Deus Ex Machina
For the first time in a while, the loft was completely silent. No television, no music, no laptop clicks, nothing. Jim and Blair had both chosen this particular evening to catch up on some literary pursuits – Jim reading a National Geographic in the living room and Blair at the dining table writing a letter to Naomi. She had decided to visit Ojai for a few weeks and had dropped him a postcard, describing the peaceful beauty of the California town. He wanted to say hello to her before she moved on.
The clear tone of Blair’s phone ringing sliced through the unnatural quiet and Blair set his pen down and moved quickly into his room to pick it up. “Hello? This is Blair speaking.” He paused and Jim, though engrossed in the article he was reading, automatically zeroed in on Blair’s vitals as well as his voice. Listening. Examining. Making sure things were cool. Strangers calling Blair didn’t necessarily mean trouble, he was a teacher after all, but there was no harm in checking, Jim thought. Assuring himself of Blair’s safety had become second nature to him.
“Holy shit, man, how’re you doin’?!” Blair said slowly with building enthusiasm. “Yeah, long time! Yeah! I can’t believe…how’d you get my number? Oh, right, the school directory, duh!” he laughed. “What’s it been? Jesus, six years,” he said with wonder. “Six fuckin’ years…how the hell are you, man? Things good? Hey, I heard you and Charlotte got married! Yeah, I ran into Rob… when was that…God, I guess even that’s been a couple years ago, and he told me. Frankie, you got to be kiddin’ me, you’ve got two kids?!” Blair said, happily astonished. “She still a knockout? Yeah, Casanova my ass, I never had a chance with her! Yeah, whatever, man….!”
Jim turned his attention back to the magazine once it seemed there was to be no bad news. The one-sided conversation continued as background noise, bringing a small smile to Jim’s face as he wondered who this friend of Blair’s was and what brought him to call after all these years. Blair bounced more than usual into the kitchen to grab a glass of water and he called to Jim as he did so.
“Jim, you are never gonna believe this!”
“Sandburg, this is you, remember? Disbelief is futile,” Jim teased him amiably, not looking up from his article about volcanoes.
Blair pressed on unperturbed, grinning hugely and sidling over to the chair, but not sitting in it. “That call was from an old buddy of mine from school named Frank Mills. He was the bass player in the band I was in and he’s been in touch…”
Jim finally looked up at his buzzing roommate, his brows high. “You were in a band?”
Blair’s excited monologue never missed a beat, “Yeah, for four years. Anyway, he’s run into some of the other guys and…”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute. You, Brainiac, were in a band? A real band?” Jim was feeling an undeniable and extremely impolite urge to laugh. He tried to picture Blair – small, 16-year-old bespectacled Blair, doing a Pete Townshend windmill. The image was threatening all of his resolve. Blair was too excited to be as offended as he should’ve been, and just plowed right on with a patient smile.
“Yes, Jim, hard to believe, I know. Not only was I in it, though, I was co-founder, lead guitarist and lead singer.”
At this, Jim did laugh. “Oh this is rich! What did you guys play? ‘Nerds Just Wanna Have Fun?’” and he continued snickering. “Sandburg, I’m sorry! But based on what I’ve heard about you in undergrad, you were this geeky little brat too smart for your own good and too young to hang with the big boys,” the chuckles were still randomly escaping his mouth like little barks. “Or was that how you decided to get girls?”
Blair had been regarding him silently, still smiling but severely dampened by Jim’s ridicule. He waited until Jim had seemingly gotten himself under control and looked at him with a steady, knowing gaze and said, “Never underestimate a man with a guitar, Jim. Can I finish my story now, or do you need to continue?”
Feeling somewhat chastened, but still battling a tiny fit of giggles, Jim nodded. “Please, go on. I’m sorry, Blair. I just… I didn’t know you were in a band. I just can’t… I don’t know, picture it. What stuff did you play, really? What was your style? What were you called?
“Ah, well we were a cover band, actually. None of us were songwriters, not serious ones anyway, but we each had a good musical ear, a good sense of timing, a pretty decent skill level on our respective instruments and a love for rock ‘n’ roll.” Jim was actually listening now, his earlier amusement being replaced by interest. “We played a lot of classic rock. This was the late 80s / early 90s, so there was some good 80’s arena rock in there too, some Journey, Bon Jovi, you know, air guitar standards!” They both laughed, not a trace of mockery to be found. “We’d play practically anything anyone requested. That’s one of the main reasons we were so popular - we were diverse and would never turn down a challenge, unless it was so obscure that none of us knew it. Or unless it was so far from the format that it wouldn’t work. We were called The Undergrads.”
“You were in The Undergrads?!”
“Jim, come on….”
But this time, Jim was not preparing for another insulting onslaught. “No, no, I remember The Undergrads! I never saw a show, but I used to see flyers all the time around RU and even farther out after I got back to Cascade. I think… yeah, I know someone who used to see your shows. Can’t think of her name, though. She was a big fan, I remember. Always wanted to get there early to make sure she’d get a good spot so she could see….” And suddenly Jim looked at Blair with an expression that practically illuminated that proverbial light bulb above his head. Blair began to nod, just this side of smug.
“That cute lead singer with the curly hair?” he offered.
Jim emitted a short laugh and his face took on an odd expression, “Well, I’ll be damned.”
“Anyway, Jim, what I’ve been trying to tell you is that Frankie has hooked up with all the other guys from the band and we’re having a reunion next Saturday night at the Silver Fin! It’s the place that made us famous! I was the only one left to track down and they wanted my input before they put the flyers out. They wanted to know if I‘d be interested in doing it - like I’d say no - or if I’d mind if someone took my place if I couldn’t.” His excitement was returning almost as if it had never wavered. “ I can’t believe it, Jim, I haven’t played onstage in seven years! We had a following like you wouldn’t believe, man! I’d get stopped on the street! It’s gonna be so cool to see everybody and have us all together again jamming…. God, I can’t wait!” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together vigorously. “So, you wanna come? I’d love it if you could, I think you’d really dig it!”
Jim felt slightly embarrassed by his earlier reaction to Sandburg’s news and suddenly felt snarky and sullen. “Yeah, well, if nobody commits any heinous crime between now and then, maybe I’ll show up.”
“Ah, come on, Jim,” he smiled as he pushed Jim’s shoulder. “Look, it would mean a lot to me if you were there. I know so much about you, but you hardly know anything about me. I’d like to share a part of my life with you, you know? If you don’t want to come, you don’t have to. If something comes up, I’ll understand.” His smile turned into a true Sandburg grin. “But I want you there, singing and screaming and tossing back pints like everyone else, and I guarantee you, you’ll have a night like you’ve never had and one you’re not likely to forget!”
One look into those enormous excited eyes and he knew come hell or high water, he’d be there. Who was he kidding to think that he wouldn’t? He shook his head a little and smiled, realizing that he actually was looking forward to it. Clearly this band had been – and still was - very important to Blair and Jim was annoyed that he was being such an ass about the whole thing. “Of course I’ll be there, Sandburg. I wouldn’t miss it,” he said, managing genuine sincerity. “By the way, why’d you break up?”
Blair gave a single, ironic laugh and finally took a sip of his water. “We graduated.”
For the next week and a half, Blair fairly spun around the loft and the station, as well as campus. The campus, especially, was infusing him with a new energy. He now found himself remembering things he hadn’t thought of in several years. He had images of sitting on the quad coming up with flyer ideas, trying to do homework in the back of a loud and smoky bar between sets, even sitting in the student union with the guys before they’d decided to be a band. Frank Mills had always been nice to him and had been one of his first friends. He was 18 – two years older than Blair, but he didn’t talk down to him, bore him or act like Blair didn’t belong. Frankie was cool, treated him like a normal guy. Blair was intrigued when Frankie happened to mention one day that he played bass and said, in half serious response, “Why don’t we start a band?”
