SMALL SACRIFICES

By: Lyn

EMAIL: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Many thanks to Annie as always for the beta. Originally published in Come to your senses # 25. Still available from http://www.agentwithstyle.com

Set immediately Post - TS by BS.

CATEGORY: Drama

RATING: NC-17

PAIRING: J/B

Blair followed Jim into the apartment and, after closing the door, leaned back against it. The energy that had driven him through the earlier events of the day suddenly drained away, leaving him enervated and shaky. The badge that Simon Banks had thrown to him felt heavy in his pocket, weighing him down. He felt the air becoming thick around him and he took a shaky, panic-filled breath. The weight in his pocket grew heavier and a sharp pain seemed to clutch at his heart. He remembered this pain; he was drowning again. This time, though, there was no water, no murderous Sentinel. A wave of nausea surged suddenly up his throat and he swallowed desperately against the saliva that flooded his mouth. Oh, God, he was going to be sick.

He clamped his jaw and panted harshly through his nose, pushing the sickness back to be dealt with later, along with the guilt, fear and despair. He looked up as Jim's voice impinged on his thoughts and he realized the detective was talking to him. "What?"

"I said do you want a beer?" Jim asked, holding an amber bottle out toward him.

Blair felt the nausea surge again at the thought of the bitter liquid and quickly shook his head. "No. Thanks. I'm, uh… I'm good."

"Are you?" Jim asked. He took a sip from the bottle and limped back toward Blair, using the cane he'd been given by the doctor, but managing to make it look like an adornment.

"I don’t know what you mean."

"Sure you do," Jim said amiably, coming closer and offering the bottle again.

Blair shook his head and straightened up against the door. Jim seemed to sense the tension in his partner and perversely, stepped closer. Blair licked suddenly dry lips as his gaze unconsciously raked over the broad torso of the detective and then strayed lower, to the erection that bulged against the cotton of Jim's pants.

"What?" he asked again, feeling his face heat as he forced his hungry thoughts away and looked up at Jim's face. Blair watched as Jim took another drink, then pushed the bottle into his own hand. He took it without argument, startling a little as a charge of static electricity crackled when their fingers touched. He lifted the bottle and swallowed, surprised at the refreshing taste as the cold liquid ran down his throat.

"I said, are you good?" Jim's voice had taken on a husky quality and his eyes had turned a dusky blue.

Blair turned his face away, but did not fight when he felt Jim strong fingers cup his chin and force his head back toward him. "What do you want, Blair?"

"Simon said I could have a couple of weeks to think things over," Blair whispered, not surprised that he could scarcely croak out the words.

"That was Simon, not me." Jim shifted back abruptly and Blair almost sagged to the ground at the sudden loss of support. He felt cold sweat snake between his shoulder blades, making him shiver. "What do you want?"

"I can't be a cop, but if I don't accept the offer, I can't be your Guide. They'll make me leave," Blair said finally.

"You don't want to be my partner?" Jim's eyes narrowed, the blue irises glittering with fiery ice.

"Yes." Blair put as much conviction as he could into that one word. "I do want to be your partner." In every sense of the word, he said in his head. Don't say it out loud, he admonished himself. Don't lose everything now. "I can't be a cop. I thought I could, but I was wrong. I'm sorry."

Jim had moved forward again and he was looming over Blair now; his face so close that Blair could smell the beer on his breath. Blair pushed back, but there was nowhere to go. "I don’t know what I want," Blair whispered, knowing that deep down he did, but painfully aware that he couldn't voice those most secret desires.

"Sure you do. Tell me what you want."

Blair’s hands came up to push ineffectually at Jim’s chest. "I said I don’t know."

The detective pressed closer. Blair could feel Jim’s erection pressing into his hip and he gasped at the heat of it. "What do you want, Sandburg?"

"You. I want you." Blair’s reply was a strangled half-sob, but Jim smiled and tilted Blair’s head up toward him with one finger under his chin, pressing a kiss to Blair’s lips. The gesture opened the floodgates and Blair sobbed brokenly, then Jim's tongue snaked out and pushed into his mouth and Blair let everything go; the pain, the sorrow, the guilt. His hands moved up to anchor in the short bristles of Jim's hair and he felt Jim's arms go around him, pushing him back against the door and holding him there.

Blair pushed his groin forward and humped himself frantically against Jim’s hip as his hands wandered, mapping Jim’s physique, learning the beautiful body pressed against his. Then Jim’s hand pushed between their bodies, pulling down Blair's zipper and he shivered as Jim reached in and cupped his balls, then stroked up along his drooling cock.

Jim pulled away from Blair’s mouth and lowered his lips to Blair’s neck, sucking and licking there as he fisted Blair’s weeping erection and stroked forcefully. Blair moaned softly and then began to push up into the strong hand and Jim stilled his strokes, allowing Blair to fuck his fist. He could feel Jim's other hand on his shoulder, supporting him as he bucked upward and his breath caught as his orgasm overwhelmed him. Then his cock was spasming rapidly, hot fluid gushing over the Sentinel’s gently stroking hand and he sobbed out Jim’s name.

Blair shuddered violently as he came, and then he was crying, huge, heaving, silent sobs with tears that streamed in rivers down his cheeks to drip off his chin and trickle down the length of his neck. His knees buckled beneath him and he slid slowly down the door to the floor, only distantly aware of Jim following him down until they both knelt, Jim hovering protectively over him.

His body spent, Blair felt a gentle lick at his throat and opened his eyes to see Jim's tongue dip out to lap at the moisture that had pooled in the indentation at the base of his throat, a combination of sweat and tears. His tears, his despair, his pain.

He felt Jim grasp his forearms and haul him forward and he allowed himself to flop bonelessly, his fatigued body folding in on itself. He dropped his head down to burrow into the juncture of Jim’s neck and shoulder. Jim's arm wrapped around his shaking shoulders and the detective's other hand reached up to cup the curly-headed skull, pulling Blair into the shelter of his embrace. Jim's strong fingers massaged through the damp curls, the hypnotic sensation sending him drifting toward sleep.

Jim's voice was a balm to his aching soul, the words Sentinel-soft, barely stirring the air as they were breathed against his ear. "We'll work it out. It's going to be all right."

~o0o~

 

Her cornflower blue eyes stared up at him, wide with fright and faintly accusing. Incongruously, her rosebud mouth was open in what seemed to be an ‘Oh’ of surprise, as if she had just received a longed-for gift. Except there would be no more gifts or surprises for little Maddie Taylor. Blood and silt leeched from her long flaxen locks, turning the water that pooled beneath her body pink. Her skin had a faintly dusky pallor to it; the flesh beneath was slightly bloated from her time beneath the water. Her delicate fingers were taloned around the strap of her backpack as if she had fought to tear it from her shoulder even as the rocks in it weighed her down and sent her into the murky depths. She was ten years old.

He looked up as Simon Banks approached the cordoned off area. "Looks like it’s the same as the others," the captain said somberly. "Raped, and then tossed into the river with her backpack weighted with rocks." He shook his head sadly. "Poor little thing."

Blair looked down at the child and then staggered back in shock, his hand coming up to stifle the scream of terror that threatened to force its way out of his constricted throat as he saw his own dead, drowned face staring back at him. "No!"

 

~o0o~

 

Jim straddled his lover’s body, his knees either side of Blair’s waist, his strong hands framing Blair’s face, his hard, wet cock lightly brushing Blair’s belly. "God, you’re beautiful," Jim whispered.

Blair’s full, kiss-swollen lips curled upwards into a lazy smile. Jim twined a finger gently in the soft silken strands of his lover’s long curls. "I love your hair," he said hoarsely. "Don’t ever cut your hair."

Blair shook his head from side to side, then reached out one finger to gently trace a line across Jim’s broad chest, peaking nipples and twitching muscle as the digit trailed down his ribs. He dipped into Jim's navel and skirted the small thatch of pubic hair before reaching around to ghost across Jim’s ass and stroke lovingly over the pucker hidden within. Jim closed his eyes and thrust into the liquid heat as his lover scooted down beneath him and took him in his mouth, sucking hard. The tip of one finger pushed past the tight ring of muscle in his ass and Jim screamed out Blair’s name and came with a shudder that blazed lights in his skull and melted his bones— "No!"

Jim was out of bed and running full tilt down the stairs at the first shout, unmindful of the semen that dampened the front of his boxers. He pushed his shoulder into the door as he turned the handle, only to be knocked back against the wall as Blair ran past him, one hand held tightly to his mouth.

Before Jim could react, Blair had disappeared into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind him. Though he didn’t hear the lock engage, Jim took the hint and stayed in the hallway, his anxious Sentinel hearing dialed up as he heard Blair begin to retch violently. He waited until he heard the faucet turn on and the toilet flush before tapping softly at the door. "Blair? Are you all right?"

There was a long delay before Blair spoke softly. "I’m okay, Jim. Go back to bed."

Jim turned the handle and opened the door, stepping into the bathroom. Blair stood hunched over the basin, throwing water onto his pale face. He didn’t look up. "This is the third night this week that you’ve had nightmares and thrown up, Chief. You’re starting to worry me here."

Blair reached one hand out toward the towel rail, but Jim beat him to it, snagging the towel and using it as an excuse to step closer and monitor Blair’s vital signs. His temperature, pulse and respiration all seemed slightly raised, but that was hardly surprising considering the circumstances.

Both men had been under a great deal of stress over the past couple of weeks since Blair had announced to the press that he’d falsified his doctoral thesis. Neither of them had broached the subject of Jim’s confrontation the afternoon that Simon had offered Blair a police badge so that he could continue to ride with Jim.

The sex had been nothing more than a rough hand job, relieving the overwhelming tension and solving nothing. If Jim had thought that he’d now have Blair in his arms, in his bed, he was mistaken. Despite the obvious overtures made by Jim’s seduction that day, nothing had changed. Jim had no desire to question how he felt about Blair now. When he'd met Carolyn, he'd fallen in love hard. Then his senses had kicked in and he'd found himself unable to truly commit to his wife as a husband should.

