Jim reached out and touched the sleeve of the Henley. It had been a long time since he had seen anyone wear anything other than the olive drab Alliance uniform inside of the complex. "This is nice," he said as he lost himself in the small, baby-soft squares of the fabric.
"Thanks, my mom sent it to me," Sandburg explained, giving the first real glimpse of any feelings as his eyes lit up briefly.
Jim was mesmerized and reached up to stroke a smooth cheek.
"Go ahead," Sandburg said with a sigh. "Get it over with."
"What?" Jim asked, taken aback.
"Kiss me. That's what you were going to do, right?"
"No, I wasn't," Jim lied and dropped his hand as he moved away.
For the first time Sandburg looked unsure. "You don't really want to bond, do you?" He began to pace at the foot of the bed. "It makes sense now. I couldn't figure out what a front line Sentinel would want with me. I mean, my record speaks for itself."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Blair stopped pacing and the hardness was back. "You need to be honest with me, Sentinel. This can work out for both of us."
A young anthropology graduate writes to his best friend when he's selected to join an off-world expedition headed up by the renowned Dr. Blair Sandburg. Kalar and his teammates encounter not only the indigenous Oma, but also a rebel attack on the capital city. When Dr. Sandburg is taken hostage, will Captain Ellison and his men rescue him in time?
To: Miguel Hernandez
From: Kalar Ko'e Ruva
It has been five days since I left Earth. As you predicted, I am bored. The passengers are mainly a mix of Noiri and Ukassa engineers and their families. They will be relieving the current rotation on Gemini Station.
I know my sudden departure was a surprise, but I could not pass up the chance to join an expedition, especially one headed by Dr. Blair Sandburg. Someone must have dropped out at the last minute due to illness or a scheduling conflict. Whatever the situation, I am grateful for the invitation.
This is the kind of opportunity I never would have received at home on Ju Wor. If not for the Stoddard scholarship program, I would not have been able to complete my education on Earth, let alone receive my anthropology degree. I also count myself fortunate to have a friend like you. Your encouragement and support over the past two years have been invaluable.
I am eager to put my studies to practical use on Azigi. I will keep you updated on my progress. My best to your family.
Jim nodded. Definitely, he needed to be drunk. He finished his beer in two swallows. He looked at 'Blair' who was holding the sugar bowl up to his mouth and licking the sugar out. Maybe if he tried his questions from a different angle? Jim coughed. "What does your mother call you?"
Blair smiled, eyes shining. "Mother never calls me."
"Ah." Jim tapped the table with his fingers. "But if she did call you, what would she call you?"
Blair put down the sugar bowl and considered the question carefully. Finally, with a tone to his voice that suggested he wasn't sure it was the right answer, he said, "Son?"
Blair stared at him, seeing him as clearly as he saw the people going in and out of the drugstore. His niggling suspicion had graduated to full-blown alarm. "Where did you come from?"
Ellison took a deep breath. "Originally from Cascade. Uh, recently from purgatory."
Blair's mind still wasn't ready to accept the unacceptable. "I've never heard of it. Is it in Washington?"
"Actually I'm not sure where it is. They told me heaven wasn't really in the clouds, so I wouldn't even try to guess where purgatory is."
"Do you realize what you just said is a definite sign of insanity?"
"It's the truth." The man's jaw was set in a stubborn line.
Blair slumped in his seat. He had to get home and have something to eat. Maybe his famished brain had created this hallucination. He glanced at the man's impressive biceps and romance-hero chiseled features. At least my hallucination looks like a walking wet dream.
"Eh...heh. Jim. We have to go back."
"You know. There."
An exaggerated rolling of the eyes downward and a jerk of the head in the same direction informed Jim of just where "there" was. Damn it.
Gentlemen, a gruff voice began, followed by yet another throat clearing cough, I asked you two here because I have something very important to discuss. I hope we can keep this on a personal level. What I have to say could very well damage our friendship, though I hope that won't be the case.
"Sandburg, you haven't made any sense whatsoever since that science magazine came. You pick out my wardrobe. You drag me out here. You're " Jim seemed flummoxed as to how to describe what his partner was currently doing.
"I'm presenting the goods." Blair urged Jim's hiking-booted foot up on the brass railing by tickling behind a sensitive Sentinel knee, then stepped back to look at his handiwork.
"Look, Jim, sex is a risky business in the animal kingdom. Especially for the guys. Take the South American knife fish. The males attract a mate by emitting electrical signals, but the lower notes are such a predator-beacon that by the end of mating season there's almost no male knife fish left. Or think about fireflies. There you are flashing your firefly Morse equivalent of 'I want your sex' and you dot-dot-dash to a girl of the wrong species, you're dinner, man."
