SEASONS OF THE HEART

By: Lyn

Feedback to: lyntownsend_2000@yahoo.com

DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Di Meo, Bilson and Petfly and Paramount. The story, storyline and other characters are mine. This story was written for my own and others’ enjoyment and no money has been made from it.

CATEGORY: Drama

RATING: N/C-17

WARNINGS: Explicit descriptions of m/m sex, rape-n/c, violence, language.

PAIRING: J/B

AUTHOR’S NOTES: This is a birthday gift fic for Ihket. Happy birthday for October 20th, sorry it’s late. L Hope you like your gift. This is all you get, I couldn’t figure how to gift-wrap Jim and Blair.J

My second slash fic. First times, angst, h/c – all the good stuff. There will be a sequel to this, hopefully in the next month or two. Many thanks to my betas- Carol, Nancy and Jean. .

Feedback is not only actively encouraged but demanded, flamers get a virtual raspberry. Enjoy!

For Jean, for her friendship, generosity and for giving my stories a home.

"Seasons of the heart"

"Of course, we have our differences

You shouldn’t be surprised

It’s as natural as the changes

In the seasons and the skies

Sometimes we grow together

Sometimes we drift apart

A wiser man than I might know

The seasons of the heart

And I’m walking here beside you

In the early evening chill

A thing we’ve always loved to do

I know we always will

We have so much in common

So many things we share

That I can’t believe my heart

When it implies that you’re not there

Love is why I came here in the first place

Love is now the reason I must go

Love is all I ever hope to find here

Love is still the only dream I know"

Jim Ellison leaned forward and pushed his partner’s stocking feet from the coffee table. "You know, Chief, it’s been two weeks." he said.

"Two weeks what, Jim?" Blair asked as he shifted around, trying to get comfortable again.

"Two weeks past the week you told me you’d pay what you owe on the rent." Jim answered leaning back, his eyes closed and a faint smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. Relaxing at home after a long day, he had his senses turned down and didn’t hear the sudden increase in Blair’s heart rate as the young man’s movements froze.

"It is?" Blair managed to croak out.

Jim still didn’t seem to notice his friend’s discomfort and continued. "Yeah, so that means you’re living here now on my goodwill. I think you owe me something for that."

Blair sat up straighter and edged to the end of the couch. "Look Jim, I know I’m behind on the rent, but the car needed more work done to it than I thought, then there was a book that I had to have from my book list, I’ve been borrowing Mark’s for three months now but he’s getting kind of antsy about it…"

"I think you should do the dishes every night," Jim interrupted. "I mean you eat my food, put your feet on my couch, bring your girlfriends home for the night." The detective sat up, grinning. "Is it a deal? Better yet, you could do all the housework in lieu of rent."

Blair had deflated visibly as he caught onto the joke but his chin came up angrily at Jim’s last words. "Want me to keep your bed warm too, Ellison?"

Jim gaped in shock at his partner’s words. "Jesus, Sandburg, where did that come from? I was just kidding around here."

Blair groaned and scrubbed his hands over his exhausted face. "I’m sorry, Jim. I know you were only joking. I don’t know what’s wrong with me." He grabbed at Jim’s arm as the detective stood up from the couch. "You know me, man, I open my mouth before I put my brain into gear. I know it’s no excuse, but I’ve got a lot on my mind at the moment. I’ve applied for a grant that I thought I was a shoe-in for, but the word on the grapevine is that it’s already been allotted to someone else. I worked for weeks on the application only to find out that it was a foregone conclusion. Plus with the two stakeouts this week, I am so far behind on my marking." He indicated the tall pile of folders stacked precariously on the dining table.

"It’s okay, Sandburg," Jim replied, deflecting the apology with a wave of his hand. "We’ve both been stretched a little thin these past couple of weeks. Anyway, it was a stupid thing for me to say."

Blair looked down at his hands, hiding a wicked smile behind his abundant curls and sighed dramatically. "I’ll get to the dishes in a minute, Jim." The anthropologist looked up, puppy dog eyes in place. "I’ve got all night to finish the marking."

Jim shook his head and moved toward the kitchen, giving the back of Blair’s head a whack on the way past. "Can the look, Sandburg. I’ll do the dishes."

As he headed to the kitchen, the words came, softly. "I do NOT have a look."

 


Blair tossed the last marked assignment onto the table and rubbed his reddened eyes. He could see the first hints of dawn emerging on the horizon and decided that he’d only feel worse if he went to bed for an hour’s sleep. "Caffeine." he mumbled. Stumbling to his feet and indulging in a luxurious stretch, he drained the dregs from his cup with a grimace and headed for the kitchen. Blair had managed to keep his guilty thoughts at bay while he finished his schoolwork, but now they hit again full force and he pressed both hands to his forehead, as though he could massage them away.

Blair felt badly that he seemed unable to keep up with his share of the rent. Jim had been kind enough to take him in after the warehouse he called home was destroyed in an explosion just over a year before. It seemed that the idea that Blair was in danger whenever he rode along with Jim was a myth. Blair had been living next door to a drug lab for several weeks before he met Jim and hadn’t known it. The words ‘trouble magnet’ were becoming embarrassingly familiar. Blair laughed softly. It seemed that perhaps it was Jim who was at risk from working with him, not the other way round.

The anthropologist poured fresh coffee and walked out to the balcony. The morning air was crisp and refreshing, a welcome balm after the long night. He shivered a little as his body adjusted to the cooler temperature and sank into a chair, leaning back and closing his eyes in relief.

Here he was almost thirty years old and still in school. He had been for more than a dozen years and now he was living in someone else’s home. It was past time for him to grow up and find his own place. Blair hated feeling dependent on Jim for a roof over his head and never being able to offer to pay for a pizza or beer.

He resolved to start looking for an apartment that afternoon. Of course, there was the small matter of rent, utilities, food but Blair wasn’t concerned. He’d been pretty much supporting himself since he was fourteen, when his mother Naomi had stopped insisting that he accompany her on her trips of enlightenment around the globe. His nomadic lifestyle with Naomi was the reason now that he felt such a longing for permanence, a desire to feel as though he truly belonged. Since he’d been at Rainier, he had survived mostly on grants and the good will of friends, earlier on he’d supplemented that with odd jobs such as dishwashing and bar tending and even some truck driving.

Now he’d have to factor in his time working with Jim but Blair had been juggling timetables and deadlines for most of his adult life. He had never needed a lot of sleep and the hours he spent with Jim had become more than just research time. The Sentinel needed Blair to ground him as he extended his senses so that he didn’t zone. If he did, Blair seemed to be the only one who could pull him back. He needed to do more study on that aspect of the partnership. He was unsure whether his abilities as Jim’s guide stemmed merely from being the only Sentinel expert in town, or the world, for that matter, or if it was a preordained attribute, much the same as the hypersenses of the Sentinel.

The one thing that he was sure of was that his urge to spend as much time as possible with Jim had absolutely nothing to do with the way he felt a stirring in his loins every time the detective walked down the stairs clad only in his boxers.

Like now.

Blair found his gaze drawn unerringly down to Jim’s groin, where the detective’s impressive length strained against the cling of his boxers. "Morning, Jim." Blair said. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. "I’ll have breakfast ready in ten minutes."

The detective mumbled something unintelligible and nodded, absently scratching his broad chest and disappeared into the bathroom. Blair finally remembered to breathe and turned toward the kitchen. ‘Yep, definitely time to move out.’

 


In the end, it was ridiculously easy to find a place and a job and Blair began to have the uneasy feeling that he’d just boarded a runaway train. He had only been at the university for an hour when he ran into Greg Stevens, a fellow TA who mentioned that his brother Mark, was having problems finding someone willing to work a nine pm to one am bar shift. Blair had met Mark Stevens several times and found him to be an easygoing and likeable man.

"There’s just one thing, Blair," Greg said as they headed out to meet his brother. "It’s a gay bar."

"That’s cool, man," Blair grinned easily.

Checking out the rent ads in the newspaper during lunch, the anthropologist found several apartments that were in his price range. By the time he had to leave to meet Jim at the precinct, Blair had a new home. It was more a room than an apartment and the décor left a lot to be desired, but at least it had its own kitchen and bathroom facilities. On his earnings, Blair couldn’t afford to be fussy and he’d certainly lived in worse places.

Taking the elevator up to Major Crimes, Blair tried to calm his pounding heart. Now came the hard part, telling Jim. Then again, maybe it would be easy; perhaps Jim’s comments from the night before had been a subtle hint to the anthropologist to get a life.

"You’re moving out? Just like that." Jim roared as he paced the confines of the small conference room. Okay, maybe not.

 

"Jim, come on man. Look, it was really great for you to let me stay with you when my place got wrecked, but I’m always behind on the rent and I keep you awake when I’m studying. Besides if I get another assignment like Larry, it could mean the end of a beautiful friendship." Blair said.

"Is this because of what I said last night?" Jim asked, looking out of the large window. "I told you I was only kidding."

Blair shook his head and moved up to stand beside his partner, resting his hand on Jim’s arm. "It’s just time for me to get back to being independent. I’ve been on my own for a long time and I don’t like being in debt to anyone. I’ll still be here whenever you need me."

"I told you I don’t mind, Blair," Jim said, finally turning to face the younger man. "I don’t need the money, I’ve only taken it because you insisted. You don’t need to move out."

Blair steeled his resolve and looked back at the detective unwaveringly. "Yes, I do, Jim. Trust me on this. I have to do this, for both of us."

 


 

Blair tried unsuccessfully to stifle another yawn and rubbed at his bloodshot eyes before squinting once more at the computer screen. It really was time for him to get a new prescription for his glasses but he was barely scraping together the money he needed for rent on his new place. The lines of words jumped and blurred again and he leaned back for a moment, stealing a surreptitious glance at the silent man beside him as he did so.

Moving out of the loft had been more difficult than the anthropologist envisaged and Blair had almost caved in at the last minute. Jim had not offered to help him move, remaining surly and withdrawn for the last couple of days of Blair’s time at the loft. The detective was not at home when Blair moved the last of his gear out, simply leaving him a note on the table saying that he had to go into the precinct early and asking the anthropologist to leave his door key in the basket.

"Keeping you up, are we?"

The voice in his ear startled Blair awake and he almost fell off the chair. "Mmm? Oh man, sorry, Jim," Blair said around a yawn. "I don’t know what’s wrong with me."

"You still trying to burn the candle at both ends, Chief? What’s her name? Sally? Oh no, wait, that was last week." Jim said sarcastically.

Blair sat upright and glared at the detective, then sighed and bent once more over the keyboard. "His name is Detective Ellison and he insisted I get here at six am to finalize a simple report that he could have done himself." Blair muttered, knowing the Sentinel would hear him easily.

