Author – annieb
Artist - lapetite_kiki
Genre - Slash. romance.
Word Count – 16,521.
Warnings – Kidfic
Summary - Jim Ellison is a cop who’s retired from the PD due to the problems he’s having with his senses. He and his son, Joe, aged 5, move to a small town named Chinook where they set up house in a rundown house and meet Blair Sandburg, the local pharmacist. Very loosely based on the movie “Murphy’s Romance”.
Notes: Many thanks to alynt for the great beta and suggestions, pattrose for the cheerleading and keeping me on target, and to lapetite_kiki for the gorgeous art. And to devra_01 for being constantly encouraging and supportive, no matter what fandom I’m writing in.
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”
Jim Ellison looked over at his son, asleep in the passenger seat of his truck. It had been a long trip from Cascade and Joe had given into fatigue an hour or so ago, his head drooping to rest against the side window. Jim still wasn’t a hundred per cent sure whether he was doing the right thing, taking Joe away from Washington and all his friends there but Joe had seemed to take it in his stride, helping pack the apartment up and making the rounds of his friends to say goodbye.
Joe’s mom, Carolyn, had barely raised an eyebrow when Jim had called into her office to tell her they were moving. That wasn’t surprising. Carolyn had never been maternal and she’d dumped five month old Joe into Jim’s arms when he came home from the PD one day and said she was through with the whole motherhood deal. Jim wasn’t all that sorry to see her go actually. Their marriage had been mostly one of armed truces since day one, but with the help of his colleagues in the Major Crimes Unit, Jim and Joe had gotten along pretty well. Of late, Joe had pretty much stopped asking why his mom hardly ever visited them and for that Jim was grateful. There were only so many lies one could tell a little boy before you started wondering if he was believing them. Or if you were beginning to believe them yourself.
Jim had made his way up the ladder at Major Crimes with an enviable solve rate. He’d begun to think life couldn’t get any better until he’d gone on stakeout to catch a serial bomber called The Switchman and the spells had started. At first it had just been as if everything around him was too loud, too bright, his skin over-sensitized to the slightest touch, but then one day he’d taken Joe to the park to throw around a Frisbee and found himself transfixed as the brightly colored object sailed through the air. He’d apparently been frozen in place for several minutes, only snapping out of it when a shrill scream pierced through the fog he’d been immersed in. Looking around, he’d been horrified to see Joe in the middle of the road, a garbage truck bearing down on him. Jim had run with what seemed superhuman speed and managed to scoop his son out of the path of danger just in the nick of time. He’d gone to the hospital the next day for answers to his condition but when all the tests came back negative and the doctors had no answers and no treatment, Jim turned in his badge and his gun and went looking for a safe haven in which to raise his son. His captain, Simon Banks, had tried to talk him out of it but Jim had been firm in his resolve. “I need to do this for Joe,” he’d said. “He’ll be safer out of the city.” I hope, he added mentally.
Within a couple of weeks he’d managed to rent them a house in Chinook, a small town about four hours drive from Cascade. He wasn’t sure yet what kind of work he’d find there but he’d decided to spend at least a couple of weeks just getting Joe acclimated to the change before worrying about that. He had some money in a trust fund his father had set up for him back when Jim was just a kid. He’d refused to touch the money before now. His relationship with his father was distant and Jim had never really forgiven him for things that had happened in his childhood but if it meant keeping a roof over Joe’s head, Jim would put his pride in his pocket and make use of the money. He hadn’t been with the police force long enough to be eligible for a pension.
He heaved a sigh of relief as a sign loomed ahead welcoming visitors to Chinook and reached out a hand and shook Joe’s shoulder gently. “Hey, sleepyhead,” he said as the boy opened his eyes and looked over at him. “Take a look at your new home.”
Joe sat up excitedly and looked out of the window of the truck. “It’s kind of small,” he said after a few minutes.
“Looks nice though,” Jim said. He pointed to some horses in a field they were passing. “We could go horse riding sometimes maybe.”
Joe nodded. “I guess.”
Jim took a right turn on the outskirts of the small town and followed the dirt road for several miles till he pulled up in front of a broken down fence with the sign “Wilkerson” nailed to one of its sagging posts. “This is it,” he said, undoing first his own and then Joe’s seatbelt. He climbed out of the truck then walked around to lift Joe down. Taking Joe’s hand, he led the boy up to the fence, his heart sinking as he saw the decrepit state of the house. “Damn,” he whispered. He should never have rented the house without looking at it first but he’d had so little spare time and the photos the agent had sent him had apparently been more than a little misleading.
“Is it a haunted house? Like on TV?” Joe asked hesitantly, his fingers curling more tightly around Jim’s.
Jim crouched down and pulled Joe into his arms. “Nah, it just needs a bit of work,” he said reassuringly. “We’ll have a lot of fun fixing it up. I bet Uncle Simon and Uncle Joel and the other guys will come give us a hand too. And I can hang a swing for you right there, see?” Jim pointed to an oak tree in the front yard that was about the most attractive feature of the place he’d seen so far.
“I guess that’d be okay,” Joe replied.
Jim gave him a hug and stood up, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb. “So, big guy, you gonna help me get the trailer and truck unpacked or you just gonna stand there and look at your new front yard some more?”
“I’ll race ya, Dad!” Joe shouted, turning for the truck.
Jim gave him a few steps head start then took off after him, scooping him up when he caught up with him, so Joe was riding high on his shoulders. He bent forward at the back of the trailer and slid Joe off over his head to the ground. “Let’s get to work, buddy.”
