HARD LIVING

by

ANNIE

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to Lyn for the beta and K9 for the great art. Thank you to Patt for the idea for this fic.

 

 

libtanner2003@yahoo.com.au

annieb1112003@yahoo.com.au

 

SUMMARY: Blair and Jim meet under totally different circumstances.

 

 

Blair Sandburg huddled down in the shadow of the Dumpster, hoping the dimness of the alley would be sufficient to hide him from his pursuer. The cold brick of the wall at his back seemed to leach his own body warmth from him and he shivered uncontrollably, wincing as the involuntary movement caused sparks of pain to jolt along his injured arm.

Leaning back against the dank wall, he closed his eyes, trying to remember his yoga breathing, willing himself to relax and stay calm. His arm throbbed relentlessly, robbing him of his focus and his head pounded, a reminder of the beating he'd received. He felt something trickling down his cheek and touched it with his fingertips. The gash on his face had reopened and was bleeding freely again. He choked back the nausea that rose into his throat and pulled himself to his knees, glancing cautiously around the side of the bin.

The sudden pounding of heavy footsteps reverberated in his head and he pulled back into the shadows once more, grunting with pain as his arm grazed the corner of the Dumpster.

"I know you're in here, kid. Don't make me have to come get you!" The voice was harsh and threatening.

Blair sank back as far as he could, pulling his arm up to rest across his chest, holding it there with his other hand. He barely dared to breathe, keeping his inhalations short and shallow, not a difficult thing to do when every breath he took scraped shards of glass across his bruised, or maybe fractured ribs.

"Blair?" The tones had mellowed now, taking on a false sweetness designed, Blair knew, to draw him out of hiding. "Sweetheart? Come on. I should have known you'd be scared. I'm sorry, babe. I won't hurt you. Come on, Blair. I want you to come back. Please!"

There was a sudden grating sound of something metallic being kicked along the street, bouncing into the wall of the alley, then the voice was back, rough now, its tone filled with frustration and anger. "Get out here now, Blair! I swear to God, if you're not back at my place in fifteen minutes, I'll take all the night's losses out of your hide. You got that, Blair? Fifteen minutes. I can always find you, Blair. Don't forget that. Come on, you little shit!"

There was another metallic sound as something else met its demise by being kicked up against the wall and then the sound of the footsteps receding, going back the way they'd come.

Blair stayed hunkered where he was for a while. His body just wouldn't obey him yet for one thing, so great was the quivering in his limbs, and his mind was flipping over the reasons he'd found himself in this predicament at light speed.

If only his mother… Blair shut off that line of thought as quickly as it had started. Naomi was gone, had been gone for a year and he really needed to stop using her death as a reason for all that had gone wrong with his life ever since. He was a grown man, a teaching assistant at Rainier University, for Christ's sake. He should be able to handle his life without his mom to hold his hand.

And yet, he hadn't managed very well up to now. First, Naomi had been reported missing in Fiji after a massive tidal wave had swept the area. Then, only two months later, he'd lost his part time job at the bookstore because he'd missed too many shifts covering for other TA's to pay back the time he'd had off when he'd gone to Fiji to look for his mother.

Next, his home had been blown up. Apparently, he'd been living next door to a drug lab and hadn't even known it.

He'd come home the next morning, having spent the night at a friend's house, to find smoke curling from the ruins of the warehouse he'd rented and cops milling about everywhere. He'd managed to grab Larry, his primate subject for the paper he was working on, before the ape had been dragged off to a kennel and returned him to the University for safekeeping. The next day, he'd received word that his grant had been withdrawn, as the stress the ape had suffered in the explosion had probably negated all his previous test results on the effect of television violence on primates. Larry had kissed his cheek sweetly as Blair had handed him over to the University primate lab supervisor, and Blair had kissed goodbye, at the same time, to any hope of staying on at school and finishing his thesis.

There seemed to be no part time jobs to be found that wouldn't interfere with his teaching and studying schedule. Now, there was no money left and nowhere to get any till Blair ran into his friend, Jax. A goodlooking 6 feet 3 inch stud, Jax asked Blair how he was managing financially. When Blair had simply grimaced, Jax had given him a business card and said, "Call Drew. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do, but it's good money, Blair. You're a great-looking guy. You'd make a heap."

So with the promise of sugar-plum fairies and riches (or at least the cost of his next term's tuition) dancing in his head, Blair made the call, met Drew and set himself up for his first date as an escort… well, prostitute, really, though Blair managed to convince himself it was really just a matter of mind over semantics.

His first client had been goodlooking, courteous and kind. They'd had dinner, then caught a cab back to the john's hotel room and Blair had frozen. He couldn't do it. Couldn't climb into bed with this handsome nice man who'd paid good money for his time and his services. The client had been understanding, stuffed a couple of twenties into Blair's jacket pocket as Blair had backed away through the door, then called the agency to demand a replacement bed-partner.

By the time Blair got back to his temporary living quarters, in the basement of a friend's house, Drew was already there, fuming with anger.

Blair had tried to explain but Drew had tossed his explanations aside. Then he'd grabbed Blair by the throat, cutting off his air. After a minute or an eternity of that, Drew had released him then pushed him away and thrown two heavy piledrivers of punches into Blair's ribs.

Blair had hunched over, gasping for air. A hand tangled into his curls and yanked, pulling his head up. His eyes widened as he saw what Drew held in his right hand.

"This is gonna hurt you more than it hurts me," Drew grunted out as he grasped Blair's left wrist and pushed it back against the wall. With what seemed like superhuman strength, he held it there as his other hand came up.

Blair had time to groan a soft moan of no as the hammer in Drew's fist connected with his wrist. Then the world kaleidoscoped into shards of bright light and he felt himself falling, his back sliding down the wall behind him. He felt himself pulled up by his shirtfront, his breath dragging agonizingly slowly through his throat as Drew's fist lashed out, mercifully minus the hammer this time, and struck brutally into his cheek. He collapsed to his knees, leaning hunched over, his uninjured arm wrapped around his aching ribs, the other hanging loosely at his side, pulsing with agony. A moment later, with barely enough time to catch his breath, he was hauled upright again, his knees sagging with the effort of holding his weight.

Then Drew was in his space again, his fingers digging into Blair's shoulders as he spat the words venomously into Sandburg's face. "You gonna behave, kid?"

Blair nodded woozily, his vision dipping and swirling. He managed to gasp an excuse. "I'm sorry, Drew. It was my first time. I panicked. Give me another chance."

Drew gave a feral grin, then pushed Blair to his knees. "You have a mouth made for fucking, kid. I ain't finished with you yet. Suck me off. Make it good and you get a reprieve."

Blair moaned as the floor thumped into him, jarring his injured arm. He bit down on his lip hard enough to feel a trickle of blood seep down his chin, then watched transfixed through his blurred sight as Drew unzipped his pants and pulled out his already hard, leaking cock.

Blair leaned forward and took the other man's engorged penis in his mouth. He put all the skills he'd learned from reading about how to do this into it and then when Drew was groaning and thrusting into his mouth and Blair could feel his pimp's cock beginning to pulse against his tongue, he bit down as hard as he could.

