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It was quiet and warm in the loft. His body sated, Jim lay still on his bed, an arm around the woman he had once loved.

{Once?} His mind smirked with a will of its own. {Don't you still? Haven't you carried that torch for seven years, even through your marriage to Carolyn?}

Lila's body was warm and curvaceous. His hand rested lightly on a soft swell of breast.

Not at all like the breast he had been caressing most recently.

The lush curve os her ass fit perfectly into his groin, but he found himself missing the harder curves and rougher skin coated with silky hair. Her bare legs felt odd against his.

{It must be getting bad if I find myself comparing Sandburg with a beautiful woman -- and the woman comes up short.}

The sex had been good. Passionate, hot, fulfilling. Sinking balls-deep into that hot, slick passage had reminded him forcibly of what he'd been missing.

Only now, lying here, a beautiful woman in his arms, Jim wondered if he'd missed it that much.

 

Bent over, feeling awkward and hating it, Jim was trying to pull on his pants and talk to Lila when the door opened.

"Wait, I'll drive you." he said, allowing himself to be distracted. He didn't want to see the hurt in Blair's eyes. There was no reason for it, right? They weren't exclusive. Hell, they weren't anything. There was no they.

Standing still for a nanosecond, Lila stared at the young man who walked in as if he owned the place. He had a key, he acted like he belonged here....stepping forward, she pressed a quick kiss on Jim and backed off to leave.

"Can I get you anything?" Still caught up in the situation, unable to change gears quickly enough, Jim finally let his annoyance with her behavior show. "Call you a jet?"

She heard the sarcasm in those last words and it was enough to drive her out the door.

Jim and Blair stood and stared at each other for a long minute.

"So I guess the orchids worked." Blair said, his voice totally friendly, hitting just the right note.

{Is he asking something else?} Jim wondered, and then he remembered the way things really were. He'd forgotten for a moment. It had felt just like old times there, like they were before. In an effort to extend that feeling, he played along, but they both knew that a different question was being asked.

Did you get it up for a woman?

"For you?" he asked with a flash of macho shrug.

"Oh yeah." Blair laughed self-consciously. and then recovered himself. "How are you doing?"

"Alright, had one of those sensory spikes again last night."

Going to the fridge, Jim grabbed something to drink, not really looking at it while Blair answered.

"I've been thinking, both times these sensory episodes with Lila, what are the possibilities you're in love?" The question startled Jim mildly. Because he knew that wasn't it. But he didn't want to explore any other options either, so the sarcasm slipped back into his voice as he answered, hoping to put Blair off enough to any avoid new tests his occasionally over- enthusiastic partner could develop. "Come up with that yourself Chief?"

But Blair wasn't buying. His face was serious, even determined, when he answered, hands moving gracefully.

"I'm serious, what's the old adage, when you're in love the sky seems bluer, maybe in your case it really is."

Jim snorted and moved past him.

"Let me off the couch, Doctor Ruth, and help me find some aspirin."

Finally the younger man seemed taken aback. His voice lost some of that confidence, making him sound so young again.

"So, uh, Jim, last night -- after you had the sensory episode -- were your senses still heightened when you uh... no I'm serious here, give me some details here and be specific, it's for my book."

"You want photos?" Getting completely out of the kitchen and away from Blair, silently cursing the way his body reacted to the younger man's presence, Jim retreated further.

Blair's eyes widened and he followed.

"You took pictures?"

Settling on the couch, Jim snapped at last.

"Of course not!"

Blair hesitated on the border between rooms. His eyes studied Jim and the couch, and then he took a seat in the large yellow armchair.

"I did have an idea about this, Jim." the words were soft. "It's more about what happens when I can't with a woman...."

Already feeling bad for yelling at him, Jim sighed and waved a hand, urging him to go on.

"I got to thinking about it the other night. And, well, you know how much it bothered me, when I couldn't get it up for a girl. Well, it happened again last week, right before we did it, and I was thinking about it, and it hit."

He paused, eyes bright, and Jim sighed again. Sandburg could get excited about just about anything vaguely scientific, even if it was his own sex life, or lack thereof.

"What hit you?" he asked at last, reluctantly agreeing to participate in this conversation.

The kid was vibrating with energy, almost bouncing as he spoke.

"Just the timing. It's spreading out, getting longer, y'know. And it's just times when we're really close to our deadline -- that's when I couldn't get interested in a girl. And you - you go after women so seldom we just hadn't noticed."

"I flirt with women." Jim said, mildly defensive. Blair was right. He was a private man and, while flirting sometimes came easy to him, anything more was a chore.

"But not that often. And with your senses anything you might feel is suborned under the way you have to control those. So, even if you could respond normally all the time, you wouldn't anyhow. I made a chart and the only times you've really gone for a woman since this started were all within a week of us spending the night together." he used the euphemism cheerfully, grinning, pleased with himself.

"So you're saying that if I wait until next week --" his eyes flickered past Blair to the calendar on the wall, where a rapidly-approaching date was marked with a discreet red star, "- and Lila is still around, I won't be able to do anything about it?"

