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No Islands Any More

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Disclaimer: Jim, Blair and the usual suspects belong to Pet Fly Productions. For your entertainment today, Jim is being played by Tacy Kelly. Blair and Dr. Fitzgerald are being played by Betsy Ray. Don't worry; when we were done with 'em, we hosed 'em off and sent them back to Bilson and DeMeo. Except for Fitz, who remains ours. Not that we know what to do with him.

Warning: NC-17 (m/m; h/c)
Includes violence and rape. Comfort outweighs hurt.

Summary: After a brutal attack, Jim and Blair try to pick up the pieces. Blair seems to be "better" at examining his feelings than Jim. Who knew?

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No Islands Any More


by

Betsy Tacy Ray-Kelly


"This little life, from here to there--
Who lives it safely anywhere?...
(The tidal wave devours the shore:
There *are* no islands any more.)"

"There Are No Islands, Any More"
Edna St. Vincent Millay

They only had to stay in the hospital one night. Just one night, but to Jim it felt like an eternity. At least they were in a room together. Small consolation, but Jim couldn't have some well- meaning cop or nurse or doctor getting in the kid's face. Not yet. Not now. Maybe not ever. Jim gave the initial report to Simon the night before. Talking about it had made him sick and he'd promised himself that Blair would never have to relive this shit again. Not if he could help it. And by God, he could help it.

Now.

*Now* he could help it.

Now that it was too late...

Jim lay back and closed his eyes and tried to relax, but the doctor was back. He was an older man, with a thick shock of white hair on his head and warm brown eyes. His hands were warm and after checking Jim's vitals he quietly pronounced the detective fit and ready for release. Jim swallowed hard as the doctor moved toward Blair. He grabbed handfuls of the thin cotton sheet with both fists and gritted his teeth.

He didn't want him to touch the kid.

He didn't want Blair to wake up and once again find himself under foreign hands, even if they were gentle, healing hands. Jim didn't want anyone touching his guide.

But Blair wasn't going to wake up. He'd been heavily sedated since the ambulance arrived on the scene. Twice he'd started to come around in the hospital room, only to start screaming and flailing his arms. Sedation had been the compromise when the doctor started to secure Blair to the bed. Jim took a breath as Dr. Taylor finished his examination. "Have the blood tests come back?" Jim asked, surprised at how rough his voice sounded.

Dr. Taylor tucked the covers back around Blair then turned to face Jim. He tapped the manila folder on the bedside table.

"That would be filed under doctor-patient privilege, Detective," he said mildly.

Jim shook his head, eyes narrowing. "You don't understand," he said. "Blair is my..." He wasn't quite sure what he meant to say. Blair was his guide, his friend, his teacher. His voice trailed off and it ended up sounding like he had said, "Blair is mine."

The doctor lifted a single eyebrow at Jim, before opening his file. "You are listed as the emergency contact," he said thoughtfully. "And I suppose you'll be subpoenaing the results for the court case. There's no evidence of any STD's, Detective. In fact, physically, Mr. Sandburg is fine."

Jim was not as relieved as he expected to be. He knew it could be a time before certain contagions would show up in a test and that he and Blair would have a few sleepless nights ahead of them regardless. He idly wondered if they would all have the same detached-yet-nightmarish quality of the night before, then dismissed that
thought to concentrate on more immediate, concrete matters.

For the immediate future, he almost felt as though STD's were the least of
Blair's--their--worries. Blair was resilient, adaptable, and strong, but even so, how could he be expected to just resume his life after the ordeal he'd been through? Jim shut his eyes against hard memories; images of the previous twenty-four hours that would be with him a lifetime or more.

The sudden attack, seemingly out of nowhere. Blair on his knees before their assailants, servicing them for both their lives, knowing that, in all likelihood, they would be killed regardless.

Jim didn't let himself think of their dramatic rescue by Simon and Brown.

He clenched the sheet again, an unacknowledged tear escaping the corner of his eye at the thought of Blair--his Blair-- degraded and tortured like that.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"Um, Chief?"

Blair's question, after two days of near total silence in the hospital, came from left field.

"It's fall in Cascade. It always rains this time of year. So why the fuck is it sunny today, of all days?"

Jim, not having anything to say to that, remained silent as he pulled into the garage.

"The one day I need it to be overcast and wet, it's fucking sunny. Shit!" Blair pounded the dash with his fist.

Jim appreciated the anger over the sullen silence. Somehow it seemed more in character.

"You know what they say about the weather in Cascade," Jim said affably. "If you don't like it, wait five minutes and it'll be something completely different."

He hopped out of the truck, but stopped himself from going around to the passenger door to help Blair out. He wasn't hurt. The doctors and nurses kept pointing that out to him. *Physically* Blair was fine. Jim waited for a few beats, tossing his keys absently before he realized Blair wasn't getting out of the truck. "Chief?" he said, opening his door and sticking his head in. Blair's head was ducked but his eyes were wide and wild. His heart rate was skyrocketing. "I can't," he said. "I can't I can't I can't I can't..."

"We're just going home, Blair," Jim said softly. "Home."

Blair shook his head, hair flying. "No, I can't," he muttered. "Please, Jim. Please! Drive. Just drive somewhere. Drive somewhere, away from here. Drive!"

Jim jumped back in the driver's seat, gunned the motor and took off. Confused as hell, he concentrated on the road and didn't look at the kid. He didn't have to track his vitals. His heart beat was slowing, breathing was coming back under control.

Jim didn't get it. They hadn't been grabbed at home. The loft didn't have anything to do with what had happened to them. Jim had thought getting Blair back home would do a lot toward calming him down. He hadn't expected a reaction like this.

Blair was rocking restlessly and muttering under his breath. "anyone lived in a pretty how town with up so floating many bells down..." He was repeating the nonsense line over and over again. In spite of himself, and his own fervent desire to pretend that nothing was seriously wrong with Blair (nothing that he couldn't fix) Jim
found himself paying attention to the stresses in Blair's voice.

"anyONE lived in a pretty HOW town with UP so floating MANy bells DOWN..." in rhythm to heart totally out of control, stress in every other wild beat.

The same jittery rhythm Blair's pulse and actions had taken on during their ordeal.

Jim could easily imagine the younger man keeping the nonsense line running in his mind to distance himself from their surroundings. Hearing it now, in the truck, made the hair on the back of Jim's neck prickle.

He pulled to the side of the road. Blair turned to him.

"You stopped, Jim. Why did you stop? Keep going!"

"Chief, you're worrying me here. I had to stop."

"You want to help? Keep fucking driving!"

Jim actually flinched at the anger in Blair's voice, then started the truck up again, using all his senses to concentrate on not getting them killed.

"anyONE lived in a pretty HOW town with UP so floating MANy bells DOWN..."

Jim drove for another fifty aimless miles, Blair's voice a drone in the background. Sometimes the words changed. At some point, Jim realized it was a poem or maybe the words to a song that Blair was reciting.

"Women and men (both little and small) /cared for anyone not at all / they sowed their isn't they reaped their same / sun moon stars rain..."

But the rhythm was always the same...

"WOMen and men BOTH little and SMALL cared for anyONE not at all THEY sowed their isn't they REAPed their same SUN moon STARS RAIN."

Listening to Blair repeat the words over and over, they soon played a litany at the back of Jim's brain. Which was why he heard it like a shout when Blair changed the words and started chanting: "WOMen and men BOTH little and SMALL cared for anyONE not at all THEY sowed their isn't they RAPED their same SUN moon STARS RAIN..."

Christ. Shit fuck damn fuck shit fuck damn!

"Blair, we're going to run out of gas," Jim said quietly.

"Don't stop!" Blair warned. "Don't stop! We can't stop!"

"We're going to run out of gas," Jim said again, more slowly, careful not to snap. "Let's go home, Blair. Let's go home. It's quiet. And warm. We'll eat something and listen to some music. Home, Blair."

Blair faltered for a moment. Head still ducked, it was hard to see his eyes, but they hadn't given away anything in the last two days, Jim didn't expect them to now. Blair heaved a huge sigh, shuddering around its release. "Get some gas," he whispered. "We can stop for gas. Then we'll drive and when....when it's dark out...when it's dark, we can go home."

"Can I get gas?" Jim asked, maintaining the fiction he'd used to break Blair's reverie. He needed to get out of the truck.

"Yeah, I guess," Blair said again. Jim stopped and gassed the truck.

When he got back in the car, Blair was muttering again, but something different.

"LOVEliest of trees the cherry NOW is HUNG with BLOOM aLONG the BOUGH..." Blair repeated the line, faster, stressing every other syllable. "LOVEliEST of TREES the CHERRy NOW is HUNG with BLOOM aLONG the BOUGH..."

At first Jim was relieved, but the icy feeling crept along his veins again as the tempo picked up until the rhythm was unmistakably that of copulation.

His palms slid on the wheel as unwanted images of clean but greasy hands threaded in his partner's hair, pulling Blair's head back and forth on a fat, invading cock. A different image, no less and no more chilling, of another man riding Blair from behind, forcing his pained face back so that Jim had to watch. And Jim could not have closed his eyes, then or now, against the horrifying sight. It was his penance, his due, for failing them both.

Jim wondered if Blair got this terrified when he had a zone out. Why should he? Blair always knew what to do. Jim was fucking clueless here.

"Blair...you're scaring the shit out of me here," he said helplessly. "I don't know what to do, kid. Maybe we should...we should go back to the hospital. Maybe it's too soon..."

Blair's voice got louder, but the rhythm of his words didn't change. "LOVEliEST of TREES the CHERRY NOW is HUNG with BLOOM ALONG the BOUGH..."

"Stop it!" Jim said, but Blair only spoke louder.

"LOVEliEST of TREES the CHEERY NOW is HUNG with BLOOM ALONG the BOUGH..."

"God dammit, Sandburg, STOP IT!" Jim thundered and silence fell over them as if Blair had been felled by a sniper's bullet. Jim screeched the truck to a halt along the deserted backroad they'd ended up on. He was panting with anger.

"Just STOP IT, Sandburg. I can't deal with this."

Blair began laughing, a note of hysteria in his voice.

"YOU can't deal with it? Oh, that's just fucking rich, buddy."

Somehow, the edge in Blair's voice snapped Jim back from his anger. One of them had to remain calm. Meanwhile, Blair continued in a shrill litany. "You're not the one who had to, what was the phrase so charmingly employed? Suck it and fuck it? You didn't have to pray that you were doing a good enough job that they wouldn't kill
you."

Blair pounded his fist against his own thigh. "Don't you dare tell me you can't fucking deal, OK?"

"Sorry," Jim muttered. "I'm sorry."

"You and me both, man," Blair answered.

Blair was aimlessly pounding his thigh. Jim reached out to forestall him, but backed off when Blair flinched away.

"Why did it have to happen, Jim? Why?" The anger was at bay, at least for now, and replaced with genuine curiosity. As if Blair was trying to figure out why Vice had initiation rituals and Major Crimes didn't.

"Jim? Why?"

"Things happen," Jim said in a dull voice. They had had this discussion before, over one random act of violence or another.

Blair wanted to believe there was order somewhere in the universe, that things happened for a reason and that some guiding force somewhere was orchestrating the big picture.

"My ass things happen. What the hell kind of reason is that for me to have..." Blair couldn't say it again.

It had been a long time since Jim had the luxury of such a belief system.

"Sandburg, would a reason make this any easier? Would it cast some different kind of pall over what happened? Jesus, finding a *reason* for shit like that would make this whole thing even more fucked up."

"Don't you see, Jim? If there were a reason, something I could point to, maybe then it would be...I don't know. Bearable. Redeemable in some way."

Jim gripped the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white. "There is no reason in the world that would make what happened to you *redeemable!*" he growled, saying the last word as if it made him want to vomit.

"In primitive tribes, a lot of manhood rituals are just as bad or worse. They live through it and go on to have...to have wives and children. Because it's for a reason. This...this...there was no reason. I've been unmanned, not made into one because of this."

Jim didn't know what to say. He wasn't a psychiatrist. Or a counselor or a fellow-survivor. He didn't know what to say, and the only emotion he could identify was an overwhelming sense of anger that Sandburg would probably think was aimed at him.

"Just tell me what I can do to make it go away? Jim, can you at least do that for me?"

The words stung. Hit a wound raw and deep and Jim gasped and flinched and felt his face grow hot. "No, chief, I guess not," Jim said quietly. "I guess we both know I can't do shit for you, don't we?"

"Don't say that, Jim. You fix everything. Can't you at least forgive me?"

"Forgive you?" Jim said incredulously, whipping his head over to stare at the kid.

"Yeah," Blair said wearily. "Guess not."

"What are you...Sandburg, what in the hell are you talking about?"

"I know, I know...it wasn't me. Wasn't my choice. But, Jim..." Blair's voice, already hesitant, trailed away to silence.

Blair looked out the window, muttering the next words under his breath. "I wanted to die, Jim. It got to the point where I didn't care if
they killed me. Or you. I just wanted it to end."

"You think I didn't want the same thing? You think I didn't want out of there, no matter how?"

"And now?" Blair whispered the question. "Do you still want out?"

"Of course not," Jim said. "Now it's over."

Blair shook his head sadly. "Maybe for you. Not for me."

Jim was quiet, still uncertain if they were even talking about the same thing here. "It will be, Chief," he said, and the words sounded lame even to him. He heaved a sigh and noticed that the sun was starting to set. "Let's go home, now, okay? Let's head home."

Blair ignored him, fidgeting with the hem of his loose flannel overshirt. "I've been with guys before, Jim. Just never...all the way, if you know what I mean. I was, I don't know, saving myself I guess. For someone, male or female, I trusted and loved enough that I could give myself to them, to their hands or their cocks or whatever. And now I can never have that."

"Blair, this isn't the place," Jim started to say. Blair's eyes grew more distant; Jim could almost see the younger man falling away from himself. "We're in the truck on the side of some deserted highway here, Sandburg. Let's go home. Everything will seem more...more normal. We'll talk it out then, okay?"

"Normal? Whatever, Jim. I'm really tired. Sure you don't want to get a couple of rooms or something?"

Okay, maybe the direct approach would work better, Jim thought. "Why don't you want to go home?"

"It's...I don't know. After all that's happened, I'm supposed to just go back to my room, to my bed, to the loft like nothing happened? Like I'm still the same? Like my whole perception of myself isn't fucked up? Like you could even trust me under the same roof with you?" Blair's words came out in a rush, the last sentence a hurried blur.

"Trust you?" Jim incredulously echoed the words. "Good god, Sandburg, you sacrificed yourself for me, and now you sit there and worry about *trust?*"

"I wanted you dead, Jim. I can't make that go away."

"I can't...I can't do this, Sandburg. I can't help you. I can't say the right things. Somehow, I'm fucking this up even worse."

"I don't think anyone could say the right thing right now, Jim. If there even is a right thing. Can't we just get a couple of rooms? Sleep on it, and try for the loft in the morning?"

Jim sighed. "Yeah, okay. We'll get a couple of rooms," he said, and headed back on the highway.

"See if they have doubles? Maybe we can share a room?" Blair obviously didn't want to be alone, whatever other issues he was having with Jim.

Jim pulled into the parking lot of the next motel they saw, a sleekly modern building that was really too nice to be called a motel, and not nice enough to make the grade as a hotel. He parked the truck out front and waited again while Blair talked himself out of the truck.

"I have BEEN to LUDlow FAIR and LEFT my NECKtie GOD knows WHERE," Blair was chanting.

*Jesus, not again,* thought Jim, nervously passing over his hair.

But it seemed to work; Blair was able to get in the room under his own steam, only flinching a little when the door snicked closed behind them.

Jim watched Blair roam restlessly around the room, rocking his shoulders in time. "And *I* mySELF a STERling LAD/And DOWN in LOVEly FUCK I've LAIN..."

"Blair, let's...let's sit down, buddy," Jim suggested.

"OK, I'm OK, Jim," Blair said, nodding shakily.

"How about something to eat, Chief. Hamburger sound all right?"

"Sure. Um, I dunno. Who's gonna go for it?"

"How about pizza," Jim said, then. "We'll have it delivered. That'll be good, right Chief?"

"OK, yeah. Pizza. I can do that," Blair said without much interest.

Jim sighed and placed the call, watching out of the corner of his eye as Blair stood up and began pacing again, touching all of the objects in the room--the Bible, the ashtray, the TV remote. It was as though Blair was assigning talismanic value to the everyday items. Or perhaps reacquainting himself with them.

Jim turned on the TV, starting when Blair jumped at the sudden sound. Jim quickly thumbed down the volume, but Blair's shoulders were still hunched as if the noise caused him pain. Blair ignored Jim in favor of an in-depth examination of the water fittings in the bathroom. Jim heard him turning the water off and on. Off and on. Off and on.

"Maybe you might want a shower, Blair?" Jim suggested.

"Maybe," muttered Blair. "Not like I'm ever gonna feel clean again."

Nevertheless, Blair started to undress. Jim took a moment to try relaxing.

He patted his pocket, where he had a couple of sleeping pills the hospital had given him for Blair. He had a feeling they both might need them before the night was over. He rapped his hand on the door of the bathroom; Blair was still bringing the shower to temperature. "Hey,
Chief, I'm gonna go get some ice and a couple of sodas. The machine's just around the corner. I'll be right back."

Bad timing once more ruled their lives. Blair emerged from the bathroom, for what Jim never found out, wearing a towel, just as the pizza
was delivered by a large kid who looked something like one of their assailants. The sound of Blair's thundering heart assailed Jim and he took off toward their room at a dead run.

"I dunno, mister," the delivery kid said. "He looked at me and went right
back in the can."

Jim could hear the chanting coming from the other side of the door. Absently, he thrust a twenty at the delivery kid, took the pizza and rushed into the room.

Jim knocked on the door. "Blair? It's OK, Blair..."

"A GARland BRIEFer than a GIRL'S" came from the bathroom.

Jim knocked again. "Come on, Buddy. Get dressed and we'll eat some dinner, okay?'

"Can't," came the muffled reply.

"Can't get dressed?" Jim asked.

"Can't come out," Blair said. "He's gonna hurt me..."

"He's gone, Buddy," Jim soothed. "He just delivered the pizza, that's all. There's no one here but me."

"I know," Blair said. "But how long, Jim? How long until the next time?"

*Until the next time someone comes to the door?* Jim wondered, *Or the next time Blair's raped?* Either way, they had a problem.

"We'll worry about that if it happens. For now, we're safe, OK?"

A long pause. "OK," said Blair. Jim heard him get dressed. They ate the pizza in silence.

"I'm really tired, Jim," Blair said when they were done, his voice bone-weary.

"Me, too, Blair," Jim said. "Do you want to keep a light on?"

Blair shook his head. "No. I still have the dark. At least that wasn't taken from me." As they got ready for bed, both leaving their clothes on, Jim watched as Blair pushed his bed against the wall.

Jim started to ask what he was doing, then realized that he already knew. Blair was seeking as much safety as he could from the evil of the world. And, Jim wondered, maybe from Jim himself. Blair climbed into the bed, pressing his back against the wall. Jim watched him curl up into a tight ball, rocking himself, and begin chanting in time, " SMART lad TO lip BEDtimes aWAY/from FIELDS where GLORy does NOT stay/AND earLY thought THE lauREL grows/IT withERS quickER than THE rose."

Jim turned over onto his side so that he was facing Blair. He sighed and wondered if he shouldn't have insisted on a sleeping pill for the kid.

"Jim?"

The soft voice surprised him. "Yeah, Chief?"

"Don't look at me, okay? Don't...don't look."

Jim bit his lips for a long moment. "OK, Chief," he said with a mildness he was far from feeling.

"I won't," he added for emphasis, and rolled over. He could show Blair his back. He still trusted enough for both of them.

Eventually, the sound of Blair's voice faded into the background, still there, but filtered far away as Jim reclined in bed and tried helplessly to keep the memories at bay. He should have heard them. That was his first mistake. He should have heard them as he and Blair left the deserted warehouse, grousing about the fruitlessness of the lead they were following up. Bantering back and forth, enjoying the atypical warmth of a Cascade fall, Jim had lowered his guard. That was Mistake One.

Mistakes Two and Three and Four and on down didn't really matter. Mistake One had been the granddaddy. What Blair would call the UrMistake. If he had been covering their asses, none of what followed would have happened. And Jim wouldn't feel like shit right now. And Blair wouldn't be the shadow he'd become, accusing himself and mumbling rhythmic poetry. The same poetry, Jim was sure, he'd used to distance himself from the attacks themselves. Not that it seemed to have done much good.

He should have set up an appointment with the rape counselor. Hell, *he* should have met with the rape counselor. Asked what to expect, what he could do to help. He'd been through various rape sensitivity training courses through the department, but they all dealt with the law enforcement aspects of it, not with dealing with trauma to a loved one. Loved one. For some reason, the words startled Jim. No reason why they should. He loved Blair. He could admit that. To himself, here in this dark hotel room, in the middle of God knows where, he could admit that to himself. He loved Blair. But he had no fucking idea how to help him. No plan of action, no strategy, just...this need to help Blair. And he didn't know how, and that was killing him.

He thought back to what Blair had said. About being with men; about saving that last part of himself for the man or woman he would trust most and love most. About how that had been taken away. Jim vowed that he would find a way to give that back to Blair.

When Jim woke up and registered that it was morning, he was surprised he hadn't been awakened in the night by one of Blair's nightmare. As he sat up, he realized why. Blair was still huddled in a ball, still rocking, his lips moving, but his voice no longer producing any sound. The kid hadn't slept at all. Jesus he was still fucking up! He should have insisted on a sleeping pill. He should have *forced* the kid to...

Jim suddenly felt his face hotly flush in shame. *Oh God, no, I didn't mean that,* he thought quickly. *I don't want to force him to do anything.*

A sleepless night would not kill Blair. Jim turning into an overprotective ogre might.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


He got Blair back into Cascade and into the loft without too much trouble. The kid's pulse spiked when they first went in the door, but settled down after a few minutes. Blair went around the loft, touching things much as he had the night before in the hotel room.

Jim watched Blair reacquaint himself with the contents of the loft. Blair was silent until he got to the couch, where he just stood, absently stroking the back of the sofa. "You know, it was the loss of the farm, of the artisan craft shops during the Industrial Revolution that really led to the culture of hypermasculinity the way we understand it today. I know I'm a man, but after yesterday, I have to wonder. I don't think it makes me a woman, or anything like that. Just not...I don't know...not a man. A child? No innocence left, not after that. But something is missing."

Jim looked briefly at the phone. He wanted to call one of the rape counselors or maybe Dr. Vance, the department shrink. He was going to fuck this up with Blair if he wasn't careful. "Blair, you're not...what they did, it wasn't...you're who you've always been. Or you will be again. I mean, I know this...that you feel right now...What I mean is, I don't want you to..."

Jim's voice trailed off as Blair once again began walking around the room. "It's...I guess it's the loss I feel most. Not the pain or the violation, but this feeling that they took that first time and destroyed it."

"Taking something and giving it are two different things," Jim said quietly. "If you...*when* you decide to give someone that gift, Blair, it will be the *giving* of it that has meaning."

"But I can't say to them, you're the first. You're the only person who knows this part of me."

"But you can say, 'You're the one I trust enough to give this to. You're the one I want to have this, even though it was taken from me once.' In a way, the giving of it will mean more because of the courage behind it."

"Jim, there is now someone in the world who knows that part of me. And I want to kill him for that." Blair suddenly lunged and got a hold of Jim's gun. "DO YOU HEAR ME? I want to kill another human being for that!"

"And you think I don't?" Jim quietly asked, reaching for the gun and gently prying it from Blair's hand. He set it on the coffee table and moved around to the back of the couch. "I wanted to kill that fucker for just touching your hair, Sandburg. For putting his grubby paw on your *hair.* I wanted to rip his arm out of his socket and shove it down his throat. I wanted to disembowel him with a spoon and stand over him while he bled out on the floor of that fucking warehouse. You aren't going to shock me here, Sandburg. I'm way ahead of you."

Blair picked the gun up again, but this time absently. "I can't be here," he said. "I can't be here with someone who saw that...what I did."

Jim's heart started thudding painfully against his chest. "With someone who let that happen. That's what you mean, right Chief?"

"NO! Jim, I know if you could have done anything about it, you would have. But you saw it all. You saw them do that. You saw my weakness."

Even as he tried, Jim knew reason wasn't going to get them out of this, but he didn't know what else to do. "I couldn't do anything about this, and that's okay. But you couldn't do anything about it, and that makes you weak?"

Blair looked at the gun in his hand. "I wanted you dead, Jim. I was so weak I'd rather see my best friend dead than go through it again. All you wanted to do was get us out of there. You didn't wish me dead."

Jim sighed, afraid to say anything more lest the eccentric Sandburg brain turn it into something else.

"And now that we're out of it, I want to be dead myself," Blair said with quiet resolution.

"You need some sleep, Chief," Jim said, moving slowly toward the younger man. "I want you to go lie down and try to sleep."

"Sleep isn't going to make this go away. It's not going to change that I can't ever have that first time again."

Jim took another step forward, painfully aware that Blair took two steps back. "It won't make anything go away, but maybe it put things in perspective. Make things clearer."

"I didn't know just how important it was," Blair continued, a dangerously faraway look in his eyes. "I didn't realize how much that meant to me."

"Blair, please, buddy. Get some rest. You're confused right now, kid. You're not looking at this right."

"You saw," Blair said sadly. "You saw it all. How can I look you in the eyes after that? How can I look at you, knowing I wanted to kill you? How is resting going to make that better? How can I sleep with that hanging over me?"

"We just have to tough out the next few days," Jim said, no longer trying to edge his way closer to Blair. "Everything is out of proportion, Blair. What you're feeling, the intensity of those feelings, they're not real. They're not accurate. You're a scientist, Sandburg, you can appreciate that. We need some...objectivity here. Some distance."

"I guess." Blair put the gun down. "Can I have one of those pills they gave you? I'm exhausted, but I don't think I can sleep without help."

Jim nearly broke land speed records getting Blair the pill and a glass of water.

Blair took it, drank all the water with the pill, then turned to go to his room. Then hesitated.

*What now?* Jim wondered.

"Jim, do you think you could...I don't know...sit out here with a book and your gun or something? I'll leave my door open so I know you're there... "

"Sure, Chief," Jim said around the tightness of his throat. In spite of everything, some part of the kid still trusted him.

Still thought he could protect him.

He just wished that he could have lived up to the that trust. He listened as Blair crawled into bed, still in his clothes from the day before. Jim shook his head sadly at the thought that Blair still couldn't face his own body. As he looked at his gun, though, he realized that was the least of their problems. Blair had been terrifyingly close to using it, Jim knew. He'd tried to be casual, and only now could he acknowledge just how terrified he'd been.

To his surprise, Blair put on a CD in his room.

Morbidly monotonous organ music filled the loft. Jim recognized some of the tempos from Blair's frenzied recitations the day before. He started toward Blair's room, alarmed, but then stopped. He heard the deep breathing of Blair's meditation and relaxation routine.

And, incredibly, Blair's pulse slowed as the younger man relaxed for the first time in days.

Jim sat down, listening to the music, trying to find in it the healing that Blair seemed to have found. At first, the music seemed doleful and almost violent in its repetition. Jim started to relive the scenes of violence and terror from days before. His helplessness, Blair's pain, the sheer ugliness that the world could sometimes be. But gradually, he found a sense of wonder filling him. Unbidden, but welcome, came images of starry nights, of the infinite wonder and beauty the world also offered. He thought of a time from Peru, from the rainforest.

He remembered focusing on a butterfly, back when he'd first experienced sentinel senses. The butterfly had hovered above the river, and Jim had seen it down to the most perfect detail of its wings. Time had stopped while he had looked at it, thinking that any world that could produce such a marvel was worth the inevitable pain. One perfect moment that almost made up for everything before and since. Almost. He hoped that Blair had found that moment, too.

With a sigh, Jim picked up his gun and stored it in a lockbox on top of the fridge. He pocketed the key, then dug around in the one junk drawer he owned for the PD phone book. He found it, picked up his cell phone and walked quietly to the far side of the living room. His
thumb moved restlessly over the number pad. What if Vance wanted Sandburg hospitalized? Jim didn't think either one of them could have that. As much as Sandburg needed protection, Jim felt an even
stronger need to protect right now.

He thought of the possible consequence should Blair attempt and succeed at anything further. He would be responsible, legally and morally. But the hospital would just set Blair back, he reasoned to himself. And Jim felt that they had passed the watershed.

Jim knew he would have to live with himself if Blair tried anything. Have to live with himself if Blair succeeded. Jim looked to the top of the fridge. He knew that he wouldn't have to live with that particular failure for long. He listened to Blair's even breathing and wondered what tomorrow would bring. And the next day. And the day after that.

Blair slept through until the next morning.

He staggered out to find Jim on the couch, sipping coffee. "Blech," said Blair inarticulately as he groped toward the coffee pot. "Now I remember why I hate sleeping pills," he mumbled as he poured a cup. "God, but I stink," Blair muttered.

"I wasn't going to say anything," Jim said. Blair seemed...OK. Not great, but also not mumbling poetry to a wild pulse beat.

Blair drained his cup and poured another. He looked out the window and said quietly, "I find I'm strangely reluctant to take my clothes off and shower." The words were quiet and reflective, not angry or even sad.

Blair continued in between sips of his coffee. "I wish I could just stand here forever."

"The loft would stay a hell of a lot cleaner," Jim said, grinning slightly.

Blair nodded and even smiled a bit. "It would at that. But I wouldn't get any points with the U or with Simon."

"Yeah, not to mention all the trouble I'd get into without you to watch my back."

"Guess it's worth a messy loft, huh? But I'll get myself clean, I guess." Reluctance was in his voice. Blair went in the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him.

Jim went and tapped on the door.

"Chief? I think I'll go downstairs and get us some breakfast, OK?"

"Sure. Get a baguette, K?"

"Right," Jim called back, relieved that Blair was taking an interest in food. "You'll be OK?"

"Sure. Nice to have a little bit of privacy for the mad dash from bathroom to closet," Blair called back almost cheerfully.

"OK," Jim said, and went down to the bakery.

Not surprisingly for a Sunday morning, the place was packed. It was a quarter of an hour before Jim was able to go back upstairs, unlocking the door to the loft and waving the baguette while shouting, "Success!"

Blair was standing in the middle of the loft, wearing clean clothes.

But, Jim noticed with fear and resignation, his pulse was unsteady and his eyes were frantic. "Where is it? You took it with you, right?" Blair asked, panic in his voice.

"Where is what?" Jim asked, slowly lowering the baguette.

"The gun, man. Where is your gun?"

"It's in the lockbox, Chief," Jim said, setting their breakfast on the counter. "Why?"

"You put it in the lockbox? Jim, I need it!"

Jim's heart lurched in his chest. "No you don't!" he said tersely.

"Yes," Blair protested. "I have to have it out, Jim."

"Sandburg, you don't need the gun, all right! Now sit down and eat your breakfast!"

"Get it out," Blair ordered tersely.

"No!" Jim angrily replied, striding toward Blair and shaking him by the shoulders before he realized what he was doing. "Do you hear me, Sandburg? Am I getting through that fog you're in?! You're NOT getting the gun!"

Blair struggled, throwing Jim's hands off his shoulders.

"We need it, Jim," he said quietly.

"No we don't!" Jim muttered, stalking back to the kitchen. "Look, Sandburg, I know it's shitty right now, but if you think I'm going to fucking help you, you're cr...you're wrong, okay?"

Blair stared at Jim. "But you said you'd help," he said, bewildered. "What changed?"

"I *never* said I'd help you do this!" Jim said, wishing now he had called Vance the night before.

"You said you'd protect me," Blair said, his voice small. "We need the gun, Jim."

Blair looked at Jim, a wealth of disappointed anger in his eyes. "You want it, don't you?" Blair asked with cold contempt. "You want what they had." Blair started pulling off his shirt. "Fine, Jim. If that's the price you're gonna charge to protect me? Well, I guess you'll be
a bit more considerate." Blair was naked now, his eyes averted as he spread his arms out. "Come on, Jim. Let's get this over with, then you can get out the gun and start fucking protecting us!"

Jim backed up against the wall, mouth hanging open in stunned surprised. "What are you...what are you *doing!*" he shouted, suddenly springing into action. He scooped up Blair's clothes and shoved them into his arms, turning in a single, fluid motion to grab the throw off the back of the couch. He wrapped Blair in it and shook his shoulders just to get his attention. "What are you doing?" he asked again, quietly, shaken by the return of that lost wild look in Blair's eyes.

"Come on, Jim. It's not like you haven't seen it before. Just the other day, remember? You saw how much they liked me, man. Come on, do it. I need you and the gun, protecting us."

Jim felt like he'd suddenly been dropped in the middle of a movie. What the fuck was going on here? He gruffly cleared is throat. "Put your clothes on," he ordered, sounding angry.

"Do it," Blair said tersely. "If that's the price for protection, then I'll pay it. It's all I have."

"You think...you think I'd make you...after what we went through?!" Jim asked incredulously, his voice raising in spite of himself, in spite of the part of himself that knew Blair was lost to him right now, in spite of that part of himself that knew it was up to him to keep it together right now. It was just too much, though. Blair thinking he would exact payment in that way, thinking he could do that to Blair after everything that happened.

"Put-your-clothes-on." The words came out slowly, each one precisely articulated for Blair's benefit.

"Come on, Ellison, locking up the gun was a clear sign that you're not interested in protecting me. I'm just trying to sweeten the deal for you. I don't have money but I have this," Blair said dispassionately, gesturing to his body. "We can work something out."

Jim turned away from the stranger that was Blair. Without a word, he reached for the lockbox, retrieved his gun, and tucked it into the back of his jeans.

Blair smiled in cold triumph. "So you are interested in a deal," he said. "Here? Your room? Just one thing, not in my room." Blair was fluffing his hair out in a parody of sexual enticement.

Jim took a deep breath. "I'll call Simon," he said coldly. "Or Joel. We'll work out some schedule where the loft is watched 24/7 until you feel safe. I won't stay here. You won't feel safe with a man who would give out protection in trade."

"Wrong, Ellison. I won't feel safe ever again. I will feel safer knowing that you're here. If trade is what I have to do, then I won't complain. Just not in my bed.

"Come on," Blair continued, his voice husky. "You really want Simon or Joel to take what you won't?"

"I can't do this," Jim said, reaching for his coat. "I can't talk to you. I don't know what the fuck's goin' on here."

"For Christ's sake, can I make it any plainer? You won't protect me, so I'm offering you what little I have for protection. To you or whomever. But I guess Jim Ellison doesn't take other men's leavings. Which is too bad, because this.is.all.I.have," Blair said, striking a pose and graphically emphasizing his offer.

Jim stopped, his hand outstretched for the doorknob. He turned, eyes flashing with raging anger. "Don't you turn me into one of them! Don't you fucking do it, Sandburg! I failed, all right? I fucked up and got us caught and ruined everything, but don't you fucking turn me in to one of them!"

"I'm not good enough, huh?" Blair shouted. "I'm just not good enough anymore!"

"Shut up, Sandburg!" Jim shouted back. "Shut the fuck up!"

"Fine!" Blair shouted back. "I'm not good enough for you, I'll find someone who's not riding a fucking white horse." Blair began jerking his clothes on.

He turned around, his back to Jim, and that's when Jim saw the bruises. Ugly black and purple marks covered his ass, Jim's sentinel senses making out the imprint of a large, meaty hand on his side. And Blair thought he could do that to him?

The anger drained from him, replaced by an overwhelming fatigue. Jesus, they were in trouble here. Real trouble.

Blair had finished dressing and was brushing his hair. "Gotta look nice," he said to Jim. "Maybe I won't even have to tell him. Or her. Maybe then I'll have a chance to be protected. Kept safe."

"Blair, I'll...I want to keep you safe," Jim said awkwardly moving closer to the younger man. "I just...I would never...hurt you like that." Blair was smoothing down his shirt now, running his hand down the front over and over again, humming slightly.

"No," he said. "You'll keep me safe out of guilt. You won't accept payment because I'm dirty." The motions were faster. "Because that's what I am. That's why you don't want me. I have to find someone who doesn't know."

"Oh Blair, no, *no,*" Jim said, and without thinking reached out to still Blair's hand.

Blair looked down at where their hands were joined. "You will?" he asked. "I'm not too dirty?"

Jim's heart twisted. *Oh god, something was wrong here. Really wrong.* "Blair, sweetheart, I think you should sit down, okay? I need to...I need to make a phone call okay? Okay?"

"Shouldn't we settle this first, Ellison?" Blair twined his free hand in Jim's short hair. "Seal it with a kiss? You're my protector now, and I'm your toy..." The words were hushed. Seductive.

Blair seemed suddenly brittle, as if the wrong word, the wrong look would shatter him into sharp pieces of glass. "That's not how it is," Jim said, capturing the freezing cold hand in his hair. "I'll protect you, Blair, always. Because I...I want to. And you don't have to do anything, do you understand? Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"I saw, you know. I knew. I never said anything, but I knew," Blair said with calm certainty.

Jim had started to retrieve the cell phone, but stopped. "What?"

"I saw the way you'd look at me sometime, when you didn't think I was looking at you. I'm no sentinel, but I saw. You've wanted me for a long time, haven't you? Now you don't."

Jim wondered how many shocks a person's heart could take in a day before giving out altogether. Here Blair was coming apart at the seams and yet...And yet with stunning clarity had just revealed Jim's deepest secret.

He'd thought they had time. A day late and a dollar short, Ellison, he thought bitterly.

Jim cast a bland expression toward Blair, and said, "Blair, it's not...it's not right, okay? We need to...to calm down here, Buddy."

"I thought you wanted me," Blair said, bewildered. "Before. Not after what happened, I guess; that would kill it stone dead. But...I guess it doesn't matter," Blair sighed.

He leaned into Jim, wrapping his arms around the big man. Jim started to hug him back, but Blair pulled away. Suddenly. Violently. Jim let him go, thinking of the earlier attacks. Then, in a single heart stopping moment, he realized what the hug had truly been about. Blair was standing a few feet away, holding the gun. Slowly placing the barrel in his mouth.

Jim moaned, a low, deep keening at the back of his throat. "No, oh no, no, no," he groaned. Blair looked confused. He pulled the gun away from his mouth, head tilted to the side, his gaze turning curious.

"Don't do this," Jim pleaded, "Oh God, Baby don't do this, don't leave me."

"I'm not leaving you," Blair said calmly. "I'm just relieving you of your self-imposed responsibility. You don't have to be my Blessed Protector anymore. You don't have to worry about me."

"No," Jim said, unable to find any other words. "No, no, no. Don't, Blair, don't! Please, we'll move, we'll, we'll sell the loft and leave the state and we'll, we'll go somewhere, somewhere totally new, don't do this, oh God Blair, don't leave me, don't do this!"

"Jim," Blair said with calm certitude. "I'm not chasing you from your home. And it doesn't matter where we go. I'll never be able to wash this off. It will always be here, between me and anything I want to achieve in life."

Blair backed away slowly, hunching his shoulders and flinching at Jim's emotional display. "But I'm always going to be where I am," Blair said vaguely. He stopped moving for a moment, curiously eyeing Jim, who looked so sad all of a sudden. "Don't cry," he said lightly, then a thought occurred to him. "It would be messy," he said, understanding now. "I'll go to the river," Blair offered quietly, then laughed softly. "In more ways than one, if the Greeks were right."

Jim shook his head, swiping at his eyes, trying to control his panic, searching desperately for words that would get through to the kid. "You're just like all the rest of 'em, aren't you, Sandburg!" Jim called angrily.

"Apparently so," Blair said with the same quiet resignation. "Just another lot of damaged goods that doesn't live up to the Ellison Standard."

"Just another person who leaves!" Jim corrected. "Just another person who bails on me! Who fucking *dies* on me! You're just like all the others!"

