"What do you suggest, Jim?"
"I suppose it's too much to ask that you just ignore him and soldier on."
"You can always ask, but in this case, the answer is no. I won't ignore him. You need to find a way to keep our work separate. If the asshole still wants to fuck with me, I'll sort it out. The only reason I'm even talking to you is that you should have time to clear out before there's an explosion."
"And, I appreciate it. But, you know he's not going to do anything so obvious that I can transfer him, and he knows you're not going to file a personnel action against him. By the way, this is my formal notice to you that you have the right to file a sexual harassment complaint. It'll be my ass if they find out I didn't insist that you file."
"I've always admired your sense of humor, Jim."
"Look, I'll make sure that he and you don't cross paths on cases. Until he does or says something overt, that's the best I can do for now."
"I'm sorry to put you in this position, but I'm not one bit sorry about who I am and who I love. I don't give a shit if people don't like it as long as they're civil and can work with me. But, I'm telling you, the minute I feel like one of these guys is going to leave my ass hanging out when the shit goes down, I'm out of here."
"What if a assign Robert as your permanent partner?"
"No. He doesn't need to inherit this crap."
"All right. Please, just don't hurt the asshole."
"The ball's in his court."
The rest of the tour went fine, probably because he worked alone, mostly on the phone. He never worried about the risks of what he did. In fact, he didn't worry much about anything. But, if people around him weren't going to have his back, then the risk calculation became very unfavorable. He liked coming home to Justin just as much a Justin liked seeing him come home. His mood brightened when he thought of Justin.
The previous night, when they finished the workout at the gym, the workout in bed, and the ritual, he was spooned behind Justin, kissing his neck and stroking his chest, stopping occasionally to play with a nipple. Justin was feeling content, and he relished the contact between his backside and Donnie's front. He wiggled his ass against Donnie's dick, and felt it stir.
"You sure you don't use those blue pills."
"Yes, you're my blue pill, W A."
"You want another piece of me, old man?"
They had been tested at intervals at the clinic now, and were both comfortable dispensing with the condoms. Donnie put up with the enemas before they fucked, because of his rage for order. He didn't mind a little shit, but preferred not to have either of them jump up and wash off right after they fucked. Justin was used to them, and he marveled at how easily Donnie accepted an indignity that enhanced their sex. Justin often tossed the sides of a puzzle around for a long time before he decided, but for Donnie, decisions were just bang and done. On the other hand, Justin didn't often find fault with Donnie's decisions.
"Not right now, even if you are the strongest temptation in my life."
"You haven't given me an answer about the range."
"Why do you suddenly want to go shooting?"
"Hey, it was your idea, remember."
"Not good enough. You don't start handling firearms because someone else suggests it. I can teach you how to make the guns safe without you having to shoot one."
Donnie was bothering Justin's left nipple in a most pleasant way. "If you don't stop that, I'm going to fuck you. I can't have a serious discussion when you're doing that," Justin complained, moving Donnie's hand from his pec to his belly.
"Sorry. I forget how easily distracted you are," Donnie whispered into the back of Justin's neck. "Okay, why do you want to go to the range?"
"You're not my god damn father, you know. Isn't it enough that I want to go?"
"My feelings for you couldn't be less paternal, as I hope what's resting between your cheeks demonstrates, but I will be your teacher when we go to the range. Why now?"
"I'm curious, all right? They're so much a part of your life. Before I met you I thought guns were horrible. Now, I'm not afraid to be around them. I just want to see what it's like, how I'd do."
"All right, W A. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the arsenal and Sunday we'll go to the range."
"Is it like on TV? You know, everyone lined up. Will there be a lot of cops there? I don't want to embarrass you."
"Neither of us wants to embarrass the other, Justin. I'll never intentionally put you in a position that makes you feel you might. We'll go to this strange little range called the Pit. The firing lines really are down in a big, old, excavated pit. They have a few rifle ranges and a twenty-five yard pistol range. It's very informal but quite safe because the shooters keep it that way. If we go early Sunday morning, we may be the only ones there."
The next morning, they ran. They had begun to add sprint segments to the runs. This was easier in the winter because the river walk was less crowded, especially as early as they ran. Justin had learned that Donnie liked quiet during the runs, but also liked to play around with him. Justin thought him such an odd combination of focus and playfulness. Thinking about the night he had tentatively approached Donnie at the gym, he thought that sometimes risk doesn't punish, it rewards. He also found himself becoming more aware of what and who was around them as they ran. Sometimes Justin would sprint ahead, and sometimes Donnie. The other would have to catch up. The trees had no leaves now and the view of the river on their left as they ran westward was unobstructed, but that meant that the wind, especially out of the southeast, was unobstructed as well. Early on, Donnie had mentioned what he called his fundamental disposition to pair bonding. Justin recognized that disposition in himself now.
