Fandom: The Sentinel
Original Posting: Timed out zine story
“Chief, this most certainly is not what I meant.”
“You said get the best deal and we’d do it, so I got the best deal. You can’t beat thirty-nine bucks a night, man. Add to that the fact that I managed, thanks to my dazzling smile, an upgrade to a suite for the same thirty-nine bucks and you have an even sweeter deal.”
Jim glanced down at his partner, the one currently bouncing by his side, and smothered the impulse to hold him down. “It’s Circus-Circus, Sandburg, which means kids - lots of kids - yelling, screaming, running kids. Not exactly what I had in mind when I suggested Vegas.”
They were in line at the check-in counter, a line the length of which sur¬prised the heck out of both men and reminded Blair of the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland. Not that he’d been to Disneyland in years, but still, he'd insisted the line was very reminiscent and just as full of kids.
He gulped, looked away from the little girl with the chocolate-smeared face in front of them and said, “We’re sleeping here, Jim. That’s it. Do you have any idea how many new places just opened? I mean, you saw the huge air balloon and the Eiffel Tower, right? We’ve got to go there, by the way, and it just opened last month, and then there’s the Mandalay Bay Resort that we’ve got to check out, and we have got to see the Bellagio which opened this summer—”
“And the reason we couldn’t get into any of them, Mr. Las Vegas?”
“Oh, please. The Bellagio’s been booked solid since they dug the first shovelful of dirt. Same with Paris, Las Vegas and Mandalay Bay. And why do I not think that you’d have been willing to fork over a couple hundred bucks a night versus—did I mention we’re paying thirty-nine a night?”
“Okay, okay, I get it.”
Jim glanced around the lobby and had to admit that inside, well, it was much quieter than he’d expected. After all, when one combined the idea of a circus with a Las Vegas resort—well, this understated elegance didn’t come immediately to mind. Jim glanced up at the impressive ceiling with the arty clouds painted on them and thought they actually gave one the sense of being outdoors, even if it was a kind of heavenly outdoors. Now if only all the people would actually go outdoors, he’d be one happy man. But hey, thirty-nine bucks was a steal, so he had to give credit where credit was due—just not out loud and not in Blair’s presence.
They finally made it to the desk and the very friendly clerk. Blair flashed his “dazzling” smile and said, “Ellison, James and Sandburg, Blair.”
She smiled back, but Jim was pretty sure that Blair’s wattage was far superior to hers.
“Just a moment while I bring you up, sir.” She punched the keys on her keyboard and, after a moment, her smile widened. “Here you are.” She glanced up, her cheeks dimpling. “Would you like to leave an imprint of your card for incidentals and the phone?”
Jim took out his wallet, slipped his AmEx out of its slot, and slid it across the counter.
Miss Perky 1999 took it, processed it, and handed it back. “I'll also need a driver’s license, Mr. Ellison.”
Jim slid it over and, after a few moments, she returned it along with the typical hotel card folder with two card keys tucked securely inside. “You’re on the second floor, your room to the right of the elevators, suite 202. Non-smoking, as requested. And even though you’re a bit early, my computer shows that it's ready so you can go on up. Do you need a bellboy?”
Jim shook his head, thankful that both he and Blair were light and able packers. He turned away and, with Blair on his heels, headed for the elevators.
Once the doors slid shut on the lobby, Blair said, “By the way, there's one thing I’m definitely going to do while we’re staying here.”
“The Adventure Dome. They have some really cool rides and, damn it, I’m going on them.”
Jim gave an exasperated shake of his head. “Figures.”
“This is not thirty-nine bucks a night,” Jim said from where he stood in the middle of their suite.
“I won’t dignify that with an answer.” Blair was standing at the bar, eyeing an extremely large gift basket that took up most of the counter. He fiddled with the wrapping paper, spotted a Godiva chocolate bar nestled in among the fruit, crackers and other delicacies, and whistled. “You have got to take a look at this basket, Jim. There are even two splits of champagne.”
His curiosity taking precedence over the food, Blair walked through the open double doors and into their bedroom, where he found himself whistling again in appreciation. “Nice, very nice.”
Jim, still suffering from shock, joined him. “This is not thirty-nine bucks a night, Chief,” he said again.
Laughing, Blair tossed his backpack and duffel bag onto the bed nearest the window. He knew damn well Jim would want the one near the door, little sentinel that he was. He sat on the queen-sized bed and bounced lightly before saying, “I can’t believe it only took us three years to get here, man.”
Recovering from his shock at the grandeur of their accommodations, Jim started unpacking as he said, “Well, you know how it is—a sentinel and his sidekick fighting crime and grading exam papers.”
Blair’s eyes narrowed. “Jim, no matter what, we are not going to fight any crimes while we're in Vegas, right? I mean, if you see something, like, say, a pickpocket, you’re not going to—”
“Chief, in the airport alone I could have busted 20 people.”
Only slightly mollified, he asked in his best 'testing teacher' voice, “What if you smell a gun?”
Jim hung up his two golf shirts as he said, “I’ll do what I always do; I’ll try to figure out if it smells like a good guy’s gun or a bad guy’s.” He turned, lifted out two pairs of jeans, carried them over to the dresser and put them away.
“Wait, are you saying guns have—”
“Chief, grow up, okay?”
“Hey, it’s possible, man. For all I know, over the last three years, you’ve subconsciously catalogued the smells of the criminals you’ve arrested, you know? So maybe you do know….”
Blair suddenly jumped up and grabbed Jim’s arm. “Oh, man, we’ve got to test that, Jim. I bet you really could tephmph—”
Jim had learned over the years that a hand over Sandburg’s mouth tended to stop the flow of words—sort of. He waited until Blair rolled his eyes disgustedly before freeing Blair's mouth again. Leaning down menacingly, he said, “We’re on vacation, Sandburg.”
“Well, well, if it isn’t the return of Joe Friday,” Blair said, his eyes glittering with humor.
Jim straightened. “Jerk.”
Blair walked back to the bed and sat down again. He crossed his arms and watched Jim continue his unpacking. Socks and shorts in a different drawer from the lonely two pairs of jeans followed by shoes; two pair, set neatly on the floor of the large closet. The shaving kit was carried into the bathroom and set on the left side of the sink. Blair knew the right side was his—just like home. He smiled. For such an amazing man, Jim was remarkably predictable.
But damn, he looked good.
