Echoing Drums

The lightning flashed. Blair started, glancing up at the window. Outside he could see nothing but blackness, but now that his attention was wrested away from his papers, he could hear the rain. Torrential, sounded like. He shook his head wearily.

The essay was a mess. Written by someone who was obviously trying, and probably even interested in her topic, but who just wasn't ready to be in college yet. Her high school hadn't taught her the basics like organising her thoughts and completing her sentences. Shaking his head, he knew he ought to mark her mistakes and give her a second chance -- school was about *learning* not about tests. But he was tired, and after grading fifty essays he wanted to just scribble numbers at the bottom of each last page and not explain the grades.

He'd tell them he used two ten sided dice, if they tried to complain. Or maybe he'd just take a short break. He really didn't intend to be unfair to his students (but why couldn't they ever meet him halfway? *Learn* what he was trying to teach, instead of trying to memorise what they thought he expected from them, regurgitating...) He shook his head again. Definitely a break. He usually didn't get this disillusioned until halfway through grading finals. Halfway through midterms wasn't a good sign.

Leaning back in his chair, he considered the rainstorm. No point in heading for Delluvio's to drink tea while he worked; he didn't want to drag his backpack through the rain, not after the tear it had sustained last week. No longer waterproof with a gaping hole in the top. But it was after six, and the department office was long closed, barring access to the coffee pot upstairs. Blair knew himself too well -- if he poured himself a cup from his own coffee machine, he wouldn't take his break. He'd stand for a bit, thinking of taking time off, but then he'd drift back towards his desk, just intending to look over the top page... and then he'd be grading again, sucked into the morass of collegiate exams.

Maybe he'd head down the hall, see if anyone was around for a little conversation. But it was Thursday, and anyone in the building would be in seminar and their break wouldn't come for another hour. He sighed, and rubbed one hand over his head. He *didn't* want to grade anymore. Not without something to perk him up.

An image flashed through his brain, and he grinned, then laughed outright. Well, *that* would certainly perk him up, but how to explain to Jim, when he was arrested? Laughing now defiantly, he stood up from the desk. The rain was probably *way* too cold for dancing around nude, anyhow. Not like it had been in Montego Bay, when the summer rains came and sitting inside was simply *pointless*. He and Roderigo had often gone outside, behind the dusty shacks, and enjoyed the cooling rains. Naked, of course, but then who wouldn't, in that sort of place? Warm, unreal, echoes of drums in the hills after the night's fall.

Okay, so the marijuana had probably been part of the inspiration. But it had felt marvelous, and if the temperature outside had been anything above 65 Blair would have been tempted to try it now. But it was too cold, and the university campus was a bit too intolerant -- unless you were making a political statement. Blair mused. Now *there* was an idea. Of course, he'd still have to explain it to Jim, when the cops came. 'Protesting the shakles of traditional close-mindedness, symbolised in the constraints of acceptable garb; as your mind should be, let your body'. It sounded good, much better than 'man, I was *bored* so I took off my clothes and went outside.'

Now giggling to himself, Blair returned to his desk. Cringing dramatically, he approached the essay again. Maybe he'd just write a note that she should visit the Writing Center. It'd be nice, if Ranier *had* one. He sighed. It was going to be a long week. It occured to him later that he'd done exactly as he'd feared, returning to work without even leaving his office, and he hadn't even gotten a cup of coffee for his trouble. Maybe after he finished this essay....

"Hey, Blair?"

Blair looked up, smiling at the welcome intrusion. Now he had an excuse to grab coffee. "Yeah, Jase?" He stood up and headed for the machine.

"Daffyd let us out early. Wanna head over to Delluvio's with us?"

"Sure!" Blair abandoned his coffee mug eagerly. "You gotta promise not to let me take any essays with me, though."

The other grad student laughed, and came over, grabbing Bair's sleeve. "I promise. Won't even let you near the desk." He began pulling Blair away, to prove his point.

"Let me get my coat."

"Is it near your desk?" Jase gave him a stern look.

