"I'm sorry, Jim. I just have no appetite today."
"It's okay. It was pretty rough. No matter what happens, out there, in the station, I love you. Just know that."
"I do know, Jim. That's what I held on to all day." Blair got up from the table and wrapped his arms around his lover, standing behind him. Jim reached a hand to touch Blair's face, accidentally hitting the new bruises.
He felt Blair wince.
"I *will* kill them." Jim could feel the anger tighten in his heart.
"No. We'll find some other way of dealing with it."
"Yet another lovely day in Cascade, where the coffee flows like the very rain from the sky."
"You're in a good mood, Chief."
"Why not? We have no cases pending, the sky is a lovely shade of gray and I just had the best sex of my life. Why shouldn't I be happy?"
"Because we are about to enter the police station."
"So do you want to give the game away?"
"One last kiss, okay? Then I'll be good."
Blair snuggled up to Jim in the truck, who laughed and pulled him into his arms.
Surrendering, he captured Blair's mouth in a searing kiss that he hoped would satisfy him for the whole day.
He concentrated his will on that kiss.
So much so that he ignored all the rest that was going on in the garage.
Jim could feel Blair's arousal, as strong as his, as Blair climbed on top of him and ground their bodies together.
Neither was able to notice through the building orgasm and the resultant explosion, and the hurried clean-up, that someone was watching.
"Thank God you keep baby wipes in the truck, Jim."
They made their way up to Major Crimes, carefully touching *just* enough to throw off all suspicion. They knew if they stopped totally, someone would notice.
It wasn't easy. They were at the stage in their relationship when the slightest touch would create instant readiness. Blair had taken to wearing his loosest pants and longest shirts. He'd have worn Jim's shirts, but that would have given the game away. Or so he said to Jim.
There were some comments around the station, but most of it centered around the fact that Blair had stopped hitting on anything in a skirt. Blair pled finals and dissertation and it *seemed* like they bought it.
The morning passed. It was too dreary out for most of Cascade's worst, so Jim and Blair caught up with paperwork. Even Simon seemed relaxed that morning.
"Jim, Blair...nothing's going on here. Why don't we go someplace decent for lunch before you take Sandburg out to the university?"
"Sounds good to me, Captain. You up for lunch, Chief?"
Blair looked up from the paper he'd been grading and put down his third coffee of the morning.
"Just let me stop off in the little observer's room, okay?"
"Don't take too long, Sandburg. I think Simon's hungry."
Blair grinned and disappeared down the hall.
"So, Wonderburger, Jim?"
"Actually, there's this veggie place that Blair likes that serves a decent garden burger."
"That boy is corrupting you, Ellison."
Jim grinned, remembering who came on to whom their first night.
"So, Simon, how about them Jaguars?"
"Yeah, how about them? When are they going to win a game? Those new guys..."
As they chatted, time passed. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen...too long.
"Is he doing his hair in there?"
"I don't know, Simon." Jim closed his eyes and focused his hearing on the men's room. All he could hear was a low moan, faintly echoed by the tiles.
"Blair's hurt!" Damn! Why did he take his ears off him?
The two men, followed by half of Major Crimes, dashed down the hallway and burst into the bathroom.
Blair was nowhere to be seen, but there was blood on the floor. Jim motioned them all to silence. There was that moan again. It was clearly Blair in one of the stalls.
Jim knew that this stall had a broken latch. He opened the door to find Blair huddled on the floor next to the toilet. His nose was bleeding, and his face showed the beginnings of a nasty bruise.
His pants were down around his ankles and he was holding his knees with his hands, trying to preserve some sort of modesty at the onslaught of curious eyes.
He was shivering, and his eyes were wild under the bruises, while tears mixed with the blood on his face.
Jim knelt next to him and gathered him in his arms, mindless of any witnesses. His Blair had been hurt. That's all he cared about right then.
"It's all right, Blair. They're gone. I'm here." Blair sobbed into his shirt.
"Oh, God. I never saw them. Never saw them at all. I was just, you know...and then they were here."
"They grabbed me. Pulled down my pants. Started hitting me. Called me a fag, a fairy...said if I stayed here, they'd get me again." He buried his face in Jim's shirt. "They saw us this morning, Jim. They said so."
