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The Rookie

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"You wanted to see me, Sir?" Jim Ellison leaned against the doorway, his eyes scanning the small office with his usual caution.

Simon Banks waved him in. "Yeah. Take a seat."

Jim nodded to the other occupant of the room, a short, compactly built young man with dark curly hair forming a brief halo around his head and wide blue eyes. "I'm kinda busy right now, Sir..."

"Sit." Banks snapped the word out and Jim sighed. "Shut the door."

That meant it was serious, and Jim felt his gut tighten a little. It happened a lot, lately, and it was beginning to wear him out. He dropped into a chair and waited for the other shoe to drop.

It wasn't long in coming. "Ellison, this is your new partner - Blair Sandburg."

Jim froze, then his eyes turned to the man beside him. He was met with a wide, friendly smile and an outstretched hand. "Great to meet you, man."

He ignored the hand and the smile, though it was difficult not to respond to such open friendliness. "No offence, kid, but I work alone. Simon, can I have a word with you in private?"

Simon let out an irritated sigh and jerked his head towards the door. "Sandburg."

He waited until the door shut behind the kid and then shot out of his chair. "I don't want a partner, Simon. Especially some wet-behind-the-ears kid I'm gonna have to babysit. I have to watch out for my own back, okay?"

"Sit  down, Jim." Simon's glare reinforced his order and Jim sank back into his chair. "Look, I know what you want, but there's nobody else I can partner him with, and you're the best I've got." He held up a hand to forestall any argument. "Okay, so he's young, but he's damn good, Jim. He graduated top of his class at the Academy. He's gonna collect Rookie of the Year and he's aced his detective's exam. All he needs is some experience and he'll be giving you a run for your money."

"Rookie of the..." Jim stared at his captain in horror. "Just how long has he been out of the Academy?"

Simon grunted. "Eight months. I seem to recall it took you over a year to make detective."

"God, Simon... do I have to spell it out to you? You know why I don't want a partner. Especially now." Jim shifted in his seat, too on edge to even try to appear calm and in control.

"I don't have a choice. Everyone else in Major Crime already has a partner, and you won't work with any of them anyway." Simon moved a couple of pens on his desk for no obvious reason. "My hands are tied. The kid's got to have a partner and, like it or not, you're it."

Sensing that any argument he might raise would be fruitless, Jim stood. "If there's nothing else?"

"Go. Go." Simon waved towards the door, his mind already obviously on something else.

He walked out into the bullpen to see the kid standing next to his desk smiling nervously. As Jim hesitated, he lifted his hand in an abortive wave before dropping it back to his side. Jim closed his eyes and sighed.

His day was going to hell faster than he would ever have believed possible. Blair sneaked a sideways look at his new partner and hurriedly turned his eyes forwards again when he caught Jim Ellison looking across at him impatiently. And to think he'd been excited when he found out that Ellison was going to show him the ropes.

The guy was a jerk. He'd ignored every attempt Blair had made to break the ice and get to know him. He'd acted as though Blair wasn't even there most of the time. Worse, he'd acted as though Blair knew nothing about police work. Like he was a complete moron. Which Blair knew very well, he wasn't.

"So did you catch the Jags game on Friday night? Man, it was great! That last minute goal... it was awesome... and I really think that new guy... what was his name? Well, he's..." he was babbling. He knew he was and he couldn't stop it. This always happened when he was nervous - he'd gone through the Academy to a near continuous chorus of 'shut up, Sandburg' from tutors and fellow cadets alike. Blair wiped sweaty palms on his jeans and shut his mouth with an almost audible snap of his jaw. "Look, Jim..."

That earned him a cold-eyed stare. "The name's Ellison, Sandburg."

"Oh. Sure." Blair smiled widely and decided he couldn't blame Ellison for thinking he was an idiot. He was certainly acting like one. "No offence, man, I'm just not into that macho surname calling thing. I mean... I'm not judging or anything, I just... Ellison, huh?" Oh that was great, like he'd never heard of the guy before...

"I just want this to work, okay?" He stared out the windscreen at the road ahead of them. Maybe if he didn't actually look at Ellison he wouldn't get all tied up in knots. "Give me a break, man. If you still don't want me around at the end of the week, I'll request a transfer. Deal?"

They'd stopped at a set of traffic lights by then and Ellison was openly studying him. Blair knew a lot of people were put off by his apparent youth, but it was hardly his fault he looked a good five years younger than his actual age. He tried to look serious and mature, but suspected he just looked nervous.

After a long pause, Ellison nodded sharply. "All right."

"Great." Blair smiled, until he saw the sigh Ellison carefully wasn't letting out.

"Sandburg, I told you to stay in the truck!" Ellison got the words out from between jaws clenched so tightly that Blair wondered whether his partner had somehow caught lockjaw in the last couple of minutes.

"And I heard you." Blair's temper flared suddenly. "I'm your partner, dammit. I'm supposed to back you up. I'm not staying in the truck." He glared back at Ellison. "You said you'd give me a chance."

"That doesn't include a chance to get yourself killed on my watch, okay?" Ellison turned away and stared around him in frustration. The guy they'd been chasing, a suspect in no less than four armed robberies, was nowhere to be seen and Blair suspected it was this frustration that had led his partner to lash out at him. "You do as I tell you."

"For God's sake, Jim, I can look after myself."

"I told you not to call me..." Without warning Ellison's arm swept out and around, his fist aiming straight for Blair's jaw.

He blocked that punch, and the next, pleased and - he wasn't too proud to admit it - a little surprised at the ease with which he did it. Well, he'd come third in the self-defence class. He smiled smugly, and didn't see Ellison's next move. Didn't see anything until he went butt first into the concrete, legs sprawling.

"Don't get cocky, kid." Ellison extended a hand to help him up. "No matter how good you think you are, sooner or later there's always gonna be someone bigger, stronger or faster."

Blair scrambled to his feet, ignoring the hand. "I'll remember." He turned away, heading back the way they came, cursing himself for ever having thought he could convince this asshole that they could work together.

For once, Ellison seemed disinclined to rub Blair's nose in his failings. They walked in silence until they reached the truck.

As they drove off, Blair reviewed the last few days in his mind. It was hopeless. This man was never going to accept him; no matter what he did, it wasn't good enough. It was never going to be. "All right. You win. I'll ask Captain Banks for a transfer when we get back to the station."

Ellison, damn him, looked surprised. Maybe he just hadn't expected Blair to give up so easily. It was only Wednesday, after all, but Blair had never been the kind to bang his head against a brick wall. Not for very long, anyway.

"Uh... you want to get something to eat, Sandburg?" Ellison's voice sounded strange. A bit constricted.

Probably trying not to laugh, Blair decided savagely. It was past three and neither of them had had a chance to eat. As they'd had no chance yesterday, or the day before. Blair had put up with it because he wasn't going to be the one to cave first. Now, Ellison was concerned about his well-being? He didn't think so. "I'm okay."

"Well, I'm hungry. We can go back to my place if you like."

Blair turned his head to stare at Ellison in shock. What the hell was he up to now? Then he shrugged; a couple more hours, tops, and it would all be over. "Fine by me."

Jim ushered Sandburg in and headed for the kitchen, and the fridge. There wasn't a lot in there - it was obviously time he went shopping - but there were the remains of a salad, and some cold cuts and bread. Sandwiches would have to do.

When he carried the makings over to the island to start assembling he saw that the kid had not moved from his position a few feet inside the door. He was scanning the room, taking in the large open space of it and the bedroom upstairs with a critical eye. He started when he noticed Jim watching him.

"Well?" Jim smiled easily at him. "Don't expect me to believe you don't have an opinion."

"It's great. Kinda bare." There was a wary expression on the kid's face that Jim regretted causing, but he'd only done what he had to do. "You just moved in?"

His sense of regret vanished abruptly. "I've been here four years."

"Oh." Sandburg moved away towards the windows. "Great view."

"I like it. Coffee?" He'd already started brewing a pot. "Lunch is ready."

They sat catty corner - easier to avoid looking at each other that way - and didn't talk until the sandwiches were finished. Jim had never seen the irrepressible young detective so... so deflated. He started to feel guilty, knowing that he was the cause.

To be fair, the kid was damned good. He'd made some useful suggestions about possible lines of inquiry, he'd kept up with Jim on all levels, and he was good with people - far better than Jim, in fact. He'd even managed to hold his own against an unexpected attack, until Jim pulled out a few of his best Covert Ops manoeuvres. In spite of that, Jim had every intention of making sure that Blair requested that transfer when they got to the station. He didn't have to feel good about it, though.

He put down his coffee mug with a sigh. "Look, it's nothing personal." He waited until Sandburg lifted his eyes to look at him. "There are reasons, good reasons, why I can't have a partner right now. You may not believe this, but I'm doing you a favour here, kid."

