SPIRIT OF GRACE

(Post – "Blind Man's Bluff")

By: Annie

EMAIL: Annie

 

Jim watched as Margaret waved goodbye to Blair in that curiously child-like way she had, then turned to look at him. Even though Jim had agreed when Blair had said that looks shouldn’t matter, there had been a part of Ellison that had been relieved when Margaret had, in fact, turned out to be very attractive. At least, that had been his initial impression when he’d opened the door tonight and gotten his first unhindered look at her since the drug Golden had temporarily stolen his sight a couple of weeks before.

Jim opened the wine Margaret had brought and glanced over his shoulder as Blair left, in time to catch the 100-watt smile his guest beamed in his direction.

Margaret was pretty, very pretty, but there was something besides attraction in the look, something he couldn’t quite put a name to. He heard her move up behind him and felt her place a hand on his shoulder. Turning his head, he smiled at her, then jumped in shock as her face was overlaid with the image of a viciously roaring lynx.

"Jim, are you okay? Did I startle you?"

Margaret’s concerned words cut through the shock and he shuddered involuntarily, then quickly shook his head.

"No, no, I’m fine. I’m sorry. I just didn’t hear you," he lied. He gave her a reassuring grin, then took another unconscious step away from her as the word that had eluded him before suddenly came into his head—predator. It seemed ridiculous but he couldn’t shake the image he’d just seen. He put it down to some weird aftereffect of the Golden and made a mental note not to mention it to Sandburg. The anthropologist would go into his usual spiel about Jim's vision having some deep meaning and then the tests would start.

Margaret laughed lightly and took the glasses from his hands, then walked over to the couch, seating herself with a casual grace, her legs curled up sideways and, studiously, Jim noticed, leaving just enough room for him to sit closely beside her.

"So, Jim. How about you sit down so we can get to know each other a little better? I mean, with that migraine you had the other night, we didn’t really get a chance to talk properly about ourselves." She patted the seat next to her, then pouted as Jim perched on the edge of the coffee table opposite her, instead.

Ellison had to restrain a full-fledged grin at that comment. Blair had thought he’d been obfuscating (to use a Sandburgian term) when the Sentinel had said he and Margaret had spent their only other evening together, simply talking. The bat whistle reference had just been Jim yanking Blair’s chain, something he tried to do as often as he could get away with it.

"I’m so glad Blair finally let us meet," Margaret purred. "I swear he was deliberately keeping us apart. I mean, as soon as I saw you, I wanted to get to know you better." Margaret’s voice dropped to a low, sexy register on the last words and Jim swallowed hard.

"I’m sorry, I don’t understand," Jim asked, confused. "Had we met before? I don’t recall…."

Margaret put up one hand to cut him off. "We hadn’t met before, Jim. But I saw Blair talking to you on campus a couple of times and as soon as I saw you, I just knew we were meant to be together. Call it karma or kismet or something," she giggled. "But when I told Blair, he kept putting me off. It was so silly of him. I mean, you and I have so much in common. We like so many of the same things. I’m sure poor Blair was just jealous, but I’d already told him he wasn’t my type."

"I thought you and Blair were just friends," Jim remarked. If Sandburg had been interested in Margaret himself and she’d rebuffed him, maybe it did explain his reluctance to get Jim and Margaret together.

Jim felt a faint twinge of guilt now, as he remembered how he’d pushed for this meeting, brushing Blair’s excuses off. But then he reassured himself with Margaret’s explanation that she wasn’t interested in dating Blair. Knowing how sensitive his partner could be to rejection, Jim couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. As successful as Sandburg usually was with women, it had to have been a blow to his pride to find out that a woman he wanted preferred Ellison. But Blair was a big boy and there were plenty more fish in the Sandburg sea, Ellison rationalized.

Margaret smiled seductively at him and this time Jim damped down the odd feeling in his gut and moved over to sit next to her on the couch. He picked up his glass, but had only taken a sip before Margaret took it from him and put it back on the table. Taking him by surprise, she leaned forward and claimed his mouth, pushing at his lips insistently with her tongue until he opened his mouth and returned the kiss.

As soon as he did, it was as if a floodgate of passion had burst somewhere within her and he felt her fingers swiftly undoing his shirt and sliding her hands across his chest. He breathed deeply, her pheromones causing his nipples to harden in response and he leaned deeper into her embrace, raising one hand to stroke her face. She moaned as his lips teased her earlobe and then trailed down her throat. His body was already beginning to respond eagerly as he felt her fingers move down and begin to undo the button of his jeans.

For some odd reason the sudden escalation from kissing to heavy petting made him uneasy—odd because, as loathe as he would be to admit it, it had been a while since he'd been intimate with anyone. He thought that fact alone should have had him welcoming Margaret's attentions, a fact his vaguely stirring cock was trying to remind him of. But the uneasiness in his head overtook the hormones that were trying to get his attention and he felt his arousal dissipating.

"Ah…maybe we should slow this down a little," he murmured, his hand stilling hers.

"Oh, Jim, I’d never have pegged you as being the old-fashioned type who doesn’t believe in sex on the first date," Margaret laughed huskily.

"It’s not that, exactly," Jim began, then stopped as the phone rang. "Sorry, excuse me." He rose to his feet.

"Leave it, Jim, please. Let the machine get it," Margaret pleaded, her hand grasping his thigh possessively.

"It might be work," Jim said, moving over and scooping up the phone. "Ellison," he barked into the receiver.

"Detective Ellison, this is Patrolman Ben Williams. There’s been an incident at Kennedy Park, at the boating lake, and I think you should get here as soon as you can."

"Why me? I’m off duty tonight, Williams. Does this involve Major Crime? Let me speak to Captain Banks or whoever is the primary officer at the scene," Jim demanded.

"Sorry, Detective, I should have explained better. Major Crime isn’t involved at this stage, though there's certainly a possibility they will be brought into it at some time. There was an incident at the lake resulting in a fatality. I happened across it within minutes of it occurring and there were only two people present besides the deceased. One man heard calls for help, but got here too late to provide aid. The other man seemed to be in shock and wasn’t able to identify himself to me. I checked his wallet and found a card with your name listed as an emergency contact. It also contained a Cascade PD civilian observer pass in the name of Blair Sandburg. Do you know him, Detective?"

"He’s my partner," Jim replied, feeling stunned. Blair had only been gone an hour or so. How had he managed to get himself in trouble so quickly? He'd only been out of the hospital a few days after being overdosed with the same drug that had stolen Jim's sight. "Is he hurt?" he asked the patrolman urgently.

"Not sure, sir. He doesn’t seem to be, but I haven’t really been able to check him out properly. Like I said, he seems to be in shock and he’s pretty jumpy. Look, Detective, the EMTs have just arrived, as well as my back up. How long 'til you can get here?"

"I’ll be there in ten minutes. Tell Blair I’m on my way, will you?" Jim said, somehow sensing that it was important for his Guide to know that his Sentinel would be there for him, just as they’d supported each other during the horrific days when they had both been affected in different ways by the Golden. Even if Blair was in shock, Jim was sure that knowing his partner was coming would enable him to hang on, just as Jim's presence had done so when Blair had lain in a drug-induced coma for two days.

Jim hung up and turned apologetically to Margaret, surprised to see the look of anger on her face. He’d expected a barrage of concerned questions about Blair. She was Blair’s friend, after all.

