Tainted Love

By Lyn

 

Originally published in Angel On My Mind 9.

 

"You want to get that, Sandburg?"

Absorbed in his notes, Blair had no idea what Jim was talking about. A knock sounded at the door. Not looking up, Blair continued to write. "Can't you get it?"

"I'm not sure how whoever it is would react to me opening the door stark naked, Chief."

Blair did look up at that comment. His lover stood in the doorway to the bathroom, arms akimbo, gloriously naked. Blair grinned, hunger stirring his groin at the sight. Pushing his books from his lap, he stood and walked to the front door, taking a last lingering look at Jim's muscular body. "You know, there is no way I'm going to be able to concentrate on lesson notes now."

"Then it's lucky we have visitors," Jim replied, tucking a towel around his hips and climbing the stairs to the bedroom. "Get the door already."

Blair opened the door and smiled at the stranger standing there. The man was tall and well built. A tight black tee shirt stretched over a broad chest, and thick muscular thighs were encased in denim jeans that looked as though they'd been painted on. He had short, buzz-cut black hair. A scar ran the length of one cheek, accentuating the man's rugged features, rather than detracting from them. "Can I help you?"

The stranger studied Blair carefully. "I'm looking for Jim Ellison."

Blair glanced over his shoulder. There was no sign of Jim, though Blair was sure the sentinel could hear the conversation. "You've found him, man, but he's getting dressed. If you give me your name... "

"Jason?"

Jim's voice came from above and Blair looked up to see his lover leaning over the railing.

The stranger grinned widely, showing perfect white teeth. "Jim! How the hell are you?"

"All the better for seeing you. Blair, let the man in."

Blair ushered Jim's friend inside as his partner came hurrying down the stairs, buttoning a shirt. The detective strode quickly over to Jason and wrapped the other man in a bear hug. Jason responded in kind, ruffling Jim's hair with one large hand as he laughed.

"You're getting a little thin on top there, Jim," Jason remarked as he pulled out of the embrace.

Jim rolled his eyes. "Pressures of the job, and keeping this guy in line." He rested a hand lightly on Blair's shoulder. "Jason, this is my partner and roommate, Blair Sandburg. Blair, this is Jason Stone, my roommate at the Academy, and the guy you want backing you up when a bust goes to hell."

Blair stuck out a hand and shook Jason's, trying not to wince as the bones in his hand ground together in Jason's strong grip. The other man's close scrutiny of him made him feel uncomfortably like a bug under a microscope. He pulled his hand back, rubbing it surreptitiously. "It's good to meet you, man."

Jason smiled. "Same here, Blair, was it?"

"Come on in, sit down. You want a beer?" Jim led Jason into the living room and waited until Jason sat on the couch before seating himself beside him.

"Sure, I could go for a beer."

Jim looked up briefly at Blair. "Sandburg, you want to grab a couple of beers from the fridge?"

"Sure." Blair turned and went into the kitchen. He pulled three beers from the refrigerator, then hesitated for a moment, and put one back. He carried the others to the living room and placed them on the coffee table.

Jim dragged his gaze away from Jason to look at his partner. "You're not joining us?"

"Nah, I've still got a lot of work to do," Blair answered. He decided not to remind Jim that they were supposed to be going out to dinner - Jim's treat - after Blair's insight on their most recent case had resulted in an arrest. He motioned over his shoulder in the direction of his old room. "I'll go to my room. Give you guys a chance to catch up."

"Sure. Okay." Jim's attention turned back almost immediately to Jason.

Blair scooped up his books and notes from the couch and carried them into his room. All his furniture was still there. The two men had planned on turning the room into an office for them both, but work at the station had been hectic, coupled with Blair's teaching and studying at the university and they'd put it off, deciding to wait until summer break.

He flopped down onto his futon, and powered up his laptop, trying hard not to be distracted by the laughter and animated conversation coming from the living room. "Face it, Sandburg," he chastised himself as he opened the topmost reference book on the pile. "You're jealous." He snorted at his childish feelings. "He's just an old buddy. No need to get your nose bent out of shape."

~o0o~

Jim took a long pull of his beer before leaning back on the couch and observing his old friend. "The years have treated you well, Jase. You're looking good."

"I've looked after myself," Jason replied. "You're looking pretty good yourself... for an old guy." He ducked the expected swipe to his head catching Jim's hand and squeezing it lightly before letting it go. "I didn't have much chance to talk to you at your wedding. Quite frankly, I couldn't believe it at first."

Jim stared out the balcony window. "I had a lot of stuff happening. Thought maybe it was time for a change. Time to settle down. It didn't work out."

"I'm not surprised," Jason retorted. "You might have always believed you were bi, man, but I knew the truth from our first time."

Jim sat forward and placed his bottle on the coffee table. "That's in the past now, Jase. I'm... in a relationship."

Jason immediately glanced over the back of the couch toward the spare room. "The little guy? Jesus, Jim, isn't he a little effeminate for you?"

Jim's eyes narrowed. "He's my partner, both here and at work, and my best friend, and he's tougher than he looks," he said, lowering his voice slightly. "It's working out okay."

Jason held both hands up, palm outward, warding off Jim's anger. "Cool it, man. That's fine. He seems like a nice guy. Just not your usual, that's all."

Jim relaxed a little and turned the conversation to his friend. "So, what are you doing in Cascade? Last I heard you were in Vice in Seattle."

Jason shrugged. "I needed a change of scenery. Cascade's a pretty nice town, and I heard there was an opening going in Narcotics. I applied for the transfer and got it."

Jim gave him a wide smile. "That's great! So, where are you living?"

"Nowhere yet. I haven't found anything I like. I've got a hotel room downtown for now until I find something."

"Stay here tonight," Jim said impulsively. "We'll go out, have dinner, talk about old times. As a matter of fact, there was an apartment available here in this building. I'll get Blair to check tomorrow."

Jason nodded and finished his beer, then stood. "Sounds great, but my treat for dinner. I'm guessing you're still a steak man."

"Whenever Sandburg lets me," Jim laughed. "Kid's a damn health freak. Always whining about fat content. 'Why don't you just shoot it straight into your veins, Jim.'" He mimicked Blair's voice uncannily. "Give me a minute to grab a jacket and Sandburg and we'll take off."

"Are you sure we should interrupt him?" Jason asked. "He sounded like he had a lot on."

"He's like the Energizer bunny," Jim said, crossing to Blair's door. "Always doing a hundred things at once." He tapped at the door, then pushed it open. "Hey, Chief, you up for a steak? Jason's treat."

Blair looked as though he were considering his answer, then finally shook his head. "Actually, if you don't mind, Jim, I've still got a lot of work to do."

Jim hesitated, not wanting to desert his lover, but eager to catch up with Jason. "If you're sure." At Blair's nod, he continued. "All right, don't wait up. Oh, and I invited Jase to spend the night."

Blair's head shot up. "Oh. I'll sleep on the couch."

"Don't be silly." Jim stepped into the room. "He knows about us, Chief. It won't bother him."

Blair's face flushed, red coloring his cheeks. "You told him? Do you think that was such a good idea?"

"Jase and I go way back, Blair. We had a thing going for a while. He's fine."

Blair's lips thinned into a tight line. "I see. You never mentioned him."

Impatience flared in Jim's skull, his words coming out harsher than he intended. "Like you've told me about everyone you've ever screwed!" He took a step closer when Blair's eyes widened and then looked down at his computer screen. "Sorry, I didn't mean that. Look, can we do this later? Jason's waiting."

