Rating: NC-17

Pairings: J/B

Warnings: m/m

Archive category: Drama/Romance/First Time

Disclaimers: All recognizable Sentinel characters are copyright of Pet Fly Productions and Paramount. No infringement intended on my part.... just doing some wishful thinking. :-)

Notes: { } indicate thoughts

I had some great help on this one. Many thanks to my ever faithful beta reader, Cheryl and to all my new readers: Gloria, Chris, Tex, Debbie and Rosemary. Your insights and suggestions were invaluable. I truly appreciate all of your help and hope you like the finished project. :-)

And I would truly be remiss if I didn't thank Kim Gasper. It was her incredible series Different Roads, Different Directions that inspired me to try this type of story. Thanks, Kim. This one's for you!

Summary: After another close call, Jim decides Blair is better off without him. It's a decision that changes both their lives.

Date completed: March 2, 1998


When Love and Hate Collide


Barbara Nice-Miller



[Sometimes a whisper of love gets lost in an angry shout]

"Walkin' Away" -- Diamond Rio


Golden was back on the streets.

From the moment Simon handed me the case file, I wanted nothing to do with it. And I sure as hell didn't want Sandburg anywhere near that stuff again. I will never forget that day in the parking garage...

So I tried to kick the case up to Narcotics, but Simon was having none of it. Some kid had O.D'd on it and died, hence a Major Crime. And besides, didn't me and the kid have intimate knowledge of the facts of the first case?

Yeah, don't remind me. Being blind and having your partner nearly die isn't something I'd like to repeat, thank you.

But Simon was right, we did have the most experience when it came to Golden and were the logical choices to put on the case. So I accepted the file and went out in search of my partner to tell him the good news.

To say the kid was leery was an understatement. He wanted as much to do with this as I did. His heart rate skyrocketed as soon as I mentioned Golden and I could almost see him flash back to the garage. But I'll be damned if he didn't pull himself together in the blink of an eye and ask what he could do to help.

He constantly amazes me.

I wouldn't have blamed him one bit if he'd asked to be left out of this case. But here he was, sticking his neck out again, voluntarily. He's not a cop, he doesn't have to do this. I know why, though. I saw it in his eyes. He knows what happened to me last time and he won't let it happen again.

He's always been there for me.

My partner, my back-up, my friend, my Guide.

It's gotten to the point that I honestly don't know what I'd do without him.

And frankly...that scares me to death.


So that afternoon we sat down and mapped out our strategy. But where to start?

Chas had met his end in a fiery wreck and Paul Jacobs and Andrew Kaminski were safely tucked away in prison. So who was putting this stuff back on the streets? Did they have another partner we didn't know about? Or was there a new player in town? Whoever it was, we were determined to nail him quick, before there was another death.

Sandburg suggested we start back at square one. Good idea, Chief. But it turned out to be easier said than done.

Sneaks had gotten himself in a bit of trouble and had gone underground. I turned over every rock I could, but he was nowhere to be found. So much for my informant. Well, at least the kid didn't have to worry about losing another pair of shoes...

As if the Sneaks thing wasn't bad enough, turned out Slicks was no more, either. One too many careless accidents with fast cars and the place had shut down.

Well, Chief, so much for square one.

Narcotics was our next stop. Maybe they'd heard something.

No sooner did I explain the case to Captain Sullivan, than Sandburg and I found ourselves teamed up with two of his men. Toby Filips was a 15-year veteran in his early 40's with short, dark hair just starting to go grey, brown eyes and the physique of a man who kept himself in good shape. Mark Johnson was his sandy-brown haired, hazel eyed, 23 year-old, bundle of energy rookie partner. He reminded me so much of Sandburg, I had to smile.

Blair and I already knew Mark; heck, half the precinct did. About three months ago, when Mark had been in Narcotics for only two weeks, he saved Toby's life in a pretty dramatic shootout by killing a strung-out perp who had snuck up behind his partner and stuck a gun to his neck.

Everyone talked about the kid for weeks. First he graduates top of his class at the academy and goes straight into department work, bypassing patrol cop, and now he's a hero two weeks into the job.

Sandburg and I got to know him a bit when the three of us ended up at the same hot dog stand for lunch a few days after the shooting. We had a great conversation and Mark and Blair really hit it off.

Even after what he'd been through, the kid was still green, but enthusiastic with a good head on his shoulders. He was gonna go far. I just knew it.

Toby informed us that Narcotics had been made aware of the case the same day we had. Once the M.E. declared the death an overdose, and Forensics had I.D.'d the drug as Golden, a copy of the report was sent up to them. Toby and Mark had already gotten to work on it and were waiting to hear back from their own informants tomorrow morning. The four of us agreed to meet up afterwards and hit the streets.

With a little luck and some teamwork, we'd get that Golden crap off the streets once and for all.


The next afternoon found the sun shining brightly and the four of us downtown on Windsor Avenue, a well-known hangout for pushers. We'd hit paydirt with Toby's informant. A description of the dealer and where he hung out. We came up empty running the physical description through the database, so we decided to start questioning the local store owners, hoping to get a name.

Armed with our sketch artist's drawing, we split up and went from store to store. Actually, Sandburg went with Mark while Toby and I split up. The two of them were fast becoming friends. God only knew the stories Blair was telling that guy. After all our experiences on the job together, Mark was probably rethinking his career choice.

Ended up no one was talking, at least to me, either not knowing our dealer or just not wanting to get involved. Frustrated, I stood out on the sidewalk and scanned the area, hoping my senses could pick up on something.

I saw Toby three stores down, talking with the owner on the stoop, and detected both Mark and Sandburg in the store directly behind me. My partner came out shortly and stood next to me.

"Any luck, Jim?"

I sighed. "Not a thing, Chief. You?"

He shook his head. "Nobody's talking. Maybe Toby's having better luck." He lightly smacked me on the arm. "I'm gonna go get my jacket from the truck. Be right back."

I chuckled as I watched him start down the block. It had to be almost sixty degrees out, he had on a t-shirt and sweater already and he was still cold. The kid just wasn't cut out for this climate. What was it he told me awhile back?

{Cold and wet is my world}

I really should think about taking him someplace warm for vacation. God knows he deserves it...

Still thinking about my friend, Mark startled me when he stopped to stand next to me where Sandburg had just been.

I remember Mark turning his head toward me to say something, but my hearing didn't register his voice, instead picking up on car tires squealing on pavement...

...the angry shouts of the men in the car...

...the deafening noise of automatic weapons...

...the high-pitched scream of bullets tearing through the air...

...the sickening sound of bullets impacting flesh...

...the spray of bright red blood from Mark's chest...

...the excruciating pain of a bullet ripping through my arm...

It happened so fast...I never even had a chance to react.

I hit the ground with a cry of pain and surprise, Mark's body landing on top of mine. I was almost positive he was dead before we hit the sidewalk.

My eyes flew down the street, searching desperately for my friend... "BLAIR!"...finding him safe just down the street, laying on his stomach, eyes wide.

I dropped my head back down to the sidewalk, closing my eyes, releasing a shaky breath, my heart racing out of control. Thank God that Blair was alright. I heard Toby scream out Mark's name and Blair cry out mine as both of them charged forward.

Sandburg reached us first, dropping to his knees, carefully rolling Mark off of me and onto his back. He stripped off his sweater and pressed it to Mark's chest in a vain attempt to save the young cop's life. I looked at Blair and saw the fear in his eyes. My chest was covered in Mark's blood and I had a bullet hole in my upper right arm. He was trying to check on Mark and I at the same time, searching for a pulse on his new friend, talking to me.

"Jim? Jim? Talk to me, man!" The panic was evident in his voice.

"Mark! Mark!"

Then Toby was there, pushing Blair away from his partner's body. Blair quickly moved to my side, taking his t-shirt off, too, wrapping it around my wound, staunching the blood flow. My pain-filled mind found amusement that one minute he's freezing and the next he's taking off his clothes.

"Jim? Jim? Are you hit anywhere else?" His hands were moving over my chest, searching.

I shook my head and tried to sit up, but Blair pushed me back down. I twisted my head to the side. "Mark...?" I questioned, hoping against hope; that maybe my hearing was on the fritz and that's why I couldn't detect his heartbeat.

Sandburg shook his head, his lips pressed tight together. "Christ..." I muttered. The pain hit me then, my arm on fire. I sucked in a deep breath and Blair immediately switched to Guide-mode, leaning over me.

"Turn the dial down, Jim, turn it down," he spoke low, so Toby couldn't hear. Not that he was paying attention anyway, trying to deal with the death of his partner.

I concentrated on the dial in my head and on Blair's calming voice, getting the pain under control. I was starting to feel lightheaded when I heard sirens in the distance. Someone had called in the shooting.

Then things started to get a little nutty. Exhaustion swept over me like a wave, my adrenaline high suddenly crashing, and I felt myself start to fade out. I was struggling to stay conscious when the paramedics and patrol cops showed up. It was just too much for my senses at that point -- the lights, the sirens, the people -- I was preoccupied with my pain and couldn't seem to control anything else. I started to panic and grabbed hold of Blair. He took one look at my face and covered my hand with his.

"It's Ok, Jim, it's Ok. Just relax. Listen to my voice. You can rest now, Jim. Just close your eyes. Yeah, that's it. You're gonna be Ok..."

