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Hard Evidence

Written by Ankaree

Cover by Ankaree

Art by Lisa, Romanse, Ankaree, KAM

ACT ONE

It had been a long, stress-filled day for Jim and Blair. A day spent hunting down, arresting, and interrogating a man that they knew was responsible for the rape and murder of a stripper. After hours of questioning him, the guy finally broke down and confessed to the killing. By the time they left the precinct and had finally arrived home, it was late and Jim had a pounding headache. Blair, seeming to know exactly what his sentinel needed to relax, had guided him directly up the stairs to their bedroom. He had lovingly undressed Jim and instructed him to stretch out on his stomach on the bed before he removed his own clothing.

Now, after being the recipient to one of Blair's amazing massages, Jim lay face down on the mattress, totally relaxed and headache free, with his lover straddling his thighs. He groaned with pleasure as, once again, oil-slick hands gently massaged up his spine, across his shoulders then down his sides to his buttocks. The process repeated itself a few more times before those magic fingers concentrated solely on his ass, squeezing and stroking the firm flesh in small circles. He felt his cheeks being spread apart and then the feel of warm oil as it was drizzled onto his puckered opening. A fingertip gently rubbed over his hole before slowly pushing inside, and Jim let out a long groan, loving the sensation of being penetrated. Soon a second finger joined the first, sliding in and out, gently stretching him. He smiled softly, knowing that even after all this time of being lovers, Blair always took his time to carefully prepare him.

Breathing in deeply, Jim smelled his lover's arousal and the musky scent ignited his own as well, causing his cock to swell fully. He was panting hard when Blair moved over him to whisper in his ear, "You make me so hot, Jim. I have to have you now."

"Please." The word was a ragged prayer, nearly lost in the sound of Jim's heavy breathing.

"All fours, lover," Blair quietly commanded.

Jim obeyed immediately and as he moved upward, his lover's hands gently guided him until he was resting on his hands and knees. Fingertips reverently ghosted over his back, starting near his shoulders and slowly drifting downward, stopping when they reached Jim's buttocks. Blair shifted between his legs and Jim quickly spread them further apart, feeling his asshole twitch with anticipation.

Sure hands grasped his cheeks, kneading them a few times before easing them wide, exposing him. Jim couldn't stop the whimper that escaped from between his lips when the sensation of a warm, hot tongue licked across his sensitive hole. His hips were held firmly and that maddening tongue laved back and forth a few more times, nearly driving him crazy.

Jim gasped in pleasure when, at last, the tip of Blair's lubed cock pressed against his opening and eased inside. Once fully sheathed, Blair pulled out almost all the way and slowly slid back in again, the action causing them both to moan loudly. His lover set a long, hard rhythm, thrusting over and over again into Jim's body. Jim's arms began to tremble and no longer being able to hold up his body weight, he dropped down onto his elbows. The sudden shift made the angle of the trusts change and he cried out as the tip of Blair's cock pushed hard against his prostate. An arm slipped around his waist where a sweat slicked hand grasped his erection firmly and began to stroke in time with his mate's thrusts. He drew in a sharp breath and let the sensations flow over and through him, propelling his desire higher and higher. God, he loved this. Loved letting go and giving total control over to Blair. Loved letting Blair take him -- claim him. And loved that his guide knew him so incredibly well that he understood this was exactly what he needed.

"You're mine, Jim. Always mine," Blair stated huskily.

"Yes," Jim returned, feeling his body react to the amorous claiming. "Yours, Blair. Only yours. Forever."

Thrusting even harder and faster into Jim, Blair murmured breathlessly, "God, you feel so good."

Jim could only answer with a moan as his body tingled wildly with pleasure. The sensations swirling through him were so wonderfully overpowering -- so intense -- that he closed his eyes only to snap them open again when he felt his senses spinning out of control. He forced his eyes to stay open, knowing that if he closed them again, he'd become lost.

"It's okay, Jim. Let your senses go. I've got you."

His guide's words washed over him and, just like it always did, that warm, sensual voice calmed him immediately. He knew it was safe to let go, to feel, to be consumed by everything his lover was doing to him. As long as his guide was here, he would never let anything happen to him. Closing his eyes, totally trusting in Blair, Jim allowed himself to become lost in the indescribable pleasures of their lovemaking.

"That's it. Let go," Blair whispered.

His lover thrust into him again, this time with a surging force that caused a fiery burst of ecstasy to explode within Jim. He cried out his pleasure, feeling Blair pound into him faster and faster, feeling his orgasm building and building, rushing him away on a fierce, never-ending ride.

"Yes," Blair hissed. "Come for me, lover. Show me how much you love this."

That was all Jim needed, he bucked widely, thrusting once into Blair's hand then pushing back hard, forcing Blair's cock deep within him. With a fierce, strangled cry, he threw back his head as his orgasm exploded through his body. At the exact same moment he heard his lover yell his name and Blair's hot seed burst free inside him, filling him, making him whole.

Suddenly, Blair sagged bonelessly against his back, his breathing coming out in short, hard gasps. Unable to hold his lover's weight, Jim's weakened legs gave out and his whole body collapsed to the mattress, bringing Blair along with him. They stayed that way for a few minutes, getting their breathing under control, gathering as much strength as they could in order to move. Jim's lips turned up into a smile at the feel of tiny kisses being placed on his skin that was within reach of his lover's mouth.

Once Blair's penis softened enough to slip from Jim's body, his lover slowly shifted off his back to lie next to him on the mattress. With a groan, Jim flopped over and gazed up through the skylight to the stars above. "God, Chief, you sure know how to make a guy relax."

"No," Blair chuckled lightly, "I know how to make you relax."

Jim shifted over again, this time covering his guide's body with his own. He looked down into smoky-blue eyes, eyes that always took his breath away, and smiled lovingly. "You sure do. You always know exactly what I need." Lowering his head, Jim devoured Blair's mouth in a soul-searing kiss until his lover was breathless -- and speechless Jim thought smugly.

Moving off the mattress, Jim made quick work of getting them both cleaned up then slipped back into bed, pulling the covers up as he lay down.

"I love you," Blair murmured drowsily, moving into Jim's arms.

Hugging his lover gently, Jim sighed, "Love you, too, Chief," before slipping quickly into a deep, relaxing sleep.

***

It was early morning when Jim slowly drifted toward consciousness. As he hovered on the precipice between sleep and awareness, he felt the weight and heat of his lover snuggled against his side. He released a small sigh of contentment. God, how he cherished waking up every morning like this, with his and Blair's bodies and limbs so completely entwined together.

Tilting his head to one side and gazing down, Jim could just make out the face of his partner. It always amazed him how much younger and how very vulnerable Blair looked when he was sleeping. His heart skipped a beat and it instantly filled with love and a fierce protectiveness.

Even though he knew he couldn't keep Blair safe from all the horrors and harm the world threw at him, because, God knew, he had tried everything humanly possible to do so, Jim still closed his eyes and pledged that he would do all within his power to protect this man who meant more to him than life itself.

Reaching a hand up, he tenderly stroked the head that was lying on his chest, his fingers lightly caressing through the soft curls. He'd always loved Blair's hair. Especially when he wore it loose. He loved the way it framed Blair's face, the way it flowed over his shoulders and the little 'swooshing' noise it made every time his lover moved his head. But most of all, Jim loved the feel of it. Wanting to intensify the feeling, he dialed up his sense of touch and luxuriated in the texture of the silky strands as they flowed through his fingers. Suddenly, everything around him started to grey out and he became only aware of the feel of Blair's hair. Unable to stop it, he felt himself begin to drift into a sensuous haze.

"Don't go too deep." Blair's sleepy voice reached his ears, snapping him back to awareness.

"How did you know?" Jim asked. Pulling his fingers away from the too-tempting feast, he slid his hand down to rest on his lover's buttock.

"Dunno." Blair yawned widely. "I just -- knew." With a contented sigh, he shifted, snuggling impossibly closer to Jim. "What time is it?"

"Ten after six."

"God," Blair groaned. "Why are you awake so early? It's our day off, remember? Go back to sleep." A hand lightly patted Jim on his stomach.

With a small chuckle, Jim wrapped his arms around his guide, placing a light kiss to the top of Blair's head. He sighed happily and closed his eyes, letting the peacefulness of loft and the scent of his lover wash over him.

Just as he was easing toward sleep, the sudden shrill of the phone made Jim tense immediately, his breath quickened and his heart began to beat frantically. It was at times like this, when he was so totally relaxed, that he would be caught off guard and the ringing of the phone would transport him back to the time he nearly took a nose dive off the PD roof because some voice on the other end of the line told him to do it. He wondered, for about the hundredth time, if he really would have taken that final step over the edge if Blair hadn't been there to guide him back. A shiver suddenly ran through him. God, what would it have done to Blair to have watched him fall to his death?

"It's okay," Blair soothed, interrupting his thoughts. "We'll always be here for one another." Using the back of his hand, his guide gently stroked along Jim's cheek, the light touch calming him instantly. Keeping one hand on Jim's chest, somehow knowing the contact would ease Jim further; Blair reached over him and snatched up the phone. "Simon, this better not be you," he grumbled into the receiver.

"And a good morning to you, too, Sandburg." Simon's gruff voice held a trace of amusement.

"You said we could have the day off," Blair stated and Jim smiled at hearing the slight whine in his guide's voice.

"I know, but we've got a dead body and I want the two of you on it."

Grabbing a pen and paper from the bedside table, Blair jotted down the address and directions to a cabin located in the Cascade Mountains.

"Isn't that a bit out of our jurisdiction?" asked Blair.

"The local sheriff was the one to contact us. Everything has been worked out."

"Okay, sir. Be there as soon as we can." After hanging up the phone, Blair turned to Jim. "Simon needs us-"

"Yeah, I heard."

"Right," Blair said with a chuckle.

"What?"

"It's just… it's funny, after all the years we've been together there are times that I forget."

When Blair didn't explain further, Jim raised an eyebrow in question.

"You're senses, man. I actually forget sometimes that you hear all, see all… well, you know…" Blair loosely waved a hand in the air.

Jim laughed, shook his head in fond affection and lightly slapped Blair on the ass. "Come on, Chief. We'd better get a move on. It'll take at least an hour to get out to the crime scene."

"Yes, sir." Blair grinned and raised a hand up to his forehead to mock salute. Quickly, he hopped off the bed just missing Jim's swing to cuff his head.

