My father's face was red and twisted with fury. "Answer me when I'm talking to you. Do you understand?"
"Ye-e-es, sir," I managed to choke out, as my chest heaved with sobs.
"All right, then. Now get your butt up off the floor and go get cleaned up. I expect you to be at the dinner table at six o'clock on the dot, young man. Don't make me come back up here to get you."
He left, and I lay there a little while longer, letting the last of the tears evaporate, waiting for my breathing to return to normal. Finally, I managed to pick myself up from the floor, and in that moment, something profound happened to me. I wasn't the same boy I had been earlier that afternoon when I'd lain in my bed loving my best friend. The deep freeze had set in, the zombie state, the emotional zone out, whatever Blair might call it.
My back really hurt where my father had kicked me, but as I got up from the floor, I could feel myself separating from the pain, as if it didn't belong to me. I walled it up in some far corner of my mind, along with the horrible ache in my heart and the terror that still raced through me and my father's cruel words, all of it out of sight, out of my memory. I went into the bathroom and washed my face, cleaning away the evidence of my tears. When I came out of the bathroom, I was calm outside and empty inside.
I went down to the dining room and took my seat at the table, my game face firmly in place, pretending that nothing had ever happened, the way I would continue to pretend until this very moment. I never cried againnot when my mother died or Carolyn left me, not when I buried my men in Peru, not when Incacha died in my own living room on the very sofa where I was lying as I remembered all this. I didn't even cry when I pulled Blair out of that god-forsaken fountain and couldn't hear his heart beating or when he moved out four days ago and took the last of my hope with him. I was deadened inside. I couldn't cry.
I didn't remember ever speaking to Joey Phelps after that horrible few minutes in the foyer of my father's house. I guess I did what my father suggested. I turned my back on him. I forgot about him. As I shivered and huddled beneath the blanket, I searched and searched my memory, but all I could come up with was a few bewildered, hurt looks from him across the classroom, his hand on my arm after practice as he tried to talk to me, and the way I pulled away without even looking at him, heading home alone, leaving him to watch me disappear around the corner and out of his life for good.
Not very much different from what had happened with Blair.
At that thought, the nausea shot through me, and I vaulted off the sofa and ran for the bathroom. This time, I managed to puke, retching my guts out into the toilet until there was nothing left to throw up and even then my stomach kept heaving. When I finally finished, I was too exhausted to get up again, so I curled into a fetal ball on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, pulling the afghan tightly around me. I wrapped my arms around myself and held on as hard as I could. I can't believe I forgot. That thought just kept going through my head until I fell asleep or passed out. I'm not even sure which it was.
The next two days, I called in sick and stayed in bed. I really did feel like I had the flu, alternately feverish and chilled. When I tried to stand, my legs trembled, and the most I could manage was the occasional trip to the bathroom or to the kitchen for something to drink. My stomach felt raw, like it had been turned inside out, so I didn't eat, which made me weaker. Most of the time, I just lay in bed, curled into as small a ball as possible, as I tried to get back some of my control, to understand, to salvage my life in whatever way I could.
I'm not who I thought I was. That bewildering thought kept pounding through my head. My whole life has been a lie. Coming to that realization was like stepping out into a dizzying void, only empty, dark space beneath my feet where there had once been solid ground, where my own sense of self had once given me an anchor to the world. To not recognize yourself is truly the most terrifying thing of all.
It doesn't mean I'm gay. I tried to tell myself. I was a kid. I was experimenting. It happens. The rationalizing voice rang hollow and untrue. I didn't believe my own desperate denials. I was eleven years old, damn it! I didn't know what I was doing. The voice grew more frantic as my doubt in its message took on greater weight. Even if I hadn't known exactly what I was doing with Joey Phelps, even if I hadn't possessed the language to name it, I had still known what I wanted, what I liked, what felt good.
You need to understand it. Follow the rules of evidence. A more measured, more reasonable part of me suggested. I pored back over my life, to those small moments, the little chinks in my defenses when my true feelings had come through, those unnerving, unexpected reactions that I'd pushed away as quickly as I could, locked up behind more steel doors.
There was the slight quickening of my breath and pulse every time I came into the locker room back in school, that I always tried to tell myself was just anticipation of the game, an adrenalin rush, my drive to compete, but now I could see was really something else entirely. There were those times in vice when I went undercover at some gay bar, losing myself in the muscled crowds, the scent of leather and male lust, or when we rounded up street hustlers, the slight, drug-dazed boys who made me offers all the way to the precinct, willing to do any obscene thing I might want just to get out of the bust, describing it all in lurid detail. Something stirred in me then, as much as I willed it otherwise, something I wouldn't look at, a voice I refused to listen to, that told me I was part of that world somehow, even if I didn't want to be.
And then there were those pictures of Blair.
It took me forever to get around to reconsidering my overwrought reaction to those pictures. It wasn't until late in the afternoon on my second day of hiding in bed. I'd been holding on to my moral outrage and sense of disgust so hard that it took an act of will to finally let it go, to look at the whole thing objectively, if that was possible. Those pictures had pissed me off, but I'd never really allowed myself to wonder why.
Now as I lay shivering in bed, the covers pulled up to my chin, I started to tease it apart. It was hard going. My mind was schooled to resist and repress. Honesty did not come easily. At some point, I realized it would help if I got the pictures out and looked at them again. I gathered my strength and pulled myself out from under the covers. I quickly grabbed the shoe box from the bottom of my closet and hurried back to bed.
It's amazing how different things can look when you let those steel doors inside you swing open a little ways, how differently you understand your own reactions. As I leafed through the prints, it finally struck me just how beautiful Blair was, both in body and spirit. And when I say struck, I really do mean that. It was like the realization plowed into me, rattled my bones, turned me inside out. I felt it down to my last cell. Here was this lovely boy stretched out naked and completely unselfconscious on the tangled sheets where he'd just made love, grinning up at the camera, looking so carefree and young and alive. Everything about him was just so damned beautiful it seemed to stop time for a moment or two.
Looking at those pictures again, I finally understood. I'd never been angry with Blair for what he'd done, but for how it made me feel. At last, I recognized my reaction for what it was, cold, hard terror at having to confront my own desires. In the irrational part of my brain, I'd resented Blair for throwing temptation in my face, as if his making those pictures was something he'd done to catch me, to show me and the world what I really was, a faggot, just like my father had said. I was furious with him for making me want things I was way too scared to allow myself to have.
And I did want him. I wanted him so badly. And it scared the shit out of me.
It cast the fight we'd had in a whole new light. It was never his intentions I was worried about, but my own. Once again, I'd managed to fall in love with my best friend, and no matter how hard I tried to pretend, no matter how much I tried to make it go away, there it was. And the last time this had happened, I'd lost my best friend. Hell, I hadn't even thought of him once in all this time. The idea of that happening with Blair was unacceptable. No, it was much more than that. It was unbearable. I couldn't lose Blair. It would kill me.
Oh God, I really am in love with him.
And I had managed to lose him. That's what all the repressing of my feelings had accomplished. I'd managed to drive away the one person in the world I most wanted to have beside me, always and forever.
I can't let Blair become another Joey Phelps.
