“I got us a case,” Jim says casually over lunch.
He likes the dimple of Blair’s plump lower lip as his teeth press into them. If there wasn’t a table between them, he’d take advantage of the moment to kiss Blair.
“Really?” Blair asks.
“No, I thought I’d see how gullible you are.” Jim grins and picks up a cube of tomato that’s fallen from his sandwich up between two fingers. “Yes, really.”
“Well, don’t leave me wondering. Tell me about it.” Blair is eating some kind of vegetarian sandwich with cheese. Jim can smell eggplant and peppers.
“It’s not that big a deal, actually,” Jim says, which is the truth. “It’s a woman looking for the daughter she gave up for adoption seventeen years ago.”
“That’s kind of random. Why us?”
“Friend of a friend thing,” Jim explains. “Simon’s cousin’s college roommate or something, I don’t know. I didn’t want to get too deep into it when I was on the phone with her. She was pretty emotional.”
“Not surprising.” Blair being Blair, of course he’s understanding.
“She seemed realistic about the possible results, which is good. I told her this isn’t the kind of thing we usually do.” Also true -- Jim tends to lean toward more traditional cop jobs like security, and he’ll occasionally look over a case Simon’s having a hard time with, provide a second opinion, but they’ve never tried to find a child that had been given up for adoption before. “She’s sending me some basic info so I can start looking around.”
“Cool.” Blair keeps eating, but he’s quiet now, like he’s thinking about something.
Jim gives him a minute, then another. Blair always works it out in the end, no matter how much time it takes; Jim has learned to wait when he needs to.
“What about the kid?” Blair asks finally, glancing up at him.
“What about her?”
“What if, you know, she doesn’t want to be found?” Blair is worried. The cats seem to sense it because Nine, who always hangs out while they’re eating in the hopes Blair will slip him something, is suddenly joined by Jack and Ten, all three of them winding around the table legs and looking up at their humans with concern. “Hey, guys. It’s okay.”
“They’re just hoping for food,” Jim says, wanting Blair’s attention on him and not the cats. “There isn’t really a way we can figure that out until we find her, Chief.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s kind of my point. Once we talk to her, then she knows her birth mother is looking for her. Even if she doesn’t want to.”
“She’s seventeen,” Jim points out. “She has to have considered the possibility that her birth mother might come looking for her at some point.”
Blair nods. “But that doesn’t mean she wants to be found.”
“It doesn’t mean she doesn’t.” Jim figures there’s no point in stressing about what-ifs right now, not when they aren’t sure they’re going to be able to find her at all anyway. It’s a complicated situation, sure, but they don’t need to make it more complicated by imagining every possible reaction by a girl whose name they don’t even know. “You can’t let this kind of stuff bother you. Or, if it’s going to, maybe I should tell this woman we can’t take the job.” It’s not an idea that thrills him, since he already told her he’d do it, but he’ll do it if Blair needs him to.
“No, it’s fine. You’re right, I’m letting my thoughts, you know, run wild.” Blair seems to have given up on the rest of his sandwich in favor of pushing his chair back and letting Jack jump into his lap. “I don’t know.”
That’s the kind of statement that Jim knows well, the kind that Blair makes when what he really means is he does know, but it’s something that’s going to take five minutes to explain. “I’m listening.”
“It’s just -- what do you do, when someone wants to pay you for a job you have doubts about? You know, moral doubts.” Blair is so fucking earnest, bright eyes looking into Jim’s even as his hand strokes Jack’s ears. The cat is purring in a low, steady rumble. “Because that’s the kind of thing you need to think about, right? Before it happens?”
“I don’t know if it’s the kind of thing you can think about until it happens,” Jim says. “We’re not going to make a list of all the possible situations that might arise so that we can consult it. It’d take forever, for one thing.”
“Yeah, but we can talk in broader hypotheticals,” Blair says.
They talk in broader hypotheticals for the rest of the afternoon, through a trip to the grocery store and a stop at the library so Blair can drop off his woefully overdue books. Jim ends up spending an hour on one of the library computers out of a sense of self-preservation, since Blair’s ‘quick stop’ at the library always ends up actually taking forever and he might as well keep himself busy while he waits. He googles the new client’s name idly, not expecting to find much, but right away she comes up. He knows it’s her because her name isn’t very common and she’s the right age. When she had the baby -- she’d been in high school at the time -- she’d lived in Fairwood. What are the odds?
Jim finds Blair sitting cross-legged on the floor in the stacks, reading. “Hey,” he says. “You good here for a little while? I’m just gonna pop over to the town hall and check something out.”
“What?” Blair barely glances up at him. “Yeah, sure. Fine. I’m good.”
This isn’t the first time Jim has asked Beth at Vital Statistics for a favor. She’s in her fifties, any trace of gray carefully covered with auburn dye. Jim is sure she knows he and Blair are a couple, even though she’s never come right out and said so. “Well, hello there, handsome,” she says when he comes in.
“Hi, Beth. How’s it going?” He leans against the high counter top and grins at her.
“Oh, you know. Same old same old.” Beth gestures at the paperwork piled on the table behind her. “What about you?”
“We’re good. I was hoping I could ask you some questions about birth certificates.”
Beth flutters her eyelashes at him. “Why, Jim... if you wanted to know when my birthday is, you could just ask. It’s in March.”
“We’ll bring you a cake,” Jim promises. “Actually, I was wondering what happens when people give a baby up for adoption.”
For whatever reason -- maybe she thinks Jim is looking for his own birth parent or child -- Beth snaps briefly into professional mode. Jim likes that about her; she’s an insatiable flirt, but she also knows when to do her job. Not to mention when to bend the rules. “If it’s an open adoption, all the parties have access to the birth certificate. Otherwise, in closed adoptions, the birth certificate is sealed once the adoption is finalized.”
“What does that mean, exactly?” Jim asks.
“It’s complicated,” Beth says. “Usually it means that they make a new birth certificate with the adoptive parents’ names, and the original is filed away.”
