The Witness 1

Rated: Adult
Warning: Puppy Play, Dom/sub


"Oh man, this is police harassment."

"Calm down, Chief, you're just here as a witness. I'll get you back to your kennel as quick as I can." Jim smiled as the young man glared at him. Usually Jim had more control, but with the divorce from Caro and the sudden rash of murders that had him working eighteen hour days and now this hate crimes case, Jim just couldn't pass up the humor of the situation. He pushed through the doors to the precinct, herding his witness along with him.

"There is nothing illegal about what we were doing," Sandburg growled, but then the image of Sandburg growling like a cocker spaniel forced Jim to bite the inside of his cheek.

"Oh, I worked vice long enough that I could come up with a statute or two," Jim said as he considered just what Sandburg and Mr. Espinoza had been up to. "Bestiality, for one," Jim said with a straight face just to annoy Mr. Sandburg. The man turned a deep shade of red.

"Not funny. There were no animals involved, there was no sex involved, and just because you're some uptight prick who only uses missionary position doesn't mean that everyone is wired the same. Mr. Espinoza has a right to his interests." Jim blinked in the face of that attack. Usually his size was enough to dissuade people from getting so aggressive with him, but then Sandburg had already surprised Jim several times, and he'd only known the man an hour.

"Mr. Espinoza? You aren't even on a first name basis with the man you wag your tail at?" Jim asked as he guided the witness to a chair. He walked around and dropped into his desk chair before looking up at one Blair Sandburg, student at Rainier University and high-priced escort. At least Jim hoped he was high-priced because he deserved a hell of a lot of money providing those particular services.

"There is nothing wrong with wanting to have an unconditional relationship that doesn't rely on promises or societally imposed roles defined by our gender."

"No, just one based on money," Jim pointed out as he started his computer and flipped through his notepad.

"Social constructs are reinforced by small-minded people like you," Sandburg growled as he finally dropped into the chair across from Jim.

"I'm sorry, Chief, I'll drop the…" Jim waved his hand as he struggled to find the word to describe it… "thing." Sandburg glared at him.

"I really do appreciate you coming forward as a witness, and I will try to make this as quick and painless as possible. I'll have you back to…" Jim paused again, struggling with the sarcastic comment that wiggled its way up his throat… "work just as soon as possible."

"I didn't have to let you guys know I'd seen anything."

"I know, Mr. Sandburg."

"I was trying to do the right thing, man, and it's not like it wasn't embarrassing for me."

"I'm sure." Jim congratulated himself on not saying something sarcastic. Personally, if he'd been in that same situation, he wouldn't have come forward for anything less than a murder, not with that… equipment… on him.

"Man, you're just dying to say something shitty here, aren't you?" Sandburg asked with narrowed eyes.

"Buddy, I'm doing my best to keep a straight face, so let's start with when you first noticed the suspects." Jim opened the program for witness statements, and skipped by the background information. They could do that later, but he really did need any information Sandburg could give him on these gay bashers who had targeted the upper-west gay community with its tea-houses and art shops and high-end bars with boys dressed in glitter and silk.

"I was watching out the upstairs window, just people-watching, and I noticed these three guys who came out of the alley between Roxanne's and the Starbucks. They came out into the light from the streetlamp and then one of them hit the other on the arm and they all three disappeared back into the alley. And I told you all this already," Sandburg pointed out. Jim just kept typing as he tried to keep up with the kid's mouth. When he finally caught up, he sighed and looked at the kid.

"I know this can be a little tedious, but going over the facts again often help witnesses to remember additional details."

"Or it helps witnesses invent memories. Man, the more often you repeat a story, the more likely a witness is to invent details. The National Institutes of Mental Health found that less than 50 percent of eyewitness identifications were accurate, and that even an hour after an event, a witness might make up as much as 20 percent of the details from their own imagination without even realizing it."

"You aren't studying to be a defense attorney, are you?" Jim asked as he looked at his witness in dismay. On the stand, the kid would be next to useless if he went off spouting facts like that.

"An anthropologist," Sandburg corrected him.

"So, you're trained to observe, so let's get this done as quickly as possible before that scientific brain of yours starts making up that 20 percent of the details," Jim said. Considering how the uniforms had found him, Jim really didn't even want to think about what the kid might make up as his imagination filled in the gaps.

"When did you see the men next?"

"There was a tranny coming down the street."

"Miss Comfrey?" Jim asked as he glanced down at his notebook.

"I don't know. She was dark-skinned, tall, had on a blue dress with a white shawl and a blond wig."

Jim nodded as he typed in the additional information. That matched one Robert "Rosie" Comfrey well enough to make the connection to the victim.

"Okay, so what did you see?"

Sandburg didn't answer right away, and Jim looked up. The young man had gone white, his hand gripping the side of Jim's desk in a familiar pose: shock at having seen something horrible and been unwilling, or in Sandburg's case, unable to do anything to help.

"Chief, she's going to be fine. You did good; you did everything you could given your situation."

"Oh man. I just felt so damn helpless."

"Technically, you were," Jim said, and he felt very proud of himself that he managed to choke back the rest of his comment. Despite his own amusement at the situation, the kid had put himself and his reputation in quite a bit of risk to come forward, and the uniforms at the scene had given him one hell of a hard time. Of course, the kid had given it right back to them, so Jim wasn't sure who he felt more sorry for: the kid clutching the blanket around himself or the six uniformed cops the kid had verbally beaten into submission. Jim had to pull the kid away and shove clothes at him just to get him to stop berating the officers.

"So, you saw the tranny coming down the street," Jim prompted, using Blair's own words in an attempt to get the kid talking again.

"And all of a sudden, two of the guys jump out of the alley and grab her arms. The third one punches her in the stomach." Blair stopped.

"What next," Jim prompted.

"I went to the door, threw my shoulder against it to try and get Mr. Espinoza's attention, so I didn't see the next bit, but by the time I got back to the window, I could just see her leg sticking out of the alley with a torn piece of blue dress laying on the sidewalk. I knew I had to do something, so that's when I broke the window and chucked the lamp out."

Jim bit down an urge to call Sandburg a good dog for that bit of clear thinking. The crash of lamp from the second story of the town house had caught people's attention. Rosie Comfrey had suffered fewer injuries than any of the other hate crimes victims so far.

"Describe the suspects," Jim said as he typed as fast as he could to keep up.

"One was a few inches shorter than Miss Comfrey, or at least shorter then Miss Comfrey plus her heels—four or five inches shorter. That one had on a blue jacket with a big circle on the back and some sort of writing. The one who did the hitting had on a sweatshirt, just gray. He was about an inch taller than jacket guy. The third guy I didn't really get a good look at."

"Would you recognize any of them?" Jim asked.

"No way, man. It was dark out and I was way too high to really see their faces even if I hadn't been totally freaked out."

"Chief, maybe you shouldn't go back there tonight. That might not be the best… situation, especially given that you've had a hard night."

"Oh, man, no way. Mr. Espinoza paid for two days, and not only did you guys go traipsing through his house, but you made him talk about things that were totally private. He does not deserve that. And some of the accusations those cops made were way out of line. Plus, being in that wheelchair makes it really hard for him to pick up around the place, and he's probably still fussing over all the things you clods knocked over or moved. He needs the release."

"Sandburg, that kind of release is called prostitution, and it is against the law," Jim pointed out. He didn't want to run the kid in, not after the night Sandburg had, but he wasn't comfortable delivering the kid back to the perv in the wheelchair either. He could admit to feeling just a little protective of the kid. He chalked it up to respect for the kid's nerve, both in interrupting the attack, and in letting himself be seen by the uniform who'd shown up at the scene.

"No way. I do not do intercourse in any of its varied and beautiful forms, at least not for money," Sandburg winked, and even though he knew the kid was yanking his chain, Jim could feel the heat in that look. "What I provide is strictly about fantasy."

"And Mr. Espinoza likes to fantasize that you're a dog. He should just get an actual dog," Jim said dryly. According to the uniform, Blair had been wearing a leather harness around his legs that kept him from standing up, mitts on his hands that preventing him from using his fingers, kneepads, and a tail that Jim was truly not even going to think about.

"An actual dog makes an actual mess, besides, it's all fantasy, man. He likes the control," Sandburg shrugged.

"And that puts you out of control," Jim pointed out. He didn't know why it bothered him, but for some reason it truly did.

"He's safe. He just likes to play out his fantasies in a setting where he doesn't feel like he's out of control. Besides, the worst he ever does to punish me for getting a little too hyper is to put me in the front room for an hour. He's a sweetheart, and right now he's alone and probably frustrated out of his mind when he expected a weekend of relaxation.

"Punish? Chief, no amount of money is worth degrading yourself like this." Jim struggled with himself. After years of working vice, he knew he couldn't convince anyone to quit if they weren't ready to, but he really disliked the thought of Sandburg humiliating himself by crawling around on the floor like a dog.

"Degrading?" Blair asked with a laugh. "Oh man, it's really something to just forget all the worries about school and money and which woman I've pissed off this week and just play. I get to lay by the fire and eat treats and annoy Mr. Espinoza until he puts me on the leash just to keep me from stealing his slippers. Man, don't knock it until you've tried it."

Blair stood up, and Jim couldn't even find a comeback for that. Of all the speeches he expected—the 'I need the money' line or the 'it's none of your business' counterattack or even the 'I'm turned on by it' bullshit—he never expected Sandburg to claim it was fun.

"Look, I've got to use the bathroom. Will you have that ready for me to sign when I get back? I really need to head back to Mr. Espinoza's tonight."

"Uh, yeah," Jim agreed as he looked at the computer screen. "The bathroom is out those doors and to your left."

"Thanks, man," Blair said as he turned toward the doors. "Oh," he added as he turned back around with a smile, "thanks for being worried about me. You're not so bad when you stop acting like an asshole." Blair turned and headed out the doors. Pulling out the driver's license that he'd confiscated from Blair at the scene, Jim started typing in the required information at the top.

For a second, he fingered the license. Not even knowing why he was doing it, Jim pulled out his a pad of paper and jotted the name and license number down on a piece of paper and tucked it into his billfold. After all, he might have some official reason for calling Blair Jacob Sandburg sometime in the future. Jim went back to typing the information into the computer.



Jim slipped into the back of the crowded lecture hall. God, it still smelled the same, like dusty paper and sour sweat. However, unlike Jim's undergraduate days from years ago, this lecture hall was fairly full. One of the students in the back thumbed a controller sending a little electronic man running, but most of the students whispered to each other.

He slipped into a seat before Mr. Sandburg could spot him.

"So, who has an answer?" Sandburg blurted out, and the man practically bounced from one side of the lecture hall to the other.

"Something borrowed, something blue," a voice shouted out.

"Good try Ms. Saunders, but that little gem came from the Victorian times. 'Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe,' a little ditty that many believe actually came from a Scottish custom that a groom put a silver coin under his foot to bring luck and ward off evil spirits… and considering many grooms had never seen their brides before the wedding, they needed all the luck they could get. So I congratulate you on going for the superstitions since the medieval folks were a superstitious bunch, but you're off by a few hundred years."

A ripple of laughter went through the room and even the video game man seemed to be paying attention.

"The wedding cake," another voice yelled out, this time from near the back. Jim remembered his undergraduate years, and the people in the back never spoke in class. Hell, they usually weren't awake. Hell, Jim remembered his own dreaded required psych class with the bored TA lecturing off the professor's notes. Back then, Jim had been the student sitting in back and never answering. That class so many years ago might have even been in this same room.

"Not even close, Mr. Clark," Sandburg said cheerfully. "The Romans broke bread in the medieval days, bread being associated both with fertility and with Christ, but that wedding cake didn't show up until years later, and then it was something of a wedding game to torture the happy couple. People would bring these small cakes and stack them up as high as they could." Sandburg mimicked the stacking with one hand layering over another. "The couple would have to kiss over those cakes to ensure prosperity, but if their friends were truly evil, those cakes would get stacked so high the happy couple would have to go tumbling into the pastries just to get that kiss. It makes the whole mashing your loved one's face in the cake a little less shocking, yes?" Sandburg laughed, and then he bounced to the opposite side of the room.

Jim was man enough to admit that he hadn't expected Sandburg to be such a good teacher. Considering the man's talents at playing human sex-toy, Sandburg's enthusiasm for medieval weddings just seemed odd to Jim. Then again, everything about this witness seemed odd to Jim. So odd that when Jim got the message that Sandburg wanted to talk, he'd driven over rather than have a conversation over the phone.

"Come on people, remember, what is the basis of marriage in this time period?" Sandburg challenged the class.

"Sex!" someone called out.

"Mr. Brooks, you may have sex on the brain, but the men of this day and age could just go hire a working girl and scratch that itch. Hell, if the man had any status, he could just push his female servant down and do her. That little piece of male-domination lasted for centuries. In the 1600 and 1700's, female indentured servants who hired on to work in the colonies, both black and white, often got pregnant from their masters, and for each pregnancy, six months would be added on to the end of their sentence making it a virtual life sentence as they were raped over and over. And yet, society felt no sympathy for them because these disgraced women weren't giving their masters all the work their masters were due because of the pregnancy. So, unlike some people in this room, men of the time period had no trouble getting sex."

Jim hid his smile behind his hand as he watched Sandburg bounce back to the lectern. "Come on, I gave you these notes; Duby, Bartheleny, and de la Ronciere ringing any bells? I know you couldn't have slept through the whole thing. I have it on good authority that I have a voice far too annoying to sleep through."

"Androcentric," a woman called out from near the front.

"Ding-ding-ding. We're getting warmer. Thank you Ms. Ross. So, if marriage was all about male power, I'm looking for a tradition that goes all the way back to the beginning, and it sure isn't the blessing of the bed where your fathers watch you have sex to make sure everyone knows where the parts go. Man, these days, that will get you arrested."

"The father walks the bride down the aisle and gives her away," a boy from the front row said.

"And Mr. Paggoti is our winner," Blair said happily as he pointed at a boy who looked, at least to Jim, like he was about twelve. "The bride isn't likely to prostate herself on the ground in front of the groom or change her hairstyle to reflect her married status, but her father still typically gives her away. So, next week, you have your papers on marriage due. I want to know what current marital ceremonies tell us about our society. Become one with your inner social scientist. And people, this time, use citations. The library is your friend."

The class groaned, but even Jim could tell they did it more for effect than because of any honest displeasure.

"Dismissed! Get out of here," Blair told them with a laugh. Many students did leave, chatting in pairs and clusters as they filed out the doors at the back of the auditorium, while others clustered around Blair… Mr. Sandburg.

Jim sat, waiting, while the last few students finally wandered away, leaving Sandburg collecting his notes and overheads off the front tables.

"Interesting lecture, Chief," Jim said loudly.

"Is that why you're here? To get a little background on social institutions?" Blair asked as he shoved papers and pens and folders into a satchel. He didn't even bother looking up, so obviously he had already spotted Jim.

"You called me."

"Yeah, the operative term being called. I didn't expect to have a cop show up in the middle of class," Blair said as he finished packing and headed for the door, which meant heading straight for Jim.

"It's not like I announced to the class that I was a cop," Jim pointed out. He didn't expect the sharp bark of laughter.

"Oh man, you like… scream cop," Blair said with an exaggerated shudder.

"Hey, I worked undercover for a year," Jim said with a frown.

"Okay, if that's true, you were either going undercover as a dirty cop or a hired thug because your alpha-dog vibes are not subtle," Blair said as he headed past Jim and out the doors.

"Hey, look who's bringing dogs up," Jim shot back. It didn't help that Blair was right… he'd gone undercover playing a small-time heavy with an interest in dog fights and gambling.

"Oh man, I did not call you to continue this conversation."

Jim blinked, momentarily forgetting that he had come because Blair had called him about the gay-bashings on the upper-west side of town. "I'm sorry, Chief. So, you had some information?"

"Man, did you just say what I think you said?" Blair asked as he stopped in the middle of the hallway, forcing students to detour around them.


"A big alpha-dog cop apologizing—man, that is totally against stereotype, but that's why I called you."

"Am I going to get a straight answer here, Chief?" Jim asked, for some reason unaccountably frustrated at Blair's surprise that he would apologize.

"Sorry. I'm just a little wired from class."

"And I'm hoping that's wired on an academic high because I would hate to have to toss your car." The minute Jim said the words, he wished he could grab them back. Sandburg had done nothing but try to help, and Jim was threatening him with arrest, not procedure when dealing with a witness. However, Blair just laughed.

"Okay, that's totally alpha-dog behavior. When threatened, even verbally, show dominance or display power in order to regain the upper hand. And if it would make you feel better, you can toss my office and my car. Do you want to handcuff me while you do it?" Blair asked in a teasing voice, and Jim tightened his jaw.

"Why did you call, or did you just want someone to play the straight-man for your act?"

Blair started walking down the hall again, and Jim followed, feeling more and more like he was out of his depth. "Some of the guys down at the clubs will talk to me. I'm not one of them, but I'm not some cop coming in with his attitude and his homophobia. Anyway, these three have been working the area longer than you know, getting worse and worse as time goes by."

"Which means they're gearing up for a kill," Jim said quietly.

"Oh yeah. That's the pattern. But I convinced a couple of their early victims, ones they didn't hit so hard, to talk to you. They're scared, but I think they might be able to identify these guys."

Together they had reached a door marked "Artifact Storage" with a hand made sign taped below stating "Blair Sandburg."

"So you called me?" Jim asked as he followed Blair into a makeshift office carved out of the middle of a storage room.

"Hey, like I said, you're not bad when you aren't being an asshole."

"Names?" Jim asked as he pulled a notebook out of his pocket.

"No way, man. Look, I know you're better than most… you called Rosie Comfrey "Miss" without even batting an eye, but no way am I giving you names and letting you go down there by yourself."

"Chief, this isn't open for negotiation. Give me the names of the victims, and I will do my best to handle the situation with diplomacy."

"Yeah, like you did with me?" Blair challenged him, and Jim could only tighten his jaw to keep from saying something totally inappropriate. "Look, every culture has its own rules, and this culture values privacy above all else. They barely tolerate me, and if I give you names, man, it will not end well."

"They barely tolerate you?" Jim asked. Okay, he had missed a step in there somewhere. "From what you and Mr. Espinoza got up to, I assumed—"

"Yeah, you assumed, but one, I do not have sex with clients, and two, the gay community is not really accepting of bisexuality. Lots of them think of it as the cowards way out… a homosexual man's way of adapting himself to society by lying to himself about being attracted to women."

"And that's not the case?" Jim hadn't meant to have that come out as a question, and Blair glared at him.

"Man, your enlightenment is very limited, isn't it?" Blair asked. "I am perfectly capable of seeing the inherent beauty in both the male and female forms. However, I am not seeing any way in hell that I'm going to just give you names. They wouldn't talk to you, and after I betrayed one of the most important mores in that society, they wouldn't ever talk to me again."

"Chief, I am not taking a witness with me on an investigation."

"Then I guess you're going to have to work the case on your own, and I'll keep trying to get information on my own."

"Chief, I need those names." Jim stepped forward into Blair's personal space, standing no more than an inch away so that Jim could almost imagine that he felt the heat from Blair's body.

"You aren't getting them," Blair said as he crossed his arms.

"I can haul you in front of a judge, and that judge can throw your ass in jail for contempt until you give me names," Jim threatened.

"Oh man, totally alpha-dog tactics. Small problem, though. I'm not an alpha-dog. I don't even pretend to play that game. So, if you want to haul me off, get out those handcuffs and I won't even argue, but you're not getting those names."

Blair held out his wrists, and they were standing so close, that his hands ended up resting on Jim's chest. Jim fought an urge to do exactly that… to cuff the kid and then give him a wedgie until names started popping out the other end.

"You do what I tell you, and you stay in the truck until I give you the all-clear," Jim snarled instead.

"Yes, sir," Blair smiled. "You know, usually people have to pay to boss me around so much."

"Don't push it," Jim threatened.

"Man, you don't know me very well. I always push it," Blair laughed. Jim didn't answer as he put his hand on the small of Blair's back and guided the man out of the building. Simon was so going to kill him for this breech of procedure, but Jim had a feeling Blair wasn't the kind to give in, and Jim really needed to find these three before anyone died. So, Jim would temporarily have a mascot. After all, he'd always wanted a dog growing up. Jim smiled at his own joke as the two of them headed out of the building.



"So, is the street safe from random old ladies ready to pummel me with their handbags?" Blair asked from the seat of Jim's truck. His feet rested on the step as he leaned out the open door, but true to his word, he stayed in the truck as Jim stood outside the club. Jim gritted his teeth at the sarcasm. He might have gone overboard a little to order Blair to stay in the truck, but he was way out on a limb in terms of the department regulations he was breaking by even bringing Blair.

Right, so he could go in there alone and try to get these guys to talk, but Jim had a nasty suspicion that Blair was right. After all, this case only passed to Major Crimes after the local detectives struck out at every turn.

Jim scrubbed his face with a hand and sighed. He just hated that the kid was right because taking the kid with him during an interview would destroy his value as a witness. If the case got shaky or if these new leads turned into a dead end, the DA would hang Jim's balls on the courthouse fence for tainting the only witness who hadn't been bludgeoned into unconsciousness and lost their short-term memory.

But then again, Blair hadn't seen all that much. Jim made up his mind and vowed to deal with the DA later. "Come on, boy," Jim said as he patted his thigh in an imitation of calling a dog. Blair hopped down and then slammed the truck door so hard that Jim flinched.

"Nice. And just think, you were the cop who treated me best," Blair said as he rolled his eyes. "And actually, you're still treating me better than most of those assholes did," he finished as he walked to Jim's side.

"They're good guys; they just didn't expect that... situation," Jim explained.

"Riiiiiight, which is why, after I explained, they insisted on harassing Mr. Espinoza and trying to humiliate me?" Blair asked sarcastically. Jim would have been more concerned about Blair's humiliation if the kid seemed embarrassed by anything. So far, it seemed like he could discuss any topic without hesitation. In fact, the more Jim did not want to discuss it, the more willing Blair was to wade right in.

"Look, I can't justify their actions. I stopped them as soon as I got to the scene," Jim pointed out.

"Man, I'm sorry; you're totally not responsible for other cops acting like dickwads, and I need to not take that out on you."

"No problem, Chief. Those guys really were out of line," Jim agreed. "Look when we go in, just don't get in the middle of the interview. Provide the introductions, and let me do my job," Jim asked as he pulled open the heavy door to the club.

Inside, overly bright florescent lights made everything look cheap and tacky. Of course, most of the club was cheap and tacky with plastic palm trees, ugly red fake-leather chairs, and a dance floor that sagged in the middle.

"Blair," a man called out cheerfully. "What are you doing back here in the middle of the day?" A thin man in a Queen t-shirt appeared in the door to the back room, a towel in hand.

"This is Jim, the guy I told you about."

The guy stopped, and looked at Jim with the same enthusiasm with which Jim considered spiders that had crawled up his drain and into his shower.

"Hey," the man offered, his voice cold and flat.

"Jim Ellison, this is Steve Sulley," Blair introduced them.

"Nice to meet you," Jim held out his hand, and tried to school his face into a friendly expression.

"Uh huh," the guy answered while just eyeing Jim's hand like it had something slimy dangling from it. Jim lowered it. Okay, this was going well.

"I'm investigating the hate crimes we've had down here," Jim started.

"There ain't no 'we' here, tough guy. WE've had hate crimes down here forever, but YOU lot only get interested when it hits your papers. When you have to explain to your kids what transvestite means or see your city in the national headlines, then all of a sudden you start caring." Steve crossed his arms and radiated hostility.

"I understand how..."

"If you tell me that you understand how I feel, I'm going to kick that cute ass of yours right out on the street," the man interrupted.

"Dump the attitude, Steve," Blair cut in. "That whole driving straight guys away by acting like a flirt won't send Jim running out of here, and it's not going to stop the fact that these assholes are eventually going to kill someone."

"So maybe you should stick with girls for a while," Steve offered with a sneer in Blair's direction, and Jim felt his temper fray.

"Oh man, that is just one serious lame-ass cheap shot, and you know it." Blair shook his head disbelievingly. "But you're the one who won't even give a statement when you could be helping take these assholes off the street."

"Yeah? And who's going to take down the assholes after them, or the ones after the ones that come after them? The cops spend so little time down here that we're sitting ducks, and then they come down here with the questions and the attitudes and expect us all to kiss their asses and thank them for finally putting a foot inside one of our bars."

"Yeah. I know," Blair's voice dropped into a soft lull that made Jim bite back the angry retort he had ready. "I know this sucks, but we can only fix on thing at a time. Ellison's an asshole, and he probably hasn't ever been down here before, but he didn't look at me like I was a piece of shit for working Mr. Espinoza. True, he won't let it drop, and if I hear one more dog joke from him, he's going to wake up one morning and find 'schmuck' tattooed on his forehead, but he took me seriously."

"Look," Jim said as he glared at Blair, "I want to catch these guys. I don't know if the local officers are doing their jobs because this isn't my beat, but as long as I'm down here, I will treat everyone fairly, and I will give you my best effort."

The fury drained from Steve, making him look as old and worn as cracked shoe leather. "I don't want to get in the middle," he said softly. Jim nodded, understanding the fear. The police could only offer so much protection, and victims had to live in the neighborhoods with the very people who attacked them. And in the end, a restraining order was just a piece of paper, and right now, with no names, Jim couldn't even offer that.

"I can't promise you anything," Jim said slowly. "We may need you to testify, but since they attacked you so long ago, you wouldn't make the best witness for the more serious assaults. I'm going to recommend to my captain that we take your statement, have you work with an artist to come up with some composite drawings, attempt to identify the three suspects, and then put them under surveillance. That way, hopefully, we can catch them in the act."

Steve pursed his lips as he turned his back on them.

"Please, man. I don't want that to happen to anyone else," Blair pleaded softly.

"And you say he's straight up?" Steve asked as he turned and pinned Blair with his gaze even though he was definitely talking about Jim.

"Yeah, he's an asshole, but he's an honest one, and he's a good man," Blair promised. Jim didn't think he'd ever gotten a better reference.

"Sounds like just your type," Steve laughed.

"No way, man. I've had enough cops see me in the tail already, thank you every much," Blair laughed back, and Jim went back to repressing exactly how a human puppy could have a tail.

"Will you come down and make a formal statement?" Jim asked, ignoring the rest.

"If Blair's there, yeah," Steve agreed slowly.

Jim tightened his jaw. If Jim showed up with Sandburg, he was going to have even more to explain. Simon might be willing to overlook one or two discrepancies in a report, but in person, Blair was a whole lot harder to ignore, as Jim was quickly finding out.

"No problem. I'll be with you every step of the way," Blair promised, neatly taking the decision out of Jim's hands.

"I gotta change; I'll be right back."

Jim waited until Steve left the room before he turned on Sandburg.

"No problem?" he demanded as he crossed his arms over his chest.

"Hey, I was trying to get him to agree. It was your plan, I was just backing your play," Sandburg said, his eyes wide with innocence. Jim glared down at him.

"And how am I supposed to explain your presence in the precinct?"

"Hey, I'm being a good citizen here."

"You're being a pain in the ass."

"Oh man, I can totally be that too," Blair agreed, "but I was trying to help out, and the caveman routine is getting old."

"You were just supposed to provide the introduction."

"And I did."

"Chief," Jim growled, his patience running thin.

"Would you rather he not give you any statement?"

That made Jim take a half step back. "No," he admitted ungraciously. "I want to catch these guys, but you're a witness, not a detective."

"Hey, if anyone asks, just say you're running me in," Blair said with a quick wink. "If you want, you can even handcuff me to make it look better," he teased. He turned around and held his hands behind his back, smiling at Jim over his shoulder.

The tightening Jim felt in his groin caught him off guard. Normally, he didn't notice witnesses' bodies or even men's bodies, but Blair's wide smile and curved neck as he looked over his shoulder bypassed his brain and tugged at something more visceral.

"If I put anything on you, it's going to be a gag," Jim threatened.

"For the right price, you're welcome to gag me," Blair agreed amiably as he turned back around. "There's something really liberating in not having to come up with the right answers because your mouth is stuffed full of someone's gag," he nodded.

"What have I done to deserve this?" Jim asked the universe at large as he turned back toward the door. Behind him, Blair laughed.

"Oh man, karma is a bitch, isn't she?"

"Yeah, she is," Jim breathed softly to himself as he realized that taking Sulley in for a statement mean the three of them crowded onto the front seat of his truck. The small back seat on his extended cab was full of fishing gear that he would not risk losing in the bed of the truck, but with all of them on the front….

Jim rubbed his forehead as he considered driving all the way to the station with Blair pressed against his thigh. Maybe he needed to see the doctor because he hadn't had this much trouble since Junior High when his science teacher had been the girl's cheerleading coach and had dressed in the cheer outfit every Friday. Karma was a huge, hairy, roller-derbying, WWF champion of a bitch.



"Ellison," Banks bellowed even as he was opening the door to his office. Jim flinched.

"Coming, sir," he answered as Simon Banks stood in the open door, glaring at the two witnesses seated by Jim's desk. "Henry?" Jim called, and Henry Brown looked up from his paperwork.

