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EMAIL: Lyn

DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Petfly and Paramount. This fanfic was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

CATEGORY: Drama

RATING: Adult (V) (L) (M/M)

PAIRING: J/B

AUTHOR'S NOTES: For Krystalrain who won this story in the Moonridge Auction. Thank you for bidding and for the story suggestions. Hope you enjoy the story.

Set after Sen Too.

BETAED BY: Annie

Jim turned down the heat under the pan of spaghetti sauce and sauntered into the living room to see what his lover was scribbling so industriously. He rested his hands on the back of the couch, and angled his head so he could see around the curtain of curls blocking his view. "What are you writing there, Chief? More sentinel insights?"

Blair looked up quickly and flashed his partner a small smile before returning his attention to the writing pad on his lap, curling his hand slightly around the top of the sheet. "Just a letter, Jim. Nothing important."

"Oh yeah? The only time I ever see you this caught up in notes is when it's to do with your dissertation." He dialed up his sight a little. "A letter, huh? What's her name?" he asked, only half-joking.

Blair's hand shielded his writing further in reply. "No one you know."

Jim pasted on a grin and tamped down the sharp pang of jealousy that rose unbidden. He and Blair had only been lovers for a few weeks but they had made a commitment to each other. Despite knowing that Blair had taken their mutual vow as solemnly as he had, Jim couldn’t seem to control the possessiveness that overtook him whenever he thought Blair was admiring someone else. Jim put it down to his mistrusting nature. He’d been screwed over more than once in the relationship department. Blair’s drowning and Jim’s guilt over unwittingly putting Blair in Alex’s path of vengeance had made Jim even more protective than ever. He couldn’t seem to get close enough to his new lover, never wanted to be apart from him, hated the idea that someone else might be vying for Blair’s attention. Alex had done that and Blair had almost died.

Blair seemed to get a kick out of Jim’s jealousy – most of the time - and seemed to have no such concerns when Jim looked a little too long at a shapely figure or when a new girl from Records batted her eyelashes at his lover. He simply smiled blithely, a satisfied look of ‘sorry, he’s taken’ on his face.

Jim was a little surprised by Blair's uncustomary reticence. Normally, when he met a new girl, it was difficult to get him to shut up about her various attributes and qualities, even though they both knew the friendship would go no further than that. Sometimes, Blair just liked yanking Jim’s chain, and Jim had to admit it had led to some pretty hot loving when they’d gone to bed.

Blair had never been with a man before Jim, and though it had initially bothered Jim that his previously, apparently heterosexual partner had suddenly fallen in love with his male, bisexual roomie, Blair seemed to have no concerns about it all. He’d never considered his sexual orientation before, he told Jim the night he’d confessed his feelings. ‘Beautiful is beautiful,’ after all, he’d said. "I love you, that’s all there is to it."

Jim, who’d been harboring his own attraction for Blair for some time, had been convinced quickly enough when Blair kissed him for the first time. He remembered that first kiss so clearly. It had been gentle and chaste. Jim had been disconcerted at first, had touched his mouth with his fingers as though he could map the feel of Blair’s lips. Then he’d returned Blair kiss – with fervor. He’d loved Blair for a long time after all. He wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Jim reached down and snagged the pad quickly before his partner had a chance to react. "It's not like you to be so shy, Chief. Let me see here."

"Jim, please…"

Blair's protest fell on deaf ears and Jim held up a finger for silence while he scanned the first page. His brows drew together in a frown at what he read. "Iris?" He dragged his gaze from the paper and stared at Sandburg in surprise. "Are you crazy? It wasn't enough she and her cohorts kidnapped you, dragged you halfway across the state, tried several times to kill you, and implicate you in drug-smuggling…" He shoved away the memory of his own panic as he’d tracked Blair, wondering if he would get to him on time. When he’d read Blair’s statement, he’d realized just how close to death Sandburg had come, more than once. "Now you're trying to start up a relationship with her?"

Blair shook his head vehemently and stood, one hand reaching for the notepad clenched tightly in Jim's fist. "It's not like that," he protested. "I told you at the time I thought she could change, given the right opportunities, if she knew someone was taking an interest in her. She's just a kid still."

Jim held the letter out of Blair's reach and glared at his partner. "How long?"

"What?"

"How long have you been writing to her?" He watched Blair's Adam's apple bob convulsively as he swallowed.

"A month or two."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I knew how you'd react, and you haven't proven me wrong." Blair tossed his glasses onto the coffee table and began to pace. "Okay, just hear me out before you judge, all right?"

Jim crossed his arms across his chest and waited.

"After Amber, I got to thinking about how a lot of the kids that go to prison come out when they're paroled and just turn around and re-offend because it's all they know, because no one will give them a second chance. I wrote to Iris, and… I don't know… she sounded different in her letters. Calmer, thoughtful… scared of being inside."

Jim snorted. "And you believed it because she wrote it?"

"No!" Blair protested. "The first time I went to see her, I could tell -"

Jim's eyes narrowed, their blue depths glittering with ice. "You went to see her in prison?" Jim rubbed his hands over his face in exasperation. "Are you nuts?" He paused a moment before speaking again, his voice almost a growl. "How many times, Sandburg?"

Blair shrugged and Jim saw the obfuscation forming before he could voice it. "I don't know," the grad student finally said. "A couple, two or three." He stepped around the couch and held his hand out again for the letter. "Jim, please. I'm an observer and I’ve taken a few Psych classes. I could tell she's desperate to get out of that place, and there's no way she wants to risk going back. I told her I'd try to find her a job when she gets out, that's all. Give her that second chance."

Jim tore the first sheet of paper off the notepad and screwed it up deliberately. "I forbid you to see her again, or to write to her, Sandburg."

Blair's eyes almost bulged out of his head. "You forbid me? Now you’re my father?" he sputtered indignantly. Pushing past Jim, he strode toward his old bedroom, now their study. "After what you and Simon did to me that day, having me arrested -"

"It's not like you were thrown in a cell, Sandburg!"

Blair turned toward him, his blue eyes icy. "And that makes it okay? Do you realize how embarrassing it was to have guys who knew me taking my fingerprints?"

"We had no choice and you know it," Jim replied, his voice low and angry. "Iris was trying to implicate you as her partner, Simon took the initiative of arresting you so Narcotics wouldn't. That way, he kept control of where you were - and kept you out of a holding cell."

"I'm just saying that what you did was almost as bad as what Iris did. I gave you another chance, didn't I?"

"I thought you understood why it was done. I didn't realize you wanted an apology. Anyway, that has nothing to do with you seeing Iris."

Blair's lips thinned. "Jealous?" He sighed. "I’m not planning on having a relationship with her. You and I committed to each other, and I took that vow seriously. She’s just someone who needs some support."

"I don’t trust her," Jim replied stonily.

Blair glared back at him with equal defiance. "Who I see is my business, Jim." With that, he turned and pulled open the door.

"We're not finished here, Chief," Jim warned him.

Blair didn't turn. "Oh, yes we are, Jim. Yes, we are."

Jim winced as the slammed door reverberated loudly against his sensitive eardrums. Looking down at the paper in his hand, he swore softly and walked back into the kitchen, tossing the letter into the bin.

Blair didn't appear when dinner was served up. In fact, the study was ominously silent. Jim smiled to himself. At least he was being granted a respite from his roommate's usual aggravating way of getting back at Jim when he was pissed – no tribal drums pounding flat out. Jim retrieved the garlic bread from the oven and set it on the table. "Dinner's on, Chief," he called out.

There was no response from the other room but before he could call a second time, the door opened and Blair stepped out. He kept his eyes fixed on a point somewhere just above Jim's head as he made his way to the table. Lowering his gaze to his plate, Blair ate with a single-minded determination. The only notice he took of Jim was to wave away the bottle of red wine offered to him.

Jim debated starting the discussion again, but shelved the idea when he saw the stubborn set of Blair's jaw. They ate in silence then Blair stood, took his plate into the kitchen and returned to the study. Jim readied himself for another explosion of sound as the door shut, but it was closed carefully with a gentle snick, and the apartment was silent once more.

Lowering his weary body to the couch, Jim tuned the television into a mindless action movie and worried away at the problem of Iris and his own reactions. He was willing to admit – to himself – that he was perhaps being a little petty and that his jealousy was getting the better of him. He wanted Blair focused solely on him, not in the way he had when he’d first become an observer and Jim’s unofficial partner. That had been Blair all hyped up over finding his Holy Grail. Since they’d admitted their love for each other, Jim found it difficult at times to even concentrate on anything at all if Blair was nearby, and he thought Blair felt the same way. He knew he was being stifling and possessive. His failed marriage to Carolyn had left him insecure, fearful of losing Blair, and that made him hold on all the more tightly.

At the same time, he’d come across too many Irises in his years as a cop, and he knew girls like Iris didn’t change.

Lost in his disquieting thoughts, he startled at the sound of white noise coming from the television. He turned the set off, and focused his hearing on the small room under the stairs. A pen scratched against paper, and Jim smiled when he realized he could hear the muted sounds of Blair's jungle music. The kid had his new earphones on.

Blair was a great believer in the basic goodness of people but as an anthropologist, he also took great store in facts. Jim was as prepared as Blair to give an ex-con a second chance, but he'd seen Iris' kind too often in his career. She wasn't going to change. All Jim had to do was prove it to Blair. It wouldn’t hurt to check up on Iris’ record at the Women’s Correctional Facility. Making a mental reminder to do just that, Jim locked up and walked over to the study. He tapped a couple of times then opened the door and looked in. Blair nodded at him. "Coming to bed, Chief?"

Blair sighed and took off his glasses then slipped the headphones down around his neck. "In a while. I’ve got a lecture to finalize, ready for tomorrow." When Jim didn’t leave, he added, "You go on up. I won’t be long."

"Okay." Jim took a step into the room. "About before… I’m sorry. I just don’t want you to get hurt. The last time…" He trailed off, not wanting to rehash the whole thing.

Blair stood and walked over to him, wrapping his arms around Jim’s waist and resting his head on Jim’s shoulder. "I’m sorry too." He stepped back and ran a hand through his hair. "I just wanted to help her."

"I know. Don’t burn the midnight oil, okay?"

"I won’t."

~o0o~

"Where are they?" Artie Parkman lifted the gun and pressed it against Blair's throat.

Blair winced, tried to swallow past the pressure. "I've told you a hundred times, man."

"Three seconds," Parkman warned.

Blair gave a groan of despair. "Look, I swear to God, I don't know!"

"Three..."

Blair tried again as he saw Parkman's finger tighten on the trigger. "Look, listen to me. I don't know!"

Parkman ignored him. "Two... one."

Blair flinched then sagged as the gun clicked loudly. His heart pounded painfully in his chest and nausea roiled in his gut. He pulled a deep breath in, fighting the urge to throw up.

Parkman lowered the gun and chuckled. Stepping away from Blair, he loaded a clip and recocked the weapon.

Oh God. Blair fought against closing his eyes. Jim, where the hell are you? I promise, man, from now on, no more women. Period.

Parkman gave him a cold grin that held absolutely no mirth. "This time... it's for real. Where are they?" he asked again, sounding out each syllable slowly as though Blair were particularly slow-witted.

