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Paying the Rent

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After almost a year living in Cascade, Jim Ellison had come to the conclusion that the old adage 'the more things change, the more they stay the same' had more than just a hint of truth in it. He'd returned to the city of his birth after being discharged from the Army in the hope of making a fresh start. He'd at least partly achieved his goal by joining the Cascade Police Department and, after graduating top of his class from the Academy, had rapidly been promoted to detective in the Vice Squad. And immediately found himself back in the jungle again - the urban jungle. He'd thought that was just a cliche, but it was all too accurate a description of where he found himself now. With the exception that the real jungle had clear air, and clean water, and the people were friendlier.

On any given night, he'd been told, a man could start at the Harbourside Centre and head south about ten blocks, and he'd find himself in a part of Cascade where anything and everything, including human flesh, was for sale. Jim had gone a couple of blocks further than that. Here, the human flesh was scrawnier and more miserable than the poorest tribes of the Peruvian jungle. Not even the most desperate of prostitutes would come here, unless perhaps they were looking for a fix. This was the domain of the lowest of the drug dealers and of the runaway boys who eked out a meagre existence by selling their bodies for a night or an hour, or a quick, furtive hand or blow job in one of the many alleys in the area.

"You wanna ride?" The boy was one of the youngest, and not pretty, which probably accounted for the desperation in his face. He sniffed and wiped his nose with a grubby sleeve.

Jim slipped a twenty out of his wallet. "No, I don't want a ride. I want to meet someone." He held up the bill and watched as the boy's eyes became riveted to the scrap of paper. "A friend told me I could get what I wanted here. You know anybody who can help me with that?"

"I dunno." The boy blinked, obviously so transfixed by the sight of the money that his thought processes had shut down completely. As Jim lowered his hand towards his wallet again the kid took a deep breath. "Wait. I... I guess Blair would know. He knows everybody here."

"Then how about you take me to Blair. And if he can help me, then I'll give you the cash." Jim waited as the boy looked wildly around for a moment. Then his thin shoulders sagged visibly, and Jim thought he'd struck out. But the reaction had been one of relief it seemed.

"That's him. C'mon." The kid took off and Jim followed him to another boy, perhaps fifteen years old, small and slender; beautiful in a disturbingly androgynous way. "Hey, Blair. This guy wants to talk to you."

Jim looked down into blue eyes that were fifteen going on eighty. "I was hoping you could help me. He tells me you know everybody."

The boy wilted under Blair's furious look. "What did you do that for? Are you crazy Jimmy? He's a narc."

"I'm not a narc. The name's Jim Williamson. Rob Cameron told me I could find what I wanted here." Jim watched as the blue eyes assessed him critically, hoping the name that he'd dropped was as good as it was supposed to be. "Well? Was he right?"

Blair shrugged nonchalantly, tilting his head, and the twin earrings in his left ear flashed briefly. "Depends what you want."

"I guess it does." Jim smiled coldly. "Are you the person I need to talk to? Jimmy, here, 's waiting for his payment." He flashed the twenty again, and didn't miss the way Blair's eyes followed the movement.

"Yeah. I don't deal, but I can help." He spoke grudgingly. "It'll cost you more than a lousy twenty."

"Fine." Jim handed the note to the younger boy, then grabbed his shoulder as he turned to dart away. "Listen, kid, go home. Whatever you ran away from can't be as bad as this."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that." Blair's voice was dripping with irony, and Jim turned from watching Jimmy's retreat to survey his new informant.

The boy barely reached his shoulder, and was slender as a girl. His long curly hair was tied back, but short tendrils framed his face like a halo. And the face was stunning - pale and delicate, with full lips and no hint of facial hair. He could have been mistaken for a girl, if not for the tight leather pants and electric blue shirt, open to the waist, that proclaimed his masculinity in no uncertain terms.

"So, Blair, how do we do this?" Jim met the young/old eyes and felt them pulling him into their depths in a disturbingly intense fashion.

Blair flashed a look at the other boys scattered along the street. "I'm not talking here. You can pay me for the night and we can go somewhere."

"All right. How much?"

"A hundred." Blair scowled at Jim's scornful snort. "Okay, man. Eighty."

"That's more like it." Jim put an arm around the kid's shoulder and steered him along the street. "My truck's parked a couple of blocks this way."

He hadn't come prepared to accommodate a rent boy. Blair refused to go anywhere public, like a coffee bar, and Jim couldn't quite bring himself to face the knowing looks of a hotel clerk in the sleazier places that would rent a room to a man and a teenage hustler. With a great deal of misgiving, he took Blair back to his loft.

"This your place?" Blair was looking around approvingly, then swooped on the coffee table. "Oh man. This is great. What is it?"

Jim took the small wooden statue from the boy's hands. "It's a totem. Don't touch it, okay?"

"I wasn't going to steal it." Blair scowled and pouted. "It's South American isn't it? I love that stuff."

"Let's just get down to business." Jim pushed Blair in the direction of one of the armchairs.

Blair sank into a chair. "Geez. Don't I even get a coffee?"

Jim frowned and rubbed his earlobe, toying with his earring for a moment. "All right. How do you like it?"

"Milk and three sugars." And Blair was out of the chair again and over to the windows. "Great view."

"I like it." Jim started at the boy's slim back for a moment, then sighed. "Want something to eat with the coffee? I've got..." he opened the fridge door and was abruptly reminded that he'd meant to shop today. "I can order pizza."

"That'd be great. Can we have the Supremo?" Blair turned away from the window, his face lit up like a beacon. Then he darted over to the shelves and began to examine the various artefacts that Jim had brought back from Peru with him.

By the time the pizza delivery arrived, Jim had answered a seemingly endless series of questions about the artefacts, Peru, and the time he'd spent there with rapidly dwindling patience. Blessed silence fell as Blair devoured three slices of pizza without seeming to take a single breath. When there was a minute pause before his hand reached for the fourth slice, Jim figured he could start the negotiations.

"I'm not looking for anything fancy. Cocaine, heroin, E - my customers are pretty straight up."

Blair nodded, still chewing and obviously not seeing a need to actually speak yet.

Jim sighed sharply. "So can you point me to someone who can supply me with these things?"

"Sure." Blair reached for another slice and then hesitated. "Uh..."

"Go ahead. I'm not hungry." To underscore the point, Jim leaned back in his chair, resting his hands on the arms. He waited while Blair, sitting cross-legged on the sofa now, munched halfway through this next slice before prompting him. "And?"

"Oh." Blair licked his fingers with unconscious sensuality and then looked up at him. "I can't just tell you. It doesn't work that way."

Jim was well aware of that fact, but he frowned impatiently anyway. "Then how does it work?"

"I tell the guy you want to meet. He checks you out. Then he tells me to set up a meet." Blair counted off the steps on his greasy, be-crumbed fingers. In spite of that, he looked all business. "You bring some money; I'll let you know how much. He brings a sample." Blair glanced up from his fingers to meet Jim's eyes. "You'd better not be a narc, or he'll kill both of us."

"I'm not a narc." Jim spoke the words with weary patience. "I just moved here. I'm setting up a client base. Your friend can check that out."

"Hey, he's not my friend." Blair raised his hands. "I'm warning you, this guy is seriously dangerous."

"Warning noted." Jim held out the four twenties he'd promised Blair. "Just give him the word, all right?"

"Okay. It's your life, man." The money disappeared as if by magic, but Blair remained, perfectly at home on the sofa.

"You want the rest of this to go?" Jim rose, indicating the two remaining slices of pizza.

"What's your hurry, man? You paid for the whole night." There was something different about Blair's voice now, something cold and businesslike about his tone that chilled Jim's blood.

"Oh no. No thanks, Chief, I don't play with kiddies." Jim spread his hands. "Thanks for the offer, but you can go now."

"I'm not a kid." There was a hard edge of annoyance in Blair's voice.

"But you're underage, right?" And as the boy hesitated, Jim shook his head. "That's all I need to know."

"I'm eighteen." Blair licked his lips nervously. "You can't tell anyone, okay? I mean, once you're legal, the regular johns don't think it's fun any more."

"I don't suppose you can prove that?" He didn't know why he was even arguing. It wasn't as though, aside from the issue of his age, Blair was his type. He preferred men who were more his own size. Men he didn't have to worry about hurting, if things got heavy. Not some boy who looked so fragile that a puff of wind could blow him over and break him.

Blair gave him a 'you've got to be kidding' look, which Jim thought he probably deserved. "I left my ID in my other wallet."

"Of course." They stared at each other in silence, while a pulse beating in Jim's belly grew stronger and stronger. Strangely, he was inclined to believe Blair. In spite of his size and looks, there was an odd maturity about him that made his claim a reasonable one. Jim nodded abruptly. "Okay."

Something changed in Blair's face. Was it disappointment Jim saw? But the boy rose smoothly from the sofa and headed for the stairs. Swallowing an unaccustomed nervousness, Jim followed him.

At the top of the stairs Blair paused to look around. "Nice."

"Thanks." Jim's voice was dust-dry. He stood awkwardly, one foot on the top step, the other on the floor of his bedroom.

Blair turned and looked him up and down. He grinned and took hold of Jim's shirt as he backed away. Two steps into the room, his hands got busy with the buttons and when they reached the bed, Blair simply continued moving backwards until he was kneeling on the bed. A quick shrug disposed of Jim's shirt and Blair's hands began to brush lightly over his bare chest.

It was disturbing to realise just how skilled those small hands were, but Jim was well and truly committed now. His desire for Blair was beyond all sense or reason. It was impossible even to drag his eyes away from Blair's sensual pout until those lips were pressed against his chest. Teasing, butterfly kisses rained over his skin, making it tingle with intense sensation. He laid his hands on Blair's thin shoulders, caressing him through the cheap, silky fabric.

"God... Where did you learn this?" He pushed Blair away a little, almost frightened by the intensity of his own reaction.

Blair stared at him pityingly. "Where do you think?"

It wasn't something that Jim wanted to dwell on, but the matter of fact tone in Blair's voice reassured him a little. Without waiting for Jim to respond, Blair bent his head again. Lips, tongue and then teeth teased at his nipples and Jim groaned helplessly. Surely it shouldn't feel this good. Nothing should feel this good...

Blair laughed suddenly, and his hands dropped to Jim's pants. "You want me Jim? Do you?"

"Yeah." Jim groaned again. "I want you."

As Blair unfastened his belt and tugged on his zipper, Jim pushed Blair's shirt off his shoulders. His skin felt smooth and hot and infinitely desirable. Jim's right hand slid down Blair's side and up between their bodies.

"What the hell?" Jim stared down at the small silver ring under his fingers.

Blair grinned happily. "Isn't it great? Guys go crazy over it, and it feels amazing." He guided Jim's hand, showing him how to tug gently on the nipple ring and twist it to provide stimulation. A flush spread across his thin chest. "You oughta get one."

"I don't think so, kid." Blair's other hand was doing quite incredible things inside his pants and Jim was distracted for a while, before it occurred to him that he should be contributing more to this encounter than he was. He reached for Blair's pants, his fingers sliding over the slick leather surface.

Blair pushed his hands away. "Not yet. Later, okay? I've got what we need."

"Always prepared, huh, Chief?" Jim knew he ought to be glad of that; he certainly didn't want to catch anything off the kid, but Blair's calm competency unnerved him.

"Absolutely." With one swift motion, Blair pushed Jim's boxers and pants down off his hips and grabbed him around the waist. They fell together to lie on the bed, skin against skin, until Blair wriggled out from under him and proceeded to remove the clothes tangled around Jim's knees. "Now..."

Blair reclined on his side, propping himself on one elbow to look down at Jim. His fingers touched lightly on one of Jim's scars and he pursed his lips thoughtfully, but didn't ask. With excruciating slowness, the touches moved down Jim's body until they reached his cock. Jim's hips bucked upwards and he was hard put to control himself as Blair began to stroke his cock in a slow, measured rhythm.

Almost deafened by the pounding of his heart, Jim could barely make out Blair's voice, asking him something. He had to force himself to open his eyes and concentrate on the sounds coming out of those sensual lips. When he realised what the boy was asking him, his arousal tumbled, ridiculously discomforted by the mere thought.

"No, I don't have a dildo. For God's sake..." his voice broke into a gurgle as Blair, completely unperturbed, took Jim's wilting erection into his mouth.

It only took a few moments of skilled sucking to restore Jim's cock to its full glory. Blair's eyes were closed, his face set in an expression of concentration as his lips slid along Jim's shaft. His fingers stroked up and down the inside of Jim's thighs and teased at his balls. For a moment Jim was tempted to release the thick ponytail of dark hair, just to feel its silken fall against his skin; but Blair had made it plain enough that he wanted to set the pace, and Jim was in no state to argue.

Blair seemed to be able to read him like a book. Just as Jim felt like he was starting to lose control the hot wet embrace around his cock was withdrawn. He moaned in disappointment and opened his eyes. Blair was watching him, critically assessing his state. A quick squeeze just below the head of his cock relieved the urge a little and Jim relaxed.

"Ready now?" Blair smiled teasingly and swung a leg over to kneel, straddling Jim's thighs. He brushed his hands down over the smooth skin of his chest and into the top of his leather pants. "Wanna see?"

"Ye..." Jim swallowed and tried again. "Yes. I want to see."

His fingers moved with infinite slowness, unfastening the button at the top and sliding the zipper down. Jim loosed a huge sigh. He hadn't drawn a breath since the performance started. Both of Blair's hands moved down into the front of his pants, stroking, squeezing, but hiding what he touched. Blair's head dropped back and he moaned, sensuality incarnate.

"Blair..." Jim clutched at the slim, leather clad thighs with both hands. "God, please..."

The body above him moved, gyrating against his thighs, arching and thrusting slowly. Jim took the hint and peeled the warm leather down off Blair's hips. There was, not to his surprise, nothing but bare skin beneath. Blair's hands fell away, allowing his cock to tumble free.

"Wanna touch me?" The blue eyes met Jim's while Blair casually fingered his cock. "Wanna fuck me, Jim?"

"Yes! Oh God yes..." He brushed aside Blair's hands and explored the velvet hardness of the shaft, the slick smoothness of his cockhead. It was as though he was feeling these things for the very first time. As though he'd never in his life touched another man, or even himself.

Blair's hips moved smoothly, thrusting into the circle of Jim's fingers. His eyelids drooped and the practised smile softened, showing what Jim thought might be real pleasure. "That's so good, man. Just a little tighter here... just... ohhh..."

He reached down and began to stroke himself in time with Blair's movements, and would have been happy to finish like that, but a hand pushed his away and Blair slid off the bed. He shucked off the pants and plunged his hands into a pocket, coming out with a foil wrapped condom. "Presto!"

Jim smiled reluctantly, unable to resist the triumphant expression on the face of this slender young satyr. "You going to take all night, Chief?"

"Why not? You've paid for it." Completely unselfconscious about the mercenary nature of this encounter, Blair lowered himself full length along Jim's body. "You're not getting bored, are you big guy?"

Jim cupped the firm buttocks in his hands and gently encouraged Blair to slide against him. "Not bored, no... you're very good at this."

Blair mumbled a distracted 'thanks' as he sucked briefly on Jim's nipple. He bit gently and Jim yelped. "Sensitive, huh? I'll be more careful. How do you want me?"

The question, spoken in a completely business-like tone, startled Jim for a second. "This feels just fine."

"Okay." Blair sat up and took Jim's cock in his hands. He grinned. "You just lay there. I'll do all the work."

There was almost an air of brisk practicality about Blair's actions as he opened the foil packet and rolled the condom down over Jim's cock. He watched Jim's face as he worked it smooth and positioned the reservoir carefully. Then he shifted forward, guiding Jim's cock into the opening of his body. The condom was one of the pre-lubricated variety, and Jim felt himself slide smoothly into place. Blair's face took on a pleased expression as he sank down, legs splayed, until he was sitting on Jim's groin.

Once again, the sensations were almost unbearably intense. Jim groaned and thrust up uncontrollably a couple of times, then forced himself to relax, panting with the effort it took. He was almost afraid to move. Afraid of hurting Blair with the violence of his need. Fortunately, Blair was as good as his word. He began to move, riding Jim's cock expertly, while stroking himself just enough to maintain his own erection. Jim clutched at Blair's thighs again and concentrated on breathing in defiance of his body's chaotic responses.

Sensation piled upon sensation, frighteningly intense, until Jim felt nothing except the pressure, building... building... and finally finding release. He cried out, he thought, but was aware of nothing but the feel of his cock, enclosed by a hot, pulsing channel. And then even that was gone.

Jim woke to darkness and the sense of being alone in his bed. It took a couple of deep breaths before he remembered why there was something wrong about that. The kid. Blair. He'd pretty much announced his intention to stay the whole night, yet he was gone. Jim swore and reached for his bedside light.

Even that was enough to hurt his eyes, so Jim headed downstairs without bothering to turn on any others. There was a full moon and enough light coming in the windows to allow him to check the downstairs room, and it didn't look like anything was missing. It was only then that he noticed the long pale blur on the couch.

He knelt by the sofa and had a good look at the boy curled up there. Blair had loosened his hair and it tumbled around his face, increasing the fey effect of the moonlight. He looked more like some creature of mythology than a human boy. Jim's eyes travelled the length of Blair's body, noting the dark brush of hair at his groin and the paler flesh of his cock. Lower, twin shadows marred the slender thighs. Jim laid his hand gently over one of them. The marks corresponded almost exactly to the shape of his hand and Jim felt a sick sense of shame.

The skin he'd touched had been noticeably chilled; Jim stood and looked down at his sleeping guest. There was a soft throw rug on the back of the sofa and he laid it carefully over Blair. The boy moved and an arm, tucked under his body until now, fell free, dangling over the edge of the sofa. Jim lifted it carefully and frowned at the unevenness he felt there. He turned it so that the moonlight reflected of the pale underside of Blair's arm. The track marks were unmistakable.

He didn't know why, with his knowledge of Blair's situation, the discovery that he was also an addict should feel like such a betrayal. It just did. Common-sense told him that an addict was untrustworthy, that Blair would sell his soul for a fix, if need be, but it was more than that. The careful walls of self-sufficiency Jim had erected around himself had crumbled under the blue-eyed assault of a beautiful young hustler, and it scared the hell out of him.

Feeling like he was a burglar in his own home, Jim crept back to his bed and tried to sleep, without a lot of success. As the sky finally lightened to full day, Jim heard Blair moving around downstairs, then the click of the door closing. Only then did he dare go down to see if there was anything missing. There wasn't.

"Twenty dollars? You've got to be kidding." He was tall, blond and very sure of his own superiority. "I'll give you ten."

Blair shrugged, his face implacable. Even if they bargained it down, johns who haggled over the price invariably wanted more than they'd paid for. "That's the price."

"It's outrageous." Now he was starting to get angry.

"It's about a tenth of what you paid for your shoes." Blair offered the observation almost indifferently. He wasn't going to give anyone a blow job for less than twenty dollars, and especially not someone wearing an Armani suit.

The young man sneered. "My shoes will last a lot longer than anything I'll get from you."

Blair smiled slowly, letting his hips fall into a stance that emphasised the way the leather cupped his balls. "And they'll never make you feel the way I can." The almost too perfect features slackened a little, and Blair pressed his advantage. "Or you can pay Jimmy over there a ten and he'll jerk you off."

The look of distaste that crossed the john's face was almost worth a free blow job, but Blair had the feeling he might just get that twenty. Normally he wouldn't bother arguing, but tonight had been slow, and it wasn't likely that anything better would come along. He was so intent on his prey that when a hand came down heavily on his shoulder, he nearly jumped out of his skin.

"So here you are. Your Mom's worried sick." The voice was familiar. Jim. The big john who wanted to meet a supplier.

With practised ease, Blair dropped his shoulder and twisted free. At least that was the idea, but the hand remained firmly in place. "Let go of me, man."

"No way, kiddo. You're coming home with me." Jim stared at Tall Blond and Rich in a way that was friendly, yet subtly menacing. "Jim Williamson. Pleased to meet you. Blair's my nephew."

"I am not!" But, to Blair's fury, nobody was listening. He struggled futilely as the john made a hasty retreat. "Oh, man, what did you do that for? I had him, man."

"He's no loss, believe me." Jim looked down at Blair, releasing his grip at last. "I've been waiting to hear from you for three days."

"I haven't had word yet." Blair rubbed his shoulder and scowled resentfully. "When I do I'll tell you."

The taller man scowled back. "Make sure you do." He turned and started walking away.

Blair hurried to catch him. "Hey, you scared off my john, and it's getting late. The least you can do is pay me what I would have got from him."

"It is, is it?" Jim looked as though he might be considering it. "How much?"

All right! Blair put on his blandest expression. "Fifty dollars."

"Fifty? He was going to pay you fifty dollars?" Jim smiled. And started walking again. "Life's tough, Chief."

"Fucker!" Blair yelled it after him. He retired to his spot, mad at the john for allowing himself to be scared off, mad at Jim for not caring, most of all mad at himself for the way his cock had leapt when he'd thought Jim was going to pay for another go-round.

He paced up and down, ignoring the boys, ignoring the few passing men. He needed that money, dammit. His rent was past due and he'd already spent all of Jim's money. He'd need another hit soon, too.

But half an hour later things took a turn for the better. A nervous looking Japanese, probably a tourist, came towards Blair after watching him for a few minutes. Blair smiled enticingly.

"How much?" The man's voice was hesitant and his English heavily accented.

Blair's smile widened. "Depends what you want." He began a recitation of his price list, deliberately speaking quickly. '...and eighty dollars for the night."

Mr Japan looked understandably confused. "Uh... 'scuse me... the whole night? How much?"

"Oh, the whole night?" Blair mentally weighed up his chances. "The whole night costs one twenty. And you pay for the hotel."

His mark smiled and nodded. "Okay." He held out a handful of crumpled notes. "You take how much."

Blair carefully extracted eight of the twenty-dollar bills and tucked them into his pocket. It was going to be a good night after all.

Waiting was something that didn't come naturally to Jim Ellison. He could do it, and do it better than most hunters stalking their prey, but he didn't like it. It didn't help that, working undercover, he couldn't be seen anywhere where he might be recognised. Staying in the loft as much as possible seemed the best solution to that, but it was like being in prison.

A knock on his door one afternoon sent Jim lunging for the doorknob. "Yeah?"

"Hey man." It was Blair, looking almost edible in jeans and a light sweater. "I got the call. Thought you'd want to know ASAP."

"So?" Jim's growl wiped the smile off the boy's face.

"You don't wanna know? Fine." Blair turned away, stopping only when Jim caught his arm.

"Look, I'm sorry. Come in." Jim led the way to the couch. "Want coffee? Or I've got coke. The wet kind."

"Oh, that's funny man." Blair dropped into the chair and curled one leg underneath him. "I'll have coke. Wouldn't want to disappoint you."

He tossed a can to the boy and took one for himself. "So, what's the story?"

"You know the warehouse on the corner of Edwards and 46th?"

"No. But I can find it." Jim motioned with the hand holding his coke. "Go on."

Blair took a long swallow from his can. "You meet there tonight. Seven o'clock. With the money. You go alone."

"Seven o'clock tonight?" Jim frowned. This wasn't good. "It doesn't give me much time."

"That's the idea." Blair smiled, patently unconcerned by his discomfort. "Diego doesn't know you. He's gonna keep you on a short leash for a while."

"Diego who? You haven't even told me his name yet." But Jim had an idea, and if he was right, this could be a major bust. "I only want to deal with the guy at the top. Will he be there?"

"Diego probably will." Blair shrugged. "But he's not the boss."

Yes! It looked like he'd snared an even bigger fish than he'd had any right to hope for. But Jim needed to put on a show for his audience. "Then I want to meet the boss."

Blair laughed. "Are you kidding? Diego's boss isn't interested in small time dealers."

"Who said I was small time?" Jim scowled. "I've got customers spread halfway down the West Coast, and up into Canada. I wouldn't even bother buying locally, if another supplier hadn't got busted last month in Portland."

"Whatever." Blair shrugged. "You can sort that out with Diego at the meet."

"No." Jim rose and took the can out of the kid's hand. "You tell the boss man that I meet him. Today."

"I can't do that, man. He doesn't talk to me. I just send the messages to Diego, I don't know the guy, okay?" Blair cocked his head, looking at Jim, checking out his reaction. "Best I can do is pass it on. Maybe it'll get to Diego in time, maybe it won't."

"Then what are you waiting for? Get moving." Jim went to the door and held it open, the half full can in his other hand held out as bait.

"Geez, I don't know why I'm doing this for you." Blair grumbled as he got to his feet and walked over to him. "You've got an attitude, man."

Jim just smiled as the boy walked past him, grabbing the can out of his hand.

"I don't like it Jim." Captain Benjamin Innes' voice was a deep rumble down the phone line. "You'd better get in here fast and have the wire fitted."

"Sir, that's not a good idea." Jim glanced out the window at the gathering darkness and suppressed a nervous shiver. "They're suspicious. The first thing they'll do is check for a wire. The backup will be there. That'll have to be enough."

Innes was silent for a moment. "All right. Don't take any chances, Jim. This is just to establish you as a dealer. Take it easy."

"I will, Sir." Jim hung up the phone and checked his gun once again. At least it wouldn't be out of character for him to carry one, and there'd be half a dozen men within half a block of the meeting place. He hoped it would be enough.

At six thirty, he went downstairs to his truck and drove to the warehouse. He drove past slowly, looking for potential dangers and escape routes, then turned back and parked. It was one minute before seven o'clock when he walked up to the main door of the warehouse and tapped gently. The door opened silently and Jim stepped inside.

"You're a punctual man. That's good, Mr Williamson." A light flared fleetingly in the shadowy space and then muted to a reddish glow. The brief illumination had shown Jim four men. The speaker, barely visible now, drew on his cigarette again, revealing a sharp, clever looking face. Jim recognised him as Diego Gonzales, one of Domingo de Silva's top men. "You have the money?"

"I'd like to know who I'm dealing with first." Jim folded both hands over the handle of his briefcase. "It's only polite."

A quiet chuckle acknowledged the irony in his voice. "I am simply a messenger."

"For who? Domingo de Silva?" Jim took a step towards Gonzales; and stopped when the other men shifted dangerously.

"So you know of Mr de Silva?" There was an edge to the smooth voice. "You who've only recently arrived in Cascade?"

"I make it a point to know who my potential allies are." Jim lifted the briefcase a little. "We have interests in common. It could be a lucrative association. I want to meet him."

"Perhaps he will meet you one day. If you prove to be all you say you are." Gonzales signalled to one of his companions. "Here is the merchandise. I take it you have the money."

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't." Jim exchanged his case for the other. Inside were ten plastic bags, some containing white powder, and some full of tablets. "That's not a lot for fifteen thousand."

"But top quality. I'm sure your customers will agree." The tone of Gonzales' voice was a dismissal.

Jim hesitated. "This won't last long. How do I contact you when I want more?"

"The boy will tell me." A dark eyebrow rose smoothly as Jim grimaced. "You don't like him?"

"He's a user. I'd prefer someone more reliable." Jim chose his words carefully. He didn't want Blair's death on his conscience.

"The boy is reliable enough. He's too intelligent not to know what happens to those who... disappoint Mr de Silva."

It was clear there was no negotiating on this point. Jim swallowed his disappointment; he'd hoped to get a contact within the organisation at the very least. And he'd rather not have to deal with Blair again. His reaction to the boy was more than a little disturbing to him. He nodded curtly "I'll be in touch."

The drugs were passed to a police contact next morning, after Jim had phoned in his report. It would be at least another week before he could realistically hope to request another meeting. De Silva was known to be reclusive, paranoid and extremely dangerous, and the department was determined to move with more than usual care on this case. Which left Jim with little to do for the next few days.

He went to visit his father for an awkward half-hour, and travelled out of Cascade a couple of times to maintain the fiction of a drug dealer who had widespread contacts. He even crossed into Canada by ferry for half a day. Then he had little to do but wait.

Six days after making the acquaintance of de Silva's henchmen, Jim was back in Blair's stalking grounds, ready to arrange another meeting. His heart was pounding as he walked towards the slender, already familiar figure.

"Hey, Jim." Blair's greeting was quiet and his eyes were dull.

Pushing his nervousness aside, Jim spoke abruptly. "I need to meet up with your friends again. Can you arrange it?"

"Sure. It'll cost you." His eyes lightened a little. "Eighty bucks."

"Nuh uh. This is different. I'll give you twenty." Jim felt a rush of anger. The kid was out of it; he'd been right not to trust him. "Take it or leave it."

Blair's face fell. "Come on... oh geez! I need a fix, man."

"And I'm not paying for it." He held out the twenty and Blair took it. "Tell him I want more this time. And I want to meet..." he lowered his voice. "You know who I want to meet."

Blair nodded absently. "I'll tell him."

He barely protested when Jim grabbed a handful of his shirtfront. "Tell him I meet the top man or I find another supplier. I don't trust men I don't see. Okay?"

"All right. Chill out man." A little of the boy he'd been nearly two weeks ago shone through Blair's apathy for a moment. "I'll tell him."

Blair didn't come this time. Jim got a phone call two days later instructing him to go to a meeting in the same warehouse, and giving him only five hours warning.

"This is it, Captain. I've got a feeling about it." His whole body was tingling with the presentiment of action, the certainty of a trap about to be sprung. He'd known that feeling when he'd been in the jungles of Peru, and it had never failed him.

"A feeling." Innes sounded amused, but Jim knew that at least half of police work was instinct and gut feeling, and so did Innes. "This time you're wearing a wire."

"Absolutely, Sir. Is the money ready?" He wouldn't have much time to prepare. "Where do I pick it up?"

"It's being couriered to you. Special Delivery." Innes laughed outright. "Congratulations, Ellison, you've just bought a new microwave."

Special Delivery meant another cop. It was a risk. The cop might be recognised, if the loft was being watched, but it was the only way to get the money to him on time. "I've been wanting a new one, Sir."

"Be careful, son." Abruptly the conversation veered back into seriousness. "De Silva's a mad bastard. Expect anything."

"I will, Sir." Already Jim's mind was busy, weighing and sifting through strategies and possibilities, discarding some and reserving others for later consideration.

When he arrived at the warehouse, Jim had already picked out several of the team who would be backing him up on this operation. Others would be well hidden, but close enough, he hoped, to help if things went badly. Though if things went badly, he might not be around to appreciate that fact.

The feeling inside the warehouse was different. There was a kind of electricity in the air that reminded Jim of the presence of a large and extremely dangerous predator. He nodded respectfully at an older man with greying temples. "Mr de Silva? It's an honour to meet you."

A faint incline of the head implied that it was indeed an honour. For Jim. "You are Mr Williamson, who has sold fifteen thousand dollars worth of merchandise in less than a week?"

Jim smiled self-deprecatingly. "I have a lot of customers."

"So soon after arriving in Cascade?"

"I was based in Portland, but it was getting difficult to find a reliable source. I decided to move to Cascade." Jim inserted a note of admiration into his voice. "I was hoping to meet up with you. I've heard a lot of good things about your operation here. I think we can help each other. I have contacts in every major city on the West Coast, but supplying them adequately has always been a problem."

"Hmphf." De Silva waved Gonzales forward. "I'll consider your usefulness to me when I know you better. In the meantime, Diego has another consignment for you."

They exchanged the briefcases in silence. When Jim expressed his satisfaction, de Silva nodded. "This should last you at least a month. The boy will tell Diego when you want more."

"I'll look forward to meeting you again, Sir." Jim nodded first to de Silva and then Gonzales, ignoring the other men completely. "It's a pleasure doing business with you."

That was the signal for the rest of his team to swoop in. Within moments the warehouse was swarming with Vice Squad members. Jim was handcuffed along with the others, though he doubted it fooled de Silva. The last he saw of the older man was a livid face staring haughtily out of a police car window as it was driven away.

The fallout from the bust lasted well into the early hours of the morning, and, when Jim finally dragged himself back to the loft, he fell into bed and slept till mid morning. He woke with a nagging sense of something important having been left undone, but it wasn't until he was halfway through his shower that it struck him. Blair.

The kid had told him that de Silva was dangerous, that they could both be killed dealing with him, and Jim hadn't even warned Blair to lie low for a while. He finished his shower as rapidly as possible and dressed hurriedly.

There was no sign of Blair, or any of the other boys at their usual haunt. Jim glanced at his watch. Eleven o'clock. It should have occurred to him that Blair and his friends were unlikely to be out and about before noon. He went down to the station and finished off the last few bits of paperwork, accepted the congratulations of his colleagues, and then headed back to find Blair. Some of the other boys were hanging around, but not Blair.

If anything happened to the kid, it would all be his fault. He should have come down here last night straight after the bust to warn him. And the reason he hadn't was fear. He was afraid of the way Blair made him feel when they were together. Afraid of the attraction he felt for a kid who might, or might not be of legal age. Who, if he wanted to, could ruin Jim's new career simply by going into a Police Station and telling the desk sergeant that Detective Jim Ellison had had sex with him. It certainly wouldn't be difficult, now, for Blair to find out who he really was.

Finally, after about an hour of waiting, Jim saw someone who might be able to help. He got out of the truck and went over to the boy.

"Jimmy, where's Blair?" His voice came out more sharply than he'd intended and Jimmy looked up at him doubtfully. He forced himself to speak more calmly. "It's okay, I'm only trying to help him. Do you know where he is?"

"He's stayin' away for a while." Jimmy shrugged. "Some john beat him up and he can't work till the bruises go."

The matter of fact tone in Jimmy's voice was somehow more shocking than the news that Blair had come to grief. His ready acceptance of the dangers of his life spoke volumes for what the boy had witnessed and experienced on these streets. The only surprise was that Blair had something resembling a home he could hide out in. Jim crouched in front of the boy so their faces were on the same level. "Where does he live, Jimmy?"

"I dunno..." The boy's perpetual sniff was more apparent than ever. "He don't like the johns knowing where he lives."

"I'm not a john." The boy looked unconvinced, so Jim held up a twenty. "Will this help you make up your mind?"

His sarcasm was lost on Jimmy. "He got kicked out of his place, couldn't pay the rent. There's this old building on Montgomery, usedta be a hotel? Some of the guys stay there when they're broke. I figure he'll be there."