Before Blair could descend the stairs, Jim softly called his name. He waited for his partner to turn around then pulled him into his arms. "Last night was -- incredible." Dipping his head, Jim claimed his lover's mouth, kissing him thoroughly. When he pulled away, Blair moaned quietly and smiled, running his tongue slowly over kiss-swollen lips. That innocent -- or maybe not so innocent, Jim thought with a chuckle -- action looked so damn sexy that it caused his heart to skip a beat and he felt his penis begin to fill. He knew that if he didn't get them both out of the bedroom now, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from throwing Blair down on the bed and making love to every inch of that wonderful body.

***

Exactly an hour after leaving the loft, they were driving through a set of wrought iron gates and down a long, tree-lined driveway.

"Whoa! I thought we were going to a cabin, not a mansion," Blair exclaimed, staring out the window as they pulled up in front of an enormous log house situated near a crystal clear lake.

"You've never been to Sun Valley, Chief?" Jim asked, referring to the small community in the mountains that the predominantly wealthy used for their summer homes.

Blair released a snort of laughter. "Uh, that would be a 'no'."

Jim looked around and remained quiet for a second as an old childhood memory of happier times with his family flashed across his mind. "We spent our summer vacations in this area when I was a kid. I think the old man sold it once Steven and I left home."

Blair turned, giving Jim an incredulous look. "You had a place like that?" he asked, pointing at the house.

"Not me, Chief. My dad did." He grinned. "And it wasn't as big as that one. Actually, I have some good memories from the time we spent up here."

"Cool," Blair said enthusiastically. "I'd love to hear about it."

"Maybe later. Right now we need to find Simon."

They exited the truck and quickly walked between several police vehicles, the coroner's wagon, Simon's LTD and a silver Mercedes SLR McLaren. As they passed the expensive sports car, Jim smiled and shook his head when he noticed his partner slow his stride to stare at the car.

Stopping, Blair let out a low whistle of admiration. "Man, even if I saved my paychecks for the rest of my life, I could never afford a car like this one."

Dialing up his hearing, Jim detected the voice of their captain coming from the far side of the property. "This way," he said, tugging on Blair's arm. Steering his partner away from his perusal of the sporty car, Jim maneuvered them toward the area where he knew he'd find Simon.

"Good morning, Detectives." Simon greeted them.

"What have we got, Captain?" Jim asked, getting down to business.

"The crime scene's around back," Simon said. He led the way around the house to a large deck overlooking the big lake then over to where the body lay. "The local sheriff has already interviewed the live-in housekeeper. He said that she was awakened when she heard the sound of something breaking. She got up to check on the noise and found the deceased out here. Said she didn't touch anything, just ran back inside and called 911."

"Did she see anyone else around?" Blair inquired.

"No," answered Simon with a shake of his head, "no one."

Jim stared down at the dead man who appeared to be in his early fifties. He lay sprawled on the wooden decking with a large pool of deep red blood spreading out from his head. The light green bathrobe he wore was splattered with blood and a few inches away from his outstretched hand lay a shattered coffee mug, the dark liquid staining the wood where it had landed.

"Has forensics been over everything?" Blair asked, slowly walking around the dead man.

"Yes," their captain replied. "Dan and his team finished up out here a few minutes before you arrived."

Slipping on a pair of latex gloves that Blair had handed to him, Jim squatted down, eyes slowly traveling over the man's body; looking for anything that forensics may have missed. Taking the taut jaw between his thumb and index finger, Jim carefully rolled the blood soaked head until the wound was revealed.

He heard the small intake of breath come from Blair and he didn't have to look at him to know that he had grimaced and turned away. Jim couldn't stop his own face from scrunching up in reaction as well. It was a pretty gruesome sight. The entire left side of the man's head and face had been blown away from the impact of a bullet. Studying the wound for another minute, Jim then returned the head to its previous position and stood up.

A hand lightly pressed against his back and his partner quietly asked from behind him, "Notice anything out of the ordinary?"

"You mean besides having half his face missing?" Jim replied, glancing at Blair while removing the gloves. "No. I didn't sense anything else. That's a pretty nasty wound. I'd say caused by a shot from a high powered rifle."

"Dan's team did find the bullet." Simon stated.

"Good. We'll go talk with him."

"Do we know who he is?" Blair asked.

Their captain gave a brief nod before answering, "Name's Eric Bradford."

Jim heard Blair's heart accelerate slightly at the mention of the man's name. He turned around to address his partner, "You know this guy, Chief?"

"No, not personally, but I do know who he is. He's, like, the next Bill Gates. His computer software company, Netcom, is almost on the same level as Microsoft. I remember reading that he was in negotiations for a huge takeover of another computer company. Umm… I think the name was CompuCom."

"You know, Sandburg, your wealth of information continues to amaze me." Simon shook his head and chomped down on his unlit cigar.

"Hey, can I help it if I like to keep up with current events?" Blair smirked, bouncing in place.

"Come on, Einstein." Jim tugged lightly on a lock of Blair's hair. "Let's go talk to Dan."

They entered the house through the wide glass doors that led from the deck into the large airy living area. The spacious kitchen was open to the main family room and they saw Dan Wolf standing at the counter, looking through a stack of evidence bags. The ME glanced up and acknowledged Jim and Blair with a wave as they approached.

"Hey, Dan," Blair greeted. "We'd like to take a look at the bullet."

"Sure thing." Dan sifted through the small pile of plastic bags, pulled one out and handed it to Blair, who studied it for a second before passing it on to Jim.

Rotating the bag slowly around in his hands, Jim closely examined the bullet. "It's a .308 slug. If I remember correctly, it's restricted only to sniper rifles." When Jim turned to glance at his partner, he noticed that Blair was no longer standing next to him. Instead, he was slowly walking out the doorway, his gaze staring toward the lake. "Sandburg," Jim called, frowning when he received no response.

"Is he all right?" Dan asked, sounding concerned.

"I don't know." Tossing the evidence bag on the counter, Jim hurried after his partner and caught up with him just as Blair stepped off the deck and onto the grass.

"Sandburg," Jim called again but still Blair kept on walking. "Shit," he mumbled, wondering what in the hell was going on. Moving around in front of his guide, Jim stopped his forward momentum by grasping Blair's biceps and holding him in place. "Chief? You okay?" he asked and gave Blair a little shake. That seemed to do the trick and the movement suddenly snapped him out of whatever odd state his partner had been in.

Blinking a few times, Blair looked up, a frown of confusion creasing his forehead. "Jim?"

"The one and only." Jim grinned slightly despite his concern. "You mind telling me what's going on?"

"Man, that was weird." Blair shook his head a little. "One minute I'm standing next to you and the next, I being drawn toward the lake. Then, when I stepped outside, I suddenly got these images in my head of exactly where the killer was standing when he fired the gun."

Having learned his lesson from past experiences when dealing with his partner's 'sixth sense', Jim knew not to doubt what he said. He simply nodded and asked, "Where?"

Blair sent him a grateful smile before pointing at the water. "He was over there, on the far edge of the lake, just inside the tree line."

Jim looked out over the water, in the direction Blair had indicated, and dialed up his sight. The shoreline on the other side of the lake was at least three thousand feet away. It was a long distance and that suddenly made Jim uneasy because he knew that only the best sniper could make the shot from that far. As he looked around he wondered, who, exactly, they were dealing with. This was not some amateurish shooting, it was a professional hit. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to have Eric Bradford murdered.

"Did you see the killer's face?" Jim asked

"No, just images of where he was standing and the view he had of the house."

"Okay. Come on," Jim said, lightly patting Blair on the back. "Let's go tell Simon."

As they approached their captain, Jim noticed a handsome Latino man talking with him. The man appeared to be not much older than Blair and was about the same height and weight.

Simon quickly waved them over when he looked up and saw them. "Ellison. Sandburg. This is Sheriff Miguel Sandoval. Sheriff, these are my detectives from Major Crime."

"Nice to meet you." Sandoval gave a friendly smile, flashing perfectly white teeth. He held out his hand and both Jim and Blair took their turn shaking it and introducing themselves. "I really appreciate having you come out here. We've never had a murder like this in the area, so we appreciate all the help we can get."

After giving a small nod, Jim said, "We need a boat."

"A boat?" Simon frowned slightly. "Why?"

"We need to get to the other side of the lake and a boat would be much faster than on foot." Before Simon could question them further, he quickly added, "We believe that the shot was fired from across the lake."

"I can have one here in ten minutes," Sandoval said, snatching up a small radio from his belt and speaking into it.

True to his word, the sheriff had a small motorboat delivered and ready to go within the indicated time. Jim hopped in taking a seat next to Blair. With Sandoval at the controls, they quickly made their way across the calm lake, his partner directing the sheriff to the right area.

Once on the other side, Sandoval steered the vessel as close to shore as possible then cut the engine. "If we lift the motor, we can row right up onto the land," the sheriff explained.

"I'll get it." Blair carefully shuffled his way to the back and easily flipped the motor up out of the water. Within a few minutes, the boat was beached and the three men were standing on the shoreline.

Lightly placing a hand on Blair's shoulder, Jim asked, "Which way, Chief?"

His guide glanced around for a second before saying, "This way," then headed off to his left with Jim and Sandoval following close behind. A few feet inside the tree line Blair stopped. "Right here."

Turning around, Jim gazed out over the lake toward the house, his eyesight clearly zeroing in on the exact spot where Bradford would have been standing before a bullet had ripped his life away. "He had a perfect line of sight from here to the deck."

"How can you be so sure that the shot was made from this spot?" Sandoval asked, his tone curious.

"My partner had a hunch and they usually pay off." When he looked at Blair, his heart warmed at the pleased smile that lit up his partner's face.

Jim expected the sheriff to question them further, but he simply shrugged, seeming to accept the explanation. "Okay, Detectives, how do you want to work this?"

"We need to find the casing from the bullet and any other evidence that someone was here," Jim said. "Why don't you check out that area," Jim indicated to his right, "while Sandburg and I look over here?"

"Yes, sir." Sandoval saluted with an easy grin and headed off in the opposite direction.

"He seems like a nice guy," Blair said once they were alone.

"Yeah, he does," Jim agreed. With his eyesight dialed up, he scanned the area around them and suddenly a small bronze cylinder caught his attention. "Over here, Chief." Pulling on a latex glove, Jim carefully plucked the object out from a bed of fallen leaves and pine needles, and dropped it into an evidence bag that Blair held open for him. "You were right on. He was here."

"Did you doubt me?" Blair quietly asked.

Jim met his partner's gaze and spoke with assurance. "No. Never."

Not breaking eye contact, Blair smiled and Jim could feel the power of their love flow between them. Clearing his throat, he said, "We'd better look around."

"Right," Blair replied with a little chuckle, moving away slightly. He took a few more steps and stopped. "What's that?" he asked point at a small silver object resting on top of an old tree stump.