It had taken a good four or five hours before Jim was happy for the most part with what they’d gotten done. He’d done the lion’s share of the work of course, but Joe had been happy enough carrying in smaller items and putting them away in the cupboards and closets. He’d wheeled his bike into the yard and propped it against the tree and Jim smiled when he saw it. It looked right there, made this ramshackle old place look at least partly like a home. By eight o’clock Joe was asleep in his own bed, in the room right next to where Jim planned to sleep and Jim concentrated on getting his own bed set up for the night. Within a half hour of getting Joe settled, Jim was in bed himself, more exhausted than he could remember being in a while. He set the alarm for five so he could get an early start then let himself drift off to sleep.
Jim aimed his best glare at the woman seated across the desk from him. “This is my bank,” he said. “I know I have money in a trust fund in my name in this bank. It became available to me when I turned twenty five. As you can probably tell, I’m well past that age and have had access to that money for some time. I just chose not to use it. Now I need to.”
The woman smiled condescendingly at him, apparently not fazed in the least by the laser-like glare Jim was directing her way. “As I’ve said explained, Mr. Ellison, I’m not saying the trust fund doesn’t exist, or that you’re not eligible age-wise to access it. What I am telling you is that account has been frozen pending a court hearing.” She lifted a hand as Jim started to speak. “No, I can’t tell you who froze it, though if you think about it, I’m sure you can guess, seeing as the only people who have any legal access to it are the beneficiary and the person who set it up.”
Jim stood up and shoved the chair backwards angrily, wincing as it scraped across the tiled floor. “My father,” he said flatly. “I should have known he’d pull something like this.”
“I’m very sorry,” the woman said, standing as well, her hands fluttering ineffectually in an apparent attempt at belated conciliation.
“Tell that to my five-year-old son when I tell him there’s nothing for dinner tonight,” Jim replied tersely, turning for the door.
“There is a church in town that offers food vouchers and the like for those in need.”
“I don’t want charity,” Jim said over his shoulder, pushing open the door. “Just what’s rightfully mine.”
Outside, he stood for a moment trying to process what he’d been told. He really shouldn’t have expected anything less from his father. When Jim had first gone to his father’s house so Joe could say goodbye to his grandpa, William Ellison had done his best to talk Jim out of leaving, offering him a job with his company instead. Jim, knowing that a change of job in the city wasn’t the answer to his sensory problems, had refused, simply saying he wanted to take Joe somewhere safer, wanted him to grow up where the air was fresh and where he could run freely outdoors. His father had been angry, and probably hurt, Jim knew. Although he’d never been an overly attentive grandfather, Joe was still his flesh and blood and William made it apparent he resented Jim mightily for taking the boy out of his orbit. Jim’s memories of his own childhood only made him more determined to remove Joe from Cascade and his father’s influence though and he’d refused the job offer strenuously.
Sighing, Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He had a couple of hours till he needed to pick Joe up from his first day at his new school. Maybe Simon could float him a loan till he could get his trust fund sorted out or find a job. He’d used his pay from the Black Ops missions he’d done in the Rangers to buy the loft in Cascade and agreed to let Carolyn move into it when he and Joe had moved here. He hadn’t asked her for rent at the time and he could just imagine the derision in her voice if he called now and told her he needed her to start paying. No, he couldn’t bring himself to do that.
The mid morning sun reflected off the face of the phone and Jim canted it, trying to get it into a position where he could see more clearly. Squinting, he frowned down at the instrument, focusing in on the numbers as he stepped off the sidewalk, everything else fading into nothingness around him. A horn blared and the sound of it literally knocked him to his knees, where he hunched down, his hands over his ears. Someone grabbed him round the waist and then he was being propelled forward. His head hit something hard and unforgiving and the lights went out.
“Hey, man, you okay?”
Jim frowned up at the fuzzy blur above him and blinked a few times to clear his vision.
“Easy, easy. Take it slow.” A reassuring voice spoke at the same time a warm hand gripped his elbow and levered him slowly into a sitting position.
Jim groaned as his head protested the change in position. It felt like an army was tramping through his skull in hob-nailed boots. He dropped his head forward, covering his eyes with his hands. “What the hell happened?”
“You stepped right out in front of me!” a man exclaimed. “Wasn’t my fault. You saw, Blair, didn’t you? Wasn’t nothing I could do.”
“It’s okay, Travis,” the first voice Jim had heard said. “It wasn’t your fault. Why don’t you help me get the gentleman to his feet and over to the drugstore so he can rest for a while.”
“I’m fine,” Jim said but he was ushered to his feet nonetheless, and when his headache soared to new heights as soon as he was on his feet, he decided discretion was the better part of valor and allowed himself to be steered into the comfortingly darker confines of the store where he was pushed down into a chair. He looked up to see, through his still slightly blurred vision, a young man with long curly hair standing in front of him, a worried look on his face.
“Wow,” the young man said. “You were almost toast, man. In fact I think poor Travis thought he had killed you. Sorry about your head. It was the only way I could think of getting you out of the way.” He grinned and looked ruefully down at his jeans where Jim could see rips in the knees.
“I’m sorry,” Jim said, rubbing his hand across his aching forehead. “I didn’t even see him. One minute I was looking at my phone and the next—“ He shut his mouth quickly before he could blurt out anything more. Wouldn’t that be a great start to his new life: becoming the town eccentric all over again?
The man handed him a glass of water and Jim took a sip then handed it back. “So, this ever happened to you before?”
“This?” Jim asked pointedly.
“You know, getting so focused on something that you step right out in front of traffic?”
“No,” Jim said firmly, shoving the memory of Joe almost getting mown down by that truck firmly to the back of his mind.
“Uh huh,” the man said, looking skeptical. “Look, I’ve seen this kind of thing before. Well, not exactly seen it but I’ve read about it. Can I ask you a couple of questions?”
