Hour of Lead

by Lyn

EMAIL: Lyn

PAIRING: J/B

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Many, many thanks to Orion who wrote this intriguing first part as a story starter on a list and then kindly allowed me to slash it and have it published in Bonds 1 - published by DE Press.

 

This is the hour of lead

Remembered if outlived

As freezing persons recollect

the snow -

First chill, then stupor, then

the letting go. - Emily Dickinson

~o0o~


"Jim?"

Blair's voice sounded odd, even to his own ears. Scratchy and quavering – in fact very much like he felt right now. His head was swimming with dizziness, and his stomach joined the ride every time he moved; the pain in his upper chest flaring to another unexpected height. Carefully, he raised his right hand an inch to look at the grisly hole still oozing blood. It didn't look good, and looking at it only made his stomach churn more. Closing his eyes to fight the vertigo, he leaned back into the wall.

"J-jim?"

Only silence answered his call, not helping at all to diminish his worries about what might have happened to his roommate. Opening his eyes, he squinted through the half-opened door of his old room into the loft's living area, trying to gauge the distance. Doable. Not easy, not pleasant, very probably painful, but doable. Swallowing, Blair extended his bloody right hand until he reached the corner of his desk and started the excruciating task of pulling himself to his feet.

He faltered once, the pain in his chest rising to a crescendo; sour bile burning his throat. Moaning, he breathed a few deep breaths through his nose, willing his body to calm and cooperate. Finally, he was erect, leaning heavily into the wall for support. Glancing down at his blood-soaked shirt, Blair knew he wouldn't have much time until he lacked the strength to move. He started moving.

His progress was painful and small, sliding along the wall inch by inch. His body was covered in cold sweat by the time he reached the door. Clinging onto the jamb with trembling fingers, he edged out of his room, trying to listen for any sounds out of the ordinary. But it appeared whoever had attacked them was gone now.

"You there, Jim?"

Nothing. Not a single sound indicating that Jim was there. Or that Jim was still alive. A sob wrenched its way out of Blair's throat, the coppery taste of blood following in its wake. He closed his eyes again, wavering in his spot, trying to summon all the strength he could find in his rapidly weakening body.

He had to get to the coffee table. Where the phone lay. He had to get help.

Extending his right hand to clamp onto the nearest thing that could support him, he staggered forward. His left arm had grown numb a long time ago, but he didn't worry about that. He didn't worry about much right now, except Jim. He had to call Simon. Reaching the kitchen island, he stopped for a moment, his legs nearly giving out under him.

Come on, Blair. You can do it. Just five more steps.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

The soft cloth of the couch had never felt better on his hand, and Blair had to force down the hysterical sob that tickled the back of his throat. Slowly, he leaned forward until his right hand touched the phone. Feeling his strength begin to give out, he sank onto the cushions, gasping as his shoulder was jostled.

The phone now in hand, Blair pressed the 4 for Simon's number, which luckily was on the speed dial. Pressing the receiver to his ear, he listened to the dial tone, trying to hold the beckoning darkness at bay until he'd delivered his message.

~o0o~

"Banks." Silence, accentuated by harsh breathing, answered. Simon looked at the phone display, recognizing Jim's home number at once. "Jim, is that you? Anything wrong?"

More breathing and then, almost too silent for normal hearing, "Got sh-shot."

"Blair? Jesus, what's going on?"

"N-no time...took Jim...help." A soft thud, accompanied by a pained moan, was all that followed.

"Sandburg? Sandburg? Oh, God!" Slamming down the receiver, Simon wasted only a moment to grab his handgun from the desk drawer and strap on his holster before hurrying out of the house. Starting his car, he quickly steered it onto the road, then reached for his cell phone as he pressed his foot to the accelerator. Having arranged back up and an ambulance, Simon tossed his phone onto the passenger seat and switched on his lights and siren. He tried not to think about what he might find when he reached his destination.

A squad car was already at the apartment building when Simon pulled up. An uniformed officer, Dean Murray, ran up as Simon got out of his car. "We got a report of a struggle, possible shots fired, Captain, a few minutes before your call for back up came through. We were just on our way up."

Simon nodded tersely, then waited until a worried-looking Rafe and Brown joined them. "What have we got, Captain?" Brown asked as they followed Simon into the lobby.

"Dispatch got a call about a struggle in Ellison's apartment," Simon explained, quickly leading the way up the stairs. "A few minutes later, I got a phone call from Blair. He said he'd been shot. He didn't sound good."

They stopped at the top of the stairs on the third floor, and readied their weapons.

"What about Ellison?" Rafe hissed.

"Sandburg said someone took him."

Carefully, the police made their way along the corridor to apartment 307. Faintly, Simon could hear the sound of a siren wailing as an ambulance approached. The front door stood open and Simon took up a position on one side of the frame, nodding at Brown and Rafe to take the opposite side. At his command, they moved swiftly into the doorway, guns up and sweeping the immediate area. The apartment seemed silent, save for the soft rasping breaths of the injured man lying on the floor by the coffee table. The phone receiver lay a few inches from his outstretched hand.

Hurrying to Blair's side, Simon issued orders for the other men to check the rest of the apartment. Kneeling at Blair's side, he carefully eased the anthropologist onto his side. He winced at the ragged hole in Blair's upper chest, and the blood that coated a good portion of the young man's shirt.

"Nothing, Captain. No sign of Ellison or anyone else." Brown squatted down beside Simon and reached out to press his fingers to Blair's neck. "How is he?"

"Not good." Simon shook his head grimly. "Get the medics up here, and then you and Rafe organize a search of the building, interview the residents. See if anyone saw anything, and find out who called in the disturbance."

Henri nodded and stood, motioning for Rafe to join him.

A soft groan drew Simon's attention back to Blair. His eyelids fluttered, the lashes dark against the pallor of his skin. Simon pressed his hand against the wound in an effort to stem the bleeding as Blair's feeble movements increased the flow. "Easy does it, Blair. Try not to move."

Blair moaned and pushed at Simon's hand, shaking his head. "Have…tell you," he panted.

Gently, Simon shifted Blair onto his back, glancing up as the EMT's rolled a gurney laden with equipment into the apartment. Blair's face was ghostly white and smeared with blood, his lips a dusky blue in contrast. Simon bent his head closer to the injured man's face as Blair took a shallow, shuddering breath. "Can you tell me what happened, Blair?"

"Took Jim," Blair whispered.

"Who?" Simon asked. He grew frustrated and more concerned as Blair's eyes drifted closed. "Blair? Who shot you?"