"What's up?"

"Can you take Mr. Sulley down to Interview 3 to work with our artist?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, sure, no problem," he agreed as he stood up and smiled at the reluctant witness. As Steve stood up, so did Blair.

"I need you to stay here, Chief," Jim said as he let his hand rest on Blair's shoulder, pushing the man back down. Blair sank back down into the cheap plastic chair without a fight, but he glared up.

"I said I'd go with Steve," he protested. Jim kept his hand on Blair's shoulder, holding him down.

"You stay here with your boyfriend. I'll be fine," Steve interrupted before Jim could explain procedure and the need to prevent any more contamination of the witnesses' statements. Jim narrowed his eyes, but Steve had already turned and followed Henry out the precinct doors.

"Stay," Jim said absent-mindedly as he grabbed the statements off his desk and turned toward Simon's office.

"Woof," Blair said sarcastically as he crossed his arms and settled back in the chair.

Simon was still standing at the office door when Jim came in, fully prepared to accept the consequences of his decisions. Simon closed the door firmly behind him, the universal signal that someone was about to get their ass chewed, and the captain wanted to do the chewing in private.

"What the hell is Sandburg doing here?" Simon immediately demanded before he walked around his desk and dropped into his chair.

"It's complicated, sir," Jim started.

"Uncomplicate it."

Jim sighed and sank into one of the seats facing Simon's desk. After taking the kid's second witness statement, he wasn't even sure where to start. "Sandburg has been investigating the gay bashings. He has a list of bars he's visited, he'd conducted what he called a cultural geography survey, and he's interviewed at least three dozen people, eight of whom seem to be earlier victims."

Jim could see Simon's eyes open wide in surprise and maybe even a little hope, but Jim shook his head. "And all his notes are in a code he refuses to explain. He can tell me the exact day and time when the interviews took place, but he won't give names or locations. The only name he will give is Mr. Sulley's and that's because he volunteered to come in and work with a sketch artist." Jim put the reports on Simon's desk and sat back.

The captain opened the first witness statement, browsing through quickly. "So, it's the same MO? Same attackers?"

"Probably," Jim agreed. Sandburg had gotten such specific information that Jim was almost certain the attackers were the same, but he'd already put himself far enough out on this limb already.

"Probably?" Simon demanded, his frustration clear in that growled word.

"It's the same pattern, but some of these attacks took place months ago, and the victims weren't as badly injured."

Simon fell silent, and Jim knew exactly what his captain was thinking.

"They're escalating," Simon said as he flipped the page of Sandburg's statement. The man had gotten details on every attack, but the names he'd provided in the report made Simon frown. Zsa Zsa Gabor was attacked at location 3-A-4. Three young men had caught Christopher Columbus at location 2-M-43 and broken an arm. The report continued for three pages like that. Details of crimes that made Jim itch with a need to arrest someone, and ridiculous names.

"What is this shit?" Simon finally demanded as he slammed the report down on the desk.

"It's all he would provide. Sir, this kid is…" Jim stopped as he just could not come up with a word to describe one Blair Jacob Sandburg.

"The kid is a witness, and he'll find himself in lock-up if he doesn't start being a cooperative witness," Simon snapped as he got up and stormed around the desk. Part of Jim wanted to provide some sort of buffer between the captain and Blair because the captain's rare rages were the stuff of legend, but then again, Jim wasn't sure whether Blair wanted or needed any protection.

"Mr. Sandburg, would you be so kind as to join us, please?" Simon called from the office door in his best 'said the spider to the fly' voice. Jim watched as the young man came in the office, his hair pulled back in a ponytail and his glasses riding low on his nose. The kid looked almost calm as he sat down next to Jim without an invitation.

"Mr. Sandburg, we always appreciate the involvement of good Samaritans," Simon started, and Jim half-expected the professor to start a lecture on the historical significance of Samaritans to the lives of early Christians. "But your refusal to share information is putting lives in danger." Simon took his seat and looked at Blair with a deadly seriousness.

"Oh man, do you really think I'm so stupid that I don't know that? Hell, I offered Christopher Columbus a blow job if he'd just give you a statement."

Jim hid a smile behind his hand as Simon coughed, his eyes watering as something obviously caught in his throat. If Jim had to guess, he'd say that the man was choking on Blair's words. The captain grabbed his coffee, swallowing several mouthfuls before putting the cup down and trying again.

"Mr. Sandburg, your involvement, especially considering your past… indiscretions, places us in a difficult situation."

"I do not do drugs, I've never perjured myself, I have a good reputation in the community, and if a few small-minded Puritans have a problem with me getting naked and playing a fantasy with a kind old man, a man they would probably just prefer to stick in a nursing since they're too busy with stabbing each other in the back in order to get ahead, then they can just kiss my ass." Blair shot back, his familiar fervor now turned on Simon, and Jim could admit that from the sidelines, it was amusing.

"No matter what your intentions, your actions are giving the future defense attorney standing to challenge this case. I need to make sure that doesn't happen, so give the names of the witnesses to Detective Ellison, and this time he will interview them without you there to taint the statement with the appearance of impropriety," Simon glared at Jim and the detective just nodded agreeably. If Simon could get a name out of Blair, he'd be happy to do the interview.

Silence settled in. Simon waited, his fingers steepled as he stared at Blair. Blair leaned back in his chair, his arms crossed.

"Well?" Simon finally demanded.

"Well, what?" Blair asked with a surprised blink. No way did Jim buy that expression, but it did make Simon sit up as he tried to figure out how to approach the world's most difficult witness. Jim could sympathize.

"What are their names?" Simon asked, his voice the calm before the explosion.

"The American Anthropological Association guidelines require that I do everything in my power to ensure that my research does not harm the safety, dignity, or privacy of the people with whom I work. I can't divulge information on my research," Blair answer in a voice that made him seem almost apologetic. Almost.

"This isn't an anthropological study. This is a crime investigation," Simon countered.

"The killing fields of Rwanda were both; the terms are not mutually exclusive."

"This is my investigation," Simon stood up, leaning over the desk so that he towered over Blair in his chair, but the kid didn't even blink.

"And this is my research on how subgroups interact with authority structures. My doctoral committee has already approved my initial proposal, and I cannot break my ethical code of conduct at this point." Blair's very calmness made Simon curl his hands into fists, and Jim knew the frustration. If someone just got in your face, you could arrest them or just hit them, but with Blair, there wasn't anything there to strike back at, at least not without bullying on the kid.

"There is no researcher-researchee privilege, so either you give up those names, or you will leave this office and go straight to a holding cell for interfering with a police investigation," Simon nearly whispered, his control obviously thinning.

"I understand, man. You do what you gotta do. This will be interesting though. I wonder if the case could make it to the Supreme Court because it would be seriously cool to get a new civil right named after me like Miranda."

Simon stood up straight, his patience gone. "Jim, arrest this man and get him the hell out of my office!"

"Yes, sir," Jim said as he stood up and grabbed Blair's arm. "Come on, Chief. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say and can will…"

"So I guess it's time for those handcuffs now," Blair interrupted as he allowed Jim to pull him out of Simon's office and back to Jim's desk.

"Anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law. Do you understand?" Jim continued.

"Yeah, no problem," Blair said as he sat down and promptly reached for Jim's phone. "Hey, you don't mind if I use it, do you?" Blair asked, the handset already halfway to his ear.

"Knock yourself out, Chief," Jim agreed even though standard procedure said that all prisoner calls had to go through the pay phones down in booking. Technically, Jim should take Sandburg down and dump him on the uniforms. Instead he pulled out his handcuffs. Blair tucked the phone between his shoulder and his ear so that he could hold out his left hand without even pausing as he dialed.

Jim snapped the cuff shut around Blair's hand and snapped the other end of the cuff to the inconspicuous ring set into the front of his desk for just this purpose.

Jim sat typing a new report while Blair left a message at the first phone number and then dialed again. This time he asked for a Dr. Stoddard and eventually, Jim got to hear the whole story from Blair's point of view as he described the oppressive police with their small-minded tactics to someone at the university. Jim was perversely pleased that he came out of it as nothing more than the "schmuck who took Blair's statement and was processing the arrest" while Simon ended up getting called every name in the book, some of which Jim didn't even know, and Jim had a pretty damn good vocabulary.

Eventually, Blair dropped the phone back down and looked over, pushing his chair closer to the handcuff anchor.

"I suppose calling out for pizza would be pushing it," he said with a smile.

Jim shook his head. "I wouldn't if I were you," Jim agreed. "You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand that right?"

"Oh man, you are a bulldog. I'm waiving my rights, not that I'm going to tell you what you want, but I'm more than happy to give you a piece of my mind on a number of other topics, like abuse of power and ungrateful assholes."

"Sandburg, you can't waive your rights until I've read them all to you," Jim explained. "Do you understand all your rights and do you still wish to make a statement?"

"Oh yeah, totally. I understand that your boss is totally screwing up any chance of catching these guys. I can go into the clubs and get people to talk. Yeah, so far Steve has been the only one willing to go public, but this isn't going to convince anyone else to step up to the plate," Blair complained with a tug on the handcuff.

"I know, Chief. I understand that you just want to help, and my best advise is to either give us the names," Jim held up a hand to hold off the explosion he could see brewing in Sandburg's face, "or to get a good lawyer and argue it in front of the judge."

Blair sank back into the chair. "I should do another paper on the interactions of high-status males in a hierarchical power structure. You totally can't help me out here, can you?" Blair asked.

"Against Simon?" Jim asked, shocked at even the thought, and even more shocked at the lack of shock he felt as he considered it. "I can't do much to help you out. I would say that you need to stand mute at the hearing and then contest the whole procedure," Jim suggested. Shit, when had he started giving the suspects his best legal advice?

"Thanks," Blair nodded. "The university is sending down a lawyer, and Dr. Stoddard said the same thing. The university is going to challenge the entire arrest, so I guess I'm going to have to just not talk for a while."

"Is that possible?" Jim teased as he typed in the address.

"Very funny."

"I suppose we could get you a gag if you wanted."

"Ha ha." Blair's voice sounded unamused, but Jim didn't miss how the edges of his eyes crinkled with a contained smile.

"Something in a nice dog-bone style maybe," Jim mused.

"I'd prefer something cock-shaped, if you're offering," Blair countered, and Jim's fingers twitched, typing garbage into the report as he completely lost all concentration. He glanced up, and Blair was definitely smirking at him.

"Little shit," Jim accused him as he backspaced over his mangled report.

"Oh hell yeah. When I can't seem to turn off the words, I love sucking on something big, pulling it down into my throat and swallowing around it, feeling it forcing my mouth to open wider and wider."

"You do have the right to remain silent," Jim said as he squirmed in his seat.

"Yeah, but you don't have the right to walk away and leave your dangerous prisoner all alone. This might not be so bad," Blair answered as he smiled sweetly at Jim.

Jim groaned. As the kid would say, he was so totally screwed.



Jim walked in the door to Interrogation 2, not really sure why he'd been summoned, but then he really didn't know why he hadn't gone home. Maybe he just wanted to avoid the privacy, and the temptation to indulge in a fantasy that was entirely inappropriate considering that Sandburg was a witness. Jim just kept reminding himself of that fact as he faced Blair, and from the suit, Blair's lawyer.

"Detective Ellison, my client has expressed concern about Steven Sulley," the woman said without looking up, her eyes focused on the reports in front of her… Jim's reports.

"I want to know if someone took him home and made sure he got there okay. This was not a safe thing for him to do, you know," Blair said. He went to cross his arms, but the one handcuff, now attached to the table, prevented the motion, and he sighed with frustration.

"I had Rafe take him home. He's fine," Jim promised.

"And what did you tell him about me? Did you tell him that you'd arrested me for trying to help?" Blair demanded. His lawyer looked up and put a soothing hand on Blair's arm.

"I would recommend that you not speak to the police," she suggested, and Jim wondered where she'd been when Blair had tortured him with descriptions of his favorite sex acts in enthusiastic terms that would have made Hugh Hefner blush. Jim had always thought of himself as sexually adventurous, but he was a tired out old dog compared to the kid. Unfortunately, his body seemed all too interested in learning a new trick or two.

"I told him that you'd been arrested for withholding information on an investigation," Jim said, ignoring the lawyer. It wasn't like he was questioning Blair; Jim had given up on that after an hour.

"Oh man, why did you do that? By tomorrow morning, everyone down there will know that you guys have sticks the size of baseball bats stuck up your asses."

"And they'll know that you won't give them up," Jim countered.

"Detective," the lawyer interrupted loudly. "The interrogation is over, and I would like some privacy with my client."

Interrogation… right. Jim bit back a desire to point out that the kid got more information than he gave up. Instead he just backed up a step toward the door. Let the lawyer deal with this mess, he needed to get home and get some sleep.

"No, Ellison can stay," Blair contradicted her.

"We need to talk."

"Hell yes, we need to talk. We need to talk about the fact that they had no right to arrest me for conducting legitimate academic research, but there's no reason why the detective can't stay."

"The presence of a third party negates the lawyer-client privilege." The woman had given up the papers, and focused on Blair. Jim could already see the wisps of frustration curling around the edges, and she had only known Sandburg for thirty minutes.

"Man, if he's out there, he's wondering what I'm saying in here, and it sets up this whole confrontation situation that is not healthy. I'm not hiding anything."

Jim hovered in the open door as he waited for Sandburg to win the fight with his lawyer. Of course, if he was completely honest with himself, he wouldn't wonder about what Blair was saying to his lawyer. He'd probably spend more time wondering if the kid really could deep throat as enthusiastically as he could describe deep throating. By the time Blair was done, Brown had turned red, even with his dark skin, and Rafe had fled the bullpen.

"I'm not worried about his feelings. We need to discuss the legalities of your situation," the lawyer tried.

"Jim, what are the legalities of my situation?" Blair asked. Jim struggled to contain a smile as he became the accomplice in Blair's verbal terrorism instead of the victim.

"Chapter 9, section 69: A person who witnesses the actual commission of a violent offense shall as soon as reasonably possible notify the prosecuting attorney, law enforcement, medical assistance, or other public officials, meaning the witnesses you interviewed have to come forward. Chapter 9A, section 76, subsection 020: A person is guilty of obstructing a law enforcement officer if the person willfully hinders, delays, or obstructs any law enforcement officer in the discharge of his or her official powers or duties. Since you won't tell me their names, you are willfully hindering my investigation."

Jim couldn't normally just rattle off state laws, but every word he'd typed into the report against Sandburg had stayed with him. Hell, he'd even tried to talk to Simon once Blair's lawyer showed up, but the captain had been on the phone, and from his expression, it wasn't a conversation Jim wanted to interrupt.

"See, Jim knows the legalities of the situation even better than I do, so he can stay." Blair got a victorious expression as he looked at the lawyer.

"Blair," the lawyer tried again, her voice tight, but Jim closed the door and took a seat at the table, even when she glared at him.

"I am protesting this situation."

"Is that really section 69 or are you just giving me shit?" Blair asked, completely ignoring his lawyer.

"It's really section 69; it's just a number, Sandburg."

"Yeah, but it's a fun number. I like that number," Blair waggled his eyebrows, and the lawyer made a small strangled sound.

"Chief, don't get yourself excited over nothing," Jim said as he leaned back in his chair. As much fun as it was to watch the lawyer's slow blush, this wasn't helping Blair.

"We really don't have an interest in putting Blair in jail, but even if the charges are dropped, a judge can require his testimony and put him in jail for contempt," Jim pointed out to the lawyer.

"But you don't have a judge's order right now. You have a mishmash of laws that can't be applied to this case. Section 69" the woman blushed "applies to witnesses, not victims."

"And a couple of his interviews were with witnesses," Jim pointed out.

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean that they're any safer if they come forward," Blair said, his free hand gesturing enthusiastically.

"Blair," the lawyer's voice was slow, the tight tone of a woman on the edge. "I'm going to try this one more time. You need to not speak in front of the detective." Jim understood the woman's frustration, but Blair had already given him a full statement. Blair held up his free hand, palm forward in surrender, and then he looked to Jim and gave him a conspiratorial look that made the lawyer snap her pencil. Oh, the woman was definitely not getting paid enough to deal with Sandburg.

"Furthermore, the statute allows witnesses to refuse to come forward in the case of threat to their persons or their family," the lawyer said as she turned back to Jim.

"Oh man, they're really hanging out in the cold. I have documented evidence that, even with the attacks, the police are under-patrolling the area."

"Blair," the lawyer warned darkly without looking at him. "And even IF you can show interference, which would require that you show that the witnesses are compelled to come forward under section 69, the statute is a misdemeanor."

"Punishable by a year and $5,000." Jim watched Blair pale, and it made him feel about two inches high. He was definitely talking to Simon about the ethics of pursuing this case.

"A year. Oh man, no way. A year and I'll have to start all my dissertation work over again. No fucking way," Blair protested.

"Blair, let me handle this. In fact, let's talk in private before we go any farther," the lawyer said as she slapped her hand on the table and turned to Blair.

"Maybe you two should talk," Jim said as he stood.

"You would do this to me?" Blair asked, looking up, and Jim flinched back from that look. The kid really knew how to place his blows.

"Chief, I'm not happy with any of this. And that includes you doing these interviews on your own. You're right that this isn't a safe area, not for witnesses, and not for someone trying to dig up information."

"So, you're admitting that the witnesses have a reasonable expectation of personal harm?" the lawyer pounced. Jim didn't answer, but he looked at the woman and hoped that she knew her business.

Jim turned away and headed out into the hall. He could still feel a heaviness pulling at his stomach even though he had done the best he could by the kid.

"Simon," Jim said, surprised to see his boss heading down the hall toward the interrogation rooms.

"That kid," Simon growled. "I have just spent the last hour on the phone." Simon stopped, but Jim could feel the aggression rolling off the man.

"His lawyer's in with him," Jim eventually said when Simon seemed to focus on chewing his cigar a little too long.

"Well, I hope you got something out of him because we're kicking him loose," Simon growled.

Jim just looked at his boss, shocked. When Simon made a decision, he didn't change his mind easily. Even though Jim had planned to argue Blair's case, he had already prepared himself to lose.

"I got a call from the commissioner who got a call from the governor. She got a call from an old professor of hers, Eli Stoddard, who had a long talk with her about professional ethics. A politician concerned about ethics." Simon snorted his disgust.

"So, we aren't pressing charges?"

"Not unless we both want to find new jobs," Simon agreed. "Brown said you were still down here, so kick the kid loose and tell him to steer clear of our case. If I see him down here again, I will arrest his ass myself, even if it's just for littering."

Simon turned around and headed back toward the bullpen, his fury making other officers move aside as he passed. Not entirely happy at how things had happened, Jim went back to the interrogation room.

"Detective," the lawyer snapped. "I am conferencing with my client, and I am on the verge of filing a complaint."

Jim pulled out his handcuff keys. "I came to process the release paperwork. Chief, the charges are dropped, and I just need you to sign some documents before you can go home."

"Whoa, really?" Blair asked, a slow smile transforming his face.

"Seems like Eli Stoddard has some friends in high places, so let's get you out of here." Jim reached Blair's side and leaned over to unlock the cuff. Blair rubbed his wrist as he smiled up, the bounce back even as he sat in the chair.

"I'll drive you home after we finish up," Jim said as he smiled back. Oh, this was such a bad idea. Such an incredibly bad idea. And Jim hadn't wanted something this much in a long time.

"Detective, *I* will take my client home. So please hurry with the forms so that we can leave now," the lawyer interrupted. For a half second, Jim considered challenging her right to drive Sandburg home, but he took control of his very out-of-control feelings and shoved them to the background where they belonged.

"Simon doesn't want to see you back here. If someone is willing to give a statement, have them call me," Jim said as he pulled a card out of his pocket. He held it out, a peace offering between them, and Blair looked at it for a second before he reached out for the paper.

"Thanks, man. I can't just let this drop, you know?" Blair asked, and Jim did understand.

"Be safe, Chief," Jim said, and then he forced himself to walk away. He had to pull up the release paperwork since he never sent Blair's jacket down to the booking desk. Behind him Blair and the lawyer whispered, and Jim could almost imagine that he could hear them all the way back to his own desk.


"Ellison," Jim snapped into the phone. God, this week had just gone from horrible to mind-numbingly catastrophic, so whoever was calling could just deal with getting snapped at. He squinted at the clock. 2 a.m. Oh hell, yes they could deal with getting snapped at.

"Detective?" an unfamiliar voice asked on the other end. Jim rolled over and flipped on his bedroom light, and in the process, he managed to scatter his newly-signed divorce papers across the floor. Fuck.

"Yeah," Jim said, his hand reaching for a shirt as he tucked the phone between his shoulder and his ear.

"This is Officer Clark with the two-five. Dispatch gave me your number because we have a situation with a victim down on Fifth."

Even though Jim hadn't seen Sandburg in nearly two weeks, not since the day he had arrested the man and gotten his last solid lead on the gay-bashers, his guts instantly tightened at the street name. He knew.

"Blair Sandburg?" Jim asked as he pulled the shirt on, struggling to keep the phone from getting tangled in the cord as he buttoned over the t-shirt he'd worn to bed. The pants had seen better days, but Jim couldn't reach the closet from here, so they'd do.

"Yeah. He won't go to the hospital, and he's driving my partner crazy, but he asked for you."

"Is he hurt?" Jim asked, shoving his legs into the pants.

"No, not seriously. It looks like a group of teenagers—"

"I'm on my way," Jim said as he checked his weapon and slid it into the holster. Given Blair's luck, Jim wasn't betting on some harmless teenage prank.

"My partner will appreciate knowing," Officer Clark answered, but Jim didn't answer. He dropped the phone onto the cradle and headed down the stairs, searching for his shoes, and cursing when he had to backtrack to get them from his bedroom closet.

Jim was still cursing as his front tire hit the curb in front of the warehouse on Fifth Avenue. If not for the police cars whose lights made the building glow with pools of blue and red light, Jim would have thought he had the wrong address.

An old, rusted van sat on the street, lopsided with one tire flat. The buildings were dark, and a single pool of yellow light half-way down the block provided the only light other than the flashing squad cars. This wasn't a residential area. Hell, this wasn't even a safe area to walk through much less live in.

Jim got out and flashed his badge at the officer who stood next to the two parked cruisers. In this neighborhood, someone had to watch the cars or the hubcaps would get stolen. At the far end of the street, on the far side of that pool of light, a group of young people hovered near a corner.

"What happened?" Jim asked, his guts pulling him toward the warehouse, but he needed to know what he might be facing.

"Home invasion. Did some graffiti. The victim took a couple of nasty hits," the officer shrugged, clearly not concerned by the call. Part of Jim breathed a prayer since the officer wouldn't be so disinterested if something serious had happened. Jim focused on that and not the sudden burst frustration that left him wanting to snap at an officer who couldn't be bothered to even pretend to care. Jim just nodded curtly and headed into the warehouse.

The graffiti started outside the door. "Fag" in yellow paint welcomed him. Jim carefully avoided touching anything in the area as he used an elbow to nudge the door open farther.

Inside, Jim could see more. Profanity covered the floor in ragged letters, and Jim stepped around the edges, the sharp stench of paint competing with the dust and musk of the warehouse. Jim had been in places like this before, plenty of times, but he usually found a dozen crack addicts shooting up in the corners. He hadn't expected a high-priced rent boy or a teaching fellow from the university to squat in a place like this.

As he turned the corner, he spotted Blair sitting, leaning forward so that his long curls hid his face as he sat on an old, sagging red couch. An officer stood nearby, and a second one walked the room, taking notes by the low light filtering out of the kitchen.

"Blair?" Jim asked. The man looked up, and Jim could see the swollen face and the split lip immediately.

"Oh man, thank god. These… officers… obviously need a little refresher course in police procedure because when I know more about proper investigation techniques than they do, there is a serious problem." Blair burst off the couch with his normal enthusiasm, so Jim tried to tell himself that the injuries couldn't be too serious.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Blair answered as he came close, pushing his hair back so that the dim light shone on his swollen jaw. "I'm just frustrated. They are not listening to a word I say. Not a word." Blair turned around to glare at the two uniformed officers, and Jim focused on them.

"Officer Clark?" Jim asked.

"That's me," the taller man who was taking notes said. "Detective Ellison, thank you for coming." The man's voice has an honest relief to it, so Jim suspected that Blair had probably given the officers a hard time.

"What's going on?"

"Straight forward push-in, but then they did the damage instead of looking for anything to steal," Clark started.

"Because they were trying to intimidate me. I told you this is about the upper-west side beatings. I told you that you need to get a crime scene unit down here." Blair sounded ready to explode, and Jim revised his early conclusion. Blair had *definitely* given the officers a hard time.

"There's no evidence of any link to any other cases." Clark offered Blair an exasperated look.

"Except where I'm working on the attacks as part of my research and then three guys just happen to break into my place."

"The three suspects didn't make any reference to the other attacks."

"Because they were too busy trashing my place. Man, what does it take to get through to you guys?"

"If there were any evidence…"

"Oh, and you should hear what that one said," Blair interrupted as he gestured toward the second officer. "He'd just as soon arrest me. Me. What happened to victim's rights? And you'd better believe that I am filing a formal complaint."

"Officer?" Jim asked, his voice neutral.

"I didn't mean anything… I mean, I didn't even mean for him to hear." The kid couldn't be more than twenty, probably fresh out of the academy, and Sandburg could push the buttons of the most seasoned cop. Hell, Sandburg pushed Jim's buttons, and Jim had years on the force and in the military.

"So, if I don't hear you saying shit like that, it doesn't count? Man, your logic is seriously flawed. Seriously."

"My partner made an ill-advised joke," Clark interrupted, and Blair returned to glaring at him. "One suspect sprayed the room while the other two held Mr. Sandburg. When suspect number one spray painted Mr. Sandburg's clothes, which we have bagged, the second suspect let go of him, and Mr. Sandburg disabled the third suspect so he could get to the phone."

"Kicked him in his balls hard enough to make him wish the things would just fall off," Blair agreed. "But you need to get someone down here to check for fingerprints or fibers."

"I thought they had on gloves," Clark said as he faced Sandburg, his frustration showing through his cracking veneer of civility.

"Enough," Jim said to both. "Blair, get a change of clothes and your toothbrush," Jim ordered. Blair opened his mouth, but Jim didn't even wait for the protest to start before he turned to Clark. "Call for a crime scene unit, and tell them that Major Crimes wants someone down here within the hour. They'll need lights to work in here, so warn them."

"Detective?" Clark asked, shocked.

"I am so too big as a person to say I told you so," Blair muttered as he wandered toward the bedroom, but he muttered it loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Officer," Jim called to young recruit, the one who had backed up into the shadows near stacked wood pallets just to avoid the whole fight. "Escort Mr. Sandburg, make sure that you clear anything he picks up to take with him. This one is by the book."

"Yes, sir," the officer answered as he followed Blair. However, Jim also noticed that he kept his distance.

"Detective, the evidence connecting the upper-west side attacks to this… it just isn't here," Clark protested.

"And when you get your promotion to Major Crimes, you can make that call," Jim said as he looked at the man calmly. "You'd be wrong, but you could make the call." Jim didn't explain or elaborate, he waited with his arms crossed as he watched Clark. For a moment, nothing moved, and then Clark reached for his radio.

"Dispatch, this is Charlie nine-one. I need a CSU unit on scene."

"Charlie nine-one. CSU dispatched, estimating 20 minutes," the voice eventually answered. Jim watched silently.

"Advise that they'll need interior lights. Conditions aren't ideal," Clark added.

"Charlie nine-one. Lights needed on-scene, confirmed," the dispatched offered. Clark dropped his hand and looked at Jim.

"I didn't see any evidence of a connection."

"What else did you not see evidence of?" Jim asked. His fraying temper wouldn't allow him to just walk away on this one. "I'm not seeing evidence of any attempt to remove valuables, which is the standard motivation for a push in. There was no sexual assault, no kidnapping."

"They clearly don't like Sandburg," Clark defended himself as he gestured toward the floor and the huge yellow letters that spelled out words Jim didn't even want to look at.

"Then they would paint his car. The level of aggression in the initial attack does not match the profile of someone who just wanted to spray paint some obscenity. That level of aggression indicates a much more serious assault would have taken place here if Sandburg hadn't disabled one of the attackers. Sandburg ripped into you because you weren't thinking." Jim watched the officer stiffen.

"I don't plan to make a report to your captain," Jim said, "but understand that you fucked up here."

Jim turned away, and Blair stood in the doorway from another room, a backpack in his arms and his eyes wide. Jim could see a small crust of blood on his lip.

"And I'm putting in a call for an ambulance," Jim warned him. "When the EMT's get here, you will let them take a look at that and take pictures for the file," Jim said as he considered the damage. Blair froze for a second and then blinked into movement, slinging his backpack over one shoulder as he stepped closer.

"I'm fine. Man, I’m more pissed about the graffiti. I'm never getting my security deposit back if that shit doesn't come up."

"I don't care about your security deposit, but you will let them look at your face or I will drag you down to the hospital handcuffed. Which is it going to be?" Jim asked as he faced off against Blair. He expected mouth. He expected threats. He wouldn't have even been surprised if Blair cursed him out. Instead, Blair sighed heavily.