Jim hurried to his side and looked down at the item. "Looks like a dog tag." Still wearing the rubber glove, he picked it up, turning it over on his palm so it faced upward.

ACT TWO

"That's Russian," Blair said, indicating the red writing on the top and bottom of the tag.

"Yes. It's a Russian Special Forces dog tag." Jim stated, slipping the item into another evidence bag.

"You recognize it?"

Jim nodded. "I saw a few like this during my time in the military." He sensed that Blair was about to say something else but halted his partner's words by holding up a hand. His hearing picked up on the sound of approaching footsteps crunching in the dried leaves. Quickly, Jim shifted them behind an old oak tree, using the large trunk for cover. His hand went to his back, preparing to draw his weapon when the identifying scent of the sheriff suddenly filled his nostrils. "It's okay. It's Sandoval."

"Thank God," Blair whispered, his hand moving away from his shoulder holster.

When they stepped out from behind the tree, it was obvious that they had startled the officer. The man jumped back, his hand going for his weapon, only stopping when he recognized them. "Dios mo! You scared the shit out of me." He released a breath and ran a hand through his short, dark hair.

"Sorry about that, Sheriff." Blair apologized earnestly.

"Hey, no worries. I just wouldn't want to shoot you accidentally." Sandoval patted Blair once on the back. "Please, call me Miguel."

"Neither would I." Blair laughed and Miguel joined in. "And it's Blair."

Jim smiled as he watched his partner interact with the sheriff. Even though they'd only just met, Jim couldn't explain it, but there was something about Sandoval that made him like the guy immediately.

"I found tire tracks about two hundred feet back that way." Sandoval hitched a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the way he'd come. "There's an old logging road there that leads out to the main road."

"Must be how he got in and out without being seen," Blair stated.

Holding up the evidence bags for Sandoval to see, Jim said, "We found the shell casing and a military dog tag."

"Great. Good work, detectives." Sandoval praised then looked around. "This area is pretty secluded. Earlier, I questioned the nearest neighbor, who lives about half a mile up the road. The husband and wife were asleep at the time of the murder, so they didn't see or hear anything."

"More than likely the killer used a silencer," added Jim, stuffing the bags back into his pocket. "I'll get Captain Banks to send our forensics team out here to go over the entire area."

"All right." Sandoval agreed.

They talked for a few more minutes then walked through the woods in the direction of the lake. The three men clambered into the boat and headed back to their primary crime scene.

***

Having shown Simon and the forensics team the exact location of where he found the shell casing, dog tag and tire tracks, Jim, Blair and Sandoval now stood on the back deck discussing the information that the sheriff and his officers had gathered on Eric Bradford.

"He's married to…" Sandoval looked at the notebook in his hand, "Mariam Bradford. Maiden name is Schaffer. They have no children and Mr. Bradford has no living relatives -- that we know about."

"Any idea if there's a -- girlfriend?" Jim asked.

"Or boyfriend," Blair added.

Jim sent his partner a brief glance. "Right. Or boyfriend."

"My officers didn't find anything, but," Sandoval shrugged, "anything's possible."

"Okay. Sandburg and I will head back to Cascade to interview the wife. Can you do a background check on Bradford's work associates?"

"Will do," the sheriff agreed with a smile, handing Jim a piece of paper with the wife's address.

"Great. Thanks." Jim touched Sandoval on the shoulder as he walked by him, his partner just a step behind. "We'll be in touch."

***

Blair had been extremely silent on the drive back down the mountain. Jim wasn't worried, though, because there were times, like now, when his partner would become quiet while he thought through a case. It was one of the many things that made him a good cop; the ability to twist the case around in his head and look at it from all angles. And with Blair's special 'gift', he could go deeper into a case and see things that Jim would never have known. When both their abilities were put to work, they made one hell of an unbeatable team.

They drove for a few more miles then Jim finally had to ask, "What's on your mind, Chief?"

Blair studied him for a minute before answering. "You don't think…" he paused.

"What?" Jim prodded.

"Well, we know this is a professional hit."

"Right." Jim eyed him briefly before shifting his gaze to the road again.

"I know what the name at the top of the dog tag said, Jim. And so do you."

"Since when do you know Russian?"

"Since always, and don't change the subject." Blair looked at him, his face serious. "It said Spetsnaz. That's the same Russian military group that Yuri belonged to. It's possible that the hit-man could be him."

"The man was shot and died from the fall, Chief," Jim quickly stated. "There's no way he just got up and walked away."

"Yeah, but his body was never found."

Jim thought a moment. No. It was impossible. There was no way it could be Yuri. He had watched the man get shot in the back and then fall to his death. "No." Jim shook his head. "It can't be him."

"But it is possible," Blair persisted.

"No." Jim denied again with a shake of his head.

"Come on, Jim-"

"Let's just drop it and concentrate on finding Bradford's killer. Okay, Chief?"

"Fine." Blair agreed all too quickly, crossing his arms over his chest and looking out the side window.

Jim frowned slightly. He had a feeling that he hadn't heard the last of Blair's wild idea. When his guide got hooked on something, he was like a dog to a bone and just wouldn't give it up.

***

It was late afternoon by the time Jim and Blair stepped up to the front door of the Bradford's large mansion. Raising a hand, Jim rang the doorbell and a few seconds later a woman in a maid's uniform opened the door.

"Yes?" she asked. "May I help you?"

"Cascade Police, ma'am," Jim said as both he and Blair drew their badges, holding them up for the woman to see. "We're here to talk with Mrs. Bradford."

Pulling the door fully open, the maid motioned them inside. "This way, please." They followed her through the large foyer and into an expensively decorated sitting room. "Please, have a seat and I'll let Mrs. Bradford know that you're here."

They both remained standing and as they waited for Eric Bradford's wife, Jim watched his partner slowly move around the room, glancing at various framed photographs, expensive pieces of artwork and sculptures.

The sound of high heeled shoes clicking on marble flooring alerted them that someone was approaching. Jim turned toward the doorway just as a tall, attractive brunette in her late thirties entered the room. Her movements were graceful, her hair swept up into a stylish twist and she was dressed in a dark blue business suit.

"I'm Mariam Bradford." She sniffled and dabbed a tissue at her eyes. "What may I do for you, gentlemen?"

"I'm Detective Ellison." Jim flashed his badge, sensing Blair move up beside him. "And this is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We're here about your husband."

"If you're here to tell me he's dead, I already know." Her voice trembled.

Blair walked up to her and placed a hand on her arm. "We're sorry for your loss."

"Thank you," Mariam said and gave a shaky little smile while dabbing at her eyes again. "Please. Have a seat."

Once they were sitting, Jim and Blair beside each other on the sofa and Mariam across from them in a Queen Anne style chair, Blair leaned forward and said, "I know this must be difficult for you, but we need you to answer some questions."

"Okay." Mariam's bottom lip trembled and she drew in a shuddering breath before blowing it out slowly.

Jim leaned back into the cushions and let Blair take the lead in the questioning. His partner had a talent when it came to dealing with an upset loved one who needed to be questioned. The way he spoke and interacted with them always seemed to have a calming effect on them, which in turn made them give up information they might not have revealed otherwise. Jim was sure that part of it was due to Blair's voice. It always softened and became deeper, almost like his 'guide voice', but not exactly the same. It was easy, though, for Jim to detect the differences and Blair never used his 'guiding voice' on anyone but him. When he had once questioned his guide about it, Blair had said that particular way he spoke was for Jim and only Jim.

Turning his attention to Blair, Jim listened as he began to ask the first question. He immediately dialed up his senses, tuning them onto Mrs. Bradford in order to detect any deception she may give in her responses.

"Can you tell us why you weren't with your husband in Sun Valley?"

"We had a fight last evening." Mariam's voice hitched and she buried her face in her hands and began to weep quietly.

Blair waited until she had regained some composure then gently asked, "What did you argue about?"

"He's always working late and on weekends. I hardly ever get to see him anymore. This weekend I wanted him to stay at home. Saturday is... was," she begun to cry again, "his b-birthday." Taking in a watery breath, she continued, "I wanted us to spend it together but he said he couldn't. That he had to work."

"Okay." Blair nodded slowly and gave a reassuring smile. "You argued, then what happened?"

Mariam lowered her head and replied quietly, "He left."

"Did he come back home at all during the night?"

"No." She shook her head and blew her nose.

"Weren't you worried?"

"No. Not really. In the past, when we had an argument and he'd leave, he usually stayed away until the next day. Sometimes he'd be gone longer."

"What did you do after your husband left?"

"I went upstairs to my bedroom."

"Did anyone see you?"

"No, but I did call my sister."

"We'll need her name." After jotting down the information, Blair sent a quick glance Jim's way and Jim knew what his partner's next question was going to be. "Do you think your husband was having an affair?"

Diverting her gaze from Blair's, Mariam wrung her hands together and shook her head. "No, I don't think he was. I loved my husband…" Taking a deep breath, she continued, "But if he was having an affair… well… I guess I'd be the last to know, wouldn't I?"

Blair didn't answer her, instead he asked, "Do you know of anyone who would want your husband dead?"

Tears leaked out from the corner of her eyes to trickle slowly down her cheeks. "No, I don't."

"Did he receive any threatening phone calls or letters recently?"

Mariam looked at Blair with tear-filled eyes and shook her head.

"I read that your husband was in the process of buying out another company. Was he having any difficulties at work? Maybe someone giving him trouble or a hard time?

"Some people had to be fired," she gave a little shrug, "so I guess they'd be upset and blame him."

"Can you think of anybody in particular?"

"No. He hardly ever discussed his work at home..." she paused and a slight bitterness tinged her words when she added, "when he was at home."

Blair seemed to study her for a second before he smiled softly and said, "Okay." When he stood, Jim followed suit. "That's all for now, Mrs. Bradford. Thank you."

Standing as well, Mariam led them to the front door. "I'm sorry. I guess I haven't been very helpful."

"You did just fine," Blair assured. "We'll be in touch."

***

"You did great in there, Chief," Jim said once they were inside the truck.

"Thanks, man." Blair smiled. "I don't think she had anything to do with her husband's death. Did you pick up on anything?"

Steering the truck out of the driveway and onto the tree-lined street, Jim answered, "She was honestly upset and was truthful in her responses."

Turning slightly in his seat, Blair eyed Jim. "But…"

"But…" Jim briefly glanced at his partner, "I didn't buy the part about her not knowing that he was cheating on her. Her heart rate spiked when you asked about it."

"I got the same feeling." Blair nodded, practically bouncing in his seat. "I think she knew but chose to ignore it."

"Out of sight, out of mind?"

"Yeah, something like that. However, I don't think she knows who he was seeing."