This was making no more sense than it had at the loft, but a cold beer in hand never hurt anything. Besides, it was Friday. Barring calls from Simon, they had Saturday off and, well, Jim was feeling slightly mellow as he watched his partner. It didn't matter he didn't understand exactly what Sandburg was excited about; he rarely understood Blair's more academic moods. At least this one included him and involved an amply stocked bar, and he'd learned to be grateful for whatever he could.
"So there's a lot of scenarios we could test, Jim. A lot."
It was working--he rolled his eyes and shook his head. "South American culture is really not my field of study. I only got sent here because Eli needed an assistant for a while, and I owed him. Believe me, I'd much rather be back home, working on my own dissertation."
"Yeah? What's it on?" I already knew, but I wanted to continue the diversion.
His eyes lit up, and I found myself again suppressing an answering smile. "The subculture of law enforcement. See, there's this whole phenomena--ever heard of the thin blue line--that takes place inside artificially enclosed societies, especially where a pseudo-military archetype is followed " He rambled on for a few minutes, obviously well versed in his subject. I listened to him until Jaquin claimed my attention with a low-voiced question. I vaguely registered the sound of Sandburg rustling in his backpack, figuring he was cold and searching for a jacket. However, when I turned back to him, instead of looking into those blue eyes, I was staring down the barrel of the Ruger.
Summary: Stopping on a deserted road to help a young woman who's stranded, Ellison and Sandburg find that, perhaps she isn't the only one in need of help.
"You're very beautiful," she said honestly to Sandburg.
Ellison's eyes filled with amusement at the sudden rush of blood that flushed his partner's face. Then he felt a shock as he realized the girl was right. Sandburg was beautiful. A blush warmed his own features. Ellison felt the girls eyes move to him and he turned back to her.
"He's my partner, yes," Ellison acknowledged. The ancient-young eyes didn't waver from his and he was suddenly glad he was the only one with sentinel sight as he felt his flush deepen. This wasn't the answer she was looking for and oddly, he knew what she was asking.
Again a sword flashed down at Balanir forcing him to dodge, jumping to his right and back. He intended to step forward on his left foot, taking back the ground lost in his dodge, but the blood-soaked grass gave him no purchase and he slipped, lost his balance, and fell hard onto his backside, bumping into Gem as he went down. Gem reacted routinely, moving away slightly to allow Balanir more room for maneuvering. Balanir immediately pushed up onto one knee, attempting to recover and protect himself. His Southron foe took advantage of the fallen man's position and moved to get in between Balanir and the larger Ranger, again jostling Gem. Gem moved again, adding a few more yards to his retreat, carefully keeping his back to where he supposed Balanir to be.
Desperately, Balanir compelled aching muscles to obey his command and raised his sword once again, but it was too sluggish and too feeble to defend him entirely from the huge blow aimed at his exposed head. He caught most of the blow high on his blade, forcing it to slide down to the quillion where it stopped for a second, then continued through the abused metal. The energy of the blow was redirected, but not diminished as it forced his sword backward and away from his neck. The blade tore through the leather armor on his left shoulder and found the vulnerable flesh below.
But the Ranger fought on, unable to hear his partner over the incredible din of the battle raging all around them.
"Detective, this is Janice at the University."
"Heads up, Jim. It's been a bad one."
"No problem. He's in his office with an appointment. Figure that you have about twenty minutes. Take care of him."
"You got it."
"Don't run, Chief."
The voice came again, soft and low. "Don't run. Don't make me hunt you. Do you understand?" There was an undercurrent in that tone which brought up the hairs on the back of Blair's neck.
The problem with a weekend of utter debauchery and intense sex is the 'morning after'.
"See? You're not the responsible party. You'd be expected to be totally clueless." Jim angrily thumped his chest. "I'm the one who should have known. What kind of an idiot is married and doesn't know it? And I'm supposed to be a detective. I had a pitiful relationship with Carolyn, but at least I remembered the ceremony. I knew I was in wedded bliss." Jim finally seemed to run out of steam.
I reach across the expanse of bed and trail my fingers across the soft, tanned skin of his shoulder. Warm heat infuses me, and I marvel at its mere existence. It's supposed to be warm, I think to myself. It's alive. But I know the true wonder lies in the unlicensed sanction I've been given; permission granted where none should have been allowed. These thoughts make my heart clench and my gut twist. They'd done so before, why should this time be any different?
To keep the end at bay a few more minutes, just until I can no longer immerse myself in dreams of what could be, I move across the space, until I'm lying fully against the lover I cherish and covet. With the contact, my whole body feels as alive as my fingertips had, as I know the warm skin to be. I bury myself in the strong embrace he offers; knowing it will only last a few more moments. I sigh heavily and try to hide my sorrow.
"Don't, Blair. Please." The words come quietly, dangerously, as they always do when it's over.
Oh, just nice? Paul's eyes fell on the newspaper Blair was holding. You read about the stalker?
