CHASING SHADOWS

By: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

DISCLAIMER: Jim, Blair, Simon and Henri are the property of Petfly and others. The remaining characters are my own to do with as I wish. This fanfic has been written for my own and others’ enjoyment and no money has been paid. No copyright infringement is intended.

CATEGORY: Sequel to "Demons Fought" which in turn was a sequel to "Seasons of the Heart."

RATING: M (V) (L)

WARNINGS: This story deals with the aftermath of rape. Mature themes.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: I had always intended to finish this series by telling what happened to Blake and Daniels who were the ‘bad cops’ in "Seasons of the heart." After all, what good is a bad guy/ crooked cop if you can’t recycle him. Now you know why these guys rarely get killed off until at least the second or third sequel. I thought it was important, to find some closure and healing for Jim and Blair.

Hope you enjoy it. Feedback on or offlist is very welcome.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough that there is mention of adult situations in this story. It is by no means graphic, and if I thought the story could run smoothly without it, I would have left it out. I feel it’s important to the story and explains a lot about the healing that Jim and Blair still needed to do. If this bothers you, please delete the story.

"Chasing Shadows"

"Okay. Any questions?" Blair Sandburg closed the textbook and looked at the young man slumped in the chair next to him.

"Ryan?"

"Mmm? What?" The teenager shook himself and jerked his lanky body upright. Blair smiled and laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

"Any questions?" he asked again.

Ryan pushed his blond hair out of his eyes and shook his head. "Um, no. Thanks, Mr. Sandburg."

He stood and reached down for his backpack, stuffing notes and textbooks haphazardly inside. "See you next week," he said as he turned toward the door.

"I’ll be here," Blair assured him. He accompanied Ryan to the front door of the loft and handed him his jacket. "Ryan? Is everything all right?" Blair asked suddenly.

Ryan looked down at his shoes as he answered. "Everything’s fine."

"It’s just that you weren’t really with it today, man. You look like you haven’t slept for a week."

Ryan shook his head. "I’m fine. I’ve got to get to work."

Blair reached out and grasped Ryan’s arm. "If you need to talk, you know where I am."

Ryan gave him a shaky smile. "Thanks, Mr. Sandburg." He indicated over his shoulder as a bell announced the arrival of the elevator. "I’d better go."

Blair nodded and waved goodbye before going back into the loft and closing the door. A sharp rap on the door startled him from his worried thoughts about Ryan and he hurried over to open it. He looked in surprise at Henri Brown, then glanced at his watch. "Hey, H. Come on in, man. Is it that time already?"

Blair hadn’t forgotten that tonight he and Jim were hosting the weekly poker game but his absorption in Ryan’s lesson and concern over the teenager’s unusual inattention had sidetracked him. His tutoring session with Ryan Martin had gone longer than normal. The teenager had exams coming up and he paid Blair a small fee to tutor him in History.

Blair had mostly recovered from his rape by Paul Ferretti, a small time porn hustler who drugged and raped young men, videotaping the sickening acts for sale to underground porn groups. Though he was back teaching at the university, he’d discovered tutoring was a pleasant way to earn extra cash. Blair had a natural charm that endeared him to almost everyone he met and while he loved teaching, he especially enjoyed working one on one with teenagers, attempting and mostly succeeding in firing them up with a thirst for knowledge. His particular specialty was Anthropology but he had a gift for turning even the most dry study subject into an adventure or a mystery waiting to be solved.

He ushered Henri into the apartment and walked over to the dining table, scooping up papers, laptop and pens. "Jim should be here any minute. Are Simon, Rafe and Joel on their way?"

Henri nodded. "Simon and Joel were right behind me. Jim said to tell you he’d be here in about fifteen minutes."

"You want a beer while you wait, man?"

"No, it’s okay," Henri assured him. "Why don’t I get the cards out while you finish what you’re doing."

"Okay. Thanks." Blair smiled and finished tidying up the living room before heading out to the kitchen to begin putting together snacks for the night.

"Who’s the kid?" Henri asked as he sat at the table, idly shuffling the cards.

Blair looked puzzled for a moment then caught on. "Oh. That’s Ryan Martin. One of the boys I tutor. He’s a freshman at the University."

"I thought you always tutored at your office."

"I prefer to," Blair said, slapping Henri’s hand away from the bowl of chips he’d just deposited on the table. "Ryan works in the all-night market just down the road. It was more convenient for him to come here before work. He’s a really nice kid."

Henri’s hand sneaked back toward the chip bowl, grinning triumphantly as Blair shook his head and walked back to the kitchen. "You’re a wonderful guy, Sandburg."

"Thanks, H." Any further comment he wanted to make was cut off by another knock at the door. "Ahh," he said, rubbing his hands with glee. "Here come the rest of the pigeons now."

~o0o~

Jim gave a final wave to his colleagues and closed the door, then turned back to watch Blair carry the last of the beer bottles out to the kitchen. The young man had been uncharacteristically quiet all night; a fact that had not gone unnoticed by the captain. Simon had accompanied Jim out to the kitchen to get more drinks and stood by the open refrigerator door, speaking as softly as he could.

"Sandburg okay, Jim?"

Jim pulled his head out from the interior of the refrigerator and looked at his captain quizzically. "He’s fine."

Simon mulled it over for a moment, then spoke again. "It seems like something’s worrying him. Not the usual Sandburg, if you know what I mean. He’s too quiet. Are you sure he’s really over all of this stuff with Ferretti?"

Jim stood up and handed two bottles of beer to Simon before pulling two more from the shelf. "He seems to be over the hard stuff. Ferretti’s in prison and we know Blair’s HIV status is clear, so that means he’s back to riding with me. I don’t think the memories of what happened will ever fade, and that’s made harder by not knowing what are true memories. Every now and then something triggers a fragment and he has a bad day but all in all he’s doing pretty well." Jim smiled at the fact that their lives were finally approaching what passed as normal for Ellison and Sandburg, Sentinel and Guide, then he sobered. "You’re right, though, Simon. Something is bothering him. It won’t do any good to hassle him about it though. He’ll talk when he’s ready."

Blair had remained preoccupied for the rest of the evening, though it didn’t seem to harm his winning streak. Normally he’d be whooping it up, waving his winnings in everyone’s face. Tonight, he simply smiled and stuffed the money into his pocket.

Jim stole another look at his partner as they tidied up the loft prior to going bed. Blair seemed fine, not sick nor even truly worried, just thoughtful. Finally satisfied that everything was back in its rightful place, Jim had taken the opportunity to offer to make them both a cup of tea, an offer that startled the anthropologist, but he accepted with enthusiasm. Jim waited until they were both settled on the sofa, steaming cups cradled in their hands before he broached the subject.

"What’s bothering you, Blair?" he asked softly.

Blair shifted slightly against him, bringing one leg up to rest under his butt. "The new kid I’ve been tutoring? Ryan? There’s something bothering him, but he wouldn’t talk about it."

"You can’t force it out of him."

"I know," Blair sighed. "It just really seems to be worrying him, you know? I know how that feels." Blair shuddered a little and Jim frowned, hoping that the anthropologist’s worried thoughts would not trigger nightmares. He had not suffered any dreams now for several weeks and Jim had hoped they’d seen the last of them. "If I can help, I’d like to."