"We'll find them, Blair. I promise you that. Let's get you cleaned up, okay?"
Blair nodded. Jim closed the bathroom stall and helped Blair to stand and cover himself. Then he led Blair out of the bathroom and into the unit.
"Take him into my office, Jim. He doesn't need to sit out there right now."
"Good idea." Jim felt like he was running a gauntlet. All the eyes were on him and his partner. He had no idea how he, or, more importantly, Blair, was going to face them all after this. Blair was the main thing now.
Simon handed Blair a wet handkerchief as Jim gently lowered his partner to a chair. Blair pressed the handkerchief to his still-bleeding nose. Jim stood behind him, with his hands on Blair's shoulders. Blair began to reach up a hand, but put it down again. Jim thought for less than a second and took it.
Simon looked at them, a pained expression on his face.
"Stow it, Jim. You guys lost me a lot of money a few weeks ago, when you came in and so studiously acted normal."
"Captain, I don't...There was a pool?"
"Yes, there was a pool."
"When Blair and I would sleep together?" Jim fought to control his outrage.
Simon grinned for a moment, and then looked at Blair again. "No. That pool dried up a long time ago. The current bet was when you *had*. *My* money was on a year ago."
Jim had to laugh. They'd been so careful those past weeks, and for nothing.
"So this isn't a problem?"
"Look at your partner, Jim. It obviously *is* a problem. It's just not one in *this* unit. We've had time to get used to the idea."
"Simon...how long?" Blair's voice was hoarse.
"The rumors started as soon as you joined Jim at the hip, Blair. What took you guys so long? Don't answer that."
"So it probably wasn't anyone from Major Crimes. Blair would have recognized their voices, anyway."
"It had to be someone from the PD. Who else has access to the parking garage?" Blair sounded unhappy.
"What is this about a parking garage? Or do I want to know?"
Jim felt like blushing. How could they have been so *stupid*? "We...got a little carried away this morning. The place was empty. And dark."
"How can *anyone* sneak up on you, Jim? Couldn't you hear?...You were distracted."
Jim nodded. And now he *was* blushing.
"I don't want to know. Sandburg, do you remember anything about those guys?"
Blair brushed sweat-matted hair out of his face.
"They never let me see them. Even when they got my nose, they made sure I didn't see them. They used a nightstick. It...doesn't feel broken, so I guess they knew what they were doing. It can't be easy to hit a guy with a nightstick and not break his nose."
"Nightstick. Uniforms. Blair was beaten up by uniforms."
Jim could feel his blood begin to pump. He was going to go on a uniform hunt.
"Hold it right there, Ellison. Let's find the right uniforms, so I can personally boot them from this department." Simon smiled. It wasn't a nice smile. "*Nobody* does that to one of my people."
"Simon? I'm one of your people?"
"Yeah. You have been for years. And, if you go out there, you'll find a group of guys who are ready to take on whoever got you."
"Oh, my God. There goes the second dissertation."
"Excuse me, Sandburg?"
"Captain, I screwed up the one on Jim when I fell in love with him. Now it looks like I've seriously gone native here, and that screws up the closed society...no it doesn't. I can make this work. I just need to talk to my advisors...Simon, can I use your phone?" Blair jumped out of the chair, wincing painfully as he ignored the blood and the bruises.
Jim looked at Simon and grinned.
"Isn't he cute like this, Simon?"
Simon glared. "Keep it on your own time."
Blair sat back down. "He's not in. I made an appointment."
He captured Jim's hand again.
"Is there anything else you can remember? So I have something to go on?"
"One guy had...a faint accent. I think. He could have been putting it on, but there was something in his vowels...Eastern, I think."
"Eastern is pretty big, Blair." Simon was growling.
"North. New York, I think."
"Okay. So we need to find at least one cop, possibly a uniform, who came from New York recently?"
"Not recently...it was not that strong. Maybe a year or so ago."
"Even better." Simon sighed.
"Okay. We'll consider this to be your official statement. Jim, take your partner and get him checked out."
"I want to be on this, Simon."
"You have to be kidding. Out!"
"Out...idiot thinks I'd let him...kill the suspect...want that for..." Jim could hear Simon's mumbles as they closed the door behind them.
