Title: A Sentinel Takes A Guide Author/pseudonym: alyjude Rating: NC17 Pairings: J/B Category: Drama, first time Date: July 29, 2001 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Disclaimer: Actually, I'm making a *fortune* out of these guys. I rent them out, including the lube and condoms and for an additional fee, add quite a few *toys*. But for writing about them? Nah, not a penny. Who's turn is it to rent them, btw? Notes: Thank you to the alyjude team of betas: Greenwoman, melvin and Lisa. They're the best pit crew in the business! And only they know how hard a job that really is, well, actually, everyone knows. But they make it seem easy so my eternal thanks. I also have to say that this story is one of the many *Brackett returns as a sentinel and steals Jim's guide* stories. For more information and spoilers, please scroll down below the Summary and Warnings, past the *Spoiler Space* and read the real warnings and further notes. Warnings: h/c, angst, Blair owwies. Scroll past the Spoiler Space for very important warnings if you need to be spoiled. Otherwise, delete after Summary. Summary: Wherein Lee Brackett escapes and finds that Jim Ellison has something Lee needs. In addition, Jim does some honest talking and Blair is forced to reveal past secrets. S P O I L E R S P A C E S P O I L E R S P A C E CAVEAT: Yeah, this has been done and by quite a few better than I. Wanna read a real good one, go to Brenda Antrim and her Distortion ::sigh::. And I must also mention Kathleen's Rough Trade. It's hard to do a Brackett/Sentinel story that doesn't share similar traits when so many of us saw much of the same things in Rogue. Here's my humble attempt. I love Brackett and saw almost as many good things in him as bad, but ultimately found that he could not be redeemed. WARNINGS: Non-consensual sex, rape (but off-screen and only later discussed), and discussion of child molestation. Yes, past Blairsecrets are revealed. Also death of a guest star. Guess who?
A Sentinel Takes A Guide
The man had been planning for eight weeks. Amid blinding headaches, skin rashes, and emotional highs and lows that would leave a normal person in a straight jacket, he'd plotted.
He'd listened over and over again to each beep of the alarm system, to every conversation, every footfall. His first orchestrated food strike occurred two weeks into his plans, with another two weeks later, and the last one two weeks ago. They were now expected and ignored.
Today, the first day of the fourth food strike, he made his move. He screamed and fell to the ground, limbs jerking spasmodically as he gripped his head with both hands and begged for mercy.
Carstairs came to the door, slid open the window and peered inside. There was protocol for this and as expected, this particular guard failed to follow it. He unlocked the door, swung it wide and stepped in.
It was over in seconds. Carstairs, now dressed in the prisoner's gray uniform, lay dead on the bunk as busy hands plumped up the pillows, turned the body on its side and covered it. Lee Brackett pocketed the key card that would serve as his ticket out of the top secret, maximum security prison just outside of Washington D.C. and wearing the guard's uniform, cap pulled low and Carstair's forever-worn sunglasses in place, he walked out, closed the cell door, locked it and proceeded slowly down the hall as if he hadn't a care in the world.
At the double doors that would release him from the ward called solitary, he inserted the card and punched in the numbers he'd been able to reconstruct from listening to the daily beeps as guards would come and go. The green light shone brightly and the doors slid open.
The rest of his escape went just as smoothly.
Walking to the lockers, he changed into Carstairs' street clothes (a tight fit, but doable), took the man's wallet and belongings, and ten minutes later he was striding through the underground garage toward a black Mustang.
At eleven pm on Friday, June 5, 2001, Sargeant Carstairs was seen leaving the prison following his shift, about to begin a two-week vacation. The man at the front gate waved him out, recognizing the ID badge as it was pressed against the window, coincidently obscuring the man's face from view.
The Mustang made a left onto the open highway and sped up.
The plan that had been eight weeks in the making was just - beginning.
Blair shuffled down the hall, waving as students and other T.A's called out his name or waved in return. He moved slowly, not particularly anxious to get where he was going, namely home. It had been a long week at Rainier, with an even longer week at the station and the nights at home, nights that should have been full of relaxing banter between two friends, were now filled with prolonged and awkward silences.
He walked out the doors of Hargrove Hall, down the steps, and in trying to ignore the fountain, he ducked his head and moved hurriedly on.
Blair jogged to his car, opened the door, threw his stuff into the passenger seat, sat down, pulled the door shut, but didn't immediately start the vehicle. Behind him, the university. Before him - home. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.
Not that things weren't getting - better, they were, at least in the shallow end of the pool, the only place either he or Jim would be caught dead. Blair gave a dry chuckle at that thought. Dead. Caught dead. Ha, ha. But hey, at least he and Jim were joking again, and to some, it probably appeared that their friendship was on the mend. And perhaps it was; but only in the busy busy-ness of the day.
Once home, both fell uncharacteristically silent. Perhaps a little discussion about dinner, or what to watch, but other than that... no real communication. After an hour of Jim's silence and his own inability to talk, Blair would usually end up behind closed French doors and each time that he'd finally rise and say, "Well, guess I'll head to my room," he'd be painfully aware of the almost visible relief of his partner.
No, he was not looking forward to another night of -- nothing.
Blair started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. He drove home, failed to pass go, failed to collect his two hundred dollars.
Sandburg, stake-out tonight with Conner thanks to Rafe and the flu. Don't expect me much before dawn. There's some of that Indian lamb dish you like in the fridge, I picked it up at lunch for you. See you tomorrow.
The relief at Jim's message gave Sandburg a sudden clarity regarding Jim's relief when Blair would go to his room. Sighing, he erased the message and faced the kitchen.
So Jim was on stake-out. Well, okay then.
Blair put his stuff away, changed into old jeans and pulled a ratty blue sweater on over his undershirt, kicked off his shoes and wearing only socks, walked back to the kitchen and checked out the lamb. The cashew almond sauce, ripe with sliced lamb and saffron-infused Basmati rice beckoned and he took out the carton, emptied the contents into a bowl and popped it into the microwave. Three minutes later he grabbed a beer and the bowl and sat down to eat.
Munching happily, he smiled at the idea that Jim had done this for him. Nothing like that had happened since....
Best leave that train of thought alone on its track.
When he was done, he washed, dried and put everything away, grabbed another beer and headed into the living room where he picked up the TV Guide, perused the possibilities and decided on a Soccer game.
What a terrific Wednesday evening.
"Let me guess. You're wishing I were Sandy, right?"
"Conner, give it a rest."
"Well, you're not gonna deny it, are you?"
"Frankly, Conner, I'm wishing I were alone. Happy now?"
"Whew. Okay. At least you're being honest."
Megan Conner turned in her seat and faced front, eyes trained on the apartment building they were parked across from on Fifth Street.
"So, do you think she'll show?"
Megan rolled her eyes and huffed a bit. "My, we are verbal tonight, aren't we?"
"Conner, right now I'm ready to make a pact with the devil himself to be on this stake-out alone."
Glancing at the detective from out the corner of her eye, Megan frowned. Jim was being a real prick.
"You know, you're being a real prick, Ellison."
"Thank you, Conner."
"You do wish Sandy were here. You do."
Jim gave an exaggerated sigh and turned his full sentinel attention to the third floor, second balcony from the left. They were watching the apartment of John Sturgis, a man suspected of killing his wife because he was in love with another woman. Right now, Jim and Conner were hoping that the other woman would show, would confirm their suspicions. Jim was also wishing, fervently wishing, that Sandburg were seated beside him. But he'd be damned if he'd admit it to Conner. He barely admitted it to himself.
And why was that?
A light went on in the watched apartment and at the same time, a forest green PT Cruiser pulled up in front of the apartment building.
"Is that her, Jim?"
"Yep. Whadya know."
The loft was almost in complete darkness. Only the flickering of the television screen provided any illumination. Blair was sound asleep, curled on his side, the drone of the eleven o'clock news keeping him company. Until the knocking on the front door.
Blair shifted and groaned, but didn't awaken.
The knocking came again, louder this time.
Blair's eyes popped open. He blinked a couple of times, then recognized the noise. Sitting up, he swung his legs over, rose, checked the time on the VCR and shook his head somewhat disgustedly as the knocking came for the third time.
"All right, all right, I'm coming, I'm coming. I can't believe you forgot your keys again, Jim. Twice in one month?"
As Blair gently berated, he moved to the door, scratching his back, then running his hand through his hair. He yawned, turned the lock and opened the door.
"Jim, man, I can't believe...."
A fist connected with his jaw and he would have dropped like a stone if the man who'd hit him hadn't grabbed the blue sweater and pulled while at the same time bending at the waist.
Blair's body dropped over Lee Brackett's shoulder. Brackett rose and walked easily over to the couch where he lowered the inert body.
"Well, that was easy," he said quietly.
As Brackett gazed down at the unconscious man, he removed a packet from his jacket pocket. From the plastic bag, he took a vial and a syringe, filled the syringe, tapped it, squirted a small amount, then without any further preamble, stuck the needle in Blair's neck. When the plunger reached the end, he withdrew the needle, placed it and the vial back in the baggie and returned it to his pocket. After patting the man on the head, he walked into Blair's bedroom.
Lee stepped the few paces to the closet, took down a couple of shirts, a warm jacket, and from the floor he picked up Blair's old duffel bag. He set the bag on the bed, stuffed it, added a couple pairs of jeans, some socks and underwear, then zipped it up. He opened the fire escape door and used the duffel bag to prop it open, then walked back into the living room.
"Okay, Mr. Sandburg, time to go. Say good-bye to your old world. Oh, wait, you can't, you're unconscious. Allow me."
He turned to face the upstairs bedroom and bending at the waist, arm sweeping into his chest, Brackett said, "Good-bye, Detective Ellison and thanks - for nothing!"
Grinning from ear to ear, Lee Brackett turned back to the couch, lifted Sandburg to his feet and once again allowed the body to drop over his shoulder. He headed to the bedroom and the open door.
As he left number 307, 852 Prospect Avenue, he laughed softly.
A kaleidoscope of colors, some pain and a mouth of cotton all worked together to convince Sandburg to close his eyes again. But he ignored it all and tried to focus.
"Finally awake, are we, Mr. Sandburg?"
Blair clenched his jaw and just on the off chance that he wasn't bound, he tried to move his hands. He was bound. What a surprise. He squinted in the direction of the voice - of that voice and tried to speak.
"God, please tell me you're not trying to say what happened? Tell me that a man of your intelligence can come up with something more original?"
"eat... shit - an' die?" He managed to hiss out.
Brackett chortled at that and Blair felt something give next to him and correctly ascertained that he was on a bed, arms raised over his head, wrists tied together and bound to something behind him, maybe a headboard. He also realized that what had given had been the mattress as Brackett sat down beside him.
"Very good, Mr. Sandburg. Although, given our current circumstances, I think I can call you Blair. How are you feeling?"
"wha' did you... give... me?"
Lee ran a finger gently over Blair's right cheek, just under his eye, and said with some amusement, "You mean besides a possible black eye? And I'm proud of you, you didn't pull away when I touched you. You're full of surprises, Blair. And don't worry about what I gave you - it was just a sedative. I needed you to stay out of things for awhile."
"so, i'm... not in kansas anymore, i take it?"
"Where you are is of no concern to you, Blair."
Blair's vision was starting to straighten out and he could now clearly see the man next to him. Brackett didn't look much different, if slightly thinner. His hair seemed a bit longer too, but otherwise, the same arrogant man that he and Jim had met two years earlier gazed down at him. He shifted his gaze away and took in the room in which he was a prisoner.
A bedroom. Just a nice, ordinary bedroom. Curtains on the window, shades pulled down. Nice, striped wallpaper in blue and tan, a Shaker dresser and nightstand, some rather attractive artwork on the walls, a book shelf piled with some impressive titles and in the corner, by the lower window opposite the bed, a nice reading chair. Not his typical prison. How refreshing.
"You like the room?" Brackett asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Imagine so. But hey, your comfort means a great deal to me. You're resting on a Posturpedic mattress. Only the best for you, Blair."
Sandburg rolled his eyes dramatically, then in a voice gaining strength with every passing moment, asked, "And you've kidnapped me, why? No, let me guess. I'm the bait, right?"
"And why would I use you as bait?"
"God only knows and trust me when I say that it would certainly be a mistake, I can tell you that much. I suppose you want Jim to use his senses in order to make you a very rich man, or better still, to help you take over the world as we know it?"
"Oh, please, Blair. I'm not some meglomaniac, you know. And trust me when I say that I don't need Jim Ellison and his senses."
Blair frowned and his eyes narrowed as he looked at the man's face, trying to study the expression in order to understand, but then he had to shift his body away as Brackett raised a hand and dropped it on Blair's chest.
"Do you have any idea, Blair, how complicated the process of taking blood into the heart and then pumping it back out is? Did you know that Ellison, if he chose to do so, could actually feel that process?"
A black dread spread through Blair's body as the words, the hand on his chest and the expression of satisfaction in Brackett's eyes told him the horrible truth.
"You've figured it out already, haven't you?" Blair said nothing.
"Of course you have. I can feel your heart working now, I can feel it speed up with fear and truth. Do you realize that you even smell different right now? And your pupils just dilated and you've started to sweat. You can't begin to fathom everything your body is doing right now, but I know. I know it all."
Blair swallowed the lump in his throat and had the hysterical thought that maybe Brackett could analyze the lump for the sake of posterity? So in the future, authors could write, 'the frightened man swallowed the chunk of viscous material made up of...'
Then again, maybe not.
He tried to relax, tried to calm his heart, slow it down and he could see the smile spreading across Brackett's face and he understood that the bastard knew exactly what he was doing....
"Poor Blair. So where does that leave you, eh? If I don't need Ellison, than why are you here?"
"Vengeance. Petty vengeance. You need to get back at the man who put you in jail. Poor Brackett."
The smile changed and Blair felt his skin crawl and his blood turn to ice. It wasn't a nice smile.
"I'm going to leave you with your thoughts for a few hours, I've some last minute plans to firm up, but then I'll be back and we can ... talk ... a bit more and won't that be nice? You stay put, you hear?"
With that, he rose and without a backward glance, left, closing the door behind him.
God damn it to hell.
Blair threw out a few fucks, shits, and exasperated damn's before settling down and trying to escape.
He tugged at the ropes that held him, craned his head to see the headboard and discovered that the rope was threaded through a ring that had been imbedded into the wall above the headboard. This wasn't good. On the other hand....
He twisted, turned, pulled, and wiggled, all in a vain attempt to move the ring through the plaster. It didn't budge. Which meant....
"It's a stud, Blair. Don't bother trying anymore, you'll just hurt yourself."
Blair looked at the closed door and mumbled, "fuck you, asshole."
His answer? Laughter from the other side.
Jim climbed the stairs to the third floor, concentrating hard on each step. He was tired, they'd failed tonight and amid curses aimed at the Mayor, he fumbled in his pocket for his keys. As he hit the third floor landing, he paused....
Something - wrong. He focused and immediately discovered what was off kitler - no heartbeat. No Sandburg.
But that was impossible. The Volvo was downstairs and....
He hurried forward, got the door open and his gun out. Entering carefully, he found nothing amiss but he also found - nothing.
Putting his gun away and smirking at his caution, he began to investigate. All the signs said that Blair had been here and less than three hours ago. Warmth still hovered over the couch and from the way it was spread out, Blair had been asleep. A beer bottle sat on the coffee table, half empty. The set was off, but the remote and TV Guide were next to each other.
Jim could smell Indian food, knew without a doubt that Blair had eaten it. But he walked to the kitchen and checked under the sink just to be sure. Yep, the empty carton sat in the trash. Jim opened the cupboard and was able to identify the bowl Blair had used, cleaned and put away. Worry gnawing at his gut, he moved to the French doors.
Inside Blair's room, all seemed normal ... except... walking quickly to the door, he opened it. His hand connected with the door frame and he froze.
Small, nearly invisible splinters of wood held a few strands of Blair's hair. His hair had brushed past this point....
But not standing up. That would have been impossible. Jim closed his eyes and tried to envision the circumstances that would have allowed Blair's hair to connect and catch....
Dangling. Fireman's carry.
Blair had been carried out of his home.
Panic flared, fed by facts. Jim whirled around and started for the phone, but at the last minute, held back. No, he wasn't done. He needed more. For Blair's sake, he needed to concentrate, discover everything he could. Bringing forth every technique Blair had taught him in the last three years, Jim closed his eyes and focused....
Blair. His TIGI shampoo, the odors of saffron, spices, all mingling with Blair's natural scent. But - no fear. There wasn't a trace of fear in the whole loft. But there was... something else.
Jim moved back to the living room and paused near the couch. He closed his eyes again and inhaled sharply. Cocked his head, frowned, inhaled again.
Something... medicinal? And... blood? Pale, ice blue eyes flew open and sentinel vision took in the couch....
There, on the edge... a minute trace of blood and something else... he touched it, rubbed, brought his finger to his nose, sniffed, then tasted. A sedative? Blair had been injected with a sedative?
He moved quickly to the front door, inspected it, found absolutely no trace of forced entry. Blair had opened the door to someone. And there was absolutely no odor of the person anywhere in his home. How was that possible? Moving on, Jim checked the floor and found scuff marks that didn't belong to him or Blair. He followed them to the couch, then to Blair's room, back out, then finally back and out the fire escape door. He couldn't fail to note that at times, the scuff marks were deeper - as if carrying a weight. As if carrying - Blair.
He spent a few more minutes investigating, discovered that some of Blair's clothes were missing, and his duffle bag. Strangley calm, Jim walked to the phone and called Simon.
The phone rang and on the second ring, Simon picked up.
"Simon, someone has taken Blair."
For all of Lee Brackett's careful machinations, there were some things that were totally out of his control. Like the man who'd be placed on Carstairs' shift while the man was out on his two week vacation. There was no way that Brackett could have foreseen a guard with a heart. There was no way that he could have known that after two days of delivering food to the man known as prisoner J11383 and then picking up said food untouched, that the man would open the cell door and try to get the prisoner to eat.
Jack Kelso rolled into his office on Thursday morning and after turning on the lights and powering up his computer, he poured himself a cup of coffee from the automatic, timer-set coffee maker in the corner. Adding cream and then two spoonfuls of sugar, he took a healthy swig, then rolled to his desk.
He was knee-deep into writing another book, so his first order of business was to bring up the current chapter. As it was loading, his computer pinged, letting him know he had new mail. He opened up the Outlook screen, moved the cursor to the mailbox, and surprised at the addy, read the single sentence.
' The snake is loose '
The single message sent fear lancing through his heart. He quickly picked up the phone.
Fifteen minutes and three calls later, he had all the answers he needed and now had one more call to make - to Captain Simon Banks, Major Crime. He prayed he wasn't too late.
Simon watched his best man closely. Jim was seated at the table, a cup of now cold coffee in front of him. He appeared calm. He was listening. He wasn't fooling any one.
When he'd received Jim's phone call last night, it had taken Simon sixteen minutes to get to 852 Prospect. It had taken Forensics three minutes longer and Joel Taggert had pulled up less than four seconds after Simon. Inside number 307, they'd found a quiet, pacing Jim Ellison. The man had taken them through his investigations, ignoring the fact that much of what he had to contribute couldn't possibly have been discovered by a normal person. But then Serena Chang was used to Detective Ellison and his abilities. So was Joel, who'd long ago given up any idea that some book was responsible for the many amazing things Ellison seemed able to do.
Still, for the sake of evidence holding up in court, Serena and her crew had done their thing; scraped door frames, scanned and scraped the couch, tested the floors, and used every piece of special equipment at their disposal. Their conclusions? The same as Detective Ellison's.
No one was surprised.
Now Joel, Conner, Henri Brown, Serena, Jim and Simon sat around the table discussing their next move while Jim maintained all semblance of sanity and order.
"Conner, what did the investigation of all Jim's cases and arrests yield?" Simon asked, hoping for the magic words, "I think we've found something." He was immediately disappointed.
"So far, Captain, nothing. Everyone who could have done this is either still behind bars or dead. And we went back over five years."
"Serena, your people come up with anything new?"
Glancing worriedly at Ellison, Serena shook her head and as Joel put his arm reassuringly on hers, she said softly, "I'm afraid not, sir."
"Brown, what about the neighbors? How are those interviews going?"
"We've talked with everyone in the building and no one saw or heard anything unusual. Mrs. Dobbins on two said she saw Blair come home, they spoke briefly on the stairs and she commented that other than looking tired, Sandburg was his usual helpful self."
He too shot a glance over at Ellison before continuing.
"We've interviewed the businesses around the loft, those that were open late and again, no one spotted anything. However, Mr. Montez, the owner of the Mexican bakery next door, did say that from about ten to midnight, he'd noticed a guy named Reggie loitering around the alley that runs between his building and Jim's. But so far, we've been unable to find him."
"He's a homeless guy that Sandburg befriended a few weeks ago. Try St. Lawrences on Lucas." Everyone glanced over at Jim, who'd spoken his first words since the meeting had begun. Simon, one eye on Jim, said, "Brown, follow up on that."
Henri excused himself and hurried out.
Finally Conner said quietly, "Maybe our first real break, if this guy saw anything."
At that moment, Rhonda stuck her head in and announced, "Simon, important phone call. It's Mr. Kelso, from the University."
Face a study in puzzlement, Simon got up, followed by Jim.
"Sir, if it's Jack, I'm betting this is about Blair." Nodding his agreement, Simon picked up the phone and punched the blinking light.
//Captain, Jack Kelso. I have some disturbing news//
//Sir, if I may, has anything unusual occurred in the last few days?//
Simon glanced up at Jim, who nodded.
"Yes. Blair is missing. He was abducted last night."
Simon could hear the hiss from the other end of the phone, followed by a sound much like a hand would make as it slammed down on something hard - like a desk.
//Damn it. I'm too late//
"Jack, what's going on? What do you know?"
//Brackett escaped last Friday, Captain Banks//
Simon shot to his feet as he exclaimed, "That's impossible!"
//I'm afraid not. My sources are very sure of their information. He left a dead guard in his bunk. From everything I've been able to gather, his disappearance wouldn't have been noticed for up to two weeks if not for a sympathetic guard//
//It seems Brackett has been staging hunger strikes every two weeks. He started another one on Friday. Carstairs, the dead guard, was, coincidentally, supposed to begin a two week vacation right after his shift. I think you see where I'm going with this?//
"Damn. He did have it well planned. But still, he must have had inside help. Getting to the guard is one thing, but getting out of a top secret prison is something else again."
//Everything we have says he had no inside help, which tells me something even stranger is going on//
There was a pause and then....
//I'm not stupid, Captain and I've known Blair Sandburg for quite awhile. I also know his dissertation subject and I know Lee Brackett's job duties when Jim Ellison was rescued in Peru. Do I have to say more?//
Simon glanced up and caught Jim's eye. Again, the man nodded. "You may not need to say more to me, but would you hold on a moment?"
Simon punched the red hold button and announced, "Everyone, take a break. We'll resume in fifteen."
The room emptied quickly, with everyone but Jim piling out. As soon as the door closed behind Conner, Simon handed the phone to Jim. When he reconnected, Jim spoke.
"Jack, it's Ellison."
//Jim, I'm so sorry I didn't hear earlier//
"I understand. Tell me what you weren't saying to Simon."
//I think that you and Brackett suddenly have a great deal more in common than your shared backgrounds in Covert Ops, Jim. Do I need to spell it out?//
"You're saying he used our... common interests to get out of prison?"
Jim's hand clenched the phone and for a minute, Simon feared for the safety of the invention. Then fingers relaxed and Jim spoke again.
"Jack, I need your help. I have to have everything on Lee Brackett that you've never been able to come up with before. I need the man's entire history. Where he was born, raised, what schools he attended, his first girl friend, you name it, I need it and I need it - yesterday. Can you do it?"
//Between favors I can call in and favors you could call, yeah, I suspect I can. Give me twenty-four hours and a few names. Can do?//
"You got it. We'll meet at your office this time tomorrow."
Jim gave the man a few surprisingly powerful names and before they hung up, Jack added one more thing.
//Jim, he really is a rogue this time. They're after him. They'll shoot and ask questions later// "I understand. Guess we'll have to find him first."
As Jim hung up, he wondered why, if indeed Brackett was now a sentinel, why he hadn't sensed the man.
Simon, seeing the strange expression on his detective's face, asked, "Jim, what?"
Staring at nothing, Jim answered, "Why didn't I sense him, Simon? Like I sensed Alex?"
"Who says you didn't?"
Blinking as if trying to focus, Jim shook his head and said, "What?"
"Who says you didn't? You've been quiet, withdrawn, barely exchanging two words, and I couldn't help but notice that you haven't let anyone physically closer to you than a couple of feet. I chalked it up to everything that's happened since... well, you know. But maybe...."
In spite of Brackett's words, Blair continued to try to pull free. By the time Brackett returned, Blair's wrists were bruised and chaffed.
"Tsk, tsk, Blair. Of course, I'm not surprised. But really, now look at your wrists."
Brackett sat down on the edge of the bed and reached out a finger to touch Blair's right wrist. He ignored the hiss of pain and proceeded to do something surprising... he ran his finger down the length of the arm.
Blair watched, almost fascinated, as the finger traveled down, and further down. What the hell was going on?
"What are you up to, Brackett? What do you want? What kind of game are you playing with Jim?"
Brackett, his eyes on the tense arm, just smiled. He rose suddenly and walked to the dresser. He opened a drawer and took out a small box, then carried it over to the nightstand where he set it down.
"You're smart, Blair. Surely you figured it out by now? This isn't about Ellison. He has nothing to do with this. This is about you --- and me, Blair. I need you to do everything for me, that you've done for him. It's that simple."
Blair looked at the man suspiciously. This wasn't about Jim? Yeah, right.
"So you think I'll help you? Is that it? You think you're a sentinel? Like Jim?"
"Blair, I don't think anything. I know. I am a sentinel. All five heightened senses. And I need you. You should be flattered. Two sentinels, but only one, what did I call you? Oh, yes, guide. Only one Guide. And poor Jim. Because I have you."
Fingers closing into fists, Blair shook his head. "You are not a Sentinel. You may have heightened senses, even all five, but trust me, that doesn't make you a sentinel. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Use your Websters, Brackett. A sentinel is a guardian. A sentinel protects, a sentinel is good. And there is only ONE guardian and that happens to be Jim Ellison. You're just some psychopath with senses off the chart."
Brackett's eyes glittered dangerously as he studied the man below him. His jaw clenched but he fought down his anger. Fought it down because the man belonged to him and since taking him, his senses had been quietly settling down, if not completely working, and he hadn't had a headache in hours.
Finally calming, Brackett smiled stiffly. "I may indeed be a psycho, Blair, but I'm now your psycho. And you will help me."
"No way, man. As far as I'm concerned, you can go over the deep end and zone until you stop breathing."
Brackett just shook his head. "You really are a piece of work, Blair. But I'm going to have fun breaking you. Starting now."
The man opened the nightstand drawer and took out a large, gleaming knife and set it next to the box he'd put down earlier. He removed the lid and pulled out a brown vial and another syringe. He set both next to the knife.
"You think drugs are going to help you?"
Brackett picked up the knife, palmed it and held it to Blair's cheek. To his credit, Sandburg didn't even flinch.
"Scare tactics now? I'm disappointed in you, Brackett."
Grinning hugely, Brackett said, "No, not scare tactics, just simple need." With that, he quickly slit open Blair's blue sweater - right down the middle until it hung on either side of him.
"What the fuck...."
"Exactly, Blair. Exactly."
The torn sweater still left the undershirt. But as Blair stared at the man above him, he realized the white shirt would be no more of an obstacle than the sweater had been.
At that moment, Blair Sandburg realized that something very real was going to happen. That there would be no seventh inning stretch, no last minute save, no cavalry arriving to save him from the proverbial fate worse than death crap. No Jim.
The asshole with the sick grin and a mind that knew no wrong was actually going to touch him, to feel him and even....
"You never struck me as the same gender type of psycho, Brackett. Why don't you just get to the I'm gonna break you, Blair part and skip the sex and the attitude?"
The grin that split Brackett's face was broad and genuine.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but I am a gay psycho sentinel."
He sat back down, reached out and slowly rolled up the white undershirt so that it was bunched just under Sandburg's armpits. As his eyes roamed freely, Brackett, in an almost conversational tone, said, "To tell the truth, I was attracted to you from the get-go, but that meeting was strictly business. This time, you are my business so I get to indulge in a few of the fantasies that kept me going in prison."
"Oh, great. So now you've seen my hairy chest, big fucking deal."
"You, Mr. Sandburg, have become quite - mouthy, haven't you? You barely spoke first time around and I only glimpsed a bit of anger on that bridge. Could two years really have made such a change in one man?"
"Evidently - or perhaps it's the current company?"
Brackett laughed out loud at that, but his eyes took on a dark edge that sent quivers of apprehension skimming up and down Sandburg's back. The hand that ended up on his abdomen only fueled the unease.
"You're trying so hard to be cool, Blair. But you're forgetting what I am now. I can see, feel," he paused and let the palm of his hand rub gently over the taut skin, then added, "and hear your fear, Blair. Your heart rate is skyrocketing and there are now small beads of sweat covering your upper lip. Among other places. Maybe it's time to taste your fear...."
Brackett leaned over and before Blair could move, hands captured his head and held it in place as the older man licked up a trickle of sweat that was crawling its way down the right side of Blair's face. When he was done, he met Blair's unwavering gaze, their faces so close that their noses almost touched. Almost unwittingly, Brackett's eyes were drawn to Blair's lips and he moved in closer....