Blair's touches soothed rather than jarred and Jim found himself succumbing to a need for his Guide that went beyond the bounds of friendship. He began to yearn for Blair's touch, to feel that solid hand against his back, grounding him and then discovered he wanted that touch more intimately. From what his sentinel senses could discern, he thought Blair felt the same way. In the chaos that had erupted with Alex Barnes, and then the dissertation, Jim hadn't had the time to express his feelings to Blair, and he had to admit, he'd let the old hurt back in, feeling deceived and betrayed, remembering those times in the past when his father had warned him of being called a freak. He'd been terrified of what that public knowledge would bring down upon him and then cursed himself for doubting Blair, knowing deep inside that his Guide would sacrifice anything for his sentinel. And then Jim realized it was not just for his sentinel. Blair's act of contrition had gone far beyond friendship or duty. It had been a sacrifice of love. Still Jim couldn't bring himself to utter those fateful words until they'd returned that night to the loft and he'd seen just how much Blair was hurting. It was time for Jim to take the upper hand and the higher road and finally give back to Blair what he'd given Jim for so long. Love… commitment… and trust.

The fraud confession had hijacked any chance until then and in the aftermath, Jim decided Blair needed to know that while his false confession had come at an enormous price, he was loved and needed. Jim allowed the thought to gnaw at him, concerned that Blair would greet his announcement of love as just a conciliatory gesture, and decided on the spur of the moment to force the issue. If Blair had pushed him away, he would have dealt with it but Blair needed to know he was loved unconditionally, and that Jim's love for him had nothing to do with leaked dissertations or renegade sentinels… or guilt. Just that Jim loved Blair and couldn't explain it, any more than he could explain why he was blessed… or cursed… however you looked at it, with heightened senses.

Blair had asked Simon for a month’s thinking time before making his decision. Jim, in his terror at the thought of losing the most important thing in his life, had promised Blair that he would fix things so that they would remain together at work, regardless of Blair's decision. He didn’t have the faintest idea where to begin. He watched now as Blair dried his face, then meticulously folded the towel and hung it back on the rail.

Blair finally turned to face him, dark blues eyes framed by lines of weariness, shadows of sadness standing out starkly against the pallor of his flesh, his stubble angling his face sharply. "I’ll be okay. Once we sort this case out, I’ll be fine."

Jim waved a vague hand toward the stairs. "If you want, you could sleep upstairs. Just sleep, I mean...." He faltered, feeling his face heat.

Blair smiled at him gently and reached out to take his hand, lifting it to place a chaste kiss on his palm. "I’ll be fine. We have to be up in a couple of hours, anyway. Go on to bed, Jim. I’m going to make myself a cup of tea."

"You sure?"

Blair nodded, letting Jim’s hand drop, and the older man pulled it into his side, relishing the warmth of Blair’s lips that still lingered on his flesh.

"Okay." Turning, Jim made his way out of the bathroom and climbed the stairs. Sitting on the side of his bed, he was suddenly aware of the cold dampness at his crotch, and with a soft curse of disgust, he quickly pulled off his boxers and climbed into bed. He lay awake until dawn broke, listening to Blair’s hushed movements below.

~o0o~

 

Blair pushed back his chair and ran a hand through his long curls before reaching to rub tiredly at his eyes. Suddenly aware of Jim's close scrutiny, the anthropologist aborted the movement and rested both hands on the desk in front of him. "Something doesn't add up with this murder."

Simon looked at him sharply from the opposite side of the desk, the crime scene photos that Blair tried so hard to avoid in plain view. "It's identical to all the others, Sandburg. What do you mean?"

Blair swallowed the cold dregs of his coffee, grimacing in distaste and then stood. He walked to the large picture window and stared out at the dismal gray day as though he could find the answer there. "I don't really know," he said finally. He felt warmth on his hand and turned to discover Jim standing beside him, pressing a fresh cup of coffee into his hand. He smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Jim."

"You're welcome," Jim replied.

"Can we cut the tea party and get back to business here?" Simon's sarcastic comment cut through Blair's wandering attention and he jumped, realizing that he'd been standing, gazing into Jim's eyes for an indeterminate length of time. "Sorry, Captain. Can we run through the details again?"

Jim retreated to his seat and spoke up, pulling the report on Maddie Taylor's death toward him. "Madelaine Taylor, ten years old, disappeared from the back yard of her house. No witnesses to the abduction. Body was discovered in the river the following day. She had been sexually assaulted, the body was weighted by rocks in her backpack, cause of death, drowning." He looked quickly at Blair as he spoke the last few words.

Blair felt a shudder of revulsion pass through him, but he nodded an okay, and motioned for Jim to continue. Jim shuffled the papers in front of him and Blair sent him a silent thank you, knowing the detective was giving him time to regain his composure. He was startled when Jim looked up and smiled as though he'd read his mind.

"So, what are you getting at, Sandburg?" Simon asked again.

Blair sighed and slumped into his seat, massaging the bridge of his nose. "I'm not entirely sure," he replied. He stretched and maneuvered his neck, feeling the joints pop a little as they loosened. "It'll come to me. I didn't get much sleep last night. My brain feels like mush."

"Okay." Simon nodded and retrieved the files. "Get to work, you two. I want this bastard off the streets. This last one has really focused the press attention back on us." He scowled as Blair looked up sharply at the words. "I meant, with Maddie Taylor being the commissioner's niece, plus the fact that this is the third child murdered in this way in as many months."

"Sorry, I'm a little touchy today," Blair assured the other man. "I know what you meant. The time between the murders is shorter, too," Blair mused. "He's escalating." He was lost in thought for a moment, then shook his head. "It'll come to me." He levered himself wearily to his feet, then stopped as he recognized the familiar tilt of Jim's head, indicating the Sentinel had dialed up his hearing.

"I think you're out of luck, sir," Jim said. "Sounds like they've found another body."

A soft tap on the door and a solemn-faced Henri Brown confirmed Jim's words. "Another body, Captain, at the boating lake."

Simon nodded soberly. "All right, thanks, Brown. Ellison, get out there."

Jim stood and ushered Blair out ahead of him, but a sudden thought made the anthropologist pause and he turned back to look at the captain. "Maddie Taylor? Do we have a blood grouping or DNA from the semen yet?"

Simon riffled through the reports, then shook his head. "Not yet. I'll get onto it. Let me know what you find out."

"Yes, sir." This time Blair allowed Jim to push him out the door with a hand on his back. It was Jim who stopped when the captain called him back.

"Can I have a quick word with you, Ellison?"

"Yes, sir." Jim shrugged his shoulders at the question on Blair's face and walked back into Simon's office, closing the door behind him.

"Has Sandburg made a decision regarding the job offer yet?" Simon asked.

"No, sir," Jim replied. "You did say you'd give him a month. It's only been two weeks."

Simon nodded. "I'm aware of that, Jim. The commissioner's been on my case about it. Wants it wrapped up as quickly and quietly as possible."

"It's a pretty big decision, sir," Jim answered, deliberately choosing not to share Blair's admission with the captain. That was up to Blair. "A complete career change, not to mention lifestyle, Blair's beliefs.... He needs to be sure he's doing the right thing."

"The commissioner feels there's been enough publicity already. He wants Sandburg in and out of the academy with as little fanfare as possible and into Major Crime before too many questions get asked."

Jim's eyes narrowed. "Are you saying this is all just a whitewash to shut up the press? Because if that's the case, I'll go hold my own press conference and denounce Sandburg's claims."

Simon held his hands up in surrender. "Easy, Jim, easy. There's been enough noise about this whole thing already. I know you don't want your abilities to become public knowledge and I'm not saying that Sandburg wouldn't make a good cop. My offer to him was a genuine one and I approached the commissioner with the idea of offering Blair the job, not the other way around. It's not a bribe, Jim, if that's what you're thinking. I happen to think that Sandburg would make a damn fine cop and I'd be more than happy to have him on my team." He sighed and pulled off his glasses, throwing them onto the desk and rubbing his eyes. "I just want to get it behind us — all of us."

"I understand," Jim said. "But Blair sacrificed an awful lot for me, for this department, and I don't just mean his career. I think we owe him the time to make the right decision."

"I agree. Just tell him not to take too long. I'll keep the commissioner off his back for as long as I can."

"Thank you, sir." Jim's hand was on the doorknob when Simon spoke again.

"Jim, is something else going on between you and Sandburg?"

Jim didn't turn around. "No, sir."

"Would you tell me if there was?"

"I don't know."

 

~o0o~

 

A warm breeze gusted across the water of the Cascade boating lake, the peaceful setting giving no clue to the gruesome sight on its shores. A small cluster of police and technicians were gathered about a tiny, lifeless body. Seated on a bench under a tree several feet away, an ashen-faced man was giving a statement to an equally pale-featured young policeman.

Blair slowed his pace when Jim reached out and grasped his arm. He turned and looked questioningly at the detective.

"Do you want to sit this one out, Chief?" Jim asked quietly.

Blair glanced quickly over at the lake, then shook his head. "I'll be fine. We need to catch this guy, Jim and you need me there with you."

"You're right about that," Jim answered. "But I can handle it on my own, if you'd rather."

"I'll be fine," Blair reiterated. He was surprised when Jim nodded, but didn't immediately let go of his arm. "What?"

"We need to talk," Jim said. "About how this case is affecting you, about your decision… about us. Especially about us."

Blair nodded. "You're right. We've both been dancing around each other for too long. Tonight?"

"Tonight," Jim agreed. "Let's see if we can find something first to get this bastard off the streets."

Several of the police personnel greeted both Jim and Blair as they approached the lake's edge. Blair stayed back a little as Jim stepped forward and scanned the general area. They had been doing this together for so long, it was like choreography. Each knew what to expect from the other. As if to prove that point, Blair stepped to the front of the group and dropped onto his haunches the moment Jim crouched beside the child's body.

