Remembering Julie Riley

By Zanz

EMAIL: Zanz

They're not mine. But they want to be so I'm thinking of taking up a collection, if you'd like to make a donation, please drop me a note.

I drive an hour each way to work everyday and this entire story came to me on the drive home the night before Halloween, 2001. There was a PBS station on the radio and the announcer said something about it being a 'blue moon' tonight and that it was the first one to fall on Halloween since 1955. That was enough for this story to take flight.

"Stop, Jim. Stop!"

With the sudden shout, Ellison's foot automatically hit the brake as his eyes shot up to the rear view mirror checking for traffic. Even though the vehicle was old, he kept it in tiptop condition and the blue and white truck slid to a stop, Ellison fighting the skid to keep it in his own lane. "What is it?" he demanded, looking around to find the source of the trouble. There was nothing out of the ordinary on the dark two-lane road that he could see and he looked over at his partner in question.

Blair Sandburg had tilted his head, trying to get the angle right to see in the side rear mirror. "That girl, man. Didn't you see her?"

Ellison's eyes swept back up to the center mirror and he scanned the road behind them. It was clear as far as he could see. Not even the headlights of another car were visible. "A girl? I didn't see anyone." Eyes narrowing slightly he dialed his vision higher to penetrate what little darkness the full moon didn't illuminate. "There's nothing back there, Chief."

"I'm telling you..." Popping his seat belt, Sandburg twisted around until he could see out the back window. "There she is!" he said in triumph.

Ellison's head shot around to look for himself. "Wha...?" He started in surprise. His eyes went back to the mirror. Sure enough. A girl was walking up the shoulder of the old highway, plain as day. "How'd I miss seeing her?" He turned around again. "Where'd she come from?"

"I don't know. Car trouble maybe?" Sandburg shrugged.

Ellison shook his head. "We haven't passed a car since we turned onto this road half an hour ago," he said, taking in the slim figure of the girl.

She looked to be in her teens, dressed in a full skirt and a pale short-sleeved sweater. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail and bangs fringed her forehead. She walked steadily, her arms crossed over her chest, her head down almost as if she was unaware of the truck and its occupants.

"She's wearing a poodle skirt," Sandburg said with a grin. "Naomi said she had one when she was a kid."

"A what?" Ellison asked blankly.

"A poodle skirt. You know, like they wore in the '50's. See the front of her skirt? That's a poodle appliqud on it. I'll bet she's even got a letter monogrammed on her sweater. I can see something twinkling in the moonlight."

Dialing his vision up just a little, Ellison could see the individual rhinestones that made up the sparkling letter. "It's a 'J' done in cursive with rhinestones and the end of the letter has a tear drop shaped crystal that sort of dangles."

He frowned. "Kids don't really dress like that, do they? I thought they all wore black and tried to look like Nazi storm troopers." He wasn't always up on the current fashion of teenagers but this girl's clothes really looked odd.

Sandburg grinned at his friend, reaching for the door handle. "It's called Goth and not all kids are into the Goth scene, Jim. And sometimes they dress like this. Especially if they're going to a Halloween party."

"We celebrated Halloween last weekend, Chief," the larger man said in an exaggerated patient tone, his left eyebrow lifting almost sarcastically.

"I know, Jim," Sandburg said, his own tone humorously mocking in its degree of patience. "But Halloween's on the 31st, remember? Today is October 31st. Megan threw her party on the Saturday before Halloween so we could all sleep in on Sunday and recover. A lot of people, especially kids, will celebrate tonight."

"Oh."

Sandburg's grin widened. "Well said." He ducked when his partner took a playful swing at the back of his head.

Ellison laughed as he reached for his own door handle. "Yeah, well, that's why they made me a detective."

"Yeah?" Sandburg's laughter joined in. "Listen, I knew there had to be a good reason."

Both men walked to the back of the truck where they came to a surprised stop as the girl walked right past them, never even looking up. Sandburg looked at his friend, his eyebrows shooting up in a silent question that his partner answered with an equally silent shrug. Ellison pulled his badge from his jacket pocket and his long strides took him level with the girl in seconds. Breaking into a little jog, Sandburg caught up, pacing on the opposite side.

"Miss? I'm a police officer and this is my partner. Do you need any help?"

The girl never slowed, never showed any sign at all that she was aware of their presence. Ellison examined her carefully as he walked beside her. She was several inches shorter than his partner, maybe 5'4", and looked to be about fifteen or sixteen years old.

It was a poodle skirt she wore, Sandburg had been right, made of dark pink felt with a small black dog sewn on it. A rhinestone collar encircled the poodle's neck. The soft pink of the cashmere sweater was lighter in color and the rhinestones that shaped the letter 'J' on the left sweater breast were the old fashioned kind, held in place by metal prongs that gripped the small sparkling bits of glass from the backside of the fabric. The tear shaped crystal he'd noticed earlier hanging from the end of the cursive letter sparkled in the light of the full moon with each step the girl took. A matching pink scarf was tied in a bow around the base of the dark ponytail and the look was completed with black and white oxfords and white bobby socks folded neatly around trim ankles.

Up close she was stunning, a milky smooth complexion that looked like it had never seen a blemish, with a soft glow of color in her cheeks and lips that had nothing to do with man-made products. Eyelashes so long and dark they looked almost artificial brushed her cheeks with each blink of her eyes. Ellison couldn't see her eye color, she never looked up. He could see nothing to explain her odd behavior.

"Sandburg?" Ellison's voice was barely a whisper. "I'm out of my depth here."

"I don't know, Jim." Sandburg's voice was even softer; knowing the Sentinel could hear him. "Shock maybe. She doesn't look like she's been in any kind of accident. There doesn't seem to be any trauma."

