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The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

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>>>Saturday, February 19th, 12:37am<<<

"God damn you, Ellison! You're a real son of a bitch!" I roll out of the bed and scoop up my clothes from the floor, stumbling over his shoes.

"Chief, I didn't mean-" His voice is hoarse. I'm not surprised - he's done a lot of screaming tonight.

"Don't give me that shit, man!" I stand up and make sure I've got everything. It's hard to see in the dim light, but I sure as hell don't want to have to come back up here for a forgotten sock or anything. "You meant exactly what you said, you fucking bastard!"

"I didn't- Chief, Blair, wait!" His feet hit the floor as mine hit the stairs. I take them two at a time and pray that I don't fall and break my neck, although that probably would be a fitting end to this disaster of an evening.

I slam the door to my room shut in his face and fling my clothes on the bed, my shoes thudding on the floor. God, what a prick. What a bastard! I'm so angry I'm shaking. I rub my arms and shiver. So put on some clothes, idiot. It doesn't take me long to scramble into sweats and heavy socks, and I start to feel warmer.

Correction. My body starts to feel warmer. My heart... Well, let's just say that I can't see that part of me thawing out any time soon. Not after tonight. Not after I figured out what that lying bastard was doing.

Except, some tiny part of me whispers, didn't you start this whole thing rolling because you wanted to change the way things were between us? Nah, that's not right. It can't be right.

No way am I getting to sleep anytime soon, so I turn on the light beside my bed and grab a book, sliding between the sheets just like I'd done earlier, upstairs, stunned and breathless with lust and-

Stop it.

Fool.

I open the book in the middle and start reading. Well, I'm dragging my burning eyes across the words on the page, but nothing's sinking in. That's because Jim's distracting me. He's turned on a light and is moving around in the kitchen - I can hear the sound of water running and the clink of mugs, and smell coffee brewing.

God, I'm thirsty. Not surprising, considering how much... moisture I've lost tonight.

I turn back to the book, damned if I'm going to leave my room just because of a little thing like thirst. Besides, I've got some bottled water around somewhere, if I get desperate.

There's a light tap on the door and I jump. Shit. A small square of white slides under the door.

Oh, great. We're back in junior high, passing notes in class.

I stare at the paper for a while, wondering if there's any way I can manage to ignore it. Finally I sigh and scramble out of bed. Dammit, Jim knows I can't stand not knowing what's on his fucking note. I open it, ignoring the fact that the paper's flapping like laundry in a breeze because my fucking hands are shaking like I'm the one with Parkinson's, instead of Katharine Hepburn.

B -

There's coffee outside your door.
Will you let me explain?

J

I squeeze my eyes shut so I won't have to see his writing. I stand there at the door, holding his note like it's some sort of talisman.

Damn you to hell, Jim Ellison.

~~~~~>><<~~~~~

~~~Monday, February 14th, 11:45 am~~~

It started out so innocently.

I was sitting at my desk, leafing through the Robertson arson report, waiting for either inspiration or my lunch hour to hit, when Jim turned to me again.

"Incoming," he whispered. "Place your bet, Kreskin."

I glanced around the bullpen, even though I knew what I'd find: a manly bouquet-in-a-mug and a box of sugarless candy on H's desk; three red roses (from Simon) and a glass jar of Italian chocolates (from Jim and me) on Rhonda's; two competing bouquets, a red teddy bear holding a glittery heart, an extra large heart-shaped box of candy and a tin of homemade cookies on Rafe's; and two little white koala bears on a velvet heart with "Be Mine" embroidered across the front on Megan's (also from Jim and me). I had a small assortment of stuff on my own desk, including a raccoon holding a heart from Megan, and a bottle of a nice California wine and small vial of Lickable Cherry Body Oil from Sam. You should've seen Jim's face when she brought them by. A big box of Godiva Chocolate was sitting on Jim's desk when we got in, but there wasn't a card. I sure as hell wasn't going to admit to sending it to him, especially since I wasn't sure why I did it in the first place, except that we both like Godiva and Jim always shares with me.

"What is it?"

Jim closed his eyes and cocked his head a little. I stifled my chuckle. Damn, the man looks like retriever every time he does that. He opened his eyes and shot me a look.

"Flowers. Roses, I think."

"Simon," I said, feeling reckless.

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Oh, yeah?"

I sat back and nodded. "Yeah."

"It's your money," he said and shrugged. I almost changed my mind, but before I could say anything, this harried-looking guy rushed into the bullpen with the biggest, most elaborate arrangement of flowers I'd ever seen outside of a hotel or a funeral. There were roses and carnations and those big, fat chrysanthemums and the little lacy white flowers that I can never remember the name of. The guy looked around, his eyes showing their whites, and spoke to H. With a grin, H pointed him to Simon's office.

"Yes!" I did a little victory dance in my chair. "Five in seven! Can I call 'em or what!"

"Calm down, Chief. It's not like you won the lottery or anything." Jim crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back, pretending to be unimpressed. I knew better. I could see the corners of his mouth twitch.

"It may not be the lottery, man, but I'm so going to enjoy dinner..." I clasped my hands behind my head and settled back. "Let's see... I think I'll have lobster and a baked potato and a salad - and not one of your iceberg lettuce specials, Jim. I want a spinach salad with that hot dressing you made last time, and for dessert... Do you think cheesecake's too rich with lobster? Or we could have those Godivas you got..."

"Hang on, there, Sandburg. No one said anything about you choosing the menu. The bet was that the loser would cook dinner tonight. That's it. Plain and simple."

"But it's Valentine's Day, Jim. Dinner should be special, especially if you're cooking it."

He leaned forward and gave me one of his 'dangerous' stares. I've known tough guys to practically pee in their pants when they're on the receiving end of one of those stares, but not me, not anymore. After the last couple of years, it takes more than a Jim Ellison death-stare to rattle me now.

"Special? It may be Valentine's Day," he growled, "but you're not my date for tonight, and if I get a better offer, you'll be boiling your own macaroni and cheese."

"Spoilsport," I muttered, picking up the report.

"Pushy bastard," he whispered, turning back to the computer.

"Can't argue with the bastard part, man," I said softly, and then, getting that 'who gives a shit' feeling, I continued. "As for being pushy, I have to be pushy around you. Otherwise you'd go on your own pigheaded way and end up getting in a ton of trouble."

"What the fuck," he began, looking shocked. Good. He glanced around the bullpen and lowered his voice. "What do you mean by that, Sandburg?"

"I mean, Ellison," I whispered, leaning toward him, "that when you try to push me away and tackle life on your own, everything goes to hell. Including me." Whoa. Had I just said that? I did a little mental rewind. Yep. Sure did. And it felt good.

He narrowed his eyes and put his jaw into lockdown mode, but he didn't say anything - just turned back to his computer and attacked the keyboard like it was a floor with waxy buildup. I made a mental note to put in a requisition for another keyboard tomorrow and went back to the report.

Twenty minutes later Jim gave the keyboard one last torturous jab and pushed his chair away from the desk.

"I brought you back," he finally said, his voice so soft I could barely hear him. "Don't you remember?" He glanced at me, one flash of blue, and then stood. "I'm going to get some lunch. Want to come?"

"Sure." I stood and stretched, still feeling kinda edgy and... I dunno, out there. Skating on the edge of something big and scary. Something I suddenly realized I needed to talk about, to bring out in the open and take a good, hard look at in the light of day. Something that might take me, no us, out of this comfortable rut we were stuck in. Jim tossed me my coat and I put it on. "Where are we going?"

"Muldoon's."

"Sounds good." I followed him out the door and we rode down the elevator in silence. It wasn't until we were sitting in a booth in Muldoon's, waiting for our food, that I answered him.

"Of course I remember you bringing me back. Hell, it's probably the defining moment of my life. Or death." I shrugged, feeling something looming over me, pushing me forward. "Besides, I had to come back and make sure you're okay."

"I'm okay," he said, staring into his coffee cup.

"Yeah. As long as I'm here."

"I did just fine without you, Sandburg-" he began.

"Jim," I cut him off, enjoying his look of surprise. "Let's learn from our mistakes this time. You're better with me around to protect you."

"Protect me?"

"Yeah." I smiled at the waitress as she put our plates down on the table. "Protect you. You know, keep you sane, keep you happy, keep you away from the wrong kind of woman..." I took a big bite of my tuna melt and sighed contentedly.

"Ha, ha," Jim said, lifting the top piece of bread and looking suspiciously at the pastrami on his pastrami-on-rye. "And what is the right kind of woman, Dr. Ruth?"