Three months, four student newspaper ads, five bulletin board postings, ten auditions and several style shifts later, they formed what would be the final lineup for The Undergrads, one of the best cover bands Rainier University would ever see. Six men and one woman playing soulful, sometimes rollicking, “get up and dance on the pool table” music, straight up with a twist: the seven members played more than thirteen instruments – including violin, sax and flute – lending a nice fleshed-out sound to their music. The fans they’d acquired loved that sound, loved that they took chances and made the music their own without destroying or disrespecting the originals. With the talent of each of the members such that it was, their size worked in their favor instead of against them. One of the reasons the band liked the Silver Fin so much, in fact, was that it was one of the few gigs that had a big enough stage to accommodate them. And considering only one of them at the band’s outset was old enough to buy beer, things like a big stage were crucial.
Frankie and Charlotte. Blair smiled to himself as he pictured the miniskirt and combat boot-wearing free-thinker wreaking havoc on the violin, giving hell to the harmonica and stunning people to awed silence on the occasional female-led song. She and Blair could harmonize like two pieces of a puzzle and Blair had often wondered if they could make music together outside the band. Of the six guys in the band, four were interested, one was gay and one had a girlfriend. All agreed Charlotte was gorgeous, only one would end up winning her. Blair shook his head again as he sat in his office, wondering what she looked like now, what their two children looked like.
His smile faded for a split second as he considered that he and Sean – the drummer and sole gay member – were now the only ones unmarried. But, if he factored in Sean’s boyfriend of seven years, Blair was the only one completely unattached. He knew rationally that 30 wasn’t exactly over the hill, and what with his studies and the P.D. and various other adventures, marriage – at least any attempt at a stable marriage – was unlikely. Still, there was always a small part of him that felt a little… well, left out. Old. Friends were pairing up and having babies and he was dodging bullets (not always successfully), having his health and sanity repeatedly threatened, and observing and partnering and living with a definitively male sentinel. He chuckled to himself over the way life happens and looked up to welcome a student who’d come to see him to ask a question about their latest project.
As the performance day grew nearer, Jim noticed Blair humming to himself much more than usual, and often he recognized pieces of songs, as if Blair were going through some mental playlist. He wasn’t sure if Blair was thinking of songs the band used to play or songs Blair would like them to play that perhaps didn’t exist when the band was together. One day it occurred to him however, that though he heard him hum a lot, he rarely heard him playing his guitar. He’d heard him riff on it a couple of times, but nothing of any consequence. As he approached the door to the loft a few days before the impending concert, he heard soft acoustic strumming coming through the door and realized it was the first time he’d ever heard him really play anything resembling an actual song. Had he always had an acoustic? Jim wondered. He recognized the opening melody of Kansas’ Dust in the Wind and he stopped and listened. The realization that Blair must have been trying to keep Jim from hearing him suddenly entered his mind. Didn’t want to annoy him, he guessed, hyperactive senses and all that. Or was he just rusty and didn’t want Jim to hear him being clumsy? Either way, Jim was inexplicably touched and leaned his head against the door, listening. The latter possibility was quickly dispelled as the smooth and gentle music flowed through the loft. It was a beautiful sound, but when he heard Blair’s voice begin the plaintive vocal climb of that haunting song, a chill the likes of which Jim had never felt raced through him. He had to go in, had to be closer to that sound, but he couldn’t move. He turned so that his back was against the door and stood motionless, eyes closed, his hearing sharpened to absorb all he could.
He was breathtaken.
“Shit!” He heard, as the music abruptly stopped and started again, bringing him quickly out of his reverie. He put his key in the lock and opened the door, closing and locking it behind him as he tossed his keys in the basket and heard the music stop once more.
“Hey, Jim,” Blair called from his room. “I’ll be done in a minute, I just want to get this a little….”
Jim walked over to Blair’s open door and stood in the frame. He looked at Blair, curved over the sleek, chestnut varnished body of a Gibson, fingers moving swiftly through first one chord, then another.
“Don’t stop on my account, Chief. It’s nice,” he reclined against the doorjamb. “I didn’t know you had two guitars.”
Blair played a bit more, then strummed one solid, major chord and looked up. “I have four, actually; two electrics, two acoustics. The one electric from Jimi, I don’t do gigs with. It’s way too valuable.” Jimi referred to Jimi Hendrix, one of Naomi’s famous friends who had given her a signed white guitar as a gift before Blair was born. Blair began to absently pick at notes and chords while he was talking, causing Jim to make a mental note that even with music, Blair’s hands were rarely still. “Listen, we have a rehearsal tomorrow night – a little reunion before the reunion, you know?” He smiled. “You want to join me? I’d love for you to meet the guys and you can get a sneak preview before the show. What d’ya think? You up for it?”
“I’d be in the way, Sandburg, I….”
“If you’d be in the way, I wouldn’t invite you,” Blair cut in with a quick laugh. “Our rehearsals always have people there. It helps us tighten up the show itself. There are always girlfriends, boyfriends, pets, even the occasional police officer!” He laughed. “It’s fun. Though, if you’d rather wait until the show and be surprised, you can do that, too.”
Jim thought about it. This had to do with what Blair had said earlier about showing him a part of his life. He knew very few of Blair’s friends and associates and he had to admit, he was intrigued about the other band members and what Blair’s relationship was with them. And maybe having a sneak peek might not be such a bad thing. At least he’d know what to expect come Saturday.
“Well,” he began hesitantly, “if you’re sure they won’t mind, I’d love to.”
“Great. You’ll have a blast.” He placed his guitar inside its velvet-lined home and clicked the case shut. “Want some dinner?”
As they turned the corner onto Halifax Drive the next night, Frank’s house came in sight and Blair’s nervousness appeared to be about to get the best of him.
“That must be it, he said it was the brick one with blue trim….” he said trailing off. “It looks like everyone’s here. At least, there’s the right amount of cars. Oh, man, Sean’s still got that old Mustang! I can’t believe it!”
“I am so sorry, Chief. I feel like such a shit, I really do.”
“Come on, Jim. For the millionth time, it’s not your fault! Who knew we’d have to work late?” he glanced over at Jim’s taut expression. “Besides, we had to work late, not just you! It’s no big deal, I called the guys and told them to start, and we’re not really that late anyway. Now, shut up about it already and try to have a good time, alright?”
Jim sighed, resigned to the fact that Blair was not going to allow him to stew over it like he wanted. He felt the guilt slowly begin to dissipate.
“Jim, I can’t believe I’m gonna see these guys!” Blair said again, bouncing as the truck’s motor went silent. I can’t believe you’re gonna see them!”
Jim looked over at his partner, who was practically exploding where he sat, and smiled. Genuinely. Gratefully. “Shall we?”
Jim could hear the music before they could even see the soundproof studio Frank had built in his spacious backyard. It was sounding pretty good, then it stopped just before they approached and he heard voices instead. It seemed it was all Blair could do to not take off running and break the door down, he was so keyed up. He stopped at the door and gave one last look at Jim with a conspiratorial grin. “Don’t forget to dial your hearing down, man! No zone outs allowed!” He patted Jim’s shoulder and turned the knob.
The room erupted. Cheers and excited greetings flew as the two men made their way into the spacious room filled with chairs, couches, tables, an old fashioned soda machine and instruments. Lots and lots of instruments. Blair set both his guitar cases on the floor where other cases were situated and moved among the mics and amps. Jim, still tense about their lateness and feeling more than a little out of his element, stood awkwardly, and glanced at a couple of women sitting on one of the two overstuffed leather couches. One, a pretty, short haired and small framed brunette in jeans and a t-shirt; the other, with a rounder, curvier body who was also pretty and also a brunette, had long hair pulled into a soft ponytail and bright caramel colored eyes. On a matching chair to the right of the sofa was a reasonably handsome yet unremarkable man with glasses who, with his dress shirt and khakis looked like he’d just come from an office.