The odd threesome took a few more steps, which took them into the glow of the truck's headlights. Ellison turned suddenly and took several jogging steps forward then turned back directly into the girl's path.

"Jim, I don't know," Sandburg protested when he saw what his partner was planning.

"We've got to stop her, Chief." He held out his arms toward the trance-like figure and the girl funneled herself directly into his arms, coming to a stop inches away from the broad, strong chest. Ellison dropped his arms and waited for his partner.

"We're here to help you," Sandburg said gently, taking the lead. "Don't be afraid. Can you tell us what happened?" Ellison recognized the nearly same tone his Guide used when helping him with his senses. Very slowly, so his movements wouldn't surprise her, his voice low and calm, Sandburg stretched out his hand and very lightly touched the girl's forearm.

The reaction was immediate. Sandburg jerked his hand back with a look of shock as if he'd been burned.

"Don't touch me!" the girl gasped sharply, flinching back as her arms dropped to her sides.

Balanced on the balls of his feet, Ellison waited. He just didn't know what for. He half expected the girl to flee. "Chief?" he breathed.

"You stopped." It was the girl. Her voice was soft and full of surprise. Both men watched her carefully. She lifted her head slowly, looking first at Sandburg then on up to the taller man. Her eyes were the greenest Ellison thought he'd ever seen, filled with an innocence that overlay a look that spoke of age and knowledge. Something about them reminded him of his partner's eyes. "Someone had to stop. To help. No one ever did though. But you did. You stopped." And she smiled. A very gentle smile. "Thank you," she whispered.

Sandburg felt an answering smile on his own lips.

"Miss," Ellison's tone was the one he used when he was speaking with very young children. He held out his ID with his badge showing. "I'm a police officer, Detective Jim Ellison. This is my partner, Blair Sandburg. What can we do to help you?"

The young woman's smile didn't fade but neither did she answer. Her eyes lingered on Sandburg's strong jaw and full lower lip before moving up to the wide blue eyes that were filled at the moment with undisguised concern and on to the wealth of soft curls framing his face. "You're very beautiful," she said honestly.

Ellison's eyes filled with amusement at the sudden rush of blood that flushed his partner's face. His partner's beautiful face, he mentally corrected. But before he could say anything his roommate sent him a glare that said, 'Don't even go there.'

Then he felt a shock as he realized the girl was right. Sandburg was beautiful. A blush warmed his own features. Ellison felt the girl's eyes move to him and he turned back to her.

"You're his?"

"He's my partner, yes," Ellison acknowledged. The ancient-young eyes didn't waver from his and he was suddenly glad he was the only one with Sentinel sight as he felt his flush deepen. This wasn't the answer she was looking for and oddly he knew what she was asking. Finally he nodded. "Yes."

"Take care of him," she whispered so softly he didn't think Sandburg could have heard.

Ellison nodded again. "Yes."

Sandburg made a sudden movement like he'd been jerked out of a sleep. "You're cold," he said, reaching to undo the zipper of his light jacket.

"No," the girl said, turning her smile on him. "Not anymore."

"Can we help you?" Ellison repeated, feeling like he needed to get the conversation back on track as he tucked his ID back into his pocket. "How did you get out here by yourself? Can we give you a ride?"

"A ride?" The girl's head lifted as if she was hearing something from a long way away and Ellison found himself straining to hear also.

Sandburg pointed to the truck. "You know, take you home."

"Home?" She looked from one man to the other a little uncertainly, and then she smiled again. "I'd like to go home."

Sandburg reached for her arm to help her toward the truck but she flinched away from him again and he dropped his hand.

"We won't hurt you," Ellison assured her.

The girl turned away. "You can't," she whispered.

Even with his Sentinel hearing, he wasn't sure he heard her correctly as she made her way to the open truck door and climbed inside. The two partners were left staring after her.

"Sexual assault?" Sandburg asked in concern.

Ellison's hand found the small of his partner's back as he shrugged. "I can't smell anything if it was, but the symptoms are similar. She's certainly separated herself from the here and now. Let's get her into the next town. Maybe someone there will recognize her."

The two men took their places in the truck, each staying as far as possible from the girl, trying to give her as much space as they could, not wanting her to feel threatened. The young girl stared through the front windshield, paying them no mind. Ellison put the truck in gear and pulled away, slowly accelerating to full speed.

Using the same tone as before when he'd spoken with her, Sandburg tried to gather information, asking several questions, ending up with, "You go to school around here?" He was ignored. He looked out the window briefly, trying to think of something that would get a response. The flashes of moon seen between the branches of the trees caught his attention. "It's a full moon. Hey," he said excitedly, "do you know it's actually a blue moon tonight?"

A faint shiver ran through the slight figure between them.

"They're so rare that this is the first blue moon to fall on Halloween since..."

"1955," the girl whispered.

"Yeah," Sandburg looked at her in surprise, "that's right, since 1955. Are you into astronomy?"

The young woman ignored him.

"A 'blue' moon, Chief?" Ellison questioned, thinking that maybe if they behaved in a normal manner it might make the girl feel more at ease.

"Yeah," Sandburg turned to his partner. "A blue moon is when you have two full moons in the same month. They usually only happen once every two and a half to three years." The girl ignored the exchange. Sandburg decided to try the direct approach. He turned to her. "I'm Blair Sandburg. What's your name?"

"Julie Riley."

The two men looked at each other in surprise.

"Ahh," Sandburg said with a smile. "That's what the 'J' on your sweater stands for."

The girl's eyes dropped to the letter and her finger reached up to jiggle the crystal teardrop, causing it to sparkle again. "This is my new sweater," she whispered, a hint of pride in her voice.