"Thanks Jimmy. You did the right thing." Jim laid a hand on the boy's shoulder for a moment before heading back to his truck.

He knew the building Jimmy referred to. It had been abandoned for years after a planned restoration had fallen through, and the owners of neighbouring buildings kept complaining of squatters causing problems. It was also five storeys high, with maybe a hundred rooms.

Even in the middle of the day the inside of the hotel was dark and dank. There was no electricity and probably no water either. Still, to a kid like Blair it offered a safe place to sleep, and shelter from the weather. Luckily, there were a few people moving around, and he questioned them, describing Blair. Most just shrugged and ignored him.

"Yeah, I know him." A gap-tooth old black man smiled warily. "He helped me one time when I was sick."

Jim breathed a sigh of relief. "Do you know where he is? He might be hurt."

"Sure. C'mon, I'll show you. It's right by my room." The old man shuffled away at quite surprising speed and Jim followed closely behind. "I hope he's all right. Nice kid."


They stopped outside a door exactly like all the others in the hallway and the man nodded at Jim. "That's it."

"Thanks." He knocked on the door. "Blair? Open up, it's Jim."

There was no sound from inside. Jim looked at the old man, who shrugged. The doorknob turned easily under his hand, but when he pushed the door opened no more than an inch before the security chain stopped it. Immediately, the smell of stale urine and blood hit him. "Blair? Are you okay?"

He heard a whimpering sound, and that was all he needed. The latch and chain were no match for the full weight of his body when it slammed into them. Jim stumbled into the bare, dingy room, almost missing the dark huddle in a corner, away from the broken windows.

"Blair?" He knelt beside the makeshift bed, a thin lumpy looking mattress on the floor with a nest of blankets containing one shivering boy. He pulled one corner of the blanket back to reveal a sweaty tangle of hair and a glimpse of pale skin. The smell of urine was almost overpowered, at this distance, by the rank sweat that covered Blair's body.

When Jim touched him, Blair flinched and moaned, but his eyes remained firmly closed. "Blair, talk to me."

He pulled the blankets halfway down Blair's body and stared in growing anger at what had been done to the boy. His thin frame was mottled with bruises and in spite of the heat coming off him in waves Blair was shivering uncontrollably. Jim rolled him gently onto his back and brushed the long strands of hair away from his flushed face. Most of his left cheek was covered in a dark, swollen bruise and traces of blood remained around his mouth and nose.

"Who did this? One of de Silva's men?" Jim's voice was harsh with anger.

Blair shook his head restlessly, but Jim wasn't sure whether it was in answer to his question or not. "Please..." he shuddered and moaned softly. His voice was hoarse. "I need... oh God..."

With a sick feeling in his stomach, Jim recognised what he should have seen from the start. Blair was well into the early stages of withdrawal. Too hurt to work the streets, or even to go out and find his dealer, Blair would have had to go through this completely alone if Jim hadn't found him.

"It's okay, Blair. I'm going to help you." Wrapping the blankets around him again, Jim lifted the boy easily and carried him to the door.

It had been a toss up whether Jim took Blair to a hospital, or back to the loft. In the end the loft won out simply because he wasn't sure how secure Blair would be in a public ward - if the hospital would even agree to take him without insurance.

He deposited the grimy bundle on his sofa and went to fill a large bowl with soapy water. Armed with that, a washcloth, and towels, Jim returned to the couch. The hectic flush had disappeared leaving Blair's face sallow, and the shivering had increased. For the next couple of days, it was only going to get worse. Jim steeled himself with that knowledge and began to wash the boy.

Before very long it became evident to Jim that Blair had been raped as well as beaten. He had to stop then, swearing violently under his breath, until he became aware that Blair's eyes were open and the boy was watching him.

"Who was it Blair?" Jim tossed the washcloth into the bowl and began to pat the pale skin dry.

Blair shrugged sketchily. "Just a john. I don't ask their names." His voice was weak and his eyelids were drooping already. "Not the first time..."

"Chief, listen to me." Jim took hold of both his hands, squeezing them a little to draw the boy's attention. "Did he use a condom?"

A soundless laugh shook Blair's body. "Hell, yeah. He was terrified of catching something off me."

"Are you HIV positive?" It was a question that Jim hadn't wanted to ask, but Blair was a hustler and a drug user. He had to know now. It could make all the difference to Blair's chances of surviving withdrawal, and he had no intention of giving the boy more heroin, even if he had it to give.

Blair rolled his head from side to side. It was quite clearly a negative, and Jim swallowed heavily. "I've always been careful. Don't share my needles... always use condoms."

"Good." Jim slid Blair's threadbare blankets out from under him and covered him with the throw rug. "You rest for a while. There's some things I need to get."

He came back with a small arsenal of medical supplies, as well as a blow up mattress and a rubber sheet. It was going to be an unpleasant couple of days ahead, and Jim saw no reason why his bed should be made to suffer with them. In ten minutes Blair was ensconced in a makeshift bed with clean sheets and blankets from Jim's linen closet; a bucket stood handily by his head.

"What are you doing, man?" Blair stared at Jim groggily. "Didn't you get me some stuff?"

"I got you lots of stuff, kiddo, but I'm not supplying you with H." Jim looked down at him from his position on the couch. "It's okay. I'll help you through this."

"Okay?" Blair's choked voice was full of raw incredulity. "It's not okay! I need a fix. Please, man!"

Jim simply shook his head. There was no point in getting into an argument with an addict in the throes of withdrawal.

It wasn't long before withdrawal had well and truly set in. Jim held Blair's thin body as he retched and shook convulsively. As the hours blurred together, Jim learned to close his ears to Blair's screams as hallucinations haunted him, both waking and sleeping. Pleas for drugs were more easily ignored. He was determined that Blair would come out of this clean, and drug free. What he did after that was up to him.

Perhaps the worst part was the stench of sweat, urine and faeces. It was almost impossible to keep Blair clean. He soiled himself and the bedding over and over, and each time Jim would patiently strip the bedding away and wash Blair down before covering him again with clean sheets. He no longer knew the time of day, or even what day it was. Nothing existed except for the mattress on the floor and the pain wracked body that lay on it.

It was light, though whether morning or evening, Jim wasn't sure, when Blair finally seemed to be over the worst of it. He no longer soiled himself, if only because there was nothing left inside him to come out. But if the throes of withdrawal were weakening, so was Blair, and it was bringing him no relief that the convulsions and cramps were noticeably less violent.

After another session of dry retching, in which it seemed that his body was trying to turn itself inside out, Jim met Blair's despairing eyes and tried to smile encouragingly. "It's almost over, Chief. We can do it."

"We..." Blair struggled weakly in his arms. "You bastard. You're trying to kill me."

It wasn't the first time Blair had accused him of that. Jim sighed. "It's going to be okay."

"Please... I can't..." a wretched sob escaped and tears formed in the bloodshot blue eyes. "Please... you've got the stuff, man. Give me some of it. Oh God, it hurts..." As he had so often in the endless hours of this vigil, Jim watched helplessly as Blair doubled over with cramps, then shook with desolate sobs.

"I know." He wiped the tears and snot away while Blair lay apathetically still, too exhausted even to cry. "It's going to get better."

"No, it isn't." Blair closed his eyes and swallowed. His lips were dry, and Jim bent to rub a little salve over them. Only a little, because almost anything could set off another bout of retching.

Jim studied the forlorn face with a sense of unaccustomed helplessness. There was no comforting the boy, and the urge to do so was a constant nagging ache in his chest. Finally he lifted Blair, blankets and all, into his arms and settled on the couch with the dark head resting against his shoulder.

Not all of Jim's careful washing could entirely disperse the odour of sickness. As close as they were now, it took all his control not to react to the smell. His stomach must be just about as empty as Blair's by now, but it stirred queasily and Jim concentrated all his attention on the feel of the fragile body against his own, until he imagined he could feel the rush of blood through the boy's veins. He shook his head, smiling a little. He must be getting ropy with lack of sleep and food.

A sudden sharp movement and a frightened cry brought Jim back to full awareness. He didn't remember falling asleep, and certainly didn't feel refreshed, but that's what he must have done, because the room was suddenly much darker. Blair moved again in his arms, and Jim realised that they were aching, and his legs were numb from Blair's weight.

Biting back a groan, Jim stood, then lowered Blair to the couch. He was sleeping, restless but obviously over the withdrawal. If he'd had any energy Jim would have cheered. He staggered to the bathroom, first to attend to his own needs, then to draw one more bowl of water to wash Blair with. Then he carried the still sleeping boy upstairs and put him into bed.

He could have easily fallen into bed too, but there was just one more thing that Jim had promised himself. A reward for surviving this ordeal - a long, hot shower. Then, at last, he joined Blair in his bed.

It was light again. For a moment Jim wasn't sure why that felt so wrong, then he realised that he must have slept the clock round. He yawned, considered stretching, and decided not moving at all was a better option. But there was a warm body beside him that demanded Jim's attention, and eventually he gave in.

Blair's face was almost completely obscured by the riotous tangle of hair, but he was obviously deeply asleep. His arm was draped across Jim's chest and he was completely limp. Jim turned, and extricated his left arm from between their bodies so he could draw the boy against his side. Blair's only response was to snuggle still closer. Jim smiled, closing his eyes and allowing himself to drift into a light doze.

He came fully alert again when Blair began to rouse. Jim released him and moved away an inch or two as Blair rolled onto his back with a little moan. He looked terrible. The bruising on his face had transmuted to a mixture of purple and yellow that made Jim wince in sympathy at the sight, and where it wasn't bruised, Blair's face was a sickly yellowish white. His cheeks were deeply sunken and dark shadows circled equally sunken eyes. More worryingly, he looked badly dehydrated, in spite of Jim's efforts to get fluids into him over the last two days.

Jim slipped out of the bed, shrugged on his robe, and went downstairs to the kitchen. It only took a moment to mix up a simple rehydration formula of water with a little sugar and a pinch of salt. He carried a jug of it back up to his bedroom and poured some into a glass.

"Blair." He touched Blair's thin shoulder gently. "Come on. You need this,"

"Uhhnnn..." Blair's eyes opened to mere slits. "Wha'?"

Jim slid his arm under Blair's shoulders, lifting him a little. "Drink this." He held the glass to Blair's lips.

After a couple of sips Blair's nose wrinkled and he turned his head away. "Man, that's awful."

"It's not that bad." Jim held the glass up again. "You're dehydrated. You need to drink."

Blair managed to empty about half the glass before he turned his head away again. This time Jim allowed it, putting the glass back on the nightstand. As he slid back into the warmth of the bed, Blair's dazed eyes turned towards him. "What happened to me? I feel like..."

Jim waited, but Blair was obviously unable to come up with anything unpleasant enough to compare with how he must be feeling right now. "Like you've been through heroin withdrawal?"

"I've..." Blair's eyes widened in shock. "No! You didn't... oh God, you didn't..."

It wasn't exactly the reaction he'd been expecting. Jim smiled soothingly. "Take it easy Chief. You were already in withdrawal when I found you."

"You could have stopped it!" Blair grabbed at his arm as desperately as he had at any time during his illness. "Why didn't give me something? Oh God..."

"Don't overwhelm me with thanks. I didn't have anything to give you, and even if I had, you're better off without it." Jim's voice turned sour. He should have known better than to expect any thanks from an addict. "You were right the first time we met. I am a narc."

"Oh fuck..."Blair shrank away from him. "Diego's going to kill me."

"He's got other things on his mind right now." Jim smiled grimly. "I busted him two nights ago."

"Oh God, ohgodohgod..." Blair curled into a ball; his voice was shaking pathetically. "You think that's gonna make a difference?" When he looked up there were frightened tears gathering in his eyes.

Jim couldn't help but be moved by his obvious terror. "Blair, I'll take care of you."

"No." Blair's head shook from side to side. "No, man, nobody takes care of me. Nobody but me." His voice broke on a gasp. "Oh God... how am I going to do it? The smack was what made it work, man. Without that..."

Jim pulled the sobbing boy into his arms. "You're not going back on the street. I promise you, Blair. I'll help you."

But nothing he could say would convince Blair. All Jim could do was to hold him while he cried himself into an exhausted sleep.

Waking usually wasn't this difficult, or this painful. Blair stirred groggily and immediately regretted it. His head was pounding and his body ached, and he had an awful feeling that neither of these were the worst things he'd have to face once he was fully awake. On the positive side, it felt good to be warmly enclosed in a comfortable bed.

It was the bed that gave it away. Blair moaned softly as a flood of unpleasant memories reminded him of exactly why he was in that comfortable bed. For a moment his courage failed him at the thought of what lay ahead. With Diego's henchmen out to get him, and no heroin to soften the harsh realities of life on the street, he'd never make it. Jim's offer of help meant nothing. It wouldn't be the first time a john had said such a thing and Blair had long ago learnt to trust nobody but himself. Of course, he could always find more heroin. So that just left the matter of Diego. Blair sighed. Maybe he should leave Cascade.

Somehow, he'd survive, he told himself. All he had to do was to make sure Jim didn't kick him out before he got a bit stronger. That shouldn't be hard. It was amazing what a john would do for a few expert blow jobs. He could do it. He had to.

A moment later, seated on the edge of the bed, with his head swimming, Blair's continued survival didn't seem nearly so likely, or even desirable.

"Blair? Are you awake?"

Blair put his feet firmly on the ground and pushed himself upright. A single step forward brought him to the stairway and the assistance of the stair rail. Taking one step at a time, Blair got to floor level with a vague sense of accomplishment, which vanished abruptly the moment he stepped away from the stairs. He managed two shaky steps and froze, unable to continue for the moment, as Jim turned to face him.

"Blair, you're naked." Jim's tone made it clear that this was a problem.

He shrugged. It wasn't his problem. "Couldn't find my clothes."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot about that." Jim's eyes went past him, then round the room, as if searching for inspiration. "Feel up to having a shower? Bathroom's through there."

A shower sounded... wonderful. Blair perked up a little. "Yeah. Can I have a towel?"

"Sure. There's a stack of them in there. Help yourself."

The thought of a hot shower was enough to strengthen Blair's rubbery knees and get him moving again. Slowly, maybe, but he made it as far as the bathroom.

There were a good half dozen towels, thick and fluffy and more luxurious than anything Blair had ever encountered. There was shampoo and soap, and shower gel too. Blair grinned. "All right!"

Blair emerged from the bathroom almost half an hour later looking flushed and damp, but just as naked as when he went in. Modesty obviously wasn't one of his strong points. Jim wondered why that should come as a surprise to him.

As he went to support the unsteady figure, Jim caught sight of a steamed up bathroom, and a floor strewn with towels. He forced himself to ignore it. "Let me help you." Jim's arm went around Blair's shoulders as he supported him as far as the couch. "Put those on."

Blair stared down at the T-shirt and sweatpants on the couch. "They're yours? Man, they're gonna be way too big for me."

"They'll do for now." Jim headed back to the kitchen as Blair sat on the couch and lifted the sweatpants dubiously. "I've got some soup ready."


Blair sounded less than enthusiastic, and Jim grinned. He poured the soup into a large mug and carried it over to Blair. "Here you go..." his voice trailed off as he tried not to laugh. The T-shirt came down almost to Blair's knees, and the sweatpants were roughly the size of baggy clown pants on Blair's smaller frame. Blair's sulky pout indicated that he knew very well how ridiculous he looked.

"Here." Jim handed Blair the mug and covered his legs with the throw from the back of the couch. "Drink up. It'll do you some good."

"Chicken?" Blair sniffed and then sipped cautiously. He smiled. "It's good."

"Of course it is. I got it out of a can." Jim perched on the edge of the couch, watching as Blair drank a little more eagerly. "We need to talk, Blair."

"Yeah?" Blair seemed completely uninterested. He put the mug down, only half-empty. "I can't drink any more."

"You can have some more later." Now that the time had arrived, Jim was lost for a way to start this conversation. "I can help you, Blair, if you'll let me."

A wary look replaced the lack of interest on Blair's face, but he didn't speak.

"But we have to get a few things straight." Jim hesitated, then decided the best thing to do was just plunge right in. "Like names, for a start. Mine's Jim Ellison. I'm a detective with the Vice Squad. Now, how about you tell me your name?"

Blair scowled. "Blair. I told you."

"Blair what?" Jim smiled encouragingly. "If I'm going to help, I need to know some things."

"Why should you help me?" Blair stared up at him defiantly.

He'd been prepared for that. Somehow he didn't think Blair would accept the truth, which was that he didn't really know why himself. "I figure I owe you. For getting you involved in a bust."

Blair looked unconvinced but shrugged. "Blair Sandburg."

"How old are you, Blair?" Jim all but held his breath. He'd never been entirely convinced that Blair was over age. "And what's your date of birth?"

"I'm eighteen. Like I said." Blair's voice became sulky. "And it's March 20th 1974."

So he really was eighteen. Barely. Jim sighed with relief. "Where were you born?"

Blair looked puzzled. "I don't know. My mom moved around a lot. Why?"

"Well, if you're going back to school, you'll need a birth certificate. What about your parent's names?" Jim tried not to sound too official, but judging by Blair's expression he wasn't succeeding very well.

"Naomi's my mom. I don't know who my dad was." Blair stared at him suspiciously. "If you think you're gonna find Naomi and make her take me back, you won't be able to. She never stays in one place very long."

"Blair, if you're eighteen, we can't make her take you." That didn't come out right. Jim smiled at him and tried again. "You're a bright kid, Blair. If you could finish high school, maybe do a course at a community college, you'd have a future ahead of you. One that didn't include working as a hustler."

"That costs money, man." Blair looked up at him sceptically. "You gonna pay for it?"

"Not the whole amount." He'd seriously considered it, and decided, against all his instincts, that he wouldn't commit himself for what could be years of support. "I'll help. You should be able to get some kind of assistance. I'll look into it for you."

"Sure." Blair hunched his shoulders dejectedly. "Just give me my clothes, man."

"Uh... Blair, I left them in your room. I'll go over tomorrow and..."

"You left them?" Blair's horrified voice cut across Jim's. "Oh man..." Before Jim's eyes the boy seemed to shrivel. He rolled on his side facing the back of the couch and wrapped his arms around himself.

"Blair, I'll get them tomorrow."

"Don't bother." Blair's voice was thick with tears. "There won't be anything left by now. They'll have taken everything. My clothes. Pictures. Everything." His voice broke on a quiet sob.

Instinctively, Jim reached for him and Blair was too demoralised to resist. He held the frail body in his arms as Blair shook with despair. He remembered the pictures, torn out of magazines, that had been the only bright spots in that damp and dingy room. It wasn't much, but everything that Blair had owned had been in there, and now he'd lost it all.

"I'm sorry, kid. I'll replace your things, I promise." Jim rubbed the thin back soothingly, feeling the all too prominent bones beneath his hands. "And you can stay with me as long as you need to."

His offer had no apparent effect on Blair, and eventually Jim picked him up and carried him back upstairs to bed. He stayed, sitting on the edge of the bed, stroking Blair's freshly shampooed curls until he fell asleep.

"Sleeping on the job again?" Captain Innes' voice brought Jim out of a daze with a start.

"Sorry, I was thinking." Jim frowned at the computer in front of him as though to imply it was the cause of his distraction. "What is it, Sir?"

"Must be some pretty deep thoughts." Innes grinned in a friendly enough manner. After only three months in Vice, Jim had a pretty good idea that Innes wasn't the type to be easily ruffled or upset. "Anything useful?"

Jim dubbed his pounding temples. "No, Sir. I just didn't get a lot of sleep the last couple of days."

"You can take another day's leave if you need it."

Innes looked at him sympathetically enough that Jim was seriously tempted. It was surprisingly difficult to keep his mind off Blair, but he couldn't be with the kid every day. At least for the next couple of days he'd be too weak to go out in search of drugs. By then, Jim knew, he'd better have come up with something to convince Blair that the future he'd outlined was at least possible.

So why was he sitting here wasting time? He pushed back his chair. "I've got some things I need to follow up on. Maybe some fresh air will do me good." It occurred to him, belatedly, that Innes still hadn't told him why he'd come to see Jim. "Uh, Sir? You wanted to see me about something?"

"Yes." The smile disappeared off Innes' face. "I just got word that de Silva's lawyer convinced a judge to let her client out on bail. Be careful, Jim."

"Thanks." He nodded to Innes and left.

Blair was asleep on the couch when Jim got home. He'd got started on some of the many things he needed to get done for his new houseguest, and by the time he'd finished, he was pretty damned pleased with the results. He quietly deposited a cardboard box and four department store bags on the coffee table and went to take a closer look at Blair.

The blue eyes opened as he bent over Blair's slim body. The boy blinked in surprise and then grinned weakly. "Hi."

"How're you feeling?" Jim touched his cheek lightly with the back of his hand. Temperature seemed normal, but then there was no reason why it shouldn't be. "I've got something to show you."

Blair's eyes went past him to the pile on the coffee table and he hitched himself into a sitting position with a hopeful look. In contrast, his voice was decidedly casual. "Yeah?"

Jim put the box in his lap. "The old black guy in your building took some of your stuff for safekeeping. He said he's sorry he couldn't get all of it before the others got there."

"Sam did? Cool." Blair's eyes were fairly blazing as he carefully lifted out a small pile of ragged-edged magazine pages and handed them to Jim. A cheap pair of vinyl ankle boots came next and beneath them were his clothes including, at the very bottom, the blue shirt and black leather pants Blair had been wearing the night Jim met him. "This is so great! Thanks Jim."

"It was all Sam's doing, not mine." He took the box away and replaced it with one of the bags. "You can thank me for these if you like."

But instead of being pleased, Blair's expression turned wary as he lifted out a pair of jeans and two sweaters. "You didn't have to do this, man."

"Oh yes I did, Chief. If you think you can go to school in those outfits, you're sadly mistaken." He grinned to take the sting out of his words. He put another, smaller bag with the other. "And you will wear underwear. No arguing."

A tiny smile curled the corner of Blair's mouth. "Okay. What's in there?" He leaned over to reach for the third and fourth bags.

"Sneakers. And T-shirts, socks." Jim tossed them to Blair and watched with amusement as the prosaic contents were carefully examined. He picked up the fifth bag. The one he hadn't put on the coffee table. "Oh, and this one? Books."

"Books?" Blair blinked at Jim and then dived for the bag.

There were nine books. The Education Board worker Jim had spoken to this afternoon had recommended five of them, and there were two novels, a book about Peru and another about Native American art, since they'd been the subjects of most of the pictures on Blair's walls.

"I haven't had books of my own since..." Blair shut his mouth abruptly, then with an effort at regaining his previous casual manner, he smiled tentatively. "It's kinda hard to keep books when you're moving from one place to another."

"I guess it would be." Jim was moved by Blair's reaction, and was trying very hard not to let him see that. He shook Blair's shoulder teasingly. "Those ones," he nodded at the textbooks, "you'll need for school."

"I can't go back to school. I haven't been in over three years." Blair shrugged. "None of them will take me. I'm too old."

Coming from a kid who looked no older than fifteen at most, Jim was hard put not to laugh at this. But the hopelessness in Blair's voice was no laughing matter. "I've already talked to the local Education Board. They're going to arrange for one of their workers to see you. You'll need to sit some tests so they can see what level you're at, and then they'll recommend what you should do next. You can also apply for study grants. I've got a stack of papers for you to fill out. I left them in the truck."

Blair was looking dazed by the time Jim had finished. "But how can I..."

"Money shouldn't be an issue. You can live here for a while, until you settle into whatever you're going to do." Jim held up a hand to forestall any protest. "It won't cost any more to have you living here, and if you get Welfare, you can contribute towards the food."

"Okay." Blair scrunched down, looking shell-shocked.

"There are some things you'll need to do." Jim ticked them off on his fingers. "You need a birth certificate to get welfare, and to apply for grants and college later. I've already started the ball rolling on that. Then there's the test. Read as much of these texts as you can before next week, but don't worry too much. It's just so we can see what gaps need filling in." He took a deep breath. This was the point where he expected trouble. "And I've arranged for a doctor's appointment for tomorrow."


"It's just a check up. Same kind as I get every six months." Jim put a hand lightly on Blair's arm. "I'm also going to arrange for weekly drug tests. If this is going to work I need to know you're going to stay clean."

Blair tensed but didn't raise his eyes. "What if I don't?"

"Then you're back on the street. Don't mess this up, Blair. You only get one chance." And God help him if it ever came to that point, because Jim didn't know how he'd deal with it. "You understand?"

Blair nodded silently, his fingers straying restlessly over the book in his lap. Acting on impulse, Jim hugged him briefly before moving away.

"I'm going to make dinner. Do you want chicken soup, or beef and vegetable?" Blair's reply was inaudible, but Jim figured it was better to leave him to think about the offer in peace.

Twenty minutes. It was about what you'd expect for a general check up, particularly for a first time patient, but Jim prowled the waiting room restlessly. Twenty-two minutes.

The door leading to the consulting room opened. "Jim. Come on in." Mike held the door open and grinned at him. "You're scaring the patients."

Not for the first time, Jim was glad that he'd taken the time to find a gay doctor when he'd come to Cascade. Certainly, it made his current situation easier. It was hard to imagine taking Blair to any straight doctor, besides which, Mike was a relaxed and completely non-threatening kind of guy.

"Everything okay?" Jim kept his voice low. There was only a short hallway leading to Mike's room and he didn't want Blair to hear him.

Mike simply smiled and nodded reassuringly. "Your boy's fine."

"He's not my..." but they'd reached the small office now, and Jim fell silent.

Blair was sitting, unselfconsciously naked, on the examining table. His bruises were fading nicely now, but still Jim frowned at the sight of them. He looked at Mike enquiringly.

"Sorry, Blair. I thought I'd told you to get dressed. We've finished for now." Mike's voice was only mildly penitent, and Jim was quite sure that Mike had told Blair. This was just Blair's way of pushing for a reaction.

Sure enough, Blair slid down from the table and went to get his clothes with a distinctly sexual slink to his step. Jim and Mike both did their best to ignore him.

"I'll talk while you dress, Blair." Mike raised an amused eyebrow at Jim. "Blair's a little under the weather, of course, but doing extremely well considering his situation. I'll give you a list of dietary supplements and some foods he should have."

A groan came from Blair's direction and Mike laughed. "Don't worry Blair. I've eaten Jim's cooking and survived."

Jim scowled, playing along. "Hey, it's not that bad."

"No it isn't. And it's going to get better. No more Wonder Burgers for breakfast. Restrict your intake of pizza and Chinese takeaways to once a week."

Now that was going too far. The scowl was suddenly genuine. "You're enjoying this."

Mike's eyes were dancing. "Immensely. Blair will need a good eight hours sleep per night, and Blair? No anal intercourse for at least another week, you hear?"

Jim choked so hard he barely heard Blair's unconcerned assent.

"Oh, by the way Jim, since you're overdue for your check up, I'll just have a quick look at you. Blair, you can wait outside."

It was barely three months since his last check up, but Jim said nothing until Mike had come back from ushering Blair to the waiting room.

"Is there something wrong?"

He'd barely given Mike time to get into the room, and he saw the mobile eyebrows slant upwards again. "I was going to ask you that. Jim, you're very... possessive of this boy. I don't want to see you, or him, get hurt."

"There's no reason either of us should get hurt." Jim turned away to stare out the small, barred window.

A hand came to rest heavily on his shoulder. "Don't you? Jim, have you had sex with him?"

"Once. A few weeks ago" Jim suppressed the urge to shake off Mike's touch. "He's over eighteen, and we used a condom. He's not infected is he?"

"No, he's not. I called for his records from the free STD clinic. His last test was only a few weeks ago. That's not what I'm concerned about." Mike shook his shoulder roughly. "Listen to your voice, Jim. I've never heard you get so worked up over anything. Are you sure you know what you're letting yourself in for?"

"Of course I don't. I've never taken in a street kid before, but Blair..." Jim shrugged helplessly and turned to face Mike. "There's something about him. I can't just let him rot on the streets."

"Are you in love with him?"

"I don't know." Jim shook his head, wishing he could be sure of anything. In the last two days living with Blair had been a gut churning mixture of joy and delight and frustration and sick, guilty longings that were driving him to distraction.

"Just don't let him break your heart, Jim." Mike met his eyes soberly. "And before you bite my head off, I think he's a lovely kid. But he didn't end up as a hustler because he likes the sex. Three or four years of that kind of life can psychologically damage an adult. Blair was fifteen when he ran away from home."

"I know that. And I know something about abusive childhoods too. Blair... he needs me, and I need to help him."

"Well..." Mike shrugged. "Physically he's okay. Chronically undernourished, which is what you'd expect. If you can keep him off the heroin, and get some decent food into him, he should put on weight, even maybe grow an inch or two. Basically, he looks so young partly because he's small anyway, and partly because his poor diet has retarded his physical development."

"That's it?" Jim looked at Mike sceptically. "Just feed him?"

Mike grinned. "Kids are very resilient. Of course, that's physically. Emotionally, psychologically, he's a mess. But that's not my line of work. Get help, Jim. That's my advice."

Jim smiled sourly and headed for the door. "Thanks a bundle."

It was a relief for Jim when the weekend finally arrived. Increasingly he'd found himself distracted and moody at work, wondering about what Blair might be getting up to. The stronger he got, the more Jim worried. He couldn't hide behind the comfortable assumption that Blair was too weak to go out and get drugs any longer.

When he was with Blair, most of those worries seemed ridiculous. It was hard to believe that he was anything other than a normal teenager, though nothing could have prepared Jim for actually having a teenager living with him, and sleeping, however innocently, in his bed. Not to mention leaving his bathroom in a state that strongly resembled a war zone every morning.

He woke late, as he usually did on a Saturday morning, and lay wondering what the day, and Blair, would have in store for him. He'd already become accustomed to Blair's presence in his bed, and Blair obviously had no problems either. The kid was a natural snuggler, and it was one of Jim's greatest delights to indulge him. If he stayed still, he could lie for a good twenty minutes holding Blair in his arms, before this miniature force of nature attained consciousness. It was the main reason Jim had yet to make any alternative sleeping arrangements for his new housemate.

But eventually even Blair could sleep no longer, and Jim slipped away from him as he stirred. By the time Blair's reluctant incursion into wakefulness was completed, Jim was fully dressed and heading for the stairs. "Breakfast in fifteen, kiddo. Don't be late."

Breakfast these days was a major production. Orange juice and milk was set up on the counter, eggs - fried today - in the pan along with bacon and hash browns. And, thank God, the coffeemaker dripping black gold into the pot. Mike would be proud of him.

Blair arrived exactly fifteen minutes after Jim came downstairs. At Jim's insistence Blair no longer went naked around the loft. Except when he forgot. This time he'd remembered and was wearing boxers and a T-shirt. He was still yawning and scratching his head, which did nothing to improve the tangled mass of hair curling wildly around his head. He surveyed the fruits of Jim's labours critically. "No waffles?"

"They're in the freezer." Jim nodded in the appropriate direction. Blair had only the sketchiest notion of where it was; unless, of course, he was hungry.

"Nah. I hate frozen waffles." Blair downed the glass of orange juice in a couple of swallows and attacked the plate of food Jim set before him. "Do I have to drink the milk?"

"Three glasses a day. That's what Mike said." Jim sat opposite Blair, marvelling at how swiftly a small, slender boy could dispose of a plate heaped with food. "And if you can tear yourself away from the shower in less than thirty minutes, we can go to the market this morning."

"Sure." Blair brightened. "I was getting sick of staying inside."

"So you haven't been going out while I've been working?" He said it too casually, and saw Blair roll his eyes. "Just asking."

"I don't wanna risk running into Diego or his guys." Blair looked up at Jim for a moment with a troubled expression. "The word's got to be out on the street by now."

"Don't worry too much about that. He's not going to try anything while you're living with a cop." Jim swallowed a mouthful of coffee and sighed with pleasure. "How's the study going? You getting ready for the test next Wednesday?"

"Yeah, sure. I finished the books you got me." Blair loaded a fork with bacon and hash brown, considered it a moment and pushed a scrap of yolk-dripping egg on top. Somehow he managed to get it all in his mouth.

Jim frowned. Blair sounded entirely too casual about the whole thing. "I know I told you not to worry too much, Chief, but the better you do in this test, the better your chances are. We need to know what you're capable of doing."

"No, man, I mean it. That stuff was pretty easy." Blair smiled seraphically. "I did all that before I even ran away."

"Blair you can't have done that course work. That was senior year level."

"They put me up a couple of classes." Blair shrugged, seemingly bored by the whole conversation. "I was in my last term of senior year when I took off."

Jim shook his head, not sure whether to believe any of this. "And you just remembered it all?"

Blair downed the last of his milk and reached for the coffee. "The books helped. I guess I'm just good at remembering things."

"Good at remembering things." Jim shook his head again. "Well, I guess we'll find out on Wednesday."

The market was one Blair had never been to before. Huge, and housed permanently in a couple of converted warehouses, with temporary stalls surrounding three sides of the large open area between them. Since it was a sunny day, this courtyard was filled with people sitting on benches or at tables eating food. The stalls contained almost every imaginable item - clothes, books, all sorts of crafts - and enough ethnic food to satisfy any craving. Blair was in heaven

"Hey this is great, Jim. Look." Blair held up a hand woven poncho. "It's authentic."

The stall holder smiled hopefully. "From a small village in Mexico."

"I'm sure it is." Jim nudged Blair's ribs. "I'm running out of hands."

"Oh." He hadn't realised just how much he'd collected since they arrived. Blair took in Jim's longsuffering expression and loaded arms with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "You didn't have to buy all that stuff. I was just admiring it, you know."

"Sure." Jim grinned. "Oh Jim, that picture'd look great on the wall beside the door. Hey, and that shirt's just like the one Naomi got me from India."

"Well, it was." Blair eyed Jim warily, but he didn't seem angry. "That didn't mean you had to buy it."

"Relax, Chief, I'm not complaining. But I am getting hungry." Jim looked around the food stalls. "There must be a hot dog stand somewhere."

Blair considered that possibility dubiously. "I dunno. There's a Sudanese place over there." He pointed hopefully. "Sudanese food is really cool."

"Oh, what the hell." Jim followed behind, grumbling, as Blair led the way. "But if I get food poisoning..."