Blair nodded, but did not look up. "You go on. I'll make up the couch. Jason can have the futon."

Jim turned and left the room. He followed Jason out the front door, and closed it behind them, wondering what the hell had just happened.

~o0o~

Jim finished his steak and pushed away his plate. He eyed the bottle of wine on the table, debating whether to have another glass. He was already feeling pleasantly buzzed.

Jason lifted the bottle and poured the remaining drink into Jim's glass, then motioned to the waiter for another bottle.

"I think I've had enough," Jim protested.

"Oh, come on, man. My first night in town? What time are you on tomorrow?"

"Late shift," Jim admitted. "But I don't tend to drink much these days. Sandburg... "

Jason's eyes glinted, and Jim saw a flash of the old anger in his exlover' s eyes. "He your babysitter as well as your lover?"

"That's out of line, Jason."

Jason sighed and touched Jim's hand. "You're right. I'm sorry. Look, we haven't seen each other for six years. We'll have a few drinks, talk, maybe go visit a club, like old times, huh?" He held up a hand to stave off Jim's ready protest. "And I promise to have you home in time for you to catch your beauty sleep." He ran his gaze appreciatively over Jim's body. "Not that you need it. You're still gorgeous."

"Thank you." Jim smiled. "All right. A couple more drinks... but no nightclub. The music these days gives me one hell of a headache."

"You always were super-sensitive that way," Jason mused. "Me? The louder the better."

Jim lifted his glass and took a sip, savoring the warm heady taste of the grape. "So let's talk about you. Why leave Seattle?"

"Like I said, I needed a change of scenery. I was in a relationship. Brad's in advertising." He shrugged. "It didn't work out. I found out he was having an affair. The break-up wasn't pretty, property settlements and such. I needed fresh pastures."

"I'm sorry."

Jason smiled and poured himself another glass of wine then topped up Jim's. "Don't be. I'm not. The guy was a piece of shit, treating me like he did. Old news, man." He eyed Jim speculatively, a smile softening his features. "Tell me about Blair. You guys serious?"

"Well, if you're talking commitment ceremonies, no. Blair's not into that, and neither am I."

Jason rolled his eyes. "Tell me about it!"

Jim made a face. "Anyway, Blair teaches Anthropology at Rainier University. He's the smartest guy I know. He's doing his dissertation on closed societies, and asked if he could ride along on an observer's pass. Thing is, he's been such an asset to Major Crimes, he's just stayed around."

"Seems to me he's been an asset to you too. Being in love always did suit you."

Jim toyed with his glass. "We went through some tough shit together. We got close. Now I can't imagine not having him in my life."

"There was a time you thought the same of me."

Jim pushed back his chair. "Let's not go there, huh, Jase? It just wasn't meant to be, not for us. Maybe we were too alike. Look, it's getting late. We should get home."

"How about a scotch for the road?" Jason asked, standing and calling the waiter over. "For old times."

~o0o~

The sound of unsteady footsteps, loud shushing, and muffled laughter woke Blair from a light sleep. He sat up disentangling himself from the nest of blankets he'd created for himself on the couch, and squinted at his watch. Three AM.

He groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face, rubbing at the grit in his eyes. Just great. Jim had a late shift tomorrow, but Blair had an early start at the university and had promised to accompany Jim on a stakeout after that. This was the first night in forever he'd managed to get to bed before 1AM, and here were the Keystone Kops about to fuck it up.

He sat silently for a moment as he heard Jim's key scratching in the lock, debating whether to sink back under his covers and pretend to be asleep. Then the thought of Jim and his friend walking in, seeing him tucked up in bed like a good little boy, made him suddenly uncomfortable, and he threw back the blankets and hurriedly pulled on his sweatpants.

The living room light came on unexpectedly and Blair squinted at the sudden glare. Jim shambled in, followed by an equally rumpled Jason.

"Hey, Chief," Jim greeted his lover, his too-bright eyes and goofy grin leaving no doubt in Blair's mind that his partner was tanked, but good. Jim blinked owlishly at Blair. "You're still 'wake. S'good. Wanna drink?"

"You're drunk," Blair said unnecessarily.

"Well, give the kid a gold star." Jason smirked at Blair as he wrapped an arm around the detective and pulled him closer. "You're right, Jim. Kid's a fucking genius."

Jim grinned at his ex-lover, seemingly oblivious to the obvious dig. "Tol' ya. Now, drink?" He stumbled toward the kitchen, dragging Jason along with him.

Jason's steady gaze had Blair suspecting that the Seattle detective was a good deal more sober than he was pretending to be, and the thought caused a tendril of unease to lodge in his gut. He stood quickly and headed Jim off.

"I think you've had enough for one night." Blair placed a hand flat on his lover's chest, not pushing, just holding him in place.

Jim looked as though he was about to protest, then shrugged and smiled amicably. "Okay." He bent and pressed a kiss to Blair's lips that had the anthropologist recoiling from the sour stench of alcohol. "Le'ss go to bed, baby."

"I'm sleeping on the couch, remember?" Blair and Jason managed to get Jim turned around and facing the stairs.

"You don't have to... " Jason put in as they walked Jim to the foot of the stairs.

"It's no bother." Blair watched Jim concentrating on trying to get one foot on the first riser. He sighed. "I've got him from here. Your bed's made up in the spare room."

Jason let go of Jim's arm quickly. "Sure, okay. I might go take a shower."

"Knock yourself out." Blair shifted himself so Jim's arm draped over his shoulder. "Come on, big guy, let's get you to bed."

After several false starts, Blair managed to almost bodily haul Jim up the stairs. Jim stumbled to the bed under his own steam, and collapsed face-downwards in an ungainly sprawl. With a fair degree of effort, he flopped to his back and, raising one hand, crooked a finger, beckoning Blair closer.

Blair glanced quickly at him, then bent to pull open a dresser drawer. "Give me a minute, Jim. I'll get you some clean stuff to sleep in."

Jim shook his head. "That'll wait. Come here."

Blair crossed over to the bed and looked down at his inebriated lover. He shook his head in fond exasperation. "You nut. You know what happens with your senses when you get too drunk."

Jim's face took on a mournful look. "I know," he drawled. "Senses all over the map. Sorry. We were gonna have just one, then," he shrugged, "lost track, I guess."

"Yeah." Blair stroked a finger gently down Jim's cheek, smiling when Jim turned his head a little and sucked the digit into his mouth.

"Wanna make love?" Jim's eyes were closed, but his hand reached out and brushed firmly against Blair's groin. The brief contact was enough for Blair to harden a little. He took a step back before his erection became obvious to sentinel touch.

"I seriously doubt you'd be up to it." He leaned down and kissed Jim's mouth. "Anyway, you stink! What did you do, bathe in the stuff?"

A gentle snore was his only response. Blair pulled off Jim's shoes and socks, and manhandled the sleeping man's pants down his legs and over his feet. A moment's hesitation as he considered the possibility of moving Jim's not inconsiderable weight had him deciding to leave his lover in his tee shirt. Pulling the bedclothes up, Blair bestowed a final kiss and left.

Jason was standing in the doorway to Blair's room, a towel knotted about his waist. His bare chest was covered in a dark mat of hair that arrowed down to disappear beneath the towel. Blair kept his gaze averted from the admittedly attractive sight. "Sorry," he said finally as he headed out to the kitchen and put the kettle on the hotplate to make tea. He seriously doubted he was going to get back to sleep now without some herbal help. "Jim doesn't get drunk very often. It doesn't agree with him."