It was that thought that finally spurred me to action. I threw back the blankets and jumped out of bed. I grabbed some clothes and dressed on the run as I made my way downstairs. My head reeled from not eating and lying down so long. I made myself stop to eat, just pulling things out of the refrigerator, cold leftover chicken, some bread, an apple, standing there with the refrigerator door open as I ate it, drinking juice right out of the carton, in far too big a hurry to fix a proper meal or even bother with silverware or dishes. Eventually, I felt steady on my feet again and clear headed enough to drive. I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. I was finally going to do what Simon had suggested days ago. I was going to be the Jim Ellison I knew and go do something about the breach between Blair and me.
I drove like a demon to the university. Seeing Blair again seemed like my only salvation, and really, that was probably pretty true. As desperate and half insane as I was, I still had something of my survival instinct left intact, and it frantically called Blair's name. I parked and jogged up to Hargrove Hall, taking the steps two at a time up to his office. I could hear the distinctive sound of his heart beating, so I knew he was there.
I opened the door and stepped inside. "Chief..." I said, breaking off abruptly when I realized he wasn't alone.
Blair was sitting at his desk, and the other man was in a chair drawn up to the side of it. Blair looked up at me with wide, startled eyes, like he'd just seen a ghost. I guess he'd thought I was gone from his life for good, just the way I'd thought he was gone from mine. I drank him in hungrily, my eyes flickering over him, breathing in his scent, listening to his sounds, his accelerated pulse and quickened breath. It had only been a matter of days, but it felt like he'd been gone forever. I'd missed him like I'd miss my own arm if I lost it. Now that I was face to face with him again, something throbbed deep inside me, something urgent and all consuming. I wanted him in ways I can't even begin to explain.
The other man watched me curiously, and when I finally managed to tear my attention away from my partner, I gave him the once over. And suddenly it struck me who he was, the man from the photograph, the one who'd fucked Blair. My vision darkened for a moment with rage and jealousy, and then I was taking a step forward, my hands balled into fists. The man's face changed instantly, the curiosity turning to confusion and then to fear.
Suddenly Blair was blocking my path, and his hands were on my arms to restrain me, his heat seeping into my skin through the fabric of my shirt, making my bones feel hot inside my flesh. For the first time since I'd recovered those childhood memories, the sick chill inside me was receding, warmed by Blair's energy and life. My senses...I don't know how to put it...it was like they sparkled. Everything about Blair was suddenly so vivid and bright.
I reached out and very lightly touched a strand of his hair, brushing it back from his face, intimately, lovingly. I'd never been able to prevent myself from touching him. I could see that now, admit to myself what it really meant. In the past, I'd been so careful to keep it macho and platonic, some kind of internal fag-o-meter always at work since that horrible afternoon all those years ago, keeping me on the 'straight and narrow' as my father had put it, limiting the touches I needed so desperately to what could pass for friendly male bonding, the little punches to his shoulder and belly pats and back slaps. It felt so freeing to finally touch him the way I'd always wanted towith unrestrained affection, with love.
"Come home, Chief," I said quietly.
Whatever Blair may have expected from my surprise visit, this apparently wasn't it. His face flashed his amazement, his confusion, maybe even the slightest glimmer of hope. If the stakes hadn't been so high, I might even have smiled. It's not very often that you see Blair Sandburg just a few seconds behind the moment in his comprehension of what's going on.
He shot a look at his friend. "Uh, Tom..."
The man waved him off. "That's okay, Blair. I can see you and...Detective Ellison, I'm guessing, have more important things to discuss. I appreciate your letting me know. Call me if there's anything else."
Blair nodded, and the man left.
"Jim" he began to say.
I shook my head. "Not here. Please. I want to...I need to make things right with you. But I don't want to do it here. I want to do it at home. I want you home, where you belong."
"I...uh," Blair hesitated. I could see all the doubts, the fear, the hurt in his face. I could see his mind working, considering all the factors, coming to a decision. "I don't have my car," he finally said. "It's in the shop again. Can you give me a ride?"
I'd been holding my breath the whole time he was making up his mind, and I let it out in relief, so very, very grateful that he was going to give me the chance to explain at the very least and hopefully to fix it. I even managed to smile. "Sure, Chief. The least I can do is give you a ride. How'd you get over here anyway? Cab?"
"Uh...well, not exactly. Tom gave me a ride."
I looked down at the floor. "Oh," I said. "So, are you...were you staying with him? Should we go by there and get your stuff?"
"Look around, Jim."
"See what a mess my office is? And don't say it's always a mess. This is where I've been staying."
"You've been living in your office?"
He shrugged. "I didn't have anybody I really wanted to ask for that kind of favor. And I didn't have a chance to look for a place yet. Where else would I go?"
"Chief, do you...um, want to get your stuff together and bring it back to the loft?"
"I don't know, Jim. I..."
"Please? If you don't want...if you change your mind, you don't have to stay."
He still looked torn, but he finally gave in. "Well...I guess."
It took him a little while to find everything, since his belongings were strewn all over the room in typical Sandburg fashion. When he finally had it all together, I helped him carry his stuff out to the truck. I made the mistake of putting my hand on his shoulder to guide him out the door of the building, and he flinched. I yanked my hand back as if I'd been burned. Shit! Shit! Shit! Of course, he doesn't want you touching him. Just a few days ago you were threatening to beat him up.
"Jim, I'm...it's not..." Blair hurriedly tried to say.
I shook my head. "Don't, Chief. I'm the one who...how 'bout we just go home, huh?"
He nodded. "Okay, Jim."
We stowed his stuff and climbed into the truck, heading home to the loft. The silence was palpable between us. Blair stared out the window. I concentrated on my driving. We were both uncomfortable, no big surprise. I don't know when it hit me exactly, but at some point, I realized that what I was sensing from Blair wasn't just awkwardness but actual fear. Blair was afraid of me. Shit! I watched him out of the corner of my eye. He had one knee drawn up and his arms wrapped around it in a self-protective posture. His knuckles were white with pressure, and his shoulders were tense and hunched. The most profound grief I've ever experienced ripped through me. He'd never been afraid of me before.
"Chief, I just...thanks for coming back."
He started a little, not expecting me to say anything, I guess. But then the sharp, metallic scent of his fear turned a little warmer, a little mellower. He smiled at me. "No big deal, man."
I shook my head at him. "It is a big deal, Blair. I...I really missed you."
I heard his heart speed up, playing a rhumba with its rhythm. The fear smell was softening and disappearing, overpowered by the warmer, friendlier scent. "I missed you too, Jim," he said quietly.
"That guy in your office today, Tom, he was..."
"I'm sorry," I said. "Maybe I shouldn't have asked that?"
He shook his head. "No, it's okay. I want to tell you. I wanted to tell you the other day, but it...the whole thing kind of got away from me."
I winced. "I'm so sorry about that, Chief."
He nodded. "Yeah, I kind of figured. But thanks...you know, for saying it. Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I wasn't in to doing porn or anything. Nobody ever saw those pictures but me and Tom and the guy who took them. I know maybe you couldn't exactly tell, but it was only Tom...er, with me in the pictures. We were together, you know, as in a couple. Those pictures...well, they were something of a birthday present."
I snorted. "A present for him maybe."
He smiled, a little shyly. It suddenly struck me just how jealous and possessive I sounded. Oh, what the hell? I am jealous and possessive.