"For you?" I put down my sandwich and eyed him assessingly. "I dunno, Jim. I don't think Nature's infinite variety has come up with one yet."

"Oh, great." He bit into his sandwich and got that dreamy, far-off look he gets when something wonderful happens to one of his senses. "So I'm stuck with you, am I?"

"Looks like it," I agreed, speaking with my mouth full, which earned me one of Jim's snorts and an amused look. "Hey, it could be worse! I could be an ex-military, by-the-book-except-when-it-pleases-me, beer-guzzling, saturated-fat-junkie, buff cop."

"Sounds good to me."

It was my turn to snort. "Yeah, well, you try to live with you, man. You'd be nuts in 24 hours."

Jim chuckled drily. "Thanks a lot, Chief."

"No problem. I've lived with tribes with a lot weirder customs than you."

"At least I don't require you to sleep with my virgin daughter." The waitress gave Jim a wide-eyed look as she passed. He just smiled at her and asked for another cup of coffee.

"Hey, I'm known for my immense adaptability. I'd sleep with your virgin daughter or your virgin son."

"Not going there, Sandburg."

"Coward."

"When it comes to contemplating your love-life, yes."

"Since you haven't got a love-life to contemplate, guess that's the end of that topic."

"Ouch." Jim winced and pressed his hand to his heart. "You drew blood on that one, Chief."

"You see, you see," I waved my sandwich and ignored the shower of tuna, "you need me to protect you from yourself."

"No, I need a napkin," he said, brushing tuna off his lap.

"No." I handed him a napkin from the dispenser and again felt that surge of recklessness, the presence of that dark bulk behind me. "You need me, Jim."

Jim pushed back his plate and looked at me, the corners of his mouth pulling down, his eyes hooded and dark. I stared back at him as I finished my sandwich, wondering what the hell he was thinking. Usually I can get a sense of his thoughts, but not this time.

"Ya want anything else?" We both blinked and jerked at the sound of the waitress's flat voice.

"Just... Just the check," said Jim, turning this really weird shade of pink and pulling out his wallet.

"Don't worry about it, man." I slapped a twenty on the table and slid out of the booth. "We've gotta get back. I think I might have an idea about the Robertson case..."

~~~~~>><<~~~~~

~~~~Monday, February 14th, 5:02pm~~~

My idea didn't pan out, worse luck, and we spent most of the afternoon in the bullpen. I was starting to crawl the walls and Jim was rubbing the bridge of his nose like he does when he's getting a headache.

Dropping the receiver, I turned to him. "We're not going to get anywhere tonight on the case. I could use a break, and it looks like you could use some fresh air. How about we call it a day?"

"Good thinking, partner." Jim nodded and started to pack up. As we were putting on our coats, Megan walked up.

"Hey, Jim, Sandy. I'm going out for dinner with a few of my mates - want to come?"

We'd been out with Megan and her 'mates' a few times, and really enjoyed ourselves. Even Jim loosened up around her, which was pretty funny, considering how much she teased him. But he didn't seem to mind and teased her right back.

I looked over at Jim, expecting him to accept - after all, it would get him out of cooking.

"Thanks, Connor. Maybe another time. I've got to cook dinner for Sandburg tonight." Jim smiled at her, glanced at me, and jerked his head toward the elevators. "Let's go, Chief. I've got to stop by the Shop 'n' Save and pick up a few things on the way."

"You're cooking for Sandy?" She turned to me, eyebrows raised. "A nice romantic dinner for Valentine's Day, eh?"

"It was a bet, Megan," I laughed, wondering why the thought of a romantic dinner with Jim suddenly sounded so appealing. I quickly squashed that thought. "Nothing romantic about it. I'll probably be eating a Spam sandwich and drinking Bud Lite."

"I'm holding the elevator here, Chief," Jim yelled from the corridor.

"Coming!" I grinned at Megan and started toward the elevator. "See you tomorrow."

"Enjoy your dinner," she called.

~~~~~>><<~~~~~~

~~~Monday, February 14th, 9:17pm~~~

I certainly did. Enjoy my dinner, I mean. I sat back and squinted at the remains of one damn fine lobster and belched contentedly. "Ah, man, I am like so full..."

Jim took another swig of beer - a nice, local brew, and not Bud Lite - and nodded. "Ditto."

"Too bad we sent the maid home early." I stretched and stifled a yawn. "I could use a nap right about now."

"Don't complain, Chief. You ordered the menu."

"I'm not complaining. Just wondering whether I'll have enough energy to clean up." I yawned again. "Didn't we agree that you'd cook and clean up?"

"No way, Sandburg." Jim rubbed his face, but I could see he was trying to hide a smile. "I cooked, but you've got to help clean up."

"How about we clean up in the morning?"

"How about you get your lazy ass out of the chair and over to the sink?"

"My ass isn't lazy," I said, picking up the plates and heading to the sink. "I'll have you know that I'm quite attached to this ass, and won't stand for it being dissed."

"Far be it from me to diss your ass, Chief," Jim said, bringing over the rest of the plates, "especially now that you've got it in gear."

"Good." I started rinsing the plates. "Don't ever diss another man's ass, Jim. I've seen what can happen. It leads to nothing but pain and heartbreak."

Jim ducked his head and put the plates into the dishwasher. "How did we get onto this topic, Sandburg?"

"You're the one who started it," I pointed out.

"Can we just drop it now?"

"You want to drop my ass?"

"Uh, yeah," he said, staring at the salad bowl as he dried it. "I want to... Yeah."

"Sure." I wiped the counter and dried my hands. "Hey, what was up with you turning down Megan's invitation? I thought you said you were looking for a better offer tonight."

Jim opened the cupboard and reached for the coffee. He shrugged as he filled the basket. "I was."

"And that wasn't it, huh?" I got out two mugs.

"No."

"But you have a good time when we get together with Megan and her friends." I leaned against the counter and crossed my arms. Jim was futzing with the coffeemaker, like he was avoiding looking at me.

Interesting.

"I do," he finally said. "I just..." He shrugged again. "We had a bet, Chief."

"Uh huh." I watched Jim watching the coffeemaker and felt that weird sense of recklessness again, like something in my soul was pretending to be Evil Knievel, Jr. and it was time to launch myself out over the flaming motorcycles. "Jim, this wouldn't have anything to do with what we were talking about at lunch, would it?"

He glanced at me for a second, a flash of startled eyes and open mouth, then turned away.

"What do you mean?" His voice was strange and thick, like he couldn't swallow.

"I mean..." I began, and then stopped. What did I mean? I took a deep breath and stepped up behind him. "You need me, Jim."

"In your dreams, Sandburg."

I hit him. Not very hard, but I gave his arm a good whack.

"What the fuck!" he yelled and whirled around.

"You need me, man," I repeated, and stepped closer. The air suddenly seemed thicker, darker than before.

"I need you?" He eyed me warily, shifting his weight, like he was going to make a break for it.

"Yeah." I got right up into his face.

Maybe he was trying for a chuckle, but it came out as more of a strangled cough. "Okay. So you've helped me with my senses-"

"That's not what I mean, and you know it." I poked him right in the center of his chest. "You're not stupid, man. Figure it out."

"Figure what out?" He grabbed my wrist and held my hand to one side. His fingers were hot - they felt like they were burning my skin. I didn't care; I poked him with the finger of my other hand.

"The fact that you need me so much you'd even bring me back to life after I was dead."

"Sandburg, that's bullshit and you know-" he began, grabbing my other wrist. He leaned toward me, eyes narrowed. I lifted my chin.

"That's the truth, Ellison, and you know it!" He dropped my hands and looked faintly horrified. "Think about it, Jim. Really think about it, instead of digging a hole in the sand and burying it like you usually do."

He closed his eyes and pinched his lips together in a bloodless line, his face turning pasty.

"Hey, man," I said, grabbing his arm as he swayed a little. It was like grabbing a rock. "What's the matter? Was there something wrong with the lobster?"

"The lobster was fine, Chief." His eyes fluttered open and he looked over my shoulder. "I just..." He shrugged and shook his head.

"You sure?" I let go of his arm and lowered my hand slowly, just in case I had to suddenly catch him.

"Yeah."

"Right." I eyed him warily. "Are you sure the lobster was okay?"

"For Christ's sake, Sandburg-" he yelled, the color flooding back into his face, and I thought he was going to go off on a tear, but then he shut his mouth and nodded once. "Guess I'm a little tired," he said quietly, his voice sounding thick again, like it had earlier. He slid along the counter until he could get past me and walked over to the bathroom. "I'm going to have an early night." He closed the door behind him.