"He always seemed to handle his liquor pretty well." Jason's voice came from just behind him.

Blair pulled down a cup and placed it on the bench. "Yeah, well, these days he doesn't."

"Because you tell him not to?"

Blair spun around, startled by the comment. "What? No! He just doesn't like losing control."

Jason smiled, though Blair thought it looked faintly predatory. "Looks like he's lost control for tonight. If you were hoping for a little foreplay, I think you're out of luck. Unless... Scotch doesn't affect me like it does Jimmy." He rubbed a hand suggestively over his towel-covered crotch. "I could help you out."

"I think you're drunker than you realize or you wouldn't have even suggested that." Blair tried to keep his voice even.

Jason took a step closer, forcing Blair to move backwards to evade him. He came up against the kitchen counter, Jason's obvious erection gently poking him in the hip. "Oh, come on now, Blair. I worked Vice in Seattle for six years. You pretty boys can never get enough."

The silence in the small kitchen was absolute, save for the heavy breathing of both men. The kettle whistled shrilly and Blair jumped. He turned in the tight confines between the counter and Jason's body, and switched off the kettle. "Your bed is made up in the spare room."

He felt the other man move away and breathed a sigh of relief. His hands were sweaty and he found it difficult to grip the handle of the pot. "Jason?" Blair turned and regarded Jim's old friend steadily from glacier-blue eyes. "If you value your health, you won't mention this conversation to Jim."

Jason held up a hand, palm outward. "Just a friendly offer, Sandburg."

"Keep them to yourself." Blair watched Jason leave and turned back to his tea. He picked up his cup and tried to stop his hand from shaking. Hot liquid sloshed over the sides, burning his hand and making a mess on the counter. With a muttered curse, Blair tipped out the tea, mopped up the spill and went back to the couch. He spent most of the night, staring out the balcony windows, seeing nothing, his mind churning in synchronization with his gut. Something told him Jason Stone was bad news.

~o0o~

Blair twitched his nose as the tantalizing smell of fresh coffee seeped into his awareness. He sat up and stretched, gazing around for a moment in confusion before his memory of the previous night surfaced. Throwing off the blankets that had twisted around his legs in his restless few hours of sleep, he stood up and walked toward the kitchen. He froze and backed up a step when an immaculately dressed and groomed Jason turned to face him, raising a steaming mug of coffee in greeting.

"Just brewed," the detective said. "You want a cup?"

Blair shook his head. "It's fine. I can get it. Um..." He let his gaze wander over the walls. "I've got to get to the university. Can I give you a ride somewhere?"

Jason gave his attention over to the eggs setting in the frying pan. "I've got plenty of time. I don't start at the PD until tomorrow. Thought I might check out the apartment downstairs Jim thought was available."

"It's already been taken," Blair blurted out, his face heating at his blatant lie.

Jason looked up and studied him closely. Again, Blair felt the disconcerting feeling of being pinned by the dark gaze. "Oh, well," Jason finally said. "I'll look somewhere else. Guess I'll go wake Jim up. He's like a bear with a sore head when he's hung over, until he gets his coffee."

"I know. Let him sleep though, all right? We might have a late night." Blair shivered at the ice in his own tone. "I'll see you later."

Jason waved a spatula in response and Blair hurried into his room. He pushed down his unreasoning urge to search through Jason's things as he pulled out his clothes for the day. He stood for a long time under the steaming spray of the shower, trying desperately to wake himself up enough so that his lectures would at least make some sense to his students. He dried off and dressed in the bathroom, then walked to the front door and hefted his backpack. Picking up his keys, he took a lingering look up at the loft bedroom and jumped as Jason's voice came from close behind him.

"I'll tell Jim you said goodbye."

"I'm meeting him at 3," Blair said peevishly. "He already knows."

His hand was on the doorknob when Jason spoke again. "So, they really let you go out on the job with Ellison." It was a statement.

"It's for my thesis," Blair replied. He turned and stared at Jason, daring him to make something of it.

Jason shrugged. "Dangerous game for a civilian."

"It's no game," Blair stated firmly.

"Glad you realize that." Jason took a step closer and Blair tensed. "You're not Jim's type at all, you know," Jason continued in a conversational tone. "Everyone said Jim and I were perfect together. We'd still be together if... "

"If what?" Blair found himself asking in spite of himself.

"If he hadn't got swept up by Carolyn Plummer, and his desire to pretend he was straight."

"He's never pretended with me. Maybe you weren't perfect together after all." Blair couldn't hold back the satisfaction in his tone.

Jason's mouth thinned into a tight line, his jaw twitching just like Jim's did when he was angry. He fisted his hands, tapping them lightly against his legs. "You just be sure you know what you're getting into, Blair," he whispered menacingly. "I'm used to getting what I want."

"I've got to go." Blair tried to keep the tremor from his voice. He spun abruptly on his heel and fled out the door, slamming it behind him. He took the stairs rapidly, throwing his bag into his car, then sliding into the driver's seat. Sitting there for a long moment, he forced his breathing to calm. Glancing up at the third floor windows, Blair let Jason's words cycle around in his head. "What the fuck did he mean by that?"

~o0o~

Jim woke slowly and painfully. He felt like road kill. Carefully, he flopped over onto his back, and catalogued the unpleasant legacy of his drinking binge the night before. His tongue was coated and dry, and he couldn't get rid of the foul taste in his mouth, despite repeated swallowing. He stunk, and his head pounded mutinously. Jim huffed out a breath and concentrated on finding his pain dial, turning it down until his headache was at least bearable.

Slowly climbing out of bed, Jim looked down in surprise at his clothes. His jeans had been stripped off, leaving him in his boxers and tee shirt. He had only vague memories of returning to the loft with Jason the night before, and no idea of how he'd gotten to bed. A stray thought prodded at him, the memory of Blair's disappointment suddenly crystal clear.

He walked downstairs and stepped into the shower, anxious to wash away the evidence of the previous night's celebrating from his skin. Turning the spray up, Jim lingered for a long while, allowing the hot water to soothe away the remaining vestiges of his hangover, and silently blessing Blair's adaptability at figuring out the pain dial.

Drying off quickly, feeling marginally more human, Jim dressed and then heated coffee. He downed a couple of aspirin while waiting for his brew to be ready, not wanting to risk keeping his internal pain modulator too low for too long. Blair had lectured him often on the dangers of such a practice.

His heart clenched at the thought of what he had put Blair through coming home late and drunk with Jason. Impulsively, he picked up the phone and dialed Blair's office. It was answered on the first ring. "Hey," he said when Blair identified himself.

"Hey, yourself." Blair's voice was welcoming enough but Jim could detect a faint chill in his lover's tone. "You feeling okay?"

"About as good as I deserve to," Jim admitted. He could see Blair's self-satisfied 'I told you so' smirk in his mind's eye.

"What's up?"

"Well, I don't have to be at the station until 3, so I thought I could take you out for lunch. You hungry?"

"Starving," Blair replied with alacrity. "I forgot to eat last night... "

His voice trailed off and Jim felt a deep pang of regret. "Pick you up at 1? You choose where we go, I'll pick up the tab."

"I'd like that," Blair said and the familiar warmth that Jim loved so much was back in his voice, accepting Jim's unspoken apology and peace offering.

Jim felt a grin crease his face despite his hangover. "Good. See you at 1."