Knowing I was safe and secure with my Guide beside me, I let myself drift into unconsciousness.


I awoke sometime later in the emergency room at Cascade Memorial, just as they were getting ready to stitch my through- and-through wound closed. I wish I would've stayed out. Turns out Sandburg was right; local anesthesia doesn't work well on a Sentinel.

I turned my tactile sense down as far as I dared, but it still hurt like hell. I was sorely tempted to turn it off completely, something I'd never done before, but was terrified I wouldn't be able to turn it back on, or sink into a zone-out on the examining table. Without Blair there {Where was he, anyway?} I couldn't risk it. Just gritted my teeth and prayed for the nurse to hurry.

By the time she did finish, I was exhausted again from controlling the pain. They wheeled me into a semi-private room and informed me I was being held overnight for observation. I just nodded my head, too tired to put up a fight to go home, wondering again where my partner was.

I found out later what held him up. He completely took charge back at Windsor Avenue. He made sure I was taken care of and sent off to the hospital first, informed the officers on the scene what had happened, gave a description of the car, made sure Mark's body was taken care of and that Toby was being looked after, too. He even called Simon and told him what was going on.

All that while standing there with blood on his hands and no shirt on.

As I said, he constantly amazes me.


I must've drifted off, because the next thing I remember is opening my eyes to find Blair sitting in the chair next to my bed, wearing one of those green hospital scrub shirts. He smiled as my eyes came to rest on him.

"Hey, tough guy. How're you feeling?"

"Sore, but I'll live."

He nodded. "Doctor's told me they'll let you go in the morning." He took a breath. "I found out what happened back there."

"You did?"

Another nod. "It was a drive-by shooting, Jim. Gang-related. Retaliation against one of the store owners. It had nothing to do with Golden or our investigation. They found the car from my description and questioned the driver. We were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The wrong place at the wrong time and now a cop was dead. A young man who had his whole life ahead of him. It made us both sick to our stomachs.

I made eye contact with my partner, looking into blue eyes so much like my own. When I spoke, my voice sounded husky to my ears.

"Thanks, Chief. For everything. You did great."

His eyes widened a bit at my praise, but then he just nodded and shrugged it off, embarrassed.

Blair left shortly after that, heading back to the loft to get some rest himself. He'd be back to pick me up in the morning. He squeezed my shoulder as he walked by, his eyes saying what his voice couldn't. I simply nodded my head. I know, buddy.


Mark's death hit me hard as I lay in that hospital bed that night. Granted, I hadn't known him long, but he'd had such a promising future as an outstanding officer. I kept seeing him standing there next to me...and then the gunshots...and the blood...

Then a thought slammed into me full force: It could've been Blair instead of Mark lying dead in the morgue.

He had been standing in that exact spot no more than ten seconds before the shooting started. It could've been his body falling lifelessly onto mine. That mental image rocked me to the core and my heart was held in an icy grip of fear and terror at the thought of losing him.

Because it would've been my all my fault.

It was my fault I couldn't control these damn senses of mine and get a grip on the zone-outs. And because of that, I pulled Blair from his safe, academic life into my dangerous world. And in the process he became the one person I could trust with my life and the only person I could never live without.

But if he was so important to me, why did I constantly put him in danger?

That question ate at my soul.

And lying there that night, I suddenly realized just how many times Blair had been in the line of fire over the past three years. It was like a punch to the gut that brought tears to my eyes and drove the breath from my lungs as the scenes played themselves in my mind...

Almost blown up on a bus

Held hostage inside the department

Jumped out of an airplane

Almost overdosed on Golden

Kidnapped by a crazed serial killer

Almost had his hand blowtorched off

Shot in the leg

Jumped over a waterfall

Trapped in an elevator with a bomb

Held hostage by lunatic drug dealers

Almost blown up on an oil rig

Had a radio antenna fall on him

And all the times he's been chased, nearly run over, shot at or hit on the head and knocked unconscious

All in the name of partnership, friendship, loyalty.

Only enough was enough.

I would not see him in an early grave because of the life I lived. I hate myself for what I've put him through and love him too much to allow it to continue.

When love and hate collide...

That's right. I said 'love'. I'm truly, madly, deeply in love with Blair. But does he know it? Hell no.

Which I was eternally grateful for right now. It made this easier, if no less painful, to do.

To ensure a long, healthy life for Blair, I made a decision that night to push him out of mine.


There was no sign of infection in the morning, so I was fitted for a sling and Blair took me home. Unsure of how to proceed, I feigned sleep on the ride to the loft, not wanting to talk to him.

I barely said two words to him as I got myself settled in on the couch. He didn't say anything to me about my demeanor, probably thinking my injury was making me irritable. After making sure I was Ok and didn't need anything, he headed off to the university for the rest of the day. I was glad he left, I needed some more time to myself.

The day passed uneventfully. Simon called to tell me that the Golden case had been reassigned, I was on mandatory medical leave for at least a week and that Mark's funeral was the day after tomorrow. A full police burial.

I had been warring with myself all day about my decision regarding Blair. God, I was so confused! Could I really do this? Was I doing the right thing? Had I really made the right decision? Could I push my best friend and secret love out of my life?

Maybe there was another solution. I could make sure Personnel found out that Blair's ride-along had expired, thus preventing him from being out in the field with me, but still allowing him to accompany me to the station and do what he was supposed to do: observe.

Or maybe I could pressure him into finishing his dissertation, so he could get his doctorate, so he could get back into his academic life. I mean, really, people were going to start to question how long this was taking him. Both at the university and at the station. And once he completed it, what excuse could he give to work with me in the field? But he'd still be living with me. I'd make sure he knew he didn't have to leave just because he'd finished his doctorate. And I wanted him to stay more than anything.

But the more I thought about those options, the more I realized they would never work. There had to be something though. Some way I could keep Blair safe, yet still be with me. I just hadn't thought of it yet.

My resolve was wavering until Simon mentioned Mark, a life cut short too soon, and then there were my nightmares that night. They cemented my decision to push Blair from my life.

I was at a funeral. Blair's funeral. It was pouring rain, I was soaked to the skin, standing in a cemetery next to his closed casket and open grave. But I wasn't alone. Naomi was there, too. Along with Simon, Joel, Rafe and Brown, staring at me with accusing eyes. Naomi was screaming at me.

"This is all your fault! My only son is dead because of you! You were supposed to protect him and you let him die! How could you?! How could you?!" she broke down, sobbing.

The rest of my friends advanced on me next, shouting accusations, blaming me. I backed up, hands out in front of me, crying out, "No! No! I never meant for this to happen! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

I woke up drenched in sweat, Blair's name on my lips. I got no more sleep that night, instead listening to his steady heartbeat till dawn.

I know I was supposed to have been on medical leave for a week to recuperate, but when Blair came upstairs the next morning with a cup of coffee for me, I told him I was going in.

"Jim, please. Take it easy for at least a day. You have a hole in your arm for God's sake!" he tried to reason with me.

I swallowed, getting up the nerve to do this.

First things first. Call him 'Sandburg' only. No more Chief. No more Blair, Darwin, guppy or Junior. I need to start distancing myself from him, and nicknames wouldn't help.

"Listen, Doctor Sandburg," I sneered, "I'm not a child and I think I know if I'm ready to go back to work."

Silence reigned for a long moment, and the stunned expression on his face tore at my gut.

"Jim?" his voice was soft, concerned. "Is everything Ok?"

"Didn't I tell you I'm fine? Now get out of here and let me get dressed."

I turned my back on him and after a moment he made his way down the stairs, stopping once to look back up at me.

When I heard him close the door to his room I felt the first crack appear on my heart and I sat down heavily on my bed. I had taken the first step and I felt like hell. After my nightmare I sat up listening to his heartbeat and thinking about how to make this break with him.

I couldn't just throw him out on his ear without explanation, obviously. And I couldn't just come right out and tell him I wanted him to leave because I was terrified he was eventually going to get seriously hurt or killed. No, I could hear him now... "I'm not a kid, Jim. I can take care of myself." "I'm your Guide, your back-up, you need me." He may even bring up his thesis, but after his comment about having enough information for ten dissertations, I doubt it.

His academic life may be like a merry-go-round, but people can get hurt on rollercoasters.

No, I was going to have to get Blair to make the decision to leave me and our friendship on his own. And how to do that? By making our professional and personal relationships unbearable for him. It would involve making him hate me, and it would practically kill me in the process, but if it would keep him safe, it would be worth it.

Or so I kept telling myself.


My arm was stiff and sore and getting dressed was a chore and a half, but I refused to ask Blair for help. So by the time I came downstairs, I was really in a foul mood. Perfect for keeping my plan rolling along.

I snapped at the kid throughout breakfast about leaving the bathroom a mess, (no more than usual) about leaving his shoes all over the loft, (I'd relaxed that rule quite awhile ago) and about the science experiment he seemed to be growing in the refrigerator (Ok, that one really did need to be taken care of).

He got a strange, confused look on his face each time I opened my mouth, and I felt another little fissure open on my heart each time.

