Hot. It was really hot, the kind of heat that sent sweat rolling into uncomfortable places. Blair Sandburg brushed the hair off his forehead with the back his hand. While he wasn't fond of the cold, this heat wave was driving him crazy. It was hard enough studying in the heat, but working part-time at his friend's business, mowing grass, planting flowers, and doing all the work Phillip Martin shunned, while great for his tan, was playing havoc with his sweat glands. He bent down, pulling up the thousandth dandelion with a violent tug.
"Blair, darling." Phillip sashayed up the walkway. Flamboyant to the core, the slim young man was casually dressed in a pink silk shirt unbuttoned to the naval and a flowing pair of black pants. As he pushed his sunglasses up to rest of the top of his slicked back hair, he gave a mock shriek. "Mon Dieu! Your hair! What have you done?"
Blair self-consciously fingered the short curls that sprouted in a tousled mop from his head. "To hot for long hair, my man. Relax, it'll grow again."
"Darling, to cut your hair is a sin against nature!" Phillip protested.
"So is making me work in 100 degrees heat," recorded Blair , tossing the weed into a wheelbarrow with the rest of the debris he had collected the morning. He hefted the handles and moved over to the next victim of his hoe. He was keenly aware of Phillips appreciative and lingering glance at his denim-clad ass. While flirtatious, Phillip had never pressed Blair into returning his affection, content to admire from a distance -- a close distance -- but a distance nonetheless. Blair had been flattered by the attention. Cascaded had been lonely for him during his first year of his doctorate at Rainer University. The doting affection of Phillip had been welcomed by the lonely anthropology student, now part-time gardener .
"Come inside, Blair. I will pour us some lemonade."
"OK , just let me dump this out back."
Phillip's business was a large house located on a sprawling property. Phillip sold clothing to exclusive customers, top-of-the-line, and was in high demand judging by the obvious wealth of the place, and the generous salary that allowed Blair to pay his rent. Blair wheeled the wheelbarrow around the house. Large maple trees provided relief from the heat of the sun and promised a lot of work in the fall when the dark red leaves fell.
He tipped his load up onto the compost heap discreetly hidden behind work shed, well beyond the sight and smell of potential clients. He wiped his hands on his cutoffs and looked down at his stained and dirty T-shirt. Not exactly moving up in the world, but the money was good.
"Blair!" Phillip called from the back veranda of the house."Come get your lemonade! Can't let a virile young man like yourself waste away in the heat. Let me drink in your beauty for awhile."
Blair smiled and trekked over to the porch, sitting down momentarily on the step to pull off his work boots and sweaty sport socks. He sighed in relief and stretched his cramped toes before padding barefoot up the wooden steps. Phillip handed him a frosted glass, filled with ice cubes and tangy juice. Blair took a deep drink, and savoured the biting coolness. He wiggled his toes on the sun warmed deck.
"Damn, that's good." He smiled at Phillip, whose eyes were rivetted to his lips. He rubbed at his mouth subconsciously. "What? Something on my face?"
Phillip sighed. "Oh, my Blair. Why won't you say yes to me? Such beauty shouldn't be wasted on trees and grass." He waved his hand expansively, taking in the backyard.
Blair groaned exaggeratedly and with a grin. "Phillip, please. You've been a great friend, and I appreciate the job. But you know I'm not looking for a relationship right now. I've got to stay focussed on my schoolwork. Why not snag one of those Greek gods constantly parading through your shop?"
"Apes, ignorant apes compared to you, Mon Cher."
Blair drained his glass and set it on the etched top of the table. "I have to finish weeding before I go."
"Ah, yes. Ever the academic. Be sure to come inside and get your check!" Phillip called as Blair moved down the stairs and replaced his footwear.
Blair grinned up at him. "Have I ever not collected my paycheck?" He stomped his feet experimentally and went back to the hot sticky chore of venting his frustrations on the unsuspecting greenery. The sun continued to shine in defiance of Cascade's normal summer weather.
Jim Ellison stripped off the sweaty shirt and tossed it into his locker. He craved a shower, but Captain Price had requested his presence in his office as soon as the last raid was finished. Howe that the pimp and his stable of twenty prostitutes were upstairs awaiting processing, Jim was finally free.
"Nice job, Jimbo," Officer Mike Patillo snapped a towel at him. "At this rate you'll make us all look bad."
Jim grinned. "You snooze, you lose."
"I hear you put in a transfer to Major Crimes. What, Vice not good enough for you anymore?" Patillo opened his own locker and pulled out a towel. Jim buttoned up his shirt.
"You know, I need a change of pace. Prostitutes and pimps get old after a while."
"Ellison!" Another cop poked his head into the locker room. "Price wants you in his office ASAP. Said to light a fire under your ass."
Jim made a bullseye with his own towel on Patillo's head. "I'll be right there. Take it easy Mike." He grabbed up his gun holster and strapped it on as he made his way through the busy office to his captain's sanctuary. He knocked once before opening the door.
"Jim, come on in." Captain Price was a short stocky man with jet black hair, and piercing blue eyes that were well used to intimidating those under his command. He ruled with an iron fist, but had earned the respect of all the officers in his domain.
"What's up, Sir?" Jim took a seat, his knee jiggling with anticipation.
"Good work with the Mason Bust. Almost enough to make me not want to sign off on your transfer." Price opened a folder on his desk. "Jim, I'm prepared to grant your request. Major Crimes has an opening and Captain Banks is more than willing to have you on his team. I'm just sorry that it will mean losing such a fine officer."
'Thank you, Sir!" Jim gloated inwardly. His day kept getting better and better.
"I have one more assignment for you though, before you clean out your desk. We need someone who can pull this off, and you're my number one choice." Price pushed the folder across the desk. "Phillip Martin. He owns an escort service, with a clothing store as a cover. We have rumours, from very good sources, that he's pimping underage boys. What we need is concrete evidence. Get in, request a young one for the night, get an age statement and make an arrest. Should be a piece of cake. I know you want out of Vice, but we need you this one more time to make it look real."
Jim knew what that meant. His sexuality wasn't a large secret among the department. As such, he was frequently first choice when it came to going undercover in gay bars and in the gay community. He hated men who preyed on young kids, peddling them like wares. He'd seen too many kids, promising and with futures, lured into the seedy trade of prostitution with false promises of money and fame, only to find death at the fists of a violent john or the end of a needle. It would be his pleasure to nail one more bastard before he left.
"When do I go?"
"This afternoon. I've got you approved for a cash amount of one thousand. Make sure we get our money's worth." Price pushed an envelope across the desk to rest on the folder. "One last time, Jim. Do us proud."
"I'll do my best, Sir." Jim picked up the cash and folder.
"You do that. Now get the hell out of my office." Price tempered his growl with a grin.
"Aye, aye, Captain."
He made a brief stop at his loft to shower and change into a spiffy sports jacket and finely woven slacks that were surprisingly cool. His ex-wife said he looked sexy in them. And that he would fit right in with the higher up criminal class. She laughed when she said it, but he still wondered what she meant. Mind you, Carolyn always was a bad-boy kind of woman, and was now dating one of the SWAT team who boasted the highest kill rate of the department.
The trip to Martin's shop was uneventful and Jim enjoyed the sensation of the wind on his face through the open window. The heat didn't bother him. He had spent eighteen months in the depths of Peru after crashing into the jungle during his stint in the army. The muggy heat of Cascade was a cool breeze compared to the stifling and oppressive heat of the jungle, which Jim had even enjoyed. No, heat wasn't a problem.
The blare of a car horn shocked him, and he jerked the wheel abruptly, serving almost onto the shoulder of the road. He wrestled the SUV under control and looked about for the source, wondering what the hell he'd done to warrant the noisy retribution. But there was no car in sight. He shook his head and pulled into the gravel parking lot in front of a large house. A sign proclaimed "Phillip's Pleasures: Men's High Fashion". Jim snorted as he stepped out of the car and smoothed his finely tailored suit. Show time.
Phillip arched an elegant eyebrow as the bells above the door tinkled and a deity walked through the door. Square-jawed, long-legged with trim waist, abs to die for and biceps that set one's mouth awatering, he was vision. And he was dressed to kill. Phillip could practically see the dollar signs flash before his eyes. This was a man of taste -- expensive taste. He almost forgot to breath as piercing blue eyes raked up his body.
Oh my. The heat must have risen ten degrees and suddenly his pants felt deliciously tight.
"Phillip Martin?" Low sexy voice that promised great times.
"Honey, I can be whoever you want, but luckily for you, and hopefully for me, I am Phillip Martin."
"You can call me James." The eyes roved about the shop, taking in the fine clothing, hung from hooks, no racks to be found, hand tailored all the way.
"I was recommended this place by a friend, who thought you might be able to help me."
Phillip looked him up and down. "If that's what the rest of your wardrobe looks like, I can't help you. Anything would pale against your incredible sense of fashion."
James smiled, teeth flashing against a healthy summer tan. "Actually, this friend was talking about more...eclectic...wares."
Even more dollar signs flashed before Phillip's eyes.
"Well, James, what sort of wares are you looking for?" Deliberately coy, hinting at understanding, but nothing overt. "And what sort of price range would you be interested in?"
James reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a sizeable stack of cash. "I like fresh merchandise. The fewer years on them the better. Older models tend to be a bit worn out. I like mine fresh, which is why my friend recommended me." A knowing look passed between them.
"Well, James. You've come to the right place."
The bell tinkled quietly, interrupting the proceedings. Phillip turned to greet the next customer, only to smile at the sight of Blair, freshly showered and wearing nothing but his cutoffs and a tank top, enter the store.
"Ah, Blair. Excuse me, James. I'll be right back." Phillip rose and rummaged in a drawer, pulling out an envelope stuffed with cash. "Here you are, luv. Why don't you check out the latest arrivals? I'd love your opinion on the colours."
Blair smiled as he accepted the cash. "You know my colour sense is blinder than a bat." But he went anyway, perusing the new stock adorning the far walls.
Phillip returned to his customer. Who was staring with unashamed lust at Blair.
Phillip blinked. Blair? Well, wasn't this going to be interesting. A small part of his brain cried out that he couldn't do that to Blair, but his business sense wrestled his loyalty at the sight of the bills held tantalizingly in the gorgeous man's hand. Besides, what Blair didn't know, couldn't hurt him.
"One thousand, up front."
Greed won hands down, pinning loyalty to the mat with ease.
"Please wait here, I'll see if he's free tonight. He's a busy boy," Pierre answered quickly, stressing the word 'boy'. Blair was twenty four to his knowledge, but James wouldn't have to know that.
He would have to handle this with much care. He could make a profit, Blair could have some fun, and this man could get laid. Everyone would win.
Jim Ellison watched as Martin walked over to the young man who stood gazing with envy at a silk shirt hanging from the wall. Jim could barely contain his gasp when Blair had walked through the door, backlit by the sun outside, curly hair fired by the rays striking them. His skin was copper, against the white tank top and the cutoff jeans clung to his hips and emphasized his strongly muscled thighs. The bare feet almost made Jim whimper. But the boy couldn't have been more than sixteen. This was going to be a cinch.
Blair turned as Phillip called his name.
"Blair, see that man over there?"