"Fine." Blair sounded anything but fine, but at least he'd agreed. "They can look at it, but only after I see someone actually trying to collect evidence," he suddenly added, negotiating.

"Deal," Jim quickly agreed. He would take any victories he could get with Blair. "Why don't you wait in my truck?"

"Oh hell, yeah. I don't think I can look at this place right now," Blair agreed as he looked around the warehouse. Jim stepped forward and slipped a hand to Blair's back, urging him out of the crime scene. He didn't like seeing Blair next to those hateful, yellow words, and he really didn't like thinking what might have happened if Blair hadn't fought back.

Jim felt the familiar sting of failure again. One more victim was in the hospital, this time barely holding on to life, Blair could have died, and Jim still wasn't any closer to catching these three. He'd be damned if they were getting another shot at Sandburg, though. No fucking way was Jim going to let that happen, not even if he had to go against Simon's order to keep the kid as far from the station and the investigation as possible.



Jim typed, struggling to push all his feelings to the side as he simply recorded Blair's story. One of the detectives from the night shift, Detective Maud, had given up on pretending to do his own paperwork as he listened to Blair unemotionally describe the fight that could have very easily ended up with Blair's skull crushed.

Normally, Jim had to sort through a witness's anger and fear and shock in order to get the facts, but Blair just rattled off cold details about as emotionally as he might recite a recipe for pancakes. Subject one had spray painted the words and demanded to know what Blair thought of them. He then asked if Blair would rather suck his cock or have a baseball bat taken to his own. Subjects two and three had held him down; subject three had fisted his hair and slammed his face into the concrete when he'd struggled. He had kneed subject three after subject two had released his arm.

The only hint Jim had that this had actually happened to Blair was the way the man would touch himself. He would rub an arm as though he could still feel the hands holding him down or touch the swollen lip with his finger.

"Man, I have got to pee," Blair suddenly burst up from the chair, and before Jim could say anything, he'd darted from the room.

"You want me to show him..." Maud asked as he gestured toward the door.

"He's been here often enough to know where to find it," Jim said dryly as he filled in his own portions of the report. One more visit, and Jim was going to make the kid type up his own witness statement. Besides, he probably needed some time alone. No matter how unemotional he acted, Jim knew that fear and anger lurked just under the veneer of calm.

"I keep waiting for him to pop."

"He will, eventually," Jim agreed grimly.

"Tough little guy, fighting back like that."

"Lucky, you mean," Jim corrected the other detective. "He's lucky he's not the latest victim of these gay bashers." Jim stopped and stared at the information he'd typed into the top of Blair's witness report for the third time. What the hell was he doing living in an area like that? What if he hadn't reached that phone? What if he hadn't rolled fast enough and subject number one's bat had landed on his back? Fuck.

"I'm just glad the case is yours, because I sure wouldn't want this one," Maud said before wandering off, and Jim fought down a wave of anger. He bit it back, knowing that he wasn't angry with Maud as much as with the attackers and with Blair for refusing to steer clear of the danger.

"Man, can we get this done and over with?" Blair asked, and Jim jerked, startled by the man's sudden return. He would have bet that Blair would have a good cry or maybe a good scream in the bathroom, but he just looked tired.

"Just finishing," Jim agreed as he printed the report. The bullpen was quiet. Vice and Traffic might bustle at night, but Major Crimes slowed to a lazy drawl. He hurried across the floor to grab the report and drop it on Simon's desk before he headed back. Blair had sagged into the witness chair again, his head resting on his hands, his elbows on his knees as he hunched over.

"Hey, Chief, do you have family you can stay with?" Jim asked as he rested his hand on the man's shoulder.

"Nah. I think my mom's in New Mexico at a retreat. No biggie."

"You can't stay at the warehouse," Jim said, not only because the CSU wouldn't have cleared it but also because Jim didn't want Blair anywhere near that place, not until the shock had worn off and preferably not until these three were behind bars. Jim mentally vowed to bench his two other open cases until he had some sort of lead on this one.

"No joke," Blair laughed roughly as he stood up, grabbing his backpack from the floor. "I'm not sure I ever want to see that place again. I have a couple of friends' places where I can crash," he said, shaking off the mood of despair as he smiled up at Jim. "No problem."

"And where would these friends live?" Jim asked as he ushered the man out of the precinct and into the elevator. Blair shrugged, and Jim narrowed his eyes at the attempted evasion. When the elevator jerked to a start, Blair had to grab the handrail to keep his balance, and Jim reached out and rested a hand on Blair's back, helping to steady him.

"Darwin, I'm not leaving until I see your ass safely behind a secure door, so start talking."

"Someone's been practicing his Dom voice," Blair said as he gave a salacious wiggle and leaned back so that he pressed against Jim's thigh. Jim used his hand on Blair's back to physically push the kid forward.

"Some people just have it naturally," Jim shot back, and that made Blair shut up—at least for a couple of seconds. The elevator doors opened on the garage level, and Jim headed for his truck. "Now, where am I driving you, taking you to the door, and checking the security before I leave?" Jim asked.

"Man, if I show up with a cop, no way am I going to get a warm welcome," Blair protested. "Just drive me to Rainier, and I'll be fine."

That's when the truth occurred to Jim. "Darwin, you are NOT crashing on some dorm room floor," he growled.

"I've slept in worse places."

"I doubt that you've slept in more dangerous."

Blair snorted. "Oh man, I need to tell you about the Kombai tree people one of these days." He kept chuckling even as they reached the truck, and Jim stopped by the passenger side.

"Dorms have lots of people coming and going. How hard do you think it would be for them to push in there?" Jim demanded.

"Give me a break, Detective," Blair said, his eyes narrowing. "Dorms are full of people, so no way would they break in there. I mean, yeah, if I stayed in my office some bad shit could happen, but with all those people around... no way would they have the privacy they needed to fuck with me."

"Listen, Junior," Jim snapped, his own temper and exhaustion conspiring against his logic. "If they want to shut you up, they'll get in there. And I doubt they wanted to just intimidate you. The last victim is lying in intensive care, his brain swelling so badly the doctors had to cut a piece of his skull open. If you've stirred them up enough to come after you, they aren't going to stop at fucking with you. So, if these idiots get it in their heads to come back with a gun... are you really prepared to deal with the consequences of that?"

For a second, Jim had no idea what Blair would do. The man stared back angrily, his lips pressed together so tightly that a drop of blood leaked from his cut lip. "What do you want from me?" Blair demanded.

Jim backed off a step, and Blair used the opening to start walking angrily away, his back stiff with rage.

"Chief," Jim called as he started after him.

"No, you're right. I can't drag other people into this with me. I'm just not thinking clearly tonight," Blair said as he kept walking toward the glowing exit sign.

"So, where are you doing?"

"I can just camp out. No biggie."

Jim reached out and grabbed the backpack, pulling on it so that the strap over Sandburg's shoulder spun him around.

"You are not sleeping on the streets," Jim warned as soon as Blair faced him. Now he was angry.

"What are you? My mother? No, scratch that, Naomi knows better than to tell me what to do in that tone of voice," Blair answered as he jerked the pack out of Jim's grip.

"Get back to the truck," Jim said as he hurried after Blair's retreating back.

"Make me," Blair gave Jim a sarcastic smile, the kind Jim usually saw on seven year old boys taunting an older brother over a baseball mitt.

"Damn right I will," Jim answered. "You sit your ass on the concrete, and I will arrest you for vagrancy. You sit on a street bench for more than ten minutes, and I'll arrest you for loitering. If the only way I can keep you safe is to throw your ass in a holding cell, I'll fucking follow you all night until I get a good enough reason to do it." Jim stopped in front of Blair, crossing his arms as he looked down at the witness. For a second, Jim spotted a flash of anger, and he braced for an explosion right there. Instead, Blair sighed.

"Man, you take the whole alpha-dog thing just two steps too damn far, you know that, right?" Blair asked tiredly.

Taking that as permission, Jim reached out and took the backpack with one hand while he took Blair's arm with the other, aiming the man back toward the truck. "Yep," he agreed.

"I'm totally not happy at the thought of a night in a cell, so is there some sort of compromise we can make?"

"I'm not taking you to holding, Chief," Jim said as they finally got back to the truck. "You can stay with me for the night." Jim unlocked the door and stood by it, waiting for Blair to climb in.

"Oh man, the witness goes home with the big, bad, dominant detective. This so sounds like the first sixty seconds of a porn movie, before the dialogue degenerates into moans and grunts and a few good slaps of flesh against flesh," Blair said with a leer and a wink. "Where's the ba-chicka-wa-wa music when you need it?"

"Get in the truck."

"Sir, yes sir," Blair agreed with the world's sloppiest salute before he climbed in. Jim tossed the backpack at the man's feet before he went around to the driver's side.

By the time they had reached the loft, Blair's mood had improved. Unfortunately, Jim's frustration was approaching critical mass.

"Hey, nice place," Blair said as he dropped the backpack next to the door. He turned to face Jim and slowly walked backwards, rolling his hips seductively in time to some music in his head. "Where's the bed?" Blair licked his lips salaciously, but that just drew Jim's attention to the injuries again, and he took a deep breath.

"Your bed for the night is right there," Jim gestured toward the couch as he locked the door and then moved to check the windows.

"Oh, come on. I always pay my way, so customer's choice," Blair shimmied forward and ducked his head so that he could look up at Jim through the lashes. "Want to play puppy?" he asked as he wiggled his ass. Jim's cock gave an involuntary twitch, and Jim clenched his teeth as he gave Sandburg his darkest glare.

"The holding cell is still an option," Jim warned his houseguest.

"So, is that your game? Want to play bad cop and arrest the suspect?" Blair held out his hands, wrists together. "If you're good, I'll even resist arrest."

"I'll get some sheets." Jim headed for the storage room under the stairs as he tried to ignore Sandburg and his own traitorous body, a body that reminded him that it had been too damn long since he'd felt anything but his own hand.

"Daddy going to take care of me?" Blair asked sweetly? "Going to take a hairbrush to my ass for being bad?"

Jim stopped his hand half way to a set of sheets when the cold shudder shook him.

"Chief, I worked vice and arrested pedophiles for far too long to even consider that," Jim said as he grabbed the sheets and flung them at Sandburg.

"Oh, Daddy's mad," Blair mocked with wide-eyed innocence.

"Don't—" Jim growled.

"Or maybe I'm trying the wrong approach. I bet you get tired of being in charge, of always having to be in control. Maybe you need someone to tie you to the bed and take control away. Let you go free by tying you down."

Jim froze as Blair closed in on him until they stood chest to chest and Blair looked up predatorily.

"I don't normally switch, but for this body, I'd do it." Blair reached up and rested his hand on Jim's arm. Jim stepped back and he hit the wall, jerking his arm away from that touch. Looking at Blair in shock, he suddenly realized that Blair didn't look scared or sorry or even particularly lustful, he looked… expectant. Jim smiled as he remembered something Blair had said to Sulley.

"It's not going to work, Chief. I'm not throwing you out of here, so if it makes you happy, you get as crass as you want." He patted Blair on the arm and headed for the kitchen. "The 'scare the straight guy off' game didn't work for Sulley, and it sure as hell won't work for you."

"Fuck," Blair cursed. Then he picked up the sheets that had fallen to the ground. "And I'm not buying the straight part," Blair said as he headed for the couch.

"Excuse me?" Jim asked. God, it was nearly five in the morning. He really didn't have the active brain cells required for a debate with Sandburg. He wished that he trusted himself enough to take Sandburg upstairs where the kid couldn't make a run for it, but Jim knew he'd reached the limits of his own self-control when it came to his witness.

"Please, you're about as straight as a paperclip. If you were straight, that would have worked," Blair said irritably as he spread the sheet over the couch. "Straight and a prick would have meant you chasing me out of here with your fist. Straight and a decent guy would have led to stumbled excuses and you pointing out that you're not gay right before rushing to explain that there's nothing *wrong* with being gay."

"You think you know me that well?" Jim demanded as he grabbed a glass of water and eyed the stairs to the bedroom. He wondered if he could make a run for it or if Blair would just chase him and finish this increasingly odd conversation.

"Totally, man," Blair said as he peeled off his shirt and dropped onto the couch. "At first, I so totally misjudged you, but I have you nailed now," Blair nodded.

"It's late, so you can tell me all about it tomorrow, okay Chief?" Jim watched as Blair pulled off his shoes and sank into the couch. Blair made a muttered noise that might have been an agreement, but Jim just watched to make sure the kid actually sank into sleep rather than playing some con and sneaking out.

Soon enough, Blair's breath evened out. Jim went over and moved the key table a few inches so that the door would hit it if Blair tried to open it. Hopefully, the keys hitting the floor would wake Jim if Sandburg did a runner. Before heading for his bedroom, Jim detoured over to Blair's sleeping body. Grabbing a blanket off the chair, he draped it over Blair.



"Simon?" Jim asked, his voice little more than a whisper.

"Ellison? Where are you?"

"At home," Jim said as he turned his back to the sleeping man sprawled over the couch. During the last days with Caro, Jim had spent plenty of nights on that couch, so he knew just how miserable it was, but Blair snored lightly, his lower lip moist with a faint drool trail and his hair a tangled mop.

"And does this have anything to do with the report I have on my desk this morning?"

"Sandburg's here," Jim confirmed.

"What? Have you lost your mind? I'm starting to think that I need to take you off this investigation before you compromise it beyond repair." Simon had sounded distracted up to the point, but now Jim had all his attention.

"I couldn't just drop him off at a friend's house, Simon. It was them, and if he's stirred them up enough to become a target, they'll try again."

"So you took him to your house?" Simon's voice carried all the disbelief Jim had felt when he first woke up. The events of last night had seemed so reasonable, but with a few more hours sleep under his belt, Jim knew that a defense lawyer would twist this into something ugly, especially considering just what Blair did to pay for college. However, right now Jim tried to focus on keeping his witness alive, not on just how screwed they would be at trial.

"At least I'm ready if they show up," Jim defended his actions.

"Jim." Simon sounded tired.

"He's trying to stop these guys. I agree that his methods are questionable, but I won't leave him unprotected so they can come back and finish the job." The silence on the other end told Jim that at least Simon was thinking about it.

"And you're sure it was them?"

"Fairly certain. It fits."

"Damn it," Simon swore. "I can't get a safe house based on 'fairly certain'."

"You couldn't get Sandburg to go into a safe house even if the brass approved it," Jim pointed out, and Simon sighed.

"The kid's a real pain in the ass."

"Tell me about it," Jim agreed. "He didn't like the idea of coming here any more than you did. When I pointed out that he'd be putting his friends in danger if he crashed on their couches, he was going to 'camp out', as he called it."

"Sleep on the streets."

"Yeah," Jim agreed. Blair's logic defied description.

"I'm surprised you could talk him out of it."

"I threatened to follow him around all night and arrest him the minute his ass touched concrete," Jim admitted. That made Simon laugh outright.

"Good to know you're giving him back some of the shit he dished out earlier. But Jim, this is so far outside regulations that your neck is on the line if something happens."

"I know, Simon, but if they tried once, they'll try again, and this time, they'll bring something more than spray paint and a baseball bat." The couch creaked. "He's waking up. I need to talk to him about his schedule, and then I'll call you back," Jim said as the snoring lump on the couch shifted.

"If you can't work the case, this is going to get messy. You can't get caught up on protection patrol, even if I was willing to sign off on it, which I can't without more than 'fairly certain' to back it up. There's talk of bringing in a task force," Simon warned, and Jim ground his teeth. Great, more cops to generate paperwork and step all over the evidence, and less quiet for Jim to actually think.

"I'll catch them," Jim promised grimly. He had no idea how, but he would.

"Keep yourself safe," Simon answered, and then the phone went dead.

Jim hung up and turned his attention to the couch. Sandburg's arm flopped out from under the blanket Jim had thrown over him last night, and he scrubbed his face.

"Oh, man," Blair groaned. "Every bone in my body hurts."

The EMT's had cleared Blair, so Jim suspected it probably had more to do with stress and a night on the couch than injuries, but he reached out and grabbed Blair's arm, pulling him up.

"Come on, let's make sure you haven't broken anything new since last night," he urged as Blair's eyes drifted half-open, only to shut again.

"You're just looking for an excuse to feel me up, admit it," Blair grumbled as he let himself be pulled to his feet.

"You should check out the mirror before you say that, Chief. You're no treat when you wake up." Uneven clumps and tangles of hair hung in Blair's face, and he pushed them back, flipping Jim off at the same time. Jim laughed.

"Where's it hurt?"

"Where doesn't it?" Blair asked as he started shuffling toward the bathroom.

"Come on, don't make this a fight," Jim asked, and Blair stopped and looked at him through one blurry eye.

"Fine, my shoulder hurts, happy?" Blair said as he rolled his right shoulder.

"God, you wake up cranky, Sandburg," Jim said, but he moved in, letting his left hand rest on Blair's shoulder while he used his fingertips to explore the muscle. A knot coiled just under the skin, and Jim teased the edges of it, pressing with his fingers into the flesh. Blair groaned.

"Fuck, yeah," Blair said as he let his head fall forward. Jim pressed harder, kneading the reluctant muscles as Blair twitched and moaned. Shit. Usually by now Caro was either pushing him away, complaining that he was too rough, or the massage had led to groping and sex that couldn't wait for them to stumble up the stairs.

It'd been a long time since a back rub had led to the second, but now Jim's body remembered the moves even as Jim's attention focused on the bend of Blair's neck and the sleep-warmed scent of his hair. Jim drifted closer, his eyes following that exposed neck, the backbone creating a ridge that vanished under the neck of his undershirt.

"Damn, you're good. I could get you a job if you ever want to do some moonlighting," Blair said, and the spell broke. "Between your Dom voice and those hands, you'd make a killing." Jim backed off, blinking as he turned toward the kitchen to hide his erection.

"Man, I wouldn't mind a little more," Blair complained.

"Catch a shower, Chief. You don't smell like a rose." Jim walked to the refrigerator, looking for eggs and a fast way to cool himself off. Opening the door and letting the cool air swirl around him seemed the fastest. Fuck, what the hell was wrong with him? Jim took deep breaths of cold, stale air that smelled faintly of molded bread.

"I'm not the only one who wakes up cranky," Blair muttered, but he wandered past, and Jim heard the bathroom door slam shut. Leaning forward, Jim rested his forehead against the open edge of the refrigerator, letting the cold burn him. Simon was right. He needed to get the kid out of here before something happened to tank this case... something like the lead detective fucking one of the key witnesses, a witness who had irrevocably tangled himself into the facts of the case until Blair Jacob Sandburg and the evidence against the attackers couldn't be teased apart.

Forcing his body under control, Jim reached for the remote and flicked on the television as he started fixing breakfast. These days, breakfast usually meant catching something as he went through the drive-thru on his way to work, but Jim managed to get together scrambled eggs and toast by the time the shower stopped. He focused on the mundane: hot pans and eggshells and the toast crumbs scattered across the counter. I kept his brain from wandering back to the smell of Blair and the line of his neck.

The morning newscast had a woman in a pink suit cheerfully describing the deaths of three people in a car accident as Blair came out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam. His hair trailed over his bare shoulders in wet tendrils, and a silver nipple ring peeked out from some impressive chest hair as Blair scrubbed his arms with the towel.

"Man, that smells good," Blair said, and Jim put a plate on the table, ignoring the sudden memory of Blair in that leather harness, clutching a blanket around himself while he berated the officers at Mr. Espinoza's house. When Jim had walked in on that, he had made a few judgments about the man who had gestured wildly, making the silver ring on his wrist restraint jingle. Yeah, and most of his judgments had been dead wrong.

Jim turned back to the kitchen and grabbed his own plate and fork before sitting at the table next to Blair.

"I know I acted like a complete asshole last night, and I really appreciate you not actually throwing me in jail, even if the threats were a little over the top," Blair said before shoveling more eggs in.

"You're welcome," Jim said, ignoring the rest as he watched the news.

"A popular teacher from Rainier was attacked last night," the woman chirped, and suddenly Sandburg's warehouse appeared on the screen, the CSU van still there as the first pink rays of morning crept over the hard edges of the buildings.

"Blair Sandburg has been researching police effectiveness in minority areas, including the now-infamous West Bashers, a gang responsible for a dozen attacks against the gay community. Police won't comment, but three men matching the general descriptions of the West Bashers broke into the warehouse apartment and attacked Mr. Sandburg."

The image changed to a smiling Blair standing next to an older man, both of them knee deep in trenches decorated with little white flags. Each held up a trowel triumphantly and the other man had what appeared to be a huge bone. "Mr. Sandburg, shown on the left, was treated at the scene and taken into protective custody as a material witness."

The picture changed to a new man, a man entirely too familiar to Jim. "The latest victim, Raul Mendoza, died less than an hour ago at Cascade General after clinging to life for three days after being attacked outside the Teddy Bear Cabaret." The picture returned to the anchor, who smiled as she turned to a new camera. "Moving to economic news—"

Jim clicked the television off and looked at Blair. The man had lost most of the color from his face, and Jim could imagine how he felt. He remembered the delayed shock after his own helicopter crash in Peru. He'd kept things together for hours... maybe even days, and then the fear and the horrible truth crashed down on him so hard that he sat and stared at his arms and tried to figure out why he had survived and others hadn't. Last night, Blair hadn't just fought off teens who were trying to teach him a lesson. He'd faced three murderers. With his bare hands, he had fought for his life and won. Jim waited for the explosion.

"I'm--" Blair stopped, his words failing. Jim could see the confusion, and he just waited for the reaction.

"I need to get out of here," Blair said as he stood, shoving his chair back with enough force to make it tip over and rattle to the ground. Blair stared at it a second as though trying to figure out why it had fallen.

"Blair, we need to talk about this."

"Oh, man, they put my face on TV. They said I was a witness. Fuck. They know I work at Rainier."

"They probably knew all that before. Blair, think through this with me," Jim said calmly, even though he knew Blair's ability to think clearly had probably ended about the time the shock set in.

Blair didn't even answer; he detoured to the couch where he grabbed his shirt, pulling it over his head as he headed for the door. The detour gave Jim enough time to get between Sandburg and escape.

"Move," Blair warned darkly.

"Not going to happen, Junior," Jim said as he braced himself. Blair was spinning out of control, and Jim wasn't letting his witness walk the streets alone, panicked and disoriented. Blair would have to get through him first.

"Oh man, you do not want to piss me off right now. So, move." Blair's voice trembled with rage.

"Blair, if you want to be pissed, go right ahead, but you are not walking ou--" Jim didn't finish before Blair flung himself forward, and Jim caught a fist in the gut. The kid could hit.



Jim fell back into the door, but before Blair could retreat, he grabbed the man's wrist, holding on as Blair slid down into an old-fashioned panic attack, his breath coming in ragged gasps.

Desperately pulling back, Blair gave a half -strangled cry as he kicked out at Jim's feet. While it'd be easy to disable Blair, Jim struggled to hold on without doing any actual damage.

"Knock it off," Jim snapped as Blair yanked him forward a step. Blair's hip hit a table, and a lamp went tumbling to the floor with a dull thud. Luckily it didn't break because Jim really didn't want them to end up wrestling in the broken shards. The noise startled Blair so that he turned half away, and Jim lunged forward.

Slipping an arm around Blair's shoulder, Jim braced his hand behind Blair's neck in a headlock, and for a strange flash of a second, he could swear that Blair's racing heart pounded in his ears, the stench of fear stung his nose. The hallucination threw him off balance enough that Blair wiggled forward, almost escaping before Jim could tighten his hold. Using his weight to manhandle Blair, he shoved the smaller man toward the couch.

Silently, Blair fought, his muscles hard under Jim's hands even as he fell face-first on the cushions. Jim let his weight pin Blair down.

"Calm down, Chief," Jim said softly, Blair's hair catching in the stubble of his beard so that it clung to him as lay on the smaller man. Small, but definitely not a weak. Blair bucked, and Jim struggled to hold on without causing damage. He was a determined little bastard.

Even though Blair wasn't talking, he panted heavily, and Jim used his free hand to pull his belt off. When the leather touched Blair's skin, Blair bucked again.

"Get the fuck off me," he demanded as he finally found his voice. Jim let Blair out of the headlock only to grab his wrists. When Blair tried to twist away, Jim put a knee into the small of his back.

"Chief, when you can ask me that in a calm tone of voice, I will," Jim said as he finished wrapping the belt and fastened it. Even through the fabric of the shirt, Jim could see the muscles bunch and strain as Blair wordlessly fought the restraint.

"Are you getting off on this? Forcing me down?" Blair finally demanded once he had given up on wiggling free.

"No, I'm not," Jim said honestly. "But I'm not letting you walk out there when you're so panicked that you can't think straight.

"You have no right to hold me here. This is so against the law. You pigs are all the same," Blair snarled. Jim moved off of Blair with a heavy sigh. Blair strained to sit up, and Jim helped, putting his hand on Blair's arm to help him struggle up to a seated position. Then he sat next to him. When Blair tried to stand, Jim used an arm across his chest to hold him on the couch.

"Where are you going, Blair?" Jim asked, ignoring the murderous glare.

Blair ignored him and yanked against the belt, his lips pressed tightly together. Jim watched without comment as Blair fought first the belt and then Jim's hand holding him down. The man's eyes were dilated black, but eventually, the adrenaline and fear that drove him failed so that he slumped.

"Where were you going, Blair?" Jim asked again impassively.

"Out." Blair spat the word.

"Out where?"

"What the fuck does it matter to you?"

"It matters because I don't want you going off half-cocked," Jim said patiently. He couldn't count the number of times a distraught mother flew at him, sometimes with fists and sometimes with tears. More than once, a father or a brother or a son had taken a swing just because Jim was there and the killer wasn't, so this wasn't new territory.

"Un-fucking-tie me."

"Show me that you have control, and I will. Now, where were you going?"

Blair threw himself against the back of the couch and stared at the ceiling with tear-brightened eyes and a clenched jaw. God, the man was stubborn. The kid might play at being a sub, but he sure wasn't easy to push around, not even when Jim was doing it for his own good. Jim suspected that some part of Blair understood that Jim wanted to help, which is why Jim hadn't been subjected to the dirtier side of Sandburg's fighting style: biting and kicking out at a man's balls. The three intruders had certainly underestimated Blair's ability to defend himself.

"Talk to me, Chief," Jim asked eventually as the silence became too much for him.

"Why the fuck did they have to say that?"

"The news," Jim said, not really asking as much as confirming that he was following Blair's scattered mind as it twisted.

"They'll fucking know where I work. Fuck."

"Chief, they tracked you to your apartment, so the chances are that they already knew you worked at Rainier. You weren't safe the minute you put yourself into the middle of this investigation."

"So this is my fault?" Blair demanded as he sat up, leaning forward and obviously struggling against the belt again. His shoulders dipped and swayed as Blair squirmed.

"No, this is the killers' fault," Jim said calmly. "But anyone who challenges criminals has to accept that it comes with certain dangers." He knew he had reached the more logical parts of Blair when the struggles stilled again.

"I couldn't just walk away."

Jim could almost feel the emotions wash past him like a weather front as the fury turned to despair and fear and a bone-deep weariness.

"I understand that. Even Simon gets it, and he probably respects you for it even if he does think you're a pain in the ass," Jim promised.

Blair gave a half-laugh that turned into something dark and strangled. "Untie me," he said, but this time the words didn't have the tinge of hysteria from earlier.

"Are you going to punch me again? You hit hard for a pipsqueak," Jim said even as he reached over. Blair turned his back to Jim and presented his hands.

"I can't believe I did that."

"Oh, I can. I had this father lay me out flat once when I started at vice. The guys never let me forget it."

"But it's such a stereotype, to turn fear and distress into anger. Naomi raised me better."

Jim finished pulling the belt away, but Blair continued to sit on the couch sideways and stare away from Jim. "Blair, we need to think this through logically."

Blair dropped his head onto his hands, his body hunched into the increasingly-familiar pose of despair. "I'm totally screwed, aren't I? Shit. You know that old story about a lifeguard having to protect his own life first or he won't save anyone? I just couldn't walk away, especially when I found out about how many people they'd... Oh man, I totally lost sight of that whole lifeguard parable. I'm just totally and completely screwed." Blair followed his own logic as he processed the fear that now settled into him, and Jim waited until his voice had fallen to silence.

"No you aren't," Jim said firmly. "This might be a break on the case," Jim reasoned, hoping that Blair's desire to help catch the three men-turned-killers would help him overcome the fear. "Someone you talked to stirred them up, which means one of your contacts knows the killers. And someone who knows you by name passed that name on, either intentionally or accidentally by talking about you. So, we just backtrack your movements until we find the connection."

Blair got off the couch, retreating to the window where he looked out at the gray sky. "Man, even if you throw me in a holding cell until this is over, I can't ethically give you the names of anyone I've talked to. Maybe a holding cell would be the safest place for me right now," he told the window.