{Christ, Chief. I'm doing this for your own good.}

But he simply apologized for everything and I figured he was just humoring me, thinking I was still out of sorts from the gunshot and Mark's death, not wanting to antagonize me till I was feeling better. I had to go upstairs to my room when I saw him picking up his shoes then head for the refrigerator. By the time we left for the station the bathroom sparkled and I felt like a world-class asshole.


Simon saw me the minute I walked into the bullpen and damn near had my head on a platter. Then he laid into Blair for bringing me. I know it hurt the kid when I didn't jump to his defense and tell Simon I made him bring me, just clenched my jaw and kept my mouth shut.

I wanted to get right back to work on the Golden case, but it quickly became apparent I had no business being back at work. My arm was throbbing and, preoccupied with my situation with Blair, I just couldn't seem to concentrate. Plus, with my right arm in a sling, I was next to useless and completely uncoordinated trying to use my left hand for everything.

Blair, of course, tried to help, but after I brushed him off half a dozen times he finally gave up and told me he was heading to the University since he obviously wasn't needed here.

God, the look on his face...

And another, bigger crack appeared on my heart.

I knew I was quickly heading for a showdown with him about my attitude. I mean, one minute I'm thanking him and telling him what a great job he did, and now he could do nothing right.


I stayed at the station for about another hour, stopping in up at Narcotics to talk with Captain Sullivan. The Golden case had been reassigned to Riker and Brooks, picking up where we'd left off, while Toby and I were both on leave.

I talked with Riker and Brooks next. Both men were in their 30's, both were 10 year vets. But that's where the similarities ended. Riker was of darker complexion, with short, black hair, brown eyes and a good build. Brooks was the opposite -- fair skinned, blond hair to his shoulders, blue eyes, mustache, small and wiry. An interesting team, kinda like me and Sandburg. But their conviction rate was excellent and I had no doubt they could handle this case. I filled them in on how far we'd gotten, then told them I wanted back in on this, the look on my face inviting no arguments. They finally agreed and I gave them my cell number before heading back downstairs. We would all be attending Mark's funeral tomorrow, then hit the ground running the next day and close this case. There had been too many causalities already.

I automatically started for the garage before remembering Blair had left me stranded here. I cajoled Brown into giving me a ride home, the entire time dreading the confrontation I knew was going to take place at the loft when I arrived.

Sure enough, extending my senses as I closed the car door, I detected my roommate's presence upstairs. Hardening both my resolve and my heart, I rode the elevator up, preparing myself for another battle as I continued to push Blair out of my life.

I slammed the front door harder than was necessary, invoking a "Jim?" from the direction of Blair's room. I took a breath.

"Dammit, Sandburg," I started as he walked out into the kitchen. "How many times have I told you to keep that door locked when you're here alone? And what are you doing here anyway?" I demanded, not letting him answer the first question. "You said you were going to the university after you left me with no way to get home."

{I'm sorry, Blair. I don't want to do this. But I have to.}

"What do you care where I am?" he shot back. "As long as I wasn't getting in your way, which I obviously was at the station, I thought you'd be happy."

His angry words were like a punch to the gut. {What's the matter, Ellison? This is exactly what you wanted, right? To have him hate you?}

Before I could respond, he sighed deeply, running a hand through his curly hair. He took a step closer to me, laying his hand on my uninjured arm. His words were soft.

"Jim...what's wrong? Talk to me, man...please."

For one brief, insane moment I wanted to crush him to me and never let go. To forget my "plan" and tell him I loved him instead.

But I saw the whiteness of my sling out of the corner of my eye and it jolted me back to reality, reminding me of why I was doing this, why Blair needed to leave me.

I stepped back, out of his reach, watching as his hand fell to his side and a flash of hurt cross his face.

"How many times do I have to tell you I'm fine? I'm gettin' real tired of answering that same question, Sandburg," I growled.

{I love you, Blair. I'm doing this to protect you.}

I turned my back on him, walking over to the refrigerator, as something flashed deep within his blue eyes. As I opened the door, I heard him say, "Ok. Fine. Whatever you say, man," his voice tight and strained.

And another crack appeared.

Blair headed back to his room as I pulled out a beer, needing something to take the edge off my raging emotions. I rested the bottle on the counter, using my right hand to hold it and my left to work the bottle opener. Unaccustomed to using my left hand, I applied too much pressure and the bottle slipped from my grasp, skittering along the length of the countertop before dropping off the far end and shattering onto the floor.

"Goddammit!" I swore, as beer and glass flew everywhere. My emotions running high already, I let loose with the bottle opener, throwing it sideways. It landed in the sink with a satisfying clang.

Blair was back out of his room in a flash, as I knew he would be.

"Jim? What happ--" he cut himself off as the saw the remains of my drink and its container on the floor. I saw his eyes dart to my hands, checking for cuts, instead of just asking me if I was Ok. He knew I didn't want to hear that question again.

Satisfied I wasn't bleeding, he crouched down and reached for the broken glass.

"Here, let me--"

"If I need your help I'll ask for it," I bit out.

He was standing again in a heartbeat, broken glass forgotten. I now had one pissed off Guide in front of me.

"Yeah, well don't bother! I'm through trying to help you. I've been trying for two days now and all you've done is bite my head off! I don't know what your problem is, man, but you'd better work through it on your own or talk to someone about it."

"Back off, Sandburg. I don't need to hear one of your 'Let's examine your feelings' lectures."

{Please, Blair. Can't you see you're better off without me?}

He threw up his hands. "Fine, then. But you'd better pull yourself together and stop taking out your problems on me. I won't be anyone's punching bag."

And with that he went into his room and closed the door. I sagged against the counter, head hanging, my heart breaking. Oh, God, how long could I keep this up? How much more would Blair put up with before he walked out?

And how would I handle it when he finally did?


The next morning dawned cold and grey, perfect for a funeral and mirroring the atmosphere in the loft.

Not one word was spoken between Blair and I as we got ready to go to the cemetery. My arm was healing rapidly, but was still sore, and I struggled with my navy blue police dress uniform. I finally got the damn thing on, sling and all, and stood looking at myself in the mirror. It'd been years since I'd worn it, but the uniform still fit me well. And hopefully after today, it would be years before I'd have to wear it again. As I placed my dress hat on my head, adjusting it till the brim dipped low, I again thanked God it wasn't Blair's funeral I would be attending today.


The entire ceremony was conducted at the gravesite, after an enormous police motorcade escorted Mark's body from the funeral home. The turnout was tremendous, as was to be expected when an officer is killed. Mark being a rookie, not everyone there had known him, but it didn't matter. One of their brothers in blue had fallen, and they would pay their respects.

Seated graveside were Mark's mother, father and younger sister. The women wept freely while Mr. Johnson tried to remain stoic as the priest began the service. Any civilians that were attending were standing behind the family, while the police contingent stood at full attention on the opposite side of the grave.

I looked across at one point at my Guide, looking somber with his hair pulled back, glasses on, dressed in a grey suit and tie I'd never seen before. We made eye contact, but he quickly looked away and back at the casket. I noticed him blinking as his throat worked convulsively. It was then that I remembered how much Blair had liked Mark. Too caught up with my own situation, I'd ignored the fact that his new friend had been killed. And I'd never even asked if he was Ok.

{Well, there you go, Ellison. Yet another strike against you. Just like you wanted.}

Yeah. Just like I wanted.

As the service came to a close, and the lone bagpiper began to play Amazing Grace, Mrs. Johnson cried out, her grief reaching a crescendo. I jumped at the sound and was immediately transported back into my nightmare. Naomi, crying out, accusing me, blaming me for her son's death...

I must've sank into a mini zone-out and started to sway, jolting back to reality when Rafe, standing next to me, put a steadying hand on my shoulder. He looked at me and I just nodded my head in thanks at his concerned glance.

As the ceremony concluded and people began to drift away, I found myself standing next to Toby. Mark's death had shaken him badly, and I again knew I was doing the right thing by pushing Blair away. I never wanted to go through this.

We soon found ourselves surrounded by our fellow officers, offering their condolences to Toby and checking to see how I was recovering from my wound.

I looked up at one point and saw Blair and Simon talking. Before I could turn my hearing up, Simon, in an uncharacteristic move, squeezed Blair's shoulder and the two men parted, Blair headed toward the Johnson's and Simon headed toward me. I excused myself from the group and met my captain halfway. Simon cut right to the chase.

"You wanna tell me what's eating at you?"

I had a split second decision to make. Tell Simon what I was trying to accomplish with my attitude toward Blair, or adjust my "plan" to include more than just my Guide. I decided to adjust.

I sighed. "There's nothing 'eating at me', Simon."

He was unconvinced. "Yeah, well, the kid's pretty upset. Says you won't talk to him about it and can't figure out what he's done to make you act like this toward him."

"Maybe he should mind his own damn business," I answered, shocking Simon. "Remember when you said I should think about cutting him loose? Well..." I trailed off, shrugging my shoulders and walking away, leaving a speechless Simon behind me.


The ride back to the loft was another lesson in silence, broken only after I'd shut the door. I removed my hat, throwing it carelessly on the couch, before turning to Blair.

"I don't appreciate you going behind my back and talking to Simon. What part of 'I'm fine' don't you understand, Sandburg?!" I demanded.

Blair shook his head. "I thought you needed--"

"What I need is some space. Some room to breathe without you hanging all over me, constantly in my face," I lied, dying more inside with each of my hateful words.