"You better start setting up your excuse now." Blair nodded. "Y'know, drop a few hints about headaches so she'll understand when you say you can't because of one."

"She's engaged, Chief." the words were hollow. "I don't think she'll be coming back to see me."

{Especially after the way she looked at you. Like she knew.}

He didn't say the words, he knew Blair had missed that exchange, too caught up in his own shock at that moment.

"Engaged? Man, Jim, want are you doing to yourself? First she runs out on you without a word and now she comes to you while she's engaged to another man."

What kind of woman is she?

The words rang silently in the air between them.

"I loved her then, Sandburg. More than I ever did Carolyn."

Jim paused, taking a deep steadying breath, the way Blair had taught him. "I still...I still could."

He wasn't prepared for the hurt that flashed across Blair's nearly pretty face.

 

The choir of black angels and carolers wasn't that interesting, although it was pretty, but Blair figured he was safer staring at it than at his irritated and irritable Sentinel.

He listened carefully as Jim gave Simon a concise rundown of the case and left out everything important, heaving an inner sigh of relief when the bigger man turned to leave.

"Sandburg, stay. Close the door." the sharp tone no longer frightened him as it once had. He knew there was bite behind the bark, but it wasn't directed at him.

Reluctantly Blair turned to face the captain.

"What's going on with Jim?" chomping on the cigar he wasn't yet smoking, the big man gave Blair a look that openly wondered why the observer was allowing his lover to chase this woman.

Blair answered nervously.

"Uh, nothing."

"Blair, you're an awful liar."

Taking a deep breath, Blair tried to answer without saying too much. There were things about his relationship with Jim that neither of them wanted Simon to know - and now wasn't the time to tell him anything new regardless. It was obvious he was well aware of Jim's somewhat erratic behavior lately.

{Does he think Jim is going to hurt me again?} He wondered as he stalled. {If he even knew how much farther that went, he'd have us both committed.}

Taking a deep breath, he decided that a partial truth would work here.

"Um, well there is something going on with his senses. All of a sudden they are going haywire and he's seeing this new woman and I think they're connected."

"How?" Pushing at him.

"I don't know yet." a small shrug, a silent plea for the older man to leave it alone. For a few seconds he was afraid Simon was going to say something else....bring up what had happened last fall...but instead the captain just nodded and turned his attention away, effectively dismissing Blair. Who escaped the office with a sigh of relief, hoping Jim hadn't listened in.

 

"Jim! JIM!"

Blair's shout filled the loft and rang in the emptiness.

Realizing that his partner wasn't home, the younger man hurled his backpack across the room, where it crashed into the coffee table.

"Damn him! What is he trying to do, kill us both!?" The tantrum ended as quickly as it had begun. Blair felt himself go weak as the adrenaline drained out of him and he barely made it to a chair before he slid off his feet, resting his forehead on the clean wooden surface.

It had been almost two weeks since Lila's death.

Simon had called Blair at the university, pulling him out of class, to tell him that he'd sent the detective home suffering from massive abdominal pains. The captain had been worried about him, worried enough to disrupt Blair's class strongly suggest the teaching fellow give his students a walk and find his partner.

Blair hadn't even gone back to the classroom, just sent a passing student to deliver the news and rushed out of the building.

His body ached with need.

And the need was growing stronger. Last night Blair had practically begged Jim to take him. Shamelessly, wantonly, he'd stripped and gone up those stairs to offer himself to his sentinel. He'd been met with sarcasm and humiliation. But even the pain of that memory couldn't prevent the ache that was growing in his belly, the hunger that gnawed at his insides, making his skin shiver and twitch with imagined caresses.

He'd finally figured it out. They had learned months ago that depriving Jim of sex between them would hurt and eventually kill the older man, but now Blair acknowledged that it would do the same to him. Not in the same way, perhaps...but he would die just the same.

As they waited longer and longer he felt his self-control slipping. He caught fragments of imaginary conversations, tasted traces of foods he hadn't eaten, and felt the touch of hands that weren't even in the room.

Without Jim's touch and taste and sound to banish these almost hallucinatory sensations, he knew he would go insane.

And he was determined to kill himself before that happened.

Anything was better than spending the rest of his life being treated for schizophrenia, locked in some state institution someplace. The pain that would cause his mother....

But there was still time. Jim was alive, although currently in denial. Blair just had to find him and make one more try at convincing him.

Forcing himself off the table with both hands, he took a deep breath and reached for the cordless phone that sat near him, and dialed, listing slightly to one side as the weariness grew.

"Joel? Yeah, hey, this is Blair. Um, look. I need a favor. You told me that you would do anything you could to help me if I needed it? Well, I need it now....I have to find Jim before he does something stupid."

 

The interior of the dive was dark and smoky. Blair wrinkled his nose as he pushed through the door, wondering how Jim could breath in a place like this.

Joel had put out a discrete APB on Jim's truck, which meant that he hadn't identified the suspect or the crime, and, after a couple of tense hours, it had been reported here. On the south side of Cascade, in one of the dirtiest neighborhoods in the city. Awash with drugs and filth and wasted lives, just the thought of going there had made Blair's stomach queasy.

