Pre-slash.  Rated PG.  Jim and Blair's stakeout assignment becomes more dangerous than they expected.  Takes place early in the series, between "The Debt" and "Cypher". 

Most heartfelt thanks to my betas, Trish and Sandy.  I was the last one to read the final version, so any mistakes are mine.


(c) Dec 2004 by Charlotte Frost


"Here we are," Jim said, braking the Ford SUV to a halt.  He turned off the ignition and sent his hearing out to the French restaurant across the street. He tilted his head, listening for any indication that Samuel Guitierrez, a businessman suspected of dealing in illegal firearms, was within.

A reliable informant had let Jim know that Guitierrez had a reservation for tonight. Jim wanted to follow the businessman after he left, as the same informant had said that Guitierrez was meeting with one of his middlemen at an undisclosed location around midnight.  It was now after ten.

"Anything?" Blair asked.

"Nah. But I can see his Mercedes in the parking lot."

"So, now we just wait for him to get done with dinner," Blair said hopefully.

"Right. Hard to say how long it'll be."

Blair reached to the floorboard and grabbed his backpack. He spent a moment pulling out a thick book and then produced a small penlight. "Oh, man," he groaned.

"What?"  Jim glanced over at him.

"I threw the wrong book into my backpack. I can't do anything with this."

Jim made a tough luck shrug and continued to listen with one sentinel ear toward the restaurant.

Blair switched off the light and dropped his backpack to the floor. He shifted, then slapped his hands against his thighs.

It's going to be a long night, Jim thought with a mental groan.

"Geez, Jim. You would have to park next to a gay bar. I can't even pass the time watching beautiful women go by."

Jim turned his head toward Blair. "I specifically remember asking you if you wanted to come tonight. I specifically remember you saying Yes."

"Well, yeah, I thought I could scope out the new textbook I bought to see if I want to use it for my class. But since I didn't bring it...."

"There's nothing either of us can do about it now," Jim said with a touch of impatience. "We could be here for a couple of hours. Live with it."

"Live with it," Blair mimicked in a deep voice.

"Do a meditation. Count sheep."

He heard Blair turn toward him and say, "I could count the hairs on your head. But then, that wouldn't keep me busy for very long."  He ended with a snicker.

"Hey," Jim threatened with a raised hand.

"Little sensitive about that, are we?"

"Quiet," Jim admonished, picking up a new voice inside the restaurant.

He was so focused that he was on the edge of a zone when he heard Blair say, "Is it him?"

Jim shook his head, not hearing anything important, let alone a voice he could identify as Guitierrez.  He relaxed back in his seat.

Blair did likewise. Then he started slapping his hands against his thighs again and making noises as though he was kind of, sort of trying to sing a song under his breath.

Jim wondered if he should confess to Blair that his nervous antics were getting more than a little irritating.

"All right," Blair announced, "this degree of boredom calls for desperate measures."

Jim looked at him. "You going to take the bus home?" he asked hopefully.

"Ha. In your dreams, Ellison. Besides, you need me here. You were almost in a zone a little while ago."

Fuck. He didn't like being such an open book to Blair. Even a sentinel deserved a little privacy.

"So," Blair continued smoothly, rubbing his hands together, "since all there is to look at is the people hanging around this gay bar, we have no choice but to play along if we want to have a little fun."


Another part of Jim continued to listen inside the restaurant.

"That means," Blair said, "that we're each going to pretend we're gay and survey the available guys and decide which one we would go home with."

"You're on your own with that one, Liberace."

"You have to play, too, or else you're going to have to listen to me sit here and squirm and whine about how bored I am."  

Jim didn't look at him. "Not if you want to keep all your arms and legs intact."

"Now we're down to threats. Only wusses threaten guys smaller than they are with bodily harm."

"You calling me a wuss, Sandburg?"  He intentionally put an edge into his voice.

"You know, Jim, there's a time when that tone would have worried me. But now I know what a pussycat you are."

Jim wished the chatter in the restaurant would reveal something meaningful. "Now I'm a wuss and a pussy."  He still hadn't looked at Blair.


"Anything else you want to call me while all your teeth are still intact, Conan?"

"I hope, Jim, that you know pussies and pussycats are two different things. One is a slang term for a certain part of female anatomy. Another is a domesticated pet."

Jim had to struggle not to laugh. He finally turned his head in Blair's direction. "You're just full of higher education wisdom tonight, aren't you?"

Blair chuckled. Then he wriggled in his seat.

Jim held up his hand just as Blair started to speak. "Quiet."