Jim grunted and he obviously took that as agreement. “You finding your senses are a little hyper lately?”
“What do you mean?” Jim asked, his heart already starting to speed up.
“Um, sounds too loud. I’d say yes to that one considering the way you had your hands planted over your ears when Trav tooted his horn at you. Smells that are too strong, seeing stuff you shouldn’t be able to see, tastebuds off the wall?”
Jim stood up, locking his still wobbly knees, ignoring the supporting hand the man held out to him. “I don’t think—“
“I’ll take that as a yes. One more thing. Extra sensitive touchy feely lately?”
“That’s none of your goddamn business!” Jim snarled. “Who the hell are you anyway?”
“Whoa, calm down, man. Look, my name is Blair Sandburg. I’m an anthropologist—”
Jim cast an eye over the man’s white coat and the tag that said “Pharmacist” under his name. “I thought you were the drug store owner.” He grudgingly shook the man’s outstretched hand. “Jim Ellison.”
“Yeah, well, at the moment I run the drugstore. It belonged to my mom and I took it over for her when she got sick. I got a second degree in pharmacology when we realized she couldn’t handle the place anymore. But my main degree is in anthropology. I’m studying for my doctorate and you just may be the living embodiment of my field of study. If I'm correct, you're a behavioral throwback to a pre-civilized breed of man.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Jim snapped. “You’re telling me I'm some sort of caveman?”
“Well, maybe I was a little out of line with that caveman remark, but I mean—”
Jim advanced on him and was more than a little gratified to see Sandburg back up till he was pressed against the wall of the store. “How do you know about my problems? I’m a cop, Chief. If I find out you’ve been checking into my personal life I’ll find something to arrest you for and you’ll be sitting in a cell so fast you won’t know what’s hit you,” he growled, grabbing the front of Sandburg’s coat and pushing forward till he was right inside his personal space and the man was backed against the wall.
“Whoa, you’re a cop?” Sandburg looked surprised but seemed to regain his composure quickly and hurried on. “Hey, Joe Friday, relax, okay? Look, you mess with me, man, and you are never gonna figure out what's up with you. And before you got all bent out of shape over how I knew, man, you only had to ask. I’ve made a study of people like you. When you know what to look for the signs are like a flashing neon sign, believe me.”
Startled by his assurance, Jim released his hold and turned and walked a few paces away, trying to regain his composure and the jolt of arousal that had sung along his nerve endings when he’d touched the guy.
“Now, let me just show you something here. This is a monograph by Sir Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor. It's over a hundred years old.” Sandburg hurried over to a desk at the back of the room and came back with an ancient-looking book in his hand. He held it out to Jim, who took it and looked down to see a picture of a man dressed similarly to what Jim remembered the Peruvian tribesmen he’d met during his time with the Rangers wearing. “Anyway,” Sandburg went on when Jim didn’t speak, “the idea goes something like this - in all tribal cultures every village had what Burton named a Sentinel. Now this was someone who patrolled the border. “
“You mean a scout,” Jim said.
“No, no, no, more like a watchman. You see, this Sentinel would watch for approaching enemies, change in the weather, movement of game. Tribe survival depended on it.”
“Yeah, what's this got to do with me?” Jim asked, handing the book back.
“A Sentinel is chosen because of a genetic advantage. A sensory awareness that can be developed beyond normal humans. Now these senses are honed by solitary time spent in the wild. Now at first Burton's monograph was disputed and now it's basically forgotten. I mean, there are certain manifestations today of maybe one or two hyperactive senses, like taste and smell, people who work for coffee and perfume companies. Oh, and in Vietnam, the Army long-range recon units that had to—”
“—change their diet to fish and rice because a Cong scout could smell a Westerner by his waste,” Jim finished for him.
“Right, right, exactly,” Sandburg said, shooting him a speculative look. “I've got hundreds and hundreds of documented cases over here of one or two hyperactive senses but not one single subject with all five. You could be the real thing. You spent time in the jungle?”
Jim nodded. “My chopper was shot down in Peru. I was the only survivor of my unit. I spent the eighteen months till I was rescued living with a Chopec tribe. But the truth is I don't remember much of anything about it. “
Sandburg looked impressed. “A year and a half spent in the bush? The sole survivor of your unit? I mean, I'm no psychiatrist, but that sounds pretty damn traumatic to me. And trauma tends to get repressed.”
Jim grunted. “Let's say I buy this. Why is this coming back now after so long?”
Sandburg shrugged. “I don't know. But you need someone who understands your condition.”
“And what's the payoff for you?” Jim asked sardonically.
“My doctorate. I want to write about you. You're my thesis.”
Jim shook his head. Figured. This kid was no different than anybody else. Out to make a buck off someone else’s problems. “I've had enough.” He turned to the door and walked out onto the sidewalk, hearing Sandburg running after him.
“Well, just think about it, okay?” Sandburg said. He reached a hand out to grab Jim’s arm but Jim shook him off and started to walk away. “Oh, wait, there's one other thing I gotta warn you about.”
Jim strode away but Sandburg caught him up, grabbing him by the arm again. “Listen, man, this is important. It’s something called the zone-out factor.”
“The what?” Jim turned to stare him down but Sandburg apparently wasn’t the least bit fazed by the Ellison glare that had been known to have Cascade’s most notorious perps all but begging to confess.
“The zone-out factor. Sometimes when a Sentinel is doing his deal, he focuses too much one sense, like sight for example, and basically zones out the others. According to Burton, they can become pretty much catatonic till they’re snapped out of it. I think that’s what happened to you just now.” Sandburg gave him a serious look. “It can be dangerous, man. Back then, Sentinels usually had a partner along to watch their back…”
Jim shoved the unwanted memory of that day in the park with Joe back further still but couldn’t ignore the chill that trickled down his spine. “You mean someone like you?” He put up a hand as Sandburg nodded. “Look, thanks, but I’m not actually with the police force anymore. The most dangerous thing I plan on doing is spending time with my kid and maybe picking up some work around town.”
