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A Pawn Of Prejudice

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A Pawn Of Prejudice

by Jayd

Author's disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters belong to Pet Fly and UPN. I make no money from this story and no copyright infringement is intended.



The young man watched from across the rolling campus lawn, his mouth twitching, nose pulling up into a sneer of disgust.

He didn't notice the beautiful early spring day, flowers just beginning to bloom, trees sprouting with leaves as green as gem stones. He didn't notice the couples sitting about or the groups studying, sitting on the grass and enjoying the days before studying for finals caught up with them.

"Look at him kissing up to Dean Wilcox," he said to himself as much as to his companion. "I bet he's already been in her bed a few times. He'd fuck anything or let anything fuck him. He fucked Tami." His tone had grown from disgusted to deadly in a matter of seconds, deadly enough to seriously consider bodily harm to a long-haired pretty Jew boy of a research fellow who had stolen His girl earlier in the semester. At least that was the rumor around campus and he wanted to believe it. Why else would Tami dump him if not for an instructor that she had been fawning over for weeks before they broke up?

"Eric, come on, what do you care about Tami Schmitt? You've got me now and Blair Sandburg doesn't do a thing for me, babe." The red-haired girl leaned into him, hands possessively grasping his arm and trying to make him look at her.

Beth was pretty enough with her long sweeping curls and voluptuous figure. She was a good lay as well, but Sandburg had stolen his girl, had taken his rightful spot next to the most gorgeous girl on campus, where he should have been. And nobody got away with dissing Eric Mansford like that. Nobody.

Eric ignored Beth's attempts to distract him, watching Sandburg's animated conversation, the instructor's hand movements and face too expressive and too pretty. Eric wanted to take a knife to that pretty face and cut it so nobody ever gave Mr. Blair Sandburg another look except with distaste.

And then there was the other rumor, that Sandburg swung both ways, that the teaching fellow was now shacking up with his cop roommate, a big muscle-bound butch detective that must give it to Sandburg real hard in the ass.

Well. Eric's grin turned into a smug smile of anticipatory pleasure. Sandburg was about to become number one target for slights and insults and inflictions upon Eric Mansford's honor.

Then there was the affront perpetrated against his favorite professor, Dr. Edwin Fletcher. That was Sandburg's fault as well. He just knew it was. And Sandburg would pay for that in ways the instructor would never dream of in his worst nightmares.

"I'm going to make your life hell, Sandburg. I'm going to make you wish you'd never seen Rainier University or Cascade, Washington before this is all over. Slow and steady, little by little and then the big finale. Boom, pretty boy. Just wait and see."

Chapter 1

"Ow! What the..."

Blair jerked back a hand, dropping his car keys. Blood spattered the door to his car and now dripped off his right hand where a two inch gash lay open along the soft cushion of skin just below the thumb.

"I do not need this."

His gaze ran over the door to see a piece of metal, sharpened to a fine edge and painted the color of his car, protruding from the door seam.

"Not funny, man," he muttered under his breath.

This was the fourth practical joke in two weeks. No, this was no joke, this was an assault of the most cowardly kind...distant and impersonal, yet deliberately aimed towards him.

"Dirty sons-of-bitches," he mumbled. He had no idea who had suddenly and without known provocation decided to pick on him. One thing he did know, these things had only happened on or around campus, not at the loft or while he was with Jim.

And the assaults were getting more dangerous with each one inflicted. The first had been nothing more than some sort of slime from the biology department, harmless he was told, but stank the high heaven and left a residue all over the classroom desk. And he had been the one that had gotten in trouble over it with Dean Wilcox.

Yeah, as if he would want all his stuff, several students' papers and the desk he had to use three times a week to smell like someone's laundry after it's been left in the washer too long.

The second had been a bit more dangerous, something left on the floor outside his campus office, something slippery as hell. He'd nearly broken his back when he'd fallen, feet flying out from under him. He'd had a knot on the back of his head for four days after banging his skull hard enough for him to see several of the northern constellations and the blackness behind them.

The third had bothered him most before this little incident. His office had been ransacked, papers everywhere, pottery destroyed. Nothing had been taken as far as he could tell. And he'd been particularly glad he'd taken home with him that day all his notes on Jim and the Sentinel study. He'd insisted the lock be changed to a deadbolt and hoped nothing else would happen.

So much for hope, Sandburg.

He managed to open the car door without bleeding all over himself and wrapped the piece of metal in paper for further examination. Maybe who ever did this had left fingerprints or something.

Blair sat in his car for a moment, trying to think what to do while his hand bled through the makeshift bandage that smelled of oil and gasoline.

Should he go to the hospital? Home? Yeah, home, he decided and drove carefully all the way there, finding it hard to drive without getting blood everywhere. He glanced down at the pooling stain on the seat. And he had just gotten this car after the Corvair had died such an untimely death at the hands of a teenager. Lot of good it had done not leaving the keys in the car this time.

Jim met him at the door, concern a written expression on the man's face.

"What happened, Chief? What did you do?" Jim had him by the arm, leading him over to the table and began to unwrap his hand.

"I'm not even in the door and you already know...." Blair's face lit up with excitement. "You smelled the blood, didn't you? How far away? Was I still downstairs or when I got to the door?"

"I smelled your blood. That's what got my attention, Chief. God knows I've smelled it often enough. Let me get the first aid kit. It might need stitches."

"Seriously, Jim," Blair continued in his research mode. "Where was I when the blood got your attention?"

Jim gave him a long suffering glance and settled down at the table to clean the wound.

"You were in the elevator, maybe halfway up."

"That's incredible."

"You with a gash in your hand that is definitely going to need stitches is incredible? You are a sick man, Sandburg."

"No Jim, listen. Ow! Don't...ow! Jesus, Jim, for a super sensitive kind of guy you sure are a lousy nurse."

Jim offered Blair a fake smile and continued with his objective.

"What's incredible," Blair continued, gritting his teeth against antiseptic in an open wound. "Is that you distinguished my blood from someone else's from that distance. And that you knew I was bleeding."

"Okay, Chief. That's incredible. Happy now? You didn't do this as an experiment did you? Cause if you did you're sicker than I thought."

"No way, man. Someone left a little surprise sticking out of the door seam of my car."

He reached over with his good hand and rummaged in his pack till he found the carefully wrapped blade slipped between the pages of a book. Blair watched Jim's mouth draw tight and jaw muscle jump as the detective examined the offending piece of metal.

"Painted the same color as your car." Jim glanced up then with an intense blue gaze. "What is this, third dirty little trick in two weeks, sweetheart?"


"I think its time we went looking for this freak, Chief. This is getting serious. Someone's targeted you for harassment. Has there been any other incidents like this on campus? Anyone else assaulted?"

"Not that I've heard of. Man, I don't need this right now. You know that seminar I've been asked to speak at is coming up in two weeks. I still have some tweaking to do on the paper I'm giving. Then there's that extra class I had dumped on me for next semester. I'm going to have to study up on it cause its not my realm of expertise. I've got to come up with a lesson plan for the entire semester by Friday for the dean's approval. Then there are finals coming up on top of everything else."

Jim packed the first aid kit, his blue eyes seemingly looking inward toward questions and answers.

"Take your own advice, babe. A few deep breaths --- relax. Don't stress out. We'll figure this out. Did you flunk anyone recently?"

Blair shook his head and ran his fingers back through his hair, flexing his hand to see if everything was working okay. Blood seeped around the edges of the newly applied bandage "No. I'm sure there are a few unhappy with their grades, but no one's flunking. Everyone still has a shot at a decent grade with finals yet to be taken. And there's still a paper not due till next week."

"Stop using that hand until we get you to a doctor," Jim chastised. The bigger man grabbed Blair's wrist and forced it gently down on the table. With the other hand, Jim stroked Blair's cheek with gentle fingers. A kiss followed that almost made Blair forget the pain in his hand and the blood. "Leave your hand there till I put this away. Then we're going to the hospital."

Blair shook his head again and looked skyward as Jim slipped away from him. "Yes, Nurse Ellison."

"I heard that," Jim said from the bathroom.

"I meant for you to."

Chapter 2

"Professor Sandburg."

Blair glanced around, searching for the sweet female voice that had been so kind as to put professor in front of his name.

"Gwynn, hi." He stopped and let her catch up to him.

Gwynn smiled rather shyly at him, her short brunette hair swaying around a pretty face. They resumed walking in the morning sunlight as she came along side of him.

"Are you going to your office, Professor? I was hoping you might have another syllabus to your Introduction to Anthropology class. I seem to have misplaced mine and I know a paper is coming due...then there are finals..."

"Sure. I'm always misplacing things myself. And Gwynn, uh you don't have to call me professor. I don't have my doctorate yet. Blair would be fine or mister if you're uncomfortable with that."

"Well, personally, I think anyone who can teach college level classes should be called professor. But if you don't mind I'd be pleased to call you Blair. At least, outside of class."

They continued to chat all the way to his office, Gwynn obviously enamored of him. Although he and Jim had finally admitted their love for each other and finally, after a few missteps, considered themselves exclusive, Blair still felt a certain pleasure of that admiration wash over him until he saw Gwynn's green eyes spark with alarm in the flourescent light and watched her gasp at what he had yet to notice.

"What?" he asked and turned to see what had caused Gwynn's trepidation.

A half dozen students stood around his second floor office, all talking and pointing and gawking at some markings on the walls surrounding the entrance. Blair stared in shock. A queasy feeling fluttered in the pit of his stomach and pushed up into his chest. A Swastika desecrated his office door, the center piece done in black spray paint. A slew of racial slurs surrounded the hateful symbol in paint the color of blood. Blair knew this symbol to be nearly as old as civilization itself and had once been innocent of such animosity. Now, the swastika only meant unreasoning hatred towards those different from oneself...particularly if your name had a distinctly Semitic spelling.

And it was more than that even, just ugly names that had nothing to do with him being Jewish, that had more to do with his sexual preferences actually and his mother's state of marriage at his birth.

A sudden foreboding made him back away from the door, pressing him against the far wall with its abhorrence and hostility. The words swirled around him, but he couldn't pry his gaze away to see Gwynn trying to talk to him, to hear her asking him if she should get the campus police or the dean or someone in authority through the roaring in his ears. He realized the sound came from his own pounding heart and his breath gone shallow.

"Yes," he finally said. "Call campus security."

He didn't watch her run down the hall away from him to disappear around the corner, but knew she had. Instead, he reached into his backpack and found the cellular phone, unable to take his eyes from the hateful words directed at him. The other students stood staring at him as if he had suddenly grown horns and a tail.

"Jim? Could you come over to the campus now? Please. It's happened again. You'll see when you get here. No. I'm all right. Thanks."

Blair took a deep steadying breath, running his mantra through his head to clear his senses and get back on track.

Jim will figure this out. Jim will find the person or persons responsible for this...this...what? Hatred? This prejudice? This attack on his heritage that he had no control over? And why should he be any less a person because of his mother's lineage? How does one group of people justify the atrocities inflicted on another group of people based on their blood line?

God, he wasn't even a practicing Jew.

But because his name had 'burg' on the end suddenly he was fair game for some narrow-minded arrogant prick with an irrational vendetta to fulfill.

And then there was the rest as if slurring his racial heritage wasn't enough for these creeps. They had to take it another step and get even more personal.

He had always been good at letting slurs roll off of him, sidestepping easily when someone tried to make something out of nothing. And perhaps his mother's lifestyle had insulated him from prejudice since she associated mostly with open-minded artistic types anyway. Maybe he had never stood out enough for someone to point a finger and call him Jew with the intention of hurting him. Maybe that's why he liked the pre-industrial tribal civilizations he'd spent so much time with. He didn't know and none of it mattered now with the ugly hatred staring him down, right in his face, directed at him with all the ancient evil pressed on unsuspecting and innocent people.

He ran his hands back through his hair and waited for Jim to arrive. His hand throbbed where he'd been cut, now sewn up with eleven stitches, reminding him that this harassment was far from over.

"Dammit, Sandburg," Jim muttered to himself. "Why does trouble follow you around like a curse?"

He thought about his partner's seeming predestined association with misfortune lately and wondered if maybe Blair needed a good exorcist or something to drive away the nagging demons determined to make the anthropologist's life one near disaster after another. He wondered what had happened, what new harassment had been inflicted. Blair had sounded okay physically, just shaken and...scared? Yes, Blair had sounded frightened and shocked. What the hell had happened?

Goddamn it! Whoever was making his lover hurt was going to pay and big time. Nobody was going to get away with causing his Blair, his guide, his shaman, this kind of pain and grief.

He and Blair had only committed to each other a few months back, after Incacha's death and the ordeal of his senses deserting him. That wasn't really a fair perspective and Jim knew it. He'd shoved his abilities away because he feared the responsibility of using them, but even in death, Incacha...and Blair as his newly appointed spiritual guide had lead him to that secret place where he'd had to face that responsibility and come to grips with the reality of what he was and that regardless of his heightened senses he had to be responsible for his actions or in-actions. And in that discovery he had come to realize he had another commitment to make as well. A responsibility to tell Blair how long he'd loved the man, how long he had hidden behind his own macho facade of cynical disinterest when his heart was aching...and breaking at times to be more to Blair Sandburg than just a research subject or roommate, more than a working partner and friend. Jim had fallen in love with Blair very early on in their relationship and had fought the falling in fear that Blair wouldn't feel the same. Once they had been honest with each other, they had realized how silly each had been, fearing to say the words "I love you. I need you...want you." And once they had that out of the way, nothing was going to stop them from loving each other. But letting the rest of the world know about that love was another thing all together though and they treaded softly until the right moment arrived.

Jim rolled into a guest parking spot near the entrance to Hargrove Hall and sprinted to the door. He heard Blair's voice and followed without even having to try to remember the way to his partner's office. He heard Blair's heartbeat skipping and beating, accelerating then falling back into rhythm. Something had his guide in a state of anxiety beyond what was normal. And anxiety was a normal state of being for Blair Sandburg.

Turning the corner, Jim had no trouble seeing even from that distance the offensive symbols and words garishly spray painted on the normally sparsely clean walls, the mosaic tile and wood and frosted glass door. Jim's heart lurched and he ran the corridor, gently pushing past a group of gathered students and a few teachers, till he came up short in the doorway to see Blair standing at his desk watching the campus policeman wander around looking for no one knew what.

"Blair, are you okay?"

Blair's wide-eyed just short of frightened gaze shot up at his sudden appearance and words. The young man looked momentarily lost and oh so young just then, like a child confronted for the first time with prejudice he didn't understand.

"Jim, I'm so glad you're here."

"Did they get into your office?"

Blair shook his head and pushed hair from his face. "No, it doesn't look like it. Nothing seems disturbed this time. But you can see what was done...out there."

"Yeah, Chief. Looks like we've got us a case here. We'll file the proper forms when we get to the station, but I'm making this official here and now."

"For what, Jim? Vandalism? Yeah, that will be taken real serious. Simon must have more important things for you to do than babysit me and my office door."

"Blair," Jim said, coming up close to his partner and putting a comforting hand on his shoulder. He had to resist the urge to do more here in Blair's office with the security man and a dozen students just outside. He restrained himself from taking Blair into his arms and hugging his lover to him. He wanted desperately to comfort and protect...yes, protect most of all, the precious gift he had been given when The Powers That Be had sent Blair to him when he had needed a guide through the tumult of his senses. "This is called a hate crime, Chief. It can be considered a Federal Offense. Remember the church bombings a while back aimed at blacks? Same sort of thing."

Blair looked up, stunned. "You've got to be kidding, man."

"No. There's nothing funny about racial prejudice or any other type of harassment. And there's been a physical attack and property destruction as well. Its time this was made official."

Blair nodded, but appeared disturbed by this news.

"Well, Mr Sandburg, I can't see any signs of breaking and entering. Not like last time," the rather young security officer stated after going over the room and the door at length. "Looks like all the damage has been done on the outside."

Maybe the outside of the door, mister, Jim thought. But he could see the damage done inside, to Blair himself, by the look in Blair's eyes and by the beating of his partner's heart. Blair seemed an innocent at times to him, free of racial prejudice or preconceived notions about lifestyle. Blair seldom judged and then only when faced with overwhelming evidence of wrong doing. Now, before him, Jim could see a bit of that innocence being ripped right out of his partner's heart, taking all the good things in life and making them trivial when faced with such hatred. He had seen the look a few times before, but somehow Blair had always managed to recover, at least, a bit of his former innocence. Jim hoped that valuable commodity hadn't been lost forever with this too personal blow.

"You put a deadbolt on this door after Mr. Sandburg's office was broken into what a week ago?" Jim asked, trying to stay calm and business like for Blair's sake. Blair needed his strength and guidance now.

"Yes, sir. You're with the P.D., aren't you?"

Jim nodded. "Detective Ellison," he said and glanced around the room, seeing what was missing now after some of Blair's favorite pieces of Peruvian pottery had been destroyed in that break in.

"Did anyone report hearing or seeing anything the day of that break in, or today or last night?"

"Not that I know of. But you might want to check the night security on that one. We think the first one was done at night some how."

"Was the incident reported to the police officially?"

The man glanced over at Blair sheepishly. "We figured Mr. Sandburg reported it. He's in good with the police after all."

Jim almost smiled at that. "I'll need access to any reports made of this kind in the last year or so. Not just by Mr. Sandburg, but by anyone on campus. Also any reports of harassment --- teachers or students."

"Of course, the University prides itself on total cooperation with the police."

"That's appreciated."

"I'd better go let Chief Tomaki in on this, Mr. Sandburg and get the cleaning crew in here to get this mess off your door."

"Don't do that just yet," Jim spoke up. "The police will need to take pictures and check for fingerprints. So don't let anyone but me and Mr. Sandburg down this hall till I can get someone to handle that. You'll need to clear the area right away. The cleaning will have to wait till then."

"Oh, yeah, sorry."

Jim pulled out his cell phone and called the precinct to get a unit to go over the place.

Simon will just love this one. Ethnic persecution was enough to get his captain into a tizzy for days, maybe even weeks. But what would Simon say about the rest of the accusations scrawled in spray paint that came right out and called Blair a fag...a fairy? Would Simon question the motivation of the perp?

That done, Jim patted Blair's shoulder, trying to rub a little of the tension from the young man's back and neck. "Was everything okay here when you left yesterday after your morning class, Chief?"

Blair nodded distantly. "Yeah, fine." Jim watched Blair hold his bandaged hand out to stare as if he'd see the answer to a difficult question in the gauze wrapping. "It must have been done late yesterday or last night." Blair glanced up, piercing Jim with that blue-eyed gaze. "You know Jim, I've never really had anything like this happen to me before. I'm sure I must annoy some people. I annoy Simon nearly every day, but before it was always me that people were reacting to, not to something I have no control over, not because my heritage leads me back to some ancient controversy that this world can't seem to get passed. I guess if someone's going to hate me I'd like for them to do it for some personal reason. This is so abstract and distant and...unreal." Blair pushed away from the desk and walked out to stand before the walls still covered in red slandering words. Jim followed and read more closely.

"This is nothing but unreasoning hatred and its directed at me, Jim. What did I do to make someone hate me like this? How do you fight against it?"

Yet to Jim, this attack and the others did seem personal, not just a racial thing, broad and encompassing. Something just didn't fit right here.

"First of all, Chief, you didn't do anything to deserve this or any of the other harassments," Jim offered in reply. "Prejudice isn't provoked, its a sickness. Then we fight against it by finding the culprits and punishing them. By not tolerating this kind of behavior. Blair, I don't have all the answers. Sometimes I don't think I have any, but try not to let this get you down too far. Sooner or later we all face some unreasonable person or belief that tries to wear us down, drag us down to his or its level. We just have to stand up to it and not let it destroy us."

Blair smiled sadly then and leaned against the far wall. "Okay Jim, your words are way too profound for me to ignore."

Jim nodded and walked over to the wall. He examined it more closely, reaching out to place his fingers against a particularly loathsome word. more than eight hours old, he'd guess. The paint appeared to be a common commercial brand, nothing unusual in the odor or texture of the acrylic based spray paint. With a studied eye, Jim committed to memory the handwriting, a mixture of print and script and when done in red gave the scrawl an ominous effect. The words weren't actual threats, veiled at best, but were words intended to intimidate and strike at the heart with its hatred. He wondered how many were involved in this little game of persecution and he wondered why they had chosen Blair other than the fact that his name had a Jewish ring to it. Surely, there were others on campus of Semitic decent. Perhaps they also had fallen victim to this intimidation. He intended to find out. And until he found others that had been victimized in the same way, Jim was going to treat this case as a highly personal vendetta against Blair.

Chapter 3

Professor Edwin Fletcher sat at his desk in his spacious, sunlit office, narrow face drawn tight as he studied a recent report on findings of early man in the middle east, the cradle of civilization. Absentmindedly he clucked his tongue, disapproving of some of the information revealed there. A shake of his greying head made his glasses slip down his nose and he pushed them back into place with an impatient shove.

Ridiculous information. Simply could not be true. Once again some young idiot of an anthropologist had come up with some corny idea and the journals sucked it up as if the theory had any relevant importance to reality. These so called anthropologists needed to take a more objective view and stop trying to follow a set agenda that furthered their own purposes and predilections.

He glanced up at a knock on his door and check his watch.

Ah, my young men are here.

"Come in."

Fletcher watched the four young men enter, noting their sporty dress, the latest in prep fashion. The professor let a smile form on his thin lips. A distinct similarity ran through the young men, each from well off families, each dressed to reflect their fraternal affiliations and their tendencies toward prepiness. Fletcher smiled and liked what he saw.

And one stood out among them, a promising lad by the name of Eric Mansford. Fletcher saw in this young man, a version of himself several years ago, promising, yes with potential to succeed in a field begging for someone to make a name. The boy had the charisma, the charm and the brains to be the Robert Bakker of Anthropology...without the beard, of course...or the eccentricities. Fletcher intended to make this young man into what he himself should have been. Could have been, if the opportunities hadn't been snatched from his hands time after time by one undeserving interloper after another.

And now this new affront was like salt in an old festering wound, eating at him, making him want some kind of justified revenge for all the stolen moments of glory that had been lost to those less talented, but perhaps more charismatic, more beautiful in physical appearance.

Eric sauntered over to Edwin's desk and slipped into a chair across from his mentor. Cornell Keane, another up and coming student, dropped into another chair and stretched out his long legs. The other two leaned on the professor's desk and Fletcher smiled anew at his quartet of followers.

"Problems, Professor."

"I've heard. I told you that graffiti would damage rather than help our cause. But, even against my advice, you proceeded to tell the world that Mr. Sandburg has enemies and you went and made it racial as well. This is serious business, men. This type of display only invokes outrage in the community and gives Mr. Sandburg allies who believe him persecuted for his religion. What this will attract is all the wrong sort, skinheads and neo-Nazis trying to get into some non-existent picture with their overt vulgarity. We really must try more for subtlety and keep our activities directed towards that which our protests are aimed. Do we understand each other, gentlemen?"

"Yes, sir," Eric said with great respect. "You were right. The act of marring Sandburg's office was satisfying at that particular moment, but the cops are now involved. Who was to know the little Jew boy's cop boyfriend would come running to his side hardly before the paint was dry?"

Cornell laughed and Eric threw him an evil look.

"You just hate Sandburg because Tami Schmitt dumped you when she fell head over heels for him. She's taken every class he's teaching just to be near him." The young man leaned over towards his companion. "You know, I heard they had a really hot affair back in January. At least, that's the word around campus. So much for your theory about the cop." He laughed again and one of the others, Read Seymour held out a large hand. Cornell slapped it and both laughed while Eric sneered at them with loathing.

"News flash, Keane," Eric's sneer turned into a mean smile. "Word is, Sandburg and the cop are an item. A Jew and a fairy. Strike two on Sandburg, I'd say."

"Hey, watch it, Mansford," Read piped up with a dark glare. "I'm Jewish. Don't get personal."

"Cool your jets, man," Eric replied. "Nothing personal intended. There are Jews and there are Jews."

"What the hell does that mean?" Read said, standing up and towering over Eric's still sitting form.

"Regardless, gentlemen," Fletcher injected, refusing to allow this vendetta to become distorted. He motioned Read Seymour back with a gentle wave.

This had nothing to do with race or religion, Edwin Fletcher thought. It had to do with unfair distribution of academic kudos. And the years he had spent at more than one university that didn't appreciate him and gave advantages to such as Blair Sandburg, too pretty, too gregarious, too much a brown-noser.

"The police will be watching Mr. Sandburg closely, as well as his office and possibly his car. Be very careful or any one of you could be prosecuted. I did not sanction this activity. If you follow my advice, all will be well. Let's let the worst of the damage dissipate. Then we may resume our protest as we see fit. Perhaps in the end we will drive Mr. Sandburg away from our fair establishment and on to something more fitting."

"I can think of a few fitting ends for Sandburg," Eric quipped. "And all of them are slow and painful."

"Now Eric, my dear fellow," Fletcher said, ready to offer some sage advice. "Mr. Sandburg is not without intelligence and talent. I never said that the young man was without some merit. It's just that he couldn't possibly have gotten as far as he has without sleeping with someone to get there. Imagine it? A consultant to the Cascade Police Department? Please!"

"Well, we know how he got that job, don't we?" Eric said with a smirk. "I'm sure that cop is getting his fill of Sandburg's ass. Maybe more than one of them."

Cornell laughed again. "Mansford, you had better get a grip on your jealousy before it eats you up alive. You're going to give yourself a stroke with all that pent up hostility."

"Pent up?" Seymour echoed. "He hasn't let it loose yet? Man is Sandburg in trouble when he does then."

"That's right, Read," Eric Mansford agreed in a low deadly tone. "So you'd better be behind me when I do blow. Got it?"

"Yeah...sure, Eric. Relax. I'm with you. We're all with you. Sandburg was never fraternity. We don't owe him any allegiance. Anyway, he gave me a lousy C+ in Intro."

Fletcher sighed and cleared his throat, signaling the quartet to return their attention back to center stage.

"And this paper Sandburg is giving at the South America Seminar in less than two weeks is another example of the appalling trend we have been seeing nation wide. This is what our campus has come to, allowing those with mediocre talents to rise above those of us with true brilliance simply because they have a nice smile and handsome features and know all the right things to say to all the right people. How Dean Wilcox can justify giving a mere research fellow a berth at this conference while overlooking my obvious talents must be due to this sad phenomenon."

"Perhaps Sandburg's been doing his field research in the dean's bedroom," Eric offered.

"Isn't your field of study the Middle East and Africa, Professor Fletcher?" This question came from the fourth young man, Thomas Thaw, a student, whose thoughtful demeanor often belied the prankster inside. Fletcher was almost certain it was Thaw who had thought up the sharpened steel in the door prank. "Sandburg, I understand, knows South America inside and out. Seems reasonable he'd be asked to deliver a paper on the subject of South American culture comparisons rather than you."

"Shut up, Thaw," Eric snarled. "Professor Fletcher can write circles around Sandburg, on any subject, any day."

Thaw just smirked and shook his head.

"Thank you for your confidence, Eric, but Thomas has a point. Mr. Sandburg has studied extensively in South America, if I understand correctly, but he has also narrowed his field of research to some obscure myth, limiting his possibilities in the extreme. He's done no field research in over two years. I, on the other hand have a broad knowledge of many cultures, including South American and, have a good twenty years of extensive field research at my disposal. Would you like my personal opinion as to why Mr. Sandburg was chosen to speak, rather than myself?"

"Of course, Professor," Eric said and dared with a look anyone saying otherwise.

Fletcher smiled again, indulgent and pleased. He always enjoyed having an audience.

"I am a middle-aged man. Distinguished, yes, but perhaps lacking that, how would one say it in today's terms, gentlemen?

"Hipness, perhaps?" Fletcher continued when no help was forthcoming. "Sexy savvy of a young, good looking man like Mr. Sandburg?"

Eric snorted in disgust.

Cornell laughed. "Mansford, don't you know half the girls with Anthro or Soc majors are swooning over Sandburg? If you haven't noticed that you are blind."

"I've noticed enough and it makes me sick," Eric growled. "You got a thing for him, Keane? You keep extolling his non-existent virtues."

Cornell just laughed again. "Just calling 'em like I see 'em."

"Whether we like it or not," Fletcher continued with a slightly raised voice. "The majority of students find Mr. Sandburg an interesting teacher, easy to communicate with and easy on the eyes. To hell with a Doctor of Anthropology with years of study, field research, papers published in several journals. No, give them shallow and pretty and easy to listen to. This is what we have to fight, men. And the complacency of your fellow students."

Fletcher watched with satisfaction the purifying flame light up once more in his students' eyes. He might yet gain his revenge through these young men. So unfortunate for Blair Sandburg that he must suffer for the sins of so many. But then it was time for someone to suffer...and pay.

"Now, be careful what you do in the next few weeks, gentlemen. Let the police find nothing else interesting to investigate then we'll proceed with our goals to even the playing field so to speak. Retribution is at hand. And Blair Sandburg will be our sacrificial lamb."

Chapter 4

"Why don't you sit back and relax, Chief? I'll order Chinese and we'll just vegetate here tonight."

Blair nodded wearily, looking worn out and rather pale. Jim watched his partner drop his backpack inside the door and shrug out of his jacket then collapse onto the couch with head laid back and eyes closed.

This wasn't going to go away quickly, that was certain, Jim surmised. The graffiti had been a shock to Blair's system and systems tended to shut down when shock set in. Nothing different about this scenario except that his lover was hurting from this affront, this ugly attack and that made Jim Ellison really mad.

Quietly, he came up behind Blair, fingers moving the young man's hair back away from his temples and gently moving in a comfortable rhythm. Jim heard Blair's audible sigh, felt the tension slide ever so subtly out of his lover's body as he moved his fingers slowly down Blair's jaw line, massaging with the soft pads of his fingertips. He continued the movement down Blair's neck and up behind the ears and Jim couldn't resist the urge to lean down close and place a loving kiss against Blair's forehead and at the temple. His kisses followed the trail his fingers had left until Blair moved to catch Jim's lips with his own.

"I love you, Jim Ellison. I don't know what I'd do without you," Blair said in a reverent hush.

"I love you too, sweetheart. I don't know what you'd do without me either." Jim grinned down on his partner and watched Blair smile that gentle, amused smile that was like a trademark.

"Come here and hold me, will you? I need a good cuddle right now and my hand hurts like hell."

"You're using it too much, Chief. Cut it out or I'll have to tie you to the bed to keep you from moving it so much."

"Promises, promises."

They grinned at each other, but Jim knew that neither of them felt like exerting that much energy just then. Cuddling would do this night and if that led to a bit of gentle lovemaking fine. But Blair didn't need anything too rough and tumble tonight. Blair needed some tender loving care.

Jim moved around the couch and sat down, drawing Blair between his legs and the two of them settled into a comfortable arrangement. Blair turned sideways and laid his cheek against Jim's chest and Jim let his fingers rake gently through Blair's curls, enjoying the texture and scent that rose up from his mate. His other hand stroked Blair's shoulder through his shirt. With a tug, Jim had the young man's shirt pulled out of his jeans and he moved his hand up under to caress the soft skin of Blair's bare back.

"I love touching you, baby. I love the feel of your skin, the heat of your body."

"Mmmmmm," was all Blair said and a soft sigh escaped when Jim's hand moved from his hair and slid up under the front of his shirt to stroke his stomach and chest.

They stayed that way for a long time, Jim simply holding and stroking Blair gently. He could do just this all night and not feel in the least slighted. The warmth of his partner, the fragrance of washed hair and sound of easy breath was enough for Jim. Blair needed this comforting, this reassurance that the whole world hadn't gone to hell just because someone had decided that somehow Blair Sandburg had done him wrong.

Jim felt Blair's fingers plucking at his shirt buttons, one by one coming loose. He felt Blair's warm touch against his smooth chest, felt the young man's hot breath stir the air around one nipple and a moist tongue licked out, lapping at the hardening bud that pulsed with sensation.

Without a moment's hesitation, Jim pulled Blair's shirt up over the anthropologist's head and he watched the dark curls fall around Blair's shoulders and face. Then Jim was guiding Blair's mouth back down to nestle against his chest, those full sensual lips seeking and finding a nipple once again to suckle. Blair's fingers sought his other nipple and played with the tight nub until Jim thought he would explode with the feeling.

Jim reached down and drew Blair up to him, fingers sliding again into the dark soft curls. Seeking the sheltered warmth of his lover's sensual lips, Jim let his tongue search out every crevice of Blair's mouth, exploring and tasting, but gently and with a reverence for Blair's current feelings of vulnerability.

Blair's hands swept back Jim's shirt and those expert fingers wove a spell of possession around Jim, held him in a magical embrace that he could only give to Blair. He let his senses open up, extend to feel the intensity of Blair's caresses against the skin of his chest and stomach, his biceps and shoulders, noting the bandage and making a mental note to be careful. He shrugged out of the shirt and the two men snuggled closer without letting go of their hold on each other.

Nothing was done hard or fast, just a slow shedding of clothing, piece by piece exposing inches of skin till Jim held Blair's naked body against his own and their hard lengths slid against each other. Their hands moved in joined rhythm, stroking cocks and massaging balls, working each other while their mouths gently devoured, lips and tongues possessing and being possessed, caressing and being caressed.

Jim heard the rumble of a groan begin deep in Blair's throat, felt the young man's sack contract with the inevitable coming. Their strokes hastened and Jim opened his senses full throttle just so he could match Blair's orgasm with his own.

Jim heard Blair's gasping cry, felt Blair arch in his arms and they met on that plateau, peaking together and hovering, clinging desperately and falling back down to lay exhausted in each other's arms. Still stroking gently, Jim felt Blair shudder in his arms, shivering with the last tingle of intensity then give a contented sigh. Blair's arms wrapped around Jim, holding him tightly, face pressed again into his chest.

"You okay, baby?" Jim asked with soothing caresses of Blair's skin and hair.

"Okay?" Blair asked in return with a lazy, languid tone. "I'm more than okay, Jim. I'm yours."

Jim smiled with pure satisfaction and kissed the top of his lover's head.

Chapter 5

"Sandburg." Blair waited for Simon Banks to catch up to him in the hallway leading to forensics. Shifting the package he carried to his other hand, he glanced down at his palm where stitches had been only a few days ago, finally taken out. The cut had left quite a scar, but he had been lucky no tendons had been damaged.

"Hey, Simon, what's up?"

The taller man grinned down at him and patted his shoulder. He gave Simon a questioning look.

"So tomorrow's your big day, I hear. Reading a paper for that South American conference. That's a pretty big deal, isn't it?"

"Yeah, actually. How did you know that?"

"Jim's been bragging on you."

"You have got to be kidding, man." Blair shook his head with a wistful smile.

"Blair...Jim thinks the world of you," Simon offered. "I know he likes to act like what you do is no big deal. But it is."

Blair wondered suddenly if Simon had figured out the full extent of his and Jim's relationship, how it had changed in the last few months. He was still wondering about the miraculousness of those changes himself, how he felt about Jim and how Jim felt about him. He'd had a few attractions to guys before, but with Jim the attraction had been a sledgehammer upside the head. He had never met a single man that could make him turn his head the way James Ellison had. He seldom even thought of women as more than friends anymore. Blair was in love, deeply in love with his partner and he'd never felt such satisfaction, such a perfect place of existence.

Simon looked uncomfortable for a moment then asked, "have you had any more problems out at the university? Any more harassment?"

Blair gave a nervous little laugh and shook his head. "No, nothing since the graffiti. I think the cops getting involved scared the punks off. I'm just glad it's over. I'm not used to stuff like that. I don't understand it."

"Let me tell you, kid. There's a lot of prejudice still out there. You're lucky if you haven't faced it before."

"Oh, I think people tried to start stuff. I just never took the bait. This time, there wasn't any bait, just lots of taking aim and shooting." Blair did a little duck and dodge to emphasize his point.

"Yeah, pretty cowardly way, if you ask me."

"Thanks for understanding, Simon and taking it seriously. Hey, you took it more seriously than I did."

"I've seen too much of that crap over the years. I hate to see someone taking prejudicial potshots at my friends or anyone else."

Blair let a smile, bright and annoying light his face. "You consider me a friend, Simon?"

"No, Sandburg, you're one of those anyone elses." But Simon grinned when he said it and ruffled Blair's hair. "Jim at his desk?"

"Yeah, I'm just running down to pick up a report for him and drop off this package."

"Go on and get it. I'll wait."

Blair shook his head and went, laughing to himself over how nice Simon had been to him over the last few weeks since finding out about the attack. The thing was, Blair would never have known it was about race, if it hadn't been for the ugly slurs and the swastika on his office door.

But then the cops were brought in and a small article in the morning paper had garnered mild attention. Everything seemed to come to a roaring stop after that. No one knew whether to hold there breath for a full fledge neo-Nazi right wing attack on Jews or what. And when nothing else happened, the issue died quietly. Blair was just as happy it had. He didn't want in the middle of some religious, racial controversy. Hell, he just thought of himself as an American, that as close to defining himself as he really cared. What labels did he put on himself? Yes, he supposed Jew was one of them. That and several others that were actually closer to his heart...anthropologist, teacher, researcher, police consultant, guide to his Sentinel and now...shaman of the great city, as well. He wouldn't think of denying his heritage, it just wasn't how he defined himself. Naomi never defined herself solely in that way, embracing a more esoteric form of religion than Judaism, yet never denying her ancestral link with the Hebrew nation.

Blair retrieved the report and met Simon once again.

"I have a favor to ask you, Blair."

He glanced over at Simon with a smirk. "That's about the only time you call me by my first name. When you want something from me."

Simon threw him a scowl.

Blair rolled his eyes. "What is it, Simon?"

"It's Darryl. I was wondering if he could come to your South American conference. He's been talking about Peru since we came back from there."

"You mean he's not trying to block that nightmare from his mind?"

"It wasn't that bad, Sandburg."

"From my point of view it was. Something about drug lords and being shot at and jumping out of airplanes---"

"Nobody told you that you had to go."

Blair stared up at Simon. "That's a fine thanks."

"Can Darryl come or not?"

"Sure, it's open to the public. There'll be a great display of Inca artifacts, some examples of Peruvian jewelry, some Bolivian pottery. It'll be a good experience for him, let him see the campus. Jim's coming, maybe Darryl can ride with him."

"Well, actually, I was thinking about coming."

"Really? You going to listen to me read my paper?"

"Yeah, I guess. So make it interesting or you'll hear me snoring from the back."

"There'll be slides."

"Oh goody," the captain replied. "I can hardly wait."

Chapter 6

"Jim, do you get the feeling that Simon is suspicious?"

"Suspicious? Of what, Chief?" Jim offered with a quirk of a smile, knowing damn well what Blair was talking about, but feeling like teasing his partner today, hoping to quell some of Blair's nervousness over delivering a paper at a very important conference in almost exactly one hour.


"What makes you think so?"

Jim took a bite of his sandwich and watch Blair finish a carrot stick then bite into an apple. The day had gone from overcast to sunshine over the coarse of the morning and most everyone attending the conference had taken their box lunches outside to the lawn to eat.

Blair shrugged. "Mostly the looks he's been giving me. I don't know. Maybe I'm just being paranoid."

"Relax, chief. You worry too much."

Yet Jim thought Blair was right. Simon was observing them more closely like the captain was trying to figure something out and was on the verge of doing so. Anytime now, Jim expected to be called into Simon's office and an explanation would be in order and he'd have to do some quick talking to keep Blair as his partner. Simon would go through all the reasons why this wouldn't work and Jim would have to counter with how it was working just fine and he didn't want it any other way. There was no one in this world he'd trust more than Blair Sandburg as his partner in the field, cop or no cop. They ought to be thinking of telling Simon very soon. After all Simon was not just their boss. Simon was their friend...a close friend at that.

Maybe he was being paranoid, but now wasn't the time to confide his fears to Blair, not with something as important to the young anthropologist as this paper being given today.

"You have everything set up for your presentation?" Jim asked, trying to now distract Blair from this intrusive discussion.

Blair nodded. "Yeah, slides all ready to go. Projector set up. Screen down."

"These slides aren't like some bad home movies or something of your cousin's vacation...right?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Cute, Jim. You are such a comedian. No, they simply compliment the presentation, showing examples of some of the indigenous peoples that I'm comparing in my paper."

"No boring stuff, right?"

Blair pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Depends on what you think is boring, smart guy."

"That's what I thought. Guess I'll be able to catch a few 'z' while the lights are out." But Jim laughed when he said it and he knew that Blair knew he was joking.

He was proud as a peacock of Blair, of his partner's intelligence and inquisitive nature, of Blair's natural beauty inside and out. Jim wanted to grab Blair and kiss him right then and there, right in front of god and the whole campus of 15,000 or so students and teachers. He wanted to tell the world how much he loved Blair Sandburg, but the world wasn't ready for two men loving each other without giving the same two men a helluva hard time about it.

Jim sighed and leaned back on the grass, glancing around and wondering if the person or persons responsible for hurting Blair a few weeks ago were out and about right now, if they were on campus at this very moment. Everything had gone quiet after the P.D. had gotten involved, had made it a case of racial persecution, but Jim still had his doubts. The whole thing still had the feel of personal vendetta and Jim knew personal vendetta as well as anyone, had recently been through his own mess that nearly had a couple of city blocks blown up by a guy who had gone over the edge because of road rage. But Jim hated thinking the person or persons who hurt Blair might go unpunished because the leads had dried up. No other on campus attacks of this sort had been reported over the last several months and that only made Jim all the more suspicious.

Blair's hand touched his arm and Jim came back from a near zone out.

"What were you think about, Jim? You looked so intent."

"Nothing, Chief." Jim shook his head. "It's getting late. We'd better get you on over to the auditorium."

He rose and brushed his pants off. Blair stared up at him with a scrutinizing gaze. Jim held out a hand and Blair took it without hesitation.

"Come on, Professor. Wouldn't want you to be late for your big moment."

Eric Mansford watched from the shade of a nearby tree, positioning himself to be near when Tom Thaw made his move towards Sandburg. He stood leaning there with the feel of rough bark pushing through his polo shirt. And he smirked, just waiting for Thaw to do his thing.

"Mr. Sandburg," Eric heard Thaw call and he watched the instructor stop in his mid-stride towards the auditorium where he'd be giving his paper in a few brief minutes. Sandburg turned and pulled off sunglasses, squinting around for the voice. Eric watched the cop, Ellison was his name, tall and muscular and very macho tap Sandburg on the arm and point towards Thaw who was there beside him when the instructor turned.

"Mr. Sandburg," Thaw repeated and reached out a hand to shake Sandburg's. "Looking forward to your paper today."

A smile lit Sandburg's face. ", Tom, isn't it?"

"Wow, you remembered my name."

Only Eric heard the mocking undertone of that remark.

Okay, Thaw, don't overdue it. We don't want him suspicious...or the cop for that matter.

"Comparative Cultures - South America? The class I took over for Professor Lyson when she had surgery last semester."

"Right. You did a great job, sir. And I know your paper will be a big hit today."

The lightning smile again, Eric thought with a grimace of disgust.

"Thanks, Tom. God, I'm going to be a nervous wreck up there on stage with the kind of expectations you have of me." The instructor's hands came up in a warding off gesture, but Sandburg's glance up to the cop practically begged for approval.

Sandburg had nothing to worry about in that department. Ellison smiled down on the smaller man with a mixture of adoration and stoic patience. At least, that was Eric's interpretation of the glance and he was sticking to it.

I bet you suck that cop's dick every night before he fucks your ass good, Sandburg. Jesus, you really make me sick...fucking my Tami, soiling her with your filth and depravity. Your punishment is going to be long and painful, pretty boy.

Eric continued to watch, but neither Sandburg nor Ellison made any moves that looked overly suspicious, just a squeeze on the shoulder by the cop as he maneuvered Sandburg around Thaw and on towards the auditorium.

In just a few short minutes, Mr. Blair Sandburg, you and the whole audience of this conference are going to get an eyeful.

"He's clueless, man," Thomas Thaw said, slipping up beside Eric just in time to meet Cornell Keane and Read Seymour coming up on Eric's other side. "Like a rabbit in a trap. We are going to snare us a little boffing bunny."

"Great, all set from our end," Keane offered as he leaned against the tree and watched Sandburg and Ellison disappear inside the building with arms crossed against his chest. "Piece of cake."

"Can't wait for the results," Read Seymour added with a snicker.

"Yeah," Eric replied with a satisfied nod. "And we'll see if Thaw's photography skills are as revealing blown up to 8'x10' on the big screen as they are in regular size prints."

Chapter 7

Blair felt his heart lurch into his throat. His nerves rattled and twanged, so tightly wound were they that he felt he could sail an arrow five hundred feet via the taut sinews of his vibrating body. But he felt prepared...ready for his speech. He had worked hard, done his research, wrote and rewrote, revised till it was the best paper he could deliver at this point in his career.

He peeked out from behind the curtain and saw the auditorium filling up and there was Jim and Simon and Darryl, several of his current and past students in the audience. But a majority of the audience were colleagues...peers and mentors and gods in his eyes, the very people he admired and worshiped for their contribution to the science of anthropology.

"Anytime you're ready, Blair," the Dean's secretary, Mona Rogers said in his ear. "You'll do fine. Relax, dear."

Blair felt a weight lift from his heart. This woman could do magic with her voice, soothing him as his mother could do with a tone and a little squeeze of his arm.

"Thanks, Mona."

She gave him a nudge and Blair crossed the stage to the podium, knowing all eyes were on him. But he glanced up to meet just one gaze. Jim's blue-eyes locked with his and smiled at him, giving encouragement, exuding the confidence Blair needed to captivate this audience with his presentation.

He began as he had practiced, all falling into place perfectly. The audience seemed genuinely interested in his topic and Blair wove his stories, his experiences and his research into what appeared to be an enchanting tale.

The lights dimmed at his cue and the slide projector whirred to life, flashing scenes of village life and far reaching jungle sanctuaries of Amazonian tribes. The automatic rotation kept Blair from having to pay close attention to the machine while he continued his presentation unhindered by distractions.

The audience's collective gasp was the first indication that something was very amiss and Blair faltered, losing his place for a moment.

Jim was standing up, waving frantically at him.

"Sandburg! Turn that thing off now!"

Blair whirled around to see what could possibly be so offensive that Jim would demand from the audience that he turn the projector off. Blair stumbled backwards into the podium at the sight of he and Jim in a passionate embrace on the living room couch of the loft. The slides advanced with the sound of the audience's exclaims growing louder, snickers and nervous giggles and outrage filling the auditorium.

"Oh my god," he gasped out and dove for the projector that continued it's rampage of images, each more graphic, flicking faster and faster, destroying his career and Jim's and their very lives with the most private, most personal expressions of their love that seemed dirty and tainted when broadcasted up on the big screen for everyone to see.

Blair turned the off switch, yet the images continued to advance. Frantically, he hit switches and nothing happened as if the machine had a mind of its own and it had a mind to ruin Blair Sandburg right then and there.

He ran to the outlet, reaching for the plug and the moment his fingers touched the cord, sparks flew, sending a shock wave up Blair's arm and pitching him backwards.

Everything went black for a moment, a few weak screams floating about in the high-ceilinged room. Blair wasn't certain if the auditorium actually went black as the projector finally ceased it's ruination of his and Jim's life or if he'd been struck blind by the shock he'd just been issued.

He lay on the stage floor, dazed and hurting from head to foot then lights went up again and Mona was leaning over him. Jim suddenly knelt beside him, cradling his head and Blair stared vacantly up at the man he loved and may had just utterly ruined with his slide presentation.

"Jim, what...where...?" Blair felt a sob catch in his throat and tears push at his eyelids. "I don't know how..."

"Hush, Blair. Everything's going to be all right. Simon's getting an ambulance."

"But, Jim....oh god, oh god."

"Come on, Chief. Relax. The meds will be here soon."

But he couldn't relax. Blair reached up and latched onto Jim's jacket with clenched fists. "Where did those slides come from, Jim?!"

"I don't know, Blair. We'll find out though and God help whoever did this."

A crowd had gathered on stage and Mona Rogers was trying to shoo the majority away. Simon appeared beside them, looking down on them with an unreadable expression.

"You okay, Sandburg?" Darryl was right behind his father, glancing around at Blair with a look of what seemed like sympathy.