Inside the restaurant, he heard a waiter say, "Your hors d'oeuvres, Mr. Guitierrez."  He listened a while longer, but there was only formal politeness about the service and meal.

"Cripes," Jim said, "he's just started on the appetizer."  He released a sigh, settling back. "We're going to be here for a while."

"Okay then," Blair said cheerfully, looking out his side window, "time to play Gay for a Day."  Snort. "Or at least an evening. I'll go first."

And last, Jim mentally added. Still, he was glad that Blair had figured out a way to entertain himself.

"Okay," Blair began. "I'm walking down the street here. I got a wild hair and thought I'd try the other side of the fence. Just for kicks. So, I'm approaching this bar and see these guys hanging out. I'm looking for a friendly face, somebody who won't take advantage of the fact that I'm new at this. A guy who looks mentoring and understanding."

Jim found himself looking at the guys standing outside the bar, intrigued by which one Blair would select.

He kept one ear trained on the restaurant.

Blair said, "Ugh. Stringy blond hair. No way."

No shit.

Blair cocked his head, apparently moving to the next man, who was talking with the first. "Hmm. Bulging muscles. Tattoo."  He shuddered. "Way too scary."

He's a prick, Jim silently agreed.

"Hmmm," Blair considered, contorting his mouth into various expressions as he studied the next one - a pot-bellied, balding businessman. "Not too intimidating. But too much like a family man. I'd feel I was causing him to cheat on his wife, even if he was going to do it anyway."

"Christ, Chief, don't you want somebody better-looking than that?"

Blair suddenly looked him, laughing. "Aah, Jim. You worried about who I'll pick for my first time? I'm touched."

Jim turned his gaze back to the restaurant. "The name of the game is to pick somebody better-looking than you - not worse-looking."  He snorted. "That shouldn't be too difficult."  

"Ha."  After a long silence, Blair considered, "Now, the next guy... hmm. Good-looking. Mustache might be kind of interesting. Friendly-looking sort. Like he'd take care of me. Wouldn't mind that he has to show me the ropes."

Jim couldn't help it. He looked. Looks like a fucking sailor. I bet he's a lot older than he seems, too.

"Most importantly," Blair announced, "he wouldn't kill me when I chicken out at the last minute."

Huh? Jim glanced back over at him. "Chicken out?"

"Yeah," Blair chuckled, glancing at Jim, "you didn't really think I'd go through with it, do you?"

Jim shrugged. I was supposed to know that ahead of time? Still, he was relieved. But he warned, "That's playing with fire, Chief. Coming on to a guy and going somewhere with him, then chickening out."

"I know."  Blair was studying the fourth man again. "That's why I'd be really careful about whom I chose."

"A friendly face can hide a psychopath."

"I know. It would be a risk, but you can't live life without taking risks."

While the restaurant chatter continued in his ear, Jim took another look at Blair's chosen man.

He hated him.

"Your turn," Blair said.

"I've got a job to do here, Chief."

"Then I'll do you."  Blair shifted, rolled his neck and shoulders, and then settled back. "Okay," he began, "you're walking down the street toward this bar, ready to make your first conquest. You don't want people to know you haven't done it before. You don't like being that vulnerable. So, you put on your tough-guy stance and act like this is old hat to you. You lean back against the wall, outside the bar... hook your thumbs in your pockets... and wait."

Jim was intrigued. "What am I waiting for?"

"For some wet-behind-the-ears kid who won't be able to tell that you're new at this. You'll want to have all the control. So, you want somebody who is eager for that."

"You saying that I like 'em young?" Jim made his voice sound offended.

Blair looked over at him. "Not illegal-young. Not necessarily age-young. But...," his attention went back to the bar, "somebody who is inexperienced and will be grateful for a big, strong, muscular man who gives the impression of knowing what he's doing. And what he wants."

This was too easy. "Somebody inexperienced like you, perhaps."  Gotcha.

Blair shook his head, eyes still on the street. "Nah. No. I wouldn't pick you to go with."

Jim deflated. "Why not?"

Now looking back at him, Blair snorted. "You're way too scary, man. You think, for my first time, I'm going to go somewhere alone with this big, buff cop...."

"You wouldn't know I'm a cop."

"Okay, I don't know you're a cop. But you look... military."  Blair's eyes were gazing out the window again. "You look like you could kill with your bare hands. You're not the kind of guy I'd go with, knowing -or my subconscious knowing - that I would back out at the last minute. I'd be afraid you'd kill me."

