Note:  This story takes place early in the second season.       

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


© December 2003 by Charlotte Frost


Jim was watching the news when a shadow fell across him. The shadow didn't speak or move, so he looked up.

Blair stood beside the sofa, freshly showered, wearing sweats and a t-shirt, his hair toweled dry. "Hey, uh... Jim?"

Jim blinked at Blair's hesitant tone.

"You were a medic in the army, right?"

Uh-oh.  Blair's timidity mixed with that question didn't sound promising, though Jim wasn't sure what it could mean. Carefully casual, he replied, "I had advanced medical training like everyone else in Special Ops."

"Then... could you look at something? If I go to the emergency room, it'll be hours and I'm sure it's just a little thing. And with the three-day weekend, I won't be able to go to the Rainier clinic until Tuesday, and it's really sore."

"What is?"  There was nothing visible on Blair's person -- and he hadn't noticed Blair having any sort of problem -- so that meant the subject of Blair's hesitation had to be something that was always covered by clothing.

He could have a lot of fun teasing Blair or he could go into no-nonsense medical mode. He decided to wait for more information before settling on a demeanor.

"Well, actually, I thought it was just a pimple."  Nervous laugh. "So, I've been scratching at it and trying to pop it to get the gunk out. But it never seems to pop and it's just getting sorer and sorer, and I think it's oozing something, but it doesn't feel any better, and I can't really tell...."

"Where is it?" Jim asked, hoping to move things along.

"On my rear. Uh," Blair suddenly blushed, "sort of towards my crack."

Okay, Blair was suffering enough. Jim went into no-nonsense mode. He stood. "How long have you had it?"

"A few days. Now I'm thinking it can't be a pimple, but I don't know what it could be instead. And, you know," another bashful laugh, "it's not like I can see it, even trying to sit on the vanity with my butt toward the mirror."

Jim made a mental note to disinfect the vanity. He considered telling Blair to lie on the sofa, but he thought that might feel too vulnerable. So he reluctantly nodded toward the dining table. "Drop your pants and lean against there."  I'll have to disinfect that, too.

He was tempted to get a flashlight since the lighting wasn't good, but then remembered he'd be able to see well enough.

He wondered if he would ever reach the point where his senses were second nature.

Blair moved to the table. He hesitated, then determinedly shoved his sweats down to his thighs. He leaned both hands on the tabletop.

Jim bent to look. There was an ugly red, scabby, oozing lump on the middle of Blair's right butt cheek, almost at the crevice.

Jim knelt to see it more clearly. "You've really made a mess of it."

"Like I said," Blair said worriedly, "I just thought it was a pimple and I should have been able to pop it. What do you think it is?"

Jim ran his eyes over the affected area. It was such a mixture of scab, oozing fluid, and swelling that it was difficult to identify the source. "Can I touch it?"

Blair drew a breath. Then, with forced humor, "I won't tell if you won't."

"All right, hold still."

"Don't press hard, it's sore."

As gently as he could, Jim touched the edge of the wound and pulled the marred flesh to one side. He identified two tiny marks within the skin damaged by Blair's fingernails.  "It's not a pimple. It's a spider bite."


"Harmless," Jim assured. "You'd be feeling a lot worse it if was poisonous. Except now you've scratched at it and gotten it infected. That oozing fluid is pus."  He gently probed the lumpy area to the right of the scratched swelling. "It's not getting better because some of the pus is trapped in a little pocket to the right of the actual bite, where it's scabbed over. It's like a little boil."  Jim lowered his hands and knelt back. "Do you have a fever?"

"Not that I can tell."

Jim couldn't tell either, although he could feel heat from the reddened and fluid area. "This needs to get drained and cleaned up."

"Can you do it?" Blair asked hopefully.

Jim's attention went back to the injury. He studied it a moment longer. "I can lance the boil with a straight pin. Then I'll have to squeeze all the pus out before disinfecting it."  He looked up. "Either way, it's going to hurt."

"Yeah and it's going to hurt if a doctor does it -- after a three-hour wait in the emergency room."

Jim got to his feet. "I'll get the first aid kit and see if I can find a pin."

When he came out of the bathroom with the first aid kit, he saw that Blair had pulled his pants back up. He went up to his bedroom to rummage in his dresser and managed to retrieve a straight pin.