After they had second breakfast, they performed ritual one. Justin gave Donnie an excellent blowjob under the running water, bringing him just to the edge several times before getting him off. He loved the way Donnie tried to fuck his throat, especially when he got a finger up Donnie's ass. Yes, quite the unexpected bottom. Donnie was unexpected in so many ways, and Justin knew he would never have to worry about boredom in their relationship.
When Donnie tried to return the favor, Justin stopped him, saying, "There are some other guns I want to handle now, and if you make me come, I'll want to go back to sleep."
They dried off, partially dressed, and went to Donnie's bedside. Justin was familiar with the two safes. Donnie explained, "They're bolted to floor joists so they can't be carried off."
They each had four buttons on the top, and Donnie showed him the combination of button pushes to open them. Donnie carefully took out the handguns and placed them of the bed pointing away from them. Justin was surprised there were so many and tried to categorize them: a pair of larger ones that had the same basic shape, one silvery and the other black, two smaller ones that looked exactly the same and that Justin recognized as what Donnie carried when they ran, and a slightly larger black and silver one. He also noted the small one that Donnie carried in the ankle holster, and a bigger one that looked like that small one but with a longer barrel.
"Fuck, Donnie. I didn't know I was sleeping with an arms dealer."
"Tools of the trade, W A. I'll explain why I have them later. Now pay close attention, because, if nothing else, I want you to be able to make them safe."
He waited and Justin gave him the "I understand. Go ahead, already." look.
"Where do the bullets come out, Justin?"
Justin was tempted to joke, but said, "The barrel."
"So, to be safe, nothing should be in front of the barrel that you don't intend to shoot, or in my case, think I may have to shoot. When I say nothing, I mean no part of your body and no other person, animal, or thing that you don't want to destroy. What do you do to make a gun shoot?"
"Pull the trigger."
"So, don't ever touch the trigger unless you intend to shoot the gun. What comes out of the gun when you shoot it?"
"So, no gun is ever safe unless it is unloaded. How do you know if a gun is unloaded?"
"This is where we start. Don't ever accept a firearm from someone until you're sure it's unloaded or the action is open. If you hand a firearm to someone, after you take the magazine out or unload the cylinder, open the action so he knows it's unloaded and can't fire. A firearm can't discharge if its action is open. Always assume that a gun is loaded until you clear it and open the action."
By the time they finished, Justin knew the difference between a revolver and a semi-automatic. He knew how to disengage the cylinder of a revolver, and how to remove the magazine, lock back the slide, and check the chamber of a semi-automatic. Three of the guns that Donnie showed Justin were loaded. Before he handed them to Justin, he demonstrated how to safely unload them and open their actions. Justin found that they were different weights, that they felt different in his hand. As he handled the guns, Donnie praised him for obeying the rules.
"You don't point even an unloaded gun at anyone or anything you don't want to chance destroying, because you do in real life what you practice. Which one feels the best to you?"
"This one," he told Donnie, safely holding one of the two like Donnie carried when running.
"Try the other one that looks the same."
Justin couldn't feel a difference. "That one belonged to Lynn. The one I carry can be a forty caliber or a .357 Sig depending on which barrel I use. The one you're holding is a nine-millimeter, a little less snappy to shoot. That's a good choice for you."
"Where do we get the bullets?"
"You know the bigger safe downstairs in the den?"
"Yes. Don't you have a rifle in that?"
"And a shotgun. If you want, we'll look at those later. That's where I keep the ammunition."
On the bed were the three magazines and three single bullets taken from the guns Donnie had unloaded. He picked one of the magazines up and handed it to Justin. "Go ahead. Load it."
Justin nervously held the pistol pointed at the mattress and with his trigger finger out of the trigger guard and slid the magazine into the well until it locked in place. He felt some real anxiety now. Donnie showed him how to release the slide from the locked position, and it snapped forward. Then Donnie showed him how to use the decocker on the Sig to safely drop the hammer.
The next day, Justin was in his office, replacing a hard drive in one of the RAID racks when Juan walked in. Justin stopped working, looking at Juan to see if he needed something. "What you need, boss?"
"Nothing. Just a social call. You've helped us out so much. I don't tell you enough how much you mean to the Centers. On a personal note, having Donnie as a partner has been good for you. You're happy, relaxed, and more self-assured."
"I'm so happy. Even when I have problems, I'm happy because I'm not alone. He's unbelievable."
"You seem to be managing the age difference."