"Sorry, Margaret. Blair’s in some sort of trouble. I have to go get him," he explained.

"Oh, for heaven’s sake, Jim. Surely, there’s someone else who could go. Blair’s a grown man, after all." Her voice was cold.

"That was a cop on the phone. He’s not sure if Blair’s hurt or not, but he is in shock from whatever’s happened. He needs me, right now. I’m sorry. I thought, perhaps, you’d want to come with me, make sure he’s okay. But if not, I’ll call a cab for you and we can take a rain check for another night." Jim was already gathering up Margaret’s coat and purse as he spoke and ushering her toward the door, anxious to be on his way. He snagged his jacket and keys, then took Margaret’s arm and literally towed her through the door behind him, locking it as he went.

"Forget it!" Margaret’s voice was scathing as she pulled her arm free of Jim’s hand. "I drove my car over. I’ll be fine to get home, Jim. I should have known Blair would pull something like this. He didn’t want us to get together in the first place. I thought it was because he wanted me, but I’ve just realized something. It’s not me he wants, it’s you. I should have known the minute he told me he was bisexual. Can’t say I blame him for that, but I had no idea you swung that way, too."

"I didn’t…I didn’t know he was bi. Look, this has nothing to do with any of that. He’s in trouble and I have to get to him. I’m sorry. Maybe it would be better if we just called it quits." Jim pushed past her, his mind already casting her words aside, totally intent on getting to Blair. By the time he reached the last step he’d almost forgotten she was behind him, and he raced to the truck and climbed in, flooring the accelerator without a backward glance.

 

* * *

 

The park was awash with colored flashing lights by the time Jim got there. He saw at least three police cars and two ambulances. He jumped from the truck and made his way over to a uniformed cop, standing guard in front of a man sitting on the ground under a tree. Jim recognized his partner, rocking back and forth slowly, holding a bundle of what looked like rags in his arms.

"I’m Detective Jim Ellison," he said, holding out his badge for the other cop to see.

"Glad you made it so quickly, sir. I’m Patrolman Williams. Mr. Sandburg seems to become agitated if anyone gets too close and he won’t release the body of the child.…"

"Child? What the hell happened here?" Jim asked, his mind whirling.

"Far as we can tell, sir, your partner saw a little girl struggling in the middle of the lake. He apparently dived in and managed to reach her and pull her to shore, but according to the other witness who got here just as Mr. Sandburg was beginning CPR, it was obvious that the child was beyond help. We haven’t been able to get close enough to see properly, but the kid seems to be covered in bruises and her throat looks like it's been slashed. So whatever air your partner was pushing into her was just coming out through the gash in her neck. The other man tried to tell him it was hopeless, but your friend kept on with the CPR until a couple of minutes after I arrived. Then he picked the child up and began to rock her and talk to her and we haven't been able to get her away from him. I was able to check her vitals and there’s no doubt that the kid’s dead. We just need to get him to release the body before any evidence is lost and so we can check him over, too. He’s gotta be hypothermic at the very least by now." Williams finally finished his explanation and stood aside to let Jim pass.

"Where are the parents?" Jim asked.

"No idea, sir. Like I told you on the phone, the only people I found when I got here were the two witnesses, one of whom was Mr. Browning over there talking with the backup officer, and your partner. We really need to get him to release the girl, Detective, and then I think you’d better get him to a hospital and get him checked out. One thing," Williams reached out a hand and held Jim back, "is there any chance he knew the kid or had anything to do with this?" The cop’s voice held a tone of apology for even asking the question, but Jim knew it had to be asked.

"No, I don’t think he knew her, though I won’t know that without a definite ID on the body, but you can take my word and that of everyone in Major Crime from Captain Banks down that there’s no way in hell Blair would harm a child." Jim’s voice came out more defensive than he intended, but Williams simply patted his arm and motioned him past.

"I really didn’t think so, Detective, but you know I had to ask, right? How about you go get your partner sorted out?"

"Thanks." Jim offered a grim smile and headed over to Blair, kneeling on the damp ground a few inches away from him.

"Hey, Chief, it’s Jim," he said quietly.

Blair raised his eyes to the Sentinel's and whispered back, "Jim, she’s cold. Can you get a blanket to wrap her in? She’s so cold."

Jim turned and grabbed the blanket Ben Williams handed him. He gave it to Blair and watched as his partner tenderly wrapped the small girl within it. Having done so, he hugged the child closer to his chest and began to rock her gently again, murmuring, "It’s okay, sweetheart. You’ll be warm in a minute."

After several moments, he looked up at Jim, confused. "She’s still cold, Jim. We need to get more blankets for her."

"Chief…Blair, listen to me, buddy. She’s gone. You did all you could, but she didn’t make it. You need to let go of her now so she can be taken to the…" he bit back the word morgue and inserted, "...hospital".

Blair stared at him uncomprehendingly. "She can’t be. When I got to her, she asked me not to let her go and I promised I wouldn’t."

Jim extended his senses towards the child. There were no signs of life. Then he turned his attention to his friend. Blair was trembling with cold. Even without touching him, Jim knew his body temperature was below normal. His heart was hammering away as if it would beat through his chest wall at any minute and his breathing was shallow and beginning to become wheezy.

"Chief, how about you let me take her and turn her over to the medics, see if they can warm her up, maybe find her family. They’re probably worried sick about her by now."

"Then why aren’t they here? She’s just a baby. Why was she here all alone?" Blair asked, despairingly.

"I don’t know, buddy, but the first thing we need to do is get her to the hospital and find her mom and dad, right?" Jim asked gently.

"Okay," Blair nodded, then bent and placed a kiss on the little girl’s forehead. "I’m only letting you go now, because there are people here who can take better care of you than I can. You’ll be safe where you’re going, so don’t be scared anymore, all right?" He lifted the child from his lap and held her out to Ben Williams, who bent and cradled the child as carefully as if she’d still been alive, somehow sensing that the slightest movement out of the ordinary would send this man tumbling over the edge.

"Thank you," Blair whispered, as he handed over his small burden. "Could you find out her name for me?"

"Sure, Mr. Sandburg. I’ll let you know the minute we find out anything." Ben looked at Jim and was rewarded by the detective’s grateful smile. He turned and carried the child to the nearest ambulance, placing her on the gurney and allowing the medics to do what they had to do. As he put her down, he caught a closer glimpse of the bruises on her face and the gaping gash at the delicate throat. The child was about six years old, he guessed, and then before he could observe any more, he whipped away and stumbled off into the bushes, retching violently over and over. Before his eyes flashed the image of his own six-year-old girl, Bree, as she’d looked when he kissed her goodnight as he left for work.

 

* * *

 

Jim edged in close to his partner slowly, not wanting to startle him with any sudden moves. To his surprise, his caution appeared unwarranted, as the minute he was within arms-length of Sandburg, he found himself with an armful of cold, trembling anthropologist.

"Jim, Jim...." The voice was muffled into his chest, but Ellison had no difficulty hearing the thankfulness in it.

"Yeah, I’m here, Chief. Let’s get you to the hospital and get you checked over and warmed up," Jim said, burying his face in Blair’s wet curls and stroking comforting circles over the trembling skin of his friend’s back.

"Okay."

The whispered agreement worried Jim more than if Blair had refused to go. Normally, nothing short of a bleeding bullet wound would get Blair to agree to take a trip to the emergency room.