Sandburg narrowed his eyes. “You’ve had a zone out before,” he said knowingly, “and it was bad enough to make you want to pretend it never happened. Well, you can’t. Like it or not, your abilities, which were once latent and then probably suppressed, are back online. I can at least help you learn to control them.”
Jim sighed and rubbed a hand over his hair. Whether he wanted to admit it, the guy was getting to him, and not just because of the Sentinel stuff either. His bisexuality had been one of the major causes of his marriage problems with Carolyn and right now he had to admit he was feeling an attraction to Sandburg the likes of which he hadn’t allowed himself to feel in years. “I can’t pay you for helping me,” he said at last, both hoping the man would turn away right then and hoping just as fervently that he wouldn’t. “I’m having something of a cash flow problem right now. I’ll get it sorted out as soon as I can but right this minute I can’t even afford to buy groceries, let alone work out where next week’s rent is coming from.”
“No problem,” Sandburg said. “You don’t have to pay me for helping you.”
Jim felt the last of his resistance melt away as Sandburg gave him a wide smile, one that lit up his blue eyes. “All right, but we keep this between us for now, okay?”
“Sure thing. When do you want to start?”
“I’ve got to go pick up my son from school…” Jim said.
“Why don’t I call over tonight then, say around 5?” Sandburg suggested.
“I guess. I’m out at the old Wilkerson place on—“
“Carter Road,” Sandburg finished for him. He shrugged. “Small town. You know how it is.”
“Yeah.” Jim wondered what else Sandburg knew about him but a look at his watch had him heading hurriedly for his car. “Thanks,” he called over his shoulder.
“See you tonight.”
Jim peered into the depths of the larder and sighed at the scantily filled shelves. He hadn’t brought much food with him, mostly just enough to last them over the weekend of their arrival, figuring he’d do grocery shopping today while Joe was at school. That well-laid plan had had its legs cut from under it by his father’s self-centered behavior and not for the first time in his life, Jim wondered if there was anything his father wouldn’t do; anyone he wouldn’t sacrifice to get his own way.
“What’s for dinner, Daddy?” Joe said from behind him. “I’m starving.”
Jim laughed as he turned and ruffled his son’s hair. “You are not starving. It’s barely 4-30 and I know you had lunch at school because you told me how much you liked it.”
“Lunch was ages ago,” Joe said, pulling a mournful face. “Can I have some cookies till it’s dinner time?”
“Okay, only two though.” Jim pulled the cookie barrel out of the larder and took off the lid, letting Joe choose which he wanted. Joe took three but Jim decided to pretend not to notice. Cookies at least would fill him up a little because dinner tonight was going to be slim pickings. He grabbed a cookie for himself then put the barrel back.
“And milk?” Joe asked, heading for the fridge.
“I forgot to get milk,” Jim fabricated. “Water’s better for you anyway,” he added.
He went to the sink and filled two glasses from the faucet then set them on the table and helped Joe clamber up onto a chair, taking a seat across from him. He glanced at his watch. Sandburg had said he’d come at five, which meant he had a half hour to try to get his head around what the guy had told him. Oddly enough, he hadn’t actually doubted a word Sandburg had said. He was too accurate about all the things Jim had been experiencing. Jim only hoped that meant he knew what he was talking about and that he could actually help Jim get a handle on it all. He’d noticed that Sandburg had said he could help him control his senses. Jim wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that. He’d rather just get rid of them altogether but he guessed if a cure wasn’t an option, and all the doctors he’d seen in Cascade had made that pretty clear, then control was at least something to aim for.
“What’s wrong, Daddy?” Joe asked.
Jim smiled at him. Joe had an uncanny knack for knowing when something was bothering him. “We’re going to have a visitor in a little while,” he said.
“Yay! Uncle Simon?” Joe jumped down from his chair and ran to the window that looked out onto the road in front of the house.
“Uncle Joel? Uncle Rafe?”
“If you’d give me a minute I’d tell you,” Jim said, getting up and walking over to join Joe at the window. A beat up old Volvo was pulling up in the driveway. “That’s our visitor. He’s early. His name is Mr. Sandburg and he’s a new friend of mine. He’s going to help me with… with some stuff.”
“What stuff?” Joe asked.
Jim watched as Sandburg climbed out of the car, leaned back in, and pulled out two large boxes, which he balanced on top of each other and then picked up, making his way slowly to the front door.
“Just grown up stuff,” Jim called over his shoulder as he headed for the front door. “You mind your manners, okay?”
“Okay,” Joe said agreeably as he followed him.
Jim opened the door before Sandburg could knock and smiled a little as he jumped and almost dropped the boxes.
“Whoa, don’t do that, man! Just about took ten years off my life,” Sandburg said as he fumbled for the packages at the same moment Jim reached out to right them. Their hands touched for a moment and Jim could have sworn he felt something sizzle along his nerves at the connection.
“Sorry,” Jim said, shaking it off. “We saw you arrive from the window and I could see you had your hands full. What is all this stuff anyway?”
“This is a couple of surprises,” Sandburg said, letting Jim take the topmost box and then preceding him through the doorway. “Hey there,” he said as Joe wrapped an arm around Jim’s leg and stuck his thumb in his mouth.
“Say hi,” Jim instructed. “He’s a little shy,” he added, walking into the kitchen, Joe still attached to his leg like a leech. He put the box on the table then lifted Joe into his arms. “This is Joe, my son. Joe, say hello to Mr. Sandburg.”