“Okay. So what if a third party is trying to help someone find the baby they gave up for adoption a long time ago? And the birth mother doesn’t think it was a closed adoption, she just has no idea where to start? She was a kid herself when the baby was born, and her parents took care of all the legal details.”
“If it wasn’t a closed adoption, the records would just be filed and accessible. She could come in and as long as she had the proper identification, she could see them.” Tilting her head to the side, Beth asks, “Why wouldn’t she just do that?”
“I don’t know,” Jim admits. “Maybe she’s nervous.”
Beth hesitates. “Do you want me to check and make sure she’ll be able to access the records?”
“That would be great,” Jim says. Beth goes into a back room; he can hear her typing, and when she comes back she’s smiling.
“Tell her it’s fine -- she can come in any time. Of course, knowing the name of the adoptive family isn’t the same as being able to contact them, but...”
“I can help her track them down once we have something to go on,” Jim assures her. “Thanks. I really appreciate the help.”
“Any time,” Beth says. “Oh, and I thought this might come in handy, too.” She slips him a piece of paper and disappears into the back again with a wave and a jaunty, “Bye!”
Jim looks down at the paper in his hand. It’s an application for a marriage license.
Well. At least he was right that she knows he and Blair are more than just friends.
He folds the paper up into eighths and shoves it into his pocket, then goes to collect Blair, who predictably still has to be pried from the library. Blair isn’t done with the argument about whether or not the now-grown adoptive daughter wants to be contacted by her birth mother; he even checked out a book on the subject.
The discussion continues all the way home, through the evening and following morning, and into the next afternoon. Finally, with Jim certain that they’ve considered every detail, he drags Blair to the bedroom, takes off his clothes and distracts him from the subject that way.
When they’re done, sweat cooling on their bodies, Blair says, “Thanks.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to listen to you talk,” Jim tells him. “You just seemed kind of stuck.”
“Yeah, that’s one way to put it.” Blair sighs and rubs his fingertips along the trail of hair below Jim’s bellybutton in a way that would make Jim hard immediately if he hadn’t just gotten off. “I don’t know why. God, they’re going to keep doing that if we don’t let them in.” This is in reference to the cats, who are scratching on the outside of the closed door.
“Too bad for them.” Jim stretches and kisses Blair again, slowly and with feeling. “Hungry?”
“Nah, I’m good. It’s not long until dinner anyway.” Blair yawns. “Mm. We should take a nap.” The phone rings, loud and shrill, and he flinches in a way Jim doesn’t like. “Ugh, not again. I should take it off the hook.”
“People looking for donations?”
“No, some asshole who keeps hanging up,” Blair says. “It’s been going all morning.”
It rings again and Jim pats Blair’s hip. “I’ll get it.” He has to reach over Blair to grab the phone,
but when he says, “Hello?” there’s no reply, just the sound of breathing. It’s a man’s breathing, maybe a little faster than average but otherwise unremarkable, and then there’s the click as the line goes dead. Jim hangs up and sets the phone on his own bedside table. “Maybe it’s just kids screwing around,” he says, because Blair seems bent out of shape about it and there’s no point in giving him more ammunition by saying it’s an adult.
Blair leans closer and rests his mouth against Jim’s shoulder. “Well, their parents should get their asses in gear,” he grumbles.
It’s early November, a week past Halloween, and the late afternoon sun is starting to fade. The room is too cool for comfort without clothes. They both pull on sweatpants and T-shirts, then, somehow, despite the displeasure the cats are expressing on the other side of the door, they both drift off for a while. Jim wakes up a few minutes after six; Blair is still sleeping peacefully, and Jim considers his options. He could get up and start dinner. He could go email their newest client and let her know what he’s learned. Or... he could just stay here with Blair pressed warm against his side and pretend to sleep some more, which is what he eventually decides to do by default because he doesn’t get up.
The phone rings suddenly; Jim is startled, but Blair only stirs so he grabs it quickly and pushes the button, holds it to his ear but says nothing, waiting. On the other side of the line, whoever has been calling waits, too. Definitely a man, not speaking, just breathing. Jim waits, and after a few more seconds of silence -- or what would be silence for anyone else -- he focuses, concentrates.
The faint hum of electronics.
Clicks on the phone line, faint hisses and pops.
If he really listens, he can hear even more.
The man’s heartbeat. It’s quick, like he’s excited or maybe nervous.
The cats are on the stairs outside the bedroom door, creaking, distracting Jim from paying attention to the sounds on the other side of the phone. He has to focus harder to see if he can recognize anything else.
Footsteps, walking slowly, deliberately. The man is wearing shoes with some kind of rubber sole, Jim thinks, because there isn’t the smoother contact he’d expect with a more formal dress shoe. Wooden floor. Vaguely familiar, like an echo.
The creaks in the --
In the hallway, one of the cats hisses and the bedroom door flies open. There’s a man with a gun and a ski mask in the doorway, and a thousand thoughts go through Jim’s head in a split second, all the things he could have done differently that would have kept them from getting to this point. Even as he’s thinking them, he’s reacting -- up off the bed, away from Blair, who is waking but won’t be clear headed for half a minute, which is a lifetime in which anything can happen. Jim just wants the gun trained on himself. He rushes the guy -- there’s no conscious decision-making going on, and no fear, just pure instinct. Shoves the gun hand up toward the ceiling, flinching when the gun goes off, impossibly loud in the quiet house. The man’s other hand, which had been out of sight, whips out and makes contact with Jim’s side.
The world lights up with pain and fire, and then there’s only darkness.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Jim doesn’t want to wake up, but he can hear that Blair is scared, and as soon as that strikes him he can smell blood. Blair’s blood. “Chief? Are you hurt?”
“Yeah. I mean -- I’m okay, just don’t move. No, seriously.” Blair’s hand is on his chest, but Jim starts to move anyway before Blair’s words sink in, and Blair makes a high-pitched, desperate yelp.
“What?” Jim freezes at the sound of Blair’s pain, and feels something that’s been tugging around his wrist ease. “Okay, I’m not moving. Tell me what you know.”