The anthropologist's eyes opened again, but he seemed barely aware of his surroundings. "Jim," he gasped. "Jim shot me." His head shook back and forth weakly. "Didn't…" Blair's body relaxed into unconsciousness.

"Excuse me, Captain. You'll have to move back so we can treat the victim."

In Simon's current state of shock over Blair's words, he was pushed easily out of the way. His heart pounded in his chest and he felt cold sweat break out on his brow as he watched the paramedics treat Sandburg and ready him for transport.

"We're taking him to Cascade General," the first paramedic said as they wheeled their unconscious patient out the door. "You can meet us there if you want."

Simon shook himself and nodded, his features grim. "I'll be right behind you." Passing Brown and Rafe in the passageway, Simon stopped briefly. "H, get an APB out on Jim and continue with the door-to-door inquiries. Notify me at the hospital if you get anything at all. Rafe, get Forensics down here to dust for prints. Oh, and phone Joel Taggart. Ask him to meet me at Cascade General." This is one time I don't want to wait alone'

~o0o~

He was mute, blind, and deaf - his mouth gagged with a foul-tasting cloth, his eyes blindfolded, and his ears plugged. His hands were cuffed in front of him. The only senses left to him were touch and smell. He lay on something cold and har; the air surrounding him was redolent with stench. In his mind, the memory played over like an old movie. His gun being pushed to the side, his finger, trapped in the trigger guard, forced down, Blair's mouth opening in a scream of pain and disbelief, Blair's chest erupting with crimson blood that gushed down his shirt, Blair collapsing, his eyes half-open, unseeing.

Blair dead.

Focusing on one of the two senses left to him, Jim opened his sense of touch as wide as it would go, feeling the striations in the metal beneath his back, the harsh vibrations of the road against the wheels, the heat from the tires on the blacktop, the smallest bumps…and welcomed the oblivion.

~o0o~

There was a light touch to his shoulder and Simon looked up into Joel Taggart's concerned brown eyes. The burly captain lowered himself into a chair at his friend's side.

"Have you heard anything yet?" he asked.

Simon shook his head. "They pretty much rushed him into surgery as soon as we got here. Blood loss, shock, something about a collapsed lung." He scrubbed his hands over his face, as if by doing so, he could erase the image of Blair lying on the floor, covered in blood, struggling for breath, condemning Jim with his final words before lapsing into unconsciousness.

Joel seemed to read his mind. "I don't believe Jim did this – not deliberately, at least. It must have been an accident."

"That's what I'm hoping."

"You had dinner with them last night," Joel continued. "Were they okay then?"

"They were fine," Simon replied. "Better than fine." He thought back to the night before. Jim had invited him for dinner, saying only that he and Blair had something to tell him. What had been disclosed was something he could not share even with Joel, as close as they were. Just as only he was privy to the knowledge of Jim's hypersenses, this latest news was for Simon's ears only.

His reaction to Jim and Blair telling him that they were a couple, sharing a bed, sleeping together, had shocked him to the core. Blair had looked discomfited and shot Jim an 'I told you so' glare before excusing himself for several minutes. Simon had taken the opportunity to corner Jim on his own.

"Are you nuts?" he asked in a savage whisper. "You're not… I mean, I can understand that Sandburg might be bi, but you –"

Jim held up an admonishing finger. "Don't go there, Simon," he said, warningly. "Just because I haven't shared all my relationships in the past with you… Anyway, this is about now, about me and Blair." He seemed to struggle to find the right words. "It just got to the point where I woke up one day and realized that Blair is the most important thing in my life. We've got this connection, this bond…"

Simon hoped he didn't sound too optimistic when he asked, "So, it's a sentinel thing?"

"Partly," Jim admitted, "but not only that. I love him, he loves me. I have to admit, neither of us has bothered to examine it because it just feels so right. It's like he's the other half of me. That's what people who are in love feel anyway, right? Look," he lowered his voice as they both heard Blair padding down the stairs. "We wanted to share this with you for two reasons. One, because as my commanding officer, I think I owe you that."

"And second?" Simon asked.

"Because you're my friend…our friend, and though we don't feel we can share this with anyone else, I wanted you to know and understand."

"I can't admit to understanding," Simon replied tiredly, "but I can see I'm going to have to accept it." He waited until Blair joined them, and gave the anthropologist what he hoped was a friendly smile, even if it did come out a little strained. "I guess congratulations are in order, Sand – Blair. How about another bottle of wine?"

Blair gave him a relieved grin. "I put a bottle of champagne on ice, in case…" He didn't finish, but got up and walked into the kitchen, returning with the promised wine and glasses.

~o0o~

Simon looked at Joel. "It had to have been an accident," he said firmly. "But I guess we'll have to wait until Blair wakes up to know for sure."

"What about Jim?"

"We've got an APB out on him, Forensics are going over the apartment now. I guess we just wait."

~o0o~

The tall, well-built, handsome man looked down at the unconscious body sprawled at his feet. "Where's the guide?" he asked.

"The what?" one of his henchmen asked.

The leader rolled his eyes. "The guide, you idiot. This one's," he nudged Jim's body with his foot, "partner."

The first man, Hayes, gave his accomplice a nervous look. "Ellison and Carter were struggling. The kid came downstairs, jumped on me but I managed to put him down, then Ellison yelled at the kid to run. Ellison's gun went off and the kid went down."

"Is he dead?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know," the head man sneered. "Why didn't you check?"

"There wasn't any time," Carter put in. "Ellison was out, but we didn't know if anyone had heard the struggle or the kid yelling out. The gun was silenced, but still…Anyway, he was bleeding pretty bad. I figured all we'd be bringing back was a corpse."

The leader gave Jim a kick to the ribs, but there was no response. "Looks like that's what you've brought me anyway." He crouched down and pulled off the blindfold covering Jim's eyes, startled to see the cop's eyes were open but staring blankly. He was breathing, but just barely. "Shit! He's zoned."

"Huh?" the others said simultaneously.

"Don't worry about it." He looked up at the two men. "I can't begin the conditioning while he's in this state. Try to wake him up, but don't injure him." He scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Damn it! We needed the guide as well."

"What's so special about this guy anyway?" Hayes asked, toeing Jim with a foot.

"He stopped me from getting what I wanted once," the man said, getting to his feet. "When certain people heard about Ellison and his partner, they were very interested. Interested enough to get me out of prison and pay me a great deal of money, if I delivered. But it was a double deal. I told them the guide was essential." He sighed. "Get him awake. I need to talk to my contact."

~o0o~

"Captain Banks?"

Simon stood as a doctor dressed in wrinkled scrubs exited the surgery suite. The doctor pulled a cap from his head and extended his other hand. "I’m Doctor Wilson. I believe you’re here for Mr. Sandburg?"

