The Northerly portion of Mason-Dixon would like to dedicate this one to the South. We, of little patience, rough demeanor and oftentimes-truculent attitude, owe much to the charm and grace, finesse and calm of the other side. Without the perceptive eye and intellect of our better half, we would only rage in the wind. They have made us laugh, kept us from the dark side, and brought us out into the light.
Sometimes outside the lines, the world doesn’t look so tight, as it unwraps itself to us beyond the strictures of county lines, centerlines, and skylines. We think there are no spatial properties to some things. Yet, even geese have angled in the skies and hawks circle out their needs. Lines can bend, break, and meet each other at odd angles, plans can be modified and there are even round rooms. Yet, even two people sitting in front of a fireplace in time will put their arms around each other, encircling the pairing with lines of their own. Sometimes the lines are invisible, but the concept remains the same. In time and in all things, there is always the drawing of lines. Even love is linear. (From the Lines of Demarcation)
The door to the loft quickly opened and a large, determined-looking man walked through, followed by an equally determined younger man.
"Fuck you, Jim! I am not going to go stand in the corner! I am not going to let you spank me over nothing! It was no big deal!" With that pronouncement, Blair Sandburg threw himself on the sofa, picked up the TV remote and flipped it on, instantly feigning an intense interest in interior design.
Jim stood in the center of the loft looking at his lover. Trying to remain calm, he took a deep breath and said, "Blair, turn the TV off and go stand in the corner. We will deal with your actions this afternoon whether you like it or not. The choice is not yours."
Walking over to the prone figure, he said more gently, "Come on, Blair, let's get this over with." Reaching a hand out, he waited for the remote.
Blair clutched the item possessively.
"No!" came his simple reply, as he casually flipped the channel. "I didn't do anything."
Jim sighed and glanced at the ceiling as if looking for help from whatever deity interceded between Sentinels and rebellious Guides. He looked at his partner who was trying to appear casual, but the increased heartbeat and shallow breathing indicated otherwise. Walking into the kitchen, he grabbed a Coke and took a piece of paper off the refrigerator door. Carrying both back into the living room, he dropped the sheet of paper on the table in front of Blair.
"I expect you to be standing facing the corner of the office in five minutes,” he said matter of factly. With that, Jim walked out onto the balcony. Leaning against the railing, he took a long sip of the cold drink and stared out at the city.
The sun quietly rested on the horizon, bidding the city farewell, easing the inhabitants into a restful repose. Remembering the loneliness of returning to an empty apartment at the end of a long and stressful day, he sent a half smile towards the skyline, shaking his head. Now I have the pleasure of dealing with a sullen and bratty partner.
Scanning the room behind him with his hearing, he heard the faint mutterings. The kid was talking to himself; he almost chuckled at the ludicrously comic scene. He knew he was wrong. The issues and rules for communal living had been set forth and he knew the penalty for non-compliance. It was in Blair's nature, as well as all humans, to negotiate and back pedal out of punitive situations. He didn't blame the kid for that and he would have been worried if he hadn't received the usual petulant resistance. But he also knew the strong need in the anthropologist to be kept within the boundaries of expectations and demands...especially where his own health and sanity were concerned.
Blair glared at Jim's back for a full minute before reaching down and picking up the piece of paper on the table. It was a list of rules that they had written up when they had come back from the cabin almost a month ago.
Sitting there, reading the list of rules and knowing the consequences for breaking them, Blair felt anger rising up in him. How dare Jim tell him what to do! He was an adult--- perfectly capable of managing his own time and resources.
The list read like a riot act and right now the way he was feeling it all seemed unfair:
1. In all police matters, Jim is the final authority. What he says, goes.
2. No lying or keeping secrets.
3. No risking of life or limb…period.
4. No leaving personal items lying around loft.
5. No breaking the law, except (on rare occasions) while working on a case.
6. Equal share of domestic chores.
7. Home by seven p.m. or you call with an explanation.
8. No police work during finals…no coming to the station, except for emergencies.
9. Respecting privacy.
10. Always leaving a name or number when out with friends for long periods of time.
He was tempted to crumble the paper into a ball and throw it at the infuriating cop as he stood on the patio.
Then his eyes fell on the large stack of bluebooks and papers sitting neatly by his computer, waiting for him to grade. He knew if he could see his backpack from his seat, it, too, was filled with papers, his own work and recently added additional bluebooks. He couldn't help but glance down at the list he was still holding in his hand. They had sat down and talked and come up with these together, not Jim by himself, Blair admitted. I agreed to this, he thought to himself.
"Jim," he said softly, "please come inside so we can talk."
Turning around immediately, the older man opened the balcony doors and came inside, confirming Blair's suspicion that his Blessed Protector was monitoring him all the while.
"I've been looking at the rules that we wrote up and I agree with most of them."
Jim raised an eyebrow at that statement but said nothing.
"But," Blair continued, "I think the one that says I can't come to the station during finals except during an emergency is not fair. I think we should take that out. Therefore, I'm not in trouble, because---as I said earlier---I didn't do anything." With that statement, he leaned back on the couch and crossed his arms stubbornly, seemingly pleased with his reasoning.
"Okay," Jim said, taking a deep breath, "let's look at this and talk about it. First off, you agreed to these rules and these rules were in effect this afternoon when you came marching into the station. This was even after I reminded you this morning and we talked about it two days ago that you weren't supposed to be there. I told you that we weren't busy, and that Simon and I discussed it and it was all taken care of. So, you did do something, you disobeyed an order from me." Jim leaned over and pointed to Rule Number One: In police matters, Jim is the final authority. What he says goes.
Blair looked up and gave him a scathing look, obviously wishing he could knock Number One off the list right now, too.
Ignoring his own rising irritation with Blair's cavalier attitude towards the rules---rules they had spent one solid weekend discussing, outlining, clarifying and finally agreeing to---Jim continued, "Secondly, do you remember why we put this rule in?" Jim asked, pointing to the officious Rule Number Eight...the rule that Blair now chose to delete.
Blair looked at him angrily, seeing his argument going down the drain. He started to open his mouth with some smart-ass comment, then, realizing discretion sometimes was valor in itself, stopped short.
"Well, I do. I remember clearly the last two terms – hell, virtually every final since you started working with me. You killing yourself by helping me, grading papers, getting your own stuff turned in, meeting with students, writing finals at 4 o'clock in the morning and it's not worth it. Being at the station for those two weeks is not more important then your health and happiness. I miss having you around, I miss working with you, but I love knowing that you are getting enough sleep and taking care of yourself."
"But, Jim, I CAN do all that and still help you at the station! I can handle it all, I can deal with it all! You have to give me a chance to prove it!" His voice rising in volume with his own frustration level, he gestured wildly.... in full excited guide mode.
Leaning over Jim caught the expressive hands and held them tightly in his own. "I know, love, I know you are very capable and you can do whatever you want to do and you do it wonderfully. There is nothing to prove. But, no matter how brilliant you are, no matter how capable you are, finals take a toll on you. There is nothing to be ashamed of,” he said softly.
"But, I can do it! I can get it all done. I can come to the station with you, I can get my finals graded, I can handle it!" the younger man's voice almost cried out, "I can…”. He closed his eyes frustrated by how childishly pathetic his arguments were when time and time again he ran himself ragged, developed bad colds and generally failed at the demands he put upon himself during finals. Knowing this man who sat next to him cared about him, loved him, and made certain he was safe, seemed to deflate all balloons of logic.
"Love, I know you can do anything you set your mind to, but I am not allowing you the option. Rules were set down to keep you inside the boundaries and I intend to enforce them as we agreed upon. You have to realize that when we agree to rules they are strictly enforced."
"Blair, hush. The choice is not yours, the decision is not yours."
"Blair..." the voice rose warningly.
“Fine, I'm sorry I came to the station today. It won't happen again and finals will be over soon and then I'll have a month of happily following you around. I got it. I’m not happy about it, but I got it."
"Good, I'm glad you understand," Jim said, kissing the still captured hands, "now, wait for me in the office, I'll be in there in a few minutes."
"No, Jim, it's not fair. Even traffic cops give warnings. I'm duly warned."