"Only if having your life and career ruined is being okay?" Blair said and struggled to a sitting position.
"Chief, you should lie down," Jim said trying to press him back to the floor. "Here come the medics now. Let them have a look at you."

Blair nodded, but resisted lying down again. His body hurt all over and his arm tingled still with that shock of electricity up his arm. The medics, a woman around forty and a man about his own age proceeded to take his blood pressure and other vital signs.

He tried to listen to Jim's conversation with Simon, something about wishing Jim had told him. And something about checking for finger prints on the projector, carriage and slides. Simon seemed in agreement.

Suddenly Dean Patricia Wilcox was standing over Blair and he looked up at her handsome yet stern countenance. He felt sick to his stomach and humiliated to the point that he could seriously contemplate crawling into any nearby hole and pulling it in after him.

"Dean Wilcox...Ma'am, I'm so sorry...I----"

But she held up a hand, effectively stopping any apology or explanation. "Not here. Not now, Mr. Sandburg. In my office. After the conference is over for the day. Six o'clock. I hope you will be well enough to make that appointment. It's important that you do. And do bring your...bring Detective Ellison with you."

He nodded and his heart sank to a new level of despair.

"That your boss, Blair?" Darryl Banks asked, stooping down beside him when one of the medics moved.

"She's the Dean of Anthropological Studies here at Rainier. I guess that's like being my boss. At least until she throws me off campus later this evening." Blair knew his voice sounded dismal, pitiful even.

"Why would she do that? You didn't know those slides were in there. I could tell by your expression you had no idea."

"You're a smart guy, Darryl. I don't know where those slides came from."

"But they were of you and Jim...getting in each other's personal space." The young man said it with half a smile and an elbow aimed his way. "So you two got a thing going. Don't be ashamed, man. It's cool."

"It's not cool to a lot of people, Darryl, but thanks. I don't know what your father thinks. He may want to wring my neck for all I know."

The female medic finished checking him over. "Looks like you'll live, Mr. Sandburg. Nasty little shock, but not bad enough for us to take you in. Unless you feel like you need to go to the hospital."

"No. I'd really rather not." His head ached, but Blair doubted that had anything to do with the electrical shock. Oh no, the headache was from a different kind of shock all together.

"I'll need you to sign this release form then, please," the woman said and handed him a clipboard with a form on it.

Blair read it over and signed it. He sat on the floor, too uncaring to get up and watched the medics pack up their equipment. Jim came over to him, nodded to Darryl who stood up, then went to stand beside his father. Jim knelt down beside him and gave his shoulder a squeeze.

"No hospital, huh?"

Blair shook his head absently. "Does Simon hate me?"

"Why should he hate you, Chief?"

Blair shrugged.

"He wishes we had told him about us, but he's not all that surprised. He's more concerned about doing damage control right now than anything else. We're outed, Blair. We're outed and there's no going back now."

"I'm sorry, Jim. I don't know where those slides came from. I swear it."

"You don't need to convince me. I've got a fair suspicion though and I think I know from where they were taken."

Jim stood up and reached out a hand. Blair took it and let Jim pull him up. Only an hour ago Jim had done the same thing out on the lawn and the world had been such a different place. Their lives had been in their control then, what they would make of it, how and when they would proceed with telling the world that they were in love and with each other. But now, all Blair felt was anxiety and his hair was coming loose from it's binding. He tugged at the leather band and yank it out of his hair.

"What are we going to do, Jim? Is Simon going to pull my credentials? What are the other cops going to say...our friends like Joel and Rafe and Brown? What about the ones who have never been my friends?"

"If they're our friends, Blair, they'll understand. If they're not...I don't know right now. And right now we just need to find out who has it in for you. Cause that's what this was about. Another attack. They waited just long enough for you to let your guard down, for me to let my guard down."

Simon strode up beside them and Blair had trouble meeting the man's gaze. He glanced around to see the auditorium emptying out and he heard a faculty member telling the dwindling crowd where to go for the next speaker. Everything had been suddenly rerouted to another auditorium across campus.

"I've got a team on the way to dust for prints," Simon said in a neutral tone. "I've already spoken with the Dean's secretary and she's checking to see who had access to the building before and during the lunch hour. But it doesn't look good unless we get some suspects to check those fingerprints against. And all kinds of people have been in and out of here today."

Simon pulled off his glasses and cleaned them with a handkerchief.

"Looks like you've made yourself some pretty tenacious enemies, Sandburg. You sure you don't have any idea what this is all about?"

"I don't know, Simon. I...just don't know."

"Maybe someone who figured you and Jim out? A homophobe maybe?"

Blair looked Simon in the eye and saw some repressed anger and maybe a little hurt.

"Simon. I wish I knew."

"Well, I'd be thinking real hard about it, kid. We've got us a load of trouble and I'd like to personally see to it these jokers pay for this mess. Cause that's what its going to be down at the precinct. Get ready to deal with that, Sandburg."

Simon stalked off across the stage to meet the just arrived team.

"Simon," Jim began, turning to follow. But Simon Banks kept walking, a hand going up to stop any further discussion of the matter, at least, for the moment.

"Oh man...he's mad. And he blames me, Jim."

"He's hurt, Blair. We're friends and we didn't tell him. He's my boss...your boss too and we didn't tell him."

"We were going to...when the time was right."

"We don't have that luxury anymore, Chief. And Simon's right. We're going to have a hell of a mess."

Chapter 8

Professor Edwin Fletcher heard his young men coming before they reached his office. They laughed like teen boys peeking at dirty magazines, snickering and sneering. He shook his head and watched them come in through his office's open door. He had been waiting only a few short minutes for them, his own satisfaction laid out like a red carpet for their arrival.

"Oh baby!! Thaw, that was awesome!" Read Seymour said with a glee that made the others smirk with their success. And these young men had much to be proud of, after all they had, in one fell swoop, effectively destroyed Blair Sandburg's academic career.

"Did you see the look on Sandburg's face when he saw those slides?" Eric Mansford added. "I swear to god, that cop was just about to fuck him on the couch. What happened, Thaw? You run out of film just when things were getting hot?"

Thomas Thaw's satisfaction seemed to turn to distaste. "They must have gone to bed, Eric. That's all I saw them do. That's all they did on the couch. They just made out. Sorry to disappoint your voyeuristic tendencies."

"Not like I care," Eric said, sobering with Thaw's near accusations. "Not like I want to watch the pervs in action or anything."

Cornell Keane gave a harsh laugh. "You've got to be kidding, Mansford. You were practically drooling when the slides of those two getting it on started flipping passed. I bet you were getting hard just watching."

Fletcher saw Eric's face turn pale then go scarlet. Fist-a-cuffs were about to commence if he didn't put an end to this childish baiting right now.

"Watching was not the point, gentlemen," Professor Edwin Fletcher interrupted. He motioned for Thaw to close the door, watched his young men gather around his desk "The point was showing the world that Blair Sandburg is something other than what he purports to be. Show his students and colleagues and mentors alike that this young man does not deserve nor should be allowed to teach on this university's campus. I'm certain, it won't be long now before I hear about his dismissal and expulsion from this campus. I'll be certain to share that information with all of you as soon as it is forthcoming. Congratulations, my good men. We have met with success. You have reason to be proud of your accomplishment."

"Thanks, Professor," Read Seymour offered. "It was a group effort."

"It certainly was," Fletcher agreed. "Thomas, your photography skills have served you well."

"Thank you, sir. My uncle's equipment did the trick. No Polaroid was going to manage to catch those images from across the street and through glass doors. Guess they thought being three stories up meant they didn't need to pull the curtains. Guess they were wrong."

Thomas Thaw's words were demurely said, yet Fletcher heard the smugness in the tone, the just too pleased with himself voice.

Cornell Keane's attention seemed diverted, the student moving to look out the window. "We may have us some trouble, guys...Professor. More cops just showed up."

Fletcher swivelled his chair around and rose to stare down at the police van and a couple of what appeared to be forensic type personnel entering the auditorium.

"Hmm," he offered neutrally. "You gentlemen were careful not to leave fingerprints, weren't you? You did wear gloves?"

An uncomfortable silence met Fletcher's back. He turned and gathered their reluctant gazes.

"What's it matter, Professor?" Eric asked almost defiantly. "None of our fingerprints are on file anyway and the cops have no reason to suspect us. They can't fingerprint an entire campus of students and faculty."

"Careless, men. Very careless. Let's hope they have nothing else to connect you to the scene and that they have enough to keep them busy trying to control the damage to Policeman of The Year's reputation."

Seymour smiled. "Yeah, you think this will make the ten o'clock news?"

"I imagine it will if an anonymous tip clues them in," Eric suggested.

"Good thinking, my boy," Fletcher agreed. "But go to a pay telephone and make that call. I need to get back to the conference and so should the rest of you. Do try to keep a low profile otherwise. And do keep an ear tuned to what is being said by the students and the professors. I'm quite curious to know what others think of Mr. Sandburg's little dirty secrets being revealed so unexpectedly and in such a public forum."

Chapter 9

In the hours between the disaster of having his love life revealed to an entire auditorium filled with academics, not to mention his boss and his boss's teenage son and the time set to meet with the Dean of Anthropological Studies at Rainier University, Jim Ellison had managed to calm his partner down enough for them to check out how those photographs had been taken and from where.

He had a pretty good idea. They'd gotten access to the rooftop across the back street and down a building from the loft, an apartment complex that held a wide array of tenants who seemed to come and go quite frequently. Getting into that building and up to that roof turned out to be, as the saying goes, a piece of cake.

They'd checked out the angle with Blair's camera and his own heightened sight. The couch was in perfect view, just the exact angle of position to catch them unaware while he and Blair made out on the sofa, oblivious of lurkers with telephoto lenses and malicious intent.

Blair had been hanging from a thread through out that afternoon, the waiting to talk with Dean Wilcox creating a hyper, anxiety-ridden partner that Jim didn't know whether to hug or shake till Blair's teeth rattled. Sandburg was driving him about half crazy.

Jim was particularly glad that Wilcox had asked for him to be there. Blair needed the support and Jim wanted to be certain the woman understood that this had been another form of attack against Blair and that the situation was being handled by the police.

And if Dean Wilcox suggested that this slide switch was nothing more than a frat prank, he might just haul her in as an accessory. He certainly wasn't in the mood to put up with any crap right now. Oh no, there'd be plenty of that to deal with in the coming days...weeks...months even, down at the precinct.

The light turned green and Jim turned left onto the U's campus. Blair was silent beside him, face turned to stare out the window. His lover's heart beat hard, an anxious rhythm that Jim could find no words to quell.

God, baby, I wish I knew how to make this mess go away. I wish I could fix all of it.

But only time would fix any of this chaos. Time and catching the culprits that had decided that Blair's life and reputation, his career and lover's career as well, were fair game for any malice and mischief they conceived of for some misplaced vendetta.

Jim parked the truck and got out, slamming the door just to let off an ounce of steam. Blair got out more slowly and seemed to make an effort to close his door with deliberate care.

He heard Blair's attempt at controlling his breathing and appeared stoic when together they headed for the dean's office. Jim offered Blair no false words of encouragement, no fake platitudes he could not guarantee would play out. He knew enough about bureaucrats and administrators to know that fair had nothing to do with anything. Everything had to do with the institution's reputation and how this insane scenario would play to the media and to funding.

Mona Rogers, the dean's secretary ushered them in with the fussing of a mother.

"Blair, dear. Are you all right? That shock you terrible. And those slides...."

Jim had to give the woman an A+ for not blushing. She seemed genuinely concerned.

"I've recovered from the first, Mona. But I don't know about the slides...I...I'm...we've really been humiliated publicly, Jim and I."

Jim watched Blair run nervous fingers through dark curls and his heart hurt, his chest aching for his lover and for the coming ordeal of dealing with their now public relationship.

"Someone terrible has done this, dear," Mona offered in return. "Something so personal, so private. I can't imagine having such a thing happen. I'm sorry. I'm not helping in the least."

She waved them to seats, but Dean Wilcox opened her office door just then. "Gentlemen, please come in."

Blair gave Jim a wide-eyed panicked glance, but Jim gave him back a gentle squeeze of the arm and a nod of encouragement.

"Be seated. Now before we get down to the nitty gritty of what happened and the consequences there of, let me say that I am not an unreasonable person."

"I'm glad to here that, ma'am," Jim said calmly, yet knew a second shoe was about to drop.

The woman smiled as if the effort cost her much. "But," she went on. "I do hope you understand that this type of situation does little for the University's reputation. There were professionals in our field from around the world at this seminar, many of which were at your presentation, Mr. my urging. I've supported your dissertation subject. I've gone to bat for you more than once to gain you relief while you did your research work. And I gave you a berth at this seminar because of your articulation and knowledge of the subject. Your research on this paper was exemplary and quite enjoyable up to the point that your slide presentation went so far awry of your topic. But there were a few tenured professors that objected to a mere research fellow being included in the lineup of speakers. "

"Dean Wilcox," Blair began. "I'm sorry. I don't know how those slides got into that tray."

She stared hard at Blair then at Jim. "Are those slides yours, Mr. Sandburg...Detective Ellison?"

"No," they said in unison, without even looking at each other.

"But those slides are of the two of you. They weren't faked somehow." She made it a statement, not a question. "And rumors have been running around the campus about you, Mr. Sandburg. Conflicting rumors, but rumors never the less."

"The pictures are real, Dr Wilcox," Jim replied after a moment of silence seemed to drag on. "Blair and I are lovers. So if that's your rumor then the rumor is true. But we didn't take those pictures, nor did we have someone take those pictures. And even if we did, they wouldn't have ended up in a slide tray meant for a very important seminar. Someone did this deliberately and for the very purpose of ruining Blair...and possibly myself. We weren't really ready to tell the world about our relationship. Now we just have to deal with it."

She sighed and sat back in her chair. She looked tired, nearly exhausted from a long day made longer by someone who only cared to further some agenda of his own.

"You know, gentlemen, I just spent the last hour before you arrived fending off demands by some of the faculty to have you suspended, Mr. Sandburg, both your teaching duties and your class privileges."

"But that's not fair, Dean Wilcox," Blair replied. "I didn't do anything wrong."

"I understand your feelings, Blair, but you have to understand the pressure I'm under."

"No," Jim interjected. "What you need to understand is that this new incident is under police investigation, ma'am, along with several other incidents of harassment against Blair. You have been made aware of the other incidents, haven't you? Breaking and entering into his office, personal property destruction, seemingly racially motivated graffiti spray painted on the walls around his office and on the door. There was also a physical attack, a trap left for him, his car sabotaged right here on campus. Now it's been brought to our home. But it started here and I intend to find out who is responsible, students or faculty. With or without your help."

She sat staring at him, stunned perhaps to have the affronts read off like a laundry list and appalled, Jim hoped.

"I also hope you know that Blair could bring suit against the University considering nothing has been done by campus police to stop these attacks. And since there is indication of possible racial and religious motivation, well, ma' could get ugly fast if you make some rash decision." Jim leaned forward, knowing Blair was gazing at him with something close to awe. It wasn't often he could render his partner speechless. He almost smiled at the thought. "This is not about something Blair did wrong," Jim continued without hesitation. "This is about something terribly wrong being done to Blair. Don't forget that, ma'am. Lack of adequate security is how those slides got into that carriage. Which means most likely you've got a professor or student or both or more involved in maliciously trying to ruin one of your doctoral candidates. You'd better start wondering why and what to do about it."

Jim leaned back and thoroughly enjoyed the stunned look on his partner's face and the dean's startled realization of being somewhere between a big rock and a very hard place. He didn't care. That was her problem. That's why she was making the big bucks.

Deal with it, lady.

"You don't pull any punches, Detective Ellison," Wilcox said after a long pause. "Your points are well made and do challenge some of my original decisions. I would like to give Blair a leave of absence for a few days though, just to get things calmed down here."

Jim glanced at Blair. "How do you feel about that, Chief? You haven't said much so far."

Blair put up his hands in a warding off gesture. "You seem to have it covered, Jim. But a leave of absence is going to look like punishment. Like I put those slides up of us for all the world to see."

"That's not what I intend, Mr. Sandburg," Dean Wilcox stated firmly. "I just believe all parties involved will think better with a bit of space to breath in."

"Okay," Jim said and Blair looked over at him, waiting and trusting him to say the right things. "But only if you make a public statement that vindicates Blair. You don't have to condone our relationship, just condemn the manner in which our relationship was made public knowledge."

She considered his offer then nodded with some reluctance. "All right. I'll agree to that, but no lawsuits, Mr. Sandburg. I'll do what I can with the press. They've already been badgering me about this incident. And you Detective Ellison, I'm afraid you'll not find the police nearly as tolerant as myself. Your fellow officers probably won't care how the outing occurred. They'll only care that you are gay. Good luck, Detective, because you are going to need it."

Chapter 10

Depression sapped Blair of his usual energy, his head still aching and his body also. He didn't know if his various pains had anything to do with the shock he'd gotten from trying to pull the plug on the projector or if this lethargic, achy feeling just came with his current disposition.

Mona gave him a hug. "Everything will work out, dear. Don't worry." She patted his arm and smiled up at Jim. "You take care of him, Detective. He's one of my favorites."

Jim smiled back. "I'll take good care of him, Ms. Rogers. Goodnight."

They were out the door and heading down the hall when Jim asked, "one of her favorite whats, Chief?"

Blair couldn't help but give a little laugh. "That I don't know, Jim. Hey, thanks in there with Dean Wilcox. I think I would have been toast without you."

"She looked like she was going to bully you into taking indefinite leave with a possible censure you didn't deserve. We're going to get these guys, Sandburg. No one is going to mess around with my life and get away with it."

"I felt so humiliated, Jim. And it was like someone had rigged the thing to keep it from being shut off."

"Don't feel alone in that humiliation. Remember I was up there on the big screen with you. But we've got people on it. We'll find out."

Blair was impressed with Jim's confidence, but wasn't sure what that confidence was based on. Seemed to him they had very little to go on other than someone hated his guts enough to hurt him mentally, physically and emotionally. Motive? Purpose? Execution?

Thinking made his head throb with a pain across the bridge of his nose and across the back of his head. He so needed some Tylenol.

Blair pushed out into the cool night air with Jim just behind him. Bright flashes of light blinded him and a loud buzz of voices made him flinch.

The media!

"Detective Ellison. Detective Ellison!" a woman's voice called. A chorus of other's followed. "How does it feel to be outed, Detective Ellison? How are your fellow policemen reacting to this information? Will this revelation about your sexual orientation effect your job?"

"No comment," Blair heard Jim say. "No comment." He felt Jim's hand go around his biceps, propelling him through the crowd of reporters and towards the truck.

Blair felt another tug, at his jacket and a microphone thrust into his face, nearly hitting him in the nose.

"Mr. Sandburg was this incident connected to the racially motivated harassments recently investigated? A man demanded, a reporter they had dealt with before. "Is someone out to get you because you are Jewish or because you are gay?"

"Let go, please....." Blair said and pulled loose of the hold on his coat.

"Mr. Sandburg has nothing to say at this time, people," Jim bellowed and pulled on him again. "No comment!"

Jim shoved Blair into the truck from the driver's side and climbed in after him. The reporters surrounded the truck and Blair was certain that Jim would run over the lot of them if they didn't get out of his way. The reporters got the picture.

"Oh my god, Jim. Oh god. This is a total disaster. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

"Can it, Sandburg," Jim replied through gritted teeth, obviously wanting to seethe without Blair's help.

Blair complied and sat decidedly on his side of the seat. He knew Jim wasn't really mad at him, but Blair felt the rejection as physically as if Jim had slapped him. His depression increased till he huddled miserably against the passenger door and watched the traffic go by.

"I'm sorry, Blair," Jim finally murmured with a resigned sigh. "I shouldn't take it out on you. Why don't you tell me to stuff it sometimes?"

"Sometimes I do," Blair shot back. Yet he didn't really feel any better. His chest ached with a melancholy weight pressing down on him. "I didn't want this to happen, Jim. I don't want you to be hassled by the press or by your fellow officers or anyone else. I know what's coming the moment you walk into that precinct come Monday morning."

Jim glanced over at him and Blair felt the intensity of his lover's gaze, the only man who could see in the darkness of the truck just how devastated he felt right then.

"You're not getting it, Chief. Yeah, I'm going to get hassled, but most of that bunch would kick your ass if given half a chance long before they'd bother me. I'm not afraid of facing the cop macho prejudice crap myself. I'm afraid of you facing it, sweetheart."

"Oh...yeah...right. I see your point." Blair slid further down in his seat, feeling sick to his stomach, and let Jim seethe in peace the rest of the way home.

Chapter 11

He shouldn't have taken out his anger on Blair. He should be able to keep a cool head, but the reporters---- Reporters made him crazy, made Jim want to thump heads and ask questions later. Unfortunately, Blair made for an easy target when he needed a verbal punching bag or needed to vent some pent up anger. He needed to get a grip on that tendency if he wanted Blair to hang around long enough for them to have a life time love relationship.

But, at times, Jim had trouble not being brusk to his lover. Sometimes he could be a real shit and he wondered sometimes why Blair put up with him.

"You hungry, Chief?" Jim asked. "I was thinking about ordering a pizza."

"Whatever you want is fine with me," came Blair's answer from the bathroom.

Jim took a swig of beer, letting the cold brew slide down his throat with long slow strokes. He picked up the phone and hit a number that speed dialed their favorite pizza delivery. He drank down another mouthful and savored the taste of the complex blend of hops and yeast and the fermenting process.

"Yeah," he said into the receiver. "852 Prospect, Apartment 307. Right. Large thick crust, half sausage, pepperoni and extra cheese. Half veggie. Thirty five minutes, great. See you then."

Blair came out of the bathroom after a while, still damp around the edges, hair glistening with droplets of moisture. The young man toweled his curls as he walk barefoot down the hall towards Jim.

"I can't believe it, but I'm actually starving. We haven't eaten since those box lunches at noon."

"Yeah, what was that green stuff on the sandwich, anyway?" Jim asked with a grimace.

"Lettuce?" Blair guessed.

"No. I don't think so, Chief."

"Then I don't want to know, Jim."

Jim watched Blair sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the couch, a comb in hand trying to get the tangles out of still wet hair.

Jim shook his head and came to sit behind Blair, positioning the smaller man between his knees. "Why don't you do that in the bathroom, Sandburg?"

"I get bored looking at myself in the mirror, Jim. You got the remote?" "It's where ever you left it last, Mr. Lose Everything You Touch."

Blair gave a snort and said, "try the left hand cushion, down between the seat and the arm."

"Sandburg, I'm going to make up another house rule. No shoving the remote down in the couch when there's a perfectly good table to lay it on."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever."

Jim grabbed a handful of hair and gave a yank, pulling Blair's head back until the anthropologist had to look him in the eye.


"Whatever...Mr. Anal Retentive? Whatever...Mr. House Rule Number Five Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty Two?" Blair's smile was as bright as if was fake.

"Whatever...Mr. I'm Going To Beat Your Pretty Little Ass If You Whatever Me Again."

"Oh...that whatever. How about a kiss if you're not going to let me comb out my hair?"

"How about I go pull the shades down over the balcony doors before we indulge in anything so illicit as a kiss."

"Isn't that like closing the barn door after the horses get out?"

"Funny, Sandburg," Jim replied, but he went to pull the shades anyway. When he returned, Blair had the remote, flipping channels so fast the action on the tv made Jim's stomach turn over. He watched Blair try to comb out his tangle of locks at the same time."

"Here let me, baby." Jim loved the feel of Blair's hair against the palm of his hand, loved the texture and softness and the aroma of freshly washed hair. And he loved to lean down over Blair, capture that lovely neck just below the ear and nibble. Blair wiggled with delight and sighed with desire. "You like that, sweetheart?"

"You know I do, Jim. But we are expecting pizza and if you don't stop soon, I'm going to be as hard as a rock when the delivery boy shows up. How do I hide that in boxers?"

"Put a pillow over it, Chief, cause here comes the pizza now." Jim kissed the top of Blair's head and rose to meet the usual guy at the door.

"Hey man," the teenager said. "Sixteen fifty."

"Here's a twenty. Keep the change."

"Hey thanks, man. it true about you guys?"

Blair groaned behind Jim. "Is what true, kid?"

"Are you guys cops?"

Jim actually found a smile pulling at his mouth. "Yeah. I'm a cop."

"Cool, man. Gotta go. Thanks for the tip."

"What was that all about?" Blair asked, taking the box from Jim's hands.

"You got me, Chief."

They ate while they watched television and Jim was starting to unwind, starting to feel like they might just live through this mess of a day. He stroked Blair's neck, enjoying the sensation, eating his pizza and letting the buzz of the beer ease him back to something akin to normal.

The next images on the television screen shocked Jim back to reality. Blair almost spit his beer across the room. A news piece on the conference had already begun and the reporter dug into the incident with a glee that should be reserved for sadists and mad scientists. A flash of he and Blair trying to get out of the administration building and to the truck ran like a train on a crash coarse with destiny. Then a series of short interviews appeared with what must have been various students and faculty members, most of which was less than flattering or supportive. His picture appeared, the one that was taken of him for the Police Officer of the Year Award.

Damn! He hadn't even wanted that award and now the blasted thing was being used against him. Like his loving Blair Sandburg made his accomplishments null and void somehow.

"Blair, change the channel." But Blair seemed caught up in the images and in the insulting manner in which their humiliation had been accomplished. "Blair." Jim grabbed the remote from Blair's lax grip and clicked the offending program off.

"Jim...." came Blair's voice, haunted and hurting like a child who'd been snubbed by his peers. And perhaps that was what Blair feared from this incident, that he'd be shunned by those he admired and aspired to be like; the men and women who had inspired him to become an anthropologist in the first place. What should have been an evening of celebration after a triumphant day of success had become a night of dismal expectations for the future of Blair's career.

I'll survive career wise, Jim thought. There's little the higher ups can do to me except not give me another fucking award...and maybe a hard time. But what had this orchestrated humiliation done to Blair's career?

He knew little about how academia worked, hadn't wanted to know really. That was Blair's realm of expertise. But Blair was concerned, no worried, no something even worse than that. Blair was frightened by the possibility of his career being damaged beyond repair.

"Calm down, sweetheart. We knew the media had gotten in on this. My high profile over the last few years has made us fodder for the press."

He reached out to his lover and pulled Blair up to sit on the sofa. Jim wrapped his arms around his partner, wishing he could do more, wishing again that he could make this day go away. He wished they could wake up in the morning and find out today had been nothing more than a bad dream.

But that wasn't going to happen.

"Everything's ruined, Jim. They...someone has taken our love and made it into a media circus, made our love for each other into something dirty."

Jim heard Blair's distress and stroked his lover's temple gently, trying to calm with a touch, with a soothing breath against Blair's hair and skin.

"Baby, our love is not dirty. No one can make it so, if we don't believe it. What I feel for you is deep and abiding, it''s forever, Blair and we are not going to let some bunch of creeps destroy what we have only just begun to explore with each other. I love you and I won't let them hurt you without paying dearly for it. I'm going to get these pigs."

Blair tilted his head back, blue gaze shining up at Jim. That gaze remained locked with his, reading something deep inside of Jim, searching, for what Jim didn't know, but would have ripped out his own heart if that had been what Blair needed from him.

"I love you, Jim Ellison."

Jim smiled then and let his fingers caress Blair's cheek. He heard his lover sigh, felt Blair letting go, for the moment anyway, the pain of the days ordeal.

"What's the worst that could happen, Chief?" Jim ventured to ask. "You end up teaching 8thgrade science to a bunch of smart alec brats?"

"Oh thank you, Jim. That makes me feel better." Blair pushed up off the couch and out of Jim's embrace. Jim watched his lover stalk down the hall, watched bare legs, slender, yet strong like Blair was all over, recede, that fine firm ass outlined against the fabric of boxer shorts. Blair disappeared into the bathroom, the sound of the blow dryer then the electric razor making a buzzing noise that reminded Jim too much of how that projector had sounded when Blair had pulled the plug.

Jim rose, clearing away the pizza box and the beer bottles. He turned down the lights and checked the doors and the alarm. Then he went to stand in the bathroom doorway, leering at his young partner and entertaining all sorts of naughty thoughts that weren't in the least bit dirty.

"You ready for bed, baby?" Jim asked with a voice husky with desire. "You look absolutely beautiful."

Blair gave him a deadly glare via the mirror, taking an inordinate amount of time with his hair.

"I was just joking, Chief. Just trying to lighten up our mood. Come on, baby. I'm sorry."

Blair seemed to slump then, anger the only thing perhaps that had been keeping the young man running by this point in an eternally endless nightmare of a day. The anger seeped out of Blair and Jim watched his lover's head fall forward in what might have been defeat.

"Don't let them do this to you, Sandburg," Jim said gently, hand reaching out. He connected with cloth and skin. And the skin was hot and moist to the touch. "Don't let them win by putting walls up between us. We put enough walls up ourselves without any outside help."

"Yeah. I know you're right. It's just...I thought...I thought I was in control of my life. But I'm not. We're not. Someone else is pulling the strings and making us dance and sing, controlling our anger and interfering in our lives."

"Sounds like real life, baby," Jim offered with another wisp of a smile. "Life's not fair and who ever said that it was?" Jim stepped closer, into the bathroom. The air was warm to the touch and Blair burned in his arms.

Without warning, he swung them around and flattened Blair against the wall, mouth devouring, hands moving up and under Blair's tee shirt, needing to show Blair that love and sex, need and desire were not dirty secrets, not nasty deeds to feel disgusted about. They hadn't asked to have their love put on display, and by god, they weren't going to apologize for that love to anyone, not to the University, not to the Police Department and not to the media, no matter the consequences.

"I want to love you, baby," Jim whispered into Blair's ear, tongue tickling the lobe. Blair melded into his embrace and rode the sensation of possession and desire like a rider on a horse. "Love you till you can't move anymore, till you haven't an ounce of strength left in your body."

"Oh yeah...." Blair sighed and swallowed hard. Blair's fingers sank into Jim's biceps, ran up to his shoulders and into his hair. A strong grip brought their mouths back together again and Jim had to fight to maintain control of the dance.

Jim shoved Blair against the wall again, grinding into the smaller man with his cock so hard Jim thought he'd come just from initial groin contact. He slid his hands down Blair's sides and yanked the boxers down and with his foot, pushed the garment to the floor. Jim peeled off Blair's shirt and watched the curls fall around his lover's face and shoulders.

"Oh god, Jim," Blair gasped out, but Jim 's mouth reached for Blair's again. He held the smaller man against the wall with brute force, cock still grinding into Blair's hard length. Jim's fingers wound up into his lover's dark curls, maneuvering to get a good angle at Blair's neck. He licked and nibbled and promised himself not to leave marks anywhere anyone could see. They had been very careful up till then and he wasn't going to start displaying his affection for Blair like a road map to their last evening's activities.

He licked his way down Blair's body, licking and sucking without mercy on the little nubs of his partners nipples, so hard and tender until Blair begged him to continue downward.

Jim went to his knees and watched with fascination, Blair's long hard cock bobbing for attention. He pushed Blair's legs further apart and reached to stroke the rod with one hand, while the other cupped the firm balls and rolled them between his fingers and palm. Above him, Blair moaned and scratched at the wall.

Jim let his tongue dart out to the tip of the shaft, licking the bit of moisture there at the slit. A salty...musky tang exploded against his tastebuds and he licked the shaft from root to tip, long strokes while he squeezed Blair's cock and roughly massaged the tight sack with the other hand.

Blair bucked forward and Jim shoved Blair back against the wall. "More, Jim. All of your mouth before I go crazy. Please, please, please."

Jim smiled at Blair's begging and slowly let his lover's cock fill his mouth.

A squeak of what might have been delight or possibly dismay escaped Blair's mouth and Jim felt his lover's fingers slide into his hair and get a good grip.

Jim felt Blair letting loose of all the pain, forgetting for a little while, the ordeals yet to come. Jim sought refuge here also, in the arms of undying love and lusty sex. He was lost in Blair's beautiful body, tasting with every suck the rich essences of his lover's very soul and spirit.

Life could not get better than this and Jim reveled in giving his lover this kind of abandonment of pleasure, the most primal twining two beings could perform. He wanted to explore this new world of their love in the making, wanted to make their world a good place to come home to, a kind, peaceful place, a refuge from life's woes and evil intents.

But most of all, he wanted Blair, needed him by his side. And most of all, Jim wanted to fuck Blair's ass right then and there.

Jim let his hands move over Blair's body, up the slim hips to caress the skin of abdomen and chest, to pinch nipples and hear Blair whimper from the added stimulation. His hands slid down thighs, tickled knees and calves then moved back up the back of the legs to squeeze his lover's firm ass cheeks. He stroked between, a finger finding the tight hole that promised his cock a perfect place of being. Blair pushed against the finger too dry to work in.

But Blair was already on his way, another hard buck warning Jim and the swelling of the cock in his mouth just before release came. Jim sucked down Blair's seed and kept a tight rein on Blair's hips until Jim felt his lover's knees going wobbly.

He moved back up his partner's fine, hot body, latching on again to lips, full and sensuous, beautiful lips that smiled a languid smile of satiation. Jim held Blair against the wall and felt his cock getting harder, aching in it's need to be inside his lover.

With a growl, Jim turned Blair around, pushing the younger man against the wall once again. Blair moaned with desire and Jim pulled his shirt off, yanking at it so the skin of his chest pressed against the heat of Blair's back. His hips pushed at Blair's ass and Jim let his hands slip upward to Blair's hair, pushing the curls away from that slender, succulent shoulder.

He growled again and sank his teeth gently into his lover's neck, sucking. Jim loved the way Blair moved against him, how his lover moaned and whimpered and tried to find something to hang onto besides the door molding to Blair's right and the towel rack on the left.

Jim slid down Blair's back, kisses and bites marking the smaller man as his, his lover, his partner and that was a commitment he wanted to make for life and longer if possible.

He went to his knees again, massaging Blair's cheeks with eager fingers, spreading Blair's legs again for complete access. Blair complied with breath gone ragged and expectant. Jim sucked bruises on each of those sweet ass cheeks, loving the way Blair shifted and ground back against him. With a quick dart of his tongue, Jim licked the little hole, pulling cheeks apart to expose this most vulnerable place. Blair gave him that, gave him access and permission, willing to give him such pleasure with body and soul.

"Oh god, baby," Jim breathed and licked the back of Blair's balls. "You taste so fucking good."

"Mmmmmm," was all Blair managed to say.

A tube of lubricant lay on the counter, newly bought and Jim grabbed for it, opened it one handed and spread the slick ointment over his fingers. He moved back up Blair's body, pressing hard while his fingers slid up and down Blair's cleft. Nibbling again along the neck and ear, Jim let his fingers drive into Blair with gentle thrusts and when he felt the tight knot of muscle loosening up with the massage, Jim let his cock loose of his sweat pants. With more lubricant, Jim readied himself. He felt Blair tense with anticipation, heard his lover's heart beat quicken and breath come harder.

"Easy, Chief," he said in a low husky whisper. "Everything's great, sweetheart. I love you."

"Love you. Want you. Do it."

Jim smiled against Blair's back and eased his cock to Blair's hole. Blair leaned over and braced against the wall in a stance not unlike a perp about to be frisked. Jim's smile turned to a grin and he pushed in, holding Blair's hips in a tight unrelenting grip. With a moment of resistance they stood locked together. Jim could feel Blair's breath calm though, letting muscles relax and then he was in, shoving hilt deep into Blair's perfect ass.

Blair hissed and groaned and tightened around him. And Jim waited there for Blair to collect himself when all Jim wanted to do was pull back and thrust again, deeper and deeper until Blair cried out his name and gave up possession of himself.

But Jim waited because his love was stronger than his primal urges, his care for Blair's comfort more important than the throbbing pulse of his rigid organ.

"Love you," Blair said again, a sigh now instead of a hiss. Now Blair was ready for whatever Jim dished out.

Jim ignored his body's demand for fast and hard. Yeah, there'd be time for that, but now was for slow and languid, gentle and loving. His hands roamed over the muscles of his lover's body, felt the tense stance of thigh muscles at work, felt Blair's sack and cock jump at his handling though he didn't want Blair to come again just yet, wanted the next event to be upstairs in bed, a mutual giving and taking so afterwards they could fall asleep in each other's arms.

With smooth strokes, he pulled back and thrust back in, momentum starting to build. He kissed Blair's back and pushed his lover up against the wall once again. Blair's face turned away from the wall and Jim kissed the man's cheek and temple, kissed the eager mouth that reached for him even at this odd angle. His hands swept back those impossibly soft curls and again lay kiss and bite along the back of neck and shoulder, licking the edges of pain away with tongue and lips. Hands moved lower to hold hips in place and Jim's thrusts grew harder with his need, deeper with his desire.

Jim watched Blair hang onto the doorframe and towel rack again, hard thumps shoving the smaller man into the wall with Jim's abandonment. His body drove him now, his need blotting out all else but Blair's fragrant aroma and the feel of skin, hot to the touch, burning him with their joining. Blair's heaving breath kept Jim anchored, focused to the moment. Blair's heartbeat kept him from zoning out on any one sensation when he was saturated in so many and all bore the name Blair.

He heard his own grunts and growls echo in his ears. He felt light strain to blind him. He felt Blair's conscious effort to remain standing, holding on to ride out the storm of loving.

Sensation flooded his groin, his cock swelling inside Blair's tight passage. Gripping Blair's hair, Jim pulled the young man's head sideways. He nestled there, finding just the right spot and sucked like a vampire on his lover's shoulder, bucking and ramming his way to orgasm.

Jim thought he heard Blair cry out in the maelstrom of his own beating heart and the rush of coming. For a brief, terrifying moment, Jim feared he'd gone too far, that he had hurt Blair. But his lover's cry had been triumphant and Blair met each and every thrust with the will and desire of a true mate.

"Oh god, baby, oh god, baby," Jim murmured against Blair's hair when their momentum slowed and finally stopped. His arms went around his young lover's chest, holding up the nearly sagging weight. Blair clung to the doorframe still, cheek pressed to the cool wall. "Oh god," Jim repeated simply because his brain had filled with mush just then.

He felt Blair take a long deep breath and slowly push up away from the wall. "Incredible," Blair offered in a breathless hush, that tangle of curls cascading down to brush shoulder blades. "Oh man...."

With a deliberate touch, Jim eased out of Blair and turned his lover around. Blue gaze met blue gaze and Blair smiled that amazing smile that captivated Jim with it's meaning. He leaned in without breaking eye contact until he kissed Blair's lips with a reverence most would reserve for holy icons.

"Bed?" Jim asked afterwards. "Sleep?"

Blair let out a snort of what sounded like disbelief. "Sleep? I'm harder now than when we started and you want to sleep? I don't think so, tough guy."

Jim grinned and licked the corner of Blair's mouth. "So...bed?"

"Oh yeah, bed would be a very good idea cause neither one of us is going to be able to stand when we're finished."

"I like the way you think, Sandburg."

"I knew that you would."

Chapter 12

Simon Banks sat at his home computer, his fingers banging hard against the keys. He took his anger out on the keyboard, fuming his disappointment and his hurt feelings on an inanimate object that, if he wasn't careful, would retaliate by breaking and costing him the price of replacement.

In the background of his apartment, Simon could hear Darryl playing some video game on the television, his son disappointed that Dad was currently hogging the computer.

He should be in there interacting with his son, bonding as they say on one of the few weekends they spent together in a month, but after five calls from the Police Chief, two from the Commissioner and one from the Mayor, not to mention the press or the media, Simon just wasn't very good company.

Images played on his mind, visions of a perfectly good talk by Sandburg, one he had actually been enjoying, going so fucking wrong, so fucking fast. At first, Simon hadn't been able to figure out exactly what he was seeing, his mind refusing to accept that what he was seeing was Jim kissing Blair in nothing the resembled brotherly in the least. And those images rotated, becoming more and more revealing, more and more intimate and just short of obscene.

Jim's bellow to shut off the projector had galvanized him...and obviously Blair who Simon had never seen look so horrified in all the time he had known the kid.

He heard a moment of silence, the pow pow of the video game missing suddenly. Then the television came on, some program...or was it the news?

Simon went back to his keyboard and tried to be kinder to the piece of molded plastic that helped him keep his financial records and let him take work home at night. What a jolly use, he mused cynically.

"Hey Dad!" Darryl yelled from the living room. "Get in here. Jim and Blair are the Channel 12 News!"

"Oh god." But Simon went, standing behind the couch, staring at the images and grimacing. He listened to the reporter make the situation as lurid as possible, as if Jim and Blair had deliberately showed those slides and hadn't been completely humiliated by the forced outing. With all his strength slipping away with a feeling of helplessness to replace it, Simon moved around to sit on the couch, listening to the self-righteous condemnation of Blair by his peers.

He really ought to call and find out how the two men were holding up with this mess hanging over them and being broadcasted through the city and surrounding area. Jim had a reputation in this town. A good reputation and now that reputation was being smeared into the ground, all the man's accomplishments laid out and examined in a new light, with a new tag attached.

Gay cop.

"Oh god, Jim," Simon murmured in a desolate tone. "Why? Why now?"

The piece ended, but Simon continued to stare, still angry, still disappointed in his best detective.

"You mad at Blair? And Jim?" Darryl asked in a way only a teenager can ask. Blunt, expectant and almost accusing.

"Why shouldn't I be?" Simon shot back, his teeth on edge and his temper just short of blowing.

Oh yeah, that's great. Take your anger out on Darryl. You're mad at Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg for fucking each other in private and keeping it to themselves. So what do you do, Banks, bite your son's head off.

"Why should you be? They didn't do anything wrong."

"Is that a fact?" he replied before he had even thought.

"You think being gay is wrong?" Darryl's voice reflected disbelief.

"Don't put words in my mouth, Darryl. I didn't say that."

"So Jim...being a cop and all, shouldn't be gay?" came a more sarcastic tone of voice.

"I...I didn't say that either."

Darryl stared at him then finally glanced away and made a dismissive motion with his hands.

"Never mind, Dad. Never mind."

"No, sit down!" Simon said when Darryl made to get up. "We need to talk about this. Did what you saw up there on that screen bother you at all, son?"

Darryl's expression turned contemplative. Simon knew that his son thought the world of Blair Sandburg and the kid didn't mind Jim too much either. Simon felt confused himself about this sudden revelation concerning what he considered two of his closest friends. And he hadn't known, hadn't caught on quite, though he knew something felt different lately when he was with Jim and Blair. But mostly he felt hurt that his two closest friends hadn't confided in him about their relationship.

Simon knew why the two had been reluctant, that perhaps had even been close to telling him. Jim and Blair thought the atmosphere in Major Crimes would reflect the change in their relationship, that they would be met with hostility somewhere in the precinct and on the force if not from the staff in Major Crimes. This additional aspect not only effected how others evaluated them, but also how Jim's and Blair's working relationship would be evaluated. And they were right. This unusual partnership would need re-evaluation because of the romantic interest. And ultimately Simon was Jim's boss...and Blair's too. Both men knew that Simon had to be boss before he was friend when it came to the good of the department and the P.D.

Simon felt a load of confusion land in his lap, weighing heavy on his mind. The complications of this situation were enormous. And the media attention to it only made matters worse.

So if he was this confused about how he felt, why wouldn't Darryl be? Yet, Darryl seemed more in tune with his own feelings than he did any day. Perhaps it was simply that times were so very different now than when he was growing up.

"Did Jim and Blair kissing each other bother you, Darryl?" Simon asked gently. He wanted badly to communicate with his son, understand what made Darryl tick, what his teenager thought about life and prejudice and sexual orientation.

Darryl gave a little shrug. "You know...a lot of the guys at school would expect me to be. They'll probably have some nasty things to say at school on Monday. They know who you are and stuff. It doesn't really bother me, Dad. You know Mom's been working with AIDS patients lately, counseling them and I've gone with her down to the clinic a few times. I've got this teacher too who's real cool, but everybody thinks he's gay. But he's cool. He knows lots of Blair...and man, he's just a cool guy. He can name theYankees line up in order of bat for every year since baseball began. But I don't care if he's gay or if he isn't gay. You and Mom taught me to be open-minded. Man, you two harp on that all the time, ya know? Mom particularly."

Simon stared, amazed by what he was hearing from his son.

Maybe Joan and I haven't done so bad with him? Maybe even in spite of the divorce, Darryl has turned out to be a decent young man, open-minded and tolerant. God knew they, as a family, had put up with prejudice enough for a lifetime because of what they were, black...aspiring to be more than blue collar, wanting their son to go to good schools, a decent college, Rainier in particularly. And for their son to live a life free of preconceived notions based on the color of his skin and to allow others the same right to do so.

And how could he expect the same privileges as any other citizen of the United States if because of prejudice of sexual orientation he should deny that same right to not only a fellow officer, but two of his best friends?

"I'm not mad at them for being gay, Darryl," Simon said in the void of silence. "I guess, I'm just hurt that they didn't tell me. I thought we were closer friends than that."

"Dad," Darryl said with that sarcastic tone that if verbalized would sound something like 'Duh, Dad, get a clue.' "We're not talking about telling your friends you've decided to become an accountant or something. Man, Dad...Jim and Blair have got an uphill battle in front of them. Don't you think they could use a friend that stands up for them? Isn't that what you and Mom have been telling me about loyalty and honor and doing the right thing? Sticking by your friends in good times and bad times?"

Simon could think of nothing to say, so astounded by his son's insight. He gazed on his prodigy was such pride, he knew he must be grinning like a madman.

"You okay, Dad?" Darryl finally asked. "You're scaring me."

Simon laughed then, laughed from relief and for the joy of being a father. They had hardly communicated about anything over the last few years. And talk about bonding! He felt closer to Darryl at this moment than he had in longer than he could remember.

"Yeah, son. I'm okay. You've taught your old man a thing or two tonight."

"Yeah?" Darryl offered brightly, jumping up from his seat. "Can I use the computer now then?

Simon rolled his eyes and chuckled again. "Sure, son. Just let me close out my file and it's all yours," he said, rising to his feet. He headed towards his office then turned with a new thought. "You got any games that two can play?"

"Yeah, but you'd never be able to keep up with me." Simon heard only good-natured teasing in his son's voice.

"Think so?" he replied with feigned confidence.

"Uh huh. Betcha."

"You're on. Who ever wins makes breakfast in the morning. A decent breakfast. Not just dry cornflakes still in the box."

"It's a bet. Get ready to fix me blueberry pancakes and bacon. I like it crispy."

Simon put an arm around his son's shoulder and together they headed to the computer for a bit of father/son bonding. And Simon knew he'd be making those blueberry pancakes come tomorrow morning.

Chapter 13

Blair chewed his lip and clutched at his backpack while the elevator slid upward through the Central Precinct. He dreaded the coming confrontations, dreaded what he thought just might be the longest day of his life.

They were already running late. Wendy Hawthorne called just before they were going out the door requesting an exclusive interview. Jim almost hit the ceiling and Blair'd had to take the phone away from his lover just so they wouldn't end up with something worse. Wendy and Jim had parted on pretty good terms and giving her an interview wasn't such a bad idea. He thought she'd be fair with them. After all they had saved her life once. Wendy had learned a lot from that whole experience and Blair doubted she'd be overly sensational. But she was ambitious. He doubted she'd give up doing a story on them regardless of the outcome of an exclusive interview.

Then they couldn't even manage to get to the truck before three reporters pounced on them. Jim had nearly eaten them for breakfast. Needless to say, Jim was in a pissy mood this morning and Blair pitied the fool who confronted Jim Ellison today.

"You okay, Jim?" Blair ventured to ask just to break the silence.

Jim let out an exasperated sigh. "I'm fine, Chief. We're fine. And, by god, everyone else better be fine if they know what's good for them."

Blair grimaced at Jim's tone. "You know, Jim, giving Wendy an interview might not be such a bad idea. She's a friend and all. She'd be fair."

"No way, Sandburg am I sitting down with a reporter and deliberately detailing our love life. So forget it."

"Fine. Whatever. You are such a grouch on Mondays."

"Well, Chief. This Monday is liable to beat all other Mondays hands down. Get ready. Here we go."

The elevator door opened onto their floor, the usual hustle and bustle greeting them. Eyes turned their way, gazes focusing on them, appraising, reevaluating, some with a hostility that wasn't there before.