"It’s what you do best," Jim replied. "He knows where you are if he wants to talk. That’s all you can do."

"I know." The two men sat in companionable silence for several minutes, sipping their tea and then Blair spoke again. "You know," he said thoughtfully. "If you would use your senses on poker night, we could make a killing."

"That would be cheating," Jim answered, resting his head against the back of the couch and closing his eyes.

"We could do it as a test, make it scientific."

"Didn’t seem to stop you tonight anyway," Jim continued. "Do you owe me back rent?"

Blair snorted and thumped Jim soundly on the arm. "I always owe you back rent."

"This thing with Ryan?"

"Mmm?" Blair answered absently, his cup beginning to droop in his hand.

"Be there for him, if he needs to talk. That’s all you can do." Jim leaned forward and rescued Blair’s cup, then stood and carried both to the kitchen. "I’m going to bed. What about you?"

"I’ve got some reading I’d like to catch up on."

"Don’t stay up all night, Sandburg."

"I won’t."

"Yeah, right."

At 2 am, Jim came down the stairs to go to the bathroom. He saw the glow of light under Blair’s door and crept into the bedroom. Shaking his head, he pulled the pen from his partner’s lax hand and pushed Blair down until he curled onto his side with a small sigh. He pulled Blair’s shoes off and covered the young man up before tiptoeing from the room and turning off the light.

~o0o~

Jim had already left for work by the time Blair awoke the next morning. The detective had an arrest report to write up before appearing in court. Blair himself had a class to teach at 10a.m, followed by office hours until 3p.m. He'd promised to try and meet up with Jim at the station by 5, so that they could go out for dinner.

He’d just finished dressing when there was a loud knock at the door. Glancing at the clock and hoping his visitor wasn’t a salesperson who wouldn’t take no for an answer, Blair grabbed up his backpack and hurried to open the door. The knock sounded a second time just as he opened it.

"Yeah, yeah. Hold your horses," he muttered.

His eyes widened in shock when he saw Detective Scott Daniels standing at the door with another man dressed in a suit. The second man was holding a sheet of paper in his hand and both held out their badges for Blair’s perusal.

"Blair Sandburg?" Daniels asked as he moved closer to the doorway.

Blair backed away slightly, his heart beginning to pound as his memory flashed back to the morning in the precinct men’s room when three police officers had accosted him. Blair had refused at the time to allow Jim to interfere, insisting he could handle the harassment himself. One of the detectives, Tom Blake, had been charged with evidence tampering in the case against Ferretti after sending Blair copies of his rape photos and attempting to sell copies of the videos to underground porn markets. He had then resigned from the force. Scott Daniels had stayed out of Blair’s way since.

"You know who I am, Daniels," Blair answered. "What do you want?"

Daniels smiled, his lips thinning out into a grimace. "We’d like you to come down to the station and answer some questions regarding Ryan Martin, Mr. Sandburg."

"What?" Blair asked. "What for?"

The other man, Detective Murphy, shoved the paper into his hands and waited as Blair began to read it. Suddenly, Daniels pulled the paper from Blair’s hand and pushed him up against the wall. "Ryan Martin made a complaint stating that you raped him, Sandburg."

Blair’s mouth dropped open in surprise. "Now wait a minute," he said. He struggled to move around the bigger detective and then suddenly he was pulled forward, spun around and shoved face-first against the wall.

"Want me to add resisting arrest to the charges?" Daniels asked as he pressed his body up against Blair’s. "Don’t tempt me, Professor. Give me your cuffs, Murphy."

Blair tried not to flinch as he felt cold steel encircle his wrists, the right manacle biting into his skin. "Ouch! I don’t know what Ryan told you guys, but I didn’t rape him."

"So, you’re not denying you know him?" Murphy said.

"I tutor him, that’s all," Blair protested.

Daniels leaned his face in close. "What were you tutoring him in, Professor?"

"I want to make a phone call," Blair said, turning his face away.

"You’ll get your call later," Murphy said.

He turned Blair back to face him and pushed him up against the wall. Blair’s head spun as he watched Daniel’s prowl the apartment. He stopped at the small trinket box on the coffee table and opened the lid. Grinning, he pulled an item out of the box and held it out to Murphy. "Look here, the professor’s a regular Boy Scout. Always prepared, huh, Professor?" He laughed and dropped the condoms onto the coffee table.

"They were just a joke gift," Blair protested, remembering the night that Jim had teased him about his proclivity for chasing pretty young girls. "Table leg," Jim had said, the smile on his face taking the sting from the words then he tossed the condoms to him. "Maybe you should start keeping these nearby, Chief."

Blair kept his mouth shut as they hustled him down the stairs, instead praying silently that no one would come out of their apartment and see him like this. He racked his brain, trying to think why Ryan would have accused him of rape and could only think of how troubled the boy had seemed over the past couple of days. He shivered as they exited the building and suddenly realized he was only wearing a thin tee shirt and jeans. His usual layers of shirts were still lying on his bed.

He hoped that he’d be able to somehow convince the booking officer at the police station to contact Jim or Simon and sort this mess out. With that small comfort in mind, he allowed himself to be led to the squad car parked at the curb.

Murphy opened the door and Daniels lay a hand on top of Blair’s head as though guiding him into the car. Then he pushed hard just as Blair began to duck his head and the anthropologist’s cheek exploded in a fiery pain that stole his breath and all conscious thought. By the time he could think past the pounding in his face, he was inside the car, half-lying on the back seat.

"I told you to watch your head," Daniels said, sliding in beside him. "Sit up."

Blair slowly pulled himself upright and raised shaky hands to cup the hot bruise already swelling his cheek. He pushed himself as far as he could into the corner of the car and said nothing, his thoughts whirling in terrified chaos.

~o0o~

Blair sat down in the offered chair and held his hands out in front of him gratefully as Detective Murphy produced his keys and unlocked the cuffs. The anthropologist sat back and rubbed at his reddened wrists, glaring at Daniels. He had been hustled quickly through the entrance of the police station and had not recognized the sergeant on duty at the front desk. He sat now, his thoughts and stomach churning as he mulled over the possible reasons for Ryan’s accusation. The fact was he couldn’t think of one.

He and the boy had gotten along famously from the day they met and Blair considered Ryan to be smart and confident and keen to do well in school. His parents were not well to do and were pleased when Ryan had asked if Blair could tutor him for a small fee. The boy had been in some minor trouble with the police a year or two before but some time spent in drug rehabilitation and counseling had seemed to curb his wild behavior and he begged his parents for a second chance. To that end, he’d found himself a part-time job and had secured Blair’s services as a tutor.

"Did you hear me, Professor? Hey!"

A sharp rap on the table in front of him pulled Blair’s attention back to the present and he looked up. Scott Daniels sat facing him, taking a long swallow from a steaming cup of coffee. Detective Murphy lounged in a corner of the room, his arms folded over his ample chest.

"Sorry, what did you say?" Blair felt dazed.

"I asked you why you raped Ryan Martin?"

Blair shook his head vehemently. "I didn’t rape him."

"Do you know of any reason why he’d accuse you of this crime?"

"No, I…."

"You what, Professor?"

"Will you stop calling me Professor?"

"All right. You what, Mr. Sandburg?"

"He seemed to be upset yesterday when he came for his tutoring session."

"Understandable if he’d been raped, don’t you think?"

