In the Eye of the Beholder: Research
Author's disclaimer: Not mine, all theirs...well, ok, the library is sort of mine.
Author's notes: A fillip, another Eye of the Beholder story. For those of you that don't know, these Beholder stories are all separate stand-alones united by the theme of voyeurism. You'll never look at libraries the same way again. Points to anyone who recognizes the library in question — WOD, I'm talking to you...Thanks Miriam for the beta and the title.
I: TONY'S TORTILLA SHACK, DOWNTOWN CASCADE
"Lemme tell you," Henri said, stretching back in the rickety wood chair with his third beer firmly in hand, "that was one fine piece of woman there...."
Rafe nodded and scooped salsa onto a chip. "Second!"
"Yeah, well, too bad she was a terrorist," Jim said, putting his beer down.
Blair rolled his eyes. "Oh right — like that's a problem."
Jim shot him a look. "What'd'ya mean by that?"
"Means it never stopped you before, man," Blair said with a grin. "The bigger and badder they are, the more you seem to like 'em." Jim extended his arm and gave Blair a light, backhanded slap to the forehead.
"Hey, you're just jealous, Ellison," Henri retorted. "Sandburg's right — the chick was totally your type."
"Tall. Mountainous," Rafe added, drawing the woman's shape with his hands. "Dangerous. And breasts like melons."
Jim laughed and shook his head. "No, no. More like — grapefruit."
"Cantaloupe," Brown insisted. "Like perfect summer cantaloupe."
Blair grinned broadly. "This is the healthiest conversation you guys have ever had." The table burst out laughing and Jim smacked Blair again, wanting to get in first.
"Hey, well — no use fighting." Henri sighed theatrically. "The lady in question is safely behind bars."
"Cantaloupes and all," Rafe said mournfully.
"Oh man, oh man," Henri moaned. "That woman gave me the hot sweats — maybe I'll write to her in prison..."
Rafe laughed and shook his head. "Down, boy — she's not gonna be paroled till 2017."
"Go home to Shelley, man," Jim advised, not unkindly.
"Yeah. You just bring those hot sweats right home," Rafe seconded.
"Yeah," Henri sighed. "Guess I'd better."
"It's getting late anyway." Jim glanced at his watch and signaled for the check.
"You gonna go over to — whatshername's?" Henri asked Rafe.
"Carmen," Rafe supplied absently. "Yeah. I think I will."
"How's that going?" Henri asked.
Rafe shrugged. "Good for now. We'll see what happens."
"What about you, Ellison?" Henri asked, turning his attention to Jim. "You got a honey right now?"
"Nah," Jim said, absently throwing some dollar bills onto the table for a tip. "Nobody dangerous enough for my taste at the moment."
Henri grinned at this, and then looked at Blair. "Hairboy? Any action?" H. waggled his eyebrows.
"On and off, man," Blair said, scraping his chair back. "On and off."
"Mostly off," Jim deadpanned.
"Fuck you," Blair said, goodnaturedly.
As a group they ambled out the door into the cool night air, the three cops towering over Blair. "See you tomorrow, guys," Rafe said, moving off toward his car.
Henri crossed the street to his SUV. "Yeah, see you."
Jim waved vaguely and then followed Blair down the block; he had parked his truck two spaces ahead of the Volvo. "See you at home in a few, Chief," he said, pulling his keys out of his pocket.
"I'll be home in a little while," Blair said, moving around the Volvo toward the driver's side door.
Jim stopped and turned, keys in hand. "Where the hell are you going at this hour?"
"Hey, it's only ten-thirty," Blair said, unlocking his car door. "Thought I'd stop over at the University and — "
"It's been a long day already," Jim objected.
"Yeah." Blair leaned against the car and looked at him wearily. "A long day at the station. I could use a little time on my own turf, if it's okay by you."
He didn't know what to say to that, really. "I don't know what kind of work you're gonna do when you're tired," he said finally.
Blair shrugged. "I don't know either," he said, yanking the door open. "But I'm game to find out." He made as if to duck into the car, then stopped, raised his head. "I won't be late," he promised.
Jim waved his hand, feigning nonchalance. "Do whatever you want," he said, drifting toward the truck. "I'll see you later."
Blair nodded and then did get into the car, pulled the door shut, started the engine. Two spaces down, Jim unlocked the truck and slid into the driver's seat, watching the Volvo's headlights flare to life in the rear view mirror. He started the truck's engine, and watched as Blair shifted the Volvo into gear and pulled the car's nose out tentatively, watching for traffic.
Jim shifted his own engine into drive and waited, foot heavy on the brake, for Blair to pull away. Blair was going off to the University — it seemed like whenever Blair wasn't with him, Blair was at the University. And sure, Blair had teaching commitments, and meetings, and all sorts of crap like that.
But what the hell did anyone do at Rainier University at 10:30 on a Wednesday night?
He saw Blair raise a hand and wave to him as the Volvo passed the truck. Bye-bye, there, Jim. See ya.
Right that second, Jim decided to follow Blair Sandburg onto his turf.
II: THE TRUCK
It was easy to follow Blair's Volvo through the dark Cascade streets, but harder to justify to himself why he was doing it. He tried to focus only on the boxy green car up ahead of him, on not running any stopsigns. He tried to think of this little expedition as a game, or a joke — maybe some sort of practical joke on Sandburg. He told himself he was only taking the long way home.
He sighed, gripped the wheel more tightly, and told himself to cut the crap.
Fact was, Blair knew more about him than he did about Blair. And that was a stinging thought. Because, yeah, Blair Sandburg might have been a trained observer, but he was the Sentinel — he was supposedly the one with the great observational powers. That should have equalized them — but somehow it never did, never had.
When they started working together, Blair had begun a journal documenting the experience. It was a cheap, spiral-bound notebook, and more than once Jim had yelled at Blair to put it away. Now, Jim thought glumly, there were seventeen little spiral-bound notebooks. He had counted them, once, from the doorway to Blair's room — seventeen, for god's sake.