Blair followed the nod of Phillip's head, and took in the well dressed gentleman sitting at the desk that served as Phillip's work space. The man smiled as nodded, and Blair reflexively did the same.
"He's been coming here occasionally and has developed the most amazing crush on you. I told him that I'd see if I could set you up on a date. Just one. No pressure, darling. And you can say no. But look at those legs, those muscles, that ass, that smile. Darling, please, say yes."
Blair couldn't deny the other man was attractive. Very attractive. He found it a bit hard that the well dressed man could have a crush on him at all, probably way beyond his class. But Blair was intrigued. The smile was genuine, and Blair found his mouth engaged before his brain caught up.
Phillip smiled broadly. "Wonderful! I'll tell him to pick you up at your place at six. I'll even help you get dressed so you look presentable. You can borrow some clothes from the store!" He clapped his hands together and looked so delighted that Blair couldn't help but grin.
It would appear he had a date.
Blair waited anxiously at the steps of Hargrave Hall for James to show. After Phillip had set them up for the date, he had rushed to catch the bus to his warehouse apartment, changed and taken another bus to the university. Not that he was ashamed of his living arrangements exactly. Not exactly. Sure there were really really big rats and it never got very warm in the winter, but it was...spacious. Blair grimaced. James probably lived in some wonderful place with a fridge that actually kept beer cold, soft sheets, and a bed large enough to...
The young man turned as James called his name. He was leaning against the side of his SUV, arms crossed over his chest and an appreciative smile on his lips.
"Hey! I was wondering if you were going to show up." Blair hopped down the steps and smiled up at the older man. "What do you think? Phillip picked them out." Blair spun about to showcase his borrowed threads, fine grey slacks and a deep blue shirt.
"Very nice," Jim drawled, his eyes racking up Blair's body.
"So, where to?" Blair tried hard not to flush under the scrutiny of those piercing eyes.
"I was thinking my place." James held open the passenger's door. Blair took a deep breath and got inside, his stomach fluttering with nerves. James turned on the motor and pulled smoothly out of the lot. "Do you like pasta? I know this great take out place. We could pick up some of their chicken penne."
"Pasta's good." Blair winced as his voice cracked. James glanced over at him with a small grin. "Sorry, man. I'm kinda nervous, to be honest. I don't do this very often."
James' grin widened. "That's okay. Makes it more exciting."
They arrived at James' apartment. Blair had been surprised at James sense of humour as they drove, and was happily regaling some of his more hilarious adventures as an anthropology undergraduate.
As they entered, Blair took stock of his date's living quarters. The Spartan interior didn't quite fit with the class act who was closing the door behind them. It was a loft, the bedroom upstairs with a well pillowed bed visible through the pipe railing. James put the brown bag with Styrofoam containers brimming with pasta on the table.
"Wow. This is s nice place." Blair wandered over to the balcony. "Great view."
Plates clinked softly as James pulled two dark green plates from the cupboard. "I like it." He scooped the pasta onto the plates with a large serving spoon.
Blair wandered about, running a hand along the finely upholstered couch. Spartan it might be, but it was quality all the way.
"Supper's ready," Jim quipped, laying down the silverware and pouring a glass of wine for Blair. When Blair raised an eyebrow at his own lack of a glass, James simply replied, "I've been staying away from the stuff."
Blair sat in the chair that James pulled out for him in a gallant gesture. He barely blinked as James sat kitty corner to him, their knees brushing occasionally under the table. They ate in silence, Blair enjoying the exquisite taste of food that wasn't freeze dried or from a can, and James apparently enjoying the sight of pasta slipping between Blair's lips. Blair tried not to feel self conscious, but it was hard when he could practically feel James' gaze drifting over his body. He had never felt so exposed, or so titillated. Normally the chatter box, Blair let his nervous energy dissipate into the rush of feelings pouring through his body. While sexually heightened, he felt oddly relaxed, and more than safe.
They completed the meal, the dishes were stacked in the sink and Blair turned to James. The older man was standing by the island of the kitchen, facing the living room where Blair had wandered.
"Take off your shirt."
Blair gaped at the man who nonchalantly rested his hip against the counter. "Ex..excuse me?" he stammered.
"I *said* take off your shirt. Now."
"Uh, I think..."
"I didn't pay for you to think." James pushed off from the counter stalking towards him. Blair backed up slowly.
"James, what's going on? Isn't this just a bit fast, man?"
"What, you don't like it fast?" James smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "You really don't do this much ,do you?" His hands came up, whipping around Blair's wrists and pinning them to the wall, which Blair hadn't even realized he had backed against. "How old are you, anyway, fifteen?"
Blair tried free his wrists, which were now pinned by one large hand, to fend off the other hand which was ripping the buttons off Phillip's shirt, one by one. "What are you talking about, damn it?"
"I mean, you can't be more than sixteen." James' hips moved against Blair's.
"I'm twenty four man, and get the hell off of me!" he shouted. "Let go!"
"Twenty four? But, Phillip said sixteen." James' voice was filled with surprise. "Well, shit."
Blair found himself pulled around, pressed face first against the wall. The fear he kept under control got loose, sending shivers down his spine. This was not happening. This was not happening. He was going to be raped by some man, who thought he was a kid, and what the hell did Phillip have to do with all this?
"You are under arrest..."Blair missed the rest of the sentence, mind blanking in shock as his arms were pulled behind his back and his wrists encircled, not with strong fingers, but with cold metal. "...cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights?"
Blair nodded numbly, trying to rein in his impending panic attack. What the hell was going on? James pulled him away from the wall and pushed him by his arm out of the door, down the flight of stairs and into a police cruiser that somehow had materialized in front of the building. A hand pushed his head down to keep it from smacking against the door frame. Blair looked out the window as the car pulled away. James stood outside the building, hands in pockets, looking gorgeous...and confused. Blair couldn't stop an angry tear that make its way down his cheek. He could have fallen for that man.
Jim watched as the police cruiser pulled away, Blair's face staring accusingly at him from the back window. What a night. The only thing that could make it worse is if Carolyn showed up demanding alimony. He was getting way to old to be baiting hookers. He pulled out his keys, tossing them once in the air before heading to his SUV. Time to reel the fish in.
The department was relatively quiet when he arrived, most of the crew having called it a night. He waved to the desk sergeant, who smiled back. She held out a file folder.
"Here you go, Jim. Blair Sandburg, booked and fingerprinted. He's in interrogation room one, awaiting your presence."
"Why thanks, Barb. And might I say what a lovely scent that is you're wearing."
She blushed and he grinned. There were times when Vice was a fun place to be. He arrived at the interrogation room.
This was not one of those time.
The door swung open under his hand and he stepped in, the mask of hardened vice cop slipping over his features. Inside, Blair sat, his hands cuffed in front of him, picking at the table top viciously. He was muttering to himself, swearing and cursing under his breath.
"So. Mr. Sandburg." Jim drawled, moving into the room and straddling a chair.
"James...if that is your name," Blair retorted, his eyes flashing like blue lightening.
"It is, although I go by Jim. Jim Ellison."
"So, was this all a setup or what, man? I mean, what, you always ask guys out on dates, feel 'em up and arrest them?" Blair spat, his fingers clenching into fists.
"Save the innocent routine for the judge. We aren't interested in you, we want your boss. Turn evidence and we can make a deal. Just serve up Martin on a silver platter." Jim steepled his hands together.
"I'd like to speak with a lawyer."
"Why don't you just tell us what we want to know. How many are in his stable? How old are they? How long have you been working for him?"
"Two words, man. Fuck you. Oh wait...no, we didn't get that far. I'd like to speak with my lawyer now." Blair looked away, studying the walls. When Jim didn't answer, but merely sat there, the young man looked back. "What? I'm speaking to fast for you? I'd like to see my lawyer." Blair sounded out each syllable.
Jim snorted. "Look, can't you see why you should help us?"
Blair rolled his eyes. "Look, you want me to tell you about my boss? Okay, I'll tell you about my boss. He hired me for the summer, pays me in cash. I'm the only one on his staff, and you know what? I'm the gardener, man. I pull weeds to get me through grad school. I shovel compost, and generally dig around in the dirt and rake leaves. Last I heard that wasn't a crime. Where's my lawyer."
"Well, that's a nice story, but it just so happens that I'm willing to testify that Phillip Martin, accepted money and arranged for you to have sex with me for said money. Furthermore, he said you were underage, which is a crime, even if you aren't." Jim smirked smugly.
Blair sat still, his mouth slightly open, disbelief in his eyes. "Phillip said what? He--he set me up? This is a joke, right? I'm on candid camera?" He ran his hands through his cropped hair, dishevelling the curls. "This isn't happening. This *isn't* happening."
Jim sat back. While determined to nail Martin, his instincts were screaming at him that Blair was telling the truth.
"What did Martin tell you, when he introduced us?"
"He said you wanted a date," Blair replied through his fingers as he covered his face with his hands. He rubbed vigorously and then lowered them. "He didn't say we were going to have sex."
Jim thought about Blair's responses to his overtures. Damn. This was turning into one fucked up night.
"So, the money he gave you..."
"Was for thirty hours of gardening." Blair looked him in the eye. "I'm not a prostitute. And I want to talk to my lawyer."
"Ellison, let me get this straight. You go to Martin's place, you make contact, and then the guy sets up an employee who isn't even in his stable, without his knowledge? And *then* you arrest said employee and he can't tell us anything. Does that sum it up?" Price tapped his fingers against the desk.
"Yes, Sir." Jim stared straight ahead, almost at parade rest even while sitting.
"And he is currently still in one of the interrogation rooms?"
Price sighed and shut the folder in front of him. "Well, cut him loose. If we're lucky, we won't get a wrongful arrest case. As it is, we've got enough on Martin to bring him in. With any luck he'll just crack like an egg. Not the best, Jim, but you got it done. Congratulations. I was going to send over Jones and Farley to make the arrest, unless you want it."
"No, thank you, Sir. I think I've had enough of this case."
"Okay. Now go release our guest, and start packing for you move upstairs. We're having a little party tomorrow night at Jerry's pub. But it's a surprise, so you didn't hear it from me." His eyes twinkled.
Jim laughed. "Aye, aye, Sir."
He walked to the room again, this time not dreading the encounter. Smiling as he opened the door, he held up the key to the cuffs. "Ready to go?"
Blair held out his wrists silently. He rubbed at the skin where the metal chaffed and balefully look up at the taller man. "So, does this mean I'm free to go?"
"Yeah. Sorry about the confusion, it happens sometimes." Jim shrugged.
Blair simply stared before pushing past him and moving out into the hallway.
Jim followed. "So, need a ride home? It's the least I could do."
Blair spun about. "The *least* you could do? I'll tell you the least you can do, man. You can stay the hell away from me." He strode away, muttering something about pigs and a woman named Naomi.
"Have a nice night," Jim called after him.
Blair never turned around. He walked out of the department, and out of Jim's life.
Blair stared at the letter in his hand.
"...please be advised that your eviction notice has been served. Occupant residency of the apartment has been terminated. Any possessions remaining on the premises shall be possessed and sold at the landlord's discretion, furthermore..."
He crumpled the paper in his fist and threw it at the wall.
