Old Friends And Lovers by Annie

Old Friends And Lovers - Annie

"Do you know how scared I was when I heard you call out and I turned around and saw you on the ground?" Jim asked, his words whispering across Blair's mouth.

Blair arched his head back, offering his neck, sighing aloud as Jim's teeth nibbled gently on the lobe of his ear and down the column of his throat. "I'm sorry," he said, his voice husky with desire.

"Not your fault." Jim rolled to the side and pushed himself up so he was resting his head on his hand. His other hand reached to trail warm fingers across Blair's forehead, over his closed eyelids, down his nose and then rubbed gently across the full lips. "I forgot you were wearing a vest," he went on, his own voice trembling with remembered emotion. He leaned forward and kissed Blair's mouth, tasting with the tip of his tongue, pushing inside momentarily then withdrawing to trace around Blair's lips again.

"I wanted to tell you I was okay," Blair said, his eyes still closed. "But I couldn't breathe at first. I'd forgotten how much it hurt…"

Jim moved again so he was straddling Blair's body, up on his knees, keeping his weight off his lover. His fingers wandered down Blair's throat again then circled the flat brown nipples and combed through the silky hair of Blair's chest.

Blair groaned as Jim bent and licked around one nipple then the other, and nipped gently at them with his teeth. He took the small gold nipple ring between his teeth and tugged carefully on it, then sat back, smiling as Blair arched his hips up, looking for the friction Jim wasn't ready to give him yet. "Soon," he soothed. "You're sore. We're gonna take it slow, honey."

Blair's eyes opened, blinking lazily. He watched, seemingly transfixed as Jim kissed the large blue bruise marring the right side of his ribs. He flinched a little at the contact and Jim was instantly contrite.

"God, I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't mean to hurt you."

"It's okay, babe. I like you kissing me better," Blair said, raising his hands to cup Jim's face lovingly, pulling him down again. "Don't stop, Jim. I want you to love me."

"I do love you. Always. Not just here and now."

"So show me," Blair said.

~oOo~

Blair moved stiffly from his desk over to the copy machine to pick up the arrest sheet he'd just printed out. The bruise on his side was fading but the muscles were still reminding him that he was lucky to be alive.

"You okay, Chief?" Jim asked, passing behind him, two mugs of coffee balanced precariously on a file folder.

"Fine, just a little stiff," Blair replied. He headed back to his desk and bent over the paperwork, giving Jim a smile of thanks as one of the mugs was placed in front of him.

"Where the hell's Ellison?" a voice bellowed from the doorway.

Blair looked up in time to see a huge man barreling across the bullpen in Jim's direction.

Jim stood as if poleaxed, his mouth dropping open. "Matt?" he said, sounding stunned.

"Ten years since we've seen each other and all you can say is 'Matt'?" the big man said, pulling Jim in for a hug.

"What the hell… I thought you were dead… I mean, I heard you'd bought it in South America." Jim pulled out of the embrace and grinned broadly, his hands still clasping his friend's shoulders.

"Heard the same thing about you, Ellison," Matt was saying, his big hand slapping Jim's shoulder. "Then I ran into Tom Jacobs down at the VA and he tells me you're not only alive, but working on the right side of the law."

"I don't know if you'd call it working," Blair broke in, holding out his hand in Matt's direction. "Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg, Jim's partner."

Matt turned to look at him, dark blue eyes raking up and down. He gave Blair's hand a perfunctory shake. "How ya doing? Matt Costello." He turned back to Jim. "So, Ellison, how about you buy me that lunch you still owe me?"

Jim smiled but shook his head. "Sorry, Matt, can I take a raincheck? I've got reports up the wazoo to finish typing up-"

Matt shrugged then looked at Blair. "Can't your partner here do them for you? What do ya say, Sanders? That's what partners are for, right? Jim, look, I'm only here for a few days then I gotta head back home to California. I'd really like to catch up before I go…"

"Hey, Jim, go," Blair said quickly, though he felt a faint stirring of unease as he spoke. "It's fine, man. I can finish up your reports. Mine are almost done," he added untruthfully, blocking out the picture of the piled up folders on the floor next to his desk. He was still playing catch-up on his paperwork as it was after being sidelined for two days with bruised ribs.

Jim looked at him. "You sure?" he asked. "You seemed to have a lot there earlier."

Blair shrugged. "You know me? Mister Magic Fingers," he said, allowing a small smile to creep across his face at the unintended double entendre. "Got mine almost done while you were still getting coffee." He patted Jim's arm, not allowing his touch to linger as long as he would have liked. They weren't out at work yet and Blair had no intention of outing Jim in front of Matt Costello either.

"See, Jimbo, it's fine. Thanks, Sanders," Matt said, patting Blair heartily on the back.