He'd tried to pretend the notebooks weren't there, but they nagged at his brain, tormenting him. Eventually curiosity won out over decency, and he'd stolen into Blair's room and pulled a random volume from the shelf.
Pandora's box had turned out to be disappointing — just a scribble-bibble of notes in Sandburg's cramped hand.
"5/6 — (S.) ill. H/A (5) re: gases purs. Shank. case."
"5/19 — (S.) z/o (2) low buzzing sound of electrical transformer. BST used to b(z/0). T=? NTI dur & freq of tone: why this? Test ranges!!!"
"5/22 — (S.) uses (1) to iden. def. Abruzzi @ 500. PB."
A few moments of staring at these entries and he'd begun to break some of the code. He was clearly (S.) — for Subject, he imagined glumly. The senses were labeled one through five: one was sight, two was hearing, three was touch, four was taste, and five appeared to be smell. The increasingly frequent notation of "PB", he realized with a flash of insight, stood for "personal best," and z/o was zone out. Beyond that, he had no idea what the fuck Sandburg was talking about.
He was disappointed, to say the least. He supposed he'd imagined Sandburg's field journals were more like diary entries: "Dear Diary. Went with Jim to crime scene — a woman was murdered with a toothpick, can you believe it? Simon grouchy, weather pleasant." Instead, Sandburg's journals were closer to some sort of demented algebra.
Which only figured, really.
So Sandburg had seventeen books of algebra, and what did he have? Practically nothing. The guy liked weird food. The guy had traveled a lot. The guy seemed to be chasing an array of faceless girls, off and on.
What else? The guy respected his mother. Music — the guy liked rhythmic music. The guy liked funky clothes. The guy liked fishing and camping —
Or maybe he liked fishing and camping because Jim liked fishing and camping.
Scratch fishing and camping.
Now that he thought about it, when was the last time Blair had worn funky clothes?
Ahead of him, the Volvo zoomed past the parking lot for Hargrove Hall, which brought him up short. Okay, so not the office — where was Blair actually going? He trailed the Volvo around the circular drive, slowing up, waiting to see which turn-off Blair would take.
The library. Duh. Right, the guy was a bookworm — add that to the list.
He was shaking his head as he pulled into a spot in the library parking lot. The building — the largest on campus — loomed ahead of them, looking like a gothic church, or Dracula's castle. He turned off the truck and waited until Blair was almost at the lighted entry door before getting out of the truck and following him.
So this was the turf. He supposed this was the heart of the turf.
III. MITCHELL LIBRARY, RAINIER UNIVERSITY
He'd never spent much time in libraries himself, and he was surprised, when he yanked opened the huge metal door, to find that the place was hopping. God, who'd have imagined that — nearly eleven o'clock on a Wednesday night, and the joint was hopping. The small entry lobby was fairly deserted, but just down the corridor he could see the widening shape of the reading room — and that was jam-packed. Students sitting at carrels, students lined up at the reference desk, students moving about from one area to another. He took a step in and was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.
He turned and looked at the bored face of a university guard. "I.D. please," the guard said.
Shit, he hadn't thought of that. Turf indeed — and well-policed turf at that.
He debated furiously with himself for a second before pulling out his badge. "I'm not a student," he explained to the guard. "Detective James Ellison. Cascade P.D. I'm looking for someone — do you mind if I have a look around?"
The guard stared narrowly at him for a moment, apparently sizing him up.
"I'm not going to steal any books," Jim said wryly, and this made the guard laugh.
"I guess it's okay," the guard said, waving him on in. "You gotta sign in, though."
Jim nodded and signed the visitors log, feeling like a foreign spy.
Det. James Ellison. Time In: 11:04
"Who are you looking for?" the guard asked when he straightened.
"I'm looking for a student — his name is Blair Sandburg."
"Oh yeah," the guard said, nodding rapidly. "He just came in — he went down toward the stacks." He stopped, looked at Jim curiously. "What do you want him for?"
"Just some routine questions," Jim replied distractedly as he peered down the hallway toward the crowded reading room. "Which way — that way?"
"No, no — there," the guard said, directing his attention toward a deserted corridor. "Follow the hall to the staircase, go up one flight. The central desk's up there — the stacks are behind the counter. You probably won't find him if he's gone in," the guard told him, "but that desk's the only way in or out, so you can just wait for him there."
"Right, thanks," Jim said, and headed off down the hallway. It was just as the guard had said — he soon intersected a large, stone staircase, and at the top was another large room with more carrels and some sofas and a huge semi-circular counter that looked like it was carved out of mahogany. Behind the counter were two doors — one said "IN" and one said "OUT."
He looked around and immediately drew back down a step or two — because Blair was right there. It was kind of weird, really, seeing Blair on his own turf. In fact, he thought with a smile, it was kind of like Blairsville up here.
Everyone was young — if there was a person in the joint over thirty-five, he'd eat his hat, and mostly everyone here was considerably younger than that. And the hair, and the clothes — Sandburg had plopped down on a sofa next to a scantily-clad girl with spiky orange hair and a nose ring. Jim wondered if this was Sandi or Kelly or Terry or Merri or any of the other previously faceless girls.
He dialed up his hearing and listened to find out.
"I'm just not going to make it," Blair was saying in library-appropriate tones.
"Man, you've got to," the girl replied with a shake of her head. "Herrick's gonna kill you if you blow off another event."
"Listen, my life is about more than Herrick," Blair said.
"Yeah, but she can hurt you. She can do you damage — that woman's a bitch."
"She's not even my department," Blair protested.
"Doesn't matter. She's on the grants committee, and she notices who comes to her events."
Blair groaned at this, and scrubbed at his face. "Well, hell."