"It's what we both want, Jim. You just made it clear you don't *want* me. And I can't live with not being man enough anymore."

"That's an excuse and you know it!" Jim said bitterly, noticing that Blair still warily took a step back every time he tried to get closer. "You want out because you don't want to try! You don't want to live with the hurt and fuck me for having to clean your splattered brain off the pavement!"

"No trying can fix this. You've made it clear just how much I've changed. I offer myself to you on a goddamn PLATTER and you want to turn me over to Banks and Taggart."

Jim stood stock still in the center of the loft, wondering if Blair felt the same the numbness creeping over him. "Because you think I'm no better than the men that hurt you," he said sadly.

"I don't think that, Jim," Blair said, his voice pleading. "I *want* to prove myself to you. Prove my worth again. I know you won't hurt me like they did."

"You don't need to prove *anything* to me!" Jim whispered, his own voice pleading.

"Because you've already made up your mind!" Blair was finally getting angry. "You've judged me unworthy!"

"No," Jim said. "That's not true! Jesus Blair, somewhere inside that muddled head of yours, you have to know that's not true. When it happens, it's got to be right, not like this!"

"It can't happen now, Jim. It won't ever be right. Because you don't want me, and I can't want you."

Jim wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly cold. "If that's true, if you really believe that's true, then do me one last favor." Blair looked like he was having trouble concentrating but he met Jim's gaze. Jim walked purposefully up to him and drew the barrel of the gun to his chest. "Do me first," he whispered.

"No, Jim," Blair whispered. "I'm the one who's fucked up here. You can still go on with your life."

"I can't lose you. I can't. That kind of pain...even if...even if it's just for a second. Do me first. You want to prove yourself to me, Sandburg? Do me first."

Blair slowly lowered the gun, pointing it to the floor. "Jim?" Blair's voice was small, confused, but he sounded more like himself than he had in the past hour. "There's something wrong with me, isn't there? I thought I had to let you...and when you wouldn't, it was like I had
nothing more to offer anyone. That..." Blair broke off, frowning in concentration as though trying to prove a difficult theorem. "But that's not really true, is it?"

"It's just confusing right now," Jim said softly, prying the gun from fingers still icy to the touch. "You're mixed up right now, that's all. It's gonna get better, though, I promise."

"Will it? Will it really?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, Blair, it will," he said. "It's a promise."

"Can you take me to the hospital? I really need help."

Jim's throat caught. "Yeah, buddy. We'll go right now, how's that?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


At the hospital, Blair was taken to a special ward for assessment. Jim felt helpless as he paced the main lobby. Jim's hearing was coming in and out of focus, and he finally had to give up tracing where Blair was and what he was doing. The kid had looked so lost as they led him away. So forlorn. Jim had tried to go with him, had fought with the nurses, until he realized his agitation was only further upsetting Blair. Jim shuddered, remembering the sight of Blair putting the gun in his mouth. Jesus, in his *mouth.*

Jim could not suppress the images of Blair's mouth being forced around Lewis' skinny cock, the asshole wrapping his greasy hands in Blair's hair, taking pleasure while degrading Blair, forcing Blair to take him into his mouth, into his body.

Jim stepped up his pacing, hearing again the ugly laughter as Eldred held his head up and forced him to watch. Blair's eyes, those beautiful blue eyes, reflected his horror and terror.

Jim tried to convey something-anything--to the kid when he turned his terrified eyes to his. *I'll be strong for you,* he promised, *I won't let them break me, and that way, maybe, maybe I can keep
you from breaking too.*

At first, Jim had thought it was working. Blair had nodded almost imperceptibly before his attention was wrenched violently back to the cock that was impaling itself on his mouth.

Now Jim had to wonder if he'd just been fooling himself, pretending Blair wasn't broken just so he could keep himself sane. Keep himself from being sick as Saunders had forced himself into Blair's ass, the sound of tearing flesh ripping Jim as if it were his own.

The smell as, lost in a nightmare of fear and pain, Blair's body had relieved itself humiliatingly on the concrete.

And then there was the calm that accompanied his rage. A rage that blinded him to everything else in the room. A rage that silenced sound and blotted smell.

And Jim did nothing to keep that rage from his face. He wanted them to see it now and think about it with what remained of their very short lifespans. But still he had seen. Seen Lewis jerk Blair's cock roughly, rougher still when no response greeted his touch. Cruely clenching at Blair's penis, his testicles, nails raking at delicate
skin and tissue until it bled.

And still Jim heard Blair's cries of pain and terror, and the laughter his terror wrought. He tried again, to tell Blair something with his eyes, with his stoic face. *They won't break us,* Jim vowed to his terrified friend. *I'll be strong for you; it's all I have to give you. It's all I have left.*

He'd vowed it even as another took his turn behind Blair, eyes contemptous and triumphant. And then another. And the first was back, and the second at Blair's mouth, and Blair was bleeding from a dozen places. Not copiously, just smears of blood that were the signatures of pain.

But Blair had stopped looking at him at some point. His eyes went dead, and Jim could have sworn he almost saw his soul drifting up toward the rafters of the warehouse.

Now they had to bring Blair's soul back, and Jim didn't even know where to start.

There were other practical matters to attend to as well. First on that list was ensuring Blair didn't have to testify in court against those bastards. It wouldn't take much time, but the planning had to be flawless. Jim stopped pacing for awhile, and stared unseeing out of the window and mentally dealt with some details he could actually control.

"Detective Ellison?" The voice came from the middle distance, from a middle-aged man of middling height. "Detective James Ellison?"

Jim snapped to attention and turned around. "That's me," he said, striding over to the man. "Where's Blair?"

"Resting comfortably. I'm Dr. Conrad Fitzgerald, and I'll be Blair's physician while he's in the hospital, and his out-patient counselor when he's released. Unless we can't work together for some reason."

"In the hospital?" Jim said. "For how long?"

"At least the next twenty-four hours. After that, I'll review how he's doing and see what's the best way to proceed. I'd like to talk to you in my office, if you've the time?"

"Well, shouldn't I be with...I thought I could be with him for awhile. He probably needs to know I'm here," Jim replied uncertainly.

"He does know you're here. And you will have a chance to visit with him later, but right now it's lunch time for the patients. So if you could come with me to my office, discuss a few things, then you can visit with him, OK?"

Jim frowned, feeling handled and not liking it much. He shook off the feeling with effort, nodded briefly to the doctor and followed him to his office.

The office was small and fairly stark. Fitzgerald sat down next to his desk, indicating that Jim should take the chair opposite him.

"Blair specifically asked me to talk to you," Fitzgerald said. "He insisted on signing a confidentiality waiver so that I could. Would you like to see it?"

Jim shrugged and said, "That's okay. Look, Doc, is Blair going to be okay? What's goin' on?"

"Well, I haven't had a chance to review the whole situation. Blair told us a little, but he wasn't really...terribly coherent. I've gotten some records from Admitting, I'm still waiting on the follow up stuff. I gather you were present at, and witnessed, the assault?"

Jim's eyes involuntarily slid away from the doctor's toward the door. His hearing was still fading in and out. He wished he could tag Blair somewhere in the hospital. "Yeah, I was there," Jim said. "What do you need to know?"

"What is your relationship with Blair Sandburg?" The question seemed a non sequiter to Jim, who had expected to be asked for more details about the rape.

"He's my partner," Jim answer automatically.

"In what sense? Mr. Sandburg seems to be an unofficial adjunct to the police, from what I can gather from these stupid admitting forms," Fitzgerald said, giving a pile of forms a baleful look.

"Blair is an observer to the department," Jim said, giving the information by rote as he had so often in the past. "He's studying the closed society of the police department for his dissertation and he was assigned to me because I didn't have a partner at the time. We worked well together and so the partnership is still intact."

"Are you close partners?

"Yeah," Jim said.

"Friends?"

"Yeah," Jim said, sounding piqued.

"I'm sorry, Detective, but I need this information before I can tell you what you can do best to help Blair, which I gather, is information you want? Same residence, according to those forms?"

Jim ducked his head for a minute. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Look, doc, I'm sorry, but a couple of hours ago, the kid was suckin' on my .38 like it was a popsicle. Blair's my best friend, my roommate, my partner. I'll do whatever it takes to help him out here.

Fitzgerald nodded. "I'm sorry you have answer such personal questions from a total stranger. But we both want Blair's recovery, so I hope we can at least be allies." Fitzgerald paused to let that sink in, then continued. "Now, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but does the fact that you witnessed this attack on Blair change your feelings or attitude toward him?"

Jim shifted in the chair, ready to offer an angry denial, but he refrained, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. "Well, right now I'm feeling this somewhat overpowering need to protect him. That's different. I don't want anyone...touching him or looking at him. But as far as how I feel about him, that hasn't changed."

"Sometimes men who've witnessed other men being raped feel anger toward the victim, as though it was his fault, or that he has become in some way less of a man. You didn't strike me as a man to have that reaction, but I had to ask. As for your protective feelings, I'm afraid you're going to have to trust us with that for another day or so." Fitzgerald paused. "Can you tell me what led up to Blair's taking the gun and threatening to kill himself?"

Jim fidgeted in the chair. "I left him alone for a few," Jim began, forcing himself to meet Fitzgerald's eyes. "Went downstairs to get us something to eat. When I came back upstairs, he was panicked. He wanted to make sure I had my revolver. He'd been acting...strange the night before, so I'd locked the gun up. He didn't like that. Kept saying he needed the gun. I thought then that he meant to hurt himself and I said no he couldn't have it, that I wouldn't get it out. Blair thought I meant that I wouldn't protect him. And then he, uh...well, something happened, and he thought that if he...if he offered himself to me, sexually, that I would protect him like he wanted me to."

"What happened that made him think he had to trade sex for your protection?" The most non-judgemental tone Jim had ever heard. Yet he felt he was on the rack.

"I don't know," Jim said, frustrated. "One minute he's begging me to get my gun and the next, he's stripped off all his clothes and offering himself to me."

"OK," Fitzgerald nodded. "You turned him down? Then what?"

"Well, I figured out by then that he didn't want the gun to hurt himself, he just wanted me to have the gun, so I went and got it. That made him think I was taking him up on his offer. He was all...smug and proud, like I'd proven myself to be just what he thought I was. That made me...well, I got angry. Hurt I guess." Fitzgerald nodded sympathetically. "Told him he obviously couldn't trust me if he thought I'd make him pay for protection with his body, so I offered to have my captain guard him until he felt safe."

"He'd also proven to himself what he thought he was."

Jim sat still. He'd never thought of it that way. He looked up at Fitzgerald, a light of grudging respect in his eyes. "I felt like I had to get out of there. He was...posing and...and I felt like he was looking at me like I was no better than the men that brutalized him, so I wanted to leave."

"Did you?"

"No," Jim shook his head. "He yelled at me, accused me of thinking he was dirty and not good enough for me. I tried to tell he was wrong, that I didn't see him that way at all, but he wasn't listening. And then it gets...complicated."

"It usually does," Fitzgerald said drily. "What do you remember?"

Jim took a breath, some part of him drawn to the sense of humor similar to Blair's. "Blair told me that he knew I'd wanted him before. That I'd wanted him for a long time. And that now I didn't."

"Was his observation accurate?" Fitzgerald showed no surprise or alarm at Jim's revelation.

Jim shook his head, then shrugged, then nodded. He grimaced at Fitgerald's mildly amused reaction. "He was right that I'd wanted him for a long time before this happened. Wrong that my feelings had changed." Jim levelled his gaze on the doctor, unmistakeable challenge there in the icy blue eyes.

"This was the first indication that you've had that he knew of your feelings?"

Jim did another half-shrug, half-nod. "Blair's the smartest, most intuitive person I know," Jim said softly. "I thought I hid it pretty well, but, not that I think about it, it's pretty much a given that he'd see through me."

"But you didn't know he knew until now, until after the attack," Fitzgerald pointed out. "This would mean a monumental shift in your friendship's dynamic, even if it weren't for the attack. You are willing to put your own needs on hold while Blair heals, of course," Fitzgerald added almost as an unnecessay afterthought.

"Yeah, of course," Jim said absent-mindedly. "They've been on hold for awhile doc. No real change in attitude needed there."

"You might be surprised. I can't garantee a prediction, but it's extremely likely that Blair will continue to offer himself to you. He thinks his sole value is his ability to provide men with sexual gratification. He will try to prove that to you and to himself, over and over again. The temptation might be kind of overwhelming." Perhaps a regular patient wouldn't have caught the underlying pain in the doctor's eyes and voice, but Jim was a sentinel and victim, and it called to him like a beacon.

"I can be strong for him," Jim promised, the words causing the hairs on his neck to stand on end. "I can do that for him," he said.

Dr. Fitzgerald looked at him consideringly. "Do you think you will want to pursue a deeper relationship with Blair? I ask because I think it would be beneficial to you both if you participate in sessions with him and his counselor on a regular basis. Are you averse to the idea?"

Jim almost laughed. *No, doc, sounds great to me!* Of course he was *averse* to the idea. Didn't mean he wouldn't do it though.

"I'll be here," Jim said, answering the only question he could.

Fitzgerald nodded. "I want to tell you a little bit about my background. I don't usually offer personal information, but I sense a certain degree of...hostility from you. I'm not sure if it's counseling that makes you wary, or if I'm simply a barrier between you and Blair that has to be circumnavigated. However, I'd like you to know that when I was about thirty, just having completed my residency in orthopedic surgery, my lover was raped and murdered in front of me. When I recovered, I changed my speciality to psychiatry to help other couples who'd survived the experience. My current lover, of five years, became a psychiatric nurse for similar reasons, and, no, he was never my patient. Does that help you to know that?"

Jim voice caught in his throat and he ducked his head again. "That's why you were called in to help Blair?" he asked. "To help us?"

"That's why I volunteered when Blair came in. Of course, if either of you would prefer a different counselor, I can make several recommendations. But I want you to know that I understand, that my words are not hollow assurances and empty promises."

"No," Jim. "No. I think...I think it helps to see someone...surviving with this."

"And you will survive," Fitzgerald said with quiet intensity. "It will be painful, and sometimes you may doubt your survival, but you will survive."

"And Blair?" Jim asked quietly.

"Blair, too," Fitzgerald smiled. "When I said 'you', I meant 'you and Blair.' I think of you that way already, even if you don't." Fitzgerald smiled openly. "Not too professional. Can you forgive the slip?"

Jim smiled back, involuntarily, brightly, and felt, for a moment, like a ton weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "Sounds kind of nice, doc," he admitted, then inwardly cursed himself for blushing.

But Fitzgerald, either from tact or efficiency, was reviewing Blair's forms. "Is there anything you want to know? More specifically, I mean?"

Jim sobered quickly, the ton weight back in place. "When I...when I turned Blair down, he just...crumbled. I wanted to...to hold him and when he embraced me, he took my gun and said he was damaged and that he couldn't live not being a man...if he's going to keep offering himself up like that...what am I supposed to do?"

"Unfortunately, there's no way to turn him down without his thinking of it as rejection. While he's in that mindset, all he can give you is sex. You just have to let it pass. Be in the same room, but don't try to touch him until the attack passes. Encourage him to write down his feelings afterward. He'll be keeping a journal anyway. When he can understand you, assure him that you are not rejecting him, you're rejecting the feelings that are leading him to offer himself when he himself has no desire for intimacy."

"I don't...I don't think I can live without him," Jim said. "That's never happened to me before."

"Well, I don't think you'll have to. It'll be rough, I can't kid you about that, but you and he and I do this right, you'll be together a long
damn time

"Can I see him now?" Jim asked, irrationally feeling as if an affirmative answer would indicate he'd passed some kind of test of the doctor's.

Fitzgerald glanced at the clock. "Ah. We're back in visiting hours now. Let me just give you a quick rundown of what Blair's going to experience for the next day here in the hospital. Then if he asks you questions, you can answer them. It'll have more meaning coming from you than from some overworked orderly."

Jim nodded eargerly. "Shoot, doc."

"OK, today I'm going to do a preliminary interview with Blair, alone. We're also going to be doing a bunch of standard personality tests: Minnesota, Meyers-Biggs, and so on. This is partly to keep him occupied, make-work if you like, but also so we can do some assessments, and show him that he can do some tasks that are more complicated and intellectual than he probably thinks he's capable of. Oh, I'll need you to do an M-B too; that'll help us when we do joint counselling. It's pretty easy, yes/no questions, none of those damn inkblots. There are always group sessions, art therapy seminars, etc. We'll see if we can't get him to participate. Then sleep, a ward meeting in the morning, another assessment, and I'm pretty confident that this time tomorrow you'll both be back home."

"I'm going to have to work up some prescriptions for Blair, at least an anti-anxiety drug, maybe an anti-depressant. I'm going to have him sign a suicide contract with me; basically, he promises to call me before taking any life-threatening measures. There will also be a ton and a half of forms for both you and he to sign, and you have to keep your gun locked up for the next five years, or until I say otherwise. Got all that?"

Jim nodded leaning forward in his seat. "Got it," he said confidently. "Can I see him now?"

Fitzgerald signed a piece of paper, handed it to Jim. "Show this to the nurse at the main desk; she'll get you where you need to be. Answer any questions he asks you honestly, but tactfully. If you don't have an answer, or don't feel comfortable talking about whatever he brings up, say so. Remind him that you were hurt, too, if you have to, but downplay that. You need anything for anxiety, sleep, anything?"

Jim shook his head, refraining from answering with the obvious. *Blair. I just need Blair.*

"You're not suicidal, homicidal, danger to yourself or others, Detective?"

"No more so than I was last week," Jim answered, his attention already wandering now that Blair was almost within his grasp.

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that," Fitzgerald muttered. "Just remember that you can't help Blair from Death Row, and off you go," Fitzgerald said, standing up to open the door for Jim.

Jim nearly sprinted from the room. This was the first time he'd been separated from Blair since Simon and Brown rescued them. Save a trip to the bathroom and his disastrous trek to the bakery, Blair had been within arm's reach the whole time.

Blair was sitting at a table, slouched at it actually. He didn't look especially happy to see Jim. "Hey, Jim. Guess I kind of fucked it up, huh?" were his first words to the detective.

"Hey," Jim said, grinning in relief. "God, I missed you," Jim said, shaking his head and sitting down next to the kid. "Getting so I can't let you out of my sight, huh?"

Blair just looked at him. "Jim, remember why I'm here, OK? Jokes about my inability to take care of myself may seem apt, but please don't."

Jim's smile faded. "No, I didn't mean it that way," he said. "I've just been, I don't know, nervous. Antsy. Out of sorts. Couldn't tune in to where you were for some reason and it's just...good to see you."

"Yeah, good to see me," Blair echoed hollowly. "God, I screwed this up royally, didn't I?"

"Screwed what up? Things got out of hand and you realized that and took steps to get help. You didn't screw anything up."

"Jim, it may have escaped your notice, but I was on the verge of ending my life. This is not a successful problem-solving strategy."

"But you didn't," Jim pointed out. "I was talking to your doctor, Fitzgerald. He seems pretty okay for a shrink. I think he can help us out here."

"God, what happens next, Jim? Technically, I committed a felony. What will happen?"

"Fitzgerald is just going to have you do some psych tests. Start some therapy. He thought we'd be home by tomorrow."

"You're staying over?" Blair was patently disbelieving.

"As long as they'll let me," Jim said. "Hell, I'll tell 'em you're in protective custody if they make a stink about it."

"Actually, Jim," Blair looked away for a moment, "I feel pretty safe here...I'd like to be able to think of you at home, doing home things? If that's OK?"

"Sure, Blair," Jim said and knew he looked hurt. He tried to muster up a smile, but didn't quite make it.

"Sorry, man," Blair said tiredly. "But I need to think that you're protecting our home."

"Are you sure you don't want me protecting you?" Jim offered helpfully.

Blair smiled weakly. "You have to do that after I get out. Might as well enjoy a break while you get one. 'Sides, I'm surrounded here. The loft doesn't have anyone. Maybe you could have Simon over or something like that?"

"Simon?" Jim said, surprised by the odd request. "I guess I could do that."

"Just a thought. Like maybe you guys could talk sports or something."

"Yeah, we could," Jim said, scratching the side of his head in comic confusion. "Fitzgerald said something about my taking one of those tests, though. I'd better do that for him."

"Right. Probably the Meyers-Biggs. That'll do a personality type for you, explain how you see the world in thirty words or less. I mean, the results will, not that you have to." Blair paused. "Jim?"

"Yeah, Chief?"

"I just want to be able to picture a spot in the world where you're at home, talking to Simon or cleaning the bathroom, or whatever, somewhere I can imagine I am, somewhere I didn't want to kill myself. Does that make any sense?"

"I think...yeah, it does," Jim said, and maybe, a little, it did. He stood up slowly, not wanting to leave Blair's side, but he realized that was for him and not for Blair. "I'll go then, Kiddo. The kitchen floor needs to be waxed and the floors could probably be buffed, right?"

"Yeah, if I'm gonna be home tomorrow, you'd better get your ass in gear. I want that TV so clean I could lick it if I wanted to."

Jim lifted a curious eyebrow at the younger man. "Hey, uh, Chief, you're not going to want to or anything, are you?" he asked. "'Cause if you do, I gotta feeling another house rule is on the way."

"Didn't the doctor tell you to let me do whatever the hell I wanted? Aren't the House Rules supposed to be suspended til I'm better?" Blair actually batted his eyelashes as Jim.

Jim pointed a finger at Blair. "See, right there, Chief. That's why I'm doin' the joint counseling thing."

Blair laughed, but his eyes looked relieved. "So you will be coming to sessions with me?"

Jim nodded, his hand sliding up and down the door as he spoke. "Yeah, I will. This...this happened to both of us. And it'll take both of us to get over it."

"Thanks, Jim," said Blair. And Jim didn't even have to turn up his senses to hear the gratitude in Blair's voice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Fully dressed, Jim sat on his bed and listened to the sounds of Blair making coffee and scuffling around downstairs. Sounds of life, normalcy, finally returning.

Blair had ended up spending two nights in the hospital. His first three days home from the hospital he hadn't done much of anything but roam listlessly around the loft. It had been a week since he'd held the gun to his mouth and threatened to pull the trigger. The last couple of days it had started to feel...normal.

Blair was bathing and getting dressed every day, reading his journals and making notes again. He hadn't had a nightmare since the night he'd first gotten home.

And now, this morning, as he made coffee and sliced bagels, he was humming. Not reciting nonsense words in a monotone, this was full fledged humming. No song Jim recognized to be sure, but then, he never did. And he'd been sitting there for close to 15 minutes just listening to it.

"Breakfast is ready, and I know you're up," Blair said conversationally in the kitchen, sounding almost cheerful.

Jim chuckled and came downstairs. "Who's the Sentinel around here?" he asked, taking the cup of coffee Blair offered.

"Who's the creature of habit around here?" Blair countered, sipping his own coffee.

"Touche," Jim said. "Since I worked the waterfront stakeout last night, we don't have to be in until ten, anyway," he said, scanning the sports section of the paper.

"We? We aren't going anywhere. You may be going in to work, and maybe later I'll go for a run or something, but *we* aren't going anywhere. At least not to the station at ten, anyway."

Jim was surprised on two counts, first by Blair's denial and second by the vehemence of that denial. "Nothing major, Chief," he said. "Just some paperwork at the station."

"OK, then I'll put off my run until you get home, then we can run together," said Blair around a mouthful of bagel.

"Don't you think it's time to come back to work?" Jim said.

"No," said Blair simply. "I don't."

"Come on, Chief, everyone there is worried about you, anxious to see you. It's a nice, safe enviornment for you. Let's give it a try and if you're uncomfortable, we'll come back home."

"I know they are, and I appreciate that, but I'm just not ready."

"You have to try some time," Jim pointed out.

"Not today," Blair said firmly.

Jim nodded. "Okay, then," he said, obviously disappointed. "Guess there's no reason for me to hang around then." He gupled the rest of his coffee and headed for the bathroom to brush his teeth.

"Guess not," Blair muttered sullenly. "No reason at all."

Jim came back out of the bathroom, unlocking his gun and holstering it. "Hey, maybe you could stop by for lunch," Jim suggested.

"I don't want to go into the station, Jim. What is the problem here that you can't understand that?"

"Fine!" Jim said, hands up in surrender. "Fitz said you might need some encouragement to help things get back to normal."

"Normal?" Blair echoed bitterly. "We still have a lot of shit to deal with," he continued. "Like, it's hard for me to sit here with you like before. Like you didn't see what happened."

"I don't know what to tell you, how to get you to understand that what happened hasn't changed who you are to me, what you mean to me. How can you think that you're somehow diminished in my eyes, unless I'm diminished in yours?"

Blair thought for a few seconds, warming his hands on his coffeemug. "I didn't see you...unmanned," he offered. "I don't think you realize how disgraced and shamed I feel."

Jim's surprised intake of breath indicated the depth of his distress. "I can leave, if that will make it easier. Bunk with Simon for a few days. Get a hotel room."

"I'm not kicking you out of your own home, Jim!" Blair exclaimed. "It's OK, really it is. If either of us leaves now, it'll just be harder later, if you see what I mean? And we can't bust up the team because of this. I just have to learn to live with your having seen me like that."

"Does it make it harder or easier to know that I have to live knowing I couldn't help you? Know I failed you the one time you really needed me?"

"I don't know," Blair said. "I'm really having a hard time seeing that point of view, Jim. All I can think of is that my first time for anal sex, something I'd always wanted to save, was a violent rape, witnessed by my best friend."

Jim fiddled with his coffee cup and sighed. "I'm sorry," he said hoarsely.

"I mean, no offense, Jim, but I wouldn't want you to watch me fucking under the best of circumstances. And those circumstances..." Blair's voice trailed off with the impossibility of finding an adequate descriptor.

"I know," Jim said, with a half-hearted shrug. "I'm just tellin' you that I'm sorry it happened."

"You didn't do it, Jim. You didn't make me blow you. You didn't shove it up my ass while everything in me died over and over."

Jim shoved himself away from the table. "I get it, Sandburg, all right? I get it!"

"No you don't! Why are you apologizing for what *they* did? That you saw it wasn't your choice."

"I'm apologizing that it happened at all! I'm sorry you went through this, that's all I'm trying to say!"

"Then why are you so fucking angry?" Blair demanded.

"Why am I angry?" Jim asked incredulously. "Jesus Christ, Sandburg, what kind of man do you think I am? You think I'm gonna sit cuffed in a chair while a bunch of fucking psychos torture my best friend, and I'm just gonna walk away from it like 'another day, another dollar?' Is that what you think of me?"

"Why are you angry with me? Is there something I should have done? Some cop thing I should have known about?"

Jim took a deep breath. "Okay, look, we are not on the same page here. We're not even on the same book. Shit, Sandburg, we're not even in the same *library!* You think I'm pissed at you, I've lost my trust in you, that I'm somehow blaming you for all of this, and every time I try to tell you how wrong you are, it's like I'm speaking in Chopec or something."

Blair closed his eyes, visibly forcing himself to relax. "So tell me, Jim," he finally said more or less calmly. "What are you feeling?"

"It's not about what I'm feeling," he said, reining in some of his own calm. "It's not about me, I know that. It's about what you erroneously *think* I'm feeling. Do you get that, Blair? Do you get the distinction I'm making?"

"Yeah, I get it. So replace my error with your truth. Tell me what you *are* thinking. I would love to hear that I'm wrong, that you're not looking at me and seeing me cry in pain and humiliation on a concrete floor in a warehouse."

"This isn't helping," Jim said suddenly. "You won't hear me. Not now. We need to talk to someone now. Today. I want to make an appointment with Fitzgerald for later this afternoon."

"He doesn't have office hours on Thursday. And I want to hear, Jim."

"But will you?"

Blair spread his hands. "I can try. I can try to put aside my own shit long enough to hear what you're saying."

Jim walked over to the table and sat back down, pulling his chair close to Blair. "When I look at you, I see my friend. That's all, Blair. I see you. I see your bratty grin and those manipulative blue eyes
and the way you look at me when you know I'm going to cave in to whatever crazy demand you have. I hear you laughing and baiting me. And I see a man who needed me to protect him, and I failed. I see my own failure in you, Blair, but that doesn't touch who you are."

"So," Blair said thoughtfully, "I look at you and see my failure. You look at me and see your failure. Not cool."

Jim smiled gently, giving in to temptation just long enough to brush some hair from Blair's face. "Sounds downright selfish when you say it outloud like that, doesn't it?"

Blair smiled. "That's the loss to us. My loss is...what I told you about before. And both of us have lost the ability to see each other."

"I'll make the appointment for first thing tomorrow morning," Jim said. "Okay?"

"Yeah. That appointment for both of us, Jim?"

"For both of us."

"We need it, huh?"

"Yeah, we do."

Blair nodded, looking down at his hands. "Is it OK to be angry?" The question was small and hesitant.

Jim had to tightly grip his coffee cup to keep from trying to soothe Blair with his touch. "Yes, Blair. That's okay," he said, hoping his tone could provide some measure of comfort.

Blair looked at Jim, a sheen on his eyes. "Is it...it's not fair, Jim, but sometimes I think I hate you. I don't really, but I think I do..."

The words hurt him so profoundly, Jim was shocked. Not by the words so much but by that shock. He didn't think it possible for someone to hurt him like that. He didn't think he could feel that deeply anymore; thought for sure he'd closed off those parts of himself a long, long time ago. He gruffly cleared his throat and said what Blair needed to hear. "I understand, Blair. And it's okay."

Blair nodded. "Even though you say it's ok, and that it's not what you see when you look at me, I can't stop thinking that you saw the profaning of what I had wanted to be a sacred moment of trust and love. Do you understand what that meant to me?" The questions was not accusatory. Blair was looking for an answer, wondering if his friend truly understood the violation Blair felt at having a part of his virginity torn from him.

For a long moment, Jim looked at his hands, still gripping the side of the table. "I don't know what to say," he finally admitted. "If I tell you 'yes, I understand,' it won't change anything. I'm not even sure
you'd believe me. Not right now."

Blair nodded in understanding. "I guess so. Because I'm not sure you could know what a sacred moment I'd always dreamed it would be. Fantasizing about someone I loved and trusted so much taking me with caring and respect..." Blair forced himself not to cry. "And now there's someone in jail who knows what it's like to fuck me. There was only supposed to be one person to know that.

Jim leaned forward, staying silent until Blair hesitantly met his intense gaze. "There's someone in jail who knows what it's like to rape you. And you know as well as I do that rape and sex are entirely different things. There's still no one who knows what it's like to make love to you that way. That's still yours to give away."

"But now that I know what it's like..." Blair shivered at the memory. "I don't think I can give anyone that."

"Then you don't have to," Jim said.

"But it was so important to me. It still is. I want to replace that memory with something beautiful."

"Then you will," Jim said, simply. "Blair Sandburg, you can do *anything* you set your mind to. You may not know that right now, but I do."

"Glad one of us has faith," Blair muttered, but he had a faint smile.

"Enough for both of us," Jim answered with quiet conviction.

"I'm just worried that I'll be too scared when that special person comes along. I won't be able to prove my love because I won't have that trust. "

"I forget sometimes how young you are," Jim said, seemingly starting another conversation altogether. "When you're in your twenties,
you think you can prove your love with your body. You think you have to. But, Blair, it's just a tool. Finding the courage to open up your heart is a far more generous gift than offering up your body."

"No it doesn't," Blair agreed. "It was more something in my own heart, my own mind. I'm trying to see the moment the way I used fantasize about it, and it's gone. It was my most important fantasy, Jim." Blair suddenly laughed. "The one that worked every time, if you know what I mean.

"Jim," Blair said, considering. "Can I tell you about that fantasy? Just so you know what it meant--means--to me?"

"Sure, Chief."

"It's like this. I've met someone I can totally commit to for the rest of my life. I love, let's just say him, and I want him to know me as nobody knows me. I offer him my ass. No one's ever touched it before. He understands the gesture and it moves him deeply. We kiss and touch each other and all the while he's telling me that I'm gorgeous and he loves me and he wants this to be perfect for me..."

Blair was blushing. "Silly, romantic stuff," he said. "And he talks me through it, giving me gentle instructions, telling me how good he feels, how much he cares, telling me what he's doing as he's doing it." Blair wasn't paying any attention to Jim, lost back in his fantasy. "And you're so gentle. So caring and reassuring. And it hurts, but that's OK because we love each other and then it doesn't hurt it's just wonderful and perfect and caring and beautifully open.

"And it wasn't any of those things, Jim. That's why this was so important."

"I'm sorry," Jim said again, shamefully lowering his eyes.

"Don't be sorry," Blair said. "Just tell me if I've helped you understand better."

"You've helped," Jim said, trying for as much sincerity as he could muster.

"Do you think it was a silly fantasy? Not exactly values people think of me having, I know..."

"I don't think it's silly," Jim said, having trouble staying focused on the conversation because Blair had said 'you.' Not 'he,' but 'you.'

"Old fashioned, in a New Age kind of way," Blair offered with a crooked smile.

*It's me you want to give this gift to,* Jim thought, his heart soaring with wonder. *It's me you want.*

"That's you all over, Sandburg," Jim said, and knew the goofy smile spanning ear to ear was somewhat out of place.

"But it's lost now, or that's how I see it," Blair said more somberly. "I can't have that become reality."

Jim let the grin fade from his face, wincing slightly. *Let me give that to you, Blair. Let me try,* he ached to say.

"It's gone, forever," Blair said sadly. "I can always have a new fantasy, I guess, but that was more than a fantasy. It was something I needed to have happen."

"We'll find a new fantasy," Jim said shyly, and wondered if Blair would hear in those words, what he had heard in Blair's. "Something you need to have happen even more."

"I need to trust," Blair said, his voice faraway, almost dreamy. "I need a fantasy that gives me someone I can trust to remake that experience into something I can live with. Something I can want. Something I can need."

"Already you've shown me you can do that," Jim softly reminded him. "You came back home. Knowing I failed to protect you; knowing I let this happen. You've already show you can trust again."

"There was a history of trust between us, Jim. Of course I can trust you. But can I learn to trust someone new? Will I be able to trust this "dream lover" when he comes along?"

The anger surprised Jim, but no more so than the rush of jealousy he felt at the words. He swallowed and pushed onward, feeling a rush of heat for his audacity, as well as a dash of wry humor at Blair's ambivalence. "Maybe...maybe it's not someone new," he suggested.

"No?" Blair asked, eyes wide. Jim realized that Blair was unaware of the slip he'd made earlier.

No words came, but Jim slowly shook his head, 'no.'

"What are you saying, Jim?" Blair was tense in his caution.

Jim drew in a shaky breath, his tongue nervously wetting his lips. "I'm saying maybe...maybe it's someone you already trust."

*Coward!* the word echoed noisily around Jim's brain.

Blair smiled wryly. "The only person I trust right now is you, Jim."

Jim's crooked smile was more than a little embarrassed. He shrugged awkwardly and met Blair's eyes. "I stand by my remarks," he said.

Blair's eyes widened. "Jim...are you saying...are *you* the one I can redeem this with?"

Jim held his hand out, offering, but not insisting. Blair hesitently dropped his hand in Jim's. "Yeah, that's exactly what I'm saying."

"My god, Jim, I..." Blair's eyes shone with barely suppressed emotion. "I don't know what to say. I'm overwhelmed. You still want me?"

"Still, always, only," Jim said and shrugged sheepishly. "Any other adverb you want to throw in there."

"I thought...I wasn't sure...you keep rejecting my 'offers,' and I know that's because of the circumstances. I wasn't sure if you still wanted *me*."

"Those 'offers' aren't coming from you," Jim said.

"Well, the damaged part of me," Blair allowed. "But that you want to help me recover this...Jim, I wanted you, too, before..."

Jim felt his heart begin to ache. If only they'd acted on their feelings they could have been with one another before all this shit. It was nearly unbearable.

"It's more than just 'wanting,' Blair. You know that, right?

"Yeah...Jim," Blair started, picking each word with unusual care, "um, the fantasy was that someone who really cared about me, that I really cared about, would be seeing part of me no one ever saw before, right?" Before Jim could answer, Blair rushed on. "It wasn't about someone who cared about me getting me ready for someone else. It was more like a commitment, a holy vow. A sacred bond, ya know?"

"Your fantasy is nice," Jim said, caressing the top of Blair's hand with his thumb. "But I'm not even really talking about sex right now. I mean, yeah, I want to be the one to someday give that back to you but...I want you to know that-that what I feel is more than- than I've ever felt for anyone."

"I'm just saying, Jim, that I'd like no one better to...do that for me. And that it means so much more than just the act. Especially now."

"And I guess I'm just sayin' I want that act to be part of a larger package. THe whole package. A 'til death do us part kind of a package."

Blair was biting his lips anxiously. "Oh, man. Even with all the refurbishments needed? I'm your basic fixer-upper right now."

"I don't know," Jim said softly. "Lots of charm, lots and lots of curb appeal. It'll take me 20 years to unlock all those hidden treasures.

Blair smiled. "I don't want anyone else. Not now or ever."

Jim put his hand to his chest as if the kid had just pierced his heart. "Oh, man, do I like to hear that!" he said with relief. "You don't mind tellin' me that once or twice a week for the next, oh, I don't know, 50 years or so, do you?"

"Jim, I can't do that, you know, right now...but as far as I'm considered, we're in everything together. If I give myself laryngitis telling you, I'll consider my voice well lost for love." Blair smiled brilliantly.

Jim chuckled, staring at Blair hand in his. Blair's hands were like ice. Jim rubbed one of them between both of his for a minute, then caught Blair's eye. "Hey, Blair? Would it be okay if I kissed you right now?"

Blair thought for a moment. "I think so. I'll be crushed if you don't at least *try*..."

Jim smiled and felt silly, but was too happy to care. He squeezed Blair's cold hand, then carefully leaned in and touched his lips to Blair's.

Blair's lips trembled beneath his, then opened, rubbing against Jim's mouth.

Jim cautiously deepened the kiss, keeping his hands entwined with Blair's. "That's nice," he whispered against Blair's mouth. "That's so nice."

Blair returned his kiss. He reached up to touch Jim's face. "This is it," he whispered against Jim's mouth. "This is the bond. This is what 'forever' tastes like."

"Not as hard to swallow as I once thought it was," Jim whispered back. "This is so right, it's effortless. I didn't know that could happen."

"Effortless?" Jim felt Blair laugh against him. "What the hell did you doing during vocab lessons, Ellison?"

"Hey, don't make fun of the Big Dumb Guy," Jim warned. "we're not all geniuses here."

"Just so long as you're planning to take night courses in Kissing Blair Sandburg," Blair said, looking up at him expectantly.

"There a lot of homework wtih that?" Jim asked, happily obliging the unspoken request.

"And endless labs," Blair said, kissing Jim again. "You might even say, an eternity of them."

"Eternity has a nice ring to it," Jim said, lightly embracing the younger man. He gently brought Blair's head to his shoulder. "I love you, Blair."

"I love you, Jim. And I trust that more than anything I've ever felt or said or experienced before. It's real, even with all this shit going on. It will be real when this shit goes away."

And for once, they both knew that it was the truth that would eventually disperse all the illusions.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Jim, you are way more nervous than I am," Blair said, amused, as he ate breakfast and Jim poked at his toast.

Jim smirked, but he couldn't very well deny the truth. "You know I'll have the cell with me all day, right? And we checked the batteries on your cell, right?"

"Right," said Blair. "And my notebooks are fresh, and my pencils are sharp, and my apple is polished. Relax, would ya?""

"Right, relax," Jim muttered, tossing his uneaten breakfast in the sink. "You need me for any reason while you're at school, you call. Any reason, Sandburg, got that?"

"Don't you have a big-ass meeting this morning?"

"Yeah, something rivetting like 'You and your Health Insurer.' God knows I don't want to miss a minute of it, but if you need me, call. And since the whole department's going to be in there, I want you to wait until one to come up to the station."

"Right. Should I grab some lunch, or you wanna go out once I get there?"