They ran the gauntlet again. This time Jim noticed that everyone was looking at them with worry and anger, but there was no sign of disgust or prejudice.
Henri stopped them before they left. "We'll find those bastards, Blair. You know we will."
"And then we'll throw you guys a bachelor party. 'Bout time you came clean."
Jim shook his head in amazement. "Can't keep one secret around here, can I?"
Henri grinned. "That's okay. Just get the kid to the hospital, and let us clear this mess up. There won't be anything left for IA to do."
"I'll hold you to that, H. And we will talk about that bachelor's party."
Jim shook Henri's hand. Blair looked thoughtful. Jim wondered why he was so quiet. He was probably hurting more than he let on.
Blair maintained his silence all the way to the hospital. He just kept holding Simon's handkerchief to his nose. The only noise he made was when the truck bounced - a soft moan.
Jim was worried. Usually when Blair hurt, he complained loudly. Either something else was wrong, or this was a level of pain beyond even when Quinn shot him, when he never shut up.
The world became surreal. The emergency department at Cascade General was surprisingly empty
When Jim mentioned this to the triage nurse, she shrugged. "Business can be slow noon on Wednesdays."
That didn't mean they didn't have to wait, of course. There were some cut fingers ahead of them. Jim fumed silently as Blair leaned on his arm and breathed shallowly.
"Blair...buddy? How bad is it?"
"It's not the nose, although right now it feels bigger than Little Stogie. It's...I didn't know those guys. I didn't recognize a voice or anything. They didn't know *me*. I never felt so alone."
Blair pulled away from Jim and buried his face in his hands. He was breathing heavily. Jim looked around at the nurses and the cut fingers and decided 'To hell with it', and gathered Blair in his arms.
He could feel the sweat soaking his shirt as Blair struggled with both his emotions and his breathing. He stroked the tangled, matted curls and murmured the things everyone says, even if they weren't true.
"It's all right, Chief. It will be okay. I'm here. I'll always be here. Always. I love you." At least *those* words were true.
Blair just clung tighter. He looked up at Jim. "Oh, God. You know I'm not like this, Jim. I just feel...who can I trust...I mean, besides you? And that's not me."
Jim didn't know what to say. He could lie his way through any undercover assignment, but talk about real things with most important person in his life? He might as well have never learned to talk at all.
So he just held Blair and said the only words he had. "I love you. I will always love you. No matter what else happens. I'm just sorry I didn't take care of you."
Blair pulled away again, and looked at him. His eyes were swollen and surrounded by bruises, all the beauty hidden by pain. "It's not your fault. Never think it's your fault. Maybe I should have watched my back better."
"No. You were in the station. Why the hell should you have worried about other cops? I should have been there, but it's not *your* fault. That belongs to the bastards who beat you up."
"I never should have told you that you were my blessed protector." Blair actually chuckled. He kissed Jim's hand.
One of the cut fingers glared at them, but the nurses were visibly melting at the sight.
"Face it, Chief. We made a big mistake this morning. What I don't understand is how the guys in the unit are reacting."
"You mean like I'm one of them?"
Jim smiled, and stroked Blair's hair. "No. Like they knew about us before we did. It just doesn't make sense."
"Jim...I have something to tell you..."
"Miss Sandburg? Miss Blair Sandburg?"
"That's *Mr.* Sandburg." Jim stood up, and tried to be at his most menacing.
"You're Mr. Sandburg?"
"Do I look like I was beaten up? This is my partner. *Mr.* Sandburg."
The nurse peered at Blair and brushed away the knotted curls. He nodded.
"He certainly is a mister. I'm sorry. We'll take care of you now." Blair nodded. Jim helped him to his feet. The nurse looked like he was about to tell Jim to stay where he was, but had thought better of it.
The nurse led them into the ER proper. Like the waiting room, it was quiet except for the various cut fingers. Why did people with such minor injuries get in ahead of his partner?
He gestured to a curtained off area and handed Blair a gown. Jim closed the curtains behind them and helped Blair to change. The hardest part was removing his shirts - the buttoned ones weren't bad, but the pullovers had to be carefully stretched over the hurt nose.
"Why do you wear most of your wardrobe every day, Chief?"