Jim pushed his partner away so he could look into the dazed blue eyes. "You ready to move now, buddy?" he asked, as he shifted his grip to clasp Blair under his elbows.

Blair simply nodded and pushed tremblingly up from the ground. With Jim’s help, he made it to a shaky standing position, then began to move toward the truck, wobbling noticeably at each step.

Jim caught him up. "Maybe you should go in the ambulance," he suggested, snagging Blair’s arm and pulling him to a stop.

Blair shook his head. "No, really, I’m just cold. I’m.…"

Jim’s arms were there to catch him as his knees gave way. The Sentinel scooped his Guide into his arms and carried him to the second ambulance, climbing up beside the gurney once it was loaded before anyone had a chance to refuse him. He sat on the small seat at Blair’s head as an oxygen mask was fitted and an IV was inserted. Piles of blankets almost obscured Blair from his sight, but Jim kept hold of the wrist that poked out beneath the covers. He felt the rapid thrumming beneath his fingers and latched onto the sign of his Guide’s continued existence, while he watched the rise and fall of Blair’s chest. He knew that if he anchored himself with sight and touch, there was little chance of him zoning, even with Blair unable to consciously ground him.

As soon as the ambulance arrived at the hospital and Blair was unloaded, he and Jim were separated forcibly. Blair was still more unconscious than conscious and apart from reaching his hand back toward Jim as he was wheeled away, he showed little reaction. He was still in shock, Jim knew, but for the detective, it was a different story. The minute he felt Blair’s hand pulled from his by the momentum of the gurney’s forward motion, his instinctive reaction was to grab onto Blair’s hand and never let go.

"Hang on, Chief. I’ll be here waiting for you when you get back," he whispered. "Don’t let go," he added, barely conscious that he’d used the same words Blair had told him the dead child had said to him. Except Blair wasn’t dead and he wouldn’t die, Jim reassured himself. He was hypothermic from the cold water and in shock from what he’d seen, as anybody would be. But Jim would be there for him and guide him through the trauma if that was what Blair needed.

Jim wasn’t really surprised when Captain Banks turned up in the waiting room. Simon had an agreement with the triage nurses at Cascade General that if any of his men were brought there, he’d be notified. The nurses didn’t mind doing it. It kept the injured cops’ partners under control, at the very least. Most of the nurses understood. Nurses were much like cops, in that if one of their own was attacked, they formed a protective circle of support around the injured party. But, cops, unlike nurses, didn’t have the medical knowledge to know when to back away. They didn’t always understand that sometimes, medical procedures had to take precedence over human comfort, and Simon Banks could always be relied upon to make the medical staff’s job easier.

"Any news on Blair, Jim?" Banks asked as he eased his large frame into the chair at Ellison’s side.

"Not yet, sir. He was hypothermic, but I couldn’t see any visible injuries. He had blood on him, but I'm guessing that was from the girl. He seemed like he was in some sort of shock. Not surprising, I guess. It’s not every day you pull what you think is a drowning kid out of a lake and find out she’s had her throat cut." Jim turned his gaze to the floor as if studying the intricate tile pattern intently. He jumped as someone came through the ER doors and called his name, then stumbled to his feet and met the doctor halfway.

"Mr. Sandburg is going to be fine physically, Detective. We’ve brought his basal temperature up with some warmed IV fluids and blankets and it's pretty much back to normal. We couldn’t find any other signs of injury on him apart from some small gashes on his wrist that he said were caused when the child grabbed hold of him. Nail gouges, I presume. They’ve been cleaned and bandaged and he is very keen to go home. Providing he has someone to stay with him overnight, I don't have a problem with that. I do think he will need some sort of counseling soon, but that can wait a couple of days. I’ve given him a card with the name of a psychologist who deals with these sorts of problems and he’s assured me he will give her a call. Apart from that, gentlemen, you’re free to take your young friend home.

"I’ve given him some sample packs of antibiotics for the cuts on his wrists as well as some Valium, which he seems reluctant to take. If the wounds look inflamed or his breathing still sounds wheezy once he's finished the antibiotics, get him to his own doctor or bring him back here. If he has trouble sleeping, which I would expect in view of the trauma he’s suffered, try to get him to take at least 5 mg of the Valium. He needs sleep as much as anything else. That, and the comfort of close friends, which I can tell by your presence here, he won’t be lacking. He’s in cubicle 5. I've given him some clean scrubs to replace his wet clothes. You can drop them back sometime." The doctor waved off their thanks and headed off to his next patient.

"Go on, Jim." Simon waved a hand toward the row of curtained cubicles. "I'll come and see him before I leave. I need to go make some calls, find out what's happening with the investigation."

Jim pushed aside the curtain and stepped inside, his eyes immediately going to the still figure on the exam bed. At first he thought Blair was asleep or still unconscious, but then his partner turned his head toward him and opened his eyes. Jim swallowed down a lump in his throat as he saw the tiredness and pain in Blair's face.

"Hey, Chief, how're you doing?" he asked softly, moving over to hook a stool with his foot and sink down onto it, next to Blair's bed. Cautiously, he reached out and ran his fingers gently up and down Blair's arm.

"Okay," Blair husked, then his eyes filled with tears and he turned his head away, but not before Jim had seen him clench his teeth down on his lower lip as if trying to bite back the sobs.

"Hey, hey, it's okay, Blair." Jim moved to sit on the edge of the bed and carefully pulled his friend up into his arms. He placed his hand on Blair's back and moved it in reassuring circles, just as he had at the lake. "It's all right. Let it out, Chief. You're allowed to cry." He held his partner and murmured soothingly to him until the sobs died away and Blair was limp in his arms. Then Jim laid him back down on the pillows and took Blair's hand in his, caressing hypnotically.

"Sorry for falling apart," Blair whispered.

"It's allowed," Jim replied, keeping up his rhythmic stroke over Blair's knuckles.

"Do you know anything more about her?"

"The little girl?" Jim asked.

Blair nodded.

"Not yet, Chief. Simon's gone to make some calls. He might know more when he comes back. Just try to get some rest. I'm staying right here with you." Jim moved back to sit on the stool again, but made sure he stayed in contact with his partner.

Blair nodded and closed his eyes. He wasn't asleep, Jim knew, just shutting out the world for as long as he could.

Jim looked up as Simon put his head around the door and motioned him outside. "I'll be back in a minute, Chief. I just need to talk to Simon."

Blair nodded again, but didn't open his eyes.

"How's he doing?" Simon asked as Jim joined him in the corridor.

"He's pretty broken up. So, any news on the child?" Jim asked.

"Yeah." Simon shook his head slowly. Shit, he hated these cases. It was bad enough when the victim was an adult, but a child…. He took a deep breath and told Jim what he knew. "You gonna tell the kid?" he queried as he finished.

"I have to, sir. He's going to ask, anyway. The child's dead, but maybe knowing the perp's already behind bars will help him begin to deal with it. At least he won't have to worry about the bastard doing it to some other kid," Jim replied.

"Yeah, that's true. Go ahead and talk to Blair. I'll wait and give you a ride home," Simon offered.

"No, that's okay. I'll stay with Blair 'til they release him. They should have his paperwork and discharge meds ready soon. We can take a cab."