Drew jerked away, screaming, his hands shooting down to cover his injured manhood. He curled into a ball on the floor, writhing in pain and Blair grasped the moment. He was up and running for the door of the apartment before Drew could comprehend what had happened. Opening the door, Blair had hurtled up the flight of stairs, sideswiping the banister and the opposite wall in his dizzy bolt to freedom, groaning aloud with each agonizing collision, then out onto the street. Finally he'd spotted the dark alleyway and ducked inside, using the Dumpster as his protection against the predator he was sure would be only minutes behind.

Now, he listened carefully, to be sure Drew hadn't simply walked a few feet away and was waiting for Blair to emerge. Hearing nothing but his own heartbeat pounding in his ears, Blair managed to clamber unsteadily to his feet and stumble dizzily to the entrance of the alley, his broken arm cradled against his chest and held there by his other arm. Poking his head around the corner, he looked up and down the street. Apart from a couple of nighttime wanderers and a few cars, it was empty. He pushed himself forward on weary feet, momentarily considering finding a phone and calling for an ambulance or at least heading to the hospital, but cast that idea aside almost as soon as it was born. He had no wish to talk to the police about any of this. If word got back to the University about how he'd been going to pay his tuition, he'd be out anyway, and he'd already suffered enough to make losing his job and jeopardising his future career not an option.

With his brain occupied with trying to direct his feet forward as well as keep up with the chaos of his thoughts, Blair stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street. He heard the scream of brakes almost before he saw the headlights bearing down on him. He twisted away, almost crashing to his knees and screaming in pain as his broken arm flopped heavily from his protective embrace.

The vehicle stopped mere inches from him, he heard a car door slam and then a tall imposing figure approached him. Blair looked up, trying to focus but darkness overtook him and he felt himself falling. There was a muttered curse from the person standing above him. Then there was nothing at all.

~oOo~

"Shit!" Detective Jim Ellison looked down at the man he'd barely managed to catch in his arms. He swung a look around to find someone to call 911 but the only pedestrians were too far away to hear him.

He lowered the man to the ground, carefully placing a hand under the curly head to cushion the descent, then patted his own pockets in search of his cell phone. *Dammit* Not there. Thinking back, he remembered putting it on the kitchen counter to charge the battery before he went to bed. Then he'd had trouble sleeping through the *voices* and had gone out for a drive, leaving the phone on the counter.

Sighing, he turned his attention to the young man at his feet. There was a gash still seeping blood on the man's face and one arm was bent awkwardly at the wrist. Jim could see swelling and bruising apparent in the joint and he touched it gently, pulling back his fingers as the man groaned and his eyes opened slowly.

"It's okay. Take it easy. Try not to move. I'm going to get you to the hospital -"

"No!" The young man twisted in Jim's grasp and Jim pushed down firmly on his chest then swore as his 'patient' bucked against his restraining grip, his uninjured arm coming up to cover his ribs.

"Whoa, Chief. Don't move, all right. Nobody's going to hurt you. Look, I'm a cop."

That seemed to galvanise the man to further frenzy and Jim had time enough to wonder if the guy was a fleeing felon before he grabbed the man's shoulders again and pushed down, harder this time, not wanting to cause any additional pain but knowing if he couldn't keep the kid still, he'd injure himself further anyway. "Lie still!" he growled, his voice harsher than he intended.

It seemed to do the trick, the man slumping down on the ground again and looking up at Jim with pain-filled, fearful eyes. "I don't want to go to the hospital," he murmured. "I haven't done anything wrong."

"Maybe not, Chief, but somebody sure done *you* wrong," Jim quipped, trying to look reassuring. "Look, you've got a cut on your face and your lip, your wrist is almost definitely broken and you might have fractured a rib or three. Let me get you some help. You don't have to say anything about how this happened, if you don't want to. But believe me, kid, these aren't the sort of injuries you can just go home with and put a bandaid on."

The young man was still watching him, Jim noticed, but his eyelids kept blinking open and shut as if he was trying to keep himself from passing out again. "I can't go to the hospital," he repeated. "Please just let me go. I'll be okay, really. I'll go to the clinic on campus. It was just a misunderstanding."

"You're a student?" Jim asked. Made sense. The guy didn't look a day over 21.

The kid hesitated briefly then responded. "T.A."

Jim sat him up cautiously, using his knee to support the injured man's back, wincing in empathy at the muttered groans that were forced, obviously unwillingly, from between the kid's battered lips. "I know you don't want to tell me what happened…" he began, unsure of what to do. There was something about this young man that made Jim feel uncharacteristically protective and sure that his 'patient' was a victim, not a perp. "Look, let's make a deal here. I have some medic training plus I can call in a favor with a friend who's a doctor who won't report anything I tell him not to. You tell me your name, let me take you back to my place and get you patched up and I won't call 911. Deal?"

"Blair," the young man whispered. Then his face paled and he turned and threw up violently, narrowly missing Jim's shoes. "Sorry," he muttered, as he grimaced and retched as if at the bitterness of the bile left in his mouth.

"That's okay, Chief. Let's get you up." Jim bent and grabbed Blair under his good arm while supporting the fractured one in a soft grip, hauling his charge up as carefully as he could. He held on tightly as he looked his new friend over. "You gonna be able to make it to my truck?" he asked.

Blair nodded slowly, his eyes disorientated, his face a whiter shade than pale. "Yeah, sure, I'm fine." His eyes rolled back and Jim caught him again.

"Yeah, sure you are, Chief," Jim said as he hoisted Blair into his arms, resting the broken arm carefully across his stomach. He manhandled the unconscious man into the truck, laying him down on his side across the front seat. He climbed in himself and lifted the curly head, resting it across a muscular thigh. He looked at the police radio for a moment, then shook his head. He'd given the guy his word. He turned the truck around and headed back the way he'd come.

~oOo~

Blair had no sense of knowing where he was. The only things he was aware of were the painfully physical. There was a constant scream of agony from his arm as he felt it being moved and prodded and the sheer awfulness of it made his stomach heave. He dry-retched over and over but there was no comforting sense of feeling the nausea being expelled, only the crushing pain of the spasms tearing at his ribs. He shivered uncontrollably, the minute movements causing slivers of fire to burn through his arm and head and chest.

He felt his good arm being extended and a tightness binding it, making his pulse pound even harder in his head. He moaned aloud, hearing his pain in the sound he made but unable not to give voice to it, then felt a sharp pricking in his elbow and a hot/cold sensation as something was injected into him.

Almost immediately, he was floating, the pain no longer of any consequence. He sensed his body relaxing with the sheer bliss of being almost pain-free.

He could feel someone pulling at him, moving his injured arm and then the wet chill of something being wrapped around it. There were voices murmuring above him, their tones soothing and concerned.

One voice stood out above the other. "It's okay," it crooned. "Just relax, Chief. You're gonna be all right." The sheer sense of safety the voice conveyed to him warmed him and he huffed out a sigh as he felt his body continuing to unwind from the taut confines the pain had held him in.

Soon, the coldness abated and his arm grew warm, along with the rest of him. A damp cloth stroked across his forehead, over his face and down to his chest. He sighed at the cool comfort it brought and fought to open his eyes but his eyelids were laden, seemingly, with lead weights, and he surrendered to their pull and allowed himself to be swept into the darkness again.