"Uhh.." Blair pointed.

"Ok, but I'm keeping my eye on you." Jase watched sternly as Blair went for his coat, giving the scattered papers wide berth. Jase nodded his approval and escorted Blair out. "Hey, Blair, you have any money?"

"Man, I knew there was a reason you invited me along."

The restaurant was packed with students when Jase and Blair entered. They found a group of grads from the anth department already gathered around a large table, and, snagging a couple more chairs, joined them. Blair noticed that each of the many conversations were about midterms -- Marla and Josh were complaining about taking Rick's exam next Tuesday, David and Susan were comparing their grading duties as TA's, and the others were in various stages of 'poor me, my students are hopeless'. Blair sat down next to one of those last conversations, and soon was rattling off a list of reasons why freshmen should be required to demonstrate ability before being admitted to the university.

The bowls of chips and salsa were soon demolished and Blair realised he hadn't eaten dinner. Mentally he checked his wallet, and then snagged a waitress. He also ordered three pitchers of beer.

"What's this? You bribing us for something?" David looked at him suspiciously, even as he grabbed a glass.

"No. Just my way of saying... I got paid last week." Blair grinned. Sometimes having a second job was nice. Well, it was always fantastic, being with Jim both before and after they had fallen in love, but every once in a while it was also nice. The token stipend he received was enough that he could spring for beer, take his lover to the movies and dinner, or splurge during a visit to the bookstore.

"Hot damn, man, way to go." Jase nodded his approval. "Glad to hear the City of Cascade hasn't gone broke. Pour me a beer."

The conversation soon veered off the subject of extra income, breaking off again into a dozen fragments. Blair tried to listen to the one at the other end of the table, as it sounded like they were discussing Mayer's newest theory of genetic encoding and the formation of social structure. Susan gave him a nudge, before he could decide to go join in.

'So, Blair, don't you have Mr. 'Grace Before Me' this semester?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I just graded his essay this morning, in fact." Susan gave him an artful wince. "And thank you for bringing back the memories."

"No problem. I take it he hasn't changed? Still believes he should be given grades on good looks and charm alone?"

Blair shook his head. "I don't understand. He's smart enough to talk his way out of having done the work... so why doesn't he do the work? The entire second half of his essay was...."

At ten thirty the group began to disperse. Blair was still engrossed in an explanation of one of Burton's dissertations to David, who was trying to insist there was *nothing* in 'Mountains on the Moon' which approached the truth. Blair was about to launch into a comparison of artistic lisence and historical fiction when Jase clapped him on the shoulder.

"Hey, Blair, time's up." Blair looked up at the truly evil grin on his friend's face. "Don't you have.. essays to grade?"

"You are evil." Blair responded to the reminder that he ought to be working. "Truly, truly, evil wicked bad and nasty. I don't like you. Give me a ride back to campus?" Blair was standing up, gathering his coat and digging through his wallet. The waitress had made him pay his check earlier on, but there was still the tip. The others had left dollars and change on the table as each one left but Blair knew from experience that it would never reach a fair amount unless one person made the five dollar sacrifice. He pulled out a five and tossed it in the pile.

"See ya, guys, and you're totally wrong about Burton."

Blair followed Jase out, ignoring David. He noticed that he felt relaxed, and in a much better frame of mind for grading essays. Even if it meant that he'd now be up until 2 am doing it. He thought about going home and finishing there, but Jim would be home and that man had it in him to be distracting. Especially when he didn't put his mind to it.

Thoughts of Jim entertained him on the way back to campus, and on the mad dash through the mud for the Anthro building. Jim, covered head to toe with mud, now *that* was a distraction. Blair shook his head. One more thought like that, Sandburg, and it's no more grading for you. Home and to bed, instead!