"I am." Simon shook the proffered hand. "How’s he doing?"

"His condition is stable," Doctor Wilson replied. "He had a tear in his lung which has been repaired. The gravest concern was blood loss. I believe it was some time after he was shot before he was able to summon help?"

Simon nodded, his mouth dry. Jim should have been there, he thought. If Jim had been there…Jim had been there, he reminded himself. According to Blair, Jim had fired the shot that had wounded the young man. "He’ll be okay though?"

"He’s young, fit, and healthy…and lucky. The bullet took an upward trajectory through his shoulder, rather than downward toward his heart. He’ll be sore and weak for a few days yet, but barring any unforeseen complications, I think he’ll be fine."

"Can I see him? We still don’t know exactly what happened."

The doctor appeared to consider the request before replying. "He’s not going to be up to conversation before tomorrow, Captain, but if you’d like to see him briefly, I’ll allow it. He could certainly use some reassurance that his friends and family are nearby."

"Thank you," Simon said.

"He’ll be in Recovery for a couple of hours, then in ICU at least overnight. That’s on the third floor. I’ll let the desk nurse know you can see him for a few minutes."

Simon thanked the doctor again then walked back to where Joel stood waiting. He reached up and patted his friend’s shoulder. "He’s going to be all right, Joel."

"Thank God," the big man whispered.

~o0o~

Blair was resting peacefully when Simon was finally allowed in to see him. His face was pale and numerous tubes sprouted from his body, but his breathing was slow and even, his mouth unfettered by a breathing tube, an oxygen mask instead covering his face. The steady, slightly rapid beep of a heart monitor filled the silence of the small cubicle.

Simon stood uncomfortably at the unconscious man’s bedside, then falteringly reached out to touch Blair’s cool hand. "Sandburg…Blair, I’m sorry." He became tongue-tied when he realized he wasn’t entirely sure what he was apologizing for – his behavior the night before, or that he hadn’t been able to stop this tragedy. He sighed, unused to seeing the anthropologist so silent and still and not tossing joking rejoinders back at him. "You just get well and I promise you that whoever did this will be brought to account." He made to leave, then turned back. "We’ll find Jim, find out what really happened. You just hang in there, all right?"

~o0o~

"Simon?" Joel approached him the moment he exited the ICU. "Jack Kelso called the station, looking for you. I returned his call. He didn’t know about Blair, but said he has some information and he needs to see you as soon as possible."

Simon frowned, wondering what would cause the ex-CIA agent to contact him out of the blue, especially if he didn’t know about Sandburg’s shooting. "He didn't say what it was about?"

Joel shook his head. "No, but when I told him about Blair and Jim, he said something about it all fitting, and told me he needed to see you ASAP. He's waiting for you in his office at Rainier."

Simon checked his watch. "Four AM? Don't any of these university types ever sleep? All right. I’ll head over there now. Anything from Brown or Forensics?"

"Nothing yet," Joel replied.

"All right, Joel. I need you to wait here. Notify me if there’s any change in Sandburg’s condition."

"Will do. You’ll let me know –"

Simon nodded. "If I hear anything about Jim, I’ll call you personally."

Joel smiled his thanks and sat down to continue his perusal of the five-year-old magazine he clutched in one beefy hand.

~o0o~

Jack Kelso took a moment to answer Simon’s knock at his office door. "Sorry for the wait, Captain," he said, pushing his wheelchair back a little to allow Simon to enter the cluttered office. "I was on the phone."

"No problem," Simon replied, shaking the professor’s hand. "I have to admit I was surprised to get your message."

"How’s Blair?"

"The doctor thinks he’ll be fine."

"That’s good news," Kelso sighed. "Take a seat, Captain."

Simon lowered himself into a chair on one side of Kelso’s desk and waited for the ex-agent to continue.

"What happened to Blair?" Kelso finally asked.

Simon scrubbed a hand over his face. "I got a call from Sandburg several hours ago. He said he’d been shot. When we got there, he was pretty much out of it, but he was able to tell us that Jim had shot him, and that he was missing."

"I think I can help you locate Jim," Kelso said.

Simon leaned forward, resting his arms on the desk. "Go on."

"Lee Brackett escaped from prison three days ago. I think he has Jim."

"What! Why weren’t we notified?" Simon blustered.

"He’s ex-CIA, Captain, in a Federal prison. Those guys know how to keep a secret. As far as they’re concerned, your police department has no reason to know. It's a covert investigation, as far as they're concerned. Getting local police involved will only muddy the waters, so to speak."

"Not good enough." Simon shook his head vehemently. "One of my men is missing and another has been shot."

A small smile upturned the corners of Kelso's mouth. "Sandburg's got to you too, huh?"

Simon sighed. "He takes some getting used to, but he grows on you. All right," he said, getting back to the business at hand. "What makes you think Brackett has Jim?"

Kelso smiled. "We both know about Ellison’s senses."

Simon forced himself not to react. "I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about," he said.

"It’s obvious to anyone here at Rainier who knows what Blair’s dissertation is really about, Captain," Kelso said. "I can’t imagine Blair taking so much time away from his research and study to go play cops and robbers, just for the thrill of it, or because Ellison has a single heightened sense. If I know Brackett as well as I think I do, and knowing what I know about Jim, I’d say Brackett’s made a deal with someone."

"Who?"

Kelso shrugged. "Who knows, Russians, Chinese, the highest bidder."

Simon felt a shiver run down his spine. "What about Blair saying Jim shot him?"

"Accident, maybe. Knowing Blair and how he feels about Jim, maybe he put himself in the line of fire trying to protect Jim. I guess we won’t know for sure until Blair wakes up and can give us the whole story."

Simon cleared his throat. "From what I know about how Jim feels about Blair, I just can’t imagine he’d hurt the kid."

"They’re deeply in love, Captain," Kelso said easily. "I’m convinced Jim wouldn’t have hurt Blair deliberately."

"All right." Simon stood. "How do we find Brackett, and Jim, if he has him?"

"Keep your APB’s updated, and add Brackett to the list." Kelso accompanied Simon to the door. "I can’t imagine you’ll find anything at the loft. Brackett’s as cunning as they come, and he would have only hired the best. In the meantime, I have some contacts. I’ll be in touch."

~o0o~

With no further leads on Jim's whereabouts, Simon returned to the hospital. He hoped Blair would be feeling well enough to tell him the whole story. As he exited the elevator, an exhausted looking Joel got to his feet, and it was easy to see the former Bomb Squad captain had spent the entire night at the hospital.

"They're changing the dressings," Joel said as he approached Simon. "Thought it would be best if I waited out here."

