Author's webpage: http://grey.ravenshadow.net/
Title: Man Child
Email address: Grey853@aol.com
Rating: NC-17 for violence and disturbing content. No explicit sex between Jim and Blair. Pairing: J/B
Status: New, complete
Date: March 21, 1998
Archive: Yes, to both
Archive e-mail: Grey853@aol.com
Other website: http://grey.ravenshadow.net/
Spoilers: "Finkleman's Folly".
Summary: Blair and Jim's investigation of a raped and murdered child is complicated when Blair suddenly remembers a personal trauma.
WARNING: This story deals with the disturbing subject matter of sexual abuse of children. It uses explicit and graphic language to decribe violence and violation. If you can't get past that, I would suggest you not read it.
"Hey, you want to get Italian tonight? It's late, but Pazzonni's is open."
"No, not really."
Jim Ellison glanced over with concern. His partner's unusual paleness stood out even in the dark interior of the truck. He'd been quiet most of the day and all the way home. Too quiet.
"Come on, Chief. You've got to be hungry. Hell, you didn't eat much for breakfast and lunch, well, you didn't do too well with that either."
"You mean I barfed my guts out."
"Yeah, I guess. I'm not saying you didn't have reason, but I'm just saying you need to eat."
The young man said nothing as he stopped staring out the window. In his mind images flashed uncontrollably like hard, angry slaps to his face. Little Tommy Reilly lay face down naked, his hands bound behind his back. Rusty red streamers trailed from beneath the small body and the slashes across his backside exploded into full color spikes behind Blair's eyelids. He wrapped his arms around himself suddenly aware of the icy chill working its way down to deep tissue.
"Listen, Chief. What you saw today, it would've gotten to anybody. Hell, it even got to me. I mean, nobody's prepared to see stuff like that."
"I just want to go home, Jim. I don't want to talk about his right now. Okay?" He spoke softly, but to sentinel ears the words boomed like tight verbal fists.
"Okay. We can do that. We'll talk later."
By the time they got inside the loft, Blair already had dibs on the bathroom. With the door closed, Jim could still hear the sound of retching. "Jesus, Chief. What else can come up?" When the heaving stopped, he rapped lightly and asked, "You okay?"
"Yeah. Give me a minute."
"Sure. I'll make some tea."
Jim put on a pot of water and moved nervously around the kitchen. Too wired for coffee, he decided to just have a beer. The cold brew warmed his empty stomach as he scouted through the refrigerator for something to eat. He turned when he heard his partner's shuffle behind him.
Still a bit green, Blair took down a mug, placed it on the counter near the stove, and then just leaned there, his eyes distant and unfocused.
"Feeling any better?"
"I'll be all right. I'm just tired."
"Right. Why don't you sit down? I'll bring you the tea when it's ready."
A slight hesitation and then a surrender to trust allowed the words. "Okay. Thanks."
Blair walked slowly to slump down into the chair closest to the window. Tucking his legs up under him, he turned his body to look outside. The slight tremble progressed to a full-fledged shake. Rubbing his arms, he complained. "Why is it always so damn cold in here?"
Jim came over, got the blanket from the back of the couch, and handed it to his friend. "Here, Chief. It's been a hell of a long day. You're worn out. Wrap up and I'll get you some tea. How about some toast? Maybe you can keep it down and then go to bed."
"No toast, man. Stomach hurts too much."
"I imagine. It's gotten quite a workout."
He decided not to push and went back to the kitchen. After bringing his partner the hot mug, he settled down across from him with his beer. "So, you want to talk now?"
"Listen, Chief, what you saw today isn't going to leave your head anytime soon. You don't deal with it, it's going rear up and bite you on the ass when you least expect it. Worse, it'll come after you when you can't control it."
Blair sipped slowly and put the tea to the side. "I know, Jim. It's just that in my whole life I never thought I'd ever see anything like that. The boy was just so... so... I don't know. I can't even say it."
"He was dead, Blair. He'd been tortured and raped. He was only nine years old and will never be any older. His family will never see him again."
"Fuck." Doubled over, Blair fought desperately against the wave of nausea rolling over his body as the lights narrowed. A warm arm wrapped around his shoulders and he could hear Jim's voice from a distance.
"It's okay. Just try to breathe deep, but slowly. Come on, slowly. You know the drill."
Gradually, the aching chill and the dull vision receded. Acutely aware of his friend's strong, protective body so near him, Blair struggled to speak. The words traveled awkwardly, rusty and rough. "I'm okay. You can let go, Jim."
Moving back, Jim still watched carefully, wary of another attack. "I'm sorry it's so hard on you, Chief. Nobody should ever have to see anything like that. Hell, nothing like that should ever happen."
"You've got to get this sick son of a bitch, Jim. I mean, you read about stuff like this, but, god, I never expected to actually see it." Turning his eyes to gaze at his friend, Blair asked, "How do you do it?"
"Deal with it the way you do? I mean, I was there. It was like you walked in, checked out the scene, and nothing. You just did your job the same as if you were trying to decide what to order off the menu. I don't get it. How do you managed to do that?"
Settling back in the sofa, Jim picked up his beer and drank some more. "Unfortunately, it's practice. I've lost the number on the body count a long time ago. It's just something you have to do or go crazy. Even so, it's not easy. I may have looked like it didn't bother me, but it did. Seeing that little boy's body hurt."
"Hell, yeah. I hear that. I just keep seeing it over and over."
Leaning forward, his voice tight with conviction. "You've got to get a handle on that. If you don't, it's going to be too much for you. I can't have you at the scene like that."
"I'm sorry, Jim. I'm not trained to deal with something like this."
"I know that and there's nothing to be sorry about. I just don't want you to have to suffer in order to help me out."
"I have to be with you on this. It's important."
"And I want you there, but not if it means it's going to make you this sick."
"But I have to be there. And it's more than being your guide in case you zone or something."
"What are you talking about?"
"I just have a bad feeling about this case."
"Well, I can certainly understand that."
"No, you don't understand. I'm not talking about how horrible it is, or how it makes me literally sick. I'm talking about this gut feeling that something really bad is going to happen to you if I'm not there."
Puzzled by his friend's sudden anxiety over his safety, Jim asked, "You're losing me here, Chief."
"I can't really explain it. When we left the building where we found the body, I had this feeling that somebody was watching, somebody who had a reason to watch, to watch you."
"That's just your mind playing tricks. You're upset."
Blair came up out of the seat and started to pace back and forth, running his hand through his unruly curls. "Hell, yeah, I'm upset. It's not like I see a little boy's body everyday, but that's not it. It's like I just know that there's someone watching you deal with this case. Like this case is some kind of test."
"Yeah, I guess. I mean, I don't know for sure, but I have to handle this."
Kind eyes tracked his friend's frenzied movements. "Settle down there, Chief. Why don't you sit?"
"Man, I need to, but I feel like all my nerves are firing at once. I feel all jittery inside. Can't sit just yet."
"Okay." Jim watched the barely controlled dance around the room and wished he had a tranquilizer dart handy. "So, you think you're going to be able to get any sleep tonight?"
Snorting at the joke, Blair barely laughed. "I'm exhausted, but there's no way I'm going to be getting into bed any time soon. Funny thing is, I was ready to pass out, and now I can hardly stand still."
"So I noticed." This was the pattern. First the fatigue, then the storm, a surge of almost uncontrolled energy. Blair raced in full storm mode.
"Sorry. I know you hate it when I do this. Maybe I should go for a walk or something."
"I don't think that's a good idea. Maybe if you ate instead."
Rubbing his stomach, Blair shook his head. "No. I can't even try. Not tonight. Maybe in the morning."
"Then why don't you go take a hot shower? Maybe you'll feel better and can get some sleep. We've got a long day tomorrow. No way can you pull one of your all night marathons."
Jim could see the tremendous effort it took for his friend to stand still and make his decision. "Okay, I'll take the shower, but there's no guarantee."
"Listen, don't worry. If I don't sleep, I'll try to meditate or something. Just fix yourself a sandwich and then go to bed. I'll be okay."
