Blair grinned. "You just want to see what she can do outside a ring."
"Well...I also think that maybe we can see if anyone else stops by. Damn, I wish I had some jurisdiction here."
"We really should tell the cops here, and Scotty, too. We don't want him in trouble."
Jim didn't want to answer him.
"Do we?" Blair was reasonably confused.
"Look, I know I said it couldn't be Scotty, but...everyone's a suspect but you. And the horses. Something is going on here, and it's worrying me. I just want to get it cleared up before we hand it over, okay?" He knew he sounded defensive, but he couldn't help it.
Blair got up and put his arms around him. "I know. It's all right."
Jim bent to kiss Blair on the head. "I hope so, Chief. You're comfortable with this?"
He looked up with those beautiful eyes. "Yeah. This feels so...right." He put his head on Jim's chest for a moment. Jim took the opportunity to stroke Blair's hair. There was something about that hair...he'd wanted to touch it ever since the kid barged his way into his life. If only he could keep his mind off that stash in the cave.
"As nice as this feels, Jim, if we don't get a move on, we'll miss dinner. I, for one, am starving." Blair pulled away and ran a hand through his curls to get them in some sort of order. Jim nodded, and lacing his fingers through Blair's, walked with him to the great hall again.
The room was filling up with ranchhands, most of whom either ignored the pair or called out compliments on Jim's riding. They made their way to the head table, which had been enlarged to accommodate a few more people.
"Jim, Blair! I got some folks I'd like you to meet." Scotty stood up with a huge smile. "These are my parents, Bob and Jean Howard, and Marian's folks, Sam and Elizabeth Anderson." They nodded at the two older couples, and shook hands with the nearer ones, who looked like their daughter. "And this fellow here is Mike Smith." A tall blond man sitting next to Bob the foreman nodded his head. "He used to work for me until he got a better offer."
"Nice to meet you two. Bob tells me you're cops?" Mike watched them as they took their seats.
"I'm a detective over in Washington - city called Cascade - but my partner here is an academic."
"Blair Sandburg. I'm a grad student at Rainier." Blair, who was fairly close, stuck out his hand. Mike hesitated a second before he took it. Jim noticed but didn't say anything.
At this point, the servers came out with the huge bowls of salad again. As Blair occupied himself with filling both their plates, Jim watched the other people around him. So far as he was concerned, he was now in a room full of suspects. The world "cop" caught his ear. He focused on its origin - Smith.
" - hanging around with that hippie kid?"
"Those two? They're a couple of fags - the big guy was in the army with Scott."
Jim carefully controlled his wince.
"Really? Scott doesn't mind?"
"Old friend, you know? And he's a hell of a rider. 'dressage', don't you know? Rich boy."
Jim tuned them out and concentrated on finishing his salad.
The night before, Jim had headed for their room filled with anticipation. Finally, he and Blair would be together, something he'd never thought would happen. This night, Jim could hardly breathe as they made their way up the two flights of stairs. Blair's heart was also beating quickly, but Jim couldn't tell if that was nervousness or simple exhaustion from a strenuous day.
Blair went immediately to "his" chair under the window. The sky behind him was still glowing, although the sun had long since set. He pulled off his boots and wrapped his hands around his knees, looking at Jim. There was enough light from the bedside lamp that Jim could see him bite his lips.
"You okay, Chief?" Great question, Ellison.
"I could ask you the same question. Look...your hands are shaking."
Jim glanced down. They were. "I guess I'm nervous. And confused. Last night, you were astounded at the very idea. This afternoon, you kissed me. Then you ran. Help me out here, Chief."
"I'm sort of confused myself. I mean, I know we're all a little bi, and I've had crushes on guys before and all that, but...well...what you said last night just floored me."
Blair ran his fingers through his hair. "I mean, I've had guys come on to me before, and like I said, I knew you liked men and all, but you never showed me *any* signs before that you like *me*, I mean in *that* way. So...I sort of panicked."
"I'd never hurt you or do anything..."
"I know. There is nothing and no one I trust more than you, Jim." Blair stared straight into Jim's eyes. There was only truth in his face.
"Then why...why did you spend the night in that chair?"
Jim clenched his fists and tried to keep the pain out of his voice.
Blair got out of the chair and knelt in front of him. He took Jim's hands in his own. "It wasn't you, James. Not you, never you. I couldn't sleep. There was too much going through my brain. All I could think about was you and being with you and touching you and...I knew if I moved too much, I'd wake you. So I got out of bed and moved to the chair. And I guess I fell asleep there. And dreamed about you."