"Is he awake?" Simon asked. "Has he said anything?"

Joel shook his head, then rubbed at his eyes. "He woke not long after you left, calling for Jim, but he was still pretty out of it." He smiled. "They let me stay with him the rest of the time. It seemed to keep him calm."

Simon squeezed his friend's shoulder in gratitude. "You're exhausted. Go home and get some rest."

Joel seemed about to open his mouth to protest, but the action was ambushed by a huge yawn. "Okay. Keep me updated, huh?"

"You bet." Simon crossed the corridor and paused with his hand on the door. "Joel? Thanks."

~o0o~

The nurse was finishing up when he entered the room. He thought Blair was still sleeping, but when he approached the bed, weary blue eyes opened and fixed on him immediately.

"Simon!" Blair's voice was a little muffled behind the oxygen mask, and he lifted a hand toward it, but Simon beat him to it.

"Leave it on, Sandburg," he ordered gruffly. "I can hear you just fine." He sat in the chair by the bed and leaned forward, resting his hands on the bedcovers. "How are you feeling?"

"Worried," Blair answered, but the fine lines of pain around his eyes and creasing his forehead revealed more than he was willing to admit to. "Have you found Jim?"

Simon sighed and shook his head. "What happened last night, Blair?"

A tear glistened in Blair's eye and he reached up with his IV-free hand to brush it away. "It was my fault," he whispered. "We – we went to bed not long after you left." His eyes swiveled to Simon, as if to see how he'd take that piece of information, but the captain kept his face carefully neutral.

"Go on," Simon said.

"Jim heard a noise downstairs and got up to check. Told me to stay in bed. I couldn't…I was halfway down the stairs when I heard a struggle. Jim was swearing. It was dark, I couldn't really see much, but I could see Jim and two men fighting in the living room. One of them hit Jim over the head and he collapsed, dropped his gun. I just waded in there, man. One of the guys threw me off him like I was a feather. By then, Jim was back on his feet and he went for his gun. Jim yelled at me to run. I did, I headed for the spare room, but…I couldn't leave Jim behind, Simon." He shuddered and Simon reached out to take his hand, squeezing it gently. "I turned to go back. The gun went off. I don't really remember much after that."

Simon sagged weakly in relief. "So Jim didn't shoot you deliberately?"

Blair's eyes widened. "No, of course not! Why would you think that? He's my best friend, he loves me!"

"Shh," Simon admonished gently. "Don't pop your stitches." He sat back, but kept his hand over Blair's. "All you could tell us was that Jim had shot you, and was gone."

Blair shifted gingerly in the bed, wincing a little. "Do you have any leads? I don't remember seeing their faces, but I can look at some mug books."

"Brackett," Simon said.

"What!" Blair made an abortive attempt to sit up, then grimaced in pain and collapsed back onto his pillows with a groan.

"Jesus, Sandburg!" Simon stood and pressed his hand against Blair's uninjured shoulder, keeping him in place. "Take it easy!"

Blair's eyes were scrunched closed. "You're…telling me…Brackett's got…Jim and you're asking…me to take…it…easy." He moaned softly. "God, that hurts."

"You need to rest," Simon said. "Look, Sandburg, while I might be uncomfortable with your relationship, I’ve seen what you’ve done for Jim, both physically and emotionally. You saved him from a mental hospital and from himself. I don’t know if you realize just how close he was to the edge before you came along."

Blair gave a small, sad smile. "We saved each other. I love him, Simon."

"I know. We’ll find him." The door opened and the doctor stepped in, carrying a plastic dish containing a syringe, before Simon could say anything more.

Doctor Wilson frowned at Blair's pallid, sweat-sheened face. "Well, Mr. Sandburg, I see you're awake and obviously in some pain." He moved over to the bed and injected the contents of the syringe swiftly into the IV port before Blair could protest. "Remaining in pain will only hinder your recovery, Blair," he said, as though reading Blair's thoughts. He gave Simon a glare. "I'm sure the captain can return later for your statement."

"We're done," Simon replied. He leaned closer to Blair as the younger man's features relaxed, his eyelids already beginning to droop. "As soon as I have any news, I’ll let you know. We don't know anything for sure yet, Blair. We're doing everything we can to find Jim."

"Not enough," Blair muttered. "I need to be there. I could find him, Simon. We…have connection…bond." His breathing slowed and deepened into sleep.

Straightening, Simon accompanied the doctor from the room. "I'm sorry," he said when the door closed behind him. "Blair's partner is missing. He needed to know."

The doctor nodded. "I understand, Captain, but Blair needs his rest if we're to avoid any complications."

"Knowing Sandburg like I do, Doctor, you'd better keep that syringe handy then."

Two Days Later:

The gray-haired man deftly inserted an IV into the back of Jim's hand and taped it securely. Pulling a penlight from his breast pocket, he shone it into the comatose man's eyes, then sighed and glared over at Brackett. "I've never seen anything like this," he said in heavily-accented English. "He is of no use to us this way."

"I'm aware of that," Brackett snapped. "I'm doing everything I can to bring him out of it!"

"He's hypothermic, dehydrated," the doctor retorted angrily, "and electric shock? It's a wonder you didn't kill him."

Brackett stormed toward the door of the room and rapped on it sharply. As it swung open, he turned and glared at Jim's unresponsive body. "If he doesn't come to soon, he will be dead. We've got one other option."

"What's that?"

Brackett smiled. "The guide."

~o0o~

Blair was exhausted, but knew it was fruitless even trying to sleep. Memories of the night of the attack ambushed his dreams, causing him to wake, drenched with sweat, his heart beating a pounding tattoo in his chest.

They were still no closer to finding Jim or Brackett. Jack Kelso had come to the hospital the day before to tell Blair that he had a strong lead on Brackett's whereabouts, and also that there was word that the ex-CIA agent was planning on leaving the country at any time. Blockades were in place on the Canadian and Mexican borders, and at several small airfields. It was ludicrous to believe that Brackett would try to leave on a commercial flight with a prisoner in tow.

It was taking too long though. Blair was at least ambulatory now; permitted to go the bathroom and take short walks along the corridor, though tottered would probably be a more appropriate description. Though the bullet wound was healing nicely, Blair still felt enormously weak and enervated, a result, Doctor Wilson said, of the blood loss he'd suffered. He was hopeful that Blair would be able to return home within a few days.

Except it wasn't home without Jim. Blair fretted for the comfort of Jim's presence at his side. In the three years of their partnership, even before they had committed to each other, neither man had ever spent time in the hospital without the other at his side.

