been a nuisance, a detail on my way to or from work. Today, it was a graduation gift, sent from above to congratulate me on my journey back to the outer world.

My professor walked beside me, talking, as always. He was bundled in some plaid concoction, his long, unruly hair whipping around his face, his mittened hands gesturing, disturbing the snow around his face. The last few minutes had contained an update on the weather here and the weather being experienced in Tahiti, along with the relative merits of each. Cascade lost, no surprise there.

I listened with half an ear, Sandburg's voice rumbling through my brain and settled into the cracks, the sound like a salve.

"Where to, Jim?"

We had discussed this on and off all week. My father had wanted me to come home with him, Simon had offered to put me up, but Blair had seemed to understand that I needed my own space.

"Home. 852 Prospect, know the way?"

"Yup. Nice area, close to the water." Blair got his little green car open and I wedged myself in.

"Hmmm." Words were less than shadows, incapable of conveying what I was feeling. All the months of being alone, when words had no meaning, had changed the way I experienced language. Now when people talked, it was sometimes harsh and ugly, sometimes an undulation of sound, sometimes like data scrolling along a screen.

And sometimes, when it was Blair, it was a lullaby, his words rubbing up against each other like they wore fur.

Didn't matter what he was saying, the meaning always, always somehow came through, clear and melodic. I often said things to him just to set him off, so I could sit back and bask in the balm of his words. Thankfully, he was easy to set off.

Now silence suited me, and I said nothing in response, trusting Blair would understand and realize how much I had to take in, how new and alien everything would seem to me after being trapped by my senses for 18 months.

Staring out the window, not really trying to name or place what I was seeing, I simply let the images fill my head, displacing the unrelenting vision of four white walls. The children squealing as they dodged poorly aimed snowballs, shopkeepers shoveling a clear path to their wares, cars dashes of color in the road...

My senses were under control, at my command. Blair had devised ingenious methods to help me contain them as well as endless tests to expand them. It had been a slow process, kinda like stuffing an elephant into a box, but now the sensitivities had been blunted, tucked away. And that suited me just fine.

Seeing Prospect Avenue, the familiar landmarks that I had passed each day in the past, hit me hard. Swallowing past the lump in my throat, I savagely squashed the tenderness that was new, and welled up at the most inappropriate times. That's what 18 months of hell did to you, I guess. I didn't like it; it was one more way of being out of control.

These sudden surges had me reeling with their intensity. What the hell was I supposed to do with them? Sandburg might know, but I really didn't wanna talk about it with him. It was a problem that would pass. I just needed to get used to being on my own again.

"Jim?" Sandburg's voice came to me from the left and though I knew he was only inches away, it felt like miles.

"Hmm?" the car had stopped awhile ago, I realized.

"Ready to go in?"

I was home.

The air in the loft was dead, stripped of all nuance and energy. The furniture was coated in thick gray dust. The place had the eerie feel of a science fiction movie in which the earth's population has been decimated by some unknown contagion. Blair immediately crossed to the balcony and opened the doors, letting in a cold, clean wind.

Wandering around the kitchen, I tried to remember what it was like to live here, what it was like to have this much space all to myself. It had felt good, hadn't it? The freedom, the spontaneity, the lack of scrutiny... I was having a hard time remembering what that had felt like, what that would feel like. It had felt great, it would feel great.

Sandburg was doing his own explorations, using a washcloth he'd found in the bathroom to dust, exclaiming all the while about the view and the light. His voice stirred the dead air, bringing energy back into this sealed place. I sneezed and a second later so did Sandburg.

Pressure was building inside me and I was afraid, afraid I might break something, that I might break...I didn't want to fall apart in front of Sandburg, who had such confidence in me. He'd been great, fucking amazing but he was an anthropologist, not a nursemaid.

"Think I'm just going to take a nap, Chief." As soon as the word was out of my mouth, I wondered about it. I hadn't used that nickname since Stephen and I were kids. Sandburg took the name in stride, blinking at me, clearly uneasy with the idea of leaving. For some reason that helped to bring me back from the edge of humiliating myself.

"You need anything?" He flung the washcloth around as he asked sending dust back into the air.

"I'm perfectly capable of getting into bed by myself." The words with riddled with sarcasm and there was a part of me that was pleased that I sounded just like my old self. For some reason, Sandburg blushed and nodded, shuffling to the door.

"Okay, Jim. Well..." he looked around, and back at me. "Call me if you need me..." His voice trailed off as he reached the door and he looked at me, looked to me, for something, something I don't have to give, never did have to give.

"Sure. I'll call. And thanks. For everything." I needed him to go, the pressure was back.

He seemed to read me because he nodded, "Your welcome, man. Been an honor..." His voice trailed off and he quickly opened the door, letting himself out.

The air quieted back down with his departure and I breathed it in. My first unchaperoned moment in a year and a half. The silence and the dust were here to keep me company. How did I do this before? What did I fill the silence with?

Cautiously I extended my hearing, wanting to stay in Sandburg's company for a little longer. He was slowly walking down the second flight of stairs. His breathing sounded a little funny; maybe the dust had stirred up some allergies. I wished he was talking to himself, like I sometimes caught him doing at Fairview. I wanted to hear his voice.

There was only the sound of his feet hitting each step and the hitch in his breath. And then the door opened and closed and I stopped myself from following Blair to his car, unsure I would be able to make it back.

Instead, I looked out the window and watched, zooming in to catch one last glimpse of him. His head was ducked down as he fiddled with the key and then the radio. Finally he lifted it, but instead of putting the car in gear and driving away, he put his head back and closed his eyes. After a few minutes, he sat back up and drove away.

Away.

That was good. As it should be. He has his life, had it before he came into mine and he needed to get back to it. Friends, girlfriends, studies, family, hobbies...I don't who and what they are, somehow in all our time together we never got around to those things, but a guy like Blair, he'd have all that and more.

I needed to get back to my life. Except I can't get back. Where it used to be there's a big fucking sign there that says "DETOUR" and cops saying, "Move along, there's nothing to see here."