"You can do me a favour and stop calling me kid." Sandburg rarely spoke so sharply. "I'm twenty-six, Jim. Hardly a kid."

"Sorry." Jim shifted uncomfortably, aware of being at a disadvantage and knowing that Sandburg was bound to realise that fact pretty soon. "I'll talk to Simon. It'll be okay."

"Why don't you just talk to me, Jim? I'm the one who needs to know what's going on here."

Jim stared into a pair of earnest blue eyes and felt his heart sinking. He'd really hoped to avoid this. "You don't want to be my partner. Just take it from me."

Sandburg laughed. It wasn't a happy sound at all. "You know, when Captain Banks told me you were going to be my partner it was like... like Holy Grail time, man. Why wouldn't I want to be your partner? Hell, Jim, you're a legend - three times Cop of the Year. Best arrest record of any cop ever. Highly decorated ex-military officer. You're a fucking hero, man. Too good for a rookie like me, I guess."

"It's not that." Jim spoke abruptly, stung by the hero worship he saw in the kid's... no, in Sandburg's eyes. He came to the reluctant conclusion that he'd have to tell Sandburg the real reason - one of them, at least. "I'm gay."

He'd braced himself against seeing the admiration turn to disgust. However often he'd seen it, it never got any easier. Sandburg's expression didn't change. "Yeah, so?"

"Don't be obtuse, Sandburg."

Sandburg grinned. "Ooh, he knows big words."

Jim resisted the urge to swat him. He needed to keep a distance from Sandburg if this was going to work and it was getting increasingly difficult not to like the rookie. "You know how it is, Sandburg. You're not that green. I've got a target painted on my back and you don't need to be a part of that."

"So what am I supposed to do? Just walk away and leave you to handle it on your own?" Blair leaned forward, eyes intent. "That isn't why I became a cop."

"Spare me the bleeding heart." This was getting dangerous now, and Jim decided to end it fast. "I don't need your help. I just need a clear field, without having to worry about some green kid getting caught in the crossfire."

"It's not going to work." Blair smiled, relaxed and looking very sure of himself. "You're not going to drive me away like that. Sorry, man, but you've missed your chance. I'm staying."

And that, effectively, was the end of the argument.

The next two days Blair counted amongst the best of his life. His partnership with Jim was everything Blair had dreamed it would be, and then some. He learned more about policing in those two days than in the whole of his six months in the Academy. None of it prepared him for what happened on Friday afternoon.

"Chief." Blair looked up, already used to the nickname. Jim was standing in front of his desk, shielding him, he realised later, from the gaze of the other members of Major Crime. "It's time."

"Time for what?" They still had an hour to go before their shift ended.

Jim's face was impassive. "Time to talk to Simon about that transfer. If you don't, I will."

"You can't do this! You agreed..."

"No. You agreed that if I didn't want you as my partner by the end of the week, you'd ask for a transfer." Jim folded his arms across his chest. "Well, I don't want you."

"I won't do it." Blair stared up into Jim's face. "And you can't make me."

The deliberate childishness of his reply had the effect he'd hoped. A quiver started at the corner of Jim's mouth and transmuted into a reluctant smile. "Can too."

He grinned. "Come on, Jim, you know you want me." He batted his eyelids provocatively and the smile was wiped off his partner's face. "I was just kidding, okay?"

"Chief, we need to talk." Jim lifted him out of his seat with one hand. "Come on."

There were too many people around for them to be able to talk in the elevator, and when Jim bundled him into the truck, Blair decided to let him set the pace. He would just dig his heels in at every opportunity and hope that Jim tired of the argument before he did.

They ended up at Jim's loft again and Blair smiled. If Jim thought that would give him the home ground advantage he had another think coming. Blair had already won one round here, and he was more than ready to repeat his success.

He settled on the couch, making it his own territory, while Jim made them both mugs of coffee. He took it with a smile and watched Jim sink into the loveseat with a sigh. Then the older man took a sip of coffee and looked at Blair solemnly. "I didn't want to tell you this, Chief. You have to promise that it won't go any further."

Instantly, Blair was wary. He didn't think Jim was acting and he sounded very serious indeed. "You know you can trust me."

"Yeah. I think I can." Jim stared down into his mug for a moment, then lifted those incredible ice-blue eyes to meet Blair's. "I'm sick. It's serious. Sooner or later it's going to start affecting my ability to..." his hands tightened on the mug.

Oh God. "What is it Jim?"

"I don't know. None of the doctors I've been to can tell me." Jim shook his head slightly, flashing a quick smile at him. "I wouldn't have told you this, except that, given the other thing... well, I don't want you to get stuck in the middle of some...situation... especially when I can't even be sure of holding up my end of the action."

He was talking like he was going to die. Blair pushed that thought away. This couldn't be happening, not when he'd just found this amazing man. He couldn't lose Jim now. He pulled back from the edge of panic and reached over to lay a hand on Jim's arm. "Tell me about it, Jim. Please."

"I get these... these attacks. Everything goes haywire. I can't control them and I can't predict them. And they're getting worse - more intense, more frequent. I don't know when it's going to end, but I know I can't go on like this for much longer." He looked away, out the window. "Sometimes I black out. I haven't done it in a fire fight yet, but it's only a matter of time."

"What happens? When you have one of these attacks?" His hand tightened on Jim's arm. "Jim, tell me. Maybe I can help."

"How? You're not even a doctor."

He couldn't answer that. He didn't know; but he knew that he had to try. "What harm can it do?"

"None, I guess." Jim shrugged. "My senses go crazy. Lights too bright. Sounds too loud. It hurts like hell."

"All your senses, or just those two?" In spite of his concern, Blair was becoming fascinated with the phenomenon too. Something was stirring in the back of his mind, but he couldn't tie it down.

"All of them." Jim pulled away and stood. He started pacing, as his agitation became more and more apparent. "Sometimes I feel like my skin's on fire, or I can't eat because everything tastes too... too..." he shrugged helplessly. "So, what do you think, Doc? Are you going to tell me I'm going crazy? That's what some of them think."

"No, I'm not going to tell you that." Blair rose to stand in front of him. "I don't know what's happening, Jim, but I'll bet I can help you."


"Yeah. I'll bet these attacks are, partially at least, brought on by stress. Even if they're not, I'll bet the effects of these attacks are worse because you're so freaked out by them." At Jim's growl, Blair smiled. "Relax, big guy, I'm not dissing you. Anybody would freak if that was happening to them."

"So what do you suggest?" Jim looked both unconvinced and pathetically hopeful.

"Well, I could teach you some relaxation techniques. You know, breathing, meditation..." he stopped as Jim rolled his eyes. "Come on, Jim, it's documented fact. A yogi can lower his heart rate to almost zero with the right training. You can use those techniques." An idea occurred to him and he grinned. "Give me another week. I'm sure I can help you. Okay?"

He knew he'd won when Jim sighed. "Okay. One more week."

By Sunday Blair was no nearer figuring out what was happening to Jim, but they'd made some progress on using breathing techniques to help him relax. They'd spent a couple of hours together on Saturday, and Blair had raided his CD collection to find music suitable for meditation. Today, he was planning something a little different and was wondering nervously how Jim was going to react to the concept of herbal and homeopathic remedies.

There was a long delay while Blair waited for Jim to open the door. When he did, Blair gasped at the sight before him. Jim was pale and dishevelled and all too obviously in pain. "Man, what's happening?"

Jim shuddered uncontrollably. "My skin hurts." He moved away uncomfortably, though all he seemed to be wearing was an old towelling robe. "Come in."

"Okay." Blair thought fast. There must be something in his pack that would help with this. "Okay, how about you go upstairs and lie down. I'll be with you in a minute."

Jim headed for his bedroom without further comment and Blair began rummaging in his backpack. "Chamomile tea... no. Willow bark... might help with the pain, but..." he could make tea with it but something topical was what he needed. Ah, ha! "Apricot oil with vitamin E. Yes!"

He grabbed the small bottle and rushed upstairs.

Jim was lying face down on the bed, his legs hanging over the edge, his hands clenched in the bedding. His face, what Blair could see of it, was a mask of concentrated misery.

"Okay, Jim, I need you to help me, here." He kept his voice quiet, soothing. "I'm gonna rub this into your skin. It should ease some of the symptoms at least. You wanna help me get this robe off?"

If Jim didn't exactly help, at least he didn't actively resist the removal of his robe. Beneath, the skin was reddened, but there was no rash, no obvious sign of skin trouble. If it hadn't been obvious that Jim was in pain, Blair would have thought there was nothing wrong. He put that issue aside and concentrated on warming the oil in his hands.

His first, cautious, touch made Jim flinch, but that was mostly reflex, it seemed. Almost immediately the tense body began to relax under his hands and Blair helped it along with a soft sing-song monologue designed to lull the older man's senses. By the time he'd made his way from Jim's shoulders down to his feet, his patient was verging on unconsciousness.

