A RAMPART TO THE MIND

BY: Annie and Lyn

EMAIL: Annie - Lyn

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Many thanks to Starwatcher and Aouda Fogg for their invaluable insight and hard work in betaing this story.

PROLOGUE

But gathering as we stray, a sense
Of Life, so lovely and intense,
It lingers when we wander hence,
That those who follow feel behind
Their backs, when all before is blind,
Our Joy, a rampart to the mind…

John Masefield

Jim watched Blair clearing up the dishes from dinner and couldn’t help smiling. His partner was bouncing around the kitchen, mouthing the words of some unknown song, a small smile lighting up his face from time to time. He looked better than he had for a long time, though Jim wasn’t entirely convinced that all was back to normal. Blair still looked entirely too pale to sentinel sight. His clothes still hung too loosely on his slender frame, despite the slow return of his appetite, and, when he wasn’t keeping Jim awake the past few nights with the cough he seemed unable to shake, he was tossing and turning, muttering incomprehensible ramblings. Still, he seemed happy enough, had acquitted himself well on their last case, and seemed eager to get on with the job he’d chosen as his new career.

They’d heard from Laura MacKenzie’s parents, too. A brief phone call had let them know that Laura was well on the way to recovery and about to begin physical therapy on her ankle. That news had lifted both their spirits and erased some of the horror of that night on the mountain. Jim still found his mind drifting back at odd moments, his imagination and Simon's description providing images of what Blair had done to bring him back from the brink of death. He still believed what he'd told Simon. That it must have been the intervention of their spirit animals that had given Blair the apparent ability to heal his Sentinel but… and there always had to be a but when it came to anything to do with the Sentinel stuff, Jim thought ruefully. Blair had been right; neither of them had seen their spirit animals this time. Eventually, when his thoughts started to circle in his head and began to tail end each other, Jim decided to just give up worrying it to death. He was alive and Blair was on his way to recovery. That was what really mattered.

Jim was feeling more at ease within himself too. He’d expected, when Blair found out that he planned to throw his job away, that Blair would opt to do the same thing; he’d been startled when Blair had merely turned to Simon and demanded a new partner. Looking back now, Jim thought the vacation in Hawaii had given both men the space they needed to think things through and make independent decisions about their lives without the pall of previous failures hanging over them. A few weeks ago, they’d both been ready to give up and throw it all away, not wanting the other to suffer any longer. Now, things seemed clearer, more promising.

~o0o~

Pottering around in the kitchen, Blair was well aware of Jim’s scrutiny of him. He wondered if it was still Jim’s somewhat overprotective habit kicking in or whether he had picked up on Blair’s nervousness. Maybe Jim could smell it! Jim had told Blair once that if you were a Sentinel, you really could smell fear. He’d described it as a sour, unhealthy taint that heightened a person’s body odor. Blair frowned, remembering the smell he’d picked up emanating from Lacey. That hadn’t been fear though, just pure evil. He still wasn’t entirely sure what all that had been about, or the incident on the mountain. Had it been some weird mirroring of Jim’s Sentinel abilities, like when Jim had revived Blair at the fountain, or had it been some kind of psychic phenomenon because Blair had wanted so desperately to bring Jim back? He’d read plenty of stories where people had been able to lift cars off loved ones - the flight or fight syndrome. Was that what it had been? He hadn’t seen the panther or the wolf that night. Still…

He sighed. Here he was, going over and over it again and, even from here, he could almost see Jim’s pupils dilating as he picked up Blair’s slowly elevating heartbeat, trying to figure out what had Blair so excited this time. Best to get back to what was really bothering him. How to tell Jim…

~o0o~

ACT ONE

"So, Chief, what's this news that's had you bouncing around all day like the cat that got the cream?" Jim asked when Blair tossed aside the dishcloth and came into the living room. He smiled when Blair sat on his lap and placed a chaste kiss on his lips.

"Simon wanted to talk to me today,” Blair began. “Apparently, the Commissioner is really happy with our solve rate in the last couple of cases we’ve worked…" Blair's voice trailed off and, giving a sigh, he slid off Jim's lap to sit beside him. Picking up Jim's nearest hand, he stroked gently over the back of it before entwining their fingers together.

"He should be happy," Jim said. "A lot of that success came from you and those observational skills of yours. Especially the Davis case, last week.” That last assignment had been a tough one - a serial killer with no apparent M. O. It had taken Blair’s innate talent at picking up the clues and turning them into a coherent whole that had allowed them to pick up Davis’ trail and foresee his next step. “You had Davis down to a T,” he said proudly. “The profile you came up with matched him down to the last detail." He gave his lover a full body nudge. "So, he going to give you a medal?" he joked.

"Actually, he wants me to go to Seattle and do a profiling course," Blair said quickly, not looking up. "I told him I'd have to think about it, but Simon really thinks I’d do well. He said it's a great opportunity and there’s no one else he thinks would be better suited for the job -"

"Simon spoke to you about it without talking to me too?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, I'd love to do it. I'd be getting back into anthropology… sort of, and Simon said the department could really use a full time profiler." He smiled. "Of course the paycheck's pretty good too."

Jim pulled his hand away from Blair's and sat forward. "It is a great opportunity, Chief. I just thought you'd want to discuss it with me first."

"I am - now," Blair replied. He reached up and rested his hand on Jim's shoulder, squeezing gently. "You don't think I should go? Don't you think I'd be any good?"

Jim covered Blair's hand with his own. "I think you'd be great. It’s just….” He sat forward and clasped his hands together on his knees, staring straight ahead. “I’m not sure you’re recovered enough yet from the camping trip. You’ve still got that god-awful cough and -“

“Jim! Stop!” Blair ordered firmly. His hand wasn’t gentle this time as he reached and shook Jim’s nearest arm. “Enough with the Blessed Protector routine. I was checked out by the doctor and passed as fit for duty. We just finished the Davis case and got the Commissioner’s attention -“

“You did,” Jim cut in and allowed a grin to slip past when Blair whacked him on the head then smiled back.

“I’m fine,” Blair repeated. He leaned back on the couch, his eyes sparkling again with the excitement that Jim had missed seeing for so long, a satisfied smile curving his lips. “I’m gonna be sitting in a room in the PD in Seattle, doing stuff I’ve been doing half my life - listening to lectures and taking notes.” His face grew serious. “I want this, Jim.”

Jim nodded, understanding. “I just… I figured that we'd talk about it before you gave Simon your decision, that's all. If you pass the course, you'll be on loan to the whole department -"

Blair shook his head. “I’ve thought about that and Simon said we can work around it. After all, a lot of the time, a profiler doesn’t work through the entire case with whatever team’s investigating. All I’m required to do is get the details of the crime and write up a profile of the perp. That still means I can concentrate on doing my more important work.”

“And what would that be, Darwin?”

Blair grinned. “Keeping your ass out of trouble, man.”

“Funny, Sandburg, real funny.”

"Anyway, if I'm the only profiler here, it stands to reason I should be partnered with the best detective in Cascade," Blair said smoothly.

Jim smiled, then a small frown creased his brow. "How long will you be in Seattle?"

"Four weeks."

"Shit." Jim dropped his head and rubbed at one eye with the heel of his hand, disappointment warring with happiness at his partner's obvious excitement.

“I don’t want to be away from you for that long either,” Blair admitted. He shifted closer to Jim and leaned against him, again taking Jim’s hand in his, stroking gently over the knuckles. “This relationship is so new, I don’t want anything getting in the way of us. It’s all starting to come together; this -“ he squeezed Jim’s hand firmly “- feels so right. And my first thought was how you would be - your senses, I mean - but you’ve got pretty good control these days. I know you’ll be okay.”

Jim grinned at that. “A compliment, Chief?” He rested his hand on Blair’s forehead. “You sure you don’t have a fever?”

Blair slapped his hand away, laughing. “Let’s be serious for a minute, okay?” When Jim nodded, he went on. “I’d really like to give this a shot, Jim. I think I’d be good at it and knowing that you believe in my ability to do it, helps more than you know. Besides, I get to come home every weekend -“

“You didn’t mention that.”

“I didn’t want to until I found out how you felt about it.” Blair shrugged. “Moot point if you don’t want me to go.”

“You’re a grown man, Sandburg, you don’t need my permission to do anything,” Jim said gruffly.

“But I do want your blessing,” Blair replied.

Jim sat forward, unlinking their hands and folding his arms across his chest. “All right, if you want my blessing then let’s talk rules.”

Blair’s mouth dropped open. “Rules? You just finished telling me I’m a grown man and now you want to talk rules.”

“You’re still losing weight,” Jim said, “and don’t think I haven’t noticed the odd meal you’re skipping or the fact that you’re still not sleeping well…”

Blair solemnly raised his hand. “I promise to eat regularly and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Good enough?”

“Hmmph,” was all the reply he got. Blair rubbed his hands together. “Okay, my turn. No zoning -“ He held up a silencing hand when Jim opened his mouth to speak. “No turning into Badass Ellison and tempting everyone into taking transfers to the Vice Squad; Simon would be so pissed if that happened. And… be nice to Megan.”

“Sandburg!” Jim growled warningly. “You know what Connor’s like. It’s like she knows how to press all my buttons - “

“Ah-ah,” Blair said warningly. “Do we have a deal?” He held out his hand.

Jim sighed and made a show of thinking it over then shook Blair’s hand. “Deal, but I tell you, Chief, I think you got the easy part.”

"So," Blair said slowly, getting back to the previous discussion, "are you saying that if you were offered a promotion, you would come straight home and talk to me before you accepted it?"

Jim gave him a glare but couldn't sustain the impatience. "That's different," he said finally.

Blair sidled closer. "Why?"

"Because a promotion doesn't mean I have to go away for four weeks."

“Only a week at a time, and think of the welcome home I’ll get every weekend.” Blair smiled and wiggled his eyebrows. “Ow!” He feigned a grimace when Jim elbowed him in the ribs. “I know - table leg.” A small smile tugged at the corners of Blair's mouth, turning it upward and a mischievous glint appeared in his eyes. "Are you saying you'll miss me?"

Jim groaned and scrubbed his hand over his eyes. "Jesus, Sandburg… you know I will."

Blair's voice was a suggestive growl. "Prove it."

No further invitation was necessary. Jim pushed Blair onto his back and took his mouth in a deep, demanding kiss. "I'll miss you," he acceded.

Blair’s hand crept up under Jim's shirt and stroked over his nipples. "Don't tell me," he commanded. "Show me."

~o0o~

Captain Simon Banks looked up at the knock on his office door. "Come in," he called, surprised when he saw Sandburg's head peek around the corner.

"Um, excuse me, Captain, do you have a few minutes? Jim and I need to discuss something with you." Blair's voice was quiet.

"What do you want, Sandburg?" he asked.

Blair turned and grabbed his partner, who'd been standing uncomfortably behind him. Hooking Jim's arm, he dragged him into the captain's office. "Why do you think I want something, sir?" he asked, a smile tilting his lips.

"Well, now, let's see, Sandburg - you knocked politely on my door, you said, ‘excuse me’, and just now you called me ‘sir’. I think that's proof enough. I repeat, what do you want, Sandburg? I'm a busy man. Let's hear it," Simon said with a hint of exasperation in his voice, all the while trying to subdue the grin that was trying to replace the scowl on his face.

"I told Jim about the profiling course in Seattle," Blair began, sitting down in one of the chairs in front of the desk.

"You are going to do it, aren't you, Sandburg? It's a great opportunity for you and I know you'll be good at it," Banks said gruffly.

"Thanks, Si-, I mean, sir," Blair answered, his face flushing at the unexpected praise.

"So, Jim, you okay with this?" Banks looked over at the detective, realizing Ellison had yet to say a word.

Jim nodded. "Sure; it's what Blair wants, and you're right, it is a great opportunity for him." He smiled at his partner. "One he deserves."

"Jeez, guys, enough with the mushy stuff. I'm gonna get a big head here." Blair grinned back at his lover.

"Too late for that, Sandburg," Simon grunted but he smiled, taking the sting from his words. "Good, now that's settled, what did you really want to see me about?"

"I want you to partner Jim with Megan while I'm gone." The words rushed out of Blair's mouth, tumbling over each other.

"Fine," Simon replied.

"What? No way!" Jim exclaimed at the same time. "You can't be serious, Chief! I'll manage just fine on my own."

"Of course, I'm serious, Jim. You need someone who at least understands some of this Sentinel stuff while I'm not here. Megan's not going to take my place as your Guide. I just want her to keep an eye on you, make sure you don't zone, or if you do, there's someone around to pull you out, just like she did when I was at the Academy," Blair insisted.

Simon spoke before Jim could say anything further. "Sorry, Jim, I'm gonna side with Sandburg on this. You told me back when this Sentinel thing started that you needed a partner to back you up. It's how we ended up with Sandburg here, in the first place." He glanced at Blair, causing the younger man to smile at the sheer affection in that look.

"Well, yeah, I know," Jim said, capitulating. "But Connor?"

"Hey, remember the deal, man," Blair broke in. "Be nice to Megan, okay? She's just going to be trying to do her job and doing me a favor by keeping your ass out of trouble while I'm away."

Jim sighed theatrically then grinned. "Yeah, yeah, okay. Don't get your shorts in a twist, Chief. I'll play nice with Connor. Just don't blame me if you have to come back from Seattle and help me hide her body." He smiled down at the young man. "All right?" he asked.

"All right," Blair agreed.

"When are you due to leave, Sandburg? Don't forget you promised to upload that new software for me before you leave," Simon said. His eyes took in Ellison's still rigid demeanor, but he restrained himself from commenting for now.

"I leave in the morning, sir, and so I'll get that program up and running for you right after my partner here takes me out and buys me a goodbye lunch - my choice of cuisine," Blair replied, laughing as Jim groaned at his words.

"Good, then why are we still standing around, people? Get going already." He sat down as the partners began to leave. "Sandburg… Blair, good luck. You'll do good, kid."

Blair turned and gave his captain one of his trademark, whole-face smiles. "Thanks, Simon, for everything."

"You're welcome, Blair. Um, Jim, could I just have a word with you in private before you go?" Simon said evenly, giving Blair a reassuring grin.

Banks waited till the door closed behind Sandburg then pinned Ellison with a hard glare. "So, what's your real problem with this, Detective?" he asked.

"Look, Simon, it's a terrific offer and Blair will do great at it but he hasn't exactly been himself lately," Jim replied hesitantly. "He's been overtired and run down. I just don't know if he's up to it.”

“So that was why you wanted to quit? You know, Jim, I’m still pretty pissed that you didn’t at least come to talk with me before mailing your badge to me. I thought we were better friends than that.” He put up a hand as Jim began to interrupt. "No, Jim, just let me ask you one thing. You remember how guilty you felt when Blair sacrificed his anthropological career for you?"

"Of course I do, Simon. It was the last thing I wanted -"

"Aah!" Simon's hand came up again. "Listen to me, Jim. If you're so worried about Blair, why the hell would you want to burden him with the same guilt? Don't you know how bad he'd feel knowing you gave up your career for him? You'd be laying the same guilt on him as you felt when he did it for you. Do you really think he needs that sort of burden right now? Listen to him, Jim. He's excited about something for the first time in I don't know how long. It's almost like having the old Sandburg back. Don't take that away from him. He'll be good at this. Put your own need to keep him close on hold for a few weeks. Give the kid his wings, Jim. He needs this. And so do you."

Jim sighed loudly then nodded. "Okay, Simon. If it's what he really wants, I won't stand in his way."

"And?” Simon queried, one eyebrow raised in interrogation.

Jim nodded in defeat. “And I’ll make sure he knows that I support him in doing this one hundred per cent."

“Good.” Simon flashed a victorious grin. “Now get out there and make sure your partner has a real software program for me. None of that 'Virus 'r' Us' stuff, okay?"

"Yeah, okay, Simon. Thanks."

~oOo~

Blair watched as Jim pushed his chair back from the dinner table and walked out onto the balcony. He waited a couple of minutes then pushed back his own chair and followed his lover outside.

Jim was standing with his hands resting on the railing, his eyes fixed somewhere on the distant horizon. Blair walked over and reached around him with both arms, pulling himself close against Jim's back, resting his face against its warm strength.

"You okay, Jim?" he asked softly.

Jim turned within his arms and kissed the top of his head. "Yeah, you know, just thinking how much I'm gonna miss hearing you snore next to me at night." He chuckled at Blair's outraged glare.

"Me snore?" Blair laughed as well. "You know I'm gonna miss you just as much, don't you?"

Jim frowned a little. "I know that. Look, Chief, I just need to ask you something. Don't get all bent out of shape over it though, all right? I told you I want you to do this and I do, really I do. I guess I just got a little thrown by the fact that you jumped at the chance of being away from me for four weeks -"

"What?" Blair pushed himself out of Jim's embrace. "That's not it, Jim. Jesus! You really think I want to be away from you, for even a day, especially after what we just went through? I thought I'd lost you for good, man -"

"Blair, no, that's not what I meant. Shit! I'm screwing this up. I want you to do the course if that's what you really want. I just wish there was some other way around it than you being away for so long -"

"You think if I can't cut this either, that I'll just slink away somewhere and hide because I won't be able to face you, is that it? " Blair asked, his voice demanding honesty.

"No, that's not what I think, Chief. For one thing, I know you can do this. I also know you wouldn't do that, leave like that. I guess I'm just a little worried that being apart for days at a time, when our being together is so new, is going to put a strain on our relationship. This is a time when we should be spending more time together, not less.”

“I’m your guide,” Blair cut in. “I want… need that to come back to. That’s part of why I’m doing this, so I can come back and be what you need me to be.”

“I'm sorry, Blair, I'm not doing this right. I'm lousy at explaining this sort of stuff, you know that." Jim looked at Blair, the desire for his lover to understand eloquent in his eyes.

"I know what you mean, Jim. I just need you to understand that this is important to me too and that wanting to do this doesn't mean that I'm saying being together isn't important too. I'm going to be here every weekend, man. And it's just four weeks. Then after that, everything will be back to the way it should be." He put his hand up as Jim stepped towards him, contrition and apology on the Sentinel's face. "I’m sorry, too. I’m tired and I’ve had a lot to think about. I’m probably not explaining myself any better than you are. I've got an early start in the morning, Jim. I'm gonna take a shower and get some sleep. You mind if I leave the dishes to you?"

Jim shook his head, his face telegraphing his anguish. He reached a hand out toward his lover but Blair simply turned away and walked inside.

~oOo~

Blair let the warm water cascade over his head and back, trying to calm himself by breathing deeply and slowly and concentrating on the sensation of his muscles relaxing beneath the spray. He reached out for the shampoo but felt his hand grasped gently.

"Let me," he heard Jim whisper.

