Jim Ellison parked his car in the well-lit, neat street, then sat for a moment and looked over the apartment building where the murder had taken place, the front door now sealed off with yellow tape. It was an affluent area of Cascade. The apartment buildings were renovated lofts and warehouses in the center of Cascade’s elite shopping district. The streets surrounding them created closed-off, exclusive enclaves for the very rich.
Getting out of the car, Jim pulled his ID from his pocket and showed it to the uniformed cop guarding the front door, then climbed the stairs to the second floor. The activity that could be heard coming from the second apartment along the corridor made it apparent that this was the scene of the crime. Walking in, his keen eyes took in the opulent furnishings and tasteful artwork adorning the walls. He gagged a little as the scent of blood assaulted his nostrils and he wished, not for the first time, that he could get a handle on his apparently heightened sense of smell.
A covered body lay in the center of the living room. A large bloodstain had seeped through the snowy white of the bed sheet, making the color more garish and brilliant to Jim’s eyes.
He looked up and nodded as Jerry Harding, a detective who worked Homicide approached him. “Hey, Jerry, what you got?”
Harding shook his head and shrugged. “Same old, same old,” he said. His eyes narrowed. “This is a Homicide case, Jim, not Major Crime.”
“Yeah, I know.” Jim rubbed at an eye. “I could do without it but it was on my way home and the name rang a bell.”
“Daniel Parsons,” Harding said, indicating the dead man with a hand. “Independently wealthy but chose to spend his time working as a sex abuse counselor for the indigent.”
Jim nodded. “I knew the name was familiar.” He walked over and crouched down, lifting the sheet just enough to study the dead man’s face. Cold, washed out brown eyes stared back emptily at him and the man’s neck bore a gaping wound. “Throat slashed,” he said quietly. He stood and gazed around at the personnel who were absorbed in collecting data and evidence. “Any idea what happened?”
“Boyfriend phoned it in,” Harding said, a grimace passing over his face. “He was hysterical when we got here, kneeling over his lover, crying and hanging onto him. We thought we’d have to get a doctor to sedate him to get him to release the vic.”
Jim looked over to where Harding was pointing and saw a young man seated on an armchair in the corner. Long, curly hair framed an impossibly white face smeared with dried tears and blood. He sat, hunched in on himself, rocking slowly, his arms wrapped about his trembling body, his empty gaze fixed on the body lying in the center of the room. Jim’s heart clenched at the obvious grief in the young man’s demeanor.
“Mind if I talk to him?” Jim asked.
Harding shrugged. “Knock yourself out. Nobody’s been able to get any sense out of him so far.” He nudged Jim. “Wanna know what I think? Lovers’ quarrel; got out of control.”
“Maybe,” Jim replied absently, his attention still on the solitary figure. Walking over, he stood in front of the young man and when there was no reaction to his presence, sat beside him. “Sir?’ he began. “I’m Detective Ellison, Cascade PD. Can you tell me what happened here tonight?” Silence met his question and he cleared his throat and tried again. Reaching out, he grasped the young man’s hand and pulled it away from his body, noting the chill of his flesh. Shock, he diagnosed immediately. “Sir?”
Blue eyes swiveled up to look at him, filling with tears that overflowed and ran down the young man’s cheeks. He made no effort to wipe them away. “What?”
“Can you tell me what happened?” Jim asked patiently.
“Umm…” The young man appeared to make a conscious effort to pull himself from the depths of his despair. “I went for a walk… when I came back – When I came back –“ He broke off and gestured helplessly at the dead man, whose body was now being placed on a stretcher for transport to the morgue. He stood abruptly, his face distraught. “Can I go with him?” he asked. “I want to be with him.”
Jim shook his head. “You can go in later. We need to get some information first.” He tugged gently at the young man’s arm, relieved when he sat down again. “What’s your name?”
“Blair.” The name was whispered. “Blair Sandburg.”
“And your… friend?”
Blair’s head shot up at the hesitation in Jim’s voice and for a brief moment, blue fire flashed from the eyes. “Daniel Parsons, and he is… we were…” He took a shaky breath. “He was my partner. My lover.”
Jim nodded and jotted the information down in his notebook. “Now, can you tell me what happened when you got back from your walk?”
The young man shook his head, his attention solely on the covered body being wheeled out of the apartment.
Jim squeezed his hand. “Mr. Sandburg? Blair?” Blair turned back to him then. “We want to find out who did this,” Jim said. “Any information you can give us right now could be crucial to catching the murderer. Okay?”
Blair shuddered and closed his eyes briefly as though dredging up some inner reserve of strength. When he opened them, there was a resolute look amidst the sorrow. “I went for a walk a couple of hours ago,” he began, his voice stronger. “When I got back, I found Danny on the floor. I tried to stop the bleeding but… but I could tell he was already dead. I phoned 911 and that’s it.”
“Has Mr. Parsons received any death threats that you know of?” Jim asked.
Blair shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of but I’m sure he would have told me.”
“Any enemies?” Jim continued. “He worked as a sexual abuse counselor. Anyone not happy with what he was doing?”
Blair looked aghast at that suggestion. “No!” He shook his head firmly. “No. Danny was… the kindest, most understanding man. He didn’t need to do this work, as you no doubt already know. To him, wealth was unimportant.” Jim glanced around the apartment at the expensive décor and Blair seemed to pick up on it immediately. “I know what you’re thinking, Detective. Danny liked to live well but he always felt that because of his good fortune, he needed to give something back to the community. He also donated a large sum of money every year to various homeless shelters, and other charities. He was a wonderful man.”
“I’m sure he was –“
Jim looked up when Harding called his name. The homicide cop conferred briefly with another detective before motioning Jim over.
“What you got?” Jim asked.
“Right on the money,” Harding said triumphantly. “Got a couple of guys interviewing the neighbors. Lady next door and the old guy across the hall heard an argument between him,” he nodded toward Sandburg, “and the vic this afternoon. Sounded like they were really going at it, and according to the neighbor, it’s not the first time. And get this!” He nudged Jim, a grin spreading over his face. “No sign of forced entry.” He turned then to Sandburg. “Mr. Sandburg, we’d like you to come down to the station and answer a few questions.”
The young man looked up and nodded. “Do I need a lawyer?”
Jim took a step toward him. “At the moment, Detective Harding just wants to ask you a few questions about Mr. Parsons so he can figure out what happened tonight –“ Harding made a small noise of protest and he shot him a warning glare. “Of course, if you’d like your lawyer to be present, we won’t object.”
Blair gave a small shrug. “I don’t have a lawyer. Couldn’t afford one even if I wanted to.” His gaze strayed back to the gurney being wheeled out the door. “And if it helps to put away whoever killed Danny, I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
Jim nodded. “Thank you.” He wasn’t sure what it was, but something told him this young man was not a murderer. The distraught look of grief etched on his pale face was obvious enough to Jim but there was more. An innocence that somehow convinced Jim that Blair Sandburg was no more a murderer than he was. He turned back to Harding. “Mind if I sit in on this one?”
Harding appeared to mull it over for a moment then nodded. “Sure, why not. You’ve got a rep for getting a confession out of the toughest perp. Let’s see what you can do with ‘pansy-boy’ here.”
Jim’s temper flared and he fought to contain it. “Listen,” he hissed, stepping in close to Harding, “for now, the kid’s a suspect but there’s no evidence to link him to the murder. Let’s wait and see what CSU comes up with.”
Harding glared back at him. “For now,” he conceded. “But I’m telling you, Jim, we got our man.” He moved over to Blair and waited until the young man stood before ushering him out the door. Blair hesitated for a brief moment in the doorway and glanced back at Jim, his expression so lost that Jim’s heart went out to him.
“I’ll be right behind you, Jerry,” Jim said, flashing Blair a quick smile. Blair nodded: a brief, jerky motion then followed Harding out.
Harding stared at Jim for a moment in query. “Case load light in MCU, Jim?”
Jim shrugged. “Let’s just say my curiosity is piqued.” He left it at that, not wanting to admit that he felt sympathetic toward Sandburg and he couldn’t really figure out why. The evidence thus far pointed to Sandburg being the murderer but Jim had a feeling he was innocent.