"Yes, of course. But if he was raped, it wasn’t by me. He was fine when he left. I mean he didn’t seem to be injured or anything."

"When did you see him last?"

"Last night. He left around seven. Wait a minute, Henri was there. He saw him."

"Henri?"

"Detective Henri Brown, Major Crime."

"He was there with you and Ryan yesterday?"

"Well, no. But he saw Ryan as he was leaving."

"We’ll talk to him later if it becomes necessary. Fact is, he didn’t see what went on in the apartment, though, did he?"

"No."

"So something did happen?"

"No."

"You didn’t touch Ryan at all?"

"I patted his shoulder. I told you, he seemed worried about something."

"So you’re nice to the kid, pat him on the shoulder, tell him to cheer up and he comes in here and cries rape."

"Yes. Well, no. I don’t know why he would do it. Has he been examined?"

"He says he wasn’t anally penetrated but that you jerked him off and then forced him to suck you. He says you threatened him that if he didn’t do as you asked, you would ensure that he was arrested for drug offenses, knowing that his previous record would ensure him jail time."

"What? No way!" Blair was on his feet in an instant, not even aware that Murphy had moved swiftly to his side. He shook off the detective’s grasp and gasped as a meaty fist sunk into his stomach, stealing his breath. As he curled around the pain in his gut, he felt himself pushed back into the chair and then a hand fisted cruelly in his hair, wrenching his head up. Daniels leaned in close, his breath hot on Blair’s face.

"Let’s start again, Mr. Sandburg," he said.

Blair forced himself to sit upright and shook his head. "No. I want to make a phone call and I want to see a lawyer."

"You have something to hide?" Murphy asked as he took up his stance again against the wall.

Blair shook his head and tried to will his heart to stop pounding. "No. I know what my rights are though." He pushed himself upright again on shaking arms and defied them to touch him. "Either I get a phone call or I’m leaving." After a moment’s silence, Blair began to walk slowly to the door, his heart pounding loudly in his ears as he waited for another blow to fall.

"Ryan says the rape has been going on for the past two months. Are you gay, Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair stopped dead in his tracks but didn’t turn around.

"Are you gay, Mr. Sandburg? Are you having a relationship with your room-mate, Detective Ellison?"

The door crashed open suddenly, almost smashing Blair in the face and he flinched, then stared in shock.

"That’s none of your damn business, Daniels," Jim Ellison snarled. "And it has no bearing on this matter. Any more questions, you talk to my partner and me through our lawyer."

Jim looked searchingly at his partner. "You all right, Chief?"

Blair nodded and pushed past him into the corridor. "Let’s just get out of here, Jim."

"We’ll be in touch, Professor."

Daniels’ voice floated out to him and Blair suppressed a shudder. He began to stride toward the exit, not waiting for Jim to follow. At the end of the corridor, he stopped again, and stared in surprise.

"Ryan?" Blair moved forward slowly toward the teenager who stood at the booking desk with his father.

Ryan spun around quickly and stared at him, his eyes widening. As Blair advanced the young man retreated until he was backed up against the wall. "What’s going on, Ryan?"

Ryan shook his head, his eyes darting around the lobby. Suddenly David Martin launched himself at Blair; his heavier weight slamming Blair to the ground. The anthropologist pulled frantically at the hands that found their way to his throat, cutting off his air supply. Just as suddenly, the weight was gone and Jim was hauling Blair to his feet as an irate Martin senior was dragged away by the desk sergeant and another officer.

"You keep away from my son, you filthy pervert," Martin screamed. "If I’d known you were a fag, I would have never let you near him."

Blair’s face reddened at the words. He steadied himself with one hand against the wall and shook off Jim’s offer of support. He swiped at the blood that seeped from a cut in his lip where his teeth had bitten as he hit the floor.

"You okay?" Jim asked again, his voice close to Blair’s ear.

Blair took a couple of shaky breaths, then he nodded and walked unsteadily toward the exit. "Let’s just get out of here."

~o0o~

Jim handed Blair a wet cloth and an icepack and watched soberly as his partner wiped away the dried blood from his lip with the cloth and held the soothing ice to his cheek. "So, I guess now you know what Ryan was so upset about," he said wryly.

Blair looked up quickly, the icepack dropping from his hand to the floor. "You mean, you think that I…"

Jim held up a warning hand. "Don’t even go there," he said.

Blair threw the cloth onto the coffee table and buried his head in his hands. "Jesus, Jim, what am I going to do?"

Jim sat down on the seat next to his partner and slung one arm across Blair’s shoulders. He patted the young man’s back sympathetically and waited patiently for Blair to speak again.

"I can’t prove that I didn’t do something to him all the times he was here."

"And he can’t prove that you did," Jim answered. "Not yet, anyway."

Blair straightened and looked at the detective. "What do you mean?"

Jim shrugged and sighed. "I don’t know, Sandburg." He brushed a wayward curl from where it stuck to the blood on Blair’s lip, wincing as his fingers brushed over the dark bruise on his partner’s cheekbone. "There’s just something weird about this whole thing. I’m going to do some digging into Ryan’s background. I need you to tell me everything you know about him and his family."

Blair nodded slowly and stood up. "There’s not much I can tell you. He’s just a kid that needed some help. He got into some trouble with the cops over drugs a year or so ago and decided to straighten himself out. He asked me to tutor him and took a part-time job at the grocery store down the road to help pay for the tuition. His parents have got four kids and his dad was laid off his job."

"Okay," Jim said. "God, we don’t need this now. With the Ferretti business finally out of the way, I thought things were finally settling down. I don’t need rumors about our relationship coming out now."

Blair stiffened immediately and stared at his partner. "What do you mean?"

Jim groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Nothing. I just meant that there were things being said about us before Ferretti. Now, with this…"

"Nothing’s changed," Blair interrupted. "It was always me that everybody had doubts about, Jim. I’m the hippy fag, remember." His eyes narrowed. "This won’t exactly look great on my resume. If you think it’s going to be a problem, I can always move out again."

"Blair." Jim stood up and moved toward the other man but Blair sidestepped him, heading for the front door. He pulled his car keys from the basket and lifted his jacket from the hook.

"That’s not what I meant," Jim implored.

Blair turned and glared at him coldly. "I know what you meant," he replied. "I’m going out for awhile. I don’t know when I’ll be home. Don’t wait up."

Jim stood and watched as Blair walked out, slamming the door behind him with a crash that shook the walls. "Blair?" Wheeling around, Jim picked the icepack and dishcloth up off the floor and began to carry them to the kitchen. "Shit!" He threw the icepack at the wall as hard as he could and watched tiredly as it split upon impact, its blue filling oozing out and weeping down the wall.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair stiffened and fought against the hands that shoved him roughly onto his back on the hard table. He was blindfolded and he jumped and moaned as cruel hands prodded at his genitals, alternately pinching and stroking. The same hands struck and bruised, and he gagged on the scent of sex, blood and sweat slick on his skin. A hoarse voice screamed deafeningly in his ears, begging them to stop and the world tipped sideways and backwards, spinning out of control. Touch, hearing and smell coalesced into a kaleidoscope of dizzying sensations. Another pair of hands descended on him and forced a gag into his mouth, causing him to retch forcefully at its foul taste. Then they pressed down hard on his shoulders, the strong fingertips gouging into soft flesh. He shuddered as he felt his legs lifted and then forced apart, his center exposed and open. Then cold hard fingers invaded his most private place, fingernails tearing into fragile membranes as they twisted and plunged deeply in and out. Then something hard and impossibly large was forced into him and he screamed against the gag, loudly protesting the pain and humiliation, the breaching of his inner self. He threw himself up against the restraining hold, his heart pounding wildly in his chest and then felt himself falling...