 

~oOo~

"Jesus Christ, Ellison, are you fucking nuts?" Simon Banks' voice was loud in his incredulity.

Jim grabbed his captain's arm and pulled him away from the bed where Blair was sleeping restlessly. His sensitive ears picked up the sound of his charge's heartbeat beginning to accelerate as the young man began to twist on the bed. "Ssh, he's waking up." He pulled Banks over to the stairs and almost pushed his boss down. "I'll be down in a minute, sir. Let me get him settled again and I'll try to explain."

Banks shook his head but went.

Jim turned back to the bed.

Blair was trying to turn onto his back, his movements hampered by the unwieldy cast covering his arm from elbow to fingers and by the pillows Jim had piled up to support the fractured arm. The sheets had twisted around his body and Blair's legs were kicking out, almost frantically, in his efforts to escape their grasp. His eyes were still closed, Jim noticed, but there was a frown creasing his forehead and his eyelids were moving rapidly, the eyes beneath jittering as he fought the demons of his dreams.

Jim sat on the edge of the mattress and tentatively reached out a hand. He smoothed it across Blair's forehead, smiling as the younger man seemed to relax and turn into the caress. "It's okay," Jim soothed. "Go to sleep. You're safe here. I won't let anyone hurt you." He felt warmth encompassing his hand and moving up his arm as he continued the gentle movements.

Blair inhaled deeply as Jim stood and turned him back onto his side, repositioning the pillows under the plaster cast and untangling the sheets.

The detective waited a moment, ensuring his 'patient' had gone back to sleep. Then, obeying some inner instinct that he didn't even question, he bent forward and kissed Blair's cheek gently, just above the gash that Dan Wolfe had put four sutures in earlier. "You're safe now," he whispered. Then he turned and went downstairs to try to explain it all to his captain.

~oOo~

Ellison closed the door behind his captain with a sigh of relief. He wasn't sure if Banks had bought into everything Jim had told him - hell, Jim wasn't sure he bought into it himself, but they'd finally agreed to wait till Blair woke up properly before taking any further action.

Jim knew he was already skating on thin ice with the department. He'd had to take too many days off when he'd been unable to handle the smells, noise and sights of his surroundings - things that he'd once taken in his stride. After the Switchman case was wrapped up, he'd taken a week's leave and prowled doctor's offices and even the hospital once, looking for an easy answer. The only help he'd been offered was sedatives and injunctions to take even more time off.

When the PD had been taken over by a group called the Sunrise Patriots and their leader, Kincaid, Jim had somehow held things together enough to get inside the building, along with his boss and take down the terrorists. Simon had been amazed by what his lead detective had done that day. Jim hadn't told his captain that the whole time he'd felt as if he was just hanging onto his sanity by the skin of his teeth.

And it had gone steadily downhill from there. Major Crime had wrapped up the deliberate torching of a drug lab and sniffed out a dirty cop while they were at it, but Jim knew it was just a matter of time before his senses subsumed him and he'd have to give up everything that he felt made him what he was. He was a cop. It was all he knew how to be now.

But then tonight he'd met this kid, Blair, and everything had calmed the moment Jim had touched him. The distant voices he'd driven away from the loft to escape, were gone. Suddenly his senses seemed almost within his control again. He didn't deny to himself his overwhelming physical attraction to the grad student, either, though he had no intention of mentioning that to his superior.

Banks had given Jim a skeptical look when Ellison had said that he just 'knew' the kid wasn't a perp.

Jim had known immediately that the captain would run a check on Blair the minute he got outside. He felt unworried by that, confident that nothing would show up. He wasn't sure why he felt that way - so securely confident about a man he hadn't even really met yet. But he did and his certainty was borne out thirty minutes later when Banks called to say a background check had turned up nothing suspicious on a Blair Sandburg. In fact, he was what he'd said he was - a grad student and TA in the Anthropology Department at Rainier University.

Something about Blair had calmed Jim Ellison's inner turmoil the moment they'd laid eyes on each other. His senses seemed back to where he considered he had at least marginal control and now he found the confidence to do something he'd never dared to do. He deliberately focused his hearing up the stairs to the loft bedroom. Barely daring to breathe himself, he could hear the soft susurrations of Blair's own regular respirations and the steady, slow throb of his heart.

Jim smiled, then frowned as Blair's heart began to race. He took the stairs two at a time.

Blair was tossing and turning again, small moans whimpering between his lips. One hand fisted in the sheets and his knees pulled up, his feet kicking out as if warding off some invisible attacker.

Jim reached a hand out tentatively, as he had earlier, when it seemed as if his touch had soothed the young man. This time, however, his hand was knocked away and then Blair was surging up in the bed, a yell of pain bursting forth.

Blair looked around wildly, his hair flying about his face. He grimaced as he tried to clasp his plastered arm about his tender ribs, looking down finally at the white cast in obvious shock.

"Hey, Blair, take it easy. Don't thrash around. You're gonna hurt yourself. Let me help you." Jim leaned forward and grasped Blair's uninjured arm, levering the smaller man upright. He pulled the pillows from his own side of the bed over and piled them behind Blair's back, on top of the ones he'd brought up from the linen closet earlier.

Blair was panting now, his eyes still fearful.

Jim could see the kid's pulse beating a tattoo against his throat and he swallowed dryly as he fought against the feeling of wanting to lay a kiss right there. "It's okay," he said. "You're safe here." He waited a moment, then when Blair had finally fallen back against the pillows, he asked, "Do you remember what happened to you?"

Blair shook his head slowly, then nodded. "Some of it," he said quietly. "I got hurt. You were there. You said you'd take me to be looked after."

Jim nodded. "That's most of it, Chief. You walked right out in front of my truck. I almost hit you. You'd been beaten up. You said you didn't want to go to the hospital and I told you I was a cop and I'd take care of you…"

"Yeah. It sort've gets a bit hazy after that, man."

"Not surprising," Jim said. "The doctor who looked at you said you probably had a concussion, along with a broken wrist and a gash on your face. He put some sutures in there but he said you probably won't even have a scar. That cast on your arm, though, is a temporary one. You need to get your arm xrayed and a new cast made once the swelling goes down a bit. Don't worry too much. Dan's a good doctor."

Blair's fingers traced over the clear dressing covering the stitches. "Thanks for helping me. How much do I owe you for the doctor?"

"Forget it, Chief. Dan's a good friend and he works with me."

Blair frowned, his confusion causing him to look absurdly young. "He's a cop, too?"

"Coroner," Jim replied, grinning at the look of shock on Blair's face. "Hey, don't sweat it, Junior. He's taken care of worse off corpses than you. I think he got a kick out of dealing with a live one, for once."

"Good, good, I'm glad I could do that for him," Blair muttered. "Um, so… I'm sorry. Do I know your name? Did you tell me? I can't remember…"

Jim put out his hand and took Blair's in his, his heart missing a beat or three as that same feeling of warmth he'd experienced the last time he'd touched Blair, ran up his arm again. He smiled. "Jim Ellison."

"Hi, Jim. I'm Blair… Blair Sandburg."

