Work Header

Until Proven Innocent

Work Text:

Until Proven Innocent

by JC

Author's webpage:

Author's disclaimer: The characters from the TV series "The Sentinel" are not my property, and I am not making money off of them. That's all I have to say.

Until Proven Innocent by J.C.

Blair Sandburg knew that it wasn't a dream. He wouldn't wake up the next day, safely at home in his rat-infested warehouse apartment, to rush off to class. Instead he was living a nightmare, framed for smuggling illegal goods into the country by a professor he had trusted.

Framed, arrested, convicted, sentenced.

A prisoner.

At least living with rats was familiar.

He held no illusions about prison life. How his small frame, wide blue eyes, curly hair would be viewed by the other inmates. The four-legged rodents were the least of his worries.

Shuffling from foot to foot, he tried to look as insignificant as possible as he watched the big man across the yard lifting weights. It was only his second day, and he had made it through the night without incident, but he wasn't pinning his hopes on that sort of luck holding up. He was a trained observer; it hadn't taken much to find out who was who.

His only hope was to pin himself to the man on the weight bench. At least the guy was good looking. Damned good looking if Blair were honest with himself. The bulging biceps marked with veins, the broad shoulders and chest, the hard, but handsome face. Sweat covering all he could see. It made Blair shiver, and not just from fear.

"Big Jim" was an ex-cop, yet nobody fucked with him. Almost unheard of in a prison population. Blair gathered his resolve and decided to make his move soon, before somebody made a move on him. As he walked off to go to the prison library, he tried to ignore all of the eyes staring in his direction, not noticing a certain pair of piercing blue that tracked his departure.

Blair could hear a shower running, and swallowed his cover story in surprise when he realized that there wasn't any of Jim's crew standing guard. It was Jim's shower time, and evidently everyone knew not to be around the communal area. Blair's knees were trembling as he stripped down, and quietly slipped inside.

Only to be snatched against a hard, wet body the moment his first bare foot hit tile.

"What the fuck do you want, boy?"

That sentence was snarled full force in Blair's face, and all ideas of a plan flew out of the window.

A strong arm was holding him tight, and a large, rough hand brushed the wet hair out of his face, steely eyes narrowly gazing down into his own. Blair thought he could feel every muscle in the man's body, including the one pulsing angrily somewhere below his belly button.

"Answer me."

The quiet forcefulness of that order caused Blair to respond.

"I... just wanted to... talk."

There was a harsh, grunting laugh, and Blair was pulled impossibly closer.

"Talk? Is that what this is?"

Blair's ass was fondled by a callused palm, and squeezed roughly before he was pushed away.

"I don't talk, boy. Now get out while you can still walk."

Blair was tempted, hell, walking wasn't even first in his mind, running seemed like the obvious choice, but he had a long time to be behind bars, and he wasn't going to make it alone. It had seemed so easy; he had his wits, his looks... how hard could it be to get this... rough-edged, hulk of a cop to take him in.

"Please... I--"

"You what? Look at you, you're scared shitless. I don't waste my time on the new fish... but I'm sure Hog would love to get a piece of you."

Pure revulsion shook Blair. Hog... three hundred and fifty pounds of evil.

Jim turned his back and Blair watched the play of muscles as soap and water dripped off the hard ass, sliding down the long legs. In his befuddled state of mind, Blair mumbled a few appreciative words under his breath as he moved dejectedly to leave.

Maybe if he waited outside...

Before he could finish the thought he found himself pushed against a wall, face pressed against cool tile, a hot, hot body pressed close up behind him.

"So, you like what you see, boy?"

Blair was starting to curse the cop's seemingly super hearing.

"Think you can handle me? Think you know what you're getting into? This ain't the playground, boy. This is real life."

Blair groaned as a hand felt him up, not gently, from nipple to cock. Still, somehow he wasn't that scared anymore, just incredibly turned on.

"Too cocky for your own good, kid." Suddenly he was let go, and he struggled to make his shaky legs hold him up. And he heard the quiet whisper, "Too pretty for your own good."

He turned, facing the formidable presence that was glaring at him. He was having trouble breathing, but he didn't turn away. Didn't even flinch when Jim leaned closer, mouth opening to tell him to get the fuck out, he was sure.

But instead, Jim snapped his mouth shut and dragged Blair under the spray of the one running shower. Blair felt his ass spread, a soapy finger running down his crack and probing into his hole.

"Shit, kid. You're tight. You have no idea what the fuck you're doing, do you?"

In answer, Blair reached back, grabbing Jim by the hip and pulling him closer. The burning erection seemed huge, but he pushed back against it anyway.

"Fine, boy. You asked for it, but don't scream. You won't want me to gag you."

The pressure of the three fingers that stretched him was nothing compared to when Jim pushed the head of his dick in. Blair almost did scream, but Jim covered his mouth with a hand, and Blair bit down on the rough flesh of a palm, his scream transforming into a series of moans. It burned, it ached, it made his eyes water, but when Jim shifted, twisting his hips just so, pleasure caught fire in Blair's ass, spreading along his nerves all the way to his fingers and toes, and the cooling water from the shower did nothing to put it out.

Jim rammed in and out of him, hard and quick, and Blair tried to meet each thrust, hoping that the guttural growls from behind him indicated half the pleasure that he was feeling himself. One last push and only Jim's grip kept him from slamming his face in the wall as they both came.

Pulling out slowly, Jim just rested for a moment, still holding Blair up. Then he reached for the soap, quickly washing, and motioning for Blair to do the same.

When they were both dressed, Jim walked out, and Blair followed, surprised when they ended up at the library. Jim picked up a waiting stack of books from the inmate manning the desk before turning to Blair.

"My table in an hour for dinner." Loud enough for everyone to hear. Then he was gone.

Blair went over and gingerly sat in a chair to wait... no longer caring about those watching eyes around him.

Blair was rushing off to dinner, following in the same direction as the rest of the throng in the narrow corridor, when his breath left him a sudden rush as he ran into a wall.

A solid wall with a shaved head and bad breath.


Blair swallowed a groan and tried not to let his knees clack together too loudly.

"Think you're set, don'cha pretty boy? Got yourself all tucked up nice with that cop-freak."

A massive paw gripped him by the hair, and his eyes wildly searched for help from those that passed by. Nobody stopped, but abruptly, he was let go.

"I've got my eye on your pretty ass, punk. Your daddy can't be everywhere. He only thinks he's got eyes in the back of his head."

Shakily, Blair resumed his trip to the dining hall as Hog lumbered off in the opposite direction. All in all, he felt that had gone well enough. There were a thousand less pleasant ways the encounter could have ended. He made his way to the back of the line of prisoners getting their meals, glancing over to the table at which Jim was sitting.

The sharp blue gaze pinned him, making it impossible for him to move for a second, but then he calmed, picking up a tray.

Moving along with the line, he realized that his little run-in with Hog proved one thing. Prison grapevines were quick, and Jim had known it. It had only been an hour... and already the word was out. If he hadn't been living it, Blair thought, he could get a very interesting paper out of a study on prison society.

Taking a few more steps forward, he turned his attention to trying to determine what exactly made up the various items being spooned onto his plate.

Blair tried to look confident, and as if he belonged, as he approached the table where Jim was sitting with his usual crew. There was a white guy who was good looking in a slick sort of way, and two black men, one with a pleasant face, the other, stern. Blair recognized that the grouping was a bit out of the ordinary. In prison, when people started splintering off, it was usually along racial lines first. A million questions raced through his head about how these men had formed some sort of unit.

When he reached his destination, he hesitated. Everyone at the table glanced up except Jim, but Jim was the only one who spoke.

"You're late."

"I... uh..." Blair stammered, unsure about whether he wanted to tell about meeting up with Hog on the way over.

"Shit, kid. Sit down. You don't wanna try to eat that crap once it's cold."

Blair sat, picking the seat across from Jim. He picked up his fork, poking his food carefully, thinking that it didn't seem like a good idea to eat it even while it was still hot. Nobody else at the table seemed to be having a problem with it, but Blair settled for drinking his carton of milk.