Blair kept his eyes averted while Jim signed them in. But out of the corner of his eye, Blair could see the man at the front sign-in desk, Officer Johnson who he had talked with and joked with on occasion, staring hard at Jim, gaze moving to catch him as well. He felt as if he'd been summarily analyzed, scrutinized and categorized all in one fell swoop. Jim ignored the look though Blair could tell that Jim felt the hostility as well.

People stopped in mid-stride to watch them walk down the corridor, stopped their errands and important tasks just to stare at them and somewhere out of a gathering of uniforms, Blair heard someone humming The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.

"Terrific," he sighed and wondered, as they stepped into Major Crimes, if they were jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Jim ignored the open-mouthed gaping stares and Blair wished he could ignore those penetrating gazes as well as his partner. And once the initial shock of their arrival wore off, the whispering began.

These people had no idea just how well Jim Ellison could hear their quiet remarks, but Blair knew and he supposed that was one way to find out who thought what about least, before they were told to their faces.

Simon's door was closed and it looked like Rafe and Brown were in conference with him about some case or another.

Blair sat down to proof read a couple of reports left hanging from Friday and tried to not feel the weight of stares aimed at him. eternity ago.

"Joel is heading our way, Chief. Friend or foe?" Blair heard humor in Jim's quiet voice and a wash of relief spread through him.

Yes. They could get through this.

"Friend. I'd put money on it."

"Hey guys," Joel said. The captain looked a little on the nervous side, but otherwise non-hostile.

"Hey Joel," Blair replied and smiled up from the report as if no earth shattering change had come over their lives in the last 48 hours.

"Joel," Jim offered with a nod.

"Uh...hey, I really don't know what to say. But thought I ought to try. And, I know you two don't need my approval or permission, but I've got no problem with your relationship. I hope everything works out okay."

Blair watched a smile tug at Jim's mouth. "Thanks, Joel. We appreciate that. We knew our friends would understand."

"Not my place to judge, guys. But...." Joel leaned in closer and the man looked back over his shoulder towards the door. "Not everyone feels that way. Watch your backs for a while. And real careful. There's some bad attitudes going around the precinct and the force right now. It was a shock, ya know?"

"Joel, I know about shocks. Let me assure you," Blair offered in return.

"Yeah, well. There's a lot of bad intentions. A lot of tough talk going around."

"Anyone lays a finger on Blair in violence, P.D. or no P.D., I'll rip their heads off their shoulders," Jim said through gritted teeth. Blair watched his partner slowly stand and lean over the desk menacingly "And you can spread that revelation around for me, Joel."

"Uh...Jim," Blair said, seeing a spark of alarm in Joel's eyes. "Non-confrontational...remember?"

Jim glanced over at him, staring hard into his eyes and Blair didn't flinch. He needed Jim to keep the emotional level to a minimum. He needed Jim to keep the defense mechanisms in check as well. Yes, Blair understood the potential explosion, knew the potential as well as he knew his partner. Patience was not one of Jim's strongest virtues after all and taking shit off of anyone particularly concerning this issue simply wasn't an option. Jim's tough exterior that could deflect any amount of insults to himself would melt away at the first insult to Blair and Blair feared the consequences to Jim's job when the first punch was thrown or first uniform was shoved against the wall and knocked senseless.

Then Jim nodded and sat down again, some of that edge of pent-up anger stowed away for now... until they came face to face with hostility. Joel's expression reflected a slight, tentative relief.

"Thanks for giving us a run down on the current mood of the precinct, Joel," Blair said. "Thanks for being a good friend. God knows we're going to need them."

"Friends understand, guys," Joel replied with a smile. "And I intend for everyone to know I stand by you anyway. The rest is their problem. Gotta get back to that Keaton report. Talk about a doozy!" Joel rolled his eyes and the man moved back towards his own desk.

Jim was quiet...too quiet and Blair tried to catch a glance at his partner without Jim noticing, just to judge which section of emotional rollercoaster Jim was on at the moment. Jim let it ride for about thirty seconds then with deliberate care turned to look at him.

"What, Sandburg?"

"Nothing," Blair said with feigned innocence and went back to reading over the report in his hands.

Jim let out a huge sigh, a force of air through lungs that reminded Blair of violent intentions and bad attitudes. "Good," Jim replied and picked up a file folder.

The door to Simon's office opened and Blair looked up to see Rafe and Brown coming out, Rafe pulling on his suit jacket. Both men stopped in the doorway to stare over at them. Henry Brown then smiled that trademark mischievous smile and strode towards them. Jim groaned and tried to look busy.

"How's it goin', you two?"Henry asked and leaned over the computer. "Talk about high profile,, you couldn't ask for more news coverage than you guys got over the weekend."

"We're just peachy, Brown," Jim replied dryly without looking up. "You know how I love having my private life smeared all over the media."

"You got that, fellas. And more." That annoying smile proved difficult to read and Blair wondered when Henry would get around to saying what he really thought. Henry leaned in a little closer, a conspiratorial stance. Rafe was making a bee line for them with a concerned expression. "Tell me, guys, were those slides as graphic as they say? Man, from what I hear you two were really going at it."

"Brown!" Jim roared and shoved up out of his chair. "Don't you have a job to do somewhere?!"

Blair sprang up and grabbed at Jim's arm in an attempt at restraint. Rafe ran forward and grabbed Brown, dragging him back away from the desk.

"Why do you insist on provoking a man who can kill you without trying very hard?" Rafe hissed at Brown. "Sorry guys." Rafe said to them with what appeared to be genuine regret. "Come on, Henry. Leave them alone. They're going to have enough trouble without you ribbing them constantly."

"What?!" Brown demanded with that same grin of mischief. "Inquiring minds just want to know, man. This is the most excitement we've had in weeks here. You think I'm letting this news flash slide by, you're crazy."

"That's enough!" Simon's voice boomed from the doorway. "Listen up, people." Silence descended as if God himself was about to speak. "I will not have my office disrupted by what is, in essence, a personal matter between Ellison and Sandburg. Can the teasing. Can the hostilities. That goes for your preemptive hostilities as well, Detective Ellison. Keep it professional if you can't keep it nice. We all still have to work together and I expect all of you to be mature, intelligent and professional enough to handle that order. Do I make myself clear on this matter, ladies and gentlemen?"

Simon's gaze raked the department with a signature scathing glare. Murmurs of ascent and nods of agreement met with one last long glance around the room. "Good," Simon offered. "Ellison. Sandburg. In my office now."

Blair's heart did a beat-skip-beat and he knew Jim had heard it. He followed Jim into Simon's office and the two of them stood side by side waiting for reprimand or censure or, on Blair's part, dismissal possibly. Simon was unreadable as the man sat at his desk and turned to pour coffee. The captain turned around holding two mugs and stared at them.

"What do you want? An invitation? Sit down...relax. You two have had enough shit thrown at you to last for a while."

Blair felt a knot uncoil from his heart and he took the offered cup and the chair and sipped gratefully.

"Like you haven't, sir?" Jim replied. "I know you must be getting a lot of flack from the Mayor and the Commissioner."

"Yeah, well...," Simon began with a slight smile. "They'd better be careful cause there's a fair size gay community in this city and they've got some clout in the political arena, I hear. There's some flack, but mostly because of how the outing occurred, not just because it did occur."

"Dean Wilcox issued a statement this morning clearing Blair of all misconduct and condemning whomever was responsible for switching those slides," Jim offered. "She didn't make any apologies, but did say that the P.D. had an open case file investigating harassment against Blair and that this incident could very well be linked to the case."

Simon nodded. "I just hope we can match those fingerprints we pulled off the projector to someone other than Sandburg and the dean's secretary. What's her name?"

"Mona Rogers," Blair offered. "She's a very nice lady."

"No reason to believe she might be involved, Sandburg?"

Blair was startled. "No. Oh, no. Not Mona. She's a sweet lady. It's not her, Simon. I'm sure of that."

"Just as sure as that Iris woman wasn't a drug dealer?" Simon replied with a grim smile.

"Go ahead, rub that in." Blair put his cup down and crossed his arms against his chest.

Jim actually laughed. "She had you, Chief."

"Yeah, when she pulled a gun on me."

There was an awkward silence and Blair knew, just knew Simon was about to embark on a more personal course of conversation.

"Guys...look," Simon said, pushing his glasses back up on his nose. "I'm sorry I was short with you before. I was in shock. I was...I was...angry. And I guess I was kinda hurt that you didn't tell me about this new twist to your relationship." Jim started to say something, but Simon put up a hand. "Just let me finish. Then you two can have your say."

Simon looked at each of them and they nodded in unison.

"I've spent the weekend thinking about this situation. And I'll be honest with you, I was down right pissed off. I thought we were friends. I thought there was nothing we couldn't tell each other after everything we've been through together. I thought there was a depth to our friendship, not just some macho, hanging out together crap kinda thing guys do."

"Simon...." Blair said, his heart hurting and his guilt about to consume him.

"Let me finish, Sandburg. I thought we were friends because we are and that sometimes there are things...situations...circumstances that cause us to keep secrets. Even from our best friends. I know my being your boss, Jim made a difference...and your boss too, Blair. Cause, as long as you work with the P.D., I'm your boss. I know that had a great deal of bearing on why you both kept your relationship quiet. You did a damn good job of it too. I was just starting to get suspicious that something was going on, but hadn't figured out what just yet. But I hadn't expected to have it revealed to me and my son on an 8'x10' screen in living color."

"I'm so sorry, Simon. God, I'm so sorry about Darryl."

"Hey, don't, Blair. You didn't put those slides in that carriage. And as for my son." Simon grinned. "He's a hell of a kid. He taught his old man a thing or two about being open-minded and tolerant of others. Your personal relationship is your business, gentlemen, but how that effects Major Crimes and the P.D. is my business. And that's where things get sticky. I've been doing a tap dance between the Mayor and the Commissioner since the media got a hold of this. I spent much of Saturday afternoon and Sunday dealing with the fallout. Now it's Monday morning and you're already nearly in a brawl with one of your coworkers, Jim."

"I'm not taking any crap off of anyone, Simon. Not even Henry Brown," Jim said with one of those stubborn looks he got at times like these.

"Come on, Jim...Brown was teasing. He's always teasing you. Now he's got the ammunition of a lifetime and he's going to explode if he doesn't tease you a little. Just pay attention to the difference is all I'm asking, Jim. Brown is a good-natured teaser. He's on your side. He's not the enemy. You and Sandburg have enough of those in this building alone to fill up the entire second floor conference room. Know your friends, man."

"He's right, Jim," Blair said. "Listen to him...please just listen to Simon."

Jim said nothing, just stared off at a point lost in the ozone, no doubt. But then Jim nodded.

"All right," Simon said. "Now you two want to tell me how this all came about and when?"

Jim turned a reluctant gaze to his superior officer and his friend and Blair thought that eye contact might just have been one of the hardest things Jim Ellison had ever done. He watched Jim take a sip of coffee, holding the cup close to the chest afterwards. Blair waited. If Jim wanted him to tell it, Jim would have to say so.

"Our feelings for each other came out after that Cyclops Oil incident...after Incacha died. I felt a great loss knowing my friend had died. Blair had lost a friend as well to that mess. To be honest I've...had feelings for Blair for quite some time and repressed them cause I thought those feelings would only lead to trouble. I tried not to think about it or that I'd been attracted to men before. But the feeling was more than an attraction. After that case I realized how easily people die, how things go unsaid and that I owed it to myself and to Blair to be honest about my feelings." Jim glanced over at Blair and Jim's smile lit up Blair's heart with a fire so hot and bright he didn't know why that fire didn't burn him. "I found out that Blair felt the same way, but had been afraid to tell me so. We wasted a lot of time and I think of how many times I almost told him and didn't."

Jim rose and set down his cup. Blair watched Jim trying to find the words, so personal, so extraordinary to express their love for each other.

"I love Blair, Simon. I'm in love with him. More than I can express. Why he puts up with an old stiff-necked stubborn ass hole of a cop, I don't know."

"Probably the same reason you put up with a long-haired freaky neo-hippy love-child," Blair offered in return. "I love you just as much." Blair turned to Simon with what he knew was one of his most imploring expressions. "Simon, we didn't plan to keep our relationship from you. We just had...we just wanted to find the right time, the right place. We've only really been together a couple of months. We're still working out a lot of difficulties and differences between us, but we know we want to be together. We're in this for the long haul. You would have been the first person we told, you and Naomi. Now...we don't get any time or choices. We don't even get dignity. Someone took that away from us. Rip out our privacy and our intimacy, and maybe came close to ruining our careers. Time will tell how much damage has been done to both of us in that capacity. All I know right now is that I have been humiliated not just at the University, but here as well. I feel like I have no refuge in this community right now and I know Jim feels much the same way."

"You know what its going to be like, don't you Sandburg? Here in the precinct?"

Blair nodded. "I know there are people who never have liked me, Simon. People that think I shouldn't be working with Jim even as a consultant, let alone an unofficial partner. People who couldn't possibly understand even if they were told the truth about why I work with him. Now they're going to resent me further. They're going to think I slept my way into this "job."

He used his fingers to mimic quotation marks.

"You've got a pretty good grasp of how some people feel, Blair. That's for sure," Simon agreed. "And don't think things couldn't get physical. We may be talking about cops, but they are human. There are some who forget their place and their responsibilities sometimes. They get caught up in this macho P.D. brotherhood crap that attracts many of the officers. Look how long and hard women have had to work to gain respect on any police force. Gay cops have been known to get a lot less respect than meter maids in some places. They've been known to not get any backup when something big and dangerous goes down."

"And that should be tolerated?" Jim asked in a harsh tone.

"I won't tolerate it, Jim. Not if I catch any of my people at it. But there's a whole other batch of captains out there that would not only tolerate it, but expect it and demand it. I'm not saying this to scare you two or berate you. I'm telling you so you'll be careful. We'll just have to see how it goes. And...god I really hate to say this, but it may be necessary. If it gets too dangerous, I may have to pull Blair off the street, Jim. Or if your relationship interferes with your work."

"No, Simon. Don't do that. I need him. We can make this work. We've been making it work just fine."

Simon put up a warding hand. "I didn't say I would. I just said we have to monitor the situation. Do you want Sandburg to be in danger because you don't get backup when you need it? I know you two work well together. God knows that's the only reason this situation is tolerate at all. Sandburg has proven himself time and time again to be reliable and responsible even if he isn't a cop. Which I tell him as often as possible."

"Darn, Simon. I thought maybe you were going to let that slip by today," Blair replied with a thin smile.

"Not a chance, kid." Simon stood up, on the verge of dismissing them. "Let's just take this day by day, okay guys? Jim, try not to kill anyone if you can help it. Blair, don't be running around lonely corridors for a while. It could be hazardous to your health. Do try to keep a low profile, both of you. If you can. As far as the media goes...hell, I don't know what to do with them since the law won't let us line them up and shoot them. I'll handle it in an official capacity for the P.D. You'll have to decide how you want to handle it on the personal side. Now get out of here and get some work done. Stick around the precinct for a few days, gentlemen and catch up on the ever present and popular paperwork."

Chapter 14

Jim wasn't sure if he felt relieved or not. At least Simon wasn't mad at them any longer. And he'd have to think of an appropriate reward to Darryl for his help. Who'd have thought a teenage kid would actually be tolerant?

He settled back down to his desk with a quick glance over at Blair. Sandburg seemed to be handling things all right for the moment. Day by day, Simon had said. One long endless day by long endless day. At least, if he could have gotten out and put his mind to something other than reports Jim might be able to push the unsavory images from his mind of reporters yelling too loud, pushing microphones into his face and that one pushy bastard dragging at Blair's coat. Or of the gasps of horror and surprise when those slides began a slow insistent humiliation. His heart had nearly stopped when he had realized just what he was seeing, as if his mind momentarily refused to acknowledge what his sight was telling him.

Jim shook off those useless thoughts and turned his attention back to the stack of files on his desk. He could make some calls on some of these cases.

"You want some coffee, Jim?" Blair asked and stood up.

"As if you're going to the break room by yourself to get it?" Jim replied staring up at his mate with as an incredulous expression as he could muster this early in the morning.

Blair rolled his eyes and gave a huff of annoyance. "No, I'm going over to the girl at the danish cart. She's got some cups of coffee. Is that okay, Jim? Or do you want to check her out and see if she intends to beat me up for being bi-sexual?"

"I didn't mean it like that, Chief. And see if she has any cherry danish?"

"You got it."

Jim was constantly surprised at how easily Blair's anger or irritation fell away, how quickly Blair "let go" of Jim's sharp words. But then, he put up with quite a few of Blair's quirks.

Smiling to himself, Jim picked up the phone, but before he could even dial the first number, Henry Brown was standing beside his desk looking as close to contrite as the man was able. Jim put the receiver back in its cradle and with incredible patience on his part, he glanced up with a benign expression.

"Brown," Jim said.

"Hi Jim...uh. Yeah, well. I just wanted to say I'm sorry about earlier. You know me, man. I've got to joke about stuff and and Sandburg make such a fine target right now." Brown grinned then hurried on when Jim didn't share his smile. "Hey bud," the man said more seriously. "There's some bad stuff being talked about. Most of it is probably just talk, but keep a close eye on the kid. There's some that got it in for him...more even than you."

"Thanks, Henry. I appreciate the warning. But nobody better give me or Blair any trouble. Our personal lives are nobody's business."

"Hey, I'm in total agreement there. Your business. Nobody else's. 'Nuff said."

Jim nodded and gave Brown a scrutinizing gaze. "But I am wondering what you think...and Rafe too."

"Who me? Rafe?" Henry grinned again. "I've got no problem with you and the kid doing the horizontal bop together. Not my bag, but each to their own, I always say. As for Rafe...didn't you know? His cousin is gay. And I mean gaaaaaay. The obvious kind. They're good friends. Rafe understands." Brown moved a little closer, a serious conspiratorial attitude this time. "You guys don't have too many problems in Major Crimes. A couple who may take some time getting used to this new you. But most of us are yours and Sandburg's friends. Most of us will keep an eye on your back and keep an eye on Blair as well when you're not around. I'm serious here, Jim. Real serious cause you are going to need to keep close tabs on who your friends are for a while. Won't take you too long to know your enemies." Brown gave Jim a knowing, meaningful glance and pushed away from the desk. "Gotta get on a case, man. Catch you deskbound suckers later!"

Jim smiled and let a chuckle ease out. Felt much better to laugh than to seethe. He glanced up to see Blair talking earnestly with one of the female office workers. He watched Blair hold two cups of coffee and balance what definitely was a cherry danish on top of the cups. The look on his partner's face was cautiously friendly. He watched Blair nod to her and say a grateful thank you. Then the smaller man turned and headed back towards him.

"What did Angie have to say, Chief? Friend or foe?" Jim asked, taking his danish and coffee from Blair's balanced grip.

"She told me that she heard some people talking this morning before work. She didn't like what they were saying and thought we'd want to know. I guess that makes her friend. Damn it, Jim, I hate this. I hate this kind of disharmony."

"We didn't create it, Blair. These people need to look somewhere inside of themselves to see why they have animosity over something that doesn't concern them."

"Yeah, I know you're right."

Jim took a bite of the danish and let the flavor of butter and sugar and cherry explode on his tongue. Taste, when the tasting was something this good, was almost a sensual experience.

"So what were they saying?" he asked around a mouthful.

"You don't want to know. I didn't want to know. People sure can come up with some ugly ways of describing a non-traditional sexual relationship. She said they were some of the women I'd gone out with at one time or another."

"I knew that would come back to haunt you someday, Casanova," Jim offered with a thin smile.

Blair gave him an indignant look and went back to the reports.

Picking up the phone, Jim dialed Wilcox's number instead of calling on the case he had intended. A few questions had been bothering him, things she had said during their meeting Saturday evening.

"Yes, Ms Rogers. This is Detective Ellison. I need to speak with Dean Wilcox if possible."

"Of course, Detective Ellison," the woman's motherly voice offered. "How is Blair holding up? I know this must being taking a terrible toll on both of you."

"He's okay. We're both as well as can be expected. Thanks." Jim glanced over at his partner who was watching him and trying to listen in on a conversation he couldn't possibly hear.

Mona Rogers did seem like a nice woman. No...she was a nice woman. Jim trusted Blair's intuition on this one.

"Well, good. I'll put you right through to the dean. Tell that dear young man that I'm thinking of both of you. Here you go."

The sound of The Beatle's Eleanor Rigby, done in Muzak style assaulted his hearing. Jim tolerated the momentary sacrilage until the phone rang again and was promptly picked up on the second ring.

"Detective Ellison? This is Dean Wilcox." She sounded weary already so early in the morning and Jim wondered how many higher ups the woman'd had to convince that clearing Blair of any wrong doing was the right thing to do and the least damaging path to take for all concerned.

"Ma'am, I just wanted to call and thank you for the statement you made this morning. It was fair and non-judgemental."

"Well, that was the statement we agreed to, Detective. And, to be honest, I think one that the administration can live with. We don't like or want scandal, but then we don't like or want our teaching fellows to be harrassed while they are working on their doctorates at Rainier University either. So, as you can see, the statement was beneficial to most."

"Most is one of the other reasons I called today, Dean Wilcox. There were a couple of things you said the other evening that I'd like to clarify...for the case of course."

"Of course."

"You mentioned that some professors were upset and disputed Blair speaking at the conference. I need the names of these people."

"Um," she said. "I'm not sure I'm at liberty to give you that information, Detective Ellison."

Well, he knew that would be the probable answer. "Dean Wilcox, I've been doing some calculations and it appears that the harassments against Blair began shortly after he was selected as a speaker for this South American Conference. Within a few days, in fact, Ma'am. Did anyone of those people ask you to keep their opinion confidential for some reason?"

"Well, no, not specifically, but conversations in my office are private. I'll need to check with a few people before I give out that information. Let me call you back."

"Can you tell me, at least, how many objected?"

There was a momentary pause then a sigh. "Four, Detective Ellison. Four tenured professors objected strongly. I overrode their objections."

"Why did they object? Just for the record."

"Because Blair does not have his doctorate yet. Because he is a mere teaching fellow which means they didn't think him worthy yet of a berth at a conference of this importance. That's all I can tell you at this time...until I speak with the University's administrators. And the objections were not terribly unusual, Detective. Blair was offered an extraordinary opportunity. He's a talented young man, brilliant in many ways and I thought...well...thought he'd be an example of the quality of doctoral candidates currently at Rainier. I...I...suppose I'm starting to feel some guilt that I helped put Blair in the line of someone's fire, Detective Ellison. I hope that my desire to show off the cream of Rainier's talented output didn't make Blair a target. I'm very concerned."

"I appreciate your concern. But whoever is responsible for this harassment is the only one or ones who should feel guilt, Dean Wilcox. But they'll be the last ones who do," Jim offered to her seemingly sincere admission. "I do have one other question, Ma'am. You spoke of two conflicting rumors about Blair going around the campus. One was obviously the he and I were a couple. What was the other?"

" goodness. There had been a rumor that Blair'd had a fling with one of the students. A Tami Schmitt. A beautiful girl. I'm not sure where the rumor started or why. I called her in a while back to check on it and the girl was down right embarrassed. Told me nothing had happened between her and Mr. Sandburg. That he'd been counseling her because of a personal problem she was having and that she trusted his opinion. But she wouldn't elaborate. I took her word for it. She didn't seem like she was lying and I had no evidence of misconduct on Blair's part."

"Thank you for your cooperation, Ma'am. If you can help out with those names...." He let the last hang deliberately and hoped that guilt she was feeling would speed up the process.

"I'll see what I can do, Dectective, but we do have to be careful, you know."

Boy, don't I know. You don't know the half of it, lady.

Jim hung up after a polite goodbye. Blair was still watching him and he turned to face his partner.

"Well? What did she say?" Blair asked anxiously.

Instead of answering, Jim asked his own question. "Who is Tami Schmitt?"

"Tami? She's a student. Why?" Blair asked with that same anxiousness. "You have nothing to be jealous about, man," the young man added. "I swear it."

"Fine, Sandburg. But what was going on with her that had rumors going around about you two?"

"Oh that. You know that was just a rumor?"

"I'm sure it was, Blair," Jim said with stoic patience.

Blair frowned. "Actually, Jim, she had a pretty rotten problem. Her boyfriend was abusing her, shoving her around, bullying her, intimidating her. Then he started getting really physical. She had bruises. She needed some guidance. Some support. I told her to dump him. Get away from him. Anything cause the abuse would only get worse."

"So, did she?"

"Leave him? Yeah, when the jerk threatened her. She was really scared of him by then."

"Is he a student?"

"Yeah, last time I noticed. In fact, he's an anthropology student. Third year, I think. The guy's got a real attitude. I had him in a class last year. Smart, but full of himself. A real prep sort. Family has money. You know the kind. Fraternity snobs."

Jim nodded, knowledging just the type Blair was referring to. "So what's the name, Chief?"

"Uh...Man...Mansford. Eric Mansford. I don't have him in any classes this semester so I haven't kept close tabs on him except to make sure Tami's doing all right."

"She still going to Rainier?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah. She just hangs with a different crowd now. Stays away from Mansford and his bunch. She got a restraining order against him there for a while. I thought the whole thing had blown over after that." Blair gave him a scrutinizing once over. "You think what happened with Tami is connected to this harassment?"

"I don't know, but it's an angle. I do want to talk to Ms Schmitt though. I'd like to get a better feel for Mr. Mansford. Perhaps we need to get the young man's fingerprints as well."

Blair nodded in reluctant agreement and Jim could see that the thought of Mansford being involved made his partner rather nervous.

Chapter 15

"You said that Sandburg would be history! You said he'd be thrown off campus, Professor!" Eric was so mad he could kill something at the moment. Yes, he and the others had humiliated Blair Sandburg about as publicly as possible, but what had it gained them in the end?

Goddamned fucking nothing, that's what. Sandburg still had his job, his doctoral studies, still had Dean Wilcox's sympathy, it appeared. Man, that little bastard must be a hell of a fuck to manage to wiggle out of this one with nothing even close to a censure, let alone a dismissal.

"I am as disappointed as you are, Eric," Professor Fletcher said, trying to sooth him. But Eric didn't want to be sooth. He wanted Sandburg to burn in hell. "I'm appalled at this turn of events. I was just so certain, those slides would be enough to destroy Sandburg's reputation on this campus as well as in the science community. It seems some are far more tolerant than we dreamed. But don't be so sure that there won't be far reaching ramifications to Sandburg's career. An outed gay professor may have trouble finding a position at any respectable university. I think perhaps Dean Wilcox may yet come to her senses once she sees the extent of damage done by Sandburg's sexual orientation and it's display on screen."

"I don't want to wait, Professor," Eric hissed. A haze of red slid over his eye sight and Eric would have given almost anything to have Blair Sandburg's neck between his fingers so that he could squeeze the life from the little Jew fairy. "I want to see his destruction right now. I want to see him hurt right now!"

"Eric, please calm down," Fletcher said, still trying to sooth him. "I understand your feelings. Really I do----"

"No you don't!" Eric pointed his finger at the Professor like a man pointing a sharp blade. "He stole my girl then dumped her for some butch cop that fucks his ass every night. He makes me sick and I want him punished. You promised me he'd be punished!"

"I thought that he would be," Fletcher offered imploringly and that only made Eric Mansford madder.

What a fucking wimp! What had he seen in this old geezer? A mentor?! God. That made him sick too.

"And he has been publicly humiliated, Eric," Fletcher continued in that snobby voice that was starting to get on Eric's nerves. "That is damaging. Now, at least, this city knows what he is as well as the rest of his anthropological peers world wide.

"That's not enough," Eric hissed, the venom of his words enough to make fear spark in Fletcher's eyes and the man took an involuntary step backwards away from him even though a desk lay between them. "I want him punished. I want his pain."

"Eric, stop it! We need to regroup. We need to call the others and rethink our stategy. We need to calm down and take a closer look at what has happened. This situation has not gone as we wished for it to. I understand your disappointment and your frustration. But we also don't need to go off and do something rash that we'll regret. We have time to deal with Mr. Blair Sandburg. Give me time to think of some other way to achieve our goal. Don't do anything foolish, Eric."

Eric took a deep breath and fell into a nearby chair. He raked his fingers back through his perfectly cut blond hair and tried to get a handle on his emotions. But visions of Sandburg screaming in pain, of him smashing his fist into that too pretty face stayed with him, fed his rage and his desire for vengence.

"Okay Professor. I'm calmed down. Happy?"

"Estactic, my dear young man." He heard sarcasm in the Professor's tone and Eric laughed a harsh brittle laugh. "There is always more than one way to any end and violence may be one of those ways. But subtlety is just so much more satisfying and we don't wish to be caught, now do we? Now, that would be detremental to our careers, wouldn't it?"

Eric let a smile pull at the corner's of his mouth, a smile meant to eleviate fear and anxiety and hide his true intentions. "Of course, you're right as always, Professor. I just needed to vent some anger. I just wanted to see Sandburg sent packing in total disgrace. We'll get the guys together and do a little brainstorming over our next move."

Fletcher smiled back, obviously relieved at what sounded like a more reasonable course of action. "Yes, soon. But let's let things die down a bit. Again, lets not let the police find anything worth pursuing and then we can formulate another plan of attack. In the end, we shall drive Mr. Sandburg away. I'm certain of it, my boy. Take my word for it."

Eric stood and headed for the office door. "Oh, I will...take your word for it. Slow and steady and all that." Fletcher nodded sagely and Eric managed to get out the door without snarling back at the man.

Oh yeah, slow and steady my ass. It's just about time to turn up the heat, to take this harassment to the next level of effectiveness...and satisfaction.

"So what happened, Mansford?" Cornell Keane asked, joining his schoolmate in a brisk walk across campus. Read Seymour and Thomas Thaw joined them with that same unasked question on their faces.

"Nothing fucking happened. Goddamnit! Didn't you read the posting? It's up on every bulletin board, in every building on campus. That cock sucking bitch Wilcox made a statement to the press this morning that the University isn't holding Sandburg responsible for the slides. Goddamnit! I could kill that little bastard."

"Hey, Mansford, relax, man. You're going to give yourself a stroke," Seymour offered. "So we didn't win. It's not that big a deal anyway. It was fun. We humiliated Sandburg and that cop boyfriend of his. It's over. Done deal."

Eric stopped his long stride and stared at Read with all the fire of his rage burning bright. "Nothing is over," he said through teeth clenched so hard that his jaw throbbed with a pounding pulse. "Nothing is over till I say it's over. Until I see Sandburg off this campus permanently, not some fucking leave of absence, it's not over. He's going down, guys. Sandburg is going to go down hard and he's going to stay down where I put him."

"You're talking crazy, Eric," Seymour replied. "We can't keep this harassment up. Finals are coming up fast and if I don't make the grade, my dad is going to have my ass in a sling. I don't want to be working some pizza joint this summer because I pissed off my old man."

"And the cops are hot to catch us, Eric," Cornell offered. "I got stopped by the cops and asked a bunch of questions cause Old Lady Rogers saw me backstage before Sandburg's speech."

Eric noticed Thaw had said nothing. Just watched them all with that thin smile of his, listening. He liked that in Thaw, but also wanted to know what was always going on in that brain of his.

"Look. I don't give a rat's ass about finals. That's not a problem. I've got one thing on my priority list and that's taking Sandburg down and putting him in his place."

"What did Professor Fletcher say?" Thaw finally asked. "He have any suggestions on how or if to proceed?"

"No ifs! We proceed."

One eyebrow lifted and Eric felt like he'd been insulted without Thaw saying a word.

"You got a problem with that, Thaw?"

"I have no problem whatsoever finishing this anyway you like, Eric," Thomas Thaw said without fear and with a nonchalance that Eric didn't understand.

What the hell made this guy tick? Eric knew why he wanted to hurt Sandburg, but what made Thaw so accommodating? Was the man just naturally sadistic? If so, Eric liked that thought He could use someone with a sadistic nature for what he had in mind for Sandburg. Thaw would help him do what these other two wimps were afraid to do...go all the way. Do the dirty deed. Make Sandburg pay for any and all insults and slights that had ever been pointed his way.

Who cared if Sandburg knew what any of this was about? Who cared if the little son-of-a-bitch know why Eric had come to hate the teaching fellow? Sandburg simply represented everything Eric hated in life...too good, too nice, too fucking pretty. Too fucking good at whatever Sandburg wanted to do or be.

"Tom," Keane said. "Don't encourage him. He's way over the top. We are all going to get busted if we don't stop this now. I am out, guys."

"Me too," Read said. "I'm done with this mess. Let's just forget it. Be happy with what you've done to him, Eric. Sandburg's been punished for taking Tami away from you. But hey, let's, at least, be honest about it. You lost her yourself. You shouldn't have started hitting her. Sandburg didn't have to take her from you, she ran away from you as fast as she could go."

"Shut up!" Eric snarled. His fists came up and only Thaw's hand on his arm kept him in check. "You shut your face up, Seymour, before I shut it for you. Tami was mine. She had no right to leave me. And Sandburg had no right to give her a place to go."

"You're pathetic, Eric. Man...." Read offered in return. "I'm outta here."

Read turned away from Eric and Cornell turned to go with Read.

"You're not walking away from this, you bastards," Eric hissed after them. "If I go down, I swear I'll take you both down with me. You hear that you goddamned traitors! Then I'll come looking for you."

Read gave him a clipped dismissive wave, but Keane glanced behind, chewing on his lower lip in apparent distress.

"Yeah, be afraid, guys. You say a word to anyone about this and I'll come looking for you."

"Eric," Cornell said from twenty feet away, walking backwards away from him and Thaw. "Please let it go. It's not worth it, man. Enough."

Then Keane turned away and ran to catch up with Read Seymour.

Enough? Of course, it wasn't enough. Sandburg had bled so little, had hurt so little in comparison to what Eric had imagined the man would. A little public humiliation and a few busted Peruvian pots wasn't enough. A little cut on the hand and messed up office door wasn't enough.

"Eric, leave them. They'll only get in the way. We have plans to make. We're the only ones to see this through to the end. Fletcher won't help either, I can tell you that now."

"Yeah. You're probably right. But I wanted them to see. I wanted them to know how good revenge can be."

Thaw leaned closer. "They were only playing at this like a children's game, my friend. The heat is on, so now they want take their toys and go home. But this is when the game gets good. When the pressure is on. When the stakes have risen so high and the odds are better than even. That's what separates the men from the boys as the saying goes."

Eric gazed on his partner in revenge, the only one to stick with him, to share his vision. He didn't really care if he understood Thaw, just needed to know how to use the man to meet his desires. Thaw might have his own agenda, one Eric had no idea of, but that was all long as they desired the same outcome. They could make this work without any of the others and their wishy washy constitutions. Thaw's goal was his goal. Sandburg's pain...and Sandburg's downfall.

Chapter 16

Blair couldn't believe they had gotten through the day without so much as a punch thrown. Jim had snarled at a few people who had backed off rather quickly. And he'd even managed the men's room a time or two without supervision. Mostly, the other officers pretended not to stare at them and whispered, sometimes in stage whisper loud enough for him to hear their opinions of other people's relationships...namely theirs. Those that whispered more softly just didn't know that Jim was quietly putting them in either the friend or foe catagory. At least, Jim was taking names first, not after the shooting stopped.

Overall, Blair thought the day had gone okay. Yet, the nagging feeling that there should be a second verse to this ditty made him nervous, anxious to keep his eyes open and ears tuned to trouble. He knew Jim was doing just that.

"Not too bad a day, gentlemen," Simon offered from his office door. "Could have been much worse. In fact," a concerned expression crossed the captain's face. "Makes me wonder why it wasn't. God, I hope this wasn't the lull before the storm."

"Maybe they're just all too chicken shit to face us, Simon," Jim offered. "Maybe they all do better just whispering insults and slander behind our backs."

Jim let a benign smile cross his face and Blair knew there was nothing benign about Jim's current mood. His partner had been keeping him out of harm's way all day, keeping him from hearing the sick, nasty remarks that Jim heard so easily. Blair thought it must be eating Jim up inside. He knew how much those painfully deliberate comments hurt Jim when those words came from people he thought of as friendly if not necessarily close friends.

Yeah, Jim had his own share of personality conflicts with some in the station, but mostly Jim must have thought of his co-workers as comrades-in-arms. That nothing except extreme circumstance would divide them as a unit put together to combat crime. Now that closely held ideal had turned to dust simply because James Ellison'd had the gall to love a man.

Simon sighed with an apparent weariness. "I know all this is painful Jim----"

"I don't care what any of them think," Jim interrupted with a dismissive throw of his head towards the door to the hallway.

Blair glanced around the bullpen. Not many day personnel were around, most having already left for the day. The few second shift workers were mostly out and about doing errands around the building.

"Don't pull that attitude with me, Ellison," Simon shot back. "You care enough. I know you do. Just try to let the shock wear off and maybe we can get things back to something akin to normal around here. You did good today. If you and Sandburg want to hit the street tomorrow, go ahead. Maybe we all overreacted."

"I don't think so, sir, but I would rather be out doing my job than sitting around here listening to people make my lovelife sound like something out of Hustler magazine."

Simon grimaced and Blair shifted his gaze away when the captain tried to make eye contact.

"I'm sorry, Jim. I wish I could make it all go away, but you knew there would be consequences when you two decided to pursue this kind of relationship."

"Yeah, well. So much for America being a free country. So much for the pursuit of happiness unless it falls into to someone else's moralistic view," Jim said. "We're heading out if you don't need us anymore tonight, sir."

"Go on. I've got to get that last report out. Looks like another half hour's worth of work. See you in the morning."

Blair grabbed his jacket and handed Jim's to him.

"You doing okay, babe?" Jim asked in a low murmur as they headed to the elevator. A few uniformed officers watched them go by with nothing, but hard gazes that bordered on sneers.

Blair watched Jim throw a glare back at them, meeting each stare for stare, daring any of them to utter one single word of malice or insult. Blair forced a smile and tugged on Jim's arm.

"Yeah...sure...peachy if it wasn't for the stare brigade. I'm just glad this day is over."

"Me too, Chief," Jim sighed and relinquished his dare. "Me too."

The garage was quiet with second shift already in place and most of first shift having already left for the day. Blair was just as happy not to have to deal with anyone else right then.

"What do you want to do for dinner, Jim?" he asked, hefting his backpack up on his shoulder. That laptop could really get heavy once the day wore on. Three text books added a hefty weight as well. "I'll cook if you want to stop by the store. We really need to do some shopping."

"I'm up for just about anything," Jim offered innocently enough.

Blair grinned. "Well, I knew that, Jim. But what do you want for dinner?"

Jim shook his head and groaned. "You are insatiable, Sandburg."

"Like you aren't."

Jim's hand grabbing his arm hard jerk Blair back to the moment. "We've got company, Chief."

Blair glanced up, his gaze searching for an assault. And standing around Jim's truck were four men. All big. All in street clothes. But Blair knew their faces. One worked Evidence, one worked in the Narcotics office, the two others, Patrol. At least a couple of them had been in the group that had demonstrated their non-existent musical skills this morning with a mocking rendition of Tchaikovsky.

"Oh man, so much for a peaceful exit," Blair muttered. "What are we going to do?"

"We're going to get into the truck and we are going home. And if anyone tries to stop us, I'll put their face into the concrete."

"Excuse us," Jim said, dragging his keys out of his pocket and pretending that the four men weren't about to give them trouble.

" problem, Ellison," one said stepping back to reveal a long deep scratch along the side of Jim's truck. "Looks like someone's keys got caught on your paint job though."

"Oh man, how juvenile can you get?" Blair hissed.

He saw Jim chew the inside of his jaw and Blair knew his partner was about to blow.

"So...any of you guys see who did it? Or will I need to check the security tapes to find out?" Jim's temper was momentarily contained, waiting for just the right remark to set him off swinging.

Blair hadn't moved around to the passenger side of the truck. He stood near the hood and waited to see how Jim was going to handle the coming confrontation, for indeed, there would be one. He knew he didn't stand much of a chance against experienced cops, but he was in direct line of sight of one of the garage's security cameras.

"Funny, ya know we didn't see a thing, did we guys?" the man said.

The others shook their heads, adding murmurs of agreement.

"Not a friggin' thing, bud,' another said, the one from Evidence that Blair knew didn't like him anyway. One named Stan Geralds, he thought. The man stared at him, not Jim, staring a hole right into him with watery gray eyes that reflected disgust and a hatred that had only needed a bit of fuel to fire up that malicious stare.

Blair summed him up with a thought, overly macho with a thick mustache and military haircut. Worked out more than necessary, bulked up to a point of being unattractive to those of decerning tastes. The man was no taller than Jim, but broader...and slower, Blair hoped.

"And, ya know what else? There's a blind spot right about here where we're standing. Camera won't have picked up a thing. Looks like you're just tough outta luck, Ellison."

Jim's stance turned nonchalant, casual to the chance observer, but Blair knew better. Jim was trying to draw them off their game, take them off guard. Blair wondered if it would work or if he was about to be beaten to a pulp in the Cascade PD garage.

"Ya know, Adams," Jim said and Blair remembered then the man's name. Greg Adams, a patrolman who as of Friday Blair would have said was a fairly decent sort of guy. "Let's stop playing games right now, cause we're not going to play by your rules. I know one of you did it and Sandburg's right. Pretty juvenile stuff. Why don't you boys just go play your games elsewhere before one of you gets hurt? And, I'll send you the bill for the paint job."

"Like hell, Ellison," Adams snarled. "You think you can come waltzing in here today after what we found out about you and that little hippy boyfriend of yours? You think we're just going to sit back and let you two fucking gayboys run around here free and clear, you've got another thing coming. You can just go find some other PD, somewhere they tolerate your kind. Maybe San Franscico."

"We're not going anywhere, Adams," Jim replied in a tone so deadly, Blair almost took a step backwards from it. "You and all the rest are going to keep your noses out of our business. You're going to do your job and I'm going to do mine. That's how this is going to go down if you boys know whats good for you. And if a single solitary person even flinches towards Blair with a thought of violence, I'll be all over him like a bad suit. And you'll be the first one I come looking for, bully boy."

"You're full of tough words, Ellison," another one of them said, coming around to double team Jim. The fourth moved to put Blair between the man and Geralds. "Tough, but empty. Looks like we really need to teach you fairy boys a lesson or two."

Blair backed away, trying to find room to run. He didn't stand a chance between these two big bruisers. They'd crush him like an ant on a picnic blanket. "Hey, we don't need to do this, fellas," Blair said in his most soothing of the beast tone. "The security camera is right there, picking up this entire exchange. It won't take them long to see the scenario go suddenly violent."

"Kids got a point, but then, you don't got no friends here, pretty boy. Who's going to care if we beat the crap out of you?" Geralds said, taking a menacing step towards Blair.

"I will," Jim said and drove a fist into Adams' face. Jim followed that up with a blow to the stomach and another to the back of the neck. Adam's went down like a rock, moaning in gasping wheezes.

Blair swung his backpack at the man reaching for him, knocking the cop off balance. But behind him, the other caught him by the shoulder, swinging him around. His backpack went skidding away and the man's fist smashed into his cheekbone like a piledriver. He careened backwards, trying hard to keep from falling. But stars shot across his darkened vision and threatened to shut down his senses.

A strong grip caught him and twisted his arms up high against his back. Pain like lightening shot up into his shoulders until Blair thought his arms were about to break. But the new pain dragged him from the brink of unconsciousness and he managed to use leverage to kick out at the man coming at him. That lasted for only a moment when Geralds twisted even harder and Blair went to his knees from the blossoming agony of his arms nearly being torn out of the sockets.

A hand wound in his hair and Blair looked up just in time to see a fist coming hard at him. He jerked sideways in spite of the pain and the fist clipped him in the mouth instead of likely breaking his jaw. Blood met his tongue and he swallowed down the metallic taste.

Abruptly, Geralds let him go and the fingers wound in his hair yanked hard at him. Blair fell forward, the palms of his hands scraping across concrete to prevent him from hitting face first. Pain raced up through his arms to his shoulders and he cried out. Through a roaring in his ears, he heard a rush of feet and heard Simon's welcome bellow. A shuffle of steps sounded around him, then hands touched his shoulder. Blair flinched then realized the hands were Jim's. He pushed up to his knees with his cheek throbbing and blood trickling down his chin. His palms stung, but the burning in his shoulders had eased to a dull glow of embers.

"Are you okay, Chief?" Jim asked with a grave concern. His partner's fingers lifted his chin to survey the damage. Jim wasn't even breathing hard though a small cut bled minimally just above the left eyebrow. "Anything broken, baby?"

"I...I don't think so." He licked his lips and grimaced at the taste of that much blood. "Oh man, this is the pits. Right up there with being shocked by a slide projector."

He let Jim help him to his feet and he heard Simon's angry voice demanding an explanation.

"Ellison started it. He threw the first punch," Adams said, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Jesus, he sounds like a schoolyard bully trying to get himself out of trouble," Blair muttered in disgust.

"Yeah, Chief, cause that's what they are. Bullies."

"Detective Ellison? You care to explain your side? They say you threw the first punch and even Sandburg there swung first."

Jim gave Blair a long-suffering glance then looked to his captain. "I suppose technically, they're right, sir. I felt threatened and felt they were threatening Blair. One of them damaged my truck."

"You can't prove that, Ellison," Adams stated adamantly. "You can't prove nothin'."

"And their grammar is atrocious, sir. I stand on principle, if not on decorum," Jim said without even cracking a smile.

Blair could have laughed. Wanted to laugh cause he didn't want this to be real.

Simon almost spit out his cigar, but gripped the unlit thing between clenched teeth. The captain gave them a weary shake of the head and turned to the others. "If I wasn't in such a mood to get out of here, I'd haul the lot of you upstairs and make you sit in a room together until you made nice or killed each other. And I wouldn't care which. So get out of here Adams, Geralds. You too Hurd and take Gardner there with you. He looks like he might need a ride home. And if I hear of any of you giving my people trouble again, I'll have IA after your asses so fast you'll be trying to figure out where your badges went." Simon gave them his sternest, meanest look, sending the officers slinking away between the cars in the garage.

"You shouldn't have thrown the first punch, Jim? We could have gotten them on battery."

"I couldn't take that chance, Simon. Blair usually can hold his own, but I figured with four cops, he'd have trouble taking on two of them." Jim's hand came out to caress Blair's shoulder and pull him closer. "They busted his lip and he's going to have a black eye as it is."

"And what's this with you swinging first, Sandburg?" Simon asked, handing Blair his backpack. "Mr. Talk It Out."

"They weren't listening and I just swung my pack at Geralds when he came at me. He sure as hell wasn't going to give me a friendly hug, Simon. I was defending myself and so was Jim."

"I know, but technically...."

"Fuck technically," he muttered back and moved around to the passenger side. "Goddamned son- of-a-bitches!"

"What is it?" Jim asked striding around to Blair's side.

"Another scratch the length of the back panel is all. "Son-of-a-bitchin' bastards."

"Simon," Jim said with that deadly tone. "I'm not putting up with this shit."

"Jim, come on, buddy. Hang in there and don't let them get to you. Don't let them provoke you into doing something you'll regret. We'll get through this. I'll report their behavior to their superiors in the morning and see if I can get some cooperation going. Go home. Take it easy and put some ice on that eye, Sandburg."

"Yeah, like that will help make this day go away or this week." Blair climbed into the truck and leaned his head back. Closing his eyes, he felt the rumble of the truck ease out some of his trepidition and they left the PD garage behind and a world of trouble that would be waiting for them again in the morning.

Chapter 17

Jim moved around the loft, turning off lights and checking the security system. He wondered where his anger had disappeared to, wondered why this insanity had invaded their lives and put such stress on their newly expressed love for each other. He and Blair had enough differences between them to make their relationship sometimes on the stormy side, but he loved Blair with a passion that made his heart constrict with the thought of not pursuing their love. He had wanted things to turn out so very differently and a feeling of being out of control, his life being out of his control made Jim edgy and tired at the same time.

Don't take it out on Blair though, he told himself. Don't put that guilt and blame on the one you love. Blair felt bad enough about what had happened, what was happening. No. Jim blamed the narrow-minded dirtbags of the world with their self-righteous moralizing about right and wrong.

Too bad, he told the demons. Too bad. You don't get to decide what is right and wrong about my loving Blair.

