This one is dedicated to S and to all like him. On the edges of the storm, in the center of upheaval, at the rim of chaos, and on the shores of madness, the strong stand and reach out pulling in the shattered souls. Some just do it with a hard hand and velvet gloves and need never be asked.
In a circular fashion the lines began to descend, encircling them all in a loving concern. The wise ones passed on and the younger stepped in and the neophytes joined in the ring. The love and the caring did slowly amend and soon they all did learn. As the circle encompassed them all in and made it a family thing. Now if circles continue to loop and descend, then surely a spiral it draws. As in and out and around it bends, and often sets down all the laws. The lines of descent are a spiral shape and they travel not up nor down. They encompass them all in a loving cape and hug them with warmth all around. (From the Lines of Demarcation)
Trying to stretch enough to relieve the small cramps in his muscle, but not enough to disturb his lover sitting next to him, Blair Sandburg, anthropologist, police observer, guide, shaman and most importantly, lover of Jim Ellison, sighed and glanced over at the sleeping man next to him. Hoping against hope that he was waking up so Blair would not have to disturb him to go walk around the plane. They were only two hours into their 7-hour flight to London from Atlanta and Blair was already restless. They had caught a plane that morning from Seattle to a lay over in Atlanta, and were now on the Trans-Atlantic portion of their trip. Looking out the window, he could see nothing but darkness. Not sure if they were over water already or simply above the clouds, he decided it really didn't matter. No matter where they were now, there wasn't anything he could do. Glancing over at Jim asleep in his chair, he briefly thought about accidentally nudging the detective, simply to have someone for conversation. The lines of exhaustion, the twitching muscle as his jaw clenched in sleep, and the slightly unhealthy pallor of the other man tugged at Blair's heart and he knew there was no way he could wake Jim up.
A stewardess walked quietly up to him and whispered so as not to disturb the other passengers enjoying the movie, "Sir, do you need anything? Would you like something to drink or an extra pillow?"
Noting the uncomfortable position of the sleeping form, he smiled, "Yes, please -- a couple of pillows and a blanket would be nice. Thanks."
She returned quickly, carrying a thermal blanket and two pillows.
Accepting them, he flashed her a warm smile, "Thanks."
Noticing that these were almost normal pillows, not the small little airline pillows that the other passengers back in Coach were trying to get comfortable with, Blair decided that flying First Class definitely had its advantages. When the tickets for their London vacation had come in the mail, Blair had opened them and was surprised to see that they were booked on First Class.
"Jim," he had called out to his lover in the bedroom, "they messed up the tickets, you have to call the travel agent and get them fixed."
Coming down the stairs, Jim reached for the tickets. "Here, let me see. What's wrong?"
"We're booked on
First Class, man, not the regular fare."
"Oh, no, that's not a mistake. I booked that."
"Why?" Blair asked, surprised. "That must have cost a fortune."
Jim smiled at him, "Yeah, it was more expensive, but I have flown Trans-Atlantic flights before in Coach and am not doing it again. Long flight as it is, it seems like an eternity stuck in little seats next to screaming kids and people who talk all night. Not my idea of a relaxing way to start or end a vacation."
Now comfortably seated in a large seat with a pullout footrest reclining to almost flat, he had to agree it was well worth the extra cost. Glancing over at Jim again, Blair smiled.
"Come here, love," he muttered, "let's see if we can get you a little more comfortable." Pushing up the two armrests that separated the seat, Blair reached over and gently touched Jim's shoulder. "Jim," he said softly, "wake up for a second for me."
Slowly opening his eyes, Jim looked at his partner, "What's wrong? Do you need something?" he asked wearily.
"No, love, it's okay. I just want to get you a little more comfortable. Here, sit up for a sec."
Jim sat up and stretched a little, "Where are we?" he asked, looking around.
"On a plane. Remember?" Blair answered teasingly.
Jim shot him a glare.
"I don't know, we've been flying for about two hours." Blair reached across the bigger man and pressed the button, lowering the seat. He lowered his own seat the same amount. Putting up the footrests on both seats, he placed one of the pillows behind his back and leaned against the bulkhead of the plane. Opening his arms, he said, "Come here, lay down on me and try to go back to sleep."
Jim glanced at him and then glanced around the darkened cabin.
"Jim, no one cares, no one knows who we are, and they don't care what we do. Now," he said in a mild show of authority, "come here and try to get some sleep. You look exhausted and I don't want your friends to think I don't take care of you as well as you take care of me."
Jim gave one last look around the cabin, satisfying himself that no one was even remotely interested in what two men in one of the back rows were doing, and gently laid his head on Blair's chest.
Pushing a pillow underneath his lover's lower back, Blair could feel Jim start to relax again. Picking up the blanket from next to him on the seat, he spread it out on top of the other man and let the soft warmth relax him even more.
"See, isn't this more comfortable?" he asked, wrapping an arm around one of Jim's shoulders, the other, grasping his hand.
"Yes, much, I can hear your heart beat so clearly," Jim mumbled, his voice heavy again with sleep.
"Good, now close your eyes and try to get back to sleep."
The other man glanced up, "You too, Junior, you need your sleep," trying to sound stern, but the sleepiness ruined the effect.
"I'm heading that way myself."
A few minutes later, he felt Jim take a deep breath and relax back into sleep.
As tired as the younger man was, he did not feel like sleeping. It was too amazing to watch Jim sleep, to feel the heaviness and warmth of the other man so relaxed against him. The last six weeks had been extremely hard on the detective and his health had suffered. Blair had done what he could, making sure that the other man ate at least somewhat healthy food and slept as much as possible. Jim had been plagued by horrible nightmares that Blair had been helpless to prevent or control. Many nights, he had awoken to find himself alone in bed, and a small light in the kitchen softly illuminating his lover standing out on the balcony staring off into the city he was sworn to protect, but was failing so miserably.
The case had involved the bodies of young adults, men and women, each victim seemingly younger then the last. All had been discovered hung by their necks; feet or toes barely touching a small stool or box placed under them. All had gags on with large dildos forced down their throats and all had been brutally raped with various objects left in the rooms as vivid evidence of what had happened. They were found in various low-rent hotel rooms staged for snuff films. The films had come out on the market about a week after each victim was killed. Fifteen young people found dead, before Major Crimes was able to stop the killer.
The case had wrapped up over two weeks ago with the killer's confession, but Jim was still on edge. He needed to relax and forget about the case, about crime and the horrors of the world and it's inhabitants for a while. After several long talks between Blair and Simon – both men concerned and worried about their friend, he had extended their requested, two weeks off to over three and Blair was looking forward to the extra time in England. They had planned the trip earlier, and the timing was perfect to get Jim away from it all. By mutual agreement, he was not teaching this term, concentrating on his dissertation and his work with Jim, so the extra time off had been easy for him to swing.
Now, they were heading east to visit Vincent Cade and his partner Damien St. Claire. Blair smiled at the remembered excitement in Day's e-mails as they chatted about what to see and where to go. He was looking forward to meeting the man who had been so helpful in dealing with the ups and downs of the discipline relationship he was trying with Jim. The six-month trial-period was coming to an end in October and he knew that it would be his decision if they were to continue to make discipline, rules and consequences, a part of their life or not.
Their relationship was steadily improving since the incident during spring finals, when Blair had taken the law into his own hands to help a troubled student. June had been a little rocky as Blair adjusted to the strict time constraints---about how much time he was allowed to spend on police work---Jim had placed on him. By July, things had settled down and Blair had to admit that a semester had never gone smoother. They seemed to have found their niche with each other and in their relationship. The comfortable ease of their lives jointly met at angles to help ease the strain of their different worlds. Blair was flourishing under the steadying hand of Jim. Summer term had come and gone smoothly. The happiness and peaceful sailing was disrupted in mid-August with the first gruesome snuff film.
The detective with heightened senses perhaps would not have been so deeply affected by the crime, if it were not for the age of the victims. No doubt, looking into the youthful face of the one who mattered most to him in the entire world each morning did much to personalize the case. As the body count rose, Jim pushed himself beyond human levels of endurance, oftentimes angrily brushing Blair’s concerns and ministrations aside. He acted like a one-man crime force and refused to share any blame as the death toll mounted.
It was Jim’s sense of smell that had eventually recognized the faint aroma of tobacco. Finally identifying the expensive imported stogies, they were able to pinpoint the dealers and eventually set up a database to tag potential suspects. Within twenty-four hours, their man was trapped and a confession extracted.
The lack of physical care had taken more than its toll on Ellison. Even their relationship had been pulled taut and thin by the fiery exchanges. Blair had felt out of control and the situation was only eased by his correspondence with Damien. Many times a “Vin won’t be too happy to hear about that,” had reassured Blair that there was someone he could turn to should the situation become critical. Thank God the case had ended before it had ended their relationship.
Still thinking about the past five months with Jim and their new arrangement, Blair drifted into a restless slumber.
Seemingly mere minutes later, he was awakened by a gentle, but persistent nibble and kiss on his lips. Opening his eyes, he stared directly into the blue orbs of his lover.
"Morning," Jim whispered. "We are about an hour out and I thought it was time you woke up, sleepy head."
"Jim, did you just kiss me? In public?" Blair said, trying to keep the happiness out of his voice, only to magnify the shocked awe.
"Well, I figured if anyone cared about what we were doing, we really didn't leave much to the imagination last night with me sleeping all over you. Plus," he said, glancing around, "didn't you tell me that no one knew us and no one cared?"
"Yeah, but that's never gotten you to do anything before," Blair said with a laugh.
The same stewardess from last night walked over, "Sir, we will be serving breakfast for the next thirty minutes, may I get you something?"
Blair looked up, "Umm, yes please, just a Danish or muffin would be good. Thank you."
Nodding, the stewardess hurried away, returning shortly with a plate of several muffins, jams and clotted cream. Jim had already finished off a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. Now he nursed a cup of coffee as he watched his lover adjust to the day.
Breaking apart a muffin, and spreading jam on it, Blair asked, "So, how are we going to get from Gatewick to Vin's apartment in London?"
"Vin wasn't sure if he and Day would be able to meet us or not, I think he had some meeting this morning to go to. If he's not there, we'll just catch the Gatewick Express that takes us straight to Victoria, and then we'll just grab a cab. I have the address in my wallet."
"How far away is it, do you know?"
"About thirty minutes by train, maybe forty by car. Don't really remember, but it's an easy ride."
"Sounds good, I'm going to be happy to get off this plane. How'd you sleep?"
"Pretty good, I'm a little tired, but I think it's more about all that's been going on this month than just not getting a full eight hours last night."
Blair nodded, "I didn't really sleep that well, but I feel fine. I think I dozed some."
"You seemed pretty out of it until I woke you up. I hope I wasn't too heavy, Chief.”
"No, not at all. I don't know, excited about the trip, excited about meeting Day and Vin, excited about spending three weeks with you, no work, nothing to get in the way, nada,” Blair finished with a laugh, a huge yawn closing the statement.
Jim smiled at him, "I think a nap when we get to the apartment would be a good idea for both of us."
Before Blair could comment, the stewardess came by to collect the breakfast tray and announce that they were beginning their approach into Gatewick.
As soon as she left, Blair glanced at Jim. "I'm not tired and I'm anxious to get out and do something. I don't want to nap like a little kid. Don't start being a dictator again."
Jim sighed, "Let's not get into it here, love, I don't relish taking you into the bathroom and spanking you or having to do it first thing at Vin's, and that's exactly what's going to happen if you keep up that tone of voice,” he finished sternly.
Blair glared at him. "Then you stop being such an ass and let me do what I want."
Jim stared at the younger man for almost a full minute, as if in shock at what he had just heard. "That's it, Blair, you and I are going to have a discussion about this attitude of yours as soon as we get to the apartment. I highly suggest you don't make the situation worse by keeping it up."
Blair opened his mouth as if to say something, his eyes flashing, but Jim cut him off. "I'm not kidding, Blair, drop it and don't get yourself into any more trouble."
His face flushed as if just realizing how quickly things had spun out of control and how much trouble he was in a matter of a few minutes.
The plane landed safely and they both went through customs with no more then a brief glance at their passports. Stopping in the main greeting area where friends and family awaited those arriving, Jim looked around for his old friend.
"Hey, Jim, " Blair said, the first none monosyllable he had said since his outburst on the plane, "think he's for us?"
Jim glanced in the direction that his lover was pointing and saw a well-dressed gentleman in a dark suit holding a sign saying, "J. Ellison/B. Sandburg" walking toward them. "Yeah, Chief, I would think so."
The man walked up to them, "Mr. Ellison, Master Blair?"
"Yes, that's us. I'm Jim Ellison."
The older man smiled, "And I am Robert Patrick, I work for Mr. Cade and Master Damien. They were detained at home and asked that I come and pick you both up. If you will follow me, I've got the car through here." With that, he took hold of the luggage cart and began to wheel it towards the doors leading to the outside.
Walking in step with the driver, Blair asked, "So, you work for Vin?"
"Yes, I am his driver while in town and I take care of the London flat while they are in Salisbury. I have worked for him for over six years now. My wife was their housekeeper until she died several years ago and I retired. Mr. Cade needed someone to watch over the London place and has kept me on salary for that. Ah, here's the car," he said as they came upon a black sedan.
Opening the back door, he ushered the two men inside, placing the luggage in the trunk. Walking around, he got in the front seat, glancing at his two passengers through the rearview mirror, he said, "Sit back and enjoy the ride, we should be there in about 45 minutes."
"Great, thanks," Jim replied. Blair sat and stared out the window as they quickly left the airport grounds and made their way to the highway.
"Blair," Jim said softly, extending his arm, "come here."
Blair looked at Jim for a few moments, trying to decide if he was still annoyed about the incident on the plane and if Jim was still committed to the promised discussion once they reached their destination. Deciding he would rather relax in Jim's arms than pout by himself, he leaned over and allowed himself to be pulled into a strong embrace.
"Let's talk about what happened on the plane, okay? I really did not want to spend the first few hours over here spanking you."
"JIM!" Blair hissed embarrassed and angry, jerking his head toward the back of the driver's head.
"What?" Jim asked, "I'm sure this discussion is not coming as a surprise." Raising his voice slightly, he said, "Patrick, do you know what sort of relationship that Mr. Cade and Damien are in?"
"Which relationship would that be, Sir? The fact that they are in a homosexual one or a discipline one?"
"A discipline relationship."