"I'm telling you — come Friday," the girl insisted. "Friday'll be good — lots of people'll blow off Friday, so she'll be sure to see you. It's good face-time."
"You're right, I know you're right," Blair said with a sigh. "I dunno, I'll think about it."
"Call me on Thursday. We'll make a plan — we can get some dinner first, maybe see a movie afterwards. Sort of make a night of it so it doesn't bite so hard."
"I'll think about it," Blair repeated, getting to his feet. "I'll call you, let you know."
"Hey, it's just whoring for dollars, man," the girl said, shrugging. "You gotta kiss the right asses for cash and prizes."
Blair wheeled on her, face irritated and arms crossed. "No, except that's bullshit," he hissed, "that's just not fair. If I were on expedition in Borneo or Peru, they wouldn't expect this sort of face time."
"Except you're not in Borneo or Peru," the girl objected. "If you were in Borneo or Peru you wouldn't have a teaching gig. The gig's not free, Blair — they make you pay for it."
"In face time, yeah," Blair sighed, and then he extended his hand to her. She put her hand in his and he clenched her fist for four or five seconds before letting go. "Thanks for the heads-up, Brandy."
Brandy, Jim thought, and rolled his eyes.
"No problem," Brandy replied, and returned to perusing her book.
He watched as Blair crossed over to the large, semicircular counter. There were a few students loitering behind it, and at Blair's approach, a young man with blond hair and tortoise-shell glasses detached himself from the group and came over. Blair moved toward one end of the semi-circle and leaned over the wood desk.
"Josh, hi," Blair said in a hushed voice.
Josh smiled at Blair from his side of the counter. "Blair, hi."
"How are you?" Blair asked.
Josh shrugged, then nodded. "Okay. What can I do for you?"
"You got some time?" Blair asked.
Josh glanced over at his bored co-workers, then turned back with a quick nod. "I've got some time, yeah. I'm all yours."
"Help me check a reference?" Blair asked.
Josh grinned at him. "Yeah, sure. I live to hunt."
Blair tapped a soft, happy drumroll on the countertop with his hands. "I know it. You're an animal, man."
"Ancient history?" Josh murmured, drifting toward the door marked IN.
"Yeah," Blair said, sliding around the counter from the other side.
"Etruscan," Blair said with a grin.
Josh stepped out from behind the counter, and Jim saw that he was a slightly-built boy wearing jeans and Keds and a plain white Oxford shirt. "Ah, bien sur, monsieur," Josh said, gesturing for Blair to go in first. "An excellent choice."
Jim waited until they had disappeared through the doorway and then approached the desk himself. Another clerk detached himself from the cluster to assist him. "Can I help you?"
Jim pulled his badge out again and selected a plausible lie. "I'm Detective Ellison," he said, "and I've been asked to do a routine security check of the stacks."
This clerk — a heavyset guy wearing a blue polo shirt — frowned at him suspiciously. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah," Jim said defiantly, raising his chin.
The clerk shrugged, as much to say — no skin off my nose. "Do you want an escort or something?"
"No," Jim said, already heading for the door marked IN. "I'll be fine, thanks."
"Knock yourself out," the clerk said, walking away.
IV: THE STACKS
He had the sensation of falling down the rabbit hole — the IN door was small, but the staircase inside of it was downright miniature. He could see, now, how they crammed so many books into this building — while the large outside rooms had twenty foot vaulted ceilings, here in the guts of the building they were maybe eight feet at most. Jim took one short flight down and found himself in a dark, musty area labeled LEVEL 7. A sign next to that showed that the building had been divided into twelve levels. So okay — six levels down and five levels up. And where the hell was Sandburg?
He stopped, listening, scanning the floors. There was only a scatter of movement in the stacks — a student here, a student there. Nothing to identify his partner by, anyway. He noticed, in the darkness, the pale blue light of a computer screen and moved toward it through the narrow and crammed rows of floor to ceiling bookcases.
It took him a moment to realize why the level was so dark — each bookcase had a light timer on the end of it. Jim approached one and twisted the knob slightly — instantly a small section of fluorescent light came on overhead, and the timer began ticking and skittering backwards toward 0 MIN. Smart, Jim thought, turning back toward the screen. And economical. Each student would turn on the light as they needed it, and a maximum of fifteen minutes later it turned off automatically, thus saving the university a wad of cash.
Jim approached the pale blue screen. WELCOME TO MITCHELL LIBRARY, it announced cheerily. TITLE SEARCH? AUTHOR SEARCH? SUBJECT SEARCH? Jim selected the last of these, and then typed s=Etruscans. He wasn't at all sure that he had spelled it right, but he hit ENTER in a spirit of intrepid adventure.
And there it was. ETRUSCAN ART, ETRUSCAN GEMS, ETRUSCAN HISTORY, ETRUSCAN LANGUAGE, ETRUSCAN MAGIC, ETRUSCAN RITUAL, a long list of categories. He selected HISTORY and again the screen changed. A long list of books — but B354.32 seemed to be the predominant call number.
He felt oddly pleased with his discovery — he felt like he was succeeding here on Sandburg's turf. He turned back toward the stairwell just as the overhead light clicked off, throwing the entire floor into darkness. There was a sign in the hallway showing where the various books were stored — the B books seemed to be down on LEVEL 2.
Fine. He'd go down to LEVEL 2 and take a look at those Etruscan history books. And if he ran into Blair — so be it. Hey, he was just looking up some Etruscan history, right?
He descended the narrow staircase, and kept going down and down. A scatter of lights on LEVEL SIX, even more on LEVEL FIVE. He stopped, curious to see what kind of books were down here. Biochemistry, he saw, approaching the nearest bookcase. Well, that figured too.
Levels FOUR and THREE were dark and empty, and then Jim slowed up as he approached LEVEL TWO. This was totally dark as well, and silent as the grave. Eerie, he thought — he had expected to see some light, somewhere, but there was nothing except for the small pool of light flowing out of the stairwell.