Anything that felt this good in his life, that made his otherwise empty life fill with such joy and goodness could not be wrong in any way. And that was so much of what Blair gave to him on a daily basis.

He stood at the base of the staircase, hearing Blair finishing in the bathroom. He waited for the pat of Blair's bare feet on wood floors and the rustle of cotton boxers against skin warm and so inviting to the touch.

"You waiting for me, Jim?" Blair's eyes sparked with a light only Jim could see and that luscious mouth pulled into a soft smile. He saw Blair wince and touch a finger to his lip. And in the darkness Jim could so easily see the dark bruise around Blair's left eye. The ice had kept the swelling down thankfully.

"Yeah, sweetheart. Come on. Let's go to bed."

Blair came to him and wrapped an arm around his waist, his lover's fingers hot against his bare side. The smaller man leaned into him and started up the stairs. But Jim stopped Blair and their gazes met on the same level, eye to eye. Jim let his hands roam up Blair's arms to run fingers through those mass of dark curls.

"I love you, Blair. I love you no matter what happens or what's happened. I just want you to know that and that I want us to work hard through this so we don't lose each other."

Blair smiled again and Jim felt his lover's hands slide up and down his arms in soft caresses. He loved his tactile senses perhaps the most.

"I love you too, Jim. No matter what. I can't say that I'm not upset or mad or hurt or a hundred other emotions and feelings rampaging through my psyche right now, but my love for you is unquestionable. It's undeniable. And we can't let the bullies of the world win, Jim. I can let a lot of things go, but I hate bullies. And I won't tolerate being bullied by the likes of them."

"Then we're in agreement."

"Yeah, I'd say so, sweetcakes."


Blair laughed. "I just can't pull those little endearments off the way you can, Jim."

"That's okay, baby. You saying my name is an endearment to me."

"You are such a romantic, Ellison. What am I going to do with you?"

Jim leaned closer, pulling Blair to him in a fierce embrace. "It's not what you're going to do with me, sweetcakes. It's what I'm going to do to you."

"Oh yeah, I like it when you get all possessive, Jim. Within reason, of course."

"Reason has nothing to do with possession," Jim growled low in his throat. He pulled Blair's mouth to his, the kiss deep as the ocean's depth and as hot as the sun's core.

A need for breath parted them and the heat of their attraction nearly melted Jim on the spot. He wrapped an arm around Blair's shoulder and the pair made a slow deliberate ascent.

"God, I'm an idiot," Jim said with a sudden realization. "Did I hurt your mouth, baby?"

"I'm okay. Don't worry. He didn't hit me that hard."

"I could break every bone in those assholes' bodies for what they did to you."

"Jim. Don't. Please. Not here. Let's keep them out of our bedroom." Jim watched Blair slide out of his boxers and climb up to kneel on the bed, looking for all the world like a model for one of those classic Greek statues. "We've got better things to do than think about a couple of bullies...don't we?" With a tilt of the head, Blair's innocent visage left Jim breathless.

"Oh my god. What were we talking about?"

"Us, Jim. We were talking about how much we love each other and how you intend to possess me tonight. I need you. I want you. I love you."

"Oh my god," Jim repeated and dragged off his boxers. He climbed onto the bed and knelt in front of Blair. He would have worshiped this beautiful young man if Blair would have let him.

He reached out first to his lover's face, touching ever so gently to the bruised cheek, tracing a line and wishing he could take away that pain, take away that memory. He watched Blair's eyes close slowly, mouth opening slightly with a little sucked in breath. His other hand moved up to do the same, caress the smooth skin around the eyes and across the forehead. His fingers trailed down to the slightest stubble along jaw and chin. His fingers traced exquisite lips, marred only by a bully's bad attitude and Blair kissed his finger, showing him that his young beautiful lover feared no pain from him.

With a loving caress, Blair's eyes dug into his soul, blue eyes that sought out his heart and his deepest desires. Blair had a way of stripping him of preconceived expectations and each time he and Blair joined, the experience never repeated itself, never felt the same, never felt like anything he'd ever experienced before in his life.

He remembered wanting that with his ex-wife and that neither he nor Carolyn had known how to make that happen. With Carolyn, the loving became duty then died all together in a barren field of common disinterest. Blair, who knew more about sexual ritual than anyone Jim had ever known, had taught him the difference between sex and lovemaking, then turned control over to him in complete trust and love.

Jim let his hands move up to push hair back away from Blair's face, pushing strands of curls behind his partner's ears to reveal a line of luscious neck and small hoop earrings dangling delicately, glistening in the faint glow of night.

A moan escaped him and Jim bent close, mouth seeking out his lover's hot skin just behind the ear. He nibbled and licked and Blair leaned into his tentative embrace, whimpering in blissful delight. He stroked Blair's shoulder and down the smaller man's back and Jim's mouth moved to claim those lips that gave him a pleasure so intense, so singular that Jim doubted that he could remain sane throughout the loving.

They made eye contact often and Jim liked that, liked that their loving didn't embarrass them or make them bashful with each other. They had been friends before this new physical relationship had emerged and Jim refused to let go of the comfort of that friendship, knew that the friendship had lead them to this place in their lives and the trust they had put in each other. Jim didn't like, had never liked depending on another person. Depending meant giving up control. Blair had taught him that too, if not reluctantly on his part, that depending on another person wasn't giving up control, it was adding another dimension to that control.

The kiss deepened and extended. Jim nearly came off the bed when Blair's hands slid down his chest and stroked his erection with a light touch. The caress sent his senses sailing skyward and Jim had to rein them in, pull back and concentrate on the array of experiences his senses offered him; the taste of Blair, the smell of his mate and the feel of hot skin beneath his hands. He pulled Blair closer, chest to chest and he felt his lover's warmth inviting him in, drawing him in and their groins pressed together, moving against each other in a slow rhythm that matched the languid speed of their kisses.

With a expert move, Jim rolled them to the bed's comfort, rolled Blair under him and he held his lover down the way he knew Blair loved, massaging muscles, caressing skin, groins still doing that languid dance between them.

His partner's lips, those full sweet lips, slipped down to Jim's neck and he felt his cock kick into overdrive from the tiny nibbles and licks, those lips again kissing their way to his shoulder and back up to his ear. He wound his fingers into Blair's hair and proceeded to return the favor.

Blair moved beneath him like the flow of a river, moved like a runner to meet his need for full body contact. Blair had come to know his body like no one had ever bothered to know it before. His lover knew the places that made him squirm, knew the parts that made him growl and buck. Blair knew his wants and desires and needs like no other person had ever tried to know him before. And Jim loved Blair for that deliberately sought out knowledge if for no other reason. Though lots of others reasons reared their heads at that thought.

"Would you ride me tonight, baby?" Jim asked in a whisper into Blair's ear. He pulled back and looked his lover in the eyes.

Blair's smile was as sensual as it was mischievious. "You know I'll give you anything you want, Jim. I love doing that for you. And I love making love like that."

"You love making love any way we do it, you insatiable little sex fiend."

Blair laughed. "As if you're not, Jim."

Jim smiled, gazing into blue eyes with a depth of love and passion that might have drowned him if he hadn't known how to swim. But best of all, Blair gazed back with that same smile, searching and finding the same depth of love and passion in his own eyes.

They rolled again and Blair landed on top, laid out along the length of Jim's body like a furred blanket.

Jim let his hands roam over Blair's back and sides, squeezed his lover's butt cheeks in rough, wanting caresses. Their lips anchored again and Jim's hand in Blair's hair held his lover to him, devouring, passion building and reaching a new higher level of excitment.

As if sensing Jim's arousal heightening almost to explosion, Blair pushed back, giving Jim's cock time to settle down again. Jim's breath came hard and he fought to calm his senses.

Blair straddled him across the knees, watching him with a seductive gaze. Jim nodded when all was within his control again. He watched Blair gather the tube of lubrication, taking time opening the container and spreading out a generous amount on his fingers. Then those expert hands moved to stroke him and Jim groaned in need and desire.

"Turn the dial down a little, Jim," Blair said in a low sultry voice. "Control is yours. You can make the experience last, ride the sensation, but you have the control. I want you to enjoy all of it...and all of me."

"Oh...god," Jim gasped, but followed Blair's direction, knowing Blair had never failed him when it came to helping him control his senses. "I've got it, sweetheart."

"Good," Blair offered in that same voice. "You are so good, Jim."

Then Blair moved up his body and he felt the cool lubrication on his fingers, knowing what Blair needed from him. Bending over him, Blair's lips nestled against his neck, kissing again with those bites and licks that made Jim half crazy.

Jim slid a hand along Blair's cock and gave the balls a quick squeeze. He slid a slick finger into Blair's hole and felt his partner moan into his neck. Another finger in, driving in with quick little thrusts got him a bite behind his ear and another nearly to the back of his neck. A third finger had Blair sucking hard on the same spot and Jim had to dial down again just to remain steady.

"You're ready as you'll ever be, baby," Jim sighed into Blair's ear and slipped his fingers out. "Go for it when you're ready, Chief."

"I'm always ready for you, Jim," Blair sighed back and pushed up to a sitting position again.

Blair's fingers raked his chest and pinched at his nipples, mouth moving down again to suck each to an aroused peak. Then Blair positioned himself, holding Jim's cock steady behind him and sat back, impaling himself on Jim's hard length in one long driving stroke.

Jim heard Blair's grunt and hiss, knew the initial pain of penetration. He had felt it a few times, had let go of control on occassion for Blair. But mostly, Blair let him have his way and this was the way he wanted it.

He let Blair settle down and grow comfortable with their position and that initial pain fell away from Blair's expressive face and taut body until Jim saw only pleasure in Blair's hooded gaze.

Jim watched Blair's cock resurge and he reached to stroke it back to full erection, glad that his lover hadn't lost that pleasure for the whole night. He wanted Blair's pleasure just as much as he wanted his own. That was important to Jim, that Blair not do all the giving and he all the receiving.

He stroked and Blair moaned, the younger man lifting a little, sliding up and back down on Jim's rock hard cock. His dick felt like granite, the thing so hard and throbbing with such a need, he wanted to make Blair rise and slam back down on him with this need to explode. But once again, Jim dialed his senses down. His coming this soon would be a disappointment to both of them, anitclimatic to say the least.

He continued to stroke his lover's cock, caressed his lover's balls and Blair arched back to give Jim more access. Jim slid his knees up. Blair leaned back into the support and used Jim's thighs to aid his pumping thrusts.

"Kiss me," Jim ordered and Blair leaned forward eagerly, mouth meeting his and tongue dancing against his with controlled abandon. He kissed around to Blair's neck and with a growl so primal and primitive, Blair tensed in his arms. But Jim held on, murmuring soothing words of love, yet used his strength and leverage to hold Blair to him. Soon Blair relaxed again into his embrace and Jim let his lover push up once more to sit.

Blair's face was flushed, breath rather ragged. The cascade of curls were in complete disarray, but Jim liked that. He brushed his fingers down Blair's chest to rub his young lover's nipples, plucking and pulling at them till on the verge of pain. Blair's eyes closed and mouth opened and the ride became harder. Jim's hands went to Blair's hips, the need taking over control.

"Jim...Jim, please. I need your...hand on me. Stroke me...please."

Jim relinguished his need to give relief to his lover. He stroked Blair hard, one hand working Blair's cock while the other squeeze his lover's balls and moved up to pinch a nipple over and over again.

Blair practically sobbed, the young man's body shivering, tight with building orgasm. With head thrown back and eyes closed in concentration, Blair moved up and down, stroking Jim in return with that tight silk lining of muscle.

Jim watched in fascination, the beauty of his lover's face, fine white teeth digging without mercy into the lower lip. Jim figured Blair would notice the pain after while. He watched Blair's muscles move under glistening hot skin, felt his lover's cock pulsing with the nearness of coming. Jim squeezed Blair's balls one more time and stroked from root to tip and Blair exploded with a cry of delightful abandonment.

He flung his dial up and open wide and Jim hissed through his teeth and growled just to keep from roaring and screaming.

Together they rode the high blinding beam of light, soared with the light-headed floating sensation of exquisite orgasm. Their body's locked in an embrace of sexual fulfillment until Blair lay out on top of Jim.

Jim kissed his lover's damp forehead, ran his fingers through masses of curls. He cupped Blair's chin and brought those most kissable lips up to meet his and they kissed as if each held the last of life giving water.

Jim tasted blood and pulled back to see Blair's lip bleeding.

With a tender touch, Jim wiped away that precious liquid and said, "I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't mean to hurt you."

"You didn't, Jim. We know who did. It's nothing...really. I've had a lot worse."

Jim pulled Blair closer at the thoughts those words invoked. Yes, Blair had suffered worse and often because of him. A few of those memories slapped hard at him and most had names...Lash, Quinn, Maya. He prayed Simon wasn't right about them being lovers interfering with them working together.

Would he spend more time watching Blair, being more aware of the potential of harm? Would he think of Blair before thinking of a victim or hostage? Would Blair distract him from his duty as a police officer?

He wanted so for that not to be true. He'd have to be careful. And Blair deserved better than that from him. His partner had proved himself time and time again to be resourceful and excellent backup even without a gun or a badge.

"I love you, sweetheart," Jim offered to sooth his own soul. "I know you've had worse. But you can take it."

"Yeah, I can take it," Blair echoed his words. "And I love you too."

Chapter 18

"So, should I park out on the street and risk a parking ticket or should I chance the P.D. garage and risk being beaten to a pulp behind a pillar out of the line of sight of the camera?"

Blair posed this question to himself, glancing for the answer in the rearview mirror. He stared for a moment at his reflection and grimaced at the vivid bruise around his eye and cheekbone.

And that pop he had taken in the mouth had broken his tooth as well.

The dentist had tisked him into feeling guilty though she had smiled knowingly at him. It seemed everyone knew about those fucking slides and about him and Jim. And the bill was going to cost him two hundred bucks to boot to have the damned tooth capped.

Now, he just needed to make it to the precinct and up to Major Crimes without another broken tooth or black eye or....

Blair glanced up to his mirror again and a tight fist knotted in the pit of his stomach. Lights flashed and he pulled over only to have the cop pull in behind him.

I was not speeding. What is the deal?

Blair rolled down his window and looked up expectantly at the officer. Out of his peripheral, Blair saw another cop climbing out the passenger side, walking casually enough, but pulling out a nightstick while doing so. All his inner alarms went off, competing with his outward calm. After all he was a police consultant. His credentials would show that.

"Hi," he said to the man behind nasty looking Raybans. The man had a thin line of a mouth and didn't smile. "What seems to be the problem, officer?"

"License and registration...sir." The "sir" came out like an insult.

Blair produced both and watched the man walk back to consult with the other officer, both glancing his way. The same man came back and handed him the documents.

"May I ask why you stopped me, Officer....?" He tried to see the man's badge, a jacket obscuring the name. Blair let his glance wonder along the mostly deserted street and wished the avenue had more traffic this time of day.

The man offered him no help. "Your tail light is smashed in."

"What? It was fine this----" Blair cringed at the sound of glass breaking. "Morning."

"It's not now," the cop said, leaning into his space. "In fact," the man continued to the smashing of more glass, "both tail lights are out...broken."

"I can't believe you guys did that,"Blair said, turning abruptly to see the second cop staring hard at him, tapping the nightstick against a palm like the man was ready to start using it on him. He turned back to the cop at his window with his heart thumping in his throat. "I work with the P.D., officer. In Major Crimes. Just call Captain Simon Banks. And do you really think I won't report this? That you can get away with harassing someone for no reason whatsoever?"

"You don't even know harassment yet, fagboy." The man's tone had turned hard and cold as the polar cap. Hatred and contempt dripped and formed like ice cycles. "Get out of the car." The cop stepped back and made sure Blair saw the gun strapped to the man's hip.

Blair sat and stared, not believing this scenario could be happening to him. This was like something out of a bad movie about some southern town and a speed trap gone terribly wrong.

The other officer stalked towards the driver's side door and yanked it open. "Get out of the car, fairy."

"Okay, okay," Blair offered, hands going up in fear one of these guys would pull a gun and start shooting. Any later explanation would be a moot point if he were dead with a bullet in him. "Look, you don't have any reason to hold me," he said, climbing out of the car slowly. "You don't have any reason to arrest me. Why don't we stop this now before something very bad happens?"

The first man shoved him around and up against the car, frisking him like he'd never been frisked before. A cuff went around his wrist, tightened mercilessly and the man twisted his arms up hard against his back. Another metal ring circled his other wrist, trapping him in a nightmare.

"What charges am I being arrested on? You have to tell me that. I know the law."

They twisted him around and held him against the Volvo with a nightstick across his throat.

"We'll think of something on the way, Sandburg. We figure you'll enjoy a nice little holding cell with about five or six big, sweaty guys who like other guys if that's all they can get. Particularly, ones with long pretty hair and a pretty little body and yours. You like them big, don't you, boy? Like Ellison. You like your ass fucked, don't you, boy?"

"You are not going to get away with this," Blair said through gritted teeth. The nightstick pressed against his adam's apple, cutting his breath in half. He hovered somewhere between rage and terror, walking a fine balance and he teetered back and forth between like a tightrope walker. "You're going to lose your jobs."

"Oh, we are so scared," one said, mockingly. "I'm not worried about it." The man's face swam above his, a mask of contempt that Blair could never...would never understand. "We've got numbers on our side. And we're not going to Central Precinct, sweetheart. We're going to our station. We don't let gayboys work at our station and we don't tolerate your kind. Captain's orders."

Blair stared at the feral smile that crept across the officer's face. They whirled him and dragged him towards the cop car. The rage was giving way to the terror. They could plant drugs on him or in his car. They could trump up any number of charges against him. He had recently read a couple of articles concerning police brutality across the nation, in some of the country's largest cities and some of that brutality had been aimed at gays and lesbians. That worried him and if it wasn't for his connections with Jim and Simon, Blair would be scared shitless. Every city had its share of cops that let their power over others go to their heads. And let their prejudices decide who got justice and who got the shaft.

No reason to panic. He'd just call Jim when they gave him his phone call. He'd call Major Crimes and take no chance of missing Jim. Someone would answer regardless of where Jim was. And, at least, most in Major Crimes would help him.

Imagines flashed before his eyes of men twice his size coming at him in the confines of a claustrophobic cell with intentions that made his stomach do a queasy roll and tumble.

If they gave him a phone call. So far they didn't even have a reason to arrest him. What made him think they would give him his phone call?

The officer shoved him halfway into the back of the police car and Blair saw the nightstick descending, but had no where to go to avoid it. The length of wood slammed into his side, the end then poked hard into his stomach. He fell over onto the seat, gasping for breath.

"A little preventative action, gayboy. I'd say you got belligerent when we pulled you over for speeding. You had two smashed in taillights and you got belligerent about that too."

The stick slammed into Blair's thigh and he cried out with what little breath he had sucked back in.

"We thought maybe you were on some dope. Then you resisted arrest."

The stick struck his shoulder with a sickening crunch and through the haze of red-laced agony Blair feared his collar bone had been broken.

Naomi will be livid when she hears about this, he thought through the pain.

The door slammed shut and Blair stayed as he was, curled up in near fetal position with his wrists cuffed behind him. He heard the two men get in the front seats, felt the car pull away from the curb.

What would they do with his car? What were they going to do with him?

Blair lay on the seat in a tight ball of terror and wondered if this week could possibly get any worse.

Jim glanced at his watch then at the door to Major Crimes for the hundredth time. Blair should have been here a half hour ago. He had waited, not wanting to be fussy, like some old mother hen. He had no idea how long the dentist would take, but three hours seemed a bit much. And Blair had called him from the dentist's office saying he was almost finished. But with Sandburg, almost was far from a definitive term.

Finally, Jim gave it up and dialed his partner's cell phone. The number rang repeatedly and no one answered.

Now he could worry. For Blair Sandburg and that cell phone were seldom parted.

Jim cut the number off and punched in a three number internal code for the Monitoring Station. "Hey, Marsha. Jim Ellison." Thank god, it wasn't one of the women Blair had dated. And Marsha had always been pretty friendly.

"Hey Jim. How are you and Pretty Boy Sandburg doing through all this commotion about you two?" He knew she was kidding around. Being nice in her own way. At least, Jim thought that was what he heard in the woman's voice.

"As well as we can, Marsh. I was wondering though if while you've been on duty today you might have seen Blair's green Volvo pull into the parking garage."

"I've been on for the last four hours, Jim. Unless he snuck by while I was in the little girl's room over an hour ago, Sandburg has not come into the garage via green Volvo or any other method that I can discern."

"Okay, just checking. He's late."

"Sorry to hear that. Hope everything's all right with him. I'll give you a ring if I see him, handsome."

"Thanks, Marsha. You're a doll."

"I know."

He hung up the phone then grabbed it again, trying Blair's cell phone once more. Still no answer.

"Damn," he hissed. "Blair, where are you?"

With a sigh, Jim rose from his desk and strode to Simon's office. With a brisk knock, Jim pushed open the door.

"Simon, you got a minute?"

"Sure, Jim," the captain said, turning from his computer to glance up at him. "What's going on? Where's Sandburg? Thought he'd be done at the dentist by now?"

"That's what I'm worried about. He's late. He's not answering his cell phone."

Simon frowned, but didn't seem overly concerned. "Have you called the dentist to see when he left there?"

"No. Good idea though." He started to return to his desk, his only thought wrapped up in Blair's whereabouts.

"Hey Jim. Here, let me." Simon picked up the phone, apparently sensing his distress. "Rhonda, I need a number for...what's the dentist's name, Jim?"

"Thornton. Mary Thornton. Over on Elm." He moved back into the office, knowing he looked all the world like that mother hen.

Simon turned back to the phone. "A Dr. Mary Thornton. On Elm Street. Get her office on the line, pronto." Simon glanced up with a scowl. "Why does Sandburg's dentist have to be half way across town?"

"She's near the University. Need I say more?"

Simon shook his head then waved Jim quiet. "Yes," the captain said into the receiver. "This is Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department. I'm looking for one of my civilian consultants who had an appointment this morning with Dr. Thornton. Is Blair Sandburg still at your office? Um hum. When did he leave? Okay. Thank you."

Simon hung up with a look that bordered concern, but nothing close to panic. "Did you catch the answers, Jim?"

"Yeah, he left over an hour and a half ago. He should be here, Simon. Something's wrong. I shouldn't have let him go out alone."

"Jim, it's broad daylight. He's a grown man. He can manage the dentist on his own."

"And now he's missing. And there are people after him. Someone who wants to hurt him, Simon. I can't believe I let him go off by himself. I'm going to drive the route he'd most likely take and see if I can figure out what's happened to him."

Simon Banks rolled his eyes and Jim didn't care if Simon thought he was overreacting. Blair wasn't Simon's lover, not the most important person in Simon's life.

"You're going to end up embarrassing one or both of you, Jim,"Simon offered. "It's probably nothing at all."

"No, Simon. It's something. I'd rather be wrong and embarrassed, than right and done nothing about it. I'll call you."

"No, Jim." Simon Banks rose from his chair and grabbed a dark grey suit jacket from a coat hook. "I'm coming with you. If you're wrong, I want to see you talk your way out of this. If you're right, you may need some backup."

Jim gave his superior a grim smile. "Thanks, sir. But I'm not wrong. And I wish I was."

Chapter 19

The 10th Precinct rang with noise, a clattering of chairs against old linoleum and harsh male voices
mostly that spoke obscenities as if those words were a language unto themselves. The 10th had a reputation for being hard and tough and sometimes...dirty. A problem that had yet to be completely fixed by IA apparently.

The two cops that had arrested him dragged Blair through the crowd of uniforms and plain clothes men, deadbeats of every kind and the average criminal element that lurked about a less than picturesque part of the city of Cascade, Washington.

One man had a hard grip on his upper arm, a hold that would leave bruises in the shape of fingers. The other had a tight hold on his hair and jerked him repeatedly just because the man thought he could do it without fear of any repercussion. Blair gritted his teeth and refused to break down, refused to show fear to his enemies.

He was scared all right. He was fucking terrified, but letting these bigoted morons see that fear in his eyes was not an option.

"And what do we have here?" the desk sergeant said when the two officers shoved him up against the counter. "Brought us a little hippy fellow today?"

"Yeah, Sarge. Suspicion of drug use, resisting arrest."

"Did you find any drugs on him?"

One of them, the taller of the two leered down at Blair. "No. But then we haven't done a thorough search just yet."

"I have not been doing drugs," Blair blurted out and should have known better. "I've been falsely arrested, Sergeant."

The big man loomed over the counter and Blair tried to back up. The two cops holding him pushed him forward and held him against the counter.

"And why would my men do something like that, boy? You saying my men are dirty, boy? You saying my men are harassing innocent people?"

Blair stared into brown eyes that had no mercy and held no sympathy. What Blair did see was knowledge. This man knew why he'd been arrested and meant to condone the act.

"Oh god," Blair whispered and he meant it as a prayer to any deity listening just then. "Please."

"You'd best say your prayers cause we don't like people saying things like that about our men here at the 10th. . And we don't like your kind." The sergeant reached out, grabbing Blair's shirt front and dragging him half up on the counter. No one around them stopped to gape or seemed the slightest bit concerned about this kind of manhandling. Just another day on the job at the 10th.
"You brought a good man down with your pretty boy looks and those pretty boy eyes," the man said with a harsh breath on his face. "You turned up that pretty ass to Ellison and he couldn't resist. Made yourself real comfortable there in Major Crimes, didn't you, boy? Well, the rumor is that you do them all right up to the big boy, Banks."

"How can you live with yourselves?" Blair said, truly unable to fathom the contempt and malice being aimed at him by those sworn to protect and defend. "How can you sleep at night with such ugly hatreds? With such self-righteous contempt for another person and still believe you can do the job you were sworn to do?"

The sergeant stared hard at him, the man's grip tightening in Blair's shirt till the action almost cut off his oxygen. With a hard shove, the man sent him back into the unmerciful embraces of his original captors.

"Get him out of my sight. Down to holding. There's a number of cells with fellows who will enjoy this boy's charms for a few hours."

"I want my phone call, sergeant," Blair said as his was dragged away. He struggled to hold the man's gaze, but the sergeant dismissed him without a word. "I want my attorney. I'm a P.D. consultant, damn it. You are not going to get----"

One of his keepers had that dreaded nightstick out again and the blow knocked the wind out of his lungs. Blair doubled over. But they kept going, dragging him by his hair and by his arms. His wrists hurt terribly from the chaffing of the metal cuffs.

He kept his mouth shut for the ride in the elevator, trying to figure out what he was going to do and if there was anything he could do to help himself, but say another prayer.

They dragged him along a row of cells, a dingy corridor of institution green walls and old metal doors, until they found one they liked. Pushing him up against the wall, one of the cops unfastened his cuffs, holding him there until the other, along with the holding cells' supervisor, opened the door.

With a whirl and a hard shove Blair fell into the cell, hitting his knees hard on the concrete floor. He sprawled there a moment, gathering his breath and his courage to look up.

"Enjoy your stay, boy. And hope you like the company," Blair heard one of his tormentors say through the door grating. Harsh laughter fell away, receding down the hall with the sound of fading footsteps.

Blair pushed up and sat, his shoulder throbbing and his thigh as well where the nightstick had landed. He pushed his hair from his face and looked up for the first time.

Three men dressed in biker leathers and stinking of alcohol and sweat, stared at him with bleary gazes. One slowly stood, a man shaved bald on top with a mustache and goatee a strange balance on the man's hard face. Leather creaked, old leather, well worn leather that had seen a lot of road and probably the insides of a lot of jail cells.

Blair sucked in a breath and tried hard not to throw up. He felt sick, but contained the desire to vomit and pushed back till his back met the wall nearest the door. In a cell this size, that wall couldn't possibly be far enough away to suit him.

The man smiled, a grin of pure mischief, of a malice Blair feared was about to be turned on him. The other two came more alert, as if about to go into a feeding frenzy like a pack of wild dogs. All three moved to stand over him and Blair tried to smile, tried to look friendly and harmless and so not prey for any misdirected violence.

"Hi," he said, feeling as insipid as he sounded. He pulled his knees up close and wrapped his arms around his legs in a defensive gesture.

"You know what they want us to do, don't you, boy?" one said, a man with hair longer than his, braided and hanging down the back in one long woven string. The man hunkered down in front of him, close enough for the reek of stale alcohol to make his stomach almost rebel again. "Only one reason pigs would put a little pretty boy like you in with a bunch of half drunken biker outlaws."

"I know," Blair whispered.

"They either want us to beat the shit out of you. Or fuck your ass till you scream. Maybe they want us to do both."

"So...." Blair replied after a long moment of silence, hoping his next words wouldn't be followed by those screams. "You going to let them manipulate you into doing what they want? The cops? The pigs?" At least his voice hadn't shook. "Let them get you to do their dirty work?"

Blair's words were met with hard cold stares and he bit his lip until he tasted blood.

This was not going to work, man. You are about to become an assault and battery statistic.

Then the third one grinned and chuckled, showing not so bad teeth and a pierced tongue. He hunkered down beside the other and reached out to pat Blair's cheek with a big callused hand.

"I don't know, boy? What do you think?"

Blair gave a weak smile and tried to prepare himself for the worst.

Simon glanced over to Jim Ellison, seeing his best detective at the man's most intense mode. Knowing now what he did about Jim and Blair, Simon understood the personal reasons for Jim's anxiety. And knowing that someone was, indeed, out to get Blair Sandburg did make the matter seem more urgent.

Simon didn't want to give into this crisis mode, this heightened reactive behavior on Jim's part. Yet, Simon had come to trust Jim's instincts particularly when those instincts came to Blair. He couldn't take the chance that something had happened and that Blair's car hadn't just broken down or the anthropologist hadn't simply run into an old friend and had lost track of time chatting in some coffee shop somewhere.

But what about the cell phone? Blair would have used it to call Jim. Every time he came up with a possible theory that kept Sandburg on the safe side of things, that phone canceled out the probability of that scenario being likely. Blair just was not that irresponsible.

They drove down Martin Ave., a likely route through a less than wonderful neighborhood, but an easy lane from the University to the downtown area without getting on a major thoroughfare.

"There," Jim said before Simon could even figure out what the man was talking about.

The truck accelerated then came to a screeching stop behind what looked like Sandburg's Volvo being hooked up to a tow truck. Simon followed Jim out of the truck, pacing towards the man who just then glanced up with an inquiring look on his face.

"Was this car involved in an accident?" Jim asked. "And where's the driver?"

Simon glanced around and saw no sign of damage and no sign of Sandburg.

"Nope, don't think so," the man said through the chomping of gum. "Just got a call to tow this vehicle to the impound yard on 32nd."

"On who's orders?" Jim demanded and Simon could see his detective about to start pushing.

"Who the hell are you?" the man demanded back, bristling at Jim's tone.

"Excuse me, sir," Simon offered in a more congenial voice. He pulled out his badge and flashed it towards the man. "Captain Simon Banks of Major Crimes."

"Look, man. I'm just doing my job. I got the order thirty five, forty minutes ago. No accident. The guy was arrested, I think. That's all I know, bud."

"Arrested?!" Jim bellowed. "For what?!"

The tow truck driver flung Simon a "what's this guy's problem" look.

"Jim, calm down. He's just the tow truck driver."

"Simon, he's talking about my partner," Jim said in a voice strung high with panic. "Why would they arrest Blair? Who arrested him?" Jim whirled on the man and pointed a finger like a gun. "Stop hooking up that car. You're not taking it anywhere."

Simon watched Jim poke his head into the open driver's side window. They'd be lucky if Blair's stuff was still in there, that it hadn't been confiscated or stolen for that matter. But Jim pulled out Blair's pack and there was the cell phone, charged up with no one to answer it.

"Hey, I've got my orders," the truck driver said. "No tow, no pay. Comprende?"

"I'll take full responsibility for Mr. Sandburg's car," Simon told the man. "Do you have any idea which precinct?"

"The 10th called it in. I do most of my work for the 10th. Who do I send the bill to then? This run's taken up the better part of a half hour so far. I'm losin' money here, Captain."

"Send your bill to my attention in Major Crimes. It'll be paid. But no one is to touch this car or tow it anywhere without my okay."

"God damn it, Simon. The 10th is full of bigots and dirty cops. It should have been shut down by IA a long time ago, but they keep that no good excuse for a captain, Wyman in there. Who's ass is he kissing anyway? He runs that place like its his own little country and the officers are his own little thug enforcers."

"Jim, calm down and get in the truck. Do you need me to drive?"

"I can drive my own damn truck, sir."

Simon punched in a series of numbers while Jim revved up the Ford's motor and pulled away from the curb. Jim shoved the light up on the dash and the flashing did nothing at all to distract the detective in the apparent endeavor to break the ground speed record.

"The is Captain Banks of Major Crimes. I need to speak with Captain Wyman."

"Sorry Captain...Banks. Captain Wyman is in an important meeting at the moment and can't be disturbed," a male voice told him. The voice bordered insolence, but just barely and Simon wondered if he was becoming paranoid.

"Who's in charge there then?"

A rustling of papers greeted Simon's hearing then a muffled voice passed a hand over the mouthpiece.

"Sergeant Russell is considered in charge at the moment...but he's unavailable as well."

Simon took a deep breath. "Then perhaps you can help me. One of My civilian consultants, Blair Sandburg was arrested by one of Your officers a while ago and I'll expect an explanation to my liking when I get there."

Simon heard the typing of a keyboard behind the rudeness of silence. "Sandburg? I've got no Sandburg here, Captain. You must be mistaken." The insolence in the voice had gone up a notch.

"Well, Officer Whoeveryouarecauseyoudidn'tbothertoidentifyyourself, I will be at your station in a matter of a couple of minutes and someone in authority best be there when I get there to explain why a man arrested by his people, one of my people, isn't on record as having been processed."

"Sorry our little precinct isn't up to your high and mighty standards, Captain Banks. Our humble precinct is down on the list a ways for upgrading. Not like Major Crimes or Central Precinct." The insolence dripped now and Simon's patience was just about at an end. "Sandburg...oh Sandburg. I must have spelled it wrong. Yeah, the kid was brought in for suspicion of drug use and resisting arrest. Routine traffic stop for speeding, the report says. Maybe you should be more careful about who you employ, Captain Banks."

"Maybe you should watch your mouth, Officer...what is your name?"

"Carter. Ed Carter...sir."

"Fine, Officer Carter. I'll see you in about three minutes." Simon shut down his phone with a snap and shoved it into his jacket pocket. "Faster Jim. I think we've got us some real trouble brewing if it hasn't already boiled over."

Chapter 20

"What did you do to piss off the pigs, little boy?" the bald-headed man said high above Blair.

Blair did a slow glance up, seeing nothing, but black leather and hard muscle and faces that would scare small children and little dogs. Hell, those faces sure scared him.

Oh man. What was there to say to that question? They were probably going to beat him up anyway, but would it be worse if he told them he was gay...well bi-sexual to be exact? He had been with his share of women after all.

"They don't like me."

"We know that, kid," the one with the ponytail braid said. "Why? And don't beat around the goddamned bush. That pisses me off."

Blair closed his eyes and opened them again to see that nothing at all had change for the better.

"I'm gay," he blurted out. "Well, actually bi-sexual. I'm dating a cop and they found out about it and now they arrested me on trumped up charges and threw me in here with you. We all have that part figured out as to why."

He steeled himself, waiting for them to do something to him. But they just stared at him then looked to each other. When their collective gazes returned to him, Blair flinched.

"Should have figured it was something like that," the bald guy stated. "You don't look the criminal type. Not even the accidental criminal type."

"I don't?" Blair croaked.

"Nah. Though I bet you'd look real fucking pretty in black leather."

Blair felt the blood drain from his face and if he hadn't been sitting down, he certainly would have fainted.

The man let out a guffaw of laughter and the other two joined in. The one with the pierced tongue punched him in the shoulder and Blair gasped, not because of the seemingly playful blow, but because of the previous encounter with the nightstick. He grabbed at his collar and slumped forward, breathing hard.

"Hey, I didn't hit you that hard. Don't be a pussy."

Blair hissed and pulled his shirt over just to see what the stick had done. A bruise the size of Washington State spread out across his collarbone and shoulder. He felt along the collar and thought again there was a chance the bone was cracked.

"I don't think you did that, Ace," the bald guy offered. "Looks to me like the pigs got started early on him. And now they think we're going to do the rest. I say fuck em. I've got better things to do than beat up on some poor guy who's already got the pigs on his case. Let em do there own dirty work. I've got a fucking hangover anyway."

"I ain't doin' the pigs no favors either," Ace replied. "Kid's not my type anyway. I only do girls. Though Vito here's been known to fuck a guy or two in his time. Eh, Vito?"

"Do time in the pen, Ace and you'll do anything with a hole," Vito stated in return. "And this one would be considered a real sweet treat." That one gave Blair an appraising gaze, stripping him naked with a look. "So you like guys, huh? You like me?" The man's hand reached for him and Blair pulled back till he met concrete wall. "Hey, I ain't gonna hurt you none."

The hand brushed his cheek, knuckles sliding along his jaw line. The man's finger's pushed his hair back behind one ear, then touched the bruise around his eye and seemed to come to some decision.

"Pigs do that to you too?"

"Yeah," Blair said breathlessly. "Different ones. A couple of days ago."

A lopsided grin spread across the man's face. "What do the pigs need with us? If they want you fucked up they've already got a good start. They can get their own scape goats. They sure as hell ain't paying us anything to do it to ya."

Vito moved to sit beside him, leaning back and sliding an arm around Blair's shoulders. "This cop worth all the hassle you're goin' through, kid?"

Blair tried to relax. He watched the other two men settle back on the cots across the cell from him. Both looked somewhere between bored and hungover. He hoped their boredom didn't change their minds about leaving him alone.

"Uh...yeah. He's worth it. But I guess I didn't really expect something like this to happen."

"Did you think all cops were clean like your cop?"

Blair glanced over at the door and felt Vito pat him on the arm, hugging him a little roughly. "I know about cops," he finally said.

Vito couldn't quite seem to keep his hands off of Blair, the man moving closer so their legs pressed close and when Blair tried to move away, the man kept a firm arm around him.

"Don't go anywhere, baby. You know if that cop thing doesn't work out, you can look me up. I sure as hell wouldn't kick you out of my bed if you crawled in some night."

Blair smiled weakly. "Uh. Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."

"Hey, I won't be in here too long. None of us will. Just a little drunk and disorderly. A punch or two. We didn't even get around to pullin' knives or reachin' for heat. Did we, fellas?"

"Nope," said the big bald guy, whose name Blair still didn't know. "Just broke up the bar. God damned owners get fucking mad over property damages these days. Can't even have a little fun now and then without the word lawsuit comin' up in conversation over and over. Fuckin' A. That gets old."

"What kind of bikes you got?" Blair ventured to ask, hoping to sound friendly and maybe close to being one of them for a little while.

"Hogs, boy. Good ol' American made Harleys," Ace offered from his cot. "Nothin' else will do. The rest is crap."

"I should have known."

"You ever rode one, pretty baby?" Vito asked and nuzzled his hair. Blair felt a tongue snake out and taste him just below the ear.

"Um, yeah. I...I have a cousin in California. He taught me to ride when I was sixteen."

"Hey, there we go. Something in common. I like that. You just come lookin' for ol' Vito if that cop thing don't keep happenin'. Or if this hassle gets too much for you. Vito will take real good care of you."

A shadow appeared at the door, a face blocking the outside light. "Anything happening in here, boys?" The voice of one of the cops that had arrested Blair sounded through the grating.

Blair stiffened. Vito grabbed him, pushing him down on his back in the floor, dragging him up so they could be seen from the doorway.

"We don't need no goddamned audience, pig. Go get your kicks someplace else. This boy's ass is mine." Vito's hands grabbed a fistful of hair and the man's mouth landed on Blair's then slid around to his ear. "Scream, baby. Act like I'm about to rape your ass or they'll be finding somebody who will do it to ya."

One of the others, Baldy joined in, pulling at his shirt, buttons popping. Vito cracked Blair across the cheek with a backhanded blow that looked worse than it felt.

Blair screamed without any more prompting and struggled enough for anyone to believe in his sincere efforts. The act could all too easily become real and terror far too tangible wrapped around him like a smothering blanket.

He heard the cop laughing, footsteps receding once again. Baldy moved back up to the cot while Vito sat up, straddling him across the waist. He could feel the man's cock hard against him and Blair knew Vito had to make an effort to get off of him instead of seeing this scenario all the way to the end.

Blair slowly sat up, shaking with relief and adrenaline still pumping in his veins. He swallowed hard and ran his hands back through his hair, trying to contain the errant curls. His breath shuddered in his chest and he repeated his mantra simply to calm down.

"Thank you," he finally said and Vito waved him off.

"It's nothin'," the man said without meeting his gaze. "You owe me though. Remember that when Vito comes to collect."

Blair nodded.

"Come back over here. I like you next to me, baby. Come on."

Blair obliged and let Vito put an arm around him once more. He had started to get used to the smell of male sweat and the stink of stale alcohol. The odors would have Jim in fits, Blair thought and the thought of Jim made him close his eyes.

Jim must be terribly worried by now. Must have gone looking for him. But so far, giving him a phone call was not a priority with these people. First, he had to be properly humiliated, assaulted and raped to appease some sick need to assert a dubious collection of manhoods for the likes of such who were suppose to protect people like him from such dastardly deeds.

So much for honor. The only honor he'd found here in the 10th precinct had been among a bunch of biker outlaws. Blair let Vito nuzzle his neck again and waited for something else to happen.

Chapter 21

Jim held his temper in check with only the tightest hold of the reins. All his instincts told him Blair was inside the 10th Precinct and that Blair was in great danger there. He had every intention of finding out which cops pulled Blair over and why. He had every intention of teaching the officers a few things about messing with the wrong people...and messing with him. For if it wasn't for him, Blair would just be a university professor that happened to be outed in a particularly humiliating way. Being Jim Ellison's lover had made Blair a target for the second time in less than a five weeks span and by a completely different enemy.

He pulled into a parking space just outside the precinct building and slammed the truck into park. Simon strode right beside him, trying to calm him with words that battered at his mind, but refused to enter and register as coherent.

Jim knew Simon was seething as well, that the officer his captain had talked to on the cell phone had been less than impressed with Simon's authority. If IA didn't do something about cleaning up the corruption in this precinct soon, the whole P.D.'s reputation would suffer because of it. And not even their own was safe in this district obviously.

He and Simon both shoved through the front doors, flashing their badges to anyone who even looked like they were about to stop them. They marched up to the desk and Jim heard all around him a whispering of his name then other names, derogatory comments flung at him from what the name callers thought was a safe distance and outside the range of his hearing. But Jim heard it all and he heard Blair's name said along with more insulting comments.

And he heard some laughing about them arriving too late to save the little faggot from getting what he deserved. Jim felt his heart squeeze with fear, his stomach rolling with urgency that they get Blair out of this place which should have been a haven for law abiding citizens like Blair Sandburg, someone who had helped bring down many a criminal, many a killer and arsonist and terrorist when it wasn't even his job to do so.

"Sergeant Russell?" Simon said to the man behind the long counter that had seen years of use, years of good clean arrests and good clean cops until the last few years of rumored corruption

"That would be me. And you are...?"

"Captain Simon Banks, Major Crimes. Is your Captain here?"

"Fraid not, Captain Banks. What can I do for you?"

"You can bring Blair Sandburg here to me now and release him into my custody. I intend to call for a full investigation as to his arrest."

The sergeant bristled, tugging his pants up over a beer belly and flexing on the balls of his feet. "Well, things aren't done that way around here, Captain Banks. We've been swamped. The boy hasn't even been booked yet. No fingerprinting, no mug shots. That could still take a while. Bail hasn't even been set yet."

"You go get him now, Russell," Jim growled through clenched teeth. "Or I'll go get him myself. You got that?"

The sergeant turned his attention to Jim, looking him up and down with a distaste that made Jim want to rip that look off the man's face permanently. "You're Ellison. Seen your picture around. Particularly lately, boy. Always on the evening news with your big cases and catching all the bad guys. Like the rest of us are nothing more than Cascade's security dogs."

"I do my job, Sergeant. I suggest you do yours and stop harassing my partner."

"Your boyfriend, you mean."

"I know what I mean," Jim growled again.

"Sergeant Russell," Simon said in his most authoritative voice and Jim knew all the room of cops and criminals, civilians and all the rest had stopped everything they were doing to listen to the confrontation taking place. "I'll be getting my consultant now, with or without your help."

"You have no authority here, Banks."

"You're wrong, Sergeant. My authority is over anyone of lesser rank than myself. And if you think that's not enough, I'll call the Commissioner right here and now. Then I'll call the Mayor. We already have an open harassment case being investigated in regards to Blair Sandburg. I'd be more than happy to add this as just one more example and see if I can link this incident to that investigation. You and I both know these charges are trumped up and I intend to have IA do a thorough investigation of this precinct and its officers. As if that will surprise anyone in that office. we do this the easy way or do we do it hard?"

The sergeant stared at them, from one to the other, gaging his authority and the security of his own position. The man must have found both wanting.

"Carter," the man barked and a uniformed officer ran up to the desk and eyed them with barely hidden malicious contempt. Jim threw the contempt right back at him. "Take these gentlemen down to holding and remand Sandburg over to Captain Banks' custody." They started to go, but Sergeant Russell called after them. "The charges aren't dropped, Captain Banks. You'll have to deal with the Captain on that one."

"I'll deal with the Commissioner on that one and those charges are as good as dropped. Got that, Sergeant Russell? Good. And Blair had better be in good condition when I see him or we'll be back up to talk to you in a very personal way."

Jim turned with Simon, but heard the man mutter something about being a little too late to change anything now.

"They've done something to Blair, Simon," Jim said in a quiet voice. Carter glanced over at them sharply, but apparently didn't hear all of what he said. "They keep talking about us arriving too late. I'll kill them if they've hurt him, Simon. They are as good as dead men."

"Jim, just settle down now," Simon whispered back to him. "We don't know what's happened, but either way, we've got to take this opportunity to get Blair out of here. If nothing's happened yet, something sure as hell will soon. They'll arrange it if it doesn't happen naturally."

The door slid open and Jim shoved passed Carter and grabbed the holding supervisor by his shirt front.

"Where is Blair Sandburg? Tell me now." The man looked wildly over at Carter. "I'm talking to you. Where is he?!"

"Cell...uh...number 18." The man staggered back with a shove from Jim and Simon grabbed up the keys.

"What the fuck is going on, Carter?"

"Nothin' we can do. That's Ellison, the little fag's boyfriend. And that's Banks head of MC. Sarge says give the little bastard over to them. So don't get in their way."

"But you don't understand," the man was saying in a voice that had gone from anger to fear in 3.5 seconds. "He's in with the Red Devils."

"Shit," Jim heard Carter say and he ran the length of the corridor.

"Blair! Where are you?"

He heard Blair's voice and zeroed in and Simon was right behind him.

"Let go, Vito. That's Jim. He's come to get me out of here."

"Aw too bad, baby. We could be good together. You keep that in mind."

Jim followed his lover's voice and glanced into the cell. Blair stood in front of the door looking much worse for wear, but generally all right.

"Oh god, Jim. I'm so glad to see you."

"Take it easy, sweetheart. I'm here. Simon's here. We're getting you out now."

Simon unlocked the door and Jim stepped in, grabbing Blair and holding the smaller man to him. He buried his face in Blair's hair and smelled the distinct odor of another man. He glanced up and almost snarled at the three bikers, one who had stood up from the floor and the man's look was almost a challenge.

"Thanks guys," Blair offered and Jim felt his lover take a firm hold on him. "Thanks for know."

A big bald guy gave a dismissive wave while another one snored on one of the cots oblivious to the commotion.

"Thanks Vito," Blair added to that one particularly.

"Yeah, kid. Just remember you owe me. This your old man? The cop?"

Jim turned a hard gaze on the man.

"Yeah, this is my cop," Blair replied. "He's the one that's worth it."

"Take good care of that pretty boy of yours, cop," Vito offered like sage advice. "Cause he's got an open invitation to my bed anytime he wants."

"I'll keep that in mind. And it's a good thing you kept your hands to yourself and all the rest of your body parts."

"Tough guy," Vito offered with a lopsided grin. "I like that. See ya around, baby."