Little Natika Murray lay on her back on the grass beside the lake. Her blue party dress was torn at the waist, the hem stained with diluted blood that had seeped from her violated body. An old backpack that had seen better days sat on the bank beside her, filled, like the three before, with rocks. Blair recalled what they had learned about the case on the way to the lake. The eight-year-old had disappeared from a birthday party held in nearby Holden Park four days before. An extensive search had failed to turn up any trace of her, until now.

Blair took a deep slow breath and placed his hand in the small of his partner's back. "Okay, Jim," he said quietly. "One sense at a time."

He waited patiently, knowing that it would take Jim a moment to focus and filter out extraneous information. Jim spoke softly, scarcely seeming aware of the people that moved around them, intent on their own tasks.

"There's that smell again," he began. "Sweet, sickly. Stronger than on the others." He leaned in closer toward the child's face and sniffed delicately. "It's something she ate."

"They found partly digested candy in the first two victims' stomachs," Blair said. "Is that what you smell?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, anything else?"

"Give me a minute," Jim answered.

Blair nodded and waited silently. The little girl's eyes were mercifully closed, Blair noticed; her face looked peaceful as though she were merely sleeping, unlike Maddie Taylor's frightened, staring visage. Blair knew from his own personal experience, though, that, like the others, Natika had not had an easy death.

He groaned softly as the thought suddenly spiraled him into a flashback, catching him unawares. He was back in the fountain, gazing up toward the surface, his heart pounding loudly in his chest as he struggled to make his paralyzed limbs lift himself from the icy water and he fought not to breathe. The first gasp that he could no longer hold back caused his chest to cramp in agony as cold, dirty water flowed into his lungs. He choked and coughed then dragged in a ragged breath.

Distracted from his task, Jim looked at him quickly; the quick glare of anger replaced instantly by concern as Blair rocked back on his heels, the color leeching rapidly from his face. "You okay?"

Blair managed to nod mutely, not trusting his voice. He felt cold sweat break out on his face and trickle down his cheeks and he dropped his head in order to conceal the evidence of his loss of control from the people surrounding them. He reached out and patted Jim's shoulder, indicating that the detective should continue.

Jim watched him intently a moment longer, then returned his scrutiny to the child's body. Suddenly, he stilled and reached out a gloved hand to gently unfold the dead child's fingers. Nestled in Natika's palm was a small toffee wrapped in a colorful paper and stuck to the paper was a long, blond hair. Jim held out one hand toward Blair. "Bag."

Blair fumbled for a moment in his pocket before pulling a plastic evidence bag from within. He opened it, cursing, as his fingers appeared to become all thumbs. Finally, he held it open, locking his wrist as he realized that his hand was trembling still.

Jim took the bag from him, his warm fingers closing momentarily over Blair's icy ones. "This isn't her school bag," he murmured quietly.

"She disappeared from a birthday party," Blair reminded him. Jim nodded so Blair continued. "The murderer had to improvise. It put him off his game plan, made him sloppy. He's left evidence behind, he didn't think it through." He sucked in a shaky breath and Jim looked at him appraisingly. Blair felt his face heat under the examination.

"I'll finish up here," the detective said. "Why don't you go wait in the truck?"

Blair opened his mouth in an automatic protest, then closed it and nodded. Standing, he took a final look at the little girl, then turned and trudged wearily toward the parking lot.

 

~o0o~

 

Jim handed the evidence bag off to the forensic technician with terse instructions for an immediate evaluation. He turned his attention then to the backpack filled with rocks and, summoning the uniformed officer standing by, ensured that all the crime scene photography had been finished before removing the stones from the bag. He counted eight in all, one rock for each year of Natika Murray's life. Pushing the somber thought from his mind, he picked the bag up and began a Sentinel search.

The smell of murky still water sent his senses reeling and he staggered a moment and contemplated calling Blair back to ground him. A quick glance in the direction of the truck showed him that Blair sat hunched into a corner of the passenger seat, seemingly as far away from the site as possible. Jim got a grip on his senses and his emotions and tried again. He'd discovered that pain would prevent him from concentrating too much on one sense and zoning out, at least for a short time, so he clenched the fingernails of one hand hard into his palm. He grimaced as the sensation on his heightened sense of touch sent shards of pain up his arm.

Holding the bag up now toward his face, Jim pulled back the flap and opened the bag fully. Gazing inside, he allowed himself a grim smile as his perseverance was rewarded. There on the bottom of the bag, etched in faded blue ink were three initials. E.W.S.

Jim quickly checked the smaller pockets of the bag, but found only a few empty candy wrappers, the same as the one he'd found in the child's hand. Handing the bag over to Forensics, Jim asked the technician to get photos and ink samples of the letters, then headed for the truck.

Blair appeared to be asleep when Jim quietly opened the driver's side door and climbed in. His eyes were closed, his heartbeat was even and his breathing slow and regular. His face was still ashen and damp with perspiration, small shivers assaulting the sturdy body now and then. Blue eyes washed with fatigue opened as Jim started the ignition.

"You get anything else?" Blair asked, his voice rough.

Jim backed out of the parking space and turned onto the street. "I thought you were asleep."

Blair sat up and stretched slightly, the fingers of his hand brushing Jim's face. "Trying to center myself. Just doing some breathing exercises. I'm sorry I freaked out."

Jim shook his head. "Nothing to be sorry for, Sandburg. I think I know now what the nightmares have been about." When Blair didn't answer, he pushed on. "You're seeing yourself, aren't you? In the fountain."

"How did you know?" Blair's voice was a mere whisper of breath. He sat motionless, staring out the front window of the truck.

"It's pretty obvious. I don't know why I didn't pick up on it before."

Blair nodded. "I know what they felt, Jim, before they…."

Jim stretched out a hand and rubbed Blair's thigh in commiseration. A solitary tear dropped from Blair's cheek to Jim's stroking hand and Blair grasped Jim's hand with his own.

Jim gave it an answering squeeze. "I know, Chief. I know."

 

~o0o~

 

Blair stopped at the men's room door at the end of the corridor as the two men made their way to the bullpen. "I'll catch you up in a second, Jim. I just want to clean up a bit." He waved at his face with a deliberately vague gesture, but Jim nodded and clapped him on the back.

"I'll be in Simon's office."

Blair pushed open the door and made his way inside. To his relief, only one stall was being used and he stepped quickly into the other to relieve himself before moving over to the hand basin. Turning on the cold tap, he washed his hands, then cupped them and sluiced his face with handfuls of the cold, refreshing water, sighing in bliss.

A hand on his shoulder startled him and he looked up into the mirror and smiled uncertainly at Charlie Murphy. He didn't know the big motorcycle cop that well, but they had a passing acquaintance and Murphy had always seemed friendly enough. Blair's gaze traveled down to where Murphy's hand rested on his shoulder.

"What can I do for you, Charlie?" the anthropologist asked amiably.

Murphy spun him around suddenly and then, shoving the observer's hands behind him, pushed Blair back against the hand basin. Blair grunted as the porcelain ground against the bones of his wrists and tried to shove his way forward, but Murphy was too strong, too big. He gasped as one of the officer's hands reached up to grab a fistful of hair and jerked his head back until Blair was looking him in the face.

"What the fuck's going on, Murphy?" Blair panted. He risked twisting his head away from the cop's tight grip and was rewarded with feeling some of his hair tear loose from his scalp.

"I tried for six fucking months to get into Major Crime, Sandburg, and you just waltz in there and bat those pretty eyes at Banks and you've got a detective's badge." Murphy punctuated each phrase with a slam against Blair's chest that sent him crashing back, bashing his aching wrists against the basin with a bone-jarring force.

"Maybe you're not what they're looking for, Murphy," Blair said. "Now let me go!" He tried once more to push Murphy away from him with his body, but the big man just grinned.

"Or what? Gonna get your boyfriend to beat me up?"

"I don't need anyone's help to beat you up," Blair answered gamely, praying Murphy wouldn't take him up on the challenge.

Murphy smiled again, a red tongue snaking out to lick his thin lips. "Got one way to shut you up, Sandbag. Let's have a taste of what Ellison's been getting." With no warning, the cop abruptly lowered his head, and took Blair's mouth in a brutal kiss.

Blair gasped and fought to turn his head away from the hard mouth grinding against his lips, but the hand gripping his head was too strong. He tasted blood as Murphy's teeth grazed his lips, trying to force his mouth open. As black spots danced before his eyes, Blair took a strangled breath and Murphy took advantage, pushing his tongue deep into Blair's mouth. A mingled assault of garlic and bad breath sent nausea surging up his throat and Blair acted on impulse and bit down — hard.

Murphy screamed and shot back, his hand coming up to clutch at his mouth, blood already beginning to seep through his fingers. "You fucking little shit!" he lisped at Blair, spraying the observer's face with flecks of blood. The hand not covering his mouth came up in a roundhouse swing that Blair didn't see coming as he bent his head and tried not to empty his breakfast over the floor.

The blow caught him high on the cheekbone and slammed him back once more into the hand basin. His vision rapidly graying out, Blair clutched at the bowl and managed to keep himself on his feet, trying desperately to lock his knees. He felt a hand on his shoulder that spun him around to face the angry blood-spattered Murphy once more and then he doubled up as a hard fist to his stomach stole his breath.

As Murphy leaned over him to go in for another blow, Blair summoned all his waning strength and pushed upward on the balls of his feet, ignoring his abused stomach muscles' screams of protest. His jaw snapped shut with an audible crack as the top of his head impacted Murphy's chin and the cop wailed an inhuman scream as his own teeth this time tore a chunk from his tongue.

Suddenly, the door slammed open with a loud crash and the small room was full of people. There was a clamoring of voices and Blair jumped as a heavy hand landed on his shoulder.

"Sandburg? What the fuck happened?"

Blair looked up into Jim's frowning countenance and wondered idly when he'd fallen to his knees. Murphy was standing against the opposite wall, blood dribbling down his chin, struggling against Rafe and Brown's combined weight, his eyes glinting dangerously at Blair.