“What I know is that my fucking wrist is broken,” Blair says between clenched teeth. Jim finally manages to open his eyes and the first thing he sees is blood drying at Blair’s hairline. It’s already painted a macabre modern-art design down along the side of his face beside his eye.
“I’m not moving,” Jim repeats. Once he concentrates, he can tell that the sensation at his wrist is a handcuff, and he can guess that the other cuff is around Blair’s wrist. “Where are we?”
“I don’t know.” Blair sounds awful. It’s killing Jim to have to stay still, but he’ll gladly die rather than cause Blair pain. “A room in a basement, maybe. I think that guy tazed you or something.”
“It was a stun gun,” Jim corrects him absently, because that’s not important now.
“Okay, fine. Whatever. And then he hit you. I tried to find out what he wanted, but he wouldn’t tell me. I knocked the tazer out of his hand. He hit me with the gun and then I woke up here.”
All Jim can see without moving is Blair’s face and the ceiling. His head hurts, but he can dial that down and ignore it. “We’re going to need to splint your wrist. Can you support it so I can sit up, do you think?”
“I’ll have to.” Blair shifts around, whimpering. Jim feels the metal cuff pull at his wrist but doesn’t move until Blair says, “Okay, yeah. Sit up, just -- be careful.”
The first thing Jim sees when he sits up is how fucking pale Blair is, but even as he’s absorbing this he’s checking out their surroundings. They’re in a room with one door; the walls are made out of fieldstone, the floor concrete, and there’s one light bulb hanging from the ceiling. It’s a basement, complete with water heater and furnace and some kind of workbench, but otherwise it seems to have been cleared out. Thank God they’re dressed. This floor is hard enough to lie on without it sapping the heat from their bare skin.
“Any idea what time it is?” There’s no window, but Jim has no idea how long he was unconscious.
“No.” It was a stupid question, since Blair doesn’t own a watch. “Jim -- what the hell’s going on?”
“I wish I knew,” Jim says gently. It’s his right wrist that’s handcuffed to Blair’s left. “You look terrible. There’s blood all over you.” He reaches up with his left hand and touches Blair’s face.
“Yeah, well, I don’t feel so great, either.” Blair’s voice is trembling; he closes his eyes and leans into Jim’s touch.
“Shh. It’s okay. I’m going to get us out of here.” Trying not to move and jostle Blair’s wrist, Jim looks around for something they can use for a splint, but there’s nothing.
No, wait. The workbench has a drawer.
“Move with me,” Jim says, and carefully they scuttle along the floor until Jim can reach the drawer. It’d be too much to hope there were tools or anything really useful, but there’s a length of rope and an old magazine. They’re dusty but better than nothing, and somehow he manages to use them to splint Blair’s wrist in a way that will provide it at least a little support. Blair whimpers through it but Jim forces himself to do the job -- putting it off won’t make it any easier.
“Fuck,” Blair says under his breath, rocking back and forth, his right hand under his splinted wrist. “Fuck, fuck me.”
“At a time like this?” Jim quips, and Blair offers him a watery smile.
“I love you, man, but we’ve got to do something about your sense of humor.” Blair leans forward and rests his head against Jim’s chest. “Ow.”
“How’s the head?”
“Awful. But I’m not seeing double, so that’s something. I don’t suppose you’ve got any ibuprofen on you.” Blair sighs. Jim brings his free hand up and rests it on the back of Blair’s neck, rubbing gently. “What about you? You okay?”
“I’m fine.” He’s still sore as hell from being stunned and maybe concussed and then presumably dragged around -- could one guy have done that? He’s not sure -- but there’s no point in admitting it to Blair. It’s not important. “I hate to say this --”
“I know,” Blair interrupts him without moving. “You want to check the door. Just give me a minute, okay? One minute. Then I’ll get up and do whatever you want.”
“Okay,” Jim says. He’s torn, because he knows their time alone could be limited, but if Blair needs a minute, he can have it. Under the circumstances, he’s entitled to more.
Still, it’s less than thirty seconds before Blair inhales determinedly and lifts his head. “Right. I’m good. Let’s do this.”
They search the room and examine the door thoroughly. Jim doesn’t let himself be distracted by the sound of Blair’s teeth grinding together, but it’s hard. Every little gasp is painful, and while he’s disappointed that they don’t find anything useful, at least there’s relief when it’s over and he can get Blair sitting against the wall.
“Maybe you can break these,” Blair says, looking at the handcuffs. They’re standard police issue.
“I have hyperactive senses, not super strength,” Jim tells him. “I could pick them if I wasn’t locked into them. Need two hands. And something to pick them with.”
“Are they yours?” Blair asks.
Jim shakes his head. “Nope.” He does have a pair tucked into the back of a drawer at home, but this isn’t them. Whoever brought the two of them here was prepared. “Here, try to get comfortable. I want to listen for a while.”
It takes a lot out of him to focus the way he wants to. He can’t hear much beyond normal house sounds -- there’s definitely a refrigerator running on the floor above them -- but little else. No sounds of traffic nearby, no sounds of human movement. Birds. Owls, he thinks, calling out to each other through the night sky and occasionally catching something they’re hunting. The sounds are kind of comforting in a weird way...
“Please don’t zone on me now,” Blair says, and Jim wrenches his attention back to the basement.
“You were,” Blair corrects him. “Don’t leave me alone here, okay? I don’t think I could take it.” He sounds so miserable that Jim’s heart twists in his chest in a way that has nothing to do with having been stunned.
“I won’t. Don’t worry -- I’m going to get us out of here.” Jim wastes some minutes wishing there were windows to break.
Okay, think, Ellison.
He’d give anything to be able to break the damned handcuffs. Without being tied to an injured Blair, there’s so much more he’d be able to do -- try to break down the door, take apart the water heater or furnace and at least have some kind of weapon in hand when the guy comes back.
“Did you get a look at him?” he asks Blair.
“No. I mean, not under the ski mask.” Blair breathes shakily. “What about you?”
“I was out a lot quicker than you were,” Jim reminds him, his voice sharper than he intends.