Blair didn’t look up. “For two years,” he said, his voice quavering a little.
“Where’d you meet?”
Blair’s head shot up at that question. “Why is that important?” he asked.
Harding shrugged and Jim leaned forward slightly. “We don’t know yet what might be important and what isn’t,” he said. “Once we get all the facts, we’ll get a better idea of what happened tonight.”
Blair nodded and took a slow breath. His gaze dropped back to his hands. “Three years ago, I was… in an abusive relationship. Danny was my counselor.”
“Little unusual, isn’t it?” Harding commented. “Getting together with your counselor?”
“It wasn’t like that,” Blair replied softly. His gaze shifted again, this time to stare at Jim. “My therapy was over. Danny called to see how I was doing. We went out for dinner together and things went from there.”
“When did you move in with him?” Harding asked.
“Six months ago. Danny wanted me to move in right away but I wasn’t ready. I’m used to having my independence.” He smiled sadly. “He wore me down eventually.”
“Did Mr. Parsons support you financially?” Harding asked. He looked down at his notes. “Says here you’re a grad student over at Rainier. I can’t imagine you’d make a whole lot of money.”
Blair’s blue eyes flashed and his jaw set. He gave Harding a defiant glare. “I supported myself. I always have, since I started university when I was sixteen. I teach now and apply for grants. I do a few odd jobs to pay for extras and my share of the rent. My mom helps me out sometimes when funds are low.”
“Says you’re between jobs right now,” Harding commented. “How’ve you been paying the rent?” The emphasis he put on the question unaccountably made Jim’s hackles rise and he hastened to intervene.
“He said he teaches and his mom helps him out. Let’s move on, Jerry.”
Harding gave Jim a hard look then capitulated and scrutinized his notes once more. “Okay, let’s talk about tonight. You had a fight –“
Jim’s eyes zeroed in on a darkening patch on Blair’s right cheek. He hadn’t noticed it before. The dark purple and red of broken capillaries seemed to draw him in and he was certain he could see the imprint of a ring in the slightly swollen flesh. His focus shifted to the dark blue eyes full of sorrow and loss and the full lips that quivered slightly.
“Ellison!” There was a shove to his shoulder and he snapped back with a small gasp. “You going to sleep on me, buddy?” Harding asked, chuckling. “Past your bedtime?”
“Sorry,” Jim said, giving his head a small shake to clear the fuzziness. “Just thinking.” He gestured at Blair’s cheek. “What happened to your face?”
Blair’s hand went up instantly to cup his cheek and he suddenly looked guarded. “Walked into a door.”
Harding flashed Jim a triumphant grin. “Your boyfriend do that tonight when you argued?” he asked.
“No! And he wasn’t my boyfriend!” With that, Blair shoved his chair away from the table. “He was my partner.” His voice dropped. “My lover. If that’s all, I have to go. I have phone calls to make. I need to let Danny’s parents know about their son.”
“Sit down!” Harding commanded. “We’re not done yet.”
“You can’t keep me here.” Blair glared at Jim. “Or do I need to get a lawyer after all?”
“We just need to find out what happened tonight then you’re free to go,” Jim said as reasonably as he could. Sandburg was distressed about more than his lover’s death, if the sheen of sweat on his face and the pounding of his heart were anything to go by. Jim’s thoughts stopped abruptly. His heartbeat? He listened a moment. Sure enough the frenzied thumping he could hear appeared to be coming from the young man standing stiffly on the other side of the table. He rubbed at his forehead as a headache suddenly blossomed. His senses had been all over the place lately, leaving him to wonder if he just needed some time off or whether a spell in a mental hospital might be a good idea. He looked up at Sandburg. “Please,” he added. “Just a few more questions.” Blair stared at him for a long moment then slowly sat down. “Okay.” Jim nodded. “Can you tell us what you argued about tonight?”
“None of your business,” Sandburg shot back.
Jim sighed. “If you want us to find out who killed your partner, you need to be honest with us.”
“I already –“ Sandburg shut his mouth with an audible snap. “Knowing what we argued about won’t help you find his murderer,” he said instead.
“You don’t know that,” Jim insisted.
Harding sighed and stood. “I’m gonna get some coffee. You want some?” he asked, looking at Jim. When Jim nodded, he turned to Sandburg. “You?”
Blair shook his head. “Just some water if I can.”
Jim waited until Harding had left the room before he spoke again. “I think you know more about what happened tonight than you’re letting on.”
Sandburg paled even further at the words. “I didn’t kill Danny,” he protested.
“I didn’t say you did,” Jim replied patiently, “but something’s got you spooked.”
Blair opened his mouth then closed it again as Harding came back into the room. He sat down, nodding his thanks when a glass of water was placed in front of him. He took a shaky breath and his gaze dropped once more to his lap. “Since my previous relationship, I’ve had problems… being intimate with anyone. Danny had worked with me on that when he was my counselor and I thought I had it licked. I was seeing someone else before I met up with Danny again. We hadn't been intimate but things seemed to be going in the right direction.” His hands knotted together, the fingers clenching and unclenching. His voice dropped to a whisper. “It didn't work out. Since then…” His voice trailed off and he shook his head. “After a year together, Danny thought I should be getting over it, that I – that we… I couldn’t. He got impatient with me. Said I wasn’t trying to get over what had happened to me.”
“Did he force himself on you?” Jim asked gently.
Blair’s head snapped up again and his hand reached up to touch the bruise on his face. “No! You think he –“ His jaw set again. “Danny hit me, all right? He was frustrated. He had a right to be. We argued about it and then I left to get some air.”
Harding took a loud slurp of his coffee then set it down noisily, causing Jim to wince at the sound. Damn ears, he thought to himself. Never should have had them syringed last month.
“Not the first time you’ve argued,” Harding said. “According to the neighbors –“
“Yes, we argued,” Blair spat. “All couples argue.” He glanced down at the wedding ring on Harding’s hand. “You’ve never argued with your wife?”
Harding shrugged. “All the time,” he said laconically, “but she’s never turned up dead.”
“We argued a couple of times about the same thing, about whose turn it was to shop, about Danny working too hard, about me studying too much,” Blair said heatedly. “We always sorted it out –“
“This time?” Jim asked.
“This time we would have sorted it out, just like we have before, except… except…” Tears suddenly filled Blair’s eyes and overflowed down his cheeks. He swiped at them roughly with the back of one hand. “Except this time, he was dead,” he whispered, his voice rough. His mouth worked convulsively as he fought to control his emotions. “I came home and he was dead. I don’t know who killed him.”
“Your boy – partner have a will?” Harding asked.
“I’d say so,” Blair said, struggling to control himself. “He was wealthy but if you think I was going to benefit from Danny’s death, you’re wrong. He wanted me to inherit his estate. I refused.”
“Would have been beneficial, wouldn’t it?” Harding pressed. “To a low-paid grad student?”
Blair shook his head. “I didn’t need his money. We were happy together.” He glared at Harding defiantly. “We loved each other, that was enough.”
Harding sat back and regarded Sandburg for a long moment. “All right. CSU is still processing the evidence. For now, you’re free to go but we’ll need to know where to contact you if we need to talk to you again.”
Blair stood quickly. “You can find me at the university,” he said. “Anthropology Department. If that’s all?”
Harding nodded and waved him away. Blair strode to the door and pulled it open. Jim watched him leave then turned to Harding. “You think he did it,” he said, not making it a question.
“Evidence fits.” Harding stared at him. “You don’t? Come on, Jim -”
“No concrete evidence yet,” Jim said. He stood and stretched. “I’m heading home. Do me a favor, Jerry. Copy me on this one, will you?”
“It’s a homicide,” Harding argued.
“Your collar, regardless,” Jim agreed. “I just want to follow it through.”
Blair had no idea where he was going to go. The apartment was off-limits as it was a crime scene and to be honest, Blair had no desire to ever go there again. He’d stopped at a pay phone to call Danny’s parents, only to be informed by the housekeeper that they’d already been given the news and had left orders they were not to be disturbed. Blair didn’t blame them. They’d just lost their only son in horrific circumstances. He also knew Danny’s decision to ask Blair to move in with him had not been taken well by the elder Parsons. They’d never fully accepted Danny’s homosexuality or his choice of profession but had given in grudgingly when their adored only son had insisted that was who he was and what he wanted to do with his life. They’d drawn the line when Blair had moved in. Blair knew they saw him as a gold-digger, out for the Parsons fortune, and nothing, not even refusing Danny’s inheritance had mollified them. Blair had accepted being persona non grata to the family.