Jeans, a black t-shirt and a leather jacket—oh, yeah. He glanced down at his own clothes and thanked his common sense. For once, he’d stayed away from his short-sleeved ‘bowling’ shirts as Jim called them, and had gone with pullover sweaters, Henleys and jeans for their holiday. Not that he cared how he looked—but—he cared how he looked. Close quarters—closer than usual anyway—in Vegas with Jim, had forced him to examine his wardrobe. Why? Because he had ulterior motives, that’s why. And he had no trouble admit¬ting them, either. Well, at least to himself. After all, three fucking years of living with Jim, dancing around their feelings and the obvious attraction had left him a mental wreck, so he’d decided that this trip was going to be the turn¬ing point in their relationship. And if something went wrong, if he turned out to be wrong—he’d be moving on. Fast.
“Aren’t you going to unpack?” Jim asked as he walked back into the bedroom.
Startled out of his thoughts, Blair blinked quickly as he answered, “Jim, we’re talking three days and two nights, okay?”
Jim zipped up his duffle bag and set it in the closet next to his shoes. “Fine, I’m used to a wrinkled Sandburg.” Closing the closet door, he asked, “So, what do you want to do first?” He checked his watch. “It’s only one-thirty, want to check out another hotel casino?”
Blair jumped up, grabbed his backpack and said, “I’m down with that. Let’s walk to the Mirage. I’m dying to see the white tigers.”
“You’re such a kid, Sandburg.”
“It’s hot,” Jim complained two seconds after stepping outside.
“Well, ye-ah, it’s Vegas.”
“It’s fall, Sandburg. Change of trees, cool, crisp weather, the smell of a fireplace—”
“Jim, I sincerely doubt that it’s much over eighty degrees, okay?”
“For October in Cascade, but not for Vegas. Now get over it or dial it down.”
Ignoring the jibe, Jim shifted to his left to avoid a group of five trying to walk as a group of one. Slightly exasperated, he asked, “Where did all these people come from, anyway?”
Sighing loudly, Blair said, “While it’s true that I have an incredibly high IQ, I’m afraid that not even my brain can come up with the correct answer to that one, Jimbo. How¬ever, without using my brilliant brain, I could bet that these are tourists, just like us, and from all over the world. Does that satisfy your curiosity?”
Ignoring his clever retort, Jim said disgustedly, “We can barely walk. There must be hundreds of people.”
“Hello? It’s Vegas? People walk the Strip, that’s what you do here. You walk from casino to casino, resort to resort. Kind of like what we’re doing right now.” He pulled on Jim’s arm until the older man stopped. “Are you going to complain about everything for the entire vacation?”
“Just so I know.”
“Now you know.”
Laughing, they started walking again. They passed the Stardust, one of the original casino-hotels, and Blair was tempted to go in but figured there’d be plenty of time later. Treasure Island looked fun, really fun, and as they walked over the bridge-like sidewalk flanking the lagoon, he said, “We’ve got to come back here at night. They have this wild pirate show, but Rhonda said you have to see it after dark.”
“So, we’ll catch it on the way back to the hotel.”
“We don’t know what tim—”
“Five-thirty, seven, eight-thirty and ten.”
Blair’s face scrunched up. “How the heck do you know what—”
“Sign up ahead, doofus,” Jim interjected.
“Oh. A sign. Sure. Of course.”
“You’ll be able to read it in a minute,” Jim said smugly.
Blair grinned. Sometimes, Jim really loved showing off.
“Okay, walking around with a drink in your hand is more than I expected,” Jim said as they circumvented several people standing in front of the Mirage, all holding plastic cups with beer or fancy glasses with multi-colored drinks in them. Blair started to say something, but Jim stopped him. “If you say this is Vegas, I’ll have to kill you, Sandburg.”
“Now why would I say something as obvious at that?” Blair asked innocently.
They headed up to the hotel entrance and, following the signage, made their way to the White Tiger Habitat.
“Now, this is very cool,” Blair said in an awestruck voice as he nearly fell over himself trying to see everything.
The habitat was huge and designed like a tropical forest with angled glass separating the public from the tigers, who cavorted around the lush greenery, winding water trails and waterfalls. Jim found himself as captivated as his partner. He was beginning to think he could handle Vegas after all—which, considering that it had originally been his idea, albeit three years earlier—was a good thing.
They took in the Dolphin exhibit next and basically walked the hotel-resort until even Blair was tired. Both men were surprised to discover that they’d spent three hours in the hotel.
“I think dinner is in order and, if we time it right, we’ll get to Treasure Island in time for the show,” Jim said as they found themselves in the lobby.
“Sustenance would be good, very good,” Blair said with a slightly glazed look on his face. “Find food, Jim. Find food now.”
Laughing, Jim took his arm and led him unerringly through the maze of the hotel to a place called Samba. The smells tantalized Blair and, after one look at the menu, he could certainly see why Jim’s nose had led them to this particular restaurant. The best news of all was that, while there was a wait, it was only fifteen minutes, thanks to it being only four-thirty and a Wednesday.
When they were finally seated, Jim was salivating. Waiters with platters of food for patrons who’d ordered the restaurant’s famous Rodizio Experience slid by them, the odors teasing both men. After perusing the menu, they both agreed that the Rodizio was too much food, even for their healthy appetites.
Blair ended up choosing Chicken and Brazilian Nut soup for his starter, followed by the caramelized salmon in a red curry sauce while Jim went with the shrimp and avocado cocktail followed by the filet mignon. They both chose wine, but by the glass so Blair could have the Chalone Echelon and Jim the Merlot.
When their appetizers arrived, both were supremely happy with their choices, even if Blair looked somewhat surprised by Jim’s.
"Since when do you have any kind of shrimp that isn't battered and fried?"
"Hey, give me credit for trying new things, okay? I'm growing as a human being," Jim said rather smugly. His answer from Blair was a rude snort.
Deciding to move the topic away from his supposed personal growth, Jim asked, “So, after this pirate fight of yours, want to hit a casino somewhere?”
“Oh, yeah, but let’s stick with Treasure Island. I have it on good authority that they have poker tables.”
One eyebrow rose elegantly. “Poker, Chief? I had you pegged as a slot man.”
“What can I say? Three years with you and the MC Friday night poker game has me hungry to try the real deal.”
“Well, I’m a blackjack man myself, but more power to you.”
Their entrees arrived, and they dug in. Between almost orgasmic bites, they loosely planned the rest of their time in Sin City.
“That was odd, Sandburg. Very odd,” Jim said as they walked into the lobby of Treasure Island having just come from watching the pirate show outside.
“What part, the crowds, sinking ship or the nearly nude dancing ladies?”
“I’m going with the nearly nude dancing ladies. I had no idea pirate ships carried nearly nude—”
“Dancing ladies?” Blair finished for him.
