First Appeared in Come To Your Senses 17, May 2000
Notes: It's been a while since I've gamed, really since before 1990, so if I screwed up something please don't yell that loud. Also, the Realm and everything in it was an invention of mine a loooonnngggg time ago. For Mary and Bast for waiting patiently and for being there.
Strange Games by Voracity
Blair looked through the bargain bin at his favorite used book store, looking for anything interesting. It was break right now, that small interval of time in between spring and summer classes, and he really wanted to do something fun with his time.
Jim was off work for a while, the gunshot wound to his shoulder having put him down for at least another six weeks while he rehabed. They couldn't really do anything, not with Jim's shoulder still injured, but he could do all sorts of stuff alone. And really, he hadn't been spending all that much time by himself. Jim and his work and the college and the whole Guide/Sentinel business was pretty well taking up all his time, wrecking his life.
He picked up a few that might be interesting, flipping idly through them before putting them back and looking around. "Hmmm, haven't looked on that rack for a while." He walked over to a display of really old books, most of them pretty obscure and outdated, but this had been where he had found his second Burton book. "Let's see. Romance, romance, action, horror ... what's this one?" He pulled it down and flipped through it, looking over all the hand drawn pictures and hand-written script. "At least I'll have time to translate it," he smirked, seeing the only writing on the planet that was worse than a doctor's. "And it's old, the spelling gives it away." He looked at the price, a steal at only twelve dollars. "What the hell, it could be fun." He took it up to the register and paid for it, grabbing a few others he had put on the counter so he didn't have to carry them around while he looked. He left, bag clutched tightly to his chest, going back to the loft.
"Hey, Jim, you'll never guess what I found today at the book store?"
"A cleaning manual?" his Sentinel guessed sarcastically.
"No, man, a handwritten and hand drawn manuscript." He took the book out carefully, showing it to the older man. "Cute huh?" He sat down and turned to the first page. "Hmm, alchemy. Cool."
Jim shook his head and swabbed out the barrel of his main gun some more. "You're hopeless. You know that right?" Blair nodded absently. "So, does this mean you're going to vacuum tonight?" Blair nodded again, not paying any attention. "So, how's the dog? I hear that you two are quite a couple." He grinned and waited for the nod, which didn't come. He put down the weapon and turned to face his partner, who appeared to be asleep. "Blair, you're like a little kid. Sit you down for more than five minutes and you'll fall asleep." He took the book from the clenched hands and laid it on the table before going up to his room to finish cleaning his guns.
Blair opened his eyes and looked around, not sure really where he was. Well, except that it was a hut and he was on a straw mattress and he was apparently in a time of little hygiene. He wrinkled his nose at the smell coming from the lumpy straw under him and got up, grabbing his head. "Oh, god, that's not good." He looked around further, walking out toward the fire he could see in another room. "Hello," he called.
"Oh, hello, sir. How's the head?"
Blair looked down to see who had said that. In front of the fire sat ... a dwarf? A short man, hammer to the side in easy reach. Leather armour that smelled worse than the straw he had woken on. Drinking from a wooden mug. "Hi. Where are we?"
The little man shook his head. "I didn't think you'd been hit that hard." He looked around. "Well, we're here. Which is Angorath, before you ask."
"Okay, and where would that be in relation to Cascade?"
"The mythical waterfall?" He snorted. "No where near there."
Blair sat down on the floor, nodding. "Okay, would you like to tell me what's going on then? It's been a while since I've done this."
The dwarf laughed. "Oh, sir Blair, indeed it has. We've missed you." He looked around. "You don't remember much from your last trip, do you?" Blair shook his head. "And you probably found the book, but you don't know what it is?"
Blair looked around the room. "Book, yeah, I went shopping and found an old one today. Should it be here with me?" The dwarf nodded. "How do I call it here then?"
"You want it bad enough." He drank some more of whatever was in the cup, waiting for Blair to figure it out.
Jim came down the stairs to check on supper and if they were eating tonight. He hadn't heard Blair moving, so he decided to come down and wake him. He knew the guy was tired, what with basically working three jobs and all, but he'd been out now for a few hours. He leaned over next to Blair's ear and said his name really softly. "Sandburg, wakey time." Blair didn't move so he touched his shoulder, usually an instant awakener with a jump. Nothing. Jim shook him harder, trying to wake him up. Still nothing. "Damn, Sandburg, get up." He started to get scared. He could hear normal body rhythms and all, but nothing should have kept Blair under when he was being shaken like that. "Blair," he called worried. When there was still no answer, Jim called an ambulance then Simon.
Simon got there first, walking briskly through the door. "What happened this time?"
"He won't wake up. I've called for an ambulance." Jim looked up from his place beside his Guide on the couch. "I didn't know what else to do."
Simon came over and sat on the coffee table, moving a book away from Blair's foot so he could get closer.
Suddenly, the younger man started to shake and thrash.
"Shit, seizure." Jim tried to immobilize an arm, but quickly remembered that it wasn't a good idea. "What did you do?"
"Nothing, just moved the book." He pointed down to it, moving it back so it was touching Blair's leg. And the shaking stopped, Blair was back to normal. "Damn, that's it. I'm leaving my strange things happen here union card on the table when we leave for the hospital." He threw up his hands and stood up to open the door.
Jim shook his head and moved the book away some, watching as Blair started to tremble lightly as it was moved away. "Well, it's definitely the book." He looked up to see a paramedic he knew. "Hey, you'll want to make note of this." He moved the book away again. "He just seized when it was moved." He moved it a little farther away and they all watched as Blair's shaking sped up and got heavier.
"Okay," the paramedic shrugged. "It's not like we're going to argue with that." He looked down at Jim and smiled. "So, what happened this time?"
"Not a clue. He was sitting here, just got home. He opened the book, showed it to me, and when I turned back around, he was asleep. Or at least it looked that way to me. That was a few hours ago." He shrugged his one mobile shoulder. "Not a clue."
The paramedics moved him aside and started to evaluate Blair. After a few minutes, they looked up at the pair of worried Detectives. "Well, we can't find a thing wrong, but we can't wake him up either. Your call."
"Hospital," Jim said quietly. "Bring the book, just in case..." He pulled Simon aside so they could talk quietly. "I don't have a clue what's up, but I'm going to figure it out. Can you call his mother? I don't even know which continent she's on." Simon nodded. "Can you drive me down?"
"Sure. You're not in any shape to go otherwise." He jingled his keys and they followed the paramedics out to the regular hospital.
Jim sat at Blair's bedside, watching him and the monitors. "Still no change?" Simon asked as he walked in.
"Nope, not a one. Still asleep for all they know." He looked up. "Any luck on Naomi?"
"Her first words were, 'let me guess, he's been hurt' but she's on her way up from Southern Asia." He sat down in the other chair. "So, how are you holding up?"
"I want to be where he is," Jim said quietly. "Apparently it's not disturbing, nothing bad. He's not had a nightmare and he seems to be in a constant dream." He shifted some and looked back up at the monitors. "Much more of this and I'm bringing him home with me. I'll manage his care myself."
Simon nodded. "Not much to it. A little clean up, some liquid food poured down the tube." He touched Jim's arm. "Let me know when this end of the strange stuff is about to begin and I'll be here."
Jim smiled tiredly. "You know, you're being awfully calm about this."
Simon snorted. "After all you've put me through? A sleeping Sandburg that won't wake up is nothing." He smiled. "Not at all like the chemical weapons or the Overlord last month. Speaking of which, you never did tell me how you got him to not shoot the kid." He waited patiently.
Jim shook his head. "Are you sure you want to know?" Simon nodded. "Okay, you asked for it. I told him that he was my true love and that I would rather he killed me than shoot us both. Then I reasoned it by saying, 'After all, if you shoot both of us, we'll be together'." He smile went to a mischievous grin. "I made him cry about how I had never told Sandburg the truth."
Simon nodded. "The truth then, a novel approach for you two." He patted Jim's good shoulder as he got up. "I'll be at home and I'll pick Naomi up from the airport." He looked down at the book laying under Blair's still hand. "Should I tell her the truth?"
"Nah, I'll do it. Just tell her the facts."
Simon nodded and left the hospital, going back to his normal existence.
Blair left the hut and looked around the small town surrounding it. He looked down at his companion and smiled. "So, now what?"
"Now, we go find you a staff, your weapon of choice the last time you were here." He led the way out of the village and into the woods. They looked at all the trees, trying to find a branch the right length and width.. It was mid-afternoon when Blair found it, the long piece of wood seemingly fitting into his hand like it belonged there. They headed back to the village, the dwarf stopping to pick up some things at a stall, and locked themselves in for the night.
"So," Blair said, scraping all the bark off his new staff. "Now what? Besides getting this ready." He looked up. "How 'bout the rest of the story?"
The dwarf smiled. "I thought your memory might need refreshing, you haven't used my name once since you've gotten back." He stood up and bowed. "Thras, at your service, my lord. You are the warrior Blair. You go around and help those that need it, the book that you carry holding all the spells and information you'll ever need. You've gathered it on your adolescent journeys, carefully inscribing it into that little red leather book."
"Which still isn't here," he pointed out.
"You just have to want it bad enough. That's how we brought you." He looked around. "This ... Do you remember, you used to call it gaming when you were here last, as a young man?"
Blair smiled. "Many hours spent in libraries role playing. Yeah, some really fond memories there, but that's been a long time ago." He closed his eyes, flashing back to the time as a young teen. All the AD&D stuff spread around him and his friends in the library. All the fun they'd had campaigning. "Many happy hours there."
"Well, during one of your sessions, you found a book in the library. Someone had dropped it and left. You picked it up and fell asleep. Just as you are now in your home world."
Blair looked over, stunned. "You mean I'm asleep there until I get done here?" Thras nodded. "So, how did you summon me?" The memories were getting stronger now, he could almost see the adventure. "And why have you called upon me this time?"
"Because it relates to your last mission and you were the only one we could get." Thras sat down and pulled the chair around to face Blair. "It takes a special kind of mind to hear the call and strong belief in the abilities of the realms to answer it. You must have quite a life at home, all the magic must permeate your existence."
Blair shook his head. "No magic in my home."