"So kid, what'd you do?"

Blair looked up and met the interested brown-eyed gaze from the man on his left. He knew what the guy meant; it was a common enough question under the circumstances. The tone hadn't been unkind, but Blair felt at a loss as how to answer.

"I didn't... I..." He cleared his throat. "I was framed."

Chuckling, the man replied, "Another innocent victim claimed by the system, huh?"

Opening his mouth to protest, Blair stopped when the man sitting next to Jim spoke up. Bigger than Jim, with an even more gruff voice, glasses on his dark face.

"Shit, Brown. You know how it goes. We all know how it goes."

Blair got the feeling that it wasn't a joke, and when no one said anything more, he gave a terse statement about his predicament.

The other men then each offered up a bit about themselves. Simon, an importer who had dealt with specialty items like coffee and cigars, had been accused of murdering his ex-wife. Brown, who had worked at his family's restaurant, said he had been wrongly identified, and sent up on drug charges. Rafe, the owner of a struggling clothing store, had been convicted of arson and insurance fraud. Everyone told his story, except Jim.

Blair didn't want to ask, but found himself unable to resist.

Quietly, he ventured, "So why are you here?"

He could see Jim's jaw clench tightly, tension evident in the way the muscle jumped, and he immediately regretted the question.

The strong, lined face turned to him, eyes flat, and Jim harshly replied, "Didn't you know, kid? You're having dinner with the Switchman." Then he resumed eating.

That response only left Blair confused, and he looked to the other men for clarification, but nobody met his gaze, all eyes suddenly riveted on the remains of dinner.

After a few tense seconds, Blair finished his milk.

When Blair stepped into the large room where the inmates gathered to watch TV, there was a wrestling match on. The place was filled with noisy men excitedly interacting with what was showing on the screen. Blair hadn't been that interested in watching television, but the library was closed after dinner, and the idea of spending any more time in his cell than was absolutely necessary held no appeal.

Despite the fact that the room was filled almost to capacity, Jim sat alone in the back row. The seats around him were empty except for the one next to him, which held a short stack of books. Blair made his way over, even though he was unsure what type of reception he would get, wondering whether he had pissed Jim off earlier with his point blank questioning. He slipped into the row, taking the seat next to the books.

Jim was reading, slowly turning pages, seemingly oblivious to the noisy environment. Blair relaxed a bit when Jim acknowledged him with a slight nod. He tried to settle comfortably, regretting that he hadn't also thought to bring along a book. Glancing down at Jim's selections, he was surprised by the variety of subject matter, but decided against asking to borrow one. Instead, he did one of the things he did best: observed.

The other occupants of the room were cheering at the wrestlers, occasionally shouting out obscenities at the scantily clad women that periodically walked in front of the camera. Mentally, Blair took note of the behavior of various pockets of people, formulating a mini lecture that he figured he would never get a chance to deliver to a class. From time to time, he stole sideways glances at Jim, but the other man either didn't notice or pretended not to.

In the middle of what seemed like the umpteenth match, Jim slowly shifted, closing the book he had been reading, then gathered the rest before getting to his feet. When he was standing, he stared down at Blair with an unfathomable expression. Blair swallowed hard, but held the steady gaze, determined to face the consequences.

"Let's go."

There was maybe a half an hour before 'lights out', and Blair wondered where Jim was leading him to exact payment for their arrangement. Jim didn't seem angry, maybe only a bit more distant than before, so Blair felt safe enough. Most assuredly safer than the alternatives. Earlier in the shower, though rough, hadn't been unpleasant. In fact, Blair admitted, it had been the exact opposite.

Caught up in his thoughts, Blair wasn't prepared when Jim stopped abruptly, and he bumped into the hard body from behind. He noticed that Jim had walked him 'home'. For a brief moment, Blair was annoyed. As much as he appreciated having an alliance with Jim, he felt a flash of resentment. He had never run from bullies. No matter how scrawny or nerdy he had been as a kid, he had always managed to outwit, outmaneuver, or even befriend those who had wanted to pick on him. Frowning, he allowed himself a small amount of satisfaction for at least coming up with the plan himself to align with Jim, not leaving himself open for the taking. He had, after all, walked into the deal of his own free will.

Still, he was nervous when Jim looked down on him and moved closer. Nervous enough to move backwards until the solid presence of the bars stopped him. He wondered if Jim planned to feel him up right there in plain sight outside of his cell, or move inside to his bunk for a quickie even though he could hear the soft snores of his cellmate, who had evidently turned in early. His mind reeled when Jim stepped even closer, lowering his head. Desire tingled through him as he latched on to the thought that Jim was about to kiss him.

A sudden wave of tension emanating from Jim caused Blair to jump. Bypassing his lips, Jim had brought his mouth close to Blair's ear. Instantly Jim's whole body stiffened, and it registered to Blair as shock. Jim's head jerked up, anger evident on his features, and Blair was sure that he had misread the whole situation. That Jim had indeed been pissed and was ready to retaliate. But, just as quickly, it passed and Jim's face settled into a neutral expression, then he was speaking in a quiet voice, breath tickling Blair's cheek.

"Home Sweet Home. And you don't have to worry about Nutsy," referring to Blair's cellmate, "he's harmless."

Blair nodded. He hadn't been too concerned about the guy. The most troublesome thing about him seemed to be his tendency to talk practically nonstop when he was awake.

Nutsy's hook was that he had connections. He could get anything, refusing only to handle drugs and a few other select items. Everyone knew this the first day that they were inside. If hearing it through the prison grapevine wasn't enough, Nutsy made sure you got it first-hand. But everyone also learned early not to fuck with the somewhat geeky looking man. It was almost like Nutsy was a national treasure.

It was said that once some overly ambitious guy had decided to rough Nutsy up and take over the supply business. Instead the wells ran dry, and when the waiting customers realized that they might not get their stuff at all, a prison-wide united front was presented and the interloper had spent a month in the prison infirmary. Now, Nutsy always walked around with three big bruisers flanking him, but, at this point, it was mostly for show.

"In fact," Jim continued, "this is not a bad place to hang your hat... if you don't mind the constant chatter. If you're quiet, you may get lucky and he won't wake up when you turn in."

Blair nodded again as Jim straightened up. When he had stepped back, Jim's face hardened into an expression that chilled Blair to the bone.

In a deadly calm voice, Jim added, "And you won't have to worry about Hog touching you again, either."

Dumbfounded, Blair watched as Jim headed off towards his own cell, just as the corridors started filling up with the rest of the population doing the same. With Jim gone, Blair kicked off his shoes and settled on his bunk. A little while later, the cells were locked, the lights went out, and Blair drifted off to sleep.

The next day, Blair joined Jim and company for breakfast before heading off to his job. He had hoped that he would be able to work in the library, but instead he had been assigned to the prison laundry. Sighing, he tied his hair back and resigned himself to sweating it out until lunchtime.

Conversation had been at a minimum during breakfast, and it wasn't much better during lunch, so Blair hadn't asked any questions. While busy at his second shift of work that afternoon, folding what seemed like an endless pile of pillowcases, Blair's mind mulled over the issue of Jim and 'The Switchman'. The term seemed vaguely familiar, but he couldn't quite pin it down. When they were let go from the laundry for the day, it was still dancing just out of his reach.

After making a stop at his cell for pen and paper, Blair headed out to the yard, breathing appreciatively of the outdoor air. He immediately spied Jim bench-pressing with the ever stern Simon spotting him. Feeling more self-conscious moving through the milling groups of men than he had that first time he joined Jim in the dining hall, Blair avoided eye contact, and ignored as best he could, the sporadic whistling directed his way. He found a spot near Jim and sat on the ground, gathering his thoughts as he started writing what would be his journal as long as he was behind bars.

When Jim and Simon switched places, Blair glanced up, catching Jim in the middle of wiping sweat from his face with the tail end of his tank top. The sight of the bare abs and chest caused Blair to flush hotly, and he wondered what it would be like to run his fingers along the ridges of muscle. Jim caught him staring and he reddened even more, quickly returning his attention to his writing, not looking up again until Jim and Simon had resumed their workout.

