THE PRICE OF FRIENDSHIP (Part 2)

By: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

AUTHOR'S NOTES: A lot of people asked for a resolution to The Price of Friendship, so I've given it my best shot. I probably haven't handled this the way everyone would. I'm also aware that it is a sensitive issue and some people may not be happy with the final outcome of this story, but it resolved some issues for me.

For all those who live in the shadow of bigotry and prejudice and fear of persecution.

SUMMARY: Blair must decide whether to press charges against a vicious gang of thugs, exposing a friend's deep secret.

DISCLAIMER: All characters and property of The Sentinel belong to Di Meo and Bilson and Petfly. This story has been written for enjoyment only, and no profit has been made from it. No copyright infringement is intended.

WARNINGS: A little violence and language. No spoilers.

The phone's shrill bell cut through the silence of the loft and Jim Ellison started, almost falling off the couch. He'd fallen asleep in front of the TV after cleaning and bandaging Blair's injuries. He glanced at the clock as he snagged the receiver - 2am. 'This better be good,' he thought wearily.

"Ellison," he muttered, rubbing his hand over tired eyes.

"Um, hello, Detective Ellison, I wonder if I could speak with Blair, please? It's Kevin Davis."

All trace of fatigue fled and Jim sat upright, switching on the lamp next to him. "It's late, Kevin. Blair said he'd talk to you in the morning."

"It's important, Detective," Kevin insisted.

"Look, Blair's sleeping, Mr. Davis. He was pretty badly beaten last night, as you know." Jim spoke harshly. "He needs some rest, he was in a lot of pain."

Jim became aware of someone standing over him and looked up to see Blair, his pallor stark in the harsh glare of the table lamp and the bruises deep and black over his left eye and cheek. He stood bent slightly at the middle, one hand curled over the gash in his side, the other reaching out for the phone.

"Let me talk to him, Jim," he said quietly.

The detective spoke to Blair, not bothering to cover the phone. "Blair, you're in pain, you need some sleep."

His guide merely gestured again for the phone.

Jim sighed and stood, handing over the receiver. Turning back to Blair, he placed his hands gently on his partner's shoulders and pushed him down toward the couch. "Sit."

Blair sat; wincing a little as he did so and Jim walked off to the bathroom in search of pain relief for his friend.

"Kevin, how are you doing, man?" Blair asked.

"I'm okay, just a little shaky," Kevin answered. "Are you okay? Detective Ellison said you were beaten pretty badly."

"I'm alright, Kevin, really. A few bruises, no big deal, man," Blair replied.

"I'm so sorry I ran off, Blair. I just panicked and when I finally got the courage to go back, you'd gone. I'm at home now, I just wanted to check, make sure you're alright."

"Jim wants me to make a statement in the morning, look at some pictures," Blair told him.

"Oh no, Blair, please. Is it really necessary? God, if my folks find out about Dan and I, my father will never speak to me again. Blair, please, do you have to?"

"Hey, Kevin, calm down. Your folks don't need to know, but these guys have to be caught." Blair tried to placate his friend.

"Jesus, Blair, my dad's a lawyer. Of course, he'll know. I haven't told him yet, I don't think I can."

"Kevin, the guys that beat on me take pleasure in using fear and pain to control and hurt people. They have to be stopped. Jim says your folks need never find out why they attacked us unless you tell them. I'll protect you every way I can," Blair reassured him. He heard voices in the background. "Kevin? You still there?"

"Look, Blair, I've got to go. That's my father. Just think about what I said. I'm sorry you got hurt tonight, but I don't think I can talk to the police about this. I've got to go."

The call was abruptly cut off and Blair sat back exhausted. His ribs ached, his head pounded and he felt like shit. Worst of all, he felt like he was being torn in two. Caught between doing the right thing and turning in a bunch of thugs who preyed on the public for their kicks and protecting a friend whose private life should be allowed to remain just that.

Jim handed him two Tylenol and a glass of water and sat down in the chair opposite him. "Take those and get some sleep, Chief. We'll talk in the morning."

Blair simply nodded, accepted the pills and swallowed them, then rose with a small moan, reaching out a hand to forestall Jim's help. He shuffled off slowly to bed. Jim shook his head and followed suit.

~o0o~

Blair was already up, preparing breakfast when Jim came downstairs the following morning.

"Morning, Chief. How are you feeling?" Jim asked. He poured himself a glass of orange juice and eyed his partner critically. Blair sported a spectacular black eye and still held his ribs protectively, but Jim was also concerned about his emotional state.