"It's a look. Besides, it means I'm always comfortable. Ow! Maybe it is broken after all. Oh, man. I can't believe they broke my nose!"
Jim quietly resolved to break *their* noses - as soon as he found out who they were. He catalogued all the bruises and contusions on his partner for future reference. Meanwhile, he tied the strings at the back of the hospital gown and helped Blair on to the table.
While they waited for the doctor, Jim folded Blair's clothing neatly, separating them by color and if they were clean, bloody or sweat-soaked.
Blair looked at him in loving disbelief. "Why are you doing that?"
"Gotta do something with my hands. I hate this waiting."
"Come here, then. I'm cold." He was shivering. The air in the ER was not chilly, but Jim reasoned that Blair was just not used to one layer. He put down the last shirt unfolded and wrapped his arms around him.
Blair's skin was clammy - colder than the air around them. Jim's medic training took over.
"You're in shock, buddy. This is not good. I don't know why I didn't see this earlier." He picked up a couple of shirts and draped them over Blair. "I'm going to get someone *now*, and at least find you a blanket."
He stormed out of the cubicle. There was no need to keep them waiting this long. Two of the nurses looked up when he approached the main desk.
"Can we help you, sir?"
"My partner is in shock. We've been waiting for over an hour all told and no one has thought to even take his temperature or blood pressure. What do we do we have to do to get treatment around here? Look, if there isn't a doctor in there in the five minutes, I will personally go into a cubicle and drag one out, even if he's in the middle of putting a damned band-aid!"
"Sir, we will take care of things as soon as possible."
Jim restrained himself from grabbing her scrub shirt and shouting in her face. "I told you, he's in shock. His skin is clammy and he's having chills. I was a medic in the army."
She closed her eyes as if looking for patience. "I'll be there right away, sir."
"If you don't..."Jim left it at that and made his way back to his partner.
Blair was still shivering, so he wrapped his arms around him.
Blair snuggled into Jim. "I missed you."
Jim kissed him on the forehead. "I'm not going anywhere, Sandburg."
"Love you, Jim."
Just at that moment, a young person in a white jacket came in.
"Ahem. I hate to interrupt, gentlemen, but I think Mr. Sandburg needs attention."
The person's face looked rather...pinched. Jim sighed and moved away.
"I'm Dr. Peters. I see you've been attacked." Peters turned a page on the clipboard he was carrying. "I also see that we don't have your blood pressure or temperature." He glared at them as if it were their responsibility. "Now, why don't we look at those injuries, hmmm?"
Jim stepped away from the table so that Peters would have room to work.
Peters fastidiously checked Blair over, poking at every bruise and examining his eyes and nose closely. Blair jumped at that last.
"I believe we should X-ray your nose, Mr. Sandburg. It might be broken."
"No, really?" Jim couldn't keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
"And *who* are you?"
"I'm his partner."
"Ah. Were you a witness to the altercation, perhaps?"
"No. If I was, there would be a lot more people here." Jim smiled at that pleasant thought.
"Well. Nurse, please take Mr. Sandburg's vitals and give him a heated blanket. I'll write an order for an X-ray, and perhaps an ENT consult. Good day, Mr..."
"Mr. Ellison. Perhaps you'd prefer to wait outside?"
Jim shook his head. "I'm not leaving him alone any longer than I have to." *If I could, I'd never leave him alone again.*
Once they were alone, Jim steeled himself for the one question no one had asked yet, the one which broke his heart even to think about.
"Chief ...we found you...with your pants..."
Blair shook his head and smiled. "I think that was just for humiliation. They never even touched me there. No need for a rape kit."
"Thank God! Blair, if they had...Well, they didn't."
"I would have said something, I think. I hope. I don't know. Just hold my hand, Jim."
"Jim, you *are* taking me back to the station. I feel *fine*."
"We didn't spend three and half hours in that damned hospital because you feel fine, Sandburg."
"I'm just a little bruised."
"And broken. I don't care if it is just a hairline."
"Jim...I *need* to go back there. You know..."
Jim nodded. Blair, as usual, was right. Even though Dr. Priss...er, Peters had insisted that Blair rest in bed for a couple of days, he had to return to the station now.
No way could those bastards believe they scared him off.
"You win, Chief, but we're still going to stop at the loft to get clean clothes. If you have any clothes you aren't already wearing."
