Demons fought

By: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

DISCLAIMER: All characters from The Sentinel are the property of Petfly. This is a work of fiction written for my own and others’ enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

CATEGORY: Drama

RATING: PG

WARNINGS: This story deals with the aftermath of male rape.

SUMMARY: In the aftermath of Blair’s rape, Jim and Blair try to cope with the consequences.

Author’s notes: This is the sequel to Seasons of the heart. Another de-slashed fic. It would be preferable for you to read that first, in order to understand this one.

This story didn’t get written so much as it evolved. I hadn’t even envisaged writing a sequel, but from a comment in feedback on the slash version of "Seasons of the heart", (Thanks Nancy!) became something much more complex.

Many thanks to everyone who has written with feedback for "Seasons of the heart" and "Therapy for the soul" and my more recent stories. Your encouragement and comments are very much appreciated.

For Patt, for your support, encouragement and friendship.

"Demons fought"

Jim Ellison looked up from the less than riveting action of the weekly movie as he heard a key turn in the lock and Blair walked into the apartment. "Hey Chief, I was wondering when you’d show up. Did you get all the research done that you needed to do?"

Blair pulled his backpack from his shoulders and slung it to the floor. "Yeah, I did," he answered. He took his jacket off and hung it carefully on the hook next to Jim’s before moving toward his room.

"I saved you some pizza," Jim said. "You want me to heat it up for you?"

Blair shook his head and continued toward his room. "I’m going to bed. Goodnight."

Jim watched worriedly as the anthropologist disappeared into his bedroom and carefully shut the door. The detective sat for a moment debating whether to check on his friend or not. In the weeks since Blair’s assault, the anthropologist had slowly begun to build up his confidence once more. This morning he had insisted he was well enough to return to the university and resume his teaching and studies. Jim had been a little concerned at first that Blair wasn’t giving himself time to recover but then weighed it against the fact that it would keep the anthropologist busy and prevent him from dwelling on the attack and its resulting consequences for too long.

The detective sent up a silent prayer asking forgiveness, then dialed up his hearing. The muffled sob he heard had him on his feet and knocking on Blair’s door before he was actually aware that he’d moved.

He opened the door at Blair’s soft invitation, but stayed in the doorway. "What happened, Chief?’

Blair started to shake his head, then sighed and pushed aside the books that cluttered his bed and sank down with a sigh. "Don’t stand there holding up the doorway, man. Come in."

Jim accepted the invitation and sat down on Blair’s desk chair facing the young man. "Spill it," he said.

Blair scrubbed a hand through his unruly curls. "I saw Mandy Taylor at school today."

It took Jim a moment but he finally pictured the face. "The TA you’ve been lusting after for the last three months?"

Blair grimaced at the comment, then nodded. "She came in to see me. Said she’d heard I was back at school and wanted to see if I was all right. She asked me if I wanted to take in a movie and some dinner one night."

"That’s good, isn’t it?" Jim asked, puzzled by where this was leading.

"I told her I couldn’t go out with her."

"Why?"

Blair lay back against his pillows and stared up at the ceiling. "I’m still waiting on the blood test results," he whispered.

"Oh," Jim said. "It’s just a movie and dinner, Sandburg."

"I know," Blair answered as he rolled to his side and looked at Jim. "But I have to be honest with her. Who knows what might happen and I don’t want to have to tell her right before…well, you know."

Jim nodded in understanding. "Did you tell her why?"

Blair nodded. "I figured it was better coming from me than hearing a rumor later. She backed off like she thought she could catch something just by me breathing on her." He punched the mattress. "God, I hate this shit. Ferretti is refusing to be tested for HIV. Even though my first test was negative, I have to be tested again in three months. The first test only shows that I didn’t already have HIV. Now I’ve got to take those damn pills for a month."

"If the worst should happen, and you have been exposed to the virus, the doctor said the drugs can reduce the risk of infection by 80%. It’s worth it, you know that."

Blair nodded, then turned so that he faced away from Jim, his voice slightly muffled by the pillow. "I should never have put myself in the position where he could do this to me. I’d never forgive myself if I passed something onto someone else."

Jim moved from the chair and lowered himself onto the bed beside Blair. "I told you, you are not at fault here. You had no way of knowing what that bastard was up to."

Blair flopped over onto his back. "I’ve been working with cops for how long now? I should have known better. Something about the guy bothered me but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I should have known."

"One of the nicest things about you is your ability to see something positive in all situations." Jim answered. "Your belief in the innate goodness of people. I’ve always worried that partnering with me was going to make you lose that perspective, make you cynical, like the rest of us."

Blair pushed himself upright, a slight wince hinting at still healing injuries. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat with his head down, his thick curls obscuring his face. "I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted me to leave," he said softly.

"I don’t want you to leave, Sandburg. I thought we had all of this figured out. You’re not to blame for what that bastard did to you. It doesn’t make any difference to our friendship or our partnership."

Blair turned to look at him then. "It should make a difference. I keep getting flashbacks, dreams." He snorted at that description. "Nightmares. I can hear him telling me what a slut I am. How I’d bend over for anybody. How much I’m begging for him to give it to me. How I…"

He was crying uncontrollably now, the tears coursing hotly down his cheeks. He fought to control it, but that only made his throat tighten up and then he was fighting for breath, his eyes wide and his hands grasping at his chest.