“Well, it’s about time you showed up!” Frank said with a laugh as he walked toward Blair with his arms outstretched, bass slung low across his hips.
Jim inwardly cringed.
“Yeah, fuck off, some of us work for a living!” Blair said through an amused grin, then clasped Frank tightly in a hug and burst into laughter. “Ah, Frankie! It’s good to see you, man!” He emphasized his words with a final squeeze, then let him go, holding him at arm’s length. “You look pretty much the same!”
“Well, you’re the one who hasn’t changed, Blair Sandburg!” said a woman now walking toward him - funky black shoes, soft, worn jeans and a man’s white shirt with the sleeves rolled to her elbows, dark brown hair gathered up in a plain clip on top of her head. Charlotte. No longer beautiful, maturity and happiness had made her stunning. “Of course, you were only twelve when you started this madness!”
“Wow, look at you….” Blair murmured into her shoulder, lifting her off the floor and laughing again. “You look fantastic! And you’ve got kids, I can’t believe it!” He looked at Frankie who was grinning proudly. “Not to mention you went and married this asshole!” He ducked to avoid a pop upside the head from said asshole.
“Well, Blair, if you’d been a little older….,” She wagged a finger at him playfully, drawing a slight blush from Blair.
“Maybe a little taller….,” added Frank with a snicker.
“God, some things never change!” laughed Kevin Thomas the rhythm guitarist who had gotten off a stool and began to make his way toward Blair. “How’s it going, Sandburg? You doin’ alright?” He’d set down his guitar and approached Blair with another hug.
Jim continued to stand while all the band members in turn put down or walked away from their instruments and came to where Blair was. He got the feeling he was a guest at a sort of surrogate family reunion and wondered fleetingly if a meeting up of old army buddies would garner a similar reaction. He doubted, however, that any of them would bestow a kiss to him as the guy who’d just put down a saxophone was doing to Blair.
Jim had never kissed a man, not even in familial love. The Ellison clan didn’t do that sort of thing. He’d never seen Blair kiss a man, either, even if the concept of it didn’t exactly shock him. Somehow though, this kiss looked not only comfortable but also natural. Simply a kiss of greeting and the pleasure at seeing an old friend. A quick meeting of the corners of two male mouths, followed by a firm, thoroughly masculine hug. It gave Jim a start, but filled him with a sense of curiosity. Was this a generational thing and he just didn’t know that many men in their early thirties anymore? Was it a cultural thing? Did he and Blair….
“Hey, Jim, come over here, man! I want to introduce you to the arteests!” The group shared a convivial chuckle.
Jim crossed the small distance to the play area and stood where Blair and Sax Man were standing. Something about him looked familiar, actually.
“Jim, this is Rob Pressman, our horn section,” Rob and Blair laughed. “Rob, Jim Ellison.”
Rob had a firm handshake and a sincere smile, “Blair tells me you’re in Major Crimes. You probably knew my dad, Joe Pressman, beat cop?”
“Right, right!” Jim smiled, “That’s why you look familiar, God, you’re the spitting image! Listen, I was sorry to hear about him passing away, he was a good cop. What’s it, two years now?” He asked gently.
“Yeah, well, he’d been sick a long time, so we kind of expected it. It’s never easy though, you know?” Rob smiled appreciatively. “We’re doing alright. This is one reason,” he indicated the smaller of the two women on the couch. “This is my wife Lori, Lori, Jim, Blair.” All shook hands and Jim was surprised at the rather deep and assured voice that came out of Lori’s petite body.
He turned to the other woman and she flashed a gorgeous set of even white teeth as she extended her hand to Jim. He knew she had to be someone’s wife or girlfriend, but Jim couldn’t help but admire how truly lovely she was. “I’m Marlee.”
“Jim. Nice to meet you.”
“That one’s mine,” came an amused voice from a man with a dark crew cut near a group of synthesizers.
“Ah geez, Trevor’s marking his territory again!” Blair said with mock exasperation. “Jim, this is Trevor Alessandro, master of the plastic ivory keys. Trevor, my roommate Jim.”
Jim made his way back toward the band and the two shook hands. Jim noticed a man with shrewd blue eyes and slightly gelled blonde hair come up behind Trevor. “Hi,” he said with a surprisingly friendly smile. “I’m Sean, drums. Good to meet you, Jim.” He held out a calloused hand and Jim took it.
“Likewise.” Jim wondered briefly if he’d be tested on these people later. He tried to make a quick mental rundown: Was that Trevor that played the sax? No, that was Rob. The cop’s son who’d kissed Blair. Trevor was on keyboards, marking his territory with Marlee Jim thought with an inward snicker. Frankie was the bass player and owner of this studio, co-creator of the band and husband of the band’s beauty, Charlotte. Think Charlotte’s Web. A spider playing a violin. Got it. Kevin, guitar, Celtic tattoo on his right forearm. Okay. Sean, spiky blonde hair, drummer….
“This is my lover Stewart,” he said, indicating the man in the chair.
And gay. Sandburg had mentioned that one of the members was gay, but Jim had forgotten what name he’d said. He didn’t expect it to be this guy, though, with his deep voice and his classic Mustang. Jim was taken aback for the second time in just a few short minutes, having his ideas about masculinity and sexuality called into question. He found it odd, but he refocused his attention on the man who, he just now discovered, also had a briefcase. Stewart stood and met Jim halfway with his hand outstretched. “Jim,” Stewart said as he nodded and smiled easily and for some reason, Jim was surprised to see that he was as tall as he was.
“Jim, would you like a drink? We have about eight million types of soda,” Charlotte called from the antique machine.
Jim was beginning to feel more and more at ease among them. He’d been taken in and made welcome and it felt like he’d unexpectedly shown up at dinnertime and someone had set an extra place for him. A glance at Blair showed that he was engrossed in an animated exchange with Sean about his gorgeous car. Jim caught his eye and Blair smiled and winked, never missing a syllable in the conversation. Jim felt a sense of pride and warmth and looked back toward his host.
“Do you have root beer?”
“Yep, sure do.” She came toward him with a small glass bottle. She gave it to him and it felt nice and icy cold in his fingers. “I’m Charlotte, by the way. That’s my husband Frank with the bass,” Frank approached with a hand and a ‘How’s it goin’?’ “and this is Kevin, our other guitarist.”
“Jim, good to see ya,” said Kevin, an amiable looking guy who appeared to be a little closer to Jim’s age than the rest of the group.
“Welcome, Jim,” Charlotte smiled and laid a hand on his arm. “Make yourself at home.”
And Jim, glad to finally be done with the handshakes and hellos, sat and made an attempt to do that.
“Okay, you guys ready to do this?” Blair picked up his electric guitar and plugged it in, then ducked into the strap and settled it over his shoulder. “Let’s see what’s been going on these past few years. Have you guys played anything yet?”
“Not really, we were just sort of messing around. Doin’ a little jamming before you got here. We hadn’t really been set up all that long before you came in,” Kevin answered.
“Cool,” he replied and played a few chords as he checked the amp levels. “Alright, great, so what do you think, wanna start with some Doobies? ‘…Train…’ maybe?”
The room became a quiet din of agreement. “Fine with me,” “Sounds good,” and “Yeah, alright,” danced around the space until the musicians arranged themselves and their instruments to begin the song. Charlotte grinned at Blair. “I haven’t played this in a while,” she said taking her harmonica out of its case. “This should be fun!”