Thras look surprised. "Your world doesn't have magic?" Blair shook his head. "Hmm, that's odd. Then how were you able to get here?"
Blair frowned, thinking of a certain pair of creatures that he saw infrequently. "Oh, we have some things that are unexplained, but magic, this sort of magic, is unheard of except in fairytales where I live." He looked down at the stick he was working on. "Jim's got to be worried sick."
Thras nodded his head. "We did call for *two* warriors, but only you came."
Blair bit his lip. "Is there a way I might call him? I'm closer, we're bound after a fashion, and he might hear me."
Thras nodded. "That would seem wise. I'll show you how later." He nodded down at the stick. "Hurry up with that. You only have two days before you have to leave."
"For Thranastia and to break down the barrier at the temple." Thras pulled something out of his pocket and tossed it over. "This was yours last time also. You might need it to help you call at least the book over."
Blair nodded and put the amulet on, noting all the strange symbols and carvings on it. And the lone stone with the likeness of a panther showing through it's teal depths. "Okay. Now what do I do to the stick?"
"Now, young man, you go to bed. A hero needs his sleep and you need it more than most. You're tired still from your other life. You must not focus on it or try to remember it, it could call you back or get you killed here."
Blair swallowed, already knowing the answer but having to ask anyway. "And what would happen to the rest of me if that did happen here?"
"You'd slip into the dream state permanently until you died there also." Thras got up and took the staff in waiting, carrying it toward the fire with him. "Go, sleep, dream and call them to you. You need them both."
Blair got up and patted the small man on the head before going back to the straw mattress. "Yeah, and that's not all I need," he told himself quietly, laying down.
Jim looked up as the door opened. "Naomi."
She smiled at him and headed straight for the book. "Take it away from him. He'll wake up eventually."
Jim shook his head and stopped her from touching it. "No, he seizes when it's removed. It stays."
She sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed facing him. "Jim, believe it or not, this has happened before. If you take the book, it calls him back. He may seize for a while, but he'll be fine. He told me after the last time that the seizing was the result of the calling being broken. If he doesn't come back soon, he might die there."
Jim and Simon both nodded, unsure of anything that she had said. "Well, that sounds nice," Jim said, "but the book stays. I know he needs it, something inside me tells me that if we move it, he'll die."
"No, Jim, he'll die if he's left there."
"Um, where's there?" Simon asked, confused. "I mean, he's here so how can he be at a there too?"
Naomi shrugged. "That's what he called it. There. That's all I know. Well, that and it was related to the last time he was gaming." She rolled her eyes. "And I put a stop to that *real* fast."
Jim nodded his head, still very confused. "Gaming? D&D?" She smiled and nodded. "I did some of that in the service when it first came out around the base." He looked over at Simon. "And, knowing Sandburg, he's in there somewhere." He started to yawn. "Oh, god, I'm sleepy all of a sudden."
Simon got up and ran out of the room, sure the strangeness was coming for him next. By the time he got back, Jim was asleep, touching the book too, and Naomi was sitting on the bed shaking her head at the both of them.
"They're fine," she said, "just sleeping while their minds travel the pathways of another realm." The nurse gave her a funny look as she tried to wake Jim. She looked down at the book, frowning, but didn't remove his hand from it, her experience with Blair the first day showing her how bad that could be.
"Okay, we'll put him in a bed beside Mr. Sandburg and we'll get a table in the center for the book." She hurried out to call the doctor and to make the arrangements.
Simon looked at Naomi and sighed. "It's not catching right?" She shook her head. "Okay, so are you sitting with them too?"
She stood up and kissed his cheek. "No use. They'll come back when they're done. Nothing we do in this world will have an effect. Well, unless we kill them that is. Then they might be trapped there or they might die there, the people I talked to when this happened the first time weren't sure." She shrugged and walked out of the room. "I'm calling them so they can be moved," she called over her shoulder.
"Well, at least someone here has a clue," Simon said under his breath, sitting down on the bed to watch over his sleeping men, just in case.
Blair woke up to someone poking him in the side. He sat up suddenly, not expecting to hit his head on someone taller, after all he was living here with a dwarf.
"Gee, Chief, I always imagined you as a Kender," Jim said dryly, rubbing the now sore spot on his forehead. "And I brought the book with me for some reason." He handed it over.
Blair grabbed the book to his chest, holding it tight. "It worked?" He looked around. "Where's Thras?"
"Tough little dwarf? Acts like he knew us before?" Blair nodded, closing his eyes. "Outside. He said we need to talk."
"That's what I was afraid of." He fell backward and rolled away from Jim. "I was having the most pleasant dream..."
Jim chuckled and sat down on the mattress next to him. "Yeah, me too, but then you tried to bite me." He pushed some of Blair's hair out of his way. "So, what say you oh, warrior Blair, shall we anon to the woods for practice with your staff and my sword."
Blair blew out a breath. "And if I didn't know you better, that would sound like such a line." He turned his head to smile at Jim. "So, I'm taking it that you've been here before?"
"Oh, yeah. I woke up with the memories of the last visit or three." He tapped his head. "Not a real pleasant picture either on some of those."
Blair nodded, getting rolled onto his back by force. "So, now what? Do we need to talk about this?"
"What? If I remember right, we've fought in the same battle before. You sucked and you should have been something else. I'm not too bad and I'm better at some things than others. We're both basically lower level, to use the gaming phrase, and pitifully under taught for what we need to do."
"So, how do we break the barrier at the temple? Do you have any idea?"
Jim shook his head and lay down beside his friend. "Not a one. I figure we'll discover it when we get there and assess the situation." He tugged on a curl. "Now, you need a bath and I need to eat. My shoulder's only stiff here so we need to go work out first." Blair nodded. "I say, breakfast, train, bath in the lake Thras said is near where we're going to be, and then back here tonight." He tapped the book. "Oh, and the little guy said to keep that with you always."
"Yeah, I do feel a bit better now that I know it's here." He hugged it tighter for a second. "So, if I've done this and you've done this why haven't we told each other before now?"
"Because it was only a dream to us," Jim reasoned. "And the gaming part, well I was a little ashamed that I had done that."
Blair nodded. "Okay, that I understand. Real well. So, why us? Why not two warriors that are better trained and have higher levels? I mean, from my memories of last time, I'm in the wrong profession."
Jim grinned. "Yeah, that's what I remember. We were apparently on the same side during the battle at Thrinsia." Jim shrugged. "Not a big thing though. I'm here and we'll deal with it. You'll do the minor spellings and stuff and I'll do the fighting." He tapped the top of Blair's forehead. "Do you know how worried I got when you wouldn't wake up?" Blair shook his head. "I called *Simon*."
The younger man grinned. "I'm sure that went over well. How is he anyway? What day is it at home?"
"Um, about the same and when I fell asleep, you'd been under for a week almost." Jim rolled out of the bed and stood, holding out a hand. "Ready to go face the day Sleeping Beauty?"
Blair shook his head and stood. "Nope, but I probably should."
"Ah, good," Thras said, coming back in with a bucket of water. "You're up. And you've got your book back. Now we can get you ready." He poured the water into a big tub. "It's cold, but you both look like you could use the cleaning." He walked back out, yelling over his shoulder, "Food's in the cupboard. Don't eat much or you'll get sick later." He shut the door firmly and walked away whistling.
Jim looked at the tub then at Blair. "You first."
"Then you'll get really cold water." He tested it with his finger. "Not that bad."
Jim shook his head. "If you go first, then I'll get body temperature water. Take a bath."
"I'm dirtier and it'd drive you nuts. Take it." Blair walked to the cupboard and pulled out the hard rolls and the cheese. "Looks like travel rations." He looked around for something else to go with it, jerky or something. "And that's all we have." He turned back around in time to see Jim pouring water over his naked body, standing unselfconsciously in the small tub. "Um, I'll just get this ready for a quick meal."
"Jeez, you'd think you'd never been around a man taking a shower before." Blair swallowed very hard, a light blush staining his cheeks. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize. I'll turn my back so you're not forced to look at me."
Blair shook his head. "No, that's not it and it's all right. Do it however you feel most comfortable." He sat down at the table, facing away from the naked, wet body, and started to nibble on some of the food. "We need something to drink."
"Water?" Jim suggested, soaping over his chest.
"Jim, that's gross."
"Not this water." He rolled his eyes. "Water from the well. As in go grab the bucket and pull some up from the well in the center of the village."
Blair nodded and grabbed the bucket, quickly leaving the small hut.
"This is going to be a *long* dream," Jim told himself. He finished washing quickly and was almost completely dressed when Blair got back. "All yours." He poured some of the water into the wooden mugs he found and sat down at the table to give Blair his privacy.
Blair stripped quickly and bent over the tub, washing his hair. "Damn," he said softly.
"Yeah, to pour the clean water over my hair please."
Jim got up and turned around, seeing the one part he had never seen before on his friend. He took a second to memorize the view before grabbing the bucket of clean water and pouring it gently over the younger man's hair. "Better?" he asked when the bucket was half full. Blair nodded so he stepped back and put the bucket down. He sat down at the table and watched as Blair finished his washing, interested in the activity.
"Then why are you watching me wash my chest?"
"Payback for the oil rig." He took the last bite of cheese and roll. "Besides, it's not like I can watch TV while I eat."
"Point," Blair said, giving in to the inevitable and quickly finishing up. He looked around for a towel and picked up Jim's dirty shirt. "Towel?" Jim tossed him the one he had used. "Thanks." He dried off and wrapped it around his waist. "Clothes?"
"Pack," Jim said. "Your's is the one with all the strange crap in it." He put his feet up and crossed them. "Boots are beside or behind them."
Blair looked around and found the packs, quickly going over to the bulging one, after all why should his pack here be any different than the one at home. He pulled out his leather breeches, pulling them on and a grabbed a matching shirt. "Why don't they have boxers?" he asked the air quietly.
"Because they've not gotten that far yet," Jim said. "And yes, before you ask, they work here." He looked over his shoulder and whistled. "You look cute."
"The secret to adventuring when you don't have a clue is to look like you do and fake it," Blair pointed out. He sat down and took inventory of his pack, seeing what he might need. "Okay, I think I've got everything but the book. Where'd I put it?"