Unemployed, the result of Phillip's incarceration, Blair had found his bank account rapidly dwindling. When his rent cheque bounced, he thought he'd be able to rely on his fairly stable tenant-landlord relationship. But that turned out to be a farce. The fact he had paid rent on time, kept the place clean and vermin free didn't seem to count much in the huge picture. Even his promises of getting a small loan fell on deaf ears.
So now he was faced with apartment hunting, just when all of the students were returning to Rainer. Apartments were being snapped up like flies, and his options were becoming very limited. The last letter, reminding him he only had four days left tipped him over the edge of anger into rage.
This was all Jim Ellison's fault. That god damn, arrogant cop who'd waltzed into his life like a dream and stomped out of it like a nightmare.
With a growl, Blair snatched up the classified and began searching for the elusive apartment of his dreams.
In the end, it wasn't the apartment he always wanted. In the end, it wasn't an apartment at all. Rather, it was 10,000 square feet of cold concrete, steel girders and some furniture the last squatter had left after being rousted by the cops. The landlord wasn't renting the space to a business until January, and was more than happy to get a measly four hundred a month until then.
So Blair got his loan, put up the first months rent, no damage deposit required, and got his erstwhile apartment. It was a long shot from his snug and comfy one bedroom, with its clean appliances and well secured doors and windows. What it lacked in security and cleanliness though, it made up for in ventilation. And he had more than enough company if he counted the family of rats he heard scurrying up the walls and around the floor at night.
He huddled under the three blankets, the heat wave of the summer having broken, returning the weather to the cool and damp normally found in Cascade.
Home sweet home.
Jim Ellison stared at his computer screen. His chair squeaked as he moved slightly, still new and unbroken. The move to Major Crimes has been like stepping out of a pair of comfortable briefs, into a pair of equally comfortably boxers. The same, but different. He had known Simon Banks for a number of years before, so having him as a boss wasn't as irksome as it could have been. He had his own desk, his own chair, even his own damn pencil sharpener, but something wasn't right.
Blair Sandburg. It was all his fault, with his dark blue eyes, touchable skin, and tumbled curls. It was all his fault that Jim couldn't concentrate on the work in front of him. It had been four weeks, and Jim couldn't get the memory of that firm body moving beneath his out of his mind.
The boy -- no, man -- was beautiful. He was Jim's type all the way. Stocky, but not to muscular, funny, witty, and with a perfectly kissable mouth. Jim snapped his pencil in his fingers, and swore as lead powdered over them.
He idly entered the department database on the computer, and typed in Blair's name. The young man's file came up, listing his address, phone number, driver's license, and fingerprints. The address was in the student housing area, not high class, but not bad.
Maybe he'd swing by on the way home from work and see if things were going okay. He never did apologize for making such a mistake. And, thinking about it, he did owe him an apology. It had nothing to do with his desire to see the vibrant young man with the guts to stand up to him in an interrogation. Not at all.
He noticed the 'new mail' icon flashing and opened his mail folder.
Ellison, prepare to experience hopelessness.
He quickly printed and saved the email, snatching up the paper as soon as it slid out from the laser jet printer. He pushed back his chair and went to talk to Simon, thoughts of a beautiful graduate student banished.
He knocked at Banks' door.
"Come on in, Jim." Simon waved him in, sipping hot coffee and chewing on his cigar.
"Sir, I think we have a problem."
Blair made his way into the warehouse, pulling the door behind him and giving it an extra tug to secure it in lieu of a lock. He kept intending to buy a dead bolt or a chain, but food and power kept sneaking up on him in the most annoying ways. Eight hours of research in the library had turned up nothing incredibly new and his eyes were burning with exhaustion after the long day.
Sir Richard Burton's monograph was the only book he could find on Sentinels. No other mentions of watchmen came up on any of his searches through the data base. He had run a check on enhanced senses and came up with some interesting articles, they all were related to one sense exclusively, and none documented anyone having all five. The article on the Japanese scouts was interesting, offering some evidence that the possibility of the existence of a Sentinel was cross genetic and cross cultural.
But enough work. Now, in the brief hour between daylight and night, where shadows lengthened, he would relax. He suppressed a shiver; the night were getting cooler. He turned on the space heater, keeping on low to save electricity, before putting a can of soup into a pot to boil on his hot plate. Thanks to the wonderful policy of payroll, it wouldn't be until the end of September until he received his first paycheck for his teaching assistantship, and until then he was dependant on the canned soup and crackers. Cheap and filling.
He made a few notes for his lecture the next morning, planning to type it up on the office computer the next day. His week had been blessed with Sandburg luck, his car and his laptop both decided that conking out would be a good thing. So he was stuck with handwriting his notes, checking his email at the office, and taking the bus.
Blair cupped the mug of soup in chilled hand, grateful for the fingerless mitts that let him keep warm and maintain mobility in his digits. His hair was slowly growing out, dropping down past his ears and tickling at his neck in the most annoying way. But that would require yet even more money. Money, he decided, was evil and horrible. Unless you had it.
Warmed from the inside out, he curled up on the sofa, his temporary bed, and fell asleep, dreaming of heated bodies and soft caresses.
From his cocoon of blankets, steeping him in warmth, he was drawn from sleep around two in the morning, by a soft thump. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and blinked owlishly around him. A figure, dressed in black and wearing a mask stood across the room from the sofa. He opened his mouth, only to have it covered by a large hand, muffling his instinctive shout.
His heart pounded as he was hauled out of the bed, by another darkly clad man, hands pinned behind his back by one hand, the other pressing against his lips and nose. His breath was being cut off most distressingly, and he began to panic.
"Where's the drugs, man?" A voice whispered in his ear. The other man circled the warehouse, pushing down Blair's carefully stacked boxes. "Where are the fucking drugs?"
The hand left his mouth, the owner realizing he wouldn't get any answers while it was still muting his captive.
"W-w-what drugs," Blair stammered, confused and bewildered. A punch to his stomach left him gasping.
"We know there's a lab here. We got the info from my brother, and he don't lie to me."
The man rifling through Blair's meagre stash of pots and pans, kicked angrily at the space heater, smashing in the glass on one of its sides. "There's no lab here. Damn."
"You got money?" the man holding Blair asked, punctuating his question with a shake.
"No, man, I don't have any. Would I be living here if I did?"
A sharp push between his shoulder blades sent him crashing to the floor. A foot to his stomach had him curled up and crying breathlessly into the darkness.
"Hey, man. A laptop. We could hock it. Some of these things gotta be worth some cash."
"No!" Blair held up a hand, as the two men eyed the artifacts he had borrowed for a paper on Peruvian urns. "They belong to the university. Please don't --"
The taller of the two men kicked him again. A fist drove into his back, right at his kidney and he scrabbled frantically against the concrete floor to get away, scraping his knuckles against the rough surface. But the two men converged, hands and feet falling on unprotected flesh and tearing at muscle.
A punch caught him on the jaw, and the world disintegrated into flecks of white light and then soothing black. Blair went willingly into the darkness.
Jim rubbed wearily at his face, waiting for Simon to finish pouring the coffee. Simon put the cup on the desk, and looked at him, face filled with concern.
"All right, Jim, what's going on?" Simon had been a rock the last few months, supporting him in his lone attempts to capture the Switchman, and even authorizing his last stakeout.
"I need a leave of absence." He winced as the phone rang in the bullpen, yards away but sounding like it was in his ear. A fly beat against the pane of glass in the window facing the outdoors, pounding like a bass drum in counterpoint to the shrill ringing."Are you nuts? Look, I know things have been rough, moving to a new department, having the Switchman as your first case and all. But Jim, I need you here."
"I don't know if I'm nuts or not. Maybe. I ran a blood test to see if I'd been drugged, but I'm clean." When he had felt like tearing off his clothes that morning, wasn't sure at all about his sanity. It was as if each sense was overloading. He was seeing things that other people couldn't. He thought he was hallucinating, until he realized the conversation he had been hearing hadn't been in his head, but had been his neighbours arguing about who was taking out the trash. "But I don't get it. I mean, how else can I explain what happened to me out there, Simon? I fell off the back of that bike because I was seeing things."
Simon stared at him like he had grown another head. "Look, you were stressed, okay? You heard something. You smelled some fumes. You got dizzy. You fell off the bike. What, now you want a vacation? Come on. Is this the guy that toughed it out in the jungle for a year and a half? " He stood and began waving his hand in the air for emphasis. "Take a shower, get some aspirin, and go back to work. 'Cause right now the only thing I want more than my divorce papers is an arrest."
Jim rubbed at his face again, wondering how he could convinced the older man of his seriousness. "I lost the prime suspect, Simon, and I don't even know how. I can't function like this."
Simon nodded knowingly. "Guilt's a good motivator, but don't take more than your share. Air support lost him in the trees. The road block didn't snag him either. All right, look, you can take the afternoon off. See a couple of specialists if that'll make you feel any better. But that's all the slack I can cut you, Jim." He sat down and opened a folder, clearly expecting the conversation to be over..
Jim felt the frustration knot his stomach. "Well, that's not enough. I'm losing control of my senses, Simon. I don't know how else to describe it. It's scaring the hell out of me." There, he admitted it. He was afraid. He had found himself staring into the mirror for almost half an hour that morning, the water running cold in the sink.
Simon looked up and sighed, obviously irritated at Jim's continued presence. But Jim didn't budge.
"All right, so let me get this straight. This is all about you being scared? The Switchman psyched you out. He's gonna make you fold." It was a statement of fact, but the accusation buried beneath it bit deep into Jim's soul.
"All I know is I can't do my job this way. So either you grant me a leave or I'll take one." Jim stood, holding out his hands in a silent plea, and a subtle threat.
Simon sucked on his lower lip and nodded. "Okay, tell you what. Go see a doctor, get some tests and we'll see what's going on. Okay? Then we'll make a decision about this whole 'leave' thing."
"Thank you, Sir." Jim pulled open the door and went back to his desk, trying to block out the rustling of paper, tapping of pens and scratching of pencils across forms. He tried to tune out the voices around him, but small bits of conversations leaked into his ears, winding into his brain.
" --- got the bastard, won't be stealing --"
" -- any of those jelly donuts left? I like --"
" --Blair Sandburg. I need to report --"
Jim jerked out of his daze, focussing on the voice that had plagued his dreams of late with accusations. The only people in the bullpen where Henri and Rafe, both intently working on their case files. But he could still hear that voice.
" -- broke in and stole my laptop and some artifacts from the university. Oh, yeah, and my wallet. I cancelled the credit card." Jim concentrated on the voice, standing and moving towards. "They, uh, were looking for a drug lab, they said. But when they didn't find one started beating me up. Yeah, coffee would be nice. Thanks."
Jim made his way down the hallway, stopping at the door to Robbery and pushing it open.
Sitting in a chair, back to the door, his right arm in a sling and bruises marring his face, was none other than Blair Sandburg. Officer Patricia Thompson, returning to her seat behind the desk at which Blair sat, shot Jim a smile. Placing the cup of coffee on the table top she turned her attention to Blair.
"So, Mr. Sandburg. Can you describe your assailants?"
Blair slowly shook his head. "It was really dark, and they were wearing black. One of them was tall, over six feet, the other a couple of inches taller than me, maybe five ten." He winced as he picked up the coffee. "Sorry, but it was dark."
