SEASONS OF THE HEART
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DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Di Meo, Bilson and Petfly and Paramount. The story, storyline and other characters are mine. This story was written for my own and others enjoyment and no money has been made from it.
RATING: N/C-17 (more for subject matter than anything.)
WARNINGS: This story was initially written as a slash fic. After a long discussion on the Sentinel Angst list some months ago, I decided to do what I had been thinking about for some time. I issued myself a challenge to rewrite this story as a gen story. The story does refer to male rape, but it is not described in detail.
ADDITIONAL WARNINGS: Violence, Language.
AUTHORS NOTES: I know this story will not be everyones cup of tea. If, after reading the warnings above, you decide to read on, please keep in mind that this is only a work of fiction and is only one persons interpretation. The original story was betaed by Nancy. Thank you, Wolf!
Feedback is welcome, public or private. I would like to know if I was successful in de-slashing this. Enjoy!
Seasons Of The Heart
"Of course, we have our differences
You shouldnt be surprised
Its as natural as the changes
In the seasons and the skies
Sometimes we grow together
Sometimes we drift apart
A wiser man than I might know
The seasons of the heart
And Im walking here beside you
In the early evening chill
A thing weve always loved to do
I know we always will
We have so much in common
So many things we share
That I cant believe my heart
When it implies that youre not there
Love is why I came here in the first place
Love is now the reason I must go
Love is all I ever hope to find here
Love is still the only dream I know" John Denver.
Jim Ellison leaned forward and pushed his partners stocking feet from the coffee table. "You know, Chief, its been two weeks."
"Two weeks what, Jim?" Blair asked as he shifted around, trying to get comfortable again.
"Two weeks past the week you told me youd pay what you owe on the rent," Jim answered, leaning back, his eyes closed and a faint smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. Relaxing at home after a long day, he had his senses turned down and didnt hear the sudden increase in Blairs heart rate as the young mans movements froze.
"It is?" Blair managed to croak out.
Jim still didnt seem to notice his friends discomfort and continued. "Yeah, so that means youre living here now on my goodwill. I think you owe me something for that."
Blair sat up straighter and edged to the end of the couch. "Look Jim, I know Im behind on the rent, but the car needed more work done to it than I thought. Then there was a book that I had to have from my book list, Ive been borrowing Marks for three months now but hes getting kind of antsy about it "
"I think you should do the dishes every night," Jim interrupted. "I mean you eat my food, put your feet on my couch, bring your girlfriends home for the night." The detective sat up, grinning. "Is it a deal? Better yet, you could do all the housework in lieu of rent."
Blair had deflated visibly as he caught onto the joke but his chin came up angrily at Jims last words. "Want me to keep your bed warm too, Ellison?"
Jim gaped in shock at his partners words. "Jesus, Sandburg, where did that come from? I was just kidding around here."
Blair groaned and scrubbed his hands over his exhausted face. "Im sorry, Jim. I know you were only joking. I dont know whats wrong with me." He grabbed at Jims arm as the detective stood up from the couch. "You know me, man, I open my mouth before I put my brain into gear. I know its no excuse, but Ive got a lot on my mind at the moment. Ive applied for a grant that I thought I was a shoe-in for, but the word on the grapevine is that its already been allotted to someone else. I worked for weeks on the application only to find out that it was a foregone conclusion. Plus with the two stakeouts this week, I am so far behind on my marking." He indicated the tall pile of folders stacked precariously on the dining table.
"Its okay, Sandburg," Jim replied, deflecting the apology with a wave of his hand. "Weve both been stretched a little thin these past couple of weeks. Anyway, it was a stupid thing for me to say."
Blair looked down at his hands, hiding a wicked smile behind his abundant curls and sighed dramatically. "Ill get to the dishes in a minute, Jim." The anthropologist looked up, puppy dog eyes in place. "Ive got all night to finish the marking."
Jim shook his head and moved toward the kitchen, giving the back of Blairs head a whack on the way past. "Can the look, Sandburg. Ill do the dishes."
As he headed to the kitchen, the words came, softly. "I do NOT have a look."
Blair tossed the last marked assignment onto the table and rubbed his reddened eyes. He could see the first hints of dawn emerging on the horizon and decided that hed only feel worse if he went to bed for an hours sleep.
"Caffeine," he mumbled. Stumbling to his feet and indulging in a luxurious stretch, he drained the dregs from his cup and headed for the kitchen. Blair had managed to keep his guilty thoughts at bay while he finished his schoolwork, but now they hit again full force and he pressed both hands to his forehead, as though he could massage them away.
Blair felt badly that he seemed unable to keep up with his share of the rent. Jim had been kind enough to take him in after the warehouse he called home was destroyed in an explosion just over a year before. It seemed that the idea that Blair was in danger whenever he rode along with Jim was a myth. Blair had been living next door to a drug lab for several weeks before he met Jim and hadnt known it. The words trouble magnet were becoming embarrassingly familiar. Blair laughed softly. It seemed that perhaps it was Jim who was at risk from working with him, not the other way round.
The anthropologist poured fresh coffee and walked out to the balcony. The morning air was crisp and refreshing, a welcome balm after the long night. He shivered a little as his body adjusted to the cooler temperature and sank into a chair, leaning back and closing his eyes in relief.
Here he was almost thirty years old and still in school. He had been for more than a dozen years and now he was living in someone elses home. It was past time for him to grow up and find his own place. Blair hated feeling dependent on Jim for a roof over his head and never being able to offer to pay for a pizza or beer.
He resolved to start looking for an apartment that afternoon. Of course, there was the small matter of rent, utilities, food but Blair wasnt concerned. Hed been pretty much supporting himself since he was fourteen, when his mother Naomi had stopped insisting that he accompany her on her trips of enlightenment around the globe. His nomadic lifestyle with Naomi was the reason now that he felt such a longing for permanence, a desire to feel as though he truly belonged. Since hed been at Rainier, he had survived mostly on grants and the good will of friends; earlier on hed supplemented that with odd jobs such as dishwashing and bar tending and even some truck driving for his uncle.
Now hed have to factor in his time working with Jim but Blair had been juggling timetables and deadlines for most of his adult life. He had never needed a lot of sleep and the hours he spent with Jim had become more than just research time. The sentinel needed Blair to ground him as he extended his senses so that he didnt zone. If he did, Blair seemed to be the only one who could pull him back. He needed to do more study on that aspect of the partnership. He was unsure whether his abilities as Jims guide stemmed merely from being the only sentinel expert in town, or the world, for that matter, or if it was a preordained attribute, much the same as the hypersenses of the sentinel.
Knowing he needed to get a life of his own and let Jim have his back and wanting to do it were two very different things, Blair decided. The only thing he was sure about right now was that Jims comments from the night before were enough of a broad hint that he was tiring of supporting Blair. The anthropologist seemed to lurch from financial crisis to financial crisis, just barely keeping his head above water and never contributing to his own welfare. Blair resolved to change that as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
He yawned widely and got up from his comfortable spot, heading into the kitchen to start on breakfast. He looked up as he heard Jim coming down the stairs and plastered a smile on his face.
"Morning, Jim," Blair said. "Ill have breakfast ready in ten minutes."
The detective mumbled something unintelligible and nodded, absently scratching his broad chest before disappearing into the bathroom. Blair sighed and turned his attention back to the eggs.
In the end, it was ridiculously easy to find a place and a job and Blair began to have the uneasy feeling that hed just boarded a runaway train. He had only been at the university for an hour when he ran into Greg Stevens, a fellow TA who mentioned that his brother was having problems finding someone willing to work a nine p.m. bar shift. Blair had met Mark Stevens several times and found him to be an easygoing and likeable man and the fact that The Nest was a gay bar did not faze him at all. Naomi had taken pride in raising her son as a levelheaded, tolerant, wise young man and at the end of the day, a job was a job was a job.
Checking out the rent ads in the newspaper during lunch, the anthropologist found several apartments that were in his price range. By the time he had to leave to meet Jim at the precinct, Blair had a new home. It was more a room than an apartment and the décor left a lot to be desired, but at least it had its own kitchen and bathroom facilities. On his earnings, Blair couldnt afford to be fussy and hed certainly lived in worse places.
Taking the elevator up to Major Crimes, Blair tried to calm his pounding heart. Now came the hard part, telling Jim. Then again, maybe it would be easy; perhaps Blair was correct that Jims comments from the night before had been a subtle hint to the anthropologist to get a life.
"Youre moving out? Just like that," Jim roared as he paced the confines of the small conference room. Okay, maybe not.
"Jim, come on, man. Look, it was really great of you to let me stay when my place got wrecked, but Im always behind on the rent and I keep you awake when Im studying. Besides if I get another assignment like Larry, it could mean the end of a beautiful friendship," Blair said.
"Is this because of what I said last night?" Jim asked, looking out of the large window. "I told you I was only kidding."
Blair shook his head and moved up to stand beside his partner, resting his hand on Jims arm. "Its just time for me to get back to being independent. Ive been on my own for a long time and I dont like being in debt to anyone. Ill still be here whenever you need me."
"I told you I dont mind, Blair," Jim said, finally turning to face the younger man. "I dont need the money. Ive only taken it because you insisted. You dont need to move out."
Blair steeled his resolve and looked back at the detective unwaveringly. "Yes, I do, Jim. Trust me on this. I have to do this, for both of us."
