“Thanks, Jimmy. I wouldn't have asked, but-”
Jim walked towards his truck and momentarily tuned his father out while he mentally kissed goodbye the pleasant evening he had daydreamed about for the last hour before Wang had dismissed class. The Police Academy instructor had droned on and on and on about the importance of paperwork. Jim excelled in writing terse, quick reports, a style he'd perfected as Captain Ellison. He figured writing reports as a cop would use the same skill-set he used in the army, so he'd barely listened.
Tonight, all he'd wanted was a few beers and a good spy novel, maybe catch some ESPN.
But maybe his plans weren't a total loss.
He interrupted his father. “Dad, I'm through with classes for the day, and I'll swing by the house. See you in a few.”
He stabbed at the cell phone's buttons to turn it off, fished his keys out of his pocket, and trotted towards his vehicle at the far end of the parking lot.
He'd bought the older truck to lower his insurance rates – he and the insurance company had not seen eye to eye over his last two accidents – but he'd grown to love his Sweetheart on her own merits.
Yeah. Take care of Dad's little problem, and then it was home-sweet-loft.
Jim pinched the bridge of his nose and fought down the irritability that was threatening to overtake him, much like the Hulk would overtake Bruce Banner.
He knew how to be patient. Hell, he'd been a Ranger just a few months ago and he'd been good at waiting for the right moment to strike.
That moment wasn't now.
His dad had picked a lousy time to come down with the flu. By rights, Jim should be far away from the racket currently assaulting his ears from the amateur musicians playing on a rickety stage, and Dad should be here at Rainier, hobnobbing with the university's upper echelon in that “I'm an Important Businessman” way of his and waving his checkbook around. Instead, there was a ten thousand dollar check tucked into Jim's wallet. And Jim didn't do hobnobbing.
Not to mention that he really wouldn't be doing his father, or their tentative reconciliation, any favors by glaring or snarking at these two idiots sitting in the information booth at the fund-raising auction. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, these children were a couple of clueless minions who couldn't manage to accept a simple donation ahead of schedule. No, they didn't have the right forms to do that. They kept insisting that Jim would have to bid for something listed for the auction.
He suspected they were grad students and stuck manning the table while professors and deans mingled with the wealthy patrons who would bring in the real bucks for Rainier.
Gritting his teeth at having to waste his time longer this evening, he gave the minions a tight smile and took his leave, intending to hand over his dad's money to the first booth he could find.
He wasn't successful. He'd come a bit too early. Nothing started for at least a half hour, and people were snacking at various food booths or, according to the talk he overheard, had opted for a fancy dinner at five hundred dollars a plate.
He was slowly marinating in his annoyance, wanting to go home and sit on his balcony and drink beer. He had one more week at the Police Academy, and while he didn't find the courses or workouts taxing, he was ready for his weekend break.
Actually, he was still getting used to living back in the States, in a busy, smelly, noisy place with streets, not trails, and houses, not simple huts, after spending eighteen months in the Peruvian rainforest.
His head ached a lot from the never-ending sounds of this city. The wails of sirens, the blare of horns, the people yelling and talk, talk, talking. Sometimes he wanted everybody and everything to Just. Shut. Up.
It was only his stubborn insistence on becoming a cop that was keeping him in Cascade. He had something to prove to himself and to his father. Dad had lobbied hard for him to come into the family business, and while Jim was willing to compromise on some things so he and his old man wouldn't tick each other off again and not speak for another decade or so, becoming his dad's protege wasn't one of those things.
They'd kill each other if they had to work together. Just. No. Jim was terrible at ass-kissing, or as his father had worded it, diplomacy.
He could do cranky as a cop, though. He could turn the Ellison Death Glare on perps and have them falling over themselves to confess to their crimes.
He felt like practicing that Death Glare right now. There was this yakkity, yakkity, yak drawing his attention, an annoying mosquito buzzing closer and closer.
He located the source of the annoying blather. Some fresh-faced kid, all curls and grunge, and the guy was making eyes at a pretty girl while throwing this blitz of words at her, using what he must have thought of as a seductive tone of voice. Jim thought he sounded about as smooth as a fourteen-year-old.
“Just think, you'd have me as, well not exactly your slave, because that's so not PC, but in effect I'd be yours to do whatever you wanted me to do for the whole day. Or, if you bid on me for the entire weekend, that would be extra cool. You know I've got skills, and they'd be yours to use.”
The walking mop-top waggled his eyebrows at the sweet young thing, and she giggled.
“Oh, Blair. You're so funny.”
Jim mimicked her in a hushed falsetto to himself. “Oh, Blair, you're such a player,” and walked away from Don Juan before he was forced to listen to any more bullshit. He'd spotted a booth that was selling beer, and he had a half hour to kill.
Jim didn't believe in fate, predestination, written-in-the-stars kind of crap. He and Incacha had argued about it often enough by the campfire late into the night, though, Incacha insisting that Jim's destiny would find him once he returned to his homeland. Jim always rejected the notion, and Incacha would finally mutter about stubborn watchmen and brew tea to treat the headache he'd say was Jim's fault.
So it had to be a coincidence, and not fate, that no matter where he went to wait for the auction to get started, Curly-locks would show up.
Jim wished he had that headache tea right now, and it didn't have anything to do with the three beers he'd chugged down.
No. It was because short of sticking his fingers in his ears, he couldn't seem to stop overhearing Mr. Suave convincing people to bid for his “services” for the auction.
It made Jim feel... itchy to listen to Curly-locks. And he wanted to scratch that itch. Scratch it till it was soothed and the irritation was gone. No. He wanted to gag the guy. Shut him up.
And was no place sacred from the kid's spiel? Jim flushed the toilet and opened the stall door and walked quickly to the row of sinks. He brushed by the kid and an athletic-looking man, who was wasting water as his tap gushed forgotten. The guy stared at Curly-locks, mouth hanging open.