“What, they don’t have harmonicas in the Cascade Philharmonic?” Blair asked playfully.
“I keep trying to get her to sign a petition,” Frank said with almost believable seriousness.
Blair laughed again, giving the band a solid count off, then launching into the intro of the Doobie Brothers’ Long Train Running, a song they’d played a number of times in the past. The distinct guitar riff rang through the room and Blair watched his fingers and nodded his head to an internal metronome. He turned slightly so that he faced most of the members, and as Frank joined in, followed by Sean and Kevin, Blair grinned and nodded more. “Yeah!” he laughed, feeling the music course through him, remembering the sensation of playing music with people who just… knew. Chords and time signatures, yes, but they knew him, knew each other. They made a well-oiled machine and seven years of not playing together did little to diminish that. It took a few seconds to synch up, but once they did, the links in their chain began to click into a smooth continuity. Soon, Trevor came in with a light organ, Rob picked up a tambourine and by the time Blair started singing, they were off and running. They were still in the re-acquainting stage and spent most of the song glancing at one another, giving and receiving visual and verbal cues. Sean kept the tempo tight while Frank grounded them with a solid bass line helping everything mesh seamlessly. They each seemed to know instinctively when to back off or edge up, what would work and what wouldn’t and they fed off each other, reveling in the old groove they used to enjoy so much. Charlotte and Rob created the harmony with Blair on the chorus, and when Charlotte chimed in with the harmonica solo, she received yelps and hoots of approval and Blair tossed his head back and laughed triumphantly. They were back. And they were just getting warmed up.
At one point in the song, he remembered they had an audience and looked over at Jim. He would’ve given anything in the world to get a picture of Jim’s face right then and was quickly overcome with self- satisfaction. Jim was the picture of profound astonishment as he looked from band member to band member, smiling with wide eyes while he tapped out the driving rhythm on his thigh. His eyes landed on Blair and they grinned at each other and had a quick, silent conversation.
“Not too bad for a nerd, huh?” Blair said with an ‘I told you so’ quirk of an eyebrow.
“Not bad, Sandburg,” Jim answered with a nod and a sip of his soda. “Not bad at all.”
Jim had always wondered what the name of this song was. He’d just guessed it was called Without Love, given the well-known chorus of ‘Without loooooooooooooove’, or maybe Where Would You Be Now, but he’d heard Blair say something about a train when he suggested they do it. Train? He wondered for a bit, then decided to ask him later, because there were more important things he should be thinking about; like how in the world he didn’t know Sandburg could do this. After all, Blair was not just playing the guitar, he was playing it really well, and his voice had the texture and shaded nuances that made you know what he was singing about, even if you didn’t know the words. He couldn’t believe his ears, or his eyes come to that, because not only did his partner sound fantastic, he looked as comfortable with his black six-string in his hands as if he’d been born with it.
The song ended and the four people watching erupted in spontaneous applause, joined by the enthusiastic response of the band itself.
“Oh, man, I missed this!” Blair said. “I think we sound better than we did before!”
Rob chuckled, “Well, I should hope so. It is what half of us do for a living, after all!”
Jim laughed along with the rest of the room and had the inconsequential realization that he didn’t know what any of them did for a living, except Sandburg of course. Now, he began to wonder. Since Rob was the one who made the comment, Jim assumed he was one of the professional musicians. He also figured that Frank wouldn’t have put the money and time into this studio for a simple hobby, and he heard Blair make a remark about the Cascade Phil to Charlotte. Was there another one? They were all excellent, he could imagine them all being pros. He stored that question with the others that had cropped up in his mind so far and sat back, curious as to what they’d play next.
Turns out, they decided to go with a couple more Doobie cuts, Listen to the Music, and Takin’ it to the Streets. Jim smiled and found himself nodding and singing quietly along with the familiar songs that made him think of the more pleasant aspects of his teenage years. He laughed to himself and shook his head at the knowledge that Sandburg was barely out of diapers when some of these songs were written. If the music is good, he thought, it could be appreciated by anyone, no matter what his or her age. He looked at Kevin and wondered again how old he was. Mid to late thirties, he guessed, which would’ve made him around 9 or 10 back then. He wondered idly how many of the members’ parents listened to this stuff?
The rehearsal continued, covering artists like Boston, Lenny Kravitz, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel among others, before they decided to take a break. Lori got up and, after asking Marlee, Stewart and Jim if they wanted more soda, walked over to the machine and retrieved four cold bottles. Blair set his guitar in a floor stand then came and stood before Jim, the lightest sheen of sweat clinging to his forehead.
“Well?” he asked expectantly, a mischievous gleam in his bright blue eyes.
“Go ahead and say it, Chief. I can tell you’re dying to,” Jim replied, taking a drink and smiling in spite of himself.
Blair put his hands on his hips with mock indignation, then laughed, “Uh-uh, I want to hear it from your mouth. I’m not saying a word.”
Jim looked at him and gave a defeated laugh. “You guys are fantastic! You really are, Chief, I uh,” he looked down for a second then looked back up, “well, I’m sorry about before.”
“Hey, you don’t have to go and get all serious on me, man, it’s cool!” he laughed and hit Jim on the shoulder. “Thanks, though. I’m really glad you’re here.”
Jim saluted him with the bottle and took a swig of ginger ale.
For about another hour and a half, they continued to rehearse, picking songs out of thin air and seeing how well they could use memory, improvisation and communication to play them. When they used to play on a regular basis, they would come up with themes for their shows. Sometimes they’d do, say, a night of songs from the 70s only, or maybe only music from a particular year or sometimes even music by bands from specific cities, but every show had a theme. The fun part was, all the songs were requested by the audience, the only exception being the very first song, which the band always chose. They had what they called “The Hat”, really a large, garishly decorated box with the name of the theme written on it that the audience members would drop requests into before the show began. Throughout the show, Blair would pick out a piece of paper, then pass it around to the rest of the band so that everyone could pull out the appropriate instruments or tune them or program them to whatever the song required. They’d choose a key, play a couple of chords, do a quick assessment of the arrangement and tempo, and without telling the audience what the song was, they’d jump into it. This was part of that challenge that Blair loved. Aside from not knowing what they’d be playing ahead of time, they never had music. Most of them could read it (Sean and Kevin couldn’t), but when they performed, they did it all by ear. Their fans loved it.
The band decided to make their comeback show a straight, no frills request night. No specifics, just regular requests of rock and some pop songs, the only requirement being that, as usual, the songs needed to be reasonably well known. That decided, the band brought the rehearsal to a close, packing up their various instrument cases and nailing down the final meeting time for the show. Frank had created contact sheets for them, including everyone’s names, phone numbers and addresses and had set them on the table for people to pick up on their way out. For his part, Blair thought his face would break from grinning so hard. Jim, glad to not have to make the rounds of hand shaking again, settled for some kind words to the band and a wave, saying he was looking forward to Saturday’s gig, and he and Blair exited the soundproof studio.
Inside the building, a female voice spoke. “They’re cute together, aren’t they?”
Male voice. “Yeah, but I didn’t realize Blair…I mean, he used to be.... Are you sure they’re a couple?”
Different male voice: “If they’re not, they damned sure ought to be.”
And the Sentinel, for once, didn’t hear a word.
“So, where to, axe man?” Jim asked, making a three-point turn with the truck and leaving the street the way they arrived. “You hungry? ‘Cause I’m starved.”
Blair turned wide, wild eyes on Jim, “I don’t know, man, my adrenaline is out of conTROL right now! I’d be lucky to finish a glass of water, ya know? I’ll definitely go somewhere with you though, if you want to get a bite,” he finished, tapping his finger rhythmically on the door and rocking slightly.