Blair tried unsuccessfully to stifle another yawn and rubbed at his bloodshot eyes before squinting once more at the computer screen. It really was time for him to get a new prescription for his glasses but he was barely scraping together the money he needed for rent on his new place. The lines of words jumped and blurred again and he leaned back for a moment, stealing a surreptitious glance at the silent man beside him as he did so.
Moving out of the loft had been more difficult than the anthropologist envisaged and Blair had almost caved in at the last minute. Jim had not offered to help him move, remaining surly and withdrawn for the last couple of days of Blairs time at the loft. The detective was not at home when Blair moved the last of his gear out, simply leaving him a note on the table saying that he had to go into the precinct early and asking the anthropologist to leave his door key in the basket.
"Keeping you up, are we?"
The voice in his ear startled Blair awake and he almost fell off the chair. "Mmm? Oh man, sorry, Jim," Blair said around a yawn. "I dont know whats wrong with me."
"You still trying to burn the candle at both ends, Chief? Whats her name? Sally? Oh no, wait, that was last week," Jim said sarcastically.
Blair sat upright and glared at the detective, then sighed and bent once more over the keyboard. "His name is Detective Ellison and he insisted I get here at six am to finalize a simple report that he could have done himself," Blair muttered, knowing the sentinel would hear him easily.
Jim stood and picked up the folder from the desk, then leaned over into the smaller mans face. "A report which you promised to finish last week before you were in such a hurry to move out. You forgot to sign it," he said, shoving the papers into Blairs hand. He picked up the increase in Blairs heart rate and smiled. "Whats the matter, Sandburg? Am I invading your personal space?"
"Fuck off, Ellison," Blair spat. He threw back his chair, jumping slightly as it overturned and clattered onto the floor. He bent to pick up his backpack, noticing for the first time the silence that pervaded.
"Ellison! Sandburg! My office." Simon Banks voice echoed in the void and both men stood for a moment, glaring at each other.
"It wasnt a suggestion, Detective," Simon said.
The captain waited until both men filed past him, then shut the door and turned to face them. "Could you two keep your domestic disputes out of my precinct?" Simon bellowed. "Some of us are trying to work here."
Getting no response from either man, he poured them each a cup of coffee, then sat down behind his desk. "What the hell is going on with you two? Sandburg? Youve come in for the past three days looking like death warmed over."
He looked closely at the silent young man in front of him, noting the pale, angular features and shadowed eyes. "You eating, getting enough sleep?"
Blair merely shrugged and stood to move over to the window, staring out absently. Simon turned his attention to the granite jawed detective. "Jim? Youre not looking so hot yourself. Did you tell Sandburg about your hearing dropping out yesterday?"
Jim groaned as Blair tensed, then spun around to face him. "What? When did this happen?"
"It was nothing," Jim said. "It only lasted a minute or so."
"Try twenty," Simon interrupted.
"You didnt think it was important enough to tell me?" Blair was in Jims face now, bouncing up on the balls of his feet. "After what happened with Danny?"
"I wasnt sure youd be interested," Jim said harshly. "I figured you had all the information you needed for your thesis. You got what you wanted and then decided to move on. Its not your concern any more."
Blair fell back as if hed been punched, his face paling to a ghastly shade of white. "You think thats all it was, research?" He moved toward the door, then remembered where he was. "If thats all, Simon, Ive got to get to school." He ran from the room, pausing to pick up his backpack.
"That went well," Simon said tiredly. "Sit down, Jim. Youre not going anywhere until you tell me exactly whats going on."
Blair snagged his backpack from the floor and then bent to right his overturned chair, taking the opportunity to calm himself. The final comment from Jim had shocked him to the core. Blair had been shot at, held captive by terrorists, terrified to the point of peeing his pants and seen things that had made him lose his lunch. Despite every fiber of his common sense screaming at him to stay away and lose himself in the safety of academia, hed returned for more. It had begun with the thrill of discovering a researchers dream, a subject who fitted every aspect of his thesis and who was prepared, initially reluctantly, to be studied. Within days of meeting the gruff detective, Blair had felt a genuine friendship budding between them, a familiarity that warmed his heart and provided the security that to now, had been lacking in his life.
In the year or so that he had spent with the detective, there had developed a link, a bond between them. There were times when he thought that Jim could see into his soul. It was that very thought that had taken root and prompted his move from the loft. Blair had thought the only way he could keep close to Jim, so that he could continue to help him, was to leave before the detective grew tired of having him constantly at his side, in his face, in his life. Those misguided thoughts, it seemed had shattered the trust the sentinel had in him and frayed the blossoming bond.
Blair closed his eyes, trying to shutter the thought. Shaking himself free of the image of Jim leaning into him shouting, his face twisted in anger, Blair bolted for the elevator.
He did an about-face as he spotted Joel Taggert lounging against the wall ahead and ducked quickly into the mens room. Joel had always been friendly to Blair. He was a big, fatherly man who had taken Blair under his wing, particularly since their harrowing time spent together as hostages of Garrett Kincaid and the Sunrise Patriots, a terrorist group who had taken over the precinct a year or so before. Today, however, Blair didnt trust himself to speak to anyone without either exploding in rage or bursting into tears, and neither were attractive options.
The anthropologist let the door swing slowly shut and moved over to the hand basin, bending his head to sluice cold water over his face, sighing as the chill refreshed him. He started at the hand on his back and groaned as his uplifted eyes met those of his worst tormentors. There were several officers in the Cascade precinct that disliked the police observer or resented his presence, although Blair could not really understand their feelings. These two, however, had turned harassment into an art form.
"Not today. Im really not in the mood for this, guys." Blair shrugged off Tom Blakes hand and moved over to the towel dispenser, his tired brain belatedly registering a third man, Joe Mortens, standing with his back to the door, effectively blocking the only exit. Blair tore off a length of towel and dried his face. "What do you want, Blake?"
The tall officer shrugged, stepping closer. "Just wanted to put a proposition to you, Professor."
Blair noticed Scott Daniels sidle around beside him and backed away from both men, stopping as he felt the wall against his back. Blake cornered him, one arm coming around to loop casually about his shoulders and leaned his face close into Blairs. The anthropologist flinched at the strong, garlic tainted breath and then bolted suddenly for the door, pulling up with a cry as a fist wrapped in his hair and yanked him back. His yelp of pain was cut off abruptly by a hand clamped hard over his mouth and he fought to breathe through his nose as panic began to overwhelm him.
"Not so fast, Professor," Blake whispered in his ear. "I thought maybe I could get a taste of what youre giving Ellison."
Blair shook his head violently from side to side, his fear escalating as he tried futilely to dislodge the suffocating hand. His flailing hands were caught by Daniels and twisted up behind his back as he was pushed roughly to his knees.
"No!" He struggled harder against the hands holding him, ignoring the pain that clawed at his wrists, as he saw Blake reach for his zipper.
Simon Banks thought he had seen and heard everything in his time as captain of Major Crimes but the confession hed just wrung from his best detective stole his breath and angered him beyond belief. "You what? Jim, do you realize what youre saying?" Simon forced his gaping mouth shut with an audible snap and pulled a cigar from his pocket.
Jim shrugged and stood up. "It was his choice to leave. Maybe what I just said was closer to the truth than I realized. He told me before that he has enough information for his dissertation. Maybe now that hes got what he needed, he wants to get on with his life. Cant say that I blame him. Hes witnessed some pretty bad stuff since he teamed up with me. Im surprised he lasted as long as he did."
"You think you can control your senses without his help now?" Simon asked, looking doubtful. "After what happened yesterday?"
"Sandburgs taught me a lot over the past year, sir. I cant control it all the time but if Im careful, Ill be all right. Besides, Im not going to make him feel as though he has to hang around out of guilt."
"What started all of this, Jim? Surely it didnt come as a bolt out of the blue. I mean, the kid dotes on you."
"I was joking around the other night, saying how he was overdue with his rent. The following day he tells me hes moving out."
"Sounds like he didnt get the joke," Simon replied.
"He seemed fine with it at the time. He said he moved because he needs to be independent and he felt guilty about not being able to pay the rent on time," Jim answered.
"You dont believe that?" the Captain asked.
"Not really," Jim replied. "I mean, yes, I believe it, but I think theres more to it than that.
"Any idea what it could be?"
Jim shrugged. "No, hes just been edgy lately. Quiet. I dont know about now but he wasnt sleeping worth shit before he left home the loft."
"Maybe its time you told him that you still need him around, Jim. At least get it off your chest, try to get things back on an even keel between the two of you. Any more of the crap I witnessed today and Im going to have to consider pulling his observers pass."
"Let me talk to him. See what he really wants to do. I dont want us in each others faces, yelling at each other either," Jim replied.
"Fix the problem, Jim." Simon paused as Jim cocked his head, listening. "What is it?"
Jim shook his head, then strode to the door. "Its Sandburg, hes arguing with someone. Im not sure. Ill talk to him, Simon." The detective headed out of the office at a run.
Simon Banks sighed heavily as he sat down and reached for his lighter.
Blair finally managed to get his feet under him and pull his wrists free of Daniels grasp. He backed away toward the cubicles, both hands fisted and raised. "Just keep the fuck away from me, all of you," he growled hoarsely.
"Or what? Gonna get lover boy to come and defend your honor, faggot. You really think Id let a little pervert like you suck me off. Youve probably got STDs anyway."