Joel had offered to come along, but Blair had begged off.

"I'll have Jim to protect me, man." he'd said, seeing in the big man's eyes his opinion of Jim's protective abilities.

"It's not like that anymore. We've got it under control."

"Then why is he in a place like that, Sandburg? He just felt like a drink at two o'clock in the afternoon after being sent home from work sick?" the bomb squad captain was just as good at sarcasm as Simon. Blair was beginning to think it was a prerequisite for the position.

"Joel, I promise I'll call if I need you. If I can't get him home on my own."

With a promise to be by the phone, Taggart had backed off reluctantly.

Now Blair almost wished he'd brought the big man along. This place was scary.

There was a long bar, backed by rows of bottles, and a pool table in the back. Several men and a couple of hard-looking women surrounded it, with a few more men at the bar.

All of them wore leather or dirty denim and heavy boots. The scent of unwashed bodies made Blair's already unhappy stomach roil, and he paused at the end of the bar, gripping the sticky surface with one hand while the other went to cover his mouth and then belatedly ran through his hair. It was down around his face, loose and bouncy.

The way Jim liked it.

A shadow loomed in the darkness.

"What do we have here? A lost puppy?" the big voice matched the man and his reek. "Better find yourself another phone, puppy. Nothing for you in here but trouble."

{You got that right.} Blair thought muzzily. It seemed that the man was actually trying to be helpful, to prevent trouble before it could get started.

"I need to find a friend of mine, man." he said, forcing himself to stand straight. "I'll make it quick."

Looking up now, he could see that the man was huge, at least 6'8", and he had to weigh three hundred pounds.

"Let me guess...that guy?" swinging Blair around with big hands on his shoulders, the behemoth pointed him toward the lone figure occupying a booth on the far side of the dingy room. Blair sighed.

"yeah. That's him."

"Better get him out of here before he hits the floor." the man advised. Without another word he returned to the pool table, shaking his head at his companions' questions.

 

Battle

 

After taking a few deep breaths, Blair crept cautiously across the room. He had no doubt that Jim already knew he was there, but didn't want to startle him into violence.

"Jim? Hey, man, how're you feeling?"

"Just fine, thank you." the careful pronunciation and slow delivery told Blair all he needed to know.

"Can I sit down?"

"As long as it's not in my lap." gulping deeply from a large glass, Jim finished whatever was in it and waved it over his head clumsily.

"Hey, man." sliding into the other side of the booth, Blair leaned over the table and made a grab for the arm. "I think you've had way too much already."

"Almost there." Jim answered, half-standing himself to keep the glass out of Blair's reach. "I can't feel much of anything anymore, Sandburg, and that's how I'd like to keep it."

"So you'd rather become a drunk than deal with this?" slumping down into the seat, Blair ran both hands through his hair. "How're you gonna protect the tribe when you can't walk, man?"

"Fuck the tribe." Ellison said casually as a woman in tight jeans with ridiculously big hair brought another glass and took the one he had emptied, all without either looking at them or saying a word.

"What are you drinking?" Blair changed the subject, wondering. Only sissy drinks came in big glasses like that and he didn't think this place would make those.

"Screwdriver. Double strength." his partner answered, downing a third of it in a gulp.

"Shit, Jim. How many of those have you had?"

"I lost count at five. I think." Unconcerned, the older man gulped again. "It's working."

"You think that if you drink until you can't feel it, it will go away?"

"So far, so good." Jim gurgled and drank again.

"Stop that." Catching his forearm, Blair gripped it tightly. "Listen to me, Ellison. I don't care if you never get it up for me again. You know that. But I can't let you kill yourself this way any more than I could watch you do it with a gun."

"What're you gonna do about it, shorty?" the sneer was real, but the words lacked force. Blair gathered himself for the threat.

"I'm going to call Simon and Joel and tell them the truth. And then I'll get them to drag your sorry ass out of here for me. They'll do it, you know they will."

With a yank Jim pulled his arm free. The glass was almost empty but some of the vodka-spiked orange juice splashed out anyhow, dripping over both of their hands.

Blue eyes met blue. Both were hard and unyielding. Blair met Jim's glower with a defiant stare of his own and, at last, the older man gave in.

"Whatever." he said, raising the glass and draining it. "You can't get to me now."

"The way you smell I wouldn't touch you with less than lye soap." Blair answered, keeping his relief to himself as they stood. The waitress appeared again and Jim dropped a handful of money onto the table. Blair stopped to flip through it, counting seven twenties. With a soft whistle he removed four, still leaving her a giant tip, and pocketed the rest to return to Jim later.

For his part, Jim left him standing there and Blair caught up with him outside, standing next to Blair's Volvo.

"I'll ask Joel to send a black-and-white to pick up your truck." Blair told him. Jim responded with a grunt, refusing to look at him.

