Cover by Ankaree
Art by Romanse, Lisa, Lyn
"Damn it, Sandburg! What is it with you and toasters?" Jim waved a dishtowel over the toaster in an attempt to disperse the smoke then flung it down and pulled the blackened bread out. Turning, he held it out to his partner. "Hungry?"
"Sorry, man." Blair took the bread and tossed it in the trash. "I was only upstairs for a few minutes. I didn't think -"
"No, you didn't!" Jim pushed past Blair and headed for the bathroom. "I'm going to take a shower. Maybe by the time I'm out, the place will be aired out."
"Whoa! Wait a minute." Blair took a couple of steps and caught Jim's arm. "What's up with you? And don't tell me it's about a burned piece of toast."
"What's up with me is you going and sharing details of my private life without asking my permission!"
Blair stared at him, startled. "Your private You mean me going to talk to Henri? Is that what's got you so riled up? Jim, he's a friend, a good friend."
Jim pulled his arm out of Blair's grasp. "Yeah, a good friend who's more worried about getting AIDS from me than he is grateful I saved his life!"
"You've got it wrong, Jim," Blair protested. "That's what I thought it was about too, until I spoke to him." At the frown on Jim's face, Blair sighed. "Well, you were too busy being affronted to find out what was going on, so I did."
Blair shrugged then ran a hand through his hair. "Seems it was just a small matter of miscommunication or something like that. Henri figured we'd chosen to tell all our friends except him and he thought that meant we didn't consider him a friend or at least as close a friend as Rafe and Megan and Simon "
"We didn't exactly tell Rafe and Megan," Jim stated. "They figured it out for themselves. Hell, once they knew, I had no problem with H knowing. I've known him almost as long as I have Simon. He's a good friend."
"And that's where the communication problem came in," Blair added. "We just assumed that because Rafe knew -"
"He would have shared the news with his partner," Jim finished.
Blair nodded. "Except Henri's been in court on the Temple case for the last week and before that, on vacation. And with the problems Megan and Rafe were having with Trina and stuff, I guess they assumed he knew anyway. So, he got left out of the loop and his feelings were hurt."
Jim mulled that over for a moment. "So, it's nothing to do with worrying about catching something from me?" He shook his head and smiled fondly. "Jerk! Wait till I see him!"
"You think it could wait until later?" Blair asked, laying his head on Jim's shoulder. "Now that you're over your snit about the toaster, I thought a little make-up sex might be in order."
Jim cupped his hand under Blair's chin and kissed him deeply. Pulling back after a moment, he gave Blair a mock-scowl. "You're forgiven this time."
Blair rolled his eyes and stood, pulling Jim with him. "Don't have to be at the station until after lunch. Gives you plenty of time to show how much I'm forgiven."
"Sandburg! Where the hell is that new packet of socks I bought yesterday?"
Blair stifled a curse. It seemed like the make-up sex hadn't exactly soothed the savage beast as much as he'd hoped. "Is this a test?" he asked, then schooled his face into seriousness when he heard Jim clattering down the steps from the bedroom. "Sorry," he apologized. "I think I tossed them in the laundry basket in the bathroom."
Jim gave him an exasperated glare. "Why'd you do that? I haven't worn them yet."
"Sorry." Blair stood and walked into the bathroom, finding the packet of white socks tangled in a bath towel. He held them out to his lover. "Here you go. Just not thinking, I guess."
Jim ripped the packet open and extracted a pair, pulling them on then adding his shoes. He walked to the front door and grabbed his keys. "You ready?"
Blair had a quick last minute check. Backpack - check. Jacket - check. "Let's go."
Blair shifted in the passenger seat of the truck and focused his attention on Jim. The ride to the station had thus far been made in silence and it was making him antsy. "You want to tell me what's really bugging you?"
Jim shot him a quick glance. "You don't think that believing a friend is scared of getting AIDS from you is enough to worry about?"
"Sure it is," Blair agreed, "but I know there's something else. You haven't been sleeping well, for a start."
Jim opened his mouth to speak then snapped it shut. After a moment, he spoke, his voice quiet. "I just have this feeling something bad is about to happen."
Blair sat forward and studied his partner. "You been having visions?"
"You're the one with the visions, remember?" Jim said. He shrugged. "Just a feeling."
"Prescience?" At Jim's irritated glare, he rushed to explain. "Foresight. Could be tied up with your sixth sense. After Molly "
"It's nothing clear," Jim said as he steered the truck into the PD parking garage. He found a park then turned off the engine and turned to face Blair. "Sorry I've been a grouch. It's probably nothing."
"Might be," Blair replied thoughtfully.
"Might not," Jim said firmly. "Forget it, huh?"