"That's okay, Mr. Sandburg. But unfortunately, that makes finding them a bit harder. I've taken your statement and I've got your number at the university. If we find out anything, or if we need any more information I'll give you a call. Can I call someone to drive you home?"
Blair shook his head again. "No. There's no one," he said as he rose, pain radiating from his body.
"I'll give you a lift," Jim blurted.
Blair spun awkwardly at the sound of his voice, his free hand moving reflexively to his left side, pressing gently against his ribs. His eyes widened, then narrowed.
"Oh. Detective Ellison. No thank, I'll call a cab." Then his face crumpled inwardly a bit, "Or take the bus." Either way, he looked determined not to spend a minute more than he had to in Jim's presence.
Jim was undaunted. "Look, give me a minute. Please."
The angry mask slowly dissolved into a suspicious one, but it gave Jim hope. He wasn't going to waste the chance he had to atone for his mistake.
"I'll give you a ride home. No strings. I owe you." Jim tried to keep the pathetic pleading note from his voice, but he could feel it sneaking its way into his request. Blair met his gaze, searching his eyes for something, seemed to find it and gave a curt nod.
"My truck's in the parking lot across the street." Jim held open the door and smiled goodbye to Officer Thompson. Blair thanked her and picked up a battered book bag, following Jim out into the hallway.
Jim led them to the elevator and they waited in awkward silence as the lights on the wall slowly moved from seven to one during their trip downstairs. The silence continued as he pointed out the lot across the street and held open the door for Blair.
"Isn't there an underground garage you can park in?" Blair asked conversationally as they waited for a break in traffic to jaywalk across the street.
"Yeah, but they're installing gas pumps in their for the cruisers and the smell was making me nauseous." He opened the driver's door of the SUV and pressed the button releasing all of the locks.
"Oh." Blair settled himself in the seat, awkwardly fastening the belt with his left hand. He clutched the leather bag on his lap like a lifeline he was afraid to let go of.
Jim started the SUV and pulled out of the lot. "So, what happened?"
"Nothing." Blair sighed as Jim shot him a sceptical glance. "Okay, not nothing. Just two guys wanting something I didn't have and taking out on me. I'll be okay."
"How bad are you hurt? Do you need to see a doctor?" Jim wondered if he should take a detour to Cascade General.
"Nah. I went to the clinic on campus this morning. Just a concussion, sprained shoulder and some cracked ribs."
Jim narrowed his eyes at how easily Blair dismissed his injuries. "That doesn't sound like nothing to me."
"Yeah, well, it's just the icing on the cake of this week, man." Sandburg mumbled. "Where are you going?"
"Pine Road. That's where you're apartment is, right?" Jim was surprised that he remembered, and smiled inwardly.
"Ah...where my apartment *used* to be. I got evicted. You're going to have to turn around. I'm on the waterfront." Blair gestured with his thumb over his shoulder, then wrinkled his forehead. "How do you know where I used to live?"
"Uh." Jim winced as he turned into a driveway to back up and return the way he had come. "I...I wanted to look you up, make sure you were okay." He paused and jumped in with both feet, "and to apologize."
Blair looked over at him, hair a glowing nimbus around his head from the light shining through the passenger's door window. "Apologize?"
"Yeah. For that night. I was a jerk, and I felt bad about what happened." He turned onto the main drag down to the waterfront, leading to the piers and rows of warehouses. "Tell me when to turn."
"Look, it wasn't all your fault. I mean, I guess I can see where things might have looked the way you wanted them too." Blair looked out the window. "And Phillip sure didn't help."
"No. I guess not. But things are okay, right? No one hassled you or anything?"
Blair shook his head, mesmerizing Jim momentarily as a few tendrils of hair danced about his neck. "Not really. Unless you count losing your apartment because you lost your summer job, as hassled."
"Damn. You could have contacted --"
"Who, Detective Ellison?" Blair interrupted. "You? Trust me, Detective, the last person I wanted to talk to was you. Besides, what could you have done? A bouncing check is a bouncing check. Turn here, on the right."
Jim fell silent and obeyed, pulling into the parking lot beside a large ramshackled building. "*This* is where you're living."
"Don't knock it man. Ten thousand square feet ain't that bad. It's just a bit --drafty," Blair retorted as he struggled to undo the buckle keeping him secured to the seat. Jim reached over and pushed the button for him, eliciting an odd look from the younger man.
Jim got out of the truck, breathing in the salty air from the harbour. If the warehouse had actually been a nice place, the location would be great; overlooking the water, not that far from the university. He walked down the asphalt a ways as Blair climbed slowly down from the SUV, wincing at the strain on his ribs. A sharp cry drew Jim's gaze upwards. A seagull circled above him, its white feather flashing in the sun, turning on the invisible wind currents. He watched as the white speck wheeled about, diving toward the docks.
And lost himself in the sensation, relinquishing his senses to the darkness that welcomed him.
Blair gritted his teeth against the pain radiating from his ribs as he clambered out of the SUV. The drop from the vehicle to the ground wasn't that far, but he stumbled and had to suck in his breath at the sharp discomfort in his side.
"You know, Detective, you didn't have to do this." Blair rummaged in his book bag for his keys. When the Detective didn't answer, Blair looked up from his hunt to see the other man, staring up at the sky, motionless.
"Detective?" He stopped moving towards the warehouse. "Detective? Can you hear me?"
It was going to be a long day. Content to let the cop stare off at clouds, Blair shrugged and continued towards the door. He really needed to lie down. A horn sounded, common amidst the sounds of the loading pier beside the warehouse.
But as Blair looked back, he could see that the detective hadn't moved; standing right in the path of a forklift loaded and unable to see the human speed bump it was rapidly approaching.
"Detective!" Blair shouted, dropping his bag. "Move!"
There was no response, and Blair could see the man's car keys drop from limp fingers. *What the hell?...* There was no time to think, and Blair's instinct took over. Adrenaline surged through him, dulling pain and lending speed to his legs. The asphalt looked like a football field, miles long, with the detective at the other end.
He threw himself forward, praying to all the gods he could think of. He could feel his shoulder make contact against the firm body, pushing them both to the ground.
The world collapsed into swirling dust, the smell of diesel. Dirt choked his nose and gritted his eyes. He was going to die.
Then the roar passed and the dust settled. And he realized that he was lying on top of a very firm, very comfortable body -- Detective Ellison, who was beginning to stir. Blair jerked away, pushing himself quickly off the other man.
"That really sucked man," he panted, clutching at his side.
"Hey! What the hell are you doing, you idiots?" the fork lift operator shouted, shaking his fist at them.
Ellison slowly stood, shaking his head groggily.
"Hey, man, you okay?" Blair asked, holding out a hand to steady him.
"I'm fine. You?"
"I'm...I...fine." But he was feeling anything but fine. "Did it just get really dark?"
Jim looked at him with a cocked eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
Blair blinked as the ground spun beneath his feet, the pain in his side growing. "Oh man. I don't..." His eyes rolled back, and he crumpled into a heap at Jim's feet. He struggled to remain conscious, fighting the darkness and gasping for air that suddenly seemed to have disappeared.
Jim's face, concerned and talking to him, hovered over his head, hands gently cradling him against the larger man's chest. Someone called for a cell phone, shouting to call an ambulance. For the second time in just a few short hours, the world faded to black.
The first thing he was aware of was the cold. *Damn, space heater must be broken.* The next was a slow and steady beep. *Time to get up. Must have hit the sleep button.* He cracked open his eyes slowly, fully intending to roll over and slap the offending clock radio into submission. But the slight tensing of his muscles brought on a wave of pain that made him gasp.
Suddenly, a hand was on his shoulder encouraging him to take slow deep breaths. He tried one and whimpered at the pain. Who was he trying to fool, deep breaths where just not going to happen. He settled for short pants through his mouth before opening his eyes again.
Detective Ellison sat in a plastic chair, leaning forward and looking down at him with worried eyes.
"Hey. How do you feel?"
"Like I got hit by a truck," Blair managed to croak. Jim winced and reached for a glass of water. "What happened?"
"You got hit by a truck." At Blair's disbelieving look, Jim shrugged. "Okay, it was a fork lift, and technically it didn't hit you."
Memory returned. "Shit."
"The doc said you strained the muscles in your left side, broke your cracked rib all the way through. They're just wanting to make sure there wasn't a concussion or anything."
At Jim's words, Blair looked about. He wasn't in the sanctity of his warehouse, such as it was. The hospitals walls where blinding white, and the ultraviolet light overhead made his head throb.
"Yeah, we weren't sure if you hit your head, or if the fork lift hit you when it went over us. The doc thought you probably just hyperventilated and what with your ribs and all, passed out."
Even more memory returned.
"Shit! What the hell was up with you, man? You nearly got us killed!" Blair gestured wildly, almost spilling the glass of water he held precariously in his good hand. Jim reached over to rescue the glass, placing it on the table beside the bed. He looked at the wall behind Blair's head, refusing to make eye contact, and Blair could swear that man looked embarrassed.
A gurney banged against a wall in the hallway, and Ellison winced. A tickle in the back of Blair's brain began to niggle at his consciousness.
"What's the matter?" He struggled to sit up and accepted Ellison's help in the form of a hand behind his shoulder. "You okay?"
"Yeah, it's just my ears. They've been really...uh...sensitive lately."
"Really." Blair jiggled his knee slightly beneath the blanket. "What happened at the pier, man? It looked like you were..."
"Freaked out?" Jim snorted softly. "I thought I was seeing something, and then I just...I don't know how to describe it. It's like the whole world zoomed into this spot of light." He shook his head. "I don't know why I'm telling you this."
Blair shook his head. "No, no, I think it's important. How's your tactile sense?"
Jim looked at him with a quizzical gaze, eyebrow lifted. "What?"
"Have you been extra touchy feely lately? What about taste? Smell?" Blair grabbed his wrist, the warmth of Jim's skin hot beneath his fingers.
"What is this, twenty questions?" Jim pulled away and stood, arms crossed against his chest. "I'm seeing a doctor about this stuff."
Blair ran a hand through his hair and sank back down onto the bed. "Man. Oh, man. This is incredible!"
"What, that I'm going crazy? I think you must have gotten hit on the head. I'm calling the doctor."
"No! Jim, wait." Blair blurted out Ellison's name in his eagerness, and the sound of it stopped him in his tracks. "You're not crazy man. Don't get all drugged up! That techno trash can't help you."
Ellison spun on his heel, and bent over the bed, arms braced on the mattress by Blair's shoulders and moving deep into Blair's personal space. "What, and *you* can? What the hell do you know about what's going on with me."
Blair's hand involuntarily went to Ellison's chest, pressing him back as best he could. "I know what's wrong with you. Nothing. There's nothing wrong with you."
"I'm seeing things other people can't, hearing things, god, the smells touch and taste. And you want to tell me that's there nothing wrong with me?" Ellison levered himself up and moved to leave.
"That's not what I'm saying, man. I'm saying that what's going on with you might be perfectly normal...for *you*."
"Yeah, right," Ellison scoffed, waving a hand dismissively.