"Nope, you were warned a month ago when we set the rules down."
"Why don't you call your friend, Vincent. I'd bet anything he gives Day warnings," Blair insisted, knowing full well through his correspondence with Damien St. Claire that Vincent Cade had very low-level tolerance when it came to his own partner's behavior. The man was a larger, more formidable force than Jim and the thought of Vincent Cade telling someone anything twice was not a viable image in Blair's mind.
"Blair, I don't think Vincent Cade would be having this discussion with you. I think the first sign of a temper tantrum on your part and you would not be looking at him right now. The floorboards would be your only view for quite some time, then the corner, and then the floorboards again. Vin is not a man who discusses rules over and over again. Once they are set down and agreed upon, they are in effect."
"Sheesh, what a jerk he must be," Blair said, moodily, crossing his arms over his chest in a further stance of revolt.
"I'm fast losing patience myself, Chief," Jim said, crossing his own arms in resistance.
Blair glared angrily.
"Okay, Chief, if that's the way you want it. The whole deal is called off. You don't want this relationship, then I can't force you. Nothing's changed between us, but you can do whatever you want. Please try not to run yourself into the ground because you are still the most important thing in my life. I told you that before, you can stop it any time you want."
Jim unfolded his arms and walked back into the kitchen.
Blair's face dropped. This was not the way this conversation was supposed to go. He still wanted the rules, the restrictions, and the guidelines to keep him on track, just not right now. Why does it have to be all the way or no way? he thought angrily.
Jim monitored the heartbeat, the aggravated little surges that confirmed his friend’s displeasure with the turn of events. Smiling to himself, he opened the refrigerator.
“What’s it going to be for dinner, Chief? How about an omelet?”
“That’s it, Jim?”
“Well, I’m tired and I don’t feel like cooking up a big meal, unless you want to do take out?” Jim said.
“No, man, I mean you don’t care. You’re not going to make a big deal out of this?”
“What's there to make a big deal of. I told you in the beginning it was your choice and you could cancel it at anytime.”
“I thought we made up those rules because we agreed I needed them.” Then, after a long pause, “That’s all,” Blair added quietly, seemingly confused by his own take on things.
Stopping his meal preparations, Jim wiped his hands on a towel. Placing both hands flat on the counter, he leaned forward, creasing his face into lines that spoke a man at his wit’s end.
Then evenly, with controlled and steady breath, he said, “Corner. Now!” gesturing towards the office door.
Blair quickly rose without a further word.
Tossing the towel down on the counter, he considered strangling the frustratingly, lovable younger man. Shaking his head, he began to put the food back in the refrigerator. He could hear his friend talking to himself, carrying on a monologue, grumbling and mumbling.
Jim finished opening the mail and writing a few bills, when he glanced at the clock in the kitchen. Ten minutes, that's long enough, he thought. Walking towards the office, he paused at the door, listening to Blair.
The younger man was unaware that his lover was standing there, listening to him argue with himself. "Why did you go to the station? You know you aren't suppose to be there right now? Don’t you have enough to keep you busy at school right now? How many finals did you get back today alone - 120? You know he's right, you were right a month ago when you agreed to the rule. God, you're so stupid!"
Jim stepped in at that point, talking to himself was one thing, but he was not going to allow his guide to start beating up on himself, convincing himself that he was stupid. Walking quietly up behind the younger man, he said, "Blair, stop it."
The other man turned around. "Sorry Jim, I know I'm supposed to be quiet...."
"No", he said with a smile, "I'm not angry about that, but I am angry about you calling yourself stupid. You're not, at all. You are one of the smartest people I know."
"Then why did I go to the station today when I knew I wasn't supposed to? Huh? Why? I knew I would get in trouble, but I did it anyway. Am I some sort of masochist who gets off on pain? Why couldn't I just stay at the office or come home and get some work done?"
Jim embraced him, holding him tightly, and rubbing his back, "I don't know Blair. I don't think you are a masochist. I think the other answers you are going to have to find yourself. I can't tell you why."
Several minutes later, not wanting to prolong his wait any longer, he lead Blair over to the chair in the room, sat down, undid his jeans and let them fall, and drew him over his lap. Giving him a few moments to adjust himself comfortably, Jim reached down and pulled the other man's boxers down to his knees.
Blair tensed up and gave a small whimper.
With little warning, Jim raised a hand and brought it down sharply on the upturned butt, producing a red mark. "We have agreed to rules about behavior and when you break those rules, there are consequences," Jim lectured, punctuating the words with a series of quick, sharp swats, aimed at his guide's bottom. "You agreed to them.” Three more swats, this time on the upper thighs, "and if you wish to change them, we need to sit down and discuss the changes." The swats continued, as did the lecture, Blair's small gasps turned into tears and pleas.
"I know..... I know....... I'm sorry....... It won't happen again, I promise."
"You are also being punished for that little tantrum you threw when we got home. If you want to discuss something, we will." Jim said, continuing with the lecture and spanking.
"But," Jim said, delivering two especially hard whacks to the center of Blair's bottom, "you will not simply decree what rules are dropped and when. Is that understood?" he asked, delivering a stinging smack with each word.
"Yes, I understand. We talk about it," Blair cried out, his voice heavy with tears.
After delivering 5 more hard swats, Jim's hand came to rest, slowly rubbing Blair's back while the other man slowly quieted down.
After a few moments, Blair's tears trickled off to an occasional sniffle. Sliding off Jim's lap, he looked uncertainly at his lover, wanting something, but still unsure.
Standing up, Jim guided the younger man over to the recliner. Sitting down, he pulled the confused young man down with him.
"I'm sorry," Blair said, as soon as he was safely settled in his lover's arms, held in a circle of safety, loved and forgiven.
"I know, I'm sure you are."
"I don't know why I can't just follow the rules and be good. I'm sorry," came a small voice after several moments of silence.
"Blair, love, it's not about being 'good' or following the rules. I think you are acting like you've always acted, trying to prove something to someone, maybe yourself, how good you really are. How perfect you are and how much you can handle, regardless of how it effects your health and happiness."
"But I can handle it!" Blair said, resuming his argument from earlier and pulling away from Jim. "I can get my papers graded, and my test written and still help you at the station! I have a commitment to you, Jim," his voice almost cracking from the emotion, the need to convince his partner that he had a handle on everything.
Jim pulled him into a tight embrace, not letting the younger man pull away either emotionally or physically. "Chief, discipline relationships are established for a reason. I know you can handle everything. Actually, it is this very determination that makes our relationship necessary right now."
“I’ve seen people drift apart, each lost in the commitment to perform----do it all. Men and women, both, so caught up in some contest to prove their worth to someone or even sadder, each other.”
He pushed away slightly and looked down into Blair’s upturned face.
“But at what price to their personal lives? I’ve seen marriages ruined, children lost to gangs, crime and drugs, and all because they had do it all.”
He looked into the red-rimmed eyes and sought understanding. “One of the reasons we got into this relationship is because you are the type of person who always wants to do it all…. handle everything. You can let go of some of this responsibility. Now you have no choice. You are not weak or lazy; you have just lost that choice in this relationship. You have nothing to prove to me and the rest of the world and whatever they think doesn’t matter. Do you understand?”
"But Jim ……"
“Do you understand?” Jim asked glaring down into the blue eyes.
"Blair, if I hear one more word about this, your butt and my hand are going to be having another discussion."
Blair sighed heavily, but moments later, relaxed back onto the chest of his lover.
Sitting there quietly, each man lost in his own thoughts, Jim absently-mindedly rubbed Blair's back, until the silence was broken by a small, quiet voice saying, "But I still feel guilty, Jim.”
“Do you think we should add a rule about that?” Jim asked, teasingly.
“No way, I think my butt would have some serious problems if we did.”
At that, both men laughed, and the Sentinel and Guide were falling back within the lines.
The bullpen hummed with easy camaraderie. The dry spell of major crimes in Cascade lapsed the usually boisterous but serious-minded detectives into leisurely smiles and horseplay. As Ellison moved between the glass-framed entrance to his division, he smiled. Rafe bent Brown over his desk, while holding the sturdy upper torso in an unrelenting headlock.