Yep. The kid's sale pitch was going over like gangbusters. The other man moved closer to Curly-locks, invading his personal space. Jim wanted to snort. The guy was definitely excited about what the kid was selling, according to Jim's quick sidelong glance at the guy's pants. The kid rattled on, and Jim squeezed soap from the dispenser, eager to make an escape.
“Coach, you know how badly some of your soccer players need me to give them a hand. And for that many guys, the price is practically a steal.” The kid kept throwing come-hither looks at his victim, and Jim washed up and got out of there before Mr. Hand-job gave away a free sample.
Not that Jim had a respite for very long, since he kept stumbling over Curly-locks and his wayward tactics.
The kid wowed them with fast talk and that brilliant smile. His hands – long-fingered and talented according to Marci, who said she'd love to have Curly-locks be the entertainment for her upcoming party – wove spells in the air, and hypnotized his would-be bidders into slack-jawed agreement with whatever he said.
Jim couldn't take more than a few words before moving away.
His annoyance was morphing into anger, that this kid was selling his body when the point of the auction was to swap your labor for a donation. That was the way they'd done it when he'd been in college. Jim had painted some old guy's garage to raise money for the Big Brothers' program, not offered to suck his cock.
Somebody should teach that kid that he shouldn't trade himself for whatever it was his group was trying to raise money to do. Rainier's reputation could be jeopardized. All right. So he didn't care that much about Rainier's reputation. If fact, he didn't give a rat's ass about Rainier's reputation. It was the nerve of this kid that was getting to him. Okay, Curly-locks was selling what people wanted, but so what? That didn't make it right. Jim would concede that the kid was attractive. He had full lips and wide blue eyes and hair that probably had its own fan club. He was short, with broad shoulders, and it was a good look on him. Terrible taste in clothes, though.
Not that he'd have them on for very long, once he showed up at his Master's or Mistress' home for the day.
Tonight he was wearing ratty jeans, a dark blue long-sleeved shirt that had a frayed collar, a green checked flannel shirt with most of the buttons missing, and red sneakers that had seen better days. His wrists were covered in bracelets. Miniature wind chimes dangled from one ear, and he wore a peace sign necklace. He looked like a colorful rag-bag time-traveler from the sixties.
Once again, the kid had managed to wander into Jim's territory, a bench Jim had staked out in an alcove along the paved path that rambled around the outskirts of Campus Center, amidst all the money-making booths. He wasn't alone.
“You're right, Blair. I could use you for that road trip I have to take. You'd be perfect.” A woman around Jim's height, a stunning blonde in her late forties, was telling the kid, who had his eyes firmly fixed on her boobs, as they walked right past Jim.
That kid had pestered five people of both sexes so far, and he practically had promised to give them their heart's desire, for a total of five weekends, if they'd fork over the dough.
Jim had had enough. He was almost a cop, and he was going to apprehend this, this, love-perp and put him on probation. With Jim. He could fucking paint Jim's living room instead of painting this woman's body with his tongue.
Jim got up and headed to where the auction was about to begin, past people milling around and chatting.
He smiled, his headache temporarily forgotten as he pictured the look on this Blair's face when he found out he wouldn't be passed around like a party tray to the soccer team, wouldn't be the evening entertainment at Marci's gathering, or be going on any road trip to help occupy Mrs. Robinson's time, or using his boasted about skills on anybody else. Not for the next five weekends, anyway.
His ass would be Jim's, and as tempted as Jim was right now to swat it a few good licks, he'd be handing over a chore list a mile long instead.
Let Curly-locks see how he liked them apples.
Apparently, he liked them apples just fine. Jim had been looking forward to seeing disappointment on Curly-locks' face when his plans to have sex instead of doing honest labor were blown to smithereens by Jim's bid. Instead, Jim was the one who'd been disappointed. Blair Sandburg had practically swooned with joy when Jim had interrupted the auctioneer's spiel extolling Sandburg's virtues in order to bid ten thousand dollars for the entire offer of five weekends of labor. The auctioneer had stumbled to a halt, mouth hanging open, until he'd recovered his professional demeanor. Stunned, he'd asked if there were any other bids, and when no one spoke up, he closed the bidding on one Blair Sandburg, graduate Anthropology student.
Sandburg, beaming, jumped off the small stage and practically ran to Jim's side.
“Oh, man, you are the greatest. Anything you want me to do, I'm there. I was hoping to maybe raise a thousand, maybe, if I was really lucky, I thought -- two thousand – but I never dreamed anybody would donate so much. Thank you, thank you. Man, I could kiss you, you know that?” The kid actually puckered up, but Jim held up his hand.
“You can cool it on the kisses, Romeo. And while you're at it, you can tell Marci you won't be around to be her party favor, and for that matter, the coach and his team will have to get along without you giving anybody hand jobs. I've shelled out, well, my father has shelled out, a lot of money for your butt and I expect you to not go behind my back and do those other deals you've been peddling to anybody who'll give you the time of day. Not until your five weekends are over, anyway.”
Sandburg wasn't listening. The kid practically had dollar signs shining in his eyes and was off somewhere in his head, daydreaming about how that money was going to be spent. Jim sighed, already wondering if maybe he'd made a mistake. But, hell, he was committed now. He got out his wallet and handed Sandburg his dad's check.
“Here, Chief. Your first of many jobs. Take this up to the payment desk, and then come back here so we can make some plans.”
Blair grinned at him again and took the check from Jim's hand.
“You bet, Boss-man.”
Blair Sandburg had a mouth on him. Ever since he'd shown up way too early at Jim's place Saturday morning, he'd been running it. He'd talked nonstop about his gratitude, his classes, being a teaching assistant, and the expedition to Peru the auction was funding while he'd inspected Jim's larder and made Jim and himself omelets, hash browns, and toast. Jim could even hear him making a monologue to himself while Jim showered. It was kind of gratifying to hear that the kid thought the loft was cool. Being fed had made Jim feel a little more charitable, too. Or maybe it was because at the moment, the kid couldn't flirt with anybody but Jim. Wait, a small, logical voice stated in his head. You meant that Sandburg couldn't flirt with anybody because Jim wouldn't put up with it and they were alone here. Absolutely that was what he'd meant.