…to be caught and cushioned against a warm, broad chest, one hand stroking down his back as the other gathered his shuddering body close.

"Shh. It’s okay. Just a dream, it’s just a dream. I’m here now."

Jim’s voice sounded close to his ear, warm breath puffing the short curls at the nape of Blair’s neck and he sighed and relaxed into the protective embrace. He opened his eyes and the darkened surroundings of his office took shape around him, confirming Jim’s words. After a long moment, Blair pushed gently against the arms surrounding him and sat up. He was on the floor, or more precisely, Jim was on the floor and he was curled up in Jim’s lap. He levered himself up on still shaky arms and sat on the edge of the old couch, then extended a helping hand to his partner. Jim accepted the offer and seated himself next to Blair, one hand reaching out to massage the tense muscles in the younger man’s neck.

"Bad one, huh?" Jim said softly. "You haven’t had a nightmare in months."

"How did you know where I was?" Blair said.

Jim smiled. "Wasn’t hard. You didn’t come home and I was worried. I figured I’d start looking here. Your car’s in the parking lot and you left your office door unlocked."

Blair just nodded silently.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Jim offered.

Blair shook his head. He scrubbed one hand through his unruly curls before he spoke. "How could they think I could do that to someone else, after what happened to me?"

"That’s what I intend to find out," Jim answered. He was silent for a moment. "I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t think. Do you want to come home?"

"More than you know," Blair replied. He stood and stretched the knots from his muscles, then pulled Jim up from the couch. "Let’s go home."

~o0o~

Tom Blake looked up as Scott Daniels walked into the old barn. The ex-detective picked up a thick envelope from the workbench in front of him and held it out to the other man. Daniels opened the flap and peered inside, riffling the edges of the bank notes with his thumb. He looked up.

"There’s too much here. $500 too much."

Blake smiled a grim smile. "You complaining? I need you to do something else for me."

Daniels backed away a step and looked hesitant. "What now?"

Blake moved around the workbench before picking up a hammer and hefting it in his hand. "I want you to bring Sandburg out here."

"What? Why?"

Blake shrugged. "Even if the rape charges stick, somehow it’s not as satisfying as I thought it would be. I’ve decided I want to change the plot. I want to play with the little fag one last time." He shrugged. "The poor professor couldn’t live with his guilt over what he’s done to the kid and commits suicide."

Daniels shook his head. "They’d never believe it."

"They will if the boy’s found with him. Maybe he kills the kid in revenge, then does a number on himself."

Daniels looked horrified. "You’re going to kill the boy?"

"He knows too much. He’s the weak link."

"No." The detective pulled the envelope from his shirt pocket and threw it onto the workbench. "This is crazy."

Blake stepped closer until his face was inches from Daniels. "Are you calling me crazy?"

Daniels tried to take a step back but his arm was held firmly by Blake. "No, no." He shook his head. "It’s gone too far, Blake. Let’s just cut our losses and leave it. Sandburg will go up on the rape charges. He’ll get put away for a few years. I’ve got people inside. I can make sure he does his time hard."

"No!" Blake shouted the word, causing Daniels to flinch involuntarily. Blake noticed the reaction and grinned evilly. "It’s not enough. I lost everything thanks to that little fag. My job, my marriage, my self-respect. I want him to pay."

"Then find someone else to do your dirty work, Blake," Daniels replied as he attempted once again to shake off the larger man’s grip. "I’m canceling my contract."

Blake shoved the knife he’d kept concealed until now deep into Daniels’ gut, angling it up under his ribs. The detective gasped and writhed, twisting the blade deeper and Blake felt warm blood gush over his hand. He pulled the blade out quickly and turned, not bothering to watch as the detective fell to the ground, blood streaming from his body and mixing with the dirt on the floor. "Looks like you’re going to become part of the act then," Blake said.

He leaned down and grasped the dead man under his arms, then dragged him over to the side of the barn before concealing the body with a pile of old feed sacks. He reached for a sheet of rusted metal to further hide the body but froze as he heard a car pull up outside. Wiping his bloody hands on an old towel, he moved quickly to the door of the barn. He grinned, as he looked outside and saw Ryan Martin step from the vehicle. Maybe his plan could be salvaged after all. He stepped back and held the door open as the teen entered the barn, licking his lips nervously, his hands knotted into fists as he clutched his arms about him protectively.

"Leave the door open," Ryan said as he turned to face the ex-cop.

Blake shrugged and moved back to his workbench, picking up a piece of metal and screwing it into the vice secured to one edge. "What do you want, kid?"

Ryan stood a little straighter and squared his shoulders. "M-money," he stuttered, his voice breaking slightly on the word. "The cops have been checking me out, man. As soon as they figure out my connection to you, it’ll all be over. I need to get out of town."

Blake concentrated on the metal in the vice, using pliers to curl the edge in. "How much money?"

"I don’t know," Ryan said. "A grand?"

Blake raised his eyebrows and finally looked up and faced the trembling teenager. "A thousand bucks. That’s a lot of money, kid. You still pushing that shit into your veins?"

"Just a little," Ryan protested. "Just enough to take the edge off, you know?"

Blake nodded. "Yeah, I know. You’re gonna have to earn the money though."

"How?" the boy asked.

"Call Sandburg," Blake said. "Tell him you want to meet with him."

"What are you going to do, man?"

Blake shrugged his shoulders and stepped closer to the teenager. "That’s my business. Let’s just say I haven’t finished with the professor yet."

"Look, I just want to get out of here," Ryan said, his voice and body shaky. "It’s gone too far." He took a step back toward the barn door. "Forget the money."

Blake snaked a powerful arm out and gripped Ryan at the nape of his neck before he could go further. Grasping the frightened teenager with his other hand, he dragged him over to the pile of discarded feed bags in the corner. He kicked them aside with one foot and revealed the sightless, staring eyes of Scott Daniels. Ryan gasped in shock and fought to escape Blake’s grip. The ex-detective pushed Ryan down so that his face was inches from the dead man’s. "That’s what happens to people who say no to me, kid."

He heard the convulsive swallowing coming from the boy’s throat and tossed him to the side, turning away in disgust as Ryan vomited violently into the dirt. He waited until the boy’s heaving eased up and he slumped exhausted to the ground, before he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and shoved it under Ryan’s nose. "Make the call," he ordered. "Sandburg’s number is already keyed in."

~o0o~

Blair closed the door on his final student for the day and wandered slowly back to his desk. It had at least been a pleasant last meeting. He sighed and smiled a little. Karen Morris was certainly a pretty young thing and very attentive. If she was a few years older and he didn’t teach here, he might reconsider her advances.