Jim waited. He glanced at Blair who was now staring out the window, no doubt, Jim thought, seeing very little. He heard him laugh to himself and started the countdown to the meltdown.
The tapping became more insistent.
Eight, seven, six….
His left hand began to unconsciously stroke his own thigh.
Five, four, three, two….
He chuckled again and his head began to bob to the beat of a song heard only by him. Then finally,
“I can’t fucking beLIEVE it, Jim, did you hear us?!” his hands flew to his head and grabbed two fistfuls of his own hair, “we’ve never sounded that good! Can you just IMAGINE what Saturday’s gonna be like? I’m just gonna have a freakin’ heart attack, here, I mean, I can’t…oh, man, I just can’t….”
We have liftoff.
Blair was still spouting when Jim pulled into the parking lot of a place very near Halifax Drive that just happened to serve the best jambalaya in Cascade. He spoke animatedly as they went in but forcefully stifled himself when the hostess seated them, though the irrepressible grin was still plastered to his face. Almost immediately, they were served a large carafe of iced water with two blue water goblets and two menus.
“Thank you,” Jim said with a smile to the waitress.
“Can I start you guys out with something to drink?”
“A pitcher of Corona, please?” Jim answered, glancing at Blair for an accept/reject response. Blair continued to smile and nodded with a “Sure.”
They looked at their respective menus and while Jim glanced over the selections, he said to Blair, “I thought you weren’t hungry?”
“Well, I figured I’d eat something, you know? I’ll be ravenous later if I don’t.” He skimmed the entrées, then settled on the appetizers. “I think I’ll just get an appetizer, though. Maybe that’ll be enough until I calm down some!” At this, he looked up at Jim and grinned, eyes twinkling. Jim chuckled and felt a wave of affection come over him as he shook his head at his roommate, then pulled his menu out of the way as the beer arrived and was set before them along with two frosted pilsner glasses.
“So, then I was the only one left at Rainier. We still tried to do stuff, but eventually we all just fell out of touch. I figured we’d never hook up again and after a while I just sort of forgot about it,” Blair said as he leaned back in his chair, his mania mellowed by the beer and his stomach full after having polished off not only his crab cake appetizer, but blackened catfish with a side of rice and beans, plus bread pudding with rum sauce for dessert. “I mean, every so often I’d think of them and wonder what they were doing, but I never tried to contact any of them, really. It sucks, too, ‘cause we were close, you know?”
Jim sipped his beer and nodded slowly, “Well, maybe this is the chance to re-connect and stay that way. A lot happens when you’re leaving college. Bonds you thought were unbreakable just…break, you know? People move on, have families, their priorities change, Chief, you know that.”
“Yeah, I know. It was hard, though. It was like watching my family disappear one by one. It was really, really hard.” Blair felt melancholy begin to settle around him and was puzzled. He hadn’t thought seeing his old bandmates would bring out this sadness. He stared into his glass and sighed, then shook his head as if to clear it and looked up. He smiled at Jim, firmly pushing away the impending doldrums and raised his half full beverage, “Ah, well, here’s to re-connecting!”
“And to the dials,” Jim said raising his own glass, now empty.
“Dials?” Blair asked with a grin and a slight frown.
“Yeah. I think I’m gonna be giving them a bit of a workout tomorrow.”
They laughed, the thick glasses making a dull ‘clink’ as the waitress brought the check.
“Jim, should I wear my hair out or back?”
Jim’s hand stopped in mid swipe, the razor poised along one damp, lathered cheek. “What?”
“Should I wear it in a ponytail or leave it out? I can’t decide,” Blair finished, standing outside the bathroom door looking at Jim.
Jim turned slowly to the door, expecting to see at least a hint of jest on his partner’s face. Finding none, he turned back to the mirror to continue shaving. “Since when do you ask me how you should wear your hair, Sandburg?”
“Since I’m going to be onstage for the first time in seven years, Jim! Help me out, would ya? I mean, I know it’s not going to change the course of the… never mind, man, I’ll figure it out.”
“Wear it out, Chief,” Jim said, carefully pulling the blade across his jawbone as Blair began to turn away, “it suits your rock star image.”
He glanced at Blair who was back in the doorway, clearly not sure how much to trust Jim with that answer. Jim gave a low laugh at his expression. Again, Jim felt like going over to him and tousling his hair or… something. He didn’t know what it was, but for the past few nights, he’d felt such, well, fondness for Blair. Of course, he loved him, he’d grown to love him as his guide, partner, and ultimately his closest friend, but lately, he had to constantly fight the urge to pick him up and shake him and spin him around, like some kind of pet Labrador or something. He wanted to touch him and stare at him and listen to him. If he hadn’t had a razor in his hand, he would have burst into hysterical laughter. He felt like he was losing his mind.
“Jim, you are such a dick sometimes,” Blair said with a smile that softened his words. Jim lowered his hand and cracked up.
The two men continued to dress with a comfortable banter that flowed between them and Jim, for all his teasing, was truly excited about the show. Blair was entertaining him with band war stories – like the time they played during a storm and the power went out.
“Did you keep playing?” Jim grinned as he turned off his bedside lamp and came down the stairs to wait for Blair.
“Damn right we did! I mean, the only ones who couldn’t play their own instruments were Trevor and Kevin, so they went back with Sean and played with the percussion stuff,” Blair laughed and emerged from his room. “It’s still considered to be one of our best shows! We were unplugged before it became a televised phenomenon!”
Jim looked his partner over when Blair came out of his room with his guitars. He checked him out from head to toe and thought he looked a little tougher than usual, a little harder maybe. Close fitting Levi’s, snug black t-shirt, black square-toe motorcycle boots and noticeably different jewelry in his ear, and at his neck and wrist. He looked like he should be in a band. Jim smiled at that.
“The hair out was a good choice,” Jim nodded in approval.
“Yeah, but does it suit my rock star image?” Blair asked with mock seriousness.
“Absolutely,” Jim laughed with a pop to the back of Blair’s head as they walked through the door.
“Ow!” Blair said dramatically. “No injuring the star!”
“At least I left your hands alone.”
“Don’t even play like that, man,” Blair said, smiling as Jim shut the door behind them.
The first thing Blair noticed was the smell. Stale beer, cigarette smoke and a crisp saltiness owing to the proximity of the water. The place had a damp mustiness about it, as if the sweat from a thousand band members and their audiences had left its humid mark on the very walls and the floors, swallowed by the cavernous, airless space. It smelled dark and dirty. Sexy. “I see just about everyone’s here,” he said, nodding toward the stage where various instruments were set up, gleaming in the red, yellow and blue lights that were focused on them. Blair felt the excitement humming through his body as he walked through the tables and high bar stools, then smiled when he looked up and caught the eye of the owner.
“Well, well, well, looky who we have here. You old enough to buy beer yet, son?” The raspy voice asked with a hoarse chuckle, while the weathered face broke into a wide grin.
“Joey, would you believe me if I said yes?” Blair asked as he made his way across the room.
“Don’t know, ‘Burg, you still look like a kid to me!”
Blair went around the back of the polished bar where Joey was coming out to meet him and they embraced tightly as Joey said heartily, “Ah, ya look good, kid. It’s good to see ya.” He stepped back and looked at Blair, then patted him affectionately on the cheek. “Don’t look like life’s been to rough on ya.”
“I’ve taken a few knocks, but I’m alright,” Blair smiled.
“Well, that’s what makes you a man. What did I always say? ‘A man with an easy life is not a man’,” Joey repeated the oft spoken saying, making Blair nod with a smile of remembrance. Blair turned to Jim.
“This is my roommate and partner, Jim.” Jim shook hands with the short, stocky man. Blair noted the steady, appraising gaze the older man leveled on the detective and couldn’t help feeling a little nervous. Joey always wanted to make sure Blair stayed out of trouble.