“Yeah, but maybe you can remember something. Some detail. Not that I want to risk you zoning again --”
“ -- right, sure, fine, if you say so. Answer me this: If you knew who this guy was, would that help you figure out how to get us out of here?”
It’s a fair question, even though there’s no way to know the answer to it. “I don’t know,” he says truthfully. “Maybe.”
“Then I think you’ve got to try.” Blair smells like dried blood and sweat and fear. “There’s got to be something, some clue. I’ve read the books, you know? All those articles. If the person who goes after you takes you somewhere else, instead of mugging you or -- whatever -- it means he’s gonna kill you. Or I guess torture you first, then kill you...”
“Stop,” Jim says. Blair wants him to remember, he’ll remember, but there’s no way he can sit here listening to Blair talk about the possibility of torture and death. “Talk me through it?”
Blair’s voice, familiar and soothing, guides Jim through a careful recreation of what had happened. But he’s too caught up in the detailed memory of listening to two threads at once, like he’s dreaming and awake at the same time, to make any sense of what else was happening in those same moments. He’s not zoning -- for real, this time -- because he can’t risk it, and maybe that’s what’s keeping him from being able to see any of the important details. Or maybe there just aren’t any to see.
“Forget it,” he says finally. “There’s nothing.”
“Are you sure? What if --”
Jim shakes his head. “Let it go, Chief. We’ve got to focus on something else, like how the hell we’re going to get out of here.” His gaze drifts over to the door, and his vision zooms in on something he didn’t notice before. He hates himself for not seeing it sooner. “Hang on -- give me a second.”
Once he knows it’s there, it’s easy to read the words scratched lightly into the surface of the wooden door. Regular eyes might not be able to see it, but Sentinel ones sure as hell can.
“There’s a message,” he says. “On the door.”
Blair shifts and chokes back a whimper as the handcuff tugs at his wrist. “I can’t see it. What’s it say?”
“Sorry about this,” Jim reads out loud. “Needed a little time. Sure you can get out of here, but by the time you do I’ll have everything taken care of. It’s signed G.L.”
”Great -- he can’t even use his full name? That’s what’s wrong with people these days, Jim. Lazy.” Blair is trying for humor. Jim loves him for it.
“We’ve got to get out of here.”
“Tell me something I don’t know. Hey, what about those pipes?” Blair gestures at the furnace, which has definitely seen better days; it might be possible to bust it apart without tools.
“Maybe. Can you get up again?”
Blair nods. “If I have to.”
Together, they move over to the furnace so Jim can check it out. It’s more solid than he’d hoped, but the good news is he’s pretty sure the sturdier pipes are the ones that carry steam to the rest of the house and not natural gas to the furnace itself. It’s hard to say whether the furnace is actually working -- it’s cold to the touch, so it hasn’t kicked on any time recently -- but that doesn’t mean it’s not still hooked up, and flooding the basement with gas doesn’t sound like fun to Jim. That thought makes him concentrate on his senses. He can smell gas, but it’s faint, and he’s not sure if it’s just a lingering whiff in pipes that are otherwise empty.
“Been a long time since something like this happened,” he says as he gives an experimental tug at one of the heavier pipes. It moves a little, but not enough.
“What, me getting kidnapped?” Blair offers him a forced smile. “At least you’re with me this time.”
“Yeah. I’ll bet you’d be bored as hell without my scintillating conversation.” Jim jiggles a different pipe. It might move more than the other one, but it’s higher up and it’s going to be harder to kick.
Blair winces and shifts his grip on Jim’s arm; he’s holding it firmly against his splinted wrist with his free hand, trying to keep things from moving too much. Which is impossible, though Jim appreciates the need to make the effort. “Man, I wish you weren’t here,” he says fervently.
“What?” Jim stops and looks at Blair. His scalp wound has stopped bleeding, but he’s still a fucking mess and pale as hell under the gory tracks of dried blood.
“If you weren’t here, I’d know you were, you know, out there.” Blair gives the faintest shrug. “Looking for me.”
“I’d be out of my mind,” Jim tells him. “The thought of you being missing, not knowing where you are -- makes me crazy. You know I -- shh.” He thinks he hears something, makes an impatient gesture for Blair to be quiet so he can listen.
Blair waits, eyes wide, unable to hear what Jim can but trusting that there’s something worth being silent for.
There isn’t. An animal, maybe, but it might be miles away. “Never mind.” Jim looks at Blair. “I love you, you know?”
“Yeah,” Blair says, smiling faintly. “I know.”
“Hang on,” Jim says. And the same way Blair trusts him to listen for something beyond normal human hearing, Jim trusts Blair to understand and get through this.
He shifts his weight and kicks the lower of the two pipes with all his strength, focused on sending his energy to that one point, the hopefully-sturdy ball of his foot where it makes contact with the metal, and on keeping his upper body as still as possible while doing it so he minimizes Blair’s pain. Minimizing it’s the best he can hope for.
Blair cries out and clutches at him. The pipe is loose, but not loose enough. Jim waits, giving Blair time to recover and prepare for the next attempt.
He kicks again, wrenching the pipe loose. It clatters to the floor. Jim lets it, turning his attention to Blair just in time to steady him as he wavers on his feet.
“I’m sorry,” Jim says. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
“No.” Blair’s fingers dig into Jim’s forearm. “When we find this guy, I’m gonna kick him in the balls so hard he’ll be sterile for the rest of his life.”
“Only if I don’t get to him first,” Jim says grimly. “Okay, I’m gonna bend down.”
“No, don’t move, don’t -- you are such an asshole, you know that?” Blair pants for breath as Jim straightens up from grabbing the pipe. “I hate you so fucking much right now.”
“I know. I don’t blame you.” Jim doesn’t; he’s too busy focusing on how he’s going to bust the handle off the door without making it impossible to open. He’s pretty sure the house is empty -- ninety-eight percent, at least -- but if he’s wrong, he needs to make sure he’s between whoever’s upstairs and Blair every second.