Jim stood and picked up the folder from the desk, then leaned over into the smaller man’s face. "A report which you promised to finish last week before you were in such a hurry to move out. You forgot to sign it," he said, shoving the papers into Blair’s hand. He picked up the increase in Blair’s heart rate and smiled. "What’s the matter, Sandburg? Am I invading your personal space?"

"Fuck off, Ellison." Blair spat. He threw back his chair, jumping slightly as it overturned and clattered onto the floor. He bent to pick up his backpack, noticing for the first time the silence that pervaded.

"Ellison! Sandburg! My office." Simon Banks’ voice echoed in the void and both men stood for a moment, glaring at each other. "It wasn’t a suggestion, Detective," Simon said.

He waited until both men filed past him, then shut the door and turned to face them. "Could you two keep your domestic disputes out of my precinct?" the Captain bellowed. "Some of us are trying to work here." Getting no response from either man, he poured three cups of coffee then sat down behind his desk. "What the hell is going on with you two? Sandburg? You’ve come in for the past three days looking like death warmed over." He looked closely at the silent young man in front of him, noting the pale, angular features and shadowed eyes. "You eating, getting enough sleep?" Blair merely shrugged and stood to move over to the window, staring out absently. Simon turned his attention to the granite jawed detective. "Jim? You’re not looking so hot yourself. Did you tell Sandburg about your hearing dropping out yesterday?"

Jim groaned as Blair tensed, then spun around to face him. "What? When did this happen?"

"It was nothing," Jim said. "It only lasted a minute or so."

"Try twenty," Simon interrupted.

"You didn’t think it was important enough to tell me?" Blair was in Jim’s face now, bouncing up on the balls of his feet. "After what happened with Danny?"

"I wasn’t sure you’d be interested," Jim said harshly. "I figured you had all the information you needed for your thesis. You got what you wanted and then decided to move on. It’s not your concern any more."

Blair fell back as if he’d been punched, his face paling to a ghastly shade of white. "You think that’s all it was, research?" He moved toward the door, then remembered where he was. "If that’s all, Simon, I’ve got to get to school." He ran from the room, pausing to pick up his backpack.

"That went well," Simon said tiredly. "Sit down, Jim. You’re not going anywhere until you tell me exactly what’s going on."

 


Blair snagged his backpack from the floor and then bent to right his overturned chair, taking the opportunity to calm himself. The final comment from Jim had shocked him to the core. Blair had been shot at, held captive by terrorists, terrified to the point of peeing his pants and seen things that had made him lose his lunch. Despite every fiber of his common sense screaming at him to stay away and lose himself in the safety of academia, he’d returned for more. It had begun with the thrill of discovering a researcher’s dream, a subject who fitted every aspect of his thesis and who was prepared, initially reluctantly, to be studied. Within days of meeting the gruff detective, Blair had felt a genuine friendship budding between them, a familiarity that warmed his heart and provided the security that to now, had been lacking in his life.

‘Then you had to fall in love with him.’

The admission stunned him. The anthropologist was no stranger to the concept of homosexual relationships, though none had gone further than mutual hand-jobs given to relieve the strain on digs spent miles away from any willing females and a couple of short-lived relationships several years before. The feelings he had for Jim went way beyond a simple sexual urge, though Blair readily admitted the physical attraction. In the year or so that he had spent with the detective, there had developed a link, a bond between them. There were times when he thought that Jim could see into his soul. It was that very thought that had taken root and prompted his move from the loft. Unwilling, initially, to admit his growing love for the man, Blair had thought the only way he could keep close to Jim, so that he could continue to help him, was to leave before the detective discovered his feelings. Those misguided thoughts, it seemed had shattered the trust the Sentinel had in him and frayed the blossoming bond.

Blair closed his eyes, trying to shutter the thought. Shaking himself free of the image of Jim leaning into him shouting, his face twisted in anger, Blair bolted for the elevator. "Shit!"

He did an about-face as he spotted Joel Taggert lounging against the wall ahead and ducked quickly into the men’s room. Joel had always been friendly to Blair. He was a big, fatherly man who had taken Blair under his wing, particularly since their harrowing time spent together as hostages of Garrett Kincaid and the Sunrise Patriots, a terrorist group who had taken over the precinct a year or so before. Today, however, Blair didn’t trust himself to speak to anyone without either exploding in rage or bursting into tears, and neither were attractive options.

The anthropologist let the door swing slowly shut and moved over to the hand basin, bending his head to sluice cold water over his face, sighing as the chill refreshed him. He started at the hand on his back and groaned as his uplifted eyes met those of his worst tormentors. There were several officers in the Cascade precinct that disliked the police observer or resented his presence, although Blair could not really understand their feelings. These two, however, had turned harassment into an art form.

"Not today, I’m really not in the mood for this, guys." Blair shrugged off Tom Blake’s hand and moved over to the towel dispenser, his tired brain belatedly registering a third man, (‘Martins? Mortens?’) standing with his back to the door, effectively blocking the only exit. Blair tore off a length of towel and dried his face. "What do you want, Blake?"

The tall officer shrugged, stepping closer. "Just wanted to put a proposition to you, Professor."

Blair noticed Scott Daniels sidle around beside him and backed away from both men, stopping as he felt the wall against his back. Blake cornered him, one arm coming around to loop casually about his shoulders and leant his face close into Blair’s. Blair flinched at the strong garlic tainted breath and then bolted suddenly for the door, pulling up with a cry as a fist wrapped in his hair and yanked him back. His yell of pain was cut off abruptly by a hand clamped hard over his mouth and he fought to breathe through his nose as his panic began to overwhelm him.

"Not so fast, Professor," Blake whispered in his ear. "I thought maybe I could get a taste of what you’re giving to Ellison."

Blair shook his head violently from side to side, his fear escalating as he tried futilely to dislodge the suffocating hand. His flailing hands were caught by Daniels and twisted up behind his back as he was pushed roughly to his knees. "No!" He struggled harder against the hands holding him, ignoring the pain that clawed at his wrists, as he saw Blake reach for his zipper.

 


Simon Banks thought he had seen and heard everything in his time as Captain of Major Crimes but the confession he’d just wrung from his best detective stole his breath. "You what? Jim, do you realize what you’re saying?" Simon forced his gaping mouth shut with an audible snap and pulled a cigar from his pocket with a shaky hand. His aggressive, macho, covert ops trained, heretofore-heterosexual detective and friend had just said that he….

"I have feelings for Blair," Jim said, looking decidedly uncomfortable.

Simon licked dry lips. "How long?" he asked.

Jim shrugged. "Not long, forever, I don’t know, Simon," he scrubbed at his close cropped hair and grimaced. "I just looked at him one day and I knew."

"Does Sandburg know?" Simon said around the clenched cigar.

"No, of course not." Jim looked horrified at the thought. "I was joking around the other night, saying how he was overdue with his rent. The following day he tells me he’s moving out."

"Sounds like he didn’t get the joke," Simon replied.

"He seemed fine with it at the time. He said he moved because he needs to be independent and he felt guilty about not being able to pay the rent on time." Jim answered.

"You don’t believe that?" the Captain asked.

"Not really," Jim replied. "I mean, yes, I believe it, but I think there was more to it than that. I’ve got to know him pretty well over the past year or so and I get the feeling that he’s hiding something from me."

"Any idea what it could be?"

Jim shrugged. "No, he’s just been edgy lately, jumps if I get too close. I don’t know about now but he wasn’t sleeping worth shit before he left home.. the loft."

"Maybe it’s time you told him how you’re feeling, Jim. At least get it off your chest, try to get things back on an even keel between the two of you. Any more of the crap I witnessed today and I’m going to have to consider pulling his observer’s pass."

"Come on, Simon. It wasn’t his fault, I was needling the kid, I’ve been pissed with him for moving out before I could get up the courage to talk to him about.. us. I’m not ready to handle my senses on my own yet. I need him." Jim reasoned.

"Then fix the problem, Jim," Simon paused as Jim cocked his head, listening. "What is it?"

Jim shook his head, then strode to the door. "It’s Blair, he’s arguing with someone. I’m not sure. I’ll talk to him, Simon." The detective headed out of the office at a run.

Simon Banks sighed heavily as he sat down and reached for his lighter.

 


Blair finally managed to get his feet under him and pull his wrists free of Daniels’ grasp. He backed away toward the cubicles, both hands fisted and raised. "Just keep the fuck away from me, all of you," he growled hoarsely.

"Or what? Gonna get lover boy to come and defend your honor, faggot. You really think I’d let a little pervert like you suck me off. You’ve probably got STD’s anyway."

"I don’t need Ellison to look after me, Blake. You or your boyfriends come near me again, and I’ll make sure you pay."

"Blair!" The voice made him shudder and the world shimmered and grayed out for a moment, before he shook himself and straightened up, holding on to the cubicle door for support. He saw the door handle turn and then Jim pounded on the door. "Sandburg? Everything okay?"

Sparing another glance at Blake and Daniels, Blair walked shakily to the door and glared at the third man until he stepped aside. The anthropologist opened the door and stepped out, still panting heavily and wavering slightly on his feet.

"You okay, Sandburg?" Jim looked worriedly at his partner; Blair’s pallor and rough appearance was obvious.

"I’m fine, I’ve got to get to class." Blair pushed Jim away with one hand, wincing at the pain in his wrist, and sidled past him but stopped as Blake called his name.

"Here you go, Professor, you forgot your schoolbag," the cop said, holding Blair’s bag out by one strap. "Nice talking with you." Blake turned back to his friends grinning hugely. "Somebody should get that door fixed, a person could get stuck in here."

Jim watched Blair walk shakily into the elevator, then turned back to the three cops. He snaked out a strong arm and grabbed Blake by his throat, barreling him back until he was pressed against the far wall. "Let me give you some advice, Blake. You stay away from my partner or you’re gonna wish you only had him to deal with. If you even look at him sideways, I’ll take you apart with my bare hands. Do we understand each other?"

"Yeah, all right already, Ellison. We were just having a bit of fun with the kid." Blake pushed Jim’s hands aside and straightened his shirt, breathing heavily. Taking a backward glance at Jim’s angry face, he left with his friends.

Blair made it down to his car before he threw up. He knelt on the ground and held onto the bumper as his stomach tried to turn itself inside out, sour bile burning his throat as he retched. He staggered to his feet finally and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand, taking slow deep breaths to steady his quaking nerves. Snagging a bottle of water from his bag, he washed away the meager evidence of his vomiting and was unlocking his car when he heard Jim calling him. He didn’t turn as he heard the detective’s footsteps pound up behind him.

"Shit, Blair, are you okay?" Jim’s voice was tight, worried and Blair finally managed to get his breathing under control enough to face him.

"I told you up there, Jim, I’m fine. Just a couple of dickheads getting their laughs with the resident hippie fag. Nothing I can’t handle." Blair said quickly.