Blair's hand on Jim's arm became a hard grip, a desperation seeping out and afflicting him with it's urgency. "Get me out of here, Jim. All the way out of here. I'm more scared of the cops than the criminals right now."

"I know, Chief. We're going."

"Simon, oh my god," Blair said reaching out to the captain. "Thanks."

Simon just held up his hands to ward off any gushing. "Later Sandburg. Lets just get out of here. I feel like I'm in a hostile country."

"I feel like I'm in the fucking Twilight Zone," Blair shot back.

Carter escorted them back up to the main floor and Blair huddled close to Jim, not seeming to care what Carter thought or Simon for that matter. Blair was terrified and that terror enraged Jim till he wanted to do bodily harm to anyone that even looked hard at them. His Blessed Protector mode was on overload and the primal desire to rip out throats was contained only by Blair's presences and that of his superior's.

They passed the desk sergeant and Jim put an arm around Blair's shoulders, feeling the shaking in his partner's body, noticing his partner's enraged gaze land on the sergeant and anyone else who dared to make eye contact.

"You can tell your captain that I'll be talking to him real soon, Sergeant," Jim heard Simon say from a few paces behind them. "Tell him he'd best have some good answers when I call."

Then Simon was beside them again, holding the door open to the outside world. Jim felt the tangible relief in the slump of Blair's shoulders and the exhalation of breath.

"Did they tow my car?" Blair asked, climbing in with more than a wince or two.

"No. We stopped the truck driver before he could tow it away," Simon said, climbing in after Blair. "Lucky we got there before he drove off or we would have been a while figuring out where you were. I assume they didn't give you a phone call."

Jim watched Blair throw a look at Simon then run fingers back through a disheveled mass of dark curls.

"Phone call? What the hell is that? They arrested me for no reason. Did not read me my rights. Assaulted me with a nightstick while I was handcuffed. Threw me into a cell with a gang of bikers hoping they would beat the crap out of me and rape me. What the hell is a phone call?"

Jim hadn't started the truck yet, his hands clenching the steering wheel hard enough to crack plastic. Red poured over his vision, the hot crimson of rage so potent it might melt metal with a touch.

"Blair, did they hurt you?" Jim managed to say. "Did those bikers hurt you?"

"The bikers were nearly perfect gentlemen in comparison to the cops." Blair's voice shook now, the reality of his ordeal landing hard, Jim assumed, taking a definable shape and knowing just how close to sexual and physical assault Blair had truly been.

"Next question, Sandburg. What about the nightstick? What did they do to you with it?"

Blair glanced again at Simon, this time holding the man's gaze. Jim knew what Simon feared, that Blair had been sodomized with it. But Jim could tell that wasn't the case. He knew Blair well enough to know that.

"One hit me four...maybe five times with his nightstick. I think I need to have my shoulder ex- rayed. My collarbone may be cracked. It hurts like hell. And they choked me with it. Held me against the car with the stick at my throat."

"That's all?" Simon asked and Jim saw Blair's eyes spark with anger.

"That's all?" Blair closed his eyes and managed to contain an outburst. "Look, Simon. I'm tired and I'm pissed and I'm hurting."

"And you're scared," Simon added.

"Goddamned right I'm scared!" Blair shot back, anger unleashed like a cork out of a champagne bottle. "When is this going to end? How much do I have to hurt before someone is satisfied that I've hurt enough?"

"Chief," Jim said after a moment of thunderous silence. "It's okay."

Blair turned on him an aching gaze that scared Jim, made him wonder if Blair wanted to end their relationship right then and there. "It's not okay, Jim. People shouldn't be able to get away with doing this crap to other people. Especially the cops. My loving you and your loving me shouldn't be an excuse to do violence to us."

Jim wanted desperately to reach out, to lay a gentle hand on his lover's face, draw that fear and pain out and take it on himself. Blair seemed to understand then and leaned into him. Jim slid an arm around his partner and Blair buried his face in Jim's jacket then pushed up to sit with a stoic resiliency that made Jim so very proud of Blair.

"Let's get to the hospital and have that shoulder ex-rayed," Simon offered in a subdued voice. "First things first. I want Blair checked out thoroughly. Then when I have the full report of this incident in hand, I'm going to the Commissioner. Then some heads are going to roll or I'll go take them myself."

Chapter 22

Jim left Blair at home the next day, sleeping off some pain killers and the lethargy of ordeal. There had been a crack, a fracture of the collarbone along the left side. Nothing to worry about other than how the break had occurred. The bruise on Blair's thigh had a wicked look to it along with the bruise to the ribs. But, at least, no ribs were broken. Blair had explained away the other bruise to the right cheek, had said that the guy Vito had put it there, but only in the course of trying to help him. Jim didn't like it though and didn't like this Vito guy who had challenged him with a gaze. Yet, Jim knew that Blair had no interest in an outlaw biker, knew the guy was far from Blair's type.

He dropped by the office long enough to check in, making certain no terrorist or mad bomber had showed up in Cascade in the last twelve hours. Simon was busy gathering all the information on how and why and by whom Blair had been arrested. Obviously, the officers involved believed they would get away with the harassment, thought that no reprimand or loss of rank or job would be forthcoming otherwise they wouldn't have taken the chance and opportunity. Simon seemed to have other beliefs and Jim put his money on his captain when it came to Simon getting what Simon wanted.

Rafe and Brown had been nice enough to offer to pick up Blair's car and it sat in the P.D. garage now as safe as it was likely to be since Simon had issued a station wide command that nothing, absolutely nothing had best happen to Jim's or Blair's vehicles while in said garage.

And now he was on his way to the University's campus to ask a few pointed questions to a few specific people. Tami Schmitt was first on his list. Then the four professors who had objected to Blair speaking at the conference. Wilcox had finally coughed up the names with the permission of her own superiors, whoever they were.

He'd gotten Schmitt's address from Wilcox as well, a set of student apartment buildings close to the University. Parking the truck on the street, Jim headed to the building, seeing students coming and going, getting ready for Spring finals or whatever else might be on their agendas.

Blair should be here at Rainier right now, readying his students for those finals. But his partner had been given an involuntary leave of absence for a full week and probably for the better. He wouldn't have wanted to be Blair facing a class that Monday morning after the conference. A week might take the edge off of the memory and the rumors would have plenty of time to reach mythic proportion.

Jim found apartment 118 and rang the bell. A woman...well, more like a girl no more than twenty years old answered, her short black hair tipped in shades of purple. She had a ring in her nose and black framed glasses that seemed a contradiction to her bell bottoms and crop top.

Didn't bell bottoms go out in the seventy's?

Jim felt suddenly old. He shook his head and watched a blossom of recognition bloom on the young woman's face. Her mouth fell open and she stood there with a goofy grin.

"I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade P.D." He showed her his ID, but knew she didn't need it to know who he was. "I'm looking for Tami Schmitt. I understand she lives here."

"Tami!" the girl shouted without glancing away from him. "Hey Tam, get in here. You're Mr. Sandburg's boyfriend," the girl stated. "Wow."

A beautiful blond girl peered over the black-haired woman's shoulder, a good five inches taller than her roommate. She gave him a cautious gaze then stepped back.

"Let him in, Beck. Don't just stand there gawking."

The girl backed up and opened the door wide. "Come on in, Detective. Wow. Is that what we should call you? Detective? I've never met a detective before."

"Aren't you lucky," Jim offered flatly. "Detective is fine."

"You were looking for me?" Tami said. She looked nervous, like she had something to hide. No, like she might be scared of something. Her heart beat hard, but her eyes seemed honest and a beautiful green color not found on natural blonds all that often.

"Yes, Ms. Schmitt. I understand Mr. Sandburg helped you with a problem a few months ago. Helped with an abusive boyfriend."

"Oh yeah, Blair...Mr. Sandburg was very kind to me. He gave me advice. Listened to me when I needed someone and felt like I didn't know where to go."

"May I sit down?"

"Oh, sure. You want a soda or something?"

Jim sat in an overstuffed chair that had seen better days. "No thank you." He offered her a smile and she seemed to calm a bit while her friend still stood staring with that same goofy grin.

"Is this about Mr. Sandburg being harassed?" the one named Beck asked. She finally sat down on the floor among a scattering of books and pens and sheets of paper. Tami settled down on a well worn couch across from him. "I saw his talk...on Saturday. Man...those slides."

"I'm afraid it is." Jim tried to not think of the slides or how many other people had seen them. "We're, the police are investigating those incidents."

"Isn't it a conflict of interest for you to be investigating harassment against your...boyfriend?" Tami Schmitt asked.

Jim hated the way that word, boyfriend, sounded. The word simply did not express the seriousness of his and Blair's relationship. It sounded juvenile and temporary.

"Well, I'm on the case at the discretion of my superior."

"Oh. I don't know how I can help you."

"Tell me about your ex-boyfriend, Eric Mansford. In your opinion, is this something he's capable of doing? Do you know if he holds any grudge against Blair for giving you advice to leave him for abusing you?"

She looked away, but not before Jim saw fear spark in those green eyes.

"Tam, tell him," Beck said. "Or I will."

Tami put hands to her face, then pushed her blond hair back behind her ears. "Look. I haven't seen Eric except from a distance for two months now. And I don't want to see him. I don't want him coming after me. I had to get a restraining order on him. I nearly left this campus to get away from him. If it wasn't for Professor Fletcher's intervention with Eric and Blair's counseling I would have left and lost a full year of college credit when I did."

Professor Fletcher. Jim pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and glanced at the list of names Wilcox had given him. This professor was on his list.

"Eric's left me alone," the girl went on. "And that's all I care about. I'm sorry about what's happened to Blair, but...."

"She's scared, Detective Ellison," Beck filled in. "Eric's a hothead. A gorgeous hunk, but he's got a mean streak as long as this campus is wide. He starts out being all sweet and drawing the girls in. Tami's a freshmen and had no idea what he was like. He's an upper classman, fraternity. He's got clout on this campus and money out the ass. I learned about him last year and I've stayed away from his bunch. They run like a pack."

"Who's they, Ms....?"

"Anderson," she offered with a bright smile. "Rebecca Anderson. Beck for short. Or Becky."

"Ms. Anderson. Who's they?"

"Eric...Read Seymour, Cornell Keane and Tom Thaw. All frat. All got money. All got an attitude of superiority. All very white, if you know what I mean. Except Seymour who's Jewish, I think."

"Detective Ellison," Tami said. "You don't think Eric and the others are involved in hurting you? I know they can be mean sometimes, but the racial slurs on Blair's office door? Read is Jewish. That doesn't make any sense. And nothing ever happened between me and Mr. Sandburg. I swear it. He only helped. I know rumors have been going around. But they're a pack of lies."

"Do you think someone who beats up on a woman isn't someone who is capable of these harassments, Ms. Schmitt?"

Tami Schmitt stared into Jim's eyes with that same naked fear that told him all he needed to know. The girl was scared to death of Eric Mansford.

Jim rose and put away the pad of paper he had jotted down the students' names on. "Thank you Ms Schmitt, Ms Anderson. You've been very helpful. If I need any more information you will be available?"

"Sure," Becky Anderson replied jumping up to see him to the door. Tami Schmitt rose slowly, but stayed where she was, by the couch. "I really like Mr. Sandburg," Becky continued. "He's very cool. But damn those rumors being true when it came to you." She sighed wistfully.

"Yes, he's quite taken, Ms Anderson. Sorry to burst your bubble."

"Oh well, better fishing elsewhere."

Jim gave her a thin smile and felt her watching him walk away until he disappeared out of her line of sight.

Becky Anderson watched Detective Ellison walk away until she could see him no more. She turned back to her roommate and let her smile drop away only to be replaced with a look of concern. She refused to be scared, refused to let the likes of Eric Mansford scare her the way he did Tami.

"Tam, why didn't you tell him what Eric said?"

Tami gave her a dismissive wave of her hand and Becky watched her roommate go to the cabinet and pull out a bottle of Jack Daniels. The woman's hands shook, the bottle and glass precariously perched while being tilted and poured. And the girl didn't seem to care that the hour hadn't even reached noon yet.

"Tami. You should have told him. This has gotten serious. These aren't just little jokes anymore. Eric is way over the top if he's the one who's been doing this stuff to Mr. Sandburg."

"Tell the cop what, Beck? Tell him that Eric threatened to kill Blair? It was just talk. It was what guys say when their girl dumps them and they think another guy's responsible. Eric wouldn't...he wouldn't."

Stalking forward, Becky grabbed the bottle away from her roommate and tightened the cap. She shoved it back up on the top shelf and slammed the door. "You know he would. Not kill Blair. But hurt him. Eric would do that."

"We have no proof and obviously the cops have no proof either or they'd have hauled Eric and the rest of them in by now. I don't want to get involved, Beck. I don't want Eric coming after me."

Becky felt her mouth go tight with anger. "You don't want to get involved. Well, wasn't it nice that Mr. Sandburg didn't feel that way when you needed someone's shoulder to cry on. Maybe if you accepted the fact that Eric would do this, then you'd have to accept the fact that maybe you're responsible for Blair being on Eric's shit list."

"That's not true. Shut up!" Tami shoved passed the smaller girl and Becky stood staring at the kitchen counter, her anger bubbling.

"You know its true, Tam. If something else happens to Blair Sandburg and we find out it was Eric and his bunch, how are you going to live with yourself? What if Eric loses it? What if he really hurts Blair?"

Tami wheeled on her. "Leave me alone! Eric isn't responsible. Eric isn't the one doing this. I don't believe it. He's not that bad."

"He blacked both of your eyes, woman! How bad does it have to be?"

Tears spilled down the blond girl's face, her body rigid with emotion. "Eric isn't evil."

"You don't have to be evil to lose control, Tami. People lose control all the time and people, innocent people, people who have tried to help, who cared enough about you to help, end up getting hurt in the end."

With a shake of blond hair, Tami denied Becky's words. "I must have done deserve Eric's anger..."

"Oh Tami Schmitt! Tell me you don't really believe that crap."

"I don't want to think about it anymore," Tami said, with heat in her voice. "I've got papers due and finals to think about. I've got my own life. I don't want to be involved."

Tami turned away, cutting off their conversation with a firm finality.

"We're not done here," Becky said, grabbing her roommate by the arm and whirling her back around.

"I'm done. Anyway, why didn't you tell him, the detective? If you're so fired up to tell the cops every rumor you hear, you do it. But Eric isn't going to hear about me telling the cops that he threatened Blair's life."

"This wasn't a rumor, Tami," Becky replied in a quiet voice. "I thought you would care enough about Blair's safety to tell it yourself. I thought you would be more responsible than that. I guess I was wrong."

"Look," Tami said, wiping the tears from her eyes and obviously trying to gain control of her emotions. "Blair's boyfriend is a cop. Detective Ellison looks perfectly capable of protecting Blair from the likes of Eric Mansford. Just leave it, Becky. Let the cops figure this thing out themselves. That's their job. Blair will be fine. Finals are in a few weeks. Things will calm down over the Summer and come Fall semester this whole harassment thing will be old news. Leave it alone and Eric will leave us alone."

Becky stared at her friend and roommate, knowing that Tami didn't believe a word of what she was saying to herself, but knowing Tami wanted desperately for those words to be true.

Finally, she shrugged, not yet sure what she intended to do and Tami gave her a relieved smile followed by a hug. "I knew you'd come to your senses, Rebecca Anderson. Everything is going to be just fine. You'll see."

Chapter 23

"Dr. Edwin Fletcher?" A man, tall and lean and muscled stood at Fletcher's office door. The man had an air of authority, of serious business being conducted.

Edwin slid his gaze up and down in one quick glance and remembered the face from a set of slides he'd perused before those slides were substituted for the ones in Blair Sandburg's presentation slide carriage.

"Yes, how may I help you?" He kept his voice even, certain he didn't reveal himself in any way even though his heartbeat sped up and felt perspiration drawing a bead beneath his starched white collar and perfect tweed jacket.

"I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade Police Department. May I come in? I have a few questions I need to ask regarding the harassment of Blair Sandburg here on campus."

"Of course, come in. Please sit. But I don't know how I can help you. I only know Mr. Sandburg in a passing sense. I had him in classes as an undergraduate, but nothing since then."

"Actually Dr. Fletcher," Ellison began, settling into a chair. "I understand you objected to Mr. Sandburg being asked to speak at the conference held here last weekend. And as I'm certain you know, Mr. Sandburg's talk went terribly wrong with a switching of some slides."

"Yes, I'm well aware of that fiasco. The University's reputation was sullied with the embarrassing revelation of Mr. Sandburg's sexual orientation."

Ellison's stare became hard, unrelenting and Fletcher almost felt those hot blue eyes tearing a hole in his heart and revealing his part in that revelation.

"The embarrassment was on Mr. Sandburg's part, Dr. Fletcher...and myself, as I think you know. But this last attack on Blair's reputation was just one more in an accumulation of harassments, possibly racial, possibly gay bashing, possibly personal. Do you have any insight as to which the harassment might be?"

Fletcher turned away and reached to make himself a cup of tea, fussing with the cup and tea bag and pot of hot water. "Tea, Detective Ellison?"

"No thank you."

"I wouldn't have the slightest idea," Fletcher continued, eyes averted while thinking hard on what to say to this man with eyes that tried to pull the truth right out of him against his will. "Not the slightest idea of why Sandburg has been a target of harassment. Possibly all three of those reason are at the heart of the matter. I wouldn't know myself." He turned back and met Ellison's gaze, steady and unflinching. "Why would you think so?"

"You objected to him speaking at the conference."

"Oh that." He gave a wave of his hand, making light of the matter. "A point of contention between myself and Dean Wilcox. Patricia...Dean Wilcox has favored Mr. Sandburg for some time now and giving him this berth at an important conference seemed personally motivated. I'm not the only one to object you know."

"I know. And Dean Wilcox seemed to have a legitimate reason for Blair's involvement."

Fletcher sipped his tea and smiled benignly. "Oh I know what Patricia says. And I'm certain she felt her reasoning sensible. Mr. Sandburg represents the cream of Rainier University's output. That's what she says. She was showing him off like a prize Thoroughbred."

"And, in your opinion, that's not a good enough reason."

A statement, not a question, Fletcher mused. Well, Detective Ellison was personally motivated after all.

"Blair Sandburg has yet to achieve his doctorate. If and when he does achieve his Ph.D., then Mr. Sandburg will be welcomed with open arms into our doctoral ranks. Mr. Sandburg, like the rest of us lowly doctors of anthropology, must earn his place at such important conferences, not have them delivered to him on a silver platter. That is my opinion, Detective Ellison. A reasonable conflicting opinion to that of Dean Wilcox's. That opinion does not constitute harassment."

Ellison seemed to mull that over, finally nodding. The man rose and shrugged his jacket into place. "Just one more thing, Dr. Fletcher."

Edwin raised an eyebrow inquiringly, rising to stand as the detective did. "Yes?"

"How well do you know Eric Mansford?"

Fletcher felt the color drain from his face. "Eric? Why?"

"Just checking out some rumors. That's probably all it is, but I need to check them all the same. Do you know him well?"

"Well enough," Edwin offered. "I'm his advisor."

"I understand there was a problem a few months ago between him and a young woman, Tami Schmitt and that you were instrumental in getting Eric to back off and leave her alone."

"They were...a couple for several months, Detective. Tami left him...for well, as rumors go, for Blair Sandburg. That Blair actually talked her into leaving Eric. Eric didn't take well to it, but he's fine now. The break up was a blow to him was all. He cared deeply for her."

"A blow to his ego, you mean? As I understand it, Mansford beat up Ms Schmitt on more than one occasion. And that Blair counseled her to leave Mansford because of the abuse, not because of any ulterior motive on Blair's part."

"Um...Eric has had some problems with his temper, yes. But I've been counseling him as well. He's managed to get on with his life and as I understand it, so has Ms Schmitt. I really don't see how this incident could be connected to whomever might be harassing Mr. Sandburg."

Ellison looked as if the man wanted to call him a liar.

"Eric is an excellent student, Detective," Edwin continued in the void of silence. "He has a bright future ahead of him. Tami Schmitt was a diversion of his attention for a little while. He's back on track, a star on the horizon of the future of anthropology."

"And his friends? Keane? Seymour? Thaw? Any of them a potential harasser?"

"Some of the finest anthropology students at Rainier. Good men."

"I see. Well, thank you for your time, Dr. Fletcher."

"Of course. And good luck."

The man nodded to him and closed the door.

Fletcher fell back into his seat, his heart racing and his blood pressure sky high, he was certain.

This had to stop now. No more. Everything they had planned had been temporarily satisfying, but ultimately had lead to nothing. He couldn't chance the loss of this position no matter how much he wanted to see Blair Sandburg gone from this campus. He could not be caught in some scandal or even the suspicion of scandal, losing his dignity and his tenure. But most of all he could not tolerate the loss of honor by being arrested. The horror of jail, of handcuffs and mug shots and fingerprinting was an intolerable thought. His being as humiliated as Blair Sandburg had been humiliated by the media fed on his mind.

He picked up his phone and punched in the first number.

He had to call a meeting, gather all his young men to him so they could avert this disaster. If nothing else happened, if they let everything die away and not resume the harassment, all would be well.

"Mr. Keane," he said into the receiver when the young man picked up. "We need to have a meeting. Immediately."

Jim smelled a rat. Lies. The man was lying through perfect white teeth and perfectly spoken English. Oh, Fletcher lied well enough, smooth and diverting and seemingly reasonable. But he had heard the increase in heartbeat, noted the odor of sudden perspiration. Like Blair said, Jim was a walking lie detector when he put his senses to it.

So, Fletcher knew more than he let on? Was personally involved? While Jim could detect a lie much of the time, he could not know the nature of the lie necessarily. But his suspicion that Eric Mansford was, at least, one of the harrassers, had gone up several notches.

Now all Jim wanted to do was get home to check on Blair, see how his lover was fairing after yesterday's ordeal.

Had all this really happened in less than one week? Well, not exactly. The harassment had been going on for weeks now.

Walking back to his truck, Jim felt bone weary and the residue of rage still clung to him, an anger at needing to investigate something of this nature, anger that people, whoever they turned out to be, were capable of hurting someone like Blair, who hurt no one purposefully.

How dare those officers, men who had been sworn to uphold the law for all citizens, do this to Blair? How dare they put him in that danger? How dare they humiliate Blair again when all Blair had gotten lately was humiliation?

He ought to call Simon and see what his captain had come up with, whether Simon had ever managed to speak directly to Captain Wyman. As though it would really matter. Wyman would try to worm out of it, find a way to divert IA without his men suffering more than a reprimand for their behavior.

He wanted to know who those men were. And if something wasn't done.... If those men didn't suffer for their actions, Jim would see to the suffering personally.

Chapter 24

Blair climbed out of bed and with an effort, crawled into the shower. He still felt groggy from the pain pills the doctor had given him, but alive and mostly awake. The shower helped immensely. So when the doorbell rang, he was dressed in sweat pants and a tee shirt. His hair combed out, but still wet.

Rafe and Brown stood there waiting, fidgeting after a long day at work.

"Hey guys," Blair offered and ushered them in. "Thanks for bringing my car home. You really didn't have to do that, but I appreciate it."

"Not a problem, Sandburg," Brown said.

"The least we could do considering the circumstances," Rafe added, unloosening his tie with a sigh of relief. "I still can't believe those ass holes arrested you."

"Believe it. That's the only way anything will be done about it." Blair pushed back damp hair from his face and saw apologies in Brown's and Rafe's expressions. "It's not your fault, guys. Please don't take that on."

"It's hard not to take it personally, kid," Brown said and went to the fridge. He helped himself to a couple of beers, handing one to Rafe. "Those cops doing that to you is like them doing it to us. They attacked a member of Major Crimes, these guys and the ones in the parking garage the other night. And they make all cops look bad. That's personal enough for me."

Blair stared, surprised and touched by the concern and friendship he heard in their voices, felt by their words. He wondered if Brown and Rafe knew how much their friendships meant to him.

"You guys are great. Thanks."

"You're welcome," Brown said with a grin. "Jim going to be home soon?"

"I hope. He's out doing a few interviews. Ones I don't really wish or need to attend. Anyway I'm not suppose to be on campus before Monday. And that will be soon enough for me."

"Not looking forward to facing that just yet, huh?" Rafe asked perceptively.

"Oh, I can hardly wait. My black eye ought to be a nice vivid green and purple by then. Maybe I should be planning my wardrobe accordingly and color coordinate."

"And you know how stories grow, " Brown added, stretching his feet out and making himself comfortable.

"Oh man, thanks a lot, H. Like I needed that. I feel bombarded. This is not fair. My karma can not be this bad." Blair went to the stove and put a kettle on to boil water for tea. Then he rummaged around in the refrigerator, trying to decide what to fix for dinner. "You guys want to stay for dinner?"

"I'd better not," Brown said. "My lady will be expecting me home."

"I've got a date at eight," Rafe offered as a decline.

"In the middle of the week, Bro? You lucky dog, you." Brown punched Rafe in the shoulder and that made Blair's shoulder throb with the memory of the nightstick descending and the biker named Ace punching him in the arm. "Hey Blair. I heard those ass holes threw you in with some of the Red Devils. True?"

"Yeah, I guess. I wasn't paying that much attention to their insignias. I was too busy worry about being beaten to a pulp. One of them was getting way too friendly, but mostly they were pretty decent. I think bikers get a bad name just because they wear leather and ride Harleys."

"Sometimes they deserve that bad name, Sandburg," Rafe reminded him. "You got lucky."

Blair stared into the fridge without seeing, his mind locked on that terrifying moment when Vito was on top of him and he didn't know if the man was about to rape him or not. He shut the door and leaned his forehead against it, trying to quell his emotions, stop them from making a scared little wimp out of him.

"Hey, Blair," Rafe said close behind him. He jumped and turned around with his fear naked on his face. "I'm sorry. You had a bad enough day yesterday without me reminding you of it."

Blair shook his head and ran his hands back through his hair again. "Not your fault, Rafe. Has Simon found out who those cops were and how they knew to pull me over?"

"He's working on it. He's got names now, at least. Jake Watson and Randy Casper. Two real jerks. If they were with any precinct besides the 10th they would have already been suspended for what they did. Of course, they're going to try to stick with their arrest report."

Every word of it is a lie," Blair said without heat. The kettle whistled and Rafe let him pass to turn off the burner and pour the water into the pot.

He watched Rafe return to sit on the edge of a chair. "Blair, can I say something candid?"

Blair grabbed a pound of ground turkey out of the fridge finally then came to lean against the post next to the range. "Sure. What's on your mind?"

Rafe and Brown exchanged glances then Brown nodded. "I just want to say for me and Henry that we aren't interested in making judgements about you or Jim or your relationship. That's between you two. We're your friends whatever happens. And we won't stand by and watch shit happen to you."

"You may be putting yourself in jeopardy, Rafe," Blair couldn't help but say. "For a while, at least, Jim and I are pariahs with most of the P.D. I don't want you guys taking on trouble because of us. We knew what could happen. We just didn't expect...we thought we'd have more control about when and how and why...and who, at first."

"Friends are friends, Blair," Brown said. "Trouble or no trouble. We stand by you. We'll always be there as backup, no matter what. If we're close enough to get there, you'll always get backup from us."

The key turning in the door startled all of them and Jim appeared, not in the least bit startled himself.

"You guys still here and drinking all my beer too," Jim said with a smile that made Blair's heart flutter then settle down with the rightness of their relationship.

To Blair's surprise, Jim came to him, arms going around him and right there in front of Rafe and Brown, Jim kissed him on the mouth.

"Hi, Chief. How you feeling?" Jim's hand moved over Blair's hair and stopped to touch his cheek with a light caress. "How's that collarbone?"

"Um...bruised, but okay. I'm okay. I was just going to start dinner. These guys say they can't stay. I think they just don't want to eat meatloaf."

Jim turned, letting Blair slip out of his embrace. "You guys don't know meatloaf until you've had Sandburg's version." Jim did a little Italian kiss of the fingers and went to get a beer. "You sure you can't stay? I was hoping you'd have some info on those cops that arrested Blair."

"Another time, my man," Brown said, rising from the couch and moving to put his beer bottle in the trash. "Another time. But Simon is on it. He said he'd give you a call later to update you."

"Two names though that probably won't surprise you. Watson and Casper. Two real idiots that don't know not to mess with Major Crimes...or Jim Ellison. Now, we've really got to get going," Rafe added. "We'll tell you the same as Sandburg. You'll always get backup from us, Jim. Got that?"

Jim's smile lit up again. "I've got that. Thanks."

Chapter 25

Jim saw the two men out the door then locked it behind them. Blair was pouring a cup of tea then started the meatloaf preparation when Jim returned, coming up behind his lover and putting his arms around Blair's waist to hug gently. He felt Blair's smile without seeing the younger man's face, felt it in the stance of that compact body and the way Blair tilted his head to give Jim access to neck and shoulder.

Jim kissed with gentle caresses and finally Blair turned enough to plant a kiss on those perfect full lips. The lower lip still had a cut on it, but to Jim, Blair's lips were still perfect and made for long slow kisses...or hard slow kisses or any kind of kisses.

He took a deep breath, no longer smelling that Vito guy on Blair. That had about driven him crazy. He smelled only clean hair and skin fragrant with soap and aftershave.

"You sure you don't want me to cook, sweetheart?" Jim murmured into Blair's ear while Blair went back to crushing crackers and cracking eggs. "I can manage meatloaf."

"I'm fine, Jim. Really. I can make meatloaf. But you could peel some potatoes. That could be a problem for me. Using my left arm much makes my shoulder ache."

"I can do that."

They worked in companionable silence for a short while, meatloaf finally baking in the oven and potatoes boiling in the pot.

"So what did Tami say?" Blair asked.

Jim took Blair's hand, guiding them to the couch and into a comfortable embrace.

"It's what she didn't say, Chief. Her friend, Beck Anderson told me and Tami's eyes. She's scared of Eric Mansford and I think she's holding back something because of that fear."

"You really think Eric is involved, don't you?"

"It's looking more like it all the time."

"I guess that wouldn't surprise me all that much, except he has so much to lose. Why would he risk jail or expulsion from Rainier at the very least just to have some misguided revenge against me."

"I think we may have a case of a couple of sparks fueling the fire. I think more than one person is involved and somehow they're feeding off of each other. Each inflames the other till it gets bigger than just one person or just one incident."

"You have any guesses as to who else?"

"How about a Dr. Edwin Fletcher?"

Blair's eyebrows shot up. "You have got to be kidding, Jim. He's a tenured professor. He has even more to lose than Mansford. Why would he have a grudge against me? I hardly even know him."

"Jealousy. Misplaced blame. People hurt people everyday for much less than that and sometimes for hardly any motive at all. All I know is that he was lying when I talked to him and he's covering up something for Mansford. Or...he suspects Mansford himself and doesn't want the kid to be caught."

Blair was quiet for a long time, occasionally sipping from his mug of tea. "I don't know, Jim. Just seems lame. Mansford might hold a grudge over what happened with Tami Schmitt, but Fletcher...I don't know. Just sounds way out there."

"I know what I know, Blair. And I know that man was lying about something." Jim cocked his head and listened intently. "And I know the phone is about to ring."

A ring followed and Blair grinned at him. "You are so good, Jim. You're a sentinel, not psychic. The phone makes some kind of noise before it rings...right?"

Jim rose and bent over his lover, stealing a quick kiss. "How do you know I'm not psychic?" He grabbed up the phone and went to check on the potatoes. "Ellison."

"Detective Ellison. Hi, this is Beck Anderson.. I hope you don't mind me calling you at home. I called your office number, but they said you were gone for the day. I found Mr. Sandburg's number in the University directory."

"No. I don't mind at all, Ms Anderson."

Jim saw Blair's attention perk up and he returned to the couch and stood there, waiting for her to say something.

"How can I help you, Beck?" Jim asked when silence fell on the other end of the line.

"Yeah...well...." she said hesitantly. "It's about Eric Mansford. Tami didn't tell you everything about Eric. About something he said to her when she broke up with him."

"Go on. What did he say to her?"

"She said that Eric threatened Blair. His exact words she said were I'm going to kill that little bastard, Sandburg."

Jim grimaced, not liking in the least someone...anyone talking about Blair that way or particularly threatening his partner.

"What?" Blair asked, obviously seeing Jim's expression change. He held up a hand to ward off any sudden barrage of questions.

"Because Blair counseled Ms Schmitt to leave Eric?" Jim asked.

"Yeah," the girl said. "But Eric thought Blair had taken Tami away from him. Either way though, he'd have reason enough to hold a grudge. She's really scared of him, Detective Ellison," Beck continued with a rushed breathlessness. "Tami's just scared. I couldn't convince her to tell you herself. I don't know that Eric meant anything by it or if he was just blowing off steam. You know people say things like that all the time and don't mean it. I just thought you should know."

Blair looked anxiously up at him, looking battered and tired, tired of the harassment, tired of the prejudice. Once again Jim found himself wishing he could make it all go away. Well, perhaps he couldn't make this ordeal disappear as if it had never happened, but he could find the culprits and make them pay. He could give Blair back the security and stability that had been ripped out from under his partner in the last several weeks.

He had no physical evidence of Mansford's involvement yet, but he could go talk to the guy and get a feel for the young man's current attitude...or maybe get the punk to roll over on himself. And he needed to know who else might be involved. Were there others? Was Dr. Fletcher an unwilling accomplice or the mastermind of this harassment?

"Ms Anderson. Thank you for stepping forward with this information. I'll check Mansford out thoroughly."

"Uh...could you do me a big favor and please not mention my name or Tami's. It's one thing to do the right thing quietly. It's just plain stupid to jump up and down in front of a mad bull. I'd just soon steer clear of Eric. Okay?"

"Of course."

"I gotta go now, Detective Ellison. Tami's due back anytime and I don't want her to know I called. She'd just freak out or something."

"I understand and thank you."

"Sure. And tell Mr. Sandburg I hope he's doing okay."

"Will do. Bye."

Jim hung up the phone and turned to watch his mate climb from the sofa. Blair moved with a slow distracted pace to the oven, removing the meatloaf and checking it.

"Eric threatened me, didn't he?" Blair asked without looking up. "What did he say?"

"Yeah, Chief," Jim replied with a reluctance to add to Blair's pain. "Sounds like he did, though it would be considered hearsay at a trial."

"What did he say?" Blair repeated, eyes confronting him with a deep hurt hue.

"You really don't want to know, babe."

Blair stared with that unrelenting gaze, pinning him and forcing Jim to answer with sheer will.

Jim sighed and came to stand next to his lover, a hand reaching out to caress Blair's right shoulder, well away from the injury.

"He said something to the effect that he was going to kill that little bastard, Sandburg."

"Great. Just great. That's what I have to look forward to back on campus. Some punk kid who has it in for me."

"Chief, I know how rough all this has been on you."

Blair shut the oven door and stared at the loaf of meat in the pan. "I'm just tired, Jim. I can handle what's going on at the U. But I'm still pissed about what happened yesterday. And I'm mostly pissed at how scared I was yesterday. That I let them scare me that badly."

"You didn't let them scare you, Blair. You were scared cause you had a reason to be. You're not a coward if that is where this is going. You did good."

"I got lucky, Jim. I got lucky and that makes no sense at all when I think about what I'm saying I got lucky about."

"Does Mansford scare you?" Jim asked. "You seem to keep backing off from dealing with this. Cause it's pretty serious business, threats like that."

Blair's gaze moved up from the meatloaf and turned to look at him. "I guess I'm still having trouble believing it's a student...or a professor. I guess I keep hoping it has something to do with me working with you, but I know it doesn't. It has nothing to do with what happened yesterday."

Jim stepped closer, hands going out to grasp Blair's forearms, not hard, but tight enough to gain and hold Blair's gaze. "It has everything to do with what happened yesterday, Blair. If not for whoever switched those slides, we'd still have control about when and how to let the world know we love each other."

Blair's gaze faltered, sliding away and back then away again. "Okay, you're right. Okay, so maybe it is Mansford. We don't have any proof as of yet."

"I know," Jim said, his grasp becoming caressing, sliding up Blair's arms to wind fingers in dark curls. He drew Blair closer and his lover's lips were warm and firm against his own. Afterwards, Jim let his fingers trail down Blair's face, wanting desperately to dispel the demons in Blair's haunted gaze.

Chapter 26

Professor Edwin Fletcher stood at his office window, staring out into the night. He wondered at how wrong his search for vengeance had gone, how he had only wanted someone, anyone to suffer for the wrongs done him over the years, the mediocrity of life. He only wanted someone else to feel the failure he had felt time and time again, being passed over for the best positions, gone unselected for the best research projects.

And Blair Sandburg represent all Edwin knew he'd never be, all the lost opportunities, all the hopes and dreams he'd had of a brilliant career. Blair Sandburg was on the verge of that brilliant career. The one that should have been his.

But nothing had gone as he had hoped. Again failure was his companion and he'd have to let Sandburg go on to be whatever was to be...silver platters and all from fawning deans and students who waited in line to take the young man's classes.

He still wished he could have seen Sandburg sent packing, still held his grudge, still desired to see the teaching fellow fall on his face. He'd simply have to cherish the few moments they had achieved, the slide presentation and the media coverage afterwards.

A smile pulled at his mouth when he recalled the horror on Sandburg's face and the man's lover, Ellison, shouting from the crowd. He remembered the slides, of the two men locked in an embrace of passion, oblivious to the camera or prying eyes.

Humiliation is so very painful, isn't it, Mr. Sandburg? And a joy to behold.

"They're not coming, Professor," Cornell Keane said. "I told you Eric is way over the edge and Tom is egging him on all the way."

Professor Fletcher turned to gaze on two of his young men, Keane and Read Seymour. The only two to heed his summons to his office. Cornell sat, fidgeting like a dog waiting to be let outside. Read sat also, but seemed resigned to something as if the young man already knew he had flunked an important test.

"They had best come," Fletcher said, sitting at his desk once more. "They will not enjoy the consequence otherwise. This vendetta can not continue. It must end now before the price of those consequences becomes too high."

"Eric won't stop," Read offered in a flat tone. "He's rabid. He's pumped on this revenge thing."

"And he's going to get us all caught." Keane sprang up and stalked the office. "My old man will fucking flip if he hears about this...if we get caught. We'll end up kicked out of school. We'll end up in jail."

"Calm down, Cornell. We only need to convince Eric and Thomas to stop and let the harassment cease."

Cornell whirled on him. "How do you stop a fucking maniac? Two fucking maniacs. I've known Tom since we were kids. He use to pull the wings off of butterflies and fry ants with a magnifying glass. He once set a cat's tail on fire. He can be a sick bastard when he wants to be, Professor."

Fletcher pursed his lips. "We can do without the expletives, Mr. Keane. And once I explain the facts in a calm, controlled manner, Eric will see the wisdom of retreat. And so will Thomas."

"You are not getting this, Professor Fletcher," Read offered when Keane flung him an incredulous glance. "They don't intend to stop and they intend to do something really dirty to Sandburg. I could see it in Thaw's eyes. He's got something bad in mind and we are stuck in the middle of something ugly. They'd be here now if they wanted to listen."

Cornell stalked forward, fist banging on Fletcher's desk. "I didn't sign on for this, Professor. We were suppose to have some fun. Pull a few pranks. No one was suppose to get hurt too bad. We were suppose to scare Sandburg off campus, not start this physical violence shit. And that's where this mess is heading. Now what are you going to do about it?"

Fletcher shook his head. "I'll have to put a stop to it. I'll have to go find him and talk him out of any other action."

"Good luck," Read said. "The cops are asking questions and the cops are getting closer. One more thing happens to Sandburg and we are as good as caught. End of Rainier, end of careers, done deal and dead in the water."

"Yes, Ellison was here not long ago. He's like a hound on a scent and as protective of Blair Sandburg as any mate would be."

Fletcher stared off, seeking some inner wisdom, some spark of brilliance that would end this fiasco without doing damage to any of their careers, current or future. But nothing brilliant came to him, nothing miraculous when it came to stopping someone who had gone out of control. And he'd thought he'd had complete control over his young men, that they listened and fed off of his advice. Yet here they sat, their numbers divided and all seemed lost and without meaning.

He felt the two men's gazes on him, waiting expectantly. "I'll go talk with Eric and Thomas," Fletcher finally said. "And I'll offer them an ultimatum. If they refuse to stop the harassment, if they do not heed my words of wisdom, I'll be forced to go to the police and confess. I'll expect both of you to own up to your parts in this vendetta."

He saw Cornell Keane close his eyes and suck in a breath. Read Seymour nodded with that same resigned expression. Like a man being lead to the gallows.

"The consequences will be harsh, but not nearly as harsh as they will be if Mr. Sandburg is injured by Eric's and Thomas' overzealous desires for blood. Let's hope I can reason with them, men. For if I can't convince them, we'll need to stick together and make our confessions together"

"Dammit! He's going to go to the cops!" Eric hissed. "Fucking traitors every one of them."

"Easy, Eric," Tom Thaw said, calm and seemingly without concern over Fletcher's threat.

They sat at a table with some sort of listening device Eric had never seen before, courtesy of Tom's uncle again. They had bugged Fletcher's office, all the while thinking the effort was an interesting exercise in surveillance, but unlikely to glean them anything.

Yet Tom had insisted they try. And the thrill of doing this spy stuff and getting away with it was intoxicating as a case of ice cold beer and a hot babe on a Saturday night.

"What the hell does your uncle do for a living anyway, Thaw? Work for the CIA?"

Thaw flung him a secretive glance and smiled that little sadistic smile Eric was really getting to like. That smile always meant something and this time it meant something special.

"Can't say. My uncle would have to kill you if I did."

Eric shifted in his chair then rose and paced back and forth across the apartment, an expensive one his parents paid for simply because he didn't want to live in a Frat house or at home. "I'm not stopping now, Tom. I'm going to have my revenge on Sandburg. And nobody is going to stop me. Not even Professor Fletcher. That stupid old fucker. What did I ever see in him as a mentor? He doesn't even have the balls to finish this thing right."

"One thing at a time, Eric. Fletcher is going to come looking for us and he's going to try to get us to stop. Or he goes to the police. He's threatening us."

Eric cocked his head and glared. A sneer pulled at his mouth. "Yeah. Fletcher is threatening us. We can't let him do that. Nobody threatens Eric Mansford and gets away with it."

"That's right, Eric. We have to stop him from talking to the cops. And we have to do that before he comes here. People would see him and know where he was. We've got to stop him before he ever gets to us."

"What about Keane and Seymour. They're just as bad. They're ready to feed us to the sharks just to save their own asses."

Thomas Thaw smiled again as if he had an idea, one that would appease Eric's rising need to throttle someone until he got a chance at Blair Sandburg.

"When Professor Edwin Fletcher has a terrible accident, my friend, I would imagine our dear fellow comrades, Cornell and Read, will be less than eager to share any information they may have with the police. I think fear is the answer to this particular problem. They'll be in too deep to dig their way out to rat on us."

Eric grinned back, the thrill rising again, heady and filling him with a lightheaded giddiness he'd never felt before. "Yeah. A terrible accident. Poor Professor Fletcher." Eric grabbed up his car keys and threw Thaw a conspiratorial look. "What are we waiting for, Thomas, my man? Let's get this plan in gear."

Chapter 27

Jim woke with the pulsing tone from the telephone ringing in his ear. Blair moaned and rolled over, not even half awake. He stroked the hair from Blair's face and reached for the receiver.

"Yeah....Ellison," he growled. "And this better be good for two in the morning."

"It's not good, Jim," Simon's voice echoed on the line. "But I think it's something you'll want to check out."

At least, Simon didn't sound any happier to be awake at this hour of the morning than he did.

"What's up, Simon?" Jim pushed to a sitting position and saw Blair was awake, pushing up to lean on one elbow then think better of it with a cracked collarbone. "What's going on?"

"A car accident not too far from the University. One Dr. Edwin Fletcher, dead at the scene."

Jim flashed Blair a surprised glance and his partner came alert with alarmed interest. "What is it?"

"Fletcher's dead," Jim relayed. "Auto accident or more."

"Oh my god," Blair said.

"Patrol called me cause it looked suspicious and thank god you still have a few friends in uniform," Simon continued. "Kelly remembered you were investigating those harassments on campus and thought you'd want to know about this so called accident."

"We'll get right on it, sir. I want to check out that vehicle before it gets towed."

"Kelly thought as much and is holding the scene for you. The car ran off the road just north of ST62 on Fitzpatrick. Let me know what you find."

"Yes, sir." Jim hung up the phone and let his hand slip over Blair's bare shoulder on the way back. "You don't have to go if you don't want to, sweetheart. I know you're still not up to par right now."

"No. I want to. I just can't believe Professor Fletcher is dead. They don't think it was just an accident?"

Jim climbed out of bed and began to dress. Blair did the same.

"The patrolman thought the accident looked suspicious. I don't know what that means until we get there and check it out. But let's hustle, Chief. Personally, I hope it is only an accident, but we can't take that chance."

Blair felt as if he were in a dream. A bad dream, but a dream nevertheless. The last five weeks had been a fucking nightmare and now, Dr. Fletcher was dead. Although he hadn't known the man all that well, had found him on the pompous side and often condescending to him, as if he were a child, Blair still had respected the man. He found it hard to believe that Fletcher had been a part of the harassment. But then he never went looking for people's dark sides or their faults. He always wanted to search out the good in people and was, most of the time, rewarded for his efforts.

Now, he rode along in Jim's truck at two something in the morning, still slightly hungover from a Tylenol 3 he'd taken before bed. A steady drizzle had coated the roads and it wasn't all that hard to believe that an older gentlemen might just slide on rain slick pavement and careen over the edge and down the steep hillside.

But where had Fletcher been going and how long had it been since the accident had happened? How long did Fletcher's car lay in that ravine before anyone noticed and reported it? Who had seen the Professor last...before the fatal crash?

Finding the scene wasn't hard. Lights flashed and a forensics van was already there. Blair wondered if they'd have to deal with Cassie or Sam. He preferred Cassie actually although she annoyed Jim to no end. He hadn't faced Sam since he and Jim had been outed and wasn't certain he felt up to her acid banter just then.

They climbed out and walked over to the broken guard rail. The murk below was cut only by the lights set up by the uniforms. A couple of them looked their way and leaned in to whisper to one another. Blair didn't want to know what they had to say. Just hoped the cops would do their job and left them to do theirs.

Officer John Kelly saw them and headed their way.

"Detective Ellison," Kelly began. "Sorry to drag you out on a night like this, but when I ran the plates, I found out the owner was a Rainier professor. I think the man's brakes went out. That always makes me suspicious, particularly on a vehicle this new."

The man glanced over at Blair and gave him a nod, at least, acknowledging his existence. Probably as close to neutral as he was likely to get with so many other uniforms around.

"Thanks for noticing," Jim replied. "Fletcher was actually a probable material witness in the case I'm investigating."

"Well, there goes your witness."

"Right," Jim said. "Body still in the car?"

"Yeah, Ms Wells is already down there. Fair warning. I told her not to mess with anything until you got here, but....."

"Like Wells will listen."

"Jim," Blair said. "Don't prejudge."

"No judgement necessary, Chief. Pre or otherwise." Jim put up his hands to ward off Blair's chastisement. "She's already making a name for herself without me judging."

With care, they picked their way down the slippery slope and Blair steeled himself. He'd seen enough dead bodies lately, but the seeing never seemed to get any easier.

Indeed, Cassie was already poking around inside the ruined vehicle, flashlight working the scene like a strobe light.

"I hope you left the detective work to me this time, Wells," Jim said, leaning down to peer in on the driver's side."

"Hi guys," Cassie offered in return, ignoring Jim's jab without heat. "Looks like a broken neck and massive head injuries. I snagged his wallet out of his jacket pocket. Dr. Edwin Fletcher. Matches the plates ID."

Blair watched Jim give her an exasperated expression, but Cassie ignored it and moved out of the detective's way.

"Hey, you doing?" the woman asked with seeming sincerity. "Sounds like you've had a hell of a week."

Blair glanced down, away from the car's interior. He'd seen Fletcher and it was the professor, neck at an odd angle and blood everywhere. He hoped the man hadn't suffered and he hoped Jim was managing his sense of smell, turning down that particular dial.

"I've...had better weeks, Cassie."

"I'm still appalled at what I heard. Some cops arrested you on drug charges and resisting arrest?"