When he was back at the table, he handed Blair a digital thermometer. "Put this in your ear until I tell you to take it out."

Blair took the thermometer. He wrestled with his hair a moment, then held the device in his ear. "I don't think I have a fever."

"This way we'll know for sure."  Jim moved to the kitchen.

"I wonder when a spider would have bitten me."

"Probably while you were sleeping. I had a bite on my leg a few years ago. It usually just causes a little swelling and itching."  Jim turned on a burner and held the straight pin in the flame.

"If I could have seen that it was a bite I would have left it alone. Man, that's creepy -- a spider crawling over my ass, taking advantage of me in my sleep."

Jim ginned, hoping to use humor to combat Blair's unease. "Maybe if you kept your ass crack cleaner, it wouldn't attract insects."  


Satisfied that the pin was sterilized, Jim turned off the burner and moved back to the table. He held out his hand and Blair gave him the thermometer.

Jim looked at the readout. "Ninety-eight point nine. Doesn't even qualify as a fever."  He put on latex gloves, then took a couple of gauze pads and tore open the wrappings.  "Here we go."

He waited expectantly and decided not to comment when it took Blair a moment to realize he needed to undress again.

While easing his sweatpants back down to his knees, Blair said, "I hope you realize how much I trust you to be willing to turn my bare backside to you."

"Trust noted," Jim said, meaning it sincerely.

Blair rested his hands back against the table.

Jim stepped closer and bent to the wound. "I'm going to jab it just the once. Don't tense up on me and it'll go easier."

"Easy for you to say."

"Come on. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly."  Jim waited while Blair did. Then he said, "Do you want something to bite down on?"

"Do you think I should?" Blair asked worriedly.

Jim put his hand on Blair's back. "I was just teasing."


Jim rubbed for a brief moment, then removed his hand and bent to his task. "All right. It'll be over before --"  Jim jabbed the pin into the boil.

Blair gasped and flinched, rising up on his toes.

"-- you know it."  Jim put the pin down and grabbed the first gauze pad. He used it to squeeze the deflating swelling, feeling the pus ooze out of the little hole created and being absorbed into the pad.

"Ugh," Blair said with an in-drawn breath. "Careful."

"Sorry, but I've got to get it all out. And then I've got to squeeze at the bite itself to get the infection out of that."

Blair let out a breath. "I can feel the release of pressure already."

Once certain the boil was drained, Jim tossed the pad on the table and grabbed a new one. "Hang in there a bit longer."  He now squeezed at the swollen part where the bite was.

"Aaah!  Ouch, ouch, ouch," Blair chanted. But he was being good and not moving.

Once Jim was satisfied that the area was fully drained, he cleaned it as best he could with new gauze, then reached for a bottle of peroxide. "This is going to sting. I want to make sure I soak it good."

Blair made a growling noise.

"Hold still." Jim placed new gauze against Blair's skin so it could catch the peroxide. He tilted the bottle and listened to Blair's gasps as he used another gauze pad to press the cleansing liquid against the entire area.

"Oh, God," Blair said as Jim worked, "this puts a whole new spin on the phrase 'stinging behind'."  He released a heavy breath. "Oh, man. And to think that Naomi didn't believe in spankings."

"I guess that explains a lot."

"Hey," Blair protested with humor, "I turned out okay."

"Almost done," Jim said. He straightened and -- slowly, so the area would have time to dry -- reached for a huge, five-inch band-aid. As he unpeeled the wrapper, he said, "I'm going to put this over it. Don't be picking at it. I want to check it tomorrow to make sure it's healing."

Blair nodded.

Jim placed the gauze part of the band-aid over the wound, then rubbed at the sticky sides until he was satisfied they were firmly in place.

He straightened. "There you go."

Blair grinned as he, too, straightened and hiked up his pants. "I guess you've saved my ass -- literally."

"Hopefully, no more insects will take an interest."

Blair snorted with amusement. While watching Jim gather up the supplies, he said, "Thanks, Jim. This was so much easier than if I'd gone to the hospital or the clinic."

Jim wasn't sure what to do with the sentiment, though Blair's gratitude meant a lot to him. "Just keep your hands off the band-aid until I have a chance to look at it tomorrow."

Blair mock saluted, "Yes, sir."  Then he went to his room, grinning.