"Yes, sir. I am fully aware of that relationship. In fact, Master Damien found himself being---shall we say---“attended to,” on the car ride up from Salisbury last week. I was under the impression that the incident he was pouting about had happened earlier in the day and was being continued by him once they got in the car. Mr. Cade was not pleased about that and dealt with the inappropriateness of that action for some time. From the sounds of it, Master Damien now understands that it was not appropriate." Glancing back briefly at Blair, he continued, "Don't be embarrassed, Master Blair, there is nothing shameful about your relationship. It would only be a shame if you did not accept it for the beautiful and wonderful relationship it can be."
Blair glanced down and mumbled, "We are still trying this and working out the details. Not sure if we are going to continue or not."
The driver smiled at the younger man in the mirror, and said gently, "Well, it's something you have to decide for yourself."
Jim smiled to himself and nudged Blair again, "Come here, lean back with me and let's talk about this morning."
Blair sighed and leaned back, worming his way under Jim's arm so that it draped over him. "I'm not tired, Jim. I don't want to lie down."
Glancing at his watch, now adjusted for British time, he said, "Blair, love, it's three a.m., Cascade time. You said yourself you didn't sleep much on the plane and you are definitely cranky."
Jerking up and away from the warm arms, Blair glared at him, "Fuck you! Stop being so bossy. God, you can be such a fucking dictator at times."
In the front seat, Patrick's eyebrows raised in surprise at the tone of the younger man's voice. Having been privy to similar scenes of rebellion and attitude on the part of another young man, he was fully expecting to hear the sounds of an attitude adjustment coming from the back seat. Instead, he heard an older voice, one weary of the fight say, "Fine, Blair, but you and I are going to have a serious discussion when we get to Vin's house. I will not allow you to use that tone of voice."
The only reply was a barely audible, "Go to hell, Jim."
The rest of the car ride was in stone, cold silence, the only sound coming from the tires on the payment. Patrick glanced back once or twice to discreetly check the mood and temperature of his passengers, noting that the icy chill was all too familiar. Sighing heavily, used to the games of this particular warfare, he concentrated on the ease and grace with which the Sedan hugged the roads.
After carefully but efficiently navigating the busy streets of greater London, the car pulled in front of a row of town houses on a residential street of Kensington.
"Here we are, sirs. " Patrick said, stopping the car and getting out. Coming around, he held open the back door as Blair and Jim climbed out.
The front door of the house swung open, revealing the large form of Vincent Cade. Smiling wide, he hurried down the few steps to the street to meet Jim. The two men embraced warmly like friends separated too long.
Holding onto Jim, Vin pulled back slightly and seemed to give the other man a quick once over, brown eyes trapping details, noting demeanor, mood and pallor. Embracing again, he said softly into Ellison’s ear, “It’s truly good to see you again, little boy. Perhaps it was just in time. You seem to have neglected your general health in these past weeks. What kind of example is that on your partner, hmmm? Not a very good one I would think." The detective nodded once and hugged the other man back, briefly resting his head on Vin's shoulder, a gesture that reminded Blair of someone finally coming home.
Blair could swear he saw Jim relax. The large man who he loved more than his own life seemed to expel all his control. He deflated into the larger man, as though fearless and sure of some haven now reached.
“Give it up for now, you are in my hands. I have control. Just let it go.”
The words seeped into Jim’s soul. He fragmented himself, pushing the fears and horrors of Cascade out of his mind. Someone else held the reins, and he was happy to just ride for a while. "Yes, sir. Thank you."
Blair noted the quiet exchange, unable to hear the precise words. Jim suddenly seemed more tired then on the plane, a little more fragile. Feeling guilty over his earlier outbursts, he glanced nervously at his shoes. Looking up, he saw with a flash of jealousy that the two men were still holding each other tightly and speaking in hushed tones.
Feeling the earlier annoyance and attitude come back with a force, he stepped forward, clearing his throat none-too-subtly.
Jim looked up and smiled, "I hadn't forgotten you, Chief---promise."
Blair flashed him a small grin, "I wasn't too sure there for awhile."
Vin released Jim and took a step forward, frowning at the younger man's tone and words. Making a “tsking” with his tongue, he said, "You know better than that, little boy."
Then smiling and sticking out his hand, he added, "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Blair. You have done a world of good for our boy, Jim, here. I hope you are benefiting as much from the relationship." A note of doubt laced the moot question.
"I am, Jim and I are very much in love," Blair answered, choosing not to refer to their other relationship, his tone bordering on rude.
Raising his eyebrow at the younger man's tone and implication, Vin glanced at Jim.
Stepping forward, Ellison made for a save, "You will have to excuse Blair. He didn't really sleep on the plane and is tired. I think, if you don't mind, we would both benefit from a nap and Blair and I have to discuss some of his comments on the plane and just recently in the car." The two men exchanged looks of understanding.
Vin laughed and smiled, allowing Ellison his rights of control over the young man, "Of course, Damien and I are in the middle of having our own discussion right now. That's why we were unable to meet you at the airport. I hope Patrick found you without any trouble."
Jim smiled at the driver and said, "Perfectly. He was waiting just outside customs with a sign and introduced himself right away."
Seeing a break in the conversation, Patrick quickly spoke up, "Mr. Cade, I'll take the car around back and bring up the luggage. What room do you want it put in?"
"Oh, that'd be great. Thanks." Pausing for a moment, he added, "I think Brittany cleaned and prepared the back bedroom for our guests."
"Very good, sir.”
“Sirs, " he said, looking first at Jim, then Blair and then back at Jim, "I'll have your luggage to you in a few minutes."
"Do you need any help?" Blair jumped in, suddenly wishing to delay going into the house and up to the bedroom with Jim.
Patrick smiled, fully aware of a diversionary tactic when he saw one, said simply, "No, thank you. You best go with your partner. Putting it off won't make it go away." He nodded toward Jim waiting for him on the steps. "He's waiting for you."
"Come on, Chief, move it,” Jim called, motioning impatiently, holding the door open.
Walking slowly up the stairs, Blair scooted past Jim into the entryway. Glancing to his left, he saw the living room and down the hall, what looked like a kitchen where Vin just came from carrying a glass of something.
Handing the glass to Jim, Vin asked, "Blair, would you like something to drink? We have…”
He was suddenly interrupted by the sound of someone running down the stairs. Glancing up, he glared at the sound. A second later, rounding the corner and coming to view on the landing was a grinning young man hurrying down the stairs. His feet barely touched the runners, as he hung from the banister and swung off unto the floor.
"JIM! BLAIR!" he yelled, happily. "You're here! Finally!"
Skidding to a stop at the bottom, he was caught and held tightly by his partner.
"Little boy,” the gruff voice would have frozen others to the spot, “you are supposed to be contemplating what you did yesterday.” Vin said sternly.
A flash of a pout crossed his face, "No, you said to stand there for 30 minutes, it's been 30 minutes,” he said as if talking to a slow-witted child. Breaking free with the slightest show of irritation, he gave Jim a hug. "Jimbo! It's great to see you again. It's been way too long. What? Seven, eight years? Boy, I can't wait for you to see Hell! So much has changed and it's improved and…” he stopped suddenly as Vin grabbed him again.
"Damien, take a breath,” he said calmly with a trace of humor. "Let's not forget our manners." Turning to Jim, shaking his head for lack of comprehension, he said, "I tell him to be home at a certain hour and he acts like the concept of time is a foreign one. I tell him he is standing in the corner for thirty minutes, and he knows when he has been there fifteen seconds too long."
Jim laughed, "Hi, Day, it’s good to see you again, too. I'd like to introduce…"
"BLAIR!" the young man interrupted, pulling away from Vin again. The older man stared at his empty hand as though realizing for the time how hard his prize was to hold onto.
Blair laughed, catching the enthusiasm, "DAY!" he yelled back.
The two quickly started talking to each other at once, hands flying, words and voices mixing together into a deafening roar, especially in the small entranceway.
Vin and Jim stood next to each other, smiling at their partner's excitement. Jim's ears perked up as he heard Day say something about wanting to show Blair the sights and his lover eagerly reply that they should go soon, as in a few minutes.
“Blair…” he called out, warningly.
Blair glanced at him with a mixture of embarrassment and anger.
"No!" Jim cut off all objections, shaking his head. "You and I have some business to discuss and I want you to lie down for a couple of hours."
"And you, young man," Vin said, picking up that Jim had overheard the two make plans to go out, "are still in trouble. We are not through discussing your latest actions."
"Jim, nooooo! I want to go out." Blair said in a whiny voice, throwing his best puppy dog eyes at his lover.
"Vin, come on, forget it. I said I was sorry. " Day said at almost the same time, face set in a classic pout.
Walking over and gathering Day in his arms, Vin kissed him on the forehead, "I'm sure you are but we are not done discussing it, yet. Don't make a scene in front of Jim and Blair, little boy," he added warningly.
"Now, take Blair upstairs and show him where he and Jim will be sleeping for the next few days and then plant yourself back in the corner of the office. Don't move until I come up there, I won't be long."
While Vin was quietly talking to Damien, Jim had walked over to Blair. He was speaking gently to him, trying to avoid a full-blown tantrum brought on by tiredness and uncertainty. "Blair, love, stop pouting," he ordered gently. "A few hours nap is not going to hurt you. I'm not happy with your attitude this morning, when you get to our rooms--- I'm going to be down here a few minutes with Vin---I want you to pick a corner and stand there. Think about what you said and why and collect yourself, I won't be long. Promise." He kissed Blair gently, "Okay?"
Blair nodded and looked unhappy. The sound of a sharp swat made him glance over at his new friend. Day was standing there, rubbing his hip where Vin's hand had made contact, nodding now in agreement, apparently convinced by the larger man’s hand.
Flashing Blair a smile, Day never lost a beat. Walking to the stairs, he pulled his friend along. "Come on, it looks like we are both in trouble. No sense making them any madder.” Then, making sure he was out of Vin’s reach, added with a laugh, “God knows they're grouchy enough as it is."
The room was tastefully appointed in various shades of blue with white accents. The dark mahogany furniture was warm and inviting. Eyeing their luggage discreetly placed on luggage racks near a tall armoire, Blair marveled at the quiet efficiency of Mr. Patrick. Choosing a corner three feet from the large window that overlooked the small garden and other houses, he slightly turned allowing himself a birds eye view of green vegetation, colorful flowers, and a small Japanese maple. A quick readjustment, a slight turn upon hearing Jim and he would be within the ordained pre-punishment position, contemplating his crimes as he studied the corner.
His thoughts eagerly turned to Damien St. Claire. He was everything he expected him to be and more. The vibrancy of the youthful spirits, the laughing eyes that spoke of mischief and humor, the friendly acceptance that pulled Blair in as an old and treasured friend, were all tributes to the warm and tender spirit Blair had detected in the e-mails.
Vincent Cade was another matter entirely. Blair had mentally braced himself over the long months of correspondence with Damien for a frightful and formidable figure. Well, that wasn’t the half of the image he had gleaned in the short time he had been in the man’s presence. Vin carried himself like he was in full command of everyone within his realm. The man’s appearance was a clear window to his thoughts and the slightest attitude detected would no doubt crease the face with displeasure. How the hell does Day put up with him? Blair thought to himself. I guess I should be thankful Jim isn’t like that.
Jim waited until the two brats were safely ensconced behind closed doors, hopefully in their respective corners before allowing himself the luxury of surrender.
Vin stood by watching the blue eyes that carried a soft veil as they watched the young man he had grown to love move up the stairs. There was a tender quality to the tight lips, but even that could not hide the strain his old friend was under.
Walking forward, Vin took the glass and placed it on a table. He wrapped a strong arm around Ellison’s shoulders and walked him over to a small loveseat near a clock in the hall. Pulling him near, never saying a word, only allowing the tired veteran of street wars to be at ease, Cade took over. Ellison felt the strength of the man beside him, the sureness of his place next to him, the easy knowledge of knowing exactly what the detective needed; Vincent Cade was a man to seek shelter with in any storm.
Jim slowly opened his mouth, but the only sound that came out was a deep hitch. He cleared his throat in embarrassment, eager to try again.
“Hush, not now. There is plenty of time for baring your soul. Just accept that I’m in charge now.”
Ellison rested his head on the larger man’s shoulder. Vincent allowed him a few minutes to gain some composure, arms tightly wrapped around tired shoulders. Then with an air of authority only those long accustomed to command can deliver, he said, “Now, it’s up to your room and some sleep. We have dinner reservations at eight. We'll plan on serving lunch in about two hours---that should be a nice rest. Oh, and, Jim, my boy, you are not to leave the room until I call for you. I think you need a nap as much as your brat does.”
The detective pulled away and met the brown eyes gratefully. He nodded his head, gave a warm smile and wearily trudged up the stairs to deal with his petulant partner.
Hearing the heavy footfalls in the hall, Blair turned towards the corner, as though deeply into the punishment, contemplating his sins in solace. He heard the door open and close, as Ellison expelled a sigh. Blair’s heart ached for his friend and lover. He really never should have put Jim through this, not when the vacation was long overdue and the mental stress of the prior weeks detrimental to the man’s health.
“Jim,” he started, not turning around, “Jim, man, I’m sorry for the attitude. You don’t need this right now, and I promise I won’t give you any more.”
Jim sat down on the bed. Wearily he positioned the pillows lower on the bed. “Come here, Chief,” he beckoned the young man.
Blair turned, his expression resigned to the possible punishment that awaited him.
“Come on, off with the shirt and jeans.”
Blair stripped quickly, not wishing to put up a scene with Vin and Day in the house, the garden windows open, Mr. Patrick no doubt lurking about and who knew who else was on staff. When he was only wearing his boxers and a T-shirt, Jim patted his lap.
Blair came over and eased himself face down over his lover’s thighs.
“Chief, I know you’re tired, and I know most of the attitude was from the long flight, but you know the rules and when I called you on it, you persisted. That earns you at least a short refresher course.”
Reaching his fingers into the waistband of Blair’s boxers he eased them down in one fluid motion to his knees. “I’m sorry, Jim. You’re right, I am tired.” Blair felt concurrence might earn him a lesser sentence. He was right.
Jim raised his hand and delivered a series of six sharp swats to the tender, white mounds. His handprint emblazoned on the spheres, the warm heat of the stinging pain, and he felt vindicated and dutiful. His guide had been brought back in line.