Jim indicated the concrete. "You threw up."

"Your detective skills never fail to amaze me," Blair said sarcastically, then held up a hand. "Before you say anything, I’m sorry, that was uncalled for." He finally managed to raise his eyes to look at the man he loved. "Look, Jim, I’ll be fine, really. I’ve had worse things done to me by people with a lot more brain cells than those three have together. I’m just tired and a little stressed out right now. I’ve got to go, I’ll be late for class."

Jim reached out a hand to stop him as he moved away. "I wanted to say sorry for what I said upstairs. I was an asshole, I didn’t mean it, Blair."

"Well, I won’t fault your self description. Look, Jim, I don’t really know why you’re so pissed with me, right now. I told you that I’d still help you with your senses, if you need anything else you only have to call. I don’t have a phone on at my apartment yet, but as soon as things ease up a little, I’ll organize it. In the meantime, you have my cell number or you can reach me at the university." He smiled wryly. "I would appreciate it if you could keep the dawn summonses to a minimum." He started to turn only to find his arm still held captive by his partner. "What?" he asked exasperatedly.

"Blair, I, we need to talk. I mean, really talk, not yell and argue and hurl abuse at each other." Jim said softly.

"I told you, I don’t have time right now." Blair answered.

"Tonight? Come by the loft for dinner. Please, Blair, I want to fix this. I want, need things to be right between us." Jim said.

Blair thought a moment. " Not tonight, tomorrow night, though. I can be there at seven." He hesitated and Jim picked up the increase in his heart rate as Blair looked away quickly. "I can’t stay long though, I’ve got something else I have to do later in the evening." That said, he got into his car and drove out of the garage.

Jim stood watching until the vehicle disappeared from view. "Shit!" Turning, he kicked angrily at the metal ashtray resting against the wall, watching butts and clouds of gray ash spray out. "What the hell are you hiding, Chief?"

 


Blair was drained by the time he dragged himself wearily into the pub that night. He was greeted enthusiastically by several customers but shrugged off well meaning offers of drinks and conversation. He let himself in behind the bar and poured a cup of coffee. Finding a small dark corner to wait until his shift began, he sipped at the bitter scalding liquid.

"Man, you are the bravest person I know" Steve Davis, the barman said, shaking his head.

"How’s that, Steve?" Blair asked.

Steve leant close, placing a fatherly hand on Blair’s shoulder. "You are the only employee that drinks that stuff. I have it on good authority that Mark uses it as a cleaning solvent."

Blair snorted and grinned at the older man. "Trust me on this, man, I am a connoisseur of bad coffee." He sipped again from the cup and smacked his lips as though to prove his point.

"You okay, Blair? You really don’t look well." Steve asked, peering closely at the anthropologist over his rimless glasses. "I can do your shift for you tonight, if you want. Rob’s gone away for the weekend on some business junket, so I’m in no hurry to go home."

Blair shook his head and, setting the coffee cup on the bar, donned his apron. "Thanks for the offer, Steve, I’m fine. Just a little personal problem I need to sort out, besides my rent’s due. Gotta work to keep the wolf from the door."

"I hear that," Steve replied as he gathered a tray of glasses to take through to the kitchen. "Mind you, Rob’s always telling me that I don’t need to work, that he earns more than enough to keep both of us. As I said to him, true, though that it is, I still have my pride. I’m not going to be anybody’s kept man."

"I am so down with that," Blair agreed. He stifled a yawn as he waved the older man out. "I’ll see you tomorrow night, man. Take it easy."

Blair worked solidly through the remainder of his shift, grateful that the place was busy enough for him not to have time to think about Jim. He was prepared to talk to Jim and see if they could work out their differences but he was afraid that Jim might want to sever the partnership entirely, if he discovered Blair’s true feelings for him. That thought terrified him more than any other.

"Can I get another scotch here?"

The voice filtered through his thoughts and Blair looked up from wiping down the bar. "I’m sorry, sir, my mind was wandering." He poured the drink and put the glass down in front of the customer.

"You polish that bar anymore and they’ll be able to use it as a mirror." The smile came from a handsome lightly tanned face and brown eyes sparkled with amusement. Blair found it easy to smile back.

"Sorry," the anthropologist said again. He began to move away, but a hand on his arm stopped him.

"Looks like it’s been a long night. Can I buy you a drink when you finish?"

"No, thanks," Blair replied. "I’ve got to get home. I have an early class in the morning."

"You’re a student?"

"Yes, and a teaching assistant at the university. Thanks for the offer, though."

"Just one drink. I was supposed to meet someone here, a blind date." The man wrinkled his nose and looked embarrassed. "Seems as though he got cold feet."

"Look, I think you’ve got the wrong idea," Blair said, his face reddening. "I’m not.." He indicated the men scattered through the bar, then shook his head. "The boss doesn’t like us drinking with the customers."

The man was insistent. "I’m only asking to buy you a drink, nothing more. It would make my trip worthwhile at least, save face for me. You should see the looks I’ve been getting. Poor schmuck’s been stood up, what a loser. This way, I can leave with my head up."

Blair had to admit he’d had worse offers lately and he did find the man attractive. Despite the warning bells ringing loudly in his head, he nodded.

‘You’ve been working with cops for too long, Sandburg’ he thought wryly. "Okay, just one though. Let me take these glasses through to the back and I’ll be with you."

"What are you drinking? I’m Ty Walker, by the way." The customer put a broad hand out.

"Blair Sandburg and I’ll just have a beer," Blair said, pouring a brew from the tap, before shaking the man’s hand.

" Blair, it’s nice to meet you. Why don’t I get us a table?" Ty said, picking up both drinks.

Blair nodded and picked up the tray. "I’ll be right there."

Ty found a table for two in a corner of the bar and Blair sank gratefully into the chair he pulled out. "Thanks, man, I am beat," he said, taking an appreciative swallow of his beer.

"So, Blair, what do you teach?" Ty asked, steepling his fingers on the table and looking attentively at Blair.

"Anthropology," Blair answered.

"Really? I thought that was a subject for crusty, old academics who took delight in boring you to tears." Ty said.

Blair shrugged and sat back in his chair, toying with the frost on his glass. "I guess it depends on your point of view. I find it pretty exciting, actually. What about you?"

"I’m a final year medical student," Ty said. "Overworked, underpaid, you know the drill," Ty replied, grinning. His smile lit up his brown eyes and Blair felt a stirring in his groin that only increased his discomforting thoughts of Jim. The two men chatted easily for a time, Blair succumbing to a second beer but insisting that he had to go after that.

Finally, Blair drained his glass and pushed back his chair, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a yawn. "Oh man, I have got to go." He stood, wavering slightly and held a hand out to Ty. "It was nice talking with you. Oh boy," Blair felt a nauseous rush of dizziness begin to overwhelm him and he braced himself with both hands on the table.

Ty stood, quickly placing an arm around the anthropologist’s shoulders. "Are you okay, Blair? You don’t look too good."

Blair shook his head, then regretted it as his vision narrowed and he felt the beer he had drunk threaten to make a reappearance. "I’m okay, just tired. I’ve got to go." He pushed away from the table, grateful for Ty’s strong support.

"Let me at least walk you to your car, though maybe you should let me drive you home," Ty said.

Blair pushed away from Ty, then reached for him again as his legs threatened to give way beneath him. "No, I’ll be fine. Just give me a hand out to my car. I’ll be okay in a few. Shouldn’t have had those beers on an empty stomach."

"Is it out back?" Ty asked.

"Yeah, thanks." Blair mumbled.

Ty led the way through the still crowded bar and out to the back car park, keeping a supporting arm around Blair’s shoulders as the anthropologist stumbled along, his head drooping lower with each step. His befuddled brain sensed the presence of another person who took his other arm and began to steer him toward a dark sedan.

"You picked a real pretty one this time, Paul," the stranger said, "You gonna come party with us, sweet thing?"

"Shut up, you moron," Ty hissed. "No names, remember, sometimes I wonder why I keep you around."

"Come on, it’s not as though he’s going to remember anything. He’s pretty doped up. You didn’t give him too much, did you? He’s no good to the boss if he’s comatose or dead." The stranger’s voice echoed in Blair’s pounding head and he struggled weakly to free himself from the vice-like grip.

"Wha… no," Blair succeeded finally in wrenching his arm out of Ty’s grasp. He staggered three steps before he felt himself falling and his last conscious thought was of Jim.

 


Blair woke to cold and the sour stench of vomit and stale beer. He managed to force his leaden muscles to move and was able to pull himself up so that he was leaning against a dumpster. His head was pounding and he felt shaky and sick. Feeling something sharp dig into his feet, he looked down to see that he was barefoot and standing in a pile of refuse and broken glass. His bleary gaze traveled upward and he saw that his jeans were on but pulled up only as far as his hips, unbuttoned and filthy. He had no idea where his shirt was and he shivered in the night chill. Looking around, he saw his car parked in its usual spot about fifty feet away.

The bar was locked up for the morning and looked deserted. Deciding that he would never make it to his car, he stumbled toward a door on the opposite side of the alley. He leant against it, as nausea overwhelmed him and he began to vomit. As blackness threatened once more, he slid down the door and rolled to his side as the heaving became more forceful and he fought for breath. He heard the door open and a gasp of surprise then muttered foreign words were spoken.

"Please help me," Blair whispered, one hand reaching up to grasp at the leg on the periphery of his vision. His hand was slapped away and he moaned in misery and fear as he heard the door slammed shut.

Then blackness filled his vision and he felt his awareness trickling away. The observer squeezed his eyes shut, allowing the hot tears to trickle down his cheeks and mingle with the blood that dripped off his chin. He lay in a pool of dirty water, his vision slowly graying out and mercifully taking with it, his pain.

 


Jim slammed down the phone receiver and turned back to the kitchen to put the now cold lasagna in the refrigerator before it spoiled. "Damn you, Sandburg" he muttered angrily, tossing the unused cutlery into the drawer with a crash. "I thought you said we could talk. Well, fuck you. Guess this proves I was right. Got what you needed for your dissertation and a nice cozy roof over your head while you finished it, then you just leave without so much as a kiss my ass."

Even as he spoke them, Jim knew the words were untrue, but his stubborn mind refused to put into words what Blair’s actions in the past few weeks had translated. His partner’s nervousness whenever Jim got too close, the way he moved out of reach, if Jim tried to touch him. He was scared of Jim. "Why?" The ringing of the phone interrupted Jim’s angry tirade. "Finally," he said as he strode to answer it. "Sandburg? Where the hell are you?"

"Sorry, Jim, it’s me, Simon," his captain said.

Jim sighed and sat down on the edge of the coffee table. "What can I do for you, Captain?"

"I take it you haven’t spoken to Sandburg today, Jim?" Simon asked.