He didn't have words to offer, so he followed Blair, standing behind him at the window and letting his hand rest on Blair's shoulder. Like last night, Blair leaned back into Jim's body, but unlike last night, he didn't wiggle invitingly or look up with a salacious invitation in his wink. He just continued to stare out the window as he just sagged into Jim.

"Can you at least tell me where you went? Which clubs?" Jim put his free hand on Blair's other arm.

"Man, I want to."

"I won't compromise your ethics. I won't ask you to reveal anything about who you talked to, just give me a place to start. Please. Trust me with that much, Blair," Jim pleaded. He could feel Blair's fatigue soak into him through his hands on the man's arms. Blair let his head fall forward.

"If I do this, I have to go with you."

"Blair, that's not a good idea."

"It's my research. I have to make sure that my actions don't negatively impact the people who talked to me. I want to be there. I want to make sure that it's you and not some idiot like Clark doing the interviews."

"I give you my word," Jim assured him.

Blair was silent, and Jim knew exactly what the man was thinking. The high-priced escort who could trust himself to a partner who tied him up for sexual gratification couldn't bring himself to trust Jim with another's privacy. Struggling with his own disappointment at that, Jim cursed himself for what he was about to say. Simon was going to hang his bloody hide from the office wall.

"You can come," Jim agreed. Blair looked back at him, disbelief in his eyes.

"Are you sure this isn't a trick to get me back to the station so you can throw me in a cell?" Blair finally asked.

"I thought you said you'd go without me needing to trick you if I said that was the best way to keep you safe," Jim countered.

Blair shook his head as he straightened up and stood up on his own two feet. "I probably would," he agreed. "It's not that I don't trust you..."

"Chief, I understand. Trust isn't easy. So, we'll retrace your steps together, and all you need to tell me is where you've gone. But," Jim warned firmly as he pointed at Blair, "you listen to what I say. If I tell you to hit the floor, you drop without asking why. If I tell you to stay in the truck, you stay. And if I tell you to get to safety, you run. You don't worry about me or anyone else."

Blair swallowed, his Adam's apple bouncing nervously as he looked at Jim and nodded. "Okay, I can do that. You're the cop, so I'll follow your lead." Yeah, Jim would believe that when he saw it. Suddenly Blair smiled. "I have a lot of experience with taking orders," he said impishly with a waggle of his eyebrows. Jim watched while the man pulled the mantle of sexuality and self-confidence around his shoulders like a well-loved fur coat.

"For someone with experience, you don't do it very well," Jim snarked back, perfectly willing to play along with this facade Sandburg used. Jim had his own cover, his own ways of hiding the pain of his divorce and his intense loneliness and guilt, so he could sympathize with the need for that buffer from the world.

"Oh, I do it very well," Blair disagreed. "You should order me to my knees some time."

"Telling me what to order you to do is not how I see it working," Jim said dryly as he wandered back toward the kitchen and the abandoned plates.

"Wait, you see it working... some other way?" Blair asked. Surprise replaced the sexual tones of a second ago, and Jim flinched.

"That came out wrong," Jim made his excuse.

"Riiight," Blair agreed suspiciously. Jim just focused on the dishes.



"Where's the kid?" Simon asked immediately as Jim walked in the bull pen. Simon stood next to Jim's desk, a file in hand, and Jim wondered if he was retrieving a file or leaving a new one. He prayed it was the first.

"He insisted on teaching a class. I dropped him off, and put the fear of God into security if they didn't post a guard in his room. I'll pick him up in a couple of hours when he's done," Jim said, ignoring the just-slightly confrontational tone in Simon's voice. Hell, Jim had screwed this up enough that Simon had a right to get cranky.

"You mean he's coming back here?" Rafe asked as he looked up from his own files. The youngest of the Major Crimes detectives gave a comically exaggerated shudder. "The kid has a mouth on him," he laughed.

"You should have heard him after you fled for the bathroom," Jim joked back. Simon didn't look impressed.

"He's something else." Rafe shook his head as he typed something into his computer. "Thanks for the warning. I'll make sure I have my own witnesses to interview far, far away this afternoon."

"Right now, we have to discuss just where this gay-bashing case is going," Simon interrupted the banter. "This is a murder case now, and I called in the assistant DA," Simon said with a curt nod towards his office. Jim looked, and through the blinds spotted Gary Birdsell with his dark suit and sand-blond hair. The lawyer's baby-face made him seem like a soft target, but in front of a jury, the man turned into a vicious shark. He saw Jim and smiled widely and waved, looking more like a young surfer someone had given a haircut and stuffed in a new suit than an assistant district attorney with one of the best records in the state.

"You called in the big guns."

"We have to do something to save this case," Simon pointed out. He started toward his office, and Jim followed.

"Hey, Jim. I still owe you a drink after the Little case. Then again, after this, you may owe me a whole case of beer," Gary said as they came in the office. From another DA, the words might have come out angry, but Gary just chuckled as he held out his hand in greeting. "Not like you to get so tangled in your own paperwork." Jim shook the offered hand.

"I'm blaming Sandburg," Simon said as he pulled the blinds on the office windows so they would have more privacy.

"He's made my life interesting. I usually just get the boring old homicides, but I have questions of privilege and the contamination of witnesses and reliability and some truly salacious descriptions of kinks I hadn't even heard of." Gary sat down and clicked open his ubiquitous briefcase stuffed with files. He pulled out one tagged with a neon orange sticky note that announced "Well 'n Truly Fucked." Gary might do subtle well in front of a jury, but in private, the man rivaled Sandburg in bluntness. He dropped the file dramatically on Simon's desk before opening it and rifling through the loose pages.

"If you want to use him as a witness… well, I wouldn't recommend it," Jim said seriously as he dropped into the chair next to the lawyer. "The kid has a mouth that runs about two steps ahead of his brain sometimes. You put him on the stand, and you'll never know what to expect."

"I would have taken that into consideration before he slept at the lead detective's house, but now it's a moot point. He's not getting anywhere near the courthouse on any day I'm in front of a judge," Gary said, and again, words that would have come with condemnation from any other DA just brought a quiet laugh. "I enjoyed the officers' reports from their first encounter with him, though." He held up a sheaf of papers held together with a binder clip. "I thought witness statements were boring, but half the reports would make for good stand-up comedy and the other half used so many euphemisms I couldn't actually tell what happened."

Jim shook his head as he remembered that first sight of Sandburg. "He wasn't taking their shit," Jim agreed.

"Considering the reports, we're lucky he isn't filing suit for some of the officers' actions. Although luck might have less to do with it than the fact that a jury is not likely to award a settlement to a man who makes a living dressing up like a dog for sex. The country is amazingly prudish considering the amount of pornography that gets sold every year."

Simon grunted, and Jim glanced over toward him. Simon nursed a coffee without even offering any, and his expression suggested that he just wanted the meeting over, probably so that he could rip into Jim in private. "So, how do we salvage this from here?" Simon asked.

"Legally, we ignore Sandburg as a witness. I suggest passing the assault in his apartment over to the local precinct…"

"The gay-bashers case is mine," Jim protested, and Gary held up a placating hand.

"The gay-bashers case, yes. But Jim, you don't have actual evidence linking the cases, and having you investigate a push-in smacks of inappropriate involvement. In court, I can keep out any mention of Sandburg except in his official role as an anthropologist studying police relations, but don't make this any messier for me. I mean, I know I'm good, but let's not test the limits of how good I am at this."

Jim rubbed his face as he braced himself to tell them the next part. "I agreed to let Sandburg ride along if he would, in return, identify the locations of his various interviews," he confessed.

The room fell silent.

"Well, that's…" Gary stopped. The man who made a living with words obviously ran out of them as he leaned back in his chair and considered Jim in surprise. Simon recovered his voice first.

"What the hell were you thinking? Jim, I don't know what has gotten into you, but as of right now, you are off this case." Simon didn't even sound angry; he had that low, quiet voice that Jim occasionally heard the captain use on his son—the voice that suggested that Simon was milliseconds away from exploding and trying hard to control it.

"Not so fast. If you take him off this case, it's going to give the defense attorney a basis to challenge everything he's done. Jim collected the Sulley's witness statement and got the composite drawing, and the hairs collected at Sandburg's apartment may prove valuable in a couple of weeks when the DNA comes back. This is evidence I can't afford to lose at trial," Gary interrupted. "Besides, I want to know what has made the Ice Man thaw out enough to bend his almighty rules."

"That's a good question. Care to answer that one?" Simon asked, his voice still tightly controlled as he leaned forward.

"The suspects wouldn't have gone after Blair unless he made some sort of connection they see as dangerous, which means I need to find that connection before these guys attack again. I need to backtrack Sandburg's movements, but he won't give up any information without riding along. He says he has an ethical obligation to the people he interviewed, and he doesn't want them harassed."

"Ethics?" Simon demanded. "I'm surprised he knows the word."

"I don't know. In court I could easily paint him as a zealous researcher with a strong ethical code for what he's done on his own. But Jim, if he's with you, I can't claim that he's acting as a researcher. To a jury, he'll end up looking like some kook trying to force himself into the middle of a police investigation."

"He is," Simon growled.

"If we don't act, this is going to get ugly. Now that they've killed someone, these three know the stakes have risen. They'll either try to disappear so that we never catch them, or they'll get such a rush out of the victim dying that they'll want to kill again. Sandburg is the key to finding them before either happens." Jim laid his logic out as simply as he could and waited while Simon's face slowly melted from controlled anger into weary resignation.

"Solid logic, but juries care more about appearances than logic," Gary pointed out.

"Then give him a reason to ride along," Jim said, the solution suddenly simple. "He's doing his dissertation on police relations with minority groups, so make it official."

Simon froze, not even blinking for several seconds as the shock set in, but Gary nodded.

"It would give the jury a reasonable explanation for his involvement, and since he has been working on this research already, it explains his earlier actions."

"Jim, do you have any idea what you're asking?" Simon demanded, not nearly as quick to jump on the Sandburg bandwagon. "You want to take Sandburg with you in the field on an official basis? The kid is a walking trouble magnet. You've known him for three weeks, and he's already been in here often enough that the ladies in the cafeteria know his name."

"That's just it, Simon," Jim explained. "I don't know the names of the cafeteria workers, and they don't know mine, but Blair has a way of getting in with people. Steve Sulley never would have come forward without Blair there, and if I have Blair with me while I canvass the area again, maybe that will work to my advantage. I walk in there as a cop, and they'll shut up, but if they see me coming in with Sandburg, if I take the approach of someone who's trying to protect him as a witness and as my official ride-along, maybe someone will talk. Simon, it's perfect."

"Perfect." Simon snorted the word, making it clear just how not-perfect he considered the whole situation.

"It would make things a lot easier in my office. I can't prosecute this case without having Sandburg come up, and I'd much rather have an explanation ready for the judge and jury. Since Sandburg's sideline as a provider of sexual services is so prejudicial, I can even get that excluded. But Jim, this can't just be for the one case. I know you'll get these guys, but it'll take months for the trial, and if a defense lawyer catches wind that Sandburg only rode along on this one case, we're back to sounding suspicious."

"Great. Rafe and Brown avoid the squad room when the kid is here, and no other department is going to want him in the middle of their investigations, not with his habit of sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong." Simon sounded cranky, but Jim also noticed that he was already considering the practical requirements of bringing Blair in, meaning that he'd already made his decision.

"He can ride with me." For a second, Jim remembered coming home with another puppy. At twelve years old, he'd burst in the back door carrying a tiny floppy eared golden retriever-mix from the neighbors, and he'd promised his father that he'd take care of the dog. While his father stared at him over the paper in shock, Jim had vowed to give up Saturday cartoons to clean the yard and pay for dog food out of his allowance. Back then, it hadn't worked. Remembering Sandburg's puppy routine, Jim couldn't help feeling like he was making the same promise again, but Simon was a lot more reasonable than his father.

"Damn right he'll ride with you. No one else is going to clean up this mess you've made," Simon agreed. He shook his head sadly. "I don't think you have any idea how much trouble you two have let yourselves in for."

"Hey, I've only read witness statements, but I like the guy," Gary insisted.

"Wait until you meet him to say that. He's the most aggravating little shit I've ever met," Simon said, but Jim noticed that the captain looked almost amused. "Get the paperwork taken care of before you let him anywhere near the first witness," Simon ordered.

"Yes, sir," Jim agreed.

"Simon, I need to talk about the Anderson case." Gary shoved all the paperwork back into the file with that orange sticky note and dropped it back into the briefcase before pulling another file out. This one had a yellow sticky with WTF in large block letters.

"I'll go start the paperwork now," Jim said as he stood up. Maybe he could even escape the office without an ass-chewing. Simon gave an absent-minded nod as he took the file Gary passed over the desk, and Jim left, smiling. He had himself a brand new puppy.

"How was class, Chief?" Jim asked, nodding to the bored campus security officer leaning against the back wall. He wasn't the most alert guard, but at least the campus had left someone to keep an eye on Sandburg.

"You missed a great lecture on sexual practices and societal power," Blair said as he waggled his eyebrows. From the way the campus guard blushed as he headed toward the door, Jim guessed that wasn't a joke. "Man, most TA's avoid this class because they don't want to get into the details, but what's the fun in pretending sexual tension doesn't exist?" he asked with an innocent look as he blinked up at Jim, who still stood on the stairs near the door.

"I don't remember college being this interesting."

"Oh man, if you'd had me as a teacher, you totally would remember," Blair said as he gave his ass a bit of a wiggle. "So, is this how you see it working?" he asked the moment the door whispered closed behind the retreating guard.

"It was a simple slip of the tongue," Jim growled. The tone might have frightened a lesser man into fleeing, but Sandburg just smiled wider.

"Sure, no problem, I hear you," he answered, making it entirely too clear that he didn't believe a word of it. Brat.

"Sandburg, you're a pain in the ass."

"I prefer to receive than give, thanks," Blair said, shoving the last of a sizable stack of papers into his bag before slinging it over his shoulder. "Except, of course, with women. Well, women other than Tiffany because she has this neat little toy--"

"Sandburg," Jim barked, "I do not want to hear about it."

"I wouldn't have thought you were the jealous type."

"You're just a dog with a bone," Jim sighed. "It was a slip of the tongue."

"Shall I sew you to your sheet?" Blair asked, in the strangest turn of conversation yet.


"Spoonerisms. Reversing letters so that 'show you to your seat' becomes 'sew you to your sheet.' Verbal slips. Freudian slips. Verbal games. I know about games; it's one of the topics anthropologists study." Blair continued to stand at the podium, looking up at Jim across the length of the aisle.

"Games, proxemics, haptics," Blair said, his voice little more than a whisper.

"If you're going for dirty talk, you should probably use words I know," Jim said as he crossed his arms over his chest. Yeah, the kid amused him, but no need to let Blair know that. He suspected Blair could get pretty out of hand with very little encouragement.

"Haptics—the use of touch in communication. Proxemics—the use of space. Games—well, I think we both know that one."

"I don't play games," Jim warned. And he didn't. Thinking back on his failed marriage, he should have warned Caro of that up front. She wanted to be able to turn the games off and on, to turn the passion up and down like a volume knob. Jim always prided himself on being an attentive lover, but he had finally been too worn down to even care, and had retreated into a coldness that had driven the woman away. Now, Jim looked down at Blair with a seriousness that he hoped Blair understood.

"And here I thought you played so well," Blair said.

"I guess you don't have me pegged as well as you assumed," Jim agreed. He couldn't get into this, not with a case hanging on his ability to control his own libido. "Now we need to head over to the station to sign some paperwork before you start pointing out which clubs I'll be investigating," Jim added, forcing himself to focus on work.

"Paperwork?" Blair asked as he started up the stairs towards Jim.

"For your ride-along status. I got you a thirty day pass for your research, so you're legal in the truck." Jim pulled out the ride-along badge he'd gotten from Karen in return for a solemn vow that Sandburg would appear within the hour to sign the paperwork and pee in the cup.

"Thirty? What?" Instead of looking grateful, Blair just looked slightly stunned--stunned and displeased. When the familiar feeling of having a gift thrown back at him crept into Jim's gut, he tossed the plastic badge at Sandburg and turned his back.

"You want to ride; you do it by the book." Jim started toward the door without another word, but behind him, Blair spluttered.

"Hey, no, I'm really... grateful."

"Save it," Jim snapped, annoyed that Blair would make such a lame attempt at covering.

"Hey, I'm just a little caught off guard here. You walk in and offer this without even asking."

"*You* asked," Jim said as he stopped at the door before heading into the river of students. "*You* asked to ride along." He dove in, using his long stride to carry him past clumps of students and out into the sunshine of the main walk that cut across the manicured lawn.

"Hey!" Blair yelled behind him, and Jim just kept walking, well aware that Sandburg's shorter legs would force him to run. It might be a petty revenge, but Jim would take what he could get.

"Hey!" Blair yelled again, and a hand tugged at Jim's arm. He stopped and looked down at the kid. Individual hairs had escaped the pony tail and curled around his face. "I'm just a little shocked at the thirty day thing. I guess I assumed that these guys would be off the street, and I'd be off your couch, before thirty days," Blair rushed to explain.

For a second, Jim stood stunned, looking down. Great. Sandburg was scared, and Jim was striking out at him like the kid was to blame for his issues. Jim felt like a world-class heel.

"Chief, I hope to have these guys in days, now that we have a composite drawing and a lead, but if you ride along on just one case, it's going to look suspicious."

"Suspicious?" Blair asked, and then the light dawned in his face, which transformed into a pixie-like smile. "You mean, like the lead detective has the hots for this witness and he's just trying to find excuses to get the man alone so he can ravish him?" Blair asked.

"Suspicious like the defense attorney could get the case tossed," Jim said without actually contradicting Blair's version. Blair smiled wider. "So, you're mine for thirty days," Jim said as he schooled his face into an evil grin.

"Woof," Blair said with a laugh as he headed toward Jim's truck, parked in a loading zone with the police light on the dash. "Man, I just didn't think I'd be spending so much time with cops. This is so going to put a crimp in my social life."

"You're researching police relationships with minority groups, and you didn't think you'd spend much time with cops?"

"Hey, that story gave me a reason to ask around, and it made my dissertation chair just about orgasm with joy, but it's not my life's work." Blair stopped at the truck and leaned against the fender as he waited for Jim to unlock it.

"So, you lied about researching the police," Jim said dryly. Somehow, he just wasn't surprised.

"Oh man, I did not lie. I just obfuscated a bit." Blair gave Jim a wink and hopped in the truck, slamming the door and ending the conversation. Walking around to the driver's side, Jim tried to figure out what he was going to do with this information. If a defence attorney got it, the jury would never buy the researcher angle Gary was selling.

"Listen, Chief," Jim said as he climbed in, shutting his own door behind him so they had privacy. "This needs to be above-board. I can't have these three walk because something is fishy with one of the primary witnesses."

"Man, I would not do that to you, and I wouldn't do that to the victims," Blair said, indignation in his voice. "I am doing research. I have field notes, I have my dissertation chair's approval, and I have the background in cultural communication and sub-group hostility. I'll even publish a paper or two because the topic is just ripe for the picking. It's just that I started researching the topic after I saw the attack, and I plan to change my dissertation topic again as soon as these guys are caught."

"Not until after the thirty-day ride is over, Junior," Jim warned. "I won't have the case compromised."

"I get that. I totally get that. My topic has been hanging around for a century or so; no problem waiting thirty days." Blair promised, holding his hands up. "My sentinels can wait."

"Sentinels?" Jim asked as he started the engine.

"Yeah, I'm researching how society interacts with people with extraordinary senses: perfume testers, professional tasters, people with synesthesia. I even have a book describing sentinels--people who have all five senses enhanced who, in tribal areas, act as guardians for the tribe. The cultural implications of a physical manifestation..."

"Got it," Jim interrupted. "I hate to say this, Darwin, but researching police relations sounds a lot more practical."

"Yeah, that's what Dr. Stoddard said when he approved the dissertation change. Hell, he didn't just approve the change, he waxed poetic about it. He told me he was proud of me for recognizing the academic unsuitability and practical difficulties of sentinel research."

"He's right."

"Yeah, well, I'm not so worried about being practical. Sometimes being impractical is so much more fun," Blair said in a throaty voice.

Jim ignored it as he focused on turning the corner and the pothole and the yellow sign announcing a sale at Home Depot. He focused on pretty much anything except the way Blair tilted his head and sounded so needy. When Jim didn't answer, the conversation lapsed into silence, the rumble of truck tires over rough road filling the cab as they passed block after block.

"So, I guess I'm yours for a month. I should warn you that I'm not exactly house-broken," Blair joked as the truck slowed for a red light.


"And I shed."

"Sandburg," Jim growled. It didn't work.

"I've even been known to steal slippers from time to time because, man, I get bored easy, and me and boredom are not generally a good mix."

"Chief!" Jim snapped as he got pretty desperate to stop this strange foreplay. He could just imagine one or two things to keep Blair busy, but this was a witness, his ride-along, his temporary partner. And Jim refused to consider the many meanings of the word partner.

"Serious need of a firm hand. So, is this how you see it working between us?" Blair asked as he looked over. Jim looked over with a denial on his lips, but the open expression on Blair's face made the words die. A horn honked, and Jim hit the accelerator a couple of seconds after the light had already turned green.

"Of course, maybe you prefer to use stronger discipline than just a firm hand," Blair mused.

Jim shook free of the lust as he interrupted. "Chief, we have a case to work. I've told you several times that I just misspoke, now just drop it already."

"Sure, Jim. No problem," Blair agreed with a sly smile.

Jim sighed and resolved to take advantage of the two or three minutes of silence that would give him before the kid started at it again. He was definitely like a dog with a bone. A really annoying dog with floppy ears that Jim suspected would make a mess all over the loft, and yet, even with all his father's logical reasons echoing through his memory, Jim still wanted him.

"This one," Blair said as he nodded toward a door painted the most obnoxious pink Jim had ever seen.

"Where did anyone ever come up with the stereotype that gays had more taste?" Jim asked grimly as he pushed past a group of smokers loitering on the sidewalk. Blair walked close behind, and Jim opened the door, waiting for Blair to go through.

"It's a way of marginalizing the contributions of homosexuals. I mean, most historians agree that Leonardo da Vinci and Langston Hughes had lots of connections with the homosexual community and probably had homosexual relationships, but acknowledging them as gay would mean crediting homosexuals with some of history's pivotal moments.

"And since successful homosexuals often hide their preferences, it makes it even easier to portray homosexuals as having no influence beyond the limited and largely irrelevant areas including fashion and home decorating. And you notice, those are the same areas women in the past were relegated to," Blair lectured. Jim just put a hand on the man's back to propel him across the mostly empty dance floor.

"Where do you store all this trivia?" Jim asked as he scanned the room.

"Oh man, you have no idea. I love just learning things. Like, for example, I wonder if you're circumcised. I mean, the statistics would suggest you were since three-quarters of white males in the west are circumcised, but I'm a firm believer in not over-generalizing. A researcher should observe for himself and not just apply statistics that may or may not be appropriate."

"Are you done?" Jim asked dryly. The kid had definitely taken the sexual innuendo up a few notches.

"So, is this how you see it working between us?" Blair asked with a wide innocent smile.

Jim would have explained that his words had come out wrong when he'd said that earlier, but he'd tried that several times already, and Blair's smile just got bigger each time Jim tried defending himself.

"I see a gag in your future, Sandburg," Jim threatened.

Blair shrugged. "The interesting thing would be what you did with me once you had me gagged." Blair nearly bounced as they walked across the floor toward the bar.

"Until this case is over, I wouldn't do anything except use the peace and quiet to get some work done," Jim answered. About a half second too late, he realized his mistake. Blair smiled even wider.

"No problem. I get the ethical implications of sleeping with someone involved in your case," Blair nodded. "I'm patient."

"I doubt that," Jim sighed, giving up on even trying to explain why his own mouth kept getting tangled in his words. Yeah, he enjoyed Blair's sharp humor and his enthusiasm and his obvious need to have someone hold him down and ravage him, but that didn't mean that Jim was ready to go there. Hell, Caro had only delivered the final divorce papers two weeks ago, and Jim could still feel the heavy failure of that in his chest every time he saw the woman. And yet Jim couldn't quite convince his cock that getting involved with Sandburg wasn't worth it.

But right now, he had to focus on work. After three clubs, Jim's head hurt, but so far nothing had pinged his radar as suspicious. The club smelled of the sick sweetness of marijuana and the musk of male sweat. As they approached the bar, Jim could tell which of the men behind the bar and drinkers knew Blair; they smiled widely as Blair approached.

"Oh my, it looks like Blair-baby finally found a Daddy big enough to keep him in line," whistled one leather man who leaned on the bar and raised his beer glass in salute. Blair blushed. Jim frowned at his new partner, not quite sure where the embarrassment came from considering that Blair seemed to have no shame, but Blair just walked a little faster, breaking the connection between them as he called out to several people in the bar.

A number returned whistles and appreciative looks towards Jim, who just sighed as round three of assumptions and innuendo started. The man behind the bar looked a little more suspicious, probably because he had given Jim the brush-off last time Jim had tried interviewing people in the area.

"Jim Ellison, CPD," he said without correcting the leather man's assumption. In fact, he stepped closer to Blair, putting his hand on his Blair's back again in order to move the man right up to the bar. Then Jim could stand behind him, trapping him between Jim's body and the barstool. While Blair might be off limits to him for professional reasons, Jim had no trouble letting word get around that he wasn't available to anyone else either.

The atmosphere definitely cooled, but at least no one fled.

"That so? I would have dressed up in a cop's uniform if I knew that's what did it for you, Blair," the leather man offered, leaning back and propping up his huge motorcycle boot on the seat of the stool next to him.

"Oh man, I only—"

"I have a problem," Jim interrupted. If he let Blair start in on ethical standards and ride-alongs, everyone would escape before Jim got to ask his questions. He wouldn't make that mistake a second time. So, let them assume whatever they wanted. The leather man looked up at Jim, and the bar owner wandered closer, wiping the counter as he came.

"Someone tried to push into Blair's apartment and bash his head in with a bat. I'm interested in who might have been talking about Sandburg. Someone who might have mentioned him down here stirring people up about these gay bashers."

Jim watched while several people exchanged looks, clearly trying to figure out whether it was a cop or Blair's lover who was asking.

"Blair, you okay?" the bar owner asked as he finally decided to just ignore Jim.

"Yeah, no biggie."

"Yes, it was a biggie," Jim contradicted him. "He fought off three masked intruders, and I'm assuming that someone mentioned Blair to someone, casually brought up his name and his research, complained to someone, maybe. But a rumor started somewhere."

"Blair, do you need somewhere to stay?" the bar owner asked, and his concern aggravated Jim. If someone would help him catch these guys, Blair wouldn't have to look for another place to stay.

"He's staying with me," Jim said without any further explanation. Blair rolled his eyes, but Jim didn't back off.

"Good to know he has a safe place," the man said after a moment. "Guys around here call me Pat, but I think we met before."

"When I was doing interviews," Jim confirmed as he held out his hand without moving. It meant he had to lean into Blair to reach across the bar. Jim trapped the bar owner in his best scowl, but something distracted him from the corner of his eye.

A man with jeans tight enough to cause infertility and a mesh shirt slowly slid away from the group at the bar. "So, do you know who might have talked about Blair and his research?" Jim shifted his focus to the new man.

"I don't even know the kid; I'm just drinking," the man said as he backed up. Jim might have bought that except that he could feel Blair's body tense where they pressed together. Blair remained silent, his eyes suddenly found the scratched floor interesting, and Jim could read the distress in his body even if he didn't know the exact cause.

"When we came in, you looked like you knew Blair," Jim said as he moved away from the bar and closed in on the man.

"Just appreciating a cute ass," the guy laughed nervously.

"What are you playing at, Wilfy? I've seen you and Blair at that table in the corner," the leather man said, clearly siding with Jim in this.

"Hey, who I talk to—" Blair started to object.

"Quiet, boy," the leather man ordered, and Jim contained a small smile when Blair actually did shut up with a strange, strangled noise.

"Look, I just don't feel like talking to some pig," Wilfy snapped before he calmly turned as though he had no more interest in the conversation. He took two casual steps toward the tables before he dashed for the door. Jim glanced back toward Blair, uncertain what to do with his ride-along, but after a millisecond of hesitation, Jim stormed after the man.

On the street, Jim saw a mesh-clad back running toward Third, his arms flying wildly as he ran.

"Hey!" some voice yelled when Jim knocked a body out of his way, but he ignored that as he pounded down the sidewalk. Putting one hand under his coat, he released the strap on his weapon. Something had spooked the guy, and Jim was betting that it had something to do with Blair's attack.

A streetlight turned red in Wilfy's path, but the man darted into the traffic. Horns blasted as he ended up stomach down on the hood of a red Cavalier, but he just slid off and kept running.

Jim didn't waste his breath on calling for the man to stop, he just charged into the already jammed traffic. The Cavalier's driver had opened his door, his face a mask of panic as Jim ran past. At least one person had out a cell phone. Wilfy glanced back, and then headed diagonally across Washington Avenue.