“Hi,” Joe whispered, putting his head down on Jim’s shoulder.
“Hi. Oh, I’m Blair, by the way. Friends should call each other by their first names, shouldn’t they?”
“Yeah, they should.” Jim felt the warmth of Blair’s smile creeping in around his heart. “I’m Jim,” he said, shaking Blair’s hand.
“Great. Now we’re really friends,” Blair said, setting the other box on the floor.
“Is that for my birthday?” Joe asked.
“Is it your birthday?” Blair asked.
“No,” Jim said firmly, “it’s not. Not for another four months.”
“Still,” Blair said, ripping the tape off the box, and pulling the flaps up, “there might be something in here for someone named Joe.” He reached in and pulled out a bright red remote controlled racing car.
“Wow!” Joe yelled, scrambling to get down on the floor. “Can I have it, Daddy?”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Jim said, but one look at Joe’s excited face and he couldn’t refuse. “You can have it. Say thank you to Blair.”
“Thanks, Blair!” Joe took the car and sat down on the floor, struggling with the packaging.
“How about I help you with that?” Blair suggested, sitting down cross-legged next to him. “Um, I brought some beer. I wasn’t sure if you’d have anything like that or even if you drink beer…”
“I do and I’d love one, thanks.” Jim took the box from Joe and managed to extricate the car while Blair stood up and pulled a small cooler from the box and took two beers out of it, handing one to Jim and uncapping his own. He handed Joe a small pop top bottle of juice after giving Jim an interrogatory look, which Jim answered with a nod.
Joe had the juice bottle finished in two minutes flat. “Can I go play with my car now?” he asked, handing the empty up to Jim.
“Sure. I’ll call you when dinner’s ready,” Jim replied.
“Can he stay for dinner?” Joe asked, scooping up the car and angling his thumb over at Blair on his way to the door.
“His name’s Blair and Blair might be busy tonight,” Jim said, half-hoping that Blair was. Not that he didn’t want him to stay. He did, but he wasn’t sure how far he could stretch the single pack of Mac and Cheese he’d marked out for their dinner.
Joe just nodded and headed into his room, the car tucked possessively under his arm.
“Actually, I’m not busy and I’d love to stay,” Blair said with a smile and Jim’s heart felt as if it both rose and sank at the same time. “I hope you don’t mind but I picked up a couple of pre-made pizzas on the way over when I got the beer…”
“You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble,” Jim said, feeling his cheeks flush hotly. “I’m not looking for charity.”
“You’re not getting any either,” Blair retorted. “Just think of me as the welcome wagon lady.”
“You don’t look like any welcome wagon lady I’ve ever seen,” Jim said, casting an appreciative eye over his new friend, and blushing even more fiercely. He looked away and sipped on his drink, hoping for time to gather his composure.
“No, I guess not,” Blair said. “So, would you rather we wait till after dinner is over and Joe’s in bed before we get started working on your senses? I brought a piece of equipment with me that might help you begin to learn to isolate and control them. I’m guessing Joe doesn’t know…”
“No,” Jim said, turning back to face him. “He’s just a little boy, you know, and he’s already had a lot to deal with for a little guy.” He left any explanation of that unspoken and rose to his feet. “I’ll turn on the oven for the pizza.”
It had been nice, Jim decided, looking across the table at Blair, to have someone to share a meal with. It had been a while since he’d eaten with anyone besides Joe. Probably the last time had been when he’d asked Carolyn out for dinner, hoping that a congenial meal together might repair at least a few of the gaping holes in their relationship and convince her to spare a little time for Joe. It hadn’t worked though and he had to admit that had been mostly his fault. He’d been pretty obnoxious, telling her he didn’t give a rat’s ass about her sister’s wedding. While it might have been true, there’d been no reason for him to say so except that he was feeling pretty antsy after having just got back from a week long solitary stakeout and feeling like a failure for letting the Switchman get away. That failure still ate away at him at times, despite the fact they’d managed to catch her in the end. But yeah, that dinner with Caro had been a spectacular misstep in their relationship especially as his wonky senses decided to pick that night to make themselves known again and he’d ended up railing like an idiot at the waiter and pretty much accusing the restaurant of trying to poison him. He felt his cheeks heat with remembered embarrassment then jumped as he felt someone shake his arm. Looking up, he saw Blair next to him, a worried look on his face.
“You okay?” Blair asked.
Jim nodded. “Sorry. Just remembering something.”
“Had me worried for a minute. I was trying to work out what you could have possibly zoned on,” Blair replied, sitting back down in his chair across from Jim.
“You’re not gonna think I’m zoning every time I take a minute to think, are you?” Jim asked.
Blair shot one of those blindingly brilliant smiles at him that Jim was beginning to like so much. “I like the fact that it sounds like you’re planning on letting me stay around,” he said.
A soft snore had them turning to see Joe had fallen asleep at the table, one hand propping up his head.
Jim laughed quietly. “I guess I’d better get him into bed.”
“Looks like he had a long day,” Blair observed.
“First day in a new school,” Jim said, scooping Joe into his arms and carrying him through to the bedroom. He got him undressed and into pajamas then under the covers with Joe barely opening his eyes. “I should make you brush your teeth,” he said as he bent to kiss his forehead. “If you get a cavity I’ll kill myself. The last thing your old Dad needs right now is a dentist bill.”
“Money’s pretty tight, huh?”
Jim turned to see Blair leaning against the doorframe watching them. “Nothing I can’t deal with eventually,” he said, leading the way out of the room and closing the door behind them.
“If I can help out, just ask,” Blair said, walking over to the other box he’d brought with him and beginning to unpack it. “I carry a lot of people on my books at the pharmacy but there’s always room to help a friend. I know what it’s like to be broke, believe me.”