Blair dropped his hand and stood docilely as Jim took the shampoo and massaged it through his hair, rubbing gently into his scalp with firm fingers. Then his head was tilted against Jim's chest and his hair was rinsed clean, Jim's fingers tangling through it gently. Then the process was repeated with the conditioner.

Blair picked up the soap and handed it wordlessly to Jim.

Jim leaned forward, his head pressing against Blair's dripping curls, his breath hot against Blair's wet skin. "I'm sorry," he breathed. "I'm so sorry. You're right. I'm afraid of losing you, losing what we have."

Blair turned and placed his hands either side of his lover's face then he leaned in slowly and kissed Jim's eyelids. "It's okay. I know you're afraid, Jim, but nothing is going to change what we have. You won't ever lose me." He kissed Jim's mouth sweetly. "Trust me."

~oOo~

"So, you sure you've got everything, Chief?" Jim asked, placing a hand on Blair's shoulder and handing him his boarding pass.

"Yeah, everything I need except for the one thing I can't take with me," Blair said quietly, staring studiously at his shoes. He put one hand up and swiped furiously at his eyes. "Dust," he muttered, "Must be getting to you too, huh, Jim?"

"Yeah, it is," Jim whispered, swallowing hard. "Hey, let's go over here for a minute." He grabbed his partner's arm and pulled him into a secluded niche that concealed the short hallway to a custodian’s closet. Seeing no one around, he pulled Blair against his chest and then tipped his head up so he could see his face. His thumbs wiped softly across his lover's cheeks, mopping up the traces of moisture he could feel there. Then he bent forward and placed a tender kiss on each of Blair's downcast eyelids and another on his mouth. Straightening up, he pushed Blair away from him slightly. "All right?" he asked, waiting for the hesitant nod. "I love you, Blair."

Finally Blair looked into Jim's eyes, his teeth clenched down hard on his quivering lip. "I know," he murmured, taking a deep shuddering breath and squaring his shoulders. "I love you, too." He pressed the tips of his fingers against Jim's mouth briefly then turned and moved away from the booth. "I'll see you on the weekend, man," he called over his shoulder, not looking back.

"Don't forget to call tomorrow tonight," Jim yelled after his retreating back.

That brought a halt to his partner's hurried departure. Blair turned, a wide grin on his face this time. "Never," he said. "I'll never forget to call you." His smile turned whimsical. "I'm gonna miss you, Jim," he whispered in a voice meant only for sentinel ears. Then he waved, adding in a louder tone, "I’d better not come back and find plastic on the furniture." He turned and raced toward the boarding doors.

Jim left the bus depot as soon as Blair disappeared from view. He couldn't watch the bus leaving. He knew Blair would understand.

~oOo~

ACT TWO

Sighing in relief, Blair tossed his bags onto the hotel bed and took a quick look around the room. While it certainly wasn't the Ritz, Blair had stayed in worse places. He gave an involuntary shiver as he remembered the long winter nights, trying to keep warm in the warehouse, before he'd moved in with Jim. The thought of his lover made the silence in the room seem even louder and Blair glanced at his watch, suddenly eager to leave and swore. "Shit! I'm late!"

Hurriedly grabbing up his backpack, pre-packed with notepads and pens - student habits never died - he headed for the door and downstairs to find a cab. Jim had insisted on renting a car for him while he was in Seattle, not prepared for Blair to drive his less than reliable classic. There had been a mix-up with the booking, though, and while the rental staff had been apologetic, the best they could offer was a bus ticket to Seattle and a promise to deliver a car to the hotel the following afternoon.

Hurrying out into the comparative warmth of the morning, Blair groaned in dismay as he saw one taxi driving off and the second and only remaining cab being taken by two men in suits. His hopes rose when he heard one of the men give their destination as the Seattle PD.

"Um, excuse me." Blair picked up his pace and reached out to tap the man at the rear on the shoulder, awkwardly gripping the strap of his backpack as it slipped from his shoulder. "I'm heading to Seattle PD myself. Any chance we could share?"

The man turned and, in an instant, the initial curious gaze gave way to one of distaste. Blair couldn't help glancing down at his clothes, as the other man looked him over, a frown appearing on his face. Blair was inordinately grateful that Jim had insisted he pack his more conservative jeans and shirts instead of his usual layers of flannel and colorful vests.

"Sorry," the man finally said. "No room."

"Come on, Dean," the second man, a tall well-built African-American said, "there's plenty of room." He gave Blair a smile. "Stow your bag in the trunk, okay?"

Blair gave him a grin of his own. "Thanks." He held out his hand after doing as the man had suggested. "Blair Sandburg."

The first man’s eyes flickered up at him then he turned away and climbed into the front seat. "Perry Davis," the black man said, shaking Blair's hand. "That's my partner, Dean Collins."

Blair climbed into the cab and settled himself next to Perry. Collins sat ramrod straight in the front, staring out the front windscreen and Blair turned his attention to the view outside the passenger window. It looked like it was going to be an awkward ride.

~o0o~

By the time they reached the PD, Blair and Perry learned they were all booked in for the profiling course, and Blair felt relieved that there would be at least one familiar, friendly face in the class. Collins, however, was another matter. He'd remained silent for the entire trip, only scowling and muttering a thanks when Blair handed over his share of the fare and tip at the end of the trip.

They found the classroom on the second floor easily enough and registered before taking their seats inside the large room. Long cafeteria-style tables had been organized in rows and, while they waited for everyone to be seated and the lecturer to begin, Blair took the opportunity to study his traveling companions a little more closely.

Perry reminded Blair of Simon. He was tall, well-built and handsome. His face seemed to be perpetually creased with a smile and, as though he knew he was being observed, he leaned forward from where he and Dean sat at the other end of Blair's row and gave Blair a small wave. Blair smiled back and turned his attention to Perry's partner.

The total opposite of Perry, Dean caused Blair to think of the vast differences between himself and Jim. Dean Collins was short, in fact not much taller than Blair, but he had a stocky build with a broad chest that made him seem somewhat out of proportion. It was obvious that Collins took his workouts seriously. He had dark, straight hair, clipped short; he seemed to be permanently frowning and his dark eyes kept finding Blair, appraising in a manner that Blair knew meant the cop found him lacking.

Blair unconsciously fingered his earrings as he pondered his best course. Maybe he should tie back his hair and remove the earrings before he left the following morning in order to blend in with the group. He was tempted to tell them to go to hell, that having long hair and earrings didn’t mean he didn’t deserve acceptance just as much as the next person, to force them to respect him despite his appearance. But he'd already fought this battle so many times, and most of Cascade PD - the ones who mattered anyway - accepted him as he was. What would it hurt if he took the easy way out, just this once?

There were about fifteen men and women in all, though men predominated, and Blair received more than one admiring glance from the female officers.

"Right." The lecturer rapped his knuckles on his desk and the soft rumbling of conversation stopped abruptly. "I'm Special Agent John Russell. I'll be your lecturer for the next four weeks, though you will spend some time with various other experts in the field of profiling. Welcome to you all. Let's start by having each of you stand and introduce yourselves to the class. Tell us a little about yourselves and what you hope to get out of this course." He pointed at Blair. "Why don't you start off, Detective Sandburg?"

Blair nodded and got to his feet. Accustomed as he was to being in front of large groups, this was still nerve-wracking, knowing that here, as in Cascade, he was the standout, the one who didn't really belong. Collins' openly hostile stare wasn't helping. Blair picked out a pretty blonde in the front row and kept his gaze on her. "Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg. Um, I'm a detective with the Cascade PD, Major -"

"Detective?" Collins voice dripped sarcasm and disbelief.

"Detective Collins," Russell broke in, "Why don't you be patient and let Detective Sandburg finish?"

Laughter ran through the group and Blair felt his face heat with embarrassment. "Um, right," he continued, "As I was saying I'm a detective with Cascade PD, Major Crime division. My background is Anthropology so I also consult on cases where input is needed on human traits, not just of the UNSUB -“

“UNSUB?” Collins broke in. ”What’s that?” he snorted.

Before Blair could reply, Agent Russell broke in. “Unknown subject, Detective Collins.”

“Getting ahead of yourself, aren’t you, Detective?” Collins sneered. “You’re not a profiler yet.”

Blair gritted his teeth, then rushed on before Agent Russell could make any further comment. He was feeling uncomfortable enough already and he had no wish for the lecturer to have to come to his rescue every time Collins shot his mouth off. “Not just of the UNSUB but also the victims and why a certain criminal might act in a particular way or why he might choose a certain victim."

"Sounds like you should be teaching this course," Collins snorted, grinning when another round of laughter went round the room.

Blair gritted his teeth and glared back at Collins. "Well, that's why I'm here, why we're all here, isn't it? To develop our skills of observation, to learn how to profile correctly, to be able to benefit our partners and colleagues, and the police department in general."

"Aptly put, Detective Sandburg," Russell said. "Thank you. Who's next?"

Blair sat and slumped down, dropping his gaze to stare at the floor, barely noticing the rest of the introductions. This was a mistake, he thought miserably. I don't belong here.

~o0o~

The morning session finished with an overview of the course by Special Agent Russell. He handed out several texts, outlining the specialist lectures they'd be attending, including one, Blair noticed with pleasure, in Forensic Anthropology. It was something he had touched on in his own studies and done some reading on, though not in detail.

Collins and Perry were huddled in a small group with a few fellow officers when Blair left the lecture room. He returned Perry's friendly greeting but, when all conversation stopped as he neared the group, he opted to continue on and headed for the stairwell. Agent Russell had told the class they were welcome to eat in the PD's well-appointed cafeteria, but Blair decided he'd had enough undisguised hostility from Collins for one morning, and opted to find a deli nearby where he could pick up a sandwich.

He was halfway down the stairs when he heard footsteps behind him but, before he could turn, there was a solid thump to his back and he thought for a brief, dizzying moment that he was going to fall. His arms flailed frantically for a grip on something to stop his descent then a hand grabbed his arm in a tight hold and dragged him back to slam solidly against the wall.

"You want to be more careful," Dean Collins said, not relinquishing his painful grasp of Blair's arm. "Don't want you having an accident on your first day here."

"Thanks." Blair swallowed down his panic and dragged his arm from Collins' hold. "Must have had my mind on something else." He knew without a doubt that he hadn't slipped and he was pretty sure he knew just who had shoved him.

"I remember who you are now," Collins continued. "You're that guy who falsified his thesis, almost brought a good cop down."

Blair sighed and looked away, studying the wall over Collins' shoulder. Wasn't this ever going to go away? "It was a long time ago," he said finally. "A lot of things got resolved."

"Right," Collins said. "Tell you what, Sandburg, you stay out of my way and I'll stay out of yours, got it?"

Blair nodded, a thin smile straining his lips. "Music to my ears, man." Before Collins could respond, he inched sideways and trotted down the stairs.

"Blair, wait up." Perry's voice stopped him as he reached the front doors and Blair waited for the other man to catch up. "Don't take any notice of Dean," Perry said. "He might be a prick, but he is a good cop. He’s got a pretty good arrest record."

"Yeah? Haven't seen any evidence of that so far," Blair retorted angrily. "Sorry," he said, running a hand through his hair. "God, how do you put up with him?"

Perry shrugged. "I have seniority on my side. I know how to keep him in line. You want to join us for lunch? I wouldn't mind hearing about your Anthropology studies."

"Maybe another time," Blair said. "I need some fresh air. You're welcome to join me."

Perry looked apologetic. "Rain check? I'll see you after lunch."

Blair smiled. "Sure, man."

~o0o~

Blair arrived back at the hotel a little after six, pleased to hear that his rental car had been delivered that afternoon. He quickly placed an order for room service, then kicked off his shoes and settled back on the bed before reaching for the phone. He smiled when Jim's familiar voice echoed down the line. "Hey, Jim, it's me."

"Blair? How's it going, Chief? I thought maybe you'd forgotten to call."

"I just got in. You home early?"

"A little, not much happening today. Mackay looks like he's gonna roll over on that gun smuggling case. Connor and I have drawn stakeout duty tomorrow night… and yes, I'll be careful. So, spill, how's it going?"

"Oh, you know," Blair deliberately kept his tone light, "pretty good. Interesting, though we don't really get down to business until tomorrow. Today was pretty much a meet and greet."

"Everyone treating you okay?" Jim asked and Blair knew his partner was remembering Blair's reception by some of the Cascade PD when he'd first returned as a detective and Jim's partner.

"Yeah, they're a great bunch of guys… and girls."

"Those eyes of yours wandering, Sandburg?” Jim asked in a mock growl.

"You know me, Jim, I can't help myself, but you also know I'm a one man guy now. Doesn't hurt to look and appreciate a pretty face though."

"Just as long as that's all you do, Chief."

"So, you miss me yet?"

Jim chuckled. "You, yes, your mess, no."

"I don't have mess," Blair protested, "I have organized chaos." He sobered. "How about you? Your senses okay?"

"Fine, nothing in the paperwork to zone on, except boredom," Jim grumbled. "I do miss you. Feels like you've been away too long already."

Blair glanced around his small room, a chill settling over him in spite of the pre-set temperature control. "Same here." There was a knock at the door. "Dinner's arrived. Look, I'll talk to you soon, okay? You'll call me if there's any problems?"

"You know I will." Jim paused for a moment. "I love you, Blair."

Blair smiled and the room suddenly didn't feel so cold anymore. "I love you, too." On impulse, he blew a noisy kiss into the receiver and hung up to the welcome sound of Jim's laughter.

~o0o~

"So, Jimbo, have you heard from Sandy?"

Jim looked across at Connor, seated in the passenger seat of the truck. He forced back the feeling of wrongness at seeing her there, in what he'd come to think of as Blair's seat. He nodded. "Yeah, he called me last night. He's fine, sounds like he's enjoying the course already."

"Good. You must miss him, though." Connor smiled encouragingly.

"Yeah, I miss him. Um, look, Connor, I'm finding a bit difficult to split my focus without Blair being here so do you think -"

"You want me to shut up," Connor replied. "Sorry. I know I'm no Sandy, Jim."

Jim nodded. "It's okay. I just need to focus on the warehouse, all right?" He tilted his head slightly and drew in a relaxation breath, then let it seep out between his lips. Finding the dial for his hearing, he pushed it up and found the voices he was seeking.

"We need to get everything moved out tonight! The cops are onto us. Mackay talked. He's told the cops we were moving the guns tomorrow night but they'll be watching us now."

Jim flinched back in his seat as the voice he'd been listening to began to yell, giving orders in Spanish. He could hear a low rumbling noise and recognized it as the sound of a forklift or something similar being started up. There was a metallic grinding sound next and he dialed back his hearing as his eardrums echoed with the noise of a truck's engine being revved. He turned to Connor. "Call it in. They're taking the guns out tonight."

"What? Mackay said tomorrow night."

"Guess he was covering his ass. Call for backup. I'm going in." Jim opened his door stealthily and crept out, pulling his gun from the holster at his back.

"Jim, we should wait for backup…." Megan said.

"They could be gone by then," Jim shot back in a whisper. "They've already got the truck partly loaded. I'm going in. You can stay here and wait for backup." He bent double and edged through the shadows across the road, huddling up against the side of the warehouse.

~oOo~

Megan watched as Jim took a quick look around then got down on his back and rolled under the partly opened roller door of the warehouse. "Bugger! Sandy is gonna tear me a new one if anything happens to you, Ellison." Sighing, she put in the call for assistance, then exited the vehicle herself, pulled her own weapon from its holster and followed Jim in.

Once inside, she could see that the interior of the warehouse was dim, lit only by the headlights of the truck and forklift, as well as a couple of upright lantern flashlights on the floor. She squinted, trying to find Ellison and finally spotted him, partly hidden behind a stack of crates about two hundred yards to her left.

There were three men standing around the truck, plus a man in the driver's seat of the vehicle and another man operating the forklift.

As Megan watched, half listening for the sirens that would mean the cavalry was on its way, she saw one of the men hold up his hand and say something in a quiet voice to the others. He walked over to a switch on the wall, just as Jim moved out of his relatively protected position, his gun held in his hand and ordered the men to freeze.

Suddenly, the warehouse was flooded with bright light. Through the rainbow arcs partially obscuring her vision, Megan saw Jim drop to his knees, his gun falling from his hand as he tried to cover his eyes. Shit, he's having a spike!

She called his name and raised her weapon quickly, hoping to draw their attention away from the defenseless cop, as she saw one of the men pull a gun from under his coat and aim it at Ellison. "Freeze, Cascade PD!" she shouted. It worked; the perp swung his weapon toward her, mouth open in startled reaction but, as she stepped forward to repeat the command, one of his companions - unseen in the shadows - shot the gun out of her hand. Megan fell to the ground, gasping in pain from the recoil. Looking around frantically, she saw her weapon a few feet away. She was about to lunge for it when she looked up and saw the perp bring his gun round to bear on Jim again. She leapt to her feet and yelled Ellison's name again, hoping to trigger some response from him. Nothing. Jim was frozen in place.

Before she even had time to think about what she was doing, she was running, faster than she'd ever run before, certain she'd never make it in time, but knowing she had to. A couple of feet from Ellison, she threw herself forward and hit his chest, hearing him grunt at the impact, feeling her own breath whoosh out of her. She heard the report of the weapon in the same moment and felt a fiery burning in the back of her shoulder, then they were on the floor and, in that moment, she heard the sirens she'd been praying for.

~oOo~

The impact of his head on the hard concrete floor had the effect of shocking Jim out of the spike. He opened his eyes, which he'd clenched tightly shut when the light had almost blinded him, residual flashes of the glare causing him to blink rapidly to clear his vision. He could see Connor's face barely an inch from his own, her skin ghostly white. In the background, he could hear sirens and shouted voices but thankfully, no gunfire. "Connor, what the hell are you doing?" he muttered, pushing her body off him to one side.

She moaned at the movement and he was on his knees in a heartbeat, impatiently blinking away the last effects of the spike.

Connor was on her back, next to him, her face pale, her features lax.

Jim saw a huge spreading stain of fresh blood across the front of her shirt. "Oh Christ," he muttered.

"brian?" Megan mouthed the name, her voice almost non-existent.

Her eyes were open, the pupils huge as she looked up at him, pain and fear written large on her face.

"Ssh, it's okay. You're gonna be okay, Megan. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Jim murmured soothingly, wincing in empathy as he placed a firm hand over the wound and pressed down, ignoring the shouts of police as the gun-runners were quickly cornered and subdued.

Megan cried out and tried to roll away.

He held her still with his other hand on her hip, turning to yell over his shoulder for the paramedics at the same time.

Turning back to Connor, he said, "It's okay. Lie still, Megan. The medics are here. We're gonna get you to the hospital right away." He started as he saw her eyes were closed and reached out with two fingers to feel for the pulse point on her neck, not trusting his senses after the spike. Heaving a sigh of relief as he felt the faint beat against his fingertips, his head slumped to his chest. "I'm sorry," he whispered again.

