Turn, Turn, Turn - Lyn

"To everything,
Turn, turn, turn
There is a reason,
Turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose
Under Heaven"

It was a habit that he'd tried hard to break but one that occurred without any conscious thought. As soon as Jim Ellison walked into the entrance of the apartment building, he would extend his hearing to the third floor, to apartment 307, to be exact. The familiar sound of his guide's heartbeat would reassure him that all was right with the world and especially, that all was right with Blair. That was the most important thing to him because Jim loved Blair. Not just in a brotherly, protective kind of way but loved him passionately, desperately, secretly.

He'd become aware of his feelings when Blair had drowned in the Rainier University fountain at the hands of another sentinel. It was when Jim had seen Blair's pale, lifeless body lying on the grass after he had dragged him from the icy water that Jim understood the true meaning of love. It had shocked, stunned and thrilled him all in the one moment. When Blair finally acceded to Jim's entreaties and took a shallow gasping breath that spewed filthy water over them both, the sentinel finally saw what he had almost lost. Now he hugged that secret closely to himself, vowing only that as long as he drew breath, Blair would be happy and safe. In order to do that, Jim's love had to remain unrequited. Because Blair loved Phil.

Now, Jim contented himself with having Blair at his side, as his partner and guide, and as a consultant to the Major Crimes Department. It was something, at least, to be able to hear Blair, feel, touch and smell him and, at the same time, Jim knew it would never be enough. He shook his head at his morose thoughts and pushed the front door open.

The object of Blair's affection started at the opening of the door and hurriedly shifted from his spot languishing on Blair's lap, wiping hastily at his kiss-swollen lips as Jim slammed the door shut and, nodding brusquely to the cuddling couple, headed straight for the fridge and liquid sustenance. He took a long swallow of the beer before sighing with relief and turning back to regard the two men still seated on the couch.

"Hey, Chief. How was your day? Hi, Phil."

"Great, Jim. I'd forgotten what it was like to have a day off." Blair leaned toward a decidedly tense Phil and wrapped his arms around his lover. "Phil and I have been deciding what to do for the holiday weekend."

Jim leaned back against the kitchen counter and took another swallow of his drink. "Oh, right. The weekend. I'd forgotten."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Yes, the weekend. Simon said we could have all three days off seeing we wrapped up the Mullins' case."

"The Mullins' case?" Phil broke in. "Wasn't that the one where the guy murdered male prostitutes?"

Blair nodded as he brushed a hand through Phil's cropped hair. "Yes, guy was a real maniac."

"I wish you'd find a safer job, sweetheart," Phil said. "I worry with you out there amongst all those crazy people." He dropped a kiss to the tip of Blair's nose then stared at Jim as though daring him to do something about it.

Jim shrugged and went back to his beer. Blair returned the kiss before answering. "I can look after myself and I've got Jim to look out for me. Right, Jim?"

"Right. So, what did you decide on?"

"What?" Blair dragged his eyes away from the teacher's handsome face and looked blankly at Jim for a moment before grinning widely. "Oh, right. The weekend. We're going white water rafting."

Jim stiffened. "Are you nuts?" he asked, glaring at Phil. "With the winter rains we've had, there's bound to be flooding. It's too dangerous. Don't you know what he's been through? Are you forgetting that he drowned a year ago?" He advanced on the other man, his hands balling into fists.

Phil stood and stared Jim down, his own hands clenched, his jaw tightening at the detective's anger. "Of course I know what he's been through. I was there to pick up the pieces. Both times," he answered angrily.

"He is here and can speak for himself," Blair interjected, positioning himself between the two larger men. He sighed and crossed his arms on his chest as he regarded his partner. "Jim. It's been a year, almost to the day since that happened." Blair closed his eyes and a shudder ran through him even as he spoke. "Phil and I have been talking about this for a while now and I think he's right. If I don't face up to this fear soon, it's going to beat me. I won't be any good to you as your back-up, if I'm scared every time we need to go near a pond or a lake or, God forbid, a fountain." He reached a hand back and took hold of Phil's, squeezing it lightly, smiling as his lover stepped forward and lightly kissed his cheek. "It's our first anniversary," he added.

Jim watched, a nerve twitching madly in his jaw. Finally, he waved a hand in defeat and turned abruptly, heading for the stairs. "Fine. Go."

"I thought maybe...."

"What?" Jim stopped halfway up the stairs as he heard Phil make a muttered protest. Shamelessly, he turned up his hearing.

“Blair? What are you doing? He hates my guts.”