This was downright insulting. "Christ, Sandburg, you think I couldn't take a last-minute rejection without killing somebody?"  He realized he'd raised his voice. Quickly, he turned his hearing back to the restaurant.

"Look," Blair said, pointing to his chest, "I know that you're nothing but a big pussycat, and you'd be understanding and caring and stuff when I told you I'd changed my mind, even when you had a huge jones for me. You'd probably even give me a ride home."

Jim grinned as he stared at the restaurant. You think you're such a hot piece that you'd give me a 'huge jones'? Thinking a bit too much of ourselves, are we, Chief?

"But fantasy Blair wouldn't know that. He has no choice but to pick by looks alone. You look way too scary, man. So, I'd have to go with the guy with the mustache."

Jim glanced at the man on the sidewalk. "That flake?"

Blair sputtered as he turned in the seat. "Oh man, Jim, you're jealous."

Jim felt himself blushing, even as he tried to form a protest.

Blair put a hand to his heart. "I'm so touched," he said, sounding sincere, yet laughing. "In our little Gay for a Day fantasy world, you're really pissed at me for wanting to go off with Mustache. You think he's a flake, just because I picked him instead of you." He opened his arms toward Jim. "Aahhhh."

Jim quickly held up his hand. "Quiet."   He really didn't hear anything new in the restaurant but he needed to get his equilibrium back.

Christ, Chief, ease up on the touchy-feely stuff. He heard Blair settle back in his seat.

"Anything?" Blair asked after a moment.

"He's still eating."

Blair didn't look like he was going to say anything more about the fantasy.

Well, it had been a fun and interesting distraction. Smoothly, Jim said, "What? You wouldn't be jealous of me going off with some greasy-haired punk, instead of you?"

Blair looked thoughtful.

Jim was hurt that the answer required any thought at all.

"Well... even if I might be looking at you through the corner of my eye, and thought you were intriguing... Overall, I'd be relieved that you'd found somebody else, so I'd have no chance to get caught under your spell and put myself in a potentially dangerous situation."

My spell?

"If, up close, Mustache didn't look that friendly or interesting, I might keep watching you. And even if I was relieved that you went off with somebody else... yeah," Blair allowed after a long moment, "I think there could be some envy there, too. A part of me might be wanting to see what real 'danger' was like - as I perceived it on the surface."

Jim didn't want to play this game anymore. He reported, "He's having his coffee now."

"With dessert?"

"No dessert. Just coffee."

"Shouldn't be too much longer then."

Jim drew a breath, then released it slowly. He stretched out his legs, one at a time, bracing his feet against the floorboard.

Quietly, Blair said, "I didn't like Mustache, Jim."

Jim looked over at him. "Hmm?"

"I just fantasized about Mustache suggesting we go back to his place. It's not far from here. But I didn't want to. I was watching you go off with somebody else - your arm around some punk kid's back - and I'm thinking, 'Next time, that's gonna be me.'"

Jim was surprised at how much this tagged-on ending warmed him. "I'm touched."  He studied the restaurant.



Guittierez was getting ready to leave. There was the noise of dishes being removed from the table.



"If you keep this little fantasy going in your own head, and we have sex, I don't want to know the details. All right?"

"All right."  Blair was also watching the restaurant. After a moment, he said, "It's just hormones, Jim. I'm still in my twenties."


"Remember what it was like when you were in your twenties?"

"Uh-huh."  Except he really didn't remember that well. He didn't remember fantasizing about doing it with guys. Well, maybe after he'd read a really dirty book....

A group of people, in their winter coats, started emerging from the restaurant.

"That them?"  Blair asked.

Jim recognized the burly man who matched the photo he'd seen. "Yep."

He turned the ignition and started the engine.

Freezing drizzle was coming down heavily as they followed the Mercedes into the Cascades.

"How much longer, do you think?" Blair asked nervously.

Jim shook his head. "He's talking on his cell to somebody, but he hasn't mentioned how much longer until he gets there."

A few minutes later, Jim gently pressed the brake. "Looks like he's slowing down, though it might be because of the weather. I don't want him to pick up on the fact that he's being followed."

The car ahead turned off.

"I'm killing the lights and using my senses," Jim said as he hit the switch and only darkness was in front of them, save the distant tail lights of the Mercedes on the left.

"You sure that's such a good idea?"

"Yeah. It'll be all right."  Jim glanced at Blair to add reassurance to his words. "Stay quiet so I can focus."

"Don't zone."