Moments later, he was being pulled to his feet by a shocked Simon Banks and he stood back to let the paramedics take over.

~oOo~

"You should go home, Jim, get some rest. You look beat." Simon Banks placed a firm hand on his detective's shoulder when he got no response. He gave the shoulder a small shake, wondering if Ellison had zoned, and was relieved when Jim turned and looked up at him.

"No, I'm fine, sir. I just want to wait till Connor's out of surgery. I'd like to see her, tell her -" Jim's voice broke off and he returned to staring at his shoes.

"Jim, listen, she won't be able to hear anything you've got to say till tomorrow, and anyway, you already told her you were sorry. I heard you back there."

"Yeah, but I don't think she did," Jim retorted. He surged to his feet and faced the captain. "Christ, Simon, my senses are suddenly all over the place. I just don't get it. I've had almost total control for months now and then this…"

"Blair was here then, Jim. Maybe that's got something to do with it. I still don't understand half of this Sentinel-Guide thing between you and Sandburg but I do know he's the one person who seems to be able to help you focus your senses," Simon said sympathetically. "Look, Jim, he'll be back in a few weeks and the weapons case is wrapped up now, anyway. Connor's gonna be out of action for a while. Maybe it would be best if I put you on desk duty, or you took a leave of absence till Blair gets back."

Jim glared at him. "You saying you don't trust me to do my job without Blair here to hold my hand, sir?"

"I'm saying," Banks said strongly, "you don't seem to trust yourself without Blair here to watch your back." He looked Jim firmly in the eyes. "All right, this is what you're going to do. You go home, call Sandburg, then get some food into you and a decent night's sleep - in that order. I'll let you stay on duty for now with Rafe backing you up. Brown’s gonna be in court all week and I can’t spare anyone else. But the minute I think you're not handling things, I'll put you on leave. Understand?"

Jim exhaled noisily then turned and looked behind him. "The doctor's coming. Maybe you're right, Simon. Let me find out how Megan's doing, then I'll go home. I'll come by in the morning to check on Connor before I go to work."

They walked across the room and met the doctor halfway. Jim sighed with relief as he told them that Megan's wound, while messy and painful, wasn't life threatening. But she had lost a lot of blood and would be in the hospital for at least a week or so. Then she'd likely be off-duty for another two before being able to undertake light duties for a time.

~oOo~

“Hey, Jim, man, it is so good to hear your voice.” Blair sounded upbeat, but Jim fancied he could detect a note of nervousness under the buoyancy.

"It's good to hear yours, too, Chief? You doing all right? Course going okay?" Jim tried to inject a casualness into his own voice that he didn't come close to feeling at the moment.

He'd never been more grateful that Blair wasn't a Sentinel than right now, sure that if he was, his Guide would be able to hear the way Jim's heart was thundering away like a trip hammer.

“Yeah, I'm fine, Jim. The course is still going okay. It has its dull moments but overall, it's pretty cool, really. How are you doing?”

"Me? I'm good," Jim replied.

“Are you sure? You sound… I don't know… sorta off or something? Has something happened with your senses, Jim?”

Jim groaned sub-vocally, mentally cursing the fact that Blair knew him so well. He'd agonized over whether to tell his partner what had happened, fearing that Blair would say he was dropping out of the course and come running back home right away. Then he'd thought about how angry Blair would be if he found out what had gone down later, and that Jim hadn't told him at the time. Deciding that an anxious Sandburg miles away would be easier to deal with than a pissed off one in close quarters, Jim had decided to bite the bullet and just get it over with. Besides, he could obfuscate as well as Blair could and he'd simply gloss over some of the facts and put a good spin on things. Problem was, right at this very moment, he couldn't think of a single good thing about today to put a spin on. He sighed loudly and went with it, sensing Blair's increasing worry even over the phone.

“Jim? Speak to me, man. I'm getting really worried here. Jim?” Blair's voice was tight and nervous.

“Just thinking. Look, there's no easy way to do this, so I'm just gonna say it but I don't want you getting all bent out of shape over it. It happened, it's over, it's being taken care of, everything's gonna be fine. Connor got shot today." Jim blurted the last part out so fast he wondered if Blair had even understood what he'd said.

“What? Oh God, Jim! Is she -“

"No, no, Chief, settle down. She's gonna be okay. She got hit in the shoulder, in and out, lost a lot of blood and it probably hurts like a mother but the surgeon said she'll be just fine. She'll be off work for a while and -"

“Whoa, slow down, Jim, I'm still trying to process this, you know. God, poor Megan. What happened? Did you zone?”

Jim could almost see the wheels turning in Blair's head. "Slow down a minute yourself, babe, you're gonna wear out the hamsters," Jim said, smiling despite himself. "Why does everybody always think I'm zoning or have zoned or whatever? No, Blair, I didn't zone. I had my sight dialed up because the warehouse was dim and just as I stepped out to take the bastards down, someone flipped the switch for the floodlights. I guess my vision spiked. Next thing I knew, I was flat on my back on the floor with Connor on top of me. I didn't know she'd been hit at first, so I asked her what the hell she was doing and rolled her off me…" Jim stopped, the memory of Megan's white face and pain-filled eyes stealing his breath for a moment. "Anyway, I knelt next to her - Simon and the others were there by then and they rounded up the perps and the weapons - and that's when I saw all the blood…" Jim's voice trailed off again. Suddenly remembering he was supposed to be making it all sound more like a walk in the park, he managed to inject a note of studied cheerfulness into his voice. "But the important thing is, she's going to be all right." Jim stopped, realizing Blair's end of the phone had gone silent apart from the hurried breathing he could hear. "Um, Chief, you still there?"

“Yeah, still here. I was just thinking, maybe I should come back. I can always do the course some other time -“

"What? No way, Chief. You do your course. I'm fine. Megan's gonna be fine. Rafe's holding her hand every minute the nurses will give him with her and I've got plenty of the boring stuff to catch up on till you get back," Jim said forcefully.

“Hey, you don't miss me?” Blair asked, sounding as if he was only half-joking.

"Of course I miss you but you might as well get the course over and done with now you've started it. Everything'll be fine, Blair, I promise. Okay?"

Blair sighed. “Okay, I guess. When you see Megan, tell her I'm gonna send her something from down here, all right?”

"Blair, are you okay? Is anyone giving you any grief down there… you know over the press conference or anything? You'd tell me if there was a problem, right, like I told you?" Jim asked, still trying to pin down the troubling undertone he'd heard in Blair's voice earlier.

“Nah, everyone's been great, Jim. Well, there's this one guy but I think it's more because he's a hardass cop and he thinks I'm just a neo-hippie witchdoctor punk.” Blair laughed as he parodied the words Jim had once used on him. “His partner's cool, though. It's fine, Jim. Turn off the Blessed Protector radar, okay?”

"Okay, if you're sure. Because I can come down there, you know. I'm sure Simon would let me take some days off," Jim said, hoping Blair would say 'Yes, come on down'.

But he didn't. He said, “I've gotta go, man. I'm really tired. Take care, please. Give my love to Megan and everyone for me. I love you, Jim. I'll see you soon, okay?”

"I love you, Blair," Jim said.

"I'll be home tomorrow night, Jim. I'll see you then," Blair said.

"Yeah, I can't wait, Chief. Drive carefully."

"I will."

Jim hung up the phone and wearily climbed the stairs to bed, only to lie awake into the morning hours, seeing Megan's pale agonized features overlaid by Blair's in his dreams.

~oOo~

Jim looked up from the television as he heard the front door snick open. He grinned delightedly as a foot clad only in a white sock appeared and wriggled jauntily. The door was pushed open the rest of the way, revealing his lover standing on the other side, a sneaker held in one hand.

"I'm hooome!" Blair called.

Jim turned the television off and hurried to the door, pulling Blair inside and into his arms. He took Blair's overnight bag and set it down on the floor then turned back and cupped his hands either side of Blair's face. "God, Chief, it is so good to see you."

Then the door was pushed shut with a bang and he was grabbed around the waist, and step-marched to land with his back against the wall and an extremely turned-on lover against his chest.

“Hey,” Jim said, smiling broadly down into Blair’s upturned face. “Welcome home, babe.”

“Oh, man, I am so glad to be home, Jim.”

"I can see that," Jim replied with a grin.

Blair pulled Jim’s head down for a long, deep, and dirty kiss, then wrapped his arms more tightly around Jim’s shoulders until Jim could feel the full length of Blair’s hardness pressing against his thigh.

Jim groaned as his own cock swelled within the confines of his jeans and pushed himself even closer to his lover, rubbing urgently against Blair’s hip. “Bed, Chief?” he muttered through clenched teeth, turning his head in the direction of their bedroom.

Blair shook his head determinedly, his hair bouncing on the fabric of Jim’s shirt, curls tangling through Jim’s fingers. “Not yet,” he murmured back. “Can’t wait, Jim. Please! Oh, God!”

Jim felt his back pushed even harder against the wall and he bent his knees a little and opened them so he could pull Blair up to rest against his thigh. He bent his head to rest against the top of Blair’s, feeling the urgency to reach completion rush through both of them. Blair’s cock branded his leg with heat and he humped back, thrusting against him, gasping as the friction of Blair’s jeans fired his own blood. He heard Blair moaning over and over then felt dampness against his leg. As Blair went limp in his arms, Jim held him up and thrust hard against him one more time, then groaned Blair’s name as he climaxed as well. He slid down the wall, Blair still clutched in his arms, feeling small jolts and shudders as the aftershocks hit them, unable to tell which were from Blair and which from himself.

Blair moved into his lap as they hit the floor and laid his head against Jim’s heaving, sweaty chest. “Oh, man,” he said breathlessly. “That was something else.”

Jim touched the wet and now rapidly cooling spots on his pants leg and at his groin distastefully and grinned ruefully. “I really hope we’ve both got clean pants somewhere around here, Chief.”

Blair laughed. “Hey, I don’t mind if you walk around the loft naked for the next couple of days.”

“Yeah, well, if I let you walk around naked, neither of us will get any rest,” Jim replied, giving Blair’s forehead a quick kiss.

“Rest is so overrated,” Blair said with a smile. He stood up and held a hand down to his lover, pulling Jim to his feet with an over-exaggerated number of groans as he did so.

Jim whapped him gently on the head as he stood then turned him and pointed him at the bathroom. “Go take a shower, Chief. I’ll dig us out some clean clothes and then when you come out, I think it’s your turn to cook dinner.”

“Oh, man,” Blair whined theatrically. “I just get home and you’re putting me to work already.”

“Joking, Darwin. I’ll order Chinese take-out. You can take your turn tomorrow night, instead.” Jim whacked Blair’s backside and watched him saunter off to the bathroom. Sighing happily, he turned to the phone and called in the order.

~oOo~

The warm hands moved over his face, cupping it gently for a moment before moving on to trace around his lips. He arched his head back as the fingers moved, lips following in their wake, laving a wet swath down the expanse of his throat. Teeth nibbled softly against the raised tendon in his neck and a tender kiss was placed over his pulse point. He sighed with bliss as a mouth latched onto a nipple and suckled then moved over to lap at the other as well.

He raised his hands to pull his lover closer. “Lie still. Don’t move yet,” his lover murmured and so he complied, feeling boneless and yet on fire inside as the slow sweet buildup continued.

The hands were on his belly now, rubbing across the planes of his abdomen, a fingertip delving quickly in and out of his navel. He moaned as the knuckles of his lover’s hand brushed against his cockhead, and then again as he felt the palm brush down over his shaft to the base and back up again. “Please,” he begged, his feet pushing flat against the bed, his knees bent.

“Ssh,” the voice said.

His cock was grasped firmly and he shuddered as he felt a mouth close around the head and slide down, licking and sucking to the base. Again and again, his lover took him in and out till he was writhing against the mattress, pleading to be taken.

“Okay, babe, okay.”

He heard a bottle being uncapped and he huffed out a happy breath out at the sound. He was pulled further down the bed then up to rest on his lover’s strong thighs. Fingers slick and cool with lube probed carefully at his anus and he opened his legs wider, flopping them down on either side of his lover’s legs in blatant invitation. One finger pressed inside and he pushed back against it, making small demanding sounds till a second joined the first. His legs were lifted over his lover’s shoulders as the fingers continued their exploration and stretching then the fingers were pulled free and he groaned at the satisfying, burning sensation of fullness as he felt the blunt head of his lover’s cock breach him at last.

The first thrusts were gentle, incrementally opening him up with each one till his lover was fully seated within him. Then he raised his hips up and down, shoving back hard against the cock within him, begging with his body to be fucked harder and faster.

His lover complied, grunting with effort and reaching down to take hold of his erection and pump it in time with their movements.

He wailed aloud as he felt his prostate nudged and pumped his cock more urgently into his lover’s fist, his leg muscles tensing and bunching as his back arched up in a bow off the bed.

He could hear the soft cries above him as his inner walls were bathed with the warmth of his lover’s seed and then his own was pulsing hotly from him, trickling and dribbling between the hand holding him lovingly and down onto his belly.

Blair fell forward onto Jim’s chest, his tangled curls brushing against his lover’s face. They were both sweaty and breathless, sated from their second orgasm in just a few hours. The remains of the Chinese takeout sat cooling on the table downstairs and Jim gave momentary thought to going down to clean up, then decided to leave them until he went down to cook breakfast. Blair hadn’t eaten much of his share, and he was certain to have worked up an appetite by now.

Blair snorted a little against his chest as his breathing deepened into that of sleep and Jim kissed the top of his head as Blair’s softened penis slipped from Jim's body. He pushed his lover carefully off to one side and grabbed the wipes, cleaning them both up a little. Then he rolled to his side and gathered his lover in his arms, holding him close enough to feel the reassuring heartbeat against his skin. He pulled the blankets up to cover them both and drifted off to sleep, feeling whole again for the first time in a week.

~o0o~

ACT THREE

The weekend had gone entirely too quickly, Blair decided. After spending most of Saturday morning in bed, Jim and Blair had headed over to the hospital to look in on Megan, and Blair had been relieved to see that the Aussie cop was recovering nicely with plenty of TLC from Rafe.

Sunday, Jim suggested they head to the pier. Blair had initially balked at the idea, remembering the day they’d walked there, when the press had discovered Jim’s secret and Jim had turned all his anger, fear and mistrust on Blair. Jim had insisted on lunch at a new restaurant nearby and Blair had finally capitulated. It had been a good day. The sun was shining and, though they hadn’t walked arm in arm, they’d stayed close to each other, Blair occasionally reaching out to give Jim’s hand a squeeze. Instead of pulling back, Jim had simply smiled at him. Finally Blair felt able to put those particular demons behind him and bask in the glow of their new future.

They’d spent a leisurely hour in bed, saying goodbye, and then Blair had to leave and return to Seattle. He felt so exhausted, he was afraid he’d fall asleep on the way back, but the memories of the past weekend were enough to keep him awake.

Monday morning already. The previous week seemed to have fled as quickly as the weekend. Blair stared at his reflection in the mirror and made his decision. Reaching for a leather hair tie, he pulled his hair back into a neat ponytail and tied it securely. It was no big deal, anyway. The idea of cutting his hair had crossed his mind on more than one occasion as it was. Sometimes the effort it took to wash and dry it, then comb it out, was more than he could be bothered with. He reached for the earrings adorning his left ear then stopped. Stuff ‘em. He wasn’t going to become a sheep, and chances were Collins would find something derogatory to say to him even if his ears were bare.

He turned away from the mirror and strode over to the bed to pick up his backpack. He eyed the breakfast tray on the table then reached out and grabbed a banana. His nerves were making his stomach queasy and he didn’t think he could handle anything heavier this morning. “See, Jim, I’m eea-ting,” he said in a singsong voice.

Picking up his bag, he headed for the door, peeling the banana on the way.

~o0o~

He was right on the money where Dean was concerned. Blair had just gotten settled when Collins swaggered by. He glared down at Blair and sneered, “You could get a crewcut, Sandburg, and you still wouldn’t be a real cop.”

“Dean!” Perry was just behind his partner and he reached out now, grasping the other detective’s arm, forcing Collins to turn and face him. “Knock it off, Dean. I’ve had about as much as I can take of this shit, and so has everybody else.” He glanced at Blair. “Sorry, Blair. My partner here needs to learn some manners.”

Blair waved the apology away. “It’s fine, man.” He glared up at Collins. “Not your fault.”

Collins angrily pulled his arm from Perry’s grasp. “You don’t like the way I act, find another partner,” he hissed. “I never asked for a new partner anyway.”

“Well, you’re stuck with me and do I need to remind you that I have seniority, Detective?”

“Fuck you,” Dean spat. Turning away, he strode off, taking a seat at the far end of the table.

“All right. Listen up, people,” Agent Russell said. “So far, we’ve been studying dry texts that I’m sure you’re all a little bored with. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be putting some of those texts into practice and maybe doing some street work with the PD here. Before you leave for the day, I’m going to give you some homework.” He waved away the expected groans.

“In case you hadn’t noticed, sir,” Perry piped up, “we’re not in high school anymore.”

Russell grinned. “Duly noted, Detective,” he replied with an easy smile, “but this is school all the same. You don’t hand up the work and you’ll score an F. Okay,” Russell rose and walked alongside the table, handing an envelope to each person. “Inside each of these envelopes is a fellow student’s name. The envelopes are not to be opened until you get home or back to your hotel room, and there is to be no swapping envelopes. Your assignment is to study the person whose name you’ve been given over the next two weeks and then write a profile on them.” He waited a beat as there was a murmur of conversation, then spoke up again. “Questions?”

Blair put up his hand. “How thorough a profile does it have to be?” he asked. “I mean, we don’t know much about each other’s backgrounds, except those who’ve come with their partners. Two weeks doesn’t seem long enough to -“

“You’ve been here a week already, Detective,” Russell interjected. “If you’ve been absorbing anything you’ve been taught, you would have already been checking out your fellow students, making assumptions, noting details. Once the assignments have been handed in, my colleagues and I will be the judge of how thorough you’ve been, and how successful. Okay?”

Blair nodded. “Okay.” He fingered the envelope in his hand, his gaze running along the row of people, pausing on Melanie Harris, the pretty blonde sitting a few seats away. He raised his hand again. “Will our profiles remain anonymous?” he asked.

“Yes, they will. The only thing you’ll learn is your grades. All right, people, that’s it for today. Remember, tomorrow we have a gym session, so dress in sweats or something like that.”

~o0o~

Blair sat on the bed and vacillated between heading straight for a shower or opening the intriguing envelope inside his backpack. He’d discovered an interesting-looking Thai restaurant on his way into the PD the day before that had been highly recommended by Scott Thornton, one of the detectives on the profiling course who lived in Seattle. Blair had become friendly with several of the profiling group now and they’d all arranged to meet there for dinner at seven. He had to admit he was beginning to really enjoy himself. Even Dean Collins’ sour looks couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm at once more having his nose in a book and taking notes. It was a familiar, much-missed routine, and he was reveling in it. Several of the group had noted that their own opinions of Collins were less than complimentary and Blair felt a pleasant camaraderie building within the group that he’d thought he’d never be a part of. It felt good to be part of the team and he couldn’t wait to phone Jim and tell him that this had been the right decision to make.