"Table," Jim said, pointing.
Blair got up and grabbed it, shoving Jim's feet off the footstool so he could sit. "So, have you looked in it?"
"Yeah and your handwriting could still be better." He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. "Want to go find Thras?"
"Not yet. We need to talk." He looked around. "How long?"
"How long what Sandburg? I'm not in shape for riddles."
"How long have you been watching me?" He looked Jim in his startled blue eyes. "I deserve to know."
"Are you upset by it?"
"No, I consider it a compliment, and I've not decided how to respond yet. I just wanted to know how long you've been interested."
"That night at your warehouse. You were so adorable." Jim smiled and leaned up, pulling on a curl. "I'm not going to push it and you're more than free to say no. I don't want anything to come between us, especially meaningless sex."
"So if I want it, on some level besides *wanting* it, then I can decide and tell you?" Jim nodded. "Okay, but it's going to take me some time to make that decision. There are a lot of questions I need to ask myself."
"I figured that out when you turned, saw me, and blushed. Are you new to these thoughts?"
"What a quaint way of putting it and not really. I've sworn off those thoughts after a bad time." He got up. "Thras is over near the market stalls. We should go practice." He grabbed the waiting staff against the wall and walked out the door.
Jim bit his lip, watching a dark teal leather clad Blair walk in front of him. He had to come back for his sword, his thoughts caught up on all he had learned in that short period of time.
"Naomi, I'm sure they're fine," Simon said, "where ever they are. I'm sure they're together and Jim is looking out for him still." He laid a comforting hand on her arm. "They're fine and we'll be okay here. That man you called said we could take turns sleeping on the other bed."
Naomi nodded and sipped her cold tea, hands wrapped tight around the mug.
Jim ducked the wild swing of the staff and hit Blair's side with the short stick he had found to approximate his sword. "Got you again. You need to guard yourself better." He stepped behind the younger man and corrected his hand placement. "Try that." He walked back around and tried to lunge for a killing blow again. Again he succeeded.
"This sucks," Blair said, dropping the staff down. He walked away, heading for some quiet time.
Jim shook his head and wiped the sweat off his brow, sitting down to wait for Blair to quit pouting.
When he finally came back, there was a glint in his eyes. Jim got up slowly and started toward their shirts and his sword. "Blair," he said calmly. "Are we okay? Are you ready to begin again?"
"Oh, more than you realize, Jim, more than you know." He tipped the staff up by stepping on one end. "And quit worrying, I just remembered what I needed. I can only fight when I'm in danger." He licked his lips. "Go get your sword."
"Not a chance," Jim said. He picked up his stick again. "I'll not try to kill you, not right now." Blair lunged and knocked a quick combination with his staff, knocking the 'sword' out of Jim's hands and making him back up to protect himself. "Yet," he promised.
Blair stopped and let the wood rest on the ground. "It's a matter of how your mind perceives things. I perceived that you were a threat so you were." He leaned against the sturdy wood. "You'd be surprised at what that book contained."
Jim shook his head and grabbed his shirt, throwing Blair's to him. "I think we've had enough. Let's go eat lunch." He waited until Blair was even with him before stopping him. "I'm going to remember that the next time you leave the loft in a mess, you know that right?"
Blair swallowed and nodded, cheeky grin still in place.
Blair patted his horse's shoulder, watching some of the hair that neededbrushing fly off. "You need grooming my steed," he told the red stallion. He grabbed a brush and started on a flank. "You are so dusty, I'm surprised that you haven't changed colors permanently to grey instead of amber." He quickly finished one side and walked around to get the large chest area. "And why I ride such a big brute as you, I'm not sure."
Jim walked over and leaned on the fence. "Because you can handle the feisty ones?" he suggested.
Blair looked over under his horse's neck and smiled. "You have such a dirty mind here."
"Well, the last time I was here, I was only twenty-four. I'm supposed to have one of those." He squinted at his partner, seeing him as the boy he must have been and the one he was becoming again. "Just how old were you last time?"
"Um, don't ask." He walked to the other side and started to remove the excess hair there. "You really should groom your mare too. She looked like she could use the calming treatment." He finished and tossed the brush over to Jim. "We're going to go get reacquainted." He swung up, bareback, and they walked out of the small paddock.
"Show off," Jim muttered. He slowly walked up to his mare. "Yeah they are, aren't they? Just because Blair can get along with any creature doesn't mean he has to shove it in our faces." He tied her halter to the fence and started to brush her. "Yeah, just because our relationship was hard won and fought and won on both sides doesn't mean he should gloat that his just walked up to him and laid down in front of him." He brushed her gently, remembering very well how much she enjoyed it. "Yeah, this must be like great sex for you love. You're going to be all tingly and then we'll get along fine on the long trip."
Thras laughed from his position in the stables. "You treat her better than your friend."
"She doesn't leave towels on the floor or hair in the drains," Jim pointed out. "Besides, she's much calmer when she's talked to while I brush her. Don't know why, but she is." He shrugged and walked around her rear, patting it and making clicking noises so she knew it was him. He didn't really want to be kicked again. "So, we leave in the morning?"
"Yes, and it's supposed to be a long boring ride."
"With Sandburg? That won't happen."
Thras nodded. "You'd better pray it is, neither of you is ready for anything else." He patted Jim's arm and then the horse. "I'm just glad I was able to get your things from your last trip."
Jim nodded. "Where were they anyway?"
"Oh, you left them at the temple in Zarn. It's where you went back into the dream state to return to your world." He looked around. "They're the ones that call the dream warriors," he said quietly. "One of my sisters is there and she asked me to help you both as the order didn't want you to be called."
Jim nodded. "I can see why. Having two warriors take care of an internal matter isn't always welcome." He looked around, trying to find Blair. "Wonder where he went this time?"
"Out to the woods probably. He seems to be at home there."
Jim nodded. "He should have been a Ranger." Thras looked at him funny. "A forest warrior that takes care of animals and the like?"
"I know what one is, but he's no elf." Thras snorted. "Even with that hair."
"I'm still wondering about who he is here."
"He is who he imagined himself to be at home, same as you are." He patted Jim's shoulder. "You'll be fine. You'll both be at your right ages when you wake. Just remember to grab some food from the market with that silver I gave you." Jim nodded. "And hide your packs with your cloaks this time. No one needs to know who or what you are or why you're here." Thras walked away, going back into the hut.
"And yet again, our lives turn confusing," Jim told his mare. "Yeah, we'll have a few long talks on the road." He started to brush her again. "Yeah, a long trip leads to much talking. Especially from Sandburg."
Blair looked around the woods and sighed, peace filled for the first time he had come back. He looked down, seeing his younger body, and his horse snorted, pulling off to the side. "Oh, all right, we'll go that way Stone," he said, letting the horse lead. "I'm sure it can't be that bad."
He looked into the clearing and saw a body laying in the center of it. "Oh, doesn't he look familiar." He swung down and led the stallion over, against his will. They stopped a few feet away and smiled. "And he said he's not used to the strange crap." Blair knelt down beside Darryl and poked the mostly solid shoulder. "Man, come on and join us."
"Don't," Thras said, coming into the clearing. "He's here for a different purpose and this is his first trip. It's bound to be hard enough on him." He frowned and patted Stone's side as he walked past him. "You shouldn't be here."
"He's one of my friend's sons. I can't leave him. Simon'd be *so* pissed at me."
Thras shook his head and slapped the back of Blair's. "You aren't listening. He's not here to help you. His purpose is different. And if he sees *you* then he'll start to remember his other life, thereby almost assuring his death."
Blair nodded. "All right, just take care of him for me. I want him to be there when I get back up at home. I'm not explaining this to his dad."
"He's here on a short mission and I'll be beside him. Not to worry young one." He looked around, listening to the sounds. "But you are worrying one and he's come looking for you."
Blair stood and smiled. "Okay, I'll go divert Jim. May I tell him?" Thras nodded. "Cool. See you tonight at the house." He swung back up, Stone standing still for once. "We'll leave as soon as we get up."
"He'll be at the temple by then, not to worry. I was just here to gather him once he was transferred over." He waved in the direction Blair had come. "Be at peace."
Blair nodded and turned Stone, trotting out of the clearing. He soon spotted Jim looking around for him. "Jiimmmm," he called softly. Jim started and turned to frown at him. "You know better than to focus on one sense exclusively."
"I thought I heard another heartbeat."
"Simon's son, stud-muffin junior? Sound familiar?" Jim nodded. "He's here for another reason. Thras is accompanying him on his quest." He shrugged. "He'll be home before we will."
Jim sighed. "I really don't want to explain this to them."
"So, we won't. We'll explain it to the young man and help him through it." He looked around. "How 'bout a ride?"
"We're going to be spending a lot of time in these saddles."
Blair looked down. "Well, I'm not in one so let's go ride. It'll get your butt used to it again."
Jim sighed and followed Blair when he trotted off. "You're so good at that."
"What? Getting you to do something sensible?"
"No, getting your way."
"Hey, I'm the guide."
"You're still not getting the map."
"Didn't ask for it. I've got the book." He turned to grin. "So, didn't you make one?"
"No, I was too busy fighting everything in my path to do that." Jim shook his head. "How do you get him to do that?"
"Yeah, how do you just let him lead you like that."
"He knows where he's going. Horses have a built in home/stable sensing device. They always make it home in time for supper." He shrugged. "Right now, he wants some exercise so we're taking a walk. Why don't you and she get together like that?"
"Because our relationship was hard fought on both sides." He shook his head and nudged his mare to ride a little faster so they could catch up to the other pair. "Blair, how do I do this again?" he asked when she slowed down.
Blair turned Stone around and trotted back. "Well, besides the fact that your seat stinks..."
"Gee thanks." Jim frowned.
"That's how you're sitting on the saddle man, not your actual butt." He shook his head. "What's her name?"
"Don't have one," he mumbled.
"She doesn't have one. I was going on the theory that if I named her she would have more power over me." He stared straight ahead.