He slipped through the light quickly, and into the darkness between two shelves. Not here, he thought with a sigh. They weren't here. Maybe they'd done the Etruscan reference already — maybe Blair was already on to the Aztecs or the Incas or some such thing. Well, he was going to look at those damn books anyway — he was going to complete his mission here. He rubbed idly at his nose, which was sensitive from all the must and dust and damp, and then moved toward the end of the aisle, intent on finding one of those timer-lights.
His hand was actually on the light switch when he heard a sudden squeak of rubber on the linoleum floor. He froze and dialed up all his senses — suddenly sure that this was a practical joke after all — that Blair was playing a prank on him. Blair had seen him, Blair had spotted him, and any second Blair was gonna come leaping out from behind one of these damn bookcases and scare him to death. Betcha undergraduates pulled that sort of shit down here all the time — the long cavernous spaces and the mazes of bookcases were custom made for games of assassin or hide-and-seek.
So he went still, and silent, and dialed up — and now he could hear it, could hear the soft thump-thump of two heartbeats in the darkness. Instinctively he crouched over, and slid silently through the darkness toward them. His eyesight gave him an advantage here in this pitch-dark, windowless space — he could see the tall shelves clearly, and pick his way around them.
And then finally, through a gap in the bookcase, he saw a flash of denim. He stopped, listened — Blair and his friend were apparently just standing there in the dark. He moved to the end of the aisle, preparing to peer around the corner — noticing idly as he crept soundlessly that the two hearts were beginning to race.
He gripped the edge of the bookcase with one hand, and peered around it — and he was glad that he was holding on to something, because suddenly he felt like he was gonna crash to the ground.
The two friends were face to face, leaning sideways against a bookcase for balance — and kissing awkwardly. They were inches apart, but hardly touching — Sandburg had one hand tightly gripping Josh's Oxford shirt at the arm, and Josh had one palm pressed against Blair's side. Their posture was somewhat clumsy, and so was the kiss, but beneath the roughness was...well, roughness, an awkward passion that was the more striking for it's lack of polish.
Jim steadied himself against the bookcase — he didn't know whether to turn or run or what. And then, while he watched, they moved closer together, and their hands disappeared between them. God, Blair's hands were fumbling with Josh's zipper, and Josh's with Blair's — and under his horrified gaze he suddenly saw the broad, spongy head of a cock protruding from the top of a fist.
He didn't know whose cock, he didn't know whose fist. And then they moved closer still, pressing together now, and if you didn't know, if you hadn't seen, you'd have thought they were — well, just swaying together, or struggling tensely between them to open a difficult jar. There was barely any movement, just the gentle swaying, as if they were dancing to some very slow, smooth song that only they could hear.
And then he heard a small, soft gasp — unfamiliar, not Sandburg's. The two shifted with a series of sudden jerks and Josh's hands suddenly appeared out of nowhere and dug fists into Sandburg's hair, tugging his mouth close. Now there was more of that desperate, clumsy kissing — as lips found lips and cheeks and jaws and noses, as they roamed over each other's faces breathlessly, panting, mouths open and hungry.
Jim stared, feeling shocky, as they momentarily lost their rhythm. For an instant, instead of moving in sync, Blair and Josh moved apart. And he thought it was an optical illusion, a perverse surrealistic vision — a cock with two red, leaking heads — and then he realized abruptly that Blair had both of their cocks clenched together in his fist. And then their denim-clad hips came together again, like a wave, and closed off his view.
And things were moving to a climax, now — Josh was kissing Blair roughly and Blair's forearms were tense and straining with stroking and they were both moaning into each other's mouths. There was a single, sharp cry — and this was Sandburg's, he knew the voice. It was Sandburg's cry of pleasure — and suddenly Blair was shoving forward, and slamming Josh roughly back against the bookcase, and Josh said "oh...oh...." and then it was over, like a sudden thunderclap.
Tension diffused abruptly — Josh's arms rested limply on Blair's shoulders, Blair slumped and crushed Josh's body back against the bookcase.
"You, uh," Blair muttered after a minute or two, "got a hanky or something?"
"Yeah. Tissues. Back left pocket," Josh replied breathlessly.
Blair reached around Josh and yanked a handful of tissue out of his pants pocket. And Jim swallowed hard and tried to get his own breathing under control as Blair peeled himself back off Josh and began to clean them both off with broad swipes.
"Where should I, uh..." Blair said, looking around.
"Trash. Right there," Josh whispered, nodding to the small metal mesh wastebasket glinting in the dark.
"Right, yeah," Blair said, tossing the sticky wad of tissue in. And then he turned back to Josh, and slung loose arms around his neck. "Are you okay?"
Josh's arms came up around Blair, and they settled into a clumsy, lanky embrace. "I'm great," Josh replied. "What about you — how are you doing? How's Cop-land?"
Blair laughed softly, and looked straight into Josh's eyes. "It's okay. I'm surviving."
"Surviving," Josh repeated, then shook his head disapprovingly. "Man, how long can you live like that?"
"Long as it takes," Blair replied with a shrug. "It's like any other expedition. When in Rome — "
" — learn Etruscan, right?" Josh asked with a grin.
"Bingo," Blair said, grinning back. "Believe me, I know what I'm doing. I'm enough of a freak over there, I can't afford to add this to the mix."
"Haven't they ever seen gay people on television?" Josh asked dryly.
"I don't know," Blair replied. "Are there any openly gay guys in the NBA?"
"Oh, ouch," Josh said with a wince.
"Look, it's cool," Blair insisted. "I'm fine, it's great, it's all going well. I'm just... keeping my mouth shut."
"You mean: lying through your teeth," Josh corrected.
"That's what I said," Blair deadpanned — and then they exchanged grins. "Besides," Blair added, yanking Josh's head closer and dropping a rough kiss on his cheek, "isn't this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?"