"Stick anything in my mouth and you'll regret it, Brackett."
Brackett's blue eyes darkened at Blair's words, but the darkness had nothing to do with anger.
"I don't think so, Blair. I think I can put anything in that beautiful mouth of yours that I so desire and you'll have to take it. Because neither of us wants to see you hurt."
"You won't hurt me. You can't afford to. According to you, you need me too much."
Brackett's hands were still on either side of Blair's face but at the younger man's words, he lowered his right hand until it rested on Blair's throat. He positioned his thumb over the soft indentation....
"Blair, you forget. I can hurt you in ways...." he pressed his thumb in slowly....
Blair's eyes grew round as the pain and the pressure not only took his breath away, but he felt his world tilt and an overwhelming need to expel everything from his stomach took over his every thought. He couldn't move, couldn't twist his head away, he was paralyzed by whatever Brackett was doing. The only thing he could do was gag... over and over again....
Just when he thought his eyes would burst from the pressure and his stomach explode... Brackett released him. His body started bucking up as he tried to turn his head, to finally throw up even as his tortured lungs attempted to bring air in....
"You won't vomit, Blair. Not this time. But a few more seconds... you see?"
Brackett began to smooth Blair's hair back as a finger gently rubbed the small spot where he'd applied the pressure. Then without warning, his mouth fastened on Blair's.
He didn't have to force Blair's mouth open, the younger man was still gasping. He simply took advantage. The slight taste of acid surprised him, but he realized that it shouldn't have. Not after what he'd just put his new Guide through.... he ignored it and concentrated on other tastes....
Brackett thought he might actually drown. There was so much and he couldn't keep up with any of it, but he didn't want to either. Kissing had never met anything to him. It was a means to an end, but now, as a sentinel, God, the overwhelming sensuality of the act. The plunging of his tongue into Blair's mouth, matched by his body's movements against the man below him, and he thought, I could come from this....
He felt Blair stiffen, felt the younger man's jaw tighten and he grinned into the kiss even as he brought his thumb up and caressed that special spot on Sandburg's neck... and the body stopped fighting him.
Realizing how much more he had to experience, Brackett finally pulled away. But only a few inches. Eyes boring into Blair's, he said, "Good boy. I honestly don't want to hurt you any further."
Blair said nothing, but neither did he lower his cold, angry gaze. Brackett just grinned. Lee straightened and let his eyes roam over the body until he came to Blair's jeans.
"I think it's time to see all of you, Blair. I hope the temperature in the room is comfortable?"
When Blair didn't answer, Brackett moved his hand to the top of Blair's jeans and undid the button, then grabbed the zipper. He started to lower it and Blair spoke.
"Don't do this. I'm asking you."
Brackett's hand froze.
Then he continued.
When the zipper was down, he changed his position by moving to the end of the bed, then kneeling, his legs on either side of Blair's body. Brackett rested his hands on Blair's hips, his thumbs under the waistband of the jeans, stroking Blair's flesh beneath his shorts.
"Don't even think of trying to buck me off, or kicking, Blair. You won't like my method of retaliation."
Satisfied that Sandburg understood, he slipped his fingers under the material and gripped the flesh of Blair's ass, thumbs still rubbing over the hard bone of his hip.
"Nice," he murmured.
Sandburg shut his eyes and decided it might be time to recite every fucking African tribe he knew....
He tried to organize his brain, tried to think of nothing else, of all that he was about to lose and all that he'd never had as Brackett pulled his jeans and shorts down over his hips. He felt the cold air hit his groin and Brackett was still rolling his jeans down, over his knees then, and finally pulling them from his legs....
Maybe the African tribes backwards?
A hand traveled up his right leg and came to rest on his thigh. He opened his eyes to see Brackett on his knees above him, taking in his, for all intent and purposes, naked form. Anger stole over him. Intense, black anger. This man was not going to win. There was nothing of value that he could take. Nothing.
"All right, now you've seen a naked man. Wow."
Dark blue eyes, souless and fathomless, lifted to gaze at Blair. A grin split the man's face. The grin seemed - surreal.
"I've seen many naked men, Blair. And you're right, wow. But this time, it's different." Blair waited. But it took every ounce of strength he possessed to keep his gaze locked on Brackett's.
"This time, this particular naked man, and this," Brackett ran a finger down the length of the soft penis as it rested in its bed of curls, "dick belongs to me."
"Taking something doesn't make it yours. None of this means anything."
Blair's anger grew as he spat out more words.... "You're nothing, Brackett. You're not a sentinel, you believe in nothing, you feel nothing. And you'll feel even less when you're done here. There won't be any satisfaction, no sense of connecting, of belonging and you'll get nothing from me. Nothing."
The words might be just words, and Blair doubted that they would make a difference to Brackett, but Blair drew strength from them. Still, when Brackett's eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched, Sandburg felt like crowing. He'd pierced the man.
Or just made him angrier.
Brackett lowered his hand and gripped Sandburg's balls as the nerve in his temple beat an angry rhythm against his skin. Slowly, he squeezed....
And squeezed tighter... and tighter still.
Until Blair cried out and tears streamed down his face.
As quickly as it had started, it was over.
Brackett's fingers opened and he sat back on his heels, his breaths coming harshly. After several minutes where the only sound came from Blair as he groaned, Brackett dropped forward and crawled up Blair's body until once again, his face was mere inches from Sandburg's.
"I'll take everything from you, Mr. Sandburg. Everything. And you'll feel all of it."
Rising in one swift movement, Brackett walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
A sob of rage and pain caught in Blair's throat as he squeezed his eyes shut.
Blair tried to remember if he'd ever hated anyone before. Hate as in wanting to physically destroy, to kill. The answer was yes, but the person had been himself. Not the same thing.
And he did hate Lee Brackett and he did want to destroy him.
He forced his body to relax in spite of his lack of clothing and he began to count slowly as he struggled to find his center, to conquer the pain. Escape would come. He'd find a way. Oh, there would be no rescue, he knew that. Brackett might not, but he did. Jim would do what he could, Blair didn't doubt that, but it would be as a cop, a good cop, not as a - friend. There would be no urgency, nothing like he'd felt when they'd gone to Peru for Simon and certainly nothing like - Alex.
No one would come for Blair Sandburg. No one would come because they needed to. And his mother, when she was told, well, there would be nothing she could do.
So. Up to him.
A small voice whispered from deep within....
//But he came when Lash took you. He broke rules to get to you//
That was then, this is now.
//But he hardly knew you then// He doesn't know me now.
To do what?
//To find you//
To find him.
Jim Ellison, Sentinel of the Great City to find... him. Sandburg. Chief. Darwin. Conan. Blair.
//You've always trusted him. From the very beginning, without question//
But it was never a question of trust. Not his trust, anyway. Facts are facts and with nothing to go on....
//He's a sentinel//
Blair closed his eyes again. It was tiring arguing with himself and he was so good at it that the damn debate could go on forever.
No matter what, the bottom line was simple; he had to be stronger than Brackett.
"Terry, you owe me. Big. I need this."
//Jack, you're asking more than I can deliver//
"No, I'm not. I know what you're capable of retrieving and I need this."
Jack wheeled to the window as he held the phone between his shoulder and cheek. Once in place, overlooking the fountain, he grabbed the phone again.
"Terry, this is important. A young man, a good man, well, his life depends on this. An important life, Terry. Please."
//I can't. I'm sorry, Jack//
Kelso closed his eyes and counted to ten, then, "Terry, you wouldn't be on this phone right now, if not for me and I wouldn't be here if not for him."
There was a pause, then....
//He's the one?//
//I guess that means I owe him too//
"In a word, yes."
//How do I get the info to you?//
"You know exactly how, you're the expert. Channel it through. And Terry, after you send it, hide it. They'll be looking for it soon so I need you to bury it deep, you understand?"
//No amount of burying will....//
"I know, I just need you to buy us some time, to get to him first. No one has asked yet, have they?"
//No. Give me twenty. I'm gonna bounce it around a bit, take a nice, safe, circuitous route//
"I'm not going anywhere."
Simon Banks sat in his recliner in front of the television, a beer in his hand. He had no idea what he was watching. Instinctively he knew that tomorrow it would start - the search. He accepted that the information they desperately needed would be provided by Jack. And then, Jim would go.
Simon rose, walked into the kitchen, dumped the beer and stood gazing out his kitchen window onto his dark backyard. He could hear the memory of Henri Brown yelling at Sandburg to get his butt back to the barbecue and he could see the younger man's head shaking as he laughed at Brown and tossed the frisbee to Joel....
....he could visualize that moment, six weeks ago, the fountain, the - body and Jim running, followed closely by Conner and it was funny because all Simon could ever see after that memory, no matter how hard he tried, was the --- billowing jacket.
There had to be a reason for that, right? Just a - billowing jacket....
Simon knew how much his team meant to him, how every single man and woman in Major Crime was his family. But damn, Sandburg was different.
Simon leaned against the counter, his hands gripping the edge as he dropped his head and closed his eyes tight.
Like a son.
Jim would not go alone tomorrow. And Simon would not sleep tonight.
Brackett had taken one of theirs.
Had taken one of his.
Jim stood on the balcony, a beer in his hand. Frosty blue eyes took in his city, absently catalogued the sights and sounds and just as absently filed them away. He was, at least outwardly, calm. But inside, he was coiled like a spring.
Oddly enough, he felt none of the panic he usually experienced when Sandburg was in danger and he wondered about that. All day his mind had been a cold, logical machine instead of the mass of worry, manic thoughts and doom-laden self-generated prophecies that usually accompanied moments like these. And in the last three years, there'd been quite a few moments like these.
Maybe it was the cold anger. It coursed through him like mercury in a thermometer, quicksilver, fueling his body, readying it for what was to come. And he was angry. But the need to track, to find, and to take back was stronger than his hate and anger. Those needs tempered the anger, turning it cold and useful.
To take back.
What was - his.
A strange thought for him. One he didn't fully understand, although Sandburg could probably explain it, between bouts of raucous laughter. It was strange that there'd been all these weeks of adjusting, of trying to come back to where they'd been before Alex, weeks of internal battles, of trying to reclaim what he'd discovered in the Temple, and it had taken Brackett to bring it rushing back?
Jim slowly and deliberately downed the last of the beer. He considered going up to get some sleep before tomorrow, but discarded the idea. There would be no sleep for him tonight, just as he expected there was no sleep for Blair....
Lee Brackett stood stiffly in front of the large bay window and gazed out on the quiet residential street.
His father's home. In Cascade. Only twelve miles from 852 Prospect. The irony delighted him normally, but not now.
He was angry, red-hot anger that enveloped him, consumed him from within. And Sandburg, a twenty-nine year old anthropologist, had done it.
Lee Brackett had never once, in forty-two years, lost his temper. He had no temper to lose; at least that's what he'd always believed. But tonight - tonight, he'd lost it. Even now his anger interfered with his ability to think. Other than to admit that the young man in the bedroom upstairs was not the same man he'd met two years ago. That youngster had not been afraid to be afraid.
Brackett could still see him standing behind his, what, his guardian? And he could clearly hear his questioning of why he, a mere grad student, would be required to join them on the mission to steal the stealth plane.
Lee narrowed his eyes, put his finger against his temple and willed the encroaching headache to dissipate. So many headaches lately. Fuck, had Ellison put up with this kind of thing?
And he was - hard. And upstairs, Sandburg lay exposed.
Time to show the kid who was boss and who would win the war. Only one of them had the necessary equipment and experience. He turned from the window, walked past the dining room where sea charts were spread out over the large table, and headed upstairs to finish what he'd started earlier....
He lay with his eyes closed, but awake. Blair knew it was night as his prison was now completely dark, but sleep was virtually impossible. His mind was too full of his predicament to give in and rest, but he had managed to relax somewhat, once the pain had receded.
Footsteps just outside the door forced his eyes open and his body to tighten....
The darkness hid Brackett's features and the knife in his right hand. The same knife he'd used earlier to cut away Blair's sweater.
Blair strained to see past the pitch black of his room, but other than a dark shape moving toward him....
Brackett's face was expressionless, his eyes dark and unforgiving as he stared down at the young man, the darkness no barrier to his eyesight. Dispassionately he took in the naked body, the compactness of it, and realized that Sandburg had lost weight in the two years since their last meeting. He stared at the man's chest, at the brown hair covering the not very broad expanse and he'd been surprised about that. He'd always envisioned almost jet black hair on Blair's body. This was - better. The hair curled in on itself, but wasn't kinky or tight. It stretched across almost from shoulder to shoulder, then narrowed down to a fine, darker line that pointed the way to the soft penis. Slender thighs that had been stocky two years ago, now tensed as if their owner knew exactly where Brackett's gaze had come to rest.
Lee was also surprised by the amount of hair that covered the compact, muscular body, or should he say the lack thereof? He'd expected that a man with Blair's head of hair and heavy five o'clock shadow would be covered with more of the same, only darker. He wasn't. The hair on Sandburg's legs was light brown and downy soft, as was the hair on his arms.
Brackett placed the knife against the white shirt and cut through the material. Then he cut all four sleeves and pulled the sweater and shirt away, letting both drop to the floor.
There was now nothing between him and his guide. And nothing to stop him from doing what he'd come in to do.
He set the knife down, quickly stripped to skin, opened the drawer of the nightstand, took out the things he'd need and threw them onto the bed. Then he picked up the knife, rested it against Blair's throat and applied pressure. The blade cut into skin and Brackett could see the red as it popped up around the sharp, silver edge, but Blair said nothing. Lee applied a bit more pressure until he heard the gasp of pain. He removed the knife. Message received.
Brackett climbed onto the bed and straddled Blair's body, then placing the tip of the knife just under Blair's right eye, he again applied a small amount of pressure. This time, the gasp was more of a shocked no!. He set the knife down and released the right wrist cuff. Before Blair could realize what was happening, Brackett flipped him to his right, then over on his stomach. Blair's right arm was once again secured by the wrist cuff. The whole procedure had take only seconds and with Brackett straddling him, had succeeded in leaving Blair's body stretched out, his upper body raised above the mattress.
Lee placed his hands on Blair's shoulders, pushed down and raised himself up. Blair grunted beneath him, but said nothing. Brackett scooted himself down until he was resting over Blair's legs.
He started at the top, his eyes taking in the shoulders, the muscles trembling with the strain of his captivity and uncomfortable position, then moving down the back and again found himself surprised because Blair Sandburg was pale. He'd expected an almost olive tint to the youner man's skin, not this smooth, almost cream like whiteness. He felt his dick harden even further at the sight, at the complete vulnerability of the body.
His eyes finally came to rest on Sandburg's ass... round, high, clenched tight, skin rippling as his muscles tensed. It was time.
Blair's fists clenched as he felt Brackett move above and over him. He could feel the man's dick as Brackett moved down his body and he clenched his jaw as he lowered his head, forehead to pillow. He thought it strange that there were only three other incidences in his life where he'd felt this helpless... Lash, Alex, and....
He realized with a start that Brackett was at his feet, holding his legs down with his weight. He bit back a groan as the man's hands landed on his butt. He wanted to flood the night, inundate the dark room with words, biting, sarcastic words, but somehow, instinctively, he understood that saying nothing, making no sound, responding in no way, would be more powerful. As two thumbs pressed into him, Blair figured it was time for those African tribes - backwards.
Eyes closed tight, fists still clenched, Blair's mind supplied him with the first tribe....
Then the second....
Xhosa... no - Xesibe, then Xhosa.
Oyo --- Ngoni....
...alpha... beti... cal... ly.
Jack wheeled himself to the door and welcomed Detective Ellison. One look at the man's face and it was clear that he hadn't slept. "What do you have for us?"
Jack had been about to offer the detective some coffee, but at his terse words, he wisely decided the bottom line was a good place to go. He picked up a file and handed it to Jim.
"Everything you need is there. And my friend has buried the information so deep that when the CIA goes looking, as we're certain they will, it will take time. Time you need to find Blair."
Jim nodded as he opened the folder and began to read. Less than three paragraphs in, he froze, then his head jerked up to meet Kelso's concerned gaze.
"Have you read this?"
"None of this was in the file you gave us two years ago. This says that he grew up here. In Cascade."
"Apparently so. According to that information, Brackett's mother left her husband and took her son back East. She reverted to her maiden name, Brackett and even had Lee's name changed. As you read further, you'll discover that his father died a few weeks ago. The man's family was and is, quite wealthy. His estate still hasn't been settled."
Jim couldn't believe it. As he went back to reading, the parallels between him and Brackett were astounding. Hell, they'd even gone to the same schools, albeit Brackett a few years ahead of him. And the chances were good that his own father had been an acquaintance of Phillip Hemmings, Lee Brackett's father. Jim put himself in Brackett's shoes. And he knew where they were. Brackett would find it too enticing, too ironic to be holed up a few miles from Ellison and the entire Cascade Police Department. But he wouldn't be there long, he'd know that the CIA would eventually tumble....
"Thank you, Jack."
"You're heading over there, aren't you?"
"Yes. It would be just like him to hide in plain sight, so to speak."
Jack agreed and then said, "Find him, Jim. Bring him back."
Jim understood that Jack was talking about Blair, not Brackett.
"He's here, in Cascade, Simon."
//Give me the address, I'll send back-up//
"2314 Azalea Drive. And make the back-up silent, Simon."
Jim could hear his friend scribbling, then barking out an order to Joel. Then he heard the gasp.
//This address, Jim. It's what, two blocks from....//
"From my father's house, yes, I know, Simon. I'll be there in fifteen."
Back-up in the form of Simon, Joel, Conner and Brown, arrived seconds behind Jim. They parked at the south end of the street and congregated by Simon's car.
"Nothing. But if he's using...."
"Got it. So we go in slow and careful."
Slow and careful got them inside the empty house. It took them ten minutes to sweep the residence and confirm that Brackett and Sandburg were nowhere to be found.
Simon holstered his gun and turned to look at Ellison. They were standing in the upstairs hall, the others now downstairs.
Ellison didn't answer. Instead, he turned and went into the bedroom behind him. Stepping inside, he ran his gaze quickly over the room, then moved to the frame that now held only a box spring.
"This is where Brackett had Blair."
"Do I need to ask how you know? There's no evidence that anyone has been in this home for weeks."
"Really? Then how do you explain how clean it is, Simon? No dust accumulation, no musty odor, how do you explain that?"
"I - guess I don't. So how do you know Blair was here?"
"I can smell him. Brackett tried hard to hide their odors - I think he used something with lemon juice and ammonia."
"Ammonia? Now, Jim, I know I'd smell that."
"He used just enough to interfere with my ability to smell."
"Then how can you tell Blair was here?"
Pale blue eyes turned to Simon and for a moment, both men stared at each other. Then Jim turned back to the bed.
"Oh. I see."
Jim ran his hand over the bed, keeping it a few inches above the mattress. Nothing. No residual heat. How had Brackett masked that? His gaze strayed to the head board and something....
"What's this?" Jim moved closer and leaned down to inspect the odd patch just above the headboard. He touched it with his finger....
"Wet. This was repaired, maybe, last night?" He dug his finger in and a small piece fell away, revealing a small hole.
"What, Jim? What does it mean? Is that a - bullet - hole?"
Focusing his vision, narrowing it down to the hole, he could see....
"No. A screw was in there, I can see how it dug into the plaster. Heavy duty, all the way into the stud."
"A screw? One screw? In the wall above the bed?"
"One large, heavy duty screw, something strong - to bind a man...."
"Brackett used a heavy tool to remove it, there's damage, a lot of damage. And - stress. There was strength...."
"Trying to get - loose."
"Do I want to know anything else?"
Jim straightened and something just out of reach teased his nostrils... and then he had it.
"The same odor, Simon. Brackett drugged him. And... something else, but the ammonia, I can't...." his eyes started to water, as he began to cough and sputter.
"Come on, Jim, let's get you out of here."
In the living room, Simon guided Jim to the couch and told Brown to get the man some water.
"What's wrong, Simon?" Taggert asked, his concern evident.
"He, there's ammonia in the air, he breathed it in...."
Taggert looked over at Conner, who in turn shrugged and smiled knowingly. Taggert just shook his head.
Brown brought back the water and Jim swallowed it all quickly. As he reached over to put the glass on the table, something caught his eye.
The table, no, the items on the table... had been moved. He could see where the bowl, the two art books, the phone and the glass swan had been shoved to one end, then put back. As if Brackett had spread something out over the surface?
Jim leaned forward and once again tried to narrow his vision....
He could see the indentations of - writing? As if a piece of paper had been on the table and Brackett had scribbled something... Jim reached out his hand and with one finger, traced over the indentation.
"Simon, write this down."
Frowning, but knowing better than to argue, he pulled out his notebook and pen and waited.
"S-l-i-p... 2...1." He glanced up and repeated, but this time, he put the letters together into a word. "Slip 21?"
"As in boat slip?" Simon asked incredulously.
Jim's eyebrows knitted together as he thought back to the folder Jack had given him... he snapped his fingers and stood quickly.
"The family, Brackett's father, had a boat, the Windsong. It was in the file Jack gave me."
"I don't suppose that file told you where the boat was moored, by any chance?" Simon asked.
"The Village Marina."
The Village Marina was a re-creation of a British sailing port, full of tourist shops and restaurants. But it was also a popular spot for the rich to house their boats. Slip 21 was right in the middle of everything - and empty.
The five detectives stood at the end of the slip, staring at the water and the space where the boat should have been.
"We're too late, he's gone," Simon said quietly.
"But today, this morning. No earlier. We get a description of the boat...."
"He had to file a, what do they call it? A route? Like a pilot, right?" Brown offered.
"I'm sure he did," Simon said, his eyes locked on Jim, who was staring sightlessly out over the water. "But it won't be real."
"I'm betting that it will. That's exactly what I'd do, turn in the real thing."
Everyone looked at Jim, then at each other.
Finally Conner said, "So, what are we waiting for?"
Blair came back to reality desperately needing to throw up. His head hurt, he had that cotton in the mouth feeling and knew that he'd been drugged - yet again. He wasn't surprised to find that his hands were tied above his head, but at least he was wearing clothes. He glanced down, groaned and immediately wished that he hadn't. The room spun and he quickly closed his eyes. After a few minutes, he tried again.
He was wearing jeans, his white Henley and he even had on socks. No shoes, but hey, socks were better than nothing.
The desire to toss his cookies wasn't abating but he didn't want to call out because as far as he could tell - he was alone. And he'd prefer to stay that way. He shifted and felt the - pain, the discomfort and he winced, then gasped as the need to vomit overruled everything else. He twisted to his left, tried to move as far as he could to his left, his head just hanging over the edge of the bed. He gagged, then retched, then finally, vomited. There wasn't much to bring up, but when he was finally done and had collapsed back, exhausted, he did feel better.
Until he realized that his bed was moving....
Blair opened his eyes and looked around frantically... he was in a - cabin. On a boat?
Footsteps above him, then tennis shoes appeared followed by Brackett.
"I see you're awake, Mr. Sandburg."
He stopped suddenly and swayed as the smell of Blair's vomit hit him. Blair bit back the almost automatic response of dial it down, then as Brackett paled, he smiled almost perversely.
Struggling to overcome the odor, Brackett narrowed his eyes, then hit the wall with his right hand. The pain did it. His other senses seemed to whirl out and away as he concentrated on the pain. Senses temporarily at normal, he moved to the bunk and without looking at Blair, started the clean up process. When he was done, he looked down at the man.
"I'll assume that your illness was due to the drug I gave you and not the fact that you suffer from seasickness."
Not waiting for an answer, he turned and picked up a long piece of rope, then moved back to Blair's side.
"I hate to do this, but there's rough weather ahead and this will actually protect you, Mr. Sandburg."
Mr. Sandburg. Not Blair. That was supposed to frighten him? Nice try, Brackett. No sale.
Blair watched as Brackett wound the rope across his waist, then under and up again. In a moment, Blair was tied securely to the bunk.
Brackett walked to the sink, poured a glass of water, grabbed a deep bowl and returned. He lifted Blair's head and let him drink, then said," Swish and spit, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair did it, grateful to lessen the rancid taste in his mouth. They went through the process a few times, then Brackett brought over a small green bottle, poured some of the liquid into the glass and repeated his request.
Mouthwash. Scope to be exact. He swished and spit. Twice.
"I'd brush your teeth for you too, but like I said, we've bad weather ahead. I need to be up top. And if you're hungry," he eyed the floor and the remaining wet spot, then finished with, "you'll have to do without until we get through the storm."
Before leaving, his eyes glittered in the muted light of the cabin and he ran a finger down Blair's cheek, then over the cut on his throat. A moment later, Brackett turned on his heel and headed for the stairs. On his way up, he tossed over his shoulder, "By the way, Mr. Sandburg, how do you feel about - Russia?" Then he was gone and Blair was alone.
"Jim, this makes no sense. Why Canada?"
Jim sat at the large table in the Harbor Master's office and stared at the chart that had been spread out before him. Simon was opposite and staring down at the lines that meant nothing to him.
Jim shook his head and said, "No, not Canada, Simon. Alaska, then - Russia. He's heading for Russia."
"Russia?" The light dawned. "Shit, of course. But Jim, you don't just sail into...."
"I suspect if you're Lee Brackett - you can. But he isn't going to make it." The last part was an oath, not just a prediction.
"I suppose you've got an idea how to stop him, Jim?"
"He's only got a few hours on us. We need a chopper."
Simon rolled his eyes. "Oh, sure, we just need a chopper. So simple. Let me guess, I'm supposed to requisition one, right?"
"No, no, you're not supposed to requisition one. We can't tip our hand, Simon."
"So, what, you've got one hiding up those sleeves of yours?"
"Not that I'm aware of, Simon. And you really need to keep better tabs on your people." At Simon's puzzled look, Jim said, "Conner's new boyfriend."
The blank stare solicited more information.
"He's a chopper pilot, owns his own Bell."
"And you have a plan?" Simon asked, not really needing an answer.
Thanks to Conner, arrangements had been quickly made to meet Darren Miller, Conner's new friend, at the Smithson airfield just outside of Cascade where he housed his Bell.
Now as the detectives stood just outside the Harbor Master's office, Conner's anger and disgust were vented in words.
"We should be going with you. You need us, Captain."
"Cascade needs you too. Now look, as of this moment, this investigation is out of our hands. Brackett is no longer in our jurisdiction so anything we do now - has to be unofficial. So this is how it goes down. To anyone that asks, I'm taking a few days off to take care of some personal business and Jim has been relieved of duty."
Simon put a hand on Joel's shoulder as he said, "You're acting Captain in my absence." Then he gave each of his people a challenging look.
"It's up to you three to ensure that everything seems normal, understand?"
Knowing that Simon was right, but hating it anyway, Conner nodded as did Brown. Joel just stared back at his friend, understanding just what a difficult task lay ahead of Simon and Jim. And understanding the risks if things went bad.
"We'll take care of everything, Simon," Joel promised.
"Good man. Now head out, all of you. And Brown, thanks for taking my car."
As the Conner and Brown turned away and started for the cars, Joel shook Simon's hand and said quietly, " Just bring our boy back, Simon."
"I fully intend to, Joel."
Simon watched his people until their vehicles faded from sight, then re-joined Jim inside.
The drive to the airfield was made in complete silence, both men deep in their own thoughts.
For Jim, the thirty minute drive was an opportunity to prepare himself, much as he'd always done prior to a mission. He knew this was a war, and he fully intended to win. His mind refused to accept any other outcome. And when he had Blair back....
For Simon, the thirty minutes allowed for some much needed introspection. The weeks since the capture of Alex had gone badly and nothing that he'd planned that early morning in front of a fountain at Rainier had occurred.
He'd made some promises to himself as he'd stood back and watched the paramedics work over Blair's body. He'd promised to tell the man a few things, he'd bargained with God, and yet, once Blair had started breathing....
Simon swiped a hand over his eyes and prayed this wasn't his punishment, that somehow God wasn't saying, 'Hey, I gave him back and what did you do with him? You blew it, so guess what? Yeah, I'm reneging.'
God wasn't that cruel. Was he?
As they drove, the sky clouded over and by the time they'd hit the Stanton off-ramp, it had started to drizzle. Jim pulled into the small airstrip and following the directions provided by Darren, negotiated his way down aisles of small planes and choppers, past two large hangers, then past the small building that housed the Smithson offices. At that point, Jim spotted the red Range Rover that belonged to Darren, parked next to a much smaller hanger. Jim swung the truck in beside the Jeep, shut down and spoke his first words since leaving the Village.
"Simon, are you sure...."
"I'm sure, Jim. You need back-up and while I'm no Sandburg... well, let's just get this show on the road."
They climbed out and headed into the small hanger.
"I'm sorry, Jim, but we can't take off yet. There's a storm moving in and right now, I'm betting your boat is caught smack dab in the middle of it."
Jim closed his eyes in frustration and counted to ten. Then he opened them and in what he hoped was a calm voice, said, "Hey, this is a Bell 430, surely it can handle a little weather?"
"We're not talking a little weather, Jim. We're talking a major storm. It would be suicide to go up now. And believe me, your boat isn't making any headway either. When the storm clears, we'll go up and be no worse off than if there'd been no storm at all."
Simon frowned as the import of Darren's words really made it into his brain.
"Wait, if this storm is so bad - can Brackett weather it?"
Darren Miller, a tall, rangy black Irishman of about Jim's age, scratched at his jaw thoughtfully, then said, "From what you've told me of the Windsong, well, he's got a good one. If he's a good sailor, yeah, he should be able to ride it out. Especially if he's away from the coast."