"You want space, man? You got it!" he yelled, brushing past me.

The echo of the slamming door reverberated in my head long after he'd gone.


He never came home that night, and I got my first taste of what it'd be like to live without him. I spent the entire night keeping the tears at bay, staring a hole in my bedroom ceiling, and unconsciously searching for his heartbeat.

Just one night without him and I was already falling apart. I needed him so bad... But the thought of losing him to a stray bullet or an exploding building overshadowed my needs, and I knew I had to stick to my decision. No matter how much it was hurting me. Or Blair. Because it was about protecting the man I loved.

I was utterly drained when morning rolled around, the hour or so of sleep I'd managed not enough to keep me going. Technically, I was still on leave for the next three days, and knowing I'd be in for another argument with Simon if I showed up, I wisely decided to stay home. I did call Riker and Brooks, though, explaining I wasn't feeling up to coming in, but to call me if anything broke with the case.

Silence was my companion for the day. I spent the hours out on the balcony, oblivious to the steady, light rain that soon soaked through my sweater, my thoughts constantly on Blair. Would he be back? Or had I finally driven him away? What would my life be like without my constant companion of three years? Without being around the man I loved 24-7? It would be cold and lonely, just like it was before the day that know-it-all anthropology student conned his way into my hospital room. The day I slammed him into a wall and felt love slam into me. I allowed myself a smile at that memory. I really didn't need to use bodily force on him that day, but I couldn't go one second longer without touching him. I had never been that instantly attracted to a man before, and I'd been bi since I was in high school. I had to touch him, feel him, smell him... And oh, god, I fell for him, and fell hard.

But I didn't act on my feelings. I mean, I didn't even know this long haired bundle of energy. To him I was just a research subject. And then, as I did get to know him, as he became an integral part of my life, I still did nothing. I'd never had a friendship this intense, this deep, in my entire life. Did I dare take the chance of throwing it all away by admitting to Blair my feelings for him ran much deeper than friendship? In the end I took the coward's way out and did nothing. Kept my feelings bottled up inside, content with unrequited love and a friend I could never replace.


We make them every day. From what color shirt to wear to what to have for lunch to whether or not to tell someone you love them.

And every decision has a consequence.

I found myself wondering what would've happened if I'd told Blair I was in love with him. Would we've made love every night or would he have walked out on me long ago?

I shook my head. Who the hell cared? It was too late now; I had made my decision and the consequence was heartache and pain.

I hung my head and whispered out into the rain, "Blair..."

The soft touch on my back nearly sent me out of my skin. I whirled around to find...my Guide. He looked as bad as I did. He was still dressed in the grey suit from yesterday, now hopelessly wrinkled. His hair was loose, his cheeks covered by faint stubble. His glasses were nowhere in sight and his tie was draped loosely around his neck.

He had caught me at a totally unguarded moment and I knew that the anguish I was feeling was plain to see. And I found the same emotion reflected back at me. I instantly slammed my defenses back in place, closing myself off once again.

"How long have you been standing there?" I demanded, falling back into my act, but more upset at myself for being so distracted by my thoughts that I hadn't detected him.

"Long enough," he replied quietly. "I called your name, but..." he trailed off. He took a breath and ran a hand through his curls. "Jim, I...I've been doing a lot of thinking. And all this," he waved his hands between us, "started right after the shooting."

I would've taken a step backwards if I hadn't been leaning against the balcony wall. He was just too damn perceptive.

He took a step forward. "Jim, what happened that day? Is it your senses? Please tell me what's wrong. You need--"

"Jesus, Sandburg! I don't need anything. Can't you understand that?"

A look of such profound sadness, the likes of which I'd never seen before settled over his features at my cruel words.

"I'm beginning to, Jim. I'm beginning to."

And with that he turned and walked away.

I turned and gripped the balcony wall till my knuckles turned white, struggling to draw a breath through my suddenly constricted throat.

{I hope so, Blair. Because hurting you is killing me.}


I woke up the next morning knowing I had to increase my efforts in getting Blair to leave me. I was reaching the end of my emotional rope and was afraid I couldn't keep this up much longer. But I couldn't give up. Blair's safety was at stake here. The next time he went out into the field with me could be his last. I was his Blessed Protector, dammit, and I'd protect him or die trying.

For the next two days we danced around each other. We barely spoke, didn't eat our meals together and spent our time in our respective rooms. Professionally, Blair still accompanied me to the station, which surprised me at first. That's when I realized that Blair took his Guide responsibilities seriously. There may be problems between us, but at this point anyway, it wouldn't stop him from watching my back.

But there wasn't a heck of a lot for him to watch. I'd gotten my sling off but was still confined to desk duty pending my requalification at the firing range. Which would happen in the next day or so when my stitches were removed. But before that happened and I was put back on field duty, I was going to make sure Blair was safely back in his academic world for good.

I took shameless advantage of the fact that Blair still really didn't fit in with my fellow officers. We hadn't spent this much time actually inside the station in a long time, giving Hairboy's "fans" ample opportunity to get in some slams. And I joined right in, feeling like pond scum as I picked on Blair for no reason. I nagged on him for not getting some paperwork done, knowing full well he'd been up practically all of the night before grading exams, then laughed along with Dan Wolf as Blair turned green when we walked in on an autopsy in progress.

He stormed out both days, finally fed up with me.

The breaking point came the following day.


From my bed I heard Blair leave the loft on his way downstairs to grab the morning paper. In his brief absence I received a phone call. It was Riker and Brooks. We'd finally gotten the break we'd been waiting for in the Golden case. The dealer had been I.D.'d and his lab has been located. The bust was going down in an hour. If I wanted in I needed to get my ass down to the station. I told them I'd be there in twenty minutes.

Hanging up the phone, I knew I was going to have hell to pay later. I wasn't approved for field duty yet and I had no business being in on a bust. I knew I was bucking for additional desk duty when this was over and Simon found out, but I could've cared less. This case had gotten far too personal and nothing was going to stop me from seeing it through to the end.

And that's when I did something I'd never done before.

I deliberately lied to Blair.

There was no way I could tell him where I was going because nothing would stop him from coming with me. And that was the last thing I wanted. Besides, it was about time I learned how to function without my Guide beside me.

So I lied. Or, to use Blair's words, it was an "obfuscation".

When Blair came back upstairs I told him the doctor's office had called and told me they had a cancellation this morning; if I wanted I could have the stitches removed today instead of tomorrow. I told him I was going to do just that then spend the day at the range, so there was no need for him to go to the station today. He was more than pleased to be away from me and spend his day at Rainier. Which is exactly where I wanted him; out of harm's way and at the place he's belonged at all along.


I never dreamed a bust could go so horribly wrong.

What should've been an easy take-down of an unsuspecting drug dealer turned into a bloody nightmare. Whoever did the intell on this guy Zimmerman and his lab was going to have their head on the chopping block. Or so I thought at the time.

We'd fleshed out our plan in the station's parking garage, with me worrying the entire time I'd run into Simon. I never did and soon I was fastening my Kevlar vest over top of my lightweight sweater, my weapon secure at the small of my back. A final check and we loaded up into the two black, unmarked police vans and headed out.

The plan was to surround the house the lab was being run out of, securing all exits, before the entry team went in. I sensed something was wrong from almost the moment we pulled up across the street from it. I had extended my hearing when we exited from the van and what I picked up on disturbed me. There was too much movement, too many excited voices for this to be a normal day at the lab. These people were in a panic. They knew we were coming.

Crouched beside the van, I was so focused on hearing what was going on inside the house I never heard Brooks give the order to move in. The entire team began sprinting across the road before I noticed what was happening. I tried to stop them, but by then it was too late.

I jumped up, running after the team, yelling out for Brooks to stop. It was to no avail. I'd taken no more than three steps when sniper fire from the upper floor of the house took out our lead man, Peterson. He went down with a bullet in his neck. The team instantly scattered, with Riker dragging his fallen officer to safety. You know, I gotta hand it to these Narcotics guys. Their plan was shot to hell, but they didn't panic and they didn't retreat. Instead, they charged straight ahead, firing as they went. Two more men went down with flesh wounds before the team made it across the street.

I wasn't about to see another officer go down, so right in the middle of the road I dropped to one knee in a firing stance. I had just painted a bulls-eye on my chest, but I was depending on my Sentinel sight to keep me alive. It didn't let me down. I instantly spotted the gunman in the darkness of the upper floor and pulled the trigger. It felt like someone hit me in the arm with a baseball bat as the recoil surged up my still healing arm. But my aim was true -- dead center to his chest.

In the momentary lack of gunfire, our team regrouped. Brooks had already radioed in for back-up, but for the moment we were on our own. We'd been caught totally off-guard and needed to get control of the situation immediately. We had three men down, which left us with seven. We fell back to step one of our original plan -- surround the house and make sure no one got out. We quickly split up, four men to the back of the house, while myself, Riker and Brooks would be the entry team. The three of us were each armed with a canister of tear gas. We'd brought them along only to use as a last resort. Tear gas canisters have a tendency to ignite fires when they explode, and with all the flammable materials contained within a drug lab, things could get really messy really fast. But they had left us no choice and we were out of time. The sudden cease fire had caught everyone's attention inside and I distinctly heard more than one rifle being cocked as the occupants raced for the windows.