He believed completely that Jim was still alive, arguing vociferously when Simon had told him they needed to be prepared for the worst. In some ways, it was a small comfort that they were fairly certain Jim was in Brackett's clutches, yet at the same time, that same information caused cold terror to clutch at Blair's heart. Knowing Brackett was aware of Jim's sentinel abilities, there was every reason to believe that Brackett would keep Jim alive, but the idea that the sentinel could be treated as some sort of research animal gave Blair nightmares even when awake.

A commotion in the hall outside his door distracted Blair's dark thoughts, and he sat up, then gingerly swung his legs over the side of the bed. Sliding to the floor, he waited a moment until the now familiar dizziness dispersed before making his way slowly to the door, pushing his IV stand along with one hand. Just as he pressed his hand against it, it swung open, and he took a step back, wavering wildly until he managed to catch hold of the back of a chair to steady himself. His eyes widened in shock when he saw who his visitor was.

"Mr. Sandburg," Lee Brackett said. The rogue agent was dressed in hospital scrubs and a white coat, and Blair felt a pang of familiarity, remembering when he'd used the same ruse in order to meet Jim for the first time. "It's a great relief to see you're still amongst the living."

"Where's Jim?" Blair asked, backing away toward the bed, his eyes casting about for something to use to defend himself.

Brackett smiled. "Always the good little guide, putting your sentinel first. Detective Ellison is alive, just barely, and that's why I'm here."

Blair's gaze shifted to the door, and Brackett second-guessed him. "The guard is otherwise occupied," he said, taking a step closer. "I was able to arrange a small diversion to allow me the time to talk to you."

"What do you want?"

"Detective Ellison appears to have zoned and he's of no use to my business partners in that condition. I'm here to take you to him."

"Well, why didn't you say so?" His mind firmly focused on his most important goal – getting to Jim – refusing to think of the danger he was putting himself in, Blair headed back toward the door.

"Not so fast," Brackett said, grabbing at his arm. He handed Blair his robe and slippers and pulled over the wheelchair that was against the far wall, then deftly plucked the IV cannula from Blair arm, pressing a tissue into Blair's hand to hold against the tiny wound. "Put these on, we don't want you getting cold."

~o0o~

"Captain Banks!" Simon turned in the doorway of Blair's deserted hospital room at the summons. Jack Kelso was making his way toward him, his face serious. "What happened?"

Simon muttered an oath and rubbed a hand over his face. "There was a commotion at the nurses' station – some guy getting upset about something or other, threw a punch at a doctor. The guard on Blair's door went to help, when he got back, Blair was gone."

"Brackett," Kelso said grimly.

Simon shrugged. "Who knows. That lead you were chasing? You any closer?"

Jack slumped down in his wheelchair, looking defeated. "The guy's gone to ground. Brackett's good, Captain. He knows how to apply pressure. That's why he's been so successful so far."

"Anything I can do from my end?"

Kelso thought for a moment then nodded. "I've got some places to check out but our time's running out…"

Simon waved his hand. "Lead the way."

~o0o~

Blair didn't know how long he'd been lying on the floor, staring idly at nothing before lucid thought began to seep into his drug-addled brain. He remembered nothing of the trip to wherever he now was. He and Brackett had traveled down to the basement in the hospital elevator; the hard nose of a gun pushed against the back of the wheelchair, serving as a reminder to Blair to stay quiet. Not that Blair needed the threat. Brackett was taking him to Jim, and the anthropologist had no desire to risk that.

Brackett had allowed him to stand once the reached the underground parking garage and led Blair quickly to a white van that sat at the far end, with its engine idling. As he bent his head and accepted a helping hand from the stranger inside, Blair felt the sharp prick of a hypodermic needle against his neck.

"Hey!" he protested, half-turning to face Brackett, already feeling the pull of the drug. "You didn't have –"

Brackett's face wavered in and out as he replied. "Probably not, but I don't take chances."

Blair felt his legs give out, felt hands beneath his arms levering him up, then nothing.

He rolled carefully onto his back, cradling his injured shoulder against the move, then sat up, immediately lowering his head to his pulled up knees to ride out the sudden surge of nausea. Once he was sure the worst of the dizziness had passed, he lifted his head and gazed around at his surroundings.

He was in a small room, the walls nondescript, with only a small covered window set above a heavy wooden door. Getting shakily to his feet, Blair made his way to the door and hammered on it with a fist. "Hey!" he shouted. "Brackett? Where are you? Where's Jim?"

He heard the snick of a lock and the door swung open. Again, Blair moved back warily, his previous experience with Brackett and his distrust of the man coming to the fore.

"Glad to see you back with us, Mr. Sandburg," Brackett said as he entered the room, accompanied by a heavy-set, muscle-bound thug.

"What the fuck did you give me?" Blair snapped irritably. "I told you I'd come. It wasn't necessary."

Brackett shrugged. "Force of habit. Do you want to see your partner or not?"

"Lead the way."

By the time they were halfway down the corridor, Blair found himself leaning on Brackett, his weakness catching up with him. He shuddered as Brackett slipped an arm around his waist and supported him the rest of the way.

The room they came to was heavily guarded by two men armed with sub machine guns. Brackett stepped back, allowing Blair to enter first. Jim lay on a narrow gurney in the center of the room. An IV was attached to one arm and a heart monitor beeped far too slowly at his bedside. An elderly man in a white coat stood beside the bed, moving away to stand by Brackett as Blair approached.

"Oh, God," Blair whispered. He hurried to his lover's side, his earlier discomfort and weakness forgotten as he stared down at his partner. Jim's face was white, his eyes stared sightlessly upward, his chest barely rising and falling with each slow breath. Gently, Blair stroked a finger down Jim's bristled cheek. He startled, then fought to recover when he felt a slight twitch of muscle against his fingertip. Desperate to hide his reaction, he swung around and glared at Brackett. "What's in this IV?"

Brackett nodded at the doctor, who stepped forward. "Nothing more than glucose and water. He was dehydrated and becoming malnourished."

"I want it removed…now!" Blair retorted. "And bring me some water – bottled and sealed." He turned back and stared at his lover's semi-naked body. "And clothes for him. He's cold." He swallowed convulsively as his voice wavered on the last words.

"Do it," Brackett said.

There was the sound of the door opening and closing, then Blair jumped as a hand touched his shoulder. He winced, one hand shifting to clutch at his still painful wound.

"I can see what you love about him," Brackett said conversationally. The agent's hand shifted to cup the back of Blair's neck, squeezing lightly before moving to brush through Blair's hair. "But me, I'm not into buff and big. I like my lovers pretty, delicate. Jim and I have remarkably similar tastes."