Promises, promises, he told himself, and he let himself back inside the darkened building. Everyone had gone home, or to all night cafes to grade and study. He should probably take their example, and leave the old musty building to itself for the night. But he *liked* being here, at night, alone -- even in rainstorms, when the pounding of water on the windows and roof sounded like hundreds of faraway drums. It was like being alone in a distant furture, after civilization was destroyed by apocalypse, and remnants of academia were left for those few who remembered and cared. What a study that would be for an anthropologist, and Blair sometimes imagined that he was the one left to study, watching as civilised man reverted to more primitive ways... what would be left of the fancy technologies and beliefs that went with them? What would remain when all they'd built was stripped away?

No wonder Jim hated watching "Wizards" with him. Everything he did, everything he saw, heard, felt, became another theory, another basis for scientific observation.... no wonder the chem students threatened to make a antidote for their affliction.

Blair was still musing on the absurdities of academic life and the price of coffee when lightning flashed outside. Closer than the previous flashes, almost as if it were on the front steps. He turned to look, curious, and never saw the man step up behind him.

Jim paced impatiently. He knew better than to pick up the phone like he wanted to, because he knew exactly where his lover was and what he was doing. Interuptions would not only be unwelcome, but would delay him even more. He knew that, having gone through three semesters of midterms and finals already. The fourth semester Blair had been an RA and not responsible for more than taking his own exams. But Jim didn't really care. he wanted Blair home, where they could be together.

It wasn't enough that for once work was slow -- it was as if the city's criminals were holed up for the week. Maybe they were all students and had to study for their exams. But a slow week at work meant more time to relax, kick back, and spend time with Blair. Except Blair wasn't ever home. At least it seemed that way. Home at 11 and out the door by 7 wasn't enough time to do more than make love once, cuddle, and sleep. Jim wanted more than that. making love twice and a bit of conversation was at the top of the list, followed by backrubs, footrubs, showers, and having someone else make supper. At least tomorrow things would be different, but for tonight he paced impatiently.

Tomorrow was Friday and Blair would be able to take the evening off from classwork. Tomorrow was the day Jim had been making plans for all month long, marking the calendar on both his and his lover's desks, visiting every grocery store and restaurant in the city looking for just the right meals, even digging through Marci's CD collection for the right inspirational music. But that was tomorrow. Tomorrow would be wonderful and make up for all this week. Tomorrow was the official 'grades due' day, and after Blair entered his grades he belonged to Jim for the next 36 hours.

But today was proving to be a bitch. Glancing at the clock again, Jim wondered if he might not risk a call anyway. Just to see how things were going, how soon Blair might be home. Whether or not Blair remembered he didn't live in his office. No, he'd just get himself sighed at -- something the other man was entirely too good at. He'd sigh tiredly, and then in a soft and much to reasonable tone of voice say something like, 'Jim, I wish I could but you *know* I have to....' Jim wanted to say no he didn't know, why didn't Blair just leave it for tomorrow? He wanted to remind Blair of the times *he'd* left paperwork on his desk for the next morning, in favour of going home with his lover.

But he had to admit he did understand. School, like police work, was not a nine to five job. You worked when you needed to, and took your time off gratefully when it came. Which is what he was trying to do *now* only schoolwork was not cooperating. He glanced at the clock again. Just one quick call. Maybe Blair would appreciate the break.

Besides, who came up with the phrase 'nine to five'? That was only a seven hour work day.

Jim hit the speed dial -- number one, Blair's office -- and waited. Seven rings and no answer. Not even Blair would be working so hard as to not hear the phone after seven rings. Frustrated, Jim put down the phone. After a couple of minutes -- counting to sixty twice -- he called again. Still no answer. Where was Blair? On his way home? Quickly Jim dialed Blair's cell phone. Again, no answer. Bathroom? Upstairs stealing sugar from a professor's office? Down the hall in Jase's office? Jim stopped himself from dialing again. Give it fifteen minutes, Ellison. It's probably nothing.

Fifteen minutes later he was listening to the phone ring. Seventeen minutes later he was out the door, telling himself he was only going to offer Blair a ride home in a vehicle which didn't have a leaky roof. He was *not* worried. It was statistically impossible for Blair to be in trouble again. It had only been three weeks since the hysterical young mother had held him at knife point, screaming for her child to be returned. They weren't due for another eight days.