"Just call me Blair," Blair said quickly.

"Sure, whatever, kid," Matt replied. "Let's get out of here, Ellison."

Jim looked over his shoulder as he followed Matt from the bullpen and smiled at Blair, mouthing a quick thank you under his breath.

~oOo~

"So, tell me about that partner of yours," Matt said, slicing into the huge steak that almost hung over the sides of his plate. "Doesn't look much like a cop."

"Blair's one of the best detectives around," Jim replied. "He's a natural cop. His background is in anthropology so he has an instinct for human behavior. He once told me," Jim smiled at the memory, "that his crime scenes were no different to mine, just that his had been vacant for a few hundred years."

Matt's eyes narrowed but he just shrugged and started eating. "Just doesn't seem like the kind of guy you'd choose for a partner," he observed.

"Detectives don't always get to choose their partners," Jim said and then, stung by how disloyal that sounded, rushed to add, "but either way I'd pick Blair hands down over any cop in the department." He picked up his soda water and sipped at it then looked over at his old friend. "So what brings you back to Cascade, Matt? What are you doing with yourself lately?"

"My mom died last week," Matt said. He shrugged off Jim's condolences. "She'd been sick for a long time, pining away really ever since my dad died. Came back for the funeral and remembered what I liked about this town. Thought I'd stay, see if I could pick up some work, get a place, put down some roots. I've been pretty much moving from place to place the last ten years, working when I could get some."

"You got somewhere to stay while you're in town?" Jim asked then wished he hadn't. He didn't really want to ask Matt to stay at the loft. That would involve either asking Blair to sleep back in his old room or admitting to Matt that he was sleeping with his partner, something that Jim was pretty sure he wasn't ready to do right now, if ever. He'd kept his bisexual leanings pretty much hidden the whole time he was in the Forces, and he and Blair had yet to decide when, if ever, they'd come out in public. It wasn't something he wanted forced upon them.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm staying at Mom's apartment," Matt said and Jim just barely stopped himself from heaving a heartfelt sigh of relief. "Got to get everything sold off or packed up to send to the relatives anyway. I've got another two weeks or so on the lease till the landlord kicks me out."

"Good, that's good," Jim said, suddenly feeling more like eating now that particular minefield was out of the way. "Why don't you come over to the loft for a barbecue, say Saturday, meet some of the guys from the PD, play a few hands of poker…"

"Sure thing," Matt said equably. "Sanders going to be there?"

"Sandburg," Jim said, emphasizing the last syllable of Blair's name. He shook his head in mock-exasperation. "His name's Blair. Yeah, he'll be there. He lives there."

"You, shacking up with a guy?" Matt pushed his empty plate away and leaned back in his chair, giving a satisfied-sounding belch. "Jimmy, he's not even a redhead. I seem to remember that was always your preferred date." He gave Jim a sly wink.

"He's just renting my spare room," Jim said hastily, hating the lie but mollifying himself with the thought that Blair would understand, that it was something they'd agreed to do until they'd made a commitment otherwise. "I was married for a while."

"Yeah? What happened?"

"Oh, you know, just drifted apart. Carolyn's in San Francisco now. You ever get married?"

"Me? Nah, I've always been too much of a lone wolf, Jim. Maybe one day though." Matt looked pensive. "Sometimes I think I wouldn't mind having a couple of anklebiters, to carry on the family name, you know, me being an only child and all."

Jim glanced at his watch. "Matt, sorry, I'd better get back. Blair's gonna kill me if he really has had to finish all my paperwork."

"Yeah, that's fine. I gotta go do some stuff too." Matt stood up and held up his hand as Jim went for his wallet. "I'm paying, Jimbo. This was my invite, remember? Besides, you paid for the last meal we had together."

"That was ten years ago," Jim replied with a laugh but giving in with good grace. "Thanks, buddy."

They walked to the door together and shook hands before going to their respective vehicles.

"Saturday night, six o'clock," Jim called as he climbed into the truck.

"I'll be there," Matt called back, waving him off.

Jim steered out of the lot, memories of his time in the Forces at the forefront of his mind. It hadn't been all bad, he decided now. He'd made some good friends along the way and Matt was one who'd made it through. He'd make a conscious effort to stay in touch with him from now on.

~oOo~

"So, how was lunch?" Blair asked, watching as Jim stirred the pot of chilli on the stove.

It was getting dark, the long shadows of the winter day giving way to the shades of twilight outside.

Jim shrugged, tasted the chilli then added a dash more spice to it. One of the benefits of having Blair help him with his senses had been his increased ability to enjoy moderately spicy food again, thanks to Blair coming up with the idea of using dials to control them. "Good. We talked over the old times. You know how it goes, Chief."