"When I was younger, I had some rough times. It wasn't easy moving around as much as we did. I was always having to make new friends. And I was kind of a geek, so that wasn't always so easy. Plus, I had all this frizzy hair and I was too skinny and..." he trailed off with a wave of his hand. "I didn't always feel so good about myself. When I met Tom, it was like the most amazing thing. Here was this really good looking guy, smart and funny, older than me with all the cachet that went along with it, and he actually looked my way. He actually liked me. We started going out, and he was...he was my first."
"Your...you were...he..." I couldn't bring myself to say it.
"I was a virgin. He was my first relationship, my first sexual experience, the first person I ever loved."
"Oh," I said, swallowing hard.
"He was good to me," Blair hurriedly added, wanting me to understand. "He was the first person to ever tell me I was beautiful. But as hard as I tried, I just couldn't believe him. When I looked in the mirror, I saw this ugly, geeky, skinny kid. It made it hard for me to relax and enjoy being intimate with him. That's why...Tom wanted me to feel better about myself. He suggested that we do those photo sessions so I could see myself the way he saw me."
"Did it help?" I asked, turning to look at him.
He nodded. "Yeah, it did actually. Helped me get my head together and move on, leave all that old shit in the past."
I thought about what I'd seen of Blair in those pictures, his wide, bright smile, the joy and laughter in his face. "I'm glad," I told him.
He looked both surprised and terribly relieved. "Thanks, man." He fell silent for a moment, working something out in his mind, and then he said, "I should have told you I was bi. I always meant to. I...uh, somehow it just never seemed to be the right moment."
"Were you afraid to tell me?"
"I wouldn't say afraid exactly. A little nervous. I worried that it might change our friendship, that you wouldn't feel as comfortable with me. But I basically thought you'd take it okay. You're pretty accepting about things like that. Or at least that's the way it always seemed to me. That's why it was such a shock when..."
"I'm sorry," I said, in a small voice, feeling really bad about disappointing him.
"You'll tell me why, right? When we get to the loft. You'll tell me what happened, what sent you off. 'Cause I still don't really understand."
I nodded. "Yeah, Chief. I promise. I'll tell you everything."
I could feel him watching me. "Good," he finally said.
"So what happened between you and Tom?" I asked him.
He seemed a bit startled that I wanted to know, but he told me anyway. "We were together until I graduated from college. After that...well, he was a lot older than I was and in a very different place in his life. He wanted a commitment, and I just wasn't ready for that."
"You were still a kid."
He nodded. "Yeah. Too young for what he wanted, at least. So we parted friends, kept in touch for a while, and then I got a girlfriend. He got another boyfriend. We kind of drifted apart."
"But you called him about the pictures?"
"I didn't know what you were going to do with them. I just didn't want him to be surprised by cops beating down his door."
"I'm sorry, Chief. I swear to God I am."
"I know," he said softly.
"I wouldn't have done anything with those pictures. I wouldn't have tried to make a case or anything. I never would have shown them to anyone else. I wouldn't do that to you. I promise. I was just...pissed off that day when we...when I..." I trailed off again.
"I probably always knew way deep down inside that you'd protect me, that you wouldn't violate my privacy. I mean, you went out of your way to make sure there weren't any other pictures of me at the scene. But I couldn't take any chances since it wasn't just me involved."
"You were never ugly," I whispered.
"What?" His head whirled around, and his eyes showed the depth of his surprise.
Oh, what the hell. In for a penny, in for a pound.
"You were a beautiful boy," I told him.
I could feel his gaze boring into me. I couldn't quite make myself meet it. My stomach was doing cartwheels inside me.
"I didn't feel that way," he said.
"Why?" I asked him, and this time I did meet his eyes.
He shrugged. "I don't know. I guess...I just didn't measure up to society's standards for what a boy was supposed to be. I was really awkward back then, more into books than sports. Sometimes it seemed like I couldn't walk between point A and point B without bumping into something. It really sucked, man."
"It's hard to be that age."
"For some of us. You probably can't really relate, can you? I mean, I've seen pictures of you. Your dad showed me his album when we took him back to his house after...well, you know. I saw your football pictures. You looked like the perfect all-American boy," he said, a little wistfully.
"Pictures can be so misleading sometimes, Chief."
He gave me a sharp look, but I didn't say any more. I couldn't trust myself, not until we got home.
Finally, we pulled up outside the building, and I parked the truck. I followed him inside, and we went up in the elevator. I unlocked the door, and we both went into the apartment. He took his stuff into his bedroom and came out a few moments later. I was standing by the dining table, waiting for him. When he saw me there, he paused.
"Uh...so..." he said, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet out of nervousness, something I hadn't seen him do for the longest time.
And that's when it hit me. I was suddenly so aware of him, everything about him, his scent, the way he held his body, the sound of the air currents as he swung his arms back and forth, another nervous tic of his, the way the loft was such a different, friendlier place with him than without him. Now that he was home and I was safe again, the full extent of how much I'd missed him plowed into me, along with the true enormity of what I'd remembered, what I'd done, what my father had done to me. I started to shake all over. Without Blair by my side, I hadn't been safe enough to truly let myself go, to finally release all those old, tamped down emotions, to allow myself to grieve.
"Jim? Jim, what's wrong?" Blair asked, sounding really concerned.
"Blair, it's...I'm...can I..." I stuttered and held out my arms to him. I needed him, but I didn't want to scare him, not after what I'd already done.
"Oh God, Jim. It's okay. Shhhh," he said, quickly covering the few steps between us, walking into my embrace, putting his arms around me, holding me tight. "Shhh. I'm here, man. I'm here."
I clung to him. "Can you ever forgive me?" I asked, my voice trembling.
"Yes. Of course."
"God, I'm so, so sorry, Blair. I'm so sorry I said those terrible things to you. So sorry I drove you away. I didn't mean it. I swear to God, I didn't."
"Shhhh. It's okay, Jim. Shhhh. I believe you. I can hear how sorry you are. And I forgive you."
Blair felt so good in my arms. The loft, my job, my whole life had felt so empty and pointless without him. As I buried my face in his hair and breathed in his good, honest scent, the full force of my love for him hit me like a freight train. I thought about how I'd almost lost him. I shook harder, clinging to him more fiercely. Tears sprang to my eyes, and for the first time in almost thirty years, I didn't force them back. I wasn't repressing anything. I held onto my friend, and I cried.
"I know I don't have any right to expect you to believe me, but I would never hit you," I choked out. "Never hurt you. Never, Blair."
"It's okay, Jim. It's okay."
But I couldn't calm down. "I never wanted to be like him, but...I...I turned out just like him. Oh God. I said the same terrible things to you. I'm so sor-sor-sorry."
He rubbed my back in comforting little patterns. "Who do mean? Your father? You're nothing like him, Jim. Nothing. You were very angry the other day, but you didn't hurt me. I've always felt safe with you, buddy. More safe than I have anywhere else, with anyone else."
I pulled back a little, still keeping my hands on his arms. I needed to see his face. "You didn't feel safe the other day, Chief. You were afraid, and even today in the truck on the way over here, you were really anxious. I could smell it."