“Are we friends?” Jim asked.
Blair stood up and gave him a level look. “I hope so. I’d like to hope we’re at least that already.”
Blair shrugged. “I’ve got pretty good gaydar,” he said. “You’re bi, right?” When Jim nodded hesitantly, he added, “Don’t sweat it, man. Me too. So I’m hardly likely to out you to the town. Mind you, Chinook’s not exactly a backwater these days. We’ve got a Rhodes Scholar and a man who likes to wear his wife’s nightgown. We’re in the mainstream.”
“Not quite,” Jim said with a smile. “I lost track of the number of times I got called pardner today.”
Blair grinned back. “What can I tell you? Bonanza is still number one viewing in Chinook. No fancy CSI shows for this little town.”
Jim watched curiously as Blair pulled out a strange-looking piece of equipment, assembled it all on the kitchen table then plugged the cord into an electrical socket and turned it on.
“Now, remember, you were born with these senses. They're a gift passed on to you by your ancestors,“ he said as he motioned Jim into a chair he’d placed in front of it.
“What are we doing here?” Jim asked suspiciously.
“Oh, it's something very cool.” He put a pair of headphones on Jim then stood back with a satisfied smile on his face. “Made it myself. Okay. Put your chin here. “
“Put your chin here,” Blair repeated.
Jim sat down and put his chin on the indicated chin support and Blair flipped a switch on the side of the gizmo. Jim flinched as a row of multi colored lights came on accompanied by music, sending their blinding glare directly into his eyes. “Hey, come on,” he said sharply.
“Relax, man. I've put your sense of sight on overload. Don't struggle. See if you can separate from it and just hear the music,” Blair said reassuringly.
“I don't like it,” Jim said mulishly.
“Fine then. You're the one with the wacko senses. You don't want to learn how to control it, it's no skin off my back, pal.”
With a long suffering sigh, Jim put his chin back on the support.
Blair clapped his hands. “All right. Now we're talking. One step at a time.”
Jim breathed deeply, watching the colored lights, trying to focus on the music that seemed just out of reach of his hearing.
“It's all about breathing and concentration,” Blair intoned softly. “One step at a time. Zone out the light. Concentrate. Yeah. Yeah, that's it. Zone out the light. There's only music. “
It seemed like both hours and seconds later that Jim realized the lights were gone and the music was silent. He blinked a little as Blair patted him on the shoulder. “Wow,” he said softly.
“Wow indeed,” Blair said, sounding awed. “You’re a complete natural at this, you know that?”
Jim stood up. He felt oddly relaxed for the first time in months. “So, how long do you think this will all take?” he asked, watching Blair pack the equipment back in the box. “I mean, before I get full control.”
“And don’t need me anymore?” Blair asked, and Jim thought there was regret behind the words. Blair shrugged. “Like I said you’re a natural. I’m not saying it’s all going to come this easy but if you’re willing to work with me here, you could probably get enough control to manage on your own in a few months. I mean by then I should have the bulk of my thesis written so…”
“What if that wasn’t what I meant?” Jim asked, moving over to grip Blair’s arm and turn him round to face him. “What if I wanted you around even after I had control?”
Blair’s eyes widened and then a soft, slow smile broke out across his face. Jim had never wanted to kiss anyone as much as he wanted to kiss Blair right then but he just waited for Blair’s reply.
Blair nodded. “Then I’ll be around,” he said, reaching up to plant a chaste kiss on Jim’s mouth. “Get some rest. I’ve got more tests planned for tomorrow after Joe goes to school.”
“What about the drugstore? Don’t you need to work?” Jim asked, still savoring the feel of Blair’s lips against his own like a promise for the future.
Blair shrugged then turned and picked up the box. “Minnie can handle it. She’s a trained pharmacist too. She’s semi-retired but she likes to keep her hand in. So, eight o’clock?”
Jim nodded then reached out and pulled Blair against him, kissing him gently. “Eight o’clock,” he agreed. He walked across to the window and watched Blair leave then went into check on Joe. He covered him snugly then headed for his own room, undressed, and fell into bed, falling into a deep, dreamless sleep almost immediately.
By the next day though, Jim found himself worrying whether he’d done the right thing by kissing Blair. When eight o’clock came and went with no sign of him, he started to think maybe Blair thought he’d come on too strong or just that he’d decided a guy with wacko senses and a five year old kid was too much trouble. He tried to hold onto what Blair had said about wanting to write his thesis, using Jim as his subject, but as the day went by with no sign of him and then another day and another, Jim decided his first instincts had been right. And that Blair had written him off as not worth bothering with.
He was just climbing into his truck when Blair’s car turned into the drive.
“Sorry I haven’t been around, man,” Blair called through the window. “I went up to Cascade to see my mom for a couple of days. Had to leave in a hurry. You still up for some work?”
“Sure,” Jim called back, swallowing down all his previous doubts. “Is your mom okay?”
Blair shrugged. “She has her good days and bad days, more bad than good unfortunately.”
“I’m sorry,” Jim said. “You sure you have time for this now?”
“Definitely,” Blair replied enthusiastically. “I need to keep busy and the drugstore is kinda slow at the moment.”
“I just need to drop Joe off at school and pick up a newspaper. You want to follow us back into town?” Jim asked.
Blair grinned and climbed out of his car and locked it up. “How about I just catch a ride with you and pick up my car later?”
“Hi, Joe,” he said settling into the seat next to the boy. “You still like school?”
“It’s pretty cool,” Joe said. “I have a friend who’s an Indian.”
“Oh right, that’d be Jesse Blackwater, right? His dad and I went to school together too,” Blair said. He and Joe chatted away about Blair’s former school days until Jim pulled the truck up outside the school and Blair opened the door and climbed out to help Joe down.