"I dont need Ellison to look after me, Blake. You or your friends come near me again, and Ill make sure you pay."
"Blair!" The voice made him shudder and the world shimmered and grayed out for a moment, before he shook himself and straightened up, holding on to the cubicle door for support. He saw the door handle turn and then Jim pounded on the door. "Sandburg? Everything okay?"
Sparing another glance at Blake and Daniels, Blair walked shakily to the door and glared at the third man until he stepped aside. The anthropologist opened the door and stepped out, still panting heavily and wavering slightly on his feet.
"You all right, Sandburg?" Jim looked worriedly at his partner; Blairs pallor and rough appearance was obvious.
"Im fine, Ive got to get to class." Blair pushed Jim away with one hand, wincing at the pain in his wrist, and sidled past him but stopped as Blake called his name.
"Here you go, Professor, you forgot your schoolbag," the cop said, holding Blairs bag out by one strap. "Nice talking with you." Blake turned back to his friends grinning hugely. "Somebody should get that door fixed, a person could get stuck in here."
Jim watched Blair walk shakily into the elevator, then turned back to the three cops. He snaked out a strong arm and grabbed Blake by his throat, barreling him back until he was pressed against the far wall. "Let me give you some advice, Blake. You stay away from my partner or youre gonna wish you only had him to deal with. If you even look at him sideways, Ill take you apart with my bare hands. Do we understand each other?"
"Yeah, all right already, Ellison. We were just having a bit of fun with the kid."
Blake pushed Jims hands aside and straightened his shirt, breathing heavily. Taking a backward glance at Jims angry face, he left with his friends.
Blair made it down to his car before he threw up. He knelt on the ground and held onto the bumper as his stomach tried to turn itself inside out, sour bile burning his throat as he retched. He staggered to his feet finally and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand, taking slow, deep breaths to steady his quaking nerves. Snagging a bottle of water from his bag, he washed away the meager evidence of his vomiting and was unlocking his car when he heard Jim calling him. He didnt turn as he heard the detectives footsteps pound up behind him.
"Shit, Blair, are you okay?" Jims voice was tight, worried and Blair finally managed to get his breathing under control enough to face him.
"I told you up there, Jim, Im fine. Just a couple of dickheads getting their laughs with the resident hippie fag. Nothing I cant handle," Blair said quickly.
Jim indicated the concrete. "You threw up."
"Your detective skills never fail to amaze me," Blair answered sarcastically, then held up a hand. "Before you say anything, Im sorry, that was uncalled for."
He finally managed to raise his eyes to look at the detective. "Look, Jim, Ill be fine, really. Ive had worse things done to me by people with a lot more brain cells than those three have together. Im just tired and a little stressed out right now. Ive got to go, Ill be late for class."
Jim reached out a hand to stop him as he moved away. "I wanted to say sorry for what I said upstairs. I was an asshole, I didnt mean it, Sandburg."
"Well, I wont fault your self description. Look, Jim, I dont really know why youre so pissed with me right now. I told you that Id still help you with your senses, if you need anything else you only have to call. I dont have a phone on at my apartment yet, but as soon as things ease up a little, Ill organize it. In the meantime, you have my cell phone number or you can reach me at the university." He smiled wryly. "I would appreciate it if you could keep the dawn summonses to a minimum." He started to turn only to find his arm still held captive by his partner. "What?" he asked exasperatedly.
"Blair, I we need to talk. I mean, really talk, not yell and argue and hurl abuse at each other," Jim said softly.
"I told you, I dont have time right now," Blair answered.
"Tonight? Come by the loft for dinner. Please, Blair, I want to fix this. I want, need things to be right between us," Jim said.
Blair thought a moment. " Not tonight, tomorrow night, though. I can be there at seven." He hesitated and Jim picked up the increase in his heart rate as Blair looked away quickly. "I cant stay long though, Ive got something else I have to do later in the evening."
That said, he got into his car and drove out of the garage.
Jim stood watching until the vehicle disappeared from view.
"Shit!" Turning, he kicked angrily at the metal ashtray resting against the wall, watching butts and clouds of gray ash spray out. "What the hell are you hiding, Chief?"
Blair was drained by the time he dragged himself wearily into the pub that night. He was greeted enthusiastically by several customers but shrugged off well meaning offers of drinks and conversation. He let himself in behind the bar and poured a cup of coffee. Finding a small dark corner to wait until his shift began, he sipped at the bitter scalding liquid.
"Man, you are the bravest person I know," Steve Davis, the barman said, shaking his head.
"Hows that, Steve?" Blair asked.
Steve leant close, placing a fatherly hand on Blairs shoulder. "You are the only employee that drinks that stuff. I have it on good authority that Mark uses it as a cleaning solvent."
Blair snorted and grinned at the older man. "Trust me on this, man, I am a connoisseur of bad coffee." He sipped again from the cup and smacked his lips as though to prove his point.
"You okay, Blair? You really dont look well," Steve asked, peering closely at the anthropologist over his rimless glasses. "I can do your shift for you tonight, if you want. Robs gone away for the weekend on some business junket, so Im in no hurry to go home."
Blair shook his head and, setting the coffee cup on the bar, donned his apron. "Thanks for the offer, Steve, Im fine. Just a little personal problem I need to sort out. Besides my rents due. Gotta work to keep the wolf from the door."
"I hear that," Steve replied as he gathered a tray of glasses to take through to the kitchen. "Mind you, Robs always telling me that I dont need to work, that he earns more than enough to keep both of us. As I said to him, true, though that it is, I still have my pride. Im not going to be anybodys kept man."
"I am so down with that," Blair agreed. He stifled a yawn as he waved the older man out. "Ill see you tomorrow night, man. Take it easy."
Blair worked solidly through the remainder of his shift, grateful that the place was busy enough for him not to have time to think about Jim. The memory of Jims angry face sneering at him caused him to shudder. He hadnt thought that Jim would interpret his leaving as betrayal. That the sentinel would think that their partnership had simply been a means to an end all along. God, the whole thing was just so totally fucked up.
"Can I get another scotch here?"
The voice filtered through his thoughts and Blair looked up from wiping down the bar. "Im sorry, sir, my mind was wandering." He poured the drink and put the glass down in front of the customer.
"You polish that bar anymore and theyll be able to use it as a mirror." The smile came from a handsome, lightly tanned face and brown eyes sparkled with amusement. Blair found it easy to smile back.
"Sorry," the anthropologist said again. He began to move away, but a hand on his arm stopped him.
"Looks like its been a long night. Can I buy you a drink when you finish?"
"No, thanks," Blair replied. "Ive got to get home. I have an early class in the morning."
"Youre a student?"
"Yes, and a teaching assistant at the university. Thanks for the offer, though."
"Just one drink. I was supposed to meet someone here, a blind date." The man wrinkled his nose and looked embarrassed. "Seems as though he got cold feet."
"Look, I think youve got the wrong idea," Blair said, his face reddening. "Im not Im not gay." He indicated the men scattered through the bar, then shook his head.
The man was insistent. "Im only asking to buy you a drink, nothing more. It would make my trip worthwhile at least, save face for me. You should see the looks Ive been getting. Poor schmucks been stood up, what a loser. This way, I can leave with my head up."
Blair shook his head again and picked up a tray of dirty glasses. "Im sorry. Ive got to go."
The man shrugged and pulled a cigarette from the crumpled pack on the bar. "Sure, whatever. You got a light?"
With a barely discernable sigh, Blair put the tray down and reached for a book of matches. He lit the cigarette, feeling uncomfortable as the man leaned in toward him.
"Can I get you anything else?" he asked as he extinguished the match.
The customer shook his head. "No, thanks. Youve been more than helpful."
Blair smiled and turned back to his task. After depositing the glasses in the washer out back, he headed back to the bar and proceeded to close up for the night. Most of the customers had already left but the blond man still sat at the bar, smoking a cigarette.
"Were closing up now," Blair told him. "Youll have to leave.
The man nodded and stood, grinding his butt out in the ashtray. He saluted Blair with one hand and turned to the door. "See you around."
"Not if I see you first," Blair muttered. He drained the remainder of his coffee, grimacing at the bitter aftertaste and set about wiping down the tables before locking the doors. Twenty minutes later, he was finished and he headed out back to his car with a sigh of relief. He felt exhausted and a little dizzy but put it down to lack of sleep and too little food. His concern about Jim wasnt helping matters either. As he neared his car, his legs threatened to give way beneath him and the anthropologist stumbled along, his head drooping lower with each step. His befuddled brain suddenly sensed the presence of other men who approached him rapidly, and catching at his arms, began to steer him toward a dark sedan.
"You picked a real pretty one this time, Paul," a voice said. "You gonna come party with us, sweet thing?"
"Shut up, you moron," the man on the other side hissed. "No names, remember? Sometimes I wonder why I keep you around."
"Come on, its not as though hes going to remember anything. Hes pretty doped up. You didnt give him too much, did you? Hes no good to the boss if hes comatose or dead." The strangers voice echoed in Blairs pounding head and he struggled weakly to free himself from the vice-like grip.
"Wha no," Blair succeeded finally in wrenching his arm out of his captors grasp. He staggered three steps before he felt himself falling and his last conscious thought was of Jim.