Still unconvinced, Jim hesitated. "Go on, Jim. I swear, I'll be okay."
Jim nodded, but couldn't shake the premonition gnawing at his brain. He didn't want to think about how awful his life would be if Blair couldn't deal with it. Despite appearances, the thought of working alone to track down the sick fuck who'd killed Tommy Reilly scared the shit out of him, scared him so badly that he didn't even want to think about it. So he didn't.
Forcing the images to the back compartment of his most disciplined, military-trained brain, he picked up the rest of the beer and then went to fetch another. Hell, maybe if he could drink enough he'd actually be able to dial down those voices that kept shouting warnings from the wild reaches of his mind, warnings that said it wasn't just his guide who'd felt he was being watched earlier. Damn. What was going on with that?
Turning his attention one last time to his partner, he watched as Blair practically zigzagged his way down the hall, the nervous energy distorting the air around him. Jim shook his head and turned to go up to bed. He heard the shower turn on and imagined himself locked in an embrace, nibbling the lean, water-slicked neck. Soapy hands caressed the inside flesh of tight thighs spread wide, the play of soft curls surrounding the silky hot cock, erect and ready.
Jerking back to full alert, Jim hissed at himself. "Don't think about it." He added one more thing to the list to push away from his conscious thoughts. God, it was getting to be a hell of a long list.
Whimpering. There it was again. Jim startled awake to the sounds below, racing heartbeat, ragged breathing, and the pitiful, tiny cries of someone trapped and too terrified to form words.
Racing downstairs, the sentinel barged into his partner's room without lights. Even in the dark he saw the sheen of sweat, the damp curls framing Blair's distorted face. Hands gripped and knotted the soaked sheets that twisted around his thrashing legs. Moving quickly, Jim knelt by the bed and placed one hand on his friend's chest and the other on his forehead. Heat poured like boiling honey from his skin, but Blair's whole body shuddered at the unexpected touches. His breathing stopped.
"Oh, shit. Blair, don't do this. Come on. Wake up." Grabbing, his friend, he pulled him closer and realized that the air finally moved in and out of his lungs again. Easing him back, he watched dark blue eyes flutter open, awareness slow to return. "That's it, Chief. You're okay. Wake up for me now."
Suddenly alert that he held the younger man a bit too close to explain, he let his guide move to sit up. The heady scent lingered and for a brief moment he let the smell of Blair tease his sense like a wonderful prayer.
"Jim. What happened? What's going on?"
Simple words spoken softly in the dark refocused his attention on his friend's confused voice. "You were having some kind of nightmare. It scared me for a minute."
"Nightmare?" Blair reached over and turned on the light. The suddenness of it pinched his eyes. "What kind of nightmare?"
"You tell me."
Shaking his head, he pushed his hair back out of his eyes. Child-like and fearful, he whispered. "I can't remember."
"It's okay. That happens. All this stuff going on would scare anybody."
"Yeah, even me. I mean, I didn't have one tonight, but I'm no stranger to the REM police. I've had my share of nightmares."
"It's just so weird. I always remember what I dream, but this is like a big blank. I don't like it." A slight shiver ran through him and he reached to pull up the sheets. Grimacing, he pushed them back. "Man, they're wet." Sniffing with an upturned nose, he added, "And they stink, too. Ick."
"No big deal. Get up and we'll change them."
"What time is it?"
"It's after 3 A.M." Jim stood quickly and went to the hall closet. He returned with fresh sheets. "Come on. Get up. This will only take a minute."
Snatching the linen, Blair looked embarrassed. "Man, I can do this. I don't need you taking care of me like I'm some sort of headcase."
Patiently, Jim stood and watched as his friend stripped off the old layers to replace them with the clean ones. "You're not a headcase, Chief."
"Yeah, maybe not, but it feels like it tonight." As soon as he'd replaced the pillowcase, Jim leaned over, picked up the used linen. He straightened and stood suddenly still, almost overwhelmed by the strong smell of his friend. It attacked the center of his brain and traveled like fire to the groin. "Jim, you okay?"
"I'm fine. Look, Blair. You need to sleep. Go to bed and try to settle down. We'll talk in the morning, okay?"
"Okay." He turned off the light as he sat down. Crawling back under the sheets, Blair turned on his stomach, nuzzling his forehead into the pillow.
Jim's cock stirred and, and despite the low light, he lowered the bundle to cover his condition. "Night, Chief."
An already drowsy voice teased back. "You going to stand guard over me, Jim?"
"Maybe. Would that bother you?"
His voice turned suddenly serious and very low. "No, Jim. It wouldn't bother me at all. In fact, I'd probably be flattered if I weren't too tired to really appreciate it."
"Yeah, but maybe you'd better go get some sleep, too. I'm sorry for all the commotion."
The hardness easing, Jim found he could finally move. Smiling in the dark as he watched his friend shift to find a comfortable position, he simply said. "No reason to be sorry. Now, get some sleep."
"Thanks, Jim. In the morning." Each word drifted closer to silence. Jim stood for a few more minutes until he heard the regular rhythm of breathing begin. His friend's sleep restored, he headed back upstairs, the tangle of Blair's scent-rich sheets still in his arms.
Captain Simon Banks stood behind his desk, chewing like a hungry bull dog on the end of his cigar. He watched as the two members of his best detective team sagged down across from each other at the table already stacked with the myriad of reports on the Reilly case. "Rough night?"
Jim unconsciously glanced over at Blair busy sorting folders before he answered. "What do you think, Simon? This is a pretty rotten case."
"I think you're right. But, I have to say it's only been one day and, frankly, you both look like shit."
Blair answered, his voice laced with fatigue. He worked hard keep the words steady. "It's my fault. I didn't sleep very well. Mother hen here had to play nurse maid. Sorry."
"It happens. Just don't do more than you can. Understand?"
He blushed red, uneasy with the captain's concern. "Sure, man. I understand. I'll be okay. Just got to get my crime legs, you know."
"Yeah, you know, man. Like sea legs. I've got to get used to it."
"Right. Just don't expect to get too used to it, Sandburg. Nobody's that good."
"Cut it out, Chief."
"I'm serious, Jim."
The detective shrugged and continued working through the stack, selecting one and studying it more carefully than the rest.
Simon turned a worried face toward his lead detective. He knew how child murders could be. He'd had way too many to work with in his own career. It bothered him that Blair would be having to deal with something so awful in order to help his friend. He admired the kid's loyalty, but there had to be limits.
"So, Jim. Any theories yet?"
"Not really. We've talked to the parents already and the teachers. He went missing three days ago, but there aren't any witnesses."
"Yeah, that bothers me, too. Sandburg, what was your take on the parents? Any holding back there?"
Blair put down his coffee and shook his head. "I don't think so. I mean, when Jim questioned them, they were really upset, but they didn't seem to be hiding anything. They honestly didn't have a clue what happened after he headed out to Brad Cundiff's house."
"Okay, Captain, the kid was only nine. Why would they let him go out by himself? The Cundiff's house was almost a block away."
"Habit. Laziness. Who knows."
Blair joined in. "Yeah, man. It's a neighborhood. People don't want to believe a nine-year-old kid can't walk just a block down the street to go to a friend's house without being snatched. Even now people like to think it's safe."
"Yeah, people like to believe in fairy tales, too."
"Not everybody's a pessimist like you, Jim."
"Realist. I've seen this too many times. Kid gets snatched, kid gets dead. You can't even let a child play in the front yard without supervision these days."
Anger growing in his words, Blair spoke a little louder. "How old does a kid have to be, Jim? Twelve, fourteen. When are they going to be safe to leave the house? When can they be safe from the sick assholes who do this kind of shit?"
"Never, Chief. Nobody's safe. Haven't you figured that out yet?"
Slamming back into his seat as if slapped, Blair found it suddenly hard to breathe. He did, however, say, "God, man, how can you live like that?"
"Live like what?"
"Your world is so dark. You're so damn suspicious and cynical."
"Sorry, but it comes with the territory."