"No sir, I haven’t," Jim replied. "He was supposed to meet me here tonight for dinner, but he didn’t show. He’s not in his office and his cell phone is turned off."

"Actually, Jim, it’s Sandburg that I need to talk to you about. Could you come down to the station?" Simon replied.

"Has something happened to him?" Jim’s heart shot into his throat at the thought.

"Not as far as I know, Jim, just some information I’ve been given."

"What’s going on, Simon?" Jim felt his heart accelerate with an inexplicable fear. "Can’t you tell me over the phone, besides Blair might still show up." Jim protested.

"He has your cell number, Jim. Look, it’s important, I’ll see you here in twenty minutes." Abruptly the line went dead and Jim hung the receiver up.

"Shit, Sandburg, what the hell have you gotten into this time?" Jim fretted. He grabbed his jacket off the hook by the door and left, slamming the door behind him. He was halfway to his truck when the phone in the apartment rang again and he hesitated for a moment, then shook his head and continued on, knowing the answering machine would pick it up.

Jim walked into the bullpen just as Simon was ushering a tall, blond man into his office. He looked up as he saw Jim out the corner of his eye and motioned for him to join them.

"Hey, Jim, how are you doing, man?" Ronnie Russell held out his hand in greeting.

"Ronnie, good to see you," Jim answered, shaking the proffered hand. "You sick of the Violent Crimes Unit? Or are you looking to take over my job?"

"None of the above, Jim," Ronnie’s blue eyes twinkled as he held up both hands in a gesture of denial. "I wanted to check out a couple of things with Simon, and he thought we should wait until you got here."

Jim looked at the police captain. "What’s this got to do with Blair, Simon?"

"I’m hoping you could tell us, Jim," Simon said. "The V.C. unit has been running a surveillance op on gay bars downtown, trying to nail a date rape scam, that’s been going for the last couple of months. Ronnie, you want to take it from here?"

The vice cop nodded and leaned forward in his seat. "We’ve had a couple of reports that guys are being picked up in gay bars, drugged with Roofies or GBH, then taken elsewhere and raped. The kicker is that photos and videos are being taken and released for sale to selected individuals for a substantial sum of money. The victims are usually released in the same area they were taken from, generally unharmed."

"Roofies, that’s Rohypnol, isn’t it?" Jim asked. "Doesn’t that stuff cause amnesia?"

Ronnie nodded. "Usually at least blackouts, coupled with alcohol, it can cause total short term memory loss, not to mention, respiratory depression, death from aspiration of vomit."

"So, where did your information come from?" Jim asked. He stood and began to pace, not liking where this conversation was headed.

"Most guys, gay or not, don’t report rapes, Jim. It’s generally downplayed, the common assumption being that a man can’t be raped, because they’re too strong. For most guys, it’s too embarrassing, anyway, so nothing gets done. One of my snitches gave me a lead on some videos that were being sold. We raided the place and got the manager on charges, but he’s really scared, man. He’s not talking. About two weeks ago, though, a guy was taken from a bar, then dropped back virtually at the front door early the next day. Seems they didn’t realize he had a boyfriend, who he called to come get him. They’d had a fight and the guy had gone to the pub and gotten seriously drunk before he was picked up. Apparently, the guy was pretty sick and when they got to the hospital, the boyfriend said he’d seen people on Roofies before and asked them to test him for it. It came back positive. Seems the guy was pretty bad there for a while and the doctor and lover were concerned enough to call us."

"What’s all this got to do with Blair?" Jim asked nervously.

"We’ve been watching a couple of bars, the word is that one of the guys we’re looking for goes by the name of Paul Ferretti, but the guy’s not known here. He’s new to town and we can’t get a handle on him. I was down at The Nest on surveillance the other night, Jim. Sandburg was there, working behind the bar." Ronnie said, uncomfortably.

"That’s bullshit!" Jim fumed. "Sandburg’s got his work cut out for him just doing his stuff at the University and coming in here." Jim stopped suddenly, as his mind’s eye began to put together a picture. Blair, exhausted and bad tempered, asking him to keep the early morning calls to a minimum, telling him that he had something to do late tonight. Jim had been wondering how he was finding rent money; it was obvious that Blair was barely scraping enough together to pay Jim.

"Jim, I know Sandburg, it was him. The problem is, he knows me, too. I want him out of there, Jim. I want to catch this guy and if Blair tips him off as to who I am…" Ronnie didn’t need to finish the statement. He stood up and walked to the door. "I’m not saying he’d do it deliberately, Jim. But he doesn’t know about this operation, I thought that Major Crimes was running a surveillance of their own and came down to ask Simon to call it off. I gotta go. Talk to him, Jim and get him the hell out of there. If something goes down, I don’t want him caught in the middle."

Jim nodded and ran a hand through his cropped hair. "I appreciate your concern, Ronnie. I’ll talk to him."

The vice cop nodded and left and Jim turned to Simon. "I’m sorry, sir, I had no idea. I don’t know what the hell is going on."

"Have you spoken to him yet, about …, about what you told me?"

Jim shook his head. "Like I said, he was supposed to come to the loft for dinner. He didn’t show and I can’t get hold of him."

"Have you been around to his apartment?" Simon asked.

Jim shook his head again. "He’s been avoiding giving me the address."

"And?" Simon quizzed.

Jim sighed and had the grace to look uncomfortable. "The way I was feeling about him moving out and about him and me, I probably gave him the impression I didn’t give a shit."

"Find him, Jim, talk to him about this stuff from Russell. He may have something to offer on that anyway. Then get this other thing sorted out one way or the other. Don’t bring him back to the precinct until you do."

"Yes, sir." Jim turned to leave then stopped as his cell phone rang. Pulling it from his pocket he answered. "Ellison."

"Detective Ellison, my name is Steve Davis. I work at a bar called The Nest on the south side of town."

Jim felt a shiver of fear snake down his spine and his throat tightened so that he had to force the words out. "I’ve heard of it. What can I do for you, Mr. Davis and how did you get my cell phone number?"

"I’ve got Blair here, Detective. We work together at The Nest. Look," Steve lowered his voice, "Blair doesn’t know I’m calling you. I found him out back of the bar around five o’clock when I came to open up. He’d been beaten up. He didn’t want me to tell anybody about this, but I’m worried about him. Whoever did this roughed him up pretty badly. He’s sleeping right now. I went through his wallet and found your card. I remember him telling me he did some kind of work with the police."

"I’m on my way," Jim interrupted. "Whatever happens, keep him there, please."

"Don’t worry, Detective, I seriously doubt Blair’s capable of going anywhere under his own steam for some time. Thanks."

"Jim?"

The detective waved away Simon’s inquiring look and headed for the door. "I’ll explain later, Simon. I’ve got to go."

He arrived at the bar a short time later, having flouted most of the road rules to get there in record time. He parked out back next to Blair’s car and found Steve waiting for him at the back door to the bar.

"Thanks for coming," Steve said. "Though I doubt Blair will thank me. When he’s made any sense at all, it’s been ‘Don’t tell Jim.’ He’s back here." Steve led the way down a darkened narrow corridor. Rooms led off each side, doors partly opened, Jim could see that they were used for storage.

"Oh Jesus," Jim whispered his mouth suddenly dry and his eyes tearing with sudden moisture. Blair stood with his back to the door, wavering slightly on his feet. Jim could already see the bruising peppering the younger man’s back and sides, snaking down to disappear under the waistband of his soiled jeans. Blair turned at Jim’s whispered exclamation and lost his balance, his knees buckling under him. Jim was at his side in two quick paces; placing a strong arm around his partner’s waist and easing him down to sit on the edge of the bed.

"Easy, buddy. I’ve got you," he croaked, his voice rough with emotion.

"Hey Jim, I’m okay," Blair said, pushing away the detective’s hands as they ghosted over his body, checking for injuries.

"This is okay?" Jim asked, his hands still brushing gently over Blair’s body. His partner’s face seemed to have taken the worst of the beating. Both eyes were blackened and one was almost swollen shut and cuts and abrasions traveled the length of one bruised cheek. Blair’s bottom lip was gashed and swollen, still oozing blood. Turning his attention to Blair’s torso, Jim dialed down his sense of smell to escape the nauseating mix of vomit, blood and stale sex. Steve had cleaned the dirt from Blair’s body but the odors remained. Both of the younger man’s hands were scraped and several fingernails were torn.

"What happened, Chief?" Jim asked, his hand lingering on Blair’s shoulder, the fingers unconsciously stroking a soothing pattern along the bruised flesh.

Blair closed his eyes at the sensation; almost surrendering to the exhaustion that was tugging at his body and soul. "Mmm, nothing happened. There was a fight, I tried to break it up, I got caught in the middle." He opened his eyes and made an effort to stand up, using Jim’s arm as support. "Can we do this later, Jim? I’m tired, I just want to go home and crash."

Jim sighed then turned to look at Steve. "Can we have a minute alone, please?"

"Sure," Steve replied, "I’ve got to get back to the bar. I’ll talk to you later, Blair. Your shift’s covered, don’t come back until you’re feeling better. We’ll figure out something to pay your rent, okay?"

Blair reddened but nodded then looked around the room. "Where’s my shirt, man?"

"You didn’t have it on when I found you," Steve answered. "There’s a set of sweats there, take those."

"Thanks man," Blair said. He turned back to Jim and spoke softly. "Would you mind, Jim? I’d like to get dressed."

"I’ll wait outside, buddy. Just call if you need help. Then I’ll take you to the hospital to get checked out."

"No!" The word was out almost before Jim finished his sentence.

"What do you mean no, Sandburg? You’ve had the shit beaten out of you, and God only knows what else. If you think I’m buying the bar room brawl routine, you’ve got another thing coming. You’re going to the hospital even if I have to knock you out and drag you there and then we’re going to talk." Jim paused and reached out a hand to stroke Blair’s stubbled cheek. "I mean really talk, Blair, there’s some stuff I need to tell you. I’m scared telling you will drive you even further away from me, but I can’t have this wall between us anymore. And I can’t forgive myself for the way I’ve been treating you."

Blair turned his cheek into Jim’s caress, closing his eyes and smiling softly. "You’re in love with me," he said, his voice sure. He reached up one hand, cupping Jim’s palm in his and brought it to his lips, laying a soft chaste kiss on the rough calluses. "Then it’s okay."

"What’s okay, the way I’ve been pushing you around?" Jim asked, not attempting to pull his hand away from the electric feeling of Blair’s lips.

Blair shook his head and opening his eyes, stepped closer to his partner, laying both hands on the broad chest. "It’s okay for me to love you. I’ve been in love with you forever."