Blair pulled away from Brackett, backing up until his back hit the wall. "Keep your hands off me, Brackett. You brought me here to bring Jim back. You try anything more than that and I'll put your balls through your throat."

Brackett guffawed at the threat, moving forward until he was only inches from Blair. "I just bet you would, too." His hand lifted and trailed lightly over Blair's chest. "Does Jim like it rough?"

Blair bit his tongue and fought not to move as Brackett's fingers ghosted over a nipple, then stopped, hovering over his wound. As repulsive as Brackett's attention was, getting the rogue agent riled now would possibly only serve to get him removed from Jim's side, or get both of them killed. He gasped as Brackett suddenly pressed hard on the bullet hole, and fiery agony shot through Blair's arm and chest.

"Just remember who's in charge here, Guide," Brackett ground out. "If you want to keep your lover alive, you'll do everything I say…and I mean everything."

Blair felt himself blacking out as Brackett's fingers dug harder into the wound. His legs gave out; and through the red mist that stole his vision, he felt his body sliding down the wall. By the time the pain retreated to a fierce pounding, and he became cognizant of his surroundings once more, he was alone with Jim.

Blair hauled his shaking body back up, absently touching the small wet patch on his gown as he staggered back to Jim's side. The IV had been removed, and two large bottles of water sat on the rollaway table, still sealed. Blair picked one up and examined the top carefully. He couldn't detect any holes in the cap, indicating the water had been tampered with. Jim was dressed in a tee shirt and sweat pants and a second set of clothing lay on the end of the bed. Picking up the shirt, Blair noted it was his size and changed into the clothes before turning his attention to his partner.

"Jim, man, I know you're in there somewhere and I know you can sense me." Blair leaned forward and stroked his hand down Jim's cheek once more, heartened at feeling the tiny twitch of muscle at his touch. "We are in some serious shit here, babe, and I know Jack and Simon are working at finding out where we are; but if we don't do something soon, I think it might be too late." Gently, he patted Jim's chest, then picked up Jim's lax hand and held it over his own heart. "Feel that, Jim? It's me, Blair, your partner, your lover, and I need you to come back to me."

Two hours later, Blair slumped down into the seat he had dragged from the corner of the room, keeping his hand clenched around Jim's. His throat felt raw, his body drained of energy. He would not give up though. He could sense Jim beginning to respond to his voice and touch. The bond that connected them as Sentinel and Guide, and as lovers, had only been weakened by the forcible separation. The obstacle in their path, Jim's zone-out, just needed to be shifted a little at a time and Blair could already feel Jim's barriers beginning to crack. It was time now for Blair to become Jim's guide in every sense of the word and lead him back. Brackett had looked in on them a couple of times, but blessedly had not approached them and Blair tried his best to simply ignore the man and get on with his job. Blood continued to ooze from the wound in his chest and Blair knew if he couldn't find a way to stop the flow, he would be of no use to Jim, even if they could find a way out.

Pulling several tissues from the box on the table, he wadded them up and pressed them hard against the wound, biting his lower lip to keep from crying out at the agony it caused. After several long minutes, he chanced a look and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the bleeding had stopped. Tossing the tissues aside, he reached for one of the bottles of water and took a long drink, relishing the cool liquid as it soothed his throat. Feeling a fraction more human, he took Jim's hand again and leaned forward, ready to begin his task once more. Jim's hand clenched in his and Blair dared to hope. As he watched the beloved face, two dazed blue eyes opened and stared uncomprehendingly for a moment at the ceiling, then slid over to meet his.

Blair smiled, wiping at the tears that filled his eyes. "Hey, Jim," he said softly. "Welcome back, man."

Jim's brow furrowed and he opened his mouth to speak, but only a hoarse mutter came out. Blair stood and picked up a bottle of water, quickly twisting off the cap. He gently lifted Jim's head from the pillow and held the bottle to his lover's dry lips. "Drink," he urged. "Just take it slowly."

Jim nodded and sipped the liquid, then raised one hand to push it away when he'd had enough. He stared at Blair blearily. "Not dead?" he asked in a slightly clearer voice.

Blair smiled and shook his head. "Not dead," he managed to get out from a throat closed up with emotion. "How are you feeling?"

Jim took a moment to reply and Blair grew concerned. "Jim?" he prompted.

"Tired," Jim managed at last.

"I'm not surprised." Blair ran the backs of his fingers down Jim's stubbled cheek. "You've been zoned out for about three days. Any idea what you zoned on?"

Jim's gaze slid away and Blair swore he saw a hint of guilt in the other man's expression. "You," Jim whispered. "I thought you were dead so I –"

"You put yourself into an enforced zone," Blair finished for him. "Not necessarily a bad thing considering…but Jesus, Jim, do you realize how close you came to not coming back?"

Jim shrugged. "If you were dead, there was nothing for me to come back to." He met and held Blair's gaze for a long moment, then struggled up so that he was leaning shakily on his elbows and stared around the room. The room itself was not large, the walls were high and solid, two small louvered windows were placed high on one wall, a single light bulb hung from the ceiling, and the door opposite deadlocked. He could detect no sign of cameras or microphones. "Where are we?"

Blair sighed. "I have no idea." He glanced around the room. "I have a feeling this wasn't a planned stop. When you zoned, I think they brought you here while they figured out what to do. Jim, it's Brackett." At Jim's astonished look, he went on. "Brackett escaped from prison. Seems he has some influential 'friends' on the outside and they sprung him in return for you…and me. His thugs broke into the loft. When I…When I was shot, they left me behind and took you."

"Then how…?"

"Brackett got into my hospital room and told me he'd bring me to you."

"Blair –"

"I know, I know," Blair interrupted. "I shouldn't have gone with him; but, Jim, it was the only way of getting to you. Jack Kelso's been following some leads, said he was pinpointing your location; but I couldn't wait there, knowing what they could have been doing to you. We're partners, man, in every sense of the word."

"Now what?"

"Well, that's usually your department." Blair leaned tiredly against the edge of the bed, feeling enormously drained and weary. "We're locked in and there are two guards on the door. There's a doctor, too. I think he's the one who's going to run the tests on us."

"Tests? What kind of tests?" Jim quirked an eyebrow; then surged up on the bed in a rush, forcing a groan from his throat as his head pounded suddenly from the movement. "Are you all right? What have they done –"

Blair pressed him back with a hand to his chest. "Easy, big guy," he soothed. "They haven't done anything yet." He held back the information about Brackett's unhealthy interest in him. He hadn't been hurt exactly and getting Jim fired up wasn't going to get them out of this mess. "Let's just say I don't think you'll complain about my tests ever again." His mouth became dry just thinking about what Brackett and his buyers had in store for them.