The instant Riker got confirmation over the walkie-talkie his men were in position, the three of us started forward. We took three running steps...pulled the pins on the canisters...and let them fly. All three hit their intended targets: the two side windows and the glass door.

It was only a matter of seconds before we saw the first wisps of tear gas come wafting out of the broken windows. Brooks started yelling for everyone to come out, as did one of his men in back. The tear gas seemed to do the trick. Blinded and unable to breathe, the criminals wisely started giving up. A few went out the back and were quickly apprehended. When the first one appeared out the front door, Riker, Brooks and I were on the porch to take them into custody. But of the four men, none were Zimmerman.

"Riker!" I called out as he and Brooks hurried the men to the sidewalk. "Do your men have Zimmerman in back?"

My Sentinel hearing heard both sides of the conversation and before Riker could tell me what I'd already heard, my gaze swung inward, my weapon already drawn. He was still in there somewhere. My sight cut through the still-lingering haze of tear gas and picked up on two things simultaneously: a person running up the stairs to the second floor...and flames emanating from the draperies. Our worst nightmare was about to come true.


It was Brooks, starting up after me to help look for Zimmerman.

"NO!" I roared. "Get back! It's gonna blow!"

I hoped he had turned around, because, heedless of my own warning, I plunged inside the house. At that point I cared nothing for my safety, only that the bastard who put Golden back on the street and caused my whole life to go to hell was going to pay for it.

As I raced for the stairs I saw out of the corner of my eye the lab set up in the kitchen. All those bags of golden powder... Forcing my thoughts back to the fleeing drug dealer, I took the stairs two at a time. My eyes were already burning from the remnants of the gas and I was starting to cough. Just as I reached the landing at the top of the stairs, the fire below flashed, sending a wave of heat blasting up towards me. I staggered to the side, throwing my arm up. It wouldn't be long before the flames reached the kitchen. And then...

Fighting back my fear, I extended my senses, trying to search the upper floor. But I found myself assaulted on all fronts. With my eyes watering, my sight was next to useless. All I could smell was tear gas and smoke. My hearing was picking up on so many sounds -- shouts from outside, sirens on the back-up's squad cars, burning, cracking wood... It was too much...I needed my Guide...where was Blair...?

The sound of shattering glass snapped me out it before I zoned completely. I shook my head and risked a glance downstairs. I shouldn't have looked. The fire had completely consumed the living room now, cutting off any exit out the front or back doors. I sprinted down the short hallway to the back bedroom, where I'd determined the sound had come from. The bedroom that was directly over the kitchen.

Zimmerman was halfway out the window when I entered the room. He was off balance with one leg and arm hanging outside, so I quickly holstered my weapon and dragged him back in by his collar. He was a big guy, almost my height and build, but with sharply chiseled features, greasy brown hair tied back into a pony tail, scraggly beard and dark, piercing eyes.

He immediately started to struggle, trying to reach for the handgun in his waistband. One solid, swift punch to his jaw took care of his struggles and I relieved him of his weapon, throwing it out the window. I was coughing constantly now, as was a groggy Zimmerman. The smoke kept getting thicker and it was getting harder to breathe and see.

I had another split second decision to make. I needed to get us both out of the house, but how? With the first floor consumed in flames, the upstairs windows were the only option. Did I try to get Zimmerman out on my own by going through the window next to me or go towards the front of the house where everyone was and could help?

The explosion answered my question for me.

I felt the floorboards tremble a heartbeat before a massive fireball blew through half the bedroom floor. The force of the explosion hurled Zimmerman and I into the wall closest to the door; we landed in a tangle of arms and legs, the breath knocked out of us. My entire body tingled, as if every hair had been singed by the intense heat.

I struggled to my feet, dragging a dazed Zimmerman after me out into the hallway. And not a moment too soon. The remainder of the bedroom floor was collapsing behind us.

Every breath of the superheated, chemical filled, smoky air was torture as I propelled us down the hallway, trying to reach the window...and safety. Those last few feet to the window were a blur, my oxygen-starved mind only registering the flames were mere steps behind us, their only purpose to kill.

The window shattered when I threw myself against it, my Kevlar vest protecting most of my upper body. I sank to my knees, breathing in deep lungfulls of fresh air.

Over the sound of my coughing I heard the shouts of Riker and Brooks, yelling to the firemen who were now on the scene. As the Narcotics detectives pointed out my position, I hauled Zimmerman up by his belt and pushed him out onto the roof of the porch in a heap.

With my upper body hanging out the window, I was helpless when the final explosion came. It blew me out the window onto the porch roof, flames blasting out behind me. I rolled past Zimmerman, desperately scrabbling for a handhold before I plunged and dropped two stories to the ground. Unable to find purchase on the shingles, I felt my legs go off the edge of the roof and knew there was nothing I could do. As gravity pulled me downward and the earth rushed up to meet me, I hoped I lived...just so I could see Blair's face one more time.


If my car insurance agent was upset with the number of trucks I'd wrecked, the department's medical insurance people were sure to have an attack over the fact that I ended up hurt in the line of duty twice in one week.

But hey, I could've ended up a lot worse than I did. I could be dead.

As it was, luck was on my side that morning. The bushes I'd landed in cushioned my fall just enough so that I didn't break my back, or my neck. I did land hard enough to knock the wind out of myself and get a good hit to the head, though. I was probably unconscious for about ten minutes; long enough for the fire department to get Zimmerman down off the roof and for the paramedics to get me on a backboard and inside the ambulance.

When I came to I was wearing an oxygen mask and the EMTs were working on cleaning me up. One was examining me for broken bones and such, while her partner was busy bandaging up all the cuts on my left arm I'd gotten when I'd broken the window with my body slam. If I hadn't been wearing my vest, I'd have been cut up much worse. Hey, I'd better get reimbursed from the department for the sweater they just cut the sleeve off of...

"Welcome back, Detective. How're you feeling?"

I turned my head at the sound of the female paramedic's voice and tried to reply, but all that came out was a squeak.

"That's Ok, just take it easy. You inhaled a lot of smoke. Your voice will return shortly, don't try to force it. Just drink some of this and nod your head for me, Ok?"

I nodded, earning a smile as I moved the oxygen mask and drank from the bottle of water. I never knew water could taste that good as it eased my parched throat.

"Do you have any pain anywhere?"

I did a quick mental rundown of my body and decided I hurt all over, but nothing was screaming for attention, so I shook my head no.

"Good, that's good. You're a lucky man, you know that? Can you sit up for me? I want to get this vest off you."

I nodded my head and waited till her partner had finished putting the last bandage on my arm before sitting up. My vision swam for a moment, then cleared. She helped me get my vest off and I felt every ache and pain as I moved my arms and upper body. All I wanted was to sink back down onto the gurney and rest my bruised and battered body, but then I caught sight of the zoo outside through the windows in the back of the ambulance.

I had the oxygen mask off and my feet on the floor before the paramedic found her voice.

"Detective? What are you doing?"

"I'm--" I started, cleared my throat and tried again, my voice like gravel. "I'm fine, really. Thanks."

"No, wait--"

But I was already moving past her and opening the doors... to chaos.

The backdrop was the still-burning skeleton frame of the house. Red, white and blue lights flashed off the four ambulances, two fire trucks and countless squad cars. People scrambled everywhere -- cops, both uniformed and plainclothes, firemen, paramedics, civilians, criminals...


I picked out Riker's voice in the crowd and jogged up to he and Brooks just as they were putting Zimmerman in the back of a squad.

"Ellison! Jesus Christ, man, what the hell were you thinking?!" demanded Brooks.

"I'm fine, Brooks, thanks for asking," I replied sarcastically, my voice now resembling sandpaper.

Brooks shook his blond head, chagrined. "Sorry, Jim. But what on earth possessed you to do that? You should've let that scum go up in flames."

I wasn't about to go into my personal reasons, so I stuck to the case. "That guy has the answers to a hell of a lot of questions. Namely, who tipped him off we were coming?"

"And besides that," Riker spoke up, his voice hard. "Cops are dead because of him and his operation."

I had an intense mental picture of Blair at that moment, and as I stood surveying the damage and destruction before me, I was thankful for the first time in my life that I had lied.


Brooks and Riker, along with the paramedics, wanted me to go to the hospital and get checked out, but I refused. Getting back to the station with Zimmerman and beginning his interrogation was far more important than my bumps and bruises. I wasn't about to waste one more second. It was time to put an end to this nightmare.


I had some time to wind down and think as Riker, Brooks and I followed the unit transporting Zimmerman to the station. Time to think about that same man and how his actions were affecting the path my life was now taking.

He put Golden back on the streets and got Blair and I reinvolved with a case we had no business with. Because of our search for him, we were on Windsor Avenue and Mark lost his life. And because of that I have to push the man I love out of my life to keep him safe.

Zimmerman was the catalyst for all of this, and was totally ignorant of that fact. Not that he'd care if he did know.

Well, as soon as I got him in that interrogation room, I'd make him care.


I must've made quite a sight walking into the station. My hands and face were dark with soot, as were my clothes, I only had one sleeve left to my sweater and my exposed arm was dotted with white bandages. Word had already gotten around about what had happened and the station was buzzing by the time we arrived.