Good point. Jim already felt his eyes straining as he carefully turned where the Mercedes had. He reached for Blair's hand and placed it on his thigh. "Just give me a squeeze every now and then as a diversion."

The pavement on the road was rougher, though the sleet wasn't as bad now. They bounced as Jim fought the wheel. The Mercedes disappeared over a hill, and Jim pressed a little heavier on the accelerator, wishing he'd gotten new shocks with the Ford's last mileage check.

Just as they crested the hill, Jim said, "Uh-oh."  He quickly braked, cringing at the slight squeaking noise.

"Wha - "

"Quiet."  Jim tilted his head, listening.

Ahead, the road ended in a wooded area where the Mercedes rested alongside a large pickup.  Three men were talking.

"I expect the shipment by the tenth," Guitierrez said.

Jim relaxed. The men hadn't heard the Ford brake.

"We can do that," a Spanish-accented voice replied.  "You want the delivery made here?"

"Possibly. We'll see how the weather is."

"What's an alternate route?" a new voice asked.

"I'll let you know if it becomes necessary."

Dammit, Jim thought. They could stake out this area when delivery was made, but if it turned out delivery would be at some other point... then this evening's stakeout was all for naught.

"Cigar?" Guitierrez asked.

Jim listened to the social niceties as the men relaxed. There was a noise that seemed out of place, and then he realized what it was. He glanced in the rearview mirror.

Double damn. What were the chances that the sports car approaching from behind had nothing to do with this meeting?

Jim glanced quickly around. There weren't any homes in the area. "We got company, Chief."

If he gunned the Ford forward, it would lead them to Guitierrez.

He could hear the "click" of a rifle as the sports car drew closer, having spotted them.

"What are we going to do?" Blair asked worriedly.

He'd give anything to not have Blair with him. What had he been thinking?

The car behind them braked to a halt. Even if Jim swung the SUV around, no way could it outrun that Jaguar.

Using his most authoritative tone, Jim said, "Stay cool. Don't look them in the face and I'll try to talk them into letting you go." He drew a breath. "Listen, Chief. When I make a move to draw them off guard, you run for it. Understand? The highway isn't far from here."

Blair, breathing harshly, turned sideways toward Jim, as two men approached with rifles.

Hopefully, Blair was scared enough to do as he said. The alternative was unthinkable. "I can take care of myself a hell of lot better without worrying about babysitting you."  That was harsh but Blair's innocent life was worth more than hurt feelings. "No matter what happens to me, you run when you have the chance."

Blair looked shell-shocked.

"Understand?" Jim demanded with clenched teeth.

"Yeah," Blair said shakily.

A rifle appeared at Jim's window. "Get out of the car."

"Take it easy," Jim said, his hands raised.

"Come on," said the voice at Blair's window.

"Keep your eyes down," Jim said loud enough for their captors to hear.

He got out and found himself looking into cool, professional eyes.

"Who are you?" the man asked with dangerous calm.

They were going to find out the truth anyway. "I'm a cop."

The man grinned. "Cop, huh?"

"He's not," Jim said as the other man's gun prodded at Blair to move around to the front of the truck. "He's just a college student writing a paper. He drew the unlucky assignment with me tonight. He's just a kid. Let him go. He hasn't seen anything."

Jim had also stepped around to the front of the truck, as he was prompted to do. Good. Get these guys closer together.

Jim was relieved of his gun.

The other man grabbed at Blair's hair. "College student, huh?"

Blair jerked his head away.

"Keep your eyes down," Jim warned. "He hasn't seen anything. Look at his student ID."

His own man's firmed his jaw. "You cops can fake anything."

"Mr. Guitierrez isn't a man to approve of involving innocents."

The man nodded toward the meet. "You know the way."

All right, he hadn't expected them to let Blair go just from the asking. But he had to try.

Time for plan B. For him to implement it and live assumed that these men would consider a cop a valuable hostage.

His opportunity was right now. His man glanced into the woods, and Jim turned and grabbed his rifle, pushing it up. "Run!" he yelled, the sharp word robbing him of breath so he couldn't get the upper hand on the rifle that he had hoped.

The other rifle slammed into his arm, and he went sideways into the hood of the truck, grateful for the pain he felt, for it meant the attention of both men was on himself.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Blair taking off. He lunged at the gunman who had started to turn toward Blair, hitting him in the stomach and knocking him down.

A fist slammed into his cheek from behind and even as he staggered to one side, he was grateful that their resorting to fists did indeed mean they were reluctant to kill him.

He regained his footing to find a rifle between his eyes.