“Yeah, them. And it’s a free, family show. Have families changed that much?”
“Apparently. On the other hand, there were almost as many people watching the water show at the Bellagio, and there wasn’t one single nude dancing anything.”
“If you don’t count the dancing water,” Jim said with a chuckle as he opened the door to the hotel lobby.
“Good point. But honestly, naked water has never done much for me.”
“Believe me, I’ve noticed. I know exactly what you prefer to see naked.”
As they made their way to the casino, Blair rolled his eyes and muttered, knowing full well that Jim would hear him, “That’s what you think.”
They’d just entered the gambling area when Blair suddenly rose up on his toes and, rubbing his hands together almost gleefully, asked, “You dialed down and ready, man?”
Blair held up his hand and Jim high-fived him before turning right toward the Blackjack tables. Blair watched him walk away and, with a slight shake of a head full of lustful thoughts, went left toward the sign proclaiming “Poker”.
Damn, he really wished that Jim didn’t look so good in jeans. It was extremely unfair.
Blair observed the man across from him, noticed how he rubbed the bridge of his nose (a sure tell), and quickly said, “I’m all in.” He shoved his stack of chips—his pretty impressive stack of chips—toward the center of the table.
The man, who’d introduced himself as “Carl; the plumber from Ohio", peeked at his two cards as if they’d changed since the last time, and asked, “How much?”
The dealer quickly counted and said, “Three thousand more to call, Sir.”
Blair blinked. Three thousand? Of course he’d known how much he’d accumulated since sitting down two hours earlier, but hearing it out loud was throwing him for a loop.
He’d won three thousand dollars in two hours of playing Texas Hold ‘Em on a two-hundred dollar investment; his entire bankroll for gambling over the three days. And he could lose it in the next minute.
Stay calm, Sandburg.
Right - and don’t let your opponent see you sweat. Besides, Carl was doing enough for both of them.
“I’m all in,” Carl said as he too pushed a hefty mound of his chips toward the center. If he lost, he wouldn’t be out, but he’d be at the bottom of the chip totem pole—the ‘short stack’ as the pros called it.
Blair turned his two cards over—two queens. On the board, the flop stared at both players: a nine of spades, a four of spades and the queen of hearts. Blair had a trip. Carl turned his cards over. Two spades, the king and jack. And two spades on the board.
Blair’s Las Vegas gambling could be over in the flip of two more cards.
The dealer burned a card from the deck and then gave them the fourth of five cards, or the “turn” card. It was the jack of hearts. Carl now had a pair and an even better chance at his possible flush to Blair’s three queens. Another spade would kill Blair, but another jack would give him a full house even while giving Carl his own trip. Carl pushed back his chair and stood up—just like the pros. Blair could understand it: he was tempted to do the same, if for no other reason than to stretch his cramping legs and bring some feeling back to his numb butt.
The dealer burned another card and gave them the fifth card, or the “river”. Now it was down to the five best cards for each player, between the five on the table and the two in each of their hands. The river was a spade—and the last card in the world Blair expected to see. Evidently, Carl saw only the suit because he gave out with a loud ‘whoop’ of joy. Of course, then the player next to him said, “Sorry, man,” and Carl looked again.
It was the queen of spades.
Blair had four of a kind and more money than he’d ever had in his life: six thousand dollars.
He pulled the chips toward him and, even as the dealer was shuffling and preparing to deal again, he started stacking them. Since there was no sign of Jim, which meant he was still playing, Blair decided to continue rather than cash out. His fingers were tingling, and he figured his run of luck was still a go.
Jim flipped the dealer a twenty-dollar chip, thanked her, and got up from the table a pretty happy man. He’d started with a buy of a hundred dollars and was walking away with over five hundred. Time to track down his partner.
He turned to see Blair striding toward him, a grin on his face. Ah, another winner. As he reached him, Jim said, “That look tells me you came away with more than you sat down with.”
“I did all right. You?”
“I’m a bit over four hundred ahead.”
“Very cool. So do we hit another place or just walk the strip?”
“It’s after eleven…I’m thinking we walk back to the hotel, maybe have a
nightcap and head upstairs.”
“Man, you are such a party animal,” Blair said with a grin.
Slapping him on the back, Jim said, “Come on, night owl, let’s go.”
They headed outside, which didn’t look much different than inside, thanks to the neon lights of the Strip. The temperature had dropped significantly, and Jim was now damn glad he was wearing his leather jacket. The sidewalks were jammed with pedestrians, the street itself full of bumper-to-bumper traffic, all of which left Jim momentarily drowning in sounds, smells and sights.
A hand on his arm and a whispered, “You okay?” from Blair seemed to help, and he nodded. “Getting there, Chief.”
“You know what to do.”
“Yeah, thanks to you, I do.” Jim took several more steps before realizing that Blair was no longer by his side. Some¬times, as a detective, let alone a sentinel, he really sucked. He stopped, turned around and said, “Blair?”
When his partner didn’t move or say anything, Jim walked back to him. “Chief?”
“You complimented me,” Blair said, clearly awed by the fact.
“Sandburg,” Jim said in a warning tone. “You know damn well I compliment you all the time.”
“And this would be in what universe?” Blair asked with an Egyptian waggle of his head.
“Oh, shut up.” Jim grabbed Blair’s arm and tugged him along toward their hotel.
They were just passing the Stardust when Jim suddenly stopped. Looking like a tourist taking in the landmark hotel, he stared up at the building, but Blair recognized all the signs of a sentinel—and a detective—on high alert. He stepped in beside him, shoulder-to-whatever, and whispered, “What’s up, man?”
“Believe it or not, we’re being followed,” Jim managed to say without moving his mouth—much.
Blair, an old pro at being tailed—thanks to three years following Jim around the dangerous streets of Cascade—didn't turn his head to look. “When did you spot him?”
“I noticed them when we left the casino. They stop when we do, walk when we do.”
“What do you want to do?”
“At the moment, I’m wracking my brains trying to figure out why we’d be followed. I don’t recognize them, they’re defi¬nitely not cops and, if I didn’t know better, I’d say we were looking at a couple of thieves. But since we don’t have anything they’d want—”
Jim groaned, glanced down, and asked, “Sandburg?”
“Well, you see, I did pretty good back at the poker tables.”
“How good is pretty good?”
“Er, well, you see, I started with my entire wad, you know? And then I had a few hundred, and then a thousand, and then three thousand, and then I went all in and won, so it was like, you know, six thousand, and you were still playing so I stayed in the game and—”
“Sandburg, tell me how much now before I haul you back to Treasure Island and throw you in the lagoon.”