I stared at the closed door for a minute, then grabbed the remote and collapsed on the couch. God, I hoped he wasn't getting sick. A stoic, sick Jim wasn't a breeze to deal with. Although at least now he was willing to try some of the herbal remedies I recommended.

I cruised for a while and stopped on tonight's game - the Jags versus the Wizards. Man, what a stupid name. Wizards, not Jags. The Jags were ahead, not surprisingly, even with Mitch Richmond playing his heart out over on the other side. The man moves like poetry on the court. What did surprise me was that when Jim came out of the bathroom, he just said goodnight and headed upstairs.

"Don't you want to watch the rest of the game?" I called up after him.

"No thanks, Chief. You can tell me the score in the morning."

I turned back to the game and nodded. Well, that was a definite: Jim was getting sick.

~~~~~>><<~~~~~

~~~Tuesday, February 15th, 6:30am~~~

I woke up the next morning to the smell of bacon and coffee. So much for my diagnosis of a sick Jim.

He was standing at the island, cooking scrambled eggs when I made my way to the bathroom. With a quick smile and nod he said, "Breakfast in five, Chief."

"Thanks, man." I was out in six, and Jim was dishing up the eggs and bacon. I poured coffee and grabbed my plate. "Hey, what's up with the catering service? I thought our bet was just for dinner." I sat down and dug in.

"Can't a man make breakfast without playing twenty questions?" He carefully buttered a piece of toast.

"No twenty questions here, Jim." I spoke between mouthfuls. Everything was really good. "Just curious. Dinner last night. Breakfast this morning." I shrugged and took another piece of toast. "Thanks."

"Sometimes I feel like cooking, Chief." Jim scraped his plate clean and drained his coffee cup, and I nodded, finally understanding what was going on. It was just Jim's way of saying 'sorry' for our little discussion yesterday. So I was being a little slow on the pickup - I'm not really a morning person.

"Hope you get that feeling more often." I let the matter drop. We quickly cleaned up and drove to the PD.

Work was... Well, let's just say it wasn't one of those days where the good guys made the world a whole lot safer for John Q. Public. We tried, of course, but it seemed like everything we touched was jinxed. Promising leads fizzled out, contacts dried up, paperwork that we'd sweated over got lost, and to top it off, the damn Robertson case dogged us every second.

I was starting to feel cursed and seriously pissed off by lunchtime. I mean, how much of this could a man take? Jim's jaw looked like granite, but so far he'd kept his temper, which was the day's only minor miracle.

Megan breezed in, looking far too chipper for her own good, much less anyone else's.

"Hey Sandy, Jim." She hung up her coat and propped her hip on my desk, crossing her arms and grinning at Jim. "You missed a good time last night. Kate was asking after you, Jim."

Jim just looked at her blankly for a second, then shrugged. "Oh."

"Oh?" Megan raised her eyebrows. "That's it? Don't you want to know what she said?"

Jim leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. "Not really, Connor."

"I thought you liked tall, leggy redheads. You seemed interested enough in her the last time we went out."

Jim shrugged again and turned back to the files on his desk. Megan glanced at me and I mirrored Jim's shrug. Hell, I didn't have any idea what was going on with him. With a frown, she pushed away from my desk and crossed the bullpen to her own, shooting one final look at Jim over her shoulder before turning to H.

"Want some lunch, Chief? My treat."

"Your..." I looked at him suspiciously. Maybe my take this morning was wrong. "Dinner, breakfast, and now lunch. What do you want, Jim? I'm not helping you paint, man - you remember what happened last time - ditto with refinishing the floors."

He chuckled and stood, stretching for a moment, his arms above his head, his shirt pulled tight. Aw, man... It's not like I'm into guys - I really like women, y'know - but sometimes, like just now, Jim will move in a way that really gets to me. As in deeply. Imagine a knitting needle poking inside you, or a crochet hook tugging at your guts. Not the most romantic image, I'll admit, but it makes me stop and shiver, and my pants get a little tight. Okay, a lot tight.

Before he lowered his arms he gave me this weird, blank look, like he'd been poleaxed or something, but then he grabbed our coats and tossed mine over to me and headed for the door.

"So, where're we going?" He had already hit the button when I got to the elevator.

"Where do you want to go?"

The doors slid open and he walked inside, but I didn't move. "You're asking me?" I gave him a disgusted look. "Man, I am so gullible. It's the grout, right?"

"It is not the grout," he snapped. "Now get your butt in here so maybe we can eat in this century."

That was better. That sounded more like Jim and less like the vaguely pod-like person I'd been around since last night.

"Yeah. Sure." I smiled and got into the elevator, and he crossed his arms and stared at the buttons. "How about that sushi place down on Third?"

"Okay."

Something must going on here; that was just too damn easy. I stared at him suspiciously, but he kept his eyes on the floor buttons as we moved. When the doors opened at the lobby, he lifted his head and smiled at me, a blinding flash of blue eyes and white teeth.

It hit me like a sucker punch to the gut, and for a couple of seconds, I couldn't breathe.

"C'mon, Sandburg, get a move on," he tossed over his shoulder as he left the car. "There's some raw fish waiting with your name on it."

"Yeah. Right." I blinked. "Coming."

>>>>>::::<<<<<

>>>Saturday, February 19th, 12:46am<<<

Opening my eyes, I crumple the note in my hand and pitch it across the room. It bounces off the wall and lands somewhere over in the corner, in the Land of Dirty Laundry. I crack open the door and grab the mug of coffee sitting there, then shut the door quickly.

The warm mug feels good in my hands, and I cradle it under my chin for a minute, enjoying the caress of steam curling around my jaw. Jim makes great coffee, damn him. I crawl back into bed, carefully balancing my mug, and pull up the covers before I remember his note on the floor.

He wants to explain.

Explain his way out of this mess? Who does he think he's kidding?

I sip my coffee, listening to the soft sounds of Jim moving around the apartment. He rinses out the coffee pot and puts another pot on - guess he's preparing for a long night. Don't let me stop you, man. The TV clicks on, then off. A few minutes later, there's the distant sound of the toilet flushing and then, a moment or two after that, the creak of that one noisy spring on the couch as he sits down.

My coffee's finished, so I put the mug on the table and pick up my book again.

I hear the soft sound of paper against wood and look up. Sure enough, there's another note. I wait for a bit, just to make sure he's not standing there at my door, and go pick it up.

It's just one word: "Please."

This one gets wadded up and bounces off the ceiling, landing in one of my boots.

I hear the snick of the latch on the balcony doors, and feel the faint rush and change in air pressure before the doors close with a small bang. Shit. It's February, Jim is standing outside in the cold because he fucked up and I won't let him tell me why he did it in the first place, and now I'm the one feeling guilty. I quickly stifle the little voice that points out I'm as guilty as he is.

Hell, the man was a fucking Ranger. He's probably still got enough sense to come inside when he starts getting frostbite, and no, I'm not buying into any 'Jim's zoning' story, because he hasn't zoned in months and besides, even if he did stay outside all night, or what's left of it, he'd only lose a couple of toes and maybe a fingertip or two.

I shiver and scramble back into bed, but I don't bother to pick up the book. Who do I think I'm kidding, anyway? I wait, cocooned in blankets, staring at nothing.

~~~~~>><<~~~~~

~~~Wednesday, February 16th, 9:11pm~~~

Jim got to the door first, unlocked it, and stumbled inside. I was hot on his heels and made a beeline for the bathroom.

"Dibs on the shower," I yelled, slamming the door. I started to undress, my numb fingers fumbling with the buttons on my shirt. God, I was cold.

And wet. Don't forget wet.

By the time I'd stripped off all my soaked clothes and left them in a sodden pile in the middle of the bathroom floor I was shaking and my teeth were chattering. Why the hell didn't I live in Hawaii, or Florida, or someplace where getting drenched in February didn't automatically mean hypothermia? I set the water temperature to parboil and hopped in, sighing in bliss as I defrosted.

Twenty minutes later I stepped out and wrapped myself in towels. I felt human again, warm and toasty, even though my fingers were all wrinkled and prune-y from the shower. I quickly wrung out my clothes in the sink and ducked out of the bathroom, ready for Jim to start in on me for grabbing the shower first.

He was sitting on the couch in his robe, his head leaning against the back, eyes closed, the length of his neck exposed. In the animal world, that posture was often considered a gesture of submission. I shivered.

"Shower's all yours, man. Thanks for letting me go first."

"Not a problem, Chief."