The temptation to kick something or break glass is strong, but I shake it off. Can't lose track of all that had been given back. In that big picture, the loss of a job was really nothing.

All right, it was more than a job. It had become my entire context, the source of meaning, the fuel of my life.

When Carolyn left, I telescoped my life down to job, gym and the loft. An endless circle that I repeated day in and day out, year in and year out. The cases changed, a few faces changed, the gym equipment got upgraded, and I put in some track lighting at the loft.

It wasn't regret over a marriage gone sour that had me narrowing my life so. It was simply the scope of what interested me. After Carolyn, I refused to pretend otherwise. Oh, yeah, there was the occasional date and the obligatory fuck. Each and every one left me feeling sadder, emptier, more determined to stick with what had real meaning, hormonal imperatives notwithstanding.

The job was gone, the co-workers, co, no more. Simon had continued his visits but I figured it was the guilt riding him and I hoped my being back home would put an end to that. I guess Taggert, Brown and Rafe had wanted to visit. The idea of them seeing me in a hospital room, confined for my own good and the safety of others, had not been appealing. They just weren't the kind of friends that I'd want to see me like that. Hell, there weren't any friends I'd want to see me like that. I couldn't seem to stop Simon, but thank goodness he stopped them.

The loft still stood, filthy but mine. I didn't have the heart to finish the cleaning process Sandburg had begun. I'd said I wanted to sleep to get him to leave, but now I realized it was all I wanted to do.

The drive home was done on autopilot. I surprised myself when I looked up and realized I was at the warehouse. It was Saturday, and the whole area was quiet, the usual weekday activity absent. The deserted, industrial landscape gave my loneliness shape. Well, that was an old sensation, one that has been pushed to the sidelines for the last year, but utterly familiar.

"Home," I said to myself. For nearly a year my home had been with Jim, at Fairview. Oh, I slept here, took showers here, but home was Jim.

Now Jim was home, his real home, and he was doing just fine. Things change; that mantra never fails to serve.

The way to my portion of the warehouse was dimly lit, most of the light bulbs had burned out a long time ago. The man I rented from isn't a hands-on kind of guy and besides, I'd rather he didn't figure out I was actually living here. I paid 800 for the space and sublet all but about 400 square feet to Norman. He used it to store the stuff he exports and paid me 500 a month. So it was a good deal all around.

The space I called mine was a bit ragged and damn cold right now, but it too, served. I got my space heaters going and turned on the TV, mostly to fill my corner with sound. I heated some water on the hot plate and hovered near the little burner, soaking up the meager heat. A cracked cup, a teabag of green jasmine and voila, I had lift-off. The library called for a few hours of study.

After that I had the night shift at Fairview. My eyes pricked and I was shocked at the tears, quickly wiping them away, even though it wasn't like there was any who was here to notice. That was the second time I'd been surprised by the wash of emotion that led to tears. For the first time there would be no Jim at Fairview. They'd probably give me someone new tonight. It felt all wrong and all right at the same time.

Jim was at home, sleeping, Simon would come over, they'd have dinner and discuss police stuff, maybe catch the Jags on TV. That made me feel better, the idea that Jim had his life back. I was sure I'd still see him sometimes. I mean, he was doing great controlling his senses and all, but at some point Jim would have questions, or maybe just want to talk.

I left as fast as I could find the few things I needed. Normally, the warehouse didn't bother me, but today it was filled with echoes and ghosts and I couldn't wait to be somewhere people were.

The library was dead, I'd forgotten about the Winter Carnival. I could hear sounds of the revelry drifting in through the walls, muted sounds of shouted laughter and shrieks of happiness making the empty stacks seem even more desolate as I searched for a book on tribal dream symbols.

I found the one I'd been looking for and settled down on the floor, my back to the wall. Soon I forgot all about being alone, the books keeping me company, as they always had. Looking up, I was startled by how much time had passed, and realized I was going to have to hustle to get to work on time.

The light in the loft told me I'd slept the afternoon away. The sleep had done me some good and I woke hungry. There was nothing in the loft, so I headed out to Luigi's. It was close enough to walk and the food had always been good. No one paid me any mind and it felt a little funny. I'd gotten used to every move I made being tracked, at first to be analyzed for threat potential, later to gauge my returning sanity. My returning control, though the docs never knew it as that.

The place was pretty much the same, new waitresses, two new menu items. The clock read 6:20 and I realized that normally Sandburg and I would be having dinner together. Even on his days off, Blair would often stop by and stay through dinner.

I stopped my memories from going any further; there was no point in getting caught up in replaying them and they brought on those spikes. Not sensory in nature, but emotional, and just as hard to control. How long would it take to get rid of them? I hoped being home would bring me back to normal.

I don't think Sandburg has any tricks up his sleeves to help me deal with these kinds of spikes. In fact the way I feel at the idea of searching Sandburg's sleeves was my problem. I couldn't forget the way his hands felt on me as he bathed me...I know he was just doing his job, and he probably did it for all his patients...but that knowledge had done nothing to lessen the memory of the sensations.

The walk back home was an interesting exercise in sensory balance. The late winter sky was dotted with points of light, the stars winking in their old age. The snow had already begun to gray on the ground, a hundred footsteps having violated its purity. I kept my senses in check, experiencing the night as I might have two years ago. By the time I got home, I was feeling downright cocky. I was doing it, keeping the elephant in the box, and some of the tightness in my chest eased.

Hours later, in bed, I found it hard to fall asleep. But it wasn't noise or textures that kept me awake. It was memory.

*His hands, slow and strong, lifting my arm, running the warm soapy sponge along it, bringing it back down, taking the other arm and repeating the process...his hands on my leg, flexing it, washing it, washing between each toe, his darkly beautiful face absorbed in the task...his hands move up, spreading my thighs, nestling the sponge there, soft, laden with warm moisture...hands touching my cock, lifting my balls, the sponge exploring the intimate spaces...I was hard now and put my hand on my erection, imagining the hand was Blair's.

