Title: A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Two
Warnings: sexual language
Beta’ed by t_verano. Thanks for all your help, especially with the time-space continuum. Picture by slipperieslope
This is the second arc of A Fair Distance. The first arc,Running on Empty, can also be found at sentinel_epic and at 852 Prospect
There are now three Standalone stories from A Fair Distance
The beginning of this story
Ball and Chain. Chapter Two
It was too dark for me to see easily by the time we got to the rented cabin somewhere in Indiana. I had let Jim’s words and questions on the drive just wash over me without really paying much attention to the details. It was too much effort to talk to him; there was too much between us that needed talking about, but I couldn’t summon any energy to start the process. Don’t start what you can’t finish, right? That was good advice, wasn’t it? Somebody used to tell me that all the time, but right now I couldn’t remember who it was… Man, I was tired.
I felt like I belonged on the ‘Most Wanted’ list, wearing my handcuffs and shackles, but I accepted that it was really me who held the key to them. Jim just wanted assurances that I’d be a good boy for him, and then he’d take them off.
Trouble was, I didn’t feel like being anybody’s good boy -- let alone Jim’s -- right now.
Theoretically, I was pissed that Dave and Jim had ganged up on me and hustled me into protective custody. In practicality, though, I was feeling too limp -- physically and emotionally -- to work up any sort of righteous indignation. I’d blown up about it hours ago -- shot my wad, so to speak -- and now I mostly wanted to lie down. I wasn’t good at keeping anger at a white-hot level anyway. The rage I had occasionally felt in my life had almost always kind of evaporated away leaving me dealing with an adrenaline crash. Like now.
Until I could make Jim listen to me and come up with another option about custody, we would be together. And maybe I could look at this time as a kind of mixed blessing. Be careful what you wish for… I’d wanted to spend some time with Jim before we parted, but not for very long. I wouldn’t be able to stand that. Not while my ex-lover was my jailer. This had to be hard on him, too. He said it was his fault for making his loyalty test too hard, but it was me who had flunked it. God, I wish I could turn back time; I wish I could have a day from the past, when we were friends and Jim loved me.
Jim was finishing signing rental papers with someone who’d been inside the cabin when we drove up. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. I think Jim had debated handcuffing me to the steering wheel while he did the paperwork, judging from the look he’d given me, but he hadn’t done it. Probably he’d thought, correctly, where the hell was I gonna go tonight, with a bad storm waiting to break over our heads. I sighed and closed my eyes.
I heard the SUV drive away, and forced my eyes back open. I struggled to get the truck door open, but my coordination was falling down on the job. While I jiggled and fumbled with the door handle, I kept thinking that was pretty funny and I felt a wave of hysteria wanting to roll though me, but I managed to keep it down to low chuckles when I thought about trying to explain the joke to Jim. I pictured the puzzled look on his face if I said to him, ‘Coordination, see -- falling down on the job. Get it, Jim? Falling down on the job’, and then the door was yanked open and I saw Jim’s puzzled face for real – probably wondering what I was sniggering about -- and that pushed me all the way into hysterical laughter.
“Jesus, Sandburg. What the hell’s so funny?” Jim’s eyebrows did this squiggly thing that just sent me further off, so much that when I tried to explain the joke, all that came out was gasped and mangled syllables. I couldn’t make out what I was trying to say, let alone Jim. I tried to stop my insane giggling, but I couldn’t and I thought to myself, ’Here it comes, Jim’s gonna slap your face, just like in the movies.’
Instead, Jim pulled me out of the truck and tried to get me to walk to the cabin. But ‘second verse, same as the first;’ my coordination fell down on the job again, and I almost kissed the ground, except good ol’ Jim, my sentinel pal -- he caught me. Unfortunately, this just set me off into more hysteria. I was laughing so hard now that tears were coming out of my eyes and my throat felt like it was on fire, but I couldn’t stop doing it, especially when Jim got tired of me trying to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other and scooped me up into a fireman’s carry.
Things got kind of blurry after that. I could hear myself laughing like a loon and I felt the tears running down my face and I could see the ground, and Jim’s legs taking steps, and then I was coming off his shoulder because we were inside the cabin. I was still laughing; I couldn’t stop it. I wondered if he would grab a pan from the kitchen and throw cold water on me, but his arms stayed around me, holding me up.
“Sandburg,” he said, giving me a little shake, but when I kept on with the clown noises he sat down, pulling me onto his lap.