{That's okay.} Blair thought as he got in and pulled out of the parking space. {I think I can use this to my advantage.}

During the long drive home he made his plans. Jim dozed drunkenly in the passenger seat, sprawled unattractively against the door, a thin line of drool oozing down his cheek from his open mouth.

 

"Jim. C'mon, man, I can't carry you up those stairs. You're gonna haveta get off your ass."

Tugging ineffectually at the bigger man's arm, Blair's voice became increasingly frustrated. "Jim, man, would you get yourself together here for just a minute?"

"S'rry..." with a lurch Jim pushed himself off the seat, almost falling into Blair's open arms. The combined weight caused the younger man to stagger and then they both went down, Jim landing on top of Blair on the asphalt.

"Oof." With the wind partially knocked out of him, Blair lay and gasped a few times, trying to catch his breath. Jim stirred above him and the smaller man felt the fist beginnings of arousal stir in his own groin. {Shit. Just what we need now. I've got to have some self-respect here - the man smells like an uncleaned beer bottle after two weeks in the sun. I'm not going to touch him until he's clean.}

Pleased with his reserve, although unsure of his ability to keep it, Blair shoved at Jim's chest.

"Get off me, man!" he growled. "I'm lying in something wet, Jim, and I am so not happy about this."

A few more shoves and Jim rolled off him, allowing Blair to climb to his feet and shake himself off. Whatever he'd landed in smelled worse than Jim did.

"This is great, man. Fucking great." Allowing himself the luxury of cussing, Blair tried to pull Jim to his feet. It took several more long minutes, and then, finally, they were both upright, Jim leaning on Blair and listing dangerously to one side, and headed for the elevator.

A neighbor smirked at them when they got on and Blair couldn't find an embarrassed grin for him.

"That looked good, Jim." he said conversationally as he drug his partner down the hall one lurching step at a time. "The resident cop comes home falling down drunk. Think they'll be calling you if they have trouble, hm? I wouldn't, not after seeing you like this..." he kept up the commentary as he got them in the door and all the way to the bathroom.

Jim started to wake up when Blair started to strip him, pushing him away, his great strength lessened by his condition but certainly not gone. Blair paused, and then spoke calmly, his hands moving slowly as he continued, using the guide voice that Jim listened to so well.

"Jim...I'm just going to get you cleaned up. You smell terrible, man. We're going to get into the shower, I'll clean you up and then I'll take you up to bed, okay? Okay, Jim?"

"Just to sleep, Sandburg." the words were slurred but clear.

The big hands dropped to his lap, covering the half-erect cock that stirred there. "Not gonna do that anymore."

"Uh-huh. I hear that." answering non-commitally, Blair maneuvered his now-naked friend into the shower stall, where he leaned him up against the wall, under the stinging hot spray.

"Why do you think it will change, Jim? How can you think it will just go away? Haven't we learned our lesson about this?"

Stripping himself quickly, Blair joined Jim in the shower and reached for the shower gel and a sponge.

"Could've...I could've saved her...if I hadn't...hadn't been..." Closing his eyes, Jim let his head hang forward as Blair scrubbed at him, leaving his smooth skin bright in the wake of the sponge.

"If you hadn't what, Jim? Hadn't been thinking about me? About our problem?" Blair prompted, moving on down the thick legs, ignoring the cock that waved before his face with an effort.

"I didn't want her the way I should." Jim whispered, Blair straining to hear it over the rush of the water. "My body wanted you...she knew that. It made her willing to die."

"That's bullshit, Jim." Turning him around, hands on his hips, Blair hissed as his cock brushed Jim's legs He was still crouched before the larger man. {Not going to be able to hold out much longer here. We need to get this over with. Maybe the next time will be longer coming.} "She knew what she was doing, man. She'd been doing it most of her life. She knew that if she betrayed these guys they were going to kill her. They were just smarter than she was in the end."

"My fault." Jim rasped. "My fault. if I could have loved her the way she needed me to - the way I wanted to..."

Throwing his head forward with more force than necessary, smacking it loudly on the tile, Jim cut off his own words, leaving Blair to finish bathing both of them in reluctant silence.

Blair got Jim clean and then dry and up to his bed. Sitting beside him, he ran his fingers through the short brown hair, a gesture that felt curiously tender.

Jim grabbed is hand and pulled it away. Blair resisted and they came to a stalemate.

"No. I won't." Jim snarled blearily.

"We have to. I don't want to get hurt again." Blair said quietly. His eyes traced the big body, which was showing every classic sign of arousal: hugely erect, spitting, drooling cock, tightened muscles, balls drawn up, heart beating quickly.

"We don't have to. We've gone this long and nothing's happened." Jim argued, the words getting harder to understand.

"You don't have to do anything." Freeing his wrist with a twist of his arm, Blair reached into the nightstand drawer for the tube of lubricant. "If you don't move, you can tell yourself you didn't do it."

"Fuck you." Jim said quietly, slumping back into the bed, eyes closed, hands dropping to lie awkward and still.