He doesn’t have any reason to think the guy won’t have that gun on him again.
Blair is gripping Jim’s shirt sleeve like it’s the only thing keeping him upright. “Let’s get you sitting down,” Jim says.
“This is going to suck no matter what,” Blair agrees. “At least when I pass out there’ll be a shorter distance for me to fall.”
“I’m not going to let you fall,” Jim says. “Come on, now. Easy. Take it slow.”
Somehow, they get Blair sitting down against the wall. There’s no way Jim is going to be able to break the door handle off without jostling Blair, but he’s going to do his best to minimize how much he moves his right hand.
“I need you to help me,” he says. They’re words he doesn’t have a lot of practice saying, actually. “I want to try to isolate half my body so I can do this without hurting you. Think you can talk me through it?” He doesn’t know for sure that he can’t do it on his own, but he thinks it’ll be better for Blair if he can get his mind off the pain he’s in.
“I don’t know.” Blair sounds tired, but he always comes through for Jim, and this time won’t be any different. “Yeah. Of course. Let’s start with dialing down the stuff you don’t need -- taste, smell.”
By the time Jim thinks they’ve done the best they can, Blair is less tense, though his eyes are kind of glassy in a way that’s concerning. Jim can’t do anything but get them out of there as quickly as possible, so he steels himself and does his best to swing the pipe using only his left arm, praying that his right will stay still.
It takes a lot longer than he hoped, but in the end the doorknob gives up the ghost, bends and collapses enough that Jim can wriggle it free and get the door open.
“Thank God,” Blair says.
“Keep it down,” Jim whispers. “He could still be in the house.”
“If he is, I’m pretty sure he heard you breaking off the doorknob with a steel pipe,” Blair says snarkily.
Jim is glad he still has the energy to be sarcastic, at least. “It’s like a game of Clue.” He keeps his voice low on principle even though he’s pretty sure Blair is right. “Ellison, in the basement, with the steel pipe.”
“You win.” Blair looks at him. “You gonna help me up, big guy?”
Jim keeps the pipe; it’s always good to have a weapon other than just your fists. He tucks it under his arm and they make their way out of the furnace room. The basement is bigger than just the one room, but not by much, and there are rickety stairs leading up. Jim wonders how the hell someone dragged them down the staircase without falling through, but the steps are sturdier than they look apparently. When they get up to the first floor, careful because it’s dark -- the door at the top of the stairs isn’t even shut -- there’s nothing but the hum of the refrigerator.
“You hear anyone?” Blair asks, in a whisper himself this time.
“Not yet.” They creep through the house. Jim’s got his hearing dialed all the way up, which is a double edged sword; he might hear something subtle, but anything at normal volume’s going to sound like a gunshot. Luckily, though, there’s nothing.
In the kitchen, the refrigerator is empty, the single bulb that lights up when the door is opened startlingly bright. Jim leaves the door ajar so Blair can see. Water comes out of the faucet when Jim turns the handle, but it sputters and smells like rust. There isn’t much in the cabinets -- some abandoned dishware, a box of cereal that has holes chewed into it, presumably by mice. It’s a bigger mystery why the power’s still on, but the thick coat of dust on everything probably means it was forgotten about, just like the rest of the place.
Blair presses against him. “Any idea where we are?”
Jim focuses on his senses, listens. “Middle of nowhere, I’d guess. Let’s see if we can find a flashlight or something. I didn’t see any lamps.”
There’s a flashlight in a junk drawer but it doesn’t turn on. Dead batteries. There’s a phone -- an old rotary dial one -- but the wire’s been cut. The guy who brought them out here thought ahead, Jim’s got to give him that.
“How do you feel about taking a walk?” he asks, and Blair nods.
“If it means getting out of here, I’ll walk a marathon.”
Jim hopes it won’t be that far, especially since they’re both barefoot and he can feel the bruising on his sole from kicking the pipe free. There are tire prints on the dirt driveway, not that he can identify them in any more detail than that. Well, it was a sturdy vehicle, since it looks like it has four wheel drive, but that on its own won’t be enough to help anyone identify it. The air is cool but not unpleasantly so, and once they’ve walked a quarter mile they won’t feel it.
“How’s your wrist?” Jim asks once the cabin -- calling it a house would be overly generous -- is out of sight.
“Don’t ask,” Blair says. “You weren’t kidding about the middle of nowhere.”
“Yeah. There aren’t even any street lights.” Jim dials up his vision and can make out another cabin up ahead on the left, set far back from the dirt road they’re walking on. There aren’t any lights on there, either. It isn’t good news, but it does help him narrow down their location, and once he suspects, he can concentrate and catch a faint hint of lake weed and mold. “I think we’re near Spring Lake. Not the new development, the part on the west side of the lake.”
“That makes sense. Summer places, most of them in disrepair.” Blair is walking steadily; Jim tries to match his stride and speed.
He waits for Blair to say more, but Blair is quiet. For all the times Jim has wished Blair would stop talking, and even ordered him to shut up, he doesn’t like that Blair is quiet now. “You okay?”
If there was a way for Jim to heft Blair over his shoulder and carry him with their wrists handcuffed together, he’d do it. “You want to stop for a minute?”
“No.” They go a few more steps, then Blair asks, “You think any of the houses in the new development aren’t already closed up for the fall?”
“It’s hunting season,” Jim says. “Maybe.” The truth is, he’s not sure, but it’s the middle of the night, Blair’s hurt, and they’re walking along a dirt road in bare feet -- if a little hope can bolster Blair’s mood, Jim will play the guy who sees the glass half full.
Blair might be slowing down. “I don’t get it. Why bring us out here?”
Jim doesn’t shrug, but he thinks about shrugging. “I don’t know. I think it’s some kind of diversion. He thought we knew something that was gonna get him into trouble, and he wanted time to get rid of the evidence. Or something.”
“We don’t know anything,” Blair protests. “Well, other than the fact that this place is deserted at this time of year.” They’re passing another cabin -- this one’s windows are actually boarded over with plywood, the weeds around it grown up as high as the windowsills.