Neither moved as blue eyes gazed upon blue.

Then Blair coughed and grabbed his ribs again. "Shit," he swore. "Ah, sorry, man. This sucks, you know."

"I can get you some painkillers," Jim offered. "Dan left some downstairs for when you woke up."

"You know, normally, I don't take anything like that," Blair muttered, his fingers white-tipped around his chest, "but right now, I won't say no, man. Thanks."

"Give me a minute, Chief." Jim flew down the stairs, collected the pills and a glass of water and was back up in his bedroom again faster than Carl Lewis in his heyday. He helped Blair sit up to swallow the analgesics then pushed him gently back down to recline against the pillows.

"You know, I'm thinking I probably really stink, considering I remember being up close and personal with a Dumpster and a dirty alleyway. I was wondering, could I take a shower or something before I leave?" Blair asked.

"Sure," Jim said easily. "We'll have to wrap your arm up in plastic wrap or something first. But you don't need to leave just yet. Get some rest first. You only just woke up. I promise I'll make sure you get home when you're up to it."

"I just don't wanna take advantage of your generosity, Jim. I mean, you've already gone above and beyond the call here."

"Let's get you downstairs," Jim said, pulling Blair up carefully. "Splint your ribs with your good hand, Chief. It helps. Believe me, I know." Jim grinned ruefully at the memory.

"Voice of experience, huh?" Blair asked, quirking a smile at his benefactor.

"Something like that," Jim replied.

By the time they made it downstairs, wrapped Blair's arm and got to the bathroom, Blair was muttering pain-filled oaths under his breath.

Jim turned on the shower and placed fresh towels on the sink. He turned to see Blair trying to fumble open the buttons on his shirt with his one good hand. He stepped over. "Need some help?" he asked, as he finished the job himself. He bit down hard on the inside of his lip as he raked his gaze over Blair's almost golden, hair-dusted skin, his libido taking more than a passing interest in it. The kid was thin, though, his ribs showing faintly under his skin. *Nothing a few square meals can't fix* Jim thought.

"Thanks," Blair murmured. His cheeks flushed as he looked down. "Um, I'm sorry, man, but I don't think I can manage the jeans either."

Jim felt warmth bathe his own face as he tentatively reached out and unbuttoned then unzipped Blair's jeans and pulled them down the young man's legs. "At least you're not going commando," he joked, as much to distract Blair's attention as for any other reason. "Think you can manage the boxers?" he asked as he pushed Sandburg down to sit on the commode and removed his shoes and socks and pulled the jeans the rest of the way off.

Blair nodded, his eyes fixed on the floor. "Yeah, I got it covered, man," he replied, laughing nervously.

"You sure, Chief?" Jim asked, standing up. He grinned as Blair nodded. "Okay. I'll go get you some clothes to wear for now. They might be a bit big but they'll be better than yours for tonight." With that he left the room and sprinted up the stairs to his room, returning with a sweat top and pants that he placed on top of the towels. "Sure you can manage?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'll be fine, Jim. Thanks."

Jim turned and walked toward the door. "I'll leave the door ajar. Don't want you to take a header, okay?"

"Yeah, that's cool." Blair stood up, still looking shaky but obviously waiting for Jim to leave before taking off his underwear.

Jim pulled the door partly closed as he left. He headed for the kitchen and pulled out a beer, chugging half the bottle without a spell. *What the hell's wrong with you?* he asked himself, mentally quelling the incipient hard-on that had made itself known as he'd helped Sandburg undress. *Get a grip, Ellison. He's a stranger. You don't even know him.* He gulped down the rest of the beer and went for another as his subconscious replied. *But I want to.*

~oOo~

Blair climbed carefully out of the shower, turning off the faucets and stood waveringly on the mat in front of the sink. He looked at his reflection in the mirror. *Shit! Not a good look* he thought as he took in the stitches marring his cheek and the bruises decorating the rest of his face. He'd be lucky to get a job haunting houses while he looked like this. He dried himself off as best he could one-handed then picked up his clothes. They looked as bad as the rest of him. He dropped them back down to the floor and awkwardly pulled on the sweat pants and top Jim had left for him. Exiting the bathroom, he stood uncertainly, unsure of what to do next.

Jim was rummaging around in the depths of the fridge but he looked up as Blair closed the bathroom door behind him.

"Hey, Chief, feeling better? I'm trying to find something to make for dinner but the pickings are pretty slim in here. I don't go shopping much - too many distractions, gives me migraines. You like Chinese? We could order in."

Blair nodded. "Yeah, I like Chinese but I don't have any money… Oh wait, yeah, I do. Someone gave me some money just before… um, well, it's in my pocket. I'll go get it," Blair said, suddenly nervous, unsure of just how much Ellison knew of how he'd come by that money.

"Forget it, kid. I'll pay. You can pay me back later."

Jim looked shrewdly at Blair and Sandburg suddenly had the distinct impression that Ellison knew just where that money had come from and what it had been for.

"Okay, thanks. I'm really grateful for everything you've done, man," Blair said quickly.

"Well, like I said, Chief, I do expect you to pay me back. As a matter of fact, you can start right now," Jim said, moving over to stand in front of Blair and reaching out to take his arm.

Blair swallowed visibly, his eyes dropping to Jim's belt. "What do you want me to do? You want my hand, my mouth, what? I gotta tell you I'm new at this though. I mean, really new. I've never actually done any of this before. I mean, I was supposed to but I chickened out and that's why Drew was so pissed-"

"Whoa, whoa, slow down, kid. That's not what I meant, though you've managed to tell me at least some of what I wanted to ask you." Jim looked at Blair and tightened his grip. "You look about ready to fall in a heap again, Chief. Let's get you over to the couch, then I'll order dinner. Then, when we've eaten, you're gonna repay my generosity… by telling me exactly what the hell happened to you tonight. Okay?"

Blair's eyes were burning and he reached his good hand up and rubbed at them, feeling the warmth of tears on his fingers. "Thanks," he said softly. "I'm sorry. I thought you wanted…"

"Come on," Jim said firmly. "Let's get you settled, Blair."

~oOo~

Blair finished his recital of the night's events and looked up at the man who had become his protector. If Jim didn't believe him, he gave no sign of it. There was a rap on the door and Blair jumped.

"It's okay, just dinner," Jim said quickly, flashing him a reassuring smile. "Settle down, Chief." He went to the door and paid for the food then brought the takeout bags to the dining table. Leaving them there, he retrieved plates and cutlery from the kitchen, along with two bottles of water. He looked across at Blair. "Grub's up," he said. "Need some help getting up?"

Blair nodded. "I think my muscles stiffened up on me again."

Jim walked across and levered him upright then kept a hand under his elbow as they maneuvered over to the dining table, where Blair sank down gratefully with a barely suppressed groan.

"Just as well this is already cut up," Jim said as he dished portions of food onto Blair's plate and handed him a fork. "So, this guy, Drew, he's a pimp, right?" he went on.

"Guess so," Blair mumbled around a mouthful of cashew chicken and rice. "Um, Jim, I really don't want to press charges, okay? I can't have something like this showing up on my record. The Uni finds out and I'm gone, man."