Blair shook his head and leaned over to talk to Jim's horse. "So, what should we name you sweetie?" He smiled and she nudged him with her nose. "How 'bout Candy?" She snorted. "Tool?" She stopped and looked at him. "Okay, too male. What would you like it to be?" The mare looked at him, not looking away. "Oh, all right. How 'bout.... Beer?" She shook her head and bent down to eat some of the grass. "Hunger?" She snorted again, blowing some of the clover all over his chest. Blair looked down and raised an eyebrow. "Funny, you don't look like a clover. How 'bout ...." He closed his eyes to think of a really good one. "Scribe?" She nuzzled against his chest. "So, you like that path, so let's go there. Book? No, Paper? No. I know." He snapped his fingers. "Handcuffs." She nuzzled his face.
"Blair, we are *not* naming my mare Handcuffs." He shook his head. "How about Painter? She's got dots of different colors when you look close."
Blair looked at her coat closely. "So she does. Do you like that name girl?" She nudged him once with her nose before going back to her grazing. "I think she likes it."
Jim shook his head. "I'm glad we could come to some arrangement." He looked over at Blair's horse, rolling around in the dirt. "What's up with him?"
"Oh, he's pretending to be young." Blair shrugged and leaned against Painter's side. "Feel better Stone?"
Jim snorted. "Stone? Why not Book?"
Blair looked up. "Because he came out of a group of standing stones and laid down in front of me." He grinned. "And every time we would stop, he'd have a stone for me to pull out."
Jim nodded. "Makes sense, even for you." He clucked his tongue and tried to get her to move. "Okay, you win, eat." He slid down and undid her saddle, setting her free to go play with Stone for a while.
"Not to long guys," Blair called. "We have to get home tonight to rest for the trip tomorrow." He looked around and picked out a likely spot to sit. He sat down gracefully and looked up at the giant sun block, Jim. "Jim, man, this is the first time I've had sun in *way* too long and you're blocking it."
Jim sat down beside him, laying his saddle off to the side. "Would you help me on the trip? We... I'm not such a good rider."
"It's a matter of respect." He pulled a few blades of grass to weave. "You have to respect her and she has to respect you. If that doesn't happen, then you'll never get along." He shrugged and handed over the bracelet he had made. "Here, for you."
Jim looked at it and slipped it over his hand. "Thanks." He looked around. "Why are you so comfortable here? I mean, I'm the one that's been here more often and I'm the one that knows more about how these things go so why are you so calm?"
"Acceptance. When you've lived just about everywhere, you learn to enjoy a new place and quickly fit in." He looked over at his friend. "Besides, when I was here last time, it was for much longer than all your three together. I actually trained here for a while." He shrugged and looked over at the animals. "Guys, five more minutes then we start home." Stone looked at him and snorted. "I don't care if you're having fun, you can do more of that on the road." Stone went back to grazing.
Jim shook his head. "It's like you can tell what he's thinking."
"Well, I can. Not quite how you mean, but I can understand him. My teacher taught me." He got up and brushed off his seat. "Ready to head back?" He walked over to his stallion. "Quit eyeing her like that, we've got a long trip ahead of us." He swung up, wiggling a little to sit comfortably, and leaned down to get the reins. "Okay, homeward bound we are."
Stone tried to resist, but Blair was insistent. He headed off, Jim and Painter right behind, after he had saddled her again and they had caught up.
Jim was determined to figure this puzzle out yet. He *would* figure out Sandburg one of these days.
Simon looked down at his friends and his son, all asleep now. "I can't believe that this hit him. This doesn't happen in our family." He looked around the room, looking for a target. "Why did your son tell him about this?"
Naomi shook her head. "Not mine. Blair doesn't tell anyone to game. He probably picked it up from his friends or a video game." She handed over her cup of tea. "Here, you need this more than I do."
Simon took it and drank it gratefully.
Jim rolled over, right off the straw mattress he and Blair were sharing. He woke with a grunt and threw an evil look at the younger man on the bed before getting up and yanking the covers off. "Sandburg, morning. Get up."
Blair rolled over and stretched. "Your turn to get water for bathing." He closed his eyes. "Tell me when you're done."
Jim shook his head and pulled on enough clothes to go out to the well with the buckets. He made a few trips, leaving two full of clean water. "Get up Sandburg. You have to get breakfast before we leave."
"I've got to get rations," Blair corrected. "Breakfast is something like a piece of fruit on the road." He came out, dressed in yesterday's clothes. "I'll be right back."
"Get some meat," Jim said, stripping off his shirt. "And you're getting the water tomorrow."
"Jim, repeat after me. Lake." His eyes twinkled. "Unless you really want to carry that tub and those buckets." He walked out the door, after digging in his pack for the small bag of silver.
Jim grumbled and bathed quickly, missing his morning coffee.
Blair walked around the few market stalls, seeing what they had before he decided on what to get. He felt some of the fruit and took a few pieces, it would appease Jim for breakfast, and some dried fruit in a bag for the trip. He quickly bought some jerky in varying flavors and some hard rolls, some other travel rations that would keep well in a pack or a saddle bag. Then he remembered that Jim didn't have one so he bought a small one for him as a present.
His arms were full, even with some of it packed away in the new bag, by the time he got back. He knocked on the door with his elbow, letting Jim let him in. "Hey, got everything we need."
Jim shook his head. "And we're carrying all that stuff on our backs?"
Blair shook his head and tossed over the new saddle bag. "This is Painter's, Stone already has a few." He quickly spirited the things away, and grabbed a new set of clothes. "Did you remember to wash out your dirty stuff?"
Jim nodded. "Last night and it's crunchy now."
"Can't be helped and you'll get used to it." He stripped and laid the things he had been wearing aside. "I washed this out last night and I did the others the same day I wore them. Check your pack to make sure you have everything you'll need on the way." He started to wash his body, scrubbing with the soft bar of soap. "And yes, before you ask, that small bag is breakfast once we're on the road."
Jim opened his pack and looked down in it. "How much of that did you spend?"
"Half. Should be enough to get us to the next town and beyond if we need it."
Jim shook his head. "We won't need all this." He held up a container. "What's this?"
"Ointment for tired muscles. It's also an antibacterial and an antiseptic. Think of it as natural Ambesol." He turned around and warmed his back with the fire as he washed it. "The pot is so we can cook if we find meat. I can attach that to my saddle if it bothers you to carry it." He scrubbed down his legs, turning away from Jim to wash what lay in between them. "I bought some soap so we could wash on the trip. I also got plenty of jerky, in a few flavors, so we shouldn't run out even if can't get rations for a while."
Jim nodded and watched Blair scrub the back of his legs and his rear. "Well," he swallowed. "I'm guess that's good then. Um, waterskins?"
"I've got three that need filling in my bag and you have two. I found them when I was packing the stuff away. They're down near the bottom. Probably need rinsing." He poured some of the clean water over his hair and used the soap to lather it well. "Jim, some help getting my hair rinsed please?"
Jim put down his pack and walked over, grabbing the heavy bucket. He poured a thin stream out, judging how much he needed to use to get all the soap out. "This is nothing like you use at home. Your hair needs the conditioners." Blair leaned over and grabbed a root he had carried over with him. "That does that?" Blair nodded and worked some through his curls. Jim waited until he nodded to pour the rest of the water through. He set down the empty bucket and ran his fingers through the now silky curls. "I'd say it works well." He steadied Blair as he got out, becoming a brace. "Easy."
Blair dried off and hung up the towel to dry while he dressed. Jim handed him his shirt and walked away to finish checking their stuff so Blair could get dressed in some privacy. When the younger man cleared his throat he turned back around. "Well, don't you look cute?" Blair was wearing sky blue leather and a well woven and worn dark blue shirt. "You should get that outfit once we get home."
The younger man blushed, but ignored it and hefted his pack onto the table. "Okay, so do we have everything?"
Jim looked around. "Book?"
Blair hurried into the bedroom to grab it. He came back out and had it already tucked into a special spot on his saddle that he had been fooling with last night. "I was mending it last night and made sure that that pouch is water proof." He looked around. "Anything else?"
"How do I carry my sword now?" He looked down at his saddle and fingered the broken loop. "It used to go here, but when I slipped it down, it broke." Blair shook his head and tied on the saddlebags and their packs, handing the sword back. "Once we're out of town, we'll carry them this way. We're not that heavy and the horses can take the extra weight this way just as well. You'll wear it across your back and we'll be fine."
Jim thought about it, trying to imagine him pulling it out that way. "I can't do that."
"Then tonight, I'll rig it for you on your saddle." He looked around one last time, playing with his amulet. "Okay, do we have everything?" Jim handed him the semi-dry towel and his cloak. "Waterproof also so we're set on that." He made one last trip around the room, gathering a few last things he had out. "We have to make one stop on the way. I said I'd stop someplace if I was ever back this way." Jim nodded silently and they went to the stables.
Jim quickly shouldered his pack, letting his long cloak hang over top of it and got on Painter. Blair had saddled her for him when she had gotten fussy at the early morning wake up. He rode her slowly around the small enclosure, warming up while he waited for Blair to finish.
Blair came out of the stables, Stone almost shining in the sun. All his leather gleamed with good care and his coat shone. "Did we remember to get treats for them?"
"Small bag of vegetables?" Jim guessed. Blair shook his head. "Okay, we'll stop and get them breakfast on the way out." He shrugged and leaned down to get the gate.
Blair tipped the release lever with his staff and trotted out. "I'll be with you at the edge of town." He watched Jim ride off, heading back to the small market. "Hi," he told the shopkeeper. "I'll take that now." He grabbed the small bag and quickly hurried off after Jim.
Jim turned around to watch Blair take out his book, letting Stone follow Painter for a while. He shook his head and looked down at the map. "Where are we going first?"
"It's mostly on the way." He turned another page. "Don't worry, Stone knows where we're going. It's right near home to him." He put the book away. "Give me the map for a second."
Jim handed it over, watching as Blair traced a path with his finger. "Do you want to go the less direct method that's safe or the other way?"
"Safe," Jim said, definite that he wasn't ready for anything else. "Why?"
"Because we can cut through an Elven held woods and cut a few days off."
"Would they mind?" Blair nodded. "Is the turn to that close?"
"No, not for a few more days. We've got a few weeks of travel." Jim winced. "Sore butt already?"