"Yeah, I just hadn't had a chance to ask you about it till now." Blair fiddled with the silverware he'd laid out on the table. "Did you guys talk about… about me?" He looked up and caught a glimpse of Jim's raised eyebrow. "Matt didn't seem to like me much, that's all," he said defensively.

"He asked how come we were partners, I told him because you were the partner I wanted," Jim said, spooning the food into bowls then bending to grab the corn bread from the oven.

"Oh. That's really nice of you," Blair replied, taking his seat as Jim placed a steaming bowl in front of him and put the cornbread in the middle of the table.

"Why are you sounding so insecure all of a sudden?" Jim asked him as they began to eat. "It's not the first time someone's said you don't look like a cop, or at least thought if you were, that you must work undercover or narcotics."

"I know." Blair concentrated on eating for a while. He, after all, hadn't gotten to eat much more than a chocolate bar for lunch and he was starving now. "So," he said when his plate was almost empty, "he didn't think that you and I were… you know…" He felt his face flush and grabbed for the beer next to his plate, hoping Jim would think it was the chilli that was causing his skin to redden.

Jim shook his head. "No. Why would he?" He put his fork down and steepled his elbows on the table, looking at Blair steadily.

"I just… I didn't know if maybe he was one of the guys that you…" Blair sipped his beer again, swallowed too fast and spluttered, grabbing for his napkin to mop up the spots. "Sorry," he muttered.

"If Matt and I slept together?" Jim sounded surprised. "No. Matt's straight as an arrow. Can't you tell by looking at him?"

"You saying I look gay, Jim?" Blair asked, unable to keep the edge from his voice. "I thought, as a man who's sleeping with his male partner, you'd be past stereotyping by now."

"Whoa! Aren't you forgetting that as a man who's sleeping with his male partner that probably makes me gay too?" Jim snapped back. He stood and took his plate over to the sink, slamming it down hard enough to make the counter shudder. "You and I don't exactly look alike, Blair, so I'd say I know enough about stereotyping not to do it, don't you?"

"It's just sometimes I wonder if that's why you don't want to come out to our friends, you know?" Blair said plaintively, wanting to explain but pretty sure he was doing a piss-poor job of it. "Because they'll look at me and think, 'Well, yeah, we always figured he was gay, but Ellison? No way.'"

"You know that's not why, Chief. We've talked about this a hundred times. Up to now you've always agreed with me. Are we going to get into an argument here?" Jim moved back to the table and stood next to Blair's chair, one hand reaching out to card through his hair.

"I'm sorry," Blair said quietly, standing up and letting himself be pulled into a hug. "No, no argument," he added. "Forget what I said. I'm just being an idiot."

Jim kissed him gently. "You're not being an idiot, honey. We'll tell the people we trust when the time's right, okay? As for Matt, I doubt he ever knew I was bisexual. I didn't know him that well."

"Okay." Blair pulled away, picked up his plate and took it over to the sink, running the water to wash the dishes.

"Leave them. Let's go to bed," Jim said from close behind him, his breath whispering a promise against Blair's neck. "They'll still be there in the morning."

Blair turned and blinked up at him in surprise but just grinned, turned off the faucet and ran up the stairs to the bedroom, stripping off his clothes as he went.

~oOo~

"I've got it," Blair called as he heard a knock at the door. It was Saturday poker night and he yanked the door open, a smile ready for whoever was on the other side, expecting Simon or Joel, Rafe or H.

"Hey, kid," Matt Costello said, a broad grin creasing his own face. "How ya doing? Jim invited me round for poker night."

Blair just nodded and stood back, opening the door wide in a gesture of invitation. "Good to see you," he replied.

"Blair, right?" Matt said, pointing at him. "Sorry about the other day. I've always been lousy with names."

"No problem. Can I get you a beer?" Blair led the way into the living room then detoured to the foot of the stairs. "Jim, Matt's here," he called, hoping his lover would come down and take over the pleasantries. He couldn't shake off the feeling that Costello didn't like him and it bugged him, made him feel the way he had back in high school when he was the class nerd, the one the jocks picked on. He'd finally felt accepted at the PD, had made real friends among the Major Crime detectives, yet now he felt insecure, as if he had to prove himself worthy of Jim's friendship all over again.

"Beer'd be good," Matt said, wandering over to the bookshelf and picking up photos at random, looking at them intently then setting them down. "Sorry I didn't bring anything with me. I wasn't sure of the protocol. I'm not used to hanging out with cops."

"They like a beer as much as the next guy," Blair said, "but it's no big deal. We've got plenty to go around. The others will bring some too and Joel always turns up with enough snacks to feed an army."