“Partner, huh? You a cop now, Blair?” he asked with surprise and a slight smile as his eyebrows lifted.
Blair laughed, “No, but Jim is and… well, it’s sort of a long story, but I help Jim out on his cases and do studies of the department for my dissertation. It’s a little weird, but I like it.”
“Well, whatever it is, I’m sure it’s good. You were always a good kid.” He gave Jim, another solid squeeze with his thick hand, “Jim, it’s nice to meet you. You take care of Blair, here, don’t let him get shot.”
Blair turned his head and coughed as naturally as he could and heard Jim say evenly, “I’ll do my best, sir.”
Jim knew this man had looked out for Blair, had watched over him when Blair was just a kid getting his kicks in an adult world. He was clearly a father figure to Blair and Jim suddenly felt like he was Sandburg’s date getting checked out before the prom. He felt a sort of kinship with the man, a sort of ‘Brotherhood of the Blair Protectors’. Jim gave Joey a good-natured smile and shook his hand, ignoring Blair’s forced cough and deliberately pushing the image of Blair in a Kevlar vest out of his mind. “I’ll do my best, sir.”
He and Blair laughed like co-conspirators as they ascended a staircase that led to a room with a dilapidated couch, some folding chairs and a water cooler. Four of the band members and their partners were assembled there, and they greeted Jim and Blair when the two men walked in. Jim was suddenly glad he’d been at that rehearsal.
“Everything cool with Frankie and Charlotte?” Blair asked the room as he divested himself of his guitars and took them out of their cases.
“I think they were having sitter issues,” Kevin said. “At least, when I talked to Frank yesterday, he said they’d been running into problems finding them recently. Hopefully they found one for tonight.”
Jim was listening to the exchange when he heard Charlotte’s somewhat tense greeting to Joey downstairs, followed by Frank’s friendly, but no less tense ‘Hey, Joey’. Jim turned toward the stairs, toward the voices, unaware that the movement caused some in the room to look at him.
“You alright, Jim?” Rob asked, taking a sip of water from the small paper cup.
Blair glanced at Jim and instantly knew that he was listening, but he waited for Jim’s answer, not wanting to make the situation any more awkward. He continued preparing his instruments, connecting the straps to their wooden bodies.
“Oh, yeah, just checking the place out,” he answered breezily. “How long has Joey had it, do you know?”
“Since the dawn of time,” Sean laughed as he tossed a drumstick in the air and watched as it flipped over once before he caught it again.
The room laughed and Jim went to the cooler and pressed the blue spigot for a cup of the purified water. As he stood up, he heard Frank and Charlotte walking quickly up the concrete stairs.
“What’s up, guys?” Frank said as he entered the room, carrying his bass and Charlotte’s violin case. “Everything good?”
Blair smiled at the couple and leaned down to kiss Charlotte on the cheek, “We’re cool, Frankie. You guys get a sitter?”
“They’re at my sister’s,” Charlotte answered with a tight smile. “Thank God I was able to get her and she didn’t have plans. But what a night to not be able to find anyone!”
“Well, you’re here now, huh? Wanna do a show?” Kevin asked with a grin.
“What the hell?” Frank answered. “What song are we doing first, anyway?”
Blair sat at the bar occasionally sipping from the beer bottle in his hand and smiled as he realized it was the first legal beer he’d ever had in the Silver Fin. He glanced around at the large audience and recognized some faces, then engaged in small talk with a few people that came up to him to express happiness at seeing the band again. When they went away, he stared at the stage – completely set up and ready for the performance.
“Jim, I’m nervous,” he said a short time later, observing that the audience was continuing to grow.
Jim put a reassuring hand on Blair’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Chief, you’ll be fine. I heard you, remember? You have nothing to worry about.”
“Yeah, but what if the rehearsal was a fluke? What if I get up there and suck? What if….”
Jim tilted his head back slightly, took a deep breath, turned his hands palm up, closed his eyes and mimed the lotus position. “I am… relaxed,” he said, then smiled as he opened his eyes.
Blair chuckled and took a drink of his cold beverage. “Okay, okay!”
Jim smiled and nodded. He absently took a handful of peanuts and tossed them into his mouth, washing them down with a swig of his own beer. “It’ll be great, Blair. I know it will.”
“Blair, man, you ready?” came Frank’s voice from behind them.
Blair looked quickly at the bass player and cast a quick glance at Jim who winked at him. “Yeah, let’s do it.”
He hopped off the barstool, butterflies flitting manically in his stomach and looked again at Jim. “I expect dancing, Ellison.”
“Only if you don’t suck, Sandburg,” Jim answered with a grin.
Blair punched him in his arm and laughed. “Fuck you, man!” he said and headed off to the stage, feeling the familiar thrill when the applause began to roll back through the crowd as people noticed the band gearing up. The Undergrads picked up their instruments, did some light tuning, checked the sound levels, greeted their friendly and anxious audience and launched into Feels Like the First Time by Foreigner. Blair’s nervousness evaporated as if it were never there.
Jim smiled and took a drink as the song ended, having switched from beer to water midway through it, and joined in the enthusiastic applause when the band hit the final note. Blair looked as calm and at ease as he had at rehearsal and Jim looked on in amusement when Blair reached into the “hat” and drew out a small slip of paper. The band passed it around – just like Blair said they’d do, and after a few adjustments, he smiled and turned to Sean, who clicked his drumsticks together in a count. When Blair tossed out the intro to one of Jim’s Steely Dan favorites, Reelin’ in the Years, Jim found himself clapping and nodding, grinning because he knew that he was really going to have a good time.
“I knew it was only a matter of time before this one came up,” Blair said into the microphone several songs later as he passed the piece of paper to Frank, who laughed when he read the title. As the song went around, people in the audience were speculating out loud about what it could be.
“Satisfaction! “Bohemian Rhapsody!” “Superfreak!” At which Blair nearly choked on the water he’d been drinking.
“Alright, here we go,” said Blair in a voice that clearly said ‘you asked for it’.
The guitar intro caused the audience to cheer wildly and Jim surmised that the song was popular. Suddenly, Sean joined in with rather bombastic drums and the whole club began to throb a little. Jim was glad he’d stayed near the bar because there was now more motion to the crowd and he wasn’t in the mood to go slam dancing, or whatever it was called now. What was this song, anyway? Jim listened. Almost as quickly as the song blew up, it quieted down and Blair began singing. What the hell was he singing about? Soon the song began to get louder again, then it exploded to the level it was before and Jim immediately turned down his hearing. Was Blair really singing about mosquitoes and albinos? Whatever it was, it seemed familiar and the crowd was now pulsing like a multi-headed monster. He looked at Blair, hair flying, eyes closed, body swaying like a preacher in the pulpit possessed by the holy spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. Blair looked wild and dangerous, the stage light bouncing off his silver bracelet like a laser. The song calmed down again, and Blair ran his hand through his hair to get it out of his face while he sang more of the intense song. His face was shiny with sweat, his skin was flushed and he had a lackadaisical delivery of the lines that made his body seem to undulate as he sang them.
In the 3 years that Jim had known Blair, he’d never really thought of him as sexy. He’d never had a problem admitting any man’s attractiveness, and in his opinion, Blair was attractive, but that had always been the extent of his thoughts on the matter. If pressed, he might’ve even gone so far as to say handsome. But now? Oh, now was a different story, altogether. Blair was doing something to him now that had not a whole lot to do with what he looked like, though the visuals didn’t hurt. Together, they were turning his world around.