Blair's blunt, capable hands. Safe hands.

On my erection, encircling it, exploring it, spreading warmth along the length. No hesitation. He cups my balls, finally fondling them they way I had always longed for. His blue eyes are half closed, a smile curving his generous mouth. I don't know if it's the fact that I've been so long without release or touch or if it's the power of his hands, but already I'm gasping for breath, arching into his hand, trying to increase the connection. He understands because he tightens his hold and pumps, his hold strong and sure, as if he'd done this a thousand times before. "It's all right, Jim, you can come. Let go...That's right, do it...do it...do it for me..."

"Oh, god...god, Blair...BLAIR!"...I come in frantic haste, the speed of my release shocking me.*

When I opened my eyes, he was gone, and my hand was sticky with semen.

I didn't get up right away. I was torn between wanting to bathe in the memory and wanting to wipe it out. What would Blair think if he knew I had used him that way? It felt like a betrayal to thrust him into a role he would hate. I told myself he never had to know.

They'd assigned Mr. Nelson to me full time. He'd been getting worse and they thought a more consistent approach to his care might help. I liked the guy so it was just fine with me. Dinner went well enough. He ate it all after I tasted a little bit of everything on his plate and didn't fall dead at his feet. When I told him it was time for his shower, he had a meltdown, screaming he hadn't been contaminated and he wasn't going into 'those' showers. In his protest, he tried to bolt from the room. I got him calmed down, but not before his elbow connected forcefully with my ribs. I'd have a pretty little bruise there tomorrow. In my report, I described Mr. Nelson's reaction but omitted the elbow. I didn't want to see him restrained and it was an accident in any case. I spun out a story about the rejuvenating properties of this shower and eventually coaxed Mr. Nelson to get clean.

It was only after Mr. Nelson was asleep that I allowed myself to grieve a little for the extraordinary time that has now passed. The year I'd spent with Jim was like a dream.

A dream come true. Okay, it had come a little late. I'd searched for a true sentinel for years and had never gotten any closer than someone with two enhanced senses. I'd hope to do my dissertation on them and their role in a modern society. I had finally found one in Jim, but there would be no dissertation.

The damage to him was appalling, and I wondered how many other sentinels had come online just to go insane. Still, working together, we were able to find ways to cope with the massive influx of information. We'd found methods to control the sensory input and even enhance it. Every day had been a day of discovery.

The first day I'd entered his room, I saw a man restrained, his eyes squeezed shut, his arms flexed against the cuffs. Pain etched in his rigid posture. A big man, powerful, though so clearly diminished.

And beautiful. There was something primal and compelling in his beauty. Beauty wasn't really the right word. I looked at his face and it was if I could see straight to his soul. And in his soul, there was beauty despite the pain, power, despite being reduced, strength despite his outer fragility, purpose, despite his containment.

In retrospect, it seemed criminal that it took me so long to figure out that Jim was a sentinel. I'd spent a good deal of time beating myself up over missing the clues. I mean, my God, it's not as if I'd never given thought to what would happen to a modern sentinel who was unaware. But Jim was so far gone, so deeply buried, that I missed the implications. And he suffered longer because of that, though he never blamed me.

I had come to admire him, looking forward to his sense of humor, the way he saw things, understood and categorized them. I looked forward to just being in the room with him and....whoa...stop right there.

It went against every code I believed in to give words to the feelings I had for Jim. Maybe I wasn't a doctor, but he'd still been my patient and I knew better than anyone how much his world had been dumped upside down. Some friend I would be if I confused him more with my feelings, or worse, made him so angry that he cut me out.

I knew next to nothing about Jim's private life, except a few bare facts and they all led to one thing...heterosexual. Now that he was free of Fairview I expected he had a lot of catching up to do and I grinned at the thought. Some woman was gonna get lucky. I bet it would be a redhead. He seemed like the kind to go for redheads.

I left Fairview at one o'clock. The city streets were deserted except for a few unlucky hookers and assorted people in need of stimulation. By the time I got home and into bed it was close to two. As exhausted as I was, I couldn't fall asleep. My ribs ached where Mr. Nelson landed his protest. The last number my retinas registered was 4:30. The alarm brought me to wakefulness at 6:30. Now my body wanted to sleep, was desperate to sleep. Great. My first class was at 8 and I needed to prep. I had a full day ahead of me and a full night as well.

By the time I got to Fairview later that day, I was only kept moving by caffeine and habit. From the moment I entered Mr. Nelson's room, I knew I was in for a long night. I forgot to announce myself as "Dr." Sandburg and my credibility with him went right out the window.

From then on the fight was on. He wouldn't eat; convinced I've come to poison him. He screamed invectives at me in three languages. Wouldn't allow me to read to him, sure that I've injected subliminal messages into the text. He wouldn't even let me get him ready for bed and it took him a tortuously long time to get settled in. By the time I left his room, I felt like I'd just gone three rounds with Ali.

Heading to the nurse's station, I got some aspirin and then settled down in the lounge, hoping for a quiet night. No such luck. It must've been a full moon because there is one crisis after another, most involving missing items that are quickly found and bad dreams that take longer to soothe. Due to Sandy coming in late, I don't leave until close to 2. Home, bed, blessed oblivion for four and a half hours.

Jim's morning came early, just as the sun was beginning to light the sky.

I couldn't keep it from kicking my brain into gear and I realized I'd have to find some sort of covering for the skylight if I ever wanted to sleep in again.

I got up and ran through my routines of shower and coffee and then sat the table. The newspaper delivery had been stopped. There would be no mail. The phone sat silent.

What next? What came next? I could go to the station and say hello, but that seemed forced and pointless. I could check with my stockbroker and make sure I was as secure as I thought I was. I could ring up my father. None of that appealed to me. Suppressing a sigh, I got up. The place needed a good cleaning, there were groceries to be gotten and mail to track down. It would keep me busy for the morning.