Jim nodded. "No problem. It's your decision. So, what's your thesis on?"

Blair blushed a little, looking down and fiddling with his fork. "Sentinels," he replied, barely above a whisper.

"Sentinels? As in?" Jim asked.

"Look, you're not really interested in this, man. It's sorta complicated. Most people think it's a myth but I read something once, a while ago, back when I wasn't more than a kid and it caught my interest, that's all." Blair smiled self-consciously.

"I'm interested, Chief. Tell me about it." Jim put down his fork and looked across the table into Blair's eyes. They were so blue. He blinked and pulled his sight back, feeling as if he'd been on the verge of drowning in their depths, his heart thudding fast, his jeans tightening as his body took note of his interest in the young man sitting across from him. Jesus, what was it about this kid that had got to him so fast? Clearing his throat, he went on. "Really. I'm listening, Blair."

"Okay. Um, it goes like this. Years ago, I was given a book. It was over a hundred years old and it was written by a guy called Sir Richard Burton…" Blair smiled and went on quickly, "the explorer, not the actor. Anyway, Burton said that in all tribal cultures, every village had a sentinel. Now, this was someone who patrolled the borders-"

"You mean, like a scout," Jim interjected.

"No, no, more like a watchman. See, this sentinel would watch for approaching enemies, changes in the weather, movement of game. Tribe survival depended on him."

Jim smiled. The kid was getting wound up, his hands going a mile a minute, his head bobbing, making his dark curls cascade around his still pale face. His eyes were alight with his obvious love for his subject. Jim briefly wondered how it would feel to have Blair's face light up like that for him. Ruthlessly, he tossed that thought aside. From what he'd heard already the kid had been as good as raped last night. Jim doubted the guy would be interested in a relationship with anyone for a while. He refocused his attention, but Blair had stopped talking and was just watching him now, as if waiting for Jim to say something and Jim realized suddenly he'd been asked a question. "Sorry, I was thinking about something else for a minute. What did you ask me?"

"I was just saying I remember now where I know you from. You're that guy who was lost in Peru for over a year a while back, aren't you?" Blair asked again.

Jim nodded. "Yeah, that was me."

"Right, right. Oh and you've been on the news recently too. Something to do with a dirty cop…" Blair stopped abruptly, his good hand covering his mouth for a moment. "Shit! You investigated that drug lab that blew up next to where I was living, didn't you?"

"That was you?" Jim blew out a whistle. "Small world. One of the other detectives must have interviewed you. I was too busy dealing with the gangs. I heard there was some hippie type grad student living there," Jim grinned broadly, "but apparently you weren't there when it happened so…"

"No, I was out. I came back and got my stuff - well, as much as survived, anyway, and Larry, my ape - don't ask, man." Blair laughed as Jim raised an inquiring eyebrow. "Anyway, like I was saying about this sentinel stuff… um, you want me to go on? I know I get carried away about it…"

"Go on, Blair." Jim suppressed a smile. The kid had looked so unsure of himself for a moment there. Jim made a mental note to stop calling him the kid. Blair had to be at least 25 or 26; he was a grad student and a TA, a young man, not a kid. And he'd obviously had to take care of himself for a while. He marshalled his attention as he heard Blair start to speak again.

"Right, so where was I? Oh yeah, um, a sentinel is chosen because of a genetic advantage, a sensory awareness that can be developed beyond those of normal humans. Now, these heightened senses are honed by time spent alone in the wild -" He stopped as Jim stood up so suddenly his chair tipped and crashed to the floor behind him. Blair stood as well, grabbing his ribs as his body tried to tell him to take it slower. "Jim? You okay? Did I say something wrong?"

"How did you know?" Jim asked, his voice low and expressionless. "Who put you up to this? What sort of scam are you running here, Sandburg?"

"What? I don't know what you mean, Jim. Oh God, how many?" Blair asked, his voice dropping to a stunned whisper as understanding blossomed in his eyes. He looked up as Jim stalked around the table and stood in front of him.

"Like you don't know all my senses are heightened, Sandburg. What were you gonna do? Worm your way into my life so you could use me like some sort of lab rat then sell your book or whatever to the highest bidder? Hooking too hard a life for you? Guess you wouldn't make too much money at it if you keep stealing your customers' money and running out on them before they even get you into bed!" Jim spat, suddenly aware that his hands were fisted into the front of the sweat top, almost lifting the smaller man off his feet. He could hear the pained gasps of breath as Blair's body fought the strain, hear his heartbeat thundering away in fear but he was too angry to care, angrier than he'd ever been in his life. He'd been betrayed before but something about Blair had touched a place deep inside him, a place he'd sworn nobody would ever touch again and now to find out it had all been a lie, a sham…

"You think I got myself beat up and almost raped just so I could run some scam on you? Until just now I had no idea… Man, all five? I can help you, Jim. There are things we can do to help you get control-" Blair yelped as he found himself barrelled back, his still tender back hitting the wall behind him.

"Listen, you neo-hippie witch doctor punk!" Jim snarled, his face almost up against Blair's, his breath hot on Blair's face. "I could hit you up right now with harassing a police officer. And from what you told me about last night, I've got good reason to run your ass downtown and have you booked for prostitution." He opened his hands and let Blair fall to land heavily on his feet, the unexpected jolt making Sandburg grab at his ribs again. He moved back and motioned to the door. "Just get out of here, Sandburg, before I change my mind about turning you loose. Stay away from me, all right?"

"Listen, man, I can help you with this. You gotta believe me, I had no idea…" Blair grunted as he felt himself grabbed by the scruff of his neck, his long hair pulling in the tight grip of Ellison's fist. He saw the door pulled open and then he was outside, on the landing and he turned just in time to watch the door slam shut in his face. He knocked and waited. Nothing, no sound from inside. Leaning up against the door he called out. "Jim, man, look, there's something else I gotta warn you about." Silence. "Shit!"

Blair turned and wandered dizzily over to sit on the top step of the stairs. His head ached fiercely and his gut was churning ominously. Oh god! He felt the bile rising up from his stomach and pulled himself carefully to his feet. There was a trashcan next to the elevator and he made it just in time, falling to his knees in front of it. It hurt, his cracked ribs protesting the spasms while the resulting pain in his head and belly just made him retch even more. Finally, with nothing left to bring up, he slumped to the side, tears streaming from his burning eyes. He scrubbed at them then pushed himself up and pressed the button for the elevator. The way he felt right now, he'd take a header down the stairs for sure. Ellison wouldn't be happy if he came out and tripped over Blair's dead body at the foot of his stairs. Then again… Blair smiled to himself shakily. *Jesus! How the hell had it all gone wrong so fast? *

A bell signalled the arrival of the car and he stepped inside, clinging tightly to the rail so as not to fall down again.

Outside the apartment building, he ignored the frankly curious looks thrown his way by passersby and stumbled off at a shambling walk. He had no idea where he could go. He couldn't go back to his friend's place. That was where Drew would be watching out for him. Instinct took over and he followed behind, uncaring where it took him.