Being served a delicious breakfast was not flirting. This was not courtship behavior, it was “slave for a day” behavior. There would be no flirting. Period. Sandburg's natural tendency to shamelessly flirt, which Jim had witnessed in abundance at the auction, was not going to be indulged in when he was with Jim. No siree. If the kid started up, Jim would set him straight.
He'd washed the dishes while Jim got dressed, all the time pitching his voice so Jim could hear him up in his bedroom. Jim occasionally grunted something back, and the kid would go on. And on. It was odd, but Jim was starting to find the sound of that voice soothing. Still, if the kid got on his nerves, he'd make him shut up. For the time being, though, he was entertaining.
He had a lot to learn about properly cleaning a kitchen, Jim discovered when he came downstairs and eyed Sandburg's handiwork. He'd left the dishes in the strainer, the counter and table hadn't been properly wiped off and the floor had crumbs on it.
Jim told him to watch, and then proceeded to really give the kitchen a good going over. He even polished the appliances and scrubbed the stove top.
Sandburg made admiring comments on Jim's cleaning ability and Jim felt a sense of satisfaction that the kid recognized a job well done. He dried his hands, hung up his apron, and laid out the plans for the day.
“Look, Chief. Do it like this,” and Jim showed Sandburg again the proper way to wax his truck. His dad had said he could use his hose and driveway for this project, so Jim had told Sandburg to get in the truck after breakfast and they'd cruised over to his dad's expensive neighborhood.
“Sure, Boss-man, whatever you say.” And then he swiped the rag around, mostly smearing the wax in aimless patterns, a dull residue left instead of a hard shine.
“You're killing me, Sandburg. Here. Give me your rag and go fetch some beers out of my dad's refrigerator.”
“Okay, man, whatever you say. You're the boss,” Sandburg said, and slapped the rag into Jim's palm, his warm hand touching Jim for a shade longer than was necessary.
Jim narrowed his eyes and followed the kid's movements as he trotted over to the kitchen door. Had that been deliberate, that little caress against Jim's fingers? Was that a patented Blair Sandburg flirtation move?
Had he worn those tight jeans today so that Jim's eyes would naturally be drawn to his fine ass? Especially jogging away from Jim like that?
Jim decided he'd better keep a closer eye on the kid. So far, there wasn't enough evidence to make a collar on the flirting charges. For a moment the anger and annoyance he'd felt at the auction returned, and he resolved to not let Sandburg get away with using his body to gain favors.
Somebody needed to keep this kid on the straight and narrow, and hell, he'd been a mentor before. He'd joined Big Brothers to lend a hand to kids who needed the right kind of guidance.
He didn't feel brotherly towards this kid, but even so, he was willing to teach him a lesson or two about appropriate behavior. Later, the kid would thank him for saving him from a reputation of only getting ahead because he was a good lay. He had five weekends to set the kid straight.
The door opened and the kid came out with a small cooler and a tape player Sally kept in the kitchen. He hustled over to where Jim was polishing his baby and doing it right, doing it with care, and doing it with painstaking attention to detail. Mentors modeled appropriate behavior, after all.
“Umm... Jim? Do you want to be alone with your truck? I mean, you look like--”
“Button it, Chief. I'm treating my sweetheart with the respect that you didn't manage. Look at that shine. She's going to gleam when I'm done. You can watch. Maybe, just maybe, you'll learn something. And hand me a beer.”
Sandburg obliged, but instead of sitting his ass down on the edge of the planter that bordered the driveway, he opened the truck door and stuck half his body inside.
Jim sighed. Bent over that way, right under Jim's nose, wiggling his ass, he was begging for it. He probably thought he was seducing Jim into wanting to fuck him, but Jim would put a stop to that kind of teasing. He leaned one arm against the truck, still holding his beer, right next to where Sandburg was stretching now, raising up on his toes, reaching for something evidently out of range on the seat – well, the kid was pretty short – and with his other hand Jim took aim and fired. Sandburg's jean clad butt was firm and round and the sound of Jim smacking that derriere was sooo satisfying.
“Oh!” A strangled, almost needy sound, flew from the kid's mouth, and he twisted a little to look at Jim wide-eyed.
Oh? Maybe he needed another swat to get the message. Jim tested that theory and watched the kid's eyes dilate even further before he slithered out of the truck, one hand holding a box of tapes, and faced Jim, rubbing his butt.
“Ow. Okay, okay, I get that I presented a target there, but Jim, I gotta warn you. I'm a big believer in Karma and you know what they say, what goes around, comes around. So, just remember that when I get you back.”
He grinned at Jim, and made a show out of rubbing the sting from his rear-end. He took his sweet time, and Jim decided that, yes, the little shit was flirting. Sandburg was incorrigible. Jim really had his work cut out for him with this one.
“All right, Junior, bring it on. Did I tell you I was covert ops? And since you dragged out my tape box, find some Santana to play.” Jim drank the rest of his beer and returned to polishing the hood of his truck while the heavy beat of Jungle Strut provided a Latin cadence to his work.
Sandburg twisted the cap off his own beer, and Jim bet the kid was carded at every bar he trawled through. He was over twenty-one, although not by much but he looked younger with those curls and his pretty, pretty face. From what Jim remembered of the Art Appreciation class he'd had to take in college, if Sandburg wore the right clothes, he'd look like an escapee from a Renaissance painting. Jim watched him with mostly peripheral vision as Sandburg swallowed a hefty slug of his beer, his throat working, cheeks hollowing.
