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2/14/01 & 2/22/01

No Sexual Situations
No Violence

With thanks and apologies to Pet Fly, and proceeding under the assumption that forgiveness is easier to ask than permission....

This was written in response to various Valentines Day posts on Senad. My deepest thanks to all those Senadians who wanted more than just the first snippet, and who have always been so kind and encouraging to me.


The black onyx carving seemed to soak up the light, trapping it, drawing it into the heart of the stone and holding it prisoner there. Blair turned the fetish in his hand, letting his fingertips caress the curves and grooves that shaped the small beast and lingering for a moment over the tiny blue turquoise eyes.

A small sigh escaped him and for a moment his breath frosted the stone with a cloud of grey. The sight brought to mind an old folk tale, that a child born with a caul over its head would have the power of second sight. Could a Guide breathe such insight into his Sentinel with a sigh upon a stone carving?

Maybe, a small voice whispered in his inner ear.  But you're not his Guide, or his Shaman. You're just Incacha's stand-in ... and a pretty poor ringer, at that.

"I know," Blair whispered aloud. "I know."

The stone was warm from his body heat, but the light that fell on it still did not reflect back upon him. The metaphor was not lost on Blair, and he smiled bitterly for a moment before he slipped the carving into the deerskin bag and pulled the drawstring tight. There was a small open space in one corner of the wooden box that rested on the woolen weaving covering his bed; carefully he tucked the bag into it, turning it so that the jaguar inside rested comfortably, head up, back to the side of the box. Other objects were settled around the new gift; the green glass navigator's crystal he'd found three years ago in a small shop next to the Maritime Museum in Old Cascade, the carved bone and brass and carnelian scent diffuser that his mother had sent him from Nepal and which he'd thought to offer to Jim two years ago, and the helmet shell engraved with palm trees and a sunset and with the sound of the sea forever echoing in its depths, discovered last year at an estate sale he'd happened upon and purchased with three bills which should have paid for his lunch for that week.

Blair let his hands rest on the brass inlay of the box for a moment. Every year since that first one, when his heart had whispered his fate to him, he'd added to this small trove. Gifts of the senses, which would never be given, and which he could not stop himself from collecting against a day which he knew would never come.

"Sandburg! I'm home!"

Blair's hands trembled a little. Then he slipped his hope out of his heart and back into the box with the rest of his treasures, closed the lid, and slid it under his bed.

It was time to make dinner.



"Mail call, Chief."

Jim peeled an envelope from the fan of mail in his hand, and Blair snagged it on his way to the kitchen. "Thanks, Jim. Um ... is nuked chili okay? I kinda ... got distracted, and forgot about dinner."

"Too many valentines to sort through?" Jim hoped he'd kept the edge out of his voice.

"Yeah," nodded Blair absently, his attention on the envelope in his hands. "You know how romantic my harem of table legs can be. Aw, man, this is from the Registrar's office. I am so screwed." 

Jim frowned at the worry that twisted the young man's face. "Why?"

"It's probably my tuition check. My *bounced* tuition check." He turned the envelope over in his hands, and Sentinel eyes could see the tremor shivering through the paper. 

"Thought you were covered for this semester, Chief." 

"I wrote the check and turned it in, yeah. Keeping the money in the bank is another story. I've been careful, but...." He sighed, swallowed hard, and tore the envelope open.

Jim held his breath.

"What the...."

Jim's own bundle of mail suddenly seemed intensely interesting, and he fixed his attention on an envelope marked Resident. "What is it, Chief?" he asked with studied nonchalance.

"It's ... aw, man, this is so weird!"


"It's a check, man. But not mine ... it's a check for me." The shaky voice was colored with awe.

"Oh?" Jim, suddenly unable to read English, still riffled through his own mail with contrived distraction. "From who?"

"The Lupercian Society." Blair looked up, his blue eyes wide with naked disbelief and his generous mouth curled in a smile so full of wonder that it took Jim's breath away. "It's a book grant, Jim. An endowment. No strings attached. For ..." he swallowed hard "... for five hundred dollars." The imprinted paper was held up for Jim's inspection. "Five hundred dollars, Jim. For books. Just for books."

"Nice, Chief," Jim nodded, studiously returning his attention to his own mail.

"Jim....." Blair shook his head. "This is so weird."

"Why's that, Sandburg? You're a student, you need books, someone gave you the money for them. What's weird about that?" He tossed the bundle of envelopes onto the table by the door and walked past Blair into the kitchen, where the refrigerator door offered convenient cover for the emotion behind his face.

"Jim, no one just gives students money. You have to ask for it, work for it, beg for it, sit up and roll over and jump through hoops ... often flaming ones ... for every penny."

"You're a good student, Chief," Jim said flatly. He emerged from his hiding place with two beers and offered one to Blair. The young man looked at it and then at the check in his hands, as if he were faced with a choice between them.

"Yeah, Jim," Blair murmured, "but who cares? I mean, who really cares? Enough to give me this?" 