Blair woke to cold and the sour stench of vomit and stale beer. He managed to force his leaden muscles to move and was able to pull himself up so that he was leaning against a Dumpster. His head was pounding and he felt shaky and sick. Feeling something sharp dig into his feet, he looked down to see that he was barefoot and standing in a pile of refuse and broken glass. His bleary gaze traveled upward and he saw that his jeans were on but pulled up only as far as his hips, unbuttoned and filthy. He had no idea where his shirt was and he shivered in the night chill. Looking around, he saw his car parked in its usual spot about fifty feet away.
The bar was locked up for the morning and looked deserted. Deciding that he would never make it to his car, he stumbled toward a door on the opposite side of the alley. He leaned against it, as nausea overwhelmed him and he began to vomit. As blackness threatened once more, he slid down the door and rolled to his side as the heaving became more forceful and he fought for breath. He heard the door open and a gasp of surprise then muttered foreign words were spoken.
"Please help me," Blair whispered, one hand reaching up to grasp at the leg on the periphery of his vision. His hand was slapped away and he moaned in misery and fear as he heard the door slammed shut.
Then blackness filled his vision and he felt his awareness trickling away. The observer squeezed his eyes shut, allowing the hot tears to trickle down his cheeks and mingle with the blood that dripped off his chin. He lay in a pool of dirty water, his vision slowly graying out and mercifully taking with it, his pain.
Jim slammed down the phone receiver and turned back to the kitchen to put the now cold lasagne in the refrigerator before it spoiled. "Damn you, Sandburg," he muttered angrily, tossing the unused cutlery into the drawer with a crash. "I thought you said we could talk. Well, fuck you. Guess this proves I was right. Got what you needed for your dissertation and a nice cozy roof over your head while you finished it, then you just leave without so much as a kiss my ass."
Even as he spoke them, Jim knew the words were untrue, but his stubborn mind refused to put into words what Blairs actions in the past few weeks had translated. He knew deep down that Blair was feeling an overwhelming guilt that Jim was supporting him. The detective had given him a cell phone, organized new tires for his car and ensured his credit card remained topped up. It was a small thing he thought he could do in return for the time Blair sacrificed helping with his senses. Jim knew there were times that Blair rarely slept or ate but never complained. Jim felt his material reimbursement was small recompense for the hours that Blair devoted to him as his guide. The ringing of the phone interrupted Jims black thoughts. "Finally," he said as he strode to answer it. "Sandburg? Where the hell are you?"
"Sorry, Jim, its me, Simon," his captain said.
Jim sighed and sat down on the edge of the coffee table. "What can I do for you, Captain?"
"I take it you havent spoken to Sandburg today, Jim?" Simon asked.
"No sir, I havent," Jim replied. "He was supposed to meet me here tonight for dinner, but he didnt show. Hes not in his office and his cell phone is turned off."
"Actually, Jim, its Sandburg that I need to talk to you about. Could you come down to the station?" Simon replied.
"Has something happened to him?" Jims heart shot into his throat at the thought.
"Not as far as I know, Jim, just some information Ive been given."
"Whats going on, Simon?" Jim felt his heart accelerate with an inexplicable fear. "Cant you tell me over the phone? Besides Blair might still show up," Jim protested.
"He has your cell phone number, Jim. Look, its important, Ill see you here in twenty minutes." Abruptly the line went dead and Jim hung the receiver up.
"Shit, Sandburg, what the hell have you gotten into this time?" Jim fretted. He grabbed his jacket off the hook by the door and left, slamming the door behind him. He was halfway to his truck when the phone in the apartment rang again and he hesitated for a moment, then shook his head and continued on, knowing the answering machine would pick it up.
Jim walked into the bullpen just as Simon was ushering a tall, blond man into his office. He looked up as he saw Jim out the corner of his eye and motioned for him to join them.
"Hey, Jim, how are you doing, man?" Ronnie Russell held out his hand in greeting.
"Ronnie, good to see you," Jim answered, shaking the proffered hand. "You sick of the Violent Crimes Unit? Or are you looking to take over my job?"
"None of the above, Jim," Ronnies blue eyes twinkled as he held up both hands in a gesture of denial. "I wanted to check out a couple of things with Simon, and he thought we should wait until you got here."
Jim looked at the police captain. "Whats this got to do with Blair, Simon?"
"Im hoping you could tell us, Jim," Simon said. "The V.C. unit has been running a surveillance op on gay bars downtown, trying to nail a date rape scam, thats been going for the last couple of months. Ronnie, you want to take it from here?"
The vice cop nodded and leaned forward in his seat. "Weve had a couple of reports that guys are being picked up in gay bars, drugged with Roofies or GBH, then taken elsewhere and raped. The kicker is that photos and videos are being taken and released for sale to selected individuals for a substantial sum of money. The victims are usually released in the same area they were taken from, generally unharmed."
"Roofies, thats Rohypnol, isnt it?" Jim asked. "Doesnt that stuff cause amnesia?"
Ronnie nodded. "Usually at least blackouts. Coupled with alcohol, it can cause total short term memory loss, not to mention, respiratory depression, death from aspiration of vomit."
"So, where did your information come from?" Jim asked. He stood and began to pace, not liking where this conversation was headed.
"Most guys, gay or not, dont report rapes, Jim. Its generally downplayed, the common assumption being that a man cant be raped, because theyre too strong. For most guys, its too embarrassing, anyway, so nothing gets done. One of my snitches gave me a lead on some videos that were being sold. We raided the place and got the manager on charges, but hes really scared, man. Hes not talking. About two weeks ago, though, a guy was taken from a bar, then dropped back virtually at the front door early the next day. He called his boyfriend to come get him. Theyd had a fight and the guy had gone to the pub and gotten seriously drunk before he was picked up. Apparently, the guy was pretty sick and when they got to the hospital, the boyfriend said hed seen people on Roofies before and asked them to test him for it. It came back positive. Seems the guy was pretty bad there for a while and the doctor and lover were concerned enough to call us."
"Whats all this got to do with Blair?" Jim asked nervously.
"Weve been watching a couple of bars, the word is that one of the guys were looking for goes by the name of Paul Ferretti, but the guys not known here. Hes new to town and we cant get a handle on him. I was down at The Nest on surveillance the other night, Jim. Sandburg was there, working behind the bar," Ronnie said, uncomfortably.
"Thats bullshit!" Jim fumed. "Sandburgs got his work cut out for him just doing his stuff at the University and coming in here." Jim stopped suddenly, as his minds eye began to put together a picture. Blair, exhausted and bad tempered, asking him to keep the early morning calls to a minimum, telling him that he had something to do late tonight. Jim had been wondering how he was finding rent money; it was obvious that Blair was barely scraping enough together to pay Jim.
"Jim, I know Sandburg, it was him. The problem is, he knows me, too. I want him out of there. I want to catch this guy and if Blair tips him off as to who I am " Ronnie didnt need to finish the statement. He stood up and walked to the door. "Im not saying hed do it deliberately, Jim. But he doesnt know about this operation. I thought that Major Crimes was running a surveillance of their own and came down to ask Simon to call it off. I gotta go. Talk to him, Jim and get him the hell out of there. If something goes down, I dont want him caught in the middle."
Jim nodded and ran a hand through his cropped hair. "I appreciate your concern, Ronnie. Ill talk to him."
The cop nodded and left and Jim turned to Simon. "Im sorry, sir, I had no idea. I dont know what the hell is going on."
"Have you spoken to him yet?"
Jim shook his head. "Like I said, he was supposed to come to the loft for dinner. He didnt show and I cant get hold of him."
"Have you been around to his apartment?" Simon asked.
Jim shook his head again. "Hes been avoiding giving me the address."
"And?" Simon quizzed.
Jim sighed and had the grace to look uncomfortable. "The way I was feeling about him moving out, I probably gave him the impression I didnt give a shit."
"Find him, Jim, talk to him about this stuff from Russell. He may have something to offer on that anyway. Then get this other thing sorted out one way or the other. Dont bring him back to the precinct until you do."
"Yes, sir." Jim turned to leave, then stopped as his cell phone rang. Pulling it from his pocket, he answered. "Ellison."
"Detective Ellison, my name is Steve Davis. I work at a bar called The Nest on the south side of town."
Jim felt a shiver of fear snake down his spine and his throat tightened so that he had to force the words out. "Ive heard of it. What can I do for you, Mr. Davis and how did you get my cell phone number?"
"Ive got Blair here, Detective. We work together at The Nest. Look," Steve lowered his voice, "Blair doesnt know Im calling you. I found him out back of the bar around five oclock when I came to open up. Hed been beaten up. He didnt want me to tell anybody about this, but Im worried about him. Whoever did this roughed him up pretty badly. Hes sleeping right now. I went through his wallet and found your card. I remember him telling me he did some kind of work with the police."
"Im on my way," Jim interrupted. "Whatever happens, keep him there, please."
"Dont worry, Detective, I seriously doubt Blairs capable of going anywhere under his own steam for some time. Thanks."
The detective waved away Simons inquiring look and headed for the door. "Ill explain later, Simon. Ive got to go."
He arrived at the bar a short time later, having flouted most of the road rules to get there in record time. He parked out back next to Blairs car and found Steve waiting for him at the back door to the bar.
"Thanks for coming," Steve said. "Though I doubt Blair will thank me. When hes made any sense at all, its been Dont tell Jim. Hes back here." Steve led the way down a darkened narrow corridor. Rooms led off each side, doors partly opened, Jim could see that they were used for storage.