"Look. Just get my clothes and drive me home. Then give me half an hour. Just half an hour, man. If you think you're still crazy, then by all means, see the doc. But give me a chance." Blair paused and then went for below the belt. "You owe me."
Ellison's face went blank, then resigned. "All right. Half an hour. I'll go get the doctor."
Blair settled down against the mattress. This was incredible! All this time, a Sentinel, right under his nose. Holy Grail time. If only...if only he could convince Ellison that this wasn't all just a bunch of mumbo jumbo. But if there was one thing Blair was confident in was his powers of persuasion. He'd have the cop eating out of the palm of his hand.
With the promise that Jim would look after Blair for the next forty-eight , the doctor agreed to let him check out of the hospital. Blair had dressed as quickly as his injuries allowed, resignedly allowing Jim to help him do up the buttons on his shirt and fitting his arm back into the sling.
"Ready to go?" Jim held out the well worn book bag he had picked up in the rush to get Blair to a hospital. He wasn't entirely sure that Blair should be checking out, but he knew Blair's tolerance of him was rapidly stretching thin.
"Yeah." With a wince, Blair bent down to tie his shoes, only to pull up short. His eyes closed in frustration and Jim knelt down and quickly looped the laces into tidy bows. He tried to keep his eyes from the groin conveniently located at eye level. For a compact guy, Blair didn't have much to complain about from the looks of the nice package in front of Jim's gaze.
Fighting the blush that started to spread up his neck, Jim rose and motioned towards the door. "Shall we?"
It wasn't until they were halfway to Jim's loft that Blair noticed the direction they were driving, the pain medication obviously making it hard for him to keep his eyes open.
"Hey! Where are we going?"
"To my loft."
"No way, man. No way. I want to go home."
"Look, the doc said you needed someone to make sure you were okay for the next little while. I'm not staying in that warehouse, so the alternative is --"
"-- stopping the truck and letting me out *right now*." Blair grated through gritted teeth, anger overriding his medicated weariness.
"Look, I thought you wanted to talk to me about my senses." Jim flicked on the signal and took a right onto the main drag home. This wasn't going at all like he planned. He thought getting the young man comfortably ensconced on his sofa with some soup and warm blankets would go some distance to thawing the ice which stood like a wall between them.
Blair stared at him, and Jim grinned. Score one for the home team.
"Good." Jim pulled into his parking space. "Here we are." He reached over and took Blair's book bag. "I've got it. Don't want to put strain on your ribs."
Blair followed him up the stairs, through the hallway and into the loft.
"Have a seat, I'll make some lunch." Jim gestured to the couch and placed Blair's book bag on the table. The young man sank onto the offered seat with a weary sigh. Jim pulled out a pot, opened a can and dumped the gelatinous contents into the pan. He filled the can with cream, swishing the residual tomato clumps out and whisking the mess together over the burner into a semblance of tomato soup.
"So, want to start telling me why you think I'm not going
crazy?" Jim stirred the soup slowly, watching as small bubbled burbled around
the edges where soup met pot. There was no answer.
He looked over at his guest.
Blair's good elbow was crooked on the arm of the couch, his head resting on the flannel sleeve, eyes closed and breathing evenly. Jim turned down the heat on the soup and moved to the sofa, pulling the afghan from the back and draping it over the somnolent student. The pain medication had taken its toll.
Jim indulged himself, letting his hand rest briefly on top of the curly head. His fingers moved over the soft tendrils of hair which had grown out since their last encounter, falling down along his shoulders, presently cascading over the face set in repose.
He settled himself down in the armchair kitty corner to the couch and propped his head up on his hand, resting his arm on the side of the chair. Finding out about his senses could wait, and in the meantime, he would watch over the young man who had saved his life.
Jim remembered a legend he had read about. A Chinese proverb, that once you saved a man's life you became that person's blessed protector. It looked like he had his very own sleeping on his couch. If only his protector could find it in his heart to forgive him. He would find a way to make it happen, and then he would have his blessed protector eating out of the palm of his hand.
Blair snorted as a strand of hair tickled his nose. He bolted upright. Where the hell...*oh shit*. A soft chortle drew his attention to the man languidly seated in the armchair nearby.
"It's okay, Chief. You just nodded off for a while." Ellison stood, cracking the vertebrae in his back with a relish. "The medication really knocked you out."
"How long was a little while?" Blair rubbed at an eye with a knuckle.
"Almost two hours." The detective handed over a water bottle, cold and chilled from the fridge, and Blair savoured the cool liquid as it danced over his tongue and down his parched throat.
"Two *hours*? Why didn't you wake me?" Blair stared in astonishment.
Ellison blushed -- actually blushed! -- and mumbled something about liking the peace and quiet. The rumbling of Blair's stomach broke the awkwardness as they both grinned.
"I kept the soup, want some?" Jim turned on the burner. "I was thinking maybe some grilled cheese to go with."
"Sounds good, man." Blair stood, trying to ignore the memories of the last time when he was in the loft, the desire, the lust, the pain. He fiddled with the plastic glued to the outside of the bottle advertising the triple filtered, demineralized, noncarbonated glacial water. It tasted flat.
He watched as Jim -- no, Ellison -- slathered some processed cheese on bread, carefully matched another slice on top, buttered the sandwiches and placed them under the broiler. Cholesterol...yum. But after living on crackers, he couldn't deny the craving for real butter, and thick creamy tomato soup. The smell of toasting bread filled the loft and Ellison removed the pan with the sandwiches from the oven, flipped, buttered and put them back in for a final toasting on the other side.
Soon, they sat opposite one another at the table, sipping soup and crunching into cheesy sandwiches. Blair closed his eyes in bliss as warmth moved through him. It had been so long.
"Blair, I --" Ellison faltered and pressed on. "I didn't get a chance to finish my apology."
Blair paused, spoon halfway to his mouth, then blew gently on the steaming mouthful before downing it. Ellison apparently took his silence as an indication to continue.
"I should have been more careful, and even if you were working for Phillip...which you weren't!" He added at Blair's raised eyebrow. "I shouldn't have treated you the way I did. If you had been sixteen, it would have been wrong, and it doesn't make it any more right to say I was just doing my job."
Blair smiled wryly. "I guess I never did get around to accepting your apology."
There was a moment of silence, Ellison staring nervously at his plate, refusing to meet Blair's eyes.
"Apology accepted." Blair bit contentedly into his sandwich.
Ellison was taken aback. "Just like that?"
Blair's eyes twinkled with delight. "Just like that. Forgive and forget man. Besides, its not good to be mad at one's holy grail."
Ellison choked on a crumb. "H-h-holy grail?"
"Yeah, you know, Monty Python, Knights of Nee, Killer bunnies from hell?" Blair grinned inwardly at the sight of the detective looking as if he was up to his neck in water and just finding out there was no ground beneath his feet. The bewilderment was so incredibly endearing, he had to take pity on the poor man. "I've been looking for someone with five enhanced senses for over three years, more than that, actually if you count my merely obsessive years as opposed to my looking-for-a-research-subject years."
"Why the hell are you looking for someone who's going crazy? You're doing anthropology, if I recall correctly, not psychology."
Blair put down his spoon with a clatter, waving his hands before him. "You're not crazy, man! Hold on." He got up and after a quick glance around located his book bag. With great care he removed the monograph from its resting place and opened it to the page he had marked with a small post-it note. "This is a monograph by Sir Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor."
Ellison took the book as it was held out, scanning the page and the hand drawn sketch of the warrior embedded in the small printed lines. "So?"
"He recorded myths in tribal cultures of Peru, about these guardians, or watchers, who had enhanced sensory awareness."
"Peru?" Ellison asked, his body tensing suddenly.
A distant look entered the blue eyes, hidden pain suddenly visible and tangible around his face. "I -- I was on a mission to Peru in the army, covert ops. We crashed and I lost all my team. Was stranded there for eighteen months."
Blair stared at him with wide eyes. "Oh, man. I'm sorry."
Ellison shook his head. "I thought I was going crazy back then too. I don't know why I didn't remember. I had these senses during the time I spent with a local tribe, the Chopec."
"Really? Oh, wow. Was there someone there to help you? I mean, keep you from losing it like you did on the pier?"
"Incacha." The word was whispered and Blair could barely hear it. "He guided me through it all." Ellison rubbed wearily at his temple. "I can't believe I didn't remember."
"Unbelievable. Unfucking believable! Burton must have been right! You are a Sentinel!"
Blair was practically vibrating in his seat with nervous excitement. He had to stand, had to move. Ellison followed him to the living room.
"I think you're a genetic throwback to a pre-civilized breed of man!"
The confusing marred with anger told him he's chosen the wrong words.
"Did you just call me a caveman?" Ellison demanded, moving dangerously into Blair's personal space. Blair reached out with a hand, patting absently at the firm chest.
"No, man. I'm saying that you've got these amazing senses! You're a walking crime lab with organic surveillance equipment! Think about the possibilities!"
"The only possibility I'm thinking about is getting flattened by a garbage truck the next time I want to cross the street! I mean I can't look at a freaking seagull without losing it." Ellison threw a hand away from his body in frustration. "What good are these sense if I can't control them?"
"Oh, yeah. The zone out factor. The legends have it that each Sentinel needs a person to watch their back, keep them focussed so they *don't* loose it." Blair gnawed at his lower lip.
"What, you want to be my partner?" The older man flushed as the words escaped his lips and Blair ducked his head to avoid revealing his own blush.
"I want to write my thesis about you. If you'll let me." Blair lifted his head to meet the icy blue gaze straight on. "I can help you get control. If you don't let me help you, you'll never know what's up with your senses."
"I -- I never had to ask for help." Ellison admitted. It took all of Blair's willpower not to envelop him in a hug.
"You don't even have to ask, man. Just say yes. The offer is there."
Blue eyes held blue eyes, questions asked and answered going unsaid.
Jim awoke, not to the raucous sound of an insect pounding on the window, or the glaring hum of the fridge, but rather to a melodious *lub-dub* *lub-dub* that was like a rocking chair for his ears. Feeling rested for the first time in ages, he stretched, relishing the pull of tendon against muscle, the flex of ankle and shoulder joints.
The sheets were smooth once again, not scratching his skin like sandpaper and the taste in his mouth didn't want to make him vomit. He felt *normal*. Pushing back the covers, he slipped into his slippers and shucked on a robe before padding down the stairs.
In the guest room, barely a guestroom, lacking doors and containing only a small futon and boxes he never got around to putting in storage, Blair Sandburg slept the sleep of the innocent, or at least the well drugged.
He dropped coffee grounds into the percolator and pushed the 'on' button. Then, tentatively, nervously, he sent out his hearing to catalogue the sounds around him, practising the technique Blair had taught him the night before in an attempt to control the painful spikes.
The tap was dripping in the bathroom, a bare *plink* against the ceramic bowl. He could hear the sounds of Blair sleeping, the even breaths, and lack of congestion in lungs. Good, he had worried about complications from the broken rib, but it looked like the kid -- no, the man -- had been taking the doctor's precautions about breathing deeply to heart. The younger man snuffled into the pillow, and Jim marvelled as he *heard* the young man's eyelids open.