Cursing, Jim checked the traffic. Fuck and double fuck. A semi rumbled past forcing Jim to wait before he darted into the street, barely outrunning a minivan that squealed brakes as Jim reached the opposite sidewalk. Wilfy was almost at the sidewalk himself, but then he glanced over his shoulder. At the sight of Jim closing in, he reversed direction and tried to double back. A squeal of tires and a heavy thud ended the escape attempt.

Jim winced, running toward the Jeep which now sat cockeyed in the street. A Mustang hit the Jeep with a crunch of metal against metal, and the Jeep bounced forward into a parked car, setting off the alarm.

Ignoring the annoying noise, Jim looked over the hood of the Jeep, red streaks clear on the yellow paint. Wilfy's head had cracked, and Jim quickly looked away from the mess.

"Oh man. Oh shit," a familiar voice breathed. Jim turned to see Blair right behind him, his face white under the streetlight.

"Don't look," Jim said as he moved between Blair and the accident. Blair continued to blink without moving as though he could still see the dead body through Jim.

"Chief, people need help. Check the mustang's driver. Make sure he's okay," Jim said, doing the only thing he could to help distract Blair from the carnage. Slowly, Blair looked up, his eyes dark with shock. "Check the driver. See if you can help," Jim said, even though he could clearly see the Mustang's driver pushing his door open.

Blair turned without a word, wandering with uneven steps back to the Mustang.

"Are you okay?" Jim asked the driver of the Jeep who looked just as pale as Blair.

"I didn't see him. He just ran out. Oh my god. He's dead."

Jim pulled out his phone and dialed dispatch. After reporting one dead and minor injuries, he took the Jeep's driver by the arm, pulling him back to where Blair sat on the sidewalk in silence. A crowd gathered around the accident, and cars crawled past them on the road as the drivers slowed to get a good look at what was left of Wilfy.

"The ambulance is coming," Jim said as the Jeep's driver sank on to the curb next to Sandburg.

"He stopped right in front of me. What the hell is wrong with you?" the Mustang's driver demanded, his hands gesturing wildly.

"There was a fatality. Someone ran into the road," Jim said as he stepped between the two shocked men and the angry driver.

"Dead?" The anger drained from the man as he looked toward the Jeep.

"I'm a police officer. I just need you to stay at your car until units arrive. Alright?" Jim asked. The man nodded mutely as he leaned back against the side of his car.

"I seriously don't think an ambulance is going to help," Blair said, his voice rough and unsteady. Jim agreed.

"Just focus on breathing, Chief," Jim advised as he moved to stand next to Sandburg. For a professor of anthropology, the kid was witnessing entirely too many horrors these days. Unfortunately, Jim didn't know any way of protecting him except to track down the three killers and put them behind bars where they couldn't threaten Blair any more. He inched closer until his leg pressed up against Blair's side, and the man leaned into him.

"Just breathe," Jim repeated softly as he listened to Blair's labored efforts.

"You picked a bad day to join, huh?" Brown asked as he sat on the corner of Jim's desk. Blair had glued himself back together fairly well, and now he nodded grimly as he sat in the witnesses' chair, again.

"Oh man, no joke," he answered softly. Brown sat silent for a minute before giving a dark laugh.

"You should have seen me at my first DB. It was this huge mess, and I puked all over the crime scene. I'm surprised they let me out of uniform after that." Henri Brown gave a dark and bitter laugh. "The guys in Narc never let me live that down; they used to leave crime photos taped to my locker when I worked uniform."

Blair looked up, finally noticing Brown who just stared into space as if it didn't mean anything that he was offering the first olive branch between the department and the witness who had shocked and horrified them all into running away from their own desks. Jim finished his own reports. These were significantly longer than just a witness statement since his pursuit had ended in a dead civilian.

Blair nodded. "Lots of societies initiate members through some horrifying ritual, at least horrifying to the outside observer. It's a way of reaffirming that you can survive."

Jim wasn't sure whether it was good or bad that at least the professor side of his personality was slowly leeching through the shock. But after watching him stare into space for hours while one cup of coffee after another slowly went cold in his hands, any change was good.

"Really? That's normal?" Henri asked. Jim promised himself that he would get Brown something nice at Christmas... Jag tickets or a new fishing rod or something.

"Among aboriginal tribes, adolescent circumcision, ritualistic scarring, subincision, or even ripping the hair out of the head are ways of showing strength and gaining membership into adult society. So, from the other guys' point of view, they were probably trying to welcome you to the club."

"I'm guessing you don't want that kind of welcome?"

Blair shivered so that cold coffee slopped over onto his hand and legs, and he set the cup on the edge of Jim's desk, next to Brown, before he swiped at his jeans with a hand. Jim wished he had some way to make this easier on Blair, but police work got ugly, and the kid had certainly worked hard enough to dish himself into the middle of this mess. Jim pulled a paper towel out of a desk drawer and pushed it across.

"Thanks, man," Blair said quietly as he focused on sopping as much cold coffee as he could out of his jeans.

"Ellison!" Simon snapped as he stomped through the office without looking around.

Blair jumped again, and then gave a nervous laugh. "I'm not normally this jumpy, you know?" he asked no one in particular.

"Henri, set Blair up on the computer, would you?" Jim asked as he minimized his own report and pulled up a new form for a witness report. "He can write up his own witness statements if he's going to be on the books officially, because I've sure typed enough up for him," Jim said, trying to lighten the mood, but neither Brown nor Sandburg reacted. He stood, not wanting to leave Blair but not really having a choice considering Simon's expression.

"No problem." Brown agreed.

"Hey, Chief, keep it boring, okay?" Jim asked, trying once again to find that wicked humor Sandburg wore like armor.

"Yeah, no dog jokes." Blair smiled weakly as he took Jim's seat. For a second, Jim stood next to Blair, his hand finding Blair's shoulder as Henri leaned over and pointed at the screen.

"Just type the main explanation in that box. I'll show you the reporting fields when you're done," Brown offered.

Having no words, Jim headed for Simon's office, not really feeling any better about the night. He'd chased that guy right into the street, although the idiot could just as easily have run for an alley, and now Sandburg had retreated into some non-Sandburg zone where he was quiet. Hell, even Brown was worried, Jim realized as he looked back at the pair of them.

Brown was still perched on Jim's desk, hours after he should have gone home, and Blair typed on Jim's computer, his face missing the customary energy or vicious humor. The rest of the bull pen was as quiet as Blair. Only one of the night detectives sat at his desk, an older man named Bubba or Buck or something equally stupid, and he just kept shuffling reports from one side of his desk to the other without sparing Sandburg a second look.

Jim pushed all those worries aside as he knocked briefly on the open door to Simon's office before just going in.

"Why is every emergency call I get you and this gay-bashing case?" Simon asked tiredly as he punched at computer buttons, cursing as the tired machine slowly cranked itself to life.

"We lost a potential lead," Jim agreed. Simon looked up sharply.

"You watched a civilian throw himself in front of a moving vehicle, and I'm not happy with how you seem to be reacting to that fact," Simon said as he slowly swiveled his chair to face Jim, who waited on the far side of the desk.


"Jim, this is me," Simon said softly, and Jim felt his own frustration rising through his worry for Sandburg.

"The idiot ran right into traffic," Jim sighed.

"And my best detective went running right after him. Jim, you could have gotten yourself killed."

"Right now, I'm more worried about who else is going to die if we can't connect the dots, Simon." Jim walked to the office window and looked out at the city. Rows of color outlined buildings and created patterns of squares within squares within squares. Jim studied the patterns, imagining for an insane second that he could see the lives within those windows: people who had no idea of the monsters who hunted the city. Who might be hunting right now.

"Jim!" Simon's sharp voice broke through a strange calm that had settled in over Jim as he stared at the patterns. Jim blinked and turned to face his boss. Simon looked twice as worried now.

"Wilfy took our best chance with him. He knew something; it's the only reason to run," Jim said as he silently cursed his luck.

"Jim, you know as well as I do that suspects run for a lot of reasons," Simon disagreed, but Jim shook his head.

"He was in his comfort zone in that bar, the M.E. said he wasn't carrying weapons or drugs and there weren't any warrants." The office door opened, interrupting the conversation.

"Jim, you're making me feel very needed, a little too needed, if you know what I mean." Jim turned to see Gary. His white shirt was rumpled and hanging outside his pants, but his briefcase was still in one hand. He came in and dropped the case on the small conference table in Simon's office.

"I asked Gary to sit in. This is getting just a little too messy," Simon confessed.

"So, last I knew, you just got your official ride-along for Sandburg. I take it things didn't go quite as well as planned."

Jim snorted. "That doesn't quite cover it, not by half," Jim confessed. "Let me get Sandburg." The minute the words were out of his mouth, Jim could see Simon's eyebrows rise nearly to his hairline.

"Jim?" Simon asked.

"He saw the whole thing, Simon. He probably has a better take on it than I do." Jim walked to the door and called out into the bull pen. "Sandburg, you want to join us?"

When Blair came in silently, letting Jim point him toward a chair next to Gary, Jim exchanged a look with Simon. In his captain's face, Jim could read the surprise and concern as if it were printed in block letters across his forehead. This wasn't the same Sandburg who had faced down Simon and practically challenged the man to arrest him.

"Gary Birdsell." Gary held out his hand, and Blair took it.

"Blair Sandburg."

"I've read quite a lot about you. I was picturing someone louder, based on what the officers at Mr. Espinoza's place said."

Blair seemed to blink to life for a second. "They totally needed someone to yell at them. Actually, they needed someone to kick their asses, but I'm not fond of jail so I stuck with telling them a few truths they probably didn't want to hear."

"No arguments here," Gary agreed, but then Blair just sat back, his energy seemingly drained.

"Jim, let's hear what happened. If you have anything to add, feel free, Sandburg," Simon said as he came out from behind his desk and took the fourth seat at the conference table. Jim itched to reach out to put a comforting hand on Blair's shoulder, which was the main reason he had put Blair across the table and out of reach, so now he could just repeat the cold facts as Sandburg shrank into himself.

"So, we're sure there's a link between Wilfy and the gay-bashers?" Gary asked. "If you're willing to sign off on that, his actions would certainly justify a warrant for his LUDs, his financials and his house."

"He doesn't have a house," Blair cut in. "He couch surfs... one person to the next. He isn't... *wasn't* good at keeping a job."

"Phone and financials, then," Gary said calmly.

"And we'll work his connections. Family, any short-term jobs he might have held, friends. We'll need interviews on all of them," Simon added.

"Man, this does not have the signature of a self-hater. If a self-hating gay did this, he'd work alone. He'd hit victims hard the first time out, displacing his own rage on them. Don't look at Wilfy's friends," Blair said softly.

"Sandburg, I appreciate that you're trying to help, but we have certain procedures to ensure that the case gets handled right." Simon sounded calm, using the voice he normally reserved for victims. Blair glared at his for a second.

"Look, we know these guys are late teens or early adults."

"No, Sandburg, we don't." Simon held up a hand to stop Blair’s rebuttal. "I trust your skills of observation, so I'm willing to believe that the three men who pushed into your apartment were late teens, but I'm not willing to make the assumption that we're looking for the same three guys. Assumptions like that lead to good cops missing clues."

Blair looked to Jim even though Simon had issued the order, and Jim just waited to see how the man would react. Sandburg and 'no' mixed about as well and Sandburg and boredom. Blair took a deep breath, straightened, and then started, his voice strong and steady for the first time since the accident.

"Man, I'm a researcher. I don't do assumptions. Right now, this is just a hypothesis, but think about it. The attackers left early victims who could clearly identify them. If these were adults, when they wanted to step up the attacks they would have changed MO's or maybe even changed cities. This increasing violence with no thought of hiding their tracks is classic adolescent invulnerability. They don't think they *can* get caught."

"And so far, they're right," Simon growled.

"Sometimes the stupid ones are harder to catch," Gary agreed sympathetically. "They're so dumb they don't leave tracks in their attempt to cover their tracks. So, we narrow our search to any young males Wilfy might have known?" he asked.

"No way. We need to look at every part of his life... do a full sociological map of his contacts. I mean, teens are invisible, so he might have said something to the guy who bagged his groceries or told some story to the usher who took his tickets at the movie theater. I mean, how often do you really notice the person who takes your money at Wonderburger?"

"Blair, what makes you think Wilfy would have given your name to some random person on the street?" Jim asked before Simon had a chance to. Blair glanced over, and Jim could see the black of his eyes, dilated in shock or fear or maybe excitement as his hands started moving.

"Some random guy on the street with a baseball bat in hand, no. But you did not know Wilfy; he liked to talk." Blair stopped, and Jim ached as pain flashed across Blair's face as he remembered the man. Brains spilled across the concrete was not a good introduction to the brutalities of police work, but no death was a pretty one. Blair took a deep breath and forged ahead. "If someone showed some interest in the case, he totally would have given them my name and everything he knew about me. He wasn't all that street-smart."

"What did he tell you during your first interview?" Jim asked quietly. Blair looked over at him, a refusal clearly poised to pop out, but then he shook his head.

"Nothing useful. He repeated every rumor on the streets. Some people say it's the little brother of some guy who died of AIDS; others claim it's a gang thing. He just rattled off one rumor after another without being able to say where any of them came from specifically. He would have been great if I'd been doing a study on the transmission of urban myths and legends."

"So for him to actually know something, to know that a researcher from Rainier had gotten involved in the investigation..." Gary prompted.

"Oh man, it would have been like smoking crack in front of an addict. He was probably telling everyone that story."

"So, we're back to square one," Simon sighed.

"Well, we could start by taking the composite drawing around Wilfy's normal haunts," Jim suggested.

"If this were a sociological survey, I'd follow him and map every contact he made," Blair said softly.

"Well, this is police work, Chief. We start with his credit and debit cards, looking for where he spent his money, and then we widen out to canvass the neighborhoods around his work, home and favorite play spots."

"That's a lot of businesses to cover, Jim." Simon stood up and retreated to his own desk and his computer.

"It's the best lead we've had so far."

"Yeah, but you still have the Edmundson murder and the park rapes. I'm going to ask Rafe to pitch in on the murder, but the rape victims still need you, Jim. They shouldn't have to describe what happened to another detective, and they don't deserve to have their case put on a back burner." Simon typed orders into the computer, and Jim nodded his own agreement.

"I'll canvass Wilfy's neighborhood tomorrow morning. By afternoon, the labs should be back on the latest rape victim, so I'll be back here for them before I start canvassing the park area."

"I have all day off tomorrow, so I can pitch in," Blair offered.

"Jim?" Simon asked, and Jim could practically read his captain's mind. Yeah, Jim didn't work with partners. He tended to get cranky any time another detective so much as touched one of his case files.

"It's going to be a long day of knocking on doors and getting them shut in our faces," Jim warned.

"Oh man, that's what anthropologists do for a living. I'm trained to listen, so if I can help out, be more of an active observer, I'm more than happy to," Blair nodded.

"It's alright with me," Jim shrugged as he considered having Blair for the day. After the shocks the man had endured, he really didn't want to leave him alone in the loft to obsess over Wilfy and his own near-death experience.

"They're your cases," Simon agreed, shaking his head in disbelief. Jim understood the man's confusion. Jim still wasn't sure how Blair had managed to creep in under his shields, but the aggravation he felt when people moved too close just never materialized.

"Come on, Chief. We need to finish up those reports and get home for a couple of hours sleep," Jim said as he stood up. Blair stood and smiled briefly at Gary.

"Nice to meet you."

"Same here, Blair. Anyone who can get the Ice Man to thaw some is a man worth knowing." Gary gave Blair a wink, and Jim knew the man was in shock when he just stood there without a response.

"Ice Man?" Blair finally asked, and Jim put a hand on his back, hurrying him toward the door. The last thing he needed was for the guys to start telling Blair stories. The kid had enough ammunition already.

"Ice Man?" Blair repeated as they were half way across the bull pen.

"Reports then bed," Jim ordered.

"Bed. Hell yeah, bed sounds great," Blair sighed.

Bubba/Buck, the night detective, looked up, frowning as he looked at Sandburg. Jim looked back, confused, before it occurred to him that Blair's comment--and Jim's hand on Blair's back--might be considered salacious. Well, it might be unless you'd seen Blair do salacious, and then you knew just how innocent that remark had been. Jim just smiled to himself as Blair headed to the computer, utterly unaware of the night detective still scowling at him from across the room.


Jim pushed open the door to the loft, breathing easier now that he had made it home. What a grade-A, class-one shitty day.

"Beer?" Jim asked as he headed for the refrigerator.

"Oh hell, yeah."

Jim grabbed two while the kid went for the couch, dropping down on it heavily. This morning, Jim had made him fold the bedding, had even stood over him frowning theatrically while Blair had called him anal-retentive, and now Jim was sorry. Blair didn't look like he had enough energy to lift a sheet. Jim opened both bottles and offered one; Blair took it without looking up.

"Want to catch some news?" Jim asked as he reached for the remote.

Blair shook his head. "I think I've reached my limit of senseless violence for the day."

"Hard damn day," Jim agreed as he sat next to Blair on the couch, drinking his beer. The silence that filled the room was comfortable, shared in a way that silences with Caro never were. Blair picked the edge of the beer bottle label and Jim stared at the blank wall, perfectly willing to just let himself mentally drift. The kitchen light made long shadows of their bodies, and the clock ticked just loudly enough to create a rhythm, as though the loft itself had a heartbeat. Jim let that lull him into a half-sleep where the stress of the day slipped away. He'd done what he could, and he wasn't arrogant enough to think he had any hope of controlling the rest.

"You heading right to bed then?" Jim finally asked. It wasn't fair to keep the kid up if he wanted to go to sleep, yet Jim was strangely reluctant to head to bed himself.

Blair shook his head. "I just need time to think this through, to process: light a candle, burn some incense, meditate, you know," Blair answered quietly before tipping the beer bottle so that he finished the last of it. Jim looked at his own half-full bottle and wondered when Sandburg had gotten so far ahead of him.

"That sounds more like the set up for seduction than thinking," Jim joked, offering Blair the perfect straight line. Blair glanced over, giving Jim a brief, wicked smile, so at least Jim knew that the mouthy sub was still in there somewhere.

"Nah, it just helps me..." Blair let his words trail off. The clock ticked. Jim took a deep breath and headed into waters he normally avoided.

"It's not your fault."

"Hey, I never said I thought it was," Blair blurted, entirely too quickly to be convincing. He might be able to obfuscate well, but he couldn't lie.

"You thought it loud enough," Jim pointed out dryly as he looked at the man. Blair wouldn't make eye contact, which just confirmed that Jim was right. "I thought it, too, at first," Jim admitted. "When someone dies, you spend all this time wondering what you could have done different, but life isn't like that. You do the right thing, and you hope that it works out the right way. When it doesn't, you have a beer, make peace with the fact that you aren't perfect and move on."

Blair silently listened. Jim flashed to Caro complaining that he wouldn't ever share his feelings about his cases. The woman would gouge out his eyes if she knew that he was sitting here with a man he'd known less than a month talking about his guilt over another man's death. She wanted his emotions, demanded them, but when he showed her his pain, she would cluck and coddle him as though he were broken, which would inevitably just drive him from the loft.

The day little Elena Haines’ father had shot her after Jim couldn't make the murder case for Mrs. Haines’ death stick... Jim remembered the pain and the fury he'd felt. He wanted to go shoot targets or get in a bar fight or drink himself into the bottom of a bottle or just sit in the dark, and Caro had been there, blocking every escape. She'd started with the sympathy that just made Jim retreat in cold fury, and then she'd turned that fury into a weapon against him. He wasn't willing to work with her. He didn't want to let her in.

"Have to move on," he repeated, not sure who he was really talking to.

Blair just nodded, either agreeing or just letting Jim know he'd heard. But the words didn't seem to shake anything loose; Blair still sat and stared into the dark. He balanced his beer bottle on his knee, bouncing it slightly as though it were a baby that needed burping.

"It's just weird. One minute he's there and looking totally freaked, and I'm really getting furious because I pretty much figured he'd done something stupid, and the next..." Blair waved a hand vaguely, but Jim knew exactly what he meant. The next minute Wilfy lay on the street with brains lay scattered across the road and his arm bent unnaturally. He'd give a lot to spare Blair even the fleeting glimpse he'd gotten.

"Life's like that," Jim agreed. One minute you were alive—the next, you were dead. One minute you were a respected soldier—the next, your country abandoned you to die in some jungle. One minute you were straight and wondering what happened to your marriage—the next, you wanted to take a hippy-boy to bed. Yeah, life was strange.

"Between the business of life and the day of death, a space ought to be interposed," Blair said in one more turn of conversation that didn't make a whole lot of sense to Jim, so he just sat in silence.

"George Herbert, the guy who wrote 'The Quip'," Blair finally explained.

"Ah yes, that George Herbert." Jim nodded knowingly as he took another drink of beer.

"Not a clue, huh?"


"The merry world did on a day, with his train-bands and mates agree to meet together, where I lay, and all in sport to jeer at me." From the rhythm of the words, Jim got that Blair was quoting something, but it sure didn't sound familiar. Then again, Jim was quickly becoming used to not knowing what the hell Blair was saying.

"Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines. Leroy Satchel Paige." Jim toasted the dark, lifting his bottle toward the ceiling before he took a drink.

"The pitcher?" Blair asked, and Jim looked over in surprise.

"You know sports too?"

"Oh man, I love baseball.... and basketball. I play a mean game of hoops."

Jim looked at Blair appraisingly as though considering his athletic potential. "I would have pegged you more for curling," he finally pronounced.

"Har-har. I hate the cold." Blair mock shivered, and then the silence was back, settling over them.

"Herbert's right, you know. I need to make space here, deal with this," Blair eventually sighed.

"Just don't start blaming yourself," Jim warned. "Life's about choices. I chose to be a cop and try to protect the city. You chose to get involved in a dangerous situation because you thought it was the right thing to do. Wilfy chose to give your name to the gay-bashers."

"He did not *choose* that," Blair insisted angrily.

"Not intentionally," Jim admitted. "But he did. And when he figured out that he might have been the source of those rumors, he chose to run rather than face you and admit that he screwed up and nearly cost you your life."

"Instead, it cost him his." Blair's head fell back against the couch, his neck arching so that Jim could see the Adam's apple in silhouette as it bobbed.

"His decision, Chief. He chose to run; he chose to go dodging through traffic instead of taking some back alley."

"He didn't choose to get hit by a car."

"No, he didn't," Jim agreed as he leaned back himself so that his body mimicked Blair's. "That was the accidental part."

"My head gets this, you know?" Blair asked helplessly.

"Yeah, I do, Darwin," Jim agreed. The head and the heart weren't always on the same page, especially in situations like this. He remembered the first time he'd known his gun had taken down an enemy soldier. The other guys in the unit had congratulated him, offering him beers now that he was officially blooded, and Jim had stood in the middle of the celebration, sickened. Of course, later he had congratulated the younger ones who joined the ranks of the disillusioned, but somehow he didn't think Blair needed that. He waited as the clock ticked off the time, but Blair didn't move.

"Do you want me to go upstairs?" he finally asked. Blair rolled his head so that he looked at Jim.

"You don't have to."

"Good, not done with my beer yet," Jim said as he held up the nearly-empty bottle. It wasn't a particularly good excuse to sit on the couch, but at least Sandburg didn't challenge it. Jim watched while Blair sighed and finally sat up. He pulled his backpack out from under the coffee table, rooting around in it.

"Shit. No candles."

"Cupboard under the sink," Jim offered. Blair got up. "And put a plate under it. I don't need candle wax on shit," Jim said as he heard the cupboard door bang shut. Blair came back with a white candle and emergency matches in one hand, and a plate in the other. Jim watched. Somehow, this seemed like such a private ceremony that he didn't even complain when Blair pulled out a small cone of incense, the kind that made an entire room smell of smoke and ash.

Quickly, Blair set the plate on the coffee table, lighting the candle before putting it in the middle and then touching the incense to the flame so that smoke curled up. He put it on the plate next to the candle and it slowly turned to white ash one millimeter at a time, giving off the scent of sandalwood and spice and smoke.

Nodding at that, Blair silently pulled a CD out of his backpack and headed for the player. Jim shifted on the couch, putting himself closer to the middle as Blair adjusted the volume so that the speakers faintly thrumped with tribal drums. If Jim closed his eyes, he could imagine a tribe far in the distance, the drums marking some grand ceremony or wedding.

Jim just drank his beer slowly, watching as Blair pushed the coffee table out some, making the candle flame dance and weave before he put a pillow in front of the couch. He dropped down and sat cross-legged not more than two inches from Jim's leg as he stared at the candle.

"Calm," Blair said softly, his voice little more than a whisper. "Calm control." Jim let his eyes drift closed as he listened to the beating drums. "The universe is; I am calm."

The words took on the cadence of a chant, echoing the beat of the music, and the scent intensified until Jim could feel his nose twitch at the smoky perfume. "The universe is; I am calm. The universe is; I am calm." Blair fell silent, a soft humming coming from him now, and Jim caught a flash of memory. A face. Red paint. Strange words.

"The universe is; I am calm," Blair whispered, chasing the dream man away so that Jim could see Blair's face even without opening his eyes. Opening his legs wider, Jim could feel the heat of Blair's body as he pressed his leg against Blair's side.

"I'm not fucking calm, but I'm trying to get there because the universe still just is," Blair said in the same lulling rhythm, and Jim's eyes popped open as he looked down at Blair. Blair still focused on the candle, his hands palm-up on his crossed knees as he fell into that soft hum again. Jim shook his head. The kid did things his own way, that's for sure.

"Calm," Blair muttered, and Jim let himself just drift. When the beer bottle started to slip from his hand, he set it on the floor and then sank back into the cushions, the heat from Blair warming his leg. Shit, he was tired. Jim let himself listen to Blair's wordless hum.

The lights seem to dim and Blair's voice didn't get louder but it got much more... well... there. It was as if his voice wrapped around Jim, blanketing him from the world, and Jim let himself float in that quiet space created by Blair's wordless hum.

"The universe is," Blair whispered. Jim slipped into that voice and disappeared.


Jim usually woke with a start, sleeping and waking separated by a sharp moment of surprise as the sounds of the city and the light from the skylight startled him out of some dream. This morning, Jim felt himself float slowly in that half-life between sleeping and waking. He had to piss, and something was rough under his cheek, but he couldn't wake up enough to truly care about either.

The morning light glowed blue and, for a second, Jim struggled to figure out why the angles were all wrong. Living room. He shifted a bit, and his fingers brushed against something. Blinking sleep slowly from his eyes, he squinted down to find Blair curled on the floor beside him, his hair fanned over a pillow and only his closed eyes appearing over the edge of the blanket.

Shit. Jim felt a stab of guilt that he'd gone and fallen asleep on the couch, but then the stubborn little shit could have just slept in Jim's bed or woken him up. He didn't have to sleep on the floor.

Jim's fingers reached out and brushed curls back from Blair's face. Morning stubble rasped against Jim's thumb as he traced Sandburg's strong jaw. The man wasn't feminine at all with his square face and prominent Adam's apple, and yet Jim would describe him as beautiful. He pulled the blanket down to the shoulder so he could see more of Blair. For a moment, Blair shifted in his sleep, and then he stilled again.

In sleep, Blair had a peacefulness he never had in life, but Jim imagined that the young man could find it in subbing. Tied to a bed so that his muscles stretched tightly, he wouldn't have to focus that energy that seemed to pour off Blair in erratic waves. Forced to his knees, he wouldn't feel the need to come back with the sharp retort.

Picking up a curl, Jim let his fingers slide through the strands. He truly was a beautiful man. In the army, Jim had known plenty of men who had experimented with each other in the dark behind the barracks. One lieutenant with grey eyes had even tempted Jim once, going to his knees and sucking Jim's cock while Jim clung to a chain-link fence to keep his balance. Even though Jim had enjoyed the attention, he'd never even tried to find the man again. It happened. Jim enjoyed it. The end.

But now, stroking Blair's hair, Jim realized that not even the one-month ride along would be the end here, not if he had anything to say about it. Hell, even before the kid had called him with that tip, he had taken out the slip of paper with Blair’s information and had fingered it until the edges wore soft. Now, seeing Blair curled up at his side, Jim didn't know if he could walk away.

Jim let his fingers trail down Blair's neck. So strong. So strong and yet so lost, Jim realized. He'd switched his dissertation topic on a whim. He'd thrown a few things in a backpack the night of the attack and yet he'd shown no interest in going back to his apartment. School, home, work... things that gave other people roots just didn't hold Blair.

Jim groaned as he thought of Blair under him, writhing, begging, desperate. Jim would be more than willing to give the kid the anchor he seemed to lack. Jim smiled as he thought of Blair as the puppy bounding from one interesting smell to the next. Yeah, the kid fit the bill. But Jim couldn't resist putting himself in that picture, holding the leash, pulling the puppy back when it got too excited. Caro might have enjoyed playing that game from time to time, but when she'd felt the leash actually pull tight, she'd cut the game off quickly enough. Jim suspected Blair wouldn't react the same way.