"And there's a second hand bookstall we have to check out. I saw it on the way in." Blair wondered, belatedly, if he should offer to carry something.

As they ate, Blair watched Jim as covertly as he could. He still hadn't figured the big guy out. It was his experience that men who felt guilty about something were usually satisfied with a muttered 'sorry' and the promise of a trip to a ball game. He couldn't even begin to imagine how much money Jim had already spent on him; and if he kept his promise, that would be only the beginning. It didn't add up, and things that didn't add up bothered him.

"Why so serious?"

Blair raised his eyes to Jim's with a start. "Oh. Sorry, I was just thinking."

"What about?" Jim smiled at him. It was quite a nice smile, Blair supposed. The kind that made you want to trust him.

"Just..." Blair let his eyes follow a dog schmoozing the tables for scraps, then reluctantly turned back to Jim. "Why are you doing this? You don't have to."

"I want to." Jim's voice was so casual, as though it was nothing to take in a kid off the streets and offer to put him through college. "I like you, Blair, and you're bright. You could be so much more than a..."

"Hustler." Blair finished it for him when Jim wouldn't. "That's what I am, Jim."

"Not any more." Jim reached for the parcels, effectively ending the conversation. "How about we put these in the truck before we check out that poncho?"

"I don't want the poncho. Can we go now?" He knew he sounded petulant, but right now he didn't care.

"Sure we can." Jim looked at him quizzically. "Are you all right?"

Blair forced himself to smile. "I guess I'm kinda tired."

Immediately, Jim was all efficiency. "You wait here, then. I'll bring the truck over to the main entrance. Just give me five minutes."

"No!" The strength of his reluctance to be alone in this crowded space surprised Blair until it occurred to him that he knew of at least half a dozen places less than ten minutes walk away where he could get drugs. His body didn't need them any more, but that hadn't stopped the craving; he suddenly wanted to crawl up into a needle and hide there. Except that Jim had made it very clear what would happen if he did. He realised that Jim was looking at him with raised eyebrows. "I'm okay, just tired. I'll walk with you."

Jim didn't look convinced, but he just nodded. "Sure. Let's go home."

"Home." Blair blinked in confusion. He hadn't had anything resembling a home in over three years. It was strange to think of Jim's loft in those terms. He wasn't sure that he wanted to.

Sunday morning; Jim woke with hair tickling his nostrils and that Blair-sense he had whenever they were together, now, dominating his awareness. He'd be willing to bet that he could pick Blair out of a room with a hundred people in it. Blindfolded. He didn't really mind it, except for that small part of his brain that hated an unresolved mystery; it was just a facet of his life that was mostly forgotten in the bustle of day to day living.

Meanwhile, he had an armful of Blair, and a certain contentment that came from everything being the way it ought to be. Except, Jim realised suddenly, this morning Blair was wide-awake and lying very still in his arms. He released the slim figure gently, moving away just enough to establish some distance between them, but not enough, he hoped, to imply rejection.

"Morning. You're awake early." Jim kept his tone casual, belying the sudden increase in his heart rate. It was probably time, he decided reluctantly, to get an extra bed and set it up in the small downstairs room.

"It must have been that nap I had yesterday." Blair seemed unconcerned. "I can't believe I needed a nap."

Jim smiled at the scornful tone. "It was your first real outing since you've been sick. I guess I should have realised you might get tired."

"Well I'm fine now." Blair shrugged and moved closer, reaching for him.

Jim caught the slender wrist in a firm grip. "Whoa. Chief, what are you doing?"

Blair smiled, a very adult smile, and leaned towards Jim. "I'm feeling better. We can make up for lost time."

"Lost..." Jim thought his jaw would hit the mattress. "You want to..."

"Fuck. Sure. Don't you want to?" Blair's expression suggested that nobody in his right mind would think otherwise. He slipped his hand from Jim's slackened grip and pounced. "Thought so." His smile grew smug.

Jim's pulse went haywire for a moment and he gasped, then lifted Blair's hand away from his cock. "Wanting isn't the same thing as doing, Blair. You don't have to..." he gasped again as Blair lowered his head abruptly and teeth scraped across his nipple.

"I want to, okay? I haven't had sex in nearly two weeks." The indignation in Blair's voice stuck Jim as particularly hilarious and he laughed, until a tiny bite on his nipple had him arching his back off the bed in reaction. "I forgot. Guess you're sensitive there, huh?"

"Not usually." Jim got his voice under control with difficulty. "Blair, seriously..."

"Don't want to be serious." Blair licked the abused nipple gently. It still made Jim break out in a sweat.

Jim realised it was time he took control of the situation. He managed to grab Blair's shoulders and hold him at arm's length. "Seriously. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Blair sighed. "How many times do I have to say it?"

"Four or five would probably be good." He touched Blair's cheek gently. He must be out of his mind.

"I want to." Blair counted off on his fingers. "I want to. I want to. I want to. I want to."

"I want to, too." And if it was going to happen, Jim decided it was going to be something that Blair would never forget, or compare to the mercenary couplings he'd practised night after night for the last three years. "Just... let me do this. Okay?"

Blair nodded, his eyes suddenly serious. "Okay."

He blinked, but remained steady as Jim leaned towards him. Still, when their lips touched, Blair flinched a little. Jim waited a moment then kissed him gently again. This time the full, sensual lips remained quiescent against his own, relaxing just a fraction as the kiss continued. Jim cupped the still slightly hollow cheek with his palm and brushed his tongue lightly over Blair's lips, finding just the tiniest hint of a parting, and caressing it into openness.

As his tongue slipped inside Blair's mouth Jim heard a soft breathy moan, and echoed it with his own. The taste of Blair's mouth was almost intoxicating, both like and unlike the scent he was already familiar with. Blair's tongue was silky smooth against his own, taking his lead from Jim, obviously inexperienced, but quick to learn.

"Let me hold you." Jim whispered the words and Blair nodded his agreement.

They lay close together, exchanging long, slow burning kisses, and feeding off each other's arousal as their cocks stirred lazily in the warm space between their bodies. When he thought that Blair was relaxing against him, Jim allowed his hands to wander, caressing the smooth flesh. He could tell that Blair had gained back most of the weight he'd lost, and it gave him pleasure to feel with his hands what his eyes had already told him.

As Blair began to respond to Jim's kisses rather than to merely accept them, Jim slowly drew back, preferring to leave him wanting more. Blair protested this with a soft moan, but Jim ruthlessly ignored him in favour of laying a soft trail of kisses down Blair's throat and onto his chest.

"Oh man..." Blair's fingers fumbled distractedly across Jim's shoulders and he shifted restlessly.

Jim removed his lips from around Blair's nipple long enough to glance up into his face. "You like this?"

Blair groaned quietly. "Oh yeah."

"Good." Jim was chuckling as he applied himself to the other nipple. The ring felt strange against his tongue, but he soon discovered that sucking it would produce a flurry of gasps and moans. There was certainly no danger of his not knowing whether Blair was enjoying himself.

Without any warning, Blair rolled into his back, pulling Jim over on top of him, and the sudden change disrupted Jim's mood. He paused to look up questioningly as Blair brought one thigh up to press against his hip.

"Don't you want to fuck me, man?" Blair's voice was unnervingly prosaic.

Dear God, how he did. And couldn't. Jim swallowed, easing the tightness in his throat a little. "It hasn't been a week yet. Remember?"

"Oh." It wasn't often he got to see Blair so disconcerted. It was almost worth the disappointment, Jim decided.

"We'll think of something." His hand stroked up and down Blair's thigh, in love with the smooth skin and the feel of firm slender muscle. He could feel Blair's cock, hard against his stomach, could feel the heat and the throb of it through his own heat and pounding heart. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.

Blair shuddered as Jim began to kiss and lick every inch of his slender body. It wasn't enough just to touch him; Jim wanted, needed, to experience the essence of Blair. It brought an intense rush of pleasure and at the same time a sense of frighteningly intimate communication. Nothing in his life had ever come close to this. His head framed by Blair's raised thighs, Jim touched his lips to Blair's cock and felt somehow complete. His tongue slid easily along the thick vein and flickered across the sensitive cockhead.

"God! Oh God..." Blair's hips surged beneath him. "Jim, please..."

"Hold on Chief, I've hardly gotten started." There was a certain note of amused satisfaction in Jim's voice. It seemed he still had the power to teach Blair a thing or two. He took Blair's cock into his mouth as Blair cried out in shock.

In a matter of moments the encounter had degenerated from the almost sublime to a desperate, sweaty wrestling match. But Blair wasn't the only one in this bed who could give good head, and Jim was determined to prove his point. He wasn't helped by Blair, tossing and moaning and apparently trying to buck them both off the bed. Jim finally managed to pin Blair's hips to the bed while he set about satisfying the incoherent pleas for 'more... oh please...' that ricocheted about his head.

He watched Blair's face as he worked the short, sturdy cock; saw the beads of sweat on his upper lip and the way he frowned and swallowed, trying to control his responses. Blair's hands were curled into fists in the bedding, knuckles whitening every time Jim sucked a little harder, or teased behind his balls with his fingertips. He could almost feel the force of the sharp, panting breaths Blair took, and suddenly the urge to find release became unbearable.

But not before Blair. He wanted desperately to see Blair come, to taste his climax, and feel it in the marrow of his bones. It wouldn't be long, Jim knew, but every moment seemed an eternity as they raced each other to the finish line. Finally, Blair cried out and Jim felt the pulse of his cock and the hot rush of come in his throat. Shudders racked the slim body and Blair's cock pulsed again, and then again, weakly now, before Blair subsided into a profound inertia. His head resting on Blair's thigh, Jim loosed his own orgasm, hard, intense, and silent.

Blair lay in a loose sprawl, his only movement the rise and fall of his chest. When Jim crawled up to collapse beside him, Blair barely acknowledged his existence. It gave Jim a chance to go over in his mind what had happened between them, and it all added up to something that he didn't want to believe.

He brushed away the long strands of hair clinging sweatily to Blair's cheek and waited until he groaned softly and opened his eyes. "Blair..." Jim's throat closed up and he realised he simply did not want to hear what he knew was going to come.

"Hey, that was incredible, Jim." Blair blinked dazedly. "Really incredible. I mean... wow... it was like, the best... you know?"

"Thanks, Chief." His voice was dryly ironic and he could see that Blair picked it up immediately. "This... you've never... I mean, nobody's ever given you a blow job before?"

"No, man. Can you imagine a john paying to give me a blow job?" Blair looked at him like he was an idiot. "That's crazy."

"Haven't you ever had a lover? Someone you had sex with just because you wanted to?" Jim knew he was grasping at straws, and still couldn't help himself.

"Why should I, when I have guys paying me to have sex with them?" Blair shrugged nonchalantly. "I get all the sex I need." He took a long look at Jim's face and smiled cautiously. "I mean, I used to. And now I've got you."

It eased the ache in his heart a little to hear that, though Jim was no longer sure what any of this really meant to Blair. He returned the smile and drew Blair into his arms. "You sure have, kid."

The bullpen was at its chaotic best, and Jim was having trouble tuning out enough of the noise to be able get his paperwork completed. His head was pounding and a waft of cologne from a passing visitor set his stomach churning. Maybe he was coming down with something. It was tempting to just yell at everybody to keep it down, but, as a relative newcomer, he suspected that he'd only be subjected to a barrage of crumpled paper balls, and the noise level would remain unaffected.

"Hey Ellison, your kid's here."

He didn't bother to look up. "I don't have a kid, Danny."

"Well, he's asking for you." The cop, not much taller than Blair, but twice as wide, nodded towards the doorway. Blair was standing there, looking understandably nervous.

"Blair?" Jim motioned him over and watched as the slim figure practically flew across the room, loose hair streaming behind him. "He's staying with me for a while."

Danny simply grunted and moved away, which was just as well, because Blair had arrived and was throwing himself on Jim's chest, hugging him, and talking so fast Jim couldn't make out a word. "Hey, slow down Chief. What is it?"

"Jim, you're not gonna believe this." Blair bounced on the balls of his feet in front of Jim, his hands fluttering excitedly. "I don't think I believe it. Man, this is just so incredible."

"Take it easy." Jim took hold of Blair's shoulders and forced him to stand still. "Why don't you sit over here and tell me all about it. I guess it's good news?" He pushed Blair down into a seat by his desk and sat back in his chair.

"Uh huh." Blair nodded and swallowed, then grinned widely. "It's the test, man. I fucking aced it. Top marks. They want me to sit ACTs. There's an exam in just a few weeks, and going by the scores I got today, they think I'll pass easily."

"Hey, that's great news, Blair." Jim grinned; his headache suddenly seeming irrelevant. "I knew you could do it, but I didn't exactly expect this. You did well on all the subjects?"

"Yeah, well, except for math. That score wasn't as good, but it was still a high pass mark." The brilliance of Blair's smile dimmed for a moment, then came back full force. "But that's not all. The clerk at the Education Board knows someone in the Admissions Office at Ranier and she called him up when she saw my scores, and he said..."

"Hold on a minute. You're talking about Ranier University?" Jim blinked. He'd never even considered university as a possibility for Blair.

Blair nodded, still talking. "...and he said that if my ACT scores are as high as these practice tests, then Ranier'll be begging me to go there, and I can get grants and scholarships, so I won't have to pay for my tuition, and I'll get an allowance as well. Isn't it great?"

"It sure is." There was a hollow feeling in his stomach. With all that support, Blair wouldn't need to stay with him. Which ought to be a good thing, but somehow wasn't. "Have you thought about what you want to study?"

"Well..." Suddenly all the energy seemed to drain out of Blair and he looked at Jim uncertainly. "They have the best anthropology department there. It's one of the top in the country."

"Anthropology?" Jim raised his eyebrows. "I wouldn't have thought anthropologists got paid too well."

The mildness of his comment seemed to reassure Blair. "It kinda depends. Field workers get research grants, and they hire staff, grad students mostly. Or I could teach. A good university pays okay, I think." He looked doubtfully across the desk at Jim. "I guess they don't exactly make a fortune."

"But it's what you want to do?" Jim waited for Blair's nod of affirmation. "Then you should do it."

"Thanks man." Blair smiled gratefully at him and Jim could see his excitement spiking again. "You know, I never really thought this would work. I mean, it's like a dream."

"I'm glad everything's working out for you." It sounded a bit flat, and Jim worked on his smile until it felt almost genuine. "We'll have to celebrate."

"Yeah!" Blair's eyes lit up. "We have so got to celebrate this, man."

Jim suppressed a groan, realising, too late, just how Blair was going to want to celebrate. In just a few days, he'd been forcibly reminded of what it was like to be eighteen, sexually insatiable, and have a refractory period of just ten minutes. He'd be lucky to survive the night.

With just three weeks to go, Blair had his work cut out for him to be ready for his exams. There was just too much riding on the results for him to feel overconfident, in spite of the way he'd flown through the practice tests. As a result, he was now spending most of each day studying, even though he knew most of the work already. Ironically, it was Jim who kept telling him not to work too hard, but it wasn't difficult when Blair still felt nervous about being seen out on the street.

But, after a long day studying in his favourite position, belly down on the floor with his chin propped in his hands, Blair needed a break. He yawned and stretched, working out the kinks in his back, then wandered over to the stereo. Jim's taste in music was pretty awful, but he had one CD that Blair liked - a compilation album of Santana's greatest hits. Naomi had had a copy of that and he knew all the songs by heart. With the volume turned up really loud, it was pretty cool. Blair danced his way to the kitchen and grabbed a coke from the fridge.

He was out on the balcony watching the setting sun when the music stopped abruptly. Jim was so anal about the stereo being turned up loud. Blair sighed and went back inside. Two steps into the room he stopped and stared for a moment before hurrying over to Jim. "Man, what happened to you?"

Jim waved him away and limped over to the bathroom. "I'm going to take a hot shower. I'll tell you about it later."

"Okay. You want me to cook dinner?" Oops.

Jim turned slowly. "You know how to cook?"

"Uh, yeah. Naomi started teaching me when I was ten." Blair smiled innocently. "I guess I never mentioned that, huh?"

"I don't remember you mentioning it, no." Jim's voice indicated that they'd talk about it later. "I won't be long."

Blair had a good look in the fridge. It had been a long time, but he was pretty sure he could throw something together. But should he go all out and hope a good meal would placate Jim, or make something barely edible so Jim wouldn't want him to cook anyway? Tough decision.

He settled for a stir-fry and noodles. Jim liked Asian food and it was pretty simple; that ought to cover him both ways. He made sure the coffee maker was primed with Jim's favourite blend and the TV set to Jim's favourite channel - EPSN. The moment he heard the bathroom door open, Blair started tossing vegetables into the wok.

Jim barely acknowledged him as he limped up the stairs with a towel around his waist and carrying an armful of clothing. When he came back down, dressed, Jim sniffed the air appreciatively. "Smells good."

Blair didn't make the mistake of thinking Jim was referring to his cooking. "There's a mug poured on the table."

"Thanks." Jim sank into a chair with a sigh. "How's the study going?"

"Good. I started over on the math. I think I've got it pretty well sewn up." Just a dash more soy, some Oyster sauce and... "Dinner's ready. I'll bring it over." He placed a well-heaped and steaming plate in front of Jim and dropped into the chair beside his.

Jim poked at the vegetables with his fork. "No meat?"

"Naomi only taught me vegetarian." Blair shrugged.

"But you're not vegetarian." Jim was patently waiting for an answer.


"Blair..." Jim put a hand on his arm and Blair looked up reluctantly. "We're still looking for her. It takes time."

"I know. She doesn't stay in one place very long. I told you. And she doesn't trust the pi... the cops." He glanced at Jim to check his reaction to that little slip and found, to his relief, that Jim was trying not to smile. Blair grinned. "Well, she doesn't."

"I'm glad it doesn't run in the family." Jim finally lifted a fork loaded with stir-fry to his mouth. "Hey, this is good." It sounded a lot like an accusation.

Blair decided it was a good time to change the topic of conversation. "So what happened to you?"

Jim shrugged and winced. Blair had seen the bruise on his shoulder, and the others, on his back and ribs. "I was involved in a bust. One of the hired help decided to make a run for it and I went after him. I fell off a catwalk."

"Yeah? He must have been a pretty big guy to throw you around like that."

"Not really." Jim's eyes were firmly on his plate and he sounded evasive. "There was this noise. It startled me and I fell."

"What kind of a noise?" It was obvious that Jim didn't want to talk about it, but that only made Blair more curious. "A gun shot? An explosion?"

"No. More like a loud clang. At least that's what they told me." Jim rubbed his hand over his forehead. "Somebody threw a monkey wrench and it hit a concrete pillar."

"What? You're kidding me, aren't you?" But Blair could already see that Jim wasn't joking. "You fell off a catwalk because of a monkey wrench hitting a pillar? Man, that's so Zen."

"Spare me the oriental philosophy, Chief." Jim pushed his plate away almost untouched. "So help me, it felt like my head was going to explode. I don't know what happened. Next thing I knew I was on the floor and the guy I'd been chasing was long gone."

"Maybe you were knocked out. Did you get your head checked?" Blair spread his hands as Jim glared at him. "Hey, I mean it, you could have concussion."

Jim sighed. "I've had concussion before. That wasn't concussion."

"Well eat up." Blair studied him for a moment. There was no point in pushing it; he'd only annoy Jim. "I could give you a back rub later."

'Later' inevitably turned into sooner, and the back rub into something much more fun. Blair leaned back against a mound of pillows and stared down at Jim's dark head, buried in his lap. Jim was almost as good at giving head as Blair was, and he even enjoyed it, which was a concept that Blair still had trouble dealing with.

He'd never really understood, until Jim had showed him, why the johns had loved blow jobs so much. He'd always preferred a jack off, or a fuck. It was less intimate than having his face literally in someone's groin, and not always a very sweet smelling groin, at that... But this hot, wet, slippery caress on his cock was the most wonderful sensation imaginable. When he got old and couldn't get it any other way, he'd probably pay someone to do this for him, too.

It still didn't explain why Jim enjoyed doing it to him, and Blair wasn't going to ask. Just thank all the gods that Naomi had ever told him about, and not ask questions that could end up with him being kicked back onto the streets. At least, not until after he'd got those grants they'd been telling him about. Now that he had a chance at something he'd never dared dream about, he couldn't give it up. Not for anything.

He ruffled Jim's hair with his fingers and very carefully did not grab his head and push it down onto his cock. Oh God, how he wanted to. Still, his hips surged up and Jim just took it, deep-throating him easily then sliding up to suck on his cockhead while his fist pumped the shaft. Blair moaned and tried to thrust again, but the mouth was gone from his cock and trailing downwards over his balls.

"Jim... oh God, Jim, please... I'm gonna come." It was a source of considerable frustration to him that Jim could hold off for so damn long. There were nights when he'd come twice before Jim had climaxed even once, and he suspected Jim was doing it on purpose. Trying to wear him out. "I'm gonna... oh God..."

Euww. Jim was licking him clean again. It felt pretty good, but then Jim always wanted to kiss him afterwards, which was just plain weird tasting, although the kissing itself was nice. He returned the kisses lazily, content for the next few minutes to relax and drift in the warm afterglow, but vaguely conscious that Jim was rubbing against him slowly, his cock iron hard and burning hot. Soon Jim would want to fuck him, but probably not until Blair was hard again. Jim had some kind of strange thing about that.

Blair's first warning that the agenda was about to change came in the form of the slightly clammy feel of a condom being rolled onto his reawakening cock. He opened his eyes to see Jim grinning down at him. "What's going on, man?"

"I thought that'd get your attention." Jim smirked a little. "Roll over. On top of me."

He did as he was told, of course. He'd never had any illusions about who was calling the shots here, but this had him confused. "You want me to ride you?"

"Who's wearing the condom, Chief? I want you to fuck me."

"Ha ha. Very funny." Except that he was wearing the condom. Blair's jaw dropped. "You're kidding me, right?"

Jim shook his head. "Another first for you? Don't worry, you won't hurt me."

He wasn't so sure about that, but he wasn't going to argue either. There was a tingling sensation at the base of his spine that told him not to ask questions. Just do what Jim wanted, and find out whether fucking someone could possibly be as good as being fucked.

"Here, I'll make it easier for you." Jim pulled his knees up towards his chest, grunting a little as he pulled on bruised muscles. "I think you know where everything goes."

He knew that all right, but still Blair hesitated. He tended to think of Jim as old, but God, that long, beautifully buffed body and the even longer legs looked pretty damn good right now. His eyes were drawn to the small dark thatch of pubic hair and the impressive cock that rose imperiously above a flat, muscular belly, and wondered why a man like Jim would need to go to the trouble of taking in a hustler just to get a regular fuck. Guys ought to be lining up to give him whatever he wanted.

It wasn't the first time he'd wondered about that. But then, he'd wondered about a lot of things Jim did, and the only conclusion he could come to was that Jim just wasn't like other johns. So now Jim wanted Blair to fuck him... Blair closed his eyes and breathed deeply, in and out, like Naomi had taught him when he'd tried to meditate with her, then felt cautiously with his fingers for Jim's asshole.

Okay, so that was easy enough. Jim just watched, and waited as Blair probed gently, first with his fingers and then with his cock. There was just a bit of resistance, nothing unusual in that, and then he'd pushed past the outer ring of muscle and his cockhead was firmly held, just inside. After that it was almost too easy, and he was completely buried inside Jim's ass.

"See? That wasn't so bad." Jim grinned up at him, looking like he'd just won the lottery, or something. He reached up and pulled Blair down closer to him. "You can move if you want to."

Jim was laughing at him, dammit, but this... it was... "It feels... tight, hot, and... and... I dunno what it feels like."

"It feels fucking fantastic." Another grin, and a quick, gentle touch on his cheek. "To borrow a phrase from your vocabulary."

"Yeah." Blair grinned at him, and for a moment they were just two guys, going about the serious business of getting laid. He moved his hips a little, experimenting, and gasped at the way Jim's body held him so firmly. "Oh God, that feels good."

"Mm-hmm." Jim's hands came to rest lightly on his hips, guiding him as he pushed slowly back in again. "Just try angling a little higher next time."

Blair nodded, biting his lip in concentration. The waves of pleasure his movements brought him were distracting him; but on the next thrust Jim shuddered and closed his eyes, so he knew he must be doing something right.

"Harder next time." Jim's vice was a little husky now. "I told you, you won't hurt me."

"I know." It was getting easier, now that Jim had loosened up a bit. "I'm just not used to... ohh..." Jim's ass had tightened around him again, and it was almost more than he could manage not to come right then. Somehow he suspected that Jim wouldn't be very impressed if he did.

He laid himself along Jim's body, drinking in every sensation, from the press of Jim's cock against his belly to the faint random twitches as Jim's inner muscles responded to his presence. He wouldn't be able to indulge himself for long without giving way, and besides, he couldn't thrust as deeply like this, but it just felt so incredible...

Jim, as usual, made little noise during sex, but the rapid, disordered breathing told Blair that he was close to shooting his load. He pushed himself up again to full arm's length, and used the angle of his body to plunge even deeper that he had before. Jim moaned, rolling his head away for a moment as his hips jerked up, impaling himself for what seemed to Blair like an eternity, before dropping away again with a gasp.

"Blair..." He reached up, entangling his fingers in the long hair and drawing it back from Blair's face. "God, you're so beautiful."

Before Blair could even begin to respond to this unexpected flattery, Jim lunged up, fastening his mouth against Blair's lips in a long desperate kiss. He drove in again, any lingering concern that he might hurt Jim lost in the need to release the pressure building inside him. Balancing on one trembling arm, Blair reached between their bodies to grab Jim's cock and pump it furiously, in time with his thrusts.

Jim's groan reverberated through Blair's mouth, down into his body where it was submerged by an even greater force. All Blair was aware of was the sudden tightening around his cock, and the way it pulsed, clutched deep inside Jim's body, but which came first, he could never be entirely sure, not that it really mattered. When it was over, all he wanted was to lie sprawled on top of Jim, gasping for breath, until he was forced by necessity to move so he could dispose of the condom.

When he returned to the bed, Jim was silent. Not sleeping, just not wanting to talk. It wasn't the first time that he'd withdrawn in this way after sex, and Blair had eventually decided that it was just the way Jim was. He never seemed to mind if Blair lay closer beside him than was absolutely necessary, in fact, he seemed to like it, and Blair, somewhat to his surprise, had discovered that he liked it too.

It looked like any ordinary high school on any ordinary day. And, in fact, it was an ordinary school, but the day was far from ordinary, for Jim at least. He glanced at his watch for maybe the hundredth time, even though he knew that when the students were released from their exams, he'd certainly know about it. Still ten minutes to go. He thought seriously about driving around the block a couple of times, but wasn't willing to risk the possibility of getting caught up in a miniature localised crime wave. That sort of thing just seemed to happen to him.

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, pacing, and checking his watch, the main doors of the high school opened and a flood of chattering teenagers poured through and spread out in small groups which slowed to a meandering crawl as they compared notes. Occasionally a cheer or a wail would be heard above the general hubbub. Jim craned his neck as he scanned the crowd. Blair was in there somewhere.

Then Jim's Blair-sense kicked in, and he spotted the boy. Dressed in jeans and a loose T-shirt, Blair was smaller and looked younger than any of the other kids, even though he was the same age. It gave Jim a strange feeling to see Blair surrounded by kids his own age; kids he would never have dreamed of having any kind of a sexual relationship with. It was no help at all to remind himself that Blair had certainly slept with more men than Jim ever had. He was still a kid.

Blair caught sight of him a moment later and headed towards him. "Hey, I didn't know you'd be here, Jim."

"I was in the neighbourhood, so I thought I'd save you a bus ride." Of course he was only in the neighbourhood because Blair had been here sitting his ACTs, but Blair didn't need to know that. Blair's nervousness about being out on the street where de Silva's men might get to him was rubbing off onto Jim. "So, how'd it go?"

"Okay." Blair shrugged casually, then spoilt the effect by grinning widely. "It was good. Great. I think I did better than the other time." He considered it for a moment. "I know I did better in math."

"We'll know for sure in four weeks." By this time they'd reached the truck, and Jim grinned as he unlocked the door. "What are you going to do now you don't need to study for a while?"

"I dunno." Blair slid into the passenger seat. "I could start doing some reading at the library, maybe."

"How about a summer job? It'll give you something to do and earn you a bit of money." Jim had been thinking about the next few weeks. With nothing to occupy his time, there was always the danger that Blair might fall into old habits out of sheer boredom.

"I guess..." Blair's voice was dubious. "I don't know what I'd do. Massage parlour maybe."

"That's not funny." Jim spoke more sharply than he'd intended. "The last thing you need right now is to get busted."

"It was a joke, okay? Lighten up, man." Blair frowned at the road ahead of them. "Maybe I could talk to that guy at Ranier. He might know if there's any jobs on campus I could do."

"Sounds like a good idea." Jim relaxed a little. It looked like Blair was going to be co-operative on this one. "I'll ask around at the stationhouse. Somebody might know if there's anything going. Want to stop for a coffee?"

"How about a beer?" Blair grinned at Jim's outraged stare. "Hey, I've got my ID now. Might as well use it."

"Unless that card says you were born in 1971, it's not going to do you a lot of good." Jim looked at him sharply. "It doesn't, does it?"

Blair's face was the picture of innocence, but he didn't speak.

"Blair! Let me see it." Jim held his hand out imperiously.

"Just kidding, man." Blair grinned. "I probably wouldn't get a drink even with an ID. I mean, do I look twenty-one?"

"You don't look eighteen." The corner of Jim's mouth twitched and he firmly repressed it. "Besides, you're still supposed to be on a healthy diet, remember?"

"Beer's very nutritious, you know." Blair was all earnest innocence, and Jim didn't believe it for a minute. "The ancient Egyptians practically lived off of it."

Jim pulled in at a strip mall where he knew there was a good coffee shop. "You see any pyramids around here, Chief? Because I don't."

The rather impressive panelled door opened and a grey haired man poked his head out. "Mr Sandburg?"

Blair started a little at the unexpected use of his surname and then hurriedly stood clutching his folder tightly. "That's me... I mean... yes, sir."

"Please come in." The head disappeared and Blair took a deep breath before crossing the reception area and going through the doorway.

In place of the dark, dusty office he'd expected, was a well-lit study, cheerfully decorated with hand woven drapes and brightly coloured figurines, pots and paintings. Blair felt his eyes going wide with interest. He'd give anything to be allowed to examine all these treasures, but he remembered Jim's advice and focused all his attention on this man who would play a major part in his future.

"Sit down." A casual wave indicated the only chair in the office, other than Professor Matheson's, which had nothing piled on top of it. "You seem to like my little knick-knacks."

"Yes, sir." Blair swallowed and wished with all his heart that he could think of something else to say besides 'yes, sir'.

"Well..." Prof Matheson smiled at him. "How can I help you, Mr Sandburg?"

"I, uh... I sat my ACTs last week and... and I'm hoping to be accepted into the undergraduate program in the Fall." He ran out of air suddenly and fell silent.

"And you want to study Anthropology?"

"Yes, sir. But... well, I haven't been at school for a while and..." Blair bit his lip. Jim had coached him, but he'd completely forgotten how to explain his absence from school. "Well... Larry, in the Admissions Office said maybe I should talk to you first."

"Ah. You're Blair?" A faint frown replaced the smile. "Larry sent me a message about you. Let me see..." The older man rummaged in a tray labelled 'Miscellaneous' which seemed to have more papers in it than all of the others put together. "Here it is. It seems that Larry was most impressed with your practice test results."

The prominent grey eyebrows went up inquiringly and Blair hurriedly held out the folder containing his test marks and the assessment given him by the Education Board. He waited impatiently as Prof Matheson read through the entire contents twice. "Well, if your ACTs live up to the promise of these results, there certainly won't be any difficulty with the academic portion of your application. However..." he consulted the papers again, "you haven't been to school in over three years? Why is that, Blair?"

He found himself wondering why the professor's blue eyes could suddenly seem to look straight through him. "I... ah... I was overseas, sir. There weren't any schools where I was." It had sounded much better when he and Jim had practised it.

To his surprise the professor seemed to accept his words at face value. "I see. But you'd already completed your senior year? At the age of fifteen?"

"Yes, sir. So I thought I'd take a break until I was old enough to go to college." Blair relaxed a little. It might sound pretty unlikely, but at least he'd got it out now.

"Mm." Prof Matheson frowned. "Larry informs me that you're alone in the world. Have you no relatives at all?"

"My... uh, my Dad died, sir, and we'd lost touch with my mother. She travels a lot. I'm trying to find out where she is." Blair smiled tremulously. "I'm staying with a friend of the family right now."

"Well, you certainly seem to have led an adventurous life, for one so young." Smile lines appeared around the professor's eyes, though his face remained impassive, and Blair had the feeling he hadn't believed a word of his story. "But that's not my concern. What does concern me is the amount of time since you last engaged in academic endeavour. Intelligence alone will not get you through your course work. Though, given your test results, you may have difficulty accepting that. You will find the course work here at Ranier considerably more challenging than anything you studied at school."

Blair nodded accommodatingly. He wasn't about to argue right now. "I think I understand, sir."

"I'd recommend you take a few of the summer school classes," Prof Matheson held out a brochure. "Particularly the study skills and time management courses, although the Introduction to Anthropology course would also be very useful. And, as the courses will cost money, I'd also suggest that you apply for one of the part time laboratory assistant positions. It will continue during semester, but you'll find it will provide valuable experience, along with the financial benefits."

"Thank you, sir." Blair managed to gather his wits together enough to take the application form the professor was holding out to him. He smiled his relief. "This is so cool."

"Indeed." Prof Matheson held out his hand, empty this time, and Blair realised he was meant to shake it. "Welcome to Ranier University, Blair. I trust it will be a productive association for us all."

"Blair, come on. What's taking so long?" Jim thumped on the bathroom door for the umpteenth time that morning. Of all the things he found difficult about living with Blair this was the worst. He had to get to work, Blair wasn't due to start his summer school classes at Ranier until next week. Blair had all day, if he wanted, to mess up the bathroom. And that was another thing... "There'd better not be towels all over the floor again."

"Won't be long, Jim." Blair's voice was cheerfully unconcerned. "Five minutes, tops."

"You said that ten minutes ago." Jim thumped the door again, and then changed his mind and pushed it open. "Out. Now."