He finished his coffee, went downstairs to check with the landlord about the vacant apartment he'd mentioned to Jason, then spent the rest of the morning in a cleaning frenzy that would have put Martha Stewart to shame. By the time he was done, it was 12.30. Picking up his keys, Jim headed for the door. His hand was on the doorknob when a knock sounded. Cursing silently, Jim opened the door and came face to face with Jason Stone.

Jason smiled and unexpectedly leaned in to kiss Jim's lips. Jim stiffened and took a step back, allowing the other man to enter. "Good," Jason said. "You're up." He rubbed his hands together. "I'm taking you out for lunch."

Jim shook his head. "Sorry, buddy. No can do. I'm meeting Blair... "

"No problems, man." Jason draped an affectionate arm over his shoulder. "We can pick him up on the way."

"Look, Jase, I'm sorry but... "

"Oh." Jason nodded sagely. "Got some major sucking up to do after last night, huh?"

Jim didn't answer, ashamed to admit to that half-truth.

"That's fine. I've got to go look at an apartment, seeing Blair tells me the one here is taken. Hey, thought I'd head over to the station later though, get acquainted. Maybe I'll see you there."

"Sure, that would be great." Jim felt relieved at Jason's easy acquiescence.

The two men left the building together, chatting amiably. Jason extracted a promise from Jim that they'd get together for dinner over the weekend, and they went their separate ways.

~o0o~

Jim was thankful for Blair's suggestion that they grab some sandwiches to eat in the park. It was a beautiful warm day, and being mid-week, there were not too many people about. He doubted if his still mildly throbbing head could have taken the noise of an overcrowded restaurant.

Brushing crumbs from the front of his shirt, he lowered himself down onto the grass, and stared at his lover.

Blair took a bite of his turkey pita and smiled. "You're forgiven," he said around a mouthful, but his gentle teasing grin took any sting from the words.

"For getting drunk or for being a total shit?"

"Both," Blair replied equably. He lay down beside his partner and reached out to clasp Jim's hand, laying it across his chest. "Tell me about Jason Stone."

Jim rolled to his side, propped himself on his elbow, and rested his head on one hand. "Not much to tell. We shared a room at the Academy, dated for a while after we graduated. It didn't work out, and Jason took a transfer to Seattle. I saw him when I married Carolyn, but we lost touch after that."

"Why?" At Jim's puzzled look, Blair explained further. "Why didn't it work out?"

"Maybe we were too alike." Jim stroked his fingers idly over Blair's chest, feeling nipples pucker beneath his touch. "Jason had a mean streak, especially when he was jealous. Most of the time he had nothing to be jealous about. We had some pretty physical arguments. I didn't want to live like that. You don't like him, do you?"

Blair sat up again and stared into the distance. "I don't know him well enough to say one way or the other. Let's just say his attitude bothers me, and I don't think he likes me very much."

"Is that why you told him the apartment downstairs had been taken?" At Blair's quick sidelong glance, Jim shrugged. "I spoke to Jason this afternoon, after I talked with the landlord."

Blair frowned as he picked at a blade of grass. "So he's moving in?"

"Nope. I didn't tell him. Too much history there and I'll be seeing enough of him at the station. I had second thoughts about it the minute I opened my mouth."

"I just wonder... "

"What?"

"Why now. Why turn up now after six years away."

"He split with his lover, needed a change of scene."

"Are you sure that's all?" Blair turned to face him.

Jim couldn't resist leaning in and kissing the tip of his lover's nose. "You've been hanging with cops for too long, Sandburg. You're becoming cynical in your old age." He didn't bother to duck the expected whack to his head.

"Old? I'll give you old. I'm young, fit, healthy, virile... "

Jim stood and held out a hand to help Blair up. "Yeah? Well, you can prove that tonight when we get home. Let's go or Simon's going to be chewing our asses."

~o0o~

It shouldn't have happened at all. The stakeout was set, and they'd just been walking out the door when Simon's office door opened and the captain had stepped out, accompanied by Jason Stone.

"Jim! Your ex-roomie here has been filling me in on all the dirt about you." Simon clapped Jason's shoulder and chuckled.

"I just bet he has," Blair muttered under his breath, forgetting for a moment his lover's hypersensitive hearing. He shot Jim a guilty look when the detective dug him in the ribs.

"Anyway," Simon continued. "Jason's interested in riding along on this stakeout with you. I think it's a good idea. Let him see the lay of the land, so to speak."

"If I won't be in the way." Jason's tone was sincere and silky... and Blair wanted to throw up.

Jim however was smiling. "No problem. Come on, Stone. Let's show you how real police work is done."

Blair rolled his eyes and followed the laughing policemen down to Jim's Explorer. Jason had already slid into the front passenger seat by the time Blair's shorter legs got him to the car. Jim gave him an apologetic look and shrugged. Blair tossed his backpack into the back seat with a little more force than necessary and climbed in after it.

They parked around the corner of the dockside warehouse, well out of sight of suspicious eyes and waited for the drug bust to go down. The confident word from Sneaks had been that a cache of a new drug, similar to Ecstasy but far more potent, was being offloaded in a shipment of pottery coming in from China that day. Jim and Jason exchanged pleasantries and banter about the old days for a while, and Blair, feeling the pull of exhaustion from his lack of sleep the night before, opened a textbook and was making decent inroads into an article he was readying for publication.

"So, Blair, you actually ever been in on a bust?" Jason asked, looking over the headrest of his seat.

Blair nodded. "Sure, quite a few."

"Taking a hell of a risk, if you ask me. Doesn't take much for a rookie to take the wrong step and you can find yourself in a shitload of trouble."

"I've managed to take care of myself... " Blair began defensively.

"Most of the time," Jim interrupted. Though it was getting dark, Blair could see Jim's gaze fixed on him in the rear vision mirror. "Of course there was that time with Weston, and Lash, and Quinn... "

"Hey, that wasn't my fault," Blair protested. "The guy was a maniac. I mean I might have gotten shot, but Simon was roughed up pretty bad too."

Jason's eyes showed an interested gleam. "You were shot?"

Blair nodded, feeling a small measure of pride in his badge of honor. "In the leg. 'Course," he went on, warming to his tale, "that was after we jumped into the rapids from a cliff, and I got knocked out by a couple of mountain men." He grinned at Jim, beginning to enjoy himself. "Let me see, what else?" Blair clicked his fingers. "Kincaid taking over the PD."

"I heard about that one," Jason interjected.

Blair nodded enthusiastically. "He dragged me out to the chopper, was going to take me with him as a hostage, but Jim got me out of it."

"You got yourself out of that one, Junior," Jim replied with obvious respect. "Pushed Kincaid out of the chopper and then held a flare gun on the pilot."

Blair tried to shrug nonchalantly. "Just lucky, I guess."

"And then there was Maya."

Blair shot his partner a mock glare. "Low blow, man. You want us to get into some of the ladies you've been tangled up with?"

"Somebody at the station said you were a trouble magnet," Jason said slowly. "Sounds like they were right."

Something in the tone made Blair's grin fade. "Part of the job when you're riding with cops," he said quietly.

"But you're not a cop," Jason tossed back at him. "If you'd been in Seattle, my captain would have dragged your ride-along pass first time you got a paper cut."

"Blair's pulled his weight," Jim said, his voice low, and Blair thought, a little dangerous. "He took out two of Kincaid's men before they got to him."

Blair flashed his lover a grateful look.

"Still," Jason mused, "could have been fishing him out of the Bay just as easily."

Blair looked at his books, trying to ignore the sudden, oppressive silence in the car. He sat back and picked up his pen. "I'm going to work on this some more."