"Chief, you feeling any better?" he asked again.

Blair shrugged "I'm okay, man. Breakfast is ready." He carried two plates of eggs to the table and sat down carefully, wincing slightly.

Jim followed him over with two cups of coffee. He watched Blair push the food around on his plate for a moment. "You planning on eating that sometime today, Sandburg? You've got to come into the station this morning and give that statement."

"Alright, already Jim. I'm ready whenever you are, okay?" With that, Blair threw his napkin onto the table and strode off to his room. "Call me when you want to go," he called over his shoulder.

Jim watched his partner disappear into his room and stood undecided for a moment. Finally, he followed him and leaned up against the doorframe, his arms folded, watching Blair throw books and folders roughly into his backpack. His friend's morose and withdrawn attitude was beginning to worry him.

"Do you want to talk about what's bothering you, Chief?" he asked quietly.

Blair didn't look up from his task. "I can't see there's anything to talk about, Jim," he replied.

Jim took a step into the room. "Something's obviously bothering you. I know you had a rough time last night and you've got to still be hurting. Do you need to see a doctor?" he asked anxiously. "Maybe I missed something when I checked you out."

"I'm okay, Jim, really," Blair answered, finally facing him. "A little worse for wear, but I'm fine. I'm just not sure about making this statement."

"You seemed okay with it when I suggested it last night," Jim replied.

"Ordered, Jim, ordered, not suggested," Blair broke in, pushing past him into the living room.

"Look, Blair, you were beaten by a gang of thugs, I can't believe that you are willing to let them get away with this, to maybe do it to someone else tonight," Jim said in frustration.

Blair turned back to face his friend. "I don't want them to get away with anything, Jim. It's just…" He paused, running a hand through his unruly curls. "I'm an adult here. I was making decisions for myself long before I met you. I'd like to think I'm still capable of that."

"No one doubts your capabilities, Blair, least of all, me," Jim replied. "Someone beats on my partner, I go into Blessed Protector overdrive." Jim smiled, trying to lighten the mood, but Blair merely frowned back.

Jim sighed. "Do you want to make out a report or not?" he asked, beginning to get impatient.

Blair hugged his backpack to his chest and headed for the door. "Let's go, man and get it over with. I've got a class to teach this morning."

Jim dropped Blair off at the university after he had signed his statement. The grad student had also managed to identify three of his assailants from mug shots. He hadn't mentioned Kevin's presence to the officer and he hoped that meant his friend could remain in the anonymity he craved.

"I'll see you at the precinct after lunch, Jim," Blair said, exiting the truck. "Thanks for the ride."

"Do you need me to come pick you up, Chief?"

"No, it's cool, man. My car's here. Kevin and I went to the seminar straight from here yesterday in his car. I'll catch you later." Blair waved and walked off, his body still hunched over his painful ribs.

Jim watched him for a moment, his partner looked as though he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.

~o0o~

"Hey, Hairboy, how you doing?" The affectionate greeting from Henri Brown signaled Blair's arrival and Jim pushed back from his desk and stood up. This was one conversation he wasn't looking forward to.

"Ooh, man, what does the other guy look like?" Henri asked, slinging an arm around Blair's shoulders and tilting his head for a better look at the shiner marring his face.

"Not a scratch on him, H," Blair replied, grinning. "You know me, man, I'm a lover not a fighter."

Henri laughed and ruffled Blair's hair. "Later, Romeo."

"Hey, Jim." Blair walked over and deposited his backpack under the desk. "Too much to hope that you got all the paperwork done, I guess?"

Jim noticed that some of the bounce was back in Blair's step and dreaded even more what he had to tell him. "Sorry, Chief, I've been busy with something. We need to talk."

Blair eased himself down into his seat in front of the computer. The gash in his side was still painful and Blair had noticed it looked swollen and inflamed. He forced himself not to wince as he leaned forward to take a report off the stack on Jim's desk. There was no way he was allowing his partner to drag him off to the hospital and then hover over him for a week or more. Between his work and studies at the university and helping Jim with his senses, it didn't leave a whole lot of hours for rest and recuperation.

"I'll do you a deal, big guy," Blair replied. "I'll help you get these reports done in half the time and we'll talk over the dinner you're buying - my choice." He smiled at Jim, hoping to convey his apology for the angry words earlier that morning.

"We'll do the reports later, Chief. We can use Simon's office. He's away for a few days."