Grimacing, Blair prepared himself. Feeling his own fingers up his ass was so not a turnon. Even having Jim's there made him uncomfortable, even when he liked it. But this was going to take some flexibility on his part and he wanted it over with as quickly as possible. So he spent the time he needed to make sure he was really stretched, as ready as he could be.

Jim's cock was pointing straight up, as if it knew what he was planning. The bigger man flinched when Blair wrapped gel- coated hands around it and stroked, coating it thickly, but not a sound passed his lips.

{He's in no condition to fight me.} Blair thought as he rose on his knees and straddled his prone friend, remembering how he'd had to help Jim up the stairs. {He can barely walk, much less think.} Another thought followed that as he reached behind himself, one hand grasping the thick cock ungently, the other on the bed to balance himself. {He may kill me in the morning. But he wants me now.}

Pushing back carefully, feeling the sudden sharp pain that always accompanied this act, Blair bit his lip. Blood rushed and his own cock felt like it doubled in size.

{And I want him...oh, god.} The words spilled from his mouth as he sat back, taking all of Jim's cock, fuller and deeper than he'd ever been.

"Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god." He held very still, unable to breathe, hands clenching the muscles of Jim's chest as he struggled to adjust to the new sensations.

Beneath him, Jim moaned once, long and low.

Blair was too full. He felt like he couldn't move, he would explode if he did. His cock had ballooned to new proportions and the ache ran right to the soles of his feet.

This was incredible. Not that if felt good, exactly.....Jim shuddered and Blair moaned, suddenly panting.

He had to move, no matter what might happen!

Lifting himself an inch took a mighty show of willpower, and sliding back down brought another dark, gurgling moan from his belly. Instinctively his head dropped back and his body arched and then, between one gasp and the next, Blair exploded into motion.

One hand wrapped around his own cock, pulling on it brutally, and he fucked himself on Jim's cock with wanton abandon. All that mattered was that rush of sensation that flooded him every time he shoved back down, Jim's cock hitting something deep inside him, making him howl with the ungodly combination of pain and pleasure. Jim grit his teeth and twisted his eyes shut tighter, his big hands digging into the bed to anchor himself as Blair rode him.

"God! God! God!" he grunted each time the younger man took him back in. Then his mouth found other words and Jim shouted them recklessly. "Yeah! Yeah, Chief, yeah! Ride me, Boy!"

Moving faster now, as fast as he humanly could, Blair heard Jim join him and it pushed him over the edge. Slamming his body back down, feeling a new, sharper pain inside, Blair ground his ass into Jim's groin, forcing him in deeper, and used both hands to yank on his own throbbing cock.

The orgasm exploded within him and he heard himself scream, the waves of pleasure echoed by an agony inside that made him scream again, this time louder. Jim's cum spurted, cock jerking, the bigger man arching into him, trying to go even deeper, but there was nowhere left to go and Blair screamed a third time as the hot bitter fluid filled him.

When it was over Blair pulled his body off Jim's as fast as he could, with a moan that was pure pain, and curled on the bed as far from Jim as he could get, and lay still, panting in sobbing gasps.

 

"Sandburg?" Relaxing, breathing again, Jim realized that he didn't know how much time had passed since he came. He thought that maybe he'd passed out.

His partner still lay at the far side of the bed, curled into a tight ball that was very unlike him. Rising on an elbow, Jim reached a wavering hand over to him, touching him on the shoulder.

"Chief?"

Blair flinched.

"Go to sleep, Jim." the words were thick with restrained tears and something else, something Jim couldn't identify in his still-mostly-inebriated state.

"Come on, Chief, I'm not mad." Continuing doggedly, Jim closed a hand on Blair's hip and tugged at him. Blair clenched his teeth on the shriek, but some if it trickled out. "We had to do it. I know that. I just couldn't..."

"So I did, man. And that's all there is to it. No leave me the fuck alone and go to sleep, Jim!" snarling the words, Blair shuddered once as Jim's hand stroked his back, questioning.

{At least he's still here in the bed.} Jim thought blearily. {As long as he sleeps up here everything will be fine.}

"'Kay." he said, suddenly overcome with exhaustion. "G'nite, Blair."

There was no response from his bedmate. As sleep overtook him, Jim thought he heard the sound of muffled sobs, but his mind was too clouded by alcohol to stay awake long enough to investigate.

 

Hurting, frightened, Blair lay in the same spot all night. He shivered, cold without covers or Jim's body to warm him, but was too afraid to move to reach for either.

It hurt bad. What the hell had he done to himself?

{Why the hell did it happen like that this time? Because we waited so long?}

After many hours he relaxed enough to doze, every unconscious movement bringing a flash of pain that drew him back to wakefulness, making him gasp and pant until it faded enough to let him sleep once again.

The shaking was rough and Blair protested with a yelp as pain shot through him again, finally settling deep inside, in a very private place.

"Damn you, Sandburg!" Looming over him, standing beside the bed, Jim had both hands on Blair's shoulders and was shaking him hard. His face was twisted with anger.

"Jim, man, stop, owww!" Twisting his body and pulling himself away with a shudder of pain, Blair half-sat against the pillows that piled against the railing behind the bed. He didn't say a word, just clenched his eyes shut and breathed deeply, trying to calm the pain. It was a deep ache that flared into stabbing points when he moved.