"So, I'll wait for the both of you here," Simon asserted, as if Jim hadn't even spoken. "Go on, go speak to Sandburg. I'll chase up the forms and the drugs."

"Thanks, sir." Jim turned and went back into Blair's cubicle.

Blair hadn't moved since Jim had left, but this time he opened his eyes and watched Jim approach the bed. "Can I go home now?' he asked plaintively.

"Soon, buddy. Simon's gone to organize all the discharge stuff. Won't be long, now." Jim reached out and stroked an errant wisp of hair back from Blair's face, leaving his hand resting on his partner's head for a moment before moving it and taking Blair's hand in his. "Blair, listen…" he began.

"They caught him, didn't they?" Blair asked, struggling to sit up.

"Whoa, easy. Let me help." Jim pulled the pillows up so they were supporting Blair's back, then took his friend's hand again. "Yeah, they've got him, Chief. The girl's name was Grace Henderson. She was six years old. Her stepfather had been sexually molesting her for a couple of years. This time she apparently threatened to tell her mother and the guy snapped. Completely lost it. When he realized he'd killed her, he panicked and carried her down to the lake. Maybe he thought the body would just sink and nobody'd find her. Anyway, an hour or so ago, he turned himself in and confessed. He won't be able to hurt anybody else."

"No, she wasn't dead, Jim." Blair pushed himself upright, pulling his hand out of Jim's. "I heard her. She was calling for help—" He shook his head vehemently as Jim tried to interrupt. "I know what I heard, man. Even when I reached her, she was talking to me, begging me not to let her go. It's why I was able to get her to the bank. Hearing how frightened she was, it gave me the strength I needed to get her out."

"Blair, listen to me. Her throat was cut. Even if she hadn't been dead, she couldn't have spoken. Her vocal cords were severed." Jim patted his partner's shoulder gently as he spoke.

Blair shook his head, his jaw set. "I know what I heard. How would I have known she was there, if I hadn't heard her? It was dark. I couldn't even see her properly 'til I got within a foot or so of her. I found her by following her voice. And what about the cuts on my wrists?" He looked up at Jim. "You don't believe me, do you?" he whispered.

Jim held back from saying that the gouges could have been caused by debris in the water. "I do believe you, Chief. I believe that's what you think happened. Look, with all this Sentinel stuff, who knows? I mean, I wouldn't have believed any of that 'til I met you. I thought I was nuts, remember?" Jim smiled as he saw Blair nod agreement. "I can't explain it, buddy. I don't know that it matters whether we can or not. Somehow, that little girl reached out to you so you could find her. She's got a little sister, you know? Maybe Grace thought that if her body was found, the cops would find out who'd killed her and…."

"Make sure it couldn't happen to her sister," Blair finished for him softly.

Jim nodded. "Who knows, Chief? All that matters is that you did find her and Grace's sister is safe from going through what she suffered. Is that going to be enough for you?"

"Yes," Blair said. "I think so. I hope so. Grace," he said the name quietly, almost reverently. "I want to go to her funeral."

"Sure, buddy. I'll come with you." Jim turned as he heard his captain's footsteps approaching and shrugged out of his jacket, silencing Blair's protestations with an upraised finger as he draped the coat around his friend's shoulders. "Simon's here, Chief. Let's get you home."

 

* * *

 

 

"Oh, man, Jim, I'm so sorry," Blair said as soon as he entered the loft.

"What? What are you apologizing for, Chief?" Jim asked, confused. Surely Blair didn't think it was his fault he'd tried to help someone in trouble.

"Your date with Margaret," Blair said, indicating the still full wineglasses on the coffee table. "I'm sorry, I didn't even remember she was here. Was she okay? Did you take her home?"

"She was fine, Chief." Mad as hell, but fine, Jim thought darkly to himself. "She had her own car here so she drove herself home."

"Oh, okay. She'll probably call me tomorrow to see if I'm all right," Blair said.

Don't bet on it, Sandburg, Jim thought, but he looked up and smiled at his partner. "Yeah, probably. How about I make you some tea or something? You want to eat?" He steered Blair over to the couch and pushed him gently down onto it, then turned and picked up the glasses, carrying them out to the kitchen where he turned on the kettle and began making the tea.

"No thanks, Jim. I'd just bring it up again. I still feel sort of queasy, you know? So, when are you and Margaret gonna see each other again?" Blair asked, leaning back and pulling down the afghan, settling it around his shoulders.

Jim turned at the movement. "You still cold, buddy? I could light a fire. What about some soup? There's still some of that lentil soup you made last week in the freezer. I could heat that up with some of that crusty bread you like…."

"Jim, take a breath, will ya? I'm fine, but I get the impression the date with Margaret wasn't."

Jim shrugged.

"It was my fault, wasn't it? She was ticked off because you had to rush out and rescue me. God, she must think I'm an absolute wimp, needing my roommate to come haul my wussy ass to the hospital. No wonder she wasn't surprised when I told her—" Blair suddenly clamped his mouth shut and looked down at the blanket, twisting the folds in his fingers.

"Told her what, Blair?" Jim asked, as he sat on the coffee table and fixed his gaze on his friend. "That you were bisexual?"

Blair's head snapped up. "She told you?" he asked and then flushed as Jim nodded. "Great. Look, you don't need to worry. I'm not about to jump your bones or anything. If you want me out…."

"What? Why would I want that? It's none of my business who you choose to sleep with, Chief. We're partners, not lovers."

"I know," Blair mumbled, lowering his eyes again. "Look, man, I'm really tired. Would you mind if I just went to bed?"

"Of course not," Jim replied, standing and helping Blair untangle himself from the afghan. "You sure you don't want some Valium? Might help you sleep better."

"I'm sure, Jim. It'll just make me groggy in the morning," Blair answered as he walked toward his room, wobbling just a little.

"Okay, buddy. I'm gonna head up to bed, too. You need anything—just call. And, Chief?" Jim waited until Blair turned to face him. "You're not a wuss. You should know better than anyone that a person isn't defined by his or her sexuality and that there are no stereotypes. What you did tonight took guts, my friend."

"Yeah?" Blair nodded. "Thanks, big guy. That means a lot to me." Blair smiled and Jim realized how afraid he'd been that he wouldn't ever see that again.

"Get some sleep." With that, Jim moved around the loft, turning out the lights and locking up for the night. He heard Blair moving around his room as he walked past, obviously changing out of the scrubs and into sweats for the night. "Sleep well, buddy," Jim whispered as he headed up the stairs to his own bed.

~oOo~

The noise, when it came, wasn't unexpected. In fact, Jim realized that he'd only ever been half -asleep, waiting for the call to come. The minute it penetrated his consciousness, he was wide-awake and, seconds later, on his feet, grabbing his robe and trotting hurriedly down the stairs.

When he reached Blair's room and walked inside, his heart clenched at what he saw. Blair was writhing on the bed, his arms held out in front of him, almost in supplication. He muttered something sub-vocally and even Sentinel hearing could only pick up the occasional word. But Jim had no doubt that the demons Blair was fighting in his sleep were a direct result of what he'd seen and experienced at the lake. He moved to the bed and reached down, grasping Blair's arms and shaking him gently. "Blair. Wake up, Chief. It's just a dream. Come on, wake up for me."