Blair stood up. "Look, Jim, if it's about this morning, I'm sorry for what I said. I know you're concerned for me and you just want to get these guys. I was tired and not thinking straight and I'm worried about Kevin. He's seeing someone and the guy's putting pressure on him to tell his family that he's gay, honesty in a relationship and all that."

"Sandburg!" Jim groaned inwardly as Blair flinched at the harsh tone. "Let's just go in here and talk, huh?" he said gently.

Blair nodded and followed his partner into the office.

~o0o~

"Oh man, this really sucks." Blair paced the small office, scrubbing agitated hands through his unruly hair.

Jim watched him from where he sat, perched on the edge of Simon's desk. "Settle down, Chief. Let's just go through it."

"What is there to go through, Jim? They have alibis and the cops are buying it."

"No, Sandburg, we are not buying it, but if we want to put these guys away for some serious time, we have to make sure we do it right," Jim replied.

Blair stopped and took a deep breath. "Okay, what about the bar manager?"

Jim shook his head. "He claims he didn't see anything, says he didn't leave the bar all night."

"He's lying."

"I think you're right, but I figure someone's gotten to him, threatened him or paid him off. These guys you fingered are pretty nasty pieces of work, according to their rap sheets. Rafe and Conner are going to lean on the manager a little but it may come down to your friend."

"Kevin? No way, man. I promised him." Blair backed away, raising his hands in protest.

Jim stood and placed his hands on Blair's shoulders. "Listen to me, Chief. All Kevin has to do is give a statement. He doesn't have to tell his family anything he doesn't want to. For all they know, you may have been mugged for your wallet. Kevin is just going to corroborate your ID of these guys."

"Jim, his partner is already pushing him to tell his family that he's gay. His father's a lawyer, he'll know about the statement, and I put in mine about some of the names they were calling us. If we both have to testify in court… Look, Kevin's dad was a star football player and he's a high profile company lawyer. It's perfect fodder for the newspapers."

"I think you have to let Kevin make this decision, Chief," Jim said quietly.

"You were eager enough to make my decisions for me last night," Blair said angrily and then groaned. "God, Jim, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that."

Jim's hands dropped to his sides and his jaw clenched tightly. He strode to the door, then turned. "Just let me know if you want to go on with this or not, Sandburg. If you don't want your friend to back you up, we'll drop the investigation and put these guys back on the streets." He walked out, slamming the door behind him.

Blair stood staring at the closed door for a moment, then dropped into a chair, gasping at the pain that clawed at him. He clutched at the wound, feeling the heat radiating from it. "Man, this really sucks."

Standing slowly, he breathed as deeply as he could, and plastering what he hoped was a neutral expression on his face, opened the door and approached Jim's desk.

Jim sat with his eyes on the report in front of him and did not look up.

"Jim, I'm going to go back to the university and talk to Kevin. See if I can convince him to come in and at least look at some pictures."

Jim still didn't look up. "Fine."

Blair tried again. "I'm sorry, Jim. It's just that I can understand where Kevin's coming from. It's not that he's ashamed of who he is, it's a fear of being ridiculed and abused simply because of his preferences. Hey man, I've been there. I've been pushed around and beaten on because of how I look, how I dress, my surname. He's also worried that his father is more concerned about his reputation than his son's happiness and from what Kevin's told me, to say his father is homophobic is understating things. He's a big tough ex - football player who wouldn't want anyone knowing he has a gay son."

"And not all parents love unconditionally," Jim added, "I know what you're saying, Chief."

"So, are we okay, Jim?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, Chief, we're okay."

Jim put his pen down and looked up at his partner finally. "And I'll still spring for dinner."

He studied Blair closely, noting for the first time, the pallor of his skin and the fine sheen of sweat coating his face. "Are you feeling okay, buddy You're looking a little pale. Do you have a fever?" he asked worriedly.

Blair took a small step back, hoping Jim hadn't dialed up his senses to feel the heat coming off him or hear his heartbeat escalate as he blatantly lied to his partner. "I'm fine, Jim. It's been a rough couple of days, that's all."

Jim eyed him critically. "Do you want me to come with you to the university?"

"No, no offense, Jim, but seeing you there will make him feel as though he's being backed into a corner. I'll meet you at home later."

~o0o~

Jim was out on the balcony, nursing a beer when Blair finally arrived home.

"Hi, Chief, how'd it go?" he called.