The smell of brewing coffee did the trick, luring Blair out, deliciously rumpled and sleep-mussed. Jim resisted the urge to bury his hands in the tangled locks of hair that fell down to Blair's shoulders, released from their ponytail of the night before. He was struggling to get the sling back over his shoulder, and Jim quickly moved to help, hands brushing against the soft T-shirt that stood between his fingers and Blair's skin.
"Is that coffee?" Blair shivered as his feet touched the wooden tiles, smiling happily as Jim passed over a mug, steaming and warm. "Oh man. That's good. You are a *god*."
"Not a morning guy, huh?" Jim grinned as he pulled down a box of Fruit Loops for breakfast.
Blair looked appalled. "You aren't going to *eat* those, are you?"
Jim paused in the process of opening the wax bag inside the cardboard box. "No, I was going to use them to wash the dishes. What did you think I was going to do with them?"
Blair shook his head. "Man, no wonder you were having such problems. You shouldn't be eating that junk, Jim. There's so many artificial colours and flavours and preservatives that could wreck havoc on your senses. Here, sit down, I'll make some eggs."
Jim didn't know when he lost control of his kitchen, but he found himself seated at the table, coffee in hand, while Blair puttered about one-handedly in the kitchen, beating eggs, and tsking over bacon, but reluctantly putting some in a cast iron pan to fry.
The phone interrupted the pleasantly domestic scene.
"Jim, it's Simon. The Switchman just bombed the train station. We've got casualties, but no fatalities thank god. Look, Jim. I need you back at work. This nut has just upped the ante."
"Alright, listen, do you need me at the station? I was thinking of going back to the other crime scenes, take a look around. See if we missed anything."
"No, I think we've got things covered here. But check your email, would you? I want to know if you've gotten anymore emails from this guy."
"Righto, sir. I'll be in touch."
Blair place a plate in front of him, trotting back to the kitchen to retrieve his own. "Problems?"
"Yeah, just had an explosion at the train station."
"Shit! Is it that crazy guy, the Switchman I keep hearing about in the news?"
"Yeah." Jim took a bite and paused mid chew. The eggs were light and fluffy, the slight hint of mustard discernable under the taste of parsley. "God, these are good!"
"Thanks!" Blair beamed, almost taking Jim's breath away with his smile. "I like to cook, but since I had to move, I don't get a chance to cook much now."
"Anyway, yeah, it was probably the Switchman. I'm going to check my email and then head out to the other sites, see if I can find anything I missed the first time."
"Cool, when do we leave?" Blair picked up his empty plate and moved to the kitchen, leaving Jim staring at him. *Not staring at his ass...not staring at his ass* It was useless to deny it though.
"We?" Jim replied, joining the younger man at the sink and taking the plate from Blair's hand.
"Yeah, man. I told you yesterday, you need someone to watch your back. Besides I have some ideas about how you might be able to detect stuff that ordinary crime equipment might miss, or might take forever to analyse. I use labs all the time in my work, and trust me, I bet you can do things way faster than any sort of machines. And I bet that your sense of smell will be able to detect scents that no equipment..." Jim shook his head resignedly as Blair continued to chatter excitedly. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea.
"One is wood, the other plastic," Jim answered, dropping the ashes from his hand. "I don't see the point of this." He was tired, his head was pounding and the urges to kiss the young man who flitted about him like a hummingbird on speed were occurring more rapidly.
"Wow. That's fantastic! I'd never be able to tell that, and forensics would probably take longer than that. Cool! Let me make some notes." Blair rummaged in his book bag and pulling out a notepad which he balanced against a strong, sturdy, well shaped thigh, his long fingers wrapping around the pen....Jim shook his head. This was getting crazy. But the last thing Blair would want is the man who felt him up and arrested him, hitting on him. Right?
A sharp chittering broke his Blair watching, drawing his attention to a black bird pecking at a scrap of material on the charred remains of the building where the Switchman had ambushed him.
"What's that?" He pointed upward, already moving towards the building.
"What?" Blair followed, squinting against the midday sun.
"You don't see that?"
The sound of Blair's laugh rippled over him like water over pebbles. "Yeah, right. Sorry, you're the only one with enhances senses around here."
"There's a scrap of material up there. Forensic must have missed it."
"Well, duh, they'd have to see it to *not* miss it. See? This is why I told you these senses are great!" Blair whapped Jim in the arm. Jim tried not to dwell on the warmth of the hand, brief though the contact was. The bird snatched the material, and winged away. Jim tried to navigate the ruins, keeping an eye on the flashing black wings.
The bird stopped at a tree, gnarled and old with a forked trunk and long dropping branches. The bird's nest was nestled in the v of the main branches, safe from predators and detectives trying to collect evidence.
"How the heck are we going to get it down?" Jim rested his hands on his hips. The small branches that would get him up to the main fork wouldn't carry his weight, that was for sure. And Blair wasn't up to climbing trees with his wrenched shoulder.
"Maybe a thread fell while the bird was flying."
Jim turned a jaundiced eye towards the student, who didn't look at all fazed by the doubt in the blue eyes. "You're joking."
"No. Just sort of scan the bush. Look for something out of place, and relax." Blair moved forward, rubbing his hand in the small of Jim's back in what was Jim supposed was a comforting gesture. It was for the first five seconds, but then his body began to respond to the intimate contact. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how one looked at it, a flash of red against green caught his eye, the forest ceasing to be a green blur. Bingo.
He moved to the bush, plucking the small thread from a sapling. He looked at it, but nothing seemed extraordinary about it. At Blair's urging he ran it through his fingers. Nothing. He drew the line at licking it, glaring at Blair to even suggest it again. But with smell, a faint scent caught his nostrils.
"What? What do you smell?" Blair asked intently.
"Flowers. Jungle flowers."
"Chief, my nose feels like its going to fall off," Ellison -- no, Jim, Blair amended -- complained.
Rummaging in his book bag for a notepad and pencil, Blair nodded. "Yeah, I know. But this is the last place, man. Trust me."
With a resigned sigh, Jim approached the counter. Blair trailed behind, grinning at the young lady at the counter.
"Hello, can I help you?" The young lady at the counter smiled widely at Jim and Blair frowned slightly. Jim's answering smile brought an even greater twinge in the vicinity of his gut that had nothing to do with his injuries. Time to go on the offensive.
"Oh hey! Did you know that the dress you're wearing closely resembles a ceremonial sarong of the ancient Mayan --"
"Hi," Jim interrupted with a gentle thwack on Blair's shoulder. "I'm Detective Jim Ellison. I'm going to need to sample your fragrances. A suspect may have bought some of your products."
"Which ones? We have over three hundred scents and essential oils."
Blair winced internally. He was going to be paying for this.
"All of them." Jim's voice was laden with trepidation. The last four stores has been filled with odd smells, and Blair could tell that the scents were starting to give the older man a head ache. Small frown lines were appearing on the strong forehead and the corners of the vibrant eyes were crinkled with pain.
Blair rubbed a gentle circle in the small of Jim's back, willing the pain to subside. The small, tight smile Jim gave him in return sent his stomach fluttering.
Half an hour later, Jim called Blair over to the counter, where bottles littered the marbled tabletop.
"I don't quite understand," The cop complained plaintively. "It's like the smell is some of this," he held up one bottle, "some of *this*" he pointed to another, "*and* some of that." The third offending bottle was pointed out.
"Some of our customers do make custom blends," the clerk offered. Blair reached out and picked up two of the bottles.
"Cinnamon bark? Tropical rain? Purple orchid?"
"Yeah, doesn't sound like any sort of ex-army type guy, huh."
"Not unless he got discharged for cross dressing." Blair replied with a grin.
Jim turned to the young lady and graced her with a blinding smile that had her blushing brightly. "Can I get a list of customers who would have mixed these three oils?"
"Sure. It'll take a minute to print off."
"We'll wait." Jim smiled at Blair. "So, you two hitting it off?"
Blair blinked and then grinned. "What, her? Nah. Turns out she has a zuni fetish." He slapped Jim's upper arm. "Not *that* kind of fetish, man. Get your mind out of the gutter. Figurines."
The thought of fetishes and Jim threatened to heat Blair's face, so he turned, hoping his hair would obscure the blush making its way up his neck to tinge his cheeks. Thankfully the clerk pulled a piece of paper from the store's printer, providing the necessary distraction.
"Here you go, Detective."
Jim scanned the sheet of names, and swore softly to himself.
"Jim?" Blair moved behind him, peering over and around his shoulder for a clearer view. "What is it?"
"I know who the Switchman is. Damn." Jim pulled out his cell phone, punching the numbers viciously. "Simon, it's Jim. I know who the bomber is. Put out an APB on Veronica Sarris...yeah, that's right....She's the daughter of one of the men who served with me in Peru. He died, and I think she's probably blaming me....Right, we'll be there....Uh, I'll explain about that when we get there."
Blair waited patiently, only the slight bounce on his heels betraying his eagerness to know what was happening. Jim closed the mouthpiece of the phone over and pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. Recognizing a man in need of some air, Blair steered them in the direction of the door with his good arm around Jim's waist.
"Come on, big guy. Let's get you out of here. Then you can tell me what the hell is going on."
Jim allowed the touch, and Blair was relieved to see the stress lines ease as the fresh air hit their faces.
"We have to get to the station." Jim rooted out his keys, but Blair gripped his wrist firmly.
"In a minute. You can't drive with that headache. Take some deep breaths. In and out."
Jim rolled his eyes and Blair was prepared to berate him, but grinned smugly as the detective simply followed orders. He didn't expect the buff cop to listen so readily to him, obviously being used to the taking charge. Maybe this relationship would work out after all.
"So let me get this straight. You have enhanced senses and Mr. Sandburg here knows how to help you control them?" Simon sat back in his chair, rocking backwards dangerously.
"And Sarris, who, thankfully unaware of the APB so that when we waltzed into her house and arrested her, wasn't ready for us, allowing us to arrest her without incident, blames you for her father's death?"
"And you figured this out by smelling a piece of string?"
Simon suddenly rose, striding over to the door and shutting it quietly. Then he turned to the two men sitting before his desk like recalcitrant schoolboys. "That has got to be the craziest, most unbelievable story I've heard since...since Johnson in Robbery said he and Stait were *inspecting* the cleaning supplies in that broom closet last month!"
Blair snorted under his breath, loud enough for Jim to share a smile with him before turning to his captain.
"Sir, I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. Look, I can't work out these senses by myself. I can't work if I'm doped up to my eyeballs in drugs if it is a mental breakdown, so either you accept that I've got something strange going on here, or I'm going to have to hand in my badge."
Simon chomped heavily on his cigar. Shrewd brown eyes studied his detective, weighing his options and the man before him. Blair shrunk in his seat a little as that intense gaze fell on him, seeing into the depths of his soul. It was like being hauled in front of the principal in grade four when he and a friend decided to see how much pressure a heated, plugged beaker of water could take in the chem lab.
But this time he hadn't done anything wrong, and he held the power to help Jim.
Knowledge was power, and only he had the knowledge. It was a bit exhilarating to wield that power, but it was tempered with the incredible desire to help the man beside him who had somehow, despite their rocky beginnings, stolen a piece of his heart.
"So. You can help him?"
Blair nodded, not trusting his voice.