"You're right. I was afraid. But not for the reason you think. Somewhere deep inside me I know you can't harm me. Maybe it's because I'm your Guide, or maybe it's just because you're Jim. It doesn't even matter. It's just something I know to be true. The other day and even today when you came to my office, I was afraid, not because I thought you were going to hit me, but because I was just so fucking terrified that our friendship was over. The prospect of not...of there not being anything between us really scares the shit out of me. The worst part of what happened that night wasn't that you raised your hand to me, but that you seemed to hate me. I just never thought you could hate me."
I tightened my arms around him, crushing him against me. Just hearing him say those words pierced me. "I couldn't hate you. I don't. I didn't. I was just angry that night and out of control. But I could never, never..." I broke off with a choked sob.
Blair stroked my hair. "Hey, Jim, it's okay, it's okay."
I nodded and tried to pull myself back together. I swiped at my face with the back of my hand. The tears came choking out in fits and starts, pretty much against my will, tortured little gasps and sobs. It felt so weird to cry. It had been forbidden, along with all my other tender feelings, for such a long, long time. In a way, it was oddly liberating. Crying had seemed like the ultimate in humiliation for so long that finally breaking down was kind of a relief. The dread of something is almost always worse than the thing itself. Amazingly enough, I didn't feel humiliated to cry or even to have someone watching me. Maybe because it was Blair. Maybe because I knew he would understand.
Blair laid his hand on my cheek, tentatively at first, but when I leaned into his touch, he grew bolder and began stroking my face, wiping away the tears. "Jim? Did something happen?"
"Yes," I said honestly. "I remembered something, something from the past, something I just completely blanked out of my memory."
"We need talk about it."
I nodded. "It's kind of...this is hard, Blair. But I do want to tell you."
"Why don't we sit down?"
"Yeah. Good idea."
He took my hand and led me over to the sofa. I sat close to him, my thigh pressed against his. I clutched his hand, holding onto him as if my life depended on it.
Blair watched me carefully, his open face filled with concern and compassion. "It's okay to tell me, Jim. Whatever it is, you'll feel better if you don't have to carry the burden alone."
I nodded. I knew he was right. But I still felt ashamed.
"I...I did something. When I was a kid. Something...well, it was...I had this friend, my best friend, Joey Phelps. We were in the same grade, the same homeroom, and we played football together. He...I just really, really liked him. Anyway, one day we were wrestling in my room, just kind of horsing around, and things got out of hand and...we started...um, touching each other. You know...uh, to make each other...feel good," I said haltingly and felt myself blushing hotly.
Blair nodded, his face focused, listening intently. There wasn't any trace of disgust in it, no judgment, just Blair, my Blair, wanting to know, wanting to understand.
"It wasn't just that one time. Every day, after football practice, we'd go up to my room, and we'd..."
"Love each other?" he suggested.
"Yeah. I guess that was what we were doing. It wasn't just some experiment, a way to get off. I had these feelings for him. I don't know how to explain it."
"I think I know. So what happened?"
"My father came home early one day. I was saying good-bye to Joey in the hall, kissing him, the first time we'd ever done that. I didn't even hear the door open. I guess I was distracted. My father...well, he was pretty angry."
Blair gasped. "Damn! I mean, having met your dad and having heard some of the stories, I can just imagine."
"It was horrible, Blair. His face was all red, and I could hear how hard he was breathing, this really harsh sound. That's how pissed off he was. After he pulled us apart, he threw Joey out of the house and forbade him to ever come back. Then he dragged me upstairs to my room and...beat me."
"God, Jim," he said with disgust.
"But the worst part was what he said."
"I...this is hard. It's just really..." I broke off, and the tears started up again. All these years without crying once, and now I couldn't stop.
He took me in his arms, guiding my head to his chest, to the place over his heart. He wrapped his arms around me and rubbed my back. "It's okay. This isn't your father's house, Jim. You're safe with me. It's okay to say it. Nobody's going to punish you for being yourself or for speaking the truth."
"He said that everybody was going to know what I was, what I'd been doing. And they'd...they'd do things to me."
I felt him stiffen. "What things?" he asked.
"They'd hurt me. They'd...use me."
"He told you..."
"That anybody could, anytime they wanted, and I couldn't stop them. Because...because faggots can't protect themselves and they get what they deserve."
His hand stilled, and I felt the sharp intake of his breath.
"He told you that if you were gay it would be open season on your body and you'd be raped and brutalized without any way to defend yourself?"
I nodded, clutching handfuls of his sweater. He held me tighter and stroked my hair.
"My God, Jim! How old were you?"
"He told you scary, fucked up shit like that when you were just eleven years old? What a fucking bastard," he swore. "Jim, man, I really need you to tell me...did he ever do anything to you? Did he touch you, I mean, besides hitting you? Did he punish you for liking boys...you know, the way he threatened?"
He kissed the top of my head. "You'd tell me if he had, wouldn't you?"
"I-I-I...I don't know."
He hugged me closer, and I could feel his slight smile. "I appreciate the honesty, buddy. But I really do want you to think about it and try to remember. It's important. And it's safe now to say it. It's only me here, and I love you very, very much."
My heart turned over in my chest hearing him say those words, even if he just meant the love of friendship. I buried my face in his shoulder. "He didn't hurt me like that, not that I remember anyway," I told him. "He just used his fists and words."
"Well, that was more than enough, wasn't it? He was pretty damned cruel to you."
"The worst part was what I did. I was so scared by what he said that I...I never spoke to Joey again. I ignored him at school, wouldn't hang out with him in the afternoons. I didn't even throw him the football as much during our games. He quit the team not long afterwards. At some point, I just forgot all about him. I forgot him, Chief."
"You were traumatized, Jim."
"How could I do that? He was my first...my first."
"Because your father made you think that your very survival was tied to forgetting him. You did the only thing you could have, what anyone would have done in your place."
"My father made me feel so dirty. He made it seem disgusting. But it wasn't, and I let him ruin it."
"You didn't let him do anything, Jim. He was your father, and unfortunately, he had all the power."
"It was good before it got all fucked up. Joey was special. I really liked him." I blushed again.
"That's good, buddy. It's supposed to feel good. And you're right, Jim. It wasn't disgusting or dirty. It was beautiful. I can picture you, the boy you were, so tender and sweet, so caring."
"I know we were only eleven, but I really think I loved him."
I felt him nodding. "Yeah, I think you probably did too."
"Blair, I also think...I think I'm...I'm pretty sure I'm gay."
He rubbed my back and rocked me. "You know that's okay if you are, right? But you're upset and confused right now, and you can't draw any conclusions just because you enjoyed kissing and touching another boy when you were eleven years old. That's a perfectly normal stage of development, Jim. I'm sorry you're father didn't understand that. But really, all boys go through it."
I shook my head. "It's not just that, Chief."
"Have there been others?"
"No. Well, not exactly. Kind of. It's complicated."
"So tell me."
"It's...well, those pictures of you...they hit me pretty hard."
"Is that what brought all this up?"
"Yeah, in part."
"It must have been very difficult to see me like that when you father equated making love with other men to being at the mercy of rapists."
"I never want anything bad to happen to you."
I felt him smile. "I know that. It must have been very scary to see me doing things that you subconsciously believed to be so dangerous."
I nodded. "And you know I get pissed off when I get scared."