Jim had a sudden vision of how that throat, that mouth, would look sucking cock, taking it in deep, and the look of concentration the kid would have while he sent some lucky bastard to heaven.
Sandburg caught him looking, though, and gave him another one of those mischievous grins.
“What do you want me to do, Jim? I'm yours for the day, remember? So tell me what you want, and I'll do it.”
“Pay attention and watch the master at work for now. There will be a quiz later. And I could use another beer.”
The kid scrambled to get Jim his beer and then took up a position just a shade into Jim's personal space.
Jim thought about moving a little, to maintain a bit more distance between them, but didn't want to be seen as being the one to back away. It wasn't in his nature to back away from anything, and certainly not from the pipsqueak here. So instead, he moved more into Sandburg's personal space. Let him be the one to create more room between them in this game of chicken.
Sandburg didn't budge an inch. He was watching Jim making slow and deliberate circles with the rag and swaying to Santana's fine rhythms.
Jim drank his beer, polished his truck, and listened to Sandburg humming along with the music. The sun was out today, something to always be grateful for in Cascade, and he felt... good. Relaxed. He could smell the scent of the kid's body soap that wafted towards Jim in the afternoon heat, and it was pleasant.
They were at a stalemate in their subtle game of personal space chicken, but that was okay. Still, he was almost through with this section and he needed to move. Maybe it was time to test Sandburg on what he'd learned.
He shoved the rag towards him and pointed at the one spot left on the truck that still needed some loving attention.
Sandburg gave it a try but he still wasn't getting it right. Jim shook his head. “Here, Chief,” he murmured, and stepped behind the kid, letting his body almost drape over the kid's shorter frame, and covered the kid's hand with his own. “Let me do the driving, so you can feel the rhythm and how hard I'm pushing.”
He continued giving step-by-step instructions, and the kid's hand – so warm – was pliant and cooperative.
Hell, maybe Sandburg had never done this before. Maybe he was a virgin to polishing a vehicle. Most people went to a car wash or paid pros to do this. But Jim was a little old-fashioned – so what? There was a lot of satisfaction for him in doing it himself. Maybe one thing Sandburg would take away from their time together would be a new respect for doing something carefully and correctly. Maybe the kid would also find a sense of satisfaction from that and realize he didn't need to peddle his personal assets to get a sense of self-worth.
Jim was kind of proud of himself for that insight. Yeah, teaching the kid to have some standards when it came to his actions would surely be good for his character.
Sandburg was curled up on his side on Jim's couch, deeply asleep, and Jim covered him with the afghan. He smiled at the sight and dropped onto the nearby love seat. The afternoon and evening had been fun. The kid was amusing to be with, and Jim grinned, thinking about how the day had gone.
Karma had backfired on the kid, when he'd decided to hose Jim off after they'd finished with the truck and his father's two sleek vehicles. He'd gotten Jim damp, but Jim had been an Army Ranger and turning the tables on the kid had been dead easy. He'd wrestled the hose away from Sandburg before he'd barely been sprayed and then proceeded to hold him tightly, Sandburg squirming against him, while he'd doused the kid's hair and then shoved the end of the hose down the kid's shirt and let it totally soak the kid's clothes.
Sandburg had been giggling and yelling a lot of things that were music to Jim's ears: “Ohmygod, that's cold,” and “Jimmmm,” while Jim had laughed at him. He hadn't laughed like that in years, and when he finally took pity on the kid, because those full lips were turning blue, he'd thrown the hose onto the grass and half carried Sandburg over to the open garage.
The kid was stuttering, but grinning and he gave Jim a half-hearted shove. “Ellison, you're a d-d-dick.”
“And who started the water fight, Chief? What'd you say earlier, something about Karma?”
Sandburg gave him the finger, still grinning, and Jim quit fooling around because now that the horse-play was over, he saw that Sandburg was shivering hard.
“Stay put, Chief. I'll get you a towel and some dry clothes.”
He'd gone in the house and changed his own clothes, glad for the extra shirts and jeans that he'd accidentally left here from time to time, and then grabbed an extra outfit and a couple of towels and headed back to the garage.
The kid had only managed to get his shoes off and was still fumbling with shirt buttons, fingers clumsy with cold, so Jim stripped him efficiently until the dripping clothes were puddled in a heap on the floor and Sandburg was naked, still shaking hard, an indignant look on his face.
“J-J-Jim, the ga-ga-garage--”
“Yeah, I know it's open. Nobody's around but us. Relax, Chief.” He wrapped the kid's dripping hair in one towel and swaddled him in the other, glad that his dad's taste ran to expensive large bath sheets.
He drew the kid against him to share some body heat, and ran his hands up and down the kid's body to warm him up. Sandburg's arms were trapped by the towel, but he wasn't fighting Jim. He leaned back against him and let Jim take control and do what he wanted.
“Somebody could have walked by, Jim, and called the cops on me for public indecency.”
Jim snorted. “You can't tell me that you care that much about being naked. I bet you've gone skinny dipping lots of times. And I told you, nobody was nearby.”
“What are you, Superman? Did you use your X-Ray vision to know that?”
“Yep. Do you think your fingers are working now, or do I have to dress you?”
“I think I can manage, if you turn me loose. So what now?” Jim unwrapped the towel and pointed to where he'd dropped the spare clothes on the top of a nearby workbench.
Uh-huh. He'd been right. Sandburg wasn't trying to hide anything as he walked over to the clothes and started pulling them on. The sweatpants and T-shirt were too big on him, but at least he seemed warmer. His lips were pink and he'd stopped shuddering. Shoes were going to be a problem. He couldn't wear anything of Jim's or his dad's; his feet were small.
“What size shoes do you wear?”
“Eight. Jeez, mine are soaking wet. I guess I'll have to go barefoot.”
“I think I can find you something.”
He rummaged around and found an old pair of flip-flops Sally used to do gardening and handed them over.