"Yeah, okay," Blair agreed, pushing the disquieting conversation to the back of his mind - for now.
The bullpen was deserted, save for a solitary figure seated at the desk opposite Jim's. "Henri!" Blair walked over and greeted the detective enthusiastically. "Good to have you back, man."
Henri gave him a wide smile. "It's good to be back. Man, I was bored out of my skull this past week." He gave Jim a tentative smile. "Hey, Jim."
Jim reached out and clapped Henri on the shoulder gently. "How you doing, H?"
"Good." Henri paused a moment and stared down at his desk as though searching for something. Finally, he looked back up at both men. "Look, I just wanted to say I'm sorry for acting like such a jerk. It wasn't what you thought, Jim, I swear. I've got no beef with you two being together. I think it's great! I just -"
"Seems to me we owe you as much of an apology in return," Jim cut in, giving Henri a smile. "You're as close to family as anyone here. We should have told you."
"So, we're all good, right?" Blair said, grinning at both men.
Henri nodded. "Yeah, Hairboy, we're good."
"Well, I hate to break up this cozy tete-a-tete," Simon's stern voice broke in, "but it seems we've got bad guys out there, just waiting to be caught." He pinned Jim and Blair with a glare that both men knew was mostly for show. "You two, my office."
Simon closed the door behind Jim and Blair then gestured to the woman seated in front of his desk. "You remember Elaine Walters from Fisheries and Wildlife?"
Jim nodded and smiled at the woman. "Of course. Elaine, it's nice to see you."
Elaine smiled back and shook Jim's outstretched hand. "You, too, Jim. I have to admit I was a little disappointed when you didn't phone me again after our fishing expedition. Didn't you enjoy yourself?" She gave him a coy smile.
Jim shrugged but Blair could see the tinge of red coloring the tips of his ears. "We've been kind of busy," he cut in when Jim seemed at a loss for words. He held out his hand and shook Elaine's. "Good to see you, Elaine."
"Hello, Blair." The words were directed at him but Elaine's gaze stayed firmly fixed on Jim.
Simon seated himself and cleared his throat. "Ms. Walters has been asked to work with us on the killings in the National Park."
"I thought Homicide was handling that," Jim said.
"They were," Simon replied. "But the Commissioner for the Interior spoke to the Mayor, who spoke to the Police Commissioner, who asked that you and Sandburg take over the case."
"Bet that got Captain Wyatt's panties in a twist," Blair whispered to Jim, adding a small nudge.
Jim's mouth turned up in a grin then he schooled his face to seriousness. He walked over to the window and leaned back against the sill, crossing his arms over his chest. "Tell us what you have, Elaine."
"Three bodies so far. All female." Elaine pointed to a map spread out on Simon's desk. "Found here, here and here." She tapped each spot with a fingernail. "The third one was initially dismissed as a bear attack because the damage was so horrific but apparently lab tests showed the presence of human DNA."
"Semen?" Blair asked.
Elaine nodded. "And hair in the victim's hand."
"I hate to ask but can we see the crime scene photos?" Blair took a deep breath when Simon pushed the folder toward him then opened it and forced himself to look with a practiced eye at the evidence, trying not to think that these were people "God!" He closed the folder quickly and held it out to Jim, who took it with a questioning look. Blair nodded. "I'm okay," he reassured Jim. "So, he's escalating. First victim is shot. Second victim is stabbed, multiple times. Third victim -"
"Raped and mutilated about the face and genitals, died from a broken neck," Jim read from the folder. He looked at Blair. "Sexual anger or just got carried away and didn't want to be identified?"
"I'm sorry?" Elaine asked, sounding confused.
Blair looked at Jim who gestured for him to respond. "You're the profiler, Chief. I've picked up a few things from you but you're the expert."
Blair couldn't help feeling a small flush of pleasure at Jim's words. He turned to Elaine. "Each victim suffered progressively worse injuries - overkill, in fact, which means he's escalating in his murderous behavior. He's either frustrated because the crimes aren't assuaging his feelings or he's angry that he hasn't been caught yet, or he could just be pissed that we're not showing him due attention. As for the genital mutilation on the last victim, he either got carried away sexually, and when he came to his senses, he tried to cover up both the rape and the evidence of his DNA or it was just further escalation behavior. The other thing is there's no commonality here."
"Speak English for the slower-witted of us, Sandburg," Simon commented drily.
"Could be more than one killer, which is unlikely or we could have two killers working in tandem, each with their own preferred method of killing -"
"Or?" Elaine asked.
"Or he just likes to kill so much, he likes to mix it up a little." Blair felt a shiver assail him even as he said the words so matter of factly. Even after all this time, it didn't sit right with him to discuss murders as though it was a normal part of life. Though he supposed it was now. Jim had lectured him often enough about checking his humanity at the door, but it was a tough habit to break.