"This you?" Matt held up a photo taken when Blair had been on an expedition in Africa. He'd been barely eighteen at the time, his face was sunburnt from long hours under the harsh sun and he was surrounded by Masai warriors, one of their red cloaks wrapped around his own shoulders.

"Yeah, it was taken in Africa. I was an anthropology student back then." Blair walked over and handed Matt the beer.

"Masai, huh? You must be tougher than you look."

Blair craned his neck to look up into the loft bedroom, sighing with relief as he heard Jim padding down the stairs at last. "The Masai are actually a very gentle people," he replied, "but I can hold my own when it counts."

"Hey, Matt, glad you could make it," Jim said, grinning broadly. He grabbed Matt around the shoulders and steered him over to the dining room table that had already been set up with food and cards.

Blair heard another knock at the door and headed gratefully over to open it, relieved more than he could say to find H and Rafe on the other side, this time. "Hey guys, come on in. Hope you brought your money with you because I am going to clean your clocks tonight."

Two hours later and it had taken Blair an unprecedented ten hands to win the table, mostly, he decided because he'd been too busy watching Jim and Matt surreptitiously to see if he could glean any hidden messages from their behavior towards each other. It was stupid of him, he acknowledged to himself. Jim had told him the truth, he had no doubt, but he was after all, an observer and it was second nature for him to observe. He looked up from his musings just in time to see Matt watching him, something like respect in his eyes, as Blair raked in the last of Rafe's chips and added them to his own already large pile.

"Well," Simon said, standing up. "Now that Sandburg's cleaned me out, I'm heading home to bed. Matt, nice to meet you."

Matt stood up and shook Simon's hand. "Likewise, Captain."

"Simon. I'm off-duty." Simon waved broadly. "Goodnight, gents. I'll see you on Monday."

"Night, Simon." Blair stood as well and began clearing the glasses and leftover snacks off the table, carrying them out to the kitchen. He waved goodbye to H, Joel and Rafe as they took their leave as well, all three of them vowing good-naturedly to get revenge and their money back at the next game.

Blair rinsed the dishes and stacked them next to the sink. He'd wait till after breakfast in the morning to wash them. He could hear Jim and Matt talking desultorily in the living room behind him but he deliberately kept his focus on the task at hand, giving them privacy.

"Hey, Chief, where's that James Paterson book you bought me? I told Matt he should read it."

Blair turned and shrugged. "Last time I saw it was on the floor next to the bed." Too late he realized his slip and he felt himself blush, then tried to cover his faux pas with a rush of words. "You like Paterson? Jim's always been more into those Jack Ryan books, but I convinced him to give Paterson a try, and now he's lined up at the bookstore as soon as he hears the newest one's coming out…" He trailed off as he saw Jim shaking his head slowly, what looked like the beginning of a rueful smile tilting his lips.

Matt hadn't seemed to find anything amiss. "I've always been a bit of a bookworm," he replied. "Hard to believe with someone who looks like I do, I know, but when I was in high school, the coach was always having to haul me off to do weight training when I'd rather have been reading a good detective novel. Back then it was Agatha Christie, believe it or not, now I'll read just about anything that's got a good twist in the plot."

"I'll go get it," Jim said, heading up the stairs.

Blair turned back to the dishwasher and finished loading it. He went back to the living room to gather up the beer bottles, freezing in place as he saw Matt standing in the doorway of his old room, peering inside.

"That's your study, huh?" Matt said when he noticed Blair watching him. "Jim said you're a teacher."

"I was an anthropology major," Blair corrected him. "Now I'm a cop."

"Interesting career change," Matt replied, moving away from the doorway and looking up as Jim came down the stairs, the book in his hand.

"It's a long story," Blair muttered. "Look, I'm kinda beat so I'm going to go take a shower and get ready for bed. It was great seeing you again, Matt. Maybe we can catch up again soon. Jim's birthday's coming up in a month or so-"

Matt shook his head. "I'll probably be gone by then. Like I told Jim, the lease on Mom's place is up in a couple of weeks and then I'm heading off to do some traveling before I come back to Cascade and put down roots. I've always had a hankering to go to Australia, see the Outback."

"You should do that," Blair said. "It's a great place to visit. I was there about ten years ago. Well, anyway, I'll see you around maybe." He watched Jim hand the book over then made himself walk as nonchalantly as he could to the bathroom, internally berating himself all the way.

He shed his clothes quickly and turned on the spray, stepping beneath it with a sigh of relief. The water not only massaged away the stiffness he was still experiencing from being shot in the vest a few nights before but drowned out any voices from the living room. He dreaded hearing Matt ask Jim why there was only one bedroom being used in the loft, dreaded even more hearing Jim lying about it, even if it was what they'd agreed to do.

He jumped as a pair of arms snaked around his waist and pulled him close to a broad chest.