Jim walked to the open hanger door and stared out over the airstrip, watching as the rain, which only a few minutes before had been drizzle, came down in sheets. He stared out, seeing nothing, his body tense and frustrated by their inability to move. And by the fact that Blair was out there with Brackett, in a boat, in a storm.
Surrounded by water. Rough water.
The motion of the boat had become increasingly erratic and as his body slid against the bindings, the room darkened with the storm. The sound of waves slamming against the hull, of the wind screaming its anger and the boat moaning with the pain of battle, even the occasional frantic pounding of feet overhead, all seemed to coalesce within Blair, signaling a means to the end. The jerking and tossing, the constant bucking motion, the scraping of the ropes against his skin and now his torso, all spelled the end and he found that he didn't mind. Blair could discover no reason to feel otherwise.
He listened intently, his fingers gripping the ropes that bound his arms overhead and he also found himself praying that Brackett would be washed overboard. His own death seemed a small price to pay for such a wish.
The door to the cabin blew open and began to bang shut, then sweep open again and each time it did, the icy cold air, rain and ocean rushed in. The cabin was now in complete darkness.
On deck, Lee Brackett fought against the storm, his sailing capabilities tested to the nth degree. But he'd made a mistake and he knew it. He'd stayed in too close, hugging the shoreline instead of heading out to the open sea and now his boat was paying the price. He knew that the rocky Washington coastline on his right presented more of a danger than the current weather, and he was trying to head into the storm, to distance himself from the shoreline, but every bone in his body was screaming that he was failing.
As he scrambled aft, a huge wave crested the boat and shoved it hard to the right. At the same moment, a huge clap of thunder sounded. The pain hit Brackett hard and he dropped to his knees, his arm hooked over the railing to keep him anchored. The 41 foot Amazon shuddered, but Brackett heard and felt nothing....
The sudden deep lurch caught Blair unaware, his body straining against the ropes as the harsh. strong motion tried to separate him from the bindings. At the same time, Blair heard the thunder and something - more, then he felt it. The boat had struck something. He could feel the hull ripping apart somewhere behind and below him.
The movement of the boat changed as it listed sickeningly, almost as though it were impaled and trying to dislodge itself. Then a new sound assaulted him - that of rushing water. In the cabin. The cabin was filling with water.
For all his thoughts on ending his life, when faced with the fact of dying by - drowning, Blair Sandburg found himself fighting. This could not be happening again. That he should find death twice in just a few weeks and that both deaths should be from drowning?
NO! His mind screamed. Not this time, not again!
Blair began to twist and buck, to fight his bindings even as the water level climbed. Shaking his head back and forth, he yanked, tore, squirmed and did everything in his power to gain release. And he yelled.
"BRACKETT! GOD DAMN YOU TO HELL, GET THE FUCK DOWN HERE!!!"
He continued to yell at the top of his lungs, hurling dire threats, cussing a blue streak but as the water began to lap against the bunk, to spill over his body, his yells turned to small moans....
"nonono, not again, nonono...."
The water crept up, unheeding of Blair's now almost soundless pleas....
"....YOU ASSHOLE! GET ME OUT OF HERE!!"
Brackett shook his head and wiped water from his eyes. He was still on his knees... and what had happened? Then he remembered; the thunder, the pain....
He gazed about him and the words, the yelling, Blair's yelling, brought him to his feet, swaying in the wind and wondering what was wrong. Then he saw them - the rocks.
He bolted to the other side of the boat, slipping several times, but always regaining his balance and once he'd made it to the opposite rail, he focused his sight....
Land. And his boat had struck rocks. He closed his eyes and tried to feel....
She was going down. Sinking.
He opened his eyes and tried to gauge the distance to shore. Not far, God, not far at all. The storm had driven them into shallow waters. Brackett turned to head below.
The cold, heartless ocean was teasing him, sloshing over his body, then swaying back and away, only to return stronger. If he lowered his head, his chin would be under water. Blair had minutes. He was quiet now, his mind focused on Hargrove Hall, the fountain, Alex, and -- Jim. He had fought Alex, fought the drowning, struggled hard, fingers digging into her flesh as she'd forced him down after striking him on the side of the head with the butt of the gun she'd held.
He remembered the jagged shape of colors that had burst behind his eyes at the blow, how he must have started to fall to his knees, but she'd pushed him forward instead and he'd fallen across the stone he'd so often sat on while talking with students....
He could remember trying to brace himself, to push up and away, but she'd leaned into him, grabbed his jacket and shoved him until his head was in the water. And then, then... she'd used her body to hold him down....
And now, cold ocean struck his chin, then his lower lip and in that crystal clear moment of calm before death, Blair Sandburg wondered what the fuck it was about Sentinels and water? Why was it that every sentinel wanna-be ended up killing him, the idiot, with water? It didn't skip his notice that his sentinel was afraid of deep water. Talk about irony.
For only the second time since being taken by Brackett, Blair allowed himself to think of Jim. A hopelessness having nothing to do with his imminent death washed over him. And that was followed by a deadly calm. He had lost it all anyway, so perhaps this final drowning was as it should be....
As another wave washed over him, Blair closed his eyes and surrendered, except... hands, and something glittered in the murky wetness, and he was floating up....
Grey. Jim looked out over the airfield and could see only grey. A hand dropped on his shoulder and he turned to gaze up into worried brown eyes.
"Jim, Darren is getting everything ready. He says we can head out now."
Thirty minutes later, the Bell 430 rose into dead skies and headed out on its search.
Brackett fought the rushing water, the heaving boat, the floor underneath his feet that seemed to have a mind of its own, he fought his senses, and he fought his own screaming brain, a brain that yelled, "GET THE FUCK OFF THIS BOAT AND FORGET THE KID!"
Fingers grasped wet, slippery material, the shining silver of his knife flashed through the darkness, wide blue eyes stared up at him from under water, hair billowed out alive and then he was sawing wet rope. He felt clenched fists drop, finally free and he moved to the ropes holding the shivering body down, sliced again, and the man was in his arms and he was half carrying, half pushing a gasping Sandburg as together they fought through the water, up the steps to the main cabin, then up again, every movement of the boat in direct opposition to their needs.
Somehow they made it to the deck and Brackett threw Sandburg against the railing, then fought his way back down, used his enhanced sight to find the items that would be needed on land, stuffed them into a bag and with heaving chest and tired limbs, returned topside to slam his body up against Sandburg's. Blair was coughing and sputtering, his compact frame wracked with tremors and as Brackett grabbed the man's shirt from the back and tossed him overboard, he could hear words....
"...god damn sentinels, water everywhere... WHAT THE HELL!?"
Buckling the backpack around his waist, Brackett gave one last look back at his listing boat, then vaulted over the railing and into the cold sea below.
Blair hit the water and went down. He'd been freed from captivity by Brackett moments before death and now, he was under water, his wrists still - bound.
Blair fought the downward pull, strained upward, kicked ferociously, held his breath but it was a losing battle... until a hand grabbed his free-floating hair and tugged up.
He broke through the surface of the churning ocean, his mouth open wide, desperate to take in a chunk of air. Gasping like a flounder flopping around on a deck, he barely caught his breath before he was being pulled back as Brackett made for shore. Waves crashed into them, rain sliced through vulnerable skin and still Brackett moved relentlessly forward, Blair struggling behind him as the older man, still holding tight to hunks of hair, kept him afloat. Then Brackett's feet hit solid ground and surprised, he stood, hauling Sandburg up with him.
As they struggled to shore, Brackett's fingers still embedded in Blair's hair, Sandburg's anger increased tenfold. When they actually found themselves standing on the rocky shore of the Washington coast, chests heaving, bodies freezing, an anger that had been building for weeks, coursed through him, leaving a burning warmth in its wake. With a strength he would have doubted he possessed, he yanked himself from Brackett's grasp and brought his bound hands up to swing them like a bat, catching Brackett on the side of the face.
The older man reeled back and Blair turned himself into a flying missile, bending at the waist to charge the off-balance man. His head connected solidly with Brackett's solar plexus. He was very satisfied when he heard the painful grunt that greeted his efforts.
Brackett, the air knocked out of him, went down but before he could catch his breath or wonder what the hell had happened, Blair was on top of him, yelling and swinging.
"WHAT'S WITH YOU FUCKING SENTINELS AND WATER ANYWAY? HOW MANY FUCKING TIMES DO I HAVE TO DROWN TO MAKE YOU ALL HAPPY?"
The thing above him couldn't be real. Hair swinging madly in the wind, eyes dark and dangerous, body thudding into his, fists striking him again and again... his vision faded....
Blair realized that Brackett was no longer fighting. It had also stopped raining. Slowly, shakily, Blair got to his feet. He glanced around him and had no idea where they were. He looked back out to sea and in the haze, he could just make out the boat, white against the dark rocks that held it captive.
He had to get away - NOW. His brain incapable of further thought, Blair Sandburg began to run.
Brackett recovered quickly. He'd been more surprised by the anger and blows than actually injured. He rose quickly and in seconds, had Sandburg pegged. He took off after the younger man.
Jim sat in the front of the chopper with Darren, his eyes searching, seeing what no one else could. He knew it was ridiculous to search for the boat now, they'd only been in the air for fifteen minutes. Darren figured that it would take a good hour to get anywhere near where the Windsong would have been caught by the storm. A storm that had raged for over three hours.
Three hours... too many hours behind.
Simon watched his friend from behind. Jim was too - quiet, too - composed. He'd never seen him like this before. He'd seen him focused, yes, he'd seen him move like a well-oiled machine, but underneath, there'd always been a raging animal. But this was - scary. And if anything had happened to Sandburg? If they somehow failed to bring him back? Alive. What then?
Simon felt cold fingers of dread grip his heart because he knew what would happen. Two men were at risk here, not just one.
"It looks like it might rain again, Darren," Jim said through his microphone.
"It might, but we can handle that. The bulk of the storm has moved south. Anything we experience now will be left-overs."
Satisfied, Jim went back to searching uselessly.
He was close. He could hear the kid trying to breathe, could hear his frantic footfalls, could even hear his fingers as they grasped for a hold over the slippery rocks....
Brackett had to admire the man scrambling for freedom up ahead. He smiled almost proudly. Because the man was his. Belonged to him. Brackett ran faster, scaled the rocks easily, slid down and hit the sand, then into the forest, his thudding footsteps over heavy groundcover sounding like a herd of wild mustangs. Up ahead, he could see flashes of color, of fading blue and dirty white, and he was closing fast.
He also knew that Sandburg didn't have a clue that he was about to go down because he was running mindlessly now, his tortured lungs getting ready to shut down....
Pain. All encompassing pain. Burning lungs, each breath like blazing flames and he was poisoning his own body and Blair knew that it would shut down soon....
Something heavy behind him, but he didn't dare look back, tried to run faster, but couldn't, just couldn't. He tried to find the anger again, hoping it would spur him on, but it was gone, replaced by this unreasoning need to keep running....
Brackett reached out, fingers close, leaned forward in his run, felt the whiplash hair, caught hold and - pulled.
Blair was yanked back and off his feet. He landed hard, his head thudding down then up, then down again. When he looked up, it was into Brackett's smiling face.
Brackett dropped down instantly and straddled the stunned man. Grasping his hair with both hands, easily pinning the bound wrists with his own body, he smiled. Lowering his head until he was less than an inch from Blair's face, he whispered, "nice try, mr. sandburg. nice try. but you're mine and don't forget it."
Exhausted blue eyes blinked, then focused.
Blair fought to control his breathing as he stared at his captor. When he'd caught enough breath to speak, he hissed back, "i'm looking at a dead man."
A momentary chill crept along Brackett's skin, but he shook it off and laughed broadly. When he'd calmed, he said, "Blair, we're all dead men."
He dragged Sandburg to his feet, pulled him close until their noses were almost touching, and said purposefully, "Now listen and listen good. I have a fair idea as to where we are and while this changes my plans a bit, it doesn't destroy them. I managed to bring a few things with me, but it's going to be rough going for awhile. You will keep up and this," he reached back, pulled at the zipper of the backpack and took out more rope, "will keep you in line. I won't put up with any guff, you hear me? You do what I say, when I say it."
Blair stared at the rope, then at the man holding him. He spit in his face.
The spittle ran down his cheek as Brackett's eyes narrowed dangerously, then anger sparked in the blue depths and he lashed out.
Blair felt the painful blow to the side of his face and would have fallen if not for the fact that Brackett still held him. A moment later, he was shoved down, Brackett bending over him.
Through the haze of pain, he watched the man loop the rope around his bound wrists, then he straightened and tied the other end around his own waist.
"I hope you're ready, Mr. Sandburg, because we're on the move."
He turned and started walking. When the weight of Blair's unyielding body stopped him, he simply gave a strong yank, pulling Blair onto his stomach, then continued to walk and pull.
For several feet, he dragged the stubborn man, then finally stopped. He didn't say anything, just gave Blair time to get to his feet. When, grudgingly, he did, Brackett moved on.
The rope around his wrists was now stained red and Blair could no longer feel his hands. His socked feet pounded the ground as he struggled to keep up with Brackett and he wondered how long he'd last... then his anger returned. He had no idea where they were but he doubted that they were still in Washington. Which meant Canada and what could Brackett have planned now that he'd lost his boat? And if Russia was indeed his ultimate goal - how could he now make it?
And why should Blair help by following meekly behind? He shouldn't.
Blair had no idea how long they'd been walking, but it was over. He grasped the rope and pulled - hard. Brackett stumbled and jerked back, then spun around to face a suddenly stubborn Sandburg.
"What game are you playing at now, Sandburg?"
"No game. Maybe you've forgotten - I'm without - shoes. And you claim to need me. How long do you think I'm going to last this way?"
With a sharp tug, Brackett yanked him into his body and captured his jaw between strong fingers. He pressed in and watched Sandburg's eyes widen with pain, but the fighting glare didn't diminish. With his left hand, he grabbed more hair and jerked Sandburg's head back, eyes glued to the pale neck.
"You want to play rough, Sandburg, then fine. You will last as long as I need you to last. Shoes or no shoes."
Sandburg shook his head, fighting the fingers buried in his hair. Brackett simply smiled. He let go, turned and started walking again. Blair waited, forcing the man to pull. When he did, Sandburg said quietly, "you don't have a chance, brackett."
They continued on.
"THERE!" Jim yelled as he pointed ahead and slightly right of their position.
"What, Jim, what?"
"A boat, against the rocks, close to shore."
Darren peered through the windshield but could see nothing, let alone anything that resembled the Windsong.
"Darren, just follow Jim and trust me when I tell you that he does see it," Simon instructed from the back.
Shrugging, Darren nodded and headed closer to shore. Several minutes later, the boat was visible to both Darren and Simon.
"Well, I'll be damned. How did you do that, Ellison?"
Tossing a look back at Simon, Jim said, "Would you believe - carrots? Loads of carrots?"
Simon allowed himself a chuckle as the chopper drew closer to the Windsong.
"I can't believe this," Darren said, his voice full of shocked surprise.
"Any good sailor would have headed out to sea in that storm. But this says he was hugging the shore and there," he indicated with a nod, "are the results of such a foolish error."
Simon leaned forward, worry creasing his forehead.
"Jim, is anyone, I mean, do you hear...."
"Nothing. They're not on board." Jim turned to Darren and asked, "Is there enough beach to land?"
"Not here, no. But back a bit, yeah, I remember seeing a spot. By foot, you should be able to get back here in twenty, maybe less."
"Let's do it then."
Darren navigated the chopper around and back, finding the spot he'd seen earlier. He took her down.
The backpacks were secure and the two men were ready. Darren watched them both and tried again.
"Look, let me com...."
"No, Darren," Simon answered, "We'll need you here, ready to take off if, well, we just need you here. And we're cops, this is what we do."
Jim was standing a few feet away, his body literally thrumming with the need to move and at Simon's words, he said quietly, "Simon, I think you should stay here too. I'm going to be moving fast and ...."
"Shut the fuck up, Ellison. Number one, you're gonna need me. And number two, the day I can't keep up with you is the day I turn in my badge. Are we clear on that, Detective Ellison?"
Stony glare fought with commanding glare. Stony slowly melted.
"Aye, aye, sir," Jim said, the beginnings of a grin twitching at the corners of his mouth.
"Damn straight, it's aye, aye, sir. Now let's get going."
Darren watched the two men as they headed north along the rocky shoreline, back to the area where the Windsong had been driven onto the rocks. He hadn't known either man long, having only met them at the station a couple of times when picking up Megan for lunch, and of course, the poker night he'd been invited to attend, but what he did know - he admired. And liked. And the young man they were going after - Blair - well, that was a whole different kettle of fish.
Darren watched the retreating backs until they were nothing but a speck of darkness, and he considered the angry young man he'd first met two weeks ago.
He could remember seeing him at the desk with Ellison, head bent over some paperwork, pen scratching furiously across the expanse of white, shoulders hunched, jaw clenching. Megan had taken Darren's arm and guided him over to stand in front of the two men.
"Jim, you remember Darren?"
Ellison had looked up and smiled, then stood and put out a hand in welcome.
"Hey, Darren, sure. I understand you're joining us tonight for our weekly poker battle?"
Darren had smiled in return and they'd shook as he'd answered, "Yes, so I understand. Damn nice of you guys to invite me. Should I bring anything, like, bandages or the like?" He'd teased.
"Oh, we're covered with first aid supplies. Just bring your money and kiss it good-bye."
They'd all laughed, but Darren had noticed that the young man next to Jim never even cracked a smile. He'd frowned a bit, then Megan had said, "And honey, this is Sandy. You haven't met him yet. Sandy, this is Darren."
The young man had looked up then and Darren watched with great interest as a mask of politeness was slipped on over the oddly bruised, but cold, handsome features as the man stood, smiled and held out his hand.
"Hey, man, Megan's mentioned you - a bit. Good to finally meet you."
They'd shook too, but Darren had felt the slight tremors move through the slender, pale hand. As Darren stepped back, and their hands had dropped, the man he would later be told was actually Blair Sandburg, I just call him Sandy and don't ask me why, grabbed up a backpack, tossed it over his shoulder and said to Ellison, "Sorry man, but my meeting with Chancellor Edwards is in a few, gotta go. Catch you later," then with a wave, he'd said, "Great meeting you, man."
And like a zephyr that you weren't sure had ever been there, he was gone.
Later, over lunch, he'd asked Megan about him, found out who and what he was and then he'd asked, "So why the anger?"
Megan's beautiful sapphire blue eyes had blinked back at him, surprised. "What do you mean, Dar?"
"The anger. Your Sandy is so angry, it's almost alive. What happened? And his face, what happened there? A case? Or is that why he's mad?"
Her eyes had clouded over then and she'd glanced down at her plate of pasta, one hand fiddling with a knife. He'd reached over and captured the hand and squeezed gently.
"Megs? Come on, spill."
"Look, it's just been a rough - month - for Sandy, okay? Let's just leave it at that for now."
He'd wanted to ask more, much more, because the young man had fascinated him. An anthropologist acting as an observer with Major Crime? And assigned to its number one detective? And yet, full of so much anger? And then a name had come to the front of his brain - Chancellor Edwards. Which meant Rainier. And at least one piece had fallen into place.
"God, he's the one, isn't he?"
Megan had looked up, frowning, as she'd asked, "What do you mean, Dar?"
"The man who drowned at Rainier. I remember reading about it."
Megan had paled immediately, eyes suddenly brimming with tears as she'd pulled her hand out from under his.
"Ah, Megs, please, I didn't mean for it to come out so cold. But I just made the connection, you know?"
"It's - that's - okay."
"I am right, though, yes?"
She'd nodded miserably but hadn't allowed him to retake her hand.
"God, that explains a bit. He's in therapy, right?" Megan's eyes shifted sideways as she'd shaken her head and he'd gasped in surprise.
"Not in therapy? But, from what I read, that young man died, literally. The paramedics even called it, right? That had to be - I mean, we're talking major trauma, Megs. And, dear God," he'd said, realizing for the first time that the articles told him that Megan had been there, "you were there. Oh, shit, Megs, I'm so sorry."
Her eyes had darkened then, the tears that had been pooling, finally spilling over. It had taken everything he'd possessed not to get up, run around to her side of the table and take her in his arms.
"I was there, Simon too. And Henri. You've met him, remember?" Darren had nodded, remembering the big, jovial man with the huge grin and joking manner.
"You have to understand - I mean, Sandy is, he's - well, he's special to us, you know? He's not a cop, but damn, Dar, he's good and he's smart and we all, well, we probably shouldn't, but we do, we protect him, you know?"
Somehow - he did. That had been his first instinct.
"You've talked with him, then? All of you?"
Megan had given her head an almost imperceptible shake. "we - none of us - have, we didn't want to remind him... and there was this case, you see, the woman who kill... who kill... killed him and we had to catch her and then, well, he seemed, we all just kind of, and...."
Megan had broken down then and he had taken her in his arms, restaurant or no.
Now as he stared down the beach, he thought of the boat, the storm and he wondered how it must have been for Sandy. And he prayed that Ellison and Captain Banks would find him.
Blair's exhaustion didn't stop him from his stubborn fight to throw as many obstacles in Brackett's path as he could. As they walked, he argued, pulled, stumbled, stopped, cussed him out and constantly berated the man for his stupidity in believing that he could keep him, use him, or become a sentinel. Every time Brackett was in need or in pain, Blair would simply stand still, bound arms held stiffly out in front of him as he fought to catch his breath, and to hide that fight.
And as a result of his stubboness, he had several new bruises.
The problem was, as he thought about it while Brackett surveyed the terrain and checked maps and his compass, each new bruise had been delivered with cold, calculating deliberation. Not anger. And Blair didn't know how much longer he was going to last.
It was drizzling again and his socks would soon be history. His lungs were on fire and every breath was a major accomplishment. It was cold and needless to say, he was soaked through, his Henley affording him no protection whatsoever.
Brackett folded the maps and stuffed them back into his backpack along with the compass. He knew where they were and while his plans had altered slightly, one phone call from Tenima, the small town maybe ten miles ahead of them, and he'd be back on schedule.
"I hope you took advantage of this little break, Blair, because we're on the move again."
"I hope you took advantage of the break, Brackett. You're gonna need it."
Brackett pulled the hood of his parka up and turned to face the man behind him. Blair stood before him, head held high, one eyebrow arched. Brackett found himself staring. There was nothing of the young man of two years ago, hell, there was nothing of the man of two days ago. Hair wet and matted, face dirty, battered and bruised, the thin Henley, dark with mud and plastered to Blair's heaving chest, torn and muddy jeans and on his feet, once white socks, now barely there. His arms were covered with cuts and scratches, and Brackett could see more cuts and bruising through the torn jeans.
The younger man's anger and fight had blinded Brackett to his true condition. Brackett was killing his guide.
Lee reached behind him and pulled a lightweight windbreaker from his backpack, then began to advance on Blair.
"I'm going to free you, Blair, so don't try anything or you'll be sorry."
Blair raised his bound wrists and spread his fingers wide as he said with a mock shiver, "Ooh, I'm scared, Brackett."
Brackett grabbed the bound hands and started to untie them, but the rope was wet and tight and he soon realized that he'd have to cut Blair free. He pulled the knife from its sheath at his belt and quickly sliced through the middle of the hemp. A moment later, with a hiss of pain, Blair's arms were free. Unfortunately, much of the rope remained imbedded in flesh and dangled in pieces as Blair brought his arms down to his side.
Brackett started to remove his parka and as his arms became entangled within the material, Blair made his move. Shoving the man aside with his shoulder and watching with satisfaction as Brackett tumbled to the ground, Blair took off on yet another dash for freedom.
But he was in no shape to outrun Brackett. A two year old baby could have beaten him and Brackett was no two year old. He got maybe thirty yards before being tackled by the man. Blair hit the mud face first, Brackett on top of him. They struggled a bit, but the older man soon had Blair's hands gripped together and over his head. There was nothing Blair could do. He lay still.
For several minutes, Brackett lay with his head on Blair's shoulder, feeling the tremors course through the body below. Finally he flipped him over and spread his arms out to either side as he continued to pin him down.
Slipping his knee between Blair's legs and spreading them wide, he brought the same knee up and nudged it against Blair's groin.
"Don't you get it yet? Don't you understand that I'm going to win every one of these stupid and unnecessary battles? That your life is now with me? That there's no going back?" He shoved his knee in hard and watched with no enjoyment as Blair's eyes shut and he held back a moan of pain.
"It's over, Blair, as of now, this war of yours is over."
He let go of Blair's hands and sat up, still straddling Blair's body. He ran his hands up and under the man's shirt, fingers threading through the chest hair, then stopping, thumbs resting on Blair's nipples. He rubbed against the nubs, then pressed in - hard, before taking each nipple between thumb and forefinger, just letting his nail graze the flesh as he began to squeeze.
He twisted until Blair verbalized the pain with a low, guttural moan, eyes squeezed shut against the tears of pain.
"Is this really how you want to live? With constant pain?" He leaned in close, his lips hovering over Blair's. "It could be so much better, Blair, so very much better. Don't you understand that?" He raised the wet shirt, scooted down a bit and latched onto one of the tortured nipples. He suckled gently, letting his tongue bathe and soothe it. The nipple hardened under his ministrations and he quickly recaptured hands that had started to clench and travel. Lifting his head, he laughed low and said, "I don't think so, Blair." Then he went back to the nipple.
Rain came down on them and Brackett ignored it as he moved to the other nipple and repeated his actions. The tremors below him increased as Blair began to move and wiggle, trying to get away. Brackett left the nipples and moved down, his fingers digging into Blair's hands as his own body began to respond. Mud sloshed around them as his tongue lavished attention on Blair's navel, then traveled down, following the thin arrow of hair. Poised over Blair's jeans, he lifted the man and planted Blair's hands behind him, then lowered him, successfully pinning them.
Brackett hungrily lowered the zipper than pulled at the jeans until Blair's dick was revealed. If he was surprised that it was still limp, he gave no indication. He lowered his head, his tongue eager to taste....
Brackett's head rose, nostrils flaring, head cocked like some animal. His eyes shut, then opened as he shook his head like a bull in the ring. Within seconds, he was up, yanking at Sandburg, who blinked in confusion, even as his hands struggled to pull up his jeans and zipper.
Brackett grabbed the rope that had fallen to the ground when he'd cut it, lifted Blair's hands and quickly rebound the wrists together. The tether that connected them was now shorter, but still viable. Without a word, Brackett picked up his knife, slid it into the sheath and started walking - fast.
Too stunned to do much else, Blair followed.
Jim stopped and raised a hand to Simon who came to rest behind him. His nostrils flared and he cocked his head, eyes sliding shut. One minute passed....
"I've got them, Simon."
No other words were needed. They moved ahead, picking up the pace in spite of the rain.
They'd been traveling for over an hour, traveling fast, Brackett giving no quarter. Blair had no time to even think, let alone fight. But just as suddenly as they'd started moving - they stopped.
Brackett moaned as he pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. The sounds, smells, all too much - he was losing it.
Blair watched, puzzled. Then he understood.
They'd been found.
They were being followed.
Blair shook his head as if the very idea was impossible. And to his mind, it was. But there was no other explanation because Brackett's senses were going haywire. And considering that he didn't have a great handle on them to begin with....
Feeling stronger than he had in hours, Blair did something foolish, dangerous, and very - brave. "Jim," he said boldly, "He's got all five heightened senses. He knows you're here. Your own senses might be be spiking, but you know what to do...."
With a roar, Brackett was on him, hands around his throat....
"....senses might be spiking, but you know what to do...."
Jim froze, then dropped to his knees.
Simon was beside him in an instant.
"Jim, you okay? What is it?"
"Blair," came the choked response. "He's - talking to me, he knows I'm here."
"Thank God. Then he's alive. He's all right."
"no - his words - cut off, he's in pain... can't breathe...."
"Jim, get up. NOW."
Somehow Jim managed to do just that. Then he was on the move and Simon had to struggle to keep up. But keep up he did.
With a cry of pain, Brackett let go and Blair slid to his knees, bound hands clutching his throat as he tried to bring air into his lungs.
Sanity returned and with it, cold deliberation.
Brackett tore a strip of his shirt off and squatted beside the barely conscious Sandburg. With no thought to further pain or difficulty breathing, he gagged him, then pulled him to his feet.
They started off again, Brackett pulling the winded man.
Climbing, hiking, moving fast, Brackett strove to put distance between himself and those following. His senses continued to spike, to send stabbing pain through his skull, but he kept moving. At one point, he took out his gun.
A few miles back, Jim and Simon did the same.
The beach was far behind and below them now and occasionally, through the trees, they could catch a glimpse of the cliffs they were paralleling and moving closer to in their efforts to catch Brackett.
Rain had become heavy, the ground underfoot slippery with mud. Several times both Brackett and Sandburg slipped and fell, Brackett always hauling the younger man back up with a harsh pull of the rope.
They'd been traveling for over thirty minutes when Brackett stopped, shoulders hunched over, body clearly in pain.
The tether between them was loose and watching carefully, Blair slowly brought his hands up and removed the gag....
"help me - the pain...."
Startled, Blair moved forward a few feet. Brackett, asking him for help?
A part of him naturally wanted to give aid to the hurting man, to help him deal... but to do so would endanger Jim and anyone that traveled with him and Blair wasn't - couldn't - make that mistake again.
Brackett straightened. Took several deep breaths. Tried to conquer the pain.