"I don't even think about it. I think it concerns him more. You've seen him. Does he look like any forty year-old that you know?"
Juan laughed and said, "We're getting close to TMI, Justin. But, Sammy thinks he's very hot. Me, too. I'd say that over the short time I've seen you together, you're acting a little older and he's acting a little younger."
"If there's a problem at all, it's that we have different senses of our personal safety in the world. I don't think he's afraid, he's just always thinking that chaos is a looming possibility. I figure I'm always going to be all right."
"Don't you think that's because of his job?"
"Of course, and I'm getting better at seeing how that attitude helps him navigate in his world. The truth is that it hasn't been a major problem in our world."
"I know twenty guys who would trade their relationship problems for yours."
"Don't think for a minute that I don't know how lucky and loved I am."
"You are a lucky young man."
As Justin went back to the RAID rack, he asked, "Juan, what do you think about guns?"
"I'd like to see them all melted down and buried, but then I suppose we'd have to start on knives. I don't like people having them at all."
"If you could save Sammy's life by shooting someone, would you?"
Juan thought a moment and said, "I don't think I could."
Justin nodded, but realized that if he could save Donnie by shooting someone, he would without hesitation.
"We're looking forward to the party next week, Justin. I really want to see this paradise you live in firsthand."
"You'll love it."
* * * * *
Jim told Donnie, before he left the office, that he would need to fly to Spokane that night to help the office there with a case similar to one Donnie had wrapped up two years ago.
"It should only take a day or two, Don. Pack your vest, though. You'll take our plane out of Pearson."
Donnie called Justin, who was still at work. "All alone W A?"
"Just the way I like it, unless you want to come over. I've never fucked in the office."
"Very tempting, but no chance. I'm headed to Spokane tonight. I'll be gone until Saturday, probably Saturday night."
"You won't miss the party, or taking me to the range?"
"I'll be back Saturday. Don't worry."
"Wait. What about packing?"
"I have a go-bag here, W A. It's all I need."
"I'll miss you, old man."
"I love you, too. Sorry I can't kiss you goodbye. See you Saturday. Keep the alarm system on when you're home."
Justin was uneasy about the unplanned trip—two nights alone, the first two since he'd moved in. There'd be plenty to do, and Donnie would be back soon. He finished up and drove back to the river. After he took a shower, he put on shorts and walked out onto the balcony. He could see the lights from the Oregon side and the marker buoys in the river channel. Traffic moved over the I5 Bridge in the distance. Back in the bedroom, he flopped on the bed and was asleep in no time. His last thought was that he missed Donnie.
Friday, Justin was at the clinic, finishing up before the weekend. Donnie would be home tomorrow. He would shop in the morning and fix a special dinner. As he was ready to leave, his iPhone sang at him. He saw it was Juan, and answered.
"Justin, look at the KGW web site."
Justin moved to his workstation, launched his browser, and went to the TV station's site. Under the breaking news banner a story about a drug bust in Spokane County crawled across the display. He became physically sick when he read, "… one police officer is dead and one is seriously wounded."
He saw nothing else as his vision tunneled. He started shaking. He could barely breathe and he couldn't cry. 'Think,' Justin. He tried to call Donnie and got his voicemail. He sent a text. Then, he remembered that Donnie had given him his boss's private number for emergencies. He brought up the contact and called.
"Mr. Schaeffer, this is Justin. I just saw the news. Is he all right?"
"Justin, I don't know the details yet. I can't talk now. I'll let you know what's up, soon."
'Fuck, fuck, fuck,' Justin thought. 'Donnie, you'd better be all right.'
He heard the back door open, and Juan came in. "Is he okay?"
"I don't know," Justin said, as tears began to fall.
Juan hugged him, saying, "He's a pro, Justin. He's all right. I know."
Justin cried into Juan's shoulder. Then, his phone rang with Donnie's ring tone. "Donnie?"
"Hey, W A. Sorry I couldn't take your call earlier. Things sort of went sideways here."
"You fucking asshole, are you all right?" Justin screamed.
"Justin, take a breath. I'm fine. I'm sorry you had to worry. I have to go. I'm fine. Please don't worry. Can someone stay with you?"
"Of course I'll fucking worry," he said as his anger ebbed. "Donnie, I don't know what I would have done if you were hurt."
"Look, I really have to go. I'll call to let you know when I'll be in tomorrow. I love you, W A."
"You, too, old man."
His phone rang as soon as the call from Donnie ended. He didn't recognize the number.
"Justin, this is Jim Schaeffer. He's fine. I'm sure he'll call you as soon as he can."
"Thanks, Mr. Schaeffer. He already did." Justin was still shaking, partly from relief and partly from fury.