He tried to block out Jason's droning voice as the cop regaled Jim with some of his own heroic exploits. The radio crackled and Henri Brown's voice issued from the speaker. "Ellison? Brown. They're unloading the stuff. Time to move in."

Blair had his door open before Jason and stepped up quickly to Jim's side. Placing a hand on the sentinel's arm, he waited for Jim to speak.

"Far side of the warehouse. Three, maybe four," Jim said finally.

"I'll take the back," Jason said. He didn't question how Jim knew who was in the warehouse. Blair hoped he was too focused on the job to notice.

Jim nodded, then turned to Blair. "Stay here, Chief and be ready to call for back up."

"Jim?" Blair was astonished by the turn of events. "You might need me with you."

"I don't have time for this now," Jim hissed. "For once, just do as you're told."

Blair nodded and watched Jim and Jason disappear into the darkness. He paced the length of the car several times, hugging himself for warmth, his ears straining to hear the activity in the warehouse. Muffled gunshots froze him in place.

"Officer down! We have an officer down!"

The sudden shout had him running full tilt into the warehouse, Jim's orders forgotten. Racing through the open door, Blair's frantic eyes took in the scene in a heartbeat. Two men were braced against the opposite wall, their hands cuffed behind their backs. On the ground in front of them, Henri sat clutching his bloody shoulder, grimacing in pain as his partner, Brian Rafe, checked the wound. Looking to the right, Blair saw Jim appearing from around a stack of crates, and from the shadows behind the detective, the figure of a man materialized, the bat in his hand bearing down on Ellison's head.

"No!" Blair moved before he had shouted his warning, barreling into Jim's would-be attacker at break-neck speed. His momentum took the man in the gut, pushing him off-balance. The perp staggered, then shook himself and raised the bat again, this time aiming for Blair. The anthropologist only had time to raise one arm in a futile attempt to ward off the blow.

Pain smashed into his arm, shredding through the bone and exploding out his fingertips. Blair dropped to the ground and curled around the agony in his arm, only vaguely aware of the skirmish being fought above him. Sound receded and time seemed to stand still. All he was aware of was the torment that had him in its grip and refused to let go.

Firm hands grasped him, forcing him out of his protective huddle. He resisted at first until Jim's familiar voice made its way into his dazed mind.

"Easy, Chief. Let me see." Jim gently uncurled Blair's fingers and cupped his throbbing wrist.

Blair's uninjured hand flailed helplessly for a moment before finding another anchor in the folds of his partner's jacket. He clenched his jaw, trying not to cry out as sentinel touch ghosted over his arm.

"Your wrist is broken. I'll get the medics."

"No! Don't... " Blair sucked in a trembling breath, knowing he sounded pitiful, aware of the eyes of the other officers upon him; of Jason's critical stare from where the other cop stood just behind Jim. "Help me up. Let them see to H."

Jim shifted him up from the ground, resting him back against his own knees. "Just relax, partner. You're going to be fine."

A muscle spasm flashed fire through Blair's arm and nausea washed over him, leaving him cold and shaking. "Sorry," he whispered again. "Couldn't let him get you."

Jim's hand stroked across his brow, bringing warmth, but his voice was strained. "We'll talk about it later." The tone brooked no argument.

~o0o~

Blair tried to stifle the groan of pain that scraped from his throat. Unintentional tears clumped his eyelashes and he raised his uninjured hand to swipe at them as he averted his gaze from Jim's tense, frowning countenance.

"Sorry about that, Blair." Doctor Janet Forrest gave her patient a sympathetic smile and stepped back a little to examine her handiwork. Her path was blocked by Jim's large frame. Sighing, she shifted to the side, allowing Jim to take her place. "He's going to be fine, Jim."

"Not when I finish with him," the detective growled.

"I'm sorry." Blair's voice was a croak of misery. He watched as the doctor gently slid a blue sling under the pristine white plaster of his cast and adjusted the straps. He'd been given sedation while they set his fractured wrist, but the pain was back in full force now and beginning to batter at his worn down defenses.

Jim's stern face softened for a brief moment, then the detective turned and walked to the door, pulling Blair's jacket, one sleeve neatly slit up the seam, from the hook. "Are you sure he's okay to go home? He's still in a lot of pain."

"It was a clean break," the doctor assured them both. "You're lucky you put your arm up to ward off the baseball bat, Blair. If it had connected with your skull, we might not be having this conversation."

Blair shuddered at the words.

~o0o~

Jim wasn't talking yet, though his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel gave Blair plenty of clues to his state of mind. Blair turned his head slightly and stared out the window into the darkness. His arm throbbed distantly, though not as severely as it had when it had been set and casted. He felt heavy, his muscles lax, and his thoughts foggy. He felt himself drifting and let sleep take him into its comforting depths.

~o0o~

"Sandburg? You with me, Chief?"

A hand shook his shoulder gently, but Blair batted it away irritably. Surfacing brought back pain and shameful memories he'd sooner avoid for just a little longer. He felt his body being shifted sideways and reluctantly forced open his eyes. His sleepy gaze focused on Jim, the stern features of his partner's face a little fuzzy.

"Wha'?"

"We're home. Let's get you upstairs."

"'Kay." Blair allowed Jim to pull him from the passenger seat. He was a little disconcerted when he attempted to stand and his knees refused to support his weight. It had been his wrist after all that had been broken.

"Feel like a noodle," he muttered as Jim wrapped an arm around his waist and half-carried him into the apartment building. "A wet noodle." He found the thought hilarious and giggled uncontrollably until tears came again. He wiped at his eyes, bringing Jim's face into clearer view. "Sorry, I'm a little loopy."

Jim managed to dredge up a smile. "Well, you're kinda cute when you're loopy."

"Yeah?" Blair grinned as he was manhandled out of the elevator and steered toward their front door. "That's nice. You're cute all the time, Jim. Loopy or not."

"Thanks, I think. All right, bed."

Blair tried to maneuver himself up the stairs, but they rose like Mount Everest above him, and he leaned on Jim and allowed the big man to do most of the work. He flopped onto his back and sprawled out on top of the covers, hissing as the movement jarred his arm. He watched Jim pull sweat pants and one of the detective's large tee shirts from a drawer. "You still mad at me?"

Jim glanced at him quickly before sitting down on the side of the bed and pulling Blair up beside him. "Here, you can wear one of my tee shirts to bed. It'll fit easier over the cast."

"Jim?"

"No, I'm not mad at you. Actually, damn it, yes, I am. As mad as I always am when you don't do what I tell you, and end up getting hurt. We had an agreement, Chief, when I agreed to the ride-along. You do like I tell you." He sighed and pulled Blair against his chest, kissing the top of his head. "You could have been killed."

"Take that chance whenever I ride with you," Blair said softly, fighting off the pull of drugged sleep.

"I know that, it's just... what Jason said made me think about it again."

"He just wants to keep me away from you."

"Why would he want to do that? Besides, what he said made sense."

"He still loves you. Wants you back."

"You are loopy, aren't you?"

"Yep." Blair nodded his head slowly. "But I'm right. He told me." He felt Jim's body tense and was startled from his drowsy state when Jim lowered him to the bed.

"When?" Jim asked as he pulled off Blair's shoes and socks.

"Last night." Blair found it entirely too much effort to keep his eyes open, and the stroke of Jim's hand up and down his leg was pleasantly hypnotic. "Said he's used to getting what he wants." He yawned. "Said I should be careful."

"Maybe you misunderstood," Jim whispered.

"Yeah." Blair turned to his side, grateful when he felt his injured arm carefully lifted and placed on a pile of pillows. "Prob'ly. Thanks, Jim."