"Turn over, Jim. I want to do your front too. This stuff's good for your skin, man. It'll really help." His gentle insistence and tugging hands roused Jim enough to co-operate and Blair started again at Jim's shoulders, working his way downwards.

The topology was very different this time, and Blair had to distract his thoughts, and his words, as he massaged the oil into Jim's smooth skin. Whether or not Jim was aware of his body's reactions, Blair wasn't sure. With any luck, he'd never find out. Jim's eyes were closed, his face relaxed and he was breathing easily. All in all, Blair counted his first attempt at intervention a remarkable success.

He smoothed his oily hands over his partner's long, elegant feet one last time and sat back on his heels with a satisfied sigh. For a moment neither of them moved, then Jim's eyes opened and he stared up at Blair with an unreadable expression.

"Feeling better, buddy?" Blair kept his voice low.

Jim blinked. His eyes closed and he inhaled deeply.

"Good. That's good, Jim." Blair smiled. "Remember your breathing. Just breathe slowly and let your heartbeat slow to the same... urgh!"

The breath was crushed out of him as Jim surged up and wrapped iron hard arms around his chest. Before he could marshal his wits enough to speak, Jim's mouth closed over his lips and Jim's tongue plunged into his mouth. He was too stunned to resist when Jim's hands began to tear at his clothing and by the time he was half naked, any thought of resistance was far from his mind.

"Jim! Jim, let me... oh, God..." he wriggled against Jim's powerful body as his jeans were dragged down off his hips, "please, oh please... Jim..."

Blair's cock brushed against matching hardness beneath him and he sobbed, rocking his hips into Jim's incredible heat. Jim hadn't said a word so far, and now neither of them was capable of vocalising anything more than needy groans and grunts of effort. Blair shuddered as Jim's orgasm was wrenched from him; he thrust again and again into the slick wetness on Jim's belly and came with a ragged cry.

Someone, very far away, was calling his name, but he ignored the voice; his body, hell, even his eyelids were too heavy to move. Hands gripped his shoulders and shook him, rousing a faint mutter of protest. The voice sounded worried, almost panicked, and it was that which finally got through the haze of well-being enveloping him.

"Hey." Blair's eyes gazed into Jim's from a distance measured in inches and he smiled lazily. "Wow, Jim, that was..." he sighed and closed his eyes again.

"Blair!" Irritation now mingled with the concern in Jim's voice. "Wake up."

"Don't wanna." Jim shook him again. "Oh, all right." Blair pushed himself up onto one elbow and looked down at Jim radiating a distinctly proprietary smugness that made Jim's eyes narrow in unmistakable annoyance. "Happy now?"

"I'd be happier if I had any idea what the hell just happened." He eyed Blair accusingly. "Is there something you want to tell me, Sandburg? 'Cause you seem awfully calm for a straight guy who's just had sex with another guy."

Blair yawned. "I'm Bi, actually. But I figured I'd just stick with women when I went to the Academy. Keep things simple for a while."

"Thank God for that. I thought I'd fucking raped you." His voice shook, but then Jim rolled onto his back with a sigh of relief and for a while there was just contented silence. "So, what just happened?"

"I don't know, man." Blair ran a finger down the centre of Jim's chest almost to his navel. He frowned slightly. "I'd just finished your massage and I thought you were asleep. Then you took this really deep breath and, wham!"

Jim closed his eyes, frowning as he concentrated. "I could smell you." He opened his eyes again, staring up at Blair in shock. "I could smell you and you were aroused. Then... God..."

"You could tell I was turned on?" Blair felt his eyes widen. "Oh man, that's..." Once again, something stirred in his memory. He'd really have to try and remember what it was, because he had a feeling it might be important. Except that right now he was so damned aroused by the idea of Jim smelling him like that, he couldn't think straight at all.

"Sandburg! Hello!" Jim's hand waved in front of his eyes. "Earth to Sandburg."

Blair gathered his wits about him with a shudder and looked down at his partner. His eyes travelled, helplessly trapped by all that manly flesh, down the smooth, muscular chest to a narrow waist and hips. Not a hint of body hair, except at his groin and under his arms, unlike Blair's own furry self. Jim's cock was as beautiful as the man himself, even now, lying moist and depleted against a hard, flat belly. It was so damned unfair.

Jim cleared his throat. "Uh, Sandburg? Not that I'm not flattered, but..."

"Oh. Yeah. You should be, Jim." Blair grinned, completely unabashed. "Can you tell how turned on I am right now?"

"I hardly need hyper senses to do that." Jim's voice was dryly amused. He gestured towards Blair's groin, where his cock was already showing signs of reviving interest.

He leaned over and kissed Jim. It was much better this time, now that he was prepared for it. Much sweeter, more sensuous. Blair loved kissing, loved the intimacy and the give and take; loved the sharing of breath between two warm, horny bodies. Jim was such a good kisser. The Olympic athlete of kissing - ten out of ten for technical ability, ten out of ten for artistic interpretation. Gold medal performance.

His hands ached to touch all that wonderful skin, but Blair hesitated, concerned by the memory of Jim's earlier discomfort. He compromised, laying a hand flat on Jim's chest and stroking gently. "How's your skin feeling now, Jim?"

"It's fine." Jim smiled, relief evident on his face. "Whatever that stuff was, it worked."

"Okay." Blair moved his hand down to Jim's belly, just above the line of his pubic hair. "How does that feel?" He traced a line across the sleek skin with the very tips of his fingers and Jim shuddered. "Want me to do it again?"

Jim nodded, swallowing hard and already looking like he was ready to lose control. His cock jerked at Blair's next touch, on the sensitive inside of Jim's thigh. "It's been a while, hasn't it, Jim?"

"Yeah." Eyes closed, Jim flushed. "I couldn't risk... not with the way my senses have been."

God, what a waste. What a fucking nightmare for Jim. It was only gradually starting to sink in just how much this problem of Jim's was destroying his life. No wonder he'd seemed like such a pain in the ass. Blair brushed a kiss across one heated cheek. "Want me to do something about it, Jim?"

A quick, jerky nod was all the answer Jim gave. Then he shivered and his legs sprawled apart, begging silently for what he needed. Blair groaned softly, aroused almost beyond his ability to control it. "Have you got what we need, big guy?"

There was no response this time. He leaned over Jim's body, reaching for the drawer of the nightstand. Inside he found condoms and lube, of course, but scattered amongst an interesting collection of supplies - cockrings, dildoes of various sizes, and a string of beads that had never been around a woman's neck, and brought a grin to Blair's lips. Later, maybe. For now Jim's needs were desperately simple.

He prepared himself rapidly, then knelt beside Jim's tense body, stroking gently up and down the inside of Jim's thigh. "Easy, Jim. Remember your breathing like I told you. Slowly, now, along with me."

After a few moments, Jim's breathing eased and his eyelids lifted slightly. "Do it."

"Yeah." Blair smiled down at him. "You ready?"

Jim's eyes closed again, but his breathing remained slow, if a little uneven. Blair eased his thighs apart and slipped between them while his fingers, slick with gel, soothed the burning opening.

God, the sounds Jim was making - needy, desperate sounds that he was trying so hard to contain. Sounds that went straight to Blair's cock and set it afire. He slid an exploratory finger inside and Jim's hips arched off the bed. It had slipped in so easily Blair immediately added a second and then a third finger. Any concern he might have had disappeared as Jim moved, riding the length of his fingers with hungry pleasure.

Folding back those long legs over Jim's gleaming body almost felt like a religious experience. Blair trembled, biting his lip to remind himself to go carefully, then nudged Jim's hole with his cock. His partner let out an anguished groan as Blair pressed into him and long shudders sent muscles rippling through the walls sheathing his cock.

It would be so easy to lose control. Blair leaned forward, drawing Jim's legs up and around his waist, pressing deeper inside his lover, kissing those lips, parted, panting for breath, so luscious it made him ache. How would they feel around his cock? As perfect as the channel that held him now? Oh, God... how good did it have to get before it became unbearable?

He reached out and laid his hand over Jim's for a moment then wrapped it around his cock. Beneath him Jim shuddered, his eyes flying open. His mouth gaped soundlessly as his throat worked; then he groaned.

Blair could feel the vibrations of it right down to the base of his cock. He lost whatever shreds of self-control that remained to him and drove into Jim's body with a fierce desperation that more than matched his lover's. Impossibly, Jim met him, thrust for thrust, as primitive and as violent in his need. It was a punishing race for relief and their bodies were soaked with sweat; as he watched, drops fell from his body to splatter against Jim's chest.