"Jim," Rafe called out, still pinning his prize, rubbing the thick skull with his knuckles, and building friction with his speed and persistence. The detective tried to raise liquid black eyes at Jim, not so much beseechingly, but in humorous acceptance. The concept of partners played into their lives much the same way as Jim and Blair's relationship.
"Do you believe this guy?" he asked the rhetorical question with the slight accent tilting his speech.
"What did he do now?" Jim asked, with obvious forbearance at the horseplay.
"He ate my Snickers bar. Just up and took it off my desk."
"Jim," Brown croaked, "he left it sitting there since yesterday. My wife has me on a diet. He was doing it to torture me."
Taking umbrage over the reversal of guilt, Rafe knuckled the thick skull harder. "Not so hard!" Brown yelled out, "you'll destroy what hair I have left."
Jim laughed as he sat down at his desk.
"I THINK WE HAVE WORK TO DO, CHILDREN!" came the sharp command as Simon Banks walked into the bullpen. Rafe released Brown, who still smiled wickedly, licking his lips over the remembered candy bar. Rafe took a mock punch at the grinning face, but kept one eye on their usually surly Captain as he made his way towards his office.
"Good morning, Detective Ellison," Simon beamed in unusual good cheer. Rafe took it as a sign and made another lunge at Brown. The large detective ran out of Major Crimes with the younger man following close behind.
"What's got you in such good humor today, sir?" Ellison asked as his friend and boss stood near his desk. Ellison picked up a folder and opened it, ready to read the current crimes report and begin the day.
"Fishing, Jim, fishing. That new titanium rod I ordered came in the mail last night." Simon stood back with an imaginary rod in his hands; cast back reeling in, then cast it out into an imaginary lake or river that showed dreamily in his eyes.
"Weekend has fishing written all over it? What do you say? Things are quiet here? You, me, the kid---Darryl can't make it. Joan says he has some major school project due---the three of us just" and with this he made another cast out into the far reaches of the future "and enjoying the great outdoors."
"Sounds like a good deal, Simon, but Blair can't make it. He's got papers to grade and he puts himself under too much pressure. Count me in, though."
Simon smiled. "Great. Saturday, early. Davis told me about this great spot that he found last summer. I've been meaning to check it out."
With that, Simon forged happily on towards the demands of the day.
The late afternoon sun hid behind the low-hanging clouds, diminishing the day with a tired ease. Sandburg sighed heavily under the burden of a particularly long day of posting grades, arguing his case with every incensed student at the injustice of it all, and sealing his heart off from the guilt he often felt for failing his students somehow.
Opening the car door, he threw his laptop and backpack into the backseat and placed a large stack of blue books and papers on the seat next to him. With a quick pull he loosened the tie that had bound his curly locks behind his head. Shaking his head wildly, he grinned at the symbolism of the act. Putting away the restraints of academia and letting it all hang loose. If only Jim could do that sometimes, he thought.
Since they had become lovers a year ago, Jim had put away most of his military uptightness, at least around the loft. The stark dwelling had morphed in subtle moves from a functional dwelling to a cozy home. There was tenderness in Jim's observations that probably very few people outside his private and personal realm realized. One of the reasons the young anthropologist loved him so much was the oftentimes-uncomfortable way he met and dealt with his own humanity. Jim felt responsible for the world, both as an ex-Covert Ops soldier and as a cop. However, once he discovered he was a sentinel genetically primed to protect and defend the city of Cascade, reasonable approaches to accepting his limits were hard to get across to him.
Smiling wryly at that thought, Blair started the engine. Yeah, who reins you in, Jim, when you go off and take on more than you can handle? Don't think you’re the only one concerned about their lover's health around here.
With the taste of freedom setting the stage for his defiance, Blair sped off out of the parking lot. Instead of turning left and heading home by the direct route, he turned the car south and decided to take the longer way past the lake.
As a young student overwhelmed with demands and deadlines, Blair had found Cricket Lake a silent and comfortable refuge for his troubled soul. He hadn't visited the lake in over three years. But his own thoughts about this new stage of his relationship with Jim and the questions it brought up were warranted occasion to seek the remembered landscape and hopefully the answers. His actions yesterday had raised many questions. Sitting with Jim last night after he had been punished, he felt a need to come to his thinking spot and try to figure out his often-erratic behavior.
Now, as he turned down the small dirt road that led to the banks of the lake, he heaved a sigh of relief as though returning from battle to some safe haven. Blair knew the need, in his often-peripatetic life, for a quiet refuge to call your own.
As he exited the car, the sun escaped the cloud confinement long enough to gild the lake with a golden crust, glazing the surface with brightly mirrored sky. Life is good, he thought, it would be a hell of a lot better if I never went to the station yesterday. I couldn't help it and I need to figure out why.
Blair Sandburg needed very little in his young years. Naomi Sandburg had taught her son wisely the ways of the world, the independence of true survivors, and the love of letting go and moving on. Though not the conventional upbringing of a family-rooted childhood, Blair felt no regrets, save one and only one: the missing father image. Not a subject often admitted in his daily dealings, he chose to speak proudly of the male relationships that Naomi had brought within his realm.
Tickets to major sporting events, rock stars and their followers, political anarchists with their intellectual debates into the wee hours of the morning, were, as he often pointed out, fair exchange for the unconventional lifestyle. He was not a boy, anymore than he was a man, who needed role models. The intellectual world supplied him with a vast array of heroes and leaders to shape and mold his soul.
Besides, he was Blair Sandburg, a child of Naomi Sandburg’s noncomformist paradigm of freedom. If there were holes in his soul, they were only wind tunnels, sculpted by his life experience, filled with sound.
He never saw himself as a child in comparison to Jim. The hard man at times could be far more immature, throwing tantrums and sulking moodily as he pushed through the days as a law enforcement agent. Even Simon Banks critically censured his best detective for his lack of finesse and tact.
Strange how things in life come along when you need them the most, he thought, as he picked up a twig and tossed it into the glimmering pool. Jim---wonderful, strong, always rock-solid Jim. I just wish I could be there for him the way he is there for me. I want him to need me and be at a loss without me, just like I feel when I don't spend time with him for days or when my class load is so heavy I can't make it to the station. Maybe I just needed to be with him, yesterday, sort of assure myself that he needs me as much as I need him.
Blair never felt needed before. He knew there were times he was tolerated, barely accepted, but allowed within the fold due to his status as grad student and professor. There were places he entered where his knowledge saw him through with the ceremonies and habits of indigenous peoples. However, in his own world of academia, his own land of modern day mania, Blair was an anarchist to rule and order. Not only did Naomi instill the anti-establishment attitude within her son, but his own free thinking; highly intelligent reasoning showed him the other side to things. Freedom was a sacred thing with---indeed---very little left to lose, as an old song said.
Now he feared losing something more than he ever feared anything in his life. He feared disappointing Jim, not making it work, failing in the one endeavor he could not bear to see go under. He had always been afraid of disappointing people. His intelligence, his wit, led to the much-needed acceptance in many circles, but without constantly performing and producing, at least in his mind, he would quickly be turned out and rejected. But to fail in this relationship with Jim was soul shattering to even think about. So, in order not to fail, he had tried to be the perfect partner, first at the station and then at home. I was trying to make myself irreplaceable, he muttered to himself as self-knowledge dawned on him.
Sitting down on a tree stump on the bank of the lake, Blair crossed his legs Indian style, resting his arms on his knees, he stared out on the water. His mind traversed the weeks and he was back in the cabin, along the waterfall, in the raging river----the feelings of inadequacy pulling him in. But, he thought to himself, it's not my fault if I don’t do it all. Jim’s right, I don’t have that control anymore.
Hating the discipline when it was actually being administered; he felt safe within the confines of the actual relationship itself. Knowing that Jim was as determined as ever to keep him on the right path, he knew he could veer off course, because now someone cared enough to pull him back in line. The dichotomy of his reasoning, the love of freedom, yet the fear of losing Jim’s firm and restrictive guidance, caused most of the turmoil, he realized.
