The absurdity of a limo pulling up in front of a bus station hit Johnny hard, mostly because he was tired to the point of silliness, but one look at Reverend Purdy on the opposite seat made him withhold the glib comment that bit at his tongue. He slid a glance sideways to Bruce, hoping that he, at least, would share in the humor. Unfortunately, his friend was still radiating disapproval at Purdy, who ignored it with a genteel disdain that was meant to convey his moral and social superiority.
Holding in a sigh, Johnny closed his eyes and leaned his temple against the window of the passenger door. It would have been much easier to deal with them if they both weren't in the right, if in different ways for different reasons. When Purdy had showed up at the door, Bruce had objected strenuously to Johnny getting involved in anything that evening, citing the wet, cold weather and the serious bruising John's bad leg had taken in a fall during a grueling case with Walt. Purdy had mildly remarked that he was well aware that Bruce was present to provide aid for the injury, and that if he thought it important that Johnny should be disturbed regardless, perhaps his judgment should be trusted.
For his part, John wanted nothing more than to be in the comfort of his home, warm through and through from a soak in the hot tub, Bruce's gifted hands working his magic on the huge ache his leg had become. That hadn't been an option from the moment he had reluctantly taken the gloves Purdy had proffered. Though all he had 'seen' from the contact was Purdy's long-time friend and confident, Mark Olsen, getting on the bus, tears running down his cheeks, the taint of death that had saturated the vision wouldn't let him turn away from the possibility he could help.
"John, man, the sleet is making the sidewalk one slippery risk," Bruce said quietly, almost into his ear.
His concern wasn't as soothing as the hot tub would have been, but it helped, oh how it helped. For the sake of that, Johnny summoned a playfully sarcastic tone. "Hey, you could be at the house, snug and warm, drinking my brews and decimating my pantry while enjoying the many channels of my satellite dish. Coming out was your idea, remember?"
With an effort that was obvious to John, Bruce shot back in the same vein, "Just protecting my investment here."
Catching a fleeting look of distaste in Gene's expression, John warned him with a glare not to misinterpret - or pretend to - the comment.
Oblivious to the brief exchange, Bruce went on. "Do you have any idea how many man hours I put into getting you back on your feet? I do not want to see that wasted because of a combination of visions and icy streets. If I'm with you, not only do I get a chance to minimize the set-back, but I get to say 'I told you so,' right up front."
"My driver is useful for more than a smooth trip," Purdy said with deceptive blandness. "He's a sturdy gentleman, and I've called on his strength on other occasions. I'm sure that we can count on his assistance."
Bruce vetoed the suggestion with a dismissive gesture. "No insult meant here, but the man has a vested interest in taking care of you, Reverend, not John. And it's not just strength that matters, its understanding how to use it without causing collateral damage."
"The first thing they teach you during serious physical therapy," John put in, "is how to fall right, and let the therapist handle you." Backing Bruce caused a clear spark of disgruntlement in Purdy, but John was saved from dealing with it when the driver opened his door and offered his hand for support. John hung back to let Purdy take advantage of the support, not at all willing to touch a stranger, even to safeguard himself.
Scrambling past John after Purdy was out, Bruce said to the driver, "Thanks, but maybe you'd better shadow the reverend until he's safe on dry ground. I'll take care of John."
Gratefully leaning on Bruce, John took his time getting out, and not just because of the treacherous footing. Bus stations had always struck him as gray, empty places that echoed of sorrow and despair, and he didn't have the slightest inclination to open himself up the images and events that caused that lingering impression. When Bruce began to frown at him suspiciously, he forced himself to walk forward, slowly removing his right glove.
Of its own accord, his hand floated up to the metal frame of the station's entrance, hovered there a second, then moved on in search for information about Mark Olsen. Feeling as if he were simply along for the ride, John was pulled by it from one point to another in the cavernous room, approaching the ticket booth once, but meandering away without touching it. Distantly he could hear Purdy questioning the agent, but he didn't bother to listen to the answers. People turned away from him, whether because of the spectacle he was likely making of himself or because of the hulking presence of the limo driver, he didn't care.
What was important that Bruce stayed close, and John trusted that protection far, far more than he trusted paid bodyguards. Sheltered by it, he slipped deeper into the use of his gift and caught fleeting glimpses of Olsen pacing agitatedly from one end of the station to the other. It wasn't very useful, but did give him the idea to follow in the same path until eventually he came to the bench where the man must have finally sat, tired and fearful. Of what, John couldn't tell, and he sat in the same place, fingers lightly brushing over well-worn, polished wood.
A dozen fleeting impressions skittered by; none of them of Olsen. Seeking a more solid imprint, he traced the curve of the arm of the bench down the side, toward the floor. Halfway down he bumped his knuckles against something solid, heavy, and, startled by the burst of joyful emotion from the fleeting contact, John focused on what he'd hit. A battered guitar case rested unattended on the floor next to him, along with a backpack and equally battered suitcase. A few feet away the probable owner stood with his back to his belongings, chatting up a girl as young and poor-looking as himself.