He missed his partner terribly, wishing Jim could have been here too, to share the course and the friendships he was building. He missed the feel of Jim’s warm, big body next to his. Especially missed making love to Jim, whether it was an urgent, passionate joining or a slow sensual wakeup call. He missed sitting at Jim’s side in the truck, watching his back…

Of course that thought dredged up concern for Megan, though Jim had assured him she was doing well. Blair knew Jim was blaming himself for Megan’s shooting, would once again be cursing the senses that sometimes seem to be more of a burden than a gift. Despite the guidance he gave Jim, despite the fact they now shared a life, both on and off duty, Blair knew it was still difficult for Jim to accept that there were times he needed to rely on others, most notably his guide, in order to control his senses. He wanted to be there for Jim now, to reassure him that he’d done nothing wrong. And he had to admit he felt more than a little guilt himself at deciding to undertake this course, instead of doing what he’d come to accept as his most important role in life - that of Jim’s guide.

Blair gave in to the tickling cough that had never completely gone away since their ordeal in the mountains. Getting up, he pulled a bottle of water from the small bar fridge and took a few swallows. Glancing at the bedside clock and realizing he had plenty of time before he had to meet his friends, Blair pulled the small envelope from his backpack, grabbed a notepad and pen and settled himself on the bed. This should be fun. He ripped open the envelope and pulled out the sheet of paper.

Shit! He frowned as he read the name printed there. Dean Collins. So much for fun. He put the paper to one side and thought for a moment, absently doodling on the notepad in his lap. Not fun, exactly, but it should certainly prove interesting. Collins’ habitual scowl and seemingly permanent bad temper, not to mention his obvious dislike of Blair from the moment he’d laid eyes on him, had to stem from something. This was something he could get his teeth into. Something he knew he was good at - observing and studying people and their interactions with those around them and their surroundings. With a small smile on his face, knowing he was being somewhat childish, Blair printed carefully on the paper - I don’t like you!

Yeah, well, I don’t like you either, punk and you’re gonna pay for that comment.

Blair gasped, startled. Where the hell had that thought come from? Only it wasn’t a thought, he realized. It was as though he had heard the words being spoken. The voice had been clear, menacing and deep, unmistakably male. Blair stared down at the notepad. The entire page was covered with scribbles, though there seemed to be more coherency to them than just the abstract jotting of a mind caught up in absent thought. Lines intersected lines, small circles swirled out in a growing circumference, bisected in one instance by a series of dots.

He adjusted his glasses on his nose and studied the paper more carefully. It looked familiar somehow, though he couldn’t seem to put a finger on where he’d seen it before. The phone rang and startled him from his bewildered musings. Putting the paper aside, he picked it up and answered, expecting it to be Jim.

"Hey, Sandburg. It’s Scott. We’re waiting downstairs. You coming to dinner or not?"

Surprised, Blair looked at the clock and blinked. He’d been sitting here, doodling and daydreaming for close to half an hour. “Uh, yeah, Scott. Look, I got caught up with some stuff. I shouldn’t be more than fifteen minutes.”

"I don’t think Eddie’s gonna last that long," Scott chuckled, referring to the heavyset detective from Snohomish whose appetite rivaled that of Joel Taggert. "Tell you what, you know how to get to the restaurant, don’t you?"

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I know how to get there,” Blair said. Blair stood and tucked the receiver beneath his chin and started unbuttoning his shirt.

"Right on Tenth and take the second on the left," Scott said anyway. "We’ll meet you there. Eddie can get started on the hors d'oeuvres." He laughed, as a deep voice that Blair recognized as the jovial Eddie’s suggested Scott do something rude and physically impossible.

“No problem,” Blair replied, his earlier concerns evaporating. “Just tell Eddie to leave something for me.”

"You tell him," Scott laughed. "Melanie’s coming," he whispered theatrically.

Blair grinned. The young detective was extremely attractive and, in another life, she and Blair might have been able to get something happening. He’d have to let her down gently. While his and Jim’s relationship had to remain secret to all but a chosen few, he could still let Melanie know that he was off the market. Scott had confided to Blair just the other day that he was attracted to Melanie himself. Maybe Blair could indulge in a little matchmaking on the side. “I’ll see you there.”

He hung up the phone and headed for the shower. The intriguing doodling and the voice he was sure he had heard bothered him though. What the heck was wrong with him? It had to be stress, he decided. So much had gone on during the past few months, he was surprised sometimes not to find himself strapped into a straitjacket. Still musing over the worrisome thoughts, he showered and dressed, then headed downstairs.

~o0o~

Blair was disappointed that Perry Davis had declined the dinner invitation, though he was more than a little relieved to see that Dean Collins wasn’t there either. He was pretty certain the sullen detective’s dislike of him stemmed from the fact that he assumed, like some in the Cascade PD, that Blair had gotten an easy entrance into the force and the rank of detective without having to earn his passage. It was something he'd endured since he'd first started riding along with Jim but had never gotten used to. He understood, of course, that the true nature of his ride-along with Jim could never be revealed, but it didn’t stop it rankling when every other cop assumed he was just some longhaired hippie wannabe playing cops and robbers. He also had to admit that, knowing Collins was his subject, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from covertly studying the man over dinner.

Scott Thornton leaned forward toward Blair as he finished off his soup. “So, Blair,” he said, “you gonna tell us who you got?”

“Got?” Blair was momentarily confused then realized to what Scott was referring. “We’re not allowed to tell, remember?” he replied.

“Oh, come on, Blair,” Melanie wheedled, shifting a little closer to Blair. “It’ll be more fun knowing.”

Blair shook his head. “Look, guys, this is a serious part of the course. For some of us, it’s our first real practice at profiling and it won’t work properly if everyone else knows who you’re observing. That way, you could get unintended information on your subject or they’ll act differently to try and put you off. It’s better we don’t know.”

“You gonna lecture us all night, Professor,” Eddie said, giving Blair a hearty slap on the back that almost sent him face-first into his dinner plate, “or are we gonna order dessert?”

Blair leaned back in his chair and patted his stomach. “No dessert for me, I’m full.”

Melanie stared at him. “You coming down with something? All you had was a bowl of soup. We had a stomach flu going around the PD the week before I left.”

Blair rolled his eyes. He wondered if Jim had set up a couple of spies to make sure he stuck to the rules. He wouldn’t have put it past him. “Just trying to stay in shape,” he told her. “With all this sitting around in a classroom all day, my jeans are already feeling tight.” He nudged Eddie. “You can have my share, man.”

Eddie’s delighted grin indicated that the big cop thought that was a great idea.

~o0o~

It had been an extremely pleasant laid-back evening but, regardless, Blair was tired by the time he got back to the hotel. Looking at his watch, he realized it was still early enough to put a quick call into Jim before he hit the sack. Dialing the familiar number, he waited until Jim answered then said in his sexiest voice, “I’m sitting here in my socks.”

There was an audible swallow on the other end of the line, then Jim mock-growled, "Sandburg, do you mind? How am I supposed to sleep with that image in my head?"

Blair chuckled. “Sorry, Jim, couldn’t resist. How are you, man? How’s Megan doing?”

"I’m fine, Chief, a little tired. Connor’s doing great. The doctor says she’ll be out of the hospital in a few days."

“That’s good news,” Blair replied enthusiastically.

"How about you?" Jim asked. "Seattle treating you okay?"

“Yeah, pretty good. I just got back from having dinner with a few guys from the course. They’re a great bunch of guys…” He waited a beat, “… and girls.”

"So you already told me. You have of course told these girls that you’re taken, haven’t you?"

Blair settled back onto his pillows with a grin on his face. ”Why would I want to do that, Jim?”

"Because every pretty girl you meet wants to take you home, Sandburg and I just want to make sure they know you’re taken."

“Chill, Jim,” Blair chuckled, unable to keep the joke going. “There is one particular lady detective who seems to have taken a shine to me but I let her know I was already spoken for -“

"You didn’t mention -" Jim cut in.

“Do I look stupid?” Blair asked, not really offended, merely enjoying this familiar banter. “Of course I didn’t. In fact I may just have played matchmaker of the year. The way Scott and Melanie were looking at each other by the end of the night, I wouldn’t be surprised to get a wedding invitation in a few months.”

"Well, then, that’s okay," Jim conceded. "So, apart from the pretty detectives, everything’s okay?"

Blair smiled at the note of concern in his lover’s voice. “Yeah, you know. There’s this one guy, Dean Collins. I swear the man gets up on the wrong side of bed every morning -“

"He giving you a hard time?" Jim interjected.

“Down, Jim,” Blair ordered. “He’s a pain in the neck but it’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before. It’s just… the guy’s so angry all the time. I don’t know how his partner puts up with him.”

"Is he from Seattle?"

Blair yawned. “Tacoma. They come from all over, man.”

"Sounds like I should let you get some sleep, Chief." An echoing yawn came through the line. "I’m pretty wiped myself."

“Yeah, okay, I’m gonna crash. Simon’s got you partnered with someone else, right?”

"Yes, Chief," Jim replied obediently. "Rafe’s free right now. H has got court duty all week."

“Good, that’s good. See you in a few days?”

"You bet. I love you, Blair."

“Ditto, Jim.”

~oOo~

The rest of the week passed by in a blur for Blair. They’d finally been allowed to spend some time on the streets with the Seattle PD. While nothing truly exciting had gone down, Blair had enjoyed sitting back and studying the two uniformed cops he and Scott were riding with, taking mental notes about the disparities and similarities between the forces of Seattle and Cascade. He’d actually been a little surprised at the differences in some procedures, considering that both groups were part of the same society. He had to admit he was glad to discover that Seattle didn’t seem to hold the same appeal for bad guys as Cascade did.

Thursday had been taken up with lectures on Forensic Anthropology and Blair relished every word, discovering that even some of the more stomach-churning crime scene photos didn’t appear to upset him as much as they used to.

Friday had been boring, though; they were back to listening to Agent Russell discussing their responsibilities both to themselves and other members of their respective police forces on the job. Blair knew it was important stuff, remembering too many times when Jim had hauled his ass over the carpet for not doing as he’d been told and reminding him that his foolhardy headlong dashes into danger were just as likely to cause danger to others beside himself.

Blair took it to heart - heck, he’d pretty much been whacked over the head with this particular textbook a time or two - but he couldn’t help stealing glances at his watch, almost counting the hours until he could leave and head home again.

~o0o~

"I am so glad Megan is okay, man," Blair said as he opened the front door. "She looks fine, a little pale maybe, but pretty good considering she's only been out of hospital a few days."

"Hey, me too, Chief," Jim replied as he took his own jacket off and grabbed Blair's from him, hanging them both on the hooks. "You want a drink or something to eat?"

"No, I'm not hungry. I was just going to wash up and go straight up to bed."

"You sure you're eating, Blair?" Jim put a hand up to stop the expected argument. "I know I promised I wouldn't nag you about it, babe, but you've lost weight and you hardly ate anything at Rafe and Megan's tonight."

"Jim, I'm just a little tired from driving back and forth, that's all. I swear I've been eating, man. Turn off the radar, okay?" Blair stepped forward and pulled Jim's head down, placing a kiss on Jim's mouth. "I love it that you care about me so much, man, but give me some credit. I told you I'd eat and I have been. I've been working out in the gym down there too. It's only natural I'd lose some weight."

"Okay, no more Blessed Protector tonight, Chief." Jim leaned forward and captured Blair's lips again. "You're gonna eat a good breakfast tomorrow, though. Deal?"

"Deal," Blair agreed with a smile. "I'm going to go to bed. You coming?"

"Right behind you, Chief. Just let me lock up," Jim said.

~oOo~

Jim pulled back the blankets and climbed into the bed. He reached forward and snagged Blair around the waist, pulling his lover close against his body.

Blair undulated against him, pressing his body more firmly against Jim's. "Hey," he whispered.

"Hey," Jim whispered back. He bent his head forward and nuzzled at the soft nape of Blair's neck then spidered one hand around to find and tease a nipple to hardness.

"Mmm, nice," Blair muttered, pushing his ass back to grind against his lover's hard erection.

"Very nice," Jim murmured, pushing his hips forward.

He fumbled under the pillow and grinned to himself as he came up with a tube of lube. Slicking his fingers, he began a slow teasing crawl of his hand down Blair's spine until he reached his cleft. "This okay, babe?" he asked softly. He tongued the shell of Blair's ear.

"It's great, Jim. Don't stop."

Blair bent his upper leg, allowing Jim unfettered access and moaned as Jim's long fingers crept across his hole.

Jim circled the puckered opening a few times before pressing one finger inside and beginning a slow sensual massage.

As Blair began to push back against his hand he added another finger, continuing the slow caress. He wanted to prolong this, to make it as good for Blair as it could possibly be. He kissed Blair's shoulder as he continued to prepare him, his own cock aching almost painfully for completion.

He pulled his fingers free of Blair's body and slicked them again, using them to lubricate the length of his cock. Then he pushed forward, the blunt head of his penis breaching Blair's opening. He felt it stretch around him and groaned with the sheer pleasure of it. Pulling back until only the head was inside, he began a long slow thrust back and forth, his breath seeping out in small exhalations between his lips. As his need grew, he sped his pace, pumping faster and harder into Blair's ass.

He could feel his climax building, the slow burn in his belly warning him of its imminence. Snaking one hand around Blair's waist, his hips continuing their frenzied thrusting, he grasped Blair's cock in his hand…

And froze.

Then his orgasm rushed upon him like a freight train and he thrust again and bit gently down on Blair's shoulder as he came, feeling Blair's penis lying soft and quiescent in his hand.

Jim pulled out of Blair's body carefully and rolled to his back, one hand coming up to cover his eyes. "Jesus, Blair, why didn't you just tell me you weren't in the mood?"

Blair turned over and blanketed himself against Jim's side, pressing a sweet kiss over Jim's heart. "I was in the mood, Jim. I'm just tired, that's all. Just because I didn't come doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it."

"God, I'm sorry, Blair," Jim whispered, his arms coming down and enclosing Blair in a warm embrace. "You told me you were tired. I should have -"

"Ssh." Blair's fingers crept up and covered Jim's lips. "You didn't do anything I didn't want you to do. It was nice, Jim. And there something even better we can do in this bed tonight."

"Yeah? What's that, Einstein?" Jim asked, kissing the top of Blair's head.

"Snuggle," Blair replied as he suited actions to words, insinuating himself against Jim's side, his head coming to rest on the Sentinel's broad chest. "You do snuggling, don't you?"

"Oh, yeah, Chief, when you're in my arms, I do great snuggling," Jim said softly, the worry that had been beating at him moments before quieted for now. He rubbed a hand down the slope of Blair's back, momentarily wondering if Blair's bones had felt this prominent before.

"Good," Blair said, interrupting his train of thought. "I'm sleepy. Do you do sleep too?"

"Yeah, as long as you're here, Chief, I can do that too." Jim closed his eyes, the slow motion of his hand on Blair's back faltering as they both surrendered to sleep.

~o0o~

Monday was supposed to have been another day away from lectures and classrooms. The group had assembled in the gymnasium for some training in hand to hand combat, how to control a violent or possibly deranged person and also to let off some much needed steam after being cooped up in a lecture room most of the time for close to two weeks, and Blair had to admit he was relieved at not having the time to think over what had happened when he’d been home on the weekend. It happened to all guys at some time or other, he’d argued to himself on the way back to Seattle. Nerves, stress, being overtired and perhaps being a little too turned on could easily explain his impotence that night. He’d been honest when he’d told Jim he’d enjoyed their love-making any way but deep down, when added to the other weird things that were happening with him, he was beginning to get seriously worried. He wasn’t going to say anything to Jim though. The litany of symptoms Blair appeared to be experiencing would be more than enough for Jim to be ordering Blair home. Putting the worrying episodes out of his mind for now, Blair dressed in sweats and headed downstairs to drive to the PD.

~O0O~

When it came to his turn on the mat, Blair was already nervous. Jim had taught him a few moves after Ventriss' goons had beaten him up the year before, and he sometimes worked out with Jim at the police gymnasium. There had been self-defense classes at the Academy too, but Blair had no doubts about his lack of skills as a fighter, especially when he was paired up with Dean Collins. It made sense, he supposed, since their builds were somewhat similar, but the glare Collins threw him left Blair convinced that Collins was as happy about the pairing as he was. Perry had even stepped in and offered to work with Blair, but Agent Russell had pointed out their difference in sizes and overridden the suggestion.

Blair stood and faced Collins on the mat. The two circled each other warily for a few moments, then Collins lunged. It was easy enough for Blair to duck out of the other man’s way. He was lighter than Collins and quicker on his feet. Buoyed by his success, he feinted to the left and came at Collins from the right. The move took Collins offguard and he stumbled, putting himself within Blair’s reach. Blair grabbed Collins’ nearest arm and pushed it behind his back, hoping to be able to get the other man on the ground, but Collins used his weight to pull them both forward, then twisted sideways. Before Blair knew what was happening, Collins had their positions reversed. Blair attempted the same maneuver to get the upper hand but, before he could twist away, Collins’ hand fisted Blair’s ponytail and his head was pulled back so far, he was sure his neck would snap.

“Stop, please! You’re hurting me!”

Blair only had time to register that the voice he’d heard in his head was unmistakably female before his feet were swept from beneath him and he hit the mat hard, gasping for breath as the wind was driven from his lungs. Russell called a halt to the proceedings at that point and Blair was vaguely aware of someone asking him if he was okay, and of hands grasping his and pulling him into a sitting position. He stayed there a moment, catching his breath and willing the trembling away before staggering to his feet.

“Geez, sorry, Sandburg,” Collins drawled, but there was no genuine apology on his face, “you’re lighter than you look.”

Blair shook his head, then wished he hadn’t as a headache flared to life and his vision grayed out briefly. He tightened his grip on Perry’s arm until he felt steadier. “No biggie,” he said.

Agent Russell trotted over and gave Blair a considering stare. “You sure you’re all right?” he asked. “Need a doctor?”

“No, I’m fine,” Blair assured him.

“Okay, why don’t you sit the rest of the session out?” the agent suggested.

“I’m fine,” Blair insisted, though he really wanted to sit down. Lying down was sounding even more attractive right now.

Russell shook his head. “No arguments. You’re as white as sheet, Sandburg.” He pointed to the benches lining one wall of the gym. “Go, sit.”

“Yes, sir.” Blair walked over to the seats, taking it slowly as the headache built to a crescendo, making him feel slightly nauseated. He sat and rested his head in his hands, catching a fleeting smirk on Collins’ face before the other cop strode off to join the others.