Remembering the twig that had in so small a way helped him make his mind up over a month ago about Jim's suggestion that they start a disciplinary relationship, he now realized that there would always be doubts and the need for reaffirmation in this type of arrangement. They would grow as all good relationships do and the rules and regulations would in time need to be re-evaluated. Now, it was not so much a problem of growing pains, but of facing the difficult first steps.
Sighing deeply, he raised his eyes to the sky and smiled. It was really very simple. Follow the rules they had agreed upon, or be brought back in line with Jim's firm hand applied to his anatomy.
Squirming now under the remembered spanking, he laughed. Jim’s right about one thing, a sore bottom does make you realize and remember the error of your ways.
Then he remembered something Damien St. Claire had written to him about his early days with Vincent, “I set out to make his life hell. I had been used to fighting causes and pretty much frustrating the hell out of people with my brashness and smart mouth. Then Vincent came along and when I pushed it was a strange and curious feeling to find out someone was pushing back. So I pushed all the harder, like a stubborn, willful brat. I never realized what a wonderful feeling it was to keep being pushed back in place.”
Okay, time I realize I have to meet you half way, Jim, he thought to himself as he turned back towards the Volvo. Time for me to march to a different drummer for once.
Opening the door of the small car, he looked back at Cricket Lake. There would always be this place now to return to and find the answers in the silence of the surroundings.
Returning down the country highway, he ran quick fingers through his hair. The open windows allowed enough of a breeze to toss the locks excitedly around his face, occasionally covering his eyes and needing a quick hand to clear his vision. Feeling invigorated and lighthearted, he realized that perhaps this was what he needed all along, a short respite from Jim and rules and regulations and demands. Just a short drive, a little over the speed limit, but the road was basically deserted and country roads were made for speeding.
Thrilling at the response of the wheel and the classic car’s surge in power, he let out a war hoop of instinctual and primitive glee. "WHOOOOOEEEEE!"
It wasn't until he took the curve, squealing tires as he held the car steady on its course, that he saw the motorcycle cop coming up behind him at a sure and steady pace, cutting the distance with a determination that made Blair mumble, "Oh shit."
Easing his foot from the gas he tried to look nonchalant in his decrease of speed, not someone admitting by their quick change in speed that they had spotted the law. Taking his eyes from the rearview mirror for just a second, he saw the small squirrel rush in front. Slamming the brakes hard he skidded off the road popping pebbles and stones along the side. The large stack of blue books scattered to the floor in front of him, some down on the gas pedal and brake. he came to a dusty stop on the side of the road.
Curls falling forward, hiding his face, he busied himself pulling up papers and returning some semblance of order to his car. Momentarily forgetting about the cop, Blair glanced up in time to see the squirrel happily return to the undergrowth.
"Thanks a lot," he mumbled.
The soft tick tick tick didn't bring him up from the lower levels of his car floor as he collected the disarray of papers and bluebooks, but the soft phrase startled him, "Going way too fast, ma’am. Got a date you're late for?"
Blair raised his head quickly banging it on the rearview mirror. The thin lips that bent low into the open car window changed from a lascivious smile to a grim line of anger. There was no doubt in Blair's mind that the cop, whose eyes were hidden by the mirrored sunglasses, had mistaken him for a woman.
"Sorry," Blair said, feeling momentarily awkward himself. "These papers..." he trailed off as the cop straightened. Tapping the tip of his ballpoint against the door, the cop ticked off every word with a vehemence that Blair realized was caused by his mistaking him for a woman.
"Speed limit is strictly enforced here, boy."
"Hey," Blair finally sprang to the defense of his treasured vehicle, "this is a classic car. I'd appreciate you keeping that pen away from it."
The lips only tightened further into a deep frown. The pink pad of tickets now took the brunt of his dissatisfaction as the pen now tapped forcefully against the top sheet.
"I'm going to have to write you up for this. Hefty fine for thirty over."
"Thirty over? No way, man. I wasn't going that fast…maybe ten over, I admit, but not thirty."
“License and proof of insurance.”
Sighing, Blair reached into his wallet and glove compartment and handed him the items.
“You’ll have your day in court to argue otherwise. Wait right here," the cop said. Taking the license and insurance card, he returned to his bike. Blair ran a tired hand back from his forehead pulling the curly strands back against his head, clearing his youthful face of all obstruction. Just what I need, another rule to break. The infamous Number 5: No breaking laws, unless working on a case with Jim.
Blair straightened as the cop came up alongside his door again. "Sign here." Blair took the documents that were handed to him and with a forced smile he signed where indicated. Taking the pale green slip, he looked down. The fine for his flight for freedom was one hundred dollars.
"Oh, man," he groaned.
The cop smiled, indifferently, "Have a nice day." Turning on his heels he replaced his helmet and straddled the bike.
Starting the engine, Blair carefully pulled back out onto the highway and headed towards the loft. The treasured quest for freedom somehow lost all appeal as the reality of his punishment dawned upon him. Jim is not going to buy this one. Maybe if I don't tell him. That's right, I just won't tell him. Blair decided on the course of action, pulling down Rule Number 2 in a matter of seconds, No lying or keeping secrets.
As Ellison entered the loft, the missing sounds of activity disrupted his thoughts, Blair was not home yet. Closing the door, he headed towards the refrigerator. Pulling out a beer, he popped the tab and took a long pull on the cool beverage while studying the contents of the cold chamber.
Pulling out a carton of eggs he ran the recipe through his mind, potato pancakes sounded like just the thing. Opening the small bin under the sink, he grabbed several large spuds. As he stood before the sink, peeling the skins in a quick, sharp rhythm he shoved the boring routine of the day far off into the corners of his mind. Thursday down and one more day to cover before a relaxing weekend fishing and camping in the mountains.
A twinge of guilt pinched him, looking up into the office across from the counter, he saw the stack of blue books and essays that his lover had yet to make a dent in. No doubt with two more days of testing, the stack would only grow higher and proliferate matching sets across the floor of the small space.
It's for your own good, kid. You just need to focus on your teaching responsibilities right now. Station work and fishing trips will have to wait for a few more days. Then wishing with all his heart that Blair could join him and Simon this weekend, he cut the potatoes into small cubes with more fervor than was necessary. Placing all the ingredients into the blender, he pushed the puree button and leaned back against the counter, savoring the beer and staring off towards the skyline of the city.
Blair Sandburg did not come quietly into his life. He pushed in like a determined salesman offering pitch and song and dance and a routine that left Jim trying hard to catch up. True, his senses had completely thrown him for whatever loops spun people out of control, made them feel at their wit’s end. However, Sandburg pulled and pushed and prodded until Jim could do nothing but accept the fact that he was a Sentinel…that he had five heightened senses due to genetic heredity.
Then the Guide had instilled himself into the deeper caverns of his heart. What had started out as a coupling of necessity had quietly edged itself into a bonding of soul. Need now was predicated on the heart as well as the senses and Jim could not imagine life without the high-strung, free-flying, grad student.
"SHIT! This day can't get any worse."
Jim realized he had gotten lost in the preparation of dinner and had missed his partner's arrival home. He heard the irritated grumbling as his lover made a slow and cumbersome move down the hall. A loud thud, papers scattering, more curses to top off the confusion of sounds. Putting down the onion he was chopping, he walked towards the door. Entering the hallway he saw Blair, backpack high on his shoulders, bluebooks scattered every which way along the floor, laptop lying next to another pile of stacked essays, looking lost and forlorn amid the confusion.
"Hey, Chief, let me give you a hand," he said, hunkering down and easily snatching the wayward sheets into captured stacks.
"Oh, man, Jim, you would not believe the day I've had. If I survive this grading nightmare, I can survive anything. Martin Cryvert had the gall to come to my office this afternoon and tried to cut a ‘deal,’ Jim, ‘deal.’ Man, I do so not believe these students sometimes. Get this, he had no interest in my class all semester, now he wants to make up thirteen weeks of work. If I let him submit this huge paper he's proposing, it will take me most of the weekend to grade. I told him flat out ‘no way’ it's my class, my syllabus, my way or the highway." With that he chuckled as he met Jim's twinkling eyes. "What?"