Blair's eyes met his in the mirror, wide and startled as a deer's for a moment, then dropped to the counter in a distinctly furtive manner. "Aw, come on, man. I said I won't be long."

"What are you doing?" Reacting to Blair's body language rather than his words, Jim's skin began to prickle. He pulled Blair around, checking his eyes first, but they seemed normal. "You're not doing drugs are you?"

"No!" Blair's indignation seemed real enough. He rubbed at his chest with a towel, and Jim caught sight of something white smeared on his skin.

"What is that?" Jim snatched the towel away and wiped a bit of it onto his fingertip. He sniffed it cautiously but all he smelt was his own shaving foam. He glanced at the counter, where a small disposable razor lay among the detritus of Blair's toiletries. "You're shaving your chest?"

Blair didn't respond to Jim's grin. His eyes dropped away to the side, then darted around the room as if seeking inspiration. It was the blatant guilt in his expression that raised Jim's suspicions, even though his behaviour wasn't making any sense right now. "Blair, I don't have time for this. Tell me what you're hiding."

"All right." Blair met his eyes, pouting sulkily. "I'm shaving my chest."

Well, that was very illuminating. Jim prodded a little. "And you have to make a big secret of this because?"

"I thought you wouldn't like it. Johns don't..." Blair fell silent as Jim grabbed his wrist.

"Go on."

Cornered, Blair lifted his chin defiantly. "They don't want a kid with chest hair, okay?"

"No, it's not okay, Chief. Since when have I been a john?" Jim released Blair's slender wrist and walked away, then stopped at the door, his back still turned to Blair. "I'm waiting for an answer."

Silence. Jim turned.

Blair was looking at him with a puzzled frown. "What else would you be? There's only two kinds of people, man. Johns and hustlers."

"You don't really believe that." Jim felt a cold, sick sensation in his belly. "Blair, even that first time, I told you that you didn't have to... I've never paid..."

A look of disdain flickered across Blair's face and was gone. He swept his arm around the bathroom, jerked his head towards the doorway. "What do you think all this is, Jim? You didn't need to give me money."

"So, what are you saying? Sex is just your way of paying the rent?" He took a couple of steps towards Blair and laid his hands on the thin shoulders, just enough to hold him still. "I never asked you to have sex with me. It was your idea, remember?"

Blair shrugged. "What else did you expect from a hustler? I don't see what your problem is, man. You like having sex with me, don't you?"

"I thought it was what you wanted."

"I did, Jim." Blair suddenly grinned at him. "It was great, okay?"

"But..." Jim could feel his grip on the situation slipping. "Blair... do you really think I'm no different from those guys you hustled on the street?"

Blair didn't answer, but he didn't need to. Jim released him and stepped back. "Get out, Blair. I have to get to work."

He rushed through showering and brushing his teeth and headed back upstairs to dress. Blair, dressed in his old clothes from the street, was kneeling by the drawers busily stuffing his remaining clothes into a small backpack. He glanced up at Jim with a nervous smile. "I'm almost done, man."

"Blair, I meant get out of the bathroom, not the building." Jim pulled the boy to his feet. "There isn't time to talk now. We'll deal with this tonight, okay?"

"I don't know, man. This is kinda heavy, you know?" Blair's troubled face turned away from Jim. "I don't need this shit."

"Look, we'll talk. If you still want to leave, I won't try to stop you." Jim touched Blair's cheek lightly. "I really only wanted to help you."

Blair shrugged and Jim had to leave it at that. There was no way he could deal with this right now, and not just because he was going to be late for work. His mind was still reeling from the shock Blair had handed him and he had no idea what he was going to do about it.

The first thing Jim did after he arrived at work was to call Mike. He needed help, and though Mike had told him that it wasn't his area of expertise, Jim knew he could recommend a counsellor. It turned out his luck was in; Mike called back half an hour later with both the name of a counsellor, and an appointment for three o'clock that afternoon.

Promptly at three Jim knocked on a door in a modern downtown office building and entered the lion's den. He'd never been keen on visiting shrinks, and he'd had more than enough of them only last year after his return from Peru. He found himself in a small reception area with a couple of comfortable chairs and a small coffee table scattered with a wide variety of magazines. He dropped into one of the chairs with a deep sigh and started leafing through a magazine dedicated to fishing.

A couple of minutes later the inner door opened and two women came out. The smaller and younger of the two, a blonde in her early fifties smiled farewell to the other, then turned to welcome Jim. "Detective Ellison? I'm Laura Pattison. Please come through."

He followed her into her office. Again, the room was furnished with more of an eye to comfort than elegance, which Jim found reassuring. Ms Pattison seemed like an intelligent, down to earth kind of woman, and if Mike thought she was a good counsellor, then he was prepared to trust her.

"Please call me Laura, and if I may, I'll call you Jim." Laura smiled pleasantly. "I find being on a first name basis works best for most people."

"I don't mind." Jim shrugged and squirmed a little in his chair. "Thanks for agreeing to see me at such short notice."

"Ah, well, Mike can talk me into almost anything, and he said it was urgent." She smiled ruefully. "He told me a little bit about your situation. I take it the reason you wanted to see me has something to do with Blair?"

"You could say that." It occurred to Jim with unpleasant suddenness that he was going to have to tell this woman a number of intimate details about his life that he'd rather not discuss with anyone. "I don't really know where to start."

"Why don't you briefly run through the whole story up till the present, and I'll ask questions if I need anything clarified." Laura leaned back in her chair and waited.

It took close on half an hour for Jim to tell her everything. At the end she sighed deeply and studied his face for a long moment. "Let me ask you something, Jim. Are you in love with this boy?"

It wasn't the kind of question he'd been expecting, and it wasn't something he'd thought too much about. All the same, the answer came immediately. "I suppose I am."

"Then you may be in for a lot of heartbreak." Her blunt words were spoken in a sympathetic tone. "You realise that he was almost certainly abused as a child?"

He should have known that. With his experience, he should have known, but he hadn't wanted to face it. "It would make sense."

"All his sexual encounters are likely to have been with men considerably older than himself." Her eyes were sombre. "And many abusers bribe their victims with toys, or gifts of money, as well as using threats. It's a very effective way to keep the child from revealing the abuse. I think you can see the parallels, Jim."

"All too well." Jim closed his eyes briefly, seeing Blair's face this morning. "I thought he understood what I was trying to do."

"I'm afraid Blair isn't really equipped to understand altruism, especially when it comes from an older man." Laura smiled sadly. "If it's any consolation, I doubt there's any way you could have tried to explain it that he'd have believed."

"So what do I do?" Jim clenched his fingers on the arm of the chair. "For all I know he could already be back on the street. How do I stop him, or get him back?"

"The fact is, you may not be able to. It wouldn't be fair to you to suggest otherwise, Jim."

He shook his head. "I won't accept that."

"I see." Surprisingly, she smiled. "Well, if that's your attitude you may have a chance. But I warn you, it's not going to be easy."

Back at the stationhouse, Jim dialled his own number, hoping to get Blair, but when the ringing stopped, all he heard was his own voice telling him to leave a message. "Blair, if you're there pick up. I need to talk to you."

It seemed a very long time before there was a click and Blair's reluctant voice greeted him. Jim's fingers loosened their death grip on the handset. "I'm going to be a bit late. What say I pick up a pizza on the way home?"

"I can make something." Blair's voice was completely indifferent.

"No. It's okay. I feel like pizza." Jim hesitated, but it was impossible to talk here in the bullpen. "I'm glad you're still there. We'll work this out, I promise."

"Sure." There was no change in Blair's voice. "See you later."

As it turned out, Jim wasn't very late after all. He'd left work early when it became obvious he wasn't able to concentrate, and the errands he'd planned on running didn't take as long as he'd expected. By the time he'd picked up an extra large double cheese pizza a couple of blocks from the loft, Jim was no more than half an hour later than usual.

When Jim opened the door he saw Blair sitting cross-legged on the couch reading a book. The backpack was on the floor beside him, obviously still full. He looked up and smiled tentatively at Jim.

"Blair." Jim dropped the pizza box rather carelessly on the coffee table, and had to restrain himself from taking Blair into his arms. "Thanks for staying. I appreciate it."

"I'll get some napkins." Blair moved adroitly round him and headed in the direction of the kitchen.

Jim dropped into the loveseat with a sigh and closed his eyes. He hadn't realised just how tense he'd been all day until he'd seen that Blair had waited for him. "Can I have a beer?"

"Sure." The fridge door opened and closed, and then the drawer where the paper napkins were kept. "Here."

"Thanks." Jim closed his fingers round the chilled bottle without opening his eyes, and raised it to his lips. "God, I needed this."

He only took a sip, though. It was going to be difficult enough dealing with Blair, without Jim being half drunk; the way he felt right now, it wouldn't take much to get him that way. He opened his eyes to see Blair taking a long swallow from another bottle and his eyebrows went up, but he didn't say anything.

They ate in silence. Jim had little appetite and even Blair seemed not to be very interested in the food, but the meal still finished far too soon for Jim's liking. He met Blair's eyes across the coffee table with a certain nervous anticipation.

"I'm sorry about this morning. I shouldn't have come on so strong. I just wasn't expecting... what you said." Jim took another small sip from his beer. He'd barely drunk half of it. "And I shouldn't have assumed that you understood what I was doing; what I wanted."

"So what do you want?" Blair's voice was cautious, offering nothing.

Jim smiled wryly and shrugged a little. "I'm not sure I can answer that right now. I just know that I never wanted you to feel like you had to have sex with me because of anything I've done to help you."

Blair rolled his eyes. "I don't see what the big deal is. If I wasn't living with you, I'd still be on the street having sex with the oth... with the johns. And I like you, Jim."

"I like you too, Blair. I like you a lot." For the first time all day, Jim's smile felt genuine. "And I should have known that, with your background, you wouldn't understand that I was helping you just because I liked you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Anger sparked in Blair's eyes. "My background?"

"Come on, Blair. I know I should have figured it out sooner, but once you see it, it's obvious. You were sexually abused as a child. Weren't you?"

Blair hunched a shoulder and looked away without answering.

"Why else would you think it was preferable to sell yourself on the street than to go home?" Jim took another sip of beer, his heart pounding. "Who was it Blair?"

"Doesn't matter." Blair still wouldn't meet his eyes.

"Oh, it matters, Chief. It matters a lot." It was surprising how much it still hurt to have his suspicions confirmed. "Only maybe I should be asking 'who were they'... it wasn't only one, was it? You told me your mother had a lot of boyfriends. Did she know what they were doing, Blair? Did she help them?"

"No!" Blair glared at him. "Naomi would never hurt me! She never even hit me, not ever."

Despite his doubts, Jim let it drop. It was enough, right now, that Blair had admitted to the abuse, and he didn't want to upset the boy so much that he'd walk out. "I'm sorry. It wouldn't be unheard of if she had. I'm sure some of your friends on the street could tell you that."

"Not Naomi." Blair's lips set in a stubborn line.

"All right." It was time to change tack. "Blair, can't you see, though, that not all men are like the ones who abused you?"

"Aren't they?" Blair thought a moment, then shrugged. "Some of them are nice and some aren't, but they all want the same thing."

"And I'm one of the nice ones?" Jim raised an eyebrow as Blair visibly struggled with that, then took pity on him. "Would you consider giving me a chance to prove I'm not like them?"

That earned him a suspicious look. "How?"

"Stay. We'll do things differently. You'll be like any regular room mate." Jim nodded towards the room beneath his loft. "We can clean out the junk room. I bought a bed on the way home. It'll be delivered tomorrow, and a desk and some drawers. You can sleep in there."

"Yeah, so? Big difference." Blair seemed puzzled for a moment, then the penny dropped. "You mean no sex?"

"That's exactly what I mean." And Jim laughed at the expression on Blair's mobile face.

The first couple of days went pretty much as expected. Blair was quieter than usual, but otherwise relaxed about the changes. That changed the first time he tried to get Jim to break the new house rules and failed. He tried a couple of times more, even sneaking into Jim's bed during the night, only to be kicked out in the morning, unsatisfied. There followed a period of sullen silence. It was no more than a hiatus in the guerrilla warfare that Jim knew was to come.

Describing it all to Laura Pattison, it seemed a lot funnier than it had been at the time. Jim grinned at the way the corner of her mouth quirked up during his recital and was firmly repressed.

"And how's he taking it now?"

His grin broadened. "He's got very good at leaving the bathroom door open just enough so he can flash me when I go past. And his bedroom door."

Laura chortled. It was the only way to describe the sound.

"And he masturbates. Loudly. Twice at night and once in the morning. It's making me feel old." Jim's face reddened as he decided he didn't need to tell Laura about the couple of times he'd joined in, silently. Or about the way the loft seemed to perpetually stink of male pheromones, sometimes to the point of making him gag.

"Well, you've made a good start. You'll have to keep it up, though." Her eyes crinkled as Jim choked. "Oh dear... that was an unfortunate turn of phrase, wasn't it."

He had the feeling it was deliberate. "Under the circumstances, you could say that."

"I don't suppose Blair's willing to come see me?" It was one of the things they'd discussed.

Jim shook his head. "As far as he's concerned, I'm the one with the problem."

"Hm, well, I suppose that was too much to hope for at this stage." Laura smiled encouragingly. "Just be firm with him, and carry on as we agreed."

Jim sighed. He could only hope that Blair's new job at Ranier would give him something else to think about.

The traffic was unusually light this morning, and Blair was making good time on his new bike. He took a sharp right into Memorial Park, enjoying the sheer physical thrill of travelling at speed, with the wind blowing in his face. As he passed, a pair of brown ducks waddled hurriedly away, quacking indignantly. Blair grinned and pedalled faster.

One week into his new job Blair was happier than he could ever remember being. He'd already worked a lot more hours than he was supposed to, but there was so much stuff to learn he usually ended up staying the whole day, unless he had a class to attend. And soon he'd have some money of his own again. He'd hated having to ask Jim for money whenever he'd needed something; it made him feel like a kid again.

Of course Jim had paid for the bike, but it was a loan. He'd be giving Jim fifty dollars a week from his wages until it was paid for. Cheaper than getting a loan, Jim had said, and Blair could only agree. By the time he'd paid Jim for the bike, and the cost of his food, there wouldn't be an awful lot of money left for him to spend, but right now that didn't matter. He could get all the books he needed from the university's library; one of the perks of working for the Anthropology Department, and he didn't really need anything else.

Thinking of Jim caused the smile to be replaced by a slightly worried expression. He'd never imagined that Jim would still be holding out after more than two weeks. Nothing about this decision of Jim's made any sense to him at all - and he was beginning to get pretty tired of his own right hand - but whatever it was that Jim thought he was doing, it wasn't going to work. Maybe he should just move out. Not immediately, but once the Fall semester had started and his grant applications had come through. He ignored a small, persistent voice that whispered how much he was actually getting to like Jim, and how, without Jim, he would still be on the street instead of about to do something he'd always dreamed of doing.

Once through the park, he was back in traffic, and Blair managed to shake off his distraction in order to concentrate on getting to Ranier in one piece. It wasn't far to go now, just cut through a couple of blocks of student housing and onto the campus proper. He'd almost made it when something hit him, hard, on his shoulder, sending him flying in one direction and the bike in another.

He managed to land reasonably unharmed, and without banging his head, but the wind was knocked out of him, and he lay gasping for a moment. Before he could scramble to his feet, or even look around to see what had hit him, somebody grabbed Blair from behind and dragged him upright.

"Hey!" It was all Blair could manage to get out at first. He hung in his captor's grasp, knees buckling and dragged in an unsteady breath, getting ready to shout for help.

A twist of his shirt collar choked him to silence before he could say a word. "Put him in the car."

Blair recognised that voice and it was enough to make his blood run cold. Diego Gonzales. He fought his unseen captor all the way, even though the man was much larger and stronger and Blair had never really stood a chance. He was shoved into the back of a dark grey sedan and down onto the floor, where two pair of feet resting on his back kept him from moving.

It didn't seem like a very long time before the car stopped and the engine was switched off. Nobody spoke as Blair was pulled out of the car and dragged into what looked from the outside like a small workshop. Inside, rows of wooden crates took up most of the space, but there was a chair and a desk in the centre of a cleared area. Seated at the desk was a man Blair had never seen before, but it wasn't hard to guess that he was Domingo de Silva.

"So, this is the boy?" de Silva looked him over dismissively.

"Yes, Mr de Silva. He's the one." Gonzales' voice was sour. "He's been living with the cop ever since..." he stopped as de Silva lifted a hand.

"And he will do as he's told." It wasn't a question.

"He will. You know what happens to those who betray me, don't you Blair?" Gonzales looked at him for the first time, and Blair swallowed nervously.

"I didn't know..." he bit back a cry as Gonzales slapped him hard across the cheek.

"That is irrelevant. You brought Ellison to me. You are responsible."

It was becoming obvious that he wasn't to be killed immediately. Blair straightened, still held firmly from behind. "How was I supposed to know he was a narc? Your men must have checked him over, and they didn't figure it out."

The grip on his collar tightened, and Blair's arm was twisted painfully up behind him. Diego jerked his head to the side and Blair was suddenly released. "That is why Mr de Silva is giving you a chance to redeem yourself. Not many people are so lucky."

Blair was far from reassured, either by Gonzales' tone or the expression on de Silva's face. Still, he wasn't in any position to argue. "What do I have to do?"

"You will bring the cop to me." Gonzales smiled coldly. "Here. If you don't..."

A punch in Blair's kidneys underlined the implicit threat. Blair dropped to his knees retching, and was kept there by a heavy hand on his shoulder. Blair swallowed tears of pain and rage and flung back his head to look up at Gonzales. "It won't work. He won't go for it, man."

"You will tell him that one of your street friends wishes to sell him some information." De Silva rose from his chair and walked towards Blair. His gloved hand reached out to gently touch Blair's reddened cheek, then dropped to his pants. "He will believe you. And so that you remember what you are, you will perform your services for me." He pulled the zipper slowly downwards. "Do you understand?"

"Yes. I understand." His lips parted obediently for the thick cock. Blair looked up into the face of a madman for a long moment, and then closed his eyes.

It wasn't the best performance Blair had ever given, but at least it was quick. Within moments de Silva was grunting with effort and the thick, acrid come was sliding down his throat. Someone planted a foot between his shoulder blades and toppled him to the floor. He knew better than to look up until the footsteps had gone, the door opened and closed behind the men. Then he sat up, slowly, and wiped his face. It was going to be a long walk back to his bike.

Jim stared out the truck window and sighed. "So this is it." He looked over at Blair, who was fidgeting with the same air of quiet edginess he'd had all morning. "You don't have to do this."

Blair shrugged. "Yeah, I do. He said I had to bring you."

"Then let's do it." He got out of the truck and locked the door. There was no sign of life in the warehouse and the street was quiet. Jim looked around and saw nothing suspicious. "Just keep out of the way, okay Chief? This is my job, not yours."

"Sure." Blair didn't sound any happier, and Jim laid his arm across the boy's shoulder for a moment as they walked towards the building.

The warehouse door was unlocked. Jim eased it open and slipped inside. Still no sign of anyone. He moved into the building a few paces and gestured to Blair to follow. Even moving cautiously their footsteps sounded very loud, echoing off the metal girders and tin roof. Jim frowned as he heard something, he wasn't sure what, from behind a stack of wooden crates.

"Come on out where I can see you." He reached for his gun, but before he could draw it, several men came out from behind various crates. A scuffling sound alerted him to the fact that someone else had come in behind them and grabbed Blair.

"Don't even try it, Ellison, or your little boyfriend will be dead before you fire a single shot."

Jim straightened, taking his hand away from his gun and turned to see Diego Gonzales sneering at him over Blair's shoulder. One of Gonzales' men took the gun, then shoved him further into the open space. Three other men had their weapons trained on him.

"What do you want with us?" Jim faced Gonzales calmly, though his heart was hammering at the proximity of the drug dealer to Blair. "Surely your boss isn't stupid enough to think he can get away with killing a cop?"

"On the contrary, Ellison, I know I can get away with it." On cue, Domingo de Silva stepped out from behind the crates. "What could be more natural? You find your new toy buying drugs from one of his old colleagues. There's an angry confrontation. The hustler, high on heroin, grabs your gun and shoots you. Unfortunately, he has overestimated his dosage, after so many weeks on the wagon."

Jim allowed himself to be shoved across the floor towards a chair sitting inconspicuously against a wall. "Forensics will work it out. You don't stand a chance."

De Silva was watching Blair. "But you will be dead, and not in a position to testify against me. Bring the boy to me."

Gonzales dragged Blair over to his boss and forced him to his knees in front of the older man. Jim watched with a sick sense of foreboding as Gonzales took a handful of Blair's hair, twisting it in his fist and using it to hold Blair's head immobile.

"It's almost a waste to kill you. You have a sweet mouth, child." De Silva unzipped his pants one handed and drew out his semi-erect cock.

The grip on Jim's left arm slackened as his captor was distracted by his boss' actions and Jim took his chance. He flung himself to the right, hitting the man on this side solidly in the centre of his chest and tearing himself free from the one on his left. With a quick upward jab, he snapped the man's head back and then spun him towards the small group surrounding Blair.

"Now, now, now!" Blair's voice rose above the general hubbub as Jim launched himself into the confused melee. He saw Blair go down, with de Silva on top of him, as Gonzales tried to break free. Jim helped him by pulling his arm up at a painfully acute angle and, when Gonzales was forced to follow in order to prevent his shoulder from being dislocated, threw him almost bodily into the path of the two men coming to his rescue.

By the time Jim got to Blair, their backup, alerted by Blair's call, had arrived. The elapsed time couldn't be more than thirty seconds, but it had felt like an eternity. He pulled Blair into his arms and away from the scuffle, his only concern to protect the slim figure. Blair's heartbeat fluttered frantically under his fingers.

"Jim! Jim, for God's sake snap out of it." Someone shook his arm roughly and after a confused moment, Jim recognised Innes' voice. He blinked at the harshness of the light on his aching eyes.

"I'm okay." He managed to focus his eyes. Blair was staring at him wide eyed, and Innes was looking distinctly annoyed. "What happened?"

Innes held out a hand and after a moment, Jim took it and allowed Innes to pull him to his feet. His legs felt cramped, and his head was pounding; he leaned against the wall until his head began to clear.

"Why don't you tell me, Jim? You've been crouching there, holding onto Blair like he was a security blanket for the last couple of minutes." Innes patted Blair on the shoulder. "You okay, kid?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Blair sounded shaken. He looked to Jim to be all haunted eyes and trembling lips, but he'd already started removing the wire he'd been wearing, and managed a smile for the older cop. "Thanks."

"You did a good job, Blair." Innes hesitated awkwardly. "About de Silva... we can charge him with public indecency, but since he didn't actually do anything..."

Blair shook his head wearily. "It's okay, I don't want... you'll get him on attempted murder, won't you?"

"Probably not, since Ellison here went charging in like a bat out of hell." Innes shrugged. "I can't blame him, considering what de Silva was up to, but it's not going to be easy to charge him with attempted murder when Jim was doing his level best to take de Silva's men apart piece by piece. We can get him on conspiracy, and attempting to pervert the course of justice. That ought to keep him off the streets until his trial."

"That's good, isn't it Jim?" Blair looked up at him nervously.

Jim frowned. He wished he'd never allowed Blair to become a part of this. He should have stopped it the moment Innes had suggested they both walk into de Silva's trap. "Yeah. I guess it is."

"I'm still waiting for that explanation, Jim." Innes scowled at him. "You put both yourself and Blair in danger."

"I put Blair in danger?" Jim ground his teeth. "If you'll recall, Sir, I was against this idea right from the start."

Innes met Jim's eyes for a dangerous moment. Then he relented and smiled a little. "Get yourself checked out Jim, that's an order. First there were all those headaches, and now this. I want an explanation."

"Yes, Sir." Jim nodded wearily. "I'll go see my doctor."

"Fine. Take some leave if you need to." Innes glanced at Blair. "I'll need both your depositions first, though. Once that's done, you're free to go."

It was still only early afternoon when Jim and Blair got back to the loft. All the way back in the truck, Blair had been uncharacteristically silent and Jim had not been in the right frame of mind to question him. Nor had it been the right place. Expecting something to happen - an explosion, an attack of nervous reaction, whatever - Jim had decided to wait until they were safely inside the front door. Instead, Blair disappeared into his room without a word.

Fine. Jim called Mike to arrange for a check up and then dropped onto the couch and switched on the TV. As he flipped through the channels, Jim considered his next move. Something was obviously wrong, but he wasn't sure what. With Blair, he never knew what to expect, and his own emotions were seriously scrambled. Images came to his mind's eye - Blair on his knees in front of de Silva, foremost among them.

And then there was the whole problem of his momentary blackout. He had no idea what to make of that, but it certainly didn't look good. Coupled with the strange episodes of heightened sensory perceptions and the accompanying pain, it would have scared the hell out of him if he'd allowed himself to think about it much. Thinking about Blair's behaviour was a far more preferable option.

A crash from Blair's room brought Jim up off the couch with such force that he almost fell over the coffee table. Another crash, and then a third, as he was righting himself, indicated that the sounds were likely to be deliberate. Jim tried to slow his fast beating heart as he walked over to Blair's room. He'd never gone in there uninvited, and he wasn't about to start now, so he knocked quietly on the door and waited.

Blair opened the door looking flushed. His long curls stood out from his head in the wildest disarray Jim had yet seen. "What?"

"I thought maybe you had something you wanted to say." Jim very carefully did not smile.

Blair scowled and he turned away, disappearing back into the room. The door was left open, and Jim took that as an invitation. It wasn't hard to see what had caused the crashes. Several text books had been thrown across the room to land on a wooden box Blair used to store some of his belongings in. That alone was worrying; Jim knew how careful he always was with his books.

"Well?" He stopped a few steps inside the room, careful to give Blair plenty of physical space.

Blair faced him, hands on hips and eyes blazing. "What is the matter with you, man? You could have got us both killed!"

Jim had no doubt what Blair was referring to. "He was going to rape you. Did you really think I'd let that happen?"

"It was just a blow job, man." Blair rolled his eyes. "I've only done it, like, a million times."

"Are you saying you really didn't care?" Jim shook his head. "I saw your face. I don't believe it."

"Well, duh! I didn't say I wanted to suck that jerk-off. But it wasn't that important." Blair looked away towards the window and folded his arms across his chest. It was the first sign of a break in his anger, and Jim could see a glimpse of the frightened boy beneath.

"You're wrong, Chief. It was important." Jim put his hands very gently on Blair's shoulders, ready to back off at the first sign that his touch was unwelcome. "Somebody taught you when you were very young that that you didn't have a choice about how people touched you. But that's not true, Blair. You do have a choice, and you have the right to have that choice respected."

Blair shook his head silently. When he finally spoke his voice was shaking. "No, man..."

"Yes." Jim drew him slowly closer, until Blair was in his arms. He laid his cheek lightly against the top of Blair's head. "If there's one thing I want to do for you, it's convince you that it's true."

Blair didn't answer, but Jim could feel the tension in his slim body, and the occasional tremor running through him. He lifted his hand to play with the long strands of hair and waited. Eventually, Blair relaxed against him and his hands came up between them to lie flat on Jim's chest. For a moment Jim expected Blair to push him away then, with a little sigh, Blair moved his hands higher, twining his arms around Jim's neck and angling his head to seek out Jim's lips.

He couldn't help responding, but only for a few seconds. Then Jim took Blair's wrists in a gentle grasp and drew them down, taking a step back at the same time. "No. Blair, I can't."

"Oh, man!" The change from sweet seduction to irritation was so abrupt that Jim was left gasping. "This sucks, man. It really, really sucks." A furious glare was cast in his direction as Blair turned away from him. "Maybe it's okay for you to go without sex, but it's different for me. Man, this is so unfair!"

Jim had known that this moment would come ever since he'd decided not to have sex with Blair, had even discussed what he should do about it with Laura; but it was still unexpectedly painful to be faced with it now. He tried not to let it show on his face as he put out a hand to turn Blair back to face him. "I said we can't have sex, Chief. I never said you couldn't."

Blair's eyes narrowed. "You mean it's okay for me to... I don't get it. Why are you letting me stay here?"

"I told you before. It's not about sex. It never was." Jim sighed, wishing this whole painful discussion could just be over. "I can't tell you how you should live your life. But, if you want to go on living here, there are two things you won't do - take paying customers, and bring anyone home with you. Apart from that you're free to do as you please."

"Yeah?" Blair looked at him doubtfully. "You really don't care what I do?"

"I care, Chief, don't ever doubt that." Jim felt a tiny bubble of hope rise inside him. Blair wasn't as pleased by this development as he'd expected. "It doesn't have to be like this, Blair. Why don't you go see Laura? I know she could help you."

"I don't need help, okay?" Blair stepped back from him. "You've got the problem, Jim, not me."

"I'm not the one who lets bastards like de Silva stick their dicks down my throat." As soon as he said the words, Jim regretted them. The look of hurt surprise on Blair's face only made it worse. "Blair..."

His outstretched hand was ignored. "Get out of my room."

"I'm sorry." There was no response, but Jim didn't expect one. He left the room. There really wasn't anything else he could do.

"Cough again, please."

Jim dutifully did as he was told and sighed in relief as the cold stethoscope was removed from his back. "Are you done yet?"

"You can get dressed." Mike looked at him quizzically as Jim stood and reached for his clothes. "As for being done... well, that depends on why you're here."

"It's time for my check up." Jim turned away to pull his shorts and pants on.

"Yes, it is." Mike's voice was wry. "Which doesn't explain why you've come before Rhonda's even sent out the first reminder, let alone the third."

"Oh, that." Jim sighed, shrugging on his shirt as he turned back to face Mike. "I've been having some... some strange stuff happening. I wanted to check it out with you."

"Such as?"

"Well, uh... I've been having these... these episodes. It's like I can see or hear something more intensely than normal. An ordinary sound will seem incredibly loud, painfully loud, or... or a light will be extremely bright, almost blinding." Jim rubbed his forehead. "Afterwards I'll have a headache."

Mike's eyebrows were threatening to climb into his hairline. "Anything else, Jim?"

"I sometimes have these weird blackouts." He kept his voice deliberately off-hand.

"Blackouts?" Mike scribbled something onto a small notepad. "You actually lose consciousness?"

Jim frowned. "I don't really know what happens. I don't collapse. When it's over I'm just... it's like I just zone out for a while. Freeze up, or something. I can't really explain it."

"Well, luckily for you, explaining's my job." Mike smiled at him and picked up a tiny flashlight. "Let's just check a few more things, shall we?"

"I was afraid you'd say that."

But after another twenty minutes or so of tests and questions, Mike sighed and shook his head. "It doesn't conform to anything I've heard of, and I'm not finding any abnormalities that would explain your symptoms. I'm going to refer you to a neurologist, Jim. He'll probably want to get you into the hospital for more tests."

Jim groaned, though he'd been expecting this. "And you wonder why I don't come in for my checkups."

The next day Jim went back to work. He expected trouble from Captain Innes and he wasn't disappointed. Innes effectively grounded him, assigning him desk duty for the forseeable future.

"But Sir, I'm fine..."

"You are now. Can you guarantee you won't have another one of those spells?" Innes stared him down. "I thought not. I can't do it Ellison. You're not only putting your own life at risk, but the life of anybody you're working with."

"I guess you're right." Jim admitted it grudgingly. "I'm sure I can beat this. My doctor's sending me to the hospital for tests."

"Nobody'll be happier than me when you do. You've done some good work already, Ellison. I hate to ground you like this, but I don't have a choice." Innes shrugged and nodded towards a cardboard box on the corner of his desk. "I'm going to assign you some oddball cases. Read through the reports, maybe you can make some breakthroughs with them. You're good at spotting things that other people have missed."

"Thanks, Sir. I'll get right on it." Jim picked up the box and walked out into the bullpen.

Nobody commented, but he could see the relief in some of the men's faces - relief that they wouldn't have to risk their necks with an unreliable partner or backup. It left a sour taste in his mouth, but he supposed he could hardly blame them.

Over the next few days he kept his head down, reading reports and making notes. Innes had specifically barred him from leaving the bullpen to ask questions outside. The others would follow up any leads that Jim uncovered. In spite of himself, Jim found some of the cases interesting enough to ease the resentment he felt at being sidelined. When, inevitably, the sensory 'spikes' occurred, he did his best to hide them, and the resulting headaches.

In the evenings, he went home to a sullen and uncommunicative roommate. Blair spent most of his time in his room, only emerging for meals, or to cook when it was his turn. All Jim's efforts at easing the strained relations between them were met with silent disinterest. He wondered whether Blair was acting on his newly granted freedom to pursue other men, but nothing was said either way.

He found out soon enough. Arriving home one night, Jim came through the main doorway of his building just as the elevator doors began to close. He made it just in time, only to find Blair already inside.

"Hey, Chief." Jim smiled, pleased to see him, even if it wasn't exactly reciprocated.

Blair smiled nervously. "Hi Jim."

There was something wrong, but Jim couldn't put his finger on what it was, until the elevator doors opened and both he and Blair stepped out. It brought them closer together than they had been in the elevator and Jim could smell the ripe, earthy scent of sex - and not just Blair's scent, but somebody else's as well.

His steps faltered for a moment as Blair skittered ahead of him to unlock the loft door. Then he caught another whiff as he passed Blair just inside the doorway. Suddenly there was nothing else in the room, just the smell of sex and the tightening across his forehead that heralded another massive headache.

"You okay, Jim?" Blair's voice penetrated the fog, sounding guiltily concerned. He'd realised, obviously, what was happening.

"I'll be all right." Jim put out a hand to support himself against the wall. His sense of smell was already fading to normalcy and he could see the worried look on Blair's face. "Why don't you go take a shower? I'm going to lie down."

Blair avoided meeting his eyes. "I'll make dinner, okay? You take it easy, man."

"Don't bother on my account, Chief. I'm not hungry." But Jim patted his cheek lightly, pleased that the cold war between them seemed to be over at last. He refused to think about anything else.

It was a resolution that lasted no more than a few days, fading to nothing in the face of Blair's new found habit of staying out later in the evening and arriving home freshly showered and looking remarkably relaxed.