“That’s why out here.” Jim feels like he shouldn’t have to be explaining this to Blair, who’s sharp as a tack under normal circumstances, and wonders how much he should be worrying about concussion. Not that worrying about it will change anything. “At least we know we’re not fifty miles from civilization.”
“Yeah, only forty nine.” Blair’s pace is definitely slowing. “What if the evidence is, like, a body?”
“Then he could have gotten rid of it in less time than it took him to break into our house and abduct us,” Jim says.
“Maybe it’s a hundred bodies,” Blair says mournfully.
“If it was, two more would have been a drop in the bucket.” Jim isn’t sure they should be talking about dead bodies, but somehow they are. Conversations with Blair are often like this -- starting out pointed in the direction of one topic only to veer drastically toward a different one.
Blair stops walking abruptly. “I just want to register my disapproval of the way tonight has turned out,” he says, leaning down a little and bracing his good arm on his knee.
“Noted,” Jim says. “Do you need to take a break?”
“Pretty sure that’s what we’re doing.”
“We could find somewhere to sit down.” Jim glances around, but Blair shakes his head, then winces.
“No. Let’s keep going.”
It could be miles -- they could be walking all night. Jim hates being in this position, knowing that Blair needs two things at odds with each other and not being able to do anything about it. He’d rather take a bullet than be helpless like this. Not that he’d dream of suggesting as much to Blair, who would most definitely not want to hear it. “Okay. But if you need to stop, tell me.”
They continue on for another ten minutes before Blair says, “What if he comes back?”
“If he’d wanted to kill us, he would have,” Jim says. “He’s not coming back. Whatever it is he’s looking to do, he wants us out of the way for it -- he’s focused on that, not us.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right. I’m always right.” Strangely, even though this is the time Jim should find sounding light-hearted most difficult, it’s easy. Maybe because they need it more. “This time tomorrow we’re gonna be back home, curled up on the couch...”
“Watching a River Monsters marathon and eating ice cream.” Blair sounds wistful, and Jim doesn’t blame him. The dirt road is cold under his bare feet. His arm is starting to ache from making it mirror Blair’s movements, but he’ll do it forever if he has to. He can dial down the discomfort without too much effort.
He finds himself wondering how far he could take that. Could he dial down a broken leg and keep walking on it? It could be an important skill to develop, in case they ever end up in a situation like this again, which considering everything they’ve been through in their lives together is an unfortunate likelihood. “We should have a list,” he says, knowing it’s going to be a non-sequitur and okay with that.
“A list of what?” Blair knows him and is used to his sometimes-questionable conversational skills.
“Stuff we should experiment with. My senses. You know, turning stuff all the way down.”
“Yeah? I did think that was pretty cool, what you did with isolating one part of your body.” Blair sounds interested, which is good. Thinking about something other than walking down this road in the middle of the night is good. “We could probably take that a lot further, see what you can do.”
“I wonder how far the touch thing could go,” Jim agrees. “Could it work like anesthesia? Not general -- I’m not suggesting we find out if I could have major surgery or anything -- but local.”
“Thinking about what could go wrong makes my skin crawl,” Blair says. “But in the long run it might come in handy, especially considering how you can react to medication.” He stumbles without warning and Jim doesn’t steady him in time. “Damn it, fuck, oh fuck that hurts, damn it all to fucking hell.”
“Easy,” Jim says helplessly. “I’ve got you.”
Blair turns into him and leans against his chest. “This sucks so much,” he whimpers. “I hate this.”
“I know. Me, too.” At this point Jim could write a fucking sonnet about how much he hates this. He wishes Blair hadn’t been home when that guy broke into the house, wishes he’d just been kidnapped on his own and was handcuffed to that pipe in the basement of that cabin, hungry and wondering what the hell he’s going to do next.
Blair clings to him, breathing unsteady.
Jim can smell the hot salt of tears. He kisses Blair’s hair and murmurs, “Shh. It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay. I’m right here.”
“Hate this,” Blair says again, sniffling.
“I know.” Jim can’t come up with anything more original to say at this point. “Hey... remember when you told me it wasn’t just us? That there was something more, something... bigger? Between us?”
“If this is a lead-in to a conversation about your monstrous dick, you have shitty timing,” Blair grumbles, and Jim laughs, startled and delighted by Blair as he so often is.
“You’re amazing, do you know that?” He uses his left hand to awkwardly lift Blair’s face, then kisses him on the mouth.
Blair looks up at him, exhausted but beautiful even with dried blood on his skin and eyes rimmed with red. “Sorry. What were you saying?”
“I was repeating something you said.”
“Right. About the Sentinel/Guide stuff. Too bad we’ve never been able to get that healing thing to work again, huh?” It isn’t for lack of trying -- they’ve experimented with a dozen injuries, trying to recreate that inexplicable healing tingle that repaired Jim’s spinal cord, without success.
“‘Too bad’ might be the understatement of the decade, Chief,” Jim says. “But I was thinking... if there really is something to your theory, then we’re gonna get out of this. There’s a bigger reason for what happens. We just need to find it.”
“You,” Blair says shakily, “are crazy. Do you know that? Thank God you’re on my side.”
“I am,” Jim tells him. “I’m always on your side. And right now I’m pretty sure your side needs to be at the hospital, so let’s keep going. If you can.”
“Anything for you,” Blair says.
Jim understands. He feels the same way.
They keep walking for another twenty minutes, passing at least six more cabins that are boarded up or otherwise abandoned, either for the winter or permanently. Jim starts to see what he thinks is a light in the distance, but he doesn’t say anything to Blair, not wanting to get his hopes up until they know for sure. Eventually even Blair starts to see it.
“Is that --”
“Yeah,” Jim says. “Now just hope it’s because someone’s actually home.” He doesn’t add that if the place is furnished he’ll be okay with breaking in to look for a phone.
As they get closer, they can see that there’s a car in the driveway, which is paved with sharp stones. They walk beside it across the front lawn and up onto the porch. He bangs on the door loudly for thirty seconds, pauses, then repeats it.