"Nothing chief, you're just cute when you’re all frustrated and annoyed---especially when it's not at me."
"Well," he said, laughing, "a truly considerate lover would have kept their super hearing out for me to drive up and then raced downstairs and helped me from the car."
"Hey, I never claimed to be considerate, just great in bed,” Jim replied with a laugh.
Together they finished gathering up the fallen papers and blue books.
Jim rose with one large pile of papers neatly pressed into semblance. Blair pulled his own stack and placed it upon his laptop case and rose with a weary grace and deep sigh that made Jim look more closely at his drawn, tired face.
Picking up a large portion of Blair’s stack, he said, "Chief, I've got dinner started. Why don't we eat in about an hour? That should give you enough time to shower and relax some. You can hit the books after dinner and I want you in bed by eleven tonight."
"Jim, does this look like I can sit back on my laurels?" Blair asked indicating the stacks both men held.
"Not negotiable, Chief. You do what you can and bed at eleven."
"No way!" He hissed proceeding Jim into the loft and stomping off towards his office, the peace he had found earlier at the lake, quickly forgotten.
Jim closed the door and followed bringing along the secondary stack. Placing them on the floor next to Blair's pile, he stood up tall and straight and placed both hands on his hips. Blair removed his backpack and met the blue eyes that held no anger, no censure, just implacable resolve.
"Are we going to have another discussion of the rules, Sandburg, because quite frankly I don't plan to have this discussion over and over again. I’m sure you don’t." Jim's voice was soft and threatening.
Blair opened his mouth as heat flamed his face, but as Jim tilted his head slightly, almost in a questioning surprise that his partner was really going to pursue this further, Blair caught the road signs of someplace he didn't want to go right now. The ticket burning a small warning in his back pocket made him reconsider any rebuttal.
His face lost the fire and cooled, remembering the lake and his desire to try things Jim's way for a change. Nodding his head slowly, he said wearily, "No, I am tired today. I guess the early night will do me good."
Jim softened, placing a warm arm around his shoulders he pulled him close. "Chief, I'll see that you relax and have a good night's sleep. You've got all weekend to finish the grading. Simon and I are going away for a short fishing trip. I think the quiet around here will allow you to get your work done with no distractions."
After a satisfying dinner, Blair camped out on the dining room table, determined to get through as many tests and papers and as was possible before his 11 o'clock deadline. He had intended to work on some before dinner. He had taken a shower and changed into comfortable sweat pants and a T-shirt. Sitting on the couch was a mistake, he realized, after waking up 45 minutes later to Jim softly kissing him awake. Jim had been kind enough not to say anything about his nap and how tired he obviously was.
Jim had taken up position in the yellow chair, feet on the coffee table, reading a book. Glancing at the clock on the VCR, he said quietly, "Blair, it's 10:30 already."
"Okay, thanks, man," the other man replied distractedly, really not paying attention.
Fifteen minutes later, Jim stood up, stretched and yawned. "Blair, about ready to wrap it up?"
Blair glanced up, surprised that it had gotten so late and his pile of papers did not look much smaller. "Jim, I can't go to bed. I've got tons to do and I don't feel that I've made even a dent in these things. I'm fine, really. I had that nap this evening; doesn't that count for anything?"
From the kitchen where he was setting the coffeemaker for the morning, Jim looked at his lover. "Blair, we had a deal, 11 o'clock. Your so-called nap just shows how tired and worn out you already are. You sat down and were asleep---despite the noise of me cooking and the TV---in about a minute."
"I'm not tired now though and I've got a lot to do."
Coming in from the kitchen, stopping to make sure the door was securely locked, he sat down next to his lover. “Blair, what's going on? You're tired, you've made good progress tonight," indicating a large stack of finished blue books, "why can't you admit that, allow yourself to come to bed?"
Blair looked at him in confusion, "Jim, I've barely touched this grading, I've done nothing tonight. I haven't accomplished anything!" His voice rising in frustration and self-disgust. "I took a nap this evening when I should have been grading; dinner took forever to eat. Nothing got done!"
Jim could hear the heartbeat getting faster, the flushed cheeks, dilated pupils behind tired, red tinged eyes. Knowing that reasoning with his guide when he was like this was not productive, he also did not want to discipline the younger man. It was obvious that his behavior and crankiness were symptomatic of fatigue and an internal struggle between his expectations of himself and the limitations imposed upon him by the new rules.
"Okay, Chief, I'll make a deal with you. You come upstairs now with me and lie down. I'll go take a shower and get ready for bed. And then, when I'm done, you can go back downstairs and grade for another hour. Okay? But, I want you upstairs, lying down the whole time. If I catch you up, you'll be going to bed immediately with a sore and red bottom." Jim paused for a moment, letting his words sink in. "Deal?"
Blair looked at him, his tired brain thinking about it, trying to see if there were some hidden traps in Jim’s plan. “Okay, deal, I guess."
"Great," Jim said with a smile. Holding out his hand, he pulled Blair up and sent him in the direction of the stairs.
Blair paused there, looking up, the weary chore of the actual climb plain on his face. Taking a deep breath, he moved up the stairs, one at a time. Jim followed close behind, placing a supportive and restrictive hand against the small of his lover’s back. Once they reached the bedroom, Blair paused, looking at the bed as if he had never seen it before.
Walking past his partner, Jim reached over and turned down the covers. Gently reaching over and guiding Blair over to the bed, he pushed him into a sitting position. "Come on, Blair, lie down for a few minutes until I get back," he said, a bit frustrated with the resistance.
"Jim," Blair mumbled, easing himself down, his eyes heavy, "I'm not tired. I've got too much to do."
"That's fine. You don't have to sleep. Just lay down until I get through with my shower."
"All right, I guess."
Once Jim was satisfied that Blair was down for the count, he went back downstairs. The whole time he was in the shower, his hearing was extended to the sleeping form upstairs.
Twenty minutes later, he slipped into bed and curled himself around the sleeping form, and smiled as he joined his soulmate in slumber.
Friday swept them into their lives with a persistent cause. Jim woke early to a bomb threat at a downtown office complex. Blair awoke with a start, annoyed that it was 5:30 and the whole night was a waste. Some terrorist group ranting about the small export/import company’s ties to Yugoslavia had made the call. Jim couldn't help but compare it to the rants of his partner. A quick kiss to his equally frantic and frustrated lover's cheek and Ellison was out the door. Sandburg jumped eagerly into his persona, that of teacher.
Packing the stack of blue books he had hoped to finish last night onto his laptop, he quickly sipped his coffee as he finished off the last of the scrambled eggs Jim had insisted he eat.
"No buts, Chief, I have to leave, but I want you to clean your plate. You'll be on your own this weekend, but I'm seriously thinking of having Rafe and Brown check up on you, make sure you don't bury your nose in those tests and forget to come up for air."
"Yeah, yeah," Blair said around a stuffed mouth, "I will, man, cut the mother-hen routine, Jim. If you were so worried about me, you would have woken me up last night." He grumbled good-naturedly.
Stopping momentarily to gauge his partner's mood, Jim put his hands on his hips and "clucked," flapping his arms, seasoning the mocking gesture with an Ellison fifty watt grin. "And, if I had woken you up last night, what would I have used for a bed pillow? Hmm?"
Blair couldn't help but laugh and stick out his tongue. As the person he loved more than life itself left through the door, he called after, "Love ya, Jim!"
A hand appeared as it waved an acknowledgment just before the door closed.
By late afternoon, Ellison, Brown and Rafe had traced the call. The amateur terrorist was a disgruntled employee who had been fired several weeks ago. The hoax was nothing more than an aggravation, but Ellison was in a pissy mood none-the-less.
The fifty-year-old employee had a wife and three children. It irritated him to learn that the man had been fired because he refused to work the demands of a sixty-hour week due to poor health and family commitments. The company had literally sucked the man dry, then when he had served his usefulness had discarded him with a cold indifference.
"Jim!" Simon called from his office.
Easing himself up slowly from his chair, Jim entered his captain's office.