"I'm tired of messing with you," the first man said.

Jim stilled.

The second man had his rifle aimed into the woods, the direction toward the highway.

"Forget him," the first man said. "We've got all the hostages we need right here."  He poked the gun at Jim's forehead. "Move, asshole."

The next time I see you, Chief, I could kiss you.

He hadn't been sure that Blair would listen.

Blair collapsed to his knees in the forest, wheezing for breath. His brain had shut down and he'd run in a zigzag, expecting to hear gunfire behind him.

There had been none.  He'd gotten away.

No gunfire meant Jim was still alive, didn't it?

Since he, too, was alive it was up to him to save Jim.

He heard a car whiz by and realized he wasn't far from the highway. He staggered forward on his hands and knees, and then made himself get up again.

He ran wearily toward the road. It was mere rain now, but very cold. He pulled his jacket more tightly around himself and couldn't quite reach the highway's shoulder in time to wave down the next car. He would have given anything for his cell phone, which was still in his backpack, on the floorboard of the truck.

He started walking back toward the city, anxiously waiting for the next car.

His hearing was strained, waiting to hear gunshots in the distance, which would mean Jim was dead.

Maybe he shouldn't have run away like that. It was two against two. Of course, those men had guns. And probably not a conscience.

Jim had tried to talk them into letting him go. How stupid.

Blair had run like he'd been told when Jim grabbed for the rifle. He knew Jim was getting beaten up because of him.

What if they killed Jim and Blair never saw him again?

Their last conversation would be the one they'd had earlier tonight in the truck. Jim joking so easily with him about the absurdity of picking out a male companion for the night.

All that wonderful sentinel ability... gone....

Then there was the nice loft he was now living in (though he wasn't sure for how long). Funny, him shacking up with somebody with Ellison's personality. What would his mother say?

Actually, Jim was a decent guy, once you realized his moodiness was his own issue and not aimed at you. He didn't treat Blair like an annoying punk.

Except tonight he had. He'd sounded mad at Blair.

Blair understood why. He was in the way - in the way of Jim trying to save lives, including his own.  So he had run, because that's what Jim had wanted.

The sound of a motor. Blair realized the adrenaline had worn off, and he felt light-headed and cold.

As the headlights came near, he edged out to the blacktop and waved his arms, jumping up and down.

It was an SUV. Lights on top.


Blair waved more frantically, his heart racing with relief.

The car slowed, and Blair rushed up, pounding on the passenger window.

The window came down. "Step back from the car. Keep your hands where I can see them."

What? "No, you don't understand."  The words came out in a rush. "They have my partner - a cop.  He's held hostage. They're going to kill him."

"Step back from the car," the officer said more firmly, his hand at his holster.

Blair stepped back, not understanding.

The officer came out of the vehicle. "Who are you?"

"I'm Blair Sandburg, a Rainier student. I'm an observer for the Cascade PD."  He reached for his neck where his ID hung inside his shirt.

The cop warned, "Keep your hands at your sides."

"My ID is on a chain."

"Up against the truck. Do you have any weapons?"

Huh? "No, no, listen."

"Up against the truck."

Blair realized that the cop had no reason to trust him - finding him out in the freezing cold in the middle of nowhere.

He propped himself against the truck and spread his legs.

He wanted to collapse into a heap and cry.

It was all the harder to keep his composure with his crotch was felt - for weapons or drugs, he assumed.

"All right," the cop said in an easier manner. "Turn around and tell me what this is all about."

Three hours later, Blair sat in the backseat of Banks' car, with a blanket wrapped around him, sipping a cup of coffee.

The place of the meet had been descended upon with cops all over, but Guitierrez and his men - and Jim - were long gone.

Previous work on the case had produced two known locations where they might take Jim.  They were near one now, conducting a raid with a squadron of cops.

That's all Blair knew. Banks didn't like him and had placed him out of the way so he didn't have to deal with him.

It had been nice of Banks to give him the blanket and coffee though.

He felt so cold - chilled inside where the blanket couldn't reach. He felt as though he'd hit some sort of emotional bottom, that he was watching a movie, where events were playing out in front of him and he had no control over what was going to happen.

All he could do was watch.

The cops were surrounding the building down the street now, where Jim might be held.  Blair had as good a view as he was going to get from Banks' car, so he didn't try to get out. Besides, Banks was standing a little ways ahead and would probably cause him bodily harm if he didn't stay put.

There were shouts from inside and around the building. Warnings. Threats exchanged. Movement.

No gunfire.

Blair waited, knowing something was happening and having no idea what.