Simon went off to watch an ongoing basketball game when the workout was done, but Jim headed inside, presumably to the showers. Jim hadn't asked Blair to come along, but after a moment spent wondering what he should do, Blair got up and followed after him.

The shower was already running, so he hurriedly removed his clothes. When he stepped inside, he saw water spraying from one of the many showerheads, but there was nobody there.

"You like living dangerously, don't you, kid?" It was a low growl, but one that Blair was glad that he recognized.

Whipping around, barely managing not to slip, he stammered at the breathtaking sight of Jim standing there in all his glory, skin covered with droplets of water. "Weren't you... I... I thought you'd be expecting me."

One eyebrow arched, and a frown crossed Jim's face. "Oh?"

Jim moved closer, totally unselfconscious about his naked state, and seemingly unconcerned about Blair's equally unclothed body. Blair cursed the man's ability to constantly unnerve him. It wasn't fear exactly, but some weird mix of emotions, not the least of which was attraction. And, he was discovering that Jim was a continual source of surprise to him.

When Blair didn't answer, Jim said, "So you think that I'm going to expect to fuck you every day in exchange for giving you the privilege of breathing near me?"

Despite the fact that that was indeed what he had thought, Blair still didn't answer.

"I told you that I don't hound the new meat. There are plenty of other bastards running that game. I'm not in the protection business. Let's just say that I heard your cry for help. You got what you wanted. Leave it at that."

Totally thrown for a loop, Blair rebounded as best he could. "But yesterday, you.... You seemed to make your expectations pretty clear."

Embarrassment colored Jim's face, and he snarled, "Well, that was the best offer I'd had in a while," and stiffly he made his way under the spray, keeping his back turned.

Blair watched the muscular terrain offered by Jim's rear view, and again he felt the desire to reach out and touch.

"I took advantage yesterday. Sorry." Jim's words were quiet, but they seemed to echo in the space. "I don't charge for my friendship -- I should have made that clear."

Disconcerted over his blunder, Blair spoke up, wanting to reassure Jim that while he may have misunderstood, he didn't feel as though he had been taken advantage of, but Jim cut him off.

"Go read a book or something, kid, let me finish up here."

But before he could leave, Jim called out to him.


Blair turned back, trying not to stare.

"You can relax. I don't think anyone will be touching you... anymore." Then, he eyed Blair up and down, an assessing look on his face.

Blair froze under the gaze, keeping his eyes on Jim's face, trying to will his semi-hard cock into submission, praying it wouldn't jump to attention, and wave stupidly in Jim's direction.

"Tomorrow, you're going to start working out. Meet me outside at the usual time, and don't be late. I want to set you up before I get going with my own routine. You could stand to gain some bulk. And start eating your meals." His back once again to Blair, Jim proceeded to soap up.

Leaving quickly so that he wouldn't be caught staring any more that day, Blair, who was already too embarrassed for words, couldn't decide whether he was relieved or disappointed about the turn of events.

Blair came to the end of the article, and placed it with the others that he had already finished. He rubbed his eyes, hoping he'd remember to ask his mother to bring his spare reading glasses when she came to visit in a few weeks. His glasses had been his only casualty since arriving. On the first day, standing in line with the other new arrivals, a skirmish had broken out. New guys trying not to seem like easy pickings to the old-timers eyeing them from behind the guards. Blair hadn't been involved, but he had gotten caught in the crossfire, and as a result his glasses had been broken.

He reached for the next article and a picture of Jim stared up at him. The ex-cop was nicely decked out in a suit, but he was being led away in handcuffs. The headline read, 'Bizarre Twist in the Switchman Case'. Feeling the beginnings of a headache, he rubbed at his eyes again, thinking that maybe he could get Nutsy to get him a pair of glasses more quickly.

Refocusing on the article, Blair began to remember bits and pieces about the case. He had been out of the country when the Switchman was bringing terror to Cascade, but he did have some recollection of the trial. His train of thought was interrupted when a hand clamped down on his shoulder.

"Found some interesting reading, kid?"

Before he could answer, Jim had leaned closer, continuing in a menacing tone.

"If you have questions about me, open your mouth and ask me."

The pressure on his shoulder ceased, and when he looked around, Jim was gone. Taking a deep breath, he scooped up the printouts and tossed them in the trash on his way out of the library.

He ran after Jim's retreating form, and caught up to him as he rounded the corner at the end of the hall. Feeling guilty, and hating that he felt guilty, he stepped in Jim's path.

"Hey, what's the problem," he said angrily. "It's all a matter of public record."

Jim narrowed his eyes to slits and responded with a sneer, "So, you wouldn't mind if I looked up articles about your little smuggling case and walked around thinking that I had all the answers?"

Instantly getting the point, Blair sighed and offered an apology.

"You're right. I'm sorry, man." After a second's hesitation, he added, "I was curious and I didn't think you'd appreciate me asking you a bunch of questions."

To Blair's amazement, Jim gave him a small smile. "To be honest, I've been expecting it. Been bracing myself for it all day. You seem like the kind of guy that asks a lot of questions."

With his own half smile, Blair said, "Yeah, I've been accused of that on more than one occasion. But that was... you know... back in my old life."

Jim nodded, silently acknowledging how far away the outside world seemed, then he took a deep breath, refusing to get caught up in the trap of thinking about freedom. Folding his arms across his chest, his expression grew stern.

"You know, you approached me. I didn't force myself on you, and I'm not some... Look, you can ask me questions, you could have told me about Hog." The broad shoulders moved in a shrug. "I'm not holding you prisoner."

Once again, Blair was taken aback. He didn't know what to make of Big Jim Ellison, but he was starting to really like him. A full-blown Sandburg smile broke out on his face. "Okay. So...."

Jim shook his head. "After dinner. Then, I'll tell you all about my last days as an officer of the law."

"There had been a rash of bombings, and I was lead investigator on the case. Eventually, a task force was formed, but I had a rep for doing things my way and getting the job done, so for the most part I was left alone. For some reason, the bomber got a kick out of taunting me, sending me these agitating email messages. And then I started going crazy..."

Jim and Blair were sitting in a corner of the room that was adjacent to the TV room. Inmates gathered there to play cards, or chess, or sometimes Ping-Pong on the net-less table set up to one side. Although they were each holding a hand of cards, that was as far as they had gotten towards really playing anything.

Instead, Jim told his story in a matter of fact tone while Blair listened without interrupting. A story about a man finding himself in a sensory nightmare, seeing things that others couldn't, smelling odors they weren't aware of, sensitive to tastes that others couldn't sense. Jim said that he thought maybe he had been drugged, or maybe was going out of his mind, and that it had scared him. How even the doctors hadn't been able to give him an answer.

It had interfered with him doing his job, and eventually destroyed his credibility. Things were so out of whack that he had let a potential suspect get away. He had uncovered evidence but couldn't satisfactorily explain how. Once the task force got involved, they grew suspicious that a supposedly top cop was doing what looked like such a sloppy job, and had such a pointed connection to the perpetrator.

"I was an Army Ranger, and on my last mission, my chopper went down and my whole crew died. I was the sole survivor, stranded in the jungles of Peru for eighteen months. When I was found, I was seen as something of a hero for organizing the local tribe and keeping the area secure. At one of the crime scenes, we found a copy of a newsmagazine from after my return that featured me on the cover. The consensus became that I was the one behind everything. Looking to be seen as a hero again. I'd been through a divorce; lost a partner... they decided that I was looking for attention. Sending myself those notes. It was circumstantial bullshit, but tensions were running high, everyone wanted someone to take the blame. I didn't have a partner to back up anything I was saying."

Blair listened to the tale in stunned silence. He knew what it was like not to be believed, to see your life spinning out of control and having no idea how to fix it. Jim had his complete sympathy. And what's more, his conviction. Blair believed. His mind had been buzzing since Jim first mentioned his senses; he had no trouble thinking that everything Jim was telling him was true.