"This guy you're seeing, Chief..." Jim hesitated, trying to think of a way to ask that wouldn't sound either ridiculously over protective, or jealous.

"What guy?" Blair looked up curiously from his book. When he finally got home in the evenings, he studied furiously. The Fall semester would be starting in just over two weeks, and he was determined to get a head start. "I'm not seeing... oh."

"Yeah. That guy." Jim managed a weak grin. "Did you really think I wouldn't notice?"

Blair wriggled around from his prone position on the floor and sat cross-legged, facing him. "I'm not seeing... I mean, it's not any particular guy. Just... you know... whoever I find. Why would I want to have the same guy twice?"

"Surely you must have expected something like this." Laura's expression was sympathetic. "Considering his background..."

Jim lifted a hand and sighed wearily. "I know. I suppose it was unrealistic to hope that he'd find a nice kid his own age."

"Is that really what you hoped for, Jim?"

"It's... the best I could hope for." It hurt to admit it. "He goes to some bar and just picks up whoever catches his eye. Older men, he said. The only difference from before is that he doesn't get paid."

"You gave him a choice, Jim." She smiled at him. "I doubt he really knows what to do with it. So he falls into the old patterns. The ones he's comfortable with."

"Comfortable! God." But it made sense and they both knew it. Jim slumped in his chair feeling unreasonably depressed.

The silence between them lengthened, but it was an easy silence, one that Jim didn't feel the need to break. God knew he'd told Laura more intimate details about himself than even Mike was aware of. There was nothing left for him to hide.

Finally Laura stirred in her chair. "How are the tests going, Jim? Have they uncovered anything?"

"No." Jim looked up at her morosely. "They can't find any explanation for the blackouts, or the headaches. One day I'm going to turn up at the hospital and they're going to have that jacket with the special long sleeves waiting for me."

"Do you think it's psychosomatic?" She fixed him with a determined stare.

"I don't know what to think, but I know what they're thinking." He shook his head, as baffled by the whole thing as he had been the day it first started. "All I know is, it's getting worse all the time."

"Are you on any medication, Jim?" She waited for him to shake his head again. "I could prescribe a mild tranquilliser, if you think it would help."

"I'll think about it."

"All right." Laura hesitated, then smiled encouragingly. "There's still hope, you know."

Jim looked at her bleakly as he rose from the chair. "For Blair, or me?"

She accompanied him to the door, patting his arm lightly. "For both of you."

Friday night Blair went out late, and didn't come back until nearly three in the morning. Jim could smell the unfamiliar soap and shampoo the moment he walked in the door. He'd obviously found yet another bed partner tonight. Jim gritted his teeth, then forced himself to roll over and try to sleep. What he wanted to say could wait until morning.

But in the morning, it all seemed extremely pointless. Jim had given Blair carte blanche; he could hardly complain, now, because Blair had so eagerly taken advantage of his new freedom. They passed the day in a tense silence, both apparently unwilling to make any move that might destroy their fragile accord.

At ten o'clock that evening, Blair appeared in the doorway of his room wearing the leather pants he'd worn when he worked on the street and a light sweater. Jim watched in silence as he headed for the door. An hour later he was outside in the truck running over in his mind the places Blair might go dressed like that.

There weren't too many places in Cascade to choose from, if you were a gay teenager who wanted to pick up men. It took Jim another forty minutes to track Blair to a small nightclub on the outskirts of the student neighbourhood.

Inside it was stiflingly hot. The music was deafening, the cigarette smoke made his lungs burn, and it was far too crowded for Jim's comfort - all the things that proclaimed the club as the newest hot place in town. The bouncer had seen Blair go in, but amongst the crowd of eager bodies it was impossible to find one smallish, dark-haired kid. Then a cheer went up from the dance floor and the crowd parted slightly.

Blair was there all right, dancing with a man who had to be older than Jim. He'd discarded the sweater, and was wearing only the leather pants. His chest gleamed with sweat, and his hair clung damply to his face and shoulders, when it wasn't flying wildly about his head with the rhythm of the dance.

As Jim watched, the music changed, slowing to a more sensual rhythm. The man turned Blair to face away from him, wrapping his arms around the slim waist, and Blair relaxed against the broad chest, grinding his hips into his partner's crotch with a lecherous grin on his face. The two of them moved together as though they had only one body between them.

Blair was guiding the big man's hands over his body, his head thrown back in sensual abandon. It was like watching them make love on the dance floor, and Jim obviously wasn't the only one who thought so. Nearly every eye in the place was on the pair. His breathing became ragged, and Jim couldn't drag his eyes away from Blair's slim body. He watched as a bead of sweat ran down the edge of Blair's jaw then dropped to trickle down the smooth chest.

Somebody was shaking him roughly, but Jim was too distracted to care much. Then a familiar voice cut through the haze in his brain.

"Jim! Oh man, what are you doing here?" A small pair of hands grabbed his arm. "Leave him alone, willya? I'll take care of it."

"Blair?" Jim blinked away the last remnants of fog and managed to focus on the face in front of him. He was only vaguely aware of the people staring at them both.

"Yeah. Are you okay now?" Blair looked wildly around the club then back at Jim. "I'd better get you home."

"Don't leave on my account. I'll be all right." Jim caught sight of Blair's dance partner, standing on the sidelines looking disgruntled. He could hardly blame the guy for that. He tried to pull away from Blair, and couldn't, which was all the indication he needed that he wouldn't be all right.

"No, man. I'm taking you home." Blair turned to smile winningly at the big guy. "Can you get my sweater for me? I'll be back as soon as I get him home, okay?"

"Yeah. Sure." But he disappeared into the crowd, returning a moment later with Blair's sweater in his hands. "Here."

"Thanks man." Blair draped the sweater over his shoulders, then tugged on Jim's arm to get him moving.

Out in the street the much cooler air revived him a little - enough, at any rate, to tell Blair where the truck was. "But you're not driving, Chief."

"Whatever." Blair kept a cautious hand on Jim's arm as they walked, and when they reached the truck, steered him to the passenger side. It seemed that he'd already grabbed the keys from Jim's pocket, because the next thing Jim was aware of, they were driving down the street, and it wasn't his hands on the steering wheel.

He could smell Blair's sweat, and the sweat of other men, more than one, somehow he was sure of that, and all of it overlaid with the familiar scent of Blair's arousal. Jim frowned, knowing that if he didn't do something fast, he'd end up either zoning again or having a sensory spike followed by one hell of a headache. He managed to roll down the window and the fresh air helped to disperse some of the heady atmosphere.

That only gained him a brief respite. All too soon he found himself watching the play of light over Blair's bare arms as the truck passed the streetlights. Jim swallowed and closed his eyes only to see, with painful clarity, Blair standing bare-chested in front of him at the club. He opened his eyes again. "Still shaving the chest, huh?"

"Well, it's my chest." Blair's reply was remarkably mild. "Why did you follow me?"

"I didn't follow... well, I tried a few places until I found you. It's not the same thing."

"Sure it's not." He opened his eyes in time to see Blair glance across at him. "So why did you come looking for me?"

An oncoming car nearly blinded him with its lights. Pain jabbed at his temples. "Can we do this later? I don't feel too good right now, Chief."

There was a brief silence, then Blair swore. Jim could feel the truck accelerate. It seemed like only a moment later that Blair was pulling him out of the door and across the sidewalk. "Come on, Jim. You've gotta help me out here."

The sensory overloads were coming in waves now, first the lights on his building, then the sound of a car honking nearby. Worst of all, the scent of Blair beside him in the elevator, overpowering everything else. Jim doubled over retching as Blair dragged him along the short hallway.

Their arrival in the loft was followed by a short but nasty interlude in the bathroom, and then Blair somehow managed to get him upstairs and laid out on the bed, grousing all the way. "Man, some Saturday night this turned out to be. Just let me get your shoes off, willya?"

With very little co-operation from Jim, Blair managed to remove not only his shoes, but his jacket, shirt and pants too. Jim closed his eyes, aware that he should say something, but unable to form a coherent thought through the throbbing pain in his head.

A small dip in the mattress indicated that Blair had perched on the edge of the bed. "You're crazy, you know that? I could help you out here, if you'd let me." A light touch, high up on his thigh, illustrated Blair's meaning.

"No." Jim swallowed heavily, fighting desire every bit as intense as the pain in his head. "I can't."

The hand moved higher, stopping only when it reached the hem of his shorts, only inches away from the erection that ached so unmercifully. Blair's fingers stroked the skin of his inner thigh with a tender delicacy. "You know this is what you want. Let me give it to you, Jim."

He bit back a sob and forced his eyes open. Blair's face was so beautiful, his eyes hooded and his lips pouting in unconscious sensuality. It would be so easy to allow this. He would never forgive himself if he did. He forced out a whispered denial between dry lips.

Blair ignored him. His fingers trailed over Jim's balls, along the length of his cock, with only the thin cloth separating them from skin that seemed suddenly to be on fire.

It took an immense effort for Jim to lift his hand and catch hold of Blair's wrist. "Please... Blair, don't... I don't think I could stop you if I tried, but please... I'm begging you..."

One moment Blair's attention was completely focused on Jim's body, the next he'd stiffened, his eyes lifting to meet Jim's in shocked confusion. "Oh God... Jim, I..." He stepped back abruptly, his arm slipping free of Jim's weak grasp. Then he turned and fled.

"Blair!" Jim tried to push himself onto one elbow, and failed. He could hear Blair's hurried footsteps and then the slamming of the loft door. "Dammit!"

He ought to go after Blair; God only knew what might happen to him in the state he was in. But Jim barely had the strength to lift his head from the pillow. Even getting off the bed would be an impossible task. There was nothing he could do but wait for Blair to return.

The nausea and pounding headache had dissipated a little by the time Jim heard the loft door open again. He'd drifted in and out of sleep, too cold to sleep properly, and too exhausted and depressed to bother pulling the covers over himself. At the sound of familiar footsteps on the bare boards, he raised his head groggily. "Blair?"

The footsteps stopped.

Jim swallowed and tried again. "Blair, it's okay. Please, I need to talk to you."

"All right." Blair's voice was unusually subdued. Jim heard him coming up the stairs with a sense of relief. He stopped at the top, waiting for some sign from Jim.

"Aren't you cold?" It wasn't what Jim had meant to say, but Blair was wearing nothing but those leather pants and it was getting chilly at night now.

A tiny smile tugged at Blair's mouth. "Aren't you?"

"Yeah." Jim pulled at the covers half-heartedly, but they were tangled around his legs and it was just too much effort.

Blair came around the end of the bed and pulled the covers over him. "I'm sorry, Jim."

The forlorn whisper was heartbreaking. Jim pulled him into a loose embrace, and was shocked by how chilled Blair was. "You were only trying to help."

"But I nearly..." Blair blinked rapidly and trembled. "What I nearly did to you, it's what they did to me."

"But you didn't." Jim's arms tightened. "You stopped when I asked you to." He thought Blair might be crying, but there was no sound at all. He rubbed his hands up and down the slender arms. "Get in. You're half frozen."

"Are you sure?" Blair's tangled mane lifted and watery blue eyes regarded him dubiously.

Jim smiled. "I think I'm safe. Don't you?"

The hint of a smile appeared and Blair pulled away long enough to strip off his pants, then crawled naked under the covers. Jim gasped as the chilled flesh touched his skin, but it took no time at all before they were both warm, and Blair was snuggled comfortably against his side.

The lines wavered on the page and Jim blinked, then squinted, in an effort to read the typescript. It seemed more than usually blurry, and he wondered if his headache was getting worse, or the letters really were blurred.

"Jim? Can you come in my office please?"

The whole room was suddenly very quiet. Probably none of them had ever heard Captain Innes speak so gently before. Certainly, Jim hadn't. He rose to his feet with a sinking feeling in his guts. He'd been expecting this. They all had. A couple of the other cops gave him a sympathetic smile as he passed, but most avoided looking at him.

"Sir." He halted, just inside the door.

"Close the door Jim. Sit down." Innes nodded towards one of the chairs in front of his desk. "I think you know what this is about."

"Why don't you tell me, anyway." Jim leaned against the closed door and folded his arms across his chest. He didn't see any reason to make this easier for his boss.

Innes sighed. "These blackouts you've been having, and the headaches... they haven't got any better. Have your doctors found the cause yet?"

"No." In fact, they'd just about given up. Short of surgery, which Jim wouldn't have agreed to in any case, they'd exhausted all other means of investigation with nothing to show for it.

"Jim, you know you shouldn't be working. You're a mess." Innes pushed a piece of paper across his desk. "You haven't taken any sick leave since you've been with us. It's time you did."

"What happens when it runs out?" And it would run out, he was sure of that. The zone outs and sensory spikes were coming more frequently than ever. His head ached permanently now, and even the strongest pain relief he dared take was not enough to do more than blunt the edges of the pain. He wasn't sleeping or eating much, and it showed.

"You can apply for leave without pay." Innes looked at him grimly. "Eventually, if you can't return to work, you'll face a fitness hearing and the board will probably recommend a medical discharge. I'm sorry, Jim, but that's about the sum of it."

"Where do I sign?" Suddenly, he was tired of it all. He signed where Innes indicated and left without a backward glance. There were only a few things in his drawers he needed to collect and then he was out in the street looking for a cab. Since his last blackout, he hadn't dared to drive himself.

Blair carefully slid the tray of obsidian points back into the cabinet and locked it. That was the last of the cataloguing he had to do today, and he'd finished right on time. Normally that wouldn't have been an issue, but in the last few days he'd tried to get back to the loft as early as possible.

He put the key ring back into the desk in Dr Logan's office and was reaching for his parka when Dr Logan came into the lab, a clipboard in one hand, and a perpetually worried expression on her face. She smiled when she caught sight of him. "Blair, are you going already?"

"Uh, yeah." Blair shuffled his feet nervously. "I've finished with the points, and it's three o'clock..."

"Oh, that's fine then." She smiled again and then hesitated. "Is something wrong? It's just that usually we can't get you out of here, but lately you've been leaving on time."

Blair felt his heart sinking. He'd hoped nobody would notice, even though he wasn't doing anything he shouldn't. "Well, my roommate's kinda sick. I don't like leaving him alone for too long."

"That's very considerate of you. I hope he's feeling better soon." She patted him gently on the arm. "Don't you get sick too."

"It's not infectious." Blair tried to hide his relief. "I'll see you Monday."

"Yes. Next week will be your first week of classes." Her eyes lit up mischievously. "I suppose we'd better get used to you only working the hours we pay you for. You'll be busy."

"I guess so." He pulled his parka on over his backpack. It had been raining hard all afternoon, and he didn't want his books to get wet on the ride home. "I'd better go."

"Of course. Be careful, Blair. The weather's pretty wild outside." She turned away at last and went into her office.

As he rode his bike home, Blair blinked away the raindrops that clung to his lashes and tried to tell himself that everything was going to work out. Dr Logan had been cool with it, but from next week he'd have classes as well as the lab work to deal with and he was getting more and more afraid to leave Jim alone in the loft.

Jim had taken it pretty hard when he'd been told not to go back to work, and Blair could understand that. Strange as it seemed to Blair, Jim obviously loved being a cop, and if Blair couldn't do what he most wanted to do, he'd be pretty bummed about it too.

It didn't help any that with nothing else to do Jim was becoming increasingly antsy about little things like the way Blair left the toothpaste top off, or dropped towels on the bathroom floor. But worst of all were the physical changes he saw in Jim - the loss of weight and the dark circles under his eyes. When he thought about the imposing figure that had first accosted him and compared it with the thinner, tired, moody Jim he saw today, he felt almost sick with apprehension. It was hard to believe that Jim's health was going to improve.

A flash of red startled him into a swerve to narrowly avoid a car that had pulled away from the curb without bothering to check for cyclists. "Asshole! Watch what you're doing!"

Now his adrenaline was really pumping... Blair took a deep breath and muttered a few choice curses under his breath. Sometimes he felt like getting on his bike and just taking off, running away from Jim and all his problems, and from the fear that he was about to lose everything just when he was about to get what he'd always dreamed of. The only thing that was stopping him was the knowledge that, if it hadn't been for Jim, he would never have had even a chance at those dreams.

So, if he risked losing that chance because of Jim's illness, maybe it was only that he was never meant to have it. Karma, Naomi would say, but it was so hard to accept. There were times, especially when Jim was being uptight, that he thought about leaving anyway. Times when he could really hate Jim for doing this to him, if it wasn't for the fact that Jim's life was an even bigger mess than his own.

He managed to make it back to the loft in one piece, in spite of the driving rain and the homicidal motorists, and park his bike in the back of the downstairs hallway. As soon as he was in the elevator, he stripped off his dripping parka and examined his backpack for signs of leakage, but the books inside were dry. He unlocked the door, forcing a grin onto his face to greet Jim with, but it was a wasted effort. The living area was empty, which probably meant Jim was upstairs sleeping, or trying to sleep.

A chilly draught from the windows alerted him to another possibility. Blair dropped his backpack and parka on the floor and headed in the direction of the door onto the balcony. Jim was out there, standing motionless in the rain. His clothes were completely soaked and clinging to his body.

"Oh, man!" Blair hurried out and grabbed Jim's arm. "Come on, Jim, snap out of it. It's freezing out here, man."

But it took several minutes of alternately coaxing and yelling and a slap across Jim's chilled cheek before he blinked and staggered, knees buckling. Blair barely caught him in time, and then had a lot of difficulty supporting the taller man's weight. He finally managed to drag Jim back inside and latch the door.

Jim looked at him dazedly. "What happened, Chief?"

"Another zone, man. And you sure picked a bad day to do it outside." Blair tried to pull him in the direction of the bathroom. "Come on, you need to get in the shower and warm up."

"No. It wasn't raining." Jim shook his head. "There was a noise, outside. I went out to see what was happening..."

"You must have been out there for hours, Jim. It's been raining since just after noon." This was going to be bad. Jim was shivering violently now, and Blair could hardly manage his weight. It took an incredibly long time to get him into the bathroom and over to the shower.

Jim gasped and groaned as the hot water hit his chest. His knees started to buckle again and Blair with a resigned shrug, stepped into the shower too. He was pretty much as soaked as Jim anyway. He fumbled with the sodden clothing, trying to get it off Jim without letting go of him. By the time he'd managed it, Jim's shivering had stopped and he was leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. Blair left him propped there while he got out of the shower and stripped off his own clothes, replacing them with a large towel.

"Come on, Jim. Time to go to bed, okay?" He turned off the shower and helped Jim out and into another of the dark green towels. "I'm gonna put you in my room, 'coz I don't think I can get you up the stairs. That okay with you, big guy?"

Jim didn't answer, so Blair accepted that as agreement; if Jim hadn't liked the idea, he would have certainly said so. He led Jim into his bedroom and sat him on the edge of the bed. "Okay, I'll just dry your hair, and take that wet towel, and... there you go." He watched anxiously as Jim settled into the mattress and closed his eyes. It was so unlike him to be passive like this. "You want some soup? Something hot to drink?"

Jim rolled his head on the pillow in a brief negative. "No. I just want to... to sleep."

They both knew he wasn't likely to do much of that, but Blair just patted his shoulder. "Okay. I'll get out of your hair. Take it easy."

"Thanks, Blair." Jim's eyes opened again for a moment. "For helping me."

Considering what Blair had been thinking on the way home, that was possibly the most embarrassing thing Jim could have said. "Hey, just returning the favour, right?"

"Yeah." A tiny smile creased the corners of Jim's lips.

Next day, as expected, Jim had a raging headache, sore throat, and aching bones. He insisted on going upstairs to his own bed, which only meant that Blair had further to go to provide him with hot drinks and aspirin. At least he seemed to be spending most of the time sleeping, which could only be a good thing. Blair did his best to read one of the recommended texts in preparation for his first class, but found it difficult to concentrate on the words.

Mid afternoon there was a knock on the door. Blair scrambled to his feet, wanting to get to whoever it was before Jim woke. He opened the door to see a small blonde woman with grey eyes, and stood blinking in surprise.

"You must be Blair." She smiled and held out her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you at last. I'm Laura Pattison, Jim may have told you about me."

"Oh yeah. The shrink lady." Blair took her hand hurriedly. "I mean... uh..."

"Is that what Jim calls me?" She seemed more amused than offended.

"No, that's just what I... sorry." He found himself blushing, much to his own surprise. "Uh, do you want to come in? Only, we'll have to be quiet; Jim's sleeping."

"Oh? Is he sick?" She followed him to the couch and sat. "I called because he didn't come to his appointment yesterday and I've been a little worried about him."

"Yeah. He's got 'flu. You want a coffee?" Blair hovered nervously, unused to dealing with visitors.

"Thank you, but no. Or do you have herbal tea?"

"Sure. I've got this really nice blend of spearmint, orange blossom and lemon grass." He grinned. "Jim hates it."

"It sounds delightful." She stood and followed him to the kitchen. "He's lucky to have you at a time like this."

It wasn't exactly what he wanted to hear right now, and he had a feeling she could tell. "It's getting scary." He lowered his voice a little, glancing up cautiously, though he couldn't see Jim from where he was. "You know what's been happening? Yesterday he zoned out on the balcony. It must have been for hours. He said it wasn't raining when he went out there, and I didn't get home till after three-thirty. That's why he's sick today. He was frozen."

Laura's eyes were thoughtful. "I didn't realise quite how serious this illness is. It must be difficult for you."

"You're telling me." He handed her a mug of tea. "I just want out, you know?"

He hadn't meant to tell her that, but her manner was so caring, he almost felt that he could say anything to her. Which was probably why she was a shrink.

"Do you really want to leave?" Her voice held no hint of judgement at all.

He shrugged. "Sometimes. I owe him so much. It'd be a lousy thing to do, but if I stay, I'll probably end up dropping out of school and I don't even know if I can help, so it would be, like, all for nothing."

"Is that the only reason you're staying? Because of a sense of duty?" Laura sipped her tea. "You're right, this is lovely."

"It's even better with honey." He held out the jar to her, taking the pause it offered to think about her question. He'd followed her back to the couch and sat before he'd come close to an answer. "I don't know how I feel about him. I mean he's done all this stuff for me, and he didn't have to. And he doesn't want sex."

It occurred to him suddenly that Jim might not have told her about that, but she just nodded encouragingly. "Jim's told me a lot about what's happened between you. He's very concerned about your relationship."

"I know. He's so anal..." He blushed again but Laura chuckled and he relaxed. "I mean, it's just sex, you know?"

"Please don't take this the wrong way, but..." She hesitated, waiting for his shrug. "I don't suppose you're used to relationships with men of Jim's age that don't involve sex, are you Blair?"

"I guess not." It felt so strange to be talking about sex with this woman who was probably old enough to be his grandmother, if he'd ever had one. "It doesn't bother me."

"Doesn't it?" She smiled. "Perhaps it should. Has that ever occurred to you?"

Blair shrugged again. "I don't think about it much."

"Well, if you ever do want to talk about it, Jim has said he'd be happy to pay for you to have some sessions with me." She put her mug down on the coffee table and rose. "Here's my card. I'd be able to see you at any time."

"Thanks." He looked down at the card dubiously. Laura Pattison, MD, DPsych. It didn't sound much like the woman who stood before him. "I don't think Jim's gonna be able to afford to pay for stuff like that much longer."

Laura put her hand lightly on his arm. "Call me anyway. I do some work for welfare agencies. I'm sure we can come to some arrangement."

Jim heard the door open, and Blair's voice, speaking quietly, then a woman's. That puzzled him enough that he tried to listen, but for once his senses were numbed. It was almost a relief to give the whole thing up and go back to sleep.

He woke again when Blair perched on the side of the bed. The lights were on downstairs so he knew it must be late. He glanced at his alarm clock; it was nearly eight o'clock. His senses were still behaving more or less normally and he felt better than he had in weeks.

Blair was watching him with wide, worried eyes. "How're you feeling now, Jim?"

"Good. Well, better." He sat up and stretched cautiously. The aches and pains were fading. He smiled. "How about some coffee?"

"Sure." Blair was off down the stairs before Jim had time to blink.

The delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee heralded Blair's return with a couple of mugs and a plate of cookies, and it suddenly occurred to Jim that he was ravenously hungry. He ate most of the cookies under Blair's watchful gaze and leaned back against the pillows to finish his coffee in peace.

It almost seemed as though the problems he'd been having were over, but a niggling sensation in the back of his eyeballs told Jim that this was probably just a temporary respite, and he'd better make the most of it. "Blair, can you get the folder out of my desk drawer? There's something I want to show you."

Blair fetched the folder and handed it over to him, his face alight with curiosity. The papers he wanted were on top of the others, and he drew them out and passed them over to Blair.

"I don't get it. Why do you want to show me your Will?" Blair looked up from the document in question, his face suddenly worried.

"Read it."

"No, man. It's yours. I don't want to have anything to do with it." Blair held the Will out to him, but Jim shook his head, smiling.

"It's not that easy, Chief. You're in it." He hesitated, but there wasn't going to be a better time than now. "I've left everything to you. It's not a lot. I've got a bit saved, and there's the loft and the truck. My lawyer will advise you, but it's probably best..."

"No. No way." Blair's voice cut across his. "Why are you doing this, man? You're not gonna die."

Jim ignored the outburst. "'s best if you sell everything. If you invest the proceeds, the interest should help you through college, and afterwards you can pay off your loans out of the principal without worrying about paying any interest."

"I don't want it." Blair stared at him desperately. "Besides, you've got family. They won't let you give all your money away to a hustler."

"My father's got plenty of money. My brother's a corporate executive. They don't need my money. You do." Jim shrugged. "I've given my lawyer a letter in case they try to contest the Will; but they won't."

"It doesn't matter." Blair was shaking. He dropped the Will on the bed and got up, backing towards the top of the stairs. "Don't talk like this, okay? I don't want to hear it."

"Blair, please. This is important to me." Jim motioned to him to come back, and Blair obeyed, though every inch of his body betrayed his reluctance. "We both know this thing with my senses isn't going to go away. I just want to be sure you'll have whatever help I can give you."

"But you're better today. Maybe..." Blair stopped and swallowed. "Anyway, it doesn't mean you have to die."

He'd thought about that. The chances were that whatever he had wasn't going to kill him, but unless things changed dramatically, he wasn't going to be able to work, and if it got worse, which he expected, then he'd probably end up in a psychiatric ward. He had no desire to end his life, but if that was the alternative...

"All I'm saying is, that if anything happens to me, you'll have something to help you through college." He smiled. "Is that so terrible?"

He could see Blair wasn't reassured, but he was feeling too tired to continue arguing. He leaned back into the pillows and closed his eyes with a sigh. "All right. This is the bottom line here, Chief. You know what's happening to me. The tests haven't shown any physical cause and I can see the way those doctors are looking at me. I know I'm not crazy, but how do you think I'd handle being shut up in a psych ward? I can hardly leave the loft any more. There's too much noise, too many lights. And the smells..."

Blair didn't respond, and when Jim opened his eyes again he saw a frightened, confused child sitting on his bed. He held out an arm and Blair moved closer, leaning into his chest, instinctively seeking comfort.

"Jim, why are you doing this?" Blair's voice was distinctly tearful.

He stroked Blair's unruly curls for a moment before answering, but he really had nothing to lose any more. "Because I love you."

Blair became very still; so still that Jim thought he must have stopped breathing. After a moment he moved away and raised his eyes to Jim's face. His face was always expressive, but Jim couldn't interpret the emotions flickering there now. "I don't get it, Jim. I really don't."

"I know." Jim smiled. "It's all right. Just accept it, okay?"

"Okay." Blair gave him a tiny smile, but his eyes were troubled.

"Do you really think that Jim might harm himself?" Laura's voice was doubtful, but Blair thought that she was willing to consider the possibility.

"Yeah, I do. I've hidden his gun, but there's so many other things he could use." He thought of all the kitchen knives, the electrical equipment that could so easily be rewired. "I can't hide everything. Hell, if he wants to kill himself he could just jump off the balcony."

"Blair, I'm going to act as Devil's Advocate, so please don't take this personally." She smiled reassuringly. "It would seem to be to your advantage if Jim were to die, rather than to be committed. If that's what Jim wants to do, why are you so desperate to stop him?"

It hadn't occurred to Blair to question his instinctive reaction, and now that Laura was asking him directly, he had no idea how to answer her. He simply knew that he didn't want to see Jim die.

Laura's smile widened at his hesitation. "I see. Well, I'm glad you came to see me. I've suspected for quite a while that at least some of Jim's problems stem from the fact that he's fallen in love with an extremely charming young man who has no idea how to respond to him."

"Uh..." Blair reflected that he spent a lot of time blushing when he was around the lady shrink as he tried to pull himself together. "I don't know about love. That's what he says, but..." He shrugged as casually as he could. "People say that kinda stuff, but it doesn't mean anything."

"Do you think it doesn't mean anything to Jim?" She cocked her head to one side, watching him critically. "Or just to the men who abused you? They did tell you that they loved you, didn't they?"

Blair felt his gut recoil at her words. "Did Jim tell you that?" Then he answered his own question. "He can't have. I never told him about it." In fact he'd never really told Jim anything about his past.

"He didn't need to, Blair. Your story is, sadly, not an unusual one, and one thing that most abusers have in common is that they profess to love the children they abuse." She shook her head. "That isn't love."

"So what are we going to do?" Blair shifted uneasily in his seat. He'd come here to talk about Jim, but all she wanted to do was bring it back to him. "I don't see what this has to do with Jim."

Laura raised her eyebrows. "It doesn't. You won't be able to help Jim while you refuse to help yourself, Blair. You can't ignore what happened to you forever."

"I can try." Blair grinned weakly. "I've done okay so far."

The lady shrink clearly wasn't impressed by his attempt at bravado. "You did what was necessary to survive on the street, and you did it well, but now your life's changed and you need a different strategy. I can help you with that, if you'll let me."

He made one last try at escape. "Look, I came here to help Jim, not talk about stuff that's over and done with."

"Then if you won't do it for yourself, do it for Jim." Laura's face was unyielding. "You came to me for help. You have to trust me, Blair, if this is going to work."

"Oh man." Blair sighed and capitulated reluctantly. "Okay. What do I have to do?"

Blair's classes weren't exactly turning out the way he'd expected. Some of them were great, like the physical anthro, and the archaeology course was just downright fascinating, but the one class he'd really been looking forward to was just, well, boring. It wasn't the subject that was the problem, it was the lecturer - a grad student called Matt Barclay who had a tendency to drone out his lectures in a low monotone. Maybe it was his sinuses, Blair thought. Or maybe he just didn't like lecturing. Whatever it was, Blair always had to fight to stay awake in his class. He had a way of making even the most interesting subjects seem boring.

Today he was going on about field work, and the dangers of getting too involved with your subjects. Blair tuned out about the time he got onto the subject of Margaret Mead's studies in Samoa and began to doodle in the margins of his notebook. This guy seemed to actively dislike the very people he was supposed to be learning how to study. He half heard Barclay mention Richard Burton and frowned. Wasn't he the guy who married Liz Taylor?

Somebody else asked the question and Blair looked up to see a resigned expression on Barclay's face. "The explorer, not the actor, Mr Stanton."

There was a subdued titter as the others enjoyed their classmate's discomfiture. Blair searched his memory and remembered that Burton was the guy who'd written the Arabian Nights stuff. Genies and Open Sesame. He hadn't realised that Burton was an anthropologist.

"In any case, Burton was completely taken in by the natives' stories about warriors who had heightened senses, which they used to guard their territory. He wrote a monograph on the subject, which was widely accepted for a time, largely due to his standing in Victorian society." Barclay stared at his students disdainfully. "Of course now we know that it's complete rubbish."

Blair exhaled abruptly. "Heightened senses?"

"Yes, Mr Sandburg." Barclay smiled sarcastically. "I'm glad to see you're actually paying attention. The Sentinels were supposedly able to sense what others couldn't, to see and hear more acutely. None of this is in fact possible, but Burton was completely taken in.

"Now... Burton was only one of many anthropologists who lost his perspective and came to identify too closely with his subjects. I have a list of articles by well-known anthropologists, which have been discredited as nonsense by later research. I'd like you all to chose one article and write a brief paper on how the article illustrates some of the pitfalls of field research. The essay will count towards your coursework. You have three weeks, ladies and gentlemen."

Everyone took this as a sign that the lecture was over and there was a rush for the door. Blair was foremost amongst them, but as he scanned the list, he cam to a halt, and nearly got crushed by a couple of the larger guys behind him. He turned back reluctantly.

"Uh, excuse me..." He waited for Barclay to acknowledge him before continuing. "Burton's monograph isn't on the list. It sounded kinda interesting."

"It's not on the list, Mr Sandburg, because there are very few copies of it in existence." Barclay stared down his nose at Blair. "The library has a copy but it's not available for loan."

"If I can get access to it, could I use it for my essay?" Blair smiled winningly. "I mean, it's kinda like the whole comic book super hero thing. The need to believe in someone who uses their super powers to protect the innocent. Stuff like that."

He could see by the suddenly thoughtful look in Barclay's eyes that he'd made his point. He tried to look innocently eager, and hide the excitement that was thrumming through his body. Maybe, just maybe this could have something to do with what was happening to Jim. He had to find out, and he'd have a better chance of getting hold of that monograph if he could say it was necessary for his course work.

"It's an interesting angle." Barclay stared at him consideringly. "Of course it's beyond the scope of your essay topic, but it might be a subject you could pursue at a later stage. All right, you can go ahead with it if you wish."

"Thanks." Blair grinned broadly. He'd cut his afternoon classes and go straight to the library. This was something that just couldn't wait.

On bad days, and this had been one of them, Jim was usually reduced to lying on the couch with his sleep mask on and hoping he'd zone out so that he could get some relief from the nagging pain of his headaches. Sometimes it worked, sometimes, like today, the sensory spikes continued in other ways, making his skin burn or his sense of smell become so acute that it overpowered everything else. He could cope with bad days, most of the time, except that they seemed to be coming more and more frequently. Soon, maybe, his life would become one long bad day; but he'd already planned for that, and it no longer held any fears for him.

When Blair came bursting through the door, babbling incoherently about Richard Burton and Victorians and sentinels, Jim was way beyond being able to make sense of it. He pushed up his mask and winced at the fading light coming in the window. "Blair..."