Now he was lying on his bed in his darkened hotel room, resting fitfully in the vague hope of staving off the headache that was threatening to erupt into a full-blown migraine, if the bursts of white light that were blooming behind his tightly closed eyelids were any indication. Blair sighed and tried to shift his weight off his bruised back. Yesterday he’d been so confident that things were looking up, and now Dean Collins had once again made him feel like an idiot.

He turned to his side, wincing, and made a conscious effort to relax his eyelids, deliberately slowing and deepening his breathing. He finally managed to reach a light meditative state with some difficulty, but once he reached the plateau he sought, he sent his mind winging outwards, toward home, toward Jim. The connection between them almost tangible now, he drifted off to sleep.

~o0o~

Jim had a deep sense of unease that assailed him every time he thought of Blair. His lover had sounded relaxed enough when they’d spoken on the phone, but Jim just couldn't seem to rid himself of the feeling that things in Seattle might not be going as smoothly as Blair said they were. There was nothing concrete he could put his finger on and he wondered if it was just his overprotectiveness surging to the fore or, as Simon had said, his own insecurity at having Blair away from him. Not knowing the reason for it didn't help, and Jim found himself becoming more and more jittery as the day went on. He snapped at everyone, even reducing Rhonda, Simon's formidable secretary, almost to tears at one point. Finally, he decided to give the bullpen a well-deserved break from his uncertain temper and took himself off to visit Connor at the apartment she now shared with Rafe.

He stopped just outside the door, hearing voices within, not wanting to intrude. About to leave and come back later, he stopped as the door opened and Rafe came out.

"Hey, Jim, you here to see Megan? Go on in. I was just leaving." Rafe smiled as he gestured towards the elevator.

"Thanks," Jim replied. "You okay with working with me till Sandburg gets back?' he asked hesitantly.

Rafe frowned. "Sure, man. Brown's tied up and after what you did to Megs, there's no way you're safe on the street on your own -" Rafe stopped suddenly, his cheeks blushing crimson. "Oh, shit, Jim, I didn't mean that the way it came out. I know it wasn't your fault Megan got hurt. She knows that, too. Jim, buddy, I'm sorry."

Jim smiled, feeling a little embarrassed himself. He wouldn't really have blamed Rafe if the guy had thumped him one on the jaw for putting Connor in front of that bullet. "It's okay, Rafe. I deserve at least that."

Rafe shook his head firmly. "No way, Jim. None of what happened was your fault. If anyone's to blame, it's the asshole who pulled the trigger, not you. Megs won't be happy if she hears you're blaming yourself, and take it from someone who knows, a pissed off Megan is not a happy sight, if you know what I mean."

Jim laughed, his mind flashing back to the first few times he'd worked with Megan Connor, fresh from Australia, all sparks and fire, the chip on her shoulder only matched by the size of her determination to get the job done. "She's a good cop, Rafe, and a nice lady. You're a lucky guy."

"Yeah, I know," Rafe agreed, smiling back. "So why don't you get on in there and tell her that yourself. She feels pretty bad about what happened too, Jim. Oh, my sister's in there, too. Tell the kid to come downstairs and meet me in the lobby. I'll buy the brat some lunch."

Jim nodded. "Why don't I meet you downstairs in a half hour or so. We can talk over what cases we've got pending before going back to the station. I really need to get back to work, Rafe. I'm going stir crazy, especially with Blair being away."

"Sure thing. I'll see you soon. You can catch me up on how Sandburg's doing in the big smoke," Rafe said as he walked towards the elevator. He threw a grin over his shoulder. "Big smoke - big city, Jim. Megs has been teaching me Australian. Says she'll be embarrassed to take me downunder if I don't learn to speak properly."

Jim laughed at that, recalling a couple of instances where Connor had stymied him with her colorful turns of phrase. Then he knocked on the door. Hearing an unfamiliar voice telling him to enter, he walked into the apartment.

Jim blinked in surprise as he entered. "Connor," he said, "you're looking…" Frilly, was the word that came to mind but one look at Megan's raised eyebrow had him mentally reconsidering his vocabulary. "Better," he finally said. "Much better than the last time I saw you."

Megan's cheeks reddened as she pulled the powder-blue lacy negligee more closely around her shoulders, wincing a little as she did so. "Um… Brian bought it for me," she said.

Jim nodded. "It suits you," he replied, not sure whether he meant the negligee or the new softness in Connor's eyes. "How are you feeling?"

"Any fitter and I'd be dangerous," Megan quipped.

"Good." Jim cleared his throat then jumped as he felt a hand touch his shoulder.

"Well, if Megan isn't going to introduce us, I guess I'll have to introduce myself. I'm Trina."

Jim smiled down at the pretty girl standing next to him. "Oh, of course, Rafe's sister. Hi, nice to meet you."

Trina grinned, reminding Jim inexorably of her brother. "I'm very glad to meet you, Jim."

"Settle down, Trina. Jim's way too old for you and he's taken," Megan cut in, winking at Jim.

Trina pouted. "Can't blame a girl for trying," she said.

"Your brother said for you to meet him downstairs and he'd buy you lunch before he went to work," Jim said, smiling at her.

"Oh, okay. I'd kill for a burger. See ya, sis." Trina leaned over the sofa and planted a quick kiss on Megan's cheek.

"See ya, kiddo. I’ll see you when you get home," Megan replied fondly.

"Aye-aye, sir." Trina giggled as she snapped a salute at Connor then turned and graced Jim with a slightly Lolita-like smile. "Bye, Jim," she drawled on her way through the doorway.

The minute she was gone, both Jim and Megan burst out laughing.

"Oh God," Megan gasped after a minute, clutching her injured shoulder. "I swear that kid's gonna be the death of me."

"Wow," Jim rejoined, sitting down in the nearest armchair. "Momma Megan! Who'd've thunk?"

"Knock it off, Ellison," Megan warned, her eyes still glinting with tears of laughter. "How's Sandy?" she asked, suddenly serious.

"I spoke to him last night. He's fine, enjoying the course," Jim replied.

"And you? How are you doing without him?" Megan asked, her eyes shrewd.

Jim flushed. "I'm doing okay. Look, Connor, I'm sorry about freezing up at the warehouse. I thought I had this senses thing down pat but every now and then they still manage to throw me a curve ball."

Megan smiled. "Forget it, Jim. It must be difficult with Sandy away. He's your guide. Maybe it’s easier for you to control your senses with him around."

Jim smiled back at her. "That's exactly the way it works between us, Connor. You know, you're smarter than I've given you credit for in the past. So, I've only got one thing to ask you… What the heck are you doing hooking up with Rafe?" He grinned broadly as Megan laughed with him.

"Hey, someone has to keep an eye on him," Megan said. She looked down, fiddling with the blanket covering her legs. "I love him," she said softly. "He's very important to me."

"I know how you feel," Jim replied gravely then quirked another smile. "I mean, I feel the same way about Blair."

"I know you do, Jim. I knew from the first time I met you two that you belonged together."

"Just like you knew about the Sentinel stuff before anyone else at the PD, except for Simon, did," Jim said. "How do you do that, Connor? What is it, some sort of Aussie voodoo or something?"

Megan gave him an amused look and shook her head. "Just plain woman's intuition, Ellison."

Jim glanced at his watch. "I gotta go. I told Rafe I'd meet him downstairs. Connor, look, thanks for not being pissed off about…" Jim waved his hand toward the bandaged shoulder. "Well, you know… anyway, thanks." He stood up, then bent forward, surprising himself, and kissed Connor's cheek. "You take care, okay?"

Megan nodded. "I will. You take care of Brian for me. I swear that man's an accident looking for somewhere to happen sometimes."

Jim winked down at her. "Look who's talking," he shot back as he spun on his heel and headed out the door.

~o0o~

Blair knew he couldn’t put the assignment off any longer. The profile was due to be handed in this week. The problem was, the more time he spent with Dean Collins, the harder it was to find anything positive to say about the man. It wasn’t just his snide asides whenever he was certain Blair would hear, the small, almost accidental shoves and trip-ups, or even the aggression he’d shown in the gym. Everything about Collins screamed ‘nasty’, and Blair wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Sighing, he sat down on his bed and stared longingly at the phone. No, he told himself sternly, no distractions. He glanced down at the notepad beside him. So far he’d only managed a few brief notes, none of them positive: aggressive, quick to anger, prejudicial, egotistical, narcissistic… sociopathic. Grabbing his pen, he drew a line through the last. That might be going too far. Pushing his glasses back up his nose, he turned to his laptop and powered it up.

A moment later, or so it seemed to Blair, he blinked and sat back. On the screen before him were two pages of typing, the sentences concise and detailed. Problem was, he didn’t actually remember writing them. He looked at his watch. Half an hour. Again, he seemed to have lost time, absorbed in the task. The headache that had never completely gone since Collins had thrown him to the mat in the gym was back full force, and Blair wondered again if there was something physically wrong with him. He dismissed the notion quickly. Aside from the tiredness that seemed a permanent part of him these days and the headaches, and the time at home when he’d been too tired or wired or whatever to get it up, he felt… fine. Okay, he amended, not totally fine, but he doubted he was going to keel over anytime soon.

Getting back to his assignment, he read through what he’d written and nodded in satisfaction. Not bad for a first time, he thought, but not too professional-sounding either. He didn’t want Agent Russell thinking he was showing off. He’d dabbled in profiling since he’d been working with Jim. Often his observations, honed by years of studying cultures and the people within, gave good insight and fresh ideas to the crimes they investigated. The David Lash investigation was a case in point.

Saving his work and making a mental note to print it out at the PD the following morning, Blair sat back and closed his eyes. There were only one and a half weeks to go and he’d be back in Cascade, back with Jim, this time with his own career. It was a good feeling.

~o0o~

Ann Rule, the ex-cop turned true crime author, smiled at Blair. “That’s a good question, Detective Sandburg. Yes, I think you could say that Ted Bundy was the ultimate… chameleon. He really did seem to have two separate personalities.” She held up a hand. “Now I’m not saying he was schizophrenic, only that he was able to use his charm in order to convince his victims that he was no threat, just a good-looking, sweet-natured boy-next-door type.”

“Do you consider yourself a victim too?” Blair asked and ignored the groan that came from Collins, who was seated next to him.

“What a stupid question,” Collins whispered.

Blair rushed on. “I mean, the fact that you had no idea that this man you’d come to know, who’d become a friend, was one of the worst serial killers in history.”

Ann nodded, looking thoughtful. “That’s a good way to put it.” She smiled again. “Very insightful. You’ll do well.”

Blair felt a painful tug on his ponytail. “Oooh, I think she likes you… Blair,” Collins said.

His patience spent, Blair turned and glared at his nemesis. “Grow up… Dean. Some of us are actually getting something useful out of this.” He turned back before Collins had a chance to reply.

Agent Russell stood and shook Ann’s hand. “Thanks again, Ann, for coming in. It’s always good to have you here.” He turned to the class. “All right, if there are no further questions, it’s time to hand in those assignments.” He waved away the collective groan from the detectives. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all the excuses, so don’t even bother.”

Blair stood and handed his paper in quickly then hurried out the door. He’d found Ann Rule’s talk incredibly interesting and hoped she’d have a few minutes to spare to talk with him further. “Ms. Rule…”

The author stopped and smiled at him. “More questions, Detective? You are an inquisitive one, aren’t you?”

Blair grinned. “That’s what my partner says too. Do you have time for a coffee, maybe?”

Ann looked at her watch then nodded. “I’ve never said no to coffee with a handsome young man.”

“Great! I know of this nice little cafe just a couple of blocks away.”

~o0o~

“I mean it, Dean, leave Blair alone!”

Blair stopped in the doorway to the lecture room, embarrassed that he’d walked in on an obviously private, intense moment between Perry and Dean but, before he could quietly leave, both men turned to glare at him. He raised a hand and waved. “Hey, guys. You should have come for coffee with Ann and me. She’s an amazing lady -“

“Like I want to be seen around town with you, Sandburg,” Collins groused.

“Gentlemen.” Agent Russell walked into the room and smiled at the three men, seemingly unaware of the tension in the air.

Blair closed his mouth before he told Collins once and for all what he thought of him.

“Dean?” Russell went on. “Can I have a word with you in my office?”

Collins shrugged. “Sure, why not?” He followed Russell out of the room, shooting a venomous glance at Blair as he pushed past him.

Perry gave Blair an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Blair. I don’t know what’s got into Dean the past couple of weeks. I mean, I know he wasn’t too happy about doing this course and he can be an asshole at the best of times, but I have no idea why he’s singled you out.”

Blair waved away the apology. “Not your fault, Perry. Look,” he took a few steps into the room, “I appreciate what you said to Dean, but I can handle him, man. I don’t want you guys pissed with each other because of me. You’ve got to go home and ride with the guy, after all.”

Perry shook his head. “I’m not going to let him get away with harassing you -“

“Hey,” Blair grinned, “you think that’s harassment? First day I met my partner, he threw me up against a wall and called me a neo-hippie witchdoctor punk!” He sobered. “It’s fine, Perry, really. I have to admit the guy bothers me but I can handle it.” He touched Perry's arm. "I appreciate you looking out for me.”

~o0o~

Agent Russell led Dean into the office he’d appropriated for the duration of the course. He waited while the FBI agent set the assignment sheets down on his desk and then sat down, gesturing for Dean to do the same. “I wanted to talk to you about your attitude since you’ve been here -“

If this was about tackling that fag in the gym… Collins sat forward, his body tense. “If this is about the other day, Sandburg -“

Russell held up a hand. “That’s a part of it. Look, nobody says you have to like everyone here but I’m beginning to wonder if you’re cut out for this job. A profiler needs to be objective and frankly, your treatment of Sandburg borders on harassment.”

Collins scowled. “If he can’t stand the heat -“

“You’re brothers in arms,” Russell interjected. “You’re both on the same side. Now you back off or I’ll reconsider your participation in the course.”

Fuming, Collins stood and glowered at the other man. “I didn’t want to do this course in the first place,” he said angrily. “I was more than happy working my way up to Captain. I’m assuming you know my arrest rate -“

“Is second to none in Tacoma,” Russell finished for him. “I’m aware of that, yes. There’s a week to go with this course. I’m going to give you until tomorrow to think over your options. If you don’t want to be here, let me know. Got it?”

“Yeah.”

Russell nodded. “Good, and - “ He was interrupted by a buzz from his desk phone. “Yes?”

“There’s a Special Agent Cortez here to see you, sir,” the desk sergeant said.

“Oh, right. I’ll just be a minute.” Russell stood and gathered up a folder from the desk. “That’s all, Dean.”

“Yes, sir.” Dean glanced down at the assignments on the desk. Sandburg’s was on the top, his name typed neatly on the front page. He followed Russell out into the corridor and watched him hurry away. As soon as he turned the corner, Collins made his way back inside the office. It didn’t take him long to scan Sandburg’s assignment and by the time he was finished, rage blossomed so hotly he could scarcely breathe. The little shit! Fucking little faggot jerk!

~o0o~

“Jim! How are you, man? How’s Megan? Is everything okay up there?”

"Whoa, slow down, Sandburg, you’re gonna give yourself a coronary."

Blair could almost hear the smile in Jim’s voice. “Sorry, it’s just good to hear your voice. I really miss you.”

"Ditto, Chief."

Blair took a slow breath and composed himself. The last thing he wanted was Jim worrying over what he was about to say. “Look, Jim, I know I said I’d be back this weekend but I have these assignments to do and Agent Russell is breathing down our necks over getting them finished and -“

"You’re not coming home?"

Blair could definitely detect the disappointment in Jim’s voice and felt immediate regret. “I’m sorry. I just really need to get this done and I figure, it’s only one more week before I’ll be home for good…” He trailed off, unable to explain further.

"This isn’t because of last weekend, is it?" Jim asked. "It’s not a big deal, Chief. You’re tired, stressed over this course. I probably pushed when I should have just let you sleep…"

“Don’t be silly,” Blair replied, mentally crossing his fingers to protect the lie. “I know that. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, trust me. I was just more tired than I realized. I’m not gonna lose sleep over not being able to get it up once.” He winced at his choice of words. “I mean, I felt bad for you, that’s all.”

"Don’t be. Are you sure you don’t want to come home? I mean you’ve got all next week to get your assignments done and knowing you like I do, I’d bet they’re all finished, bar the signing off anyway."

“I wish.” Blair willed away his desire to be with Jim, to cuddle up close in that big bed and tell his lover just what a bad week it had really been. “I’m sorry. You don’t mind, do you?”

"I mind," Jim said, "but I understand. I love you. Get some sleep and I’ll see you next week."

“I love you too.” Blair swallowed. “’Bye, Jim.” He hung up the phone and threw himself onto the bed, totally depressed, but relieved that he wouldn’t have to humiliate himself again this weekend. He’d tried to convince himself that it had just been a one-time thing. That he was, as Jim had said, tired and stressed out. Regardless of the reasons, it didn’t change the fact that, despite all the loving attention Jim had given him, he hadn’t been able to get an erection and he didn’t think he could go through that kind of embarrassment again.

~o0o~

Jim looked up as Captain Banks came out of his office and walked across to his desk.

“Jim, grab Rafe and head over to 16-20 Macy. An assault on a female was just called in from that address.”

“What, the uniforms can’t handle it?” Jim asked.

“The victim was asking for Sandburg,” Banks replied tersely.

“Okay. Did they mention a name?” Jim rose to his feet and called to Rafe.

“She said she wouldn’t speak to anyone about anything until either you or Sandburg got there. She’s refusing to go to the hospital and the paramedics said her injuries are pretty bad,” Banks explained.

“We’re on it, sir.” Jim grabbed his jacket off the stand behind him and collected Rafe on his way through the door, explaining the situation as he went.

~oOo~

“Detective Ellison?”

Jim quickly climbed out of the truck and hurried over to the gurney on the sidewalk outside the apartment building they’d been called to. Looking down at the woman on the stretcher, he felt a pang of anguish. "Jenny?" he asked, reaching out with one hand to halt the stretcher's progress. "God, what the hell happened?"

The woman struggled to speak past lips that were badly lacerated, wet with blood. Both her eyes were blackened, one swollen almost shut. There was a ring of fingertip bruises around her pale throat, larger ones almost meeting over her larynx. Thumb marks, Jim realized. "My pimp, Frank. I couldn't work tonight. I was sick. I think I'm pregnant." She rubbed shaking thin fingers over her belly. "I'd really like to talk to Blair…" Tears welled up, blackening her bruised face even further with mascara.

"Blair's not here, Jenny. He's in Seattle. Look, you go to the hospital and let them take care of you and I’ll let Blair know what happened. He’ll come by and see how you’re doing as soon as he gets back, okay?" Jim said, taking one small hand in his. "Frank still working out of the same place?"