“Shh. He'll hear you. Trust me on that.”

“Come on, Blair, sweetheart. I thought it was just going to be the two of us.”

“It'll be fun. You two can get to know each other better.”

Jim smiled a little before schooling his features into a look of bored disinterest. "What is it, Sandburg?"

"We, that is, Phil and I, thought that you might like to come with us."

Jim let Phil sweat a moment then shook his head and resumed his way upstairs. "No, thanks, Sandburg. I'm busy this weekend."

"You are? Doing what?"

Jim let the pause go on for a little longer than necessary before he answered. "Simon asked me to go in and work on another case that came in today."

"Oh. Maybe we'd better take a rain check on the weekend. You might need me."

"No need, Chief. Go. Enjoy. It'll mostly be interviewing witnesses and the like. I can't see us getting a break this early."

"Are you sure?"

"Knock yourself out, Chief."

***

Blair moved slightly in the seat, trying to ease the cramps from his body. He stretched his arms overhead as far as they would go in the confines of Phil's SUV and cracked a wide yawn.

"Hey, sleepy head," Phil greeted from beside him. "I thought you were going to keep me company for the entire trip."

"I'm sorry, babe," Blair replied. He turned the other way and curled himself up sideways watching his lover with drowsy eyes. "I meant to stay awake, honest. I must have been more tired than I realized."

Phil reached out a hand to him, smiling as Blair captured it and raised it to his lips, anointing each finger with a kiss, then licking slowly up the length of each one. "Ellison works you too damn hard, sweetheart," Phil went on.

"No, it's not Jim's fault," Blair protested as he kissed along the broad palm of Phil's hand. "He needs my help on these cases. He can't predict when a crime's going to occur."

"I don't see why you need to be with him when he's out there, anyway. I mean, you're a consultant, not a cop."

"If I had a dime for the number of times I've been told that," Blair breathed around Phil's digits. He'd sucked the forefinger into his mouth and savored it sensuously, smiling at Phil's obvious enjoyment as he felt his own cock harden with desire.

"Why doesn't he have a regular partner?" Phil persisted. "What is it that you do for him anyway?"

Blair sighed and let the finger drop from his mouth. "It's complicated. I told you already I can't explain it. I just really need to be there for him."

There was a long silence as Phil concentrated on steering the car around a couple of tight bends in the mountain road. Then he spoke softly. "Are you in love with him, Blair?"

Blair stiffened in response. "No, of course not," he objected, just a little too strenuously. He softened his voice and reached to stroke down Phil's cheek. " I love you."

Phil glanced over and smiled at him. "I think he's in love with you."

Blair snorted in derision. "Are you kidding? Detective Macho Ellison? No way, man. Wouldn't matter anyway," he said softly, turning to look out the window. "I'm with you now."

Blair contented himself with resting one slender hand on Phil's thigh and gazing out at the passing scenery for the rest of the trip to the Skagit River. He thought about Phil's comments, wondering if the other man was just jealous of the time he spent with Jim or if he actually saw the signs that Blair tried so hard to conceal. Initially, Phil had sworn that he understood Blair's need to work closely with Jim. Just as quickly, Blair had vowed that his work with the detective would not affect his relationship with Phil. Lately though, Phil had become more vocal in his complaints, more demanding of Blair's time and attention.

Blair berated himself silently for lying to his lover. He was in love with Jim Ellison. He had been almost from the first time he'd laid eyes on him in the hospital. He'd felt a shudder of relief when Jim had come to see him at the university and agreed to let Blair help him with his senses. It wasn't just because he could finally begin work on the final part of his thesis. There was something more compelling that drew him to the sentinel, had kept him returning even when Jim had thrown him out of his home, leaving him at the mercy of Alex Barnes.

He'd turned initially to Phil when he'd recovered from the drowning, drawing strength from the handsome teacher's obvious devotion to him. Phil had begged him to move in with him after the mess that had been Blair's long-awaited dissertation. Once again, Jim and Blair's friendship had fractured under the weight of mistrust and perceived betrayal. At the end of the whole sordid affair, Blair had returned to the loft and taken the job offered him by the Cascade PD as a special consultant to the Major Crimes department. He knew now that Jim could never love him in any way other than as a brother and so he had given his love to Phil, promising solemnly that Phil would never know the truth and that he would never hurt the man whose love he did not deserve. Blair closed off his heart and set about convincing Phil that he was the only one he needed to make him whole.