Blair glanced quickly at his desk clock and cursed. It was four-thirty already and he’d promised to meet Jim at the station to help him finish up some paperwork before they went out to dinner. He hurriedly stuffed his notebooks and papers into his backpack and headed for the door. Just as he put his hand on the doorknob, the phone rang and he groaned. He hesitated a moment, then turned and crossed the room. Picking up the receiver, he silently begged Jim’s forgiveness before he identified himself. The conversation had him out of his office in record time, hurrying up the stairs toward the exit. He spotted Claire Clark, one of the Anthropology Department secretaries up ahead and called to her as he ran.

Claire turned as she heard Blair’s summons, desperately juggling a stack of folders in her arms and sighing in despair as the top ones slid from her arms to the floor. Blair ran past, turning quickly to call instructions to her as he went. "Sorry. Look, I’m supposed to be meeting Detective Ellison at the Cascade PD at five. If he calls, can you tell him I’m on my way to meet Ryan Martin at the truck stop just south of town."

"Who? Where?" Claire looked up distractedly from the spilled files and frowned as she tried to process Blair’s message. The anthropologist was already at the exit to Hargrove Hall but turned back slightly as she spoke. "Martin. At the truck stop. He’ll know the one I mean."

Claire nodded, storing the information in her head and went back to the files.

~o0o~

Jim Ellison looked up from the file he was working on and frowned. Checking his watch, he saw that it was almost 7p.m. and there was still no word from his partner. He picked up his phone and was about to dial Blair’s office when Simon Banks called to him. Banks stood at the doorway and ushered the detective in, his handsome features drawn into a worried frown.

"What’s up?" Jim asked as he perched himself on the edge of the captain’s desk.

The captain held out a sheet of paper. "Maybe nothing. You asked Brown to look into Ryan Martin’s record?"

"Yeah, so?"

"Martin was picked up twice in the past two years for dealing drugs on campus. The amounts were small and he claimed both times that the drugs were for his own personal use. He was given a slap on the wrist the first time by the judge and a suspended sentence and rehab the next."

"And?"

Simon thrust a file at him. "Detective Scott Daniels was working Narcotics at the time with Detective Tom Blake. They were the arresting officers."

Jim studied the paper for a moment before finding the place he was looking for. "Oh shit!"

"Yeah," Simon agreed grimly. "It’s probably nothing more than coincidence but I’ve put an inquiry out to track down Tom Blake. Nobody in the department appears to have had any contact with him since he resigned."

"I don’t like the sound of this, Simon. I’m heading over to the university."

As Jim stood up to leave, Simon motioned him back to his seat. "Hang on a minute, Jim. Let’s just wait until we can get Blake and Daniels in here. Where are you going with this?"

Jim refused to sit down but paced the confines of the office. "Okay. Tom Blake and Scott Daniels were giving Blair a hard time during the Ferretti situation, then Blake went up on charges for selling copies of the confiscated rape videos. He’s got a motive to frame Blair. He finds out that Blair is tutoring Ryan, maybe he’s holding something over the kid from the previous arrests. Daniels said that Ryan alleged that Blair threatened to turn the kid in on drug charges if he squealed, maybe it was Blake who threatened the kid."

Simon shook his head doubtfully. "There’s a lot of maybes in there, Jim."

Before he could continue, Henri Brown poked his head in the door. "Captain, Scott Daniels’ body has just been discovered in his car at the bottom of a ravine out on Cliff Road. Looks like he was stabbed before he went over the edge.

"Oh God. All right. Come on, Jim. Sandburg will have to wait." Simon stood and pulled his coat from the hook by the door.

"That’s not all," Henri said.

"There’s more?"

"Oh yeah," Henri answered. "Ryan Martin has gone missing. His parents said he didn’t come home last night and they have no idea where he could be."

"Shit!" Simon exclaimed. "Jim, where’s Sandburg now?"

"He was supposed to meet me here at 5. He hasn’t shown up."

"Go!" the Captain said, waving the detective off out the door. "Go! I’ll try his office and his cell phone and get out to Cliff Road with Brown. Keep in touch."

Jim didn’t bother responding. He headed for the stairs at breakneck speed, fumbling in his pocket for his keys.

~o0o~

Blair eyed the man pacing in front of him warily and cursed his stupidity. He had walked into the truck stop as arranged to meet Ryan Martin only to see the young man take off through the kitchen. Blair had hurried after him, watching as Ryan had climbed into his old sedan. Blair had raced back to his own car intending to follow the youth. He had paused a moment, debating whether to call Jim, but the decision was taken out of his hands as a knife blade was pressed against his throat and Tom Blake ordered him to drive.

Now he sat inside a dilapidated old barn on the outskirts of town. The barn was on a farming lot that looked as though it had been deserted for many years. Blair looked over at Ryan who sat huddled on the other side of the barn, his face white and sweaty. The young man rocked back and forth, occasionally pleading with the ex-cop for relief. Blair realized with no small amount of disappointment and sadness that Ryan had relapsed into his drug habit following his spell in rehabilitation. Finally Blake stopped his pacing and stood in front of Blair.

"Stand up," he ordered.

Blair struggled to get to his feet, a difficult task with his hands tied securely behind his back. Blake spun him around to face the wall and Blair flinched as he felt the blade of the knife against his wrists.

"Keep still," Blake hissed. "I wouldn’t want to cut you."

He parted the tight bindings and stepped over to the mumbling Ryan as Blair turned around and brought his arms to the front, rubbing briskly at his reddened wrists.

"What do you want, Blake?" Blair asked, though he dreaded the answer.

Blake smiled evilly. "Revenge. You took away my life. I’m taking away yours."

Blair shook his head. "You did that to yourself, man. The photos you took out of evidence were only the tip of the iceberg. You stole those videotapes and made copies of them and sold them."

"Just satisfying the public demand, Sandburg," Blake replied. "I gotta tell you the ones of you were always the most popular. People couldn’t get enough of you."

Blair reddened at the words, his anger growing as Blake continued.

"A lot of people out there are willing to pay good money for a few minutes of your time. I could make good money from selling your ass around town. It’s a pity in a way that I have to get rid of you. Maybe before I do that, I’ll get to experience what Ferretti did with you." He shrugged. "Remember that day in the men’s room?"

He laughed as Blair shivered involuntarily. "Maybe I’ll finally get to see how good you perform."

Blair took a step froward, his fisted hands coming up in front of him. He stopped when Blake grabbed a handful of Ryan’s long blond hair and dragged him to his feet.

"Uh-uh, Professor. Stay right where you are."

Blair swallowed dryly. "Why don’t you at least let the kid go?"

"No can do," Blake replied. He pressed the knife against Ryan’s throat and led the terrified boy over to the workbench. Pushing his captive to kneel down on the ground, he positioned Ryan’s hand in the vice and began to tighten it. "Ryan here knows too much. He’s going to be the star of the show. You kidnapped the kid, tortured and raped him," he spoke up over Ryan’s sobbing, shaking the distraught boy. "Then you killed him and killed yourself. Guess you couldn’t live with what you’d done. At least, I’m going to let you look remorseful, Professor. But first I need to set the scene. Strip."

Blair shook his head. Blake brought the knife to Ryan’s throat once more and with his other hand began to screw down the vice. The teenager cried out as his hand was slowly crushed in the metal jaws. He turned his pale face to Blair.

"Please," he whimpered. "Do as he says."

Blair pulled his shoes off before stripping off his shirt and jeans.

"Everything," Blake demanded and Blair winced as Ryan let out a scream of pain when the vice was tightened again.