The tall man poured two cups of coffee and set one down on his desk within easy reach of Ellison. Jim sat down and nodded his thanks for the proffered drink. Taking a soothing sip he felt the tension and frustration slowly seep away.
"Good work on that bomb scare, Jim, I hear you I.D.'d the caller from an employee Christmas party tape and the 911 call."
"It was easy and the poor guy was just venting," Jim grimaced. Sometimes he hated his job.
"Don't worry, the president of the company called. He doesn't want bad press. He said he was willing to work out a deal if Garland gets counseling. I don't think they're too eager to press charges on this, Jim." Simon watched his best detective as he digested the news. Then the smile that charmed the pants off many a hostile witness broke the taut lines, crinkling his face with laugh lines.
"I hope that titanium rod is ready, Simon, because I don't intend to let many of the fish get by me."
"No...no way, Jim, this thing is guaranteed or money back," Simon bragged, lighting the room with his own pleasured assurances.
"How'd Sandburg take the news? I know the kid loves to fish."
"Not bad, he's responsible and I don't think he would have enjoyed himself anyway. Knowing him, he would have sat on the banks, pole in one hand and a stack of exams on his lap grading with the other. I'll make it up to him once finals are done."
"How are Brown and Rafe doing on the rape case?" Jim asked, simply filling the conversation.
"Nothing. The women all said he wore a ski mask and latex gloves, you know, the kind you can get at any store. The lab people said he picked the lock on all the doors like an expert. Before any of them knew he was even in the house, he was waking them up with a knife at their throats."
"Do they need any help? I'm just finishing up my report on the bomb threat."
"No, they've got it under control for now. You just concentrate on finishing up your reports," Simon cautioned him, knowing full well Jim's frustrations with the paperwork end of police investigations.
Rising, Ellison, sighed, "Well, I'd better get at it. Oh, Simon, I'll pick you up at five tomorrow," Jim said as he left his friend's office.
"Make it four---for fishing, Jim, you just can't be too early," Simon grinned with eager anticipation.
The morning test went smoothly. Blair stacked the blue books neatly on his desk and waited for the last student to finish up. Glancing at the clock, his thoughts drifted towards the fishing trip Jim and Simon had planned. Feeling no resentment towards Jim for the missed trip, he was glad Jim was going away. A weekend of his Blessed Protector monitoring his every waking and sleeping activity was not something he was yet accustomed to. He couldn't help but smile at last night. He knew he was tired, he wanted to go to bed and sleep, but some other person inside of him demanded that he stay up and grade---accomplish something. Jim had seen right through Blair's smoke screen, through all his protests and quickly but gently took the control out of his hand and silenced the other voice.
True, Jim had been a watchful protector most times in their relationship, but since the added disciplinary parameters around their coupling, he was a constant meter gauging Blair's health and attitude. The quiet weekend was a pleasure to look forward to. With a little added determination, Blair felt perfectly confident that he could complete most of the papers by late Sunday. Of course, it might require an all-nighter, but he had pulled many of those as an under-grad and as a grad student before he moved in with Jim.
Glancing at the clock, Blair cleared his throat, warning the last test taker that his time was almost up. The young man looked up nervously, hurriedly scratched something down on the paper booklet and raced up with his completed test. Plopping the blue book down on top of the others, he smiled wanly at Blair. "Sorry," he said by way of apology.
"No problem, Steve, you were entitled to the full two hours like everyone else." Blair smiled his reassurance and added, "have a nice break."
As Blair lifted the stack of blue books, a tall young woman poked her head in the room, "Hi, Blair. Need any help with those. I'm heading back to Hargrove myself."
"Jackie, hi," Blair returned the greeting. The young professor was a favorite of Blair's. Ever since she took a position as an assistant professor last fall, she had gone out of her way to be helpful and friendly to all the residents who shared the building offices.
Blair piled a small stack of the blue books in her outstretched arms. Picking up his own pile he threw his backpack over his shoulder and together they walked out.
"Blair, I know this is somewhat inconvenient for you, but I did have an ulterior motive for stopping by," she smiled as they walked across the sunny sidewalks towards Hargrove.
"So it wasn’t my charming personality you just couldn’t get enough of?” he teased her. “What can I do for you?"
"I know this is a bit out of your way, but my car wouldn't start this morning. I would have called in as a no show, but I had one final to give and I needed some of my students’ tests to take home over the weekend. Would it be too much of an imposition for you to drop me off at my house? No one else seems to be even remotely near the South Lake district."
"Great, as a matter of fact, I was thinking of going by Cricket Lake on my home anyway. Just let me pile these in a box and collect the others I have in my office."
Hair whipping in the wind, Blair and Jackie rode along the country highway with the ease of conversation guaranteed by similar backgrounds. Although Jackie had completed her doctorate two years ago, this was the first full time teaching position she had been able to secure. Political Science was a passion that had her constantly ready and eager to debate the latest White House crisis with an open mind and charming wit. Blair liked her. They had also noted a similar peripatetic childhood---hers totally attributed to the life of an army brat.
"Easy, Blair, watch your speed limit," Jackie cautioned as Blair took the ominous curve that had squealed tires the last time he took this road.
"Yeah, thanks. I already got a ticket here a few days ago. One hundred dollars is something I cannot afford right now." Blair quickly checked his mirrors for any sign of traffic cops.
"One hundred dollars?" Jackie laughed. Seeing the painful expression on Blair's face, she added, "Oh, I'm sorry, I don't mean to laugh, I just thought you could charm your way out of anything."
"Not with this cop. And I was not going thirty over the speed limit…I don't care what he says," Blair insisted with a mock sternness. Then his face melted into a warm smile and he added, "I bet you always talk your way out of them."
"As a matter of fact, I do and I just did. Last week, right up ahead I got pulled over for speeding. Batted my big blues at him and I got a firm warning. You men just don't know how to bat," she said laughing as she moved her eyelashes fast and furiously.
"Well, if I had been lucky enough to be pulled over by a female cop, perhaps," Blair said. "The Lone Ranger was like so not into forgiveness. I think, too, he was rather disappointed to find out long hair does not always mean 'woman.'" Blair raised his voice an octave for emphasis.
Nodding their heads in concurrence at the unfairness of it all, Jackie pointed out the road that led to her lakeside cottage.
Saturday morning impinged upon Blair’s subconscious with a tugging guilt. Ellison reached over, fully clothed in a warm sweater, one hand resting on Blair’s shoulder.
“Chief, I’m off. You have a nice weekend, okay?” Jim bent down and kissed the large forehead peeking out from under the covers.
A hand ventured out and brushed absently at the spot as though a fly or mosquito had alit, not the lips of his lover. Jim smiled at the total refusal to give up the night.
“Okay, Chief, I know you need your sleep, but I love you too much not to say good bye. Get those papers graded. I want you back at my side. It’s not the same without you.” With that, he straightened and crept quietly out of the loft.
When Blair came to several hours later, the sun warmed the loft with a cheery vengeance, playfully batting dust mites about in her bright rays, like a kitten demanding attention. The stack of papers awaiting his viewing, pushed him deeper under the covers, groaning at the remembered task, but also realizing that Jim was long gone and he would spend the majority of the weekend alone.
“This was so not like I imagined our life together, Jim,” Blair groused as he buried his face deep in his lover’s pillow seeking the scent that reassured him. Remembering his promise to Jim to get the work done as soon as possible, he groggily crawled out of bed and headed for the shower. Half an hour later, he sat down to a large breakfast of a cheese/onion omelet and toast. Savoring the coffee he lingered as long as he dared over the morning routine.
Glancing at the stack of papers that waited patiently on the office floor, he sighed heavily. Clearing the table, he poured another cup of coffee and brought one huge stack to the table. Taking a red pen, he mentally braced himself and began the long, tedious grading process.
Perhaps the day would have held to the course set forth if it were not for the little things in life that wedge themselves beneath the doors of determination, prod the latch with persistent curiosity and burst the balloons of good intentions.