"Oh Jesus," Jim whispered, his mouth dry and his eyes tearing with sudden moisture. Blair stood with his back to the door, wavering slightly on his feet. Jim could already see the bruising peppering the younger mans back and sides, snaking down to disappear under the waistband of his soiled jeans. Blair turned at Jims whispered exclamation and lost his balance, his knees buckling under him. Jim was at his side in two quick paces; placing a strong arm around his partners waist and easing him down to sit on the edge of the bed.
"Easy, buddy. Ive got you," he croaked, his voice rough with emotion.
"Hey Jim, Im okay," Blair said, pushing away the detectives hands as they ghosted over his body, checking for injuries.
"This is okay?" Jim asked, his hands still brushing gently over Blairs body. His partners face seemed to have taken the worst of the beating. Both eyes were blackened and one was almost swollen shut and cuts and abrasions traveled the length of one bruised cheek. Blairs bottom lip was gashed and swollen, still oozing blood. Turning his attention to Blairs torso, Jim dialed down his sense of smell to escape the nauseating mix of vomit, blood and stale sex. Steve had cleaned the dirt from Blairs body but the odors remained. Both of the younger mans hands were scraped and several fingernails were torn.
"What happened, Chief?" Jim asked, his hand resting on Blairs shoulder, the fingers unconsciously stroking a soothing pattern along the bruised flesh.
Blair closed his eyes at the sensation; almost surrendering to the exhaustion that was tugging at his body and soul. "Mmm, nothing happened. There was a fight, I tried to break it up, I got caught in the middle." He opened his eyes and made an effort to stand up, using Jims arm as support. "Can we do this later, Jim? Im tired, I just want to go home and crash."
Jim sighed, then turned to look at Steve. "Can we have a minute alone, please?"
"Sure," Steve replied, "Ive got to get back to the bar. Ill talk to you later, Blair. Your shifts covered, dont come back until youre feeling better. Well figure out something to pay your rent, okay?"
Blair reddened but nodded, then looked around the room. "Wheres my shirt, man?"
"You didnt have it on when I found you," Steve answered. "Theres a set of sweats there, take those."
"Thanks man," Blair said. He turned back to Jim and spoke softly. "Would you mind, Jim? Id like to get dressed."
"Ill wait outside, buddy. Just call if you need help. Then Ill take you to the hospital to get checked out."
"No!" The word was out almost before Jim finished his sentence.
"What do you mean no, Sandburg? Youve had the shit beaten out of you, and God only knows what else. If you think Im buying the bar room brawl routine, youve got another thing coming. Youre going to the hospital even if I have to knock you out and drag you there and then " Jim paused and took a deep breath. "Sorry. Ive got no right to tell you what to do after I ran you out of your own home."
Blairs eyes widened at the admission. "You didnt kick me out, Jim. I chose to leave."
"The end result was the same," Jim replied. "We need to talk, Chief. I cant have this wall between us anymore. And I cant forgive myself for the way Ive been treating you, but first you need to see a doctor. I dont think I can treat the kind of injuries you have and you could be bleeding internally. Please, let me take to the hospital."
Blair lowered himself gingerly to the bed and reached for the borrowed sweatpants. "I think youre right. I really dont feel very good."
Quickly, Jim helped Blair get changed, then placed an arm around his shoulders to help him out to the truck. Blair could not stifle the groan of pain as he struggled to pull himself up into the cab. He finally managed to crawl inside with Jims assistance, then moaned as he sat upright on the seat.
"Jesus, Blair, what is it?" Jim hurried around to the drivers side and climbed in, reaching to examine his partner more closely. Blair sat, listing to the side, his breath coming in harsh grunts, his pale features coated in sweat.
"Damn, that hurts, man," Blair moaned softly. "Id forgotten " He broke off suddenly and turned his face to the door, wrapping his arms protectively about his bruised body.
Jim caught him by one shoulder and turned him gently to face him. "What did you forget, Blair?"
Blair sighed then and hunched further into the seat, leaning to lie against the passenger door. Jim wrapped a strong arm about the shaking shoulders and pulled him closer. "Its time we started being honest with each other, Chief. Otherwise, were just going to end up back where we started. What really happened, Blair? Who did this to you?"
Blair did not speak for long moments. He lay, soaking up the warmth and safety of his partners embrace, letting himself drift to the soothing cadence of Jims heartbeat.
"Blair? Are you still with me?" Jim became worried when Blair didnt answer and wondered if he should have called for an ambulance. Finally, Blair roused himself with apparent difficulty.
The anthropologist sighed and then pushed himself out of Jims hold, biting his lip as the movement seemed to stir fresh pain through his body. "I dont remember what happened. All I do recall is waking up in the alley. Steve was shaking me, asking whod hurt me. I dont remember a lot of it. Was I drunk? I must have been. Steve said I was. I dont remember having a drink before I went home. I was so tired, Id worked that night till 1, then came in to do the report and then went straight to Rainier. What then? Oh right, um, then I did some research. See, Ive been trying to tie in this guide thing. Theres nothing written anywhere about guides." He smiled a little. "Figures. Youre the one doing all the work."
"Thats bullshit," Jim interrupted. He pulled back as Blair flinched at his raised voice and he gripped the steering wheel in a white-knuckled grip. "Thats what started all of this in the first place. You think that youre not an important part of the partnership. And worse, I let you go on thinking it." He turned to face his partner. "Blair, if I didnt have these senses, Id be just like you."
"If you didnt have these senses, we wouldnt have met," Blair said.
Jim shrugged. "Who knows. Maybe we would have met because of something else. Maybe, its the meeting thats important, not the sentinel stuff."
"Youre starting to sound like me," Blair said and smiled. He winced as the action caused a split in his lip to reopen. Seeing the blood well up reminded Jim of more important things and he started the truck.
"First things first," he said as he steered out of the alleyway. "Hospital, then talk. Do you feel up to telling me what happened next."
Blair nodded then thought for a moment. "I went to The Nest, after that it all gets pretty blurry. You know me, Jim, one beers enough to put me on my face, if I havent slept much, but I really dont remember having anything to drink except coffee. Steve said something. He said something about me being brave to drink the coffee." Blair went quiet and Jim looked at him worriedly.
"Blair? You all right."
"I hurt down there, like someone forced something into me," Blair whispered, beginning to shake; his hands signing ineffectually as he struggled to draw in air.
Jim sat him upright and began to stroke his back in soothing circles with one hand. "Easy, Chief, Ive got you, keep breathing, youre going to be fine."
After long moments, Blairs breathing became easier and he drifted off to sleep, lying curled up against Jims chest, clutching the detectives shirt like a lifeline.
Jim ushered Blair through the front door of the loft and led him over to the couch. His guide was almost out on his feet and the fine lines of tension marring his bruised face bore testimony to his pain. The detective helped the young man to curl over on his side and pulled the afghan from the back of the seat to drape over his shivering body. Blair sighed in contentment and huddled further under the blanket, finally allowing himself to give in to his exhaustion and the effects of the analgesic injection that had been administered at the hospital.
The doctor had said Blair had been lucky to escape with fairly minor injuries. Most male rape victims had severe injuries to the rectum and anus. Blair had been badly beaten and had defensive wounds on his hands, indicating that hed attempted to stop the attack. His rectum and anus had suffered some deep tears caused by rough penetration and the doctor had sutured them and prescribed an antibiotic ointment.
They still had to wait a few days on the results of blood tests for HIV and other STDs. That possibility was something that Jim didnt even want to consider at the moment. Just the thought that the bastards could have infected Blair with something made Jims stomach churn and he forced the idea from his mind, for now. The only up side in the whole sordid mess was that the semen stains on Blairs jeans were sufficient for DNA testing. That was providing, of course that whoever did this to his guide got to trial and Jim didnt get his hands on the fuckers first.
"Blair?" Jim spoke softly, keeping his voice pitched low and gentle despite the granite like tension clawing through his entire body. His hands fisted at his sides, nails clenching bloody tracks in the palms. He couldnt seem to stop shaking and his throat felt as though it was closing up as he fought to keep the sobs of anguish from escaping. "I need to call Simon, get him to talk to Ronnie Russell about this."
"Im sorry, Jim," Blair whispered, a single tear escaping from beneath his blackened eyelid. "Im sorry about everything, shouldnt have let them do this to me."
Jim brushed the moisture from Blairs cheek with his thumb. "Theres nothing to be sorry for, Blair. You need to rest now, well talk in the morning."
"Okay," Blair sighed and his breathing evened out almost instantly into a deep sleep. Jim phoned Simon who insisted on coming straight over after he had notified Russell of the incident. "All right, Simon, but Im not having him questioned tonight. If he feels up to it, he can give a statement tomorrow."
"Jesus, Jim, what do you take me for? Im worried about the kid," Simon said, his normally booming voice soft, the hurt evident.
"God, Simon, Im sorry. Of course, come on over. Hes sleeping, the doctor gave him some pretty heavy duty painkillers to get him through the examination, helped keep him calm when we took the photos, too," Jim apologized, rubbing his hands over his tired face. He hung up, then pulled an armchair about so it was facing the sofa and close enough that he could enfold Blairs hand within his own. He stroked the cold skin, trying to encourage warmth into the sallow flesh, feeling a chill settle deep within his heart and thinking that he would never be warm again.