Josh half groaned. "Oh, man! If Michael knew I was here with you..."
"Don't take this the wrong way," Blair said, "but Michael's a dick."
"And what's the right way to take that, exactly?" Josh asked, rolling his eyes.
Blair sighed and said, "Look, what I mean is — "
"I know what you mean," Josh interrupted. "And I'm beginning to agree with you." Blair blinked in surprise, and then peered searchingly at Josh's face in the darkness. Josh nodded slowly. "Yeah, " Josh confirmed. "I'm beginning to think that was a rebound thing."
"Well, thank God," Blair sighed.
"Though it was your fucking fault in the first place," Josh said, making a face at him.
"Hey — I never told you to date a jealous asshole," Blair protested.
"No, but you were seriously undercommitted when we were together," Josh said. "I swear, I went from uncommitted to overcommitted so fast I've got whiplash." Josh pulled back a little, and it took a second for the two guys to disentangle their arms from around each other's shoulders. "I swear to you, that guy thinks I'm his wife or something."
"Well, that's a problem, man," Blair said frankly.
"You bet your ass it's a problem," Josh said with a sigh. "I never signed on for the white picket fence and all that crap."
"So, uh..." Blair reached out with one hand and poked two fingers into the breast pocket of Josh's white shirt. "Does that mean you'll be coming back on the market any time soon?"
Josh stared at him in the darkness, head tilting to one side. "And why do you ask?"
"Well, you know," Blair said, shrugging, forcedly casual as he slowly twisted the tiny button on the shirt pocket. "Like — we might take another stab at it."
"Are you serious?" Josh asked.
Blair's head jerked up. "Yeah, I'm serious," he said, sounding annoyed.
"Hey, whoa, I didn't mean it like that," Josh said, roughly grabbing Blair's shoulders. "I just meant — you know, I was surprised that you'd be up for take two."
"Well," Blair said, looking away. "Just. You know. It was good with you.
Josh stared at him for a moment, then slid his hands up to Blair's neck and tugged his head forward, kissed him. "Well, yeah," Josh muttered as he pushed Blair away. "Some of it was pretty good."
Blair took a deep breath. "So what do you think?"
"I dunno." Josh worked one knuckle under his glasses and rubbed at his eye. "I mean, I'm not even broken up with Michael yet, and part of me wants us to start up again, and part of me is afraid that it's gonna be the same old shit with you."
"Well, yeah," Blair allowed. "I mean, that's possible."
Josh dropped his hand, straightened his glasses, then grinned at Blair. "And consider this — starting up with you again would be like a rebound from my rebound. And how stupid would that be?"
"Uh — pretty stupid?" Blair offered.
"Pretty damn stupid." Josh elbowed Blair affectionately and then draped an arm around his neck and began to tug him back toward the staircase.
Jim quickly pulled back and flattened himself against the shelves, not moving a muscle.
"There'd be an up-side, you know," Blair noted, and Jim could hear the grin in his voice.
"Well, yeah," Josh replied, adding darkly: "It'd kill Michael, for one thing. Michael hates you."
"Why does he hate me?" Blair asked, sounding incredulous.
"He's convinced that we never really stopped fucking," Josh explained. "Which, of course, we never really did — so give the guy some points, there."
"Yeah, well, maybe if he weren't such a dick," Blair offered.
"Oh, he's not really a dick," Josh sighed. "He's just — insecure. Jealous, like you said. He always wants to be together, he's always in my personal space — "
Blair chuffed out a breath, and Josh stopped and said, "What?"
"Nothing," Blair said, and then a moment later: "Well, I mean — I'vegot that right now and I'm not even getting laid."
"Got that from who?" Josh demanded.
"Nothing, forget it," Blair muttered.
"No, seriously — who?" Josh pressed. "Not Andrew?"
"No, no," Blair said.
"Why — is Evan interested?" Blair asked instantly.
"Hey, I'm asking the questions here."
"Look — just drop it, Josh, okay? It's not important."
"Oh god — it's not Ellison, is it?" Josh asked, and Jim froze, totally unexpecting to hear his own name here, in this context. Blair didn't answer, and Josh started laughing. "Oh, man — you are such a screw-up."
"Hey, it's not like that," Blair protested.
"Oh, I'm sure it's not like that," Josh agreed, seeming to find the idea hilarious. "I'm sure that he's going on his merry macho way — I'm laughing at you, boyo."
"All right, all right..." Blair sounded resigned.
"Blair Sandburg in Cop-land — like a kid in the cookie jar," Josh teased. "But it's all 'look, don't touch', right? 'Don't ask, don't tell'? 'You break it, you bought it?'"
"Something like that," Blair muttered.
"Man oh man," Josh said, still laughing. "I'm surprised you're doing a diss on cops. I'm surprised you didn't go right for — say — the army."
Blair's sounded like he was beginning to weaken and see the joke. "Ellison was in the army," he admitted, and Josh hooted.
"Oh, yeah — of course he was. Hadda be. Stupid me!"
"All right, all right — shut up." Jim suddenly saw Blair at the end of the aisle — he went perfectly still and held his breath.
"'The Homoerotics of Male Institutional Cultures', by Blair Sandburg," Josh said, drifting into view. "Sounds like a best-seller to me. Hey — he's not also a monk, is he? No, no, you did the monk thing already...I forgot."
Blair's face was contorted with the effort of not laughing. "You are such a dick."
Josh raised a warning finger. "Don't bullshit me, man. I'm not just your ex — I'm your librarian."
Blair finally burst into laughter and then abruptly pulled Josh into a warm hug. "That's just it, man! The sex, I can live without — but nobody finds a footnote like you do!"
"Get off me!" Josh hollered, but he was laughing too.
"You want me down on one knee? Is that it?" Blair skittered backward, then gallantly dropped to one denim-clad knee. "Will you marry me? Will you love me and keep my books in alphabetical order?"