"Do you live around here, Julie?" Ellison asked.

"Not anymore."

"But you used to?"

But the information seemed to have dried up as Julie turned her attention back to the road in front of them. No amount of questions or comments received any further response. After a bit, Sandburg, being the font of trivial information, continued his lecture on the moon.

Ellison listened with a smile. The anthropology student's chatter had about driven him wild when he'd first moved into the loft but now he couldn't imagine it not being around. Didn't want to imagine it not being around. His roommate was just such a whirlwind of information, spinning through life, dropping off bits of knowledge here and there, picking up others. And sharing. Always sharing.

"...and then there are the different moons. I mean not really different moons, of course. There's only the one moon, but besides the phases like the half moon and the quarter moon it's also called the harvest moon and the hunter's moon and the blue moon and the fruit moon and a half dozen other names, and that's only in English. There are just as many names in other cultures." Real excitement filled his voice as his interest was piqued. "I should look into that sometime. I wonder just how many different names there are for the moon and if they correlate between the different cultures, you know?

"I mean, we have a harvest moon because in the past they actually used the light of the autumn full moon to harvest crops, so do other cultures have a similar name for their fall moon?" He was warming to his subject, practically vibrating with energy as he stared out the window at the object of his current monologue. "And do other cultures see the moon as an object of romance? Do you have any idea how many love songs have been written about the moon? Songs about the harvest moon and the full moon and the blue moon." His face twisted in humor. "Well, I don't guess I've ever heard a song about the fruit moon, and certainly not a love song." A wicked grin curved his mouth. "I can just imagine what kind of a song that would be."

They'd gone through several more moons and a couple of miles with Julie's demeanor growing increasingly distressed with each mile. Ellison noticed it first and after a few minutes he caught Sandburg's eye and gave a slight nod in her direction. Where before she'd been calm to the point of near catatonia, she now went the opposite direction. The young girl had slowly stiffened in her seat, her eyes glued to the road. Her left hand was tightened into a fist on the little black poodle stitched on her skirt. Her eyes had dilated until only a narrow band of green was visible, the rest swallowed by the black pupils, her lips slightly parted.

The Sentinel scanned the surrounding area, dialing up his vision slightly, trying to find anything that would explain the young woman's sudden fear. He turned his eyes back to the road. They were currently running parallel to a steep hill on their right and ahead the narrow two-lane curved sharply and disappeared around the end of the hill. There was nothing to be seen or heard beyond the normal dappled shadows that blanketed the road and the sound of the wind rushing past the truck. Certainly nothing to explain Julie Riley's level of agitation. Sandburg had fallen silent, his eyes moving between the girl and his partner. There was a feeling of expectation, of waiting, in the cab of the truck. But only the girl seemed to know what was coming. And it terrified her.

Ellison lifted his foot from the accelerator and tapped the break pedal lightly to slow the truck for the approaching curve. Half way through the turn, his foot found the gas pedal again to bring the vehicle back up to full speed. The girl's condition was beginning to bother him. Obviously there was something more going on than they realized, something more than just a physical injury and he was beginning to wonder about a mental condition. He found his hands tightening on the steering wheel and noticed his partner's right hand gripping the armrest. It made him feel a little better knowing it wasn't just him.

It happened so fast it seemed later that it was all in the same instant. There was no string of events. No individual order. It was just one single happening.

"STOP!" The terrified scream tore itself out of the girl's throat as her right hand lunged, slapping the dashboard, holding it in a death grip.

Ellison stomped the brake pedal as hard as he could, at the same time twisting the steering wheel violently to the left, throwing the old truck into a sideways slide down the two lane road. He only had a brief second of thought, hoping there wasn't an oncoming vehicle coming around the curve when the scream of tires on the pavement was drowned out by the wall of sound that engulfed them as the freight train roared past, so close to the side panel of the truck that the squealing, wrenching sound of the extended mirror being ripped off was lost in the overall nightmare of noise. The weight and speed and nearness of the train rocked the truck with its force. Sandburg looked out his window, eyes staring unfocused at the wall of speeding steel. Ellison's eyes didn't shift from the front windshield as he watched the lights disappear down the track. Quiet descended, broken only by the shaky breathing of the two men.

"Damn," Sandburg whispered.

"Fuck," Ellison agreed. His hands shook on the steering wheel. "I didn't see it," he whispered. "I never heard a thing."

"We almost died and I haven't even told you..." Sandburg's voice cut off abruptly as he turned his head. Four seconds later he was standing in front of the truck, joined a half-second later by his partner. Neither man had any conscious memory of moving.

"Jim?" Sandburg's voice held a tremor as he stared through the windshield.

"I don't know." Ellison, too, was staring into the empty truck. His own voice none too steady.

"Jim, where'd she go?"

"I don't know, Chief."

"Jim, where the fuck did she go?"

"I. Don't. Know."

~~<>~~

Ellison screwed the gas cap back on the tank and headed into the building that served the tiny community as a gas station, grocery store, restaurant and unofficial community gathering place. Pulling the door open, he stepped back out of the way as a swarm of short monsters, two vampires, a wolfman and a mummy, rushed the door. They were followed by a harassed looking mother clutching the chubby hand of a tiny fairy complete with gossamer wings. A trick or treat bag hung from the child's arm, her mouth wreathed in sweet confectionery goo as her grubby little chocolate covered hand gripped the sharply creased pant leg at Ellison's knee on her way past.

"Boys, wait for me," the woman called. She mumbled, "Excuse me," and "Thank you," as she passed the detective.

Ellison grimaced at the milk chocolate handprint on his khakis and shook his head as he joined his partner at the counter. The dry cleaners should be able to get it out.