The gods hate me. I woke with a cold. My class was happy to have a reprieve from a lecture and watched the film on agricultural tribes and their threatened way of life quietly, interrupted only by the occasional gentle snore. I passed the time grading papers and trying not to cough. Didn't want to wake anyone up and it hurt too much.

For two days I'd hoped that Jim would call, making sure my cell phone was on at all times. I didn't know whether to be glad everything was going so well or sad that since he no longer needed my help, there was no place in his life for me. It wasn't unexpected. I mean, just where would I fit into Jim Ellison's life once he was in control and back home?

What was unexpected was just how bad I felt about that. Before coming to Rainier to attend the University, I had never spent more than a half a year in any one place. My beautiful flower-child mother had always felt that experience was the best teacher.

I experienced communes, ashrams, motels, kibbutz's, boarding houses, campsites, hostels and homeless shelters. My mother never had any trouble with either the coming or the going and I learned to slip in and out without causing a ripple. I made friends easily and left them just as easily as we went on to the next experience.

I had never questioned it as a way of life until I came to Cascade. At sixteen, I had my own room for the first time. I shared it with a roommate, but it was mine. And for the first time I saw all the seasons played out in one place. Friends came and went depending on the semester, the living arrangements and the field trips. It never occurred to me to try to hang on and maintain a connection.

But I had never felt the kind of connection I had with Jim. It had been exhilarating and I'd been surprised by that. I'd been surprised by everything I felt with him. And I wanted it, I wanted it to stay, to last.

I could hear Naomi in my head, "Blair honey, you can never hold onto people. They're like quicksilver. It's best to detach with love and move on before they get tired of you and make you leave. There's always something new to learn, someone new to meet. The universe awaits you."

I didn't want the universe. I wanted Jim.

Oops.

Well, yeah.

Like that.

With my upbringing it had been expected that one would check out all the possibilities. My only experience with men had not been particularly pleasant. Personally I don't know why all women weren't lesbians given my experiences, but maybe women were able to bring out a different side in men.

Sex with men was done in a rush, like there was really something more important they had to get to. Football, or washing the car. It was rough and way too quiet for me. Thought the unpleasantness meant that I didn't swing both ways.

In fact I was pretty sure about that until Jim came into my life. Now... now I felt like an idiot, I felt like I was fifteen again, wanting sex because I thought along with the orgasm, you got the place. The place in their heart. At fifteen I'd harbored the rather romantic notion that when you made love, you formed an invisible, unbreakable bond.

Yeah, I know, idiotic. One only had to look at me, the visible reminder of the broken bond of sex.

Naomi would never tell about the man who impregnated her. Oh, wait, made love to her and got her with child. She was quite romantic about everything about the origins of my birth, except to name the guy. She would never tell me the two things I really wanted to know about him. Did she love him? Had she loved him? Is he the reason we never stayed anywhere for any length of time? Was she looking for him or running from him? Did he factor in at all? I guess that was more than two things.

Some people managed the trick, stayed together for years and years. How'd they do that? Didn't they get bored? Impatient? Restless? Didn't they feel the pull to see what else was out there? What new place or person was waiting to be explored?

Up until now, I'd practiced what my mom preached. It was sensible and to tell you the truth, since my first disappointing encounter with sex, I hadn't discovered anything or anyone who inspired rebellion against my mother's philosophy.

Until Jim.

He made me want to stay, made me want to take root.

Well, the universe has quite the sense of humor. I knew what wasn't possible and I'd held out for what I could get. Jim's friendship for a few months. I'd already had a year with him. He'd been in my life longer than anyone besides Naomi. Course it was a professional relationship and he was mute through many of those months....still, it meant something to me.

But now that time had ended. He was back at his place, back in his life. His almost last words had been, "I can get into bed by myself." And like an idiot I replied, "Do you need anything?" Like me in your bed? Had he tuned into what I was feeling? Probably. I could feel myself blushing again. No wonder he hadn't called.

I turned the cell phone off. It wore out the batteries to keep it on. I only had one because the warehouse wasn't wired for service. The class ended and after everyone filtered out, I allowed myself a long coughing spell. God, it hurt. I held onto my ribs and took in shallow breaths and put buying cough syrup at the top of my list of things to do.

 

For three days I held off calling Sandburg. Filled my days with getting the loft back in order, looked at want ads and worked out at the gym. I was in miserable shape and it was going to take a lot of time to regain my muscle tone and get my stamina back. And for what? I sure as hell didn't know.

Every day I reached for the phone and started to dial his number. And each day I stopped myself, thinking he needed more space from me now that I was no longer his charge. I don't know what I was to him anymore.

I know what I wanted to be to him, I knew what he was to me.

Someone else might think it was all because he brought me back. He had come into my hell and held out his hand and brought me out. And yeah, there was gratitude mixed in with all my other feelings. But there was so much more than that. For three days I'd tried to run and duck from the knowledge. By the end of the third day, I know I can't dodge this bullet.

After everything I'd been through, I wasn't going to lie to myself.

To Sandburg, maybe, but not to myself.

 

The cough medicine really worked-- well, it worked better than I thought it would, and I wondered why Naomi had always said it didn't. She always said that all Western medicine was bogus and would upset the delicate balance that nature had intended. My theory was that most of the time we couldn't afford a doctor or the bogus medicine and she didn't want to let on.

By taking the medicine and controlling my breathing, I managed to keep my coughing contained. It did nothing for my cold, which moved quickly from being a nuisance to actively making me miserable. Night sweats, chills, my whole body ached, not just my ribs, and a fever settled in that couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted me to freeze or roast.

I was rarely in the warehouse during the day, rarely in it at all, except to sleep. I called in sick and crawled into the folded out couch that served as my bed. There was a permanent chill in the place that I usually coped with by keeping moving and drinking hot tea. Stuck in bed, the chill made it past my blankets and wrapped around me. No matter how much I curled up, I couldn't quite generate the body heat to displace it.