When he concentrates, he can hear someone stirring, then coming toward them. A man looks out through the glass at them, expression apprehensive.
“We need help,” Jim says loudly enough to be heard through the door.
It opens a moment later. Jim can see the man take in how they look -- the dried blood on Blair’s face, the way their wrists are cuffed together, Blair’s crudely splinted wrist. “What’s going on?”
“I need you to call 9-1-1.” Jim lets the urgency he’s feeling into his voice. “You don’t have to let us in --” He can hear someone else inside the cabin, and he wouldn’t blame this guy for wanting to protect his family. “But we need the police.”
“And an ambulance,” the man says, seeming to make up his mind. “Honey? There’re some guys here who are hurt. Call 9-1-1 and tell them we need the police and an ambulance.”
“Was it a car accident?” a woman’s voice asks.
“Not exactly,” Jim says. “Long story.” Blair is trembling suddenly, the adrenaline that’s been keeping him going all this time finally drained dry. “Chief, sit.” There’s a sturdy plastic chair three feet away. Jim plays guide for once and eases him down onto it, kneeling in front of him because of the handcuffs.
The woman, brown hair tousled from sleep, wearing flannel pajamas, pushes the phone into her husband’s hand and comes outside with a blanket. “He’s in shock. Here, put this around him. No, wait, I’ll do it.” She drapes the blanket around Blair’s shoulders as her husband talks into the phone, then drags another chair next to the one Blair’s sitting in. “You sit here; I’ll get you some water.”
Jim can’t hold Blair’s hand the way he wants to, so he settles for sitting with his pinky finger against Blair’s while they wait. In the distance, birds are starting to make little early morning chirps as the sun is rising, and if he listens real hard, Jim can hear the ambulance as it begins to make its way to them.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Blair hates hospitals, but knows he needs an X-ray and a CT scan, and he tolerates all of it with only minor complaints. He stiff upper lips his way through having his wrist set, then finally, finally the pain meds he’s been given kick in and the stress lines around his mouth relax. That’s when Jim can relax, too; until then, he’s holding it together by distracting himself, relating everything he can remember to Simon, who promises he’s going to get to the bottom of what happened. As always, it takes forever to get through all the paperwork at the hospital even once they’ve said they’ll release Blair rather than keeping him for observation.
By the time Simon turns up -- again -- to give them a ride home, not only has the scene of the crime been thoroughly investigated, there’s a lead. Jim steps out into the hall to hear about it.
“They pulled some fresh prints off your front door that aren’t yours or Sandburg’s,” Simon reports. “None from the rest of the house, but there were others from out at the cabin. They belong to a guy with an arrest record a mile long. He was in prison for a few years. Just got out recently. Name’s Grant Lincoln.”
Jim frowns. “Two presidents in one. What was he -- wait a minute.” Now that he thinks about, the name’s familiar. Lincoln. G. L.? “I’ve been working on that case for your cousin’s roommate or whatever, looking for the daughter she gave up for adoption. Turns out the birth records aren’t closed, so she can contact the girl... He said he needed time to deal with something. Could he think the kid is his and he doesn’t want the birth mom to find her? Or maybe he thinks some relative of his adopted the kid and he’s trying to protect her?” There are a dozen possibilities.
“Could be.” Simon pats Jim’s shoulder. “Don’t worry -- we’ll find him one way or another. And until we do, I’m assigning a couple of guys to keep an eye on your house. Just until we can put this to rest.”
“Thanks,” Jim says.
“No problem. Now let’s get the two of you out of here. I’m kind of surprised Sandburg hasn’t made a run for it already.”
Blair is so relieved to get home that he doesn’t even comment on the patrol car in the driveway. Everything looks normal -- Jim isn’t sure if it’s because Lincoln didn’t make a mess or because Simon had them tidy things up. The cats seem glad to see them but not like they’re stressed in the aftermath, and a series of quick examinations doesn’t reveal any injuries.
“They’re fine,” Jim assures Blair.
“They’d better be. Not like we need another reason to hate that guy.”
“Simon said they’ll find him. He’s got a record as long as your arm -- he probably won’t even get bail once he’s caught, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Is that why there are cops outside?” Blair gives him a tired smile and waves away his concern. “No, it’s cool. I’m good.”
“Yeah?” Jim wonders what their bedroom looks like. “You want something to eat?”
“After smelling all that hospital food? No way.” The cats are checking out Blair’s cast suspiciously. “I was thinking I might lie down for a while.”
“Sure.” He can’t think of a reasonable excuse to check the state of the bedroom before Blair can see it, so he doesn’t try; they go upstairs together and the room looks pretty much as they left it. Jim doesn’t dial up his sight or hearing, not ready to have to deal with any details, but after a few seconds Blair shakes his head.
“No. Maybe downstairs.” Blair sounds shaky, and Jim can’t blame him. The thought of lying down in their bedroom less than 24 hours after a man broke into their house and dragged them from it is a little unsettling.
“Yeah, okay. You can lie down on the couch. You want a pillow?” Jim doesn’t wait for an answer, just goes and grabs one off the bed before following Blair back downstairs.
“Sit with me, okay?” Blair leans against Jim in a position that can’t be nearly as comfortable as lying down on a pillow is, but Jim understands the need. Touching Blair makes him feel better. “Just for a while. Until I go to sleep. Then you can get up and do whatever.”
Instead, Jim dozes with Blair. He wouldn’t be able to if there weren’t a patrol car in the driveway, but knowing it’s there is enough for him. Eventually, when Blair shifts to lean in the other direction, he does get up and check the freezer to see what they have squirreled away for nights like this, when neither of them has the energy to cook. He pulls a carefully wrapped and labeled pan of lasagna out onto the countertop to thaw for half an hour. He’s walking past the phone when the faint vibration of it warns him it’s going to ring, and he picks it up quickly before it can disturb Blair’s sleep.
“Jim, it’s Simon. We got Lincoln -- he’s in custody and there won’t be a bail hearing until the end of the week.”