Every breath tore at his lungs, and Blair could hardly imagine what Jim was feeling. Just when it seemed that relief was impossible, that he would die before he was able to climax, the cock in his hand swelled suddenly. He felt the first warning quiver of Jim's spasming ass muscles and felt his own balls draw up in sympathy. All he wanted now was to let go, to surrender to his partner in the same moment that Jim surrendered to him. A wash of heat, so intense it hurt, flowed across his skin, then he was falling, out of control.

When he woke again Sandburg was gone. Jim showered and, wrapped in his bathrobe, made himself fresh coffee and drank it, still leaning against the kitchen counter. He hadn't felt this good in a long time. It wasn't until he went back up to his bedroom to dress that he found Blair's note.

Just gone to do some research. Had an idea. See you soon.

Well, that was very enlightening. Jim laughed under his breath as he pulled on sweatpants and a t-shirt. It was also about what he was coming to expect from his new partner.

It was hard to believe he'd known Blair Sandburg for less than a week. In that time the kid had turned his whole world upside down, inside out, and somehow managed to smuggle a tiny shred of hope past Jim's defences. Maybe Sandburg would find something. And if he didn't, well at least having company would be better than awaiting the inevitable alone and isolated.

He went downstairs, poured himself another coffee and sat on the couch, sipping slowly and thinking. The onset of his problems had been so gradual, Jim couldn't say when they'd started. Perhaps he'd even missed a few of the fade-outs and he'd certainly dismissed the early sensory spikes as some kind of allergic reaction, or migraine, until the severity of the attacks had increased and they'd started coming closer together. Now, barely a day went by when something didn't set one off.

Except... Jim's head came up with a snap that reverberated through his body, making him splash some of the black liquid across the couch. Instead of hastening to wipe it up, he sat, ignoring the spillage, his mind racing. Until today, he hadn't had an attack all week; and the only thing that had changed was Blair's presence in his life.

His mind refused to accept this conclusion. It was simply too crazy to be considered. Why would Blair's company cause the episodes to stop, or at least abate? And yet, he kept coming back to this one, indisputable fact: he had not had a sensory spike or blackout in nearly a week. Until today, when he'd been apart from Blair for more than twenty-four hours.

"Okay, now I know I've lost it." Jim shook his head resignedly and drank another mouthful of coffee. He'd even started talking to himself...

There had to be some other reason, but damned if he could think of one. He was still trying twenty minutes later when he heard Blair's footsteps coming towards his door and rose to open it for his partner. "Maybe I'm going crazy, Chief, but ..."

"Jim, I've got some incredible..." They both stopped at the same moment and then Blair visibly throttled back his excitement. "Sorry. Go ahead, Jim."

"No." Jim shook his head, unwilling to make a fool of himself if Blair really had found a solution to his problems. "You go first."

"Okay." Blair pulled a large, very old book from his backpack. "Now, this is gonna sound... well, pretty out there, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah? Why don't you surprise me?" Relief flooded through him. If Sandburg thought his own idea was outrageous, then just maybe he wouldn't think Jim's was totally insane.

"Okay, well, I came across this a while ago, when I was still at Ranier. It's over a hundred years old, and..." Blair's face lit up like a hundred watt bulb, "it describes people like you, Jim. The sensory spikes, the zones, the ability to see and hear things nobody else can... it's all in here." He thumped the cover of the book for emphasis. "That's why the doctors can't find anything wrong with you. It's all completely natural, Jim. You're a Sentinel!"

"Say what?" Jim blinked. As a crackpot theory, it was almost on the same level as his own. "What the hell is a Sentinel, anyway?"

"A Sentinel is a watchman, or a guardian. In tribal societies the Sentinel would protect the village, help find game for the hunters. Their hyperactive senses made them incredibly valuable to the tribe." Blair beamed and poked Jim in the chest for emphasis. "You. Are. A. Sentinel."

"Chief, I just don't see it. How can I be one of these guys, if I can't even look after myself?" Jim spread his hands in defeat. "It just won't wash."

"No, Jim. Sentinels had trouble with their senses too. That's why they always had a companion, a Guide. To help them control and focus their senses, stop them zoning." Blair gripped Jim's arm fiercely, shaking him a little. "I can help you with your senses, Jim. I don't really know a lot, but with Burton's information and what I know about meditation... add in a bit of scientific method, and I'm sure I can..."

" my Guide?" Jim stared open-mouthed at his eager partner. "Chief, I..."

"Come on, Jim. What harm can it do?" Blair looked at him pleadingly. "It's not as if you've got too many options here."

"No. I mean..." Jim shook his head in confusion. It was all happening too fast. "No, I don't have any other options, and besides... I thought I was going crazy, Chief. Maybe you will too, but... I realised, while you were gone; the spike I had today, it was the first in a week. Lately, I've been getting at least one every day. And the only thing different is..."

"Me?" Blair's voice was almost a squeak.

"You." Jim nodded once, firmly. "It didn't make any sense. But if you're a Guide... my Guide..."

Blair looked like all his dreams had come true. "Oh, man... there was some stuff in here about Sentinels and Guides having some kind of a bond, but I thought Burton was just romanticising the whole thing. So... so, you'll do it?"

"It doesn't look like I have a choice." And Jim smiled.

And that was how Blair Sandburg became the Guide to the Sentinel of Cascade. In any decent story, that would be the perfect happy-ever-after ending. So it really sucked how quickly everything went bad.

The following week had been incredible. Beyond-his-wildest-dreams wonderful. The work on Jim's senses had gone well. Blair had all but moved into the loft and was getting the best sex of his life on a regular basis. And, of course, he was still working with the best cop in the whole Cascade PD. They closed a particularly gruesome homicide in three days flat, thanks to Jim's new abilities, and earned a commendation from the Governor, whose oldest friend had been the victim. Life was great.

It all came crashing down around them late Friday afternoon, when they went down to the garage to find Jim's truck had been sprayed with anti-gay graffiti and all his tyres had been slashed. There was no doubt it had been done by some of their fellow officers.

Even so, Blair didn't realise right away that the honeymoon was over. Sure, Jim was quiet, brooding almost, over the weekend, but that was pretty much what he'd expected. What Blair hadn't expected was to be called into Simon's office on Monday morning to find that Jim had once again requested to have Blair assigned to another Major Crime detective.

"Damn it, Jim! What the hell do you think you're doing?" Blair ignored Banks' startled stare as he crowded into Jim's personal space and scowled up at his partner. "I'm not going to partner up with anyone else, and you'd better just get used to the idea."

"Look, I'm doing this for your own good." Jim glared back, equally determined and totally oblivious of their captain's reaction. "I told you what was going down. I want you out of the way. Simon, back me up here."

Simon shook his head, raising his hands in surrender and backing away from the pair of them. "Oh no, I'm not getting in between you two. Sort it out yourselves and tell me what you're gonna do. Dismissed."

Jim threw a furious glance that seemed to be divided between the two of them and stalked out of Simon's office. Blair grinned. "Thanks for backing me up, man."

"I don't recall doing any such thing." Simon's expression softened a little. "He's got a point. Be careful, kid."

"I will, sir. Thanks." Blair turned to follow his partner. "Hey, Ellison, wait up there."

He accepted the situation because he had no choice, any more than he had a choice about the increasingly personal attacks. First it had been the obviously doctored pictures of him with another man that were distributed around various departments of the PD, interspersed with hate mail arriving in his e-mail Inbox on a regular basis.

Wild rumours had been circulating for weeks about his supposed sexual antics, but now things were escalating. Two days after he'd failed to get rid of Sandburg a complete stranger arrived in Major Crime to place a charge of sexual assault against him. The fact that he'd been in a meeting with Simon, Blair and the Police Commissioner at the time of the alleged attack indicated that the guys who'd pulled that stunt weren't able to keep a close watch on him. But that worked both ways. They were no nearer than they'd ever been to proving the identity of the perpetrators.

Blair refused to budge. He listened with an air of concern to all Jim's arguments, both rational and emotional, and then sunnily continued doing exactly what he'd done all along - stick to Jim's side like he'd been glued there.

Jim had always thought of himself as the original immovable object. It had never occurred to him that this essentially passive stance stood no chance against an irresistible force that flittered around said object as though it was some new and interesting phenomenon to be studied.

Matters reached a head one Thursday afternoon when their call for backup went unanswered for close to forty minutes. The four patrol officers who arrived were lucky to survive the initial onslaught, not from the gang members who'd held Jim and Blair pinned down for nearly an hour, but from Jim.

His first thoughts were for Blair, of course - they'd been separated when the shooting started and it had been impossible to communicate, for fear of giving away their positions to their attackers. Jim knew the sound of Blair's gun well enough to pick it out in the general din of the initial fire fight, but then the shooting had become sporadic as they settled in for the long haul and he didn't even have that reassurance.