"Seems Brackett's figured out that you and I come as a package," he continued. "I don't think he's quite worked out just what our connection is, but he knows that your abilities are enhanced somewhat with me guiding you." Blair smiled a little proudly at that. "Anyway," he continued, "I guess we wait for the cavalry to turn up." He grew serious then. "And if Brackett lays one finger on you, I'll take him apart," he vowed defiantly.

"My hero," Jim joked. He sat up then, more slowly this time, and studied Blair for a long moment, then reached out and drew his lover into a gentle embrace. "I'm so glad you're alive," he whispered roughly. "I thought…" He pulled back and looked Blair over carefully, gently touching the bloodstain on Blair's shirt. "How bad is it?"

Blair reached up and caught Jim's hand in his own, squeezing tightly. "It's okay. It started bleeding again a little, probably just from all the moving around. I'm fine," he said firmly when Jim's eyes narrowed in concern.

"I don't think I want to wait around to see what tests this doctor has lined up," Jim said. "You up to getting out of here."

Blair gave him a wan smile. "I'm game."

Jim nodded. "Good. I want you to get Brackett back in here."

"What about the others?" Blair asked. "You've just come round from a mammoth zone-out. I don't know if you're strong enough to –"

"Can you think of any other way?"

Blair sighed and shook his head in resignation. "No."

Jim lay back down and closed his eyes. "Do it."

Impulsively, Blair leaned over and pressed a gentle kiss to Jim's lips. "I'm glad we're together, whatever the outcome," he whispered.

Jim smiled but his eyes didn't open. "Ditto, Chief."

~o0o~

Jim watched Blair walk slowly over to the door, and wondered if they were doing the right thing. Blair looked out on his feet and Jim was feeling none too healthy himself. Blair had said that Kelso had a lead on where they were being held, but how long could they hold on before it was too late? Blair stole a quick glance over his shoulder at Jim, nodded and smiled tremulously, then turned back and began hammering on the door.

"Brackett! Get in here! There's something wrong…something wrong with Jim! I think he's dying!"

Jim closed his eyes once more, forcing himself to relax. As he heard footsteps approach and the sound of a key in the lock, he took a breath and held it.

"What's wrong?"

Brackett's voice. Jim would recognize it anywhere. He heard footsteps approach the bed and hot breath on his face as someone leaned over him.

"He stopped breathing," Blair said.

"Get the doctor in here now!" Brackett ordered.

"He left, Carter's escorting him back to the hotel," someone – probably one of the guards, Jim surmised – reported. "I don't know –"

"Get him!" Brackett repeated.

Running footsteps receded up the corridor. Jim took that brief moment of inattention on Brackett's part to act. Still enervated from two days without food, Jim's aim was nonetheless true. He brought his hand up, and with savage force, drove his fist into Brackett's throat. Surging upward, Jim reached out with his other hand as Brackett took in a whooping breath and choked, his breath gurgling in his throat. The ex-CIA agent's eyes bulged, his face reddening as he struggled futilely to draw in air through his damaged larynx.

Jim fingers closed around the handle of Brackett's handgun and he dragged it from the holster. Amazingly, Brackett still had some fight left in him and his own hand closed over Jim's, attempting to wrest the weapon from Jim's grip. Jim pushed Brackett back and managed to slide off the bed. Brackett staggered and Jim felt a surge of hope; but the rogue agent was getting air in now, though his chest labored with the effort. Jim realized his weakness had probably prevented him from making a killing blow. He gripped the butt of the gun tighter and closed on Brackett, forcing their hands into the air just as the weapon fired.

"Blair, run!" Jim yelled. He couldn't risk taking his eyes off Brackett and could only hope that his partner would obey.

The gun slipped in Jim's sweat-slicked grip and the sentinel saw a flash of triumph pass over Brackett's face. Jim threw an uppercut into Brackett's gut with all the force he could muster and the rogue agent folded over with an agonized whoop. The gun flew from their combined grasp and skittered across the floor; but before Jim could make a dive for it, Brackett's fist slammed into the side of his face, causing blinding white light to explode in his sight.

Jim felt his legs collapse and heard Brackett's wheezing breath as the agent struggled to regain his footing.

"No!" Blair shouted.

There was an explosion of sound that had Jim cringing and desperately wrenching down his hearing dial, then something heavy smacked into him, sending him back to the floor. Gingerly opening his eyes, Jim blinked the blurriness from his vision and looked around.

Brackett lay next to him, his sightless eyes staring up at the ceiling, a stain of crimson spreading over his chest. Jim looked for Blair. His lover stood by the door, where he had retreated at Jim's shout to run, Brackett's gun clenched in both hands, the barrel pointed at the ground. Blair's face was ghost-white and drenched with sweat, his entire body trembled violently, and the bloodstain on his shirt was wet once more.

Jim reached Blair as his legs gave out and he sagged against the wall. Grasping him around the waist, Jim went with him to the ground, allowing the shaking man to take a moment's comfort in his embrace.

"Oh, God," Blair whispered into his chest. "Did I… Is he…?"

Jim glanced at Brackett's body. "Yeah, Chief, he's dead." He gently grasped Blair by the shoulders, pushing him back so that he slumped against the wall. Carefully, he eased up Blair's sweatshirt and examined his wound. It was bleeding sluggishly again. "Look, we need to try to get out of here before the others get back. You think you can make it if I help you?"

Blair's eyes said no, but he resolutely nodded yes. Jim smiled and pressed a gentle kiss to his lover's forehead. "Okay." Jim looked back at the bed. "I'm going to grab a cloth. You think you can put some pressure on your wound until we get to help?"

"Yeah."

Removing the gun from Blair's lax fingers, and forcing his weary legs to stand, Jim turned and walked back to the bedside table.

"Put the gun down, Detective Ellison."

Jim spun at the voice behind him, the weapon in his fist automatically lifting to cover the new threat, and his heart sank. A tall man with gray hair, dressed in a suit with a white coat covering it, stood behind Blair. One hand was fisted in Blair's hair, pulling the young man's head back, while the other hand held a hypodermic; the needle piercing the skin of Blair's neck. The doctor took a step back, dragging Blair with him. Brackett's two henchmen stood in the doorway, blocking their escape route. The anthropologist was pale, his eyes wide with fear and pain, and his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed convulsively. His left hand was clutching the doctor's wrist in an obvious attempt to prevent the needle from sliding further into his flesh.

"The hypodermic contains a potent sedative," the doctor said. "A full dose such as this, injected as a bolus into Mr. Sandburg's carotid artery, would most certainly kill him." His eyes narrowed as he waited for Jim's reaction to his words.