Well. A gracious Jim. That was interesting. I stared at him as he slowly walked into the bathroom. He looked like an old man, and there was an ache right in the middle of my chest as I dumped my filthy clothes into the washer - Jim's were already in there, soaking. By the time Jim finished his shower, I had soup warming on the stove and was making us grilled cheese sandwiches. Lunch had been a long time ago, and we'd missed dinner.

The bathroom door opened, releasing a cloud of steam. Jim wandered out, looking about three hundred percent better than before, rubbing his head with a towel, his loosely belted robe open to his waist. He slung the towel over the back of his neck and sniffed appreciatively.

"God, I've forgotten what food smells like." He smiled at me and pulled two bowls and two plates out of the cupboard. "Remind me never to do that again."

"Okay." I put the sandwiches on the plates and carried them to the table while he poured the soup into the bowls. "Remember, Jim, don't ever chase a suspect on foot through a car wash in February again. Especially when I'm with you."

"Thanks for the reminder." He grinned and we ate quickly. Saturated fat had never tasted so good, and I told my arteries to shut up and take a back seat for the night.

I licked my greasy fingers after the last bite and sat back, warm and full. Man, did I feel good, which was a nice change from the past few hours.

"You know, Chief," Jim said, "I think I'm getting too old for this." He stood and stretched with a wince. Then the tie on his robe came loose and suddenly there was a lot of Jim on display. It's a good thing that I'm no slouch in the self-esteem department, because otherwise I'd feel more than a little intimidated by Jim's chest and abs and... Well, yeah, and his cock, too. It was pretty much sculpted perfection, like the rest of him. I shifted in my seat, feeling intimidated and turned on and more embarrassed than I thought possible.

"Sorry," he muttered, closing his robe and retying his belt. I realized that I'd been staring and I needed to breathe, so I pulled my eyes away and waved and shrugged because I knew my voice wasn't going to work. Or if it did, I'd start to babble, and that would be worse. Embarrassment does that to me - it's either feast or famine on the vocal front. So I scrambled to my feet and grabbed my plate and bowl and practically threw them into the sink.

"Leave 'em," Jim said, and I jumped. He was standing right behind me and leaned forward to put his plate and bowl into the sink next to mine. "You made dinner. I'll clean up." I could feel the heat from his body, the soft caress of his breath and I shivered.

I nodded, a quick jerk, then sidled along the counter. I didn't touch him as I passed - I know I didn't - but it felt as if our skin brushed and sparks scattered across me like tiny, white-hot points of fire. I made a break for the couch and flopped there, listening to the water run as Jim washed up.

What the hell was going on?

Jim was... Jim was flirting with me.

Maybe.

Actually, I was pretty sure.

I'd wanted things to change between us. Looked like Jim had the same idea.

The real question was... what the hell was I going to do about it?

Sure, I could get up and jump his bones. Or I could get up, pack up, and move out. I quickly dismissed option number two and was seriously considering the implications of option number one when the water shut off and I heard Jim cross the room. The air grew thin, and there must've been a problem with the power, because the lights dimmed.

He paused for a minute behind me. I wanted to turn around, I wanted to crawl over the back of the couch and... And... And I didn't know exactly what. I think I was in shock. I knew I couldn't move, even though I wanted to.

"I'm beat, Chief." His voice was very quiet. "I'll see you in the morning." I could hear him pad slowly up the stairs and the creak of his bed.

"G'night, Jim," I whispered.

>>>>>::::<<<<<

>>>Saturday, February 19th, 1:04am<<<

The balcony door clicks open. Finally. My doors rattle in the breeze, and there is a muffled thump as the balcony door closes. It is very quiet for a minute, then Jim sneezes.

"Serves you right if you catch a cold, man," I barely breathe, but I know Jim is listening. Big surprise there. There is a soft knock on my door.

I wait a few beats. "Yeah?"

"Want some more coffee?"

Glancing at my empty mug, I take a deep breath and look out over the flaming motorcycles and the stacked up buses and the fucking enormous chasm that suddenly appears between me and the door.

Aw, what the hell. I wanted out of the rut. I might end up in a wrecked heap on the other side, but would that really be any worse than sitting here, feeling angry and hurt and lonelier than I'd ever felt before? I pick up my mug and swing my feet to the floor.

"Yeah."

When I carefully open the door, Jim is pouring himself a cup of coffee. He's got on his robe and pajama bottoms. Good. I don't want any peep-show distractions right now, although I remember too clearly exactly what's under that flannel, and my cock twitches. Damn libido. I think of Joel Taggart in a gold lame thong and my cock shrivels.

I wait until he carries his coffee to the couch, then pad over to the kitchen and fill my own mug before joining him. He's settled in the middle of the couch, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, his cup cradled in his hands. His hands are shaking and he looks like shit. I sit on the other couch, put my feet up on the coffee table and rest my mug on my belly.

We wait.

My mug's about half-empty when Jim takes a deep breath and sets his untouched mug on the table with a thump. Coffee sloshes out and spreads across the wood.

"I'm sorry," he says at last, staring at the table. "I didn't mean... It came out wrong."

"I'll say," I mutter.

"I wanted to make things more equal between us."

"Equal?" I stare at him, my mind reeling. "Equal? Jim, you're the senior partner, here. You're the one with the experience and the reputation and the Cop of the Year plaque." I sit up and bang my mug down on the table, ignoring the coffee that spills and joins the puddle from Jim's mug. "It's always 'Ellison and the kid,' or 'Ellison and Hairboy,' never 'Sandburg and his partner.' How the hell is getting me into bed going to make us equal, except in height?"

He faces me, his eyes wide. Then he blinks a couple of times and frowns, his eyes flickering over me uncertainly.

"But, Chief, you're the one with all the power."

"Me?" I start to laugh, but it comes out as more of a snort, so I stop. "I have all the power?"

"Yeah." He nods solemnly.

I can't believe this. "Oh, man, you are so full of bs."

Jim's eyes slid back to the table, and he clasps his hands, his pale knuckles standing out like leprous patches.

"I'm not." His voice was rusty.

"Are, too," I shot back. "There's so much bullshit in here I feel like I'm in a barn."

His head jerks like I've kicked him, and he slews around, eyes burning. "Goddammit, Sandburg! If it's bullshit, then it's your bullshit! You're the one who brought it up! You're the one who rubbed my face in it!"

"Me?" I surge to my feet. "Don't you blame me, Ellison!" Dammit, Jim is hitting too close to the bone, here.

He lifts his chin and leans back, draping his arms along the back of the couch, pretending to be relaxed. But I can see the tension coiled in his muscles.

"Let me quote you something," he says, his voice thinly smug, his jaw tight like a spring trap. "I. Need. You." He practically spits out the words.

I stare down at him. Oh shit. I said that, didn't I? In fact, I remember saying that a bunch of times.

I lick my lips - my mouth's gone as dry as a Kansas saloon. "I didn't mean it like that..."

Oh, fuck. What had I done?

~~~~~>><<~~~~~

~~~Thursday, February 18th, 6:34am~~~

It's amazing what a good night's sleep can do for you. Unfortunately, I'd only managed a couple of hours, so I was dragging butt when my alarm went off.

I'd spent most of the night thinking over the whole Jim-flirting-with-me thing, and I'd come to a couple of conclusions.

One. I was pretty sure Jim was flirting with me; in fact, I was damn sure, but man, I didn't want to make a mistake about this. If I did make the wrong call, I was also sure that Jim wouldn't toss me out on my ass or anything, but it would make life awkward, at least for a little while.

Nah, I didn't want to chance it just yet. So I decided I'd watch Jim for a day or two, maybe flirt back a little, gauge his reaction, that sort of thing. I knew that faint heart never won fair lady, but did that count when the 'lady' was 6 feet of ex-Army Ranger? Discretion being the better part of valor, or looking before you leapt would probably be more applicable in this situation. Not that I was a coward or anything, you understand, but it was easy to get signals crossed in the midst of passion - been there, done that - and I didn't want that happening here. I wanted out of our rut, not our friendship going down in flames.

Two. If I was right and Jim was flirting with me, I'd encourage his attentions faster than Bob Dole went on Viagra. And I'd be paying my own attentions to him, as well. Jim's not exactly a candy-and-flowers guy, but I knew his favorite restaurants and I'd seen him in action - I knew what was important to him. It would be a mutual courtship, leading, I hoped, to other activities best done in pairs. I'd always loved Jim, even when he was being an asshole, but I didn't realize exactly how much I wanted to get him into bed and do wonderful, nasty things to and with him until last night. Yeah, I'd admired him in a general, 'Whoa! Buff bod' way, but we were friends and partners and I never, ever wanted to lose that, not for all the one-night-stands in Hollywood.

