It was after eight that night when Jim finally made it home. He'd spent the day crammed into a tiny room, not much bigger than a closet, with Reynolds, another cop from Major Crimes, doing surveillance on suspected drug runners. The whole situation had given him more reasons than he'd needed to be in a foul mood. Reynolds was a talker, a big talker, something he could usually tune out. But today he'd found it inescapable and way beyond annoying. Reynolds was no scholar, and his observations never strayed too far from sports or the weather. He certainly never ventured into such colorful territory as the influence of the war chant of the Yanomamo headhunters on Seattle grunge music or the sensual rhythms of the priestesses of Oshun. Still, the way Reynolds rambled on had been just enough like Blair to be a constant, nagging reminder that his partner wasn't with him.
It didn't do anything to improve his outlook on life that he'd needed to contort his body like a pretzel in order to keep watch out the one small window. His shoulders ached, and there was a kink in his back that would certainly be with him into next week. Reynolds had accidentally knocked over his soda, and it had gone all over Jim's pants. The fabric had stiffened as it dried, and it had irritated his skin all afternoon. The tiny bit of air they'd gotten in the room had been stale and uncomfortably warm, and so of course, he had one monster of a headache. To top it all off, he now smelled really rather bad to his own sensitive nose.
He didn't have the energy to bother with dinner. He was too tired to eat anyway. He trudged into the bathroom, stripped and took the longest shower in loft history. Now that he finally recognized his true feelings for his partner, a part of him was tempted to beat off as he stood there beneath the hot spray, reveling in happy, sexy thoughts of Blair, in anticipation of his return home the next day. But he was too exhausted even for that. He closed his eyes and let the comforting warmth seep into his cramped, fatigued muscles, until he'd used up the very last of the hot water.
He got out, toweled off and pulled on his bathrobe. After a quick tour of the apartment to make sure everything was secure, he headed upstairs. He pulled on a clean pair of boxers and slipped beneath the covers. He settled into a comfortable position and was instantly asleep.
Dreams soon followed, and in them, it was a lovely spring day. He could hear the sweet music of nearby songbirds and the melodic, reedy whistle of the wind rustling through the leaves and twigs of the surrounding trees. Jim lay on his back, more relaxed than he'd been in his life, staring up at the mild blue arch of the sky. He could feel the grass, lush and cool, beneath his shoulder blades, and the sun, filtered by the thick cover of branches, fell warm and mottled on his skin.
A soft sigh came to him, and he could feel another body stirring beside his, unstartling, familiar. He turned onto his side and found Blair there, smiling lazily up at the sky, his expression sun-dazed and serene. There was a delicate scent of honeysuckle in the air. Blair smelled dark like fertile earth.
Jim wanted, but he could not put words to his desire. He fell silent, momentarily stalled, though not giving up. It lent his quiet an air of anticipation that captured Blair's attention, and he rolled over to face him, eyes bright and curious.
He didn't so much hear Blair's words, as watch them form on that bountiful mouth, and then he knew what he wanted. Blair blinked and waited. Jim touched a strand of his hair, humid and clinging haphazardly to the side of his face. He delicately brushed his friend's cheekbone with the flat, smooth bed of his thumbnail. Blair shivered, despite the day's pleasant heat.
"Please?" Jim asked.
He leaned forward, narrowing in on Blair's lips, which were parted and newly moistened, out of nervousness. They were warm even before he touched them, then soft, then warm again, until finally they felt hot, sweltering. Blair opened his mouth in wet, delighted welcome, and Jim was suddenly lost, dizzied. If this disorientation had come from any other source, he would have pulled back immediately, until he regained his bearings, needing to have that control. But this was an erotic befuddlement, and he found he didn't at all mind being lost in Blair, their tongues sliding slickly together, bodies pressed intimately against one another.
They fell out of their clothes, fluidly, effortlessly, without any of the petty annoyances that so often got in the way in actual time and space. Finicky zippers, too many buttons, stubborn jeans that simply refused to be peeled off eager legs...none of these things existed in Jim's dream. In the space between blinks of an eye, he and Blair were sharing delicious nakedness, entwined and ardent on the tender grass.
Every caress was a benediction: every nudge of a knee, brush of fingers, feathery whisper against eager skin, every determined exploration, every hopeful attempt to please, every sweet, hesitant touch that begged for more. It was all so easy and unquestioned. In his dream, Jim communed with Blair. He gathered sacred knowledge of him. He gave freely of himself, outside of fear. He loved Blair, with everything he was, the way he'd always wanted.
It was truly engrossing, and that was why he failed to understand how he could possibly have taken his attention away from Blair, even for a second. But somehow, in that jumbled, inexplicable way of dreams, he did look away, for just the briefest moment. Perhaps there was a bird flapping its wings in the trees or someone approaching. It was never clear. But when he regained his focus, returned to what was really important, Blair was gone, and he was lying naked and cold on the unforgiving ground, all by himself.
He leaped to his feet and scanned the woods with Sentinel eyes. But there was nothing. He tried smell and hearing, but still he could find no trace of Blair. He was trying to adjust, to shake off the disorientation, to figure out how he could track his love when the world turned on end, his senses expanding wildly, knocking him backward with the force of their sudden intensity.
When he could open his eyes again without being completely overwhelmed, he was standing in the dense shadows of the Peruvian jungle. The new power of his senses did not diminish; if anything, returning to the place where he had first regained them as an adult only intensified their already formidable strength. With the rush of his senses came the sharp insinuation of instinct, and he let it guide him, push him forward, a little tentatively at first, but then faster and faster, until he was ripping through the underbrush, single-mindedly pursuing his mate.
He could feel the leaves and branches lashing his sides as ran. The ground was uneven, but somehow he knew this terrain too well to stumble. He ran faster. Everything blurred for him into one overriding intention: to find Blair. Every nerve ending in his body strained with the effort of taking in as much information as possible. The world tilted again, and this time he found himself closer to the ground, on four legs, dark-furred and coiled with power, the essential Sentinel. He surged forward, unleashing the speed of his new body, flying off after his lover.