Now though, Blair knew that Phil was no longer content with their easy-going relationship. Phil wanted them both to take the final step and commit to each other, not in marriage, Blair had always thought that idea kind of cheesy and melodramatic, but a merging of souls and vows to be faithful to one another. Blair understood Phil's need. Having Jim Ellison as a silent third partner in the relationship was enough for him to doubt Blair's true feelings toward him. Blair knew though that it was wrong of him to continue living a lie. It was time to release Phil so that he could get on with his life and hopefully, find the love he deserved. Not yet, though, Blair decided. He knew he was simply postponing the inevitable but he told himself that he would know when the time was right. It just wasn't now.

"Hey, dreamer. We're here." Phil's voice startled Blair from his thoughts and he turned and flashed a wide smile at his lover. Leaning over, Blair pressed his lips to Phil's, sighing as Phil returned the pressure and a hot tongue slid into his mouth. He fisted his hands in Phil's cropped hair and pulled him closer, deepening the kiss. Finally, he pulled away and planted a chaste kiss on Phil's cheek.

"This is going to be the best weekend ever." Phil promised fervently. "You'll see."

***

Captain Simon Banks stood with his hands on his hips and scowled at his best detective. "What the hell happened, Ellison? I thought you said you had Bascombe's position pinned down."

Jim turned to look at him, his arms going wide in puzzled confusion. "I did, sir. I could have sworn I zeroed in on his heartbeat in this alley." He closed his eyes and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "I don't know what happened," he sighed. "I got almost here and my senses just faded out on me. By the time, I knew what was happening, he was gone."

Simon nodded and turned to Detective's Rafe and Brown as they ran up to him. "All right. Rafe, Brown, search this entire area. Do a door-knock, too. Find out if anyone saw him."

The two men nodded and ran off. The captain watched them go, then pulled a cigar from his breast pocket and walked over to Jim. "Any idea why your senses would just go out on you like that, Jim?"

Jim merely shook his head so Simon continued. "Where's Sandburg?"

Jim stared at him mutely for a moment before answering. "Um...he's gone away for the weekend. To the Skagit River. With Phil."

"You two have an argument?"

"No, sir. I just didn't think I'd need him on this. I didn't expect us to nail Bascombe for the murder this fast."

Simon studied the detective for a moment then nodded. "Go give Rafe and Brown a hand." He reached a hand out and rested it on Jim's arm before he could move. "If you need to talk...about anything, you know where I am."

Jim nodded, a small sad smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Thanks, Simon. I appreciate it."

***

Blair looked down uneasily at the river that raced below where he stood and then gave his lover an uneasy frown. "Are you sure this is safe?"

"Of course it's safe," Phil assured him, grinning as he finished buckling his helmet into place.

"If it's so safe, why all the safety equipment?" Blair grumbled; trying to keep his eyes averted from the rapid flow of the water.

"Just a precaution," Phil said. He came over to stand behind Blair and wrapped his arms about him, nuzzling at his neck. "You've got to get past this phobia, sweetheart, if we're going to live our lives together. There's so much I want to show you, to teach you."

"Phil, look, there's something I need to talk to you about," Blair began.

"Me, too," Phil replied. "We'll talk tonight. We've got all weekend to talk. And tonight, when we get back, I've got a reward for my brave lover."

"You do?"

"Mm-hmm."

Blair turned around within Phil's arms so that he could look him in the eye. "What?"

"Uh-uh," Phil answered catching Blair's hand and leading him toward the large raft that was moored nearby. "It's a surprise and one you have to earn."

Blair drew in a deep shuddering breath and let Phil steer him toward the river's edge. "All right. You're the boss."

"Damn right."

Joe Thomson eyed the two men a little skeptically as they stepped into the raft. "You sure you're both up to this?" he asked, noting Blair's pale features.

"I've done this hundreds of times," Phil assured him.

"Doesn't look like he has," Joe said, indicating Blair as the anthropologist sat shakily and gripped the sides of the raft tightly.

Phil shook his head. "He'll be fine."

"The water's running pretty fast and deep," Joe continued. "River's swollen from the last rains."

Phil waved away his concerns and pushed off. "We'll be fine."

***

Blair looked up and grinned at Phil as he trailed his hand through the cooling waters of the river. He raked his gaze over the landscape gliding by them then looked further up to the mountains stretching above them and gave a deep sigh of contentment. "This is beautiful," he stated happily, smiling at Phil who sat at the front of the raft.

"You like this, sweetheart?" Phil grinned back at his lover. At Blair's contented nod, he laughed aloud. "Get ready to hang on, babe. You're just about to take the ride of your life."