~oOo~

Jim walked away from the door he'd slammed in Sandburg's face. Leaning over, he picked up the toppled chair and righted it, then mechanically began to tidy up the remains of the meal. He stiffened as he heard a hesitant rap on the door and then Sandburg's voice. He couldn't make out the words and had no intention of trying to focus his hearing to find out what the man was saying. Distantly, he heard the elevator bell ding, then the sound of the doors closing. He ruthlessly concentrated on the task at hand and finished clearing up, putting the leftover food into plastic containers and then, uncharacteristically, leaving them on the counter. He doubted he'd ever feel like finishing that food, after tonight. He grabbed a beer from the fridge instead, picked up the cordless phone and sat down on the couch.

For long moments, he simply stayed there, his mind whirling, the beer and phone forgotten in his hands. How *had* Sandburg known about his senses? Jim cast his mind back over the past few months. The only person he'd said anything about it to was Simon and Banks certainly would have kept his confidence. Maybe someone at the hospital had contacted Sandburg, someone who knew what the guy was working on for his thesis. Jim had only gone to the hospital once for a series of tests though. When the test results hadn't turned up anything, he'd decided it was probably just stress after all, and never gone back. Still, it could've been someone who'd seen his records there.

He gulped the beer down quickly and placed the empty bottle on the coffee table. As angry as he'd been before, now he was more confused than anything else. No matter which way he looked at it, now he'd calmed down, he knew he didn't entirely believe Blair had been trying to con him. He felt it with the same surety he'd felt when he'd first found the kid injured on the street and known instantly that Blair wasn't a perp. *Dammit! * Standing up, Jim dialed his Captain's home number.

//Sir, Ellison here. Look, I'm sorry to bother you at home but I need to talk to you. //

//Well, talk, Jim. I've got a date with a pizza and a ballgame in about a half-hour, // Banks replied.

//Um, I can't really do this over the phone. Could you come to the loft? You could catch the game here.// Jim looked across to where the meal he'd packed into Tupperware containers sat waiting to be put into the fridge. //I've got some Chinese here. I could nuke it. Or I'll call for a pizza when you get here.//

//That important, huh, Jim?//

Jim heard the resigned sigh whisper across the line.

//All right. I'll be there in twenty. This better be good, Jim. Hey, is this something to do with that kid you picked up?//

//I'll explain everything when you get here, Simon. And thanks. //

~oOo~

Blair came to a stumbling halt and looked around blearily at where he'd ended up. In front of him was the burnt-out remains of his former home, the old warehouse now only a husk of a building. The roof was mostly intact, however, and feeling weary down to his bones, he shuffled over and pushed past the debris that had been left behind in the doorway after the police investigation had been wrapped up.

The stairs were gone, he noticed, the whole building now collapsed down to one level, its walls blackened with soot and marked by the remains of the water and foam that had been sprayed on the conflagration that night.

He slumped down on the floor, curling onto his side, his plastered arm pulled up against his aching ribs, his other arm pillowing his head. He closed his eyes, trying to will his thoughts into some sort of cohesive order.

He had no money. He'd left the money the john had given him in the pocket of the jeans he'd left at Ellison's apartment. His stomach growled with hunger. The food he'd eaten at Jim's place had been tossed into the trashcan, along with what felt like a goodly portion of his stomach lining. He was thirsty but he could see no faucets left intact and there'd been no rain for several days, so he couldn't even find a puddle to drink from. At least the sweats Ellison had given him to wear were warm and thick, though he knew they wouldn't do much to keep out Cascade's nighttime chill for long. His body ached and throbbed. Ellison had given him two of the painkillers the doctor had left for him, but that had been several hours ago and the pill bottle was at the apartment, well out of Blair's reach now.

The worst thing, though, was the sheer crushing hurt he felt in his heart at what had transpired between himself and Jim. He'd been so scared when he'd come round in the street and heard Ellison say he was a cop. But the man had picked him up and taken him to his home and cared for him, not asking anything in return, except an explanation.

Blair had felt such warmth inside when Jim had said he didn't expect Blair to service him, that he just wanted answers. The man's kindness had touched Blair's heart and he'd felt the beginning of something more… a bond, almost, between them.

Then, when he'd realized that the detective was a sentinel, something Blair had been searching for almost his whole life, his breath had caught in his lungs. For just a moment, until Jim had exploded at him, he'd wondered if their meeting had been pre-ordained.

Burton had written much about sentinels, less about their partners, saying only that the sentinel always had someone to help them, to watch their backs while they were focused on using their unique abilities. But, reading between the lines of Burton's work, Blair had always wondered if a sentinel's partner could be just anyone. He'd decided, eventually, that the sentinel would need someone he could trust absolutely, someone with whom he would have a special connection, maybe someone he would grow to love, given their unique reliance on each other. And what were the odds, after all, that Blair would run to that particular alley to escape Drew, then walk out into the street just as his very own Holy Grail happened to be passing by…

His thoughts meandered, overlapping each other until he could no longer keep up with them. Finally, exhausted, hurting in body and soul, he slept.

~oOo~

"Okay," Banks said, having sat patiently and listened to Jim's recitation of the night's events, "let me see if I've got this right. You picked up this guy, Sandburg, after you almost ran him down. You saw he was injured and he became distressed when you said you'd take him to the hospital and when you said you were a cop. Uh-uh, not finished yet…" Simon held up a firm hand as Jim tried to interject. "All right, so you just had this 'feeling' that he hadn't done anything wrong so you brought him back here, got Dan Wolfe to come patch him up and took care of him for the rest of the time. When the kid wakes up, he tells you he's writing his thesis on something called sentinels and says they're people with heightened senses. Now, you told me this is something you've been having problems with yourself, that your senses seem out of whack. So, now, you decide this young man, who, only hours before you'd told me was on the up and up, is some sort of flim-flam man out to make a fortune out of you. That about the size of it, Jim?"

Jim nodded, his eyes staring steadfastly at the floor, his cheeks reddening.

"Okay. How did he know about you, Jim? You only told me as far as I know. Oh wait, the doctors and the hospital. But why? I mean, aside from writing about you in his thesis, how's he going to make money out of this? I mean, I thought you were yanking my chain when you told me what was happening to you. You really think anyone would pay this kid money to track you down and study you just in the hopes a publisher would want to pay him a lot of money for the rights to his book? Come on, Jim. That's crazy!" Simon said firmly. He'd thought Ellison was nuts taking Sandburg into his home on a whim, he'd be the first to admit that. But he'd done some digging through a contact he had in the faculty at the university since then and everything had come back as being above board. In fact, Sandburg was apparently well respected and well liked at the University. "Look, Jim, the way I heard it, Sandburg's had it pretty tough over the past year or so. His mother was killed in that tsunami in Fiji and he's had money problems since then. But the person I spoke to about him had nothing bad to say about the guy."

"I know," Jim said quietly, looking up at last. "I know he wouldn't do what I accused him of doing. Don't ask me how I know. I just do but… I panicked. He said he could help me with this stuff and I picked him up anyway and tossed him out."

Banks surged to his feet. "You've been bitching about nobody being able to help you with this shit for months. Finally someone comes along who says I know what's going on with you and I know how to fix it and you immediately peg him as a conman and throw him out into the streets. I know I've said this before only recently, Jim, but… are you fucking nuts?"