So Jim's first action was to drag his partner out of hiding and check him over thoroughly, brushing aside Blair's protests without a second thought. His veins were burning with adrenaline, but he felt curiously chilled at the same time. When Blair finally managed to extract himself from the impromptu examination, flushing under the stares of the other cops, Jim turned on the nearest unfortunate and set about reaming him a new one.

He was still furious, but coldly so, when they reached Major Crime and Jim had a whole new set of victims to pounce on. Starting with Simon.

"Now hold on, Jim." Simon's steely voice cut through Jim's demands like an icy wind through thin cloth. "I want the people responsible as much as you do, but first we have to find out who they are."

"Damnit, Simon..."

"No." Simon held up a warning hand. "I've already talked to the dispatchers. They said they called for backup immediately you requested it. The officers on patrol say they responded as soon as they got the call. The only trouble is, there's a thirty minute disparity between the two events. We don't know how it happened and until we do..."

Jim leaned over Simon's desk and lowered his voice to a menacing snarl. "Give me ten minutes with those turkeys and I'll find out what happened. I can guarantee you that."

"Now, Jim, I really don't think that's a good idea." Blair's reassuring voice brought Jim back from the brink. His hand came down on Jim's back and rubbed soothingly up and down between his shoulder blades. "We don't want to alienate our friends, now, do we?"

"Kid's right, Jim." Simon relaxed enough to chomp down on his unlit cigar. "We need proof. You can't go off half cocked accusing fellow officers of these kind of things. Let me handle this, okay?"

Jim cast a frustrated glare from his captain's dark face to Blair's worried one and turned for the door with a snarl. "I'm going home."

He didn't wait for Blair; he didn't have to. He knew very well that Blair would follow him to the loft, in fact, Jim was counting on it. He paced, too agitated to remain still, just a few feet inside the door. When the expected knock came on the door Jim yanked it open, dragged Blair inside and slammed him back into the closing door with a thud.

"Hey!" Blair's protest was cut off with a gurgle as Jim's kiss crushed his lips against his teeth.

Within a few heartbeats, Jim had stripped off Blair's jacket, shirt and t-shirt and lowered his head to nuzzle the soft fine hairs growing high on Blair's shoulder.

"Jim! God, Jim..."

Silencing his lover with another hungry kiss, Jim got his hands got busy with Blair's jeans and in a moment they were down around his ankles. Blair was already hard, his cock leaping under Jim's eager touch and that fervent response destroyed the last remnants of Jim's self-control. Jim flipped Blair's sturdy body around with an ease that ought to have surprised him, if he'd had any ability to think at all, and pushed him face first into the door.

Commonsense hadn't entirely deserted him; Jim cushioned the impact, with one hand cradling Blair's genitals and the other his head, but that was about as far as his consideration extended. He released Blair's head, unzipped his pants one-handed, and pulled out his cock.

"Ready?" His voice was almost unrecognisable, even to his own ears. He waited for Blair's jerky nod of the head and then slid smoothly into his straining body.

A deep groan was wrenched out of Blair, and Jim could feel the echoes of it in his own body. With one hand tightly wrapped around Blair's cock and the other tugging roughly at his balls, Jim thrust furiously into Blair's body, surrendering to the rising tide of his need. Somewhere, buried deep inside him, something was howling in fear and shock at his extreme behaviour, but he felt powerless to stop himself. Whatever was causing it seemed to have infected Blair, too; the sounds he made were of encouragement, not protest.

It was no more than a few heartbeats before Jim felt the tell-tale pressure of approaching orgasm; not nearly long enough, yet his lungs were labouring as if he'd run a marathon. A ragged cry was torn from his throat and his cock emptied itself into Blair as the already tight channel clenched around him.

While it had been happening, it had seemed so right, so necessary, but now Blair was shaking with the aftermath of their frantic coupling. Jim's weight against his back pressed him almost painfully into the unyielding surface of the door, and his body ached in places he'd hardly realised existed. But, God, the feeling... incredible. Indescribable.

Jim's cock slipped free of his body and Blair moaned softly at the emptiness it left behind. If only they could stay joined together forever. There wasn't a sound from his lover, and Blair lacked the strength to turn. He had the feeling that if he tried to release his tenuous grip on the door he'd simply slither to the floor like a pile of over-cooked noodles.

He heard Jim's footsteps retreating and then, after what seemed like an eternity, returning. A warm damp cloth moved across his groin and then between his buttocks, carefully cleaning him up.

"You okay, Chief?" Jim's hands turned him gently, supporting him when his feet tangled in the jeans and boxers pooled around them. His lover's worried expression warmed him, but Blair only managed to smile and nod with a serious effort. Jim smiled faintly. "You look like you could do with some help."

It was weird to see Jim, still fully clothed, kneeling at his feet, but Blair was certainly incapable, right now, of removing his own shoes and socks and stepping out of the crumpled jeans. "Oh, man... what was that?"

"Beats me." Jim glanced up, his face falling back into anxious lines. "Did I hurt you?"

Blair shook his head lazily. "I don't think so." He shifted his weight tentatively from one foot to the other and felt some unaccustomed twinges. "Um... can I take a rain check on that? I'll get back to you."

"Okay." Jim rubbed his cheek against Blair's thigh and in spite of the exhaustion he felt, Blair's cock stirred a little. Jim chuckled softly. "God, you never give up, do you?"

"You bring out the worst in me. Ohhh..." Blair moaned softly as Jim's tongue slid over his cock like a whisper of desire.

Jim sucked Blair's cock gently for a moment and then released it. "Come upstairs."

The husky murmur made the tingle in Blair's groin swell to an ache and put the strength back into his legs. He pushed himself away from the door and staggered a little, almost falling over Jim in the process. Luckily, Jim was faster to react than Blair. He got to his feet in one smooth movement and wrapped an arm around Blair's waist.

Together, they stumbled up the stairs and by the time they reached Jim's bedroom Blair had almost recovered his equilibrium. He rounded on his lover, pressing into him and reaching for the top button of his shirt.

"God, Blair..." Jim's mouth fastened over Blair's, needy with returning hunger.

He couldn't talk, kiss, and unbutton at the same time, Blair realised. Of the three, talking was by far the most expendable option and he put his tongue to better use by plunging it into Jim's mouth. An eternity later, Jim's shirt fell open at last and he shoved it off the wide shoulders with a sense of relief and started on the zipper of Jim's pants.

When he finally had Jim stripped down to undershirt and boxers, Blair pushed him down onto the bed with a grin. "Now it's my turn, big guy. Turn about and all that."

The prospect didn't seem to bother Jim at all. He stared up at Blair, his pupils so dilated that his eyes appeared almost black. Blair knelt swiftly, while he still had enough self-control not to throw himself on top of Jim and ravish him immediately, and removed his lover's shoes and socks. He clambered onto the bed, over Jim's prone body and knelt astride his hips.

Jim's eyes roved over Blair's nakedness, blatantly admiring. "Any time, Chief. Any time at all."

"Good." Blair lifted the undershirt and kissed Jim's belly extravagantly before peeling it off over his head. "You'll do exactly what I say." He flipped the button of Jim's shorts open with an expert twist of his fingers. "Exactly when I say it." He tugged the boxers down. "And you will not, under any circumstances, come until I tell you you can. You got that?"

"Loud and clear, boss." There was amusement in Jim's face and voice, amusement which rapidly disappeared as Blair began to touch himself instead of Jim. "Hey, no fair, Sandburg. You didn't say anything about..."

"And you won't argue." Blair smiled smugly. "Not if you want to experience the most incredible orgasm of your life, okay?"

Jim snickered. "Don't go getting all modest on me, Chief."

"I figure one good turn deserves another, lover boy." Blair smiled lasciviously as he lazily stroked his cock, and watched Jim's eyes glaze over.

After that last incredible orgasm, Blair's cock was slow to respond, but half hard was all he really needed right now. He bent over Jim, nuzzling, kissing, licking - and allowing his drooping cock to trail lightly over Jim's oh-so-sensitive skin. In no time at all, his stoic Sentinel was writhing under his touch and moaning helplessly.

Time for phase two. Blair leaned over and opened the drawer on Jim's nightstand. Poking among the various toys, he found what he needed without too much trouble.

"What the..." Jim's slurred voice faded into a gurgle as Blair fastened the elasticised band tightly around the base of his cock.

"Just a precaution." Blair grinned. "In case you can't hold on." He reinforced his words with a long slow lick from just above the cockring to the tip of Jim's reddened shaft. He swirled his tongue around the sensitive glans a few times, just in case Jim still had any lingering doubts and then sucked it gently. Jim's hips rocked upwards, thrusting cautiously into his mouth and Blair drew back. "Nuh-uh. You weren't listening. Did I tell you to do that?"