"I'm with you on that one, too." Jim flashed Blair a grin and it was returned.

"Let's head back to the station, see if the phone call to the sister pans out and give Miguel a call. Maybe he's got some information for us."

"Sounds like a plan, Chief."

***

When they arrived back at Major Crime, Simon immediately called them into his office. Upon entering the room, Jim and Blair were greeted by Sheriff Miguel Sandoval. The sheriff, who had been seated across from Simon's desk, stood immediately and the three of them shook hands.

"No red flags showed up on Bradford's employees. However, I did speak to the housekeeper again," Miguel said, "and she revealed something to me that she neglected to tell me when I first questioned her."

"What was that?" Jim asked, curious.

"Bradford was having an affair."

"We figured he was." Blair sat down on top of the conference table, his legs freely swinging back and forth. "We just got back from interviewing Mrs. Bradford. When we asked her about an affair, she denied it, but Jim and I believe she knew her husband was cheating."

Moving next to his partner, Jim leaned a hip on the table top. "Did the housekeeper give a name?"

"Yes. Said his name is Jonathan Kendrick."

"Wait." Blair quickly hopped from the table and began to pace excitedly. "I know that name. He's the guy who owns the other company -- CompuCom. Right?"

"You got it, mi amigo." Sandoval grinned. "My men looked him up. He's got an address both here and in New York City. At the moment he's in Cascade. Has been for the last week."

"Good." Jim gave a brief nod. "Sandburg and I will go pay him a visit."

A knock suddenly sounded at the door and Rhonda entered. "Sorry for interrupting. This just came for you, Jim." She handed him a manila envelope. "It says that it's urgent, so I thought I'd better give it to you right away. They made a mistake with your rank though." She smiled before exiting the room.

"Thanks," Jim said, looking at the envelope that had a red URGENT sticker stuck on the front. There was no return address; only three printed words that made him frown.

Captain James Ellison.

"What is it, Jim?" Blair asked with concern and quickly stepped up beside him. Placing a hand on Jim's arm, he looked at the envelope then back at Jim. "What do you think it is?"

"Let's find out." Snatching a letter opener from Simon's desk, Jim carefully slit open the envelope and slid the contents out onto the desktop. Words cut out from a newspaper were glued onto the white paper forming a sentence.

"An eye for an eye," Simon read aloud while reaching into his desk drawer and retrieving an evidence bag. "What the hell does that mean?"

Tilting his head slightly to one side, Jim shook his head. "I have no idea."

"Is it some kind of threat?" Sandoval asked, peering around Blair at the note.

"It must be," replied Jim, "but like I said, I don't know what it means." He carefully slipped both the envelope and paper into the plastic bag, sealed it and handed it to his captain.

"Whoever sent it obviously knows about your military past," Blair said, sounding a little nervous.

Jim rubbed at his forehead, his mind trying to flash through all the men -- and women -- who he took down during his military career but there were too many for him to narrow down in just a few minutes. "At the moment, I can't think who it could be." His partner shifted closer to him and Jim felt a hand lightly rest on his back. When he glanced at Blair and noticed the worry in his eyes, he gave him reassuring smile.

"I'll take this down to Forensics. Maybe they can get some prints off the paper." Simon held up the evidence bag then addressed Jim. "In the meantime, I want you and Sandburg to interview Kendrick."

"Yes, sir." Jim headed for the door, his partner right behind him.

"Would you mind if I came along?" the sheriff asked before Jim had stepped through the doorway.

Looking at his partner, Jim saw the small nod of approval. He then turned to get permission from his superior. "Captain?"

"Go ahead." Simon waved them out.

***

When the three of them stopped in front of the elevator, Blair turned to Sandoval and said, "Would you excuse us for a minute? I need to speak with Jim."

"Sure. I'll go make a couple of phone calls." The sheriff turned around and headed back into the bullpen.

With a tilt of his head, Blair motioned toward the break room and Jim followed him, closing the door once they were both inside. "What's up, Chief?"

Blair paced for a second before facing Jim. "I'm sure that note is related to whomever killed Bradford. It's an awfully big coincidence that you receive a threat at the same time that a professional killer happens to be in Cascade. Yuri-"

"Chief," Jim warned. "I thought we decided to drop this whole Yuri theory?"

"No, man. You decided to drop it. I, however, did not."

"Why are you being so persistent about this?"

"Because I have this odd feeling that it has to do with Yuri. Maybe he did survive somehow. You of all people know that anything is possible."

"Yeah, well, I really doubt he had a shaman to bring him back to life," Jim said, his tone sounding more sarcastic than he had intended. Shifting his gaze to Blair, he could have kicked himself for causing the hurt look that flashed across his guide's face before it changed to anger.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Blair remained silent as he gazed out the break room window. Jim knew that he needed to apologize immediately or else he'd be dealing with a pissed off Guide for the rest of the day.

"I'm sorry, Blair." Using his first name got the effect that Jim had hoped for and Blair turned to face him. "I didn't mean to say that the way I did. I know I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for your powers. Do you forgive me?" Jim did his own version of Blair's puppy-dog look and grinned sweetly.

"Oh man, stop it with 'the look'." Blair laughed, holding up his hands in surrender. "Yes, I forgive you." Glancing around to be sure no one was close-by, Blair reached up and quickly brushed his fingers across Jim's cheek. "How could I not when you look at me like that."

Jim smiled, capturing Blair's hand and giving it a quick kiss before letting go. "I know Yuri died, Chief. I listened for his heartbeat and it had stopped and he wasn't breathing."

"Okay." Blair nodded and seemed to think for a moment before saying, "But could it be related to him somehow? Maybe a relative or…" Blair paused and stared directly at Jim. "Or a brother."

The thought of someone as deadly as Yuri coming after him sent a chill through his body. If Blair was right, then being anywhere near him at the moment put Blair at risk of being hurt or killed. "Look, maybe you should take some time off. Go visit your mom-"

"No way, Jim." Blair cut him off. "Remember our promise to one another. We don't split up."

"I just want you safe."

With a firm yet gentle voice, Blair said, "The only safe place for me is right here with you."

Jim took a calming breath before replying, "All right." He knew Blair was right, that they had to stick together, but it was hard to ignore the primal voice inside of him that screamed to protect his guide at all costs.

***

ACT THREE

Once they had all piled into Jim's truck, with Blair in the middle, Sandoval said, "I hope you don't mind that I asked to tag along."

"We don't mind," Blair replied honestly. "Sometimes it helps to have an extra detective -- or sheriff --," he grinned, "in on an interview."

"I just don't want to step on anybody's shoes."

After exchanging a brief glance with Jim, Blair started to chuckle.

"What?" Miguel asked, looking puzzled.

"It's 'toes'," Blair said with a smirk. When the sheriff still seemed confused, he explained, "You don't want to step on anybody's toes."

"Oh!" Miguel laughed. "Got it! Sometimes I get little sayings like that mixed up. Sorry."

"Don't worry about it." Blair playfully slapped Sandoval on the leg.

While they drove across town to Jonathan Kendrick's condo, Jim listened to his partner and the sheriff chatter on about the case. He missed some of the conversation, however, because his mind was only half on their discussion, the other half was still trying to figure out who sent him the note and what the meaning was behind the cryptic message.

***

With his partner and the sheriff standing behind him, Jim knocked on the door to Jonathan Kendrick's condo. A moment later, the door opened to reveal a handsome, rugged looking man. He had shoulder length, wavy jet-black hair, dark green eyes, and was slightly smaller than Jim in height and build. As the man smiled, he reminded Jim of a model he once saw on the cover of some men's style magazine he had glanced through while waiting at the dentist's office.

"Are you Mr. Jonathan Kendrick?" Jim asked.

"Yes, I am," the man replied.

Jim held up his badge and said, "I'm Detective Ellison, this is Detective Sandburg and Sheriff Sandoval. We'd like to talk to you about Eric Bradford."

Blatantly, Kendrick's green eyes wandered appreciatively over Jim's body before rising to meet his eyes. "Yes, of course. Come on in." He opened the door wider, stepped aside and allowed them to enter. "Why don't we go into the living room?" Not waiting for a response, Kendrick led the way into a large, brightly lit, and expensively furnished room. "I received word this morning about Eric's death," he declared.

"What is your relationship with Eric Bradford?" Jim asked after he had moved farther into the room with Blair right beside him. Sandoval remained in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest, his keen eyes focused solely on Kendrick.

"He bought out my company, but you already know that." Kendrick smiled shrewdly.

"What about a personal relationship?"

Tilting his head slightly to one side, never taking his eyes off Jim, Kendrick replied neutrally with no sign of grief evident in his voice or demeanor, "We were lovers."

Blair exchanged a brief glance with Jim then said, "Excuse me for saying so, but you don't seem very upset that he's dead."

"Well, it's not like we were in love. We enjoyed one another's… uh… company." He chuckled, walking slowly toward Jim. "The only personal relationship we shared was in the bedroom." When Kendrick stopped in front of him, Jim was sure that the man was going to reach out to touch him but was stopped when Blair moved forward to block Kendrick's path. Jonathan's gaze moved swiftly to his partner, eyes flashing anger before it was quickly concealed. "Why don't you have a seat?" Turning around, Jonathan sauntered over to a small wet bar. He poured himself a drink of brandy, took a sip and, purposely ignoring Blair and Sandoval, asked Jim in a sultry voice, "Would you like a drink, Detective Ellison?"

"No, thank you," Jim replied levelly, sitting down on the sofa next to Blair. "We just have a few more questions and then we'll be on our way."

Jonathan smiled sweetly and blinked at Jim through long dark lashes. "Come now, Detective. One little drink won't hurt."

Ignoring Jim's negative retort, he started to pour some brandy into another glass when Blair spoke up. "Is there anyone that you know of who wanted Mr. Kendrick dead?" Listening to his partner ask the question, Jim could tell by his voice that he was becoming more than a little irritated with Kendrick's behavior toward Jim.

Letting out a harsh laugh, Jonathan said, "It would be easier for me to give you the names of the people who wouldn't want to kill him." After picking up the two glasses, he placed one in front of Jim on the glass coffee table then sat down in a large overstuffed chair, crossing his legs at his ankles. "In the bedroom, he was a gentle, imaginative lover," he smiled at Jim seductively, "but in the workplace, he could be a cut-throat son-of-a-bitch and he has pissed off a lot of people. Many of them were not at all pleased about the takeover."

"Do any particular names come to mind?" asked Jim, pulling out a note pad and pen from his pocket.