"I'm calling an ambulance." Jim said flatly, reaching with one hand for the phone. "Don't you move."

Opening his eyes, just for a minute, Blair saw what must have upset his Sentinel so badly.

On the bedspread, where he had been sleeping, was a large round bloodstain, at least two feet across. Mostly dried maroon, a few drops glistened bright red in the early-morning light.

{Damn. I've really done it this time.} Even trying to shift his weight hurt, but he had to say something.

"Jim...man, no. Not an ambulance. I'll go to the clinic on campus."

"You'll go to the emergency room if I have to handcuff you and carry you." Jim snarled, and Blair realized with a sinking heart that acquiescing to his protector urges wasn't going to make things any better.

"Then you take me. I can't afford an ambulance ride, man, and the only insurance I have is for accidents related to my work with the department."

"Fine. Don't move." Instead of putting down the phone, Jim hit speed-dial.

Closing his eyes again, already feeling a blush rise as he thought of going into a crowded emergency room and explaining this, Blair listened with rising anxiety as Jim spoke to Simon.

"I'll be in late this morning, sir." There was a pause, during which Jim looked past Blair. "I need to take him to the doctor, sir." Another pause, during which Jim's face twisted into a grimace of distaste. "I'm not going to explain this to you, sir. It's private."

Now he held the phone a couple of inches from his ear. His anger seemed to grow as Simon yelled at him , so loud that even Blair could hear it, although he couldn't make out words, and then he snapped back.

"Do what you need to do, Captain! But I would suggest you talk to Sandburg before you hang me out to dry!"

He hung up the phone with his thumb, but the simple push of a button didn't seem to satisfy him. After a second, as Blair opened his eyes and stared wildly, he hurled the appliance over the rail.

They both heard it hit the floor below and shatter.

Awkwardly, Blair tried to move off the bed. Jim grabbed his shoulder and squeezed hard enough to hurt.

"I told you not to move. I'll get you as soon as I'm dressed." He added another squeeze for emphasis. "You got that?"

"Yeah." Speaking softly, Blair lay back in the pillows and closed his eyes, waiting for Jim to take him where he needed to go.

 

"In here, sir." A nurse appeared at Jim's side as the automatic double doors at the hospital opened before him. With a blanket-wrapped Blair in his arms he couldn't open them himself, so that saved him from at least one awkward situation. he's prepared for this entry by pulling out his badge and hanging it from his shirt pocket, so the nurse at the triage desk saw it and came to him immediately. He followed the older woman to a small examining room, once again thanking the fates that hospitals were generous where policemen were concerned.

He lay Blair on the bed, ignoring the smaller man's wince, and turned to the hovering woman.

"He needs to see a doctor," he said shortly.

"I'll send in someone from admissions to take your information." she said smartly, turning and leaving, shutting the door behind herself.

Heaving a sigh, Jim turned back around and studied his partner. Blair had turned to his side, away from Jim, and his eyes were closed again.

"It's not that bad, man." he said for the hundredth time since Jim had first lifted him from the bed. He had been angry and humiliated when the older man refused to let him walk, threatening him again with an ambulance if he didn't do things the way Jim wanted him to. "It doesn't hurt as bad as it did now."

"I don't care, Sandburg." snapping, Jim took the only chair in the room. "You're my responsibility," he made it sound like a dirty word, "And you're going to do this. If I hurt you - if you made me hurt you - then I just don't know what the hell we're going to do."

"It wasn't like you were objecting, man." Making a soft snorting sound, Blair tried to find a more comfortable position.

"I told you - I made it clear - that I didn't want to do that again. You took advantage off me, Sandburg." the stress on his name only served to emphasize how angry the older man was with his partner.

"Call it payback." Blair said, too softly. But Jim heard it, and bit back a retort as his face flushed hotly.

Silence reigned as they continued to wait, both too angry and hurt, both knowing that anything they said now could destroy whatever there was left of their friendship to salvage.

 

"I'm sorry you had to wait so long, Mr.Sandburg." the doctor said when he finally made it in. The admissions nurse had been in to talk to then over two hours ago. And she'd been upset when Jim wouldn't tell her why they were there and Blair refused to talk to her at all. "The nurse said that you were...uncooperative?" he was choosing his words carefully in the face of Jim's anger, which had been allowed to simmer the entire time. Now it was an all-to-visible feature of the room.

He walked around the table, squeezing himself into the narrow spot between the table and the wall. One hand came down and touched Blair's shoulder lightly.

"I'm Dr.Mathews. Alex Mathews. You can trust me to be discreet, Mr.Sandburg."

Rolling his head, Blair looked up at him, face flushing crimson.

"I think I hurt myself." he said it baldly, but the flush deepened.

"Are you in pain?"

Blair nodded.

"On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you've ever felt, how bad is this pain?"

Considering, Blair snuck a glance at Jim. His partner was stoically studying the floor.