"It's no use, Brackett. The headaches, the burning skin, the faulty vision, it will just get worse. And soon, you'll be incapacitated. A vegetable."
In a surge of red hot anger laced liberally with frustration, Brackett whirled on the man, jumped forward and grabbed his shirt, then lifted him off the ground.
His temper lost, anger taking over, Brackett yelled into Blair's face, "Give UP? ME? Why don't you ever GIVE up? You PUSH, and PUSH, JUST FUCKING GIVE UP! You can't win, you'll NEVER win!"
His anger was so intense, so complete, that he failed to hear the approaching men. Instead, he focused all of it on the man he held. Looking over his shoulder, at the cliff just behind them, he began to drag Blair, yelling his frustration.
"YOU WANT TO PLAY GAMES, THEN HOW 'BOUT THIS ONE, UH?"
Above them, the rain had loosened the earth and as Brackett strove for the cliff edge, pulling and dragging the fighting man, the mud began to move....
Below them, Jim looked up, heard Brackett's words, could see the man dragging Blair closer to the edge and he began to run, discarding his pack....
Jim saw the mud moving as if alive, as if its only goal was to swallow Brackett and Sandburg whole. He pushed harder, legs pumping, the beast within having taken over.
Several yards behind him, Simon followed, breathing harshly, but driven on by the belief that he'd be needed, desperately needed.
Blair fought and kicked as he was dragged closer to the cliff, Brackett's yells ringing in his ears. He twisted in Brackett's grasp, fingers scraping down Brackett's arms. Brackett never slowed, but with one hand, he twisted the rope around his own wrist as he continued to drag him.
And then the slide hit them.
It slammed into Brackett's back, tumbling both men over, rolling them down....
Jim could see it all; rain, mud, bodies churning like clothes in a dryer and Jim put on a final burst of speed as the bodies rolled toward the cliff....
Blair felt a sharp tug and realized that one hand had been torn free... but he was powerless to do anything, his other hand still tethered to Brackett. There was a sickening lurch, a tug on his arm and Brackett went over.
Blair was only as far back as the length of the tether but he was rolling fast. He tried to grasp onto anything, his fingers scraping at the mud, at twigs, branches, anything he could, but there was nothing - he was going over with Brackett....
Jim broke through the brush, saw his partner's body sliding toward the edge and without a thought, he launched himself at the man. Arms reached out, hands connected, and Jim had a leg. Then as if swimming upstream, he latched onto Blair's waistband and pulled himself up and onto the body, holding fast.
Brackett's plummeting body - stopped.
Blair's movement - stopped.
Excruciating pain exploded up Blair's arm and into his shoulder as his body hung half over the cliff, his right arm the only thing keeping Brackett from death.
Something solid and warm seemed to be on top of him, keeping his body from following Brackett. His head hung down, hair spilling over and blinding him from all but Brackett's face, which stare up at him in surprise.
Blair drifted off....
The only thing keeping Blair from going over was Jim's body and if the older man moved, or tried to pull, or shift in any way, he'd lose him. Brackett began to struggle and Blair's body slid further over in spite of Jim's weight.
Ellison looked frantically about for anything that could be used to sever the tie to Brackett and he finally spotted something shiny. A knife.
Slowly Jim stretched out one hand, letting his fingers crawl over the mud, inching their way to the gleaming knife... one finger touched it, dug in, and the body below his slid further away....
A few more seconds... and he had it. But no way to reach the rope.
"I've got him, Jim. I've got him."
"It's too slippery to pull them both up, Jim."
Jim nodded and inched his way up until he could see over the edge and as long as he lived, Jim Ellison would never forget the sight. Brackett dangled at the end of what was, maybe, three feet of rope, part of which was tied to his waist, part twisted around his wrist. The tether led to Blair's mangled wrist and Jim could see wet, muddy hair flying in the wind of the cliff and Blair's blood, stark red... and finally - Brackett's eyes - gazing up at him as Jim brought the blade down....
In spite of the pain, Brackett could see Blair's face through the mass of hair. The younger man's eyes were closed, his mouth open as he tried to breathe. And finally, he could see Ellison.
If he struggled, pulled, and ignored the pain, he could take Blair over with him... if.
Brackett willed himself into stillness as he stared up at his nemesis. Icy blue eyes connected with pain-darkened blues and as Jim rested the knife against the cord, Brackett nodded his head ever so slightly.
Jim sliced through the rope.
Without a sound, Brackett dropped to his death.
Blair felt the sudden release and the accompanying pain. Then he was being pulled back and away from the edge. Arms moved around his chest as his body hit solid ground and he was turned over and felt a yielding hardness beneath him. He didn't stop to wonder, just closed his eyes again.
Simon felt the give as Brackett was cut loose and at the same time he pulled with all his strength, along with Jim. Together, they got Blair away from the edge. Simon collapsed onto his back and shut his eyes.
Jim wrapped his arms around Blair and rolled them both over so that Blair's body rested across his chest. He didn't let go.
The rain, as if understanding that the battle was over and won, slowed to a soft drizzle. The wind dropped to a gentle breeze.
"Jesus, he's cold, Jim."
Ellison nodded, already stripping off his own heavy jacket and laying it over the still man. Once that was done, they both began to take stock of Blair's injuries. Gentle sentinel fingers began to probe as Simon did the same.
"His wrists, God, his wrists."
"Broken, Simon. His right wrist is broken and his shoulder is dislocated. Not surprising, considering."
Simon blinked at the tone of Jim's voice. There was no emotion in it at all. This from the man who'd threatened to leave Simon behind if he couldn't keep up? Who'd been this, this, creature, whose only goal was retrieving that which had been taken from him?
"It's his body temperature that I'm worried about. We could be dealing with hypothermia. We have to warm him up, fast. And I've got to fix his arm."
"A fire's impossible, Jim."
"No kidding. Call Darren, let him know where we are. If we can get Sandburg down to that clearing we passed, Darren can land and pick us up. He can take us directly to the nearest hospital."
Simon ignored the fact that Jim was giving him orders as he pulled the radio Darren had gvien them from his pocket.
"Darren, can you read?"
The radio clicked with static, then Darren's voice answered, "Loud and clear, Simon. Any luck?"
"We've got him. But we need a pick-up. There was a clearing, Jim thinks you can land there...."
Once he'd done what he could for Blair's arm, Jim, using the first aid kit they'd brought with them, took care of the damaged wrists, the hardest part being the removal of the pieces of rope that had become imbedded in the raw flesh. Sentinel vision aided in getting it all and he was grateful that Blair remained unconscious. When the wrists were clean, Jim carefully bandaged them, then turned his attention to the other injuries.
Several of the cuts and scrapes that covered Blair's arms, face, neck and other parts of exposed skin, demanded cleaning and bandaging, but most only required an antibiotic ointment. There was nothing either of the two men could do about the myriad of bruises that covered Blair's face and arms.
And then there were Blair's feet.
Simon managed to keep his temper through all the first aid ministrations applied by both of them, but one look at Blair's feet and Simon lost it. His anger brought him up, eyes searching for something, anything, with which to vent the boiling rage. He spotted a large broken branch and pounced on it. As he straightened, he swung the heavy branch back and slammed it into a nearby tree. Three times. Until there was nothing of the branch left.
"If he weren't already dead, Jim...."
"I know," the sentinel said quietly, as busy hands bandaged the damaged feet.
Those simple two words gave Simon new avenues for his anger.
"Christ Almighty, Jim, what the hell is wrong with you? Are you suddenly blind? Can't you see what he's been through? How can you be so God damned...."
Jim rested a hand on Blair's forehead and interrupted quietly, "I have him back, Simon. I have him back."
Simon scraped a hand over his jaw, his anger leaching away.
Of all of Blair's injuries, the one that worried Jim the most was Blair's breathing. It was labored and the sentinel could hear and feel the struggling, congested lungs.
With Blair's arm in a make-shift sling and his body wrapped up in both Jim's and Simon's jackets, it was time to head down to the clearing and hopefully - Darren and the chopper.
Jim slung the backpack over his shoulders and bent over, ready to pick Sandburg up in his arms. He was startled when blue eyes fluttered open.
Jim and Simon both dropped to their knees beside Sandburg as Jim asked with a smile, "Hey, buddy, you back with us?"
Blair tried to focus but once his body understood that everything was over, it had finally let go, pain, cold, all of it - taking over.
"Blair, can you look at me?"
He heard the voice, but it seemed so far away....
"Yeah, it's me. Simon too. We're going to get you out of here. I'm going to carry you, Blair and I'll be as gentle as possible, okay?"
"sure... sure," he managed. Then, "can - walk. will walk."
Smiling, Jim slid an arm under Blair's neck and the other arm under his waist and as he lifted, he lied, "Sure, sure. Walk."
"yeah, walk. been walking for... years. good at it. not good at much...else, but can do - that."
Straightening up, Blair's head cushioned against his chest, Jim said quietly, "No problem, buddy, no problem. One foot in front of the other and we'll walk outta here."
Jim met Simon's gaze and both men smiled. Blair had no idea that even now he was securely held in Jim's arms - not walking.
Careful of their footing, Jim and Simon started down, Simon clearing the way for Jim and his passenger.
Darren found the clearing and high-fived himself. It was definitely big enough. A few minutes later he was on the ground.
The moment he landed, he got on the radio and called in the emergency. He wasn't surprised when he received clearance to land the chopper on top of Mercy Hospital in - Cascade. Considering that they were half-way between Vancouver Island and Seattle, Mercy was as close as any other hospital.
Once his call was made, he did some shifting, dropping seat backs and creating a flat surface for Sandburg. Simon would still fit in the seat behind. He draped the seats with a warm blanket and waited.
The trip down was slow but Jim's load never felt anything but light to him. Simon tried several times to take Blair from him, to give him a rest, but damn, it seemed that Jim - growled - when Simon made each attempt. Eventually, Simon gave up and just kept the path clear.
Blair never stirred, just lay listless and shivering in Jim's arms.
After almost an hour, Simon asked, "Do you see it yet?"
"Yeah, he's waiting." Then to Blair, "We're almost there, buddy, hang on a bit longer."
Somehow they managed to pick up the pace as the promise of the chopper and safety for Blair tantalized them.
Darren spotted them and as he started forward, Simon waved him back. Darren understood and jumped into the Bell to start her up. Once the blades were whirling, he climbed into the back and as they came up, Simon joined him and together they took the injured man from Ellison and settled him in. Simon climbed back down, took Jim's pack and his own, threw them into the back and then took the front seat. With a thankful glance, Jim climbed into the seat behind Blair.
Darren lifted off.
The trip to Mercy was made in silence as Jim continued to monitor Sandburg, one hand never breaking their connection.
When they finally landed, several people rushed forward with a gurney and Blair was carefully extricated and wheeled inside, Jim and Simon following. Darren had to get the chopper off the pad and with a promise to call everyone and then return, he took off.
Simon and Jim ran behind the medical staff as Blair was wheeled into emergency, but they were both stopped as the gurney was pushed into the first available treatment room. Simon grabbed Jim's arm before the man could argue and led him to the waiting room. A room he thoroughly hated with all his being. A room he'd been in for Sandburg only a few weeks ago. Jim was still staring back at the cubicle as Simon pushed, saying, "He's okay, Jim, he's going to be okay. Let's sit down and wait."
"His lungs. You don't understand, his lungs."
Simon turned his friend around to face him. "Jim, there's nothing you can do. Nothing. You found him, you brought him back, now it's up to the doctors and Sandburg. Sit down."
For the first time since the fountain, Ellison seemed to break.
"What, what if he - you've seen him lately, Simon, what if he doesn't...."
"Stop that right now, Detective. Sandburg is a fighter, he doesn't give up - ever. Do you hear me?"
Tortured eyes focused on Simon's mouth as Jim whispered, "what if he's already - given up?"
The tall man in green scrubs stood at the entrance to the waiting room, searching for acknowledgment. Jim and Simon both stood and the doctor made his way to them.
"You're waiting to hear on Mr. Sandburg?"
"Yes," Simon stepped forward, "I'm Captain Simon Banks and this is Detective Jim Ellison. Blair is his partner. We brought him in."
The man nodded and said, "I'm Doctor Snyder, one of the ER doctors working on Mr. Sandburg. Why don't you both sit back down while I fill you in?"
Simon had to give Jim a slight push, but down he finally went. Doctor Snyder took up residence on the edge of the magazine table in front of the two.
"Basically," he started before either man could ask, " we've brought his temperature up, set his wrist, and taken X-rays, we have him scheduled for an MRI in the next thirty minutes or so, but our main concern would be his lungs. In pulling his file, I noted that we had him in here six weeks ago - a drowning. Well, his lungs are his weak spot right now and there is some congestion and labored breathing...."
"Pneumonia?" Jim asked, his voice strained.
"Not yet, Detective Ellison, not yet. But if we're all not careful, yes, we could be looking at that. We're obviously going to keep him overnight but that's a precaution more than anything else. I don't expect to find anything in the MRI that I'm not already aware of, but again, we're playing it safe," he held up his hand as Simon started to ask something, "And the reason we're sending him home is simple. A hospital, any hospital, when you're dealing with a possibility of pneumonia, is not the safest spot to be. He'll be more comfortable at home and we have a better opportunity to stave off staph or pneumonia."
The doctor stood and again before any questions could be asked, he went on. "He's going to need a lot of rest, he's isn't going to be really up for much more than hobbling around and he should try to stay off his feet for the first couple of days. When we take off the cast in six weeks, he's in for some serious therapy on his arm. He's going to be frustrated, in pain, and uncomfortable and as soon as we get him into a room, you can see him." Then with a twitch at the corner of his mouth, he asked, "Have I left anything out, gentlemen?"
"You've dealt with cops before, I take it?" Simon asked with his own twitching lips.
"ER in New York. Then Los Angeles. I thought things would be quieter here in Cascade."
Simon's answer was a snort.
Smiling, Doctor Snyder said, "Mr. Sandburg really is going to be fine - in time. He's young and strong."
"Thank you, Doctor Snyder. Thank you very much." Simon held out his hand and the two shook, then the man went back to work.
"So. He's going to be fine - in time."
Jim wasn't listening, he was focused on Blair.
They walked down the hall and turned into room 223. Blair was in bed B. One muted light was on in bed A, but other than that, Blair's side of the room was dark. A nurse was just pulling up a blanket and smoothing hair back from Blair's face when Jim and Simon came around the other bed. She looked up and smiled.
"He's asleep. His temp is almost normal and we've given him something for the pain. Doctor Snyder and Doctor Wellington, the two physicians who treated him in ER, wrote on his chart that you can stay as long as you'd like. If you need anything, or if he wakes, just buzz me."
The two nodded and she floated quietly past them. Simon pulled up one chair on Blair's left as Jim sat in the chair on his right.
"he looks - okay, doesn't he, jim?"
"for a man who's been here twice in the last six weeks? yeah, he looks - great."
Simon didn't miss the sarcasm.
They were quiet, both content to watch Blair breathe. After several minutes....
"i called joel, confirmed that darren had reached everyone. i told him not to come tonight."
Jim didn't respond.
"they cleaned him up, looks like they even washed his hair. is that possible?"
"smells like it. hard to treat him with all that mud. they'd pretty much had to clean him up."
"i suppose so."
Simon leaned forward, squinting. "I didn't notice this before, jim," Simon whispered as he pointed to a long, thin red line on Blair's throat.
"knife," Jim answered simply.
"well - fuck."
Jim stirred, moving his head restlessly against the back of the chair.
He brought himself out of his troubled sleep and focused on Blair.
"Blair? Hey, buddy, you're awake."
Eyelids fluttered, then Blair squinted and focused.
"Yeah, it's me. Simon was here up until about three hours ago. I sent him home. How you feeling?"
Jim immediately reached over for the sipper the nurse had left an hour ago. It was still cold. He bent the straw, stood and gently lifted Blair's head and let him drink. When Blair stopped, he waited and a few seconds later, Blair took some more. When he was certain Blair was done, he set it down and lowered Blair back, then took his seat again.
"thanks. feel better now."
"Need anything else? Hungry maybe?"
"no, not hungry."
"How's your arm? The pain bad? I can get the nurse in here...."
"fine, i'm fine."
"The doctor says I can take you home tomorrow."
Blair nodded and shifted a bit, grimacing in the process. "he's - dead - right?"
"Yes, Blair, Brackett's dead."
Blue eyes slid shut as Blair sighed.
He received no response, Blair was asleep again.
"He's not letting me go until this afternoon, Jim. Go home, get some rest."
Blair was sitting up, looking a hell of a lot better than twelve hours earlier. They'd taken him off the oxygen at seven and his breathing, while a bit raspy, was much improved. His face was puffy, his eye - black and blue and all the cuts and bruises stood out in relief over the areas of his body that were exposed to sight. But he was conscious, aware, and - eerily calm.
And that calm was why Jim wanted to stay.
"I'd rather wait for you. I can sleep when I get us home."
Eyes locking on his, Blair said quietly, "I'd prefer it if you went home, Jim. I'm fine. Probably just rest some more. Go home - and sleep. Besides, you stink." He said the last with a small smile.
Jim didn't like this one bit. Blair was too - quiet, too, accepting. But Jim could see that Blair wasn't going to give on this so he stood.
"Okay, I'll go. Shower, rest, then I'll be back."
"At four, Jim and not one minute earlier."
Sighing in frustration, Jim repeated, "At four and not one minute earlier."
Jim gave him a small salute and left. As he walked down the hall to the elevator, he tried to figure out what was going on with his partner. Okay, sure, he'd been through hell, that was a given. But that was exactly why Jim was so worried. Blair should have been - hyper.
Riding down to one, he thought back to earlier that morning when Megan and Darren had shown up. There'd been no lighting up of Blair's features, no sparkle at seeing his friend. He'd smiled, acknowledged Darren, thanked him for what he'd done, even joked with Megan, but there'd been no spark - just that infuriating calm.
Walking out to his truck, Jim breathed deep of the spring air. He had to admit, he was tired. And the days ahead would be rough. He'd need all the rest he could get. He would also need a sharp, clear mind because when you went to war with Blair Sandburg, you needed every edge you could get.
As soon as Blair was certain that Jim had to be gone, he reached awkwardly for the phone. His left hand wasn't working too well, but at least it didn't have a cast on it. Sliding the phone onto his lap, he clumsily lifted the receiver and pushed the zero. When the hospital operator answered, he said, "Yes, I'm afraid I can't use my fingers real well right now, could you get a number for me?"
//Of course. What is it?//
"Area code 562-573-4848."
A moment later, a phone was ringing and after four rings, his mother answered.
"Mom? It's me, Blair."
//Well, you are the only person who would call me mom, so yes, I made the assumption....//
The wordy sentence prompted Blair to ask, "Mom, are you with Greg again?"
//Why, yes, honey, how did you know?//
"Never mind. Look, I've, there's been... mom, i need you."
"Blair? Do you remember me?"
The woman stood just inside the curtain that separated his bed from his neighbor. She wore a white coat, the obligatory stethescope around her neck. Blair smiled, but shook his head. "I'm sorry, I'm afraid that I don't."
She stepped in and up to his bed. "I'm Doctor Irene Wellington, I was one of the two ER doctors that saw you when you were brought in yesterday."
"Ah, of course." Then he tilted his head and asked, "Did I wake up in ER?"
"For a few minutes, yes. You knew you were in the hospital. You asked about someone named Jim, then you faded back out."
"Jim's my partner."
"I see." Doctor Wellington gave a nod to the chair and Blair smiled, saying, "Please."
She settled in and said, "I like to follow up with my patients, Blair and yes, I know, it's unusual. But I was particularly worried about you. Do you have someone - a therapist?"
Doctor Wellington immediately noted that the welcoming light went out of the man's eyes.
"I did the - exam - on you, Blair. The bruising, the slight tearing...." she let her words trail off.
"I see." Blair dropped his head back, shut his eyes and sent up a small prayer of thanks to whomever that Jim was gone.
"I just want to make sure that you deal with this, that you have someone to talk to. I can recommend someone, if you'd like."
"That won't be necessary, Doctor Wellington. But thank you."
"So you do know someone?"
"No, but I'm fine, Doctor. But I would like to know - you didn't... you didn't tell - anyone - did you?"
"If you mean did we give all of our findings to your partner, the answer is no."
"I'd appreciate it if this stayed between us, Doctor."
"Of course, Blair. You're the patient. But I must encourage you to seek...."
Blair, with some difficulty, held up his left hand and said quietly, "I know, Doctor. But please understand, this... isn't - new - to me. I do know how to deal and trust me, this, what... happened to me, was all about - control, you understand? It was a game to... him. It meant nothing."
"But it wasn't a game to you, Blair."
"It was a physical thing, Doctor, it didn't touch me." He met her gaze directly and unblinkingly.
Irene Wellington had seen many rape victims in her ten year career and among them, a handful of men. This one was giving her all the right answers, and she hadn't missed the reference to this having happened before. That disturbed her the most but there was nothing else she could do. Rising, she said, "Well, you seem to know what to say, Blair. I just hope the words are real."
He said nothing, just watched her, a half smile on his face.
"Well then, I'll be on my way. If you - need anything, please, give me a call, Blair."
"Thank you, Doctor Wellington, and thank you for yesterday too."
"Hey, it's my job," she said, grinning. "You take care. You do have someone, to stay with you when you get home, yes?"
"I have a roommate. And my mother will be arriving later."
"Good, good. I'd better get back downstairs. Still on duty, you know." She patted his leg and walked out.
Blair stared at the curtain, then turned away to stare out his window.
His own voice woke him. Jim sat up and found himself tangled up in his sheets and covered in sweat. He glanced at his clock and found that in spite of everything, he'd actually slept for five hours. And he still stank. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed and standing, he shook himself a bit and swiped a hand over his eyes to try to rid himself of the nightmare. Or in this case - *day*mare.
He headed downstairs for a shower.
When he came out thirty minutes later, showered and shaved, the phone was ringing.
//It's me, Jim. You bringing him home this afternoon?//
"Yeah, Simon, I'm heading over there now," glancing down at his naked form, he added, "Well, as soon as I get something on, anyway."
//Naked, are we?//
"Well, I am, but as you're calling from the station, here's hoping you're not, sir."
//Checking here - nope, wearing the appropriate suit and what's wrong with us, Jim?//
"If I had the answer to that, Simon, I'd be a very rich man."
//Right. So. I figured, maybe, you could use some help? Bringing him home?//
"I think I can handle...."
//Maybe, you know, maybe//
Jim could hear the need in Simon's voice. "How 'bout you bring dinner?"
//Around, say, six?//
//Any idea what....//
//You got it. See you at six and you can tell Sandburg that he won't be inundated with visitors until at least Monday, per orders from a bossy Captain//
"Anyone I know, sir?"
//Jim? Put some clothes on//
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Beware of Greeks bearing - clothing."
Jim stood at the foot of Blair's hospital bed holding a bag aloft. "I brought your favorite sweat bottoms and large, warm socks to fit over the bandaging. And, I, um, well, brought one of - well, one of my tee shirts. I figured it would fit - you know, fit better, be easier for you, to get into, I mean."
Blair's mouth dropped open. Then closed up tight. "I - well, thanks, Jim. Thanks."
"Okay then, let's get you dressed and I hope you're proud of me - it's precisely four."
"Um, yes - in Phoenix. It's four in Phoenix."
"I knew it was four somewhere."
Jim pulled out the sweats, the Cascade PD tee shirt and the socks, then set them down at the foot of the bed. "You ready?"
"I can dress myself. Why don't you go get some coffee?"
"Why don't I not? And you can't get ready by yourself." With those words, he started to pull the blanket away, but Blair held on tight. "Jim, hand me the pants and turn around."
"You're joking, right?"
"No, now turn around."
Shooting Blair a disgusted look, Jim did as instructed, a small grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. As he listened, he said, "Chief, you'll never be able to get those on with only one half -working arm, let me help."
"I'm done, now the shirt?"
Jim whirled around, surprised. He found Blair on the edge of the bed, huffing and puffing, but wearing his sweat bottoms. "God damn, but you're stubborn."
Jim held it out, but Blair snorted and indicated with an eyebrow that Jim should set it down in his lap. Shaking his head, Jim dropped it in as indicated. When Blair made no move to ask him to turn around this time as he struggled with the sling, Jim moved quickly to his side and helped. "Need me to untie...."
"No, I'll just slip this on, only the middle one is tied anyway. Then we can just slip the damn thing off."
"Uh, Darwin? If you put the shirt on first, you won't be able to get the gown off."
Blair shot him a disgusted look as he said, "Duh. I'm only going to put the shirt over my head, Jim. Then I'll pull the gown off."
Jim rolled his eyes heavenward, but helped Blair slip out of the sling, then pulled the shirt over Blair's head. Once it was down around his neck, Jim asked permission with his eyes and Blair nodded. Ellison quickly untied the gown and stepped back as Blair shot him another give me some privacy look.
"Sheesh, Chief, who knew you were so modest?"
"Umph. You like this with all your women?"
Blair had been carefully wiggling out of the gown, but at Jim's question, he stopped. His expression hardened for a moment, then shifted like Claymation and he smiled. "My women, Jim? And what women would those be?"
"The harem that glides through your life, Cassanova."
"Ah, those women. Actually, Jim, none of my women have ever even seen me naked. It's this air of mystery thing I've got going. Get's 'em every time. And Jim? Need some help here."
A thoroughly quelled Jim, although he wasn't sure exactly why he was quelled, assisted his partner and together they managed to get Blair's arms through the sleeves. As Jim pulled the shirt down over Blair's hips, he said, "So, they've never seen you naked, eh? Interesting dating philosophy, Chief."
"I've lived with you for three years and you've never seen me naked either."
Jim's hands froze in the process of reaching for the socks, stilled by the vision of the nightmare that had ended in his killing a wolf. A wolf that had immediately morphed into a naked Blair. He pushed the memory to the appropriately dark corner of his brain.
"Uh, good point, Chief."
Jim grabbed up the socks and dangled them in front of Blair's nose as he said, "Okay, time for the feet, Sandburg."
Blair wrinkled his nose and huffed, "Good thing those are clean."
It was four-thirty before Blair's doctor arrived to release him. The man came armed with several prescriptions and a long list of dos and don'ts which he delighted in sharing with both men.
"...and finally, you don't budge from the house for at least five days. And I know that I can tell you to stay off your feet as much as possible for a few days, but I also know you'll probably try to hobble around so I'm just going to say - be careful and try to behave. And do I really have to remind you to take all the medications until empty, even if you start to feel great? Except the pain medications, which you should take only...."
"As needed," Blair finished for him.
"You've done this before," the doctor said with a smile.
"Once or twice...." Blair let his words trail off as he shot Jim a humorous glance.
"Right, so you know the drill about seeing your own physician in a couple of days and of course, he'll have to set you up with a therapist...."
Blair's face went a dramatic shade of ghostly white as he started to wave his hands and stutter.
The doctor, puzzled, said quickly, "Mr. Sandburg, you do realize that you're going to need physical therapy for that arm, right? Doctor Snyder did discuss that with you, didn't he?"
Sandburg's coloring did an about face as it moved from vanilla white to a dull, over-cooked beet red. He glanced quickly away as he hurried to assure the doctor. "Yeah, yeah, of course. Guess I just - forgot."
"I don't anticipate any permanent damage, Mr. Sandburg, but therapy is vital. Your arm took quite a...."
Blair raised his left hand and said, "I got it. No problem. Therapy."
The doctor glanced over at Jim, one eyebrow quirked. Jim shrugged helplessly. Looking back at his patient, the doctor cleared his throat and said, "Right then. So, take care and let's hope we can go months before we see you again, Mr. Sandburg."
Getting Blair to the truck proved easy, getting him *in*to the truck, easier still, thanks to a huge male nurse that accompanied them down, pushing the wheelchair. The problem with getting Blair into the truck came about when the younger man saw what was in the back of the truck. A wheelchair.
"Don't give me any grief, Sandburg. The doctor recommended it, especially for getting you into the building. And in case it's escaped your notice, you can't use crutches. Besides, the chair is one of those real lightweight jobbies."
"Oh, okay, so it's - rented, right?"
"Does it matter?"
"Hard to reimburse you without knowing."
Jim, who had just started the engine, gave Blair one of his puh-leeze looks, but it didn't stop the younger man.
"Jim, how much?"
"Hey, it's in my best interests, you know? I could get a hernia lugging your heavy ass all over the place."
Blair wasn't impressed.
"Jim, how fucking much was it?"
"Twenty-four... for the week-end. A bargain."
Blair's leg started jiggling. "Twenty-four... a day. Isn't that what you meant to say , Jim?"
Jim put the truck into drive and peeled out of the parking lot.
The wheelchair worked great and once home and inside, Jim had Sandburg installed on the couch, legs up, afghan covering him and a mug of tea in his hands within twenty minutes of parking the truck. As he took the yellow chair, beer in hand, he said off-handedly, "Simon'll be here soon. He's bringing Chinese."
Jim blinked, then blinked again. Not the response he'd been expecting. Then he figured it out.
"Oh, why is he bringing Chinese? Just thought...."
"No, why is he coming over?"
"Um, because he wants to?"
"Okay." Then, "Jim, he doesn't come over all that much."
"I don't bring you home from hospitals all that much either."
"Actually, you bring me home as often as I bring you home and Simon's never...."
"Chief, he's worried about you. Wants to make sure you're okay."
Blair started to say, 'since when', but stopped. It wouldn't be fair because Simon cared about everyone. He continued to sip his tea.
"Want to watch some television?"