"This okay, Jim?" Sandburg asked.

Ellison glanced at the two cans of pop and candy bars, one granola, the other his favorite chocolate, and grinned. "Thanks, Chief. And the gas on the pump, too," he told the teenage boy behind the counter, pulling his wallet from his pocket.

As Ellison paid the bill, Sandburg wandered over to a large bulletin board hanging by the door and stood reading the notices of community events, lost and found and items to be sold. "Hey, Jim," he said, feeling his partner move into place directly behind him. He smiled with pleasure at the familiar warmth that had little to do with body heat. "Take a look at some of these notices. You can learn a lot about a community by reading these boards. It's like a whole microcosm posted right here."

Ellison lifted his hand but let it hover uncertainly for several seconds near Sandburg's back before allowing it to settle like a breath against the fabric, sure the young man couldn't feel it. He was surprised a second later when he felt his partner lean into his touch. "Yeah, Sandburg, I can see how important three garage sales and a car wash are to a well-oiled community," he said dryly.

"You ass," Sandburg laughed shoving his elbow back into the hard abs of his partner's stomach.

"Hey, but look at this." Using the hand holding their small bag Ellison reached around his friend and pointed to a small picture. "Did you see this one? Somebody's trying to sell an old Corvair. I think it's even the same model you had." When Sandburg didn't respond, Ellison glanced down and found him staring blindly upward, his mouth hanging half open. Beneath his hand he felt a fine shudder shake his friend. "Chief?"

"Oh, man," Sandburg whispered. "Check it out."

Ellison looked to see what held his partner's attention. An old 8X10 black and white photograph in a simple black frame hung on the wall above the bulletin board. He felt the blood drain from his face as he stared.

"She's even dressed the same," Sandburg said.

Without turning his head, Ellison called to the clerk. "Hey, who is this?"

The young boy came out from behind the counter and joined the partners. "Who? That? That's a girl who lived here back in the '50's. Everybody knows about her. She was killed in a car wreck near here. She and her boyfriend were hit by a train on their way home from a Halloween dance. Her dad took that picture right before they left that night. Pretty spooky, huh?"

The door chime rang as another group of costumed kids came in looking for treats and the teenager moved back to the counter to hand out candy, calling each child by name, complimenting each one on their costume.

Waiting until the kids had left again, Ellison asked, "When was she killed, do you know? What year?"

The boy snagged a bag of candy off a display and tore it open to refill his supply of treats. "Yeah, man. Like I said, everybody around here knows the story of Julie Riley."

Sandburg's lips silently formed the dead girl's name as the boy said it out loud.

"She was killed in 1955." The boy dumped the candy into the pumpkin shaped container sitting on the counter. "People say they catch glimpses of her every now and then. You know, her ghost? They claim to have seen her out near the railroad crossing, warning them when a train was coming, but I don't know. I mean, everybody around here knows that's a blind crossing and they slow down." He shrugged. "Not that many trains through here anymore anyway, you know?"

"Anyone," Sandburg's voice came out raspy so he cleared his throat and started again. "Anyone ever talk to her?"

"Talk to her? Talk to a dead girl?" The kid balled the empty plastic bag up and tossed it toward the trash. "Two points," he celebrated, raising his hands in triumph when it hit the mark. "You mean talked to her ghost?" he said coming back on topic.

The anthropology student shrugged. "Yeah, you know, tried to find out why she's still around."

"Ahhh, no." The boy looked like he wanted to laugh at the idea but didn't want to appear impolite to the paying customers. "I don't think anybody's ever tried to talk to her. I'm not even sure anybody's ever even seen her. I mean, I've lived here all my life and never seen anything. I've never even talked to anybody who claims they saw her. Just rumors, you know? Besides, it sounds pretty hokey to me. Halloween stuff. Ghost stories are for kids, you know?"

"Yeah. Yeah, right," Ellison said, suddenly very anxious to be gone. He pulled his friend away from the bulletin board and used the hand against his back to forcibly steer him toward the door, knowing that if he didn't get Sandburg out of there soon his brain would kick into gear, his mouth would immediately follow and they'd be there the rest of the night while he satisfied his curiosity. Hell, he'd probably even insist on interviewing half the community! "Happy Halloween," Ellison managed to say.

"Yeah, right, man. Happy Halloween to you, too. Thanks for stopping in." The boy waved as the door closed.

Ellison pushed his only slightly responsive partner forward until they got as far as the truck door, then Sandburg froze. "But, Jim," he started.

"No, Sandburg," Ellison said firmly.

"But, Jim, I just..." the young anthropology student tried again.

"What part of 'No' is it that you don't understand, Chief? I am not going there. Not tonight. Not ever."

"Okay, but let me just ask you one question though, okay?" Sandburg pleaded. "If you'll answer just this one question I won't go back in there and ask that kid all the questions I wanna ask him." He grinned, knowing his partner would see this as a reasonable request. And as badly as he wanted to find out more about Julie Riley, it was reasonable. Besides, if nothing else, he was fairly sure he could at least satisfy his curiosity online. Ghost stories were pretty popular and had a way of getting out.

"Okay. Shoot. One question." Ellison stood looking down at his roommate.

Suddenly very serious, Sandburg looked up into the blue eyes that were almost a match to his own. He read the humor, patience, resignation and something he couldn't quite name there. "Well, I was just wondering about something." He hesitated, looking away.

Ellison pulled the passenger door open and leaned against it. "Out with it, Chief. I'd like to get home before midnight."

Almost as if he was afraid he'd be rebuffed, Sandburg reached out and placed the palm of his hand flat in the center of Ellison's chest. "What did you mean when she asked if you were mine and you said yes?"