"Well…," Jonathan pursed his lips together in thought, "there's Monty Richmond. He's Vice-President of Netcom. He was upset with Eric's decision to take over CompuCom and was very vocal about it." He smiled, giving a little shrug. "And, I guess, anyone who works for CompuCom. Netcom's head office would remain in Cascade, and the New York one would downsize. Not many of the executives or employees want to make the move from New York to Washington. And, of course, with a takeover like this one, a lot of people would automatically lose their jobs -- from both companies. Eric's plan was to keep only the people he thought were the best."

"How do you feel about your company being bought out by Netcom?"

"It's a positive move for me," Jonathan answered Jim. "I'd be receiving a substantial amount of money from CompuCom for buying my company. I will remain part owner of Netcom and run the company in New York." Kendrick lounged back in his chair and grinned. "All around, it's a winning situation for me."

"Could you tell us where you were around four-thirty this morning?" Blair asked.

Jonathan seemed to think the question over for a second before answering, "I was home. In bed." As he said the latter, he glanced up at Jim and smiled languorously.

Jim's gaze held Kendrick's; he continued to ignore the man's overt come-on and kept his own features neutral. "Were you alone?" he asked, managing to prevent the annoyance that was building from coming out in his voice. It was irritating enough that Kendrick wasn't the least bit concerned about openly flirting with him while he was working, and in the presence of other police officers, but the blatant egotism the man was exhibiting made Jim want to slap the self-important grin from his face.

"Why, Detective," Jonathan intoned playfully, running the tip of his finger slowly around the rim of the glass, "isn't that a little personal?"

"Please answer the question," Blair cut in.

Jonathan looked at Blair, eyes narrowing, his voice cold when he replied, "Yes. I was with someone… all night," he added.

"We'll need a name," Blair said.

Kendrick took a long, slow sip of his drink before he finally answered, "Curtis Woodward."

While Blair jotted down the name, Jim asked, "What time did he leave?"

"This morning. Around nine," Jonathan replied, once again smiling when his gaze latched onto Jim.

"When was the last time you spoke to Mr. Bradford?"

"He called me last night. Wanted me to meet him up at the summer house. I told him I couldn't. That I was busy." Jonathan smirked. "We had made plans to spend Saturday and Sunday together. Saturday was his birthday."

"Don't you think that maybe he should have spent it with his wife?" Blair asked a little too harshly.

Jonathan leaned forward and glared hard at Blair. "Hey, if he wanted to celebrate with me, that was his decision. I wasn't going to turn down a weekend of sex and relaxation."

Feeling that there wouldn't be any more beneficial information from Kendrick, Jim got up from the sofa. "That's all for now, Mr. Kendrick. Thank you."

Jonathan rose from his chair, his features softening as his attention turned to Jim. He looked up, blinked his big green eyes flirtatiously while nibbling on his lower lip. "Please, call me Jonathan."

Not acknowledging the request, Jim glanced at his partner and gave a brisk nod to indicate that it was time to leave. Following Blair across the room, Jim was passing by Jonathan when the man suddenly stopped him by placing a hand on Jim's chest. "Why don't we get together for drinks later -- when you're off duty?" he asked, his gaze quickly turning voracious.

Jim sent Kendrick an icy glare before he reached up, grabbed the man's wrist and removed his hand from his body. "We'll be in touch if we have any more questions," he said in a hard voice.

Jim didn't miss Kendrick's softly spoken words as the front door closed. "Please do, Detective. I'm looking forward to it."

***

"Man, he's a piece of work," Jim murmured, running a hand over his face before starting the truck. Turning to his partner, he asked, "What did you think?"

"I think," Blair shifted in his seat to face Jim, "that he has the hots for you."

"Yeah, well, the feeling's not mutual." Jim met Blair's gaze with a smile. His next words slipped from between his lips before he remembered that they were not alone in the truck, "There's only one person I've got the hots for-"

"And that's the way it better stay," Blair quickly cut in and the predatory gleam that flashed across his eyes caused a shiver to flow through Jim. Suddenly realizing what they'd just revealed out loud, Blair's eyes grew wide, his features turned apologetic and he mouthed the word 'sorry'.

Seeming to sense the sudden tension, Sandoval cleared his throat and said seriously, "It's okay. Your secret is safe with me." He smiled reassuringly when Jim and Blair both turned at the same time to look at him. "I understand that with a relationship like yours, discretion is important, especially when it comes to our line of work. And just so we're clear, anything -- uh -- personal I happen to see or hear stays between the three of us. You can trust me. Okay?"

The whole time that the sheriff was speaking, Jim had tuned his senses on him, cataloguing his reactions. What he learned made him breathe a sigh of relief. They had a confidant in Sandoval and he knew that both he and Blair could trust this man.

"Okay." Jim gave a little nod and felt Blair instantly relax beside him. "Thanks."

"We really appreciate it," Blair added, smiling.

"No problem." Sandoval said with a grin before he asked, "What's your take on Kendrick?"

"I'm almost positive he didn't do it." Blair replied. "He was upfront when we asked him about his relationship with Bradford and without being asked, he revealed to us that he was meeting him for his birthday. I think he's someone who's used to getting what he wants, but I doubt he'd kill if he couldn't get it."

"What if he wanted Bradford to leave his wife and Bradford said 'no'?" Sandoval asked.

"I doubt very much that Kendrick is a 'one man' type of guy," Jim replied, smirking slightly when he heard Blair's quiet snort.

The sheriff scratched at his head in thought. "Then maybe it was the other way around. Maybe Bradford wanted to leave his wife for Kendrick but Kendrick wanted to keep the relationship -- uncomplicated."

"That's a possibility," Blair said. "However, what he said about their personal relationship remaining strictly in the bedroom makes me believe that Bradford didn't want anyone to know he was having an affair. Especially one with a man."

Jim was about to respond when they were suddenly interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled it out and flipped it open. "Ellison."

"Jimmy. It's Dad."

Hearing the worry and quiver in his father voice, Jim quickly asked, "Dad, what's wrong?"

"It's Steven! He's been in a terrible car accident."

***

Jim sat in the plastic waiting room chair, elbows leaning against his knees and his face resting in his hands. Fatigue weighed heavily on his body and he closed his eyes, surrendering to its call. Jim, along with his father, Blair and Miguel, had been at the hospital for hours awaiting word on Steven's condition. Finally, they were told that while his injuries were severe, that by some miracle he was going to make it. His brother had regained consciousness shortly after Jim had been allowed to go in to sit by his bedside. They had talked for a few minutes and what Steven revealed to him had made Jim's heart drop from his chest.

His brother said he had been driving back from a meeting in Spokane, deciding to take the scenic route through the Cascade Mountains instead of the boring highway drive. Coming around a sharp turn in the road, Steven had heard two loud pops that sounded like gunfire and then suddenly lost control of his car. It veered onto the shoulder, through the guard rail, over the bank, flipping over and over again until it came to a rest on its roof about a hundred feet down the embankment. As Jim had listened to his brother speak of his ordeal, the sudden realization of the meaning behind the note had hit him like a freight train.

An eye for an eye.

A brother for a brother.

Jim groaned quietly. Blair had been right all along. Yuri did have a brother. If only he had listened to his concerns about Yuri instead of resisting the idea and pushing it aside. Maybe if he hadn't been so damn stubborn, none of this would have happened and he could have protected his brother. When in the hell was he ever going to get it right? After all the weirdness and shit they'd been through together, he should know better than to push aside Blair's 'feelings'. Hell, he'd listened to his guide, without question, when Blair told him he knew exactly where Bradford's killer had been standing. Why couldn't he accept that the note or the Bradford killing had somehow been related to Yuri?

"Jim." Simon's voice softly calling to him suddenly pulled him out of his thoughts.

When he looked up, he was surprised to see his captain sitting next to him because he had never heard the bigger man enter the room.

Placing a hand on Jim's shoulder, Simon asked with concern, "How's your brother?"

"It was close, but the doctor says he's going to make it."

"That's good."

Jim rubbed a shaky hand over his mouth. "If someone in another car hadn't seen him go over the side of the road, he wouldn't have been found in time and would have died of his injuries."

"Thank God for small miracles."

"Yeah," Jim replied, shutting his eyes briefly.

"Where is everyone?" Simon inquired.

"Dad's in with Steven. Blair went to call Serena to see if anything came back on Steven's car. Sandoval went to get us some coffee."

"The sheriff seems like a good man."

"He is." Jim gave a little smile. He hadn't expected the sheriff to hang around with them at the hospital. Sandoval seemed just as exhausted as Jim and Blair but when Jim had told him that it was okay to leave, he refused, opting to stay and offer his support any way he could. When Blair had voiced his concern about the sheriff being tired, Miguel said that when he'd first arrived in Cascade, he took a hotel room figuring the case would keep him in the city for at least a few days, so when he felt he needed a break he could go crash there. Both Jim and Blair were extremely grateful to their new friend and to show their gratitude they planned on treating Miguel to a nice dinner once the case was solved.

Silence hung in the air for a few minutes before Simon spoke up. "Look, Jim, if you need some time off, just say the word."

"No," Jim replied with a shake of his head. "I need to work the Bradford case. It's related to Steven's accident."

"What?" Simon's head snapped up to look at Jim. "How do you know that?"

"Since the beginning of the case, Blair believed it was connected to Igoravich Goragoff. The message in that note and what happened to Steven pretty much confirms that Yuri has a brother. We figure the guy was already coming after me and accepted the contract on Bradford to make some cash while he was here." Standing, Jim began to pace around the small room. He saw that his captain was about to protest, so he held up a hand. "I know. When Blair first brought up the idea, I didn't believe it either. After I received that note at the precinct, he mentioned it again, and still, I didn't listen. But he's right, Simon."

"So? This guy's what? Out for revenge? Jim, it's been over eight years, why now?"

"I don't know." Raising fingers to his head, Jim massaged his temples. "I still have contacts in the military. I'm going to get in touch with one of them. Get him to give me any background information on Yuri's family."

They were interrupted by Blair as he entered the room with Sandoval only a few paces behind him. "Hey, Captain."

"Sandburg. Sheriff." Simon greeted.

"Captain Banks," Sandoval returned and put down a small box holding three Styrofoam coffee cups onto a small side table. "Would you like me to get you a coffee, sir?" he asked Simon.

"No, that won't be necessary, but thanks," replied Simon.

Jim gave a small smile when his partner walked up to him, but before Blair said anything, he grabbed Jim by the arm and led him to a chair. "You look about ready to drop. Sit down," he ordered softly. Once Jim was seated, Blair handed him a coffee cup then sat down next to him. "I talked to Serena. Evidence proves that the two driver's side tires to Steven's car were shot out. They recovered a bullet and guess what?"

"It's the same as the one from the Bradford crime scene," Jim stated and took a sip of his drink.