Almost instinctively identifying them as college students, John forgot them and studied the case, as drawn by the emotion he'd experienced as by the incongruity of finding it so deeply imbedded in a shabby, scuffed, leather-covered wood object. Compelled, he wrapped his fingers around the handle, the cool brass caressing his palm, inviting a firm grip. Before he could laugh at himself for the idea of the case being eager for his touch, the metal conformed to his hold, attaching itself to him.
He tried to jerk away, but it hurt as if the handle had become part of his arm. Despite it, he yanked again, harder, the pain hardly noticeable for the fear suddenly swamping his senses. Another, more frantic pull, resulted in a wave of agony that shattered the world around him, fragments flying in all directions as if he were the epicenter of the destruction.
It left him adrift in darkness, as if he were weightless in the emptiness of space, only his stars were shards of reality. Each twinkled with life and emotion, beautiful and remote. Vaguely bemused at the sudden change, and even more vaguely worried that he wasn't scared, or much of anything for that fact, John pinched himself on the thigh.
"Ow!" He glared at his leg as if it had no right to hurt. "Well, I guess that tells me about how real is this. Real enough. I sound real enough, too. Crazy as hell for talking to myself... nothing new there."
John waited a few minutes - or what felt like a few minutes - to see what would happen, but nothing did. It didn't particularly bother him when he just continued to float, but his curiosity woke up enough for him to experiment with his circumstance. Could he change direction, move forward or back under his own power, maybe even go up or down? The answer was, apparently, a resounding 'no.'
Mildly frustrated, he turned his attention to one glittering bit, blinking as he realized that the 'twinkling' effect was caused by movement. Concentrating, he tried to make out the tiny figures, and that seemed to be the vital element needed to affect his situation. Abruptly he was standing in front of what appeared to be a broken pane of sheet glass, looking through it to the bus station and hearing a muffled babble of worried, angry, conversation.
He - his body, actually, John supposed - was frozen in place on the bench, eyes glazed over while Bruce knelt in front of him, hand over John's on the guitar case, talking to him quietly. Gene Purdy was behind him, using his best genial, fatherly guise to keep the college kids from making a scene, the limo driver unintentionally canceling it out by hulking behind Purdy as if daring them to do something. Leaning forward until his nose was almost on the barrier between him and the world, John strained to make out words.
Purdy's tone was a patronizing hum in the background, but it was Bruce's worried voice that John focused on. "Come on, John, let go. Whatever you're Seeing, enough is enough already. What is it about this thing, anyway?"
As if in reply, John spun in a dizzying arc away from the scene of the bus station until he was in front of the window to a pawn shop, watching two men examine a guitar. Stroking the body reverently, the older man, whose neatly trimmed beard and hair had more salt than pepper, said, "This was hand-made, a long time ago. Well over a hundred years, unless I miss my guess."
The younger man, thin and aristocratic looking, said with an English accent, "I agree. I've never seen such exquisite workmanship."
"Very lovingly maintained, too," Salt-and-Pepper said, peering closely at the neck and head.
He straightened, holding the instrument carefully, and nearly toppled. Only then did Johnny become aware than he was on crutches, risking his balance to handle the guitar with respect. The other man put an unobtrusive hand under his elbow to brace him, and caught the bottom of the guitar to help place it on the counter. The burly, dirty clerk behind it scowled at both of them, his glance flickering at the contact between them as if it said more than one friend assisting another.
Either not noticing or not caring, the Englishman asked, "Have you had this long?"
"What dif'rence does that make? You want it or not?"
"The better it sounds in comparison to the longer you've had it strung up like a sausage in this filthy shop, the more impressed I'll be with the instrument and the more likely I'll be to pay your exorbitant fee." Somehow the Englishman managed to put an air of threat in his level tone, his expression going superior and arrogant.
"Two, t'ree years, mebbe," the shop owner muttered. "Paid a good dollar for it, too, thinkin' I'd be able to move it easy, if the woman didn't come back for it. Thought for sure she would, too. ou'd think she was leavin' her kid behind. 'S why I 'member her."
Without invitation, the older man dragged up a stool and perched himself on it, leaning his crutches on the base of the counter. He strummed, frowned at the discord, then tuned the strings by ear with a speed and ease that told John he'd had a great deal of practice. His next strum produced a lovely "A" cord than rang eloquently in the dusty air. "Strings made from silver," he said appreciatively, and played a melancholy riff. "Beautiful voice," he added when his fingers stilled.
"Do you want it, Joseph?" the Englishman asked. "I'll buy it for you for a song, literally."
"Please. Whoever made it obviously made it with love; it deserves better than its current fate."
Joseph played a few measures, stopped, sighed, then played a song John didn't recognize through from beginning to end. Between his apparent skill and the guitar itself, the music was evocative and haunting, and John was sorry when the strings finally fell silent. Joseph caressed the curve of the soundboard, and met Adam's eyes. "It worth far more than a single song."
Adam smiled and rested his hand over Joseph's. "The rest of the debt is paid in the knowing that it is in good hands." His smile turned into a cheeky grin. "And I have no doubt I'll have the opportunity to listen to you play it on many occasions."