Twenty minutes later, Jim detected Simons cigar preceding him into the hallway, but as he stood to open the door, Blair moaned softly and gripped his hand tighter. Jim sighed and seated himself again, contenting himself with calling out to Simon as he knocked on the door. "Come on in, Simon. It's not locked."
Simon let himself in and walked quietly over to where Jim sat. "Hey, Jim, hows he doing?" he said as softly as he could.
"Hes been asleep since we got home, so at least hes not in pain any more." Jim replied, "How he is emotionally, I really dont know. You want a beer?"
"Yeah, thanks," Simon answered. He managed to fold his large frame into a squatting position in front of the couch and perused the sleeping anthropologist. Blair moaned once more and turned onto his back, grimacing in pain before flipping over to face the back of the couch. "Jesus H. Christ," the captain swore, "they really did a number on him."
Jim attempted to stand once more and this time, he was able to extricate his hand from Blairs. Simon followed him into the kitchen and, accepting a beer from the detective with a nod, leaned back against the kitchen counter.
"Okay, this is how we do this," he said firmly, his tone and his gaze brooking no arguments. "We leave this to Russell and his team to investigate." He held up a hand as Jim opened his mouth to interrupt. "No Jim, you can yell, scream, beat your head against the fucking wall, but you are not getting involved in this investigation. If it were Daryl sleeping over there, with his face kicked in, I would be walking away from it myself. I want these bastards, Jim and I am going to make sure that we dot every "i" and cross every "t" to ensure that they stay got. Is that clear, Detective?" He lowered his voice as he heard Blair stir once more and shift restlessly on the couch. "Now you can vent at me all you want, Detective but you lose your temper with that young man over there any more than you have this week and youll deal with me, clear?" The captain glared at Jim until he nodded, then smiled sadly. "I suppose you didnt get a chance to talk to him about the other stuff?"
"Actually, we did talk," Jim answered. "Seems that Blairs got it into his head that hes a nothing, no, worse, an instrument for the use of the mighty sentinel."
"Shit," Simon said, rubbing his face tiredly. "Dont take all the blame here, Jim. I havent exactly given the kid any reason to think he was a worthwhile addition to the team. There have been times when I wonder what we would have done without his knowledge and expertise." He placed his beer bottle on the counter and pulled his keys from his pocket. "Im going to head back to the station, get started on those is and ts. Ill keep Russell off your back until tomorrow, Jim, but youd better bring Sandburg in then to make a statement. If hes not up to coming in, Ill send someone here to the loft."
Simon broke off as Blair yelled the name and looked over Jims shoulder to see the young man sitting bolt upright on the couch, one eye wide and unfocused, the other still swollen shut, giving him a bizarre lopsided look. "You must be tired, Ellison. You didnt hear him wake up."
Jim was already at Blairs side, grasping his hand and whispering softly to the confused young man. Sighing, Simon raised one hand in a gesture of farewell and let himself out.
"Hey, buddy, how are you?" Jim asked, stroking Blairs sweat soaked hair back from his forehead.
"Im okay, Jim. Was that Simon?" Blair mumbled, sleep still coloring his voice.
"Yeah, hes gone back to the station to get things moving."
"What time is it?" Blair asked, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.
Jim checked his watch, then yawned in sympathy. "Its two thirty, Chief. Why dont you go to bed?"
"My dream," Blair said suddenly. "There was another man there, Jim."
"In your dream?" Jim asked.
"No!" Blair said, exasperatedly. "There, in the alley. There was someone else there. Blonde hair, tall, good looking." He looked at his partner and shrugged tiredly. "I know its not a lot to go on, but I remember him."
Jim thought for a moment, then leaned forward, hands resting on his knees. "Do you think you could talk to a police artist in the morning?"
Blair attempted to stifle another yawn, grabbing at his ribs as he did so. "Yeah, sure, I can do that. Im just not sure anymore whats real. Im sure someone else was there."
"Does the name Paul Ferretti sound familiar?" Jim asked.
"No, I dont think I know the name," Blair answered, shaking his head. "Whos Ferretti?"
Jim stood and moved to Blairs side. " Just a name Ronnie Russell was given, hes been hanging around gay bars, selling date rape photos and videos."
"Do you think thats who, who did this to me?" Blair whispered.
Jim rested a comforting hand on his partners shoulder. "Easy, Chief, I really dont know anything for sure yet. Weve got some pretty good forensic evidence from your clothing and the urine test will be back in the morning. Hopefully, you werent out there long enough for the drug to be out of your system. Blair, Im sorry that I treated you so badly. I didnt want you to move out."
Blair shook his head. " Im an adult here, Jim, you couldnt have forced me to stay and I was sure that leaving you was the best thing to do. Its my fault, not yours. I should have talked to you about how I was feeling. The things that you said that night, about me doing housework in lieu of rent, just made me face what Id been thinking about for a long time. Id become too reliant on you for my life. Maybe if wed talked, we could have worked out something that suited us both. But this," he waved a hand over his battered body, "was not your fault. Okay?"
Jim hesitated a moment, then nodded.
"Okay," Blair said, then used Jims arm to pull himself to a standing position. The detective stood as well and placed a supporting arm around his partners waist. "Lets get you into bed, Chief."
"Are you going to bed?"
"In a while," Jim answered. "I have a couple more things to do."
The detective helped Blair into his room and waited while he got as comfortable as he could. "You want me to get you anything?"
Blair shook his head, his eyes already closing in sleep. "m fine. Thanks, Jim."
Jim watched the anthropologist sleep for several minutes before walking out to the living room. Slowly, he wandered around the apartment, closing it up for the night. Then he sat on the couch and laid his head back. Extending his hearing into the other room, he focused on Blairs heart and allowed himself to rest. He did not sleep however, until hints of dawn streaked the sky. He stayed awake; his entire body tense as his memory catalogued the injuries to Blairs body.
By the time Jim woke the next morning, Blair was already up, pacing the loft and taking angry sips from his coffee cup.
"Morning, Chief, how are you feeling?" Jim asked, heading straight for the kitchen for his own fix of caffeine.
Blair continued to pace as he spoke. "I was thinking about that dream. I keep seeing the guy, but the face is blank. I keep having snatches of memories but every time I think Ive got a handle on it, it gets away from me." He emphasized the last sentence with a thump to his chest with a scraped fist, then raised his hand to scrub at his face. "Then again, I dont know if I want to remember. I want them to get caught so they cant do this to anyone else, but I dont want the memories, Jim. I dont think I can live with that."
Blair looked so afraid that Jim felt his Blessed Protector surge into being and he reached out and hugged the younger man. "Ill help you get through this, Blair and well make sure whoever did this, pays."
Blair suddenly pushed away from Jims grasp. "Oh God, Jim, they. There wasnt just one person there, there were two."
"Okay, Chief, thats good, really good. Dont push it and maybe youll remember more," Jim said as he went into the kitchen to pour himself another cup of coffee. "Keep in mind, though, you were tired out of your skull and probably drugged. Your memories are coming back a little at a time, but you have to understand that you may never remember all of it. This drug you were given causes short-term memory loss and has been known to cause full amnesia."
As he opened the fridge to find something for breakfast, the phone rang and he watched as Blair hobbled over to answer it, his injuries still protesting every move.
"Simon? Im okay, man. No, really, Im fine." Blair paused a moment and Jim didnt have to dial up his hearing to hear Simons concerned voice come spilling from the handset. He saw Blair shudder from his head to his toes at the same time as all the color drained from his face. Jim was at his side as his legs buckled beneath him and caught him easily, lowering him in one smooth movement to the couch and raising Blairs feet up on the arm of the chair.
"Easy, buddy, are you okay?" he asked, as he stroked the hair back from Blairs ashen face.
Blair nodded, his eyes closed and offered up the hand still clutching the phone to Jim. "Tell Simon Im sorry." he whispered.
Jim accepted the phone and spoke for a few minutes with his Captain. Hanging up the phone, he turned once more to Blair and spoke softly. "Okay, Sandburg, thats it. They arrested a guy in the act of dragging a guy out the back of another gay bar. Detective Russell is working on him now to give up the other names in the racket." Jim smiled gently at his partner.
" Do I still have to give a statement?" Blair asked.
"Fraid so, buddy, but we have forensic evidence plus well get this guys statement and yours. I think we can put these animals away," Jim answered.
It was mid morning before Blair was ready to go and Jim got the distinct impression that the anthropologist was stalling for time. "Come on, Sandburg, we havent got all day," Jim griped as Blair disappeared into his bedroom once more to change his shirt. Blair emerged from his room two minutes later and stood, leaning against the doorjamb.
"Will the guy they arrested be there?"
"I dont think so, Chief." Jim answered. "If he is, well put you in Simons office and take your statement there, okay? They might want you to take a look at him though, see if you remember him."
Blair nodded, appearing somewhat mollified. "Are you going to take my statement?"
Jim shook his head. "Sorry, buddy, Simons told me Im strictly off this case."
"Good," Blair said. "I dont have to worry about you losing it then, do I?"
"Can we go already, Chief?" Jim asked, ushering the young man toward the door.
Blair stood his ground. "Jim?"
"No, Sandburg," Jim sighed. "I wont lose it."
