J’endure plus                                                  [I suffer more]

The time has come

Je te desire                                                      [I want you]

The time has come

Prends-moi, je suis a toi                                [Take me, I’m yours]

Mea culpa                                                      [It’s my fault]


Je vous aller au bout de mes fantasmes       [I go to you at the height of my fantasies]

Je sais que c'est interdit                                 [I know that it is forbidden]

Je suis folle                                                     [I am mad]

Je m'abandonne                                            [I surrender myself]

Mea culpa                                                      [It’s my fault]


            “Mea Culpa,” Enigma [Translation mine]



Jim parked the truck hastily, almost recklessly. He dashed headlong up the stairs, fumbling the keys out of his pocket, dropping them twice as he tried to unlock the door.


Please no. Please, please, please –


When Blair had offered to spend the day doing some cleaning, Jim had been surprised and pleased. When Blair had asked for the key to the basement storage area, Jim hadn’t thought twice. When he’d talked to Blair on the phone at lunch and Blair said he’d finished with the closets and was ready to start on the basement, Jim, whose mind had been on the report he was typing, had just grunted. It wasn’t until nearly two hours later, twenty minutes ago, just time enough to stutter out some excuse to Simon and drive home breaking every law of God, man and relativity, that Jim’s head had shot up and he had suddenly realized.


Basement. Clean. Sort. Boxes.


The BOX.


Please God no. He didn’t find it. Or if he found it, he didn’t open it. That’s all I ask. Please. Please.


As soon as he opened the door, Jim realized that Blair wasn’t in the loft. He dropped the keys again, didn’t even bother locking the loft door as he all but flew down the stairs to the basement.


He’d meant to have “the conversation” with Blair. He had. Really. He’d known sooner or later he’d have to confide in his Guide, his best friend, his soulmate, his new lover. Nothing good had ever come from him hiding things from his Guide anyway. But their relationship was too fresh, too raw, still in the tentative exploratory stages, so full of wonder and discovery and innocent joy. It wasn’t time yet. Blair wasn’t ready, he wasn’t ready, they weren’t ready. That box needed to stay closed just a little longer.


Okay, don’t panic. If he’s still in the basement, he isn’t done cleaning yet. If he isn’t done cleaning yet, he probably hasn’t even gotten that far. He probably hasn’t even gotten near it.


But even before he reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped through the half-open door into their storage area he knew it was too late. He could hear his Guide’s heart beating fast, fast, but no movement to explain it as exertion.


Blair was sitting cross-legged on the cement floor, open box in front of him. He was staring at the studded leather collar in his hand, an unreadable expression on his face. When Jim entered, he looked up and took a deep breath.


“Hey, Jim,” he said quietly. “We need to talk.”




Jim sat on the sofa trying not to fidget. Trying not to blush. Failing miserably.


Look at all this stuff,” Blair said wonderingly. At least the expression on his face wasn’t disgust. “A body harness, cock rings, dildos, plugs, a vibrator – man, look, there’s even more down here – “


Jim ground his teeth.


“I bought most of that stuff back when I was working in Vice,” he said desperately. “For an undercover assignment.”


Blair glanced up, his eyes probing Jim’s, and Jim prayed fervently that just this once his Guide couldn’t read him like a book. “Most” was pretty much an out-and-out lie. He’d bought the body harness for an undercover job. Thankfully Blair didn’t call him on that; he held up a shoebox instead.


“How come the dildos were separate?”


Jim swallowed.


“I told you I had some toys,” he said. “Those used to be in my closet. I just brought them down here a while ago and shoved them in with the rest.”


“A while ago?” Blair repeated.


“When we became lovers.” Jim was strangling his beer bottle now. “I didn’t want you stumbling over that stuff in the closet or anything. I figured I wouldn’t, you know, need them anymore.”


“You thought it would bother me?” Blair’s eyes probed Jim’s deeply.


“I didn’t know,” Jim admitted. He prayed Blair wouldn’t delve any deeper, would just leave it at that. He knew his Guide wouldn’t.


Blair was back to the collar again, running it through his fingers, wearing that same thoughtful look.


“If you just bought this stuff for an undercover assignment,” he said, very slowly, “why didn’t you just turn it in to the station afterward? Or throw it away?”


Jim’s heart pounded so hard he was afraid it might burst through his chest.