"I can't have him charged," Jenny said, pushing herself up even as her face contorted with the pain of it.

"Hey…" Jim shifted his hands to her shoulders and pressed her back against the pillow. "We'll talk about that later. Let me deal with Frank for now."

"Could you tell Blair I'm sorry?" Jenny said. "I tried to stay off the street but I needed the money for somewhere to live…"

"Blair will understand, Jenny. You just get well." Jim nodded to the paramedics and let them move the gurney on then turned to find Rafe standing right behind him.

"Who's that?" the younger detective asked.

"One of Sandburg's lost lambs," Jim replied cryptically. "Let's go. I need to go see a man about a hooker."

~oOo~

Jim barely waited for the truck to pull to a stop before he was out, his feet hitting the sidewalk and moving into a fast run as Rafe tried his best to keep up with him.

They'd barely spoken on the way over, Jim sitting tensely behind the wheel, his jaw twitching ominously in a way that Rafe was only too familiar with. The tic promised bad news for anyone who got in Ellison's way and Rafe suggested calling for backup, only to have his suggestion brushed away brusquely by the senior detective.

Rafe managed to catch up with Jim at the entrance to a seedy-looking establishment fronted by grimy windows and the biggest bouncer Rafe had ever seen in his life. The guy looked like Andre the Giant but he meekly moved aside as Ellison flashed his ID at him and waved Rafe through behind him.

Barely two feet inside, Ellison's head went up and Rafe saw his gaze lock on a man sitting at a table near the bar. "Oh, shit," Rafe muttered, as he watched Ellison go into what could only be called ‘primal mode’ and head for the guy at a run. He reached out with a despairing hand to haul his temporary partner back but his fingers barely brushed against the back of Jim's shirt. By the time Rafe had made it across the room, Ellison had the man in a necklock across the table, drinks and food scattering across the tabletop, onto the floor and into the laps of two women seated at the adjoining table.

"Ellison! Stand down!" Rafe shouted, trying to make himself heard above the two women screaming. They'd backed away from Ellison and his prey and stood cowering against the bar, their voices raised in caterwauling stridency.

Jim hauled the pimp around by one shoulder and pulled him upright. He brought a fist back and then swung forward, connecting solidly with the man's belly, causing him to double over and whoop for breath. As Jim went to swing again, Rafe grabbed his arm and managed to hold on.

Jim froze momentarily, then turned to Rafe and glared at him with glacial eyes. "Let go," he said, his voice low and without expression.

Rafe shook his head. "You can't do this, Jim. You want to arrest the bastard, fine. We'll do that. But I'm not letting you wreck your career over some two-bit scum who beats women up for fun. Let - him - go." Rafe matched his tone to Jim's and the two cops stood toe to toe for a long moment, staring each other down.

Finally, Jim broke. Shaking his head, he pulled his arm free of Rafe's restraining grip then leaned into the pimp's personal space. "This isn't over, Mazzoli. Someone's gonna be watching you night and day. You even think about touching another woman and I'll have you in Starkville so deep, they'll have to pipe air in to you. You got that?"

Mazzoli nodded, his face white, his breath still coming in puffing gasps.

Jim spun on his heel and walked out of the bar, leaving Rafe once again trying to catch up to him.

At the truck, Jim simply climbed in, waited barely long enough for his temporary partner to buckle his seat belt then peeled out into the traffic, flipping his finger as horns blared around him.

"Shit, Jim, what the hell is wrong with you?" Rafe asked, still feeling stunned.

Jim didn't turn to look at him, keeping his attention firmly fixed on the road ahead. When he spoke, his voice was gravelly. "Did you see what that creep did to that girl, Rafe? She's fucking pregnant, probably not for long considering the shape she's in…"

"Jim, the guy's a dog, no doubt about that. But, you assaulting him isn't going to help the girl's case against him."

Jim shrugged. "She won't press charges anyway. They never do. Soon as she's out of the hospital, she'll be back on the streets and giving the money to him."

"You said Blair knows her?" Rafe asked, pressing for more details.

"Yeah. She was a friend of Amber Larkin's, a callgirl Blair and I met when we were working the Iceman case."

Rafe nodded. He remembered hearing about that case. It had been before his time in Major Crime but he'd been impressed by hearing how Blair, a civilian at that time, had gone undercover in disguise and been shot by Klaus Zeller. Sandburg had been wearing a vest but still… It had to have been a frightening experience for the kid.

"Amber took Jenny under her wing and when she went back East to return to her family and go to medical school, she asked Blair to keep an eye out for Jenny. Sandburg convinced the girl to give up hooking and go to night school. She got her GED with Blair tutoring her and she started at college just before he left for Seattle. He was so damn proud of her…" Jim's voice trailed off. "Guess I'll have to tell him what happened to her. I'll wait till he gets back, though. Knowing Blair, he'll insist on leaving the course and coming straight home otherwise."

"Yeah, that'd be Blair, all right," Rafe agreed. "Jim, Mazzoli might put in a complaint against you…"

Jim shook his head. "I don't think so but I'm gonna ask Simon for some time off anyway. I just can't work right now."

"Is Blair okay?" Rafe asked.

"Says he is," Jim replied. "It's probably just me. I just feel on edge all the time; I have ever since he left. It's like waiting for the other shoe to drop, you know? You know what a trouble magnet Sandburg is."

He pulled into his spot in the parking garage and turned to face Rafe. "I'm sorry I lost it like that, Rafe. Thanks for… well, for not letting me make a complete ass of myself. Guess you'll need to find yourself a new partner again."

"You're welcome," Rafe replied, smiling. "H is back in a couple of days, anyway. I'll manage. You just get your head on straight, okay?"

"Yeah. I'll do that," Jim said, smiling back.

"You gonna go see Blair while you're off duty?" Rafe asked as he climbed down from his seat and walked around to join Jim next to the driver's door.

Jim grinned. "Yeah, I think I just might do that," he said, ushering Rafe ahead of him to the elevator.

~oOo~

Jim sat at his desk, finishing up a few stray reports that needed to be signed off on before he could go home and pack. His meeting with his Captain had gone remarkably easily; Banks simply agreeing that Jim needed to take some time off and get his head together. The Captain had been less than impressed with Jim's run-in with Frank Mazzoli, giving him a stern lecture, reminding him that Martin from IA would pounce on an infraction like this with glee. He’d deserved it, Jim knew. Simon ordered Jim to type a statement that they could file away, just in case Mazzoli decided he wanted to get his two pounds of flesh from the Cascade PD. Jim doubted the guy would bother. Mazzoli had been skating too close to the wire for months now. The pimp would just move his operation somewhere a little less likely to attract attention and go back to what he did best - using and abusing women.

Jim closed his Word program and sat for a moment, wondering if he should call Blair and tell him he was coming. Almost immediately, he decided against it. He smiled to himself as he pictured Blair opening the door to his hotel room and finding Jim propped up in the doorway.

Standing up, he looked over his desk to check he had everything he needed. His notebook still lay open on his desk and he picked it up, looking at the top sheet. Dean Collins. That was the name of the cop who'd been giving Blair a rough time in Seattle. Next to the name, Jim saw he'd written, Tacoma. Casting his mind back, he remembered planning on checking Collins out; his Blessed Protector radar had been in full operational mode that day. Blair had sounded antsy, though he'd insisted everything was under control. Jim had recalled hearing that Jack Phillips, an old buddy had transferred to Tacoma a year or so before and had thought about giving him a call, asking what he knew about Collins. But with all that had happened since then, Jim had forgotten about it. Now, obeying some inner voice that told him it was important he follow it through, he sat back down and put through a call to the Tacoma PD.

“Jim, how you doing, buddy?”

Ellison smiled, despite his worry, as he heard the familiar voice through the phone. "Good, Jack. How about you?"

“I'm fine. What's up?” Jack asked.

"You know a cop down there named Dean Collins?" Jim asked, striving to keep his voice casual.

There was a moment's pause before Jack answered. “Yeah, I know of him. I've never actually worked with the guy but I've seen him around. Why?”

"Probably nothing. Someone mentioned his name to me the other day and that he worked out of Tacoma and I remembered you'd transferred there. What do you know about him, Jack? What sort of rep does he have?"

“Look, Jim, like I said I don't know the guy that well, never worked with him, but the buzz around the break room is that he's not someone you'd want to get on the wrong side of. There's been talk of some of his arrests arriving at the PD in less than pristine condition, if you get my drift. His last partner quit the job after getting shot. Apparently, the injury wasn't bad enough to qualify him for disability, but the guy retired anyway. Collins has a new partner. They've only been together a couple months and they're both in Seattle doing a profiling course. I could get hold of his ex-partner, if it's important, I guess. Is it?” Jack asked.

"Could be," Jim replied slowly. "Do that, will you, Jack? I'm heading down to Seattle myself in an hour or so. Call me on my cell if you hear anything. And thanks, Jack. I'll buy you a beer next time I'm in Tacoma."

He gave the other detective his cell phone number, then hung up the phone. Swallowing down an inexplicable fear, he grabbed his jacket and ran for the elevator, wanting to get home to pack and be on the road to Seattle as soon as possible.

~oOo~

ACT FOUR

Jim pulled his truck up onto the soft shoulder of the road as his cell phone rang. "Ellison," he said quickly as he thumbed the call button.

“Jim, hi, Jack here.”

"Yeah, Jack, you got something for me?" Jim unconsciously held his breath while he waited for the answer.

“Yeah,” the other cop replied. “Look, Jim, I went out to see Bill West, Collins ex-partner. He didn't want to talk to me at first but I got him to open up by telling him it wasn't an official visit. The thing he was really scared of though, was that Collins would find out he told me anything.”

"Why?" Jim asked, nervousness beginning to tendril through his gut again. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and clenched his jaw tightly.

“Bill says Collins is a bad cop. When they were on the job together, Collins had a nasty habit of beating the crap out of anyone he didn't like. And Jim, his likes had nothing to do with what the perp had done. West says Collins is a racist and a bigot. He'd do a number on anyone they picked up who was black, or Jewish, or gay. Stuff like that. Nothing bad enough to kill, just enough for it to hurt.” Jack stopped and Jim could hear him sigh.

"There's more," Jim stated, extending his hearing until he could hear Phillips' heartbeat. It was a lot faster than it should have been. "Jack? What else?" he pushed.

“The last night Bill worked, the night he got shot, he and Collins picked up this young guy for soliciting. Bill said it was a clear case of entrapment but the kid didn't give them any trouble. Got in the car nice as you please and kept his mouth shut. Anyway, instead of driving back to the station, Collins took a side turn into an alley, dragged the kid out by his hair and started beating the crap out of him. West tried to pull him off. He said he'd seen Collins lose it before but not like this. He was sure this time the kid was gonna end up dead. Collins tossed the kid to the ground and was kicking him, really laying into him, and screaming that he was a filthy faggot. Finally, West got Collins off the kid and the boy got up and tried to run off but he was hurt pretty bad. He didn't get far before Collins pulled out his gun and fired at him.” Jim could hear the horror in his old friend’s voice. “Anyway, Bill West saw it coming and tackled the boy, taking Dean Collins' bullet. Just before he passed out, he saw Collins give the kid a wad of money and tell him to take off. When West came round in the hospital the next day, Dean was sitting at his bedside. He told Bill he knows where his kids go to school and leaves the thought hanging, you know what I mean?” Jack said, sounding disgusted.

"Yeah.” Jim sighed. The whole story had left a bad taste in his mouth. “Why didn't West report what had happened to IA?" he asked.

“Jim, West is terrified of Collins. He told me the guy's whacked in the head, but Collins had a good arrest record and none of the perps ever put in a complaint - other than the usual cries of police brutality - so, considering who the perps were, nobody down here bothered to investigate. The perps never took it any further. So, anyway, West decided to throw in his badge and get the hell out of Dodge. He moved houses. Shit, Jim, the guy was so scared when I turned up on his doorstep, asking about his old partner; I tell you, I thought he was gonna have a heart attack,” Jack said, his voice softening in remembered sympathy. “After we talked, he told me he was sick to death of being scared, that he was gonna do what he should've done in the first place and get Collins off the force. His son wants to go to the Academy next year and West couldn't stand the thought his kid might end up working anywhere near Collins.” Jack paused, then went on, “You going to tell me what this is all about, Jim? I'm gonna draft a report to IA about all this soon as I get back to the office. Anything you can add to it?”

"Not yet," Jim said, "But there might be. I'll call you back and let you know if there's anything."

“Sure, Jim, will do. I'll speak to you soon. Take it easy, buddy.”

Jim stared at his phone for a moment. Maybe he could call Blair, warn him about Collins. He scrubbed a hand through his hair. The guy hadn’t done anything yet to Sandburg apart from a little roughhousing. He’d told Blair he trusted him to handle things. Blair had certainly shown he was capable of looking after himself in the past. Jim looked at his watch. Blair would be in class now anyway. He tossed the phone onto the passenger seat and took off back onto the road, his heart pounding painfully in his chest. He drove fast but carefully, his mind centered on only one thing - getting to Blair.

~o0o~

“Shit!” He was late again! He’d stayed up most of the night - another infraction of Jim’s rules but what Jim didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him - finding out what he could about dreams and psychic phenomena. The voices Blair had been hearing over the past couple of weeks had freaked him out more than he cared to admit. He’d wondered if it was linked somehow to reviving Jim on the mountain, but a careful search through his research notes, which out of unconscious habit he’d brought with him, had left him with nothing. He’d spent an inordinate amount of wasted time, trawling through Internet sites of dream analysis before he realized they would be of no use. He hadn’t dreamed the voices after all. He’d actually heard them. That realization had sent a shiver up his spine. There was certainly some valid information in psychic phenomena - auditory psychics who heard voices rather than seeing people or scenes - but a depressing voice in his mind also whispered mental illness, schizophrenia, for instance. Was that it? Had all the stress finally unhinged him? He’d certainly had his share of mental anguish over the past few months. There’d been times when he’d felt like he was hanging onto his sanity by the skin of his teeth, and then there were the dreams. Even the physical symptoms like loss of appetite were documented, there for him to see in black and white. He’d know though, wouldn’t he, if he was going crazy? He stared at himself in the mirror as though he might see some indication of it in his reflection.

He groaned and turned away from the sight of his weary face, the dark circles beneath his eyes accentuated by the stark pallor of his cheeks. “You are nuts, Sandburg,” he muttered.

Blair hurriedly tried to zip up his pants. He froze when he came dangerously close to catching his dick in the zipper. He paused for a moment, taking a much needed cleansing breath of air then zipped up his fly - carefully this time - and pulled his hair hastily back into its customary ponytail. There would be time to do it properly in the cab. He reached for his keycard, remembering his car keys wouldn’t be needed today, He’d had trouble getting his rental car to start two mornings in a row but both times when he’d called out the mechanic from the rental company, the surly man had been unable to find much wrong. A dropped wire, he’d suggested rather lamely. When the car had refused to start again on the third morning, Blair had given up and sent the car back, deciding that being on time for his final few days was more important than having the luxury of a car of his own.

He grabbed his backpack and headed for the stairs at a run. A forgotten untied shoelace tripped him halfway down and he wobbled uncertainly, grasping hold of the stair rail a split second before he plunged down the entire flight, the unexpected action causing pain to flare viciously in his back. “Fuck!” he swore loudly.

“Hmm - mm.”

Blair looked up to see a disgruntled, well-built man frown at him as he passed him on the way up the stairs. Blair flushed and mumbled an embarrassed apology. This was turning out to be a really bad week.

He hurried down the rest of the stairs and headed for the front door of the hotel, relieved to find a cab at the curb and no one else in sight. Climbing in, he gave his destination to the driver and sat back, breathing heavily. Only two more days to go.

~o0o~

“Good of you to join us, Detective Sandburg,” Agent Russell said as Blair hurried into the classroom.

Blair dropped his eyes at the expected low laughter from the class. “Sorry, sir.” He made his way over to a vacant seat, groaning inwardly when he realized he’d have to sit next to Dean Collins again. Collins’ partner, Perry Davis had taken to sitting at the back for the past couple of days and Blair wondered if the two had argued again.

Collins barely glanced at him. “Sandburg,” he said.

“Morning, Dean,” Blair replied, pretending not to notice Collins’ wince at the use of his first name. The strange thing was that Collins seemed to have decided that baiting Blair was no fun anymore. There had been no nasty remarks thrown Blair’s way, no surreptitious shoving or tripping for the last few days. Just a resigned sort of acceptance that Blair was here. Granted, they weren’t exactly bosom buddies but the guy seemed to be making an earnest effort to be… not friendly, exactly, but harmless - and that was creeping Blair out way more than having Collins throwing rude comments or trying to toss him down a flight of stairs. It just didn’t seem to be a natural state for the taciturn cop. Blair smiled a little, remembering that Jim hadn’t exactly welcomed him with open arms at their first meeting, although they’d become good friends faster than Blair had expected. But this total turnaround with Collins just made Blair uneasy. He glanced around at the assembled class, wondering if someone had gone to Agent Russell with their concerns regarding Collins’ attitude toward Blair. That thought made him more uncomfortable. It was bad enough Jim going all Blessed Protector on him whenever he got himself into a scrape. He’d vowed that he’d attend this course and do well, make Jim and Simon’s trust in his ability worthwhile.

Opening his notebook, Blair decided it didn’t really matter. If it meant he could spend the final few days of the course free from harassment, then he was happy with that.

“All right, everyone,” Agent Russell said, pulling Blair’s attention back to the lecture. “Let’s start reviewing what we’ve learned over the past three and a half weeks.”

~o0o~

The classroom was deserted by the time Blair finally closed his book. As was often the case, he’d become engrossed in his reading, scarcely acknowledging the goodbyes from his classmates and absently taking a raincheck on the offer of a drink at a local bar with his friends. The book Ann Rule had recommended to him had been riveting reading and it was only with reluctance and a promise to himself that he’d finish it over dinner that he finally put it down.

He stood and stretched, working the kinks out of muscles knotted from being bent over and stationary for so long, then grabbed his backpack and placed the book inside. He reached for his keys, but remembered he no longer had a car. Glancing up at the clock on the wall, he hoped he wouldn’t have too much trouble finding a cab at this busy hour.

“You still here?” a voice asked from the doorway.

“Just leaving.” Blair gave Agent Russell a rueful shrug. “Got caught up in my reading. It’s a nasty habit of mine.”

Russell smiled and nodded. “Not a bad habit to have if you’re a profiler.” He walked alongside Blair to the elevator and punched the down button, ushering Blair inside when the doors immediately opened. “I’m on my way out, too.” He waited until the doors closed before speaking again. “I just finished up the profiles I got you people to do. Yours was pretty impressive, if controversial.”