He smiled again. "Yes, I've noticed that. I just want to make sure that you realize now that all of that fear was unfounded, put in your head by your father. Right? I mean, you can love another man, and you're still the same James Ellison you always were, more than capable of taking care of yourself. Same goes for me. Loving Tom didn't make me weak. In fact, it made me stronger."
"Yeah. I could see that in the pictures, even though I had trouble admitting it to myself. That's another reason..." I stopped myself.
"Hey," he whispered in my ear. "It's okay. Go ahead and say it."
"I was angry at you for being so free and easy, when I was all tied up in knots inside. I'm sorry, Chief," I rushed to add.
He shook his head. "What? For having an honest human emotion? For being envious that someone else got to enjoy something for which you'd been so harshly punished? The surprise would be if you didn't feel that way."
"When I looked at those pictures and then when we were fighting, my father's voice was in my head, calling me a faggot, calling you a faggot, just making me crazy. I lost it, and I said those things to you. And I regret it so much. I really didn't mean it."
He tightened his arms around me and kissed my forehead. "It was your father talking, not you. I understand that. It makes such sense that seeing those pictures would dredge all that up, would set off some kind of defense mechanism. A part of you saw me as the enemy."
I shook my head wildly. "Don't say that."
"Not all of you, Jim. Not the grown up part who understands that I'm your friend and your partner, that I have your best interest at heart," he soothed me. "Just that scared, eleven year old part of you where your father's words sank in and did their damage."
"There's more, Chief. The most important part."
"It's why those pictures were so threatening in the first place. I...uh, well, I had feelings when I looked at them." I swallowed hard and said the rest of it fast. "I was jealous. I didn't want his hands on you. I didn't want anyone else's hands on you."
I felt him go still and gulp down a big breath of air. "You mean...are you sure..."
"I love you, Blair."
I closed my eyes and held on and hoped to God I hadn't destroyed everything between us.
"Oh God, Jim. I love you too. So much," he said. He stroked my hair, and his hand trembled.
"I don't just mean...I mean I love you like..."
He rested his cheek against the top of my head. "So do I. Part of the reason that what you said that night hit me so hard was that it was true. And nothing hurts worse than the truth. I've had feelings for you for a long time now, but I swear I never would have done anything about it. I never would have tried anything with you. I take our friendship too seriously for that. I just...it may sound goofy, but you were always safe with me, you know?"
I nodded. "I do know that. And it doesn't sound goofy. I trust you like nobody else."
"Good," he said, and I could hear how pleased he was. "I never want it to be any other way."
I finally pulled out of his arms and studied his face. "I'd like to be with you, Blair," I finally found the courage to tell him.
"I want to be with you too, man. More than anything."
"I'd like...would you come upstairs with me?" I asked him and blushed. I couldn't help it. It felt like completely new territory. It felt like virginity again after all these years.
"Um...I don't know, Jim."
I froze. I misunderstood him. Oh God.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have suggested..."
He grabbed my arm. "No! I didn't mean it that way. I want to. Of course, I want to. I just don't want to take advantage of you when you're confused and vulnerable. If we do this and you're not really sure, you'll hate me for it later. And I'll hate myself."
I shook my head vehemently. "I could never hate you, Chief, remember? And I am sure. I'm not going to change my mind."
"We should wait a while. Get used to the idea, settle in to the change."
"I've been waiting to be myself for such a long time. And I've always loved you. Please. I want you so badly."
"I still think..."
"I need you. I probably can't explain it right, but our being together...that feels like the only way I'm ever going to get past all this shit that happened in the past. Please, Blair. Only you can help me."
"Geezus, Jim, you sure do know how to push my buttons, don't you?"
I smiled at him. "I know you. And it's all true." I stood up and held out my hand to him. "Come upstairs with me, please. Make love with me. Everything got so ruined in the past. Help me to put it right?"
He hesitated a moment, but then he took my hand. "Yes. I want to do that, Jim. I want to be with you. I want to help you recover what you've lost. Let's just take it easy to start, huh?"
I nodded and pulled him up from the couch. I led him upstairs to my room, to my bed, where I'd always wanted him. I could finally admit that to myself.
You've heard the old phrase: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Well, when I got Blair upstairs it was the absolute opposite for me. My body wasn't just willing; hell, it was enthusiastic. I felt like a pimply faced teenager all over again, those raging, rushing sex juices spiraling out of control inside me, pushing me right up to the thin line of desperation. My skin seemed to have developed a life of its own, all tingly and aware, and I wasn't even naked yet. Blair leaned against the wall, watching me, and it made me shudder all over. I just stood there in the middle of my bedroom in the heavy afternoon sunlight panting like I'd run a marathon, simply because my partner was looking at me.
But my mind...now that was another story entirely. You're not a faggot if you don't act like one. My father's hateful legacy wasn't so easy to ignore. So you have these feelings. Okay. Fine. You don't have to do anything about it. I stared back at Blair helplessly. Suddenly, I didn't know if I could go through with it, no matter how much I wanted him, even though I was the one who had insisted we do this now.
"It's okay, Jim. We don't have to."
"I want to, Blair. I'm just a little...I don't even know. I don't know what I am."
"Why don't you sit down? We don't have to rush. Let's just take it easy."
I nodded and sank down onto the edge of the bed. He came to stand beside me and tilted my chin up so he could look me in the face.
"This doesn't have to be like jumping off a building. It's just touching. We've always touched each other. Let's start with what we know and go from there, see how it feels. If you're unsure about anything, you have to tell me. I care about you too much to risk losing you because we pushed too hard, too fast. I know you'd usually rather pull out all your fingernails than tell me how you feel, but it's really important this time. Okay?"
"Okay, Chief. I'll try. I promise."
He smiled. "Good. I really do love you, you know?"
I returned his smile, the nervousness easing a little. "I love you, too."
He put his hands on my shoulders and began stroking me, massaging my muscles through the fabric of my shirt. I relaxed a little more under the comforting pressure of his hands. He was right. We did already know how to do this. He'd touched me just this way on so many occasions, when I'd come home stiff and hurting from wrestling some drug-hyped perp into custody or after I'd gone a little overboard at the gym, forgetting that I'm really not as young as I used to be. It had always felt good and right to have him touch me, soothing, healing. And now that was what I wanted more than anything elseto have his hands on me, to be healed by his touch.
"Does that feel good, Jim?" he asked.
"For me too," he said. "I like the way you feel beneath my hands, so firm, so strong. That's right, Jim. Let the tension go. There's nothing to be afraid of here. It's just you and me, the way it's always been, the way it's meant to be. I'm going to help you chase away those bad memories. I'm going to make you feel so good."
"What do you want, love?"
My heart thudded in my chest when he called me that. "I want to take off my shirt."
He smiled, a little devilishly. "Good. That's good, Jim. Go with what feels right." The strong late afternoon light hung heavily on everything in the room. It touched his hair with gold, reminding me of angels in famous paintings that hung in museums, although my thoughts were too caught up in the sensations of Blair's warmth and scent to recall which paintings or which museums.
I unbuttoned my shirt and shrugged out of it. I held up my arms, and he helped me out of my undershirt. His breath caught in his throat as he stared at me. "So beautiful," he murmured.