With a snort of laughter, Joseph turned to the shop owner. "We'll take it, case and all."
The three of the started a semi-snarly debate on what the price should be, and John tuned them out, half turning away. "How did it get to the student, then?" he wondered.
Again, the question caused motion, this time in the form of the 'pane' of glass gracefully, melodiously breaking down into myriad parts until it was a mosaic. The effect was breath taking and dizzying. He had to steal glimpses from the corner of his eye, catching a flash of the guitar being stolen from Joseph's car during an altercation of some kind. From there, he saw it sold over and over for fewer and fewer dollars, until finally it came to rest in a garage sale, where the student spotted it as something he could sell for a small profit when he got back to school.
Remembering the quality of the music it produced, John repeated Adam's words. "It deserves better than that."
A single rich chord chimed happily, almost as if in response, startling John into an all-over flinch. That somehow catapulted him into an eloquent twist, landing him back at the window to 'now,' where very little had changed.
On the other side of the barrier, Purdy concluded his conversation with the guitar's current owner, to his satisfaction if not the student's, and crossed to stand behind John's body. He reached down to take his turn at attempting to free the guitar from John's clutch, but Bruce waved him off impatiently. "If you want to help, see if you can find some hot herbal tea and honey for when he comes out of it. Hot water and sugar will do if nothing else if available."
"For warmth and energy," Purdy agreed so readily that John couldn't help but be startled. He sent his man off with a gesture, then squatted down to study the case. "Why on earth should such a dilapidated object have such a profound effect?"
Spinning in place, Johnny looked for the speaker of that single half-spoken, half sung word, but found no one.
In the star-filled darkness, another sound slowly gained volume, as if uttered *by* the darkness. "Peopllllllllle."
That faded into memory, and after a few moments of silence, John's patience was rewarded with, "Looooovvvvvee."
Despite the oddness of conversing with nothing, John had to say, "Love?"
This time he expected his question to cause movement, and he eagerly looked ahead as he arrowed toward another fragment. Instead of stopping in front of it, however, he crashed into the image, becoming Robert Wentworth...
***The wood was smooth under his hands, almost alive, and reminding him very much of Constance - the sweet curve of her shoulder, the life vibrating in it the one time he had dared touch. This guitar would be his wedding gift to her, thank God Pappa had seen the talent in him and apprenticed him to a carpenter-luthier; thank God for Pappa over and over for not turning his back on his half-breed son, created from loneliness when Pappa wandered unhappy and useless in the territories, a third son to a wealthy family. He couldn't inherit Papa's estate, gained from the untimely death of his brothers, because of his bastardy, but he would always have that love; one strong enough to accept the love he had for Constance....
***Sat in her rocking chair, big with her second child, barely able to reach the strings with her right hand because of the swell of her belly. This one would be like her and her husband, gifted in song and sight, and so cherished, and would find his strength the way she had in her husband, her dear Robert. She liked being pregnant, knew there would be more bairns after this one, all loved, but this one, ah, this one would have such a life. Already her oldest, Robby, was happiest with his head pressed against her tummy, whispering babyish secrets to his new brother in that soft lisp of his, insisting that James come out and play now James...
***Leaned over his brother's shoulder and did his best to pluck the guitar strings the way he'd been shown, but his ten-year-old fingers couldn't quite stretch enough. That was okay; he would grow. Someday he would be able to play as well as Mamma; someday the guitar would be his and maybe her harp as well. There were other somedays, not all of them as good as the ones he saw when he and Robby had music lessons together, but they were forever away. Right now was right now was right now was right now....***
John came back to himself with an almost audible snap of his senses, sagging into the shelter of Bruce's strength, fingers cupped in Bruce's palms. He had to have been out of it for a while; Gene was just making his way toward them, walking carefully because of the full mug in his hand, the limo driver frowning after him as he walked out of the station. Bruce was still murmuring reassuring nonsense, apparently taking it for granted that John needed a chance to pull himself together.
"T..." John swallowed, amazed that his throat and tongue were so dry, and tried again. "Tell Gene to buy the guitar."
"Hey, I don't..."
For Bruce's sake, John mustered a grin and struggled to sit up straight. "But not pay too much; the guy picked it up in a yard sale." When Bruce's stubborn, worried expression didn't change, he added, "I know, I know, you don't think it's a good idea for me to ever get near it again, but it's important."
"And you don't have a clue why yet, do you?" Bruce said in resignation.
"Not a one," John admitted cheerfully. He looked up at Gene as he offered him the mug, smiled a thanks, and bent his head over the cup to avoid talking with him. Enduring the small flash of Purdy admitting to himself somewhat uneasily that perhaps he should have listened to Bruce, who did seem to always have Johnny's best interest in mind, he sipped at the hot tea, surprised it was his favorite kind. Conversation sputtered and fumed over his head, but a few minutes later Purdy stalked away again.
"Man, I hope you know what you're doing," Bruce muttered. "The reverend is not happy." He scrubbed at his face, and changed his tone to a more business-like one. "You get anything on Olsen?"