First of all there was the e-mail he read while taking a mid-morning break. He had to answer the latest Damien St. Claire commentary on life, love and discipline in the United Kingdom. His friend was bemoaning getting into trouble the night before for staying out late. His gripes about the paddling Vincent had delivered made Blair respond immediately, adding his own experience a few days before in sympathy. Then the unbearable craving for tongue sent him off to the deli for lunch. The trip home was delayed when Mrs. Hood asked him to help her with her groceries. From past experience, Blair knew the widow was lonely and he could not in good conscience refuse her offer of tea and muffins.
Total time of distraction amounted to a good three hours, pushing him well into the afternoon with not hardly a dent in the stacks and a rising guilt that was fast pushing him into panic mode.
By six he needed a break, not so much from the papers, but from the headache that marched across his forehead, tightly drawn with bands of steel. By eight he made a strong pot of coffee and set the pattern for an all-nighter. When pizza was delivered at eleven, he had worked the pile down and was bringing in the next huge tower of tests.
Simon Banks prodded the fire with his stick, one eye on the distracted man across from him. The stoic detective, who had played devil’s advocate all day with light bantering comments and challenges linked to the new rod Simon boasted, now seemed lost in some conundrum.
“Do you want to tell me what’s bothering you? Or is it personal?”
Jim looked up, a shocked look on his face, then the flaming red of being caught in an inappropriate thought. The embarrassment came from the fact that he was lost in thought, going over his actions and Blair's, that had lead to the younger man's most recent spanking.
“It’s personal, Simon, very personal,” Jim said by simple way of explanation.
“Um hum,” Simon said as he nursed the coffee cup and leaned back against the rock and stared into the warm fire. The night sky was clear and brilliant with stars decorating a lonely realm. Camaraderie and the safety of darkness linked men on lonely nights. It was by firelight that secrets were shared and confidences revealed. There was a bonding to the night that time eternal set forth, as though in the void men joined their thoughts.
Though Jim continued to stare off into the glowing flames, Simon saw the jaw bone. The familiar twitch of irritation that telegraphed Ellison code with clear notes of warning. The man was uptight and strung finer than a guitar string.
“Sir, I was just wondering,” Jim started, saluting the speech with the respectful term only reinforced Simon’s thoughts that it was confidential and business in nature. He was keeping it impersonal and detached, which meant-----knowing Ellison so well----that it was indeed highly personal and sensitive.
“When you lead men, sometimes you have to give orders that seem somewhat superfluous and unimportant, but it’s a by the book kind of thing. Did you ever question such discipline? I mean, sir, even in the Army did it ever make you stop and think…this is wrong?” he looked up, saw Simon’s watchful eyes and quickly reached for the coffeepot refilling his cup.
Simon extended his own, but still kept a clear eye on Ellison’s face, reading well the marks of concern. Pulling the full cup back, Simon rewound his large hands around the warm vessel. Inhaling the strong aroma of coffee, he relaxed back into position against the rock.
you’ve led men. You know discipline has nothing to do with the commands given.
It’s a matter of trust, pure and simple. Don’t tell me now, after your
successful military career, you have doubts over the benefits of discipline
“No, sir, not as far as I’m concerned, but sometimes we have to remember that not everyone thrives in the military. Discipline can be hard for some folks. Changing how they act, how they see themselves is a hard and sometimes painful road.”
Simon nodded knowing full well whom this conversation was about. Sandburg had stormed into and under his command with as much of an undisciplined, untrained attitude as he had ever had the pleasure of seeing. A simple knock on the door before entering had to be ingrained with hard, steely looks and even that was a touch and go situation most days.
No doubt Jim was feeling guilty about some disagreement. Perhaps the Tupperware wars were flaming again, or the anal retentive detective was feeling cramped and displaced by tribal masks and book bags. Oftentimes detectives working with their partners needed periods of adjustment. Car seats left at uncomfortable positions, mirrors angled haphazardly, candy wrappers sloppily found on the floorboards had all brought mutinous rounds for contention.
Ellison and Sandburg not only worked together, but they lived together and Simon was fully aware that their relationship went beyond mere roommates. He had no opposition to their relationship, and was in fact quite pleased that they had moved it to another level, discretely and cautiously. The last month or so, he had the feeling that something had again changed in their relationship. He wasn't sure what it was but it seemed positive. The fact that Blair was not dragging himself in half-dead, half asleep during finals was a good example. When Jim had come to him two weeks ago and explained that Blair would not be at the station during finals, Simon had been shocked, but also happy. It was good to see the younger man learning to prioritize better. But then, several days ago when Blair had shown up at the station, he got the feeling that Blair's absence was not totally voluntary. The two had left shortly afterwards.
“Jim, everyone answers to someone. Any time we share space with others, we are put in some hierarchic order. It’s called civilization. I think we need to re-examine the current philosophy on it, if you ask me. Parents need to instill more discipline in their children, take them to task for their actions and attitudes and curb their rebellion early on. It’s a necessity in life, taking orders and following through, having to answer to someone and being held responsible for your actions and how they effect others.”
“I know, Simon,” Jim said falling back into the familiarity and ease of their friendship. “I just sometimes wonder if I’m not being unreasonable.”
“Hey, Jim, doubt goes with the stripes. Command means responsibility, but it doesn’t make us infallible. Doubt is good if you ask me. It makes us think things through thoroughly. You’ve always been a good leader, Jim. Just remember that. Command has a lot to do with trust.”
“I just hope I deserve the trust,” Jim added quietly.
“If you stay consistent and true to form, there’s no way you can miss. Men want and need to know their limits and just where they stand.” Simon rose slowly, pressing a firm hand on his back.
“Man, I am not getting any younger, that’s for sure.” He headed off into the bushes to relieve himself. Pausing, he turned and Jim could see the bright white teeth and clear eyes in the distant ring of firelight.
“The kid knows, Jim, he knows exactly where he stands. All you have to do is keep him there.”
“Thanks, Simon,” Jim said, not surprised in the least that his Captain and best friend knew the topic of the conversation all along.
Blair woke slowly, aching all over. Opening his eyes, he stared at a box of cold pizza. Raising himself slowly he groaned at the stiffness in his neck. The last thing he remembered was checking the clock at three a.m., laying his head on his arms to give his eyes a short rest he must have drifted off. Looking at the clock he saw that the short respite had taken him well into the Sunday morning.
“Oh, I feel like shit,” he said aloud, offering himself comfort with the words. “I guess I can toss out several rules with this one. Jim asks about my hours, I’m going to have to lie straight out about this one. No beating around the bush.” Rising from his chair he headed for the bathroom.
After a long, hot shower, he felt more like himself, actually more the self he felt like after a night out with friends. Even after brushing his teeth, his mouth still felt dry and foul and his neck was stiff and sore. All nighters proved harder and harder as the years passed and even at his age, he realized the body still demanded sleep.
Taking a carton of eggs out of the refrigerator, he started breakfast. A glass of orange juice, two fluffy eggs scrambled to perfection, and a lightly buttered bagel soon had him ready to face another day of blue book explorations. The wonders of his student’s minds and the convoluted theories that Blair simply put down to an age-old philosophy of baffling the prof with bullshit lost their appeal after the first dozen exams two days ago. Now, it was annoying, frustrating and the grades he was putting on the exams showed his displeasure.
By two in the afternoon, he promised himself a short respite and threw his exhausted body on the couch for a short nap. However, the ringing of the phone at five startled him into the realization that the majority of Sunday had slipped by with still a hundred exams needing his attention.
Another all-nighter loomed over the horizon and Jim was surely due back by midnight. The grades were due for posting by Tuesday noon and he still had over twenty-four hours to accomplish the task. He still felt sure and confident that Monday would deliver him home, sliding into the base with the usual Sandburg save.
Picking up the phone on the fourth ring, he mumbled a barely intelligent, “Hello.”
“Hair boy, you’ll never guess what Rafe and I have?”
“Henry, I’m really not in the mood for guessing games,” Blair said in a tired voice.
Blair heard Rafe in the background, some mumbling, a tussle for the phone and Rafe came on the line.
“Sandburg, we have in our possession three tickets, front row seats to the Sonics game tonight. Since we’ve missed your sorry ass around the station all week and we know Jim and Simon are off in the wilds, we thought you might like to go to the game with us.”