His words, all the unspoken tender things I heard in his voice, the brush of his breath against my skin as he exhaled...it all got inside me and unlocked more parts of my soul that I'd kept hostage for so long. I took his hips between my hands and pulled him to me, until he was standing as close as I could get him. He bent down and pressed his face into my neck. I shivered at the petal softness of his lips against my skin, the moist heat of his mouth as he kissed my throat. My hands were suddenly unleashed, like all those long forbidden parts of my soul had been, and they roamed over Blair's body at will, running across his shoulders and down his back, taking in the sturdiness of his frame, the solidity of the muscles beneath the soft weight of his corduroy shirt.
In some dim corner of my mind, it registered what a really, really long time I'd been waiting to do this, my feelings all pent up, leaving me frantic, desperate for this contact. Now that the need was finally being filled it nearly overwhelmed me. That's how amazing it was to have my hands on him, to have his lips and fingers ghosting over my forehead, my closed eyelids, my nose, jawline, the sensitive skin behind my ear, to have his pliant, eager body pressed feverishly against mine. Wave after wave of desire, white hot and electric, arced through me, almost blowing out my circuitry. And suddenly I was more than willing to give up the ghost if that's what it took to keep this vital connection. I was so certain that I'd rather have a few moments of being truly alive than an eternity shuffling through the days like I had my entire adult life, jailed by my father's hatred and my own subconscious fear.
Blair moved to pull back from me, and I panicked for a moment, grabbing his hips and holding him firmly in place. He rubbed his hands down my arms and caressed my clutching fingers, leaning in to kiss me on the cheek.
"It's okay," he said. "I'm not going anywhere. I just need to lose some of these clothes."
I nodded and released him. If he'd been backing away from me for any other reason, I probably wouldn't have let him go. He pulled both his shirts out of his waistband and quickly peeled them off, tossing them onto the floor with typical Sandburg casualness. For once I didn't mind. He stood there...God, I don't even know how long he stood there...just letting me look at him, letting me stare. And I did stare. I drank him in, feeling little sparkles of pleasure bubbling up inside me, like he was an intoxicating substance. I took in his broad shoulders, the ripples in his arm muscles as he tried to decide what to do with hands, more nervous than I'd thought he was, his ribs moving up and down with his labored breath, his nipples already peaked, assuring me that I wasn't the only one who was aroused.
My pulse skyrocketed. Who could have ever guessed that simply looking at someone could be such an incredible aphrodisiac? It finally occurred to me that it hadn't just been my sexual identity I'd kept under armed guard all these years, but my whole sensual enjoyment, not able to control the one without squelching the other. All my life, I'd settled for sex by the numbers, need and desire calculated and planned, because the verdant, fertile part of me where such things should have grown wild and free and natural was closed off and shut down.
No wonder sex had always felt disappointingly drab in some way, always a matter of release, never of consummation, even during my marriage, because I'd been forcing myself to love all the wrong people. No wonder it hadn't seemed like so much of a loss when the vagaries of my senses made sex too unpredictablesometimes even too painfulto risk very often, always in danger of zoning or losing control of that temperamental dial in my head. I didn't really miss it that much, because I'd only ever been half present and it had never been an effortless pleasure.
With every passing moment, all that was becoming more distantly a thing of the past. There was a wild cry for freedom inside me, the unquenchable need to liberate my senses, my heart, my own sense of self. I reached my hand out towards Blair, and he quickly closed the distance between us. I maneuvered him so that he was between my legs, and I held his hips again to keep him where I wanted him. He rested his hands on my shoulders, his fingers stroking the hair at the nape of my neck. He stared into my eyes and licked his lips. I couldn't quite tell if it was out of nervousness or anticipationmaybe it was both.
It suddenly struck me that I'd never kissed him and how very, very wrong that was, when his mouth was so passionate and generous, just made for kissing.
He knew what I wanted, even as I was still figuring it out myself, the way he always just knows. He bent down to me and brushed his lips against mine. I'd never been that minutely focused on my own skin before. I swear I could feel each individual cell, his and mine, colliding, sliding across each other, caressing. Good-bye drab, predictable sex. Hello Blair Sandburg. I grabbed him around the waist and pulled him into my lap so that he straddled me. More. Some greedy voice, too long reined in, roared through my head. I opened my mouth, he opened his, and suddenly we were inextricably entwined in each other, arms, lips, legs, desires, tongues, everything. He leaned into me, his bare chest, crisp and ticklish with body hair, pressed against my naked skin. I moaned into his mouth. I could feel his hard little nipples and his flat muscled belly. Something boiled over inside me, torrid and swelteringwant, need, greed, lustall of it overheated and humid.
He broke the kiss, and I made some vaguely desperate sound in the back of my throat as he put an arm's length of distance between us.
"I just want to make sure we're okay," he said, breathless and panting, his face vaguely red and very sweaty, hair plastered to his cheek.
I brushed back his damp curls, wiping beads of perspiration from his upper lip. "Oh yeah, Chief. We're doing really good here."
He broke into one of those lustrous smiles of his, and I had to wonder how I'd managed to miss this for so long, him, me, us. It seemed kind of unmissable, no matter how fucked up I'd been, no matter how far into self-deception I was. Rules of evidence, my ass. I'd been ignoring them like a blind man the entire time Blair had been part of my life
"Do you think...would it be okay if we got more...uh, comfortable?" he asked, a little hesitantly.
I smiled at him. I appreciated how gentle and careful he was being with me. I had to imagine it was more in his nature simply to say: "Let's get naked."
I moved my hands to his waist, fumbled with the button to his jeans. I could feel his hard on beneath the thick fabric, and it made my hands shake. When I brushed his cock, he sucked in his breath, but then he quickly stilled my clumsy attempt to get him undressed.
"Are you sure about this? I just need to make sure we're cool here."
"It is, we are," I told him, in between kisses. "I want...mmm, not so many clothes. Lose the pants, huh, Blair?"
"Yeah, okay. I can do that." He wriggled around in my lap, unbuttoning and unzipping his jeans, then shimmying out of them, taking off his boxers along with them.
Oh. My. God. He was naked and hard and in my arms.
"Join me?" he asked.
I nodded eagerly. He climbed off me and moved to the other side of the bed. I stood up, undid my belt, quickly shucked off my pants and underwear, and rejoined him on the bed. I stretched out on my side, and he lay facing me.
I'd never seen him naked before, not completely. He tended to get cold easily, and the Cascade climate is not known for its mildness. So he was usually swaddled in several layers of clothes. His version of summer was to take off a shirt or two. I'd always wondered about that, such modesty from Sandburg, the original Mr. Free-and-Easy. That's another reason those photos had shaken me so hard. I couldn't imagine my Blair taking everything off for the camera.
But I had seen him without his shirt before, and I realized something was different. "What happened to the jewelry?" I asked, reaching over to finger his left nipple.
"Ahhh." He sucked his breath in through his teeth, and I could feel the shudder travel the length of his body. "I...uh, decided not to wear it anymore. You know, time to grow up and all."
I touched his other nipple curiously. He gasped again, but his reaction was more measured this time.
"I can feel the difference," I told him. There was a little bit of scar tissue where he'd been pierced.
He smiled at me. "So can I."
"More sensitive, huh?"
I caressed the sensitive nipple with my thumb, playing with the tiny little knot where the ring had been.
"God, Jim!" he hissed, his voice edgy and aroused.
I smiled. "You're so beautiful, so responsive."