Jim couldn't say anything. He just let Blair hold his hands and looked into his eyes.
"Last night, I said I didn't love you *that* way - you know, being *totally* in love, the way I thought I'd been with Maya. And maybe I didn't. But maybe I was wrong. I don't know. I'm beginning to think I've never loved anyone in *that* way, so I didn't know what it felt like."
Jim barely heard those words at first. His senses were full of how Blair's hands felt in his. He'd never really noticed them before. They were large - as large as his own, surprising in a man Blair's size, and strong. He knew about the strength because he'd felt it before. He hadn't realized that they were also soft, or that they were cool or that they had calluses in strange places. He could feel Blair's pulse, too, as it echoed his heartbeat.
Then the words sank in. "Chief? 'Before'? What do you mean?"
"Before...now, or maybe before I met you. I don't know. I've always...well, I never really thought of myself as settling down with anyone - not Naomi's son, you know? But if I did at all, it was maybe with a girl. Or...I mean, I don't ignore guys and never have, but I never have, you know?"
"I'm just barely following you." Jim continued to stroke Blair's hands. He didn't ever want to let them go.
"I'm not following me, man. But, I've felt something for maybe years. I just didn't want to call it 'love' because...because I was supposed to feel that way with a girl. And I know I'm supposed to be way past that, but I'm not. I just know...the worst thing that could ever happen to me would be to lose you, and the best would be to be with you forever."
Blair pulled his hands away from Jim's and sat back on his heels. Jim stared for a moment at the place they'd been. Then he looked up. The last of the sunlight was gone now. The sky was dark - any stars were drowned out by the light in the room. Blair's eyes reflected the lamplight. He could read nothing in them. "Forever? I could probably do forever."
Jim nodded. "Yeah. At least, I can't...don't want to think of a reason why not." He rubbed his hands together. They were too hot. He missed Blair's hands. "Now what?"
Blair shook his head. "I don't know. I thought I - there was that kiss today."
"Yeah. What was with that? You kissed me and you ran. Why?"
"I don't know. I just...ran."
Jim shook his head. "You don't run. In the entire time I've known you, you have never run. You get scared, you even panic, but you stay where you are or you go forward, and you do what you have to do. Even if it means you might die, like on that rig. I just about ordered you to run but you had to stay and take care of that bomb."
Blair's eyes were wide. "I didn't have a choice, man. There was no way I could leave."
"I know. But that's what I mean. You don't run away. You face things head on and thinking. But you ran."
Blair was silent for a long moment. "It was...when we kissed, even though it was only a touch, I felt it. I mean, I felt it in my cells. Nothing, no one, no kiss had ever felt like that, and nothing had been so perfect and I had to get away and *feel* it, and know what it meant."
"And now, Chief? Blair?"
Blair smiled a little and stood. He walked over to Jim, brought him to his feet, and wrapped his arms around him. Jim brought his own up and held him close, burying one hand in his curls as Blair pressed his face into Jim's shoulder. That was enough.
Then Blair stepped back and tilted his head. Jim swallowed slightly - would it be possible to repeat perfection? Would Blair run? - and met his lips. This time it was no mere brush, although it did begin gently, softly. Blair gradually deepened it, with Jim following his lead, until their tongues were dancing with each other. Blair's mouth was, not cool, but cooler than Jim's own, and he tasted of after dinner coffee and carrot cake.
They had to break apart when they tired but Jim would never forget this moment if he really did have forever. He felt Blair relax in his arms, and bent to give him a kiss on the forehead.
This, too, would be enough.
"You're not running, Chief."
"Yeah, I am. I'm just not running *away*. Oh, God, Jim, this feels *so* good." He buried his face in Jim's shoulder again. Jim kissed him again, on the top of his head. His hair smelled of outdoors and horses and felt like silk. "Don't want to let go." His voice was muffled but Jim heard every word.
"Then, don't. Stay here and hold me forever." He didn't need anything more. Blair loved him. The universe was perfect.
"I can't." Blair slowly stepped back. "There's so much...Jim, I'm scared." Jim began to protest, but Blair put a finger on his mouth. "Not of you. Of...loving you. Loving you the way you deserve. You need."
"I don't *need* anything more than this."
"Jim, you don't need to be a Sentinel to see that you want more." Jim followed Blair's downward glance. He'd been so wrapped up in Blair he hadn't even realized how aroused he was. "And I don't know...I've never been with a man. I've thought about it, but I've never done it."
"It's all right. Just let me hold you and I'm happy, even if you don't want more." He stroked Blair's arm to reassure him.