"Don't suppose I can convince you to go back home without giving it another shot."
Johnny was tempted. More than tempted; the sanctuary of his home had never been more appealing. Only the memory of Olsen's pain stopped him from giving up, and he set aside his tea before lurching to his feet. "Just a while longer, I promise."
Not looking convinced, Bruce said reluctantly, "Ticket guy told Purdy that he thinks he sold a ticket to New York City to someone matching Olsen's description. Remembers him because the man seemed really upset, barely holding it together. The bus left from over there."
Nodding, Johnny limped toward the gate, half-hoping he'd be spared any vision at all. He caught sight of a wad of paper near a pillar, and drawn to it, picked it up. For a second he was Owen, pen in shaking hand, writing My Dearest Karen, but before he could write more, the vision exploded, leaving him adrift in darkness again.
"First time that's happened," Johnny said to himself. "How can an old vision replace a new one?"
Laughter answered his question, and he arrowed for a bright bit of long-ago, flashing into...
***James carefully tucked his guitar into the chuck wagon, surprised to feel loss that it would be the last time. Of the many jobs, many places he'd worked since leaving home after Robert's new wife privately made it clear that it was him or her, the Triple T Ranch had been the best. Much as he'd enjoyed being cook here, though, home was calling to him. Influenza had taken Robert's wife and most of his children, and he needed family around him now, needed him, just as James had needed Robert when their parents and siblings had died in a house fire when he was a boy. He was looking forward to meeting his surviving nieces, especially the oldest daughter. From Robert's letters, it sounded like she was the one most like their grandmother, and he couldn't wait to see...
***Victoria walked carefully down the aisle of the train car, hugging her guitar to her chest to keep from hitting anyone with it. By now, with all the miles she'd traveled on the vaudeville circuit, it was second nature, which was good, given that she still couldn't string two thoughts together after receiving the news from home. Finding two empty seats, she tiredly sat down, and, with the same reverence she'd used when she'd first received it from Uncle James, put the case on the seat next to her. She kept on hand on it protectively; something she had once considered unnecessary.
But the Depression had changed the world, and she knew in the heart of her, with the same certainty that let her flit safely through waters that drown other young women, that little of it was for the good. It was time to go home. If it wasn't the triumphant, happy return she'd wanted, well, at least Pappa, ill as he was, and Uncle James, wanted her there. Laying her free hand over the miniscule promise inside her, she sighed. She would name her baby, boy or girl, for the proud, laughing, charming man who had sired it, days before a thief took his life and her pledge of marriage. It was a good name, Franklin...
"John! Enough already!"
For a second John snapped back to the bus station, to Bruce, as he pried the paper from John's hands. "What?"
"Just tell me you're getting something on Olsen, and let go!"
The next instant he was back in the now-familiar darkness. A soft voice, made of many blended into one, softly sang, "Your strength. He's beautiful."
Studying Bruce through the pane separating them as he half-held John's body up, half-hid it behind a support column, John admitted, "Very. But he's not mine."
"Ahhhhhhh." There were so many emotions in the sound that John couldn't sort them out, and he didn't try.
Not sure of how to respond, he got back to the business at hand. "Can you help me find Mark Olsen?"
In answer, a myriad of paths fanned out in all directions from John, some dark, some empty, most with a broad, short man hurrying down them. If he looked, really looked, he could see part of the destination of each, and had to fight down a sudden rise of bile at the number of them that ended in a young girl's bedroom and a whispered, "No, daddy, please, no."
He would have turned away, but a murmur stopped him. "Closer, most likely choice. Brighter, best choice."
Taking the hint, he looked closer and saw Olsen getting off the bus, back in Cleves Mills, wearing an empty expression that filled John with a dread that negated the necessity of looking any further at those particular possibilities. The brightest showed Olsen working in a food kitchen somewhere, much thinner, gray and worn, and in thread-bare clothes, but looking far more serene. It was obvious to him that if Olsen stuck by his decision to leave his family that he would suffer, but it was still the right thing to do in the long run.
"Have to tell Bruce," John muttered, and that was enough to put him back in the station, leaning weakly on him.
"Tell me what?"
"Olsen's on the way back, but he has to stay away, for his daughters' sake. Gene's got to convince him to go through with the original plan; it's for the best." Forehead on Bruce's shoulder, John fought to stay present, but the darkness pulled at him, demanding his return. Distantly he felt Bruce maneuver him toward the exit, stopping when Purdy intercepted them. With difficulty, John roused himself, repeating what he'd told Bruce, a significant emphasis on 'daughters' erasing any argument Purdy might have had.
A short eternity later John was in the limo, mercifully sans the reverend, and was hit by an image of Olsen sitting on the bench in serious conversation with Gene, looking both terrified and relieved. It was enough to let him know that he had succeeded in changing the future for the better, and he succumbed to the vision claiming him, fearing the unique night lying in wait. As if finding Olsen's fate had freed him from some invisible tether, John spun madly from one life to another.