His voice came out as a weak croak and he saw, fuzzily, Blair stop dead in his tracks as he took in Jim's pathetic state. Blair came over to the couch and dropped to his knees beside Jim. "Oh man, you look bad."

"Thanks." Jim managed a faint smile and closed his eyes again.

"Hang on." He heard Blair move away and then return. A cool damp cloth was laid across his forehead, soothing the feverish heat of his skin. "Would a neck rub help, Jim?"

Jim sighed. "Yeah, I think so."

Blair patted his shoulder. "Be right back."

The cloth felt so good Jim was close to zoning on that, until he felt gentle hands unbuttoning his shirt. He rolled to one side, and then the other to allow Blair to remove it, then lay face down while Blair lightly massaged his tense neck and shoulders.

"Roll over." Blair brushed his fingers through Jim's hair, then started rubbing his temples with a slow circular motion. "I found something today, Jim. I think it might help you."

"Yeah? This helps, Chief. I don't know about anything else." The tight band around his head was loosening little by little, and that always seemed like a minor miracle to him lately. He opened his eyes reluctantly to see Blair's disappointed face. "What is it?"

It was all the encouragement needed to make Blair's face light up. "There was this explorer, back in Victorian times. His name was Sir Richard Burton, you know, like the actor. Jim, he found that lots of tribal cultures had these warriors with special abilities living with them. Burton called them Sentinels." He paused dramatically. "They could see and hear things that nobody else could and they used those abilities to protect the tribe."

"So what's that got to do with me?" Jim yawned; now that his headache was receding all he wanted to do was sleep.

"Aren't you listening?" Blair shook his shoulder a little "They could hear things than nobody else could. Just like you. Burton wrote about them, but nobody believed him. My lecturer mentioned it in class today as an example of what not to do when you're an anthropologist, but... what if Burton was right?"

"Blair, even if it was true, which I doubt, what good would that do? Unless..." Jim raised himself cautiously onto his elbow, "he didn't say how to make it go away, did he?"

"Nope. But don't you see, Jim? If it can be controlled, then just think what you can do with it." Blair grinned widely. "It would be great, man. You'd be unstoppable."

"If I can't stop this I'll be dead. You've got to find a way to make it go away."

Blair shook his head. "I read the whole thing. Skimmed a bit, but there's nothing in the monograph about getting rid of Sentinel abilities. You have to work on controlling them. Now that we know they can be controlled, we can find a way to do it."

"We, Chief?" Jim shook his head. "Seems to me like I'm on my own here."

"No you're not Jim. Even the Sentinels had help. Someone who got them through the zone outs, and helped them control their senses." Blair was almost bouncing with excitement. "Did I tell you Burton mentions the zone outs? It's got to be the same as what's happening to you."

Jim had to admit that Blair was probably right - there was just too much similarity for coincidence - but he would have been far happier if Blair had found a way to suppress the supposed 'abilities'. They felt far too much like liabilities to him. "All right. Suppose you're right. What do I have to do?"

"Well..." Blair smiled hesitantly. "I've still got some more reading to do, but I figure that if you need to control your senses then you have got to get into meditation, Jim. I already know a bit about that, so I can help."

"Meditation. Wonderful." Jim dropped back onto the couch. "You'd better tell me all about it."

"It's not working." Jim swept his headphones off and dropped them onto the couch beside him. "I can't do it."

"Yes, you can, Jim. You did it yesterday." Blair sighed. The last couple of days Jim had been irritable and moody, which was a huge improvement over the exhausted apathy of a week ago. It still didn't make dealing with him any easier. "I'll turn the music down a bit more and we can try again."

"The other times were just a fluke." Frustration and impatience flickered across Jim's face. "I need to do it consistently, or it's all a waste of time."

"You can, if you practice." Blair went over to the stereo and adjusted the volume downwards, then stood, staring at the controls blankly. An idea was dawning in his mind. He turned to Jim, who was putting the headphones on with a martyred air. "Jim, I've got an idea. Close your eyes, will you?"

"What now?" But Jim did as he was told. "Okay, they're closed."

"Good, now do your breathing exercises."

Jim sighed. His breathing took on a slow, regular rhythm, but Blair could see his eyes moving restlessly beneath the closed lids. When the movement stilled Blair continued. "Okay, now just imagine the controls on the stereo. Imagine it in you head. You can use it to control how sensitive your hearing is. Move it down and the music gets quieter, move it up and it gets louder."

There was a long pause, then Jim nodded slightly. "I think it's working."

"Okay, now do the same for your sense of smell. Then taste, and touch." He could see the muscles relaxing in Jim's face, and then his body. "Now, before you open your eyes, concentrate on your sight; just bring that down too."

Jim's eyes opened and he smiled.

"All right!" Blair pranced across the floor and high-fived him triumphantly. "You did it!"

"We did it, Chief." Jim surged up out of his chair and pulled him into a ferocious hug.

"Blair..." Jim reached out to cup his hand against Blair's cheek, then lifted his other hand and slid his fingers through the soft, springy curls.

He dipped his head a little and kissed Blair's parted lips. He tasted sweet and just a little minty. Toothpaste maybe, or herbal tea. He probed a little deeper, allowing his senses to fill with Blair - taste, touch, scent especially. At this distance, Blair's eyes seemed even bluer than usual, and he could see tiny flecks of black and even gold surrounding the pupil. And the sounds that Blair was making, the tiny hitch in his breathing that was almost a moan... it seemed the most erotic thing he'd ever experienced.

Blair swayed closer, eyes flickering closed, then open again, and Jim felt the warmth of his body against his own hardness. God, he needed this so much. He wanted to touch and taste, and feel the heat of Blair's body from the inside as well as the outside. His cock was on fire with hungry need...

"Oh, man..." Blair groaned, and turned his face into the pillow to muffle the sound. His belly was sticky with semen and he could still feel the echoes of the orgasm that had woken him.

This was one wet dream he could have really done without. He wasn't sure which was more disturbing - that he could come just from dreaming about kissing Jim, or that, in the dream he'd been Jim, not himself.

He grabbed a couple of tissues from his nightstand and wiped away the worst of the mess, though some of it had already soaked into the sheets. He'd have to wash them, or Jim would certainly scent them out. "I am so not gonna tell Laura about this."

In fact, it turned out to be unexpectedly easy to avoid discussion of his sexual fantasies with Laura later that day. He'd learned fairly quickly that Laura could be completely relentless when she felt he needed to talk about something he'd rather avoid. He'd ended up telling her things he'd never imagined telling anybody, least of all a woman of Laura's age.

Today she fixed her grey eyes on his face and asked him quietly why he'd run away from home.

Blair was speechless for a moment. Then he found his voice. "You're kidding, right? You've made me tell you all the stuff those guys made me do. Isn't it obvious why I left?"

"Perhaps I should rephrase that." Laura smiled faintly. It was the kind of smile she usually gave him when he was stalling. "Why did you run away from home when you did? What happened to make you decide to leave?"

"I just got sick of it" Blair shrugged. "I figured I could do better on my own."

"So there was no special reason." Laura's voice was patient.

Blair had learned to be cautious when he heard that tone. "Don't remember any."

"It's not uncommon for abused children to either run away, or to reveal the abuse, when they become old enough to understand what's happening to them." She tilted her head, watching him. "Did it ever occur to you to tell your mother about it?"

Blair shook his head.

"Is there any reason for that, Blair?"

"No." Something inside him was coiling tighter and tighter, but he didn't know what it was. He only knew it mustn't get out. "I guess I just didn't think of it."

"You see, Blair, that seems a little strange to me." Laura smoothed her blouse sleeve, releasing Blair's eyes from her gaze. "Everything you've told me about Naomi would seem to indicate that you had an extraordinarily good relationship. You were very close."

"Yeah. So?" Blair watched as his knuckles whitened on the chair arm. He wouldn't look up again into her face if he could possibly avoid it.

"And yet you never told her that her boyfriends were sexually abusing you." The quiet voice paused for a moment, then continued. "That doesn't seem strange to you now, looking back?"

"I guess..." Blair tried desperately to think of something, anything, to say. "I guess I didn't want to upset her." It sounded weak even to his own ears.

There was no response from Laura, and eventually Blair looked up, unable to stop himself. Her expression was one of... pity? Blair felt a frightened anger rising inside him. "What are you looking at me like that for?"

"Sooner or later you would have had to tell her, Blair. You must have known that." Her voice was very quiet. "What were you afraid of? That she already knew, and had chosen to do nothing?"

"No! No, you can't say that!" Blair exploded out of his chair. "It's not true!"

She did little more than blink in reaction. "Whether it was true or not, that's what you were afraid of, wasn't it? Was that why you left - so you wouldn't have to find out for sure?"

"No it wasn't!" He turned away from her, his breath coming in harsh gulps. "Naomi would never... she just wouldn't, okay?"


"I don't have to listen to this." Blair clapped his hands over his ears, then realising how stupid, and useless, that was let them drop and whirled to face Laura again. "You can't say that! You can't... I don't have to listen to this shit, okay? I'm going."

Laura followed him out into the reception area. Since they were only halfway through their session it was still empty. "Blair, it's all right to be upset, but you need to explore this. I'll see you next week and we can talk some more."

"No!" For a moment he wanted to hit her. "No, we won't talk about it. Not next week, not ever. I don't need this. I don't need any of it, and I'm not coming back." He found the door handle at last and wrenched the door open; then he was out, slamming it behind him; running out onto the street and away from there.

"Okay, now just see if you can smell those roses over there." Blair pointed to a bank of rose bushes over a hundred yards away. "That shouldn't be too hard."

"I don't want to smell the roses, Chief." Jim resolutely kept his sense of smell, like all his other senses, down as low as he could without shutting them down completely. He leaned back against the park bench, glad just to be outside again and not have to worry about zoning, or enduring sensory overload. "I'm happy with things the way they are."

"It doesn't work that way, Jim. You have to learn to control your senses. Ignoring them isn't the same as controlling them." Blair crouched on the grass in front of him, his face upturned and serious. "It's gonna backfire on you one day."

"Maybe." Jim smiled lazily. He felt too good to care about anything right now. "I'll worry about that when it happens."

"Man, you're, like, so good at repressing stuff." Blair pouted and scowled at the same time. It was a peculiarly attractive sight and Jim had to repress a smile. "You gotta face up to this, or you'll never get it together."

Jim refused to be ruffled. "You should know, Chief. You're the master at this. I'm just following your lead."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Blair stared up at him indignantly.

"It means I know you've stopped going to see Laura." Maybe this wasn't the best way to bring this up, but Jim had been thinking about what to do ever since his last session, when Laura had told him the news. "Storming out and swearing you'll never go back isn't exactly facing up to your problems."

"She told you about that?" Blair was starting to look seriously annoyed. "Isn't that against the law or something?"

Jim shrugged. "She only told me that's what you did. No details. She's worried about you."

"She was out of line, man. She had no right to say that about Naomi."

It always seemed to be Naomi that was Blair's weak point. He had never allowed even the mildest of implied criticisms of her, and Jim had long ago given up trying to talk to Blair about anything that involved his mother. Now it looked like he'd have to try. "I know she's your mother, Blair, but she's only human. Even mothers make mistakes. Mine walked out on me and my brother."

"Naomi would never do that." Blair's lips set in a stubborn line.

Jim sighed. "Never do what? Leave you, or whatever it was Laura said?"


There was no arguing with Blair when he got in this kind of mood. Jim shrugged and gave up. The sun was shining and the leaves were turning all shades of gold and orange and crimson. "Well if you ever want to talk about whatever it was... just don't get in a snit and walk out on me, okay? I need my Guide."

That got him a calculating glance. "You don't need me if you're not going to use your abilities. Man, just think what you could do with them as a cop."

He stood up and started walking. After a moment Blair caught up and walked at his side. They continued in silence for a few minutes, strolling along the path. Jim cautiously inched up his sense of smell. "I can smell the roses."

"Great." Blair grinned widely. "I knew you could do it." Now just try focusing on that sign over there." He pointed to a barely visible white rectangle halfway up one of the park's gates. "What does it say?"

Jim didn't bother to look. "It says the gates close at five thirty from the last weekend in September. I read it when we came in."

"Nobody likes a smart ass, Jim. Didn't anybody ever tell you that?"

After more than two months, it felt strange to be back in the bullpen. Jim looked around and saw the same, familiar faces of the men and women he'd worked with. Nothing here appeared to have changed, only Jim had. He returned the smiles of the few who looked up at him. Most were either too busy, or perhaps simply uninterested in a colleague who'd been with them for less than six months before disappearing into a prolonged limbo.

"Jim." Innes had appeared at the door of his office and motioned him over. "I'm glad you could make it today. We've got some things to sort out."

He followed Innes into the office and took a seat. "I've got the medical reports you asked for." He had to hide a smile at that. Mike had cleared him to return to work, though he knew it was likely the Police doctor would also have to examine him. After a careful discussion with him, and Blair, they had concocted a story that would explain his previous problems. "They found I had an allergy to some African spices that Blair was using in his cooking. It caused a kind of hallucinogenic reaction that made my senses go overboard."

Innes' eyebrows nearly climbed into his receding hairline. "Spices? What the hell kind of spices were they?"

"My doctor had them checked out. They're clean. It was just some kind of atypical reaction that I had." Jim shrugged. "They didn't affect Blair at all, or anybody else; just me. That's why it took so long to figure out."

"Hmm." Innes looked bemused. "Well, I'm glad to see you looking well again, but I'm afraid you're giving me a bit of a problem here, Jim."

"How's that, Sir?" Jim kept his voice calm with an effort. He'd had a feeling things weren't right.

"Well..." Innes rubbed his forehead wearily. "After you went on leave, we had a few problems. Whittaker transferred out and Torvald broke his arm. I needed replacements, so I brought in some new blood. They've worked out well. Now, of course, I don't have the headcount to take you back. To be honest, I didn't expect to see you back here again."

Jim's fingers clenched on the chair arm. "So I'm out of a job?"

"You're still a cop, Jim. There's just no position in Vice right now." Innes glanced towards the door and Jim saw a tall dark figure through the frosted glass, hand lifted to knock. "Simon, come in, will you?"

Jim rose as the other man came in. He recognised him as a captain, newly promoted, he thought, but didn't know what department he was in.

"Simon, this is Jim Ellison. Jim, Captain Simon Banks. He heads Major Crimes." Innes waited for the two to shake hands. "Simon has an opening for a detective. I told him about your situation."

Jim smiled politely, aware of Bank's critical gaze on him. "Pleasure to meet you."

"Right." Banks' voice was abrupt. "Ben's told me some good things about you. You were in the Army before you became a cop?"

"Army Rangers, Sir. I resigned my commission after returning from an extended mission in Peru." Jim eased back into the chair as Banks hitched his butt onto the corner of Innes' desk. Banks pulled a large cigar out of his pocket and put it in his mouth but didn't light it, for which Jim was profoundly grateful. He wasn't entirely sure that his senses would hold up under that assault. "I grew up in Cascade; my father and brother still live here. I decided it was time to come home."

"I've had a look at your record. It's impressive, all right, but we do things differently in Major Crimes." Banks took the cigar out of his mouth and stared at Jim sternly. "You'll need to change a few things. Lose the earring, for a start."

Jim opened his mouth to argue and thought better of it. He turned the movement into a smile. "Does that mean I have a job?"

"Starting Monday. I'll partner you with Jack Prendergast. He'll show you how we operate." Banks straightened, nodded to Innes and left without saying goodbye.

"That's great, Jim." Innes smiled broadly. "He must like you."

It wasn't the impression he'd got. Jim looked at Innes curiously. "What's he like with people he doesn't like?"

Blair, predictably, was all enthusiasm for the new arrangements. "If you've got a partner, maybe I can give him a few hints on how to help you out there, Jim."

"Maybe. I'll wait and see what I think of him first." Inevitably, Jim found himself responding to Blair's excitement and had to firmly repress the impulse. Trust wasn't exactly something that came easy to him. "There's something else. You may not like it, Chief."

'Not liking' was a gross understatement of the way Jim felt about it, but he wasn't going to scare the kid by letting it show. "Now that I'm back to normal, the DA's going to want to call me as a witness in de Silva's trial. He also wants to subpoena you."

It didn't take Sentinel skills to see that Blair's eyes had widened noticeably, and his pupils were dilating. Jim raised his hearing a notch or two and caught the increased rate of Blair's heartbeat. He didn't like spying on Blair this way, but he wanted to be sure he knew exactly how Blair felt about this.

"Well, uh..." Blair swallowed and smiled nervously. "That can't be too bad, can it? I mean, he'll go down, won't he?"

"The drugs charges look pretty solid, but the DA's office wants to get him on conspiracy to murder and interfering with a criminal investigation. You're the star witness for that." Jim didn't add, but could have, that he'd be more than happy to forget the whole thing. "There's just one problem, Chief. The defence attorney is going to do his best to discredit you and that means..."

"I get it." Blair turned away, hugging himself. "What if I don't want to do it?"

"Then nothing happens. I said I'd ask you, that's all." He'd made sure of that by threatening to force them into declaring him a hostile witness. That would have gone over real well with a jury.

"Man, he was going to kill you. And he tried to make me a part of it." Blair turned back to face him. His lips pressed firmly together for a moment and his eyes hardened. "I'm not gonna let him get away with it."

"Blair, think about this." Jim went over to Blair and squeezed his shoulder gently. "If you go in the witness box, your life becomes public record. They'll dredge up every sordid detail they can find and throw it at you. It's a high profile case; people at Ranier are bound to find out about it."

"I'm gonna do it, Jim." Blair shivered under his touch, but his eyes never wavered.

Jim pulled him into a hug. "Then I'm right behind you. The DA wants to meet you first. You're going to have to tell him anything he wants to know. We can't afford any surprises on the witness stand. You understand that, Chief?" Blair nodded against his chest. "If you want out at any stage, just say the word. Nothing's set in stone until you're in that box facing the court."

By the end of his first week back at work, Jim had reluctantly decided to tell Jack Prendergast about his heightened senses. He would have preferred to put the decision off a little longer, but already he'd come close to zoning twice under the pressure of investigating a case. After discussing it with Blair, they decided to invite Jack over to the loft for dinner.

It was obvious that Jack had heard about Blair and was wildly curious about the relationship between them. Jim was well aware that half the Force knew about Blair's background on the street, and he'd probably heard plenty of rumours about the two of them. He was visibly reassured by Blair's 'eager student' act and the careful lack of any physical contact between the two of them. Jim grinned when Blair found an excuse to drag Jack into his room where he could see the single bed, the laundry-strewn floor, and the desk piled high with papers. It was an obviously lived in room and when he came out again it seemed like Jack had accepted that they were no more than the roommates they claimed to be.

Over dinner, Jim gradually led the conversation to Blair's studies and from there to his discovery of Jim's abilities. At that point Blair cut in, eagerly describing the experiments they'd done, and what Jim was now capable of. Jack's eyes grew wider at first, then narrowed suspiciously. Jim decided it was time to cut in.

"Whoa there, Chief. I think we're getting into information overload here." He leaned back in his chair and grinned at Jack. "The kid gets carried away sometimes."

'The kid' drew breath to argue, but Jack got in first. "Okay, you had me going for a while, guys, but I think you lost me about the point where Jim tracked that girl by her scent."

Jim exchanged a quick glance with Blair. "Want a demonstration, Jack?"


"Man, this is going to be awesome!" Blair was practically vibrating with energy. "You're not gonna believe this."

Jack laughed genially. "I already don't believe it."

That was his cue. Jim closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, filtering out the scents of dinner and Blair and his own body until only Jack's remained. He smiled. "You used pine scented soap this morning. And you chew cinnamon flavoured gum." Another quick breath confirmed it and told him something else. "You've given up smoking recently. The gum's a nicotine based one."

"How the hell did you know that?" Jack stared at Jim, still obviously not willing to believe him. "This is a set up, right?"

"It's all above board, Jack. I can smell it on your breath. And..." he frowned and sniffed again, then his eyes found the last piece of the puzzle. "I thought I could smell it... you've been seeing a woman who dyes her hair blonde." He reached over and lifted a short length of hair from just under the collar of Jack's shirt. "I can smell the chemicals she used."

Jack was good, Jim had to admit - he recovered his composure quickly. "Why are you telling me all this?"

"There's a down side." Jim shrugged. "I'm still learning how to use these abilities. If I'm not careful I can zone out, or get a sensory spike that can distract me. If it happens at the wrong time it could be dangerous."

"He needs someone who can look out for him, Jack." Blair cut in, leaning forward. "I can't ride along with him, but I can show you what to do if it happens during an investigation."

"Otherwise I'll just have to try to dampen down my senses while I'm working. But I'd rather use them. You've seen what I can do now."

"Yeah, and this is only the beginning. Man, there's no telling what Jim may be able to do, once he's got a handle on this. It's only been a few weeks, and already he's done more than either of us could have hoped for."

"Okay, okay..." Jack held up his hands in surrender. "You've convinced me. Does Simon know about this?"

Jim shook his head. "No offence, Jack, but we wouldn't have told you about it, if it hadn't been necessary. I don't want to be regarded as a freak. I just want to do my job the best I can."

"I think you should tell him. He's a sarcastic, moody son of a bitch, but he stands behind his men one hundred percent. Believe me, you want to get him on your side."

"I'm not ruling it out, Jack, but I want to get to know him a bit better before I tell him something like this." Jim glanced over at Blair. "This could be hot stuff, especially with the de Silva trial coming up. I want to go carefully."

Jim pulled the truck over to the curb and left the engine running. They were at the back of the Courthouse and, as yet, none of the television crews had arrived. He looked at Blair who was quieter than usual, and resisted the urge to take off again and hide Blair somewhere until the trial was over.

He'd given evidence himself yesterday and it had been a gruelling experience; Blair was likely to face worse. He was both the prosecution's best chance of getting de Silva on the conspiracy charge, and their weakest link. The defence cross examination would be savage. "It's not too late to change your mind."

As Jim watched a look of indecision flickered over Blair's face. Then his expression visibly hardened and Blair shook his head. "No. I'm gonna do it."

"Okay. Well, I'll be sitting in the back of the court. Just remember what we talked about with the DA, and don't let the defence lawyers rattle you." He inspected Blair's appearance with a tiny smile. "Use that wronged innocence act of yours, just don't overdo it. Watch your language too. He'll try to make you come out with something that'll shock the jury; turn them against you."

"I know." Blair smiled nervously.

They'd been over it all a dozen times, Jim knew. It was just his own nervousness showing. Blair looked perfect. His hair was neatly tied back and he was wearing a conservative pair of dark pants with a light blue shirt and one of Jim's few ties. Instead of a jacket, he wore a light grey sweater. He'd taken off his earrings and even the nipple ring. It all said 'nice young man' - an image that was going to be shattered as soon as Blair had to explain about his past. But Jim knew as well as anyone the importance of a good first impression; it ought to incline the jury to look at him more sympathetically, and that was all they could hope for. Jim sighed. "Let's go."

" help me God." Blair handed the Bible to the clerk and sat down. The DA's assistant had advised him to swear on the Bible if he had no objections, it he had no problem with doing that. Anything to make a good impression on the jury.

The prosecutor stood and walked towards him, smiling a little. Still, Blair knew what to expect, and swallowed nervously. "Mr Sandburg. Blair. Your occupation is given as student, is that correct?"

"Yes, sir." Stick to the point and don't try to explain anything if you don't have to, they'd told him.

"And this is your first semester at Ranier University."

"That's right." Blair met the lawyer's eyes and smiled a little. They'd rehearsed all this, but it still gave him a tiny thrill of pride to say it.

He got a nod of approval in return. "How old are you Blair?"

"Eighteen." He could feel his heartbeat starting to speed up and tried to control it. There was still a very long way to go.

"When did you graduate high school, Blair?" The lawyer leaned almost casually against the front of the witness box.

At that point the judge leaned forward. "Mr Schillinger, what is the purpose of this questioning?"

"Your Honor, the defence is certainly going to raise the issue of the witness' credibility. I simply wish to allow the jury to hear this information from both sides." He waited for the judge's nod before turning back to Blair. "You can answer the question now."

"I didn't graduate, exactly." Blair hesitated, fumbling a little for the words after the judge's interruption. He'd have to be prepared for that to happen again, he supposed. "I left home before graduation. That was three years ago."

"So you were fifteen." At Blair's nod, Schillinger continued. "When you say you left home, Blair, don't you mean that you ran away?"

"Yes, sir." Blair swallowed and glanced across at the jury. A ripple of sound had run around the court at his confirmation, but the jury members seemed impassive enough. "I ran away."

"You ran away from home at the age of fifteen." A small, dramatic pause. "And how did you support yourself for the last three years?"

"Uh... I worked the streets." It was starting in earnest now. People were whispering to each other and some of the jury had got it; others seemed not to realise. Blair tried to still the trembling in his hands.

Schillinger's voice was gentle. "Would you explain for the jury what that entailed please, Blair."

"I had sex with men. For money." Another murmur, louder this time. The older members of the jury were looking shocked.

"At the age of fifteen." Again, Blair made no response, as he'd been coached. Schillinger sighed. "That must have been a difficult thing for you to do."

Blair bit his lip, and nodded. "I needed food, a place to stay."

"Yes, of course. And you needed something else too, didn't you Blair?" His voice was quietly sympathetic.

"I needed drugs. Heroin."

This time there were exclamations from the watchers in the courtroom; loud enough for the judge to bang his gavel and request silence.

"So you are a prostitute and a drug user." Schillinger's eyes gave Blair the signal.

"No, sir. I don't do that any more." Blair had to swallow again. "I'm a full time student and I have a job at the university, and grants that pay for my tuition."

"And the drugs?"

"I've been clean for five months, sir."

"That's quite a turnaround, Blair." Schillinger's voice was warm with approval. "You can understand that the jury might have doubts about your reliability."

"Yes, sir. I understand that." He looked towards the jury as he'd been told to do and spoke directly to them. "I can't change what happened in the past. I can only say what I saw and heard, and they can decide if they believe me."

"Well said." Schillinger smiled openly. "Now, before His Honor decides to hurry us along, I'd like you to tell me how you came to know the accused."

Blair looked at de Silva, sitting impassively behind the defence attorney's table. "I used to pass messages for his top guy, Diego Gonzales. I never met Mr de Silva until last July..."

"Thank you, Blair." Schillinger gave him a warm smile before he turned to the judge. "Your Honor, I have no further questions at this time."

The session of questions and answers, of interruptions and objections by de Silva's lawyers had taken a long time, and had seriously tried Blair's ability to give his evidence in a quiet, calm manner. But his momentary relief was over all too soon. The defence attorney was heading in his direction, and the expression on his face told Blair he was going to go straight for the jugular.

"Mr Sandburg, by your own admission you are a drug user and a prostitute." His tone was strident, obviously he was going to try to bully Blair into submission.

Before he could continue, and just as Schillinger rose to object, Blair interrupted. "No, sir. I am not. Not any more."

The lawyer smirked. "Of course. I forgot... you're a reformed drug user and prostitute. My apologies."

"Apology accepted." Blair somehow managed to smile politely. Someone in the courtroom sniggered. "Thank you."

His adversary's expression hardened. "Do you really expect us to believe that?"

If it was meant to be a rhetorical question, Blair had no intention of leaving it that way. "No. I expect you to try to make me look as bad as possible, and the jury to decide for themselves what's true and what isn't."

If looks could kill, Blair would have died right then. He only wished the members of the jury could see the expression on this man's face. He knew he'd scored a few easy points because the smug bastard had underestimated him, but now that was over. Something told Blair that this was going to get very nasty.

"How well do you know Detective James Ellison?"

"He's a friend. I live in his apartment." Blair watched cautiously for any sign that his questioner knew anything concrete about him and Jim. This was something they hadn't even discussed with the DA's people. Jim had simply told him not to lie; that no matter how bad it might seem, it would be worse to be caught in a lie than to admit they'd had sex in the past. "He helped me get off the heroin, and he encouraged me to sit the ACTs and apply for college."

The response came hard and fast. "Do you have a sexual relationship with Detective Ellison?"

Schillinger was on his feet objecting and there was a small outburst of voices from the onlookers. Judge Chang banged his gavel loudly. Again, Blair spoke above the noise. "I am not having sex with Jim. We're roommates. That's all."

He looked across the courtroom and found Jim, as he had several times during his questioning by Schillinger. Jim gave him a small nod of approval. It wasn't a lie, after all. It had been months since they'd had sex and both question and answer had been phrased in the present tense.

"I'll leave it to the jury to decide why a man of Det. Ellison's experience would take an interest in a pretty boy who prostitutes himself for a living." The sneer in the lawyer's voice made his opinion quite clear. Schillinger was already objecting again. "I withdraw the remark, Your Honor.

The defence's questioning continued along the same aggressive lines for what seemed like an eternity. If he'd thought Schillinger's questioning had been difficult, there was nothing that could have prepared him for the sheer malevolence of the cross-examination. Only the occasional glance at Jim kept Blair from giving way. That and his determination that nothing he did would be the cause of allowing de Silva get away with what he'd done to both of them.

When the last question had been asked, and answered, Blair slumped back in his chair, longing for the moment when he'd be released. Schillinger would have another chance to question him, he knew. He just hoped it wouldn't be as long, or as intense, as the first round.

"Blair, thank you for your co-operation. I know this has been difficult for you." He smiled reassuringly and Blair managed to return it weakly. "I'd like to clarify a few things. You say that you've been drug free for five months. Can you prove that?"

"Yes." It was an easy question and Blair relaxed a little. "I have a drug test every week. Jim made it a condition of him helping me."

"So your doctor could testify, if necessary, to that effect."

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you." Schillinger turned to face the jury while he continued. "My colleague has questioned your motives in giving evidence in this case. I'd like you to tell the jury, if you please, why you agreed to testify."

They'd practised this too, but after the last two hours, he had no need to feign the anger in his voice. "Jim Ellison saved my life. He found me after I got beaten up and he looked after me while I went through withdrawal. He helped me get into college. Mr de Silva thought he could frighten me into betraying the only friend I have. I want him to pay for what he did."

As soon as Blair was released from the witness box Jim slipped out of his seat and through the wood panelled doors into the hallway. There were people wandering around, others moving more purposefully, but certainly no privacy. When Blair came out, Jim took his arm and led him to another door, which opened into an office. He'd already scouted that out in advance.

Blair was looking completely shell shocked, and went into Jim's arms without a murmur of protest. Once there, he seemed disinclined to move at all, other than to breathe raggedly. Jim stroked his back slowly and waited until Blair raised his head with a little shudder.

"Come on, Chief. Time to go home." It drew a tiny smile out of Blair, and that was good enough for the moment. "There'll be reporters outside, Blair. Just keep your head down and let me do any talking that's necessary, okay?"

"Okay." Blair's voice surprised both of them with its hoarseness.

He kept Blair close as they walked out of the main doors. It was worse even than he'd expected. The number of reporters had grown and suddenly there were flashes going off and microphones being thrust into their faces as the reporters shouted questions and scrambled to get closer to them. It seemed like Blair was the sensation of the trial so far, and everybody wanted a piece of him. Stopping to answer questions would be like throwing the both of them to the wolves, so Jim put his head down and just kept going.

Jim was painfully aware of how Blair shrank against him, and he slid an arm across the boy's back and hurried them through the gauntlet of pushing reporters. It seemed impossible that they'd ever get away, especially since Blair was operating entirely on auto pilot, but finally they reached the truck and Jim hustled Blair into the passenger seat then made his way to the driver's side.

Cameras were still flashing as they drove off, with Blair remaining silent beside him, staring down at his knees in apparent fascination. Jim didn't attempt to get though to him. It would probably be better to wait until they were safely home. Then, if Blair was going to fall apart he could do it in privacy and comfort.

Jim didn't feel like he'd taken a breath until he walked through the door of the loft. Blair hadn't said a word to him, but now he moved away and headed for his room.

"Blair? You okay, buddy?"

"I'm gonna get changed." Blair didn't so much as pause. The door closed behind him with a quiet click.

This was even worse than after the encounter with de Silva. Jim wandered restlessly around the room, turned on the TV and debated making coffee. It was a pleasant surprise when Blair came out of his room after only a few minutes.

He'd changed completely. His hair was loose and he was wearing his most worn pair of jeans and the earth toned sweater that he liked so much. It was normal Blair - except for the dazed, hurt look in his eyes.

"You want to watch a movie, or sports, Chief?"

Blair shrugged. "I don't care. Aren't you going back to work?"

"I've got the rest of the day off." Jim forced a grin. "I'm all yours, kid."

"Okay. What's on?" He sounded completely apathetic, but walked over to the couch and sat beside Jim.

Jim flipped through a few channels, finding nothing interesting, but he didn't get the feeling that Blair was paying much attention anyway. He chose a channel at random and lifted an arm to lay across Blair's shoulders. After a tiny hesitation, Blair relaxed a little against his side.

"I thought maybe we could get takeout later." Jim looked down at Blair's bent head and couldn't resist playing with a long curly strand of hair. Blair didn't even seem to notice. "What do you think, buddy? Chinese? Thai? Italian?"

He knew Blair wasn't really listening, but he hoped that the sound of his voice was helping. It certainly seemed to, as Blair grew heavier and heavier, slumped against him. Eventually it became pointless to stay sitting so awkwardly and Jim twisted around lifting his legs onto the couch and pulling Blair on top of him so they were both lying down. Then he just held on, stoking Blair's back and waiting.

The top of Blair's head was even with his chin, and his face was buried against Jim's throat. He lay so still that it was unnerving; Jim had to reassure himself by cranking up his hearing and listening for Blair's heartbeat. Slowly the slim body began to relax against him as Jim stroked up and down Blair's back. He felt a tiny shiver and Blair squirmed against him, bringing up his hand to rest on Jim's shoulder and nuzzling his throat.

He thought nothing of it, at first, but the brushing movements of Blair's fingers and the soft, moist caress of lips against his throat sent a wash of pleasure through his body that brought Jim suddenly alert. "Blair? You with me, buddy?"

Blair didn't answer but the nuzzling continued and Blair's fingers slipped inside the open collar of Jim's shirt. They glided so lightly over his skin, moving with infinite delicacy downwards, unable to reach his nipple without unbuttoning more of his shirt, but not needing to. Jim's body ached, waiting for a touch there that never came.