~o0o~

Jim spent a restless night beside his lover, gently shushing the other man when the pain from his arm disturbed him. Towards dawn, as Blair finally slipped into deeper sleep, Jim's thoughts turned to Jason. Jim's memories of his ex-lover's fierce jealousy and violent overreactions to perceived unfaithfulness lent a disquieting truth to Blair's words.

He left Blair still sleeping while he got ready for work, then crept upstairs quietly and woke his lover with a kiss. Blair's eyes were clearer this morning, though his pinched features hinted that he was still in some pain.

"I've got to go to work," Jim said, settling on the edge of the bed. "Do the paperwork on the bust last night."

"Okay. Will you be home early?"

"If I can. I've left some sandwiches made up in the fridge for you and there's some juice. Your pain meds are on the kitchen counter. Remember to eat something before you take them, okay?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Jim, I'm kind of an expert at the pain stuff these days."

Jim frowned. "Don't I know it." He leaned in and kissed Blair's lips, allowing his tongue to push into Blair's warm mouth.

Blair wrapped his good arm around Jim's neck and pulled him closer so that Jim lay blanketing his own body. He angled his hips up until Jim could feel his erection pressing against his own. Jim allowed Blair to rock for a moment, but pulled back before the delightful sensation caused his own orgasm to overtake him and delay his leaving for work.

Blair made a face and reached down to rub his burgeoning hardness through the sheet. "Don't you want to help me with this before you go?"

Jim placed his own hand over Blair's and stroked gently. "If I do that, I'm going to have to change my pants before I leave."

"Take them off then." Busy hands reached for Jim's belt, but he scooted back out of the way.

"No, you don't, Chief. You're still high on the pain meds."

Blair pouted and Jim took pity on him. "Tell you what. If you're feeling sufficiently recovered when I get home, I'll see if I can relieve some of that discomfort for you."

"Party pooper," Blair grumbled, though Jim could see his heart wasn't in it. "What about a shower?"

Jim stood and headed for the stairs. "Wait till I get home. We'll wrap your arm in plastic." He turned and shot his lover a sultry look. "I could take care of your other problem while I help you wash."

Blair's face lit up at the idea. "Don't take too long to get home, man. I don't know how long I can last just thinking about that."

Jim sketched a jaunty salute and headed down the stairs. As he climbed into his car, he made a mental reminder to stop by and talk to Jason before he did anything else.

~o0o~

Jason was seated at a desk in the otherwise deserted Narcotics squad room desultorily leafing through several folders when Jim arrived. Glancing up, he smiled, waving a lazy hand at the papers in front of him. "Can you believe it? First day on the job, and they've got me doing paperwork. How's Sandburg?"

"That's what I'm here about," Jim said. He crossed to the desk, ignoring Jason's invitation to sit. "I want you to stay away from him. What you and I had was in the past. It's over, it was over a long time ago."

Jason shook his head and pushed back his chair. "I don't know what you're talking about. Your boyfriend feeling threatened by having your ex-lover around?"

Jim glanced around quickly to reassure himself that Jason's words hadn't been overheard. Leaning in close, he grasped the other man's arm and squeezed it tightly. "Just do as I ask and it stays here. Go near him, and I'll break your neck."

Fire flashed in Stone's eyes. He pulled his arm from Jim's grip and stood up, bending forward so that his face was mere inches from Jim's. Jim's sensitive nose picked up a distinct chemical odor on the other man's breath. "You listen to me," Jason hissed. "I warned you before. You go screwing around behind my back and I'll..."

Jim recoiled in surprise at the words. "We're not together anymore. What are you talking about?" He frowned. "You on something?"

Jason turned away abruptly and stared at the wall. "No! Of course not. I just got confused for a minute. Not enough sleep." He turned back to Jim. "Look, I'm sorry if Sandburg's got his panties in a knot over me being here in Cascade, but I haven't threatened him. You told me you two are together and I respect that. Things change, Jim. People change... I've changed."

Jim nodded but the pounding of Stone's heart did nothing to reassure him.

"How about if I call around tonight?" Jason suggested. "I'll apologize to your partner. We can all go out for dinner. Start again."

"No. Just do what I asked and stay away, all right?"

Stone shrugged, but his eyes narrowed. "Sure, whatever, man."

"Detective Ellison?"

Jim turned at the summons to find a uniformed policewoman standing in the doorway. "Captain Banks is looking for you."

Jim nodded. "I'm on my way." He faced Jason again. "We'll talk later, all right?"

~o0o~

Jim tapped at the captain's office door and waited for the invitation to enter. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

Simon Banks looked up with a troubled frown on his face. "Sit down, Jim. How well do you know Jason Stone?"

Jim's heart lurched at the question. His sexual preferences and his relationship with Blair were secrets he guarded closely. Police Department officials were not known for their tolerance toward same sex relationships, particularly those between partners, official or otherwise. "We went through the Academy together," Jim replied, hoping his tone sounded casual enough. "He transferred to Seattle and I've only seen him once since then."

Simon stared at him then steepled his hands on the desk in front of him. "Were you aware that he was gay?"

Jim's heart began an ascent to his throat. "Nobody's business but his," he managed to get out.

"Damn it, Jim! Answer the damn question!" Simon bellowed.

"Yes, I knew he was gay. Is that all?" Jim made to stand but Simon motioned him back to his seat.

"Did you have a relationship with him?"

"Okay, look," Jim held up his hands, as though to ward off the questions, "that's enough interrogation. If we're done here, I have a report to write up."

"No, we're not done here, Detective." Simon glared at him. "I received a phone call a half hour ago from a... " He shuffled through the papers on his desk, singling one out and holding it up. "A Detective Jack Berry. He was Jason Stone's partner in Seattle. He had some information he wanted to impart though God only knows why he waited this long. I think we have a problem, but before I go to Captain Thomas in Narcotics or the Chief, I need to know who else might be at risk."

Jim's eyes widened. "At risk? Are you saying Jason has HIV?"

"No." Simon removed his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "It seems that Jason Stone was in a relationship with an advertising executive by the name of Brad Stanley. According to Detective Berry, Stanley broke off the relationship after Stone beat him up one too many times when he thought Stanley was ogling other men. Some months later, Stanley moved in with another man, Gerald Fitzpatrick. Stone stalked and harassed the couple for several months until Stanley made a complaint. He refused to press charges at the last minute but Stone's superior was concerned enough to put Stone on reprimand."

"I know he's got a temper, Simon, but I don't see what that has to do with us. If Stanley and his partner won't press charges... "

Simon held up a hand. "There's more. Two weeks before Stone received his transfer to Cascade, Gerald Fitzpatrick was severely beaten. His condition was serious enough to warrant hospitalization but he refused to name his attacker. They moved to another state after he was discharged from the hospital. The day before Stone left for Cascade, he told Detective Berry that Fitzpatrick had gotten what he deserved. He also told Berry that he was transferring to Cascade because he had unfinished business here."

Jim clenched his hands into fists to try to stop the trembling. "Oh God, why didn't SPD do something?"

"He was interviewed but they had no proof. Stone had an alibi for the night of the attack. When he transferred, I guess they were just glad to get rid of him. Berry wasn't sure what to do, but his conscience got the better of him. Now, let me ask you again. Do we have reason for concern?"

Jim jumped to his feet as a horrifying thought hit him. "Sandburg!"

Simon's eyes widened in shock at the underlying message in Jim's words. Sidestepping around Jim, he stuck his head out the door and called to Rafe. "Get Jason Stone up here from Narcotics."