"Sorry, didn't mean to startle you," Jim's voice murmured against his ear.

"It's okay. I was just thinking." Blair turned in Jim's arms and looked up into his lover's face. "I'm sorry I screwed up with Matt. I just reacted, didn't think-"

"It's okay," Jim said, dropping a quick, wet kiss on his lips.

"Did he ask about my old room? I caught him looking in there. He asked if it was my study." The questions dropped hesitatingly from Blair's mouth and he breathed a sigh of relief as Jim shook his head.

"He didn't mention it," Jim replied. "Chief, listen to me. Matt's going to be gone for a while in a couple of weeks anyway, and if he comes back to town, we may not even see him again. Does it really matter if he's put two and two together and come up with four?"

"Not to me," Blair said, "but you and he have mutual friends, people he might still be in touch with from your Army days-"

"Jesus, Blair, I'm not ashamed of what we have," Jim protested, his arms dropping away to hang limply at his sides. "you know as well as I do that the only reason we decided to keep our relationship between us for now was because of what happened with the dissertation and you joining the Force. I thought we'd agreed that once we felt you were accepted as a cop, we'd be telling our friends anyway."

"I know," Blair hastened to assure him. "I know that. I'm just worried if Matt knows or even suspects, he might mention it to someone and word'll get around before we want it to, that's all."

Jim leaned forward, pressing his forehead to Blair's. "I'm starting to think it's all too much of a hassle to keep it secret," he said softly. "We've already had an argument because of it. I'm starting to think I should at least speak to Simon-"

Blair pulled back and looked into Jim's eyes, searching for honesty. Seeing it, he went on, "Are you sure?"

Jim bent forward again and took his mouth in a deep, passionate kiss then pulled away and took Blair's face between his hands. "Yes," he said. "I'm sure. How do you feel about it?"

Blair smiled, letting his expression tell the story. "Yes," he said. "I want to do that too."

"Good," Jim said softly. "Now how about we get out of this shower before we end up looking like prunes. I want to go to bed."

"Need your nap, old man?" Blair deadpanned, turning off the faucets and stepping out of the shower, wrapping himself in a towel and turning to hand one to Jim.

"Who said anything about napping, Junior?"

~oOo~

If you looked up the word stunned in the dictionary right now, Blair thought, there'd be a picture of Simon Banks illustrating it. The captain's eyes were wide and his chin had dropped, making his mouth gape open a little.

"You and Blair?" he asked blankly as if the concept was too hard to wrap his brain around.

"Yep." Jim said the word quickly but firmly and looked directly into Banks' eyes. "We've been together for a while now but we thought it best at the time to keep it to ourselves."

Banks finally closed his mouth and blinked. He pulled out a cigar from the humidor on his desk, rolled it in his fingers and looked at it, longing in his eyes. Sighing heavily, he put it back then rubbed a hand over his face. "Why didn't I see this?" he asked, the question obviously rhetorical. "I mean, I knew you were bi, Jim, and I'd wondered about you, Blair, in spite of all the girlfriends you two kept parading past me…" He picked up the cigar again and rolled it in his fingers. "Don't get me wrong, okay? This isn't about you two being guys or being homosexual or bisexual or try-sexual, for that matter-"

Blair snorted out a laugh. "Try-sexual, Simon?"

"Yeah, you know, try anything," Simon replied, a smile finally lighting his face. "Hey, I read magazines. I know the now words."

"Sorry we didn't tell you before," Jim said.

"Why tell me now?" Simon asked. "I mean, obviously I hadn't noticed anything so…"

"I think Matt Costello might have worked it out. He looked into Blair's old room last night and saw it had been turned into an office," Jim said. "Not that I think Matt would cause problems for me but it just seemed that maybe the best defence was a good offence, you know?" He smiled at Banks. "We would have told you eventually anyway."

Simon shook his head. "I'd never even noticed that Blair's room had been turned into an office," he said, shaking his head. "Some detective skills."

"We've been pretty discreet," Blair said. "This isn't going to affect us being partners, is it?" he asked tensely.

Simon shook his head. "Look, for all I know half the squad could be homosexual and having a relationship with their partner. Don't ask, don't tell, you know? I am glad you told me because I'm your friend, but as your captain, I'm going to pretend this conversation never took place." He fixed Jim with a steady gaze. "You get that, Detective?"

Jim nodded and stood up. "Yes, sir, never happened."

Blair rose to his feet as well and headed for the door. "Must have been a dream, Captain," he said. "Could have been all the angst from me beating you at poker last night…"

"Get him out of here and find him something useful to do, Ellison," Simon grunted. "I don't need to be reminded of last night."

"Took us all down pretty good, didn't he?" Jim said, following Blair.