Blair tried to stall for time. "I could give you fake directions, but what good would that do either of us?"

"Where?!"

Blair stared a the muzzle of Parkman's gun. From this distance, it looked huge. "I don't know," he shouted back.

Parkman squeezed the trigger and the world exploded.

~o0o~

"No!!"

Blair's terrified scream would have been heard over Jim's white noise earplugs, if he'd been wearing them. He was standing and racing for the stairs before he realized he'd moved. Taking them two at a time, he hurried down, missed the last couple entirely, and barreled into the study.

His lover was sitting upright at the desk, his chest heaving as he struggled to pull in air. Jim crossed to the room in a couple of strides. "Blair? What's wrong?"

Blair stared into space, his eyes blank and wide. Sweat glistened on his brow; his hair was a disheveled halo around his head. Jim knelt and grasped Blair's upper arms, giving him a slight shake. "Sandburg? You with me?"

"He shot me," Blair whispered, his voice shaky and hoarse.

"What?" Jim’s eyes scanned Blair for signs of injury. He hadn't heard a gunshot but he'd been asleep, if a silencer had been used….

"It was a dream," Blair said, his voice slightly louder but still as shaky. He gave a snort that came out halfway between a hysterical giggle and a sob. "Nightmare." Lifting his hands, he ran them over his face and back through his hair, causing the disarrayed curls to frizz even more. "I must have fallen asleep over my notes. I was dreaming about Parkman. He shot me."

"Oh." Jim relaxed his vigilance and seeing that Blair was beginning to shiver as the night air cooled the sweat on his body, briskly rubbed his lover’s arms. "You all right now?"

"Yeah. Sorry."

Jim patted the nearest still trembling shoulder. "No big deal. Guess that argument we had about Iris tonight brought it all back, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess."

Jim stood to leave as Blair leaned back in the chair with a sigh. "You want to come upstairs, try to get some sleep?" he asked as he studied the drowsy man.

"Whatimeizzit?" Blair asked, his eyes closing.

Jim glanced at Blair's alarm clock. "Almost five."

Blair groaned. "Gotta be up early."

"Come up anyway. You’ll be more comfortable in bed."

Blair opened his eyes and gave him a smile. "You got an idea of how to pass the time?"

Jim grinned back. "I could think of a couple of ways."

"Okay." Blair stood and stretched, then reached out and grabbed Jim’s hand, squeezing it tightly. He stared earnestly at his partner. "Sorry about tonight. You're right. Probably not good for me to keep in touch with Iris. Besides, it doesn't look good for either of us if I'm caught associating with a con."

"Well, I'm more concerned with what she did, what she's capable of."

"I know and I appreciate you looking out for me. I'll go see her after school tomorrow, explain - "

"You sure that's such a good idea, Chief?" Jim asked, leading Blair to the door. He rested his fingers on the light switch.

"It's the right thing to do. I'll get some information about prisoner support groups and stuff - for when she gets out."

Jim could see he wasn't going to sway his lover. He sighed, prepared to meet him halfway this time. "Okay, sounds like a good idea."

~o0o~

Their lovemaking had been short but satisfying and Blair had finally relaxed enough to succumb to his fatigue, wrapped in Jim’s arms. Sleep still evaded Jim though, despite his relief that Blair had agreed not to see Iris any more.

Jim remembered that awful night and the following day too well. His enormous relief at finding Blair safe had been short-lived when Iris had started mouthing off that Sandburg had been in on the drug buy with them. Jim could see the exhausted state Blair was in and knew there was no way his partner would withstand a night in the cells. Luckily, Simon had the same thoughts. Still, Blair had not taken his arrest well. When he'd finally been released and they'd gone home, Blair remained almost non-verbal, his jaw clenched tightly, his face devoid of color, save for the dark circles under his eyes that spoke of his utter weariness.

He'd perked up some when Jim had presented his precious guitar to him. Jim had gone to Iris' apartment and managed to convince the landlord to go in and get the guitar. Then he'd seemed to recover quickly, insisting on inviting Simon and Joel to join them in the feast he'd cooked for Iris. Blair hadn't joined them though, despite Jim knowing it had to be well over twenty-four hours since he'd eaten. He sat, lightly strumming his guitar and went to bed early. They hadn't really talked about it since then. Jim assumed that Blair had bounced back from the experience in his usual resilient way.

Obviously Blair had continued to worry away at it, despite keeping an upbeat disposition for Jim’s benefit.

Perhaps he'd thought that taking an interest in Iris would rid him of the nightmares he still suffered. He hadn't told Jim any of the details of his time on the run with Iris and co. After reading Blair's statement, Jim was angered by the way Blair had been treated but the nightmare tonight put a more sinister light on the experience. 'He shot me,' Blair had said.

Jim rolled over and punched his pillows into shape. It was time he talked to Sandburg, got him to open up about what had happened that night. Perhaps that would help Blair put the whole ugly experience behind him and get on with his life.

~o0o~

Blair lightly touched the still stinging scratches on his face as he climbed the stairs to the apartment. The meeting with Iris had not gone well, not that Blair had expected differently. She’d come to trust Blair, knowing he’d forgiven her for his kidnapping the year before and obviously looked forward to his visits. At one point, she had suggested they could perhaps start over with their relationship once she was out of prison but Blair had firmly vetoed that idea. He explained he was in a relationship, though he’d not said with whom, and told her gently that he simply wanted to help her get her life back on track and nothing more. At the time, she’d seemed to accept his decision with good grace but today, when he’d handed her the leaflets about prisoner support groups, she’d thrown herself at him, screaming, her hands grabbing at his hair, her fingernails raking his face. It had taken some time for the guards to pull her off, her strength fueled by her ire.

Blair had sagged back against the wall, panting, his heart pounding in his chest as she was led away, still spewing abuse, yelling that he’d told her that he loved her and vowing retribution.

His legs were still shaking by the time he got home, and he felt lightheaded and nauseous. Something bumped his shoulder, upsetting his already precarious balance and he fell back, his foot finding only empty space as it slipped off the riser of the stairs. Strong hands grabbed at him and hauled him upward, to deposit him against the wall of the stairwell.

"Shit! Sorry," a male voice said.

Blair shook his head. "My fault. Wasn’t looking where I was going." He looked up to see a tall, well-built, blond man scrutinizing him. Gently, he pulled his arm from the man’s grasp.

"Are you all right?" the man asked. He pointed at Blair’s face. "Have a fight with your girlfriend?"

"Just a misunderstanding," Blair replied. "Sorry," he said again. He shifted past the man and went to head back on his way upstairs.

"This is gonna sound corny but, don’t I know you?" the man asked.

Blair paused on the stair above and looked back. The man was perhaps a little older than he was with long blond hair that hung just below his collar. His eyes were a startling dark shade of blue, set in a handsome, smiling face. Blair shook his head. "I’m sorry. I don’t think so."

The man appeared to think for a moment then clicked his fingers triumphantly. "Cascade General Hospital. A couple of weeks ago. Your partner was brought in with some kind of allergic reaction to a chemical spill."

Blair nodded slowly, remembering the incident, and his near panic all too well. Jim had been wheezing so badly, Blair was sure he was going to stop breathing. "Sorry, it was a pretty crazy night -"

"I’m a first year resident, doing my rotation in the ER." The man stuck out a hand. "Michael Caulfield."

Blair shook the proffered hand. "Blair Sandburg."

Michael smiled. "I remember now. You were so worried about your partner – he’s a detective, right?" He didn’t wait for confirmation. "I felt sorry for you. You looked scared stiff. You’re a cop?"

Blair shook his head. "Grad student in Anthropology and an observer with the PD."

Michael nodded. "So you live here?"

"Yeah."

"Great! I moved into 205 a couple days ago." He looked at his watch. "Crap! I’m late. I gotta go. Hey, maybe I’ll see you around sometime. We could grab a beer or something."

Blair nodded, just wanting to get upstairs and lay down for a while. His head was beginning to pound rather badly. "Sure, why not? See you."

"Yeah. Nice to meet you, Blair." With that, Michael turned and hurried down the stairs.

Blair resumed his weary climb up the stairs, vowing to talk to the janitor about getting the elevator fixed again the following day.

~o0o~

By the time Jim arrived home, Blair’s headache had receded to a mild, annoying thudding and he’d set about cooking dinner and cleaning up the apartment. As long as he was busy, he could keep his mind from going over what had happened with Iris.

Jim walked into the kitchen and winced sympathetically, leaning in to kiss the scratches on Blair’s cheek. "I hear Iris didn’t take the news too well," he said.

Blair flinched away from him. "You heard?" he snapped. "And how did you hear that?"

Jim looked surprised at Blair’s burst of anger. "I did some checking on her. Just wanted to see if she’d been behaving herself –"

"I said I’d talk to her," Blair retorted. He picked up the dishcloth and wiped a spot of spaghetti sauce off the counter. "Don’t you trust me?"

Jim’s arms wrapped around him and this time Blair didn’t fight the contact, instead leaning into the embrace gratefully. "Sorry," he whispered against Jim’s chest. "I didn’t expect her to be so upset."

"She’s been on report a couple times for misbehavior," Jim said, running a hand through Blair’s hair. "I take it she didn’t tell you that."

Blair shook his head.

"You okay now?"

Blair started to nod then spoke. "No, not really. She said some pretty foul things. Said she’d get me back for betraying her." He shifted away slightly and looked up at Jim, his face troubled. "She thought I was in love with her. I should never have gone to see her. I don’t blame her for feeling betrayed. I told her I cared about her."

"You can’t be blamed for her getting the wrong idea, Chief, and with Iris’ background, I think she was using you again to get what she wanted." He reached out and tugged on Blair’s hand. "C’mere."

"The sauce will get cold," Blair protested weakly, though he followed Jim into the living room willingly enough.

Jim ignored him and walked over to the couch, sitting down and then pulling Blair down beside him. Without words, he drew Blair to him and pushed him to lay with his head in Jim’s lap. Leaning forward, he kissed Blair’s brow then began a firm massage of his scalp. "Relax for a while," he finally said. "We can reheat dinner when you feel up to eating."

Blair sighed and closed his eyes, already relaxing under Jim’s soothing touch. "You’re too good to me, you know," he mumbled.

"I know."

~o0o~

"Great, just great!" Blair slammed his hands on his steering wheel then gave up and gathered his things together. His car had only just been in for a service, had been pronounced in perfect working order – for a classic, anyway, and now it wouldn’t start. Jim had already left for work. Simon had wanted him there early to discuss a serial murder case that Homicide had been working on. Blair had planned to take a quick detour to Rainier to pick up some lecture notes he’d missed when he’d been in hospital after the drowning and then he’d promised to meet Jim at the station.

He paused halfway out the car. It was the first time that he’d been able to think about his drowning, even fleetingly, without having either a flashback or a panic attack. He’d seen a therapist for a month or so after they’d returned from Mexico, who’d told him, his fear would abate over time. Blair hadn’t really believed him, knowing that part of his reaction was tied to the guilt he felt at having attempted to help Alex in the first place. It had taken a long time for both him and Jim to finally be able to talk through what had gone on that week, and for each to forgive the other. It hadn’t been the catalyst for them admitting their true feelings but Blair was sure, at least on his part, that his near-death experience had been an epiphany of sorts, convincing him that some things, like Jim’s love, were worth fighting for.