The following evening, Blair came out of the bathroom in his robe, his hair still wet. "I took the band-aid off before I showered."  His hand was behind him, inside the robe. "It feels a lot smaller and hardly even hurts. Want to see?"

"You aren't picking at it, are you?" Jim said as Blair pushed his robe to one side, exposing his rear.

"No, I was just feeling it."

Jim bent and placed a fingertip near the area. The scabbing was barely visible, as was the swelling. The redness was completely gone. "It's two hundred percent better," he announced. "I want to put another band-aid and ointment over it, just to be safe."

As Jim moved off toward the bathroom, Blair said, "Maybe you missed your calling and you should have been a doctor."

Jim retrieved a normal-sized band-aid and a tube of antibiotic ointment. As he emerged, he snorted, "Sure, Chief, I can just see me dealing with a bunch of screaming, snot-nosed kids all day long."

Blair laughed, still holding his robe aside. "This is better anyway. I have my own personal medic."

"Hold still."  Jim squeezed a little dab of ointment on the bite, then placed a band-aid over it. While he smoothed the sides into place, his eyes drifted away from the injury and to a thin line of scarred flesh running in a slant from the top of Blair's left buttock down toward his crack. It had to be at least four inches long. "Chief? What's this scar you have on your other cheek?"

"There's a scar?" Blair asked, tensing.

"Yeah. I don't need my senses to see it."  Jim studied it a moment more, having dropped his hands. "Like you were cut there. What happened?"

"Uhh... it must be from when I fell when I was little. I don't remember the details."

Blair was lying, and Jim knew that Blair knew that he knew. The scar wasn't made by a scrape, but by a cut into the flesh. For a moment, his mind went back to his days in Vice, when he had learned of some of the bizarre ways people had of sexually stimulating themselves. But nothing from that repertoire of data could account for Blair cutting his own rear. Besides, it would be almost impossible for him to do it himself.

He felt a rush of protective feelings at the idea of someone having done that to Blair. Had it been something sexual? Or had it had nothing to do with that and Blair had been involved in a knife fight? Or was he off track altogether?

Either way, Jim considered with a silent sigh, rising to his feet, it was apparent that Blair didn't want to tell him.

So much for thinking he has a special trust in me.

"You're done."  He said, moving away to toss the band-aid peel into the trash.

"Thanks." Blair moved off to his room.

He had no idea what to do as the river water continued to rush past his legs, thigh-deep. His upper body was drenched by the pouring rain. His hands had a death grip on the frame of his car, which was more than halfway submerged in the river's torrent.

He was going to die here.

Of all the stupid....

How had he even ended up being here? He couldn't remember.



Jim was coming to save him. Through the veil of thick rain, Blair saw Jim step to the edge of the riverbank. Jim had a rope wrapped around his waist. It must have been tied to something firm so he wouldn't be carried away by the river when he rescued Blair.


Blair looked around him. The river seemed even higher now. Even with his great strength, how could Jim wade through that powerful water? And even if he reached Blair....

Jim was in the water now. Coming toward him. Still approaching as he slowly fought the current. Amazingly, there were only a few streams of water dripping down his face -- nothing like the drenching that Blair was experiencing.

Jim was getting closer, looking expectant, as if he thought Blair should start trying to come toward him.

Blair's relief turned to alarm. He still had a strangled hold on his car. If he dared let go and reached for Jim instead... he could drag Jim under. He might panic and fight to keep his head above water while pushing Jim into the depths of the current.

Jim should know that. You never try to save a drowning man with your own body. Instead, you try to throw them something.


Blair's eyes snapped up to meet Jim's.

Jim was holding out his arms. "Come toward me. Come on. It's all right."

Blair gulped. He realized that every second he delayed was putting Jim in greater danger, for the current kept rising. But he couldn't risk being the cause of Jim's possibly drowning. Besides, even though only five yards separated them, if he let go of the car, the current would sweep him away.

He didn't want Jim to come any closer.

And yet he did.

He looked at Jim sadly, wanting to tell him to throw him a rope. But Jim didn't have a rope. Just the one tied at his waist.

If I leap toward him and reach him and my weight drags us both under, I'll still have a hold of him. And he'll still be attached to the rope so we can't be carried downstream. Still, he could swallow too much water....