Maybe I wouldn't have to.

I showered and started breakfast, but there was no sign of Jim. It was getting late, so I dished up the eggs and poured the coffee.

"Breakfast is ready, Jim!"

The bed creaked and there was a muffled shout, then Jim appeared in a flurry of bathrobe and clothes and bed hair.

"Shit," he muttered as he passed. "Overslept."

While he showered, I ate my breakfast and then made him an egg sandwich. The first time I had done that, he'd made a face and asked me what I thought I was doing. When I pointed out it was almost like an Egg McMuffin, except with better ingredients, he caved and ate the whole thing. He even complimented me on it.

By the time he was ready to leave, I was standing by the door, sandwich in a bag and coffee in a thermos.

"Thanks, Chief," he said as we clattered down the stairs. "Why don't you drive while I eat?"

I stumbled and almost fell down the last flight. Grabbing the railing like a drunk on a bender, I managed a nod. "Uh, yeah. Sure. No problem." Jim went ahead of me, humming softly, swinging the bag with his sandwich as if he didn't have a care in the world.

Well, damn. Maybe he didn't.

Despite the fact that my head was spinning, I managed to get us to work on time and in one piece. Jim was whistling as we walked into the bullpen. Man, did heads turn - it was like watching 'The Exorcist' chorus line.

By noon, things were perking along nicely. Jim would smile at me; I would smile at him. Pretty basic when it comes to flirting, I know, but we made it work. And, after almost a week of frustration, we finally got a break in the Robertson case. Jim slammed down the receiver and grinned at me.

"Bingo. Elmer's son Scotty wants to tell us what he knows about Uncle Lester. Sounds like family solidarity is beginning to crumble."

"Great!" I was on my feet in a second, catching my coat as Jim tossed it to me. "Where are we meeting him?"

"Down at the market, by the harbor wall. He said he goes there a lot on errands for Uncle Les, so it won't be unusual for him to leave work now."

I lobbed Jim the keys to the truck and slid into the passenger seat. "Did he say why he decided to come to us?"

Jim shook his head and started the engine. It didn't take us long to get to the market, but it was tough finding a parking spot with all the lunchtime activity. We finally found a space, beating out a slick customer in a BMW, who lost precious seconds because he wouldn't put down his cell phone and drive with two hands.

We skirted the market itself, avoiding the crowds, and approached the seawall from the side. There were a few benches scattered along the front, about half of them occupied by people desperate for sun, despite the chill in the air. Jim scanned them all, then jerked his head toward the farthest one, partially obscured by a booth that sold ice cream in the summer.

"I think that's him over there."

"Think he'll change his mind and bolt?"

Pursing his lips, he stared at the bench where Scott Robertson sat. "I don't know. Maybe."

"Want me to circle around?"

"Yeah," he said slowly. "Just in case."

"Okay. Gimme a minute to get into position."

I jogged into position and gave Jim a nod, then we approached Scott. We were about half way to him when Jim suddenly shied, and then, after a glance at me, he broke into a run.

I reached the bench a couple of seconds after him, but he was already straightening up and shaking his head grimly.

"He's been strangled. Call it in, Chief," he said, tossing me his phone, "and stay here. I'm going to have a look around."

Jim returned just before the squad arrived, and the rest of our afternoon was spent working Scott Robertson's death. Jim was a driven man - he was everywhere, trying to do everything. I pulled him aside sometime after six.

"You okay, man?"

"Yeah." He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. "Just angry. He was still warm, Chief! We must've missed his killer by a few minutes, while we were trying to park."

"Yeah. It sucks. But it also means we have a better chance of finding who killed him."

"True," he admitted reluctantly. "But if I'd only-"

"Hey," I interrupted quietly, and put my hand on his arm. "Remember the advice you always give me about regrets? Don't start."

He nodded once, and looked at my fingers digging into his coat sleeve. "Yeah." He raised his eyes to mine, and I felt like I'd been dipped in scalding water. Taking a deep, very shaky breath, he lifted his hand toward my face. It hovered between us. "Chief..."

"Ellison! Sandburg!"

We jumped at the sound of Simon's voice. I jerked my hand back and turned as Simon approached, his face set in a sour frown. Shit. That look never boded well for us.

"What is it, Captain?" Jim asked, stepping close to me, our shoulders and arms brushing.

"The FBI's received a tip that something's going down tonight at the Robertson's warehouse on Waterfront. We're supposed to cooperate with them," he continued, practically spitting out the words, "and I want you two there for the surveillance."

"Yes, sir." Jim darted me a shuttered glance before nodding.

An hour later we were crouched behind a concrete parapet on the roof opposite the warehouse with three Fibby agents, outfitted with Kevlar, rifles, and headsets. I hated wearing Kevlar. It was heavy and hot, but I trusted it more than my ability to dodge bullets, so I wore it. And I hated rifles, but I was no Mahatma Gandhi - I'd use one if I had to. And I hated headsets, especially when I wanted to talk privately to Jim and we were under orders to keep our sets on and the channels open.

So Jim and I crouched down next to each other, peering over the top of the parapet toward the warehouse. I maneuvered us together, and squatted close enough to Jim that our knees or thighs or arms occasionally touched as we moved. It was not enough, not nearly enough, but for now it would have to do. We had a job to concentrate on, and that was the most important thing going on then.

Responsibility, thy name is Blair Sandburg.

Two hours later, we were still there, cold and hungry, knees aching, surrounded by a drift of empty coffee cups and candy bar wrappers, their bright colors dull in the dim light. The warehouse was dark, as quiet as my social life lately and about as much fun.

I was getting pretty fed up and was about to show Jim exactly how fed up I was with some graphic hand gestures, when he cocked his head and looked up the deserted street. I put on my glasses and looked in the same direction. After a minute, I could see headlights approaching slowly.

"Car approaching," Jim murmured into his mike.

"Got it." Simpson, the lead agent, alerted the teams located on the south side of the warehouse and on the street, further down the block.

The car pulled into the small parking lot beside the warehouse and two figures emerged, hurrying inside.

"That should be Lester Robertson and his brother, Elmer," whispered Simpson. "We got a tip that they're going to do a bunk tonight after they retrieve their records and take the cash from the office safe."

After a couple of minutes, we could see a dim light go on in the office.

"I don't like this. I think we should go in after them now," Jim said abruptly. He sounded worried. I tried to catch his eye, but his attention was fixed on the warehouse. From the grim look on his face, though, something was going on inside the warehouse, something pretty bad.

"There's no need," Simpson snorted. "They'll be out in a couple of minutes, and we'll get them then. I've got men already moving into position around the car-"

"What makes you think they're going to use the car?"

"What the hell else would they use?" He chuckled. "We're three blocks from the docks, and I've got men watching any private craft that comes in the vicinity." Simpson turned, dismissing Jim.

Shit.

I carefully covered my mike with my hand. "What do you hear?" I whispered to Jim.

He raised his hand to cover his mike as well, but before he said anything, we heard the report of a gun from inside the warehouse.

"Jesus Christ!" muttered Wallace, another agent. "What the hell was that?"

Simpson started barking orders to the other teams.

As he shouted, Jim turned back to me. "Lester killed Elmer," he said softly.

"Why?" I couldn't believe it.

"They were arguing over Scott's death, and Elmer wanted to-" Jim's voice broke off abruptly, and he looked up. "Helicopter... Simpson!" he shouted. "Do you have any choppers up right now?"

"Choppers?" Simpson broke off his string of orders to snarl at Jim. "Why the fuck would I-"

Then we heard the throb of rotors.

"There's someone on the roof, sir." Wallace pointed over the parapet to the dark figure dashing across the warehouse roof.

"Lester..." Jim grabbed my arm. "C'mon, Chief, we're getting-"

The chopper roared directly over us, and we all dropped to our bellies, covering our faces to protect them from flying coffee cups, candy wrappers and grit from the roof. Jim was the first one up, leaning over the parapet like he was going to do a Keanu Reeves and launch himself across the street to the warehouse. I scrambled over and grabbed his belt just in case, and we watched as the chopper hovered over the warehouse and the figure clambered inside. The door wasn't even shut when it set off, back toward us.

"Get down!" shouted Simpson as bullets raked the concrete, sending up a stinging spray. I dropped to the roof and Jim landed on me heavily as the chopper roared overhead, kicking up more grit, and sending out another round of bullets. Someone screamed and I could feel Jim spread himself over me like a blanket. He kneed me in the kidneys as he scrambled to his feet. Despite the fact that I felt like I'd fought with a steamroller and lost, I rolled and grabbed his ankles - I was damned if he was going to try hanging onto one of the skids like he'd done when Kincaid took me.