I'd run out of cough medicine and now just rode the wave of wretchedness and hoped for some relief in the form of sleep. The coughing sabotaged that desire. The room went from gloom to deeper gloom as the day progressed.

My lack of movement emboldened the rats, and they crept around, foraging for any scraps. I hadn't realized how big they were and when I felt better, I planned to get serious with the traps. After awhile, even my coughing fits didn't phase them and they started to come closer. I forced myself out of bed and gathered ammo, and for the next few hours I threw every pot and shoe I owned at them.

It was a long day and then even a longer night. When I ran out of my projectiles I'd considered getting up and retrieving them, but let it go. Live and let live, I think I slept on and off, the kind of sleep that's so shallow you never really think it's happening. Eventually the light came back into the room through the grimy skylight.

Tottering to the bathroom, I got the water running to take a shower. Steam filled the little room, setting off another round of coughing. As soon as the water hit me, my vision grayed and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor of the tub. I must be really tired to fall asleep taking a shower. I pulled myself back up, but once again, came to on the floor, only this time I'd managed to hit my head and blood was trickling down the drain. Hadn't fallen asleep, must've fainted.

I crawled out of the tub and lay on the floor, shivering. The journey back to my bed took awhile and by the time I got there, I realized I needed help. When I finally got under the blankets and found my phone, I dialed Jim's number.

"Ellison." His voice was flat and I wondered how he'd take this call. Almost hung up right then, but his voice felt like a lifeline and I stubbornly held on.

"Jim..." My voice barely registered, the scratchy sound that had come out only approximating his name.

I tried again. "Jim, it's Blair, I...uh..." I don't get any further than that when Jim took over.

"Sandburg? What's wrong? Where are you?"

"Home. Don't feel, I'm...uh..."

"Give me your address."

"Address? Oh...2431 Fulton."

"Fulton? Jesus, Chief. That's in fucking no man's land. Hold on. I'll be there soon."

"'kay." I burrowed back under and wished I'd thought to get a drink of water when Id been near it. I'd just close my eyes for a minute or two and then I'd get up and get one.

 

Jesus Christ. The kid lived in the middle of an industrial wasteland. It's not even close to Rainier. Hell, it wasn't close to anything. It took me close to a half hour to find it. I couldn't believe this was where he lived and I wondered if I'd heard it wrong.

There was a dock with a door next to it and I pushed the buzzer. Pushed it again and then just leaned on it. Nothing. Since I'd heard Blair's voice on the phone, I'd been on an adrenaline rush and it was beyond me to stand there and wait.

I didn't want to do a B and E on the wrong place, but I wasn't about to take the time to do a crosscheck. Using the techniques that Sandburg had taught me, I tried extending my hearing. Tentatively at first, feeling queasy, like my equilibrium was shot. I could feel ants all along my nerves as I opened up and realized it had only been easy...and maybe only possible, when Sandburg was at my side, his voice guiding me.

I had never planned to bring the damn senses back out of the box once I'd learn how to control them, but then I'd never imagined that they'd be good for anything.

I listened and there wasn't much to hear. A neon light buzzing on and off, rodents scrabbling along the concrete floors, sluggish water pump. I pushed harder and finally had evidence that someone was inside. The coughing was ragged and harsh and at the end of it, I heard a thud and then Sandburg, loud and clear saying, his voice a raw whisper, "Somebody just shoot me."

Launching myself at the door, I managed to bruise my shoulder but made no headway to getting in. I ran back to the truck and got a few tools. The security here was a joke and it didn't take me long to get the door open.

Running along the dark open space, I found it easy to make out the obstacles. When I rounded a wall of pallets, I saw Sandburg. Naked, he was lying in a small pool of light from a desk lamp on the cold, concrete floor.

I froze at that sight. He looked broken and pale and if I hadn't been able to hear his breathing I would've thought him dead. There was a vivid bruise along his ribs and a gash above his right eyebrow, still bleeding.

I reached for my gun before I realized I no longer carried one. I hadn't heard anyone else in the warehouse when I'd scanned for Sandburg and now, rechecking, I was satisfied there was no one else here. Who the hell had attacked Sandburg? And why?

On my way to his side, I grabbed the blankets off his bed. Pulling him to my arms, I could feel he was hot, but his lips were cracked and there was no sweat. Some serious dehydration going on, probably too serious to be countered with a few glasses of water. His head lolled back on my shoulder and I brushed his hair back and cupped his cheek.

"Chief? Can you hear me? C'mon, talk to me. Open those big baby blues " I kept up that kind of chatter for a few minutes, as I maneuvered him into my arms. Getting up from the floor was embarrassingly difficult. Sandburg remained oblivious and if I hadn't been so worried, I would have been glad to have him miss seeing me wobble and fumble my way to his bed.

Once I got him to the bed and decently covered, I went in search of juice. Had to settle for tap water, though I swear I could see the microbes swimming in it. There was nothing else and he needed fluids. Holding him against my chest, my arm around his naked abdomen, I tried guiding the water in. Sandburg stirred when he felt the moisture in his mouth and started to cooperate. After I got about half of it into him, I stopped. Sandburg's headed thudded against my chest and he craned his neck to look up at me.

"Jim?" His big blues were finally open and puzzled. It was decidedly odd to have a naked man in my arms, but I just tightened my hold. His chest was as hairy as mine was smooth and I could feel his stomach muscles at play as he twisted in my arms. This was not the time to get caught up in sensations, but I stored the sensory information away, like a stolen car, ready to be stripped in the dark of the night.

"Sorry to bother you but I..."

"What happened? Who beat you, Chief?" Simon needed to be alerted and a description sent out as soon as possible.

"Huh? Beat me? Nobody beat me. I got a cold and then I passed out in the shower. Wouldn't have called you but-"

The gash must have happened when he fell in the shower but that didn't explain the bruised ribs.

"And the bruised ribs? You sure they aren't cracked or broken?"

"Oh, those." Sandburg's chuckle was aborted by the pain that caused. "Mr. Nelson was a little testy the other night. I ran into his elbow."