"And how do you propose to do that? You're not a cop." Simon gestured towards the clothes, the hair, the earings. Blair grimaced, wishing he hadn't worn the colourful vest, a multicoloured patchwork affair.
"No, I'm not a cop. But I am doing a PhD in anthropology, and I know for a fact that sometimes observers have been known to ride along with detectives and cops on their beats and what not."
"What, you expect me to tell the brass that I have a kid wanting to do a ride along so he can babysit one of my detectives?" Simon looked sceptical.
Tightening his lips, Blair forged ahead. "Well, not in so many words. I could say I'm doing my research on closed societies, police departments as a prototype of the thin blue line...actually I always wanted to do a paper on the ways in which ritual and ceremony compromise integral parts of the inner --"
"Chief, hold on." Jim grinned as Blair began rambling, trailing off at Jim's interjection. "Look, Simon, we can spin some tale for the guys upstairs. But I need to have someone backing me up, and right now, the only one who I can trust to do that is Sandburg. He knows what's going on with me, and...well, he doesn't think I'm crazy."
Blair felt a goofy and broad grin spread across his face at the open admission of need in Jim's voice, and the confident trust the older man had placed in his hands.
Simon removed his glasses. His fingers moved in small circles at his temples and he squinted at the two of them. "Let me think about it. Come up with a plan for making it work. Now go home and get some rest. I want you in here tomorrow morning for Sarris' arraignment, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, you got me?"
"Yes, sir." Jim grinned.
Blair stood as Jim did, allowing the older man to escort him out of the office through the building and down to the parking garage. As he scramble into the truck, relaxing against the comfortably worn seat, he turned to see Jim doing the same and grinned.
"What do we do now?" Blair fiddled with the strap of his book bag, suddenly nervous.
"Well, I was thinking dinner and a movie, but I'm open to other suggestions." Jim was staring straight ahead, hands resting motionless on the steering wheel, the knuckles turning white.
"Why, Jim, are you asking me on a date?" There was no derision in Blair's voice, he couldn't afford to mess this up, only gentle wonder. The tension strung between them through the last days finally had snapped, releasing them to follow their hearts.
When Jim turned to face him, he smiled and reached out to trace the line of Jim's jaw. The fear of rejection, of being forced to be alone again, of being denied forgiveness, was etched in the sentinel's face.
"I'd love to."
The mask began to crumble, hope returning.
The shield began to rise.
"--I need to change. I've been wearing these clothes, like, forever!"
Jim raised an eyebrow in disbelief, but Blair was impervious waving his hand imperiously towards the garage doors.
"Take me home, James."
Jim turned the key with fingers that visibly trembled, and the trip to the docks was quick, eventless, but still to long. When the SUV pulled into the parking lot, they got out stood on the dock, side by side, staring.
The warehouse, drafty ceilings and cement floor, was gone. All that remained was a pile of burning rubble as the fire trucks continued to pump water onto the smouldering fragments of wood, brick and cement, twisted into a grim puzzle of broken rafters and the occasional pipe.
The red lights from the trucks cast crimson streaks onto the black remains, despite the early afternoon sun. Blair's home was no more.
Blair wandered through the cooled shambles of the warehouse. The firefighters had finally given the go ahead to see if there were any possessions worth salvaging amid the ruins. He pulled at a scrap of material, what remained of his woolen blanket Naomi had given him as a graduation present after getting his Bachelor's degree. It was handwoven, made by a woman in a small town in Nepal.
At the slight tug, the fibres slowly unravelled, the charred ends disintegrating into ash which scattered on the wind. He closed his eyes.
He had found one photo, burnt around the edges, but otherwise unharmed, of himself and Naomi in Mexico. The rest of his collection was now scattered about the cement floor in shreds, along with his clothes, his books, his life. He pulled his book bag to his chest, trying to contain the ache within. The Burton Monograph had been with him the whole time, and his research notes were safely resting in his office.
A hand on his shoulder startled him and he stumbled.
Blair took a ragged breath. "So, any idea what happened?"
Jim kicked absently at a beam of wood. "You know you had a drug lab next door?"
Blair was so astonished at the seeming non-sequitur that he let the hidden detective concern slide. "Drug lab?"
"Yeah, they found what looks like a drug lab next door. There's been some gang activity around town lately and they think this might be part of a war."
"Damn." Blair shook his head. "Those guys who broke in here and beat me up were looking for a lab. I guess they just missed it by a door. I had no idea. I mean, it's noisy here, what with the ships coming in all the time. I guess I figured the noises next door were just loading dock noises."
"Find anything?" Jim gestured at the what used to be Blair's living room and bedroom rolled into one.
"No. Not really." He held up the photo. "Saved a picture."
He tried to smile, but it wouldn't stick, and his eyes smarted with a sudden influx of tears. Jim tilted his head and with one arm pulled him into a tight hug. Blair took a shaky breathe and a sob escaped.
"It's...it's all gone. Everything. What am I going to do." He let Jim press his head against the soft leather jacket, the strong fingers carding soothingly through his hair.
"You're going to be glad that you weren't in here when it blew up, is what," Jim murmured. "I know I am."
Blair brought his arms around Jim's waist, hugging tightly, comforted by the reciprocal squeeze that kept him tight against Jim's chest. They remained in the embrace, ignoring the smell of ash and smoke, and the feel and sound of gritty debris underfoot.
Taking a deep breath, Blair backed away, rubbing at his eyes with the back of his hand. Jim reached forward and gently rubbed at his cheek with a thumb. Blair couldn't move, rooted to the spot by the feel of the soft touch. Tears threatened again.
"You had a smudge of soot," Jim explained with a smile. "Now. Let's get you to the loft. You need a shower and some warm food." He slung his arm around Blair's shoulders and Blair let himself be led out of the debris
Jim puttered about the kitchen as Blair showered, dicing some onions, mushrooms and peppers. He opened the fridge door, staring at the contents and ignoring the cooling air spilling out into the kitchen. He was trying hard to ignore the soft sounds in the bathroom, Blair soaping himself, shampooing his hair, towelling off, and straining to restrain his choking sobs.
He grabbed some left over spaghetti sauce and slammed the door violently closed. God damn drug dealers. He had seen tragedies in his time, more than he was prepared to enumerate. Lives gunned down before his eyes; women, children lost to war; cops gone bad, or worse, indifferent. But nothing had wrenched his heart as badly as the sight of Blair wandering through the destruction of the warehouse, looking like a homeless child, lost and completely alone. The need to touch, to console had been overwhelming, and their brief contact had seared him from the inside out.
And he wanted more.
He viciously attacked a celery stick. He didn't want to take advantage. *The poor guy had lost his home, for fuck's sake.* Jim stared at the massacred vegetable, tossing it into the frying pan with the other victims. But his virtue didn't stop him from offering the young man a pair of flannel pajamas, remnants of a birthday spent with Carolyn long ago. But the thought of Blair, swathed in acres of deep blue touchable fabric, probably two sized too large, had vanquished the willpower of virtue for the resolution of vice. Look, but don't touch. Touching though, had become so incredibly alive. It was as if the world was itching to speak to him through his fingertips, and he ached to touch and feel the warmth of Blair.
The noodles were boiling, the popping of the bubbles rattling the sides of the pot and making the cover shimmy on a bed of steam. He poured the sauce into the frying pan, covering the vegetables. Then he stood, hands on hips, wondering what to do. The opening of the bathroom door, the heat of the steam roiling over him, even from the kitchen.
"Hey." Blair skittered over the loft's floor, bare feet apparently loathe to touch the wooden tiles. "Thanks for the shower, man." He settled cross-legged on the sofa, feet tucked under pyjama-covered legs.
"No problem." Jim checked to make sure the pots wouldn't overboil and jogged upstairs, lobbing a pair of woolen socks over the railing to land on the cushion next to Blair.
He had been right. The pyjamas were slightly to large; the neckline slipping over one shoulder, and the cuffs at wrist and ankles dangling to obscure hands and crumple over feet. The blue caught the colour of Blair's eyes, making them brighter and bluer. That they were red-rimmed and bloodshot didn't destroy the desire Jim felt, only cemented the protective urge churning in his gut.
And that urge was telling him to stop acting like a love sick fool, and do something to make this all better.
Back in the kitchen, he caught the timer before it buzzed, draining the noodles and spooning them in generous portions onto two plates. Liberally scooping the sauce and vegetables on top, he quickly grated some Parmesan cheese on top and carried them out into the living room.
"Food. I didn't have much in the fridge, so --"
"Jim," Blair interrupted, "It's fine. Perfect. Just what the doctor ordered."
"Speaking of which, where's the sling?" Jim frowned slightly as Blair took the plate with both hands.
"The shower loosened up the muscle. It's okay for now. Thanks for the pj's, too." Blair plucked at a button, nervously. "I *really* didn't want to get back into those clothes."
"No problem, Chief." Jim wound noodles around his fork and transferred the mouthful easily from plate to mouth. He studiously avoided watching the long noodles disappearing between Blair's lips, the younger man preferring to suck them in one at a time than winding them neatly.
They ate in relative silence, the scrape of forks on the stoneware jarring to Jim's ears, but tempered by the contented sighs Blair kept letting escape. Jim snagged Blair's empty plate before it hit the coffee table and stacked them in the sink after rinsing them thoroughly. Then he rejoined the younger man. When he sat down again, rather than choosing a distant cushion, he sat in the middle of the couch, Blair's knee brushing against his thigh.
Blair didn't complain, merely untangled his legs and moved so their hips touched. It only seemed natural for Jim's arm to reach around, pulling Blair against his side. Jim couldn't stop stroking the flannel-clad arm, enjoying the feel of soft material over firm muscle. It wasn't erotic, just -- comforting.
Soon, Blair's head made it way to rest in the crook of Jim's shoulder, the heady scent of freshly shampooed hair filling his nostrils. Jim continued his caress, even as Blair's breathing levelled out to the deep even breaths of sleep.
They sat, again in silence, as the shadows elongated and merged with the dimming light.
Sleep slowly gave way to consciousness. Blair could feel soft sheets against his skin, the comforting weight of the blanket against his legs and the smooth fabric of the pillowcase beneath his cheek. He didn't open his eyes, too comfortable in the morning haze of post dream lethargy to move even the small muscles in his eyelids. Besides, the bed was far too comfortable.
The bed. *A* bed. Not a futon.
His eyes flew open. A night side table gave him clear sight of a clock radio that merrily showed it was well past eleven o'clock.. He didn't own a clock radio. He bolted upright, pleased that it only elicited a slight twinge from his shoulder muscle, and shocked at the realization that he was in Jim's bed.
Before he could stop himself he leaned over and lowered his face into the other pillow beside him, surface marred by a crater where Jim's head supposedly had rested. He inhaled.
He was in Jim's bed.
A quick glance under the covers reassured him of his clothed state. And damn those pyjamas were warm. Leaving the comfortable nest seemed like such a shame, but he couldn't be sure of what he would do, should Jim decide to return to the bed while he was still in it.
So, with great reluctance, he moved. His socked feet were silent on the steps, protected from the chilled floor by a layer of comforting wool. Jim wasn't downstairs, neither in the kitchen nor in the bathroom. Blair's nose led him unerringly to the pot of coffee that sat warming on the percolator's hot pad.