Blair felt the lack of enthusiasm in each swat, the strained effort in each smack to deliver repentance. After six blows, Jim eased him up and off his lap. “Now,” he said, lifting Blair’s chin, pulling the downcast eyes to meet his own, “how about that nap we talked about.”
Blair, thankful for the gentle reprieve threw his arms around Jim and hugged him, “Man, I love you. I love you so much.”
“I know, love, I know.”
Within a matter of minutes, Ellison stripped down to this own briefs and T and joined his guide in the comfortable bed. Ellison’s breathing evened out in a matter of minutes and a soft snore escaped his parted lips. Blair snuggled into him, trying to get comfortable, not really feeling much pain coming from his bottom, basically exhausted, he still could not find sleep.
Thirty minutes later, still energized with excitement, he quietly snuck out of the large bed. Grabbing his jeans and shirt, his shoes and socks, he quietly tiptoed to the door. The stealth of a Covert Ops expert could not have mimicked the quiet exit.
The hallway was quiet. There were three doors down the corridor, one at the far end, one opposite the hall, and the other midway between on the same side as their bedroom door. Laying his clothes and shoes on the top of the landing by the wood banister, he remained in his boxers and T-shirt. Listening for any sounds coming from the first closed door, he carefully opened it. It was a study, paneled in a dark, rich wood. There was a desk in front of the window, neatly organized, a wooden paddle resting on a small pile of papers. Pushing the door open more, he leaned his neck in and peered along the wall finding the inside corner. There, standing quietly was Damien, standing up straight and dutifully contemplating his sins, probably because he thought it was his significant other checking on him. He, too, was only in his boxers and a T-shirt. A small sob escaped him, and Blair almost burst out laughing.
“Day, it’s me,” he whispered. “How long do you have to stay there?”
The tall blond turned from the wall, a smile forming on his lips, but Blair noticed the red, swollen eyes, the running nose, and the red cheeks. The hazel eyes were bright now as they looked up at his friend. Then as though a mirror were reflecting a dark shadow, Day’s eyes glazed over, the smile drooped almost comically, and a small “uh oh,” escaped his lips.
Blair tensed, feeling the shape behind him.
“If he moves from that corner before his time is up, he will get another thirty minutes tacked on,” came the hard voice behind him.
Before Blair could turn, he felt two strong hands on each shoulder. Glancing at Day, looking for help, he realized none would be forthcoming. The experienced brat quickly turned his head into the corner and sighed heavily, seemingly forsaking his friend right now.
The hands slowly backed Blair out of the room and pushed him against the hall wall. Vin closed the door after giving one final look in to make sure his lover was following his orders.
“I thought you were told to take a nap, little boy,” Vin asked as though he were gently quizzing a small child on how his day at school was. The large man now leaned both hands against the wall, one on each side of Blair’s head, trapping him.
“I wasn’t sleepy.” He didn’t know what else to say.
“Seems to me you were due some punishment time as well. I hardly believe that could have been conducted in so short a time. Especially if your attitude earlier was any indication of what it was on the plane.”
“Well, maybe Jim and I have a different type of relationship than you and Day have,” Blair answered coldly.
“Oh, I see,” came the soft, gentle response. Vincent was speaking to him as though he was a confused and lost little boy, and right now Blair felt like just that. This man confused him, threw him off kilter. Even his powers of obfuscation seemed to fail him when those brown eyes pinned him.
“Let me clarify something for you, Blair, so that our time together can be enjoyable. I feel the best way for people to be comfortable with each other is to set the guidelines beforehand. Do you agree? Don’t you think understanding is the key to us all getting along?” The voice was getting softer and softer until Blair felt a chill run down his spine. He was being led to slaughter like a lamb and he knew it and was at a loss how to avoid it.
“Yes, I think I understand completely,” was the only response he could think of, said with enough sarcasm to make him wish he could bite his tongue off.
“I don’t like smart-mouthed brats who don’t listen. And I don’t like lovers who manipulate for their own selfish needs, ignoring what their partners are going through. So I’m going to give you a choice. You can go quietly back to your room, get your butt into bed and take that nap Jim told you to, or----or, my little boy, you can march right back into that office, where I will talk to you about actions and the consequences of them over my knee. You can then join Damien in the opposite corner.”
Blair’s eyes widened, his mouth fell open and he could only gape at the threat.
Vincent pushed off from the wall, allowing Blair an avenue of escape. He watched as the young, curly-headed man, cautiously slid out of his grasp.
Blair pointed an unsure finger towards their bedroom and said in a humorous attempt, “I think I’m a little sleepy right now. That nap sounds about right.”
As soon as he cleared the danger zone, he rushed forward, grabbed his clothes and quickly went back into their bedroom, quietly closing the door behind him.
Placing his clothes on a chair, he eagerly slid back into bed, beside his sleeping lover. Putting his arm around Jim, he luxuriated in the warmth the man generated, easing the chill from his spine, the imprint of dread that Cade had left him.
Man, that guy is so mean. I feel sorry for Day. I don’t know how such a fun-loving guy could love anyone like that. I’m just glad Jim isn’t so strict.
As though reading his thoughts, Ellison came groggily into the day. “What’s the matter, Chief? Why’s your heart racing?” The detective tried to open his eyes and focus, but he was having a hard time of it.
“Nothing, Jim, go back to sleep. I just had to use the bathroom and I got lost,” he said, as he willed his heart to slow down.
“Chief,” Jim said slowly, licking his lips to remove the film of sleep, “they just drive on the wrong side, the bathrooms are still indoors. “ Jim smiled at his weak attempt at humor.
“Yeah, man, very funny.”
Then he added, very quietly, “Don’t mess with him, Chief, he doesn’t play around.” With that final piece of advice, Jim pulled Blair closer to him. Soon Ellison was snoring softly. Blair thought he would never sleep again, but the contentment he felt in Jim’s arms, the reassurance, soon had him following close behind.
“Hey, Chief, come on,” Jim Ellison said, as he finished buttoning his sports shirt. “Lunch is ready and you were all eager for sightseeing before.”
Yawning and stretching, his young companion looked delectable lying there all warm and foggy and pliant. Lunch was the farthest thing from Ellison’s mind, but he knew the wakeup call from Day was a directive from Vin. No refusals to eat would be tolerated.
“Blair, Vin gave us ten minutes to get our butts down there.”
As though some magic wand was waved, Sandburg jumped out of bed. Dressing quickly, he followed closely behind Jim as they left the room.
The back terrace was part of a small walled in garden area along the alleyway. Room enough for a table and four chairs, and a side cart for serving. There was a large array of fruits, cheeses, muffins, and a tray of small sandwiches.
Day was already happily munching away on a muffin topped with jam and a large slice of cheese on his plate. “Blaaaar, Jim,” he tried to get out around the contents of his mouth.
Vincent sent him a corrective scowl, but Day merely shrugged and continued his welcome, “Cumeet,” then picking up a sandwich from his own plate, he showed it off like a trophy. “Look, Cucumber sandwiches…. I just had to have cucumber sandwiches for you guys."
“Demon, enough with the cucumber sandwiches,” then by way of apology to Jim and Blair for their exclusion in the joke, he clarified, “Day has been telling me how most British plays have always had cucumber sandwiches served. They just happen to be a favorite of his, so we have cucumber sandwiches…enough for an army I’m afraid.”
Jim chose a chair between Vin and Day, leaving the opposite side of the table for Blair. He noticed how the young man stood close to him, unsure of leaving his side. Looking up he caught a look pass between Vin and Blair.
“Chief, would you rather sit here?” Jim asked, rising slightly.
“Hey, no man, I’ll sit over there,” he started to move around Day, but the blond haired man rose before anyone could say a thing. He quickly took the chair closest to the wall and Vin and reached over to pull his treasured plate in front of him.
“He bit me already,” Day said laughing, “ and I’ve had my rabies and tetanus.”
The small joke broke the tension and even Vincent Cade broke out into a huge grin, shaking his head at Ellison in a see what I have to put up with sort of way.
The rest of the meal was easy. Jim and Vin kept to their own conversation of old friends and current events. Day and Blair listened most times, but every so often would break off into a discussion of their own about sights to see and things to do. By three o’clock, Blair was bouncing in his chair eager to hit the streets of London.
All four men pitched in to clean up the lunch. Dinner was scheduled at Vin’s club for eight. That gave them at least four hours of free time out on the streets of London.
“Jim, you have to see the gallery,” Day said. “I’ll bet you can’t guess how popular VC’s Conceptual Chaos paintings are.”
“Damien, let’s not talk about that,” Vin said.
Blair could have sworn the older man looked embarrassed.
Eager to peel some layers off of the formidable figure, Blair persisted, “What paintings?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of VC?” Day asked, showing little patience in his tone for anyone who hadn’t.
“Yeah, isn’t he that abstract painter all the art critics are always talking about? I hear he can take any idea and paint a picture around it. Of course, being abstract, you can just about see anything you want to…” noting the look that came across Vin’s face, Blair turned to Day for guidance.
The young man was laughing, “Oh, Blair, you are absolutely right and for that reason Vin hates them.”
“Well, I hear he’s popular. He must be making big bucks on those things, but I don’t call it art.” Blair was still quite clueless.
“Blair,” Jim tried for a save, it was time he helped his friend, “VC is Vincent Cade.”
Blair’s face paled a light shade of gray. He grimaced, “Oh, hey, man, I didn’t realize, I mean, I didn’t mean anything, I’m sure they’re really very…”
“Blair,” Vin’s face softened, “it’s okay. They are trash and I feel ashamed to make money off of them. This little Shylock has made quite a name for his gallery selling those paintings and I can assure you, if it were not for him, I would not do another one of them.”
Day shrugged his shoulders, looking for all the world like someone who didn’t care what Vincent Cade felt about his paintings.
“They keep Hell burning bright for you, Vin, I think that should earn them a place of honor if nothing else.” Damien seemed to have touched a nerve with the older man. His face creased into a deep frown.
“Yes, they give me Halcyon Heights and for that I should be grateful.”
Whatever passed between the two men was unreadable, but Blair saw a look of love and devotion ignite between them that said whatever it was, it was lasting and strong.
The next two hours went by pleasantly. They walked the streets of London taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling city. The Tower of London was the only sight time allowed, but there would be more time tomorrow and the next day before leaving for Salisbury.
They had their cab drop them several blocks from home in front of a discrete building, the small sign displayed on the door reading, "The Art Critic".
Day unlocked the small shop and stood aside with a wide, proud grin upon his face. Blair could see the love the young man had put into the little gallery. No more than thirty pictures stood upon easels or were mounted upon the wall, but each one was lit or positioned for maximum effect and advantage.
Along the right wall, in a place of honor were two abstracts, brightly colored, sharp lines edging into each other, pinpricking the nerves with their pointed crispness. A tastefully discreet sign above the pairing said: “VC’s Concepts in Chaos.”
Blair moved quickly to the paintings and studied them.
“Not something you would expect from me, I assume?” The heavy, deep voice came from Blair’s left.
Straightening, a bit unnerved, he shifted from foot to foot. “I guess you just don’t look like a painter, period.”
“Actually I do paint,” he said.
Blair gave him a quizzical look.
The large man smiled, “I mean besides these monstrosities. Come, I will show you.”
Extending a friendly arm around Blair’s shoulders he pulled the young man towards the back of the gallery. Blair nervously looked for Jim who was admiring some landscapes in the back. Vin drew Blair up beside the other two men.
“This is my passion.” Vin pointed to the landscapes. They were exquisitely detailed. The British landscape was captured in soft strokes that seemed to actually make the trees appear to be bending in the wind. Lighting almost like the morning mist still lingering over the craggy cliffs and ocean views faintly softened the lush green countryside.
Blair didn’t know art as well as his college professors had hoped he would, but he knew talent when he saw it. Vincent Cade was a shadowman. He was fragments of color and shading that were far more than met the eye.
“This is good,” Blair stated in a shocked voice.
The three other men laughed.
“I keep telling him that, but he won’t believe me. These things would sell faster than he could paint them if he’d let me tell everyone that he is VC,” Day said, wagging a finger at his significant other.
“Little boy, you know what happens when you try to deal my paintings without permission.” The warning was obvious in the statement.
However, the blond man was not put off by the formidable figure. He merely shrugged. “I had a good price for it; you just won’t see reason.”
Realizing rudeness in the discussion by excluding their guests, Day chose to enlighten them. “Vin does portraits of me, too, showing off my full glory.” Then laughing he winked at Jim and Blair, “If you get my drift.”
Vin came up alongside Damien. Placing a restraining arm around his shoulder, he slowly arched it highly ensnaring the neck; trapping the laughing young man in a chokehold he pushed his head forward, rubbing his head.
“Those paintings are private gifts…for our viewing only, my little Demon.” Releasing the wild locks to the ministrations of his lover, he allowed the younger man to stand straight.
“The brat, here, decided to try to sell one of the paintings I’ve done of him. He had a buyer and surreptitiously brought the painting into London. I happened to receive a call yesterday evening from a good friend who recognized Damien here. He called to let me know that my partner was poising al natural for someone. It seems he had an American friend over here who had just purchased the picture. Needless-to-say, I was a bit put off by the robbery, I am buying the picture back from him and been forced to give the brat a lesson in the consequences of pilfering artwork.”
“Jim, Blair, it’s not like that at all. The buyer was from the U.S. No one would have recognized me; it was so vague, it might as well be a friggin abstract. It was just bad luck that someone who knows me saw it.”
“Your mouth, little boy,” the only warning needed to make Day mumble, “sorry.”
“It’s just that we’ve been trying to reach the States and even if the landscapes don’t appeal to the Americans, the nudes would have. It would have been a great way to get our foot in the door,” Damien persisted, deeply annoyed by the lack of appreciation for his efforts.
Ellison moved in to set things back to the pleasantness of the afternoon. “Vin seems to be doing rather well over here. Perhaps a large American market will decrease the mystery and rarity of owning a Vincent Cade landscape.”
“Well, it worked with the VC’s, but he don’t care about them. He pushes them off like they are some form of prostitution. His treasured landscapes are too limited by the region. He needs to travel to America and do some landscapes there. The nudes would have been a great introduction to the Yankees.” Damien said, directly to his lover, and walked a bit away slightly worried that he would be re-educated right in the gallery.
“Day, now is not the time to bore our guests with our domestic concerns. Enough, right now.” Vincent, the authoritarian, had spoken. The subject was closed.
Jim put an arm around Blair as Day headed for the street in a bit of a huff. Vincent followed the group and locked up when they reached the stoop.