"Right." Blair quickly nodded.

Sandoval settled into a chair opposite Jim and Blair then asked, "Steven's detour into the mountains was a spontaneous decision. How did the guy know that he decided on a different route?"

"A small tracking device was found on the underside of Steven's car." Blair glanced sideways at Jim.

"Which made it easy for Stevie's movements to be tracked," Jim added.

"What are the chances of him coming after Steven again?" Sandoval asked before taking a sip of his coffee.

"Very high, I think," responded Blair. "Steven is still alive, which means the task wasn't complete."

Jim gritted his teeth. Blair was right. As long as this guy was out there, Steven wasn't safe. For that matter, no one who was associated with Jim was safe. How the hell was he going to keep his family and friends safe from a professional hit-man? During his military career Jim had dealt with a lot of men like Yuri and they didn't give up until their intended target was eliminated -- or they themselves were taken out. In this case there were two targets, Bradford and Steven. Bradford was no longer a concern, so all that remained to finish his task and get his revenge on Jim was to kill Steven. Jim wouldn't let that happen. He would do everything within his power to keep his brother safe. Familiar fingers lightly touched his thigh and he glanced to his right to see Blair watching him closely. He gave a small nod before turning to address his captain. "We need a twenty-four hour guard on both Steven and my father. I don't want either of them left alone."

"Jim's right," Blair agreed. "This guy is a professional. He won't stop until his job is finished and I'm sure he wouldn't think twice about killing anyone who got in his way."

"We can't take any chances, Simon," Jim quickly added. "Like Blair said, he'll do whatever it takes to finish what he came here to do."

"Don't worry. I've got it covered." Simon pulled his cell phone from his pocket but before he dialed, he addressed Jim and Blair. "I want the two of you to head home and get some rest." Jim was about to protest when Simon held up a hand, silencing him. "That's an order, Detective."

"Come on, Jim." Blair tugged on Jim's arm, helping him to his feet. "You won't be any good to Steven if you collapse from exhaustion."

"I'll stay here and keep an eye on your brother and father," Sandoval offered. "Once the officers get here, I'll grab some shut-eye."

"Thank you." Jim held out his hand and the sheriff shook it, giving Jim a warm smile.

"Don't worry. We'll take care of your family," replied Sandoval determinedly and glanced up at Simon.

Simon nodded in agreement. He put a hand on Jim's shoulder and gave a reassuring pat. "Go on. Get out of here."

***

Jim had tried to sleep, but his mind wouldn't quiet down. It raced with different plans and scenarios on how they could capture Nikolai Goragoff. Yes, he now had a name and knew exactly who it was they were dealing with. When he and Blair had arrived home from the hospital, Jim had made the phone call to his military contact. Within a half hour he had the information that he needed. Nikolai Goragoff. Code name Panas. Younger brother to Igoravich Goragoff, who Jim knew better as Yuri.

Yuri was the sniper that Jim's Ranger unit had been sent into Peru to take out but had underestimated the man's intelligence and skills. After killing Jim's best friend, a judge named Hector Fernandez, Yuri had disappeared and Jim hadn't seen his nemesis again until he'd shown up in Cascade, hired to kill a Russian activist. Jim had to go up against Yuri again and he had succeeded in capturing the killer alive until an FBI agent shot Yuri and the killer had slipped from Jim's grip, falling to his death. Now, apparently, Nikolai was out for revenge, seeming to blame Jim for the death of his brother.

Like Yuri, Nikolai was recruited into the Spetsnaz and trained as one of the unit's snipers. After six years of service, he had retired as an officer and, following in his brother's footsteps, had become a free-lance assassin. Why Nikolai had waited so long to extract his revenge was still a mystery. Blair had said that the hit-man may have wanted to be fully trained and experienced before breaking away from the Spetsnaz to venture out on his own.

With all this information swirling through Jim's head, he'd finally given up on the pretense of getting any sleep. He had carefully removed himself from his lover's embrace, placed a soft kiss on the angelic face and after slipping on a pair of boxers, had quietly gone downstairs.

It was about an hour later when Jim heard Blair moving out from under the bed covers; there was a rustle of cloth as his lover pulled on a robe, then the quiet patter of bare feet on the stairs.

"Jim?" Blair called, moving into the living room.

"In here." Jim smiled slightly because he was sure he felt Blair frown as he made his way toward the spare room.

"What are you doing down here all by yourself?" questioned Blair.

"I couldn't sleep. I needed to think."

"And ended up in here? In the dark?" Blair asked, walking into the small room and sitting down next to Jim on the small sofa.

"I like being surrounded by your things. It helps me relax." Jim turned and pulling his lover into his arms, buried his nose in Blair's hair, inhaling the herbal fragrance before releasing a long sigh.

"You could be surrounded by me if you had stayed upstairs in our bed." Blair grinned, wrapping his arms tightly around Jim's waist.

"I didn't want to wake you," Jim said, placing a loving kiss to the top of the curly head.

Blair's hands ran softly up and down Jim's back a few times before he gently prodded, "Talk to me, Jim."

Jim was silent for a moment before he spoke. "Steven wouldn't have been hurt if I had listened to you," he replied, his voice filled with guilt.

Blair pulled back slightly, his big blue eyes gazing up at Jim. "Oh no, you don't. Stop that right now. There will be no guilt tripping on my watch." He placed his hands on Jim's upper arms and gave a little shake. "This was not your fault. There's no way you could have known that Yuri's brother would go after Steven.

"You knew it had to do with Yuri."

"I didn't know for sure. Yuri's name popped into my head, and you know me, I couldn't let it go."

"But if I-"

"Jim. Stop," Blair softly implored, "You'll drive yourself crazy with the 'what if' scenarios. We know who this guy is now, so we need to concentrate on finding him. Okay?"

"Yeah. Okay." Leaning his forehead against Blair's, he closed his eyes and whispered, "I love you."

"I love you, too." Blair smiled.

"I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you."

"Nothing's going to happen to me," Blair assured, lightly caressing Jim's face with his fingertips.

Taking his lover's face in his hands, Jim kissed him gently, sighing into the kiss when he felt Blair's hands slide up his bare chest to wrap around his neck, pulling Jim closer.

"Wanna go upstairs now?" asked Blair, his voice breathless from the kiss.

"Oh, yeah," Jim replied huskily.

Once they were in their bedroom, Jim removed Blair's robe to reveal the wonderful, naked body that Jim loved so much. Quickly, he shucked his boxers then followed his guide down onto the mattress, covering the compact body with his own. He slid a hand around the back of Blair's neck, bringing him up for a deep, passionate kiss.

As he claimed his guide's mouth, Jim slid his hands up Blair's arms to wrap his fingers securely around his wrists. He then pulled them up above Blair's head and held them down securely against the mattress. Jim knew this was a turn on for Blair. He had discovered earlier in their relationship, when they had first become lovers, that Blair enjoyed being pinned down and held firmly while Jim devoured his mouth.

Still holding Blair in place, Jim thrust his hips forward, the motion causing their cocks to rub together in a long, slow glide and he was instantly rewarded with a deep throaty moan. Releasing the luscious lips, Jim raised his head to watch Blair's expressive face as he once again pushed against his lover's matching hardness. Blair's beautiful blue eyes, which had been closed, now slipped open to reveal dark pools filled with desire and Jim instantly felt spellbound. God, how he loved this man. How he needed this man. Needed him more than air, more than food, and loved him more than life itself.

"Yeah, lover. Just like that," Blair hissed. "Kiss me again. Please," he begged, attempting to arch up beneath Jim's weight.

Once again covering his guide's seductive lips with his own, Jim kissed him fervently, probing deeply with his tongue and eliciting a loud groan from Blair. The sweat from their aroused bodies now allowed their cocks to slide together more easily, so Jim quickened the thrust of his hips, pushing against Blair over and over again. The friction was like a sweet torture -- a torture that Jim never wanted to end -- and he heard himself crying out in pleasure.

At the feel of his lover's hands clenching spasmodically, Jim released the wrists and slid his own hands up over Blair's palms until their fingers were laced together. Blair's grip tightened almost painfully within Jim's and with a muffled cry, his lover's orgasm ripped from him and Jim could feel the hot burn of semen as it flowed between their stomachs.

The sounds and sensations of their lovemaking swirled around Jim, further heightening his own arousal and pushing him over the top. Exquisite ecstasy washed over him and with one final thrust he climaxed, his seed pouring forth to join Blair's. He collapsed on top of his lover, hearing a little "oomph" come from Blair before he was wrapped in his guide's arms and slowly rolled onto his side.

Even though his entire body felt limp, Jim was able to move his arms enough so as to embrace his lover. He drew him closer, nuzzling his nose into the long, sweaty curls. Breathing in deeply, his nostrils filled with the sweet, musky scent of Blair and of their lovemaking.

Blair shifted slightly and lifted his head from where it had been tucked under Jim's chin. "Love you, babe." He smiled, love shining from the beautiful face. They shared a long, tender kiss before Blair snuggled back into place. "Think you can sleep now?" he asked quietly.

Jim wasn't sure he could muster up enough energy to reply, so he simply hummed a response and closed his eyes. He heard his lover's light chuckle before he felt him slip from the bed only to return a few seconds later. Jim's body was wiped clean of the remnants from their lovemaking and the last thing he remembered before sleep overtook him was the feel of his guide spooning up behind him.

***

ACT FOUR

The smell of eggs, bacon and toast greeted Jim when he emerged from the shower. On his way to the bedroom to get dressed, he detoured into the kitchen to pull his lover into his arms and indulged himself in a nice long kiss.

"Good morning to you, too." Blair replied with a lopsided grin once Jim had released him. "Breakfast is almost ready."

"Great." Jim returned the smile. As he left the kitchen, he snatched up a piece of scrambled egg, popping it into his mouth. The action didn't go unnoticed for his guide reached out and playfully slapped him on the ass.

"Dress first, eat second." Blair waggled a spatula at him.

Immediately Jim held up his hands and took a step back. "Whoa! Careful, Chief. That thing might be loaded."

"Go get dressed, knucklehead." Blair laughed and shook his head in affectionate tolerance.

Jim hurried up the stairs, dressed quickly into a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt then made his way back downstairs again. The table had been set and Blair was just adding the last piece of bacon to Jim's plate as he pulled out his chair to sit down. "Any word from the hospital?" Jim asked around a mouthful of eggs.

"No. Nothing yet." His lover must have picked up on the worry in Jim's voice because he quickly reassured, "I'm sure your dad would have called if there was a problem."

"I'll call once I’m finished eating." Picking up a slice of toast, Jim bit into it.