Jim bent his head down to Blair, tangling his hands in the matted curls, pushing Blair’s face up to meet his. Their lips met softly, innocently at first and Jim moaned at the moist heat. He felt Blair’s mouth open beneath his and he allowed his tongue to slide into Blair’s mouth, exploring and tangling with the younger man’s. Jim groaned as Blair sucked on his tongue, his hands moving over the detective’s chest at the same time in a slow, sensual caress.

"Ouch!" Blair abruptly broke the kiss with a grimace and Jim could see the blood beginning to well where the cut in his lip had reopened.

"Shit, Chief, I am so sorry. I should never have kissed you." Jim stepped back, fishing in his pocket for his handkerchief and holding it gently against the injury.

Blair shook his head and reached for Jim’s hand once more, his smile showing in his swollen eyes. "Trust me, man, I am not sorry you kissed me." He pulled the cloth away from his mouth and examined it before dabbing softly once more. "I really don’t want to be alone tonight, Jim. Could I sleep at the loft?"

Jim shook his head and reached over to pull the sweat pants and sweater from the dresser. "Forever, Blair, We’ll pick your things up later. Let me take you to the hospital to get patched up and then I’m going to take you home and look after you the way I should have always done." Quickly, he helped the anthropologist get changed, then placed an arm around his shoulders to help him out to the truck. Blair could not stifle the groan of pain as he struggled to pull himself up into the cab. He finally managed to crawl inside with Jim’s assistance, then moaned as he sat on the seat, the action sending sharp claws of agony knifing through his lower body.

"Jesus, Blair, what is it?" Jim hurried around to the driver’s side and climbed in, reaching to examine his partner more closely. Blair sat, listing to the side, his breath coming once more in harsh grunts, his pale features coated in sweat.

"Damn, that hurts, man," Blair moaned softly. "I’d forgotten…" He broke off suddenly and turned his face to the door, wrapping his arms protectively about his bruised body.

Jim caught him by one shoulder and turned him gently to face him. "What did you forget, Blair?"

Blair sighed then and hunched further into the seat, leaning to lie against Jim’s chest. Jim wrapped a strong arm about the shaking shoulders and pulled him closer. "It’s time we started being honest with each other, Chief. Otherwise, we’re just going to end up back where we started. What really happened, Blair? Who did this to you?"

Blair did not speak for long moments, content to soak up the warmth and safety of his lover’s embrace, letting himself drift to the soothing cadence of Jim’s heartbeat.

"Blair? Are you still with me?" Jim’s voice sounded worried and Blair roused himself with difficulty. It would be so much easier to let it all go away, he thought. ‘No, it wouldn’t. If I’m not honest with him now, I could lose him forever. You almost lost him before because you couldn’t be honest about your feelings. Face it, Sandburg’ he thought hopelessly, ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t’

Blair sighed again and then pushed himself out of Jim’s arms, biting his lip as the movement sent fresh pain through his lower body. "I don’t remember what happened. All I do recall is waking up in the alley. Steve was shaking me, asking who’d hurt me. I don’t remember a lot of it. Was I drunk? I must have been. Steve said I was. I think I remember having a drink before I went home. I was so tired, I’d worked that night till 1, then come in to do the report and then went straight to Rainier. What then? Oh right, um, then I did some research," Here, he paused, turning to stroke Jim clenched jaw, smiling at the memory. "I wanted to see if maybe there was a genetic disposition to my feelings for you. Something in the Sentinel/Guide dynamic. I thought perhaps I could keep you close to me if I could convince myself that I was doing it all from a purely scientific point of view." He shrugged and continued to massage the tension from Jim’s jaw. "I didn’t find anything, not entirely surprising. Then I went to The Nest, after that it all gets pretty blurry. You know me, Jim, one beer’s enough to put me on my face, if I haven’t slept much. I hurt down there, like someone forced something into me," Blair whispered, beginning to shake; his hands signing ineffectually as his chest tightened and he struggled to draw in air.

Jim sat him upright and began to stroke his back in soothing circles. "Easy, Chief, I’ve got you, keep breathing, you’re going to be fine."

After long moments, Blair’s breathing became easier and he drifted off to sleep, lying once more curled up against Jim’s chest, clutching the detective’s shirt like a lifeline.

 


Jim ushered Blair through the front door of the loft and led him over to the couch. His Guide was almost out on his feet and the fine lines of tension marring his bruised face bore testimony to his pain. The detective helped the young man to curl over on his side and pulled the rug from the back of the seat to drape over his shivering body. Blair sighed in contentment and huddled further under the blanket, finally allowing himself to give in to his exhaustion and the effects of the analgesic injection that had been administered at the hospital.

The doctor had said he had been lucky to escape with fairly minor injuries. Most male rape victims were badly beaten and had severe injuries to the rectum and anus. Blair had some bruising to his ribcage and abdomen, plus cuts and abrasions to his face. His rectum and anus had suffered only superficial tears caused by rough penetration and the doctor had prescribed an antibiotic ointment for that. They still had to wait a few days on the results of blood tests for HIV and other STD’s. That possibility was something that Jim didn’t even want to consider at the moment. Just the thought that the bastards could have infected Blair with something made Jim’s stomach churn and he forced the idea from his mind, for now. The only up side in the whole sordid mess was that the semen stains on Blair’s jeans were sufficient for DNA testing. That was providing, of course that whoever did this to his Guide got to trial and Jim didn’t get his hands on the fuckers first.

"Blair?" Jim spoke softly, keeping his voice pitched low and gentle despite the granite like tension clawing through his entire body. His hands fisted at his sides, nails clenching bloody tracks in the palms. He couldn’t seem to stop shaking and his throat felt as though it was closing up as he fought to keep the sobs of anguish from escaping. "I need to call Simon, get him to talk to Ronnie Russell about this."

"I’m sorry, Jim," Blair whispered, a single tear escaping from beneath his blackened eyelid. "I’m sorry about everything, shouldn’t have let them do this to me."

Jim brushed the moisture from Blair’s cheek with his thumb. "There’s nothing to be sorry for, Blair. You need to rest now, we’ll talk in the morning, baby."

"Okay," Blair sighed and his breathing evened out almost instantly into a deep sleep. Jim phoned Simon who insisted on coming straight over after he had notified Russell of the incident. "All right Simon, but I’m not having him questioned tonight. If he feels up to it, he can give a statement tomorrow."

"Jesus, Jim, what do you take me for? I’m worried about the kid," Simon said, his normally booming voice soft, the hurt evident.

"God, Simon, I’m sorry. Of course, come on over. He’s sleeping, the doctor gave him some pretty heavy duty painkillers to get him through the examination, helped keep him calm when we took the photos, too," Jim apologized, rubbing his hands over his tired face.

He hung up, then pulled an armchair about so it was facing the sofa and close enough that he could enfold Blair’s hand within his own. He stroked the cold skin, trying to encourage warmth into the sallow flesh, feeling a chill settle deep within his heart and thinking that he would never be warm again.

Twenty minutes later, Jim detected Simon’s cigar preceding him into the hallway, but as he stood to open the door, Blair moaned softly and gripped his hand tighter. Jim sighed and seated himself again, contenting himself with calling out to Simon as he knocked on the door. "Come on in, Simon. It's not locked."

Simon let himself in and walked quietly over to where Jim sat. "Hey Jim, how’s he doing?" he said as softly as he could.

"He’s been asleep since we got home, so at least he’s not in pain any more," Jim replied, "How he is emotionally, I really don’t know. You want a beer?"

"Yeah, thanks," Simon answered. He managed to fold his large frame into a squatting position in front of the couch and perused the sleeping anthropologist. Blair moaned once more and turned onto his back, grimacing in pain before flipping over to face the back of the couch. "Jesus H. Christ," the captain swore, "they really did a number on him."

Jim attempted to stand once more and this time, he was able to extricate his hand from Blair’s. Simon followed him into the kitchen and accepting a beer from the detective with a nod, leaned back against the kitchen counter.

"Okay, this is how we do this," he said firmly, his tone and his gaze brooking no arguments. "We leave this to Russell and his team to investigate." He held up a hand as Jim opened his mouth to interrupt. "No Jim, you can yell, scream, beat your head against the fucking wall but you are not getting involved in this investigation. If it were Daryl sleeping over there, with his face kicked in, I would be walking away from it myself. I want these bastards, Jim and I am going to make sure that we dot every "i" and cross every "t" to ensure that they stay got. Is that clear, Detective?"

He lowered his voice as he heard Blair stir once more and shift restlessly on the couch. "Now you can vent at me all you want, Detective but you lose your temper with that young man over there any more than you have this week and you’ll deal with me, clear?" The captain glared at Jim until he nodded then smiled sadly. "I suppose you didn’t get a chance to talk to him about the other stuff?"

"Actually, we did talk," Jim grinned despite the awful situation. "Seems the feeling has been mutual for quite some time."

"Well, I’ll be damned," Simon said, rubbing his face tiredly. "Then again, with Sandburg, nothing surprises me any more." He placed his beer bottle on the counter and pulled his keys from his pocket. "I’m going to head back to the station, get started on those "i’s" and "t’s. "I’ll keep Russell off your back until tomorrow, Jim, but you’d better bring Sandburg in then to make a statement."

"Jim!"

Simon broke off as Blair yelled the name and looked over Jim’s shoulder to see the young man sitting bolt upright on the couch, one eye wide and unfocussed, the other still swollen shut, giving him a bizarre lopsided look. "You must be tired, Ellison. You didn’t hear him wake up."

Jim was already at Blair’s side, grasping his hand and whispering softly to the confused young man. Sighing, Simon raised one hand in a gesture of farewell and let himself out.

"Hey, buddy, how are you?" Jim asked, stroking Blair’s sweat soaked hair back from his forehead.

"I’m okay, Jim. Was that Simon?" Blair mumbled, sleep still coloring his voice.

"Yeah, he’s gone back to the station to get things moving."

"What time is it?" Blair asked, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.

Jim checked his watch, then yawned in sympathy. "It’s two thirty, Chief. Why don’t you go to bed?"

"My dream," Blair said suddenly. "There was another man there, Jim."

"In your dream?" Jim asked.

"No!" Blair said, exasperatedly. "There, in the alley. There was someone else there. Blonde hair, tall, good looking." He looked at his partner and shrugged tiredly. "I know it’s not a lot to go on, but I remember him."

Jim thought for a moment then leaned forward, hands resting on his knees. "Do you think you could look at some mug shots in the morning?"

Blair attempted to stifle a yawn, grabbing at his ribs as he did so. "Yeah, sure, I can do that. I’m just not sure anymore what’s real. I’m sure someone else was there."

"Does the name Paul Ferretti sound familiar?" Jim asked.

"No, I don’t think I know the name." Blair answered, shaking his head. "Who’s Ferretti?"

Jim stood and moved to Blair’s side. " Just a name Ronnie Russell was given, he’s been hanging around gay bars, selling date rape photos and videos."