Watching the heated exchange, Banks cleared his throat and interrupted. "Regardless of this obvious philosophical difference on the intrinsic goodness of mankind, let's get back to the task at hand, shall we? Do we have any idea at all about who might have kidnapped the Reilly boy?"
Turning his attention back to the folder, Jim narrowed his eyes as he focused in. "I'm not sure, but I think we should question some of the teachers again. We also need to go through and find out if Tommy ever got involved in any kind of club, sport, or activity that would bring him into contact with somebody who might want to get him later, somebody he would know and not make a fuss about."
"So, you're suggesting this wasn't a random snatch?"
"No, I don't think it was."
Jim glanced quickly over at Blair and then to the Captain's face. "I can't explain why exactly, but I think this was planned. I also think it's possible that whoever did it, wanted me and Sandburg to investigate."
Blair choked on the coffee. "What?"
"You said it last night, Chief. You said you felt like we were being watched when we came out of the building."
Simon interrupted. "Jim, it was a violent crime scene. Of course, you two were being watched. You're the lead officer on the case and the kid was glued closer than your fire arm."
Shyly, Blair added. "Besides, man, it might've been like you said, nerves."
"I don't think so. After you mentioned it, I got to thinking. I felt the same way, but dismissed it. Now, if I'd been paying closer attention, I might have focused in on something. It just never occurred to me that there might be somebody orchestrating this whole thing for some specific purpose rather than some sick asshole who gets off raping and killing a little kid."
"You really think that this is about you and Sandburg?"
"I don't know, Captain, but I've got this really itchy feeling we need to check it out."
"But, Jim, what do we check out? Where do we start?" The frustration in his friend's voice pulled at his gut.
"We start by figuring out who came in contact with him. Then we'll cross check to see if we recognize anyone."
Simon's voice cut in. "Okay, we can do this, though I think it's a stretch. I'm sure not going to second guess one of your hunches. However, we still need to investigate this as close to the book as possible. I mean, let's face it. Judges don't grant search warrants because of 'itchy feelings'."
Jim closed the file. "Hell, we might save a lot of time if they did."
"Come on, Jim. Get serious. Granted, your cop instinct is almost as enhanced as your senses, but you can't go around substituting it for the real thing which is honest to god sound police procedure."
"I hear you, Simon. Don't worry. I know my job."
His expression softened as he looked first at Jim and then at his weary partner. "I know you do, Jim. You a great cop, but you're also a man. This kind of case can make us sometimes want to stretch the limits. I don't want you to get in trouble on this one. Follow the rules. When we catch the bastard, I want it to stick."
Shoulders back and determined, Jim stood. "It'll stick. I guarantee this son of a bitch isn't going to get away. I'll see to it."
Turning to his friend, he commanded. "Come on, Chief. Let's get busy."
Simon noticed the slight shaking as Blair reached for the folders. "Kid, you okay?"
"Fine, Simon. No problem." Simon watched the younger man follow his sentinel out the door. Settling on the edge of the desk, the captain fought back the fear nagging at his own gut. He didn't like the idea that the Reilly murder had been planned. A psychotic child molester acting on impulse was one thing. He didn't want to even imagine a deliberate evil aimed to cause even more terror in his friends' lives. He turned instead to the more comforting, and very distracting, task of the daily roster.
"So, you can't think of any other man that Tommy Reilly might have come in contact with at the school in the last few weeks?"
"Not really, detective. Like I said before, the only men in the building are Principal Davis and Mr. Evers the gym teacher."
"What about custodial staff or coaches?"
"All our custodians are women and Mr. Evers is the only male coach. There is a cub scout leader, Mr. Tomes, but he only comes by once a month. Besides, Tommy wasn't a scout."
Jim jotted down the information. "I guess that's it for now, Ms. Marshall. If you think of anything else, please call. We'd appreciate any help you can give, because, frankly, we're running into a wall here."
The middle-aged woman nodded sadly. "I can imagine. I'm still in shock myself. Tommy was such a sweet little thing and the children have been so upset. We've had counselors in all day working with them, but it's going to take awhile. They just don't understand."
"How could they?" Blair's quiet voice came from the far side of the room near the bulletin board filled with colorful drawings. He turned and asked, "I don't see anything by Tommy up here. How come?"
"I rotate the pictures every few weeks. He didn't have one this time." She paused for a moment and tilted her head. "My goodness, I just remembered something. Pictures."
"What about pictures?" Jim watched as the woman reached to a bottom drawer to pull out a stack of white envelopes banded together.
"These came just this morning. They're the school pictures we had made a month ago. We didn't give them out today because the kids were all so upset, but Tommy's pictures are here."
"Thanks, but we already have a recent picture of Tommy."
"Yes, but, these were taken by a male photographer. He was here for two days."
Blair came forward and picked up the packets, shuffling through until he came to the one with the little boy's picture smiling out. He stared at it intently and then whispered, "These were taken by the Wallace Taylor Studios?"
"Yes. It was only supposed to be one day, but I remember it was strange. He came back a second day because he said that there was a mix up with one of his cameras. He retook all the pictures of just this class."
Jim leaned forward. "Tommy's class?"
"Yes. I didn't think much about it at the time, but now it bothers me. The photographer was a quiet, little man, and he seemed very nervous. I don't remember his name."
Blair looked up, his eyes wide and rounded. "Did he wear suspenders?"
Jim turned and stared at his guide with surprise. "Suspenders, Chief?"
"Actually, detective, he's right. The man did wear suspenders. I noticed when he took off his jacket. I thought it was kind of different. You know you don't see those much anymore. So old-fashioned."
Blair remained silent, still holding the picture. Jim could hear the quickening heart rate and rapid breathing. He needed to get his friend out of there and fast. "Thanks, Ms. Marshall. This is really helpful. We'll check this guy out. In the meantime, could we take these pictures with us for now?"
"I suppose as long as we get them back."
"No problem. Come on, Chief."
Hesitating only a moment, Blair followed carrying the package in his hand. As soon as he climbed in the truck, Jim reached over and touched his shoulder. "Okay, it's time to talk. Tell me what's going on."
Blair refused to meet his partner's eyes and instead stared back at the school. "I'd forgotten about Wally. It was such a long time ago."
"Wally. He was a friend of one of Naomi's boyfriends. He used to come over and I remember he took a lot of pictures of me as a kid."
"And what else did he do?"
Blair put the packet on the seat beside him and shook his head. He rubbed his forehead roughly, trying to push back the pounding that vibrated from inside his skull. God, his head hurt so bad all of a sudden. "Nothing. He always followed me around and with that damn flash camera. Sometimes, when Ron and Naomi would go out, Wally would baby-sit. God, I hated that. I don't exactly remember why. It's just weird to run into his name now."
"More than weird. I don't like coincidence. We're going to go find this Wally and have a long chat."
"You really think he could be involved?"
"Don't know, but we're going to find out." Studying the tense features, Jim felt a strong surge of concern. "You okay? You don't look very good."
"I'm just tired. Don't worry, I'll be fine."
Nodding, but unconvinced, Jim started the engine. A glimpse of the photo on the seat suddenly snagged his attention. He stopped and turned off the motor.
"Jim, what? Why'd you do that?"
"Blair, look at this picture again."
"Just look at it and tell me who you see."
Blair scrutinized the photo and shook his head. "Is this a trick question, Jim? If it is, it's not very funny. I mean, it's Tommy, right?"
"Yes, but it looks like you."
"What? What the hell are you talking about?"
Jim tapped his finger on the face behind the cellophane. "Remember when Naomi was showing me all those old photos of you as a kid?"
"Well, you looked like that. I swear to god, that could be you when you were nine."
Blair paled as he studied the picture again. "Shit."
"I hear that."
"Oh, man, I don't want to do this."
"Do what? He's probably our man."
Blair's voice sounded tiny. "I know."
His heart clenched at the words. Jim turned and stared at the young man crying silently beside him. "Blair, what is it?"
"I can't tell. He made me promise never to tell."
"Listen, Simon, I know I should be at the station and I will be, but not just this minute, okay? Now, listen, I need this Wallace Taylor picked up and held until I get there."