Now though, he had nowhere else to go. He could have gone to the university, he supposed, but it would mean talking his way past campus security and he'd had enough of law officers for one night. He had no money for a motel room until his grant money arrived in a couple of days and he was too distressed to want to call upon friends who’d smother him with well-meaning sympathy.
His car was comfortable enough. He had some blankets stowed in the trunk and at least it wouldn’t cost him anything. Climbing into the driver’s seat, he started the old car and headed toward a residential area nearby. Spotting a parking lot across from a group of apartments, where he figured the car wouldn’t look out of place and he’d be less likely to be pulled in for vagrancy or loitering, he parked, secured the car and settled into the passenger seat, trying to will himself to sleep.
It wasn’t going to happen though. Every time he closed his eyes, memories of Danny, of their time together rose up from the ashes of their now destroyed life and before he realized it, he was sobbing softly, despair and grief overwhelming him.
Jim couldn’t put a finger on what had him so caught up in the Parsons case. Normally he’d be more than happy to kick it over to another department and let them handle it, but something told him that Sandburg was innocent. One only had to look into the grad student’s deep blue eyes to know that the grief there was genuine. There was more to it than that. He was attracted to Blair. The thought shamed him, that he could even be thinking such a thing in the wake of Blair’s lover’s murder and he wondered if it was such a good idea to want to stay on the case. But somehow he knew he would. The inexplicable pull he felt toward Blair would not be denied.
He turned into the parking lot across the street from his apartment building with a sigh of relief. It had been a long eventful day and he was looking forward to some downtime and a cold beer before bed. Climbing out of his truck and locking the door, he froze when he sensed movement from the car next to his from the corner of his eye. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness then he was able to clearly make out a dark head resting against the passenger side window.
Moving over to the car, he hesitated before rapping on the glass, not wanting to startle the occupant within. There was no reaction to his first knock and Jim grew concerned, unsure if the person was possibly injured or ill. A faint sound came from within but with his concentration on the matter at hand, he didn’t think to question how his hearing had once more become so acute. Soft sobbing became clearer and Jim rapped harder on the glass. “Are you all right?” he called. “I’m a police officer. Can I help you?”
The head turned then and Jim stared down into a familiar set of blue eyes, now rimmed with red, tears streaming down the pale cheeks. “Mr. Sandburg. Are you all right?”
Blair rolled the window down and gazed up at Jim, roughly wiping away the evidence of his tears. “Detective. You following me?”
“No.” Jim shook his head. He gestured across the road. “I live here.”
“Oh.” Blair gave his eyes another swipe. “Sorry, I didn’t realize. I just… needed somewhere to go. I can’t go back to the apartment until tomorrow and when I do, I’ll just be packing up my stuff.” He shrugged. “My finances are a little tight right now. I figured there’d be less chance of me being pulled in for vagrancy or something if I parked in a residential parking lot.” He opened the door and got out. “I’ll move. It’s okay. I can park at the university for tonight.”
“I have a spare room,” Jim blurted out then felt his cheeks heating with embarrassment. “He rushed on to explain. “It’s cold out and you’re probably still in shock. You’re welcome to stay the night.”
“Why?” Blair’s voice was soft. “If you listened to that other cop, I’m a murderer. Why would you want me in your home?”
“Because I don’t think you killed Danny Parsons,” Jim said honestly. “Don’t ask me why I believe you but I do. Look, it’s just a bed for the night…”
Blair nodded slowly. “Thank you. It’s kind of you to offer and I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to trying to sleep in my car.” He smiled a little. “Before I met Danny, I’d slept in worse places but I’ve grown accustomed to some creature comforts.”
Jim smiled. “Lock up your car and let’s get in out of the cold.”
Blair followed Jim into the apartment and gazed around the austere room in curiosity. The anthropologist in him wouldn’t be denied, even in his emotional state and he had to admit he wanted to learn more about the samaritan who’d taken him in.
“It’s not much,” Jim said, leading the way over to a small room nestled under the stairs, “but it’s clean and warm.”
“It’s great, thank you.” Blair took a step into the room and looked longingly at the futon, made up with a blue coverlet and plump pillows. He was exhausted, his shock and fear of what had occurred coming again to the fore. He’d be safe here, for tonight at least. No one except Jim knew he was there.
“Can I get you something?” Jim asked, startling him from his thoughts. “A drink, some food?”
Blair shook his head. “You’ve already done enough. Thank you.”
Jim nodded but seemed reluctant to leave. “If you want to talk…” He left the rest of the sentence unsaid.
Blair smiled. “I still have a lot to process, so if you don’t mind…”
“That’s fine.” Jim moved then, stepping out of the room. “I’ll leave you to get some rest.”
“Thank you… for everything.” Blair waited until the curtains in the doorway were pulled closed then sank onto the bed and dropped his head into his hands. He was warm and safe but he knew sleep would still not come tonight. There was too much to think about, not least avenging Danny's death. He'd come close tonight to telling the detective who seemed to believe he was innocent of Danny's murder exactly what he did know. Would it have been easier to explain what had really occurred in the nightmare months before he'd escaped to Cascade? He snorted ruefully and lay back, staring up at the darkened ceiling. Who would believe the real story?
The seed of an idea formed in his mind. The very thought of what he was planning to do terrified him but he doubted it could be worse than what he'd already endured. If it succeeded, he would be free for good. It wouldn't bring Danny back but Blair needed to assuage the guilt he felt at having put Danny in danger. He should have left as soon as he realized they were falling in love. Should have run as he'd done so often before, but the need to feel safe and cherished had won out and he'd honestly believed that this time, he was finally free.
Blair was brewing coffee in the kitchen the following morning when a knock sounded at the front door. He glanced nervously over at the closed bathroom door. Ellison was showering and Blair had decided to ignore the knocking until the bathroom door opened and Jim stuck his head out.
"Get that, will you, Chief? I'll be out in a minute."
Blair stared at the detective, puzzled. "How did you -"
"How did I what?" Jim asked, an answering confused look on his face.
Blair shook his head and waved the question away as another rap sounded at the door and a voice called out, "Jim, it's Simon."
"That's my boss," Jim said. "Let him in." With that, he closed the door, leaving Blair to walk over and admit the visitor.
If <<Even if>> Blair had not already been nervous, the man standing in the hallway was intimidation personified. Tall, dark-skinned, with close-cropped hair and heavy gold-framed glasses, Ellison's boss exuded power. He frowned at Blair, his gaze seeming to spear right through Blair <<him>>. "I'm looking for Detective Ellison." He walked past Blair into the apartment without waiting for an invitation.
Blair stood flat-footed for a moment then shut the door and turned but didn't move further. "He's in the shower. He'll be right out."
Simon's glare didn't abate. "And you would be…?"
"B-Blair. Blair Sandburg." Blair held out a hand then let it drop back to his side when Simon's eyebrows raised and he shouted over his shoulder, "Jim! You want to get out here and explain this!"
It was obvious Blair had been dismissed for the time being so he returned to the kitchen and poured coffee into three cups. He picked up two of the cups then set them back on the counter, unsure what to do next. This looked like it would take a while. Jim stepped out of the bathroom a moment later, a towel slung around his waist. Blair couldn't help taking a second look. The guy was built! Broad shoulders, a smooth muscular chest, narrow hips. It was the same type of build that had attracted him to Danny when they'd first met. He sipped at his coffee, forcing the memory from his mind.
"Hey, Simon, I'll just go get dressed -"
"You can explain first!" Simon's tone brooked no argument. "What the hell is he doing here? He's a suspect in a murder case!"
Blair drifted unobtrusively over to the kitchen counter to take in the exchange. Jim looked unperturbed by Simon's ire. "He was upset and he needed a place to stay."
"He's a suspect!" Simon said again.