His body twitched with all the input assaulting him. The primitive parts of his brain sorted through it automatically, discarding the normal jungle sounds, the scents of other animals. Until finally, there it was, Blair's scent. His nose quivered, the familiar smell tickling along his whiskers. He launched his sleek, powerful bulk in the direction of his mate.
Then he heard it. His ears pricked up, instantly alert. He knew that sound, and the knowledge sank heavily into the pit of his stomach, making him feel sick. Jackals. Heading for Blair. He tore off even faster, desperately determined to reach his lover first, even though he knew the jackals had a head start. The branches cut into him as he raced through the thick undergrowth, but he didn't care. His only thought was to protect his mate.
When he heard the first high pitched shriek of the jackals, a sound they made only when about to attack, he knew he had failed in his sacred responsibility. They had reached Blair first, and they were moving in for the kill. He only hoped his love could hold them off until he got there. He ran faster still.
The fighting soon started. He could hear the tearing of flesh, the dull thud of falling bodies, the wild thrashing as they fought for any advantage, the jackals' shrill cries, his lover's low, throaty growls of warning. He could smell blood and fear and determination. He could feel death in the air.
Finally, he broke into a clearing, and at the other end of it, his wolven lover thrashed on the ground, two jackals ripping at him with their deadly, rapacious teeth, as he valiantly tried to fight them off. There was blood on Blair's silvery fur, and he could tell from his lover's increasing sluggishness that he was growing weak. He let out the most ferocious snarl he was capable of, and both jackals snapped to attention, completely surprised to find him there. One, the leader, immediately turned and ran, too smart to contest Jim for his mate. But the other, perhaps anxious to prove he was more than a follower, faced off against him.
It was the last decision and the last moment of his life. Jim, frantic with worry for his critically injured lover, had no time to waste on him. He leaped, a tautly muscled three hundred pound force of rage. He landed on the jackal and handily broke its neck, crushing its windpipe, killing it straight away. Jim abandoned his vanquished foe there on the damp mossy ground, the jackal's pink tongue lolling in its slack mouth. He rushed to his lover's side. Blair whimpered, a pitiful, heart-breaking sound. His thick fur was ripped and battered, soaked in blood. Jim crouched beside him, licking his face to comfort him.
His vision sparkled, and once more, the world shifted on its axis, disorienting him. When his eyes cleared, he was human once again, and his senses were back to normal. He quickly pulled Blair, also restored, into his arms, onto his lap. Blair's back was crisscrossed with lacerations, torn and bloody. There were long scratches on his arms and legs, a wound to his belly. He held his lover tightly against him, brushing the hair back from his face, frightened out of his mind. For one terrible moment, he really thought Blair might be dead, but then he heard the sluggish gurgle of his breathing, the faint lub-dub of his pulse. He shifted Blair's body, to be able to see his face, desperate for some sign that he was conscious and aware.
But even as he moved him, Blair remained still and silent, a deadweight in his arms. When Jim finally managed to get him turned over, the fear in him turned arctic and enormous. Blair's eyes were the deadest things he could ever have imagined finding in a living face. A low throbbing cry came pulsing along the floor of the forest, as if the jungle itself were in mourning.
"No!" he wailed in grief, jolting himself awake.
His chest heaved, and he was damp with cold sweat. It took him a few seconds to understand where he was, that he had been dreaming, to figure out that the noise from his dream was actually the phone ringing. He heard the answering machine click on, and then his own voice floated up to him. He wiped his hands over his face, trying to get the residual fear under control. Then he got up and went downstairs. The beep sounded, and there was a second of silence before whoever it was hung up. The dial tone blared loudly, hurting his ears, and he jabbed at the button on the machine, muttering curses. He shook his head, still feeling unnerved, and went into the bathroom, to throw some cold water on his face.
Even after that, he still felt profoundly off balance, like something was just really, really wrong. What a fucked up dream. He was no stranger to nightmares, and he'd grown adept at shaking them off. But not this one, not this time. I know I'm worried about Blair, but this is nuts.
Then he thought again of the hang up on the answering machine. He dropped the towel he was using to mop his face and bolted back out to the living room. He rewound the message and listened again to that moment of silence, focusing his Sentinel hearing, filtering out the static and the incidental mechanical noises, just as Blair had taught him. He rewound and listened again, and again. Finally, he was able to zero in on the faint voice in the background. He couldn't make out exactly what was said, but he did clearly discern the name "Ellis." He also recognized the voiceDr. Fred Thompson.
Perhaps it took him a minute to get dressed and then he was out the door, on his way to save his partner.
Christine Hannigan listened to Blair's screaming protests until the last faint echo died away. She had an unbearably sick sensation in the pit of her stomach.
"Well, Christine, I know that was difficult, but at least we can rest assured that we're doing the right thing by the patient," Dr. Thompson said.
Christine nodded, hesitantly. Something wasn't right. She knew that. She just didn't know what to do about it.
She tried to keep her expression neutral. "I'll need to revise my case notes significantly," she said, trying to sound professionally interested, rather than sick with worry, which was how she actually felt.
She began to back away toward the door.
"Tonight?" Dr. Thompson asked. "Surely, it can wait until the morning."
"I had some thoughts just now. I wanted to get them down while they're still fresh in my mind." She smiled at her boss, hoping he'd believe her.
She hurried back to her office and shut the door. She sank down onto her chair, propped her elbows up on the desk and buried her head in her hands. She had the worst headache of her life. It was impossible to pretend any longer. All the inconsistencies, all the causes for hesitation came surging back up from the black bottom of her memory where she'd relegated them. There were so many: staff who were never replaced because there wasn't enough money in the budget, diagnoses that made no sense, patients who didn't appear to need psychiatric intervention, and worse yet, patients who did need it and didn't seem to be receiving adequate care. All the while, the hospital just seemed to be getting richer and richer. She'd seen the way Dr. Thompson lived. She'd wondered how he could afford to attend all the conferences and seminars he did, many of them out of the country, always on a first class basis.