"Will you just grab me a roast beef from Sam's? The one on campus, not the one on the way here."

"Got it." Blair took a deep breath. "OK, here we go," he said, and, picking up his backpack and keys, made for the door.

Jim felt a momentary tug at his heart--some trepidation, mostly pride at Blair's courage and resolve. Jim chuckled to himself and shook his head. "Hey, Sandburg," he called before Blair turned the nob. "I love you."

"Love you, too," Sandburg said, and was gone. Jim tracked him down to the car, out the garage, and down the block until finally, even sentinel senses couldn't hear Blair for the noises of the city. "Be safe," Jim murmured to the empty loft.

Even if he hadn't been listening for him, Jim still would have heard Blair's arrival at the station house. Lucky for him, he could hear Blair's progress up to Major Crimes; otherwise he would have been worried at Blair's tardiness. As it was, Blair arrived in the garage at five minutes to one. The trip up to Major Crimes took twenty minutes, as well-wisher after well-wisher stopped to greet Blair and welcome him back. Blair sounded great as he thanked them, told them he was still on part-time duty, and exchanged other pleasantries.

Jim felt an unexpected warmth in his chest as he realized just how much a part of the Department Blair had become.

"Hey, man," Blair said happily, handing him his sandwich. "Sorry it's a little chilly, but it'll microwave right up to temp, ya know?"

Jim took the bag, aware he was grinning at Sandburg in a way he never had before. "Tough being Mr. Congeniality, huh?" Jim said, unwrapping the sandwich and taking a moment to stare lovingly at it before taking a bite.

"You know it," Blair said. "I knew they were concerned, but everyone's being so nice! Like the Basket O'Wishes." While in the hospital, Blair had recieved a basket full of cards from people in the PD. He'd been to out of it to notice at the time, but later he would pull out the basket and read the cards when he started to feel low. Jim knew the concern of his colleagues had meant a lot to Blair.

"Hey, Jim, wanna grab us a couple of sodas from the break room?" Blair asked, sliding some change toward him.

"Your wish," Jim said amiably, taking another bite of sandwich to last him to the break room and back. He headed over, stopping briefly to speak to Simon.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ryf walk over to Blair and engage him in conversation. He listened in, knowing in advance what Ryf would say.

"Hey, Blair," Ryf said, though he'd already greeted Blair when he first walked into the bullpen.

"Ryf! Again! No, don't touch Jim's sandwich! It ain't worth your life, man," Blair said happily.

Ryf grinned briefly, but turned serious again. He wasn't upset or even grave, just, serious. "I thought you should know that Ray Lewis had a heart attack in his cell this morning, Blair. He's dead."

Blair just looked at Ryf, stunned. "Who?" he asked faintly.

Ryf started to touch Blair's shoulder, then stopped before his hand reached Blair. "Ray Lewis," he said the name again, slower.

"Was he...one of the ones who..." Blair's voice trailed off uncertainly.

Jim smoothly returned to his desk, setting down two cans of Coke, then gently clasping Ryf on the shoulder. "He was one of them," Jim said evenly.

"I'm not sure I ever knew their names," Blair said, sounding more surprised than anything. "Thanks for the soda, man," he said to Jim distractedly. "And thanks for telling me, Ryf."

Ryf nodded, trading an undecipherable look with Jim over Blair's head. "I wanted you to know," Ryf said, heeding Brown's call to join him. "Glad to have you back, Sandburg. Place hasn't been the same without you."

"Yeah," said Blair, teasingly but still distracted, "don't want you to forget how to say 'Hair Boy'. See ya later!"

Jim was sitting back at his desk, watching Blair with a critical eye. "School went okay?" Jim asked.

"Fine, fine. Much like here; spent more time meetin' and greetin' than doing any actual work as such." Blair's voice was light, but still distracted.

"Nancy and I set up for me to do a week-end seminar in a couple of weeks, assuming you didn't have any plans? You can attend if you want to keep an eye on things. You might find it interesting; it's about tribal laws and their enforcement."

"The bathroom needs regrouting," Jim said wryly.

"Trust me, the civil rights of a Trobriander are a lot more interesting than that."

"More interesting than repairing the dryer?"

"Is the dryer as handsome as me?" Blair asked innocently, taking a large bite from his sandwich.

Jim laughed. "All right, I'm there. But, Sandburg, so help me, if you call on me as some sort of example to the class, I'll regrout *you*."

"You won't even be there, man. Unless *you* volunteer to contribute to the discussion." Blair wadded up his sandwich wrapper and tossed it neatly into the waste basket. "What are we doing today?"

"*We* are getting reacquainted with the foundation of good, old fashioned police work," Jim said, needing both hands to pass Blair a gigantic stack of messy folders.

"Endless forms, filed in triplicate," Blair sighed, and set to work. After a few minutes, though, he looked up at Jim. "It's weird, you know," he said as though a conversation were already in progress.

"Yeah, well, the DA's want their copy, and Simon wants a copy and we have to have a copy for the file," Jim said, not looking up from the page he was working on.

"I wasn't talking abou that," Blair said as he passed a report over for Jim's perusal and signature. "When Ryf told me about Lewis, I totally didn't even know who he was talking about. Weird, huh?"

With just a cursory read-through, Jim signed the form and handed it back. "Hard to think of them as having names, I guess," Jim said.

"Yeah. It didn't even occur to me that they did. Like giving them a name makes them ordinary or something."

"Yeah," Jim agreed. "Still can't think of them as human, though," he said with a shrug.

"No. It's just...well, knowing his name takes away from his power. He's not Demon A anymore now, you know? He's Ray Lewis."

"Was," Jim corrected.

"Yeah. I know I shouldn't think that way, but that's kind of a relief, you know."

"I think so, too," Jim agreed. "And I don't think it's so wrong of us. His own damn fault for using the stuff he was pushing."

"Was he using in lockup? Or did the sudden withdrawal cause the attack?"

"Either/or," Jim said with shrug. "Doesn't really matter to me."

"Grim justice," Blair said thoughtfully. "But not undeserved." He thought for a moment, and went back to the files.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Jim came home one evening to find the loft nearly dark. That was strange; it was only seven, and he could tell from Blair's heart beat that the young man was still awake. Jim paused at the foot of the stairs. Blair's heart beat also told him that Blair was up in his room. Jim wondered if Blair had had a flashback and was seeking the comfort of Jim's room as surrogate protection. He went up and found that his room was bathed in candlelight. And Blair was nude, stretched out on the bed invitingly.

Jim's heart sank. So it was a flashback. It had been two, almost three weeks since the last one. They were slowly happening with less and less frequency, but the triggers were still so hard to identify. Sometimes it was stress, sometimes it was a particular smell, the cast of a shadow. Sometimes Jim never did learn what triggered it.

But the aftereffects lay before him with sickening clarity--Blair, confused, tormented, thinking the only thing left of him was his sexuality, his ability to please with his body. Jim laid his jacket over the loft railing and very quietly said, "Blair?"

"Jim," Blair said huskily, his voice ripe with seduction and promise. "I've been thinking...I think I'm ready, Jim." Blair arched his body, stretching languidly. "I'm ready to put the past behind and go forward."

Blair had long since given up on the direct approach. Now he was trying to convince Jim that this was about their moving forward in their life.

"How was your day?" Jim asked casually. "Anything going on?" Feigning a calm he did not feel, he changed into a pair of sweats and a T-shirt.

"Same old same old," Blair said with forced casualness. "But I don't want to talk about that. Come here, Jim. Come here and kiss me."

Jim had to concentrate to keep his breathing in line, and tried not to let his mind wander into the land of why's and what ifs. Why did this have to happen to them? Why did Blair take something that should have been sacred and beautiful and turn it into this twisted, ugly parody? Why couldn't Jim help heal him? Why wasn't he getting better?

"You don't want to tell me about your day?" Jim asked, acting surprised. "You usually can't wait to unload, Sandburg."

"I can't wait to do something else," Blair said. "Come on...I need this. You need this. I'm ready. You're ready. Let's go."

"No, sweetheart, you're not ready," Jim said, leaning against the loft rail, hoping the endearment might soften his refusal. "We've talked about this with Dr. Fitzgerald, you know that."

"I am," Blair insisted. As if to prove himself, Blair rolled over, arching his ass at Jim. "Come on, big guy. Let me have it."

Jim felt his face flush, desire rising like a tide, followed quickly by a rush of shame. No! He didn't want Blair like this! Not like this!

But he did want Blair; the Blair who had been stolen from him in that rat-infested warehouse. "Come on, Sandburg, up you go," Jim said, still leaning against the rail. "Get some clothes on and go back downstairs. We'll get some dinner and then I want you to tell me what went on today."

Blair seemed to be ignoring him. He was now kneeling, his back to Jim, running his hands slowly down his side and over his ass. Blair started to part himself slowly.

"Blair, put your clothes on!" Jim said desperation sounding like anger. Quickly moving forward, he grabbed the blanket from the foot of the bed and roughly covered the younger man.

Blair maneuvered himself around so that his lips were inches from Jim's. "You don't want me to," he said with certainty.

Fitzgerald didn't understand what it was like, Jim thought angrily. These...spells of Blair's. Talk to the kid, Fitzgerald said. Blair didn't understand words when he got like this. Pushing away from the kid, Jim yanked a sweatshirt off the shelf and stuffed one of Blair's arms into the sleeve.

Blair was laughing and boneless as Jim struggled to dress him. Blair wiggled against Jim. "I don't want to talk," he whispered. "I want you to kiss me. Then I want you to fuck me. Please fuck me, Jim?"

The emotions churning inside him were wreaking havoc with Jim's senses. The flickering candle light erupted around him like strobe lights gone haywire. Blair's thundering heart beat was nearly deafening. The smell of fear and arousal were strong and both sickened Jim in the context they now stood. "Get out, Blair!" he shouted, shoving Blair off the bed and toward the stairs. "God damn it, get out!"

Blair stumbled toward the stairs, his face full of pained rejection. "I'll be downstairs if you change your mind," he promised. Blair left Jim to his thoughts.

Jim stood there, listening to make sure that Blair was truly downstairs and not hovering on the stairs. He heard the kid head slowly to his room. Jim dropped down on the bed with a tired sigh. Later tonight, Blair would come down from whatever set him off. He would be embarrassed and rejected and for a few days it would feel like all of the progress they'd made in therapy was lost. Eventually, he would tell Jim what it was that caused the break and they would work to make sure it didn't happen again. Until, of course, it did, and the kid would try to hawk himself to Jim, try to make Jim take the only thing he thought he had left to give.

Jim groaned quietly and lay down on the bed. Why was it happening like this? Why? And why was he so tempted? He knew why Blair was doing this and was intellectually repelled. But his body knew otherwise. He was hard and aching from the sight of Blair, illuminated by candlelight, offering himself.

Hating himself for his desire, but ruled by it just the same, Jim reached into his sweatpants. *Just this once,* Jim promised himself again, *Just now. Never again...* Stifling another groan, Jim tightly gripped his cock, his still reeling senses exaggerating its heat and he hissed in surprise.

Jim saw, once more, Blair on his bed. But this time the circumstances were different. There had been no attack, and Blair was offering himself to Jim out of love, not desperation. Jim imagined what it would be like to hold Blair because Blair wanted him, wanted *Jim*, wanted him as desperately as Jim wanted Blair.

Part of him was sickened at using Blair's image like this, but the rest of him didn't care. It had been too long, the temptation resisted too long. He groaned as his hips involuntarily arched, his body blindly seeking the friction it needed for release.

His breath caught in the back of his throat, his free hand reaching up under the T-shirt to pinch a nipple. *It could have been so good,* he thought, a picture of a laughing Blair forming in his mind. Blair would have been a joyful lover, Jim was sure of it. Blair would have been uninhibited, giving of himself as generously in this as in everything. Jim didn't think of the changes. Jim thought of Blair, shouting in genuine, joyous encouragement as Jim touched him, tasted him, stroked him, kissed him. Jim's strokes intensified. He was close...close to orgasm, close to zoning out on the intensity of feeling his hand on his cock.

He didn't hear Blair's door open. Didn't hear the soft tread of Blair's feet on the stairs as Blair came up to apologize.

But he did hear his Guide's question as if it was broadcast over the loudspeaker at a Jags game. "Don't want it, huh?" Blair asked, his voice hot and cold with anger. "You want it. Just not with someone like me."

Jim's eye sight flared and faded, the bed wavered beneath him and suddenly his cock was fiery to the touch. He dropped it like a hot potato and stumbled off the bed. "What the hell!"

Blair was angry. "You rejected me for your HAND, Jim. What clearer message could you have sent me?"

"Shit, Sandburg!" Jim said, still panting and disoriented. "Give a guy some fucking privacy! I told you to go downstairs and we'd talk about this over dinner."

"And I came up to apologize for throwing myself at someone who wasn't in the mood. Only to find that you *are* in the mood. But too good for me, apparently."

Jim took a deep breath and released it slowly, ludicrously feeling another twinge of guilt for using Sandburg's technique to calm himself down. "You know that's not true," Jim said, gently. "Something happened today, you got scared, or maybe a flashback. You know this isn't real, Blair. You *know* that. It's not about me being too good, or not in the mood. It's not about sex, period. You *know* that, Blair. You know it."

"I know that, sure." Blair agreed. "But if it isn't at least partly about sex, then why are you..." Blair's voice trailed off as he made the universal hand gesture.

*Because I'm weak,* Jim should have told him. *Because I'm selfish and gutless and fucked in the head in my own way.* Jim flushed and looked away for a moment.

"Do you know how bad that makes me feel, Jim? How worthless? Knowing that I'm so repulsive now that you'd rather jack off like a teenager than fuck me?"

"It's not like that," Jim said, eyes closed in pain. "Why didn't you offer yourself to me last night, Blair? Or the night before that? Or the night before that? Or any of the nights in the last two weeks?"

"I didn't feel sexy then," Blair said, voice almost shrill in its defensiveness. "Tonight I did."

"No!" Jim shouted, pointing at Blair, emphatically shaking his head. "Don't you bullshit me, Sandburg. You wanna go downstairs and pull out the journals? Re-read the stuff you wrote the last time this went down? This isn't about *sexy* and you know it!"

Blair flinched but rallied. "It's about me offering you all I have to give. And you just don't want it!"

"God damn it, Sandburg, who the fuck do you think it is sitting in with you and Fitzgerald three nights a week? *Understand the trigger, work around it, feel the impulse rising.* Any of that new age crap sound familiar?"

"Mine aren't the only impulses rising around here," Blair jeered back.

Jim jerked back, always surprised by Blair's biting sarcasm. Jim nodded knowingly, frowning thoughtfully, as if something he'd known all along had come to pass exactly as he'd been predicting. "All right then, Sandburg, come on," he said, jogging down the stairs and digging through the bookshelf for the journal. He opened it up and began to read.

"I did it again. Offered myself to Jim. He turned me down (of course) and now I feel so stupid...Why do I keep throwing myself at someone who clearly has no need for me? Dr. F says I see myself as a sexual commodity, and that only, and I'm trying to get Jim to prove that to me. I think I'm also testing him. I have to make sure that there's nothing I can do to provoke him in to taking me. But that never occurs to me when I'm naked in his bed. All I want then is for him to take me, prove to me that I have worth. God, this is so fucked. *I'm* so fucked. Or not fucked..."

Jim had never read from Blair's journal before, and he was shocked. It had honestly not occurred to him that Blair needed proof that Jim was "safe." And now Blair had graphic proof that Jim was turned on by his advances

Jim's voice trailed off, and he lifted his horrified eyes to look into Blair's.

Blair wasn't looking at him. Blair was looking at the floor, rocking back and forth. "CLAY lies STILL but BLOOD'S a ROVer/BREATH'S a WARE that WILL not KEEP/Up, NOW, when THE jourNEY'S oVER there'll BE time Enough FOR sleep"

Jim set the journal down and took a hesitant step toward Blair. "I had...no right to do that," Jim said, his face enflamed with shame. "I am so sorry."

"MALT does MORE than MILton CAN/To JUSTify GOD'S ways TO MAN"

Blair kept rocking back and forth, eyes now closed against the world. Against Jim.

He had read Blair's journal. Shit, all of his protests to the kid that he
wasn't like the fuckers who'd attacked him when he was proving himself to be far more savage than they ever were. Jim came closer and touched Blair's arms. "Blair? Buddy? Come back, kid."

"SiLENT hills INdentING/the ORANGE band of EVE"

"Blair? Please, come back."

"SIlent HILLS inDENTing/THE orange BAND of EVE"

The tempo of Blair's chant increased, his body rocking in rhythm to it. Jim waited for the spell to pass. It always did, and Jim knew how long it would take. Four and a half minutes, exactly the same length of time that Blair's rapist had pounded him.

Blinking rapidly to clear suddenly blurry eyes, Jim sat down on the floor next to Blair, owing it to the kid to relive it with him. Two minutes left...Blair's voice was choked now, his shoulders shuddering, the words coming out in a frantic rush.

Jim could see the warehouse, see the hard dishwater blond taking Blair from behind, laughing as he violated someone a hundred times the man he was.

Jim felt once more the powerless rage that had swept him then, still swept him every time the memory surfaced.

One minute.

"SIlent HILLS inDENTING/the ORANGE band of EVE"

Jim didn't realize he was chanting with Blair as the words got faster, blurrier.

And then it was over. And the words stopped. And for a time, Blair just rocked.

"Blair? You with me yet, buddy?" Jim thought it was safe to try to get Blair's attention now.

Blair kept rocking, drew a shaky breath. "Yeah, I think so," he said hesitantly.

"Want an Ativan?"

"Yeah, safer that way."

Jim went to get the anti-panic medication. The flashbacks sometimes brought panic and anxiety in their wake, and Blair liked to take a small dose to ward off yet more bad feelings. Blair took the water and the pill from Jim with hands still shaking with remembered terror. He bit the pill in half and swallowed, always preferring to start with a minimum dose.

"Thanks," he said, closing his eyes again.

"I'm sorry," Jim said, and wondered if there would come a time when he actually said something else to Sandburg once in awhile.

"Sometimes it takes something like that to get through to me," Blair said tiredly. "And I did tell you there wasn't anything in the journals you couldn't read."

"I know." Jim checked his watch and did a quick check of Blair's vitals. "What happened today, Blair? You ready to talk about that?"

"It was..." Blair made an angrily defensive gesture. "It was just some crap on TV. Some fucking spot for Maury or Jerry or Jenny Goddamn Jones. 'My Husband Raped Me but I'll Take Him Back' or some fucking thing. I turned it off right away, but of course it was too damn late."

Jim sighed. So much ugliness in the world that it spilled over into their
home. No wonder the kid went nuts trying to find some place he was safe. Not even here, in their home, was he safe from the memories. Not even here was he safe from Jim. "Blair, I...I don't know where to start here. I shouldn't have read the journal like that, I just...it scares me when you get like this and I just...I just wanted you back, you know?"

"I know," Blair said. "I want to come back. But every time I do, it's just one more...incident to be embarrassed about. One more failure."

"It's getting better," Jim said, but his tone belied his words, and he winced and ducked his head.

"Yeah," Blair said, and there was no irony in his voice. "It's been almost three weeks since the last really bad one. A new record. It was too much to hope they were gone for good, but maybe next time it will be a month. And then two months."

"Did I...did I ruin everything tonight?" he asked, surprised to have asked the question out loud.

Blair looked thoughtful. "I'm...Do we have to talk about that right now?"

"No, I guess not," Jim said, figuring if he'd destroyed what little security Blair had at home, they'd know it soon enough. "How you doin', Chief? Feeling better? You back with me now?"

"Yeah, sort of," Blair said tentatively, then belied his own request. "You know, I've talked to Dr. F privately about that testing thing. I didn't want to talk to you about it because I felt that it wasn't fair, you know? I don't feel real good about being a cocktease, Jim."

"No that's not...that's not right," Jim said. "You're not doing that, Blair. I know you're not...yourself when this happens."

"Who am I then?"

Jim smiled briefly at the idle question. "Little Boy Lost," he mused aloud, another thought he hadn't intended to share.

"Jim, I'm not fucking around here. If this isn't me, who is it?"

"I don't know," Jim said, irritated with himself that he had no answers. "Look, you...you just fall away from yourself for a little while, and then you come back. Fitzgerald's gone over the medical lingo before."

"But why like this? Why do I have to throw myself at you? I know it only leads to embarrassment and rejection."

"Rejection." Jim repeated the word. "I know it seems like that at the time, Blair. But when you come back, do you still see it that way?"

"Yes!" Blair hurled the word at Jim. "I know that isn't right, that isn't what it is, blah, blah, blah, but that's exactly what it feels like."

"I wish...I could change something," Jim said. "God, something, anything, *one* thing."

"Jim?" Blair asked hesitantly. "If it hadn't been for...for...what happened, do you think you'd be kicking me out of your bed?"

Fuck. Jim wanted to cry. He wanted to yell. He wanted to break something. He reached over and cupped the back of Blair's head, petting the soft hair for just a minute.

"It's going to get better," Jim said softly. "When...when it's right, we'll talk about that, okay, Chief?"

"When will it be right? When you say it's right? Like the Twelfth of Never, maybe?"

"Look, I don't have any crystal ball, here Sandburg. I'm feelin' my way through just like you are. It'll happen, you know? When things aren't so intense all the time."

"I need to know, Jim. I need to know just how safe I am here." Blair looked stricken at the words that had just come out of his mouth, but his chin firmed imperceptibly, as though daring Jim to deny his fears.

"I won't hurt you," Jim promised, his voice thick, his tone wounded.

"Won't hurt me how? It hurts when you reject me. It hurts when you look at me with so much goddamned *pity*. It hurts..." Blair's eyes were starting to fill with tears. He paused, then said, visibly mustering his composure, "I think I'm going to need another Ativan," he said.

Jim hurried to get the pill, biting back the frustrated reply. He delivered his words calmly. "Tell me what I'm supposed to do," he said tiredly. "We both know you don't *really* want to have sex with me. What am I supposed to say when this happens, Chief. Tell, me, what the FUCK am I supposed to do?"

"I don't know!" Blair shouted back in frustration. "You could act like this bothers you in some way. You could have some other reaction than this fucking pity party. I'm the one who's weeping and wailing and gnashing my teeth, and you're a fucking ROCK while I'm just this whiny little kid... 'Little Boy Lost,' right, Jim?" Blair took the pill, swallowed it dry.

Jim slumped into his shoulders, feeling suddenly defenseless. "I'm not like that, Sandburg. Jesus, I shouldn't have to tell you this! You *know* who I am, how I am! Just because I'm not fucking *emoting* all over the fucking place doesn't mean I don't feel this!"

"Emoting? Is that what you see when you look at me? Like I'm some kind of goddamned Drama Queen who can't handle life's little setbacks?"

"No!" Jim insisted.

"That's sure as hell what it sounds like over here," Blair said hotly. "You're some kind of Big Tough Guy and I'm falling apart because I'm just not Man Enough."

Jim moved restlessly around the room. "Forget reading from your journal the next time this goes down. We'll just review what a worthless, fucking, insensitive LOUT I am and that oughta bounce you RIGHT back to reality!"

"Better that than doing that whole 'calm down, Little Blair Lost' shit. I don't get it, Jim. You've actually seen me have sex now and you still think I'm some fucking KID!"

"I have *NEVER* seen you have sex!" Jim thundered, appalled that Blair would call it that. "I sat, fucking TIED to a chair and watched those bastards rape you!" The words echoed in the loft as a horrified Jim backed away from Blair.

"And that's all you ever see when you look at me now," Blair said tiredly. "You look at me, and all you can see is someone dumb enough to get himself fucked."

Jim glance at his watch and was surprised to find that it was only 7:30. God, he was exhausted. The fatigue had seeped into his bones so that every move ached. He walked over and sat down next to Blair. "That's not what I see," he said. "I wish...I wish you could get inside my head for a few minutes." He sighed and shook his head. "Before this happened, I always felt like you could. Like...you could see into parts of me *I* didn't even see too clearly. I wish we could find that again so you'd know."

"Know what?" Blair's anger seemed to have dissipated. He seemed receptive, genuinely able and willing to listen. Jim wasn't sure if it was the Ativan or if his own words were finally getting through, clumsy and inadequate thought they seemed to him.

Jim heart pounded in his chest and his throat caught. Shit, he was *scared.* "Know how I really feel," he whispered.

"But how is that, Jim? You never say. You get pissed, you get quiet, but you never tell me."

"Words are...meaningless, Sandburg." Jim tried to explain. "I can *say* anything. I can *tell* you whatever you want to hear. It's what I *do* that should matter, that should tell you what I...what I can't."

Blair shook his head. "Jim, you do this, you do that. But I need *words*. I need to know I'm not alone. I need to know that there's something going on in there beyond just being angry with me."

"Not with you!" Jim said gruffly. "I'm never angry with you. Okay, okay, so it comes out that way, but, I'm angry at...at *them,* Blair. At those fucking animals who ripped our lives apart! At a world that would let it happen! I wanted you to stay the same, you know? Always? I never wanted you to change and I'm so fucking PISSED at myself for losing you, and I...oh, shit, I'm not makin' any sense here."

"Jim," Blair said reasonably, "you're saying I should know how you feel from your actions, but now you're saying that when you seem to be angry with me, you're not really. What do I trust?"

A surprised bark of laughter escaped Jim. He made a show of checking his watch. "Shouldn't that Ativan have kicked in by now?" he asked wryly.

"Took enough to make me more relaxed," Blair said with a small smile. "Not enough to annihilate my brain. And does the word 'avoidance' mean anything to you?"

Jim shrugged. "What can I say? My parents thought it made an attractive middle name."

"This is not going to work, Jim. I know you're not comfortable talking to Dr. Fitzgerald about it. I know you spend your sessions talking about what to do about *me*. But can't you talk to me about what you're feeling? I mean, you must have some feeling other than anger? I mean, what goes through your mind when I go off the deep end and start struttin' my stuff at you? What are you thinking when you get all pissed at me?"

"I don't know, Sandburg. I'm wondering what set it off, what I did or didn't do, how I'm gonna get you back. I'm scared shitless you're not gonna come out of it, I'm disappointed because I always think maybe it won't ever happen again, even though Fitzgerald tells us it will... Stop me when you get bored here, all right?"

Blair looked away. "What about...you seemed to like it tonight. On some level. Does that happen every time?"

"No!" Jim said, eyes shut against his shame. "It's not like that! I don't want you thinking you have to offer your body to me for services rendered! That's not what happened tonight! I would never, NEVER, *like* that!"

"I know that," Blair said with quiet emphasis. "Or most of time I do," he added wryly. "But I need to know what that was about, Jim."

"Jesus, this is *not* something I thought we'd be discussing here, Sandburg. I was jacking off, all right?"

"Yeah, I kind of noticed. Am I to believe it was sheerest chance that had you doing that right after one of my little spells?"

Jim glanced toward the journal he'd read from earlier. "It doesn't mean anything. I was just, you know, takin' care of myself." Jim suddenly felt like a teenager caught with a dirty magazine.

"It means *something*," Blair insisted, ignoring, or perhaps unaware of, Jim's discomfort. "It means some part of you liked what I did, what you saw."

"No." Jim refused to believe it, even though there was a witness to refute him. Dammit, he was *not* that kind of man! "You know how it is, Sandburg, you just gotta relieve the tension sometimes, right?"

"Did you have to relieve it last night?" Blair asked pointedly. "Or the night before? Or over the last two weeks? Jim, can you *please* level with me here? I need to know what's going on. I promise I won't be grossed out or flake on you or whatever, but I just might lose it if you don't come clean." Blair realized what he'd said. "In a manner of speaking," he added.

Jim turned and looked at the kid and couldn't help grinning and shaking his head. "You're a piece of work, Sandburg," he said fondly. "Look, you've got nothin' to worry about here, okay? You're safe here. You always will be as long as I'm breathing. What I was doin' upstairs, it was...it was nothing."

"I'm just trying to go by your actions, Jim. And your actions showed that something is going on."

Jim sighed and wondered where he could pick up a white flag on such short notice. "You're a beautiful man, Blair. I can't always help it that I react to that."

"I just need to know how strong that...reaction...is."

"It's not...nearly as strong, as you are beautiful," Jim mumbled and felt his face reddening again at such adolescent drivel. "I swear to God, Chief, you'll never have anything to fear from me."

"I know, in my right mind, that it's a dangerous game I'm playing when I'm in my wrong mind. Bait Jim. Tease Jim. Make Jim want me in spite of my flaws. Is there a breaking point? Can I push you too hard?"

"No." The answer came easily and with quiet conviction.

"There's nothing I can do that will make you take me up on my offer?"

Jim started to give the kid another unequivocal 'no,' but he couldn't. He simply couldn't. "Not when you're in your wrong mind."

"I won't always be," Blair said, as though making a holy vow.

"I know," said Jim.

"How will we be able to tell the difference?"

"I don't know. I just keep telling myself we will."

Blair looked at Jim for a long, measured moment, then looked away. "Because I want you sometimes," he said. "Not when I'm shaking it in your face because of some fucking flashback, either. Sometimes, in my room, late at night, I'll think, I want him. I want him to take me with all the consideration and tenderness that they didn't give me. And sometimes..." Blair swallowed and went on, "sometimes I even start to get a little bit excited. Then I feel guilty because you were there, and I shouldn't want somebody who was a witness to that. Then my erection just dies."

Jim inhaled sharply, and now his shame had entirely different roots. That Blair, after all he had suffered, would have to courage to tell him that. Jim felt small and insignificant.

"And the worst part of it, Jim? I don't feel it now, but in a couple of days, maybe later on tonight, I'll think back on seeing you doing that, and I'll get excited from knowing I can get to you. And guilty because I'm trying to manipulate you."

Jim sighed, "Wanna chalk this up to just another day we wish we could do over again?"

Blair looked at Jim thoughtfully. "No. Not at all. I think we kind of cleared the air, at least a little bit. Because I need to know, Jim, because of that little spark I feel sometimes late at night, I need to know if there's a chance for me...for us...someday."

"I don't know what to say, here, kid. I don't want to scare you; I don't want to say something to make you think I'd take advantage of you or hurt you."

"Maybe I just have more faith in you than you have in yourself, but you can tell me the truth. It can't hurt me as much as what I've already been through."

"Sometimes, when you're spouting off some trivial anthropology point, or when you're laughing and bouncing on your heels, all I can think about is how soft your hair looks, or how red your lips are, and I carry that little spark around with me all day long."

"You want me? Even after what happened?"

"It's always been there," Jim said with an easy shrug. "Or has been for so long, I'm used to it, you know? Nothing's going to happen, Chief, you know that, right? You can trust me."

"Yeah, but is that because I'm tainted, or because you're worried about me?'

"You're not tainted," Jim said. "See, this is why I wish you could get inside my head and see this the way I do. You're not, Blair. Not to me. Not ever to me."

Blair nodded, seeming to understand, and, more importantly to Jim, believe. "But in the meantime, when it comes over me, and I'm naked in front of you, begging you to take me..." His voice trailed off as though waiting for Jim to finish his sentence.

Jim shrugged and said wryly. "I'll recite the Cascade PD Manual to myself and picture Joel Taggart at the fourth of July barbecue."

Blair smiled at that. "If I get excited, Jim, is it OK with you if I, you know, think about you while I...? Because," Blair added in a rush, "it's OK with me if you think about me when you..."

Jim nodded and shrugged and ducked his head, pleased and embarrassed all at once. "Yeah, well, sure, okay," he mumbled inarticulately.

"A ringing endorsement from a member of Cascade's finest!" Blair announced with all the smarm of a political campaign voice-over artist, then his face grew serious.

"Jim, I want to ask you something hard, something painful," Blair said, suddenly serious. "But if it wasn't really important, I wouldn't ask. What were you thinking, back at the warehouse? From my side, you just shut down. No expression. You looked cold. Like they could do anything to you or me and it wouldn't touch you. Because sometimes, in my nightmares, I'm in danger or under attack or whatever, and I turn to you and that's what I see. Your face, etched in granite. And I get angry, because I want to know what this stranger has done with the real Jim. Because I know the real Jim would do anything for me."

"I couldn't let them see what they were doing to me," Jim explained carefully. "I couldn't give them that control over me."

"I've never felt so alone. Not the first time away from home, not when I started college too damn young, not when my place blew up. I've never felt so alone."

"It's a 'name, rank, and serial number,' state of mind," Jim continued. "You turn everything off and focus in to get through it."

"I think I understand. But still...Part of me hates you for that. Part of me hates you for being in control of what they could see when I had no control at all. And I know you were trained for it and crap like that, but I still get mad. Because you saw me loose control while you were keeping your cool."

"I'm sorry you see it that way," Jim said carefully. "But the important thing was staying present. I couldn't stop what they were doing, but I could look for a weakness somewhere, anticipate what they'd do next, try to figure out something to save our lives."

"Jim, do you ever lose control? Ever? Because that's helping me feel weak and unmanned. That I lost it and you didn't. You've kept it together, and I can't go three weeks without going mental over a 30-second talk show promo."

"When you're feeling better, I'll tell you a story about when my senses first started going crazy on me. I looked up this freaky grad student and nearly pummeled him in his office."

"Oh, yeah, he's a friend of mine. He told me all about this throwback to a primitive breed of man who got in his face..." Blair's voice trailed off. "But it seems like this whole thing just isn't getting to you. You get mad at me sometimes, you call those guys bastards, but you're handling it so much better than I am. And I feel weak next to that. How can I ever hope to live up to your standards?"

"Fitzgerald is always telling you not to compare yourself to anyone. We all deal in different ways, you know that. And the last thing in the world you need to worry about is measuring up to *my* standards."

"You just don't get it. I have to compare myself to you, because you're the only other person who went through it with me. And when I see that you're OK with it, that makes me feel like shit for not being able to get over it."

"I'm not okay with this," Jim said, taken aback. "Jesus, that's an awful thing to say!"

"Well, that's what it looks like from here," Blair said. "You only get angry at me. You're not de facto impotent. You're on regular duty. You don't have feelings to talk to Fitzgerald about."

"So because I don't grieve the way you *think* I should, somehow I'm *okay* with this? Real open, new age thinking there, Chief. Thanks."

"You're not grieving at all, Jim. You're watching TV. You're on the job. You're jacking off, and I'm having a good day if I can fucking get dressed!"

"I'm holding it together for you!" Jim cried out. "You think I don't have
nightmares every time I close my eyes? I'm tryin' to do the right there here, Sandburg!"

"I don't think that. How could I? You don't show me anything, Jim, except to get pissed at me because I'm not coping nearly so well as you are. Because *I* can't hold it together for *you*."

"*I'm* not the one judging, here," Jim said pointedly. "I'm not pissed at you. I can't break down here and give you some cathartic scene even if that's what you need. I can't do it. I can't let go like that. Maybe that makes *me* the weak one, Chief. You ever thought of it that way?"

"You get pissed at me all the time. When I'm out of my head and chucking myself at you. Just tell me that you're feeling something, anything! I think I do need a cathartic scene. I need something other than this cold front."

"I've told you what I'm feeling. I gave you the list, Sandburg. Worried, scared, disappointed... Why can't that be enough for you?"

"Because that's about NOW. It isn't about THEN. It isn't about what you were thinking while I was pissing myself from fear and pain!"

"What was I thinking?" Jim asked incredulously. "Okay, Sandburg, here's what I was thinking. It was exactly 215 feet from where I was sitting to the door. We were exactly 12 and a half miles from the nearest road; Saunders, the blond one, had eggs and sausage for breakfast, it took him exactly, *exactly* 4 and a half minutes to fuck you, your heart beat *exactly* 2,474 times, Simon ran 872 steps from the car to the side of the warehouse; Brown came up the left side at 1,201 steps! You want to know more, Sandburg! I got more here! I could go on all fucking NIGHT!"

"And that's it," Blair said with an odd coldness. "You couldn't even spare a thought for me."

"How did we get here?" Jim asked, thoroughly confused. "I come home from work and you're doing your Mati Hari impression in my bedroom and suddenly we're down here and now I didn't even give a fuck when you were getting assaulted?"

"We got here, Jim, because for once we're trying to be honest about our feelings. Or I am. And all I'm getting from you is that in the four and half minutes it took for my life to get fucking slaughtered, I might as well have been a goddamn stick of furniture!"

"We make a few strides and then we always get back to this," Jim said sadly. "We're tearing each other apart, Blair. Maybe...Maybe Fitzgerald was right. Maybe we need some time apart."

"What is this? I'm hitting to close to something, so you threaten to ditch me? Were you there at all, Jim? Or was I well and truly on my own?"

"I'm not ditching you. I told you before I'd go stay with Simon or get an apartment. Blair, I'm a cop. And before that a soldier. Those aren't what I *do,* they're what I *am.* And being a cop, and being a soldier have saved my life too many times for me to start apologizing or making excuses for it now."

"I thought there was some part of you that was there with me. I thought there was some part of you that felt with me, cried with me, bled for me. But you're closed off from me. So closed off you'd just leave me here to pick up the pieces on my own."

"You won't believe what I tell you," Jim said. "Or you'll twist it into something ugly."

Blair blew out a deep breath. "I'll try not to. I can't promise anything, Jim, but I want to hear whatever you have to say. I *need* it. I'm not asking you to break, Jim. I'm just asking you to bend a little. Because I love you, and I can't take this stone face anymore."

"You were mine, Blair," Jim said softly. "My Guide, my friend, my...someday something more. You're ...*you're* my control and my future and they stole all of that from me. They stole you from me. And all I could think about was how I was gonna kill 'em. 'Cause see, I knew I'd survive it. I *always* survive it. So mostly, I was just deciding how I was gonna do it."

Blair looked at Jim, smiling slightly. "I should tell you not to think that. I should tell you it's not worth your principles, your job, maybe even your life. But all I can think is, finally, some proof that he cares. That I wasn't--that I'm *not*--alone."

"No, you weren't alone," Jim agreed.

"I feel that way. When I'm in my bed at night, or when the nightmares come, or when I go nuts and offer myself to you, knowing that you'll toss a bathrobe over me and send me on my way."

"I'm sorry. If I knew I could...touch you or, or hold you without...without bringing on a flashback, if I *knew* what was the right thing to do, I'd do it."

"I want that so much, Jim, but I'm so afraid. I'm afraid to tell you I love you because I can't back it up with, you should forgive the expression, hard proof."

"You love me?" Jim asked the question as if he'd never heard anything so preposterous in his life.

"Yeah. I love you, James Ellison. I'd give you all my worldly goods, if I had any. I'd worship thee with my body, if I could. And I will honor you all the days of my life, if you'll let me."

"But, I thought you just wanted...You love *me*?"

"Well, yeah," Blair said as if it were self-evident. "Why else do you think I can be around you after what you saw?"

"Oh," Jim said, understanding, nodding knowingly. "I thought you meant, you know, that you *loved* me. Like, really loved me."

"I really love you. I'm *in love* with you, and I love you both. Can I be any plainer here?" Blair brushed his hair back nervously.

Jim cautiously approached Blair. "I feel like I'm gonna shatter into a million pieces," he said, nervously, reaching out for Blair's hand. "I never thought I'd have the opportunity, be, be given the, the right to tell you."

"It's not so bad," Blair said softly. "Shattering, I mean. It hurts, but there's something in there. Something to build on."

"I love you, Blair," he said, his words sounding choked, as if forced from him. "Oh God, oh Jesus, how I love you."

Blair leaned into him, welcoming his embrace. "How long? It's important, Jim. It's deadly important that I know how long. How long have you loved me?"

Jim shrugged, nestling his cheek against the top of Blair's head. "I guess telling you forever won't cut it, huh?"

"Only known each other a few years," Blair said, voice muffled. "I can go first if it helps?"

"Beauty before age," Jim whispered with a chuckle.

"Pearls before swine?" Blair ventured. "I think it was somewhere along the second year or so. I looked over at you one day, and you grinned at me, and friendship was suddenly lust, and then came the realization that it wasn't just friendship or lust, it was 'love him forever and then some'."