As Brooks, Riker and I made our way upstairs to Narcotics, prisoner in tow, I was alternately slapped on the back and called a hero for risking my life to apprehend Zimmerman, or a moron for doing that same thing.


The deep bellow halted everyone in their tracks. The time had now come for me to pay for my actions.

I wearily turned to face my captain, holding my hands up.

"Simon, please. I know." I gestured to Zimmerman. "Just give me a little while, Ok?"

Whether it was the exhausted, resigned tone to my voice or my haggard appearance, he decided to let me go. Crossing his arms over his chest and curtly nodding his head, he turned and walked away.

I breathed a small sigh of relief as I watched him walk down the hallway. I had just been given a stay of execution...and I'd better use my time wisely.


The next two hours in the interrogation room were a wild ride.

Zimmerman knew he was in deep shit from the get-go and decided he wasn't going down alone. With minimal use of physical force on my part, he spilled his guts with the promise we would try and get him a reduced sentence. At first I was furious with the deal. I wanted Zimmerman to rot in prison, but he convinced us he had something worth trading.

What he had to say floored us.

It was a dirty cop that put Zimmerman in the Golden business. A cop with a drug habit. Zimmerman was his supplier long before Golden first surfaced a year ago, but he didn't know the guy was a cop then. He made his profession known after Blair and I had wrapped up the Golden case. The Narcotics cop, Walters, knew a money making scheme when he saw one, and Golden was it. Before all of the bags of drugs were destroyed, he filched one. He couldn't produce the drug himself and had no desire to become a dealer, he simply wanted the profits. So he approached Zimmerman and a deal was made. Zimmerman told him that he could synthesize the rare chemicals contained in Golden, and while that would make the drug slightly less powerful than the original, they'd have no trouble selling it. So Zimmerman produced and sold the drug while Walters got 70% of the profits, as much Golden as he wanted, and provided Zimmerman with "police protection" -- warning him about raids and where he could find and eliminate his "competition". It was a good bargain, for if Walters ever turned on him and tried to bust him, he'd turn on Walters.

And everything was fine. Until today.

Zimmerman didn't know how, but this time Walters was unaware of the bust until just after the Narcotics team and I had left the station. He'd called Zimmerman in a panic, telling him to get out. Which he'd been trying to do when we showed up.

And we all knew what happened then.

Brooks and Riker took it hard. To find out a member of your department was dirty was tough. To know it was someone in your own unit...it's just hard to accept. It would be like me finding out Rafe or Brown was dirty.

But my part in the case was over. After many thanks from Riker and Brooks, it was now I.A.'s turn. I had finally gotten my answers, but no piece of mind. It was just unbelievable how many twists and turns this case had taken and how so many people's lives had been affected. Janet Peterson, the wife of the officer killed this morning had lost a husband, Mark's parents had lost a son, Zimmerman had lost his freedom for years to come, Walters would lose his career and his freedom, and I...I was losing my best friend.

And what was it all because of? All this pain and heartache?

Drugs and money.

I wanted to hit something. Or someone. I wanted to lash out physically at the senselessness of it all, to release my anger by pummeling something into oblivion.

But in the end I just sat there, staring at the walls of the empty interrogation room, letting my anger drain away till I was numb and empty inside. Which was for the best anyhow, I reasoned. Because when you let yourself feel, all you do is leave yourself open to hurt, loss and pain.

After this week I never wanted to feel those things again. Because they almost killed me this time.

And they could've killed Blair if he'd been with me.


Moving on auto-pilot, I went downstairs to the Major Crimes locker room. In the middle of the afternoon it was deserted. Opening my locker, I withdrew the extra set of clothes I keep there for when I want a workout after my shift. I carried the socks, dark grey t-shirt and light grey sweatpants into the shower room and laid them on the edge of the sink. I stood staring at myself in the mirror, cataloging how truly awful I looked, before removing my ruined clothes.

Everything went in the trash can -- the sweater with only one sleeve, the ripped slacks stained with soot, and the once white socks. I took a quick shower, needing to get the grime off me, awkwardly trying to use only my right arm to keep the bandages on my left one dry.

Now as clean as I could get, I pulled on my fresh clothes, marveling for the first time that I hadn't popped any stitches during the action of the morning.

Bone-tired and emotionally drained, I drove toward the loft, not once remembering about my meeting with Simon.


Just before the elevator doors opened, letting me off on the third floor, I had a sudden thought: what was I going to tell Blair? I was supposed to have been at the doctor's office then at the range. Only now I was dressed in totally different clothes, still had my stitches, plus my other arm now had bandages on it, and I generally looked like hell.

But as the door to the loft swung open, the question suddenly ceased to matter.

There, right inside the doorway, were boxes. Boxes filled with Blair's possessions. Then Blair himself appeared from his bedroom, duffel bag in hand.

The ground dropped out from under me.

As I stood there speechless, trying to comprehend that the end had finally come, Blair brushed past me to lay the duffel bag next to the boxes. The physical contact roused me from my stupor.


He whirled around, his face a mask of barely controlled fury. "Don't. Just...don't. Went to the doctor, huh? Got those stitches out, did you?"

I looked away at the mocking tone in his voice as he continued, nodding his head.

"Yeah, I know where you really went today. Simon called me. Told me you went out on a bust and damn near got yourself blown to pieces!"

I looked back at him as he placed both hands on my chest and shoved me backwards. I staggered three or four steps in surprise.

"You lied to me! You stood right there and deliberately lied to me! And I have had it!"

The words slipped out before I could stop them, unconsciously egging him on. "It wasn't a lie. It was an obfuscation."

His jaw fell open, shocked. "Don't you dare throw my words back at me, you son-of-a-bitch!" With a visible effort he reigned himself in, taking a deep, calming breath. Then he dropped his voice and spread open his hands. "I don't know who you are anymore, Jim. You're not the same person I met three years ago. Hell, you're not the same person I knew a week ago. And I can't deal with it anymore. I tried to help you, but you shut me out. You've made it quite obvious that you don't want me around anymore... so I'm leaving. You're on your own, like you seem to want to be."

I swallowed past the lump in my throat at his words. I'd finally done it. Pushed him out of my life, just like I'd wanted. So why did I feel like crying instead of celebrating?

I knew what he wanted me to say. I saw it in his eyes. And I had to clench my jaw till it ached to keep myself from telling him not to go.

{It's for the best} I kept telling myself {He'll be safe now}

At my silence, the angry mask fell back in place and he tersely nodded his head. "Fine. I'll be out of your way as fast as I can."

He turned his back on me to close up one of the boxes, and I felt my heart finally shatter into little pieces, crying out for me to stop him. He straightened up, his back still to me, and shouldered the duffel bag, placing one hand on the doorknob. He turned it halfway, then suddenly released it, spinning around.

"Why, Jim? Why are you doing this?!" he cried out brokenly, crystal blue eyes bright with unshed tears of anger and confusion.

"Because I love you!"

Oh my God.

I said that outloud! The words locked inside my heart for so long had finally broken through my defenses.

For a heartbeat time stood still. I could do nothing more than stand there.

Blair swallowed thickly. "You...what?"

His voice was so carefully neutral that I couldn't tell what he was thinking or feeling. I had expected anger, revulsion...something. This scared me more. But I forced myself to repeat the words, having already passed the point of no return.

"I love you, Blair."

The duffel bag slipped to the floor as he crossed the distance separating us in two long strides.

"You bastard!"

His fist connecting with my jaw caught me totally off-guard, snapping my head to the side and causing me to take a stutter step backwards. Blair may be smaller than I am, but damn, the kid sure can pack a punch.

I'd no more than regained my balance when he came at me again. But this time I moved my face just enough so that his fist whistled past my nose. His missed-swing momentum turned him slightly sideways and I saw my opportunity. I grabbed him in a bear hug from behind, pinning his arms to his side and his back to my chest. He instantly started to struggle, trying to twist from side to side.

"Let me go, dammit!"

"Blair, stop it!"

"No! What the fuck is going on here?! Answer me!"

"Then relax!"

He went limp, letting his knees buckle, trying to catch me off-guard. It didn't work this time and we both fell to our knees, my arms still around him. He bent forward at the waist, bringing my body with him, curling over the top of his back. I let my head drop down to rest on his shoulder, slackening up on my hold on him. I let my eyes drift shut and inhaled deeply of Blair's scent. It was sure as hell the wrong time for it, but I was getting aroused. I wanted to run my hand down his chest, past his stomach to his waist and push his body back against my groin, where my growing erection pressed lightly against his lower back...

"I'm waiting."

His quiet voice brought me out of my daydream and I raised my head slightly.

"Will you promise to sit here and listen?"

"Not if you don't start talking in the next thirty seconds," he vowed. "And no bullshit, either. The truth."

I nodded my head and reluctantly released my hold on him, uncurling myself from over the top of his back, sitting down on the floor. He tensed, and for a moment I thought he was going to bolt. But instead he turned to face me, sitting down across from me.

I ran a hand over my face. "The truth?"

He just stared at me, knowing I was stalling. I sighed. It was time to end this charade I'd been playing and deep down I was glad. If Blair wanted the truth, and he certainly deserved it after what I'd put him through, then he'd get it. And that meant telling him he needed to leave me. It was going to be twice as hard now to convince him of that, though.