"Do you think that’s who, who did this to me?" Blair whispered.

Jim rested a comforting hand on his partner’s shoulder. "Easy, Chief, I really don’t know anything for sure yet. We’ve got some pretty good forensic evidence from your clothing and the urine test will be back in the morning. Hopefully, you weren’t out there long enough for the drug to be out of your system." Jim shivered and bent to rest his forehead against Blair’s. "This was all my fault," he said softly. "I should never have let you leave, if I’d just been honest with you, none of this would have happened."

Blair placed his index finger against Jim’s lips. " I’m an adult here, Jim, you couldn’t have forced me to stay and I was sure that leaving you was the best thing to do. It’s my fault, not yours. If I’d been honest about my feelings for you, I never would have felt the need to leave. Okay?"

Jim hesitated a moment, then nodded.

"Okay." Blair said, then used Jim’s arm to pull himself to a standing position. The detective stood as well and placed a supporting arm around his partner’s waist. "Would you like to sleep upstairs, Blair? I mean I’ll understand if you don’t want to, but I’d really like it if you did."

Blair reached a hand up to stroke at Jim’s stubbled cheek. "Thanks, man, I was going to ask if I could sleep up there. Just for tonight, at least."

"Not just for tonight, Blair," Jim said. "If you want tomorrow, I’ll move all your stuff up there."

Jim helped his partner upstairs and helped him to strip down to his boxers, wincing again at the dark bruises and scrapes marring the lean body. Blair lay back with a sigh, then rolled to his side and looked up at Jim "Are you coming to bed?"

"Yeah, sure, in a minute" Jim answered.

"I’m not going to jump your bones, Jim," Blair said with a drowsy smile. "Trust me, I have no energy for that. Would you just hold me?"

"I’m sorry," Jim said, looking sheepish. "I’m just not sure how to approach this, us."

"Are you sure about us, Jim. I don’t want there to be any doubts here. This isn’t just an experiment, is it?"

Jim sat on the side of the bed and pulled Blair’s hand into his, gently stroking the palm. "I have no doubts, Blair. I’ve just never done this before."

"Don’t think of it as a guy-guy thing, Jim. Just think of it as two people in love. It’s just the same as anyone you’ve been in love with."

Jim shook his head. "Then I’ve never been in love before. I’ve never felt like this about anyone."

"I love you, Jim," Blair whispered. "Come to bed."

Jim stripped off his jeans and shirt and climbed in beside Blair, gathering the young man to him, so that they lay spooned together, Jim’s arm wrapped protectively around Blair’s midriff. Jim stroked his hand gently up and down Blair’s body, keeping his touch light and comforting. Soon he felt Blair relax against him, his breathing deepening into sleep. Jim, however, did not sleep until the first rays of dawn crept into the loft. He lay awake; his entire body tense as his Sentinel touch catalogued the injuries to his lover’s body.

By the time Jim woke the next morning, Blair was already up, pacing the loft and taking angry sips from his coffee cup.

"Morning, Chief, how are you feeling?" Jim asked, enveloping the younger man in a hug.

Blair turned into the embrace and nuzzled against Jim’s neck for a moment before pulling away to continue pacing. "I was thinking about that dream. I keep seeing the guy but the face is blank. I keep having snatches of memories but every time I think I’ve got a handle on it, it gets away from me." He emphasized the last sentence with a thump to his chest with a scraped fist, then raised both hands to scrub at his face. "Then again, I don’t know if I want to remember. I want them to get caught so they can’t do this to anyone else, but I don’t want the memories, Jim. I don’t think I can live with that."

Blair looked so afraid that Jim felt his Blessed Protector surge into being and he gathered the young man in his arms. "We’ll get through this together, sweetheart and we’ll make sure whoever did this, pays."

Blair suddenly pushed away from his lover’s embrace. "Oh God, Jim, they. There wasn’t just one person there, there were two."

"Okay, Chief, that’s good, really good. Don’t push it and maybe you’ll remember more" Jim said as he went into the kitchen to pour himself a cup of coffee. "Keep in mind, though, you were a little drunk, not to mention tired out of your skull. Your memories are coming back a little at a time, but you have to understand, that you may never remember all of it. This drug you were given causes short-term memory loss and can cause full amnesia of the events when it’s combined with alcohol."

As he reached up to grab a coffee cup from the cupboard, the phone rang and he watched as Blair hobbled over to answer it, his injuries still protesting every move.

"Simon? I’m okay, man. No, really, I’m fine." Blair paused a moment and Jim didn’t have to dial up his hearing to hear Simon’s concerned voice come spilling from the handset. He saw Blair shudder from his head to his toes at the same time as all the color drained from his face. Jim was at his side as his legs buckled beneath him and caught him easily, lowering him in one smooth movement to the couch and raising Blair’s feet up on the arm of the chair.

"Easy, buddy, are you okay?" he asked, as he stroked the hair back from Blair’s ashen face.

Blair nodded, his eyes closed and offered up the hand still clutching the phone to Jim. "Tell Simon I’m sorry." he whispered.

Jim accepted the phone and spoke for a few minutes with his Captain. Hanging up the phone, he turned once more to Blair and spoke softly. "Okay, babe, that’s it. They arrested a guy in the act of dragging a guy out the back of another gay bar. Detective Russell is working on him now to give up the other names in the racket." Jim smiled gently at his lover.

" Do I still have to give a statement?" Blair asked.

"’Fraid so, buddy, but we have forensic evidence plus we’ll get this guy’s statement and yours. I think we can put these animals away." Jim answered.

It was mid morning before Blair was ready to go and Jim got the distinct impression that the anthropologist was stalling for time. "Come on, Sandburg, we haven’t got all day," Jim griped as Blair disappeared into his bedroom once more to change his shirt. Blair emerged from his room two minutes later and stood, leaning against the doorjamb.

"Will the guy they arrested be there?"

"I don’t think so, Chief." Jim answered with a smile. "If he is, we’ll put you in Simon’s office and take your statement there, okay? They might want you to take a look at him though, see if you remember him."

Blair nodded appearing somewhat mollified. "Are you going to take my statement?"

Jim shook his head. "Sorry, buddy, Simon’s told me I’m strictly off this case."

"Good," Blair said. "I don’t have to worry about you losing it then, do I?"

"Can we go already, Chief?" Jim asked, ushering the young man toward the door.

Blair stood his ground. "Jim?"

"No, Blair," Jim sighed. "I won’t lose it." He bent then and took Blair in his arms, his lips seeking and finding his lover’s. They kissed for a long moment, and then Blair pulled away. "Let’s get this over and done with. I have plans for this afternoon."

"You do?" Jim asked, keeping one arm about Blair’s waist.

Blair nodded happily. "Yes, I do and they involve you."

By the time Jim parked the truck in the underground garage of the police station, Blair was rigid with tension. His hands were fisted on his thighs, his fingers curled hard into the flesh. Jim winced in sympathy and reached over to pull both of Blair’s hands into his. "Easy, Chief, you’re going to leave bruises. It’s going to be okay, Blair," he said.

Blair took a deep breath and smiled shakily. "I guess. Jim, does everybody else know about this?"

Jim stroked Blair’s grazed cheek softly. "It’s kind of hard to miss, babe."

"I meant about us," Blair grinned.

"Oh. No, I mean Simon knows but I’d rather keep it between us for a while. Would that bother you?"

"God no. Jesus, Jim, I’ve got the University to deal with as well. Trust me, they’re no more liberal than anyone else is. The Chancellor is only biding her time before she finds an excuse to kick me out, man."

"She can’t kick you out because you’re gay, Chief, but I know what you’re saying. Look what happened to you when those assholes at the station decided that you and me must be an item because we share an apartment?" Jim answered.

Blair sobered at the comment. "Well, it’s almost over now, isn’t it? Come on, let’s go do this."

The trip up to Major Crimes took twice as long than usual, not only because Blair was still moving slowly. Several times other officers expressing concern at Blair’s injuries and quietly offering to fix the bastards who did it stopped them. With a mildly exasperated groan, Jim pulled his partner away from yet another pretty girl offering to make him chicken soup or grandma’s cure for black eyes and pushed the young man toward the bullpen. "If you want me to take the afternoon off, Chief, we need to get a move on."

"Sorry Jim," Blair said, "but it’s nice, you know. I didn’t know this many people liked me."

"What’s not to like, Sandburg?" Jim growled affectionately.

Jim settled Blair solicitously at his desk while he went to let Simon know that they’d arrived. Blair moaned theatrically at Jim’s hovering but secretly he was pleased, the thought that he and Jim were finally together kept giving him shivers of pleasure whenever he thought about it. He tried to quell his quaking nerves, telling himself that the arrested man would give up the other names and it would all be over in a few days.

By the time Andy Davis came to get him, Blair was feeling calmer. It helped knowing the suspect was elsewhere and that Jim would not be in on the statement taking. He knew that his partner would no doubt eavesdrop on the proceedings but that made Blair feel more secure. Knowing Jim would hear perversely gave him a sense of security. Blair knew that if Jim thought his partner was in trouble at all, he’d step in, regardless of Simon’s orders. In the end, and perhaps surprisingly to Blair, Andy Davis and his partner, John Curran were patient and polite. Their questions were concise and Blair simply had to state the few details he could remember. He apologized several times for not being able to recall more information, especially detailed descriptions of his attackers, feeling his face reddening as he mumbled. "I guess it was the beer and the drugs combined."

Andy Davis patted his shoulder as he helped the young man to stand. "Don’t sweat it, Blair. We’ve all overdone it once or twice and then regretted our actions later. With any luck, this guy will break soon and maybe you’ll remember more later. You just make sure you call us straight away if anything else comes to mind, no matter how insignificant it may seem. You may find with the stuff you were given, that you have to filter out the real memories from other hallucinations, especially after your exposure to Golden." He shifted uncomfortably as he spoke. "Why don’t you wait outside and I’ll see if Ronnie wants you take a look at this guy?"

He wandered back to the bullpen once his interview was over, being stopped more than once by well wishers and dropped into his seat at Jim’s side, feeling as though a heavy weight had been removed from his shoulders. Jim smiled over at him and reached under the desk to stroke his hand up the length of Blair’s thigh. "So, how’d it go?"

"Like you don’t know," Blair said.

"Are you accusing me of listening in, Chief?" Jim whispered, his hand moving closer to Blair’s groin.

"Hmm, what, oh God Jim, that’s, that’s…" Blair moaned breathlessly.

Jim pulled his hand away abruptly and stood up. "Hold that thought, Sandburg. Let me clear it with Simon and we’ll get out of here. Want to stop somewhere for lunch?"

Blair shook his head and smiled. "I’d rather eat at home," he said huskily.