“Well, I couldn’t turn it in,” he said weakly, praying Blair couldn’t hear the slight shake in his voice. “I mean, not after it had been, you know, used. And I didn’t throw it away because – uh – because – “


Oh, God. Now what? I can lie to him – or try, at least – and have that lie between us always. Or I can tell him. I meant to tell him someday, just not – not yet. It’s not time. He’s not ready. I’m not ready for –


“You didn’t throw it away,” Blair said softly, “because you were still using it, weren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.




Jim took a deep breath and nodded, closing his eyes. He didn’t want to see the expression on Blair’s face. Would it be disgust, contempt? Worse, pity? Or worst of all, would Blair finally close Jim out as Jim had closed Blair out so many times in the past, hide his feelings behind a calm and seamless exterior?




Jim was startled almost out of his wits by the soft hand stroking his arm; he hadn’t even felt Blair sit down beside him on the sofa.


“It’s okay, Jim. It’s all right.”


To Jim’s relief Blair didn’t immediately demand that Jim opened his eyes. Instead he simply pulled Jim over against him, Jim’s head resting on his shoulder, and held him quietly. Jim let Blair hold him, listening to the beat of his Guide’s loving heart, relaxing slowly as the world didn’t drop out from under him. He felt warm lips brush against his temple, and at last he forced himself to look up. Blair was watching him, but without contempt, or disgust, or anger, or judgment. Only love.


“Jim – “ Blair took a deep breath. “I know how hard it is in a new relationship, especially when there are things in your past that maybe you’re not too proud of, or just embarrassed about, or you worry about how your partner will react.” He blushed slightly. “I know how easy it is to just keep those things to yourself and promise yourself that you’ll talk about it... someday. That you’re not really keeping anything important from your lover. You’re just... waiting for the right moment. But the right moment never seems to come, and it gets harder and harder to think about telling, and easier and easier to put it off again.”


Blair cleared his throat.


“I think – I think maybe both of us have been a little too – uh – discreet for our own good, Jim. I think maybe we both need to kind of take the leap here, okay?”


Jim swallowed.


“Okay,” he said. It was hard to meet Blair’s eyes. “Um... I know this sounds kind of ridiculous, but where do you want me to start?”


Blair leaned over and picked up the collar from the open box, holding it up illustratively.


“How about the first time?”


Jim took a sip of his beer. It was warm from being clutched so long in his sweaty hands, but he didn’t care.


“The first time – “ He took a deep breath. “It was while I was in Covert Ops. It was a role. A cover. That’s all. I can’t tell you much about it, sorry. Just take it on faith that I had to play a convincing sub.” He felt his cheeks heat. “The guy playing the Dom was a friend of mine on my team. Unlike me, it wasn’t just a role for him – well, not usually – so he taught me what I needed to know to be convincing. I guess I was. Convincing, I mean. I know I convinced myself. I mean, I didn’t expect to – to like it.” Jim swallowed hard. “My friend didn’t say anything at the time, but he talked to me a few days later. Said he’d noticed I was really into the role. He asked me if I wanted to play again, for real this time.” Jim took another swallow of beer. “I said yes.”


Blair waited for a moment, but when Jim said nothing more, he plunged in.


“Was he special to you, this guy?”


Jim shook his head, remembering Mark. They’d been friends, fellow soldiers. They’d even saved each other’s lives a couple of times. But it had been a comfortable intimacy, the camaraderie of friends and fellow warriors who had shared pain and danger, who trusted each other and fought back to back, who neither needed nor wanted it to go any further than that.


“He was a good friend,” Jim said at last. “But it was nothing... lasting. Not love or anything like that. I trusted him and we were good together, that’s all.”


“So were you with him long?” Blair asked.


Jim shook his head again.


“No. Just a few times. I liked what we did, but it wasn’t serious for either of us – just two friends coping with a dangerous and high-pressure career using a kind of bizarre pressure release valve. He introduced me to some people before he went – well, on another assignment. That wasn’t too long before Peru, though.”


“So – after Peru?” Blair prompted.


Jim was silent a long moment, gathering his thoughts. Blair didn’t rush him, for which he was profoundly grateful.