"Blair, let go of the car and grab hold of me."

Jim was amazingly calm for such life-threatening circumstances. Blair wanted to protest that there was no way he could leap that far across the water.

"Blair, there's not much time. Let go of the car."  Jim was still holding out his arms. "Move toward me and I'll catch you."

He wanted Jim to catch him. So bad. But how was it possible?

Jim sounded so sure.

"Blair, come on, buddy. We'll both die if you don't trust me."

He had to obey. Jim always knew what to do

"Blair, please."

Blair gulped heavily. He slowly worked his hands, one finger at a time, away from the grip they had on the car.

Now or never.

He dived toward Jim, expecting the current to sweep him away.

Instead, strong arms wrapped around him and his head landed nicely on Jim's shoulder. The rain didn't even seem that cold or wet anymore.

"I told you to trust me," Jim admonished gently.

He carried Blair away... to safety.

Blair blinked. Slowly, the outline of his room came into focus. He rolled onto his back, expecting to flinch.

No flinch was necessary. Oh, yeah.  His butt, which had been so sore the past few days, was no longer causing him pain and there was now a little band-aid on the spot that had once been so troublesome.

Jim hadn't teased him about that yet. It didn't mean he wouldn't. But after working up the courage to ask Jim to look at his little problem, Blair was now convinced that he'd done the right thing. Jim even seemed to enjoy helping him out.

That made sense. Jim always seemed to know what to do.

Like in his dream.

Blair relaxed into the mattress, letting the images of the dream return. He snuggled farther under the covers, remembering the moment when he had landed in Jim's arms. How strong they had felt. How sure -- even after what seemed like an impossible leap.

The dream seemed to have a theme of trust. Blair didn't know why he would have a dream like that. After all, he trusted Jim completely -- with his life and with everything that made up that life. Maybe the dream was simply acting out what he already felt in his heart.

Content with that thought, he slowly drifted back to sleep, hoping he would still remember the dream in the morning.

When Jim came home a couple of weeks later, it was to discover the kitchen in disarray, the smell of something sweet and nutty - pecan? - in the air, and flour all over the island, the dishes in use... and Blair. In Blair's hair. On his shirt.

"Dare I ask?" Jim said, sitting back on the dining table and crossing his arms.

"Don't start, man," Blair said with a grin. "I'm baking cookies, Jim. Yes, cookies. See, I had an agreement with Cheryl, who taught my class for a whole week last month when we were in Peru? She hates baking. And she'd committed to doing cookies for a charity bake. So, the agreement was that I'd do the baking for her. She asked me about it the other day and I can't put it off any longer. The bake sale is the day after tomorrow."

Having finished the explanation, Blair leaned over a flour-sprinkled cookbook open on the counter, and that's when Jim saw the flour on Blair's cheek.

"Chief? Do you have any idea what you're doing?"  After all, Blair could cook, but he didn't bake.

"Hey, man, I admit I haven't baked cookies since helping Naomi when I was eight."  He looked up at Jim. "But I can read a cookbook."

The oven dinged.

Blair grabbed a potholder and opened the oven. He pulled out a sheet of freshly baked cookies. "All right. Another dozen down. Only six more to go."


"Yep, eight dozen total was the agreement and I've done two. Four different flavors required."

Jim decided it would be a good idea to get lost for the evening. But he stood and dipped his finger in a bowl of batter -- one of four -- and shoved it into his mouth. Mmm.  This batch must be sugar cookies.

"Jim!" Blair said. "I just barely have enough ingredients to meet my quota. Come on, cut that out. You can't eat any of it."

"Pretty good," Jim said with a nod.

Blair's tiny grin acknowledged the compliment, but he said again, "Don't eat anymore."

Jim took possession of the bowl, cradling it in his arms, and then ran his finger into it again.

Blair firmed his jaw. "Jim, I'm getting really pissed off here. I wasn't in the mood for this, to begin with."

Blair didn't get mad very much. But the one thing Jim had learned in his time with Blair was that a pissed-off Blair was fun to watch. Besides, he considered, he hadn't even used his recent ammunition of the spider bite on Blair's ass. Near his ass crack, no less. It was time that Blair got initiated into the time-honored ritual of being affectionately teased by one's best buddy. Stealing cookie dough would suffice.

He turned away with his prize bowl.