"Yeah, and I'm going to be very glad when we get to the camping spot tonight so I can put on some of that ointment."
Blair looked up at the sky. "We've only been at this for a few hours. Turn the dial down."
"It's down already," Jim hissed as Painter decided to speed up. "Painter, please? It's been a while since I rode."
Blair smiled and pulled on one of her reins. "Painter, slow. We've got a long journey and he's not used to sitting on you yet."
Someone clapped from behind a tree, prompting Jim to pull his sword and Blair to grab his staff. An elf walked out from behind the tree cover. "Very nice." He looked at Blair. "'Tis nice to see you again, Warrior."
Blair smiled and hopped down, putting his staff back on the downward slide. He walked over to the young elf and hugged him tightly. "I was on my way over to see you while I was traveling."
He, the elf pushed him back some. "You're becoming a fine man Blair and I'd heard you were back so I thought to save you the trouble. Who's your friend?"
"Jim, this is Clarion. He's one of the people that helped me when I was here last."
Jim put away his sword, clumsy under the practiced eye of the other man, and slid down. He tied Painter to Stone, something Blair had told him to do, and walked over. "Hi." He looked over the young seeming man. "So, what sort of trouble did Blair give you?"
The elf laughed, grabbing onto Blair for support. "Oh, you have no idea how much trouble his presence caused." He quit and looked over at the man he was holding onto. "But all that's another story. I actually came to tell you not to try to go through the woods. Clover's in charge for a while and she's still mad at you for his death." Blair nodded, a sad look on his face. "But I would accompany you till you camp tonight."
Blair pulled him into a hug. "May I go to the house?" Clarion nodded. "Escort Jim to the camping spot and I'll meet you there later." He walked over and untied the two horses. "Jim, you're in good hands, just don't talk too much about us." He swung up and nudged Stone off at a gallop, into the woods.
Jim and Clarion stood watching until he disappeared into the thick growth. Jim turned to look at the elf, a stunned and angry look coming over him. "So, would you like to tell me what that was all about?"
Clarion shook his head. "No, Blair asked me not to." He looked apologetically at Jim, then gave him an appraising look. "You're the one then." He shook Jim's hand. "You have a very special mate and he'll tell you when he can face it again." He shrugged and looked over to where Painter had wandered off to. "I'll escort you and keep you safe until he comes back tonight after dark."
Jim nodded and walked over to Painter, who kept moving. "Listen dear, just because he's not here doesn't mean you can be mean to me. He'll be back tonight." He grabbed one of her reins and climbed up. "Sorry, we're still at that awkward stage of our relationship."
Clarion laughed. "Well, it's not like she came and laid down in front of you like Stone did."
Jim shook his head. "Then that really happened? I'd only heard the myth of it."
"Um-huh. Didn't he tell you about that?" Jim shook his head. "Then I shall." They started off in the direction Jim and Blair had been traveling. "Blair had been here only a few months then..."
Blair rode up to the small stone cottage and stopped Stone outside the front door. He got down carefully and knocked on the door, just in case someone had started to live here again.
A young female elf came out. "Blair, I'd heard you were back." She let him in. "Why are you here?"
"To get the things he left for me. He told me if I ever came back to come pick up a small bag and his staff." He shrugged slightly and sat down across from her. "I never wanted him to do it."
"But he did. He loved you enough to take your place."
"I didn't know that would happen otherwise I would have stopped him." He traced over a line he had carved on the table many years before, when he was here last. "I'm sorry you lost your brother."
"You're sorry enough for the both of us," she said. She pulled on his ponytail. "He loved you more than life and I'm not sorry that he had to die. I'm sorry for what he died over. Why did you go looking for your amulet anyway?"
"Because it helps me with the book," he said quietly. "It's a translator for the parts he helped me write and for the things we put in code." He looked around. "I left him a note and left in the night. I told him I could handle it and would come back soon. He chose to follow me."
"And that decision was his undoing," she said. "I have no grudge against you. Gather your things and the small bag of gold he left you. Be on your way." She got up and left him alone in the small house.
Blair walked around the rooms, gathering pieces of his former life. He stopped at one spot, touching the wall and marks that had been drawn there. "You were right," he said softly. "I found him after you had left me." He patted the marks one last time and walked out to find Stone in front of a small pile of stones. He laid another round rock onto the cairn and knelt down beside it. "I'm sorry you had to come after me. I never wanted you harmed." He breathed in deeply. "I'll fix it this time." He touched the slightly raised ground. "Sleep in the dreamtime in peace, my love." He stood up and went back in for a few last things.
The last thing he put onto Stone was the other staff he held. A long black piece of wood, hardened and forged between them in love. He checked over the wrappings on it before sliding it into it's holder. He walked back in, taking one last look around, leaving the small bag of gold that Clover had left him on the table.
"Take it," she told him from the doorway. "He'd want you to be taken care of." She walked away and got onto her horse. "May your journey this time be better." She rode off into the woods, disappearing as only an elf born to the area can do.
Blair bounced the bag in his palm and took it with him, settling it into a pocket in his cloak. "Ready to go back to Painter and Jim, Stone?" The horse snorted and he swung up. "I'm not either but we're needed." He turned the red haired horse around and galloped off through the woods, over a path he had taken many times.
Jim watched the surrounding woods for Blair to come out. He had first heard his heartbeat a few minutes ago and he knew Blair should be here by now. He turned back up his hearing, listening to the deep breathes that said the younger man was getting ready to do something. "He's back," he told Clarion, turning around to find him gone. "How do they do that?"
"Practice," Blair said from the edge of the clearing. "He's an elf, they learn that as soon as they can walk as a protective thing." He slid down and checked over Stone's hooves, pulling a few small rocks. "At least you're not lame tonight," he told him. "Go graze but stay close." He undid the saddle and patted his side as the horse walked off.
"What about his bridle?" Jim asked.
"No bit. He can eat with it on, it's loose enough." He sat the saddle down beside the fire and squatted down beside the source of light. "Clarion take care of you okay?"
Jim nodded and sat back down in his former seat. "Yeah, we talked about you all day. Where'd you go?"
"To the house of the person who trained me." The younger man shrugged. "Not a big thing, I had to pay my respects and talk to his sister."
"Was that the one that died?" Jim asked quietly. "Clarion said that you were going to say good bye, something that you hadn't had a chance to do before, but he wouldn't tell me anything else. Not even his name."
Blair looked up. "Yeah, it was. And no, before you ask, I don't want to talk about it yet. I'll tell you when I'm ready." He pulled a small pouch out of his pack. "Food?"
Jim held up the piece of jerky he held in his hand. "Still working on it."
Blair opened the bag and handed it over. "The fruit will make the salt go away."
Jim took a piece and layered it on the piece of dried meat. He munched happily for a few minutes. "So," he said. "What else are you going to take off and do?"
Blair smiled. "Nothing, I'll do it when we get to the temple. I'm sure he's the cause." He shook his head. "And I'll tell you later." He looked over to where he could see the outlines of the horses. "Stay close you two, we don't want you to get stolen or hurt." Stone snorted and they both walked back closer to the fire. "We'll have to hobble them as we get closer to the cities."
Jim nodded. "Reasonable. So, anything that you *can* tell me?" He looked hard at his friend. "Please?"
Blair nodded. "He loved me and he risked his life to save me. He lost. I brought his body home for burial, but my primary mission here called me away before I could see him buried." He shrugged. "I went to say goodbye today and to get some things he told me he wanted me to have as he died."
"The other staff?"
"His, we made it together." Blair laid down, head curled up on his saddle. "Sleep well Jim, we'll get up near first light and ride again."
Jim nodded and held up the little pot of salve. "I got this so I'll be okay."
Blair smiled and rolled over. "You'll have calluses soon enough."
Jim watched Blair fall asleep, wondering what else there was to be told about the man he used to love.
Jim and Blair looked at the outskirts of the city they had been headed for. For the last three weeks, they had rode down many roads and through many a wood to get here. The older man felt sort of anticlimactic about this moment. He had expected the city to somehow look different or something. Instead, it looked just like all the other cities they had gone through and around to get here.
"Disappointed," Blair asked.
Jim nodded. "I expected it to be .. different somehow. Not the standard Market and Temple and inns." He shuddered. "Let me pick the inn this time, okay? We don't need anymore of your fan club coming for us."
Blair turned to grimace at him. "It's not my fault that we fought on opposite sides of that revolution or that he was the Duke's son. If his daddy had been a better person, we wouldn't have even met. It's not like I walked in the same circles he did."
Jim snorted. "You've shown me that, yet again, you can get in anywhere and fit in." He turned a restless Painter in circles. "So, now what?"
"Inn, then we go talk to the natives." He nudged Stone down into the city proper.
They were stopped at the gate by a guard. "Why are you two here?"
"To worship at the temple. I was told by an oracle to come here and wait for the curse to be lifted so I could plead my case to the Goddess." Blair looked over at Jim. "He's my guardian on the trip."
The guard nodded. "Just don't be starting any fights." He winked at Blair. "We all figured you'd come sooner or later." He waved them inside.
Blair smiled down at him. "Thank you and please tell no one?" The guard nodded. "I may not remember your name, but I remember you at my side before." He clapped the man on the shoulder.
"Highly, sir Blair. I was beside you at Thinia."
"You were the standard bearer that threw the javelin, right?" He smiled down, bestowing his best and brightest on the man. "Thank you many times over for saving me that day."
"'Twas nothing. Just keep a low profile. The cause of your grief is still in the city today." He walked back into the guard house, letting them enter freely.
"We're talking tonight," Jim said firmly. "Right after we find someplace to get a hot bath and meal."
Blair nodded and headed for the center of the city and the market. Jim followed him slowly, his horsemanship much improved over the long ride. He looked around at the various inns, judging them on smell and who he could see sitting inside. Finally he found one he liked and whistled to get Blair's attention. "Here," he said, pointing.
Blair closed his eyes, remembering. "No," he said. "Pick another." He rode off.
Jim shook his head and hurried after him. He caught up to him, pulling on one of Stone's reins. "Tell me why?"
"Too many memories." He pointed at another street. "There are some decent ones down that way that aren't too much." He headed off in that direction.