“Peru messed with my head,” he said slowly at last. “For a long time I was just... inside myself. After a while I thought about Mark and what we’d done. Thought about how good it had felt to give up control, to let someone else carry all the weight for a while. So after a while I looked up the people Mark had introduced me to and I found someone else – a lot of someone elses – to carry the weight. Not all the time, just sometimes. Just when I needed it.


“Then Vice.” Jim paused again; again, Blair let him take his time. “I did good work in Vice. I knew the game, I knew the players. I didn’t mind the undercover work so much, but I felt like – I don’t know, a traitor. Sometimes we were arresting people for doing the same things I liked. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt better after I transferred to Major Crimes.”


“What about after your senses re-emerged?” Blair asked softly.


Jim shook his head.


“I never played after that,” he said quietly. “I didn’t dare. At first I was afraid my senses would freak out on me or I’d zone or something. Then after I got to know you, after you moved in, I – I didn’t want to do that anymore. So I packed this stuff away.”


“Why?” Blair said gently. “I mean, why didn’t you want to do that anymore, if you liked it, needed it?”


“Because I wanted you,” Jim admitted. “And I wanted to be the kind of lover who might someday have a chance with you.”


Blair’s brow wrinkled.


“I guess I’m not getting something here, Jim,” he said at last. “I mean, you told me you’d never been fucked, and the way you took me – I mean, I’d never have pegged you for a sub.”


Jim thought about that for a long moment.


“Well... things were a little different after my senses re-emerged,” he admitted. “Listen, I – God, this is hard to explain.”


“Try,” Blair urged.


Jim took a deep breath.


“I’m attracted to women,” he said at last. “I like making love with women. With a woman, I was always looking for warmth, tenderness, love. A relationship. With men it was different. I didn’t want to – attach myself to the men I was with, because I needed something different from them. I needed a walk on the wild side, or I needed to look into my own darkness for a while. So I’d pick up a man to fuck when I needed to cut loose and howl at the moon, or I’d find a Dom, someone who could let me out of myself for a while. One was sex, one was power. I didn’t let my Dom’s fuck me; that was the one limit I laid down. If they were going to get into my head, then they weren’t getting into my body.”


He shook his head; it sounded ridiculous to him when he tried to put it into words.


“Am I making any sense here?”


“Yeah, you’re making sense,” Blair said gently, stroking Jim’s arm soothingly. “You kept your needs compartmentalized – your need for love and tenderness, your need for plain old sexual gratification, your need to not be in control for a while.”


Jim nodded, grateful that Blair had understood.


“I guess that’s why my marriage with Carolyn didn’t work,” Jim sighed. “I held so much of myself back because it had no place in my relationship with her. She used to complain that I never let her in, but she really had no idea how much of myself she never saw.”


“Is that why you and Simon didn’t date?” Blair asked after a moment.


Jim glanced at him, startled. He thought Blair had completely forgotten their conversation about Simon. He should’ve known better. Blair never let anything drop that easily.


“Well – yes,” Jim said reluctantly. “Men were Doms to me or one-night stands, not somebody I got emotionally involved with. Simon was a little shocked when I told him the whole power play thing. I knew it wasn’t his scene. But, see, I didn’t think I could love Simon the way he was looking for – hell, I never thought I’d ever love any man – and I’d never dream of just, you know, using him. We were attracted to each other – heck, at that time I’d probably never been closer to anybody, even Carolyn – but there just wasn’t any common ground for us to stand on. He didn’t fit into any of the compartments.”


“Mmmm.” Blair sat back. “And me?”


“I love you,” Jim said simply. “I never expected it to happen, Chief. I never expected to find a man who touched my heart, my soul. That’s worth everything to me.”


Blair was toying with the collar.


“So you don’t miss this, then?”


Jim swallowed hard. He didn’t want to lie, but he didn’t want to tell the truth, either.


“Chief, the power trip is like the women and the one-night stands,” he said at last. “It’s in the past. I made the choice of my own free will.”


“That’s not an answer, Jim,” Blair said gently. “But I’ll let it slide for now.” He cleared his throat. “Uh – ready for my skeletons?”


“Go for it,” Jim said, relieved to be out of the limelight, at least for the moment.


“Try this on for size.” Blair handed Jim a binder.


Jim opened the binder and read the title page, raising his eyebrows.


“The Social Psychodynamics of Consensual Power Exchange.” Jim shook his head. “Is this about what I think it’s about, Chief?”