Blair swallowed nervously. “I didn’t mean for it to sound so negative. If you want me to re-do it -“

Russell waved the suggestion away. “You completed the assignment exactly as you were asked to do. You were told to give your impressions of your assigned subject. There's no right or wrong answer as such. The actual mark was scored on how well you were able to do a profile that was concise and easy for your colleagues working a case to understand so they’d know what kind of UNSUB they might be looking for. You achieved that admirably.”

“Thanks.”

The doors opened and both men stepped out.

“You need a ride?” Russell asked. “I heard your car was off the road.”

“Only if you’re headed in the same direction. If not, I’ll take a cab.”

“Might be difficult at this time of night,” Russell said. “I’m actually heading the other way but it’ll only take a few minutes to drop you off first -“

Blair shook his head. “No, it’s fine. You go. Maybe I’ll go grab something to eat first. Let the traffic calm down.”

“If you’re sure?” Russell nodded at Blair’s affirmative. “All right then. See you in the morning. Bright and early,” he warned, pointing a finger at Blair. “Don’t forget you’re doing another ride-along with some of the patrol boys.”

“I won’t be late,” Blair promised, mentally reminding himself to set his alarm clock a half-hour early. “Good night, sir.” He headed out the exit doors and stood for a moment, debating on where to go to grab a bite to eat. Remembering a small, cozy diner a few blocks away, he trotted down the steps, figuring he could finish his book while he ate, then get to bed early. Looking forward to a relaxing evening, he didn’t notice the man who stepped up beside him and matched him step for step until he spoke.

“You heading back to the hotel, Sandburg?”

Blair jumped, then slowed down, dread twisting his stomach when he recognized the voice. “Oh, hey, Dean.” Again there was that dissatisfied curling of Collins’ lips. “Just grabbing a bite to eat. Got some research I want to do,” he added, hoping to discourage the other man from bothering him for too long.

“Mind if I join you?” Collins’ asked. At Blair’s obviously startled look, he shrugged. “You were pretty tight with that writer - what was her name again?”

Blair stared at him for a moment, nonplussed by the chatty approach. “Umm… Rule. Ann Rule.”

Collins nodded, looking thoughtful. “Right.” He looked across the street. “So, you heading to that diner?”

Blair nodded before he thought better of it. Sharing the evening with his nemesis was not on his list of fun things to do. Collins nodded back. “Okay, let’s go. We can share a cab back to the hotel later.” He headed toward the street at a trot, leaving Blair standing flat-footed, staring after him. After a moment’s hesitation, Blair followed him.

Collins slowed to an easy stroll once he reached the pavement on the other side. “So, this writer, Ann Rule, you think they were doing it?”

“Huh?” Blair glanced at the other man, puzzled. He’d been so caught up in his thoughts, wondering where the heck the real Dean Collins was, and where the aliens had hidden the pod, that he missed the question.

Collins rolled his eyes, a glimmer of his old self showing through. “Bundy and her. You think they were doing it?” he repeated.

“I don’t think that’s any of our business,” Blair said evenly, “but no. They were just friends.”

Collins nodded thoughtfully. “Why didn’t he kill her?”

“She wasn’t the type,” Blair said absently. “Bundy murdered young women who resembled his ex-fiancee. Young, long brown hair, slim, pretty. It was like he was experiencing killing her over and over for what she had done to him.” He stopped, realizing suddenly that they’d walked right past the diner and were standing at the mouth of an alley. The street looked decidedly deserted of passersby. He felt unaccountably nervous. "We missed the diner,” he said. He turned back the way they had come but Collins reached out and grabbed his arm in a bruising grip. “Hey!” Blair shouted. “What the hell are you doing, man?” He struggled to escape but Collins held fast.

Collins gave him an evil smile. “I told you. I just want to talk.”

Blair tried again to pull away. “Let me go then and we’ll talk,” he said evenly, trying not to let his fear show. His heart pounded painfully against his ribs.

“Not out here.” Collins yanked on Blair’s arm suddenly, dragging him into the darkened alley. He slammed Blair hard against the brick wall and Blair fought to keep his feet. A muscled forearm swept up and pressed hard against Blair’s throat, almost cutting off his airway. Blair struggled furiously to no avail. Collins had muscle and weight to his advantage.

This is nuts! Blair got his knee between Collins’ legs and pushed - hard. It was like trying to move a mountain. Collins leaned in, his face contorted in anger, his breath puffing hot in Blair’s face. Collins is nuts, Blair realized with a sudden sinking certainty. He attempted to shove his knee up into Collins’ balls but strong thighs kept his leg prisoner.

Collins’ mouth twisted into a parody of a smile. “You trying to turn me on, Sandburg? I don’t swing that way, you filthy faggot.”

Blair’s head snapped back, the back of his skull contacting the bricks with a thud as a meaty fist slammed Blair’s cheek.

“Why’d you write that shit about me, huh?” Collins demanded.

Blair tried to blink the stars from his vision. His head rang and nausea surged. “How’d you know what I wrote?” he gasped past the grip on his throat. “You sneak a look?”

Collins slammed him back against the wall again, then shook him like a recalcitrant puppy. “You should know all about cheating, fraud!” he spat. He leaned in closer, spittle spraying Blair’s face as he spoke. “I’m gonna teach you a lesson, freak. Nobody does shit like that to me.”

Dread fueled Blair’s adrenaline and he kicked out as hard as he could, finally releasing Collins’ death grip on his throat. He ducked and twisted under Collins’ arm, spinning rapidly to face his attacker… and whooped for air, doubling over as Collins’ fist caught him in the stomach. He felt himself sagging and staggered drunkenly against the wall, using its support to get his legs back under him. Come on, Sandburg, he urged himself. Use those self-defense moves Jim taught you before this guy turns you into mincemeat. He glanced quickly toward the entrance to the alley, hoping someone might have been alerted to his plight by the sounds of the struggle, but there was no one in sight. Turning back to face Collins, he saw the other man give a menacing smile.

“Guess your boyfriend’s too far away to come to your rescue this time.” Collins moved in for the kill.

~o0o~

Jim’s worry deepened with every mile he drove toward Seattle. A phone call to Blair’s hotel elicited the information that his partner had not checked for the evening, despite the fact that his lectures would have finished some hours before. He tried to tell himself that Blair was probably holed up in a bookstore somewhere or out having a drink with his newfound friends, but dreadful certainty nagged at him and he pressed the accelerator to the floor. Without pondering his inexplicable concerns further, Jim headed straight for the PD. Throwing the handbrake on, Jim jumped out of the cab of the truck and raced for the entrance, fumbling for his ID as he went. He flashed it at the astonished desk sergeant and snapped out his question. “I’m looking for Detective Blair Sandburg. He’s here doing the profiling course. Have you seen him?”

The sergeant nodded and Jim was once more amazed at how quickly Sandburg seemed to get to know people, and vice versa. “Left about twenty minutes ago. Didn’t see which way he went though.”

Jim nodded a thanks and ran back through the entrance doors. He stood at the top of the steps, momentarily flummoxed. Which way? He took a slow, steadying breath and sent his senses outward… He cringed as sounds, smells and sights overwhelmed him. Focus, damn it! More carefully this time, he concentrated on just hearing, knowing that Blair would most likely be invisible to even sentinel sight after twenty minutes. Nothing. “Damn it!”

Jim trotted down the steps and stood on the sidewalk, torn. Left or right. Making a decision, somehow feeling he was headed the right way, he began to walk and sent his hearing out ahead. He listened carefully, discarding the chatter of passersby and the raised voice of an inebriated patron in a bar along the way.

“You won’t get away with this…”

Blair!

Jim took off at a run in the direction of his partner’s voice. The sounds of a struggle, of something crashing tinnily to the ground came to him, as well as the sound of Blair’s heart, pounding rapidly, and his breath gasping from over-exerted lungs. Almost there.

Jim skidded around the corner of the next alleyway and stopped dead, relief swamping him. He sagged against the brick wall, feeling his legs turn to jello. His partner stood just a few feet away, his chest heaving, blood snaking in a thin rivulet down his cheek. One hand was fisted in the shirt collar of a well-muscled man, who lolled in Blair’s grasp, his eyes at half-mast. As Jim watched, the man’s own fist came up, aimed at Blair’s head. Before he could shout a warning, Blair’s other hand snapped up, lightning fast and delivered an uppercut to the man’s chin.

“Shit! Oww!” Blair dropped the now unconscious man unceremoniously to the ground and shook his hand, grimacing in pain.

“How many times have I told you, Chief, if you pull the punch, you’ll end up hurting yourself. You have to follow through.”

Blair froze then turned to stare at his partner. “Jim? What…” Words seemed to desert him and his face paled.

Managing to dredge up some strength, Jim pushed off the wall and made it to his partner before the other man could hit the ground. Holding onto Blair’s arm, he hoisted him upward to rest against his own, admittedly still trembling body. “You all right, Sandburg?”

Blair didn’t look up, content to pillow his forehead on Jim’s chest but he nodded. “A little worse for wear but yeah, I’m okay.”

“Can you stand up?” Jim asked.

Blair pulled away slightly and stood for a moment. He brushed a hand through his hair, winced in obvious pain then lightly touched the cut on his cheek. Finally he looked up at Jim and gave him a tremulous smile. “I’m okay,” he said, his voice raspy.

Jim grimaced at the nasty shiner already darkening over Blair’s left eye. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and his cuffs from his belt. He indicated Collins who was stirring on the ground behind them, groaning and reaching up to cup his jaw. “You want to cuff him and read him his rights while I call for backup?”

Blair looked surprised. “Cuff him? Jim, I don’t think -“

Jim cut him off. “Assault of a police officer,” he said tersely, “and there are other charges pending. Attempted murder of a police officer, for starters, his previous partner.” Blair’s eyes widened at that. “I’ll explain it later after we get this scum into lockup and get you checked out at the hospital.”

“I’m fine,” Blair protested automatically.

Jim shook his head, brooking no argument. “It’s a no-brainer, Darwin. You’re going to the hospital, even if I have to carry you in there.”

It was testament to Blair’s exhaustion and obvious pain that he didn’t argue further. Instead he turned his attention to Collins, expertly cuffing the man’s hands behind his back. He searched him and relieved him of his sidearm - Jim noticed Blair shudder visibly at that discovery - and tried not to think himself about what the outcome might have been if Sandburg hadn’t managed to get the upper hand.

Collins was ranting, hateful, filthy epithets spewing from his split lips. Blair was steadfastly ignoring him, reading the Miranda rights to his prisoner in a firm voice. Jim watched the uniformed officers take charge of the prisoner, then wrapped a supporting arm around his partner’s waist, turning toward the entrance to the alley. The world righted itself at the contact and he breathed deeply, allowing Blair’s proximity to calm him further. “Hospital,” he said decisively, “then you can give your statement.”

“And then?” Blair looked at him, smiling, though his face was still too pale for Jim’s liking.

“Then… bed,” Jim replied.

Blair nudged him then pulled away, mindful of the people surrounding them. “I like the sound of that,” he whispered.

“To sleep,” Jim ordered, then added, “tonight anyway.”

~o0o~

"Mister Sandburg?"

Both Blair and Jim looked up as a tall dark-haired man in a white lab-coat entered the cubicle they'd been shown into. A nurse had taken Blair's vitals, weighed him - in case any medication was ordered, she'd explained with a smile - then cleaned the cut on his cheek and left, telling them the doctor would be along shortly.

Blair raised his hand in acknowledgment though he figured the doctor could tell who the patient was just from looking at him. "That's me," he said. "I'm fine, though, really. Just a couple of cuts and bruises -"

"I'm sure you, are, Mister Sandburg. But, the hospital insists I actually examine people in order to get paid, and as my kids like eating, I guess I'd better do just that. I'm Rick Mason, by the way, one of the ER residents."

Jim threw Blair a knowing smile then settled back in his chair to await the doctor's verdict.

"Um, Mister Sandburg -"

"It's Blair, please."

"Blair, perhaps your friend would like to wait outside," the doctor suggested.

Blair shook his head even as Jim began to rise to his feet. "No, that's okay. I don't mind if he stays. He's my partner. He'll want to put everything in his report anyway and this way it saves me telling it twice."

Jim stood anyway and extended his hand, which the doctor shook. "Detective Jim Ellison," he said before sitting down again.

Doctor Mason probed gently around Blair's swollen eye then tested his vision. "Any blurring of your sight?" he asked.

Blair shook his head, wincing a little as his head began to ache again. He smiled ruefully. "Note to self - don't move head suddenly," he said.

"Bad headache?' Mason asked.

"Not too bad. More just a dull pain when I move too quickly. Ow!"

"Sorry." The doctor smiled as he moved his fingers away from the gash on Blair's cheek. "You don't need stitches, some butterfly closures should do the job."

"Good," Blair said in a relieved voice.

The doctor ghosted his hands over Blair's ribs, frowning a little as he went. "You take any hits to the ribs?" he asked.

Blair shrugged, winced again and grinned apologetically. "A couple, I guess. It all happened pretty quickly. My ribs don't hurt much though. Just feel a little bruised, is all."

Mason nodded and straightened. "They feel okay. You'll probably be a bit stiff and sore in the morning though. You can use some liniment, if you want. How much do you usually weigh, Blair?"

Blair saw Jim straighten in his chair and sighed inaudibly. Jim was forever telling him he needed to eat more regularly and now it seemed the good doctor was going to give him more ammunition for that particular argument. "Um, around one-sixty, one-sixty-five pounds," he said finally.

"Why? What's wrong?" Jim asked, leaning forward now, fixing the doctor with a gimlet look.

"Maybe nothing," Doctor Mason replied. "Blair, you only weigh around a hundred and fifty pounds at the moment -"

"What?" Jim blurted out, looking shocked.

"Perhaps you should wait outside for a while, Detective -"

Jim shook his head firmly. "Blair wanted me to stay," he said mutinously. He glanced at Blair, who nodded resignedly at him.

"All right. Have you had any other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, anything like that?' Mason asked.

Blair shook his head. "No. Look, I've been doing this profiling course and parts of it were really physical plus we'd just come off a pretty heavy case not long before I came to Seattle. I was pretty stressed for a while and probably haven't been eating right -"

"Probably, Chief?" Jim queried, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah, yeah, okay, I haven't been eating right for a while but I promise I'll do better, okay? I feel fine, really. I'm a little tired, I admit but that's about all." Blair looked pleadingly at the doctor.

"What about your headaches, Blair and that cough you've had?" Jim interjected.

"I haven't had many headaches lately," Blair replied surely, "and they don't even last very long anymore and the cough seems to be almost gone too. I'm sure it was just tension from those cases we've been working since I joined the force. It's been a pretty heavy few months."

"Look, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. We'll get an x-ray of your skull, just to be sure we're not missing anything nasty that could pop up and bite you on the ass down the road somewhere. We'll take some basic blood tests and then if they come back okay, I'll release you. How's that sound?" Mason said.

Both detectives nodded, Blair rather more reluctantly than Jim.

~oOo~

Jim wandered outside the ER doors where he could use his cell phone to call his Captain. Blair had been taken to radiology after having blood taken, and Jim had decided that filling Simon in on what had happened was better than wearing a trench in the waiting room floor.

"Hey, Simon, it's Jim," he said as Banks answered.

“Jim, how's Blair? He okay? I got a call from Agent Russell. He told me most of what had happened. He sounded pretty impressed with Sandburg but he said you'd taken him to be checked out at the ER. Is he hurt?”

Jim grinned. "Yeah, well, I was pretty damn proud of Blair myself, Simon. He took Collins down like a real pro. He's not badly hurt, just a couple of bruises, a nice big shiner and a cut on his face. I'm sure he'll be fine. They're taking some x-rays just to be sure, so I thought I'd check in with you while I was waiting for him to finish up," Jim replied.

“You worn out your welcome in yet another ER, Ellison?” Banks asked and Jim could hear the smirk in his boss's voice.

"Yeah, well, you know me, Simon. I've never been big on the waiting around deal, especially when it comes to Blair."

“You heading back to Cascade?” Banks asked.

"In a couple of days," Jim replied. "Blair's due to finish up here in a day or so. I thought I'd stay here, spend what time I can with him when he's free then he can drive back with me. That okay with you?"

“Works for me,” Banks replied. “I mean, you do realize there's pretty much nobody left standing for me to partner you with till Sandburg gets back anyway, don't you? It's probably safer for all of Major Crime this way. Have to admit, there are times when I'm surprised Blair's still around to tell the tale - Ah, shit, Jim, I'm sorry. You know what I meant.” Simon sounded contrite.

"Yeah, unfortunately, I know exactly what you mean, Simon. It's okay. Blair's fine, I'm fine. I can't wait to get back home. Look, can you swing us some personal time when we get back, a few days maybe? The doc here says Blair's underweight -"

“I thought you said he was fine?” Banks almost yelled and Jim hid a smirk at the worry in the Captain's voice.

"I'm sure he is. I just think it'd be a good idea to let him slide into this new career of his a little more slowly than we let him when he joined the force. Give him some time to adjust, digest what he's learned on this course, that kind of thing," Jim said reassuringly.

“Yeah, you're probably right. We did push him pretty hard and with all the stuff that happened up on that mountain… Take two days, okay, that's about as long as I can spare you for but take it here in Cascade, just in case some psycho blows into town and I need to pick our new profiler's brains, all right?” Banks said agreeably.

"Thanks, man. I'd better go see if Blair's back yet. He won't be happy if he's kept here a minute longer than necessary. I'll see you when we get back."

“Okay, Jim. Have a safe trip back and tell the kid I'm proud of him, okay? He did real good.”

Jim smiled as he thumbed the off button and headed back inside to check on Blair. Looked like his partner had crept in under the Captain's barbed wire defenses as well. Not that Banks would say too much of that to Blair's face. He probably didn't need to, Jim mused. Blair was pretty good at reading people anyway.

"Hey, Chief, how're you feeling?" Jim asked as he pushed through the curtained doorway to the cubicle and found Blair sitting on the edge of the gurney. Taking a quick recce around him with his senses, he knew they were not in any danger of being seen by anyone else and took advantage of the fact, pulling his lover into his arms and kissing his mouth gently. "Do you know how much I've missed doing that?" he asked.

Blair returned the kiss and traced a hand over Jim's rough cheek. "Me too, Jim. God, I've missed you. Let's get out of here, okay?"

"You can go in a few minutes, Blair."

Both men started guiltily and moved apart but the doctor simply smiled as he walked up to the bed.

"Okay, the skull series was fine. No new cracks in that hard noggin of yours and nothing else suspicious we could see, so it is possible your headaches are caused by stress. Your blood workup shows that your white cell count is a little on the high side, which could mean you're coming down with a bug of some sort or it could be a reaction to stress as well. My prescription is for you to eat better and more regularly, get some mild exercise but don't overdo it, and fresh air is always good. See your own doctor back in Cascade for a proper physical, just to rule out anything that could be lurking. Prevention's always better than cure, as my old granny used to say. Take Tylenol for the headaches. If that doesn't help, see your doctor right away. You wear glasses for reading, don't you?" Mason asked.