Blair's eyes widened at the comment and he sat back in his seat, reaching automatically for the paddles. "Just tell me what to do, all right?” he demanded breathlessly. His heart pounded in his chest and he was sure he would pass out from the fear.

Phil leaned forward from his perch and reached for one hand, squeezing it lightly. "It's going to be fine."

Blair nodded shakily and then his heart leapt into his chest as the raft skipped down the first sharp incline then bolted ahead through the white water. He tried to concentrate on Phil's shouted commands to push away from the rocks over the roar of the water. His shoulders began to ache from the exertion and his eyes stung from the sweat that dripped relentlessly into them. Seeing a large rocky outcrop loom up to the side of him, Blair swung out with the paddle and pushed hard, crying out from the sheer power that it took to turn the raft back into the rushing water. Hearing Phil call his name, Blair looked up quickly to give his lover a confident smile and froze in fear.

Ahead of them, a huge piece of tree had been torn from an overhang and now they hurtled toward it at breakneck speed. Blair called a warning out to Phil who tracked his lover's frantic eyes and turned in his seat just as they were almost upon the monstrous branch. Blair struck out again, trying desperately to find purchase against something that would enable him to change their course. He felt the edge of the raft tip up against the lip of a rock and watched helplessly as the craft flipped up and over, throwing Phil directly into the path of the tree.

Blair felt himself tossed into the air and he flailed his arms wide, seeking purchase on rocks as he landed belly down in the water. Pain and cold shot through his entire body and he gasped an involuntary shriek, choking on the cold water that rushed into his mouth and lungs. He snaked a hand out and grabbed hold of a ragged edge of rock, gritting his teeth as he felt it bite into his fingers. Ignoring the pain, he curled his fingers tightly about the small haven he had found and tried to ride the waves that slammed against him.

"Phil!" Choking on the water that filled his mouth, he screamed out his lover's name. He continued to call out, his bleeding hands locked around the small rocks, his broken body smashing intermittently into the granite until the bitter cold stole his voice and coherent thought from him.

"Jim!" With a final angry cry to his sentinel, Blair surrendered himself to the depths of despair as his cries to his lover went unanswered. Finally, his frozen hands gave up their grip and he slid off the rocks, sinking silently into the icy water. He wasn't sure how long he drifted in blessed peace before sounds of shouting voices and splashing water roused him.

A strong hand grasped at his arm just as he went under for the second time and he screamed in agony as broken bones ground together. The cry caused more water to rush down his throat and he fought to take in a breath of air.

"Hey, Dave!" A voice sounded close to his ear and he looked up into the weathered face of a middle-aged man. "We got us a live one."

Blair felt himself hauled upward and then his belly burned as he was dragged over the jagged rocks edging the river. He was lowered face down to the cold earth and immediately began to shiver violently, the action causing his injuries to protest violently. Suddenly, a warm thick weight engulfed him and a strong arm encircled his heaving shoulders, pushing him over onto his back, then lifting him up to lean against a broad chest as he retched the water from his lungs. Finally, he gained a respite in the hacking and lay, panting heavily, feeling the pain of his injuries resurface in the lull.

"Easy does it, buddy. You're going to be fine." The voice was roughened but warm and caring and Blair choked back a sob.

"Jim?" he whispered.

"Is that your friend?" the man asked. "The one who was with you?"

At the words, Blair surged up against the constraining hold. His body was instantly swamped in a maelstrom of agony and he collapsed back against the supportive chest with a moan.

"They haven't found him yet. They're still looking."

Blair shook his head wearily, his eyes filling with tears. "His name is Phil." His mind was suddenly filled with clarity and he reached a bleeding hand up to clutch at the other man's shirt, wincing at the pain it caused. "You have to get Jim. My partner, Jim Ellison. He'll find him."

***

"Jim!"

Jim's head shot up abruptly from where it had begun to droop onto the file in front of him. Looking around, he could see that the bullpen was empty. He knew that Simon was still in his office so he dragged himself up from the desk and walked over to knock at the door. He entered at Simon's brusque invitation.

"Did you call me, sir?"

"No, I didn't." Simon didn't look up from his paperwork. "It's late, Jim. Why don't you head on home? Get some sleep."

Jim sighed and slumped into a chair opposite his captain and friend. "To be honest with you, Simon, I don't think I could sleep if I went home, no matter how tired I am."

Simon looked at him. "Sandburg?"