He dove to the roof as more shots were fired, practically kicking me in the face, but I didn't let go. A spray hit the roof near us and Jim rolled back, slamming me against the parapet and flattening me into the gravel. The chopper hovered above us and let loose another clip that came damn close. I grabbed at Jim's legs, which were by my face, trying to get him under me, to protect him from the bullets. Turning and firing another round, the chopper roared off over the city.

Simpson was already sending out orders for air support when a hand patted my thigh and I loosened my grip on his legs.

"You okay, Chief?"

I sat up slowly, leaned against the parapet, and took inventory: head, arms, torso, legs. Check. "Yeah," I said, my voice raspy from the crap I inhaled as the chopper flew over. I rubbed my cheek, which felt like it had a bad case of rug burn, and picked out a couple of pieces of gravel from my hair. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"Good." Jim crouched down in front of me. Blood from a cut above his eye trailed down his temple and he wiped his hand across his face, spreading the dirt and blood around. "Sorry to land on you like that."

I shrugged. "'S okay. Now I know how those guys who carry refrigerators feel."

He shot me a grin, then sobered. "Wallace got hit with some debris, but I don't think he's bad. I'm going to take a look at him. I'll be back." He got up and walked over to where Wallace was propped against the parapet, his arm cradled to his belly. I leaned my head back against the cold concrete and closed my eyes. Jim's voice came through the headset over the open channel. He was just asking Wallace where it hurt and whether he could move his fingers, but it was good to hear him talk. It was good to sit here in the cold and feel the sharp gravel bite into my butt, to breathe slowly and shallowly, knowing that I was going to sport some spectacular bruises tomorrow and feel like I'd had the crap beaten out of me.

But we were both alive.

We stumbled through our front door sometime after four am. We'd "assisted" with the investigation of Elmer's death, which basically meant we hung around drinking coffee and filled in some of the background info on the case for the Feds, and heaved a sigh of relief when the news came in that Lester's chopper had been forced down before he got to the Canadian border. Then we'd checked in with Simon, who growled at us for calling him at that hour of the night, and then told us we didn't have to be in until noon to wrap up the paperwork.

I was ready to fall into bed and deal with the cleanup in the morning, but Jim insisted that he take a look at my scraped cheek. We sat at the kitchen table as he fussed with it, using tweezers to pick out bits of gravel and glass. I kept drifting off, despite the discomfort and the fact that he kept touching my face.

"Okay. You'll do, Chief," he said finally, putting down the tweezers. "Go grab a shower."

I muttered something and managed to take a quick shower without falling asleep and drowning myself. I staggered out of the bathroom and waved to Jim, still sitting at the table. He was using the tweezers on his left hand, which was pretty well banged up from when he'd scraped it across the gravel when the chopper was coming over.

"Need some help?" I wasn't sure I could see well enough to find a Volkswagen, much less some bits of gravel, but at least I could offer.

"Nah. I'm almost done. Go to bed."

"Okay. G'night." I got through my doors without breaking anything, did a triple-gainer onto my bed and didn't remember a thing after that.

>>>>>::::<<<<<

>>>Saturday, February 19th, 1:24am<<<

"I didn't mean it like that," I repeat, sitting down before my watery knees collapse. "I just wanted to..."

"Yes, you did." Jim leans forward, winces, and shifts his weight to one hip. I remember what I did to make him so sore, and my cock stirs at the thought. "You meant exactly what you said," he continues, his shoulders slumping, the anger bleeding from him. His eyes slide from my face to his tightly clasped hands and I can see that they're shaking.

"Jim, I say a lot of-" I begin, but he shakes his head.

"The thing is," he whispers, "you're right. I do need you. I need you a hell of a lot." He sounds bitter and defeated, a man beaten down by his admission.

"C'mon, man, it's not that bad. Sure, I help you with your senses, but that's about-"

"No." He's shaking his head again, over and over, and that simple movement suddenly terrifies me.

"Well, I need you just as much as you need me," I blurt out.

"No, you don't." His eyes are so dark they look like they're bruised. "You can walk away any time you want, Blair. You can go out that door and find a job and have a life, and," his voice cracks and he abruptly stands and walks over to the balcony door, "and there's not a damn thing I can do to stop you." I can see his faint reflection on the glass, like a ghost standing outside, peering into our little world.

"I wouldn't do that." My protest sounds thin.

He shrugs. "Maybe not. But you could, and that's the problem."

His words fan the flicker of anger in my gut back to life. That's what I am to him? A problem? After everything we've been through, after sticking with him through thick and thin, not to mention death, my loyalty's still in question? The flicker quickly turns into a bonfire. "So you decided the way to solve your problem was to try to seduce me," I say, my voice harsh. "That's real flattering, Jim. Using sex as payment for my loyalty." I grab my coffee cup and stalk into the kitchen, almost throwing the mug into the sink. Unfortunately, it doesn't break. I turn back to him, and lean against the counter. "Of course, cash is always acceptable. Why didn't you just leave some money on my dresser?"

He's standing ramrod straight, his hands clasped behind his back, and I can practically see the steam coming from his ears. I wonder just how much it'll take to send him over the edge and whether I'd survive the attempt. Aw, why not. What the hell.

"You must have a real high opinion of me," I continue. "What'd you think? Oh, yeah, the kid's getting restless, wants a change. I know, I'll let him fuck me, that'll make him stick around-"

"Shut the fuck up!" Jim yells, whirling around and bearing down on me like a steam train. "Shut your fucking mouth, or I swear I'll-"

"You'll do what, Ellison?" I lean back, my elbows resting on the counter, and meet his eye. "Pick me up and toss me across the room? Beat me up? Or maybe throw me up against a wall - that seems to play well with you."

The color drains from his face, and he closes his eyes and grabs the edge of the cooking island. I watch him warily.

"Jesus Christ," he breathes, and abruptly opens his eyes. My anger evaporates as I look at him - no, not at, but inside him. He's thrown open all the doors, raised the blinds and let me inside. I can't believe what I see.

"Jim?" I take a step toward him.

~~~~~>><<~~~~~

~~~Friday, February 18th, 12:08pm~~~

We walked into the bullpen and before we'd even taken off our coats, Simon was bellowing from his doorway.

"Ellison! Sandburg! In my office, now!"

I glanced at Jim and he shrugged, so we dumped our coats and hightailed it over to his office. Simon was sitting behind his desk, glowering at a report in his hand. His jaw was so tight I thought he might bite off the end of his cigar.

"Yes, sir?"

He looked up at us and his eyes widened. "This wouldn't have anything to do with last night, would it?" He waved his hand toward us, and I stifled a grin. Between my scraped cheek and Jim's cuts and bruises, we looked like we'd gone a few rounds in the ring. And that wasn't even counting the fact that we were both moving like ninety-year-olds. When I had gotten dressed an hour earlier, I found bruises on my bruises, and I knew Jim wasn't in any better shape.

"Yes, sir, it would," Jim said quietly.

"Well, it can't be that bad if neither of you went to the hospital." Simon glanced down at the paper in his hand and frowned. I carefully leaned back against the conference table, shifting to avoid the big bruise on my butt. "The Feds are building the case against Lester Robertson, and there's been some grumbling that you haven't shared everything you knew about the case with them." He put down the paper and leaned back, grinning at us smugly. "So today you share. I want you two to collect all the information you have on the case and send it over to Simpson and his goons."

"All the information?" Jim spoke quietly, but I could hear the amusement in his voice.

Simon's grin widened and he nodded. "You heard me. All the information."

I chuckled to myself. Man, Simpson and his staff were going to regret complaining to Simon. The current files on the Robertson family filled two file cabinets - and that wasn't including the additional three file cabinets full of peripheral info.

"That's going to take a while, sir." Jim gingerly leaned against the table next to me and I gave him a sympathetic glance. He probably had more bruises than I did. "Just photocopying the main files will take days."

"I've already got the copy center working on that. All you two need to do is collect the info and evidence you've uncovered over the past week and write up your reports from yesterday." Simon gave us the once-over again and shook his head. "And then go home and get some rest. I'll expect you both back first thing on Monday morning. Now get out of here."

"Sure, Captain. Thanks."