Jim tensed as Blair’s breathing suddenly became panicked, his heartbeat wildly pounding and erratic. He pulled the hysterical man to him and gathered him up in a firm but comforting embrace, whispering soft, soothing sounds as he rocked him gently. They’d done this before, several times a night after the attack, though this was more severe.

"You did nothing wrong. You were drugged, beaten and raped." He lifted Blair’s tear streaked face to look at him. "You did not ask for this."

"I see myself in my dreams," Blair whispered softly, hiccups of sorrow punctuating the words. "I’m lying on my back and I’m doing things to him, moaning, like I’m enjoying it."

"You were drugged, Blair. Hell, you don’t even know what dreams are real flashbacks and which ones are hallucinations."

"You know," Blair said.

"What?"

"You saw the photos. You know what I did."

"No! I know what he did," Jim said firmly. He pushed Blair back a little and gripped his shoulders. "What I saw was a rapist and his victims. That’s all." ‘And it’s something I never want to see again as long as I live.’

Blair paused a moment. "The chancellor thinks it would be a good idea for me to stay away until I get all the test results."

Jim saw red. "They can’t do that," he blustered. "It’s discrimination. You can fight it…"

"I’m too tired to fight, Jim," Blair whispered. He lay back down and turned to face the wall. "I understand where they’re coming from. I’m tired. I’m going to get some sleep."

Jim stood and placed a hand on Blair’s shoulder. "Can I get you anything?"

Blair shook his head. "Night."

Jim squeezed Blair’s shoulder once more, then rubbed gently at the tousled head. "Night, buddy."

"Cabin tomorrow?" Blair asked sleepily.

"You bet. Just got a couple of things to finish up at the station in the morning, then we’re out of here."

"Okay."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim woke early the next morning, and as soon as he was up, he headed into Blair’s room to check on the young man. Blair was still deeply asleep, lying on his stomach, his sturdy legs tangled in the bedclothes. A riot of curls partly obscured his face, the tendrils puffing gently up and down in time to the even breathing and Jim couldn’t resist brushing them away so that he could observe his partner freely.

The physical evidence of Blair’s beating and rape were fading quickly. The bruising around his eyes was now a sickly shade of yellow-green, the swelling from brutal blows almost gone. The emotional scars still ran deeply and Jim doubted that they would ever disappear entirely. Blair’s nightmares continued to haunt them both, but Jim knew that in order to help, he needed to clamp down on his own emotions.

Jim sighed and scrubbed a broad hand over his face as he walked to the doorway. Last night had been a long one. Blair had seemed to be enmeshed in a seemingly never-ending grip of nightmares. Jim would only just soothe him awake from one, and then he’d be spiraling into another as soon as his eyes were closed.

Jim knew that Blair’s mind was trying to deal with more than the fragmented memories of Ferretti’s attack, surely terrifying enough in themselves. It would be bad enough knowing that you lay drugged, powerless to fight back while someone abused your body, forcing you to submit to unspeakable acts. But how much more difficult it must be, knowing that those same acts may have infected you and given you a death sentence. Overlaying the fear was the all-encompassing guilt. Jim had seen it often enough in his years on the force. The relentless thoughts that the victim had somehow done something to invite the attack or hadn’t done enough to prevent it.

Jim turned back to the bed as Blair stirred restlessly, muttering worried disjointed phrases in his sleep. Jim whispered to him softly until he relaxed once more, then went downstairs. He needed to talk to Simon before they went away. The DA had hoped to get Paul Ferretti to accept a plea bargain. Jim wanted her to add an extra condition to the deal. Blair had demons enough to fight.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim heard Blair fumbling about in his room and put the water on to heat for coffee. Blair had never been a morning person but without his caffeine fix, he was impossible.

He leaned back against the kitchen counter and watched, smiling as his partner stumbled through the door of his room and down the hallway toward the bathroom. Blair made it without stumbling once or running into anything, a remarkable feat, Jim thought, since his eyes were still closed. He wore worn sweatpants pulled partly askew over his boxers but his chest was bare, displaying the shadows of still-healing bruises. His long curls stood out from his head in disarray and he needed a shave.

"Good morning," Jim said cheerily.

Blair stopped at the foot of the stairs and squinted blearily at him.

"Coffee will be ready in a minute."

Blair waved vaguely in his direction and continued his trek to the bathroom.

Jim grinned and turned back to pull eggs from the fridge. Just as he was about to pour the beaten eggs into a pan, the phone rang. "Oh no you don’t, Simon," he grumbled as he crossed the living room to pick it up. "You promised us a few days off."

He took a deep breath to calm himself, knowing that a phone call this early was unlikely to be social and picked up the receiver.