"No, not really. After I finish this," he held up his mug, "I thought I'd just rest awhile. If that's okay?"
"Of course it is, Chief. Of course it is."
Frowning at the idea that Blair felt he had to ask, Jim got up and retrieved another beer.
"You look - better, Sandburg."
"Better than what, Simon? Roadkill?"
"Well, maybe not that good, but better."
All three men were in the living room, Simon having just arrived. The laughter was a bit strained, but laughter just the same. Jim took the bags of food from Simon's arms and crooked his head to indicate that Simon should take a seat. He then took the food into the kitchen and began to parcel it out.
As he poured the sweet and sour soup into bowls for he and Simon and into a mug for Blair, he said, "Treat tonight, guys. We eat in the living room."
Both Simon and Blair dropped their mouths open, then said in perfect unison, "What? Break an Ellison House Rule?"
Jim flipped them both the bird and piled everything onto a tray, added two beers and one juice, then carried it all into the living room.
"Uh, Sandburg? Did I just see one of my detectives - flip me the bird?"
"I don't know, Simon, did you get Almond Duck?"
"Then you saw him flip you the bird and you are a Prince."
Jim set his and Simon's dinner down on the coffee table and was just setting the tray on Blair's lap when Blair turned traitor. Scowling, he immediately said, "For Almond Duck, you'd turn me in?"
Blair glanced down at the tray, at the six squares of the sweet pressed duck and their almond coating, then up at Jim. "Um, uh - yeah."
"Well, granted, it has been awhile since we've had Almond Duck, but jeesh, Chief. Loyalty is loyalty."
Jim's words were meant to be playful, but Blair felt the sudden, hard pain in his gut and to cover his discomfort, he turned to Simon. "Hey, man, where did you find Almond Duck, anyway?"
"You gotta know the right people in this town, Sandburg. And I know the right people."
"Uh-huh. And these right people would be?"
"Yee's and its owner, Billy Yee."
Suspicion brought a gleam to Blair's eyes as he said, "Um, Billy Yee? Gee, Simon, I know a Billy Yee. He was in one of my anthro classes. And come to think of it - his father, also Billy Yee, just happens to own a restaurant over on Sutter Place... that wouldn't be your Yee's, would it?"
Simon regarded Blair from behind his glasses, then he casually leaned over, picked up one of his eggrolls and just as casually - stuffed it into Blair's mouth.
"Uhm, jumt wham I thoumt."
Simon, realizing that the jig was up, raised his hands and shrugged dramatically. "Okay, okay, so I just happened to mention that the meal was for you, Sandburg. And so what if while waiting, I had to listen to them regale me with stories about how you saved their son's education? And so what if because it was for you, they made up the special order of Almond Duck? I was the one who dropped your name, wasn't I?"
Jim grinned around his own mouthful of eggroll and after swallowing, said, "Hey, you're Captain of Major Crime for a very good reason, Simon," he then speared a square of the duck and held it up, "And who knew that this was that reason?"
"Somebody tell me why I put myself through this? I could have stayed home."
"But the abuse wouldn't have been nearly so clever, Simon," Blair said innocently.
Jim nodded as he walked back into the living room and rejoined Simon. "Minute his head hit the pillow."
"Seemed okay tonight, didn't he?"
"In a way. But lately, it's been hard for me to tell if I'm seeing the real Sandburg."
Simon glanced over his shoulder at the small room and the French doors. He shook his head in disgust because once again, he'd managed not to say anything to Blair that he'd planned - and neither he nor Jim had said one word about Brackett, about what happened, nothing. With the disgust for himself visible in his eyes, he asked, "Tell me, what's wrong with us, Jim?"
"What do you mean?"
"Two hours, Jim. Two fucking hours. We eat, we crack wise, we joke, but we don't say a word about what we should have been talking about. And it's been like that since - since the fountain. Why? Why can't I ask him? Why can't I tell him?"
"It's not all you, Simon. Think back. Tonight, he didn't let you. He controlled the conversation the whole two hours. We were brilliantly manipulated."
The furrow in Simon's brow deepened as he went back over the last hours....
"God damn it, you're right. You're fucking right."
"Oh, we're not entirely blameless here, Simon. We let him."
Jim locked up, then stood just inside Blair's room watching him sleep. He seemed restless, his head turning a bit on the pile of pillows that Jim had stacked up against the wall, and the fingers of his left hand seemed - nervous, as they moved over the blanket. Jim moved closer and rested a hand on Bair's forehead - cool, slightly moist. His breathing seemed stable and other than his sleep not being as restful as one would hope, he seemed fine.
Slowly, almost - regretfully, Jim turned away.
The rocking, the water, cold, unrelenting, crawling over his body like a swarm of spiders bent on destroying him....
Blair woke with a start, glanced around frantically and realized, finally, that he was in his room. He shivered as the darkness seemed to envelope him and not in a good way.
He needed - space and - air and - light.
Shakily and with some difficulty, he managed to get to his feet, which hurt like a son of a gun, then somehow he made it into the living room and to the couch. Putting out his left hand, he braced himself on the back of the sofa before moving further. Closing his eyes, he willed the dizziness to recede....
Light. He needed light.
Blair hobbled over to the windows and clumsily raised the shades. He did his best to stay quiet, knowing that the open shades wouldn't bother Jim, not with his sleep mask in place. As the lights of the city brightened the room and enlarged it, Blair hobbled to the couch and dropped down with a satisfied sigh.
The pillows that Jim had bunched up for him were still there, as was the afghan. All he had to do was pull it up around him. After a couple of uncomfortable settling-in minutes, Blair was ready to give sleep another try. But he couldn't close his eyes. He was - feeling - too much.
The damn bedroom, the darkness, his bound hands, the cold air on his naked body, and finally, the feeling of Brackett. Rough hands, dark words, the sense of smothering, of not being able to breathe as Brackett stretched on top of him, the callous way he was touched, the anger behind every move....
....and there was another room, small, but bright with color, yellow, painted for him... a new toy box, shiny red and overflowing with books, puzzles and games, and in the corner, his very own bicycle.
A room of safety and love that he'd believed would last. A home he'd felt safe in loving, a man he'd started to call daddy... until the night the man came to his bedroom, came to his bed, tried to soothe him with soft words and gentle hands, that soon became - grasping, clawing, painful hands....
He was slipping out of his grasp....
Jim struggled harder, dug deep, found reserves of strength he hadn't known he'd possessed and fingers wrapped around the bleeding wrist....
"It's too late, Jim. Let me go...."
Pain-filled blue eyes gazed up at him, begging him with the depth of their emotion to let him go. Jim's fingers tightened and he started to pull.
"Please, Jim. You know. You know. Let go."
"I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING EXCEPT I CAN'T LET YOU GO!"
"You do know...."
The cliff was gone, Blair was gone. Jim was in the bedroom, the bedroom in Brackett's home. Standing next to the bed - Brackett.
Jim advanced on the rogue CIA agent, his intent clear. Brackett didn't move, but his smile grew wider.
"You know. Let him go. He's mine now."
Jim's hands reached out, fingers itching to wrap themselves around Brackett's neck....
But it was Blair's neck....
Jim sat straight up in bed, his arms outstretched before him....
Dark - silent - another nightmare. Except, Jim Ellison was no longer a fool. He knew that dreams had significance. And his gut, his sweating body, his aching fingers, all told him that he had to discover this dreams meaning. For Blair's sake. And his own.
He dropped back down, forcing his breathing to slow even as he wiped his face with the edge of the sheet. The bedroom at Brackett's house. Why there?
Okay, let's start there, he thought. He closed his eyes and, using the memory sense that Blair had taught him, he let himself float back in time....
The scent of Blair. Of the drug Brackett had used. The odor of the ammonia... come on, Ellison, filter it out... you know the drill.
Fear. He could smell Blair's fear now... and something - more.
NO. DEAR GOD, NO!
His whole body shaking, Jim managed to crawl from the bed, almost falling in the process. He braced himself on the top rail as dizziness assailed him. Eyes tightly shut, he waited. When the feeling of riding on top of an old 78 record finally ended, he slowly opened his eyes and darkness became light as he automatically adjusted for the night. Jim tried some deep breathing but to him, it sounded more like a child's hitching breath just before they started to wail.
There was too much light.
Jim turned his head to face out over his home and realized that the shades were up. He distinctly remembered pulling them before going to bed....
He gazed out over the living room and immediately spotted Blair.
Sandburg was on the couch, on his good side, and facing the windows. The afghan was pulled up to his neck and he was sound asleep. Sound asleep. In the living room. With every shade in the house raised.
Hot, wet tears slid down Jim Ellison's face as he watched his best friend sleep. His mind could barely grasp what he now knew had been done to Blair, but his body was having no difficulty as two strong hands gripped and ungripped the railing - gripped the railing as if the long, cold metal was a warm, struggling neck.
An hour later, Jim returned to his bed but did not sleep.
Blair flushed the toilet, washed what he could of his hands, downed a pain pill with a glass of water, then took a few minutes to awkwardly brush his teeth. He didn't even try to shave. Finally done, he turned off the light and walked back to the couch.
It was after nine and Jim still wasn't up, but Blair figured that was a good thing. He'd managed to sleep a bit, but based on what his body was telling him, he needed more. A short nap, maybe?
Just as he'd settled in, Jim came slowly downstairs wearing only his shorts and a cropped Cascade PD sweat shirt. His hair was spiked and he looked like hell. So much so, that Blair immediately angled himself up and off the couch to follow Jim into the kitchen.
"Hey, man, you okay?" he said as Jim, without sparing him a glance, reached for his coffee cup.
"I'm fine, Sandburg."
Sandburg. Uh-oh. Looked as though Naomi wouldn't be arriving one minute too soon. For just a moment, Blair felt almost - bereft. Sure, he'd schooled himself for this very moment, but now that it was here, the very cut of it was leaving him breathless with pain.
"Uh-huh, sure you are, Jim." Blair gazed up at his friend and fought for the words that would relieve the man he cared more about than any other.
"Jim, it's okay, you know. It's finally hit you, hasn't it?"
The cup Jim had been holding crashed to the floor. Blair started to bend down but Jim stopped him with lightening quick words.
"What? What has finally hit me? The truth? Oh, yeah, Sandburg - that finally hit me hard."
As the words shot out, Jim tried to control himself, to rein in the anger - the anger that no longer had an outlet because Lee Brackett was dead - the bastard.
Wide blue eyes, alive with questions, blinked up at him, but then, as if the lights around the globe had been turned off, the shimmering sapphires darkened - and deadened.
Blair gazed down at the pieces of the white Cascade PD mug as he said in a voice naked in its lack of emotion, "Jim, I've taken care of it, you don't need to worry. Naomi will be here - tomorrow, see?"
Chunks of the mug skittered across the floor as Jim kicked them away and took the two steps needed to bring him close to Blair.
"Naomi? You found her? She's coming here?"
Blair risked putting one hand on Jim's arm as he plastered a fake smile in place. With heart shattering and eyes burning, he said, "Yeah, I did. And it's going to be okay, you don't have to worry. We're going to... Saint Sebastian's for awhile, you know, until I can fend for myself, then we'll be going to Connecticut. That's where she is now, she's kind of hooked up with an old beau and I'll be going back there with her - later."
Blair took a step back, as if trying to make it easier by distancing himself from Jim as he went on.
"I never really - fully - unpacked, as you know, so it'll be easy. Mom won't have much to do." He turned then, shaky, hurting, trying to summon up the words that would release Jim, while at the same time, consigning Blair to purgatory.
"I'm going to maybe, probably, get a teaching job there, somewhere, so see, it's all over for you, Jim. You don't need to worry about taking care of me, or the days when you want to be free, or anything like that... I'll be gone in a couple of days."
He waved his left hand abstractly, then motioned to his room as he said quietly, "I'm gonna - maybe take a - I'm gonna get some more sleep, you know? A little tired still...."
Blair started to move toward his small room when Jim's angry words stopped him.
"Oh, I don't think so, Sandburg."
As the words echoed between them, Jim moved to stand in front of Sandburg. With an anger that had no other outlet than the man in front of him, Jim hissed out, "I'm a fucking sentinel, Sandburg, or have you forgotten that?"
Believing that Jim was referring to his need for back-up, Blair hastened to reassure him.
"It's okay, Jim. Don't worry about the diss, I kinda, well, you remember the meeting with Chancellor Edwards? Well, I pulled my original topic - went to my back-up - and well, you don't have to worry. And as to needing someone to watch your back, well, we both know that you and your senses are just fine. Besides, you have both Simon and Megan. I can leave Simon my notes and I'll always be just a phone call away."
As if he hadn't heard a word, Jim hissed out, "You can really be a block of wood, can't you, Sandburg?" Jim went low and with his nose inches from Blair's, snapped out, "Did you think I wouldn't figure it out? Did you think I wouldn't know, finally, what Brackett did to you in that house?"
Jim's breath wafted over Blair's face and the younger man, unnerved by the sudden closeness, squinted a bit and pulled back automatically. Jim's words had registered, but they were so far removed from what Blair had thought Jim would say, that for a moment - he was stunned into non-action. But that didn't last long as Blair Sandburg turned into a glacier.
"So you think Brackett did something to me? Is that what I'm understanding?"
"Oh, please, don't even try to hide it, Sandburg. A flashback, a few techniques that you taught me and I knew. I could smell what happened to you, Chief."
"Well. So, as I was saying, Naomi will be here tomorrow, Jim, and right now, I'm going to take a nap."
Jim's own anger was as alive as Blair's reactions were dead, but Jim missed it and went on, angry and unrelenting.
"No you're not, Sandburg. We're gonna talk this out and you're going to tell me why you kept this information from me. Now."
Blair's eyes narrowed and cold anger glittered briefly as the blue seemed to go silver. His face hardened as he placed his left hand over Jim's chest and pushed hard enough to move the larger man.
"I didn't tell you because it was none of your God damned business, Ellison."
Jim moved to block Blair's forward movement as he yelled angrily, "NONE OF MY BUSINESS? NONE OF MY BUSINESS? ARE YOU CRAZY?"
"You don't have to yell and I'd prefer it if the whole fucking building didn't know. Now shut up and get the fuck out of my way."
When Jim didn't move, Blair turned on his heel and limped toward the front door. Jim was on it in an instant, blocking Blair's path.
"I'm your fucking partner, Sandburg, and I have a right to know what that bastard did to you."
"Ooh, so macho, aren't we, Jim? Well, you can cut the crap. I'm not your partner and haven't been for weeks, if ever. And in my book, NO ONE has a right to know anything about me, got that? And it's no big deal...."
"NO BIG DEAL? NO...."
"Would you shut up and stop your stupid, Neanderthal yelling? Get off your fucking high horse, Ellison. Aren't I doing what you want? I'm getting the hell out of here, okay? It's over. You sentinels and sentinel wanna-be's have had your fun with Blair Sandburg and I get the fucking message."
"Wait, wait, you're lumping me in with Brackett? You're comparing me to him?"
"You, Alex, Brackett, what's the difference? Gone, dead, whatever. Message received, loud and clear. Now get out of my way."
Jim was stunned. Sucker-punched. Punch drunk. Stupefied.
His stupification quickly gave way to more anger.
"And just when was the last time I raped you, Sandburg? Tell me, when?"
If asked, Jim would have said that Blair couldn't possibly have gone any more pale than was his current state - but he'd have been wrong, because except for the two dull splotches of red on his cheeks, the remaining color was leached from Blair's face as Jim's words were spit out. The blue of his eyes disappeared as the pupils eclipsed the natural color of each iris.
Blair swayed slightly but caught himself. Too much - too much. Confusion, pain, hurt, and memories all came together to rob him of strength and resolve. He had to make this - be - over. Now.
"Maybe... we'd better stop," he pleaded, "before we say things that can't be... that we couldn't..." his voice caught, hitched and Blair found that he had no ability to speak....
"You think that what I've done to you is equal to or even worse than what Brackett did? Is that what you believe? That I let you down, turned my back on you?"
As Jim spoke, Blair shook his head and kept shaking it as he almost chanted, "no, no, no... you didn't -- you never, you wouldn't...."
"Yes, that's exactly what you mean. I abandoned you, let Alex in, let her kill you, and I let Brackett... I let...."
The anger that Jim had been misdirecting at Blair suddenly faded as his words gave voice to his own guilt. He pressed shaking fingers against his temple and in a voice filled with so much pain that Blair winced, Jim said, "God, we both know, we know that you should have been on that stake-out with me. He should never, she -- neither of them should ever have been able to get to you."
Jim opened his eyes, eyes filled with tears, and said, "What's it going to take, Chief, for me to learn? How much has to happen to you?"
Blair, suddenly filled with his guilt, said almost to himself, "I just answered the door... that's all I did. I thought it was... I - just - answered - the - door."
Jim, sensing that while he'd regained control, was back and dealing, Blair had retreated even further into his own guilt-ridden world. The shoe was on the other foot - Jim had to be the guide or lose Blair. With a soft, almost not there, "Aw, God, Chief," Jim reached out and brought the shorter man into the safety of his arms. Holding him, soothing him, Jim let his tears slide unabated.
The world returned and with it, awareness of Blair's physical condition. In a voice full of equal parts gruffness and tenderness, Jim said,"You're not supposed to be on your feet." And as he had on the mountain, Jim gently lifted Blair.
The feeling of Jim's arms around him seemed to rouse Blair from his stupor and a small streak of stubboness resurfaced.
"Jim, um, do you think you could not...."
"Shut up, Chief."
Blair shut up, but only because he couldn't trust his voice.
"Carrying a guy is awkward, but - nice," Jim mused, "And it's not that you're not heavy, but hell, I lift over two hundred pounds easily. Of course, you're not as heavy, even with your cast, as on the mountain, but then, you were all wet and muddy. Adds pounds, you know?"
He was making noise, stringing words together, knowing he was making no sense at all. When he got to the couch, he gently lowered Blair to the cushions, plumped up the pillows behind him, and dropped the afghan over Blair's legs.
"Well, that was embarrassing," Blair said quietly.
"I was just doing what the doctor ordered, getting you off your feet. You'd do the same for me, Chief."
"You would, and you know it."
"I would if I could, but I couldn't, so I wouldn't."
"I understood that. I may need help."
Something had shifted between them, had changed. They were wary, watching each other, but there was an almost invisible string of energy moving back and forth between them.
Jim had his hands on his hips and was staring down at his partner as he said, "Um, what's wrong with this picture?"
Before Blair could do more than frown, Jim snapped his fingers and said, "Oh, I know." He lifted Blair's legs, sat down at the end of the couch and placed the afghan-covered limbs onto his lap.
"There, that's much better. You're comfortable, right?"
"Uh-huh." Blair couldn't find it in him to say anything else. Shock was a serious condition and he almost asked Jim to call 911.
"Good, good. So we're both comfortable. Good."
Several minutes passed, minutes that found Jim's right hand slowly stroking Blair's right leg.
As the hand rubbed lightly, Blair found himself almost mesmerized by the movement. Nothing had gone as planned - nothing. And somehow, he'd found himself back on the couch, tucked in, his legs resting in Jim's - lap. No, this wasn't how it was supposed to go at all. And what were they supposed to do now?
Maybe some truth.
Blair cleared his throat and with eyes glued to the hand stroking his leg, he said, "I never... thought I could hurt you, but I have. I -- I'm sorry, Jim. I'm sorry that I hid behind being a scientist instead of being your friend."
Blair swallowed hard, then plunged forward.
"I'd give anything to take it all back, to be given a do-over, but I'd probably make the same mistake again and that's what makes my behavior so deplorable, because I know you, Jim. I know your history, how you've been hurt and I know better than anyone how trust is so important to you - and yet - I made the decisions that I did.
"But," his voice lowered as his eyes rose to meet the other man's, "when do I stop paying, Jim?"
As Blair waited, for what he didn't know, he noticed that Jim was still stroking his leg and Blair found it so comforting, so - connecting, that for a brief moment, he could believe... in happy endings.
For Jim, the stroking was as necessary as breathing. He had to touch Blair. Anywhere he could. And he needed to - talk.
"Blair, I know you too. I know you're a scientist and yet - I blew it. And I know that I'm more to you than something to study. You've proven that time and again. And still - I pushed.
"And later, when we should have talked - I wouldn't. You think I don't know that we should have sat down, gotten pie-eyed and discussed the drowning? And about the, what should we call it?" At Blair's puzzled expression, Jim took his hands and mimicked two entities coming together as he said, "You know, that thing we did, in the jungle, in our vision."
"We - melded, Jim."
"Yeah, melded. I didn't meld with Alex...."
"...not from lack of trying," Blair whispered, unable to hide his sarcasm.
"Ha, ha, Sandburg. Can we not go down that road? And where was I?"
"Not melding with Alex."
"You are a bastard, Chief."
"What can I say? When a man loves a woman, even his best friend...."
"Aw, please, not the song, Chief, not the song."
"Sorry, couldn't resist. So, you were talking about our meld?"
"I love you, Blair."
"Uh-huh. And what does that... what?"
"I love you. Don't go to Saint Sebastians, please? Don't run, Blair."
"I'm not running. I thought it was what you really wanted."
"I know. But you were wrong, as shocking as that seems. Your leaving is the farthest thing from what I want as it's possible to be. Galaxies apart."
"Just say you'll stay."
"Look, it's easy. Just say it."
Blair wanted to believe. To believe that talking could fix everything, that Jim meant what he was saying... and maybe... except - Jim knew. Jim knew.
Which meant that he'd tell... Blair's brain stopped cold at the thought that Jim would tell his mother. Nothing else mattered....
"Jim, you can't tell Naomi about... about what Brackett...."
"You didn't tell her?"
"No, and I won't.
"Just as you had no intention of telling me either, right? Not that I'm in the same league as your mother, of course."
"Well," Blair said, with a touch of misdirecting humor, "for one thing, you're a guy."
"And not related, thank God."
"Yeah, the insanity that runs through the family and all...."
"I was thinking more about what would then be highly incestuous feelings. If we were related."
Blair's mouth dropped open.
"So you'll stay?"
"You really should close that mouth, Sandburg. You're losing saliva."
Blair shut his mouth. Then he wiped his face and turned away. He was suffocating, drowning, the quicksand rising... did quicksand rise? No, people sank. He was sinking. And Jim, who now had tear tracks on his cheeks, was grinning. And damn it - he was still stroking.
"So, you're staying."
"I didn't say that."
"But you are."
"I don't think I should."
"Are you nuts? We're making headway here."
"Until the next time I blow it?"
"Or I do. But we won't."
"We won't blow it?"
"Nope. Aren't we talking now? That's major improvement, you know?"
"We're bantering, not talking."
"We do some of our best talking while bantering."
"No, Jim. We do some of our best avoidance while bantering."
"I love you, Blair, you're my - soulmate. My other half, my...."
"I get it, Jim. I'm your bad penny. Yours and mom's."
"Is that the sound of Blair Sandburg feeling sorry for himself, by any chance?"
"Hey, you're entitled, I was just clarifying."
"I wouldn't have been on the stake-out, you know that, Jim. You're not responsible. And if I had been, on the stake-out, he'd have managed somewhere else."
Fingers tightened around Blair's calf and the younger man managed not to wince.
"You would have been with me - if things had been - us."
Blair shrugged and repeated what he'd said a moment before. "So he would have managed at some other time."
"Blair, just let it be my fault, okay?"
"Don't be an ass. It wasn't your fault."
"But it was yours?"
"Everything's my fault, didn't you know?"
"Thank God. Now I have someone to blame for the economy, the lack of adequate medical care for the world and the cancellation of Dr.Quinn, Medicine Woman"
"And taxes, don't forget taxes. And earthquakes and hurricanes and...."
"...and the plague, and the common cold and...."
Blair held up his good hand and said, "Oh, no, you can't blame me for you guys. I draw the line at being responsible for sentinels. Sir Richard Burton...."
"The explorer, not the actor...."
"The explorer, not the actor, yeah, he's responsible for you!"
"Do you love me, Blair?"
Blair stared at him, the energy between them refusing to allow him to look away. "yeah, yeah, I do," he whispered.
"Why do you suppose I waited so long to tell you how I felt?"
"How long did you wait?"
Giving Blair a sheepish look, Jim answered, "Two years. Give or take a month."
"Bullshit - you've loved me from day one."
"Oh, yeah, I forgot."
They were quiet again and slowly Blair moved his good hand over so that it rested on top of the one that was still stroking his leg. Jim turned his hand over and let his fingers interlock with Blair's.
"So you're staying."
"I'm sorry about Alex."
"And the whole Ventriss thing."
"I've done lots of things right."
"Tons of things."
"Best thing I ever did - was keep you."
Blair snorted and said out of the corner of his mouth, "Keep me? Oh, yeah, sure. You kept me. I so don't think so. I let you think you were keeping me."
"Who owes months of back rent?"
"Well, fuck. You have been keeping me."
Jim slid the poached eggs onto the sliced-up sourdough toast, then mixed it all together, picked up the plate and set it in front of Sandburg.
"Figured your cutting abilities have been seriously limited."
"Gee, thanks, dad."
Jim bopped him one, then returned to the kitchen and dished up his own eggs-on-toast, picked up his coffee and carried it all into the dining room, taking the seat next to Blair. He took a quick sip of coffee and watched Blair try to eat left-handed. Smiling, he said, "Should I feed you too?"
"Hell no. I'm multi-talented."
"But not ambidextrous."
Blair waved his fork in Jim's face and repeated, "But multi-talented."
"So I should feed you."
"Only if you want to lose a hand."
"So I won't feed you."
They ate in silence and it didn't take Blair long to get the hang of eating with his left hand. He found that scooping worked best and he really wished his fingers were a bit more flexible but they were still stiff. As he chewed, he wondered about the future, about how things were going to happen between the two of them. So much emotion had been unleashed and he could tell that Jim was already feeling uncomfortable; the humor the older man was using told Blair that much.
And tomorrow - Naomi.
He could call, cancel with her, but he knew she wouldn't let him, and besides, he really didn't want Jim to have to do for him. But it was going to be risky. And didn't he know how difficult it was hiding anything from Jim, let alone his own mother?
"Blair? What's wrong?"
Sandburg blinked and plummeted back to earth. He started to speak, then realized he had a mouthful of food. He swallowed and shook his head.
"Nothing wrong. Just thinking."
Jim waited patiently, eyes focused on Sandburg, letting him know with his steadfast gaze that the younger man was expected to tell Jim what he'd been thinking.
Blair frowned as he received the undeniable message, a message that was usually sent by him to Jim. He hated it when Jim reversed their roles.
"I hate it when you reverse our roles."
"Yeah, I know. I love to drive you crazy. Spill."
And the decision came to him. The only way to protect himself, and thus Jim.
"I am staying, Jim, but I think I need to go to St. Sebastians anyway. Just for a little while, you know?" Seeing Jim's face, knowing that the detective was about to argue, Blair hurried on. "I feel uncomfortable with you having to take the kind of care of me that you'll need to in the next few weeks. Monks live for that and I need... the space, you know? The time."
When he received no immediate response from Jim, he added, "Moms like to do that kind of thing too but I will be back, just as soon as the cast comes off, okay?"
Jim's pale blue gaze turned icy and as his eyes narrowed, Blair felt his heart jump into his throat. Jim was giving him his best detective scowl. When Jim finally looked away, Blair could breathe again. He watched Jim rise, pick up both their plates and carry them into the kitchen. He started to worry again when Jim began to clean the kitchen. Blair quickly gulped down the rest of his orange juice, then started to get up in order to take the glass into Jim.
"Don't move. I'll pick it up. Stay off your feet."
It was an order. Blair sat back down, not willing to risk a confrontation. He knew damn well that he was a festering wound with a bandaid and any confrontation now would probably send him over the edge. He hated knowing himself so well. But he didn't hate knowing Jim so well, and right now, Jim was both mad and he was detecting - mentally. And God damn it, Jim was smart, which meant that Blair needed to get his mind going in another direction.
"Jim, I need - Brother Marcus right now." Give him half truths.... "This isn't about us, Jim. Do you understand?"
Jim kept washing dishes. He'd already washed the poaching pan twice.
"Jim, please, you need to let me do this."
Without turning, Jim asked, "Who do you think you're fooling, Sandburg? I've known you for three years."
Allowing a small bit of anger to edge his voice, Blair said, "Good for you, Jim. You've known me for three years." Blair schooled his body, sent up a prayer that he could do this, then said with biting sarcasm, "And in those three years, how many times was I raped?"
The pan clattered to the floor. Blair stayed where he was and attacked again.
"Well? How many?"
Jim had his back to him, holding his body stiffly and he'd still not picked up the pan....
Then Jim's body started to shake. It started with his right hand, the fingers fisting, then unfisting. Then the tremors moved up.
Oh, God, what had he done? Didn't he know that when something like this happened, there were two victims?
Blair pushed his chair back and rose clumsily as Jim leaned forward, hands bracing himself on the counter, his tremors uncontrollable. Blair started for him, his heart breaking, his eyes suddenly misting over.
As Blair stepped into the kitchen, two things happened at once; he reached out for Jim, and the older man, totally unaware of Blair's presence, lashed out, his hand sweeping the cleaned dishes from the counter, then continuing its arc and thudding into the side of Blair's head.
The moment his hand connected with flesh, Jim snapped out of his strange zone. He whirled in time to see Blair stagger back, eyes tearing in pain. Jim quickly reached out and snagged Blair's shirt, pulling him into his body.
"i'm sorry, i'm sorry," he murmured over and over again, his face buried in Blair's hair.