"No," Josh said, rolling his eyes.
"Ah, well," Blair said, hauling himself back up to his feet. "It was worth a shot."
"Sounds to me like you're not doing so well in Cop-land," Josh mused. "Sounds to me like you're being over-stimulated by testosterone and you've got no place to let your ya-yas out."
"You're not gonna start psychoanalyzing me again, are you?" Blair asked suspiciously.
"I can't help it," Josh said with a smile. "It's just so easy."
Blair fisted Josh's Oxford shirt and yanked him close again, began kissing him. Jim squeezed his eyes shut, and would have dialed down his hearing too except that he was afraid he would lose his balance and fall over. His ears were full of breathless moans, the sound of hands caressing fabric, of Blair's mouth on Josh's neck.
"Tell you what," he heard Josh whisper. "Michael's away this weekend — some business thing. Come over the house. I'll fuck you, or you can fuck me. Whatever you want."
"I think I want you back," Blair muttered, and there were more low moans, more wet kisses.
"I think it's too soon," Josh said finally. "I don't think we should leap into anything."
"I think we made a mistake," Blair insisted. "I think we should try again."
"I think you're lonely out there in the field," Josh countered. "I think you're looking for familiar landmarks."
"I think I still love you," Blair said quietly, and this seemed to shut Josh up.
"Come Friday," Josh said finally. "We'll talk about it on Friday."
"Will you at least think about it?"
"Of course I'll think about it," Josh replied, and they were on the move again, their voices drifting away. "I mean, I love you, too — I guess I always will. But there's history, here, Blair — serious history, ancient history — and I don't think it's wise to live in the past."
V. THE TRUCK
He was glad that the narrow stairwell had banisters — he felt a bit dizzy, and his legs were shaky under him. Ancient History — what a joke, har de har har.
Well, that answered a lot of questions, really, he thought, pushing out of the library and into the cool night air. Why Sandburg's women were so faceless. What you did at Rainier University at 10:30 on a Wednesday night. Why only some of Blair's books were in alphabetical order.
He noticed dimly that the Volvo was gone as he climbed into the truck, tried to collect himself for the drive home. He felt tricked — he felt bait-and-switched; who knew that this Pandora's box would have snakes in it, would have —
(A cock with two red, leaking heads)
God. God. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the headrest — he was in no condition to drive.
In his mind's eye he could still see Josh and Blair groping each other awkwardly, jerking each other off. He could hear Blair whispering, "I still love you," could hear Josh saying, "You're lonely out there in the field."
Lonely, Sandburg was lonely — hell, Sandburg didn't know what lonely was.
Don't ask, don't tell — and he had never, ever told. Look, don't touch — and he had never touched, never ever. "I'll fuck you — or you can fuck me. Whatever you want," and he had never been near to getting what he wanted, though in his mind's eye he could see the two men sprawled out on a bed, Blair's dark curls and olive tones contrasting with Josh's blond hair and pale skin. Twined limbs and taut muscles — Blair on top — no — no, Josh. Two men rolling on the sheets, kissing hungrily and moaning and sweating. The broad, spongy head of a cock — Blair's cock — protruding from a fist. The fist squeezing tightly — Blair's fist — no, Josh's —
— no, no, it was his fist, it was his fist and his cock, and he was squeezing himself and jerking himself roughly. His cock, Blair's cock — Blair would squeeze both their cocks together and make a cock with two red, leaking heads. And then he'd slam Blair back against the wall, and kiss him roughly, and Blair's strong masculine hands would be on him. Blair would touch him, and he would touch Blair, he would touch Blair's cock, take it in his hand, hold the hard, red cock in his hands and —
He seized, and cupped his own cockhead, and came hard into his hands. He took slow, deep breaths, needing air, needing to gain control of himself before he could reach into the glove compartment for a napkin, before he could wipe the wet, sticky filth away.
VI: THE LOFT
Blair was already in the loft by the time he got there — he was standing near the stove, waiting for the kettle to boil. "Hey, what happened to you?" Blair asked him. "I thought you were coming straight home."
"I made a couple of stops," Jim said evasively, shutting and locking the door behind him. "What about you — where did you go?"
"I went over to the library," Blair said, as the kettle began to sputter and whistle. "I ran into my friend Brandy — I might have a date for Friday night." He waggled his eyebrows at Jim.
Jim's stared at him narrowly. "Brandy, huh?"
"Yep," Blair said, turning off the gas and pouring the hot water into a mug on the counter.
Faceless women...but Brandy wasn't faceless, and that was a first. "Is she pretty?" Jim asked. "This...Brandy?" The name rolled off his lips with disgust.
Blair didn't seem to notice — he just grinned smugly and set the kettle down. "She's a knockout — if you like the type, which I do. Slim. Petite. Very sexy. Breasts not quite like grapefruits or melons, though," he added, thoughtfully. "More like... apples, but very perky."
He felt rage welling up in him — the rage of betrayal, of lies, of the bait-and-switch. "So — you're a breast man, eh, Chief?"
Blair shot him a sharp look — well, hell, maybe Blair was finally catching on. "Well, yeah. I mean, sort of."
"You sure?" He moved closer to Blair, intending to intimidate him with his size and strength. To his satisfaction, Blair slowly began to back away. "Cause you don't sound so sure."
"I didn't know there was going to be a quiz," Blair tried to joke, though he sounded more unsure than ever.
"You like small, high breasts, Chief?" Jim asked, still moving forward. "Is that what you like?"
Blair jumped as he bumped into the fridge handle with the small of his back and raised his hands defensively. "Man, what's up with you? Are you okay?"
Jim ignored the question. "I don't think you like breasts, Chief," he said softly, dangerously.
Blair stared at him, his blue eyes wide. "I like breasts just fine," Blair managed, but his voice seemed distant, airy, far away.