They fitted, so they cleaned up and left. Jim decided that Sandburg could help him do the grocery shopping and then fix dinner for him. He'd bragged about his cooking ability this morning and Jim wasn't that fond of making meals.
Sandburg had argued about some of his food choices, and had flat-out refused to let Jim keep the bag of pork rinds he'd tossed in the cart, but the lasagna, wine, salad, and bread he'd fixed had been wonderful.
Jim decided that cooking was going to be something Sandburg did for him the rest of the weekends he was Jim's minion.
He glanced back over at his minion, all tucked up and safe on the couch. After Jim had cleaned up the kitchen, they'd watched a movie and when Sandburg's eyes kept sliding shut, his body slumping against Jim's, he had talked the kid into staying for the night.
Earlier, throughout the late afternoon and evening, Sandburg had continued with his attempts at flirting. He'd smiled at Jim, finding ways to touch him. Jim hadn't called him on his behavior, just hadn't reacted to him. After the kid figured out Jim wasn't going to flirt back, then he'd have a little chat with him about his flirting ways in general.
He decided to go to bed, but before he headed to the bathroom he stopped and ran his hand through Sandburg's curls, petting him almost. It didn't matter, the kid was asleep, and Jim had been wanting to touch that silky mop all day. The kid gave a sigh of contentment, and Jim smiled to hear it.
He seemed like a good kid, really. Jim found that he was looking forward to spending time with him tomorrow.
Sunday was spent washing the loft from ceiling to floor. Literally. Jim was going to have Sandburg paint it next weekend. But afterwards, Jim decided that they could use a break – and no, he was not influenced by the wistful looks on the kid's face when Jim caught him staring out the balcony sliding doors, or by the heavy sighs, or by the comments about what a nice, sunny day it was for early April.
So they went to the park and played basketball till it was past dark, and they were sweaty and laughing and Jim's ribs had been poked by Sandburg's sharp elbows multiple times. Then they sat at a picnic table and talked about everything under the sun.
They stopped for sub sandwiches on the way home, and Jim paid for them. The kid was a student and, reading between the lines, Jim knew that Sandburg was straddling the poverty line. His reward for feeding the kid was a smile that made Jim swallow hard. They parted ways on the street outside Jim's building, and Jim couldn't resist tousling Sandburg's hair before he went upstairs into his clean, but too quiet, loft.
“Chief, you're hopeless. You got more paint on you than you did the walls.” Jim smirked at the kid, because, really, he wasn't exaggerating that much. Sandburg was freckled with light green paint on every bit of his exposed skin.
“I know. What I don't get, though, is how come you aren't covered in paint too. It's not fair. And you painted three times faster than I did. Is this another one of your superpowers?” Sandburg's bottom lip was pushing out, and Jim kept smirking at him, because that emerging pout was kind of cute.
The kid looked at the paintbrush he still held in his hand and then at Jim.
“Karma, remember, Sandburg? You try it and guess who'll be singing, “It's Not Easy Being Green.”
That bottom lip emerged into a full-blown pout for one long moment, and then Sandburg shook his head, and laughed. “Oh, man. Okay.” He shut his eyes and intoned in a low voice, calmly, “I'm letting this go, I'm letting this go, I'm letting this go.” He repeated his little code phrase several more times, and then took in deep breaths and pursed his lips to exhale slowly, as if he were blowing invisible bubbles.
Jim watched, fascinated, like he was observing a nature special on TV describing the rituals of the Washington Area Hippie.
Sandburg opened his eyes again and looked ruefully at Jim, and then down at his own hands. “Good thing this paint cleans up with soap and water. Uh, who's cleaning up the brushes, me or you?”
“You. I'm going out on the balcony and drink a beer. You can have one when you're done.”
“Sir, yes, sir.”
“If you want to play drill sergeant and private, you can drop and give me twenty,” Jim said, mildly.
“Uh, no thanks, man. Could you see me in the Army?”
“Maybe. You're smart and you're in reasonably good shape. How do you feel about following orders?”
“Well, according to my department head, I have a talent for creatively not following departmental policies. But I only uh, get creative when they're stupid policies. Let's just say I follow the spirit and not the letter of the law.”
“The Army is pretty fond of the letter part of the law, Chief.”
“Guess I'll just stay a grad student and keep bamboozling my department, then.”
“Clean up, Private. Inspection is coming up.”
“I'll get right on that.” He grinned at Jim, and sloppily saluted him. Jim rolled his eyes, but decided he could wait for that beer and helped Blair gather the rollers and brushes and paint pans to take down to the utility sink in the basement.
It wouldn't hurt him to give the kid a hand.
The pounding on his door sounded like some huge gong was being struck over and over in his head, and Jim was motivated enough to stop it that he staggered his way out of bed and down the stairs.
He yanked the door open and Sandburg stepped inside.
“Whoah. What happened to you?”
Jim just grunted. The kid reached out his hand to touch Jim's bare chest and Jim shivered from the contact.
“Hey, maybe you'd better go and sit down. Your eyes...”
Jim felt his skin warming in the cool morning air where the kid was still touching him. It felt good, but remembering the no-flirting zone he was trying to establish here, he reluctantly stepped back a few feet.
“Jim, man, your eyes, they're halfway swollen shut. What happened? Allergic reaction to something?”
Jim shrugged. He'd been fine when he'd gone to bed last night. The last time he'd had such harsh reactions to something had been in Peru, before Incacha had straightened him out.
“It's the paint, isn't it? I knew I shouldn't have let you stay here last night. Man, you should have gone to sleep at your dad's house, or I should have offered you my couch to crash on. Ah, you've got a rash on your arms and hands, too. You gotta get out of here, Jim.”
Sandburg pushed past him and darted over to the balcony doors, flipped the lock, and slid them all the way open. “We need to air out this place while you go camp somewhere else for a couple of days.”
Jim's mind, despite feeling a kinship to scrambled eggs, latched onto the word “camp.” Yeah. That sounded good.