When there was no visible response to his actions, Jim sat down on the bed and pulled Sandburg up. Hoping like hell that he was handling this the right way, he gave Blair's shoulders a brisk shake. "Sandburg! Wake up!" he said firmly and was rewarded by Blair's eyes opening. Relieved, he released his hold on his friend and stood, waiting for Blair to reach full consciousness. Instead, he was almost bowled over as his partner scuttled from the bed and entangled himself in the bedcovers. Sprawling at Jim's feet, he turned and skittered on his knees over to the wall, dragging the blankets with him. Once there, he turned and wrapped his arms around his chest in a protective self-hug and began to rock.

"Shit," Jim said feelingly. Then slowly, he crouched and tried to make himself into as small a threat as possible to the frightened man. "Blair, it's okay. It's just Jim. It's Jim."

Blair was whimpering softly, then suddenly his head snapped up and Jim could see recognition returning. "Jim?"

"Yeah, I'm right here, Chief. You awake now?"

"Dark," Blair said, his eyes sweeping feverishly around the room as if looking for something.

Jim stood slowly and moved to the light switch near the door, flicking it on. Blair flinched and covered his face with his hands.

"Sorry," Jim said quickly, moving over to crouch next to Blair.

"It's all right," Blair answered, his voice still carrying a quaver from the emotions of his nightmare, but sounding, at least, blessedly coherent. He looked up at Jim, his bottom lip trembling and his eyes beginning to fill with tears. "S-sorry," he stammered. "Don't mean to be a sap. Can't seem to stop. I'm so cold, Jim."

Jim pulled him into a hug, feeling the shivers shuddering through his friend's body and the warm moisture of tears on his bare chest. "Shh, it's okay, buddy. I'm here now. You're safe." He moved so he was sitting and pulled Blair closer in to his side, his arms wrapping around the shaking back. Without being conscious of it, he began to rock gently, mirroring the action Blair had used to comfort Grace.

When the silent sobs stopped, Jim put his finger under Blair's chin and tipped his head back so he could look into his friend's eyes. Blair still felt chilled to the Sentinel's touch and he was still shaking, whether from the cold or the storm of emotion, Jim was unsure. Either way, leaving him down in his room on his own was not an option.

"How about you come upstairs and sleep in my bed, Blair?" he asked softly.

"With you?" Blair said hesitantly.

"Yeah, with me. I'll keep the nightmares away. What do you say, Chief?"

"Okay," Blair replied, a ghost of a smile crossing his face.

"Come on, then, let's get you up." Gently, Jim pulled his partner to his feet and divested him of the tangle of blankets. Then he put an arm around Blair's shoulders and ushered him upstairs and into the big bed.

Climbing in the other side, Jim grimaced as he saw Blair hunched in a lonely huddle on the very edge of the mattress. Turning onto his side so he was facing Blair's back, he reached out and snagged Blair around the waist. His partner stiffened momentarily, then relaxed as he was pulled back to rest against Jim's body. He sighed, and seemed to melt bonelessly into Jim's embrace, then Jim felt his breathing even out and knew he was asleep.

Jim let his head drop forward until his cheek was resting on Blair's head. He bestowed a tender kiss to the curls beneath his lips, then allowed himself to follow Blair into sleep.

~oOo~

When Jim woke the next morning, it was to find that Blair had hardly moved all night. Jim lay quietly, cataloguing his Guide's condition with his senses. Heartbeat slow and steady, breathing shallow and restful, skin warm. Carefully, Jim eased his arm out from beneath Blair, wincing a little as the blood supply returned and his fingers began to tingle. He rolled onto his back, and then felt Blair move as well. His partner turned so he was curled up against Jim again, an arm coming out to stretch across Jim's broad chest and his head snuggling into Jim's shoulder. Jim froze, not daring to breathe as he felt Blair's morning erection poking insistently into his thigh.

Fuck, he thought, as he heard Blair moan softly and felt him begin to rub his cock against Jim's leg. Still not daring to move, the Sentinel considered his options. If he moved too quickly, Blair would undoubtedly wake up and be embarrassed at the compromising position he'd taken up, but if he stayed here, he wasn't sure how long he could keep his own body from responding. He groaned quietly as his cock decided to make the choice for him and began to harden. Dammit!

Slowly, cautiously, holding his breath, Jim sneaked his free hand down under his boxers to take his situation in hand, literally speaking. He moved his hand slowly down his now-extremely interested penis, then pinched firmly under the head, trying to do just enough to take the edge off his desire, while not awakening the man in his arms. He'd have a lot of explaining to do if Blair woke up now….

"Jim?"

Startled, Jim pulled his hand away from his dick like a kid who'd been caught masturbating by his mother. Giving a heartfelt sigh of relief as his dick deflated a little at the sudden shock and the loss of tactile stimulation, Jim rolled his head to the side and looked into Sandburg's concerned blue eyes. "Chief," he said, not trusting himself to say anything else just yet. He'd wait for Blair to take the lead.

"Are—are you okay, Jim?" Blair said huskily. He gazed around the room as if he was trying to remember how he'd ended up in bed with his best friend. Suddenly, awareness of his intimate position within his Sentinel's arms and the close proximity of their bodies seemed to hit home, and he gasped and pushed himself away from Jim's side. "Oh, man, I am so sorry, Jim. I didn't mean this to happen, you gotta believe me. I must have been dreaming or something." He was kneeling up now, as close to the edge of the bed as he could get without falling off, his cheeks flushed red with embarrassment.

Jim levered himself up so he was leaning on his elbows and held up a hand to stop the flow of words. "It's all right, Chief. I know this wasn't something you actively engineered or anything. For one thing, it was my idea to bring you up here during the night to warm you up and hopefully give you a decent sleep and, secondly, you're not the first guy in the world to wake up with…um…well…with something like that." His voice trailed off and he gave up trying to vocalize what he meant and instead pointed at the tented fabric of Blair's sweat pants.

Blair blushed even more and bent his head, concentrating his gaze on his entwined fingers that were clenching and unclenching on his knees. "Yeah, um, I'll just go to the bathroom. Take a shower as well. Sorry." The last word was whispered so softly that even a Sentinel would have had trouble hearing it.

Jim's hand reached out and snagged Blair's arm before he could move. "Blair, wait," he said. "Don't go."

Blair looked up, puzzlement on his face warring with the embarrassment that was still in evidence. "Why?" he asked.

"Come here," Jim said, pulling Blair gently but firmly toward him.

"I don't know what you want from me, Jim," Blair whispered, his voice quivering. "Don't do this, man. It's too important to me." His teeth bit down on his bottom lip as he finally gave into Jim's insistent tugs on his arm and moved forward until he was back in the position he'd been in when he woke up. "What are you doing, Jim?"

"Trust me, Chief, okay? Just put your head back down like it was before."

Blair complied, but Jim could feel the young man trembling against him. "Shh," he soothed, caressing the shaking back with slow strokes. He could feel his own desire building again and he took Blair's hand and placed it on his hardening shaft. "See, Blair, you're not the only one with a secret."

Blair pushed himself up, his hand pulling back from his partner's cock as if he'd been burned. "You're telling me you're…." He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing.

"Gay? Bi?" Jim asked, putting up a hand to trace over Blair's full lips. "Does it matter? You want this, don't you?"

Blair nodded. "Since I met you," he murmured. "But why didn't you say something?"

"You didn't," Jim pointed out, not unreasonably.