We worked quickly, but even so, it was well after seven when the last report slid out of the printer and I slapped it onto one of the piles of paper we'd collected. Neither Jim nor I had flirted much that afternoon, but it wasn't from lack of interest. If anything, we seemed extra aware of each other. Whenever I'd glance at him, Jim would immediately turn and look at me, and he'd do things like hand me a paper or the stapler before I'd even ask for it.

"Let's drop this by Simpson's office tonight," Jim said as he handed me my coat. "Rhonda's already let him know that the rest is coming on Monday."

"Sounds good." I stretched, carefully working out the kinks in my back, before picking up one of the boxes we'd filled. "How about having dinner on the way home? There's a little Afghani place a couple of blocks from the Federal building that I've wanted to try."

"Afghani?" Jim wrinkled his nose, then shrugged. "Okay. At least it won't stink up the apartment." He grabbed another box with a grunt and we made our way down to the truck. We dropped the boxes off at Simpson's office and he thanked us grimly. Looking around his cluttered office, I didn't envy him his weekend.

At the restaurant, we were shown to a nice booth in the back. I ordered for both of us while Jim looked on skeptically. When our food arrived, he took a tentative bite.

"Well? What do you think?"

He speared another piece of his chicken kabob and chewed it thoughtfully. "Not bad." In JimSpeak, that meant it was delicious.

I grinned at him triumphantly, then went back to my aush. "See? I told you that you'd like it. Want to try some-" I looked up and caught Jim staring at me. His ears turned pink and he grabbed his beer, spilling some on the table.

"Hey," I said quietly, "what's the matter?"

Taking a quick drink, he set down his glass and mumbled something.

"What?" I asked. His ears darkened and he shifted in his seat, but didn't answer. "Jim, I don't mind you looking at me. In fact," I continued, my tongue suddenly feeling too big for my mouth, "I kinda like it."

"Oh." He looked at me, startled. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." I shrugged. "And I kinda like looking at you."

A grin spread over his face. "Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Looking's okay," he said softly.

"Well..." I picked up my fork and drew patterns on the tablecloth. "I'd thought about doing more."

"Chief?" he said hoarsely, and I glanced up at him. Damn. He looked scared. "Me, too."

"Okay. Good." I didn't bother to hide my relief.

"Yeah."

Jim took another drink, and I grabbed my own beer and did the same. Man, I was sweating through my shirt. The last time I'd been that nervous around someone was in junior high when I asked Maggie Brightman to the school dance. I started to laugh, and Jim gave me a puzzled look.

"Aw, man, it's just that I'm more nervous than I was on my first date," I said, and he grinned.

"You, nervous? That can't be right."

"What can I say? It must be your animal magnetism or something."

Jim snorted and picked up his fork. "Right. Listen, it's been a long couple of days, Chief. Eat your dinner so we can get home."

That wasn't a problem for me. The food was really good, and I was hungry. Besides, Jim had said he wanted more than just looking, too. I ate my dinner and imagined what I'd do with Jim when we got home.

Did I ever mention that I have a vivid imagination?

We finished up with coffee and firni, a cardamom and rosewater flavored pudding. Jim said it looked like a bowl of Elmer's glue, but he ate it all and eyed my bowl until I finished. I didn't offer him any.

It was a quiet ride home - there wasn't much to say, and we were both tired. As Jim pulled into a parking space and killed the engine, I turned to him.

"Before we go upstairs and do... whatever," I began, wondering if I sounded as stupid as I suddenly felt, "I just want you to know that this is important to me. I mean, you're important to me." I reached over and gently touched the side of his face, and he closed his eyes and leaned into my hand with a little sigh.

I thought my heart would break.

"Same here, Chief," he whispered.

"Good." I pulled my hand away reluctantly and unbuckled my seat belt. "Let's get upstairs. I'm too sore to make out here, and I've got plans for you, man."

"Yeah?" His voice was rough.

"Yeah."

I didn't touch him until he'd closed and locked the front door, and we'd hung up our coats.

"Jim?"

He turned and looked at me, his eyes searching my face, his hands clasping and unclasping at his sides, but he didn't step forward. So I did.

I cupped my hands around his shoulders and raised my head, giving him plenty of time to figure out what I was doing. His eyes half-closed and he slowly angled his head and leaned toward me.

When our lips touched, I thought I'd burst into flame. I thought I'd wanted Jim before, but now... now the wanting was more than simple need or desire. It was all-consuming, all-encompassing, a breathless urge to claim and possess. My hands slid up to hold his head as I deepened our kiss, and his arms slowly surrounded me, pulling me close.

Finally, head spinning from lack of air, I broke away and we blinked at each other in surprise.

His lips were slick and red, his cheeks flushed. "Chief?" A crease appeared between his eyebrows and he tilted his head to the side. I didn't need for him to say any more; I knew what he was asking.

"Yeah." I licked my lips and nodded. "Yeah, we're good. We're so good."

He nodded and looked relieved, and his arms tightened around me. "Want to sit down? Or..." He glanced up at his bedroom.

"Or, Jim. Definitely or."

We walked upstairs, Jim's arm over my shoulders, mine around his waist. Well, my arm was technically around his waist, but my hand kept sliding down. And down.

The man has the world's most perfect ass.

Somehow, between the two of us, we managed to get our shirts off. I winced as he turned, revealing a large scrape and bruise on his shoulder, and his eyes narrowed and he looked sourly at the colorful collection I'd acquired on my back and chest.

"I did this?" he asked softly, his finger circling an ugly blotch at the bottom of my ribcage.

"Hey, forget it. The alternative was getting shot."

He shrugged and crouched down, brushing his lips over the area. I shivered. It didn't hurt, but I could feel his warm breath on my skin...

After a quick glance at my face, he turned me a little to one side and kissed another bruise on my shoulder, and another at the small of my back.

Oh, man. It felt so good I moaned, and I could hear him chuckle behind me. "Have I missed any?"

"Yeah." My hands were shaking, my cock was hard and uncooperative, but I managed to get my pants unfastened, and, with Jim's help, down my legs without doing permanent injury to myself.

"Damn, Chief," he said, his fingers ghosting over my ass, circling the bruise on my right cheek.

"Pretty spectacular, eh?"

"Yeah," he breathed.

"What color is it now?" I craned around to look.

"I wasn't talking about the bruise," he answered, and I watched him cup his hands reverently over my ass, lean forward and kiss the bruise.

Oh shit.

I grabbed the base of my cock and thought about the components of a grant proposal and fortunately didn't shoot my wad. Jim was still doing spine-melting things to my ass, but if he kept that up, my part of the show would be over in no time.

"Jim, wait." I reached around and tried to pull his hand away, but he was moving his lips toward...

Fuck.

"Jim, you've gotta stop right now, or things'll be over before they've started."

My ass was suddenly deserted.

I fumbled my shoes off and kicked off my pants and shorts. Better. At least I could move. Jim stood beside the bed, watching me. He still had his pants on.

As I kissed him again, I unfastened his khakis and pushed them down his thighs, then carefully lifted the elastic of his shorts over his hard cock and shoved them down to join his khakis. When our cocks brushed against each other, skin to skin, he quivered and moaned deep in his throat.

God, he sounded so fucking sexy that I wanted to jump him then and there.

I pushed him around until the back of his legs hit his bed and he sat down with a thump, breaking our kiss.

"Hey!"

"Hang on," I muttered as I tugged off his shoes and pulled off his pants and shorts. "This is gonna be better..." I crawled onto the bed and pushed his shoulders until he was lying flat. He reached up and cupped my cheek with his hand, looking at me with such longing. I turned my head and kissed his palm.

"Blair..." He paused and grimaced, shaking his head slightly, as if he couldn't put what he wanted to say into words, then tugged me down into another kiss that almost blew off the top of my head. "Blair," he panted when we parted, and I suddenly understood what he was trying to say.

"Yeah," I said, meeting his eyes. "Me, too." His fingers trailed up my arm and I shivered. "I love you, too, Jim."

My cock ached, my lips were swollen and tender, my bruises throbbed. I was in heaven.

Kissing my way down his chest, paying special attention to all the scrapes and bruises he'd received yesterday, I created a meandering, damp path to his cock. Normally, I like to stretch out foreplay a bit more, but this was not the time - we could play later, once we'd taken the edge off our desperation.

"I want to taste you," I murmured. He nodded, his hands moving restlessly over the comforter. When I touched my mouth to his cock he cried out, arching his back and clenching the sheets. I sat back quickly.

"Shhhh," I soothed, stroking his thighs gently. Leaning forward, I kissed the tip of his cock, sliding my lips over his tender skin. He moaned and shuddered, then grabbed my thigh and urged my hips around.