Blair chuckled.


“Yup. Would you believe I was even a professional for a while?”


Jim blinked. He deconstructed and reconstructed the sentence, examined it from all the angles, all the permutations of those words.


“Uh. I think I’m going to need that very slowly in gradual steps, Chief.”


Blair grinned.


“Okay. It actually started out kind of innocently, believe it or not. You know I had a minor in psych, right? Well, my junior year undergrad I had this real scumbag of a psych teacher who always treated me like some kind of idiot because my major was anthropology instead of psych. Anyway, he didn’t like me any more than I liked him, and so he suggested I do a year’s independent study project. Something interdisciplinary, he said. And it was the way he said it, like I was totally incapable of finding anything in the world that married psychology and anthropology. I decided I wanted to pick something to really knock this guy’s eyebrows off.


“Well, anyway, I had this friend, Sherry Terhune, in my Egyptian Deities class, and she happened to be a professional Dominatrix. She actually ran her own dungeon, this really classy place called – “


“Tribulations,” Jim sighed.


Blair’s eyes widened.


“You mean you – uh – “


“Oh, no,” Jim said hurriedly. “You mean as in patronized? No. No, I just knew all the places from my time in Vice. Actually Sherry worked with Vice on one of my assignments, trying to catch this sicko who was pretending to be a sub, then slashing up the dom. She let us stake out her place for a couple of weeks, although that wasn’t where we caught the guy. Nice lady.”


Blair nodded.


“I know,” he said. “Anyway, we were talking about Tribulations – you know me, I’ve always got a million questions and I’m not shy about asking. Anyway, the whole thing intrigued me, and I asked her if she’d mind if I did my project about that, the whole interdependence between Dom and sub. I figured the look on my psych professor’s face when I turned it in would be a giggle. Sherry thought it was a neat project and offered to help.


“I spent a lot of time at Tribulations after that,” Blair said. “I talked to the Doms and Dominatrixes, and Sherry even managed to persuade a few clients to give me interviews. I didn’t use any names, of course – you know, Dom #1, sub #3 and so on. Then Sherry actually rounded up a client who didn’t mind me watching.” He chuckled. “By that time I was hooked. It was just so incredible, the level of trust. Sherry ran a really strict dungeon – purely D&S, B&D, no sex, which is probably why Vice never closed her down. But it was still one of the most erotic things I’d ever seen. So when Sherry told me I could only learn so much from a distance, that maybe it was time for me to get my hands dirty, I didn’t take too much persuading.”


“You mean you – “ Jim said, flabbergasted.


“Subbed, yeah,” Blair chuckled. “Hey, remember when I said how hard it is to get candle wax out of chest hair? You think I was pulling that out of thin air? Well, hang on, Jim. You haven’t heard anything yet.”


“Oh boy,” Jim said, taking a deep breath. He was getting hard.


“So Sherry agreed to do a scene with me subbing, and we did. It was...“ Blair shook his head. “Unbelievable. She was right. There is only so much you can learn from a distance. Anyway, I did a couple other scenes with her, some with me subbing, and then she let me try out as a Dom. She said I did really great for my first time, that I was a natural. I don’t know, I could theorize that the same qualities that make someone a good Guide make them a good Dom, who knows? So anyway, I watched a few more scenes, did some more interviews and turned in my paper, and I thought that was the end of it.”


He chuckled.


“Although you should have seen Engelmann’s face. It was priceless. I got an A, though, probably because he’d have been too embarrassed to defend a bad grade if I took it up before the department chair.”


Jim clutched the binder in sweaty fingers. He wondered whether Blair would let him borrow the project to read. Just out of curiosity, of course. Strictly out of a desire to know his lover’s academic pursuits a little more intimately.


“So that’s it?” Jim said softly.


“Hardly.” Blair grinned. “See, later on that same year, I found myself in dire financial straits – nothing new for me. Anyway, Sherry had just lost one of her Doms to a bigger house, and she asked me if I’d like to try filling in for a few weeks. I had reservations – heck, a whole hell of a lot of reservations – but she said I was a natural, that I’d do just fine, and that she’d walk me through the first few. She was right, I did fine, and soon I was working on my own. I made a lot of money, too.”


“Oh boy,” Jim said, shaking his head. He tried to imagine Blair as a Dom. He wasn’t getting hard anymore. He was rock hard now. “Did you – men and women both?”