Ellison's face showed his shocked surprise. Out of all the questions his partner could have asked, this was the last one he'd expected. In the confusion following that question he'd actually forgotten about it. He looked down into the bright blue eyes and read the hesitancy and fear behind the brave front and wondered what it had cost his roommate to ask this. And in spite of what he wanted to say, he felt the familiar flush of fear course through him that he experienced any time someone pushed into the faade he presented to the world. He felt his features stiffen and knew his eyes showed it too because he saw a sudden look of hurt resignation pass through his partner's.

"Never mind," Sandburg said with a sigh. "Forget I asked." He climbed into the truck seat, pulled his door out of his partner's hands and shut it.

Ellison circled the vehicle, opened his door and climbed in. He started the truck, put it in gear and sat looking at his hands gripping the steering wheel. Without moving, he could see Sandburg watching another group of kids heading toward the small store. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a tiny glint of light on the seat beside him and looked down to see what had captured his attention. Half fearfully he picked the small shard up, his movement catching Sandburg's eye, who watched as Ellison lifted the small piece of glass up to the light. They both looked at the crystal caught between his finger and thumb like a tiny moonbeam, a tiny moonbeam from a blue moon. He held it out and very gently laid the teardrop shaped crystal into the palm of his partner's hand.

"Julie Riley," Sandburg whispered softly. "She wanted to go home. You think she made it, Jim?"

Ellison studied the still features of his friend as he looked at the crystal. "Yeah, Chief," he said in an equally quiet tone. "I think us stopping may have helped her."

"That's what she said, wasn't it? That someone needed to stop. To help." His voice was wistful. "I hope she got home."

Both men stared at the small piece of glass lying in Sandburg's open palm. A breathless gasp jerked Ellison's attention up to his partner's face then he followed Sandburg's shocked gaze back down. With a tiny shiver of dread, he dialed his sight up, bringing the details of the crystal into sharp focus. Lying perfectly still in Sandburg's hand, it sparkled. Just as it had when Julie Riley had reached up to tease it when it hung on her sweater. Then it stopped. The sparkle was gone and it might have been just any piece of glass. Not the crystal from a dead girl's sweater.

Ellison watched as Sandburg's fingers closed momentarily over the shard of glass before the anthropology student held out his hand and dropped the crystal back into Ellison's hand. Almost absently he dropped the glass into his shirt pocket as he pulled his eyes back up to stare out the front window and all he could see was the echo of the hurt in his partner's eyes when he'd been unable to answer his question.

The events of the strange evening flashed though his mind, the young girl dressed in clothes from the 1950's, Sandburg's concerned chatter in trying to make her feel less frightened, the speeding train that had almost ended their lives and his partner's words before either of them realized the girl was suddenly gone. He'd forgotten those words, spoken in a shaking voice, We almost died and I haven't even told you... Haven't told me what? And now the question, What did you mean when she asked if you were mine and you said yes? Out of everything he could have asked, why had Sandburg asked that? And the truth flitted though his mind, Because he wanted to know the answer. So what had he meant? His eyes found his reflection in the rear view mirror then automatically, even knowing he wouldn't find it, he looked toward the passenger side mirror. The one that was no longer there. So close. So goddamn, fucking close. And he trembled.

"I meant that I love you," Ellison said softly, surprised that the words actually made it out of his constricted throat. "My heart is yours." And he felt the sudden stillness from the other side of the truck. Without moving, he saw Sandburg look at him but for the life of him, he couldn't turn to meet that look. Just the simple statement had cost him too much; he couldn't risk seeing the look of revulsion in his partner's eyes. Triumphant laughter rang inside the truck and inwardly, for a split second, Ellison cringed.

"Thank the gods," Sandburg said, his voice filled with something that was definitely more than just laughter. "I didn't think I was ever going to get that out of you."

Ellison's head jerked around and the fear that had resided in his heart for years melted like so much ice on a summer's day under the smile on his partner's face. "Blair?" he said. He'd wanted this so badly, now it seemed it was his for the taking and he was barely able to believe.

"I love you, Jim Ellison," Sandburg told him. "Have from the very beginning." He grinned. "Well, maybe not the very beginning, but close."

Ellison closed his mouth on his surprise. "Why didn't you say anything?" he asked.

"Why didn't I say anything?" Sandburg's voice rose in indignation. "Are you kidding? I'd just moved in with the biggest, baddest cop in the whole of Major Crime. Hell! In the whole friggin' Cascade Police Department, and suddenly I'm supposed to announce, 'Oh, by the way I'm bisexual and I think you're hot?' I don't think so. Naomi Sandburg didn't raise a stupid son. You were Black Ops, man. People have been killed for less than that. I like living."

Ellison stared at him, amused disbelief flickering across his face. "You've never backed down from anything in your life, Chief. Certainly not from any grief I've ever given you. You're in my face before I can get the words out of my mouth. Why about this?"

Blair Sandburg knew the man across from him better than anyone, possibly even better than Ellison knew himself. He knew his strengths and weaknesses, knew the hard ass, tough as nails attitude that most of the world took at face value hid a tenderness that only a few ever saw. He also knew that he was probably the only one who saw the whole Jim Ellison. He was a hard ass cop and anyone who crossed him quickly realized it wasn't just an act and that there was a reason that the occasional rumor circulated about something from his military days. Sandburg knew he didn't want to know all of this man's secrets. They were classified for a reason. But he also knew the fear and uncertainty and self-doubt. And loved him for all of it.

And his answer was serious. "Because this was too important." Sliding across the seat, Sandburg turned so that he faced his partner, his left leg folded half under him. He shoved the gear lever into park and turned the engine off. "If somebody needs gas, we'll move," he said then looked down for a second before looking back up. "Why didn't you say anything, Jim?" His lips twitched at the sudden wary look in Ellison's eyes. "Exactly. I suspect I never said anything for the same reasons you didn't."