On the counter, a handwritten note sat perched against a plate.
Blair, I've gone to take care of some things. Bagels in the fridge, hope you don't mind Columbian coffee. ~Jim
Blair smiled and smoothed the paper with one hand while sipping his coffee with the other. Jim Ellison was a marshmallow. He managed to find the bagels in the fridge and soon was comfortably ensconced at the table reading the classifieds. The selection of apartments hadn't improved since the beginning of September, and the street addresses of the ones available where neighbourhoods that gangs didn't even like to go into. He idly looked under the 'Rooms for Rent' column. Boarding would be cheaper, but lacked the privacy and freedom of an apartment.
But beggars can't be choosers. Blair sighed, mentally tallying the sum of his possessions. The clothes he had been wearing, his pocket knife, his book bag, the laptop in his office, and his Corvair, which was currently sitting in the shop waiting until he had enough money to pay for repairs.
He sighed again.
The rattle of a key in the lock interrupted his browsing.
"Morning, Chief. Thought you were going to sleep all day," Jim said as he tossed his jacket onto a hook and the keys into a small woven basket on a table by the door. "How are you feeling?"
"Good. Thanks. Um.." Blair tried to restrain from blushing. "About last night..."
Jim waved a hand dismissively. "Nothing happened. I just...didn't think you should be alone," he finished, looking a bit guilty and just a tad nervous. "You didn't wake up when I carried you upstairs, I figured you needed the rest this morning."
"Yeah, I only just got up. I haven't slept that much in a long time." Blair accepted a refill of coffee, and Jim craned his neck to look at the paper spread across the table top.
"Yeah." Blair grimaced. "Pickings are slim, but I'll be out of your hair soon. The university might give me an emergency loan for rent until pay day."
Jim shuffled nervously. "About rent. Here."
Blair took the proffered envelop with a raised eyebrow. He ripped the end and withdrew the slim piece of paper. "Twenty five hundred dollars!" he exclaimed. "Where?...Jim, I can't accept this. I mean you've been great and all, but --"
"It's not from me, Chief," Jim interrupted.
Blair looked at the name on the cheque. "You spoke to my landlord?"
"Yeah right, if that's what you want to call him. I just had a friendly chat, explained that if he was leasing the warehouse to people as a residence then the building was of course up to residential building codes." Blair stared as Jim began to grin. "And that since he had met all the proper codes and permits, you wouldn't have any grounds to sue for endangerment of your life or for replacement of all your stuff."
"Wow." Blair gingerly held the cheque, not quite believing it wouldn't disintegrate beneath his fingertips like the rest of his life.
"He was happy to come to this modest settlement."
"Oh, man. I can replace stuff now!" Blair looked up at Jim, eyes shining. "Thanks, man."
"No problem. There's just one condition." Jim refused to meet Blair's searching gaze, the smile disappearing from his face. "I...I was kind of hoping you wouldn't have to look for a new place."
Blair held up both hands in defence. "No. I'm sorry, Jim. But I'm just not ready for that type of commitment. I mean, we really don't know each other that well, and while you've been really nice and all, I'm not a dog that'll jump any table leg the first night."
"No! I mean, I didn't mean that you would have to stay...upstairs. I've got the spare room, and even have some furniture downstairs in storage, like bookcase and stuff."
Blair made a mistake in looking into Jim's pleading eyes. His resolve began to falter, walls crumbling beneath the onslaught.
"I just...sorta like having you around," Jim finished sheepishly.
Blair tapped finger speculatively against his lower lip. The loft was nice. Jim had already demonstrated what a wonderful cook he was. It sure beat sharing a dingy room with a colony of cockroaches.
"Okay, but we'll have to set some ground rules."
"Rules?" Jim asked incredulously. "Aren't we a bit grown up for that? I mean, I'd hate to have to send you to your room for breaking them." They broke into laughter, the tension evaporating.
"Yeah, rules. Like no invading my privacy with your senses and I'll keep my questions for my thesis out of your sex life. Deal?"
Jim slowly grinned and reached out his hand. "Deal."
Blair's fingers twined around Jim's in a handshake. Jim's grip was strong, and Blair grinned as they vied for leadership, squeezing firmly. His gloating grin faltered though as Jim pulled him close, reaching his free hand to cup the back of his neck.
"So, how will we figure out what the rules should be?" He whispered, not lessening his grip on Blair hand, holding it clasped to his between them.
"We'll...f-f-figure it out as it goes," Blair stammered as the hand on the back of his neck tightened ever-so-slightly.
"Is this against the rules?" Jim slowly bent his head, watching for signs of refusal, fear or recrimination. Blair titled his head, watching the bright eyes search his face. Then it happened. Their lips brushed. It was awkward, noses getting in the way until they finally managed to align themselves with one another. Jim released his hand and gently cupped Blair's face. They kissed again, opening lips to cautiously explore and taste.
When they broke apart, Blair felt his legs start to tremble.
"So, what do you think. Against the rules?" Jim asked, trailing a fingers down Blair's cheek.
Blair shook his head, leaning into the gentle touch. "No." He smiled sheepishly as his voice broke. "I...I wasn't lying when I said I didn't really do this often."
"*This* being?" Jim's hand moved over Blair's back in long strokes, ending in the small of his back, right above his ass.
"Uh...*this*. Dating stuff." Blair felt the heat on his cheeks and cursed inwardly.
"Well, neither do I." Jim punctuated his response with a kiss to the end of Blair's nose that left Blair nearly cross-eyed. "But the only way to fix that is to practice. Lots of practising."
Blair found himself breathless as his lips were claimed again, this time Jim aggressively pressing against him. But rather than the fear of the first time Jim had moved against him, the only feeling coursing through him was anticipation and desire. His eyes closed as he revelled in the feel of Jim's tongue moving against his own, teeth clicking gently against teeth.
He let his own hands move, running over the firm abs and pecs, down the strong arms and around the trim waist.
Then the delicious pleasure at his lips was gone, the hands holding him firmly against the powerful body disappeared. He made a small sound of disappointment and opened his eyes.
"Time to go to work," Jim cheerfully tossed over his shoulder as he went to the kitchen, pulling leftovers out of the fridge. "Let's get you set up at the department as an observer. I talked to Simon, and I think we have him convinced. There's a lot of paperwork to fill out though, and he wants to hear how you're planning on officially going to fool the brass. So grab a shower, and move!"
Blair stared. He wasn't quite sure how things had gone from kissing to talking about Simon. And he was pretty sure he was just getting into the kissing.
"Come on, Chief. The sooner we get this all done, the sooner I can take you out to dinner and movie."
Blair felt weak in the knees as Jim said the nickname. He had been prepared for lust. Lust was fine. Lust was great, in fact. What he hadn't been ready for was the love that infused the name. Hell, it wasn't a name, he realized, it was an endearment.
Blair grinned. "I think the whole idea of the thin blue line will work really well. Trust me. I'll dazzle 'em with enough academic talk and they'll be putty in my hands."
He turned towards the bathroom, only to be brought up short by two arms around his waist and a nose nuzzling his neck.
"I'd rather you were putty in my hands, Chief." Jim whispered roughly in his ear. Then, once again leaving him short of breath and unbalanced, Jim was gone, back in the kitchen fixing himself some lunch.
Blair moved to the bathroom. *Maybe moving in with Jim wasn't such a great idea*, he mused. *Naaaah.*
"Jim? You home, man?" Blair set his bag down by the table, spying a single rose on the table lying on a beige piece of paper. He picked up both, sniffing the delicate aroma of the flower while opening the folded paper.
He took the steps two at a time.
Two months. Two months of lingering looks, lingering touches, chaste snuggling on the couch, and pent up sexual desire. Finally.
The lights were dimmed, the only visible light coming from the windows at the top of the walls. The moonlight sent silvery tails of magic across the bed, turning the occupant into a creature of mystic origins. Jim lay on his stomach, clearly having fallen asleep waiting for Blair, who had been stuck in a snowdrift waiting for a tow for the last two hours. But the chills and exhaustion of the day were banished as he let his eyes wander down the expanse of back, to the rounded ass, barely hidden under the sheet which had fallen down to rumple in the small of Jim's back.
He slowly raked his eyes back up to lock with the heavy lidded eyes that stared back at him, filled with sleepy desire.
"You're late." The sleep-rough voice sent thrills down Blair's spine to lodge in his stomach.
"Got stuck." His fingers were fumbling at his shirt buttons. They were joined by longer fingers that made quick work of the plastic buttons, slipping them easily through the buttonholes and reaching up to bring the shirt down over Blair's shoulders.
"Let me help." Jim stood before him, unselfconscious in his nudity and breathtakingly beautiful bathed in moonlight. Blair was more than happy to let him do the work of undressing him, as long as he got to look and stare at the vision before him.
A finger under his chin brought his eyes in line with Jim's.
"Are you *sure*," Jim asked, and Blair thought he would cry at the deep concern in his voice.
"I've never been more sure about anything in my life." Blair tried hard to keep the quiver from the words. He had to be strong, or Jim would stop.
The bed was as he remember from that night two long months ago. The sheets were cool, warmed in places by Jim's body. He moaned as Jim helped his pants down his legs, pulling his boxers down at the same time, until they were both naked.
Blair stroked at the soft skin available to his touch. Jim shuddered and encouraged him to do more with a quiet moan. Lying side by side, they touched, connected, kissed and aroused. Legs entwined, feet moving up and down calves to tantalize and caress. Hands moved, gradually trespassing into previously forbidden territory, stroking over bare buttocks and around hips to tease at hard erections and firm balls.
Blair encircled Jim's cock with one hand, arching as Jim mirrored his actions. Their eyes never moved from one another's as they began to stroke and squeeze, playing an erotic game of copycat, where the loser would also be winner. Blair broke eye contact and stretched his neck to lap at Jim's adam's apple, nipping gently along the skin.
"Oh, god. Blair. Please," Jim moaned, his hand tightening deliciously around Blair's cock, thumb moving over the swollen head and teasing the underside mercilessly.
"Love you," Blair whispered against his throat as they both came, bathing their bodies in each other's seed and relaxing bonelessly into each other's arms. Blair snuggled close to Jim's side and amused himself by tracing the well-defined muscles along Jim's stomach, watching as they twitched in response to his touch. He felt the glow of post-orgasmic lethargy washing over him as they lay there, only their breathing audible in the loft.
Jim stirred. "Thank you."
"For what?" Blair murmured as he teased Jim's left nipple into peaking.
"For being with me." Jim captured the rogue fingers, bringing them up to kiss the tips.
"Well, we didn't, you know," Blair said, wiggling a bit to get closer to the warm body beside him." I mean --"
A finger against his lips silenced him. "Blair, what we share is special. What we do, no matter what that is, will always be enough for me. We won't do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Besides, we have lots of time to explore what we like and don't like. Rome wasn't build in a day."
"You know, I always wondered why we use the example of the construction of Rome as an analogy for projects that are important and challenging....mmmph." His babbling was silenced as Jim captured his lips and plundered his mouth with his tongue. His cock began to harden again and Jim's hands firmly kneaded the mounds of his ass, pressing them together and releasing.
Rome could wait. There was exploring to be done.