And then she remembered what Blair had said, as he was being dragged down the hall, that he was really with the police, that he'd found evidence of fraud, that they were going to kill him for what he knew. She thought about the way Ralph had manhandled him, the bruising grip on the young man's arm, the hard way the orderly's eyes had glittered.
For a moment, she really thought she was going to be sick. Instead, she frantically grabbed for the phone and dialed 911. She was so thoroughly focused on getting help that it nearly scared her to death when the phone was unceremoniously yanked out of her hand and slammed down.
"It's a little late to be making calls, isn't it, Christine?" Dr. Thompson asked, his normally impassive face now completely frozen over.
She'd never seen anything more terrifying. Then she noticed the gun in his hand, and she had to revise that opinion.
"Why?" she asked, unable to believe that this was the same man who lectured so convincingly on the sacred responsibility of the psychiatric profession, who enjoyed a national reputation, who had been her mentor.
"Because I can, Christine," he said.
"So is it just about money?" she asked, her voice thick with disgust.
He laughed at her. "You say that as someone who's never had the advantages that come with financial means. Otherwise, you'd know there's no such thing as just money."
"We're talking about people's lives."
"A few months out of a few lives here and there. That's all. No one's being hurt in any substantial way. We feed and clothe them. We give them time to consider their lives. It's not such a bad deal when you consider it objectively."
She stared at him in horrified disbelief. "What are you saying? What kind of monster are you?"
He shrugged. "I'd say I'm the one holding the gun. That's all you really need to know."
"Why did you hire me?" she asked, tears in her eyes, her voice choked.
He considered her. "The truth? You were so very easy to control, Christine, so eager for my good opinion. You would always discount your own analysis in favor of mine. I could get you to second any diagnosis I made. That was very convenient for me. Of course, there was also your crusade against homosexuals. That proved handy on numerous occasions."
She colored hotly. "What?"
"You're a bigot, my dear. You know good and well that homosexuality is not a valid reason to confine patients for care, and yet, you let patients' sexual orientation affect your judgment every time."
"Yes. These may well be your last moments. As a psychiatrist, you know the importance of being honest in establishing a sense of closure."
"I never meant to hurt anyone," she insisted, her voice rising desperately, the tears flowing.
"Yes, well, you know what they say about good intentions."
She sobbed softly.
"All right, Christine. Come along now. I'm afraid there's about to be a terrible accident. A patient out of control, attacking another patient, who turns out to be an undercover police officer. A dedicated young doctor trying to save the day. Sadly, both young people losing their lives. It will make quite the headline."
She shook her head, still crying. "Please, don't do this, Dr. Thompson. You're a physician, for God's sake."
"Unfortunately, if I want to remain a physician, then I have to do this. Let's go. We'll need to join Blair and Ralph in the isolation room, see what kind of progress they're making."
He grabbed her by the arm. "You will do as I say. Now come on!"
He yanked her roughly up from the chair and dragged her across the room, toward the door.
"Stop! Help!" she screamed.
"Shut up!" he warned her.
Christine was not really certain what happened next. There was a quick blur, the sound of an impact, and suddenly Dr. Thompson's death grip was gone from her arm. She looked down to where the man lay sprawled on the floor, blood on his face. Another man stood over him, panting, his face red, seemingly from rage.
"Where is Blair?" the man demanded.
"Are you with the police?" she asked.
"Yes, yes, I am. Detective Jim Ellison," he told her, quickly whipping out his ID. "Blair's also working with us. It's crucial that I find him."
"Dr. Thompson had Ralph Wilson, one of the orderlies, take him to the isolation room. It's down the hall, make a right, through the double doors into the next wing, then straight down the first corridor."
"I need you to call for back up," he told her.
She nodded. He took out a pair of handcuffs and efficiently fastened one of Dr. Thompson's wrists to a nearby heating pipe. He picked up the gun and handed it to her.
"Watch him," he told her.
"Hurry, detective. I think maybe... You need to get to Blair before Ralph hurts him."
She watched the policeman's expression turn bleak.
"Call for an ambulance too," he said and sprinted off down the hall.
Jim tried to stay calm. He tried not to dwell on the horrific images from his dream that kept crowding back to him. He tried to hear Blair's voice in his head, centering him, keeping him focused. He followed Dr. Hannigan's directions, down the halls, through the glass doors. As he grew closer, he could hear Blair's heartbeat, racing with terror, and then he heard the orderly speaking.
"You know this is what you've been waiting for, you little fag. You like a good hard cock up the ass. I bet that's why they picked you for this assignment, huh? They knew you'd be convincing 'cause you're such a sweet piece, 'cause they know just how much you love taking it up the butt. You ever let the other cops do you? Huh, pretty boy? I bet down at the station they all know first hand just what a fantastic fuck you are. Oh yeah, and now I'm going to find out too. I'm going to give it to you good, pretty boy cop. I'm going to use that tight, hot little hole of yours. I'm going to use it good and hard and long, like it belongs to me. You hear me, fairy? I said your asshole belongs to me now. And I like to play rough with my property, boy. Oh yeah, get ready, sweet thing. I'm going to show you what it's like to have a real man fuck you."
Jim's mind couldn't help but flash forward a few moments into the future. He pictured Blair, exhausted and brutalized, his body torn and bleeding, the honey sweet voice that played constantly in Jim's head like music hoarse from screaming, Blair's lovely face etched with pain and humiliation, red from crying, a few final tears trembling on the smoky lashes, the beautiful blue eyes no longer warm and sparkling with light and life but...oh God, deadened, just like in the dream, the Blair he knew and loved with all his heart shattered, destroyed, gone forever.