Blair reached up a hand and anchored it in the front of Jim's shirt, then used it to lever himself into a shaky standing position, wincing as the action caused sharp pain to radiate through his bruised wrist.

"Somebody want to tell me what's going on here?" The booming voice belonged to Simon Banks and Blair turned his pounding head in the direction of the doorway.

"Just a difference of opinion," he whispered, turning back to glare at Murphy, daring him to say otherwise.

"Murphy?" Simon turned his frown on the cop.

Murphy nodded and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. "Yeah, Sandburg's right."

Jim took a step toward Murphy, his face dark with anger. "Bullshit! You attacked my partner, Murphy."

Blair caught Jim's arm and pulled the other man back to face him. "It was nothing," he said firmly. "Leave it alone." Jim glowered at him a moment, then nodded once.

"Either of you need medical attention?" Simon asked.

Both men shook their heads sullenly. The captain sighed, then held out his hand. "Sandburg, I want your observer's pass."

"What?"

"Simon…"

Jim and Blair spoke simultaneously, but Simon shook his head resolutely. "I don't want you back in here until I get this sorted out." He turned his attention to the smugly smiling Murphy. "Report to your watch commander, Murphy. I'll let him deal with you."

Murphy's smile disappeared and he pushed himself roughly away from Rafe and Brown's hands. Straightening his shirt, he glared at Blair as he stalked past the other men.

"Jim…" Blair spoke warningly as he heard the soft growl emanate from the Sentinel's throat.

"Talk to your partner, Ellison," Simon ordered. "Then take him home and patch him up." He turned his steely gaze on Blair. "I want a full report on my desk first thing in the morning."

Blair nodded, regretting it instantly as his head began to pound once more.

Jim waited until the others had left before speaking again. "You going to tell me what really went down in here?"

Blair shook his head tiredly and pushed past the detective to limp toward the door. "Nothing to tell. Like I said, just a disagreement."

 

~o0o~

 

Blair had remained surly and silent on the drive back to the loft, despite Jim’s badgering. Finally, Jim pulled the truck over to the side of the road, then turned to the man sitting slumped in the passenger seat.

"Look, we’ve finally got some good leads on the murderer of those little girls," he ground out, pulling no punches. "Now, when I should be back at the station going through records and waiting for the forensic report to come in, I’m stuck here baby-sitting my partner, who decided to have an all-out brawl with a cop who - Did you happen to notice how big that fucker is before you slugged him, by the way?"

Blair still stared straight ahead, but he spoke finally. "I’m sorry, Jim. I didn’t think." He reached a hand up and slapped at his forehead. "God, I am such a moron lately. Lucky I don’t want to be a cop, the academy would turn me down flat."

Jim looked away at the remark. Although Blair had told him of his decision, Jim hadn't given up entirely on the idea, if it was the only way to keep his Guide at his side. For now, he left it alone. "You going to tell me now what happened?"

Blair sighed and shifted in his seat so that his view now was out the passenger window. "For a start, I didn’t slug him. I bit him and then I head-butted him."

Jim was puzzled for a moment, remembering the blood streaming from Murphy’s mouth, then it all came to him in a rush. "That asshole! He tried to come onto you, didn’t he?"

Blair shook his head. "Not exactly," he replied. There was a long silence before he spoke again. "He’s pissed at me for being able to get a detective’s shield without trying, and he assumed that I must be sleeping with my partner. He tried to kiss me, but I don’t think it was because he wants me."

Jim felt blood begin to boil in his veins at the admission, but fought to push his anger back down. "I told you once you were the best cop I’ve ever worked with, and I meant it, Blair. You’ve earned the chance at that badge, if you decide you want it."

Blair laughed hoarsely. "I think we’ve been here before, haven’t we? I don’t know what I want." He looked at Jim then and reached out to take his hand, squeezing it gently. "Except you. I know I want you."

Jim relaxed a little and started the truck. "Okay. That’s at least one thing we agree on. Let’s get you home and patched up."

 

~o0o~

 

Blair sat quietly on the couch and watched Jim tend to his injuries. Both wrists were held up in large, gentle hands, the rapidly blackening bruises soothed with liniment and wrapped in stretch bandages.

"You're lucky," Jim told him. "No broken bones."

Blair nodded silently and allowed the Sentinel to continue. His lip was washed, the lump on his cheek from Murphy's fist was iced and his sore stomach muscles massaged and warmed with a heating pad. Finished with the first aid, Jim urged Blair down on the sofa and lifted his legs, placing a cushion beneath his knees to ease the strain on his stomach. Bestowing a soft kiss to Blair's lips, Jim got to his feet and walked out to the kitchen. "I'll make you some tea."

While the tea steeped, Jim sat on the edge of the coffee table and stroked a hand across Blair's brow.

Blair kept his eyes closed, soaking up the mesmerizing touch. "I'm going to accept Simon's offer," he said finally. Jim's hand stopped its motion, but he didn't speak. "If that's the only way I can still be with you, be your Guide, then that's what I'll do. I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you out there, something I could have prevented if I hadn't been so damn selfish and thought about someone else instead of myself for a change."

"I don't want you to do something you don't want to," Jim said. His hand stroked down Blair's cheek. "I'm the selfish one here. Allowing you to throw away your life's work. If you take the badge, it's a life choice, Sandburg."

Blair shrugged a little. "So was anthropology."

"I'm sorry." Jim's voice was raw with pain.

Blair opened his eyes and sat up, facing Jim and placing the heating pad on the floor. "Don't be sorry. You're my life's choice, as your Guide and as your lover." He smiled and sat forward to wrap his arms around the other man, resting his head on Jim's shoulder. "There was no choice to make. Once I figured that out, the rest was easy."

He felt a wave of calm pass over him as Jim's arms returned his hug and he felt Jim's lips nuzzle into the curls that clung to his neck. The chaste kiss became a lick and then a tiny nip that sent a shock of passion through him and Blair moaned softly, shifting so that he could offer his mouth up to the man he loved.

Jim accepted his invitation, pressing his mouth open and pushing his tongue inside, to stroke along his gums and teeth. Blair's hands moved up to cup Jim's head and he allowed himself to be pushed backward onto the couch, Jim following him. His lover's big hands framed his face and the older man smiled so sweetly that Blair felt tears sting the backs of his eyes.

"I love you, Blair, so much."

Blair pressed a kiss to Jim's palm. "Show me then," he whispered. "Show me how much you love me."

Jim's hands moved to Blair's shirt, unbuttoning and then pushing the cloth aside so that his fingers could ghost over Blair's already hardening nipples. He scratched softly through the dark soft hair on Blair's chest, then leaned in for another kiss as he tugged gently on the silver nipple ring. Blair moaned into Jim's mouth and arched up at the exquisite sensation.

Jim pulled back and fisted his hands in Blair's curls. "No more sacrifices," he whispered before he leaned in to claim Blair's full mouth once more. The kiss was long, slow and doubly sweet to Blair. He had released his demons and Jim loved him. That was all that he would ever need and more.

He felt Jim's hands trail down his body, skating gently over the bruise already darkening on his belly from Murphy's angry fists, dipping into his navel, then tracing over each hip in turn. Jim slid down and knelt between Blair's legs, rubbing his palms slowly up and down Blair's denim-clad thighs. He lowered his head to Blair's stomach, and pressed a kiss there over the bruises and Blair smiled. "You going to kiss me better?"

Jim looked up and grinned back. "If you want me to. I think you're a little too sore for anything else right now."

"I want you to."

Both men groaned as the phone on the coffee table rang. Jim turned and sat on the floor, his back resting against Blair's legs, then leaned forward and picked up the receiver. "Ellison. Yes, sir."

Blair stroked his fingers through Jim's short hair as Jim listened intently.

"Okay, sir. We'll be there in fifteen… Yes, I understand. I'll be there in fifteen minutes." The detective reached forward and hung up the phone, then sat for a moment still hunched over, his head bent onto his chest.

"Jim?"

Jim's head came up and he stood and turned to face Blair. "That was Simon. We've got a lead on the candy. It's exclusive to a small business here in Cascade. Simon and I are going down there to speak to the manager."

Blair pushed himself up from the couch, trying not to wince. "Let me get changed. I'll be right with you."

Jim shook his head. "Not this time, Chief. You need to get some rest."

"No, I'll be fine. You'll need me with you." Even as Blair spoke, his stomach was sinking. He knew exactly what this was about and he knew he only had himself to blame. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! he berated himself as he looked hopefully at Jim.

"Simon doesn't want you in on this, Blair. He wants you to come in later."

Blair nodded, his eyes closing. He wished he could shut out the words as easily. "All right. I understand. Be careful, okay?"

Jim stepped forward and tipped Blair's chin up with his finger then dropped a gentle kiss on his lips. "I'll be fine," he said. "It's just an interview, get a list of employees, that sort of thing."

"Be careful, anyway," Blair said.

Jim nodded and reached out to pick up his holster from the coffee table where he'd put it when they arrived home. "You look beat. Why don't you go upstairs and get some rest?"

Blair's eyes snapped open as he registered the words. "In your bed?"

Jim shook his head. "In our bed. I'll be back as soon as I can." He took Blair's mouth again. This time he was passionate, his tongue pressing in to stroke at Blair's, leaving both men half-hard and panting.

"Be careful," Blair reiterated, blue eyes dark as fire. "You can finish that when you get back."

Jim grinned and gave a little salute. "Promise."

 

~o0o~

 

Jim stopped by the station to pick up Simon and then the two men made their way to the candy factory. The day was gray and cold, promising rain, but Jim's spirits were high after talking to Blair. Now that they were closing in on the killer of four innocent little girls, things were finally looking up.

The thought that Blair had decided to accept Simon's offer, weighed heavily though on Jim's mind. Relief that he could keep Blair at his side as lover and Guide mingled with guilt that the anthropologist had lost forever his Holy Grail, as he had so joyfully described it to Jim all those years ago. His brass ring, as Jim had so bitterly rephrased it just a few short weeks before.