Jim had sat down in one of those oversized rocking chairs, the ones that looked like they were built for giants to sit in, and he lifted my legs so that they were hanging over the edge of the rocker’s arms, then he settled me sideways against his chest.
’Rock-a-bye-baby,’ I silently howled in my head and continued to bray what passed for laughter. It was like my brain was split into Normal Thinking and Bizarre Land, and Bizarre Land had Normal Thinking in a chokehold. I gave up trying to shut up and just let myself laugh, complete with waterworks. Jim rocked me; he kept saying ’shush… you’re okay… you’re just tired… I’ve got you…’ Eventually, the cackling laughter died down, but the tears kept burning their way down my face. I knew I should feel embarrassed and I should get off Jim’s lap, but I couldn’t move. My head felt like it had swollen up five times its normal size and my nose was running. God, I was a mess, snotty and teary and with those occasional crying hiccups that hurt your chest.
This went on for a good long time while we rocked in the dimly lit room, till my eyes stopped leaking. Finally, I guessed that I could make a stab at talking, so I tried it out. I coughed a couple of times first and tried to wipe off my tears with the back of my hand. Both hands. Damn handcuffs.
“Yeah. Blair? You feeling better now, buddy?”
“I need a kleenex, man.”
“Here, let’s try this. My shirt’s a wreck anyway.” He maneuvered me around till he could pull off his soft, long-sleeved shirt, and then handed it to me. “Use this to blow your nose.”
Crap, Jim was using his soft and gentle voice, the one he used with scared kids and crazy people.
I blew my nose and wiped my face off and started to wriggle off of his lap, but Jim tightened his arms around me and snuggled me back against his bare chest. I went limp and whispered – to myself, mostly -- “I’m a mess.”
“You’re a mess, all right… But, Chief, you’re my mess. Just… sit here with me and try to relax and catch your breath.” He started rocking us again, and I thought how ridiculous I must look, with my shackled legs over the chair’s arms and Jim holding me securely against him. I started to feel embarrassed, so I pushed harder against him and swung my legs down to the floor. I lurched off of his lap, dropping his shirt on the floor, and turned around to face him.
“I used to be your mess. I’m not anybody’s mess now,” I reminded him.
Jim stood up and put his hands on my shoulders. “I want you to be my mess, Chief. I want us to fix what went wrong and for you to be with me again. I heard Shit-head and Scumbag planning your murder and it hit me, when I pictured you dead, that I couldn’t stand to see you that way. Not for a second time, Blair. I was an ass for the way I treated you back in Cascade, and I’m sorry.”
My eyes widened as I processed what he’d just said. Be careful what you wish for… And it kind of staggered me, his saying that he wanted me back, but my common sense came to my rescue. This couldn’t be real. Jim sounded sincere to me, but it was probably just an overreaction on his part. He’d change his mind again after he’d actually had me around for a while.
Still, maybe we could do a time-out, just for tonight, and I could pretend that he loved me again. I’d be fooling myself, but I’d know I was fooling myself, so that would be okay. And, God -- I had missed him. Missed touching him, missed him touching me. If -- for one night… or two -- we were like we’d been before everything got so screwed up, what would it hurt, really? I had never stopped loving him, but Jim… Would it be wrong to say yes to him, before he remembered all the reasons why our love hadn’t held our friendship together, back in Cascade?
Jim had stepped closer to me and slid his arms loosely around me. I let him. What the hell… ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye can,’ or some such shit. Make a memory to keep when we went our separate ways again. I couldn’t lead him on, though; I’d better be straight with him.
“Jim… I don’t know. I think you mean what you say right this minute, but I’m afraid you’ll change your mind later about you and me. But I’ve missed you, and I’ll take what I can get for now. So d’you want to call a truce, and we can pretend we’re okay, just for tonight?”
“I’m not pretending, Sandburg. But it’s a deal.” Jim gave me a satisfied look.
“And no interrogation, either. I know there’s a shitload of things we need to talk about, but my brain hurts just thinking about that agenda, and I… just not tonight, okay, man?”
“One exception, Chief. I have to know what’s wrong with you so I know how to take care of you. You’re sick, Sandburg, and I haven’t read your medical file yet because I wanted you to tell me what’s wrong. But if you don’t want to talk about it tonight, I’ll just read what’s in the folder. You ‘down’ with that, Junior?”
I gave a small snort. ‘Down’ with that? Since when did Jim want to sound like one of the cool kids? He sounded like me, not that I was one of the cool kids. No, I was definitely one of the uncool kids, a nerdy, homeless beggar…
Jim gave me another small shake. “Sandburg, are you lost in your head? I asked about reading your file.” He added patiently, “I’m going to do it anyway, so you might as well agree to it.”