Jim ran flat out the last few yards and kicked in the door, adrenaline making him strong enough to leave it swaying on its hinges. Blair lay on his belly on a bed, spread eagled, lashed down, his clothes stripped from him, ripped and haphazardly discarded on the floor. The orderly from the other day knelt on the bed between Blair's naked thighs, his pants unzipped, his cock out, hard, covered with a condom. He was holding Blair's ass cheeks wide apart, obscenely exposing him. There was a demented expression on the man's face, lust and sadistic glee, as he paused a moment before beginning the rape, prolonging Blair's panic and terror, drawing it out, enjoying himself thoroughly.
The noise of Jim's sudden appearance caused the man to freeze, and in that instant, Jim's senses went wild. The sour scent of Blair's fear filled him with an almost uncontainable rage. He could also smell the thick, sickening stench of the rapist's arousal. It became stronger whenever Blair cried out or struggled against the restraints, the monster getting off on his terror and helplessness. The edge of Jim's vision began to blur, the hold on his rational mind loosening, his modern self disappearing into the mists of a primitive rage.
"NOOOOOO!!!!!!!" It was not the cry of a man, but the furious, howling protest of a jaguar whose mate was in danger.
Jim coiled his body and lunged, with all the power and viciousness of an outraged beast. Blair's would-be rapist never knew what hit him, could never have guessed that it was two hundred pounds of protective, ferocious, mortally pissed off Sentinel. Of course, the man didn't exactly have time to consider the question, since Jim fell on him in a fury. He knocked him off the bed, away from Blairhis Guide, his best friend, his beloved, his matethe incendiary rage only gathering force when he saw the fingermark bruises on Blair's arms.
"HURT!!!!!" Jim bellowed, making only the most basic kind of Neolithic sense.
He aimed a fist at the rapist's jaw and landed a quick, sharp kick to the guy's vulnerable, exposed groin. The man screeched in shock and pain, clutching his privates, doubling over, sinking to the floor. Jim drank in the sound, his caveman's brain finding a pleasing justice in it.
"MINE!!!!!" he yelled, claiming Blair for his own, although the man was hardly in any condition to contest for him.
But Jim wasn't satisfied with that degree of victory. He could still feel the resonance of fear, Blair's and his own, along with his deep sense of outrage at what had almost happened to his mate.
"MINE!!!!" he reiterated, although the rapist was hardly arguing.
Possessiveness and primitive fury propelled Jim, making him grab the man by the collar, dragging him back to his feet, pummeling him with blows, screaming that Blair was his all the while, undeterred by the sight and smell of blood or the feeling of bones shattering beneath his fists, lost in a blind, primal rage that was the mother of all zoneouts.
"Jim! Jim!" The sound was like an insect buzzing around his head, vague, persistent, distracting. "Jim! Stop! You're going to kill him!"
The realization began to sink in that it was his mate's voice, although the specific words, even his own name, meant nothing to him. Still, his mate was calling to him, apparently needed him. And the threat...well, that had definitely been neutralized. He released his opponent, watching him sink to the floor, whimpering, bleeding, vanquished, and he quickly turned his attention back to his beloved.
His mate arched up against the restraints, his head thrashing wildly, face red from straining. Jim swept his senses over him and found his heartbeat still out of control, his breath coming in quick and shallow gasps, the muscles rigid and tense, a residual smell of fear and agitation clinging to him.
He had only one overwhelming impulse: to comfort. He climbed onto the bed, half covering his mate with his larger body, stroking him tenderly, reassuringly, running his palm lightly down his love's arm, along his side, caressing hip and flank and thigh. He rested his head on his mate's shoulder and made a low keening sound in the back of his throat, not language exactly, but still rich with nuance and meaning.
The sound spoke of Jim's sick fear at what had almost happened, of his terrible regret that he had not been a better protector, an abject sorrow that he had ever allowed his beloved to fall into enemy hands. It was also the sound of soothing and comfort, assuring his mate that all was well now, that he was safe, that nothing in the world could hurt him with his Sentinel defending him. As he felt his chosen one relaxing under his gentling hands, it told the tale of Jim's endless love for him, the greatest, most tender truth of all, that there was nothing he wouldn't give him, do for him, sacrifice, lie, cheat, steal, kill for him. Nothing.
"Come on, big guy. Follow my voice back. I know you can do it. It's okay now. I'm okay. You saved me. So come on back. Please, Jim. I need you to untie me. My arms and legs are numb, and my back hurts. Come on, Jim. I need you, man. I need you aware and fully functional. Okay? Can you do that for me, Jim? Please?"
The primal veil began to lift. The thousands of years of evolution that had been lost slowly returned. Jim lifted his head, very much confused about what had happened, about how he'd ended up clutching his partner's naked, bound body. He jumped up from the bed. His memory of the past few minutes was spotty at best, and the last thing he clearly remembered was that bastard's hands on Blair, poised to...shit! He had no recollection of actually stopping him. He didn't know if...shit! He ran his senses over Blair in a panic. There was no blood on his partner's backside. He didn't smell pain, only the last stale whiffs of fear. The rapist's scent still lingered on him, but there was no odor of cum. He looked into Blair's face, into his deep blue eyes, and saw there confusion and surprise and uncertainty, but no look of violation, no shame, nothing deadened. Thank God. Thank God.
A low moan of pain behind him made Jim whirl around, his protective instincts still itchy and ready for a fight. The bastard who'd tried to hurt his partner lay crumpled on the ground, covered in blood, his arm bent at an awkward angle, suggesting it was broken. Jim felt a wave of pain in his hands and looked down to find the knuckles bruised and scraped.
He turned back to his friend. "Blair?" he managed to say, feebly, his brain still dim and confused, begging for an explanation.
"He wanted to rape me. You had other ideas about it. Jim, man, can I get some help here? I so don't want to be tied down to this bed anymore."
That finally jumpstarted Jim's reason and spurred him to action. "Yeah, Chief. Sorry. Here, let me get you free."