Day turned from his place in the lead and with the late afternoon sun gilding his head, making him look angelic, he returned to his good cheer. “Blair, how’s about we go off and check out the shops?”
Vin watched as Day took over. Amazed as usual by the ease with which he could change from night to day. So appropriate a nickname for him, he thought, but then so is Demon.
“Off with you both, then,” Vin said. “Back at the flat by seven. Do I make myself clear?”
Day grinned, grabbed Blair’s arm and pulled the confused young man along. Blair waved at Jim as he was swept along in the tide. Jim laughed and blew him a kiss. “Have fun.”
Vin roared, “DO I?” And Damien St. Claire trotting along with his captive in tow merely gave a backward and childish wave in answer.
“I swear, Jim, there are days it’s a wonder he lives to see the sun set.” Cade’s voice lost all threat in the soft and amazed wonder of his obvious love for the young man.
"Blair, I'm in deep trouble." Day whispered, leaning in toward his new friend as they sat in a small coffeehouse on a busy street.
"What's wrong?" Blair asked, also whispering but not exactly sure why.
"Last Monday, I was doing a little …. um …. cleaning and I found a ring that Vin was going to give me on our anniversary next month."
Blair interrupted, "Cleaning or snooping?" he asked with a laugh, knowing which it probably was.
Day colored slightly, "Well" he hedged, "Vin would say snooping, I would say I was just looking around."
"Around where?" the other man asked with a laugh, enjoying his friend's discomfort and knowing it could be just as easily him in the situation.
"In his drawers, but that is totally beside the point." Day looked around the café carefully as if expecting to see Vin or Jim walking in. "I was so excited about the ring, I mean, it is sort of like this outward sign that I belong to him, that he is telling the world that I am his and he is mine and …." Day trailed off, embarrassed by his emotions. "Sorry, I'm sure that seems silly to you, but it's important."
"No, not at all. I understand, man."
"So, I was excited and I wanted to wear it but I knew I couldn't actually wear it, so I put it on a chain and wore it around my neck."
"Ok, so did Vin find out? Is that what you are in trouble for? I would think that if he had found out already, he would have dealt with it."
"Oh yeah, trust me, I mess up, I know about it immediately. No, the thing is, I lost it," Day finished on a sad note.
"You lost it! How could you loose it?"
"I don't know!" Day said defensively, "I was in trouble and Vin was making me work out in the garden doing all this crap for him and when I came back in hours later, it was gone, the chain was broken and I guess it fell off somewhere."
"Did you look for it?"
"Boy, Blair, what a great idea!" Day said sarcastically. "No, I'm sorry, I'm just upset. Yes, I looked, I've spent every free second I have on my hands and knees looking but I haven't found it. Vin thinks I'm insane."
imagining the other man's thoughts about his lover spending time on this hands and
knees walking through the gardens.
"What did you tell him you were doing?"
"Treasure hunting." Then at Blair's raised eyebrows, he added, "Hey, it's not that stupid, we have actually found some semi-precious stones and a bracelet on the property in the gardens when we were digging. We don't know if they are from the original owner of the house, the bracelet is from the Fifteenth Century. I sort of like to imagine some lady hiding it from raiders during the War of the Roses or something,” Day finished, laughingly.
"Okay, so Vin thinks you are treasure hunting."
"Yeah, except he has given me strict orders to stop wasting my time. We got into a big fight about it on the car ride up here. He laid down the law and I didn't take it too well."
"So, what are you going to do? I hate to say it, but it sounds like this thing is gone for good."
"Nope! " Day said excitedly, " I have a plan but I need your help." Then flashing a smile that said 'trust me', he added, 'We won't get in any trouble and it's only going to take a few minutes, an hour, tops."
"I don't know, Day….." Blair said, uncertain, "What are we going to do?"
'Come on, I'll show you." Tossing some bills down on the table, he grabbed Blair's arms and almost dragged him out of the café and down the street.
Five minutes later, they stood on a small side street, with little traffic. Day looked up and down the street, like a spy in an old James Bond movie, full of secrets and hidden motives. Opening the door to the small shop, he pulled Sandburg in before he could even get a glimpse of what was in the shop window.
The shop was basically a hardware store. There were many pieces of equipment that Blair could just not place. Looking up over the counter in the rear, he saw the sign, “Treasure Chest.”
Damien walked proudly over to a strange looking object. At first Blair thought it was a crutch of some sort. It had a circular end that fit along one’s arm for support. The long crutch then bent into a flat, round piece that looked like a satellite dish.
“Here it is,” Day said proudly, standing back to watch Blair’s appreciation of the item.
“What the hell is that?” Blair asked.
“That, my friend, is The SHADOWx2”
“The what?” Blair still gawked.
“The SHADOWx2 is 32 ounces of tough, sophisticated muscle, custom built for high performance and designed for basic and simple operation,” Day read the small sign under the displayed object.
“What’s it for?”
“That, my friend, is for finding lost treasures---or rings as the case may be.” Day now rubbed his hands together gleefully, a man so satisfied and smug, it bode an ill wind for the pair.
As the two young men entered the front door, at a little past seven, Blair carried the carefully wrapped package. It took Damien a full twenty minutes to convince Blair to help him in his scheme.
“Vin has me on a tight budget. Any purchase over a hundred pounds needs his authorization and approval. If you could buy this, Blair, charge it to your credit card, I swear, buddy, I will pay you back over three weeks, you'll have your money back before you even leave.”
The hazel eyes had pleading down to a craft, skillfully somber and longing, he played Blair like an instrument. The purchase made, the promises reiterated, and there was still more to the game.
“Okay, now if you can just take it with you. Tell Vin you bought golf clubs for Jim and it’s a secret if he asks. Man, he’ll buy that one. The package is wrapped nicely, he’ll never suspect.”
“Day, I just don’t feel right lying to my host. I mean, I’m his guest, he’s Jim’s best friend, this just doesn’t seem right.” Then pausing, he shook his head for a moment disbelieving that he could actually admit it, “Besides, he scares me.”
Day burst out laughing. “Hell, he scares me, too, why the hell do you think I’m asking you to transport the damn thing.”
At the logic of his admittance, Blair burst out laughing, too. The joy and camaraderie had sealed their partnership, but also their fate.
The two young men were able to dress and present themselves in the small parlor room without the slightest questions or suspicions thrown their way. No doubt Jim and Vin, having returned early from the London trip, had spent some time talking in Vin’s office.
Patrick pulled the car up in front of the small townhouse and the four sharply dressed men got in. Patrick exited the driver’s seat and Vincent Cade took over.
“Have a nice dinner, sirs,” Patrick said as he stood aside and waved. The sleek Sedan quietly sped away.
The Club was British, all male, and quite stodgy. Jim seemed uncomfortable initially, but soon relaxed.
Day seemed not in the least perturbed, and was his usual chattering self. On the way to their table, he made several side trips to greet friends and would have made many more, Blair thought, if Vin had not taken him firmly by the arm and made him walk beside him.
They were shown to a small alcove with a cut glass bay window. The frosted, colored and beveled glass did not allow them a view, but the streetlights filtered in with a warm glow. Several tables away, a stone hearth blazed with a warm fire, well appreciated on the cool fall evening. Poking Blair’s ribs several times he made hilarious comments about some of the older gentlemen who were seated in the small, well-appointed room. Dark wood bordered the domain that smelled of tobacco and leather and the enticing aroma of gourmet food.
“It is a selfish and foolish dream, Jim,” Vin said, completely aware of the affectation of it all.
“What?” Ellison seemed to be lost by the thread.
“This,” he passed his massive hand around in a gesture encompassing the whole club. “When I came here, it was the only place I felt safe. Like being accepted here made me feel like it was my country. I know how foolish such pretension must seem to you, but it is merely a sanctuary. I’ve learned much here about formality, expectations and the appreciation of the simple things,” he finished, looked lovingly over at his animated lover.
No one would have believed the chattering young man was listening, but apparently he always cocked an ear towards his older lover. “Vin needs affirmation. I don’t. I wouldn’t love him so much, except I know he’s still home country, still a grass roots American Yankee deep down inside.”
Vin stared at his lover, as if first seeing him in his full glory, a small amazement in his eyes at the astute observation.
“My little demon speaks the truth. It is a failing of mine, this need for acceptance here, but Day is slowly converting me to the cruder aspects of life.” Then Vin winked at Jim and all four men laughed.
The meal was delicious. Vin and Jim both opted for the prime rib dinners, with baked potatoes, and peas. Damien went with pork chops with mushroom-bread pudding while Blair decided to try Shepherds Pie. Well sated after the meal, a fine desert of poached pears topped off their sweet tooth.
“How about an after dinner drink?” Vin asked. Taking the nodding heads of the two young men as confirmation and with Jim’s agreement, brandy snifters soon rested before each member of the quartet.
“Blair, what did you two do after we left the gallery?” Jim asked, finally having a moment to catch up with his lover on the time they were apart.
Turning his head down deeply into his brandy, Blair avoided meeting Jim’s eyes, remembering all too well the rules and Number 2, no lying. “We walked up and down the residential section. Some of those shops are amazing, Jim. Lots of Old World charm here.”
“More than just charm, Blair,” Damien eagerly caught the ball, “history. I guess I never saw England for much of anything except a country that spoke English and we beat in the Revolution, but since living here for the past nine years, I’ve come to appreciate its history. I can’t wait to show you Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral. You are going to flip if its Old World charm you want.”
“Little boy, I don’t think Blair will flip. He’s a well-traveled young man. I’m sure an anthropologist is well used to seeing the history in any place he visits,” Vin complimented the curly-headed young man.
“Tell me, Blair, how is it you and Jim first met,” Day asked, sitting back and nursing the brandy, finally seeming to downshift for the first time.
Blair quickly looked at Jim, questioning how much these men knew.
“Blair was researching police structures for his dissertation. My captain, Simon Banks, and I both decided his astute eye for cultural diversity could come in handy in finding motive and ritual in many of the ethnic crimes we deal with daily,” Jim averted the disaster.
Although Vincent Cade was well aware of Jim’s senses, Damien was in the dark. The ex- Lt. Colonel did not feel a soul as excitable as Damien’s could handle such knowledge without the enthusiasm that might cause disaster. Cade kept a firm grasp on his lover and very little got through to the blond man that was not first passed by him.
"Wow," Day said impressed, "that's got to be exciting. More adventure than's around here."
“Let’s just say, Blair, that Damien’s view of the world can oftentimes cause fires. I’m afraid my young friend sees magic in places others only see dirt and cobwebs. Where you are a police observer doing a job, Damien would see a dynamic fighting duo, somewhat crossed between Batman and Robin and Hercules and Iolus,” Vin said, lifting his brandy glass towards his lover. The hazel eyes were now glaring at him.
“I’m not a child, Vin,” Damien pouted, as he sat further back slumping now into the soft leather chair.
“Posture, brat, sit up straight.” Vin’s tone sharpened.
“I’m relaxing,” Day said, sulkily, making no effort to right himself.
“One,” the count was started softly. It was not the voice that Vin had used throughout the meal of friendly warmth. This voice was cold with an undercurrent that almost sent out electrical friction.
Blair involuntarily jerked himself up. Jim smiled watching the reaction in his partner. Day slouched deeper, taking another slow sip of his brandy, defiance in his eyes.
“Twooooo,” was softer, drawn out in a languid promise.
It was the slow easing of Vin’s glass towards the table and the inevitable “three” that was nearly forming on his lips that caused Day to position himself upright, pull his chair in, and pout down into the golden liquid.
“When we get home, Demon, we will discuss the necessity for two, in detail.”
Damien tipped his snifter back and downed the remainder of his drink. Slouching forward now he crossed his arms on the table and laid his head down on them. Blair saw it as surrender and looked over at Jim, then at Vin. He could not believe the firm hand the older man used on his friend.
“Damien forgets himself sometimes. We talk and his memory comes back,” Cade explained.
The remainder of the evening went by quickly. They sat for another hour talking, catching up on things. Day’s mood changed back to amicable ease. Oftentimes during the evening, Blair wondered at the relationship between the ex- Lt. Colonel and the activist. There was surely more to it than the relationship he was trying to accept for himself with James Ellison.
Later that night, Blair lay in Jim's arms, his head resting on the larger chest beneath him. Jim was slowly stroking his hair.
"I'm sorry I was such a brat this morning, love. You're tired and really don't need me adding more stress and problems. I won’t get into any trouble this trip, I promise."
"That's okay, it's over, don't worry about it. Let's just enjoy these next few weeks and relax." Jim gave a small laugh before adding, "Don't make promises you are going to have a hard time keeping, Chief. I think you and your buddy are going to be getting into all sorts of things."
Looking up, Blair tried to decide if his feathers should be ruffled by the prediction or just accept it for an obvious truth. Day’s playful attitude seemed as genuine as in his e-mails and Blair didn’t doubt for one moment that the energetic imp would have a hard time staying out of trouble for two days. "I don't know, Jim, if I had Vin watching what I did, I think I'd be an angel. What was that all about at dinner tonight? What sort of relationship do they have? It's a lot different than ours," Blair said.
"They have a relationship that fits their needs---both of their needs. It's not up to you or me to judge it."
"I know," Blair said quietly, snuggling up closer to Jim. "I wonder what happened to Day tonight? I hope he's okay."
Jim cocked his head slightly to one side, "He seems fine. Remember that Day is choosing his relationship as much as you are choosing yours."
"Did Day get in trouble tonight?"
"Yes," Jim answered simply
"Did he get spanked?"
"Yes. Chief, this really isn't our business."
"I know, but I can't help but think about it."
Before he could say another word, Blair found himself lying on his back, with Jim pressed on top of him, faces inches apart.
"Weeeellllllllllll," Jim said with a large hungry smile on his face, "I bet I can get your mind off it."
Blair laughed, his own smile reflecting Jim's. It had been several weeks since they had much more time, or Jim had enough energy for anything other then a quick grope and Blair missed this side of their relationship. "I don't know, man, you are going to have to work pretty hard at…."
The rest of his words were swallowed as a hard mouth captured his, tongue plunging deep.
Two more days in London, mostly sightseeing, and Vincent was eager to return to Halcyon Heights. Blair and Jim agreed that the country would be a welcome change from the hustle and noise of the city. They decided to leave Saturday morning.