Now Banks moved into the building, though he didn't have his gun out.

Was it over?

Blair tried to rest his head back against the seat and accept that there was nothing he could do.

What if Jim is dead?

How would he live out the rest of his life, if it turned out Jim was gone? How could he forgive himself, even knowing that, had he stayed, he probably would have wound up dead too?

How does a person live with that on their conscience?

Would Banks blame him for having run off, even though it was what Jim had insisted he do?

Was he a coward because he'd run from danger?

He opened the door and tossed the remaining coffee to the ground. He left the empty cup on the floorboard, though he knew it would make Banks mad.

Just as he was about to close the door, he heard commotion at the front of the building. Cops began emerging, looking relaxed and triumphant, some with suspects cuffed.

Then came Banks. With Jim walking at his side.

Blair took off at a run. As he approached, he could see Jim's battered and bruised face - his careful strides with Banks' hand on his arm - but like a boxer making his victory round, Jim almost seemed to be smiling.

Blair wanted to burst with relief.

The night had seemed so surreal. Blair only wanted to grab a hold of something tangible and solid and immerse himself in it - preferably the "something" that was most important of all.

Just as he was almost close enough to launch himself at Jim, Blair suddenly realized that smothering Jim in a bear hug, in front of all these cops, was the last thing Jim would want or appreciate. 
At the last possible second, Blair stopped himself.  He planted his feet but his momentum was such that he still had to throw one arm around Jim's back. "Jim!"

"Sandburg," Jim said happily, placing his hand on Blair's shoulder. "Are you all right?"

Those deep blue eyes were studying him so intently. Blair nodded. "I'm fine, I'm fine."

Jim grinned. "You did good. You got away and got help. You did exactly what I told you to do."

Blair could only nod over and over, basking in the approval. He beamed all the more when he realized that the last sentence had been for Banks' benefit.

Banks didn't look impressed. "You've got to go to the hospital, Jim."  They started toward the car and Blair moved to Jim's other side. He felt proud, walking next to Jim amid all these cops, as though he were the privileged one.

"Sir, I'm fine."

"You know the procedure. You have to be checked out."

"Can't I at least go in your car, instead of the ambulance?"

Banks sighed. "All right. I guess that's the least I can do."

Of course, Blair ended up in the backseat. He couldn't help but feel like a fifth wheel as Banks and Jim talked about the case and both chuckled happily at how easily it had all turned out. The evening had started with Jim doing the stakeout simply to obtain information about when an illegal arms transaction was going to take place at a future date. It was three in the morning now, and they had busted most of Guitierrez' men and Guitierrez himself, for assaulting and kidnapping a cop, among other things.


Blair roused from his thoughts to see Jim's head turned in his direction. "Yeah?"

"How about you getting checked out too?"

"There's nothing wrong with me, Jim. All I did was run."  He heard the edge in his own voice.

Banks chuckled. "You should have heard the officer who picked Sandburg up, trying to decipher what he was saying. Kid was talking a mile a minute and hardly getting a coherent word out. It's a wonder he even understood enough to realize I was the one who should be called."

Jim grinned but didn't encourage Banks to continue.

Blair was relieved. He wished so much that he and Jim were alone. Then he could tell him what it was like, tell him how scared he'd been that he would hear a shot. Tell him how worried he was that he'd done the wrong thing to run and there would be no second chances. Tell him how much he'd enjoyed their b.s.-ing tonight.

Maybe, too, he could collapse and Jim wouldn't think him weak.

Or maybe he could give Jim that bear hug.

Maybe he could pretend he went home with stranger-Jim, like in their fantasy earlier tonight.

Banks parked in the ER lot. "Shouldn't be too busy this time of night."

"Yeah, right," Jim groaned as he got out of the car.

When Blair also got out, subduing his own groan of weariness, he saw Jim glance back toward him and hold out his arm.

Blair stepped up and put his arm around Jim's back. He assumed Jim was beckoning him to help; though, for a split second, the foolish thought had crossed his mind that maybe Jim wanted to hug him.

With Banks on one side of Jim and Blair on the other, they moved through the doors.

"What did they do to you?" Blair asked.

"Just roughed me up," Jim said. "Which is why this is a complete waste of time. Nothing's broken."

"Give it a rest, Ellison."

They were able to get him into a room right away.

Blair took a seat in the waiting room. Banks got on his cell phone and moved away, as though he didn't want to be in Blair's company.

The feeling was mutual. Blair stretched out on a very uncomfortable seat and closed his eyes.