"Oh yeah. Trumped up and ludicrous."

"I'm really sorry you're being treated that way. There's no excuse for that kind of behavior whatever your beliefs."

"Thanks. I wish more people were as tolerant as you."

She gave a little laugh and leaned in close to him. " and Jim. Wow." She gave him a raise of her eyebrows and a knowing nod. "I should have known. You two just look right together. A perfect couple."

"Uh...yeah. We'll see about the perfect part."

Jim moved out from the car and Blair went with him, following along and knowing Jim was looking for something.

"Can I have at the body now, Ellison?" Cassie called after them.

"He's all yours, Wells," Jim yelled back . "Go for it."

They followed an unseen trail from the front of the car around to the back then up the slope and down the road a ways. "Jim, what is it? Break fluid?"

"Exactly, Chief. Broken line...or cut. I'd need to get under the car to be sure. But Kelly was right. Definitely brake failure and on a car of this year, shouldn't have happened. It's practically brand new."

They moved back down the slope again, still looking for possible clues. Cassie stomped towards them through a growing downpour.

"Does it rain all the time here?" she asked as she pulled off gloves. "We'll tow the car in and have a full report to you by tomorrow...oh, I mean later this afternoon. Autopsy report probably by this evening if you're in a hurry."

"I'm in a hurry," Jim said. "I'm interested in the brake line. That's what caused the accident, looks like. The question is natural or deliberate. My money's on deliberate."

"How would you know that?" Cassie asked with almost belligerent incredulousness.

Jim rolled his eyes and took a deep breath, barely tolerating the forensics chief. "It's my job to know, Wells. Come on, Chief. Let's go home."

Blair gave Cassie an apologetic shrug. "Gotta go."

"Hey, you're the one that has to live with him. Good luck."

"Am I that hard to live with, Blair?" Jim asked once they were back on the road and heading home. "Tell me the truth cause I'll know if you're lying."

Blair gave a laugh. "Oh man. You just set me up to fail. My heartbeat is going to go crazy either way I answer now, because I'll be afraid of offending you if I say you are and you'll tell me I'm lying if I say you aren't."

Jim didn't answer at first and Blair waited. " I that hard to live with or not?"

But Blair saw Jim's smile in the headlights of an on coming car.

"You're an anal retentive control freak. But I love you, Jim. We both have our faults. Being a couple is not being perfect. It's learning to live with what we don't necessarily like about someone along with what we love about them. Your house rules get to be a pain sometimes----"

"And you ignore them most of the time," Jim countered.

"And you put up with it because you love me."

"And I want you there."

"And I want to be there."

"So am I hard to live with?"

"Shut up and drive, Jim. It's nearly four in the morning."

"Almost time to get up."

"I think we should sleep in," Blair said in a sultry voice, moving closer to Jim, hand sliding up and down his lover's thigh. "Don't you?"

"Oh baby. You drive me crazy when you do that."

Blair leaned in close and kissed Jim's neck, tongue tickling at the ear. "I'll do more than that if you get us home in one piece."

"Promises, promises."

"You betcha, sweetcakes," Blair replied and rubbed his hand against Jim's crotch.

Chapter 28

Blair woke from a dream filled with warm caresses and soft breath on his skin. Light, defused and gentle, kissed his shoulder and he sighed with contentment and a sense of peace.

The caresses continued down his back. The warm breath nuzzled at his neck. He lay there in that half sleep and rode the tactile pleasure of being awakened by his lover like a slow rolling wave.

The kisses moved along his cheek, nestled against his hair. Hands moved to push back his curls to reveal the line of his throat and the back of his neck.

The body surrounded him, fitted to him like a second skin along his back and the hand moved again, tracing a delicate pattern from his shoulder to his hip.

Fingers massaged the upper mound of his buttocks and stroked down his thigh. The action made him stretch like a cat waking from an afternoon nap in the sun.

Yet Blair couldn't, refused to completely wake just yet, relishing the tender administration of hand and mouth. He felt a slick finger slide along his cleft, seeking entry to his body and Blair relaxed and smiled sleepily.

The finger massaged him, drawing across his prostate. He felt his cock hardening and the hand moved down between his legs, adjusted his position for access to his balls.

The massaging went on in a languid dance, the building of pressure a steady ramble. Two then three fingers slid into him, stretching him for entry and Blair complied.

His lover's hard length replaced the fingers and after a moment's resistence, slid into him. He heard his lover sigh and groan, felt his lover's cock fill him to painful then the pain eased away and all Blair felt was completion, two who had become one in a union of unique pairing.

His breath caught and shuddered out of him once the rhythm picked up. And he clung to the bedcovers with both hands, holding on for the ride.

His lover lay behind him, snuggled into him as close as his own flesh. That long taut body, muscled and beautiful, possessed him with those lips and tongue nibbling and licking at the back of his neck, hand holding him with an iron grip on his hip.

Then the hand moved, around to stroke his cock, playing him like an instrument and the silent music it played was for them alone, a sweet strain of hardening muscle longing for completion, longing for orgasm.

His hips moved in rhythm with the stroking and the thrusts behind him, all coordinated as if they had done this all their lives, wishing they had been. So much time wasted and lately Blair felt as if time, somehow, was running out, that something would destroy...ruin this beautiful love still in its infancy. They had overcome so much already, female diversions and lost loves reappearing and not being what they appear. Yet Blair feared something yet unknown would yank him away, break the bond of his and Jim's love and friendship.

With a mental shove, Blair thrust the thought from his mind, refusing to corrupt this moment of transcendence. Jim loved him. Blair loved Jim. They, together, could overcome any problem. They, together, would fight off any doubts or disappointments or fears.

He felt his lover's thrusts pick up with urgency, a need that Blair could satisfy. And he loved being able to do that, that he could give Jim that pleasure. That was everything to him, giving and loving and taking in return only to give all back once again.

His lover growled and gently sucked on Blair's neck, all the while the hand worked him and Blair felt the coming, felt his lover's impending orgasm even as the powerful thrusts sent his lover's fluids into him and Blair succumbed to his body's inevitable need for release.

They lay locked together for an eternal moment, the kisses on his neck not yet ceasing and the hand that had worked him into a frenzy of desire now stroked his hip once again and slid up his shoulder.

Jim leaned up over him and his lover's hand touched his face, turned him to meet Jim's gaze. He smiled a soft languid smile and Jim slipped out of him and moved in for a kiss.

"Good morning, Chief."

"Good morning, Jim. Thanks for the wake up call. Very unique."

"Who needs an alarm clock with me around?"

"Not me, lover. Kiss me again? I love you."

Chapter 29

Jim lead the way down to Forensics, Blair in tow for he was not letting his partner out of his sight just yet here at the Precinct. Less than one week had passed since they were outed and though Simon had laid down the law to all the departments in the building about harassing Jim or Blair Jim wasn't ready to turn Blair loose among the wolves. Even ones with collars on and Simon Banks there to yank their chains.

"Sam might be in, Chief. Better be ready to face her."

Blair grimaced. "I'll just use you as a shield, Jim."

"At least Wells was pretty okay about us. Surprised the hell out of me."

"You really ought to give Cassie a chance, Jim. She's really okay if you get to know her."

"Yeah, like her leaving you in the car so that mob psycho could nearly kill you."

"I'm the one that decided not to go into that apartment with her. I was waiting for you."

"Still. If she had waited, like I told her, I doubt the guy would have made any moves towards you."

"Jim, please. Just try to be objective."

"I'll try. But if she flirts with you anymore, I won't be responsible for my actions."

"What about Sam?"

Jim glanced over at his partner and wanted badly to put his arm around Blair and kiss him right there in the hallway.

Not a good idea, Ellison. Separate work from home. Separate Sandburg, your working partner from Blair, your domestic partner.

"I'll probably have to keep Sam from killing you."

"What does she have to be mad about?" Blair asked, a tone of concern and a note of irritation tinging the words. "She's done nothing, but play games from the first time we went out. She never wanted a serious relationship. She made that plain enough on more than one occasion."

"Sam is Sam, Chief. For all we know she'll be the first to congratulate us on finding each other."

"Yeah...right." Blair did not sound anywhere near convinced.

They found Cassie at her desk, tapping away at her computer with a pen stuck in her mouth. The redhead glanced up and her eyes went wide. She made some sort of grunting sound and gave them a sign to wait just a minute.

Jim rolled his eyes and glanced around Forensics looking for Sam. Blair seemed intent on watching Cassie finish whatever it was she was doing.

"Come on, Wells. We don't have all day here," Jim sighed and felt the edges of a headache crawling up from his neck.

"Sorry," she said after pulling the pen from her mouth. "Had to finish that thought or it would have vamoosed. "You ready for the big news?"

"We were born ready, Cassie," Blair grinned down at her. "Uh...Sam isn't she?"

"She's out on a case," Cassie offered and got her first really good look at Blair in the daylight. "Ooh, that's quite a shiner you got there."

It was Blair's turn to roll his eyes and Jim hated seeing his partner look embarrassed for something he had nothing to be embarrassed about.. "Courtesy of the Cascade P.D."

"I am so sorry, Blair. I thought Cascade was a bit more enlightened than that. Looks like I was wrong."

"Not your fault, Cassie."

"You got that report yet on the Fletcher car, Wells?" Jim interrupted. He really did wish Cassie didn't rub him so far the wrong way. He knew she was good at her job...when she did her job. And he knew she was sincerely sorry for Blair's pain.

"Sure Jim, right here." She handed him a clipboard with the information listed. "And looks like you were right. Brake line was cut. Deliberately. That was no accident. That was a homicide."

"Oh my god," Blair sighed and Jim saw his partner swallow down a lump of apprehension. "What now?"

"Don't look now, fellas," Cassie injected in a conspiratorial tone. "But here comes Samantha."

Jim turned to see the slender, dark-haired woman slip through the door and head towards them.

"Cassie," Sam said, ignoring both of them. "We've done a complete sweep of that drive by down on Switzer. I'll get started on preliminaries right away."

"Thanks, Sam."

Sam swung around and fixed Blair with a hostile gaze, dismissing her superior without so much as a word. "Blair Sandburg. I'm surprised you have the guts to show your face down here."

"He's working a case with me, Sam," Jim said, Blessed Protector mode up and running. "No hassles. Keep it work related and we'll all get along just fine."

She flicked her stare over at him then back to Blair without a word. Her eyes did the talking.

"Sam,"Blair began. "I never meant to mislead you. We never committed to a relationship----"

"You see it anyway you want to, Blair," Sam interrupted. "I'll see it the way I want to. I don't date bi-sexuals. So when you and Jim finish your sordid little affair, don't come running back to me when you need a woman to bed."

"That's uncalled for, Sam," Jim said. He leaned over her, finger thrusting into her face "You've played games with Blair since the beginning. Don't act like you haven't. You've used him and you've enjoyed every moment of it. So get over it, woman. He's with me now and doesn't need you to fulfill any needs."

Sam's gaze moved from one to another. Blair glanced away, just one more humiliation to chalk up for the week. And Cassie stood watching like she wasn't happy about the confrontation taking place in her department, but knowing it was better to have done with it and over, than leave unsaid words hanging.

"Is that the way you feel, Blair?" Sam said. "Is Jim it? Your final choice? Like you know how to make a choice, " she added snidely.

Blair's eyes flicked back up, catching Jim's gaze then moved to match Sam's dare.

"Jim is my choice, Sam. I've committed to him. You and I were playing. And you know it. You and I never intended to have a long term relationship. That's the way it was. Not just the way I saw it. If you'd be honest with yourself you'd admit that and let it go. I'm sorry, Sam. I never meant to hurt you."

"Hurt me?" the woman queried, flinging her long black hair behind her. "You couldn't hurt me, Sandburg. You don't mean enough to me to hurt me. Get over yourself. And if your prefer letting some butch cop fuck you, that's your problem, not mine."

Jim hated this because this confrontation was his fault. If he'd not lost his head over Lila, if only he'd just realized what she was and how bad she was for him, he'd never had let his and Blair's relationship slip backwards. And Blair wouldn't have gone looking for solace in Sam's bed again. Until then, Blair had lost all interest in Sam and vice versa. But he'd blown it and now Blair was being insulted and humiliated all over again because of him.

"That's enough, Sam," Cassie said, putting a hand up before Jim or Sam could say another thing. "I think that is quite enough. Blair doesn't deserve that from you and I'll not have Jim's and Blair's relationship an ongoing topic of conversation in this department. We have important work to do. Jim and Blair have important work to do. We have to work with each other and expect all concerned will manage to do so without letting prejudices or jealousies or hurt feelings get in the way of the professionalism. Do I make myself clear on this?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Sam finally said just short of an indignant tone.

Jim nodded, thankful for Cassie's nicely timed interruption. The woman had finally done something right.

"Fine," Cassie said, seemingly pleased with her asserted authority. "Let's get back to work then."

Sam threw Blair one more glare then stalked off to her cubicle.

"Thanks, Cassie," Blair said. "I hope I'm not the cause of any problems between you and Sam."

"Sam has an attitude that needs some serious adjustments, Blair," Cassie replied. "But she's good at her job. Let her cool off. I think she just didn't want the game to end. Or for her to lose out in the end to a man. Another woman she might have handled better." Cassie let the statement hang there for a moment. "But that's neither here nor there. You'll need to check with the pathologist about the Fletcher autopsy, but he seems to think cause of death will probably be head trauma."

"Sounds about right," Jim offered. "Come on, Chief. Let's go." Jim turned than thought of one more thing. "Wells," he said, turning back to the redhead. "Could you keep this info under wraps for a while? We'd really rather not let the ones who did this know we know?"

Cassie gave him one of those signature sideways grins she was becoming famous for around the precinct and nodded.

"Sure, Jim. Not a problem. It's an accident for the moment."

Chapter 30

"Fletcher is dead." Cornell Keane's heart beat at a frantic pace, fear rolling off his skin like sweat. He closed his eyes and tried to calm down, but the fear nagged at his mind and torn a hole in his stomach. "He lost it out on Fitzpatrick, right over the railing. He's dead, Read."

Seymour looked stunned, glancing around the parking lot as he got out of his jeep. Keane grabbed his friend's arm and shook.

"What are we going to do, man? They say it was brake failure. But the Professor just got that car less than six months ago. It's brand fucking new. Why would the brakes fail?"

"A defect, Keane. Man, relax," Read replied, obviously seeing his distress. "Hey, calm down."

Cornell threw a quick glance around, turning a little away from a quartet of girls, the volume of his voice dropping. "He was going to see Eric." He let the words drop like lead weights.

"Oh, don't go there. Don't even suggest that Eric...."

"Fletcher was going to the cops. Eric must have panicked. Oh god, oh god!"

"Stop it, Keane," Read said through gritted teeth. "Just cool it, man. You are talking murder now. It was an accident. I'm sorry Professor Fletcher is dead, but it was an accident. It had to be a fluke, just coincidence."

Keane shook his head. He didn't believe in flukes. He didn't believe in coincidence of this kind. Eric was over the edge, had dropped right over the fucking edge of reality and had taken the plunge into a world Cornell didn't even want to know about.

"We've got to go to the cops, Read. I'm not going to take the rap for murder. This is so far beyond where I expected this to go."

"Listen to me, Cornell. Listen. You don't know that it was anything, but an accident. But you're probably right about the cops. If only Fletcher had gotten to Eric and Tom and talked them out of taking this vendetta against Sandburg any further, we could let it lie. But Eric isn't going to stop and neither is Tom. I don't know what that guy's deal is, but he's egging Eric on and getting a fucking kick out of it."

A red car screeched to a halt near them, convertible top down even with the threat of another rain storm looming on the horizon and the air still cool and crisp. Keane's heart dropped to his stomach and rebounded into his throat.

Eric and Tom.

"Hey," Eric said from the driver's side. "You two look like you just saw a ghost."

Eric's tone was snide...arrogant and daring them to do anything about it.

"Eric," Read said and strode over to the car. "You guys hear about Professor Fletcher?"

God, how did Read do that? Act like Eric was sane. Act like those two weren't possible murderers.

"Yeah, so sad...too bad," Eric replied with obvious feigned grief. "He was a decent advisor...for an old fucker. Sounds like he took that curve there on Fitzpatrick a little too fast."

"The brakes failed," Cornell found himself saying and wondering why he opened his mouth. He wanted nothing to do with Eric Mansford anymore. Or Tom Thaw.

"Hey Keane," Eric said, glancing up at him. "You still looking over your shoulder?"

"Cut it out, Eric," Read injected. "This is serious stuff here. Did Professor Fletcher talk to you before the accident?"

Eric shook his head. "Naw, not me." Mansford threw a glance over to Tom who had said absolutely nothing throughout, just sat there and watched all of them with a calculating gaze that made Cornell's skin crawl. "How about you, Tom? Fletcher talk to you before his untimely demise?"

Tom shook his head. "Not me. Man, I'm really going to miss him though."

Why had he gotten mixed up with this bunch? Read was the only one even remotely short of crazy here.

"Then we need to talk, guys," Read continued. "We have got to agree not to do anything else about Sandburg. This is serious, Eric. We're on the verge of jail time."

"Oh we're way passed that now, Read, my man," Eric replied with a smile that made Cornell sick to his stomach.

"What are you saying, Eric?" Read stepped back a pace from the car, towering over the two sitting, but not intimidating them in the least. "How are we way passed? Please tell me you had nothing to do with Fletcher's death. Please."

Eric shrugged and Tom looked on with the serene gaze of a man without a conscience.

Keane moved forward and pulled at Seymour's arm.

"Eric, what have you and Thaw done?" Read said with a hushed plaintive horror. Seymour resisted Keane's tugging. "Eric?" Read said through gritted teeth.

"Too late now, Seymour. And don't even think about going to the cops. You are in this as deep as we are and we'll take you down if we go. We've got business to do. Business that includes a pretty boy, long-haired fag teaching fellow And you know what happened to Fletcher? It can so easily happen you. Not the car necessarily. You have to be creative about these things. Isn't that right, Tom?"

Thomas Thaw nodded and smiled that sadistic smile.

"That's what Professor Fletcher taught us, isn't it?" Eric went on. "To be clever and creative. I guess he never thought those lessons would come back on him."

Seymour took a staggering step back almost into Keane's embrace and he felt Read's shudder as if it were his own.

Eric's arrogant smile turned to sneering contempt. "You remember what I said, Seymour...Keane. If the cops come looking for me, I'll take you down, traitors. It'll be the last thing you ever do."

Cornell watched Eric slam the convertible into gear and gun the sports car away. Both of them stared after it caught in a nightmare, caught between their own dirty deeds and a threat too real to dismiss.

Chapter 31

Eric sat in a borrowed car, watching for his quarry to show. The rain had stopped and the night sky shown with lots of stars. He admired the scene and with smug satisfaction, recalled the horror stricken look on Read Seymour's face. And the sheer fright on Cornell Keane's.

He so enjoyed that thrill...of knowing it was him, his deeds, his actions that had caused such a reaction. And from Seymour. Seymour was always the cool one, telling him to relax and not get so worked up over stuff.

So much for relaxed, Read. You were fucked up tighter than a virgin's slit, man.

The look of Seymour's face had been priceless. And Eric knew he'd driven home his point. Read knew him well enough to know Eric didn't make threats he didn't intend to keep.

And there was Keane, so fucking scared the boy would have pissed his pants if Eric had said "boo" to him. Keane would go run and hide. That pussy didn't have the guts to go to the police.

Too bad you guys are going to miss the fun. Sandburg will be such a blast.

And Eric had so many ideas of what he wanted to do to the little faggot. He thought Tom had some good ideas too. And they would make it last. No hit and runs. No quick attack. Sandburg's screams would last well into the night and he was so looking forward to the moment he showed Mr. Blair Sandburg what happened to interfering ass holes that messed with his woman. And let men fuck him.

Speaking of his woman, Eric glanced up from his vendetta musings and saw Tami Schmitt coming down the walk from her beat up Cougar, grocery sack in hand and fumbling with her keys.

Eric slid from his car and made his silent way towards her. Just as Tami got the key in the lock, Eric was behind her, pushing her into the apartment. He slammed the door closed behind and locked it without looking away.

"Eric! Get out!! You have no right to come----"

Eric sent Tami sprawling backwards with a backhanded fist to the face. She cried out and the bag of groceries went flying in all directions. She lay huddled on the floor, bawling like some little baby. He jerked her up by her hair and slapped her hard across the mouth.

"Shut up, bitch. Just shut up."

She cringed away and he let her. "You can't do this, Eric. There's a restraining order against you. And...and Beck will be home soon."

He stood over her and enjoyed the superior feeling that gave him, as if she was just his little sex slave and he her master. Maybe he could get a quick fuck in as well tonight.

"I don't care about any goddamned restraining order, Tami girl. And Anderson is studying over at the library. I know for a fact, she's going to be there a while, so don't try to fuck with my mind, Tam. You and I got some things to talk about."

He saw the girl's green eyes go wide with new fear, more tears spilling down her face. Crying made her skin all blotchy around the eyes, but Tami was still a beauty even if she was just one more traitor in his life.

"What did you tell the cops about me?" She shook her head and tried to get up, but he used his foot to shove her back down. "Tell me, bitch."

"Eric...I...I didn't tell them anything that isn't common knowledge around campus. I swear to you, I didn't. I told him, Detective Ellison, that you wouldn't do anything like hurt Blair Sandburg. You wouldn't do that, Eric."

A laugh boiled up out of him, deep and dark and hard to keep under control.

"You don't think so, babe? You think I wouldn't hurt that little woman stealing fagboy?"

Her face screwed up with an incredulous expression. "That doesn't even make sense, Eric. Listen to yourself. Blair was only concerned about my welfare. He was concerned about you...hitting me. Nothing happened between us."

"What happened between you and me wasn't any of Sandburg's fucking business," he snarled, his finger pointing at her like a deadly weapon. "He stuck his nose where it didn't belong and now he's going to hurt, Tami. We've been hurting him in little bits for a month and a half. But that little bit crap is about to end and that boy is going to know just how much pain he can take."

"Eric," she cried and put her hands over her ears. "I don't want to hear this. I don't want to know." She curled up on her side and sobbed.

Reaching down, he grabbed her by the arm and hauled her to her feet and into his arms. "Shhhsh, baby," he said, his touch gentle now. "Hush now. You do what I say. You do me one little favor...or two and I'll walk out of your life forever. I promise. You just do a couple of things for me and I'll never bother you again."

He turned her toward her bedroom, his arm around her possessively. "Come on. Just one more time for old time sake. Just a little goodbye fuck, baby."

"Oh Eric, please no. It's over. Please let it be over. I can't stand this, please."

"Just this one last time, Tami...sweetheart. You remember how good it was between us when we were in bed. We were hot as an erupting volcano. Come on," he said and knew his voice had taken on that strained sound, like he was going to have it one way or another.

She must have heard it too for Tami finally acquiesced as he put her back to the mattress and she lie there beneath him, tasting good and smelling good and feeling so hot and moist and soft all over.

Beck Anderson shoved her key into the lock and practically fell into her apartment. Exhaustion sapped her will at two in the morning to even change clothes before dropping into bed. She pitched her pile of books and notes onto the couch and instantly came alert.

A can of chicken chow mein and a bag of oriental noodles lay on the floor, a grocery bag, half torn still had a couple of soggy frozen pizza's inside and a six pack of diet cokes. One of the cans had popped open and had spewed soda all over the carpeting. A bag of corn chips rounded out the strange array. Beck stared, trying through her tired mind to figure out the meaning of this mess.

A soft sobbing noise came from Tami's bedroom, a whimpering that sounded almost like an injured animal. She crossed the living room and stuck her head into Tami's open bedroom doorway.

"Tami," she said. "What's wrong, Tam?"

The blond head didn't rise, face turned away into a pillow. The girl's breath hiccuped then with a shake of the head resumed her sobbing.

"Tami? Tell me what's going on. What is with that mess in there?" She moved closer to the bed and couldn't help, but smell sex and see that Tami was naked beneath the light blanket wrapped around the girl's slender frame.

She reached out a tentative hand and Tami flinched from her touch.

"Leave me alone, Beck. Just leave me alone," Tami said through a shroud of hair. "I'll clean up the mess in the morning. Just leave it and I'll take care of it."

"That's not the point," Beck replied. "Is it? Something happened. Who came here tonight?"

"Leave it, Beck. Please, oh god, please. Just leave it. You don't want to get involved."

"Was it Eric?"

Tami jerked upward and the girl's hair fell back away from her face. A bruise spread across Tami's cheek, slightly swelling and the woman's lip was split and had recently bled.

"It was Eric." Beck felt her own eyes grow wide and her mouth tightened with anger.

"Just leave it the fuck alone, Beck!" Tami's agitation bubbled up and spewed out as anger towards her roommate. "I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about him."

"Did he rape you? Did he force himself on you?"

"Eric Mansford have to force a girl to spread her legs for him?" Tami asked with a bitter sarcasm that didn't require an answer. "Oh no. Not Eric. Doesn't every girl fall head over heels for him?"

"He hit you, Tam. My god. I thought this was over. There's a restraining order against him."

Tami's eyes were wild and the bitter expression of someone who had been lied to reared it's ugly head. "What's that to someone like Eric Mansford, Beck? What the hell does that matter to him?!"

"I'm calling the police and then we are going to the hospital." She moved to get off the bed, but Tami grabbed her arm and pulled her back down.

"No! No cops! No hospital! I let him fuck me. Okay? I let him!" Tami sniffed and ran hands back through straight blond hair. "It'll be over tomorrow, Becky. It'll all be over tomorrow." The blond seemed to try to meet Beck's gaze, but after a half-hearted effort, gave it up. A single tear that looked like regret slipped down over the dark splotch of bruise marring Tami Schmitt's beautiful face. "Eric will be out of my life then and I won't have to look over my shoulder any more."

Becky shook her head, knowing she must look confused. For indeed she was. What was Tami talking about? The girl wasn't talking rational. Didn't even seem know what she was saying.

"What do you mean, it'll all be over? How can you know that?"

But Tami refused to say another thing. Becky watched her roommate curl up into near fetal position and lie there unmoving

Becky left Tami there in the bedroom and closed the door. She stood for a long time staring at the canned goods and the ruined pizzas.

God damn you, Eric Mansford. God damn you for being an arrogant son-of-a-bitch. How many people's lives have you been messing with? How many people have you screwed over, Blair Sandburg included?

For Beck was certain now, so certain she would bet her next year's college tuition on it, that Eric Mansford was behind the slide switch and the hateful graffiti and destruction in Mr. Sandburg's office. Picking up the telephone, Beck dialed Detective Ellison's number.

Chapter 32

Jim was not happy. When all he'd wanted to do was commit all his attention to solving Blair's harassment case and see if the Fletcher murder was connected, he'd ended up with a big break in another case. He'd had to postpone finding and talking to Eric Mansford or any of those other students. He'd had to spend most of the afternoon and half the night on stakeout. He felt time pushing at him, but he had a job to do and the Morales case was a big one.

Blair had stuck with him throughout the evening and when the bust came, they had spent much of the rest of the night filling out paperwork and processing the perps. If there was justice in the world, any kind of justice, Enrico Morales would spend a great deal of time doing time and there would be one less big time crack dealer out on the streets of Cascade.

Then on reaching home without incident, there had stood Wendy Hawthorne, waiting outside their apartment building, still trying to get them to do an exclusive interview.

He liked Wendy in spite of her chosen career, but the thought of deliberately putting himself and Blair on the airwaves of Cascade television made his stomach turn. Even if Wendy was the one doing the interviewing.

Blair had run interference, had explained to Wendy their position. But like Blair had told him, Wendy was doing the news piece on them regardless of the interview. And the interview might make the deference between simple news reporting and a sympathetic story of two men loving each other and overcoming the odds.

Maybe not talking to her was a mistake, but Jim was too tired to care just then. He wanted breakfast at eight in the morning and he wanted to sleep a decent eight hours without interruption.

After a quick bite, Jim dragged Blair upstairs to bed and curled up to his lover's bare back. Sleep came in a matter of minutes and the last thing Jim remembered was Blair's soft even breath of restful slumber.

Beck Anderson paced the length of the apartment and back, staring at the telephone and willing it to ring. She really wished Detective Ellison would return her call. She'd left a message on his answering machine hours ago and although she had gone on to bed, leaving her distraught roommate holed up in the woman's own room, Beck felt an urgency to talk to the detective.

It was now nearly noon and Ellison hadn't yet called. She sighed and watched Tami exit her room, shuffling like a woman in a bad dream. Tami disappeared into the bathroom and Beck heard the shower running.

Well, at least, Tami was trying to pull herself together. Maybe they could go out and do something, go somewhere and try to forget Eric Mansford and all the rest. Yet, a foreboding nagged at her and wouldn't let her rest.

She sat on the couch and turned on the television, catching the midday news. She sipped a diet coke and waited for the weather report. And there was Detective Ellison trying hard not to talk to the reporters, but saying a few clipped words about catching a drug dealer, and how the Cascade P.D. was doing everything it could to protect the young people of Cascade from predators like Morales.

Beck couldn't help, but smile. The man was gorgeous for an older guy. For a moment she imagined Ellison and Blair Sandburg together, piecing in those couple of slides to fuel the sparks of her imagination. She giggled at the thought.

But then the reporter had to get personal and start in on Ellison about the slides and the "outing." Detective Ellison's expression turned hard and the man simply said, no comment and shoved his way through the crowd.

Tami came out of the bathroom with a towel on her head and a bathrobe wrapped around her body. The bruise had deepened on the girl's cheek and Beck thought she saw a hollow emptiness in Tami's green eyes.

"How you feeling this morning? Can I get you anything?" Beck rose and started towards her friend, but Tami shrank away, almost back into her room. "Hey, it's okay."

"Sorry. I feel like shit, Beck. But...I'm fine. I need some coffee. Do we have any?"

"Yeah, sure. I'll make you a cup."

"Stop being so nice, Anderson. Or I'll start calling you mommy."

Beck threw her roommate a weary glance, but went to put the kettle on and get out the instant coffee.

"I don't deserve it anyway," Tami added almost in a whisper, almost like she half hoped Becky wouldn't hear her or half hoped she would.

"Stop with the self deprecation. Eric's an ass hole and you should have called the police and gone to the hospital. He raped you whether you say different or not."

"Shut up, Beck. Just shut up." But the words were said without heat or conviction. "I'm too tired to argue with you."

"Who's arguing?" Beck said with a mischievous grin she hoped would lighten Tami's mood. "Just admit I'm right and we won't be arguing."

Tami gave her a little smile. "No comment."

"Oh, now you sound like Detective Ellison fending off the media."

Tami turned pale with the mention of the detective and Beck knew Tami must still be feeling some guilt over Blair being harassed.

"Never mind. Forget I said anything about the good detective." Beck poured steaming water into a cup and stirred in the coffee. She finished off the last of the milk and added two spoonfuls of sugar. "Here. That ought to make you human again."

Tami took the cup with a grateful sigh and sipped the dark sweet brew.

"You know, Tam. We ought to get out and do something tonight. Try to forget all this craziness. Maybe we could meet some cute decent guys at one of the clubs."

Tami's gaze slid downward, unable to meet Beck's. The girl turned her back to Beck and Tami's shoulders slumped as if some great weight was just about ready to crush her.

"I...can't tonight. I...I've got something I have to do."

"All night?"

"Yeah, it has to do with...finals. I've got to advisor. Tonight."

"It's Saturday night, Tam," Beck said moving to her friend's side again. "Since when does Professor Nunn make appointments on Saturday night?"

"It's important, Beck," Tami continued, but refused again to meet Beck's gaze. "I'm sorry. Maybe next week. Maybe in a few weeks. After finals. After...after finals."

Something didn't sound right. Tami didn't sound right. But then after a night like last night, Tami must still be upset. Maybe...but, something still didn't seem right.

"Yeah, sure. Whatever," Beck finally said, not knowing what else to say.

Chapter 33

Blair woke to the sound of movement from downstairs and the smell of something wonderful cooking. He glanced over at the bedside clock. Had he really slept all day and into the evening? And how long had Jim been up playing cook?

Climbing out of bed, Blair pulled on a pair of boxers and a tee shirt, feeling grungy and a little achy still from being roughed up by the cops. At least they had gotten Morales and that felt good, made him feel like all the injustices he had faced lately were worth it if he could help put drug dealing murderers in jail.

Jail...there was a thought best left unexplored.

The stairs felt solid beneath his feet and Jim was there at the bottom step, smiling up at him and looking clean and casually dressed for an evening in. A steaming cup of coffee carded away the woolen fuzz from his brain and Blair reached up for a kiss from his lover.

"Back with us here on earth, Sandburg? You slept like the dead," Jim said after the kiss and a gentle hug.

Blair ran a hand back through his hair, trying without much success to control the wild array of curls. "I must have been beat. Can't imagine why staying up for almost twenty-four hours would do that to me. Must be getting old."

"Well, you are heading towards thirty at a dizzying speed, Chief." Jim moved back to the kitchen to turn potatoes in the skillet and check some sort of chicken in the other pan.

"You know the saying, Jim. Live fast----"

Jim pointed a finger at him and gave him a stern look. "Don't even finish that thought, Sandburg."

Blair put his hands up, warding off Jim's sudden command. "Okay. Okay. It was a joke. Don't be so touchy. Do I have time for a shower and shave before dinner?"

"Yeah, but don't take too long. I've got a masterpiece here in the making with this chicken."

Blair rolled his eyes and headed to the bathroom. "Masterpiece," he muttered under his breath. "You can't get a masterpiece with a piece of frozen chicken and can of mushroom soup."

"I heard that, Sandburg."

"You do know I have a first name, don't you, Jim?" Blair said from the relative safety of the bathroom. He heard Jim growl and stomp his way. Blair shut the door, grinning and locked it firmly behind him.

He heard Jim go back to the kitchen and took his time showering and shaving afterwards.

"Sandburg! Dinner is going to get cold if you don't get your ass out here to eat," Jim said with a pounding of a fist on the door.

Blair jerked the door open with nothing, but a towel around his middle and reached out. His lips latched onto Jim's and after only a moment of stiff resistence, Jim's arms went around him and hand's moved up into his damp hair.

When they came up for breath, Blair said, "can I take a minute to get dressed, Jim?"

Jim's eyes were glazed a little and breath thick with desire. "Why? You look great right now."

Blair chuckled and glanced away, feeling triumph in disarming what might have been a bad mood on Jim's part. " does get a bit drafty downstair and I'm still on the damp side."

Jim sighed and released him with a languid caress. "Go get dressed, Chief. Can't have you catching cold. You want a beer with dinner?"

"Yeah, sounds great." He padded off and dressed then came back to what did look as close to a masterpiece as Jim Ellison would manage when it came to food. He sat and dished up a plateful. "It look delicious, Jim."

"No masterpiece though." But Jim smiled at him and obviously knew Blair had been joking. "Beck Anderson left a message while we were on stakeout last night. I didn't notice this morning when we came in."

"What did she want?" Blair asked around a mouthful of what had turned out to be a pretty good use for canned mushroom soup. He did his best to ignore the little bit of apprehension tickling at his spine.

"Don't know exactly. Just wanted me to call her back. I tried when I listened this afternoon, but she must have gone out. I really hate telephone tag. She sounded upset though. I'll try her again in a while."

Blair nodded and stared down at his meal.

Every time they tried to just to do normal things, things like have a nice dinner together or enjoy an evening in without interruption, something reminded them of the outside world, a world that did not understand the love that had developed between him and Jim. A world that condemned them for the act of love.

"You okay, babe?" Jim asked, reaching out to brush Blair's hair back from his face, caressing the bruise still vivid around his eye and cheek.

"I'm fine, Jim. I'm...okay. Dinner really is good." He managed a smile and Jim smiled back. All was well between them and that was all Blair could hope for at the moment. Everything else would just have to work itself out in the long run.

They were washing up the dishes when the telephone rang and Jim was already heading for it, picked it up with the usual, "Ellison."

There was a pause, Jim listening and Blair paid little attention until he heard Jim say. "What can I do for you, Mr. Keane?"

Blair dried his hands off and came to stand next to Jim, waiting for the conversation to end.

Cornell Keane? One of Eric Mansford's buddies? Why would Keane be calling Jim?

"I see," Jim said, throwing a quick glance over to Blair. "Can you meet me at Central Precinct?"

This was driving Blair about half crazy. He tried to get Jim's attention, but Jim waved him off with a signal to wait.

"Uh huh. If you'd feel better about doing it that way. That would be fine. Okay. Forty-five minutes then."

Jim hung up and stared into space with a thoughtful frown on his handsome face.

Blair pulled on his partner's arm. " Don't leave me hanging here. What was that all about?"

Jim came back to real time with a sniff and shake of the head. "Yeah...well. Seems Mr. Cornell Keane has something he wants to get off his chest and doesn't want to do it over the phone. And he's nervous about coming to the precinct. He might not get a choice depending on what he has to say when I see him."

"You're going to go meet him," Blair stated. "Now."

"Looks like it. I'll be back as soon as I can, Chief. And don't even ask if you can go. This case is personal enough for me. It's too personal for you. Anyway he wants to meet on campus and you're not suppose to be on grounds before Monday."

"I know. But be careful. Please."

Jim bent down to him, a quick kiss following. "I'm always careful, sweetheart." Then Jim was off up the stairs to finish dressing.

Chapter 34

"Ellison took the bait," Thomas Thaw said with a sly grin aimed at Eric. "Like a fish on a hook. He's a danglin'."

"It's not Ellison I want to see danglin'," Eric said in mock of his cohort. "It's Sandburg." Eric stalked away from the payphone, glancing around to make sure no one noticed them. "So he really thought you were Keane, huh?"

Tom followed him to the car where they leaned on the polished finish. "I told you he would. No reason for him to know different. While he's on campus trying to figure out why Keane hasn't met him where he's suppose to, we'll be baiting a new hook for Sandburg. Give it fifteen minutes. Make sure Ellison has left his apartment."

Eric leaned into the car and dug a can of Coors out of a cooler and shook off the excess ice. He reached into the back seat and grabbed a slender arm, feeling the girl's resistence. He smiled and wondered important things to do tonight.

"How's my pretty Tami doing? Ready for your acting debut, sweetheart?"

But Tami Schmitt just jerked her arm away and took another hit off her Jack Daniels bottle, somewhere very close to tears.

How could she drink that stuff straight up like that? Didn't matter and neither did the tears. She'd just sound more convincing, more pitiful and compelling to the likes of Sandburg.

"Just a few more minutes, baby and you can walk away. Hear me? I'm out of your life for good. And you just remember what will happen to you if you give Sandburg any reason to doubt your sincerity or think better of not meeting you tonight. What I've got in mind for him can just as easily translate to you. And there would go your pretty, pretty face."

Blair had watched Jim go, feeling out of sorts and disjointed, like something nagging at his brain, trying to tell him something. He sat at the kitchen table with a couple of books and his computer and thought he might as well get some work done on his dissertation while he was still in the marginal good graces of Dean Wilcox.

But his mind kept drifting to Jim and wondering what Cornell Keane was telling Jim, what the student knew and if Keane was one of his harassers. The thought made his heart hurt a little. He'd had nothing, but good things to say about Keane in the passed couple of semesters, a good student who perhaps tried to get by on as little as necessary rather than putting his entire effort into doing his best. But even Keane's minimal was often better than some that did try harder.

And what of Eric Mansford? Mansford might be considered brilliant...if he wasn't so concerned with being the campus playboy and bully at the same time. Eric had shown a great deal of promise in what Blair had read of the student's work. But this last semester, what with the problems with Tami Schmitt and Eric's rumored rampant temper, Eric's school work had deteriorated. At least that's what a couple of TA's had told him at a recent faculty meeting. Blair knew that Mansford was not only capable of being his harasser, but had clear motive as well.

Pulling off his glasses, Blair rubbed at his eyes, that feeling of something wrong still nagging at him. He jumped when the telephone rang.

"Hello," he said, knowing it was too soon for Jim to be checking in.

"Blair?" a tentative female voice said. "It's Tami...Schmitt."

"Tami. Hi. What's the matter?" He had no trouble hearing the distress in Tami's voice.

"I...oh Blair. I need to talk to I need your help, please."

"What's going on, Tam? How can I help?"

He heard her sniff back tears and almost sob into the mouthpiece.

"Where are you?" he asked when she said nothing to his first two questions. "Tami."

"Oh Blair, I'm so tired. I'm so tired of everything. I don't know if I can keep doing this."

"Doing what? Tami! Don't even think of doing anything foolish."

Was she thinking of suicide?

"I...oh god. I feel so alone, Blair. I feel...feel like everything is falling apart. You were the only one who ever listened to me. The only one to help me when I was so desperate."

"That's not true, Tami. You have lots of friends and lots to live for," Blair offered in his most soothing voice.

"I don't feel like I do. I feel I just want it all to be over."

"Where are you, Tami? I'll come meet you. Just say where and I'll be there."

"Blair...." He heard her take a deep breath and she seemed calmer, her breath momentarily easier. "Can you meet me at that little coffee shop, Cafe Coffee? I used to work there. It's just outside the city limits going north on SR47. I'd feel more comfortable talking there. Please?"

"Of course. I can be there in...." He glanced over at the clock on the kitchen wall. "In about twenty, twenty-five minutes. Okay?"

"Okay," she echoed him. "I can do that."

"Good." Blair felt a pang of relief. "You just hang in there, Tami. Everything is going to work out fine. You'll see. Just wait for me there."

"Blair," she said as if she was about to start crying again. ""

"Not a problem, Tami. That's what friends do for each other. See you soon."

Blair hung up the phone, now knowing what had been nagging him. Tami was having trouble coping with some problem. A big problem and he wondered for a moment if Eric was that problem.

He ran up the stairs, quickly changing from sweats into jeans, tee shirt and flannel. He pulled on a jacket and like a whirlwind grabbed his glasses, pack and keys, almost out the door before running back to leave a note for Jim.

He did not need James Ellison mad at him for not leaving a note as to where he was going and why.

Locking the loft behind him, Blair ran down the stairs and into the night like a knight in shining armor going to rescue the damsel in distress.

Eric took the phone away from Tami and placed it back in its cradle. He steered her back to her car and sat her in the driver's seat. She wasn't going anywhere before he said so, not while he held her keys. She acted like a zombie anyway, staring off with those big green eyes of her's brimming over with tears, her petite mouth pulled down into a frown of what looked like pure misery.

That's all right, Tami, baby. Let it eat at you. You helped cause this situation. You brought us to this crossroad. Bear the guilt with a little dignity, bitch.

But instead those green pleading eyes rose to try to catch him in one of her spells. Maybe that's how she snagged even a faggot like Sandburg in her web. Maybe she enchanted the Jewboy even against his will.

"Eric...please don't do this. Please don't hurt him. He's done nothing to you. Really he hasn't. Please don't hurt Blair."

Eric grabbed a handful of blond hair and yanked hard, glad they were parked in the shadow of the coffee shop. The light was out on this side nearest the phone. Perfect for catching their quarry off-guard. She gave a little muffled cry that he covered with his hand.

"You listen up, slut. Someone is going to hurt tonight and it's going to be Blair Sandburg. You got that, bitch? He's messed in my business and he's got to be taught a lesson. Tom and I have several...history lessons to teach him tonight. Once we have him, you can go home. Don't talk to anyone about anything or I'll find you and I promise you will live to regret it."

He let her go with a shove and she hunched over the steering wheel bawling again.

What did he ever see in her anyway other than what was between her legs?

He leaned against the car and waited, feeling edgy and needing to dispense with some energy.

Oh, he'd dispense with it soon enough, he thought with a sneer.

Twenty minutes later, Thaw came loping towards him. "Show time."

Eric turned to Tami once more. "You just stay right there, get him to come to you. We'll do the rest. Do it right and that's all you'll have to do. Do it wrong and we'll take you with us and make you watch all of it."

Tami wouldn't look at him, but nodded and bowed her head.

Chapter 35

Jim was really starting to get pissed off. If this Keane guy had dragged him out on a wild goose chase, the kid was dead meat. He paced outside the student union building probably looking like some sort of crazed lurker trying to pick up co-eds. At least, no one had recognized him so far.

He had stood there waiting for a good twenty minutes and Jim tried to think through the many paths, trying to make something converge. He needed to talk to Keane...and Seymour then Thaw and finally Eric Mansford. But the Morales case had sidetracked him and there was nothing that could have helped that situation. It was a good bust.

But now all his instincts were shouting at him that something was wrong here, that he'd been set up when thirty minutes had passed and still no Cornell Keane.

What kind of name was that anyway?

He thought about just going home. Home to Blair and be done with this evening. Yet, he was already here and he could just as easily track down Keane's residence, a frat house just a block off campus. Thaw and Seymour might be there as well. Mansford, he noticed from his notes, lived off campus in an expensive apartment that had to be paid for by the student's parents.

With one last look around campus, Jim headed back towards his truck. On the way, he tried Beck Anderson's number again and still got her answering machine. Whatever the girl had wanted, he sure hoped it wasn't that important. He went ahead and left his cell phone number just in case and climbed into the truck.

Beck Anderson felt at loose ends. She ought to be finishing that one last paper for Sociology, but then she'd been studying for the passed week and sick didn't even begin to describe how she felt about her lineup of classes.

And Tami's situation bugged her big time. She had wandered through the student U then over to the Abyss, the underground bookstore just off the campus. She'd gotten into an impromptu discussion on Sartre then went off to look through the fiction section.

Maybe she'd find some good stuff to read over summer break, something to take her mind off the bad taste in her mouth caused by that ass hole Eric Mansford. She hated what the guy had done and was obviously still doing to Tami. But she was also afraid, afraid to stand up to him and the clout Mansford and his bunch had on campus. If Eric was capable of going after a teaching fellow then Eric wouldn't think twice about putting a second year student in her place. And if the guy would hit his own girlfriend, what chance did little Beck Anderson have against a guy nearly six foot and close to a hundred pounds heavier than she?

A shudder ran down her spine that made her angry with herself. This was such a bunch of crap.

Someone caught her eye as she made her way back up the stairs and out the door, someone heading into the cafe adjacent to the bookstore.

"Professor Nunn," she called just before the man got in the door.

He was a tenured professor, but not one of the best advisors she had noticed. He seemed to be pretty self-absorbed to her and that's what made Tami having a meeting with him tonight so surprising.

He waited for her to reach him with not quite an impatient expression on his face. "Ms Anderson. Shouldn't you be studying for finals or something?" He made the statement an accusation.

"Uh...well. I've been studying all week and last night. I just needed to get out before I went crazy, ya know?"

"No, I wouldn't know, Ms. Anderson. How may I help you? I'm late for a dinner date." He made the point by pushing up his sleeve and glancing at his watch.

"I was just wondering if Tami was okay. I haven't seen her since she left to meet with you a while ago."

He stared at her over dark rimmed glasses and pudgy cheeks as if she had suddenly sprouted a snout.

"I haven't the slightest idea what you are talking about. I don't have meetings with students on Saturday evenings. That's what Mondays through Fridays are for. And which Tami were you referring to?"

"Tami Schmitt. She said she was meeting with her advisor tonight. I assumed she was talking...." She trailed off and tried to put a new piece into an already messed up puzzle. "I'm sorry, Professor. I must be mistaken."

"I'm afraid you are, Ms. Anderson. Now good evening."

The man's bulky frame turned and left her standing there staring at the closing door.

"What the hell is going on?" she said out loud. "What advisor was Tami talking about?"

She walked towards the campus, crossing the street against the light and nearly got herself hit by a minivan. That woke her up.

"Blair," she whispered. "She's gone to see Blair."

Then she remembered what Tami had said last night. Something about it all being over after tonight. That Eric would be out of her life forever then.

Beck felt her breath clog up in her throat, felt her heart rate soar with sudden anxiety.

Oh god no, Tami. You wouldn't do that. You wouldn't set Blair up just to get Eric off your back...would you? Oh no, Tami, please. Oh god, let me be wrong. Let me be paranoid and delusional and just plain idiotic.

But then she thought of how Tami had looked last night after being beaten up again and literally raped in her own bed. She thought of how desperate Tami had been back when she was trying to get away from Eric and Blair had been the one to help her through that nightmare. The girl had been a wreck this morning, but some sort of dismal resolve had hung over Tami, like she was going to do something unforgivable, but didn't know what else to do.