He was Victoria, great with child, kneeling by the grave of her Uncle James, mourning his loss too, too soon after the death of her father. He was a young Franklin running through a childhood so joyous that it wasn't dimmed by the knowledge that his mother had been expecting him when she'd married his beloved father. He was Collette Ross, gravely receiving the heirloom guitar from her parents, Franklin and Catherine, just as she embarked on her journey to become a star in Hollywood.
With terrifying abruptness, Time collapsed in on itself, and John flipped at random from year-to-year, person-to-person, mentally scrabbling to stop, slow down, derail the process, *anything* but skid helplessly into
John/Victoria laughed in the rain with a handsome man...
John/Robert shouted his exultation to the night sky as his first-born cried indignantly at his delivery into the cold air...
John/Collette perched on the edge of a bed receiving the horrible wonderful news of her pregnancy and her HIV status...
John/James stood at the edge of a huge fire, watching his home burn to ash, taking his entire family, save for his older brother, who had stayed with him in the barn as he watched over a new calf.
Each burst of the past bled away John's awareness of who he was, blurring the edges between himself and the owners of the guitar, until all that remained were vivid pictures of single moments, drenched in emotions too overwhelming to bear. Joy, while standing at an altar, waiting for... sorrow, while standing at a gravesite, thinking... contentment, lying beside...anger while running, running, no place in particular as long as... amazement... longing... soul deep and rich love... loss, oh, so many and so sharp....
One in particular, one that cut a heart still beating... Bruce. The name conjured an image, the image called to the man owning the heart, and he whispered the name aloud. Hearing it brought forth determination, and he shouted, "Bruce!"
Instantly the flood of days past stopped, and he, still uncertain who *he* was, stood at the intersection of an eternity of corridors. The beginning of all was the same: Bruce in the back seat of a limo, holding a shaking man securely to his chest. He couldn't see who the man was because the face was hidden by arms while hands clutched desperately at Bruce, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that all the futures that could be for Bruce were bright, though he couldn't see very far into any of them.
"Closest, most likely," he whispered, remembering the words from somewhere. "Brightest, best choice."
The ones closest showed Bruce, face contorted in pain, voice paradoxically soothing and controlled while he comforted the man he held. Farthest, yet the most brilliant, showed Bruce brushing the faintest of kisses over the unknown person's brow, then, when he lifted his face to Bruce, kissing him gently on the mouth. There weren't very many possibilities after that: the intimacy was quietly ignored, apologetically dismissed, or hesitantly, shyly returned.
Oddly, all of those were good futures for Bruce, though the best seemed to be when the kiss was returned. He watched a moment more; long enough to see the embrace turn passionate before they broke apart to stare at each other. A pang ripped through him at the shock and delight in Bruce's expression, confusing him so much he turned his attention to the man.
And recognized himself.
"I kiss Bruce back?" he said to himself wonderingly, but he had to believe his own eyes. "I kiss Bruce back. And like it. How, I mean, I've never..."
It wasn't a lie exactly, but the suggestion of falsehood was threaded under the denial, as if only complete truth could be spoken here. With a flush creeping up his neck and over his cheeks, he remembered his early explorations of sex with Sara, and how some of the things he liked, some of the things he'd wanted had bothered her. For her sake, he'd pushed all those nascent needs aside, and concentrated on her. They had stolen out in his dreams, in his more frantic fantasies, but he'd denied those as well.
"I wouldn't just kiss him back," John admitted aloud, almost automatically acknowledging he was securely back in possession of his faculties. "I'd *want* to kiss *him* first."
Instantly more hallways appeared, all so intensely lit that he couldn't stand to look directly into them. Though he'd always known that his ability to see the future included the possibility of changing it, this was the first time he had clear evidence of that. In all the new views, he was the one to timidly whisper a kiss, first over Bruce's throat, and when Bruce shifted to look down at him, over his lips.
The dawning elation and revealed love on Bruce's face at the caress tore at John. He wanted... no, he needed to make that possibility a truth, but he had no idea how to get from his eternal now to any of the paths before him. It must be possible. He was in the limo with Bruce in every one of them, but the ones where they kissed were slowly fading, telling him somehow that time was passing, however imperceptibly to him.
Clinging to the thought that every question had created a reaction in his surroundings, John focused on Bruce with all he had. That it was really, truly him sitting on one hip, bad leg stretched out and back to the privacy glass separating them from the driver. He could smell the light spice of Bruce's cologne, hear Bruce's breath swirl past his ear, feel his heartbeat against his palms, going just a little too fast. All he had to do was speak, one word, and it would be answered, it *would* be answered.
John pulled away from his refuge, meeting Bruce's gaze and holding it, letting everything he felt spill into him. When Bruce's eyes widened, becoming darker than he'd ever seen them, he leaned up enough to create a part of the future he wanted. The flesh against his was lush, tense with something - shock or fear perhaps - before slowly yielding, warming in a way that sent sparks biting into his guts.
With a clear show of reluctance, he broke away, laying his finger over Bruce's lips to silence him. A while back he'd unintentionally learned that Purdy had the back seat bugged so conversations could be recorded if Purdy thought it was in his own best interest. To warn Bruce, he glanced significantly as the partition and tapped his ear, indicating that the driver could be listening.