//Ellison.//

//Jim? Simon. You still coming in this morning?//

//Yes, sir. I’ve got to finish up the Becker report and give Rafe and Brown a rundown of my caseload.//

//Good, good. Stop by and see me when you come in, will you?//

//Sure, no problem. I’ve got something I want to run by you, anyway. Is there a problem, Simon?//

//No, no…maybe. Look, we’ll talk about it when you come in. This place is crazy with a man short.//

//Okay, we’ll see you in about an hour.//

//Uh, Jim, I thought Blair was staying home for a few days?//

//He is, but we’re heading out to the cabin this afternoon. I thought we’d leave straight from the station.//

//Leave him home today, Jim. Okay?//

//Simon, what’s going on?//

//I’ll talk to you when you get here.//

//Okay.//

Jim hung up the phone and went back to cooking breakfast. He served up a portion of eggs and a slice of toast for himself, poured juice and coffee and sat at the dining room table. He picked up his juice and sipped at it, mulling over Simon’s words, starting suddenly as an arm appeared over his shoulder and grabbed the coffee mug from in front of him.

"Is this for me?"

Jim reached up to stop the cup’s ascent. "Sit down and I’ll bring you some eggs."

Blair made a face and flopped down into the chair opposite. He was dressed in his usual layers of clothing topped by a red flannel shirt and denim jeans, his hair neatly pulled back into a ponytail. "I’m not really hungry. Hope the coffee’s hot, though."

"Let me at least get you some toast or a bagel. I’ll even make you one of those horrible algae shakes," Jim said, holding out a fresh cup of coffee to Blair.

"Nah, thanks anyway." Blair accepted the proffered coffee mug and took a reverent sip, sighing in pleasure. "Nectar of the Gods, man." He looked up in surprise as Jim pulled the cup from his hand, replacing it with a plate of hot toast, then leaned over to line up three pill bottles in front of him. "I said I wasn’t hungry."

"You have meds to take, Chief. I don’t think you should take them on an empty stomach."

Blair appeared to consider Jim’s words for a moment, then nodded and pulled the plate toward him. With a grimace, he bit off a corner of toast and munched slowly. "Bon appetit," he said around the mouthful. "What time are we going in?"

Jim walked over to the counter and picked up his gun and holster, buckling it on. "Why don’t you stay here, rest up a bit and make sure we’ve packed everything?" he suggested.

"We did that last night, Jim. I can help out with the paperwork, get it done twice as fast," Blair smiled.

Jim looked up finally. "Humor me, Chief, okay? Get some rest and I’ll be back before you know it." He watched Blair’s face for the thrusting of jaw that indicated he had a fight on his hands.

Blair took another sip of coffee and then nodded his head. "Sure, Jim, whatever."

Jim took the opportunity that was offered and decided to quit while he was ahead. He gave Blair’s ponytail a gentle tweak and headed for the door. "Great. I’ll see you around 12. Don’t forget to pack your pills."

Blair sat and watched the closed door for a moment, trying to fight off his growing unease. Simon didn’t want him at the station and there could be only one reason for that.

He shook off his morbid thoughts and began to clear off the table, figuring Jim’s absence meant he could get a reasonable block of work done on his dissertation. He carried the plates to the sink and after hesitating for a moment, scraped his remaining toast into the bin. He took another sip of his lukewarm coffee, then held a hand to his mouth as his stomach churned ominously. Throwing the cup into the sink, not waiting to hear if it broke on impact, he ran for the bathroom, praying he'd make it before he lost his meager breakfast.

0~0~0~0~0

The Major Crimes bullpen was a hive of activity even this early in the morning. Rafe and Brown were already at their desks taking a statement from the witness of the murder of a drug dealer. Jim called Henri over to give him a rundown on the cases currently crowding his desk. It was all fairly straightforward and Jim didn’t expect a breakthrough any time soon on the one or two still awaiting closure.

Henri stood to leave, then sat down again, pulling his chair forward and leaning over the edge of the desk. "How’s Hairboy doing, Jim?"

Jim smiled. "He’s okay, H. He’s still pretty shook up by what happened and he’s getting some flashbacks and nightmares. His physical injuries are pretty much healed though except for a few bruises."

Henri nodded and considered Jim for a moment. "My sister went through a similar thing in college. It was pretty tough on all of us. I know it’s not quite the same, Sandburg being a guy and all, but if he needs to talk to someone, the therapist my sister saw was pretty cool." He waited, his face tense as he watched Jim’s reaction, and visibly relaxed when Jim smiled at him.

"Thanks H, that’s great, I’ll let him know."

Henri went back to his desk, his dancing gait and hip manner firmly back in place and Jim grinned and gathered up the finalized reports and headed for Simon’s office.

"Hey Jim, how’s Sandburg holding up?" Simon asked as the detective slipped the files into his tray and took a seat.

"Doing okay, Simon. Some nightmares still, some pain. We’ll both be a whole lot better when his HIV tests are done. Which is what I wanted to talk to you about."

Simon held up a hand. "Before we talk about that, I’ve got something I need to say. You want some coffee? It’s a new blend."

"No thanks, Simon." Jim shifted in his chair and stretched his long frame out a little. It had been a rough night, spent mostly sitting on the side of the bed, waking Blair from his tormented dreams and soothing him back to sleep. "So what’s the problem?"

Simon wandered over to the window, coffee cup in hand and stood for a moment looking out.

Jim sat up straight in his chair, his body tensing. He’d known the police captain for enough years now to read every nuance of body language and what he was seeing set the alarms off.

Simon finally turned to face him. "I had a call from the commissioner’s office. Blair’s observer status has been revoked until he has the results of his HIV test."