"Jim, what's going on?"
"I'll fill you in later. I swear I'll be there as soon as I can. Trust me, okay."
"Hell, ask me something hard."
After hanging up the phone, Jim focused in on Blair, who sat curled in on himself at the end of the sofa. His right hand covered his mouth and he stared out blankly. He hadn't said much of anything all the way back home.
"Blair, we have to talk about this."
He spoke in a hush, his words almost too breathy. "I know."
Jim sat across from his partner gauging his words carefully, unsure of exactly what he should say. He'd been trained to deal with abuse victims, but those were other people, not his best friend. "So, you want to help me out here and tell me what I should do?"
Looking up, genuinely mystified, Blair asked, "Do? About what?"
"About getting you to tell me what happened. I mean, what did this Wally guy do?"
Shaking his head wearily, Blair remained quiet several moments before he finally managed to say anything. Even then the words flaked from his tongue, flat, not fully formed. "I'm not sure exactly."
"What do you mean?"
"At first I thought it was just a bad dream, you know, like one of those vague feelings that just kind of makes you feel uneasy. Tiny glimpses and pictures in your head that are kind of out of focus. I started thinking about it again yesterday. I hadn't thought about it in years. Well, not much anyway."
"Thought about what?"
"When I was little, my mom and I moved around a lot. I didn't have a dad, but there was always some guy around, sometimes more than one. Anyway, I got used to waking up and finding different people in the house. Hell, I even got used to waking up in different houses, you know. One day Miami, the next L.A."
Jim sat quietly as the young man's voice took on a dream-like quality, like he was telling his story from a distance, removing himself from the heart of whatever tale he would unfold.
"Anyway, when I was nine, we lived with this guy named Ron. That's when Wally showed up. He hung around with that camera, always sneaking up on me. I'd wake up and he'd be standing there with that fucking camera and I...I don't remember exactly everything, but I know once I woke up and didn't have any clothes on and that was really strange because I had pajamas and I always wore them to bed and I just...I didn't like him being there, you know."
Blair shifted on the couch, one leg tucked under him and the other still raised. He leaned his forehead on his knee for a moment before he continued. "What I don't get is why I can't seem to remember exactly what happened. Man, it's like there are these huge gaps. I see flashes. One minute I'm one place and then I'm some place else. I remember being afraid and...I remember pain. It's all mixed up in my head."
Jim leaned forward and tried to keep his outrage under control. His tight throat found it difficult to release the words, but training brought them out smoothly. "Do you remember if you ever told Naomi about Wally being in your room?"
"I don't remember, but I don't think so. I do remember him telling me not to tell, that if I told anyone about his pictures and the other things he did that he'd have me taken away from my mom."
"What? Taken away how? I don't understand."
"He said that decent people wouldn't like the way my mom was raising me and that if he told people about the stuff she did with all those guys, that I'd end up in some orphanage somewhere and I... I just didn't want that. He said I was a bastard with no dad and that nobody would let my mom even ever come see me again. Anyway, I don't think I told her."
Son of a bitch. "Did he touch you?"
He hesitated, his voice small. "Yes."
"Did he make you touch him?"
God, Blair. "What else did he do?"
"It's hard to remember exactly. Hell, I can't believe I blocked all this shit away like it never happened. Man, this is too weird. I don't even know what to do here."
"Chief, listen, I hate asking you this, but I need to know. You saw what someone did to Tommy Reilly. Could that someone have been this Taylor Wallace? Is it possible that this Wallace person did something like that to you? Did he burn and whip you like that?"
Before Jim could say anything else, Blair rocketed off the couch down the hall into the bathroom. Horrible retching sounds filled the air along with the harsh bitter stench of raw bile. Moving in behind his friend, the older man wet down a cloth with cool water. Kneeling beside him, he rubbed his back in small circular motions until the dry heaves slowed and finally stopped.
"Here. Use this." Handing him the compress, he waited, and then helped his friend to his feet.
"Sure you are. Come on. You need to lie down for awhile." Still unsteady, Blair grabbed his sentinel's arm for support.
"Thanks, man. My head is pounding. Shit, sounds like a parade of whacked out drums."
Leading him across the hall, Jim helped his guide to settle back under the covers. "Listen, Chief, I need to go to the station for a few hours, but I don't want to leave you right now."
"It's okay. I'll be fine. If I can just sleep a few hours, maybe this headache will go away."
"I just don't like you being alone."
"Jim, I'm not worth shit right now. I'm just going to try to sleep. What are you going to do, sit here and watch me sleep? Go take care of business for both of us, okay?"
"Okay. Just promise me if you get sick again or need anything, that you'll call. You've got the cell phone, right?"
"It's in the pack. I'll be fine. Now, go get the son of a bitch."
Nodding, Jim started to turn, but stayed a moment longer. "Blair?"
"I'm really sorry."
"Yeah, me, too. I should've remembered earlier."
"Fuck, that's not what I meant."
"I know, Jim. I know what you meant. I can't talk about it anymore right now."
"Oh. All right. Sleep then and I'll be back."
Walking out, Jim closed the door. He suddenly found himself leaning forward hard, his face pressed against the wood. Jesus, it would be a damn miracle if he didn't kill Taylor Wallace on sight. The only thing that might save the sorry son of a bitch from a bullet in the head would be the thought of Blair Sandburg visiting his favorite sentinel in prison.
"What the hell do you mean, you couldn't find him?"
"I mean that he wasn't at home or at his studio. Nobody's seen him for over a week."
Jim Ellison threw the file on his desk, ran his hand across his hair, and stormed over to the far window in Simon's office. The rage he'd felt earlier had only been a small spark compared to the full-fledged firestorm that blazed in him at that moment. He wanted Taylor Wallace in custody and at his mercy. He wanted it so badly that he didn't even hear Simon come up behind him. His captain's unexpected touch practically sent him sailing through plate glass.
"What the hell's wrong with you, Jim?"
"Nothing. I'm just frustrated. Did we at least get anymore on his records?"
"We got some partial reports. We're still waiting for the complete files. Apparently there have been at least five different arrests over the last 20 years on suspected child molestation, but none of them stuck."
Whirling around, Jim slammed his fist into the table. "Shit. I know this is the guy."
"Just settle down. We've got an APB out. I've also got Rafe and Brown out taking statements from his employees at the studio. Apparently he's been calling in all the assignments."
"You said nobody's seen him for a week now. That would match up to right before Tommy Reilly was kidnapped." The fervor in his voice matched the bright flush of his features.
"Yes, it would. Look, Jim, we're doing everything we can. We'll get this guy. Now, why don't you settle down for a minute and take a deep breath before you have a damn stroke in my office."
As if finally recognizing the concern behind the words, Jim sat down. He raised both hands to he sides of his face and desperately tried to massage away the twisting tension that gripped his forehead and cheeks.
Taking a deep breath, he measured his words carefully. Simon Banks didn't become captain of the Major Crimes division by not being able to read people. "He's not feeling very well. I left him at the loft to try and get some rest. He didn't sleep much last night."
"Jim, I'd like to think I'm more than just your captain. What's going on? Does this Wallace have some connection to Blair?"
Refusing to meet his friend's gaze, Jim stared down at his open palms. He wanted to explain the awfulness that he'd learned, but he couldn't. "Simon, you're going to have to talk to Blair about this. I can't really say anything except, Tommy's teacher mentioned Wallace and he recognized the name. I don't want Blair anywhere near this. If Wallace killed Tommy Reilly, then I'll prove it. Sandburg is off this case."
Simon sat down behind his desk without saying a word. He nodded almost to himself as though he were making a decision. "Jim, I want you to take two extra teams on this. We're going to go full force. Every beat cop in the city is going to know Wallace's name and memorize the punk's picture. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me if the media even got a copy. What do you think?"
"Hell, sir, you know what voracious animals those newshounds are. Wouldn't surprise me one damn bit."
Just as Jim started to head out, Simon called him back. "You said earlier that you thought this thing might be directed at you or Blair. Don't you think it might be a good idea to put a guard outside the loft just in case?"