By the time Jim parked the truck in the underground garage of the police station, Blair was rigid with tension. His hands were fisted on his thighs, his fingers curled hard into the flesh. Jim winced in sympathy and reached over to pull both of Blairs hands into his. "Easy, Chief, youre going to leave bruises. Its going to be okay," he said.
Blair took a deep breath and smiled shakily. "I guess. Its almost over now, isnt it? Come on, lets go do this."
The trip up to Major Crimes took twice as long than usual, not only because Blair was still moving slowly. Several times, they were stopped by other officers expressing concern at Blairs injuries and quietly offering to fix the bastards who did it. With a mildly exasperated groan, Jim pulled his partner away from yet another pretty girl offering to make him chicken soup or grandmas cure for black eyes and led the young man toward the bullpen. "If you want me to take the afternoon off, Chief, we need to get a move on."
"Sorry, Jim," Blair said, "but its nice, you know. I didnt know this many people liked me."
"Whats not to like, Sandburg?" Jim growled affectionately.
Jim settled Blair solicitously at his desk while he went to let Simon know that theyd arrived. Blair moaned theatrically at Jims hovering but secretly he was pleased, he didnt think he wanted to be left alone at the moment. Even the night before, in his room, the shadows brought vague memories and terrifying images to mind. He tried to quell his quaking nerves, telling himself that the arrested man would give up the other names and it would all be over in a few days.
By the time Andy Davis came to get him, Blair was feeling calmer. It helped knowing the suspect was elsewhere and that Jim would not be in on the statement taking. He knew that his partner would no doubt eavesdrop on the proceedings but that made Blair feel more secure. Knowing Jim would hear perversely gave him a sense of security. Blair knew that if Jim thought his partner was in trouble at all, hed step in, regardless of Simons orders.
In the end, and perhaps surprisingly to Blair, Andy Davis and his partner, John Curran were patient and polite. Their questions were concise and Blair simply had to state the few details he could remember. He apologized several times for not being able to recall more information, especially detailed descriptions of his attackers, feeling his face reddening as he mumbled, "I guess it was the tiredness and the drugs combined."
Andy Davis patted his shoulder as he helped the young man to stand. "Dont sweat it, Blair. Remember, youre the victim here. With any luck, this guy will break soon and maybe youll remember more later. You just make sure you call us straight away if anything else comes to mind, no matter how insignificant it may seem. You may find with the stuff you were given, that you have to filter out the real memories from other hallucinations, especially after your exposure to Golden." He shifted uncomfortably as he spoke. "Why dont you wait outside and Ill see if Ronnie wants you take a look at this guy?"
Blair wandered back to the bullpen once his interview was over, being stopped more than once by well wishers and dropped into his seat at Jims side, feeling as though a heavy weight had been removed from his shoulders. Jim smiled over at him. "So, howd it go?"
"Like you dont know," Blair said.
"Are you accusing me of listening in, Chief?" Jim whispered.
"You know you were," Blair whispered back. "But Im glad you were."
Jim smiled and tidied the papers on his desk. "Let me clear it with Simon and well get out of here. Want to stop somewhere for lunch?"
Blair shook his head and smiled. "Im not very hungry," he said.
The observer busied himself powering up the computer and searching for their current case files while Jim went to speak with Simon. Voices from Simons office caused him to look up and Blair froze suddenly, the color draining from his face. He felt tears sting his eyes as he saw Simon, then Jim shake hands with the blond man leaving the office and then he was fighting for breath and his whole body shook as though in the grip of a seizure. He bent his head as the man walked past him, praying that this was a vision, a figment of a stressed mind.
"Hey, Blair, how are you doing?" The voice was close to his ear and Blair could feel the hot breath that swirled around his lobe, like before, like the last time. Without conscious thought, he propelled himself from the chair, his agility belying his injuries, and launched himself at the man.
"You bastard, you fucking bastard," Blair screamed as he and the other man tumbled to the ground in a flurry of arms and legs. The observer landed on top and began to pummel his target with his still bruised fists, his blind rage causing most of his blows to be easily deflected. Blair felt strong arms envelope him from behind and pin his arms to his sides and he screamed in frustration as he was pulled off the other man. He lashed out with his feet as he was dragged away and managed to land a well-aimed kick to the others face. The blond man held his hands up to shield his face but did not fight back and then scrambled from under the smaller man, gratefully accepting Simons helping hand.
"Easy buddy, easy buddy," Jim soothed over and over as he held the struggling man to him and lowered them both gently to the floor. Within a short time, Blairs energy was exhausted and he slumped in Jims arms, a low keening moan issuing from his raw throat.
"What the hell was that about, Sandburg?" Simon yelled, causing Blair to flinch. He stood slowly with Jims assistance and looked around, becoming aware of the startled looks of the crowd of people surrounding them. Suddenly he shook off Jims hands and raced out the door, brushing by the man he had attacked, who stood holding a white handkerchief to his bleeding lip.
"Shit! Blair! Im sorry, Simon, Ronnie. Ill go sort this out and get back to you," Jim said as he moved to follow his partner. He squeezed Ronnies shoulder as he went past and then extended his hearing to track Blair. Mens room
Jim pushed the door to the mens room open softly, not wanting to startle his partner further. Blair sat huddled in the far corner of the room, his back pressed into the corner where two walls met and his knees hunched up under his chin. His arms were wrapped protectively about his ribs as his chest heaved in great, convulsive, silent sobs. Jim felt his own control begin to slip at the devastating sight and gritted his jaw hard, taking slow, deep breaths to fight off the spiral down into despair. "Oh, Blair," he whispered.
Blair looked up at the sound and he seemed to collapse in on himself, his body shuddering in misery. "So sorry, Jim, so sorry," he sobbed.
Jim was at his side in a split second and he sat on the cold tiled floor and gathered the trembling body close. "Its okay, its not your fault. No harm done, its okay." He rocked gently as he spoke, hoping to quiet the younger man. After several minutes of silence, save for Jims murmured assurances and the steady drip of a leaking faucet, Blair sighed, a deep gut wrenching sigh that seemed to come from deep within his soul.
"I thought it was him, the one in my dream." He shook his head firmly, punching Jim lightly on the arm. "No, not in my dream. There, he was there, Jim. In the alleyway, he was there." He leaned back then and looked at the detective, his eyes swollen and red.
"The guy you attacked is Ronnie Russell, hes a detective in the Violent Crimes Unit. He cant have been there, Chief. He came here the night I came to get you from the bar. Asked me to tell you to stay away from there while they were investigating this Feretti guy. He was worried youd make him and either screw up the operation or get hurt. It cant have been Ronnie, Blair. Hes a good guy, one of the best. You met him before at the Christmas party, maybe youre just getting old and new memories confused in your head."
"I dont remember him," Blair said, shaking his head. "Everythings mixed up, who was there when Steve found me?"
"No one else," Jim replied.
"Right, okay," Blair nodded his head as though trying to convince himself. "Im tired, Jim, can we go home now?"
"No problem," Jim replied. He waited while Blair washed his face and straightened his clothes, then held the door open for the young man and headed back toward the bullpen. Blair hung back and Jim finally sensed his reluctance and stopped. "Why dont you go hail the elevator, Chief. Ill speak to Simon and grab your backpack."
Blair smiled gratefully and nodded, turning to head the other way.
The ride home was made mostly in silence as Jim concentrated on the traffic and tried not to think about Blairs breakdown. Blair dozed, scrunched into the corner of the truck, his head lolling against the side window. As soon as they entered the loft, the anthropologist headed for his room. "Im going to get some sleep."
"Do you want to try to eat something first?" Jim asked as he watched his partner lie carefully down on his bed.
Blair shook his head. "Not hungry."
Jim watched for a moment, then walked up to the bed and bent to pull Blairs shoes from his feet. As the young man rolled to his side with a sigh, Jim pulled the covers from the end of the bed and laid them over him, then left, closing the door behind him.
The cry startled Jim and he dropped the handful of cutlery to the table with a clatter and sprinted into Blairs room. The loft was in semi darkness, but Jim could see that the bed was empty, the sheets and blankets twisted in disarray. "Blair?" Jim quickly scanned the room and then saw the young man curled up against the wall, scrunched almost into the closet. The detective made his way quickly to his partners side and knelt, slowly extending one hand to rub gently along the dazed mans arm. "Blair? You with me? Its only a dream, only a dream."
Blair suddenly stiffened and his eyes opened wide as he looked around the room, his gaze finally settling on Jim. "Jim? Oh man, Im sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry for, Chief," Jim said gently. "You have ample reason for nightmares." He helped Blair up, noting how he hissed in pain at the movement and made a mental note to get some food and pain tablets into him. Leading the way to the bed, he encouraged the young man to sit down, then draped a bathrobe over the shivering body.
Jim sat beside him and spoke softly. "Do you think, maybe, you need to talk to someone about the attack. The department offers counseling, try to get it all straight in your head. You need to stop blaming yourself too, Blair. You didnt deserve this, you were raped."
Blair shook his head again. "Uh-uh, no way, Jim. Ive done my time on the therapists couch, man. Besides, I dont need a shrink. Ive got you to talk to."
"O-okay then," Jim said slowly. "In that case, are you prepared to talk to me now about whats been happening between you and Blake and Daniels, and to tell me exactly what happened the other night, all that you can remember?"
Blair stood and thought a moment. "Let me grab a shower, you can make some coffee, then well talk."