Jim stabbed Blair roughly in the shoulder with his index finger. "I think you like dick," he accused, watching with mean satisfaction as the color drained from Blair's face. "That's the truth, isn't it? Tell the truth, Sandburg — for once in your miserable life."
Blair's mouth dropped open — Blair looked like a man who had just caught sight of an approaching tornado, like a man who had just foreseen the end of the world. "I, uh — "
Jim leaned in and spoke in a soft, harsh whisper. "I know you do. Because you smell like it, Sandburg — I can smell it on you."
Blair's pale face grew suddenly defiant, and he took an aggressive step forward into Jim's space and flexed his muscles. "I don't know what fucking business it is of yours," Blair said in a hard voice. "Unless you want to fuck me — do you want to fuck me, big man?"
Jim clamped his jaw shut and forced himself not to back off: he hadn't expected this. Or had he?
Blair raised his chin. "If you don't, kindly get the fuck out of my way. I've got packing to do."
Blair's eyes were hard sapphires, blazing into his. Jim held his ground — not knowing what to say or do. Maybe he should just move aside — let the kid pack, let the kid go...
But Blair's face was changing, even as he watched; as he watched, Blair blinked hard and his eyes widened. "Oh my god," Blair whispered, his deep voice abruptly softening into wonder. "You do, don't you? You want to fuck me..."
Jim suddenly became aware of his own harsh breathing — he had Blair backed up against the fridge, but he was the one who was trapped. "No," he said.
But the fear was gone from Blair's expression — suddenly he was the one who was afraid. "You do," Blair repeated, wide-eyed and incredulous. "Holy..." and suddenly Blair was looking down at himself, and his hands were moving toward his waistband, and Blair was unzipping his pants...
He did back away then, raising his hands, as if he could stop Blair, or at least stop himself from seeing Blair. You didn't do this. Desire — yes. Fantasize — yes. Fantasies were harmless, and you couldn't help desire. But to cross the line from desire into action — that's what made it a sin, or a security risk. It was the one point of philosophy that Brother Michael and Colonel Thomas Miller had agreed upon — and the Chopek...hell, the Chopek castrated you and staked you, spread-eagled, to the jungle floor.
But Blair was still fumbling with his pants, and god — Blair was shoving his underwear down around his hips and pulling his cock out. Red, flushed shaft...pale pink spongy head...and Blair was staring at him across the kitchen with no sign of fear or embarrassment.
"It's okay," Blair said, and now Blair's hands were reaching for the hem of his knit shirt. He crossed his arms and pulled the shirt up, up, over his head and then dropped it carelessly on the floor by his side. Wiry, muscular arms, broad chest dusted with chest hair. He hadn't seen much of Blair's body before; in three years he'd hardly ever gotten a sustained glance at Blair's body. But here Blair was, standing shirtless in the kitchen, naked down to the V of his open jeans, naked down to his flushed red cock in its nest of coarse, dark pubic hair.
"It's okay," Blair said again — but this was anything but okay. Blair looked like a demon, like a muscular, male animal — course dark hair clouding round his face, high upon his chest, curling round the base of his cock. Debauched and lecherous and —
"It's okay," Blair said, more gently, now. Jim shook his head and took another step back. "It's okay," Blair said softly, and one wiry, muscular arm was reaching out for him now. "Come touch me. It's okay to touch me." Blair began to cross the kitchen with slow, deliberate steps, arm still extended. "Come on, Jim..."
His eyes drifted over the flat, brown nipples, followed the line of chest hair down Blair's belly to where it arrowed to his cock. Obscene. Obscene — blood brown purple red and curving upwards. Obscene of Blair to be hanging out like that, obscene and treacherous —
Blair was close, now — so close that he could see the sprinkle of freckles on Blair's left shoulder. He was frozen with fear — his pose of intimidation, pathetic.
"It's okay," Blair said yet again, and Jim looked down and saw that Blair was grasping his hand. "It's okay, man — relax and enjoy it," and Blair pulled Jim's hand to his chest.
He felt hard pectoral muscles, felt the crispness of chest hair, felt the thump-thump-thump of a heart under his fingertips — -and the pulsing heartbeat bloomed into music, into a symphony, and suddenly he could feel the score — da da, da da, da-da-da, da — black quarter notes and flying grace notes, the measures and the time abruptly shifting as Blair touched his arm, as Blair tilted his open, honest face up to his. He stared at Blair's face, lost in the music, lost in the mathematical patterns under his hands — here, at long last, he'd found algebra. Algebra of a sort, anyway.
"C'mon," Blair was murmuring, "c'mon," and the soft shush of Blair's voice was the vocal line, the completing gesture, the final touch. Blair was tugging on his arm, but he was rooted to the spot, hand caressing the music flowing from Blair's body, head cocked slightly as he listened to the numbers dance.
"C'mon, Jim, " Blair whispered to him. Jim looked into Blair's eyes and thought: This is dangerous. This is dangerous enough.
The kitchen blurred around him, and then Blair was backing him through the doorway into his room. The heart of the turf, the real heart was right here — right under his fingertips, right in the middle of his own universe. Blair pushed the door closed, cutting them off from the rest of the apartment — and Jim found himself in a world of books and papers, of tribal art and bright silk shirts.
Blair was casually shoving his pants down and off. "What are you waiting for? C'mon — let's do it."
Jim's hands absently moved to the buttons of his shirt as Blair pulled some abandoned clothes off his futon and threw them to the floor. He stared at the taut, tense muscles that rippled down Sandburg's naked back as he leaned over the bed and straightened out the bedclothes.
What had he been waiting for? Permission? That would never come. An invitation? He'd had invitations before. Weakness, he thought with sudden certainty. He'd been waiting for a moment of weakness...
Blair was frowning at the bed. "Well, it's good enough," he concluded finally, turning around to look at him — dark hair brushing his body, red cock curving upwards. "It's just gonna get all messed up again anyway..."