"Do you mind? I'm trying to forget. I may just have to take out a second mortgage on my house after all. Jim?" Simon smiled as Jim looked back. "I am happy for you. You and Blair. You make a great couple. Congratulations and thanks for trusting me with this."

Jim nodded. "Thanks and you're welcome."

~oOo~

Blair stretched and yawned.

"Am I keeping you up, Chief?" Jim asked, his eyes still focused on the computer screen.

"Nope, just bored. You know I think this is the quietest we've ever been. I'm thinking maybe the word has got out about the big, bad Sentinel in Cascade and all the bad guys have moved their operations somewhere safer."

"Well, if they have, I wish they'd have taken my paperwork with them," Jim replied. He looked over at his partner. "You finished yours already?"

Blair flexed his fingers at him. "Fastest two finger typist around, remember?" he said with a grin. "Want me to help you with yours?"

Jim shook his head. "Nah, you do enough of mine as it is. Tell you what, why don't you head home and start dinner? I should only be an hour or so behind you. I'll get a ride with Simon. He should be about ready to leave the same time as me."

"You sure, man?" Blair asked, already on his feet and reaching for his jacket. "I'll make a stirfry, okay?"

"Sounds good," Jim said, his mind already back on his paperwork. "No tofu. Feed the man meat, Chief."

"You got it, Tarzan." Blair powered his computer down and headed for the elevator. He'd go one better, he decided on the ride down to the garage. He'd stop and grab a bottle of wine on the way home too. Maybe that Aussie cabernet that Megan had introduced them to at the MC barbecue.

~oOo~

There was only one other customer in the liquor store when Blair entered and he quickly found the wine he wanted and took it back to stand in line at the cash register.

Something about the man in front of him looked familiar and it took Blair only a moment to realize it was Matt Costello. Leaning forward, he tapped the man on the shoulder. "Hey, Matt, fancy meeting you here."

Matt turned and smiled. "Blair, hi. Just picking up something to while away the evening with." He held up a bottle of Scotch. "Where's Jim?"

"Still at work. He wanted me to get a head start on dinner and seeing as I've already helped him out with his paperwork more than enough this month, I took him up on it."

"Quite the little woman, aren't you?" Matt said, his smile growing cold.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Blair asked, though he knew exactly what Costello was getting at.

"Oh, come on, Blair, there's only one bedroom in Jim's apartment. It's pretty obvious you two are shacked up." Matt shook his head. "Never would have thought it of Ellison. He was the macho man we all wanted to emulate back in the day." Matt handed his bottle to the clerk and paid for it then waited as Blair did the same.

"Look, I don't really want to talk about it with you," Blair said, heading for the door. "You should ask Jim about it, but I'm thinking he'll probably say the same thing. What we do in our home is private and has nothing to do with the man Jim was ten years ago."

"You got that right," Matt spat out. "Ten years ago, Jim was a man, a man's man. Then he hooks up with a pansy like you and next thing he's gay." He shook his head as if in disbelief. "You must be good in the sack, kid, for Jim to turn his back on women. Then again," he looked Blair up and down, a disdainful sneer on his face, "I guess being with you probably isn't much different than being with a woman. The thing that really surprises me is that they let a fairy like you be a cop. Jim says you're a good one." He shrugged. "Guess they'll let anyone join these days."

Blair shook his head. "I don't want to discuss this with you," he said. "You're Jim's friend, which is lucky for you because otherwise I'd knock you on your ass." He stepped toward the door, surprised when it was shoved open hard from the other side, forcing him back into the store. "Hey-" he blurted out then stopped as he saw the gun aimed at his face. "Oh crap," he muttered, raising his hands.

Matt had gone pale but he followed Blair's lead, putting his hands in the air as the robbers moved inside the store and closed and locked the door behind them.

"Nobody move," the man with the gun said. "You two, down on your knees, put the bottles on the floor… slowly."

His partner was already at the register, holding a gun on the terrified clerk and forcing him to take all the cash from the till.

Blair got down on his knees next to Matt who was visibly trembling. "Don't sweat it, man," he said quietly. "This shit happens to me all the time. Just let them take the money and we'll be fine."

Matt looked over at him, his eyes huge in a bloodless face. He nodded jerkily and swallowed hard.

"Get their wallets," the man at the cash register barked as he casually backhanded the clerk into the wall.

"Hey! You didn't have to hit him," Blair yelled. "He was doing what you asked."

"Shut up!" the man holding the gun on them growled. "You!" He pointed at Matt with the gun. "Give me your wallet."

Matt complied fumblingly, muttering under his breath.