There was sorrow, too, that in order for them to remain together, their relationship would have to remain a secret, their secret. As though it were something dirty and disgusting, when all Jim wanted to do was to shout it to the world. The dissertation mess had focused too much attention on them already. If the press discovered that a self-proclaimed fraud was having a relationship with his partner on the force, the shit would truly hit the fan. What frightened Jim most of all, was that his love would not be enough to keep Blair with him. After losing so much, it would be tempting for the young man to walk away from everything and everyone who had betrayed him so badly.

"You're very quiet." Simon's voice roused him from his reverie and Jim glanced quickly at his captain before returning his gaze to the road ahead.

He shrugged. "Just thinking."

"You talk to Sandburg about the incident in the men's room?"

Jim pushed down his anger. "It wasn't an incident, sir," he ground out, trying to keep his voice even. "Murphy attacked Blair. He had a right to defend himself."

"I agree," Simon said mildly. He fished in his breast pocket and pulled out a cigar, sniffing it appreciatively. "I don't suppose you're going to let me light this, are you?"

"No, sir."

Simon sighed and clamped the cigar between his teeth, anyway. "I can't help the kid out if he doesn't tell me what really went down."

"He wants to handle it himself."

"Fair enough."

"Are you going to give him back his observer's pass?"

"I'd rather give him a detective's badge. I can't give him any more thinking time, Jim. I'll need an answer by tomorrow at the latest. The commissioner's having second thoughts about the whole thing."

"Why?"

"He heard about the fight between Murphy and Sandburg. He's nervous. He's concerned that if Sandburg refuses the badge, he may go back to the press and recant his earlier story."

Jim glared at Simon, his eyes blazing. "After all Blair's been through, after all he did, do you really think he would do that? He sacrificed his career and his reputation for me, for us. He died for me!"

"Then tell him to make a choice so I can get the commissioner off his back and mine," Simon growled back.

Jim pulled the car into a parking space outside the candy factory. He nodded as he turned off the ignition. "He's made his decision," he said, but held up a hand as Simon opened his mouth to speak. "He has to tell you himself."

Simon studied him closely for several long seconds. "There is something going on between you two, isn't there?"

Jim pushed open his car door. "You don't really want me to answer that, do you, sir?"

"Shit."

 

~o0o~

 

Although he'd half-expected it, Jim's revelation slugged Simon in the gut and left him breathless. By the time his tongue caught up with his brain, Jim was disappearing inside the warehouse. Hurriedly, the captain shut his door and followed Jim inside.

A large, beefy man wearing a stained apron over equally dirty jeans approached them from a small office. "Can I help you?"

"I'm Captain Simon Banks and this is Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade PD," Simon began. "We'd like to ask you some questions regarding your staff and your business."

The man nodded, but his attention was firmly fixed on Jim, and Simon's heart sank as the man grinned and spoke. "You that super-cop?"

Jim's jaw clenched, but he didn't answer the question. "Do you have anyone in your personnel files with the initials E.W.S?"

"Might." The man shrugged and wiped his hands on his apron. "Give me a minute. I'll have to check the books."

Simon nodded and watched the man walk away. "Christ, you think that stuff is ever going to go away?"

"Not until the press finds something more newsworthy to focus on," Jim replied quietly.

The detective began to walk toward the office, stopping as the other man stepped out. "I didn't even have to look it up," he grinned. "Just suddenly came to me. Evan Smith. Sacked him last week." He held a slip of paper aloft. "Here's his address."

Simon took the paper and perused it quickly. "Why did you let him go?"

"He was always slacking off on the job, calling in sick, coming in late. Then he showed one of the other guys some kiddie porn — real sick stuff, you know? I got a couple of kids around that age."

"Thanks," Simon said. "You've been a big help." He went to walk off, but stopped when Jim spoke to the man.

"Do you have a list of dates of Smith's absences and late starts?"

The man nodded slowly. "Should have. Let me take a look."

Simon smiled at his detective. "Good thinking, Jim. See if they match up with the dates of the murders."

Jim nodded, his face grim. "I'll wait for you at the car, sir. I want to call Blair."

 

~o0o~

 

Blair flipped idly through Maddie Taylor's file once more, as he sipped at his cooling coffee. After Jim had left, he'd been unable to go to sleep, so he'd gotten up, showered and sat on the couch, going over his version of the events of his fight with Murphy. Finally resolving to leave things deliberately vague and only admit to a difference of opinion, he turned his notebook over to a fresh page and pulled the Taylor file toward him. It was like the child herself was beckoning him, calling him to her defense and he felt an overwhelming sadness that he'd been too late.

Scanning the autopsy report again, Blair's stomach churned, and he deliberately pushed away the crime scene photos that accompanied the file. A phrase caught his eye and he suddenly felt as though he couldn't breathe again. This time though, the feeling was caused by a gut-wrenching thought. He was sure… almost sure.

Standing, Blair crossed to the phone and dialed the precinct number, then asked the operator to transfer his call to Dan Wolfe, the medical examiner. He bounced on his toes as he waited for Dan's phone to be answered, dread anticipation leaving him chilled.

"Dan Wolfe."

"Hey, Dan. This is Blair Sandburg. How are you?"

"Doing good, Blair. You?"

"Fine. Um, look, Dan. Jim and I were just going over the autopsy report on Madelaine Taylor, the third child who was murdered and I… we, we noticed something. Could you check and see if the other girls had head injuries?"

"It'll take me a minute, Blair. Hang on."

"Okay." Blair waited, his heart thumping nervously. He knew that Dan was well within his rights to refuse to give the information to him. He wasn't a police officer, after all. Yet.

"All right. Here you go," Dan finally said. "And no. Head injury only on the Taylor girl. You got something?"

"I don't know." Blair cursed silently as he tried to fit the missing piece of the puzzle. "Maybe. I guess she could have hit her head when she was tossed into the water, huh?"

"Sure," Dan agreed. "It wouldn't be unusual."

"Could you check something else for me?"

"If I can," Dan agreed.

"Can you check if all four girls had candy in their stomachs and also if any semen was found… you know?"

"Can do," Dan answered and Blair blessed the man's business-like manner.

Blair could hear faint noise in the background, then he heard Dan speak to someone else, before returning to him. "Blair? Can I get back to you? Something just came up. I should have the answer for you in a couple of hours, tops."

"Sure, okay. Thanks, Dan." Blair hung up the phone and went back over the conversation in his head. He suddenly had an uneasy feeling about where his research was leading him and he didn't like it at all. Picking up the phone, he dialed Jim's work number and left a message on his voice mail. Then he hurried to the front door and pulled his jacket from the hook.

 

~o0o~

 

"Did you call for backup?" Simon asked as he climbed into the car.

Jim nodded and started the ignition, then steered the car back onto the street. "Yeah, Brown and Rafe are on their way to Smith's place, along with a patrol car."

"Sandburg?"

Jim shrugged. "Not home. He'll probably be waiting at the station when we get back."

Brown and Rafe were waiting a couple of blocks up from the address they'd been given at the candy factory. Jim acknowledged them with a nod as he drove past and parked in front of the rundown apartment block on Mercy Street. He waited on the sidewalk for the other three men to join him. Simon directed the uniforms to wait by their car in case the suspect tried to escape and Jim offered to go around the back.

Jogging around the side of the building, Jim glanced at the address in his hand, then climbed the creaking and rusted fire escape at the back. He dialed up his hearing as he went, focusing first on Simon's whispered commands to his team as they approached Smith's door, then zeroing in on the single heartbeat inside the room. Smith's heartbeat was rapid, his breathing coming in grunts, and Jim wondered if he'd been tipped off. Then his nose wrinkled as his sense of smell caught the distinctive odor of semen and his ears detected the slapping of flesh against flesh. Smith was alone, so he must be jerking off. The detective set his mouth into a grim smile. Caught with his pants down. Poetic justice.

Jim paused halfway up the second set of steps as he heard a knock at Smith's apartment door and then Simon's authoritative identification and command for the suspect to open his door. The Sentinel heard Smith gasp, then moan softly. Rapid footsteps within the apartment headed his way, and Jim stepped back and pressed himself against the edge of the fire escape, concealing his presence as best he could.

He watched silently as Smith climbed out of the window above him and began a rapid climb down the steps toward him. Above, he heard the door crashing as Simon gave an order for Brown to break the lock. Jim waited until Smith was only a few steps from him, then stepped out and aimed his gun up at the fleeing man. "Cascade PD," he announced firmly. "Stay where you are."

Smith erupted into a blur of motion, one long skinny leg lashing out to kick at Jim's gun arm, landing a powerful blow to the detective's wrist. Then a second foot caught him in the chest, sending him sprawling backwards, off-balance. He flailed for a hand-hold on the railing and grasped the bar, grimacing as he heard it creak in protest at his weight, but it held and he pulled himself back up and threw himself at Smith as he came barreling past him.

Both men lost their balance and tumbled head over heels to the ground. Smith landed first with a hard thump, then grunted a second time as Jim's not insignificant weight landed on top of him.

Jim scrambled to his feet quickly and shoved his gun into the base of Smith's skull. "Don't move, asshole," he ordered harshly.

He glanced up quickly as approaching footsteps heralded the arrival of his backup and he stepped back only when Brown crouched beside the fallen man and cuffed him. He nodded to Simon and watched as Brown hauled a scowling Smith to his feet.

"I'm glad you caught me," Smith shouted, his lower lip quivering. "I wanted to stop, but I couldn't. I didn't want to hurt them."

"Yeah, right." Simon eyed the lanky, long-haired man in disgust. "Get him out of here." He turned his attention to Jim. "You all right?"

"Yeah," Jim panted, brushing off his pants. "Couple of bruises. Let's go. I want to interrogate the scum."

 

~o0o~

 

"I want a lawyer." Evan Smith took a long drag on his cigarette and glared sullenly at Jim.

Jim shook his head, then leaned forward suddenly, tearing the cigarette from Smith's mouth and tossing it to the floor where he crushed it under his foot.