He snuggled closer and put his hand on my hip, stroking me. "I can't believe we're here, doing this. After...the other day, I really thought...well, this certainly wasn't what I was expecting."
"I'm so sor"
He shook his head and put his fingers to my lips. "Don't. All I was trying to say is that I'm so glad that it led here, to this, to us."
I took his hand in mine and kissed his fingers. "Me too, Chief. Me too."
He propped himself up on one elbow to look down into my face. "So what do you want to do?" he asked, lightly running his hand up and down my side, along my arm, over my hip, down my thigh. His face was intent and eager, filled with light, humor and affection. This was what my father had wanted to convince me was so repulsive, so taboo, to lie in bed with a beautiful man like this, to be with such a playful, joyous lover.
"Can I touch you?" he finally asked, when it took me so long to answer, lost in my own thoughts.
I nodded and rolled over onto my back, offering myself to him. His face lit up, like he'd just been given the best present imaginable, and that made me smile. Sandburg really was a big kid at heart. He pulled himself up to knees, so he could kneel over me and kiss me. Tasting him was like falling into a pool of his scent. They were so tightly wound up in each other, scent and taste, both of them foresty and deep and overwhelming, like I could get lost in him, happily so.
As he kissed me, the soft strands of his hair fell against my face, stroking my cheek. I brushed them back, tucking them behind his ears. I held his face between my hands, my fingers spread, touching his forehead, his cheeks, the stubble roughened line of his jaw. Blair kissed like he did everything else in his lifewith abandoned recklessness, with infectious enthusiasm. I gripped his shoulders and held on for the ride.
He kissed his way down my throat, across to one shoulder, licking my collarbone as he went. I had both my arms wound around him, one at his waist, the other cupping his head, guiding him to where I most wanted his kisses. His mouth was hot and wet and irrepressible, and the feel of it on my skin gave me the shivers like nothing I'd ever experienced. He blew on one of my nipples, and it immediately stiffened. I groaned deep in my throat. He kissed that nipple and fingered the other. The sensation jolted through me, straight to my cock. I was already fully aroused, but that hot bolt of pleasure made me even harder. It made me ache, made me desperate.
Blair was moving over me hungrily, kissing and touching me everywhere, exploring me, his sturdy, naked body twisting and writhing above me. It dizzied me, and suddenly the room was swirling. I was naked and hard and lying in bed with my best friend, only it wasn't Blair. In my mind, I saw Joey's bright freckled face alive with curiosity as he touched my private places.
But the moment turned, and suddenly his face was red and filled with misery, swollen with tears, as my father threw him out of the house. And then another quick flash, and he was staring at me with undisguised hurt and betrayal, as I roughly pushed past him, turning my back on him, too terrified to make a stand for our friendship. And then his face melded into Blair's, the way he'd looked the other day when I called him a queer. And now here I was in bed with him, my best friend, the first one I'd allowed myself since the fifth grade, and his hands shook like Joey's had as he touched me, as he loved me. He made little soundswhimpers and gasps and murmurs of pleasureand they stirred something inside me, something that had lain dormant and deadened since that day my father took Joey away from me. I ran my hands through Blair's curly hair. It felt so alive. I felt alive, at long last.
It was such a beautiful, loving thing between us, our first time together. I don't know why I couldn't hold onto it. Maybe I just couldn't believe my own good luck. The lesson I'd learned in life was that the beautiful moments are always fleeting. As I made love with Blair, I was recovering ground to find the joy I'd lost as a boy. But if someone had been able to take my happiness away from me back then, I couldn't be certain it wouldn't happen now. I wound my arm around Blair's waist and held onto him, but the delight was tinged with desperation. I strained to enjoy every touch and kiss and sigh that came from him, but my mind began to disconnect from my body, preoccupied with worry, already leaping ahead, anticipating the moment when he would be wrenched away from me, when my world would crash down around me just like it had all those years ago.
That thought was like cold water, and I tensed all over. My erection began to fade.
Blair pulled back and watched me carefully. "What is it, Jim? What's worrying you? What are you thinking about?"
"How it will end," I answered him honestly.
He frowned, looking confused for a minute, and then his face twisted with surprise. "You mean...this? Us? Why would it end?"
"I lost Joey."
"And you're worried you'll lose me?"
"It's just that...I flashed back on Joey just now, and it was exactly like this. Nothing has felt this amazingly good since then, and I just don't want to make the same mistake twice. I mean, he was my best friend, and I loved him. And then we were together like this, and my father took Joey away from me because of it. And you're my best friend, and I love you. And now we're here together, and I can't lose you. I just can't. Can't."
I was barely making sense, and even though I recognized that fact, I couldn't seem to do anything about it. The fear may have been irrational, but it was very, very real to me. I shook all over, and I couldn't make it stop.
"Your father can't take me away from you. Nobody can. I promise you that. And in your heart, you know it's true. Lash couldn't do it. Alex couldn't. None of the bastards we've gone up against could. Because we're meant to be together. I don't know if it's a Sentinel and Guide thing or a Jim and Blair thing. But it is a thing. Of that I'm sure."
He used the Guide voice to console me, and the sound of it got into my head and unfolded its soothing balm like it always did. I found myself nodding. He was right. In some part of myself, I really did know that whatever was between us was unbreakable. I concentrated on my breathing like he'd taught me, and after a while, I began to settle down. My heart returned to its normal rhythm. I could breathe again without gasping.
"I'm sorry I'm being such a freaked out asshole here," I apologized.
He shook his head. "Don't say that. This is hard stuff. I don't expect you to shift your whole concept of yourself in one afternoon."
"But this is who I really am, Chief. The other stuff was one big lie after another. I don't want to do that anymore. I want to get back to me."
He nodded. "I know, Jim."
"I can't even hate him," I said softly.
I nodded. "Even though what he did was so horrible. It's just like with my Sentinel senses. In some twisted, heartless way, he really did think he was doing the right thing by trying to 'protect' me, to prevent me from being labeled a freak. Same thing with my being...uh, you know...gay," I said, my voice cracking a little on that last word. It was definitely going to take some getting used to. Even if it was who I was always meant to be, there were still years of conditioning to try to get by.
"It just amazes me how basically good intentions can go so terribly wrong."
"You said it, Chief. To this day, it's impossible to get him to understand that there's nothing worse than living a lie. I can't help feeling..."
"That it wasn't all for my benefit, the hiding, the pretending. Who knows? Maybe he honestly believed that shit he told me about what would happen to me if I was gay."
"That doesn't excuse anything. He was still wrong. And it doesn't make what he did to you any less terrible."
I nodded. "No, you're right, Chief. It doesn't. And I can't help believing that a lot of it was to protect him, not me. He might not have wanted me to be labeled a faggot and a freak, but I know he didn't want to be the father of one. I never was the son my father wanted, no matter how hard he tried to remake me in that image."
Blair shuddered. "I hate to even think about who he wanted you to be. It's a pretty damned good thing he wasn't successful, don't you think?"
I cracked a smile. "Yeah. I guess so. Still, I can't help wishing things had been different."
"Me too. I wish you'd had it easier. I wish he'd been better to you. I really wish he'd been the father you deserved."
"But now I have you, and you're better than I deserve. So I guess it's being made up to me in some way."