Blair groaned inwardly. One of the lessons that had been hammered into his head at the Academy was never to give up his badge or his gun if he could avoid it. His gun was in his car, locked in the glove compartment, a fact he was grateful for. No need to give these goons any more firepower than they already had. He hesitated a moment too long for the robber and the gun cracked against his face, bringing lights to flare at the edges of his vision along with a fierce pain in his cheek.

He fell to his side, blinking frantically, forcing himself not to pass out. There was something trickling down his face and he mopped at it dazedly with his hand, wincing as he felt the gaping edges of a cut under his fingers.

He yelped as a hand took hold of his hair, pulling him agonizingly back to his knees.

"Your wallet," the man grunted, tapping the gun barrel on Blair's shoulder.

"Okay," Blair mumbled, barely able to stay on his knees. He managed to get his wallet out and tossed it to the floor, earning himself a slap to the side of the head.

"Pick it up and hand it to me, slowly," the man said.

Ears ringing, Blair picked the wallet up and held it out, watching as the man took it and flipped it open.

"Hey, Gary, we got us a cop!"

Gary left the dazed clerk on the floor and hopped the counter, the money, stowed in a cloth bag, in one hand. He stopped in front of Matt and held his gun to Matt's forehead. "You a cop, too?" he snarled.

"No," Matt replied quaveringly. "I swear to God I'm not."

"We got a problem, Mark," Gary said flatly. "The cop's gonna be able to give a description of us, and Mr. Shaky here is gonna be able to back him up. I say we waste ' em both."

"No!" Matt's voice echoed boomingly in Blair's aching head. "I won't tell anyone about you. I'll… I'll say I didn't see your faces-"

"What about the clerk?" Blair asked. "You going to kill him too. Three murders? And for what? A few hundred bucks. Just for killing a cop you'll get L-Wopped for sure, you know that?"

"L-wopped?" Mark asked curiously. "What's that mean, pig?"

"Life without parole," Gary replied before Blair could respond. "The pig's right. Let's get out of here-"

"No way." Mark's voice was a snarl. "We kill all the witnesses and they've got no way of tracking us down." He waved his gloved hands as if in triumph. He looked at Matt, his eyes a narrow glimpse of evil. "I'm starting with Mr. Shaky here." He raised his gun again and aimed it at Matt's head.

Blair shambled to his feet, the room around him gyrating in a slow motion blur. From the corner of his eye, he saw the clerk stirring, his fingers doing a slow crab-walk across the underside of the counter.

Unsure how he got there, Blair found himself in front of Matt, his arms outstretched as if his body could keep the man from harm. "He said he wouldn't turn you in," he rasped out, barely able to stay on his feet. "You want to kill a cop and risk going to jail for life, shoot me, but let the other two go."

A siren wailed in the distance and Mark's head spun to the left, the gun in his hand wavering. Blair seized the moment and leapt forward, shoving the man's arm down as they fell to the floor.

"I'm gone," he heard Gary yell behind him and then there was no time to think at all as he wrestled Mark onto his back, fighting to keep the gun from coming up and blowing his head off.

"Help me," he yelled, managing to turn his head to find Matt cowering on the floor behind them, bent double, his arms over his head.

Matt looked up and shook his head and Blair turned back to Mark just in time to avoid a punch that would have laid him out cold for sure. "Jesus!" Blair cursed. Gathering all his waning energy, he pulled his arm back, focused his blurred sight on Mark's contorted face and let fly with the biggest haymaker he'd ever thrown in his life. Mark's head snapped to the side, his eyes rolling up, the gun dropping harmlessly to the floor.

Blair scrambled off the unconscious robber, looking for Gary, but the other perp had obviously been true to his words and gone. Blair decided he'd let someone else worry about catching him. Right now, he didn't think he could chase down a turtle. Even crouched on all fours as he was, his arms and legs shook under him, blood dripping from his gashed face to form a small puddle on the floor.

He looked up as a pair of shoes came into his line of sight. The clerk stood there, a dark bruise already forming along his cheek, his eyes wide with shock. He swayed on his feet and Blair reached up, grabbed the kid's arm and pulled him down to sit on the floor.

"I hit the silent alarm," the kid said. "Are you okay, Mister?"

Blair leaned back on his haunches and smiled with an assurance he didn't feel. "I'm fine. You?"

"Got a hell of a headache," the kid said, rubbing his hand ruefully over his jaw.

Blair looked around at Matt. "You okay, Matt?"

"I wet myself," Matt whispered, the blush staining his cheeks the only color in his pallid, sweaty face.

Blair bit the inside of his lip to stop the grin that wanted to spread across his battered face. "Here," he said instead, pulling off his jacket and tossing into Matt's damp lap. "Wrap this around your waist. Nobody else'll know."