“Okay.” He turned and headed toward the bathroom, deciding that a cool shower might help. Sandburg trotted over and got in his way, halting Jim. Right. Once again, the kid took over Jim's personal space, which his dick liked a lot, but Jim squashed that idea because, hello, he was only in his boxers.
“Okay? Jim, hang on. Where should I take you, because you are so not getting behind the wheel of your truck when your eyes are stuck at half mast, so where are we going?”
“Camping. Mountains. You're coming, too. I've got enough gear and you can borrow some of my clothes again. Stuff's in the basement. Don't forget the fishing poles. You pack the truck.”
“Uh, don't you have to go to the Academy tomorrow?”
“Nope. I'm done. Let's go camping for a couple of days, Chief.”
“I have to be back Wednesday night. It's Marci's birthday and I promised--”
“To be the entertainment at her party. I remember. Look. Just come... and don't talk about your other plans to me. I don't want to think about you doing that stuff.” Jim stepped around the kid. His skin felt prickly and he wanted that shower right now.
“I'm not a pro or anything, but I've been told I'm pretty good. You might like what I can do.”
Jim turned at the bathroom door and said, roughly, “I paid for your ass for ten days, and when I tell you I don't want to hear you talking about what you get up to with your 'friends,' I mean it. So keep your lips zipped and pack us up.” He stepped inside and started the shower, but even over the sound of the water he heard Sandburg's muttered, “Sir, yes, sir.”
Things were a bit strained between them as Sandburg drove them out of Cascade, but the kid's good nature re-surfaced in plenty of time to make the drive up to the mountains fun. The kid was actually a decent driver and Jim decided this was an opportunity to build the kid's self-esteem about a skill he had that didn't involve him peddling his sweet little butt.
“You're a pretty good driver, Chief. Guy can make an honest living with this kind of talent.” Jim's eyes were much better now and he was enjoying the scenic view. If things kept improving he could take over driving. Sure, the kid was doing a fine job, but it was Jim's truck.
“I've got a CDL, Jim. I've been driving big rigs since I was eighteen. Of course, I had to stay in-state till I was twenty-one, but me and my uncle team-drive sometimes across the country. Last Christmas break, I spent all of it on the road.”
“Doesn't sound like much of a vacation.”
“School is expensive, man. You wouldn't believe some of the things I've had to do to pay my tuition.”
Jim was having no trouble imagining those things. They all involved this poor kid taking off his clothes.
“Don't you get help with school, student loans or grants?”
“Yeah, somewhat. I'm a teaching assistant, but it's still expensive. Still, a guy's got to do what a guy's got to do to make ends meet. Although my rent is cheap. I stay in a warehouse, and I get a good deal, plus I sublet areas of it to other students for storage. But even cheap rent is hard to pay here on the West coast. I can't say I'm real happy about some things I've done to make rent money, but them's the breaks.”
Jim didn't want to ask, didn't want to ask, didn't want to ask. He asked.
“Well, there's this place where I can usually pick up work, and yeah, I know you're going to be a cop someday, and you will totally be awesome at it, because you've got natural talent at the law and order thing, but I get paid under the table. Don't turn me in, okay copper? Anyway, I get sent out and I have to be in costume and I have to do these things when the client lets me in the house.” Blair shrugged, and Jim felt his heart break, just a little.
This was worse than he thought. He'd see if he couldn't find the kid some other line of work. Maybe his dad needed a bright guy to work part-time, or his dad could arrange a part-time job driving a delivery truck with one of his business cronies. Blair didn't have to ever again don bondage gear or a puppy suit or any other fetish type costumes. Harem Boy, maybe. Cabin Boy was probably pretty popular, too. Or wear an old-fashioned boy's school uniform and bring a paddle with him. Maybe some of those pervert clients wanted him to dress up as stripper and he'd have to do his own private dance for them.
“Hey, Jim, are you feeling okay? You're starting to look pretty flushed. Man, I knew I shouldn't have let you stay in the loft after we painted,” Blair lamented.
“Just drive, Junior. And we'll finish the rest of this conversation when I drop you off at your place. I think I want to see where you live, Chief.”
“No, Chief, not like that. Here, let me show you how.” Jim heaved himself up from his comfortable camping chair and strode over to where Sandburg was currently making a mess out of setting up the tent.
“Jim, you don't have to help. You brought me along to do the work, remember? And are you feeling okay? Really okay? The way your face turned pink while we were in the truck was suspicious. What if you keep having more late symptoms show up? And what about that rash, is it gone?”
Sandburg was kneeling on the ground, sorting out tent pegs and poles, and Jim came to a stop directly in front of him, nudging a peg or two out of the way. The kid looked up at him, and Jim liked that picture. Sandburg's mouth wouldn't have far to reach for Jim's dick this way, and he bet the kid knew all kinds of tricks, probably how to pull down Jim's zipper with his teeth.
Of course, Jim would never take advantage of him like that. He could enjoy the view, though. Maybe later, in his fantasies, he could really enjoy the view. It was very scenic, that view. Long curly hair spilling over Sandburg's shoulders, that pouty mouth, those sweet lips, that wide-eyed look he was giving Jim and those long, long lashes.
The kid was beautiful.
The kid was frowning.
“Jim, take off your shirt. I want to check that rash, see if you need more ointment.” Sandburg had insisted on stopping at some little hole in the wall place on the way out of town that he claimed had homeopathic remedies, and he had slathered some creamy stuff on Jim's arms and hands.
Jim smirked. He knew what Sandburg was up to. It was the old, “remove your clothes so I can provide medical care, which is a total cover-up for getting my hands on your hot body” ploy.
He didn't mind playing along, but the kid would only get to look, not touch. There was such a thing as boundaries, and Sandburg needed to learn what that meant. So looking, but not touching. It would be good for the kid's character.