Jim turned back around to face him. "What are you going to do?" he challenged.

Blair indicated the array of heavy-duty cooking utensils on the counter. "I have weapons."

"Let's see you use one."

Blair suddenly turned his back, hunching over so Jim couldn't see what he was doing.

After a couple of seconds, Jim started to get worried. He took a step toward the kitchen.

Blair swung around, turkey baster in hand -- pointed right at Jim's face.

The next thing Jim knew he was being squirted in the face with something thick and sweet-smelling.

"Ah-hah!"  Blair laughed triumphantly.

When the hosing was over, Jim could hardly see out of one eye. He ran his hand across his face, instinctively tasting the substance in passing.

It was strawberry icing.

Blair's laughter turned to giggles. "You look real like a real dork. Now give me my bowl back."

When he could see out of both eyes again, Jim slowly placed the bowl on the table and drew himself up to his full height.

Blair's smile went away. "Uh oh," he muttered under his breath.

"Uh oh is right," Jim said as fiercely as he could with pink icing on his face. He made sure that he exhaled loudly enough that it was audible.

Blair's eyes quickly darted back and forth, seeking escape.

Jim lunged for him.

Laughing, Blair dodged out the other end of the kitchen, feigned toward his room, and then ran toward the front door.

Jim got there first, blocking it. He grabbed Blair's shoulder, but only for a moment, because Blair slipped away toward the stairs.

Jim's long strides brought him there first, and Blair had to turn away yet again, with a laughing "shit" under his breath.

In fact, Blair's amusement was slowing him down. He now stood between the sofas, as though unsure of what to do next.

Jim had him now. He wished he had an icing-full turkey baster in hand as he grabbed Blair by the back of he collar.

Even as Jim tightened his grip, Blair managed to wriggle free with a triumphant noise and race toward his room.

"You little shit," Jim said with amusement and admiration. Once again, he just beat Blair to the entrance. This time, when Blair darted to the left, Jim anticipated it and threw his sprawled body over Blair, gripping his wrists and pinning them against the wall.

Blair ducked and wriggled, laughing. "Let me go!"

Jim was getting breathless.  He tightened his grip, wondering how he could grab the turkey baster from the counter - and fill it with water, at least -- while still keeping Blair pinned.

Blair went still, but Jim didn't trust the lack of movement. He pinned himself more firmly against Blair, their hands stretched out, Blair's body pressed to the wall.

Blair was suddenly full of wild motion, trying to pull his hands from Jim's grip.

Jim leaned his weight on Blair even harder. "No, you don't," he said, smug in his physical superiority.

Blair gasped and fought harder. And harder.

Jim started to lose his grip as Blair wildly twisted and turned. "You little -- "

Then Jim heard Blair's racing heart and realized that Blair was no longer playing.

Jim snatched his hands away.

Gasping loudly, Blair twisted around while falling to his knees.

He crawled on his hands and knees, making life-or-death moans of animal-like pain, and then struggled to his feet and ran toward the front door.

Jim watched, stunned, as slammed the door behind him.

What the hell?

What had gone wrong?

He waited for his own heart to steady as he tried to understand the moment their horseplay had turned into something more serious.

He'd pinned Blair's hands against the wall.

No, that hadn't been it. Blair had been laughing then, even while struggling.

Jim had used the weight of his entire body and pressed Blair against the wall, allowing him no escape.

That's when Blair had panicked and his struggles had become genuine.

Dear God, surely he didn't think I was trying....

Jim grabbed a dishtowel and wiped the icing off his face.

Granted, most men wouldn't be comfortable with another man's body pinned against their back. But they'd just been playing.  Surely, Blair didn't think....

Jim heart contracted at the idea that Blair could think his intentions had been anything other than silly fun.

Stupid, Jim decided, studying the mess on the counter. He was nearly forty -- way too old to be participating in physical horseplay with other adults.

But Blair had always been so much fun to kid around with.


He felt two-feet high. If Blair thought....

Jim swallowed thickly. The least he could do was help Blair finish his project while he waited for him to come home, so he could explain....

What if he never came home?

Jim refused to believe that.

He read the directions for the cookies six times before they registered. The batter was already made. All he needed to do was put chunks of it on the cookie sheet and bake for ten to twelve minutes in the preheated oven.