"Look," Blair stepped out into the living room and waved a hand toward the spare room, "I have to get going. I have things to arrange." He glared at the captain, telegraphing his dislike of the man. "How can I find out when Daniel's body will be released? His parents will need to organize the funeral." Tears stung his eyes when he realized he would not be allowed to attend that. He blinked them back.
"It's an ongoing case, Mr. Sandburg," the captain replied but there was no sympathy in his tone. "The body will be released after the autopsy. Mr. Parson's family will be notified."
"I understand." With that, Blair turned on his heel and went into the spare room. As he packed, he could hear the voices of the other men, but only a few phrases were clear, those spoken by Simon, whose voice seemed to increase in volume exponentially with his anger.
"… nuts? Do you want to jeopardize this case?"
Blair heard Jim reply but couldn't make out the words. Grabbing his backpack from the bed, he headed back out to the living room.
"… and what better way to keep an eye on him," Jim said.
Blair stopped in his tracks. So that was all it had been. All the words Jim had said last night about believing him had just been a ploy to keep tabs on him. "How could you…" he began then shaking his head, his words trailing off, he glared at Jim and headed for the door.
Blair ignored the plea and kept on walking. Screw Jim! Screw the police! If he'd ever given any thought to taking the detective into his confidence, he'd changed his mind. He'd avenge Danny's death himself and then get the hell out of Cascade. Chest tight, heart pounding, he climbed into his car and headed for the university.
Jim pushed past Simon and headed for the door but his progress was impeded by Simon's hand on his arm. Furious, he shook his arm but Simon only hung on tighter.
"Calm down, Jim! What's got you all riled up?"
Jim managed to wrench his arm away then sighed and stalked over to the couch, flopping down on it. It was too late anyway. He'd heard Blair's car drive off. The thought gave him pause. What the heck was happening with him? How could he have heard Blair's car from here?
Simon's voice dragged him back to the present. He stared up at the captain. "That stuff I told you about my senses? It seems to be happening all the time lately."
Simon sat down in the armchair opposite Jim. "Start at the beginning. What's with the kid?"
Jim shrugged. "I don't think he's the killer. I can't prove it yet but I will. And I just… I don't know… feel something for him."
"You're attracted to him?" Simon looked stunned. "This soon? You only met him last night."
"I know. I don't know why but it's so strong, I have to fight it."
Simon stared at him for a moment then pulled something out of his jacket pocket. "Well, you might be right about the kid not doing it but can you explain how the hell he knows this guy?" He held out a photo and Jim took it, studying it intently. The quality was grainy and was obviously taken from a security camera but there was no mistaking the face. Jim looked up at Simon in shock.
"Zeller? The Iceman?"
"He was photographed entering Daniel Parson's apartment building the night of the murder about two minutes after Sandburg was seen leaving."
Jim sagged with relief. "So Sandburg's alibi holds up."
"Maybe." Simon held up a hand to silence Jim's ready protest. "Zeller's a hitman. One of the best. You've been chasing him for over a year now. Maybe Sandburg hired him to kill his lover."
"No! No way," Jim objected hotly.
"You don't know that!"
Jim shook his head. "This was personal."
Simon looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"
Jim jabbed a finger at the photo in Simon's hand then took it and stared down at it. "Zeller's a hit man, a shooter. Why'd he risk getting up close to Parsons and slitting his throat."
"You think Sandburg knows Zeller. Pissed him off somehow."
Jim stood and headed for the door again. "Well, there's only one way to find out."
"What are you going to do?"
Jim's rushed footsteps slowed the closer he came to Sandburg's office door. He really had no idea what to say to Blair, providing the other man let him speak at all. He'd start with the photo proving his alibi and go from there. Standing in front of the door, Jim raised his hand to knock, then froze. He could hear Blair's voice from within the room. Concentrating, Jim tried to focus on what was being said. He found it surprisingly easy to do so.
"I'm telling you, Alex, if you want him, then get here now."
"Why am I doing this? Because he killed my lover, that's why! And that scares me more than you ever did."
Another moment of silence and Jim realized Sandburg was on the phone.
"I promise, yes. You do this for me and I'll come back with you. I won't run again."
What the fuck was going on here? Anger overruled Jim's hesitation, and the moment he heard Blair hang up the phone, he hammered on the door then opened it without waiting for an invitation.
Blair shot up from the seat behind his desk, his face pale, his eyes wide with shock. Jim stalked up to the desk and rested his hands upon its surface, leaning into Sandburg's personal space. "No more bullshit, Sandburg! What are you up to?"
Blair's face betrayed by turns, shock then fear. Then his eyes became hard, glittering with anger. His chin jutted forward and when he spoke, his voice was full of challenge. "You were eavesdropping on me? I can't believe you, man." He stood, pushing his chair back so hard, it crashed to the floor. Coming around his desk, he stood in front of Jim and jabbed a finger into the detective's chest. "You have no right to do that."
Jim glared back at him. "I have every right," he said coldly. "You're a suspect in a murder case. Tell me this, Sandburg. How do you know Klaus Zeller?"
If it was possible, Blair's face grew even paler. He took a step back, almost staggering. Jim automatically reached out a hand but Blair shrugged it off. "I don't know who you're talking about."
"Bullshit!" Jim reached into his pocket for the photo of Zeller but caught a flicker of movement from the corner of his eye. Out of the window behind Blair. A flash of something metallic. He heard the unmistakable snick of a weapon. He acted on instinct. "Sandburg, get down!" As he shouted the command, he reached out for Blair, snagging hold of his sleeve and dragged him down to the floor. Above them, gunfire erupted deafeningly, showering them with bits of debris as it raked the room. Jim rolled on top of Blair, sheltering him beneath his body, struggling to drag his weapon from its holster.
Suddenly there was silence. Carefully, Jim raised his head, his weapon at the ready. He got to his knees and glanced down at Sandburg, who lay sprawled on his stomach, unmoving. Fear lodged unaccountably in Jim's heart. Reaching out, he ghosted his hands over Blair's body, checking for injury, relieved when he found none. "You all right?" Blair nodded his head and sat up. Grabbing one of Blair's arms, Jim half-dragged him over to the shelter of the desk. "Stay there," he ordered brusquely. He stood, keeping close to the wall and hurried to the shattered window. He looked out, casting his gaze as far as he could <<but saw no one.>> Whoever it had been was gone.
He turned back and stared at Blair, the look on his face uncompromising. "Now do you want to tell me what's going on?" Blair opened and closed his mouth several times but no sound emerged. Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket and called in the shooting, requesting back up and a Crime Scene unit.
Blair looked shocked, his face was ghost-white and sweat beaded his forehead. "I don't - " He stopped abruptly and stared at Jim. "How did you… How could you have known what was going to happen?"
Jim sighed and lowered himself to sit beside the other man. He was pretty sure the sniper was long gone but he wasn't taking any chances. "I don't really know, Chief. My senses are -"
"No!" Blair fairly shouted the word. He scrambled to his feet and backed away from Jim, coming up short when his desk got in the way. He held one hand out in a halting gesture. "Stay away from me!"
"Sandburg? What's wrong?" Jim reached out, attempting to stop Blair's flight. "Get down! The shooter could still be out there." Blair stopped dead, his frantic gaze going first to the window then back to Jim. He shook his head then headed for the door at a shambling run. "Sandburg!" Jim launched himself at the fleeing man and managed to grab him by one shoulder, dragging him back against him. Blair struggled furiously and Jim wrapped both arms around the writhing man's chest, pinning his arms to his sides.
"Get away from me, you asshole," Blair shouted. He attempted to head butt Jim but Jim ducked sideways.
"Calm down, damn it! What the hell is wrong with you?"
Blair sagged suddenly in his arms and Jim could feel the tremors that assaulted his body. "Let me go. Please."
Jim did so but then maneuvered his body around so he blocked the door, then lowered himself down to the floor, bringing Blair with him. "We need to stay down," he said as reasonably as he could. "Talk to me, Chief. What the heck have you got yourself into?"
Blair's head snapped up at that and he gave Jim a glare. "I didn't get myself into anything, man. I was just trying to help."
Jim reached out and took Blair's hand. "Talk to me. I want to help you but I can't do that if you're not honest with me."