He didn’t know where it was coming from, but he knew where it seemed to be heading. He drank his water and turned away from Blair, ostensibly to get a refill from Joey, but mainly to give himself a few minutes to maybe get some sort of handle on his feelings. He allowed his mind to open up and imagine a new and infinitely more physical facet to his and Blair’s relationship. He envisioned himself hugging Blair. No, not hugging, embracing. He saw one of his hands in Blair’s hair and saw the other slowly rubbing his back. He saw himself lean down and kiss the mouth offered to him so willingly. He realized now that there was a greater depth and capacity to his love for Blair than he’d initially thought, and he was curiously pleased that the fact didn’t bother him. The sexuality and sensuality of Blair’s performance was like a jolt of recognition in Jim’s body – it was, after all, his body that figured it all out. He was enthralled by Blair’s sure and capable hands on the neck of that guitar, stroking and caressing, fast then slower, by his lips practically touching the microphone, eyes sweetly closed or mischievously open, expressions of joy, concentration and ecstasy appearing on a face that could hide nothing.
He suddenly understood the connection of music to sex. Aside from the obvious phallic connotations of guitars, the primal, sensual and ceremonial aspects of both music and sex seemed so intertwined, he wondered how he’d never really thought about it before. Music was powerful. It could produce emotions and reactions in people they didn’t know they possessed. It could cause people to want to give blowjobs in backstage dressing rooms. He smiled ruefully as he sipped his now refilled water and thought of rock groupies, going backstage for quickies with the guitar god. Deus ex machina. He chuckled as the old Latin phrase came back to him. God from the machine. That’s what they were, gods from the machine of rock music. Blair wasn’t kidding when he said ‘Never underestimate a man with a guitar’, because Jim wanted to throw his underwear onstage and get a backstage pass. Then, it hit him. He turned back around and looked at Blair who was looking at him, getting ready to begin another song. Jim smiled at him and got a beautiful smile in return as the band began the song that Jim had requested, Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. Blair nodded in acknowledgement and Jim held his gaze for a bit, feeling a heady kick of crystal clear comprehension; Blair was already his. Hell, who needed a backstage pass? He was going home with the rock god.
Much later, after a break, another set and dinner and drinks with the band, Jim and Blair headed back to the loft. Blair was wiped out, but still excited and high on the post-show buzz that coursed through him. He felt a buzz of another kind, though. Something was different about Jim. It wasn’t much, but it was definitely there. Something in his eyes, a softness, maybe? It was more than just ‘I’m proud of you’ or ‘Great show’ or something like that, Jim was looking at him like he wasn’t sure who he was looking at. Blair had wondered why Jim had turned his back to the stage during the show, and then he noticed that from the time Jim had turned back around, he’d had caught him staring at his hands, his hair, his mouth…. If he didn’t know any better, he’d swear Jim was subtly trying to seduce him. No, surely he was projecting. He was tired and the idea of Jim wanting him was just too farfetched to contemplate. They’d go home, get some sleep and things would all be back to normal tomorrow. He hoped.
As soon as they got to the loft, Blair headed for his room, and soon thereafter, emerged with a towel wrapped around his waist.
“I’m dying for a shower, man!” He said with a loopy grin. “Tired as I am, I can’t go to bed like this.”
“I can imagine. You were certainly working up a sweat there, Junior,” Jim laughed as he headed upstairs. He heard Blair laugh as the bathroom door shut.
Jim undressed down to his boxers and put on a robe. He went downstairs and got a glass of water, trying to keep moving so he wouldn’t have to think about the fact that he and Blair were now home alone and all the things that implied and facilitated. He drank and wished he’d used the bathroom before Blair had gone in, but he knew Blair wouldn’t be long, so he went over to the couch and turned on the television while he waited. His mind began to wander again as he heard the shower, thinking of Blair wet and slick, leaning against the wall, shivering while Jim stroked a pierced nipple gently, then wrapping his arms around Jim’s shoulders as Jim licked his neck.
He didn’t hear Blair come out, and when he finally realized the bathroom was empty and Blair’s door was slightly ajar, his bladder reminded him of some unfinished business and he went to perform his nightly bedtime rituals. When he emerged, he went back to the sofa, restless and not yet wanting to go to bed. He wanted to be downstairs, close to Blair for just a little longer. He saw that his light was still on and he debated going into his room to talk to him, just to be near him and talk about the show and how much he liked it, or anything else for that matter. He wanted to look at him and smell him – soak him up before he went to bed alone. Sighing, he got up and went to stand in Blair’s doorway and saw that he was writing in his journal. He stood there for a while just watching and was slightly surprised when Blair spoke.
“What’s up, Jim?” he asked without looking up.
“Nothing, I just -,” He hesitated as he thought about what he was going to say and realized he didn’t really know. All he knew was that he’d stood in this very same place three days ago listening to Blair explain why he should go to a rehearsal with him, and now the world was a different place and he and Blair were vastly different people. As Blair looked up and smiled, Jim wondered if he was aware of that.
“You just what?”
Jim looked at him and gave a slightly embarrassed smile. “Listen, I know you must be exhausted, but…I was wondering…,” he sighed. “Would you play something for me?”
Blair laughed, “Of course, man, come on in!” He was already reaching under his bed for his guitar when Jim moved into the small room and continued self-consciously, “I’ve only heard you play part of a song once - Wednesday when I came home. I’d like to really hear you this time. You know, by yourself.”
He sat about halfway down Blair’s bed facing him, supporting his weight on his right arm, while Blair drew his legs up Indian style and situated his guitar in his lap. “What was I playing?”
“Yeah, right, Dust in the Wind, I remember. You want me to play that again or something else?”
Jim had been wondering about that and didn’t really have an answer. He did really like the song. “You don’t have to, just something quiet. Mellow. Anything, I don’t care.” ‘I just want to listen to you and watch your mouth move’ he thought. The room suddenly felt a little warmer.
Blair pondered for a little bit, tapping his teeth with a corner of his pick, and then coming to a decision, he smiled and positioned himself. He looked up into his partner’s face, grinned and nodded slightly, then gave himself a whispered count off, “…2…3…4…”
The second Blair’s fingers hit the strings Jim closed his eyes and smiled. It was Blackbird by the Beatles, a song he’d always loved for its simplicity and pristine beauty. He tried to think if Blair knew it was a favorite, but his musings were cut short by the voice. The same voice that had stopped him outside the door Wednesday night, that stunned him at rehearsal and had moved him beyond recovery at the concert a few hours ago, was now gliding over the McCartney masterpiece like a stream of slightly roughened honey.
He opened his eyes and watched him. He watched those expressions flit again across Blair’s face - instructing the bird to fly and coaxing it to see, visualizing the various hues and shades of the relatively few chords in the short song and allowing his skilled fingers to paint them. Jim smiled at the concentration and pure joy with which his guide made music. The young man was relaxed, eyes closed. His voice, his hands, even his guitar had become extensions of his soul. Jim was witnessing for the third time how creation of music pleased Blair and made him infinitely happy. For Jim though, it simply served to make him fall deeper and deeper in love with him.
Blair finished the song and opened his eyes with a smile. He looked at Jim’s rapt expression and asked, unnecessarily, “How was that?”
Jim stared at him, just long enough to make Blair nervous. The detective still had that slightly dreamy look on his face, but it was rapidly changing into something else. He gave Blair’s face a once over, licked his lips quickly and blinked, and before Blair could say anything, he moved forward and pressed a gentle kiss to Blair’s mouth.