Jim walked wearily down the stairs, frustrated and annoyed with himself for still being tired. Determined not to put a damper on Blair’s holiday, he smiled as he rounded the landing and started down toward the main level of the town house.
Jim saw Vin standing by the door speaking with Patrick about when they would return to London and a few minor repairs to be taken care of. Damien had managed to pop the soap dish free from the tile wall that morning and a workman needed to be called in to repair it. He looked up at the sound of footsteps.
Vin caught the tired angles of Jim’s face, the long drawn creases around the eyes that made him look spent.
“Morning,” Jim said, “Have you seen Blair around anywhere?”
“Good morning, and yes, your brat and my brat took off a few minutes ago with strict instructions to be back within thirty minutes. Looks to me like some caper, too much whispering bodes an ill wind with Day.” Vin paused for a moment, remembering the looks on the their faces, “If I know Damien, they are up to something; they both looked suspiciously discomfited.”
Jim laughed, “Well, I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later what they’re up to. Sandburg doesn’t wear guilt very well.”
Vin laughed, knowing that he was right. “Come and have breakfast. Day, with his wonderful sense of timing, won’t drag Blair back until their thirty minutes are seconds away from being up.”
“Oh, that’s okay, I’m not really hungry. I think I’ll just go sit out in the gardens until they get back.” Turning quickly, not wanting to hear the ‘you need to eat’ order from Vin, he walked swiftly down the hall to the kitchen, disappearing through the swinging door.
Patrick raised an eyebrow at the disappearing figure as Vin opened his mouth, about to make the comment that Jim knew he would. Then, seemingly to think of a different tactic, he hesitated.
As they finished their conversation about the house, Patrick asked in a conversational tone, “I wonder if I might suggest a good tailor while you are in Salisbury for Mr. Ellison, I’ve noticed that his slacks seem a bit loose, as if he’s lost weight recently. Heavens know why, he is barely anything but muscle and bones now.”
Vincent looked at him, “Point taken and one I agree with. Let’s see if we can’t do something about that problem.”
After loading up a tray with breakfast foods and two glasses of juice, Vin carried it to the garden and set it on the table. Jim was relaxing on a small swing near a rose arbor.
“That’s a lot to eat,” Jim commented, trying to add humor to a battle he knew was around the horizon, “better watch it or Day will start getting wandering eyes.”
Crooking a finger towards Jim, he beckoned the man towards the table. “Cut the crap for me, Jim, you know exactly who this is for.”
Sighing, the other man complied and settled himself in a chair across from Vin. He watched dispassionately as the older man filled a plate with several muffins, fruit and opened a small container of yogurt.
Stirring the yogurt as though for a child, Vin held out the spoon and the container, he waited for Jim to take it. Several seconds passed, neither man speaking---each engaged in this small battle of wills.
“James, you have two choices, both involve eating this breakfast. One comfortably seated, the other not so comfortably. Your choice, but I might add that I’m not in the most patient of moods this morning.”
"Those are some choices," Jim mumbled taking the yogurt, “and since when have you ever been in a patient mood.”
"Young man, I really don't think you want to be getting an attitude this morning. Do you?"
Jim didn't say anything, he simply stared into the creamy white mixture as if it held the answers. "I don't know what I want," he said quietly several minutes later.
It pained Vincent to see the lost look on Ellison’s face. It was the look of a man who was not quite certain who he was anymore. Vin had seen it on Jim’s face when he came to visit after Peru, before he understood the spiking senses that oftentimes assailed him---before the insightful anthropologist came into his life.
At that time, Jim had been filled with remorse and guilt over the loss of his men in the jungle. The assaulting senses were not issues with his last visit, but the knowledge that something was not quite right with him plagued him into moody and hostile bouts of antagonism. Vin met the antagonism head on and dealt with Jim appropriately. Now another approach was needed at least until Jim could sort out some of his chaotic emotions, fine-tune his thought processes to the clarification he needed, as the events of the last month chipped away.
"Come here, little boy," he said, rising. Grabbing Ellison by the upper arm he led the compliant man to the small garden swing again. Sitting down, pulling the man onto his lap he offered comfort in the familiar arms. Jim struggled slightly to get free, to retreat back into his shell, safe and protected. A hard swat to his hip from Vin stopped his struggling.
Vin slowly began to rock the swing.
"Blair held me like this on the plane coming over," the other man said out of the blue.
"Did he?" Vin questioned. "Did you like it?"
"Yes, I could relax. I knew he was there."
Not breaking the motion of the swing, Vin asked quietly, "What do you mean, you knew he was there? Where else would he be?"
Jim did not answer for some time.
Vin allowed the silence to engulf them, knowing that Ellison was seeking the answers on his own.
"Gone. Kidnapped like the others. Afraid I would find him hanging, tortured and I would be powerless to save him like I was powerless to help the others," he answered in a quiet voice.
"That's right, you were powerless to help them. The ones already dead. You’re a good detective. You’ve told me that yourself. Even good detectives need time and clues to solve crimes, to bring criminals to justice. But you did help other ones. You saved countless lives by catching the man. He would have gone on, kidnapping and torturing and killing until he ran out of victims or interest or God only knows what passion was fueling him. As long as there was a lucrative market for these snuff films, he would have continued. Perhaps in time he would have taken children."
Jim shivered, "I don't want to talk about it right now. Okay?" Jim asked, as though he were a child asking to be dismissed from the dinner table.
“You will in time, and I’ll be here for you.”
"I know. That thought has always kept me going, especially before Blair," Jim smiled and tightened his arms around Vin's chest. “I remember many times when a thought kept me from taking action, one simple realization of ‘Vin would have your butt over his knees in a second for this.’”
Vin laughed, "Well, little boy," he said with a trace of humor and mock sternness, "I will be more than happy to reinforce that message while you are here. Just keep up the fast and see what happens."
They stayed on the swing for several more minutes, lost in their own thoughts.
Jim sat up abruptly. "They’re home."
Vin looked at his watch. "What did I tell you, twenty-nine minutes with thirty seconds to spare. That boy loves living on the edge."
"Damien!" he raised his voice, "Get out here, immediately!"
Both men stood up and while they waited for the younger men's appearance, Vin looked pointedly at the waiting food.
Jim smiled, walked over and sat down. Reaching for a muffin, he cocked his head, tuning in to the conversation in the house. Looking at Vin, he said in a stage whisper, "Day is worried, he's asking Blair how long they were gone." Laughing, he added, “Blair says they were gone thirty-three minutes. I don't think you'd be too happy with what Day is saying."
Vin grinned, imagining the conversation and the excuses that his partner was going to come up with.
The back door opened slowly and a blond head peered out cautiously. A curly, darker head was just visible behind him, wanting to see what was going on and offer support, but also wanting to run if trouble was in the forecast.
Masking his face in serious lines of concern, Vin crossed his arms. Looking pointedly at his watch he tapped his foot.
Jim could hear a small “Uh oh,” from the doorway as Day came out onto the small patio. His face flashed a series of emotions, ending with a full-blown pout. "We're not late, Vin. It's only been thirty minutes."
Crooking his finger, the stern-faced man beckoned the younger one near.
"Blair," Jim called out, motioning for his own partner to quit hiding in the house and join them.
Day slowly and reluctantly walked towards his lover. Stopping just out of arm’s reach, he said again with conviction, "We are not late. You need to get your watch fixed if it says we're late because we aren't."
Blair watched Vin and Day out of the corner of his eye as he walked over to Jim and sat down.
Still not coming within Vin’s personal space, Day stayed safely on the perimeter, poised to run if necessary. Suddenly an arm snaked out and grabbed his upper arm. Before he could offer protest, explanation or plead for mercy, a resounding kiss covered his pouting lips. "I never said you were late, brat. I just missed you."
Laughing, Day playfully smacked the larger man’s shoulder. Wrapping his arms around the solid neck Day returned the favor. “Missed you, too.”
Jim pulled Blair down on his lap. Whispering softly in his ear, "Did you miss me, love?"
"Nah, not for a second."
Jim started to laugh, but was cut short by the capture of his own mouth.
Pulling back a few moments later, Blair smiled, smacking his lips for effect. "You taste like blueberries."
"Vin is making me eat."
Blair threw a grateful look towards Cade.
The brown eyes met his in acknowledgment. Blair nodded his appreciation.
During their on-going e-mail correspondence, Blair had learned a few things about Jim’s past. The constant attention Vin directed towards Ellison, the concern for his health and welfare were satisfying to realize. Everyone had someone, Blair thought, and I’m lucky I have Jim. It was satisfying to see that the past relationship the two men had was still strong and Vin would not hesitate in enforcing his own brand of retribution and guidance on those he felt needed it. Blair offered a silent prayer that he would not fall into that category.
Thirty pleasant minutes later, mutual agreement urged the four men towards the country.
"Look! There it is!" Day said excitedly, motioning out his back window at a white shape in the distance.
"There's what?" Blair asked, leaning over his back seat companion, "I don't see anything." Then a second later, he said, "Oh, wait. That white building? Is that Hell?"
Day laughed and said, "Yep, that's Hell. Trust me, it's a lot nicer than my old minister told me though."
Blair laughed and the two were off chatting and joking with each other again. There was a childlike ease between the two young men.
Jim exchanged smiles with Vin.
It’s good to see him so happy and alive, Jim thought, unlike those other young people. Catching himself falling into somber reflection, noting the concern that flashed his way from the driver, he fortified himself with the beautiful landscape. "You know, Vin, I will never figure out how you saw the house in the first place. What, it's got to be ten miles off the main road."
"I don't know either, to tell you the truth. I was just driving along, and I looked over and there it was." Vin glanced over and could understand what Jim was saying. Even now, even knowing what he was looking at and for, the house was not much more then a vague shape of white set against a field of green. Yet his memories of that day held the house bright and clear and beckoning in the green grassy distance.
"Oh well, who knows how he really found it." Day voiced in from the back, "His overly romantic story of seeing it rising out of the mist is probably more from his firm desire to be considered lord of the manor than the truth." Then laughing to take any sting out of the words, he added, "Knowing Vin, he hired some realtors and had them scouring the countryside looking for some little piece of property that he could rule over." The younger man leaned into the front seat and kissed the cheek of his lover who was trying not to smile, feigning a look of annoyance at the defamation of his character.
"Little boy, sit back and fasten your seat belt,” was the only comment.
From Blair’s seat behind Jim, he could clearly see the smile and the love on the other man's face. Day, for his part, didn't need to see it, Blair could tell by the matching expression on the young man’s face that he knew the abiding love was there.
The car pulled up to the gate twenty-five minutes later.
"Wow! What a great house," Blair said from the back seat.
"It was built around 1900 by some banker named, Ogden, who used it as a summer retreat." Vin pulled under a porte-cochere at the front of the house. As they got out and began to unload the luggage, Vin continued his history lesson. "The Ogden family sold the house in the 1950’s to another couple, but the man died a couple of years later and his widow lived here until about ‘86. She was old and really let it get run down. Then after standing empty for so long, it really got in bad shape, which made it even harder to sell. Plus, it's a big house and not that close to town."
With everyone pitching in, they were able to get everything out of the car. Walking to the front door and unlocking it, Vin opened it grandly and bowed at his guests with a smile, "Welcome to Halcyon Heights!" The pride and contentment etching his face brought laughter to the other three men.
Day moved past Vin with a smirk on his face. When he cleared target range, he yelled gaily, “Better known as Hell!”
“Daaaameeeeeiiin,” was the long-drawn out reproach.
Jim and Blair followed Vin up the main staircase to the upper floors. Day made a beeline for the kitchen.
"I wasn't sure what bedroom you would want. I was thinking of the front one with the fireplace. It has it's own bathroom. But, if you want the one that overlooks the gardens, that's fine, too."
"No, I like fireplaces,” Blair said eagerly, thoughts of romantic nights in mind.
“With the cost to heat this place, I’m sure a fireplace will come in handy. If the owner of this establishment fails to meet our needs, we’ll seek lodging elsewhere, Chief.”
"You know, James," Vin yelled over his shoulder as he pulled the drapes back to bid entrance to the bright sunlight, "I think that little comment jus earned you KP duty in getting lunch ready."
Jim laughed, "Why does that not surprise me?"
As they were putting their bags on the bed, Day appeared happily munching on a cookie and carrying several more. "Mrs. Tweedham just made these and they are great." He held out several cookies for any takers. Blair grabbed one.
"Day," Vin said, "while Jim and I get lunch, why don't you show Blair around and try to get him familiar with the house. Okay?" Then looking at his watch, he added, "No more cookies."
"Sure," he replied around a stuffed mouth, crumbs falling from his lips.
Blair nodded in agreement, curious to see and explore the house.
As the two would-be cooks disappeared down the stairs to the kitchen, Day looked at Blair, "So, let’s start up and work our way down?" he directed. Reaching into his back pocket he pulled out a stash of cookies wrapped in a napkin and divvied up the remaining treats.
"Sure, lead on," Blair said, biting into one of the offered cookies, "you're right these are great."
As the two men left the bedroom, Day took on a serious British accent as he began his tour. "Come, come, no stragglers please. If you get lost, I will hold the white paper napkin in the air, simply find the napkin and you will find me." He lectured in imitation of all the tour guides in London who carried brightly colored umbrellas for quick and easy tour group identification for lost tourists. Unable to keep up the act, they were soon laughing hysterically. Down in the kitchen Jim and Vin looked up towards the ceiling, then at each other. The boisterous pleasures from overhead put them in their own good cheer.
Walking the short ways to the end of the hall, Day opened the door to reveal a large room. “Not really sure what this room was used for but now we just use it for storage. Vin keeps some of his extra canvases up here; he paints down off the kitchen, in the old servants’ quarter. Which, judging by the space they had a bunch of, back in the proper days of the gentrified.” Day said with exaggerated propriety.
"There are the back stairs," Day said, pointing out a small hall with stairs running in both directions. "They will take you directly to the kitchen. The other ones go up to the attic."
Continuing down the hall, they passed the now occupied guestroom. Day showed Blair the other bedroom they could have stayed in, overlooking the terrace and gardens. Walking past the main staircase, to the other side of the house, Day opened up the door and gestured inside, explaining this was the master bedroom. The large room was warm and welcoming. The dark beige throw rugs on the hardwood floor, the king-size bed covered in a hound’s-tooth bedspread, made the room masculine, yet not overbearing.
Walking in, they went through another door and into the tower room. Day spoke with easy candor, "Vin doesn't believe in disciplining in the bedroom, unless there are no other options."