He pushed aside his pensive thoughts and locked his door, realizing if he didn’t get a move on, he’d be late again. There was a shortcut he could take through Holden Park that led to the university. It wouldn’t be as fast on foot but he knew he didn’t have enough cash for a cab and he had no idea how long he might have to wait for a bus. The rain that had been threatening when he’d first walked out of the apartment building was falling quite heavily now. Blair debated phoning Jim for a ride and heading straight to the PD instead, but he’d been hauled over the carpet by Chancellor Edwards not that long ago during the Ventriss case for his absences, and though he’d been vindicated, he knew she was watching his attendance closely. Huddling into the meager warmth of his jacket, cursing the rain that trickled beneath his collar and had him shivering almost immediately, he slipped his arms through the straps of his backpack, and headed across the street, keeping his pace to a fast walk.

Halfway through the almost deserted park, he became aware of footsteps rapidly approaching from behind. Before joining up with Jim, Blair would have thought nothing of it, assuming it was just another poor pedestrian hurrying to get out of the rain. He’d become more wary in the past few years, had reason to be, he decided. Jim didn’t call him a trouble magnet for nothing. He slowed his pace, but the footsteps behind him did not. He chanced a look over his shoulder in time to see a dark figure looming up, something sweeping down across his line of sight, then pain exploded in his head. He felt himself falling, his entire world a kaleidoscope of flashing light and agony. His legs buckled beneath him and he fell forward, unconscious before he hit the ground.

~o0o~

Blair’s head was pounding and there was a gentle tapping on his cheek that set up a maddening counter rhythm that made him feel nauseated. He reached up a trembling hand and weakly batted at the annoyance.

"Blair? Can you hear me? Open those pretty blue eyes for me, huh?"

It took a moment but Blair finally convinced his gummed up eyelids to obey his command. The bright light made him flinch, and he blinked carefully a few times, bringing into view a blurry face. Not Jim.

"Who… Wha…" The question evaporated before he could grasp it and he settled for lying as still as he could and trying not to throw up.

"You were mugged," the unfamiliar voice explained. "A passerby found you in the park. How are you feeling?"

Blair retched dryly and fought back the surge of nausea. He swallowed and licked his dry lips. "Confused. Cold," he finally managed to croak out. "I was mugged?"

"Yeah. You were lying in the rain for a while. We don’t know how long. Your core temp wasn’t too low but you probably got pretty chilled. Remember me?" At Blair’s careful shake of his head, the handsome stranger smiled. "I’m wounded. Mike, your neighbor. You’re in the ER at Cascade General. You know, if you want to meet handsome young doctors, there are better ways."

"Jim told me something like that once. Can I have some water?"

"Let me just check you out and then we’ll get you sitting up a little. Your partner’s been notified and he’s on his way -"

"Blair!" Jim’s voice came from the doorway then he crossed the cubicle to Blair’s side in a couple of strides. He touched Blair’s head with a gentle hand. "Are you okay? What the hell happened?"

Blair smiled wanly. "I’m okay, Jim. A mugger happened."

"What? Where?"

Blair sighed. He looked at Mike who had stepped back a little and was watching their interaction with a smile. "This is my partner, Jim Ellison, Mike. He, ah, took a comment I made a couple of years ago about Blessed Protectors a little too seriously."

Mike chuckled and picked up a penlight. "Works for me. Always nice to have someone looking out for you." Stepping around to the other side of the examination table, he quickly checked Blair’s eyes and pulse. "Looking good," he said, making a couple of notes on a chart. He turned his attention to Jim. "Nice to meet you, Detective, though I wish it was under better circumstances. Actually, we’re neighbors. I’ve just moved in downstairs from you."

Jim shook Mike’s proffered hand but it was obvious his attention was still on Blair. "What happened?" he asked again.

"Can I sit up now?" Blair asked. Mike nodded and both he and Jim leaned in at the same time, helping Blair up. Mike grabbed an extra pillow from the basket beneath the bed and tucked it behind Blair’s back.

Blair groaned and closed his eyes briefly as nausea threatened again. A hand rubbed his shoulder and he opened his eyes to see that it was Mike’s.

"Just take it slowly," the doctor said. "You’re probably going to be a little dizzy for a while. You still cold?"

"Yeah." Before he could say more, Jim had glanced around quickly and grabbed a blanket from the trolley behind him. He shook it out and draped it over Blair’s shoulders, then, seeming to read his lover’s mind, reached for the tumbler of water on the rollaway table and held it to Blair’s lips.

Blair drank a few sips gratefully then leaned back against the pillows, relieved to feel his headache subsiding a little. "Thanks, man."

"Okay." Only then did Jim seem to relax somewhat. "Out with it, Chief."

"The Volvo wouldn’t start," Blair began. "Joe said it was A-One when I picked it up the other day. Anyway I had to get to the university and pick up those notes before I met you at the station so I took a shortcut through the park –"

"Why didn’t you call me?" Jim interrupted.

"You had that meeting with Simon, remember? Besides, I’ve walked through that park a thousand times and never had a problem. It’s usually pretty deserted at that time of the morning –"

"Exactly," Jim cut in again. "One reason not to walk through there."

"You’re not my mother!" Blair snapped irritably, then was immediately contrite. "Sorry, man." He shivered, suddenly chilled again. "Is my backpack here?" At Mike’s nod, he asked, "Can you check it, Jim? See what’s missing?"

While Jim checked the contents of the backpack, Blair turned to Mike. "When can I get out of here?"

"Overnight would be best, just for observation –"

"I can’t –"

Mike held up a silencing hand. "But seeing you have a doctor in the house, so to speak, how about you stay for another four hours and then I’ll cut you loose. I’ll call in later tonight and check on you. As a matter of fact, it’s the end of my shift in four hours, so I can give you a ride home, get you settled. Save your partner having to cut work."

Blair shook his head but before he could speak, Jim said," Actually, if you don’t mind, Doc, that would be great." He looked at Blair. "Nothing seems to be missing, Chief. Maybe someone scared him off."

"Probably the passerby who found you," Mike added.

Jim came back to stand at the bedside. "I was halfway through the meeting with Simon when I got the call from the hospital. It’s important I get back there, so if Mike here wouldn’t mind –"

"Hey, I don’t mind at all," Mike put in.

"Blair?"

Blair tried to smile though his heart wasn’t in it. After all that had happened, he really wanted Jim to take him home and exercise his Blessed Protector instincts to the max. Instead, he said, "It’s fine. You get back to your meeting."

Jim’s hand stroked through his hair. "You sure?"

No! Blair wanted to say but he nodded anyway. "I know this case is important."

"Okay. I’ll see you this afternoon. Shouldn’t be later than five. I’ll call you in a while, see how you’re feeling."

Blair nodded and closed his eyes against the unexpected, embarrassing sting of tears. When he opened his eyes, Jim was gone. A hand squeezed his shoulder and he looked up into Mike’s face. The young doctor looked sympathetic.

"It’s normal to feel a little emotional, Blair," he said. "You’ve had a shock." He glanced at his watch. "I’d better go. I’ll look in on you in a little while." He leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, "There’s two buff uniform cops waiting outside to take your statement. I’ll tell them to come back a little later."

"No, it’s fine," Blair replied. "Send them in. Best if I give them my statement right away."

"Did you see who attacked you?"

"No, it happened too fast but they can patrol the area, make sure no one else gets hurt."

"True." With a final pat to Blair’s shoulder, Mike left the room.

~o0o~

Blair had to admit he was grateful for Mike’s supporting hand on his arm as they made their way into the apartment. His legs still felt a little like jello and his headache had come back full force once he was on his feet.

"Bed or couch?" Mike asked.

Blair gave a quick glance up at the loft bedroom. He didn’t know Mike well enough to be announcing that he and Jim shared a bed. Besides, the stairs looked entirely too steep. "Couch," he decided and walked slowly over to sink down on the cushions. In an instant, the afghan from the back of the sofa was draped over him and cushions were placed beneath his head.

Mike stepped back and watched him shift around, trying to ease the pressure on the sore spot on the back of his head. "I’ll just go downstairs and get some tea. I’ve got a blend that’s great for headaches."

"In the kitchen cupboard, first one on the right," Blair said automatically. He watched Mike walk into the kitchen and pull open the cupboard door.

"Hey, same brand." Mike pulled out the small box of teabags and held them up. "I get mine from a little natural food shop over on Fourth."

"Same here. Jim hates it. Says it tastes like freshly mown grass."

"He doesn’t know what he’s missing," Mike replied. He set to work boiling the kettle then steeping the tea while Blair looked on in a half-drowsy, addled kind of way, then brought a steaming mug over to Blair. "Drink that while it’s hot and then get some rest," he said. "I’ve got a couple of things to do downstairs then I’ll be back to check on you."

"You don’t have to –" Blair began but stopped at Mike’s waggling finger.

"Who’s the doctor here?" Mike said. "I’ll be back in a few."

"Okay, thanks, man." Blair picked up the mug and took a sip, inhaling the soothing scent of the medicinal herbs. He gave a sigh of pleasure and took another swallow, feeling enormously weary. He watched Mike leave then sipped at his tea before dozing off into a deep sleep.

~o0o~

"Blair? You wanna wake up for me, Chief?"

"Huh?" Blair opened his eyes, looked around in confusion for a moment before realizing where he was and smiling up into Jim’s concerned face. "Hey, you’re home. What time is it?"

"A little after five. How are you feeling?"

Blair considered the question for a moment. "Pretty good actually. Headache’s gone." He sat up a little, resting on one elbow. "Where’s Mike?"

"Right here," came a voice from behind them. Mike walked into the apartment and held up Blair’s keys. "You mentioned something about your car not starting so I took a look. Loose wire, is all." He set the keys down on the kitchen counter.

"You didn’t have to do that," Blair said, "but thank you."

Mike waved Blair’s words away. "No bother." He looked at Jim. "I’ve been doing hourly neuro checks on Blair. He was a little groggy the first couple of hours but he seems to be fine."

Blair’s brow furrowed. He vaguely remembered someone speaking to him, of a gentle hand stroking across his brow, lulling him back to sleep, hands… He shook his head. "Most of it’s a complete blank," he said.

"To be expected," Mike said. "I’m gonna go hit the sack. Worked an eighteen hour shift and I’m wiped. Jim, it was good to meet you. A light meal and some TLC and your partner will be as good as new."

"Thanks, Mike. I appreciate everything you’ve done." Jim walked Mike to the door and let him out then turned back to Blair with a smile. "Nice guy."

"Yeah." Blair crooked a finger at Jim. "Get back over here," he ordered. "Where’s my kiss?"

Jim obliged quickly, leaning in to place a lingering kiss on Blair’s mouth. He sat beside him and lifted Blair’s legs onto his lap, massaging the soles of his lover’s feet, making Blair sigh with pleasure.

"So," Blair said, after a moment, "how did the meeting go?"

~o0o~

It had been one hell of a week all round. Blair had accompanied Jim to the station the following morning to discuss the Homicide case they’d been asked to help with. They! That was a laugh. The serial killer was escalating and it had been decided to set up a task force, bringing experts from various departments.