"Don't say that, Jim. That makes it sound like you have to suffer in order to get love. I know that's the message you got from your dad, but it's so not right. And it's not at all true that you're getting the better end of the deal here. I've always felt like the lucky one, grateful that you let me into your life."
"You seriously underestimate your own worth, Chief. You've made my life inhabitable again. All I've ever done is get you shot at and nearly...well, you know."
"You seriously underestimate your worth, man. You've given me so much, a home and family, a feeling of belonging and a sense of security like I never had before. And your friendship, which is something I treasure beyond everything else. And now you're giving me your love. And I couldn't ask for anything more."
I pulled him over on top of me and kissed him deeply. "Thank you."
"For what?" he asked, both surprised and pleased, reminding me that I didn't thank him nearly enough for all the good things he did for me.
I wove my hands into his hair. "Just for being you."
That made him smile. "No problem," he said. "Being me is one of the things I do best."
"I'm sorry I killed the mood."
He shook his head. "I wanted you to tell me what you were feeling, remember? I want...no, I need to make sure everything's okay between us. I can't lose you. Not now."
"You won't lose me, Chief. Remember what you said before? It's meant to be."
He rolled his eyes. "We're going to have to talk about this thing you have for using my words against me."
I sighed. "Okay. But could we make love first?" I requested and rolled us both over so that he was beneath me.
He sucked in his breath. "Jesus, Jim, you're going to give me some warning before you say things like that. I'm liable to have a heart attack."
I began to kiss his neck. "That would really spoil the mood."
"I'll try to hold on then," he promised, his eyes flashing with familiar Sandburg mischief.
I licked the whorls of his ear, and he giggled, apparently ticklish there. "Mmm. Good," I told him. I pulled away and leaned on my elbow so I could look down into his face. "It feels good that we can do this, kid around and stuff, like we're still...you know...us," I told him.
He laid his hand on my cheek. "We are still us. Jim and Blair. Just the same people we were yesterday and the day before that and the whole time we've known each other. This makes our relationship different, but it doesn't change who we are, no matter what you're father said."
"I love you," I said.
"I love you too."
"Our first time could we just touch each other, make each other feel good?"
His face lit up. "That would be wonderful."
We both turned on our sides toward each other. I kissed him and touched his hair. He ran his hands down my body, stroking my arm, my hip, my thigh.
"It's okay, Jim," he whispered in the Guide voice. "It's all right to respond to me. It's okay to get hard, to touch me, to let me touch you."
I pulled him closer, gripping the muscles of his arms in my hands. My body stirred at his words, the cold water feeling of fear receding, my cock definitely taking notice of what was happening, Blair's nearness, the scent of his arousal, the teasing brush of his breath of my face, the touch of his hands on my skin.
"That's good, Jim. Mmm. So good. Can I..." he broke off, looking suddenly unsure.
I took his hand in mine and pressed a kiss to his palm. Then I guided his hand to my cock, giving him my permission. He sucked in his breath, and I heard his heart rate speed up. The aroused scent spiked and began pouring off him like a flood. Then he began to move his hand, and I was the one gasping and shaking with need.
"Your cock is beautiful," he told me, stroking and staring.
I swallowed hard. "Can I..."
"Oh yeah. God, yeah. Please. Touch me, Jim."
I lightly fingered his cock, tentative, wanting to start slowly. But that one tenuous touch jolted through him. I felt the small muscles in his hand contract, the tremors run down his spine.
"Ahhh," he moaned. "Mmmm. So good."
That encouraged me, and I gathered my resolve, beginning to explore him, to find his hot buttons, just as he was doing to me, quite successfully.
"You're beautiful too," I told him. "So sweet and sexy."
"I love you, man," he said, his eyes wide and bright with desire.
"Love you too."
We stroked and caressed each other a good long time, kissing and murmuring our pleasure. It really did feel like travelling back to the past, to those lazy afternoons when I lay in bed with my best friend, our hands hot and sticky as we explored each other's tender, private places, innocent and joyful in our curiosity. As I made love to Blair with my hands, as I kissed his neck, fingered his nipples and he did all the same to me, it felt like an endless string of doors were opened inside me, and the long vista that led to my soul was finally free and clear, unguarded, unlocked. I could feel something beginning to click into place, a new vision of my self, the redemption of the past, hope for the future.
I was really and truly happy, for the first time in a very, very long while.
We soon became frenzied and desperate, writhing against each other, bucking up, demanding more. I came in his hand, and then he came in mine. It really did feel like falling off the edge of the world. It was my first orgasm in which both my heart and my senses were completely open to my lover. It was over far too quickly. First times are always like that, especially when you've denied yourself what you really wanted for so many years. It was the first time in my entire adult life that I had the right person in my arms.
Blair blinked at me, still a little dazed. "Are you okay, man?"
I smiled at him, feeling so free, so uninhibited. From the answering smile on Blair's face, it must have shone through.
"I'm really, really glad," he told me.
I pulled him closer, and he snuggled against me, resting his head on my chest. I wrapped my arm around him and reached with the other hand for the tissues on my nightstand. I cleaned up Blair, but before I wiped myself, I dipped my finger into Blair's cum on my belly and put it in my mouth. I was expecting it to be salty. I thought it might be bitter. I never expected the flavor to burst across my taste buds and flower inside me, but that's exactly what it did. The taste was complex and compelling, dark and earthy. It was Blair's essence. It was love.
Blair watched me, mesmerized, and more than a little turned on, if the sudden surge in his aroused scent was any indication.
"You taste good," I told him, inarticulately, not even conveying half of what I felt.
It seemed to please him anyway if the brilliance of his smile was any gauge.
"I...uh, I'd like to...um, taste all of you...you know, the next time we do this," I said, feeling my face go all hot.
I was stuttering and blushing just like a kid. It was like some part of my sexuality had been frozen in place back there in my childhood bedroom. I would need to grow up all over again. Maybe that should have felt daunting or frustrating, but it didn't. I looked forward to rediscovering my sensuality. I looked forward to loving Blair in the more adult ways, in every imaginable way, as if I were discovering all that for the first time.
Blair smiled at me and pressed a kiss to my chest. I could feel the touch of his lips and the beating of my own heart. There was something in that, something profound, something true, a measure of our connection.
"That's good, man. I want to taste you too. I want everything we can have together. I want forever," he said.
I smiled and kissed his forehead. "Me too."
Well, you've finally gone and done it, haven't you, Jimmy? You've turned into a faggot. Congratulations. I hope you'll be very happy as a little homo. My father's unrelenting voice echoed somewhere in the far recesses of my mind, dim and diminished, but not banished, not yet. Shut up! I told it, threateningly, really meaning it this time. Blair won't appreciate your calling his best friend a faggot.
"You know I'm not completely fixed, right?"
I could feel his smile and the brush of his eyelashes every time he blinked. "You're a person, Jim, not a toaster. I don't expect you to 'get fixed' just like that. Of course we'll need to keep working through these things you've remembered. We'll do it together. It'll be okay. You'll see."
"For believing in me. For sticking by me, even when I'm a half crazy pain in the ass."
His smile got larger. "Yeah, well, you're my pain in the ass."
I know it's kind of silly, but I got a little choked up at that. "That may be the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," I told him, wrapping both my arms around him like I'd never let him go, which pretty much was my plan after all.