Blair looked defeated. He pulled his legs up, resting his head upon his knees. He nodded. "Okay."
Sandburg's explanation was interrupted before it began by a frantic knocking at the door. A wavering voice called out. "We heard shooting, Blair. What's going on?"
Jim spoke before Blair could say anything. "Ma'am, I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade PD. Police are on their way."
"Blair? You're not hurt, are you? I called the campus police…"
"I'm fine," Blair reassured her. He looked at Jim, seemingly unsure what else to do.
"Ma'am, I need you to go back to your office and stay there. Put calls through to anyone else in the building to remain in their offices and stay away from the windows."
"Yes, Detective, I'll do that."
There was a long moment of silence then Blair spoke, his voice soft. "I'm not sure where to start."
"Try the beginning, Chief."
"You keep calling me that. Makes me sound like a dog."
Jim shrugged. "Sorry. Old habit of mine." He leaned forward and pinned Blair with a no nonsense glare. "Talk."
"I need to know something first. Tell me about your senses."
Jim stared at him, unsure if Sandburg was just trying to forestall things. When the other man gave him an uncompromising stare, he sighed. "When I was in Peru, my chopper crashed. All of my team was killed. I was taken in by a local tribe and I don't know… My senses just seemed sharpened somehow. The shaman of the tribe didn't find it at all strange. He helped me to fine tune them. In return, I guarded the tribe, searched for game, helped protect them from predators. Once I came back to the States, my heightened senses seemed to disappear until a few months back, when I was on a stakeout, trying to capture a serial bomber. This time though, they're all over the place. I can't seem to control them."
Sandburg looked thoughtful, nodding his head. "Because you've lost your guide. Classic symptoms. All five?"
"Your senses. Taste, smell, hearing, touch and sight."
"I guess." Jim thought about it. "Sight for sure, and hearing. Smell too. I can't eat spicy food any more. Not sure about touch."
Blair reached up and grabbed a writing pad from his desk, tearing off the top page. "I wrote an address on there. Tell me what it is."
Jim took the pad and squinted at it. Sandburg rolled his eyes and reached out to take his hand, laying Jim's fingers on the page. "Now tell me."
Jim concentrated, startled to find he could actually feel the indentations of the pen. It took him a while but finally he looked up at Blair in shock. "I can read it. 452 Atherton."
Blair didn't seem as happy as Jim thought he'd be. "Fuck! I can't believe it."
"You got me, Chief. What's the problem?"
Blair stared at him for a long moment. "Alex Barnes is someone I used to know."
Blair shuddered at the idea. "No, no way. Someone like you -" He shook his head. "She had similar abilities to you. I tried to help her. It didn't work out. I'm an anthropologist, as you know. My field of study is Sentinels." He pointed a finger at Jim. "People with heightened senses. She was having problems controlling her senses, suffering spikes and zoning out. I was looking for subjects to study and we came to an agreement. In return for information for my thesis, I'd help her to get her senses under control. Can I…" He motioned up with his hand.
Jim nodded. "Stay away from the window."
Blair stood and went over to his bookcase, pulling a large tome from the shelf. He held it out to Jim.
The Sentinels of Paraguay by Sir Richard Burton.
Jim looked up. "I thought he was an actor."
Blair rolled his eyes. "If you knew how many times I've heard that." He smiled suddenly and Jim couldn't help thinking just how attractive he was. He cleared his throat and dropped his gaze back to the book. "Go on."
"Alex just couldn't seem to gain the control, like you. She was impatient. Cruel." He looked away. "Anyway, she, um, decided it was my 'guidance' that was at fault and I… left."
“I always thought I was having some sort of mental breakdown. I've never heard of sentinels."
Blair's eyes gleamed and a look of what Jim could only describe as rapture came over his face. "Oh, man. Just think of what you could do in your line of work, if you had control! You'd be a human crime lab!"
Jim snorted. "You applying for the job, Sandburg?"
Blair's face fell. "No. No way."
"So what has Alex Barnes got to do with Klaus Zeller?"
"I don't know any Klaus Zeller."
"Sandburg -" Jim began but was interrupted by a knock at the door.
Blair, seemingly relieved by the disruption quickly called out an invitation to enter and the door opened. A diminutive Asian woman, dressed in the uniform of Rainier University's security department stepped inside.
"Suzanne, hi." Blair turned to Jim. "Jim, this is -"
"Suzanne Tomaki." Jim nodded at the woman. "We worked a case a couple years back when you were on the force."
Suzanne smiled at him. "How are you, Jim? Your patrols are here and we've gone over the entire campus. Whoever the shooter was, it looks like he didn't hang around."
"I'm not surprised," Jim said.
"I need to go check on everyone in the building, so I'll see you later." Giving Blair a quick smile, Suzanne left.
Jim turned back to Blair. "I think you should come back to my apartment. I don't think it's safe for you to be alone right now. Until we get to the bottom of this -"
Blair nodded. "Sure. Thanks," he said quickly.
"I'm gonna go bring my truck around to the rear entrance and then escort you down. I need you to stay here until I come back. And stay away from the windows."
Jim took another look at the scene outside then turned on his heel and left.
Blair accepted the beer Jim offered and took a deep drink.
Jim stood, leaning back against the kitchen counter, his arms crossed over his chest. "Tell me more about this Alex Barnes."
Blair shrugged. "Nothing really to tell." Blair placed his beer on the counter. "I tried to help her.”
“You told her you’d go back with her if she did something for you,” Jim said, reminding Blair of the detective’s senses.
Blair grimaced at the thought of another sentinel needing him, doing what she did… No! This man was different. He was an officer of the law and for some reason he seemed to care, really care that Blair was innocent. “Why are you doing this?” he asked, veering away from Jim’s unwanted question.
Jim looked startled by the query. “Because I’m a cop. I think you’re innocent and now it seems whoever murdered your lover is after you. How do you know Klaus Zeller?”
“I told you I don’t!” Blair shouted. “If you believe everything else I’ve told you, why can’t you believe that?”
Jim turned toward him, grabbing him by both arms, dragging him close. “Because every time I mention his name, your heart tries to pound its way out of your chest, you break out in a sweat, just like now. I can smell the fear on you.”
Blair struggled to pull away but when Jim didn’t release him, gave up. “I don’t know him.” Before he could say another word, Jim’s lips were pressing against his. Blair moaned, relinquishing control, giving himself over to the attraction he felt. Jim’s tongue pressed against his mouth, demanding entrance and then Blair could feel her lips, her teeth cutting his lips, could taste the iron tang of her blood as he bit down on her tongue. “No!”
He pulled away, so violently he almost fell and leaned back against the counter, his breath heaving. “Don’t!”
“I’m sorry.” Jim looked contrite. “I couldn’t seem to stop myself doing that.”
Blair waved away the apology. “It’s all right. I feel the same way but… it’s too soon.” As he spoke the words, his mind raced feverishly. Could it be true? Could Burton have been right after all?
The phone rang, startling them both. Blair watched Jim walk into the living room to pick up the receiver. He turned his thoughts inward again. Alex had told him that final time she’d beaten him, that he’d never be free of her, that a guide would always need a sentinel. He supposed she’d been partly right. Burton had written that a guide would have a physical and emotional connection to his sentinel. Blair had felt that tug of connection when Jim had kissed him. He’d never felt that with Alex, even before she began to chain him up and abuse him. What if Burton had been right, only Blair had missed it. Every sentinel must have a guide but what if it was a particular guide?
“You all right, Chief?”
Blair opened his eyes, unaware he’d even closed them and looked into Jim’s eyes. So blue. Like glacial ice. He shook himself from his almost fugue state, suddenly awash with exhaustion. “Tired,” he replied simply. “Really tired.”
Jim nodded and rested a hand on Blair’s shoulder, massaging lightly. “That was my captain. CSU didn’t find anything at the university. Why don’t you get some rest?”
“Okay.” Blair slipped out from under Jim’s arm and headed for the spare bedroom then turned back to Jim. “This thing between us… It can’t… It won’t work. I could maybe give you some pointers on getting things under control but that’s all.”
Jim only nodded. “Get some sleep, Chief." He paused a moment then spoke again. "Sandburg?”
“This Alex. Is she the one who raped you?”