Blair pulled off his boxers and tee shirt and stood shivering in the evening air as Blake ran his cold eyes over his naked body, licking his lips. "Not bad, Professor. Get on your knees and put your hands behind your back."

"No," Blair said firmly.

Blake brought the knife up suddenly and dragged the blade slowly down Ryan’s face, leaving a thin trail of blood as he went. "Not so pretty any more, is he?" Blake snarled.

The boy collapsed screaming, his body jerked to a halt by the captive grip of the vice on his hand. Blair closed his eyes at the blood that dripped down Ryan’s face and shakily dropped to the ground.

Blake moved around to stand in front of Blair and pushed the knife blade under Blair’s jaw, forcing him to look up at him. "Keep your hands behind your back. Bet Ellison loves having that mouth going down on him, huh?" Blair jumped as the blade bit into his skin and he felt warm blood trickle slowly down his neck. He tried vainly to block out the sound of Ryan’s sobbing.

"You’ve got it so wrong, Blake," Blair retorted, despite his mind screaming at him to stay silent. "Jim’s my best friend. And he’s going to come after you. Of course, that’s not a word in your vocabulary, is it? Friendship."

Blake roared with anger at the comment and Blair flinched instinctively, knowing he had made a terrible error in judgement. This wasn’t Lash, caught up in the torments of a sick mind. Blake was just a cruel and heartless killer. The ex-cop lashed out with the knife and slashed quickly across Blair’s shoulder.

The fiery pain tore a scream from the anthropologist’s throat. He reached a hand up to clutch at the freely bleeding wound but Blake’s hand was there first, fingers digging cruelly into the gash. Blair screamed again and felt cold sweat break out on his face as Blake shifted his bloody hand to Blair’s head and fisted the matted curls in an effort to keep the shaking man upright. Black dots swam in Blair’s vision and suddenly his abdominal muscles convulsed violently and he doubled up in pain as his stomach emptied itself down the front of Blake’s pants.

Blake jumped back quickly but not fast enough and then swung the handle of the knife down brutally against Blair’s face. The anthropologist slammed face-first into the dirt and rolled to his side, as he continued to vomit. A kick to his stomach stole his breath and Blake ranted and hurled abuse as he circled the downed man, raining kicks on his vulnerable body.

Finally tiring of the attack, Blake turned away and strode to the workbench. He picked up a discarded cloth and began to wipe the mess from his pants. "What are you looking at?" he screamed at Ryan who cowered in front of the angry man. Marching quickly over to the workbench, he turned the handle of the vice rapidly, grinning as Ryan screamed in agony.

Suddenly a heavy weight slammed into his back and he was pushed forward onto the bench, a hand coming around to clutch at his throat at the same time as a fist smashed into his temple. He pulled one of the hands further over his shoulder then slipped under, turning his attacker over so that he was now on top. Blake smiled evilly at Blair as the young man fought desperately to escape his grip, then quickly wrenched the anthropologist’s wrist, satisfied only when he heard the clean snap of bone and the agonized scream of his victim.

Blair fought to stay conscious, blinking rapidly against the blood and sweat that dripped into his eyes and trying to bite down on his cry of pain as white-hot agony flared up his arm. He felt Blake remove his grip from his now useless hand and lean closer before wrapping one meaty fist around his throat.

"Fuck you, you little faggot," Blake growled. "Say good-bye."

Blair tried to arch up against his attacker but Blake was too strong. He scratched his one good hand over Blake’s attempting to find purchase and release the stranglehold on his throat. Finally, in desperation, he swung his arm wide in an effort to find something with which to fight back. His fingers closed around a long wide object and he hefted it, slamming it up into Blake’s head with a hoarse scream of agony, his strength borne of all the frustration, rage and helplessness he had endured since leaving the loft those long months ago.

Blake’s eyes widened and then he collapsed like a stone as the side of the hammer crashed into his skull. Blair pushed the dead weight off and sank to the ground trying desperately to pull air into his tortured lungs.

~o0o~

Jim was out of the truck before it had completely stopped and raced up the steps to Hargrove Hall without bothering to turn off the engine. He tore down the stairs leading to Blair’s basement office, very nearly skidding off one flight and rolling down the rest. He drew up to the office door and stopped suddenly, panting heavily, his heart shuddering in his chest. The office was locked and the corridor appeared deserted. He pounded on the door, just to be sure and the noise brought a head poking out of a doorway several offices up.

"Can I help you?" the pert brunette asked, her eyes narrowing as she took in the tall, muscled man pounding away at Blair Sandburg’s door. Claire Clark had heard some of the rumors about Blair’s work at the police department and she’d seen him limping into the University on more than one occasion covered in bruises. She’d heard the latest rumors going around that Blair had been kidnapped and raped by some bizarre gang or cult or something. She wasn’t sure if she really believed the stories, knowing how details got distorted in a large place such as this. All she knew was that Blair had been away a long time and when he returned, he was somehow different, changed.

"Can I help you?" she asked again, looking suspiciously at the man hammering on the door. She dared not come out of her office; this man after all was tall, well built and seemed very angry.

"My name is Detective Ellison," the man replied, finally turning toward her, flipping a shield from his wallet with what appeared practiced ease. Claire lifted her gaze from the broad chest and promptly dropped it again as crystal blue eyes looked back at her. "I’m…. Blair’s my partner…at the station."

"He’s gone," Claire babbled, then berated herself for the inane comment. That much was obvious. "He said he had to go meet someone."

Jim stepped toward her now and she could see fine lines of tension that framed the stunning blue eyes. The worry the detective exuded was almost palpable and Claire felt a strange impending sense of danger. Her skin goose-bumped and a shiver crept down her spine.

"Do you know where?" Jim asked gently.

"He said he had to meet someone," Claire answered. "Martin? No, that wasn’t it. I’m sorry," she said, feeling her face heat with embarrassment. "He was in a rush and I dropped my folders."

"It’s important," Jim said and Claire felt a lump form in her throat at the emotion in his voice.

She nodded and closed her eyes for a moment, replaying the scene in her mind. Blair’s words floated to her as he disappeared out the doors. "Ryan Martin at the truck stop. Jim will know."

She opened her eyes and smiled at Jim. "He said he was meeting Ryan Martin at the truck stop just out of Cascade. He said you’d know the one."

Jim nodded and gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze. "Thank you."

Before she could look up, he was gone and she meandered back into her office, wondering if the encounter had actually occurred.

~o0o~

Blair stayed for a long moment on his knees and one hand, his head hanging down heavily. Blood from a gash caused by the handle of Blake's knife dripped slowly to the ground below. Finally, he stirred and began to take stock of his injuries and situation. He knew without a doubt that his wrist was broken but apart from the initial agony, the pain had dulled now to a throbbing that echoed his still pounding heart. His ribs felt sore from the beating they’d taken from Blake’s boots and his stomach muscles ached from the vomiting. He touched a hand to the wetness on one shoulder and fingered the deep gash there, inflicted by Blake in his rage. It felt deep and open and stung as the sweat from his fingertips touched it. He had a disgusting taste in his mouth that he thought no amount of water could wash away and he felt an overpowering urge to sit under a spray of steaming hot water and scrub his skin until it bled.