It was one of the strangest and most wonderful sensations Blair had ever felt. He felt like he had suddenly been captured in a mental photograph. Everything froze as if in suspended animation and hypersensitivity - his, for a change. He could feel the weight of the guitar sitting on his lap with his hands resting on top, he could smell Jim’s toothpaste and the smoke in his hair and the scent of his skin, he could hear the overwhelming silence of his room and the annoyingly loud beat of his heart. The floor had just been knocked out from under him and he felt dizzy even with his eyes closed, but he instinctively leaned in, tilted ever so slightly, and pressed back. Jim’s lips were soft, cool and slightly damp from where he’d licked them a second ago and the kiss was sweet and relaxed enough to almost seem a platonic – if perhaps overly affectionate gesture. Almost. It was too slow though, too intimate. Too good. There was love in that kiss. A thought swirled in Blair’s mind that if Jim was causing this reaction with a simple, relatively chaste kiss, he’d be a wreck when Jim hit him with the real thing. He hoped it would be soon.
Jim pulled away slightly, enough to see him. He gave Blair a small, secret smile and tipped his head to rest on his own right shoulder, letting his eyes caress the flushed, slightly confused face again. Blair could hardly stand it. “Wow,” he glanced down at his hands, “you uh, want me to play another one?” he asked with a nervous chuckle, trying to use humor to slow down what was rapidly becoming out of control.
“Maybe later, huh?” Jim responded softly.
Blair nodded. “Okay.” He turned and put his guitar slowly back into its case, moving in what felt like slow motion while he saw Jim watching him out of his peripheral vision. His pulse was hammering and his breath was coming unsteadily now. Usually, he liked this feeling. He liked that sexual thrum in the body, the adrenaline flowing, everything opening up, absorbing, preparing. But this was different. He felt overwhelmed and feared he’d fall apart any second. He returned to his original sitting position and looked at Jim. He didn’t know what to say and certainly didn’t know what to do. The expression on Jim’s face made his hands shake and his stomach flutter, yet he continued to stare, transfixed by that look. “You don’t know,” he spoke slowly, quietly, his voice hoarse and shaky from a newly discovered level of emotion, “how long I’ve hoped that one day you’d look at me the way you’re looking at me right now.”
Jim’s smile grew slightly and he raised his left hand and took a small group of curls in his fingers, letting the silky strands slide between them. Blair closed his eyes and felt his breath catch and his body heat soar. Jim still had yet to actually touch his skin. Oh, he was in trouble. “Tell me,” he heard Jim whisper as he continued to toy with his hair.
Blair swallowed and answered, barely audible, “ ‘Long time. ‘Least two years.” He opened his eyes, risking his sanity again and saw Jim flash him a true smile, just short of a laugh.
“Two years? That is a long time,” and he leaned forward again and Blair was lost.
This was not really what Jim had in mind to do. Not really. But, what was he supposed to do now, pull away and say ‘sorry, didn’t mean it’? Blair knew it all, anyway. Without giving one word to his feelings, Jim had told him everything and this, this soft, beautiful kiss, this thing that was not really what Jim had in mind to do, was the only thing he could possibly do. His mouth was attached to Blair’s once again, his left hand still lightly pulling the wild soft strands, his right still pressed into the bed. As with all kisses though, the hard part was over. That first meeting of lips was the opening of Pandora’s box, the cards had been laid on the table and there was absolutely no need to test any more waters. Jim could feel Blair’s pulse and temperature rise when he’d kissed him the first time, felt the tiny tremors in his lips as his own brushed them. Now, Blair was positively vibrating and all five of Jim’s spectacular senses could detect the absolute disintegration of the young man’s control. Jim had barely touched him when he felt the warm moistness of Blair’s open mouth and a tentative swipe of his tongue across Jim’s lips. Permission granted, Jim opened up and dived in, finally weaving his hand into Blair’s abundant curls and slipping, slipping, slipping away….
Jim paid attention as if he’d never kissed anyone before, and, to be truthful, he kind of felt like he hadn’t, actually. This was the way to kiss. Slow, deep and smooth, all encompassing, nerve tingling, the beginning of time and the end of the world. As Blair’s right hand came up to cup Jim’s cheek, Jim felt him slow his movements, then finally stop altogether, hovering just at the point of contact, his sweet lips parted, expelling warm, delicious breath, his fingertips just skimming Jim’s overheated skin. Jim continued to kiss that lush, tranquil mouth, touching him with unhurried reverence until he was almost as motionless as Blair, running his tongue across his, licking and nibbling at the beautiful, slightly puffy lips, exploring his teeth and the roof of his mouth, and listening to the insanely erotic sound of Blair’s breathing take the form of sighs and low moans that sent a wave of desire crashing through him.
Jim brought his right leg further onto the bed, bending his knee to shift his weight and added his right hand to his left in the warm heaviness of Blair’s hair. Blair began to kiss him again, gripping the back of his neck with one hand, a solid, pronounced shoulderblade with the other, pulling him tightly to him, trying to become a part of him. Jim sucked on his tongue slowly, bringing forth a whimper from Blair, then he pulled his lips from his and felt another quick and intense surge of arousal at the luscious sound of their mouths parting. He held Blair’s head and kissed his chin, feeling an answering kiss on his own nose, kissed his jawbone, his ear and his cheek. He ran his tongue up the bridge of Blair’s nose, and kissed his eyelids as he felt Blair’s busy hands - one now massaging his shoulder, the other playing with his ear and the soft hair at the nape of his neck. He heard his name whispered in the most tender, loving way and sighed, kissing Blair’s lips and nuzzling him, stroking his lovely face, and before he knew it, he was speaking, the words of his heart having spun themselves into four words that dripped from his lips without his volition. “Blair, I love you.”
The instant the words left his mouth, Blair felt Jim tense and begin to shut down. He slowed and finally stopped his worship of Blair’s face and drew back, his hands following. “Blair,” he began quietly, “I’m sor-“
Blair’s lips, hard and ferocious, cut off his words. “Don’t,” he stared frantically into Jim’s eyes, his words tinged with the fear and panic that had suddenly pushed their way to the front of the line. “Don’t you dare apologize. Jim, if you give all this to me then take it all back, I swear to God I’ll die right here. Please….”
“Okay, okay, shhh,” Jim consoled him with a gentle kiss and the return of those kind, graceful hands. “I won’t, baby, I promise. God, Blair….” Jim pressed his forehead against his and Blair could almost feel him trying to make sure his next words came out correctly. He loved that about him, how he always tried to make things right. “I was afraid. Imagine that, huh?” Blair was genuinely amused at Jim’s comment, but his laugh came out as a strangled sob. “I didn’t want to scare you with the word ‘love’. I didn’t want to move too fast.”
The Guide leaned slightly back and faced his Sentinel squarely. “Jim, where have you been for the last few minutes?” And although tears that had been standing fast in his stinging eyes finally began to fall, he managed a laugh. Jim laughed with him and wiped a glistening cheek with his thumb. Blair turned a little more serious. “Where have you been for the last few years? I don’t scare easily, man, you of all people should know that,” he hesitated and his forehead wrinkled briefly as he gave a tiny shake of his head. “Don’t you realize I love you, Jim? You have to know that after…” he shrugged and gave a vague wave of his hand, “…everything?”
Jim nodded slowly and stroked the angelic curls. “I know.”
“Do you? Do you really, Jim?” Blair needed solid affirmation. There couldn’t be any turning back, now.
Jim gave a small smile and nodded again, blinking slowly. “Yeah, I do,” he said, barely a whisper.
Blair leaned forward again, reconnecting them in a warm, easy kiss. “Okay. Good,” he rubbed his nose across Jim’s cheek and softly pressed his lips there. “Now, is there anything else you’ve been holding back?” He ran a tongue over his stubbled chin, “Anything else you’d like to tell me?”
“I want to make love to you,” came the soft response.
Blair smiled against Jim’s neck, then began to giggle as joy bubbled out of him. “Jesus, Jim, I thought you’d never fucking ask!”
To Be Continued.