Blair tried to snort, but his nose didn't cooperate.
"It isn't my fault that Cascade is so cold."
"Captain Banks! He's back."
Simon dashed out of his office. "Sandburg!" There was an enormous grin on Simon's face. He quickly sobered, or tried to. "I'm glad to see you back, Blair."
"Would the two of you please come to my office?"
"Of course, Captain. Do you have news for us?"
Henri grinned. "We got them. We surely got them."
"Brown!" Simon sounded exasperated.
Despite his tone, Simon was obviously too happy to be angry. He laughed as he led Jim and Blair into his office. He then proceeded to fuss over Blair, offering him coffee and giving him his own chair, and asking him if he were all right. Jim sat on the conference table and grinned at the scene.
"If everything's settled, Captain, we'd like to learn what happened to those..."
"Seriously out of work bastards? You sure you're all right, Sandburg?"
"Simon, I'm fine!"
Simon perched on his desk. "Okay. We used the clue that Blair gave us. There was one and only one uniform on the force who had come from the East Coast at all in the last year. It only took one phone call to personnel and a minor bribe of Rafe's mom's bundt cake to get the information."
Jim nodded. "That bundt cake can move mountains."
"Lady knows how to bake. Luckily, she loves Blair."
"That's because I *ask* for her recipes. Not that she ever gives them. Simon, get on with the story."
"Not much more to tell. Armed with this information, we went down to patrol and asked to see one Officer Peter Miller. Jim, Blair, you will be happy to know that Officer Miller had a shiner every bit as big as the ones you're sporting."
Jim made a fist. "Yesss! That's *my* partner. Take'em with you when you go."
Blair grinned weakly. "My mom would be so proud. *Not.*"
"Well, everyone in Major Crimes is proud of you. There was also blood on his truncheon. He'd tried to wash it, but didn't do a very good job. I'd say the Cascade PD was well rid of him."
"He wasn't alone, Simon. I *know* there were others." Blair sounded defiant.
"Oh, yes. He had three of his buddies with him, and he rolled over on *all* of them. They're in protective custody now. I had to hold myself back." Simon was smiling, but his eyes were blazing.
"Where are they now, Captain?" Jim had no plans to hold himself back.
"I'm not going to tell you, Jim. I don't want to be responsible for murder. Just know that they will never work in law enforcement again, except maybe as rent-a-cops."
Jim smiled. He had sources. Sources that would not require bundt cake bribes.
"Jim. No. I'm going to be fine. Let IA take care of it. Do *not* go after them."
Jim stared at Blair. Beaten, bruised, and broken, yet he was protecting them.
"Good, Blair. Turn the other cheek."
Blair turned towards Simon with a groan. "That's not my tradition, Captain. I want them to be punished. I want them on assault charges and I want their fellow prisoners to know exactly what they used to do for a living. I just want it done legally."
Jim nodded. It may not be as satisfying as breaking their noses himself, but it would be better in the long run. No, it wouldn't be. He'd just bide his time.
"Now then, gentlemen, I believe we have another issue to discuss?"
"Simon, do we have to talk about it now? Blair needs to go home and rest."
Blair tried to shrug, but winced instead. "Whatever you want, Simon. I'm not going to feel better worrying about it."
Jim took a deep breath and nodded.
"First...what went on in the parking garage this morning? What exactly did Miller see?"
That morning seemed a million years ago. Jim tried to remember.
"We were in the truck. We were kissing."
"We were more than kissing, Simon. We were, well, making out."
"Don't you two have a bed? Honeymooners." Simon shook his head.
"Simon, he could not have seen anything more than a kiss, not in that truck or from any angle on the ground. Blair and I may have been indiscreet, but we are *not* exhibitionists."
Simon nodded. "It was still not a good idea. We're pretty comfortable with it up here, but the rest of the department isn't happy."
"Yeah...Simon, what's up with that? It sounds like you guys knew before we knew ourselves." Blair looked him straight in the eyes.
"We did." Simon grinned. "First of all, Jim, we all had you pegged as gay as soon as you transferred over from vice"
"Me!" They couldn't have...he'd been so...it wasn't possible.
"It wasn't just the way you dressed or that earring. Although, did you really think that putting it in your left ear would throw us off the track?"