Bluntly, I told him, "I don't want you working with me anymore, Blair. You can't stay here."

He blinked and his upper body twitched backwards as if I'd struck him.

"But...why?" he questioned. "What the hell have I done?"

I hastened to reassure him. "No, Blair, it's not you. All you've ever done is be the best friend I could've ever asked for."

"Jim, you're not making any sense. I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone, here. If I haven't done anything wrong, why do you want me to leave?"

"Because I don't want you to end up like Mark!"

"Mark? I don't..." Then realization dawned on him and he started shaking his head. "Jim, I'm not --"

I jumped to my feet, glaring down at him. "Dammit, Blair! You were standing right there. In that exact spot. If you hadn't walked away to get your jacket..." I turned my back on him so he couldn't see my eyes fill up. "...it would've been your funeral last week."

I heard him get to his feet and stop to stand behind me. He didn't touch me, but I could feel the heat from his body and his warm breath on my neck.


I held up my hand. "No, wait. Let me finish." I paused for a moment then continued when Blair remained silent. "I've been a selfish bastard. For three years I've taken and taken from you; constantly turning to you for help with my senses, relying on you to always have the right answer and always be there when I need you. And I've never given a thought as to what I've pulled you into and put you through." I turned to face him. "But Mark's death changed all that. When I realized it could've been you, I knew I had to do everything I could to make sure that it never was you." I gave him a small, sad smile. "You're the best friend I've ever had, Blair. I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to you when I could've prevented it. You proclaimed me your Blessed Protector. But I sure as hell haven't been protecting you. All I've been doing is dragging you into one explosive situation after another. So I decided the best way to protect you was to make you leave me." I shrugged my shoulders. "If you hated me, you wouldn't stick around. But I should know by now you don't give up easily." I took a breath. "That's why I lied to you this morning. I knew you would insist on coming with me, and Christ! Look what happened! First a gunfight, then a fire, then the damn house blew up! And you...you would've been right in the middle of everything, tagging along behind me. And I couldn't let you do that anymore. So I lied. I knew you'd find out eventually where I really was today and be furious. Furious enough to leave I was hoping." I gestured to the boxes near the door. "Looks like I was right..." I trailed off. "Please, Blair, go back to teaching. Finish your dissertation and get your doctorate. Live a long, healthy, safe life away from me and guns and explosions and drug dealers."

I expected a swift and immediate response to my speech, but instead I found myself pinned by crystal blue eyes and their owner's utter silence. After a moment that stretched out half a dozen heartbeats, Blair slowly shook his head.

"I won't leave. And this is why."

Then his lips were on mine.

It was like the universe expanded and contracted all at once. Expanded as each of my heightened senses tried to process everything at the same time: my first taste of Blair, the unexpected softness of his lips, the thunderous roar of both our pounding hearts, his own unique scent and the sharp tang of arousal... And contracted till we were the only two men in the world, bound together by something so strong, so right, that it truly scared me.

The light touch of Blair's fingers on my bare arm sent a bolt of white-hot desire racing through me. My hands rose to tangle deeply in his silky curls as my mouth slanted over his. His lips parted as he stepped forward, pressing himself full length against me, wrapping his arms tightly around my waist. His heat was incredible, centered at his groin, where his rapidly swelling erection rested against me.

At the first touch of our tongues, our actions became frantic; desire, arousal and a need like I'd never known taking control. The kiss was deep and long, both of us trying to lose ourselves in the other. Then Blair's hands were tugging my shirt up and slipping underneath, skimming along my own heated flesh. I groaned into the kiss at his caresses, my hands sliding down to cup his ass and pull him ever tighter against me. The movement caused my own raging erection to slide along his, and he bucked against me, harder than I'd expected. I stumbled back slightly, almost sending us both tumbling to the floor as I banged into the corner of the wooden post, wincing as it hit between my shoulder blades, aggravating my already battered body.

We moved apart, breaking the kiss, our breaths coming in short pants. A small part of my brain, a very small part, was screaming at me to stop, to slow down, that this was out of control...

Then Blair took his shirt off.

Just casually reached up and pulled it over his head, dropped it to the floor and ran a hand through his tousled curls. Then he smiled.

It was the sexiest thing I'd ever seen.

I was on him in an instant, plundering his mouth once more, one hand splayed against his bare back, the other threading through his soft chest hair. This time it was he who pulled our groins together, seeking blessed friction. He walked us backwards till I was against the post again and I spread my legs apart, feeling him settle perfectly between them. We continued to slowly kiss, and my wandering fingers encountered a flat nipple with a thin band of gold through it. I brushed my thumb against it and Blair gave a little whimper into the kiss. Encouraged, I gave a soft tug to the gold band and Blair sharply moaned out his pleasure. His cock jumped and mine answered in tandem, his soft cries driving me insane with need.

I nearly flew apart as Blair began to slowly pump his hips against me, picking up speed little by little. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think, all I could do was feel. Feel the warm, masculine body in my arms, feel his tongue as it slid against mine, feel the soft chest hair and hardened nipple beneath my fingertips, feel his erection sliding repeatedly against mine... And I wanted to feel more-- his naked body beneath me, his cock in my mouth, his hands on my body...

Before I knew what was happening, Blair had his hand down the front of my sweatpants and inside my boxers. He cupped my balls and squeezed gently, sending me somewhere in the vicinity of the stratosphere. My legs gave out and I took us both to the floor, landing on our knees, my legs spread wide. I broke the kiss to gasp out his name, clutching his shoulders and hanging my head as he continued to caress my balls, rolling them in their sac.

"Oh, god...Blair..." I groaned.

His free hand went to work on my waistband, trying to push my sweatpants down. I raised my head as I felt the material start to move, and I gently pushed Blair back, his hands slipping away from me.

"No, Blair, wait...not like this...on the floor." I took his hand. "Come upstairs with me?"

He squeezed my hand, his voice a whisper. "You have no idea how long I've waited for you to say that."

I smiled. "You have no idea how long I've wanted to say that."

We rose together, hands still clasped, and started for the stairs, toeing off our shoes along the way. Halfway up the stairs I lost my shirt and Blair got a look at my banged up body. We stopped, with me leaning back against the wall, Blair in front of me. He reverently kissed each bruise and scrape on my chest, sending shivers up my spine at his tenderness. His fingers fluttered over the small, white bandages on my arm before clasping my hand once again.

"Does it hurt?" he whispered, concerned.

I slowly shook my head. "Not anymore," I admitted, every ache vanishing under his gentle touch.

Then we were standing before the bed I never in my wildest dreams thought Blair would ever be in. My fumbling fingers undid the single button on his faded jeans then slid down the zipper. I pushed his boxers and jeans off his hips at the same time and he stepped out of them. But before I could even get a glimpse of him, he'd dropped to his knees in front of me. With one swift tug my sweatpants and boxers were pooled around my feet, my fully erect cock bobbing out in front of me. Without a word of warning, he latched his hot, wet mouth on it and sucked hard.

"God, Blair!"

I suddenly felt completely disconnected from my body, as if I was dreaming. This could not possibly be happening. After years of longing after this incredible man, I couldn't possibly be getting an earth-shattering blowjob from him. Yet I looked down and there he was, mouth on my cock, one hand pumping the shaft, the other working my balls again. That was the last coherent thought I had for a long time.

I let my eyes drift close and spread my legs wide, one hand coming to rest on Blair's bare shoulder, the other cupped loosely around the back of his head.

"So good, Blair...so good..."

My hips started to move of their own accord, pumping slightly. Blair stilled the movement of his head, encouraging me to take the lead. I slowly fucked his mouth, taking care not to go too deep. His mouth kept up the sucking motion while one hand moved to my hip. I felt a finger from his other hand snake between my ass cheeks, searching for my opening.

"Touch me, Blair...please..." I panted.

My hips continued pumping and I desperately wished I could spread my legs wider. But my sweatpants and boxers were caught around my ankles, preventing any further movement. I opened my eyes and looked down, watching in erotic fascination as my cock slid in and out of Blair's mouth, just as his finger found my opening and pushed against it.

"Yes!" I cried out, my balls tightening, my cock swelling. "I'm gonna come, Blair...I'm gonna -- yesss!"

My orgasm ripped through me, releasing my seed in pulsing streams down Blair's throat. He drank greedily, taking everything I had until my legs could no longer support me and I sank to my knees in front of him. He rested his hands on my hips and smiled at me with such tenderness that I felt tears prick the backs of my eyes.

"Make love to me, Jim," he whispered.

"Dear god, Blair..."

I crushed him to me, my lips on his with bruising intensity. He wrapped his arms around my neck, parting his lips eagerly. I tasted myself on his tongue and it was unbelievably erotic. Our tongues dueled for a few moments more before I pulled away to run hot kisses down his neck to his shoulder. I nipped at him, wanting to mark him, to make him mine. He must have sensed my intention, for he breathed, "Do it. I want to know I'm yours."

I moaned deep in my throat at his words before sucking hard on the flesh where shoulder meets neck. When I pulled back the area was red and slightly swollen.

"Yours," he declared, before claiming my mouth for another mind-blowing kiss.

When our bodies demanded oxygen, we broke apart and stood. I kicked away my sweatpants before taking his hand and turning him towards the bed.

"Let me love you, Blair."