"It was at least an eight last night...but I'd only give it a six or so now."

Mathews followed his glance.

"Would you like to have some privacy for this, Mr.Sandburg?"

Jim's head snapped up. The bright room seemed to darken perceptibly.

"I'm not going anywhere, and you'd better not suggest otherwise." he snarled.

"You're a police officer, sir?" the doctor queried, too casually.

"I'm a detective with Major Crime. Sandburg's my partner."

"Then you know that I can insist on privacy for his examination, and have you removed from the room by force if I have to."

His dark brown eyes met Jim's over the table, and held.

"No...it's okay." Blair broke the stand-off, sounding more embarrassed than ever. "He - Jim can stay. This is about him too."

Seemingly taken aback by the admission, Mathews moved around the table, his hand sliding across Blair's blanket-clad shoulder, and he stopped with is body between Jim and his view of Blair.

"Then lie back and tell me where this pain is located, Mr.Sandburg."

"Just Blair, man." Blair said, rolling all the way over to his other side, not settling on his back for more than a half- second. "It's, um, we were..."

"I was fucking him and he got hurt." Jim spit the words out as if they tasted bad. "He was on top and he pushed down too hard - and I was too drunk to notice until this morning."

A tremor ran through the man's hand, which had been reaching for his stethoscope. He straightened from his partially-leaning posture, and turned to face Jim.

"Excuse me?" The words were polite, but his dark face was tight with emotion. "This injury is the result of anal sex?"

"Yes." Jim snapped in a do-I-have-to-spell-it-out-for-you tone of voice.

"It wasn't his fault," Blair said softly. "He didn't want to."

"You're damn right I didn't." Now Jim stood, hands rubbing fiercely at his face. "How the hell am I going to explain this Simon, Sandburg?! And Joel! When he hears I've hurt you again he's going to shoot first and ask questions later."

Mathews was staring at them both, and he deliberately moved his body as Jim paced, keeping himself between Blair and the angry cop.

"He's hurt you before?" he asked his patient, who was staring at his partner with the widest, bluest eyes the doctor had ever seen.

"Don't go there." Head coming up, Blair stared at the doctor, hard. "It was consensual. He's never done anything I haven't asked him to."

"Except the first time." Jim stopped and glared at him. "Remember the first time?"

Blair nodded and then sighed, lying his head down at an awkward angle, eyes closing as he whispered. "It's not something I'm ever gonna forget, Jim."

"Detective Ellison, I think you need to leave now." Mathews said.

"I'm staying." Taking a step closer, and then another, Jim loomed over the smaller doctor. "He wants me to stay."

"I can order you out of the room." Preparing to call for help, Mathews was interrupted by Blair's hand sliding from beneath blanket and reaching into the air toward Jim.

"No." Jim's eyes widened, but he reached past the doctor and took the hand, squeezing it gently. "I want him to stay."

"This will be both embarrassing and painful, Blair." the doctor was warning him.

"Then maybe it will teach him something he needs to learn."

Blair's words were tired, like the weight of the world had settled on his narrow shoulders.

Jim didn't reply, just moved to the other side and brushed the tangled, sweat-matted curls back from Blair's red face.

The initial examination didn't take long. After a few moments of poking and prodding, Dr.Mathews looked up at Blair with a worried frown.

"How much blood loss would you say there was, detective? he asked Jim, his voice cold.

"At least a pint, judging from the size and depth of the stain." Jim answered with a wince. "Maybe more." "And you slept through this, while your lover was potentially bleeding to death next to you."

"I told you, I was very drunk. I had no intention of having sex. That was all his idea."

"I'm sure that would have made yo feel better when you woke up this morning and found him dead."

"Wouldn't have happened." Blair rasped, the pain fighting with his embarrassment and both beating him.

"You don't have to defend the man who hurts you, Blair."

Moving back to the head of the bed, the doctor stroked his head comfortingly. His initial disgust seemed to have faded now that he could identify Blair as a victim. "Let me tell you what we're going to have to do now..."

The extended examination began with a warm medicated enema, to clean the passageway so they could see clearly. Blair tolerated this with a set face, eyes tightly closed. Watching, Jim thought a little about what he knew of male-to-male sex and wondered how anyone could think of this as romantic or even a pleasurable adjunct to sex. But some did, although he was pretty sure by now that Blair would never be in that category.

After the enema - administered and drained by a nurse while Blair remained lying on his stomach, Jim's blanket replaced with a thinner white hospital one - there was a laparoscopy exam. The small slender device, a miniaturized camera and light attached to the end of a supple metal coil, was carefully fed into Blair's rectum, which was held open with a version of a speculum, and the doctor watched the picture on the monitor beside the bed.

The doctor and several medical students he invited in. Jim had objected, but Blair had been too withdrawn at this point to care, and Mathews had said it would be very educational for them.

"There." he said as Blair flinched and quivered on the table. Mathews had wanted to restrain him but Jim had put his foot down. Now the detective stood at the head of the bed, hands on Blair's shoulders, stroking them and leaning close to speak quietly in his ear, doing his best to keep his friend calm.