Jim slowly stepped back and took off his shirt and tossed it on top of his backpack that was sprawled on the ground along with the rest of their equipment and sleeping bags. He held his arms and hands down at an angle so Sandburg could see them.
“Rash is gone, Chief.”
Sandburg reached out a finger to touch Jim's arm, but he was a bit too far back to reach. He tilted forward and overbalanced, and grabbed at Jim's legs to catch himself.
Oh, score one for Sandburg. The kid had managed to faceplant right into Jim's crotch. Jim needed to be more alert about Sandburg's tricks. He decided to do a little tit-for-tat.
He made sure that Blair Sandburg's body was treated to the whole Jim Ellison muscle experience as he slowly dragged the kid up against him until he was standing on his own two feet again. Jim took some satisfaction from the dazed look on the kid.
Jim pointed to the camping chair. “You sit your butt down and watch and learn, Chief.”
The kid looked puzzled. “You don't want me to help, just watch you set up camp?”
Jim was two steps ahead of this kid. “That's what I want, and I paid the bucks to do it my way.”
There would be no more clumsiness on Sandburg's part that resulted in groping Jim. Boundaries. They were important to learn. Going shirtless and making the kid watch him, with no touching, would be a great lesson.
He made a gesture with his thumb. “Park it, kid. That's an order.”
Sandburg kept trying all his best moves the entire time they spent up in the Cascades. Jim was particularly fond of the three times Sandburg had fallen in the small, icy cold stream while fishing and managed to get totally soaked and land himself mildly hypothermic. April was chilly up in the mountains.
You had to admire dedication like that, but Jim wasn't about to let the kid actually hurt himself in his quest to get into Jim's pants.
First aid was called for, so each time he helped strip the clothes off the kid, toweled him dry, and stuffed him naked into the double sleeping bag Jim had devised from the single ones. Then he'd undressed himself, (Sandburg watched, Jim could see him peeking out from under his eyelashes.) and slid in behind the kid. He'd plaster himself against the kid's cold back but he held Sandburg's hands in his own and pinned his legs, too, for good measure. No squirming and getting himself off was happening here. This was strictly medicinal. The moans the kid made as he warmed back up were music to his ears, though.
Sandburg had tried to protest being held that way, but Jim made it an order that be still and keep his mouth shut. In a way, the kid's behavior was Jim's fault. He'd evidently made it too much fun when he'd shoved that hose down the kid's clothes and had stripped him the first time.
Sandburg would fall asleep as his body temp returned to normal but Jim would keep his hands around the kid's wrists anyway. Once the kid was snoozing Jim would bury his head in the tempting neck next to him. He really had to watch himself, because Sandburg was tempting. Very Tempting. It was only the discipline that Jim had learned from the Army that kept him from taking advantage here.
He was a mentor, and Sandburg was his responsibility. If he slept with the kid, he'd never get him to understand how wrong it was for him to use his body to get what he wanted out of life.
Jim and Sandburg talked about their childhoods on the way back to Cascade. And not just the fun stuff, like Jim being an eagle scout and Sandburg's travels with his mother around the world. Jim told him about Bud's death and mom's bailing out on Dad, Stevie, and him. Sandburg had talked about always being the new kid at school and how being both younger and smaller than your classmates by several years had meant learning to do re-con like any soldier taking point so that the bullies wouldn't be able to take enemy action against him. Well, Sandburg hadn't phrased it that way, but Jim knew what he meant.
The good mood lasted until Sandburg directed Jim to a shabby industrial neighborhood by the docks.
“Chief. This part of town has a lot of street crime.”
“Don't I know it. I've done my citizen duty a few times and called the cops when I saw shit going down. A robbery once, and another time a couple of dudes shooting at each other.”
Jim didn't say a word when Blair had him park in a deserted lot with broken pavement. The warehouse was decrepit, most of the windows were boarded up and some of the upper ones were broken. Blair hopped out and came around to Jim's window.
He was smiling and looked innocent and young and Jim didn't want to leave him here.
“Hey, want to come in and have a beer? Marci's party doesn't start until seven-thirty.”
He never wanted a beer less in his life, but he badly wanted to see if the inside of this palace matched the outside.
He put on his best poker face as Sandburg gave him a tour around the stacks of crap that belonged to the owners of the warehouse, and the other stacks of crap that belonged to people who had paid Blair to keep it there. The stuff that was in totes might survive the experience of being in this damp, moldy hell-hole, but he didn't hold out much hope for the various couches and stuffed chairs he'd seen in their taped off sections.
Sandburg's living quarters were pitiful. Just pitiful. And to think he paid eight hundred dollars a month for the privilege of living in this dump.
“Chief, this is--”
The kid's eyes flashed for the first time with something like anger.
“This is my home. I know it's crappy; you don't have to point it out. I'm a grad student, Jim. I've been supporting myself and going to college since I was sixteen. This is what I can afford. It won't be like this forever. And I'm okay with it. I've actually lived in worse places.”
That did not make Jim feel any better.
“Well, you've still got a few days on my ticket, Chief. And until your time is up, you're going to stay with me on the weekends I paid for, okay? It'll save you bus fare or gas money.”
Jim waited for Sandburg to object, but instead the kid gave him a long thoughtful stare.
Are you sure about that, Jim? I mean, you won't have as much privacy.”
“Sandburg, we've slept together naked, so I think the privacy issue is moot.”
The kid grinned mischievously. “Yeah, there is that. We need to talk about that and some other things I've been noticing.”
“Not here, Chief. Too many eavesdroppers. We'll do it at my place.”
“On Saturday? Okay. And what eavesdroppers?”
“Kid, you've got lots of company in this rat-hole. And I meant that literally.”
“Oh, you mean the Rodents Of Unusual Size. Yeah, they're not exactly Disney cute. More like mutant rats. Big. Very Big Teeth. I've got a perimeter set with traps, though, and they've learned to respect it.”
Just then there was a snap sound and a squeal.