"Yeah, sure we'll talk," Jim told himself. "It's not like he's done that so far, so why should he answer me now." He rode after Blair, catching up to him easily. He checked all those the same way and settled for one near the Market. "Here?"
"Fine," Blair said, getting down. He grabbed his saddle and all it's contents and headed inside. Jim followed and found the younger man charming the owner with the story he had tried to give the gate guard.
"Yes, the oracle told me to come here and wait for the curse to be lifted. He told me to stay near the market and to watch for one that would break it."
The proprietor nodded. "Okay, one room?" He looked over at Jim. "Or are you and he together?"
"He's my guardian on the trip." Blair pulled out the little bag of gold that Clover had given him. "How much for a week?"
"Two pieces gold and five silver."
Blair dug around and brought out the two pieces of gold and then put up the bag, making sure it looked small and almost empty. He reached into Jim's pack, as he was still standing there, and grabbed the silver. He handed over six. "Now then, how 'bout some hot water and who can we talk to about our travel weary clothes?"
The man leaned on the table. "My wife and daughters will do that. I'll send them up with some water for the tub. Enough for both of you. Would you be needing food?"
"Later," Jim said. "We've been traveling for a while. We can wait until the late meal."
The owner nodded. "As you wish. I'll have someone come and wake you both up if I don't see you before we stop serving." He took the money and handed them a key. "Room at the far end of the hall."
Jim nodded and started up the stairs. Blair smiled at the man and nodded his thanks. He turned to grab his saddle, but someone already had it. "I think that's mine."
"And I don't so why don't you be a good little boy and go up to your room?" He sneered and stared to walk away.
Blair snarled and spun, kicking the man in the middle of his back. "Because I'm on a quest to find something to help my anger." He bent and picked his saddle and checked the contents. "Thank you for not breaking anything." He walked up the stairs, past Jim who had stopped to see if he needed help.
Jim looked at the owner and shrugged. "He's not done that recently."
The owner nodded. "Don't worry, we know." He waved Jim on. "You might want to go fight him for the hot water, there's only one tub."
Jim smiled and headed up the stairs, following the stream of pissed Blair talk. He knocked before opening the door. "Just me, don't kill me."
Blair put down his staff. "Oh, if I must." He looked around. "Sorry you had to see that."
"I've wanted to see that. It makes me happy that you can protect yourself like that. It makes me a *lot* less worried about you." He sat down on the bed. "So, are we sleeping in shifts or may I snuggle into your hair again tonight?"
"No, I could use the holding thing tonight. You're more than welcome to the first bath." He turned and started to pull things out of his pack. "I've got to check and see what he broke and what he took."
Jim shook his head and got up to open the door for the timidly knocking person. "Hi, yes, thank you. Would you like help setting it up?" She shook her head and she and her daughters carried in water buckets, putting them beside the tub. Jim tipped her a piece of copper and she smiled, bowing to him. They left, Jim closing and locking the door after them. "Blair, bathe?"
"You do it. I've almost got it figured out." He looked down at something that hadn't been in his pack before. "Well, he didn't steal anything, he actually left me a note." He opened it and read the scrawl it contained. "I should have been nicer to him."
Jim shook his head and stripped. He walked over to Blair and pulled off his shirt. "It's big enough for the both of us or they brought enough water for the both of us, but you'll get a cold bath."
Blair nodded and laid down on the bed. "I told you to take it."
Jim just nodded and went back to pour half of the water into the large tub. "Tell me now?"
"It is later." Blair looked over at him. "You've been saying later now for three weeks. I think I deserve an answer."
Blair nodded and sighed. "I was younger then. I had just gotten here, the priestesses at the temple decided that I needed teaching and to gain some experience before I could undertake my mission, and that there was time. He had been an Elven prince, a beautiful man that had agreed to let me travel with his group until I could be dropped off. When we got to who was supposed to train me, he was gone. A group of mercenaries had killed him and his family, and the other warrior he was training. The prince took pity on me and brought me to his home, sending a messenger back to the temple and training me himself." Blair rolled onto his side. "We grew to like each other, then it was love. My calling called me back to my quest and I had to leave. I left at night, something that we had agreed would be better. I left him a long letter. He had a vision of me dying so he followed. He took my place." He sighed. "End of story."
Jim shook his head and rinsed off quickly. He got out and padded over to the bed. "If that was all there was to it, you'd not be so upset. Even if you only loved him, you would have known he did what he thought was for the best." He turned up his hearing, listening for someone outside the door. "Visitors," he said quietly. He grabbed his sword and hid behind the door while Blair answered it.
"Hi," he told one of the owner's young daughters. "Is there a problem?" She shook her head and handed him the note she carried. Thank you." She ran back down the hall and he looked both ways before closing the door. "Note," he told Jim. He opened it and read the Elven inside. "Clover's in town too." He balled it up and threw it across the room. "This is bad."
"Is she going to interfere?"
"No, it's her father that killed my lover." He turned to look at Jim. "Finish, I'm to meet her for supper tonight."
Jim got back in the tub and hurriedly finished his bath. "All yours," he said, getting back out. He waited until Blair was in to pour more of the clean water. "Are you sure this is wise?"
"No, but I have to go. It's not nice to keep her waiting." He tipped his head so Jim could pour some of the water over his head. "Thanks." He soaped it and himself, standing to let Jim pour more of the water. "Why do you help me like this?" he asked out of the blue.
"Are you complaining?" Blair shook his head as he ran his fingers through his hair to check for soap.
"No." He looked around, parting the curtain of hair. "Have you seen..." Jim handed him the plant he used for conditioner. "Thanks."
Jim opened the bags and took out their only clean set of clothes, carefully wrapped for when they got here. The delicate woven cloth wouldn't have withstood all the hard riding so had been protected and saved for tonight. "Here," he said, putting Blair's out on the bed. "Yell when I can come pour the rest."
Blair tested a piece and smoothed some more of the sap down the end. "Not yet. It's still pretty nasty."
"Blair, your curls could never be nasty." He shook his head as he dressed. "Now, hurry up so we can go."
Blair frowned. "Jim, the note didn't..."
"Tough. I'm not letting you walk into a trap alone." He sat down and laced up his shirt. "Check it again, it's been a while now." Blair tested the end of his hair again and nodded. Jim came over and lifted the last bucket of water, standing well back so he wouldn't be splashed. "Okay, bend back over." He poured the water out, carefully so Blair wouldn't get too splashed with the extract. They ran out of water just as the it started to run clear. "Good timing." He helped Blair out of the tub. "Now, then, hurry and get dressed. I want to go visit the market."
Blair shook his head and dried off, slipping easily into his clean clothes. He gathered his dirty leathers and shirts, balling them in with Jim's. "Let's drop these off on the way. He stopped Jim before he could open the door, stealing a light kiss. "Thank you."
Jim smiled. "Not a big thing as you would say. I love helping you wash your hair." He opened the door. "And we'll finish the talk later?" Blair nodded, smiling. "I'm glad." He slung an arm around the younger man's shoulder. "So, market?"
"Stop at the desk then market." He quickly grabbed his mostly empty pack and his staff. "Get your sword. It's gonna look funny if you're walking around without it." Blair slipped the small bag of gold into the front of the pack, right beside Jim's bag of silver. "When did you switch things to my pack?"
"While you were bathing. I knew you'd want the book so I packed us for an afternoon and I left your little bag of herbs in there too."
Blair smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "You're so good to me." They locked the door and headed downstairs. "Hi," he called. The owner came out and took the clothes, wrinkling his nose slightly. "Yeah, we feel about the same way. We're sorry to impose on your wife like that, but it's necessary." He leaned closer. "We're going to not be here until later. I found out an old friend is in town." The other man nodded. "Thanks." He took his former lover's staff from Jim and they headed out.
The owner of the inn walked back to where his wife was warming water. "They're gone. She's called them to supper?" His wife nodded. "I just hope he knows what he's doing."
She patted the side of his face. "They wouldn't have been called if they didn't." She smiled at him, some of the serenity of the former priestess coming out now. "He loved her brother and only their love can break the barrier." She wrinkled her nose at the clothes. "Men, they don't even know how to wash clothes on their travels."
He pulled on her curl and smiled. "But then, what would we have women for?" He ducked the hot water she sent his way. "See." He ran out to go serve lunch.
The two men looked in on their horses before walking over to the market. Jim was like a little kid in a toy store, looking at everything and touching most of it. Blair walked behind, casually glancing around. "Jim," he said, pointing over at a stall. "Let's head there." The three year old formerly known as the Great Sentinel of the City followed him in like a puppy dog. "Hello," Blair called. He started to browse the cases.
An old woman came out. She looked like those stories about gypsies: her hair tied back in a scarf, her multicolored print skirt and white top that rested off her shoulders. She looked at Jim and frowned, but then looked at Blair and yelped in delight. Her man, at least that's who he appeared to be, came out at her sound. She ran around the counter and grabbed Blair, hugging him to her ample chest. "You've returned," she squealed.
Her husband came around and pulled Blair off his wife, hugging him also. Jim started to get jealous. Everyone was hugging Blair but him. He made his displeasure known by frowning over at the group repeatedly while he browsed to give them some privacy.
Blair caught the frown and smiled. "Jim, this is Mirin and her husband Joahn. They're some of the nicest people. They were the ones that helped me pull myself back together after he died."
Mirin nodded. "Well, someone had to." She looked over at Jim. "So, who's he? We never expected you to come back, especially not with another man."
Blair shook his head. "He's the one I love in my home world." He smiled and held a hand out for Jim to take. "This is Jim."
Jim nodded and wrapped his around Blair's waist, not really what he wanted but it would do for now. "Hi." He looked around. "You have some very interesting things here."
She smiled. "Yes, it's where he got his amulet." She pulled Blair aside. "You must be careful. The seer foresaw you in front of a crowd. Most everyone knew you were coming and now that you're here, you must be careful. There's a reward out from his father. For you and whoever you travel with." She looked at Jim. "You should send him back."
"It takes two to break the barrier, right?" She nodded. "We're the two." He shrugged and pulled out his amulet. "What is that symbol? He never did tell me."