Blair levered himself up onto shaky knees and wavered there a moment, his broken wrist cradled to his chest. He closed his eyes against the sight of Tom Blake’s body lying sprawled next to him, a thin trickle of blood dribbling from one ear and his nose. He prodded the body with one foot and leaned a little closer but could not detect any sign of life. He swallowed down the bile that burned the back of his throat and jumped as a soft moan came from the other side of him. Turning his head, he could see Ryan crouched on the ground, his eyes wide and staring, one hand still caught up in the jaws of the vice.

Blair surged to his feet, catching at the workbench as his vision grayed out for a second. He pushed himself on legs of jelly to the teenager’s side and dropped heavily to his knees next to him.

"Ryan?"

The boy moaned louder and fought to pull his hand from the vice’s grip.

"Easy. Easy," Blair soothed. "I’m going to get you out of here."

He stood again and began to turn the handle on the vice; determinedly blocking out Ryan’s cries of pain as his crushed hand was finally released. Ryan collapsed to the ground and curled around his hand, rocking slightly to and fro as he cried. Blair knelt next to him again and pressed one hand to a trembling shoulder. He took a moment to look over the teenager’s injuries before deciding on a course of action. Ryan’s cheek still oozed blood sluggishly from the thin gash caused by Blake’s knife. On closer inspection, Blair didn’t think it was too deep. The boy’s hand was grossly misshapen and swollen from the crushing of the vice and it was obvious that he needed medical help at least for that. Then there were the other considerations of shock and his drug withdrawal symptoms.

"Do you think you can walk?" Blair asked. "I can’t see my cell phone anywhere. If we can get to the car, we can get help."

Ryan didn’t appear to hear him at first, then slowly nodded his head. Blair placed his good arm under Ryan’s and both staggered to their feet, the teenager groaning loudly as his injured hand knocked against Blair’s body.

"It’s all right," Blair said. "We’ll be out of here in just a minute."

"Where… is he?" Ryan stuttered as they shuffled toward the door.

"Don’t worry about him," Blair said, gritting his teeth against the pain that crashed through him with every step. "He can’t hurt you anymore."

At the words, Ryan dissolved into tears and Blair turned the sobbing boy against his chest, wrapping one arm awkwardly about him.

"I’m sorry," Ryan wailed. "For telling those lies about you. I needed the money. I couldn’t give up the stuff and then he told me that he’d get me thrown in prison. My parents were just beginning to trust me again. I swear I was going to go back to rehab as soon as I got enough money."

"We’ll fix it," Blair promised. A shudder of relief passed through him despite their predicament. "Wait here a minute."

"What are you doing?" Ryan asked, his eyes growing wide with fear at the thought of being deserted.

Blair gestured down at his bruised, bloody and naked body. "I think I’d better put something on before we go. Don’t want to frighten the neighbors." He tried a smile on for size, but it felt more like a grimace and he turned back to shuffle over to where his clothes were piled on the floor. He awkwardly pulled on jeans and shirt, not bothering with underwear or undershirts; just wanting to get out of the place before it closed in on him completely and sent him screaming into the night.

Ryan turned away from him and slowly pushed open the barn door. It was pouring rain outside and the chill that had settled into Blair’s bones deepened. He hooked a hand under Ryan’s arm once more and stood at the doorway, fishing in his pocket for his keys, praying that Blake hadn’t removed them. He laughed a little hysterically as he felt the familiar metal under his fingers and fought to calm his raw nerves. The outburst sobered as he surveyed the menacing black sky and wondered why Jim hadn’t found him yet. He bit down hard on his lip, tasting blood as he forced back the sob that threatened to escape from his bruised throat. No matter, he consoled himself; I’ll go to him.

~o0o~

Jim parked his vehicle in the truck stop parking lot and hurried into the café. He knew his search inside was pointless, he had already noted that there was no sign of Blair’s car outside and his extended senses could not detect any sign of his partner, but there was still the chance that someone had seen the anthropologist. Rushing to the counter, he flipped open his wallet again and showed his shield to the tired looking man there.

"I’m looking for a young man who was supposed to be here," Jim began. "Not very tall," he held his hand up to just over shoulder height. "He has long, shoulder-length curly hair." He choked a little as the words brought a picture of Blair clearly before his eyes.

The man nodded before slinging a dishcloth over his shoulder. "Yeah, he was here. Chasing some kid through my kitchen. Nearly tipped the entire night’s stew over the floor rushing through there. Headed out the back door before I could stop them."

"Did you see…"

The man shook his head. "Nah, he came back in, apologized for the trouble and ran back through the front door. The kid got into a car out back and headed toward the old Nolan place."

"Where?"

The man led him out through the steamy kitchen and Jim fought to turn down his sense of smell as a nauseating mix of cooking smells assaulted him. The man hunched under a small porch at the back, and pointed with one arm through the driving rain up the winding road that led seemingly to nowhere.

"The Nolan place," he repeated. "Been deserted for years. Though word’s about that someone’s been hanging out there in recent weeks. Cars coming and going in the middle of the night and stuff."

Jim nodded. "Thanks." He ran back to the truck and clambered inside. Starting the ignition, he reached for his cell phone with one hand and called for back up. He slowed down once he reached the dirt trail that led him past a rundown shack, not really big enough to be called a house. The place was deserted and Jim extended his hearing and sight once more in search of Blair. He knew he’d found him even before he came upon the old barn situated at the back of the property. He stopped his truck behind a copse of trees and got out, hunching his shoulders against the rain. Pulling his weapon from its holster, he balanced it in both hands and slowly advanced toward the barn, the familiar heartbeat of his guide drawing him in.

He stopped and leaned into the protection of a tree as the barn door creaked open and he could see a young man silhouetted against the pale moonlight. Jim was sure the figure was that of Ryan Martin, though he’d only seen the young man fleetingly the day before in the police station when Blair had been taken in. The youth held one hand against his chest and began to walk outside, then stopped and looked back inside.

At last he saw the person he needed as Blair hooked an arm under that of the teenager and slowly began to hobble out into the rain. Jim’s jaw clenched at the sight of his bedraggled partner. Bruises lined his throat and blood trickled from his cheek and nose. One eye was blackened and swollen and he, too, cradled one arm to his body while a wet patch of blood stained the shoulder of his shirt. Perhaps, most frightening was Blair’s state of undress. He wore jeans that appeared to have been hastily pulled on, the fly was zippered up but the button hung open, his plaid shirt hung open over his jeans and he had no undershirts or tees beneath.

Jim stepped out from the cover of the trees and brought his gun up to bear on the two men. "Blair?" he called out, clearing his throat and trying again as his voice broke. "Blair?"

Behind him, he could hear the faint whine of sirens approaching. Blair took a couple of hesitant steps forward, peering into the darkness. "Jim? Is that you?"

Jim smiled. "Yeah, Chief. It’s me. Where’s Blake?"

"He’s inside. Jim? I think I killed him." Blair’s voice broke on a sob and Jim choked back his own cry at his friend’s pain.

"It’s all right. We’ll deal with it." He noticed the other man had dropped back behind Blair and stepped forward once more. "Backup’s on the way," he said. "Let’s get you two fixed up."

"No." The voice was Ryan’s and Jim watched in dismay as an arm snaked around his partner’s neck, pulling the slender body back with a jolt.

"Ryan?" Blair’s voice choked out the name against the hold on his throat, his good hand coming up to pull against it.