"It all came to a head with a bomb on a bus. I was trying to work out something with some evidence that I had found. A scent that I had picked up. I remember focusing on it, really concentrating, hoping I would recognize it. The next thing I knew some cops were slapping me, trying to get me to come around. They had broken into my apartment and found me there... and they had a warrant. No one had been able to reach me, and the DA's office was ready to make a move. I'm still not sure how much time I lost, but I had no alibi to give them. Even though I wasn't on the scene, it was decided that I could easily have planted the bomb earlier. So, here I am. And here I'll stay."


"I don't want to talk anymore. It's almost lights out. Let's go."

Blair lay on his bunk, not even close to being able to sleep. He tried to recall everything he had written before he had scrapped the idea for his dissertation, wishing desperately that he had his Richard Burton monograph with him. The explorer had written the best source of information that Blair had found about what Burton called 'Sentinels': people with genetically heightened senses. People like Jim.

In researching for the paper, Blair had found a great number of subjects with one or two super senses, but in the end, he decided not to write his thesis on Sentinels. Without an actual example of the real thing, he hadn't felt that his paper would be as good as it could, or as interesting, and instead had taken a break to do field study, ending up in Borneo with Dr. Stoddard. But he still had his notes... his books...

He decided he needed to call his mother as soon as he could and get her to send him some of his stuff. And he'd check the prison library. And he had a few things he'd have to ask Nutsy to check into getting for him.

Rolling over, Blair tried to relax enough to fall asleep, but after a few moments, he gave up and let his mind work out a plan.

Although feeling totally drained, Jim also was unable to sleep. Instead, he was doing something that he had usually tried to avoid doing since he'd been incarcerated.

Thinking. Thinking about his life behind bars, and his life before his arrest.

It hadn't been easy, of course, being a cop dropped into a prison population, and at first everyone had been determined to let him know how hard it could be. Jim had just wanted to be left alone, but he quickly saw that wasn't to be the case. After his first altercation, where he had held his own, but ended up in the infirmary for his trouble, Jim decided that he had too many years to survive there to play the game that way.

What people didn't realize, or just didn't think about, was that Jim Ellison the ex-cop was also an ex-Army Ranger, with Covert Ops training, equipped with the knowledge of how to kill, maim, or disable a man with expediency. And he no longer felt bound by cop rules about unnecessary force. He knew the meaning of survival of the fittest... he'd survived in the jungle. Prison was a jungle too, and he was going to be inside for a lot longer than eighteen months.

After his second confrontation, he had gotten his point across. Very few people had forgotten it since. For the most part, all he had to do was keep up his hard-ass demeanor.

His senses had been a bigger challenge, but he had finally gotten to the point where he didn't feel out of control. Not that he was actually in control of them. It seemed that somehow, subconsciously, he was handling them. They had 'settled'. Though his hearing and his sight were still above normal, his taste and touch weren't up to par at all, but in prison he considered that a plus. The food wasn't worthy of sharp taste buds, and he had gotten used to the slight numb feeling to his skin. Smell was the most volatile, it hovered around normal, but it constantly changed. Jim had long ago decided that he was experiencing the best case scenario, especially considering what he had been through before. He didn't worry about it; he let it be -- such was life behind bars.

And he definitely didn't talk about his senses. Jim wasn't sure why he had told Blair everything. He had never done that before. The few times he had tried to explain, once to his captain on the force, then later to his lawyer, he hadn't been believed. Rather than be labeled a psychiatric case, he just maintained his innocence, resigned to not being understood.

But the kid hadn't even blinked. He hadn't said he believed, but he hadn't said that Jim was crazy either. Jim felt pathetically grateful for that, even though he knew that he hadn't actually given Blair a chance to say much of anything.

With determination, Jim tried to steer his thoughts away from that certain curly-haired kid. He didn't like the direction they always seemed to be heading. It felt dangerous. And neither one of them needed more danger in their lives. If it had just been a case of his dick being interested, it would have been one thing, but he was starting to think that he liked the kid a bit too much.

Sighing, he resigned himself to a sleepless night. But before he was even aware of it, he had drifted off, his mind still fixed on Blair.

To Jim's surprise the next days were fairly normal. He settled into a new routine, which only meant that supervising Blair's workout was added to his day. Meals, work, exercise, reading, an occasional poker game when they all were in the mood, a few chess games here and there, then bed. And up to replay it the next day and the next.

Blair didn't bring up Jim's senses, or his past as a mad bomber, and Jim was glad of that. And if the kid seemed a little preoccupied, Jim chalked it up to the fact that whatever he was always busy writing held a lot of interest for him.

"I think I can help you."

Jim looked up to find Blair standing next to the table with a book and some papers in his hand. "Help me with what?"

"The thing with your senses."

The library was nearly empty, but Jim looked around anyway to see if anyone was within earshot. It had been weeks since he had spilled his guts, and he had foolishly thought the subject was closed.

"I'm in control."

"Are you really?" Blair looked skeptical as he sat down, and it made Jim nervous. "Believe it or not, Jim, I know exactly what you were talking about. I didn't mention anything before because I wanted to brush up on the details, and work out some ideas, but I've studied people with senses like yours. I think I can help you get a handle on it."

"Look, it's handled. No blackouts, no headaches, nothing off the charts."

"But are you handling it? Tell me what it's like. Your sight, your hearing, everything."

Jim hesitated. Every ounce of self-preservation he possessed was telling him to not even think about it, yet with a heavy sigh, he explained the current state of his senses. What had seemed fine didn't sound fine at all when he was saying it out loud to somebody else.

"That's not good, man. You don't have to live like that. You're already in prison, you don't want to be a prisoner in your own body." He reached out a finger, lightly touching the back of Jim's hand, shaking his head, mumbling sadly about numbness.

Then, he seemed to pull himself together, reach inside himself and become this... teacher. He explained to Jim about his thesis, his research, the reading material that he had reviewed, and the tests that he had worked out.

"Let's try something, okay?"

He pulled something out of his pocket, keeping it closed in his fist, and asked Jim to identify it by smell. Talking softly, he drew Jim closer to the scent, teaching him to eliminate opposing odors layer by layer. Providing him with a technique to bring what he wanted to the forefront. Amazed, Jim found that he could follow Blair's voice straight to the targeted scent, once he convinced himself to let go of the overwhelmingly appealing fragrance of Blair himself.


"Hey, man, right! Right on the first try. Although, that was kinda easy, but you get the idea?"

Trying hard not to match Blair's smile with a silly grin of his own, Jim nodded. He felt incredibly triumphant, but was still apprehensive about messing around with something that had knocked him for a serious loop before.

"So, starting tomorrow we'll get busy working on it."

"I don't know if I want to do that."

"Come on, you gotta do this. I can help you."

"What's in it for you?"

"I won't lie. There was a time I would have killed to be able to write about you. It would have made a great paper, but now I just want to help." At Jim's continued reluctance, he looked him in the eye and said, "Hey, I don't charge for my friendship, either. I'm sorry that no one heard your cry for help, but I'm here now. Someone who understands. Someone who believes. What's wrong with that?"

Jim felt weak. Two years ago that would have been everything to him. Just what he needed, and what he desperately wanted. And after a moment, he had to admit that, deep down, he had wanted it everyday since.

"Fine, kid. We'll try it your way."

"Great, but uh... Jim?"


"'Kid' is getting old, thank goodness we moved past 'boy'... do you think you could call me 'Blair'?"

"Yeah, kid. I suppose I could," Jim said, standing up. "Let's go eat."

"Very funny," Blair muttered, gathering up his paperwork and following Jim out.

During the ensuing months, sensory tests were added to the daily routine. Blair tried all kinds of things, searching for the limits to Jim's abilities, and discovering ways to give the ex-cop a feeling of real control. Cursing the fact that he didn't have access to lab facilities, Blair nonetheless took a wealth of notes. Jim wasn't always comfortable with the constant poking, prodding, and barrage of questions, but he couldn't argue with success. To be able to function normally, but with the added bonus of being able to zero in on a sense, if he wanted to, was undeniably a heady feeling.