"Hey!" Smith jumped to his feet, but sat down again quickly as the large uniformed officer in the corner took a step forward, one hand on his gun. "The other cop said I could smoke," Smith said sulkily.

"I'm not the other cop," Jim answered. "And I say you can't."

"Where's my lawyer?"

"You placed the call, Smith. You tell me."

"His secretary said he was busy. She said he'd be here as soon as he can and I'm not talking until I speak to him."

Jim shrugged. "Your choice. Just remember, whether or not you cooperate will have a bearing on how this goes down." He paced the room, then sat in the chair opposite Smith. "You said you wanted to be caught," he began.

Smith set his mouth in a thin line, then sighed and picked up the cigarette box, toying with it as he spoke. "I couldn't help myself," he said softly.

"I didn't want to hurt them. The first one I just felt up a little. You know?"

Jim nodded, his stomach beginning to churn.

"Then I let her go. I made her promise not to tell anyone. After a while, though, it wasn't enough. There was this redheaded kid, the first one you found. What was her name? Sally? Yeah, that was it. I knew once I screwed her, I couldn't just let her go. But I couldn't kill her, couldn't bring myself to do it so I threw her in the river near the cave I'd taken her to. Filled her schoolbag up with rocks and tossed her in. She sank like a stone." He smiled slightly and Jim suppressed an urge to punch the murderer's head in, relieved that Blair wasn't here to hear this horrifying confession.

"After that, I couldn't get enough," Smith went on. "But by the third one, the last kid, it wasn't the sex anymore. It was drowning them I was getting off on. I was thinking maybe the next one I'd just take straight to the river and put her in there 'cause I can come just from watching them go under." He leaned forward, pushing his stringy hair from his face with nicotine-stained fingers. "Prison won't help me, man. I'm sick. I need help."

Jim wished desperately that he could shut down his hearing, shut out the man's pathetic whining, but then he sat up suddenly, intrigued by Smith's words. "What do you mean the third girl was the last. We found four bodies, Smith."

"No way, man." Smith shook his head vehemently. "I've been thinking about the fourth one, like I said, but I ain't done her yet."

"What about Natika, the little African-American girl?" Jim asked. "Was she one of your victims?"

Smith nodded. "Not that other one, though. The one who's the commissioner's daughter or something. Wasn't me, man." He puffed his chest out as he spoke. "Probably one of them copycats, got their idea from me."

"Are you saying that you didn't kill Madelaine Taylor?"

Smith frowned, picked up a cigarette and put it in his mouth. "I already told you. She wasn't one of mine."

Jim stood quickly and walked to the door. "Take him back to his cell until his lawyer gets here," he told the guard. Pulling open the door, he headed toward Simon's office.

 

~o0o~

 

"Maybe he's just scared of the repercussions if he admits to killing the commissioner's niece," Simon said.

Jim puffed out an impatient breath. "Maybe. I don't think that's it, though. I listened to his heartbeat all the time I was questioning him, Simon. He got excited when he was talking about the attacks and the murders, but I'm pretty sure he was telling the truth when he said he didn't kill Maddie Taylor."

"Maybe you should call Sandburg. Let him talk to Smith. He's pretty good at —"

"No!"

Simon stared at his detective in surprise.

"Sorry, sir. This one's a little too close to home for Blair. I'd rather he didn't get any more involved with this than he already is."

The captain looked puzzled for a moment, then his face softened. "His drowning."

"Yeah."

"Christ." Simon scrubbed a hand over his face. "All the time the kid's been with you on this case and I didn't even think of that." He sighed tiredly, then got back on track." All right. If not Smith, who? A copy-cat?"

Jim shrugged as the phone rang and Simon answered it brusquely. "Banks." He listened for a moment, then held the receiver out to Jim. "For you. Dan Wolfe."

Jim took the phone. "Ellison."

"Hey, Jim. I've got the forensic and autopsy information you wanted."

"What information?"

"The stuff Sandburg called about. He said you wanted to know which girls had candy in their stomachs and whether semen was found in any of the victims."

Jim felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "What did you find out?"

"Well, Sandburg was on the right track, whatever that was," Dan answered somewhat cryptically. "Madelaine Taylor was the only victim who had no candy in her stomach and she was also the only one who had no semen in her vagina. I guess Blair already told you that she was the only victim with a head injury."

"No. No, he didn't," Jim said slowly. He snapped back to attention. "Thanks, Dan." Jim hung up the phone and stared at it for a long moment, then he picked it up again and dialed a number. After listening for a moment, he swore softly to himself and hung up.

"Jim?"

The detective looked up at the summons. "Blair was onto something about the Taylor case. He's not answering his cell phone and he's not at the loft. I've got a bad feeling about this, Simon."

Before Simon could answer, there was a sharp rap at the door. Henri Brown entered at Simon's command. "Captain, Dispatch just got a report of shots fired at the Taylor house. The first patrol there reports a hostage situation." Henri glanced quickly at Jim before he spoke again. "The hostage gave his name as Blair Sandburg."

"Oh, Christ!" Simon cursed again. "Jim -"

Jim was already up and out the door and Simon scrambled to catch up. "Just remember Ellison, I'm in charge."

Jim nodded brusquely and headed for the stairs.

 

~o0o~

 

Blair drew in a slow deep breath to steady his nerves before pressing his finger to the doorbell next to the Taylors' front door. He wasn't entirely sure that he was doing the right thing by coming here. The Taylors were still grieving the loss of their daughter, and their emotions would still be raw. A note in Maddie's file had rung an alarm bell in Blair's mind that, when put together with the rest of the evidence, could not be ignored and had to be investigated. Don Taylor was Maddie's step-father. He had married Marilyn Murphy, the commissioner's sister some two years before. Since the marriage, a son had been born.

Blair shuddered to think how Jim was going to react when he got his message. He knew he should have waited until he'd spoken to Jim and Simon before coming here, but Maddie's face kept intruding on his thoughts, his dreams. He was only here to talk, after all. Then he'd take the information and his suspicions to Jim.

He stepped back slightly as the door opened and an older woman smiled at him kindly. She was neatly dressed in the traditional black and white maid's uniform. "May I help you?"

Blair smiled back at her. "My name is Blair Sandburg. I'm Detective Ellison's partner." Well, it wasn't a lie, exactly. "I was wondering if I might speak with Mr. and Mrs. Taylor." He hesitated. "I know this is a bad time for them, but it'll only take a minute."

The maid nodded. "Let me see if they are available. Please, wait here." She waved him into a spacious entry hall and turned to go into an adjacent room.

From where Blair stood, idly studying the large portrait of a beautiful young woman, he could hear the faint conversation going on in the next room. A man's voice was raised angrily, then a woman's tone cut in, soft, gentle yet persuasive. The door opened and the maid beckoned to Blair.

"Please come in, Mr. Sandburg."

Blair nodded and walked past her into the room. The room was decorated elegantly. A cheery fire crackled in the large fireplace, two brocaded armchairs sat next to it and a long, oak bar ran the length of one wall. A tall sandy-headed man stepped out from behind the bar, a glass of amber liquid held in one slightly shaky hand. As he approached Blair, a small blonde woman with Maddie Taylor's eyes stood from the couch facing the fire and joined him. The man nodded at the maid.

"Thank you, Ella. Mr. Sandburg. You're not a police officer, I believe."

"No, I'm not, but I would like to ask you a few questions regarding your daughter's death," Blair replied.

The woman extended a hand and smiled sweetly at him. "I'm Marilyn Taylor, Mr. Sandburg. Please have a seat. Would you like some coffee?" She waved a hand at the gilt silver service on the small table.

Blair shook his head, his stomach already churning with nerves. "No, thank you." He seated himself on the sofa and wiped his suddenly sweaty hands on his jeans. "First, I'd like to say how very sorry I am for your loss. I know it sounds trite, but I truly am sorry."

Marilyn Taylor's eyes filled immediately with tears. "Thank you," she whispered, pulling a tissue from the silver covered box on the table. "She was such a beautiful little girl." She looked up at her husband. "Don called her his little princess."

Don Taylor merely scowled and stepped around the couch to tower over Blair. "We told the police everything we knew, Mr. Sandburg. There's nothing else that can be said. Some animal killed our little girl and he got away with it. While your people chase your asses, he's out there doing it again."

"Don!" Marilyn stood up quickly, but wavered on her feet and Blair stood as well, quickly reaching out a supporting hand to steady the young woman. Her face was ghostly pale and beaded with perspiration, but she nodded at Blair, acknowledging his offer of assistance, then glared reproachfully at her husband. "How can you say that? Michael is my brother, Maddie's uncle and godfather. You know he's doing everything he can to find whoever killed her."

Don shook his head and tipped up his glass, emptying the contents in one long swig. This close up, Blair could see that the other man's eyes were bloodshot, his breath redolent with alcohol.

"He's not doing enough," Taylor said, staring at Blair. "He never liked me. Then he sends this little upstart to talk to us. I know all about you, Sandburg. I saw your press conference." He turned away and stalked back to the bar.

"The commissioner didn't send me," Blair said. "I just have a couple of questions regarding the evidence that was found during the investigation of your daughter's murder -"

"She's not my daughter," Taylor ground out, not looking up from pouring another drink. "But you already knew that."

Blair nodded and, after ensuring that Marilyn was safely reseated, stepped over to the bar. "Yes, I know. Did you know that Maddie was the only victim with a head injury, Mr. Taylor?"

Taylor looked up quickly. "What are you getting at, Sandburg?"

"I'm not sure exactly," Blair said softly. "Despite evidence of sexual assault, there was no semen present. You were home with Maddie the day she disappeared, weren't you? Were you aware that all the other children were taken from parks near where they were killed? That Maddie was the only child taken from a house?" He watched as Taylor's hand shook violently, the scotch sloshing over the rim of the glass. "Kids can be hard to tolerate sometimes, can't they? Especially when they're not your own. I had a couple of stepfathers. When they wouldn't let me do what I wanted, or if they did something I didn't like, I'd taunt them sometimes. 'You can't tell me what to do,' I'd say. 'You're not my father.' Is that what happened that afternoon, Mr. Taylor? Did you and Maddie have an argument?"