"Let me add food to that and its a deal," Jim agreed.
Twenty minutes later, Jim sat opposite Blair at the table and watched the young man toy with his sandwich. "Why didnt you tell me that Blake and Daniels had been giving you a hard time, even before that day in the mens room?"
"Because it wasnt something I couldnt handle," Blair said. "Since Ive been working with you, I get that sort of thing all the time. Usually, I just blow it off or throw some derogatory remark back at them that their small minds cant even comprehend. That day, though, that day was different." He shivered suddenly, wrapping his arms about himself, rubbing his hands briskly up and down his upper arms. "Is it cold in here?"
"Not really, no," Jim replied. "Why dont I put the fire on though." He moved over to the fireplace and pulled the lighter from the basket. Crouching down as he worked, he looked over his shoulder. "Why was that day different?"
"I dont know. I just knew that from the moment I realized they were there, that it was a whole lot more serious than a name calling session. I put it down initially to me being stressed from the argument wed had," he smiled apologetically at his partner. "But it wasnt that. Maybe it was the fact that they had Mortens with them guarding the door." He shook his head fervently. "No, not that, it was Blake. It was the look on his face, in his eyes. I knew he wanted to hurt me."
Jim returned to his seat at the table but this time, sat next to Blair, taking one cold hand in his. "What happened that night?"
Blair took a deep breath and spoke softly. "I went to work till one am. When I finished, I finished my coffee and left. No, wait. There was a guy at the bar. He was interested in me. He wanted me to have a drink with him. I said no and when I came back from taking something out back, he was gone. Could that have been when he slipped the stuff in my drink?" Blair shivered again and Jim squeezed his hand sympathetically.
"Are you sure you dont remember anything at all after working your shift?" Jim asked.
"No! I told you that already," Blair shouted, springing to his feet and beginning to pace the room.
"Thats okay, Chief. Dont push it, well just take it as it comes."
"So do you think thats who the blond guy is?" Blair asked.
"I honestly dont know, Chief but its a good possibility," Jim said. "My best guess would be that youd seen Ronnie Russell at the Christmas party. Somehow, the familiar memory of him is getting mixed up with your memories of the attack. Russells working on getting some pictures or at least descriptions of this Feretti character. Lets see if he tallies with your memories.
Blair nodded slowly. "Yeah, that makes sense."
"Its over now, Chief and all that matters is that youre going to be okay and youre back home, where you belong. Now, eat," Jim ordered, indicating the sandwich, "or the doctors going to want to hook you back up to an IV."
Jim looked up as the phone rang and reached for it. "Ellison. Yeah, Simon, they did? Thats great news." Jim sat up on the couch, placing an arm about Blairs shoulders as he did so. "Okay, give us twenty minutes." He hung up the phone and took a deep breath before turning to Blair. "They got him. Ronnie Russell caught Ferretti red-handed, raping a guy at the address that they were sent to by the perp they arrested this morning. Simon needs you to go down and take a look at the guy, see if you remember him."
"I dont know, Jim," Blair said. "I told you, Im just getting snatches of stuff. What if I can't make him?"
Jim took a deep breath. "Blair, they found evidence there. Photos and videos of Ferretti and Dwyer and their victims." Jim said softly.
"Oh God, oh God. Im on there, arent I?" Blair whispered.
Jim felt his throat close up and could only nod affirmatively. "Im sorry, but at least they can put these guys away now. Theyd still like you to take a look at Ferretti. Ronnie doesnt want to take any chances that this slimy bastard will get off. Hell still go away, Blair. Just give it your best shot, and this time, Im going to stay there with you."
That said, Blair smiled and nodded. "Okay, lets go."
The second trip to the precinct was no less fraught with tension than the previous one had been, but Blair seemed determined to face his demons and get through the ID parade. By the time they made it upstairs; the young man was shaking visibly once more. Jim seated him at his desk and bent over him. "Just relax, Chief, Ill let Simon know were here and get you a cup of tea."
Blair merely nodded, not trusting himself to speak in case he burst into tears. He sat at the desk and fiddled nervously with the strap of his backpack, casting anxious glances into the hallway for a sign of his partner.
"Mr. Sandburg? I have a delivery for you." A young, pretty clerk with curling brown hair and soft blue eyes handed him a large manila envelope with a smile and withdrew. Blair stared at the envelope, puzzled. His name was typed on the front but there were no postal stamps or franking, so it had to have been hand delivered. Blair was still turning it over in his hands when Jim returned with a steaming cup of tea.
"Special delivery, Chief?" he asked, placing the mug in front of his partner.
"Yes, I dont know who its from, though," Blair answered.
"Weve got about ten minutes, so why dont you open it."
Blair slipped his thumb under the sealed edge and tore it along its length. Looking inside, he looked at Jim, then shrugging, reached his hand in and pulled the glossy sheet from within. He held it up and glanced at it, then jerked suddenly backward with a cry of distress, dropping the photo and sending a cascade of tea over the desk.
"Jesus, Blair, what is it?" Jim asked, grabbing at the other mans wrist as Blair backed away toward the door. Blair wrenched his hand from Jims grip and turned blindly, running from the room, almost sweeping Simon off his feet on his way past. Jim caught the photo as it fluttered to the ground and turned it over. "Oh shit, those bastards. Simon, Im going to kill them."
"What the hell is going on, Jim?"
Shaking with anger, Jim held the photo up so the captain could see it. It showed Blair lying naked, on his back, his eyes half closed in a parody of desire, though the unfocused gaze of drug intoxication was obvious to experienced eyes. It also showed a well-built blond man standing between Blairs widespread thighs. Simon placed a hand over his mouth and closed his eyes. "Go see to Sandburg, Jim. Ill deal with this." He held up a hand as Jim opened his mouth to protest. "I gave you an order, Detective. See to your partner and if and when he feels up to it, take him over to do this ID. Then I want you both to take a couple of days off. God knows, Blair could use some down time."
Jim nodded and headed toward the door, not needing his heightened senses to tell him where Blair had gone. He pushed open the door to the mens room and heard Blairs quiet sobbing. As he moved to the stall and pushed the door open, Blair began to retch violently, his hands grasping his stomach as he heaved into the bowl. Jim squatted behind him and rubbed his back in small circles of comfort, reaching a hand up to wipe impatiently at the tears that streamed from his own eyes.
Finally, the young man sat back against his partner, closing his still swollen, reddened eyes. "Im sorry," he whispered. "I wish you hadnt seen that. I dont know how you could ever want me around after seeing that. I should have stopped him. I should have fought harder."
Blairs ramblings became incoherent as his distress took over and Jim gathered the shaking young man to him, trying to soothe him with soft words of assurance. "You are not at fault here, Blair. You were raped and drugged and beaten. The only people to blame are the fuckers who did this to you and the bastards who got hold of these photos. Theyll pay for this, Sandburg, all of them."
The two men sat for a long time until Blair took a slow, deep breath and pushed away from his partner. "Lets finish this up and go home, okay?"
"Were both under orders from Simon to take some down time for a few days." Jim said as he helped Blair up from the floor and handed him a damp towel. "We could go to Simons cabin for a couple of days."
"Really?" Blair said. "He would let us use his cabin?"
"Of course he would," Jim replied, smiling.
As they exited the room, they saw Ronnie Russell approaching. "Jim, Blair. How are you doing, Blair?" he smiled, extending a large hand to the anthropologist.
Blair shook his hand, but kept his gaze downward as he mumbled softly. "Im sorry about earlier, Detective Russell, I dont know what happened."
"Dont worry about it, Blair. When I saw Ferretti, I understood your reaction. The slime looks enough like me to be a relative." He wrinkled his reddened nose in distaste. "Thank God, hes not. You two may as well head on home though, Jim."
"What about the ID, Ronnie?" Jim asked, as they walked toward the bullpen.
"We cant use Blairs identification, Jim. Hes been given the photo, saw Ferretti," he cleared his throat and smiled apologetically at Blair, "raping him. Ferrettis lawyer can say that Blairs ID would be biased by having prior knowledge and sighting the photo. Its okay, though. Weve got enough to get the guy, plenty of videos and photos. God, what a sick bastard. Davis is talking to him now; were trying to get him to give up the rest of the gang and the head honcho. Blair, Ill be in touch. Go get some rest, you look like you need it. Oh, that other matter with the photo? Captain Banks is handling that, as we speak."
Ronnie raised a hand in farewell and headed toward the elevators. Blair looked at Jim and smiled. "Home, big guy?"
Jim nodded and squeezed Blairs shoulder gently. "Home, then cabin, Chief." As they turned and headed back toward the exit, they almost collided with Simon and Henri escorting Tom Blake from the elevator. Blake held a hand to his bleeding nose and glared angrily at Blair. Blair tightened his hold on Jims arm instinctively and looked questioningly at Simon. The police captain shrugged and pushed the cop toward the bullpen. "Officer Blake was leaving the precinct when Detective Brown caught up with him. He fell down the stairs, slipped on all these glossy photos that he had stashed under his jacket."
"Jim?" Blairs voice was soft, almost pleading and Jim turned to him. "Relax, Chief, I am not jeopardizing a few days away at the cabin because of that asshole. Lets go home and pack." Blair grinned happily and preceded his partner into the elevator. Jim glanced back at Blake before following him. The words were Sentinel soft. "Hell keep."
- 20th July, 2001
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