"Yeah, Jim is the same way."
“So of all places, this used to be the old nursery. Vin says it’s rather like poetic justice. He even had one of the contractors build that corner over there,” Day pointed to a small desk fashioned between two bookcases, jutting out considerably from the round room. “I keep a regular office for the gallery downstairs, but I have to work up here if I have lines to write or something. You’ll notice with the work station there are now two corners.”
Blair’s mouth dropped open. “You mean he built that just so you’d have a corner to stand in?”
“Yep, Vin doesn’t overlook a detail when my best interests are at stake.” Day could have said this with bitter sarcasm, but Blair could only hear pride and love in the explanation.
Proceeding down the main staircase, they came into the great hall that cut the house in half. The back, terraced gardens could be viewed as well as the porte-cochere through the front entrance. The high ceiling with exposed wooden beams gave old world grandeur to the house. Turning right, they passed a small bathroom that overlooked the front drive.
The lower tower room, under the nursery or Day’s discipline room, was a library. A large window looked out the front of the house and bookshelves lined all the walls. A beautiful antique desk was situated in front of the window.
The living room was next and Blair decided that this was his favorite room. Stepping down into the spacious area he moved towards the fireplace on the east wall. The mantel was a collector’s dream; small figurines of cats littered every available space. However, it was not clutter, but personality displayed, treasured items finding a place for viewing.
“What’s with the cats?” Blair asked.
“It’s sentimental,” Day said, blushing slightly. “I broke a crystal cat when Vin first brought me here. Everyone of those cats was a gift from Vin.” Day seemed a bit embarrassed, but he eagerly segued into a save. “Which reminds me, you’ve yet to meet Desi.”
With that said, he proceeded to walk swiftly down the main hall, yelling, “Desi! Desi girl!”
Blair stood down the step into the living room and watched his friend calling the strange girl’s name. Until he saw Vin approaching from the other end, hands on hips, a stern look upon his face. “Hell, Day, do you have to yell like that. The damn cat’s probably outside.”
Blair took one look back at the crystal, China and papier-mâché collection of cats and understood completely. Racing after his friend, he knew he had a lot to learn about his young friend and Vincent Cade.
The first day at Halcyon Heights was relaxing. After lunch, Day grabbed Blair’s arm and with the excuse of finding Desi, they headed off towards the terraced gardens and beyond. Jim and Vin cleaned up the kitchen and a barbeque was decided on for dinner.
Vin had office work to attend to and Jim decided to lounge on the terrace with a book, which quickly turned into a nap in the warm sun.
The brats were eager to explore, but more importantly set about their plans for ring hunting. The gazebo, old and in disrepair, made a fine clubhouse of sorts. Damien sat on the wooden bench, a sketch of the gardens and where he had been that day marked on his lap. Blair sat on the railing, swinging his legs nearby, offering commentary when necessary.
“Day, so where exactly did you go? Where were you when you noticed it was gone?” Then pausing, looking back toward the house over the wide expanse of grass and gardens, he sighed. “Chances of you finding something now are pretty slim.”
“I’m not giving up, Blair. I need to find that ring. But – we can’t tell Vin or Jim. He will kill me. I’ve told him I think there’s buried treasure in the lawn and that’s why I’ve been spending so much time out here. He feels I’m being foolish and told me to stop. Right now, with him here, I’ve no choice but to obey. I know I may never find it, but I’ve got to look. I’ll hate myself if I don’t find it.”
“Day, that does remind me of something I was going to ask you?” Blair sounded hesitant.
“Sure, Blair, ask away,” Damien encouraged.
“Well, it’s not really my business, but Vin just seems like such a hard ass. I mean, Jim doesn’t get on me the way Vin does you, about every little thing. I know I couldn’t take that and I’m certainly glad Jim isn’t that hard with me.” Blair sighed, reflecting his appreciation of having Jim Ellison for a lover.
Damien St. Claire looked up at his new friend, anger passed quickly over his features, but then he pursed his lips and seemed to consider the source. “Blair, you’re new at this discipline thing. I know that, but you’re right - it really isn’t any of your business.”
Blushing, Blair mumbled “Sorry.”
Day smiled and continued without anger, “Vin and I have exactly the kind of relationship I need and he feels I need and I’ve never been happier. But, you know, it’s more than that,” he paused as if searching for the right words to say what he was feeling, “I’ve never felt more loved, more cared for, more cherished and more in control of my own life.”
Seeing Blair’s quizzical expression, Day laughed. “Yes, control.” Smiling, at the past, he continued, “You see, when I first came here--- to England and when I found Vin---I had a chip on my shoulder bigger than all of the UK. I was testing waters right and left, I was fighting against everything and anything I could. I had even experimented in some pretty heavy D/s scenes, I even looked at getting into a Master/slave relationship. I needed something, someone, to give me balance in life, set up guidelines. I needed rules and structure, clear and solid consequences that I couldn’t fight my way out of.”
Sandburg laughed, “Yea, I know about guidelines, Jim’s pretty good at setting up rules, regulations and guidelines.”
“I’m sure he is and I can see you’re benefiting from them, but with Vin and me it’s still different. I don’t usually get warnings. I break a rule, I’m face down over his knee, bare-bottomed being spanked. Not to mention the hour in the corner for reflection. That’s just what I need though. I need him to be strict with me, not give me any leeway or room to maneuver. If Vin warned me, he’d be warning me all day, because I always push the envelope. It’s just me.” He shrugged his shoulders as if those last three words explained the essence of everything. “ It took us a little time to get everything in balance, between what I think I need and what he knew I needed. But, now, ” he said with a smile, glancing back at the house, “we are good. Things are as they should be and we are both really happy. So, with all due respect, Blair, don’t draw any conclusions about Vincent until you get to know him and, yes, me, a little better.”
Blair nodded, pushing his hair back behind his ear, “I’m sorry. I guess I don’t understand a lot of things.”
“But you will,” Day winked at him. “I bet you and Jim are still struggling between finding that perfect balance. It takes time. Vin and I worked on it for a couple years and we still are fine-tuning it. It’s a big change for most people. Hell, it was for me. It’s hard allowing someone else to take control over you and your life. It’s hard letting someone else tell you what to do and then allow them to punish you if you don’t.” He stopped and studied his friend. “You and Jim have been doing this for how long now?”
“Five months, we started in March. I have to decide next month if I want to continue this relationship.” Blair said softly.
“What are you going to decide?” Day asked gently. “You seem to be happy.”
“Yeah …. “ Blair said, his voice trailing off, “Just certain things bother me.”
“Like what? The rules you guys have?”
“No, not so much the particular rules just … ummm… I don’t know, just the whole he-controlling-my-life thing. This summer was hard in the beginning, I was being stubborn but then it just sort of clicked and felt so … so right.”
Day smiled, “I know, Blair, I know what you mean. But, I think that if it feels right, then if you stop fighting it and just accept your relationship, things all fall into place. It’s when you are fighting and struggling that they don’t seem to fit and it makes it hard.
Just then a small furry object plopped down on Day’s lap. Blair jumped off the railing, but Damien St. Claire merely grabbed the creature and hugged it. “Desi, Desdemona, sweet little girl,” raising the tabby up to show Blair, he continued, “Desi, meet Blair Sandburg, Blair, my Desi.” Blair saw the look of love in the hazel eyes as Day stroked the small cat. His friend had a soft spot for helpless creatures, and no doubt about it, Vincent Cade had an even greater soft spot for wayward brats.
As they started back up toward the house, Day playfully bumped Blair in the shoulder, “Trust me on this one buddy, just go with it and life suddenly fits into place.”
The next several days went by in easy camaraderie. Every day a new sight was visited. Salisbury Cathedral left them in awe and Vincent noticed how silent and reflective Jim had become. Vincent gauged his friend quietly from the sidelines, not making comments, just private observations on the general mood of the detective.
That evening over dinner on Sunday, Blair made a small comment about Jim’s lack of appetite. The detective came back with a harsh answer that was totally uncalled for. Day broke the tension with a slight joke and soon the meal resumed in basic good cheer.
Stonehenge was uneventful, except the two brats were becoming a bit boisterous. A firm command from Vin to Day and an equally less tolerant comment from Jim to Blair brought them both back in line in record time.
It wasn’t until they walked the rolling plains for Sarum, the old site of Salisbury, Monday afternoon that Vin noticed the first major signs of Jim’s distress. Blair and Day had run up and down the hills trying to get a proper view of the surrounding countryside from the different mounds. Vin and Jim, who were following a little further back, didn’t know what they were doing. But several times they became overly eager in their discussions. Day pushed Blair in a heated debate, no doubt more in jest than in actual anger, but Jim had bolted toward them, grabbed the blond giving him a sharp shake in the process.
“Keep your hands off of him,” Jim ground out.
“Hey, man, what’s up, Jim? We were fooling around,” Blair broke the contact by pulling Jim’s hand off of the shocked young man.
“I don’t want anyone laying a hand on you,” Jim continued to stare into the confused hazel eyes. Blair edged his way between the two men and faced Jim.
“What the hell’s the matter with you? Where is all this coming from, Jim?” Blair looked frightened and if Jim had been himself, he would have listened to the rising heartbeat of his friend and Damien, he would also have heard the angry steps coming from behind.
“Enough!” The loud command brought everyone up and about in time to see Vincent Cade fast approaching. Jim’s face hardened as though fighting some unknown enemy even he could not recognize.
Thumbing the two younger men aside, Vin waited until they got the hint and walked side by side up another hill overlooking the ruins. Vin waited until they were out of earshot, but he held Ellison’s glare with an equally powerful one of his own.
“I’ve suspected as much,” Vin began. “Blair voiced concerns to Damien along the way about how this case was eating you up and how you were disrespectful to him, your relationship, and any efforts to help you. Even Simon Banks had talked to Blair about the possibility that this time you needed professional help.”
Jim shook his head in shock and disbelief. “Thanks, that’s good to know that your lover and best friend are scheming behind your back to have you committed,” and with that, he started to turn and walk away.
The other man was not to be put off that easily, reaching out, he easily snagged Jim's arm and pulled him close. “Liiittttle booooooy.” Vin had a way of dragging the phrase out that for all it’s soft, mesmerizing inflections, it held far more threat than any loud command. “Tell me what that was all about.”
Jim shook his head, “It’s nothing, I can deal with it. Let’s just drop it.”
“Ha! I don’t think so. We are not going to drop it. You won’t talk to me about it, you insist on keeping it all closed up inside, eating away at you, instead of discussing it and letting it out so it can heal. Well, I know how to make you very open on the subject of communication. This weekend, you and I take a trip to London, alone.” The simple itinerary for the coming weekend was relayed like a tour, pleasantly, quietly, and with all the finality of directing an execution.
Jim started to speak, but Vin held up his hand, “You were given all the opportunity to talk, now we do it my way.”
Jim looked back up at the hill where Day and Blair were pretending to view the scenery. From the conversation Jim picked up, it was more a conversation about his health and well-being that had Blair clearly upset.
Looking back at Vin, Jim nodded his head, knowing full well what was in store for him and the necessity of such action. Indeed, if asked at that moment, Jim would have admitted he felt a strange relief to be back in the old, familiar hands of Vincent Cade.
That night after a delicious dinner, the warm autumn night was littered with stars. Blair and Damien both went out of their way to be cordial and in good cheer throughout the meal, but Jim could tell it was straining and tiring, like walking on ice, careful of every step.
“Vin, do you mind if I forego the evening gathering in the living room?” It had become customary since their arrival to meet every night in the huge living room, for quiet discussions, catching up on their lives and an occasional parlor game of cards or board games.
“No, of course not,” the older man watched his friend as he pulled Blair up by the arm and whispered in his ear.
Whatever the suggestion, Blair seemed surprised, then pleased. He flashed a huge grin at Vincent and ran out of the room.
“Blair’s getting a jacket, he’s always cold. We’re going to enjoy some of this beautiful night.”
Damien winked at Vincent and Vincent nodded at Jim, “I understand completely. Don’t stay out too late. This old place might be drafty, but when that mist settles on the hills, it gets pretty chilly out and I’m sure you’ll find your room a welcome retreat. I’ll see the fire’s lit in it before I turn in.”
Jim smiled gratefully, then turned. Stopping before he left the dining room, he came back the few steps to put him in front of Damien.
The blond young man stood stock-still. He never once looked for Vin and Jim’s respect for the man increased. Damien St. Claire could hold his own any day in battle.
“I’m sorry, Damien. I owe you an apology about this afternoon. I wish I knew….” he paused, unsure of himself, “I wish I could…I wish it never happened. It never should have.”
Extending one hand to place on Jim’s shoulder, the other sought his hand. A quick shake, a smile that held only friendship, and Damien didn’t even need to utter one word. Ellison nodded and turned to look at Vincent. “Either you’ve chosen the best, Vin, or you’re one man who can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”
Vincent let out a laugh that resounded in the paneled dining room. Damien huffed and puffed, but barely suppressed a laugh of his own. Jim Ellison went out into the night to mend some bridges to his soul.
Blair jammed a sharp elbow into Ellison’s side and was pleased with the “Ow” it earned.
“I would have been like so pissed at you, man,” Blair said, only half jokingly.
“I apologized to Damien, Chief. I was wrong and I have no excuses. I know I haven’t been the easiest person to get along with lately, but it’s going to be all right. Vin and I…well, Vin and I will be going to London this weekend,” Jim said.
Rising up on his elbow, Blair slid off of his lover, turning to lie forward on his chest. Looking up with big, soulful blue eyes, he said, “Day is going to be really upset, we had some plans for this weekend, exploring around here.”
“No, Blair, Vin and I are going to London, alone.”
“Why?” Blair asked, saying the first thing that popped into his head.
“I’ve got some stuff built up inside that I can't deal with. Even as much as I want to talk to you or Vin about it, I can't. I can't get it into words what I'm feeling. I'm off balance, feeling out of control. Vin knows how to bring me back in line.”
“Oh,” Blair said, remembering a conversation with Day on the phone several months ago and his friend’s inadvertent revelation about Vin’s relationship with Jim.
Looking down at him suspiciously, Jim heard the increased heart rate. “It's a good thing, Chief. I know to you right now, it might not make the most sense, but I think in time you'll understand. Things need to happen and they will, there’s no sense in questioning them. Which brings me to another point. I accidentally overheard your conversation with Damien about his relationship with Cade.”