"Oh my god. I never even thought of that." Jim pulled out his cell phone and dialed. Even as it rang, he bolted out the door taking the stairs in a dead heat. The unanswered rings vibrated his soul like the shaking of the earth at the end of the world.
The annoying persistence of the phone dragged Blair up from the dreamless dark. Barely opening his eyes, he noticed the odd shadow just at the edge of the room. Straightening up, he tried to adjust his vision, wishing for just a moment he could master sentinel sight. Before he could fully focus, he heard a voice he hadn't heard in almost 20 years.
"I always knew you'd grow up to be a beautiful man."
Frozen in place, Blair forced himself to breathe slowly. He couldn't let himself listen to the wild gibbering panic at the back of his mind. Instead he tried to think about what Jim would do. With a very narrow thread of calm, he eased his words into the thin air around him. "How did you get in here?"
"Well, for a police officer's apartment, the security is extremely slack. I'm a little surprised it was so easy. Then again, I was also surprised he left you here alone. I would've thought he'd guard his lover with his life."
Words like jagged blades wiggled through his throat. "Jim is my partner and my best friend. We're not lovers."
"As lovely as you are, my sweet Blair, you're still a terrible liar. I can remember warning you mother about how she'd never be able to believe a single thing you said. What a wild imagination you have."
"I didn't imagine the things you did."
"No?" Wallace inched closer, stopping just as his right side entered a thin ray of light. Even in the dimness, Blair saw the same stout frame he remembered. The bald head exaggerated his features, pudgy nose, round piggy eyes. Fingers, sausage-thick, ran along the line of black suspenders stretched across the white shirt cloth. The raspy voice scratched against the rough space between them.
"No, I didn't. I forgot it for awhile, but not anymore."
"You forgot? Well now, that explains a lot."
"Why you didn't recognize me. I mean, I was sure you were just ignoring me, but now I know you just tried to repress your memories of our time together."
Suddenly angry, Blair clenched his fist and started to move. The glint of metal too near his face stopped him. "No, my sweet child, I wouldn't do that just yet."
"Get that gun out of my face, Wallace."
"Or what? You'll have your big strong cop come after me? Well, he hasn't caught me yet has he? He may be all butch, but he's not too bright."
The smack across the face numbed his cheek and defined the phrase seeing stars as his head hit the wall.
"You were always in need of discipline, Blair. I see that much hasn't changed at all. I'll take care of that later, I assure you. Now, why don't you get up now and put your shoes on? We're going for a walk to my car."
Sitting in shock, both from the slap and the fear, the young man shook his head. The coppery tang of blood from the split lip scraped at his tongue. "I'm not going anywhere with you, Wallace. You can't very well carry me, so I guess you'll have to shoot me."
The twisted smile surprised him. "Still the same stubborn boy."
"I'm not a boy anymore."
"No, you're not. You're still exquisite though, like a some sort of man child. Grown, but still child-like. I love your hair that way and your lips, my goodness, they do turn a head."
"You're a sick fuck, you know that. Why'd you kill Tommy Reilly?"
"It's your fault, you know. You spoiled me for all the others. After your mother took you away I tried to find someone to take your place. For twenty years I've been looking and when I saw Tommy, well, it was like you again, but it wasn't."
His head pounded, the blood laboring through his veins. "What are you talking about?"
"I had to hurt him too much to get him to do what I needed. Not like you. You were always so quiet after I punished you. I never had to hurt you as badly as I hurt him. You were always so good. You were a natural little fuck. And that mouth, Jesus, it was like velvet. I'll bet it still is. Maybe I should ask Jim."
Dizzy, Blair leaned back. The closeness of the gun magnified the air around him, made it too thick to breathe. With his other hand Wallace stroked himself through the tented pants. "You know what I want you to do, don't you, Blair? Remember how you used to do it?"
Choking on primal terror, Blair struggled to speak. "No. I won't do that. Not with you. Not like this." The words sounded foggy, too unclear.
"But, you will. Either that, or I'll kill your partner."
"Killing him would be very easy, Blair. I'd wait right here and when he finally came home to his true love, I'd put a bullet in his head. Then you'd still be mine."
His voice tripped over his tongue. "You can't hurt Jim."
"Oh, but I can and I will. You do what I want now, and I'll leave. Go away. You'd never even have to tell your Jim about us. Say no, and you're partner's a dead man."
Fear tightened his throat. Very carefully, Blair forced a pretend tease to feather his words. "Then come closer. I don't think you expect me to blow you from here, do you?"
Delighted by the sudden shift, Wallace edged forward. With one hand, Blair reached over and touched the man's aroused cock, fingering first the zippered front. Just as Wallace dropped his eyes, fascinated by the flicking tongue, Blair lunged forward, snatching the gun. With every ounce of agility he could manage, he flung himself away from the bed to stand up in the corner by the door. Holding the gun out from himself, he aimed at the horror before him.
Wallace raised his hands without being asked. Tilting his head slightly he studied, the young man who held him at gun point. "Well, now, this is interesting."
"Let's move into the living room."
"I don't think so."
"Man, listen to me on this. Right now I have this screaming lunatic in the back of my head screaming bloody murder for me to shoot your fucking face off. I would suggest you move your ass now."
Wallace smirked before he spoke in a voice way too calm. "You forget that I know you. You're not going to shoot me. You might has well give me the gun now. If I have to take it, the punishment is only going to be worse."
"Shut the fuck up. You think I won't shoot?" Raising the gun a fraction, Blair fired off a round that deafened both men. Just as he started to aim again, a crash came from the front room. Wallace moved at that instant, ramming himself into Blair, knocking the young man's head sideways into the door's sharp edge.
Grabbing at the gun, he whirled only to find a pissed off detective aiming at his heart. "Drop it, Wallace. Twitch a finger and I do the world a favor."
"Not tonight, asshole."
Wallace and Jim stared at one another for a long moment before the child molester finally decided to live. He dropped the gun and raised his hands in surrender. Jim rammed him back up against the wall, flipped him face forward, and roughly cuffed him. "Son of a bitch, you're under arrest for the murder of Tommy Reilly, breaking and entering, and assault. You have the right to remain silent."
The reading of the man's rights, delivered like a ritual chant, allowed Blair the freedom to fall back into an even breathing pattern. He closed his eyes and never even realized when he went from awareness into the cool, soft dark.
Sound filtered in from a distance, muffled and incomplete, dull thuds and scrapings across thick rubber. Floating in a frigid space, sparkles of light fractured into dizzy streaks. His own moans sent tiny streams of ice shimmering across aching skin. Heavy fire touched his left arm and focused all feeling to a single pinpoint. A wide palm branded flesh.
"Blair? Wake up for me, Chief."
Words danced like teasing clowns away from his lazy tongue. He knew the name, but couldn't say it, could barely breathe. Swallowing dust grated tender membranes of a swollen throat, resistant lungs. He groaned and desperately tried to at least open his eyes. Stubborn lids played hide and seek, remaining shut tight. A tumble of words tickled his ears, but he could not speak.
"Jim, how's he doing?"
"He's still out."
"Listen, you've been here all night. Go home for awhile. I'll stay with him."
"I can't do that, Simon. I have to be here when he wakes up."
The warm hand stroked soothing waves up his arm. Vibrations from his sentinel's touch calmed him even as he lay in the narrow place outside of time. Undecipherable words whirled around him, but launched out into unexplored space. Strong fingers trailed down to his, interweaving, but his own couldn't move. Suspended, he felt a slow beginning spin, the overwhelming pull to float off. His only anchor held tight, the stake to Jim's steadfast hold. He drifted back into the hollow place less cold, less afraid of the unknown and the dark.
Slowly black swirled to grey mist and numbness surrendered to ache. Carefully, Blair opened his eyes to a gritty light. Unable to focus, the world around him blurred. Even with fuzzy vision, he could see Jim's head resting on the edge of the bed, both hands gripping around his forearm. The comforting hold curled his lips to a weak grin. If he'd had any strength to move, he would've lifted hand to pet the short tufts spiking up. As it was, he just lay there quietly, waiting for his exhausted friend to wake up.