"Okay. Take care."
"Juan, would Sammy mind if you went home with me for a while?"
"No. Let's go."
Juan left the townhouse about two in the morning. Justin never got to sleep. He conducted a furious internal dialogue. On one side of the debate was the "I can't do this" guy and on the other was the "you love him and it's part of the package" guy. That first part of him was angry, hurt, worried, and confused. The other part was just so relieved Donnie was fine and so grateful that Donnie was a part of his life.
The relationship was worth the risks. He went for a run along the river at the usual time in the morning. He would be doing this again with Donnie. He thought about how Donnie must have felt the first time he did this after Lynn died, knowing she would never run with him again.
'How did he get through it?'
After second breakfast and a shower, he went to the grocery store at Grand Central, buying the ingredients for the chicken marsala that Donnie loved. The part of him that accepted the risks in the relationship was gradually winning the debate, as his frayed nerves knitted a bit. When he checked out, the clerk carded him because of the Marsala wine he bought. He smiled because Donnie never got carded; it was one of the few circumstances of the age difference that really irritated Donnie.
Back at the condo, he sat on the deck, reading. Their neighbor to the right came out on her deck and began puttering. "Where's Donnie? I never see you apart."
"He's in Spokane. Work." This neighbor knew they were a couple and was fine with them.
"Not the drug thing I saw on the news. He's okay?"
"Yeah, he's fine. He'll be back later today." The look of genuine relief on her face was touching. "Thanks for asking."
Justin was in the kitchen preparing the special dinner, when the phone rang. He answered, "Hey."
"So, how you doing?"
"Annabelle, how did you know?"
"Justin, there's not a cop in the state that doesn't know what happened. Robert called me. He's talked to Donnie. The only thing Donnie wanted to talk about was helping you. Robert wanted to call, but he's clueless. I, on the other hand, know exactly what you're going through. I told you it could be a hell hole."
"How the fuck do you deal with it, with all the possibilities every day and with knowing you may never see him again?"
"You and I will go get lit one night next week. But the short answer is that if you can't accept the possibilities, get out now. You can't change him, and it's not fair to ask him to change. You're either in or out. But you need someone to talk to other than the lunkhead. That's where I come in. You need to get with Donnie for the next couple of days, and then we'll get together next week."
As the chicken warmed and the sauce was simmering, Justin waited for Donnie, who had called after he landed at Pearson. When he heard the car, he ran out, and when Donnie got out of the car, Justin almost tackled him. Donnie held him tight and whispered, "I'm so sorry, Justin. Everything's fine."
Justin's anger had evaporated. "I never want to lose you, old man."
"Can we go inside? I need to pee and I'm starved."
Once inside, Justin stuck to Donnie, who was barely able to piss with Justin hanging on him. When he finished, he said, pointing to the bed, "Sit with me, a bit."
Side by side, with Justin's head on his shoulder, Donnie apologized. "I should have done a better job of explaining what I was doing in Spokane. I was in the Planning Section at the ICP, mostly as a technical specialist. They have trained teams to do the field stuff. It wasn't a big deal for me, but I left you hanging out. I promise I won't do that again. I take shit for granted and I forget that we haven't been together forever. I'm sorry, W A."
"Things went sideways. I think the plan was sound, but planners can't control the execution. When I heard, I went to the bathroom and barfed."
"Did you know him?"
"I did, but not well. He didn't get to go home at the end of the day. That's the worst case."
"You came home. I feel bad for his family, but all I care about right now is that you're here."
"We'll talk more after dinner. I smell chicken marsala. Can we eat?"
After dinner, they cuddled on the couch. Justin wouldn't give up physical contact with Donnie, as if losing that contact would mean that Donnie would disappear. He started to cry, and the stress released. Donnie held him and had the good sense not to tell Justin that he shouldn't cry. Donnie had lost a brother in Spokane, and no one could tell him that he shouldn't be tormented by the loss.
When they got to bed, Donnie told Justin to lie down prone and began a slow, careful massage. He could feel the hard edges of Justin's tension. He was gentle, working his way from foot to head, until Justin purred. Then he urged Justin over, and repeated the process on his front side. When he finished with Justin's forehead, he ducked down and sucked Justin in until the boy stuttered out his orgasm and was limp. Then, he enfolded Justin in his arms and they slept.
When Justin awoke, Donnie was downstairs. He looked at the clock. Seven-thirty. He no longer felt wound as tight as a spring. The day assumed a normal quality. He went down to breakfast, and asked Donnie, "We still going to the range?"
"I didn't think you'd want to."
Remembering his discussion with Juan, he replied, "I need to go."