Jim nodded silently and the captain stood and went to his coffeepot, pouring them both a cup. He held one out to Jim; "It's straight coffee."

Jim nodded his thanks and accepted the steaming mug. He waited until Simon sat again before he spoke. "I've had these feelings for Blair for some time, Simon; I know I can't act on them, he's with someone else and he's happy and that's all I ever wanted for him. Problem is, I can't stop them, either." He took a sip of the coffee and set the cup down on the desk. "I'm going to ask him to move out."

"You're what?" Simon exploded. "Jesus, Jim, isn't that what started this mess in the first place?"

"No, sir. Alex started this mess," Jim objected. "She came into my territory, tried to take and then kill what was mine, my guide...." He voice trailed off as he saw the incredulous look on Simon's face. "Sorry, Simon. It's kind of a..."

"Sentinel thing," Simon finished for him. "I told you already, Jim. It's too much information." He sat back and regarded his friend sadly. "So, is there anything I can do to help?"

Jim shook his head. "Not unless you want to arrest Phil Murray on some trumped up charge, lock him up and throw away the key. No, sir." He smiled tiredly. "And I'm only half-joking." He stood up and turned toward the door. "I'm going to go finish typing up the witness interviews to the Bascombe thing. Do you want to join me for a late supper after that?"

"I should be done here in a half-hour," Simon answered agreeably. "Let me know when you're ready to leave."

Jim began to walk out the door but Simon stayed him with his hand as his office phone rang. The captain's face grew lined with worry as he took the call, his eyes never leaving Jim. Hanging up the phone, he indicated the chair. "Sit down for a minute, Jim."

Jim remained standing. "What is it, Simon? What's happened?"

Simon sighed. "That was Search and Rescue. They've been called down to the Skagit River, just out of Rockport. There's been a rafting accident. One man injured, one still missing."

“Oh God," Jim breathed. "Blair. I heard him calling me."

"The man who's been rescued has been asking them to call you." Jim was already out the door before Simon finished speaking. "They're holding the chopper for you."

***

Jim exited the chopper into the darkness of night and ran toward the circle of tents at the periphery of the landing area. He flashed his ID at a police officer standing guard and then lifted the flap and stepped into the nearest tent. Blair struggled to his feet from a stretcher the moment Jim entered, pushing away the hands that reached to support his trembling frame.

"Jim?" The anthropologist's voice was hoarse and Jim felt a tremor of relief run through him at the sound. Blair staggered toward him, burrowing quickly into the sanctuary of Jim's embrace as the detective held out his arms. He raised a white face to look at Jim. "They can't find him. I told them that you could."

Jim nodded and hugged the smaller man closer to him, feeling the shivers that shook Blair's slight frame. The anthropologist was a battered mess. One arm was secured tightly across his chest and he sported numerous bruises and cuts over his face and neck. A large gauze square was taped above a blackened, swollen eye, the white stained red with still oozing blood. He held a blanket awkwardly around his shoulders with one hand and still wore his wet jeans and sweater.

Jim looked over Blair's head at the paramedics who were packing up their gear. "Why isn't he in the hospital?" he demanded angrily. He felt Blair slump against him and led the other man quickly back to the stretcher and pushed him down to sit.

One of the paramedics, a short, dark-haired woman, shook her head. "He's refused all but basic first-aid. He said he wanted to wait until you came and until...they find the body."

"He's not dead!" Blair retorted hotly. He surged up from the bed but Jim pressed him back with a forceful hand and sank down beside him, gathering the distraught man to him as Blair dissolved into sobs. "He's not dead," Blair whispered again brokenly.

Jim pressed a kiss to the top of Blair's head. "It's all right, sweetheart," he soothed. "I'm here now. I'll take care of everything."

A half-hour later, Jim had Blair stripped out of his wet clothes and dressed in a pair of borrowed sweats plus a parka he had purloined from a sympathetic Search and Rescue officer. When he suggested to Blair, though, that he rest while he looked around outside, he was met with a storm of resistance.

"Let me come with you," Blair begged. "I can show you where he went into the water."

Jim shook his head. "You're hurt, Chief. You're almost out on your feet. Stay here and rest. I'll be back as soon as I check things out. I need to talk to whoever's in charge of the search anyway."

Blair shook his head stubbornly. "I heard them saying they're calling off the search until morning. Phil won't be able to survive in the water that long. It's cold out tonight. You could find him. With my help, you can find him before it's too late."

Jim sighed then nodded. "All right. We'll take a look around but if you start feeling bad, you tell me, right away. Understand?"