Just a few minutes later, the sentinel stirred and light blue eyes locked onto the darker pair. He jerked alert, the smile lighting up his sheet-dented face. "Blair, thank god, you're awake."
"Jim." The word traveled slow on the unpracticed tongue, but it was enough.
"Jesus, Chief. You scared the shit out of me, out of all of us."
"It's okay. Just don't do it again." Grin fading, Jim sobered. "How are you feeling?"
Taking a moment to shape the words, Blair found it hard to think clearly. The general throbbing muffled the thoughts. Swallowing hard, he wrestled his tongue and lips into submission. "Head hurts." Echoes bounced and he shut his eyes to the vibrations that added an extra layer of pain.
"I know. You've got a pretty bad scalp wound on top of a concussion."
"Yeah, you could say that." Thank god he could say that. "You've been out for over two days."
Opening his eyes, he again tried to focus on his friend's tired face. Dark circles shadowed the scared blue eyes. Unshaven cheeks added to the general air of fatigue. Blair wanted so much to stroke the bearded cheeks and draw the man closer, but he could barely keep his eyes open.
"I should tell the doctor you're awake."
Just as Jim turned, Blair reached for his hand, grabbing it. "Wait. Not yet."
Jim glanced at the pair of hands. He sat back down and lifted them to his face. After a brief touch to his lips, he let them fall to the bedside so that the IV lay flat. Tilting his head slightly, he whispered. "It's okay, buddy. I'm not leaving."
After a few more moments of quiet, Blair found his mind drifting again. The loud crashing in his skull lessened to mere thumping and his rebellious stomach settled to tiny spasms rather than fists. "Jim?"
"What do you remember last?"
Blair turned to look directly into a concerned sentinel stare. "I'd like to say nothing, but that's not true. Wallace tried to hurt me again."
"You stopped him though."
"No, you did."
Jim shook his head. "No way, Chief. I only followed up. You had him until I barged in and distracted you. I didn't mean to do that. It's just that when I heard the shot, I didn't want to take any chances. Maybe if I'd waited another minute or two, Taylor couldn't have gotten the gun away from you."
"Maybe, but he was right about me."
"You're losing me. What are you talking about?"
The words struggled and pushed to stay unheard and hiding in his head. Finally he licked his lips and continued. "I hate the man, but I don't think I could've shot him. He knew that. He would've hurt me if you hadn't come in when you did."
Jim shook his head. "He hurt you anyway. There was so much blood everywhere. You know how those scalp wounds bleed. Anyway, you went out and I couldn't get you to wake up. Jesus, Blair, you scared me so bad. I lost it. I'm afraid you're going to have to listen to some pretty tough ribbing when we get back to the station."
"You really lost it bad, huh?"
"Yeah, I really did. Simon had to about beat me to pull me off of you so the paramedics could work. I mean, all that blood, Chief. I just zoned looking at it while I tried to find your heartbeat. I just couldn't deal with losing you. Not now, not ever."
"You didn't lose me, Jim. I'm okay. Must be the hair."
"I guess it cushions the blows or something."
Jim's eyes finally twinkled as he recognized the light tease in his friend's voice. "I hate to be the one to tell you, but you don't have as much as you used to, Chief."
"What? No, they didn't." Slight panic brought his free right hand up to find the bandage that wrapped most of the side of his head. "Man, this sucks. How much Jim? Please tell me they didn't like shave it or anything."
"Well, actually, they just had to shave some of it, and cut out some of the rest. They had to put in thirty stitches."
"It's okay though."
"Well, you'll look great in a beret. Either that or we'll just have to be creative with the rest of it over here." Jim lifted one of the long locks from the other side and stroked it. The silky strands kissed his fingertips, and he caught his breath before letting the hair fall back to the pillow.
"What is it, Jim?"
"Nothing. I guess, I need to get the doctor. He's been nervous about you being unconscious so long."
"Okay, I guess I can handle some tests."
"Tests? What tests?"
"Man, just watch. He'll ask me my name, the date, ask me stupid questions like my birthday, make me do math, like I could do math before. I mean, if it's one thing I do remember, it's that when you get conked on the head, you've got to prove the brain still works or they'll keep at you like a crow pecking at fresh corn."
"Sounds like you just proved yours is up and running, Chief."
"Yeah, I know. It's just that my head really does hurt. Even so, at least the words are working again."
"Before, I couldn't seem to run them together. They were all tangled up in my head, sort of like dead fish in a dry net, you know. Now, they seem to be working right again."
"Yeah, I can hear that."
"You saying I talk too much?"
Smiling broadly with relief, Jim shook his head. "Never, Blair. You've got a wonderful voice. I've been starved for it for days."
"Starved? Cute, Jim. Make fun of the patient here."
"I'm not kidding, Chief. I've missed listening to you. I know I don't say it enough, but I really like hearing your voice. It's sort of, I don't know, comforting."
Grinning shyly, Blair rubbed his forehead, fighting back the returning discomfort. "I'm going to remind you about that one night when I'm trying to explain something and you dial down so you don't have to listen. Just you wait. You're going to regret those words."
"Maybe, but not today. Now, why don't you lie back and rest a minute while I go get the doctor. Besides, now that you're going to be okay, we've got plenty of time to catch up."
"Right." Watching his friend as he left, Blair took a deep breath and blocked off the swarming buzz of memories zapping the edge of his awareness. He felt good talking to his best friend. No son of a bitch from his past was going to take that away, no one was going to ever do that again. Instead he mentally snapped a series of quick shots of Jim Ellison, his head resting by his side, smiling, talking, stroking his hair, touching and kissing his hand. Jim Ellison. Jim Ellison. Jim Ellison. No ugliness would bypass his blessed protector's guarding mantra as he chanted the magic words in his head.
"That's not going to work, Chief."
A voice laced with innocence spoke softly. "What?"
"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. The doctor said you weren't supposed to try to do any reading for at least a two days after you got home. Hiding it behind the pillow is SO immature."
Nodding defeat, Blair grudgingly took out his copy of ANTHROPOLOGY NEWS. "I was just looking at the pictures."
"Uh uh." Jim reached over and took the scholarly journal and scanned through. Very few photos filled the pages and the tiny print hurt even his sentinel vision. "Chief, you are so bad about not following instructions. Is it any wonder the doctor didn't want to let you out of the hospital?"
"It's just a magazine, Jim. It's not like I'm running a marathon or anything."
"Blair, listen, I know you hate convalescence. I mean, I've certainly done my time recuperating, too, but you know that you've got to take it easy. The doctor said that any overdoing could lead to complications. I've got to tell you, I'm a little tired. I'm confessing here, Chief. I don't think I could handle anything else right now."
"Man, I'm sorry." Noticing the slight grin on his friend's face, brought a quick flush of realization. "Damn, you're good. You do that guilt thing really well."
"If you'd behave, I wouldn't have to drag out the big guns. I mean, I'm a cop, not a nurse."
The hurt sprang up to color his features before he could hide it. "Sorry, Jim. Why don't you go on down to the station? I'll be all right on my own."
Shaking his head, he sat down on the sofa next to his guide. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded, Chief. I want to take care of you, it's just that I'd rather take care of you when you're healthy. I don't like seeing you sick. I'm a selfish bastard, I know."
"No way, man. I'm just sorry you have to deal with all this, too."
"Deal with what? None of this shit is your fault, Blair. Now, why don't you lie back down on the couch there and relax. I'll fix you some soup and tea and then you can take a nap."
Shifting uncomfortably against the makeshift sickbed, the younger man pouted. "I'm not a kid, Jim. I don't need a nap."
Breathing deeply, praying for more patience, Jim kept his voice steady. "I know you're not a kid. I know you hate being sick. Just humor me, okay."
"Okay." Reluctance flavored the words, and Jim couldn't help but smile. Blair wasn't a kid, but sometimes he sure sounded like one.
He headed for the kitchen to get the soup started. "Jim?"