Taylor looked over at his wife, his eyes beseeching. Slowly, he set the glass down on the top of the bar and walked out toward his wife. Marilyn Taylor lurched up from her chair, her eyes wide, her head shaking a vehement negative as she backed away from him.

"I didn't mean it," he whispered.

Marilyn's hands went to her ears as though, in covering them, she could block out the truth. "Please, no. I can't hear this."

Taylor turned back to Blair now, his face as pale as his wife's. "It was like you said." He moved to stand in front of Blair, one hand out, pleading understanding. "I told her she had to go do her homework. She poked her tongue out at me. 'You're not my father,' she said. 'You can't tell me what to do.'" He looked quickly at his wife, raising his voice to be heard over her sobs. "You know how she was always throwing that in my face."

Marilyn raised a mascara-streaked face to him. "She was just a little girl," she screamed.

Taylor shook his head. "I pushed her toward the house. She tripped and fell. Hit her head." He stared at Blair now as though willing him to understand. "When I couldn't wake her up, I panicked. Do you know what they'd do to someone like me in prison, especially when they find out that the Commissioner of Police is my brother-in-law? She was dead…"

Blair pushed down his revulsion of the pathetic creature standing in front of him. "She had water in her lungs," he said quietly. "She was still alive when you shoved something up inside her to make it looked like she'd been raped." His voice shook and he blinked away the tears that blurred his vision. "She was still alive when you put rocks in her schoolbag. She was still alive when you tossed her into the river like so much garbage."

Taylor backed up a step, shaking his head. "I didn't know." He looked again at his wife. "I didn't know."

Marilyn Taylor slumped to the floor and curled herself into a weeping ball of anguish. "You killed my baby," she whispered brokenly. "You killed my baby."

Blair watched her for a moment, then walked slowly to the phone. He felt enormously weary and drained of life. As he picked up the receiver, he scarcely heard the whispered denial behind him. He caught a blur of motion beside him at the same time as agony and sound exploded like white fire in his brain and a whisper of heat flashed past his face. His legs buckled beneath him, sending him to the floor.

He flopped over onto his stomach, one hand going up to clutch at the pain in his temple, his fingers coming away wet with blood. He blinked rapidly, trying to dispel the darkness from his vision, desperately attempting to gasp a breath. Distantly, he could still hear Marilyn Taylor sobbing, lost in her own grief. Then a hand was under his arm, dragging him back up on his feet and he cried out as the movement caused pain to flare anew in his skull. Before he could begin to struggle, a strong arm encircled his neck and he was dragged back against a hard chest. His hands came up automatically to pull ineffectually at the stranglehold on his throat, but he was too weak, his vision graying out even as he was hauled from the room. He gasped weakly for breath, his legs stumbling as he fought to keep up with Taylor's agitated pace.

The man's mouth was close to his ear and Blair gagged on the rancid odor of stale booze as Taylor muttered to him. "I can't go to prison. You know what they'll do to me in there."

"Taylor, listen to me." Blair managed to get the words past the constriction in his throat. "Give yourself up. If it was an accident, they'll go easier on you, if you surrender now."

"No!" Both men looked up as they heard the distinctive wail of police sirens approaching. "They're here. Oh, God," Taylor wailed. "I can't let them take me."

He dragged Blair to the front door and tapped against it with the barrel of his gun. "Open the door!" he demanded. When Blair hesitated, he ground the muzzle of the weapon cruelly into Blair's wound, making him writhe in agony. "I'll shoot you right now. Open the damn door."

Blair reached a shaky, bloodied hand toward the door handle and turned it, then cracked the door open. He could see the patrol car at the curb, its engine still running as one uniformed officer got out of the car and began to walk toward the door.

"Stay back!" Taylor yelled. "I'll kill him." He shook Blair roughly. "Tell them who you are."

"Bl—Blair Sandburg. I'm an observer with Major Crime."

"You let us walk out of here or he dies," Taylor demanded. Pulling Blair away from the door, he slammed it shut and released his grip on Blair's throat, allowing him to crumple to the ground.

 

~o0o~

 

Jim was out of the car before it had fully stopped. Quickly, he hurried to the patrol car that was parked at the curb, its motor still running. A uniformed officer was crouched by the open front door of the car, his radio microphone in his hand. He looked up and nodded as Jim squatted down beside him.

"What have you got, Scully?"

Officer Scully waved his free hand toward the house. "Taylor's in there, armed with at least one weapon." He looked soberly at the detective. "He's got Blair, Jim. I saw him, just for a second before the door was shut."

Jim clamped down his fear. "Was he hurt?"

"I don't know. He spoke, gave us his name."

Simon came up beside them and crouched at Jim's side. "How many in the house, Pat?"

Scully shrugged his beefy shoulders. "No idea. No sign of movement from within for about five minutes. Chris was just about to try to hail Taylor on the P.A. system. We tried phoning the house, but it just keeps ringing."

Jim was vaguely aware of Simon's hand coming to rest on his shoulder, but all his attention was focused on the house as he dialed up his senses and tried to find his Guide. He counted five heartbeats, all rapid, all pounding. A child crying plaintively. A woman's sobs accompanied by a second woman's soothing tones. Labored breathing interspersed with small grunts of pain reached his ears next and he knew without a doubt that he'd found Blair. He allowed himself a small sigh of relief.

"There's five in the house," he told Simon. "Three upstairs, two just inside the front door."

Scully stared at him, his mouth agape. "How can you know that?"

Simon laid a hand on the veteran cop's shoulder. "Don't ask, Pat. Just leave it be."

Scully merely nodded and turned his attention back to his partner. "Chris, you got the P.A. system set up?"

The young blond officer nodded and Scully handed the instrument to Simon. "Your operation, sir. Here you go."

Simon nodded and accepted the microphone, then depressed the send button. "Donald Taylor? This is Captain Simon Banks, Cascade PD. Throw out your weapon and release your hostages."

All four men ducked as a wild shot pinged off the front fender of the police car. "I can't go to prison," Taylor screamed from the house. "You get me out of here or Sandburg dies."

"We need some time, Taylor. Think about what you're doing here. Throw down your weapon and come on out. Let your hostages go."

Another shot ricocheted off the car and then suddenly the front door of the house was flung open. Taylor walked out, a battered Blair Sandburg held tightly against his chest. Taylor's arm was wound tightly around Blair's throat, a gun barrel gouging into a heavily bleeding wound on Blair's temple.

"I want a car now!" Taylor demanded, though his voice shook and his face was as white as his captive's was.

Unthinking, Jim stood up upon seeing Blair stagger out the door. Dazed blue eyes fixed unerringly on the detective and Jim growled deep in his throat as Taylor's gun swung to fix on him. Jim's sensitive sight focused on the blood tracking slowly down the side of Blair's face, deep red, thick and wet, snaking down Blair's neck, disappearing beneath the rust-stained collar of his shirt…

"Jim."

The Sentinel sucked in a shaky breath and his eyes snapped up at the whispered command. Blair lifted pain-filled eyes to meet his. "Don't zone on me now, man. Please."

Jim lowered himself back to the ground and looked at Simon. "Keep him occupied," he whispered. "I think I can take him down."

Simon eyed him carefully. "Are you sure, Jim? That's Sandburg out there in front of him."

Jim nodded, his eyes narrowed. "You think I don't know that? Blair trusts me. I need you to do the same."

Simon nodded and pressed the button on the microphone once more. "Taylor, let's talk about this. Give yourself up now before this gets out of hand."

As Simon spoke, Jim began to shift sideways, hoping to get to the cover of the tree that sat at the edge of the driveway. He pulled his gun from his shoulder holster and cocked it, then held it up in both hands as he made his way along the side of the car.

"Why don't you let me get your brother-in-law here? You can talk to him about everything?"

"No!"

Even as Taylor screamed out his denial, Jim knew that they'd run out of time. His eyes saw Taylor's finger tighten on the trigger in his rage and Jim threw himself out from the cover of the car, rolling sideways and bringing his gun up to fire simultaneously. He took a shot borne of all the innate marksmanship in him and watched as his bullet burrowed into Taylor's shoulder, the man's arm flinging outward as the force of the projectile spun him away from Blair. Gunfire erupted into the air as Taylor fell backward and Blair threw himself to one side. The anthropologist hit the ground hard, then lay silent and still.

 

~o0o~

 

The moment Blair saw Jim, he knew that he was going to get out alive. There was no doubt in his mind, no fear, just an immense relief that if Jim was here, it would all be okay.

He was scarcely following the conversation between Simon and Taylor. His head pounded and he could feel the sticky warmth of his blood as it trickled down his neck. His thoughts felt slow and unwieldy and he was pretty certain that he had a decent concussion. His eyes tracked back to where he knew Jim was and when he saw the detective leap out from behind the car with his gun raised, Blair reacted in pure instinct.

Using the last of his rapidly waning strength, he threw himself to the side, tearing himself free from Taylor's grasp. He heard gunfire close to his head, the report almost deafening him, and then he landed heavily on the gravel driveway and his consciousness fled.

 

~o0o~

 

Blair awoke to a bright white light that flared agony through his skull and he moaned and tried to turn away from the instrument of his pain. His head was held in a firm but gentle grasp, and he reached up with his own hand to clutch at the big fingers framing his face.

"Jim?" His voice sounded rusty and disused, but as he cracked his eyes open again, Jim grinned widely at him.

"Hey, Chief. Finally decided to wake up, huh? How are you feeling?"

"Head hurts," Blair answered, concentrating on Jim's hands that were now stroking soothingly along his brow.

"I'm not surprised. That's a nasty gash you've got on your head. You've also got a concussion. The nurse has been in here every hour checking on you. This is the first time you've woken up properly, though."