He glanced toward the door. Blair hadn't taken his jacket in his rush to escape his entrapment at Jim's hands. It was cold and windy outside.

He can take care of himself. Jim dropped dollops of batter onto the cookie sheet.

He probably went to Rainier.

Jim felt a flair of anger as he continued to create rows of dough. Blair should trust him by now. Why would he think --

Jim felt a shiver as he shoved the sheet into the oven. He set the timer.

There was that scar on Blair's ass. Like a cut. What happened to you, buddy?

Jim leaned back against the counter as he followed that train of thought. Maybe something had... happened... to Blair once. When he got the scar. Maybe Jim pinning him had created a flashback. After all, Blair's humor had changed to raw fear so suddenly.

If Blair was suffering a flashback, he shouldn't be out on the streets alone.

Jim resisted the temptation to call Simon and have him put out an APB. Simon would laugh at him, anyway.

Damn the fucking cookies.  Jim switched off the oven and pulled out the cookie sheet. He put on his coat and grabbed Blair's jacket. When he got to the parking lot, he was dismayed to see Blair's Volvo sitting there.

He's out walking the streets. In the cold with thin khaki pants and the shirt and t-shirt he'd been wearing.

At least walking meant he probably hadn't gone far. Unless he took the bus.

Jim sighed as he got into the SUV. He'd find Blair. He had to.

Jim was led by nothing more than gut instinct when he came across a park that was lit only on the far side, where the jogging track was.

He parked at the curb and entered the darkness. He spotted somebody sitting on a bench in the shadows, facing the lit distance, strands of his hair disturbed by the breeze.

Jim approached slowly. It annoyed him that he wasn't sure of his welcome. Still, he kept his voice as neutral as possible when he came toward the bench. "Chief?"

Blair turned to look up at him but didn't meet his eye.

Jim held out Blair's jacket.

"Thanks," Blair said quietly, taking it.

Jim moved closer, waiting for Blair to slip his arms through the sleeves. Then he helped Blair pull it around himself. As soon as it was zipped, Blair shoved his hands into the pockets. He was still looking away from Jim, even after Jim sat on the bench beside him.

"Chief, I-I didn't mean.... I never would have...."

Blair quickly held up his hand, stopping him.

"I know," Blair said, looking at him again. "It wasn't you. It wasn't anything you did."  He lowered his hand. "I wasn't running from you. I was telling myself that, even as I was flying out of the door. I couldn't seem to stop myself."

Jim waited. When no other words were forthcoming, he said, "When I... had you pinned... it reminded you of... someone else?"

Blair nodded, his face lowered.

"That's when you got the scar on your rear?"

Blair looked at him. Then he slowly nodded, as though just now realizing the connection.

Jim waited, certain Blair would tell him about that now.

Blair looked away again when he spoke. "When I was thirteen, I was still really immature physically, and scrawny. I was late going through puberty. Anyway, my mom and I were renting this old house sort of out of the way, near Yakima. There was this man, this drifter, that we picked up somewhere along the way. I didn't like him. I always felt real uncomfortable around him. I don't think Naomi liked him either, even though she was sleeping with him."

Jim decided not to comment.

Blair drew a deep breath. "There was this one night when Naomi had to be somewhere. She left me in the house with the man. Randy, I think his name was. I tried to stay away from him but the house was small.... Anyway, this one night he grabbed me. I smart-mouthed him and tried to get away. He got mad and pinned me up against the wall."

Like I did, Jim thought.

"He was a really big guy. Strong. He - he was aroused. He had me pinned and I knew what he wanted. I remember feeling so hopeless, that there was no way I could get away, because he was so much stronger than I was. But I fought anyway. Just kept twisting around and pulling down, toward the floor, trying to bring my weight to my knees."

Jim remembered how difficult it had been to keep hold of Blair at the loft, no matter how good a grip he'd thought he had.

"Finally, I got loose, and I remember crawling between his legs and trying to make for the door. He lunged toward it and the window was to my right. I made a mad dash for it. I remember it seemed to take forever before I had the window pushed up. He said something like 'You worthless piece of crap', and I saw through the corner of my eye that he had grabbed a knife. Just as I was making it through the window, he sliced me with that knife. I just kept kicking and kicking, so he couldn't grab my legs, until I was through the window. And then I ran like hell into the woods. Hid out until Naomi got back."