Jim knew he had to stop Blair while he still could. He pulled Blair's hand out of his shirt and pushed at his shoulder. "Blair, cut it out!"

He spoke more sharply than he'd intended and Blair tensed up immediately. Jim braced himself for either petulant irritation, or the full works - pouting, trembling lips, pathetic face, and wide, mournful blue eyes. Neither materialised. Instead Blair's face showed an exhausted neediness that shredded Jim's defences into so much confetti.

When Blair spoke his voice was barely audible. "Jim, please..." The tremor in his voice was heartrending. "You wanted me to have a choice. Please don't take it away from me."

He didn't stand a chance against that. "God... you don't fight fair, do you?"

"I didn't..." Blair's face was a study of hurt confusion. "Jim I didn't mean..."

"I know. Blair, I'm sorry." Jim lifted his hand to cup Blair's cheek, and his thumb brushed lightly over Blair's full lower lip. "Come here."

With a little sigh, he raised his head just enough to kiss Blair's parted lips. They touched so lightly it could have been a dream, except that no dream had ever made Jim feel like this. It wasn't even particularly sexual, just a slow melting together, a giving and receiving of comfort for both of them.

All Jim's senses filled with Blair; far more intensely than he'd ever experienced before. He slid one hand into the sleek stands of hair and the other down the long curve of Blair's spine, using both to draw Blair closer. His tongue stroked across Blair's lips, parting them and caressing its way into the warm depths of his mouth. Blair moaned softly, returning each stroke of Jim's tongue with one of his own. For long minutes that was all either of them needed.

When the urge to touch Blair's skin became an almost unbearable torture, Jim moved his hand down and then up again, under the sweater. They both groaned as his searching fingers slipped over the waist of Blair's jeans and onto the smooth skin. Blair shuddered and moaned again, lowering his head to rest against Jim's shoulder.

"Blair... oh God..." Jim brushed the thick curls away from Blair's neck and kissed him there, then nibbled delicately at his earlobe. He was starting to feel the strain of holding back, but this was so incredibly wonderful that he didn't want it to end. "Are you okay, kiddo?"

The only answer was another moan and a fully body squirm that rubbed Blair's groin against Jim's thigh and left no real doubt about how he felt. With a tiny grin Jim started to slide the sweater up Blair's body, his hands brushing lightly against Blair's skin as they went.

"Ohhh man...." Blair got his hands down on the couch on either side of Jim's throat and pushed himself up so the sweater could come off over his head, then stayed there, looking down at Jim.

Jim eyed the bared expanse of skin appreciatively. Blair hadn't put his nipple ring back in yet, but there were compensations... "So this is the Chest Hair."

"Yeah. I stopped shaving it a while back." Blair smiled a little shyly. "You like it?"

It was only a tiny, sparse patch, nestled in the hollow of Blair's breastbone, though no doubt it would spread as he got older. Jim rubbed his cheek against it, smiling. The hairs were soft, with only a hint of wiriness. "Yeah. I do."

He kissed the spot with gentle solemnity, then the nipples on either side as Blair's right hand got busy with the buttons on his shirt. Soon Blair was lying sprawled on top of him again, only this time they were skin to skin. "You feel so good, Chief."

"So do you." Blair ground his hips against Jim's provocatively. "So good..."

Jim gasped and his hips surged upwards. It was becoming more and more difficult to control his desire. He wanted everything to be perfect for this one time, but perfection was slipping from his grasp with every passing moment.

"Oh God, Jim. I need this." Blair's lips closed around his nipple and Jim cried out, his senses going haywire for a moment before he could dial them down again.

His hands moved down to Blair's hips, encouraging the slow, steady rocking movement into something wilder, more demanding. If he wasn't careful, they were both going to come like this.

The same thought must have occurred to Blair, because he pushed himself up again, holding himself at arm's length above Jim. Only their groins touched. "C'mon man, unzip me, willya?"

It was an excellent idea but the words barely penetrated Jim's fogged brain. He forced uncoordinated fingers to do his bidding and was rewarded with the sight of Blair's cock, flushed and wet, tumbling impatiently from the folds of cloth. His fingers reached eagerly to touch, then wrap around the thick shaft.

"Oh! Oh yeah!" Blair thrust into his grip, head thrown back in ecstasy. "God, yes..."

Nothing existed for Jim outside of that contact of cock against his palm, not even his own arousal. He was in danger of zoning completely and simply didn't care. It was Blair who brought him back, withdrawing from the circling fingers and calling out to him sharply.

"Jim, don't lose it, okay?" Blair grinned shakily. "This works better with two of us."

To prove his point, as if he needed to, Blair sat back on his heels and reached for Jim's zipper. He tugged it down impatiently and pushed the cloth aside, releasing Jim's cock from his shorts. He bent down to kiss and lick at the hot skin as Jim moaned helplessly.

"Come here." Jim gasped out the request, reaching for Blair and pulling him back on top of him. His hands found Blair's hips and curved themselves over slim buttocks, but he couldn't keep them still - they wandered restlessly over every inch of bare skin he could find.

With a strangled groan, Blair began to thrust against him and his cock slid almost frictionlessly against skin slick with pre-cum. Jim wrapped his legs around Blair's and thrust back in frantic counterpoint. Neither of them could last long at this rate, but Jim was beyond caring. He felt the hot splash of Blair's climax on his belly, heard the howl of pleasure, with a dim sense of relief, and surrendered to his own long delayed orgasm.

Man, that had been wild... Blair still lay with his head on Jim's chest, too weak to even consider moving for a while. He could smell the sharp tang of Jim-sweat and the earthier scent of Jim-spunk mixed with his own. It had been a long time since he'd smelt that. He smiled and snuggled closer, poking his nose into the hollow at the base of Jim's throat where he could surround himself with Jim and hide away from everything that could possibly hurt him.

Jim grunted softly and began to stroke his back again. Oh yeah... that felt so good. He kissed the rapidly beating pulse in Jim's throat, working his way upwards to the line of Jim's jaw, the corner of his mouth. Jim's eyes were closed and he was smiling just a little as Blair's lips brushed over his, gradually deepening the kiss into something more sensual.

Blair could already feel the tingling anticipation of more sex, even though his body was nowhere near ready for it. He moved his hips lazily, feeling the slippery slide of skin against skin and the first faint stirring of Jim's cock. Suddenly Jim's hands were on his shoulders, pushing him away, holding him at arm's length.

It shattered his mood completely. Blair dragged some of the hair out of his eyes and stared down at Jim's troubled face. "Jim? You okay?"

"Sorry, Chief. We can't do this again." Jim's voice had that determined tone that Blair had learned meant business. "I should have told you before we..."

"Oh man, what is the matter with you?" Anger gave Blair the rush he needed to get his legs working again. He tumbled off Jim's body to the floor and went to lie on the loveseat with his feet propped defiantly on the armrest. "Have you got some kind of rule against having fun?"

From where he was he could see Jim's body all too clearly - shirt open, pants pushed down off his hips - and it was more than he needed right now. Blair closed his eyes and turned his head away, aware that Jim had pretty much the same view of him. Well, if Jim didn't like it, he didn't have to look.

He heard Jim sigh and the creaking of the couch, then his footsteps moving away. Blair's eyes flew open, but Jim was just heading for the bathroom. Probably to take a shower and get the smell of sex, and Blair, off him. It was a miserable thought and Blair wallowed in it, allowing it to feed his anger.

But, almost immediately, the footsteps returned. Blair didn't move, didn't open his eyes, even when a warm damp cloth was stroked gently across his belly, cleaning away the spunk. His feet were lifted and pushed aside and Jim's weight came down on the end of the loveseat.

"Blair..." his voice sounded weary and depressed. "Please try to understand. I just can't do this."

It was the tone, rather than the words that got through to him. Blair opened his eyes and sat up. With just a quick glance in Jim's direction he set about pulling his jeans and shorts up and tucking himself away. "Why Jim? I know you like it."

"Yes, I do." Jim smiled faintly but his eyes were miserable. "Blair it won't work. You don't love me, and I won't share you with other men."

"Oh." For a moment Blair was at a loss for words. Then he shrugged, trying to look casual, not succeeding very well, he suspected. "Jim, it's just a word to me. I won't lie to you, but it just... I don't know what it means when someone says that."

"I know, kid. It's okay, you don't have to pretend to be something you're not." Jim reached out and pulled him into a loose embrace.

He still felt shaken, uncertain how to deal with this, but Blair attempted a smile, looking up at Jim. "About the other thing... you don't have to worry about that. I guess one out of two isn't so bad, is it?"

"What do you mean, Chief?" Jim frowned and released him.

Maybe it was better that way. Blair suspected Jim wasn't any more in control of his emotions than he was. "I kinda felt uncomfortable about that... the other guys. I mean, once you got a handle on the Sentinel thing I knew you could smell them on me. And I knew that it was driving you crazy, so... so, I kinda... stopped." He risked a glance at Jim's face. "I haven't been with another guy in over a month. Must be some kind of a record, huh?"

"For you maybe." Jim sounded distracted. "I hate to break it to you, Chief, but the first thing I did when I got control of my senses was to make sure I couldn't smell other guys on you. So you don't need to worry about that."

Now that really sucked. He ought to be pleased that he didn't need to worry about Jim knowing, but he was just really pissed. He shrugged. "I dunno, man... I mean... I'd still know I was doing it. And I'd know that if you found out about it, it would hurt you."

"I'll just make sure I don't find out." Jim's face was a study in conflict. It must be driving him nuts to argue like this.

"But I'd know." Blair sighed heavily "I'd feel bad about it, you know?"

Jim was looking at him strangely. "Let me get this right... you're not going to have sex with anyone else because if I found out it would upset me. And you're going to do it even though you know I won't find out?"

Put that way, he guessed it sounded strange. And how the hell was he going to live like this indefinitely? What little he knew about Sentinels and Guides told him this weird relationship wasn't going to be something that ended any time soon. God, just the thought that he and Jim might be together for years, maybe forever, was enough to scare him half to death. "It really bites, doesn't it?"

"Actually, it sounds to me like a pretty good working definition of love." Jim smiled tentatively.

"Well, if it means not having any sex, then love sucks big time." Blair paused mid-grumble as it struck him what Jim meant. "You think I love you?"

"Does that bother you?" Jim's smile widened a little. His eyes were laughing.

Oh boy... Blair grinned "Not if it means we get to have sex."

"We get to have sex. All the sex you want." Jim grabbed him and kissed him hard.

Without hesitation Blair wrapped himself around Jim's solid body and kissed back with everything he had in him. He wasn't sure he wanted to think too much about what Jim had said - too many men had used that word before they'd gone on to... but he didn't want to think about that either; and he didn't need to with Jim to distract him.

Without breaking off the kiss, Blair managed to twist his body and scramble across Jim's legs so he was kneeling, straddling Jim's thighs. That made it much easier and even put his head a little higher than Jim's so that he had to lean down. Jim laughed against his lips, sending a low-level vibration through his body. It went, as most good things did, straight to his groin and Blair rubbed himself against Jim's body, just to let him know that he was ready whenever Jim was.

Jim pulled back and looked up into his face with a little grin. "This would be easier, and a lot more comfortable, if we took it upstairs."

"I am so all over that." Blair slid backwards off the couch and reached out a hand to pull Jim to his feet. "Race you."

He took off up the stairs, knowing that Jim was following at a walking pace, but that was just fine. It only took moments to wriggle out of his jeans and shorts and pose himself seductively on the bed. A few seconds later Jim appeared at the top of the stairs. He paused to survey Blair appreciatively. "Have you been practising that?"

Blair didn't answer, merely watching Jim from under his lashes as he came closer to the bed and began to undress. It was the first time he'd had a chance to get a really good look at Jim's body since Jim had kicked him out of his bed the last time. He'd forgotten just how good Jim looked. For an old guy, he thought with slightly malicious amusement. He'd obviously recovered from the illness brought on by his heightened senses, and was as buffed and muscular as he ever had been. His cock was lifting lazily, not quite ready for another round, but getting there. Blair smiled and made room as Jim slid onto the bed.

For a moment Jim just lay there, looking at him. It was a bit unnerving, actually, the way Jim's attention was so completely focused on him, and Blair put an end to it by moving into his arms and kissing him. The soft, sweet touch of Jim's lips, the familiar taste of his mouth was infinitely reassuring and Blair relaxed against him with a sigh. It was so good to be back here, in Jim's arms; like coming home. Except that Blair had never really had a home to come back to - his life with Naomi had been a series of changing houses, changing cities, and changing boyfriends.

"Jim?" Blair disengaged for a moment and drew back his head to look at him. "This is... it's real isn't it?" He laughed self-consciously. "It almost feels like a dream. Maybe you should pinch me."

Jim smiled lazily and lifted a hand to touch his cheek "I can think of better ways to prove you're awake."

Before Blair had a chance to ask, Jim's mouth closed over his again, and his hands brushed over Blair's chest, teasing his nipples and ruffling his chest hair. A gentle nip on his throat stung just enough to prove the point, then Jim licked the spot soothingly. "Convinced?"

"Mmn." Blair released a huge sigh. "If I say no will you do it again?"

"I'll do it again anyway." Jim's quiet laughter rumbled against his chest. "Or this..." and his hand strayed down Blair's side, "...or this..." his tongue traced the curves of Blair's ear. "God, you feel so good."

It was sheer, delicious torture. Jim's hands, his mouth seemed to be everywhere, and each brief, tantalising touch left Blair more aroused than the last. Just the hint of warmth near his skin had Blair arching his body blindly, in search of just one more touch, one more taste of delight. He could hear Jim's voice, so quiet that he couldn't make out the words, only the tone - gentle, caressing, just like his hands. Blair closed his eyes and abandoned himself to the pleasure welling up inside him.

Soon, every part of his body ached. In the tiny hesitation between one touch and another, Blair writhed, incapable of remaining still for even a second, and his breath came in shallow panting gasps. As used as he was to indulging Jim's pleasure in foreplay, Blair had never experienced anything like this and beneath the soaring desire, he felt a tinge of panic.

But before he could do anything - push Jim away, or drag him closer - Jim's breath flowed softly over his cock, and Blair let out a low sobbing moan. Shudders ran through him as Jim took Blair's cock into his mouth and sucked, slow and strong, like the pull of some inexorable tide. Blair's hips surged up, defying the shaking muscles in his back and thighs, and his hands clutched at the bedding in a desperate attempt to keep his balance.

He was drowning in sensation, deafened by the pounding in his ears, blinded by eyelids too heavy for him to raise. Pleasure gave way to near panic, and still he couldn't stop responding. Blair was beginning to think he might just suffocate from his inability to drag enough air into his lungs, when Jim suddenly released him.

For a moment he was lost. Then Jim was lying beside him and taking him into his arms, holding him, soothing his fear. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?"

Even the endearment struck terror into him. He shuddered and sobbed, trying to catch his breath and feeling the tears leaking out from under his closed eyelids.

"Blair? Blair!" Jim's voice sounded increasingly worried. "What is it?"

Mustn't upset Jim. Mustn't cause trouble. Blair forced his eyes to open at last, though his vision was blurred. "What are you doing to me?"

"What am I... " Jim looked and sounded thoroughly rattled. He released Blair and pushed himself up on one elbow to look down at him. "Blair, are you all right?"

"I can't..." Blair swallowed another surge of fear. Mustn't say no. Except that this was Jim, and Jim, surely, would allow him that. "I can't do it, Jim. I can't feel those things."

All of Jim's breath seemed to escape his lungs in a huge sigh. He sank down, pulling Blair into his arms again. When Blair tensed, Jim relaxed his hold a little, but didn't release him. "Shh... just lie here for a while. We'll talk later."

Long minutes passed while Blair's heartbeat returned to normal and the urge to run and hide gradually faded. Jim was stroking his hair slowly, playing with the long strands and ignoring the wetness pooling on his shoulder beneath Blair's cheek.

"I'm sorry." He pulled free of Jim's arms and lay, miserable and alone on the edge of the bed, not quite able to leave completely, but wishing he could.

Jim didn't move, except to follow Blair's movements with his eyes. "What are you sorry about, Chief?"

Blair blinked and swallowed. "For screwing up. I didn't mean... I freaked out." His voice broke and he gave up any hope of ever explaining something he didn't really understand himself.

"Why?" Jim reached out to touch his cheek, then tenderly brushed a strand of hair away from his eyes. "What freaked you out, Blair?"

He shrugged. His mind was already trying to blank out what had happened.

"It isn't the end of the world you know." There was even a hint of amusement in Jim's voice. He smiled shakily at Blair. "It's been a hellish day for you. Why don't you just come here and relax for a while?"

"No man, I can't." But his body, treacherously, was already moving back to Jim, like iron drawn to a magnet. "God, I was so scared... I've never felt scared like that before." At least, not that he could remember; but there were so many things he'd chosen not to remember.

With Jim's arms holding him again, some of the hard lump in his chest began to dissolve. Jim's lips brushed against his temples, soft and utterly non-sexual. It took all his strength not to bury his face against Jim's shoulder and burst into tears. What the hell was the matter with him? All these feelings... and suddenly it all made sense.

"What is it, Blair?" Jim's head bent over his. "Tell me."

"I can't..." Blair caught his breath on another sob. "God, Jim, I can't feel those things when I have sex. The way you touched me... I have to be in control, man. I have to know what I'm doing, not... not be... helpless..." a tiny, fearful tremor ran through him at the thought of it.

Jim's arms tightened around him, strangely comforting. "I think I get it. You always had to be in control, for your own safety. Didn't you?"

"Yeah." Blair nodded and gulped back another sob. He hadn't expected Jim to understand that, not when he barely understood it himself.

"Well that's okay. We can deal with it, now we know." Jim's voice was completely matter of fact.

Blair wriggled a little so he could look up into Jim's face. "You're not mad at me?"

"If you think I'm going to throw you out of my bed, you're mistaken. I'm not going through that again." Jim smiled down at him wryly for a moment, then his face grew serious. "It was an instinctive reaction, Blair. I know a little bit about that. You learnt it, and you can unlearn it. And, in a way, it's encouraging."

"It is?" Reassured, Blair relaxed contentedly against Jim's side. If Jim didn't hate him for this, then anything was possible, he supposed. "How d'you get that, Jim?"

The hand that was resting on Jim's broad chest was gently lifted and long fingers twined with his. "It's got to mean more to you than just sex, if you react like that when we make love. Don't you think so?"

"I suppose that makes sense." Blair was surprised to find himself agreeing. Could he really be in love with Jim? All the evidence seemed to be mounting up against him, and somehow, he didn't seem to mind as much as he would have expected.

Blair considered their hands, still lightly clasped, lying on Jim's chest. How strange to hold hands with a man - but no stranger than other things Jim had wanted from him. Before Jim, he'd never kissed anyone sexually, never felt the heat of another man's body, or mouth, around his cock. Never shared a bed and done nothing more than sleep.

He wanted to sleep now, weighed down by exhaustion and reaction, but his body demanded release. He was still hard and aching, and Jim was obviously no better. Blair knew Jim well enough by now that he had no trouble believing that Jim would rather have blue balls for a month than ask for something that Blair was unwilling to give. So it was up to him to get this under way for both their sakes.

"Jim?" His heart started pounding. "Make love to me?"

For what seemed like an eternity, Jim didn't respond in any way. Then he sighed quietly. "Blair, don't you think you've had enough stress for one day?"

That thought had occurred to him very forcefully and he didn't pretend not to understand. "Now that I know what it is, I think I can handle it. I want to try."

Jim's hand stroked his back lightly. "All right... but if it starts to get too much for you..."

"I'll yell my head off. I promise, okay?" Blair grinned a little. "It'll be fine, Jim."

Jim rolled onto his side, still holding Blair close. His lips brushed across Blair's temple and his hands moved soothingly up and down Blair's spine, but between their bodies their cocks jostled eagerly. Blair's heartbeat increased, and he could tell by Jim's reaction that he knew, and was probably using Sentinel abilities to monitor his responses. He found that thought curiously arousing, and made a mental note to try some experiments - one day. Today Blair only wanted to sate the hunger he felt, without falling prey to the panic that had interrupted their last attempt.

He lifted his head and kissed Jim's lips, sliding his tongue between them and stroking slowly against supple muscle. Jim moaned sending warm, Jim-tasting air into Blair's mouth. So good... so damn good that it was hard to remember that he needed to move quickly. Get through this, and the next time would be easier. It was a lesson he'd learned young and under much less pleasant circumstances, but it still held true. God, he wanted Jim. Wanted him with every fibre of his being, so badly that it hurt; so badly it scared the hell out of him. But next time would be easier... if he could just do this now, without freaking out either himself or Jim.

"Jim? Oh man... please... fuck me. Please." Just saying the words sent a shiver of need through him, and he saw the hesitation in Jim's eyes. "It's okay, I just want you so bad."

Jim's hand stroked away a stray curl; the back of his fingers caressed Blair's cheek. "Are you sure about this, Blair?"

It occurred to Blair suddenly that he could seriously hurt Jim if he screwed up now. He swallowed and knew Jim saw it, but summoned up a smile as he rolled onto his back, drawing Jim with him. "You gonna make me beg for it?" When Jim didn't respond Blair sighed. "The longer I put it off the more it's gonna bug me, man. I want to do it now, then I don't have to worry about it again."

The corners of Jim's mouth curled up a little. "It's not the most romantic proposition I've ever had."

"I don't do romantic." Blair grinned, feeling suddenly two hundred percent better. Jim was lying practically on top of him, supporting his weight on both arms so that only their hips were touching. As Blair spoke, Jim lowered his head and kissed him deeply. His hips began to move in slow, easy strokes, rubbing his cock against Blair's. It felt in-fucking-credible. "Jii-iim..."

"Just checking." Jim's voice was more than a little breathless. He reached for the nightstand drawer, where the lube and condoms were stashed. At least, Blair hoped the big guy still had stuff stashed there.

It looked like they were in luck. Blair took the small packet from Jim's shaking fingers and ripped it open. It only took him a moment to roll the condom on, even though his own fingers were hardly steadier than Jim's were. A quick swipe of lube over Jim's cock completed the sketchy preparations and then Jim was easing carefully inside him.

Blair groaned softly as his body opened to Jim. What ought to be a simple, pleasant physical sensation was this time ripe with undercurrents of unfamiliar emotion and hidden meaning. It was disturbing, but not so much that Blair couldn't handle it, at least for the moment. He closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing evenly, calming himself before his emotions slipped loose from his control again.

Somehow he managed to get a handle on them and opened his eyes again. Jim had stilled his movements at the first sign of Blair's uncertainty and was waiting patiently. Blair stared up into his face and smiled. "It's okay. I'm okay."

Returning his smile, Jim began to move again with slow, deliberate thrusts, sliding deep enough to press against Blair's prostate before withdrawing with equal care. Each thrust must have been an agony of self-control, but Jim's concentration never faltered, and his eyes never wavered from Blair's face; nor could Blair tear his eyes away from Jim's. It almost felt as though his heart had begun to beat in time with the glide of Jim's cock.

He'd told Jim he didn't understand what love meant, but now he knew he'd been wrong. Love was the look on Jim's face as their bodies had joined. It was the way he moved inside Blair's body. It was the way every tender, delicate touch said, louder than words, that Blair was infinitely precious, to be protected no matter what the cost might be to Jim.

It was crazy, of course. Blair knew he was no fragile ornament, but he couldn't deny the truth of what he saw in Jim's face. He reached up and framed Jim's face with his hands, smiling tremulously as he drew Jim down to kiss him again. With Jim's body stretched full length along his own, the sensations were much more intense, and Blair moaned as his cock twitched, trapped between Jim's hard belly and his own. His hands flowed over Jim's broad shoulders and down his back to curve around the solid muscular butt and encourage Jim to thrust harder.

"Blair..." It was more a vibration against his throat than actual words.

His hips bucked upwards. "Don't stop... oh god, don't stop..." Blair moved his hands up to Jim's narrow waist and wrapped his legs around Jim's hips. "Give it to me, Jim."

Hot breath scorched Blair's throat as Jim moaned again, but his hips moved faster, thrusting harder as mutual need overcame caution and Jim's reluctance. The friction against Blair's cock, only slightly relieved by the leaking pre-cum on his skin and Jim's, grew to almost unbearable intensity, and Blair concentrated on that, relegating his emotional responses as far to the background as possible. He could deal with those later. Right now he needed to come so badly that it felt like he might just explode.

That would be messy. Really messy. Jim would have a fit. He threw back his head and laughed, though it came out sounding more like another groan. The thrusting cock inside him faltered, then drove into him again; harder, but not hard enough. Never hard enough. Blair plunged up against Jim, and hung there, gloriously impaled, as Jim's cock pulsed wildly inside him. It was an immeasurable relief to allow the sensations to send him into overload, to let himself fall.

In all the happy ever after stories that Jim had ever read as a kid, they'd never mentioned the prosaic fact that the happy lovers had to go to work, or college, the following day. It was small consolation that the 'day after' was a Friday, and so he could at least look forward to three nights and two days of immersing himself in Blair in no more than a few hours.

First he had to survive that long, and the way things were going it was starting to seem like his chances of doing that were not great. He tried, really he did, but his mind just wasn't on the job, and after nearly shooting himself in the foot, and then forgetting to take his safety off when confronting a real, live criminal, even Jack was getting more than a little stressed.

"Jesus, Ellison. What is the matter with you today?" Jack grabbed Jim by the arm and steered him away from the squad card that had arrived to take their prisoner downtown.

It was hard to meet Jack's eyes when he knew damn well that he was acting like the most callow of rookies. And, after all, it wasn't as though Jim could tell his partner what was really going on. He settled for half the story. "Blair's still pretty shaken up over giving evidence yesterday, and some of the people at Ranier must have seen the papers, or the news last night. I just hope nobody's giving him a hard time over it."

They hadn't watched the news last night, not when they'd had much better things to do; but he'd heard plenty this morning from some of the other detectives in Major Crimes, and he'd read the articles in the paper. All of them had mentioned the sensational evidence given by a young hustler named Blair Sandburg. There wasn't going to be a single person in Cascade who didn't know about Blair this morning.

Jack shrugged, but his face showed his understanding. "Well, we've got a pile of paperwork to catch up on. How about we head back to the stationhouse?"

It worked, for a while, but about the time that Jim knew Blair was likely to be getting back to the loft his concentration went to pieces again. Thank God for computers, otherwise he would have used enough white out to sustain the whole industry.

Eventually Jack leaned across the gap between their desks. "Go home Jim, for God's sake. You're getting broody over that boy."

"He's having a rough time." Jim felt himself colour up defensively. His partner grinned. "Well, I'm not doing any good here..." he closed down the computer and reached for his jacket.

Driving back to the loft, Jim felt anticipation rising in his gut. He'd never really had a lover to come home to since his college days. After that his life had been too nomadic for him to consider any place a home, and it wasn't as though he could ever have had a live-in lover while he was in the Army anyway. In some ways he felt just as uncertain as he knew Blair was feeling.

By the time the elevator had reached his floor, Jim's heart was pounding frantically and he had to force himself to walk, not run, to the door of the loft. The hand holding his key was shaking. But as soon as he opened the door, he was hit, full force, by a Blair-sized missile that clung to him like a limpet. Talking non-stop. A kiss took care of that. In the blessed silence that followed, Jim somehow remembered to shut the door behind him.

The sky was just beginning to lighten when Jim woke. That meant it was far too early to expect any sense, or even consciousness, from Blair; Jim felt a slightly guilty air of relief. He hadn't realised how much of an adjustment it would take to have Blair as his lover, rather than just his bed-partner or roommate. It wasn't just the sex - Blair did everything with the same intensity that he brought to study and to sex, and emotional involvement was no different. It was Monday morning. They'd been lovers since Thursday evening, and Jim was worn out.

But if that meant lying in bed with his arms around Blair, his face buried in a tangle of dark curls and his cock nestling up against Blair's shapely butt, then maybe being worn out wasn't so bad. Jim smiled and allowed himself to sink down into that space inside himself where all his senses were focused on just one thing - Blair.

Some time later, he realised that he was humming deep in his throat, and rubbing his fingers back and forth over that soft, silky little patch of chest hair that Blair was becoming so absurdly proud of. Jim stilled his fingers immediately, but it was already too late. Blair was stirring, yawning and mumbling incoherently. He turned in Jim's arms and lifted his face for a long, sleepy kiss.

"Mmm... morning." Blair struggled, and failed, to suppress another huge yawn.

They stared at each other across a gap of at least two inches, which was farther apart than they'd been for most of the weekend. Jim grinned, unable to help himself. "Morning, sunshine."

"Silly." The corners of Blair's mouth curled up delightfully into a warm, tender smile. He blinked contentedly. "Love you, Jim."

His heart stopped beating, Jim was sure of it. Outside the loft it was so still that not even the birds were stirring. Inside, it was even more silent. Blair's eyes widened as the significance of his words sank in, and he picked up on Jim's reaction. Then somehow Jim managed to move, lifting his hand to cup Blair's cheek and letting it rest there.

Blair sighed, leaning forward to kiss him again, and Jim, still dazed, parted his lips in instinctive response. As Blair's eager body pressed against his own, a tiny part of Jim's mind told him he was going to be very late for work.

Coming home that evening was a completely different experience from only three days ago. Jim knew now what was awaiting his return and it was more than he'd ever dared hoped for. The weekend had been spent in lovemaking, but there was so much more that they had to learn about each other, and a lifetime to do it in.

As soon as he entered the building, Jim started listening for Blair's heartbeat. It was there, as he'd expected, and beating faster than normal. Jim grinned as the elevator ground its interminable way up to his floor. He had something in mind that would really speed up Blair's heartbeat. He unlocked the door and went in, shrugging off his jacket ready for action.

"Jim!" Blair's voice was strained, not at all what Jim had been expecting. "You're not gonna believe this..."

Blair was heading rapidly in Jim's direction and there was something about him that made Jim's nerves tighten. He was smiling but his face and body said frightened-hurt-vulnerable and Jim couldn't help responding instinctively, looking for the source of Blair's distress.

The only other person in the loft was a woman, about his own age, slender and red haired. Nobody he'd ever seen before. She certainly didn't look threatening - in fact she was smiling brightly at him. "You want to introduce us, Blair?"

"It's Naomi, Jim." Blair stopped a couple of feet away, staring at him uncertainly. "A friend heard about the... the court case, and told her I was in Cascade."

He couldn't have resisted Blair's pleading look if he'd wanted to. Jim knew how much Naomi meant to her son, and in spite of his own unfavourable impressions of her, he could hardly treat her with less than respect. He smiled, put his hand lightly on Blair's shoulder and looked past him to Naomi, standing now, beside the couch. "That's great news. We've been looking for you for a long time, Ms Sandburg."

"I've been out of the country. I couldn't believe my ears when Ian called me to tell me about Blair." Her voice was light and completely charming but Jim noticed her eyes were reddened from crying. "It's been so long, I'd given up hope of ever seeing my baby again."

"Mom!" Blair voiced the universal protest of children against the embarrassing remarks of their parents. "Come on."

"Oh dear, I'm sorry, darling. I'm just so... so frazzled." Naomi shook her head and smiled at Jim as he resumed his progress toward her. "And so glad that Blair found a friend to look after him. He's told me so much about you, Jim. You must call me Naomi. Ms Sandburg is so formal."

Jim glanced at Blair questioningly and received a tiny shake of the head in reply. He didn't know whether to be relieved or bothered that Blair hadn't mentioned they were lovers. On balance, he supposed that it was probably better to take things slowly.

"Well..." He took the hand that she was holding out to him. "I think this calls for a celebration. We should all go out to dinner."

"Why thank you Jim." Naomi smiled up at him. "But I'm afraid I should be looking for a hotel room. It's getting late and..."

"You can stay here with us, Mom." Blair cut in hurriedly then hesitated, looking at Jim uncertainly. "Uh... I can sleep on the couch."

"Oh, no I couldn't possibly..."

"Of course you can." Jim repressed a spurt of amusement. "Blair won't mind at all. Will you, Blair? How long can you stay?"

Jim had finally given up and gone to bed at ten, pleading a need to catch up on lost sleep. While the excuse had the merit of being absolutely true, he hadn't actually planned on doing any catching up any time soon. He went upstairs, stripped and put on his sleep mask and carefully tuned out the voices from below.

He couldn't sleep.

It wasn't long, however, before Jim heard the click of a light switch and the quiet closure of Blair's bedroom door. He waited.

First the soft rustle of blankets, then a sigh. Silence, for about five minutes, followed by more rustling as Blair tossed and turned. Muttering. Jim grinned. It was all of thirty minutes, Jim guessed, before he heard the quiet padding of bare feet on the stairs. He moved over and lifted the covers. "I thought you were going to sleep on the couch?"

"Aw, give me a break, man." Blair slid into his arms, still wearing his T-shirt and boxers.

Jim wasted no time in sliding his hands under the T-shirt and touching bare skin. He buried his nose in Blair's hair and inhaled his scent gratefully. If he was seriously rattled by Naomi's sudden appearance, he hated to think what it was doing to Blair. Sure, on the surface he was delighted, but there were so many things that Blair was going to have to tell Naomi about, probably the least of which was that he had a male lover who was about the same age that she was.

"Blair, whatever you want to do about telling Naomi... I'll back you up one hundred percent." Jim brushed his lips across Blair's temple and then kissed his lips as Blair turned his face up to him. "Whatever you need, okay? Just tell me."

"Okay." Blair snuggled closer and slid his hand down over Jim's belly.

Luckily, Jim managed to stop him before he got too far. "Oh no. Not with your mother downstairs."

"You're kidding." Blair tensed in his arms. "Jim, you've got to be kidding, right?"

Jim grinned. "Goodnight, Blair."

"You know, Jim, Naomi's a very attractive woman." Jack's comment had come quite literally out of nowhere. They'd been sitting in Jack's car for nearly an hour, watching for a murder suspect to leave his house.

Jim caught Jack's sidelong glance. "And your point is?"

He knew damn well that Jack had a steady lady friend, or he would have suspected that Jack was fishing for information. He'd certainly fallen for her charm when they'd met last night.

"Well, she's attractive, and I know how crazy you are about the kid. If the two of you got together it would be instant family." Jack grinned as Jim choked. "What? You'd love it, you know you would."