"I'm glad Steven's going to be okay."

"Me, too," Jim replied, looking up to met his partner's eyes.

"You know if he needs a place to stay once he's out of the hospital, he's welcome to stay with us."

Jim sent his guide a tender smile, his features expressing his gratitude. "I'm sure when he is released Dad will want him to stay at the house. He'll probably hire a live-in nurse until Steven is strong enough to get around on his own."

"Okay." Blair nibbled on a slice of bacon. "I just wanted you to know that it wouldn't have bothered me if that's what you wanted to do."

Reaching across the table, Jim placed his hand on top of Blair's, gently caressing his fingers. "Thanks, Chief. That means a lot to me."

Just then the phone rang and Jim quickly moved away from the table to answer it.

"Ellison."

"Jim. It's Simon."

Picking up on the hesitancy in his captain's voice, Jim inquired worriedly, "Is something wrong, captain?" A touch on his arm made Jim look beside him into the concerned face of his guide. Dipping his head, he held the phone closer to Blair's ear so his partner could listen in.

"You're brother and father are fine," Simon quickly added, setting Jim's mind at ease for the moment. "However, Steven did receive a bouquet of flowers and an envelope. Inside the envelope was a dog tag. It's exactly the same as the one you found out in the woods at Eric Bradford's place."

"Shit," Jim growled. "When did this happen?"

"Earlier this morning."

"Why wasn't I called right away?" Jim's voice came out sounding harsher than he had intended and he felt Blair lightly grip his arm.

"Because, Detective, you needed the rest," Simon stated, firmly.

"Sorry, sir. I didn't mean-"

"Don't worry about it." His captain's voice softened slightly. "I know you're under a lot of stress. Sandoval was there when Steven received the envelope. He brought it into the station right away and forensics is going over it."

"Who's guarding Steven and my dad?"

"Randall and McKenna."

"Okay." Jim was more than satisfied with Simon's choice. He had worked with the two officers before and they were good, dedicated, trustworthy cops. "I'll be at the station in twenty minutes." He quickly hung up the phone, pitching it onto the cushions of the sofa before hurrying to grab his jacket. "You ready to go, Chief?" Jim asked, slipping his arms into the soft leather and pulling it up over his shoulders.

"Would you mind going to the station without me? I'd like to stay here to meditate for a bit, and go over some of the notes I've been jotting down about Nikolai. I'll come to the PD in a couple hours."

"Sure, that's fine," Jim replied while picking up his keys from the basket.

"Are you sure you don't want me to come along now?" Blair asked.

"I'll be fine. You do your thing and I'll see you in a little while." Bending forward, Jim kissed Blair lightly on the lips before moving toward the front door. "Lock the door behind me."

"Yes, Dad," Blair replied in a teasing voice.

"Blair, I'm serious." Jim's tone held a note of warning. "Until we know the whereabouts of Goragoff, I don't want to take any chances."

"I know." Blair reached out to lay a hand on Jim's arm. "I'm sorry, Jim."

Jim smiled, squeezing Blair's hand before stepping away. "I'll see you later," he said, opening the door.

"Okay, man."

Pulling the door closed behind him, Jim waited until he heard the lock click into place before he hurried down the hall and out to his truck.

***

For the past three and a half hours, Jim, Simon and Sandoval had sat in Simon's office going over every piece of information and evidence they had procured on Nikolai Goragoff. When they did finally have the hit-man in custody, they'd have enough evidence against the man to have him put away for a very long time.

"Why the dog tags?" the sheriff asked, taking a closer look at the tags.

"Some snipers -- usually the good ones-- have a type of signature," explained Jim.

"Like a calling card."

"Right," Jim answered Sandoval. "The item usually has significant meaning to the sniper. Yuri's was a Russian coin, although I'm not sure exactly why he chose that particular item, maybe it signified his place of birth. I assume Nikolai uses a Russian Special Forces dog tag because of his military background."

Briefly turning away from their conversation, Jim looked out the window into the bullpen then glanced at his watch for about the tenth time in the last twenty minutes.

His actions got the attention of his captain, who turned to Jim and asked, "Everything okay, Jim?"

"I'm just wondering about Sandburg. I thought he'd be here by now."

"I think we're done for now. Why don't you give him a call?"

Jim gave a grateful nod but just as he moved in the direction of the door, Rhonda knocked and entered, holding an envelope in her hand. Dj vu hit Jim like a ton of bricks. All air rushed from his lungs and he felt his chest tighten as dread flowed through his body.

"This just came for you, Jim. Looks the same as the one that was left the other day."

"Did you see who dropped it off?" Simon asked, walking around his desk to open a drawer.

"No," Rhonda answered. "It was on my desk when I came back from Personnel."

Just like before, the envelope was addressed to Captain James Ellison. Slipping on the latex gloves that Simon handed to him, Jim slit open the flap and tentatively pulled out the paper inside. The words were spelled out in the same cut up newspaper print except this time they said something different.

If at first I don't succeed…

Jim's heart suddenly leapt in his chest. His first thought was that Nikolai was going after his brother again, but when he looked up to see Simon on the phone and heard his father's voice saying that Steven was fine and that the officers on duty were there with them, Jim knew then that Nikolai was going after someone else.

"Shit! Blair!" Tossing the envelope and paper down on Simon's desk, Jim ran from the office. It wasn't until he reached his truck in the parking garage that he realized that Sandoval was with him. They exchanged a brief glance and a knowing nod before quickly getting into the truck. Jim slammed his foot down on the accelerator, flying out of the garage in a squeal of tires and blaring siren.

"Here," Jim said handing the sheriff his cell phone, "punch star one and it'll connect you to my place."

Out of the corner of his eye, Jim could see Sandoval quickly dial and put the phone up to his ear. "There's a busy signal," he said, the sound of worry clearly evident in his voice.

"Keep trying," Jim commanded, his own voice filled with trepidation.

With rising panic, Jim pushed down harder on the accelerator. The usual twenty minute ride to the loft, which actually took twelve minutes with the speed that Jim had been driving, seemed to take a lifetime. The truck had barely come to a stop before Jim jumped out and was rushing into his building with the sheriff right behind him.

As he ran up the stairs, his hand went to the holster at his back and pulled his weapon. Only when he reached the third floor hallway did Jim slow down and dial up his hearing, listening for any signs of life within the loft. The silence that greeted him caused Jim's heart to plummet. No one was inside. No one who was alive was inside, Jim corrected himself and swallowed hard. This could not be happening. He couldn't lose Blair. Not his one true light in this dark world, his love, his life, his reason for living. No! Blair had to be okay. He just had to be. What would a sentinel be without his guide? What would Jim Ellison be without Blair Sandburg?

Shaking his head to clear his mind, Jim carefully approached the door, his sentinel vision zeroed in on the lock and he saw immediately that it had been tampered with.

Raising his gun, and knowing that Sandoval had drawn is own weapon as well, Jim shoved open the loft door, quickly moving inside. His eyes swiftly scanned the room, taking in the shattered surroundings. A shiver rushed through him. It looked all too much like the time Lash had forcefully taken Blair. But Jim couldn't stop the small warmth of pride from flowing through him, for he knew from seeing the condition of the room that his partner had not gone easily and had put up one hell of a fight.

"It's all clear," Sandoval said, rushing down the steps from the bedroom. "At least there's a chance that Blair is still alive since he's not here."

"He's been hurt," Jim stated, kneeling down next to a few smudges of blood. Unfortunately, he knew the scent of his guide's blood all too well from the times that Blair had been hurt by being on the job with Jim, and the smell from the blood on the floor told him that it did, indeed, belong to Blair.

"How can you be sure it's Blair's?" the sheriff asked, crouching next to Jim.

"I just know." Sandoval sent Jim a curious look but didn't question him further. Standing, Jim glanced around their home until his eyes settled on a small object on the kitchen island. Hurrying over, he saw that it was a dog tag that was identical to the other two. Somehow knowing that Goragoff wasn't far away, Jim pushed his hearing out beyond the parameters of the loft and was instantly rewarded by the sound of his guide's heartbeat. To Jim's extreme relief it was beating strong albeit very fast.

"This way," Jim called to Sandoval as he rushed out of the loft and into the hallway. "What is it with us and goddamn rooftops," he muttered angrily to himself while running up the stairs that led to the roof access.

Before he opened the door that would bring them out onto the roof, Jim paused and addressed Sandoval, "You need to be extremely careful with this guy. He won't think twice about killing you, me or Blair. And I don't want to do anything to make him prematurely play his hand."

"Okay." The sheriff gave a brisk nod of understanding. "Got it."

Pushing the door open a crack, Jim peered through and saw Blair, who was kneeling about fifty feet from Jim's position, facing the doorway. His hands were tied in front of him and his mouth was gagged. One side of his face was red and already showing signs of bruising and there was a cut over his right eye which was slowly seeping out enough blood to trickle down his cheek. Jim's heart went out to his partner when he saw the small tremors shaking the compact body, but he was sure that it wasn't caused only from fear alone, that it was a mixed with anger as well.

Nikolai Goragoff made a perfect picture of skilled patience as the tall, muscular man stood stock still at Blair's back. The semi-automatic pistol that he held in his right hand was resting against Blair's shoulder, the muzzle pointing at his partner's neck.

After relaying what he'd seen to the sheriff, Jim drew himself up to his full height, pushed the door open and slowly stepped out onto the gravel.

"Cascade Police! Put the gun down!" Jim yelled, aiming his weapon at Nikolai.

"Ah, Captain Ellison. You have finally arrived." Nikolai smirked, his hawk-like eyes watching Jim's every move. "Your lover and I have been waiting for you." He chuckled deeply, slowly caressing the side of Blair's face with the gun's barrel.

"I said put the gun down!" Jim demanded.

Ignoring the order, Nikolai continued to speak. "Remember my last message, Captain? This time I will succeed in taking from you what you hold most dear. Just like you did to me." He pushed the gun hard into Blair's temple causing his partner to flinch in pain. "You killed my brother by letting him fall to his death. Now I get to watch the same thing happen to your loved one." With the pistol aimed at Blair's head, and his gaze on Jim, Nikolai stooped down, wrapped an arm around Blair's waist and yanked him to his feet. "Drop your weapon," the assassin commanded, pulling Blair tighter against his chest and using him as a shield.

After reluctantly lowering his gun, Jim dropped it at his feet then watched in building horror as Nikolai took a few steps back, bringing him and Blair closer to the roof's edge. As Blair began to struggle against his captor, Jim saw his partner quickly glance downward. It was then that Jim could see the rope that bound Blair's hands was beginning to loosen. If he could keep Nikolai talking for another minute, his partner would have the bindings undone and he'd have a fighting chance.