“Oh, man, I forgot about you. I didn’t mean anything by it, Jim, I only wondered about it and I wanted to make sure he was okay with it.” Blair snuggled into Jim, causing the larger man to wrap his arms more tightly around him.
“It’s all right, I’m sure we can both be grateful for Damien’s tolerance and self-assurance, at least so far. He can get defensive, too, you know. Damien needs a firm hand to keep him in line. I remember when I first came here and realized what type of relationship they had, they were so happy together and Day was at such peace with things. I really envied him that, it was something I had not felt in years. Just don’t make waves, Chief, in places you don’t know your way around.”
“Well,” Blair said, not getting upset with the censure, too eager to take it in another direction, “why don’t you show me some of the sights.” Then with eager lips, he kissed the firm mouth of the man he loved more than life itself.
The next day, Tuesday, it rained. Day and Blair went into Salisbury early in the morning. Vin had supplied him with a grocery list and Damien said there was something he needed to get in town. The brats off on their mission, Jim and Vin decided to spend the day cleaning out the large attic. It really wasn’t something that needed to be done precisely at this time, but Vin decided that Jim needed a chore to do, to help keep his mind off the coming weekend and to help him relax again in an old routine.
Vin suggested that a night out in town at one of the local pubs might just be the thing to add that extra British flavor to their friend’s vacation.
Jim sat before a huge box of books, albums, and memorabilia from Vincent’s army days. “Hey, Vin, do you remember this?” Jim held up a photo of the two men in Washington, D.C. in front of the Lincoln Memorial. “It was just before I shipped off to Peru. You had just given up your commission. You were leaving for England.”
“Yeah, I’m amazed how it all worked out,” the brown eyes reflected memories. “If I hadn’t of come here, I never would have met Day. Two Americans who never would have connected if it weren’t for coming across an ocean.”
“Does he know about what you did in the army?” Jim asked cautiously.
“NO!” came the sharp answer. Vin looked at him for a long moment. “He doesn’t need to know that, not now and not ever. It’s history and that’s where I want it to stay…buried.”
“You know he won’t hear it from me.”
Vin sighed, “I know, Jim, I trust you. Sorry, I just love him so much. He’s put a lot of things behind me, he doesn’t even realize. He thinks I’ve saved him, brought him out of some kind of darkness into the light. Maybe I have if I’ve saved him from a life of silent screaming. That’s what he said he was good at, silent screaming. Protesting things that he raged against, but not really becoming involved, only show. I keep him in line now, that’s for sure. I know Blair thinks I’m harsh, but Day needs it and he’ll be the first to agree.”
“No, Blair’s just new to all of this. He’s still got some serious thinking to do himself. Our six-month trial is up next month. It’ll be interesting to see what he decides.”
As Jim talked, he kept rummaging through the box. Lifting an item, he blushed crimson. Vin caught the cessation of conversation and turned from his own task. Jim held an oak paddle in his hands.
“Good thing we cleaned. I’d forgotten where I’d put that thing. Bring it to London,” Vin said it so simply, as though it were common everyday things.
“I remember now how much this thing stings. I’m surprised you don’t use it on Day,” Jim said rubbing his hand over it, sorry he ever found the damn thing.
“Oh don't worry, Mr. St. Claire has several of his own. We’ve been meaning to head out and buy a new one. There’s one with a slight crack in it, need I explain from all the use it gets,” Vin said, laughingly. “If you like, you might want to bring Blair and we can make a purchase together. Might put Blair at ease. God knows, Day’s an old pro at having paddles made for him.”
“I don’t know, Vin, I don’t think Blair’s ready for that kind of purchase, yet,” Jim hesitated, still concerned about whether Sandburg would agree to continue the relationship.
"What are you guys using now?" Vin asked.
"I bought a wooden hairbrush the first time and we use that for the serious stuff and I spank him for the less serious offenses."
“Well, let me know if you change your mind. Damien and I are due a trip. The craftsman’s in Bath and we could make a day trip of it before you leave back for the States.”
“Unless he does something really stupid, I don’t think now’s the time,” Jim concluded, hopeful and ignorant of the future.
Stopping off at the small post office, the brats had retrieved the metal detector. The awkward box was placed carefully in Day’s jeep, a seriously old vehicle with probably true war experience, but Day looked at her as if she were a classic. There were things to Day’s soul, Blair was beginning to realize, that touched on sentiment and loyalty and a deep caring for things. He projected no affectations, but in all the small gestures of his heart, he showed class. Blair was proud to have met him.
“Okay, here’s the plan. I found out from Vin that he and Jim are going back to London for the weekend. I think your Mr. Ellison is in for some time across Vin’s knee. Remember that I told you that Jim was here about three years ago---I guess right before he met you. I swear that one week, it was either me or Jim lying across Vin's lap getting our butts beaten.” Day laughed as he forced the large package snuggly up against the back of the front seats.
Locking the door, he pulled a list from his back pocket. “Okay, some serious grocery shopping.”
Blair’s eager eyes took in the small town shops. Most were tourist attraction type shops with souvenirs of Stonehenge and the Salisbury Cathedral. The Bull’s Head Tavern was on the corner of Twingate and Towes Road. “That’s where we’ll be having dinner this evening. Great steaks and the best place for a pint in all of England, if you ask me.”
“I’ve always wanted to go to a genuine English pub,” Blair commented, following his energetic friend along.
“Well, if you’re up for a dart game, I can take you hands down,” Day stated, seriously. “I’m the best in town. I even beat Vin and he used to be some kind of school champion back in his college days.”
“I think I know my way around a dart board,” Blair said, giving Damien a conspiratorial smile. “How about we make it serious. You up for a little bet.”
“Sure, if you don’t mind losing, I don’t mind getting richer.”
A “humph” was the only reply as both shoppers entered the market.
Dinner was a relaxed affair. The pub was alive mid-week with tourists as well as locals. The guys had managed to secure a table in the far corner. It was far enough away from the fireplace where all the tourists seemed bent on milling around.
As soon as the plates were taken away, another round of pints was ordered. The two younger men jumped up eagerly and took off for the back room where a dart board and other games were set up to distract the locals.
“Vin, you’ve really got it made here,” Jim said, easing back in his chair now that they were alone. “I guess I always wondered why you decided to settle in England, but this place makes me wonder why I don’t chuck it all and move over here myself.”
“Too many memories back home, too many men’s families I’d just as soon not run into. It suits me here. Halcyon was the final pull. Once I saw that place, I just knew I was home.”
“You haven’t even visited in over ten years. Don’t you think Day might be right? You could come over for a few weeks or a few months,” Jim said with a smile, "maybe try some American landscapes. I’d like to introduce you to Simon Banks. You two have a very similar threshold for tolerance,” Jim laughed, raising his mug in a mock salute to men of little patience.
The throaty laugh of Vincent Cade was warm and musty from the beer. It was the laugh of a man still not sure it was acceptable in him.
“Day says I need to loosen up more. He says I walk around with a stick stuck up my butt most times. That boy has a way of putting images in your head about yourself and they’re not always good ones.” Vincent almost drained his mug after that admission.
"You picked a good one there, my friend. He is an amazing person."
Vin smiled, "He is. He is a contradiction; he has a good head on his shoulders and is smart, but too many people would or have overlooked it because he needs a firm hand and a tight leash to keep him in line. I can't imagine life without him." Vin smiled and glanced over his shoulder to make sure that their partners were not coming back. "You've got a really special young man yourself. He's smart as a whip but not stuck up or conceited. Seems to be a very genuinely warm and loving person.”
“That he is,” Jim said with a smile. “He blows me away sometimes with how much he knows, but he would never dream of making anyone feel less because of it."
“Have the two of you settled down into a good routine yet? He seems to be bucking your discipline some,” Vin observed.
"Yeah, some I think. He's a tough one. I don't want to break his spirit, and I'm afraid that if I'm too harsh or push him that's exactly what will happen. Blair's too special to risk doing that to. We are still working on it. Hell," Jim said, taking a big swig of his beer, "I don't know if he will even agree to do this full time."
"I think he wants to, Jim, I think he needs to, just don't know if he's aware of it."
Just then the two young men returned to the table, cutting off whatever Vin was going to say next.
Day’s face was flushed and Blair seemed upset. “Come on, Vin, let’s go. I’m tired,” Damien said, placing a hand on Vincent’s arm, as he sat down.
“Don’t be rude, little boy, it’s not about what you want tonight,” Cade glared at his brat who had slumped rudely down. One look and Day straightened, grudgingly.
“I’m kind of tired myself,” Blair said, joining in with his request for an early evening.
Jim and Vincent exchanged quizzical glances. Jim shook his head to confirm he wasn’t listening to what was going on in the other room and he was as much at a loss as Vin to the change about in their moods.
Neither man pushed, deciding that it was a squabble the young men could handle on their own.
The next day, the brats had seemed to start fresh. Whatever fight had caused the early cessation to the evening’s entertainment was put aside. Damien and Blair made breakfast in the kitchen, each taking a tray upstairs for their lover.
Blair knelt on the bed looking down at Jim. Watching the tired detective relaxed and youthfully innocent in his sleep, made Blair’s heart ache with the certainty of his love.
Planting a firm kiss on Jim’s mouth, he brought the man into the daylight. “Chief, that is not the way to get me out of bed,” Jim moaned greedily, pulling the young anthropologist on top of him, pinning him to his chest. The rising desire was proof of his effect on this man.
“No, Jim, breakfast. Then if you’re a good boy, I’ll see about joining you in bed again.” Blair pulled away and placed the breakfast tray across Ellison’s lap as he scooted up and leaned against the headboard.
“Vin will expect me down for breakfast,” Jim said regretfully.
“Nope. Day’s waking him much the same way right now.” Blair grinned lasciviously, “probably keep him in bed for at least another hour.”
Cocking his head exaggeratedly towards the outer hallway, Jim smiled and nodded. Sandburg took his pillow off the bed and swatted Jim playfully on the head. “I thought you were only supposed to use your talents for good. Isn’t that like so unethical in the superhero manual.”
“When you start teaching a course, Sandburg, I’ll read the manual. Right now I’m pretty much making up the rules as I go along.”
Blair sat cross-legged on the bed watching as Jim ate his breakfast. His appetite, though not completely back, had improved some. Once Vincent laid down the law, Jim seemed a bit more careful about following them.
“Come on, Jim, just one more slice of bacon and finish the toast,” Blair still wanted a clean plate.
“Chief, knock off the mother-hen routine. I’ve got enough with Cade breathing down my neck,” Jim said irritably.
“I’m just trying to put some weight back on you. You lost quite a bit the last few weeks. The country air has given me an appetite. I just want to see you eat with your usual gusto.”
Jim put the tray on the floor and pulled Blair back down on top of him, nuzzling his ear. “I can show you gusto, Chief, if it’s gusto you want.”
Pushing off of Jim, Blair sat back crossing his arms over his chest, playfully teasing. “You eat the rest of your bacon and toast, you’ll get me.”
Ellison reddened, pushing the covers back he stood beside the bed, his hands on his hips, dressed only in his boxers. “So now sexual blackmail. Any other devious little tricks you have in mind, Sandburg.”
Blair’s mouth dropped open. Jim was not joking. He was raging. “GET OUT! Let me take my shower in peace,” he yelled. Totally uncalled for, but quite sincere. Blair jumped off the bed, grabbed the breakfast tray on the floor and opened the door.
Vincent Cade stood in the hall just outside the door carrying his tray back to the kitchen. No doubt in Blair’s mind that he had heard the outburst. Closing the door, feeling protective of Jim, he shrugged his shoulders. “Morning doesn’t seem to become Jim right now. Must be the bacon, all those sulfates,” he said adding humor to the situation.
Vin raised an eyebrow but simply followed Blair to the kitchen.
After they unloaded their trays, Blair started to beat a hastily embarrassed retreat to the back gardens.
“Blair,” Vin called out, halting the younger man, “hold on and I’ll join you.”
He turned and looked at his host. “Isn’t Day going to be expecting you back in bed?”
Vin gave him what on anyone else would be a smug smile, “No, he’s asleep and won’t be up for an hour or so. We have time to talk.”
“Oh, okay,” Blair said, less than thrilled about the prospect.
Vin smiled again, ignoring the wary attitude, “Come on out to the terrace so we can talk,” he said, handing Blair a glass of juice.
After they were seated, Vin wasted no time in small talk. “How long has he been this on- edge, Blair?”
Blair took a long sip of his juice, avoiding the question----wanting to protect his lover yet wanting him to also get help. “Umm – we had this bad case that started in August and finished two weeks before we got here. Jim was running pretty ragged after the second body was found.” He stopped, remembering the haunted look in his lover’s eyes.
“How long did this go on? How many people were killed?”
Blair swallowed and glanced down into his juice. “Over a month and he killed 15 people.” He paused again and Vin did not interrupt. “It really bothered him, he wasn’t sleeping or eating and wouldn’t let me or Simon or anyone else help him,” the pain that he was not able to help his lover evident in his voice. “He wouldn’t let me help him, Vin. I tried, I really did.”
“I’m sure you did, son. It’s not your fault. Jim’s always been like that, or at least as long as I’ve known him. Sometimes you simply don’t give him the choice, you yank the control from him.”
Blair stared off into the distance, looking at the river and the rolling grounds before mumbling and shaking his head, “I’m not that strong. Maybe before, but not now.”
Vin looked at the younger man, puzzled by the comment but he did not say anything.
It was over lunch on the terrace that Cade voiced his plans. “Jim and I will be leaving for London in the morning.”
“I thought we were going Saturday, tomorrow’s Thursday,” Jim said, a bit confused and very much unsettled.
“I just feel we need this trip a little sooner than expected,” he helped himself to a sandwich and a large helping of potato salad from the local deli.
Watching Jim’s face crease in concern, he saw him push away his plate, no longer interested in food. Cade reached over quite nonchalantly pulled the plate toward him. Putting two sandwich halves on it and a scoop of salad before pushing it back to the other man. A quick look at Jim’s stubborn grimace, a raised eyebrow of warning, and Ellison soon began eating.
Blair watched the exchange, feeling a bit uncomfortable. The image of this man punishing Jim didn’t set well with him. No more than he could come to grips completely with the relationship he had with Damien. Not realizing he was staring, his mouth drooping in quiet wonder, he felt a sharp kick to his shins.