Jim jumped from his chair, his hands fisted at his sides. "They can’t do that. There’s every chance that his results will be negative. He tested clean for the first test and he gets tested every three months. The fact that he was able to start the post-exposure prophylaxis so quickly after the attack means he has an 80% chance of avoiding contamination. Anyway, it’s discrimination."

"He’s not a cop, Jim," Simon shot back. "His presence here is dependent upon the goodwill of the Commissioner. And I’ve read all the literature on HIV and PEP’s." He sat back down in his chair and sipped at his coffee, then grimaced and put it back on the desk. " Sit down, Jim."

Jim remained standing, his jaw muscles twitching madly.

"Please?"

Jim sighed and folded into the seat.

"Look, I’m amazed we’ve been able to keep Sandburg here as long as we have without someone from further up saying anything. Observer status is usually automatically revoked after three months."

"Maybe it’s got something to do with the invaluable assistance Blair’s given us since he’s been here," Jim said sarcastically. "If it wasn’t for him, a lot of my cases wouldn’t have been solved. It’s not just his expertise in Anthropology, Psychology, languages, but helping me," he lowered his voice, "fine tune my senses, keeping me from zoning out."

"I’m not disputing that," Simon said. "The kid’s become a real asset to this unit. If he weren’t so nervous around guns, I’d be talking him into joining the force. Don’t rock the boat. If you want to keep him as your full-time partner, leave him at home until his HIV status comes through."

"Okay, I’ll talk to him."

"Good, now, what did you want to ask me?" Simon said. He leant back in his chair and pulled a fat cigar from his pocket, savoring its rich aroma.

"I wanted to ask you to speak to the DA, see if she’d put an extra condition on Ferretti’s plea bargain. It could work to our advantage too. Push him to agree to HIV testing. If it comes back negative, Blair can relax about the whole thing and maybe the Commissioner will let him come back."

Simon nodded. "I’ll see what I can do. Everything okay between you two?"

"As good as it can be, considering what’s happened." Jim shrugged. He hesitated a moment, then spoke again. "He’s scared about getting too close to anyone right now. Doesn’t want to be intimate, if you know what I mean, not until the results come in. A girl he’s interested in backed right off when he told her the news last night. I think it sparked some more nightmares. He had a pretty bad time of it." The detective looked down at his watch. "I’d better get moving. We want to head out to the cabin this afternoon, get there before dark."

He stopped at the door when Simon called his name.

"Tell Sandburg I said hi. The kid gets on my nerves sometimes, but regardless of what you think right now, I do consider him part of this team."

"Thanks," Jim said, his stance still slightly aggressive, stubbornly refusing to extend the forgiveness that Simon obviously sought. "I’ll pass the message along. Thanks for the loan of the cabin."

The captain waved him away. "Take your cell phone in case I need to call you back in."

0~0~0~0~0

The loft was silent when Jim arrived home and he felt a shiver of apprehension as he looked around the apartment. He extended his hearing and detected Blair’s heartbeat instantly, coming from his bedroom. Moving over to the door, Jim knocked softly and then called out.

"Blair? Can I come in?"

"Yeah." Blair’s voice was just a whisper and Jim grew more concerned as he opened the door and stepped inside.

The bedroom was in semidarkness; its location under the stairs and the window opening onto a fire escape had always made it rather dim in comparison to the lighter aspect of the loft bedroom. Blair lay on the bed curled into a ball, one arm thrown up over his eyes, his pale features creased into a worried frown. Jim crossed the room quickly and sat as his friend’s side.

"What’s wrong?" he asked, fearing the answer.

Blair reached out blindly and fumbled for his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "It’s okay. Just a headache. The doctor said there might be some side effects."

"How bad is it?" Jim asked. "Do you need to go to the hospital?"

Blair shook his head, then moaned and held his head with both hands. "I think maybe, not the hospital. On my desk, there’s a business card. It’s Doctor Mason’s office number. Could you call him? I was going to phone him before but I couldn’t stop throwing up. We can see him on the way to the cabin." Moaning again in pain, Blair turned carefully to his side facing the wall and closed his eyes.

Jim reached over and picked the card up from the desk, turning it over and over in his hand. "Maybe we should postpone the trip for a few days until you’re feeling better," he suggested.

"No," Blair replied. "I want to go to the cabin. I need to get away from here just for a little while. Everything here reminds me of what happened." He began to rock restlessly on the bed and Jim patted his back trying to prevent him from exacerbating his pain.

"Okay, okay. I’ll ring the doctor," Jim whispered. "He’s the expert. Why don’t we let him make the decision?"

Blair stilled and sighed. "That’s probably the best idea."

Jim patted Blair on the shoulder and went out to make the call. Doctor Mason agreed to see Blair within the hour. Blair insisted that they load the truck first. If the doctor said he couldn’t go away, they could just bring the stuff back.

Not wanting to cause further distress to Blair, Jim reluctantly agreed. He knew so little about HIV and its treatments and attendant risks and berated himself for not paying more attention to the lectures he’d attended when he was in Vice. Like 99% of the community, he had always assumed that short of getting a needlestick injury from a drugged out perp, his chances of contracting the disease were nil. He didn’t even know anyone with AIDS.