"Not so good, Jim," Blair said tiredly. He pulled a bottle of water from the refrigerator and rolled it over his temples, feeling it soothe the feverish skin. He walked out to the balcony and pulled a chair up next to his partner. "He's determined not to tell his family and he's convinced that giving a statement will bring everything out, especially if he has to testify. The guy he's seeing came in while we were talking. He wants Kevin to come into the precinct tomorrow. He's an activist with the Gay Movement, name's Dan Mason. He thinks it would be great if the newspapers ran with it, good publicity for the cause. He told Kevin if his father can't deal with him being gay, he's not worth keeping in contact with." Blair sighed and took a long swallow of cold water.

Jim studied him for a moment. "So what's Kevin going to do?"

"He said he'll think it over and call me tomorrow. I don't know, Jim, he's not the activist type, you know? He's quiet, shy, just wants to get on with his life," Blair replied.

Jim finished his beer and slapped his friend's shoulder. "Finish your drink, Chief and grab a shower. Where do you want to eat?"

"I'm really beat, Jim, I think I'll just crash." Blair stood slowly and walked inside, returning the water bottle to the refrigerator.

"You should eat something," Jim called after him.

Blair headed for his room, waving Jim's comment off. "I'll eat later. I just need a couple of hours sleep."

Jim grabbed another beer and sat on the couch. He turned on the TV, keeping the sound low and recapped the day's events. Perhaps he had pushed Blair too hard into reporting the beating, just as Kevin's friend was doing now. As much as Jim wanted to punish the men responsible for Blair's attack, he also understood his partner's desire to help and protect his friend.

~o0o~

The sentinel woke and stretched, then automatically extended his hearing downstairs to find the heartbeat of his guide. Nothing. Jim tossed off the bedclothes and tore down the stairs.

"Sandburg?"

Looking into the small bedroom beneath the stairs, he saw it was empty, as was the bathroom. As the beginnings of panic set his heart racing, he noticed the note propped against the coffeepot. It was from Blair, explaining that he hadn't been able to sleep and had already left for the university and would meet him later.

Jim bent over, resting his hands on his knees and breathed deeply. Something deep in his soul niggled at him, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't pinpoint what the discomfort was. He gave up and showered quickly, then left for the precinct. He'd worked on the reports from the day before for several hours before a familiar scent assailed his nostrils. 'Blair.'

He looked up, smiling a welcome. "Hey, Chief, just in time for lunch."

Blair stumbled to the desk, his face white, his breath coming in short gasps. "Jim? Jim?" His hands shot out in front of him as though seeking support and Jim jumped up from his chair, grabbing the young man as his legs gave out beneath him.

"Blair? Easy, buddy, I've got you," Jim soothed as he helped his partner into a chair, pushing the young man's head between his knees. "Just breathe slowly, buddy. You're okay."

Blair took several slow shaky breaths, his hand still curled protectively over his ribs, then looked up at Jim. His face was a dreadful chalky white, sweat dripped from him and his hands shook. "Jim."

His voice caught on the name and he sobbed.

Jim knelt at his partner's side. "It's okay, buddy. I'm right here. Do you want to tell me what's going on?" He reached for Blair's hand and frowned at the heat he felt.

Another sob was torn from Blair's throat but then he lifted his pale face. "Dan called me at the university, he said Kevin didn't come home last night. I offered to check his office. Kevin's dead, Jim, he hung himself, I found him. Kevin's dead."

"Oh, Blair, I'm so sorry. How did you get here, you should have called me from the university, I would have come to get you."

Blair shook his head vehemently. "I needed to get out of there. I walked here."

"Okay, so everyone's been notified?"

Blair nodded his head. "Dan came down straight away, he's really cut up, Jim."

"What can I do to help, Blair?" Jim asked, stroking the young man's arm.

Blair sat up straight in the chair, glaring through his tears at his partner. "You can't help, Jim. Kevin's dead, I shouldn't have pushed him so hard. It's my fault."

"No, it's not your fault," Jim said firmly.

"Whose fault is it then?" The voice was small, childlike.

"Blame the thugs who beat you for a start and anyone out there that made Kevin frightened to be honest about who he loved. One thing I know for sure is that it wasn't your fault. I told you the other night that you were a good friend and you've done nothing to alter that."

"Jim?" Henri's voice broke through the silence that followed. "Megan and Rafe have got a statement from the bar owner. Seems our little friends were into protection, drugs, you name it. They're bringing them back in now."

"Oh God, he wouldn't have needed to testify after all. He died for nothing." Blair's voice became more distraught.

Jim pulled Blair out of the chair, frowning again at the heat he could feel under his hands. "Blair? Blair!"

He caught the dazed man's head in his hands and tilted his face, forcing him to look at him. "Chief, I'm going to take you to the hospital. You're burning up."