Besides, Blair had talked the woman out of her hysteria, and held her, letting her sob on his shoulder, while Jim found out her brother had been awarded custody following a competency hearing. No one had gotten hurt and the woman was in a hospital, her four year old daughter living with an aunt and uncle who doted on her. No real trouble there, at all.

Jim drove a little faster. He told himself the siren would be overreacting.

The rain pounded the dirty asphalt like an enraged warrior, determined to clear a path, or eradicate an obscenity. Tiny tremors vibrated down throughout the building, dislodging a speck here, loosening a window pane there. As if with a shout, the thunder crashed overhead, and the rain continued down. The building withstood, but infintesimally less sturdy than before, one more step towards destruction, one more inch towards entropy.

Jim thought it sounded a lot like one of those rainforest CDs Blair had brought home. He could distinguish the difference, tuning into the sound of water on concrete versus water on leaves and ground without even using the full range of his hearing. But the beat was the same, and he was slowing beginning to understand what Blair meant when he said nothing ever really changed, no matter what humans thought they'd been so clever about.

The building was dark when he approached, so he took out the key Blair had signed out for him. As the door sung open he knew there was no one inside --no heartbeats, and the lingering scents were only that, lingering. He headed for the stairs to see if Blair had left any notes, or indications of where he'd gone and to wait for his return. He had only made it to the top step when he heard the faint squeal behind him. The door he'd just come through was being pushed open again.

"Blair?" The security lights in the stairwell were almost bright enough to make out the general shape of whoever had followed him in. Certainly Blair-shaped enough to be his lover, but there was no response to his greeting. He was about to head back down the stairs when the scent caught him.

"Jim, what am I going to do with you?"

"Take me home and give me a shower?"

Blair shook his head, but smiled anyway. "That'll teach you not to give me heartattacks in deserted buildings?"


"Not to follow me to campus because you're lonely and you know I have essays to grade?"


"Not to call Jase's office and leave messages trying to track me down when I'm offcampus eating dinner?"

Shocked, Jim protested, "I didn't call!"

"I meant *last* time. Last semester during finals, when you left those messages on Jase's machine, Susan's machine, Debbie's machine...."

"All right, all right." Jim held up his hands. "I admit, I called. I was worried -- but you had been held hostage the week before, for nearly 30 hours! I had reasonable cause."

Blair snorted. "Like you *need* reasonable cause. I think I'm going to get you a GPS tracker for your birthday." He juggled his backpack, trying to hold his coat over the hole before heading outside. Jim held the door open for him, and together they made a dash for Jim's truck. Blair had agreed to leave his car for the night, not explaining the new leak that had formed right over the driver's seat.

"I don't need a GPS tracker. If you'd just stay with me where you belong I wouldn't have this trouble."

"What about my classes? My office hours? My life?"

Jim shrugged. "You belong with me, Blair. 24 hours a day." Blair saw the glint in Jim's eye as he continued. "Three paces behind and to the right of me."



"To the left of you."

"See? You agree with me. I'll call Dean Werner tomorrow."

Blair laughed.

When they reached home, Blair dumped his papers on the coffee table and began sorting them. Graded/recorded, graded, and not-graded. He was about to begin recording some grades when he heard a distressed noise. he looked up and found Jim watching him. Yes, I knew it. He's going to be a distraction. It was the best part of grading essays, or writing a paper, or doing anything, in fact. Jim was the best part of his life -- and it *was* still raining, and the balcony was private enough....

"Yeah, Jim?"

"I thought maybe..."

"You thought?" He prompted, knowing what the other man wanted, but feeling onery enough to make him say it. Beg for it. Start without him.

"Wouldn't you like to take a break? You've been working all day."

"I already had a three hour break at Delluvio's, Jim. I need to finish these."

"You did?"

Something in Jim's tone made Blair abandon his plans to tease. "Yeah, I went out with the other grads. Beer, dinner, arguing. It was great." He grinned, remembering the night he'd rented Mountains on the Moon for he and Jim, and waking in the middle of the night screaming when Jim stuck a finger in his ear.