Jim’s cock stood at attention at the image and he hurried off to speak to Simon.

The observer busied himself powering up the computer and searching for their current case files. Voices from Simon’s office caused him to look up and he froze suddenly, the color draining from his face. He felt tears sting his eyes as he saw Simon, then Jim shake hands with the blond man leaving the office and then he was fighting for breath as his whole body shook as though in the grip of a seizure. He bent his head as the man walked past him, praying that this was a vision, a figment of a stressed mind.

"Hey, Blair, how are you doing?" The voice was close to his ear and Blair could feel the hot breath that swirled around his lobe, like before, like the last time. Without a conscious thought, he propelled himself from the chair, his agility belying his injuries, and launched himself at the man.

"You bastard, you fucking bastard," Blair screamed as he and the other man tumbled to the ground in a flurry of arms and legs. The observer landed on top and began to pummel his target with his still bruised fists, his blind rage causing most of his blows to be easily deflected. Blair felt strong arms envelope him from behind and pin his arms to his sides and he screamed in frustration as he was pulled off the other man. He lashed out with his feet as he was dragged away and managed to land a well-aimed kick to the other’s face. The blond man held his hands up to shield his face but did not fight back and then scrambled from under the smaller man, gratefully accepting Simon’s helping hand.

"Easy buddy, easy buddy," Jim soothed over and over as he held the struggling man to him and lowered them both gently to the floor. Within a short time, Blair’s energy was exhausted and he slumped in his lover’s arms, a low keening moan issuing from his raw throat.

"What the hell was that about, Sandburg?" Simon yelled, causing Blair to flinch. He stood slowly with Jim’s assistance and looked around, becoming aware of the startled looks of the crowd of people surrounding them. Suddenly he shook off Jim’s hands and raced out the door, brushing by the man he had attacked, who stood holding a white handkerchief to his bleeding lip.

"Shit! Blair! I’m sorry, Simon, Ronnie. I’ll go sort this out and get back to you." Jim said as he moved to follow his partner. He squeezed Ronnie’s shoulder as he went past and then extended his hearing to track Blair. ‘Men’s room’

Jim pushed the door to the men’s room open softly, not wanting to startle his partner further. Blair sat huddled in the far corner of the room, his back pressed into the corner where two walls met and his knees hunched up under his chin. His arms were wrapped protectively about his ribs as his chest heaved in great convulsive silent sobs of pain, fear and anguish. Jim felt his own control begin to slip at the devastating sight and gritted his jaw hard, taking slow deep breaths to fight off the spiral down into despair. "Oh Blair," he whispered.

Blair looked up at the sound and he seemed to collapse in on himself, his body shuddering in misery. "So sorry, Jim, so sorry," he sobbed.

Jim was at his side in a split second and he sat on the cold tiled floor and gathered the trembling body close. "It’s okay, baby, it’s not your fault. No harm done, baby, it’s okay." He rocked gently as he spoke, hoping to quiet the younger man. After several minutes of silence, save for Jim’s murmured assurances and the steady drip of a leaking faucet, Blair sighed, a deep gut wrenching sigh that seemed to come from deep within his soul.

"I thought it was him, the one in my dream." He shook his head firmly, punching Jim lightly on the arm. "No, not in my dream. There, he was there, Jim. In the alleyway, he was there." He leaned back then and looked up at the detective, his eyes swollen and red.

"The guy you attacked is Ronnie Russell, he’s a detective in the Violent Crimes Unit. He can’t have been there, Chief. He came here the night I came to get you from the bar. Asked me to tell you to stay away from there while they were investigating this Feretti guy. He was worried you’d make him and either screw up the operation or get hurt. It can’t have been Ronnie, Blair. He’s a good guy, one of the best. You met him before at the Christmas party, maybe you’re just getting old and new memories confused in your head."

"I don’t remember him," Blair said, shaking his head. "Everything’s mixed up, who was there when Steve found me?"

"No one else," Jim replied.

"Right, okay," Blair nodded his head as though trying to convince himself. "I’m tired, Jim, can we go home now?"

"No problem," Jim replied. He waited while Blair washed his face and straightened his clothes, then held the door open for the young man and headed back toward the bullpen. Blair hung back and Jim finally sensed his reluctance and stopped. "Why don’t you go hail the elevator, Chief? I’ll speak to Simon and grab your backpack."

Blair smiled gratefully and nodded, turning to head the other way.

 


The ride home was made mostly in silence as Jim concentrated on the traffic and tried not to think about Blair’s breakdown. Blair dozed, scrunched into the corner of the truck, his head lolling against the side window. As soon as they entered the loft, the anthropologist headed for his room, then stopped and turned back to Jim. "Did you mean what you said about me sleeping upstairs?" he asked.

"Of course," Jim answered. "Do you want me to start moving your stuff up there after lunch?"

Blair shook his head and held a hand out. "Take me to bed, Jim. Help me forget all this shit, please. I want to feel safe again."

Jim took the proffered hand and led the way up the stairs. He pushed Blair back to sit, then lie on the bed and stretched out next to him. His lips met Blair’s in a soft caress and he threaded his hands gently through the soft curls, opening his mouth to deepen the kiss as he heard Blair moan softly. "Just lie there and enjoy this, baby," Jim whispered and then he dove down again to taste Blair’s sweet mouth, groaning himself as Blair’s body arched up against his.

Jim sat up then and began to unbutton Blair’s shirt, finally folding it back and running feather light fingertips through the lush chest hair. He stroked gently against the dusky nub of one nipple, watching in fascination as it hardened beneath his touch. Bending his head once more, he sucked softly at the other as he continued to stroke, bringing both nipples to hard peaks. He allowed his hand then to steal further down, never changing the pressure of his touch and delighting in feeling Blair squirm beneath him as his fingers touched the waistband of his jeans. With a deft flick of his wrist, Jim had the button undone and the zipper open and he pushed his hand inside, snaking under the elastic of the boxers, gasping at the warmth he felt there.

"Oh God, Jim, yes, please," Blair muttered, as he pushed upward trying to get Jim’s hand where he wanted it.

Jim ran his thumb down the hard shaft, feeling it stir beneath his touch. He rubbed his fingers over the wet slit at the top, swirling the moisture around the crown, then pulled his hand out to lick at the remaining drops. He placed his fingers on Blair’s lips then and sighed as Blair sucked them in, swirling up and down and between them with his tongue, his lover’s mouth providing suction that stoked the fire in his groin. Blair reached up to pull Jim’s tee shirt out of his jeans and Jim took the hint, standing to remove his jeans and boxers. He climbed back onto the bed, moving to push Blair’s knees apart and knelt between them. He bent to deliver another deep kiss to his lover, then sat back on his haunches to remove Blair’s jeans. Jim hoisted Blair’s legs onto his thighs and pulled the jeans off, followed rapidly by his boxers. He sat still for a moment drinking in the sight of his lover laid out before him, shivering lightly in anticipation of his touch. "Perfect," he whispered.

Blair’s hands reached up to stroke Jim’s nipples and Jim moaned softly and arched into the touch, causing Blair to sit up and place hot, wet kisses on first one nub and then the other. Jim cupped his lover’s head and pushed his searching mouth closer to his chest.

"So good, baby, so good."

Blair pushed himself onto his knees, wincing slightly at the movement, then rested back on his calves and pushed Jim back onto the bed. Before Jim could react, Blair encircled his cock with a firm hand and began to stroke softly, swirling his thumb around the slick crown on every up stroke. Jim uttered a cry and bucked upwards, his hands fisting in the sheets. As Jim approached the precipice of orgasm, Blair released his cock and began to gently stroke Jim’s balls and perineum. "I wish I could let you fuck me," he said.

Jim closed his eyes and splayed his legs wider to give Blair better access to his body. "No, babe, this is perfect. That feels so good, Blair. We have all the time in the world."

He groaned loudly as Blair bent once more to take his hard cock in one hand, the other gathering the pre ejaculate from his own cock and then pushing one slick finger into Jim’s pulsating hole. Jim gasped at the sharp pain, then relaxed as it was followed almost immediately by an overpowering urge to push down on the digit. Blair began to stroke the finger in and out of Jim’s body in counterpoint to the motion of his fist, then after some time, added a second finger. He kept his fingers stroking rapidly inside his lover and grasped Jim’s flailing hands placing both of them on his own surging erection. He screamed as Jim began to pump hard and rocked forward in time to his own movements on Jim’s cock. Blair arched back and froze, then began to lunge spasmodically into Jim’s fist as he came, hot semen spurting over his lover’s abdomen. The passion on Blair’s face and the stroking of his fingers hitting the small nub of pleasure within his body sent Jim over the edge moments later and he cried Blair’s name as he came. Blair lay down covering his lover’s sated body with his own, continuing to gently fuck Jim with his fingers until he felt the spasms of orgasm die down. He kissed his way back up Jim’s body then rolled to the side, encouraging Jim to spoon up behind him. "I love you, Jim," he whispered.

"I love you too, babe."

Trying not to disturb Blair, Jim got up and retrieved a warm wet cloth from the bathroom. He cleaned himself up and then gently wiped over his lover’s body. He covered Blair with blankets, then dressed and went downstairs to prepare lunch.

 


"No, don’t!"

The cry startled Jim and he dropped the handful of cutlery to the table with a clatter and sprinted up the stairs. The loft was in semi darkness but Jim could see that the bed was empty, the sheets and blankets twisted in disarray. "Blair?" Jim quickly scanned the room and then saw the young man curled up against the wall, scrunched almost into the closet. The detective made his way quickly to his lover’s side and knelt, slowly extending one hand to rub gently along the dazed man’s arm. "Blair? You with me? It’s only a dream, only a dream."

Blair suddenly stiffened and his eyes opened wide as he looked around the room, his gaze finally settling on Jim. "Jim? Oh man, I’m sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry for, sweetheart," Jim said gently. "You have ample reasons for nightmares." He helped the young man up, noting how he hissed in pain at the movement and hoping that their lovemaking earlier hadn’t exacerbated his injuries. Leading the way to the bed, he encouraged the young man to sit down, then draped his bathrobe over the shivering body. "We didn’t make things worse, did we, earlier?"

"No way, man," Blair answered, shaking his head. "That was great. I’m still a little stiff and sore, you know?"

Jim carded his hands through his lover’s hair and spoke softly. "Do you think, maybe, you need to talk to someone about the attack. The department offers counseling, try to get it all straight in your head. You need to stop blaming yourself too, Blair. You didn’t deserve this, you were raped."

Blair shook his head again. "Uh-uh, no way, Jim. I’ve done my time on the therapist’s couch, man." He turned and kissed Jim’s mouth gently. "Besides, I don’t need a shrink. I’ve got you to talk to,"

"O-okay then," Jim said slowly. "In that case, are you prepared to talk to me now about what’s been happening between you and Blake and Daniels, and to tell me exactly what happened the other night, all of it?"