Blair's eyes were smarting, his head hurt, his shoulder hurt, but Jim's arms around him... it would be so easy to surrender... so easy to give in.
"why, blair, why?"
Then Blair was saying it, how sorry he was, how sorry... his words tumbling over each other, making no sense....
"i can't let her know, can't let you know, she lost everything the first time, she was nearly destroyed, the things they said to her, and she never, she never... believed, i had to push you, jim, i had to, she can't know...."
Blair's fingers were wrapped around Jim's shirt and he was almost shaking the larger man as he finally broke....
The words went on and on and Jim listened, let them flow, held on tight, both men swaying....
Jim lay on his back, Blair against his side and asleep, finally. The horrible litany had ended two hours ago as Blair's words had petered out and red-rimmed eyes had slowly closed in exhaustion. Now the only sounds were the soft breaths of the two men and for Jim - it was a return to sanity.
Somehow, in the middle of the worst of it, he'd managed to steer them both into Blair's room, get the younger man into his bed, then, exhausted, had crawled in beside him. Jim's blood had chilled as Blair talked, often making no sense, but still, the detective had been able to piece a great many things together. As a result, so much of who Blair Sandburg was had been explained to the sentinel. Stories of panic attacks now had a foundation. A horrific foundation.
Odd how there was no anger left in Jim. And there certainly should have been. But all he had was this need to remain close to Sandburg, to touch in some way. To never move from this connection. Yes, it was a connection that had been there from the beginning, but one that Jim had never understood. Now he didn't care about the why of it, only that he needed it - desperately.
Had anyone else ever provided this warmth? This connection? The heat?
Jim thought back to Alex - to her heat... no, not heat, not with her. No warmth, no comfort. No connection to life. Just cold heat, instinctual, dominating, testing.
Had he been able to experience any stolen warmth with Carolyn? Or Michelle, or even Lila? No. Nor with his father or Steven, not even memories of his mother generated the same comforting heat as simply touching Sandburg. Blair gave him a life-line to reality, to, well, to life. And most people wanted only to pretend. Not Blair Sandburg.
But... had life finally proven too much for his Blair? Thrown one too many curves? No, he refused to believe that. There wasn't a stronger man in the world than Blair Sandburg. They'd both make it through this - they had to. Too much to lose - too much to win. Like a life together.
Jim shifted slightly to relieve the arm that rested under Blair's neck and as the feeling rushed back, he flexed his fingers. Carefully, he moved again, sliding away, but allowing Blair's body to shift into the dip his own body was leaving. Standing, Jim stared down at his partner and prayed for the strength to give Blair what he'd need, to have the right words and to give them when needed. And he prayed that his love would be enough.
"Hey, you're up."
"Eyes open, walking, yes, I'm up."
Jim was sitting at the table, a cup of lukewarm coffee resting between restless hands. Blair stood uneasily just outside his door, hair a mess, eyes hollow.
"I've got water on for you. Want the tea here, or in the living room?"
Blair answered by taking the chair opposite Jim. "You okay? Need anything? A pill? Not time for your antibiotic yet though."
"I'm fine, pain is dull, maybe a couple of aspirin with my tea."
Blair looked around a bit, then scratched his jaw and smiled wryly as his gaze ended up back at Jim.
"I kind of - lost it, earlier, didn't I?"
"Hey, you're not Superman, Chief."
Blair suddenly gave out with a bark of laughter and at Jim's puzzled look, he sheepishly stopped and shrugging, said, "Superman... Chief, get it? Perry White, they always called him Chief."
Jim favored him with a small grin, then said, "Maybe that's why I call you Chief. You're the boss...."
"And I think you're Superman. But actually, you call me Chief because Bud used that term with you. I'm not up on the correlation, sometimes your mind baffles even me."
Jim gave a very impolite snort at that, then said, "As I was saying? You're not Superman, neither one of us is, and our little...."
"Our mini-breakdown should probably have happened sooner."
"Shouldn't have happened at all."
"You being so macho?" Jim offered sarcastically, but with affection.
"I was trying to...."
"Save me and your mother. I know, Chief, I know. I get it now. You were trying to keep Naomi from finding out."
"Well, yeah, sort of, kind of. Yeah."
At that moment, the tea kettle blew its message of hot water and Jim quickly slid back his chair and three minutes later was setting a steaming mug of tea in front of Blair.
"Don't drink it yet, it's hot."
Blair cocked his head and favored Jim with an I don't believe you grin. "Sheesh, you sound just like mom."
As Jim sat down, he screwed up his face and said, "What's with this parental thing? First I'm your dad, now your mom?"
"I know, usually it's the brothers-in-arms thing."
"Believe me, Sandburg, it's not a brother I want in my arms."
"Speaking of arms - was it my imagination or did we end up in my...."
"Yes, Chief, we did."
"How did you manage...."
"Airlifted you," Jim joked.
"Cool. Lot of that going around lately."
Jim chuckled and Blair smiled at the sound - one of his favorites. Jim, encouraged by the grin, asked, "You up for some questions?"
Blair's grin faded, his eyes taking on a soulful look. "Why don't I do us both a favor and just - tell you? Okay? I know I said a lot, probably didn't make much sense, so I'll just give you the facts, but no interruptions, just let me - get it all out, okay?"
"All right. Would you be more comfortable in the living room?"
"No, let's just - stay here, for now." At Jim's nod, Blair picked up the mug, took a warming, courage boosting gulp, then began.
"I was ten when we moved to a small town in central California called Madisonville...."
"Central California, Chief?"
One eyebrow rose dramatically.
"Right. No interruptions. Sorry."
Blair shook his head and continued.
"Mom was in one of her earth mother phases, one of the rare, we've got to settle down, I'm going to sew, garden, yadda, yadda. She'd go into these every so often, packing me home -made lunches, insisting that I make my bed, call her mother, the works. So she thought this little farm community called Madisonville would be the perfect place to raise her son. They were into artichokes and the town had been founded in, like, the 1800's and the Madisons still owned a huge hunk of the place. Anyway, we settled in, I went to Madison Elementary School, we had a little house, everything was hunky dory."
Blair stopped to take another sip of tea and Jim noticed the small beads of sweat over Sandburg's upper lip and forehead and he gave half a thought to adding some bourbon to his coffee.
"Mom's mothering phase lasted about two weeks, then she found herself involved in fighting for the farm workers, getting them decent bathrooms, school for the kids and medical help. That's how she met... him. Jefferson Madison the Third. Wealthy, thirty years old, handsome, son to Jefferson Madison the Second. And still living at home.
"She met him in front of the city hall where she was leading a protest. He promised to help, asked her out for coffee and six days later, we were moving into the Great House. White, three stories with columns, the whole magilla. I loved it. There were banisters for sliding, endless slick, tiled floors for skidding over, and tons of places for a small ten year old to hide, something," his voice drifted off, his eyes skittering to the floor before he finished with, "something that became... kind of important - later."
Jim finally did get up, went to the cupboard, took down the Jim Beam and brought it back to the table. He opened it, poured, then as he was about to put the top back on, Blair held out his mug. Jim added half a finger, then capped the bottle. Both men took long sips.
"So, I had my own room, and he bought me my very own bicycle, it was red and white with streamers coming out of the handle bars and a basket... and yes, I liked him. A lot. I started to think of the house as my home, and even started, sometimes, calling him... daddy. He took me to games, taught me how to play basketball, didn't mind that I loved to read, he bought me books, took me to Disneyland and didn't think I was a wuss for refusing to ride the teacups...."
"I hated the teacups."
"You would, your senses and all. And when...."
"Yeah, if you were ten."
They both took another sip and Blair held out his mug again. Jim poured.
"Anyway, Mom seemed to love him, he loved her and Jefferson Madison the Second hated both of us. There was this one spot that I'd go, a little cubbyhole in the solarium, behind some plants. I'd read there, in the sun. I heard them. He... said Mom was a tramp and that no way would some bastard boy become his grandson. I didn't hang around to hear anything else, just crawled out and slunk upstairs.
"We were there for - wow, a long time, weeks even. Then mom, well, for awhile, she was content to be the whatever, of the Great House, but eventually, well, you know her. She got re-involved with the farm workers, started having these late meetings, maybe a couple of nights a week. And that's when it started."
Blair glanced up then, looking at Jim eye to eye for the first time since starting his recitation. "I don't need to tell you about it, you're a detective, you know how it goes. How it escalates. Anyway, back in the seventies, teachers still didn't have adequate training in recognizing child abuse, especially not teachers in small town USA. But my teacher, her name was Agnes Spring, well, she recognized the symptoms because, because she'd been a victim.
"So before you know it, I'm sitting in the principal's office, they've called my mom, she's there, crying, and they're all yelling. I remember sliding off my chair and crawling under it and no one's asked me yet... who did... it."
Jim's fingers tightened around his coffee cup and he had the urge to scream, "NO MORE!" but didn't. Couldn't. Wouldn't. He had to listen, he had to see it in his mind, see that small, little-boy Blair, cowering under a chair while the adults all around him - lost it.
"Mom saw me, so did Miss Spring. They both got down on their hands and knees and tried to cajole me out, but I wouldn't budge. I remember... I just kept - shaking - my head, you know?" He wasn't asking Jim, it was painfully obvious that the you know? was rhetorical, spoken to the air.
"I think mom finally said, 'Please, honey?', so I remember taking her hand and she pulled me out and Miss Spring whispered something to her and she nodded and Miss Spring sat down and put me on her lap. I was wearing shorts and a bright purple tee shirt and these floppy sandals and I had a skinned knee and she asked me, 'who did it, Blair?' and I thought she meant about my knee and I told her, 'cootie carl pushed me' and she smiled and then said, 'Blair, who hurt you?' and I knew then, what she was asking. So --- I told them --- 'jeffy'."
Blair stopped, stared down at what was left of his tea and his body stilled and Jim knew that Blair was seeing it all - could see himself saying 'jeffy', could see the reactions, knew that the little boy-Blair was waiting for the adults to make it all better....
"It got so silent, Jim. One minute - noise, the next - this yawning silence. Then mom... she lifted me from Miss Spring's lap and I was still small enough, and don't crack wise, Jim, for her to hold, to cradle, and she did and I remember how she put her hand," his breathing quickened, his eyes wide and filling as he went on....
"...behind my head - and I buried my face in her hair and wrapped my arms around her neck and the Principal stood and he got all blustery and as I look back with the eyes of a twenty-nine year old, I can see that he was already afraid and mom got all edgy and demanded that the police be called and how we were going to Rock Island Motel and could be reached there, but she was taking her son somewhere safe... and, and --- someone --- said... how, how... I'd need an...."
"An exam. That's what they said, isn't it?" Blair nodded miserably, his gaze still lost within the brown liquid of his tea....
"Mom, she didn't want that, but Miss Spring, she said that Doctor Helms would know what to do and that she was wonderful with children and she called....," Blair paused again and closed his eyes, then rubbed them with the fingers of his left hand.
"I don't remember anything about the hospital except the green walls... and the smell. I remember looking at those awful walls and I threw up all over the doctor and mom held me and I looked at it and said, 'it matches the walls, mommy...." Blair's voice trailed off and he finally opened his eyes to look at Jim, a sad half-smile on his face.
"Silly thing to say, uh? Pretty lame."
Jim shook his head and wanted to say something, anything, but found he could only move his mouth uselessly.
"While there, I think the police came, but again, my memory is fuzzy, they might have come to the --- motel, maybe. I know I said everything right, told them everything because, I don't know, maybe it was the next day, mom said she was proud of me, so I guess I told them."
Blair picked up his mug and started to rise, but Jim stopped him, took the cup, went into the kitchen, poured more coffee for himself, more tea for Blair, then returned, added the liquor, then passed Blair's mug over to him.
"What happened then, Chief?" It cost Jim more than he could measure to ask.
"It got out. The phone would ring and mom would yell into the receiver, then slam it down. People would drive past our motel room, honk the horn and yell obscenities...."
"The town was, what, crazy?"
"No. Afraid, or on Madison's side. Many didn't believe that he'd done it. Others depended on the Madisons for their very existence. I don't know if, if they ever arrested him, arrested - Jeff... Jefferson, I don't know. But I do remember what happened one week later.
"The District Attorney called mom. There was going to be some kind of hearing, he told her that I had to be there and she said that of course, I would be... they talked for awhile and afterwards, she said to me that he was on our side. And he was. I had to be interviewed and I remember - he was nice. He was elected, Madison didn't own him. Not like the Sheriff, who was appointed."
Jim tried to grasp how young Blair had handled that week, the interviews, the questions about his Jeffy, his sometimes-called daddy. But he was afraid to ask - yet.
Blair took a huge swallow of the whiskey-laced tea and it hit Jim that the worse was still to come and he wondered dazedly - how?
"Two days before the hearing, the principal came to the motel... he wanted to talk to mom. We'd finished dinner and I was in the bathtub, I was always asking mom if I could take a bath... and when there was the knocking, she walked out leaving the door partially open. I played with the suds, I remember, and I had this silly, spiky, rubber thing that I played with and I heard their voices and I stopped playing...."
Jim held his breath until Blair's now shaky voice continued.
"He said... he said that maybe Madison hadn't done it, that he'd come into some new information and that mom had to think of what was best for me... then he said, he... that - that, there was no doubt that I'd been molested, but now, it appeared that, maybe, the new janitor at school was responsible."
Jim's ire got the best of him.
"Excuse me, Chief? A janitor!? What game was this asshole playing?"
The gratitude that shone from Blair's eyes nearly took Jim's breath away - and made him forever glad that, just this once, he'd interrupted.
"Apparently, the Madisons had talked with him. Mom made the mistake of asking him if that were the case, why would Blair accuse Jefferson? 'Well, Miss Sandburg,' he said, 'It seems that young Blair overheard a conversation between you and Jeff. A conversation that hurt him and when children are hurt, they... they, they...."
Blair's voice broke and Jim slid his chair over until it was next to Sandburg and slowly he put his hand on the back of Blair's neck and let his fingers knead the tense muscles and send all his warmth into the cold skin.
After a few minutes, Blair's breathing normalized and he started again, his voice stronger. Jim didn't stop his gentle massage.
"He said that I overheard Jefferson tell mom that he could never marry her, that there was no way his father would accept a bastard son or a woman with her past. He said that when asked who'd hurt me, I answered that Jeffy had because, to me, he had. This learned man, this, this example to children everywhere, this fucking expert told mom that children will lash out at those who hurt them, may even eventually believe what they say."
Blair didn't say anything else, but Jim could feel that his partner was getting ready to finish, so he held his tongue, held back the questions that rushed to his mind and after two minutes, in a voice so low that Jim had to sentinel-hear it, in a voice so stricken that Jim wanted to wrap Blair in his arms and never let go, Blair went on. "she - never - argued with him. she didn't yell, or cuss him out, or de... de... deny it, or kick him out or, or, anything."
Blair was staring straight ahead now and Jim doubted that the loft existed for Blair at that moment. He was also beginning to see where this was going and his stomach nearly revolted right then and there.
"I remember how cold the water was then. So cold," he said, surprisingly. "I was shivering but I couldn't move and I heard the door shut and then mom came in and, and, unplugged - the drain and wrapped me in a big towel, dried me off, and I put on my pajamas and she said it was time for bed... and I crawled in and she turned off the light and I said, I said, 'mommy, aren't you going to bed too?' and she said, 'in a little while, sweetie. go to sleep.' so I rolled over but I couldn't, couldn't, you know.
"I must have finally gone to sleep, because the next thing I remember it was morning and something thudded against the front door. Mom was already up and she went to it, opened it, and it was just the morning paper. I sat up in bed and I remember my stomach growled and I giggled, but mom, she, she was so - pale all of a sudden."
Blair stopped then, turned in his seat, took Jim's arm from around his neck and held the strong hand. "I saw it - later. The paper. The headline, and the front page - it was me. A picture of me. My school picture. The headline read: Molested boy lies - Madison cleared - Janitor suspected.
"That night, while I pretended to sleep, the phone rang and she answered it and she said only one word, three times... she said yes. Several hours later, she woke me, told me to get up and all my stuff was packed and she carried it to the car, dumped it in the trunk, came back, picked me up and we... left Madisonville."
"Jesus, Chief. What the fuck happened to Madison? What about the hearing?"
Almost as if Blair hadn't heard him, he said, "We ended up in Texas. Austin, lake country. There were psychologists up the gumpstump, as you would suppose and never once, at any time in the next five years - did I tell a single one that my mother believed that I'd lied about Madison."
Tears filled his eyes, but didn't spill. His hands began to shake slightly as the grief radiated from his body like heat waves. The almost tangible pain of knowing that his own mother hadn't believed him seemed to surround both men, to fill the loft with agony.
"She lost everything, Jim."
Disbelief at Blair's words and the anger that accompanied that disbelief nearly swallowed Jim whole, but he beat it back, tried desperately to calm himself before speaking. Words, the right words, were critical. And by the grace of all entities that might be in power, they came. Gently, softly... the words came.
"You lost more, Blair. So much more."
"And only Naomi knows why, but she'll be here, you can finally ask her."
The tears were blinked back as Blair clumsily whipped around to face Jim, amazement written all over his face.
"Are you crazy, Jim? You think for one minute that I'm going to bring that up NOW? Have you missed everything that I've been saying? You think Naomi is dumb or something? I bring this up and she's gonna know, she's gonna... know," he ended softly.
"Blair, you don't want her to know because you don't want her to go through anything like that again, but if you bring up the past - will it matter?"
"You are insane. Sentinel insanity. It's stolen your mind, your reasoning abilities...."
"Hey, no need to get insulting here, Darwin. The fact is that I'm right. I'm. Right. You need to talk to your mother. You need to get this out and God damn it, now is the time."
Blair was frowning at him, watching his lips move and suddenly, out of the blue, said, "Why haven't you asked, Jim?"
"What? Asked what?"
"About the conversation."
For a moment Jim was confused, but he was used to traveling down Sandburgian roads and Blair's question quickly made sense. "Because I know the answer. You didn't overhear it."
Blair's gasp of shock tore threw the older man and he watched, helpless, as Blair's eyes filled again and his partner struggled to control his emotions but failed. The tears won the battle and coursed down Blair's cheeks.
"i...i, don't... how," he choked, swallowed, brushed angrily at the tears, then, "you...you, how do you...." but in the end, he couldn't finish. And in the end, Jim took him carefully into his arms, palmed Blair's head, and as his own tears mixed with the wild mane of hair, he forced the willing head down to his shoulder and held tight.
Jim realized that they were rocking in each other's arms, that the grip he had on Sandburg would have to be punishing. He loosened up a bit and lifted his head, then looked down and whispered softly, "and if you had heard it, you wouldn't have tried to hurt him in return, that's not your nature and never has been."
"God, I love you, Jim. Do you understand that? Do you see it? Feel it?" The words were spoken almost as a prayer, Blair's pale, tear-streaked face upturned, blue eyes dark with emotion and urgency.
"I want you to see it, Jim. To know it so deeply that you'll never question it, never doubt it. Do you? Do you know it?" Blair's fingers were clenching Jim's shirt as he asked.
"I do know it, Blair. I do."
Jim palmed Blair's cheek and ran his thumb gently over Blair's bottom lip, eyes focused on the task, skin sensitive to any negative movement by Sandburg - but there was none, only acceptance and trust. Slowly Jim moved closer, his eyes asking. Blair nodded, understanding the reluctance, and seeing the nod, Jim lightly pressed his lips against Blair's.
The kiss was chaste, but full of promise and meaning. When Jim lifted his head, he asked, "Can we move this to the living room, Chief?"
"I was expecting you to say something else, Jim."
One eyebrow cocked, Jim quizzed, "Such as?"
"Oh, something Ellisonian, like, 'Your lips taste...'"
Laughing, Blair nodded. "Yeah, something just like that. Ellisonian."
"Well, if it helps, they taste," he paused thoughtfully, then said with a smug grin, "spicy." "Spicy?"
"Yeah, like, um, like someone sprinkled cardamon over caviar. Fine caviar."
Squinting at the older man, his expression a mixture of disbelief and suspicion, Blair repeated, "Cardamon over caviar?"
"Fine caviar. Yeah."
"I'm looking forward to tasting more...."
The grin that spread out over Blair's face was worth a Sumo wrestler's weight in gold.
"Come on, let's park on the couch."
Jim helped Blair up and together, Jim's arm around Sandburg's waist, they moved to the sofa, neither man too steady on his feet. Once down and comfortable, they enjoyed not talking.
As the breeze outside picked up speed and brushed heavily through the potted plants on the balcony, as gray clouds scurried across the sky, blotting out the sun, Jim held Blair. As the first drops of rain hit the railing, Blair dozed, the sound of Jim's breathing, his music.
And Jim wondered how long Blair had been in love with him.
As he rubbed his face softly over the hair that had figured prominently in more than one dream, he wondered why Blair had never said anything.
And he wondered what he'd say to Naomi. And how he'd get her and Sandburg talking. Because Jim had come to the conclusion that believing Blair had never been the issue for the woman. He knew Naomi Sandburg, and he had no doubt that she never even questioned Blair's story. But she had run. And Jim suspected that he knew the why of that as well.
The rain turned into a full-fledged storm, one of the rare Cascade thunderstorms and Blair awoke with a start.
"tell me I didn't fall asleep again."
"You didn't fall asleep again. And those whispers about your snoring? A pack of lies."
"Told by the jealous women of Cascade, and Jim Ellison, to scare off possible suitors."
"Man, there is no such thing as a secret in Cascade."
"Well," huffed Blair, "not for a sentinel, anyway."
"Good point. However, that doesn't explain how this sentinel managed to miss the fact that you were in love with him."
Enjoying the storm outside, Blair left his head right where it was - in the crook of Jim's arm, as he said, "Man, that is so a no brainer."
"Oh yeah? You saying you know why?"
"Duh. So do you. So does the entire world. So does the galaxy...."
"Okay, I get it. No explanations required. But you stuck it out with me, stayed. And you didn't tell me how you felt."
"No, I didn't."
"So let me get this straight. We know why I didn't recognize that you were, we know why I didn't say anything about my feelings, so I guess that leaves us with your whys. Care to share."
"Aw, do I have to?"
The whine was classic Sandburg, the underlying truth wasn't.
"I wish you would."
Blair was silent a moment and Jim could tell that the younger man was making a decision - a decision that came down in Jim's favor.
"Jim, did you know that jaguars were once considered to be Shamans?"
Wary, Jim said, "No-o."
"To this day, they're still revered by many cultures and tribes in Central America, Mexico, South America...."
"I think it's safe to say that I'm fairly up on that, Sandburg."
"Oh, yeah. Well anyway, there's an old song... it goes something like this; I would like to be the jaguar of your mountains...and take you to my dark cave. Open your chest there... and see if you have a heart. A more modern version goes like this; *Enter my secret cave, where I wait stung and angry. Come, you men with modern devices, and let me see if you have a heart...."
Jim waited for more, but Blair's voice just trailed off and his body, which had been nervous and twitchy while speaking - stilled.
"See, Jim?" When he received no answer, Blair went on....
"The jaguar is more than just your animal spirit - it represents you. You are the jaguar. Hurt, angry, stung - hiding away. Waiting. You have great power. On the one hand, like the ancient song, you desire to be someone's jaguar, to take them to your cave, discover the heart that lies beneath, to take succor from its gentle beating. But you're also the disenchanted, hunted jaguar. The one who dares the man to come to your cave - the one who will discover if he has a heart - by ripping his chest open.
"In the ancient song, you are in need, searching and pleading, but later, you dare anyone to come to you, knowing that if they do, you will find no comfort in their heart - except by exorcising it."
"Not your fault, Jim. But I knew all that, learned it, often the hard way. And I feared the damage you could do to me - to my heart. I'd never recover, I knew that." Then with a smile coloring his voice, Blair added, "To put this all in the syntax of the millennium, I was scared shitless because I was a goner."
"Ah. Okay. Gotcha."
Jim lowered his head and brushed a kiss along Blair's jaw, then up to his temple where he whispered against the warm, pulsing skin, "come to my cave, blair. i want to be the jaguar of your mountain...."
The storm darkened the late afternoon, the thunder rattling the windows, but inside Jim's loft, only peace and comfort existed. And two men sat so close together that skins tingled and material rubbed warm while fingers stroked and explored. They didn't speak and while Blair had not verbally answered Jim's query, his plea, Jim did receive an answer.
Nature finally spent, the rain dwindled to a smattering of drops and the thunder moved further north until it was a faint and distant heart murmur.
"you loved madison. never stopped."
Blair nodded, his mood intact in spite of the return to his past.
"he was sick, jim."
"is he still out there?"
Blair shook his head. "no. he - killed himself. i read it... eight years later. small article. he'd married, she left him, took their six year old with her and he - hung himself. damn if i didn't cry."
"does naomi know?"
"i don't... think so. i never mentioned it."
"no, i guess you wouldn't." Then tentatively, "you going to see someone?"
Blair twisted carefully within Jim's arms so that he could see the older man's face. "Would it make you feel better if I did?"
"Me? I'm not talking about me, Chief. This is about you."
"Oh, really? Got news for you, Ellison. This is about both of us. I'm down with my past, dealt with it long ago, dealt with it for a long time. This thing with Brackett is different. Altogether different. The only reason the two incidences came together was because of Mom."
"And just what do you think will happen if she finds out about Brackett? About what - he did - to you?"
"I... she'll... she'll just be hurt again. She'll be hurt again."
"Nuh-huh. I don't think so, Blair. I think on some level - you're afraid. You may have dealt with Madison, but you've never dealt with your feelings about your mother."
"That's not true. She - we... and then...."
"Blair, I think your mother never questioned that Madison was the culprit. Never. I think you've been carrying this whole thing around with you, becoming this person you think your mother thinks you are...."
"No, listen, it's my turn. And okay, that didn't make much sense, so let me try again... you think your mother didn't believe you - therefore, you weren't worthy of all of her love. You didn't find it a failing in her, you found cause to believe it was a failing in you. You accepted it, Blair. You - accepted - it."
Stiff fingers played with the afghan as Blair said, "I, well... so?"
"I'd have been madder than hell, Blair. I'd have cried, screamed, pleaded and as I got older, I'd have yelled. I'd have...."
Blair's snort stopped Jim's words. "Oh, yeah, Mr. Talky's gonna yell and plead... like you did with your dad? Is that how?"
"I was ten years old, Sandburg... it's not...."
"You were going to say that it's not the same? Yeah, right. You didn't face down your dad until you were thirty-six years old, Jim. Based on that, I have seven years to go."
"I ran away, Blair. If I'd stayed...."
"You'd have faced him down at thirty-five... and eleven months."
"And twenty-nine days."
"And twenty-three hours."
"And fifty-eight minutes."
"Shit, we're hopeless."
"Yep. That's why we go so well together. I don't think you should wait another seven years, Chief. She'll be here tomorrow and you need to hear it yourself, that she never believed anything other than what you told her."
"Where do you come up with this stuff, anyway?"
"Hey, I'm a detective. Says so on my badge. And you'll talk to her, or I will."
"You'll talk to her - or I will."
"Fine. But she's not going to hear about anything else."
"Maybe just some soup before bed? You need to take those pills with food."
Blair sighed dramatically, then rolled his eyes for good measure.
"Sandburg, it's me or the hospital."
Blair seemed to be weighing the two choices....
"Blair? I'm a great kisser...."
"Okay, soup. Nurses are too antiseptic."
Jim unfolded himself from around Blair and stood, then stretched. They'd been molded together for the last three hours and as his bones protested, Blair struggled up, using Jim's arm as leverage. At Jim's look, he said, "Okay if I take a leak?"
Blair's smile widened with memory. "Uh, I think you can trust me to handle this mission on my own, Jim."
By the time Blair had exited the bathroom, Jim had tomato soup simmering and crackers ready for crumbling. When the soup was heated through, he broke several saltines into the bottom of Blair's mug, poured the soup in, then dished up his own. He carried it all into the dining room.
"Sheesh, Jim. Rainy day, soup in a mug with saltines - I'm twelve again."
Jim held up one hand and pleaded, "Please, no more relative comparisons, okay?"
"I was just going to say that you'll make a terrific wife someday... and mother."
Tomato soup somehow ended up in the middle of the dining room table - and on Sandburg.
Jim draped the wet dish rag over the edge of the sink, then uncharacteristically wiped his hands on the sides of his jean-clad legs. He surveyed his domain, double-checking for cleanliness and - stalling. Blair was on the sofa and from all sentinel indications, was at least half asleep. And therein lay Jim's reason for stalling.
He knew damn well that Blair would not be comfortable going to bed in his own room. And Jim could easily understand why; the smallness of said room, combined with the sense of darkness, of confinement, so like what Blair must have experienced first in the bedroom of Brackett's father's home, then in the boat and finally, finally, in how Brackett had made him feel.
But taking Blair up to Jim's room wasn't an option either. The stairs for one thing. Asking Blair to attempt to negotiate them on a regular basis? No way. Not for at least a few days. And that left - where Blair lay dozing now. The couch. But that was unacceptable to Jim. In frustration, he snapped off the kitchen light and walked over to stand behind the sofa and gaze down at his partner.
The soft, muted glow of the city bathed Sandburg in a pale silver wash of light and Jim experienced a momentary surge of love so overwhelming that it left him breathless. He quickly put out a hand to steady himself as he listened to his heart thundering in his chest.