"When are they going to have the hearing for Wallace Taylor?"
The question hurled from out of the blue and Jim stopped moving for a moment. He turned to observe the barely contained nervous energy as his young friend fidgeted on the couch. He moved back to the living room area and settled beside him. "You worried about that?"
"It's okay, Blair. He's in jail and we've got enough evidence on the Reilly case alone that he won't make bail."
"So, do you think I'll have to testify?
Shit. "Well, we've got your statement and the evidence of the assault and attempted sexual assault. We're hoping that he'll make a deal to avoid the death penalty. If not, he's going to prison for the rest of his life just on the Reilly case. Your file will probably be added at the same time. If it goes to trial, then yeah, you'll likely have to testify."
"Oh." The slight tremors grew and traveled up through his arms into his chest. Jim saw the sudden uncontrollable shaking and scooted even closer. He reached out a hand pulled the young man against his chest. The tears wet the shirt and soaked through to salt his skin. Gently he rubbed the back and whispered, "It's okay. Let it out." The horror finally played out in his own mind. He could hardly imagine the terror of it as it accosted his friend's heart.
Massaging the tight shoulders finally paid off as the shaking slowed and the tension faded. Breathing evened out. Jim smiled to himself when he realized that his exhausted friend had fallen asleep in his arms. Secure and warm, he continued to hold Blair, rocking him tenderly. The herbal richness of his hair tickled his nose while tiny wayward strands traced his chin, tiny catches at his beard. Solid in his arms, Jim closed his eyes and leaned back, supporting his partner at the same time. Lying there together, he imagined a time when someday, Blair would be well and he could hold his best friend for an entirely different purpose. He closed his eyes and let himself rest while he cradled his guide, secure and loved.
"So, how's the kid?"
"Pretty good. The doctor took out the stitches, but told him he had to stay off his feet for another couple of days."
Simon joked. "Bet that went over well. Did you buy extra restraints?"
Jim grinned back. "Don't think I didn't consider it. You know Sandburg. He's like that energizer bunny, going all the time. Even in his sleep he's moving, never still."
"You watch him sleep, Jim?"
Blushing, he played it off. "Yeah, sometimes. Anyway, his vision's not entirely clear yet. Still, he's a whole lot better than he was."
"That's great news."
"So, why'd you ask to see me?" Simon settled behind his desk and pulled out a cigar, sniffing it like a test. Rolling it between his fingers, he clipped the end and put it in his mouth before lighting it. After he puffed a few times, he took it out and studied his restless friend. "Jim, how long have we known each other?"
"I mean, I took over this department what, five years ago? You were an asshole, but you've changed. You're still a pain in the ass sometimes, but you're mostly the best detective I have."
"Well, hell, Simon, thanks, I guess. What's this all about?"
"It's just that I've been thinking."
"Simon, you know that's not your job."
"Shut up, Jim. I've been thinking and I've been trying to figure out what exactly happened here."
Jim shook his head bewildered. "Simon, you're losing me. You want to tell me what the hell you're talking about?"
"Well, it's just that since Sandburg's been around, you're different and I don't think it's just this sentinel/guide stuff. I mean, I know the kid helps you with your senses, but it's more than that."
Suddenly uneasy with the tone, not sure of it's intent, Jim tried to cut in. "Listen, Simon, whatever it is you're trying to say..."
"Just let me say it, Jim."
"Okay, then get to it and make sense."
Surly at the interruption, the captain continued with a scowl. "Just listen for a minute, Jim. I'm just trying to say that I like the changes. I don't really care why they've happened. I just wanted to tell you that they're a good thing. If having Blair around helps you, then I'd like to find a way to make it easier for him to stay around."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, his ride along status as observer was supposed to be up in 90 days. We both know that expired a long time ago. After the Finkleman thing, I got to thinking. What if something did happen to me, and I'm not talking about taking another bullet?"
"Thank god. We almost lost you with that."
"Appreciate the fact that you'd rather have me around than not. Anyway, I'm talking about what if I get replaced. You never know. What would you think about trying to find a way to make Blair a permanent consultant with the department, I mean officially?"
Jim sat down and tried to calm the roar of his own blood. "That would be great if it'd work, but don't consultants have to work in different departments, like move around?"
"Wouldn't that be dangerous? I mean, he'd have to consult with other cops instead of just me. I might not be there when he needed me."
Chewing on the end of his cigar, Simon nodded. "That's true to a point. But, if we work it right, I could put him on my permanent consultants list here in Major Crimes. The other thing is he'd get paid and be offered more benefits. Right now, the hospital bills are only covered when his injuries are a direct result of his work with the department."
"Is this your way of telling me that this last visit wasn't covered, Simon?"
"No, I've got no idea about how that'll work out. I was just thinking that it would be a better way to make Blair's position with you here at the station more safe, more permanent."
Jim sat still looking down at his hands trying not to give into hope until he could be more sure. "Have you asked anybody about this yet?"
"I thought I'd ask you what you thought first. Frankly, I'm pretty sure I can pull it off. Shouldn't be that hard. His record with helping you has been impressive. Since he's come on board you've got the best solve rate in the city, hell, in the whole damn state. I don't think I'm shoveling it too high when I say I think I can sell it to the Chief to change the kid's status."
"Simon, I'll talk to Blair about it, but I don't see a problem. It could be the answer to a prayer."
Puzzled, Simon asked. "What prayer is that?"
"The one that lets me keep him with me."
Simon's expression softened. "Kid's grown on ya, huh?"
Blushing slightly, Jim stood and walked to the window. Crossing his arms, he stared out and fought the sting in his eyes. "He's saved my life, Simon. You said it yourself. I was a real son of a bitch before. Still can be, but not with Blair. I can't explain it. It's like he has some power over me. I get these rages and he's there to calm me down. I zone and he's there to pull me back from who knows where. I sure as hell don't. I'm telling you, Simon. That thing with Finkleman scared me."
"Because I don't think I could stand to lose him. I don't think I could do this job without him anymore. Hell, I don't think I could live without him anymore. He keeps me going. He makes me laugh and touches my heart like nobody I've ever known."
The detective turned and faced his Captain, trying to read his friend's reaction. "What?"
"Listen to yourself. You don't even realize what's obvious to everybody else."
"You love the guy."
Jim didn't smile, but spoke in a deadly soft, low-throated tone. "Yes, Captain, I do. You got a problem with that?"
"No, Jim, I don't. But, I think you do." Taken by surprise, Jim turned away again and didn't answer. "Jim, loving someone isn't a crime, even if it's Sandburg."
"Not funny, Simon."
"I know. Sorry. I've just never really had this conversation before. I mean, I've talked to friends about their love lives, but not this kind."
"Simon, I'm not really sure if we should talk about this."
"Why not? We've talked about our wives, why not this? Blair is a wonderful person and you're right, he has saved your life. Add to that, the kid is head over heals for you."
"Come on, Simon, stop kidding around like that."
"Kidding? You think I'm kidding? Not hardly. You know what your problem is, Jim? You may be a great detective, but you're a real dumbass when it comes to seeing what's right in front of you. Blair loves you, too. Now, I'm not going to kid you and say that being together as a couple wouldn't be a problem, but let's face it, going on denying your feelings isn't going to work either. Both of you need to have a serious talk about dealing with the truth."
"And the truth is that I do love him, but I swear the timing isn't right to say anything. This whole Taylor business has really set him on his ass."
"All the more reason to be there for him and to be there honestly, Jim. You're his best friend and partner already, plus there's that sentinel/guide thing going on. It's no big surprise that love would just be kind of the next step."
Jim sagged down in the chair by the table. He raised his hand to his forehead, rubbing away the sweat. Confusion hammered at his brain. "You and I both know the dangers here, Simon. I think Blair feels the same way that I do, but I've never really asked him. What if he doesn't? I don't think I could deal with him leaving."
"Leaving? Not going to happen. I can't promise that I know exactly how he's going to react if you tell him, but I can guarantee that leaving isn't really an option. He's connected to you. He needs you as much as you need him." As Jim started to speak, Simon raised a hand. "Wait. Let me finish. I've thought about this a long time. At first I wasn't going to say anything, but after what happened with the assault, watching you at the hospital, I had to. It hurt watching you keep it all inside like that. If you're honest, you've got to at least tell him."