Jim roughly pulled his shirt off his shoulders and tossed it on top of a pile of Blair's clothes. He watched, face beginning to burn, as Blair stared with open appreciation on his face and dark lust in his eyes.
"Man," Blair breathed, and suddenly Blair was right in front of him, touching his chest — Blair's heavy, hard erection was brushing the front of his pants. "Touch me," Blair said softly, taking a hard nipple carefully between forefinger and thumb. "C'mon, just do it already..."
Jim shoved forward and pushed Blair hard down onto the futon, straddling his thighs, holding this hairy male animal down with a strong hand on either shoulder. Blair stared up at him from the backdrop of pale blue sheets. "Yeah, that's it," Blair urged. "Come on..." and his hands moved down over Blair now, feeling the hot muscles of his chest, feeling the hardening brown nipples, before sliding down to grasp the slick, hard column of Blair's cock.
Blair moaned and bucked up into his hands, and Jim tightened his fist just below the broad, spongy head. Hot. Blair was hot, hard, thrumming with life. "Touch me," Blair said breathlessly. "Like this..." and Blair's warm hand curled around his, guiding his fist up and down the throbbing shaft.
It felt like the hot flesh was searing his hand — god, Blair was beautiful, Blair's cock was so beautiful. "Faster," Blair murmured, closing his eyes. "Do it faster, make me come." Jim felt he was getting the hang of it, now — Blair's preferred rhythm was quite like his own — slow and tight near the root, fast and light up near the head. "Oh yeah...just like that...just like that," Blair urged; he was now covered with a thin layer of sweat, and his face was beautiful, contorted with pleasure.
"You like it," Jim whispered softly, watching him.
"Yeah. I like it..." Blair murmured, and then he opened his eyes and stared at Jim through a haze of desire. "I like dick, I like men — I like you, Jim. Let me see you..."
"I — " Yes, he thought. No. Yes — but he couldn't seem to make himself say anything, either way.
"Let me see you," Blair repeated softly. "Come on — please."
He let go of Blair's erection, moved his hands to the waistband of his pants. Blair lay there, underneath him, and kept stroking himself — every few strokes he would shudder, head lolling, eyelids flickering with pleasure. Jim was breathing raggedly, trying to suck in enough oxygen as he unbuttoned his pants and unzipped himself with shaking fingers. He shoved his boxers down around his hips, as Blair had done, and pulled his erect cock out over the top of the elastic.
"Oh yeah..." Blair breathed, and his hand was flying now, over his cock, "...yeah...oh, shit," and Blair's mouth opened and he seized and sprayed white semen up over his chest and belly.
Jim moaned at the sight and clutched hard at Blair's shoulders, bending over to slide his own erect cock up Blair's abdomen, through the trails of sticky wetness. Still gasping for air, Blair let go of his cock and groped blindly for Jim's.
The touch of Blair's slippery come-coated fingers on his erection started the ball of his own orgasm rolling — he was panting for air, unable to speak, as Blair choked out, "Come on...come on...come all over me..."
He cried out and helplessly released his seed — Blair was still fondling him, and come splattered through Blair's fingers, onto Blair's chest. He heard his own groan of completion, heard Blair's soft exhalation of pleasure. He slid his shaking hands down off Blair's shoulders to his chest and began obsessively rubbing the come into Blair's skin, inhaling the pleasant, pungent scent of sex.
Damp fingers touched his cheek, slid back to his neck, pulled his head down. And then Blair's mouth was on his, Blair was kissing him hungrily, Blair's tongue was in his mouth.
"See?" Blair was breathing the words into his mouth. "It's okay...it's good...it's fun, Jim...."
"You're not supposed to," Jim murmured before he could stop himself, hating himself for repeating such cant.
He felt Blair's mouth pull into a smile. "Jim...men have been fucking each other for thousands of years. Even the earliest historical records — "
Ancient history, Jim thought, closing his eyes. Ancient history.
" — show evidence of male/male desire. We're not inventing anything new, here, I promise." Blair sounded highly amused.
Jim lifted his head, stared into Blair's eyes. "Where were you tonight?" he asked quietly, wondering if Blair would tell him the truth now. "Who were you with — who did I smell on you?"
Blair sighed and twisted his head away, and Jim's heart sank. Lies. Deceit. Sin, security risk. Treacherous queers. "I went to see my ex," Blair said finally. "His name's Josh — Joshua."
He felt like he couldn't breathe, suddenly — felt like his breath was trapped in his chest. "Oh," he said. "So. Are you with him again?"
"I don't know." Blair turned his head back to look at Jim, then raised a hand and stroked the side of Jim's head. "Maybe. I was sure thinking about it," he said, honestly.
"What's he like?" Jim asked, leaning his head into Blair's palm.
"He's great. He's — like — really, really smart. He knows seven languages," Blair explained.
"So...I mean...is that a requirement?" Jim asked with a frown. "Do you only date linguists or something?"
Blair laughed at this. "No, no...not a requirement. A plus, though," Blair said with a grin. "The thing about Josh," Blair added thoughtfully, smile slowly fading, "is that he was good to me before, during, and after our relationship. And that's pretty rare, you know? Josh is a friend," Blair said slowly. "And it's nice to fuck...and it's nice to have friends...but it's really nice if you can get both in the same person."
Now it was Jim's turn to look away. "Yeah. I bet it is."
"It's not easy to find," Blair said quietly, stroking Jim's hair gently. "I don't think I really understood that when I was with Josh or I wouldn't have been quite so cavalier about the whole thing. I'm not sure lightening can strike twice..."
No. Lightening probably couldn't strike twice. But it hadn't struck once for him yet — not once in all the thousands of years, not once in the all history of the world. And this felt like the dawn of a new era, this felt like the start of the modern age.
He bent his head and kissed Blair's mouth, feeling the music of Blair's body under his fingertips, and listening intently for the faint, encouraging sound of approaching thunder.