Jim could so easily visualize Blair's frantic fear. He'd witnessed it himself less than an hour ago.

Blair took a few breaths.

"What did your mom do?" Jim prompted.

"I didn't tell her. I knew Randy was history, so I couldn't see making trouble for her with him."

Jim couldn't compute that. The man needed to be brought in. Who knew how many innocent children he'd molested -- or worse -- since then. "But what about the cut?"

Calmer now, Blair said, "I told her I got it from walking through some briars and getting snagged with one. She took me to the emergency room and they took care of it. It's not like it was very deep."

The scar was so clear in Jim's memory. "That was a clean scar, Chief. Being snagged by briar thorns would have left ragged edges."

"Yeah, well, that's back before society got so sensitive about child abuse issues. Nobody questioned it. And I made sure, after that, that I was never alone in the house with Randy. Sure enough, he was gone within a few weeks."

"What's his last name? He's probably still molesting children."

Blair looked at Jim. "I don't think I ever knew. I doubt Naomi even knew. If he'd ever told us his last name, it was probably a phony one. Besides," Blair shrugged, "he's the type of guy who probably met an early end."  His mouth corner quirked. "I doubt he's still hurting anyone."

Jim felt an ache of compassion. "You never told anyone?"

"No, never."  Blair's voice became casual again. "It's not like it messed me up or anything. It was a really scary moment. But I got through it. I haven't thought about it in a long, long time."

Until I made you remember.

Blair looked him in the eye. "Please don't hold back from me, because of this."

Jim knew what he meant. His subconscious had already rifled ahead, thinking how he'd have to be careful in the future about how he touched Blair. He wouldn't want to spook him, or in any way remind him of that unfortunate event that he'd had to face alone.

"I won't," he said, wondering how he was going to fulfill that promise.

Blair seemed to sense his dilemma. "I trust you, Jim. I do. I know you'd never try to hurt me, especially with your physical strength. Don't be afraid to kid around with me."

Jim nodded, wanting to do as Blair asked.

To prove it, he didn't allow himself to hesitate when he placed his hand on Blair's shoulder. He squeezed through the warmth of the jacket, wondering how long Blair had sat here in the cold breeze. "You ready to leave? If you aren't ready to go home, we could stop at the coffee house."

They stood. "I need to finish my baking project. I'm out of time."

"We'll pick up another cookie sheet at the store. You can cook twice as many at once that way."

Blair grinned up at him. "Good idea."  Then he glanced around. "Where did you park?"

Jim took a step to the right. "This way."

They were quiet as they made the trek in the brisk wind. Jim felt reluctant to return to the loft so quickly. He was struck by how much trust it had taken for Blair to show him the spider's bite two weeks ago.

He paused before they reached the curb. "Chief?"

Blair looked up at him.

Jim put his arm around Blair and hugged him. "I'm sorry this happened to you, especially when you were so young and... innocent. I'm sorry that I made you remember it."

Blair shrugged. "Maybe it was time for somebody else to know."

Jim hadn't thought of it like that. But he liked how it made him feel.

Nearly two hours later, Blair settled into bed. The cookies were done, the kitchen was clean, he'd showered to get all the flour off... and he felt closer to Jim than he ever had before.

As he closed his eyes, he repeated what he often did the past couple of weeks just before sleep -- allowed himself to recall the dream of Jim rescuing him from the river.  In particular, the moment when he'd made the impossible leap toward Jim and somehow landed in his arms.

"I told you to trust me," dream-Jim had admonished him.

He'd thought the dream a reiteration of his trust. Now, he considered that maybe the dream had been a message to prompt him to trust further. After all, he hadn't wanted to tell Jim the source of his scar when Jim had originally asked about it. Perhaps, if he had, he would have talked about the incident then and it wouldn't have reared up earlier this evening, when they'd been horseplaying with each other.

Either way, he'd learned his lesson. Jim could handle things like that. He'd tended dutifully to Blair's embarrassing injury and listened to details of his near-molestation. And he'd even -- Blair recalled now -- backed off immediately when he'd realized that Blair had truly tried to get away from him and was no longer enjoying their game. And then he'd helped Blair complete his project so he could still get to bed at a decent hour.

Yeah, Jim was okay. In more ways than one.



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