Jim got out as well and walked around the truck so he could give Joe a hug goodbye. “You have a good day and behave in class,” he said, planting a loud smacking kiss on Joe’s forehead and grinning as Joe wiped it away.
“I will,” Joe said solemnly, hoisting his backpack onto his shoulders and turning to wave at Blair. “Bye, Blair.”
“See you, Joe.” Blair waved back then climbed back into the truck. “So you still looking for a job?” he asked as Jim got back behind the wheel.
“Yep. Why? You hiring?” Jim asked, pulling back out onto the road.
“No, sorry. Minnie’s all I can manage. I don’t even really pay her what she’s worth. Business isn’t exactly booming these days. Mind you, according to Minnie it’s because I carry too many people on my books.” Blair shrugged. “What can you do though? Dave Larsen needed a wheelchair and couldn’t even afford to hire one. Sam Tilson was working for the lumber company that went bust and moved out of town, welching on their insurance. Sam still needs his digitalis.”
“My dad would call you a bleeding heart liberal,” Jim observed sardonically, turning his head to look at him for a moment.
Blair bristled a little. “I don’t care if it’s bleeding or not but the last EKG I had showed I had one,” he replied sharply.
“I’m sorry,” Jim said. “I was just kidding around. My social skills are a little rusty. You’re a good man, Blair. You help a lot of people and now you’re helping Joe and me too. I’ll never be able to repay you.”
Blair rested his hand over Jim’s on the steering wheel. “You’re welcome,” he said softly. “So about that job. Colby Day’s looking for someone to help out on his place. It’s not full time but he’s a decent guy and he’ll pay you a fair wage for what you do.”
Jim nodded. “Thanks.”
“You want to go see him now?” Blair asked. “I already called and told him about you.”
“About me?” Jim almost stomped on the brakes in reaction but he relaxed as Blair laughed.
“I just told him I had a friend who was new to town and needed some work,” Blair reassured him. “Okay, now that panic attack’s over, take the next turn on the right. Colby’s place is right at the end of that road.” He squeezed Jim’s hand. “You know you can trust me, Jim. I’d never tell anyone anything you didn’t want them to know. You want the Sentinel stuff to stay quiet and I promise you it will.”
Jim smiled over at him. “I know, Chief, I know.”
Colby Day was a big bear of a man with a full head of grey hair and a grizzled beard to match. Jim liked him on sight and apparently the feeling was mutual because he offered Jim the job on the spot. Colby had five kids of his own, all boys, and he insisted Jim should finish work early enough each day to go collect Joe from school then come back to the farm so Joe could play with the Day kids while Jim finished up the last of any chores that needed doing.
“Hey, why don’t I leave you here with Colby so he can show you the ropes,” Blair suggested. “Looks like Emma’s heading into town so I’ll get a lift back to your place with her and pick up my car and get back to the store.” He waved over to where Colby’s wife was about to get into her car.
“Sure,” Jim said, hiding the twinge of disappointment he felt at not spending a few hours with Blair after all. Still, Blair was right. He needed work and he needed to show Colby he could do what the man was going to pay him to do. “Hey,” he said, grabbing Blair’s hand as he started to walk away, “tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow,” Blair promised, that special smile that Jim had begun to feel was meant only for him lighting up his face.
Jim nodded and watched him leave then walked over to join Colby at the barn. “I’m all yours,” he told his new employer. “How about you show this city boy the ropes?”
Any time he wasn’t working, he drove into town and picked up Blair from the drugstore. They’d go out into the countryside around the town and work on his senses. Jim was actually starting to feel Blair’s lessons were paying off. He’d had a couple of close calls with threatened zones but found that often just a touch from Blair was enough to pull him back from the brink.
Joe had grown fond of Blair too and Jim liked seeing the two of them together. They picnicked a couple of times at the top of the big bluff overlooking Chinook and Jim was beginning to feel like he and Joe were beginning to belong here, almost like they were recreating their family or building a new one. Jim liked the idea of that. It had been just him and Joe for so long. Having Blair around gave him a warm sense of comfort and happiness.
“So,” Jim said, looking across at Blair who was sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of him, “what’s it going to be today? Sight, hearing, touch?”
Blair tipped his head back and looked at Jim, a slow smile breaking out across his face. “How about taste?” he asked. “Haven’t done a lot of work on that.” He turned and opened the picnic basket he’d set on the ground beside him, pulled out a bandanna then stood up and walked across to put it around Jim’s eyes. “No cheating,” he warned as he tightened the knot. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
Jim grinned. “None, but I warn you I’m starving and I’ve been hanging out to find out what goodies you have in your basket, Red Riding Hood, so hurry up and get the test over before I show you one of my fingers.”
“Nag, nag, nag,” Blair replied and Jim could hear the laughter in his voice. “Okay. Here we go. I’m going to put a small amount of something completely safe and innocuous in water in these cups. You just have to tell me what the substance is.”
“I dunno,” Jim said. “I’m not a big fan of tasting stuff when I don’t know what it is…”
“Trust me,” Blair said.
“I do,” Jim said, not really surprised to find that he meant it. He held out his hand for the first cup and took a cautious sip. “Salt,” he said almost immediately.
“Good,” Blair replied, handing over the second cup.
This one was a little harder and Jim rolled the liquid over his tongue, trying to grab onto the elusive taste beneath the water. “Vanilla,” he said after a few minutes.
“Two for two,” Blair said. “Okay, here’s the third one.”
Jim took a sip and grinned. “No doubt about this one. Sugar. You making a cake or something?”