When they arrived, Simon had called Jim into his office. Blair had jumped up to follow, only to be stopped at the office door by Simon. "Not you, Sandburg. Just your partner."

Puzzled, Blair just gave a shrug and wandered back to Jim’s desk, exchanging pleasantries with Rafe and Brown on the way. A half-hour later, Jim came out, with a face like thunder.

"Hey, man, what’s with all the secrecy?" Blair asked casually.

Jim rubbed a hand over his forehead. "Not now, Chief, okay?"

"All right."

"You want to get out of my chair, Sandburg?" Jim asked, sounding impatient. "I need to look over the crime scene photos, see if I can pick anything up that Forensics might have missed."

"Better yet," Blair said, standing and reaching for his coat, "why don’t we head down there? See what you can pick up on scene?"

"I’ll be doing that after I look at the photos," Jim replied testily. He pulled the small stack of folders toward him. Blair had already taken them out and had been going over them, hoping to find something in the witness reports.

"Okay." Blair left his jacket where it was and looked around for a spare chair. One of these days, he was going to commandeer one for himself. He’d been here long enough by now to deserve his own chair, surely.

Jim leaned back and watched him grab Joel’s vacant chair and pull it over to the desk. "Look, Chief, I’m going to have to ask you to sit this one out," he said finally.

"What? Why?" Blair stared at him in surprise. "If it’s because of yesterday, I’m fine. Mike checked me out last night. You heard him. Just a day or two taking it easy and I’ll be good to go. I’ll just be doing my usual, Jim. Following you around, making sure you don’t concentrate too hard –"

"Sandburg!"

Blair looked up at the sound of Simon’s voice. He hadn’t heard him approach. "What’s going on, Simon?"

Simon scowled, though Blair was pretty certain the sour look wasn’t directed at him. "The task force wants Jim in on this alone –"

"No way!" Blair jumped up from his seat and looked from Simon to Jim in shock. "Come on, Simon, Jim needs me for this kind of stuff."

"It’s Homicide’s case and they don’t want anybody involved who’s not a cop. The public’s up in arms over this one. Three girls murdered now. No MO to speak of. Nobody knows who could be next."

Blair’s eyes found Jim’s. Blue met worried blue. "Jim?"

"Sorry, Blair, it’s not my call. The order came from the Chief."

"It’s Henderson, isn’t it?" Blair snapped. "That asshole from Homicide. He hated me the minute he set eyes on me."

"Sandburg!" Simon’s voice boomed and the sudden silence was deafening. Simon glared around the room and the gazes of every detective in the room dropped to their desks. A soft buzz of voices started up as they got back to their work. Simon turned back to Blair. "Keep a civil tongue in your head when you’re talking about the officers of this precinct, regardless of what you might think of them, or they of you," he said sternly.

"Sorry." Blair gave the captain an apologetic look.

"The order is non-negotiable, Sandburg. I’m sorry," Simon added.

"Just tell them to find another detective then," Blair said, looking at Jim. "You need me with you, man. Tell them it’s both of us or nothing."

"In case you hadn’t realized, Sandburg, this is my job!" Jim growled. "It’s what pays the rent. They need me on this taskforce, I’m there… or do you want to see another kid murdered?" He glared at Blair for a long moment.

Blair could feel his face burning, his heart pounding. He was aware that the attention of everyone in the bullpen was riveted back on him. He waited for Simon, for somebody to tell Jim to back off. To say that Blair had earned his place at Jim’s side; was as much a cop after four years as any of them but no one spoke. He reached out and pulled his jacket from the hook, then with deliberate movements, bent down to pick up his backpack from beneath Jim’s desk. Without a word, he spun on his heel and walked out of the bullpen, not looking back when he heard Jim call his name.

He headed straight back to the loft, already feeling a little embarrassed by his outburst. Of course he didn’t want Jim to refuse to take the case. If anyone could find the clues they needed to catch this bastard, it was Jim. It was just the first time since Captain Finkelman had rescinded his observer’s pass that he’d been told he couldn’t work with Jim. Even then, Jim had gone in to bat for him.

On the way up to the apartment in the elevator, he tried to do what Naomi had taught him. To put it all in perspective. He had some free time on his hands, great. He could catch up the lectures he’d missed while he’d been in the hospital, maybe get some work done on his thesis… and just because he wasn’t wanted on the taskforce, didn’t mean he couldn’t help Jim out with observations and such at home.

Mike Caulfield was waiting outside the loft door, holding a large bunch of flowers when Blair walked up. Blair pasted on a smile. He liked the guy, really, but he just wasn’t in the mood for idle chit-chat today. "Hey, Mike." Blair gestured at the flowers. "You get lucky?"

Mike shook his head. "No, but it seems you did." He thrust the flowers into Blair’s free hand. "I was coming up to see you about something and the delivery guy arrived at the same time. Seeing you weren’t home, I signed for them. I was going to take them back to my place and put them in water for you."

"Thanks." Blair unlocked the door and stepped aside to allow Mike to enter. Dropping his backpack, he searched for a card amongst the blooms and found one but it simply said, To Blair. No sender’s name. "That’s odd," he said. Jim, maybe? He dismissed the notion as soon as he thought it. Jim was romantic and gentle, a great lover but he didn’t do flowers.

"Maybe you have a secret admirer," Mike chuckled.

"Maybe." Blair placed the flowers on the kitchen counter then walked over and filled the teakettle with water. "Sorry," he said, suddenly remembering his guest. "Would you like some tea?"

Mike shook his head. "Just a quick visit. I was wondering… There’s a Humphrey Bogart movie showing at the Rialto on Saturday night. I was wondering if you’d like to go."

Blair set the kettle on the stove and walked back into the living room. "Mike, look, you’re a great guy and I really appreciate you taking care of me yesterday but… I’m in a relationship –"

"With Jim?" Mike smiled at the surprised look on Blair’s face. "Don’t be so shocked. You might be able to hide it from most people but I could tell the first night I saw you in the ER that you two were lovers." He took a step closer to Blair and took his hand. "I wasn’t asking you out on a date, though if you were a free agent, there’d be no stopping me. You’re a great-looking guy, Blair. I haven’t been in Cascade long and I’m still trying to make friends outside of the hospital. You hang out with your workmates too often and you get tired of rehashing the patients you’ve been working on."

Blair grinned. "I know how that goes, hanging out with cops."

Mike smiled back. "Exactly. Anyway, what do you say?"

"I’m sorry, I’m busy this weekend." He gave Mike a mischievous smile. "At least, I’m hoping that Jim and I are going to be busy. We’re going camping. Jim hasn’t had a day off in forever and after today…" He trailed off and rolled his eyes.

"You want to talk about it?" Mike hadn’t released Blair’s hand and now his thumb rubbed over the back of it. Blair felt suddenly discomfited and pulled out of Mike’s grasp. He shook his head.

"No biggie."

"Blair!"

They both started at the sound of Jim’s voice. Mike took a step back and Blair felt his face heating. "Jim! What are you doing home?"

"I wanted to talk to you." Jim nodded at Mike. "Hey, Doc."

"Hi, Jim." Mike gestured toward the door. "I’ve gotta go. Maybe we could take a raincheck on the movie, Blair."

"Sure. I’ll let you know," Blair said, waving goodbye to the other man.

As the door snicked shut behind Mike, both men spoke at the same time. "I’m sorry."

Blair moved into Jim’s arms, pressing a kiss to his lover’s lips. "I overreacted. I behaved like a immature, selfish brat –"

"Who’d had his feelings hurt by a couple of insensitive jerks who tend to forget just how much you do for the Major Crime department," Jim broke in. "Simon says he’s sorry too. No kiss from him though." Inclining his head, Jim kissed Blair again, slowly, deeply, thoroughly. When they broke away from each other, he grinned. "Just from me."

"So, does that mean Simon’s going to go into bat for me with Homicide?" Blair asked hopefully.

Jim’s features grew serious. "Sorry. It’s still their call. Simon’s hands are tied." He pulled away and walked over to slump on the sofa. "I want you there with me, Chief but I can’t say no to this. What if another girl dies?"

"I know." Blair walked over and straddled Jim’s lap, facing him, twining his arms around his lover’s neck. "I don’t want that either. It’ll be okay. And I can still help from the sidelines, right? Give you pointers. Maybe even do a little profiling."

"That would be great." Jim smiled then. "Simon’s expecting me back in an hour. You want to make out?"

Blair laughed, feeling the tension dissipate. He leaned in and took Jim’s mouth hard, pushing his tongue against Jim’s lips, demanding and receiving entrance. After a long, languorous moment, he pulled back.

"I take it that’s a yes," Jim said, already reaching out to unbutton Blair's shirt. His tongue snaked out to lap at Blair’s left nipple and Blair gasped and arched up against him. "So what’s with Mike?" Jim asked, pausing for a moment. "You told him you were spoken for, right?"

"Spoken for?"

Jim shrugged and went back to playing with Blair’s nipples, stroking then tugging at each in turn. "Am I gonna have to arrest the guy or what?"

"Or what," Blair replied in satisfaction. He pushed on Jim’s head, getting Jim’s mouth back where he wanted it. "He’s just being friendly."

"And the flowers?"

Shit! Blair had forgotten about those. He shrugged. "Secret admirer or you’re getting romantic in your old age."

Jim pretended to look affronted. "Old? I’ll show you old, Sandburg!" He stood, toppling Blair off his lap onto the floor, then reached out and pulled him to his feet. Linking a finger through the belt loop on Blair’s jeans, he dragged the unresisting man over to the stairs and up to the bedroom.

Blair allowed himself to fall back gracefully, watching with appreciation as Jim slowly stripped.

"Like what you see, kid?" Jim asked, stroking a hand over his broad chest. When Blair nodded, he gave him a lust-filled smile. "Let me show you what this old guy is capable of."

~o0o~

A fourth murder had ratcheted up the activity on the taskforce. Jim had picked up a couple of vital clues from the last crime scene, and an offhand comment from Blair that it sounded like the guy was getting either sloppy or cocky had the two men sitting up one night into the early hours of the morning, discussing the case. While Blair was still bitterly disappointed at his exclusion, it felt good to work with Jim and to have his insights appreciated. They’d worked on a rough profile of the murderer based on the crime evidence and had gone to bed, exhausted but satisfied.

Jim had pretty much been working around the clock since then, often coming home just as Blair was leaving for the university and they passed like ships in the night. In a brief conversation that morning, Jim assured Blair that, unless something broke on the case, their camping trip was still on for the weekend. He had asked for a concession though – that they head for somewhere not too far from the city, in case he needed to go back in. After working with cops for so many years, Blair understood the necessity of that and acquiesced, getting a solemn promise from Jim, that, as soon as the case was wrapped up, they’d do the camping thing properly.

Blair was surprised that evening when Jim walked in the door just before seven. He’d been thinking about cooking something for dinner for himself but he didn’t have much of an appetite. It was no fun eating alone.

He closed the door to the refrigerator and launched himself at Jim, wrapping his arms around his waist, hugging him tightly. "Hey, this is a nice surprise!"

Jim tilted Blair head up and kissed him deeply, hard, his hands fisting in Blair’s hair. When he finally pulled away, Blair looked up and smiled.