Rafe stared at him a moment, then indicated the hallway. "He left about twenty minutes ago. Said he had something important to do. Man, he was charged."

Jim was already pushing Simon aside and running for the stairs. Simon cursed then followed him. "Rafe, get us some backup. Ellison's apartment."

Rafe mouth opened and closed a couple of times then he reached for the phone. "I'm on it."

~o0o~

Loud knocking at the front door woke Blair from his light doze in front of the droning TV. He stood, carefully adjusting the sling on his arm, and padded to the door. The vehemence of the knocking made him pause and call out, "Who is it?"

"Jason Stone."

Blair froze with his hand on the doorknob. "What do you want?"

"It's about Jim."

Heart pounding at the words, Blair fumbled with the handle and pulled open the door. He had no time to react as Jason barreled into him, one strong push of his arms sending Blair to the floor. He cried out as pain lanced through his broken arm. Jason's hand fisted in his hair and dragged him to his feet. The detective shook him like a recalcitrant puppy.

"You little shit!" he growled. "I warned you what would happen if you screwed around with my lover."

Blair tried to shy away from the fist that swept down toward his face but Stone's hold was too tight. The blow slammed into his cheek and white-hot agony exploded through Blair's face. Jason let him drop to the floor, and Blair made a frantic effort to pull himself up to his feet. He had no strength, his face ached fiercely and his brain seemed scrambled.

Just as he managed to stagger to his knees, Jason slammed him facefirst into the floor. "He won't want you after I'm finished with you," the detective screamed as he smashed Blair's face again and again into the unforgiving wood.

Mind reeling, barely conscious from the vicious assault, Blair could not resist as he was tossed over onto his back. Jason loomed over him, his eyes wild and barely focused. He leaned in close and spat into Blair's face. "Fucking whore. Jim's mine, you hear me?"

Blair tried to make sense of the words over the rushing in his ears. His sight was beginning to darken and he knew his chances of staying alive were fast diminishing. Jason was in no condition to be appeased.

Blair raised up, shaking his head violently from side to side as Stone wrapped his huge hands around the anthropologist's throat. "Do I have to knock it into you?" he screeched. Rhythmically he began to bash Blair's head against the floor once more.

Gasping for breath, struggling to throw the other man's weight off his chest, Blair arched his back and at the same time brought his casted arm up in a roundhouse swing that slammed brutally into Stone's twisted face. Blood spattered Blair, mixing with his own.

The rampaging detective was knocked sideways and Blair scrambled out from underneath him. Sobbing in fear and pain, he managed to throw himself bodily toward his old room. A roar of fury from behind him gave him a surge of adrenaline and he scrambled into the spare room, slamming the door shut behind him.

He had no time to waste. He could hear Jason in the living room, yelling obscenities and smashing objects against the wall. Barely able to see now out of rapidly swelling eyes, Blair dragged himself to his feet with a labored groan and climbed out onto the fire escape. Dizziness overwhelmed him halfway down the metal steps and he clung to the railing, trembling. A crash from above spurred him on, and he fell down the final few steps and hobbled into the alleyway that abutted the apartment building. His legs refused to support him further and he collapsed to his knees, not even registering the bite of the concrete. Sagging against the wall, Blair let his hurting body slide down to the ground. Hunching himself into a trembling ball, he hugged the wall and prayed that help would arrive before Jason did.

~o0o~

Jim was out of the car and running headlong into the apartment building before Simon came to a full stop. He raced up the stairs, shouting Blair's name. The door to the apartment was open and Jim finally slowed down. Pulling his weapon from its holster, he hefted it in two hands and extended his hearing. No heartbeats came from inside.

The living room was a shambles. Blair's precious masks and books were scattered over the floor and most frightening of all was the trail of blood, smeared in places as though someone had been dragged through it.

"Blair?" Jim knew his call was futile. He tracked the blood into Blair's old room and bent to touch the bloodied handprint on the back of the door. The window leading to the fire escape stood open and Jim could hear running footsteps descending.

Climbing out onto the landing, Jim spotted Jason jumping off the bottom rung. He steadied his weapon in both hands and aimed it at Stone's back. "Stone! Cascade PD. Stop right there."

Jason didn't appear to hear him. He took off running around the corner into the alleyway. Jim hurried after him. Simon appeared at the window and Jim glanced up quickly. "Alley." He wasted no further words. He could hear Jason's footsteps and panting breaths and beyond that, the rapid heartbeat of his lover.

The sight that greeted him when he rounded the corner shocked Jim to the core. Stone had his hands around a seemingly lifeless Sandburg's throat. The anthropologist hung in the detective's grip like a rag doll, his bloodied features lax, his eyes swollen shut.

"Stone! Freeze!" Jim leveled his gun again, only peripherally aware of Simon rushing up to stand beside him, a strangled gasp coming from the captain's throat.

Stone seemed to be totally unaware of them, focused only on squeezing the life out of Sandburg. He loosened one hand and reached toward his pocket. Jim saw the flash of silver and fired, hearing the report of Simon's gun echo in his ears. Stone arched up, his hold on Blair loosening as he slammed into the wall. He looked up at Jim and bared his teeth in a grimace before his eyes closed and he slumped to the ground on top of Blair.

Jim hurried forward and pushed the dead body away from his lover, then dropped to his knees. His hands wavered uselessly over Blair's battered body. There was so much blood, so much damage, he wasn't sure where to touch him. Blair's wrist cast was cracked and spattered with blood, and looking at the red fluid smearing Stone's face, Jim knew Blair had not given up easily.

Blair moaned softly and the sound galvanized Jim. He leaned down and pressed a hand against Blair's brow, at the same time squeezing Blair's hand gently. "It's all right, Blair. Hang in there. Help's on the way. Keep breathing, Blair. Please, just keep breathing."

Blair's eyelids flickered and slits of blue appeared. "Jim."

Tears ran down Jim's cheeks and dripped onto the beloved face as Blair whispered his name. "I'm here. It's all right."

Paramedics attempted to push him aside so that they could assess Sandburg's condition. After an initial struggle, Jim shifted to kneel at his lover's head, whispering assurances. He followed the gurney to the waiting ambulance and climbed inside.

"Jim?" Simon stood at the open doors. "How's he doing?"

Jim shook his head.

"Okay. I'm going to sort this mess out. I'll see you at the hospital." He motioned at the plastic-covered body of Jason Stone. Jim didn't give his ex-lover a second glance.

The doors swung shut and the ambulance accelerated up the street, its siren deafening to sentinel hearing. Jim couldn't detect Blair's heartbeat over the noise. Reaching out, he wrapped his hand around his partner's cold wrist and lost himself in the weak beat of life.

~o0o~

"I think they make these chairs uncomfortable on purpose," Simon grumbled as he shifted in his seat and rubbed the small of his back. He looked at the detective seated beside him. Jim's face was vacant as he concentrated on his partner... lover in the trauma room a few feet away. "Jim?" He jostled the silent man when he received no reply. "Jim! Will you quit doing that!"

Jim stiffened then glared at him. "What?"

"Stop listening. I'm worried you're going to zone."

"I won't. If he doesn't make it, won't matter anyway."

"Don't talk like that," the captain chided. "Of course he's going to make it. Sandburg's tougher than he looks."

Jim turned haunted eyes to him. "I don't know, Simon. There was so much blood and his face... God." He lowered his head to his hands.