Hell, the kid was doing everything he could to get Jim's dominant side to come out to play, and Jim recognized that, too. But even knowing that Blair was trying to push his buttons, Jim couldn't feel anything other than amusement. Everything the kid did... the teasing, the energy, the hidden pain and need for something more... called to Jim like a siren. Of course, if he let down his control right now, if he did what he wanted and pinned Blair to the ground, he'd destroy his case and his career as quickly as the sirens destroyed the men who heard them. So, control. Jim looked down at the man who, even asleep, challenged his ability to keep his own dominance in check. Right now, curled on the floor beside Jim, the man was a greater temptation than ever.

With one more stroke of a knuckle down that exposed throat, Jim forced himself to push off the blanket Blair must have thrown over him. He had a job to do, and right now doing that job meant getting away from Sandburg and taking care of his morning business.

The resolve to ignore his desire lasted until the shower. Standing under the beat of the warm water, Jim imagined he could feel each drop of water as it slid down his body, tangling in the hairs of his body and teasing his skin to life. Jim groaned and let his eyes fall shut as he wallowed in the fantasy of Blair slipping into the room, his eyes mischievous as he slid out of his clothing.

Jim's hand slowly worked the washcloth down over his chest and to his abs where the soap made his skin tingle and warm. Dropping the cloth, Jim let his fingers run over his slicked body while the water drummed against his back. Shit. The thought of Blair slipping in behind him made his cock swell as his fingers brushed the coarse hair surrounding it.

Jim let his fingers dip lower, brushing the shaft of his cock, and now the fantasy shifted. Blair slid to his knees, his hands brushing Jim's body, one resting on Jim's hip for balance as he lowered himself to the floor of the shower. Looking up from under his lashes with that look that promised submission and devilry at the same time, Blair would reach out and run a single finger over Jim's cock reverently. Jim imagined seeing Blair's own cock, hard and aching. Not having to guess if Blair really wanted it or if he was trying to humor Jim. No, the man's desire would hang heavy between his legs as he slid forward.

"Please," he would whisper, his eyes sliding down Jim's body until they found Jim's hard cock and remained there. "Please." Jim would put a hand on Blair's head and stroke the hair. The curls would be just damp since Jim's body blocked most of the water, and Blair would look up for permission. Jim nodded to his dream Blair, who took Jim's cock in his mouth.

Grabbing his cock, Jim struggled not to come. He wanted this fantasy to last long enough to dull the sharp edge of need he could feel every time Blair stood too close. His cock throbbed, and Jim held on mercilessly, squeezing the base to force the orgasm back painfully. His fantasy-Blair ran hands up Jim's thighs and begged prettily. Licking his lips, he pleaded with Jim to let him finish this. Jim couldn't resist the expression and he loosened his hold. Turning so that he faced the spray, Jim imagined the warm water was Blair moving closer, teasing with a wicked smile right before swallowing Jim.

Jim pulled on his cock twice and came. Weeks of denial exploded, and Jim grabbed at the handrail as his knees trembled. Panting, Jim slowly reassembled the pieces of his self control, grabbing the shampoo and finishing his shower.

Jim came out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam, and Blair was leaning against the wall, scrubbing his face with a hand and yawning. Jim still wanted him.

"Hey, you leave any hot water?" he asked as he drifted closer to the open door, his eyes not really open.

"A cold shower will wake you up," Jim answered. He doubted he'd left much.

"Is that what you took? A cold shower?" Blair asked, and as he passed Jim, he sent his shoulder into Jim's, a little friendly bump that you might see on the basketball court between two guys, but Jim could feel his desire rise like a Phoenix from the ashes of his orgasm.

"You think I need a cold shower?"

"Oh man, if you don't, I'm not working it hard enough," Blair said, the teasing not quite as sharp as yesterday, but definitely back.

"Chief, we're partners."

"Oh yeah," Blair agreed with a wiggle.

"Work partners," Jim corrected himself. "We have a case to work on, unless you've changed your mind about helping."

"No way," Blair quickly said, the sleep vanishing from his eyes as he looked up at Jim. "But does this mean that we've now postponed this thing," Blair waved his hand between them, "until after the ride along is over? Oh man, that totally sucks."

Jim agreed. Unfortunately, the truth was even worse. "Blair, when we take these guys to trial, the defense lawyer is going to ask why I had a lead witness staying at my house."

"Because you're a bully who threatened to throw me in jail if I slept on the streets," Blair quickly answered with a smile. Jim shook his head.

"Yeah, but I wouldn't call that being a bully, Sandburg. I didn't exactly steal your lunch money. But he's going to ask what our relationship was and he'll ask what it is as of that point."

"Oh fuck," Blair breathed, and he fell back against the wall with a thump. "No, no, no, no, no. Listen, I am not good with self-denial."

"Chief, until the last conviction comes in, we are co-workers and friends."

"As in *just* friends," Blair groaned. "So, how fast can you guys get those convictions?"

"Gary's good... the best. Maybe four months," Jim said thoughtfully. Blair thumped his head against the wall several times.

"I'm going to be dead of frustration by then," Blair said to the ceiling, keeping his eyes focused up there so that Jim couldn't see the emotion behind them. "Man, there isn't enough cold water in the world. Just tell me that I'm imagining this whole connection we have, and I'll go out and get myself some therapy and a big, buff client with a penchant for bullying."

Jim tightened his jaw, fear and anger rising up: fear that the kid would go find someone else, and anger at the idea of someone else touching Blair, tying him down and feeling him writhe helplessly. Not going to happen.

"I mean, it wouldn't be easy after you staked your claim on me in those bars. God knows none of the tops in those places would touch me after you did your pre-civilized growl of 'mine' over me, but what are we doing here?" Blair sounded emotionless, the teasing of earlier gone, and Jim recognized the confusion.

Reaching out, he pulled Blair to him, holding him tight and letting his chin rest on the top of Blair's head. At first, Blair stood tense in his arms, his muscles shaking slightly, but as Jim just held on, Blair slowly sagged into the embrace, his own hands coming up to Jim's waist.

"This case is really fucking us up, huh?" Blair asked, his words muffled by Jim's chest.

"Yeah, Chief, it is. I can't let these guys walk, but I don't want you to walk away."

"And you don't want me to go somewhere else," Blair added softly.

Jim hesitated. "I don't have a right to tell you what to do, not now," Jim said softly. "Just not around me, okay, Junior?"

"Yeah, and when exactly am I not around you?" Blair asked as he poked Jim in the stomach. Jim dreaded the answer. As soon as these guys were behind bars, Blair would go back to his apartment[,] and Jim would sit home, wondering whether Blair had a client, or even worse, a lover that night. Months of legal wrangling and pre-trial hearings would give Blair a chance to go back to his old life.

Blair started squirming, and Jim let him go.

"Man, I have to piss. And your floor is none too comfortable. You could get carpeting, you know," he complained as he headed for the bathroom.

"You didn't have to sleep on the floor."

"Yeah, like I could shift your ass. You were out to the world, man. I couldn't get you to do more than grunt."

"That still didn't mean you had to sleep on the floor," Jim pointed out. Blair hesitated just inside the bathroom door.

"I just didn't want to be alone, you know?" he asked without turning around. Then he closed the door.

Jim headed for the kitchen. He just needed to focus on making breakfast and not on the way he could still feel the warmth in his body from where they'd touched. Fuck. What the hell was wrong with him? A ghost touch still shimmered across his skin as he searched the kitchen for something edible.

"Here's the list," Jim said as he handed over Wilfy's bank records, the businesses highlighted in yellow. The truck took a pothole larger than most and papers started slipping from his hand, but Blair grabbed quickly enough to make the save. "When we go around these places, don't mention that we're looking for the gay-bashers. Make up something creative; you should be good at that."

"Man, that's manipulative," Blair complained.

"Look who's complaining about manipulation," Jim pointed out dryly.

"Hey, I manipulate for the greater good. The light side of the force, you know? Have to keep you anal-retentive types from dying from stick-up-your-butt-itis. But police manipulation is a whole different game."

"I'm not the one who has stuff up his butt," Jim said with a straight face. For a second, he only got silence from the passenger side seat, and Jim basked in the success of being the one to throw Sandburg for a loop--for once.

"I happen to love having my ass stuffed, but at least I don't have a stick that's filed for permanent citizenship up there," Blair eventually recovered enough to shoot back.

"But you'd like to." Jim smiled as he turned the corner.

"And here I thought you had something more interesting than a stick to offer," Blair said in exaggerated disappointment. "But maybe you just think I'd be happier with a stick."

"All good little puppies need a stick to be happy. If I have to share you with a stick, I can live with that."

Blair sucked in a breath and Jim glanced over, catching Blair mid-blush. The young man turned to the window where he watched the passing traffic, his hair hiding his face.

"Man, I'm thinking we shouldn't start something we can't finish. So, back on the subject of you unfairly manipulating people—"

Jim forced his thoughts back to the case. God, they had just agreed to keep hands off. Hell, he'd demanded it, and here he was baiting Blair. Jim silently cursed himself and focused on Blair's complaints about procedure. "Sometimes manipulation is the only way to deal with people," Jim explained. He was proud of himself for NOT pointing out that he and Blair had spent much of their time together trying to manipulate each other.

"You are, like, *way* too cynical," Blair declared.

"Just realistic."

"Maybe if your reality was some dark dystopian world with a society crumbling into chaos." Blair still watched the traffic, and the banter had lost the sharp edge, but at least Jim could focus on it and not the increasing frustration of working next to Blair without touching him.

"I live in this reality. The fact is that no one wants to think of their neighbor, their co-worker or their brother as a criminal. If we say this is the gay-basher, people aren't going to be able to see little brother Johnny in the composite drawing," Jim pointed out.

"Oh," Blair said softly. "Okay, I might be able to get that, but I'm still not okay with the bigger picture of manipulation."

"This coming from the man who changed his dissertation and wormed his way into my case."

"That was not manipulation. That was more... obfuscation."

"Ob-- What?" Jim pulled into the parking lot of the store where Wilfy had spent most of his money on cigarettes and Pepsi.

"Obfuscation… muddying the waters a bit, confusing things."

"Well, consider this muddying the water," Jim said as he tapped the composite drawing of the suspect. "In fact, the muddier the better. If he's a potential witness, people might just see the kid next door.”

"Man, I know that people have different 'faces'-- I totally know that since I don't exactly pull out the puppy gear on campus-- but I have trouble thinking of these guys as beating someone to death and then going home to a roast beef dinner with mom and dad."

"Priests, teachers, soccer moms--I've seen them all go bad," Jim said.

"Am I going to have any idealism left by the time I've done a month with you?" Blair asked plaintively.

Jim didn't answer as he got out of the truck, but he sure hoped so. He liked Blair enthusiastic and idealistic and very much like the puppy running from one new thing to the next.

"I'm going to find the manager," Jim said as he headed into the store. "Wait here and if you see someone who looks older than 16, hang on to them," Jim said as he looked around the store. As always, the lights were almost unbearably bright, threatening to give him a headache as they glared down. Tired women stood in line, a baby screamed somewhere in the store, and cashiers who looked like extras from Peter Pan flung food down the cashier islands toward pimply-faced baggers. Only one cashier looked old enough to drive, and she was ancient, her wrinkles clinging to her skin like folds of extra cloth draped around her neck.

Jim headed toward the customer service desk, looking for anyone with a tie. Ignoring the two people in line, he flashed his badge at the young woman behind the counter. The girl had been frowning, clearly about to give Jim a piece of her mind about cutting in line, but the badge made her shut her mouth with an audible click.

"I'm looking for the manager." Jim tilted his badge so that the customer next to him could see it before she sicced her two year old on him.

"He's not... I mean, we just have the assistant here. I could get the assistant," the girl said nervously as she picked up the phone next to her register.

"Please do," Jim encouraged her.

"Right, I can do that," she repeated before she spoke into the phone, paging the assistant manager to the front. "I'm sure he'll be right here," she said apologetically, as though her failure to make the manager instantly appear would somehow anger Jim. He just smiled at her.

"I'll just wait; you can help these people," Jim finally prompted her. She didn't move for a second, caught somewhere between apprehension and curiosity, and then she turned to the next lady in line.

Jim turned back toward Blair. The man was chatting with a long-haired bagger while a cashier bagged her customer's groceries and glared murder at the two of them. He pulled out the composite drawing and as he talked, his hand gestured enthusiastically. Jim wondered what obfuscation Blair was using, but the bagger nodded knowingly. Kid might not be so bad to have around.

Jim moved to the wall, leaning against it as he watched Blair thank the guy and turn to someone else. Blair wore that same wide smile, his hands dancing in the air as he turned to the next guy, this one a customer. Blair didn't do as well with him, barely spending even a few seconds talking before the guy blew him off.

The third guy seemed willing to listen to Blair, but Blair quickly backed away, holding his hand out palm up as he shook his head. The guy turned away, and Blair desperately started pointing, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet as he jabbed his finger toward the bagger he'd just blown off.

Before Jim's brain could process Blair's sudden fit, the kid turned around and spotted Blair's wild antics. He froze for a millisecond, and then took off running for the door.

"HEY!" one of the cashiers yelled.

"That's him. Man, that's his voice. That's him," Blair cried out desperately, but Jim had already figured that part out. He ran out of the store, pushing a woman aside as he crashed out the door. Ignoring her curses, he sprinted after the disappearing blue shirt just turning the corner.

Jim took the corner so fast that he slammed into a blue dumpster parked just inside the alley. The force made him stumble and hands found his back, helping him catch his balance before he charged down the alley, slipping on the layer of slime that had grown between the grocery store and the restaurant next door.

The kid was already out of sight, but Jim clambered over the chain link fence that separated the alley from the side street. Sitting on the top, he looked first in one direction and then the other as he struggled to find any glimpse of the boy. Nothing.

"Shit," Jim breathed.

"No sign?"

Jim glanced down to see Blair looking up at him. "Nothing at all?" he asked again when Jim just sat there.

Okay, he was fairly sure he'd covered the whole don't get in the middle of trouble thing with the kid, Jim thought, and chasing a perp was trouble. Then again, Blair didn't seem to have a good sense for trouble, the way he kept stumbling into it.

"He's gone," Jim said as he dropped back to the ground. There were too many doors to try them all. "We'll go back and see if we can't get a name on him. And you are not to go chasing suspects."

"I wasn't. I was chasing you," Blair said without a hint of humor.


"I was totally behind you, and I'm betting that you're a safe person to be behind, so I was safe. But I can't believe I tipped him off like that."

"How did you recognize him?" Jim asked, wondering that for the first time. Usually he was a little more skeptical of witness statements, but he had charged after the boy without doubting that he was the gay-basher, not even in his own mind.

"The voice. Oh man, I would know that voice anywhere."

"Good job, Chief."

"Good job," Blair snorted, obviously not believing it. "Oh man, I can't believe I did that."

"You were just startled, Chief. Don't beat yourself up about it."

"But, I warned him. Man, I can't believe I did that."

"Chief," Jim said sharply, and Blair looked up at him, guilt written all over his face. The expression made Jim stop mid-stride. "Chief, you reacted the way anyone would have. You heard the man who attacked you, and you had an emotional reaction."

"But now he's—" Blair waved toward the apartments where the kid had disappeared.

"Yeah, but now we have a good idea who we're looking for, we can get a name. But Blair, next time, just put an elbow in my ribs or something." Jim reached over and ruffled Blair's hair, tangling his fingers in the curls until Blair back-pedalled, his hands pushing at Jim's arms in self defense.

"Hey, do you have any idea how hard it is to get knots out of this hair?!" Blair complained as he playfully struck out at Jim's stomach. Jim took the hit with an oomph as he started for the store again. Life was starting to look good again. Behind him, Blair grumbled, and Jim smiled as he headed for the manager's office.

Ten minutes later, Jim came back out of the office with a grin, his phone already out as he dialed Simon's office.

"Got a name, Chief," Jim offered. Blair leaned against one of the cashier's islands, smiling as he focused on a waif-faced girl who blushed and watched Blair out of the corner of her eye. Jim felt his jealousy rear up, and he gripped his phone hard enough that he could feel the hard edge dig into his fingers.

"Hey, Jim, this is Amanda," Blair said as he turned to face Jim. For a second, his smile faltered and he fell silent.

Cursing himself, Jim forced his face into a smile as he turned his gaze to Amanda. Her earlier flirty expression had disappeared and instead she looked at him with wide eyes and a weak smile.

"Hey," she said softly.

"Nice to meet you," Jim said in his most controlled voice. "Chief, we have a name, so we need to leave."

"Oh man, yeah. Carl Holt."

Jim just blinked.

"He's a freak." Amanda nodded as she focused on Blair. "Him and Dan and Terry are these total freaks."

"Dan and Terry?" Jim stepped forward, and Amanda's eyes flitted back toward him.

"Dan Swanson and Terry Selmer. They do the whole Goth thing, but most Goths are usually pretty open about alternative lifestyles, if you know what I mean. Those three are always doggin' on these guys at school who hang out together. They're just mean."

"Cascade High?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, Juniors. Terry should be a senior, but he keeps failing classes."

"Thanks, Amanda, I really appreciate all your help." Blair smiled at her, and instantly the nervousness she'd shown with Jim disappeared as she flushed and ducked her head.

"No problem."

"Maybe not, but you're incredibly sweet for spending so much time with me. Are you going to get in trouble, you know, for not checking more people?"

"Nah, my supervisor is pretty cool, and I'll just tell her that I was helping the police."

"You did, you totally helped," Blair agreed. Jim put his hand on Blair's shoulder before the man accidentally over-charmed the girl and ended up the Pied Piper with a teenager trotting after him. Jim was fairly sure the girl was way too young for Sandburg, and even if she wasn't, Jim was completely sure he didn't want anyone chasing Sandburg's ass.

"If you need anything else—"

"We'll call. Thanks, Amanda, and I hope you do okay on that math test." Blair turned to Jim with a wide smile and Jim nodded to Amanda, who totally ignored him before switching the light on over her register.

"Good job, Chief," Jim said as he slipped his free hand to Blair's back. The smile Blair gave him made Jim's other hand freeze on the phone and he lost Simon's phone number as his brain detoured.

"Thanks. I just thought that maybe I could help," Blair said, a little bounce back in his step, and Jim shook his head as he freed his brain from Blair lust and dialed Simon.

Blair waited until Jim was off the phone and they were nearly back to the truck before he continued. "I'm all kinds of helpful."

"Yeah, Chief, I know," Jim said, not catching the playful tone at first.

"Fetch the paper, keep feet warm, and I do a great job treating frustration."

Jim fumbled his truck keys. Oh, he could imagine just how helpful Blair could be.

"I can't believe how exciting this is. I mean, we're really going to stop these guys. Do you know there's a huge link between adrenaline and sexual attraction?"

"You don't say," Jim said dryly. Personally, adrenaline had never affected him that way… at least not before.

"So, what's up now?" Blair asked as Jim opened the truck door.

"Now we go sit outside Carl Holt's house until Simon shows up with a search warrant. He's sending teams to the other two houses, so we'll have them covered."

"Oh man, we so have them nailed," Blair said triumphantly. Jim walked around the front of the truck. As good as it felt to nail these three, he just wished he could nail one other man hard enough to make him forget everyone else. A little part of Jim whispered horrible little truths. After today, Blair would go back to his apartment. He'd go back to his old life, and when he didn't need Jim's protection any more, he'd slowly forget the weird connection that pulled them together.

Connection. Jim felt the connection, but for all he knew, the kid was just getting horny. After all, he doubted Blair had ever gone this long without sex, at least since he'd perfected that pout of his, and he sure didn't expect him to wait four months until this whole mess went to trial.

Jim watched the brick house between sideways glances over toward Blair. Blair focused on the house as though he could find the secret to life in the curtains that hung unevenly across the front window. Funny, sometimes Blair had all the answers… facts from a thousand random directions all converged in that one brain. Other times, like now, he just looked lost and confused as though human nature was somehow beyond his comprehension.

"You okay?" Jim finally asked. Blair physically shook his head as though that would clear his thoughts like an Etch-a-Sketch.

"Yeah, just, you know, thinking."

"Penny for your thoughts.

"Oh, they're worth more than that."

"Really?" Jim asked disbelievingly, and then the Sandburg smile appeared.

"Oh yeah. Way more," he agreed with a wink. "Or at least certain thoughts are. My thoughts about how the cellar music of Seattle reflects the rhythms of Yanomamo headhunters—well, that didn't really get much more than a penny. I got a whole fifteen dollars for that when it got accepted by an anthropological journal, and it took me more than two weeks to write that one article. Fifteen dollars divided by weeks of collecting data in South America and hours at the computer writing...."

"I think that comes out to less than a penny a thought, Chief."

"Totally. It's the life of an anthropologist. But I still made more for that than for the paper on Hopi humor and the use of practical jokes as a societal glue. Man, those people get vicious with their practical joking, but no one ever gets offended. But then I have other thoughts that are worth far more than a penny." Blair's voice slipped from his lecture-mode into a far more salacious tone: slower and deeper, and Jim could feel his body react. "Mr. Espinoza paid me many, many pennies for my suggestions on how to enjoy a little companionship without having the societal restraints inhibit him."

Jim shifted uncomfortably and focused on the house. "Only you could manage to make prostitution sound so altruistic." That came out harsher than he intended, but Blair just gave a little laugh.

"Man, it is not prostitution. The state statutes require intercourse to convict on prostitution, and there was no intercourse going on. He shoved a few things in my ass, I wiggled my tail at him, and then he spent the whole weekend slowly building up to one hard-earned climax as I sat at his feet."

"This is officially the strangest conversation I've ever had."

"And yet, you keep asking me about it. And altruism requires that you do something for completely unselfish reasons. Trust me, I had lots of selfishness going on. And then there was this one guy with a place out in the country. I made a few suggestions to him that he paid well for. He would keep me naked and make me masturbate until I was so hard that I would give anything to just come, and then he'd tie my hands behind my back and leash me in the backyard where he could watch me while he washed dishes. I'd hump the damn post trying to come, but it never worked."

Jim groaned as he looked at Blair's wistful expression, his own self-control nearly undone by jealousy and lust.

"Chief," he said, his voice coming out strangled, even to his own ears.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Four months," Blair said as he turned away and stared out toward a park where three kids swung around the jungle gym with reckless abandon. The tone wasn't one of frustration, like Jim was feeling, but of sadness and loss. Jim opened his mouth to ask what bug had crawled up Sandburg's ass--if only to get a smart ass response--but then sirens interrupted the suburban silence of the neighborhood.

"We're on, Chief," Jim said as he got out of the truck. He heard the other truck door slam as he started across the street. A patrol car came around the corner, followed by an unmarked car with Rafe behind the wheel.

Jim had nearly reached the door when the sound of a shot snapped through the air, echoing in the way that gunshots often do as the sound bounces off walls. Jim threw himself sideways off the walk, where the front windows had a good view of him, and backwards into Blair's body. Blair grunted heavily, but didn't complain as Jim shoved him back behind a tree and pulled his weapon.

The two uniforms and Rafe fell out of their cars, weapons pointed at the house, and Jim considered pushing Blair toward them. The cars were better cover, but it would mean crossing eight to ten feet of open space.

"Cascade Police! Come out with your hands up!" Jim shouted toward the house while still trapping Blair between his own body and the tree.

"Jim?" Rafe called.

"One shot, just as I reached the door," Jim answered, knowing exactly what Rafe was asking. Rafe pulled out his radio.

"Take the back," Jim shouted to the patrol officers. They hesitated, and then one crawled into the cruiser from the passenger side, his head below the window as he put the car into reverse. The second officer crouched beside it, using the moving car for cover until it had rolled out of range of the windows. Then both officers got in and backed up to the nearest crossroad.

Jim growled. Intellectually, he knew they were going by the book, but with each second, he could feel the arrest slipping away. The suspect was probably racing down the alley right now. Jim could only watch the silent house, the smell of Blair's fear in his nose, as he waited for SWAT to arrive.

It wasn't long before cars started arriving, and the black SWAT van pulled up not long after that. Jim got two SWAT members with shields to cover as Jim and Blair retreated to behind the SWAT van as a negotiator tried dialing into the house. Jim took the opportunity to call Simon.

"What?!" a voice barked through the phone, and Blair looked over, his startled look suggesting that even he had heard the bellow.

"Simon?" Jim asked.

"I'm on my way to the scene now," Simon said without Jim even asking the question.

"Did you get--"

"We got Terry Selmer. He started confessing the minute his mother opened the door. Kept confessing and apologizing even as we read him his rights."

"They got Selmer," Jim whispered to Blair who nodded absent-mindedly and watched the negotiator curse softly at the phone. Holt wasn't answering.

"Swanson?" Jim asked Simon.

"No sign of him," Simon said, and Jim could almost hear him chew a cigar. "How's it going with Holt?"

"Negotiator's getting ready to use the bullhorn," Jim said as he watched an officer hold out the megaphone.

"Man, he's just totally making it harder on himself," Blair mumbled.

"Are we sure he's still in there?" Simon asked, and Jim forced himself to pay attention to his captain and not Blair's muttered exclamations.

"SWAT has two heat signatures."

"Hostage? Friend? Maybe Swanson?" Simon listed the possibilities.

"Don't know. SWAT has the robot on the way, so if the bullhorn doesn't work, they'll send it in.

"I'll be there in twenty minutes. I just took Selmer down to booking."

"So stupid," Blair muttered a little louder than most of his whispers.

"They should be ready to send the robot in by then."

"Stay safe, and keep the kid out of trouble," Simon ordered, and the phone went dead. Jim thumbed it off and slipped it back into his pocket.

"I know that these guys are major trouble, and the very fact that he had a gun means that he planned to take his hate to a whole new level, but man, I saw him, he looked about twelve. I mean, of course he has to be at least sixteen, but he's still just a kid. He has to be scared." Blair turned away from the SWAT van and sank to the ground, his back resting against the tire.

"That's what makes him dangerous, Chief."

"In most tribal societies, he'd be considered a man and sent out to hunt for himself by now, but I'm having trouble separating him from my own cultural assumptions about kids that young needing protection. I mean, it's such a waste."

"He tried to kill you," Jim pointed out coldly as he crouched down in front of Blair. He would be happy to strangle Holt for that crime alone.

"Yeah, that's the weird thing," Blair agreed. "So, how long?" Blair waved vaguely toward the circus set up outside the house, the yellow tape holding neighbors back away from the scene, the patrol officers herding news crews into a single area, and the helicopters overhead. The negotiator yelled an ultimatum through the bullhorn, and Jim flinched as his headache instantly developed ambitions for migrainehood.

"Headache?" Blair asked, and a warm hand landed on his forearm.

"Fuck, yeah," Jim agreed as he rubbed his eyes briefly.

"Tension can wreak havoc on the body. When we get back to the loft, I'll give you a backrub."

"Chief," Jim warned, and Blair held up his hands in surrender.

"An honest backrub!" he insisted. "I'll just loosen you up so that the tension doesn't make you, well, so tense."

Jim thought of pointing out that Blair's hands on him wouldn't exactly make him less tense, but right now, he liked Blair's hand resting on his arm. He just pretended that the touch pulled the headache out of him like a thread until the pain retreated to the corner of his mind where it throbbed without distracting him. The negotiator tried the bullhorn once more as a tech unit's van pulled up behind the line of patrol cars on the south side of the street. Techs in their blue jumpsuits jumped out.

Jim and Blair stopped mid-conversation as the SWAT team with their huge shields moved to cover the movements of two of the techs. One had a remote control he used to steer a metal box that looked like a dorm room refrigerator that had fallen on its side before someone stuck a camera on the top. The second tech carried a laptop with an oversized monitor.

"Time to get the show on the road," Jim said as he stood and held out his hand for Blair. Blair took it, letting Jim pull him to his feet so they could join the huddle around the laptop.

One detective looked towards Blair strangely, and Jim slipped his arm around his partner's back, guiding him to the front of the observers where they would have a good view of four armored men approaching the door, two with shields and two with a battering ram.

Jim could almost swear he could hear the suspect's mother sob from across the street where she stood in the middle of a circle of cops. But then the camera jerked into motion, making the picture bounce as the robot trundled up the sidewalk toward the SWAT team's backs. One big bounce over a threshold, and the robot was in.

At first the robotic camera just showed a normal suburban home. The couch was at least a decade out of date, a heavy leather thing that had escaped the eighties. The wallpaper looked to be from the same decade. The robot turned the corner into a cluttered dining room that obviously got used for paperwork and homework more than eating.

Bouncing over the place where the carpet turned to linoleum, the robot trudged into the kitchen. Jim put a hand on Blair's arm, caught between a need to pull him away and some perverse need to see that Blair could handle the sight on the screen. He could feel Blair's arm shake slightly as the camera focused on the twisted face, mouth open in a mockery of a grin, powder marks on his lips making them look goth-black.

The camera shifted, the red pattern on the floor a Rorschach blot against the yellow linoleum.

"Oh man," Blair whispered.

The robot backed up some and turned to the right. Something moved. Immediately, the remote control operator swung the camera around to find some kid Jim had never seen before sitting between the refrigerator and the table, a gun clutched in his hand. He whispered to himself desperately, but so softly that not even the robot's microphone could pick it up.