"Did you get the guy who killed the other little girls?" Blair asked. His eyes grew heavy and he flirted with sleep.

"Yeah, we got him."

Blair smiled as he felt Jim's lips press gently against his own. "When can I go home?"

"Doctor thinks tomorrow, provided you behave yourself."

"Good." The word was barely there, but Blair knew that Jim had every sense dialed up and focused on him. "I seem to recall you and I had something to finish."

"Really?"

Blair managed to open one drowsy eye and glare at his partner. "Yes, really." He drifted for a moment, drinking in the presence of his lover, then a disquieting thought occurred to him. "I guess Simon's pretty pissed at me."

"He's not the only one, Chief. You go off doing this PI thing on your own again and you won't sit down for a week."

Blair gave him a lascivious, if somewhat drowsy smile. "Promises, promises."

Jim leaned forward and cupped Blair's face in his hands. "I mean it, Blair. I've just figured out how much I love you. I'm not prepared to lose you again."

Blair blushed at the proclamation, but before he could speak, the door opened and Simon Banks walked in. "They told me at the desk that you were awake," he said, walking up to Blair's bedside. "How are you feeling, son?"

"Much better," Blair said, grinning at Jim, whose face had turned a healthy shade of red as well, at his captain's entrance.

"Good, because I've got a message for you from the commissioner."

Blair sobered immediately. "He's going to withdraw the offer of the detective's shield, isn't he?" He felt the familiar panic begin to stir in his chest. It was all over. There would be no partnership, no chance for him to remain Jim's Guide. He pushed the sadness away firmly and squared his jaw. He still had Jim, and their relationship was more important than anything else under Heaven and Earth. "I'm sorry, sir, but if I had the time over, I'd do it again. Once I put it all together, I couldn't let him get away with it. I'm sorry that it was the commissioner's brother-in-law, but he murdered a beautiful little girl -"

"Sandburg, shut up!" Simon's sharp command froze him instantly. "The commissioner is extremely grateful for your work on the case and for your intervention, which possibly saved the life of his sister and nephew. Jim told me about your decision to accept my offer; he also told me that it was not what you really wanted to do, but that you felt you had no choice."

Blair's eyes slid over to Jim, who shifted on his feet and edged closer to the bed.

"The commissioner thinks that you have the makings of a fine criminal profiler, especially with your background in anthropology. I agree with him, for once. The commissioner has called in a favor at Rainier to get you into the next course. You can pay for the classes out of your wages."

Blair snorted. "I've got to find a job first. Who's going to want to employ a fraud?" He looked at Jim then, his eyes beginning to brim with tears. "I'm sorry. I should have just accepted Simon's offer in the first place. Now I've screwed everything up."

Simon groaned and moved to insinuate himself between the two men. "You're not listening to me, Sandburg. We'll have to cure you of that habit if you're going to be on my team."

Blair tore his gaze from Jim's face and stared at Simon. "Your team? Simon, I don't understand."

"The commissioner feels that you would be an excellent asset to Cascade PD with your experience and skills. He'd like to offer you a position as a paid consultant to Major Crime while you complete your degree in criminology. You'll be partnered with Jim, but you'll both have to get used to the idea that occasionally someone else in the department might want to borrow you. And if you're accepting the job offer, that's Sir, not Simon, to you."

Blair was certain his face was going to split wide open from smiling so hard. He could see his happiness reflected in Jim's face. "Yes, sir!" he said, snapping off a jaunty salute.

Simon tried to scowl and almost succeeded. "I'll take that as a yes. All right. I'm going to go home and get some sleep. It's been a very long day."

Blair suddenly had another thought. "Jim," he said softly, "what if they find out about us?"

Simon turned at the door. "Next time you want to make out with your partner, Jim, I suggest you lock the door. Your relationship is your personal business, Sandburg. Nobody needs to know."

Blair nodded and sank back onto the pillows. "Thank you, Sim… sir. Could you do me a favor and take Jim with you? He needs to get some rest. I have some pretty energetic sensory tests lined up for him tomorrow."

He watched with enjoyment as Jim tried not to squirm. "I'll pick you up after lunch," Jim said. Then he leaned in and whispered in Blair's ear, "I'm going to get you for that, Sandburg. Your ass is mine."

"And only yours." Blair turned onto his side and for the first time in a very long time, slept a deep and dreamless sleep.

 

~o0o~

 

Jim opened the door to the loft, then stepped back to allow Blair to precede him. The younger man had mostly recovered from his ordeal at Taylor's hands, but the six stitches lining his temple and the angry black bruise that bled down over his cheek were a stark reminder to Jim of how close he had come to losing Blair forever.

Lost in his thoughts, he turned from closing the apartment door to find his body pinned to it by a pair of strong, insistent arms. It was an exact turnaround of their positions from several weeks before when Blair thought he had lost everything.

Now Blair's face was flushed with excitement and passion, his dark blue eyes huge, almost black with desire, and he leaned in and took Jim's mouth in a fervent kiss. Jim pressed lightly with his tongue, rewarded when Blair sighed and opened up to him, sucking him into sweet, moist heat that inflamed his blood. His erection strained hard against its cloth confines and he groaned when he felt Blair's sturdy fingers stroke firmly along his length.

"Upstairs?" he breathed into Blair's mouth.

Blair pulled back slightly, still ghosting his fingers over Jim's dick. "Don't know if I can wait that long," he panted.

Jim grabbed the maddening hand before he erupted and led his lover to the stairs. "Trust me," he vowed, "it'll be worth it."

Blair said nothing but followed him up the stairs. At the top, Jim led him to the bed and pushed him down to lay flat. When Blair reached out a hand toward him, Jim shook his head.

"Wait," he suggested silkily. "Watch."

Slowly, he stripped, putting on a performance for his lover and settling both their first-time nerves. When he was finally naked, he ran a single finger across his chest, over his already hard nipples and down to trail along his cock. He smiled, still feeling a little self-conscious. "Thought you should see what you're getting. Give you a chance to back out, if you want to."

He could hear Blair's heart pounding, see his chest straining as his lover breathed harshly. Blair's hand strayed to his own groin and began to dance lightly over the growing bulge there. "Does this look like I want to back out?"

Jim grinned and climbed onto the bed, throwing one leg over Blair's body so that he straddled his hips. Gathering the bottom of Blair's tee shirt in both hands, he pulled it up and over the curly head, then tossed it onto the floor. Sitting back on his haunches, he ran his fingers through the soft chest hair, smiling when Blair hissed and arched his back as Jim's fingertips found pebbled nipples and stroked them to hardness.

When Jim's fingers paused at the button on his jeans, Blair opened his eyes and nodded. He lifted his hips as Jim pulled his jeans down his legs and off, tossing them casually onto the floor to join the rest of their clothes. Jim moved further down and stroked one finger over Blair's erect, boxer-covered cock. He pushed his fingers under the waistband and tangled them in the thick pubic hair, then pushed Blair's boxers down so that they pooled at his ankles and his lover was totally, gloriously naked.

He lowered his head and licked tentatively along Blair's shaft. Blair moaned at the sensation, his hands fisting convulsively at his sides as he tried desperately not to arch up into Jim's mouth. Then it was Jim who took the initiative, opening his mouth and taking Blair in to the root. He sucked strongly up and down, anchoring one hand on the base and pumping the turgid shaft slowly, almost lazily.

"Oh, God, Jimmmm!" Blair moaned, and suddenly his hips seemed to have a life of their own as they lifted to meet Jim's hot mouth. Jim pushed at the underside of Blair's thighs and he lifted his legs automatically, Blair's shyness gone in the wake of the passion Jim was arousing. Blair allowed his knees to drop open, his feet flat on the bed, exposing himself wantonly to his lover's hungry gaze.

Stretching out his hand, Jim tugged open his dresser drawer and found the lube he'd placed inside, ready for this moment. Flicking off the lid, he coated his fingers with the cool gel, aware of Blair's hot gaze on his actions. Jim felt Blair shudder as one gel-coated finger stroked softly over his hole, then circled it. Finally, he pushed the tip just inside the tight channel. He bent his head and took Blair's erection into his mouth once more. The simultaneous movement on his cock and inside his ass made Blair push down onto the stroking finger, urging it further inside, desperate to take it all, to feel it all. Jim added a second finger and stroked more forcefully, twisting his fingers until they found the small gland deep inside. He rubbed it several times, then watched as Blair's powerful orgasm shook his entire body. Blair groaned deep in his throat as he pushed down and fucked himself frantically on Jim's fingers.

Jim reached again for the lube and slicked his own cock, pumping himself in time to his movements on Blair then he pulled his fingers out of the still-convulsing channel and pushed his shaft inside. He was close, just watching Blair come from his fingers and mouth, had almost been his undoing and he couldn't wait any longer to feel Blair surround him. Blair arched himself up further, and Jim lifted his lover's legs higher, draping them over his shoulders, then he pressed in closer and pumped hard. Blair moaned and shuddered as Jim's cock brushed continuously over his prostate. Jim's hand was still wrapped possessively around him, pumping in time with his thrusts deep inside. Jim stroked hard once more, then froze, his face a mask of ecstasy as he came.

He lowered his head to Blair's stomach, panting heavily, his cock still spasming gently inside his lover. Blair reached up and caressed the short hair on Jim's head. He smiled when Jim looked up, then leaned in to share another kiss, this one soft and gentle, lacking the urgency of before.

"That was -" Blair, for once, was lost for words. "Oh, God, Jim, what you do to me."

Jim grinned and contented himself with toying with Blair's nipple ring, feeling sated and sleepy. After a while, he pulled out of Blair's body and cleaned them both up before lying down and pulling his lover to him.

Blair rested his head on Jim's broad chest and traced a finger over his lover's peaked nipples. "I can hear your heartbeat," he whispered. "It's nice, soothing."

"I hear yours all the time," Jim said. "I don't even have to listen for it anymore. It's just there. Feels wrong when I can't hear it."

"I like that idea."

"Me, too."

~end~

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