Yeah, this time the stalker tried to attack a young girl. Luckily for her, she was on her way to meet her boyfriend, and he was able to scare off the attacker.
Were either of them able to give a description of the creep?
Blair looked away from Paul, and softly said, No, all they could see was a dark shape. They couldn't even tell if it was a male or a female.
It? Blair, when you change, where do you go?
Looking up sharply, Blair's mouth opened and closed several times before he could respond. I used to love to let him roam free when I was younger. Now, in any city, or close to civilization, I'm too scared to do so.
Paul, you don't think that I'm the stalker?
The flashlight was rocking gently where Blair had dropped it, its light dancing on the water. Blair forgot to breathe as he gazed up into the powerful blue eyes that seemed to gleam out of the darkness. It was Ellison all right, and yet there was no hint of recognition in those eyes. No hint of sanity. Blair froze, caught in the gaze, then panicked at something else he could see.
The realization that his hands were free sent him fumbling for the panic button. He hadn't reached it before his hands were grabbed and his mouth was taken.
Like the kiss in the elevator, there was no resisting the demands of that mouth. The hand which held his head moved expertly to allow Ellison to ravage his mouth and tongue, taking and demanding. It was silk on silk, melting chocolate. It was damn good.
Blair finally jerked his head to the side to take deep, gulping breaths. When he looked up, he saw the gleam of blue eyes, the sparkle of teeth in an evil smile, and the panic button dangling from its chain in Ellison's hand.
Ellison flicked his wrist. Blair's eyes widened as he heard the button plunk into the pool. Panic rolled over him, and he bucked hard, trying to throw the larger man off. All he got for his efforts was a low rumble deep in Ellison's chest, and a hand pressed over his mouth.
"Simon, he's a child." Ellison protested when he noticed the unlined face containing deep blue eyes, a neat, nearly button nose, a lush lower lip that should be illegal on any man's face, the whole of which was framed by dark brown curly hair with reddish highlights.
The remarkable blue eyes went wide under the slight slash of dark eyebrows. "Hey, old
timer, I'm not a child. Been around more'n you've been."
Jim Ellison, Prime One of Tarsus, sneered. "Been on any missions, kid?"
"Stop now! Both of you." Simon's voice silenced any further insults.
"That means you, Ellison."
"Wha..." Jim Ellison felt the distinct tickle of another mind against his.
"Shut up, Ellison."
Jim's mouth snapped shut, his eyes, though, promised retribution to the innocent face across the room.
Simon rubbed his short hair. "I know unbonded primes and comps shouldn't be working together. The antipathy between you two will be tremendous, even more than usual given your ratings. But..." Simon paused, "you two are the best Tarsus has and your colleagues are depending on you. Now go out there and find them. Ilsa and Cassie are waiting in the solarium. I'll send all the information I have on Brackett and the original retrieval job to your console."
"I felt that, you little runt." Ellison muttered through clenched teeth.
Leaving the office, Blair Sandburg's eyes sparked. "I'm glad," he spat. "I was all set to bond with Samantha. My prime had been chosen. Now I'm stuck with you, the near dead."
Blair Sandburg caught himself, mid-stumble, by grabbing the corner of the brick building. Despite his better judgment, he looked back and almost wept in despair. They were close, closer than he had expected.
Pushing himself off the wall, he ran down the middle of the street. There was no point trying to hide in the shadows. One couldn't hide from a pack of hunting sentinels.
I'd had three chances with a sentinel. Three chances to be the "be all and end all" of a sentinel. A guide.
Three chances. Three failures.
It wasn't that he thought he'd be young forever. Forever was an impossible time frame for any sort of reference. But he did figure that he would be young, would feel young, for a much, much longer time. There was a time when his future stretched before him, unknown, as exciting as the first time he had ever gone on an expedition, filled with newness, danger and adrenaline.
But his world had changed.
No, he had other things to worry about--like a cuddly Sandburg staring up at him with slightly parted red and wet lips, the tip of his pink tongue making a quick swipe around his mouth as if trying to catch an elusive taste. His hair was a halo of curls flying around his head and those blue eyes were gazing upon Jim as if as if as if Jim had just sprouted two heads and was the newest alien in the latest Star Wars.
"Chief! You about ready?"
Jim's voice startled him out of his reverie. Standing and brushing the sand from his pants, he turned toward the disembodied voice as it called again into the darkness.
"Yeah, I'm here. Am I allowed to come back in now?" Humor colored his voice as he moved toward the boardwalk. Jim's arms drew him into their warm embrace. A soft nuzzle into his hair was interrupted by a short lick at his ear.
"I had to finish getting things ready. It's not like you've been banished out here for hours." Jim pulled back, slid an arm down and took Blair's hand.
They took it slow. Simple courtship rituals. But Blair could feel the attraction, the connection, growing with each meeting.