Either he had mentioned the bug to Bruce at some point or Bruce simply assumed the worse. He tucked him close again and silently sighed. Relaxing into the welcomed comfort, John let himself enjoy the contact until the car slowed, turning into his driveway. Scrubbing a hand over his face, he sat up carefully, turned even more carefully, and tried to be the picture of propriety when the door opened. Thankfully the driver seemed to take it for granted that Bruce would help him out and up the stairs, and in very short order they were safely in the foyer of his home.
Because it was what he wanted, and because accumulated memories from the visions said it was a good thing to do, John turned as the door shut and gently pushed Bruce against it to kiss him again. Though the very male part of him wanted to make it a fierce demand, he reined himself in, keeping it tender, intuitively sure that was what Bruce needed. Holding Bruce's face between his palms and taking his time, he savored taste and texture, only their lips touching at first, then, with shy hesitancy, tongue met tongue as they deepened the kiss.
Far too soon, Bruce eased away, breathing hard and looking slightly flustered. "John, do you... I mean, can you tell me...." Almost visibly shutting himself up to decide exactly what to say, he finally asked, "Did you do that because of a vision?"
"No," John said with absolute conviction, fingers curling to cradle the back of Bruce's skull. "I did it because I wanted to. I'm not going to lie. It took seeing it to realize that it was possible, for me to give a name to the feelings I've had for you. And I promise you, I *promise* you, that while it's never going to be easy, it's always going to be right. I love you."
"You know, man, for once, I don't need to hear about one of your visions to know for myself what's going to happen." Bruce clenched his fist over his heart and tapped his chest twice. "I feel it here; I know it here. Going to be honest with you, too. Thought that it was the way it could be, but I couldn't be sure that you'd be able to agree with me on that. There's so damned much standing in the way."
"But not too damned much," John countered, smiling but worried that Bruce would misunderstand why it wobbled around the edges.
"Thank God." Bruce leaned in and staked his claim on John, taking his turn at exploring and learning what felt best for him. When they were clinging to each other in an effort to stay on their feet, he nuzzled his way to John's ear. "Love you so much. Let me take you upstairs and show you just how right it's going to be."
In answer, John nudged Bruce into motion, and they slowly made their way up to his room, trading more kisses as they climbed. Each grew deeper and hungrier, lifting John to a level of passion he had not thought possible. By the time they tumbled onto his bed, he was aware of nothing beside how incredibly good it was to hold Bruce, and that it was no where near enough. He wanted Bruce to feel every bit as much need as he did, wanted him half-insane with pleasure.
Flickers of moments from the future and Bruce's soft cries as John pulled off their shirts guided him in what to do and how to do it, not interfering at all with the growing ache in his dick. Bruce held him off with fists against his shoulders when he would have laid on top of him, a quirk of a smile making it clear that he wasn't stopping them for good. "Hey, no fair. I mean, I've done a few things, seen a bit more, read a couple of 'how-to' articles online, but you can get a life time's experience with one hit from your dead zone."
Seriously, using his nails to create small paths over Bruce's chin, John said, "That's part of me, a part of me I'm finding useful since I don't have a clue, myself. As long as it flows naturally, an element of everything else between us, shouldn't we take advantage of it?"
Bruce studied him for a second, grinned and unexpectedly rolled them over so that he was on top, weight supported on his forearms as he breathed another kiss into John. "In that case, I'm gonna take my turn at making the future."
He didn't seem to expect a reply to that, not that John could have given him one. The ridge burning along his hip, so close to his own hard length, made thinking about anything but the growing necessity of relief an impossibility. He ground up as Bruce rocked down, and they moaned with one echoing voice. The rhythm they set up together promised release, but the layers of clothing still left between them quickly frustrated the likelihood of fulfilling it.
Mumbling a curse, Bruce lifted enough for John to reach between their bodies and grope for zippers and buttons. "Shouldn't this be easier between two guys?" he grumbled facetiously, as they tried to squirm out of their clothes without getting more than millimeters apart.
Bruce laughed into his mouth, then sighed, then groaned in a way that ripped right through John, igniting his libido. Bare skin found bare skin as he pulled Bruce solidly down on him, and they thrust against each other as if they had never stopped. John had that instant of almost pain, not quite pleasure that always marked his finish, and he clutched to himself Bruce tightly, bracing his heels against the mattress as his back arched.
"John, oh, man, it's... just let it happen, go ahead, go for it," Bruce coaxed, his own movements becoming erratic and desperate.
"God... this is... Bruce!" Every sense John had narrowed down to the sweat-slick skin pressing against his cock and the velvet and steel of Bruce's beside it. His climax hit like a blow that sent his mind reeling, with ecstasy, not hurt, and he cried out as the shock of it literally shook him. Distantly he heard a matching shout of joy, shaped as his name, and had another burst of delight tremble over him in echo of Bruce's release.
It took a long, glorious time for the last tremors to fade, and very much against his will, John drifted into sleep. The long, long day and many visions had simply taken too much out of him, though he wanted with all his heart to cherish every second Bruce was with him. His only consolation was that Bruce seemed as enervated as he was; he felt him lose the battle to stay awake, only to lose his own a few breaths later.