"You hurt him and you're a dead man," Jim growled, taking a step forward.

"Stay where you are!" Nikolai warned.

Seeing the sniper's finger tighten on the trigger, Jim immediately stopped.

"I have waited a long time for this. As you American's say: revenge is sweet." Nikolai laughed evilly, bringing Blair right up to the edge of the roof.

In the next second everything happened so incredibly fast that Jim didn't have enough time to react. Just when the ropes binding Blair's hands finally began to fall away, Nikolai gave him a hard shove. As Blair lost his balance and started to fall, a single shot rang out. The force of the bullet that sunk into the assassin's chest caused him to lose his footing and fall backward over the edge, but in that same instant Jim watched with abject horror as his lover went over the side as well.

"No!" Jim's scream tore from his throat. Time suddenly slowed now as he raced forward. His feet felt like lead weights, not seeming to move fast enough and it felt like an eternity before he finally reached the edge of the roof. He slid to a halt on his knees, nearly going over the edge himself. What he saw made the sob, which had been building in his gut since first seeing his lover kneeling on the graveled roof, burst free. Two feet down from the top of the roof was a foot wide decorative edging and it was from that small ledge that Blair was desperately holding on with the tips of his fingers.

Jim felt Sandoval drop to his knees next to him and quickly they lay out on their stomachs. Reaching down, they each grabbed Blair by the wrists and in one pull, heaved him back up onto the roof. As they moved Blair away from the edge, Jim got a quick glance of Nikolai's dead body in the alley below. Good riddance you bastard, Jim thought to himself.

Pulling his trembling lover into his arms, Jim rocked back and forth in a calming motion. He wasn't sure, exactly, who the movement was soothing more, his frightened guide or his terrified self.

When his guide's shaking subsided slightly, Jim shifted back onto his heels so he could untie the cloth that had been tied around Blair's mouth. Once it was removed, Jim used it to carefully wipe away some of the blood from his face. Looking deeply into Blair's eyes, Jim cupped his face in his hands and kissed him desperately before embracing him in a hug. "Oh God, Blair. I thought I'd lost you."

Hands slid around Jim's waist and his guide clung to him tightly. "Let's not do anything like that again. Okay, Jim?"

Jim let out a watery laugh. "That's fine with me, Chief. I don't think the old heart could take it."

"You're not old," Blair mumbled against Jim's chest.

"Yeah, well, I think I just aged about ten years." Tightening his hold, Jim took a moment to revel in the feel of his warm and living partner in his arms.

"I'm sorry."

Jim moved a hand up to gently caress the soft curls. "Shh, it wasn't your fault."

"I tried to fight him off."

"I know you did." Looking down into Blair's pale face, their eyes once again met and held. "I saw the condition of the loft."

"He caught me off guard while I was meditating. I was so far under that I never heard him come into the loft. It wasn't until he grabbed me that I resurfaced and tried to fight back… but he overpowered me," Blair explained, the anxiety over what happened making his voice quaver.

"It's all right, Chief. It's over now." Jim rubbed his hands in soothing circles on Blair's back hoping the motion would help calm his friend.

"You guys okay?" Sandoval asked with genuine concern as he knelt next to them and placed a hand on each of their shoulders.

Jim closed his eyes and took a calming breath. "Yeah, we're good."

"I called it in," the sheriff said. "Captain Banks was already on his way, so he should be here any second. An ambulance has been dispatched as well."

Okay, thanks." Turning back to his partner, Jim asked, "You ready to get up now, Chief?"

"Yeah." Blair gave a nod and a little smile.

With the help of Sandoval, they got Blair to his feet. His partner's body, still shaky from his brush with death, leaned heavily against Jim as he wrapped an arm around Blair's waist and held him against his side.

"I'm sorry I couldn't react sooner." Sandoval's voice was apologetic. "I knew he was going to push you off the roof, Blair. I tried to get a clear shot but by the time I did and was able to fire, it was too late and you were already falling." Not seeming to be able to stop himself, Sandoval wrapped an arm around Blair's shoulders and gave him a gentle squeeze and pat on the back. "I'm so grateful that you're okay."

"You did the right thing, Miguel." Blair returned the small embrace. "If you hadn't shot him, he would have turned his gun on both you and Jim."

"Blair's right," Jim agreed, giving Sandoval a small smile of gratitude. "He would not have gone down easily."

At the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs, Jim glanced up to see his captain rushing through the door and onto the roof. Jim could see the look of relief as it washed over Simon's face when he'd spotted the three of them standing together.

"Thank God you're all right." Simon holstered his weapon. He cautiously looked down over the edge at the alley and said with a grimace, "Can't say the same thing about Goragoff."

Sirens could be heard on the street below, the sound reminding Jim that their job wasn't finished yet. As much as he wanted to take his guide and snuggle up with him someplace quiet, and reaffirm the fact that they were both alive, they still needed to find the person who had hired Goragoff to kill Eric Bradford.

Facing his partner, Jim placed his hand on the top of Blair's shoulders. "The ambulance is here. Let's go get you checked out." Seeing the protest forming on his partner's lips, Jim held up a finger and quickly said, "Don't argue with me, Chief. That cut over your eye needs to be cleaned and stitched. And you need a clean shirt." Jim indicated the blood that had stained Blair's green shirt. Without another word, he slid an arm around Blair's waist and steered his guide toward the stairwell.

***

A search of Nikolai Goragoff's body had produced a key card that told them the hit-man had been staying at the luxurious Marbella Hotel in downtown Cascade. After thoroughly searching the hotel room, they found Goragoff's laptop, which had been hidden away on the top of a tall armoire. The files on the computer had been encrypted but thanks to Blair's astute knowledge of computers, he was able to break the code to discover the name of the person who had hired the hit-man.

Standing at the front door to the large mansion, his partner and the sheriff at his back, Jim pushed the button to the doorbell. No one answered at first, but Jim knew from the sounds of multiple heartbeats that there were people inside. Another minute later and the door slowly opened to reveal a pale and tired-looked Mariam Bradford.

"Detective Ellison." Mariam smiled slightly in her greeting. "Have you found out anything new about my husband's murder?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Jim nodded briskly, "we have. May we come in?"

"Of course." Opening the door fully, Mariam stepped aside to allow the officers to enter.

As they stepped into the foyer another woman, who appeared to be a few years older than Mariam, stood in the doorway that led into the sitting room where Jim and Blair had first questioned Mrs. Bradford.

"This is my sister, Darleen." Mariam introduced, gesturing toward the woman who moved closer to her.

As Darleen met Jim's eyes, he could see that she was fighting hard to present an outwardly calm appearance, but to Jim, her racing heartbeat gave her away. Sending Blair a small glance, Jim saw his partner nod in acknowledgment and waited until Blair had placed himself behind Darleen before he spoke again. "Are you Darleen Ashford?" Jim asked the woman directly.

"Yes, I am," Darleen replied, her calm composure beginning to crack under Jim's intense stare.

"Darleen Ashford," Jim said firmly, "you are under arrest for the murder of Eric Bradford."

"What? No!" Mariam's voice trembled with shock. "What are you doing? You've made a mistake!"

While Jim read the mantra to Darleen, Blair stepped up to quickly slip the cuffs around her wrists before guiding her toward the doorway where two uniformed officers stood waiting.

"This can't be true." Mariam began to sob.

Moving over to the distraught woman, Jim gently placed his hand on her arm. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Bradford. We found evidence that indicates that your sister was the one who hired a professional hit-man to kill your husband."

"I did it for you, Mariam!" Darleen yelled, struggling against one of the officers. "The son-of-a-bitch was cheating on you! He was fucking another man, for God's sake and you were too blind to see it! He was going to leave you and then you'd be left with nothing! I did it all for you, Mar!" Darleen's voice shook on the last word as she started to cry.

"Get her out of here," Jim told the officers before turning back to Mrs. Bradford. "Is there anything we can do for you? Someone we can call?"

"No." She shook her head, wiping at her eyes. "Please, just leave."

"If you need anything, give me a call," Blair said gently and slipped his business card into her hand.

Mariam, her face wet with tears, gave Blair a small, grateful smile. "Thank you."

His partner smiled back compassionately before turning to leave. As Jim and Sandoval followed him back to the truck, Jim rested a comforting hand on Blair's back, hoping the light touch would convey to his guide that he understood how much this woman's sadness affected him.

***

Opening the door to the loft, Jim stepped through, glancing around. The lower floor was still a mess, evidence of Blair's earlier valiant fight against his abductor. Seeing their possessions strewn about, Jim felt a cold shiver run down his back when he realized, yet again, how unbelievably close he'd come to losing his lover, his best friend. Turning to Blair, he pulled him into his arms and rested the side of his head against his guide's. His lover's hands gently caressed his back and Jim allowed the comforting feel of the familiar touch to flow through him; to soothe him. Now that they were home and the rush of closing the case was over, Jim's mind started to slow down and began to absorb everything that had happened.

"God, Chief." Jim shuddered and released a shaky breath. "When I saw you fall-"

"I know," Blair whispered, hands roaming over Jim's back.

"I've never been so terrified in my life." Jim's voice trembled slightly and he tightened his hold on Blair, not wanting to ever let go.

Blair's fingers came up to lightly rest on Jim's lips, halting his words. "It's okay, love. I'm okay," he softly reassured. "I was terrified of losing you, too. He could have shot you at any time."

With their eyes transfixed on each other, Jim lowered his head as Blair lifted his and their lips met in a soft, lingering kiss. Slowly, Jim walked his partner backward toward the sofa, maneuvering them around some of their scattered belongings on the floor. Locked in one another's arms, they sank down onto the cushions together, kissing and touching hungrily. It was almost as though they couldn't get enough of each other, as though they needed the act of touch to somehow confirm that they were both here -- alive and well. Once their need seemed to be assuaged, Jim lovingly gazed down into his guide's warm blue eyes.

"Since Simon's given us the next four days off, I think we should take Sandoval up on his offer to spend some time with him at his cabin." Jim tucked a wayward curl behind Blair's ear and smiled fondly at his partner. "Some down time relaxing in the mountains sounds pretty damn good to me."

"Yeah, man, I'm up for that…" Blair paused, his eyes glittering mischievously, "As long as it doesn’t involve any criminals, explosions, shoot-outs, money trains, drugged water -- oomph-"

Jim silenced his smart-assed partner with a big sloppy kiss. When he broke away, Blair's laugher filled the loft and Jim savored the beautiful sound as it warmed his heart and soothed his soul.

 

THE END

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Thin Blue Line will be taking a one month hiatus and then, coming on September 1st 2006, a new story by Travelin and Annie!