He wished he hadn't drank that coffee, then maybe he could actually sleep for a bit.

As it was, he dozed but was aware of all the hospital noises in the background.

Jim pulled the truck into the one remaining parking spot. Sandburg had offered to drive, but Jim was feeling better after taking some Tylenol, having his cuts tended to, and resting on a gurney for an hour. At least it hadn't been the long wait he'd feared.

He was dead tired. But he was also worried about Blair. Sandburg was usually a chatterbox and flurry of movement, especially when he was nervous. But he'd been quiet and subdued all evening.

He knew the incident with Guitierrez's men had rattled him. He had heard Blair's heartbeat quicken in Simon's car when Jim had asked him again if he were all right. Had heard the edge in his voice when he said, "All I did was run."

Jim had only known his young associate for a few weeks. He didn't pretend to understand his thinking processes yet. What he did know was that Blair was a highly reactive individual who sincerely wanted to help.

He'd done good tonight. He'd obeyed. Despite how utterly terrified he was sure to have been.

And despite how much he idolized Jim.

Jim had picked up on that almost immediately. For all Blair's showboating about how he knew what he was talking about, for all his left-wing grumbling about the authority granted to law enforcement and the use of guns, he had latched onto Jim as someone he wanted to spend as much time as possible with.

It certainly wasn't just because of the senses.

At one point in their conversations, Blair had told Jim that he'd grown up fatherless; in fact, didn't even know who his father was. Jim was fascinated by that. So much of his own youth had revolved around pleasing his father. What would his childhood and his adolescence have been like if there had been no father to please? Freedom from such seemed like it would be an exhilaration.

As they silently made their way to the elevator, Jim considered that Blair was probably pretty beat too. He'd felt a pang of sympathy when Banks had chuckled about how Blair had been talking so fast to the officer he'd waved down that it had taken a bit for said officer to understand what he was babbling about.

When he'd been so eager to help Jim, he probably hadn't anticipated getting involved in anything like this.

For that matter, Jim hadn't anticipated it either.

Assuming Blair was going to hang tough and want to continue to ride with him - and he couldn't imagine otherwise - he was going to have to be more diligent about keeping him back from potentially dangerous situations.

He'd been damned lucky tonight that things turned out the way they did. The death of one innocent college student would be a burden he wasn't sure his conscience could ever overcome. To say nothing of the potential loss of assistance for his senses. To say nothing of the fact that there was something about Blair that he found very appealing - to the point where he'd actually invited him to live under his roof for an open-ended period of time.

"I'm beat," Jim said conversationally as the elevator took them to the third floor. "I bet you are too."

"Mainly from lack of sleep," Blair muttered. "Was up late last night and early this morning. Yesterday morning," he corrected.

Jim studied Blair's lowered gaze. "It's all right to admit you were afraid, you know."

Blair looked up. "I don't have a problem admitting I was afraid."

Jim nodded. He supposed Blair was right. So much of what Blair felt was apparent on the surface. And yet... Jim sensed there was so much more to be discovered underneath. He liked spending time with Blair and having an opportunity to discover those things, little by little.

They moved down the hall to their unit and Jim unlocked the door.

Blair went in ahead of him. As soon as Jim closed the door, Blair said, with his back to Jim, "You know what I was most afraid of?"

Jim waited.

Blair turned around, his voice unsteady. "When I was running, I was so afraid I was going to hear a gun going off and that would mean they'd killed you."  He gulped. "I'm so glad you're all right."

All right, they were going to have a meltdown here. Blair needed to get this out.

Jim had noticed Blair's aborted emotion when Simon had escorted him out of the building. He'd been grateful for it, for the last thing he or Blair needed was a big touchy-feeling scene in front of a bunch of other cops. Blair's presence at the PD had already caused enough unflattering comments.

Jim took a couple of steps toward him. "I've had a lot of experience in taking care of myself in dangerous situations. I was pretty confident that they'd want me for a hostage. Without have to worry about you, I could focus on what I had to do and say to keep myself alive."

He put his hand on Blair's back, where the muscles were stiff beneath his clothing. "You saved my life. You did what needed to be done and got help. What's more, I know - more than ever - that I can trust you. That means everything."  He barely made a beckoning motion with the hand against Blair, waiting to see if Blair was going to respond to it.

Blair did.  He stepped against Jim and put his arms around him, drawing tight. His head rested on the top of Jim's shoulder.

Jim's returning embrace was equally snug.

How long had it been since he'd held anybody like this?

It felt good.