“Uh-huh.” Blair was watching him rather closely; Jim hastily gazed down into his beer. “Yeah, men and women both. I ended up with more men, actually. Seemed like the women who wanted a male Dom wanted somebody bigger and brawnier and meaner-looking, but the men seemed to like me just fine.”


Jim swallowed hard.


“Uh – so how long did you work there?”


“Oh, not long,” Blair said, shrugging. “It was just fill-in.” He was silent for a long moment. “I wasn’t sorry to quit. I mean, I liked what I was doing, I liked making people happy, that was fine. But it was so intimate, somehow more intimate even than sex. I mean, bodies are one thing, but power play is a lot more about minds. I got so far into those people’s heads that it was kind of uncomfortable for me. I didn’t like being so close to somebody I didn’t care about. I’ve played a few times since then with dates, top and bottom, just real light stuff. I liked both, but I never took it very far again, not after I left Tribulations.”


Jim took a deep breath and looked up.


“Why didn’t you want to tell me?” he said softly. “Surely you couldn’t have thought you’d shock me, not after all those years I worked in vice.”


“It wasn’t exactly that,” Blair said slowly. “To tell you the truth, what bothered me about the whole thing was that I got so close to those people and got paid for it. I didn’t feel so good about that. Strange, isn’t it? Hell, I’m not sure I’d have been that embarrassed about being paid for sex. But the difference between fooling around with somebody’s body and getting under their defenses, touching all their most intimate desires – I don’t know, man, that’s too much like the difference between fucking and making love, if you know what I mean. I didn’t like getting that intimate with a stranger. I didn’t want to tell you about it. I mean, I’ve been to bed with a lot of women, but never with anybody I didn’t genuinely like and want, or with anybody who I didn’t know at least casually. I always had that, at least.”


Jim reached out and took Blair’s hand.


“I would have understood,” he said quietly. “Really. I do understand. And if it makes any difference to you, I don’t think you did anything wrong. Those people had needs, and Sherry – and you – gave them a safe place to fulfill them, and you did it as well and safely and responsibly as you could. Sometimes people with those needs don’t want a relationship with their Dom. They want to scratch their itch and then try to forget about it for a while. Believe me, I know. There’s nothing about what you did to be ashamed of.”


Jim cleared his throat, taking the collar from Blair and tossing it back into the box.


“So – uh – how about we tape up this box and find a dumpster somewhere way across town, okay?”


Blair squeezed Jim’s fingers, gazing directly into his eyes.


“Is that really what you want, Jim?” he said softly.


Jim dropped his eyes.


“Look, Chief, I told you – “


“Wait a minute,” Blair said quietly. “I want to show you one more thing, okay? Just sit here a minute.”


“Show me – “ Jim said hesitantly.


“Wait.” Blair gave Jim’s hand a last squeeze, then walked back to his bedroom, closing the doors behind him.


Jim glanced down at his hands, realizing suddenly that they were shaking. He got up, fetched himself a fresh beer and contemplated moving on to something stronger. No. He might need to drive. Maybe Blair would like some tea. He put the kettle on, placed the teabag in the cup and carefully drizzled in the amount of honey that Blair usually used.


Then he froze as long slender fingers clasped his upper arms just below his biceps. The fingers felt different, and Jim looked down, shivering. Blair’s hands were encased in whisper-thin black leather gloves, as buttery soft as the finest kid.


“Making tea for me, James?” Blair said, and Jim shivered, a shiver that seemed to go not only through his body, but through his soul. Blair spoke in his ‘Guide voice’, but even so, it was somehow lower, still quiet and calm but with a sort of purr underneath. “How considerate of you.”


Warm strength under soft leather, the hands on his arms coaxed ever so gently and Jim turned almost helplessly. His mouth had gone dry, and he could feel the hard rapid thunder of his heart in his ears.


He had seen Blair animated and excited, joyful and angry and sad. He’d seen his Guide concentrating and intent, sick and muddy and terrified and half-dead. He’d seen him drunk and bleeding and in pain and flushed and sweaty with passion.


But this Blair Sandburg he’d never seen.