He took care of the restraints in short order, and Blair sat up, shaking out his arms and legs, wincing at the pins-and-needles of returning sensation.
"Thanks for the rescue, man. I am so glad you showed up when you did."
The recently-returned-from-the-Stone-Age Jim struggled to catch up, to make sense of what he saw before him: Blair stretching his cramped muscles and complaining about the draft in the room, Blair alive and well and unchanged, Blair all in one piece, Blair unviolated. It was more than he could contain within himself. He gathered his friend into one hell of a ferocious hug, so glad he was all right, not caring, actually not really registering, that Blair didn't have on a single stitch of clothing. When he felt the slender arms go around his own waist, he hugged his Guide even tighter, tears in his eyes.
"It's all right now, Jim. You saved me. It's all right." The low, sweet voice whispered against his ear, making him shiver. He felt his Guide pulling back, and he let him go, reluctantly.
"Jim? Could you...you know, find me some clothes somewhere? Mine are kind of totaled," he said, looking down at the strips of cloth that had once been his shirt and pants.
"Oh, sure, Chief. Yeah. Right," Jim said. But he didn't move. He just stood there staring at his Guide, drinking him in, not really wanting to leave, not even for a minute.
"Could you hurry it up, man? It's freezing in here. Clothes. Please. Now."
His Guide's insistent tone brought him back to himself. He went in search of something for Blair to wear, finally remembering about backup, wondering where the hell it was. A few doors down, he found a locker room and borrowed an orderly's uniform. He brought the clothes back to Blair and couldn't help hovering while he dressed, although the chivalrous thing would have been to give him some privacy, to at least turn his back. But Blair seemed to understand and didn't make an issue of it, quickly pulling on the shirt and pants while Jim kept watch over him, as if expecting an enemy attack at any moment.
"Okay, let's get this mess sorted out so we can get the hell out of here. I am so ready to go home."
Blair sounded anxious to leave, but basically all right, matter-of-fact even. But when he slid off the bed, his knees started to buckle. Jim rushed to catch him, and he could feel the tremors running through his body. He realized that Blair must still be in shock, that he hadn't really processed what had happened. For that matter, neither had he. Blair was nearly raped. He shuddered, and a fresh wave of protectiveness overtook him. He tucked Blair against his side, bearing some of his weight, sharing his body heat with him, offering comfort, silent and physical, the only way he knew how.
He led Blair out of the room, wanting to leave all that behind them forever. He kept his arm wrapped around his partner, and they walked down the empty hall, back toward the administrative offices.
Blair looked back over his shoulder. "I guess we should... I mean, we can't exactly leave him there."
"Backup's on the way, Chief. An ambulance too."
"Did you... Was that for me?"
Jim tightened his grip on his partner's shoulders. "I didn't know what I'd find," he admitted, his voice half choked.
A sound of pure animal fear escaped Blair. Jim could feel him shudder. Blair's hands scrabbled at his shirt, and he buried his face against Jim's shoulder.
"It's okay, buddy. You're okay."
They had nearly reached the administrative wing when Simon, Rafe and several uniformed officers came racing around a corner, guns drawn.
"Ellison! Sandburg! What the hell happened?" Simon demanded, the volume of his voice in direct proportion to how concerned he'd been for them.
"One of the orderlies attacked Sandburg," Jim said, choosing his words carefully, not wanting to upset Blair any further.
But Simon seemed to understand what that euphemism meant. He watched Blair closely, his worry evident. "Blair," Simon said, his voice as gentle as Jim had ever heard it. "Are you okay?"
Blair nodded, still holding on to Jim, unable to return Simon's gaze. "Jim got there in time," he said, his voice faint, a little hoarse from screaming. "He stopped him."
Blair fell silent, and Simon kept his attention focused on him, taking in how shaken he looked, his eerie, unnatural quiet, with obvious concern. He turned to Jim. "Ellison, I..." he broke off, but the apology was clear in his voice.
It took a moment for Jim to decide whether he could forgive him or not. There was a part of him that wanted to blame Simon, that railed against him for being so careless with Blair. On the other hand, in many ways, he had Simon to thank for helping him come to his senses where his partner was concerned, to finally understand just how much he loved him, a gift he'd be hard pressed ever to repay. He thought about his captain's rather fatherly affection for Blair, not nearly so well concealed as he liked to think. He thought about how important it was for Blair to have Simon's faith in him. And finally Jim accepted that Simon had done what he thought was best, that he could never have known how it would turn out. He decided that no one was to blame except for Dr. Thompson and that bastard of an orderly.
"I left kind of a mess back there, Simon," he finally said.
Simon looked relieved for a moment that he and Jim were okay, but the relief was fleeting. "How bad?" he wanted to know.
"I don't know exactly. He'll live. But beyond that..."
Simon waved a hand. "I get the picture. I'll get the paramedics down there."
"Thanks. Look, I know you need Blair to make a statement, but..."
Simon shook his head. "It can wait until morning. Sandburg looks like hell, and frankly, Jim, you don't look that much better. Get the kid home, take care of him, take some time if you need it. I'll call you tomorrow."
"Thanks, Simon," he said, gratefully.
Simon nodded. "Okay, I'm going to go see just how much covering I'm going to be doing for you."
Simon shook his head. "Don't even say it. I want to enjoy the last few moments of peace I have."
With that, he and the other cops continued down the corridor. Jim walked Blair toward the exit.
"Hey, Chief?" Jim said.
"Are you sure... If he'd done something to you before I got there, you would tell me, wouldn't you?"
"Uh, I don't know," his partner answered truthfully. "But you'd know anyway. Your senses would tell you."
That launched the Sentinel into action, and Jim ran his senses over Blair like an organic medical scanner. He sorted through the various data, and finally felt assured that Blair hadn't been hurt in any significant way.
"Thank God," he murmured.