"Not that I’m complaining, lover, but what was that all about?"

Jim pulled away and strode out to the living room. He picked up the newspaper that sat on the coffee table and scanned the front page, then threw it back down. Blair followed him out and lightly touched his arm. "Jim? What’s wrong?"

Jim rubbed his hands over his face. He looked exhausted. "Case has stalled." He turned to look at Blair. "I think you were right about this guy. He didn’t get sloppy, he’s getting cocky. Once he thinks we’re twisting in the breeze, he’ll do it again."

Blair embraced Jim again and kissed him lightly. "I’m sorry."

"If you were there –"

"You’d probably be no further along than you already are," Blair finished. "You hungry?"

"Yeah. No." Jim shrugged. "I don’t know."

"Go have a shower," Blair suggested, "get comfortable. I’ll order in some food."

"Let’s go out," Jim said.

"Are you sure?"

"I need to not think about it for a while."

Blair nodded. "Okay."

Jim grasped Blair’s hand and lifted it to his mouth, gently kissing each knuckle. "Come and shower with me?"

"You bet."

~o0o~

The warm water cascaded down Blair’s back, an erotic counter point to Jim’s slow thrusts into him. He’d expected to Jim to take him hard, needing to release the anger and frustration he felt over the case. Instead, Jim had made love to him slowly, prepared him gently with mouth and fingers, as though it was their first time. Blair gasped as one of Jim’s arms wrapped around his chest, pulling him back to rest against his lover, pressing Jim’s cock deeper into his body. Jim’s other hand wrapped around Blair’s penis, the touch almost too light, the feather-soft sensation creating a maddening burn that had Blair pushing himself back to take Jim in further, faster.

"Needed this, Chief," Jim ground out. "Needed you." He pulled out almost all the way then pushed back in, tightening his grip on Blair’s cock and pumping it quickly.

"Oh god!" Blair shuddered and came, his release sending shivers down his spine in spite of the warmth of the shower. He allowed his head to fall back to rest on Jim’s shoulder, felt tiny kisses peppering his forehead and cheek. Turning within Jim’s embrace, he twined his arms around Jim’s neck and kissed him properly. "Thank you," he said finally. "I needed that too. I’ve missed you."

Jim smiled at him and reached out to pull back the shower curtain. "Ditto, Chief." He stepped out of the shower and proceeded to dry off while Blair quickly washed himself. "Any requests for dinner?"

"Your idea, man, your choice."

"Okay."

~o0o~

They ended up leaving later than they’d planned. Jim couldn’t seem to get enough of Blair and the sight of his lover walking upstairs, naked, had prompted another hasty but just as satisfying session of lovemaking on the bed. Blair wasn’t complaining as he hurriedly pulled on a sweater and jeans and followed Jim downstairs.

As they walked toward the elevator, he saw Mike coming up the stairs toward them but before he could call out a greeting, perhaps ask Jim if Mike could join them, the doctor had turned quickly around and trotted back down to the second floor.

Blair felt guilty that he’d been avoiding Mike. While he certainly appreciated the company over the past week, with Jim gone for so long, he’d found that Mike’s visits were becoming more frequent, and a little annoying. Often, he’d drop by just as Blair walked in the door as though he’d been watching for him. Blair had the uncomfortable feeling that though Mike had seemed accepting enough of Blair and Jim’s relationship, he was still flirting with Blair.

~o0o~

Despite having worked up an appetite before they arrived at the restaurant, when faced with the food, as delicious as it looked, Jim found he wasn’t all that hungry. He pushed the food around his plate for a while, aware of his lover’s scrutiny of him. Finally, he gave up the pretence and pushed his plate away. "Sorry," he said, taking a sip of his wine. "It looks great. I’m just not that hungry."

"That’s okay."

Jim noticed that Blair’s plate wasn’t much less empty than his. "You okay?" he asked.

Blair wiped his mouth with his napkin then sat back. "Yeah, you know. Bored, frustrated. I mean, I’ve got my school work to concentrate on and trust me, the class I’m teaching this semester needs plenty of focus." He rolled his eyes. "None of them are as bad as Brad Ventriss but I seem to have more than my usual share of football jocks, looking for an easy A, and giggly cheerleaders who took Anthropology because it sounded romantic." He let his voice squeak with a feminine note on the last word and earned a snort of amusement from Jim. Sitting forward, he reached out and took Jim’s hand, squeezing it lightly. "Now that’s a sound I haven’t heard in a while."

"What’s that?"

"You, laughing," Blair replied.

Jim sobered. He finished his wine. "Well, there hasn’t been much to laugh about lately, Chief."

"I know."

Jim berated himself silently. As quickly as it had begun, the light mood of the evening has dissipated. "You ready to go?" he asked.

"Yep." Blair pushed back his chair and went to get their jackets while Jim paid the check.

Outside in the chill night air, Jim wrapped an arm around Blair’s shoulders, drawing him close. "Thanks for tonight," he said.

Blair smiled at him, his pleasure lighting up his eyes. "Let me tell you about this one girl in my class. She always has to have the middle seat, front row. I swear she’d fight to the death for it."

"Someone else vying for your attention, Chief?" Jim teased. There was a break in the traffic and they stepped off the curb.

Blair rolled his eyes. "She’s like seventeen, man. Anyway –"

Jim was so absorbed in Blair’s animated chatter that he didn’t see the car until it was upon them. The vehicle’s bumper hit him hard enough to send him flying back, tearing away his grip on Blair. As he hit the road hard, Jim heard a sickening thump, heard Blair cry out, and heard the squeal of tires on the wet blacktop. He smacked his head on the bitumen as he rolled, carried on and over by the momentum of the impact, lights exploding in his vision then fading to black.

He had no idea how long he lay, winded and dazed, listening to the disjointed babble of voices around him before some shred of consciousness returned and he managed to stagger up on shaky legs, reaching up to wipe away the wetness that blurred his vision. He glanced at his fingers, vaguely noting the blood that stained them, then searched frantically for Blair. A small group of people stood a short distance away. In their midst, a crumpled figure groaned and stirred. "Blair!"

~o0o~

"Broken," Blair said in disgust, staring disconsolately at the blue cast that adorned his left arm.

"Clean break, that’s a good thing," Jim said from his seat in a wheelchair beside Blair’s bed.

"I guess." Blair flopped back onto his pillows and stared up at the ceiling. "What did Simon say?"

"Brown and Rafe have talked to potential witnesses, but it seems like no one saw anything unusual until after the accident," Simon said from the doorway. He walked into the room, a worried frown on his face. "You two okay?"

"I’m fine, sir," Jim assured him. "Blair’s a little beat up but nothing that won’t heal. No one saw a thing?"

"One witness who saw the car drive off after you were hit but all they could say was that it was a dark sedan and they were pretty sure a male was driving." Simon seated himself on the edge of the bed. "Any ideas, Jim?"

Jim shrugged. "Could be an ex-con out for revenge. Hell, it could have just been a drunk driver."

"Do you think it was an accident?" Blair asked.

Jim fingered the gauze square above his eye, feeling the coarse prickle of stitches beneath the bandage. They’d both been lucky. He’d gotten away with a few bruises and cuts, Blair, a broken wrist and a cracked rib. "I didn’t even see him coming," he said in disgust. "By the time I got up, he was gone. That witness saw more than I did."

"It wasn’t your fault." Blair sat up and shifted sideways, dangling his feet over the edge of the bed, cradling his injured arm with his good hand. "I was thinking about Iris –"

"Shit!" Jim stood and paced to the door of the exam room and back.

"Iris?" Simon looked at Blair in surprise. "How does she figure into this?"

"I’m not saying it was her. I mean, she’s still in prison –" Blair looked uncertainly at Simon. "I was visiting her a while –"

"Sandburg!" Simon growled.

"I’ve already had the lecture from Jim," Blair shot back, then added, "sir. Anyway, she was pretty pissed with me when I told her I couldn’t come see her anymore." He unconsciously touched the almost faded scratches on his cheek.

"I’ll run a check on her," Simon said. "See who she’s been talking to. You two ready to go home?"

"Yeah." Blair slid off the bed and groped for his clothes, allowing Jim to help him dress in his now dirty jeans and sweater. "Great," he muttered, scowling at the large hole in the knee of his pants. "Only bought these last week."

"I’ll buy you a new pair," Jim said. "Right now, I’m just glad you’re walking out of here with me." He led Blair to the door and held it open for him. "Simon can drop you back at the loft, then I’ll head over to the station with him. Do some checking. See which of my collars are back on the street."

"You need to get some rest," Blair countered. "You have to have the mother of all headaches. Let Simon do it."

"He’s right, Jim. You look pretty lousy," Simon offered.

Jim rolled his eyes. "Thank you, sir. I’m going to have a better chance of knowing who might be responsible for something like this. If they’ve threatened me when I put them away…"

Simon sighed. "I see your point. All right, but as soon as you’re done, you’re heading home and taking the rest of the day off. Is that clear? In the meantime, I’ve organized for a patrol car to watch your apartment building, just in case."

Blair’s eyes widened. "You think they could come back and try again?"

"Just pays to be careful, Sandburg." Simon patted Blair’s shoulder reassuringly.

"I guess you’re right. Thanks, Simon." Blair gave the captain a wan smile.

"I won’t be long, Chief," Jim assured Blair. "I’m just going to make a few phone calls, check up on the taskforce status while I’m there and then I’ll be home."

"Okay." Blair’s dropped his head and Jim could hear the disappointment in his partner’s voice.

"You do need to rest. Those pain pills the doctor gave you will be kicking in soon."

"I know."

"All right. Let’s get you home."

~o0o~

Blair’s wrist throbbed dully, preventing him from getting any real sleep. Still half-addled by the analgesics, he wandered downstairs and made himself some tea, then slumped onto the couch, staring out of the balcony windows, watching the sun come up.

There was a knock at the door, startling him from an uneasy doze. It took him a moment to get his bearings then he stood and walked to the door and opened it. Mike stood in the hallway, a frown on his face.

"Blair! Are you okay?" He angled his way past Blair and stepped into the apartment, turning to study Blair intently. "I had the day off today but I went in to finish off some reports and saw both your names on the ER list. What happened?"

"Got hit by a car," Blair replied tiredly. He was appreciative of Mike’s concern but he really wasn’t in the mood for visitors right now. Between the pain in his arm, the disconcerting wooziness of the pain pills and his concern for Jim, he couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

"Here," Mike’s arm wrapped around his shoulders and he propelled him back to the couch, "let’s get you sitting down. You look ready to pass out. Have you taken something for the pain? That wrist is going to ache like a mother for a few days."

Blair tried to focus on Mike’s words but gave up and rested his head against the back of the sofa. "I wish Jim would come home," he said.

"He shouldn’t have left you," Mike said, seating himself beside Blair. He rubbed gently at Blair’s shoulder. "You should have someone with you."

"Jim got hurt too," Blair replied. God, he was tired. "He shouldn’t have gone to the station."

"I can stay with you until he gets back," Mike offered.

"No, that’s okay. I’m just gonna rest here for a while."

"You really shouldn’t be alone."

"I’ll be fine."

"You know where I am if you need anything." Mike squeezed his shoulder, then stood and walked to the door, opening it then closing it quietly behind him.