A heartfelt groan was Jim's only answer. As punishment Blair set out on a slow and rambling exploration of his lover's body, flitting from one sweet spot to another, with no discernable pattern and long random pauses, during which Jim would breathe harshly and grip the bedding with white-knuckled desperation. Every so often, Blair would alight upon the sticky trail of his own pre-cum, and linger there making appreciative slurping noises.

When he thought Jim had probably suffered enough, Blair relented a little. He sat up and surveyed his handiwork with a sense of satisfaction at Jim's glazed eyes and slackened mouth. Making love to a Sentinel was a reward in its own right - he knew exactly how to reduce Jim to a quivering wreck and he wasn't afraid to use that knowledge. But it was far more than that - Blair could no longer ignore the stirrings he felt that told him Jim meant far more to him than just being the best fuck of his life.

"Blair?" Jim's voice was little more than a hoarse whisper, and Blair leaned forward to kiss him tenderly. It was humbling to realise just how vulnerable this proud, reserved man had made himself to his rookie partner.

Fine tremors were running continuously just below Jim's skin. Blair took a few moments to stroke his hand lightly over Jim's torso, murmuring soothing nonsense words until Jim relaxed a little. "That's right. Take it easy, Jim. We're not nearly finished here, big guy."

He took Jim's straining shaft in a careful grip, pressing sharply for a moment just below the glans to relieve the urge to climax. When Jim sighed and closed his eyes Blair smiled. "You know what I'd really love to do?" he asked, conversationally. "I'd love to suck you at the same time I fucked you."

Jim's eyes flew open and he made a choked, helpless sound.

"Guess I'm really going to get back into those Yoga classes, hey, Jim?" Blair smirked at him, aware that his lover was increasingly hair-triggered and knowing it would take very little to push him over the edge. Which he had every intention of doing. Eventually.

"Meantime, I'll just have to settle for fucking you senseless." He stroked up and down Jim's cock a few times, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Is that okay with you, big guy?"

Jim's lips moved soundlessly for several seconds before he managed a strangled 'yes'.

He was more than ready now, to move to the next stage - his cock jutted eagerly above Jim's belly and the throb of his blood in the swollen flesh sent echoes through his body. Even so, Blair couldn't resist the temptation to make a production of rolling on the condom and slathering himself with lube. Sweat poured off Jim, but he didn't move or speak, just lay tensely still, his eyes following Blair's every move with something close to anguish showing in them.

It wasn't necessary to prepare Jim with his fingers, though Blair was tempted to do it anyway. But this time he took pity on his desperate lover and knelt between the wantonly spread thighs. Blair stroked them thoughtfully, easing the taut muscles before folding those long legs back across Jim's body. His cock slid home with ridiculous ease, and Jim released a long, shuddering sigh.

"Gonna make this last forever..." Blair moved slowly deeper until he was fully sheathed. His hand, still slick with lube, slid the length of Jim's cock and down again to the base. "Gonna make you scream... gonna fuck you till you can't remember your own name..."

Jim moaned and yet, somehow, he managed to keep still. Blair crooned his approval and rocked his hips back until only his cockhead remained inside Jim's ass. Then he eased back in, slowly; so slowly his body screamed its need at him. He ignored it, sliding in and out of his lover in that same easy rhythm, while his hand kept time on Jim's cock.

It wasn't long before Blair recognised that he was close to losing control himself. He gasped out a warning and began to pound into his lover's body, so hard that the bed rocked and creaked with the force of it. Jim was beyond speech, making harsh, guttural sounds, his head thrown back so that the tendons of his throat stood out starkly. Blair's hand fairly flew along Jim's cock until, just as Jim's body began to rebel against the imposed stillness, he flipped the cockring's fastener loose.

"Now! Oh, fuck... Jim!" He felt the first convulsive ripple of Jim's ass along his cock with a vast relief and flung himself headlong into oblivion.

Silence, apart from some spectacularly heavy breathing, descended upon the loft.

By the time they'd dozed off their exertions and showered away the sticky remnants of their lovemaking it was getting late, and neither of them had the energy to consider cooking a meal. Instead they ordered takeout and retired back to Jim's freshly remade bed to eat at their leisure.

Nothing, of course, could stop Blair's mind from pondering Jim's behaviour that afternoon - and evening - but he was too hungry, and knew his Sentinel too damned well, to bother speculating aloud just yet. It had been intense; amazing, erotic and, in retrospect, more than a little frightening, and although Jim could be all of those things when he chose to be, it had been pretty obvious that Jim had not been in complete control of his actions.

His hunger eventually satisfied, Blair relaxed, lying sprawled on his side facing Jim across a jumble of empty cartons. Unconsciously, his lips curled into a little smile. Even dressed in a faded, misshapen t-shirt and baggy old sweatpants, nothing could hide the hard, elegant lines of his lover's body. Jim was, to put it bluntly, a wet dream come to life.

Jim sighed. "Okay. I know you're up to something. What is it?"

Blair thought about protesting his innocence, but if Jim was already primed to talk... well, he wouldn't be Blair Sandburg, Rookie of the Year, if he didn't take advantage of that fact. "You finished here?"

In answer, Jim began packing the cartons back into the sturdy paper bag they'd arrived in. Unusually, for him, he dropped the bag on the floor beside the bed and looked at Blair with a mixture of resignation and expectation.

"So I was wondering... are you always this possessive? 'Coz if so, it's gonna be kinda hard to keep me in the closet at work." Blair smiled jauntily. They'd had quite an argument over that one, and he still felt some resentment at losing. "What with you pawing me over like that."

"Believe me, I wish I knew why I reacted that way." Jim ran a hand over his hair, baffled frustration evident in his voice. "It wasn't that I didn't trust you - you know that, don't you, Chief?"

"I figured it out." He'd been furious, at first. Until he'd realised that Jim's overreaction was extreme, even for a life member of Control Freaks Anonymous. "So, I'm guessing it's some kind of Sentinel thing."

Jim's air of frustration deepened. While having to admit that his enhanced senses were useful in his work, Jim was having a hard time dealing with the more esoteric aspects of being a Sentinel - like the bond with his Guide.

"Don't sweat it, Jim. I mean, it makes sense that a Sentinel would be protective of his Guide. After all..." Blair belatedly realised that the direction he was headed was equally sensitive territory.

"I can't really function without one?" Jim's voice was dry. "Don't spare me, Chief. I figured that out pretty much from the start. I know I need you. But this... this is..."

"I know, but we can control it, man." Blair leaned towards his lover for a quick kiss. He could still feel a lingering edginess between them, and laughed nervously. "Did you see those uniforms, Jim? I swear they were thinking you were gonna jump me right there in front of them."

Jim didn't so much as crack a smile. "I nearly did. We really have to get on top of this." He rubbed a hand over his face and grimaced. "God knows what they've been telling the rest of the PD about it."

"Yeah, well maybe we can use that." Blair grinned blindingly. "I've got a great idea... you're gonna love this, man."

Actually, as Blair well knew, Jim was going to hate it; but he wasn't going to let a little thing like that stop him from protecting his Sentinel.

"Sandburg, I've been looking all over for you." Jim watched impatiently as his partner turned away from the urinal, his hands busy with his zipper.

Blair washed his hands unhurriedly at the row of washbasins, glancing at him irritably in the mirror. "So. You found me. Just give me a minute, man." He moved to the paper towel dispenser, nodding to the Vice Squad detective as he passed the older man.

"Banks wants to see us." Jim dropped a hand heavily on Blair's shoulder. "Move it, will you?"

Blair dropped his shoulder and twisted out from under Jim's hand. "Jesus, will you keep your fucking hands off me? You just can't leave it alone, can you?"

"Hey, don't flatter yourself." Jim scowled and backed away. "Why would I want a hairy punk like you anyway?"

"Bite me, Ellison. Biggest fucking mistake of my life, thinking being your partner was a good idea." Blair shoved past Jim and out the washroom door, ignoring both the other detective and the clerk who'd just entered. Jim glared at the two of them and followed him.

It only took a few long strides to catch up to his partner. Blair was muttering under his breath, but Jim didn't even try to make sense of the words. The other inhabitants of Major Crime turned to stare as the pair of them stormed past their desks and into Simon Banks' office.

"Well?" Banks barked out the word, dividing his glare equally between the two of them.

Jim shrugged. He didn't like this. Didn't want to get Blair involved in any way. Unfortunately, Simon had agreed with Blair this time.

Blair was ginning broadly. "We just staged a fight in the john. And I've been badmouthing Jim to anyone who'll listen."

"Hmph." Simon chomped on his unlit cigar and turned his eyes on Jim. "Heard anything?"

He knew what Simon meant, but just shrugged again. "People talking. Nothing serious."

"Give 'em time." Blair was practically bouncing on his feet. "Word'll spread fast, you can bet on that. Closed societies like the police are always a hotbed for rumours."

Jim rolled his eyes and caught Simon doing the same. "Just be careful. As soon as someone approaches you..."