The night that Jim had lay on his bunk and realized that he could be blissfully unaware of the sound of the other men's pain or pleasure echoing around him had been extraordinary. The night that he found that he could single out Blair's heartbeat as he drifted off to sleep had been even better.

"Okay Sandburg, you gotta watch out for these guys." Jim and Blair had their heads together discussing the two men who were impatiently watching them. "They can be tricky."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Why even bother? You've got tricks up your sleeve that can blow them away."

"No. We can take them, fair and square." After a pause, he asked, "You can play basketball, can't you?"

"Yeah, man. I can play. Give me the rundown."

"Simon likes to use his size, he'll probably be gunning for you, but don't be intimidated. Let me take care of him. Brown likes to pretend that he's tired, but don't be fooled. He's quick. You're gonna have to keep your eye on him. And Professor? Don't miss your shots."

Blair rolled his eyes again. He still hadn't gotten Jim to call him 'Blair', but they had progressed to 'Sandburg', and after a few weeks of dealing with Blair and all of his tests, Jim had started tossing out 'Professor' every so often. Although, not always in a pleasant tone.

The game of two-on-two quickly got underway, and Jim and Blair proved that they were the better team. Jim did indeed know his opponents, and the other men had never seen Blair play. He was better than they would have thought.

When the winning shot made the basket with the beautiful swooshing sound of all net, Blair couldn't hold back his excitement. With a self-congratulatory "yes!", he spun around and gave Jim a high five.

"Beginner's luck, kid," Simon said as he snatched up his shirt.

Blair refrained from commenting that it wasn't the first time he'd played ball, so it couldn't exactly be classified as beginner's luck. Instead, with a smile on his face, he replied, "Good game, guys." He smiled even wider when Brown's usually friendly face twisted into a scowl, and he stomped off with Simon.

Jim ignored the sore losers making their exit, and watched Blair. Sweaty, flushed with the exertion of the game, and the excitement of the win. He had been an aggressive player, and Jim had seen another glimpse of the man he felt Blair must be on the outside. The same person that he had gotten flashes of over the past months as they worked together on his senses. It made him sad, among other things. He had been able to control his continuing physical attraction to the man, but he was finding his emotions increasingly harder to master.

"Jim? You okay?"

"Yeah, you played a hell of a game."

"Yeah, I did. I feel pumped. Come on, spot me. I need to work off some of this adrenaline high."

"Forget it, Sandburg. Quit while you're ahead. Hit the showers."

Shaking his head, but turning to go inside, Blair quipped, "Jeez, Jim. You give the saying 'the thrill of victory' a whole new meaning."

Jim didn't answer, just watched Blair walk away before moving to catch up.

It was the first restless night that Jim had had in a while. It hadn't been so long ago that he didn't recognize certain symptoms. Though it seemed a lifetime away, he could still clearly remember the rush... the thrilling emotional turmoil. With his ex-wife he had fallen fast and hard, even though it had turned out to be a mistake. This time though, there had been a gradual approach, but he was finding out that it was no less intense.

He had done a dangerous, irrational, and incredibly stupid thing.

He had fallen in love with Blair Sandburg.

Bad enough that he, a man who would probably never see the outside world again, and so never have a chance at a real life, had formed some sort of emotional attachment, and to another man. It had to be to someone who, if on the outside, would only have an academic interest in him as a walking dissertation subject.

Unbidden, Blair's heartbeat came to him, loud and clear, and Jim felt afraid. A sickeningly familiar feeling of being out of control, in over his head. With a heavy heart, he decided that he needed to distance himself, find a distraction. He briefly considered Rafe... there had been a time they had used each other for relief. Jim knew that he could easily reinitiate that sort of contact and not have to worry about losing himself to it.

With his own heartbeat slowly adjusting to Blair's tempo, Jim was drawn towards sleep, and as he slipped deeper into slumber, he dismissed the idea of Rafe. His last conscious thought was of Blair's smile.

The next day, Jim was finishing up his morning shift with the maintenance crew, when he looked over and saw a familiar face. A pair of large brown eyes noticed him at the same time, and widened in surprise, then fear, before a smirk found its way to the young man's face.

He glared, noting the company the young man was keeping. And suddenly he realized that a distraction might just have found him.

It was jealousy. Pure and simple. And it pissed Blair off. From the first time that Jim had shown up at dinner with that beautiful boy by his side, Blair had been drowning in it.

Tommy Cocker. What the hell kind of name was that? And the dick actually preferred being called Cocker... stupidly over-emphasizing the first syllable. More like a cocker spaniel... wavy blond hair, large brown eyes... and Jim seemed to be holding the leash. Though he was younger than Blair, he was also bigger, and Blair insanely hated every inch.

At first, he had attributed it to the interruption to their normal routine. The work with Jim's senses had been put on hold, and workouts weren't the same, not with Cocker and his perfect muscles, and he was even sharing Jim's cell. Jim hadn't had an actual cellmate in a long time, but now they walked off together every night...

And Blair finally got it. That he had been convicted of a crime that he hadn't committed, been thrown in jail, found an anthropologist's dream thesis, and fallen in love.

His life was hell.

Cocker was gorgeous and was stuck to Jim like glue.

And Jim called the little jerk Tommy.

Blair wasn't paying attention to where he was going. His mind was seriously occupied, and he was on autopilot as he made his way to lunch. The sudden appearance of a wall where none should have been slammed him back into reality.

He hadn't thought his day could get any worse. A talking pig was the last thing he needed.

"Lost your number one spot, huh, pretty boy?"

Blair knew what the others thought about him and Jim. It had kept people out of his face, which was what he had wanted. None of it was true, but that didn't stop him from actually feeling as if he had been dumped. And he hated that.

"Heard that your cop-daddy zeroed in on Cocksucker the minute he stepped foot inside. Snatched him from the guys that had gotten to him first. But don't worry, you're still pretty enough for me." Emitting the ugly sound that passed for his laugh, Hog left Blair there, shaking with anger and humiliation.

As he stood in line, glancing at Jim and Cocker already sitting down, Blair decided he'd had enough. When his tray was filled, he walked over and sat down at the table with Nutsy and his bodyguard contingent. Both of his cellmate's eyebrows flew upwards in surprise, and he stopped in mid-sentence, but then he nodded in Blair's direction, and resumed his conversation. The bodyguards just grunted, then Blair was left to his meal.

He saw Jim look at him, and for a minute he thought Jim was going to come get him. Then Cocker whispered something, and shaking his head, Jim settled back in his seat.

Despite the upset feeling in his stomach, Blair kept his eyes on his plate, and ate every bite.

When his afternoon shift in the laundry was over, Blair hung back as everyone was leaving. He felt like an idiot, and wasn't looking forward to facing Jim, or anyone else for that matter. But it wasn't like he had a lot of options. He sat down on top of a bag of dirty uniforms and thought about how much he wished he could just jump in his car and go for a long drive.

Another run-in with Hog was definitely at the bottom of his wish list, but he wasn't having a good day.

"Word is you're in the market for a real man. I'd be willing to take you on, but you're gonna have to prove that you're worth the trouble."

Before he could even formulate a suitable reply, he was off his feet, up against a wall, a powerful fist holding him up by the throat. He struggled, though with no effect, futilely pulling at the hand choking off his breath. A backhand across the face was his reward, and his head snapped back, slamming into the wall.

"That's not the right attitude, punk."

Blair saw stars, and tasted blood that he couldn't swallow down because his throat was in a vise. He summoned every bit of strength he could and pulled his knee up, connecting with his attacker's groin. Hog barely let out a grunt, but Blair felt like his kneecap had exploded, and that choking fist closed impossibly tighter.

"So, you want to play rough..."

Blair resigned himself to the fact that his last thought would be how much of an idiot he was, and how much love sucked.

All of a sudden he was dropped, thankfully landing on the full laundry bag. He curled into a ball, eyes watering, trying to get breath back into his body. There was a squeal of pain, and a sound that he instinctively recognized as bones breaking, and then he heard Jim's voice.