"Probably," Jim whispered. "I don't know what got into me, Simon. I'm not sure if I can explain it. There was some connection between us, between Blair and me -"

"You mean sexual?" Simon interrupted, sitting down again.

"That too, on my part at least. Jesus, Simon, you know I'm bi. It's never bothered you before."

"Doesn't now," Simon said evenly. "Go on."

"This connection went beyond that. I felt as if I could trust him with everything about me. Then he blurts out this stuff about knowing about people with heightened senses and I just lost it. I thought he was just using me…" Jim's voice trailed off. Suddenly he sat straighter and spoke in measured tones. "I should have known he wasn't, just like I knew he hadn't done anything wrong when I found him. But I've just had this fear of anyone knowing about this stuff, as if I need to keep it secret."

"You told me," Simon said.

"I had to. You knew I was losing it," Jim replied.

"So, what do we do now?" Simon asked. "You really think this kid can help you?"

Jim nodded, then stood and handed Simon his jacket. "I need to find him, Simon, but I need someone with me. I might need to use my senses but they're not very reliable right now. Sometimes I seem to black out for a while -"

"Oh great! What the hell am I supposed to do if that happens?" Banks asked, pulling on his jacket resignedly.

"I have no idea, Simon. So far, I've seemed to come back because something else happens, a loud noise or something. I don't know. Hit me or something. That ought to work."

Jim pulled his own jacket from the hook and headed out the door. His stomach was churning as if something was about to happen, something bad, not to him, to Blair. He waited for Simon to exit the apartment then locked the door behind him. *Hang on, Blair. I'm coming.* his mind whispered.

Jim ran down the stairs ahead of Simon and through the lobby doors. On the street, he stopped and looked around. There was no sign of Blair, not that he really expected there to be. Damn it! He'd waited too long! He should have gone after him sooner. How the hell was he going to find him now? He knew nothing really about Sandburg apart from what the grad student had told him earlier. Suddenly, he turned to Banks.

"Simon, you said you checked up on Blair," Jim said, turning to the captain. "Did you find out where he was living?"

Simon shrugged. "Not on campus, I remember that much. I didn't take much notice of the address once I was sure he was on the up and up, Jim. Over on Whitley, I think. I'm sorry, Jim. I should have written it down but at the time -"

"It's okay, Simon, I doubt he'd go back there anyway," Jim said quietly. "He'd know that's where the guy who beat him would go looking for him. Shit! Simon, remember that drug lab that exploded in a warehouse last month? Blair was living next door-"

"You're kidding me?" Simon replied, his eyes widening. He shook his head. "No, you're not. Okay. You think that's where he went?"

"Maybe. I don't think this Drew guy knew about that place so Blair would probably feel safe going there," Jim replied, walking toward his truck and unlocked the doors, swinging up behind the wheel.

Simon hurried after him and climbed into the passenger seat. Inside, he looked over at Jim. "That place wasn't much more than a shell last time I saw it, Jim. Why the hell would the kid go there?"

Jim glanced at his captain as he pulled out into the traffic. "I think it was the last place he felt safe, Simon," he replied softly, feeling his heart clench as he spoke. "He thought he was safe with me but I soon cleared up that little misconception, didn't I?"

~oOo~

Blair sensed the presence at his side before his eyes were fully open. He groaned as he pushed himself to sit up, his movements hampered by the unwieldy cast on his arm and the stiffening of his aching muscles.

"Jim?' he whispered, his voice husky, peering up through blurry vision to make out the identity of the figure standing above him.

"Who's Jim?" the man sneered. "Got yourself a new pimp, already, kid?"

Blair jolted back, wincing as his back met the wall behind him. He tried to push himself to his feet but they slithered out from under him as Drew reached down and pushed him roughly back to the ground.

"How did you find me?" Blair asked, pressing back against the wall, trying to put as much distance between himself and his tormentor as possible.

"Jax told me you used to live here." Drew looked around at the partly demolished surroundings, a look of disdain on his face. "Shit, kid. You should stick with me. Even a slum rat like you can't really want to live like this."

"Just leave me alone, Drew. I'll pay you back the money, all right?" Blair managed to get to his knees then shakily, to his feet. He stood, one hand extended in front of his body as if to ward off the blows that he knew would soon be coming.

Drew laughed harshly. "Not this time, Blair. You really pissed me off when you bit me. It's not about money anymore. This is about obedience. Nobody does what you did to me and lives to brag about it."

He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small handgun. He lifted it, aiming it at Blair's head. "Nice, isn't it? It's small, I know but it'll kill just as well as one of those big cannons the cops use. And it doesn't spoil the line of my jacket. Turn around, Blair." Drew's voice was flat and hard.

Blair shook his head. "You want to shoot me, Drew, you can do it while I'm looking at you," he said. The words quavered but his gaze was steady as he held Drew's eyes with his own.

"Whatever," Drew said, shrugging. "Either way you'll be dead."

"Or you will be," came another voice from behind Drew's left shoulder. "Put your hands up."

Blair stared in shock as a tall black man moved around to wrench the gun from Drew's hand. "I said, put your hands up," the stranger said, grinding his own weapon harshly into Drew's neck.

Drew and Blair both complied.

The man with the gun looked over at Blair and shook his head, an amused grin on his face. "Not you, kid."

"Oh." Blair dropped his hands, watching with bemusement as the man pulled handcuffs from his belt and shackled Drew to one of the stair railings that had survived the blast. "Who are you?" he asked finally.

"Oh right, we never actually met. I'm Captain Simon Banks, Jim's boss."

Blair peered into the night shadows behind Banks. "Where's… Oh man," he muttered as his vision momentarily greyed out. He bent double, placing his good hand on his knee and tried to take deep breaths. Unfortunately, that hurt his ribs too much and he contented himself with panting shallowly through his lips, willing himself not to throw up.

Suddenly, there was an arm around his waist and a concerned voice was telling him to take it easy.

Blair straightened and blinked, his sight clearing a little. "Where's Jim?" he asked.

"He's outside. Listen, Sandburg, Jim told me that you think you know what's going on with him? Is that right?" Banks asked as he moved Blair toward the outside of the building. He stopped and threw a dangerous look at Drew. "Just relax and wait there, pimp boy," he snarled. "I'll be back for you in a few minutes."

"What's happened to Jim?" Blair asked, fear making his gut churn again. "Is he okay?"

Banks sighed. "Well, if you like giant flesh-covered doorstops, he's fine. But I think the neighbors might find a 6 foot cop standing staring at nothing a little unsettling come morning. I hit him, I yelled at him but it was like he was in some sort of trance or something."

"The zone-out factor," Blair said quietly. "I… I was gonna warn him about that but he… um… he…"

"He went ballistic," Banks added.

"Yeah. Oh God," Blair stopped dead as they rounded a corner of the building and he saw Jim standing stock-still a few feet away. He covered the small distance hesitantly, Banks supportive arm around his waist urging him on.

"What did he zone on?" Blair asked, turning unsteadily to Banks.

Banks shot him a look that clearly said, "How the hell should I know?" then the big man shrugged and replied, "He said he was listening. He knew there were two people inside and he said he could tell from your heartbeat that you were scared. Is that possible? That he could hear your heartbeat?" There was a faint undertone of disbelief to the captain's words.