The headaches and vomiting frightened him. Despite chiding himself for being foolish, knowing deep down that Blair could not possibly be exhibiting symptoms of the disease this early, the foreboding thought continued to nag at him. Compounding the worry was the specter of the other infections that Blair could have contracted, a seemingly never-ending list with equally horrendous symptoms that the doctor had reeled off.

Getting organized to leave took them twice as long as it should have, with Blair racing off to the bathroom to throw up twice. In the end, Jim insisted that he lay on the couch and rest until the packing was completed.

Jim got the final load into the car and then stood over Blair, watching him doze. He was still pale, his eyes slightly sunken from mild dehydration, dark circles under them from exhaustion standing out in stark relief. The detective suddenly felt a foreboding of doom that made him want to memorize every detail of his guide’s features. He started as he felt a hand on his chest, a voice low and calm in his ear. He looked down to see Blair standing in front of him, one hand cupping his face; the other splayed wide over his heart.

"You zoning on me sleeping now, big guy?" Blair asked.

"Must be." Jim hedged around the answer, not wanting to trigger Blair’s guilt feelings. "Let’s go."

0~0~0~0~0

"I can’t see any reason for you not to have a few days away," Dr. Joe Mason said cheerily, pulling his stethoscope from his ears. He extended a hand to Blair and helped him into a sitting position on the examination table.

Jim felt an inexplicable disappointment at his words. "What if he gets worse? There aren’t really any medical facilities nearby." He was aware of the sharp look that Blair shot him and looked away, staring fervently at the doctor.

Joe shook his head and busied himself with a syringe and a vial of liquid. "It’s a fairly common reaction to the PEP’s, Jim. I’ll give Blair an injection now for the nausea and headache and a prescription for painkillers and Phenergan that you can pick up on the way. That should settle things down. You’re only going for a couple of days, right?"

"Yes," Blair said, a little loudly and Jim turned to him as though only just remembering he was there.

"Okay then," Joe continued. "The injection and the Phenergan are liable to make you drowsy but from the looks of you, you could do with the sleep."

Blair grimaced and shrugged. He lay back down at the doctor’s urging, rolling to his side so that the injection could be administered in the fleshy part of his buttock. Jim watched his face screw up in pain as the drug was pushed into the muscle and swallowed his own nausea.

"Not pleasant stuff, I know," Joe said sympathetically, massaging the injection site with two fingers.

Jim looked away and studied the dust motes twirling lazily in the sunlight by the window. Blair climbed carefully down from the table and took the prescription that the doctor held out.

"If you get any worse, Blair or if this stuff isn’t helping, call me or come home, all right. Use the BRAT diet for a while until your stomach settles and no coffee or alcohol."

"BRAT diet?" Jim asked, looking questioningly at the doctor.

Blair spoke up. "Bananas, rice, apples, toast." He looked down at his hands. "I’ve been doing some reading."

Jim nodded slowly. "Guess I should too." Shaking himself, he turned back to the doctor and held out his hand. "Thank you Dr. Mason. I-we appreciate your help."

"Not a problem, Jim." The doctor shook both their hands and ushered them out of the office.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair dozed most of the way to the cabin, the injection he’d been given taking a toll on his already exhausted body. Jim managed to rouse him enough to get him into the cabin where he stood in the middle of the living room, his body boneless and his eyes barely focused. Jim guided him into one of the bedrooms, stripped him down to his boxers and tucked him into bed. They had not spoken a word to each other since they had left the loft.

Jim got the rest of the gear from the truck and stowed it in the appropriate places, making a mental note to visit the General Store the following day for bananas and apples. They had brought rice and fresh baked bread with them.

Unwilling just yet to examine his reactions at the doctor’s office, Jim went on a cleaning frenzy. The cabin consisted essentially of three large rooms. There was a spacious living area with polished floorboards and a brick enclosed fireplace. Two overstuffed cotton covered armchairs flanked the fireplace and a large floor rug in warm autumn colors contributed to the rural feel. Two bedrooms were off one side of the living area complete with an adjoining bathroom and a simple kitchen with a plain wooden table and plump cushioned chairs led to the back.

Jim wiped the damp mop over the wooden floor once more, and then checking the time pulled a container of frozen vegetable soup from the freezer. Blair had spent the last couple of days cooking soups and casseroles and freezing them in readiness for the trip.

Once he had the soup heating on the stove, he walked quietly into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. Deep blue eyes gazed up at him and he smiled his partner.

"You feeling better?" Jim asked.

Blair nodded and sat up, scooting back to lean against the headboard. "Much. About a lot of things."

Jim motioned in the direction of the kitchen. "I’ve got some of your vegetable soup heating. Are you hungry?"

"Starved." Blair swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, stretching.

Jim got up and headed back to the kitchen. "I’ll go check on the soup," he said. "I’m glad you’re feeling better."

By the time Jim had the soup heated and served, Blair was dressed in sweats and seated at the table. As Jim sat opposite him and began to eat, Blair reached out and caught his hand. "What’s wrong?" the anthropologist asked.

Jim looked up, surprised by the question. "Nothing’s wrong," he answered.

"When we were at the doctor’s, you looked… uncomfortable."

Jim shook his head in denial. "I just don’t like seeing you in pain, that’s all. It was nothing." Jim sat back, his appetite gone. "What do you want to do this evening? I don’t think the TV has great reception but we might be able to pick up a game or something."