"I'm sorry. I was afraid to. How did you find out?" Blair asked.

"Margaret told me. When I told her I had to go get you last night, she was pretty angry and she threw it up at me. Told me she'd thought you'd been keeping us apart because you were interested in her yourself, but now she knew it was because you wanted me." Jim looked Blair squarely in the eyes. Right now, he wanted nothing more than to pull his friend close to him and hold him until the uncertainty in Blair's face disappeared, but he knew he couldn't do that until they had talked this through. It was important to his Guide, and that made it important to the Sentinel as well. "She also decided that my running out on our date to be with you proved that I wanted you, too," Jim finished.

"Do you?" Blair asked, holding his breath as he waited for the answer.

"Well, I don't ask every guy I see to put their hand on my cock, Sandburg, so I guess the answer to that is a yes," Jim drawled, trying out a smile, looking for an answering one from Blair.

Then suddenly, it was there. Not just on his mouth, but in his eyes as well. Christ, the kid was so damn beautiful like this. How come he'd never realized that before? "Chief?" he whispered, making it a question, wanting this to be what Blair wanted and needed, too.

Slowly, Blair moved back down so he was resting against Jim's chest once more, then with agonizing tenderness he reached down and began to stroke Jim's penis.

Jim let him continue for a minute or two, reveling in the exquisite sensations of Blair's fingers touching him. Then he put his hand over Blair's, stilling the motions. When Blair looked up at him, questioning silently, Jim rolled him to his back and knelt up beside him, his cock half-hard against his muscled thighs. He bent forward and kissed Blair's mouth chastely, then pulled back and began to trace his Guide's features with a gentle finger. "Jesus, Blair, you're so goddamn beautiful."

"You, too," Blair whispered back.

Jim laughed, then continued his exploration of his lover's body. He trailed his hands down over the strong column of Blair's throat, stroking down further to the furred chest. His fingers sought out and found the flat nipples and he moved so he was between Blair's spread thighs, then he leaned forward and began to lick first one, then the other as his hands continued their slow slide down the olive expanse of Blair's belly. He traced around his navel, then prodded it with his tongue, smiling as he felt Blair laugh, the vibration carrying through to Jim's mouth.

"Hmm, a ticklish Guide, huh?" Jim said. "Gotta file that away for future reference."

Then his hands were combing through the dark, coarse pubic hair at Blair's groin and he kept going until he reached the swollen, already-hard cock .

Blair jumped as Jim's hand wrapped around it and Jim stopped and looked up into his lover's face. "Okay, Blair?" he asked, waiting until he saw the answering nod before leaning down and taking it in his mouth. He suckled just the spongy head at first, dipping his tongue softly into the slit there, then rolling it around the corona before shifting down and starting to suck as he moved his mouth firmly up and down the hard shaft. He could hear Blair beginning to moan, felt him trying not to thrust up. He reached a hand down between Blair's legs and rolled his balls in his palm.

Blair's moans were becoming more insistent now and Jim could feel his own cock aching as it responded to the passion in Blair's voice and the intimacy of what he was doing. He released Blair's cock and heard Blair groan with something like disappointment, then he moved up Blair's body until they were face to face, their cocks touching.

Blair sighed as Jim kissed him hard, almost roughly, both their mouths open and their tongues sliding against each other's. Jim felt Blair thrust up against him, causing heat to flash along his cock, and then Jim pushed down and heard Blair's answering moan and they began to establish a rhythm.

Jim could feel his body tensing more each time he thrust against Blair, his cock becoming impossibly harder and his balls pulling up tight against his body. He tore his mouth from Blair's and bit down gently on his lover's shoulder, feeling Blair's heart beating thunderously through his chest. Groaning, he thrust down again and again and then he felt his orgasm flaring through him. He froze in Blair's arms, then ground down against the hard flesh beneath him as he felt his semen pump out between them. As soon as he stopped shuddering, he pushed himself up and away from Blair, then bent and swallowed his partner's cock to the root, deep-throating it. Blair screamed Jim's name as the sensation overwhelmed him and then he was coming, too, his seed flooding Jim's mouth. Jim swallowed what he could and allowed the rest to dribble from his mouth. Then he gave Blair's cock a final caress with his tongue and moved up the bed to lie next to his lover.

"You okay?" Jim asked as Blair trembled in his arms from the aftershocks of his climax.

Blair nodded, as if not trusting himself to speak yet. Then he turned in Jim's arms until they were facing each other. Leaning forward, he pressed a soft kiss over Jim's heart. "I love you," he said.

Damn! This was what he'd been afraid of, this was the very reason why he'd held himself back from acting on his desires ever since he'd met Blair. Bestowing a tender kiss on Blair's head, he said, "I know you do, Chief."

Blair looked up into Jim's face. Then he pushed himself up until he was out of Jim's arms and sitting on the edge of the bed. "Jim? What is it? What's going on here?"

"Nothing. Well, obviously not nothing. We just had sex, so—"

"Had sex?" Blair asked, sounding stunned. "That's all it was for you? Sex?"

"Blair, wait, let me explain, will you? I've been attracted to you for as long as I've known you. I do love you. I just…I've never been very good at commitment. I fuck it up every time. I don't want to hurt you, Chief.…"

"You're doing a pretty good job of it right now, Jim," Blair spat out, his eyes suddenly hard. "So what are you saying? This was just a buddy fuck? Screw Blair, poor kid, he's had a rough couple of days. It'll give him something else to think about. Is that what this is?"

"No!" Jim pushed himself over so he was sitting knee to knee with Blair and placed his hands on his partner's shoulders, holding him in place. "All I'm saying is, I don't know that I can commit to you just now. I need time, Chief, that's all. This is a big change for me. I just want to take things slow and make sure I don't screw up again."

"So what do you want to do, Jim? Pretend this never happened? You saying you don't want to make love with me again?" Blair's eyes had lost their hardness; now they looked pleadingly at me, as if he was desperately trying to understand.

"Of course I want to do that, Chief. All I'm saying is maybe we should sit back and take a deep breath before we make any long term changes in our lives here, all right?"

""Sure, Jim, whatever you say," Blair said, his voice cool. "Look, I'm gonna go have a shower and get dressed. I want to go to the station and see if there's any word on when Grace's funeral is going to be. Are you still coming with me?"

"Of course I am, Blair. I didn't think this would change everything between us, or does it?" Jim asked, indicating the twisted sheets.

Blair looked at him, remembering how much he loved this man, his Sentinel, no matter what. "I hoped it had, Jim," he said softly. Then he turned and went downstairs.

 

By the time they reached the PD an hour later, Jim realized Blair hadn't said more than two words to him since they'd argued. He sighed as he watched Blair slump down into the chair at the desk, looking up blankly as Rafe walked over and asked him if he was okay.

"Yeah, I'm all right, Rafe. Just tired, you know?" Blair responded, his voice flat.

"We heard what happened, Blair," Rafe said. "It must have been tough."

"Yeah," Blair answered. "Um, Rafe, I don't suppose there's any word on when the funeral's gonna be, is there?"

"Not yet, but I can probably find out for you, if you want. You don't look too good, Blair. Maybe you should have stayed home today, you know, got some rest," Rafe replied, looking the observer over critically. He looked around for Ellison, surprised to see him across the room, talking to the captain. That wasn't like Jim. Usually, Blair only had to sneeze and Jim was all over him like a mother hen. What did Blair call him, his Blessed Protector? He reached over and patted Blair's shoulder. "I'll find out for you, okay? You take it easy."