"You were afraid?" Ellison asked in surprise.

"What? You think you've got the monopoly on fear-based reactions? Fear-based assumptions?" Sandburg demanded, only half jokingly. His voice turned serious, "Everyone's afraid of rejection, Jim. That's only human. In this instance I think we were each afraid to give up what we had on the chance our feelings would be reciprocated. What we have isn't bad and an awful lot of people go through their whole lives and never have the level of trust and friendship and love we already have."

"Was it worth it to risk that for sex?" Ellison continued the thought.

"Exactly."

They watched as a station wagon pulled into a parking place near the door and the wolfman from earlier opened the back door. A woman's voice carried across the parking lot. "I think she may have shoved it in the candy display, Matthew. Just ask Daniel if he's seen it. I know she had it when we went in."

"Yes, ma'am," the boy said politely. Then the Sentinel heard him grumbling all the way inside about how his stupid little sister in her stupid fairy costume had to go and lose her stupid magic wand.

"And now?" Ellison asked after the boy disappeared inside. "What are we risking now?"

Sandburg turned back to his partner. "And now, because of a very unusual circumstance and an even more unusual young woman, I don't think there is a risk." He scooted a little closer.

"You don't think so?" Ellison asked, his breathing quickening slightly.

"Not if you meant what you told Julie Riley."

"I'm yours, Chief," Ellison swore, "with all my faults and weaknesses. For better or worse."

Sandburg smiled. "Till death us do part, Jim?"

Ellison looked startled. He hadn't realized his words mirrored the traditional wedding vows. He smiled at the man beside him. "I don't think so," he said softly. "I don't want to put that kind of limit on our love." His roommate's delighted laugh sent a shiver through him. Very slowly, very deliberately, without touching anything else, he leaned in and pressed his lips against Sandburg's in an almost chaste first kiss. And then 'chaste' flew right out the window as he pulled back slightly, his tongue sliding in a long sensuous movement along his partner's full lower lip. And the moan that slid through his Guide sent a shot of heat directly to his groin. His head lifted as Sandburg rose half on his knees and began a slow examination of his neck with his tongue.

"I found it! I found it!" The excited young voice echoed across the empty parking lot as the little boy exited the store. "I found the magic wand!"

"So did I," Sandburg murmured, his hand sliding along the khaki covered leg, causing his partner's hips to lift into the touch, seeking more.

The station wagon was put into reverse and backed out and Ellison's sentinel hearing caught the young voice. "Hey, look at that! Those two guys are kissing! Hey, Mom, is it okay for two guys to kiss?"

And he smiled at the mother's reply. "Yes, Matthew. It's okay for two guys to kiss. Love takes many forms and kissing is certainly better than people beating each other up. Now, how about more trick or treating?"

"Trick or treat! Trick or treat!" The chant followed the station wagon out of the parking lot.

The immediate threat of interruption gone, Ellison's eyes closed and he opened his sense of touch, just a little, giving in to the fiery sensations his partner was igniting with each touch of his lips. "How could I not have seen this?" he demanded with a low moan.

"I hid it," Sandburg murmured.

"I'm a Sentinel, for god's sake," he panted, "how could you hide something like this?" Sandburg's deep husky breath of laughter against his skin sent chill bumps racing down his neck and Ellison groaned, thinking if he weren't careful he could come just from that feeling alone.

"You never wondered why I dated so much, Jim? I had to do something to hide the damn pheromones!"

Ellison groaned, his hips thrusting up again, wanting, needing more. "Wait, Chief. Wait," he panted. "Stop. Stop." He pushed his partner back, trying to catch his breath.

"Jim?" Sandburg's tone was half concern, half confused desire. "What's wrong?"

The heavy lidded look of longing in the blue eyes staring up at him almost undid Ellison and he scrabbled frantically at the window crank, trying to get the glass rolled down, seeking the fresh, cool night air.

"Jim?"

Ellison drew several deep breaths, fighting to dial everything back down. He threw an exasperated look at his partner. "I love you, Blair Sandburg, and I plan to spend the rest of our lives showing you that. But I do not want our first time together to be in the parking lot of a convenience store with me coming in my pants!"

Frustration flashed across his partner's features before rational reasoning cut in and he took a deep breath, nodding. "You're right. You're right." He shoved his hair back out of his face then ran shaking hands down his thighs, the fabric of his jeans suddenly feeling so good to his sensitized fingers. "If I do you, then you'd do me and I just can't see us going back in there and asking that seventeen year old kid if we could use his restroom to clean up after having sex in his parking lot! And driving another two hours with that in my shorts isn't exactly an attractive idea either." He swallowed and moved back a little into his own space. "We're not teenagers. We're both responsible adults. It's only another two hours and we'll be back at the loft. We can wait." Sandburg's voice was only a little shaky.

"Yeah?" Ellison looked at his partner, doubtfully.

"Yeah," Sandburg said firmly. "You're right. Let's go home. If this is going to be forever, and I fully expect it to last at least that long, then I don't want our first time to be in a convenience store parking lot either."

And it wasn't. They actually made it six miles down the road to the first roadside park.

~~<>~~

His eyelids fluttered slightly as light registered in a mind still half asleep, sending a kaleidoscope of miniature rainbows into his consciousness and the sated man found himself idly wondering the fate of the crystal. Julie Riley's crystal. Thoughts stirring toward awareness, he remembered his partner slipping it into his shirt pocket. It had probably gotten lost in the events of the evening. Without opening his eyes, a lazy smile curved his lips remembering those particular events. 'Oh, yeah!' Those events were worth remembering. Every time he shifted his body or tightened certain muscles it was there, sending actual shivers tingling through him. In particularly delightful ways. Not that he thought there was ever any chance of him forgetting.