Blair finished the last spoonful of his soup and pushed back from the table. He moved around to stand at Jim’s side. "Before I think about anything else, I want to take a shower. I brought some notes as well. I thought I might get a couple of chapters done on my diss."

"Okay," Jim answered as he got up and began carrying dishes to the sink. "I’ll wash the dishes and see what’s on the TV. Did you pack that novel I’ve been reading?"

"Yeah, it’s in your overnight bag." Blair walked out and headed toward the bathroom, stripping off his clothes as he went.

Jim watched him go, shaking his head in amused exasperation. "I’ll go light a fire," he suggested.

"That’d be great," Blair’s voice echoed from the confines of the little bathroom.

After putting away the last of the dishes, Jim made his way to the little lean-to out back and hauled in armfuls of ready chopped wood. The crackling heat soon attracted Blair who crouched in front of the ancient TV and fiddled with the knobs until he discovered a channel playing a basketball game. The signal left a lot to be desired as they squinted through the snow on the screen to view the game.

Blair busied himself making hot chocolate, then they sat – Jim in one of the armchairs, Blair on a cushion on the floor, leaning back comfortably against Jim’s legs. Notebooks and pens lay scattered in typical Sandburg disarray on the floor – the silence broken only by the occasional rumble of thunder from an approaching storm and the muted commentary from the TV.

Jim leaned forward to place his cup on the coffee table as the final siren signaled the end of the game. "Good game, huh?" The only reply was a soft snore from the head pillowed against his thigh.

0~0~0~0~0

The morning was dull and iron gray when Jim awoke and he got up quickly and padded down the hall to Blair’s room. Peering inside, he was surprised to see the covers thrown back and Blair nowhere in sight. "Blair?"

"’m here, sick," Blair’s voice came softly and Jim turned abruptly and ran for the bathroom.

"Shit!"

Blair knelt hunched over the toilet bowl, his white face resting against the seat, his hands hugging the edge. His hair was slick with sweat and he looked ready to fall down. Jim quickly dampened a washcloth and held it against the back of Blair’s neck before wiping it gently over his forehead.

"Why didn’t you wake me?" he asked, lowering his voice the instant he noticed Blair flinch. "Another headache as well, huh?"

Blair nodded, then moaned and pushed Jim’s hands away as he turned back and began to vomit once more.

"I’ll get your pills," Jim said, desperate to find something to do that would help. He stood up and rushed back to the bedroom, pulling gear haphazardly from the small overnight bag. Finding the medicine, he hurried back to the bathroom and filled a small tumbler with water before crouching next to Blair once more.

"Here, try taking these."

Blair took the proffered glass and waited while Jim slipped a Phenergan tablet onto his tongue. He took a small sip of water, grimacing as the tablet slid down his irritated throat, then he held a hand to his stomach and breathed deeply as he willed the small pill to stay down. Sighing in relief when the drug didn’t make an immediate reappearance, Blair sat back slowly on the floor and rested his head against the cool tiles behind him.

It was another ten long minutes before Jim could persuade him to take a pain pill, then he walked slowly back to bed, wavering slightly on his feet. He collapsed in a heap on the bed and turned to his side as Jim piled the bedclothes over him. Jim sat with him, stroking his clammy forehead until he drifted into a deep slumber.

Deciding that Blair would sleep deeply for at least a couple of hours due to the sedative effect of the medications and his exhaustion, Jim decided to take a quick trip down to the little general store they had passed on the way to the cabin. He searched his mind for a moment trying to remember the name of the diet the doctor had recommended to Blair.

BRAT. That was it. He shook his head and allowed himself a smile as he thought how appropriate the name was when applied to his partner. Leaving a note for Blair propped up on the kitchen table in case he woke; Jim headed out to the truck.

As it happened, Blair didn’t stir from his sleep until almost an hour after Jim got back from the store. He’d purchased apples and bananas and some crackers and lemonade as well as a newspaper and a couple of magazines. A thorough search of his overnight bag the night before had not turned up his novel. He poked his head briefly into the bedroom and seeing Blair was still deeply asleep, decided to prepare a light lunch and set up his partner’s medications.

The detective heard the shuffle of feet and looked up as Blair came into the kitchen. Some color had returned to his face and he looked well rested. "You’re looking a lot better," Jim said. "How are you feeling?"

Blair returned the smile and then yawned widely. "Better, thanks. Hungry."

"Great. I’ve been to the little store down the road and got you some bananas and apples, those nice green ones you like, the apples, not the bananas."

Blair reached up a hand and stopped the verbal onslaught. "Chill, big guy. I’m okay."

Jim shrugged. "Sorry, can’t help it. Anyway, I also bought some lemonade. It’s supposed to be good for upset stomachs. If you can eat a little and keep it down, you can take your meds."

"Doesn’t matter," Blair answered, sliding into a chair at the table. He picked up a banana and peeled it. "The PEP’s are what’s causing the vomiting and the headaches, not to mention a wonderful new side effect, diarrhea," he grimaced. "I’m going to stop taking the drugs."

Jim stopped in his tracks in front of the open refrigerator, a large bottle of lemonade clasped in his hand. He turned slowly to stare at Blair with open-mouthed shock. "You’re going to do what?"