~oOo~

The rest of the day passed in a blur for Blair as he did as much of Jim's paperwork as he could. He'd hoped that keeping busy would keep his mind off what had happened between them, but he found he kept flashing back to it at the oddest moments, remembering Jim's hands caressing him, Jim's mouth on his, and on his cock. Blair jumped as someone tapped him on the back.

"Let's go home, Sandburg. You look beat," Jim said.

Blair glanced at his watch, surprised to see it was almost 2 p.m. "Um, Rafe was going to find out about the funeral for me…" he began.

Jim patted his shirt pocket, then pulled out a slip of paper. "Got all the details right here, Chief. Come on, let's get out of here."

Blair took the piece of paper and scanned it, then tucked it into his jeans pocket for safekeeping. Then he grabbed his backpack and followed Jim out to the elevator.

~oOo~

"You holding up okay, Chief?" Jim murmured as he stood behind his partner and looked down at the small coffin in front of them.

"Yeah, I'm fine, Jim. Think I'm just gonna go speak to Grace's mom, then we can go home."

Jim watched as his partner walked across the grass and waited for the small blonde woman to finish speaking to someone else. God, Chief, what have I done? Jim asked himself. In the five days since he and Blair had made love, Blair seemed to have climbed inside himself and disappeared. The spark that made Blair Sandburg the person he was seemed to have vanished and Jim knew that most of that was his fault. Sure, Blair was still devastated by what had happened to the little girl. But there was more to it than that. Blair had bared his soul to Jim and Jim hadn't responded. Instead he'd spouted a bunch of nonsense about his failure at commitment and left his lover swinging in the wind. Once again, Ellison had made this all about himself, when it should have been about Blair. Blair had pulled the dead child from the lake, Blair had been the one who needed comfort and Jim had been the one who took advantage of that need. He shook himself. That wasn't true. He really did love Blair. He was just terrified that if this relationship didn't work out, as most of his others hadn't, he'd not only lose a lover, he'd lose the best friend he'd ever had. He watched as Blair walked back to the truck, then ran to catch up with him.

"Okay, buddy?" he asked as he placed a gentle arm around his friend's shoulder.

"I'm fine, Jim. She thanked me, you know, for pulling her dead baby out of the lake. For helping her see what had happened to Grace and preventing it happening to Millie," he replied, a tear escaping to trickle down his cheek.

"Millie?" Jim asked.

"Grace's little sister. She said she believed that Grace had spoken to me to save Millie." Blair wiped his hand roughly over his eyes. "Can we just go home, please? I'm really tired."

"Whatever you want, Chief," Jim said, pulling Blair against him in a hug, trying not to notice the way his partner froze in his arms. He opened the truck door for Blair, then moved around to the driver's door and climbed in, starting the truck and driving slowly out of the cemetery.

~oOo~

Jim dropped Blair back at the loft and told him he'd be back in an hour or so. He used the excuse of picking up groceries, but he really just needed to drive around for a while and think. Blair didn't buy it, anyway. They both knew the cupboards were full. Blair had done the marketing just a few days before, but he didn't argue, just nodded silently and headed into the lobby.

Jim watched him go, his heart aching. Blair had gone from seeming so elated after they'd made love to the pits of despair in just a few days and it was all Jim's doing. He drove off slowly, turning the situation over and over in his mind. He turned into the park where Blair had found Grace and pulled up next to the lake. Then he climbed out of the car and walked to the edge of the lake, where he sat down, his eyes on the placid water, and thought some more.

~oOo~

"Hi, Margaret," Blair said, surprised, as he opened the loft door. "What are you doing here? You looking for Jim?"

"No, Blair," Margaret replied smiling grimly, "I'm looking for you, for now. I know Jim'll come looking for you soon enough." She pushed through the door, then scrabbled through her purse, obviously looking for something. Finally she found what she'd been searching for and she dropped the purse as her hand came up and leveled a pistol at Blair's chest.

"Ah, Margaret, what's going on here?" Blair asked, stunned. He backed away and then collapsed down onto the couch as he backed into it.

"Just keep your hands up, Blair. Don't do anything stupid. I don't want to hurt you. It's Jim that deserves to die." Margaret's eyes looked crazed, her face grinning harshly, nothing like the friend Blair remembered.

"Why?" Blair husked out, feeling his heart thundering through his chest.

"He hurt me, Blair," Margaret said, her voice sounding eminently reasonable. "I've been hurt before, but after the last time I decided that I'd never put up with it again. He has to be stopped, you know. He can't just go around letting women think he loves them when all the time he's in love with a man."

"He doesn't love me. You're wrong, Margaret. You don't have to hurt Jim. He doesn't love me," Blair whispered, his eyes on the door, hoping desperately that Jim would stay away and at the same time wanting him to bust through the door and come to his rescue.

"I know he does. It was bad enough the last time," Margaret continued, "but at least Tom left me for another woman, even if she was my best friend. But another man…." She shook her head. "He's sick, Blair. He deserves to die."

Blair scrunched back into the cushions and scanned the room around him as he did so. The phone was too far away for him to reach it without getting shot. His cell phone was in his pack in his room. Resigning himself to the fact that he'd have to wait until Margaret was distracted by something or until Jim came home, he began to talk to her, trying to get her to put down the gun and tell him what had happened to bring her to this. "If being in love with another man means that Jim is sick, then I must be, as well," he said quietly, "because I love Jim, too."

"That's different, Blair. You didn't leave me to be with Jim. I already told you I wasn't interested in you." Margaret was quite happy to talk, to explain. Finally, she had a captive audience, one whom she could convince of the rightness of what she was about to do.

Blair listened, never taking his eyes from the front door.

~oOo~

"You should go home, you know," said the bell-like voice next to him.

Jim started and sat up straight on the bench. Turning his head to the left, he saw a small blonde girl aged about six years old. "What?" he asked, confused.

"You should go home," she said again. "Blair needs you."

Jim looked at the child searchingly. "How do you know Blair?" he asked. Suddenly, he knew. "You're Grace, aren't you?" he asked, not really needing to hear the answer.

The child nodded. "You have to go now," she urged. "Blair needs you, but be careful. The lynx lady is there."

"What lynx lady?" Jim asked, then it came back to him. Margaret, her face overlaid by a snarling wildcat. He blinked and then focused on the little girl again. "Grace…" he began, wanting to thank her, but needing to get to his lover.

"Tell Blair thank you for saving Millie," the girl said, smiling gravely. "But now you have to hurry. Be careful."

Jim was already on his feet and heading for the truck. When he reached it, he cast one quick look back at where Grace had been standing, not surprised at all to see that she had disappeared. Jumping into the driver's seat, he keyed the ignition and took off as fast as he could back to the loft.

When he was within a block of his apartment, Jim forced himself to pull over and put in a call for backup and an ambulance, asking them not to use their lights or sirens. He hoped that the latter wouldn't be needed, but he wasn't taking any chances with Blair's life.

Pulling up in front of his apartment building, he left the truck quietly, leaving the door ajar, hoping he could creep up on Margaret before she even knew he was there. He headed for the stairs, knowing the elevator's loud creaking would be a dead giveaway, and marshaled his resources as he climbed.