Blair drew his finger down in the air. “Score one for my side.”
He nudged Jim. “Hey, ready for that beer? I've got some movies here we can watch until I leave for the party.”
Sandburg left, but Jim stayed because he wanted to see the end of the movie. It was a classic Gary Cooper movie, High Noon, and Jim hadn't watched it since he was a kid. He'd insisted on walking Sandburg to his car, though. The kid didn't bother asking why.
He'd just turned off the TV, prepared to fight his way back through the Rodent's territory to the exit, when he heard cars and trucks arriving on the other side of the building.
Jim didn't think often about his enhanced senses. They came in handy sometimes, and so far he hadn't had a return of those awful spikes and frozen states Incacha had helped him to master. He deliberately turned them up now, because something was fishy.
Of course, the gun fire that erupted proved that point without the need to keep his hearing zoomed up.
He called it in.
Jim had Marci's address. He'd made Sandburg give it to him before he left, under the guise that he might stop by, since the kid had invited him as his guest.
He hadn't really planned on going because seeing Sandburg entertaining the crowd – Jim had decided he must be doing a stripper routine, and giving lap dances – wasn't on his dance card.
Except maybe showing up there was. He wanted to storm in, grab Sandburg off the small stage he'd mentioned he'd be performing on, and throw him over his shoulder and take him home to his cave. Loft. And that's why he decided he wouldn't go, because he was not a caveman, dammit.
But with the bust that had gone down on the other side of the walled off warehouse, and the fact that the place now reeked of meth and the chemicals used to make it, there was no way Blair could stay there. So when Jim was done giving his statement, (he'd tackled and subdued a couple of punks who were trying to leave the mess behind), he'd gone to tell Sandburg what had happened and to take him home with him. He'd grabbed some of the kid's clothes, and his laptop and books.
Actually, he'd discovered that the party was being held in the complex's recreation center. Jim supposed people were drifting back and forth, and Blair was surely in the apartment, doing his thing. Marci had also hired a band for her shindig, and the guitar player was more than decent. He was damn good and if Jim had been in a different mood, he would have enjoyed listening to the music.
He was three steps up the stairwell to the girl's apartment when he heard Blair's voice. He stopped, puzzled. Sandburg was telling a story about his guitar, said it was a gift to his mother from Jimi Hendrix and that his mom had given it to him when he'd turned thirteen.
Jim did a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn and headed back to the rec center. He heard the distinctive sounds of one of Jimi's most famous songs.
The kid was there all right. On stage. But he wasn't doing lap dances or shimmying around a pole.
Jim watched, mouth falling open, as Blair Sandburg belted out the words to All Along the Watchtower, his talented fingers flying up and down the neck of an electric guitar.
They were back at the loft, Sandburg having taken it pretty well about his place being a crime scene. Kid rolled with the news like a rolling stone. He'd said it wasn't the first time he'd had to bail out of a place.
Jim had done a lot of thinking while Sandburg did his sets, rocking the house. He thought maybe there were some questions that needed to be asked.
He suspected the answer to the main one, “Is James Joseph Ellison an idiot who jumped to conclusions?” was a big fat yes.
“I may have overheard some things when we met, and owe you an apology. Short answers only, okay Chief? I'm going to need some time to do that thing you mention sometimes, uh, processing.”
“Okay. I'll try.” Blair sat down on the couch and Jim joined him.
“The soccer team. If you weren't offering hand jobs if they bid on you, what were you offering?”
Blair's eyes widened and a tiny, tiny smile started to grow at the corner of his mouth. “Oh, this is going to be good. No, no hand jobs. Tutoring, man. I have those guys in my anthro classes and believe me most of them need the help.”
“Did you and the soccer coach have sex in the bathroom the day of the auction?”
“He propositioned me, I said no thanks. I like him but he's married.”
“What about that tall blonde with the boobs you couldn't keep your eyes off of that day?”
“She's a professor and needed a driver for a moving van when she transfers to Idaho State. Was I looking at her breasts? Guilty. But in my defense, they are nice and they were in my line of sight. She's got a serious girlfriend. We weren't discussing sex.”
“So you know all about boundaries, you don't sell your body, and you don't make extra money by dressing up as a Cabin Boy or a stripper?”
“Boundaries, got that down pat. Jim, I know I was up for sale at the auction but that wasn't for sex. I'm not a prostitute. I'm also not a virgin. Sex should be something both or more people want to do and it should be done with respect for the other partner. Partners. And I'm seeing a trend here with these questions. That job I mentioned where I have to dress up? It's a singing telegram company. Mostly I dress up as a clown, and sing happy birthday to kids, or as a cowboy. Those sorts of costumes. It's legit, even if they pay me under the table.”
The kid turned on the couch and settled himself on Jim's lap, legs astride Jim's hips.
“Okay, I've been getting mixed messages from you since we met. Why did you bid on me, Jim?”
Time to tell the truth.
“I thought you needed to learn you shouldn't do sex to get what you wanted. I thought I could, uh, mentor you. Teach you some better values.”
Sandburg grinned. “That's really sweet, Jim. I've wanted to go to bed with you since that first day.”
He kissed Jim, slow and soft and almost chaste.
“So what do you want, Jim? A. Date me. B. Let me move in with you. C. Do the wild thing up in bed. D. Be my exclusive sexual partner.
Jim said, heat in his voice, “All of the above,” and kissed the kid until he was flushed and they both were hard as nails.
“Jim?” Sandburg looked mischievous again. Jim thought he'd be seeing that look for a long time. Maybe till he was ninety years old. “I actually wouldn't mind playing Cabin Boy and Pirate Captain sometime.”
Jim started unbuttoning Sandburg's shirt. The kid's expression changed. “Hey, when we go upstairs and make love I want you to do something for me, okay.”
Jim kissed the kid's hands. “Anything.”
“Call me Blair.”
“I can do that, Blair.”
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