"Why didn't you tell me about you and Sandburg?" Simon asked, wanting to know the answer as much as he hoped to keep Jim's attention occupied for at least a short while.

"I guess I figured I knew how you'd react. Two guys..."

"You think I haven't been on the end of enough bigotry to be understanding of someone else in that situation?"

"I guess I didn't think of it that way," Jim admitted. "Most guys I know, friend or not, are disgusted by the thought of two men having sex."

Simon tried not to screw up his face but Jim's frown told him he hadn't been entirely successful. "Look," he leaned forward on the chair and clasped his hands on his lap, "you're my best friend. Sandburg's become a good friend too. Whether I agree with what you're doing or not, I would stand by you. That's what friends do." He looked up as the door to the Emergency room swung open. "Looks like I'm not the only one who feels that way."

Jim followed his gaze. Rafe was helping a gray-faced Henri Brown through the door. Joel Taggart and Rhonda, Simon's assistant, closely followed them.

Joel hurried forward when he spotted Jim and Simon, his speed belying his bulk. "Any news?" he asked.

"Nothing yet," Jim replied. "Thanks for coming. H, should you even be out of bed?"

"No," Rafe answered for his partner, rolling his eyes. "But he insisted and I did not want to hear about it for a month if I left him behind."

"Don't you know it," Henri grumped. "Hairboy's my friend too."

Rhonda reached up and hugged Jim, then dabbed at her tear-stained cheeks. "Anything you need, Jim, just let me know."

"Thank you, Rhonda." Jim helped her to a seat and was about to sit down again when the doctor approached.

"Are you here for Blair Sandburg?"

"Yes, we are." Simon stood and shook the doctor's hand. "I'm Captain Banks, Cascade PD, this is Detective Ellison, Blair's partner, and these," he indicated the anxious group behind him, "are Blair's friends and work mates."

The doctor nodded at them all. "I'm Doctor Bryce. Blair's condition is serious but stable. He has a fractured cheekbone and nose, and a hairline fracture of his skull. He has numerous abrasions, cuts and deep bruises to his face and chest. He has badly strained neck muscles but there are no spinal injuries."

"Thank God." Jim sagged with relief.

"Given time and some surgery to his cheekbone, he'll be fine."

Simon stifled a curse as Jim stiffened again. What did Sandburg call it? Blessed Protector Syndrome?

"Why surgery?" Jim was asking.

"Blair's cheekbone has a depressed fracture, probably caused from the blow of a fist or boot. We need to lift the fracture and stabilize it."

"Okay. Can I see him?"

"Of course. Just you, Detective, if there is no family here, and just for a few moments. Keep in mind that while his injuries are frightening to look at, they will heal. He will recover, I assure you."

"Thank you." Jim shook the doctor's hand and clapped Simon on the back before making his way to the trauma room.

"You really think they thought no one knew?" Rafe mused from his seat beside Henri.

Simon stared at his junior detective. "You knew about this? About them?"

Rafe had the grace to look discomfited under the gimlet glare of his captain. "We sort of suspected it."

Simon's gaze swiveled to Rhonda and Joel. "You two as well?"

Joel nodded, looking embarrassed, but Rhonda beamed. "Isn't it the sweetest thing? Who would have thought tough Jim Ellison being truly in love... with anyone."

Simon couldn't hold his bad temper in the face of her happiness. He groaned theatrically and slumped into a chair. "Am I really as nave as I seem to be?"

~o0o~

Jim pushed open the door hesitantly. Though he had seen Blair's terrible injuries at the loft, he was unprepared for the harshness of them now the blood had been cleaned off. It seemed there was not an inch of the beautiful face that was not marred with bruises and cuts.

Jim walked slowly to the bed and stood looking down at his sleeping lover. "Oh, Blair. I'm so very sorry," he whispered. He reached out and took hold of Blair's uninjured hand. The fractured wrist had been splinted, awaiting another plaster cast during surgery. Gently Jim stroked his fingers over Blair's knuckles, savoring the warmth of his partner's skin.

"You're forgiven," Blair mumbled from between puffed, gashed lips. "Not your fault."

"I should have listened to you," Jim said, pressing a soft kiss to a small, unmarred spot on Blair's brow.

Blair shook his head slightly, wincing at the pain the movement elicited. "Weren't to know."

"We'll talk later," Jim said. "They're going to take you to surgery soon."

Blair's eyes opened as much as the swollen lids would allow. "Do I... Do I look awful?"

Jim closed his eyes briefly against the sight of the terrible damage done to his gentle lover. "Nothing that can't be fixed. Doctor says you'll have the ladies chasing you again in no time."

"Rather it was you."

"Try to stop me."

"Silly," Blair whispered, drifting back to sleep.

"Me?"

"To worry how I'll look. Silly."

Jim leaned as close as he could, stroking Blair's tangled curls back from his face. "You know I told you're cute when you're loopy?"

"Mm-hmm."

"I lied," Jim said, a small smile tilting his mouth up. "You're beautiful. Always. I love you, Blair."

~o0o~

"Are you telling me the truth when you say you can't see it?" Blair asked from his perch on Jim's stomach. He idly stroked one of his lover's nipples to hardness as he spoke.

Jim groaned at the pleasant sensation and shifted a little, trying to rub his rapidly growing erection against Blair's buttocks.

"Jim! Concentrate. I asked you a question."

"Little hard to concentrate when you doing what you're doing, Sandburg. Oh, yeah. Do that again."

Blair duly obliged, leaning forward to suck Jim's other nipple into his mouth, biting gently.

"No, I can't see it," Jim finally managed to get out between gasps of pleasure.

"Sure?" Blair moved his talented tongue lower, mapping the line of Jim's ribs.

"Maybe just a little, but it gives you character."

"Yeah?" Blair self-consciously touched the fine scar that ran across his cheekbone.

"Yeah," Jim tried to hold his hips still as Blair's tongue swirled into his navel and his fingernails raked through Jim's fine pubic hair. "Like Errol Flynn or something."

Blair raised his head just inches from Jim's purpling cock-head. "You don't think it's shallow of me to worry about having a scar?"

A lock of his hair teased tantalizingly along Jim's straining shaft. "No," Jim got out in a strangled voice. "Blair, please, you're killing me here."

Blair lifted up suddenly and draped his body over Jim's. "I love you so much, you know," he declared, crawling up to deposit a long kiss on Jim's lips, and curling Jim's toes with the delicious drag of silky skin and coarse hair over sensitized flesh.

Blair began to rock, sitting up a little so that his own hard cock aligned with Jim's. Jim arched up, completing the contact, muscles straining as he savored the sensation of loving Blair. Murmured words were exchanged between them until they reached the pinnacle of passion and tumbled over the edge, crying out each other's names.

Jim massaged the sweaty head that nestled against his chest. "You know, it wouldn't matter to me if you had a third eye in the middle of your forehead. Beauty really does come from within."

Blair lifted his head and blinked sleepily at him. "And true love is a bond forged of steel, unbreakable," he quoted. "What a pity Jason couldn't see that."

They lay quietly for a moment, each deeply immersed in their own thoughts. Jim smiled as he felt Blair's hand shift down to cup his definitely interested genitals.

"Blair, honey?"

"Mm-hmm?"

Jim shifted his legs a little wider to give Blair better access. "I've got this pimple on my ass. Will you still love me? Am I shallow?"

Laughing at Blair's snort of mock indignation, he grabbed his lover and rolled them over so he was finally on top and could look his fill at the beautiful face. Then he lowered his mouth and swallowed Blair's suitably ribald reply.

FIN