“Oh, well, it came to a little over…fourteen thousand--”
“Holy shit!" Jim interrupted, clearly shocked.
“But then I went all in again with a pair of aces, you know? I mean, how could I not?”
“So help me, Sandburg….”
“Twenty-nine thousand, three hundred bucks.”
Jim gave a brief thought to fainting but really, that would be so girly. Maybe he’d just kill Sandburg instead.
“Now, Jim, I wanted to surprise you, okay?”
“You’re carrying it now, all of it—in cash.”
“Well, yeah. In my—”
“And you were too excited to bother to look around or to check for suspicious characters, right?”
“Well… twenty-nine thousand, three hundred dollars, Jim.”
“Okay, okay, you’re forgiven.”
“Besides, everyone looks shady in a casino.”
“And you’d never let anything happen to me.”
Blair’s words, spoken easily and with simple honesty shot through him, set¬ting his blood on fire. There was no reason for the strange feeling, at least, none that he could discern, but it was there, nevertheless.
“So what are we going to do?”
Kill ‘em, Jim thought almost savagely. But what he said was, “We set them up. You game?”
“Like you have to ask?”
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do….”
“You know, I could be a fool,” Blair whispered. He was standing alone, just inside the lobby of the Stardust, his words aimed at Jim, who was hiding somewhere while Blair made like a juicy bite of bait for two thieves. He’d bet anything Jim was smiling right now, and nodding in agreement.
The plan was simple: they’d head into the Sands and, after a brief detour to the men’s room, they’d go their separate ways with Jim heading for the shops and Blair, the casino. In reality, Jim would alert security while Blair made a beeline for the slots. He was supposed to sit down, put his backpack by his feet and let human nature take its course. Sounded simple, safe…but the slot area was jammed, leaving Blair standing there with his mouth hanging open.
Well, he should probably stall anyway, give Jim a chance to bring in the local good guys. He took a deep breath and started walking down the aisles, hoping to find an open stool.
After a few minutes of being beaten out of slot machine after slot machine, he spotted an older gentleman getting up to leave and almost ran over to it, just beating out some woman with blue hair, wild make-up and a sneer aimed at him. He smiled brightly even as he dug into his pocket for a ten dollar bill. Once he could catch his breath, he sighed tiredly. He was in the middle of a row of slots and, on his right; a man the size of the Empire State Building with shoulders that, if not for Blair being in the way, would have touched the woman on Blair’s left. She was what he called “Big and Beautiful” and he might have fallen in love if A) he wasn’t already in love and B) she hadn’t doused herself in Obsession. Between her hips, breasts and Obsession, and the building next to him, Blair was, to put it mildly, squished and miserable.
Okay, where was he? Oh, right; the plan. He’d been a good boy, hadn’t even tried to spot the two idiots that were probably going to try to rob him, and now he let his backpack drop down between his stool and Miss Big and Beautiful. He accidentally brushed both a hip and a breast and was immediately prepared to be assaulted, but she got one look at him and gave him a dazzling smile that rivaled his own.
“Sorry, didn’t mean—”
“That’s okay, sweetie. Good luck.”
“Yeah, thanks, you too.”
Evidently playing the slots meant more to her than him because after giving him a small salute, she went back to her game. He couldn’t have been happier. He slid the ten-dollar bill into the slot and, a moment later, his machine was singing its siren song.
Blair bit his bottom lip; chewed on it, actually. He glanced into the plastic bucket and shook his head. It was full of quarters. It was also his second tub. And his backpack was still sitting on the floor. He’d been playing for the last hour, and his eyes felt gritty. The smells surrounding him were driving him crazy, as was the incessant noise of machines and people. He wanted bed; pillows; darkness and silence. He wanted those things more than he wanted Jim—at the moment. Although, having all of the above would make him one supremely happy man.
Oh, and he wanted a drink. God, he’d give his soul for a drink - of anything. But had a cocktail waitress even been down this aisle? NO. Whatever happened to the Vegas of old? Not that he’d known the Vegas of old, but he’d heard about it. Drinks appearing miraculously—and free—every time a gambler blinked—oh, yeah, he’d heard. Right now, he’d settle for a waitress offering him a ten-dollar glass of water.
“Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
The loud voice came from two stools down, and the next thing Blair knew, two men were fighting in the middle of the aisle. He knew he was about to say goodbye to his backpack because this had to be it, had to be their move, their distraction. He fell into the role and obediently picked up both his buckets, as if to protect them, and started moving away from the ruckus.
Everything happened incredibly fast then as bodies scrambled to get out of the way and, yes, Blair lost sight of his stool, his machine and his backpack. He was pushed further and further away as the fist fight escalated to include another, and then another, and finally there appeared to be six men, all trying to bash each other’s faces in. Blair craned his neck, tried to spot Jim, but his eyes were watering, his head pounding, and it was ultimately useless. Man, he so didn’t want to lose his pack permanently, he really didn’t.
Suddenly the area around his slot machine was full of security guards and bruisers in suits, and the fighters were stopped and hauled away amid much yelling and cursing. Just when Blair thought it was going to go eerily quiet, a voice yelled out, “There they go, stop them!”
Blair glanced down at the floor by his machine and wasn’t in the least bit surprised to find his pack gone. He hurried forward, scooting past curious onlookers and the gamblers who’d been so rudely uprooted by the fight, until he stood in an area relatively free of bodies. Now he could see Jim, could thankfully see him.
The would-be thieves were both on the ground with Jim cuffing one, and a Stardust security officer taking care of the other one. Jim rose gracefully to his feet, Blair’s backpack in hand. He turned and unerringly found Blair. He gave him a quick salute as he held up the pack and motioned with his head that Blair should join him. There wasn’t anything he wanted more—other than his bed.
“Man, that was cool,” he said as he jogged up to Jim.
“We did all right,” Jim said with deliberate nonchalance.
Two more security guards had joined them and now had the two thieves standing, both with cuffed hands in front of them. One, eyes narrowed in anger, said, “You set us up. You set us up!”
Jim turned to face him and nodded. “What can I say? We really don’t take kindly to people coveting our backpacks.”
The man looked down at Blair and hissed out, “This is your fault, damn it.”
Blair was too shocked to respond, and what happened next stunned everyone. The man seemed to give in, his shoulders slumping, head lowering…but then he was lunging forward and, before anyone, even Jim, could react, he had his cuffed arms around Blair, whose slot buckets went flying into the air. Then he was being dragged back, one beefy arm pressed hard against his windpipe.