She smiled and patted his hand. "James, come read this for him." She stepped back to let him get closer.
Jim looked down at the pendant he had only seen briefly while Blair was bathing. "I'm not sure..." He picked it up and smiled. "Beloved, only thou art protected by the full force of my love and trust. Let me gather you to me as you do me and allow our love to protect you as I would." He flipped it over. "Only those that love you as I did may tell you this and protect you as I would have. Allow him and all will be well both here and in your own world." He dropped it. "He gave it to you?"
Blair nodded. "As a naming day gift." He smiled slightly. "All he told me was that only the one that truly came after him would be able to read it." He took Jim's hand. "It just proved that I've made the right choice."
Jim's eyes misted over and he leaned down to kiss Blair. He was stopped by Joahn. "Problems?"
"You can't. It's forbidden."
Blair growled slightly. "It wasn't when the temple was open." He dragged Jim out into the street. "That's the temple. It's Goddess was the patron of love. In *all* forms." Mirin pulled him back into to the shop. "Nobody can fault me for telling him the history."
She nodded. "But it's still best to be cautious." She looked at all the people passing by, looking for one that was looking too closely or was running for the guards. "If they catch you, one will die."
Jim swallowed. "That's how he died?"
Blair nodded sadly. "Yeah, he and I were to break the barrier his father had imposed but we were captured and he took my place. His father killed him without a second's hesitation." He looked at Jim. "He's imposed it because the Goddess wouldn't sanctify his union. He couldn't destroy it, love is too strong, but he could keep everyone out of there to weaken her."
Jim got angry, clenching his fist. "What do we do?"
"We join," Blair said quietly. "I'm sorry if that comes as a shock to you, but that's the only way. To bring the Goddess out and to release her back into the world is the only real way to break the barrier."
Jim nodded. "I would be honored to be joined with you. When?"
"As soon as we figure out their patterns of patrol. We're not the only ones to try. Every day probably, someone tries. We just have to succeed." He touched the side of Jim's face. "I can't lose you too."
Jim nodded and touched his hand. "You won't. I'm a lot tougher than you think." He winked. "Now, let's go shop." He pulled Blair out of the shop.
Blair turned to smile at them. "I have it all, you don't have to be involved." He waved at them as he was pulled down the street by a protesting Jim.
"Chief, you don't need that." He stopped them in front of a herb and plant vendor. "Do you need some more of that stuff for your hair?"
Blair picked out a few pieces and added a small flower to the bunch. "This please." He paid with a piece of silver. "Thanks." He dabbed the flower onto his throat and wrists. "It's important to honor the customs of the people that you're visiting." He stopped at the next vendor and smelled a few flowers before picking one and handing it to Jim. "This is like cologne. Use a little, dab it on. Elves do this daily." Jim nodded and did as he was told. Blair took both flowers and entwined the stems, tossing them into some standing water. "The only real way to get rid of them." He pulled Jim down to a few other stalls. "We need something still. We can't go without a gift."
"Like a nice thing for the hosts?" Blair nodded, biting his lip. "Okay, how about this?" He pointed at something.
Blair came over to look at the book. "No, but we could probably use that. Get it and I have something in mind. I'll look for it while you browse." He went to the next table.
Jim patiently followed his mate. "Did you forget that you have the money?" It was handed to him. "Thanks. Wait for me here." He rushed back and grabbed the book, paying for it. He had to jog to catch up to Blair. "So," he said, handing back the money, "now what are you looking for?"
"A small wooden statue." He picked one up. "Perfect." He looked over at the vendor and smiled. "How much?"
Simon looked down at his now awake son. "You are in such trouble young man," he said, hugging him tightly.
"Daaaddd," Darryl whined. "Not in front of non-family." He looked over at the other two beds. "I thought I heard Blair. Wonder where they are?"
Simon shook his head. "Where were you?"
"In the game."
Naomi passed out, falling limply to the floor.
Simon and Darryl looked at her. "Oh, well," they said together.
Darryl looked up at his father. "Do you really want to know?" The older man nodded. "Okay, I was in the Realms. I've been role playing with a few friends for almost a year now and I was there. There was this cool dwarf named Thras..."
Blair knocked on the door of the house he had been told to come to. An elf he barely recognized waved them in, taking their cloaks, before leading them into the dining room.
Blair handed his almost sister-in-law the statue he had picked out earlier, watching her face light up then fall as she opened it. "I know why you've called and I accept that you can't help us." He sat down in the chair indicated and waved Jim to the one across from him. "We both do. I wouldn't go against him either if he was my father."
Clover smiled and waved the servants out after they had done their jobs. "I'm glad. I didn't want you to be angry with me over it." Blair shook his head. "So, you do mean to break it?"
Blair nodded and took a bite, smiling at Jim as he looked down trying to figure out what the gray stuff was. "Yeah, we do. All we have to do is find a time and the proper place."
She smiled and picked up some of the stuff Jim wasn't eating, showing him how to eat it easily. "I'd like to attend, I'm sure he'd have wanted it that way." She patted Blair's hand. "I'm sorry that you had to lose him like that."
Blair sighed and put down his fork, standing up and hugging her. "As am I, but it was for the best he thought. I'll not argue with him over it, not even if he showed up right now." He touched his amulet. "This showed me that Jim and I were meant to be together."
She pulled it out to look at it, ignoring Jim's quiet growl for touching his mate. "I knew that he gave you one, but not what it said. He truly read it for you?" She turned to look at Jim. "And you didn't know what it said, the language?"
He shook his head. "No, it was shown to me and the symbols became clear after I had touched it and looked into his eyes. It was a beautiful promise that was made to him. I'm sure your brother was truly in love with him."
Clover smiled and stood up, hugging Jim to her. "He did and I felt the same way about Blair as I did him. Do not force me to protect him." She wiped her cheek and sat back down. "We should be eating, you need your strength for that night." She took a bite and looked down the length of the table.
Jim opened the door carefully, looking around to make sure that no one else was in there waiting for them, not an uncommon occurrence this trip. When he was sure no one else was in there, he let Blair in and locked the door behind them. "So," he said, laying down on the bed. "What now?"
Blair took out the book Jim had bought that day in the market and waved it a little. "Now, I need to look a few things up." He sat down on the bed and opened the book. "I'm looking for a specific place to do that."
Jim smiled and brushed a hand across the back of Blair's neck. "So, I have to wait to do more than hold you?" he asked quietly.
Blair nodded absently. "You might not even want to do that, as it's illegal." He turned another page. "Hmmm, wonder if the sacred grove is on the temple grounds or some else?" He looked at the door. "Should probably ask the proprietor's wife in the morning." Jim gave him a 'you've got to be kidding' look. "Well, she was once one of them." He laid the book aside and lay down next to his love. "So, what should we talk about?"
"How 'bout your love for him? I don't want it to hang between us." Blair nodded. "Did you really?"
"Yeah," the younger man said quietly, "I did. He was my first love, the one I thought would always be there." He shifted some, leaning closer. "He taught me many things, most of which are very helpful." He grinned. "He taught me to climb trees and to know animals. He taught me how to distinguish the bad plants from the good." He took Jim's hand, rubbing his thumb over the back. "He's the one responsible for my curls."
Jim smiled and leaned over to kiss him on the forehead. "Then I'm very glad for him in your life. Your curls were one of the things that first caught my attention." He played with one of the soft ringlets. "What else did he teach you?"
"How to accept love."
"Then he was your first?"
"No, he taught me to accept the fact that someone loved me and wanted to please me and take care of me, something no one else had done." He leaned over and stole a kiss. "That's something that I needed to learn, how to be happy with someone else."
Jim smiled as he stole his kiss back. "Ah, then I should really thank him before we leave." He stroked over the younger man's jaw with their joined hands. "So, what else did he teach you?"
"How to be happy alone and when to go seek out another person for company. How to learn about the world around me just by observing. How to touch someone and make a lasting impression." He stroked a hand down Jim's bottom arm. "Is it working?"
"Blair, your everyday touches to me haunt me. This is something that I could never forget or take for granted."
Blair smiled. "That's poetic." Jim nodded. "I never knew you had that in you."
"Ah, but you don't know the full me, not by any stretch of the imagination. You may know the part of me that is a detective or the part that's a sentinel and you definitely know the repressed part of me, but you don't know the heart behind the man." Blair nodded, prompting him to go on. "You know that I love you, I know that you do. You know that you're my best friend and the one that truly gets who I am. But did you know that you're the reason I keep going back? Keep trying? That, without you, I'd have given up on making the world safe a long time ago because I didn't think that it mattered anymore?"
Blair bit his lip momentarily. "You do?"
"Yes, love, I do. You are the reason that I get up and I remember to put on the vest and the reason I check my gun carefully before putting it on. You are the reason I go to work, that I don't revert into that angry man that I was before and go postal on everyone. *You* are my sanity and my reason for life." He laid a gentle and tender kiss over Blair's lips. "Now, we both need sleep."
Blair blinked the mistiness from his eyes. "I don't think I can." He stroked over Jim's hard chest. "Will you hold me and lay with me tonight?"
"No. I'll hold you tonight. I'll lay with you after we're married. I want us to start out right."
Blair smiled. "Don't you mean during the ceremony?" Jim raised an eyebrow and pulled back enough to look at his love. "Yeah, they do that here. It's part of the ceremony, claiming your mate and all that."
Jim nodded. "Then it should be special for us." He pulled on the curl he was playing with one last time. "Sleep now, you need your rest. I'll watch and make sure we're safe." Blair nodded and laid his head against Jim's chest, finding a comfortable spot. "Good night Blair."
"Night Jim." He closed his eyes and fell quickly asleep, lulled by the warmth and the heartbeat of the man next to him.
Blair smiled at the woman that brought them breakfast. "May we ask you a question later?" She nodded and walked off to serve the others sitting in the dining area. It was a few hours later when she came back over to them, long after everybody else had left. Blair looked around before pulling out the book and showing her the passage. "Where's this?"
She smiled and quickly drew out a map on the edge of the page. "There, head east out of the main gate." She stood up. "I think that would be a marvelous spot and your laundry will be ready in a few hours, they're still not quite dry." She left them alone.