Blair swallowed, suddenly aware that Jim would know the lie even before he spoke it. “No, not the way you mean. She just wasn't a very nice person."
"She hurt you though."
Oh, yeah. "No, just kept blaming me for her own insecurities and lack of faith in my ability to help her. Like I said, I left. I need to organize some things tomorrow. Danny’s things. Personal effects, things like that."
"Sorry, the apartment’s still off-limits.”
“Okay. I’ll make some calls to his… our friends. Let them know what’s happening. The funeral's tomorrow.”
“I'll come with you -”
"No!" Blair averted his eyes from Jim's sympathetic gaze. "I umm… They won't want me there."
"He was your lover," Jim said with some vehemence. "Surely -"
"He was their son and brother," Blair said firmly. "I understand their feelings. I need to go to the university tomorrow as well, there’s some research I have to get done.”
“Not without me,” Jim said assertively.
Blair bristled at the controlling tone. “You said my alibi held up. I’m a free man.”
Jim’s expression softened. “I just don’t want you getting hurt.”
Blair took a deep breath and nodded. “I’ll let you know when I’m leaving.”
Blair left before dawn lightened the apartment the following morning. He'd placed the small white noise generator at the top of the stairs, after waiting what seemed an eternity for Ellison to don his sleep mask and drift off to sleep. Blair had never thought he'd have use for the implement again. When Alex had discovered it the first time he'd tried to escape, her punishment had been particularly brutal.
Jim wouldn't do that, he tried to convince himself. He was nothing like Alex. But Blair couldn't risk it. If his plan was to work, he needed time alone to prepare. He'd almost convinced himself not to come here first, but the pull was too great, the hole in his heart at his loss of Danny and the guilt he felt for his death would not be denied. He sat on a small hillock above the gravesite, concealed by a row of bushes and watched the sun come up, lost in his thoughts, startled at how much time had passed when he saw the hearse bearing his lover to his final resting place pull up, followed by Danny's family and friends.
Only when the funeral was over and the mourners had made their solemn way out of the cemetery did Blair walk down to the grave. With tears streaming down his face, he lovingly stroked the cold granite that bore Danny's name and those of his mother, father and sister. No mention then or now of the man who had loved him more than life itself. "I'm sorry," Blair whispered. "I should never have fallen in love with you." Standing, he placed a single rose atop the headstone. "I'll make him pay. He'll never hurt anyone again."
Blair made his way to the university via a circuitous back route. He knew it was only a matter of time before Jim figured out where he was and confronted him. His new office was still closed off by the police but his old office - a storeroom that had been converted for his use when he'd first come to Rainier was still vacant. He headed down the back stairs, hoping he didn't run into anyone he knew.
He slammed the storeroom door shut then secured the lock. Turning, he rested his back against the door, taking in the tiny office he'd been so proud to call his own. Now the demons were back to haunt him and he could lose it all again. More importantly, if he didn't finish this once and for all, he could lose the second man he'd come to care about. He knew why Zeller had come to Cascade - to teach Blair a lesson, a lesson he'd continue to teach until Blair gave up and returned to him. He couldn't do that though. And he couldn't run any more.
Blair stared at the phone, briefly considering calling Jim and explaining the whole sorry mess to him, then just as quickly dismissed the thought, remembering what had happened the day Zeller and Alex had locked horns over him, whom they both considered to be their property. Chances were that Jim would exhibit the same territorial instincts over him. He was already demonstrating an attachment to him, perhaps already perceiving him as his chosen guide.
A headache blossomed suddenly behind his eyes and he shambled over to his desk and lowered himself into his chair. He'd just rested his head on his arms when the phone rang. Snatching it up, he answered it brusquely. "Blair Sandburg."
"Hello, Blair. It's Alex."
Blair shuddered at the saccharine sweetness of her voice. "Alex," he husked out. "Where are you?"
"Seattle. I'll be in Cascade tomorrow. Do you know where Klaus is?"
"No, I didn't ask."
"Doesn't matter," Alex replied, her voice taking on a steely edge. "Once I get there, I want you to lure him somewhere. It shouldn't be difficult. I know how attached he was to you. Then call me, let me know where you are. I'm glad you've accepted my offer."
Blair's hand slipped on the receiver, his palm slick with sweat. "Let's talk about that after you deal with Zeller," he said shakily.
"I didn't like you running away from me, Blair. You won't do it again. It's a deal, remember? I take care of Klaus for you and you come back with me. Help me get these senses of mine working properly, and this time, you do the job right."
"Right. It's a deal. I have to go, there's someone coming." Shakily, Blair hung up the phone and rested his aching head in his hands. Christ, what a mess. But his plan could work. If he'd studied the dynamic between sentinels properly, he could slip away once more while Alex and Klaus played out their imperative territoriality.
The thought of leaving Jim caused his heart to clench painfully but he steeled himself against it. It was for the best, he told himself firmly. For Jim's safety and his own.
"I thought you said you'd tell me when you were leaving."
Blair looked up at the sound of Jim's voice. The anger on the detective's face was as cold as his voice. Blair closed down his laptop and stood. "I'm sorry. I went to the cemetery. I needed to be alone."
Jim nodded tersely and stepped into the room. "Zeller's still out there," he said. "He could have taken you out in the blink of an eye."
"Wouldn't be such a bad thing," Blair replied morosely. He gasped when Jim reached out and grabbed him by the arms, hauling him forward.
"Don't ever say that!" Jim growled, and then his mouth was on Blair's, as it had been the night before, only this time there was a ferocious need to it that Blair found he couldn't resist. Moaning softly, he pulled his arms from Jim's grasp and wrapped them around his waist, holding on as tightly as he could. He opened his mouth and let Jim in, allowing him to taste him. He shuddered when Jim's hands stroked down his back and cupped his ass, pulling him closer, allowing him to feel Jim's hardness against his hip.
Finally, cognizant of what this meant, Blair pulled away roughly. "Don't," he admonished, his voice rough with need and pain. "I told you I can't."
Jim stared at him for a long moment, his expression a mirror to Blair's own then he grabbed Blair's laptop off the desk and turned toward the door. "It's late. You need to get some rest."
Blair had remained silent the entire drive back to the loft. He sat, his body rigid, his hands twisting in his lap as he stared unblinking out the front windshield. Once they'd arrived at the loft, he'd gone straight to the spare bedroom and quietly closed the door. When Jim checked on him an hour later, he was curled up on the bed, an afghan tossed haphazardly over his sleeping form.
Now Jim sat, staring out at the darkness through the balcony doors. Fragments of words spoken by Incacha, the Peruvian shaman had returned to him over the past few days. He remembered them lying together in each other's arms. Spent after a night of passion. Incacha speaking softly to him, telling him that their time together would only be temporary and that one day, Jim would find his true guide.
Was that what Blair was? Was there more to the feelings he felt for the other man than just a physical attraction? If that was the case, where did that leave them now? With Blair's secretive, suspicious behavior, Jim knew no good could come of their relationship unless there was truth and trust.
He had no doubt that Klaus Zeller had murdered Daniel Parsons, though he'd not been able to come up with a reason why. There was nothing in the therapist's past to suggest he knew Zeller and there were no shady dealings, no patient complaints. Daniel Parsons appeared to be the good, honest man Blair had claimed he was. Why was Zeller now targeting Sandburg? Again, Jim could find nothing in Sandburg's records to indicate he'd be involved with someone like Zeller. Zeller was a professional hitman, the best out there.
Alex Barnes, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity. A sentinel, Blair had said. He'd tried to help her and she'd hurt him. Jim thought there was a whole lot more there that Sandburg was keeping to himself. He'd told Barnes he'd return with her if she did what he asked of her. Why the hell would he do that, knowing what would be in store for him?
Jim shifted on the couch and sat up straight. No way! Barnes was not taking his guide away from him.
Jim couldn't resist poking his head through the curtained doorway of the spare room before he went out to the kitchen to make himself something to eat. He doubted Blair had eaten anything today and wondered if he should wake him. He found Blair sleeping restlessly, his legs twisted in the sheets, his face shiny with a fine sheen of sweat. Jim considered going in and covering him up but hesitated, unsure of his own intentions - to care for Blair or to look his fill at the man he longed to hold in his arms. Cursing softly to himself, Jim walked into the kitchen and reheated a left over stir-fry for dinner. He watched the television desultorily for a couple of hours then headed upstairs to his own bed. He'd just drifted to sleep when the screams woke him.