"It came to me in bits and pieces," Jim said shyly. "Like, the first time I got a hit was after the station was taken over and we got you off that chopper and you just looked at me and said, 'this wasn't, like, a typical day, was it?' And the way you looked after me the first time I got sick. It was just...nice, you know. Felt good to have someone...care about me, you know?"

"Thank god," Blair whispered. "Please don't take this the wrong way, Jim, because I *know* this isn't you. But I once knew a girl who knew someone for years, then she was sexually assaulted, and the guy was all over her. Because some part of him responded to her being victimized."

"You're still the strongest person I know," Jim said. "You don't feel that way now, but you are, Blair."

"I just needed to know that it wasn't pity or whatever that pushed you over the edge."

"Nah, I think it was that ratty pair of Levi's you're always wearin' that finally did it," Jim teased.

To the surprise of both men, Blair bumped his hips suggestively against Jim and laughed with uncomplicated joy. "I love you so much," Blair whispered. "But I don't have any juice, man. I'm dead below the waist. And you're not."

"This from a man who told me, what was it, 90% of sex is above the neck?"

"I think that's the problem," Blair somberly reminded Jim. "I get excited, and then I'm back there. What do you do? I mean, what you saw, did that effect your feelings about sex? About me as a possible sexual partner? Even for a little bit? Or for whatever reason?"

Jim sighed quietly, vaguely annoyed at Sandburg's tenaciousness. Jeez, can't he just let it rest? Fucking declare my love for the guy and here he's pushing to find something *else* to mess this up.

"Never mind," Blair said quickly. "I'm just trying to pick up some pointers here. But it will come, eventually. For now, this moment, here with you, is enough."

Jim's arms tightened around Blair reflexively. "Yeah. It's enough."

"For now," Blair repeated, and it was a long time before either spoke again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The next day, Jim was up before Blair, who usually slept long and deep after taking an Ativan.

Jim came downstairs to find Blair sitting on the couch doing...nothing. Almost nothing. He was pulling a strand of hair to its full extension, looking at it, letting it bounce back, then extending it once more. "Shiny," Jim heard him mutter dreamily.

Jim quickly checked Blair's pulse. The kid was relaxed. Way relaxed. Ativan relaxed. Relaxed enough to talk? Jim would have to find out.

"Shiny," Blair repeated, fascinated by his hair.

"Sandburg? You with me?" Jim asked, heading for the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

"In a hazy, I'm on the couch, you're in the kitchen kind of way," Blair said, playing his hair like a guitar. "Get me a cup of whatever you're having, would ya?" Blair added.

Jim knew he should have slept down on the couch the night before. "How many pills have you had so far?" he asked, leaning against the counter, waiting for the coffee to brew.

Blair pulled his hair out, relaxed it, pulled it out again. "Um, I held out 'til about 3 am. Then I took a milligram. Still couldn't sleep, but felt more relaxed about being awake. Took another milligram and a half about an hour ago," he added. "Look at my hair, Jim," he added, extending a lock in the sunlight. "It's shiny and it smells nice!"

Jim couldn't help but smile. "Yeah, you've got great hair, Sandburg," he said. "Thought we agreed we'd sort of discuss that second milligram before you took it, Chief."

"Well, it was only a half," Blair pointed out with dreamy reasonableness. "'Sides, I wasn't sure if I could, you know, go upstairs and stuff." Blair shrugged. "Not like I have to be anywhere," he added amiably. "Though that's a pity when I'm having such a swell hairday." Blair smiled beautifically at Jim.

Jim tried to wipe the grin off his face, but couldn't. Part of him was thinking what a blast it would be dragging Sandburg to the precinct in his current condition. "Maybe I'd better stick around awhile," Jim said, bringing the kid a cup of coffee. "Pay homage to the Hair Gods with you."

Blair took the coffee. "I think you need to start doing that, Jim. No offense, but your hair needs all the help it can get." Blair sipped deeply from the cup, then sighed contentedly. "Oh, yeah, that's the stuff," he said, sounding like an old geezer. Blair neatly swung a foot onto the coffee table, flexing it, seemingly fascinated by its grace and mobility. "Whoa...feet," Blair muttered, and sipped again.

Jim laughed. "Ground rules, Sandburg! Ground rules!" he said, quoting Fitzgerald. "My hair--or lack there of--is *strictly* off limits," he said, reaching over and swatting Blair's foot off of the table.

"Sorry, man. On you it works, though. Don't slap that foot around...my feet may one day be my fortune!"

Jim had no idea what in the hell that meant. He leaned back on the couch and sipped his coffee. "I thought we hashed out some things pretty well last night," he said casually. "How come you're dropping two and a half milligrams of Ativan?"

Blair wasn't ready to let go of the feet issue. "You know, when I'm well enough to go back to the station with you, I'll have earn back their trust and admiration. I plan to do that through the miracle of dance. I shall tap dance my way back into the hearts of the Cascade PD!"

Jim coughed and spit out a mouthful of coffee. "I'll let Simon know," he said dryly. "He'll probably want to print up some programs for the occasion."

"Programs, yes," Blair said dreamily. "'Simon Banks Presents... Twinkle Toes Sandburg!' Sorry, Jim, what were you saying? It sounded kind of important?" Blair sipped more coffee.

No matter how important the subject matter, Jim wasn't sure he'd get anything useful out of the kid. "I was just wondering why you dropped the Ativan. Thought we got a lot of stuff out in the open last night."

"I didn't drop it," Blair said, sounding wounded. "I swallowed it very carefully. And last night...last night..." Blair screwed up his face in concentration. "Oh, yeah. Well, that whole testing thing you read about? in my journal?"

"Yeah? I told you I was sorry about that, kid..."

"That's ok," Blair said expansively, sloshing his coffee as he made a gesture of forgiving acceptance. "But last night I pushed you too far. And I didn't think I *could* push you too far."

Grabbing a couple of paper towels to blot the coffee stains, Jim nodded as if he followed the reasoning. "Guess that's pretty disconcerting, huh, Chief?"

"Yeah. Here I was thinking you were as much a eunuch as me...oops, sorry about the coffee...and it turns out you aren't dead below the waist after all. Guess I kind of panicked or something."

Blair was back with his hair, playing with it, making it gleam in the sunlight.

"Sorry about that," Jim said, taking Blair's cup over to the sink.

"More," Blair said. "Well, you know, I just got to thinking, bad move, and then I started feeling pretty damn funky, and now I'm really into my hair." Blair drew a strand of hair across his cheeks and nose and rubbed it against his face. "Smooth," he intoned.

"Yeah, I can see," Jim said, shaking his head. "Will you be okay while I take a shower? I'll call Simon and take the morning off. You want me to call Fitzgerald? See if he can get us in today?"

Blair tossed the hair into the air, caught it, tossed it back up, seemingly fascinated by the way it kept falling back down to join its mates on his head. "Take a shower, by all means. You don't have to take the morning off. Why do we need Fitzzzzz? I'm feeling fine!"

"Right, fine," Jim muttered, and headed for the shower, determined to keep his senses trained solely on Sandburg for the duration.

Blair began singing softly. "When there's a shine on your shoes/There's a melody in your heart..." He segued neatly into "Of Thee I Sing, Baby" and was well into "We Open in Venice" by the time Jim got out of the shower.

"Hey, Sinatra," Jim called as he headed upstairs. "Why don't you get something to eat, huh?"

"Ah, but that would require that I get up or something," Blair called back.

"I'm thinkin' that wouldn't be such a bad thing, Chief."

"Inasmuch as I'm thinking, I'm thinking I'm pretty dang comfy right where I am."

Jim sighed and gave up for the moment, dressing in silence then jogging downstairs and into the kitchen. He dug around and found the bagels, cut one and shoved it into Blair's hand. "Eat that," he ordered. "I'm calling the station."

"Thanks," Blair said and ate the bagel. "Oh, man, this is good. Did you ever really get into a bagel?"

"Just eat your breakfast," Jim said, waiting for Simon's voice mail to kick in. He left his captain a brief message, telling him he'd be in later. He didn't say why, but with Simon, he didn't have to any more. Hanging up with Simon, he leaned against the counter and watched Sandburg for a minute. Fitzgerald or no Fitzgerald, that was the question.

Blair was moving gracefully in the couch, dancing to a tune only he could hear. He began singing again, this time Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al."

"If you be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal."

Jim found himself on the verge of laughter again. Even stoned out of his mind, the kid was pretty fucking cute. Jim shrugged to himself. Well, Sandburg was feeling no pain right now, that was pretty obvious. Maybe they'd just let the drug work through his system and see how the kid felt then.

Without losing his rhythm, Blair stopped singing. "You look like a man with a problem," he said to Jim with equanimity.

"A man walks down the street, asks Why do I have a short span of attention? I've got a short little span of attention And Ohhhh, my nights are so long..."

"Well, Chief, I'm more a man who's wondering if he has a problem," Jim said, coming back in the living room and sitting down on the other couch.

Blair raised an eyebrow to prompt more. "That could be a problem in itself," he said as though he were a mighty sage dispensing wisdom.

Jim laughed, leaning back and deciding, with only a modicum of guilt, to enjoy the show for awhile. "You know it," he agreed.

"Why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?" Blair sang, then spoke again, "So what is this problem/not-problem you may or may not be having?"

"It's nothin'," Jim said, glancing at his watch. "I'm just talking."

Blair had settled down a little. "Looking at your watch, maybe having a problem, maybe not...Talk to me. I'm stoned, not brain dead."

Jim shrugged and grinned at Blair. "Come on, Sandburg, you taking requests? I'd love to hear 'Smoke Gets in My Eyes.'"

Blair shook his head as if to clear it. "They asked me how I knew...My true love was true...I of course replied, something deep inside, that cannot be denied..."

Jim laughed again, and only then realized how completely absent the act had been from their lives of late. And then he realized why he was laughing and sobered rather abruptly. He went back to the kitchen to rinse out his coffee mug.

"So what's the deal, Jim?" Blair called from the living room. "Talk to me, man."

"Really, kid, there's nothing to talk about. I guess I was just surprised to find you like this this morning."

"Yeah. I think it was a reaction to last night. All that stuff, and I was telling you stuff that makes me nervous. I love you, but it's hard to
say that to anyone."

Jim felt a warmth spread from his chest and he smirked at himself. God, he was hopeless. "I love you, too," he said quietly.

Blair grinned, then sobered up as much as he could. "It was hard to say that, like, that gives you power over me and I'm not comfortable giving away that power right now, because of what happened, you know?" Blair started playing with his hair again. His movements were unhurried and relaxed, as was his tone of voice.

Jim flinched at the uncharacteristic nonchalance. "Well, how about I try to give you back some of that power," he suggested. "We'll make the next move yours, okay? Whatever you want, or don't want, we'll leave that up to you."

"Come here," Blair said.

Jim approached the couch, stopping just in front of the kid.

Blair reached up and pulled Jim's face down to his, his hands on Jim's cheeks. Blair placed his lips against Jim's and started licking the older man's lips, nibbling at them.

Jim kissed him back, briefly, then pulled away. "Let me amend that," he said, a trace of humor in his blue eyes. "The next move, after the Ativan has left your blood stream, is yours."

"Spoilsport," Blair said amiably, making a face. "Now, however, might be a good time for you to talk. I'm too relaxed to get upset. So talk, already."

Blair was back to his hair, touching it, smelling it, tasting it while Jim regrouped his thoughts. Blair was humming softly to his hair. "Se vu ballere, Senor Contino, il chitterino l'inseignera."

Jim brushed his own hand through Blair's hair. It was shiny. And clean. "Blair, I thought we discussed it before you took a second dose of the Ativan."

"Well, it was like 3 in the morning. 1 milligram. No sleep, five hours later, still a little agitated. Really early, I don't wanna go upstairs, judgment call. It had been several hours, Jim."

"So what if it happens again tomorrow?" Jim asked. "And the next day? And the day after that? I like music as much as the next guy, Chief, but I don't want to spend my life listening to Blair Sandburg Sings the Hits of the 60's, 70's and beyond, you know?"

"Man, you are so me, Jim. I was like this with Fitz. Didn't wanna take the Ativan. He's all, take it when you need to. With my history, not too much concern about addiction. And I would have discussed it with you, Jim, but it was...well, kinda awkward."

Jim nodded, pursing his lips for a minute. "It worries me to see you like this," he said. "You're usually goin' a hundred miles an hour, your brain working almost as fast as your mouth. This worries me, Chief."

"Weird," muttered Blair placidly. "That's standard anxiety, Jim. My standard mode of being is anxiety."

Jim stopped for a moment, his head tilted to the side in confusion. "Well, not before," he clarified for Sandburg. "I'm talking about, you know, before."

"Yes, before. Anxiety harnessed in a socially acceptable fashion is still anxiety. You know, the hundred miles an hour brain/mouth thing is anxiety. I knew that ages ago. Part of the wonderful world of anxiety disorder."

"You never had an anxiety disorder," Jim scoffed.

Blair just looked at him. "Jim, anxiety and panic attacks are a pretty strong indication of anxiety disorder. As are nervous talking, and the whole rapidity of the thought process deal. It's a positive anxiety, but still anxiety."

Jim frowned and leaned forward. "I thought you were just talking, you know, helping Joel out." he said. "I never saw you have a panic attack before...well, before what happened."

"I don't get 'em that often, or at least not until now. But that is anxiety disorder, even if I managed to pass pretty well. Overall, in fact, I think it's helped more than it's hindered me."

Jim slumped back in his chair, unsure why this whole discussion was annoying him like this. It was like Sandburg was buying into everything Fitzgerald was telling him to the point of rearranging his past to agree with what was happening now. Ah hell, that probably wasn't fair. Still... Jim shook his head, feeling a rising tide of ambivalence. *Whatever* had become the watch word in his and Blair's lives these days.

"I'm sorry it bugs you to see me so mellow, especially knowing the mellow comes from a bottle and as a result of last night. But it's better than freaking, I guess," Blair offered.

"Yeah, well, I guess," Jim said. He wasn't even sure what they were talking about anymore. He got up again and shrugged. "Anyway, that's what was buggin' me." Feeling suddenly depressed, Jim returned to the kitchen and tossed out the rest of the coffee, then started washing the pot.

"Yeah, I'm not wacky about having to take these things, either. But I gotta do what I gotta do, and last night was pretty intense."

Jim nodded. "You're right," he said. "I shouldn't have said anything. You know what you're doing and you've handled it so far."

"I appreciate that you take an interest," Blair said. "I mean, this all effects you too, and I'd like your help. But some of the anxiety...ok, most of it, had to do with you, and I couldn't talk to you about taking a pill for it until after I'd taken a pill for it...Catch-22, right?"

"I said you're right, Sandburg," Jim said, still rinsing the coffee pot. "I won't mention it again."

"Come on, Jim, I'm not trying to bludgeon you here. I want you to take an active interest in my recovery, and I'm sorry that I couldn't talk to you about this while it was happening. I'm trying to talk about now, but you seem to think I'm trying to shut you out. That's not it at all."

"Maybe we should just table this for later," Jim said, closing up the bagels and putting them back in the cabinet.

"Table it for some time when I might have an anxiety attack and have to take yet another pill? Please, Jim, talk to me. Ask me what was wrong. Anything, please, Jim?"

*Ask me to tell you how you fucked up *this* time,* Jim thought to himself. Shit, he should have just gone into the office at this rate. "What's wrong?" Jim asked vaguely, leaning back against the sink, his throat feeling constricted, blocked.

"I just...miscalculated. I was testing you, thinking I had to give myself to you, right? You turned me down as always, no problem. I'm all, well, duh, he's probably no more interested in sex than you are, after what he saw. I got upstairs and find out that you are interested in sex. So then I'm spending the night going, can I do this? This isn't because I think I *have* to or anything, but because I *want* to. I'm putting all this pressure on myself. Makes me freak thinking that if I tell you this you'll think that you're pressuring me in some way, which you aren't. It's all coming from me."

Jim stood there, unsure of what to say. He shrugged helplessly at Blair. "I wish...I wish I knew what we were supposed to do," Jim said.

"I think we're supposed to talk, you know? Like you feel bad when you see me swacked out on Ativan, and wish I would talk to you before taking the pills. OK, I'll try to do that in the future. And we talk about what we feel. Like, I love you, and I want to be with you, but I'm afraid of that too. And that must make you feel something. I mean, do you want to be with me? Did you get this thing where you couldn't maintain an erection after that gruesome little scene in the warehouse? We have to talk lots, and I know that's not your favorite thing."

"I keep saying the wrong thing," Jim said. "I upset you or make you angry, you misunderstand and we keep getting nowhere," Jim said. "I make things worse, not better."

"Sometimes I feel like you don't want to hear what I have to say. You don't ask questions other than "How's it going?" I mean, you can ask me anything. Hey, let's do that! You ask me a question, anything at all, and I have to answer truthfully."

"This isn't a game, Blair," Jim said painfully.

"Well, what is it? We have to get talking. We have to try. I don't know how to get you talking. What is it?"

"Fine, I'm the one you want to talk," Jim said. "You ask the questions."

"Did what you see...the brutality of it, participants aside, did that affect your libido? Did you have any trouble with erections after that happened?"

Jim felt his face flush, an irrational surge of anger coursing through him. He took a deep breath. "Yes and yes," he said.

"OK. I knew I had trouble with that end of things...still do...nice to know I ain't the only one. Was there anything that helped you past it? Or is it ongoing?" Blair's voice was genuinely curious and compassionate.

Jim pushed away from the sink. Jesus, didn't the kid get enough of this with Fitzgerald? Discussing sexual dysfunction wasn't really what he had planned for the day. He *really* should have gone to the station. "I know you don't like to hear this," Jim said, "But in the army, you learn to compartmentalize. When something happens, something traumatic, you set it aside, hide it away. Power through it. You don't forget it, but you put it someplace where it can't touch you every day."

Blair nodded, looking interested. "Does it show up unbidden later, then? Or can you shove it down deep enough that it's not a problem?"

Jim shrugged. "My experience? So far most of the shit stays deep down. Who knows, maybe I'll climb up to the top of Wilkinson Towers with my automatic and cut loose."

Blair nodded, smiling. "Don't think that's a problem in your case. You know, when I saw you last night...I thought you looked so beautiful, but I was a bit freaked. I'm sorry I interrupted what was a private moment. But I'm also not sorry, because something in me melted at what you were doing. Wanna talk about that at all?"

Jim flushed again. "No," he said, thinking that was what had started their problems in the first place.

"OK," said Blair. "I just want to say that it turned me on, later, thinking about it. It was like I saw something secret and that made up for what you saw of me, that day. Only your secret was beautiful and noble."

Jim resisted the urge to cast his eyes upward in annoyance. Noble. Yeah right. He was jacking off, for God's sake. Jim felt a flash of panic. What the hell were they doing? Even without all the shit between them, and God knew that was damn near insurmountable, they were just so fucking different.

"I like the thought of your doing that. It turns me on. But you don't want talk about it. Hmmm...What's your big Blair fantasy? What do you want to do when I'm better and we can make love?"

*When he's better. Why do I always think of it as *if* he's better.*

"It's not what you think, Sandburg," Jim said dryly. "Probably pretty tame by your standards. I don't...I don't think of us as doing anything, mostly I just think of... of the freedom. To touch you. To hold you. To...be with you without that barrier always, constantly between us."

"So it's more like a fantasy of what life will be like, rather than a specific act or whatever?"

"Yeah."

Blair nodded. "That's what it always boils down to. Why don't we try it? Touching?"

"No," Jim said, the word coming out harsher than he intended. "Not when you're on that stuff, Blair. No. I can't do that, I'm sorry."

"Why not? This stuff is just to keep the anxiety under control."

"And make you decide that tap dancing and lounge singing are your next career moves?"

"Come on, that's just me feeling loose and silly. It doesn't change who I am."

"Blair, no. What if I...what if I touch you, and when your *relaxed* on this stuff you don't mind? And then I do it later and it upsets you?"

"What if you touch me now and we worry about later if it upsets me later? I'm still me, Jim. I'm just using a tool to help me deal with all of this. I see it as being a non-threatening way to try some touching."

Jim shook himself and moved into the living room. He carefully sat down next to Blair. "What do you want to do?" he asked.

"I want you to hold me. Please?"

Jim leaned back and held his arms open to the younger man. "Sure," he said.

Blair leaned into Jim's open arms. "Can you put your arms around me? I feel so safe here..."

Jim brought his arms around Blair, wincing briefly at the sharp contours of bone. "I'm glad" he said, and kissed the top of Blair's head.

Blair sighed, leaning his ear against Jim's chest. "I can hear your heart," he whispered. "I can smell you. You smell great. And you're warm and solid. I love you, Jim."

"I love you, too," Jim said and tightened his hold.

"Jim? Do you think you could kiss me? I'll be sure to let you know if I can't handle it..."

Jim knew it was pointless to protest. So far he'd ended up doing everything Blair wanted anyway. Not that complying with the request was all that difficult. Jim leaned down and pressed his lips to Blair's.

Blair moaned and wiggled against Jim. "Feels so good," he whispered against Jim's lips. "You?"

"Great," Jim whispered back. Kissing the tip of Blair's nose and settling the kid more comfortably against him.

"I like that. Kiss my face some more, Jim?"

Jim grinned and obliged like always. He kissed Blair's nose again, then his left eyebrow, then his right. He kissed Blair's cheek, then nibbled along his jawline, stopping to let his tongue play with Blair's earrings. "You're so beautiful," Jim whispered. "I can't believe how beautiful you are. You wanted to talk about...about last night and what I was thinking and what it means. But there aren't words to describe it. You're just the most beautiful person I've ever known. You're almost...unreal to me sometimes."

"I could listen to this all day," Blair sighed happily. "Detective Ellison, you may well turn my head!" Blair kissed the tip of his nose.

Jim laughed and felt some of his earlier good humor returning. "You fit perfectly right here," Jim said, "You notice that? How your body fits perfectly against mine? I like that." He nuzzled into Blair's air, sniffing deeply and grinning to himself.

"Meant to be," Blair muttered, squirming against Jim. "How 'bout some more kissin', hmmm? Maybe even, if you're feeling daring, a bit of tongue?"

Jim laughed again. "Jeez, Sandburg, how about allowing for a little bit of spontaneity here?" But he readily covered Blair's mouth and slid his tongue inside, shuddering at the warmth he found there.

Blair shivered against him, his tongue lightly caressing Jim's. Blair's hand reached up to the back of Jim's neck, toying with the short hairs he found there.

"Oh yeah!" Jim breathed into Blair's mouth, shifting Blair on top of him, and diving back toward those full lips. His hand slid down, over Blair's ass, around to his hip, shoving the kid over and moaning as the pressure hit his growing erection.

Blair moved against him, then suddenly stilled as he realized that Jim was hard. Blair, completely still, looked into Jim's eyes, his own eyes unreadable. "Jim?" he queried softly.

Jim licked his lips, "Yeah?" he asked.

Blair rubbed himself experimentally against Jim. "That what I think it is?" he asked softly.

Jim grinned, arching against the caress. "Depends on what you think it is," he teased.

"I think it's a hard cock," Blair said, rubbing against him again. "I think you're hard."

"For you," Jim said, tenderly. "Only for you." He slid his hand up behind Blair's head and pulled him in for another kiss.

Blair accepted the kiss; returned it with tender reverence. He writhed against Jim again, his motions working his body against Jim's erection. "Like that," Blair muttered into Jim's mouth. "That feel good?"

"Jesus, you have no idea," Jim said, with a grunt, lunging up to increase the pressure.

Blair's motions picked up in speed and pressure. "That what you want?" Blair asked, capturing Jim's mouth in a quick, wet kiss.

"Yes!" Jim huffed, nipping at Blair's neck. "Want you, want this."

Blair groaned at the feel of Jim's teeth on his neck. He latched onto Jim's ear with his lips, began outlining it with his tongue. Meanwhile, he continued to increase the pressure on Jim's erection. "Tell me," he whispered against Jim's ear. "Tell me you need me. Say my name when you come."

"Want you," Jim groaned. "Need you. Always needed you. Always will. Oh, God, Blair! Blair!"

"I love you, Jim," Blair muttered against Jim's earlobe. "In love with you...it's so strong...feel how strong..." Blair ground his hip hard and fast against Jim's cock, as if willing the older man to come. "Love you," Blair repeated.

Another grunt and Jim came. "Blair!" he whispered when it was over. "Blair."

Blair held Jim as he panted in exhilaration and release. "Jim, that was beautiful. Even if I couldn't, you know, but still, it was wonderful to share that with you. I love you, Jim, so much."

"I love you too," Jim said. "You're so beautiful, Blair. God, holding you, kissing you, it's more than I ever thought I'd have. I can't believe you're here with me."

Blair looked worried. "Is it OK that I didn't get hard or anything?"

"It's okay," Jim said drowsily, wondering idly if coming wasn't a little bit like taking a shot or two of Ativan. He blinked a couple of times, and shook his head to clear it. "It was...I loved it, Blair. Was it...Do *you* feel okay about it?"

"Yeah," Blair said with a smile. "The kissing was great, but when I felt your hard-on, I got a little bit afraid. Then I looked at you and it was like, 'It's *Jim*.' I worked past my fear in about point two seconds."

Jim smiled. "I'm glad," he said, then hugged Blair hard. "Man, am I glad!" He kissed Blair's cheek. "I'm also a mess, here Chief. Mind if I clean up?"

"Can we just sit for a couple of more minutes? I feel like, wrung out. I've got this pressure in me, like I should be able to get hard, too. I'm trying to remind myself not to put so much damn pressure on myself, but it's not easy for a classic overachiever like myself," Blair said with a wry grin.

Jim grimaced in discomfort at the sticky wetness of his pants, but dutifully rearranged them on the couch, still holding Blair close. "I love you," Jim said, running his hand up and down Blair's back. "Holding you is...it's more than I ever thought possible. Kissing you is heaven. Loving you, telling you I love you is like...every wet dream of mine come true."

"Hey!" Blair said. "You've had wet dreams about saying 'I love you'?" Blair sounded intrigued by the thought.

Jim chuckled. "This is why I don't talk, Sandburg," he said wryly. "Let it go."

"I don't get that not talking thing," Blair said. "I mean, are you embarrassed or something?" Blair wiggled against Jim, kissed him softly on the lips.

"I'm not gonna lie here with you finally, *finally* in my arms and talk about why I don't want to talk."

"OK," said Blair agreeably. "What do you want to talk about lying here with me finally, *finally* in your arms?"

Jim laughed. "Mmm, I want to talk about the Jags chances for winning the playoffs," he said dreamily.

"You wanna try to compound this miracle with another?" Blair asked. Then, more hesitantly, "I know this bugs you, Jim, but right now I need a lot of reassurance. Can you manage?"

"Reassurance how?" Jim asked, pulling back to look Blair in the eye.

"That you love me. That you'll look after us. That you liked what I did and didn't mind too much that it was a one way street. That you're looking forward to the day when I'm better. That and a hundred other things. That you think I have the strength to get past this. That someday you can take me, tenderly, gently, show me how much you love me."

"Oh Blair, shit," Jim huffed, gently pulling Blair's head down to rest on his chest. "I love you, Baby. And I loved what we did. And I can't wait for the day that I can pay you back, when I can help you feel this kind of pleasure. And I know it will happen some day, and when it does, we'll show each other how we feel. And it will be beautiful. Just like you."

"Yeah, Jim," Blair said, voice husky with tears held in check. "That's what I mean. And I want, someday, to be able to turn my back to you, let you inside me where no one has been invited before. Feel you there, a part of me, our fingers intertwined as you slide gently in and out of me..."

"We will," Jim said, embarrassed at the sudden huskiness of his voice. "I want to show you how gentle I can be with you, Baby. I want to show you how...how reverent I can be. I want to be...to be worthy of a gift like that. And it will be a gift. I'll accept it as one. I'll never hurt you, Baby, you know that right? I'll spend my life keeping you as safe as I can. Loving you as much as I can."

"I know you'll be gentle, Jim," Blair said, and began to paint a word picture of their coming together, a picture to replace the ugly image in his mind. "We'd kiss like forever. And then you'd whisper my name, a question, and I'd say, 'Yes, Jim, it's time, I love you.' Then you'll turn me over, running your hands all over me, and then what? What would you do next, Jim?"

Jim settled down into the couch, lazily stroking up and down Blair's back. "And then I'd kiss your shoulder blades," Jim said. "Kiss a path down your back, run my tongue from one side of your ass to the other, test your opening, and smile when you jumped--it surprises you that I did that. You didn't think I would. And we both kind of laugh, and then you settle down again. And this time, this first time, I prepare myself, and you watch, so you know it's not going to hurt, that I won't hurt you."

"You start slowly," Blair said dreamily. "You're telling me everything you're doing as you go. Tell me, Jim?"

"I take my first finger, well lubed now, 'cause I've already prepared myself, and I tell you, I'm going to start inside you. You'll feel a pressure, maybe a little uncomfortable at first, but it won't hurt. And it doesn't. That's me, inside you, and it feels good, Blair."

"Yes," Blair whispered. "I'm moving against you, I love you for talking to me, telling me what to expect. I ask what comes next."

"And I tell you how great you're doing, how wonderful you feel. And then, I take my finger out and you moan, Blair. You feel lost without me, without that one finger inside you. And I tell you not to worry, and this time I come back with two fingers. And there's more pressure this time, but it feels right, and now I'm stretching you, coating the walls with lube to make it good for you."

"It is good. I want to know how you feel, Jim. Is this making you hard? Is it hard to hold back, make the sacrifice so that it's as good for me as it can be? And I'm moving against your hand as I ask, and my head is rolling back and forth because I can't believe I'm finally with my lover the way I've never been with anyone else..."

"Oh no, Blair, this is the easiest thing I've ever done. I'm so hot for you, seeing you open yourself to me like this, knowing you trust me. I'm listening to your heartbeat you know, making sure this is what you want. And I love you so much right then, that I know it's going to be wonderful. There isn't any room anywhere for it to be anything but. Three fingers now, Baby. Three fingers, and it startles you at first. Doesn't scare you, but it startles you. It's so tight, and I'm groaning Blair, I want you so bad, and you feel so hot and so tight and then you relax into him, and you take all three fingers and you're gasping now and then you say, 'more, Jim. I want more,' and then I know you're ready."

"I am," Blair gasped. "I am ready. Ready to be a part of you. Ready for you to be a part of me. But always tell me what you're doing, please, Jim. I never want to forget who it is who makes me feel so good, who I love so much."

"I won't forget. I love you so much, Baby. I can't help saying it over and over again. And now I guide my cock inside you. I go slow, too slow, and you tell me to hurry and that makes me smile and I tell you we have forever and you push back a little, just a little, to prove to me how ready you are. And you're so hot around my cock, and you groan because I'm filling you, and the pressure is enormous, and it's like nothing you've ever felt before. Nothing, Baby. I'm all the way inside you now. And you feel that pressure from the inside out. I'm lying on top of you, all my weight is resting on you and we just stop. For a minute, everything is still, and all I hear is you panting for me."

"I'm staring at the wall, and I reach out with my hands. I ask you to hold my hands. I feel you so heavy on my back and it's like reassurance come to life. I know you'll have to move soon, and that's OK because you'll tell me first, and I'll want you to, but first I ask you to hold my hands and I tell you I love you..."

"And I weave my fingers through yours. I love your hands, do you know that? They're beautiful, graceful. Gentle. I love your hands, Baby. But now it's time to move and I nose the hair away from your neck and kiss you and whisper in your ear, 'I love you, Baby, I'm going to love you.' And I start moving, and I slide nearly all the way out of you and glide back in. Slide out, glide in. The pressure eases somewhat and you relax even more and then I tell you I'm going to brush against your prostate, and you ask me how you'll know when it happens and I laugh, because then I do it and you shout out loud and laugh and say, 'again, Jim! Again!'"

"God, I can't even imagine, because you know I haven't...But it's you, Jim, always you, so I know I love what you're making me feel..."

"You're shaking in my arms," Jim continued, "You want it to last forever, you want it to be over, we're so connected, it's overpowering, but so right, Baby. It's so right. And you're groaning and I've never heard anything so hot in my life and it's going to be any second now."

"I'm scared, Jim. Nothing could feel this good, but I know more is going to happen and I need to know it's happening with you, and I'm afraid it will be too much."

Jim held Blair tighter, gently reaching for Blair's hand, weaving his other into Blair's curls and massaging his scalp. "I'm calling your name, over and over again, saying your name, moaning it, crying it. Saying your name like I've wanted to for so long. And you know it's me, Baby. You know it's me and that I love you, because I can't stop telling you. I love you, I love you."

"I love you so much; I'm praying it's enough to get past the fear. I want it so much, and feels so good, but I can't move and you're starting to move fast, almost too fast..." Blair moved restlessly in Jim's arms as he spoke.

"And I hear your heart beat," Jim whispered. "And I feel your temperature spike, and I know I have to slow down, and I do. I slow down and I whisper in your ear, 'This is me, and I love you. Let me show you how much.' And I take it slower now, and your heart rate slows and I feel you relax and you say, 'Show me, Jim,' and I do."

"You're being so gentle," Blair said with wonder. "You've slowed that so you're barely moving. Your breathing is harsh in my ear, and I can feel your sweat, but still you're not moving. For me."

"For you," Jim agreed, and kissed Blair's temple. "And a little bit for me," he said good-naturedly, whispering softly directly into Blair's ear. "I love being inside you. It's the safest, most dearest place to me, and I'm in no hurry to leave. So I slow down and for a moment, we're both very still."

Blair looked up at Jim, hesitation written in every line of his face. "I don't know when I can move again."

"That's okay," Jim said, smiling gently. "When I know you're calm again, I'll tell you, 'move if it feels right, when it feels right,' and I'll start again, slowly, and you'll sense the rhythm and you'll join me,
perfectly."

"But I'm worried. What if I'm not perfect? Can I do this? And I'm afraid to say anything, because as scary and beautiful as this is, stopping it would be a million times worse."

"Sweetheart, I'll know if you can't go on. I'm a Sentinel, remember? Your Sentinel. And you're my Guide, and I'll *know.* And when it happens, when we're both ready for it to happen, you might still be worried, but you won't be afraid to say anything. You'll know you can tell me anything."

"I don't want you to stop this time, Jim. I'm finally ready to defeat the fear and accept the pleasure." Blair squirmed in Jim's embrace. "I can move against you now. I'm moving against you."

Jim smiled, "We fit perfectly this way, too, Baby. It's so right, and it feels so good to show you how I've felt for so long, and I start preparing you, telling you I'll be coming soon, warning you, and you want me to, you ask me too, for you, you ask me to do it for you and I do, Blair. I come for you, just like you ask me to."

"Hey, what about me? You gonna let me come?" Blair asked, rubbing against Jim. "You noisy, do you thrash, what?"

Jim laughed. "Let's just say the rafters might need to be reinforced when I'm through."

"And I can't ever forget that it's you, can I, Jim?" Blair asked, wrapping his arms around Jim.

"Never," Jim said, holding on tight. "There'll only ever be me from now on. It will only ever be me."

Blair settled against Jim. "It's gonna be beautiful." Blair's voice was a determined promise.

"Yeah," Jim agreed. "It will be."

"It's OK if it takes awhile, right, Jim? I mean, it's pretty intense..." Blair's voice trailed off.

"It's okay," Jim said. "We've got a lifetime and no deadlines. We'll wait until it's right for both of us."

"What if it doesn't happen at all?"

Jim was quiet. The question deserved some thought, and he was learning that his patented gut responses were not what Blair was looking for. "I really think it will," Jim said slowly. "But if it doesn't, it won't be the end of the world. We'll find other ways to be close to one another."

"I wouldn't have even asked once," Blair mused. "I would have assumed that if I couldn't do it, we wouldn't. I have *got* to get my will back," he said tiredly.

"You will," Jim said.

Blair smiled. "As it were," he teased. For a long time afterward, neither felt it necessary to speak. Holding each other was enough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few days later, after dinner, Jim settled on the couch only to be joined by a wiggly, squirmy Blair.

"Wanna neck?" Blair asked unnecessarily, having himself just latched onto Jim's face with his lips and tongue.

Jim slipped his hand through Blair's hair to cup the back of his head and direct Blair's lips to his own. He teased Blair's mouth open with his tongue, then slipped inside his willing mouth.

When they broke apart, they were both breathing hard. "Isn't there some rule about no strenuous exercise for 30 minutes after you eat?" Jim asked, blue eyes dancing with amusement.

"Rules? I know not of this earth thing you call 'rules'," Blair answered, and presented his face in a classic Kiss Me pose. Jim could not resist the opportunity to explore Blair's mouth with his own. Before long, Jim was breathing heavily and his cock was hard. "God, Blair, what you do to me," he moaned against the younger man's mouth. His lips felt Blair's answering smile.

"Stick around and find out," Blair invited.

It wasn't long before Jim could no longer be satisfied with kissing. He pulled Blair into his lap, grinding his erection against Blair's hip.

"God!" Jim exclaimed at the pressure. "Need this...need you," he muttered, running his hands along Blair's back.

Blair was moving against him, motions designed to excite Jim. Motions that were working all too well.

"God, you're so hot, Blair, so fucking hot," Jim moaned, sweat bursting from his pores. "Oh yeah, Baby, like that. Just like that."

Blair writhed against him. "This working for you, Jim?" he asked, his voice steady.

Jim grabbed one of Blair's hands and shoved it on top of his erection. "What do you think, Chief?" he rasped.

"Guess so," Blair muttered back. He unzipped and unbuttoned and generally shoved cloth aside to touch Jim with no impediment.

Jim groaned, arching up and into the hand Blair wrapped around his cock. "Harder," he said, eyes closed, head back. "Come on, babe. Harder!"

Blair complied, starting to stroke Jim with a deliberate rhythm.

Jim helped, thrusting his hips in time. With a grunt, he pushed Blair onto his side against the back of the couch. Now he could lunge more firmly into Blair's hand. Jim licked his lips and looked down at Blair, expecting to see the same look of wanton desire on the kid's face.

Blair's eyes were squeezed shut, and his lips were moving soundlessly.

"Let me hear you, babe," Jim whispered. "I want to hear you!"

"This SIlent WAR of LIlies AND rosES/Which TARquin VIEW'd in HER fair FACE's FIELD/In THEIR pure RANKS his TRAItor EYE enCLOSES," Blair muttered.

Jim started, his vehement, "Fuck!" echoing in the loft before he could think to stop it.

Blair increased the tempo of both his hand and his recitation, nodding tersely.

Jim cried out, a mixture of shock and horror and, to his profound shame, intense desire. "Shit, stop it, Sandburg!" he moaned, perilously close to the edge. "Stop it!"

"RathER than TRIumph IN so FALSE a FOE," Blair continued, wringing desire from Jim's cock.

Jim struggled to untether himself from Blair's hold. Grunting and panting as he did so, Jim felt bile rising at the back of his throat. "God damn you, I told you to stop!" he thundered, shoving himself off the couch and landing on the floor with a thud.

Blair ignored his command, following him to the floor, blindly reaching for Jim's cock.

Jim moaned, wailing in sorrow. He shoved Blair off of him and struggled back, groping to pull up his shorts.

"Gotta finish," Blair muttered, impeding Jim's movements to cover himself, latching on to Jim's cock with determination. "Finish, dammit," Blair added, stroking with determination.

This time, Jim pushed him away with a roar of pure rage, unaware of his strength. "Damn you, Sandburg!" he groaned, on his knees, doubled over as if mortally wounded. "God damn you!"

Blair tumbled backward, then crawled toward Jim again, reaching to take Jim's cock in his mouth.

Knowing what Blair was doing, knowing where he was, Jim knew he should handle the kid lightly, but rage clouded his judgment. Jim grabbed Blair by the shoulders and hauled him away from his task. "You listen to me and you listen good, Sandburg!" Jim growled. "I am not some fucking rapist to be *serviced,* do you hear me? Do you hear me?"