Blair grinned. "The earring code? Oh, that's *so* eighties."
Jim glared at him. "So, what was it that...made you think I was..."
"Everything. You made straight guy's gaydar ping. The way you held yourself...the almost obsessive neatness. I tell you, Jim, we were all shocked when you married Carolyn."
"Who won the breakup pool?" Jim sounded bitter even to himself.
"There was no pool. Or, if there was, *I* didn't know about it. But no one was terribly surprised."
Jim buried his head in his hands. He heard Blair get up, and then his arms were around him.
"It's okay, Jim. If they've known about it this long, it obviously doesn't bother them."
"I was convinced I was in love with her, you know. She wasn't the first, and God knows she wasn't the last. The last woman I used to try to make myself..."
"I know, Jim. I know. But you don't have to do that anymore."
"No." Jim had to smile. Whatever problems Blair had brought to his life, he'd solved a dozen more.
"Ahem. If I may?"
"Of course, Captain. Blair...go back to your seat. Now."
Jim gave him a look, but nothing could quell Blair. His grin lit the room as he limped back to Simon's chair.
Simon looked like he was holding back his own laughter. "Then this kid showed up. And you were arguing like a married couple almost from day one. Not to mention moving in together. Going out together. Spending all your time together. And you kept talking about women, but we almost never saw any."
"Come on, Simon. I dated most of the available women in the station." Blair's grin faded for a moment.
Simon looked at him. "You apparently were a perfect gentleman, too. You were just more successful at covering."
"I wasn't covering. Well, at least not my sexuality. I'm bi. I just...didn't want to be with anyone who wasn't, well...Jim."
Simon nodded. "That's what we saw. All of us. You two were so in love it hurt to watch. We used to talk about it when you were out of the station sometimes. Not because it bothered us. We were used to the idea by then. We were just jealous."
Jim blinked. "Jealous?"
"Some of us can only dream of being so much a part of someone else's life, Jim. Anyway, some thought you were already together, and some thought you were waiting for something, like a clue. And we had a pool."
"Yeah. The pool." This was his personal life! How dare they? They cared. That was it.
"The pool died. After all those years, most of us figured you'd started sleeping together without us knowing it, and just dated to cover. I was one. Joel was the only one who believed otherwise. And he's a wealthy man today."
"Oh, God. Don't make me laugh!" Blair was holding his stomach. "We were so worried when we finally owned up to each other. What would the guys think? How do we behave? How much do we touch each other? I was making *charts*. Not only were we blind to each other, we were blind to our friends."
"Why is that funny?" Jim was honestly confused.
"If I don't laugh, Jimlove, I'll cry. And right now, my nose couldn't stand crying. And it is funny."
Jim sighed. "The fact remains that while it's okay here, in Major Crimes, it is obviously *not* okay in the rest of the PD, and we are now thoroughly outed."
Blair sobered. "Yeah. I'm glad not to play the game anymore, but...I gotta admit, I'd have been so much happier not getting beaten up." He put his head down on Simon's desk.
"Captain, can we finish this later? I need to take my partner home to rest."
Simon nodded. "You take care of him, Jim. I'll call later to check."
Jim helped Blair to his feet and took him out of the building and home.
Once in the apartment, Jim went straight to the kitchen to find something for dinner. Neither had eaten since breakfast.
"Chief? You want to go upstairs and I'll bring you something?"
Blair shook his head.
"Chief? Are you okay?"
Blair looked at him through the bruises. "Yeah. Oh, man. This has been a weird and *long* day."
"Tell me about it. Why don't you try to take a nap?"
"I wish I could. We gotta talk, Jim. There's too much hanging between us."
Fifteen minutes later, Blair sat down at the table while Jim dished out leftover soup.
Neither wanted to eat. Blair told him he had no appetite, which Jim understood, even if he didn't like it. He put the soup away again while Blair moved onto the couch. Jim watched him wrap himself around a sofa cushion. He looked impossibly young at that moment.
Jim put the bowls in the sink and sat next to him.
"We need to talk." He put his arms around Blair.
"Yeah. We haven't yet. We've been on a honeymoon. All these weeks." Blair moved away a little.