Blair turned in his chair to face Jim, his features defiant. "I said I’m going to stop taking the drugs." Before Jim could open his mouth to protest, he held up a hand. "They make me nauseous, they make me throw up, they give me headaches and diarrhea." Blair ticked the points off on one finger. "And there’s no guarantee that they’ll help anyway."

"The doctor told you the PEP’s can reduce the risk of infection by 80%, Sandburg," Jim retorted. "I’d call that a pretty good guarantee."

"Well, I don’t, all right?" Blair shouted, wincing slightly as the noise awoke the pain in his head. He slumped back into his seat, his head bowed. "I don’t want to feel sick anymore. You need me with you for back-up and I know that Simon’s not going to have me back anyway until I get the final blood test results with or without the pills."

Jim’s face reddened at the words but he made his way to Blair’s side and knelt by the chair. "You let me worry about Simon," Jim reassured him. "And yes, I do need you out there as my back-up, but I need you healthy. You can’t back me up from a hospital bed."

"You’re afraid of catching it, aren’t you?" Blair asked softly.

"No!" Jim shouted the answer, then stood and paced the little kitchen. "I’m not denying it crossed my mind, even though I know how ridiculous that is. But, it’s not about that anymore." He turned and faced Blair.

"I saw it in your eyes at Doctor Mason’s," Blair whispered. "I saw the fear in your eyes. I heard you ask the doctor if it would be better if we didn’t come here."

"I’m afraid for you, that’s all," Jim assured him. "I’m just scared you’ll get really sick out here and I’ll need to get you to the hospital." He turned and faced Blair. "I’d never forgive myself if I let you get hurt again. It’s my fault this happened in the first place."

"It’s my fault, not yours," Blair shouted, pushing away from the table and standing up. "I did it. I let myself get raped by some guy I’d never met before because I’m an idiot and now I have to pay the price." His eyes filled with tears and overflowed down his cheeks. "If I don’t take the pills, I might get AIDS and die. If I do take them, I’ll throw up and shit and have headaches and you’ll get tired of having me around and you’ll want me to leave again."

Jim took a shaky step forward. He held a hand toward his partner, his own eyes beginning to tear. "I never wanted you to leave in the first place. Whatever happens, we’ll get through it together. Give the drugs a chance, please. I can’t bear the thought of you getting that disease. A little vomiting and nausea has got to be worth it, Sandburg."

Blair took a step back, shaking his head, then squared his jaw and glared at the detective. "You’re not me," he countered. "You can’t feel what I’m feeling. I don’t want to go through this any more. I’m useless like this." He looked up at Jim in surprise. "I’d forgotten until now. Feretti told me after he was finished with me that no one would ever want to come near me again."

Jim shook his head vehemently. "That’s not true. You have a lot of friends who are worried for you right now. They don’t want you to get sick either. They want you back at the precinct. I need you back there with me. I want you to take the pills so you don’t get infected." He scrubbed a hand over his eyes, growing impatient with the argument.

"That’s not what I meant. Maybe Ferretti knew he was infected. I could have already passed it on to you." Blair looked suddenly panicked at the thought.

"Blair, you know that’s impossible. You’re talking crazy here. We’re not sleeping together, for Christ’s sake." Jim immediately regretted his choice of words as Blair backed away from him. "I’m sorry," Jim apologized, stepping toward Blair. "I didn’t mean to lose my temper."

Blair backed up another step. "No, don’t! I know what people are saying about me behind my back at the station. You think I haven’t heard the talk about how I enjoyed everything I got?" Blair spat the words out like epithets, his shaky, tear filled voice belying their vehemence. "The word is that I didn’t want to give Blake a head job because I was saving it for you. I understand why you didn’t want me to go to the station with you yesterday. You don’t need to be seen with me. If they think I’m a fag, what does that make you?"

Jim’s temper flared at the words. "Do you think I give a shit what they think?" he shouted. He sighed and lowered his voice. "Simon asked me to leave you at home because the commissioner was making waves over your HIV status. Hopefully, by the time we get home, all of that will be taken care of. Blair, I asked you to come back to the loft after everything that happened because it’s your home and you’re my partner and because I care about you. Nothing any of those bastards say matters to me," he said.

Blair rubbed his eyes. "I don’t know, Jim. It seems that no matter what the end result of all this is, it’s going to screw me up, one way or another. HIV or not, they don’t want someone like me back at the station and it’s better for you, if I stay away. That’s my punishment for doing what I did." Blair shrugged his shoulders, then wiped impatiently at his cheeks with the sleeve of his shirt. "I’m going for a walk," he said, turning around and heading for the door. "I need to think things out."

"Okay, good," Jim said, grabbing both of their jackets from the hook by the door. "I’ll come with you. I could use some fresh air myself."

"Jesus, Jim! Take a hint, will you," Blair started angrily. "I need to be alone for a while. Sort through all this shit. I can’t think straight right now." He looked beseechingly at the other man, willing him to understand. "Please?"

Jim sighed and nodded then held Blair’s jacket out to him. "Don’t go too far into the woods. You don’t know the area well enough. And don’t stay out too long. That storm’s about to break. I can smell the rain already."

Blair smiled through his tears. "You can smell the rain? Cool."