Blair moaned. "Have to," he muttered. "Have to finish you."

"The only thing you have to do is get off me!" Jim said, heaving Blair to the side and stalking to the bathroom.

Blair moaned, sprawling backward against the edge of the couch.

"This EARTHly SAINT, aDORed BY this DEVil, LITtle SUSpectED the FALSE worSHIPper..."

Jim slammed the door shut, cursing his Sentinel hearing.

"FOR unSTAIN'd THOUGHTS do SELdom DREAM on Evil..."

With a grunt, he lowered his boxers and proceeded to take care of his erection.

"BIRDS nevER lim'D no SECret BUSHes FEAR: So GUILTless SHE seCUREly GIVES good CHEER..."

Noticing his strokes matched the rhythm of Blair's words, Jim altered them, rushing himself to orgasm.

"And REVeREND welCOME to HER princeLY guest, Whose INward ILL no OUTward HARM exPRESS'd..."

Disgusted with himself, he quickly rinsed his hands and wiped himself off. He splashed water on his face over and over again, scrubbing at his face until it hurt.

"For THAT he COlour'D with HIS high eSTATE..."

Jesus they were so fucked up! So fucked up! What the fuck was happening here?

"HidING base SIN in PLAITS of MAJeY; MAJeSTY That NOTHing IN him SEEM'd INordINate, SAVE someTIME the WONder OF his EYE..."

Moaning, Jim slid to the floor, leaning against the bathroom door and listening helplessly to his broken...God, what was Blair to him anymore? Lover? Guide? Friend? Listening to Blair disintegrate.

"Which, HAVing ALL, all COULD not SATisFY; But POORly RICH, so WANTeth IN his STORE That CLOY'd WITH much HE pinETH still FOR more..."

Unconsciously rocking in time to Blair's words, Jim coached himself away from the threatening memories. *Okay Ellison, both of you can't fucking fall apart here. Get your head on straight. Calm down. Fucking calm down and deal with the situation.*

"But SHE, that NEVer COP'd WITH strangER eyes, Could PICK NOMEANING FROMTHEIRPARLING
LOOKSNORREADTHESUBTLESHININGSECRECIESWRITINTH EGLASSYMARGENTSOFSUCHBOOKSSHETOUCH'DNOUNKN OWNBAITSNORDFEAR'DNOHOOKSNORCOULDSHEMORALIZ EHISWANTONSIGHTMORETHENHISEYESWEREOPEN'DTOTH ELIGHT!"

Blair's tumble of words reached a crescendo, then...silence.

Jim was on his feet when the words stopped, the sudden silence ominous amidst their pounding hearts. *You're the strong one here, Ellison. You've gotta handle this!* he told himself. He opened the door, dreading what he would find on the other side.

Blair was sobbing, tears rolling down his cheeks as his fist pounded the couch.

Jim went to the kitchen, retrieving Blair's medication and a glass of water. He set them on the counter, then grabbed a blanket from the foot of Blair's bed and brought it into the living room.

Blair had already calmed down. His sobs were quieting, no longer choked and rushed. He had stopped pounding the couch, but was still rocking back and forth.

Jim ventured toward him with the blanket, setting it in front of him within easy reach, then sitting down several feet away.

"Christ," Blair choked out. "What the hell happened?" He reached for the blanket with trembling hands.

"Flashback?" Jim suggested quietly.

"I guess," Blair mumbled as he wrapped the blanket around him. "Last I remember, we were eating dinner. What the hell happened?"

Jim's shoulders slumped, and he suddenly jumped up, feeling sick again. Jesus, Blair didn't remember anything since dinner? Since dinner? "Aw, Christ," Jim muttered, suddenly roaming the loft with restless energy.

"What is it, Jim? What did I do this time?"

"Not you!" Jim managed to grind out. "Me, Sandburg! This was all my *FUCKING* clueless fault!"

"Huh? That's my line, Jim," Blair said, reaching for the water but not the medication.

"God, I'm sorry, Sandburg!" Jim said, moving forward to touch the kid, then backing off like Blair was radioactive. "Ah, Jesus, I'm sorry, I didn't know! Christ, you have to realized I didn't know!"

"Didn't know what? Jim, what's going on here?"

Deep breaths were out of the question as Jim paced around the loft, the walls seeming to move in closer and closer as he moved. "Oh God, I can't believe I did this, I can't believe I'd be so *stupid!*" Jim muttered to himself. "I gotta get out of here! God, when I think what I could've done..."

"Don't leave me here!" Blair shouted in unthinking panic. "They'll come back! Jim, they'll come back!"

Back turned to Blair, Jim suddenly froze. Oh man, idiocy on top of idiocy. Add thoughtlessness to the list of his glowing attributes this evening. *Calm the fuck down, Ellison,* he warned himself. He managed a breath, then another. "I'm sorry, Blair," he said, a shade more calmly. "I'm not going anywhere. Give me...give me a second here, okay? I'm going out on the balcony for a sec, okay? Just for a second. I'll be right back."

Blair had started rocking again. "Don't be long. They'll be here soon, Jim. We have to be ready."

Jim allowed the cool night air to help calm him down. Dinner. The last thing the kid remembered was dinner. That meant the whole time...on the couch, when they were kissing, when they were touching, Blair thought he was earning his keep, paying for the food he'd eaten, for the room he slept in. Jim shook his head, letting it fall to his hands on the concrete barrier. And he didn't even know it! What did that make him? What kind of man was he?

Blair was sitting on the couch, calmer. "Jim?" Blair called tentatively to the balcony. "It's OK, I remember now. I know they aren't coming."

Shuddering, knowing he was unprepared to deal with this, Jim nonetheless set his shoulders and came back inside. Eyeing the medication still on the counter, Jim asked, "Blair? Do you want this?"

"Yeah," Blair said. "As many as you'll let me take. Whatever went down, I'm still feeling pretty goddamn shaky, and that's a fact."

Jim doled out two pills and held them out to Blair. "Sit down," he said gently, arranging the blanket around Blair's thin shoulders. Jim sat down on the chair, across from him, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "After dinner, we were, ah, on the couch," Jim said slowly. "Kissing. Messing around. I guess we, uh, well, I let it get out of hand."

Blair chewed the pills and took a sip of water. "Messing around?" he asked dubiously.

Jim flushed. "Kissing," he repeated. "You were on top of me and touching me, you know? And it felt so good, Jesus, Blair, you have no idea, and I was...I thought we were, you know, together on this, and things just kind of escalated, I'm just so fucking sorry, Sandburg. So ashamed of myself here."

Blair shifted on the couch as if testing something. He touched his jaw, his mouth. "Um, what happened? I'm not feeling anything wrong..."

Jim sighed. "I got an erection," he said looking at his hands. "You were rubbing against me and I wanted you... I *made* you touch me."

"What do you mean, made me?" Blair asked quietly.

"I took your hand," Jim said, his voice suddenly dry, eyes decidedly not. "I...I put it on my cock."

"Against my will? I was struggling, protesting?" Blair's questions were disbelieving.

"No!" Jim said. "But you weren't...Christ, Sandburg, you weren't you! You don't even fucking remember any of it! I grabbed your hand and then, you were in my pants and I was...I was ordering you, telling you...harder and-and-and Jesus, I didn't even notice anything was wrong!"

"But something was wrong," Blair said. "I wasn't me, and you didn't realize...Oh, Christ, Jim, what a fucking mess. I finally pushed you too far, didn't I? I finally found the limit."

Jim looked over at Blair with stricken eyes. "I'm so sorry, Chief. So fucking sorry. I'd do anything to take this back, to do it over again. Do you...do you want me to leave? Say the word and I'll have Banks and Taggart over here, I mean it!"

Blair's head rolled back and he stared at the ceiling. "Let's think about this for a minute, Jim. OK, so we were making out, touching. You put my hand on you, I jacked you off until you came, but I was in a flashback, which fact you didn't realize. That it?"

Jim grimaced. "No, not...not exactly," he admitted. "I was...I was pushing you, you know? Trying to get you to...well, anyway, you were...you talkin' to yourself and I wanted to hear what you were saying so I told you I wanted to hear you. And then you were, you know, with that poetry and I knew what was happening."

"And then...what? You made keep going?" Blair still didn't believe.

"I didn't!" Jim said, running his hand over his short hair. "I mean, I tried to break it off, but you thought you *had* to do it, you know? Keep at me. And I kept sayin' no, and I kept telling you to back off, but I finally had to shove you away."

Blair nodded. "That sounds a little more plausible. So you managed to spurn my advances?"

Jim frowned. "I was yellin' at you, Blair. Practically screaming at you. I shook you and shoved you around *twice.*"

"Oh, *twice*," Blair said. "That explains why you aren't taking me in your warmly protective embrace even now. Jim, what aren't you telling me? I mean, so far it's we were necking, touching, and then you checked in to see where I was, realized I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, did what you could to put an end to it...Why the guilt? We've been through this before."

Jim shook his head at Blair's recitation of events. "What if I *hadn't* checked in?" he wondered aloud. "God, what if I'd let you...what if I'd gotten *off*?"

"You did, Jim. You wouldn't *not* check in. And I didn't even know it was you, apparently."

Jim carefully moved over to the couch Blair was sitting on. "It kills me to think of losing your trust," he said quietly. "Right now, it's just about the only fucking thing that matters to me, and it kills me to think I've blown it."

Blair leaned toward Jim. "I trust you, Jim. I didn't believe what you were telling me. I knew it was your guilt making things sound so bad."

Jim sighed, feeling again the oppressive fatigue that was his nearly constant companion. "Me, overreacting, huh Chief?" he said quietly. "Huh. What are the odds?"

"Me overreacting," Blair protested. "Earlier today, I got home early, went to take a nap. I was thinking about us, and wanting so bad to get hard. It wasn't happening no matter what I did, what I thought about. I felt like such a failure. So...helpless. Powerless. I want my dick back, man. I want it all back." Blair sipped some water thoughtfully. "That's probably what made me do what I did," he added quietly, looking away. "I just feel so...well, impotent."

"Right before I came to you, before my senses went nuts, I thought maybe...maybe Carolyn and I were going to give it another go," Jim said, eyeing Blair nervously.

"Yeah?" Blair only looked puzzled.

"When everything started going off the charts, I couldn't get it up, you know? Or if I did get an erection, I couldn't hold it. Carolyn wasn't exactly...helpful about it. Oh, I got a couple, 'this happens to everyone' speeches, but after awhile, she just thought I was two- timing her or something. I know how bad this sucks, okay?"

Blair hunched his shoulders. "Could you...you know, jack off?"

Jim shrugged and looked embarrassed. "Sort of," he admitted. "Set all sorts of speed records. It was pretty frustrating. I didn't really try much."

"No wonder you were so cranky," Blair said with a smile. "God, Jim, I've never had this before. Well, there was one time when I was too drunk. But this...man, every time...and the worst part is the dreams."

Jim matched his smile. "Dreaming of the never-ending erection?" he asked. "The gift that just keeps on giving?"

Blair shook his head. "Nah. Worse than that. You know how guys who are impotent because of psychological stuff usually still pop one at least once a night while they sleep?"

Jim shrugged his 'if you say so" shrug.

"Well, some nights I know I do. Because I'm dreaming about being in the warehouse, and they're raping me...and then I come. And I wake up, the sheets are sticky, and they've made me come for them."

"Oh God, Blair," Jim said, reaching up as if to keep his heart from being torn out of his chest. "Shit, that's awful! Jesus, what does Fitzgerald say about that?"

Blair shrugged. "That it's common. That it happens to most rape victims, male and female both. That my brain is trying to process conflicting information, my body's physical reactions and my brain's memories of the last time I had sex."

"So fucking clinical," Jim scoffed. "Does that help? God! Can anything help?"

"I guess it helps. I mean, at first I thought I was really fucking sick. Like I could only do it if it was rape or something. But Fitz helped me remember that I didn't like it in the least when it really happened. And it certainly doesn't do anything for me to think of it when I'm awake. When it's happening in my sleep, it's goddamn horrible. There's orgasm, but no relief." Blair sipped the last of his water. "Do you dream about it? About that time?"

"A couple of times," Jim said, and looked embarrassed again. "Pretty much revisionist history crap. Breaking out of the chains, saving the day kind of shit. Jesus, how fucking petty is that, huh?"

"Wish fulfillment," Blair said wistfully. "Not petty at all. God, Jim...I probably shouldn't ask this, but do you, you know, do it much?"

"Dream?" Jim asked, with feigned innocence.

"Jack off," Blair clarified. "I mean, did you do it much before? Do you do it less now?"

Jim shrugged and chose his words carefully. "I don't know what's considered a lot," he said. "Before, I jacked off because I wanted you and didn't know if I'd ever have you; and now I jack off because I want you and I'm not sure when it will happen for us. Different reasons for the desire...Blair, do you remember talking about compartmentalizing what I saw? Putting it away? To me, nothing that happened to you had anything to do with sex. It was the most viscous kind of victimization there is. It was about breaking both of us, and that's as far away from sex as I can imagine."

"Did it make you not able to for awhile? I can't seem to separate it out from sex myself, but then it was a little different for me."

Jim's smile was gentle. "I'm starting to wonder about your stamina, kid," he said. "Look, a lot of things make me 'not able to' for awhile. Jesus, after we tangled with Lash, I was out of commission for awhile there. When Jack disappeared, after Danny died...I think that's pretty normal after trauma."

"I couldn't, you know, after we found that Lash victim. It's never lasted this long, though. I'm just wondering about the compartmentalization thing. Was it immediate, or did you have to work at it, to separate out your feelings about me and about sex from what they did to us?"

"Pretty immediate," Jim said, and looked vaguely apologetic. "Blair, I've had feelings for you since...I swear, since just about the first time I saw you. And I've wanted to have sex with you for *most* of that time. Those feelings were already well established before this happened."

Blair nodded. "And when this happened, what then?"

"What do you mean? About what?"

"Well, what did you think? In that compartment where you put that experience, what was going on there?"

"I don't know what you're getting at," Jim said honestly. "There's nothing to think about. We were victimized. They brutalized you, raped you and made me watch. Some sick, twisted, deranged part of them got off on that. We survived it and have to get past it. I haven't looked any deeper than that, Blair. I didn't then, and I haven't since."

"I'm just trying to figure out how you *do* that," Blair said. "It's all mixed up in my head. I can't seem to separate what happened then from what's happening now. It's left me impotent, unable to express my sexuality in a positive way with the man I love. Did you go through that kind of period afterward? Where you'd try to jack off or whatever and then you were back there? I understand about the compartments, man. I just want some of my own."

"Ten years in the military," Jim said with another shrug. "I'm not sure I can tell you how I do it, God knows I wish I could. What you're describing never happened to me, but, I don't know, maybe I know my limitations better than you. I didn't really try to jack off after it happened."

"Me neither," said Blair. "I didn't even want to think about it. The thought of trying to made me feel sick. Then the dreams started, and I still wake up from them wanting to throw up. But now it's important to me because I know you want to, and I can't, but I really want us to have that closeness. Intimacy."

"I want that too," Jim said, leaning in close. "But Blair, I've wanted it for almost two years, and I'm still here, aren't I? Just because we haven't taken that final step doesn't mean we aren't close. Hell, it doesn't even mean we're not intimate! We'll get there, I know we will."

Blair smiled. "Yeah, I know. Even without sex, we'll get there. But I want to be normal again so bad, Jim. At least as close as I ever get. I'm such an overachiever. It just feels weird, you know, that this bothers me so much that I can't be with you, and you're able to see past the obvious to truth that what they did wasn't about sex or love or us at all."

"You expect so much from yourself," Jim said, brushing his hand through Blair's hair. "You push so hard, about everything, all the time. What's that Fitzgerald's always saying? Let yourself feel, let yourself heal? Some other rhyming slogan of his?"

"Man, I nearly lost it when he asked me what the difference is between a human being and a human doing. All I could think of was Bart Simpson saying, 'This is a human going'." Blair paused, smiling,
then grew serious again. "Jim, can I ask you something? It's not about the
rape, at least not directly."

"Sure, anything."

"Jim, did you ever make love to a man?"

Jim bit his lip and leaned back on the couch. It wasn't a question he was expecting. "I've fooled around some," he said.

"Yeah?" Blair asked, all curiosity. "Tell, man, tell! Petting? Blow jobs? More?"

Jim chuckled at Blair's wide blue eyes. "Yes, yes, yes," he said, and was foolishly proud of the stunned look on Blair's face. *Surprised, you, didn't I, kid?*

"More?" Blair's eyes were round. "You mean, you've...Jesus, Jim, that's more than just 'fooled around some.' Did you, um, you know...anything anal?"

Jim made a face, more like a grimace than anything. He'd been surprised by what he considered Blair's romanticized take on sex, and now he felt a little ashamed that he had not always viewed it that way. "Yeah, I've had a few partners I went all the way with," Jim said, surprised he found it so easy to discuss with Blair. "It was awhile ago, and I can't really call it making love."

"Hot damn!" Blair exclaimed, looking like he'd hit the Comstock Lode. "Top or bottom," Blair demanded.

Jim knew better than to expect divine intervention, but he still looked heavenward for a minute. He made a show of thinking it over, then opened a single eye and watched Blair's response. "Top, top, top, bottom, top, top, if I remember correctly," he said with a trace of humor.

Blair laughed out loud. "Wow! Only bottom once?"

"What can I say, Chief. I'm a throwback, remember?"

Blair snickered again. "Christ, Jim, this is amazing. Did you like it that way, or was it a 'let's not do *that* again' kind of thing?"

"I like topping better," Jim said. "It's not like any of the relationships ever progressed to the 'let's discuss how we're going to do this stage,' you know?"

"Yeah," agreed Blair. "If it was like six times, total, then I can see how that would apply." Blair got up and got some more water. "So, maybe that's part of it," he ventured. "I mean, I had nothing to compare it to. You *know* it can be a pleasurable thing."

"Yeah, I guess so," Jim said, watching him leaning against the counter.

"I'm pretty relieved, actually," Blair added with a smile. "When we do that, it'll be an enormous asset if one of us knows what the hell he's doing."

Jim laughed unexpectedly. "Like you won't have read every book you can get your hands on," he said good-naturedly. "The boy scouts have nothing on you."

"That's book larnin'," Blair said. "You've got the, um...inside scoop, as it were. Did you do ever do it with someone you cared about? Did Carolyn ever, you know, use anything on you?

"Carolyn? Uh, that would be 'no,'" Jim said, shaking his head and grinning at the idea. "I wasn't real comfortable with having those kind of feelings for guys. I never let anyone get too close. I cared, but just...well, nothing like the way I care for you."

Blair's smile was heartstopping. "Did it feel good, when they did that? I mean, like, not your thing, but not awful?"

"When they did what, Blair?'

"When you let them, or rather him, inside you?"

"It wasn't awful. If it was, I don't think I could have topped someone else after. It was...what I really remember is the...giving myself up to him aspect of it. You probably haven't realized this yet, but I tend to be a man who likes to be in control. You give that up, and for me, I remember feeling like I could do that with him, more than I remember what the actual act felt like."

Blair nodded. "Yeah, that was what was so awful about what happened to me. This person, this thing, where I didn't want him. Of course, that was true when they took my mouth, but this was worse, somehow. Aside from the pain of it."

"Right, Blair! That's exactly right. I *gave* myself to a man I trusted. Because I wanted to. Maybe not for all the romantic reasons you wanted to, but it was still something I wanted to do. I was curious and hot for the guy and got off on the excitement of it, the whole *taboo* of it. But it was still my decision and my choice, and I could have stopped it if I didn't want it to go on. All of that was missing for you and that's what turned it into an act of violence that had nothing to do with sex."

"Yeah, it's hard to get excited by a taboo when breaking it was forced on me like that. Do you think, Jim, that you could..." Blair trailed off shyly.

"Could what?" Jim asked.

"Let me? Someday. I mean, I'm kind of big and all, but maybe I could use my fingers or something?"

Jim knelt down on the couch and swept his hand over Blair's cheek, down to cup his jaw. "I think that would be beautiful," he said. "There's no one I'd trust more than you. And I'd give you anything in the world I have the power to give."

"I worry though," Blair said. "I have all these revenge fantasies...I worry about taking them out on you. And not just taking you that way."

"Then I'd tell you to stop, and you would."

Blair looked away, unable to meet Jim's eyes. "It's not just that. It's like when...well, I guess things were pretty intense for you earlier tonight, and then you had to stop. I know what that's like, man. I know how much that can hurt. Maybe part of me was trying to make you hurt because I want revenge or something?"

Jim's eyes widened. It wasn't something he would have ever thought of. "Blair, tell me again why you were so sure it didn't go down the way I *thought* it did."

Blair looked confused. "What do you mean? Because I trust you? I know you'll never make me do anything I don't want to, but I can make you want me. Bad. And then I can shut it off, or at least maybe that's the way a part of me sees it. I've got these...fantasies, you know."

"You said you *knew* I wouldn't not check on you. You know me, Blair. Just like I know you. And that revenge idea? That's not you. Having the fantasies, sure. Acting on them? I don't buy it."

Blair shrugged. "Just something I worry about. I fantasize about tying you up, sometimes. I tease you and touch you until you're begging, literally crying for it. Then I just...stop. Leave you hanging. I don't get sexually excited by it." Blair looked away again.

"Oh," Jim said, unsuccessful in masking the shock of hurt from those words. "I don't know what to...I guess that's...I don't know." He slid back into the chair and shrugged at the younger man.

"I know...it's horrible. I just picture you straining at the ropes, sweating and crying and begging and I laugh. Fitz says that's pretty common, too. I feel so bad about it, Jim. That's why I worry when you tell me about what happened tonight. Is some horrible part of me doing that on purpose? Just to put you on the rack?"

"I still don't buy it," Jim said, averting his eyes at the idea of Blair laughing at him that way.

"OK, I'd like to think that I wouldn't do that to you. But it's this power trip fantasy thing. It's ugly, it's mean, and I hate myself for it."

"You can't help it, anymore than I can help my Superman dreams where I save the day," Jim pointed out.

"But this isn't a dream, Jim. This is something I think about deliberately. Sometimes it's you, sometimes it's Simon, sometimes Fitz, sometimes Brown."

Jim quelled the adolescent urge to suggest Sandburg narrow it down to Fitz. "I don't know what to say here, Chief. I'm sorry, but I can't say as I've ever done the same thing. I don't know what to do but nod my head at you and say, 'Huh.'"

"Yeah, I don't know what I want you to say. I just had to tell you, you know? It's so ugly, but it's like I need to feel like I have this power over you. That I can make you want me so much. I don't even know what it's supposed to prove. It doesn't arouse me, it just makes me disgusted with myself.

"I love you, Blair," Jim said intently. "I love you so much, more than I've ever loved anyone. I didn't think it was possible to love someone this much, not just that *I* could, but that *anyone* could. You have more control over me because of that than any ropes or chains could ever give you; than any kind of sexual pleasures could provide. I love you."

Blair swallowed. "I'm just so fucking scared I'll abuse that power, just because it's there."

Jim smiled. "What's the difference between a human being and a human doing"

Blair considered the question seriously. "Maybe the difference between doer and done to?"

"Maybe," Jim agreed. "And as long as you're worrying about abusing that power, I really don't think you will."

"Yeah, I guess so. Fitz says I have good instincts. Kind instincts. Me, I think part of me hates you for having seen what you saw. I know it's not fair, but part of me wants to know that you burn over it, too. That it hurts you in some fundamental, non- compartmentalized way, the way it does me."

"I'm sorry it bothers you that I don't hurt the same way you do; that I don't show it in the same way, anyway."

"Me, too. I mean, I shouldn't want anyone to feel like this. I worry that I'm trying to wrench a response from you, any response."

Jim gave the kid a helpless shrug before gearing up his courage. "If this...if this hadn't happened, we never would have gotten together would we?" he said.

"I don't know," Blair mused. "Is that the good you find in it?"

"No," Jim said, his own tone just as idle. "Just...something I realize I guess. You'll be over this someday, you know. Probably doesn't feel like it now, but you will be."

"I know," Blair sighed. "It's taking so long, and it hurts so bad in the meantime."

Jim nodded and looked away. "Maybe if I was...if I was the kind of man, the kind of person you're normally with, maybe it wouldn't take so long or hurt so bad. I'm not tryin' for a pity party here, Sandburg, just thinking that maybe if I was someone who talked, who wore their emotions on their sleeve, who felt things the same way you do, maybe you'd be getting better more quickly."

Blair shrugged and grinned. "I've had plenty of opportunities to fall in love with guys like that. Girls too. But when I fell, it was for you."

"But why?" Jim asked, plainly curious. "I'm nothing like you. I'm not brilliant or beautiful. I smell and hear and see what other people can't but not even *that* can keep you interested forever!"

"Not beautiful? Jim, you are living in a dream world. You're gorgeous. And strong. And a man of action. And exciting. And, and, and, and...god, you are sexy. What am I, blind?"

Jim made a face and rolled his eyes. "Can I make you happy? Can I...can I keep you interested? I'm talking forever here, Sandburg, you know?"

"I don't know. I mean, how long before you get bored with me and my academic stuff? I want forever. I need forever. But I'm insecure here, too."

"Bored?" Jim echoed the word like he'd never heard it before. "Right, Sandburg, like that's even possible. I just...I just wanted to make sure you're workin' toward forever, too. As long as both of us are, then it doesn't matter how long this takes, right? 'Cause we're always gonna be here and we're always gonna be together."

"I want that, Jim. I really do. But I'm scared that I'll just start pushing you away or whatever because I'm afraid of getting close. Because of what happened."

"I promise I'll stick with you," Jim said. "No matter what. I promise you, Blair, I'll do whatever it takes, whatever you need. I mean, if you tell me livin' in a hut in the middle of South America is the only way this thing's gonna work, then I'm there.

"I mean it, Chief. I'm givin' you my word here. Sacred vow and all that, okay?"

"OK. No huts. Something a lot harder. Tell me what's in there, Jim? Tell me what's in the compartment labeled 'Blair's Rape'?"

Jim kept his eyes fastened on Blair's for a long time, and then, for better or worse, he began to speak. "I turned down my hearing," he said. "I couldn't think, and I needed to think, but at first, I heard the sounds of their flesh on yours. Sounds of wetness, flesh tearing, blood dripping onto the cement. I had to tune that out."

Blair's hands were gripping his thighs tightly enough to turn his knuckles white, but he nodded. "Go on," he said softly.

"I was planning their deaths, Blair, and the hell with justice or conscience. I knew we'd survive, because if we didn't, I would be able to
kill them."

"Oh, Jesus Christ," Blair breathed.

"I don't have kind instincts, Blair," Jim said. "Yes, there was part of me dying with you. Part of me mourning what they were ripping from you. I was aware of those feelings, but they were unimportant. They weren't going to help me accomplish anything; they weren't going to get us out of there. So I let that part of me die; I sacrificed it up and let it go.

"And it never came back?" Blair asked quietly. "It doesn't get to you now?"

"I haven't accomplished anything yet," he said, his voice astoundingly quiet and calm.

"What are you talking about? We got out. We survived," Blair pointed out. "Now we get on with healing."

"Right," Jim said softly. "Right."

"So you've accomplished that," Blair said. "Now you can grieve with me."

"Blair, I grieve every time I hear you waking up from a nightmare; every time I see you flinch when the door closes or a drawer catches. I grieve every time I want to touch you and worry about whether I can or should. I don't show it the way *you* show, but that doesn't mean it's not there."

"What is there? Do you cry when no one's looking? Do you want to hurt yourself in the middle of the night? Do you hate me for being so weak?"

"Tears aren't the only sign of grief, Sandburg. And I sure as hell am not going to hurt myself because of what those fuckers did. And you're not weak. And I love you. Sandburg, I've lost just about every single person in this world who I ever gave a damn for. Not lost as in out of touch, but lost as in dead. Gone. No second chances, nada. You said it yourself. We survived. That's a damn site better than I usually get, you know?"

"Yeah, I guess. I just hate myself for letting them do that. And I hate my dreams for making me come. And sometimes I hate you for still being a man when I'm manifestly not."

"Well, I know a little bit about what you're feeling there," Jim said. "I hated my father, because my mother was dead. And I hated the Chopec because my crew was dead. And I hated Emily because Jack was missing, and I hated Juno because Danny was dead and I hated Quinn because Gill was dead...And I hated Carolyn because I failed her, and I hated the world because my senses were crazy. I know about what you're feeling."

"I don't hate you because I was raped. You couldn't have done anything about it. I don't really hate you at all. I just...I just...how come you can still get it up, dammit?" Blair asked the question harshly. "I know what you said, but goddamnit, how can you even think about doing that to me?"

"Not to you," Jim corrected. "With you. As an expression how I feel for you, how much I love you. Look, would it be better if we just...I don't know, said, forget about the sexual part of it? I won't act on it,
I won't do anything in that department until it's... better."

"How can it be better?" Blair looked at Jim with bewildered eyes. "How can what they did to me in violence ever be an expression of love?"

"I don't know," Jim said, feeling just as bewildered. "I guess I figured that's what Fitzgerald would help with. If we don't find it, then we forget that part of it."

"But it was so...nice the other night. When we were kissing and then you came. It was so beautiful. Why can't I do that?"

"Sweetheart, because it's too soon, that's all. It's just too damn soon."

"It isn't too soon for you," Blair pointed out. "And then tonight...what was that?"

Jim bit back a sigh, , the picture of a mop-topped three-year old asking, "Why? Why? Why?" suddenly sharpening into focus in his mind's eye. "I don't know," he said. "I can't answer that. I don't know why I can get a hard on and you can't. I don't know why...tonight happened this way. I wish I did. God, I wish I did."

"This is pointless," Blair suddenly said. "We're just going around in circles. We should go to bed. Together."

"Together?" Jim said. "I don't think that's such a good idea, there Chief."

"I don't care anymore," Blair said. "I'm tired of sleeping alone. I'm tired of depriving myself of you. I don't give a fuck if it's the right thing to do or the prudent thing to do. I just want you there."

"Can't be any worse than sleeping apart," Jim mused to himself.

"Right," Blair nodded eagerly. "That sucks. I've had it with that."

"Will you take another Ativan?" Jim asked hesitantly.

"Yeah," Blair said. "Will you be there when I wake up?"

Jim smiled, "Yeah."

Blair reached for the pill bottle. "You want one?"

Jim shook his head. "I think I'll want to stay awake for awhile," he said.

"Yeah," Blair muttered. "Like if you want to be awake for the next decade, man."

"Like holding you while you sleep isn't something I've been thinking of for the last two years," Jim said mildly. "I want to enjoy that, Chief. Indulge an old man, all right?"

Blair smiled. "OK, I can do that," he agreed.

They went upstairs. Blair borrowed a T-shirt and a pair of boxers from Jim before settling down in the big bed.

Jim was grinning foolishly until Blair gave him that wide-eyed look that screamed, "What?"

"I can't help it," Jim said, getting into bed and making room for Blair. "Somethin' about seeing you in my clothes. It's just so damn cute, Sandburg."

"Well, I'm not gonna try for full nudity yet," Blair pointed out. "Your heart couldn't take it."

"You got that right," Jim said. The dopey grin was back. "But I think I could watch you parading around in my stuff for a few years and work my way up to that."

"Yeah," muttered Blair. "But only because you don't have a sedentary lifestyle."

"But I *have* got this pair of black silk boxers that would look dynamite on you," Jim teased.

Blair opened one eye and looked at Jim. "On *me*?" he asked. "Hmmm...maybe I can get an erection after all..."

Jim laughed. "On you, Baby," he said. "Oh, man, and this pair I had to wear on this case in Vice once. Where did I put those?"

"Your time in Vice," Blair muttered. "I think you made it all up."

"You see these briefs and you'll be singing a different tune," Jim promised.

Suddenly Blair turned toward Jim, pulling him in for a kiss. "God, this Ativan makes me so damn frisky," he muttered. His hands trailed along Jim's back, down to his ass. Blair's fingers sought Jim's opening.

Jim arched up and groaned, but gently reached around for Blair's hand. "No, baby. Not tonight," he said.

"Come on," Blair said, licking Jim's neck. "You know you want to."

Jim pulled back and looked Blair in the eye. "No," he said.

Blair thought about that, then sighed. "No," he agreed, then rolled over and tried to sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was a relief to get tickets to the Jags game. It was a relief that Blair wanted to go. It was a relief that Simon would be there, too. It was a relief that nothing came up to impede their plans.

Jim could never tell anyone why it was so important that they attend that particular game, but Blair seemed to understand it was important on another level.

"Man," Blair said as they parked and made their way to their seats, "it's a relief to get back out in circulation again. I might even be able to make the post-game party, if Wallace invites us again."

"Standing invite," Jim reminded him as they met up with Simon.

"Cool," Blair said, grinning and bobbing around in time to the pre- game music.

And the first half was just like old times. Blair was having no trouble with the crowd; was as exuberant as ever. Jim and Simon exchanged a couple of subtly pleased looks, then settled back to enjoy the game with no worries.

Simon groaned theatrically when his cell phone rang just as the half-time show started. "Keep an eye on the blond with the legs," he told Jim as he took the call.

Blair, oblivious, was copying the Jag Girls' moves as best he could from his seat. Jim just enjoyed the show.

Simon slapped his phone shut. "Hey, Sandburg, mind getting me a beer?" Simon called casually to Blair.

Jim turned to tell him not to send Blair off like that, but Simon shook his head faintly.

"Here, get one for all of us, K?" Simon asked, handing Blair some money.

"Right," said Blair cheerfully. "Field observations of behavior in a highly competitive water-hole type atmosphere," he said with a grin. "And I know all the tricks," he added, and bounced off for the concessions stands.

"What is this, Simon?" Jim asked, frowning at his superior. "You testing Sandburg or something? He's not a toy, Sir."

"You keep that in mind, too, Jim. Sandburg is fine. You can monitor him. I needed a, shall we say, quiet word with you."

Still scowling, Jim tagged Sandburg, then turned back to the Captain. "What's up, Simon? We got a call? I'll have to drop Sandburg at the loft, before we head out."

"No call, at least not for us. More for the coroner, Ellison."

Jim listened, heard Blair greet a colleague from the University. No hesitancy in his voice, his heart spiked only for a moment, and the conversation was pleased and friendly on both sides. Jim turned his attention back to Simon.

Jim lifted an eyebrow. "We just shippin' 'em off to the coroner now, Cap?" he asked in feigned surprise. "If the paperwork follows, I could get into the new procedures."

"Don't play dumbass with me, Ellison. Eldred was being transported to County tonight, right?"

The crowd cheered a three-point shot and Jim's gaze returned to the court for a moment. "Last I heard anyway," Jim answered shortly.

"Well, I'm relieved to hear your implication that you don't keep close track of Eldred's movements. Eldred's transport vehicle crashed on the way to County."

"Anyone hurt?" Jim asked.

"Well," said Simon consideringly, "the driver and the guards were fine. One of the prisoners sustained a sprained ankle. Get him off work detail for a few days. And Eldred..."

Jim cocked his head to the side as Blair bid his friend good-bye and took his place in line at the concession. Still fine, pulse okay, talking to himself, or so it would appear to those around him. Jim knew Blair knew he was listening in. The kid was reciting the fat content of the nachos and the ingredients of the hot dogs and wondering what Jim's cholesterol count was following one of their evenings out. Jim grinned, and only then realized Simon had stopped talking. "And Eldred?" he prompted.

"Dead as a charred stump of a doornail, Jim."

"That's pretty dead," Jim said mildly. "What happened?"

"Do I really need to even tell you?" Simon asked levelly, meeting Jim's eyes with his own.

Blair was ordering now. Jim grimaced. "You probably *should,*" he said, only a slight emphasis on the word should.

"Well, the van rolled. Everyone got out before it blew, except Eldred," Simon said. "Jim, be really fucking careful. You've been with me and Blair all night, OK. But be careful. This is the second one, and I don't want to think of what will happen to Blair if anything happens to *you.* Got that, Jim?"

"Don' worry, Captain," Jim said. "I'd never do anything that would put my relationship with Blair in danger."

Simon nodded, as if that were an end to it, and started scoping out the Jags Girls. Jim followed Simon's gaze, then looked back at him. "Why were you called about a transport death, Captain?" he asked.

Simon's eyes met Jim's. "Interdepartmental cooperation, Detective Ellison. It's all the rage," he said softly. "Lots of officers have been asking me about lots of perps lately. Especially those three."

"Three guys, three beers, hope that's enough," said Blair cheerfully, handing over the drinks. "Anyone's top fall off?" he asked ingratiatingly. "Did my seat number get a door prize?"

"Just not a party when you're not here, Chief," Jim said with a grin. "What, no nachos?"

"Soooo bad for you," Blair said. "You can have some raw broccoli afterward," he teased.

"You can drive a freight train through my arteries, Sandburg!" Jim complained.

"Of course," Blair acknowledged, leaning down to fish something out of his backpack. "Fourteen tons of steel and lead will always defeat that slush you call arterial lining."

Jim handed one of the beers to Simon, pausing just a fraction of an instance and trading a look that last just a single beat longer than necessary.

Jim nodded his head, just one quick clip of a nod, then turned his attention back to the game.

The Jags won in overtime.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It would have been a typical evening's drive home, except that Blair was unusually animated and in mid-monologue, and Jim was unusually quiet and inattentive.

"OK, so Henri was at this ball game, right, and the third base coach and the general manager, both women, got into this mother of a blowout over whether or no to send the pitcher in for another inning, right? So they settle that, but they're still arguing. One beer left, fighting over that, but it's really a social dominance deal, since the third base coach is both older and more attractive than the general manager. Got it? So they get seconds, like in a duel to arm-wrestle on their behalves for the last beer. Meanwhile, Henri's brother is going, 'Ladies, if you're gonna fight, at least have the decency to oil up.' So they both turn and start pummeling him." Blair was excited, flipping through one of his notebooks without really looking at it while Jim drove.

Jim wasn't really listening so it was a fair enough trade. "You guys went to Lindy's?" he asked for the second time. "How in the hell could you afford that, Sandburg?"

"Not worried about my bank balance, Jim," Blair said breezily. "More worried about my waistline. Henri sprang for my Reuben and a slice of cherry cheesecake. Get me to the free weights!"

Jim turned to stare at Blair long enough to swerve onto the berm of the road. Steering the car back on the blacktop, he glared at Blair as if it had been his fault. "Henri *bought* you lunch at Lindy's?" Jim said in disbelief. "Henri Brown? Henri, "That's My Penny You're Standing On" Brown?"

Blair shrugged. "Yeah. Said it was good to see me eating again."

"I guess that a swipe at me," Jim said, irritated. "Like somehow it's my fault you're too thin."

Blair didn't catch the edge in Jim's voice. "Yeah, they probably think you keep me on starvation rations or something."

Jim smirked, but didn't say anything for the rest of the ride home. He followed Blair inside. "So, why Lindy's?" he asked.

"Henri asked me what my favorite was. I had a craving for a Reuben today, and he said they did it best." Blair flipped through his mail.

Jim sighed. Jesus it was like pulling teeth. And Sandburg had the nerve to complain that *he* never talked about anything. "And Henri wants to know what you're favorite meal is because...?"

Blair flipped the electric bill over to Jim. "Presumably because he wanted to treat me to a nice lunch, why else?"

"And why, prey tell, is Henri Brown treating my..." Oh God, there he was again, trying to come up with some word that explained what Blair was to him. 'Lover' wasn't accurate so that tended to upset the kid and 'boyfriend' just sounded too...well...queer. "Uh...*you* to lunch?"

Blair frowned at a late notice from the student loan people. "He wanted to talk about some stuff with me," Blair said, seemingly distracted by the mail.

Jim's eyes narrowed. "What?"

"How I'm doing, how's school, how's therapy, where's Naomi, you know, stuff. Man, I paid this already," Blair exclaimed to his late notice. "Goddamnit, I know I paid it...I think."