Fingers gripping white-knuckle tight, he swayed, the hold on the back of the couch the only thing keeping him on his feet. With the feeling of love came helplessness, as his mind was immediately assaulted by the act that Brackett had committed on Blair's person. He tried to wrap his intelligence around it, to let knowledge tell him what it had meant, but the emotions the act engendered were stronger - so very much stronger.
Love; supreme, complete, and devastating.
Hate; supreme, complete and devastating.
Fear; supreme, complete and devastating.
Jim was used to fear, but this fear was so strange and foreign that it hit him hard enough that his body started moving down, dropping, then his knees hit the hardwood floor even as his right hand continued to grip the edge of the sofa.
How could Blair be - be - how could he still be - in one piece? How could he eat, and laugh, and move forward? And sleep? Or was he so broken inside by the horrific events at the hands of first Madison and then Brackett, that one day, maybe tomorrow, or maybe next week or next year, he'd shatter into a million pieces and Jim and all his men would never be able to put Blair back together again?
The floor shifted beneath the sentinel and darkness closed in on him as the loft disappeared and he found himself on that cliff, his body the only thing holding Blair on this earth.
The sounds of Cascade faded and all he could hear was the rush of blood, his and Blair's, his harsh breathing and the labored breaths of Blair, and finally, the weird creaking sound of the rope as it swayed - with Brackett dangling at its end.
Jim opened his eyes and stared once more into Lee Brackett's matching blues, and Jim gasped. The expression in those eyes was both knowing and accepting and it seemed as if Jim could hear Brackett's voice silently screaming, "DO IT! CUT THE ROPE! DO IT NOW!" And then Brackett had gone still. So God Damned Perfectly Still. Then he'd dropped without a sound.
And Blair Jacob Sandburg was safe, he lived.
Brackett and Madison. Two men who'd had the power, the opportunity and the sickness to hurt Blair. To hurt him in ways that could steal the soul, darken the heart and would have destroyed a lesser person.
Words, whispered through clenched teeth, came unbidden from deep within James Joseph Ellison....
"god. damn. them. both. to. HELL."
The floor rose up to meet Jim as he fell back to Cascade and pulling his hand from its safety net, he dropped forward, palms slamming the ground, keeping him from hitting the floor face first. He shook his head like a dog with fleas but didn't try to move.
Then stronger, "Jim? Are you okay?"
Ellison could hear the voice but it came from at least ten miles away. He shook his head again, and there was a sound, a thump, then warmth by his cheek, air brushing across his temple, something on his back... a hand, a hand stroking up and down and the voice again, Blair's voice....
"It's okay, Jim, come on, let's get up, I've got you."
Jim gave out with an almost hysterical bark of laughter as he immediately envisioned Lois Lane in the arms of Superman, saying in a panic, "You've got me? Who's got you?"
Blair struggled with only one good arm to get Jim up, on his feet and over to the couch. Somehow they made it and with chest heaving, Blair pushed Jim down and collapsed next to him.
Waiting until he could take a decent breath, Blair stared hard at his partner. As his body calmed, he was finally able to speak. "What's with you, man? What the hell happened? Are you okay? Is it your senses? Come on, talk to me, Jim," he ended, the plea evident in his voice.
Smiling wryly, Jim said, "You done now, Sandburg? You can make it kind of hard to talk around you, you know?"
"Oh. Yeah. Hey, sorry." It took every bit of willpower not to start the questions all over again. Instead - he waited, one eyebrow raised hopefully.
Seeing the expectation and patience, Jim found that he couldn't look at Sandburg. He turned his head away, wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve, then took several deep breaths, conscious of the waiting man beside him, shoulder touching his and imparting warmth even as it vibrated with the need to help.
"I was trying to figure out how, to... um, where... you'd sleep. I know your room must seem too small right now, but damn, the couch is, well, a few nights here and you'll destroy your back and I want to be with you and you know we won't both fit in your bed let alone on this couch and like I said, your bedroom is too small, too confining, but you know damn well we both won't, can't, fit on this couch and upstairs is out, you can't keep going up and down, not with your feet and you're not well so I was standing here, looking at you and...."
"And you decided to get down on your hands and knees and personally what, check out the floor?"
"Um, that sounds good. Yeah, I decided to get down and personally check out the floor...." his voice trailed off helplessly.
"I'm okay, Jim."
The words drew Jim's gaze to the speaker the way strings at the hands of a puppeteer manipulated a marionette. His eyes drank in the pale, worried, beautiful, strange, and exotic face, only to come to a startling conclusion; the man next to him was - still - Blair. The same man he'd always been, with the same brilliant glow of life shining out from behind those knowing eyes, a glow undimmed by past events but at the moment, clouded by worry for Jim.
"You know, Chief, I don't think I'm dealing with all this too well."
"Ah. So you weren't just inspecting the floor for waxy build-up?"
"I never wax these floors."
A smile tugged at the corners of Sandburg's mouth as he said with just a touch of humor, "Gee, Jim, if I could, I'd love to have had none of this happen, you know? Just to make things easier on you."
The smile became more than a tug as Blair reached out and patted the back of Jim's hand, which rested on Blair's thigh. "Poor put upon James Ellison."
They were silent for a few minutes, but finally Jim's quiet voice broke the silence.
"I can't protect you, not really. And I can't protect you from what happens after, either."
"Jim, Jim, Jim... there are many kinds of protection and you as both a cop and a sentinel, not to mention my friend, use them all, continually.
"Jim, you can't stop all the bad things from happening to me and I can't stop them from happening to you, but damn it, we can be there for each other, offer our strength, a shoulder, a hand up, whatever the other needs. That's protection too, Jim."
Jim's body seemed to deflate, his muscles releasing their tension as his body went lax.
"God, you're smart."
"I'm a smart ass."
"That too, Chief, that too."
Blair rested one finger on Jim's chin and turned the older man's head to face him. When their eyes met, Blair said, "You love me, man, and I'm drinking that up like somebody who's been lost in the desert for days. It's sustaining me, Jim. Protecting me." His voice dropped to almost a whisper as he added, "And before, I only had a dream of that."
Their breaths mingled and as Blair ran his tongue over his bottom lip, Jim tilted his head, then moved slowly forward....
Blair smiled and Jim's expression relaxed as the two kissed.
This time, the kiss was probing and experimental. They stopped, leaned back, but eyes remained fixed on inviting lips. They grinned and kissed again. After several seconds of experimenting, Jim chuckled against Blair's mouth and murmured, "I could go with this type of protection, Chief."
"Protect away, Sentinel Man."
One eyebrow rose as Jim asked, "Sentinel Man?"
"Just go with it, Jim."
They went back to kissing.
"Now who's the smart one, Sentinel Man?"
Huffing and puffing from lugging the objects in his arms up three flights of stairs, Jim grinned. "Yeah, I am pretty smart. Good thing I remembered what Mrs. Willits left us after she moved in with her daughter. And that it was all in the basement."
He dropped the large blue sack on the floor, then rolled the other object over to the windows. "Give me a few minutes and I'll have created a third bedroom."
Blair sat in the yellow chair and with a loopy grin, watched Jim move one couch back so that it was only a few feet from the dining room table, then move the coffee table lengthwise and over a few feet. Finally satisfied, he rolled the gift from Mrs. Willits over and unfolded it to reveal a roll-away bed frame. Queensize.
The blue sack that Jim had dropped near the door was picked up, brought to the frame and as Jim unzipped the bag and pulled out the plastic air bed, Blair shook his head in wonder. Of all the things for their ex-neighbor to leave them, well, an Aero bed? On the other hand, Gertie Willits had known how much her neighbors loved to camp....
With a whoosh, the bed was fully inflated and then settled on top of the specially designed frame. Stepping back, Jim said happily, "There. Our third bedroom."
"You're a whiz, Jim. And all this time I thought you were just a gorgeous body."
With a humph, Jim walked upstairs, picked up sheets, blankets and the two pillows on his bed, then came back down where upon he promptly made the bed.
"You want your stuffed bear, Chief?" Jim asked innocently.
"Not until you've showered, Jim."
"This is nice."
The loft was in darkness, drawing light from the city of Cascade. The foot of the air bed faced the windows and Jim and Blair lay in each other's arms, braced by a sea of pillows, legs crossed, Blair's head on Jim's right shoulder.
"You really comfortable?" Jim asked, still worried.
"Totally, completely, bonelessly comfortable. Stop worrying."
"What time does Naomi come in tomorrow?"
Blair stiffened slightly, then with a deep breath, relaxed. "About eleven, if I recall. American Airlines. She's renting a car."
Stroking Blair's arm with his hand, Jim suggested quietly, "You know, if you want, we both could go to Saint Sebastian's. It really isn't a bad idea. Well, it's not a bad idea if we both go, anyway."
"Um, that was just, I mean... no, Jim, I'm, I mean, it was...."
"Just something you were going to do with your mother?"
Sentinel sight was a marvelous thing, it allowed Jim to witness Blair's sudden flushed face. "I would have - made - mom, I planned... I never planned for mom to stay. I was going to...."
"Christ, Blair, you weren't going to stay either, were you? As soon as you were able, you were going to run. To disappear."
"Hey, I was angry, okay? And afraid. And... well, things haven't been great lately, and I guess you could say that this was the last straw, kind of, and you know, Brackett really could have picked a better time to try to get himself a guide. Really. He gave me a perfect outlet for my previously self-directed anger.
"Hell, I almost feel sorry for him. Trying to kidnap an angry Sandburg is not a good thing."
Jim shifted so that he could face Blair. "How the hell do you do that?"
"Change the subject. How do you do that?"
"I didn't change the subject. We were talking about my aborted plans and I was just explaining, that's all."
"Too close, Sandburg. Too close."
"All of it. Brackett, your stupid plans, these last weeks, just too close."
"You don't know the half of it, Jim."
Jim carefully slid away from Blair, who was sound asleep. Trying to stay quiet, he stood and padded to the bathroom, did his thing, then into the kitchen for a glass of water. It was only a little after five....
He drank down the cold water, rinsed the glass and left it to drain, then walked slowly back to Blair. He wondered why he'd awakened. Blair was sleeping easily, the bed was comfortable, there'd been no nightmare, for either of them... so why was he awake?
As he watched his partner sleep, the first tinge of orange touched Sandburg's bare, but bandaged feet. With wonder, Jim followed the sunrise as its glow moved up Blair's body. Every now and then, Jim would look out over his city, watch the spreading day as it marked the tall buildings, then his eyes would be drawn back to Blair.
This was why he'd awakened early. To see this as only a Sentinel could.
Sunrise on Blair Sandburg and his city.
Blair shifted a bit, opened his eyes and found himself staring at a strange sight; the yellow chair. Puzzled, he tried to figure this out. He was in bed. Yep. Pillows, blankets, the whole thing. He was comfortably braced, half on his side, half on his back, his right arm resting on his chest. He was warm. He was - safe. But he was also staring at the yellow chair. Which was in the living room. Not his bedroom. And there was - light. Loads of light.
Conclusion; he was not in his bedroom.
A grunt from that which braced his bruised body told him something else - he was not alone.
Blair watched, amazed, as a large, slender hand took his. Fingers were entwined and Blair was utterly astounded. Jim's hand - holding his own. Way cool. And of course, he now remembered. He was on a bed in the living room. He was in a bed, and with Jim.
Really way cool. And for some reason, all Blair wanted to do was watch their hands, together.
It was enough for an early Monday morning.
The fingers squeezed his hand and Blair knew that Jim was awake. He squeezed back, wondering not for the first time, about the color of their hands. Jim was very fair-skinned and usually, when their hands were in the same vicinity, Blair had noted how much darker his were than Jim's. But now, it seemed to be the opposite. Jim's looked very dark next to Blair's.
Blair could feel Jim's breath on the back of his neck, his hair gently moving with each exhale. It was obvious that neither of them wanted to move or break the early morning spell. As he watched their hands, Jim's thumb began to rub the skin between Blair's thumb and finger. The gentle caress almost lulled Blair back to sleep, but he found himself comparing their fingers and that kept his lids open, albeit at half-mast.
Another oddity - their fingers.
Jim was a cop, ex-military man, athletic and could fight with the best of them, yet his fingers were slender and long, much like a musician's. Yet Blair's fingers, the fingers of a scholar, were what he called knobby, his joints broader than the finger itself. His digits looked like they belonged to a fighter. Blair grinned self-consciously and tried to tighten his grip, but the stubborn fingers were still too weak to obey. "you have this thing for hands that I didn't know about, Chief?"
"Guess so. Our hands anyway."
"Looks good to me."
"Me too. Very good. Very right."
"Think we should get up?"
"I don't know, Sentinel Man, what time is it?"
"Well," Blair said as he finally broke the connection by slipping his hand from Jim's and rolling away so that he could be on his back and see Jim, "We have three hours til Naomi arrives - I'm in no hurry to get up."
"Not if it means getting up," Blair noted with a grin.
"Well then, breakfast in bed."
Jim threw his side of the covers off, stood, grabbed his robe from the coffee table, slipped it on, then padded into the kitchen.
"What's your stomach yelling, Sandburg?"
"Um... don't laugh, but oatmeal. A big bowl of oatmeal with - brown sugar."
Jim gave a mock shiver but reached up and took down the Quaker Oats. He'd been feeling more like bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, toast, the works, but as he heated water, he decided this would be better after all.
While the water boiled, Blair hauled himself out of bed and made for the bathroom, then shuffled out and back to the warmth and adjustable softness of the air bed. Who'd have thunk it? Airbeds for aching bones and muscles. As he sank back down, he groaned with pleasure at the lack of lumps, bumps, springs or any other impediment to his battered body.
"Jim, make a note; from now on, when one of us has taken too many lumps from life, we get out this bed. This is heaven, man. Pure heaven."
"Couldn't agree with you more. One of the best night sleeps in ages. Of course, it could have been the company," Jim added.
Blair gave a loud guffaw. "Oh, right. Sleeping with a guy using you as a brace. Bet you slept like a rock. Not."
As the last word exited Blair's lips, Jim appeared with a fully loaded tray, saying, "My arms have never held anything as good, as warm, or as important as what they held last night." With that, he sat on the edge of the bed and placed the tray over a stunned Sandburg's lap. Taking a napkin from the tray, he whipped it open and with great flourish, laid it across Blair's chest.
While Blair continued to stare, Jim shook some brown sugar over both bowls of oatmeal, then poured the cream. With his left hand he took a piece of toast and munched down on it, while at the same time, he placed one finger under Blair's chin and gently pushed up, thereby shutting the younger man's mouth - for all of thirty seconds.
"Wow. That was... that was the, like, the nicest thing anyone, at any time, ever in my life, ever, ever, said to me."
"Shut up and eat your oatmeal, Chief," Jim said with a soft smile.
"She's here, Chief." Jim stood and gave Blair a worried look.
"I'm fine. Just - you know, just let me do all the talking, okay? You just agree. Don't add, don't elucidate, just, like, nod."
"Please, Jim. I know what I'm doing here."
After their breakfast, they'd spent the rest of the morning getting Blair presentable which entailed something Jim called a toilet shower. Jim had sat Blair down on lidded toilet and then had proceeded to give him the sponge bath of his life.
The gentle Sentinel, he of many skills.
Once Jim had pronounced Blair clean, he'd used Blair's pic to comb through the curls, then tied Blair's hair back into a ponytail. The next step had been putting him in clothes that hid most of his injuries. Jim had, as part of the toilet shower, shaved him and now Blair sat on the couch looking only slight worse for wear and not nearly as bad as he really happened to be. Jim walked to the door and before Naomi could knock, he pulled it open. "Naomi, it's great to see you."
"Jim. Where is...."
Jim pointed and Naomi immediately dropped her bags and rushed to her son's side.
"Mom, cool it. I'm okay, like I told you on the phone."
Naomi stood in front of him, her eyes taking in his appearance as he smiled up at her.
"Something's changed, Blair."
With his left hand, Blair patted the space next to him and Naomi sat down, but didn't take her eyes from his face.
"You're right, mom, in a way. It seems that Jim, well, you know, I was worried about how I'd manage everything with this," he held up his casted wrist, "but, well, Jim, unbeknownst to me, took some vacation time." At his mother's puzzled look, he added, "See?"
Naomi twisted around a bit and gazed over at Jim, who still stood by the door. He grinned, waggled his head and shrugged. She gazed back at her son.
"You know, honey, I don't see. Or should I say that I see a great deal?"
"Uh, mom, look, honest, I really thought I needed to get out of Jim's... hair...."
"Blair," Jim said warningly. "No hair cracks, you promised."
"I never did. You're ripe for them."
Naomi watched her son and his roommate and arrived at two separate conclusions. One, that her son's relationship with Jim had changed drastically; and two, that her son was hiding something. And when he tried to hide things from her, it was always to protect her.
"Who's called hairboy around the station?"
"Well, they could hardly call you that, now could they?"
"You are in so much trouble, Sandburg."
Blair waved his left hand. "Yeah, yeah, heard that, a lot of hot air if you ask me."
"So dear, I really don't even need to stay, do I?" Naomi interjected calmly.
"I don't need to stay, do I? Jim seems to have everything in hand so there doesn't seem to be much for me to do, is there?"
Jim headed over to the other couch, saying, "Naomi, you know you're welcome to stay. I think what Blair's actually saying is...."
Blair quickly interrupted, "What I'm saying is, there's no need for Saint Sebastian's, that's all. But if you need to get back to Connecticut, well, sure, go, no problem."
"Oh, honey, there's no rush at all. I can stay as long as you need me, but apparently, you don't. Because - things have changed, right?"
"Uh, well, yeah, mom. Yeah."
Naomi leaned back and smiling harmlessly, said, "Honey, aren't you a little warm? I know you like the layered look, but sweetie, you're wearing sweats, a turtleneck sweater, a jacket, and you're sweating. Sweetie."
The way she'd said that last sweetie set the alarm bells ringing in Jim's brain, and judging by Blair's expression, oh, yeah, alarm bells over there too. Time for a little diversion.
"Naomi, can I get you something? Some iced tea, perhaps?"
"No, Jim, I'm fine. No, scratch that. I could use something," then she looked hard at her son and said, "I could use the truth."
Never taking his eyes from his mother's, Blair said, "Jim, maybe you should check things out at the station?"
Rising, Jim nodded. "Yeah, that's a very good idea, Chief. I'll leave you two alone for awhile. What say I bring back dinner?"
"Fine, Jim. Whatever."
"Right." Seeing that neither Naomi nor Blair were paying any attention to him, Jim grabbed his jacket and keys and pausing at the door, he looked at the two Sandburgs and doubted the wisdom of leaving. Blair, sensing his indecision, turned his head and smiled.
"Go. It's okay, Jim. Say hello to everyone for me, okay?"
"Will do, Chief. I'll... call, before coming home."
Blair nodded, his eyes warming with gratitude. Jim shook his head and left.
When the door closed behind him, Naomi said, "Talk to me, Blair."
"Mom, it's a long story. Why don't you get comfortable, maybe change... or something, I'm going to get me something cold to drink...."
"It's being so warm... and all," Naomi threw out.
"Uh, yeah. Anyway...."
"Fine, honey. And I'll get you whatever you need. What would you like?"
"Just a bottled water."
"Fine. Sounds good."
Several minutes later, Naomi had in fact changed from her traveling dress to one of her long kaftans and was now seated beside her son, both of them indulging in bottles of cold water.
"So, talk to me, Blair."
God, how he hated that tone in her voice. From the time he was old enough to recognize tones and which ones to obey and which ones he could ignore, this tone had always been one that he never dared ignore. He knew that when he sometimes talked to Jim about his senses, he probably sounded a great deal like his mother just had - which explained why, in spite of grousing, Jim would do what he'd ask.
The mommy voice. Worked every time.
He closed his eyes, took a deep, cleansing breath and started in. With judicious editing.
"Several weeks ago, Jim and I hit a kind of... rocky... point in our relationship and I began to wonder about where I fit in his life. We both made some pretty big blunders and I can't really share a whole lot of it with you, its being all secret and all...."
At his mother's dubious look, he hastened to add, "No, really, the FBI was involved and everything, mom. Honest." God, he sounded like a teenager again, telling her that *honest, mom, Carrie's parents were there!* and of course, they had been. It had been he and Carrie that weren't.
"Anyway, it involved a trip to Mexico, and these drug runners, and well, when we returned, things were, well, strained, to say the least."
"I don't suppose this top secret thing involved, say, a woman?"
Blair blinked a couple of times, then took a big swig of water, swallowed, then nodded numbly.
"I see. And Jim was jealous?"
"Uh...." Blair cocked his head and gave that question some thought before answering. "Well, actually, I'd have to say that maybe, we took turns, you know?"
Naomi gave her version of a snort. "Men. I swear, I don't know how God looks at herself in the mirror each morning. I could have done a better job creating men with both hands tied behind my back."
Looking slightly askance, Blair whistled low. "Uh, mom? God?"
"What, you don't think I believe in something, a creator?"
"Well, you never did before. Exactly."
"I'm a woman, I changed my mind. And none of this explains what idiots you and Jim can be, on a daily basis. And I say that with only love in my heart. After all, you are my son."
"And you did create me, although I'm betting that both hands were quite busy."
Blushing, Naomi gasped, then laughed, Blair quickly joining in. When they'd both calmed, she gave him a rather pointed look and said, "Go on."
"Well, that's it, really. When this Brackett," he paused, then hurried on, "guy came along and decided to take me on his little jaunt through the rainforest...."
"Was this because of Jim's work, Blair?"
"Mom, I can say with all honesty that it was because of my work, okay? And if not for Jim and Simon, I'd be... dead... now." He hadn't meant to tell her that, but her question about Jim's work being the cause, well, it had got his dander up and he hadn't lied. Brackett had taken him because of his work, not Jim's. In a way.
Naomi had paled at Blair's words and now the look she was giving him caused him to shift uncomfortably.
"Just exactly what happened, Blair?"
"Mom, listen, that's not important, okay? He kidnapped me, got this bee in his bonnet that I could help him, he was insane and there was this mudslide and Jim and Simon came after me, found me, and kept me from going over a cliff when the mud hit." He held his right arm away from his chest, the sling stretching with the movement. "That's when this happened."
"I see. All right, I can accept that. Go on."
"That's it. When I had time to think, in the hospital...."
"Hospital! You didn't say anything about...."
"I called you from the hospital, right after they told me about the therapy for my arm. They kept me overnight, for observation. You know the drill. No biggie. Anyway, that's when I called you. I kept thinking that I couldn't stay here, that things were bad enough, that I'd be a burden, a burden Jim neither wanted nor needed and it seemed - the only way."
"But now you're not a burden?"
At Naomi's question, Blair smiled softly, almost dreamily. "Not a burden he minds, anyway."
The picture became crystal clear.
"The person you love can never be a burden."
Blair nodded in agreement, not realizing what his mother had really said. But then - he did.
"It's okay, honey. I'm happy for you two. Now are you sure that I won't be a burden?" The smile on her face assured Blair that while serious, she meant it only with love.
Glancing down at the floor, his left hand seeking out hers, he whispered, "I'd kinda like you to stay a while, if you can. We haven't seen each other for several months. But, if, I mean, you don't need to stay."
Somehow, Naomi felt that maybe she did have to stay. She also had the distinct impression she hadn't heard everything. Not by a long shot.
Squeezing his hand, she smiled. "I'd like to stay a couple of days. And it can't hurt to have two of us taking care of you. Can it?"
"I really don't need all that much care, mom. Honestly. But, well...."
"So, I'll stay a few days."
In spite of knowing what he'd still have to talk to her about, he smiled shyly, glad that she was staying.
"Okay then. Okay."
While his mother settled in his bedroom and unpacked, Blair brooded. He'd been ridiculously glad when it had been decided that she'd stay, and hopelessly frustrated. One half of him needed the comfort of his mother and he wasn't ashamed of that, but the other half feared her intense scrutiny, her intuition, her very motherliness.
This hiding business sucked big time, especially around Naomi Sandburg. And he still, somehow, had to find a way to ask her about... Madison. To bring that up in such a manner as to keep her suspicions to a minimum. Well, he wasn't her son for nothing, no sir. The phone rang and before he could even begin to haul himself up, his mother was answering.
Anticipating Jim's worries, Naomi immediately and with a smile, said, "Everything's fine, Jim." Then unable to stop herself, she added with a wicked grin, "I'm making myself at home in Blair's old bedroom."
Across the room, Blair groaned and dropped his head into his left hand.
Ignoring the obvious, Naomi said smugly, "You can come home now."
//Shit, um, er, sorry//
"No problem. I've heard the word before. And I'm only staying a couple of days. Should I move the plastic bed back into the living room?"
Blair groaned again and shut his eyes. Okay, so she'd seen the bed in his room, but how the hell had she made the connection?
//Um, that might not be a good idea. I'm bringing - a few people with me, when I come//
Naomi gave a low, throaty laugh as, from the couch, Blair said, "Jim, where's your spare gun?"
//Naomi, tell him he has to wait in line//
"That went well."
"Mo-ommm," Blair whined.
"I couldn't help it, Blair. Jim makes it so easy."
"Mom, give the guy a break, okay? For me?"
"Aw, honey, this is so much fun. Kind of makes up for the lack of sage."
"You know, he used to be a Ranger. He can be dangerous. Very dangerous."
Naomi giggled like a school girl at the thought of Jim softie Ellison being dangerous to either her or Blair.
Blair rubbed his nose as he realized with a smile that his mother had Jim pegged - all the way.
"Honey, don't you think you should change? You really are too warm in all those clothes and if you're trying to hide all your bruises, well, the effort is wasted on me."
Blair looked up from the magazine he was flipping idly through and frowned. "Mom, I'm fine."
"What could this Brackett have done to you that you're afraid to let me see? Like I can miss the bruises on your face? And I've noticed you've managed to avoid mentioning your feet?"
Mothers. And their own version of sentinel vision. Damn and double damn. How the hell was he going to be able to hide anything from her?
"Mom, look, you can get - kind of - you know, kind of protective and I don't want you blaming Jim for anything, or worrying, or imagining things."
"Oh, please. I do not imagine things. And I'm no more protective than any other mother. And you said this had nothing to do with Jim's work. Now are you going to change or suffer?"
Tossing the magazine to the side, Blair stood stiffly and with a disgusted, I've lost again look, headed for his room. As he moved, he was unaware of his mother's scrutiny.
Closing the French doors, Blair sat down heavily on the bed and for a moment braced his forehead in his left hand. His head felt as though an explosion were imminent. He couldn't do this - any of it. Naomi needed to return to Connecticut. Now.
Fuck, had it really been only three days since... since he'd called her?
Three days. And only five days since he'd opened the door to Brackett. So much crammed into so little time. And so many things changed - irrevocably changed.
From the living room, he could hear music and it was something of Barbra Streisand's and he sighed because it meant that his mother was - processing. Slowly he pulled off the sling, then eased the sweat jacket from his left arm and let it drop onto his bed. Holding his arm to his chest, he walked to his closet and took down a blue and green Hawaiian print, short-sleeved OP shirt and set it on the bed. Another song started and he sat back down to begin the labor-intensive project of removing the black turtleneck. As he finally managed to get it over his head, Blair gently pulled it down his right arm. Wincing, he let the sweater drop beside the sweat jacket. Brushing his hair back, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror opposite and froze. The cut on his throat stood out in stark relief, as did the bruises on his neck and shoulders. He looked like hell.
The fingers of his left hand sought out the turtleneck and slowly he bunched up the material until the whole sweater was a tight ball in his fist. No one needed the reminder, least of all him.
Outside, he could hear his mother humming with the song as she did whatever she was doing. Probably rearranging furniture again. The music was lovely and as his mind sought a refuge, the words washed over him and he found himself listening....
When I fall, you're my place to land....
Blair closed his eyes and immediately pictured Jim's face and the smile of this morning, a smile that Blair had seen once before, when Jim had returned from a magical, pheromone-driven night with Laura. Blair could clearly remember how he'd wished that someday - that smile would be because of him. And this morning - it had been. Only - the smile Jim had given him had been so much more.
His mother was singing along with Barbara and Blair's smile faded as another memory surfaced.
His mother - so many years ago - listening to someone on the other end of a phone, her body stiff, unyielding, but her words...
"Yes, uh-huh. Yes....yes."
And a few hours later, her face a few inches from his, telling him to wake up, that they were leaving Madisonville....
From the other side of the French doors, his mother's voice came to him, softly, gently....
My home's beside you, no matter where you may go, my love's beside you, even more than you know....
And as her voice faded and the song went on, Blair remembered another smile....
God, almost twenty years ago. How could he have forgotten? The highway, the darkness, his mother's hand on his back as he dozed in the front seat, his head on her lap....
"Ssh, honey, go to sleep."
"It doesn't matter. Someplace new and wonderful. Just the two of us. I'm going to show you the world, Blair, I promise. A beautiful world, a world of so many wonderful people and cultures, with so many beliefs, and we'll see it all together. You'll find the beauty again, Blair, I promise you."
He'd glanced up and she'd smiled down at him, a smile so sweet, so full of love, that he'd put his head back down and had slept - safe.
A smile. Simple, wordless - yet saying everything.
Slowly Blair opened his eyes and let the tear fall.
My home's beside you, no matter where you may go, my love's beside you, even more than you know....
As the song finished, Blair called out softly, "Mom?"
The singing stopped and he knew she was listening, so he said it again, but louder. "Mom?"
The doors opened and his mother stood there, smiling but worried.
"Honey? Do you need some help?"
"In a way. Could you come in, please?"
Frowning, she stepped into his room and Blair knew that as soon as she really focused, she'd see everything. And he was right. Her eyes widened as she spotted the bruises and she took another step toward him, her gaze moving over his now bare chest.