"He said I’d go to prison this time," Ryan whispered, though Jim’s sentinel hearing easily picked up the words.

"It’ll be okay," Blair said. "We’ll make sure nothing happens to you. You have to trust me a little longer."

Ryan stood silently, his grip still tight around Blair’s throat, his wide eyes flitting back and forth as though considering his options.

"Don’t do this to yourself any more, Ryan," Blair continued. "Let me help you."

The arm fell from Blair’s throat and Jim released the breath he’d been holding. Blair turned back to the teenager and wrapped an arm about his waist before they both hobbled forward.

Blair took two more steps before he was enfolded in Jim’s warm embrace and suddenly the area was full of sound and activity as Simon’s car roared up followed by several black and whites and two ambulances. Henri Brown and two paramedics hurried over and took Ryan from Blair’s care, lifting the still sobbing young man onto a gurney and rushing him toward the first ambulance.

"It’ll be all right," Blair assured him as Ryan stretched out a hand toward him. Finally, the boy appeared to relax and sank down under the blankets piled over him.

Blair’s legs suddenly gave out and Jim caught him as he sagged. Simon came forward and draped a blanket around the young man’s shivering shoulders. Blair smiled wanly at the captain. "Hey, Simon."

"Hey, Sandburg," Simon’s voice was light but his face betrayed his worry. "Let’s get those medics over here," he called over his shoulder.

Blair shook his head against Jim’s chest. "No. Jim can take me."

"I want you to go in the ambulance, Chief. I’ll be right there with you." He reached up and ruffled the matted curls. "You really had me worried, Chief," Jim whispered. He tilted Blair’s face up and winced at the bruises marring the pale complexion.

"I’m sorry," Blair answered, tears welling in his eyes and overflowing down his cheeks.

"It’s going to be okay," Jim assured him as he stepped away to allow the paramedics room to work.

Blair reached out and grasped Jim’s hand firmly. "It’s okay now," he answered. "You found me."

~o0o~

Jim pushed open the door to Blair’s hospital room and peeked inside. His partner lay curled on his side, facing the door, his eyes closed and his breathing even, resting peacefully. The detective stepped over to the bed and deposited the overnight bag at his feet before taking a moment to drink in the sight of his guide safe and recovering from his ordeal.

Jim reached a hand out and stroked it lightly down Blair’s unmarked cheek, smiling as Blair’s face twitched in response to the touch. The bruises and cuts from Tom Blake’s attack looked stark against Blair’s still pale skin and Jim had to suppress the rage that swept over him. He remembered sitting beside Blair two nights before in the emergency room as his partner hesitantly and tearfully recounted his experiences at the hands of the ex-cop who had tortured, assaulted and murdered in the name of revenge.

Blair shifted over onto his back and deep blue eyes; one ringed in black and swollen almost shut, looked up at him.

"Good. You’re here," Blair said. He yawned widely and accepted Jim’s helping hand to sit up in the bed, waiting while the detective fussed with the pillows behind his back. "I must’ve fallen asleep. Did the doctor say I could go home?"

Jim nodded and held up the overnight bag. "I just brought sweats for you. I figured they’d be easier for a few days until some of the stitches and bandages come off."

"Have you heard anything about Ryan?" Blair asked as he carefully swung his feet over the side of the bed and stood, wavering a little.

Jim caught hold of Blair’s arm and helped him over to the bathroom. "He’s still here in the hospital. He’s had surgery on his hand and he’s started drug rehab. They’ll let you know when you can see him. Do you want to take a shower before you get dressed? If you do, I’ll go get one of those plastic sleeve thingy’s for your cast."

Blair shook his head, then smiled. "No. I’ve already had two showers today." He shrugged. "The counselor says it’ll get better. It’s early days yet."

Jim just nodded so Blair reached out his good arm and patted Jim on the shoulder. "It’s going to be okay. Let’s go home and finish this conversation."

~o0o~

Jim unlocked the apartment door and let Blair precede him into the living room. The anthropologist took two steps in, then stopped as though transfixed. Jim threw his keys into the basket and laid a hand on the young man’s shoulder. "Are you all right?"

Blair started at the touch, then grinned sheepishly and nodded. "It’s all just catching up with me, I guess."

Jim nodded his understanding and carried Blair’s overnight bag into his bedroom. When he came out, Blair was moving around the loft, trailing his hand carefully over the photos and ornaments that were scattered about the various shelves and tables. "You want some tea?"

"Sure. That’d be nice," Blair answered agreeably.

Jim put the water onto heat, then contented himself with watching his partner as he continued to wander aimlessly. Blair picked up a candleholder and brushed his hands over it gently before discarding it and moving on to something else. The younger man suddenly became aware of the scrutiny and looked up. "What?"

Jim shrugged.

"It’s good to be home," his partner admitted finally. "Do you know what a talisman is, Jim?"

"I think so," the detective answered as he poured the tea and pulled a bottle of water from the fridge for himself. "It’s a lucky charm, isn’t it?"

"Yeah, it is. A symbol of luck, of security. This is my talisman." He looked at the photo he held in his hand. The two of them, arms wrapped around each other, wacky grins plastered on sunburnt faces, Jim’s two fingers waggling above Blair’s head. He smiled and placed it back on the coffee table and waved an arm about the loft. "This is my talisman," he repeated. "When I left the loft before, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, because of what this place has come to mean to me. Ever since I moved in here, my life has been happy, settled, and comfortable. Serial killers, terrorists and the like notwithstanding. Out there the other night when I thought I’d never come home again, well, it was the most terrible feeling I’ve ever had. I felt lost, adrift." He looked up and grinned a wobbly, watery smile. "I’m just reconnecting."

"That’s fine. If that’s what you need." Jim came into the living room and motioned for Blair to sit. Blair settled himself gratefully onto the couch and accepted a steaming cup of tea from his partner.

Blair watched Jim prowl the apartment, checking the doors and windows, his usual nightly routine, except that it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. ‘Gotta write this one up,’ Blair thought absently, ‘the sentinel reaffirming his territory. Textbook primal behavior.’

"About yesterday," Jim finally said, as he stopped his pacing and turned to face his partner. "I have to admit to you that I really was worried about rumors getting started again about us being gay and being together. I’m sorry."

"No need to apologize, man," Blair replied. "I’ve copped a whole heap of negative remarks in my time and it’s still gets to me."

Jim sat down on the couch next to Blair. "Don’t you see? That’s the thing. You’re the one getting all this crap and I’m worried that it’s going to tarnish my Cop of the Year image."

"So, now you’re aware of it and you’ll stop letting it bother you, at least on the outside. It’s all about power, Jim. Take the power of their words away and they go to water."

"So, what my mother told me about sticks and stones will break my bones was right, huh?"

Blair blew on his tea and watched the steaming tendrils escape into the air. "See, now I hadn’t thought of that. You got your own share of crap when you were a kid over your sentinel abilities, didn’t you?"

"Some," Jim answered. "Until I learned to not mention them."

"Repression. It’s a terrible thing, Jim. To have to repress who you are."

"So, are we good?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, big guy, we’re good."

"Are we getting pizza tonight? Meat lover’s?"

"Don’t strain the friendship, Jim."

"You’re repressing me, Sandburg."

(And then came TSbyBS, sigh.)

FIN

-9.27.01

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