Blair closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift off. A couple more days and they’d have the weekend off. With any luck, by then they’d find out who had hit them. Hopefully they’d find out it was just an accident. Then they could go camping and forget about everything for a while.

He woke when Jim finally came home an hour or so later and together the two men climbed the stairs to bed. Jim was dispirited and exhausted. Iris was in solitary confinement after the attack on Blair the previous week, and her brother Rob was still housed at Starkville Prison, along with Chance, serving their sentences for their part in Blair’s kidnapping and the attempted drug smuggling the year before. Apart from that, she’d spoken to no one. None of the prisoners released in the past month had threatened retribution on Jim, Blair or anyone else for that matter.

"Maybe it was just an accident," Blair said around a yawn as he awkwardly pulled off the blue pyjama bottoms he’d been slouching around in while he waited for Jim to come home.

"Let’s hope so," Jim said fervently. "Go to sleep now, huh? Let me handle everything." He’d brought some extra pillows up from the linen closet and piled them up on Blair’s side, before settling Blair’s arm on them. "Comfortable?" At Blair’s sleepy nod, he gathered his lover into his arms, spooning their bodies together, wrapping a protective arm around Blair’s waist.

Jim’s closeness soothed Blair, chased away the aches, and eased his concern. He sighed and shifted closer to his lover before succumbing to his exhaustion and sinking into sleep.

~o0o~

"A drunk driver? That’s great, Jim. Well, not great but you know what I mean." Blair angled the knitting needle he’d borrowed from Mrs. Murphy down the hall and slid it deeper into the gap between his cast and wrist, desperately try to relieve the itch that was just beyond his reach. "I can stop worrying about Iris, you can stop chasing crazies just out of prison and the patrols can go back to doing real work and – Ah, that’s better." He sighed with relief as the knitting needle found the right spot. He scratched luxuriously for a moment before continuing. "- and we can go camping. I checked the weather report for the weekend. Nothing but sunshine and clear skies." He listened for a moment. Nothing but silence. "You still there?"

Jim sighed heavily. "I said there was good news and bad. Look, we still can’t be sure this is the guy that hit us. A patrol found him wrapped around a tree, not far from the hit-run. There was substantial damage to his front fender but that could have been from the impact with the tree and he can’t remember anything from when he left the bar."

"Still…" Blair slumped back onto the couch cushions, wincing as his cracked rib twinged painfully. He rubbed at the annoyance and continued, though he was pretty certain what was to come. "What else?"

"Homicide brought in a suspect on the serial killings a half hour ago. They want me in on the interrogation. We’ll have to go camping some other time."

Blair swallowed down his disappointment. "That’s great, Jim –"

"Sandburg –"

"No, really. I mean it. I hope you’ve got the right guy. This is important, man. We can go camping anytime."

"I’m sorry."

"Don’t be."

"This could be an all-nighter, so I’m going to come home and grab a change of clothes –"

"I could bring them in."

"No, I don’t want you trying to drive with your arm in a cast. I’ll be there soon."

"Okay."

"I love you, Chief."

Blair smiled but it felt strained on his face. "Me, too."

He hung up and stood, wandering around the apartment listlessly. He had plenty to do but he just couldn’t seem to get motivated. He stopped by the phone and stared at it for a moment. Maybe he’d phone Naomi. He hadn’t spoken to her since she’d arrived home from her trip. He dismissed the idea just as quickly. He and Jim weren’t out to anyone yet and if he mentioned the camping trip being canceled, he’d just sound like a whiny two-year-old.

It wasn’t the camping trip anyway. It was more the disappointment welling up again, the old ‘you’re not a cop’ routine literally being shoved down his throat. Being pushed aside, forced from Jim’s side, as though nothing he’d done in the past four years counted for anything. He hadn’t just been Jim’s guide. He’d worked undercover, had been shot and beaten up… and drowned. He pushed his dark thoughts aside. Too many unpleasant memories. Come next week, with any luck, the task force would be disbanded and he and Jim would get back to working together again.

There was a knock at the door and he turned toward it, half-inclined to just pretend he wasn’t home. He supposed it could be Jim. Perhaps he’d forgotten his keys, or maybe it was the patrol guys telling him they were heading back to their routine jobs. Walking over, he opened the door. "Oh, hey, Mike."

Mike smiled back at him then held up a casserole dish. "I figure cooking’s a little awkward with that cast on, so I brought you a pot of my grandmother’s famous beef stew."

"You didn’t have to do that," Blair protested, though he had to admit the aroma wafting from the dish already had his stomach growling. He couldn’t really remember the last time he’d eaten.

"De nada," Mike said. "Can I come in?"

"Sure." Blair stepped back to allow the other man entry.

Mike walked past him into the kitchen and placed the dish on the counter. "It’ll just need reheating and it’s actually better the second time around." He stood a moment, hands on hips then gestured toward the door. "I’ll get going. Leave you in peace… Unless… Everything okay, Blair? You look pretty down. Is your arm bothering you? I could take a look –"

Blair shook his head. "It’s fine. Hardly hurts at all now. It’s just…" He trailed off and sighed then walked over and sat at the dining room table.

"Tell you what," Mike said, "why don’t I dish us up a bowl each of this stew and you can talk." He smiled as he suited actions to words without waiting for a reply. "We doctors have pretty broad shoulders, you know."

"It’s stupid, really," Blair began then before he knew it, he was spilling the whole thing – the camping trip, the taskforce, his disappointment with the way his whole life seemed to be going at the moment.

Mike came and sat beside him, placing bowls of steaming stew and two forks on the table. "Eat while it’s hot," he ordered. He patted Blair’s shoulder. "You’ve had a rough couple of weeks. And your injuries themselves, while not overly serious, would be enough to depress you. You seem like a pretty active guy. It must be frustrating to be curtailed like this."

Blair chewed a mouthful of the stew. It was as delicious as it smelled. "It’s not that. It’s like our whole relationship has gotten buried under everything else that’s going on."

Mike speared a forkful of meat and chewed it thoughtfully. "It’s got to be tough. Having a professional and a private partnership."

"It’s different with us," Blair explained. "Working together, living together. It’s all tied up in the same package."

"One of the reasons you can’t be open about your relationship," Mike said. "Don’t the police frown on this kind of thing?"

"They do, but I’m not a cop so it’s a little different."

"Still, nobody else knows, right?"

Blair shrugged. "There’s been a few comments made but that’s been more by guys who don’t like me hanging around."

"And maybe a few who’ve picked up on what you think you’re hiding." At Blair’s questioning look, Mike shrugged. "People in love do things without realizing they’re doing it."

Blair blushed a little. "Yeah, well, Jim’s always been a touchy-feely kind of guy."

Mike gave a small snort. "Not the impression I got. He’s not real friendly, is he?"

"Jim’s okay," Blair said defensively. "I mean, when he’s on a case, he gets pretty focused but he’s a great guy."

Mike grinned and nudged him with one arm. "Biased, much? Anyway, what are you going to do about this weekend?"

"Do? Nothing. I mean, Jim’s got to do his job and just because I’m pissed about not being included, I would never stop him from doing what he has to do."

Both men looked up as the front door opened and banged against the wall. Jim stood in the doorway, his stare icy.

"Hey, you’re home."

Jim merely nodded and headed for the stairs to the bedroom.

Blair stood and followed him uncertainly. "So, is it the guy?"

Jim turned and scowled at him. "You know I can’t discuss the case, Chief."

Blair felt his face heat. "Right. Oh, hey, Mike brought us a casserole. If you get home in time for dinner, I’ll reheat it for you –"

"Like I said, Chief, it’ll probably be an all-nighter."

"Okay." Blair stood, flat-footed and dumbfounded, watching Jim as he ran up the stairs and disappeared into the bedroom.

"I’m going to go," Mike said from where he stood uncertainly by the table. "Let you two have some time together. I’ll catch you later, Blair."

"Yeah, okay. Hey, thanks for the food, man," Blair said. He waited until Mike had gone then climbed the stairs to the bedroom. Jim zippered his overnight bag closed and hooked the strap over his shoulder.

"You want to tell me what that was all about?" Blair asked.

"What? You want me to discuss a sensitive case with your buddy standing there?" Jim said belligerently. "Remember Lash, Sandburg? Remember when everyone thought you were feeding information to the press?"

Blair’s temper flared. "Yeah, Jim, I remember. I also remember you telling Simon and Carolyn that I wasn’t the leak, that you trusted me."

Jim’s gaze dropped to the floor. "I’m sorry," he said finally. "That was unfair."

"Yeah, it was," Blair agreed. "You want to tell me what’s really bothering you?"

"Look, I just don’t like the idea of you spilling details about our relationship to an almost stranger," Jim replied, the tension back in his voice.

"You were listening?" Blair asked incredulously. Sometimes, it seemed like Jim had no control whatsoever over his senses.

"This is my home, Sandburg!" Jim pushed past Blair and strode down the stairs. He dropped his bag on the couch and then headed into the bathroom. "I’m entitled to know what’s going on here."

Blair walked down and sat on the bottom step. Tiredly, he rested his head in his hands. "Yeah?" he whispered. "I thought it was our home." He sat for only a moment before coming to a decision. Standing, he crossed over to the front door and pulled his jacket off the hook. "I’m going out," he called out to Jim. "I’ll talk to you later." Maybe, he added silently.

There was no reply from Jim and pissed off with the whole situation, Blair shut the door behind him and hurried down the stairs. He made his way along the second floor hallway and tapped on Mike’s door. When it opened, he greeted the doctor with a shaky smile. "Is it okay if I take you up on your offer of a drink?"

~o0o~

Jim returned to the loft early the following morning, exhausted but exhilarated. A full night’s interrogation had finally led to their suspect confessing to four murders plus a fifth they hadn’t even uncovered yet. It had been that piece of information that had convinced the taskforce they had their man. An extra bonus had been phone calls from three other police departments in Washington state who wanted to ask Jonathon Brash, a short, balding, unprepossessing factory worker about several unsolved murders of their own.

Jim couldn’t help thinking throughout the night that Brash would have opened up to them much sooner had Blair been there to assist. Blair had an uncanny knack of getting the most reticent or stubborn of people to open up simply with a soft word of encouragement. Jim knew that from experience. Before he’d met Blair, he’d had a reputation as a hard-ass with a chip on his shoulder. Only days after Blair started riding along with him, Jim found himself telling Blair about his horrific experience in Peru, of losing his men in the chopper crash, of believing he was stranded alone in the jungle forever. He’d told Blair about his disastrous marriage and later, had finally been able to confess to the fear he’d felt when he’d thought he truly was going insane when his senses first came online.

Jim had to wonder too, if they might not have wrapped up the case far sooner with Blair onboard. Blair often thought outside the square when it came to finding solutions to Jim’s problems with his senses. He wouldn’t have been surprised if Blair had been able to find an important, obscure clue amidst the meager evidence they’d been presented with.