"Sandburg, can you hear me?"

Blair nodded, not wanting to try out his voice, grimacing at the pain the slight movement made. He felt hands glide quickly over him, and then he heard Jim talking again.

"Thought we'd settled the thing about your hands, you filthy pig."

The only answer was a few more pain-filled squeals. Whether protests or explanations, Blair couldn't tell.

"I advise you to shut up and go get that hand taken care of while you still can. Tell them it got slammed in a door; tell them you got it stuck up your fucking ass... I don't care, but there better not be any mention made of me or the kid."

After a bit of shuffling and grunting, Blair assumed Hog was gone, and then Jim was helping him to his feet. Blinking rapidly to clear his eyesight, he saw that they were indeed alone. He leaned against the wall, still trying to catch his breath, waiting for the burning in his throat to ease.

Jim checked him out, and he knew that he was a mess. Busted lip, bruises around his throat, hair all crazy, and he felt sick... and so stupid.

When Jim was evidently satisfied that Blair wasn't in imminent danger of dying, despite the fact that Blair actually felt the opposite, he stepped back, and Blair could have cried. Jim was pissed, and he really didn't feel well enough to deal with it.

"If you're going to be flying solo, you need to work on your self-defense techniques, Chief."

Grateful though he was for the rescue, Blair wished he could get enough breath past his throat to say, 'Hit the road, Jack'. He wanted to crawl into a hole and die in peace, alone.

When Blair didn't answer, Jim felt compelled to continue, "You wanna tell me what the fuck is going on with you?"

"I could ask you the same thing," Blair finally croaked.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Blair's past anger and jealousy came flooding back, overriding his physical pain. "I thought you didn't go trolling among the new kids on the block."

With a confused look, Jim replied, "I don't -- Wait, is this about Tommy?"

Suddenly embarrassed, Blair mumbled, "Stick it to that kid if you want, but I don't have to stay where I'm not wanted."

Jim stared, then glared. "For the record, Sandburg, where I stick my dick is my business, and I didn't tell you to make yourself scarce."

Blair didn't respond. He had expended his anger, and now his aches and pains were talking to him again, very insistently. He closed his eyes, willing Jim to leave so that he could collapse, but instead he heard Jim loudly exhale.

"I've known Tommy since he was fourteen years old. I busted him for hustling when I worked Vice. I put a lot of time in on that kid trying to get him to clean up his act, and I thought he had. But somehow he slid back to his old ways, and landed in deep shit. So now he's here with the big boys, and he's too stupid to know how rough things could get, and he won't even be getting paid for it. He's used to using his body, and, believe it or not, there are some people here that like to take advantage of that kind of thing. I couldn't let him hang out there alone."

When there was still no answer from Blair, Jim added, "I'm not fucking him." He moved closer. "You'll live, but you might hurt like a son of a bitch for a while. I'd rather not check you into the infirmary, but I'll get some stuff for you. Can you walk?"

Pulling himself together, Blair nodded. Things seemed to have quieted down to a dull roar; at least his throat didn't burn, although his neck was still sore from the death-grip. When he pushed away from the wall, he stumbled, and Jim was there, holding him up.

"It's just my knee," Blair said. "That asshole must have nuts of steel." Looking up, he met Jim's eyes. "Thanks."

Jim nodded, then said, "Let's go get you cleaned up."

The warm water felt good... soothing. But to Blair, Jim felt even better. Jim had started by washing Blair's hair, working the lather in gently, being especially careful after finding a small lump on the back of Blair's skull.

Blair was sure that he could have taken his own shower, but Jim had just taken over, holding him up, easing his aches, cleansing away the emotional pain as he lathered and rinsed. Feeling incredibly tired, Blair allowed it. In his mind, they were alone in the world, two men... two lovers, sharing an intimate moment. He lost himself in the fantasy, and he didn't feel embarrassed about it, he didn't feel stupid, he felt slightly sad, but he let even that fade as Jim touched him, washing his legs, pressing gently around his sore knee, before finishing by soaping his feet.

Too soon, it was over, and he tried to pull himself away from the pretense. Jim was looking down at him, but he couldn't read his eyes, or at least he was sure what he thought he saw was all in his mind, and he hoped the longing wasn't showing too nakedly in his own eyes.

But some unspoken connection was made, and the next minute they were making love. As slow and gentle as the first time had been hard and quick. And Blair let the fantasy wash over him once more, that they had found something spectacular in the cruel craziness that their lives had become.

He felt Jim coming inside him, and he tried to commit the feeling to memory. His own climax overtook him, and the fantasy faded as he came down to earth. Jim felt responsible for him, one of his needy strays. Jim probably pitied him in his current battered state. Jim was attracted to him; he had known that from the beginning. But Jim wasn't in love with him.

That was a fantasy. It had no place in the world they were living in. So, Blair tucked it away in his heart.

They dressed without speaking, and at dinner, with Blair back at Jim's table; it was as if nothing had happened.

Jim couldn't concentrate. His mind kept wandering, his eyes continually drawn to Blair. He had never told Blair about the ability to track his heartbeat. And after that episode at lunch, after the initial shock had worn off, he couldn't help himself. He had been alerted to the change in pulse rate immediately, but, even so, had almost been too late.

The temptation to snap Hog into a million pieces and grind them under his foot was still strong.

He hadn't been prepared for Blair's outburst. Although he knew that he had been using the task of keeping Tommy out of trouble as a way to not focus on Blair so much, he had never imagined it would affect Blair in any way. Blair liked him, was attracted to him, and was very interested in his senses, and he had been sure that that was all.

But then they had taken that shower.

Jim had needed to reassure himself that Blair was indeed okay, and to try to make up for not being there. Carefully, he had washed Blair down, mindful of the sore places; captivated by how Blair's body had changed since that first time they had shared a shower. The muscles larger and more defined.

Willfully, Jim had indulged in a fantasy... the two of them alone in a tropical forest, washing in the showering spray of a waterfall... Blair loving him as much as he loved Blair.

He was surprised to find himself suddenly making love to Blair, surprised to be responding to something in Blair's eyes that he was sure he had imagined. But it had been slow and sweet, and when Jim came, not only had his knees buckled, his heart had cried out, and he had felt lost in Blair. But for that moment he hadn't been afraid.

Still, he hadn't said a word as they dressed, and when Blair hadn't either, he had settled back into business as usual.

Except it wasn't like usual.

Unable to look away for long, Jim was becoming more convinced that he hadn't imagined that emotion in Blair's eyes. That Blair's reaction to Tommy told a bigger story. That maybe it wasn't so crazy, so hopeless, or so much more dangerous. After all, in a way, the two of them had been together for almost a year already.

Back and forth he went in his mind, all through the evening, into the night, until he had convinced himself to do something about it. He thought that he could at least have a talk with Blair. Feel his way around things. By the time he got up in the morning, he'd decided to approach Blair very soon.

But, he never got the chance.

Surprisingly, Blair wasn't having a bad day. His knee had stopped hurting, he hadn't woken up with a headache, and his lip looked like it was healing. He still had visible bruises on his neck, and his throat was sore, but he could swallow and talk. Reporting for duty at the scene of the crime had been weird, but he didn't start shaking at the sight of dirty laundry, so he had just concentrated on doing his job. And when he saw Hog on the way from lunch, the big oaf had given him a wide berth. Blair had tried not to smirk at the cast on Hog's right hand. More importantly, it seemed that he hadn't totally screwed things up with Jim.

All in all, not a bad day.

Dropping down into a chair in the library, Blair picked up a newspaper, and his day suddenly got better.

Monumentally better.

Seconds later, he was in line to use the phone, newspaper still clutched in his hand.

Blair fidgeted impatiently while he waited on hold. The tinny music coming through the line made him want to scream, but he reined it in, not letting it spoil his mood.

"Blair! I was going to come up there tomorrow and talk to you. I guess you've seen it."

"Sal! I'm looking at a newspaper right now. Tell me it's not a mistake. Tell me that somebody's looking into it."