"Come on, Jim, you know that's not gonna be enough. We gotta catch them red-handed." Blair looked to Simon for confirmation.

"Kid's right, Jim." Simon actually looked surprised to be agreeing with Blair. "Anything else, they'll just get a slap on the wrist."

"I don't like this." Jim scowled at the two of them. "It's too risky."

"Hey, our business is all about risk. Right?" Blair smiled brilliantly and raised his voice to a shout. "...and if he touches me one more time I swear I'm gonna file a sexual harassment suit. You got that?" He arranged his face into a scowl to match anything Jim could manage and stormed out of the office.

Ten minutes later, Jim's cell phone rang. "It worked. Guy called Donaldson from Homicide. He's got some others involved. I'm gonna meet them at Murphy's Bar and Grill at twelve-thirty."

There was no mistaking the excitement in Blair's voice. Jim frowned. "Just be careful, okay?"

"Sure. No problem, man." Blair lowered his voice. "Gotta go. I'll catch up with you later."

Blair looked over his three companions with a critical eye. In spite of the fact that Donaldson had been the one to approach Blair, McCain was the obvious leader of the trio. He was supremely self-confident and self-righteous, and Blair disliked him instantly. The third man, Barton, was a follower, pure and simple. It didn't take long to find out that Barton was McCain's brother-in-law.

"Ya know, I tried to keep an open mind. I mean, it's not really his fault he's a faggot, right?" Blair looked around the three faces as if seeking their approval. "And he's supposed to be a good cop. So, I figure, just suck it up and make the best of it, but man... he won't leave me alone. He's always touching me." He shuddered and gulped down a mouthful of beer.

"What else can you expect from a pervert, Sandburg?" McCain scowled. "It's all he thinks about. That Cop of the Year award stuff, it's a load of crap. Commissioner hands them out to all his favourites."

"Yeah. Why do you think none of us have ever got it?" Donaldson hastened to back up his leader, while Barton nodded silent agreement. "If it weren't for that Banks asshole, Ellison would be out on his ass. Bunch of niggers and queers and Je..." he hesitated at Blair's wide-eyed stare, "...Jesus freaks, they're making this PD a laughing stock."

"Really?" Blair shook his head wonderingly. He was almost enjoying himself; it was all too easy. "Man, I had no idea it was like that."

"It's about time things changed around here." Donaldson put his empty glass down with a thump. "It's time Ellison was taught a lesson, and we're gonna do it."

Blair leaned forward eagerly. "What're we gonna do?"

The two accomplices looked to McCain. Blair had noticed how he'd allowed Donaldson to do most of the talking, while reserving to himself the key pronouncements. Now he spoke slowly, portentously. "You're going to give him to us. And we're going to explain to Detective Ellison that his kind aren't wanted in the Force."

The plan was to abduct Jim and beat him up, with Blair's role being to lead Jim into the trap. At a quarter of seven, two evenings later, Blair headed out to the rendezvous, carefully wired up and with Banks and three other Major Crime officers as backup. The meeting place was a small, deserted store that had been scheduled for demolition in a week or two. Thanks to Simon's fussing, Blair arrived a little late. He knocked quietly on the battered back door and waited for a whispered query.

"It's me, man. Let me in." Blair blew on his chilled hands and looked around furtively, playing his part for all he was worth.

The door eased open a fraction and Blair slipped inside. Barton stared at him, looking more than a little uneasy. "We got a surprise for you, kid."

"Yeah?" Blair followed the older cop through a door that swung off kilter on damaged hinges and into a slightly larger room that was lit by a couple of heavy duty flashlights. The windows overlooking the street had been covered over with rusting corrugated iron. Donaldson and McCain were there, and in the shadows, Blair thought he saw someone else.

"You tell him?" McCain's voice was its usual hectoring tone, but with an undercurrent of arrogant satisfaction that made Blair nervous. At Barton's head shake, the other man's smile broadened. "We jumped the gun, Sandburg. Freak just about threw himself at us, so what could we do?"

Oh God. Blair repressed a shiver, even though the chill of the room made it a not unreasonable reaction. "You started without me?" He almost had to force the words out, but luckily they sounded more petulant than terrified.

Donaldson laughed. "Don't worry, there's still some life left in him. You'll get your turn."

The burly cop picked up one of the flashlights and aimed its beam into the dimness to his right. It illuminated a nightmarish figure. Jim had been stripped to the waist, and only the rope binding his wrists and slung over a hook hanging from the low ceiling was keeping him on his feet. His knees were buckled and his head sagged between taut arms. Blair thought he saw Jim flinch as the light hit his eyes, but if so, it was the only sign of life his partner gave.

Swallowing his horror, Blair walked over to Jim, taking in the injuries already inflicted on his lover. Jim's face was bruised and bloody and there were more bruises darkening on the pale skin of his arms and torso. The smell of blood grew stronger with every step Blair took, and his heart began to pound. The sickening scent was too strong. It wasn't until he was within a few paces of Jim that Blair saw what had been done.

Jim's jeans had been pulled open and the front of them was soaked in blood. For a moment Blair thought he was going to throw up. He fought the gagging reflex down and looked at McCain, standing beside him with a sanctimonious grin. "What have you done to him?"

"What perverts like him deserve." The grin widened as McCain's eyes wandered greedily over Jim's slumped figure.

"What the fuck have you done to him?" Blair's fist shot out with a speed and precision he'd never achieved in the unarmed combat classes at the Academy and smashed into the bigger man's nose. Blood spattered his hand and he thought he felt bone crunch. Ignoring the choked cry from McCain, Blair swung around, aiming a kick to Donaldson's knee that sent him tumbling to the ground at Jim's feet. "Banks! Get the fuck in here! You hear me?" Without the slightest hesitation he kicked Donaldson again, in the head this time.

A fist came at him from behind as Blair turned again. He ducked it instinctively and prepared to attack. But Barton only put up token resistance, as Blair finally remembered to draw his gun. "Freeze. All of you freeze or I'll blow your fucking brains out, you assholes. Just give me an excuse, okay? That's all I ask."

"Easy. Take it easy, kid." Simon's nasal voice brought Blair out of a black rage and he gasped. "It's all under control. Just put down the gun."

"Oh." Blair glanced down at the weapon, held in a white-knuckled grip in both hands. He holstered it hurriedly, ignoring the shakes that were beginning in his body. "Jim! Oh God..."

He heard a quiet sound of pain as he reached his partner's side. Jim's head lifted fractionally and he hissed as Blair slid an arm around his waist. "For God's sake, somebody give me a knife."

"Let me." Brown's voice was subdued as he stepped forward, his eyes averted from the bloodied figure. He reached up and slid the blade across the narrow rope bindings. "You need any help?"

Blair's knees were buckling with the effort of supporting Jim's weight, but he shook his head. He eased his lover to the floor, blocking out the sounds of the other cops clearing out their three colleagues, and Simon's voice calling for an ambulance.

"Jim? Come on, buddy. I've got you." Shaking with repressed nausea, Blair eased down the blood soaked jeans, ignoring Jim's harsh gasping breaths. But it wasn't as bad as he'd feared - the blood came from a series of shallow cuts made across Jim's belly, just above his pubic hair. Beneath them, his genitals were untouched. Blair moaned softly, lowering his head to hide the tears that flooded his eyes. "It's gonna be okay. We got the bastards, Jim. You're gonna be just fine."

"Hey." Blair's head appeared as if by magic, in the barely open doorway. "Murdered any hospital staff today?"

Jim smiled perfunctorily. "Only the ones who insist on being perky."

"Okay." A cautious note entered the cheerful voice and Blair eased into the room. He brought his right hand out from behind his back with a flourish. "I brought Wonderburger."

In spite of his sour mood, Jim couldn't help breaking into a grin. "For that you get at least an hour to be as perky as you like."

"I'll try to restrain myself. Hate to stretch your tolerance too thin." Blair perched on the edge of the hospital bed and handed over the brown paper bag. "It's pretty anorexic these days."

The first bite tasted like heaven. Jim chewed sketchily and swallowed with a sigh. He took another bite and decided not to respond to Blair's comment. Blair watched in silence and occasionally stole a sip of soda until Jim dropped the wrapper back into the paper bag, scrunched the whole lot up and tossed it into the small trash can.

"Dr Wrightson told me you can come home tomorrow." Blair's fingers had somehow become entwined with his own. All Jim could see was the dark, curly head, bent over their clasped hands. "He said he told you day before yesterday. So, were you going to tell me some time?"

"I was thinking about it." All the things he'd planned on saying, but had never quite managed to bring up, jostled in his head. Jim picked his way carefully through this potential minefield. "I wanted to be sure. He said if the wounds continued to heal... and besides..." he hesitated as Blair's eyes, large, reproachful and entirely sceptical, met his. "I just didn't want to... to presume. I mean you could be..."