Blair shook his head. "No, no hospital, Jim. Kevin's dead. I can't believe Kevin's dead."

"Okay, Chief, let me take you back to the loft then." Jim eased Blair back into the chair and motioned to Henri. "H., he's sick and he's in shock. I'm going to get him back to the loft and see if I can get a doctor to come check him out. Can you keep an eye on things here?"

Henri nodded and turned to Blair, stroking his head gently. "You take it easy, buddy."

Jim moved back to Blair's side and helped the young man from his seat. Blair accepted Jim's assistance and stood up slowly. Jim kept a hand on Blair's back as he guided his partner toward the elevator. As Jim pushed the button for the elevator, Henri came rushing up.

"Glad I caught you, Jim. Simon's on the phone says it's urgent. Damn, that's my phone." Henri spun on his heels and raced off.

Jim looked at Blair. "Will you be okay here for a minute, Chief?"

Blair nodded and leaned his hot forehead against the cool wall, his breathing slowly coming under control. Hearing the ding signaling the arrival of the car, he turned to face the doors and came face to face with two of the men who had attacked him in the alleyway accompanied by Conner and Rafe.

Megan saw the color drain from Blair's already pale face and swiftly maneuvered her prisoner in a wide berth around him. The youth looked over his shoulder and grinned at his leader being escorted by Rafe. The second man eyed Blair quizzically, then smirked as recognition flared. "What are you looking at, faggot?" he growled.

With a strangled cry, Blair barreled past Rafe, leaving the detective flat footed in his wake. By the time Rafe had recovered, Blair had thrown himself bodily on the gang leader, sending both of them crashing to the floor of the elevator. Rafe grabbed frantically at Blair's arms, trying to break the hold the young man had on the other man's throat. He twisted himself awkwardly and called to Conner. "Get Ellison in here, hurry. Blair, come on buddy, leave him."

Blair didn't appear to hear him, but a low feral growl came from his throat. Rafe could see the man beneath Sandburg futilely pull at the vice like grip, his face rapidly turning purple as he gasped and struggled.

Jim heard the commotion from the bullpen, slammed the phone receiver down on his astonished police captain and raced toward the elevator. He pushed Rafe out of the way and reaching down, broke Blair's death grip on the choking man's throat. "Enough, Blair. It's over," he shouted.

Blair fought to escape his grip and Jim wrapped both arms around his chest, pinning the struggling man's arms to his sides. He backed quickly out of the elevator and glanced over at Rafe. "Get them both into an interrogation room."

Rafe nodded, still shocked at the usually gentle observer's fiery display and hauled the still gasping prisoner to his feet.

Jim continued to hug Blair tightly to his chest, but began to relax his hold as he felt his partner begin to calm, his breath coming in deep shuddering moans. Jim turned Blair to face him and cupped his chin gently in one large hand, urging Blair to look at him. "Sandburg, you with me?"

Blair's blue eyes appeared unfocused and Jim tapped his uninjured cheek. "Blair? Talk to me, buddy."

Blair was still shaking but the moaning had stopped and he finally fixed his gaze on Jim's face. "J-Jim? 'S'over?" he asked, his voice thick and unsure.

Jim nodded. "Yeah, Chief, it's over."

Blair's knees buckled and Jim caught him as he slowly slid down the wall.

~o0o~

Captain Simon Banks eyed his detective and sat up straighter in his chair. "I take it there was a little excitement while I was away," he said.

"Something like that, sir," Jim agreed. "It's been pretty eventful."

"How's Sandburg?"

"He's doing okay, I think," Jim answered. "He picked up a pretty nasty infection from the knife wound, complicated by stress and exhaustion. It knocked him around for a bit, but the antibiotics have cleared it up. I don't think he'll really begin to heal until he can forgive himself and me for Kevin's death."

"None of this was his fault or yours, Jim."

Jim shrugged. "Maybe I pushed too hard, I don't know. Blair thinks he failed a friend. Today might bring him some resolution. He went to Kevin's grave, said he needed to think things over, get it all straight in his head."

"He's helped to put away a gang who got their jollies from preying on others. We've got them on charges for drug possession, protection rackets, assault and a whole swag of other charges."

Jim stood up as he saw his partner enter the bullpen. Walking to the office door, Jim leaned against the doorjamb and smiled at Blair. "How's it going, Chief? Everything okay?"

Blair looked up and smiled back at his friend. "Yeah, Jim. Everything's okay."

Fin

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