Beck ran. The nearest phone she could think of was at the student union. She ran and skidded to a stop in front of the payphone. Fumbling in her pocket, she came up with a quarter and Ellison's home number and punched it in.

The answering machine clicked on after four rings and she spit out a curse.

"If anyone is there, pick up. Detective Ellison? Mr. Sandburg? Please pick up!!"

No one did. She hung up and leaned against the stand, feeling helpless and frustrated and so scared she could hardly think.

Chapter 36

Blair pulled into the coffee shop parking lot. He remembered coming here a few times back as an undergraduate, back when he had lived nearer the campus. He glanced around then saw Tami's Cougar over on the far side of the lot in shadow as if she didn't want someone to see her there.

Maybe she was hiding from Mansford. Maybe she just parked near the pay phone.

He pulled the Volvo in beside the Cougar and got out. But Tami just sat there, her forehead leaning against the steering wheel. A surge of fear sent him around his car to check on her.

"Tami," he said, reaching in to touch her shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Blair felt her shudder, felt her crying in a soft sob. Finally she seemed to gather some strength from somewhere and turned her face up to him. In the shadows he wasn't certain, at first, if he saw bruises or not. But her mouth looked swollen, kinda like his own after being busted in the chops by that cop in the garage and a dark place on her cheek didn't look like the shadows, it looked solid and far too real.

"Tami, you're hurt. Who did this to you? Was it Eric?"

Her lips trembled as if trying to form the words, as if speaking was an effort she couldn't summon to her. He smelled whiskey on her breath and shook his head.

"Let me take you somewhere, Tam. Let me take you home or do you need to go to a hospital?"

"I'm sorry, Blair," she said instead of answering his question. "I'm sorry. I had no choice."

He stared at her, trying to figure out the meaning of her apology. Shadows deeper than those already surrounding the car rose up behind him, a crunching of gravel previously muted by his concern for Tami, suddenly loud in his ears.

Blair closed his eyes and knew what the apology was for, knew it like he knew who stood behind him now.

"Oh Tami," he said with the pain of betrayal in his voice.

"I'm so sorry, Blair. I had no choice," she repeated as if that made everything all right, as if that exonerated her from what would happen next.

He whirled around then and faced Mansford who grinned at him, towering over him with a triumph that made his skin crawl with foreboding and fear. Blair dodged the fist driving at his face, but the length of metal pipe from the other side proved unavoidable, slamming into his already hurt shoulder, jarring the cracked bone.

The pain was incredible and the blow enough to knock him to his knees. He bent over and between one breath and another, knew he was exactly as they wanted him, helpless and hurting so bad he couldn't even cry out.

For one brief moment the next blow registered, the pipe clipping him in the back of the head. He fell forward, feeling the gravel stinging his face from the impact. Little streaks of white light sizzled across the landscape of his vision, then blinked out and sent him into total dark oblivion.

Jim drove to the fraternity house, Delta Kappa Whatever feeling all the more frustrated that he had to go looking for Cornell Keane in the first place. All he knew was the kid had better have a good reason for leaving him standing around waiting for over thirty minutes and still not showing up.

He slammed the truck's door and strode up to the Victorian style house, old, but well cared for by a fraternity with money. He knocked hard and waited. When a young man opened the door and looked him up and down with one of those bored disinterested glances, Jim almost throttled him.

Pulling out his ID, Jim shot a hard glare at the kid who sobered instantly. "You Cornell Keane?"

"Not me, but I think he's around. Hang on, Officer."

"That's Detective Ellison."

The kid nodded and eyes went wide, just then recognizing him. "Aw, man," the student said, backing away towards a set of stairs. "Hey, Keane," the young man yelled. "You've got company, bud. Get down here."

Jim stepped into the foyer and shut the door behind him. He turned down the array of sounds assaulting his hearing, stereos competing with each other, sounds that made Blair's "earth" music sound like Henry Mancini.

Something was not right here. Why would Keane call him then not bother to meet him? Then make himself a sitting duck at his fraternity house?

Jim watched a blond-haired young man come down the stairs, hesitate at the landing then continue on down with a heart racing like an Indy 500 car engine. He saw recognition in the student's eyes and fear ooze out through every pore in the kid's skin. Keane was almost hyperventilating by the time the student made the foyer and stood staring at him with a sick white expression.

"You know who I am, don't you?" Jim asked in a deadly calm tone.

Keane nodded and licked dry lips.

"Well, just to make it formal, I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade P.D. You called me. You asked to meet me in front of the Student Union, but for some reason here we stand nowhere near the Union building. Can you enlighten me as to why I had to come looking for you?"

Keane's eyes grew even wider and the student shook his head, looking as if he was having a nightmare.

"I didn't call you, Detective...Ellison. I swear I didn't." This kid was going to pass out if he didn't take a normal breath soon.

But Keane's voice told Jim all he needed to know. This was not the voice that spoke to him on the telephone over an hour ago. He'd heard that voice before though now that he thought of it, but where and who?

A cold clammy hand gripped his heart and squeezed.


The ringing of his cell phone startled Jim back to the moment and he reached into his jacket pocket. "You stay right there, Keane. We're not done yet." He punched a button on the phone and said, "Ellison."

"Oh my god, Detective Ellison. Thank god. Something terrible is about to happen. Something horrible."

"Calm down, Becky. What are you talking about?" But already vision's of Blair being in trouble, of being in danger, flashed across the horizon of his mind.

"I'm sorry," Beck said and he heard her panic and fear. It radiated out to him like a lightning bolt. "Is Mr. Sandburg with you? Please say he's with you."

"I'm afraid he's not, Beck. He's at home."

"Oh dammit!" she cried. "No he's not, Detective Ellison. I tried your home number a while ago and no one answered even when I begged someone to answer. I just got home and listened to your message. Tami's done something terrible. She's...she's...."

"Beck, what has she done?"

"Eric has him, Detective Ellison. I just know it. She helped him because she was scared of him."

Jim swung around to see a half dozen student's gathered around to see what was going on. One tall young man came to stand near Cornell Keane whispering to Keane about telling the truth.

"Beck," Jim said, feeling sick to his stomach. "I'm here with Keane and I think Read Seymour. I need to talk to them. Thank you for calling and if you hear anything else, if Tami comes home, you call me right away."

"I promise I will. I'll stay right here, Detective Ellison, but you've got to find Blair. Eric beat Tami up last night and he raped her. She's so scared of him I think she'd do almost anything to get away from him, even betray Blair to Eric Mansford."

Chapter 37

The smell of old straw and cattle greeted Blair, consciousness seeping back into his brain. He tried to move and pain exploded in his head. He heard his own moan like a ghost haunting some old mansion far up on a hill. Images rolled through his groggy mind, ugly images and memories of betrayal. The betrayal hurt far more than the metal pipe slamming into his shoulder and the back of his head.

Again he tried to move, but his arms wouldn't obey him, nor his feet do his bidding. A kick sent a wave of agony through his side and he cried out and tried to curl up in defense. Another kick drove into his ribs and Blair felt something crack and scrape together. Then he knew why his hands and feet wouldn't work. His wrists were tied behind his back and his ankles were bound together.

A hand gripped a fistful of hair and dragged his head up. Eric Mansford grinned at him with a sneer of contempt he didn't deserve. Behind that was the inside of a rundown old barn lit with a couple of lanterns here and there.

Talk about a bad end to a really bad week.

"I think he's coming around, Eric," another voice that sounded familiar said beside him and a hand jerked on his bindings, testing them, he could only assume.

Thomas Thaw.

Another hurt heaped up on Blair's heart, another who he'd never had a bad thought for. Yet here he was, at the mercy of people who thought him a target for their prejudices and misplaced vendettas. What had he ever done to Tom Thaw?

"Yeah, I can see that," Eric said, still blurry to Blair's vision. "I want him good and awake for what comes next."

"Don't do this," he managed to say, but only a little above a whisper. "Tom, please. Eric, it's not worth it."

They jerked him to his feet, holding him up when he would have fallen. Thaw's hand replaced Eric's in his hair, a fist wrapping up and holding him tight.

Eric Mansford loomed over him, that sneer becoming a rage Blair simply did not understand, a violent rage that was never truly sated with the act of violence, only compounded with each act played out. And all Eric Mansford's rage pointed to him, at him and was for him for whatever reason the student had conjured. Yes, he had counseled Tami to get away from Eric.... And that was all the student had needed to focus an otherwise unfocused anger that was out of control.

"Not such a hotshot now, are you, Sandburg? Doesn't matter if Dean Wilcox favors you now, does it?"

"Eric...don't do this. You have so much to lose. You can't think you can get away with this."

Eric's fist shot out, bashing Blair hard in the jaw. A backhand followed hard against his mouth and blood ran, back down his throat and down his chin.

"You don't know what I can get away with, Blair Sandburg, you faggot Jewboy. I know what I can get away with. I already have gotten away with more than you know and I'll get away with this. Tom and I have some lessons to teach the teacher. Some history lessons. Some anthropology lessons." Eric leaned in close, gripping his chin and tilted Blair's head back till he had to look up to get away from Mansford's manic gaze. "Have you ever studied the methods of torture used by various cultures, Mr. Sandburg? I have. Have you studied the Inquisition, perhaps? Jews were fair game...mostly have been throughout history. An inferior race the Jews and a faggot to boot. Strike two and that would have had you burning at the stake, wouldn't it, boy?"

Eric let go, shoving Blair's face away with a near blow. Thaw leaned in close behind him, near his ear. "Eric and I know our anthropology, Mr. Sandburg, and we both know our history. We know the many tortures used in the Inquisition to extract a confession. We thought we might show you a few of those here tonight. And if you find those amusing we can go on to some things Eric looked up and found pretty entertaining."

"Why Tom? Why are you doing this?" Blair asked, honestly wanting a answer to that question. "I've never done anything to you."

"I know. Doesn't matter," was all Thomas Thaw said and seemed to think that was enough.

"You see, Sandburg," Eric began in an almost conversational tone. "To Tom, hurting you is nothing personal. It's just a thrill for him. He enjoys making the plans, doing the deeds. Tom here was the one that thought up the sharp piece of metal sticking out of your car door. And Tom was the one that thought up taking those photos of you and that butch cop boyfriend of yours." Mansford moved in close again and Blair felt the twin heat of his captors burning him with the desire to make him hurt. "But Fletcher was the one that thought up switching the slides for your presentation."

"You killed him, didn't you? You murdered Professor Fletcher? Why? Did he want out, Eric? Did he realize you couldn't get away with what you were doing?"

Mansford's sneer turned into a snarl. "Fletcher turned traitor. I honored him. I respected him and what did he do? He turned into a coward and he was going to go to the cops!"

"You cut his car's brake line," Blair stated and a momentary fear crossed Eric's face. Then the fear disappeared again, lost in the turmoil of negative emotions running rampant in Eric Mansford's brain.

"We didn't think he'd die," Eric said as if he might still regret the final outcome of his deed. "We thought he'd have an accident. He'd be laid up a while. Scare him off from talking to the cops. But he was stupid. Stupid like you were stupid."

The blow took Blair off-guard, a fist driven hard into his stomach, all the air whooshing out of him and he couldn't get his breath. The fist came again, bashing him in the side of the face, right where the cop had hit him. And through it all, his collarbone throbbed with agony.

"Stupid little prick faggot! If you'd just ran like you were suppose to we wouldn't have to be doing this. If you'd just left Rainier like you were suppose to or if that bitch Wilcox had been doing her job, she would have thrown you off campus for being a pervert. But no!! You were still here on my campus, stealing my girl away from me and not even wanting her. God! You make me so sick!"

Eric stalked away from him and Blair sagged against Thaw.

"He's a little angry with you," Thaw said mildly into his ear. The gesture was just short of intimate, the grip in Blair's hair adjusting, pulling his head sideways to watch Eric Mansford stalk back to them.

Blair could barely breath and he could not avoid the blow to his ribs again that sent him back to the ground, down to his knees. Thaw dragged his head up and held him still for another backhanded fist in the mouth.

"We're done with this, Thaw," Eric said. "Onto the next lesson."

Blair looked up with the sound of a pulley overhead. A rope came snaking down from the shadows, falling from a thick wooden beam crossing the barn ceiling.

Eric held Blair on his knees while Tom attached the rope to those binding his wrists. A myriad of ancient images flashed through Blair's mind, history lessons that included the Inquisition, methods of torture touched on in morbid fascination, and a horror that such depravity had ever existed.

But he remembered because the tortures seemed so personal, aimed at his heritage and his sexual orientation to name only a few heretical reasons for torturing innocent people and murdering them by burning at the stake. And Blair knew that torture had by no means disappeared in the twentieth century.

"You probably know what this particular torture is called," Eric said, stepping back and from the other side of the beam began to pull on the rope. "You remember, Sandburg? It was the most popular form of torture during the Inquisition, the strappado, it was called. Or, at least, a variation of it. I would have liked to have tried the aselli, but we just didn't have the equipment for it."

The rope tightened and Tom dragged him to his feet. Blair could feel the rope pulling taut, pulling his bound wrists upward against his back.

Oh yes, he knew exactly what this torture encompassed. A horrid sickness slammed into the pit of his stomach, rebounded and fought to climb up his throat to choke him with his own terror. And the aselli! Oh god, the very idea of anyone employing such a hideous form of torture that ultimately lead to a long slow death by drowning it's victim appalled him. Particularly since he was the possible victim of said tortures.

"Please don't do this!" he cried. "My god! Don't! Eric!!" But the rope jerked again and the straw strewn ground disappeared beneath his feet.

Chapter 38

"Read Seymour?" Jim asked, just able to control his temper and his panic and his fear.

Blair was in trouble right now. This very moment, his lover was very possibly in the hands of a man who had only very bad intentions regarding his partner.

The taller student nodded with a reluctant admittance.

"Where is Blair Sandburg?" Jim felt on the verge of smashing skulls. He felt pain in his face and had to make an effort to unclench his jaw.

"We don't know," Read replied. "But we told Eric not to do anything else to Sandburg! I swear it, Detective Ellison. We didn't want to have anything else to do with hurting him."

"A little late now, don't you think, Seymour?" Jim growled. "I don't need your excuses or reasons or justifications. I need to know where my partner is. And I'd better start getting some help from you or I'll drag you in and book you for accessory to the murder Dr. Edwin Fletcher."

Jim stepped up close to the two young men, face to face with Seymour, but his bulk intimidated and his authority as a police officer pushed them backwards until their backs were against the wall and true fear played on their faces.

"If you don't help me and Blair is hurt...or worse, I'll make sure you go down so hard you'll never come back up in this lifetime."

The rest of the students scattered to the far corners of their respective rooms then, leaving Jim alone with the two young men.

"We really don't know, Detective Ellison," Cornell said in a pleading tone. "Mansford considers us traitors because we wouldn't continue the harassment after the slides didn't work out. He told us he'd kill us like he did Professor Fletcher if we went to the cops."

Well, that answered quite of few of Jim's questions. What had been mere suspicion had suddenly become near fact. "Start thinking, Keane or you'll be in the same cell with Mansford." Jim grabbed the smaller man by the shirt and shoved him hard against the wall. "Then we'll see who survives."

"Oh man, please!! I don't want to go to jail. Please don't take me to jail," Keane cried and Jim saw out of the corner of his vision, Read Seymour roll his eyes and actually look embarrassed.

"Do either of you understand the seriousness of what we are talking about?!"

Read nodded and Cornell Keane followed suit like the good little sheep he was.

"Eric Mansford has very likely already killed a man and from what we've put together, he has Blair and means to hurt him...or kill him even."

"What's another murder after you've already done the first," Seymour said as if to himself. The young man's gaze rose to meet his and the realization that his friend and classmate had become a murderer struck home like a kick in the head. "Let me think a minute, Detective Ellison."

"I don't know that we have a minute, Seymour," Jim replied with a bit of his panic showing through.

"No. Eric and Tom won't be in a hurry with Sandburg," Keane offered. "He would want to make it last. They'd take their time."

"Tom Thaw?"

"Yeah, he's a scary guy, Detective. He's been egging Eric on. Feeding him crap while we were trying to convince Eric to stop."

"I'm sure your reasons were altruistic." Jim let his sarcasm drip.

"Look, Detective Ellison," Read Seymour began. "We know what we did was wrong. But Keane and I never meant for Sandburg to get physically hurt. Sandburg was someone to vent on, to have some fun with. Eric has the grudge. And Tom...I don't know what Tom gets out of it, but some kinda kinky thrill maybe. We didn't want this to go this far, but when Professor Fletcher turned up dead and Eric all but admitted he'd killed him then threatened us, we were scared to go to the police."

"What was Fletcher's beef with Blair?"

The two men glanced at each other and shrugged.

"Sandburg was...what?" Read Seymour said. "Good looking. Popular. Young, up and coming. You name it. He blamed Blair Sandburg for having what he didn't have, I guess. Sandburg was his scapegoat."

Jim closed his eyes and cursed all ass holes that blamed everyone, but themselves for the directions their lives took. He turned and stalked away across the foyer, trying to think and knowing he only had one chance and that was these two guys.

"So where would Mansford and Thaw take Blair so they could do whatever they have in mind to do to him? Where, Keane...Seymour?"

"Eric has an apartment...."

"I doubt he'd take Blair there, but I'd better have it checked out." Jim pulled out his cell phone again and called Major Crimes. "Hey Brown," Jim said surprised to get Henry Brown this late in the evening. "You remember that backup you were talking about? How about some right now?"

"Whatever you need, Jim," Brown offered. "What's going on?"

"Blair's in big trouble."

"Fuck! Where do you need us?"

Jim gave Henry the address and gave a quick explanation. "Call me if you find anything. And could you call Simon and tell him what's going on?"

"You bet and you do the same."

Jim hung up the phone then dialed home just in case...just hoping this little outing hadn't indeed turned into the nightmare it appeared to have become. But Beck had been right. The telephone rang and the answering machine picked up. "Blair, if you're there, pick up," he said in desperate hopelessness. Then he tried Blair's cell phone. It rang repeatedly and that same sinking feeling he'd had a few days ago when Blair had been arrested, filled him up and almost made him weak with fear.

He turned back to the two students, focusing again on what they were saying.

"Eric's parent's property, Keane! Where else does Mansford have to go?" Read said as if he'd hit jackpot. "That old homestead on the back of the property. Eric had a couple of big parties out there in that old barn before we turned twenty-one."

"I remember. It's out in the middle of nowhere. They'd have complete privacy. Man, Read, that's got to be it."

They both turned to Jim as if they were Siamese twins. "We think we know," Read said.

"Show me," Jim replied and jerked open the door.

Pain tore at Blair's shoulders and the muscles of his arms. His cracked collarbone felt as though it had separated and now gaped open, letting into his body a stream of burning agony.

He dangled a good twenty feet in the air, almost close enough to touch the wooden support beam. Gasping, he sucked in air and tried to find a way to situate his body so to do as little damage to his tendons and ligament as possible.

But Eric had other ideas, letting him drop a couple of feet and Blair cried out with the sudden jolt of agony. He moaned and even whimpered, hating himself for doing so, but unable to stop the sound from escaping passed his bloody lips.

"You think we're safe from anyone hearing him scream?" Tom asked. "Because he's going to be screaming a lot."

Eric stood with one hand on hip, the other holding tightly to the rope. The student stared up at him, eyeing his handiwork as if Blair Sandburg's pain was a masterpiece of ingenuity.

"Anyone hearing him is pretty improbable, Tom. But if we get tired of hearing his motor mouth, I brought along some duct tape for the occasion. I figure after a while, he won't have any voice left to scream anyway."

Blair saw Eric's mouth quirk up in a mean grin, their gazes meeting and Eric let Blair drop another couple of feet.

If a scream was what Mansford wanted, a scream was what the man got. The sudden stop and his own weight dragged at Blair's shoulders, a blossoming explosion of white hot torment tearing through his muscles, ripping a scream from his throat. A sob followed, a dry heaving sob of terror that this could go on for hours and no one would know to stop it. Not even Jim.

Oh god, Jim. If ever I needed you, I need you now.

"You enjoying your living history lesson, Sandburg?" Eric asked with a laugh. "Just think, maybe your ancestors suffered exactly the same Seville or Madrid or Valencia."

"Your historical...knowledge, Eric," Blair managed to say through the gasping of his breath. "Does not...make up for your willful...ignorance of it's true meaning."

Eric gave him an incredulous glance. "Who died and made you Kwai Chang Caine?"

"You know...what I mean, Eric," Blair said, keeping his voice even, the effort costing him. "You've learned nothing...from history or from studying...other cultures accept to take the worst...of what was offered. You'll career, Eric...or you either...Tom. You'll spend the best part of...your lives in prison. And each injury inflict on me does nothing, but add...more time to your sentences."

Eric stared up at him and Tom also, saying nothing for what felt like an eternity.

"That speech must have cost you, Mr. Sandburg," Thomas Thaw said. "It was pretty good for a guy in as much pain as you apparently are in. But not----" Thaw paused for affect, "good enough."

Eric let him drop again. He nearly hit the ground, Mansford yanking the rope tight just before he hit bottom. This time tears came to his eyes and Blair came close to passing out. Just not quite close enough. His own crying scream echoed in his ears. A poker of pain jabbed at his collarbone, trying to drive a wedge into the crack.

He dangled there just above the packed dirt floor and Tom Thaw reached out ever so gently and set him to swinging, watching him sob and gasp for breath, watching him sway back and forth as if he were nothing, but a object to play with while pain radiated through his upper body.

"Same lesson, Sandburg," Eric said and picked up a free weight from the floor. "Second part."

"No," he gasped out. "No...please."

But Mansford and Thaw ignored his plea, attaching the weight by a rope to his bound ankles.

"Drop you a few more times with this sucker attached and maybe it'll yank your arms right out of the sockets, baby." Eric let Tom finish the task and stood up, the young man's face even with Blair's. "We've got lots of other ideas after a few more times of this," Eric said, grabbing Blair by the hair again and jerking his face forward. "I really mean to mess up that pretty face of yours though before the night's over, Sandburg. Then we'll see what your cop boyfriend thinks of that. You think he'll still want you when just looking at you makes his skin crawl? But then again," Eric said with a vicious grin. "He doesn't have to look at your face when he fucks your ass now does he?"

Despite his fear and agony, a sneer of contempt touched Blair's battered mouth. "You have stooped about as low as I'd ever imagined, Mansford. There's not a decent bone in your body. Any guy who beats up on women...on his own girlfriend is nothing, but a bully."

Eric snarled at him and slapped him hard with a backhand across the mouth again. But if he was going to be tortured, Blair intended to have his say one way or another.

"What's the matter, Mansford?" Blair spit out blood and sneered at Eric again. "Truth hard to take? You couldn't face me like a man. Oh no. You've got to play games like some junior high school kid. Play your little nasty pranks."

Eric hit him again, a fist to the side of his face and Blair felt blood running down his temple and along his hairline to his neck.

"You used some poor girl you'd beat up and intimidated to get to me," Blair went on in spite of his mouth feeling like mush. "You wouldn't know how to fight a clean fight, Mansford. You're too much a coward."

"Shut up you freakin' son-of-a-bitch faggot!! Shut up!"

Eric reached for the rope and jerked Blair upward, weight and all.

"That's about an additional twenty pounds, Mr. Sandburg," Thaw told him.

To Blair it might as well have been a hundred and twenty. The additional weight dragged at his ankles and pulled at the muscles and tendons of his shoulders.

He'd really made Eric mad. Well, madder than the guy already had been and he might yet regret what he had said, might find out that he'd only added to his pain or sped up the proceedings. He didn't know and only wished someone would come stop this insanity or shoot him dead where he hung.

Eric's eyes were wild with what seemed like an unquenchable rage and the man didn't stop till Blair dangled again from the same great height, hanging like some piece of meat in a slaughter house.

Blair closed his eyes and waited for the world to drop out from under him and the strangest thought of being trapped in that elevator, the floor dropping out from under him and the other passengers, passed through his brain.

His entire body was stiff with trying to resist gravity's pull, the waiting the worst, waiting for Eric Mansford to drop him again.

Chapter 39

"Beck? Becky?" a shaking female voice whispered into the telephone.

"Tami!! My god! Tami, where are you?" Beck Anderson almost screamed into the receiver.

A sob caught in the girl's throat, a retching sound following and Beck knew Tami was vomiting her guts out. The nauseating sound subsided and Tami was back, crying...bawling so hard Beck couldn't understand anything the girl was saying.

"Tami! Calm down. Calm down and tell me where you are."

"They hit him, Beck," Tami sobbed instead. "They knocked him unconscious and dragged him into the car. Oh god! Beck, what have I done?"

"Tami, listen to me." Beck tried to use a soothing voice on her roommate and she knew who "him" was and she knew who "they" were. "Where are you?"

"" A long pause followed and Beck felt as if she would start screaming if she didn't get a straight answer from Tami Schmitt. "Cafe...Coffee," Tami finally said. "I want to die, Beck. I...betrayed Blair. I'm so much scum. I'm no better than Eric."

"Tami, stop it. You made a bad mistake. I'm coming to get you."

Tami was wiped, a complete drunken basket case and the last thing Beck wanted was for Tami to get behind the wheel of a car and drive anywhere.

"I just want to die," the girl whispered.

"Tami, don't. Let me help." A thought struck her and she wondered if she could get a decent answer out of her roommate. "Tami, do you have any idea where Eric took Blair?"

"No...I don't know. I don't know."

"Who was with Eric?"

"Tom hit him with a pipe. Oh god, Beck. It was terrible. Blair was trying to help me and I set him up." The sobbing picked up again, racking, retching sobs again.

"I'll be there in a few minutes, Tam. You be thinking of where Eric might have gone. Don't go anywhere."

"I can't feel my feet, Beck. I think I need to sit down," Tami replied no where near any form of current reality. "I feel sick."

"You are sick, woman," Beck growled louder than she meant to. "Just sit there until I get there."

But the only answers Beck got were the soft sobs of guilty anguish.

Jim drove with the light flashing in the cab. Simon was rendezvousing with him at a point not far from the Mansford property. Rafe and Brown were also on their way after checking out Eric's apartment.

Keane and Seymour sat beside him in the cab of the truck and Jim could see their anxiety, heard the harsh rapid beating of two contrite hearts. Yet, he couldn't find it in himself to forgive them anything at this moment.

They had been a part of a weeks long vendetta that had caused property damage, physically injury and public humiliation to Blair foremost and to himself on the latter point. And ultimately, the whole wretched vendetta had lead to murder. He had no time for forgiveness because of their late regrets. He had no desire to be lenient towards these two at the moment, though later, if Blair was all right, he might be able to consider leniency as an option considering their cooperation now.

His cell phone rang and he jerked it out of his jacket pocket and punched the button.

"Ellison," he barked.

He listened intently to Beck's panicked, but steady rerun of her conversation with Tami Schmitt. Beside him, he saw the two young men staring over at him.

"God...damn." Jim forced a breath through gritted teeth and slammed the truck into overdrive. He swung around a car that refused to pull over and cursed again, wishing he had time to ticket the idiot that didn't give right of way to the police. "Pick her up, Beck. Don't let her drive anywhere. She sounds pretty smashed and stay with her. She sounds suicidal as well. I'll call you when I know anything."

He shut down the phone and shoved it back into his pocket. His jaw hurt again from clenching his teeth so hard. But Beck had confirmed the worst. Tami had set Blair up.

"What's going on, Detective?" Read Seymour said, gathering enough courage to ask.

"What's going on? Assault and battery is going on, gentlemen. Coercion and intimidation is going on. And if we don't get to Blair soon we may have another murder going on." A film of red haze almost blinded Jim, the fear of losing Blair now, after everything they had been through together, enough to rip holes in his heart. "And let me tell you two something. If anything...anything----"

God! His rage was on the verge of consuming him. Jim listened and found Blair's voice, that calming, soothing voice of his partner that had helped him through one crisis after another. He needed the reassurance of Blair's voice so he wouldn't go into a zone right now.

He swallowed down his rage and took a deep, cleansing breath, through his nose and out his mouth.

"You two don't even know the meaning of vendetta till you've messed with me," Jim said without taking his eyes from the road. "If anything happens to my partner, anything happens that takes Blair away from me, I won't rest until every one of you pays. Do I make myself clear?"

A span of time no longer than a heartbeat and a half passed and Jim turned enough to stare at the two students.

"Yes, sir," they said in near unison. "We understand," Seymour added.

Jim turned back to the headlight illuminated road and the darkness ahead reflected the fear and pain that squeezed his heart and dug a hole in his gut.

Chapter 40

"You know, Sandburg," Eric said conversationally. "We keep talking about torture as if it's a passed phenomenon. But torture is alive and well in the twentieth century. Don't you agree?"

Eric had let Blair drop again three times and the pain had set him to screaming till he could hardly scream anymore. He hung about five feet off the ground. And he'd had to listen to Eric Mansford expound upon the various tortures performed by various cultures documented over the more than five thousand years of civilization between each drop.

Blair had stopped talking. Had stopped pleading or goading or even stopped trying to be reasonable. What was reasonable about this situation anyway?

Tom Thaw moved forward again, setting him to swinging again in a slow drag on his arms. The weight pulled him back and forth and a low moan and sob escaped through his waning defenses.

"How about those thumb screws, Sandburg?" Eric continued. "Hang you up by your thumbs and beat you till every bone in your body shatters. Or how about the falaqa? You know what that is, don't you, teach? They like to use that torture in places like Lebanon and Turkey. South America too, but they call it something else. Same torture, different name. We could do that in a while. Take you down. String you back up by your ankles and beat the shit out of the soles of your feet. I hear it hurts like hell."

Again, Blair said nothing. He couldn't think passed the pain anymore and all he tasted when he licked his lips was the acrid, metallic taste of his own blood. He could scarcely swallow anymore.

"Damn, I wish we could have gotten a hold of one of those stun guns. I hear they're a real blast," Eric said to Tom.

And Tom just shrugged, reaching out to caress Blair's leg as he swung by, stilling him with that gesture.

"You really should consider yourself lucky, Mr. Sandburg," Thomas Thaw said in a voice that actually sounded like he should do just that. The young man reached up to him, stroking down his thigh. "Usually torture victims are stripped first to facilitate the process of breaking down the victim's personality and strip away any thought of dignity. That's the purpose of torture. Then to make the victim confess to whatever his torturers wish him to confess to. Or to gain whatever information the interrogators wish to glean."

"This time," Blair muttered. "It's just get a sick...kick out of it."

Oh well, he never had been good at keep his mouth shut for long.

Thaw smiled, a humor that scared Blair worse than Eric's rage. Thaw was a serial killer in the making, no conscience, no empathy, and little true emotion. Eric, on the other hand was the angry young man personified, pent-up rage that had gone completely out of control and an ego so big that the guy actually thought no one could touch him.

"Observant of you, Mr. Sandburg," Thaw replied. "Sadism for sadism's sake. Pain is uniquely fascinating."

"As it's someone...else's pain," Blair finished.

"Pain has been and always will be that which keeps the world's order," Thaw said. "It's use prevents chaos in a world that struggles towards anarchy every single moment. Torture is the tool of the ages, Mr. Sandburg. Torture molds the very essence of civilization. It destroys dissension. It crushes resistance."

"And you think...Hitler was really a nice guy who...was just misunderstood. Right?"

Thaw actually laughed. "You are quick, Mr. Sandburg. You really are. I admire that."

"Then go."

"He doesn't get to make that decision," Eric injected, obviously feeling the need to reassert his authority and control. "And you don't get to go anywhere, but hell."

Blair closed his eyes. Talking to them wasn't getting him anywhere. Ignoring them proved no better a course of action. Hadn't he already been this route with Mansford and Thaw?

"I think it's about time we moved on to something else? Don't you, Tom?"

"If you're ready to move on. So am I."

"One teaching fellow coming down," Eric said with a vicious grin and let go of the rope.

Jim wheeled into the roadside park, tires skidding on gravel. He saw Simon climb out of a dark blue Ford, moving around the vehicle to meet him at his truck.

"What do we know, Jim?" Simon asked. And Jim saw his superior's concern, felt his friend's anxiety.

"We know for certain now that Eric Mansford and Thomas Thaw have Blair. The Schmitt girl checked in with her friend, Anderson a little while ago and confirmed it. These two," Jim said with a head nod towards Keane and Seymour, "say Mansford all, but confessed to Fletcher's murder."

"Damn. Then they won't think twice about killing Blair."

"I know. I've got to go, Simon."

"Rafe and Brown will be here any minute, Jim. Hang on. We know what these guys are capable of. But we don't know what kind of fire power they might have."

"That's not what they have in mind for Blair." Jim shook his head. "So far they've been more subtle than that. I don't think guns are part of this scenario." Jim glanced down the dark road and his sense of urgency multiplied with his fear for Blair's life. "I'm going, Simon," he said turning back to his captain. "I can't wait."

Simon threw a concerned glance back down the road from where they came. "Shit! Go, Ellison. We'll be right behind. And leave one of those kids with me so we have some sort of guide."

Jim nodded. "You're with me, Seymour. Keane you go with Captain Banks."

The student obliged without any argument and Jim didn't stay to talk, just shoved the truck into drive and shot out onto the road.

"Slow down, Detective Ellison or we're going to miss the turn," Seymour said. "It's not easy to see."

"What's it look like?" Jim asked.

"A narrow dirt road. Last time I saw it, it was overgrown some. It's really nothing, but an access road to the back of Mansford's property."

Jim scanned the tree-lined border, glimpses of pasture land peeking out where the trees thinned close to the road. He almost shot by the narrow lane.

Getting out, Jim checked the ground, searching for tire marks. Seymour followed, staring off into the darkness of the tree line.

"I think this is it," Seymour said breathlessly. "I'm pretty sure." The student's voice was steady, but Jim sensed the young man's fear, almost tasted it on the night air.

"This is it," Jim stated without looking up. "A vehicle passed through here in the last couple of hours." He whirled on the student again. "What's beyond the tree line? Pasture land? Open field?"

"Yeah, exactly, Detective," Seymour agreed. "The trees are maybe a hundred yards deep in this section then, the road just kinda peters out into pasture. The homestead is mostly gone now. Only the barn's left cause Mansford's parent's used it for a while to store hay for the horses. Before that I think somebody raised cattle out here."

"How far to the barn?"

Seymour shook his head. " don't know. Maybe quarter mile, half mile tops?"

"Okay, Seymour. You stay right here. Don't you dare go anywhere. Backup should be here any minute. You give them the same directions and stay out of the way."

"Yes, sir," Seymour said.

Jim gave Seymour one last look. The kid might turn out all right after all, but Jim had no plans to hold his breath waiting.

Chapter 41

Blair hit the floor feet first, dragged down faster by the weight tied to his ankles. The weight jerked him off balance and he fell forward to his knees, then onto his chest, his progress abruptly halted by the weight once again. With a measure of presence of mind, he managed to turn his face away from colliding with the floor.

Not that it really mattered, his battered mind concluded, not with Mansford's current intentions toward his face.

His shoulders and arms throbbed with the sudden release of tension and Blair lay there unable to move, unable to think beyond wanting the pain to stop.

But then Mansford leaned over him, grabbing his hair and jerking his head up. He felt Thaw at his feet, cutting the weight from his bound ankles then untying his shoes and trying to pull them off with the rope still binding him.

"No," he gasped out and gave an ineffectual kick. Every muscle in his body seemed to be rebelling against him, blaming him for the pain he was in.

Eric punched him in the face and he tried to jerk away from a second, the blow glancing off his temple.

"Hold still, faggot! God damn you!" Eric yelled at him.

Blair couldn't understand why Eric Mansford thought he should obey that command. He felt one hiker come off then the other and Mansford laughed at his struggle.

"You're not going anywhere, Sandburg and struggling only makes me want to hurt you more."

"I have a better idea about how to restrain him for the falaqa, Eric," Tom offered in an almost business like voice. "Hold him down like that."

Eric shoved Blair's head back down, almost burying his face in the dirty straw. He felt Mansford's weight move down over him and settle on his upper back. Pain shot through his shoulders again and across his collarbone. Blair gasped and a sob caught in his throat.

His feet were bare now, socks pulled off and his calves were pulled up against his thighs and his ankles tied to his wrists.

"Well, isn't that a pretty picture?" Eric said, getting off of him and walking around to view him from all sides. "Hog tied and ready for the next torture to begin, eh Sandburg?" Eric reached down and jerked his head up again by his hair. "That's what your smart mouth gets you, baby? That's what your perverted habits gets you, fagboy. That's what messing in Eric Mansford's business get you."

Blair thought about begging. He thought about the satisfaction that would give Eric Mansford and that the self-degradation would probably get him nothing in the end anyway.

He said nothing to Mansford's condemnations, because nothing was what he knew he'd get back for his efforts. Mansford and Thaw were too far into this scenario to stop now and Blair knew that only one of two things was likely to stop this torment, some outside force...or his death.

He didn't see the kick coming, a solid blow to his side. Blair gave a little cry and wished he could have rolled up in defense. But his current position left him vulnerable to more than one kind of torture and he saw the flash, out of the corner of his vision, of a descending cane just before it struck the soles of his feet.

Jim saw the barn looming out of the darkness of a cloudy night still far enough away that no one could possibly detect his presences. He strained to focus in closer, to see if there was any sign of activity.

A couple of hundred yards away, Jim stopped running, staring and straining, zeroing in on the hulking structure.

Jim brought his concentration to bear on his sight, letting his vision track for light or movement. And there, just outside the barn, half hidden by piles of debris, was a car that blended in well with the night. With the car sighting also came a splash of light from cracks between wood planks.

That alone was enough to assure Jim he was on target, but his need to know that Blair was still alive, some sign that his partner was still alive to save, made Jim take the next step. He hoped what he was about to do wouldn't send him into a zone out.

Piggybacking his hearing onto his sight, Jim let his hearing range out then focus inward, into the barn's interior just as Blair had taught him.

Blair's scream of agony nearly knocked him backwards with the physical force of a fist in the face.

He took off at a dead run with his heart pounding in his throat and fear swelling over him, urging him to hurry.

"Oh baby, that hurts, doesn't it, Sandburg?" Eric Mansford said with a satisfied smirk in the student's tone of voice.

Pain radiated up Blair's shins and calves with another smack of cane across his feet. Blair cried out. He couldn't stop the sound from coming out even though Mansford and Thaw got such a kick out of his pain, even though his throat felt raw and hoarse.

Actually, he was about to consider begging again, just to have something to do, anything to distract these two from continuing this torture. His feet throbbed with a half dozen blows and he now knew why this particular torture was considered such a successful method of inducing agony. He had never felt the likes of pain before and hoped to never know the likes again in his life.

"Please," he said in a hoarse whisper. "Please...stop."

Tom was suddenly beside him, kneeling there in the straw and with an almost tender touch, stroked Blair's face. He shuddered from the intimacy of the caress and the touch reminded him so much of how Lash had touched him. He almost screamed when Thaw stroked back his hair from his face.

"If we stop this, Mr. Sandburg, we'll just go on to something else," Thaw said in a tone Blair couldn't quite peg. "We still have so far to much yet to do to you. And it's not going to stop. That's the thing, Mr. Sandburg. It won't stop. The pain just goes on and on and on...till the agony consumes you. Till there's nothing left of you. You understand now?"

"You're going to kill me." Blair couldn't keep the incredulousness from his voice, nor the terror, for in spite of what these two were doing to him, a little part of himself thought perhaps they would leave him here alive or dump him somewhere, leaving his life to fate. But the expression on Thaw's face didn't reassure him in the least. "Please, Tom. This doesn't have to end in murder. Please stop now."

Tom's fingers moved through Blair's hair then the hands were gone and Tom stood over him again. He felt Mansford's presence close by also and he wondered if Eric meant to kill him also. Or was that Thaw's idea?

"By the time we're done with you, fag," Eric said, poking him in the ribs with the end of the cane. "You'll be begging us to finish you off. You'll be begging for death, Sandburg. I swear to god, you will."

The cane descended, slamming not across Blair's feet, but across his bound arms. He grunted in pain while the cane rose and fell again across his shoulders then hit his shins with a "whack" sound.

"Woad, man!" Eric laughed. "Knocked that one right out of the park."

Another blow to Blair's feet sent a shock wave of agony from the soles of his feet to his knees and up his thighs.

Real tears formed in a moment of weakness, the desperation and hopelessness of his situation tearing down his resolve to not break with the cruelty of his plight. But the pain consumed his courage and Blair buried his face in the straw and let despair take him into it's terrible embrace.

A low beeping sounded in the barn. The noise was like an alarm clock going off. Not the shrill ringing of the old fashioned types, but a continuous beep beep beep of a newer model.

Blair lifted his head and watched Thaw go still, then shoot a glance over to Mansford.

"We've got company, Eric. Who do you think that might be?"

"Don't know, but good thing you rigged up that little alarm system just in case Sandburg's boyfriend caught our trail." Mansford stalked over to a bag and brought out a roll of duct tape. With a quick jerk, the student ripped a piece off and headed towards Blair.

"Could just be an animal...or maybe our dear friends Cornell and Read figured out where we went and came to join the fun."

"I'm really doubting those two wimpy bastards have the balls for this. And just in case it's Ellison," Eric said. Mansford turned Blair's face roughly and slapped the tape over his mouth.

Chapter 42

Jim moved forward, gun drawn. He moved to peer into the car and saw the piece of pipe that had struck Blair unconscious. His partner's jacket lay there also, laying in a heap in the floorboard.

He turned to the barn, light now easily visible through the cracks. But no obvious sound came so easily now, not even the cries of his lover in pain. He stopped, forcing his thoughts to quiet. He listened more closely and heard the rough drag of air and a low moan of pain, muffled now as if issued through some dense material. He tuned into his partner's heart and listened to the erratic, rapid beating.

Creeping along to the door, Jim saw it wasn't locked. Any previous barrier had fallen into disrepair and the door stood cracked open and leaned over the entrance. A few electric lanterns lit the barn and Jim finally got a chance to see inside.

In the center of the barn a bound figure, trussed up like a lamb about to be slaughtered lay amidst the old straw strewn on floor. Jim's heart jerked in his chest.

He could see the back of Blair's head, dark curls mussed with straw. He saw Blair's feet, bare and bruised and knew what horror his lover had recently endured. He saw Blair's bloody wrists and the shaking of that compact body, shaking with pain and terror that no one knew where he was or would find him before two sadists with a vendetta turned him to pulp and left him for dead.

Jim's caution shattered into a thousand pieces. And his rage kicked back in, pushing all else from his brain. With a suppressed growl, Jim shoved through the barn door and he didn't even know if he could form words just then.

"Cascade Police!" he shouted through his blood red rage. Jim moved into the barn, eyes scanning for Mansford and Thaw. The students were no where to be seen, disappeared behind a stall door or some pile of old straw bales. Jim cursed inwardly and worked to keep his temper in check. "Come on out now!" he yelled, but his only greeting was silence and Blair's stifled moans. "Thaw! Mansford. Come on out. More cops are on the way. You can't win here." But again, silence greeted him and perhaps, if he could get this rage under control, he'd be able to pinpoint the two student's locations by their heartbeats.

He knelt down next to Blair and touched his partner's face. "Chief, you with me here?" As gently as he could, he pulled the tape from Blair's mouth, his partner's blood making the task easier.

"Jim," Blair said barely above a whisper and Jim could hear the tears in his lover's voice.

"Hang on, baby. It's almost over."

"'s a trap----"

"Your little boyfriend's right, Ellison," a voice sounded behind him and Jim felt a row of sharp points stick into his back. A little jab told him all he needed to know. A pitchfork was the weapon of choice.

"That was much too easy, Eric," another voice said. A brown-haired young man of average height and a bit on the slender side appeared from behind a stack of bales. Jim remember this one, Tom Thaw who had fawned over Blair just before his partner's speech last week, just before the slide presentation that had almost ruined their lives. And he knew the voice now of the one who had claimed to be Cornell Keane only a few hours ago. "I guess love is blind, eh Detective Ellison? Or, blinds you to what is going on around you."

The young man moved forward, an old fashioned sickle in hand. It looked rusty, but sharp enough to slice flesh without trying very hard.

"Throw your gun away, cop," Eric Mansford demanded with a hard poke of the pitchfork.

Jim glanced down at his right hand still holding his gun not aimed currently at anything, but the dirtpacked floor. He wondered how long Simon would be getting here and he wondered if his superior's arrival would be too late to help either himself or Blair.

And he wondered about the extent of Blair's injuries, wondered if his partner had internal bleeding. And even if Blair wasn't currently tied up like a prize calf at a rodeo, Blair was in no condition to defend himself.

Jim raised his gun in one quick fluid movement and aimed the barrel at Thomas Thaw.

"Can't do that, Mansford. If I throw away my gun, you and Thaw will kill me and Blair. If we're going down, I'll take, at least, one of you with us. Both if I can manage it."

Thaw's face lit up with a slow smile. "Very good, Detective Ellison. You have our king at mate, I do believe. Just as we have yours at checkmate."

"What the fuck are you talking about, Tom?" Eric said in an impatient tone. "Throw the goddamned gun away, Ellison or I'm going to ventilate you with this pitchfork."

Jim ignored the threat Eric posed behind him and concentrated on Thaw. Thaw was into mind games, he guessed, into the point and counter point of military strategy perhaps. Obviously, the guy liked the metaphor of the chess game.

"You're much more intelligent than I surmised, Detective Ellison," Thaw said when Jim made no move to pitch his weapon. "I wouldn't have thought you'd be able to figure it out before Mr. Sandburg was well beyond any help from the physical world."

"You're under the assumption, Thaw, that I was working in a vacuum."

Thaw gave him a puzzled expression, the sickle doing a slow slide far too close to Blair's head. Jim felt his partner's body tense beside him, knowing Blair's muscles must be cramping from the position he was in. But he had to do this right or both of them were dead.

"Ah," the young man said, finally. "I see. You had outside help. Others assisted you. And as Mr. Sandburg informed us, you had already figured out the Dr. Fletcher's accident was nothing of the sort in spite of the news reports saying otherwise."

"That's right, Thaw. The authorities already have your number. You'll accomplish nothing by killing me or Blair accept to add to your crimes."

"This had nothing to do with accomplishments, Detective Ellison. This has to do with staying the course no matter the odds. It's playing those odds and winning. Eric has his own base reasons, his vendetta, his jealousy and prejudice. His desire for vengeance against Mr. Sandburg has eaten at him for months now. Eric needed this cathartic measure to cleanse himself of his rage."

"Cut out the mumbo jumbo, Tom," Eric snarled. "Sandburg's just getting what he deserves. Nothing more, nothing less."

Thaw's expression turned bemused and the young man shook his head. "And Professor Fletcher thought you were the brilliant one."

Jim heard that almost contempt, a tone of disappointment in Thomas Thaw's voice.

"But Professor Fletcher was wrong, wasn't he, Thaw?" Jim said, seeing a possible way to pit these two against each other instead of them against him or, at least, stall them until help came. "Fletcher thought Eric was the bright one, the star on the horizon of anthropology, I think he said. But you're the brilliant one, aren't you, Thaw?"

Thaw almost rose to the bait then that smile returned. "Oh you are so very good, Detective Ellison. I'm starting to understand what Mr. Sandburg sees in you besides the obvious physical attributes, of course."

"I don't see what any of this nonsense means," Eric yelled. "Stop with the banter."

"Your friend here is more a checker than a chess player," Jim said to Thaw.

"Indeed, Detective Ellison, indeed. Subtly does seem to be lost on Eric at the moment. He's usually much better than this, he's such the angry young man right now, no control...all rage."

"Shut up! Both of you just shut the fuck up!!" Eric's voice quavered with rage. "Stop talking about me like I'm not here or too stupid to understand what's going on. Now throw that gun away, Ellison or I swear to god, I'll use this pitchfork."

"And I swear to god, I'll shoot Thaw and not think twice about it, Mansford."

"You are so full of tough words," Eric hissed. "But you're nothing, but a fag cop who let a couple of college students get the drop on you. Well, don't think I'm going to wait around for your cop buddies to show up. You're dead, Ellison and so is Sandburg."

Jim felt Eric pull back then thrust. Jim dropped and rolled, grabbing Eric's thrusting arm and used Mansford's momentum against the student. Mansford went flying nearly into Thaw.