It was more than that, but I let it go. "I don't understand how you could let it get so bad, Sandburg. You must have someone you could call beside me." It's inconceivable that a guy like Sandburg wouldn't have friends and girlfriends lined up around the block and that none of them tuned into what rough shape he was in.

Before he could answer me, he started coughing. He tried to curl up as his lungs were wracked with spasms. I held him as best I could and stroked his hair, remembering how good that had felt when he'd done it to me in the hospital.

When the coughing eased, I offered him some more water and he drained the glass. I set him back against the sofa and fetched another, wishing there was hot tea or juice, or anything else to offer him.. This one he drank on his own, the water only spilling a little as the glass made its shaky way to his mouth, A quick search and I found some clean jeans and a T-shirt in a cardboard box. The kid lived like a hobo.

"Come on, let's get you dressed."

Sandburg looked confused, but he took the clothes and shimmied into them. He started to lie back down.

"No time for a nap, I want to get you checked out." I reached down to pull him up, but he shook his head and pulled the covers up.

"That's okay, I'm fine and uh, you're right, I made another call and Melissa should be here anytime. She's, uh, bringing some medicine and groceries, so I'll be fine."

The kid belonged in the hospital, or at least a clinic. I'm sure Sandburg would rather be taken by Melissa than by me, but I don't want to leave him alone.

"Will she take you?"

"Take me? Oh, you mean to the doctor's? Oh, yeah, if I need to go, she'll make me go. She's fierce that way."

So Sandburg had a fierce girlfriend. I could understand that, I felt kind of fierce about him myself.

"So, um, you don't need to hang around, Jim, really. If you could just bring me another glass of water, I'll be fine until she gets here."

"What's taking her so long?" She must know how sick Sandburg is, why isn't she here right now?

"She's at work and sometimes the woman who has the next shift is late. But don't worry, she should be here soon. And she's a nurse. So I'll be fine, I'll be in good hands....Thanks, Jim, for coming. You all right?" Sandburg wanted me to go.

"I'm fine. Getting my life back in order. You call if you need something. You call if me if you need anything...you understand?" I gave him the full Ellison glare and Sandburg nodded, his eyes already half-shut.

I knew I should leave and let Sandburg's Florence Nightingale come in and play nursemaid. I knew she was due here any minute and I really didn't want to witness her tender loving care of Blair...but damnit, this place was cold, empty, and unfit for human habitation. Making sure Sandburg was covered and the water near at hand, I finally made myself leave, securing the door on the way out.

When I got to the truck I hesitated again and then I just gave up. I'd sit here and wait until Melissa came on the scene and then I'd go home.

 

I was miserable before, but now I'm even more miserable, albeit in a different way. Jim thought I was this total loser with no friends so he got stuck with the call. Which was true. Except for the stuck part. He was not stuck.

I had to be feverish because my mind went off on some interesting tangents all revolving around Jim and the word stuck. It was good to see Jim again and hear he was okay and that his life was getting in order. Good to see Jim....good to feel Jim, his hand in my hair, his arm around me... Jim, stuck....stuck with Jim, in Jim ...stuck, fuck, Jim fuck....

 

I waited in the truck for an hour until the obvious hit me. There was no nurse Melissa. He just said that to get me to go. Why'd he call me if he didn't want me here?

I had kind of implied that he ought to have friends besides me, that he could call on. Maybe that had made him feel like he had to make one up. Or he hated doctors. He'd be just the kind of person to work in a hospital and hate to go the doctor. Well, too bad. Melissa had arrived and she was a 6 '4" tall ex-detective, ex-ranger, who was a little rusty at detecting but fierce as hell and the boy was going to receive medical help.

Breaking back in, I could tell the kid was sleeping by his breathing. I was shocked at how naturally I did that. I mean, I just did it, like when you walk, you flex your knee, you don't command in your head, "knee, flex" it just does it. My using my hearing to hear Blair had happened the same way and it freaked me out. I shut my hearing down, fast, and continued along to Sandburg's 'home'. He was huddled in the middle of the lump he called a bed. I sat down on the edge and gave his arm a little shake.

"Hmm.."

"Sandburg." I kept my voice quiet and light.

"Yeah?" He hadn't opened his eyes.

"Something must have happened with Melissa because she didn't show."

"Huh?" He turned a little towards me, but wasn't fully awake.

"About Melissa, your girlfriend. She must've gotten hung up."

"Oh." He rolled back to his side, regathering the pillow to his chest. The fever had climbed another notch or two. I rolled him into my arms and prepared to stand up, but Sandburg suddenly jerked awake.

"Wha-? Jim? What's going on?"

"You're coming with me and we're going to the hospital."

"No, I'll go to the student health center tomorrow. Don't have insurance to cover a trip to the ER and they'd just tell me to drink Gatorade and sleep. You know they would." He looked at me, his hair wild and tangled, a day's beard making him oddly dangerous and defenseless. I could see that it was me who had no defenses, at least against Blair. The effort of looking up was too much and his head dropped back down.

"All right," I gave in and felt his mouth move against my chest, he was smiling.

"You're coming home with me." His mouth moved again, frown.

"Home with you?"

"Look, somebody has to pour the Gatorade down your throat and Melissa's just not cutting it." I don't know why I was being such an asshole about Sandburg's imaginary girlfriend.

"You sure, man? I mean, you just got back into your own space." Blair pleated the worn blanket.

"I'm sure. To tell you the truth, I missed not having you around." Understatement of the year, but no sense scaring the kid.

He looked up at that, and maybe it was the fever, but I saw a glint of something raw and naked in his eyes, something I never thought to see in Sandburg.

"Okay, if you're sure." God, sometimes it was so obvious that he'd been raised by a woman.

I rummaged around and found some more clean clothes, along with underwear and socks. There were like three pairs of shoes scattered around and it took awhile to locate a matching set. I didn't ask, Sandburg didn't look as if he could summon up an answer to "What's your name?" much less something as complex as "Why are all these shoes and pots and pans lying around?"