"They've been fun, Chief. If I'd have known you'd be this much fun in bed, I'd have pounced years ago."
"Love you, too. Jim...what Simon said?"
"You mean about tripping his gaydar?"
"Yeah. I don't even believe Simon *has* gaydar."
Jim shrugged. "I thought I hid it better. We've already talked this much to death. I don't...didn't want to be gay. You know...I've been in the closet since...hell, since I can remember. I've been deep in the closet. I looked...God, I was *always* looking...but never touched."
"Yeah. I know. I mean, you know I figured it out as soon as you shoved me against that wall, but I knew you weren't talking about it."
"I thought the army would make me a *man*. Cure me. You know. That's why covert ops, that's why the Rangers. The really macho ones, y'know."
Despite the bruises and the broken nose, Blair's smile was beautiful. Blair was beautiful period.
"Love you, too, Jim. I just don't know how I missed how you felt about me. Man, I was so surprised that night."
Jim nodded. "Blair, do you want to take a couple of days off? Not go back again? The perps are gone, and you did show up, so we can do this."
"I'm not scared, Jim. Are you?"
Jim was silent. He pulled Blair closer to him.
"I don't know, Chief. I feel like everything has changed. I don't know anyone there anymore."
"They're the same people they were this morning, and this afternoon."
Jim shook his head. "I don't even want....I'm gay. And they know it, and they've known it for a long time. And this makes them different. They knew something about me all these years and never let on. It's like they lied to me all these years."
"It would have been okay if they hadn't figured it out? Think about it, Jim. It's like *you* were lying to them."
Jim nodded. "I was, wasn't I? It sounds stupid, but if they knew this and never said anything, then...I don't know."
Blair sighed. "You have to go in tomorrow. You're the same. They're the same. I'll be the same once these bruises fade."
"How did you manage it? Being bi?"
Blair grinned. "Nothing much to it. I was pretty nerdly until a couple of years ago. I couldn't get guys *or* girls to date me."
"Yeah, me. And then, when out of nowhere, people started coming on to me I was amazed at first."
"You got over that."
"Nope. But I did start to have fun. And then I met you. I was, like, totally in love with you, but I figured you were Mr. Untouchable."
Jim smiled. "I was always in love with you, from the first moment you conned your way into my life."
"We wasted so much time...Jim, you *are* going in tomorrow."
"Yes, Chief. And you are going to bed."
"It's early, Jim. Look. Voyager isn't even on yet!"
Jim shook his head. "Chief, something really bothers me about that borg chick. I don't know how you can watch it."
Blair grinned for a moment, and the room lit up. Then the grin faded. "I...don't know if I will sleep tonight. Every time I close my eyes, I'm back in that bathroom."
He began to shake. Jim held Blair close and stroked his hair.
"It's okay. You're home, you're safe and I'm right here. No one is going to get you. Not with me standing guard. And I will stand guard over you forever."
"Forever?" Only Sentinel ears could have picked up that whisper.
"Yeah, Blair. If I can. Even if I can't. No one will hurt you again."
"You can't promise that, Jim. I don't want you to promise that." Blair pulled away and looked at him. "Things happen. Today happened, and it was *not* your fault. It was the fault of the jerks with the nightsticks. Other things will happen, to both of us. But...I will love you forever."
Jim nodded, but he knew that if he could protect this man, he would. He gathered him closer again. "Love you, too. For as long as we have."
He could feel Blair smile and relax in his arms.
Blair's breathing evened. Soon, his weight seemed to increase. He'd fallen asleep in Jim's embrace.
He was heavy, but Jim didn't mind. Just for this moment, Jim knew he could protect him, could keep him safe.
Just for the moment, he knew that he was happy.
Jim thought back to the first time he held Blair like this.
It had only been a few weeks ago. They were sitting on the sofa watching some rerun or other. Rather, Jim was, with the set turned down to Sentinel level. Blair was working on some quizzes. During a commercial, Jim had turned to look at him. He'd been struck by Blair's beauty from the beginning, but somehow, at that moment, he was irresistible.
He was wearing his glasses, and his hair was loose around his face, and he was clearly concentrating on what he was doing. Jim had seen him like this hundreds of times during the past several years, but somehow, *this* time he reached out and grabbed Jim's heart.