Blair knew what he looked like—what he always looked like in these situations—knew his eyes were bulging, his face growing redder as he was dragged back. He couldn’t hear the man very well, not over the thundering sound of his own blood trying to make its way around in his brain. But he knew what the guy would be saying, that he’d be threatening to kill him if they didn’t get out of the way and let him out of the hotel.
Like this hadn’t happened before? Pul-eeze.
In the old days, he’d have brought his hands up, tried to pry the guy’s arm from his throat, but hell, wasn’t he an expert by now? Sure as hell was. He reached down and grabbed the guy by the nuts and squeezed hard.
The man screamed—like a girl, to Blair’s way of thinking—and loosened his hold enough for Blair to literally slip under the arms and move—very rapidly—away toward Jim, who had his gun out and aimed at the man’s head.
As he took up his usual spot—behind his partner—Jim said, “Nicely done, Chief.”
Blair didn’t say anything—he couldn’t. Now on top of a headache, he had a sore throat
They walked out of the security offices of the Stardust hotel and headed directly for the nearest men’s room. Thankfully, it was empty and, moving as one, they walked into the handicapped stall. Once in, and with the door locked, Jim lifted his shirt and pulled the taped money from his undershirt.
Blair opened his pack, and Jim stuffed it inside. As Jim zippered it up, he asked, “You okay?”
“Do I have to answer?” Blair asked, his voice hoarse.
Jim touched Blair’s throat gently, noted the bruising already forming, and gave a small shake of his head. “Some vacation.”
Blair grinned and held up his backpack. “Yep,” he croaked. “And the hotel did a great job of reimbursing me for the lost quarters.”
Jim snagged a curl, gave it a tug, and said, “Come on, let’s get back to our hotel and bed.”
He unlocked the door and stepped out just as two men walked into the restroom. The two froze as Blair walked out behind Jim. Stopping, Jim smiled at the two strangers and said, “Well, I feel better now. Nothing like releasing a little tension, if you know what I mean.”
With that, he took Blair’s arm and led him out and past the two astounded men.
“That was so radical and totally not you, man.”
“Would you stop talking? That croak you call a voice is driving me crazy.”
They were finally back at Circus-Circus and on their way up to their room having unanimously decided to bypass a nightcap for a direct route to bed. They were, thankfully, alone in the elevator. It was after two.
“I’m right—that was very uncharacteristic.”
“How do you know? When was the last time you saw me leave a bathroom stall with another man?”
Blair made a show of counting on his fingers. “One… two, three… oh, and the time you pulled me into the stall about Merilee, and when we walked out, the guys from Burglary walked in and you got all red in the face and threatened their lives… and then—”
“Can it, Sandburg. So I’ve grown up.”
“Matured. Aged. Middle years—the autumn of your life—”
“Doesn’t it hurt to talk? Because if it doesn’t, I can make it hurt to talk, Chief."
The elevator opened onto the second floor whereupon they exited and turned toward their room. Jim extracted his key card from his pocket and slid it down the lock as Blair said huskily, “Now you know you love me, Jim.”
“Yeah, and that’s why I’d be sad if I had to kill you,” Jim said as he entered the room.
“You’re so sappy.”
Jim finally broke down and laughed as Blair tossed the heavy backpack onto the floor next to the couch. Calming down, Jim indicated the pack and said, “First thing tomorrow, we find a Washington Mutual and you deposit you winnings.”
“Well, duh,” Blair said even as he started to strip on his way to the bedroom. As his jeans were left in a puddle of denim, he said, “Dibs on showering first.”
Jim was already following the trail of clothing and picking them up and, at Blair’s words, said lightly, “It’s big enough for two.”
Blair, who’d just stepped across the threshold and was now wearing nothing but his boxers, froze. “Big enough for two?”
“Isn’t it?” Jim said as he straightened, Blair’s jeans in his hand.
Blair tilted his body by using his right foot so that he could look at the item in question and, after resettling on both feet, said, “Er… yeah. Quite large, actually. Hell, you, me, Simon—”
“I’m not into threesomes, Chief. It’s you and me or nothing,” Jim said he stuffed Blair’s dirty clothes in the bag he’d brought for just that purpose.
Blair found himself staring hard at his partner. Was he simply carrying the joke from the Stardust bathroom to a new level, or was he…could he be hinting at something else entirely? Was this Jim’s way of telling him they might, finally, after three years, be surfing on the same goddamned wave? Well, hell, there was just one way to find out.
Blair slipped out of his boxers, padded over to Jim and ran a hand up Jim’s back as he said, in what he hoped was a sultry but very masculine voice, “I’m not into threesomes either, and ‘you and me’ sounds way better than nothing.”
Jim stiffened, then slowly turned to face Blair. He glanced down, cocked his head, arched an eyebrow and said, “Oh?”
Blair thought for the briefest moment that he’d made a mistake of epic proportions—until he caught both the lustful darkness in Jim’s eyes and the glitter of humor.
Oh, they were hanging ten on the same wave, all right.
Blair smiled up at Jim even as he undid the button of his jeans and pulled down the zipper.
“You know, I planned this,” Jim said as he wrapped his arms around a soapy Blair.
“Planned the shower?”
“In a way. I had every intention of testing the waters you always claim are so great and doing it right here, in Vegas.”
Blair turned in Jim’s arms so that he could look up at him through the warm, fine spray of water. “So, how's the water?”
Favoring him with one of the most beautiful smiles Blair had ever been privileged to see, Jim said, “It’s so much better than anything I could have imagined, I expect to wake up tomorrow and find it was all a dream.”
For a moment, Blair was stunned. Words like that—they just didn’t go with Jim Ellison, super cop and major hunk-ola of a sentinel. He quickly got his equilibrium back and promptly pinched Jim on his super cop and major hunk-ola of a sentinel ass.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“It’s not a dream and, believe it or not, I had the exact same plan for this vacation.”
Bringing one hand up and smoothing wet curls from Blair’s face, Jim said, “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. Made up my mind that this was it or…else.”
Frowning, Jim asked, almost afraid to hear the answer, “What would the ‘or else’ have been?”
Blair looked away and shrugged noncommittally, but Jim wasn’t buying. “Chief?”
When Blair still didn’t answer, Jim used his finger to tip Blair’s chin up. “What?”
“Well, if it turned out that I was wrong about the little dance we’ve been doing, I was going to…you know, pretty much move on. Move out. Get a life.”
Jim reached behind him and turned off the water. Most of the soap was swirling down the drain now anyway. He opened the glass slider, reached over for two of the giant towels and, after wrapping a somewhat worried-looking Blair in one, he tied the other around his waist and got them out.