He opened the door, then turned back, reaching out for Jim’s arm. "I didn’t mean what I said about you not wanting me around. I was just trying to push you away. I don’t want you being caught up in all of this. You’ve got a career to worry about."

Jim placed his hand over Blair’s. "Our friendship and our partnership mean a lot more to me than my job, Sandburg. You won’t get rid of me that easily."

"I’m glad," Blair answered. He pulled his jacket snugly around him and hunching into its warmth, stepped out onto the porch.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim straightened from his preparations as he heard Blair’s footsteps on the porch. He schooled his features into an expression of casual interest, not wanting Blair to realize that he’d been worried sick since the wind had picked up and the downpour had started. Blair’s sense of direction was abysmal at the best of times but in a storm, in an unfamiliar place - Jim had about been ready to call search and rescue when his partner’s absence had slipped into its second hour.

Jim’s welcoming smile turned to a frown of concern as the door opened and a shivering, bedraggled creature limped inside. Blair’s hair hung in dripping ringlets around a pale face. His cheeks and nose were bright red and his teeth chattered noisily as he clutched his wet hands together and rubbed them furiously.

"Jesus, Chief," Jim managed. "What the hell happened?"

Blair limped over to the roaring fire, sighing as he extended his hands and turned them to and fro in the welcoming warmth, ignoring the water that dripped from his clothes and shoes, pooling on the floor.

"I’m a klutz," he said, matter of factly. "When that rain started, I lost my bearings and I couldn’t see two inches in front of me. I slipped on some wet leaves and went over on my ankle."

Jim was at his side in a moment, pushing him down into the armchair. He reached for Blair’s foot and felt around the bones with gentle hands. "It’s a bad sprain," he said. "I’ll get you some ice."

He headed out to the kitchen and pulled an icepack from the freezer, then detoured into the bathroom, hauling a bundle of towels and a blanket from the closet. Returning to the living room, he quickly helped Blair strip down to his boxers and then wrapped his hair in one towel and rubbed his icy body down briskly with another.

Blair sighed as Jim wrapped the blanket about his dry and tingly skin and then lifted his swollen ankle to rest on the coffee table. He winced a little as Jim turned it, examining the dark bruise already blackening his foot and shivered as the icepack was placed on his ankle.

Snuggling deeper into the warm folds of cloth, Blair gazed slowly about the room, his eyes finally coming back to rest on his partner’s face. "Jim, what’s going on?"

"What do you mean?" Jim asked, fiddling with the icepack as Blair’s movements caused it to slip.

"What’s all this about?" Blair’s hand did a sweep of the room, indicating the fruit punch sitting in a wine decanter with two glasses beside it and flanked by a tray of cheeses and fruit.

Jim looked up and shrugged, feeling a little embarrassed. "I wanted to apologize," he began, "and I know you can’t drink alcohol…"

A low whistle escaped Blair’s lips. "Some apology," he said. "Tell me what you did again, so I can make you do it more often."

Jim laughed, the happiness welling up unchecked. "I was going to apologize, then it turned into a celebration. Simon called…"

"Oh man," Blair broke in. "Don’t tell me we have to go back."

"Will you let me finish a complete sentence, Sandburg?" Jim growled but the smile on his face softened the words.

Blair took a deep breath and settled himself back in the armchair, his expression one of rapt concentration. "You’re right. Sorry, sorry. You were saying?"

"Simon called," Jim continued, unable to keep the grin from his face. "Ferretti rolled over and accepted a plea bargain from the DA."

Blair looked puzzled. "That’s great, I guess, Jim. Personally, I was hoping they’d lock the bastard up and throw away the key."

"Me too," Jim agreed fervently, trying once more to shake the memories of Blair's battered body from his mind. "Part of the plea bargain was that he agree to be tested for HIV."

"And?" Blair looked hopeful but wary.

"The tests aren’t due back for a few more days but he claims he was tested only a few days before he … before the attack on you and he was clean. Beverley was able to speak to the doctor who tested him and he verified the results. Rowan, the guy Ferretti worked for, apparently insisted that his men were HIV negative. Ferretti also confirmed that he," Jim clenched his jaw for a moment then went on, a slight tremor evident in his voice, "was the only one who had sex with you. The chances of him contracting HIV in the few days after his test are non existent because he swears he didn’t have sex with anyone from the time of his test until he met you."

Blair sat perfectly still, only the steady rise and fall of his chest giving any indication that he was still breathing. He stared at Jim for a long moment, then a small smile began to twitch the corners of his mouth. "So it’s finally over," he whispered.

Jim leaned forward and picked up the glasses of fruit punch, handing one to Blair. "Yes, partner. It’s over."

"It’s only part of it, Jim." Blair said, gnawing at his lower lip. "There’s still all that talk at the station." He looked up at the detective. "Maybe it would be better for you if I stayed away. We could talk to Simon, see if we could bring Joel in on the sentinel thing."

"I don’t need Joel. I already have a guide and a partner," Jim answered. He leaned over and poured more punch into Blair’s glass, then held out the tray of fruit. "We’ll face it together."

FIN

(Of course, you all know that it’s not really over don’t you? TBC in "Chasing Shadows." Coming soon.)

- 5th August, 2001.

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