"See?"

The students gathered closer, one of them bumping the table.

Blair stifled a soft moan. Jim couldn't tell if it was pain or humiliation, but he didn't like it either way.

"Be careful." he hissed at the offending student, who glanced at him and paled slightly.

"Detective Ellison, are you perhaps overly endowed in the genital area?" Mathews asked, almost smirking.

"I wouldn't say that, no." Struggling to maintain his dignity and protect as much of Blair's as he could, Jim said the words flatly.

"Because there is a significant amount of bruising here, as well as two tears that will need stitching."

"How will you do that?" Jim asked, both angry and afraid.

"We'll give him a sedative and use a larger one of these -"

Mathews pointed to the speculum, "-and use a specially modified laparoscope. But he will have to be taken to the operating room."

"Can't you move the equipment down here?" Jim didn't want Blair exposed to any more people or taken out of his sight.

"I want to go home, Jim."

The whisper was the first thing Blair had said in an hour.

Jim crouched before the front of the table and spoke to him quietly, one hand stroking his hair again.

"They have to fix you up first, Chief."

"I'm sorry. Okay? I'm sorry already. I won't do it again."

Blair didn't seem to hear him. His eyes were still closed tight. "Next time you say no I'll back off. But let me go home, okay?"

"Of course you can go home, Guppy." Although he had only used that nickname once before, it came to his mouth easily now. Perhaps because it wasn't tainted with any of the memories of the others. "As soon as the doctor says you're ready, I'll take you home myself."

"Now, Jim." the rising note of anxiety in his voice was audible to everyone in the room. Rising, Jim glared at Mathews, one hand still stroking Blair's hair as the younger man shifted restlessly on the barely-padded surface.

"Is there an alternative to the surgery? Will those heal up on their own?"

Mathews frowned.

"I'm not comfortable with this patients ability to follow the strict regime that would require, detective."

"He'll follow it. I'll make sure." Jim said sternly, wanting the doctor to know how serious he was without showing his anger again.

"Megadoses of daily antibiotics, a liquid diet, bedrest... they would heal in a week to ten days." Mathews said grudgingly.

"Then prescribe the meds, because I'm taking him home."

"I would have to recommend against that."

"Go for it. If he stays here any longer he's going to have a huge panic attack and I just don't think he needs that right now."

There was a knock at the door and everyone in the room turned as Simon's voice thumped through it.

"Ellison! Are you in there? I'm coming in."

There was no chance for Jim to do more than flip the edge of the thin blanket over Sandburg's exposed ass - the speculum made a tall pointy lump beneath it - and then his captain was in the room. Already small and feeling crowded, it positively shrank when his 6'4" frame joined the others.

"Sandburg! I thought I told you to call me if it got out of hand!" Speaking from behind Simon, Joel Taggart stared at the half-naked man and didn't try to come in.

"Oh, god." Blair moaned and turned his head away, covering it with his crossed arms. Jim immediately caught the scent of tears.

"Can we talk about this later, sir?" he asked, gesturing at the room full of people. "I promise to show up for whatever you want to dish out, but right now I need to get these people out of here and get him some privacy."

Seeing Blair's shoulders begin to shake, Joel took the situation in with a glance and reached his big hands for the nearest med student, latching onto his white coat and pulling him unceremoniously out the door. Simon joined in, getting around them and starting to herd them out as Mathews found his voice and protested.

"You can't come inhere and take over like this! I have a patient in here!"

"Not anymore you don't." Jim said with satisfaction as Simon hustled him out the door. "Write those prescriptions, give me the diet and we'll call it a day."

With a last glance at Jim, Joel pulled the door shut behind the livid doctor, leaving Simon in the room with them.

"So, Jim...do you want to tell me about it?"

"It's no big deal, Simon." Blair raised his head and wiped his eyes, and Jim crouched again, offering him a tissue. "I just got a little over-enthusiastic and zigged when I should have zagged."

"That's going to be your story this time?" Grunting disapproval, Simon rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses.

"I've been beating my head against a wall all day, trying to decide what to do about this."

"Nothing for you to do, sir." Jim said softly. "This is between Blair and me. I didn't hurt him this time. He hurt himself. I won't let it happen again."

"I want a full report as soon as you're up to giving me one, Sandburg." the captain said harshly.

"Yes, sir." Still subdued, Blair lowered his head and closed his eyes again. "Can I go home now?"

"Yes," Jim said, petting him, meeting Simon's stare steadily. "We can go home now."

His anger with Blair had faded in the light of his neglect.

No matter how drunk he had been, he felt he should have noticed Blair's pain in the night and responded to it.

{I'll never put you through anything like this ever again.}

Jim silently promised his partner as arrangements were made to get him checked out and back home. {I can learn to live with this if you can. We have to stop hurting each other.}

He said the words aloud just before they left, when he was gathering Blair up to carry him back out again.

"We have to stop hurting each other, Chief."

"I don't know how, Jim." Blair's words were plaintive.

"We'll figure something out." Jim promised, meaning it.

~~ end ~~