"Yeah, I think he could," Blair said softly, reaching out tentatively and clasping the Sentinel's bicep with his good hand. "If he zoned on hearing, I might be able to bring him back through touch and smell."

Banks took his supporting arm from around Blair's waist and stepped back, giving him room to work.

Blair moved his hand down Jim's arm till he reached his wrist then back up the arm again, over the strong muscles of his shoulder to his neck, ending by cupping the detective's cheek in the palm of his hand. He knew he probably smelled pretty ripe right now and that under normal circumstances, Jim probably wouldn't want him anywhere upwind. Then again, these weren't normal circumstances and as deep as it looked like Jim had gone, a good strong whiff of sweat and blood just might do the trick. With that thought in mind, Blair moved around in front of the Sentinel, keeping his hand on Jim's face. He moved in close till he was almost plastered up against the detective's chest and tucked his head under the taller man's chin. His thumb moved caressingly over the stubbled cheek as he began to talk in a low voice.

"Come on, Jim. I know you're in there somewhere. I know you can feel my hand on your face, man. I want you to concentrate on that, feel the warmth of my skin, feel the blood going through my veins. Reach out for me, Jim. You can smell me, I know. I'm right here with you, Jim. Follow my scent back." Blair jumped as a hand grabbed him around the back of the neck and moved him an inch away. "Jim?" He looked up and smiled as he saw Ellison blink slowly then inhale a deep breath. "Welcome back, man."

Jim gazed down at him, a smile tilting his own lips. "You could use a shower, Chief."

Blair felt his face heat as he heard Banks chuckle behind him and he realized he still had his hand on Jim's face. He moved to pull it away but Jim caught it in his own, pressing it back against his skin and giving it a gentle squeeze. Then he allowed Blair to pull it away.

"Thanks, Chief." Jim said. "Hey, Simon. I take it you managed without me?"

Banks laughed. "Was there ever any doubt? You look like you're in good hands, Jim. I'd better go round up pimp-boy in there and call in the cavalry to take him downtown." He glanced over his shoulder at Blair as he turned to go. "You do good work, Sandburg. Jim could use a partner like you. Keep him out of trouble, you know? Think about it. I could probably wangle you an observer's pass, if you're interested."

"Um, I guess… that's if Jim wants me -"

His words were cut off by Jim's mouth claiming his own. Then Jim pulled away and caressed his cheek with a warm hand. "I want you, Blair. I'm sorry I reacted the way I did -"

Blair took a leaf out of the Sentinel's book and shut off Jim's apologies with his lips. Pulling back, he said, "Fear-based response, Jim. Don't sweat it, man. We'll work on it."

Jim turned him in the direction of the truck, his arm around Blair's waist. He knew the young man was in pain and that exhaustion was creeping up on him, now the adrenaline had drained away. He could feel small shudders beginning to assail the young man's body. "First stop, hospital, Blair. Then I'll take you home."

Blair looked up at the man he now knew was his Blessed Protector and Holy Grail rolled into one and nodded. "Okay, Jim."

~oOo~

"It looks gross, man," Blair said, as he held up the object of his distaste and turned it this way and that.

"It doesn't look gross, Blair," Jim rejoined, taking the subject of Blair's complaints into his own hand and rubbing along it gently.

"It's all white and skinny looking," Blair griped. "I look lop-sided."

"Chief, settle down, will you?" Jim tugged on Blair's shoulder till the younger man was reclining against him, the curly head resting on Jim's broad chest. He held up Blair's arm again and examined it closely. "Hmm, now that you mention it, it does look sorta puny, babe. I think it needs some sunshine and exercise now that it's out of the cast."

"Smartass!" Blair tilted his head up and around and nipped the nipple closest to him. The action only caused Jim to moan softly and hump his cock against the soft skin of Blair's thigh.

"Well, being as we're in Cascade and it's raining out, we can't do much about the sunshine right now," Jim said, continuing his slow rock against his lover's leg, "but the exercise now… I think I've got just the thing for that." He grinned as Blair put his head down again and snaked his newly healed arm down to grip Jim's cock in a loose hold. "Yeah, that's the exercise I was thinking of, honey."

Blair moved closer so he could grind his own cock against the hardness of Jim's hip.

"Oh Blair, baby, don't stop," Jim managed to mutter as Blair's fingers swept up over the sensitive head of his penis then back down to the base again, the gentle tease making his balls tingle with desire.

Blair firmed his grip, squeezing and releasing with exquisite pressure as his lover's precome lubricated his hand.

Jim bucked up into the pleasuring, feeling Blair's hardness burning into the skin of his hip, hearing Blair's panting breaths against his skin. He pushed into Blair's hand again and again, then moaned as his muscles seized and he climaxed, his seed jetting out over Blair's fingers.

Blair shuddered against him and Jim turned onto his side, pushing Blair to his back. The young man's hips arched into the air, seeking friction for his release. Jim held him in place with one arm across his hips then he rose to his knees and bent forward, taking Blair's cock into his mouth, his tongue first licking around the head, then sliding his lips down to the base. He hollowed his cheeks and sucked hard as he dragged his lips back up the shaft, one hand creeping down to fondle Blair's balls. He drew his mouth away from his prize long enough to wet his index finger and traced it over Blair's perineum and up between his ass cheeks as he took the hard cock into his mouth again. As he moved his mouth down over the head of Blair's penis again, he teased his lover's entrance with his slick finger.

Blair groaned and humped his mouth, then pushed down onto the sweet torment at his center.

Jim flicked his tongue into the slit at the crown of Blair's cock then gently pushed his finger inside Blair's body, unerringly finding and nudging his prostate. Blair's whole body spasmed as he came, his semen pulsing hotly into Jim's mouth.

Hours, or perhaps only minutes later, Jim levered himself onto one elbow and leaned down to kiss his lover's lush mouth.

"I think I died and went to heaven, big guy," Blair said.

"Took me with you, sweetheart," Jim replied. He relaxed down against the pillows again, pulling Blair's heated, sated body to rest against his side. "I'll get something to clean us up… in a while," he said, grinning. "Just let me get my breath back, okay? I'm not as young as I used to be."

"You're as young as the man you're feeling," Blair quipped. "Which makes you about 26."

"Hey, Chief, you're sure about being my partner - at work, I mean, aren't you? I'm not an easy guy to work with. I've worked alone so long…"

"Ssh," Blair whispered, his fingers tapping caressingly at Jim's lips. "I want to do it, Jim. I want to be your partner in everything - at work, at home. Besides, I'd worry myself sick if you were out there on the streets without me to guide you. You need me, man."

Jim leaned forward and kissed Blair's eyelids then his mouth, gently and sweetly. "You're right about that, Chief. I do need you. Always will."

Blair placed a kiss on Jim's chest, feeling the warmth of his Sentinel's skin against his lips. "It's a done deal then, babe. You need me. I need you. It's symbiosis, man." Pulling away, he yawned mightily. "Goodnight, Jim. I love you."

"I love you too, Chief. Goodnight. Sweet dreams - for both of us."

The End