The life that was here could so easily have been lost. He moved his hand in comforting circles along Blair's back. "That was utterly stupid on my part - to assume that there wouldn't be a third party at the meet. And to leave us in the middle of the road like that as sitting ducks. I got too caught up in what my senses could do and let common sense go out the window. It won't happen again, Chief."

He eased his hold until Blair stepped back and he could look into his bleary eyes. "Not that I don't think you couldn't handle it."

Blair nodded with a tiny smile, acknowledging the compliment. He squeezed Jim's side and then stepped away.

Jim was about to suggest they go to bed - it was almost dawn - but Blair was now standing with his arms wrapped around himself.

"Jim?" he said, his gaze on the floor.

Jim sat on the sofa. "Uh-huh?"

"You know earlier, when we were joking around about that gay bar..."

A ball of unease developed in the pit of Jim's stomach. He said nothing.

Blair looked up. "I know you like girls. I do too. But maybe, in the privacy of the loft here, you know...."

Jim closed his eyes and brought his hands to his face. He should have seen this coming. Blair was feeling unglued and looking for a way to center himself with someone he trusted. Innocent hugs weren't enough.

Jim lowered his hands and looked up. "You're too young, Sandburg."

Blair blinked, indignation taking over his features. "Too young? I'm twenty-six. I've been completely on my own for ten years now. I've slept with too many girls to count."

Jim had to retain a chuckle at Blair's choice of argument. "I didn't mean age-wise."  How to explain what he did mean without rejecting Sandburg outright? "I mean that you're... naïve when it comes to love."

"We wouldn't have to be emotionally involved. It wouldn't have to interfere with the sentinel thing or anything else. It would be something completely separate. Just a physical thing. A guy thing."

A 'guy thing' that would make you feel more like a man? Jim couldn't help but wonder. As gently as he could, he said, "The fact that you'd think we could hit the sack together and not get our feelings involved is the proof that you have no idea what you'd be getting into."  

"I could handle it."

I'm not sure I could.

Jim snorted. "Would you want to?"

Blair's arms fell to his sides. "What do you mean?"

Instead of answering the question, Jim decided to put the onus on himself. "Chief, anything we'd do together would mean I was taking advantage of you. I won't do that. I care about you too much."

"How can it be taking advantage when I'm offering?"

Jim slowly shook his head. "You have no idea what you're offering. That's what I meant:  from a life experience standpoint - love experience -- you're way too young."

Jim stood as Blair prepared another protest. "I like you, Sandburg. We've got too much invested in each other to screw it up with a meaningless 'guy thing'. Trust me:  it would screw it up. You've got a paper to write and God knows I need more help with these senses."

Blair was still watching him but he looked deflated.

Jim hated leaving him like that, especially after a night like tonight. "Tell you what. When we don't need each other anymore, we can revisit this. You'll be done with your dissertation and maybe I'll be going through some kind of midlife reflection and looking for something to give my life meaning. If we still care this much about each other down the line...."

He was relieved at the pleasure that came over Blair's face. Jim wasn't even sure if it was because of the promise to revisit the subject, or because he'd made it so clear that he cared about Blair. I didn't even have to say "I love you," he thought with satisfaction. He wasn't sure he was up to being that vulnerable in front of Blair.

He wondered if he'd even caught a sense of relief coming from Sandburg - as though he respected Jim all the more for not taking what he'd offered.

Jim rubbed his forehead. "I'm bushed. We both are. We'd better grab what sleep we still can."

He was tempted to turn away to the staircase, but he didn't want to end the night like this. Instead, he went to Blair and squeezed his arm. Deliberately gentle, he asked, "You going to be able to sleep all right?"

Blair's eyes were gazing up at him in that worshipful way that was increasingly noticeable. He nodded. "Yeah, I'm completely bushed."  He took Jim's wrist and squeezed it. "Good night, Jim. Thanks for... for everything."  He turned toward his room.

A wave of relief washed over Jim as he started up the staircase. He didn't want to think about what could have happened if Blair hadn't been so exhausted and had put those soulful eyes to work while presenting arguments about why it would be all right for them to sleep together.

Jim's resolve wasn't made of steel. There was no denying that he enjoyed the hell out of Blair's worship and extreme interest in everything he did.

It made him feel important.

As he undressed, he basked in the feeling of rightness that he'd done what was best for them both - and for this unique friendship that was growing between them.

After getting under the covers and turning off the lamp, he wondered where they'd be two or three years from now.

He hoped that they'd still be living together.

And still be in love with each other.



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