"Looking into it? It's practically wrapped up airtight. You haven't seen the news today? They've got two students singing like canaries, trying to cut a deal. The wheels are already in motion; I've got the paperwork filed. I'll be up tomorrow to fill you in. Congratulations, Blair. I'm really sorry you got caught up in all of this. But don't worry, we'll make somebody pay. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay, Sal. Thanks. Thanks a lot."

Blair was shaking by the time he hung up the phone, but he was smiling. He held up the newspaper, reading the header for the article again.

'Eli Stoddard, Renowned Anthropologist, Detained by Customs Officials.'

Clutching the paper to his chest, Blair sat down on the floor, leaning back against the wall, unable to stop his quiet laughter or the steady stream of tears.

When he was calmer, he stood up and got back in line for the phone, hoping he could track down his mother.

The justice system responded quickly for Blair. Before he knew it he was packing up his few possessions, and dressing in his own clothes, ready to go meet his lawyer who was waiting to get him released.

He hadn't mentioned anything to anybody that first night, barely able to make himself keep it in, but after Sal Marietta had visited, full of good news, he had told Jim that night. It had been the one depressing moment he'd had. To have to tell Jim that he was leaving, that things had worked out for him, knowing that Jim, too, had been caught up in a nightmare of false accusations. Pleasantly shocked, Jim had smiled and hugged him, congratulating him. He hadn't told anybody else. The prison grapevine would handle that.

His main concern had been making it through the remaining few days... his last behind bars.

Leaving his uniform folded on his bunk, Blair left his cell for the last time, anxiously looking forward to his first day of freedom. His mother was waiting for him in Seattle, and in a few hours that's where he'd be. He had hoped to see Jim one last time to say goodbye, but there had been no sign of the man.

Just as he made it to that last locked door before meeting up with Sal, Jim came around the corner, rolling a mop and bucket, and Blair had a feeling that Jim had been waiting for him. He asked the guard to hold up a minute and crossed over to where Jim stood.

"Oh man, I was hoping that I'd get to see you. I wanted a chance to say... I wanted to say thanks."

Jim shrugged. "Not necessary."

"Yes, it is," Blair insisted. "You saved my life."

"Well, you did that thing with my senses, so I'd say we were even."

"I'm gonna... I wish... You deserve to be getting out of here, too."

Ignoring that, Jim said, "Go on, Sandburg. The world is waiting."

"Thanks again. For everything."

"Good luck, Professor. Have a good one." With a tug on the bucket, Jim was gone.

Sighing, Blair turned back and left, the door closing loudly behind him. Sal had him processed out in no time, and as he breathed his first lungful of air beyond the prison grounds, his main thought was that somehow he had to find a way to get Jim out of there.

Jim sat alone, leaning slightly over a chessboard, as if in serious contemplation of making a move against an invisible opponent. After his display of attitude at dinner, he didn't expect anybody to join him. The only one who would have dared would have been Simon, but Jim knew that Simon had no patience for his bullshit. Even Tommy had slipped away with Brown and Rafe, leaving him with only his thoughts for company. Thoughts that inevitably kept turning to Blair Sandburg.

And no matter what, a sound kept repeating itself in his head. The sound of the bars sliding shut as Blair had left, locking with a definitive sound of finality.

He growled, barely keeping from sending the chess pieces flying across the room. Lurching to his feet, he knocked the board over anyway, and stalked out, not even noticing the people scrambling to get out of his way.

Blair was nervous as he drove towards the prison. He had changed his clothes three times that morning, fiddled endlessly with his hair, feeling silly, but unable to help himself. It had been a few months since he had last stepped foot there, and while he had no real desire to go back, he had to see Jim.

Life had been busy for him. A whirlwind of events, including reentering the Doctoral program after receiving a full scholarship from the school. A gesture that he knew had less to do with him and whatever suffering he had gone through, than University officials trying to garner some favorable publicity in the light of the whole sordid matter. And along with taking a couple of classes, and assisting with a couple more, he had started working up the prison idea for his dissertation.

But, he was very aware of his other notes. He had done extensive research into Jim's case, hoping that something would jump out at him. Although not a police detective, he thought his investigative skills had always carried him in good stead in his work, and with the advantage of the added knowledge about Jim's senses, he had been sure that he would come up with something to make the authorities take notice. But he hadn't. Everything really seemed to always lead back to Jim, no matter how superficially.

So, Blair was left with his conviction, his research, a man that he desperately wanted to help... and the seed of a plan.

"I want to write the paper."

Blair hadn't meant to just blurt it out. The last thing that he wanted was for Jim to think that he was there to capitalize on his abilities, but the whole experience was unnerving him. Jim had looked surprised to see him, but not happy. He had expected the surprise... in all the time that he had been locked up, Jim had not had one single visitor... not family, not friends. Even Naomi, who was constantly trekking around the world, had made it a point to visit Blair once a month. That was the most visits that Blair had had with his mother since he turned sixteen.

So, while he had been sure that Jim would be surprised, he had also thought he might be happier. Though it was strange to talk into that phone, watching Jim through the thick glass, he felt good seeing Jim again. He had been trying not to dwell on his own feelings, how strong they still were, how much he missed Jim's presence, how it pained him that Jim wasn't free, and concentrate instead on Jim's predicament.

When Jim just stared at him, he went on. "About your heightened senses. I've gone over and over everything that I could find, and nothing helps. I figure if I write the paper, get the University involved, get the backing of the scientific community... If people believe that about you, maybe your lawyer can get somebody to take another look. See the case through new eyes. But I'd have to be able to use your name. Even if we can't find out who did it, we should be able to cast some serious reasonable doubt."


"Jim, look, I'm sorry, this is all that I can think of."

"Sandburg, you look, it won't work. They won't reopen a case without substantial new evidence, especially regarding something like this. You read how many people were killed. There are distraught families and outraged communities who won't even want it to seem like the man convicted might be getting a break. Plus, who the hell would believe the senses thing anyway?"

"But we can prove it. We can do tests and you can show them. It can explain things."

"Hey, I appreciate what you did for me in here, more than you'll know. Maybe if I had met you back when my senses first started going haywire, things would have turned out completely differently. But I don't want to be a lab rat... It's enough dealing with the cage that I'm already in."

He stood up, and Blair knew that he was about to be dismissed. In fact, he could practically see Jim shutting down.

"Thanks for coming. But don't waste your time digging into my sordid past, concentrate on your studies. And stay away from this place. You're looking... better. The outside agrees with you. Live your life, Professor."

Blair sat and watched him go, but he wasn't listening. Instead, as he drove back to Cascade, he resolved to just dig a little deeper.

A few weeks later, he was back. Again separated from Jim by the glass, this time talking about classes, asking about Simon and the rest of the guys. Jim allowed it for a little while, then said that he had to go. Insistently Blair kept returning, but each time Jim got up a little sooner.

One day, Jim didn't show up at all.

Blair was disappointed, but he didn't push it. Instead, he just kept up the work that he had been doing. He had never let go of Jim's case, and had managed to cultivate a few key friendships in the police department. Using his studies as a cover, he had gotten close to a young detective, and flirted outrageously with a woman in the Records department, and it had been easier than he thought to get info that hadn't been part of the public record. He got his mother to use her influence with an old flame to get him some other information about Jim and his army days. Most of Jim's background was classified, but he was able to get a few things... just as framework, a way to know Jim better. He had been most surprised to find out that Jim had a father and brother living right in Cascade, and wondered about the kind of people that had left him to deal with his ordeal all alone.

Still, for all of his efforts, he got tons of facts, but nothing that would help Jim get released from prison. Blair couldn't come up with any angles, and had exhausted all of his options.

It seemed the Switchman case was destined to stay closed.

Blair wasn't intimidated by the scowl on Simon Banks' face. He had seen it in all its versions over the course of a year. Plus, now there was a nice, thick barrier separating them.

"Hey, Simon, you're looking good."

"Look kid, I know you didn't come all the way up here to talk about my sorry mug, so what do you want?"

"I need to see Jim. You gotta make him see me."