He unlocked the door to the apartment, fully expecting to find his lover bent over his laptop at the dining room table or in bed asleep but his senses could detect no sign of him. He regretted now the argument they’d had the day before. Jim had no right eavesdropping on Blair’s private conversations. He’d been pissed about the serial killer case dragging on and he knew that once again, his petty jealousy had come to the fore. He hadn’t really been upset by what Blair and Mike had been talking about. After all, the time was coming when they were going to have to take at least a few people into their confidence about their relationship. Simon had been hinting at knowing the two of them were closer than partners or roommates and you didn’t have to be a sentinel to hear the locker room gossip. Blair had a right to talk to someone about his problems and Mike seemed to have become a good friend to Blair, and Jim knew that was the problem right there - Jim’s overwhelming need for reassurance that he came first in Blair’s life and affections.

He threw his key into the basket and went into the kitchen to pull juice from the fridge. If he drank any more coffee, he wouldn’t sleep for a month. Walking back into the living room, he stared around the silent apartment. He’d really hoped Blair would be home, so he could share the good news of the arrest and apologize for his shitty attitude the day before. A small part of him was worried about Blair’s wellbeing too. It had only been a couple of days since the car accident. Though he kept his complaints to himself, Jim knew Blair was still in some pain from his injuries; his sleep disturbed by nightmares and discomfort.

Placing his empty glass on the coffee table, Jim came to a decision. It was possible that Blair hadn’t come home at all last night, yet his Volvo was still in the parking lot. That meant he probably hadn’t gone far. Walking over to the door, he opened it and hurried down the hall, taking the stairs to the second floor. He found Mike’s apartment halfway along the corridor and knocked on the door. He was about to give up and leave when no one answered, when the door across the hall cracked open.

Jim looked over and smiled. "Mr. Gentry, how are you, sir?"

The wizened old man frowned at him. "I’d be better without the ruckus that young man and your friend were up to last night."

"What friend?" Jim asked.

"Why, your partner of course. Drunk, he was." Mr. Gentry shook his head. "That young Blair is always such a nice young man. Last night, the doctor there had to drag him out and down the hall. Drunk, he said he was. Said he was taking him back to his own apartment to sleep it off." The old man tsked-tsked. "But he didn’t want to go. He put up a heck of a struggle. I thought about calling the police but he’s a doctor, after all."

Jim’s stomach churned. What the hell was going on here? "Thank you, Mr. Gentry," he said. He waited until the old man had closed his door then pulled out his wallet and extracted a credit card. The old doors were fairly flimsy, as had been proved when Lash had broken into Jim’s apartment. He paused for a moment, fear gripping him as he remembered that night, seeing the destruction, calling Blair’s name. Don’t borrow trouble, he admonished himself sternly.

The door lock snicked and Jim opened the door and stepped inside. He looked around warily, extending his senses in search of any presence but the apartment was deserted. The layout was essentially the same as his own, except for Jim’s loft bedroom. Instead, a short hallway led to the bathroom on one side and two other rooms on the other. Jim opened the first door and took a cursory look around. It was a normal bedroom with typical male décor. He moved to the next room and opened the door. Stepping inside, his senses on alert for any trouble, he froze in shock at what he found.

~o0o~

Flickering, glaring lights assaulted Blair’s eyes and he groaned and shifted feebly, attempting to bring up one hand to shield his stinging eyes. It would not obey his command and felt heavy and numb. Slowly, he cracked open his eyes and stared, uncomprehendingly for a moment, at a vista of passing scenery cloaked in the dim shade of early evening. "Wha…" His mouth was dry, his tongue swollen and foul-tasting.

"Relax. You’re okay." The voice came from beside him and Blair had to concentrate to push his head over in that direction. His slowly clearing sight took in the vague shape of a steering wheel and a human shape seated beside him. A car? What –

At the same time as the thought became clear to him, he was jerked forward suddenly, his body caught up short by the seatbelt stretched over his chest. His head fell forward, too heavy to hold up and he felt wetness escape his lax mouth and dribble down his chin. A hand reached over, fingers clutching something white. He tried to flinch back as the cloth touched his mouth but he seemed to be held prisoner within his own body.

"You’re drooling," the somewhat familiar voice said. "It’s a side effect of the drug. Don’t worry. It’ll wear off in an hour or two."

"M - M - ike?"

The driver turned to face him, gently pushing on Blair’s chin until his head rested back against the headrest of the seat. Mike smiled at him. "Didn’t expect you to wake up this soon. I don’t want to spoil the surprise."

"S’prise? Wh - what’s goin’ on?"

Mike rolled his eyes as though exasperated, then turned his attention back to the road. "Don’t you remember?" At Blair’s silence, he continued. "You came to see me this afternoon. Said you were just collecting on that raincheck for a drink, but I could tell how upset you were. Jim and his job had gotten in the way of your plans again." He reached out and Blair watched him squeeze his hand, though he couldn’t feel it. "Asshole doesn’t deserve you, Blair."

Panic bloomed in Blair’s chest. He couldn’t remember any of this. He hadn’t meant… "Wh – where’s Jim?"

Mike glanced at him, his smile evaporating. "He wasn’t invited." His brow furrowed as though in thought. "I didn’t expect you to wake up this soon. I wasn’t sure how much to give you. I mean, I didn’t want to spoil the surprise but I didn’t want you sleeping through the whole weekend."

Blair tried to dredge up some moisture in his mouth, his mind whirring chaotically. "Wh – ere…"

Mike grinned at him. "We’re going camping! Tell you what, when we get close, I’ll blindfold you. That way, you won’t see where we are till we get there. You’ll love it, Blair. David never appreciated it. He was so much like Jim. Thank God we found each other."

The car slammed to another halt, sending Blair’s body forward against the seatbelt again and eliciting a curse from Mike. "Damn city drivers!"

Ahead, Blair could see a series of traffic lights and beyond that, the hills. He dropped his head back down and squinted at his hands where they lay dead in his lap, the blue of the cast on his left wrist, dull in the dimness of the interior. Concentrating, he focused his weary brain on sending one message and felt triumphant relief when his fingers twitched.

~o0o~

"Jim?" Simon Banks’ voice bellowed through Mike’s apartment and Jim started, breaking his gaze from the tableau before him.

"Second bedroom, Simon," he called out.

He heard footsteps coming closer, at first hesitantly, then more rapidly.

"Why all the secrecy?" he heard Simon mutter. "If Sandburg’s been kidnapped, we should –" Simon’s voice broke off, before returning with a strangled whisper. "Oh, my god!"

Jim hooked a thumb over his shoulder, his gaze still riveted on the opposite wall that was literally wallpapered with photos of Blair. "There’s a dark room set up in the bathroom. Probably a dozen or so more photos in there."

"A stalker?" Simon stepped closer and studied the photos more closely then turned to Jim. "Who is this guy? And why the hell is he after Sandburg? And why do you want this kept quiet? I can have patrols out looking for this guy and Sandburg right now."

Jim sighed. "Blair and I have been… more than friends for a while now, Simon." At Simon’s incredulous gasp, he nodded. "I know what you’re thinking. After Blair’s drowning, both of us admitted to feelings that we’d been denying for quite a while. It’s not something either of us want to go public with just yet. The guy who rents this apartment is a Doctor Michael Caulfield. He moved in here two months ago. He and Blair got pretty friendly the last couple of weeks. Blair and I had an argument last night and he walked out. When he wasn’t home this morning, I came down to see if Mike had seen him. The old man across the hall says Blair was here last night and he was drunk. He says Caulfield told him he was taking him back to our apartment. Blair seemed to be struggling with Caulfield."

"Is it possible he was drunk?"

Jim shrugged. "Maybe. He was pretty pissed with me. I had to go in for the interrogation with Brash and canceled the camping trip we’d planned for this weekend. Blair’s been pretty upset by the whole thing, not being able to be on the taskforce, me being away most of the week, the hit run… and I wasn’t exactly sympathetic about any of it. But if Caulfield was taking him back to our place, why isn’t he there now?"

"Maybe he went out for breakfast," Simon suggested.

In answer, Jim pointed to the photos on the wall. Simon nodded. "All right. How do you want to handle this?"

Jim’s attention had been drawn back to the photos and his keen eyesight zeroed in on a small print in the center. "Hang on a minute, Simon." Reaching out, he pulled the photo off the wall, stared at it for a moment then held it up for Simon’s perusal. "This isn’t Sandburg, though he has a similar look." Turning it over, he read aloud, "David. Looks like it was taken in an X-ray viewing room. Ex-boyfriend, maybe." He tucked the photo into his breast pocket and started toward the door. "Let’s head over to the hospital, see if anyone knows this David and what they can tell us about Caulfield."

~o0o~

Blair’s head was becoming clearer though his memory of the previous night was still something of a blank. He remembered that he and Jim had had an argument but he couldn’t remember what it had been about, and racking his brain for the answer was just giving him a headache. His motor skills were alarmingly slow in returning. Though he could now feel his arms and legs, he had no idea how much strength he had. If he were to attempt to escape, how far could he get before Mike caught up with him.

He kept up what he hoped was a carefully neutral conversation with Mike, mostly in an attempt to get his words forming more clearly. He had no desire to anger Mike. The man was obviously unbalanced and Blair had no idea how he might react if Blair pissed him off. His tongue still kept tripping over his words though and a constant dribble of spittle down his chin told him that he was some way off of forming a coherent cry for help.

They were stopped now at a final set of traffic lights before hitting open road. If he was to have any chance at all of escaping, Blair knew this was it. He flopped sideways against the door, earning a momentary glance from Mike before the other man went back to fiddling with the car radio. Inching his broken arm down against his side, Blair felt carefully with his fingers for the seatbelt catch. It was a tight fit and his wrist ached badly when he flexed his fingers but he felt enormous relief when the catch softly snicked free. Keeping a sideways glance on Mike, Blair pulled the seatbelt free on his left side and fumbled for the door handle.

He threw the door open and all but fell from the car, hearing Mike’s surprised shout behind him. Staggering up on legs that would hardly support him, he stumbled forward, knowing he would have only moments before Mike could get out of the car and come after him. "H - help m – me!" he shouted as loudly as he could.

His legs buckled beneath his weight and he hit the blacktop hard with his knees before toppling forward, his forehead slamming painfully into the ground. Darkness hovered on the edge of his vision and he felt hands grabbing hold of his arms and hauling his unresisting body upright. Mike’s face appeared in front of him, his features twisted with rage. He shook Blair violently.

"What the fuck do you think you’re doing?"

Blair hung in his grasp, his body limp, his breath gasping from lungs tight with fear.

"Hey, is everything all right?" another voice said.

"H-help," Blair croaked. "P-please."

"It’s okay," Mike spoke over his protest. "He’s a little drunk, had a fall at home, hurt his head."

The stranger leaned in and examined Blair closely. He was an older man with a balding head and wire-rimmed glasses. "Maybe you should call an ambulance."

"I’m a doctor." Blair watched despairingly as Mike pulled a card from his pocket and held it up. "If you can help me get him to my car…"

The man frowned and Blair tried to force his hand up to grasp the man’s arm but it refused to obey him, the adrenaline that had gotten him this far, suddenly dissipating and leaving him on the verge of unconsciousness. "No," he whispered.

"Sure, okay," the man said finally and Blair felt himself hauled upright and supported between the two men.