Another snort from me. That’s my Jim, all right. “Yeah, go ahead.”
Jim pulled me closer to him into a real hug and kissed the top of my head. After a minute of hugging, he asked me, “Now, buddy, what do you want to do? You haven’t eaten anything since breakfast; do you want to eat now? Or take a shower?” I shook my head no to those suggestions. I rubbed my cheek against his chest and gave a sigh. I was so tired.
And Jim kept hugging me and rocking me silently on my feet and I felt sleepier. I should tell Jim I’m falling asleep, so I can go lie down on a bed, but it’s too much trouble to talk… I’ll close my eyes for a minute first… And then Jim shuffled me awkwardly backwards, to what felt like a couch, and pushed me down onto it, lifting my still shackled legs up onto the cushions. ‘I coulda done that but he beat me to it.’ I drew up my knees and let myself slide further into sleep, listening to him opening the cabin door, then later walking back in, and moving around the room. I dozed off and surfaced briefly, startled, when he dumped firewood on the floor. He walked over then and felt my forehead. Jim… I bet he got badges in fire building and first aid when he was a Boy Scout… me, I was only a Cub Scout for a couple of weeks…
I remember him taking off my shoes and covering me with a blanket, and then I guess I did fall asleep because he was shaking me awake.
I sat at the kitchen table, tracing the grain of the wood with my finger, and thought about taking care of Blair. I hated to wake him up, but it was for his own good. His fever had gotten higher and he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since early this morning, since he’d turned up his nose at the apple juice and water I’d given him in the truck.
After Blair had fallen asleep, I’d secured our belongings, done a few chores, locked the cabin up, and talked to Findley; then with a sense of trepidation, I’d sat down at the kitchen table, and had picked up the folder the man had put together for me. At least I knew Blair didn’t have AIDS, thanks to Findley cluing me in at that Sweetwater diner. I slowly opened the folder and read what the doctor had diagnosed. Sandburg hadn’t lied to me. What he had was a virus; he was going to be low-energy for months and there could be complications. I wanted a look at his throat and to check his skin. For this evening, I refused to think about how this virus had been passed to him.
Yeah, I wouldn’t badger him tonight; he was exhausted, but there’d be a few questions about who passed this illness to him and what his life had been like this past year, before we arrived back in Cascade. I’d have to work hard at not sounding like a jealous asshole, but he’d left home with somebody; a guy who apparently hadn’t stuck around for some reason, although this illness was too recent to have been caught from him. Well, I thought the ex-boyfriend was ancient history; my past inquiries into Blair’s whereabouts hadn’t found any mention of a lover.
Blair stirred a little on the couch, and then was quiet again. He’d been so angry earlier today that, actually, I was surprised that he’d become so cooperative after we’d gotten to this cabin. It must be the fatigue he was feeling. I still wasn’t sure what the hell had set off his fit of the giggles, but when his hysterical laughter had altered into quiet tears and occasional sobs that he hadn’t been able to stop -- it had worried me. I’d known Blair for a long time – he talked a good game about it being acceptable for men to cry, but you hardly ever caught him actually crying. He’d cried a little about Maya. Teared up a few times on other occasions. Now that my guide was sick and worn out, he didn’t seem to have any emotional reserves left, and I’d really thrown him a curve ball with the protective custody. No wonder he’d lost it. At least now he had finally gotten some sleep.
Before sitting down to read his folder, I’d put together a simple meal, one that somebody with a sore throat would be able to handle. I’d also built a fire -- which was needed, despite the electric heat -- because the temperature had dropped and the wind was really blowing. This cabin must’ve had a few leaks in it, since it was damned drafty in here. Ten degrees colder and we’d be looking at blizzard conditions, but for now we could expect rain. It’d be coming down like a bastard any minute now. I got up from the table, stretched, and walked over to the couch. It’d been a hard couple of days for me, too. Now to take care of my guide, whether he wanted me to or not.
My shaking Sandburg finally produced some results. He blinked his eyes at me and then closed them again, ready to sink back into sleep, but I shook him again and pulled his blanket off of him.
“Upsy-daisy, Sunshine. Time for a med check and supper.” I grabbed his shoulders and pulled him to a sitting up position. He tucked his knees up to his chin and yawned.