"Jesus, Sandburg, I'm tryin' to have a discussion here, do you mind paying attention?"

Blair turned blue eyes to him. "Jim, my day was fine. You were there for most of it. My lunch was fine; I just told you about it. End of story."

"I wasn't *asking* if your day was fine or your lunch was *fine.*" Jim said, yanking open the fridge and grabbing himself a beer. "I'm just tryin' to understand why the fuck you're traipsing all over town with somebody else!"

"Henri asked me out to lunch, I went. Most of my traipsing today was done in your company."

"Well *Henri* shouldn't be asking you to lunch," Jim muttered, and headed out onto the balcony.

"What the fuck?" Blair asked the loft, then followed Jim out onto the balcony. "Why the hell not? Was he flouting a religious dictate or something? Is it Ramadan? I didn't even know he was Islamic."

"I don't know, Sandburg, I thought maybe the fact that not two weeks ago I basically *pledged* my life to you might have meant something. My mistake!"

"I see," Blair said coldly. "You *pledge* your life to me, and I can't have lunch with Brown. Yeah, OK, it all makes perfect sense now."

Jim glared and breathed hard and shifted restlessly on his feet. "I thought we decided on this together, you know? Only us. Forever. All that shit."

Blair nodded, looking at Jim warily. "Yes, we did. And this relates to my having lunch with Henri...how?"

Jim huffed his exasperation, rolling his eyes as if astounded that Blair would even have to ask. "Sandburg, you know what I'm talking about. This little hero thing you have for Henri, his Me Tarzan impression every time you come around. I'm not blind you know."

Blair looked as baffled as before. "I know you're not blind, Jim. I know you can see things others can't. But here you've gone over to seeing something that just isn't there."

"I didn't see him touching you?" Jim asked incredulously. "Didn't see you *hug* him?"

"You saw that, Jim," Blair agreed. "And so what? This is no more than I'd do with anyone."

"It sure as hell feels different to me," Jim groused, staring up where stars would be if not for the perpetual cloud cover. "He's the only thing you see when we're at the station."

"That is so not even true," Blair protested. "I talk to him. He talks to me. He's concerned."

"Yeah, right," Jim scoffed. "He hovers, you simper, he puffs his chest, you glow. It's all very cozy."

Blair was shaking his head, more in bafflement than denial. "Jim, I don't know what the fuck you're talking about, but I'm starting to get more than a little annoyed here."

"Well fuck, Sandburg, sorry to *annoy* you! Pardon me for caring that Henri seems more than happy to move in on you while I'm standing right fucking there!"

"Henri is not 'moving in on me,' for Christ's sake. I'm not Munchuria before the War!"

"Christ, would you just talk to me Sandburg and quit with the fucking historical sound bites! Look, I know you dated around, okay? I don't give a crap about that, hell, I'm glad you did it. But we are not in some kind of New Age, *open* relationship here!"

"Nor are we in Victorian England. Ooops, sorry. No more historical references, not even to Neanderthals. Instead, let me point out that having lunch with Henri is not at all the same thing as fucking him."

"You insult my intelligence every time we have the slightest disagreement," Jim said, his voice low and dangerous. "If I turned around and did that with your size, you'd fucking slay me, but I'm just supposed to stand here and take it!"

Blair shrugged. "You're the one who told me not to allude to history. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is what this conversation is. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be in my room, reading. Let me know when you're ready to sit with the grown-ups." Blair stomped into the loft.

"Don't you walk away from me!" Jim yelled. "You push at me and push at me and then the minute I tell you *anything* you shut me out because it's something you don't want to hear!"

Blair turned back to him. "It's something that's so ridiculous, so fucking *petty*, that I can't believe I'm hearing it," he said, then went into his room.

"I'll fucking remember that the next time you're whining at me to *share!*" Jim shouted and just barely managed to resist hurling his beer bottle after the kid.

Jim fumed for a few more minutes before realizing that maybe, possibly, there was an element of pettiness to his tirade. He headed back inside, setting his beer on the counter and pushing open Blair's door. "Look, Sandburg, maybe I'm not handling this right," he conceded. "It just really ticked me off the way Brown was hornin' in on you."

Blair looked up from his book, peering at Jim over his glasses. "I suppose both an apology and a knock are too much to expect in one night," he said coolly.

Jim looked at the door and shrugged. Too late now. He stood there for awhile, aware of Blair's annoyance and slowly becoming more aware of his own lunacy. "He's younger than me," he said, studying a stain on the floor, zeroing in his sight and identifying it as dried soda pop.

"Ah, but he makes less money," Blair said lightly, accepting Jim's implied apology.

"He likes to go to those clubs you do," Jim pointed out.

"You're more muscled," Blair remarked.

Jim ducked his head, unwilling to let it go, to shrug it off like Blair seemed to willing to do. "He got you out of there," Jim said very quietly.

Blair put down his book, moved to Jim with fluid grace. "Hey," he said softly, looking into Jim's eyes. "If he'd been there instead of you, and you'd gotten me out, I wouldn't like him any less than I do now. Or love you any more."

Jim exhaled forcefully, embarrassed at the relief flooding through him. "You always seem so...happy around him," Jim lamented softly. "I guess I just figured it was because...I don't know, because he's better for you or something."

"I'm happy around him because he's a happy guy. And, well, he doesn't treat me any differently than if I'd gotten my leg broken. Which is not a reflection on you or anyone else. I need special treatment, damnit. But sometimes it's nice to pretend to forget, just for a little while."

"I still get this...feeling sometimes," Jim said hesitantly. "Overpowering sometimes. I don't want people looking at you or- or-or thinking about you or touching you. I know I flew off the handle today. I'll, uh, try to keep it in check, okay?"

"It's OK. I just wish you wouldn't. I know you don't mean it like that, but I feel like you're saying I'm a slut or not trustworthy or something."

"I don't," Jim said quickly. "You're just so...beautiful, Blair. People look at you and react. Maybe you don't notice it, but I do. The heartbeat, the temperature, everything."

"I just wish your protectiveness didn't rebound on me like this."

The words stung Jim, and he took a step back. "God, I'm sorry," he said, eyes wide and horrified. "Shit, Sandburg, you're right. God, you're right! Jesus, I am a Neanderthal, aren't I? Look, it won't happen again, all right? I swear, Sandburg, it'll never happen again."

Blair had the grace not to laugh out loud at the impossibility of Jim's promise. "Yes, it will. Just try to remember who you're *really* pissed at next time, OK?"

"Right!" Jim agreed, "I'm sorry about this, Sandburg." Jim sighed and brushed his hand over the back of his hair. He shrugged and took another step back. "I'll, uh, let you get back to your book then. Sorry, okay?"

"Like I was really reading it or something," Blair scoffed. "Let's go kick some culinary ass in the kitchen."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


It was the same nightmare as always. The warehouse, the men, the pain, the loss. As always, even in his greatest fear, he looked up to Jim's stony face, seeking reassurance, strength, even rage. He knew he would only see a mask, would have to trust that behind the facade was, if not feeling, then at least brutal calculation.

Now the dream differed. Blair looked up to see...no one. Blair was torn between despair at having to face the ordeal alone and relief that cool blue eyes would not bear witness to the humiliation and pain of his rape.

And then the rape began. Rough hands grasping his ass, forcing him apart. A brutally thrusted entry. And then the voice came. "Oh, yeah, baby...so tight. So hot. So GOOD."

And the voice was familiar. The scent of the attacker was familiar. Disbelieving and horrified, Blair twisted painfully against the man who was taking him with no consideration, no right.

And he looked into the face of James Ellison.

Blair cried out in anger and fear, and woke up.

Jim was downstairs in seconds, knocking on the door as entered. "Blair, it's okay," he said, only half-awake. "You're safe, Chief. Everything's okay."

Blair wasn't sure where he was. Heart pounding, he jerked upright at the sound of Jim's voice.

Jim saw the disorientation on his face and moved forward with caution. "Blair? You're home, at the loft. You had a nightmare, but everything's okay."

"Get away from me," Blair hissed. "Get the fuck away from me."

Jim froze in his tracks, holding both hands up so Blair could see them. "It's me, Jim," he said, and moved to turn on the light by the bed.

"Get back from me, you motherfucker," Blair snarled.

"Blair, what's wrong?" Jim asked, unsure if he was even awake. He turned on the light and stepped closer to the younger man.

Blair scrambled away from him. "Get away from me, godamnit."

Jim once again stopped in his tracks. "All right, I'm not coming any closer," Jim said gently. "What's the matter? Can we talk about this?"

"Get back!" Blair's voice was unnaturally high as he screamed the words. "You do that to me again, I'll fucking kill you!"

"Do what?" Jim asked, the sickening turn of his stomach telling him he already knew the answer to that. "Blair, do you know where you are right now?"

"I'm in my room, where I'm supposed to be *safe*," Blair spat the words out, "and you're in here like you have no shame whatsoever. Do you even care about what you've done?"

"You had a nightmare," Jim said, cursing Fitzgerald for not covering *this* in one of his 'How-To' Lectures. "It's over, though. You're safe now, and no one's going to hurt you here."

"It was *you*," Blair accused.

The words stunned Jim and appalled him. He felt sick and hurt, a deep, piercing ache throbbing in his chest. "No," he whispered. "I wouldn't hurt you. I could never hurt you."

"You were doing it," Blair insisted. "It hurt and I said no and you did it anyway."

"That was a dream!" Jim said, and felt ashamed because he wanted to shake Blair's shoulders and ask him where he got off dreaming that about him. Thinking he would do that. What the fuck? "That was a dream," he repeated.

Blair looked around at his room, the darkness of it, and finally slumped over in a measure of relaxation. "Yeah," he said. "Wanna get me a couple of Ativan and some water and we'll talk about it?"

Without a word, Jim turned and stalked to the kitchen, coaching himself to remain calm. He set a glass of water and two pills on Blair's bedside table, grimacing when Blair waited for him to back away toward the door before he would retrieve them.

Blair took the pills, crunching them slightly, then washing them down. "It was the warehouse again," he said. "Someone was behind me, you know, *hurting* me, and I looked up and you weren't there." Blair paused to sip some water.

Jim nodded, wishing he didn't have to hear this. He crossed his arms and nodded. "What happened?"

"It was still hurting, and I was afraid, because you weren't there. Then I was relieved, because at least you weren't watching me go through this. Then it really started to hurt, and I tried to get away. I turned, saw him...and it was you."

Jim shuddered. "Why do you...why do you think you'd dream that?" he asked, ashamed all over again at the plaintive tone of his voice.

"I don't know," Blair said tiredly. "When I first woke up and you were here, that's what that was. I wasn't quite aware yet." Blair drank the last of the water.

Still hanging back by the door, Jim shifted nervously. "Are you okay now?" he asked. "You need me to do anything here?"

"I don't know. I guess just leave me alone." Blair's voice sounded as close to dead as Jim had ever heard it.

"I'm sorry," Jim said helplessly, feeling unreasonably dirty. "Are you sure there's nothing you need? Nothing I can do?"

"Nothing," Blair said. "I'm just going to read for awhile or something."

"Okay," Jim said, backing out of the room. "I'll hear you if you call," he said unnecessarily, and retreated back to his room, listening to Blair's heartbeat calm under the influence of the Ativan.

"It can't get worse," he heard Blair whisper to himself. "It can't get any worse than this." Jim prayed he was right.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim paced nervously out on the balcony, waiting for Blair to wake up. Their appointment was for one o'clock, but with noonday traffic, they'd have to leave by 12:15 to make it on time.

Blair stumbled out to the kitchen, muttering disjointedly about coffee and pixies and why wouldn't the latter make him any of the former.

Jim hawkishly watched him pour his coffee and make his way to the table and sit there like it was any other morning in the world. He came noisily inside and firmly shut the door behind him. "Morning," he said neutrally.

"Mmmph. Is it? I wouldn't know," Blair said, aggrieved. "I have enough Ativan in my system right now to fell a fucking rhino. Damn good thing I don't have anywhere to be," Blair added as reached for the paper and missed.

Jim's mouth drew into a thin line. "Except Fitzgerald's. We have a one o'clock with him today."

Blair looked blearily at Jim. "We do?" Blair got up and shuffled off to get his appointment book. He sat down again, flipped through the pages, and sighed in relief. "Nah. That's day after tomorrow," Blair said, and reached for his coffee.

"I called and got us the appointment," Jim said, obviously annoyed. "After last night, I think that's in order, don't you?"

"Even if I did, which, incidentally, I don't, don't you think you should have checked with me?" Blair was just as annoyed as he knocked back the last of his coffee and went for seconds.

"So you're just going to wake up screaming, accuse me of raping you, and the next day we act like everything's a-okay?" Jim asked incredulously.

Blair slouched into his chair. "No, but I would like a chance to pull it together before being hauled into the doctor. And having a little input in stuff like this might be nice."

"Well, frankly, I thought we'd be in agreement on this. Didn't seem like there was anything to discuss except how quickly to get our ass to the shrink."

"This is not the time to discuss it. This is the time for me to lie about in a little heap, exhausted, and for you to run five miles or pump weights or whatever."

"I don't get it, Chief. I do that and then you lay into me about 'avoiding emotionally taxing interactions,' or some other crap like that. We need to figure this out now!"

Blair glanced at the paper. "The world ending between now and Thursday or something?"

"Obviously yours isn't," Jim said angrily. "Hell, yours hasn't even shifted, has it? You pretty much an old hat at this Jim As Rapist dream of yours? No big deal to you anymore, Sandburg?"

Blair finished his second cup. "This was the first one, Jim, and I'm not ready to discuss it with you or with Fitz or with my spirit teacher or anydamnbody else."

"Look, this disturbs the hell out of me, Sandburg! For a good five minutes there, you were scared to death of me! We need to get to the bottom of this!"

Blair suddenly jumped out of his chair and flung his cup at Jim. "Shut the fuck up," he said calmly enough. "And call Fitz and cancel," he added, and went into his room.

Jim ducked, flinching when the glass splintered. He remained amazingly calm himself as he found the broom and swept up the broken glass. He glanced at the clock then stood outside Blair's door. "We're leaving in half an hour," he said.

Blair pulled the door open, "Jim, you don't get it, do you? I said, this is not a good time to do this."

"I get it," Jim said. "But waiting isn't going to make this any easier or any better or any different. What if it happens again tonight? And tomorrow night, and the night after that?"

"Jim, right now I'm still extremely angry and more than a little afraid of you from the dream. I know this is not about you, per se, but I still don't think this is a good time to talk about it."

Jim nodded, sucking air through his teeth. "Fitzgerald said before we should think about living apart," he said. "Maybe that's what this dream is all about. I mean, if you're scared of me, mad at me....maybe he's right about that."

"I'm angry and scared because of what happened in my dream. I'm also still stoned on Ativan. I'm also pissed that you just assumed and made the appointment, which is something you would never let me get away with. I am not interested in living separately. I still love you. It's just that this is a very, very bad time for me."

"Fine," Jim said. "I'll go see Fitzgerald by myself, but I won't come back here, Sandburg. I'm not staying here and feeling like some kind of monster in my own home."

"OK, Jim, if it means that much to you," Blair said mildly, and vanished back into his room. Jim heard the sounds of Blair getting dressed.

Jim smirked inwardly as a shameful sense of guilt surfaced. *Oh yeah, let's add Emotional Blackmailer to your list of shining attributes, shall we Ellison? That little label fits nicely between 'ineffectual victim' and 'sadistic rapist.'*

Within the prescribed half an hour, Blair was ready to go. "Jim? I really don't think this is a good idea," he said as they got into the truck. Blair had shoved himself up against his door.

"I know I'm pushing," Jim said, eyes closed as he tried to remain calm. "Blair as scared as you are of being with me, of going to see Fitzgerald, I'm a hundred times more terrified of *not* going."

"What happens if we don't go?" Blair asked sullenly. "Your denial system might get overloaded?"

"I don't know," Jim said, ignoring the jab. "Jesus, Kid, you dreamed I *raped* you. That's gotta...mean something. You blame me or think I'm like one of them or are so afraid of me you think...God, I don't know what, but I can't just shrug my shoulders and say, 'well, maybe it'll blow over.'"

"OK, OK," Blair said less than graciously.

Jim refrained from saying he was sorry. It wouldn't change anything and as much as he said it, Sandburg had to realize it was his natural state anymore.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dr. Fitzgerald's office was silent for a long time after Jim related Blair's dream and Fitzgerald asked him what he thought it meant.

"It's proof," Jim said stonily, shrugging as if he didn't care.

"Of what?" asked the doctor.

Jim grimaced and cast his eyes upward. Christ, he hated therapy. "Proof that he blames me. That I might as well have been the one who did this to him." *So help me, if this fucker asks me how that makes me feel I'm going to clock him.*

Slumped on the couch, Blair had been surly and uncooperative throughout the entire session, as if to spite Jim for making him come.

"I don't suppose," Dr. Fitzgerald ventured cautiously, "that it would make any difference for you to know that it's very common for survivors to have nightmares in which their husbands or lovers become their assailants? Even if the other wasn't there, and even if they didn't even meet that lover until years after the attack?"

"It's just like the way he's always fawning all over Henri, you know? Throwing it in my face that Brown saved him and I couldn't."

Blair roused himself. "What are you talking about? Fawning over Henri?"

"Come on, Sandburg, the guy walks into the room and you light up like a Christmas tree," Jim said.

"I think, Jim," Dr. F. said, "that you're avoiding talking about something more painful than Henri."

Jim shrugged again. "All I'm saying is, the dream and the way he is around Henri are proof that Sandburg blames me for what happened.

"Yeah," Blair said. "Because Henri's a non-issue."

"Well," Dr. F. tried again, "how are you dealing with that perception you have?"

"How can you say that, Sandburg? His shit doesn't stink as far as you're concerned! You practically launch yourself at him every time he walks through the door!" Jim stopped and gave the doctor a cross look. "What?"

"You seem all too ready to interpret Blair's nightmare and interactions with others in terms of the guilt *you* feel. What was your reaction when Blair told you about the nightmare?"

"I didn't even want to tell him," Blair put in quietly.

Jim looked at the doctor like he was a perp caught red-handed trying to lift wallets at a police convention. "He dreams *I'm* the one raping him, has a mammoth panic attack when I try to touch him, and you're wondering why I'm thinking he blames me?"

"First things first. What was your reaction when he told you about the dream?"

"My reaction? Well, doc, he was pretty much swingin' from the rafters, so my *reaction* was to try to get him to calm down."

"I mean, what was your immediate emotional reaction? The guilt? Or something else?"

Jim moved restlessly around the small, dark office, wondering why the doctor insisted on the low lighting. They were searching for *enlightenment,* right? Why not illuminate the place for god's sake. "I was...worried about the kid, I guess," he said, uncertainly. "There wasn't time for an emotional reaction. Or it wasn't the place for one."

"So when did the guilt show up?"

"Jesus, I don't know? You want a date? A time? I don't know. Maybe when I reached out for him and he flipped, I don't know."

Dr. F looked over at Blair. "Blair, I think I need to talk to Jim for a moment alone. Would that be all right?"

Blair shrugged. "Yeah," he said. "If you can get him to talk at all," he added, and left the room.

"So, "Dr. F said, turning to Jim. "I need you to answer some questions for me, questions you might not want anyone at all to hear the answers to. That's why I asked Blair to leave. But you have to answer truthfully if you want to help Blair. So, Jim," the doctor continued, "Was guilt your first reaction, or did that come later?"

Jim sighed and parked himself back on the sofa. "After the dream? Yeah, I guess it was guilt."

"Tell, me, Jim, would you ever want harm to come to Blair? Are you glad that it has?"

"You see? This is why therapy is such a fucking waste of time!" Jim said, angrily rising and pacing the office again. "I mean, what kind of a stupid ass question is that? Of course I don't want Blair to get hurt! And I'm certainly not *glad* this happened to him!"

"It's not a waste of time," the doctor said patiently. "I'm trying to show you that your guilt is inappropriate and detrimental to Blair's recovery. I'm trying to find a way to help you get past it. Now, you say you would never want Blair harmed. Guilt is the feeling we have when we know we've done something wrong; at least that's the way it's supposed to be. But you did nothing wrong, yet still you are condemning yourself, and punishing yourself for that guilt. And Blair is getting dragged along for the ride."

Jim shook his head and ran his tongue along his lower lip. "Well, doc, until you've sat strapped in a chair while someone's raping the person you value most in this fucked up world, I'm not real sure you can help me do much of anything."

"I can help you help Blair. And my personal experience isn't truly relevant, but I will tell you one does get past it. If one tries hard, one doesn't destroy their marriage in the process." Dr. Fitzgerald fixed Jim with a hard stare. "If you see what I'm saying," he added mildly enough. Jim blushed as he remembered that Fitzgerald had been through something even worse.

"You sit there and tell me I have to *feel*. 'Everyone *feeels,* Detective, you keep saying to me. And then, I admit to feeling something and now I'm wrong and I'm hurting Blair even more. I mean, I can't win here."

"We need to know what you're feeling, Detective. And since you're feeling this soul-annihilating guilt, and that is making things worse with Blair, we need to get past it. It's not that you're wrong, it's just that you've confused what you *could* do in the circumstances with what you think you *should* have done. It's just a matter of time before the guilt grows larger and you, do, in fact, feel that you were the one who attacked Blair. That's why we need to get past the guilt."

"So it's okay for Blair to blame me, as long as I don't blame myself?" Jim asked sardonically.

"The problem right now is that you're so busy blaming yourself that you *think* Blair is blaming you. He isn't."

"He *says* he isn't," Jim corrected. "Consciously, maybe he's not. But why would he have a dream like that? Why in gods name would he dream of me doing something like that to him?"

"See, Detective, your own guilt made you assume that was the only interpretation of the dream. Blair said he was reluctant to tell you about the dream?"

Jim shrugged and nodded. "Yeah, because he doesn't want me to know how he feels."

"Or maybe because he was afraid that you would assume that his dream was an accusation, and he didn't want to have to watch you crucify yourself yet again."

"You know, doc, sometimes I wonder why we're bothering here. I fuck this up no matter how I try to play it. He says I don't feel anything, you say what I'm feeling is misplaced. I'm sitting here realizing no matter what track I take with Sandburg, everything ends up screwed up. What are we accomplishing here?"

"I'm trying to help you see that what you're feeling is misplaced so that we can work with Blair on the true causes of the nightmare."

"Right," Jim said faintly. "Let's work with Blair then, doc. I'll keep a lid on it."

"Well, Jim, I want to do more than 'keep a lid on it.' Eventually, I hope to be able to show you that you aren't to blame. But, by all means, bring Blair back in if you're not ready to deal with your own feelings." The doctor leaned back in his chair, leaving the ball in Ellison's court. Get Sandburg, or get help?

Jim glared at the doctor. God he was tired of this. All he wanted was to sleep for a week. No, make that a month. Just a solid month of unconsciousness. The room was so quiet; it felt as if everything stilled for a brief moment, and Jim knew he was at a crossroads. He knew an important decision was being made, but he felt like it was out of his hands, like he was following some unseen hand. "I want... I want to help Blair," he said, the only thing he knew at that moment to be true.

Dr. F. smiled then. "Then bring him back in. We help Blair, and in so doing we help you. But do try to keep a lid on it while I ask Blair about his nightmare. I'd like to know what really was going on, not your interpretation." The doctor smiled to take the sting out of words.

Jim nodded. "I can do that," he said and hoped it was true.

Jim opened the door to find Blair slouched in a seat in the waiting room. He was leafing disinterestedly through an old People magazine. "Hey, Chief, we're ready for you," Jim said, then ducked back in the room.

Dr. F addressed Blair once everyone was back in their seats.

"So, you were reluctant to tell Jim about your nightmare?"

"Yeah," Blair agreed. "I knew he'd just turn it around so that it was about him again."

"But the dream was about him, wasn't it?"

"Sure, but I knew Jim would go off the guilt deep end."

"Jim seems to think that the dream was proof that you hold him responsible for the rape. Do you think it was?"

"I'm not sure. I was hoping you could help me find out?"

"Well, what were you thinking that night before you fell asleep?"

Blair flushed. "I was lying in bed, fantasizing."

Dr. F nodded as though he'd been expecting Blair's answer. "What kind of fantasy?"

"I was thinking of being with Jim, you know, sexually. I was thinking about what it would be like, wondering if I could be with him the way I want to be. You know, full intercourse."

"And did you think you could?"

"I wasn't sure. I mean, Jim and I have barely even kissed in reality. But this was a fantasy, where anything's possible."

"And was anything possible?"

"I fell asleep before reaching a conclusion on that one, doc," Blair admitted wryly.

"And then had the dream?"

"Yeah."

Dr. F nodded; an "I see" kind of nod. "What do you think that means? The timing of it?"

"I think maybe I still have fears about sex. I'd never had sex that way until the rape, so the only memory of it I have is bad. I think I was afraid that if Jim and I did that, then I'd think he was like them. Or maybe I thought that Jim would start to think that making love like that would make him like them. He already blames himself so much for it..."

"Do you blame him? Consciously?"

"Not really. A part of me does, of course, but mostly I think it was my fault."

Jim abruptly moved forward, gripping his hands together. He was shaking his head slowly. "No, Blair," he said plaintively. "It wasn't your fault!"

"Jim, I know that in my right mind. But sometimes I feel like if you weren't saddled with a non-cop sidekick, you could have gotten out of the whole thing a lot faster. Or it wouldn't have happened in the first place."

Dr. F looked at Blair, nodding, then turned to Jim. "Jim, did you know that Blair felt this way?"

Jim shook his head, his eyes filling with tears. "No, I didn't," he said gruffly. "But Blair, don't you see? If I hadn't been dragging you around after me, this never would have happened to you."

"See, Jim? We're both not at fault here. And that wasn't what my dream was about."

"What was it about?" Dr. F asked.

"It was about my wanting to have sex again, but being afraid that I'm not strong enough for it. That Jim isn't strong enough for it."

Dr. F turned to Jim. "Do you think Blair's right about his dream?"

"I don't know," Jim said. "I think...I think maybe he is right about one thing, though. I don't..." Jim's voice trailed off and it took him a few tries before he found it again. "I don't think I'm strong enough right now."

"That's what I need to know, Jim," Blair said softly. "I was the one who was raped, but you were there too. I'm expected to have problems being sexual again, but you never talk about what this has meant to you as a sexual being."

Dr. F just looked at Jim.

Jim said nothing for awhile, wondering how a person undid 39 years of conditioning. A lifetime of not asking and not telling, and now he was expected to just chuck that and spill his guts. Yeah, right.

Blair reached out for Jim's hand, as if to tell him it was all right to talk. All right not to talk. Enough to just be there.

"I can't...I can't stand the thought of hurting you," Jim said, starting off with an easy revelation.

"I can't stand the thought of you hurting." Jim ducked his head for a minute, before bringing his pained eyes up to Blair's. "I don't know that you understand how...overpower that is, Blair. I mean, I don't want you to stub your toe, or burn your finger, I don't want you to strain your eyes when you're reading or-or-cut yourself when you shave...Sometimes, it's all I can think about...all the things out there that can hurt you and how I...I have to make sure they don't. And the thought that...that sex...that making love to you could cause you...more pain...it just kills me."

"It's risky," Dr. F offered. "Physically, and emotionally. Especially emotionally."

"Yeah," Blair agreed. "Sometimes I think I'm ready to risk, that maybe I want it bad enough to buck the odds. Then doubt sets in. And I'm pressuring myself because I want my life back, dammit!"

"Do I pressure you?" Jim asked. "I don't mean to; if I'm doin' something or saying something that makes you think..."

Blair shrugged. "I was talking about my own drive to be what I was before as quickly as possible. You don't really pressure me. It's just that I know you want to, and I want to, and we can't yet. It's not anything you're doing or saying, though," Blair added with sincere weariness.

"Maybe you should try just some gentle touching, that kind of thing," Dr. Fitzgerald suggested. "Don't run a marathon before walking around the block. Our time's up, unfortunately, but I think we made some real progress here. I'd like you to try an exercise...I'd like you to start by sitting at opposite sides of your couch some night when you're both feeling relaxed. Then get as close as you can, and make a note of how close you can get before either of you gets an anxiety reaction. Then keep going if you can, until it gets to be too much. Then go each write down your feelings. What made you uncomfortable, etc."

Jim shrugged away his initial annoyance at the homework. He wanted to help Blair, and if the doctor thought these silly exercises would work then, for Blair, he'd do them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Strangely enough, it was Jim who seemed the most nervous when they set out to do their homework that evening. He kept fiddling with the placement of candles around the loft and excused himself twice for the bathroom before they even sat down on the couch.

He started to walk over to join Blair in the living room, then stopped and wiped sweaty palms on his jeans. "Just a sec," he said, and turned back toward the bathroom.

He could hear Blair drumming his fingers on the arm of the couch. "We don't have to, you know, if you don't want to," Blair called to him, voice unnecessarily loud.

*Jeez, Ellison, get a grip,* Jim thought to himself, drying his hands. He walked back out to the living room. "I want to, I want to," he said. "I just...don't want to mess this up."

"Yeah," Blair muttered. "You and me both. Plus, it's kinda weird. Premeditated. "

"Yeah!" Jim agreed. "Like you're sitting with somebody and then you say, 'I'm now going to kiss you.'"

"And then, should clear weather and road conditions continue, we will progress to light petting," Blair intoned.

"Guess we should be thankful Fitz isn't here in a road vest, waving flags."

"Marga Gomez makes jokes about the 'lesbian supervisor'," Blair said. "I imagine it would be similar. So, are we both feeling relaxed?" The two men looked at each other, then grinned, shaking their heads ruefully.

"This guy I know once tried to teach me all kinds of breathing exercises that are supposed to relax you," Jim said. "Want me to show 'em to you?"

"I've met him; he does that to everyone," Blair said, and started up on the breathing exercises.

Jim cheated, keeping his eyes opened and watching for a minute. Blair's head was back, exposing his throat. Jim followed the line down to the hint of fine black hair peeking from the v-neck of Blair's t-shirt. He heard Blair's heart rate slowing and concentrated to bring his heartbeat in line.

Blair opened his eyes slowly and looked at Jim. "OK," he said. "I think we're supposed to sort of scuttle toward each other until one of us feels anxious?"

"Scuttle?" Jim said with a grin. "How romantic."

"Hey," Blair said with a grin. "Undergrads don't leave panties with their phone numbers embroidered on them on my desk for no reason whatsoever."

"Does that mean I'm going to have to learn how to sew?" Jim said.

"Don't you want to know what I did with them?"

"Will I have to arrest you?"

"No, but you will be awed at my maturity," Blair snickered.

"All right then, I'll bite. What did you do with 'em?"

As he answered, Blair started sliding over to Jim. "Well, I got a friend who's a Textile Arts major to help me grade the workmanship. Then I entered each grade as a ten point extra-credit project." By the time he had finished talking, Blair was right next to Jim, putting his hand on Jim's knee.

"Extra credit, huh?" Jim said. "I've always been a bit of the overachiever myself."

"I can't quite picture you with embroidery floss, learning how to chain-stitch your number on a pair of Joe Boxers." Blair ran his hand along Jim's lower thigh. "Anyway, I've already got your number, pal."

"Oh, man, have you ever," Jim said, watching Blair's hand move down his leg and at the same time checking in on his heartbeat.

"Are you planning to reciprocate my affectionate advances?" Blair asked as he lightly nuzzled at Jim's chin.

Jim grinned. "Oh yeah," he said, slowly bringing both hands up along Blair's arms and cupping them behind his soft hair so he could brush his thumbs against Blair's cheeks. "You're beautiful," he said.

"Shucks," said Blair modestly.

He reached up to trail a single forefinger down Jim's cheek and toward his mouth. "You are perfect," he whispered. "Every fucking angle on your face is perfect."

Jim's fingertips moved over Blair's forehead, spreading down around his cheekbones, up and over his nose, tracing over the full, red lips with a faint smile on his own face. "I like to watch people react to you, *sense* people react to you."

"Me?" Blair whispered. "How do you react to me, Jim?" he asked throatily.

Jim gently brought one of Blair's hands to rest over his heart. "First thing, my pulse starts racing. Kind of sputters, then kick starts." He brought Blair's hand up to his neck. "Next is heat. My temperature rises two, maybe three degrees; when I say I'm hot for you, I mean it literally, Chief." He turned and kissed the hand he held to his neck. "And then, for a minute, I can't take my eyes off you. It wouldn't matter if I did, because you're all I know. All I see or hear or feel."

Blair gulped. "Jim?" he whispered, breath barely moving past his lips. "Jim? Would you...kiss me?"

Jim nodded and moved in slowly, giving Blair time to pull back if he wanted or needed to. Blair's only reaction was to move a fraction closer. Jim smiled as his lips met Blair's in a gentle kiss.

Blair's mouth opened below his, surprising Jim.

Jim honed in on Blair's heart, hearing only arousal in its slightly elevated state. He sensed no fear in Blair, and so he gladly held him closer, opening his own mouth and slipping his tongue in to Blair's.

Blair responded gently, accepting Jim into him, returning the kiss, then pulling back slightly.

Jim immediately let him go, still certain Blair was calm and unafraid. He sat back and waited.

"Wow," Blair said. "That's just like the first one, isn't it, Jim? The first time we kissed like that."

Jim knew he was grinning like a schoolboy in front of his first crush, but he couldn't help. "Yeah, it was," he agreed, ridiculously happy about it.

"After so long...man, we were nuts. We had to survive just about everything life could throw at us before we got around to it."

"I should have kissed you right there," Jim said, eyes shining with mirth. "As soon as the chopper landed on the roof."

"I should have kissed you right there," Blair countered. "In the hospital. To let you know you were loved and cared for."

Jim smiled. "Then I would have had to of kissed you in your office, just to show you I appreciated finding someone who finally believed in me."

"Then I should have kissed you back when you went to bat for me with Simon," Blair said, leaning against Jim.

Jim rubbed his hand up and down Blair's back, then in a soft, slow circle. "Then I should have kissed you for sticking with me when Danny died. Nobody ever stuck with me through the tough shit."

"We've already 'should have' kissed more times than we actually have," Blair protested quietly. "Maybe we should start trying to break the cycle?"

Jim nodded, but didn't waste time on a reply, instead capturing Blair's mouth again with his.

Blair again returned his kiss, this time with strength and power. Jim could tell that Blair was enjoying the kiss, but was not aroused by it.

The same could not be said of Jim. He was already starting to harden, and he shift slightly to take some pressure off. His tongue wrestled playfully with Blair's until he caught it and gently sucked the tip of it.

Blair gasped as he let Jim pull his tongue into his mouth. Jim kept the pressure up, stroking Blair's arms as he kissed him passionately.

He shifted again, the fingers of one hand weaving into Blair's hair and massaging his scalp, pressing his face even more strongly to Jim's.

Blair pulled back again, his eyes gleaming at Jim. "You are an aggressive kisser," he said, clearly pleased by the fact.

Jim smiled, just as pleased at Blair's words. "Not often I find someone who gives as good as he gets," he said.

"Gonna be awhile before that's 100% true," Blair said, brushing his hip lightly against Jim's hardening cock.

"No timetables," Jim reminded him, his voice suddenly tight with arousal at the brief contact with Blair.

"Nope. Jim?"

"Huh?"

"You got any anxiety here?"

Jim gave a surprised cough of laughter. He let his head fall back and arched toward Blair. "No anxiety here, Chief. How you doing?"

"OK, I think. Yeah, I'm fine. I just...well, under the...hard-on," Blair mumbled, "I was wondering if you felt any kind of tension under that. Aside from it, you know?"

Jim sobered, his features peaceful. "There's tension, but it's not unpleasant at all. You sure you're okay, buddy? We just go until either one of us is uncomfortable, remember?"

Blair considered. "A little anxious maybe, but we're supposed to try to work past that."

"Let's slow down a little," Jim suggested, inching away from Blair. He held out both of his hands and took Blair's in them. He squeezed hard, then rubbed his thumbs along the top of Blair's hands.

"Can I talk a little bit?" Blair asked. To Jim's gratification, Blair assumed he could and started talking. "It's like my mind knows it's you and my heart knows it's you, and that anything is OK, right? But my body, well, it's kind of clenching up a little. From the inside. Like that you're hard means I have to...to..." Blair couldn't finish the sentence. "Like maybe kissing won't be enough," he finally said. "Like because I gave that to you before, made you come, I have to do it again."

"There's nothing you 'have' to do," Jim reminded him. "We're just...practicing here."

"I know," Blair said. "But it's more like this subconscious expectation of what comes next."

"Just sitting here with you like this is pretty damn nice as far as I'm concerned," Jim said, squeezing the hands he held.

Blair made a sharp gesture with his head, then visibly calmed himself down. "Yeah, it is," he said. "But I think we were kissing?"

Jim grinned. "We were," he said. "Do you want to try that part again?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah, that part was great," he said.

Jim's grin widened, taking Blair's words as a compliment, whether or not they were intended as one. He pulled Blair closer to him and wrapped his arms around the slight shoulders. "Love you," he said softly, then tenderly kissed his Guide."

Blair kissed back, his heart rate finally accelerating.

Jim grinned into his mouth, sliding his hand behind Blair's head. "You feel so good," Jim whispered, tearing his lips away, then reconnecting with Blair's ear. He flitted his tongue around the outside of Blair's ear before kissing his way back to those full lips. "So good," he whispered, sounds fading as desire once again fanned through him.

Blair's head fell back, exposing the column of his throat to Jim. With a groan, Jim went for it, a starving man offered the meal he'd been dreaming of for months, years. He sucked Blair's adams apple, nipping around it, kissing from one side of his neck to the other.

Blair's breath had quickened; Jim could feel the harsh pants and beat of Blair's pulse under his mouth.

"You like this?" Jim whispered, breathing hard himself. He instinctively pulled Blair closer, wanting to feel as much of Blair against as much of his body as possible. "Oh, God, you feel good, you feel so good."

Suddenly, Blair pulled back from Jim's mouth, shivering as though freezing. "Shit," Blair muttered. "Goddamnit," he added as he began to shake. He rocked back and forth, and soon the recitation began. "LOVEliEST of TREES the CHERRy NOW..." Blair was rocking back in forth, lost in a sudden flashback.

It took a moment before the sudden lack of stimulation registered in Jim's foggy brain. And then he was aware of the rocking. And then the words.

"Shit!" Jim muttered. "Oh shit, Blair, I'm sorry!" he said, catapulting off the couch, backing away from the sight of the kid.

"Is HUNG with BLOOM aLONG the BOUGH," Blair chanted. Blair kept rocking, but looked up to see Jim backing away from him. "Don't leave me," he pleaded, interrupting his chant. "It'll be worse if you go..." he gasped out, then was lost once more in his nightmare. "NOW, of MY threeSCORE years AND ten, TWENty WILL not COME aGAIN and TAKE from SEvenTY springs a SCORE, it LEAVES me ONly FIFty MORE..."

Jim knelt down next to Blair. "I'm here, Blair," he whispered. "I'm right here. I won't leave you, I swear to God I won't leave you. It's okay. You're safe. You're here with me and nothing can hurt you..." the words stuck in Jim's throat. *Except me!* he thought bitterly. *How could I be so thoughtless? So careless? Why do I keep fucking things up?!*

"And SINCE to LOOK at THINGS in BLOOM fifTY springs ARE little ROOM ABOUT the WOODlands I will GO to SEE the CHERRy HUNG with SNOW..." As Blair finished the poem, his rocking slowed to a halt. His shaking subsided, and he reached out to hold on to Jim as though the older man was his rock, his anchor. "I'm sorry, Jim," Blair gasped. "So sorry."

Jim held Blair's hand to his heart. "It's okay," he said, his voice wavering. "We just...we rushed it, that's all. You okay, buddy? You want an Ativan now?"

"Yeah, better take one," Blair said wearily. "God, but it was worth it, Jim. We were together, kissing like I've always wanted, and it was wonderful, and I felt so good."