“Dry off,” he said as he tossed one of the fancy Circus-Circus robes at his partner. Slipping into the other one, he added, “Meet me in the living room.” With that, he walked out, dropping the towel on the rail.
Blair stood there, open-mouthed, hair dripping. He kind of figured he might be in some trouble. Funny how fast a man’s erection could fade. Snapping his mouth shut, he grabbed a smaller towel for his hair and walked through the bedroom and into the living room.
Jim was standing by the huge gift basket and had the two splits of champagne in his hands. He walked around the counter, got two glasses, opened both bottles and poured.
“Uhm, Jim? Those are splits—two glasses per bottle.”
Walking over to him, glasses in hand, Jim said, “I want my own bottle.” He handed one over and, as Blair took it, Jim set his down, walked back, got the bottles and the Godiva chocolate bar, and finally settled on the couch. He indicated the spot next to him. “Sit. We have some talking to do.”
Okay, that was not good. Jim voluntarily wanting to talk? End of world time. All right, slight exaggeration. Jim could talk. He just hated doing it. Blair took a gulp of his wine and sat down. He really wished he could claim that his throat was too sore—but that would be a lie. The steam from the shower, combined with the two aspirin he’d swallowed, at Jim’s insistence, had taken care of that. His headache was also a distant memory, thanks to lust which had reigned supreme in the shower. He sighed. He was stuck.
“So, you would have run, left me high and dry, dumped our friendship like it was nothing simply because I didn’t have the hots for you?”
“Uhm… no, not at all, I mean…no…yes…no—”
“Beautifully articulated, genius.”
Blair downed the rest of his wine, plucked up the bottle and poured the rest. He took another gulp and, after swallowing, said, “Hand me that candy bar.”
Jim tossed it over. Blair tore into it, broke off a chunk, and ate it—slowly. He knew damn well Jim was watching him closely. When he was done, he took another sip of wine and said, “Okay, so, let’s say that I approached you here, told you that I was in love with you. Let’s say that you were flattered but, unfortunately, were as straight as everyone believes and had no deeper feeling for me than you do for Steven. So,” he turned to face Jim, “you would expect me to continue to live with the man I love, but who can never return those feelings? I’m suddenly a masochist? Like the last couple of years hasn’t been hard enough? Seeing you with Alex wasn’t hard enough?”
“That wasn’t meant as a dig, Jim. That was designed to express how hard it would have been impossible to stay if I'd turned out to be wrong. As far as our friendship goes, that will never end, no matter what. I love you in every way possible, and there’s only one other person who means as much to me as you.”
“Simon,” Blair said with a grin.
“You keep calling me that. Not really conducive to the promise of great sex.”
“I know I’m going to give great sex, but I’m not so sure I’m going to get great sex.”
“Oh, well, now I can promise you that you won’t because I’m thinking no sex at all.”
“So you would have moved out but…not away?”
Blair, all joking aside, could hear the fear in Jim’s voice as clearly as if the man had said, “I’m afraid, help me.” He thought about pulling Jim into his arms, but really, what with the four or five inch difference in their height, it seemed ridiculous, so he kind of climbed on top of him. Sort of.
Grinning, he said, “Hi.”
“Is this supposed to reassure me or something?”
“The ‘or something’ part,” Blair said as he wiggled enough to get some blood flowing south in Jim’s body.
Arms around Blair, Jim smiled and said, “So no moving away—or anything?”
“No moving away—or anything. Damn, you’re insecure.”
“I am not.”
“He said indignantly, but knowing full well that he was,” Blair said with a grin just before he kissed the hell out of Jim.
Okay, so their first time had been in the living room. So what? And all right, the second time happened on the floor on the way to the bedroom, but the third time was in bed. Jim’s, not Blair’s, thanks to the sentinel thing and all. Now Blair stretched happily before turning on his side so he could look at Jim. He propped his head up with his hand and watched his partner—which now included all new levels of partnership—sleep.
Amazing how peaceful and extremely youthful looking he was when asleep. Not that Jim was old or anything, but he carried a great weight on his shoulders, and it often showed in his face, in the small worry lines that crept around his eyes, or the way his mouth would turn down instead of up. But now, in the early morning light, he looked like a teenager. Blair reached out and gently touched Jim’s jaw, stroked it tenderly before resting his head on the pillow and closing his eyes.
Jim shut the door behind the waiter and thanked God this particular hotel still believed in rolling tables in for room service. He pushed it into the bedroom where Blair lay spread out like a buffet—a sound-sleep buffet. Face down in the middle of the bed, the covers down around his ass and providing Jim with a very nice view, Blair looked rumpled, comfortable and sexy as hell. Jim smiled as he rolled the table to his side of the bed and sat down.
It was a good thing he wanted food more than sleep because in the short time he’d been gone, Blair had taken over the bed. There was exactly enough room to sit. But he expected that would change not long after he removed the silver tops off the food dishes. Lifting them, he then used them to fan the odors toward his somnolent partner. It took less than a minute for the scents of breakfast to do their job.
One curious and still sleepy blue opened. “Do I smell food?”
“You do. Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon for you and a Denver omelette for me. Croissants, fried potatoes, and strawberries, bananas and kiwi, along with coffee and juice. Up and at ‘em, sleepy head.”
“Holy smokes, that must have cost a fortune,” Blair said as he sat up. He ran his hands through the nest laughingly called hair and moved the necessary inches to sniff the food appreciatively from over Jim’s shoulder.
“Yep, but then, you’re rich now.”
Blair reached over Jim and snagged a croissant. “Yes, I am. High roller Supreme.”
He moved to sit alongside Jim, obviously not in the least uncomfortable with the fact that while Jim was wearing the hotel robe, Blair was as naked as the day he was born. Jim figured making love much of the night and morning—not a bad accomplishment for a man closing in on forty—had pretty much done away with Blair’s usual reticence in showing his body. In three years, Jim could count on one hand the number of times he’d seen Blair in less than boxers and a t-shirt, and all three had been accidents.
He’d always wondered about Blair’s shyness. For a guy with his background and history of digs and expeditions, well, nudity should have been nothing to him. In fact, Jim had always meant to ask him about it…and what better time than now? “Okay, Chief, you and nudity.”
Blair had just taken a bite of eggs and potatoes and nearly spit them out. He managed to swallow and, after wiping his mouth with the napkin, said, “Excuse me? What, you want me to get dressed or something?”
Laughing, Jim shook his head. “Hardly. Stay just the way you are for the rest of the day, in fact. No, I was talking about you and how, until now, you and nudity weren’t exactly on speaking terms. I mean, you had no trouble walking around in your boxers and undershirt or tank, but anything less and you’d practically have a panic attack.”