“That’s great.” Jim leans against the wall, a tension he hadn’t realized he was still carrying leaving him weak-kneed with relief. “He said anything?”
“About why he did it? No, not yet. He’s keeping pretty tight-lipped so far.”
Jim isn’t surprised. “Yeah.”
“Okay. Sleeping.” And probably getting a crick in his neck if Jim knows him at all. Later Jim will convince him to move to the bedroom for the night -- knowing that Lincoln is in custody will be enough of a push. “Thanks for the good news, Simon.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll touch base with you tomorrow, let you know how things are going.”
They hang up. It’s hard for Jim to care too much about why Lincoln kidnapped them -- he’s pretty sure that given the guy’s history and the prints they’ve got on him from their house, not to mention the ones that were lifted from the cabin out near Spring Lake, in the end everything’s going to turn out like it should.
Somehow, he’s managed to develop faith in that.
“Was that Simon?” Blair asks from the couch, and Jim goes to join him.
“They caught the guy.”
“Good.” For once, Blair doesn’t ask more questions, just yawns and pats Jim’s knee with his uninjured hand. “I forgot this couch is so uncomfortable.”
“Only when you fall asleep on it half sitting up,” Jim says.
“I’m gonna go upstairs. Wake me up if you need me for anything.” Blair yawns again and shuffles off like everything’s right with the world. Jim knows that’s a temporary attitude -- it’ll all hit them again later -- but for now he’s glad of it.
“I’ll wake you up when it’s time for dinner,” he says, and goes to put the lasagna in the oven.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
“Right.” Jim’s voice is ragged. “Just -- do this forever.”
“Forever,” Blair agrees. “God. God.”
Jim tries to think of anything but the hot clench of Blair’s ass around his cock, the slick stroke of flesh on flesh, but they’ve been at this for a good ten minutes and he’s starting to lose it. He’s right on the edge of release, staving it off like clinging to the side of a cliff by his fingernails. He concentrates on the smell of Blair, the lingering spice of morning tea, whiff of the chemical off-gassing from the fiberglass cast, tang of pre-come oh fuck. That does it; Jim groans as the pleasure overtakes him, makes him grind himself deeper into Blair’s tight hole as it rushes out of him. Five, six pulses, then a fainter seventh.
“I can’t,” Blair whispers brokenly. “Jim. I can’t.” The back of his neck looks pale and vulnerable, and as quick as that Jim’s done, it’s forgotten.
He eases out of Blair and turns him around, holds him, pushes his hair back away from his face. “Hey,” he says. “Hey, come on. Talk to me.”
“I’m sorry.” Blair presses closer to him desperately. “Little post traumatic stress thing going on here. It’ll pass.”
“Yeah, it will.” Jim runs his hand down Blair’s back and kisses his ear. “What do you need? What can I do?”
“I don’t know. But I’m starting to think orgasms in this room might not be a thing for me for a while. Which is kind of inconvenient considering it’s our bedroom.” Blair sighs. He’s still hard, his cock an insistent heaviness against Jim’s thigh.
“There’s a whole house,” Jim reminds him. “We can do stuff in other rooms.”
Jim slides lower on the bed and breaths warm air over Blair’s erection. “We could do other stuff in this room.”
“It’s, like, just in my mind. I know that.” Blair murmurs appreciatively, though, as Jim’s hand runs teasingly up his inner thigh. “It’s instinct. Once I come, things go to hell. I know it’s not rational. It doesn’t make sense. It’s -- God, yes. Do that.” This is when Jim closes his mouth around the head of Blair’s cock.
Jim is happy to do it as long as Blair enjoys it, even if in the long run Blair can’t come. He loves the feel of Blair’s cock between his lips, the slide of warm, hard flesh and the way the caress of his tongue makes Blair gasp. Even when Jim’s jaw starts to get sore, he keeps on, convinced that he can make Blair come even if Blair doesn’t believe it. Careful attention to the sensitive spot under the head where the skin is drawn up into a shape like a star and one fingertip stroking lightly across Blair’s hole and Jim is right; Blair cries out and shudders and shoots unusually sour come into Jim’s mouth.
“Oh my God,” Blair says shakily, and Jim moves back up and holds him as he goes to pieces, shivering and crying following the release Jim has just teased out of him.
“Shh, it’s okay. Chief. Blair. Yeah, that’s it. Just let it out, you’ll feel better.”
Blair sniffles and gets up -- Jim doesn’t try to stop him -- and goes to the window, looking out into the driveway. He puts on some clothes, taking his time about pulling on a T-shirt because the cast makes it awkward, then walks over to the closed bedroom door. He looks at Jim and Jim, getting it, pulls the covers up over himself to protect his bare skin. The cats, always anxious to get on the other side of a closed door, flood into the room as soon as Blair swings it open, jumping up onto the bed in a series of gentle landings.
“Jesus,” Jim says.
“You love it,” Blair tells him, which is most definitely not true. He pushes Rose and Nine over to make room and climbs back into bed, cuddling up to Jim as the cats walk on top of them and gradually settle down. It won’t last -- Nine and Jack will end up rolling around tussling, kicking each other repeatedly -- but for now it’s nice to have them all there, together.
Jim pets Blair instead of the cats, a slow, gentle stroking of his hand over Blair’s hair. “You okay?” he asks finally.
“I don’t know,” Blair says. “For now, I guess.”
“Yeah.” Jim doesn’t expect miracles; he’ll settle for honesty.
“Everything’ll be okay, right?”
Jim knows what Blair is really asking, and he knows Blair doesn’t want the long, complicated answer. Blair doesn’t want details about Grant Lincoln’s bail hearing and trial and the likelihood of a very long prison sentence.
There are times when Blair just needs simple reassurance, and Jim is happy to give it to him.
When it comes right down to it, Jim’s happy to give Blair anything.
“Everything’s gonna be fine,” he says. He tucks an errant strand of Blair’s hair behind his ear. “It already is.”
“Mm.” Blair’s eyes are closed. “Love you.”
“Yeah,” Jim says, overwhelmed by it. “Love you, too.”