He felt Blair sigh, felt the weight of his partner's exhaustion. Jim became even more anxious to get him home.
"Let go of me! I haven't done anything wrong! Not a shot. Please! Please don't! I hate the drugs. No!" Jim heard a young woman screaming at the top of her lungs.
Blair's head jerked up, instantly alert. "Jennifer," he said.
Blair made a beeline for the commotion, and Jim ran after him, following his partner through the maze of doorways and corridors. They finally found an orderly tussling with a young woman whom he recognized from the photograph Stacey Walters had given them. A slightly built teenaged boy was hanging onto the orderly's arm, trying to help Jennifer escape.
"Stop!" Blair screamed. "Don't hurt them!"
"What are you doing out of your room?" the harried orderly barked at Blair. "Where did you get those clothes? What in the world is wrong with all of you tonight? And who the hell are you?" he asked Jim.
Jim whipped out his badge and held it up for the guy. "Jim Ellison, Cascade PD. This man is my partner. He's been on an undercover assignment here at the hospital, investigating abuse by the administration. I'll need you to release Miss Ross and her friend."
The orderly studied the badge. "Now, detective, I'd like to cooperate. But you don't have the authority to tell me what to do with the patients. I have procedures to follow. When they get agitated, I'm supposed to sedate them. I can't just ignore the rules."
"It's okay, Adam," Dr. Hannigan said, hurrying down the hall to them. "You have it on my authority. They don't need to be sedated. Just let them go back to their rooms. We'll sort out this mess in the morning. New information has led me to believe that their cases need to be reviewed anyway. I'm not at all sure this is where they belong."
Adam looked confused, but he simply nodded, following orders. "Okay, Dr. Hannigan. Whatever you say. Come on, you two. I'll see you back to your rooms."
"Thanks, Blair," Jennifer said, her eyes wide and grateful.
"Yeah, Curly. You really came through for us," Ritchie added and nodded his head in Jim's direction. "Definitely a hero."
Jim frowned in confusion. Blair smiled, and Jim thought he even blushed a little.
"I'm glad I could help," Blair told them. "I'll see you guys soon. On the outside."
Jennifer and Ritchie both smiled at him, looking expectant and relieved. They headed back to their rooms with Adam.
Dr. Hannigan turned to Blair. "I don't know what to say, other than that I'm so sorry."
"You'll make sure they get a fair evaluation?" Blair asked.
She nodded solemnly. "Of course. I feel certain they'll be released."
"Yes. As soon as I can manage it. A matter of days at the most."
The woman's face twisted with guilt. "I never meant... I only ever wanted to help."
"You let your prejudices get in the way and people got hurt," Blair said, not with bitterness, simply pointing out the facts.
"Yes," she said, forcing back tears. "But I've learned my lesson. I've seen how my personal attitudes got in the way. I promise that I'll speak up, tell whoever takes over as director the truth about what was going on around here. I'll review the case of every patient in here. I'll push the new administration to check into the staff and get rid of anyone who's been abusive or improper. I'll do everything I can to make sure the patients get the care we promised their loved ones. I'll work with the new director to put things right. I want to make this a place where people really do get the help they need. I swear."
Blair considered the woman a moment and then nodded. "I believe you, Dr. Hannigan."
"Thank you," she said, with honest gratitude. "Well, I'd better go see to the patients. There's been a lot of turmoil tonight, and I'm sure it's been upsetting. Goodnight, Blair. Detective Ellison."
They watched her walk back up the corridor, looking tired but determined.
"You know, it really is true that the most dangerous thing in the world is for good people to do nothing," Blair said, sounding defeated and more than a little disillusioned.
Jim frowned, concerned. "That may be true, Blair. But it's also true that plenty of good people do care and do get involved. I'm standing here with a perfect example of that."
"Thanks, man," Blair said, but his voice still sounded hollow and lost.
"Hey, buddy, you ready to go home now?"
Jim put a hand on his friend's back, guiding him to the exit and out to the truck, more relieved than he could ever have imagined to be taking Blair home, where he would be safe and cared for and cherished.
It felt like he'd been away forever. That was Blair's first reaction when he stepped through the door into the loft. Immediately he found himself looking around for anything that might have changed in his absence, even though he knew, of course, that this was ridiculous. It had only been a matter of days, even if each one had seemed like a century. He stood for a moment in the middle of the room, eyes closed, letting it wash over him, the familiar smell, the weird rattle of the refrigerator, the way the rug felt beneath his feet, the small things that signified home. Each one felt like a benediction. He was the very definition of relieved.
Blair could sense his Sentinel hovering, watching him, letting him acclimate a little before coming over to him. He soon felt a light touch on his shoulder, and he smiled. The hand hesitated a moment, as if it might pull away, but then it settled there, a solid weight of comfort.
"You must be tired, Chief."
"Could never sleep in there."
"That's not too surprising. Why don't you go take a shower? Then have something to eat and go to bed."
He nodded, yawning, the full measure of his exhaustion finally hitting him, now that he was home and it was safe to feel it. "Good idea," he mumbled sleepily and shambled over to the bathroom.
"Jim?" he said, before heading inside.
"Thanks for coming to get me."
Jim's face broke open with some powerful emotion, but only for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was calm and even. "Any time, buddy. Any time."
Blair smiled. God, it was good to be home.
It was also good to take a shower in his own bathroom, as hot as he wanted, as long as he wanted, without an audience. As he stood under the steamy spray, as his muscles slowly began to relax, he realized just how tense he'd been. He squirted a liberal amount of shower gel onto a sponge and began soaping his body, thoroughly, all over, every inch. God, it really was a horrible place. He allowed himself to register that thought for the first time. It scared the shit out of me. I've never felt that powerless in my whole life. Against his will, his mind flashed back to Ralph, to when he had felt that bastard's hot breath against his neck, the way those cold-hearted hands had torn at his clothes, how mercilessly the man had grabbed and groped and manhandled his defenseless body.