"Taking a week's leave to be with you?" Blair didn't smile. "I've had it arranged with Simon ever since..." now it was Blair's turn to stumble into an awkward silence. There'd been a lot of those between them, 'ever since'.

"What do you want me to say?" Irritation sharpened Jim's voice. "You know what they did to me. Do you really think I want you to see that?"

"Is that all it is?" Blair smiled suddenly, bringing to mind images of sunlight breaking through clouds. "I was afraid... I thought maybe you were..." he sighed, "you know, I think you should just show me now. Get it over with. You're gonna have to do it some day."

"Not necessarily." Jim growled the words, even though the thought of losing Blair forever had never really entered his mind. Still, the memory of how the nurses looked at him when they changed the dressings was enough to make his stomach churn with self-loathing. But Blair... Blair loved him. Jim could no longer deny that, although he'd never actually said the words. "All right."

Blair's lips thinned a little, and he nodded just once before slipping off the bed and closing the door firmly. When he came back to the bed, he hesitated, until Jim pushed the lightweight cover down to his groin and lifted his short hospital gown to reveal the dressing. It wasn't as bulky now as it had been a few days ago and there was no blood staining its pristine whiteness.

Jim tensed as Blair's fingers gently peeled away the bandage. It didn't hurt much, and in any case Blair's touch, even now, brought an indefinable sense of comfort. But when Blair's cheeks paled and he drew in a shocked breath, it took all Jim's self-control to remain still. When he could bear to, he looked at the narrow band of skin framed between the cover and the gown.

It looked, if anything, worse than the first time he'd seen it. The cuts were healing nicely, the nurses and doctors had told him, and with almost no sign of infection, but the dark scabs surrounded by reddish puffy flesh looked appalling to him, even without the knowledge of what they were.

From this angle - effectively upside down - the healing wounds were just a jumble of meaningless shapes. He'd asked for a mirror two days ago, after he'd been told he'd soon be able to go home. It had been time, he told himself, to face it. To see what Blair would eventually see, once they were back at the loft. In the mirror's reflection, the marks were awkward, but legible, even reversed. F A G G O T.

Since he'd been in hospital, Jim had kept his senses dialled down, with Blair's help. He didn't need them to know that Blair was fighting back tears, trying to mask his reactions. Jim sighed. "It's all right. It's not like anybody else's going to see them."

Blair laughed shakily. "That sounds suspiciously like a proposition." He looked up smiling, though his eyes were wet. "Don't get too romantic."

Jim shrugged. "You're my Guide."

It was meant to be a purely practical statement, but somehow it didn't come out sounding that way. Blair smiled grimly. "Yeah, I am. And don't you forget it."

The display on the digital alarm flipped from 3:46 to 3:47 and Blair sighed. It certainly wasn't the first time he'd been awake at this hour, but usually it was because of work or study, not because he couldn't sleep. He was perfectly well aware that Jim, lying still at his side, was also awake, though neither of them had moved or given any sign of wakefulness in over an hour.

Tomorrow Jim would return to work for the first time since the attack, and it was hard to say which of them dreaded it more. Jim wasn't saying anything. He'd gone to the mandatory psych evaluation yesterday and somehow managed to bullshit his way through it with flying colours. Blair wasn't fooled, though. He knew Jim a damn sight better than any psychologist. Jim's attempts to bullshit him hadn't been nearly so successful.

Blair rolled onto his side and snuggled up against Jim's back. To hell with pretending; if they couldn't sleep they might as well enjoy being awake. He slid an arm around Jim's waist and rubbed his suddenly interested cock against Jim's ass. Jim sighed.

"Don't you think about anything else, Sandburg?" His voice sounded merely resigned, so Blair continued rocking into his hard warmth.

"When I'm in bed with you?" Blair sniggered against the smooth skin at the nape of Jim's neck. "What else should I think about? Transformational geometry? The second law of thermodynamics?"

The gentle friction against his cock was having its desired effect. Blair moaned softly, opening his mouth wide to send hot breath flowing over Jim's shoulder. His hand crept up to play gently with an already erect nipple. He grinned. So Jim wasn't nearly as disinterested as he was pretending to be. He nibbled Jim's shoulder thoughtfully, planning his next move.

Jim beat him to it, reaching up to remove Blair's hand from his nipple and lay it over his awakening cock.

"Ohhhh, yeaaaahhh..." Blair wriggled his hips encouragingly. "That's right, big guy. You know what I like."

His lover snorted inelegantly. "You sound like a Seventies porn movie."

"And that's a bad thing?" Blair wrapped his fingers around the now erect cock and squeezed as he stroked from base to tip. His own cock twitched eagerly against Jim's ass. "What were you doing watching gay porn in the Seventies anyway?"

"Smart ass." Jim shuddered as Blair's fingers slid over his slick cockhead and his hips jerked helplessly. Unconsciously, he pushed back against Blair's groin. "Clever dick."

"You'd better believe it, Jimbo." Blair squeezed Jim's cock again. They were both breathing hard already and he wanted to bury himself inside his lover and fuck him until they were both comatose. "You ready, lover?"

"Yeah." Jim's breath came out on a gasp. He groaned and pushed back again. "God, yes..."

The raw need in Jim's voice sent shivers through Blair's body. He pushed gently at Jim's hip until Jim was lying half on his stomach with his leg slightly drawn up, then rubbed his hand up and down Jim's shoulder, murmuring gentle reassurances as he eased his cock into Jim's body.

It felt welcoming, hot and so tight, as Jim's ass closed around his cock. He slid deeper, effortlessly, until he was fully sheathed inside his lover. Jim moaned and moved restlessly against him, his internal muscles flexing, massaging Blair's cock and sending shivers of pleasure through him.

"You feel so good, so perfect..." Blair whispered huskily, his face buried against Jim's neck. He began to move in slow, easy thrusts, more intent on pleasuring his lover than on satisfying his own needs. "Want to be inside you forever."

"Blair... God... love you..." Sweat was making their bodies slippery now, and Jim moved smoothly against him, rocking back into Blair's thrusts. He held Blair's hand to his cock and Blair resumed his steady stroking of the thick shaft.

If Jim's declaration came as no real surprise, still, Blair wasn't immune to the emotional effect of his words. Already, he was having trouble controlling his arousal and it was a relief to realise that Jim was also teetering on the brink of climax. He tightened his grip on Jim's cock, flicking his thumb across the sensitive tip as his cock ploughed firmly against Jim's prostate.

A muffled roar from Jim sealed both their fates. It felt as though a tsunami, starting in Jim's gut, travelled via Blair's cock into his body, a delicious domino effect that left him exhausted and limp, breathing heavily and weak with emotions too intense to be entirely comfortable. Blair groaned softly, rubbing his face against Jim's damp shoulder. He was still stroking Jim's depleted cock as he fell into a light doze.

It could only have lasted a few moments. When Blair surfaced again, he was still inside Jim, though his cock was softening. He sighed and whispered a vague endearment, not yet ready to surrender either his connection to his lover or his sense of well-being. His hand caressed Jim's cock one last time and drifted slowly upwards, across Jim's belly.

In daylight the scars were still livid against Jim's winter-pale skin, but in the dark, as he moved his fingers over them, it was only just possible to spell out the obscenity that had been inflicted on his lover. Jim's body tensed immediately, but he did nothing to stop the journey of Blair's hand across his skin.

"It's all right." He nuzzled Jim's throat. "It's all right... I love you more, not less, and... it's not pity, okay? But I hate those fucks that did this to you."

"Simon..." Jim's voice cracked, and he swallowed audibly before continuing, "he said you took two of them out barehanded."

"I wanted to kill them." Blair remembered that rush of blind fury with a shudder. "I thought they'd... that they'd..."

Jim turned in his arms, pressing close and holding him in return. "I know. When they cut open my pants with that damned knife I was sure they were gonna castrate me." He fell silent and Blair, for once, was speechless. He could only hold Jim, trying to convey comfort through touch, since the words he'd always depended on had failed him.

This was the one thing that neither of them had been able to talk about, not to each other, certainly not to anybody else. After a moment Jim shifted, burying his face against Blair's chest. His breathing told Blair that his lover was close to tears, and if none actually made their way to Blair's skin, the shaking body told him that Jim was finally, finally finding whatever release he'd so desperately needed these last few weeks.

Gradually, Jim's body relaxed into sleep, but Blair continued to hold him in his arms. The alarm clock showed 4:03. How could so much have happened in just sixteen minutes? It felt like a lifetime had passed. He was exhausted, yet sleep seemed further away than ever; but that was all right. Blair tightened his arms around Jim in a brief hug and was rewarded with a contented snuffle that stirred his chest hair. With a satisfied smile, Blair set himself to watch over his Sentinel's sleep.