Jim grinned, reached out and gently tugged the check from Blair's unsteady grip. He placed it on the counter and anchored it safely beneath the pepper mill, then put an open bottle into Blair's hand. "Well, here's to the Lupercian Society, Chief."

"Yeah." They clinked bottles and drank. But Blair couldn't take his eyes off his windfall.

"You want to know what's really weird, Jim?"

"Besides you, Ripley?"

Blair didn't even bristle. "The Lupercian Society. I know that name. They paid part of my spring semester tuition last year, and picked up the lab fees on my trip to New Mexico the year before that ... the one to the Anasazi site."

"Yeah? See, Darwin, someone cares."

"The money came through the Registrar's Office, like this." He looked at the check. "There's no address ... no phone number ... and the signature is just an imprint of the society name. Just the name."

Jim gulped, choked, and felt fermented hops fizzing in his sinuses.

"Figures that you'd get the attention of a secret society, Chief."

"Do you know what Lupercian means, Jim?"

"Nope," he lied. He reached for a paper napkin and blew his nose. Panic tugged at the muscles in his jaw.

"It was an ancient Roman holiday that paired young men with their first lovers. The Catholic church usurped it and made it a feast day in honor of a Christian bishop who defied an edict by the Emperor Claudius, banning soldiers from marrying. Now it's Valentine's Day."

"Guess that is kind of weird," murmured the ex-Catholic ex-soldier. 

"Yeah." Blair looked up from the check and fixed huge eyes on Jim. He smiled slightly. "You want to go with me when I spend it?"

"Aw hell, Sandburg, traipsing after you through stuffy old hovels filled with rotting leather and disintegrating paper is guaranteed to send me straight to sinus hell. You're on your own." He glanced at the kitchen clock. "Don't you have some chili to nuke? Jags tip-off against Boston in fifteen. I'm gonna grab a shower." He took another swallow of beer, set the empty in the sink, and headed for the bathroom. Just as he closed the door behind him, he heard the whisper.


Jim smiled and turned on the water.



Jim slumped blissfully and bonelessly on the sofa. The Jags had won, but he didn't really care, other than to acknowledge that it was a nice addendum to the other small pleasures of the evening; the crackling fire, the baked potatoes with butter and cheese and bacon and chives that Blair had unexpectedly substituted for the nuked chili, the call from Simon informing him that the hijacking case he'd devoted the past week to had been wrapped by a routine traffic stop and arrest and telling him to take a comp day, and the two extra beers he'd indulged in at that news, knowing that he didn't have to go into the office the next morning.

And Blair. Sitting on the floor at his feet, glasses on his nose, one eye on the game's wrap-up commentary and the other running book searches on the internet. His back was pressed against Jim's shin and a rogue lock of hair draped over Jim's knee where a careless hand had flung it. 

"Having fun spending that money, Chief?" Jim murmured.

"Oh yeah," Blair answered, distracted. "Some of these manuscripts have been out of print for decades ... out of my reach. So much here that could help you...." His fingers flew over the keys.

The absent remark touched something deep inside Jim. 

"Blair, you should spend that money on books you need ... books you want."

"I am, Jim," Blair answered, his attention still on his work. He cut and pasted a URL into a spreadsheet, typed some notes, and went back to the search screen.

Jim closed his eyes and let his head fall back to rest on the couch. The thought behind Blair's words seeped into him, curled around his heart, infused his soul with security. Safety. Serenity.


He let the moment drift through him like fragrant smoke.

"Hey, Jim?" The voice was soft, the tone casual.


"How'd you know what Lupercian means?"

"Went to Catholic school, Chief. Remem--" 

Oh shit. Jim's muscles snapped into tension so quickly that Blair was thrown forward, off and away from the leg against which he'd been reclining. Jim felt the separation inside and out, and was abruptly cold.

"Busted," Blair said quietly. The word hung between them in the sudden silence of the room. 

"Guess so." Jim could almost feel the world shutting down around him. "I'm sorry."

"I love you too."

"It's okay, Blair." It wasn't okay, but he'd lived with not okay for years and years, before Blair. He would get used to it again. "I understand. I just ... what?"

Blair got to his knees and turned so he was facing Jim. "I love you too," he said, slowly, as if speaking to a foreigner who didn't quite know the language. A small smile touched the corners of his lips, and his eyes were unnaturally bright. He placed his hands on Jim's knees and patted them gently, then pushed himself to his feet. "I'll be right back. Close your eyes."

"Okay." Confusion had already blinded him, so compliance was easy; it was, in fact, all that Jim was capable of at the moment. He heard stocking feet pad across the hardwood floor, the creak of the doors to Blair's room, a rustle of cloth and a shuffling of books and papers, and footsteps bringing Blair back to his side. Blair's weight pressed down on the couch cushions next to him. And another small sound ... metal against metal ... hinges?

Then the warmth of Blair's palm settled on the back of his neck, and something cool and smooth was pressed against his ear.

And he heard the sound of the ocean.

~ 30 ~

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