“Yeah, Sandburg, that. What’s the story?”
“Well, in the beginning, it was like, you know, Mutt and Jeff, so parading around in my birthday suit—as compared to your birthday suit—was just asking for trouble. Insecurities and all, don’t you know. Later, it was more a sense of self-preservation. I really didn’t want you seeing the physical proof of being around you, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.”
“I…see.” He gave Blair’s body a good once-over and then repeated it. “Chief, you’ve got nothing to worry about, comparison wise. Sure, there’s the height difference, but otherwise, you’re a god.”
Blair laughed outright at that. “Sure, Jim, sure. But hey, my body is fine, I like it, and it does me proud when I need it to, but in the beginning, well, I was younger, okay? Stupid, if you will.”
Jim put his fork down, took the one out of Blair’s hand and set it down, then pushed the table away. “We can eat later,” he said.
“But I want—”
Blair never finished his sentence—or his breakfast. Well, at least not for another two hours.
Their first full day of their Vegas vacation was spent in one room. They slept, made love, got to know each other’s bodies rather well, and ordered room service whenever the mood struck. All of their previously made plans went right out the window, and neither man could have cared less. And they had every intention of spending their second—and last—night in same said bedroom.
But while sex with Jim was very good, stellar in fact, Blair fully intended to make their last day in Vegas as touristy as it was supposed to be. In the meantime, he was very happy to discover things like how Jim loved having his feet tickled and his toes sucked, and that nibbling on his ear sent him soaring. He was also pleased to discover that Jim was an equal-opportunity lover and bottoming was just as much fun for him as topping. The only thing that surprised Blair was that with Jim, he actually preferred bottoming. Maybe it was because he’d never allowed himself the true pleasure of giving that much, never cared enough for another man to do it with the same abandon that he showed Jim. Whatever it was, with Jim, he’d bottom gladly and lovingly.
Wonders never cease.
They checked out very early on Friday morning and, after leaving their luggage with the bellman, headed over to the Bellagio for their already famous breakfast buffet, courtesy of Blair’s winnings. By the time they’d availed themselves of everything from Mexican breakfast enchiladas and Chinese pork dumplings, to French toast and jumbo shrimp, Jim figured the banks would be open. He’d already looked up the location of the nearest Washington Mutual, the bank they both shared, and it, like almost everything else, was well within walking distance. Stomachs full and definitely needing the exercise, they headed for the bank.
As they walked, Blair couldn’t help but reflect on how differently they now moved. Unlike other couples, they couldn’t walk with arms around each other or hold hands, but somehow the intimacy was still there. As they strolled the streets, hands brushed, gazes locked, and knowing smiles were exchanged. It was the most liberating experience he’d ever known. Jim was his, he was Jim’s, and even though humanity couldn’t accept that yet, it was—for now—enough that their feelings had been admitted and acted upon, and that their partnership was really just beginning.
At the bank, Blair deposited almost everything into his savings account figuring that when he got home, he’d look at other options for the future. Back outside, they headed for hotel number one on their hit parade: New York-New York.
“Okay, this one wins hands down,” Blair breathed out. They’d just entered Paris, Las Vegas, the third hotel on their “must see” list. Unfortunately, New York-New York had been, for both men, a disappointment. Loud and busy, it was too much like the worst of the city for which it had been patterned. And the gambling, unlike Circus-Circus or a few other hotels, ran throughout the entire “lobby” area. Everywhere you turned, you found gambling which, while expected in Vegas, totally ruined the mood of “Central Park, New York.” Not even the roller coaster, Manhattan Express, had been enough to change Blair’s mind—although it had been fun.
Excalibur had been great, especially for Blair, who’d thoroughly enjoyed the Fantasy Faire Midway. Only problem had been the fact that he and Jim won so often that they now possessed a fine collection of stuffed animals and other “toys”. Since there were a slew of detectives with kids at the PD, they had every intention of taking them home with them, which had required the purchase of an extra duffle bag that loudly proclaimed that the owners had “Played the FAIRE”. The bag now resided with the rest of their luggage back at their hotel.
“It’s amazing, Chief. It’s just like a spring night in Paris.”
Blair pivoted around, taking it all in as he said, “What’s weird is the gambling is right here, just like at New York-New York, but for some reason, it’s not in the least bit intrusive. This is just plain beautiful.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” Jim glanced down at him and grinned. “So what do you want to do first? Check out the restaurants, or hit the tables?”
“Are you nuts? We have to do the tower, man. And there’s a restaurant at the top that serves lunch until three, which is an hour away. Come on.” He tugged at Jim’s sweater and, with a shrug, Jim followed.
e was surprised when Blair led him, not to the elevator for the tower, but to the gift shop, until he spotted the sign that advertised tickets. Before he could reach for his wallet, Blair had bounded inside.
While Jim waited outside, Blair purchased two tickets, which had Jim smiling. His partner was really enjoying hav¬ing the extra money, and Jim was catching the very nice overflow. While getting the tickets, he heard Blair inquire about the restaurant and was told that they could reserve the table for him if he wanted lunch, but the earliest reservation available for dinner was nine-thirty. Blair quickly assured her that they wanted lunch, and the table was reserved.
“There, that was easy,” Blair said he rejoined Jim and they headed for the elevator.
“How do you know I even want what they have—”
Blair shoved a menu at him. Jim caught it, perused it, and shrugged, not willing to give up his complaining just yet. “It looks all right, but so does everything in here.”
“But not everything has a view of the entire valley from eleven stories up.”
“And you’re afraid of heights,” Jim reminded.
“Ye-ah, if I’m in a helicopter with bad guys, or jumping off a cliff to get away from bad guys.”
The ride up proved to be an exhilarating experience for both as the view unfolded and they listened to the guide. Once on the top, they separated from the group and went immediately to the restaurant. They only had to wait a few minutes before being seated at a table with an incredible view. Having already looked at the menu, both men were ready to order. Jim, after Blair explained what a croque monsieur sandwich was, ordered that while Blair ordered the roasted chicken, boursin cheese and tomato sandwich. Both came with a small salad so, with iced tea, their meal was just about perfect.
Since Jim had changed their homeward flight from their original four-fifteen to the much later ten-thirty flight, Blair knew they could enjoy Paris, Las Vegas and still have time to check out the Adventuredome, which had originally been planned for day two.
Jim sat back and patted his stomach. “This trip is going to pack on at least ten pounds.”