I pulled back the blankets and he smiled as he lay down. I joined him on the bed, my body half covering his. I turned my tactile sense up and let my fingers explore every part of his body, from his soft curls to his toes.

"You're perfect," I breathed.

Blair had closed his eyes and was making little needy noises as my hands roamed over his body. When I let my mouth follow where my fingers had been, his noises became words.

"Please, Jim...more..."

My cock hardened again at his pleading. I placed kisses on his face, neck and shoulders, stopping to lap at his nipples. He moaned and arched up slightly, one hand trying to hold my head in place as I sucked on the one with the nipple ring.

"Yeah, Jim...like that...oohh..."

As I continued lavishing attention on his nipple, his hips started to move, his erection sliding against my side. I reached down and gently squeezed his balls, returning the favor.


He pressed my head harder to his nipple, his hips bucking upward more frantically. My cock swelled in response, fully erect once more. I released Blair's nipple, much to his dismay, and pushed my body down- wards, my mouth now even with his cock. The tip was weeping and I licked off the fluid, the taste of Blair exploding across my tongue. His hips jerked up and he cried out.

"Yes! Again, Jim..."

I gladly obliged, sucking on his cock as he did mine. After a few moments, when his hips started pumping, I pulled away and rolled to my side, snagging a small tube from the drawer of my nightstand. I quickly squirted a small amount of lubricant onto my fingers and tossed the tube to the floor. I coated his cock with it, then rolled him on top of me.

We both gasped as our cocks touched for the first time. I kissed him deeply then said, "Go on, Blair. Let me feel you moving against me."

"Oh, Jim...oh, man..."

Then he was doing just that, straddling my hips, hands on either side of my head, my hands grasping his hips and pressing him downward. He closed his eyes and slid his cock against mine, our balls touching, the lubricant making it easy and oh so erotic. His hips pumped faster, harder, and I answered each of his downward thrusts with an upwards one of my own. Within minutes we were panting, bucking against each other helplessly, racing towards our climaxes.

"Come for me, Blair. Oh god, come for me..." I gasped. "Let me hear you, see you, feel you..."

One of my fingers slid downward and found his opening, pressing against it.

"Jim!" he cried out. "I love you...oh, god, Jim...I love you."

Then he was coming, a sob escaping him as his warm seed coated our stomachs. I could feel his cock pulsing against mine, feel my erection slide through his essence...and I was lost. I gripped his hips tightly and thrust upwards one last time, crying out his name as I came, my seed mingling with his.

Blair's arms gave out on him and he collapsed onto my chest. I wrapped one arm around his waist while my other hand held his head. We lay like that for long minutes, getting our breathing under control and simply reveling in the feel of one another.

"Blair. Roll over, baby," I said softly, the endearment coming naturally. "Let me clean us up."

I chuckled as he grunted and pushed himself off of me and onto his back, eyes closed, half asleep. I reached down next to the bed and came up with Blair's boxers. I cleaned him off first, then myself, tossing the underwear back onto the floor.

I pulled the blankets up over us and gathered my lover to me spoon-style, amazed at how perfectly we fit together. He snuggled back against me with a contented sigh as I stroked his hair.

"I love you, Blair," I whispered as sleep claimed him.

And love him I did, with every fiber of my being. But in those few minutes before I followed him into slumber, my heart was filled with turmoil. We had taken that next step and there was no going back. And that changed everything. Everything except my desire to protect Blair. But everything was different now and I didn't know what to do.

How could I push him away when we had just given each other our hearts?


The sun was setting, bathing the loft in a soft glow of pink and orange when I woke to the glorious sensation of Blair's warm, naked body in my arms, proof that the past few hours hadn't been a dream. My new lover stirred, blinking sleepily up at me. He kissed me gently and I pulled him close.

"Blair...we need to talk."

He sat up with a sigh, running a hand through his curls, tucking his legs beneath him and laying a hand on my chest.

"Jim...I can't promise you I won't die. Because we all do eventually. Even if I went back to teaching full time I could get hit by a car and die tomorrow. That's the way life is. Unpredictable. And you said all you've done is take. You're so wrong, Jim. You've given me so much. You've given me a home. I've never had a permanent place before. First it was moving around with Naomi then it was moving around because of my career choice." He smiled. "Then you came into my life. Or rather, I barged into yours. I asked to stay for a week and it's been three years. I've never had a friendship like this. I've never wanted to stay in any one place like this. And I've never been in love like this. Not until I met you. That's why I just didn't up and leave as soon as this whole thing started. You know me, Jim. You know I have a real tendency to run from a problem than try and face it. But you... you're worth fighting for...worth staying for." He reached over and squeezed my hand. "Working with you has been the best experience of my life. You've opened my eyes to so many things. Things I could never learn in any book. You've made me a part of your world. Yeah, it can get dangerous, but if I didn't think I could handle it, I'd back away. You're my Sentinel and I'm your Guide. My place is with you. But it's more than just that. It's about friendship. And now...now it's even deeper than that." He paused. "Don't try and push me away, Jim. Because I won't go. Not after we've finally admitted what we feel for each other."

I swallowed hard. He was right and I knew it. This had been a stupid plan all along. I could no more push him out of my life as I could cut off my right arm. But that didn't mean my fears were unfounded. I led a dangerous life, with Blair right there alongside me. But I had to trust his judgment, safe in the knowledge that he would back away on his own if things got too rough. I'll always be his Blessed Protector, though. Now so more than ever.

"I'll always be worried about you, Blair."

"And I'll always be worried about you," he replied. "Jim, you're the one on the front lines, in a lot more danger than I am. I'm constantly afraid something's gonna happen to you. But being a cop is who you are and I'd never want you to change. And I wouldn't trade our partnership for anything. Especially for a life behind a desk with a textbook."

"My god, what did I ever do to deserve you?" I wondered outloud.

He laughed, blue eyes sparkling. "Fate, man. It's all about Fate."

"C'mere, imp," I laughed, pulling him into my arms. He came willingly and we kissed slowly, tenderly, deeply, for long minutes. When we broke apart, he remained lying on my chest, my fingers idly running up and down his back.

"Chief?" I asked softly.

"Hmm?" came the contented reply.

"Why didn't you ever tell me you loved me? Before all this happened?"

He slid off of me to lay on his side facing me, his head propped in his hand.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he countered.

I laughed. "Yeah, right. Mr 'Love 'em and Leave 'em' Sandburg, who changes women like I change socks is gonna be interested in a very male, worn out, forty- something cop."

He ran a finger down my chest.

"I dunno, I seem pretty interested."

I captured his hand with mine, placing them over my heart.

"Seriously, Chief. I fell in love with you the day I met you. And I wanted to tell you more than anything. But I'd never had a friend like you, and our friendship became so important to me that I didn't want to risk losing you if you didn't feel the same towards me. And I could never be sure if you went both ways." I tapped him on the nose. "Guess my fears were for nothing, huh? What about you? What's your excuse?"

Laughing, he bent over to kiss my shoulder. "Oh, please! Look at you! Mr. Straight-as-an-Arrow, All American Male Cop was gonna be interested in a, what did you call me? 'Neo-hippie, witchdoctor punk'? I sure as hell didn't think so at the time. And when you let me move in I was terrified you'd figure out I was bi and throw me out on my ear. Little did I know you were, too. You hid it very well. So I never went near a guy. I kept telling myself it was because I needed to keep up an image, but the truth was I was already falling for you, and even the thought of dating another guy left me cold. But it wasn't until after we came back from Peru and I turned down the Borneo expedition that I finally admitted to myself that I'd fallen in love with you. I told you it was about friendship, but that was only half of it. Love was the other half. It was unrequited, or at least I thought so then, but I knew I could never leave you. And by that time a year had passed and I found myself in the same position as you -- scared I'd lose you if I told you how I felt." He paused, and a serious expression came over him. "And then all this happened. My world was crashing down around me. I was losing you and I didn't know why. I didn't know what to do, what I'd done to cause this, what I was going to do without you. I've never felt such intense heartache. Then as I'm walking out the door, thinking you hate me, you tell me you love me! I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. For two years I'd dreamed of you saying those words to me, then to hear them as you're pushing me out of your life...well, I kinda lost it. I was hurt and confused and..."

I rolled to my side and hugged him fiercely to me, feeling his arms go around my neck.

"Oh, god, Chief. I'm so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I thought I was doing the right thing, trying to protect you, keep you safe. I was such an ass. I deserved that punch and more. I hate myself for the pain I caused you, for what I put you through."

He gently pushed back from me to look me in the eye. And in those eyes I saw my future. A future full of love and happiness -- with this man at my side. It took my breath away. We'd already wasted so much time, scared to admit what we felt, keeping our love locked inside. It was time we started creating that future.

"It's all in the past now, Jim," Blair was saying to me. "It brought us together. That's what we need to remember. Don't waste your energy on hate. Put it to better use. Like loving," he finished with a smile.

I rolled him under me and joined our lips in a kiss that spoke of the wonder and excitement of our new love and promises for our future. Together.

"I love you, Blair. With all my heart."

"And I love you, Jim. With all of mine."

When love and hate collide... ...sometimes the most wonderfully unexpected things can happen.




Thanks for reading! Comments are always appreciated. :-)

Barbara Nice-Miller