As if sleep had been needed to process everything he'd seen/felt/experienced from the guitar, John woke to early sunshine sure of what he had to do and how to go about it. Slipping from the bed, he went to the foyer to pick up the abandoned instrument and carried it to his living room. He spent several long minutes just looking the case over, identifying the huge scratch along the back as a result from the hook at the pawnshop, the trace of char along the bottom from when a drunken cowboy had threatened to toss the guitar, case and all, into the cook fire if he wasn't fed something besides beans and hardtack. Smiling - the other cowboys had rescued it for James, considering the food better than most and the music that accompanied it definitely worth while - John unlatched the case and gingerly pulled out the guitar.
It fit into his hands as if he actually knew what he was doing, and, driven by some impulse he didn't fight, he put the instrument across his knee and strummed. Moving on their own, his fingers picked out the same lovely tune that Joseph had played in his first vision, plucking the strings without hesitation. Bemused, John went along for the ride, listening to the music and trying hard not to notice exactly what his hands were doing.
Eventually he ended the song by plucking six individual notes in a gliding arpeggio, and sighed at the loss of the beauty.
"I didn't know you could play," Bruce asked softly after the last sound had faded.
Not surprised to see him sitting opposite, expression grave, John said, "I don't. More like the guitar was playing me." At Bruce's instant alarm, he added hastily, "It won't possess me again. I'm taking it back where it belongs, which was all that it wanted."
Rather than call him on the insanity of claiming an object had a will of its own, Bruce said mildly, "I take it you've got a clue or two where that is."
"It's Saturday. Do you have any clients lined up for today?"
Tone showing how pleased the question made him, Bruce said. "I only do that on an emergency basis, you know that. No emergencies that I know of since last night, except my favorite psychic."
"Good! Up for a road trip to Massachusetts?"
"Just promise me we're not stopping Salem. I've had enough experience with witch burnings, thank you very much."
Laughing, John put the guitar away, and started his day properly with a kiss. Later he would decide that the road trip was the perfect way to ease into the 'rest of his life' after the shattering 'night before.' With the enforced privacy of the car, the beautiful early winter weather, and the leisurely route they took, he and Bruce were able to ask and answer all the awkward questions that had to be dealt with before they faced the rest of the world.
By the time they reached the outskirts of Bellingham, he was as comfortable with the changes to his future as he was confident of them. Thankfully Bruce seemed to be on the same footing, and not only because of his trust in John's gifts. It allowed John to put personal matters on the backburner when he began recognizing landmarks on their route.
"This is incredible," John breathed, leaning forward to peer through the windshield. "I've seen this road through the eyes of so many of Robert Wentworth's descendants that it's like having the past layered over what's here right now."
"I can't even begin to imagine it; over a hundred years of change, man."
Pointing at an empty meadow, John said, "That was where the original Wentworth home was. The legitimate line of the family fell into hard times; had to sell off all their land and eventually lost the house to back taxes. For a while in the forties and fifties, it was the local haunted house."
Bruce slowed down to take a better look. "It got tore down?"
"No idea; whatever happened must have been after the guitar was lost. Take the next right."
"John, that's a cow path."
"No, it's the lane that goes to Robert's workshop, which had living quarters added after the fire." Straining to catch sight of the building, he admitted, "It is pretty overgrown. Maybe the family had to abandon it."
"Maybe there's no family left." Bruce inched slowly down the barely visible road. "You said that the last of the line, Colette, was pregnant and had AIDS. Good chance the baby had it, too."
"Somehow I don't think so." At the sharp look Bruce sent his way, John added, "Though it could be wishful thinking on my part, since we've already come all this way."
"About to find out." Bruce nodded at the roof appearing at the top of the small rise in front of them.
A long, looping curve later they pulled up in front of the long, stone two-story building. It sat in a cozy dip between two tree-covered hills, with a babbling brook running along the far side of the clearing. Taking in the well-tended garden that substituted for a front yard, Bruce said, "This is straight out of a Thomas Kincaid painting. All it needs is smoke coming from the chimneys and lights in the windows."
Spotting a backpack and duffle bag sitting on the stoop, John said, "Titled, 'Leave Taking.' Looks like we may have gotten here just in time."
Bruce parked the car at the end of the short walkway that led to the front door, and they both got out, John stopping to get the guitar from the back seat. As they did, a young man carrying an electric guitar case and wearing a black trench coat over jeans and plain black t-shirt stepped outside. He pulled up short - cautious, but not worried, John thought - and waited for them to approach, eyes widening when he saw what John carried. For the life of him, all John could think of at the moment was that the man looked exactly like Robert Wentworth: middle height, slender, skin tone a cross between honey and cream, perfectly straight black hair that fell below his shoulders in a simple center part cut.
That seemed to be as good an opening line as any, and he said it out loud, then corrected himself. "Except for the shape of your eyes and chin; that's pure Constance Wentworth."