"But you have his DNA, so you can ID him, right?" Elaine looked at Jim.
After a beat, Blair shrugged and sat back, nodding for Jim to continue. "If he's in the database, we can, but even if he is, it will take time to track him down. It's a long process. We have a better chance if we can catch the guy and get a DNA sample from him to compare."
"Captain," Jim looked at Simon, "I'm thinking an undercover assignment -"
"Exactly what I proposed," Elaine interrupted. "I suggested to Captain Banks that you come in as a new warden -"
"You mean us, right," Blair interjected.
"Actually, I meant just Jim." Elaine gave Blair what didn't seem to be an entirely apologetic smile. "Having two new wardens might look suspicious. Besides, you don't exactly look like the warden type."
Blair bristled, but before he could speak, Jim replied. "Actually, Sandburg's pretty damn handy in the bush." He turned back to Simon. "When we were tracking you and Daryl in Peru -"
Simon held up a hand. "You don't need to tell me, Jim, but Elaine has a point. Two new wardens might make this guy skittish."
"Jim can't work this alone," Blair said quietly, fervently. He leaned forward and pinned Simon with an imploring stare. "Come on, Captain, we're partners. You know I have to go with him. I could go in as a camper," Blair said hopefully. "Keep an eye on things from that side."
"I don't know if that's a good idea, Chief," Jim said. "This guy is targeting campers "
"Female campers. Besides, I'm a cop now, remember?" Blair replied firmly. "I can handle it." He looked at Simon, silently willing him to agree.
Finally, Simon nodded. "Elaine says the campsite's have been mostly closed down until this guy is caught but there are some areas, well away from the mainstream grounds that are still open. This time of year, there's not many people about."
"Perfect time for a botanist to be there then," Blair said, feeling relieved. "Less people trampling the flora." He didn't miss the quick, almost angry look Jim gave him and knew he'd have some lengthy talking to do tonight.
"All right," Simon said. "Let's get down to working out the details."
"You about done?" Jim asked, walking up to stand behind Blair, who was seated on the couch, scribbling on a notepad. He toyed with a lock of Blair's hair, twining it around his finger. "I'm heading to bed. We've got an early start in the morning."
Blair nodded but kept his attention on his writing. "Almost done. Just working up a basic profile, based on what we have so far."
Jim walked around and sat down beside him. "What you got?"
Blair shrugged and placed the pen and pad on the coffee table. "Not much. The usual: loner, knows the area, mid-thirties, probably shunned or abused by one parent or the other. He needs to prove himself as worthy."
"To himself or someone else?"
"Now that," Blair replied, leaning in for a kiss, "is the part I don't know yet." He stood and stretched the kinks from his back and neck. "Let's go to bed."
"I know you're pissed with me," Blair said, as he climbed into bed, "so you might as well just come out with it and get it over. Naomi always said, "Never let the sun go down on an argument.""
Jim pulled Blair into his arms and kissed him. "I'm not pissed with you, Chief, just worried."
Blair lightly tapped Jim's temple. "Still have a bad feeling about this, huh?"
"A bad feeling about something, yeah. I just don't think it's a good idea for you to be out there alone."
"You'll be there too," Blair reminded him. He gave Jim a smile and settled his head on Jim's chest, stroking a hand over the muscled flesh. "I've got a bad feeling too."
"You do? Visions?"
"Nope. I'm not sure I trust Elaine to keep her hands off you while you're all cozied up with her in the wardens' quarters." He waited for the expected whap to his head wasn't disappointed. "What are you gonna tell her if she comes on too strong?"
"That I'm celibate," Jim said. "Saving myself for marriage."
Blair snorted. "That'll just encourage her." He turned slightly and looked up at Jim. "You trust me, right?"
"You know I do."
"Then trust me to know I can handle this. I'll be okay."
Jim stared at him for a long moment then nodded. "Okay."
"Now," Blair said, stretching up to capture Jim's mouth in a long, deep kiss, "we're gonna be separated for god knows how long, till we catch this guy. I can't see any opportunities for you sneaking into my tent for a quickie, so we'd better make the most of it now."
"No tent," Jim said. He pushed up and rolled them both so Blair lay beneath him. "I managed to get a loan of a camper. It gets damn cold and wet up there this time of year. Besides, it'll give us a chance to compare notes every day or so without raising any suspicion."
"Got it all figured, haven't you?" Blair said, surrendering himself to the delicious sensation of Jim's mouth on his body, slowly creeping lower."
Jim raised his head for just a moment. "Shut up, Sandburg or I'll have to find something else for you to do with that mouth."
"Promises, promises " Blair muttered then gasped and arched up as Jim's very talented tongue swiped at his balls.