At Simon's expression, Blair reconsidered. "Yeah, okay. I know. You can't make Jim do anything, but this could be really important. Can you at least give him a message? Tell him I need to talk to him about the names Sarris and Oliver. Give him my phone number and ask him to please call me. And tell him to start reading the fucking newspaper."

Simon laughed at that last. Jim steadfastly refused to watch news or read newspapers. He said that he had lived that shit long enough, and didn't have to be bothered with it anymore, only keeping up with what his favorite sports teams were doing. Occasionally he might catch a movie, but usually he had his nose in a book.

"I'll give him the message. Best I can do."

"Thanks, Simon. Seriously."

It was two days later before Blair got the call. He was sure that he had paced over 100 miles as he waited. When he heard the operator say, "Collect call from Jim Ellison," he almost fainted from relief.

"Shit, man. It's about time."

"What's this about Sarris and Oliver? Sarris was a guy in my unit, and Oliver was the contact that gave me fucked up information on my last mission."

"Jim, you gotta start keeping up with the news, sports just won't cut it. All hell has broken loose."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Well, I had some questions for you, but now I have some answers. It seems that Colonel Norman Oliver was running drugs out of South America, and you and your unit were sacrificed to cover his tracks."

"What?! So that bastard purposely sent seven men to their deaths?"

"Yeah, but there's more. Sarris had a daughter, Veronica. Somehow, she managed to uncover that information. Seems she took her father's death really hard, and set out on a mission of her own for revenge. She ended up cornering Oliver in the offices of some corporation... Graf Technologies. There was an explosion, and the police caught her trying to get away. They're both dead."

Reeling from the revelation, Jim steadied himself against the wall near the phone. "Shit. That's... damn. Well, thanks for the info."

"Jim, wait, I'm sorry to ramble on and on, but that's not all. I wanted you to hear the whole thing. But that's not the important stuff. When Veronica Sarris originally turned her attention to Oliver, it came in the form of bombings. Six in all, each accompanied by a fax to the police with the location and the message, 'For Colonel Oliver' and signed with a different name. Names of dead men. Your unit, Jim. The seventh was Graf Tech, but Veronica evidently wanted to face Oliver herself, and she got caught."

"What does--"

"Just listen. When the string of bombings made the news, it rang a bell with me, of course, and then when they ID'd Veronica, the name Sarris was familiar, too. I, uh, I've done a little research into your background. But anyway, I came up there to see if you could give me something to go on. But get this... I now have it on good authority that Veronica Sarris was the Switchman."

Jim felt as if all of the blood had been drained from his body.

"Are you there, Jim?"

A voice Jim didn't recognize as his own, croaked, "Yeah."

"I didn't let it go like you asked, I dug a little deeper into the Switchman thing, and made some friends along the way. The deaths of Sarris and Oliver have made the news, but all of that background stuff that I told you hasn't broken yet. The cops checked out where she had been staying and found suitcases full of evidence. Clippings, letters, instructions on bombs, her journals, copies of police reports and even some classified documents... It's all there, Jim. She blamed you for her father's death first, but then she decided to go after the Army, and found Oliver's connection. Since she had gotten away with it before, I guess she felt confident that she would again. Or maybe she didn't care anymore."

Jim needed to lie down, or throw up, or hit something.

"Man, call your lawyer, and get him on this. He can have his foot in the door before the news hits the streets. In fact, I can have Sal do it, if you want."

"Shit, shit, shit."

Finally catching his breath, Blair smiled. "Yeah, shit. The shit is about to hit the fan. The shit is just about over, Jim."


Blair caught the tone, and he didn't waste time being offended. "Jim, I wouldn't fuck with you about something as important as this."

"I don't know what to say... Thanks. I guess I should make some calls. Do you really think your lawyer would handle this?"

"Sure... I'll set it up, and I'll talk to you later."

The reversal of justice moved a little more slowly for Jim. The police, the Army, and the DEA all had to get a piece of the action, and weeks had gone by before everyone was totally satisfied. The news splash was incredible, and Jim got more offers and more apologies than he wanted to deal with. He declined doing a press conference, letting Sal, acting as his lawyer, handle it by delivering a written statement. The only things he decided that he wanted from the authorities in the immediate future were that they not publicize the exact time and date of his release, and that they have a cab waiting to take him to the airport when he got out.

Appropriately enough, it was a bright, sunny day the morning that James Ellison was released from prison. He was wearing the suit in which he had been arrested, and all he wanted was to call Blair to say thanks and then to get on a plane to anywhere.

He didn't look back as he left, wasn't even tempted. Instead, he looked around, taking in his first view of the outside world in almost four years. Surprisingly, the media wasn't present. He had been sure that, somehow, the info would leak and cameras would be everywhere. But they weren't, and there was also no cab.

The familiar heartbeat had been impossible to miss, but Jim had taken his time, just enjoyed that first moment of freedom alone. But when he finally let his eyes travel to where Blair was standing, leaning against an old clunker of a car, hair fluttering lightly in the breeze, he started shaking inside. The sun was suddenly brighter, and all he could see was Blair, until he was standing right in front of him.

"What the hell are you doing here, Sandburg?"

Smirking, Blair replied, "What, did you leave all of your brain cells inside that place? I'm picking you up, you schmuck."

"Being on the outside has turned you into a real smartass, hasn't it?"

Blair shrugged, grinning, then he touched Jim's arm. "But you love me anyway, right?"

The shift in tone, the change of expression, alerted Jim that it wasn't a joke, not even close to being a joke, and he immediately recognized the look in Blair's eyes. The same look from that last shower... Even so, it scared the shit out of him to put it into words, but that hand on his arm seemed to anchor him.

"Yeah, I do love you, Blair." When Blair smiled, he would have said it a million times over, for that alone.

"Good. You know I love you too, right?"

Then Blair was pulling him closer, one hand on the back of his neck so that their lips could meet in what Jim realized would be their first kiss. It was the sweetest thing that he'd ever known. Sweeter than what he felt he deserved, finer than anything that he'd thought he'd ever have for the rest of his sorry, miserable life. And he wanted to drown in the taste of it. It tasted like starting over... like innocence regained... like freedom.

Blair broke away gasping, lowering his forehead to Jim's chest. He was sniffling a little, and Jim could hear him murmuring 'thank you' over and over. Jim held him, offering up thanks of his own.

Finally Blair looked up, and rubbed at his face with his sleeve. "Can we go home now?"

Home. With Blair. Wherever that was. That was just fine with Jim.

Smiling, he answered, "In this thing?"

"Now who's being a smartass?" Blair moved around the car, tapping the hood lovingly. "Don't listen to him, sweetheart. You're a classic, he's just a man of questionable tastes." Casting a quick glance in Jim's direction, he growled, "Don't even say it."

As Blair started the car, giving Jim a smug look when the engine turned over on the first try, Jim thought about how he was heading for the unknown. He had no idea where Blair was taking him, what the next days would bring, but he felt content. For over three years, everything had been the same, day in and day out -- in Jim's opinion, routine was highly overrated.

He rode in silence, thinking about how he couldn't wait to get 'home' and be able to just touch Blair... before realizing that he didn't have to wait. Reaching over, he laid a hand on a jeans-covered thigh. It was warm and firm to his touch, and he imagined kissing Blair again...

"Pull over."

A rush of emotions had roughened Jim's voice, but Blair didn't hesitate, he simply pulled over to the side of the road. Jim tugged on him, and Blair went instantly into Jim's arms, and then they were kissing.

A kiss that was deeper and smokier than the first, but no less fine. A kiss that tasted as if it held an infinite number of possibilities. A kiss that spoke of promises for a lifetime to come.

Minutes later, they were driving again, the open road stretched before them, and it was not lost on Jim how far they'd come... from that first rough sexual encounter in the shower, to their first kiss mere moments ago. Backwards maybe, but they had been given a second chance to go forwards, and he was taking it.

He leaned back, closing his eyes as Blair lightly rubbed the back of his hand, glad for the teasing feel of it... glad that the numbness was long gone... and for the first time in years, he slept the sleep of an innocent man.