"You're not the first person to notice that," the man said warily. "But you're the first one to do it when they weren't looking at the portrait hanging over the fireplace in the parlor. He's my great, great, great grandfather. I'm Eric Wentworth Ross."
"I'm John Smith, and this is Bruce Lewis."
"The psychic?" Eric asked, even more warily.
"Good, you've heard of me. That'll make this easier." John lifted the guitar he carried, unnecessarily calling attention to it. "I believe this belongs to you."
Eric sat down heavily on the step to the house. "That can't be what I think it is. How did you get it? Why give it back?"
Not needing to look for the little bench set into the azaleas growing beside the walk, John sat as well, bringing Bruce with him with a gesture. Sitting the case in front of him where Eric could look it over, John waited until the young man lifted his eyes to meet his. "I brought it back because it belongs not just to, but *with* you. Yes, I learned that in a vision, which shouldn't be hard for you to accept. Your family has had its share of gifted individuals."
Leaning back, Eric said defensively, "That's just family legend; a yarn that grew with the telling because it made our ancestors sound special."
"I don't think so." John tapped his cane on the ground in front of him, not seeing the present any longer. "The first Robert Wentworth's gift was empathy. He was so successful because he truly understood what his customers wanted from the instrument or furniture that he built for them. Constance had flashes of the future accurate enough to effectively plan for most difficulties and problems. The only reason the family was caught in that house fire was because she'd been sick from a difficult pregnancy."
"I..." Eric shook himself. "I don't know who your source is, but they're good."
Almost not hearing him at all, John went on. "Robert Jr, who is your direct ancestor, wasn't gifted, but his brother James, was. He was a healer, using herbal concoctions and poultices to hide that it was his touch that made the difference. He wasn't strong enough to stop cancer, but he could make it much less painful. Robert's daughter, Victoria, carried the gift next. Like her grandmother, she got glimpses of the future, though not in anywhere as much detail."
"Stop," Eric demanded, expression turning stony. "Just... stop! Look, I don't have time for this. My band will be here in a few minutes; we're leaving on tours for the next few months."
Undeterred by the demand, John finished his recitation. "Her son, Franklin, was next. Your grandfather had a specialized kind clairvoyance; the knack of being in the right place at the right time. He'd be humming a new tune in the elevator on his way to a recording session where he was playing backups, and a man looking for a song for a commercial or new show, something like that, would be in the elevator with him. Gave him a good, steady income, which was all he ever really wanted, anyway."
Silence sat among them for a long, long minute, then Eric asked reluctantly, almost shyly, "My mother?"
"Colette was a nurturer," John said, smiling reassuringly at him. "Plants, animals, people - it didn't matter. They all thrived under her care. A kind of healing gift, I suppose. I think that's why you weren't born with her AIDS."
Sighing long and low, Eric deflated, all resistance gone. "That's what Gramma Catherine said. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person she ever said it to." He grudgingly added, "Okay, I'll believe you, Mr. Smith. And I can't say as I don't want to. If that *is* my family's heirloom guitar, I want it back. My first memory is hearing my mother play that; my best is of my grandfather showing me how to make an A minor chord on it."
"He passed away unexpectedly?" John asked gently. At Eric's startled glance, he explained, "There's a break in, well, the records I'd guess you could say, a few years after your mother passed away, and the next starts up with the guitar being bought from the pawn shop."
The familiar look of unwilling amazement seeped over Eric's face, and he stared at the guitar. "Drunk driver killed him when I was nine. There was money, but Mom's illness left a lot of bills, and Gramma was fighting cancer. She always meant to get it back from the shop, but never could get the cash together."
Nudging the guitar, case and all toward him, John said, "It felt to me like it just about broke her heart to sell it. One reason I had no problem in bringing it back to where it belongs."
"I..." Eric half-reached for the case, as if he couldn't quite resist temptation. "I can't pay you back right now. My band is good, though. We'll make it, at least solid enough that I can settle my debts. Yours will be first, I swear."
"Any debt is paid in full already. A vision from the guitar taught me a new way of using my gift that saved two young girls from a horrible future." John picked up the case and handed it to him, smiling at the surge of information that flowed easily between them.
Running a greedy hand over the curve of the case, Eric said distractedly. "No, I do owe you, but you're right, not in money. Someday I'll find a way to help you. I don't know how but I will."
Not bothering with goodbyes because Eric was already opening the case, and lovingly inspecting the guitar, John stood, taking Bruce with him with a hand under his elbow. They walked back to the car with soft strains of music following: the same tune John had played that morning. As they made the laborious turn needed to go back the way they came, a pair of older model minivans, one heavily loaded with musical equipment came down the lane. John and Bruce nodded amiable greetings to the mystified drivers and passengers, and John half-turned in his seat to watch them get out and cluster around Eric.
"He will, you know," John said.
"Find a way to help you with something?"
"It's his gift. Finding, I mean: people, places, things. He'll find me when the time is right."
Glancing at him suspiciously, Bruce asked, "What did you See when you gave him the guitar?"
John smiled at him, half-mysteriously, half-mischievously, just to be able to tease Bruce until they were back home and had better ways to entertain each other. finis