“Ohhhhhh,” Blair grumbled, running a tired hand down his face. A quick look back at the stack of tests awaiting his attention, he warred with his conscience for several seconds. Then a small bitter pill came up on him and the resentment of restrictions and deadlines and curfews played like the devil’s voice, urging him to slip away for some fun. After all, he deserved it.
“Okay, sounds good. But I have to be back at the loft by midnight.”
“Or what? You turn into a pumpkin?" Rafe asked with a laugh, then sensing that Blair was not kidding and guessing the reason, he added, "No problem. Brown and I get off at six, we’ll pick you up and have you tucked safely into bed long before the fishermen return,” Rafe assured him.
The game was exciting and Blair had no regrets for escaping his duties. The short break, the noise of the crowd, the easy, playful banter between the three co-workers took his mind off of his commitments and his guilt.
The game finished just before eleven and as he eased himself into the backseat of Rafe's car, he planned the finishing moves. In bed by midnight, giving his Blessed Protector little to find fault with. Tomorrow, an early start at his office and a few hours again in the evening and he should have the remaining stack of exams completed with plenty of time to spare for the Noon deadline on Tuesday.
"Oh, man, that shot was something else," Brown said excitedly as Rafe pulled out onto the highway.
"Yeah," Blair chipped in, pushing high into the air at the remembered scoring shot. "Such grace and aim---that high salary was well earned tonight.”
Brown’s cell phone rang. “Brown here,” he said into the small unit.
Blair watched his face reflected in the dark glass of the front seat passenger door. Slowly he turned to Rafe, canceling the connection.
“Suspicious accident victim on Highway 9.”
“We’re off duty,” Rafe complained.
“It looks like our rapist was busy tonight.” Hearing that, Rafe put the bubble on the roof and sped off towards the nearest on ramp to the expressway.
"Hey, could you drop me off, first," Blair asked, eager to be home and in bed before Jim returned.
"Sorry, man," Brown took the response, "way out of our way. If we hit the expressway, we can make it there in half the time."
Blair slumped back not wanting to explain to them his rules and regulations and the consequences of this one night out with the boys. He only hoped Jim would be understanding. He can't expect me to sit home the whole weekend. It's not like I didn't get the majority of my work done, he reasoned. Jim was a reasonable man and he couldn’t fault him for going to the game.
As they pulled up to the scene, Blair noticed the paramedics bent over the stretcher working on a young woman. Long black hair covered with blood, bruises on her face. Blair saw one of the men starting an IV on her left arm, the long painted nails cut and ragged. He grimaced at the split along her lip and the dark bruise forming around her right eye.
Several black and whites were surrounding the area.
Opening his door, Blair followed Brown to the paramedics. Rafe went to talk to the cop writing on a pad by the black and white.
"Detective Brown," Brown flashed his badge.
"She's got a concussion and is unconscious. We're taking her to Cascade General. Her clothes were ripped and she has injuries that are rather questionable," the paramedic said as he helped lift the stretcher into the back of the ambulance.
One black and white was parked at the edge or the small incline with two spotlights on the side of the car aimed at the wreck below, brightly lighting the scene quite nicely.
Brown proceeded down the incline and Blair followed. A tall man in a denim jacket was checking the car out. He wore a baseball cap low on his forehead. Blair looked around and saw the front end of the car was totally embedded in a tree. If the woman was alive, it was by a stroke of luck. The steering column had been forced sideways and she was lucky it had not been pushed into her. The car had no doubt skidded, angled, and twisted as it hit the tree. The door was wide open and she had luckily not been wearing her seatbelt. Otherwise, she most surely would have been dead.
"Sir," Brown started, "were you the first to arrive at the scene?"
"Officer Morton, Devon Morton," the man extended his hand, "off duty. I was just coming around the curve, when I saw her in the ditch, she must have lost control and she's lucky she got thrown, if you ask me."
Though Blair could not recognize the features under the baseball cap, the voice brought back the remembered speeding ticket he had earned two days ago. It had to be the same officer.
The man had totally ignored Blair until he came to stand next to Henry Brown. Then his eyes took in the long hair and he looked Blair up and down with a wry smile on his face.
"Mr. Sandburg, isn't it?"
Blair gave a quick look at Brown, nervously shifted his stance from one leg to another, and extended his own hand. "Yes, it is. How are you?"
"Well, too bad I didn't get a chance to stop this woman. Speeding on these curves is not such a great idea as you can see for yourself."
Brown smiled, "Sandburg? You two know each other?"
"Let's just say Mr. Sandburg and I have met."
Blair blushed. He was thankful that Rafe and the other uniform joined the small group near the car.
"No ID on the woman, no purse. Phoned her plates in, though. Katherine Barkley. She lives on Ridge Road about a mile from here,” the uniformed officer said.
Blair knew where Ridge Road was. It was the first street south of the accident scene. He looked back at the angle the car had entered the incline.
"Was she going north or south?" Blair asked.
Morton gave him a strange look, "Probably headed home at this hour."
Blair walked over to the driver's door that was opened wide and partially bent as the car crumbled forward into the huge tree. The white car was completely totaled. Morton was deep in conversation with Rafe and Brown. Blair looked up towards the road and gauged the situation. He knew this curve well. She must have been totally out of control, judging by the length of her skid. He remembered his own slide as he braked to save the squirrel.
Rafe came around with a flashlight and aimed it in the interior of the car. The woman was neat. The car was well maintained, a newer model convertible. The car was not littered with the usual casual debris some people filled their interiors with. The woman no doubt prided herself on keeping her car impeccably neat.
Blair moved to the front of the vehicle and checked the front tires. There was no blow out, both tires were twisted on their axles, but no punctures. Rafe and the other officer rejoined Brown.
He looked up to see Officer Morton giving him a strange look. Although he couldn't hear the conversation, he saw the tilt of his head Blair's way. Brown looked quickly, then said a few words to Morton. The muscles in his jaw seemed to tighten and Morton grinned, said something apparently funny and Rafe and Brown both looked at Blair and laughed. Choosing to ignore the perceived humor at his expense, he continued to study the door, busying himself intently looking at the lock trying to hide his discomfiture.
Shit, you'd think I'd be used to the funny comments and humor by now, he thought to himself. Everyone get a good laugh at the hippie consultant. The rational part of his mind quickly reasoning with him, You have no idea what they are saying and if they are even talking about you. Don't be paranoid.
Checking his own attitude, he shrugged. It was no big deal, he worked with Jim and Jim was the one who needed him. Then his hand fell on the open door as he lost his footing. Looking down he saw small pricks on the top of the door where the power window disappeared, scratches of some sort. The large door of the white convertible was spotless except for the small marks and the fresh kinks caused by the collision.
"Okay, Sandburg," Rafe called, "Let's go, buddy, our work is done here."
Blair joined his friends and watched as Morton turned to climb the slope ahead of them.
"You live around her, Officer Morton," Blair asked.
The tall man stopped and turned. "No, as a matter of fact I was coming from a little league game in Seattle. My ex-wife and son live there."
"It was lucky for this woman you were passing by this way."
Morton started up the slope again. "Just doing my duty, Mr. Sandburg, like any good citizen."
Blair was eager to get home. He was tired and another run in with the formidable Lone Ranger didn’t help his mood any. However, Brown and Rafe both decided a quick tour of Ridge Road was in order.
As they turned up Katherine Barkley’s drive, the scene immediately clarified why this woman was out driving recklessly…no, driving desperately. The front door stood wide open, a shoe was laying on its side by the front walk. Brown and Rafe did a quick search, as Blair followed behind. Observing the well-kept house, Blair felt sorry for Katherine Barkley. Here she was a victim of an apparent break in and an attempted or successful rape. Now her privacy was being invaded as surely as if she were the suspect. He didn’t think it fair, but he knew they had no recourse while the woman lay unconscious.
Brown phoned the lab, “I want the boys out here all night if need be. I think this was our guy. It’s the same m.o. He picked the lock on the back door and must have been waiting for her when she got home.”
After another hour of waiting for the forensic team and taping off the area, they left the scene.
<end of part 1>