Jim pulled the book over to him so he could look at the map. "Well, I can follow that." He turned up his hearing, after having heard a sound he was overly familiar with. "We've got to go. Soldiers and it sounds like a lot of them."
Blair nodded and headed up to the front desk. "We'll be back eventually." He tipped the girl behind the desk. "We'll be back for the things..." He smiled as she handed over their things, clean clothes and all. "Thanks."
"More than welcome, and be happy." She walked away, not wanting to be around when the soldiers got there.
Blair handed Jim his saddle and they walked out the back door, found that morning just in case, to the stables. Jim knocked out the guards hiding in there, quickly heading to where his mare was. Blair was holding her still, looking over her back.
"No, we're just waiting for you." He nodded at the door. "We'd better hurry."
Jim quickly saddled Painter and got on, grimacing at the feeling of being back in the saddle again. Blair walked Stone out, hopping on his back on the way out the door. They headed out the stables and started leisurely for the main gate. He kept his hearing turned up, just in case, as they rode, not wanting to be surprised.
Blair led them through the mazes of the market, taking odd turns to avoid the guards Jim pointed out. They finally made it to a gate and exited the city, guards shouting at them as they rode through.
Jim kicked Painter into a gallop, following Stone who took off at the guards yells. They made it into the woods just ahead of the soldiers, losing them quickly in the thick growth. They stood and watched their followers pass them by, silent behind some thick bushes and then watched them backtrack. Jim listened to them search, waiting to say anything. Finally, the search was called off and he turned to Blair. "They're leaving." The younger man nodded and pulled out his little red book. "So," he said, watching Blair flip pages, "now what?"
"Now we find a good spot to camp for two days and then we head to the clearing." He looked up. "I'm looking at the holy times for this Goddess and the next one's in two nights time."
Jim nodded. "Okay, so camp?"
"Defensible and easily hidden." Blair looked around. "Maybe a cave as it's going to be cold and windy tonight?"
Jim nodded and turned up his sight. "There are some not that far away." He led them to the few caves he had seen, letting Blair pick which one they would use. They both set up camp, each one pulling their things together and hobbling the horses inside for now.
Blair looked over at the man he loved and sighed. "What?"
"Nothing," Jim said, not blinking in his regard of the man across the fire from him. "I was just using you as a visual anchor while I searched the woods with my hearing." He lowered his threshold and smiled. "Nothing sinister out there."
Blair nodded. "Wouldn't expect it, these woods are supposed to be haunted." He handed over his book. "See, I've been here before."
Jim read the entry and smiled. "So, what was the ghost?"
"A ghost." The younger man shrugged. "A harmless one, with a warning, but nothing bad." He looked up. "So, are you ready?"
"I've been ready," Jim said, slight smile gracing his mouth. "Are you?"
"Forever," he said. He looked outside. "We need to get to the clearing."
Jim stood and undid their horses, bringing them outside while Blair finished cleaning up the cave and dousing the fire. He held both horses, looking around, waiting.
Blair walked out, slipping his book down into it's pouch on his saddle and hopped up. "Coming?"
Jim climbed up, still not as graceful as his love was in the saddle. "Okay." He led them off into the woods, following the way he had scouted yesterday to make sure they could get there. He led them to the center of the clearing, tying off Painter against a tree. "You stay here and warn us of the bad guys," he told her.
Blair smiled and shook his head, sliding off Stone and tying him off to the same tree. "Okay, now we need to set up." He looked around at all the things that had been left there for them by the people that knew. "Or maybe not." He walked over to the small altar and looked at everything. "Bring the two vines from your pack," he called.
Jim handed them over Blair's shoulder, startling him. "These?" Blair spun and grimaced for the scare. "Sorry, I should make more noise." He grinned and Blair instantly forgave him, kissing him and taking his mouth hostage to show him that. When they pulled apart, Jim was breathless. "So, should I undress now?"
Blair smiled and stepped back. "Only if I can watch." He watched as Jim laid down his sword and started to unlace his shirt. "Mmm, nice looking real estate."
Jim shook his head and shimmied out of his riding leathers. He stood there so Blair could look at him for a few minutes, then got impatient. "So, you're not going to undress too?"
Blair grinned and started on one of the best stripteases of the older man's life. It was slow, sensual, taking far too long. Jim helped him out of the leather pants and watched as he sat down to take them off.
Blair looked up. "So," he said."
"So, want to start?"
Jim grabbed one of the vines and pulled Blair to him. "I claim you as mine, my one and only." He wrapped the vine around the younger man's chest. "With this vine, a product of the Goddess's love for us all, I bind you to me and claim the heart that sits behind it."
Blair picked up his vine. "I do claim you as mine. My only and last love." He wrapped Jim's chest. "With this vine, a product of the Goddess's love for us all, I bind you to me and claim the organ beating behind it as my own." He placed a kiss over Jim's heart. "With this kiss, I warm your heart so that it may beat in time with mine." He closed his eyes and waited, unable to watch as Jim picked up the knife and slit both their hands down the center of the palm.
"With our blood combined and shared," he spread a little over both their mouths and joined their cuts, "I do combine our spirits, both physical and not, for all time."
Blair licked the warm, salty blood off his lips. "I do so share in your life with you, will be beside you, will help and love you for all days."
"With our bodies and souls joined, our minds cannot help but follow. May we be able to share our thoughts as we do our bodies." He leaned down and kissed his new mate, tasting their combined essences in his mouth. "We are sealed."
"As one," Blair finished. He looked over to where he could vaguely see a shimmering white light. "We need to finish it." He picked up the root he used on his hair. "This is what is used here." He handed it over. "As you do possess me, I shall possess you this night, combining our essences this first time to lead the way for the future." He leaned into Jim's chest and relaxed.
Jim broke the new stem and spread some of the sap out on his fingers before moving a hand down to touch his lover for the first time. "Relax," he said quietly, spreading the firm flesh easily. "I'll be gentle."
"You'd better be," Blair said. "I've not had this for years, almost a decade."
Jim smiled and spread some of the sap around the outside before delving in. He slowly stretched the younger man to receive him, coating his insides with the sweet smelling sap. When he was done, he handed the plant over, watching as Blair broke it in a different place and spread the sap out. He could feel the fingers on him, then in him, stretching him gently.
They lay down on the soft bed of ferns that lined the sacred grove, falling together, mouths locked in a battle of love. Jim finally gave up, needing the air. "me first," he whispered.
Blair grinned and rolled onto his back. "Only if you're willing to top." Jim smiled and slid down easily, burying his lover in short bursts of energy and sliding down sensually. They joined hands and Jim started to sway up and down.
To each of them it was a magical moment, that first time negating all the other times and people that had gone before. They each felt cleaned out and refilled by their love, any holes left in their lives filled permanently.
Blair cried out, coming quickly. Jim slid off and moved between his lover's legs. "Mine," he whispered, taking him. He started his own rhythm, wanting and needing the completion that it would bring.
As he came, he could see a brilliant white light at the edge of the grove. He looked, easing out of Blair, and inching toward the weapons.
Blair rolled onto his stomach and pulled Jim on top of his back. "Goddess," he said, bowing his head. "We thank you for calling us so that we could share our love with you."
She smiled and sat down beside them, touching each of their heads. "And I thank you for freeing me." She waved a hand around, the flowers blooming at her touch. "We must finish it. I must go into the city and break the barrier. Would you come with me?"
Blair looked at the young seeming woman. "It would be an honor, My Lady." He wiggled out from under Jim and reached for his clothes. "Jim, we need to get dressed," he reminded.
Jim nodded and pulled out their new clothes, fitting after what they had done. "Here, I bought it for you." He blushed slightly as Blair looked them over. "I wanted us to have something new."
Blair pulled the package he had bought the day they had started this adventure. "Well, I didn't buy you clothes, but I did get you a present."
Jim opened it to see a new vest and pendant. "For me?" Blair nodded and bit his lip as Jim pulled it out. "Thank you, I love them." They quickly got dressed, each watching the other silently.
When they were ready, Blair untied Stone and led him over to where she sat. "If you would, My Lady," he said, holding out the reins. He held the powerful stallion steady while she got on.
Jim grabbed him, pulling him up in front of him. "Okay, back to the city we go."
"Back to avenge all those that have died," Blair said.
The Goddess pulled up beside them. "That is not my way. His sacrifice was a noble one, knowing that you didn't belong to him or to this world."
Blair nodded. "I understand, but it doesn't make it any easier." She patted his arm. "As you command me, so shall I go."
She nodded and started off, back the way they had came just a few days earlier.
Blair and Jim stood in front of the temple, hands joined, surrounded by people. "She has come," was whispered through the crowds. Everyone concentrated, bringing their love to the front and sending it to her to help her overcome the hate and prejudice that had created the barrier. It fell in a brilliant flash of dark light, and the crowd cheered her.
She turned to face them. "I have returned, yes, but the agony that he has caused still needs to be filled over with love. Return to your homes, feel the differences, love each other." She disappeared in a flash of light, just as she had appeared in the grove.
Blair looked at Jim and smiled. "Inn?"
"Inn." He led the horses toward where they had stayed before, silently handing the reins over to the proprietor, who met them at the door. "Is our room still available?" The other man handed them the key and went to take care of Stone and Painter.
Blair led Jim up the stairs, slowly walking in front of him for his pleasure. They walked through the door together, arm in arm as it should be. Jim playfully pushed his lover down onto the soft feather mattress, sliding down after him. They joined lips and fell asleep, their calling being done.
Simon looked over and smiled, nudging his watch partner awake. Jim had just rolled and kissed Blair, the younger man returning it eagerly. Simon cleared his throat to interrupt them, but they weren't paying any attention so he dragged his son out of the room and downstairs to wait.
Jim looked around and smiled. "We're back," he said quietly. "And alone."
Blair grinned. "Gee, really." He held up his arms and wiggled his hips. "Do you love me here too?"
Jim attacked the mobile mouth, telling him the only way he knew how that he did. When they came up for air, he grinned his silliest grin. "So, we should go back to gaming, I guess."
Blair groaned. "Just don't make me be a warrior."
Jim shook his head. "Nah, a Kender." He gave a quick kiss. "Definitely a Kender."