The events of that first evening were definitely worth remembering. And the ones of the morning after. And the afternoon. And last night. 'Oh, yeah! Last night!' He shifted slightly and a low contented hum rumbled in his chest.

Hearing the echoing vibration of the Sentinel's low chuckle through the mattress, he opened his eyes and dredged up the strength to shove his hair back out of his face enough to focus on the wall in front of him. He was lying on his stomach, his face pressed into the pillow so that he could see only with his left eye.

The bed shifted slightly behind him and a whisper of touch, something soft, almost more thought than physical touch, brushed the nape of his neck and he shivered. A stray thought drifted through his mind wondering how his body could still respond to anything sexual after the workout it had received, but he felt the flush of heat on the inside of his thighs and his breath caught in his chest. It was as if his entire body was sensitized, tied directly to his cock.

The breath of touch again, causing his chest to tighten and his breath to catch once more as it moved downward, traveling with an infinite slowness down his spine. Thoughts of sleep fled as his eyes widened and he felt his heartbeat quicken. A low sound behind him let him know that the Sentinel was monitoring his body's responses, which only served to heighten his responses. He couldn't hide anything from his partner, not when the man was in full sense mode, so he gave in, allowing himself to relax into the sensations. He was rewarded with a deep responding moan of pure heat from behind him and he let go, sinking fully into what was being done to his body, knowing that his pleasure was bringing his partner pleasure as well.

Slowly. Languidly. The touch advanced. Within an inch of movement he felt his cock stir to life beneath him. How could his body respond in such a way to just a touch? Another two inches had him spreading his legs to give room as he grew to full erection. Bending his left knee and pulling it up slightly. Chill bumps chased up his back as the blood rushed down.

'Oh God! What is that?' He wasted a full three seconds on that question as the touch progressed before abandoning rational thought altogether and surrendering to sensation. He felt his jaw muscles tense as his head lifted with the slight arching of his back, both hands tightening into fists around handfuls of the pillow on either side of his head. His eyelids fluttered and tiny refractions of light danced across the wall in front of him as his eyes rolled back in his head and his eyelids closed.

It was fire. It was ice. It was everything and nothing and it turned him inside out as it dipped into the slope of his waist and continued downward. The soul scorching ice seared through him as it reached the sensitive triangle of smooth skin just at the apex of his crevice and very slowly circled. His mouth opened and he screamed without a sound because there was no breath in his lungs as the sliver dipped between his cheeks and converged on the opening to his body. Heat registered somewhere in his brain. Wet, volcanic, seething heat consuming that one sweet spot it had taken a Sentinel to find.

He was in a vast, tiny room lit by darkness. Aware of everything his body was experiencing. Feeling every touch, every heartbeat, every breath. And separated from it all.

He knew when the shard of fire brushed his opening, drawing its fiery trail slowly along its length from top to bottom as the caress progressed in its journey. He felt the building, pulling his balls up tight against his body and knew he would come. Just from this touch. This breath. Seconds away. And he wanted, needed, to thrust forward. Back. Anything. And he couldn't.

Then it was gone. Away from his ass. But, God! Now the ice, the fire was scorching his perineum. He'd never been particularly receptive there. Never before. But...Dear...Sweet God!

In the oblivion where he dwelt he knew when he stopped breathing. Knew he wasn't holding his breath. Breathing was simply no longer necessary. It wasn't needed. And the immense echoing blackness sparkled with the clarity. And in his darkness he saw it all. His void was without shape or form. Was only feeling.

Then the touch, the 'scarcely there' touch was on his sac and he felt it, felt the barest caress where before he'd never felt anything but heat and cold, never light touches. Not here. Such a meager touch. Miserly. When he wanted it all.

oh Gone. Not on... oh Breathe? shit Eternity. It was eternity. oh, shit His cock. Touched. The flesh...begging. Thrust. He needed... Couldn't. oh Stroked. Caressing ice. Loving fire. Breathe. shit Cock. Balls tight. Hurt. Too much. Never. Head. Cock. Never stop.

And the touch was there. At the head of his cock. Slicing. Flaying. Cleaving him in two. Ripping him asunder as his body heaved. His crystalline darkness ruptured and there was one tiny nanosecond that dragged him into infinity where the blinding white light seared into his mind, devouring everything he was.

~~<>~~

"Blair," the tone was worried. "Come on, Chief. Open your eyes. That's it." Coaxing. "Yeah, that's it. Open your eyes. Can you see me?"

The blurry image of his partner swam into view as Sandburg fought to focus. "Wha...?"

Relief flooded the face hovering over him. "Thank God! You okay now?" Ellison demanded. "Damn, Chief, I thought I'd killed you."

"Death by orgasm," Sandburg mumbled, a sated smile on his face. "I can think of worse ways to go," he breathed, his eyelids dropping shut again. It took several minutes for his brain to come back online, to reconnect to the rest of his body. He was conscious of his partner's hand on his stomach, his chest, rubbing small circles, giving as well as seeking comfort. "What happened?" he was finally able to ask as he reopened his eyes and turned his head to gaze blearily at his friend.

"You passed out."

"From orgasm?" One eyebrow lifted in amused contemplation and a lazy smile crossed the younger man's face. "Never done that before." It took several seconds longer for his partner's concerned look to register then he pushed his hair back out of his face, blinking to steady his focus. "What's wrong?"

Resting on his right elbow above him, Ellison stared down, watching the small movement of his hand with the rise and fall of his partner's chest. "You stopped breathing, Chief."