Thaw and Mansford had lost their advantage and knew it. The two scattered, disappearing into the gloom of old stalls and bales of stacked straw.

"We going to play this game again, Thaw...Mansford?" Jim yelled out, but his attention moved back to Blair and he pulled out his knife and cut Blair's bonds. "You okay, Chief?" Jim asked in a low voice. His hand ran down Blair's back, trying to sooth some of the agony from Blair's limbs.

"No, Jim...I'm far from...okay," Blair replied in a hoarse rasp of his normal voice. "But...I'll live."

He wanted to pick Blair up and move him to some place safer, but Jim didn't know how badly Blair was hurt and he didn't know where safer would be.

"I've gotta go after them, sweetheart. They're too dangerous not too."

"I know...go. I'll just stay here." Blair slowly rolled over, gasping and hissing all the way and Jim saw the extent of Eric Mansford's rage displayed in deepening hues of purple and red and the shimmering wetness of Blair's blood.

He had to clamp down on his own anger again and with a caress of Blair's hair, Jim rose and let his hearing reach out to find two murderous hearts beating. His night vision kicked into high gear and any point of light brightened up the darkest corner.

A furtive movement caught Jim's attention, down the long row of stalls then another moving vertically. His gun tracked with his eye sight and Jim carefully inspected each, filtering out the scurry of small furry creatures to find a couple of big rats.

The bales came out of the darkness above, no more than a human grunt and a whooshing sound. One hit Jim hard across the shoulders, driving him to his knees. The other hit square on his back, almost flattening him.

Jim heard the rush of footsteps and shoved sideways just in time to avoid a shovel in the back of the head. He dodged the powerful swing and Mansford's rage was a mask of hatred on a once handsome face. Another swing of the shovel and Jim's gun went flying from a hand gone numb then blossomed with pain.

"Now we're even, fag cop," Eric sneered at him. "Now, I'm going to put your lights out permanently. Then I'm going to finish what I started with Sandburg. I'm going to ruin his pretty face before I finish him off."

Jim was on his feet when Mansford swung again, a hard downward swing that would have smashed in his skull if the blow had connected. Mansford tried to circle around behind him and Jim moved to keep the student in his view. He wondered where Thaw was and tried to hear where the other man might be hiding.

He heard the swish of the sickle and ducked under the blade's swing. Thomas Thaw smiled at his near miss and danced back away from Jim's reach. Thaw came at him again after a feint from Mansford, swinging in a long whirling arc. Jim dodged, jumping back then stepped in and kicked out, sending Thaw reeling backwards.

Mansford swung the shovel again determined to bash Jim's brains out. Jim stepped in and under instead of away, grabbing the man's arm as it whizzed passed his head and twisted, flipping Mansford onto his back and pulling the shovel from the student's hand. Eric rolled and dodged the follow up fist and was on his feet again.

"Come on, fag," Eric taunted. "Come on, Mr. Butch Cop Of The Year. If you were a real man you'd fuck women instead of pretty boy professor's asses."

"And if you were a real man, Mansford, you wouldn't care what I did in the privacy of my home," Jim replied, pitching the shovel into a stall. "The only reason for a guy to be homophobic is if he's afraid he's gay himself. Is that the problem here, Mansford? You have a vendetta against Blair not because he stole your girl? But because he has the gall to be what he" Jim doubted he had the truth of it, but he hoped his words would hit home somewhere in Eric Mansford and force the man into a mistake. "What's the real beef here, Eric? You so insecure with your own sexuality that you can't let someone else just be what he is?"

"Shut up, Ellison. You are so fucking off base it's not funny."

"You're no man, Eric," Jim said continuing his taunting. "You're just a little frat brat playing at being a man. Beating up girls is your style. That how you keep your women around, Mansford? Why don't they stay where you put them, bully boy?"

Eric let out a yell of fury and ran at Jim. The kid knew some martial arts moves and Jim had to duck and dodge a couple of pretty deadly looking blows. One fist caught him hard in the mouth and he tasted blood. Strange how his own blood tasted so much different than Blair's.

Thaw was on his feet and watching the exchange, Jim and Eric a silhouette against the only light in the barn. Jim wondered if Thaw was waiting for an opening or was just enjoying the show. The sickle dangled from the young man's grip, almost as if forgotten. But then Jim looked up to see Thaw slip passed and he felt as if he were trapped in a Friday the 13th movie.

Was this nightmare never going to end?

Mansford kicked out and Jim grabbed the student's outstretched foot and twisted, his elbow driving hard into Eric's calf. The man went down with a cry of pain and Jim twisted again and hoped he broke the kid's leg, or dislocated the hip, at least. He wanted to do so much more than that after all. His fist came down, smashing into Eric's jaw then another just because the smashing felt so good. The cuffs went on in record time and Jim wanted so to continuing beating the crap out of Eric Mansford, beat him until the man looked far worse than Blair did. He wanted to string the man up and let him hang for an eternity just to see how that felt.

But there was no time for such luxuries, no time for such a primal indulgence. He was a better man than that anyway. A better man than Eric Mansford could ever hope to be any day of any week of any year.

With a quick sweep of the area, Jim saw his gun and grabbed it up. He ran the length of the stalls and came out into the relative bright light of the lanterns.

Jim's heart almost stopped beating. Thaw stood over Blair, the sickle resting against Blair's throat. He heard his lover's heart pounding, his lover barely suppressing a sob of terror and agony. Simon, pushed through the door, Rafe and Brown right behind him. Their aim zeroed in on Thaw.

"Put that...that thing down, son," Simon said. "Put it down and back away from Sandburg."

But Thomas Thaw smiled that little sadist's smile. That face made Jim think of David Lash and a shiver ran the length of Jim's spine like iced water.

Brown slowly moved around towards Jim, Rafe following. They surrounded Thaw yet the young man still held that curved blade to Blair's throat and seemed not to care that four guns were trained on him and held by trained men who wouldn't hesitate to use the weapons.

"Mansford's back there," Jim said with a tilt of the head. "He's cuffed."

"Got him," Brown replied and headed back into the shadows.

"Come on, Thaw," Jim said. "Put the sickle down. No one else needs to die. It's over."

"It's not over until it's over, Detective Ellison," Thaw offered in return. "I decide when it's over. Killing Mr. Sandburg would be so easy. Just a quick slice of the blade and his life's blood would run out...pour out...." Thaw knelt down beside Blair and wrapped fingers into the anthropologists hair. "Here...sit up, Mr. Sandburg. No one should die lying down. Don't you agree?"

Jim gritted his teeth together and watched Thaw maneuver Blair up, not unkindly, not roughly or even with any malice Jim could see. Thaw held Blair like a shield, the teaching fellow slumped back against his kneeling captor. Jim stepped a little closer and calculated his best shot to take Thaw out without taking Blair too.

"Ah...ah, Detective Ellison. No closer," Thaw said and Jim saw a new slender stream of blood slide down Blair's throat.

"Tom...please," Blair pleaded, breath shuddering in and out.

"Hush, Mr. Sandburg," Tom said and the young man's fingers stroked along Blair's bruised cheek with the intimacy of a lover. "He really loves you, you know."

"I know," Blair whispered. "And I love him."

"He'd kill me right now to save you."

"Yes, Tom. Jim will kill you if you try to kill me."

"He'd kill me anyway if he thought he could get away with it."

"No Tom. Only if you force him to."

"And the others would kill me as well."

"If you force them to, Tom. But it doesn't have to be that way."

Jim listened to Blair's voice searching for just the right words to defuse Thaw's line of thinking. He listened and gave a signal to the others to wait and watch.

But Brown suddenly appeared, dragging a less than cooperative Mansford with him. Brown stopped there between the light and the shadows and waited just as the others were doing.

"I have the power to kill you, Mr. Sandburg," Thaw said with a conviction that made Jim's heart lurch.

Don't make me kill you, Thaw.

"I know you do, Tom. But you also have the power to let me live."

Jim watched a different sort of smile creep across Thaw's face, one of wonder perhaps or admiration.

"You are, without a doubt the most remarkable man I've ever met, Mr. Sandburg."

"Kill him!!" Mansford yelled. "You've got the chance, Thaw!! Kill the little bastard!!"

Jim whirled and saw Brown shove Mansford down to kneel. "Shut up," Brown snarled and the man's gun went to Mansford's head.

"Everybody calmed down," Simon said in a soothing tone. "Everybody just relax."

"Oh Eric," Thaw said out of the thundering silence that followed Simon's words. "Where is your sense of honor? Where is that exemplary sportsmanlike conduct?"

Mansford gave a snarl. "You are fucking crazy, Thaw. I should have known you weren't up to taking this all the way. I should have known you'd be a chicken shit!"

Thaw's fingers eased out of Blair's hair, smoothing the tousled curls with a remarkable tenderness. Thaw ignored Eric's jibes. "Eric just doesn't understand, Mr. Sandburg. He doesn't understand how it all works."

"Tom," Blair said.

"It's all right, Mr. Sandburg. The match goes to you and Detective Ellison. Congratulations."

Thomas Thaw rose and dropped the sickle, hands going out in surrender. Rafe moved in and Simon from the other side, frisking and cuffing the young man. Brown pulled Mansford to his feet and shoved the student towards the door.

With relief, Jim moved to Blair's side. Blood ran from Blair's battered mouth and nose, from a deep gash just above the temple and from another cut over his partner's eye. Blair lay back in the dirty straw and Jim sensed his partner's muscles were mostly refusing to obey just then.

Mansford struggled against Brown's hold and Jim wondered what Eric thought he could still do handcuffed and on his way to jail. But Mansford didn't seem to care about that reality.

"I should have killed you, Sandburg. I should have done it right there in the parking lot when I had a chance, you little bastard fag."

Jim grabbed Eric's shirt front and shoved the younger man up against the unrelenting force of Brown's hold from behind.

"You had better be glad you didn't kill Blair, Mansford. Cause I would have hunted you down to the ends of the earth and ripped you apart piece by piece." Jim shook the man, trying to get through to Eric. "You'd best understand what I am saying, Mansford. Cause I swear I will kill you if you ever try to hurt Blair again."

"Okay, Jim," Simon's calming voice offered, and a strong grip pulled him back away from Blair's would be murderer. "Take it easy, buddy. Come on. Blair needs you."

Jim felt that knot of terror uncoil from his intestines and he knelt down and gathered Blair into his arms. "It's okay, Chief. It's okay, baby," Jim murmured, kissing his lover's forehead and hair. "It's all right now."

"Oh god, Jim. Man...It hurts."

"I know. Hang on." Jim glanced up to his superior who seemed uncertain as to whether to stay or go, uncomfortable perhaps with this new additional intimacy between him and Blair. Yet Jim knew even if he and Blair hadn't become lovers, even if they had only been friends, he would have held Blair this close, would have given his partner this comfort needed so badly after an ordeal like this. "Ambulance?" he asked and Simon nodded.

"One's on the way, Jim." Simon knelt on Blair's other side, a hand going out to rest gently on Blair's arm. "Hey Sandburg, you hang on, kid. We're going to get you out of here and to a hospital in just a few."

"Thanks, Simon." Blair swallowed hard, those few words thick with pain. "I'm glad... you didn't have to kill them, Jim."

"Yeah, Chief." Jim replied, relieved to hear Blair speaking, but wondering why his partner cared about the condition of his tormentors. "I came close though. I wanted to."

"I'm glad you didn't," Blair said again with what passed for a smile on a bleeding, swollen mouth. "Too much...paperwork."

Simon groaned and stood up. "He's going to be okay," the captain said and walked away.

Chapter 43

"What we have here, gentlemen, is massive muscle and soft tissue strain," a Doctor Phelps offered in that classic doctorly manner.

Blair really didn't care. The painkillers a nice pretty nurse had pumped into him had pushed away all the pain. Well, most of it anyway and he hovered in a nice fluffy place. It was so...nice.

The doctor had stitched up his eye and the cut near his temple. Then a few more stitches went into his lower lip for good measure. His face felt huge, but the nurse assured him that the feeling was only an effect of the painkillers and that ice packs had brought much of the swelling down.

He'd have to take her word for it, cause he didn't want to look in a mirror right now. He was surprised Jim and Simon could stand to look at him with his face feeling so huge.

Painkillers...right. Kinda like novocaine, like when Doc Mary Whateverhernamewas filled his tooth.

Blair drifted to a shadowed place, a dark realm that threatened to become a nightmare. He didn't like the shadows. Their images reminded him of his pain, of the agony he had suffered not so very long ago. In that place of pain, Blair felt the ropes pulling on his wrists, tugging on his shoulders and arms. The terror tried to slide in while his defenses were weak, but Blair shoved the thoughts away, pushed the terror and pain away.

He came out of the shadowed place with a start, gasping a little.

Jim's hand sought out a place to touch him, stroking his forehead with a gentle caress. "It's okay, baby. I'm right here." Jim smiled down at him with, what seemed to Blair, a profound sadness and a weariness that made Jim's shoulders slump a little with fatigue.

The doctor's impersonal tone seemed to harden and grow crisp and cool to the hearing. Jim's glance back to the doctor appeared even cooler. But Jim said nothing, looking so intense standing there listening. And so handsome. Even with the fatigue lines and Jim's age showing through that tough, cynical exterior, Jim was handsome.

Jim loved him and Blair felt like crying. The drugs, man. It had to be the drugs.

Simon was there also, ditto on the intense look. The Captain's presence soothed Blair, made him feel safe. Blair would never tell Simon that though the man wasn't old enough to be his father, Blair felt a kinship to the a son to a father, an authority figure to admire and look up to.

"So are you saying that there's no permanent damage, Doctor?" Jim asked. Blair thought Jim sounded incredulous and hopeful at the same time.

"Pretty much, Detective Ellison. Mr. Sandburg will experience quite a bit of pain as he heals, but the MRI indicates that the muscles withstood the trauma fairly well. Any longer with that much weight and pressure and the sudden drops and stops though and Mr. Sandburg would be looking at multiple surgeries. The tendons and ligaments were severely stretched. A few weeks rest and limited upper body mobilization should give us a better picture of the long range recovery period, but I think you'll be surprised at how fast he'll gain back his strength. Some physical therapy is likely also. We'll see about that in a week or so."

Jim nodded thoughtfully and Blair tried hard to concentrate and understand what the doctor was saying. Was the man saying he was going to be all right? He didn't feel very all right. He could almost feel the pain pushing at the fluffy surface surrounding him.

"But I think Mr. Sandburg is lucky there wasn't worse damage," the doctor continued. "He has some deep bruising in the muscles and a couple of cracked ribs. He's lucky also that he has no broken bones in his feet. But he will have a measure of discomfort from the bruising. Keep him off his feet as much as possible for the next few days. His collarbone is cracked as well."

Old news, buddy, Blair thought. And luck is pretty relative, man. He wasn't feeling very luckily either.

"But soft tissue is amazingly resilient, particularly with young people," the doctor added.

Ha, Blair thought again. I'm older than I look. He contemplated this dubious mental rebuttal for a moment and some how found the argument wanting.

"Does that mean I can take him home?" Blair heard Jim ask. "He'd be happier. Well, right now, I doubt he'd notice. But I'd be happier."

"Home," Blair murmured. "Carry me, Jim. Please."

The doctor gave a little cough and nearly choked.

"Can't you do something about him, Jim?" Simon said in what sounded like fake irritation.

Blair always knew Simon had a soft spot for him, but liked to cover with a rough exterior. Simon Banks was really a pussy cat at heart.

"What would you have me do, Simon?" Jim asked with that weariness in the tone.

"I don't know, Ellison." Simon sighed in what now sounded like resignation.. "Take him home and give him some tender loving care, I guess."

Jim's hand reached out to Blair again and the warmth of his partner's hand was all the healing balm Blair needed. "That I can do, sir. That I can do."

The drive home had been a challenge. And getting Blair up the stairs had been an experience Jim didn't want to repeat. It was one thing to fireman carry a 150 lb man a little ways. It was another thing all together to carry a bruised, hurting, half unconscious man with arms nearly immobilized and feet bruised into the building, into the elevator then back out to the loft door. He didn't even want to contemplate how he would have managed to hold Blair up and get the door open if Simon hadn't helped. Jim just knew they would still be sitting in the truck trying to figure this thing out. Even with two of them to handle Blair and doors and elevators and locks, the task had been a daunting one.

Blair now lay on the old bed downstairs, snoozing quietly for the moment. His partner looked pitiful and small in this battered state and Jim sat on the bed beside Blair thinking how close to losing this man he had been. He reached out and stroked blood-dried hair from his lover's face, hating that those usually beautiful curls were stiff and dirty. Tomorrow, if Blair was up to it, he'd personally wash Blair's hair and the rest of his partner's body as well. The doctor had said that warm soaks in the bathtub would actually be a good thing.

Sitting back against the headboard, Jim felt exhausted. He felt as if he had so little control over the events of his life sometimes. That always scared him and now he had made a commitment. He had given his heart over to Blair and his heart hurt for fear of losing this man. Why had he put himself in this vulnerable position? Why had he taken this chance on love again when love had only ever given him pain? But with Blair things would be different...wouldn't they?

God, what if Keane and Seymour had been wrong? What if he had wasted time going to the wrong place, having no place else to go and Blair had died by the hands of Mansford and Thaw? Tortured to death by one with an unreasonable vendetta and the other a sadistic psychotic nature?

A shudder ran the length of Jim's spine and he reached out again, laying a caressing hand on his partner's hair. The young man shifted and moaned, but settled back down into a deep doze.

He really ought to try to get Blair into something clean to sleep in. The young man lay there, back to the mattress, still wearing the same jeans. Jim gave a sigh and moved down to unzip and pull the stiff cloth down his lover's thighs. With care, he checked the bottoms of Blair's feet and a new wave of anger swamped him like a tidal wave.

Those sick sons-of-bitches! Jim raged inwardly. Jail time would never be enough punishment for what those two ass holes had done. Nothing justified this kind of barbaric brutality. Mansford thought himself so clever and Thaw.... Thaw was a psycho nobody had caught onto just yet. And what had made Thaw stop? What had kept the man from slitting Blair's throat? He wanted to believe that Thaw actually had an ounce of decency, but Jim figured that Thaw had simply calculated those odds the guy was so fond of and found out those odds were just to great.

Well, let them do some time. Let them see the games the big boys play in prison and they'll find out what little boys they really are.

Yet, Jim knew these kids' parents had money. Pretty big important money. That bothered him. But they were talking about murder...voluntary manslaughter at the very least. Then there was kidnaping, assault, battery, breaking and entering, harassment. And if Tami Schmitt could be believed, rape as well as coercion.

Jim didn't know what to think of the Schmitt girl. He wanted to be angry with her. He wanted to hate her. But most of all, he just pitied her, a weak-willed girl who thought more of her own safety than any sense of loyalty even to someone who had gone out of the way for her. Yet, Jim knew what battering could do to a person's psyche and self-esteem. She had betrayed Blair, had assisted in the commission of a serious crime and still he pitied her more than he hated her.

Jim managed to get the covers loose and down then back up over Blair's supine form. He thought about getting a beer. Then thought about sleeping arrangements. He feared slinging an arm in his sleep and hitting any number of Blair's multiple bruises. Yet, he couldn't bear the thought of Blair waking in the night all alone and drugged up. Confused perhaps and scared...disoriented maybe.

Blair jerked and moaned as if responding to his thoughts. A pained expression caught at the corner's of sleep and Blair cried out, trying to rise with no strength to do so. The young man fell back and cried out again, a cursing sob edging frustrated anger.

"So much for peaceful sleep," Jim murmured. He slid back down on the bed and lay a gentle hand on Blair's forehead. "Hey Chief. Everything's okay. You're home. Take it easy, baby."

"Oh Jim," Blair gasped. "Oh hurts. Everything...hurts."

"Let me get you some meds. I'll be right back." Jim hurried, his hearing focusing on Blair's agitated state. Glass of water and pills in hand, he returned to find his partner breathing hard and seeming to be trying to get a handle on the pain and perhaps the ordeal Blair had just endured. "Here we go, sweetheart. Let me do the work here."

Blair swallowed down the medication gratefully then laid there with bruised eyes closed. Those blue eyes sprang open again and his lover's expression went beyond pained, beyond simple agony of body. Tami's betrayal would strike Blair in the heart as well as the others who had no real personal grudge against the teaching fellow yet had participated in hurting Blair for whatever amusement the hurting could provide. Even Mansford's vendetta that pretended to be prejudice, but was really nothing more than unfounded jealousy, had no substance. Mansford's out of control anger had simply needed a focus and Blair had slipped into the slot because Mansford had gone looking for someone to fill that slot.

Jim saw a nightmare in Blair's beautiful eyes, bruised now and haunted and so full of pain.

"You have a dream, Chief? Is that what woke you?"

Blair gave a little nod and closed his eyes again.

He remembered the looks on Keane's face and Seymour's as well when they saw what Thaw and Mansford had done to Blair. They had looked sick, stricken with a guilt and horror Jim wanted to feel some satisfaction about. Yet, he had felt very little.

Exhaustion swarmed over him again. He just wanted this to be over. He just wanted this to have never happened.

Not your week for having your wishes come true, Jimbo.

"Jim...." Blair's voice was tired and pained, but Jim cherished hearing his lover speak his name.

"What do you need, sweetheart?"

"Stay with me...please."

"Yeah, Chief. I'll stay." He slid down beside his lover, cuddling as best he could.

After a little while he felt Blair shudder and a couple of sniffles escaped as if the young man held onto his tears with an iron grip that slipped only occasionally.

"You think I'll think you're a wimp if you cry, Blair?"

"I...don't wanna cry." Blair's tone about broke Jim's heart.

"It's okay if you do, baby. It's okay if you need to. God, I feel like crying myself."

"Yeah...right," came the soft incredulous response.

Jim leaned in close, nuzzling Blair's ear. He had to block out the smell of his partner's blood or the metallic odor would drive him crazy in the night.

"When it comes to you, I've only been more scared a few other times in my life, Chief. And god knows I've had enough reasons to be scared for you."

"Lash," Blair whispered.

"Yeah. And when you were shot and I didn't know if you were going to bleed to death before we could get you out of that mine." He stroked Blair's hair and kissed his lover's temple. "Then there was that oil rig. God, I thought it was going to blow with you still on it. But you were so brave. So caring about those other men trapped there. I was so proud of you."

"This kinda felt They were going to...kill me, Jim. They were going me to death."

Jim felt Blair shaking with anger and the residue of fear, yet Jim was the one to break. For their words had conjured passed memories and visions of this very night. Blair's pain and fear caught in Jim's throat till a lump the size of a melon almost kept him from swallowing.

"Oh baby, I love you," he said in a husky whisper. A few tears tracked a pattern down the side of his face and into Blair's hair. "I was so scared of losing you."

"It'll take...more than a couple...of punks to take me...away from you, Jim. You can't...get rid of me...that easy."

Jim snuggled down closer and held on with controlled gentleness for he knew how easily Blair could be taken from him. And Jim knew how easily he could drive Blair away if he wasn't careful.

Chapter 44

Blair took a shaky breath, letting it out in one long puff. Jim's hand touched his shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze, enough to give encouragement, but not enough to hurt his still sore muscles. His left arm was in a sling now, a contraption that kept his left side basically immobolized. His right still hurt deep inside the muscles, but he couldn't stand not using, at least, one of his arms.

He glanced over at his partner, giving Jim a smile that still made his mouth hurt a little more than a week after being a living history lesson in what torture can do to the human body. Jim smiled back and that smile alone lit up Blair's heart and soothed his nervousness at returning to Major Crimes. By the first of next week, he hoped to be back at the University. Or someone else would have to give his finals. Either way he'd likely not get away without grading them.

He still had so much to face, so much to deal with.

Mansford and Thaw had already been charged with a multitude of crimes ranging from second degree murder to felony kidnapping and much, much more. The two were out of jail on bail, a huge amount as he understood it, pending trial...or some sort of plea bargain that both young men's parents were pushing for with the DA's office. They both had been suspended from Rainier and expelled from campus until the outcome of the trial.

Blair fluctuated. On one hand, he wanted the plea bargain to go through so he wouldn't have to see those two again, so he wouldn't have to deal with a trial. On the other hand, Blair knew with a plea bargain Mansford and Thaw would never get the punishment they deserved for causing the death of Professor Fletcher and for the physical, mental and emotional harm they had inflicted upon him and Jim as well. A plea bargain wasn't looking all that probable anyway. The DA had enough evidence to get convictions on most of those counts.

They had tried to ruin his life. They had tried to take his life, in slow deliberate measures of pain. Blair didn't hate either of them nearly as much as he just wished he understood the motivations of senseless jealousy, resentment and prejudice. He couldn't even begin to fathom what Dr. Edwin Fletcher had held against him and probably never would.

Then there was Read Seymour and Cornell Keane, two young men who had profoundly disappointed him. Yet, ultimately they had done the right thing and, strangely enough, Blair very possibly owed his life to them by guiding Jim to him. They also had been charged with several lesser crimes, harassment, assault, breaking and entering to name a few. But it looked like they would testify against Mansford and Thaw, reducing their own charges and sentences. But those two would still probably be kicked out of Rainier.

And finally, there was Tami Schmitt. Tami had really hurt him more than all the others put together. Blair had spent hours counseling Tami, listening to her tearful, heartbreaking pleas for guidance and help. And he had given her his time and his sympathy, his caring guidance and advice.

Tami needed help now and Blair hoped she got what she needed. The girl had some serious problems, one of which was having been charged with being an accessory to kidnapping. He figured she'd also testify against Eric and Tom and get off with a slap on the wrist. Personally, Blair had nothing left to give her, perhaps not even forgiveness. He didn't know right now. The pain was still too raw, the terror still too potent. Later, he might manage some pity for Tami Schmitt, knowing what Eric had done to her. But that didn't lessen the feeling of betrayal that swept over him when he thought of her.

The elevator hummed while they stood there waiting for the car to reach their floor. His feet ached still, a reminder of what had been done to him. Yet, he had managed shoes for the first time since...since that night.

"Here we go, Chief. Slow and steady, sweetheart," Jim said with a hand on his back. "Just take your time."

"That's pretty much a given, Jim. But I appreciate the thought." At least, no one had bothered them in the parking garage. Now, they just had to deal with the long corridor and signing in and any number of confrontations they might encounter between the elevator and Major Crimes.

He already felt tired and wondered why he had decided he felt up to doing this. Oh yeah, a week at home, in bed. That was it. Time to get out. See the world. What had he been thinking?

People still stopped what they were doing, standing with paperwork in hand, staring as he and Jim passed by. But this time the stares weren't nearly so hostile as the looks were simply incredulous. Blair imagined people wondering how a man that looked this bad could manage being on his feet, let alone come into work. He wasn't all that sure they weren't right.

And no renditions of The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, good or bad, accosted them on the way.

Well, that gave a positive outlook to the day.

Major Crimes was quiet when they entered. Rhonda was at her desk, telephone to her ear. She gave them a wave, but continued nonstop with her conversation. Simon was in his office, busy on the phone as well and didn't look up.

His return was almost anti-climatic. Blair didn't care. He had just wanted out of the loft and this was as good an excuse as any to spend the day with Jim. He could still read over and make corrections on some reports. And he, that would require the use of both hands. He, he doubted he could manage the computer right now...or the telephone...or....

Man, I am so useless.

Jim sat him down, fussing over him like a mother hen.

" Cut it out. I'm fine."

"God, Chief," Jim sighed. "You don't look fine. You look miserable. I should take you back home."

"No," Blair replied firmly. "I will go stir crazy if I have to spend another full day at home. Okay?"

Jim put up his hands. "Okay. Okay. It's your pain, Sandburg."

Simon poked his head out his office door about that time and grinned like a Chesire Cat. "Sandburg!" The captain said, walking over to the desk. "Hey, you look...terrible actually. What are you doing here? You should still be home in bed, resting."

Blair rolled is eyes. "I look worse than I feel, okay?"

"I sure hope so," Simon replied, heading back to his office. "Cause you look awful, kid. Jim, got a minute?"

Jim followed Simon into the captain's office and Blair sat there, feeling as useless as bi-focals on a blind man. He shuffled through some papers, trying to find a comfortable position to sit and not have to raise his arm too high. A slow burning sensation spread down the muscles of his arm and across his shoulder when he moved even his right arm too much. He wanted to put his head down and cry like a little kid from sheer frustration. But that would make his head throb and his face hurt. He felt like he could do commericals for bandages or maybe a hospital or two.

Joel pushed through the door about then, a half dozen others filling in behind.

Must have been coffee break time, Blair surmised and would have waved at the captain if only he could raise his arm that high without hurting like hell.

"Blair!" Joel declared in a booming voice. "You're back! Hey, look! Blair's back."

Suddenly people were all around him, seemed to want to touch him, pat him on the back or shoulder to show how glad they were he was back, but realized, at the last moment, that touching him right now might not necessarily be a good thing.

Brown had pulled up a chair beside him, chatting away at him like, at least, four other people weren't trying to hold a simultaneous conversation with him.

"Okay people!" Jim's raised voice got the attention of most everyone. "Back away from the desk and nobody gets hurt." They all laughed and Jim managed to slip into his chair. "Don't you people have work to do?" Jim added, but Blair heard only humor in Jim's voice.

"Hey, Ellison. You can't keep the kid all to yourself all the time," Henry Brown declared with a grin then sobered considerably. "We're glad you're back, Blair. Really. You need anything just yell. Rafe and I got about five case reports to finish before we hit the street again. So we'll be around."

"Thanks, Henry," Blair replied. "Thanks."

"Well," Jim offered after everyone had gone back to their respective desks and jobs. "I guess that beaten up look has its advantages."

Rafe came by and deposited two cups of coffee on the desk and gave them one of his most winning smiles.

Blair had started to say something sarcastic to Jim's remark, but thought better of it. "Yeah, I guess it does. Do you think we could get lunch out of them too?" He waggled his eyebrows and tried again for a smile that didn't hurt too much.

"Just maybe, Chief. I think these guys would do almost anything for you right now."

"Hey, you know the laundry----"

"I said almost, Sandburg. Don't push your luck."

Blair managed a shrug and went back to shuffling through reports. He'd been forced to use an older pair of glasses when he'd realized he'd lost his newer ones. He was pretty certain they had fallen off during the attack in the cafe parking lot. Jim had gone looking for them, but'd had no luck. That gave him the strangest deja vu feeling and the back of his head suddenly ached where the pipe had smacked him.

He shook off the memory with sheer will, pushed his glasses up on his noses and began to read.

"Ellison," Simon's deep rumble of a voice came from his office door a while later. "You too, Sandburg. If you think you can make it."

Blair rolled his eyes. Business as usual with Captain Simon Banks. But he smiled inwardly and appreciated Simon's attempt to make his presence seem normal in his current battered state.

He felt eyes watching his pained progress and wanted to crawl into a hole until he came out looking like something besides the loser in a dog fight.

"Sit gentlemen. Have some coffee." The captain poured each a big mugful all the time smiling like the cat that caught the mouse.

"Okay, sir. What has you in such a good mood?" Jim finally asked.

Simon's smile widened. "They are suspended without pay pending a full investigation of their conduct and possible criminal behavior. Not to mention the violation of Blair's civil rights."

"Watson and Casper?" Jim asked. "What about the rest of the 10th precinct? That Sergeant Russell and Captain Wyman both condoned this behavior. They wanted Blair to be assaulted in that jail cell, Simon."

"The entire precinct is under a full IA investigation as well," Simon replied with a pleased-with- himself smirk. "Makes a man feel like justice does prevail on occasion, eh gentlemen?"

Blair nodded and he felt Jim's hand pat the back of his head, ruffling his hair affectionately. Simon didn't even flinch this time. Maybe the captain was getting used to the thought of him and Jim in a romantic relationship.

"As long as they pay for their crimes, sir. IA has investigated the 10th before and not done anything."

"Oh, I think something will be done this time," Simon offered in return, seeming confident of that conviction. "The Commissioner has taken the rumors of corruption in the 10th on as a crusade. He's already called Wyman in for a full explanation. And I intend to keep a very close watch on the proceedings to make sure they don't bog down and IA doesn't lose interest."

"Thanks, Simon," Jim said after a moment.

"What's there to thank, Jim? Prejudice of any kind is wrong whether racially motivated, religiously motivated or sexuality motivated. I'm not going to sit back and watch this city brought down by intolerance of any kind. I've fought too hard to let prejudice win, Jim." Simon sipped his coffee and Blair felt Simon's gaze on him. "And they made it personal when they struck out at Blair."

A pang hit Blair's heart and all he could manage was a nod of acknowledgment to Simon.

"Hey," Simon said, breaking the sudden awkward silence. "How about I take you guys out for lunch today? Someplace real nice. My treat."

Blair felt Jim glance over at him with a bright expression and Blair matched it with one of his own.

"I guess you were right, Jim," Blair offered, suppressing a laugh. "The beaten up look does have it's advantages."

"Told you."

"Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair glanced up to see Beck Anderson standing in the doorway to Major Crimes. She wore a long dress, black with blood red flowers. Her short hair was spiked today and she wore her signature black-framed glasses.

"Beck," he said and a wave of anxiety washed over him. "Come on in."

She moved tentatively into the room, avoiding a couple of uniformed policemen who threw him a hard glance, but said nothing. Simon had issued a severe warning precinct wide and anyone even saying "boo" to him would likely get a reprimand.

"I hope I'm not intruding."

"No. Please have a seat."

She did, but Blair could tell she was uncomfortable. He wondered if her discomfort came from being in a police station or just his frightful appearance making her nervous. He tried offering her a reassuring smile.

She smiled back. "Oh...Mr. Sandburg. I don't know what to say."

"What's there to say, Beck? You tried to help and I really appreciate that. You going out of your way means more than I can express."

"But...I should have been able to do more. I just didn't realize...I didn't think Tami would----'

Blair flinched and turned away. Thinking of Tami just brought him so much pain.

"I'm sorry. I know Tami betrayed you," she rushed on, obviously sensing his pain. "But please try to find some forgiveness for her, Mr. Sandburg. She didn't do it out of malice or hate for you. She did it because she was so scared of Eric. She's not a strong person, Mr. Sandburg. She really is sorry for what she's done. She really regrets what she did."

"I believe you, Becky. I know Tami didn't help Eric because she wanted to hurt me. I know that. But don't expect me to be able to forgive her that easily. I need some time. A lot of time," he said more to himself than to her. "And don't blame yourself, Beck. Just make sure Tami gets the help she needs. If you can do that, I'd be grateful."

"I'll try."

An uncomfortable silence fell and Blair glanced around, looking for Jim and wishing his partner would show up to help him deal with this. He hadn't realized just how close everything still felt as if the kidnaping and torture had happened only yesterday.

"I found your glasses in the parking lot of Cafe Coffee last week," Beck said, holding the item out to him across the desk. "I meant to get them to you sooner, but well...stuff got in the way. I'm sorry."

"No. Thank you." Blair took the glasses from her hand and looked them over. Dirty, but relatively unharmed. That surprised him considering how hard he had hit the gravel that night. Images rose up in his mind, dark images and an overwhelming feeling of panic. He took a deep breath and tried to regain his composure.

"Tami's here, Mr. Sandburg."

"What?" he said, her words bringing him back from the brink of remembering a nightmare he'd had the night before.

"She was hoping... Actually, I was hoping you would maybe speak to her. She's so distraught still. I think it would do a world of good if you could just let her know you don't hate her."

"I don't know, Beck. I don't know if I'm up for this." Blair heard the pain in his own voice.

"Please, Mr. Sandburg. She's going to testify against Eric and Tom. She's going to do the right thing this time. But she needs all the strength she can muster. We just came from giving a more detailed statement and she wants desperately to cooperate and help."

God, the pain. Blair didn't know if he'd ever felt this much internal pain before in his life. The anguish almost ate him up inside.

'Who does it hurt most when you hold onto this pain, sweetie?' Blair heard his mother say. Naomi's gentle voice, full of wisdom and love echoed deep in the recesses of his psyche. 'Free the anguish. Let go of the pain. For you are the only one it harms.' He could almost feel the touch of her hand against his cheek or stroking his hair.

Beck reached out, touching Blair's hand and he wondered if she noticed the cuts healing on his wrist. "Please, Mr. Sandburg. Tami needs your forgiveness. She needs to know you don't hate her."

But what if I do hate her? No. Hate only hurts me. I won't let them do that to me.

Blair licked his lips, his mouth feeling dry and he'd yet to rid himself of that metallic taste. He swallowed and finally nodded to her.


He saw her relieved smile and she bounced up out of her seat. "Thanks, Mr. Sandburg. You really are the best." She hurried away out the door and he lost sight of her for a moment.

"The best what?" Blair muttered to himself. "The best punching bag?"

Then he saw her out through the glassed in wall, Becky urging Tami forward and Tami Schmitt looked like she was about to face a firing squad. Beck had the girl by the arm and Blair watched from beneath a hooded gaze. He waited till Tami stood right in front of him, a desk all that lay between them. Then he looked up and gave the girl a full view of what Eric Mansford had done to him.

"Oh my god!" Tami exclaimed. "Oh god, Blair." She burst into tears and almost collapsed. Beck, the smaller of the two women, was having a terrible time holding her roommate up.

"Sit down, Tami," Blair said and Beck guided her into a chair.

They all sat there in this corner of Major Crimes while police business buzzed around them. Now, Blair looked around for Jim again, but this time he hoped his partner wouldn't come back too soon. He didn't know what Jim would say to Tami Schmitt. And Jim was not the forgiving sort.

"Tami, stop it," Beck said in a stern voice. "This isn't about you, Schmitt. This is about Blair. Now cut it out."

Tami sniffed and wiped at her eyes and Blair handed her a tissue without saying a word. He noticed Rafe glancing over at him, concerned and curious and maybe about to intervene. Blair met the man's gaze and shook his head, holding a hand up to keep the intervention at bay.

Finally, Tami looked up and had to work hard to meet Blair's gaze. He saw her note all his visible injuries, the bruises and stitches, the immobilizing sling his left arm rested in. He saw his own anguish in her eyes, the abuse she had endured at Eric Mansford's hands. And he knew they were kindred spirits of a strange sort. The only difference was that he would never have betrayed her to Eric the way she had betrayed him.

That hate tried to harden his heart again, but Blair pushed it back, remembering his mother's words. He remembered the values she had taught him about forgiveness and love and still caring for those who were weak of will.

God, Naomi must be practically a saint if she can manage all of that and not succumb sometime in life to the baser instincts in all of them.

"Blair...Mr. Sandburg," Tami began. "I don't have any right to call you Blair anymore. offered that in friendship...." Tami suppressed a new wash of tears and sniffed again.

Blair noticed an audience starting to develop not far away. But no one interfered.

"And I betrayed that friendship," Tami continued, her gaze faltering, falling to her lap. "I have no excuses, Mr. Sandburg. I was scared. I was weak. I forgot who my friends were. And I cared more for myself than for your safety. I...I don't ask you to forgive me. I...just hope you can someday not hate me." With that, Tami rose up out of her chair, pushing away from Becky's grasping hold. She stumbled towards the door, all natural grace diluted and strained.

Blair stood up and let go of the pain. "Tami," he said and she stopped, but did not turn around. "I don't hate you."

She turned and Tami flung him a frantic, hopeful glance. "Thank you." Then she was through the door, passing Jim without looking up.

Blair saw his partner face go cold and hard and Jim almost went after her. "Jim. Don't please. Let her go."

Jim complied reluctantly and moved towards the desk. Glancing around the office and all the attentive eyes and ears, Jim shook his head and sat down at his desk.

"Ms. Anderson."

"Hi Detective Ellison." Beck pulled her purse up onto her shoulder and gave them both an anxious smile. "You really are the best, Mr. Sandburg," the girl repeated. "I'd better go catch up with her. See you on campus?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah, campus."

Jim said nothing for a couple of minutes, just allowing them a long moment of silence.

"You okay, Blair?"

"I'm...okay," Blair finally said. "I didn't really want to hate her anyway."

"I know what you mean, Chief" Jim agreed, patting him on the knee and not seeming to care if anyone saw. "I know exactly what you mean."

Chapter 45

Well, well, well," a familiar female voice said. "If it isn't, Detective James Ellison."

Jim had just hung up his jacket and was about to get coffee and maybe one of those cherry danish. Instead, he turned around and faced Wendy Hawthorne, lady person. Whatever she liked being called these days.

He liked Wendy. He really did as much as he might ever like someone whose life's work was revealing other people's lives on camera with or without their permission. He had even enjoyed going out with her...once. But they had never made that second date and Jim had known that no spark had been there. Even back then the only sparks had been between him and Blair and both had refused to recognize that fact.

"Wendy," he offered in return and noticed a woman holding a camera standing behind and a little to the side of the reporter. "How are you today?" He offered her a bright fake smile and thought the camera woman best not turn that thing on him..

Wendy offered him one right back. "Jim. I'm doing a preliminary news piece about the exchange program and the Australian police officer your department is expecting soon. I thought I'd drop by and see how you and Blair were doing while I was here."

"We're doing fine...really."

She glanced around, obviously looking for something. "Where is Blair anyway? Is he up and about after that terrible attack?" Wendy sounded sincere enough and Jim knew he was being hard on her with that less than charitable thought.

"He's better. Still healing, but better. He's finishing up grading finals at the University today."

She nodded knowingly. "You know I was thinking of doing a follow up report on the "outing." Wendy used her fingers to indicate quotation marks. "I'd still like to interview you and Blair. I promise you'll like the outcome, Jim."

"You make the "outing" sound like a picnic, Hawthorne." He mimicked her quotation marks.

"Now, now Detective Ellison. I know how you feel about the media. God knows I know how he feels," she said to the woman behind her. "Oh, this is my new camera woman, Ellen Mitzman."

The dark-haired woman whose cut was almost military, reached out and Jim shook the offered hand.

"I've heard a lot about you, Detective Ellison," Mitzman offered with a smile. "But then who hasn't in Cascade?"

"Yes, they'd have to be living in a cave not to have heard of Detective Jim Ellison," Wendy added. "Particularly lately. And he's so photogenic." She smirked when she said it.

"Hawthorne," he growled.

"Where is your sense of humor, Jim?"

"In the usual place, Wendy. I just don't find much funny about having my partner harassed and nearly murdered. Okay?"

All Wendy's humor fell away and her mouth went tight with anger. "You know that I didn't mean that, Ellison. You know that I owe you and Blair a great deal. You both saved mine and Conner's lives and helped save my career. I consider Blair a friend and one I care deeply about. Have you even bothered to watch the news report I did on you two? Have you even bothered, Jim?"

Actually, no, he hadn't. Jim didn't need to see his life, his love life in particularly, dissected and analyzed like it was everyone's business, on television or in the newspaper. But then he'd seen enough of those negative reports, the ones that made him and Blair sound like a couple of perverts performing unholy acts. He was sick of the moralizing and the prejudice which had not let up all that much in the last few weeks. There had even been an article in one of those right wing publications that applauded the savage attacks on Blair. The view was a complete condemnation of homosexuality and actually condoned the harassment. As far as "they" were concerned, Blair should have been expelled from the campus permanently and Jim should have been thrown off the police force.

If it was up to the right wing fundamentalists, Fletcher would have been posthumously rewarded a medal of honor and Mansford and Thaw would have gotten a tickertape parade. No thought would be given to the fact that these guys had been the ones to cut Fletcher's brake line and now stood accused of murdering the man.

And then there was the false arrest, assault and several violations of Blair's civil rights. Oh yes, those officers would be given medals as well and a place of honor in the Intolerance Hall of Fame.

But now, Jim faced a woman who actually wanted to give their side of this controversial issue. Here was someone with a sympathetic ear and the power to give them positive mass media attention instead of negative.

He had tuned Blair out every time his lover had tried to convince him that Wendy would do right by them. But, as usual, he had stonewalled his partner and had refused to listen to reason. When was he going to learn to listen to Blair about something other than his senses?

Now might be a good time.

"You're right, Wendy," Jim offered. "I haven't seen your news stories on us. I was out of line and you're one of the few who actually seem to want to give me and Blair a fair shake with the media. Everything else has been pretty much crap."

A slow smile spread across the pretty blond woman's lips. And that look of triumph played on her face like she'd gotten one over on him. He shook off that feeling and offered his hand. She shook with a wariness Jim found amusing.

"That's very big of you to admit you were wrong, Jim. You're just full of surprises."

"Yeah, right. You have copies of those stories, Hawthorne or do I need to watch the late late show to catch them?"

She fished around in her bag and pulled out a black video case and handed it to him. "Here. Watch these and then tell me if you're willing to do an interview...okay? If I haven't done a decent job of putting you and Sandburg in a good light, I won't bother either of you again."

Jim nodded and took the video. "Sounds fair enough."

Blair lay snuggled in Jim's arms, slow kisses, gentle and loving enough to keep both satisfied. Blair was still not fit for any kind of rough housing, getting better, but still not up to snuff just yet. Physical therapy was helping and Jim could feel Blair chomping at the bit to get back into action and get that over active mind off the painful memories of what had been done to his partner.

"How did your day go, Chief? Everything all right at the University?" He stroked Blair's bare arm and kissed his lover's lips again. Jim felt Blair chuckle and he pulled back with a grin.

"Not too bad, Jim. The finals are looking pretty good, actually. At least, that won't be a reason for anyone to hate me."

"Aw, baby. It's rotten you have to worry about hate."

"Hey, I've got plenty of supporters. They've come crawling out of the woodwork now. Some people are always going to have a problem with what we are, but I'm not hiding anymore, Jim. No reason to anymore. I just want to move forward with life, with you, with my career. I have so much to look forward to. So much more than Eric or Tom. So much more than even Read or Cornell. It looks like Tami's going to be expelled as well."

"I can't say I'm sorry for them, Blair. They hurt you too much. Even Seymour and Keane. I can't feel sorry for them. Or Tami."

Blair rubbed a newly shaven chin against Jim's shoulder and Jim nearly got lost in that sensation, that almost rough of underlying whiskers and the soft surface skin.

"I know, Jim. I don't either. It's just sad to see such bright young minds go to waste this way. I don't think Eric will ever be sorry for what he did to me. All I saw in Eric Mansford's eyes was violence and hatred. He needs some serious help."

"Not like Thaw is any more stable, sweetheart."

Jim felt Blair shudder. The shaking seemed a physical manifestation of Blair's memories, of those last few moments of terror perhaps and the limbo of not knowing if death was at hand.

"I still don't really get what makes Tom tick, Jim. I didn't understand, I still don't understand what motivated him to help Eric. I never sensed any hostility from him. I never felt any hatred."

"Something else was going on in Thomas Thaw's brain, Chief. I don't know if we'll ever understand it. But you did good, baby. You said all the right things. I think that's what the game is to Thaw. You gave the right answers. You earned some kind of respect from him."

"A warped respect," Blair offered. "I don't need that kind of respect from anybody. They can keep it."

Blair reached up with unblemished lips, no stitches, no cuts and maybe only a last lingering bruise fading. Jim tasted Blair's tongue, enjoying their slow easy play that didn't have to lead anywhere, but was simply pleasurable for its own sake.

Blair's hand on his chest felt warm, stroking his skin with loving caresses. Jim let his own hand roam up and down Blair's arm, careful of shoulder or too much pressure on still tender muscles.

"Wendy Hawthorne came by today," Jim said between kisses. "She still wants to do an interview with us. You still up for that?"

Blair pulled back and stared at him, beautiful blue eyes wide and mouth hanging open. Jim laughed low in his throat and found a speechless Blair once again an amusing sight.


"Jim. You mean it? Or are you just pulling my leg?"

"No leg pulling, Chief," Jim replied and let his fingers slip up into Blair's hair. He could think of nothing that felt as soft and thick as his lover's mass of curls. "She gave me a tape of what she's already done. How about we watch it in the morning and if we think she's done good, we'll do it? We'll give her an interview."

Blair leaned up over him and Jim could see the pain that position caused his partner. But the pain seemed to ease and Blair gazed down on him with a love Jim couldn't describe, could not find words for.

"That's a wonderful idea," Blair finally said as if the younger man hadn't been the one who had advocated the idea in the first place, as if Jim had just that moment come up with the notion. "You're brilliant, Jim. I wish I had thought of doing that."

"Come here, Chief and I'll show you brilliant," Jim murmured and gently pulled Blair down beside him.

The End