“S’it mornin’?” My guide was rumpled, flushed with fever, and still not coherent enough to follow conversation, and I wanted nothing more than to strip him and check every inch of him… every sweet inch of him. I wanted to scent his neck and his groin. I wanted to taste his mouth and lick his lips. I wanted to trail my tongue over his nipples and down his belly to his dick. I wanted to suck his balls and swallow his dick down my throat. I wanted to watch him orgasm; I wanted to scent his pheromones. I wanted to taste him in my mouth. I wanted to see him dazed and compliant, face down on the bed, mewling under me while I fucked him to orgasm again.
I’d settle for a look down his throat and seeing him eat his soup.
I took out my cuff keys and freed his hands and his legs. He wasn’t in any shape to run for it while I was awake. And I’d hidden the truck key. Tomorrow, maybe, he’d give me the promise I needed, and I could stash the cuffs away for the rest of the trip.
I felt his forehead and nodded to myself. Tylenol time. I took him by the elbows and levered him off the couch. I moved my sleepy partner over to the table and after he’d sat down, I placed two capsules in his hand.
“Take ‘em, and don’t give me any crap about the benefits of letting a fever run. You’re right, but not when a fever’s this high.” I stroked his cheek and then pinched the skin on his arm. “And you’re dehydrated, Blair. You can’t ignore your body’s need for fluids. Start drinking.”
Blair rolled his eyes, but he complied, wincing as he swallowed his meds. He drank the bottled water without protest but looked at the plate of sandwiches and frowned.
I headed off his protest at the pass. “Those are mine, Chief. I’ve got chicken soup heating up for you. The salt in the broth should make your throat feel better.
“And speaking of your throat, I’m going to need to take a look at it. Open up and say ‘ahhh.’”
He looked up at me and asked grumpily, “If I do, do I get a sucker?”
I winked at him. “Yeah, sure. I’ve been wanting to give you something to suck on, Chief, but it will have to be later, when you feel better.” He rolled his eyes again, this time at my attempt at humor, and I leaned over him and tapped his nose. “Open up.”
“Sheesh. I might be contagious.”
“I’ll be looking, not touching. Open up.” He laid his head back a little and opened his mouth wide. I looked all right, and I didn’t like what I saw. His throat was as red as a fire truck and there were white spots on his tonsils. I put my finger under his chin and shut his mouth, then with both hands I felt the lymph nodes on his neck – they were swollen and tender.
“I’m pretty sure you’ve got a secondary strep infection. Tomorrow, we’ll get that antibiotic script the ER doc wrote you filled.” I shifted my hands upwards and very gently tugged on his hair. “And after you eat, I want you naked.”
Sandburg raised his eyebrows. “Going to fuck me?” Blair was yanking my chain, but he couldn’t hide the note of yearning I detected. Something inside of me relaxed – Blair was still attracted to me. And just as capable as ever at teasing me back. God, I’d missed him.
“You get a rain check on that too, smart-ass. I want to check for the rash that goes along with mono. You didn’t have one when the doc diagnosed you, but it shows up later a lot of the time with mononucleosis. If you have a rash, we’ll fill the steroid script too.” I walked over to the small stove and ladled out a bowl of soup, and placed it in front of Blair. “Get as much of that down as you can, then drink more water. There’s a yogurt drink for dessert.”
The rain began then and it pounded down as hard as I had predicted. We’d be lucky to not lose the electricity tonight, another reason I had lit a fire.
I watched Blair slowly eat, radiating a distinct lack of enthusiasm about his soup. I worked my way through my own stack of sandwiches and kept to our agreement not to ask the questions that were in my mind.
But, for one thing, I wanted to ask him why the hell hadn’t he told me that he’d picked up mono. I wanted to tell him I’d been worried he had AIDS. He had probably thought I’d give him shit about having the ‘kissing disease,’ so common to teenagers. And to be honest, I probably would have made some stupid comment if he’d told me yesterday. And since I was being honest with myself – I did want to know how he’d gotten it. Had he come out of a relationship with somebody who’d given it to him? Or just gotten it from a one-night-stand?
People his age weren’t as likely to catch mono, but they could. I would bet his immune system had taken a beating this past year from the stress he’d been under. It wasn’t surprising that he’d been vulnerable to viruses. I’d wager he’d had more colds or flu this year than he’d ever had before. Tomorrow, maybe we’d talk about his problems. Tonight, I wanted to make him comfortable.