I pulled my mouth away as I carefully moved over his face. Before I could go back to work on him, he slid his lips around my cock and sucked gently. I gasped and thought I saw stars, and I knew for damn sure that I heard angels. My arms shook and my elbows collapsed, and I ended up with my face buried in his groin, my hands clutching his hips, my thighs quivering, a trickle of sweat trailing down my ass, and a cock who thought it had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

After a minute or two of brain-melt, I managed to gain enough control of my arms to hoist myself back up onto my elbows and pay some attention to Jim's cock again. It was hard and drooling and looked happy to see me, so I kissed it and licked it and generally made it feel wanted.

While my mouth was busy with Jim's cock, I slid my hand under his ass, kneading his cheeks and gauging his reaction. He seemed to like it - his muscles contracted nicely at my touch - so I decided to take it a little further. When I dragged a finger down his crack, he moaned and spread his legs.

I can take a hint.

So I pulled my hand out from under him and got a finger wet, then returned, this time brushing the tip over his hole.

He moaned again and shifted his hips, his legs spreading wider. I tickled his hole a little, then pressed against him. Suddenly, my cock was abandoned.

"Please," Jim said harshly, trying to push down on my finger. I closed my eyes for a second, trying to regain control. God, that one word sent sparks to my cock...

I gave his cock a last kiss, then clambered off him. "Turn over," I said, scrambling across the bed to his nightstand. Please, god, let there be...

Ah, yes. An entire box of Trojans. And some lube.

A hand covered mine, and I looked over at Jim. He shook his head. "Bare," he whispered.

"Don't be stupid, man."

"It's not stupid. It's trust."

Aw, shit. "That's not the point..."

He pulled my hand to his mouth and kissed my fingers. "I want to feel you. Please."

"Jim, I can't."

"Yes, you can. I'm clean. You're clean. Please." And he released my hand, rolled onto his stomach, spread his legs and lifted his hips.

Trust.

Jim's trust.

I knew I was screwed. Well, metaphorically, at least.

I grabbed the lube and coated my cock, then squirted some on my fingers. It may have been overkill, but I'd rather have to clean up extra lube than not have enough.

I knelt between Jim's spread legs and leaned forward, kissing each cheek before smearing the lube on his hole and pushing some inside. He grunted and angled his hips so that my fingers slid inside more easily. "Now," he pleaded, his ass gripping my fingers tightly.

Oh, god. I'm going to fuck Jim.

I pulled out my fingers and positioned my cock against him. It didn't take much pressure before he opened enough to welcome me in. I took it slow and easy - Jim obviously wasn't a virgin, but I'd have bet it had been a while since he'd done this - and I was going to do my damnedest to make it the best ever.

After all, I wanted him to want this a lot.

By the time I was completely inside him - inside Jim - I was dripping with sweat and my arms wobbled. I lowered myself and rested on his back for a minute. It was like resting on the Continental Shelf.

"You okay, Jim?" I murmured, planting a kiss on his spine.

"Yeah," he grunted, and tightened his ass muscles.

Oh, man.

I took a deep breath and pulled out slowly, then thrust in, over and over, building up a rhythm. When I shifted slightly and plunged back in, he threw his head back and shouted. Bingo. I kept that angle as he quivered beneath me, his shouts dropping into moans. It was incredible. Tight, hot, Jim.

Heat coiled in my gut, spreading down my flanks and up my ribs and I pounded into him. Jim suddenly jerked and cried out, arching his back, his hands gripping the comforter. That was enough to send me over the edge, and I pressed deep inside him, my cock pulsing as I came.

I collapsed, panting, on top of Jim. Man, the afterglow was amazing - it was what Nirvana must be like.

It took all my remaining energy to carefully pull out of Jim and roll to the side.

"Wow."

Jim rolled onto his side, facing me, and smiled. "Yeah."

"Hey." I gave him a tired grin and touched a finger to his lips.

He kissed the tip of my finger, then rolled onto his back and opened the drawer of his bedside table, pulling out a plastic box of wet wipes.

I shook my head. "Man, were you an Eagle Scout?"

He pulled a wipe out of the box and carefully cleaned my cock.

"I don't like being sticky, Chief." He threw that wipe away and pulled out another one. I grabbed it from him.

"Here. Let me do the honors." He turned over and I wiped his ass gently and did a quick check for any damage. Everything looked just fine, and I planted a kiss on his tender hole before tossing away the wipe and flopping back on the bed.

"You know, I think I could sleep through the whole weekend."

"Okay." He shivered and scrambled under the covers. "Want to stay here?" Holding up the blankets invitingly, he suddenly gave a huge yawn. "Sorry."

"'S okay. I'd yawn, too, but I'm too tired." I slid between the sheets and pressed myself against him. "Oh, man, this feels good."

He wrapped an arm around me and pulled me closer. "Yeah."

I planted a kiss on a bit of Jim's arm I could easily reach. "You know the best thing about this? Having breakfast in bed."

He chuckled. "Nah. The best thing about this is that you can't leave me now."

I froze. "What do you mean?"

His body was suddenly rock-hard next to mine. But he didn't speak.

"What is this about, Jim?" I scrambled around, trying to see his face. "Jim?" He rolled away and I tugged at his shoulder. "Jim?"

And then it hit me. Jim was using this... He was using sex to make sure I wouldn't leave.

And I'd fallen for it.

>>>>>::::<<<<<

>>>Saturday, February 19th, 1:41am<<<

It's all there. Everything that I was afraid was a lie an hour ago, everything I could ever want, everything I could ever dream of, all summed up in his eyes. Need, desire, lust, love... I take another step toward him.

"I wanted you, Chief, and I... " he whispers, holding up his hand. I stop in my tracks. "I thought that you wanted me..." He sets his jaw and looks over my shoulder, his face bleak, all his earlier bitterness gone. His other hand still grips the counter so tightly that I wouldn't be surprised if he leaves finger-sized dents behind.

"Of course I wanted you." I rub my damp palms on my sweatshirt and shiver at the icy tickle down my spine. "Still do," I admit. "But after we'd... done it... You hurt me, Jim."

His eyes flicker in my direction and his jaw sets even tighter. "I know," he says quietly. "I resented the fact that I needed you. I thought if you needed me as much as I needed you..." He bows his head.

"It doesn't work that way, Jim." I reach out and rest my hand on his. It's like ice.

"I know. I'm sorry. I think... I was desperate."

"Desperate?" I rub his cold fingers, and feel them relax a little. Maybe the countertop will survive unscathed after all. "No one's ever been desperate for me before."

The corners of his mouth twitch. "Guess I'm the first, then."

"Yeah." I twine my fingers with his. "Guess you are."

"Chief, can we start over?" He places his other hand on top of mine and stares at our clasped hands.

"No." I shake my head and he looks at me bleakly. "Not yet. Not until I get a chance to apologize, too."

He looks at me, confusion in his eyes. "Apologize? For what?"

I sigh and look down at our hands, fingers tightly woven together, like our lives. "I wanted things to change, to get us out of our rut, so I pushed you."

"Pushed me?"

"Yeah. I pushed you about needing me. I rubbed your face in it."

He purses his lips and regards me thoughtfully. "Well, it's true. I do need you."

"Yeah, but I didn't have to be so... so..." My throat goes dry as I remember my words from Monday. "And then I got in your face about it, and I was so fucking pleased..."

"I didn't know what to think," Jim says slowly. "You were right, and I thought you- You smelled like you wanted me, and I thought that's what I should do..."

"I know. I'm sorry." God, what a mess. "Well, there's one good thing. We're out of our rut."

He gives a dry little huff of a laugh. "True." Glancing at me, he squeezes my fingers. "Now what?"

"I don't want to go back," I say slowly, twisting my hands in his until I've got them in a firm grip and can raise them to my chest.

"I don't think I could do that."

"So we go forward." I bow my head and give his hands a kiss.

"I still need you, Blair," he says hoarsely.

"It's not going to be easy, is it?" I ask, even though I already know the answer.

"No." He shakes his head and raises his hands, still wrapped in mine, to the sides of my face. "No, it's not going to be easy." His eyes shine as he looks at me and I'm suddenly breathless.

"Easy is vastly overrated," I pant as he pulls me close and brushes his lips over mine, the barest touch. "We've never done anything easy before. Why should we start now?"

I slip my hands from his and wrap my arms around him, and he buries his face in my neck. I can feel his hands on my back and I tighten my grip.

It's a rough road, up here, out of the rut, but since when have we ever played it safe, or asked for the easy way out?

Not Jim and me. Not us.

End