Jim hesitate on his way to the bathroom and Blair's Ativan. "I'm just getting the pills and some water," Jim said, and went into the bathroom.

Blair was still sprawled on the couch when Jim came back. He swallowed the pill and some water, then launched himself into Jim's arms. "God, it was beautiful," he said. "Hold me?"

Jim winced, feeling himself swirling into uncertainty. He *hated* this not knowing what to do. He prided himself on being a quick- thinking, decisive man. It made him a good soldier and a good cop; a good leader. But he was walking through mine fields here, in a place where Sentinel senses were meaningless. "Of course I'll hold you," Jim said, tightly wrapping his arms around the younger man.

Blair relaxed into his lover's embrace. "It was good, Jim, and it was worth it. Worth it to know that I can be a lover to you. Maybe not as completely or as fast as I wanted to, but it's a good start."

Jim cradled Blair to him and listened for the Ativan to take effect. He sure as hell didn't want to give Blair any *more* doubts to worry about, but he didn't really want the kid thinking a flashback was the price to pay for intimacy.

"I love you," Jim crooned softly, hoping to lull the kid away from the subject for a time.

Blair let Jim hold him, his heartbeat gradually dropping to normal parameters. "God, Jim, now at least we know I can be close to you," Blair said. "I feel so much better; like a big weight is off my shoulders."

Jim suddenly wondered if he was the one reacting strangely here. They're making out, Blair has a flashback, but realizes, hey, even if I do flashback to being gang raped, at least I can do it. Should we be feeling *good* about this? *Am I the one off the mark here?* "I want you to feel good," Jim said. "Feel confident. I love being with you, Baby, but I don't want you to flashback when we're loving each other."

"Neither do I," Blair said lightly. "I don't want to flashback at all. But I needed that so much; needed to be with you. Needed the intimacy. Needed to see you, taste you...god, Jim, I needed it and it was so beautiful."

Jim smoothed Blair's hair, wishing he could calm the flood of words, wishing he could trust that they were true and not distorted by the aftermath of the panic attack. "There's a lot of ways we can be intimate," Jim said gently. "Just holding you is enough for me."

"Yeah," said Blair, a trace of humor in his voice. "But now that we've done more, I'm gonna want more. Not now, probably not tomorrow, but it was so good being with you like that, Jim."

Jim wondered what Blair would remember in the morning; and for that matter, what he would remember for their session with Fitzgerald. This would be difficult enough if they were just embarking on a relationship, but to do so in the midst of this unbelievable destruction...Were they crazy? Was there any way in hell they could make this work?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Stopped at yet another stop light, Jim heaved yet another sigh and shifted in his seat. He glanced at his watch and sucked some air through his teeth. He flipped on the radio and switched it to the Jags play-by-play. "Not quite the same as being there," he said morosely.

"No," Blair agreed mildly, lost in thought as he frequently was before a session.

"You know, at this rate, we might as well give away those season tickets. I mean, it's not like we can ever use them."

"Don't give them away," Blair said distractedly. "Keep some; you can get money for the rest."

"I don't want *money* for them, I want to fucking use them," Jim growled, gunning the motor to pass some joker doing 60 in the fast lane.

"We use them every chance we get," Blair pointed out.

Jim looked around as if trying to figure out where exactly they were. "Hardly," he muttered, weaving around several cars, then nearly missing his exit.

"Whenever we're free, we're there, man. That's efficient utilization of our Jags resources."

"Yeah, well, *free* is becoming a fond memory seeing as I'm practically camped out in Fitzgerald's waiting room every second of every day."

"You don't have to wait for me when I have my sessions," Blair said patiently. "And our joint sessions of one and a half hours a week shouldn't be that big a burden."

Jim's derisive snort illustrated what he thought of that remark. "Except that it always crops up the night something infinitely more palatable is available."

"Jim, you'd think a root canal was more palatable. And this is important."

"Right, important," Jim said, laying on the horn when a Ferrari pulled out in front of them.

"For god's sake, Jim, we're in plenty of time. No need to terrorize the motoring public."

"Don't tell me how to drive!"

"Well, then start driving and stop whatever the hell it is your doing. Want us both dead?"

"You're fucking steering every other aspect of my life, I'd like to fucking steer the *fucking* car on my own."

"Christ, Jim, I'm just worried. You're a goddamned menace to the road tonight. Protect and serve, remember?"

"More like Shut Up and Follow."

"Fine," said Blair sharply. "Be a danger to yourself and others if it will make you feel more manly. Just let me out so I can get a cab before I have to get an ambulance."

"Give it a rest," Jim said, but eased of the gas pedal. "Not everything is some gut wrenching drama."

"Nor is it some facile cop show that gets wrapped up by the final commercial," Blair said moodily.

"Whatever," Jim muttered. "Jesus, for what we're paying you'd think Fitzgerald could afford digs closer to town. This is ridiculous."

"It helps the separation from the everyday to drive a little. The distance is the same as to a Jags game, in actuality."

"What, you tracked it?"

Blair shrugged. "Looked at a map," he said carelessly.

"Why?"

"When he first gave me his card, I was in the hospital. There was a city map on the wall and a dearth of amusing things to do."

"Oh. Figured it was homework or something. God knows you jump to it when he assigns you something."

"He knows what he's doing, Jim. He's trying to help me."

"I know he's trying to help. I just thought there'd be more trying to get you to help yourself than him telling you what you should be doing and thinking and *feeling.*"

"I tell him what I'm feeling, Jim. He doesn't tell me what that should be."

"Well, as long as that's how you *feel* about it, that's all that matters, I suppose."

"What is this, Jim? What the fuck is eating you?"

"I just think we've progressed to the point where our lives don't need to revolve around Fitzgerald! If we've got something scheduled for a therapy night, we can skip the therapy once and it won't kill us."

"Mostly we don't schedule stuff for therapy night. And I think we still need it."

"I'm not saying we don't need it, I'm just saying it doesn't have to take precedence in our lives."

"I think it's a little more important than the Jags."

"You think that or Fitzgerald thinks that?"

"I can still think, you know. They didn't take that away from me."

"Fitzgerald might if you're not careful."

"What, you think actually listening to me and responding to what I say is part of his master plan to brainwash me?"

"It's not what he's doing it's how you react to it," Jim said. "Fitzgerald is just doin' his job. You're the one elevating him to some exalted position as Grand Leader."

"Grand Leader? Since when do I do that?"

"Since you started calling him because you can't pick between jeans and khakis! Since you started clipping newspaper articles and magazine references for him. Since you have him fucking call your *mother* for you! You want me to go on?"

"Oh, great. I called him because the pants gave me a panic attack. I clipped one damn article. He was in the room while I called Naomi, he certainly didn't call her for me. Are you ready to take an interest in my work? Help me call Naomi? Nurse me through a panic attack without turning it into something about *you*?"

"Right, right, I forgot, I couldn't possibly have *issues* with what happened, could I, Sandburg? Not as long as I'm not displaying them according to whatever rule book you've dreamed up! Nope, I'm just--what is it you're so fond of calling me again? Oh yeah, that's right, I'm just some dumb old Neanderthal. Too stupid for any feelings of my own!"

"You're not too stupid to have feelings. Just too stupid to express them."

"And you're too fucking messed up to notice when I *do* express them.

"Note that the only time you choose to express them is when you know I'm not able to notice or cope. Coincidence?"

"Note you're *rarely* able to notice or cope."

"Oh, yeah, I forgot that a gang rape comes somewhere between 'dental work' and 'migraine headache' on the James Ellison Scale of Acceptable Recovery Time."

"And I forget that watching said gang rape doesn't even *rate* on the Blair Sandburg Scale."

"Fuck! I'm glad you saw it. Otherwise, you'd probably think I made the whole thing up just to make your life tougher."

"You are so full of crap, Sandburg. You know, I thought dragging my ass to these therapy sessions would help you see who I really am but you still don't have a fucking clue."

"Oh, well, I did notice that you're a goddamn bump on a log in those sessions, but I didn't believe that was the real you."

"You're just going to twist whatever I say into more *proof* that I'm some kind of worthless schlep. I'd think you'd prefer I shut up, lest Fitzgerald start pointing out how stupid you must be to waste your time with me."

Jim pulled into a parking spot. They got out with simultaneously jerky movements. "Yeah, that's right, Jim. At least try to keep your mouth shut when your breathing," Blair hissed, and strode into Fitzgerald's building.

Jim walked through the door, set his shoulders and took a deep breath. He flashed his warmest smile at the receptionist. "Hi Gayle," he said happily. "How are you? Dr. Fitzgerald ready for us?"

Blair shot him a look of pure venom he completely missed, and Gayle buzzed Dr. Fitzgerald, then waved them in.

"No waiting," Blair hissed at Jim as they went into Dr. Fitzgerald's office.

Jim offered his hand to Fitzgerald. "Hey, Doc, how's it goin'?" he asked, taking his position on the couch in the sitting area.

"Fine," the doctor replied neutrally. "And you?"

Blair took his seat on the opposite end of the couch, saying nothing.

"Fine," Jim answered. "Kind of wishing we could move this meet to a sports bar for tonight, but, I'll get over it."

"Sure," Blair muttered from his side of the couch. "In about a couple of decades."

"Two at the most," Jim countered affably, leaning comfortably back on the cushions.

"Well, Jim," said Dr. Fitzgerald, picking up his notebook and taking his seat, "I don't know that I've ever seen you quite so relaxed. Did something good happen today?"

"Nothing in particular," Jim answered with a shrug. "Maybe I'm just getting used to doing this."

Blair laughed out loud at that, but said nothing, leaning back with his arms folded across his chest.

Jim didn't acknowledge the sound. "So doc, how far along are we, here? Halfway done, three-quarters done, what do you think?

"It doesn't quantify out like that, Jim," Dr. Fitzgerald said patiently.

"Yeah," agreed Blair. "No report cards or GPA's. No Graduate Blair and Jim Exam."

"But you have to have some idea where we are," Jim pointed out. "We're not expected to do this forever, right?"

"Is it a problem if you are?" Dr. Fitzgerald asked mildly.

"Well, I'd like to think we'll get back to living our own lives again at some point," Jim said.

Dr. Fitzgerald considered them both for a moment. "Aren't you? You're back at work, Blair's getting out and about more, things are gradually settling down..."

"Yeah, but having to come here, do this, is still there. Everything we do or say is potentially something we'll have to go over once we get here. It's like living under surveillence or something."

Blair finally spoke. "Is that why you're pretending we weren't in the middle of a mega-blowout when we got here?"

Jim gave Blair a look like the kid just spoke to him in a foreign language. "Blowout?" he echoed. "What?"

"We were arguing, Jim. Remember?"

"We disagreed. No need to overdramatize," Jim said mildly.

"No, Jim. Two 'goddamnits' and a 'shit' constitute a disagreement. There were at least three 'fuckings' and the forecast for 'son of a bitch' and 'motherfucker' was pretty good."

Jim smirked at Blair. "I had a drill seargent who could lay your flat on your back without a single gosh darn," he said. "Curse words don't mean anything."

"Then why were we flinging them about so freely? Face it, Jim, that was a big damn fight."

"We're going to disagree sometimes," Jim said with a shrug. "*Fight* if you like that word better. The traffic was bad, the Jags are on a ten game winning streak, and I'm missin' the game. Sue me for being frustrated."

"Jim, we both said some pretty cutting things. What the hell are you shining on here?"

"Shining on? Sandburg, what are you talking about?"

"You're sitting there like the worst thing either of us said was to ask that the other not leave the water running while brusing his teeth. You went from pissed to jovial in about five point two seconds."

"Maybe I was just relieved to finally park the car and get where we're going."

"Hah! You didn't even want to be here. I doubt very much that you're ever 'relieved' to get here!"

"Maybe it's one of those 'the sooner I get here the sooner I can leave' things then."

"Hardly. We're 'trapped' here for an hour and a half, remember, Jim? One of life's little unpleasantnesses you have to get out of the way to humor your fucked up little buddy."

"Well if we're never going to stop this, then I guess I'd better start getting used to it, right?'

"It will stop, Jim. But it'll last that much longer if you keep *lying.*"

"This from a man who says the truth is overrated," Jim said.

"That's right, Jim. You just keep pretending everything is A-O- fucking-K, putting on the Patient Lover for Fitz, pretending that everything's fine, then light into me as soon as we're back out in the truck."

"I don't do that," Jim said, but something in his voice had changed. The calm veneer no longer quite so deep, so confident.

"Listen to yourself! You spend a half hour pissing and moaning about missing the game, telling me I'm overly dependent on Fitz, insensitive, pathetic, and fucked up. Then we get in here and you're comfortable, relaxed, shit-eating grin firmly in place. So you tell me which was the big act."

"I didn't say that," Jim said, but didn't sound entirely convinced. "I was just...frustrated."

"And suddenly, the frustration vanishes. What, was CO2 leaking into the cab? You get in here and everything's fine again?"

"Look, I don't make a big secret of the fact that coming here makes me uncomfortable. But as long as I'm here, I'll try to make the best of it!"

"You were singing an entirely different tune on the way over here."

Dr. Fitzgerald looked at Jim. "Do you think that's true, Jim? Did you genuinely get over your anger, or are you forcing yourself to relax now?"

Jim opened his mouth to speak, then clamped it shut and slumped back in the couch. He looked genuinely confused. "I don't know," he finally said, shooting a look at Blair to see if he would answer for him. "I'm not angry right now, I know that much."

"Are you sure?" Dr. Fitzgerald asked. "Are you sure you haven't just internalized it?"

"How would I know?" Jim said. "I really don't feel angry right now."

"When exactly did your anger vanish? Can you pinpoint when and how?"

Blair simply sat on the couch, interested but still wary.

Jim thought for a moment. "We pulled into the parking lot," Jim said, speaking slowly as he remembered. "Found a place to park near the door. I thought that was a bonus. Got out of the car, Sandburg made some smart remark about making sure I breathed with my mouth closed, we headed inside, and then it was just...gone."

Blair said nothing, but was shaking his head.

"Are you sure that was the end of it? You don't know what the trigger was that shut the anger down for you?"

Jim watched Blair shaking his head. "Why don't you ask Sandburg?" he said. "He seems to know more than I do."

Blair held up his hands in a defensive gesture. "I've just never seen you cool down so fast before," he said. "Or so completely. That's all."

Jim shrugged, "I don't know!" he said again. "We walked inside and I knew we had to do this, and it was just...gone."

"You seemed unusually animated and cheerful when you came in," Dr. Fitzgerald ventured. "You didn't seem like someone who was resigned to an unpleasant inevitability."

"I'm just trying to do what we've gotta do here," Jim said.

"Well, I think what we need to do is trace the arc of your anger, if you'll pardon the expression. What triggered it in the first place?"

Jim sighed. "I wanted to go to the Jags game tonight and suggested we reschedule our session."

"Excuse me," Blair said, "but that's not exactly how I remember it. I don't recall your suggesting we reschedule it. I do remember getting into the truck, your turning on the play-by-play for the in- progress game, driving like a complete asshole, and basically implying that you wanted to bypass the session in favor of the game."

"Blair, please let Jim tell his side, OK?" Dr. Fitzgerald asked mildly.

Blair subsided back onto the couch.

"I called you this afternoon and suggested we postpone, Sandburg," Jim reminded him. "You acted like I wanted to knock over a bank or something!"

"Jim," Blair was unable to resist breaking in, "less than twenty-four hours before the appointment, and we're out the fee. Plus, we can skip a game now and again in favor of this. I happen to think this is way more important than a basketball game, and you know I don't say that lightly."

"Please, Blair," Dr. Fitzgerald interjected. "We're not going to get anywhere if Jim is constantly on the defensive."

Jim spoke directly to Blair. "Yeah, well you're not the one treated to an hour and a half dialogue of how stupid, useless and generally worthless you are every week. Maybe I find the game a little more appealing!"

"Is that how you see these sessions, Jim?" Dr. Fitzgerald's voice was encouragingly neutral.

Jim's mouth was agape, amazed Fitzgerald would even have to ask. "I'm either not feeling enough or what I feel is wrong," he said, standing up to pace as he made his list, "When I do try to explain what's goin' on with me, all of a sudden I'm selfish and I'm making
this about me. I'm stupid, I'm somehow incapable of understanding the intricacies of what Blair is going through, I'm too possessive, I'm too selfish, I'm too this, I'm too that. I'm obviously not helping, but when I offer to leave, I'm running away. I can't do anything right, that's reinforced over and over and over again. I mean, Jesus, I'm pretty much hopeless."

"Do you think that's an accurate assessment of what you're doing? Not of the sessions, but of you in general?"

"Blair would be getting better if it wasn't," Jim said.

"That's not true," Dr. Fitzgerald said with quiet sincerity. "In the first place, Blair *is* getting better. Further, and more importantly, there
is only so much responsibility you can take for Blair's recovery."

"I suppose," Jim mumbled. "Maybe I can't help him get better. But it's like I'm impeding the processes now."

"I don't see it that way in the least," Dr. Fitzgerald said firmly. "If it helps, from what I see, you're doing exceptionally well in a torturously difficult situation. However, it seems that there is still some anger and frustration. Do you want to talk about why it was so important that you present a cheerful, helpful affect when you and Blair first arrived, even though you had been arguing on the way over?"

But Jim wasn't ready to let go yet. "Doc, thanks, you know, for the vote of confidence and all, and I don't mean to insult you here or anything, but Blair's the one whose opinion matters here. He's the one who calls me for bein' selfish and turning this into something about me. He's the one who wants what I'm obviously not able to give. I mean, what are we doing here?"

"Blair's perceptions, and we've talked about this in our one-on-one sessions, are not really an accurate barometer here," Dr. Fitzgerald said.

"Yeah," Blair chimed in. "Hell, if I'm willing to give up a Jags game, you know I'm a couple of olives short of a martini."

"Well, that's not the preferred terminology, and we really need to work on your self-perception, Blair, but nicely put all the same," said Dr. Fitzgerald before turning back to Jim.

Jim just shook his head. "So I'm just supposed to ignore what Sandburg says? It's not that easy, doc, especially when it's seems like all I hear."

"Does Blair do that? Is he constantly telling you you're inadequate and obstructing his recovery?"

"Okay, I'm exaggerating. It's not constant. And he's never said I'm obstucting his recovery. But it is daily. And it *feels* true, what he says. And I trust Blair's judgment a hell of a lot better than my own, so you make the call."

"Why don't you trust your own judgement, knowing that Blair's is impaired right now?"

"Impaired isn't offline," Jim said with a shrug. "There's no denying this is how Blair feels. It all just seems so futile. Like, I'll never be able to get this right, so why do I keep trying?"

"Because it isn't futile. But getting back to this anger of yours..."

Jim returned to his seat. "That's it?" he asked quietly. "I spill my guts and tell you how this isn't working and this is it?"

"I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't mean to dismiss your feelings. But I'm trying to determine if this feeling of inadequacy is constant, or just part of your current frustration. Do you always feel this way?"

Jim's face turned wary. He looked from Fitzgerald to Sandburg and back to Fitzgerald. "Since the attack? Well, yeah, of course," he said.

Blair visibly restrained himself from protesting.

"Why is that, Jim? Do you honestly believe that the care and devotion you've been demonstrating toward Blair is somehow not enough? Or is this more than that?"

"He keeps telling me it's not enough. I'm cold, I'm unfeeling. I didn't care when this was happening to him. But to answer your question, my fucking up is nothing new. Is that what you're asking?"

"When does he tell you that? Does it just come out of the blue, while you're eating dinner? Or is it more related to his panic attacks?"

Jim ran his hand over the back of his head. "Whenever he wants to talk about it and I don't," he ventured. "When we're eating or driving or watching tv. I don't think it's related to his panic attacks any more than it is to the sun coming up or the rain falling."

"Are there a lot of times when he wants to talk about it and you don't?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, I'd say that's an accurrate statement."

"Why do you think that is?"

"I guess because I know it's going to end up as another example of what I'm doing wrong."

"And am I right in thinking that your perception is that Blair's chief complaint is your reluctance to discuss the issue, and your own feelings about it?"

Jim shook his head. "Not exactly. I'll discuss it whenever he brings it up. I feel like his chief complaint is that I don't feel what I'm supposed to; that I don't express it like I should."

"Do you yourself feel that it's hard to express your feelings about the attack to Blair? Do *you* think you have the 'wrong' feelings?"

"Yes, it's hard to express my feelings about this!" Jim said. "Jesus, it was an abomination! It shouldn't be like discussing the fucking weather or something!" Jim was quiet for a few minutes after that, stealing looks at Blair, still looking for guidance. "I feel what I feel," he said with shrug. "I don't think there is a right or a wrong."

"That's good, Jim. That's really good. Do you think Blair thinks it was any less of an abomination because he wants to talk about it?"

Jim shook his head. "No, of course not."

"OK. Do you think your reluctance to talk about the attack is related in any way to your coming in here so cheerfully tonight, in spite of the unresolved disagreement with Blair on the way over?"

Jim thought about that. "I don't...I don't know," he said. "I mean, I just figured I don't want to talk about what happened because it was awful, and talking about it won't change anything. And even though Blair and I were arguing, that doesn't mean we should subject you to it."

"So we have two things you think are awful, and your reaction to both is to, forgive the jargon, suppress?"

"You say that like it's a bad thing across the board. Exposing everything isn't always the way to go either."

"That's why I referred to it as 'jargon.' Suppression in a clinical sense doesn't carry the negative connotations it's acquired in the public mind." Fitzgerald looked at Jim to make sure he understood. At Jim's curt nod, he continued. "It's true that we all have to keep secrets to preserve ourselves and society. Complete and free expression, or exposure, is an ideal not to be devoutly wished for. However, some expression of anger, sadness, grief, and so on is healthy and necessary."

"Agreed," Jim said.

"Let me digress for a moment. When you were growing up, Jim, did your parents disagree or argue much?"

Jim's frown said he doubted the relevence of such a question. "My mother left when I was eight," he said. "I don't really remember. I guess they must have or she wouldn't have left, right?"

"And what was your father's reaction when she left?"

"Like I said, I was only eight. I wouldn't really know."

"Eight? That's...third grade, right? What was your teacher like?"

Jim grinned. "Miss Short," he said, remembering clearly. "She, uh, had big feet and taught us to count to ten in German. I don't remember much else. Why?"

"You remember your teacher's name, and, judging by your physical reactions, you can picture her in your mind. The memory makes you smile. Yet you don't remember the events leading up to your mother's leaving, and what your father's reaction was to that event." Dr Fitzgerald's voice was gentle and soothing.

Jim blinked hard a couple of times, tried to focus back over the years, but no picture was forthcoming. He remembered his mother visiting him at kindergarten once. Remembered a family trip to an amusement park. There was before, when he mother was there, and after, when she was gone, but nothing about her actually going. "He took down most of her pictures," Jim said helpfully.

"Do you remember what, if anything, you were told to tell people outside the family about your mother's sudden absence?"

"We weren't supposed to tell them anything," Jim said, with a sudden, rueful laugh. "It was none of their damn business." He was obviously quoting his father. Jim understood what Fitzgerald was doing. He leaned back and was quiet for a long time. "Talking wouldn't bring her back, so we weren't supposed to talk about her," he said, mostly to himself.

Fitzgerald nodded. "And should anyone, teachers, acquaintances, ask, were you to tell them, what?"

"At first, it was that my grandmother was sick and she had to go stay with her. Later, we moved and we just had to say she was gone. Most people didn't really ask questions when you said that."

"So you were basically told to lie about what had happened?"

"Yeah, I guess we were," Jim said, sounding as if he just realized the fact.

"Was your father prominent in the community? Was it a small town?"

"It wasn't a small town," Jim said, "And I don't believe we were prominent."

"So it wouldn't particularly imperil your father's earning power or reputation if the truth were to get out?"

"No," Jim admitted. "Not at all. We were all a reflection of him, you know. He didn't want anything to tarnish him."

"But he wanted you to deny that your mother left her marriage and family through her own choice, took all her pictures down, and discouraged references to her. Do you see how this pattern may, in a way, be repeating itself now?"

The revelation was obviously unsettling to the detective. He sat down, then stood up again and moved restlessly away from the others. "Jesus, I'm *him!*" he said, shuddering as if his skin was crawling.

Fitzgerald smiled a bit at Jim's exaggeration. "Hardly. In fact, in light of your background, in which you were essentially taught that appearances were more important than the truth, I'd say you have remarkable integrity. Actually, in my opinion, you have remarkable personal integrity by anyone's standards. However, in a sense, you are denying the magnitude of what was done to you and Blair."

"So?" Jim gestured impatiently. "How do I fix this?"

"Well, you've got a good start on it today, by expressing your frustration with the process. Just coming out and saying that you feel like discussing the attack will only result in your being judged and found wanting is a good beginning. But you also need to probe a little deeper, get past how you feel about *talking* about the attack to how you feel about the attack itself."

"Yeah, I get it," Jim said, and for the first time, he did.

"Do you think you can explore that tonight?"

Jim flinched, but before answering, asked Fitzgerald a question of his own. "What's your take on patient-client confidentiality?" he asked. "I mean, there have to be some instances in which it doesn't apply, correct?"

"Yes, there are. Should a client tell me something that leads me to believe that the client may be a danger to himself or others, or offers information, directly or indirectly, that a minor or non compos mentis adult is being abused, neglected, or endangered, I would be obligated to report that to the police."

Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Right," he said. "It's really important that I be able to do this, isn't it?" he said, this time posing the question to Blair.

"If you can. If it feels right," Blair said. "Would you like me to step out?"

"No, no, I don't," Jim said. He returned to the couch, this time sitting closer to Blair. "Is this okay?" he asked the younger man.

"Yeah," said Blair quietly, and picked up Jim's hand to hold it in his. "Is this?"

Jim shuddered. "Oh yeah," he whispered. "Yeah."

Blair smiled a bit, nodded to Jim. "It's safe here, Jim," he whispered back.

Jim looked at their hands. "I don't feel safe very often," he admitted. "Except with you."

"Can you talk about when we weren't safe together?" Blair asked quietly. "Do you think you can do that?"

Jim nodded but said nothing. Swallowing convulsively, he kept his head down, staring at those clasped hands.

"OK," Fitzgerald said, obviously relectant to intrude. "What do you think of first whenever Blair brings up the attack?"

"The way he...the sounds. I remember the sounds," Jim said. "The way he cried out. It was so helpless, he sounded so...terrified."

"And how does that sense-memory make you feel?"

"My instinct is to say rage, but beneath that, under that, it's just this...this really awful, agonizing sense of anguish. It's hard to explain. I've had friends die on me; lost men whose lives I was responsible for; watched innocent people die. I've felt loss before, but this is...this is something else. It's just this permeating sense of...loss."

"What do you think was lost?"

Jim's breath caught. "Blair," he whispered. "My Blair." He gruffly cleared his throat, and continued to speak without looking up. "You have to understand, I...I loved Blair. And I knew then, I knew right then that no matter what happened, no matter what I ever did, he would be different after this. He would never, ever be the same and I would never have him back. And oh, Jesus, I loved him. Everything...everything about him. I've never felt like this before, you know? But everything about him brought me joy and they took that away."

"During the attack, did you stop loving him?"

"No, Christ, no!" Jim said. "I couldn't. Loving Blair is as fundamental to who I am as breathing. But I knew I had seen the last of who he was before."

"You said that everything about him brought you joy, and they took that. You weren't in a romantic relationship with him before the attack, were you?"

"Well, maybe in my head," Jim admitted with a self-deprecating smile. "No, we weren't. I was too...cowardly. Too afraid to mess up the friendship we did have. Some part of me just seemed to know the sexual part of it would fall into place eventually. I guess that was pretty adolescent thinking on my part, but it was how I felt. Like, I couldn't love Blair this much and have it *not* happen for us."

"Do you keep an image in your mind now of what a relationship with Blair would be like if the attack hadn't happened?"

Jim's mouth dropped open and he brought his gaze up to Fitzgerald's, then looked over at Blair, feeling momentarily betrayed, as if Blair had revealed a secret. "Yeah, I do," he said. "That's really bad, right?"

"No, not bad. But it may be an impediment, if you hold an ideal up like that. Especially since you have, in fact, no way of knowing what such a relationship would have been. Do you imagine you and a Blair, having never been attacked, having disagreements? Petty arguments?"

"Well, no," Jim admitted, with another sheepish grin. "Pretty much all hearts and roses now that you mention it."

"So when Blair brings up the attack, confronts you with it, as it were, you have to face that your idealized relationship with him is just that: idealized?"

"Yeah," Jim said. "And then, it's like I lose him all over again."

Fitzgerald nodded and thought for a moment. "When you said you felt a loss, more specifically the loss of Blair as he was before the attack, was that the only loss you remember feeling at the time?"

"I thought I could protect Blair," Jim admitted. "I would never, never have let him out there with me if I didn't think I could keep him safe. I think about that now--that *arrogance*--and it amazes me! As if I haven't learned a hundred times over that it doesn't work that way. Yet there I was, *certain* nothing would ever happen to him."

"And yet it did."

"Yeah, it did. And now...now I can't even protect him from some stupid tv show. I can't do anything for him."

"How have you felt differently about yourself since the attack? You've talked about how you feel about Blair, how you feel about the relationship, but how do you, Jim Ellison, feel these days?"

Jim squeezed Blair's hand, feeling the same pressure constricting around his heart. He shook his head and shrugged. "Useless," he whispered.

Blair squeezed back as Fitzgerald prompted softly, "Do you think you really are useless, or do you think perhaps this is a residual feeling from the helplessness you experienced during the attack?"

"I know I'm not handling this as well as I should, and that makes it harder for Blair to get better. I suppose part of it is residual from the attack."

"Would you believe me if I told you that the best way you can handle it is exactly the way you 'should?' Which, incidentally, is a word to which my professional reaction is supposed to be immediate and automatic denial. And we aren't exactly in laboratory conditions here. You don't know how a 'control' Blair would get better without you, with you behaving differently, and so on."

Jim laughed. "I liked feeling like I could control everything," Jim said sadly. "You know, there were some days, when I was working with Blair, and everything was coming together, I felt invincible. Invincible, Doc."

"Well, not to be too facetious here, but at times I like to think I can play guitar like Jimmy Page. And that's OK, as long as I don't quit my practice and try to get on as a musician. Thinking we can control everything feels nice, but it's illusory. And when life proves us wrong, it can be devestating if we don't already believe that we have an inherent right to exist, regardless of our imperfections and inabilities."

Jim squeezed Blair's hand again, gripping it like a lifeline. He leaned closer and was quiet for awhile, just feeling his heart thudding against his rib cage. "Imperfections and inabilities," he echoed.

"That's all of us, Jim. Much as we would like to be, we're none of us King of the Forest. We can't keep those we love safe from life all the time."

"When I was younger," Jim began, then his voice trailed off and he had to gruffly clear it. "Imperfections weren't tolerated. Failure was something to avoid at all costs because the costs of failure were too big."

"What was the price of failure, Jim?"

Again Jim shook his head. "What ever was most important to me at the time," he said finally.

"Was this when you were a child?"

"Yes," Jim said hoarsely.

"Do you think you can give me an example?"

Blair squeezed Jim's hand. "Want me to leave?" he stage- whispered to Jim.

Jim smiled. "There's nothing you don't know," Jim said back to him. "Besides," he gave a laugh with just a tinge of hysteria to it. "I, uh, don't think I can let go of your hand right now."

"You don't have to," Blair assured him. "Hell, you can have the other one!" Blair shifted so that he could hold Jim's hand in both of his.

"Jim?" Fitzgerald prompted.

"When I was 14, I didn't make the JV basketball team in high school. My father was real big on organized sports. I had a horse then, that I was training, showing in 4-H shows and stuff. When my dad found out that I didn't make the team, he went off about how I was spending too much time with that damn horse and how I'd better get my priorities straight, that kind of thing. I got home from a school a few days later, and he'd sold the horse."

"Am I right in guessing that this was your father's standard reaction to any kind of percieved failure?"

"Yeah," Jim said, grimacing. "I started thinking he bought us things just so he could take them away when we screwed up."

"That's entirely possible. Probable, even. Have you ever thought about the life you've pursued as an adult in terms of the patterns your father created for you?"

Jim smirked at the doctor. "No, I never did that," he said.

"Well, not to get too touchy feely on your ass here, Jim," Fitzgerald said with a smile of his own, "but think about the choices you've made as an adult; the career choices especially."

"Army officer, police officer, detective..." Jim listed outloud. "Authority inherent in all three, that's obvious."

"Hmmm. Not only do you have authority over others, but you've consistently been in situations in which, quite literally, the price of failure is death or best offer."

"So, what, I've sought out careers where my failing to perform has the most dire consequences possible? I'd think if I was acting out against my childhood that I'd choose careers that are the exact opposite."

"That may be," Fitzgerald said mildly. "But I put it to you that you wouldn't have chosen those kinds of careers, or, if you had, you wouldn't have done so well in them as you've done now."

"How well I've done is debatable," Jim said. "I lost all of my men in Peru, and you can't exactly call my attempt to protect Blair a success."

"OK, since you brought it up, what attempt did you make to protect Blair?"

"I tried to teach him procedure, tried to keep him out of the line of fire, tried to keep the...ugliness I see every day from touching him."

"Do you feel, that in general, these precautions were successful? The attack aside?"

"He picked up on procedure really fast," Jim said, rubbing his thumb against Blair's hand. "I couldn't seem to keep him out of the line of first though. And he's seen a lot of things I wish I could have kept from him."

"Has seeing these things made him a lesser person?"

"No," Jim said softly, and he turned and touched his lips to Blair's temple. "Sadder maybe. Less insulated, certainly not lesser."

"So, in general, up to the attack, your protection of Blair worked? He got shot in the leg, and took one point-blank on Kevlar, saw some stuff most people wouldn't have to, but remained intact and Blair, correct?"

"Yeah," Jim said, a little sadly. "He remained Blair."

"But then came the attack. Tell me what you were doing, specifically, that day to protect yourself and Blair from the world and its random brutality?"

"I dropped the ball that day," Jim said. "We were checking out some drug runners at an old warehouse near the wharf. We thought it was a no go, so we were coming back home. I wasn't paying attention. Wasn't *listening.* We were talking, heading out of there, and we get to the door we'd come in and it was jammed. It took us a second to jimmy it open and when we did, there were three of them waiting for us."

"And you feel you should have been able to hear them?"

Jim froze briefly. "I don't know," he said, but the comment seemed directed more toward Blair than the doctor.

Blair shook his head slightly. "I don't remember the exact circumstances too well. My impression is that there was too much ambient noise and no reason to filter it out, but I wouldn't swear to it."

Fitzgerald nodded. "So, the mistake, if it was one, was a relatively minor slip-up that ended up having grave consequences. What happened when the three of them jumped you?"

"Do you need to go?" Jim asked Blair quietly.

Blair shook his head. "No, but I do believe a preventative round of Ativan would be in order," he said. Wordlessly, Fitzgerald handed him a sample box. Blair opened it, took the pill, and once more gave his hands to Jim. "I'm set," he said.

"They knocked me around a little," Jim said. "Couple of sucker punches, nothing major. Two of 'em were coked to the gills, I worried about them the most at first. They were really just buying time while a shipment of heroin was being loaded onto a ship; we'd been nosing in too close and they were clearing out for awhile."

"They took us into one of the rooms of the warehouse, started to tie both of us up, then got to thinking how they could pass the time until they got the call to join their collegues."

Jim looked down at Blair. "Are you okay, Baby?" he asked, not noticing the endearment. Blair nodded.

"They put me in a chair and cuffed my hands behind my back. The blond one, Saunders, he was petting Blair's hair, and watching me, and thinking, and I knew then what he wanted to do. I tried to...to steel myself against it, knowing the more vehement my reaction the worse it would be, the more he would enjoy doing this. So I froze inside, put everything on hold. Just shut down and waited for them to kill us."

Blair nodded, and Jim went on.

"OK, going back to when they first jumped you. Was there something you could have done to prevent their physically securing you to the chair?

"If I'd been a little faster, a little stronger, I could have broken the neck of the smaller one, maybe used his gun on the others."

"Can you imagine any circumstances under which you would not do everything within your power you could to protect yourself and Blair?"

The questions weren't difficult, but for some reason, Jim had trouble articulating an answer. He worked at it for a minute before shaking his head and saying, "No. No I can't."

"Before the attack, were you angry or unhappy with either yourself or Blair for any reason?"

"No, not at all. We were joking around; it had been a good day."

"You said something that indicated you thought you were being less attentive to duty than usual. Do you think if you *had* been angry, you would have been more focused?"

"I don't know," Jim said, ducking his head to meet Blair's eyes, as if he would better be able to give an answer to that.

"Do you think if you had been alone, things would have turned out differently? In that perhaps you would have been less able to defend yourself, or even better able to defend yourself?"

Jim remembered finally forcing the door to the warehouse open, only to find the three men standing there, training their weapons on the two of them. Could events have turned out differently? What if he'd been in the warehouse alone? Saunders hadn't seemed interested in playing any games with him, would he have simply shot him in the back and been done with it? Did it matter what *could* have happened. Jim shook his head. "No," he said hoarsely. "I...I think it would have ended the same. Or more likely with me dead."

"Would you have preferred it that way?"

The quiet question, in the serene room, seemed incongrously loud and explosive. Blair flinched, his hands gripping Jim's tightly.

Jim thought for a long time, vaguely appreciative that Fitzgerald didn't have a ticking clock in the room. "If it would have saved Blair from being assaulted, then yes, I would have preferred it that way," Jim said.

"You value the sanctity of your lover's body more than your own life?" Fitzgerald asked calmly.

Jim looked up at Fitzgerald and shrugged helplessly. "Right now? This second? Yeah, I guess I do."

"OK. I've gotten the impression in the past that you blame yourself for the attack. You've also described the attack in terms of loss, in terms of something being taken from you and Blair. Is it possible that you blame yourself for the attack because of the patterns your father set for you all those years ago?"

"I'm not sure I follow, doc. You're saying I have a guilt complex?"

"Who doesn't? Actually, what I'm getting at is that you think the attack took something away from you and Blair. Taking what you most valued was your father's preferred punishment when you 'failed.' Do you think there was some failure on your part that the attack was punishment for?"

Jim blinked, as if the sun had just unexpectedly appeared from behind a cloud. "Wow," he said softly. "And I thought $325 an hour was unreasonable."

"That's for an hour and a half, for two clients. And I turned off the meter during your, um, discussion with Blair. But back to the question, as you
look back at the days and weeks before the attack, was there some percieved 'failure' on your part that went unpunished?"

"I don't think..." Jim started to say then caught Blair's eye again. "There wasn't was there? There wasn't."

Blair shrugged. "I don't live in your pocket, fun though crowded at times as that may be."

Jim nudged Blair's shoulder with his own and shook his head at Fitzgerald. "There wasn't," he said again, this time with more confidence.

"So there's nothing you can think of that *logically* makes you responsible for the attack?""

Jim heaved a giant sigh, his hand reflexively tightening its grip on Blair's. "No, I can't."

"But you were punished anyway. You have the effect, but no cause, yet you still feel you must have been at fault in some way."

"That's how it happened sometimes," Jim said, suddenly sounding far away. "You'd think everything was going along great, and all of a sudden the car was sold or a trip was cancelled. It was up to us to figure out what we'd messed up."

"Do you think that the car was sold or the trip cancelled or whatever because of something you'd done? I mean looking back. Do you now
think that maybe those things had nothing to do with you, and you were just programmed to believe you were at fault?"

Jim nodded, that one was easy. "Oh yeah, that's why I left. I realized I was never going to please him; he was always going to find something to complain about, to blame me for. You'd think I'd know all this; have learned from all that crap back then."

"If the patterns are set early enough and strongly enough, it can take a lifetime to unlearn them. Look at yourself: you realized your situation was untenable at home, but then joined the Army, which is notorious for its arbitrary system of punishment and reward."