Blair had to fight down the nausea. He was going to rape me. He was going to hurt me really badly. If it wasn't for Jim... The sick sensation began to mutate into full blown panic. He bent over slightly at the waist, resting his forehead against the smooth tile, letting its porcelain coolness sink into him, helping to settle his nerves, as he relearned the trick of breathing.
The knock on the door, expected and appreciated, came soon after the panic. "Blair?" Jim called, purposefully keeping his voice low and gentle. "Are you okay? Do you need any help?"
"Nah, man. It's cool. I just..." he broke off. "I'm all right now."
He could feel Jim's hesitation, even through the wood and plaster and tile separating them, but then finally his partner said, "Okay, but you let me know if you need me, huh?"
"Will do. And Jim?"
He could feel Jim's smile, even if he couldn't see it. "Like I said, any time."
Knowing his Sentinel was watching over him made Blair feel more solid somehow, like a fortress, defended and secure. He ran his hands over his skin, slowly, deliberately, therapeutically, washing away the soap, visualizing that he was also scouring away the last toxic vestiges of the would-be rapist's touch, reclaiming his skin, his body, his sense of wholeness with his own hands, letting the taint flow away from him, carried by the water, down the drain, into the sewers, out to the sea, out of his life, forever.
He turned off the water, stepped out of the shower, and he could breathe again. He pulled a clean towel, cottony and fresh smelling, out of the vanity and toweled dry, taking his time, relishing the simple luxury of it. But he didn't do it. He didn't get the chance. That's the important thing. Jim stopped him. He wrapped the towel around his waist and went back to his room.
Blair dug through his bureau drawers until he found his favorite ratty old sweatpants. Comfort clothing. He smiled as he put them on. He also put on a T-shirt and an oversized flannel shirt that he'd borrowed from Jim once upon a time and never returned. He buttoned it up, appreciating how warm and soft it was, how it made him feel blanketed in affection, friendship, safety.
Something hearty and fragrant wafted into his room, making his stomach grumble. It drew him out to the kitchen. He found Jim by the stove stirring a pot of soup. The fixings for grilled cheese sandwiches sat on the counter.
"Hey, that smells good, man," he said. "Just what I need. Comfort food."
"I felt sure they didn't feed you very well in there. I just wanted you to have something good to eat now that you're home."
Blair nodded, appreciating the sentiment. After the institutional swill he'd endured, he was more than ready for a huge bowl of Jim's special vegetable soup. He leaned against the opposite counter and watched Jim melting butter in a skillet, but he felt restless, weirdly at loose ends. He took a few steps closer to his partner and tried to settle there. But it still felt too far away. He took a few more steps, moving into Jim's personal space, brushing against his elbow. He half expected Jim to give him the look and tell him he needed room to work. But Jim must have been feeling as unnerved as he was, because he simply reached out and put a hand on his back, rubbing in light, comforting circles, helping him feel anchored to his life once more. Blair never wanted it to end.
Jim finished preparing the meal and then surprised him by heading into the living room with their plates and bowls, turning the coffee table into a makeshift dining table.
"Eating on the sofa? What gives, man?" he asked, following with their beers.
Jim shrugged. "I thought we'd be more comfortable," he said, sitting down.
Blair settled beside him, and they set to work on their sandwiches and soup. Blair was more hungry than he'd realized, despite the late hour. Or perhaps, it was just that everything tasted so good. It reminded him of home and freedom and life with Jim, all the important things, all the things he'd ached for even in just the few short days he'd been gone. He devoured his food and guzzled his beer. The sharp bite of the alcohol hit the back of his throat, and it was a form of pleasure.
When they'd plowed through their food, Jim stacked the dishes and returned them to the kitchen, refusing to let Blair help. He could hear the tap running and the sound of the plates being settled into the soapy water. Jim took two more beers out of the refrigerator and rejoined him, not bothering to wash the dishes, leaving them to soak, something he never did. Jim handed him one of the cold, sweating bottles, and went to light the fire. The dull red-orange flames spat and flickered at first, but then grew stronger, as Jim added more fuel, stoking it until the fire blazed brightly.
Soon, Blair could feel the comforting warmth sinking into him. He could feel himself beginning to slouch and then list and then sprawl, until he was half splayed across the sofa. The only reason he didn't fully stretch out was because he wanted to leave room for Jim. He knew he wouldn't be content to have his Sentinel even as far away as the love seat or the chair.
Jim seemed to recognize this and squeezed into the space left at the end of the couch, lifting Blair's legs up, pulling his feet into his lap.
"You don't have to" Blair said, starting to move his feet.
Jim held them. "You're fine."
Blair relaxed, resting his head comfortably against the throw pillows. Jim began to massage his feet, rubbing them through his thick wool socks. Whatever final tension he'd been hanging onto floated away from him, and his eyelids fluttered heavily. Occasionally, Jim would pat his knee and run his hand down the front of his leg to his ankle and back to his feet again, a friendly little caress. His Sentinel seemed to need the contact as much as he did, to reassure himself that everything was all right, just as it reassured Blair.
Blair stayed silent, a good, long while, soaking in the feeling of safe haven. He felt so reluctant to ruin his sense of calm with the ugly words he'd have to use to describe what happened. He felt Jim's patience like a physical presence in the room. He knew his partner wouldn't press him for revelations he wasn't ready to make, wouldn't interrogate him, wouldn't force him to recount the gory details. Jim was a great respecter of privacy and boundaries and things happening in their own good time. Somehow that made it easier to offer the story.
"I didn't even have time to be afraid of dying," he finally said, his voice more shaky than he'd expected it to be, leaving him a little embarrassed. "Jennifer had told me that he'd raped another boy, traumatized him so badly he'd become catatonic. So I knew what he was going to do to me, from the moment they caught me in the director's office, even before he started taunting me with it, sounding all slurred and eager, like he couldn't wait."