"Blair," was all that she said, but the tone conveyed everything.
"Sit here, mom." He patted the edge of the bed next to him and she moved to his side and slipped down to sit.
"What did he do to you, sweetie?"
"I'm okay, mom. But, well, I've got to ask you something, something I need... I, I've believed for a long time and maybe I was wrong but you're the only one who can tell me...."
"Blair, just ask. There's nothing I won't tell you."
Just plunge in, Sandburg....
"Mom, why did we leave Madisonville? There should have been a trial, I should have testified, I was supposed to speak to the DA, but we left - in the middle of the night. Why?"
All the color drained from Naomi Sandburg's face as she stared at her son. She could feel her heart start to race as memories flooded her mind. God, where was this coming from and why now?
"Honey, I... dear God, I, we... we haven't discussed this in years."
"Mom, why did we leave? I have to know. Is it... is it because - you - didn't...." God, he couldn't say it. He. Couldn't. Say. It. Blair turned away, fought back tears of anger, of frustration, of impatience. With himself. God damn it to hell.
Naomi, confused, simply answered the question as if the answer were already known.
"Honey, we left because if we'd stayed, I'd have lost you to Madison. His father had all the power and the town was convinced of Maddie's innocence. The DA knew the truth, but the truth wouldn't save you. When Madison senior called at the motel, he made it clear that if we went to court, I'd lose you - to him. And I couldn't let that happen - so we... ran. And I'd do it again."
Then with a frown, she asked, "Why did you think we left, Blair?"
Years of believing, of thinking that what she believed, made him less, somehow. Years of moving beyond it, striving to understand, struggling to live with what had happened, to turn it into something good, yet always knowing, believing, that his mother thought he could lie, somehow coloring his attempts to move on, yet never coloring his love... and now, now to find out that not only had he been so grieviously wrong, but that as usual, his mother had only been protecting him....
The room closed in on him, people closed in on him, memories suffocating. He had to get out, he couldn't possibly look her in the eyes, face her with his truth and he stood quickly, pushing her away with his hand as she said his name in worry. Then he was out in the living room, at the door, not caring, or even fully aware that he was still half dressed and shoeless...
Blair pulled the door open and was out in a flash, his mother's voice following him....
"Blair? Blair, honey? Where... BLAIR?!"
But he had to run, and the fire people of Golden were nothing to the demons of Hell on his heels as he moved down three flights of stairs, his arm painfully thumping against his chest, his feet complaining, but run he did. When he hit the lobby, he shoved his way out the doors and onto the sidewalk. For a moment, he paused, uncertain as to which way to go, but then his mind screamed, "RUN!" and he did.
Jim turned onto Prospect, Simon and the others a short distance behind. The decision to let the gang, along with Jack Kelso and Megan's Darren, join him, Naomi and Blair for dinner, had been an easy one. Blair needed them right now, even if he wasn't aware of that fact. And when Jack had wheeled himself into Major Crime earlier that day, as Jim was catching up and stalling for time, something in the man's face told Jim that Jack badly needed to see Sandburg.
Now, later than planned, in a caravan of four vehicles, they descended on Prospect. Jim brought his glance away from the rearview mirror and back to the road in front of him and was startled by the apparition that appeared from nowhere.
Jim's reactions were quick and immediate. He slammed on the brake pedal as the figure ran in front of the truck, then he yanked the wheel sharply to the right. The truck swerved and missed the man, but Jim's mind had finally sent him the message that the ghost with flying hair and no shirt was - Blair.
From behind Jim, Simon witnessed only the truck's sudden slide to the right before the same apparition appeared in front of him. With nowhere to go, Simon slammed on the brakes and held his breath.
The LHS skidded, brakes protesting, as the running man froze within the beams of Simon's headlights.
"JESUS CHRIST, IT'S SANDBURG!"
Joel, in the seat beside him, braced himself as the car slid inexorably toward the frozen young man.
Behind Simon, Megan's brakes could be heard, followed by Henri's. Both cars went in two different directions as the LHS moved, almost in slow motion, toward Blair.
Simon could do nothing but watch and almost stand on the brake pedal, his fingers gripping the wheel so hard, he broke skin. Then, from the right, a dark figure lunged and just as it seemed that the LHS would strike, Blair's body went flying and Simon's car slid harmlessly past and finally stopped.
Naomi stared open-mouthed as Blair bolted. For a moment she was too stunned to move, but as she heard the front door bang shut, she too was up and running. She ran out into the hall and could hear her son as he pounded down the stairs in his flight to get away, from what, only God knew. Naomi followed as fast as possible, calling out to him, begging him to stop, to wait for her. He didn't.
When she finally made it to the lobby, he was already gone. She rushed outside in time to see him head blindly across the street - in front of a truck. Hands rushing to her mouth, she screamed as the horrible sound of brakes being applied filled the night air.
She watched, mesmerized, as the truck swerved away from her son, only to be replaced by another car - also applying brakes.
The truck came to a stop on top of the curb and without thinking, Jim snapped his belt, opened the door and hit the ground running. In a split second, his vision had taken it all in and he was moving fast, knowing that Simon couldn't stop in time and the headlights froze Blair and Jim dove....
His body connected at Blair's waist and both men went flying.
To the sounds of squealing brakes, they hit the ground - hard.
The world seemed to stop as Jim searched. But he couldn't find it. Blair's heartbeat was nowhere to be found. But that was impossible. Jim had lunged, had thrown himself at the younger man and they'd gone down, Simon sliding past them. Blair hadn't been hit. He hadn't been. So where was his heartbeat? For that matter, where were the other sounds? Where was Simon, and the others? Why couldn't he hear anything?
His own voice. Maybe he'd be able to hear himself....
"blair? blair, please...."
Slowly Jim rose on his hands, almost doing a push-up as he strove to find Blair Sandburg. To find any part of the younger man.
"please, someone, blair? say something to me, buddy, please? simon? naomi?"
Below him, a pale cheek, a mass of hair, eyes hidden from Jim's view... then a hand on his shoulder and he turned away, glanced up and it was Simon and he was talking, but Jim could hear nothing. Nothing. Then Naomi was there, frightened eyes searching his and like an angel, she reached out and took his hand and placed it on Blair's bare chest....
Blair's heartbeat. There, under his hand, and Naomi's pale one, stroking back hair and now he could hear her voice... and others....
"Blair, honey, can you hear me? Jim, is he all right?"
And Simon. "Jim, I didn't hit you two, did I? Can you tell? Is he okay?"
But none of it made sense....
And then... blue eyes blinking up at him, connecting, wavering, then Jim's hand resting against Blair's cold cheek and turning the head back, forcing the eyes to re-connect, feeling the energy spark between them, willing Blair to understand... and finally - Blair's voice.
Just that. All that Jim needed. His senses came back online, he was cognizant of his surroundings, completely aware and he was moving, lifting and once again, he was bringing Blair up, into his arms, ignoring the others, but with a glance at Naomi, inviting her in, and she put her hand on Blair's shoulder and together, they made their way back to 852.
Letting out a breath he hadn't been aware that he'd been holding, Simon watched Jim with his friend in his arms, and Naomi walking closely beside him, move inside. When they disappeared, he turned to the others.
"Okay, people, let's get these cars out of the way. Joel, can you move Jim's truck? Park it?"
"You got it, Simon."
"Simon?" Megan's voice, coupled with Jack's.
"I think," he glanced back up at 852, then back to Megan. "I think, maybe, we'd better save this for another day. Megan, don't worry about Jack, I'll get him home."
"Yes, sir. Understood. You'll call?"
"I'll call. Let Henri and Rafe know, all right?"
"Right now, sir." She and Darren moved off, leaving Jack in the street.
"Jack, why don't you and I go inside?"
Jack Kelso, grateful that Darren had helped him out of the car and into his chair, frowned.
"Simon, are you sure?"
"You know, oddly enough, I am. Something tells me that while those three need to - talk, they're all going to need us. Don't ask me why I believe that, but I do. And this may take awhile. You up to it?"
Jack nodded and together they headed toward the apartment, Joel joining them from where he'd parked Jim's truck. As they entered the lobby, Simon had the sudden feeling of being - Aramis. So Joel would be? Porthos, of course. Which made Jack - Athos. The three musketeers.
Hitting the button for the elevator, Simon thought, one for all - and all for one.
Jim moved directly into Blair's room and carefully, gently, laid him down. His senses told him that Simon, Jack and Joel were on their way up, but he knew they'd wait, patiently. As Naomi sat down on the bed and took Blair's left hand, Jim went into the bathroom for the first aid supplies, Blair's medications and a glass of water. As he collected everything, he could hear Naomi's gentle voice.
"Ssh, it's okay, Blair. Just relax. We'll talk in a minute, but right now, we've got to fix the damage, okay? Ssh, honey, ssh."
Jim sat the pill bottles and the first aid kit down on the nightstand, then headed into the kitchen. As he was filling a large bowl with warm water, Simon, Joel and Jack entered.
"I need to clean him up, his feet, you know? Give us a few, guys. Help yourselves to anything."
Simon nodded, then waved Joel and Jack into the living room. While they settled in, he went into the kitchen and started water for tea, and the coffee maker.
From the moment Blair had seen the headlights of Jim's truck, he'd let his mind go. He'd floated, not caring, until... he'd heard Jim's pleas and the older man's hand had settled over his heart. He'd opened his eyes then, realizing that Jim had somehow - gotten to him, pushed him out of the way, which was strange, considering it was Jim's truck that had been about to hit him.
Now he was vaguely aware of being carried, of his mother's hand on his shoulder, of her soothing voice, then his bed and he decided, rather belatedly, that he really wasn't handling this at all well.
The doors opened again and Jim walked in carrying a bowl, which he sat down on the nightstand. Efficient, Ranger/medic voice in action, he spoke softly to Naomi.
"Give him one of the pink pills, Naomi, for pain, then one of the other pills, his antibiotic. I'm gonna take care of his feet."
Bair dutifully took both and drank down the water, then rested his head back on the pillow and watched Jim as he moved to the end of the bed and lifted Blair's right leg.
"Jim, I don't think I'm handling this at all well."
As Jim carefully removed the dirty sock, he chuckled and said, "Now where have I heard that lately?"
Blair smiled, then glanced at his mother, the pain pill already starting to work and giving his bedroom a nice buzz - or maybe the buzz was his.
As the removal of the sock showed the bandaged and now bleeding foot, Naomi managed to bite back a gasp. Jim, hearing it, said tonelessly, "When Brackett took him, Blair wasn't wearing any shoes. They were on a boat and it went aground and then Brackett dragged Sandburg through the rainforest with nothing but socks on his feet."
Naomi's fingers gripped the hand she was holding, but she said nothing.
Jim removed the soiled bandages and using the warm water, with aloe added to it, and a soft towel, he gently cleaned the foot. When he was done, he said quietly, "Naomi, would you hand me the first aid kit, please."
She handed it over and he began to rebandage the foot.
Naomi tore her eyes from Jim's hands and looked down at her son. "Honey?"
"sorry, so sorry, mom."
"Nothing to be sorry about, sweetie. Please. Nothing to ever be sorry about."
Blair looked away and bit his lower lip. "i... thought we left because you... believed the principal. i heard him, when he came to the motel."
"Oh, honey, no, never. Oh, lord, Blair. You've carried that all these years?"
"mom, i'm sorry. i wanted to tell you that, that... i never even saw a new janitor, i never saw any janitor, and i wanted to tell you, but we left, and i knew what you were leaving and we... i..., oh god, mom, i'm so sorry."
Slowly, Naomi Sandburg slid her arm under her son's back and careful of his injured shoulder and the cast, she lifted him to her breast. His good arm went around her as he buried his face in her neck. Jim went on bandaging, his cheeks suddenly wet.
Simon handed the mug of steaming coffee to Jack, who gratefully accepted it. Joel took his and the three men sat, not talking, just waiting. Inside the small room, murmuring voices could be heard, but the words were indecipherable. Finally, Jack said quietly, "He saved my life. Did you two know that?"
Simon glanced over at Jack, one eyebrow arched. Staring at the swirling coffee in his mug, Jack said quietly, "I'd just started teaching at Rainier but I wasn't as ready to be out in public as I thought. And I wasn't nearly ready for the challenges of being in this," he patted the arm of his chair. "Let alone being ready for a life in this chair."
He turned his gaze to the small room, closed off from them by the French doors, and continued to speak.
"I still don't know why Blair took my course in Foreign Affairs, but he did and somehow, before I knew it, he was there, after class, chatting away, hands flying and we were arguing and debating, then having coffee, and pretty soon we were meeting two, three times a week and I told him more than I'd ever told anyone, but more importantly, he knew more than anyone else could see.
"With what I realize now was infinite care and patience, he showed me what my life could be, how much I had to offer and he gave me a love of teaching and a renewed love of life. I suspect that he knew exactly how I'd been feeling and what I'd begun to consider and he simply gave me no time to... actually do it. He kept my mind busy, kept me on my toes, fought with me, challenged me, and basically brought me back from the brink."
Joel's eyes, as he'd listened, misted over, his own memories of Blair's ability to get to the crux of a matter generating a rush of protective feelings for the younger man. Odd that it was Brackett who'd come so close to destroying all that Joel had been, and that a short, long-haired anthropologist had undone the damage, only to then be damaged in turn by Brackett. Not fair. Not right. With a sudden burst of impatient anger, Joel stood and walked to the windows. His angry visage stared back at him and over his shoulder - the shadow of Jim, moving around in the small bedroom.
Simon sat back in his seat and closed his eyes as Jack took a sip of coffee and stared Taggert's back.
"I take it that neither of you are strangers to Blair's - manipulations?"
Eyes still closed, Simon grinned. "No, Jack, it's safe to say that neither of us are strangers to that particular ability of Sandburg's."
For Joel, the anger was immediately replaced by a flood of affection for their anthropologist. And for the tall, hurting man who protected him.
Jim's hand faltered with the bandaging as he heard Jack's voice - and Jack's story. He shifted his body and brought Blair's legs up to rest them more easily on his own thighs. As Jack's words went on, followed by Simon's, Jim washed and bandaged the other foot and listened, even as Naomi and Blair whispered quietly to each other....
"honey, we should have talked, I should have talked to you, but damn, I was like this ostrich and when you seemed to be doing so well and I had so much to make up for, you know? I had to keep you safe, protect you, watch out for you, never let anything get in the way of being a mother to you... and I thought you were so safe with Maddie, Blair. So safe. And later, I knew something was wrong, thought it was me, that I was too busy, not giving you enough attention and I started to pull away from my work, but oh, God, it was too late, Blair, too late...."
"mom, ssh, it's okay... it's okay."
The two rocked in each other's arms and Jim just rocked with them as he finished with Blair's feet. As they continued to murmur, to share, to finally communicate, Jim lifted Blair's legs, set them down, took the bowl and towel into the kitchen, aware of Simon, Joel and Jack looking at him, then he walked back into the room, took the first aid kit and returned it to the bathroom.
Finally, he pulled out a pair of white tube socks from one of Blair's drawers and sat back down on the edge of the bed and once again settled Blair's legs on his.
The murmurs quieted and Jim gently slipped on the socks.
"he's asleep, jim."
He gently moved the still legs and set them down on the bed, then rose. He turned and faced Naomi. Her face was red and blotchy from crying, her eyes red-rimmed, but there was a peace about her as she held her son.
"i should check his shoulder, naomi."
She nodded and allowed Jim to take Blair from her arms. With fingers attuned to his partner, he ran them lightly over the muscles, probed the joint and finding no further damage, he nodded in satisfaction. He looked about for the sling and spotting it on the floor, motioned for Naomi's help. She retrieved it and held it out.
Jim carefully slid it over Blair's neck and then with infinite care, put it under the arm. Naomi watched quietly, then whispered, "that man, he hurt him, didn't he? this whole madison thing didn't just suddenly come up, did it?"
Jim adjusted the sling and with eyes on Blair's sleeping face, said, "you'll need to ask him, naomi."
"no, no i don't. i know the truth and he needs no more pain."
Jim faced her and perhaps for the first time, really saw the woman that was Sandburg's mother. And for the first time, truly understood her. He held out his arms and with gratitude, she moved into them.
As Jim held Naomi, he stroked her hair and said, "he couldn't hurt him, naomi. he tried, but he failed. blair was too strong. is too strong."
Smiling into Jim's chest, she whispered, "just a slight set-back, maybe."
The French doors opened and as Jim snapped the light off, he and Naomi stepped out.
"How is he, Jim?"
"Fine now, Simon. Sleeping. No serious damage."
"What happened?" Joel asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
Naomi took a seat next to Simon and with a smile, aware that no one could miss that she'd been crying, said, "This whole thing with... Brackett? That's his name, right?"
"Was. Was his name," Simon answered, his voice hard.
"Yes, well, it brought up a few memories, something my son and I had to - clear - up."
Simon knew that what she'd just said wouldn't mean much to Joel or Jack, but he suspected all that had been done to Blair and now Naomi's words sent a chill up and down his spine, her words in his office, all that time ago, suddenly making sense. He couldn't have explained why he did what he did, only that it felt right. He took Naomi's hand and in his larger one and held tight.
Jim, seeing the two hands clasp, smiled. They all just might survive this whole thing after all.
"Ssh. Give me a minute."
"Upstairs, in my bed. Simon, Joel and Jack left a couple of hours ago."
"guess i blew the party, so to speak."
"Nah, just postponed it until tomorrow night. Pizza, beer, the whole gang."
Jim threw his shirt onto the desk, then slipped out of his jeans and laid them over the back of the chair.
"jim, this bed will kill you."
"um... well, shit."
"Can you stay awake long enough for me to set up the air bed?"
"sure, but jim, you, i, we... the couch, maybe?"
"No, we both need that bed tonight. Give me a few."
With that, he padded out into the living room in his boxers and sleeveless undershirt, moved the couch and coffee table, then went back to the bedroom for the bed and frame. Five minutes later, it was ready and made.
"Okay, let's get you up and hobble out there."
Working together, they managed to get Blair to the bed, where he sank down gratefully.
"i think i probably put my recovery back a bit, eh?"
"nah," Jim whispered, not wanting to wake Naomi. "you'll be fine. well," he added, seeing Blair's doubtful expression, "maybe a bit."
As he helped Blair under the covers, then followed, Blair murmured, "i couldn't face her, jim. not once she told me the truth. i can't believe i thought what i did."
Sliding his arm under Blair and once again providing the brace, he whispered, "you were ten years old, chief. ten years old."
"i know, that's what mom said."
"i talked with simon tonight. told him that i wanted more time - he agreed. i have over two months stored up, blair. i think we both need it. what do you say to a small trip, maybe?"
Resting his head back against Jim's shoulder, Blair asked, "a trip? what kind?"
"oh, i don't know. we could do a cruise...."
"i think i'll skip any boat trips for awhile, jim."
"oh, right. okay, maybe some place warm and sunny? Maybe - new orleans? or how about california? san francisco?"
"you're crazy, you know that?"
"uh-huh. so where? how about the caribbean?"
"would this be before or after the cast comes off?"
"oh, shit. right. no swimming allowed. okay, then...."
"Guys? Did you know that sound really travels up here? And how about a B&B in the wine country? A few days in San Francisco, then to Sonoma, Napa, your left arm works fine, honey, you'd be able to lift the wine glasses...."
"chief, we've been busted."
"Moms do that. And you don't need to whisper, Jim. Besides, that's not a bad idea. Is it?"
"Actually, no, it isn't. Warm, fragrant wine country, a B&B, great restaurants, great food...."
"Good, now that's settled, you two be quiet and go to sleep."
"Yes, Mom," Jim replied.
Three weeks later:
The warm, dry air caressed Sandburg as he sat on their balcony, feet on the railing, a tall, cool glass of lemonade in his hand. Inside, he could hear Jim moving around, tidying up and Blair smiled. Ever the vigilant sentinel against mess and dirt.
Ever his vigilant Sentinel.
Blair gazed out over the hills and valleys of California's wine country and took in a good whiff of the acres and acres of grapes, honeysuckle, and clean, warm air. His mother had done good. Very good.
The house in Napa Valley, rented thanks to another ex of Naomi's, had been their vacation home for the last two weeks. Blair had needed the time to heal before they could begin traipsing around wineries, which they were scheduled to do beginning on Monday. But that left three more days here on their little hill.
Three days alone, just the two of them, in their house on stilts. The rental wasn't big, only one bedroom, a roomy living room, a dining area attached to the kitchen, which was a gourmet's dream, and this wonderful balcony, but it was large enough for the two of them.
And in twenty minutes - the sunset and their nightly ritual.
"Hey, Ellison, get your butt out here - sunset in twenty!"
"Hold your horses, Sandburg, I'm coming and bearing gifts."
Blair turned in his lounge chair and sure enough, Jim was heading toward the balcony, a tray of goodies in his hands. "Should I beware?"
"I don't know. How do you feel about cheese, fruit and warm French bread, with a little wine on the side?"
Blair smiled, about to answer but his eyes lit on a bottle next to the wine.
"And that, Jim? The brown bottle?"
"Oh, that. Like you don't know. It's massage time."
"Ah, Jiiiim, come on!"
"Sandburg, don't be giving me any grief. You know what the doctor said. This will get you ready for the real thing when we get home. We're keeping the joint mobile."
The tray was placed on the small table next to Blair's chair as Jim spoke. When Blair stuck his tongue out at Jim's words, the older man asked sweetly, "Strip for me, Chief."
With a sour expression on his face, Blair took off his short-sleeved blue denim shirt, which Jim draped neatly over the back of the chair just before handing Blair a bunch of grapes.
"Here, munch on these while I do my thing with that shoulder of yours."
Taking the offered bribe, Blair started popping the juicy red grapes into his mouth as Jim warmed some liniment between the palms of his hands. When his own skin began to tingle, he started on Blair, fingers lovingly kneading the injured shoulder and joint. As he worked, he pulled the arm up, in small increments, testing for resistance, checking for any improvement and smiling as the arm moved up fractionally more than the day before.
"You're really improving here, Chief. How's the pain?"
"Okay, that answers that question. No discomfort at all?
"You asked about pain. Discomfort, yes. Pain, no."
"Not in my shoulder, stud."
Chuckling, Jim moved the unresisting arm out, then into Blair's chest, pleased to see that indeed, there was no pain. The joint felt good to sentinel fingers, the swelling down by half of what it had been before they'd started the massages two weeks previously. As Jim worked, he found himself staring at Blair's neck and with a grin, leaned down and started to nibble.
"Uh, Jim? Hungry? Wanna grape?"
Murmuring against warm, fresh-scented skin, Jim said, "no, this is fine, thanks. you taste good."
"Like a good man should?"
Fingers continued to work sentinel magic even as Jim centered his mouth just behind Blair's right ear. "ooh, now this is very tasty. best yet," he whispered.
"At this rate," Blair said, tilting his head to give Jim better access, "we'll miss the sunset."
"nah," Jim responded, between licks, "we just open the drapes in the bedroom, and enjoy."
Blair turned his head back, which put his mouth in perfect position for an attack from Jim's, and quickly whispered, "so let's go, you romantic devil."
Tugging on Blair's bottom lip with his teeth, Jim said with a sultry smile, "keep your pants on, Sandburg, got to finish the massage, you know."
"I didn't think keeping my pants on was the idea and the massage can wait." With that, he bolted up, grabbed the bottle of Merlot, and as he disappeared inside, called out over his shoulder, "Well? Don't just stand there, bring the food and hustle your buns, Ellison."
With the body of his affections gone, Jim shrugged. Like he had a choice? Pulling out his shirt and using it like a bowl, he swept the food up and headed inside. He would miss the bread, but not the crumbs.
By the time he got to the bedroom, the drapes and slider were open, allowing both the fragrant valley air and the approaching sunset, inside. Blair was on the opposite side of the bed, clumsily trying to remove his jeans with his casted hand while guzzling wine with his left. Jim skidded to a stop to stare.
Damn, he was cute.
"Damn, you're cute."
Blair swallowed a mouthful of wine and grinning, said, "Ah, go on with you."
"You are. Cast and all."
"Cute? Not ruggedly handsome or," he took another swig and suggested, "sensuously magnetic?"
"Uh, well. Um, damn you're cute."
"Oh, that'll get you inside these," he waggled his brows down at his Sylvester and Tweedy Bird boxers.
Pale blue eyes locked onto the bulge that currently separated Sylvester from Tweedy. "Blair, you are not ruggedly handsome. But you are," he sighed and managed, "beautiful."
Blair, who'd finally managed to get his pants down past his hips, froze and stared at Jim.
"Beautiful?" he squeaked.
"Beautiful. And sensuously magnetic. Especially in those boxers."
Blair blinked and glanced down, then smiled. "Hey, mom gave these to me. They're - special."
"I think, maybe, that what's in them might be more special."
"Jim, come here."
Grinning like a love-struck fool, Jim went.
"Get rid of the food."
Jim unfolded his shirt and the food tumbled to the floor.
Blair held up two fingers. "How many fingers do you see?"
Still grinning, Jim said, "Two."
"Uh-huh. And now?"
"Still two, Chief."
"Then it's my considered opinion that you are suffering from a severe case of Lovitis.
With a doubtful look, Jim repeated, "Lovitis?"
"Yeah, you're seeing me through the eyes of love, man!"
Jim moved closer, then leaned down a bit and peered closely at his partner, allowing sentinel sight to scrutinize the man in front of him. Eyes that could see across the valley now noted every laugh line, every new wrinkle on Blair's forehead, the new crevices around the eyes that bespoke pain, the rounded nose, the wine drenched lips, the spectacular cheekbones and the strong chin, the delicate strands of gold that seemed to sneak through his hair and the few lines of silver just making themselves known. With a satisfied sigh, Jim said, "Well, you got the love part right."
Blair's eyes misted over as he palmed Jim's right cheek. "God, so lucky. So very lucky, Jim."
That Blair could believe that he was lucky was a testament to his soul. That Blair could help Jim believe it was a testament to his superior strength. And Jim didn't doubt for a minute that it was Blair who was the stronger.
Jim placed his hand over Blair's and brought it over to his lips. Kissing the palm, eyes fixed on Blair, he said, "You know, your jeans are falling."
Blair's laughter filled Jim's heart and he let his own join his partner's.
As they continued to laugh, Jim helped the jeans the rest of the way on their journey to the floor and Blair stepped out of them. Jim's soon followed as did two pairs of boxer shorts. Jim pulled Blair's sleeveless undershirt off and then quickly rid himself of his.
Arms wrapped around his life mate, Jim started to move them back as Blair cautioned in a low, husky voice, "Mind the cheese and fruit."
The back of Jim's knees hit the edge of the bed and he allowed himself to fall back, Blair on top. "I will always mind the cheese and fruit, Blair. Always."
Quirking one eyebrow, Blair reared back and asked, "Was that a metaphor?"
"Uh-huh. For your P's and Q's."
Blair rolled his eyes, then leaned back down and kissed his partner. The kiss was wet and the Merlot a perfect compliment to the taste of Ellison and Sandburg. Somehow Jim got them turned so that he now hovered over Blair and as they deepened the kiss, their dicks bumped together, sliding deliciously and sending electric friction straight to their guts. Panting, Jim ended the kiss even as Blair turned his attention to Jim's jaw. While he rained small kisses along the stubbly skin, Jim reached over and picked up the lube and a condom. But when he started to place the condom lovingly over Blair's penis, the younger man stopped him by enclosing Jim's hand in his own.
"no," he whispered, his eyes bright with love. "no, it's my turn."
Jim frowned, his eyes searching the magnificent face below. "Blair, I think...."
"my turn, jim. can you possibly believe that i wouldn't want you inside me as much you want the opposite?"
Fear, worry and disbelief all warred with what Jim could see in Blair's eyes; love and trust.
Slowly Blair took the condom from Jim and as the older man watched, amazed, Blair rolled it over Jim's penis, careful that his cast didn't scratch sensitive skin. "Think you can take it from here, man?" Blair quipped, mirth dancing in the ocean blue depths of his eyes.
For an answer, Jim dropped a kiss on each eyelid, then each temple, reveling in the pulse of life that thrummed under his lips, then he kissed the tip of Blair's pug nose, and finally, his mouth. Blair's lips opened to him even as Blair brought his legs up and wound them around Jim's waist.
"ahgod," Jim murmured against the side of Blair's mouth. "Blair...."
"love you, jim, more than anything or anyone. love you, trust you, need you, need this."
"yes, yes, love you...."
Minutes of kisses, of strokes, of preparation made into foreplay; soft words, skin tasted, and Blair's hand guiding Jim into his body. They went slow and easy, the sky anchored to the sea.
Jim moved in, then out, watching Blair's face, as eyes widened in pleasure, then clenched shut in ecstasy. He let the soft moans that never quite left Blair's throat guide him and as dark curls went darker with sweat, as his own face dripped, they started to match their thrusts, to move faster, to kiss harder and with greater urgency. The past faded, only to be used in the future to protect. The bedroom went technicolor as the sunset spread out over their bodies, setting Blair's hair on fire, even as his eyes went dark with passion.
As their orgasms exploded, Jim's a few seconds before Blair's, the world emptied and the promise of the fountain and of two radically different animals merging to be one, was fulfilled.
The trip went on....
Two hours later:
Jim bolted upright. One hand reached out, found and shook. A mumbled wha, greeted him and in a shocked voice, he asked, "What back-up dissertation?"
~~End A Sentinel Takes A Guide~~