“Half of which you worked off yesterday, and the rest you’ll work off tomorrow and Sunday,” Blair said as he put his napkin on the table.
Grinning like a loon, Jim said, “Very true. So, what now? Try out the Three Card Poker downstairs or head back to the hotel?”
“Cards downstairs and, because I promised Megan, Rhonda and Serena, we need to hit a couple of shops. I have a list in my pocket.”
Jim checked his watch, did some quick figuring, and said, “We can spend a bit over two hours here, so you can have the same amount at the Adventuredome before we take the shuttle to the airport. Based on that, you work the time here anyway you want. I’m going to plant myself at a table and stay there until it’s time to go.”
Blair didn’t pout—he never pouted—but whatever he was doing with his lips at the moment, well, Jim figured the only word that worked was…yeah, pout.
“Damn, I wish now I hadn’t agreed to do their shopping. How do I always get roped into this stuff?”
“You’re a soft touch for a pretty smile.”
Looking across the table at his partner, who was smiling broadly, Blair nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I am.”
Blair decided to get the shopping out of the way so that he could join Jim and not worry about time. As it happened, he actually enjoyed himself. One of the stores on the list was dedicated to Queen, and he not only purchased some things for Serena, but got a couple of surprise items for his closet Queen fan, Jim. For Megan, he had to brave a shop called “Le Vogue” where he was forced to ask for a certain fragrance as printed out by Megan. And for Rhonda, it was a shop called Le Menagerie where he’d been instructed to purchase a replica of the hot air balloon that adorned the exterior of the hotel.
Once he was done, he headed back to the gaming tables, but something caught his eye in a jewelry store called, Clio Blue. It was a ring, a man’s ring in sterling silver. But what caused him to turn into the shop was the fact that the design was South American and of a wolf.
Ten minutes later, Blair walked out, a small ring box in his pocket.
“Hey, get everything done?” Jim asked as Blair walked up to the game table.
“I did and in good time too.” Fortunately, the table only had two other players, so Blair was able to take the stool next to Jim. He put the packages on the ground between their chairs and settled in. “I made a last minute stop as well, at a place called LeNotre. It has some great food items, so I got dinner for the flight.”
Blair glanced at the pile of chips by Jim’s right hand and raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, I’m ahead, a bit.”
“Cool.” He got out his wallet, pulled out a hundred dollar bill and slid it over to the dealer. She replaced it with chips, and the game was on.
“I don't believe your winning streak, Chief.” They were walking back to Circus-Circus, and Jim was shaking his head. “You did it again.”
“Hardly. I don’t think winning five hundred and fifty dollars at Three Card Poker is the same as winning twenty-nine thousand, you know?”
“No, but it’s winning.”
“You won. You’re now up how much?”
“Okay, I’m up about seven hundred. But that’s—”
“Called winning. What I find so surprising is that we just blew that old saying out of the water.”
“Ah, you mean, ‘lucky in cards, unlucky in love’ or vice versa.”
“That’s the one.”
Smiling, they turned toward the entrance to their hotel.
Not once in the next two hours did Blair feel ridiculous. He went on the Canyon Blaster, the Rim Runner (a ride close to his heart now that he and Jim were an item, although in his mind, it wasn’t 'Rim Runner') he skipped the Slingshot, but hit the Chaos and the Inverter, all while Jim sat in a corner with a couple of magazines.
When his watch told him that he had twenty minutes left, he managed to get Jim into the Arcade and challenge him to a couple of games, both of which Jim won, which Blair blithely charged to Jim’s senses, although the man denied it.
With minutes to spare, he and Jim made it to the Bellman, collected their luggage and got outside for the nine o’clock shuttle to McCarran Airport.
Settling into seats next to the luggage rack, Blair said, “I’m going to miss this place.”
“Yeah, me too—like I’d miss a case of the clap.”
Shocked, Blair barked out a laugh. “I can’t believe you said that.”
Shrugging, Jim gazed out the window as the Strip gave way to less dazzling scenery. “By the way, when do you plan on giving me the ring?”
Shocked again, Blair couldn’t make a sound this time, could only stare at Jim’s profile.
“You think I wasn’t monitoring you?”
“Well, shit,” Blair finally said. “Guess that means you know about the Queen shirt too.”
Jim grinned as he turned his head to look at his partner. “Yep. And it was a very wise move to get me the ham and cheese tart as opposed to the tomato and goat cheese.”
“Man, I’m an idiot.”
Jim held out his hand and wiggled his fingers. “Come on, let me see.”
“Can’t. Shirt’s in the duffle bag.”
“Very funny, Letterman. Cough up the ring.”
Since they were the only two on the shuttle and the driver was busy, Blair shifted enough to pull the box out of his pocket. He opened it, turned it toward Jim, and said, “Here it is.”
Jim looked down at it, and his expression softened. “It’s the Peruvian symbol for the wolf.”
“Like the one—”
“I know, I had it made, remember?”
Throat choking up, Blair nodded. His office window was one of the gestures made by Jim that had helped convince Blair that his feelings might be returned.
“Why don’t you slip it on?” Jim asked as he held out his left hand.
With a surprisingly shaky hand, Blair took the ring out of the box and slipped it onto Jim’s ring finger. “Guess this means something, huh?” he said as Jim flexed his hand.
“Yeah, yeah, it does. But we don’t want to get sappy or anything, do we?” Jim said, his eyes twinkling.
“Definitely not. Two macho guys like us? God forbid.”
Jim reached into his pocket and held something out to Blair. “You’re not the only one who went shopping.”
Eyes wide, Blair took the offering and peeled the paper away. Laughing, he held the object up. “Oh, man, this is perfect. A Paris, Las Vegas swizzle stick. You’re the best, Jim.”
“Everyone knows swizzle sticks mean forever, Chief.”
The lights of Las Vegas were a dim memory now, as outside the window of the plane only darkness could be seen. Most of the plane lights had been dimmed or turned off altogether and Jim and Blair sat, heads close and fingers entwined. No one could see them.
“It was a great vacation, Chief,” Jim whispered.
“Yeah, it was. Especially day two, don’t you think?”
“Absolute favorite. Although…Wednesday night was kind of all right.”
“Oh, yeah, it was right up there.”
His thumb rubbing Blair’s palm lightly, Jim asked, “So, where do we go next?”
“Mmm, that should be around the year two-thousand three or four, so how ‘bout Walt Disney World?”
“Sexy. We could do Disneyland in two-thousand five for the fiftieth anniversary.”
“Oh, like I’m going to get you on another vacation that soon? We’ll have to skip Walt Disney World.”
The plane continued its way to Cascade, Washington.