Jim had paused when Blair first started speaking, but then he resumed his massaging, keeping his hands on him, firm and kind and reassuring, keeping them connected, reminding Blair he was home now.
"The walk down the hall to the isolation room was the longest of my life. He had the gun pressed to my back the whole time, and I could feel his breath against my face, all hot and grotesque. When we got there, he shut the door and locked it. I can't tell you how loud the bolt sounded when it slid into place, like it shook the room, like I was hearing it with your senses. He pointed the gun at me and ordered me to take off my clothes. I didn't want to, but I knew he would kill me without a second thought. I kept thinking that if I could stall long enough maybe Dr. Hannigan would realize something was wrong, maybe she'd call the cops, maybe you'd come for me. So I started to unbutton my shirt...and he was leering at me like I was some kind of peep show, and I felt so sick, like I was going to puke. My hands wouldn't stop shaking, and I guess I wasn't moving quickly enough for him. So he..." Blair stopped, a hitch in his voice, vaguely ashamed, but also shaken, the terror not really gone, certainly not forgotten.
Jim had stopped the foot massage and was simply holding onto him now, securely, diligently, like he really wanted to do a good job, like nothing had ever been more important. Blair latched onto that sensation, the feel of Jim's arms wrapped around his bent knees, the raw strength flowing from Jim's body into his. It was not a cure-all or a magic spell. It did not banish from memory the specter of the would-be rapist or drain away the reverberating fear. But it did give him the courage to go on.
"That's when he pulled out a knife, like the ones they use in the ER, and he came towards me with it, still holding the gun on me. And I thought...I didn't know if... He started cutting my clothes off me, just shredding them, like they were nothing. Every time a strip of cloth fell away, I felt a cold rush of air on my skin where it had been, and it made me feel so...exposed. It only took him a few seconds. He was really handy with the knife, like he'd done shit like that before. And finally, I was completely naked, and he was staring at me, his eyes...they were just all over my body. I tried to cover myself with my hands, but he pointed the gun at me and made me put my hands behind my head. And then he laughed and said that I should get used to it, because I wasn't going to have anything that didn't belong to him by the time he was finished with me."
Blair lowered his eyes, not able to look at Jim while he finished the story, not wanting his Sentinel to see his face.
"Then he ordered me over to the bed and told me to get up on it and lie face down. I could hear the sound of the velcro as he opened the restraints and then closed them around my ankles and then my wrists. I had my eyes closed the whole time, and I began to think that I really should have fought back because dying probably would have been a lot easier than this. That was the first time I really understood that it was going to happen, that he was going to rape me, that there wasn't going to be any cavalry coming to the rescue. I'd never been tied down before...you know, like consensually, for fun, and now I realized why I'd never had any interest in that shit. There was a little bit of give, but not enough so I could really move, just so I'd wear myself out trying to struggle. And I was so scared and more angry than I've ever been in my life, and I kept trying to get loose, even though I knew I couldn't. And he kept laughing at me. The harder I fought, the more he laughed, the more he liked it. He ran his clammy, disgusting hands all over me, touching me everywhere, telling me he owned me. Then he spread me open...my, uh, cheeks, you know, and he started telling me all the things he was going to do to me. And I...I...was resigned to it, as sick as it sounds. All I could do was just lie there and wait for it, wait for him to rape me. I really thought he would, that no one would find me in time, that he'd do whatever he wanted to me and then kill me and I'd never see you again."
By the time he finished the recitation, he had his eyes tightly closed, as if somehow that would keep him safe from the memory, from Jim's reaction. It was not exactly that he expected Jim to look at him differently, as if he were less of a man, but he couldn't be sure. Maybe he was different, diminished. He just didn't know.
Jim remained quiet, but Blair felt him shifting, picking up his feet and lowering them back to the floor. The trapped door at the bottom of his heart broke open, and he felt like he was falling, sinking fast, a leaden weight in the pit of his stomach pulling him down, into a quagmire of despair. But then Jim's hands closed gently on his shoulders, urging him to sit up. When he did, Jim pulled him close, wrapping strong arms around him, a human life preserver, accepting him, still, helping him understand that being vulnerable did not mean he was diminished, at least not to Jim.
"I'm so sorry, Chief."
It was the soft, broken quality of Jim's voice that finally made him open his eyes. He had seen Jim on the verge of tears a few times beforewhen Danny Choi had died in his arms, at a crime scene once when a man had gunned down his three small children to punish his estranged wife. But Blair had never thought the tears would be for him, that his pain and fear would cause Jim such abject sorrow.
Somehow this reminded him that he had not finished telling the story, that he'd left out the most important part of all.
"But then you came through the door, and it wasn't too late, and I've never been so relieved in my entire life," he said.
Jim's arms tightened around him. "Me too," he whispered, cheek pressed against his hair. "I'm so sorry I ever let that happen to you."
"You didn't. You stopped it."
"I should have been there sooner."
"I don't understand how you got there when you did."
"I had a bad feeling, a very, very bad feeling. I had this dream and... Then there was the hang up on the answering machine. At first, I didn't think anything about it, but then something made me go back. I focused like you taught me, and I heard Thompson's voice. I knew you were in trouble."
"Man, I take back every bitchy thing I've ever said about you in Blessed Protector mode. The way you looked when you came through that door..."
"When I saw what he... I guess I kind of lost it."
"Tell me about it. You beat the shit out of the guy. Never saw you that pissed off before."
Jim stiffened. "I wanted to kill him," he admitted. "I think maybe I would have if you hadn't stopped me."
"And I think maybe I would have let you, if doing it wouldn't
have hurt you. That bastard..." His voice broke. "That
bastard was going to rape me. God knows how many defenseless
people he's destroyed in the past or how many more he would have
gone on to brutalize in the future if you hadn't put an end to
it. If it hadn't meant that you'd end up in prison or unable to
live with yourself, I think I could have watched you kill him
and been nothing but relieved. God, that must make me a really