Once he reached the third floor, he crept silently to the door and crouched in front of it, extending his hearing. He could hear Margaret's voice, but not Blair's. Dialing his hearing up still further, hoping he wouldn't zone, he breathed a sigh of relief, as Blair's heartbeat became audible. It was rapid, denoting the young man's nervousness, but reassuringly present. Pulling his weapon from his holster, Jim counted to three, then lunged at the door, feeling it give beneath his shoulder. He rolled as he hit the floor and came up with his gun still in his hand, pointing into the room.

Margaret had turned as she heard the door crash open, standing with her gun aimed at Jim as he hit the floor and rolled. Before she could fire, Blair was there, pushing her arm down and sweeping her legs out from under her with his feet. They landed in a confused huddle on the floor, then the gun went off and Blair jerked back, leaving Margaret to climb to her feet and run for the door.

Jim stood and took careful aim at the hysterical woman running toward him. He could hear footsteps pounding up the stairs behind him and knew that backup was here.

Margaret skidded to a halt when she saw the gun and put her hands out to the side. "You assholes always win, don't you?" she spat as Rafe ran into the room and, summing up the situation at a glance, moved to handcuff her.

Jim didn't spare her a glance, his whole world spiraling down to center on the man on the floor. In two strides, he was crouching next to his lover, turning him gently so he could see how badly Blair was hurt.

Blair opened his eyes and tried to focus on the face above him. His shoulder was throbbing, keeping time with his heart, and gray fogged the periphery of his vision. "Jim," he whispered, "how did you know to come back?"

"Grace told me." Jim smiled tenderly down at his lover. "It's all right. I'm here, babe. Just keep hanging on, okay?" Jim said, bending close and cupping Blair's face with his hand. He could see the wound was bleeding profusely, but the bullet had struck the fleshy part of Blair's shoulder, so as long as the bleeding was controlled, Blair would be fine.

Blair nodded and closed his eyes, letting the world fade out.

~oOo~

Jim smiled to himself as he heard Blair's plaintive voice coming from the room he was heading for: "Hurry up, Jim. I've already been here two days too many. I just want to get out of here."

"Wanna go home, Chief?" Jim asked, poking his head around the door, a grin on his face.

"Oh, man, do I!" Blair answered, pushing himself up from the pillows he'd been reclining on. He still looked a little pale, Jim noticed, but his heartbeat was steady and there was no hint of fever.

Jim pushed open the door, shoving a wheelchair ahead of him.

"Oh, no! I don't need a wheelchair, Jim. I was shot in the shoulder, not the leg," Blair moaned.

"Them's the rules, Chief. Wheelchair or you stay here another couple days," Jim said, smirking.

"All right, all right," Blair muttered, as he plonked himself down in the chair. Suddenly he turned and smiled up at Jim. "You know I could get used to this," he said. "Home, James!"

Jim swatted him on the head, laughing, and did as he'd been told.

~oOo~

By the time they reached the loft Blair had wound down, becoming quieter and more closed off as they came closer to their destination. Jim ushered him through the door and over to the couch, then stood next to it uncertainly.

"Jim?" Blair looked up. His partner looked ill at ease and he was starting to wonder if he was about to zone.

Finally, Jim huffed out a breath. He knelt next to the couch and reached out, grasping Blair's hand. "Chief… Babe, listen to me. I was so wrong. I want to be with you and only you for the rest of my life. Forgive me, please?"

Blair looked into his lover's eyes, the only lover he'd ever really wanted and reached out as well. "I love you, Jim. I never stopped loving you." He gripped Jim's chin and lifted his partner's face until they were looking into each other's eyes. "Make love to me tonight, Jim."

"God, Blair, I'm so sorry," Jim said, his voice breaking as he bent forward and took his lover into his arms. He could feel Blair's hands patting his head gently and his voice murmuring over and over, "It's okay. I love you. It's okay."

 

* * *

 

Jim looked at the body splayed before him. "You sure about this, babe?" he asked.

They'd been petting for a long time, but now Blair was begging Jim to take him and Jim wanted to, more than anything, but he needed to know that Blair was sure, that he understood that this was the final step for both of them, that once they did this, there was no going back to the way things used to be, ever.

"Are you?" Blair replied and Jim knew that he understood what it meant.

"Yes," Jim said, his voice husky with desire. "I love you, Blair. I want to make you mine."

"Then do it," Blair said softly, his eyes gazing trustingly into Jim's.

"God, Blair." Jim bent and kissed his lover's mouth, tasting the sweetness there. Then he moved lower until he could suckle Blair's cock, feeling Blair thrust up as he fucked Jim's mouth. He sent one moist finger exploring behind Blair's balls, seeking out his entrance. Then he pulled back, hearing Blair's disappointed moan.

"It's okay, babe. Just need to get something," he whispered. He turned and opened the drawer and found the lube he kept there. Uncapping it, he smeared a generous amount over his fingers, then leaned forward and took Blair's cock into his mouth again, sucking hard as he entered his body with first one and then two fingers.

Once Blair was writhing on his fingers, pushing down and begging to be filled, Jim withdrew his hand and put a generous amount of the lube on his penis, moaning at the sensation. He positioned himself at Blair's anus and pushed in gently, then with more pressure as he heard Blair breathe out and felt him relax his muscles. The head of his cock popped through the guardian ring and Jim stopped, waiting for Blair to tell him he could move.

"Jim? Don't tell me you've zoned, man. If you can hear me, move, will you? Fuck me already." Blair's voice was husky with need and he canted his hips up, trying desperately to draw his lover's cock in deeper.

Jim shook his head as he looked down at the man he loved more than he'd ever believed he could love anyone. "Never," he said softly, taking Blair's cock in his hand. "I won't ever fuck you, babe. I want to make love to you." With those words, he began to thrust into Blair's willing ass, his hand massaging his lover's hard shaft, matching the rhythm of his strokes. He changed the angle of his thrusts slightly, knowing he'd found his mate's prostate when Blair began to buck beneath him, his moans of pleasure driving Jim on.

Jim felt his own climax coming upon him, fragmenting his rhythm. He pounded harder into Blair's hole, hearing the slap of flesh on flesh, then Blair reared up and pushed down on Jim's cock and his semen sprayed across Jim's chest, as he groaned with his completion.

Jim felt his lover's internal muscles gripping his cock, pulling his orgasm from him. With one last pounding thrust, he was coming, the warmth of his seed bathing Blair's channel, and then he collapsed, pushing himself to the side and pulling Blair against him as they both trembled with the fulfillment of their lovemaking.

Jim waited until the aftershocks had ceased, then turned Blair in his arms and kissed his mouth passionately. Blair kissed him back, but his eyes looked worried.

"Hey, what's wrong?" Jim asked, concerned. "You're not having second thoughts, are you?"

"No way," Blair answered, placing a soft kiss on Jim's chest, over his heart. "Just thinking about Margaret. Wondering how you can know someone and yet not really know them at all."

"I don't know, Chief. Though you and I were guilty of that with each other, too, weren't we?"

"Yeah, I guess so. Not anymore, though." Blair smiled suddenly and Jim felt as though the sun had come out, illuminating the room and warming up every cold corner of his soul.

"No, not anymore," he said, pulling his lover to him, realizing how much he was going to enjoy discovering everything about the wonder that was Blair Sandburg.

END