"Yeah, I know."
Simon stood and moved to the front of his desk. Leaning back, he sat on the edge, leaving one foot anchored to the floor. "So, your assignment then, Detective Ellison, is to take the rest of the day off. Go home. Talk to your partner both about the consulting position and your feelings. Can you do that?Glancing up, uncertainty in his pale eyes, Jim shrugged. "Talking about feelings isn't easy for me."
"Yeah, well, we all know that. Still, you're a brave guy. I think you can handle it."
"I can try."
"Then go do the right thing, Jim."
"Is that an order?"
"You want it in writing?"
"Maybe. I mean, Major Crimes is liable to have a breakdown over this."
Snorting, Simon looked out his window at the hustling crew under his command. "After all the misery and death they face every day? Not likely. Hell, we're not all throwbacks. Some of us even like Sandburg."
Finally relaxing, Jim grinned, "Better not like him too much, Simon. I'm not only a pain in the ass, but I'm a jealous, possessive pain in the ass. He's mine and I don't like sharing."
"Well, hell, Jim. Tell me something I don't know."
"Okay, Jim, who'd you kill and where's the body?"
"What?" The question caught him by surprise. His hand paused mid-air as he was spooning out more dim sum.
Greedily chowing down on his favorite Chinese dish, Blair's renewed appetite got in the way of proper enunciation. After he swallowed again, he continued his tease. "Well, you came home early, talked about everything I like to talk about and then got me one of my favorite meals. Either you're hiding something or you're going to ask me to keep your secrets. Which is it?"
His face flushed a deep red as he sat back down licking the extra sauce off his fingers. "Neither. I just felt like doing something different. Can't a guy do that without people getting suspicious."
"Jim, is there anybody else in the loft beside us right now?"
"Because you forget who you're talking to here. Now what gives?"
Taking in a deep breath, Jim swallowed hard and tried to keep his tone steady. Hell, he hadn't been this nervous when he'd proposed to Carolyn. He pushed the thought of his ex-wife out of his mind and turned his attention back to his best friend. "Well, actually there is something I need to talk about. I'm just not sure how to start."
Suddenly concerned, Blair's grin vanished as he wiped his mouth. "Man, this sounds serious. I've had a great day today, Jim. First time in a week my head hasn't been ready to split. Tell you what. Let's go sit on the couch and we'll talk about whatever it is in a comfortable spot."
Impressed by the sensible approach, Jim agreed and they moved to the living room. Blair settled, legs folded on the far edge while the older man sat down, nervously rubbing his hand across his mouth. "Come on, Jim. Just say it. Whatever it is, I can take it."
The tone made Jim stop and look over. "Take what? What do you think I'm going to say?"
"Hell, I don't know, Jim. Maybe you're tired of me and want me to move out. I wouldn't blame you with all the trouble I've caused and everything."
Reaching over, Jim took Blair's waving hand, calming the frantic movement. "Blair, settle down and listen. I'm not tired of you. I could never be that. I don't blame you for any trouble, because none of it's your fault. Where do you come up with this stuff anyway?"
Blair stared at his hand now blazing with the heat of contact, but he let it stay gripped in Jim's. "I just worry sometimes. I've never had a friend like you before and it scares me."
"Scares you? Why?"
Closing his eyes, he tried to calm his breathing. "I just don't know what it all means, that's all. Nobody's ever taken care of me or put up with me like you do. I keep thinking that someday you'll wise up and throw my ass out."
Jim moved closer and placed Blair's open palm against his chest over his heart. "Blair, look at me." After a few moments, he repeated it.
Slowly, the young man's dark blue eyes stared into his. "I'm wising up, but it's not the way you think. I'm starting to finally figure out how I feel about you."
Blair felt the strength of the heartbeat vibrating through his hand, the hand held there by another larger one. He whispered his question, the words breathy and uneven. "How do you feel about me, Jim?"
"I love you. I'm just now starting to understand just how much having you here means to me."
Blair looked away, his eyes too bright and misty. "Jim, please. Don't tease me like this."
Awareness sunk in and Jim shifted over to kneel in front of his guide, forcing Blair to meet his gaze. "Tease you? I love you, Blair Sandburg. I think you feel the same way about me, but I'm not sure. Tell me, Blair. You're my guide and my best friend. I love you." He smiled and said, "Hell, now that I've finally said it, I can't seem to stop."
"Don't ever stop. I love you, too, but I was afraid to say anything."
"Boy, what a pair we make. Shaman and Sentinel, two blind guys."
Blair smiled shyly. "Jim, why now? Why are you finally saying something?"
"Don't you think it's about time?"
"Yeah, but why?" The plaintive voice persisted.
"I almost lost you. It scared me so much I finally had to come clean, that and Simon told me I had to." Jerking back, Blair shook his head as if trying to break a spell. "Simon? What'd he do?"
"He told me that I was an asshole and I needed to tell you what was obviously the truth."
Amazed and relieved, Blair settled back into the sofa, still letting Jim kneel before him holding his outstretched hand. "So, Simon's okay with this?"
"Sure. But, more importantly, are you okay with it?"
"Okay. Hell, I'm more than that. Jim, I just don't know what to say."
"Well, that's a first." The older man reached up and pushed back a wayward strand of hair and then ran his finger along the jawline. A slight shiver made him hesitate. "Want me to stop?"
"Jesus, no. Sorry, Jim, I'm just so nervous."
"Yeah? Me, too. Tell you what. Why don't we just sit together for awhile and cuddle? Would that be all right?"
"Man, more than all right."
Jim slid up next to his smaller partner and pulled him close, holding him tight. Leaning in, Blair slowly moved his arms and wrapped them around the older man's chest. Then he nestled his face there, finally resting his cheek over his heart. The rhythm soothed his fear and let his own heart join with the beat. Jim's chin gently sat on top of dark brown curls. After a few minutes of sitting together, the sentinel tenderly kissed the wound on the side of Blair's head.
The moan surprised him as Blair clutched him harder. "What is it, Chief?"
"I just love you so much. You don't even seem to care about what Wallace did."
Still wrapping his guide in his arms, Jim shook his head. "I care, Chief, because he hurt you. What he did when you were a child and what he did now that you're a grown man was evil, but none of it was your fault. I won't even begin to say I understand how all that makes you feel. I can't even imagine it. I can listen if you want to tell me or I can be here when you figure it out. All I can tell you is that I love you more than my own life. No one will ever change that."
Blair words sounded thick and husky at his chest. "I don't want him to ruin it. I don't know if I can get rid of him by myself. I guess I tried that before by blocking out the memories, but obviously that doesn't work."
"Now you're talking about something I can relate to, Chief. Repression doesn't work in the long run. We both agree on that."
"True. I guess what I'm saying is that I want to get help with this, see somebody."
"Yeah, I guess. Would that bother you?"
"No. In fact, I think it'd be a good thing."
"Would you mind if we didn't do anything until I get my head straight about all this?"
"Do anything? You mean like sexually?"
Smiling, Jim held back his laugh. "Chief, I love you. Sure someday that'll be part of it, but I'm not holding you and living with you and clinging to your very soul because you might have sex with me."
Looking up relieved, grinning a little devil smile, Blair teased. "Hey, but you want to someday, right? Cause, man, I've got to tell you, as soon as I get my head straightened out, I want to eat you alive and have you fuck me to death. That's been my plan all along."
Jim sputtered in surprise, choking as he pulled back. Catching his breath he started to laugh. "Jesus, Chief."
Eyes rounded, all innocence, Blair whispered in a hush, "What?"
"I'm just hoping I'm not at a loss on how to satisfy such a healthy appetite when you're finally ready to put that scheme into action."
Blue eyes sparkled and a throaty purr tickled the sentinel's left ear, followed by a lick and a tiny little nibble. "Well, then, my love, I guess it's a good thing you have a guide."