Day’s head, lowered to his plate, attention given to his sandwich, looked up with hazel eyes and a quick shake to his head. In Day’s mind, things were looking up. More time for exploration, digging around and a better chance of finding the missing ring. Blair nodded quickly, understanding the need to be discreet, but still not quite happy with the proceedings.
It wasn’t until evening misted over the landscape, that the chill of the night brought out the heat of debate. It started out peacefully enough. Jim sat on one huge winged back chair, Sandburg sitting in his lap, resting his head on his shoulder.
Damien was lying on the sofa with his head in Vin’s lap, as the older man stroked his hair. “How long do you think you’ll be in London?” Day fished for exact timing.
“Oh, I think Jim and I should conclude our business by Saturday, Sunday at the latest. It all depends,” Vin cast a look at Jim.
The blue eyes darkened with pain, “Yeah, a few days,” Ellison said, realizing how much he needed Vincent and the time they would spend together. He knew once the stronger, wiser man had him properly positioned, he would extract more information, instill more painful realizations, and start the healing faster than any session with a shrink could ever do. Vincent’s technique worked wonders on the memory and the soul---at least for him.
Blair raised his head and looked into his lover’s eyes. “Jim, maybe you shouldn’t go. I mean, you don’t have to. This is supposed to be a vacation. We could walk every day over the hills, maybe even take a picnic basket and eat down by the river.”
“Shhhh,” Jim said softly, placing a finger over Blair’s lips and stilling the avoidance he recognized. “It’s all right, Blair. It’s okay. I’m fine with it and I want to go.”
Blair threw a scathing look at Vin, hostile in the knowledge of what was to transpire. Day caught the look and bristled, “Vin knows what he’s doing,” he murmured but was quickly hushed by Vin.
“Does he?” Blair asked. “Ow!” a sharp swat to his rear made him look hurtfully at Jim.
“Don’t be disrespectful.”
“Well, does he, Jim? Does he really?”
“I think it’s up to Jim to decide that, little boy, not you,” Cade said quietly.
“I’m not a little boy. I’m a man. Jim treats me like a man,” Blair said haughtily. Then seeing Day’s expression, he amended, “well, most times.”
“You’re always a man, Blair, you just get treated like a child when you act like one. Don’t you think you’re acting like one now?” Jim narrowed his eyes, pinning Blair with an icy blue stare.
“I’m sorry,” he laid his head on Jim’s shoulder, not wanting to fight this last night together. “I just love you, man. I love you so much.”
“I know. I do know that, Blair.”
“Hey, how’s about a game of Trivial Pursuit,” Day raised himself up, eager to bring some fun back into their lives.
“Sounds good to me,” Jim said, tickling Blair, “and I know Blair loves to play.” Within moments the laughing younger man was nodding his head furiously trying to escape the torture and also the painful thoughts.
Vin smiled at Jim, watching the play between the two men. Ellison pushed Blair up and landed a firm swat on his rear. He grinned at Vincent nodding his head in a mutual concurrence that all was really well or soon would be.
The game started out by the rules, nice and even and moving right along. An hour later, the mood had shifted. Jim and Vincent were winning. Both of their pieces were filled and about to start the way up the centerline and they were gently teasing the two younger men. Blair was missing two triangles and Day was missing three.
“Come on, Professor,” Vin said with a laugh as he replaced the card that they had just missed. “It doesn’t get much easier than this. What name did Vincent Van Gogh sign to his paintings?”
Jim laughed as Blair blushed. “You couldn’t come up with ‘Vin?’”
Blair laughed and shook his head, “Don’t worry, Day and I are just planning a big come from behind rally. Aren’t we?” he asked his friend, nudging him.
Day didn’t answer and only gave a small, faint smile.
Blair gave his partner a strange look, unsure about this competitive side of his new friend. He had seen it last night at the dartboard. Damien had been confident and happy when they started, but once Blair started winning he had become withdrawn and upset. Several times Blair had heard him chastising himself. Blair had let it go by morning, thinking it was just a strain of having guests in your home and wanting to impress a new friend, but now he realized Day placed a lot of his self-worth on winning.
“Day!” Vin said sharply as he noticed the other man’s withdrawn attitude. “What have I told you about winning all the time?” Vincent pinned the young blond man with his brown eyes.
“You guys are getting all the easy ones. It’s not fair, I’m getting all the hard ones and you’re making fun of me. I’m just getting upset, that’s all,” he tried to explain.
“Well, don’t.” The simple statement made him bristle all the more. “No one is making fun of you, it’s a game and we’ve talked about the importance of lack of importance in winning. Haven’t we?”
Several minutes later, he picked up the dice and rolled, landing the piece on History.
Vin pulled the card and read the question, “Who was Paul Revere’s wife?”
“Bullshit!” Damien yelled out, rising from his chair. “No way are you going to tell me you aren’t giving me all the hard ones!”
“Damien ….” It came out slowly, silkily, and threateningly.
“NO! It’s NOT fair! I am not as stupid as you are making me seem!”
“Day, no one thinks you’re stupid, it’s just a dumb game,” Blair burst out disbelievingly.
Day’s response was a sweeping hand over the game board, pieces flying in different directions, the cards joining them on the hard wood floor.
The next several seconds were basically a blur to Blair. Day was standing there one moment looking outraged, his hands on his hips in self-righteous anger. The next moment Vincent had Day’s butt facing Blair as the blond young man was draped over the large shoulder.
“If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I need a word with Damien. Don’t clean up the room, he’ll be more than happy to do so in a short while. Also he’ll be coming to your room later this evening to apologize.” With that statement, Vin turned around and strode purposefully up the small step and out into the hallway heading for the staircase. Blair watched as Damien still raged, trying to grab hold of Vin’s belt and right himself.
As large as the house was, Blair could hear the loud, resounding swats of a wooden paddle on bare flesh, several minutes later, the reverberating cries that echoed each smack and the argument that was still ensuing. By time they reached their bedroom, the arguments were more pathetic with more pleadings intermingled. Jim shook his head as they closed the door. He walked over to the fireplace and turned on the gas logs.
“Don’t feel badly, Blair, he brought this upon himself.”
“I just don’t know what got into him. He was like this last night with the darts. I mean, just because I was winning, he got all upset with himself and really down.” Blair stood in the middle of the room, looking towards the door, still hearing the vague cries of distress.
Jim walked over to him, put his arm around his waist from behind and drew Blair back to the large lounge chair by the fire. Sitting down he pulled his lover onto his lap. “Vin loves him. Damien feels he has to win, has to be the best to be worthy of Vincent sometimes. It’s something they’re working on, but Day just needs to be reminded every so often.”
Blair lay his head back, “I don’t like you going tomorrow, Jim. I don’t like the idea of him hurting you. It sounds like Day is hurting.”
“Chief, he’s not going to be hurting, he’s going to be helping me, like he’s doing with Day. Yeah, there is going to be some discomfort – maybe even pain – involved but it’s okay. I never believed in discipline myself until after Peru. When I came here to spend some time with Vincent and Damien, I had no idea what type of relationship they were in. I was confused and lost, I was hurting and turning those feelings back on myself. I was unsettled, angry at the world and felt guilty as anything over loosing my men. I was so jealous of their relationship and wanted it so badly, wanted that peace that Day seemed to have but I had no idea how to get it. It wasn’t until I walked in one day to see Damien over Vin’s knee being punished that I realized what was going on.” He kissed Blair on top of the head, reassuring himself as well as his partner that everything was fine.
“When Vincent saw me, he motioned me out, not wanting to embarrass Day. However, we talked about it and he wanted to try it with me. Said I had to agree, but he thought it would help me come out of myself, break down emotionally and talk to him about what was really bothering me. Well, Chief, I talked and I cried and I talked some more and it worked like I don’t think anything else would have. I’m not saying it was always pleasant and didn’t hurt. It was probably one of the most painful---both physical and emotional---things I’ve ever done. He was disciplining me, harshly and firmly, but I knew I was also loved and cared for. It was a good feeling. After being responsible for eight men’s lives, it was good to give up that responsibility to Vincent Cade. I’m perfectly willing to do that again, Chief…perfectly willing.”
They sat there for over an hour, watching the flames dance in the fire, the cozy warmth expelling all their fears. A soft knock on the door and when beckoned in, Damien opened the door. Vincent could be seen standing out in the hallway, arms folded across his chest, watching the proceedings.
”Jim, Blair, I’m sorry for the way I behaved this evening. I hope you can forgive me,” the red eyes could barely meet their gaze.
“Of course,” Jim said. He nudged Blair. “Yeah, sure, Day. No problem, man. We all get carried away sometimes playing games.”
Damien sniffled pathetically, wiped at his eyes, then unconsciously brought a hand back to rub his butt. “Thanks,” he muttered and turned, not leaving the room until Vincent nodded his head.
“Manners, little boy,” Vincent still demanded more.
Damien turned, “Good night, Jim. Good night, Blair.” Then he left, no doubt to proceed downstairs and clean up the board game.
“Let’s get to bed. I want to hold you close. I’ll miss you until Sunday.”
Then with eager fingers, they undressed each other and climbed beneath the covers. The weekend would be long and eventful for both men.
Jim and Vin left early. After a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast in the breakfast room, the four men proceeded out to the front drive and amid warnings, threats and hugs they parted company.
Damien was in an unusual mood. Sullen and quiet, he practically hung on Vincent when it came time to leave. No doubt in Blair’s mind that the brat had been in a sulk since the board game last night, too caught up with his own internal struggles to pay much attention to anything else. Now when the object of his love was leaving for three days, he was remorsefully seeking to make up for it in a matter of minutes.
Vincent pulled him off to the side as Jim and Blair had private words between themselves. Blair caught a slight smack to the blonde’s bottom for some uncalled for comment, but in the final moments Vin trapped the face of his lover and planted a resounding kiss to his lips.
“Behave, Demon,” he growled out in warning, as he moved towards the driver’s side. Jim took his cue, kissed Blair one last time and slid into the passenger seat.
Rolling the window down, Jim added, “You, too,” as a final reminder to Blair.
As the black sedan moved out towards the long driveway, the young men waved, solemnly.
“Well, we have at least two full days to go over every inch of the yard. You game?” Day asked his friend.
“As long as we stay out of trouble. Let’s start with the gardens and pray we find it. The lawn’s going to take the longest. ” Blair said, already taking charge.
“Righto, my friend,” Day seemed in a cheery mood now that he had a purpose to life.
“You know they’re up to something, don’t you?” Vincent asked casually as he peered into the rearview mirror.
“Yeah, I heard them planning every chance they got. I think Day wants to go treasure hunting.”
“Damn it, I’ve talked myself blue in the face, but I should have known Day only hears what he wants to hear,” Vin took the turn a bit too sharply as he accelerated, throwing Jim against the shoulder harness.
Catching the look thrown his way, he eased up on the accelerator, “Sorry, Jimbo, the Demon gets into me sometime.”
“They’ll be all right. Blair has a solid head on his shoulders and he’s used to dealing with enthusiastic students on anthropological digs. They’ll be fine.” Jim leaned back, closed his eyes, and hoped for the best.
Vincent tightened his grip on the wheel. Enthusiasm is a mild word compared to what Damien’s capable of, Vin thought. Blair better watch it isn’t contagious. The sedan hugged the road and traveled on towards London.
Day motioned Blair over several inches, the headphones locked into place on the golden head, the metal detector beeping away. “There, dig right there,” he pointed towards a row of flowers carefully planted in a circular pattern of color.”
“You know, this would have been a hell of a lot easier if you hadn’t been digging, planting and spreading fertilizer all day.” Then pausing, looking at where Day was pointing, “What about the flowers?” Blair asked, hating to upset the carefully laid garden.
“Blair, this ring is a lot more valuable and important then the flowers. Besides, winter is coming on and their days are numbered anyway.”
Digging into the earth Blair tossed each shovel full onto the mesh they had layered over an old bucket. The earth sifted through fallen to the bottom while rocks and any items would remain on top for closer inspection. When several feet of the earth was upended and sifted through, the metal detector still unequivocally demanded their attention. Finally, the flowers teetered over, no longer strong enough to withstand the assault. Blair realized there was no way of saving them now.
Day turned off the machine and carefully poked around the items on top of the mesh. A rusty nail, the shirt clasp of a fountain pen, and a piece of metal no longer recognizable.
“Nothing. Okay, let’s continue.” Day hefted the equipment up and was once again scanning the terraced gardens.
By lunchtime, half the gardens were uprooted. It looked like a disaster zone after a war.
Soup and sandwiches and the brats were onto the next section. This time Blair manned the metal detector and Damien dug. Day was far less careful of his attack. The slightest suggestion from the detector and Damien was digging deep and thoroughly, covering the areas around. “Hey, man, go easy here. Vincent is not going to like coming home to his garden looking like this. You have a death wish?” Blair wondered, fearful of having the older man’s anger directed at him.
“I’ll just tell him Sam Cutler’s dog got loose. Last summer, Bozo came digging around chasing some rabbits. He dug up most of Vin’s freshly planted flowers. I thought Vin was going to kill that dog, but you want to know something funny?” Day asked, as he squatted near the bucket ciphering for his ring.
“What? He drowned him in the river?” Blair asked, seriously.
“Nah, Vin’s a soft touch. Same thing with Desi. He acts like he hates her, like she bothers his allergies. I saw him once through his office window. She was sitting on his desk and he was feeding her cat treats he has locked away. Talking to her like they were soul mates. Never let on that I know. I’ve learned to play the game with Vin, he likes seeing himself as a hard ass and he likes others to see him that way, too. Actually, he’s a soft touch,” Day explained.
They stopped, having found a small round object that turned out to be a brass fitting. Day grimaced, “Well, like I was saying,” he continued his story as he started digging deeper, “Vin put a rope around the dog’s neck, tied it to the back porch and then brought out a series of dishes. The damn dog had a buffet table set up for him. Vin called Mr. Cutler bitching up a storm. Just as the guy comes rushing over here, Vin cleans up the dishes and plays Mr. Put Upon Neighbor. I almost laughed out loud when Vin said he’d have the dog and Mr. Cutler locked up if it happened again.” Damien chuckled. “Vincent is never what he appears to be. He’s hard, Blair, but underneath he’s only hard to hide the softness.”
“Besides, animals can tell about people. Bozo and Desi love Vincent and so do I. We dumb animals, we know stuff like that,” Day laughed, and then barking loudly, he stood stock-still. The shovel had hit something metal, something large, something stubborn and now hissing.
<end of part 1>