Reasoning and intelligence beginning to return, Sandburg nodded his head as he remembered. "Yeah, I know. Strangest damn thing I've ever experienced. It was like I didn't need to breathe."

Ellison rolled onto his back to stare up at the skylight, dropping his hand onto his stomach.

"Jim?" Sandburg struggled up onto his elbow, beginning to realize there was something seriously wrong with his partner. "What is it?"

"You stopped breathing," the cop repeated. "I thought you were just holding your breath. But you weren't, were you?"

Sandburg frowned. "I don't think so. Why? What difference does it make?"

Ellison took a deep breath. "It scared me," he said softly.

"Jim?" Sandburg pushed himself up into a semi-lotus position beside his partner, keeping his thigh in close contact with Ellison's ribcage. He placed his right hand directly over the strongly beating heart, needing to feel its rhythmic pulse, needing the comfort.

The Sentinel shifted his right arm a little, bringing it over Sandburg's crossed ankles and resting his hand on his friend's inner thigh, his fingers tracing lightly.

"Jim? You didn't hurt me," Sandburg said softly. "You know that, right?"

"I wasn't paying close enough attention to your vitals," Ellison told him, then added with a guilty look, "To be honest, I was getting off on your reactions to what I was doing. I thought at first you were holding your breath. It took a couple of minutes before I began to think it wasn't something conscious you were doing. You stopped breathing for over two minutes, Chief."

"Two minutes?"

"Yeah," Ellison said grimly.

"Jim," Sandburg said reasonably. "What's the worst that could have happened?"

"You could have died!"

The younger man snorted. "Not likely. At the most, orgasm or no orgasm, I would've passed out and started breathing again. You know that."

"I know," he conceded, finally letting go of his anxiety. "And your heart rate wasn't any higher than it's been any other time just before you came. That's probably why I didn't have any warning that there might be something wrong."

"But there wasn't anything wrong," Sandburg protested. "In fact, I've never felt anything like that in my entire life."

"Yeah?" Ellison looked at him doubtfully.

The grad student grinned. "Oh yeah," he breathed deeply. "That had to be the most mind blowing thing I have ever experienced!" Relieved his partner was feeling better about the entire affair, he slid down beside him, resting his head in the hollow of the other man's shoulder. "I'm not even sure I could describe it."

"Well, don't get used to it," Ellison warned him as he rubbed his back. "I'm not sure I could survive it too many times!"

Sandburg gave a low chuckle. "What was that thing you were you using on me anyway? I couldn't tell."

Ellison's right hand left his partner's back and fumbled up between their two pillows for a moment and brought out the instrument of exquisite torture. Sandburg pulled his head back a bit to get it in focus. "That?" he said in astonishment. "You gave me an orgasm that made me pass out with that?"

Ellison held the small item out and examined it objectively. Four inches long, less than a quarter of an inch wide, the small brown feather certainly didn't look impressive. "Well, you know what they say, Chief," the Sentinel said with a smirk in his voice. "It's not the size of your equipment but what you can do with it that counts."

Sandburg's hand slid down the sculpted body. "Yeah,' he purred in a low voice that sent a twitch through his partner's straining cock, "but you've got size and talent. Now that's something to brag about."

Ellison's hips gave an unconscious thrust as his partner's hand encircled the head of his cock and he groaned aloud as his eyes closed in delicious anticipation. The sound turned to one of frustration as, after only a couple of moments, all movement stopped. He lifted his head to find his partner's hand pressed tightly over his eyes. "Ahhh, Chief?"

"Sorry, Jim," Sandburg said. "I think I must be having a flashback." He looked up. "Can you have a flashback to an orgasm?"

Ellison blinked. "I don't know," he said dryly. "I haven't had one yet. What's happening?"

"I'm seeing a kaleidoscope of rainbows," Sandburg muttered. "I saw them when you first started playing, too." His head came up and he frowned at his roommate's chuckle of amusement.

"You're not having a flashback, Chief," Ellison told him. "And the rainbows had nothing to do with your orgasm." He pushed his partner over onto his back and pointed upward. "Look."

Sandburg squinted. "Yeah? The skylight. So what?"

Ellison fumbled on the bedside table. "Here, put these on," he said, giving the younger man his glasses. "Now take a look." A smile spread over his face when he heard the catch in his partner's breathing.

"The crystal," Sandburg said with a low pleased sound. "You found Julie Riley's crystal."

"Never lost it," the Sentinel said. "I hung it up there so we could always see it. It'll catch the sun every morning."

Sandburg watched the dance of the tiny colored lights across the ceiling and wall. "You think we would have gotten together without her?" he asked softly.

Ellison shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe eventually." He added ruefully, "We hadn't done too well on our own up to that point."

"I like it up there," Sandburg said. "I like the reminder."

Ellison rolled up onto his side, pressing his hips forward, pushing his hard cock into his partner's leg. "Speaking of reminders," he murmured, nosing through the long hair. "I seem to remember something about size and talent? How about you put your talented fingers to work here and see if you can reduce this 'size' problem I've got?"

With a grin, Sandburg stretched upward and placed a line of kisses along the jaw line waiting there so available for that purpose. He worked his way back down the long neck to the accompaniment of a low moan. "You sure you want my talented fingers?" he murmured into the hollow of his partner's throat. "I have other talents I haven't even begun to show you."

"Do any of them involve rainbows?" Ellison asked breathlessly.

Sandburg chuckled around a nipple, an action which sent shivers through his Sentinel's body. "Oh, rainbows. And pinwheels. And fireworks."

"And moonbeams?" Ellison gasped, arching upward.

"From a blue moon," his lover promised.

the end

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