The next Jim knew, he was touching Blair's hair, moving it away from that face so he could see more of it.
Blair, surprised, looked up, straight into Jim's eyes. He didn't pull away. Instead, he smiled and leaned into Jim's hand, and kissed the wrist.
Jim gathered him into his arms. Nothing had ever felt so good, so right, so perfect as that moment. Words would have profaned it.
Blair seemed to know that as well, because he remained silent himself. He wrapped his arms around Jim, and buried his head in Jim's chest.
They sat like that for a time, just feeling each other's presence. Then, Jim tipped Blair's head up and they kissed. Maybe Jim had meant it to be soft and sweet, but didn't start out that way, and it didn't end up that way.
He didn't know where this hunger was born, or if perhaps it had always been inside of him, but it was there now. It drove him to hold Blair close and devour his mouth as Blair matched him, move for move.
He had no idea how long they were that way, exploring each other's mouths and bodies, but it was long enough and deep enough that Jim felt as though their lips had reach past the merely physical. Their souls were touching. Nothing had ever been so intimate.
He wanted to stay like that forever. He couldn't imagine ever needed anything more. But there was more. Some unspoken signal passed between them, and they released each other. Blair smiled, and took Jim's hand and together they climbed the stairs.
They swiftly undressed, and clasped each other again, gasping softly at the feel of skin on skin. One pulled the other to the bed, and they began to kiss again, moving against each other.
He had to feel Blair, had to know him with all of his senses, as Blair seemed to need to explore him. Hands, tongue, nose - whatever organs Jim could use, that Blair could use, were everywhere.
Jim knew what he wanted, knew what he'd dreamed about all those years. And when he rolled to his side, Blair understood. He could feel Blair's hands - large and skilled and gentle, inside of him, slick with the lotion he'd kept by his bed, next to the condoms he'd purchased for no accountable reason.
Softly, he moaned, and felt Blair kiss his back and stroke him with the other hand. Then...he was ready. He knew it, and so did Blair.
And Blair was inside of him, and had his arms and legs wrapped around him and Jim knew for that moment at least, he was safe and loved. As their bodies joined, he could feel their souls and their hearts, for a time, becoming one.
Then Blair began to move in that eternal rhythm, the one that matched the needs of Jim's body, the one no one else had ever found, and Jim felt the pressure grow as Blair, already deep, went still deeper, until he hit *that* spot and the world shook.
There was that hand again, reaching in front and echoing the other movement. This was yet another time that Jim wanted to prolong, to make last forever. Nothing does, though, and they both, one after the other, came in silence.
Jim turned over, and held Blair again. Blair buried his head in Jim's chest and Jim was able to fulfill yet another dream as he slept with his arms full of the man he loved.
That had been weeks ago. Those weeks had been the happiest days he'd ever had - a honeymoon, as Blair had said earlier. Each act of love had been as sacred and special, if not necessarily as silent, as they'd explored the pleasures of each other's body.
And now, that time was over, thanks to some bigots in uniform. Jim held Blair gently and stroked his hair as Blair slept, as he held his life in his arms.
Blair began to stir. "No! Get away from me! Jim!"
"Shh, buddy. I'm here. No one else is here."
Blair clung to him tightly. "Jim! Keep them away. Don't let them...they'll hurt you, Jim."
"No. No one's hurting anyone. Wake up, Chief. Wake up!"
"No, no, no, Jim! Don't! No! Let them be! Jim, no! Don't! Let them...don't!"
"What? Don't what?"
Blair blinked and his eyes began to focus. "Don't go after them, Jim. It won't help. I dreamed...I dreamed you were chasing those guys and caught them and hurt them and then *you* were in trouble and I couldn't see you again! Jim, don't!"
Jim kissed him gently on his bruised eyes. "I'm not. IA will take care of them properly. I promised Simon and I'll promise you. I want to...God knows I want to...but I won't." He wouldn't. Not if it would make Blair upset.
Blair nodded. "Good."
"Now, then, Sandburg, let's get you upstairs and into bed. We have a busy day tomorrow."
"Yeah. We have to be in bright and early tomorrow morning. Have to go to work."
"Yeah, Jim. *We* do. You'll stay with me until I go to sleep?"
"Blair, I'll never let you go."
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