Blair stood and thought a moment. "Let me grab a shower, you can make some coffee, then we’ll talk."

"Deal," Jim agreed.

Twenty minutes later, Jim sat opposite Blair at the table and watched the young man toy with his coffee cup. "Why didn’t you tell me that Blake and Daniels had been giving you a hard time, even before that day in the men’s room?"

"Because it wasn’t something I couldn’t handle," Blair said. "Since I’ve been working with you, I get that sort of thing all the time. Usually, I just blow it off or throw some derogatory remark back at them that their small minds can’t even comprehend. That day, though, that day was different." He shivered suddenly, wrapping his arms about himself, rubbing his hands briskly up and down his upper arms. "Is it cold in here?"

"Not really, no," Jim replied. "Why don’t I put the fire on though." He moved over to the fireplace and pulled the lighter from the basket. Crouching down as he worked, he looked over his shoulder. "Why was that day different?"

"I don’t know. I just knew that from the moment I realized they were there, that it was a whole lot more serious than a name calling session. I put it down initially to me being stressed from the argument we’d had," he smiled apologetically at his lover. "But it wasn’t that. Maybe it was the fact that they had Mortens with them guarding the door." He shook his head fervently. "No, not that, it was Blake. It was the look on his face, in his eyes. I knew he wanted to hurt me."

Jim returned to his seat at the table but this time, sat next to Blair, taking one cold hand in his. "What happened that night?"

Blair took a deep breath and spoke softly. "I went to work till one am. When I finished, I must have had a beer or two, it had been a long day and I was still really pissed with you. I don’t remember drinking with anyone else, but I must have been, I guess that’s when he slipped the stuff in my drink." Blair shivered again and Jim squeezed his hand sympathetically.

"Are you sure you don’t remember anything at all after working your shift?" Jim asked.

"No! I told you that already," Blair shouted, springing to his feet and beginning to pace the room.

"That’s okay, Chief. Don’t push it, we’ll just take it as it comes."

"So who’s the blond guy?" Blair asked.

"I honestly don’t know, Chief." Jim said. "My best guess would be that you’d seen Ronnie Russell there at some time, but you didn’t remember who he was. Somehow, the familiar memory of him is getting mixed up with your memories of the attack. Russell’s working on getting some pictures or at least descriptions of this Feretti character. Let’s see if he tallies with your memories.

Blair nodded slowly. "Yeah, that makes sense."

"It’s over now, Chief and all that matters is that you’re going to be okay and you’re here with me, where you belong." He bent to kiss Blair and then wrapped his arms around the young man in a gentle hug. Nuzzling at the soft skin beneath Blair’s earlobe, Jim whispered, "So do you want to eat now or later?"

"I don’t mind, lover," Blair replied, lifting his head to give Jim better access. "What else did you have in mind?"

"Well, I could take you upstairs and take your mind off everything we just talked about and then we could order in pizza and watch a game, maybe make out some more on the sofa."

"Table leg, Ellison, table leg," Blair snorted, then laughed as Jim growled and dove for his groin.

Jim looked up as the phone rang and reached for it, planting a quick kiss on Blair’s nose as he reached over him. "Ellison. Yeah, Simon, they did? That’s great news." Jim sat up on the couch, placing an arm about Blair’s shoulders as he did so. "Okay, give us twenty minutes." He hung up the phone and took a deep breath before turning to Blair. "They got the prick, babe. Ronnie Russell caught Ferretti red-handed, raping a guy at the address that they were sent to by the perp they arrested this morning. Simon needs you to go down and take a look at the guy, see if you remember him."

"I don’t know Jim," Blair said. "I told you, I’m just getting snatches of stuff. What if I can't make him?"

"Blair, they found evidence there, babe. Photos and videos of Ferretti and Dwyer and their victims." Jim said softly.

"Oh God, oh God. I’m on there, aren’t I?" Blair whispered.

Jim felt his throat close up and could only nod affirmatively. "I’m sorry, but at least they can put these guys away now. They’d still like you to take a look at Ferretti. Ronnie doesn’t want to take any chances that this slimy bastard will get off. He’ll still go away, Blair. Just give it your best shot, and this time, I’m going to stay there with you."

That said, Blair smiled and stroked Jim’s face gently. "Okay, let’s go."

The second trip to the precinct was no less fraught with tension than the previous one had been, but Blair seemed determined to face his demons and get through the ID parade. By the time they made it upstairs; the young man was shaking visibly once more. Jim seated him at his desk and bent over him. "Just relax, Chief, I’ll let Simon know we’re here and get you a cup of tea."

Blair merely nodded, not trusting himself to speak in case he burst into tears. He sat at the desk and fiddled nervously with the strap of his backpack, casting anxious glances into the hallway for a sign of his lover.

"Mr. Sandburg? I have a delivery for you." A young, pretty clerk with curling brown hair and soft blue eyes handed him a large manila envelope with a smile and withdrew. Blair stared at the envelope, puzzled. His name was typed on the front but there were no postal stamps or franking, so it had to have been hand delivered. Blair was still turning it over in his hands when Jim returned with a steaming cup of tea.

"Special delivery, Chief?" he asked, placing the mug in front of his partner.

"Yes, I don’t know who it’s from, though," Blair answered.

"We’ve got about ten minutes, so why don’t you open it."

Blair slipped his thumb under the sealed edge and tore it along its length. Looking inside, he looked at Jim, then shrugging, reached his hand in and pulled the glossy sheet from within. He held it up and glanced at it then jerked suddenly backward with a cry of distress, dropping the photo and sending a cascade of tea over the desk.

"Jesus, Blair, what is it?" Jim asked, grabbing at his lover’s wrist as the young man backed away toward the door. Blair wrenched his hand from the grip and turned blindly and ran from the room, almost sweeping Simon off his feet as he ran past. Jim caught the photo as it fluttered to the ground and turned it over. "Oh shit, those bastards. Simon, I’m going to kill them."

"What the hell is going on, Jim?"

Shaking with anger, Jim held the photo up so the captain could see it. It showed Blair lying naked, on his back, his eyes half closed in a parody of desire, though the unfocussed gaze of drug intoxication was obvious to experienced eyes. His legs were hoisted over the shoulders of a tall, blond man who was penetrating the young man anally, his head thrown back in a gesture of sexual excitement. Simon placed a hand over his mouth and closed his eyes. "Go see to Sandburg, Jim. I’ll deal with this." He held up a hand as Jim opened his mouth to protest. "I gave you an order, Detective. See to your partner and if and when he feels up to it, take him over to do this ID. Then I want you both to take a couple of days off. God knows Blair could use some down time."

Jim nodded and headed toward the door, not needing his heightened senses to tell him where his lover had gone. He pushed open the door to the men’s room and heard Blair’s quiet sobbing. As he moved to the stall and pushed the door open, Blair began to retch violently, his hands grasping his stomach as he heaved into the bowl. Jim squatted behind him and rubbed his back in small circles of comfort, reaching a hand up to wipe impatiently at the tears that streamed from his own eyes.

Finally, the young man sat back against his lover, closing his reddened eyes and reaching for Jim’s hand. "I’m sorry," he whispered. "I wish you hadn’t seen that. I don’t know how you could ever look at me again. I should go; I should have stopped him. I should have fought him harder."

Blair’s ramblings became incoherent as his distress took over and Jim gathered the shaking young man to him, trying to soothe him with soft words of assurance. "You are not at fault here, Blair. You were raped and drugged and beaten. The only people to blame are the fuckers who did this to you and the bastards who got hold of these photos. They’ll pay for this, baby, all of them."

The two men sat for long moments until Blair took a slow deep breath and pushed away from his partner. "Let’s go finish this up and go home, okay?"

"We’re both under orders from Simon to take some down time for a few days." Jim said as he helped Blair up from the floor and handed him a damp towel. "We could go to Steven’s cabin for a couple of days."

"Really?" Blair said. "He would let us use his cabin?"

"Of course he would," Jim replied, smiling.

As they exited the room, they saw Ronnie Russell approaching. "Jim, Blair. How are you doing, Blair?" he smiled, extending a large hand to the anthropologist.

Blair shook his hand but kept his gaze downward as he mumbled softly. "I’m sorry about earlier, Detective, I don’t know what happened."

"Don’t worry about it, Blair. When I saw Ferretti, I understood your reaction. The slime looks enough like me to be a relative." He wrinkled his reddened nose in distaste. "Thank God, he’s not. You two may as well head on home though, Jim."

"What about the ID, Ronnie?" Jim asked, as they walked toward the bullpen.

"We can’t use Blair’s identification, Jim. He’s been given the photo, saw Ferretti," he cleared his throat and smiled apologetically at Blair, "raping him. Ferretti’s lawyer can say that Blair’s ID would be biased by having prior knowledge and sighting the photo. It’s okay, though. We’ve got enough to get the guy, plenty of videos and photos. God, what a sick bastard. Davis is talking to him now; we’re trying to get him to give up the rest of the gang and the head honcho. Blair, I’ll be in touch, go get some rest, you look like you need it. Oh, that other matter with the photo? Captain Banks is handling that as we speak."

Ronnie raised a hand in farewell and headed toward the elevators. Blair looked at his lover and smiled. "Home, big guy?"

Jim nodded and squeezed Blair’s shoulder gently. "Home, then cabin, Chief." As they turned and headed back toward the exit, they almost collided with Simon and Henri escorting Tom Blake from the elevator. Blake held a hand to his bleeding nose and glared angrily at Blair. Blair tightened his hold on Jim’s arm instinctively and looked questioningly at Simon. The police captain shrugged and pushed the uniformed cop toward the bullpen. "Officer Blake was leaving the precinct when Detective Brown caught up with him. He fell down the stairs, slipped on all these glossy photos that he had stashed under his jacket."

"Jim?" Blair’s voice was soft, almost pleading and Jim turned to him. "Relax, Chief, I am not jeopardizing a few days away at the cabin because of that asshole. Let’s go home and pack." Blair grinned happily and preceded his lover into the elevator. Jim glanced back at Blake before following him. The words were Sentinel soft. "He’ll keep."

"So I don’t know how to tell you

It’s difficult to say

I never in my wildest dreams

Imagined it this way

Sometimes I just don’t know you

There’s a stranger in our home

When I’m lying right beside you

Is when I’m most alone

And I think my heart is broken

There’s an emptiness inside

So many things I’ve longed for

Have so often been denied

Still I wouldn’t try to change you

There’s no one that’s to blame

It’s just some things that mean so much

And we just don’t feel the same

Love is why I came here in the first place

Love is now the reason I must go

Love is all I ever hope to find here

Love is still the only dream I know

True love is still the only dream I know" – John Denver.

Fin

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