It would be funny if it wasn't far too close to the bone. How many men had taken up with Naomi Sandburg because they wanted her son? "Believe me, Jack, it'll never happen."

"Yeah?" Jack was watching him curiously.

Naomi had been staying with them three days now, and Jim was reeling under the impact of the Sandburgs in stereo. Blair and Naomi might not bear much of a physical resemblance, but there was no doubting Blair's parentage. It didn't help that Jim couldn't help liking Naomi, when he'd been ready and willing to dislike her intensely. It really didn't help that Blair still hadn't told Naomi about them, and Naomi hadn't figured it out, even though Blair came upstairs to sleep with him every night.

Jim chose one of several very good reasons why Jack's suggestion was out of the question. "She doesn't like cops. She tries to hide it, but it shows."

"Too bad." Jack shrugged.

"Well, she's not really my type." Jim didn't have to fake the lack of interest.

The truth was, if it hadn't been for Blair, he would have been very glad to see the back of Naomi. Seeing the two of them together grated on Jim's nerves. He'd always blamed Naomi for not stopping her boyfriends' abuse of Blair, but Blair obviously adored his mother and she, just as clearly, adored him. He felt like the Grinch at a joyous family reunion.

It had become an automatic reaction now, to check for Blair's heartbeat as soon as he got into the building. It was there today, strong and steady, and Jim smiled. The smile broadened into a wide grin when he realised that Blair's heartbeat was the only one in the apartment. He almost took the stairs, so frustrating was it to wait for the elevator, but he knew that, appearances to the contrary, the elevator was marginally faster.

"Jim!" The moment he opened the door, Blair bounded into his arms, wrapping his arms around Jim's neck, and his legs around Jim's waist, nearly sending him flying out into the hallway again. "Oh man am I glad to see you. Naomi's gone out. She won't be back till late."

That was all he needed to hear. Jim took a breath to speak and found his mouth suddenly full of Blair's tongue. He managed to stagger to the couch without dropping his burden and fell backwards with Blair on top of him. It was definitely his favourite position, anyway. Blair was busily trying to French him and talk at the same time; it was a miracle neither of them choked.

Jim pulled his mouth away with a distinct popping noise. "Easy, Chief. If we've got all night, there's no need to rush."

"Oh Jim, it's been awful." Blair looked down at him with pitiful eyes, before swooping down to attack his mouth again.

He was in no position to argue, trapped by Blair's body, silenced by Blair's tongue and sporting a hard on he could hammer nails with. The days were getting colder, and Blair was wearing more clothing as a result, but it only took a moment for him to pull Blair's sweater off over his head, and then his shirt and T-shirt. Once he'd reached bare skin, Jim dragged Blair down into his arms for another kiss.

The feel of warm skin under Jim's hands almost induced him to zone. His hands moved slowly over fine-grained skin and slender muscle, the sharp, bony angles of Blair's shoulder blades and into the confusion of thick curls at Blair's nape. Somehow Blair had managed to get his hands between their bodies and was trying to unbutton Jim's shirt. He was doing a pretty good job under the circumstances, but it was taking too long; a tearing sound revealed Blair's solution to the problem, and he sank down, sliding his arms around Jim's torso.

Blair moved slowly, his whole body rubbing sensuously against Jim's from groin to nipple, while their mouths remained locked together. Jim groaned into Blair's mouth and sucked on his tongue, already on the verge of losing all control. One hand slid down Blair's body to press his hips closer, then pushed him away a little.

Dazed, confused eyes met his, peering through the tangle of hair. Blair's mouth opened in protest, then widened into a grin as Jim attacked the front of his jeans. His eyes glittered with hungry need as he pushed himself up a little higher so that only their groins touched. Jim tore at the zipper with trembling fingers, finally wrenching the jeans open enough that he could slide his hand inside, pushing aside the thin cotton of his boxers. Blair groaned loudly as Jim's hand wrapped itself around his cock. He was already hard, hot and slippery with arousal.

"Oh God... Jim." Blair's eyes closed and his hips began a smooth thrusting movement, sliding his cock through Jim's encircling fingers. "Aw, that's so good..."

It made Jim's heart beat faster, his balls tighten painfully, to watch Blair in the throes of incipient orgasm. His senses filled up with the sight, the scent and the feel of him. The sounds he made, and soon, the taste of him. It was all too perfect; his own arousal faded into the background as Jim focused entirely on Blair.

The quiet rattle of a key in the lock tore through his concentration and Jim shuddered, not knowing for a moment where, or even who, he was. Blair's startled eyes confirmed that it hadn't been some phantom product of his Sentinel abilities.

"Blair, darling, you'll never guess..."

They were already moving - Blair rolled off him to the floor and turned away, desperately trying to fasten his jeans again, while Jim sat up pulling the torn fronts of his shirt together - but it was a pointless exercise. There was no disguising what they'd been doing, not when they were half naked, with erections straining at their pants. Naomi stopped dead in the doorway, her mouth half open, and stared.

Unfortunately, it was Naomi who recovered first. "What on earth is going on here?"

"Mom, I meant to tell you." Blair smiled hopefully as she pushed the door closed behind her and took a couple of steps into the room. "Jim and I... we're together."

"You're... no. No. Tell me this isn't happening." Ignoring Blair, Naomi's accusing stare settled on Jim's face "How could you, Jim? How could you do this?"

Before Jim could respond, Blair started toward her. He stopped, roughly halfway between the two, glancing back uncertainly at Jim. "It's cool, Mom. You always told me... I mean, I never thought you would mind about me being gay."

Naomi smiled weakly. "Of course I don't darling, but this..." her eyes hardened. "You should be ashamed of yourself, Jim Ellison. You're old enough to be his father,"

Trust a Sandburg to go straight for the sore point. In a split second Jim was far too angry to speak rationally. "Maybe I am. But since when has that been a problem for you?"

"Jim, please." Blair's voice cut across Naomi's shocked cry. "Mom, don't. It isn't like that. I should have told you sooner."

"This isn't your fault Blair." Infuriated that Blair should take the blame for any of this, Jim launched his counter-attack. "Don't looked so shocked Naomi. Do you really expect me to believe you didn't know? We haven't exactly been hiding it. Blair hasn't spent a single night on that couch, and the only way you couldn't see that would be if you didn't want to see it. But I guess you've had a lot of practice at that."

Naomi's chin jutted stubbornly, so like Blair that it only fuelled Jim's anger. "How dare you! Blair is just a baby. You took advantage of him. He trusted you, and you used him."

"Stop it, Mom!" Blair's voice was almost drowned out by Jim's enraged growl. He took another step toward Naomi and stopped, caught between the two of them. "Both of you, just cut it out!"

If he moved towards her, if he took just one step, Jim knew he'd throttle the life out of her. So he kept his feet firmly rooted to the floor, and his hands clenched into fists at his sides. "You have some nerve, lady. Where were you when Blair needed you, huh? Why didn't you see what was happening under your nose?"

"Jim, please..." Blair turned to him, his eyes pleading.

"You knew. You couldn't have missed it, but you didn't want to know. You let those bastards abuse him and you did nothing." He saw Naomi's lips part to answer him and bulldozed over anything she might have said. "Your boyfriends were abusing him in your own home."

Naomi flinched at the crude words, and her eyes were swimming with tears, but she shook her head. "It's not true. I would never..."

"You didn't do a thing to stop them." Jim could hear Blair's increasingly distraught protests, but he ignored them. He narrowed his focus until all he was aware of was Naomi's angry face and the white heat of his own fury. "You didn't even report him missing when he ran away."

"Go to the pigs? Of course I didn't." The fire in Naomi's eyes reminded Jim of Blair. "Blair, honey, you know I love you. I'd never let anyone hurt you."

"Have you asked him why he ran away? Have you asked him how he survived on the streets for the last three years?" He knew the answer already. She hadn't asked. Blair had told him she hadn't. "He sold himself. He took it up the ass for money and shot the money into any vein he could find."

He was dimly aware of Blair screaming something and of Naomi calling her son's name, then the slender body cannoned into Jim, almost knocking him flying. He reeled under a wild flurry of fists, taking a couple of solid blows to his jaw before he managed to catch hold of the slim body, wrapping his arms around Blair and holding his wrists until he collapsed, sobbing against Jim's chest. Not even his enhanced hearing could make sense of the incoherent, fragmented sounds that Blair was choking out.

He met Naomi's horrified eyes for a moment, then tuned her out. Blair needed him and that was all that mattered to him right now. He loosened his tight grip on Blair and lifted a shaking hand to stroke Blair's tumbled curls. "It's all right. I'm sorry sweetheart, it's all right now, I promise."

Blair didn't respond, except to burrow a fraction closer to him. One hand had taken up a death grip on the torn shirt, and Jim released his hold on Blair completely so he could lay his other hand over Blair's while he murmured reassurances that he wasn't even sure Blair could hear.

When Jim looked up again, Naomi had moved over to the loveseat and sunk into it, staring at them silent and wide eyed. Her hand crept up to cover her mouth as he watched, but then Blair moved and Jim's attention was drawn back to his lover. "Blair. You with me, buddy?"

Blair's head moved in what might have been a shaky nod, and then his hands slid up to Jim's shoulders and his face was lifted in mute appeal. Audience or not, Jim couldn't refuse him. They kissed briefly and Blair moaned softly, then rested his forehead against Jim's throat.

"Blair?" Naomi's voice was hesitant and thick with tears. "Sweetie, is it true?"

Jim felt Blair shiver, then he nodded, not looking in her direction. "Yeah. It's all true."

She sobbed, once, and covered her mouth with both hands while tears slid down her cheeks. Jim looked down at the top of Blair's head and stroked gently up and down his bare back. "Tell us about it, Blair. How old were you when it started?"

Muscles rippled as Blair's shoulders lifted in a shrug. He didn't look up, just mumbled into Jim's chest. "I don't know. We were staying with a whole lot of people. There were other kids, lots of them, and there was a rainbow on the wall over my bed and a swing in the tree outside."

"Gary." Naomi choked the name out. "Was it Gary?"

"Yeah. He showed me how to jerk him off." Blair leaned into him as Jim growled under his breath. "He said I had the softest hands he'd ever known. He said it was a guy thing. That I shouldn't tell you."

For a moment neither of them could speak, then Naomi looked up at Jim. "He was six. Oh god..."

The room lurched sickeningly for a moment, then Jim eased back a little and drew Blair down onto the couch with him. "I think you should tell us everything."

There was no room left for anger with Naomi, not as the quiet litany of abuse went on and on. Blair had told Jim he had a good memory... dear God... he wished now that it was otherwise. He didn't want to hear this. Didn't want to feel the pain of it, or see the same pain in Naomi's face. He still blamed her, would probably always blame her for not putting a stop to it, but no mother should have to listen to her son describing years of abuse at the hands of the men she'd brought into his life. It took every ounce of self-control he possessed to repress his immediate reactions and focus on the slim figure in his arms.

When the recital stumbled to its conclusion, Jim stirred, meeting Naomi's eyes for a moment before asking one, final question. "Why did you run away Blair? What happened?"

"Mom had just met up with a new guy... I can't remember his name." Only Blair seemed unaware of the incongruity of this. He'd told them details that no child should have to remember, but had forgotten a name from only three years ago?

"Arturo." Naomi hadn't made a sound in over half an hour. "It was Arturo. Did he...?"

"No." Blair stirred tiredly against Jim's chest. "But he was going to. I could always tell." He looked up at Jim. "I don't know why I left. I guess I just couldn't stand it any more."

Naomi made a broken sound. She was slumped against the back of the loveseat, her face streaked with silent tears. For the first time since he'd started telling them his story, Blair looked over at her.

"Mom?" He slid out of Jim's arms and went to her, dropping to his knees on the floor beside the loveseat. "Mom, don't cry... it's over now."

She sobbed and put her arms around his shoulders, drawing him against her. "No, it's not over, darling. It's never over." She stroked the hair back off his face as he looked up at her questioningly. "When you were born you were so perfect; so tiny and beautiful. I swore that nobody would ever hurt you, not like..." She bit her bottom lip and smiled tearfully. "I failed you so terribly. Can you ever forgive me?"

"You didn't..." Blair abandoned the protest half formed. He pushed himself up into the loveseat and wrapped his arms around Naomi's neck. She lowered her head to rest her cheek against his. "Of course I forgive you."

Jim had to clear his throat before he could speak. It didn't seem as though Blair had realised the significance of her hesitation, but Jim had. "Who failed you Naomi?"

She didn't pretend to misunderstand him. "My parents. My uncle. He abused me for years, until I stopped it." Naomi brushed her fingertips against Blair's cheek. "So you see, of all people, I should have seen what was happening. I'm so sorry, Blair."

Blair drew back a little, and took hold of both her hands. "How did you make him stop? What happened?"

A look of incredible sadness crossed her face. "He made me pregnant, sweetheart." And, as Blair caught his breath in a shaken sob, "oh no, not with you... I was only thirteen. My parents were horrified, of course. They made me have an abortion." She paused, fighting for control. "I didn't want to have that baby. How could I? But it's still a painful memory. My parents demanded to know who the father was, so I told them."

From the tone of here voice it was obvious there was more. Blair exchanged a long look with Jim before turning back to his mother. "What happened?"

"They didn't believe me. They were absolutely furious. I was grounded for weeks. Grounded." She laughed bitterly. "He used to tell me that he loved me, you know, and I believed him, but then he started trying again and I... somehow I knew it wasn't really love.

"I told him I couldn't do it at home any more. My parents never left me alone for a minute, so he told me to meet him at a motel on the way home from school." A tiny smile crossed her lips. "I waited until he'd arrived, then called the police from a payphone across the road. I told them there were some kids in the room smoking dope. When they broke in, we were in bed together."

"He went to jail? Cool!" Blair grinned. "That was a great idea."

"I'm afraid not sweetie." Naomi glanced at Jim and he caught a glimpse of resentment in her face. "My parents couldn't stand the thought of the disgrace it would cause. My uncle was telling the pigs that I led him on. It was a small town, and my parents were wealthy and influential. It was all hushed up."

"But... they couldn't do that." Blair appealed to Jim. "They couldn't, could they?"

"In those days, in a small town? It wouldn't be difficult." Jim looked from Blair to Naomi. "No wonder you don't trust the police."

"They were hateful." Naomi shrugged. "Afterwards word got around about how easy I was... I always thought it was one of the deputies who did it." She turned her attention back to Blair, stroking his cheek lightly. "At least my uncle never bothered me after that. When I was sixteen I became pregnant with you and I ran away. I knew my parents would have made me have another abortion if I stayed, and I knew that I wanted you, my darling. I always wanted you."

Jim saw Blair swallow nervously. "Mom, who was my father?"

"You don't need to worry sweetheart." Naomi patted his cheek and kissed him gently. "He was just a nice boy who was far too young to be a father. He never even knew I was pregnant. I left town when I realised I was pregnant and I've never been back."

Jim rubbed his eyes wearily and forced them open again. It wasn't late, but he was worn out by the emotional upheavals of the day. His eyes travelled over the cartons of congealed Chinese take out that they'd ordered and hardly touched, then dropped to Blair lying curled up on the couch, his dark head cushioned on Jim's thigh. His hand rested lightly on the bare skin at Blair's waist beneath his sweater - both grounding his lover, and comforting himself with that single point of contact.

Blair's eyelids fluttered drowsily. He hadn't said a word in over thirty minutes. In the loveseat Naomi sat slumped, her legs curled up under her. She looked as tired as both of them put together, but her eyes met Jim's questioningly.

After a moment she smiled. "You really do love him, don't you?"

"Yes, I love him." He looked down at Blair again, brushed his fingers through thick silken curls and over the smooth skin of his brow. "But it's more than that. I don't really know how to explain." He wasn't actually sure it could be explained. "The first time I saw him I felt this... connection. God knows I didn't want to, but I did."

"I'm glad." She moved stiffly, straightening her spine and grimacing. "I'm glad that you found him, that you had the strength to help him. I'm glad that he had the courage to return your love. That's more courage than I've ever had."

"Don't sell yourself short, Naomi. It took guts for a pregnant sixteen year old to run away from home." It occurred to Jim that if she hadn't Blair might never have been born. "You can't begin to imagine how grateful I am that you did."

And he couldn't possibly tell her how much he needed Blair in his life, or why. He'd told Mike and Jack, because it had been necessary. He'd think about telling Banks, if he really had to. Nobody else was ever going to know. There was even a small part of him that regretted this, now. Naomi's revelations had explained, if not entirely excused, her blindness. He would always believe she should have done more to protect Blair, but the harsh reality was that she'd been ill equipped to handle a situation like that. Somehow, during the course of the evening, he'd managed to come to terms with that. It looked like Naomi had found her own peace with him too.

Naomi smiled wryly. "It seems like running away is another family trait." Her eyes lingered on Blair's sleeping face for a moment. "I did try to find him. You have no idea how hard I tried... but going to the police... I couldn't."

He could accept that now, too. Naomi certainly had no reason to trust the police. For Blair's sake, she should have done it. For Blair's sake, Jim had to accept what had happened and get past it. It would destroy Blair if they continued to treat each other as enemies - the two of them had to find areas of common ground to build on. They'd made a start. It would take time, but it could be done.

Blair stirred, muttering quietly, and Jim decided he'd had enough for tonight. "I'd better get him to bed." He met Naomi's eyes challengingly, still not certain in spite of her earlier words, how she'd react.

She surprised him by standing and stretching, then coming over to kiss him on the cheek. "Goodnight Jim. I think I'll meditate for a while."

Blair pushed himself up from Jim's lap, and Naomi kissed him too. "Sleep well, dear."

"Night, Mom." Blair's voice was thickened with sleep. He turned his head to look at Jim and smiled groggily.

"Bed time, Chief." But first Jim pulled Blair into his arms and kissed him thoroughly.

Something brushed across his body, rousing Jim out of an early morning doze. It took no trouble at all to identify the various sensations - the tickle of long hair on his chest, the moist caress of warm lips, and the gentle touch of a hand on his belly. He smiled. Blair wasn't usually awake so early. He reached up and laid a hand lightly on Blair's shoulder.

Blair lifted his head and grinned at him briefly before lowering his head again. His lips closed around Jim's nipple and Jim sighed. There was nothing like lazy, Sunday morning sex - except... he could easily hear Naomi moving around in the kitchen area. There was a sound - the opening of a Tupperware container - and the rich scent of coffee suddenly filled his nostrils.

Reluctantly, Jim pushed Blair away a little. "Sorry, not while your Mom's down there."

"Aw, come on, Jim..." Blair scowled rebelliously. "She's cool with us now."

"I doubt she'd be cool with hearing you yelling your head off." Jim brushed his fingertips over Blair's cheek.

"Hey, I can be quiet." Blair stared at him reproachfully. "Come on, Jim... we haven't made love in ages."

It had been a long time. In fact, in the ten days since they'd become lovers, they'd spent more nights lying chastely in his bed than they had making love. Jim could feel his resolve, always a tenuous quality where Blair was concerned, melting away. "If you make a sound, we stop. Okay?"

Blair's eyes glittered triumphantly and he made a zipping motion across his lips.

"I hope you don't mean that literally." Jim pulled him down and kissed the tightly sealed lips. They parted cautiously against his relentless attack and Blair moaned softly under his breath.

Jim rolled onto his back, drawing Blair on top of him as the kisses slowly deepened. The long curls fell about them, veiling Jim's face, enclosing him in a shadowy world where sighs and kisses and the taste of Blair's mouth were all that existed. He deliberately filtered out the sounds coming from downstairs, knowing that they'd only be a distraction.

The supple body moved easily under his hands, rubbing against him as they kissed. Jim kept one hand between Blair's shoulder blades, and one cupped around his ass cheek, listening with his fingers to the play of muscle against bone. It was a constant source of wonder that this graceful young satyr actually wanted to be a part of his life.

"Hey Jim, don't zone on me now." Blair's whispered entreaty brought him back to the present.

His lips were sore from kissing, and Blair's... God, Blair's normally sensuous mouth was swollen and ripe to an almost indecent degree. Jim brushed a fingertip across the pouting lower lip and groaned quietly as Blair's tongue came out to curl around the digit and suck it into his mouth for a moment.

Even for Jim, it was becoming difficult to stay silent, but Blair, perversely, seemed to be enjoying it. He slid off Jim's body and curled up alongside him, his hand reaching, predictably, for his favourite body part. Jim bit back a gasp as gentle fingers stroked the length of his cock.

Two could play at that game. Jim rolled onto his side and ran a careful hand down Blair's side and over the peak of his hip. The eager cock almost leapt into his hand as Jim took the precaution of muffling Blair's reaction with his lips. So far, so good, though concerns about how long Blair could keep this up was starting to nag at Jim's concentration.

"Hello boys? Are you awake yet?" Naomi's call startled them both apart, and before Jim could stop him, Blair had croaked out a shaky "Mom?"

He groaned and fell back against the pillow, then sat up suddenly, as her footsteps started up the stairs. A wild-eyed survey of the bed, and Blair, was only marginally reassuring. The covers were around their waists, but Blair was flushed and dazed looking, and Jim suspected he was no better. He hitched the bedding a little higher as Naomi's head appeared above floor level.

Her eyes took on a wicked glint as she took in the situation. "Goodness, I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

"No. Of course not." Jim tried to compose his face, if not his body. Belatedly, he ran a hand over his hair, trying to smooth it down, and stared in dismay at the loaded tray in her hands. "You made breakfast?"

"Mom, you shouldn't have done that." Blair leaned against Jim, not sounding the least bit discomforted, now that he'd got over the initial shock. He pulled his legs up and patted the edge of the bed. "Come join us."

"Yeah." Jim saw, with some relief that there were only two coffee mugs along with the plate piled with toasted bagels and the dishes of preserves and cream cheese. "Why don't you get yourself a coffee and join us?"

She laughed and shook her head, but deposited the tray on the bed and turned back down the stairs. By the time she returned, Jim had managed to pull on his bathrobe and toss a T-shirt and shorts to Blair. Feeling slightly more self-assured, Jim plumped the pillows and leaned back, nursing his coffee while Blair attacked the mound of bagels.

"Are you going to have anything to eat, Naomi?"

Naomi smiled serenely. "I don't have time, Jim. My cab will be here soon to take me to the airport."

"You're going? Mom!" Blair's protest was no less sincere for being mumbled through a mouthful of bagel. "You didn't say..."

"Sweetie, I have to." Naomi touched her son's hair, gently smoothing it away from his face. "It's an important conference on Gaian philosophy. But now that I know where you are, I'll be back, I promise. Soon."

To Jim's surprise, Blair seemed willing to accept that. He still frowned a little, but didn't look seriously upset. "Maybe you could come back during term break. Then we could spend more time together."

"You can stay here anytime." Jim found that he was utterly sincere. He wanted Blair to see his mother as much as possible. If it got too much for him, he could always find an excuse to get away for a few days.

"That's sweet of you Jim." The honking of a horn warned them that the cab had arrived. She leaned forward and kissed each of them on the cheek. "I've left my contact numbers on the counter in the kitchen, so you can get hold of me if you need to."

"I'll walk you down." Blair slid out of the bed and padded after his mother as she went down the stairs.

Despite the temptation, Jim didn't listen in to their conversation. But when he heard the familiar whine of the elevator, Jim tuned in to Blair as effortlessly as breathing. Heartbeat: a little accelerated. Breathing, just a shade stressed, but not sounding as though he was fighting tears. He waited until Blair made his way up the stairs and lifted the covers for him to slip into the warmth. Blair's skin was a little chilled, but otherwise he seemed quite normal.

"Are you okay?"

Blair lifted his head and smiled weakly. "Yeah. It would have been nice if she could have stayed longer, but I'm cool."

"Sure." Jim gave in to the impulse to hug him. "I guess you've both got some things to sort through as well. Maybe you should go see Laura again."

"Maybe." Blair shrugged and reached for another bagel. "You want one of these?"

He took the bagel, almost cold now, and smeared a generous gob of cream cheese over it. Jim didn't know whether to be angry with Naomi for springing this on Blair with no warning, or relieved that their lives could get back to normal. On reflection, relief won out. He draped his arm around Blair's shoulders and drew him back against the pillows, still chewing on the bagel.

Gradually, Blair relaxed against him and when they'd finished their bagels Jim got out of bed to deposit the breakfast tray on his desk. Then he shrugged off his robe and got back into bed with Blair. "How about we take a nap?"

"A nap?" Blair stared up at him blankly. "Are you insane?"

"Well... I just thought that maybe you wouldn't..." Jim stumbled to a halt as Blair's surprised look became pitying. "So, how about taking up where we left off?"

Blair grinned. "That's more like it. I'm okay, really, Jim. Stop treating me like a little kid."

"I can't help it." Jim rubbed his forehead bemusedly. "Naomi was right. I am old enough to be your father. Haven't you ever thought about getting together with a kid your own age?"

To his surprise Blair looked embarrassed. It wasn't an emotion Jim was used to seeing on Blair's face and he lifted an eyebrow inquiringly.

"Uh... actually I tried it once, since you kept going on about how I should." Blair grimaced. "He was hopeless. He didn't know anything."

Jim tried to keep a straight face, but one look at Blair's disgusted expression and he didn't stand a chance. "I'm sorry. Come here and let me make it up to you."

Blair had never needed a second invitation; he rarely waited for any invitation, but Jim was prepared for him. He went with the rush, toppling onto his back with Blair, laughing, on top of him. "Oh man, you are so going to have to make it up to me. He actually told me that he loved me!"

"It must have been terrible." Jim kissed him quickly, sliding his hands up under the T-shirt and peeling it off over his head. "What did you say?"

"I didn't know what to say, man. I just got out of there." Blair lifted his hips obligingly as Jim pushed his shorts down. He spread himself across Jim's body, wriggling enticingly. "Oh yeah... that feels much better."

"It certainly does." Jim's agreement was heartfelt and sincere. He brushed his hands over Blair's butt in a slow caress, and then down his thighs, parting them a little.

"Mmn... oh yeah..." Blair rubbed himself against Jim's thigh and nuzzled his chest. One hand reached for Jim's awakening cock and began to stroke it lazily. "This is much better."

"Glad to hear it. If I tell you I love you will you run away?" Jim grinned into laughing blue eyes as Blair raised his head. "I just want to know the score, Chief." Blair didn't answer him. His head went down again and his lips sucked roughly at Jim's nipple. Jim combed his fingers through the tangled curls. "I guess that's a 'no', then."

A sound that might have been an assent came from the direction of Jim's chest. Blair was nothing if not single minded, and Jim was in the mood to let him do whatever he wanted. He allowed his hands to wander over Blair's smooth skin but otherwise remained passive beneath the slowly moving body. He could easily have come that way, but when Blair lifted his head again, Jim stirred himself enough to open his eyes and smile.

"What do you want, Jim?" Blair's voice was husky and low. His hips were still moving in slow, easy thrusts.

"Kiss me." Jim drew him up a little higher so their lips could meet and Blair's tongue invaded his mouth, delivering a startling profusion of flavours. Carefully, Jim dialled back his sense of taste a little. "You don't have to ask, Blair. You could just do whatever you want."

"Yeah?" Blair smiled smugly. "Maybe I like to ask."

"And maybe I like to be surprised." Jim was becoming curious. He stroked Blair's cheek, kissed him again and waited.

It might have been a tactical error. A glint in Blair's eyes set off alarm bells, but Jim had made his decision and wasn't going to back out now. A moment later Blair's lips were hovering above his cock, curving into an anticipatory smile as he watched for Jim's reaction. Somehow Jim managed to keep his expression neutral.

Blair's face fell. "Aw, come on Jim, work with me here."

"I mean it. I want to know what you want." He reached down and laid his hand over Blair's, where it rested on his hip. "Tell me what you want me to do."

Blair's eyes shifted away from his, and Jim guessed that he'd pushed just a bit too far for Blair's comfort. Before he could do or say anything, Blair shrugged. "I'm not used to it being that way, Jim."

"I know." He squeezed Blair's hand gently. This was getting too serious, and he thought Blair had probably had enough of that in the last few days. "Don't worry about it. We can work on that later."

The ghost of a smile touched Blair's lips. "Okay. You really want me to choose?"

"Sure." Jim grinned in relief. "It doesn't have to be a big deal. Just pick a number."

Blair snorted, but he lowered his head and kissed Jim's cock, licked it tentatively and then with growing enthusiasm. "I like the way you taste." He offered the observation almost diffidently. "And you smell good."

Jim groaned softly as Blair's fingers slid over his balls and beneath them to tease at his ass. His legs drew up a little, instinctively trying to open himself to Blair's touch. One finger slid inside him, gently probing, as Blair lifted his cock with his other hand and took it into his mouth. The soft tickle of hair on the inside of Jim's raised thighs sent shivers through his body. He closed his eyes and pressed his head back into the pillows, focusing all his awareness on the movement of his hips as they rose to bury his cock even deeper in Blair's mouth.

Blair hummed his approval, riding the motion expertly and rubbing his fingertips over Jim's belly, while he continued to finger-fuck Jim's ass. It rapidly became impossible for Jim to keep moving, torn between wanting to thrust vertically into Blair's mouth, or horizontally onto his exploring finger. As the first tremors started, deep in his gut, Jim groaned helplessly.

"Not yet, big guy." Blair squeezed his cock gently and withdrew his finger. "Just hold on."

He reached for the nightstand, grabbing the condoms and lube out of the drawer while Jim concentrated on controlling his breathing, and repressing the urgent need to climax. It worked, after a fashion, but he was still painfully aware of how long it was taking Blair to tear open the condom wrapper with his shaking fingers.

Finally Blair stopped trying, staring down at his hands for another eternity, before lifting his eyes to Jim's face. "I guess we don't really need these any more."

The level of trust implied in that one sentence was enough to steal Jim's voice away for a moment; especially coming from someone whose whole life had been spent learning never to trust anybody. If it had been anyone else he would have said, with perfect sincerity, that it wasn't a matter of trust, simply a sensible precaution. With Blair, it was so much more than that, and Jim found he couldn't reject a gesture so full of meaning. He had to swallow hard before he could speak, but Jim kept his voice as light and as casual as Blair's had been. "I guess not."

Blair nodded once, and tossed the little sachet aside, reaching for the lube instead. Jim could see the vibrations running through his body as he slicked his cock with the lube and positioned himself between Jim's thighs. As he eased into Jim's body, Jim reached up to draw him down against his chest. The tremors were intense, but Blair didn't hesitate. He began to thrust slowly, deeply, his eyes half closed.

"I can feel the difference." He looked up at Jim, suddenly wide-eyed. "Can you feel it, Jim?"

"Oh yes." Jim dragged in a desperately needed breath. The physical sensations were the least of what he could feel. "I can feel it. Feel you."

"Yeah." Blair breathed that one word and then was silent, frowning in concentration.

The feel of Blair's cock inside him was incredible. Before, he'd never tried to feel past the slick surface of the condom. Now he was aware of everything, even down to the rush of blood through the veins that textured the surface of Blair's cock. He could feel Blair's heartbeat echoed inside his body, and it was that realisation that destroyed all his control.

As his internal muscles closed tightly around Blair's cock, and his semen scorched the skin of his belly, Jim was only dimly aware of anything else. He heard Blair's ragged cry and felt the furious pounding as Blair's cock drove into him again and again, then the swirling, searing rush of come inside him. His own voice was added to Blair's, protesting the unfairness of it. Too intense for them to bear, too soon for it to end; it was not enough, could never be enough to consummate the bond that held them together.

Blair was sprawled bonelessly across his body, back heaving under Jim's hands as he tried to drag enough air into his lungs. Jim didn't even try, just lay there until black spots danced in front of his eyes and he had to roll onto his side, displacing Blair so he could breathe. A soft moan against his chest indicated that Blair was barely conscious, but still his hands reached instinctively for Jim and slid around his waist to link together behind him.

"Oh, fuck..."

Jim managed a faint grin at the whispered expletive. Blair might be down, but he certainly wasn't out for the count. A moment later, Blair's dazed face was lifted to his and they kissed shakily. Blair was still trembling and, Jim realised, so was he. It was enough just to lie still and touch, reassuring themselves that everything was all right as the raw emotions faded into something more manageable.

Eventually, Blair pushed himself up onto one elbow, gently shoved Jim onto his back and climbed aboard again. He rested his chin firmly on Jim's chest and stared, blinking sleepily, into Jim's face. Jim stared back.

Blair grinned happily. "That was pretty intense, man."

"Uh huh." Jim carefully lifted a strand of hair that was clinging to Blair's cheek and tucked it away behind his ear. His fingers trailed down over the outside curve and toyed with the twin earrings for a moment, then slid down to cup Blair's jaw. "Come here."

He kissed the soft, pouting lower lip and sucked on it gently, but Blair wasn't satisfied with that and soon Jim's mouth was full of hyperactive tongue and his arms full of squirming lover. But even Blair couldn't get it up again so soon, and he settled again after a moment, eyeing Jim speculatively. It was a look Jim had learned to be wary of.

"You know, Jim, if I was, uh... paying my way, here..." Blair smiled guilelessly, "with services..."

Jim felt his body tense up and forced himself to relax. This wasn't exactly the kind of conversation he wanted to have. He tried to keep his voice neutral. "But we both know that you're not. Right?"

"Oh, sure." Blair kissed him quickly. "But if I was, that would have to count for quite a bit... I mean... it'd cover the rent for quite a while, don't ya think?"

He saw what Blair was getting at, the conceited little bastard, and had to struggle not to smile now. "I guess it would. Let's see..." He pretended to consider it at length. "I'd give you a week, for a fuck like that."

"A week?" Blank dismay. "Just a week?"

"Yep." Jim smiled blandly. "That seems fair. It was pretty good."

"Pretty good..." Blair's eyes hardened and he pushed himself up to full arm's length, staring down at Jim indignantly. "A week?"

Jim shrugged, a smile breaking through in spite of his best efforts.

"Oh man, it's gotta be worth more than that." Blair shoved at his shoulder, grinning. "C'mon Jim, it's gotta be worth at least a month."

"A week." Jim hooked a hand around the back of his neck and pulled him down for a long kiss. "But if you want to, we can work on getting it up to a month. All it takes is a little practice."