"So how do I unlearn it?" Jim asked, leaning forward.

"Well, I've got an affirmation here. I don't seriously expect you to recite it at the mirror twenty times a day or anything, but I want you to tell me what you think of this statement: I am a unique individual, and I have an inherent right to exist regardless of anything else I may do nor not do."

Jim grinned at the doctor, but the respect in his eyes was unmistakeable. "I'd say 325 an hour is starting to sound unreasonable again, doc."

"But you get a free lollipop," Dr. Fitzgerald protested. "Just something to think about, Jim. In your past, it would not have been unreasonable for a child to come to the conclusion that his own right to exist as a member of the Ellison family, or just in general, was in some way tied to his ability to perform in school, life, sports, and so on."

"Yeah, I hear what you're sayin'," Jim said. "I'm really hearin' it this time."

"It was the mention of a lollipop, wasn't it?" Fitzgerald asked playfully. "In terms of unlearning those patterns, it's a good place to start. Think about the rewards and accolades that you've recieved, and how much they've affected your self-image."

"I've received a lot of them," Jim said, his manner disinterested more than boastful. "But the only one I remember is Detective of the Year. That felt nice. Like Blair and I earned it together."

"Fine, but I meant to think about during the next week. Think of it this way: A person has their entire self-image wrapped up in their perfect driving record. This is the thing they're proudest of. No matter what happens, they can say to themselves, 'Well, at least I'm a good driver.' Then this person gets in an accident, and suddenly they have nothing to point to justify their right to exist. Sounds silly, but it happens. And with things that might make a lot more sense to you and me."

Jim nodded, then cocked his head to the side. "Like, I could tell myself that if someone like Blair loves me, then I've gotta be doing something right; there's gotta be something to me for a man like him to want me in his life. Like that?"

"You could tell yourself that, and that would be all right up to a point. But if that's the only reason you can think of why you should be on the planet, that could be a bit of a problem."

"I'm a good cop," Jim said. "I believed that before. I make a difference. Maybe...maybe not so much this time, but I have. I can."

"OK, that's more positive. And it's a good thing to think of yourself. But, again, unless you've acknowledged that you have a right to be alive no matter what you do, this could get you into trouble. Like now. Your being a good cop couldn't prevent the attack, so then you think you must not be a good cop. And if you're not a good cop, then what are you? Blair's lover. But Blair can't love you exactly the way you would like, also because of the attack. So then what? And so on. And if the pattern is for you to think that you have to earn your way by good deeds, and that 'failure,' even when out of your control, means no right to exist, then you get yourself in a pretty bad spot, psychologically speaking."

Jim measured the doctor, who met his gaze head on. Jim grinned. "I am a unique individual, and I have an inherent right to exist regardless of anything else I may do or not do."

Dr. Fitzgerald laughed aloud. "Of course you do. That's the whole point. Do you think any of this has helped you tonight?"

"I think...yeah it has. A Jags game seems pretty damn petty right about now. I'm sorry, Kid, for being such a dick."

Blair glanced at the doctor. "I guess that's an issue for another time, huh?" he said in an aside. Fitzgerald shrugged.

"We've already gone over, but if you'd prefer to address it in here, we can always do that," he said.

"Nah, it can wait," Blair said. "Jim's done his time in session for now."

"If you're sure," the doctor frowned.

"Time off for good behavior?" Jim asked Blair.

"I guess so," Blair sighed. "Let's roll."

"Blair, if this is bothering you, maybe you should talk about it. It's no secret that I think you need to re-learn about self-assertion."

Jim hesitated, still holding Blair's hand so the younger man couldn't get up. "Hey, if you want to talk about this, we talk about it," Jim said.

"Well," Blair hesitated, not meeting Jim's eyes. "It's really dumb and petty and not worth mentioning..."

"No way," Jim said. "Not after you sat here with me and listened to me spill my guts. What is it?"

"Endearments," Blair said, sounding embarrassed.

"What?" Jim asked.

"You know, terms of endearment," Blair muttered, looking at the floor.

"I know, Chief," Jim said gently. "I meant, what about them?"

"Baby bugs me a little, but not too bad. But I really, really hate Kid. I
mean, if we're being intimate, you can call me Oz the Great and Powerful and I won't care, but when we're just talking, I really, really, really, really hate Kid."

"I'm sorry," Jim said sincerely. "Consider it dropped."

"I mean, it's really no big deal, and if it's important to you, but it kind of bothers me and I feel so dumb for even mentioning it..."

"Blair, it's just a nickname," Jim said. "If you really, really, *really* hate when I use it, then I'm not going to use it."

"Thanks," Blair muttered, squeezing Jim's hand.

"And on that promising note, we should probably close out here. Any unfinished business?" Dr. Fitzgerald asked briskly.

"Nothing that won't wait until next week," Jim said, then grinned. "or the week after that, or the week after that, or...well, you get the picture, doc. You got anything, Blair?"

"Nah," Blair said. "Except a craving for Jamocha Almond Fudge ice cream. And Fitz here only carries Cherry Garcia."

"Carries is right," Dr. Fitzgerald muttered. "Oh, sorry, gentlemen, just a little dentistry humor. Now, go forth and enjoy your right to exist!"

And all the way home, Jim listened, smiling, as Blair told him of his secret suspicion that Jerry Garcia may have been his father.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim jogged downstairs, mildly surprised to find Blair at the table, eating a waffle and reading the sports section.

"Morning, Chief," Jim said, pouring himself a cup of coffee and sitting down across from him.

"Morning, Jim," Blair said agreeably enough, sipping his coffee and turning a page.

"Front page?" Jim said.

"What about it?" Blair asked, turning the page yet again.

"Could I see it?"

"No," Blair said.

"No?" Jim echoed. "Something in there you don't want me to read, Chief?"

"No," Blair said, "but I'm gonna be done with sports in about two minutes, and then I'm going to want to read Section A."

"Okay," Jim said affably and waited for Blair to set the section aside and pick up the other. "Hey, Ryf needs to know if we want those hockey tickets. You wanna go to the game?"

Before long, Blair put down sports, positioned the front page next to his waffles, and got up, apparently for another coffee. "No," he said as he pushed his chair back.

Jim held up his own cup, still reading the paper. "That'll make Joel happy. He's got dibs if we don't want 'em."

"Good for Joel," Blair said as he strode past Jim and poured himself a cup of coffee. He then returned to his seat, picked up the front page, and and ate a bit of waffle.

Jim pulled away his still empty cup and gazed into it. Another shrug, and he was on his feet and pouring himself another cup. "If we don't go to the hockey game, that means we're free Saturday. Does that mean we're going to that lecture thing on campus?"

"No," Blair said absently, munching some more waffle.

Jim felt a slow grin tug at the corners of his mouth. Fitzgerald had been after Blair to become more self-assertive. Looked like they had a little field test of their own going on here. Jim thought he'd better make sure. "No lecture series, huh?" he said, thoughtfully rubbing his chin.

"No," said Blair, finishing off his waffle and tossing the front page onto an empty chair.

Jim glanced at the paper, nonchalantly picking it up and thumbing through the pages. "I've gotta testify in court tomorrow, think you could swing by the dry cleaners and pick up my blue suit today?"

"No," said Blair, leaving his plate and wandering to his laptop by the couch.

Jim grinned down at the paper. "No, huh? Guess I'll have to do that on my lunch hour then."

"Or after work," Blair said genially, powering up his computer.

Jim nodded like that was a good thought. He leaned back in the chair. "Hey, Chief? Did I miss a meeting where the House Rules were amended? I thought cleaning up the breakfast dishes was right up there with no flushing after ten pm."

"No," said Blair, poking at the keyboard.

"No," Jim echoed. He swallowed the rest of his coffee and rinsed out the cup, disposing of Blair's dishes at the same time. Then he leaned against the counter and grinned at the smug look on Sandburg's face. "Hey, Sandburg," he called, moving gracefully over to lean against the arm of the couch. "You ever known anyone as hot as I am?" he asked.

Blair looked up at him, considering. "No," he finally said, but he had to think about it.

"I didn't think so," Jim agreed. He walked over to stand behind the younger man, watching the computer boot up and Blair select the file he wanted you. "You ever loved anyone as much as you love me?"

There was no hesitation this time. "No."

Jim grinned, liking this test more than any other he'd ever taken. "Are you ever gonna stop loving me more than you love anybody else?"

Blair punched up a .jpg of Keanu Reeves. He looked at Jim, back at Keanu, back to Jim, and back at Keanu. A long pause. "No," he eventually said.

Head back, Jim laughed outloud. "Damn straight," he said heading to the shower. "I could take that scrawny Hollywood type anyday...Unless..." Jim paused at the bathroom door. "Do you *want* to throw me over for one of those scrawny Hollywood types?"

"No," said Blair. "But then *they* haven't asked."

"And what if they asked," Jim said. "What would you tell them?"

"No," said Blair with a grin.

Jim nodded. "Yeah, you'd look pretty silly with a hundred and ninety pounds of whiny cop attached to your ankle anyway."

Blair said nothing, just punched some keys to select his dissertation file.

Jim shook his head, smiling, and headed for the shower, resolving not to ask Sandburg anything important for the rest of the day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim walked into Hargrove Hall, nodding and waving as he was greeted by Sandburg's collegues. *Odd to feel so comfortable coming into this crusty old place,* Jim thought as he jogged up the stairs. Blair's office door was ajar, but there was no sign of Sandburg. The trademark disarray of his desk indicated he was somewhere. Jim poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down in the only other free chair in the place.

"Wo-ho," said Blair, coming into the office. "Call the Stud MP's because one of their own is AWOL and in my office!"

Jim wanted to smirk, but instead ended up wearing his Idiot Grin. "Hey. Came by to see if the bright young anthropological star wanted to treat this old cop to dinner."

"Dunno," said Blair. "Are we gonna have to ask them to blenderize your entree in deference to your aged mouth *again*?"

Jim chuckled. "I was thinking you could chew it for me and pass it over every timed we kissed. And I'm *really* hungry, Sandburg."

"Eeeew! I can dress you up but I can't take you anywhere," Blair lamented. "Incidentally, El Fitz called. We are cancelled for tomorrow, and next time it's on the house."

"Oh yeah?" Jim said and didn't sound a relieved as such a reprieve normally made him. "Huh. Wonder why?"

"Mother very, very sick, hopefully not terminal. Has to go to Boston. Point is, we have extra money to play with!"

"I can buy that part for the dryer!" Jim said brightly.

"You can buy a whole new dryer!"

"More fun to fix the one we've got," Jim said.

"Yeah. Point is, the money for this week is budgeted yet not spent, as is the money for next week. We can go fancy if we want. Toscetti's?"

"Mmm, yeah," Jim said. "That means ties, though."

"Ties, schmies! We can let the maitre d' kit us out. Or we could go buy matching ones at Nordie's!" Blair grinned at Jim.

Jim laughed. "With my luck, we'd run into the Commissioner. I'd *never* live it down."

"Yeah, like his d.p. is such hot shit," Blair said. "Ooooh, I'm such a bitch!"

"Sandburg, flame off for a minute," Jim said with a snort. "Look, uh, I want to tell you something before you hear it somewhere else. Sit down for a sec."

Blair sat down, making much of crossing his legs and flapping his wrists. "You go, boy," he said campily.

Jim rolled his eyes, smacking Blair's legs down. "This is serious, Sandburg, listen up."

Blair became himself again. "What is it, Jim?"

"Vic Saunders was killed in prison yesterday. They think he propositioned another prisoner and was gutted in the shower for it."

"Gutted?" Blair asked, dazed. "Gutted?"

"Gutted," Jim repeated.

"Propositioned? I didn't know he bothered to ask."

"That's pretty much what I thought," Jim said, monitoring Blair's vitals and glad the kid's heart was only slightly elevated.

"Well," said Blair. "That's two. Now at least there's only one of them wandering around."

"Actually," Jim said, "Eldred was killed in a car accident a few weeks ago. They're all dead, Blair. They can't hurt you anymore."

"All of them are dead?" Blair asked. "That's kind of...coincidental, isn't it?"

"Given the lives they led?" Jim said, pondering to himself for a minute. "I don't think so. Pretty much died the way they lived, wouldn't you say?"

"Yeah, I guess so. It's just...I dunno."

"That part of it's over," Jim said quietly. "As least we don't have to worry about a trial or any of that shit. I know it's not much, but it's...something."

"Yeah. I just...should feel *something*, you know, and I don't."

"You don't have to feel anything," Jim said with a shrug.

"Yeah, but I don't. Just this weird indifference."

"Not so weird," said Jim. "I felt kind of the same way when Simon told me. He was looking at me kind of funny, like the news was supposed to cheer me up or something and it was just like, oh, fucker's dead, huh? and that was it."

"Yeah. I have all these revenge fantasies; I should be happy or mad or something. But I just feel... numb."

"Numb's okay," Jim said. "You wanna nix dinner? Go back home and order a pizza or something?"

"Yeah, I guess. What am I supposed to do now, though?"

"About what?"

"Revenge fantasies. They've been abrogated. Now what?"

"I don't know," Jim said. "Sounds like a question for Fitz."

"Guess so. Well, as long as it's not making me freak, I guess I'm OK. It's just...weird."

"I think it's a kind of weird we can live with," Jim said, handing Blair his coat and heading for the door.

"Yeah," said Blair, and turned off the light before locking the door behind them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair bounced into the loft on a late November afternoon, rays of light bouncing of his hair. Jim smiled; Blair looked so happy and vital. But there was still a trace of delicacy and thinness about him. Blair grinned at Jim. "Guess who I heard from today?"

"Not that squirrely Hollywood guy you're always looking at, I hope," Jim said, grinning back.

"Keanu is more of a chipmunk than a squirrel," Blair defended. "Like Ah-nold is so human and all," he teased.

"Who did you hear from?" Jim asked dryly.

"Stacy-Ma-Macy-Banana-Fana-Fo-Facy!" Blair exclaimed happily.

"Stacy?" Jim said, pleasantly surprised himself. "How is she?"

"She is beyond great. If great is London, she is in Paris. If great is a candy bar, she is a Napolean!"

A slight frown tugged at the corner of Jim's lips. Ebullience like this usually meant Blair was covering up something. "Well, that's good," Jim said cautiously.

"She's a PSAT/NMSQT finalist! Our Stacy is a National Merit Scholar!"

"She is?" Jim said, pleased once again. "Hey, that's terrific! Let's send her some flowers or candy or something."

"Actually, there's gonna be a big do for a bunch of award winners at the school. Thought I'd, like, go down for the event, put in an appearance."

"When?" Jim asked.

"The twenty-fourth. Just before Thanksgiving break."

Jim looked at his calendar and shook his head. "Aw, sorry, Chief. No can do. That's right in the middle of the Bradly trial. No way I could get away."

"Well, here's the thing. She's told me she's still feeling a little embarrassed about that whole crush thing. So it's probably just as well I'm flying solo."

Jim put his calendar away, his back to Blair as he spoke. "I don't think that's a good idea," he said. "We'll send Stacy a plane ticket to come out here for Thanksgiving, how's that sound?"

"She's going to her roommate's for the holiday. But she wants me to be there for this deal, so I'll go. No big deal."

"So, tell her your sorry and we'll come out to see her later."

"Why? I'll be there. You can catch her when she's got some distance between her thing for you and stuff. I've a feeling she's gonna be the star at a lot of awards dinners," Blair said with fond pride.

Jim winced inwardly, trying to figure out how to discuss this the right way. "Blair, you're not up for a solo trip right now, okay? I mean, you had a major panic attack just a few days ago when we were going over to Simon's place."

"That was that smell coming from the docks. You had to take the shortcut. Anyway, no problem, I'll take the train, it'll be nice."

"And before that it was at the drug store," Jim said. "You're not ready."

"I'll take the risk. I'm not putting my life on hold for this. Girl in my support group's been all over the damn world with panic disorder. I'm just going to Olympia."

Jim leaned against the counter and thought aloud for a moment. "Simon and Taggart are on this Bradly thing," he said to himself. He smirked at himself for not liking his next idea, but it would be best for Sandburg, so what the hell. "Brown could get a couple of days off," he said. "If he's okay with it, I have no problem with him going along."

"Brown? You don't have a problem? That's mighty big of you, Jim, but it's not necessary. I don't need a minder. Stacy and I will be fine."

"So now you, Stacy and Brown will be fine," Jim said.

"No," said Blair patiently, "I will be fine. Stacy will be fine. I'm sure Brown will be fine, too, but the difference will be that Stacy and I
will be fine in Olympia and Brown will be fine in Cascade."

"Look Sandburg, you've got two options here--go to Olympia with Brown or stay here."

"I have two options? You're giving me two options?" Blair's voice was calm for the moment.

"If I thought you were ready for this, it wouldn't be an issue," Jim tried to explain. "You've been pushing yourself too hard lately, and it's starting to show."

"If you thought. If you thought. Now those are words that are really starting to resonate with me."

"You freak out on that train, Sandburg, and they're not gonna let you off to call me. Or worse, you freak out in front of Stacy and set *her* back. It's just not doable right now."

"What is the deal here? You know I take a preventative. Stacy's a bright girl; she'll understand if I explain ahead of time. And new surroundings could be just the thing for me." Blair smacked himself on the forehead. "Why the fuck am I justifying? I don't need your goddamn permission to go."

"Half the time, you're taking a 'preventative' after the fact. Besides, I'd think you'd jump at the chance to have some quality time with Henri."

"Not that again? Spare me your irrational jealousy."

"I was just joking, Sandburg. Jesus. There's no reason to get bent out of shape over this. Either you go with H. or the two of us head over after this trial wraps up. I'm not bein' unreasonable here, Chief."

"You are so totally being unreasonable, Jim. You're graciously offering me two options, both of which I consider unteneble. What the hell is this? Am I your *kid* again?"

Jim's eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched. "You're not my kid," he said calmly. "But when you make irrational decisions it is my responsibility to step in."

"This is not irrational, Jim. And do you really think you're the first person they'll call when they're looking for the Voice Of Authority?"

"You make all the cute remarks you want," Jim said dismissively. "But you're not going to Olympia by yourself."

"Oh, so speaks Mr. Rational." Blair crossed his arms over his chest. "And under what authority are you detaining me from my Constitutional right to freedom of travel?"

"Oh for God's sake, Sandburg, give it a rest."

"No, I'm really curious here. I'm starting to wonder where you got this authority you're tossing around like a ten pound bag of quick- set?"

"I don't know Sandburg, let's think about that. Couldn't be from Simon, who had to call me when you had a core meltdown when I was on the Nance stakeout. Couldn't be from Fitz who reminds me *daily* how impaired your judgement is..." Jim leaned against the column in the kitchen enumerating as he spoke. "Couldn't be your faculty advisor who still has to go through *me* to talk to you...Stop me when I hit a winner, Chief."

"You see Fitz once a week, and he questions your judgement just as much as mine. More even. Simon was panicking worse than I was. Nancy doens't have to go through you to talk to me anymore than your insurance people have to go through the switchboard to talk to you."

"Bit of revisionist history, there," Jim said dryly. "If Simon was panicking, it's only because he'd never seen you go off before. And mumbling, "mmm hmm," to Nancy and passing the phone over to me, hardly constitutes "talking" to her." Jim stopped, took a breath and stepped back. "This isn't gonna help anything. It all boils down to your not being ready for this."

"I don't recall asking your fucking *permission* here, Jim. I told you what I was going to do, and you're refusing to accept it. I think it boils down to your not being ready for a Blair who can stand up for himself."

"That is a crock of *shit!*" Jim said. "Hell, I could use the free time a Self-Sufficient Blair would afford me, but that doesn't mean I'm going to push you into something you're not ready for."

"No, you save that for sex," Blair shot back.

"Nice, Sandburg, real nice," Jim muttered. "You wanna shoot below the belt? I can do that. I think you'd just as soon not go there."

"No, you're right. Don't want to incapicitate you from saving the world from itself. Where did you put that fucking cape, again?"

"Have at it, Sandburg," Jim said, opening his arms wide. "Give it your best shot, there, *Kiddo.* Show me how fucking ready you are for a road trip!"

"I don't have to show you fuck-all," Blair said hotly. "You aren't my father, which is goddamn good thing, considering how fucked up your dear dad was."

Jim started laughing. "Oh right, insult my *daddy!*" he said dismissively.

"Those patterns are set in fucking concrete," Blair said. "The child is father to the man, which is pretty damn scary in your case. I mean, this is all about punishing me, right? I fucked up in your sight, so now my freedom is taken away. That is how it works, right?"

"I am not punishing you!" Jim said. "I'm trying to protect you, and if that means protecting you from yourself and one of your dumbass ideas, then that's what I do!"

"Let's think over the last few years, shall we? Which do you think has caused me the most damage? My dumbass ideas, or your job?"

"If it wasn't left to me to pick up the pieces, I'd fucking let you suit yourself and go!" Jim said.

"Oh, yeah, and you're so very good at picking up the pieces. That's like your fucking specialty, isn't it? Picking up the pieces and sweeping them under the rug?"

"Kind of hard to pick up the rug when you're laid out on top of it doing the Sandburg Poetry Hour."

"Oh, yeah, that's right. 'Sandburg can't fuck me, therefore he's nowhere near his right mind.' This was one of the many Jim- factors I forgot to calculate."

"More like Sandburg can't buy a quart of milk at the grocery store," Jim said.

"I see. Not at all like, 'Sandburg has taught three classes this week.' Not like, 'Maybe if I weren't so goddamn clinging, Sandburg could get more done.' What's the fear, Jim? That if I find out I can do stuff for myself, I'll be outta here?"

"Don't think it hasn't crossed my mind," Jim said, his voice cool.

"So, what, you're trying to force me into a position where I have to leave just to get it over with? Talk to me, Jim. What the hell is this about? You know damn well I can get to Olympia and back again. What is happening here?" Sandburg sounded less angry, more concerned.

"No, Blair, I *don't* know that," Jim said. "This isn't some power trip for me. I'm not trying to keep you locked up in the loft or anything like that. I really, truly don't think you're capable of handling this right now."

Blair was shaking his head. "No, Jim. You know I can do this. You just don't want me to. Talk to me, tell my why. Are you afraid that if you're not around, something bad will happen to me? Are you afraid I won't come back? Are you afraid our whole relationship is based on the Blair as Victim dynamic? Tell me what's going on here. Tell me why I can't leave town without a keeper?"

Jim looked at Blair coldly. "More Psychiatry Amateur Hour? You gonna tell me how my grandma saw my dick when I was ten and that's why I don't want you to go to Olympia?"

"Fine, Jim," Blair said, just as coldly. "Just toss everything aside, all the work we've done, because you don't have the guts to tell me what's really going on? I knew I was asking too much of you. I knew it was too much to hope that you were actually going to contribute an insight, or anything the least bit fucking HELPFUL!"

"God damn you, Sandburg, I've done everything but fucking slice open an artery! When will it be enough for you? How far do I have to go?"

"You didn't do ANYTHING," Blair screamed. "I'm just a fucking statistic to you, a little blip on life's radar."

"That is so unfair!" Jim said. "Jesus Christ, Sandburg, I've splayed myself open for you and it's *still* not enough!"

"Open? You call yourself open? You're a fucking ice cube. You're freezing me out. You just don't care."

"No, Sandburg. I don't *show* that I care the way you've decided I should. If it's not the way you want it to be, it's just not there!"

"Damn right! You don't show me anything, you don't tell me anything, so how the fuck do I know there's anything in there at all?"

"What in the hell have I been doing the last three months?! I go to those damned counseling sessions and expose myself to that quack, I drag myself home every night and contend with you shaking your ass in my face then pulling back, I talk about this over and over and over again ad fucking nauseum and it's like nothing to you!"

"If I thought," Blair said hollowly, "that what you've 'exposed' in our sessions was all you felt, I couldn't believe that you cared about me."

Jim's smile was condescending and ugly. "Nice, Sandburg, really nice," he said, pushing his way past Blair and heading for the kitchen. "Maybe you oughta drop the Sentinel thing and write something else--Dealing with Trauma According to Saint Blair the Long Suffering."

"Sentinels and Their Complete Lack of Human Emotion," Blair muttered, just loudly enough for Jim to hear.

"You know something, Chief? That's a good try, but I don't think I have any buttons left to push. You've run roughshod over me for so long, I don't think there's anything left."

"More like there wasn't anything there to begin with. That was the big secret, wasn't it, Jim? That you just don't have anything but five heightened senses and a badge."

Jim stopped short. "Is that what you think?" he asked coldly. "Is that how you really *feel,*?" he said the word like it made him sick. "Is that all I am to you, Sandburg?"

"Lately, that's all you are *for* me."

Jim felt as if his insides were tearing apart, disintegrating as he stood there. "That's all I am?" he echoed, incredulously "Is that all I've ever been to you? Do you love me, Sandburg? Did you ever?!"

Blair at least had the grace to look ashamed. "I don't know, Jim," he said painfully. "This...it's so...I just don't know."

Jim turned away, doubling over as if he'd been struck. "God!" he moaned. "I'm such an idiot! Such a fucking idiot! I believed you, Sandburg!! I fucking believed every pathetic little line you fed me! Jesus, this is incredible! I fucking believed everything!"

"I believed it, too," Blair hurled back at him. "I want to believe it even now. But I don't know where I am or what I'm doing."

Jim didn't even hear the words. "Oh Christ," he groaned. "When I think of what I've done for you, for YOU, Sandburg! Because I love you! Because I thought you loved me!! Jesus this is so fucking sick! We're so fucked up here! Christ, I can't stay here now! I've gotta get out of here! I have got to go!"

"That's right, Jim. Just run away one more time. Leave another fucking body on the trail and try to learn a lesson you can apply to the next person you're claiming you want to help."

"I did everything I could!" Jim shouted. "Everything I know how! Don't you get it? I risked everything for you! I'm such a fucking *idiot*!" Jim looked around blindly for his car keys, frantically shoving things off the counters and tabletops.

"Risked what?" Blair scoffed. "Your buddies finding out that you were in heavy-duty therapy? Risked that your Cop Facade might crack a bit and show some feeling? That's hardly 'everything'."

"I can't do this," Jim muttered darkly. "I've gotta get out, I've gotta go."

"Of course you have to get out. God forbid you should follow through on anything. God forbid you should stay with someone whose dangerous emotions might be catching, who might actually ask you to come through for him or something."

"I did what I could!" Jim yelled plaintively. "I gave you everything! And it was for nothing! You don't even love me! You don't even care! It was all for nothing!" Jim turned his back to Blair, heading for the door. He stopped with his hand on the doorknob. "I'll call Simon from Steven's place," he said. "Make sure black & whites are patrolling the neighborhood. I can't stay here right now." Jim started to open the door, but Blair's cry of sheer animal rage stopped him.

"Don't you do this!" Blair screamed. "Don't you leave me!" Blair grabbed Jim's arm and tugged him back away from the door. "You liar!" Blair shrieked. "You quitter! It was you! You're the one who never loved me, you liar! You never loved me!"

Jim turned on Blair, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him as hard as he can. "I killed them for you!" Jim shouted. "Jesus Christ, don't you get it? I risked everything--my career, my home, our fucking *LIFE* together! I killed them for you!"

Blair looked up to Jim, his face uncomprehending. "What?"

"I killed them!" Jim said, reaching up to scratch his face and shocked to feel moisture there. He dragged his sleeve across his face and turned his back to Blair once again. "You didn't really think it was coincidence, did you?"

Blair was white. "You killed them? You murdered them?"

"I killed them," Jim repeated, sounding stunned, as if he'd never before realized what he had done. He couldn't bring himself to call it murder because it wasn't. It was justice. Maybe not according to the American definition of the word, but it was still justice.

Blair sat down on the floor abruptly, his breathing quickening, heart rate spiking. He was rocking back and forth silently.

"I killed them," Jim said.

"Jim, Jim, Jim," Blair chanted from the floor. "They'll find out. They'll put you in jail," Blair moaned. "Oh, Christ, you'll be in jail and I'll be all alone and what will they do to you?"

*I killed them.* The words were swirling around Jim's brain, but the sorrow in Blair's voice brought Jim out of it. "They won't," Jim said gently. Very slowly, Jim knelt down on the floor, as close to Blair as he dared. "That won't happen, I promise. I promise, Blair."

Blair continued rocking back and forth, but seemed aware of his surroundings. A panic attack with no flashback. "Jim, god, Jim, you took such a risk...are you sure you won't get hauled off?"

"Positive," Jim said, concerned by the kid's thundering pulse, confused by the absence of the poetry recitation and sexual innuendo.

"Of course. I'm sorry I doubted you. But, Jim, to take such a risk..." Blair pulse thundered on, and he continued rocking. "Better get my Ativan," Blair said. "Or just help me ride this one out."

Jim felt tears in his eyes and for once he didn't bother to hide them. "It was worth it for you, Baby," he said, giving in to his ache and cautiously gather Blair close to him. "For us. I knew there couldn't be a trial. We couldn't let the media get a hold of this, I couldn't have some sleezebag defense attorney dragging you through this. I couldn't have any of that."

Blair accepted Jim's embrace, returning it with grateful strength. "Oh, god, Jim, you risked it all for us. God, they can't hurt me ever again. Oh, Jim, I should never have doubted your strength." Blair rocked in Jim's arms.

"I'm sorry," Jim whispered. "I'm sorry I can't use words to make you understand. I didn't want you to know. I didn't want you to have to carry this around with you."

"I know I should be appalled, but I'm not. You did what you had to do for us. For me." Blair reached up to touch Jim's cheek with his forefinger, tracking a silent tear in wonder. He brought his finger to his own mouth, tasted the salt of Jim's tears. "For me?" Blair asked in reverent wonder.

"It's all for you. Always."

Blair closed his eyes in exhausted relief. "And I'm all for you. Always."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Christmas decorations had been up in Cascade for weeks, and Jim found the additional stimuli associated with the holiday to be more overwhelming than usual. He needed Blair's help more than ever, and, blessedly, finally, Blair seemed up to the challenge.

It had been over three months since the attack, and finally both Blair and Dr. Fitzgerald seemed to think that he could resume limited duty with the police. Blair himself seemed to find himself once more in his role as Jim's guide; the panic attacks and nightmares subsided, and Blair seemed much more his old self.

Blair even speculated that not acting as Jim's guide may have hindered his recovery. To Jim's relief, however, Blair did not pursue that line of reasoning.

One night, Jim came home late after attending to some holiday shopping to find Blair sitting on the couch nervously. His heart rate and temperature were both up, Jim noticed as he set down his bags on the dining table. It was now a part of his homecoming routine: unlock the door, turn on the light, check Blair's vitals. And tonight, they alarmed him.

As did the setting. The electric lights were all off; the room was illuminated only by candles and a fire. Blair was wearing a maroon bathrobe, made of some soft material that begged to be touched. Jim closed his eyes in denial and alarm. *It was all going so well,* he thought.

"Blair," he said cautiously, opening his eyes even though he knew to do so was tempting fate and himself beyond endurance, beyond sanity.

"Hey, Jim," Blair said with vivacious nervousness.

"How did your day go?" Jim asked the prosaic question, trying to find the trigger.

Blair shrugged. "Pretty good. It's my evening that's been... interesting."

"Oh?" Jim asked cautiously, waiting for the inevitable offer.

"Come on, sit down and I'll tell you about it," Blair said, thumping the space next to him.

Jim was surprised. When he was offering himself to Jim, Blair usually volunteered no information about what trigger may have caused his panic. Did he really want to talk, or had he developed a new strategy for the seduction of James Ellison?

"OK," Jim said, and sat next to Blair, careful to maintain what he hoped was a safe distance.

"I was taking a shower earlier, and then it happened," Blair said. He seemed...excited, enthusiastic. Not panicky. There was no smell of fear on him, but there was another smell...

Blair suddenly grabbed Jim's hand, surprising the older man, who had no chance to resist.

"And again, just now, when you came through the door," Blair said, clearly forcing himself to stay calm. "And now..." Blair's voice trailed off, and he closed his eyes, inhaling deeply.

Jim was mystified. This wasn't like Blair's other attempts at seductions, nor was it like any other evening they'd had.

And then Blair took Jim's hand, carried it slowly to his groin. "Feel, Jim," he invited on a whisper.

And Jim felt it. Blair was hard. Through the soft cloth of Blair's robe, Jim could feel his erection, the heat of it, the beat of Blair's pulse through it, the smooth, stretched skin of it, the miracle of it.

"Oh," Jim said softly. "Blair." He withdrew his hand, entwining his fingers through Blair's and squeezing hard. "That's...Chief, that's great!" Jim's own heart started thudding loudly in his ears. *Oh Christ, what does this mean?* Jim thought wildly. *What am I supposed to do? What the fuck am I supposed to do?*

They hadn't talked about this, not really. When they did speak of it, it was always as if the prospect was so far ahead in the murky future it was like talking about how they'd spend the money if they ever won the lottery.

"I was starting to think...man, I was really starting to think it was never gonna happen," Blair said with a nervous laugh.

Jim slipped his arm around Blair and drew him close. "Not me, Chief," he said, kissing Blair's temple. "Didn't doubt it for a minute." Blair sighed and relaxed against Jim, who found himself as nervous as a teenager on a first date. They still hadn't gone much beyond cuddling on the couch, and that always came as the result of careful planning.

"Yeah, great," Blair echoed, excitement in his blue eyes. His grin faded after a moment, though. "What now?" he asked, making a face of comical panic. "I've forgotten what to do with one of these bad boys!" Blair joked about his confusion, waving a hand toward his erection.

Jim chuckled and felt some of the tension ease. This just might work, if he played it right.

"You're in some luck, Chief," Jim said, grinning broadly. "I am *intimately* familiar with the ins and outs of this little dance." He looked down. "Hmm, little overdressed for the occasion though," he said, and sat Blair back so he could disrobe.

Blair grinned. He reached for the belt of the robe, tossed his hair back, and untied the belt, letting the robe fall to the sides.

"And then, Jim?" Blair's voice was husky with genuine desire.

Jim smiled. "You're beautiful, Blair," he said, softly, then chuckled as Blair impatiently raised his eyebrows at him. "Okay, okay," he said. "Then, you slide your hand over your chest, and slowly make your way down."

Blair started to follow Jim's instructions, then paused. "Jim? If I ask you if I'm making you hot, if you want a piece of it, just ignore me, OK? I hate to sound selfish, but I want this to be about *me*, about *my* pleasure, and, well, you know, the hell with you." Blair grinned apologetically.

Jim nodded, ducking his head to hide his hurt at Blair's words.

Blair slid his hand over his chest, tugging a little at his hair as he let his hand find a path down to his burgeoning erection. "And then?"

Jim studiously avoided looking at Blair, planning to concentrate on himself, but he wasn't feeling particularly aroused. He closed his eyes and spoke from memory. "And then, ah... and then, I guess you, uh, slide your hand under your balls, there..."

Blair closed his eyes as well, sliding his hand under his balls. "I'm thinking about you, Jim," he whispered. "That someday soon it'll be you doing this. But I have to remember how to do it myself first. And you're helping me, and your voice is making me so hot..." Blair's voice trailed off and he shivered as he lightly stroked his balls. "Oh, this is so good, Jim. It's been too long...oh, god...What now?"

"Now take your cock in your hand," Jim said, eyes still closed. "Feel the heat of it, the pulse of it, wrap your hand around it and feel the pleasure of it."

"Oh, god," Blair whispered as if in a prayer of thanksgiving

"It does feel good," he moaned. "I'm touching my cock, my hard cock, and it feels so good...How could I have forgotten?"

"Faster," Jim instructed, using his hearing to gauge what he was unprepared for his sight to tell him. "Harder, now. You know best what makes you feel good. More friction, Sandburg."

Blair was stroking himself. "Thinking of you, Jim," he gasped as habit took over and his hand speeded up. "Thinking about you and what I want to do to you...what I want you to do to me...thinking about it and it's so good, so goddamn good, and...oh, fuck, Jim, what you do to me...Jim...fuck, Jim you're making me come, making me do it, and it's soo good and I love you for making me feel like this...JIM!" Blair's litany faded to a long groan as he came.

Blair's come sounded like waves crashing, and Jim's other senses were quickly overwhelmed. The smell of fresh ejaculate was so ripe he could almost taste it, Blair's harsh panting echoed loudly, competing with his own thundering heart to drown out all other sounds in the room.

"Oh, god, Jim," Blair whispered harshly around his gasps. "That was so fucking good. I needed that so damn much, and you gave it to me, and it was fucking incredible."

Jim quietly slipped on his boxers and pants. "I'm glad," he said.

"Can I do anything for you, man?" Blair offered, looking over at Jim. "I'd like to...now that I've got mine, you want me to..." Blair looked at Jim, his blue eyes hot.

Mindful of Blair's earlier words, Jim shook his head. "I'm fine, kid," he said. "You want me to, uh, start on dinner?"

"Nah," Blair said. "If you're thinking about what I said earlier, forget it. I just meant for the duration of my jacking off. You look like you could use a hand..." Before Jim could stop him, Blair was next to him, hand running along the hard ridge of his clothed erection. "I got mine," Blair repeated. "Now let me..."

"Blair, are you sure?" Jim asked, his voice already shaking.

"Oh, yeah," Blair said, rubbing harder. "You gave to me, now I want to give to you," he said, beginning to unfasten Jim's pants.

Jim grunted when Blair's warm hand touched his cock. "Oh god," he moaned, and tried not to think of how long he'd wanted this.

"I was thinking of you," Blair said softly, stroking Jim's cock. "Thinking of how it'll be when we can really be with each other. Thinking how hot it is being with each other this way," Blair emphasized his words by tightening his hand on Jim's cock, stroking the shaft with fast, rough but gentle motions.

"Blair," Jim whispered, his hips thrusting forward, seeking more resistance. "Yeah, Chief, like that. Oh god, like that."

Blair gave him what he needed. "It's me, Jim. It's Blair, and I'm touching you, loving you, and you feel so good in my hand..." Blair hand was impossibly fast, impossibly dexterous as it stroked Jim. The feel of Blair's hand, both rough and soft, and always strong was nearly overwhelming.

"Want this, so bad," Jim grunted, his breathing fast, "Want you, always you. More, oh Christ, give me more."

"I'm giving it all to you," Blair panted back. "What you need." Blair now had both hands on Jim's shaft, pulling on him, one hand after the other, then giving him a rough downstroke.

Jim felt the pressure flowing outward from his chest, then he tilted back his head and groaned as he ejaculated into Blair's hands.

"God, yes, Jim," Blair exclaimed as though it was his own orgasm. Blair raised one of his hands to his mouth, hesitantly touched his tongue to a drop of ejaculate to taste it. He grinned. "It's you, Jim," he said happily. "It tastes like you!" Blair licked his hands clean, then knelt before Jim, licking at stray splashes on Jim's stomach.

Jim wove his hands through Blair's hair and tightly pressed Blair's head to him. "Thank you," he whispered.

Blair was sniffing happily at Jim's softening cock. "You're," he muttered against Jim. "Welcome," he added as he kept sniffing and tasting his lover. "It's you, Jim. Your cock is beautiful. Smells beautiful. Tastes beautiful. Is beautiful." Blair stood up, kissing Jim full on the lips, sliding his tongue into Jim's mouth.

Tasting himself in Blair's mouth made Jim's knees weak, made his heart overflow with desire, and he soundly returned the kiss, slipping his arms around the younger man with bone crushing strength.

"God, this is so good," Blair said. "I love you. I'm ready again," he added, his voice full of wonder. He bumped his erection against Jim. "Jim, this is incredible. I know it's you. I never forgot. Oh, god, Jim, just take me upstairs, start kissing me, and never stop."

There was no better judgment against which to react; there was no judgment, period. With a grunt, Jim swung Blair up into his arms, chuckling at the speed with which the kid wrapped his legs around his waist. "Never, Chief," he said between hard kisses. "Never."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[THE END]