"Oh." Jim didn't say anything else and Blair just waited.

"Something wrong, Jim?"


Blair sighed, and put his gradebook down. "What is it?" He stood up, and walked over to where Jim was standing, leaning back on one foot as if poised to leave the room.

"It's nothing."

The defeated tone told Blair it definitely was something. He put a hand on Jim's arm, gently. "Jim." The calm command spoke volumes -- they both knew Jim wasn't getting out of here until he explained.

He shrugged and turned away. "It's nothing you haven't heard before."

"Jim... I've explained this to you. I thought... you said you understood it."

"I know. I do. but I still don't like it."

Blair tugged at the other man's arm, pulling him towards the living room. He sat them down on the couch, and snuggled into Jim's arms. Sometimes his lover needed to feel in control, even -- especially -- when he was not. "Jim, I love you. I love you more than anything. Sometimes I wish I *could* take you with me everywhere I go. But man, you are *not* a grad student and there are things you just wouldn't get. And sometimes I need to hang with people who understand me without my having to translate. Sometimes I need to be able to hear someone say 'been there done that had that student last semester'. I need to feel like a member of the group, not just an observer... even if it's in a group of observers."

He heard Jim sigh, and knew what was coming. "I know, Blair. I've heard you explain it and it always makes sense when you do. But then, I see you go off and I know I can't follow you. And it hurts just a little." His voice dropped at the end, to a whisper.

"Because you feel left out?"

"No." This surprised Blair; before Jim had always agreed it was simply that which upset him. "Because it reminds me that there are parts of you I can't have, parts I can't reach. And... I feel like there is nothing of me that you don't already own."

Blair turned a bit, so he could look at Jim's face. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know. It just seems lopsided, somehow."

"Because I go with you to the station? Because I can fit in with your world and you can't with a part of mine?" Jim nodded, and didn't look Blair in the eye. Blair thought about what he could say -- point out that he still felt like an outsider sometimes, observing but not belonging? Point out that retaining one's individuality was healthy in a relationship? Instead he closed his eyes, and cuddled Jim closer. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It isn't your fault."

"I know... but I don't like seeing you hurting. I wish I could change it."

Blair felt a kiss on his hair. "I know. I love you, Blair."

"I love you too, Jim. You want that shower now or in the morning?"


Blair gave his lover a wicked smile. "I seem to recall someone asking for a shower. I have fifteen more essays to grade, so it'll have to be before I get started or after I finish. Which do you want?"

Jim gave him a slight squeeze, then released him. "Morning will do, Chief. Sooner you finish those, the sooner you'll come to bed." With that Jim stood up and moved away. Then he stopped, and looked back at Blair. "But tomorrow you're all mine. Got it?"

"Deal." Blair watched Jim leave the room, then slowly turned back to his grading. As he began to copy down grades, thoughts of his lover left his mind and soon he was totally engrossed again.

Jim watched him from the hallway, leaning against the doors to the office/den/whatever that had once been Blair's room. He felt a pang of jealousy, and resentment but said nothing. He wanted Blair all to himself, wanted to have the sort of hold over the younger man that Blair seemed to have over him. One word, one look, and Jim was his to command, control, manipulate. One mere thought of Blair being out of sorts and Jim was racing to his rescue.

But Blair could seem to forget Jim's existence as soon as he left the room, when there was something else to occupy him. No, to be fair it couldn't be just anything. But there was enough, so much of his studies so totally captured Blair's attention that there was nothing left over. No distractions, no 'just thinking of you' breaks while he was working. He tried not to get upset, for Blair didn't just forget his lover but forgot *everything* including sleep, food, and probably breathing if it weren't automatic. He also knew that it didn't mean Blair would leave him someday. When he did have his lover's attention, it was obvious that Blair was so completely in love that he intended this to be forever.

So Jim watched his lover work, and wondered. Would there ever come a time when he would feel as needed as he needed Blair?

Outside, the rain continued to pound.

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