His feet dragged along the ground and then he found himself back in the car. He pushed against the door futilely as it was slammed shut and before he could make a further attempt at flight, Mike was climbing back in the driver’s side and hitting the accelerator. He drove in silence for a few miles before pulling off on the side of the road. Without warning, his fist lashed out, catching Blair on the cheek and snapping his head back to bang painfully against the window.

He leaned in close, his breath hot on Blair’s throbbing face. "Don’t ever do that again. I’ve done everything for you and you keep making me angry." He took a deep, shuddering breath then seemed to compose himself. He sat back up and steered the car back onto the road. Reaching out with one hand, he stroked it down Blair’s sore cheek. Blair tried to flinch away, but the seatbelt had been cinched tightly and he had nowhere to go. "I’m sorry," Mike said. "I shouldn’t have hit you but you lead me on and then do this. You’re a cock-tease, Blair."

"S-sorry," Blair whispered. He kept his gaze averted from Mike and desperately tried to dredge up the lessons he’d learned while working with Jim, on dealing with mentally unbalanced people.

Mike patted his hand. "I know you are." He sighed. "I feel so bad about the other night, Blair. I didn’t mean to hit you." He gave a short bark of laughter. "I was aiming for your damn boyfriend!"

Blair’s head snapped up at that. Nausea surged and he swallowed convulsively, feeling suddenly cold. "The- the car? You…"

"I sent you those flowers." He smiled over at Blair, his expression one of shy delight. "I was too embarrassed to tell you they were from me. Didn’t want to come on too strong." The expression faded to be replaced with anger. "When I left for work the next day, I saw them in the trash. How could you treat me like that?"

"I-I didn’t know. You know – that Jim – and I –"

"Are nothing?" Mike spat. "Look how he treats you! All he cares about is his precious job." His expression softened again and he reached out, stroking a hand up Blair’s thigh and rubbing softly over his crotch. Blair stiffened and tried not to flinch away. "I know how to love you, Blair. In the hour of adversity be not without hope, For crystal rain falls from black clouds." He glanced over at Blair. "Do you know what that means?" He didn’t wait for a reply. "It means that even in darkness, there’s light. Even in our lowest moments, there’s hope. That’s what I‘m going to be for you, Blair. Your light, your hope."

~o0o~

It was dark now and Blair was finding it difficult to get his bearings. He felt stronger now, movement and sensation returning to his body more rapidly. He rested his head back and concentrated on taking slow, deep breaths, trying to urge the lingering effects of the drug from his blood. He stiffened when Mike pulled to the side of the road once more and reaching over the seat, pulled a small case from the back seat.

"Almost there," Mike said, smiling. "But I don’t want to ruin the surprise." He opened the case and pulled a loaded syringe from within.

Blair drew back, his hand scrabbling for the door handle. He pulled at it uselessly but the door refused to open.

"Put the central lock on," Mike said. "Didn’t want you falling out of the car." He grasped Blair’s good arm, yanking at it painfully when Blair resisted. "It’s okay. Just a mild sedative this time. When you wake up, we’ll be there."

Blair fought then, but his struggles merely tightened the seat belt further around him. Mike’s grip was strong and sure and Blair knew he’d probably had experience restraining combative patients. He felt a prick in the crook of his elbow and warmth snaked up his arm. Almost immediately, his brain grew fuzzy, his limbs weaker. From a distance, he felt a feather-soft kiss on his battered cheek and Mike whispered, "Sweet dreams, my love."

~o0o~

David Matthews scrubbed a hand through his short curls. "I don’t know what I can tell you, Detective. Mike and I dated for a couple of moths." He shrugged. "It didn’t work out."

"Do you mind telling me why you broke up?" Jim asked.

David’s cheeks reddened. "Mike’s a very… intense person. He just came on too strong. I was only looking for a casual relationship. I’d just left my partner of four years and I wasn’t ready for anything long-term. Mike… Well, right from the beginning, he was pushing about us living together. I couldn’t go out with other friends without him –"

"Was he violent?" Simon asked.

"He’d hit me occasionally if he found out I’d gone somewhere without him. It just got too much for me. Mike took it badly. He wouldn’t leave me alone." He sighed. "I even got my hair cut. Mike was fixated with my long hair. A month or so ago, he finally stopped coming round and phoning. I didn’t ask why. I was just relieved he was leaving me alone."

Jim glanced at Simon. "That’s about the time he moved into Prospect Avenue."

"I’ve seen him at work over the last few weeks," David added, "and he’s been fine. Friendly. He said he was seeing someone else. Like I said, I was relieved. Your friend, he wouldn’t have to do much to have Mike believing he was interested in him. That’s the way he is."

"Do you have any idea where he might go?" Jim asked. "We checked his roster. He’s off for the weekend."

"There’s a campsite just out of Cascade. We used to go there a lot. Mike loves the outdoors." David looked down at the floor. "One of the things we argued about a lot. He liked to make love in open places, alleys, outside, in his car. I was always worried someone would see us. It turned Mike on."

"I’ll get a map," Simon said. "Can you show us exactly where this campsite is?"

David nodded. "No problem."

~o0o~

A hand stroked over his nipples, peaking them to hardness while a second hand stole between his thighs, ghosting over his balls, the sensation almost not there. Blair sighed and opened his legs, then a warm wet tongue bathed his ear, drawing him up from a bottomless well of dreamless slumber. Still half-asleep, he smiled, his lover’s name whispered on the puff of a yawn. "Jim."

A hard slap to his face brought him back to dazed awareness and his eyes opened in time to feel the loving touch between his legs become merciless, crushing his balls in a tight fist.

Blair screamed, the breath torn from his lungs by the agony of it. He rolled to his side, tearing away the agonizing grip and curled up, his hands cupping his abused genitals, his brain only comprehending snatches of the shouted words above him. Not Jim! Oh god!

"Bastard!" the voice shouted. He felt a hard blow to his lower back but the pain was minor, compared to the agony in his groin. "Cock-tease! Jim doesn’t want you. Never did. It’s me who loves you!"

Blair continued to rock, unintentional tears leaking from his gritty eyes. He struggled to calm himself, to drag in a much needed breath of air and yelped again when another kick to his back drove deeply, sending shards of pain along his spine and down into his buttocks. A hand gripped his hair and pulled him over onto his back and he stared into Mike’s furious, white face.

"Why?" Mike asked, almost sobbing the word. "Why do you treat me like this when all I want to do is love you?"

Blair dragged himself up to lean on one elbow. Nausea surged and the ground beneath him dipped and swayed drunkenly. Sweat coated his face and body and the chill night air made him shudder. Belatedly, he realized he was naked. Mike, though, was fully clothed. He felt a vague sense of relief at that.

"Mike, please. Try to understand," Blair pleaded softly. His arms shook wildly as he attempted to sit up. "I’m sorry. I’m not in love with you."

"Liar!" Mike spat. He came closer and kneeled in front of Blair. "I’ve seen the way you look at me. Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you, so we can be together." He lifted Blair’s broken wrist and kissed each of the knuckles in turn. "I looked after you when Jim wouldn’t."

Blair pulled his hand away, almost overbalancing in the process. "You caused this," he shouted. Again Mike’s hand lashed out, catching Blair’s face and he rocked back with the force of it. His right hand flailed out, as he desperately tried to regain his balance. His fingers closed around something smooth and cold – a bottle.

"Stop making me angry!" Mike ordered and this close up, Blair could see the madness in his eyes and knew there was no way he was going to talk Mike out of this. He brought his arm up in an uncoordinated roundhouse swing, catching Mike in the side of the head with the bottle. Glass shards and liquid showered over Blair’s face and bare chest and Mike dropped to the ground, his features slack. Blair wasted no time on searching for his clothes. He stood on shaky legs and wrapped the sleeping bag, which had been draped over his lower body, around his shoulders then staggered toward the bushes. He had no way of knowing what was where, whether he was heading away from help or toward it.

He’d made it only a few feet when a heavy weight crashed into his aching back, sending him to the ground. Something wrapped around his throat and his head was dragged back. Frantically, he scrabbled to get his fingers beneath whatever was choking him. Stars exploded in his vision, his airway cut off completely from precious oxygen.

"I’m sorry," Mike sobbed in his ear. "But if I can’t have you, he won’t either."

Blair bucked against Mike’s weight but it was to no avail. He could feel himself growing weaker, feel his consciousness slipping away…

"Caulfield, get off him now!"

Jim!

The ligature grew impossibly tighter, and then there was an explosion of sound around him. The weight was gone, his airway unrestricted and Blair dropped to the ground, dragging in lungfuls of sweet night air, barely cognizant of the arms that lifted him gently and cradled him against a broad chest. He opened his eyes long enough to see Jim looking down at him, and behind him, the worried face of Simon Banks. Something warm settled over his shivering body, and he sank into oblivion.

~o0o~

Blair flinched away from the hand that stroked down his belly. Sighing, he moved out of Jim’s embrace and rolled onto his side, facing away from his lover. "Sorry," he whispered.

Jim’s hand touched his back, paused in one spot for a moment, then began a soothing caress. "It’s okay. You’re still recovering."

"It’s been two weeks!" Blair said in exasperation. He rolled back over onto his back and stared up at the darkened bedroom ceiling. "I should be over this by now."

"Physically, you’re healed, but emotionally, it can take months, you know that."

"Mike’s getting treatment, right?" Blair asked. "Still, there’s a part of me that’s afraid that when they let him out, he’ll come back."

"Don’t go there," Jim said, pressing a kiss to Blair’s brow. "He won’t be getting out for a long time. Is it okay if I do this?" he asked, his mouth touching Blair’s in a gentle kiss.

"More than okay," Blair agreed. He wrapped his arms around Jim’s shoulders and pulled him closer, returning Jim’s kiss with a deeper, longer one. When he pulled back, he stroked a finger down Jim’s cheek. "I’ve missed you. Even before all this other stuff, it seemed like we were apart for a lifetime."

"Won’t happen again," Jim promised.

Blair stared up at Jim, his thoughts churning. "I want you," he said finally. "I need you to make me yours again. I’m just worried –"

Jim pressed a finger to Blair’s lips. "We go as far as you want. If you want to stop, we will."

"I don’t want this hanging over me, over us, for god knows how long. I need you."

Jim made love to Blair then, with caressing hands, and soothing words and Blair responded willingly to the closeness and comfort. When Jim finally pressed into him, Blair cried out at the pleasure of it, that this giving and receiving was borne of love and respect. Jim took him slowly, gently, neither man willing to let this moment go, the slow burn of coming both welcome and familiar, but eventually they tumbled together over the precipice, then lay sated and sleepy, wrapped in each other’s arms.

~o0o~

Their respite was brief. The phone rang moments later and Jim snaked out one hand to pick up the receiver. "Ellison."

"Simon, Jim. Sorry to disturb your sleep but there’s been a robbery. Is Sandburg there?" There was a moment’s pause but before Jim could reply, Simon added, "Stupid question. Where else would he be? Bring him with you. We’re going to need his expertise on this one."

"Be there in fifteen." Jim hung up the phone and sat up, dragging a reluctant Blair with him. "Duty calls, Chief, and Simon wants both of us."

Blair smiled. "Really?"

Jim grinned back. "Really. After all, we’re partners, aren’t we?"

"Yep," Blair responded, hastily climbing out of bed. "In every sense of the word."

END

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