Matt complied then gave Blair a shame-faced smile. "Thanks. I'm sorry I didn't help you. It was like I was frozen, couldn't move. That's never happened to me before, not even when I was in Peru… You saved my life. He would have shot you to get to me."

Blair shrugged. "He was going to kill us all anyway," he said. "I just bought us enough time for David here to hit the alarm."

The bell above the door clanged as a uniformed cop, ran in, gun at the ready. He stopped, taking in the tableau on the floor, then walked across and checked Mark's pulse, as the man groaned and started to come to. Quickly, the cop rolled him onto his belly and cuffed his hands behind his back.

"I take it this is your handiwork, Detective Sandburg," he said with a grin.

Blair gave an answering smile and nodded, wincing as his head throbbed and the gash on his cheek widened. "Just doing some cleaning up, Tom," he replied.

"Ambulance is on its way," Tom said, handing Blair a handkerchief to hold over the cut. "My partner caught the other guy running for his life a block or two away. I'd say your work here is done."

"Good," Blair said. "I'm exhausted." He felt himself falling forward and the room faded into oblivion.

~oOo~

Something warm and slightly rough was rubbing along Blair's forehead, making the skin tickle. He opened his eyes then shut them quickly as light seemed to bore a hole right through his retina into the back of his head. "Oh God," he groaned, bringing his hand up to cover his aching eyes.

"Take it slow, Chief," a familiar voice murmured from somewhere near his right ear.

Blair rolled his head cautiously to one side then opened his eyes, only a fraction at first, then wider as they adjusted and Jim's face swam wavily into view. "Hi," he said.

"Hi yourself," Jim replied, leaning down to kiss Blair's mouth chastely. "I won't ask how you're feeling. I think it's pretty obvious."

"Yeah, like I got steam-rollered," Blair muttered. He fingered his face, feeling a wide swath of bandage over his cheekbone. "Guess the modelling career's over," he said.

"Ah, you'll always be beautiful to me," Jim said with a grin.

"Sweet talker. You just want to flatter me so you can have your wicked way with me," Blair said, smiling back.

"As if you'd stop me," Jim retorted.

"Yeah, okay, you got me. Let's face it, I'm a slut for big, buff Sentinels," Blair murmured with as much of a leer as he could manage.

"But only for this big, buff Sentinel, right, Chief?"

"Well, considering you're the only one on offer…" Blair lifted himself up onto his elbows as Jim raised the head of the bed then pushed him back against the pillows. He handed him a glass with a straw and kept his hands around Blair's while he took a few sips.

Blair handed it back then took inventory. His head ached like a mother and his cheek felt tender and itchy under the bandage but other than that he seemed unscathed.

Jim kissed the bandage gently. "Five stitches and a concussion," he said as if reading Blair's mind. "You're lucky you're here and not in the morgue. Matt told me what you did-"

Blair held up a hand. "Part of our job description is protecting citizens, right?"

"Yeah, I just wish you wouldn't take it so literally," Jim muttered.

There was a knock on the door and it opened, Matt Costello's head peering uncertainly through the gap.

"Hey, Matt, come on in," Blair said, pleased to see the man looked no worse the wear for his experience.

Matt stepped up to the bed, holding out his hand to take Blair's in a firm handshake. "Thank you," he said, for saving my life and for… well, for understanding what happened."

"No problem," Blair replied.

"Look, I said some pretty awful stuff to you before all that happened," Matt said. "I was out of line and I was wrong. I shouldn't have judged you on your sexuality-"

Blair watched Jim's eyebrows hike up and jumped in quickly. "Nobody should be judged by their sexuality, Matt," he said quietly, "any more than they should by their color or their faith or because they have a disability. Sorry, didn't mean to preach."

"No, you're right. I hope I've learned that lesson now," Matt replied equally quietly. He looked over at Jim and held out his hand. "You were right, Jim," he said. "You did choose the best partner you could have. You couldn't have a better man watching your back."

"I know," Jim said, shaking Matt's hand.

"Well, I gotta go. I'll see you around sometime, maybe."

"Give us a call when you get back from Australia," Blair said. "We'll have you round for dinner and a poker game."

"I'd like that." Matt patted Blair's shoulder and left.

"So," Jim said, fixing Blair with a stern look, "you going to promise to keep yourself out of holdups when I'm not with you or do I have to keep you tied up at home?"

Blair gave him a slow lascivious wink. "Tell you what, big guy, you spring me from this hospital and you can take me home and tie me up for real." He grinned as Jim immediately turned and hurried to the door. "Well, well, what do you know?" he said to himself as the door closed behind his partner, "Jim Ellison's a bondage man." He closed his eyes and thought about it. "Oh yeah. Let's just wait and see who ties who up, lover."

The End

Back to Index

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Patt for the artwork.