Blair’s hair was pulled back tightly, emphasizing his strong cheekbones and jaw and the depth of his eyes. Besides the black leather gloves, which ended at his wrists, he wore a black mesh tank top, well-fitting but not tight, a snug pair of black leather pants that laced up the front, and black leather boots. Nothing else but the gold rings in his ear and his nipple ring, glimpsed through the mesh. No wristbands or studded belts or chains or –


No, there was something else. Something that dwarfed the rest.


The power in his eyes.


Jim had bowed his head before how many men? He didn’t know, didn’t want to try to count – men of imposing height, men more muscular than him, Doms who had practiced their art for years, sometimes decades. But they’d been Doms, not Masters, not the One to whom Jim could give the keys to his soul. Among all those men, Jim had never seen the calm strength that fairly glowed in Blair’s eyes – the same strength that made him a Guide, that let him jump out of helicopters and planes despite his fear of heights, that had brought him back through the gate of death to stand with Jim. They were the eyes of a Guide, a Shaman, a man who had looked unblinking into his own soul and come back stronger than before, a man who was all the stronger for the fact that that strength came from within and not from muscles or guns or whips and chains.


The eyes of a Master.


“Come here, James,” Blair said in that voice, drawing Jim gently out of the kitchen, back to the living room. “I want to show you something.”


James. Nobody ever called him that. Simon called him Ellison. His father had called him Jimmy (and consequently Jim couldn’t bear to be called that now, although many of his Doms had insisted on it). His brother had infuriatingly called him Jimbo when they were children.


He let Blair lead him back into the living room. Jim’s open box still sat on the coffee table; now, however, there was a second box beside it, slightly larger, closed but showing signs that it had been recently untaped.


“I put my past in a box too,” Blair said softly, holding Jim’s gaze. “Mine was stuffed in the back of my closet. Those are Pandora’s boxes, James. Once you open them and let all the demons out, you know they’ll never quietly go back in the box again. If your box has no place in your life now, then neither does mine, and we can take them both downstairs and put them in the dumpster right now, and then it’s all over. I think you’d be throwing away a part of yourself, but I’ll accept that if it’s what you really want. So I’m only going to ask once. I want you to look me in the eyes, James, and tell me the truth: Do we close your box... or open mine?”


Jim swallowed hard, trying to gather a little moisture in his dry mouth. He realized he was stalling – but then, what was the point? He was only deluding himself that there was actually a decision to be made now. That decision had been made when those hands touched his arms and he’d felt that shiver go down to the very depths of his soul. Or maybe sooner than that. Maybe that decision had been made the very first time he’d heard his Guide’s voice, that voice that slid around all his defenses and touched him in a place beyond all reason, beyond dark or light.


Maybe Blair was right. Maybe it had simply been destined from the start. Who was he to deny it?


Had he ever really wanted to?


“I’m yours,” Jim whispered. “As surely as you’re mine. No more secrets.” The precipice loomed before him; he swallowed and leaped. “If you can take what’s in my box – I can take what’s in yours.”


“I’m glad.” Blair smiled, not that beautiful wide thousand-watt smile that made Jim’s heart sing, but a slow, bone-melting smile full of promise. “What I want you to do, then, James, is go to the bathroom, cleanse yourself, take a shower. When you get out of the shower, your collar will be waiting out here on the coffee table. I want you to bring it and come upstairs. No towel. When you come upstairs, you will kneel and present your collar to me. Do you understand, James?”


Jim realized he was trembling. Blair’s leather-gloved fingertips stroked his cheek, and something inside him shattered joyfully into a thousand pieces. He was going to say it and mean it for the first time in his life.


“Yes, Master,” he whispered.


“Good,” Blair said, stroking Jim’s cheek again. “Go on now.”


Jim was so overwhelmed he could barely focus on his tasks. He washed thoroughly, running his fingertips over the smooth skin around his genitals, checking for stubble. None yet, and that was good, because he should have shaved before he showered. Just as well he didn’t need a shave yet; his hands were shaking so hard he’d probably castrate himself. Although he and Blair had both decided they liked each other shaved, and they regularly enjoyed shaving each other, Jim got the willies shaving himself even with a safety razor and they hadn’t found a depilatory cream he could use. He dried himself and, as an afterthought, rubbed on some of the body oil Blair had given him. Blair loved to see his muscles gleaming. Then he realized he was stalling and hung his towel neatly on the rack, walked back out to the living room.