Getting him home meant manhandling him some more and it was both a pleasure and a pain. Sandburg remained compliant through the whole trip home and up to the loft, but when I tried to get him the stairs and into my bed, he balked.

"No man, I can't take your bed. I'll get germs all over it. I'll be fine on the couch."

"Sandburg, I've already got your cooties all over me, it's too late to worry about that. You've got some seriously banged up ribs there. You need the space. Let me worry about the germs."

He dug in his heels as I stood behind him and I could feel the tremors coursing through his body. The trip here had done him in, so I took advantage and knocked into the back of his knees. He started to fold, but before he could go down, I picked him up, ignoring his squawk. Slowly carrying him up the stairs, I wished this was happening a few weeks from now, when I'd be bounding up the steps.

He stopped struggling when he realized just how easily he could capsize this boat. Being sick for a few days had left Blair smelling, well...smelling. Like Blair times ten, like Blair ripened. I wrapped it around my senses, letting it crowd out all the other scent information. When we finally reached the bed, I was panting, and it was only partially from being out of shape. Halfway up the stairs, Blair had relaxed and when I laid him on the bed, I saw that he'd actually fallen asleep. His faith in my ability to get up the stairs was touching.

His mouth was slightly open, his features relaxed in the grip of sleep. It felt very good to have Blair in my home, in my bed, in my territory. I didn't foresee him going back to that pit he called home.

Pulling the covers down on one side, I rolled him over. I started to undress him before I remembered he wasn't wearing underwear. Well, hell, I'd already seen him naked and God knows he'd seen every inch of me. Turnaround was fair play and I stripped him. He was a sight to behold, lean, naked and relaxed. Covering him, I tucked his hair behind his ears and dimmed the light.

Padding back down the stairs, I found I was whistling and for the first time in more than year and a half, maybe in as long as three years, I was happy to be home. Not glad, or relieved, but actually happy.

I put in a call to Sanderson's. They'd deliver the groceries in a couple of hours. I put together some soup and let it simmer. All the while keeping an ear tuned to the sound of Blair sleeping.

The groceries came and I debated the relative merits of rest over fluids. The desire to see Blair again tipped the argument in Gatorade's favor and I grabbed a bottle, aspirin and the Tiger Balm and went to wake Blair.

He was spread out, taking up way more than his side of the bed. I positioned myself by his head and nudged him. He came to with a grunt and a groan, gazing at me with perplexity.

"Jim?" He tongue came out and licked his cracked lips, making my groin tighten.

"Here, kid." I helped him to sit up and offered him the blue stuff.

He drank it, his lush mouth around the mouth of the bottle making me think impure thoughts. He finished and made a face. "Oh, yuck. If I didn't hate hospitals and needles more, I'd've opted for an IV over that."

"Those were the choices, Sandburg and a deal's a deal."

"Yeah, I know." He leaned back, looking at me through half-closed eyes, sleep already calling him back. "Thanks, you didn't have to do this, you know."

"Hmm," I tried remaining non-committal, not sure how Blair would take my raw enthusiasm. Handing him the Tiger Balm, I said, "It's for your ribs and it might help your coughing."

His face lit up and he took the jar from me. "I love this stuff. I would've pegged you as a Ben Gay, Vick's Vapo Rub, kind of guy." Sandburg opens the jar and the Christmasy smell hits me. Pain skittered across his face as he tried to apply some to his side.

"Here, let me." Docilely, he hands it over and I lean in, spreading the red ointment along his battered ribs.

The smell of Blair was mingling with the smell of the Tiger Balm and I inhaled it into my lungs. I tried to be gentle and not add to the pain, but Blair leaned into my touch. His eyes were shut tight and a tooth was sunk into his lip.

I drew back. "Does this hurt?"

Sandburg's eyes opened and I could see the pain in them, but he just shook his head no.

Continuing, I used the palm of my hand to spread the heat and then moved to applying it to his chest. Confident that I wouldn't cause him pain there, I massaged the ointment in between his nipples and watched in fascination as they grew hard. The hair on his chest glistened with the balm. Sandburg's breathing picked up and his tooth worried his lip. My eyes fought the twin attractions, not sure which to focus on. My mouth ached to explore both places and when Sandburg groaned and arched into my hand on his chest, I gave in. Pulling him to me, I captured his mouth, feeling the slight indentations where his teeth had been.

I'd never kissed a man before, though I'd fucked quite a few. That had been a long time ago. It had honestly never occurred to me to want to put my mouth on some guy's lips. Fucking guys was not an art, not a sensual experience. Guys fucked to solve a problem and one didn't go off on tangents when one was problem solving. It was one of the reasons I hadn't done it since the army.

Women...women were great at sensual bait. Staging the scene, lighting it just so, wearing costumes to enhance the drama, perfuming their bodies...it was art. And like art, it was sometimes incomprehensible, sometimes sublime. The lips were used to explore and consume the daintiness, the softness, the suppleness, the delicious otherness of the female anatomy.

My lips were on Sandburg 's mouth. His lips were cracked and I could feel his beard, unpleasantly harsh against my face. The only perfume was the Tiger Balm entwined with his own scent, which I recognized even through the sick, sour overlay.

And I have never wanted to kiss anyone as much as I wanted to kiss him right then. Oh, sure, I had a problem I wanted solved but with Blair, the tangents were as intriguing as solution.

It helped that Sandburg seemed just as interested in pursuing tangents as I was. His hands were on my face, mapping the contours of it as he returned my kiss. I could feel the swirls on his thumb pads as he swept them over my temples.

We needed air and the kiss ended. Sandburg looked dazed and wanton and I knew I wanted him more dazed and more wanton. Pushing him onto his back, I felt a hot jolt as Blair spread his legs for me, lifting his hips in supplication. Putting one hand on the small of his back, I supported the arch and used my other hand to explore the thick, hard cock that was straining toward me. As soon as my hand connected, Sandburg cried out, but before he could come, I pressed just below the crown and held it there, waiting for him to calm. When his breathing was back in control, I went back to touching, amazed that something I was so intimately familiar with could hold such mystery.