"I do. Want more. Just not now. Today. Tonight. Okay?" Blair stared at him, his eyes huge.
As if he could ever contradict him. "Someday, though?"
"Someday, soon." Oh, that smile. Jim knew he'd do anything for that smile. "But I could go for some major cuddling now."
"Whatever you want, Blair." Why hadn't he noticed before how good it felt to say his name?
"Whatever I want?" Blair grinned. "Cuddle me...James." Jim suppressed a shiver at the sound of his own name and allowed Blair to lead him to the bed.
They lay down side by side, taking only enough time to remove their boots. Blair fitted himself into Jim's arms and wrapped a leg around him. Jim responded by opening just one button on Blair's shirt and nibbling on his neck. Blair's delighted moans spurred him on to kiss his way up his jawline.
Blair grabbed his head and they were kissing again as they moved their clothed bodies together. For a long time, but not a long enough one, Jim's universe consisted of Blair's mouth, Blair's body and Blair's curls, and this, too, was enough.
Eventually, they had to let go of each other, but they remained close together the rest of the evening as they read and talked. Jim was in such a state of bliss that he could barely concentrate on the poetry he'd brought with him - especially when Blair chose to use him as a headrest while he poured over a tome he'd brought with him as "light reading."
That night, Jim still wore his pajama bottoms and Blair still wore those old sweats, but they slept curled in each other's arms after exchanging a final good-night kiss. Jim, his head pillowed on Blair's chest, allowed his heartbeat to lull him to sleep.
There was something warm pressing on Jim's chest. It was Blair's arm draped over him. He twisted. Blair was lying on his stomach with his face smooshed into the pillow, covered by all the blankets. His hair was a rat's nest. Jim himself was covered in nothing but Blair's arm and his pajamas.
All he could think was that Blair was incredibly beautiful and he himself was warm and comfortable. He leaned over and kissed Blair gently, hoping not to wake him. Even in the morning, Blair smelled wonderful and tasted better.
However, Jim hoped in vain. Blair stirred at the touch of his lips, opened his eyes and moaned. "Who turned on the sun..."
"Kinda does it by itself, Chief. Long as you're up, let's get some breakfast."
"Don' wan' breakfast. Wan...wan...want *you*!" The next thing Jim knew, he'd been dragged down beside Blair and cuddled within an inch of his life. Jim had no choice. He had to give in and laugh. Blair caught the giggles from him, so Jim decided the only thing to do was tickle him back.
"Hey, no fair! I can't tickle you, Mr. Touchy-Feely! James, stop!" Jim obeyed and began to stroke Blair instead. He watched as his friend turned over on his back with a sigh.
Blair was even more beautiful like that. His eyes were closed, his hair was spread out over his pillow and happiness glowed from his face. *He's an angel. He's my angel.*
"What are you thinking, James?" Blair opened his eyes as Jim slowed his strokes.
"You. You make me happy. If only I wasn't so hungry..."
Blair started laughing again. "Okay, okay. Let's get dressed." He pulled Jim down for another deep kiss and then let him go. He reached out a hand for Jim to drag him out of bed. They pulled on riding clothes and went down to breakfast.
This time, there were western omelets, which Blair declared Jimsafe and they wolfed down. They waved to Scott as they walked to the horse barn.
"Hey, pretty lady. Did you miss me?" Jim greeted Dancer as one of the grooms led her out. He gave her a piece of apple before saddling her. This time he heard no one tease him about his choice of tack. Blair fed Ol' Kris, who was already saddled and waiting, a carrot.
"Mr. Ellison, you want to use the ring again?"
"Just for a half hour or so, to get the horses warmed up. I thought, if Mr. Sandburg seems ready, we might do some trail riding today."
"Nice day for it. I'll see to Mr. Sandburg, and tell you if he's ready."
Jim nodded and turned to help Blair get on the gelding. To his surprise, Blair was already mounted and starting to move. He winced occasionally as his somewhat bruised rear end contacted the saddle, but Blair was actually riding - not well, but better than the day before.
He got on Dancer himself and settled down. She pranced for a second just for style but calmed at the touch of his knees. He patted her neck and signaled her to walk after Blair and Ol' Kris. Her long legs and restless pace soon brought them side by side. Blair noticed and shot him a brilliant smile as they rode into the ring together.
By the time he and Dancer had made one circuit, Jim was once again at that place where horse and rider became one. He only had to think something and it seemed Dancer would do it. The glances he could spare towards Blair told a different story.
Go to Part Five.