By the time Jim made it into Blair's room, the other man was struggling violently, his legs scrabbling against the confines of the bedding, his hands curled into fists and flailing against an unseen enemy. The screams had died away, replaced with panicked gasps of "nonono."
Striding to the bed, Jim stripped away the bedclothes that held Blair prisoner, then grasped his upper arms in a firm but gentle grip. "Blair! It's all right. Wake up!"
There was little response initially though Blair's struggles had ceased and he was lax in Jim's hold, his head lolling bonelessly as Jim shook him gently, his eyes open but vacant. Jim gave him another shake. "Blair! Come on, Chief, wake up."
Finally, Blair blinked slowly a few times and looked up at Jim. "Huh? Jim?"
"You had a nightmare," Jim explained. He released Blair's arms and sat on the bed. Blair scooted back and pulled up his knees, resting his head upon them. "Must have been a bad one," Jim noted.
"Oh, yeah, you could say that." Blair's voice was muffled and still shaky. "Haven't had one in a long while." He looked up and Jim could easily see the pallor of his face. "Sorry I woke you."
Jim shook his head and reached out to take Blair's hand, squeezing it gently. "No apologies necessary. Do you think you can go back to sleep? It's only two."
Blair stared at him for a long moment. "Hold me?"
Jim didn't need a second invitation. He shifted so that he lay beside Blair and took the other man into his arms. Blair rested his head on Jim's chest, pressing a kiss over Jim's heart. He looked up, his eyes wide and dark. "I know I said we can't do this but I need this… I need you. I've never… done this before. After what happened, I couldn't. Not even with Danny." He drew in a slow, shaky breath. "Make love to me, Jim. Make me forget."
Jim stroked a hand down Blair's cheek. "Are you sure? I won't hurt you, not for anything."
Jim didn't need to hear the words. The trust that shone from Blair's eyes was enough.
His doubts cast aside by the need in Blair's voice, Jim soothed Blair, caressed him and calmed him with his touch, finally taking him with a gentleness that seemed to join them in spirit and soul. After, Blair lay in Jim's arms, sleepy and sated, a soft smile tugging his lips upward as he drifted to sleep.
The next morning Jim awoke feeling somewhat stiff from attempting to corral his big frame into Blair's bed, but the warm curls that rested against his chest and the hand that idly stroked along his body, peaking nipples to hardness and stirring renewed interest in his cock, negated any discomfort. Blair looked up and smiled lazily at him.
"Good morning to you."
Blair lifted his head and met him halfway for a slow but chaste kiss. His hand stole down to cup Jim's erection. "This is promising."
Reluctantly Jim sat up and dropped his legs over the side of the bed. "Unfortunately I have to get to the station. I've got Brown and Joel tracking any moves from Zeller. We need to find why he's here. Blair…" Jim grabbed Blair's arm. "If Alex hurt you so badly, why go back to her?"
"I'm not." Blair dropped his gaze to the bed sheet. "I just need some leeway to give me a chance to get away."
"Stay here," Jim implored. "I'll protect you."
"You can't!" Blair said harshly. He threw off the bedcovers and sat sideways on the bed, facing away from Jim. "That's what she told me too when -"
"What do you know about Klaus Zeller?" Jim asked, recapturing Blair's wrist.
Blair tried to pull away but Jim held firm. "I told you, nothing."
"Sandburg!" Blair flinched at the impatience and frustration in Jim's voice. Jim lowered his voice, stroking softly up and down Blair's arm. "After what we shared last night, tell me the truth," Jim chided softly. "There's nothing left but truth and trust. I'm in love with you and I think you're in love with me. Let me help you."
Blair seemed to deflate. He sighed and pushed his hair away from his face. "Klaus Zeller, as you already know, is a hitman. One of the best. He has Mob connections in pretty much every country in the world. He's bad news."
"And you know this how?" Jim asked, his voice shaky to his own ears. He'd known there was a connection of some kind between Blair and Zeller but hearing it confirmed aloud shocked him to the core.
"A few years ago, I was given information on Zeller. Back then, I didn't know who he was or what he did. I approached him, asked if I could study his… abilities. Initially he wasn't too thrilled but he was desperate to get his senses under control and agreed. He - he asked me to move in with him -" Blair looked away, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed convulsively. "I was desperate to find a subject, and Klaus treated me well. I didn't - I didn't love him but he never pushed me into anything, even though he told me he loved me. He was so understanding when I told him I wasn't ready for that. For sex. Then one day he came home and said he had a job to do and he needed my help."
"Zeller is a sentinel?"
Blair nodded. "I was pretty fired up about it until I discovered who he was."
"You helped him assassinate someone?"
"I tried to get away. Klaus wasn't happy about that." Blair looked away but the pain on his face was obvious.
"What happened?" Jim asked.
"I knew someone, someone who hated Klaus and would do anything to screw up his business, give him a bad reputation. She… she helped me escape."
Blair nodded. "Seemed I'd escaped one hell only to get caught up in another."
Jim shook his head. "Jesus, Sandburg, how many of us are there out there?"
Blair turned and smiled at him. "Only one of you, that I know of so far. The other two I'm aware of… Let's just say they don't want to use their abilities for the good of mankind. After what happened with Alex, I came to Cascade, grew my hair, changed my name and - and the rest you know."
Silence stretched into long minutes as Jim tried to digest Blair's revelation, then shook himself, and stood. "Get dressed, Chief, you're coming to the station with me."
"Sandburg, this guy is a killer. If you can give us any information at all, we've got a chance of catching him before anyone else dies."
Blair shook his head and backed away. "There's something I have to do first. I swear I'll meet you at the PD at noon. Just leave it till then." He looked beseechingly at Jim. "Please. Trust me."
Against his better judgement, Jim nodded. He walked to the doorway then turned back. "Don't let my faith in you be misplaced, Chief. I don't think I could stand that."
"I'll be there."
Jim hated what he was doing but sternly told himself it was for Blair's benefit as well as his own. Zeller was out there somewhere, and he and Barnes were connected somehow. Blair had already contacted Barnes once that he knew of, and Zeller had tried to kill Blair already. There was a good possibility he'd try again. Jim had set Brown and Rafe to work on the streets, talking to snitches, hoping there was word about Zeller's movements. Blair's confession still stunned him. He supposed it wasn't an unlikely scenario. He'd always assumed he wasn't the only one out there with heightened senses but hadn't wanted to examine that idea too closely.
Blair was clearly terrified of Barnes and Zeller, and given what Jim knew of the hitman, he wasn't surprised. His gut twisted when he thought of what punishment might be visited upon Blair for escaping their clutches. He'd have to look into the rest, of course. Blair had said that he'd never been present at Zeller's killings and Jim believed him but whether the DA would was another matter.
The only reason he'd given in so quickly to Blair's request to be allowed to go out alone was that he hoped it would lead him to Zeller. He still was certain that Blair was not involved in Parson's death and he didn't want to think about the chance that he could be wrong. Keeping a couple of car lengths back, Jim kept his hearing trained on Blair in the Volvo ahead of him, hoping he wouldn't phase out like he'd done in the past. Maybe once all this was over, Blair could teach him some tricks to keep his senses under control - if he could convince Blair to stay. He shifted his focus to the car in front once more when he heard what sounded like the pressing of cell phone buttons then Blair spoke.
"Alex, it's me. Half an hour at the pier."
Jim strained to hear the other side of the conversation, still unsure where Alex Barnes figured in all of this but caught himself just as he slipped into a zone, and pulled back. Determinedly, he sent his hearing out once more and focused just on Blair's voice.
"I told you, you get rid of Zeller for me and we'll talk. No promises. After… After what happened before, I need to know you won't hurt me again."
Jim frowned. An uncertain, edgy sensation was building, causing goosebumps to spring up on his arms and neck. He wasn't sure what it was, couldn't identify it but there was something very bad going down.