I loved how each change in pressure or stroke brought forth an answering change in Sandburg's breathing and moaning, loved the way he clutched at me, trying to come. I didn't let him hurry me, I didn't want to rush this. It was only when I realized that his grip was weakening, his thrusts into my hand becoming more tentative that I took pity on the sick man.

Leaning down, I took his cock in my mouth, just barely containing my own orgasm when my senses were hit with Sandburg's heat, scent and taste all at the same time. Groaning as I sucked, I felt electricity run its course through his body and then, with a shout that sounded like my name, he came.

I was taken by surprise, not by Sandburg's orgasm, which I'd been expecting, hell, orchestrating. No, I was surprised by what it felt like to have my mouth filled with hot Sandburg essence. The taste, the warmth, the viscosity, all pleased me, but it was the idea of being filled with something of Sandburg that thrilled me, fusing sensation to imagination and sending me off, screaming, "BLLAIIR!" as I pumped against his moist thigh.

Sandburg's hand was in my hair, gently petting but I could tell by the way his hand would stop, then suddenly start up again that he was nearly asleep. I tugged the sheet out from under him and tossed it on the floor, then gathered the blanket around him. Settling my head on his stomach, I could see his now soft cock, nestled in dark, damp pubic hair. I cupped it affectionately and felt it pulse, threatening to come back to life. I knew the kid needed to sleep, so I patted it and rubbed my face against my lightly furred pillow. Wrapping my arms around his sturdy hips, I fell asleep.

Oh man, what a dream, what a fucking dream of a fucking dream. It had started with Jim rubbing Tiger Balm on my ribs. Even in my dream that hurt, but the hurt turned into a burning that was so compelling I had to have more.

Jim then switched to my chest and I tried not to whimper at the pressure that expanded in me, making me hungry, making me feel starved and desperate. Somehow Jim knew I needed more, that I needed connection and in my dream he kissed me. And kissed me, until I thought I might pass out from the kiss. But before that could happen, he pushed me, making me lie back, and like a slut I did, spreading my legs, inviting him, hoping he would accept the invitation.

Which he did, thank God. Taking me in hand, he fisted my cock and in my fevered dream state, that was almost too much. I nearly came. Stopped by pressure, I did whimper then, but Jim could not be swayed. He slowly teased me, touching and stroking, never letting it build in rhythm, keeping me at the edge.

I tried, oh God, I tried to make it happen. The tension inside, the longing to fall, to fall and fall and fall and land...was immense. Jim could have asked anything of me and I would have done it, just to begin the descent. But after awhile I grew tired. Tears of frustration pricked the back of my eyes, as I realized I didn't have the strength to pump anymore. Jim sensed that and he stopped. My need threatened to shatter me but before I could fall apart, Jim's hot, wet mouth enclosed me. That's all it took, like flint to tinder, the connection flared and I came, screaming his name. A moment later Jim yelled "Blair!" and I felt his cock, hard and demanding, rubbing against my thigh, hot come pumping out as he orgasmed.

It had been a hell of a dream, so real I could still feel Jim's weight on me. I noticed I wasn't cold and I didn't hurt and I wasn't coughing. I did need to pee and so with a sigh, I put the dream aside, hoping to come back to it, hoping for part two. Opening my eyes, I was surprised by the light and realized I wasn't in Kansas anymore.

This was not the warehouse. And the weight on me was not a dream, but Jim, lightly snoring into my crotch. As soon as I registered that, I grew hard. Not a dream, not a dream, oh man, Jim kissed... Jim took my...Jim's mouth... and I tried but I couldn't help it, I rocked on the bed, the dream, no, the memory, relived.

I tuned in that Jim was awake when I felt his lips on the side of my cock, pressing kisses there. His hand had snaked underneath me and he was spreading my cheeks, his fingers gliding over my anus, his fingernails scratching the tender tissue in that hidden, now exposed place.

"Good morning to you, too, sweetheart."

I can't tell if he's talking to me or my dick.

We both respond enthusiastically,

"oh, yeah, good...good...good mmm...ornnning" that's as far as I can get. Jim moved up and the smile he gives me is wicked. Positioning our cocks in alignment, he began to rock, sliding back and forth, building heat and friction. His hand was still on my ass, his fingers scratching and flicking and I looked at him and begged, my need too raw to hide, "Pleaasse, Jim, oh god, pleeasse...." Jim's eyes dilated even further and he pressed a finger in and with that unexpected sensation, I come, my chest thumping against his. He watched me come, and I watched him, his face tight with concentration. In just a moment, his eyes closed and his head whipped back, the tendons in his neck taut. Gasping my name, his arms tightened around me. We lay, panting, sweaty, come pooled between us. Looking at him, at his face, so stark in it's beauty, I was at a loss of what to say. I did the favored fall back position of men.

"Hey Jim."

"Hey Chief."

"So, how about those Jags?" It was weak but I'd never woken up with a man before.

"So how about them?" Jim sounded amenable to a chat about sports, but suddenly I didn't want to mark time.

I needed to know what was going on.

"We fucked."

"What does that have to do with the Jags?"

"Nothing, try to keep up. We fucked." Jim had sounded truly bemused by the switch in topics.

"No Sandburg, we did not fuck."

Oh, oh, I was delirious and the freefall was happening but I wasn't sure there would be a landing. I stayed silent then, unsure of what reality was.

"We made love. Well, I made love. I guess you might have just been fucking."

Love? There was love here too? I pushed away from him so I could see his face, afraid to see that he was teasing. But his face was composed, serious. He brought his hand up and stroked my cheek, his fingers scraping over three days worth of beard.

I leaned down and pressed my lips to his forehead, then each eyelid, then settled on his mouth.

"Made love, man. And fucked, too." I settled my weight on him, knowing he could take it. Knowing I'd landed and would land again. Land right here. In this place.

The End