Jim tugged at Blair, and for a half second, he resisted the pull. Then Blair yielded, and Jim backed away from the monitor. Something told him this wasn't going to end well, and Blair did not need to see this. Hell, he didn't need to see it either. Blair was right--it was a waste of a life, and it was hard not to see someone's kid in that terrified face.

Jim had pulled Blair back to the truck and unlocked the door when the echoing gunshot rattled the windows and cast a shadow over the crowd. Blair flinched.

"It's about choices. You don't get to make them for other people, even when you want to," Jim said softly. "Not even when you know you'd make a better choice for them."

Blair slid onto the truck seat and SWAT team members stormed the house. Jim knew he'd need to go in there later and deal with the case, but right now, he was more interested in dealing with Blair who was far too quiet and too pale.

Jim walked into Simon's office, reports in hand and Sandburg still doggedly trailing behind despite Jim's offer to take him back to the loft.

"Here you go, sir," he said as he offered the papers. Terry Selmer had confessed as quickly and as to as many people as possible, shutting up only when he learned his two buddies had followed through on their threat to kill themselves, and the preliminary M.E. results agreed that suicide was the probable cause of death on both Carl Holt and Dan Swanson. Blair remained silent as he hovered at the door. He kept insisting that as an impartial observer he had an obligation to observe, but Jim just wished the man would sit down somewhere before he fell down.

"How's Sandburg taking it?" Simon asked as though Sandburg weren't three feet away.

"About as well as any rookie takes a death in the field," Jim answered truthfully. He expected Blair to come to life, object to being discussed as though he weren't there, but instead he just leaned against the door frame.

"Not an easy case for any of us," Simon said. "Shit, these kids aren't much older than Daryl. Either I'm getting old or the perps are getting younger."

"Maybe a little of both," Jim offered. Simon scowled up at him. "But the ones with kids hit everyone a little harder," he admitted.

"Yeah," Simon agreed softly. "You guys have had a hard day, get out of here."

Jim nodded as he headed back out of the office, herding Sandburg out of the room with him.

"Hey, Jim, Hairboy," Brown called out to them both. "You guys want to grab a beer?" he asked as he stood next to Rafe. They both looked worn out and rough around the edges. "I promised to kick Rafe's ass in a game of pool, and there's plenty of ass-kicking to go around."

"Another time," Jim answered for both of them when Blair didn't seem to have an answer.

"Sure thing." Brown shrugged and then he and Rafe headed out the door just as night shift people started filtering in.

"Whoa, Sandburg's back again?" Detective Maud asked incredulously as he came through the door. For a second, Jim couldn't place the comment, and then he realized that no one had told night shift about the changes yet.

"He's my partner, now," Jim said as he firmly guided Blair past the detective.

"Better him than me," Maud commented from behind, but Jim ignored the grumbled remark, focusing on getting Blair out of the station before some emotional dam burst. He wasn't sure if Blair would strike out at someone or fall apart, but he didn't think Blair wanted to do either in public, which explained his strange lack of emotions. The man was putting everything into controlling himself, and Jim could feel Blair's need to be controlled leaking into the air. He needed to give away the control so that he could let go, and Jim just had to get them to the loft before something happened.

The drive passed quietly, Jim silently cursing the late traffic; Blair silently grieving three young lives. Blair didn't recover his voice until they reached the loft and he announced loudly that he had to piss. Jim didn't say anything as Blair fled the hand on his back and locked himself in the bathroom.

Puttering around the kitchen, Jim focused on the sounds from the bathroom, the groaning of water through pipes, the flush of the toilet, the faint sounds of footsteps in the small room.

"Blair," Jim said noncommittally as the man finally came out of the bathroom.

"Jim," Blair returned in the same flat tone. Jim put down the beer he'd just opened and walked around to really look at Blair. He leaned against the kitchen post and just watched the stiff body language as Blair shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.

"Don't feel sorry for those three—they made their own mistakes," Jim suggested, but it was obviously the wrong thing to say. Blair frowned and backed up a step.

"Yeah, I should be grateful because now we don't have to go and wait those four months, right?" He challenged angrily.

The words horrified Jim into silence, but then he heard the brittle tone, the near hysteria that Blair was obviously riding.


"No, I mean, isn't that what we were complaining about just seconds before? Doesn't this just solve all that?" Blair demanded. Jim reached out for him, but he detoured around Jim and headed for the door. "Man, I'm out of here."

Jim practically leaped forward, grabbing Blair by the right wrist and swinging him around.

"What? You want to do it now? Hey, got a condom?" Blair asked, the teasing tone taking on dark and desperate strains, and now Jim could feel the guilt like an oily shadow slithering between them.

"It's not your fault," Jim said quietly, but he refused to let go as Blair squirmed. He'd underestimated Blair's grief once and had gotten a sore gut for it. He wasn't making that same mistake again.

"Of course it's not. Fuck, I'm not stupid," Blair snapped. "No, I didn't make him kill himself; I just sat in the truck wishing he would just disappear, and the universe did the rest. This is some serious-ass karma, man."

"You aren't responsible for what you think," Jim said, pulling Blair toward the living room and the couch. Blair fought him every step of the way, but Jim had the advantages of height and weight, and he actually wanted to win. Even now he could see Blair struggle with his own need to lose in the way the knees would dip for a brief moment and the way Blair's eyes would slide down to the floor. The need to submit dragged at Blair, but he fought it as he fought Jim.

"Fuck. Of course we're responsible for what we think. Catholic philosophers call thinking a sin equivalent to doing it, and most eastern teachings focus on purifying the mind because our thoughts are the only things we truly can control." Blair finally returned to the verbal battlefield once he gave up on the physical fight. He slipped into his professorial role: one more escape.

Ignoring the psychological gymnastics, Jim sat on the couch and pulled Blair down with him. Blair fell so that they sat with their legs tangled, Blair half lying on Jim.

"Hey, you want to wrestle?" Blair said, slipping into sexual mode again as he wiggled invitingly, but his voice still sounded dark and angry.

"No." Jim simply slipped his leg around the back of Blair's thighs and captured his left wrist. Then he held on and waited for the explosion.

"Piss or get off the pot," Blair demanded as he writhed, grinding himself down on Jim's groin.

"I am doing something, and this is the only something I plan to do tonight," Jim said calmly. For four or five seconds, Blair continued to lay there in his embrace. Because of the way they had fallen, Jim's right arm hugged Blair's back and held Blair's right wrist, so Jim had no doubt he could hold on, but he braced himself. After that brief moment of shocked calm, Blair burst into frenzied movement, twisting and squirming and straining as he struggled to get his feet under him.

Jim used his leg to pull Blair closer so that he couldn't, and simply tightened his hold until he could smell their combined sweat and his muscles ached from the tight grip. Blair cursed with a rich variety of expletives that shocked even Jim, and he jerked his body side to side, but Jim held on.

Eventually, Blair collapsed, sagging into Jim's chest and breathing heavily as little shivers traveled through him.

"Right, so now that you've proven that you're big enough to bully me and I can't stop you, what now?" Blair asked flatly. Jim spat Blair's hair out of his mouth without letting go of the man.

"What do you want to happen from here?" he asked.

"Oh, what I want matters?" Blair asked, his voice sounding like a petulant three-year-old, and now Jim knew he was getting at least some of the real Blair out from under the layers of roles he played. This wasn't the working boy or the professor. Blair was frustrated and scared, and after today, Jim could admit to feeling a little of both himself. He'd taken Blair up that walk without ever considering that the suspect might have a gun. He'd sat in that truck wishing the same things Blair had... that the case would just evaporate and he could take Blair home and tie him to the bed. Even Simon would feel it tonight, the loss of life, the stupidity, the age of the suspects. Any good cop who touched this case would have a nightmare or two. Jim took a deep breath and focused on Blair.

"What you want always matters. I won't always give you want you want since I'm more concerned about what you need, but I will always listen," Jim said softly. Blair shivered. However, as much as Blair played at submitting, he wasn't ready yet; Jim could feel that in the stiffness of the man's back.

"Oh, so now you think you have a right to tell me what I need? Oh man, I am an adult, so don't play your head games with me."

"Yes, you are an adult," Jim agreed. "One who wants to let go, and I'm offering you that. But I won't negotiate the control with you, Chief. It's mine. And while you always have a say and a veto, you don't get a vote."

"Fine. I veto this. Let me fucking go," Blair demanded. Jim loosened his hold and Blair squirmed until he had an elbow on Jim's chest and half sat up even though Jim kept his hold on Blair's wrists. Jim looked into Blair's face, watching for the honest fear and fury he'd seen in Caro's the minute he'd taken their game too far. Of course, with her he'd kept pushing, trying to prove to her that she would love it. Big mistake.

"Do you really want me to let go?" he asked seriously, unwilling to make the same mistake again. Blair's eyes darted around the room and finally landed somewhere in the middle of Jim's chest. Jim tightened his hold once he had his answer. At first Blair resisted, and Jim flinched as the elbow in his chest dug in, but he refused to loosen his hold and eventually Blair relented, tucking his arm in as Jim pulled him close.

Jim didn't know any words that could ease the pain in his own heart, or in Blair's, so he just held on. He could feel the dampness as Blair silently cried. He ignored it, giving Blair space to grieve even without letting go. He let his own head tilt back and rest on the back of the couch as he closed his eyes. Eventually the ragged breathing settled into a more even pattern and Jim could feel the storm pass.

"Are we going to stay here all night?" Blair asked quietly.

"Depends," Jim answered.


"On whether you're going to try and punch me when I let you go." Jim smiled, remembering their last fight. Most men he knew turned grief into something physical... they drank or played a hard game of basketball or punched a wall or tried to kick each others' asses in pool. Jim had just never found another man who he enjoyed comforting the way he did Blair. He enjoyed the physical contest, and he even enjoyed knowing that if he failed to hold Blair the man would slam out the door, needing a partner who could hold on to him. Somehow, Jim doubted that he'd ever found that partner simply because anyone who finally got the leash around Blair's neck wouldn't be likely to let go without a fight.

"No way, no punching. Man, I am gathering karma points like... whoa," Blair said with an exaggerated shudder, and Jim loosened his hold enough for Blair to slip off his lap and sit on the couch next to him, but Jim kept his hand on Blair's leg.

"You know, the liking gags.... it's totally self defense," Blair said as he leaned forward, head resting on his hands. "I say stupid shit when I'm totally freaked. Really stupid shit."

"Yeah, I figured that part out," Jim agreed. Blair tilted his head and looked at Jim out of the side of one swollen eye.

"I do stupid shit when I lose control, so it's not like I don't know where you're coming from. I fucked up my whole marriage because I couldn't handle what was happening between us."

"Marriage?!" Blair sat up. "But I thought..."

Jim watched in amusement as confusion and panic danced in Blair's face.

"Like you said once, I just see beauty no matter what gender it takes," Jim shrugged. What did Blair call it? Obfuscating? Blair did not need to know how little experience Jim had because Jim could not deal with Blair in teaching mode in their bed. "Come to bed, Blair," Jim said as he stood.

"I'm not sure--"

"I don't want you to sleep alone. Besides, this way I don't have to tie you to the couch to make sure you don't freak out in the middle of the night and start punching random neighbors in the hall," Jim teased.

"I wou--" Blair stopped as he finally spotted the expression on Jim's face. "Smartass."

"I have miles to go to equal you in that department, Junior. Upstairs. March," Jim ordered as Blair stood and headed for the stairs. Jim slipped his hand onto Blair's back, urging him upstairs. Tonight they just needed to not be alone. Tomorrow would sort itself.

In the bedroom, Blair stood, his arms wrapped around himself uncertainly as Jim pulled out two pairs of pajama bottoms. Once he started shrugging out of his clothes, Blair followed suit, stripping and slipping into the borrowed pajamas without a word. Jim sank gratefully into bed, and Blair slowly followed.

"I usually don't sleep with guys unless I'm tied to the bed," he said softly.

"So you prefer girls?" Jim asked, but that didn't stop him from reaching out and grabbing Blair's waist, sliding the smaller man closer so that their legs tangled.

"It's not that; I usually don't stay the night with them. I'm not really good with the morning after conversation. I mean, I can talk, but I usually end up talking myself into some really awkward corner."

"So the preference for gags," Jim finished for him.

"Oh, yeah. Totally."

"If you say anything particularly stupid, I promise to gag you," Jim said solemnly, but Blair still poked him in the ribs with a finger.

"Totally too late, man." Blair barely whispered the words, but Jim could hear the fear lacing them. Since he wasn't exactly great with talking himself, he just pulled Blair closer, letting his weight rest on Blair's side, pinning him to the bed. If this were another time, he would tie Blair, tether him to the bed and collar him so that he felt anchored, but Jim's self-control had a limit, and seeing leather against that skin would be just too far to push. Blair needed some time to heal, and Jim really needed to not fuck up this relationship.

"Good night, Chief," Jim finally murmured into Blair's ear, but Blair was already asleep.

Jim wandered in the soft place between sleep and waking, a soft thumping blocking out the city noises that so often woke him. He hadn't even heard the damn car alarm that seemed to go off at five-thirty every morning.

Shifting, Jim felt Blair's warm skin under his hand. He reached down and rubbed his thumb in a lazy circle on Blair's hip and the man made a small moaning noise. Jim smiled at the unconscious response and slipped his fingers under the elastic band of Blair's borrowed pajama bottoms.

Making little mewls, Blair rolled into the touch, and Jim let his fingers skim down into the warm valley where the hip and leg met. The curled hairs tickled his fingertips, and Jim wondered what it would feel like to hold another man's cock in his hand. He'd felt his own often enough both before and after Caro, but he'd never touched another man's body like this.

When Jim reached in a little farther, Blair arched his back, and Jim could feel him balancing on the edge of waking. Regretfully, Jim pulled his hand out and shifted onto his side so that he could brush the hair back from Blair's face.

Shit. He hadn't wanted anyone with his level of need since… well, he had to look a little farther back than Caro. Maybe Lila. The week with her had been wildly passionate and he'd searched for her with a sort of desperation, but looking back, maybe that had just been his attempt to find a life after Peru. But now, he had a life, and yet he was willing to upend his entire, comfortable world to make room for this man.

Yep, when Caro found out, she was going to gut them both and hang their intestines off her balcony. He remembered with embarrassment the fight they'd had when Caro had rearranged the living room furniture, and now he couldn't wait to rearrange all his careful plans and schedules. He wanted Blair to wake up so they could negotiate the details of... Jim stopped. His imagination couldn't quite decide what a future with Sandburg would look like. Would the man come over twice a week for sex or hang out with Jim and the guys on poker night or would he slowly back away from Jim?

With a sigh, Jim pushed out of bed. As much as he wanted to explore every inch of Blair, to hold him down and taste him, these details wouldn't just evaporate. God, he didn't even know how to ask a man out on a date.

Padding downstairs, Jim peed and performed his morning ablutions in an emotional greyness that kept all the hopes and fears far enough away for Jim to function. He took a fast shower, refusing to allow himself the indulgence of a fantasy or an orgasm.

Despite his attempt to hurry, when he opened the bathroom door wrapped in a robe, Blair stood there, yawning and scratching his hair, making an even worse tangle of it than sleep had.

"Why don't you just cut that?" Jim asked before his mouth checked in with the brain. Blair sleepily blinked up at him several times, seeming more confused than offended.

"It's a statement. People remember me with the hair. Besides, it gives people something to hang on to when I'm working," he said with a wink as he licked his lips.

Jim went from controlled to raging lust in record time.

"Don't you like it?" Blair asked uncertainly, and now Jim blinked in surprise. He had the sudden impression that Blair would cut it if Jim gave the wrong answer, and that level of control scared even him.

"Your hair; your business," Jim said carefully.

"Then you asking me why I don't cut it is just your normally cheerful way of saying good morning?" Blair asked sarcastically as he crossed his arms over his chest and smiled.

"Chief, you remember last night?"

"Oh yeah," Blair immediately answered.

"I promised I would gag you if you said anything stupid, and you're approaching the line," Jim warned.

Blair smiled wider. "Promises, promises," he sing-songed as he pushed past Jim and headed for the bathroom.

"Brat," Jim said to the closed bathroom door before he headed upstairs to grab some clothes. He wasn't scheduled at work, so he slipped into soft, faded jeans and a Jag's t-shirt before heading into the kitchen and starting the coffee. Eventually, Blair and his usual cloud of steam emerged from the bathroom looking a little more awake.

"So, what's your schedule today, Chief?" Jim asked.

"I don't have office hours until ten, then I teach an Anthro class, and I'm all yours starting at three." Blair wiggled his hips a little when he offered himself, and Jim had to rein in his own lust.

"So, you're still riding for the month," Jim confirmed.

"I said I would, unless you don't need me to now that the case isn't going to trial." Blair sounded suddenly uncertain, and Jim hated that tone.

"Chief, I'd love to have you along. You get people to open up, and if you hadn't gotten Swanson and Selmer's names out of the cashier, we might have had even more tragedy yesterday. The way I would have played it, I would have gone to Holt's house, and when he shot himself, I would have interviewed his mother and tried to track down any of his friends. By then, Selmer might have had time to panic and figure out a way to kill himself."

"Do you really think?" Blair hesitated.

"I don't say things I don't believe. I'll introduce you to my ex-wife sometime, and she can tell you the story of what happened the one and only time she ever asked me if a dress looked good on her."

"Oh man, you didn't," Blair breathed in horror. "I mean, I totally suck at the whole courtship ritual, and even I know the only answer to that question."

"I don't play games. If you ask a question, you'll get an honest answer," Jim insisted as took a fork to the eggs he'd cracked into the bowl.

"Did I fuck up?" Blair asked quickly. "The case… was there any point when what I did caused…"

"No." Jim interrupted that thought before it could go any farther. "They got a gun. Whether they intended to use it on you or themselves or some gay man walking home from a club, the tragedy was written the minute they made that choice, and you didn't have any control over that." Jim turned and looked Blair in the face before he added the next bit. "No more than I did." Blair looked up silently for a second and then he nodded, the point made.

"So, I did okay?"

"You did great, so stop fishing for compliments, Junior," Jim said as he turned back to his eggs, watching Blair out of the side of his eye as he dumped the eggs into the pan. His words transformed Blair, making him not only smile but also give a little bounce before the energy suddenly became much more subdued.

"Are all your cases so—"

"Lots are just plain boring," Jim warned as he grabbed bread and put it in the toaster. Blair slipped into the kitchen and grabbed the butter out of the refrigerator. "You'll probably be running from sheer boredom before the month is up."

"No way, man. Once I commit, I'm hard to get rid of. I once dug on this archeological site for five weeks, and I found a big giant zero. Or, as the head of the team put it, I discovered four feet of dirt where the burial grounds weren't. And I found them one teaspoon full at a time. That's what convinced me that the archeological end of the science was just not for me. Had a dig partner named Daniel who'd lose himself in the dirt and I'd just be thinking, man, why am I doing this? But the point is, I stuck with it until the end. "

"I would think the Geneva conventions would outlaw doing that to grad students," Jim sympathized as he left Blair to the toast as he stirred the eggs and pulled them off the heat.

"You'd think. Besides, if I switch back to studying sentinels right away, Dr. Stoddard is going to think I'm a major flake."

"How long have you known Stoddard?" Jim asked, tilting the eggs out onto the two plates Blair had pulled from the cupboard.

"Oh man. Ever since I started college when I was sixteen. Naomi had lots of guy friends, and I had some great times, but I never really had a mentor until Eli."

"If he's known you that long, he already knows you're a flake," Jim pointed out with a smile.

"Ha ha." Blair shoved one of the plates at him, and Jim took it before all the eggs ended up sliding to the floor.

"But he's obviously willing to put up with you."

"Yeah, he is," Blair agreed. "You should have seen what an overbearing force of nature I was when I was sixteen. I was like totally convinced I would change the world and enlighten all who came near enough to hear my voice." Blair chuckled as he followed Jim to the table with his own plate.

"I saw *that* when you showed up at the station," Jim pointed out. Blair glared.

"So, how long are we going to ignore the elephant?" Blair asked as he shoved half a piece of toast in his mouth. Jim swallowed.

"You know I want you, but I'm not wired like you are, Chief. I can't separate what you do at work from what I want to do to you here."

"So you want me to quit," Blair said softly.

"No," Jim immediately said, and then he held up his hand before Blair could point out the obvious contradiction there. Good logic, Ellison, he growled at himself. "I don't want to feel like I forced you to do something you didn't want to do," he corrected himself. "I don't like that other men touch you, or other women, but I don't want you to feel like I'm giving you an ultimatum."

"So if I keep working?" Blair asked.

"I'll do my best to deal with it," Jim offered honestly. "And I'll feel an overwhelming desire to beat up anyone who I know is a client, so it might be best to keep the client list elsewhere."

"Got it," Blair said, but he had such a smile that Jim couldn't stop himself from smiling back.

"That wasn't supposed to make you happy," Jim pointed out, amused.

"Oh man, the claiming of mutually exclusive territory… very alpha male."

"Gag, Sandburg. Gag." Jim jabbed his fork toward the man.

Blair waggled his eyebrows and shoved another forkful of eggs into his mouth. "So the observer-cop thing… any conflict of interest or rules or lawyers to worry about?" Blair asked after he swallowed. Jim watched the bobbing Adam's apple.

"No rules. I asked Gary and he said that no lawyer would have standing to even bring up the issue. It was just your reason for being at Mr. Espinoza's that opened a crack for them to wiggle through."

"You asked Gary?" Blair asked in shock, and Jim looked up, concerned that he had somehow offended a man who seemed pretty unoffendable up to this point.

"Yes. Why?"

"Oh man, I guess I just thought I'd be in the back of your closet with the bowling shoes."

"I don't have bowling shoes."

"You really don't do metaphors well, do you?" Blair asked, the wonder now turning a little sour.

"Chief, I'm not ashamed of you, and while I don't plan to have hot sex on the interrogation room table, I don't plan to hide the fact that I care about you."

"Okay. This is just shifting so fast that I can't even keep up with what's going on," Blair said as he stood and backed away from the table.

"One: I want you. Two: Gary says that our relationship won't compromise any cases. Three: the regs don't forbid fraternization as long as you aren't on the payroll. Four: I really want you," Jim finished as he put down his fork and got up, determined to finally finish this game they had played for far too long now.

"Okay." Blair drew the word out cautiously, but Jim stalked after him, watching as Blair backed to the wall. Closing the distance, Jim stood so that he almost touched, but not quite.

"You're always calling me the alpha dog because that's what you want me to be, isn't it?" Jim prodded. Blair swallowed heavily, and Jim braced his hands on either side of Blair's head as he reached down and sniffed his neck. Shit, he'd never been a neck man before, but something about Blair's neck begged to be marked, to be mauled and tasted and kissed.

"Projection. Probably. You know, the whole projecting what you want on to other people."

Jim pulled back a little and looked at Blair with one eyebrow raised.

"I'm usually gagged by this point in the game. Either that or I'm on a date with a girl, and this would be about when I said something stupid that made her doubt my IQ."

"There's more than one way to gag a mouthy sub," Jim whispered. When Blair opened his mouth to object, Jim leaned forward and pressed his lips to Blair's, forcing his tongue into Blair's mouth where he tasted and explored and then backed off just enough to nibble and suck the swollen lips. After several minutes, Jim pulled back, and Blair blinked dumbly at him, his mouth still hanging open.

"I—" Blair started.

Again, Jim attacked, sucking and teasing and probing. This time he brought one hand around the back of Blair's neck, pulling him forward, away from the wall.

"Upstairs," Jim commanded as soon as he released Blair's lips. Blair just stood breathing heavily, his eyes dark and uncomprehending. Jim tightened his hold on Blair's neck and guided him toward the stairs.

Jim paused at the top of the steps, and Blair immediately filled the silence. "I'm really okay with this… totally okay, and I don't mean to be backseat domming here--"

"I hear a 'but' coming, and unless you're voicing a veto, not another word," Jim warned. With his hand on Blair's back, he guided Blair to the bed and finally let go, stepping back and crossing his arms. "Strip."

Oh, that made Blair happy if the bulge in his pants was anything to go by. Blair smiled and gave his hips a little shimmy as he unbuttoned the jeans and pushed the zipper down. Jim leaned against the rail and watched as Blair sank into a stripper routine. Looking up from under his lashes like a shy harem boy, Blair turned and slowly undulated, letting gravity pull the jeans down as he worked the buttons of his plaid shirt.

Blair swung in a slow circle, stepping out of his jeans as he let his shirt fall off his shoulders. With just the white t-shirt and underwear, Blair looked so damn young. Young and vulnerable, and Jim let his own hand inch down to his cock. He pressed against his jeans, hissing as the pain forced his orgasm back.

With a triumphant smile, Blair pulled off his t-shirt, revealing his chest as he dropped it to the floor. Now, Blair hooked his thumbs into the waistband of the underwear, swaying until his back was to Jim as he worked them down until gravity took over. Moving to that same silent music, Blair turned a lazy circle until he faced Jim again. Now Jim could see the heavy balls hanging, framing an impressive cock. Not as impressive as Jim's, of course, but Blair would probably just accuse Jim of playing alpha dog if he pointed that out.

As Jim watched, the sultry seduction of the impromptu dance slowly turned to fidgeting. The swaying hips became erratic, jumpy as Blair gave an awkward bounce.

"You want to?" Blair held his wrists together. "I mean, you're a cop, so I'm guessing those cuffs come in really handy."

"Window dressing," Jim said as he stepped forward. Blair took a small step back, his wrists still together, and Jim took both wrists in his one hand and then pressed Blair back so that he fell to the bed, and Jim fell on top of him. Blair's breathing quickened, and Jim had the unfamiliar sensation of another man's cock pressing into his stomach as he lay on Blair.

"The cuffs and chains and puppy suits, they're all window dressing," Jim muttered as he felt Blair subtly pull at his wrists only to find that Jim had more than enough strength to hold him. "We'll play with them, and I'll love seeing you on your hands and knees, muzzled and nosing my hand for attention like the good little puppy you are, but not this first time," Jim whispered into Blair's ear as he tightened his hold on Blair's wrists. "You need to know that I can hold you without any of those."

Blair looked up. "I think you've already proved that, and I've really wanted to always try out a cop's cuffs." Blair gave a wiggle, and Jim could feel the man using his body as distraction and temptation, but the need to dominate was greater. Jim reached down and latched onto Blair's neck, sucking hard so that he could feel the heat rise to the surface before he let go.

"You don't get a vote, only a veto," Jim said, confident from the soft mewls under him that Blair wasn't about to veto anything. "So I've taken your request in mind, and the answer is no."

"Bully," Blair complained weakly, but then Jim licked the red spot on his neck and Blair gasped. "Fuck. Man, I am so not lasting long here."

"I didn't ask you to," Jim said, smiling into the bare flesh. He could feel Blair tremble, and Jim sat up, still holding Blair's wrists. "Scoot up," he said as he pulled on Blair's wrists like a leash. Blair wiggled back, following Jim's tugs until he lay in the middle of the bed.

Jim put Blair's wrists over his head and held them both in his right hand. That left his other hand free to skim over warm flesh. The nipples were islands in the chest hair, and Jim rolled one between his finger and thumb, feeling it turn hard and pucker under his touch. Blair's legs started to curl up, and Jim threw his leg over Blair's lower body, pinning him to the bed.

"So are you planning on getting naked here?" Blair asked. Jim brought his hand up and rested a finger over Blair's lips.

"You never stop do you?"

Blair shook his head slowly, and Jim's finger skimmed over his lips.

"Well, I think I already proved that there's more than one way to shut up a mouthy sub," Jim said. Blair started to say something, and Jim crushed his mouth to Blair's--tasting, nipping, sucking until Blair writhed on the bed. Jim shifted more of his weight onto Blair, holding him down. Fuck. Jim wasn't going to last long either.

Jim pulled back and smiled as Blair returned to that breathless, blank expression where every worry and manipulation and annoyance vanished under raw need. Jim reached down and grabbed Blair's cock.

With a smothered cry, Blair arched and bucked, and Jim tightened his hold, shifting his leg up and nearly laying on the man to keep him restrained. The cock in his hand twitched and burned, and Jim stroked it slowly, his fingers moving gently up and down the hot shaft.

"Fuck. Oh. Just. Man." Blair breathed the words, each a wheeze punctuated by gasps.

"Problem, Junior?" Jim asked with a chuckle. Blair didn't have an answer; he just thrashed helplessly under Jim's weight, now mindlessly fighting—and losing—and obviously in heaven.

Jim tightened his grip around that cock just a fraction, moving quicker, but not in time with the jerky thrusts that Blair managed as the mattress creaked its protest.

"Fuck. I just. Fuck."

Jim chuckled at the sight of Blair, his face flushed, his eyes nearly dilated black, his mouth gasping out words without meaning. Thrashing so hard that Jim had to focus for a second on just holding on, Blair lapsed into grunts, and Jim finally relented, tightening his hold and stroking in time with Blair's frenzied squirming. Within three seconds, it was over and Blair orgasmed, his come splattering over his stomach and Jim's hand.

Reaching down, Jim freed his own cock and within two strokes, he had added his own come to the Pollock painting of white scattered across Blair's stomach. Blair panted as though he'd run a twenty mile course, his body slack and sagging and pliant.