He parked well back from the pier and called into the PD to ask for back up, warning them to approach without sirens, then got out and made his way along the pier behind Blair, taking cover behind rows of stacked crates and machinery. Blair was halfway along Pier one when he stopped and looked about uncertainly. A moment later, Klaus Zeller appeared from a small shed and approached Blair, a smile on his face. Even from this distance, Jim could see the evil intent in the man's eyes and he surprised himself when a growl rumbled from deep in his throat.
"Blair," Zeller said, wrapping an arm about Blair's visibly trembling shoulders. "I'm so glad you reconsidered."
Blair stiffened and tried to jerk away from Zeller's embrace. "I haven't, Klaus… Not yet. You tell me what's going on first."
"I don't think I need to," Zeller said. "It seems you've brought my target to me." In a fluid movement, his arm shifted, his free hand grasping Blair and spinning him so he now stood with his back pressed to Zeller's chest, a strong arm pushed across Blair's throat. From somewhere a gun had appeared in Zeller's other hand and he pressed the muzzle to Blair's temple. "Come on out, Ellison or I'll shoot your little toy."
Jim peeked around the edge of the crates. Blair looked terrified, his features white and pinched with pain.
"You think I hadn't figured out this was a trap, Blair?" Zeller increased his chokehold viciously and Blair gasped, his knees buckling before Zeller yanked him upright again. "Doesn't matter." Zeller leered at Jim. "I knew what you were long before you did, Ellison. You're the only one who's ever come close to bringing me down and with my guide helping you, you might actually do it. So, before I leave and take my guide with me, I'm going to eliminate the threat."
"No, wait! I'll go back with you, Klaus. Just don't -" Blair wheezed. "I don't know - I didn't tell -"
Zeller ground the muzzle of the gun against Blair's forehead and Jim blinked in shock as the hitman's face was momentarily overlaid with that of a snarling puma. Raw fury coiled in his gut and he was about to step out of his hiding place when another voice came from behind Zeller.
"Not if I eliminate you first, Klaus." A blonde woman stood behind Zeller, her weapon pointed at Zeller's back. Zeller turned sideways, dragging Blair with him, his eyes whipping from side to side as he attempted to head off this new threat and still keep tabs on Jim. "You're a fool, you know that?" the woman said casually. "I promised I'd get you back for double crossing me, and by the way, the guide is mine." Without further ado, she fired her weapon several times.
Zeller reared back, his hands falling from Blair and reaching to clutch at his side. Blair collapsed next to him. Zeller twitched once then was still, blood blossoming over his chest. Before Jim had a chance to move and bring his weapon to bear on the woman, she ran forward, dragging Blair up by an arm and hauling him toward the edge of the pier.
Again Jim felt the urge to kill, to take back what was his. He stepped away from the crates, his gun at the ready. "Let him go!"
The woman didn't seem surprised by his presence and Jim realized suddenly who she was. "I said, let him go, Barnes."
Alex smiled, though there was no warmth on her face. "I can't do that, Detective, I claimed him long ago."
"Alex, please," Blair gasped. "Let Jim go and I'll come with you."
"Blair, be quiet," Jim warned.
"Can't do that, Blair," Alex said. "If I finish Zeller's contract, I get a nice, tidy sum and we complete our deal. You're coming back with me and this time, you're staying."
Blair shook his head and Jim took a step forward. "I said drop the weapon and let him go!"
Alex swung her gun from Jim to Blair. "I don't think -" The thundering sound of a foghorn suddenly cut through the air and Alex screamed and clutched at her head with one hand, freeing Blair from her grasp.
Ruthlessly wrenching down his hearing at the auditory assault, Jim took aim through watering eyes and fired his weapon. Alex was flung backwards, tumbling over the edge of the pier, one flailing hand grabbing for Blair and taking him with her.
With a shouted denial, Jim staggered toward the water's edge and looked down. Alex's body floated lifelessly in the water, blood coloring the water red. There was no sign of Blair. Dragging off his shoes and jacket, Jim dived into the frigid bay and swum a few strokes, searching frantically for Blair. Something soft butted an ankle and Jim dived down, his hands waving about in the murky depths. His fingers caught on something soft and stringy and he fisted his hands, feeling hair catching between his fingers. Dragging harder, he pulled Blair upward and grasped him under the arms. As their heads broke the surface, Blair came to life suddenly, thrashing about violently. Blood streamed down the side of his head and his eyes were wide with fear.
"Easy, Chief, easy. I've got you. You're safe," Jim crooned. In the distance, he could hear cars approaching and prayed it was back up. Sure enough a moment later, a cruiser came into view, followed by Simon's car.
"J…Jim?" Blair rasped.
Jim smiled. "We're okay, Chief. You just took an unscheduled dip in the ocean."
"C-cold," Blair whispered, his teeth chattering.
Jim pulled him closer, wrapping his arm around him and starting a swift one-armed crawl toward the steps beneath the pier. "I'll have you warmed up in no time."
Blair sighed in bliss as Jim threw another warmed blanket over the two already on his hospital bed. "Thanks, man." Drowsily, he tried to gather his drifting thoughts. "So, the mob put a contract out on you to stop you from testifying against them." He turned away from Jim as hot tears stung his eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't know… I thought I could just fix it. Make it all go away again. I should have just left -"
"No!" Jim leaned down and pressed a finger against Blair's lips. "If you'd left, where would I be? I wish you'd come to me, told me everything but you didn't know about Zeller coming after me."
Blair nodded miserably. "What about the DA?"
"All evidence points to Zeller working alone. Once his senses started going whacky, he might have wanted to pull you in to help but you escaped before he could."
"Same with Alex," Blair croaked. "Just the thought of who she was… She was right, you know, about me not trying hard enough to help her. When I found out she was just like Klaus, I couldn't." He paused for a moment then drew in a deep breath before continuing. "I can leave the hospital tomorrow. I'll find somewhere to stay. I'll leave you my notes -"
"You planning on skipping out whenever the going gets tough, Chief?"
"No, I just thought - I figured you wouldn't want me around any more, after what's happened. Like you said, you need to be able to trust me."
"You got any more skeletons in your closet, Sandburg?"
"No," Blair whispered.
"Good." Jim pressed his lips to Blair's and kissed him for a long time, then straightened. "There's more of that coming when I get you home."
"Really. Now sleep." Jim settled himself in the chair next to the bed and leaned back, closing his eyes, one hand reaching out to capture Blair's, linking their fingers together. "Jim?"
"I should tell you about my mom. She's really sweet but she can be… a little overbearing. I mean, you're going to love her."
"What do you mean by that last part, Sandburg?"
Blair sighed. "She's not that fond of cops but I know you'll win her over. After all, you did me, right."
One of Jim's eyes popped open. "Keep talking like that, Chief and I'll do you right here."
Blair grinned. "Promises, promises."
Straddling Jim's recumbent body, Blair skated a palm over Jim's chest. He smiled and leaned forward to press a kiss to each of Jim's closed eyes, the tip of his nose and then his mouth. "Thank you," he whispered.
Jim opened his eyes. "What for?"
"For talking to Danny's parents." Blair's eyes stung with tears, remembering the words etched on Danny's gravestone - Beloved son and Brother. Life Partner of Blair.
Jim shrugged and reached forward to draw Blair into an embrace. "I think they knew it was what Danny would have wanted."
"I'm glad you were there with me. I don't know if you believe in the afterlife, Jim. I'm not sure I do but I want to believe that Danny knows that his death was avenged and that I'm happy."
Jim kissed the top of Blair's head. "After everything I've experienced in the past couple of weeks, I'd be a fool not to believe."
Blair pulled himself back up and began a slow glide, his buttocks stroking a feather-light touch along Jim's cock. Jim groaned and arched up, needing more contact. "Blair," he breathed.
Blair smiled down at him, raised himself up and seated himself on Jim's shaft. He kept his movements deliberately slow, wanting to prolong their lovemaking until he lost control. He slowly quickened his pace, taking Jim with him to the precipice, falling over it together.
In the afterglow, he rested, spooned against Jim, cradled within the sheltering embrace of Jim's body. He grasped Jim's hand and brought it to his lips, kissing each knuckle before resting both their hands on his chest. "Truth and trust," he vowed.