Later, after he finally finished his soup and drinks, he stripped his clothes off for me in front of the fireplace, and I looked over every inch of him. He was a lot thinner than he’d been, but his legs and arms were still muscular. He’d been doing physical work so that wasn’t a surprise. Looking at his hands, I could see old burns and cuts, and calluses that hadn’t been there a year ago. Under his slightly golden skin tone his face was pale; it wasn't as full as it had been, his cheekbones were more prominent, and his eyes seemed larger to me.
I walked slowly around him again, and before I settled down to look at him for medical purposes, I indulged myself with purely aesthetic appreciation of Blair’s physical charms. He wouldn’t agree with me, I knew from experience, but he was beautiful. And he had a chameleon kind of quality that was influenced by what he wore and how he wore his hair, and even whether you were looking at him full in the face, or at his profile. He could look exotic, especially when he was wearing his necklaces and wristbands, his hair a loose cloud around his face, dancing to some slow beat of music. He could look like somebody’s little brother, with his tilted up nose and flannel shirts, and a baseball cap on his head, his hair pulled back into a ponytail. He could look like the hippie-witch-doctor-punk I had called him the second time I looked him over. Blair seemed to catch on that I wasn’t just looking at him to play medic, and I could see a flush of color begin on his chest and face. But he didn’t say anything and reluctantly, I began to play medic.
There was no rash, but I did more than look. I indulged my need for him by running my hands over his body. Surprisingly, as tired and sick as Blair was, his dick became halfway hard for me, even though I’d only ghosted my hands over his groin. If I’d touched him, intending to arouse him, we might have cashed in those rain checks tonight. And this evening, he needed soothing, not fucking.
I was glad he’d agreed to this time-out; it gave me a chance to make up for some of the way I’d acted when I’d come to Sweetwater for him. And it was bittersweet to be with Blair this evening knowing I’d chased him away; we’d lost a whole year’s worth of being together. With Blair asking for a night of ‘the-way-we-were,’ I hoped he’d decide soon in favor of being lovers again.
He pulled on one of my clean t-shirts, and I escorted him to the bathroom; I sat on the closed toilet seat while he took a lukewarm shower. He didn’t ask me for privacy. Guess he knew it would have been futile. He wasn’t going out of my sight without that promise. He finished cleaning up for the evening and peacefully walked with me -- naked except for my t-shirt -- into the bedroom with the larger bed. He looked sleepy and smelled of soap and his own sweet scent. He always made a face when somebody told him he was cute, but in my shirt, which came down to the middle of his thighs, well… he did look cute. At least I was smart enough not to mention it to him. Blair had been so accommodating with letting me touch and hug him that I didn’t want to do anything that would rile him up tonight.
I pulled down the covers of the bed and gave him a little push towards it. He sat down with a ‘what now’ look on his face. I smiled reassuringly at him.
“Would you take off your shirt, Blair? I promise I’ll keep you warm tonight.”
“I admit I’m hungry to touch you. But only touch, okay?”
“You know I feel pretty fucked up about us, Jim. But… this has been nice, tonight. So, okay.”
Blair pulled off the shirt he was wearing. He flopped around for a bit on the sheets trying out positions; he stilled when I undressed and climbed in the bed next to him. I whispered to him to relax, and started running my hand lightly over his arm and chest. I then got down to business and started massaging his skin, searching out the knots in his muscles. He lay quietly on the bed, eyes shut, only occasionally sighing, while I stroked his body.
The rain was still coming down hard when the low lights in the living room went dead. I placed my hand on Blair’s chest to ground myself and listened intently. I tuned out the rain, but I heard no suspicious noises, no bad guys breathing -- no indication that this blackout was anything but a natural event. I’d locked the doors and windows and put my gun under the bed before I’d woken Blair up from his nap on the couch. Findley had called not long after we’d gotten here to report that those two assholes had been arrested, so I was ninety-nine percent sure we’d thrown Blair’s killers off our track, but checking for intruders was just prudent.
The power loss didn’t matter. What I wanted to do with my guide, I could do in the dark as well as the light. I nudged him to roll over, and with another quiet sigh, he did so. I massaged his back and legs, keeping him covered, until I was sure he was deeply asleep. Then I slid out of bed, and after taking care of my own bathroom needs, picked up one last object from the living room.
I climbed back into bed with Blair and fastened one end of the long leg shackle to my right ankle and then clicked the other end around his left ankle. I positioned us so I was lying with my chest against his back and my leg between his legs. The key was in the other room, and there was no way now that Blair could sneak out and leave me. I put my arm around my guide, and breathing deeply of his scent, slipped off to sleep.
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Three