Jim began to lower the gun.

"Don't!" Blair rasped out. "Jim, please."

The doctor jerked Blair's head back further, jamming the needle further home as he did so; and Blair flinched, jerking to the side to escape the pain. Jim took the slim opportunity provided and fired rapidly, bringing to bear his innate skills as a marksman and drawing on all his sentinel abilities. The doctor's head exploded in a gory mass of blood and tissue and he collapsed to the floor, taking Blair with him. As the two thugs brought up their own weapons, Jim turned on them, not releasing his pressure on the trigger. The first man screamed as he was flung backward into the hallway, the wound in his throat pulsing blood. The second tried to duck back around the corner, but Jim's bullet caught him in the chest and he thudded to the floor without a sound.

Pushing the gun into the waistband of his pants, Jim crossed the room and checked the three men for signs of life. There were none. Blair lay across the doctor's legs, his eyes open but dazed, his breath panting from a slack mouth. A thin trickle of blood dribbled down his neck, soaking into the collar of his sweatshirt. Jim bent and grabbed his partner by his good arm, dragging him away from the carnage, propping him up against the far wall. He brushed sweat-soaked strands of hair away from Blair's face. "Blair?" Jim called softly.

Blair blinked slowly a couple of times, then his gaze shifted to Jim's face, becoming more alert. Jim breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm okay," Blair assured him. "He didn't…I didn't feel anything go in."

Jim tried a smile on for size, aware that it had come out strained and tight with a mixture of fear and relief. "We need to get you to the hospital. Let them check you out, so we know for sure."

Blair simply nodded and offered up a hand to Jim, who took it and carefully levered the young man to his feet, steadying him against his chest when the young man wavered. Jim detected the faint sounds of sirens in the distance, heading their way. "Here comes the cavalry," he said, nuzzling Blair's ear. "If you want, we can wait here –"

"No!" Blair pulled slightly away, his gaze going to the bodies on the floor. "I need to get out of here."

Jim nodded. "You think you can make it? You're not too steady there, Chief."

Blair gave a harsh laugh that trailed off into a stifled sob. "Look who's talking," he muttered. "You look ready to fall down beside me."

"We'll lean on each other then."

"Just like always," Blair replied.

Together, they turned to the door and made their way out, with Blair averting his gaze, his face becoming impossibly whiter as they stepped over the silent bodies of their captors. Stumbling out of the warehouse into the blinding glare of day, Blair sighed as Jim lowered him to sit against a stack of crates then sat beside him.

"Oh wow, what a beautiful day," the anthropologist said, satisfaction evident in his voice, though it sounded tight with pain and his body trembled with fatigue.

"Sure is, Chief, sure is."

By the time Simon's car and several back up vehicles screamed to a halt in front of them, Blair was soundly asleep, nestled in the safety of his vigilant sentinel's arms. Jim gave his captain a weary grin. "It's good to see you, Simon."

Simon crouched down in front of the two men. "You all right?"

Jim looked down at the man in his embrace. "I am now."

"Sandburg?"

"He needs a hospital, sir. He's lost some blood."

"If you don't mind me saying, Jim," Jack Kelso interjected as he rolled up to them, "you look like you could use an ambulance yourself."

"Hey, Jack." Jim gave Simon a steady look. "As long as we're in the same room, I don't mind. I won't be leaving him anyway till he's ready to come home."

Simon didn't flinch from the words. He supposed he deserved the dig. Nodding, he reached out a hand and squeezed Jim's shoulder. "I'll see what I can arrange." He stood and looked at the warehouse. Joel Taggart was leading an armed team inside. "You could have waited, you know," he grumbled good-naturedly. "We were on our way. Brackett?"

"Dead, sir." He sighed and absently stroked a lock of hair from Blair's pale face. "Not me. Blair, but it was a righteous kill. Self-defense."

"I doubt you'll get an argument from anyone on that score, including the CIA," Jack said. He looked around as an unmarked dark sedan pulled up. "Speak of the devil." He smiled at Simon. "I'll let you handle this, Simon."

Simon gave him a feral grin in return. "It will be my pleasure."

"Captain?" Henri Brown exited the warehouse and hurried toward them. "Three DB's, sir."

Jim had begun to drift off, but his eyes snapped open at Henri's remark. "Wait a minute! Three? What about Brackett?"

Henri shrugged. "No sign of him."

Closing his eyes, Jim rested his forehead against Blair's curls. He looked up when a hand touched his shoulder. "Damn it! I should have checked. First rule!"

"You were worried about your partner. We'll get him, Jim," Simon said. "Right now, you both need medical treatment. You can give me the full story tomorrow." He turned away and began organizing a search of the warehouse and the surrounding area.

TWO WEEKS LATER:

"Come on, Jim. Harder! I need to feel you, man." Blair arched up, canting his hips and pressing his heels against Jim's back in an effort to get Jim's cock further inside.

Leaning forward, Jim framed Blair's face with his hands and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. Since their ordeal with Brackett, Blair's libido had become almost insatiable; and whereas before, Jim had been the dominant one in bed, now his lover was taking the initiative, telling Jim what he needed. Jim had been there himself. Until he met Blair, the horror of some of the things he'd had to do, the losses he'd faced, had caused him to turn inward and erect a barrier that only his guide had been able to penetrate. Jim was happy to give Blair the reassurances he so desperately needed. After coming so close to losing his best friend and lover, Jim needed this closeness too.

He sat back, pulling his cock almost all the way out of Blair's channel and skated his hand, palm down, over Blair's chest, pausing only a moment on the newly healed scar, before skimming hardened nipples and dipping into his lover's navel. Idly, he stroked the crease between hip and groin, Blair's most sensitive spot, relishing the slight shiver and moan from his lover. He combed his fingers through the coarse pubic hair before encircling Blair's copiously leaking penis and stroking slowly, barely touching the hot flesh.

"Jim? What's wrong?" Blair's movements stilled as he frowned at his lover.

"Nothing," Jim replied. "Nothing at all." He let his other hand trail over the firm cheeks of Blair's ass, pressing his fingers against the stretched pucker where he was impaled, feeling their connection. Stroking Blair's erection with one hand, touching his lover's most intimate place with both cock and fingers, he smiled at his partner in the darkness. "He won't get near you again, Blair. I promise you that."

"I know."

Taking his hand from Blair's ass, Jim pushed forward again and began to thrust in earnest, giving Blair what he wanted, what they both needed. As he climaxed, spilling his seed into Blair, feeling the warmth of his lover's completion spray his hand and belly, he rejoiced in the bond, both physical and emotional, that tethered him to his guide.

END

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