"Fuck," Blair finally announced. Jim lay on Blair, his own body relaxed in a way that called him to sleep, and he had to agree.

"You have a real potty mouth there, Chief," he said as he released Blair's hands. He could see the red marks from his fingers pressing down, crushing the skin, but Blair didn't comment as he reached down and ran a finger through their combined come spread over his stomach.

"Some tribes believe in drinking ejaculate during certain ceremonies as…" Blair only stopped when Jim put a finger over his lips.

"Chief, out there, I love that you know so many things. In here, you don't have anyone to impress."

That made Blair fall silent as quickly as the kiss had earlier. Jim let his head fall to the pillow as he traced his own pattern on Blair's stomach, their fingers turning the Pollock into a series of trails across Blair's body.

"I think that's the first time I've come with a guy without, you know," Blair finally whispered, "bondage." He nodded awkwardly. "Lots and lots of bondage."

"You want to know that someone won't let go, and I won't Blair," Jim said. Blair's stomach was now sticky, and Jim let his hand migrate south to Blair's thigh. "Fight all you want, and it just gets me more excited."

"I noticed."

"But I need to know that I'm not bullying you, that you're strong enough to not just fight back, but say something if you're not comfortable."

"Oh, I'm feeling pretty fucking comfortable," Blair quickly said. "And you'd hear all about it if I wasn't. Even if I was gagged, I would find a way to make you hear *all* about it."

"God you're a pushy sub," Jim complained with a smile.

"Uh-huh," Blair agreed.

"Be careful about getting too pushy or I'll have to remind you of your place," Jim warned. He could feel a shiver go through Blair. "I'll have you crawling around and eating your dinner off the floor and sleeping at the foot of the bed." Jim smiled as Blair moaned.

"Fuck, yeah."

"Man's best friend?" Jim asked.

"For you, always," Blair agreed. Jim checked the clock. Three hours before Blair had office hours.

"Stay, boy," he ordered playfully with a pat on Blair's head as he rolled out his side of the bed.

"Woof." Blair sounded sarcastic, but Jim noticed he stayed where he'd been told. After rooting around in the closet for several minutes, Jim came back with a few toys.

"I'm worn out, so I'm going to catch a little nap before you have to leave for the university, and I don't plan to be interrupted by some people running their mouth," Jim said as he picked up the first item. The gag was small, little more than a rubber flap on a strap that went around the head.

"You so bought that for your wife," Blair accused him.

"If I bought it for you, I would have gotten one much, much larger," Jim agreed dryly, "But Carolyn vetoed this whole experiment long before we got to this stage."

"Man, she had no idea what she missed," Blair shook his head. "I—"

"Shhh," Jim shushed him as he got back into the bed. Blair half sat up and opened his mouth as Jim reached over. Fastening the gag in place with the Velcro closure, Jim brought out the next item.

"I won't ever use the cuffs on you, Blair," Jim said. Jim watched the eyebrows lower in confusion, and even gagged the man really could make his thoughts pretty clear. "You need to let go, and the cuffs would cut into you. These are better." Jim brought out the soft leather cuffs. Blair held out his hands and Jim bucked them into place.

"And since that gag doesn't have a lock, and you'd better believe the next one will, we need to keep those busy little hands away from places they shouldn't be." Jim pulled out the ankle restraints, buckling them to Blair's feet before pulling out the chain and two locks. The first lock went through one end of the chain and the two wrist cuffs. The second attached to the ankle cuffs.

The length kept Blair just slightly curled, and pulled his hands down toward his feet, but Blair just lay with his head on the pillow and blinked up. Jim reached over and pulled Blair closer to the edge of the bed, moving him like a doll, and Jim's cock started making estimates on how long it would take for round two.

"You okay?" Jim asked. Blair nodded. Walking around to the other side of the bed, Jim reset the alarm and slipped off his clothes, draping them on the railing before he slid into bed in behind Blair, spooning against his back. Blair leaned a little into him, his breathing deep and regular, his muscles relaxed.

"You're a beautiful man, Blair Sandburg, in more ways than one," Jim said quietly as he slipped an arm around Blair's stomach and pulled him close so that flesh merged with flesh. Blair just sighed through his nose as Jim settled in for a morning nap. After that orgasm, they both needed one.

For the second time that day, Jim woke comfortable and horny. This time, he allowed his hands to freely travel Blair's body, even when Blair started squirming into the touch.

He still had plenty of worries. How would their lives fit together when Blair wasn't riding along any more, how would it be to live apart, how much would he feel a need to track down all of Blair's work contacts and arrest them? Better yet, Jim wondered if he could lose the paperwork after arresting them. How many clients could just vanish into the system before Blair noticed business dropping off?

Pushing that little fantasy off to the side, Jim just let himself just relax into the warm, willing body that shared his bed. Strange how Blair's gender truly didn't matter to him. As many offers as he'd had in the past, he'd never even looked twice at a man, and now he would be spending the day doing a little research.

Blair grunted and thrust his hips back, making the chain rattle.

"Nice," Jim muttered into the back of Blair's neck as he reached around and tweaked a nipple while Blair lay helpless to stop him. "I'd go for round two, but you need to get to the university, and the alarm's going to go off in about two minutes."

This time Blair's answering grunt wasn't nearly as happy. Jim smiled as Blair slumped as though in defeat. Even gagged, the man was mouthy.

"Of course, I could always keep you here, tease you until you squirm and beg and leave your students waiting for their professor who mysteriously never appears," Jim threatened with a chuckle. "Ravish you until you're too worn out to escape." The threat just made Blair wiggle harder, and Jim slapped a hip with his hand. "But then I'd have to arrest myself for kidnapping, and, no offense, but you are not worth the paperwork," he added sadly.

Blair made a strange strangled noise.

"Just speaking the truth. You're worth a lot of trouble, but not that much. You should see the paperwork on a kidnapping." Rolling out of bed, he grabbed the keys to the locks from the dresser and walked around to Blair's side.

Oh, the man had a serious hard-on starting, but Jim was not about to start the habit of quickies. Instead he crouched by the side of the bed and pushed Blair's hair back from his eyes, stroking a cheek and tracing the edge of the gag with a finger.

The gag was small enough that Blair could breathe around it, and now he huffed so that warm air flowed over Jim's fingers. Jim smiled as Blair curled his hands and thrust his hips so that the chain between his wrists and ankles jingled.

"You're about as subtle as a train wreck, Chief," Jim answered. "But I do like waking up to find you in my arms, with or without the chains," he added. Silent Blair was a dangerous thing because Jim felt words press up, aching to fill that silence with confessions that he didn't dare make. Instead he reached out and pulled the gag open, the Velcro making a ripping sound as he pulled the warm plastic and rubber away from Blair's face.

The gag left a faint red line across Blair's face, and Jim cupped his cheek, feeling the heat of it.

"Kinda like waking up here," Blair finally answered. Jim leaned in and kissed Blair, a soft, gentle, slow kiss where he could taste the rubber from the gag. This time, Blair responded, and Jim groaned as Blair explored, catching Jim's lower lip and sucking gently for a second. The chain rattled again as Blair yanked at it, and Jim nearly lost all of his resolve.

"Work, chores, office hours," Jim said as he pulled back.

"Bully," Blair complained, but he didn't say anything as Jim unlocked the two ends of the chain and then unbuckled the restraints. Blair was half hard, and Jim realized that his own cock was just as interested. Blair stretched, arching his back and smiling wickedly, and Jim could imagine that expression had made many men do whatever Blair wanted.

"I wouldn't mind if you kidnapped me. After all, it wouldn't be my fault if my newly approved dissertation subject kept me away from office hours, and trust me, the students will not show up for help until two days before midterms are due. It's way too early for any panicking or even any actual studying."

Jim could feel his resolve waver as Blair trailed fingers down his own chest, and he silently added 'watching Blair bring himself off' to the list of things he wanted to try. Fortunately, the alarm clock buzzed its warning, and Jim shook himself loose of the spell Blair was weaving with those wandering hands touching himself.

"I'll give you a ride to school," Jim said as he turned back to grab the clothes he'd pulled off just a couple of hours ago.

"If you could drop me off at the warehouse, I'll grab the Corvair. That way you don't have to pick me up," Blair said as he started moving. Jim hesitated. He liked Blair relying on him for a ride, and that was probably crossing some line between domination and manipulation, but he still felt that way. He didn't particularly like Blair going back to the warehouse either, but with the case over, he could safely go home. Home. The warehouse. Jim felt that thought like a jagged little rock rolling around in his guts.

"No problem," he answered as he grabbed his jeans. His erection had vanished and he pulled himself together quickly.

"So, this afternoon, what do I do with the Corvair? I don't want to pay an arm and a leg for parking, but I don't have sticker for the employee lot." Blair pulled his shirt over his head, the sultry slowness of just a second ago vanished under this normal manic energy.

"What's your license plate? I'll get the paperwork done so that a sticker is waiting for you at the entrance." Jim felt strangely pleased that Blair still needed him for something. Of course, for the next month, Blair would need him for any number of reasons as he wrote papers on the police and communication with minority groups, but when he had his clients and his life back…. Jim didn't let himself finish that thought.

"My license plate?" Blair asked incredulously. "Give me a break. Who knows their license plate number of the top of their head?"

"804 GDT," Jim answered.

"Okay, strangely, that does not surprise me," Blair huffed. "Man, you redefine anal retentive."

"It's not anal retentive to know your license. If someone stole your car, what would you tell the police?" Jim asked as he headed down the stairs, Blair behind him.

"I'd probably say, 'If you find the guys who took this piece of shit Corvair I drive, thank them for me. You'll recognize it by the way it dies at red lights.'"

"It dies?" Jim asked, not even a little amused by that piece of humor. He'd seen some nasty accidents caused by that.

"Man, I love my car. She's a classic, but she is one seriously high-maintenance lady, and I'm not known for my success at keeping the ladies maintained. I do better keeping the guys happy," Blair said as he shrugged into a jacket and gave Jim a little show with a wiggle and a wink.

"You should get it fixed."

"Man, don't call her an 'it'. It's hard enough to keep her running as it is." Blair followed as Jim headed out the door. Once again, the elevator didn't work, and Jim headed for the stairs with Blair still in tow. Conversation stopped until they reached the street, but Jim wasn't ready to concede yet.

"Still, you need a reliable vehicle."

"I do not need some big fancy gas guzzler like some people," Blair defended himself. "I mean, some guys need a big, shiny, expensive phallic symbol that is all alpha male, but I don't." Blair stopped near Jim's truck, crossed his arms, and smirked. It took a couple of seconds for Jim to catch that as he unlocked Blair's door.

"Very funny, Chief, but my truck is not a phallic symbol."

"Of course not. Not that you have anything to compensate for," Blair finished as he leered at Jim's crotch and wiggled his eyebrows.

"Gag, Sandburg. Gag."

"Any time, Ellison."

Jim rolled his eyes and headed around the truck, getting in on his side and staring out the windshield for a second. "Carolyn didn't like my old truck. She called it an eyesore," Jim admitted. He started the truck and pulled out of the parking lot.

For several minutes, the truck was quiet as Jim headed for the warehouse.

"I'll be sticking with the tried and true method of pleading with my girl to just keep running until the next paycheck. It's not like money grows on trees," Blair changed the subject back to the car. "$850 a month for rent, a good $300 a month if I wanted it heated decently, more if I actually want it warm. There's $250 a month for health insurance that is *not* optional if you want to go on any university-sponsored trips.

"Then there's the school costs: between $600 and $1000 a semester books and then tuition and the fees for various expeditions and lab costs and travel money when I'm running around South America with Dr. Stoddard. And very few grants pay for all the costs for graduate students, so I'm on my own for food once we get over there." Blair stopped, snorting his disgust.

"Of course, the really fun expenses are the things you have no idea are about to hit you in the face like a cold halibut: things like the cost of replacing everything in your backpack when it develops black mold and gets confiscated by customs as a health hazard. After I worry about all that, then I put a little aside for the necessities like food and bondage equipment."

"But don't you make good money?" Jim refused to say it out loud, but he could imagine men would pay a lot to have that body bound and wiggling under them. He'd pay good money for it, or pay good money to keep other people away from it for that matter.

"Oh man, if I let guys actually fuck me, I'd rake it in, but I have limits."

Jim nodded, fighting to keep the smile off his face. "I thought maybe you were..." Jim paused. How did he say this?

"Lying through my teeth about the prostitution?" Blair prompted.

"Obfuscating to avoid putting me in an impossible situation," Jim corrected.

"Nah. I'm a little too paranoid about giving guys that much control." Blair shrugged, and the conversation just trailed off. Jim focused on the traffic until he pulled up at the warehouse.

"Man, this really bothers you, doesn't it?"

"Chief, it's your life."

"This really bothers you, doesn't it?"

Jim sighed, and tried to decide how much honesty this relationship could take. Of course, he'd tried the not-communicating route with Carolyn and it hadn't worked out all that well for him. The more he tried to keep his inappropriate thoughts to himself, the more she pushed, almost like she knew what he had lurking just under the surface and resented him for it.

She thought she'd married a man who would play a game every now and then, a passionate game that would stop when she wanted it to stop. As much as he'd been honest with her in most parts of life, he never told her how much he resented it when she suddenly wanted to turn that passion down and just switch the games off like a light switch. She wanted vanilla, and he tried to be that. He tried shoving away thoughts of wanting to possess her. He'd hidden the unused presents he'd bought, like the gag, and had gone out and bought jewelry instead. He failed. Sighing, he decided to go with brutal honesty this time.

"I fucking hate it," he finally admitted to Blair. "But it's your life, and I hate that I feel so possessive because I don't want to be a jerk."

"You just want to tell me what to do and where to work without being a possessive jerk," Blair summarized. Yeah, Jim could hear just how ridiculous that sounded.

"This is not a subject I really want to discuss with you." Jim cut off the conversation, unlocking the power doors as an invitation for Blair to get out.

"And by not discussing it with me, I hope that means not discussing it, because if you won't talk to me, and then you talk to other people, that would be strange," Blair said with a small laugh.

"I'm not the talking kind," Jim confirmed.

"Oh man, I am. I'm not the communicating kind, but I'm totally the talking kind," Blair said, and Jim could feel the conversation sliding away from him.

"So, I'll see you at the station this afternoon?" Jim asked, eager to get back on solid ground. Spotting the Corvair, he quickly made mental note of the license.

"Yeah. Sure thing. So, you're going in later?"

"Yeah. I have the day off, but that's really the only time I can get caught up on paperwork," Jim said, happy to be discussing something less volatile than their relationship. "I'll have the pass waiting for you at the parking entrance."

"I'll be there," Blair promised.

"I'll see you then," Jim said, watching the kid bounce out of the truck and over to his car. He drove down the street, but he stopped at the end of the street, watching as Blair got in his car and started it with a series of pops that made Jim flinch. Maybe next weekend he could talk the kid into coming over long enough for him to take a look at the thing.

"Jim," Simon said as he stepped up to the desk. "No puppy today?" The words were teasing, but the tone instantly put Jim on guard.

"He has classes today."

"He's not home?"

"No. Why?" Jim stood up, a heavy feeling wrapping around his guts.

"We have reports of an explosion and fire at his warehouse."

Brown looked up from his desk. "Is Hairboy okay?" he asked, and, from the expression on Simon's face, Jim knew that the captain didn't know. Jim just blinked for a second before he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.

"Hold on. You are not driving with that look in your eye. I've seen your driving record," Simon said as he hurried after Jim, but Jim ignored him as he punched the elevator button. He had just given up and headed for the stairs when Simon caught him by the arm.

"I don't care how worried you are, you can not race down seven flights faster than the elevator. God, Jim, just how deep are you in with this kid?"

Jim scrubbed his face and considered that the answer was far more complicated than he could ever explain. Simon instantly shut up as the elevator doors opened and two uniformed officers from Traffic came out, laughing. Jim barely waited for them to pass before pushing in, Simon close behind. As he pressed the "P" for parking level, Simon started in again.

"Jim, you're just getting over the break-up with Carolyn. I know you get protective, but this kid is trouble. I don't want to see you falling into the middle of it. Besides, he's your ride-along, and I don't see how you can justify endangering prosecutions just to get your rocks off."

Jim tightened his lips. He didn't want to have this conversation right now... or ever. Right now, he just wanted to get to Blair's house and make sure that he was safe.

"Do I need to assign him somewhere else?" Simon asked, the question clearly a threat.

"No," Jim snapped, finally forced into talking. "Simon, he's good on the streets, good with people in a way I'm not. And I'm not about to endanger any case we work."

"That's what I would have assumed a week ago. Now, I'm not so sure. Now, you're acting like a man who is on the verge of putting himself on the line by sleeping with a witness."

"He's not a witness," Jim pointed out. Simon stopped, his eyebrows raised in surprise as he put those pieces together. The elevator doors opened, and Jim strode toward Simon's parking place. He was probably right about Jim not driving because Jim could feel panic rising in a way it hadn't in a long time.

They stayed silent until Simon pulled out into the street, turning on the dash light as he threaded through traffic, some of which stopped, and some didn't. Jim took notes on license plates of cars that didn't stop, determined to write a few tickets just as soon as he found Blair safe and sound and in one piece.

"You can't work with him if your relationship isn't professional."

"There aren't any rules against it." Jim wrote down the license plate of a large SUV driven by a woman who was putting on makeup in her rear-view mirror. He mentally added a second ticket.

"Jim, think of what this could do in the courtroom."

"Gary has no problem with it."

"You talked to *Gary*?" Simon fell silent after that, focusing on the traffic, and Jim could feel the shock roll through the car. It wasn't exactly disapproval, but Jim wasn't expecting any congratulations soon either.

"Simon, I will not put you or myself in a position to have an ethical dilemma. This will not be a problem."

"Oh Jim, I wish I could believe that." Simon didn't say any more, but he drove a little faster as the smoke from the warehouse district appeared from behind an office building. Grey curled up into the sky.

As they turned another corner, red and blue lights reflected off dull buildings. Several news trucks were parked just past a police line, and fire-fighters straggled out of the building carrying equipment. Most of the damage was done to the opposite side of the building from Blair's apartment, but Jim's stomach still clenched in horror at the sight. One wall had blown out, shards of twisted metal littering the street. One police car tilted drunkenly, two tires taken out by the scrap.

Shit. If those had torn through Blair's apartment... If Blair was there... Jim got out of the car before it had completely rolled to a stop.

"Any casualties?" he asked the first uniform he found. The man seemed to hesitate, and Jim closed the distance quickly enough to make the kid back up a step.

"Captain Banks and Detective Ellison," Simon introduced them, holding out a badge toward the wide-eyed rookie. "Who's in charge?"

"Captain Carmonelli, CFD," the man said as he gestured toward a fire truck. "Um, I think three or four people got shot, one was dead, but no officers down," he finally answered Jim.

Jim traded incredulous looks with Simon before they both headed for the fire trucks. Gunfire?

"Sir, I had no idea. They started shooting out of nowhere." Another uniform intercepted them before they could reach their destination, and Jim narrowed his eyes at the pockmarked man. He knew him.

"You were one of the officers who gave Sandburg shit over at the Espinoza scene," Jim accused him. The man's jaw tightened, but he nodded curtly.

"My partner and I came over here to apologize. I know he's doing ride-along now, and yeah, some of the guys aren't so okay with that. Carter and I wanted him to know that we aren't with that crowd. He just surprised us at the scene, and we said some things that we shouldn't have."

"What happened?" Simon interrupted.

"We pulled up in front of the warehouse and, within seconds, someone just started firing on us. I returned fire while Carter called for backup." The uniform gestured toward a tall, lanky man in uniform who was talking to another detective, a guy from Narcotics named Lieutenant Williams.

"What the hell was the explosion?"

"That was a gunshot hitting canisters of chemicals. This was a drug lab, a major one," a fire captain offered as he walked up to them. "I thought Williams had this case."

"One of our guys lived next door: Ellison's ride-along," Simon said, giving the other departments a united front even though Jim knew he hadn't heard the last of Simon's displeasure.

"Did any of the victims have long, curly hair, male, about thirty, five foot seven inches?" Jim could feel his guts tighten as he waited for the answer, but the captain just shook his head.

"All our victims are black. Units are still clearing the building, though."

Jim tilted his head. His hearing seemed strangely dull as if the captain's voice had become muffled with cotton. However, he could hear another voice at the end of a long tunnel. Turning around, he scanned the crowd. Reporters lined up with their backs to the scene as they performed for the cameras, and the curious pushed close to where uniformed officers stood by the sawhorse barriers.


"Man, that is my house. This is not a dictatorial regime, and a man has the right to find out what happened to his fucking house."

Jim started walking toward that distant fight. He couldn't actually hear the officer's reply, but Blair crossed his arms furiously.

"Buddy, I am taking your badge number. If I wore a suit and tie, no way would you..."

Blair stopped the minute his eyes found Jim striding toward them. His arms dropped down to his sides, and Jim could see the relief in his face.

"Oh man, will you tell this asshole to stop acting like an asshole?" Blair demanded.

"Show him your pass, Chief," Jim suggested as he felt his own knees weaken in relief.

"Oh, yeah." Blair dug through his backpack until he came up with his ride-along badge, pushing it much closer to the uniform's face than he actually needed to.

"You're kidding," the uniform said as he looked at Jim doubtfully. Jim crossed his arms and glared until the man's expression turned a little more respectful.

"My partner comes behind the line at any scene I'm on," Jim warned. The officer stepped back, and Blair snorted his disgust as he slung his backpack over one shoulder and stepped closer to Jim. Using a hand on Blair's back, Jim herded him back toward Simon and the now larger cluster of people in the middle of the scene. Williams and the uniformed cop's partner, Carter, had joined Simon and the fire captain.

"I see you found your ride-along. Between your driving record and Sandburg's ability to attract trouble, I'm considering taking out disaster insurance for the whole department," Simon complained.

"Oh man, my house. Who blew up my house?"

"That would be the drug dealers who lived next to you," Jim pointed out dryly. Now that the fear had vanished, Jim could feel the rising frustration. "What the hell are you doing living in this neighborhood in the first place, and how could you not notice you had a drug lab next door?"

"Jim, take it easy," Simon coached.

"Oh man, do not pull that alpha shit with me right now. My house just blew up. Blew up. Fuck. I need to see if I actually have any stuff left."

Blair started for the building. The fire captain stepped into his path and Jim grabbed his arm. "No way, not until the building is cleared. Stuff can be replaced; you can't," Jim said firmly.

"Yeah, stuff can be replaced. With what money? I just fucking quit two hours ago, and now my house blew up. I have two months rent into that place, and no way will my landlord give it back. And I need those two months to find some place that I can afford. Fuck."

"You quit?" Simon asked, clearly shocked. Blair crossed his arms and glared.

"Yes, I quit. Now I have to figure out how to live on just my teaching salary, which is not enough to actually live. Fuck. I suppose a couple of clients might not be too freaked out about me working with the police. Maybe." Blair didn't sound convinced, but Jim was focusing more on his own feelings.

Blair quit. The same day Jim had said he hated the job, Blair quit. Jim was caught between a joyful relief that he wouldn't have to share Blair with other men, and a sort of blind terror at the amount of power Blair had handed over in that one act.

"You can stay with me until you get a new place," Jim said quickly. Simon narrowed his eyes and looked at Jim, but Jim just stared back, showing none of the emotions he was feeling.

"Man, I can't believe my house blew up."

"I can," Simon said dryly. “You're a walking disaster, Sandburg. Trouble just follows you."

"Har har. Very funny, man."

"Chief, you aren't going to be able to go in there for a couple of hours. How about you give me a ride back to the station?" Jim said as he started pulling Blair away from the group.

"Do you want a report on this?" Williams asked. Jim left Simon to deal with that as he guided Blair past the police line and back to the car. He got in without a word, and Jim slipped into the passenger side.

"Oh man, they blew up my house. I told you I was building up karma with all my emotional implosions lately, but man, the universe did not have to be that literal."

"You quit," Jim answered as Blair pulled into the street.

"Yeah." He got suddenly quiet.

"You didn't have to."

"Man, if you'd tried telling me that I had to, I so would have told you to take your alpha-dog ego and shove it up your ass," Blair answered quickly. Jim laughed.

"Yeah, you would have."

"I just was not expecting the universe to dump on me two hours after I quit. Man, this is..." Blair let his words trail off, but Jim could hear a pain and worry that he didn't like in Blair's voice.

"You have a place with me."

"I am not going to mooch off you. If I wanted a sugar daddy, I could have found one before now," Blair shot back.

"I didn't say mooch. We could come up with a financial agreement."

"What? Rent? For my space in your bed? Your closet under the stairs? Man, that is a seriously cramped little space, not that I'm going to have a whole lot left after my house blew up."

"Blair--" Jim stopped, really not sure how to say this without crossing the tentative boundaries they were starting to build. Silence ruled as he tried to find the words.

"Okay, I am officially calling a five minute time-out. Anything said will not be used against you, even if you say something that makes you sound like a complete alpha dog moron."
"Hey," Jim objected.

"And I can say anything even if it makes me sound like a total loser. Deal?" Blair bulled right on through.

"Pull over," Jim said. Blair glanced at him, but then he pulled over into the parking lot of a McDonalds. Blair drove toward the back and parked under the shade of a tree. "Deal," Jim said. They both sat and stared at the leaves in silence.

"Okay," Jim finally started. He might as well act like the alpha dog Blair always accused him of being. "I'm not comfortable with the idea of you quitting for me, but I'm glad you quit. And now I'm feeling guilty because you don't have the money to replace everything you just lost."

"Oh, please," Blair snorted. "Get over yourself, Ellison. If I’d really wanted to keep working, I so would have, but honestly, the thrill is just not there."

Jim listened silently, nodding. "Okay, so you didn't do it for me."

"I didn't," Blair insisted, but Jim wasn't buying that for a second.

"I want you to move in." Jim watched as once again that mysterious blush appeared, coloring Blair's cheeks as he dropped his head, letting his hair hide his face. Jim reached over and brushed the hair back so he could see the rare embarrassment.

Blair sighed. "Okay, so I did do it because you hated the job, but if you'd made a big deal out of me quitting, I would have kept working. And I wasn't kidding; the idea of working is not getting me excited the way it did."

"You're good for my alpha-dog ego," Jim said softly.

Blair snorted. "I'm creating Frankenstein's monster here, aren't I?" he asked.

"Sometimes I worry that, yes, I want more control over you than I should," Jim admitted. Right about now Carolyn would have been scrambling out of the car and calling him every name in the book.

"And it scares the shit out of me that the more power I give you, the better it feels. Man, I know all about power exchange, and I know it's a healthy way of expressing an emotional connection, but I'm just..." Blair stopped.

"Scared at how deep it feels," Jim finished for him. Blair nodded.

"Oh hell, yeah. I mean, I wanted it… and I still want it," Blair hurried to correct himself, "but it does kinda freak me out."

"You're telling me," Jim snorted as he went back to staring at the tree. "But I still want you in my house."

"We'll try it for a week. Maybe two," Blair amended.

"That works," Jim agreed, and silently he promised himself to make sure that Blair didn't want to move out.

"And I pay rent."

"No," Jim said flatly.

"Hey, you are not my sugar daddy."

"No, but you're a student. Most students have someone to help out, some family. I'm not going to take money from you until you graduate." Jim cursed his tongue as he let that one slip, sure that Blair would call him on his assumption that he would still be there when he graduated, but Blair didn't seem to notice. He had once again blushed deeply. Jim smiled as he finally put the clues together. The thing Blair wanted more than anything, the thing he wanted enough to blush with desire at the thought, was a home, a permanent relationship.

Jim reached over and gave a lock of hair a tug. "At the risk of sounding like an alpha dog, I want you to be family, and maybe it won't work out and we'll eventually go our own ways, but I want to try this. I want you to come home to me. I want to yell at you about leaving hair in the drain and fix dinner together and tie you up and torture you until you beg for release," Jim confessed. "That's how I see it working between us."

Blair took a deep, shuddering breath. "Oh man. I want that." He looked over, and Jim could see the raw fear.

"Then trust me?" Jim asked. Blair tightened his hands around the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white as he stared straight ahead.

"Well, I guess the worst thing that could happen is that this falls apart and I end up having my heart ripped out because I'm falling way too fast for my own good."

"I'll catch you," Jim promised. Blair looked over.

"I guess I'll have to trust you to do that," he agreed. Jim could feel an emotion so strong that he couldn't even identify it wash through him. Reaching out with fingers that tingled, he ran them over Blair's cheek.

"Simon's going to think I've taken you off somewhere to ravage you if we don't get back to the station.”
"I wouldn't mind a little ravaging," Blair suggested with a wink.

"When we get home, Chief," Jim promised. "When we get home."


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If you enjoy a loving D/s relationship, you might want to check out my original fiction

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Liam loves his life as a linguist and trader on the Rownt homeworld, but he has ignored his heart and sexual needs for years. He won’t risk letting anyone come too close because he won’t risk letting anyone see his deeply submissive nature. For him, submission comes with pain. Life burned that lesson into his soul from a young age.

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