Blair laughed as he undid the bandanna and removed it, shading Jim’s eyes against the bright sun with his hand till they’d acclimatized. “Wow,” he said, sounding impressed. “That was great. There was such a tiny amount of everything in there I thought you’d have to really focus to find what they were. Like I keep telling you, Jim, you’re a natural at this.”
“This was one test I didn’t mind at least,” Jim replied. He stood up then turned quickly and pulled Blair close against him. “Kind of sorry it’s over,” he whispered, bending his head till their mouths were almost close enough to touch.
“You can keep tasting if you want,” Blair murmured and then his lips were on Jim’s, pliant and sweet.
By the time they broke apart, they were both panting for air. Blair looked disheveled, his hair in disarray where Jim had run his fingers through it, but he was smiling.
“I’d love to do more than taste testing,” Jim said, “but maybe it’s a little soon for that.”
“Probably,” Blair replied. “There’ll be time enough eventually. So… how about that lunch you were so eager to have before?”
“Hey, Daddy, Blair’s here!” Joe sounded excited, as he usually was whenever Blair arrived for a visit. Jim grinned indulgently as he looked through the porch door and watched Blair swoop Joe up to sit astride his shoulders. They’d only been here three months but Jim was beginning to feel as if he’d known Blair all his life. Blair waved Jim outside and Jim went, walking across to where Blair’s car was parked. He bent his head and gave Blair a quick kiss on the cheek then bestowed one on Joe as well, both he and Blair laughing as Joe wiped it off with a grubby hand, leaving a smear of dirt in its stead. Jim lifted Joe down from Blair’s shoulders and placed him on the ground. “I wasn’t expecting to see you till later,” he said, “not that I’m complaining, mind you.”
Blair smiled at that. “Well, not that I really needed an excuse to spend a bit more time with you two than we’d originally planned but there is a reason I’m early.” He frowned as he picked up a box from the passenger seat of his car and put it on the ground next to Joe. “I really hope this won’t be the end of a beautiful friendship,” he said obscurely, bending down to open the carton.
Jim pulled his appreciative gaze away from Blair’s jean-clad backside as he heard yipping coming from inside the box.
Joe’s face lit up like it was Christmas morning and he’d just been given everything he’d always wanted in one fell swoop. “A puppy, Dad!” he shrieked, taking the leash Blair handed him.
Blair lifted the dog out of the box and gave Jim a tentative grin. “Well, it’s a dog, not a puppy. He belonged to Mrs. Masters and when she had to go into a nursing home, Minnie said we’d find a home for Sailor here.”
Jim raised his eyebrows. “Sailor?”
Blair laughed. “Mrs. Masters had a wild sense of humor and apparently she was something of a swinger back in the day. She said she loved being able to go outside and say “Hello, Sailor”, said it reminded her of the good old days.”
“Hmm.” Jim looked down at Joe. The little boy had Sailor in a tight hug and the dog didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact Sailor’s pink tongue was working overtime, licking every bit of Joe he could reach. Jim bent and patted the dog’s head then pulled Blair against him and kissed him hard. “Thanks,” he said.
“Well, if that’s the kind of thanks I’m going to get, I might just have to go round up a few more stray dogs,” Blair replied with a laugh.
“Can Sailor come on our picnic with us, Daddy?” Joe asked.
“Sure,” Jim said, tousling his son’s dark hair, “he’s family now.”
An hour later, Jim was standing at the edge of the high bluff that overlooked Chinook and the surrounding farmlands. He took in a deep lungful of the crisp, clear air then reached behind him to grasp Blair’s hand and pull him up to stand alongside him. Behind them Sailor was running through the grass barking madly as Joe giggled and raced along behind him. “Now this is my idea of heaven,” Jim said, tucking Blair in close to his side.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Blair said, scrunching his eyes tight and clenching his fingers into the fabric of Jim’s shirt.
“Huh, you’re afraid of heights,” Jim said, smiling. “I didn’t think you were afraid of anything, Chief. “
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Blair said, wrapping both arms around Jim’s waist and leaning his head against his chest. “And what’s the deal with the Chief thing anyway? Is it the long hair?”
“I love the hair,” Jim said, “but no, it’s just a nickname. If you don’t like it-“
“I like it fine,” Blair replied, pulling Jim down for a quick kiss, “but it’s your nickname for me. Just yours.”
“Just mine,” Jim replied firmly. “Stay over tonight?” he asked. “I think it’s time, don’t you?”
“If Blair wants to stay for a sleepover, he can sleep in my other bed,” Joe interrupted.
Jim snickered as Blair blushed hotly. He crouched down next to his son. “I don’t think Blair would fit in your trundle bed, buddy, do you? He’s bigger than he looks. How about Blair sleeps in my room tonight and then next weekend you can have Jesse over for a sleepover instead?”
“Okay,” Joe replied equably. “Can we eat now? I think Sailor must be starving. He opened the basket all by himself.” He pointed over to where they’d left the picnic basket and Jim groaned and took off at a run, hoping he’d be in time to save their lunch from their new family member.
Jim stretched and yawned as he rolled over in bed, only to be brought up short by the warm, compact body snuggled against him. He grinned and dropped a kiss on Blair’s curly hair then trailed his lips down over his temple and cheek till he reached his mouth.
“You’re not worried about morning breath with those senses of yours?” Blair mumbled sleepily.
“Hey, if you can handle mine, I can definitely handle yours,” Jim replied, going back for a deeper kiss.
Blair pushed him onto his back then moved to blanket Jim’s body with his own, beginning a slow sensuous slide up and down that had Jim’s cock up and begging for more within seconds. He groaned. “You’re gonna be the death of me, Chief,” he said, setting up a counter-rhythm of his own.
“Yeah,” Blair agreed, dipping his head to lap at the lobe of Jim’s ear, “but what a great way to go.”