Blair nodded. "And for watching TV and driving."

"Might be an idea to get your prescription checked if you haven't done so recently. The headaches may be something as simple as eyestrain, especially as you said you've been doing some fairly intense studying recently," the doctor added. "Okay, you're good to go. Take care, Blair. You too, Detective."

Blair levered himself off the gurney, a huge grin lighting his face. "Thanks for everything, doc. Oh man, Jim, find my clothes, will you? I am so out of here."

~o0o~

Jim followed Blair into the hotel room and slung his overnight bag onto the bed. He sat on the bed with a sigh and eyed his lover with concern. “You okay?”

Blair stood just inside the door, looking slightly lost. He shrugged. “Yeah, just tired.” Coming to a decision, he gestured toward the bathroom. “I’m gonna take a shower.”

“All right.” Jim picked up the room service menu from the bedside table then glanced at his watch. “Kitchen’s still open. What do you want to eat?”

Blair paused in the bathroom doorway. “Actually I’m not that hungry…”

“That’s not what I wanted to hear, Sandburg,” Jim said with a mock growl.

Blair sighed. “Choose for me. Something light though.”

“You got it.” Jim stretched out on the bed and picked up the phone, ordering a steak for himself and a grilled cheese sandwich for Blair, along with a bowl of chicken soup. That organized, he reached for the remote and found a basketball game on the TV. Settling in to watch the action, he kept his hearing on the bathroom, wanting to be alert to any hint of distress from Blair.

~o0o~

The hot water felt like a balm. Turning in a slow circle, Blair allowed the spray to pound against his sore muscles, relaxing them, wishing he could wash away the memories as easily. He couldn’t understand it - had never understood how someone could be filled with so much hate for another person, simply because of their skin color, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. And to think this man had been in a position of trust. Blair wondered how many scared homeless kids who’d turned to prostitution just to survive had been subjected to Dean Collins’ perverted brutality - and why the police department had allowed it to continue unchecked for so long. They had to have known, Blair thought. He’d had enough dealings with IA to know they were thorough in their investigations when they suspected they were dealing with a crooked cop. What about Perry, Collins’ partner? Was he involved in beating kids too? How had Collins been able to cover his actions up for so long? Blair knew from Jim that most of Collins’ victims hadn’t reported the attacks and Blair understood why. The cops were more likely to believe one of their own over a junkie or prostitute. According to Jim’s friend, Collins’ previous partner had been so afraid of his family being hurt that he’d retired from the force without saying a word, till now, of what had occurred the night he’d been shot. Perry had only been Collins’ partner for a couple of months. Chances were that Collins had been on his best behavior most of the time, for Perry’s benefit. Davis was the senior detective, after all. It bothered Blair to think that Perry might have been caught up in something so sordid. He just didn’t seem the type.

Blair reached out, grabbed his shampoo from the shower caddy and lathered up his hair, wincing a little when his fingers pressed against the sizable lump on the back of his head. Closing his eyes, he gave in to a deep yawn. He was beyond exhausted, too tired to think anymore, too weary to eat, though he knew he wasn’t going to get away without making at least some attempt at dinner - not with Gestapo Jim standing over him, watching every bite he put into his mouth. Damn pushy sentinel.

His hand brushed over a particularly tender spot on his ribs and he sucked in a barely audible breath, certain Jim was hovering outside the door, keeping a close check on him.

Pervert! Filthy faggot!”

Blair staggered, stretching out a hand to the shower wall to support himself.

Collins was leaning in close; Blair could smell his sour breath. Curses spewed from the other cop’s mouth, raining down upon Blair like physical blows. Blair struggled to escape the choking grasp on his throat. Finally free, he turned and ran, only vaguely aware of Collins’ angry shout behind him. He stumbled as something heavy slammed into him and heard an explosion of sound as a gun fired. His body froze, his heart hammered as he waited for the pain to hit -

“Blair! You okay?”

Blair looked up, surprised to find himself huddled on the floor of the shower, water and shampoo running down his face. “Ow!” He blinked rapidly then rubbed at his eye when soap seeped into it, setting up a burning sting.

“Here, let me.” Jim reached in and turned off the faucets then squatted beside him, wiping his face with a towel, patting gently at the bruised eye. That done, he pulled Blair up and looked him over critically. “You all right?”

Blair managed a nod.

“Your heart rate just went through the roof,” Jim said. “What happened? Did you fall?” His hands were already ghosting over Blair’s still trembling body, checking for injuries.

“Nightmare,” Blair managed to croak out.

Jim stilled and raised an eyebrow. “In the shower? I know you’re tired, Chief. I should have come in with you…”

Blair shook his head. Gently, he pushed Jim out of the alcove and turned the faucets back on. “Need to rinse my hair,” he said in explanation.

Jim nodded and sat on the toilet lid. Blair was aware of his searching gaze, though both men remained silent until Blair was done. He stepped out and dried off, feeling chilled even though the air in the small room was thick with steam. Jim followed him out into the other room and sat on the bed, watching while Blair dressed in sweats.

“Dinner,” Jim said when Blair was finished. “I know you haven’t got much of an appetite but your stomach’s growling. It’s just a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup.”

Blair nodded and sat down at the small dining table. “Thank you,” he said as he dipped a spoon into the thick broth. He was hungrier than he realized; the soup and half the sandwich were gone before he felt full and sat back with a sigh.

“Come to bed,” Jim said. He was lying back against the pillows, still fully dressed, but he held the covers open for Blair. Barely able to keep his eyes open, Blair climbed willingly into the bed and turned to let Jim take him in his arms. Jim brushed a kiss against his lips. “Missed you,” he whispered.

“Me too.”

“Tell me about your nightmare,” Jim said.

Blair lay back, sighing when he felt Jim’s hand begin a soothing hypnotic stroke across his brow, easing the headache that lingered. “Can’t have been a nightmare. I was awake,” he whispered, already almost asleep. “You told me about that kid who was there when Collins’ partner got shot. Was playing on my mind, I guess. Just seemed so real.”

“It’s over,” Jim said softly. Blair felt Jim’s lips bestow a soft kiss to his forehead and then his mouth as he drifted off.

~o0o~

Seattle was a nice enough place to visit, Blair thought as he picked up his backpack and followed Jim down the hallway to the elevator, but he had never been so glad to be going home as he was today. The piece of paper proclaiming him to be a certified profiler was tucked inside his bag, and Blair felt a satisfying sense of accomplishment that chased away the negative thoughts of his experience with Dean Collins. He’d missed out on his ride-along with Seattle’s finest, but Agent Russell assured him that wasn't a concern, considering that's what he'd been doing for the past four years anyway.

Jim kept up a banal chatter about the weather on the way down to the lobby, but Blair was acutely aware of his lover’s continued scrutiny. He reached out and grasped Jim’s hand, squeezing it gently then leaned in for a quick kiss just before the doors opened. Perry Davis walked over to them as they exited, his handsome face troubled. “Blair…” He held out a hand and Blair shook it, then turned and introduced Jim, who merely scowled at the Tacoma detective. “I was wondering if I could talk to you before you left about…” He glanced quickly at Jim then looked back at Blair. “About Dean.”

“Look, Davis -“ Jim began, but Blair cut him off with a wave of his hand.

“Sure.” Blair turned to Jim. “Why don’t you go put our stuff in the truck, man?” he suggested. “I want to say goodbye to the guys before I go anyway.”

Jim hesitated a moment but, seeing the determined look on Blair’s face, relented and nodded, then pulled Blair’s backpack from his shoulder and strode away. “Don’t be long,” he called over his shoulder, “or you’ll have to walk back to Cascade.”

Blair grinned and then turned back to Perry. He gently touched his blackened eye. “It wasn’t your fault, Perry,” he said, “I just wonder -“

“How I missed it?” Perry finished for him, “or if I was involved in it too?”

Blair nodded. “How could you not have known?” he asked.

Perry shrugged. “When I first transferred to Tacoma, there were rumors around that Collins was a mean son of a bitch. That’s why I got the duty of partnering him. Nobody else would, and I was the new guy. I also had seniority, so I guess they thought if Dean got out of line, I’d be able to control him.” He paused for a moment then reached out and gripped Blair’s shoulders lightly. “I swear to you I never saw him do anything like that and I was never involved…” He took a deep breath and dropped his hands then scrubbed them over his face. He looked as exhausted as Blair felt. “Dean lost it a couple of times, interviewing suspects. He never beat anybody up, but let’s just say I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the receiving end of one of his interrogations. It was hard to keep him from lashing out. The captain decided maybe sending him along to this profiling course was a good thing to do. I’d already applied for the course when I first moved to Tacoma. I guess they thought if he was profiling, they could keep him off the streets…”

Blair felt a surge of disgust at that. “Great. A profiler who’s as much an animal as the perps he’s tracking down.” He shook his head. “I’ve got to go. Jim was only half-joking about making me walk back to Cascade.” He stuck out his hand and shook Perry’s. “You take care, man. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes when you get back to Tacoma and face the IA guys. I’ve gone a few rounds with them myself.”

Perry smiled a little. “I’ll tell them everything I can. If it helps keep Dean in prison and prevents other cops from going down the same path, it’ll be worth it. You take it easy, Blair. You’re gonna be one hell of a profiler.”

~o0o~

Having said his goodbyes to the rest of the class, gaining a kiss from Melanie and promises to stay in touch, Blair hurried out to the parking lot, chuckling when Jim gunned the engine as he climbed into the cab. “All right!” he exclaimed with satisfaction as he buckled his seatbelt, then leaned back with a dramatic sigh. “Home, James!”

~o0o~

Jim insisted Blair only take his backpack and go on ahead to unlock the door when they pulled up in front of the loft. When Blair looked as if he was about to argue, Jim leaned across and kissed him on the temple. “Go on up,” he said, smiling a little. “I know you’re still a bit stiff and sore from sitting in the truck for so long. I can manage this stuff on my own. I’ll be right behind you. Go up and wait for me.”

He watched Blair retrieve his backpack from the front floor well and pull out his keys, then he climbed out himself and gathered the rest of their bags. By the time he’d locked the truck and entered the lobby, the elevator was already on its way up to the third floor. Jim momentarily contemplated the stairs, but he could feel the weight of the bags he was carrying on his tired shoulders and decided to wait for the car to come back down. It had been a long and hectic few days, and Blair wasn’t the only one who was exhausted.

The bell dinged and the elevator doors slid open. Jim pushed the bag at his feet across into the car with the tip of his shoe, then entered himself. Leaning up against the wall, he managed to hit the floor button with his elbow and rested his head against the wall as the elevator jerked its way up.

Jim could see the door to the loft was open as he walked toward it, though there was no sign of Blair. Extending his hearing, he located Blair’s heartbeat upstairs, and heard the rustle of bedclothes being pulled back. At least he’d left the door open, so Jim headed on through and wearily bent down in front of the kitchen counter, letting the handles of the bags slide down his arms and over his hands to the floor. He stood up and stretched the kinks out of his spine, feeling the pull of tight muscles caused by driving for several hours straight.

He climbed the stairs and smiled at the sight of his lover already asleep in bed. Jim shed his clothes and slid under the covers, pulling Blair close. It was good to be home.

~o0o~

Blair woke early the next morning and, with a fond kiss to his sleeping lover’s forehead, slipped out of bed and headed downstairs to shower. He was anxious to get on with the day, immensely glad to be back in Cascade and home with Jim. He was nervous about starting back at work, still uncertain whether even as a profiler, he’d be able to acquit himself well and uphold everyone’s belief in him. Time would tell, he decided philosophically, and got on with beginning to plan his first day at home.

He was in the kitchen starting breakfast when he heard Jim coming down the stairs. For the first time in many weeks, Blair actually was a little hungry, and he’d prepared a virtual feast, knowing Jim would be starving.

“Hey, this looks good.” Jim’s arms encircled him from behind and Blair leaned his head back to rest it against his lover’s chest.

“Well, I actually feel hungry this morning. Did we eat last night? I can’t remember.”

“I had a burger and you settled on some weird-looking salad that you picked at and ended up throwing in the trash.”

“It was stale,” Blair protested. “The lettuce had turned to mush.”

Jim rolled his eyes. “Whatever. At least you’re making up for it now.”

Blair turned his head and gave Jim’s bristled cheek a kiss, then gave an exaggerated grimace. “Go shower and shave,” he ordered, “while I put the finishing touches to my special Sandburg scrambled eggs.”

Jim gave a sloppy salute. “Yes, sir.”

“And don’t take too long,” Blair called to Jim’s disappearing back, “or I’ll start without you.”

~o0o~

Blair saw the note by the phone when he was clearing up the living room. He called out to Jim, who stuck his head through the balcony doors.

“What’s up, Chief?”

Blair held the slip of paper up. “What’s this about?” he asked. “It just says Blair - Jenny.”

Jim slapped a hand to his forehead. “Shit! In all the excitement, I forgot. Jenny, Amber’s friend?”

“What about her?”

“She was at the hospital day before yesterday. Her pimp beat her up.”

Blair’s face paled. “Is she… is she okay?”

“I’m not sure. I’m sorry, Chief. I was in such a hurry to get to Seattle -“

Blair waved away the apology. “That’s all right, man. You had other things on your mind.” Decisively, he strode to the door and grabbed his car keys.

“Where are you going?” Jim asked, stepping inside and following him.

“To the hospital to check on Jenny.”

Jim reached out and grasped his arm. “You’re supposed to be resting,” he said, “and you have to make an appointment to see your doctor.”

“I will,” Blair assured him. “I’ll see Doctor Fraser later today.”

Jim stared at him for a long moment then released his arm. “I’m gonna keep you to that.”

~o0o~

Blair sat at Jenny’s bedside and contemplated the sleeping girl’s face. She was a pretty young woman but already, at only twenty-two, lines caused by hard living and drugs were beginning to age her. One eye was blackened, her lips split and one arm broken. She’d been lucky though. The doctor Blair had spoken to, said she’d recover with no permanent effects from the beating. As would her baby. Blair sighed. What a world to bring a child into.

Jenny moaned softly and opened her eyes, blinking drowsily at Blair before smiling and stretching out her good arm. “Hey, Blair,” she said, her voice croaky. “Long time, no see.”

Blair smiled back at her and took her hand, squeezing it gently. “Hey, Jen. I could think of better places to meet. How you feeling?”

“Sore,” Jenny admitted. She pushed herself up on her pillows, grimacing and accepted Blair’s help in getting settled. “Stupid.”

“Why stupid?”

Jenny looked away from him. “Because I knew this guy was bad news but I went to him anyway.”

“There’s still time to get out, Jen,” Blair replied. “You’ve got someone else to think about now.”

Jenny’s hand stole immediately to her stomach. “They told me the baby’s okay but if I… if I don’t quit the streets and the drugs, it won’t be. I just… I don’t know if I can. I’m not strong enough -“

“You wouldn’t have made it this far on your own if you weren’t strong,” Blair interjected. He leaned forward and stroked a hand across her forehead. “I grew up without a father.” He shrugged. “Didn’t matter as long as I had my mom.”

A tear slowly slipped down Jenny’s bruised cheek. “I want this baby, I really do. I’ve wanted to be a mom since I was a little girl. I’m just not sure if I should. I mean how do I tell him or her what I did for a living? How can I bring up a baby when I can’t even look after myself?”

“Let me help you,” Blair said. “Let’s get you better and into a rehab program. I’ll pull some strings, see if I can get you a job. There are programs now in schools for pregnant girls who want to go back and finish their education. You’re strong, Jen, I know you can do it with some support.”

Jenny brushed away the dampness on her face. “And if I can’t? What happens to my baby then?”

“Give her a chance at life first,” Blair said. “Once she’s here, I know you’ll make the right choice.”

Jenny raised an eyebrow. “She?”

Blair shrugged and grinned. “Just a feeling I have.” In his mind’s eye, he could see a chubby little girl with auburn curls and twinkling brown eyes, just like her mother’s.

Jenny sighed and reached up to take his hand, turning it over and pressing a kiss to the palm. “What would us lambs do without you, Blair? Thank you.”

Blair stood and leaned over to kiss Jenny’s forehead. “You just concentrate on getting better. I’ll look into some programs and come back to see you in a day or two. You need anything?”

Jenny shook her head. “A couple of the girls are coming in later.”

“You take care.”

“I will.”

~o0o~

Jim could see Blair was troubled the moment he came back in through the apartment door. “Everything all right?” he asked, heading into the kitchen to put the kettle on for tea.

Blair nodded. “Jenny’s going to be all right,” he said, following Jim into the kitchen. He busied himself getting mugs down from the cupboard. “She’s pregnant but the baby’s okay, too. I told her I’d look into some rehab programs for her. I just wish…” He trailed off and slumped dejectedly against the counter.

“Wish what?” Jim asked, taking Blair into his arms.

“Wish there was more I could do to stop these kids going onto the streets in the first place.” He pulled away slightly and looked up at Jim. “No one is doing enough.”

Jim smoothed the hair away from Blair’s face. “I know,” he said, “but you’re doing a great job with these kids. They trust you and that means they’ll come to you when they need help.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“I’m always right,” Jim replied. He kissed Blair slowly, savoring the taste of his lover. When he pulled away, he asked, “So, what did the doctor say?”

Blair looked puzzled for a moment. “Oh, that.” He looked embarrassed. “By the time I finished visiting with Jenny, I missed my appointment. I had to reschedule.” At the frown that formed on Jim’s face, he added quickly, “It’s fine, Jim, just a couple days. Besides, since I’ve been home, my headaches are gone and my appetite’s back.” He smiled. “I feel pretty good.”

Jim kissed him again. “You taste pretty good too,” he said. Then he pulled back and shook an admonishing finger at Blair. “But I will be taking you personally to your next doctor’s appointment. You got that?”

Blair nodded. “Got it.” He turned his attention to the kettle. “You want tea? I’ve got this amazing blend of -“

Jim watched him walk into the kitchen.

“Thanks, but no thanks, Chief, I’ll stick to coffee.” Jim shook his head. Some things never changed.

~oOo~

Jim sighed as he pulled Blair into his arms. "You feeling okay?" he asked, his breath stirring the wisps of hair on Blair's forehead to life.

"Yep. Must admit I'm feeling better now I'm home to stay. A little tired but I'm okay," Blair murmured, the vibrations of his voice tingling across Jim's skin. "Jim, I'm sorry about what happened that last weekend I came home and I'm sorry I didn't come home the next weekend. I was just embarrassed, I guess. I felt bad that you thought I wasn't in the mood, because I was, really -"

"Ssh." Jim's fingers covered Blair's lips gently. "Go to sleep. You do sleep, don't you, Chief?"

He could feel Blair smiling against his skin.

"Yeah, I do sleeping, Ellison."

"Then do it, Chief. Just sleep."

END