Blair nodded. "I'll be all right. He has to be okay, Jim. I have to tell him I'm sorry."

Jim cupped Blair's chin in his large hand. "Sorry for what?" he asked. "Did you two have a fight?"

Blair pulled away from his grasp and shook his head. "No. No fight."

"Okay," Jim conceded when it was obvious that Blair was not going to be more forthcoming. He secured the parka more tightly around Blair's body, being careful of the splinted arm and then jammed a wool cap over the younger man's curls. "Let's go."

The wind bit into them as they exited the tent and Jim dialed down his sense of touch. He looped an arm about Blair's shoulders as they moved slowly toward the river's edge. Blair placed his uninjured hand in the small of Jim's back, slipping unconsciously into guide mode, despite his grief and pain.

"Concentrate on pushing past the extraneous noises, Jim," Blair advised. "See if you can find a heartbeat out in that direction." He nodded toward the river, its calm water here belying the life and death struggle that had occurred a few miles upstream.

Jim extended his hearing, focusing first on Blair's heartbeat close and alive beside him, then sending it outward, pushing past the torrent of the river, discarding the sounds of forest creatures and insects. Finally, he sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Chief. I'm not getting anything."

He saw Blair swallow hard then the anthropologist's hand patted Jim's back. "That's all right. Let's try sight."

They pushed on, walking slowly along the river's edge with Jim alternating extending his sight and hearing until the headache that had begun at the start of the search grew in crescendo and began to overwhelm him. He stopped finally and leaned forward slightly, massaging his temples with his fingers. "I'm sorry, Chief. I don't think we're going to find anything tonight."

Blair leaned toward him, one hand stroking solicitously across his shoulders. "You all right?"

Jim nodded. "Just a headache." He looked at Blair's pale face, taking in the lines of pain that tightened the young man's features. "Sorry, Blair. You look exhausted. Time to call it a night."

"Jim, please. I know we're close to where he is. Just a little longer," Blair begged, his fingers unconsciously digging into Jim's shoulder.

Jim straightened up and grasped Blair's hand in his, squeezing gently. "Okay, one more sweep then I'm taking you back to the hospital in Cascade."

Blair nodded his agreement and turned back immediately to face the water. "Okay, dial up your sight again. Let's try the reverse of what you've done before. Try to piggyback your hearing onto your sight. Find something, a point of reference and home in on it."

Jim saw the body immediately and instantly wondered how he could have missed it before. Phil lay caught up amid the branches of a large tree, which looked at first sight to be part of the natural landscape. The sentinel extended his hearing and closed his eyes in sadness at the sight and lack of sound that greeted him.

Blair's lover was dead; one side of his head crushed by what must have been a massive blow. Blair picked up on the stillness of Jim's body, a sign he'd come to recognize early in his work with the sentinel.

"Jim? What is it? Don't zone on me, please. Not out here."

Jim turned away from the terrible sight and pulled Blair into a tight embrace, his hands stilling Blair's head as he fought to pull away and look. "Oh, Blair. I'm so sorry, sweetheart."

***

Jim looked over at where Blair sat on the gurney in the examination room at Cascade General Hospital's Emergency Room. The other man sat quietly, his knees drawn up to his chest, his good arm wrapped around himself in an attempt to ward off the chill of the air. He was dressed only in a thin hospital gown as they waited for the X-ray results on his fractured arm and he shivered intermittently.

He had not spoken a word to either Jim or anyone else since Phil's body had been discovered. Immediately after the two men had signaled that they had found the body, he had collapsed soundlessly to the ground. Jim had gathered the unresponsive man in his arms and carried him back to the chopper, not bothering to wait for the paramedics or a stretcher. He knew Blair was suffering from exhaustion and shock, both from his injuries and from the trauma of the day and he knew the sooner he got him to hospital the better.

Blair's head wound had been sutured, his numerous cuts and abrasions cleaned and disinfected and now they waited. The doctor had said Blair could be released as soon as a cast was applied to his arm. Jim had asked Blair if he wanted to go back to the loft and the young man had merely shrugged, then nodded his head.

Both men looked up as the door to the room swung open, but instead of the doctor, a young nurse stood there, her demeanor nervous and unsure. "Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair raised his good hand. "That would be me," he said, his voice sounding hoarse from the coughing attacks that still assaulted him from time to time.

The nurse stepped forward and held out a large paper bag. "The doctor asked me to give you this. It's Mr. Murray's personal effects."

Jim could see Blair's eyes fill with tears at the words as the anthropologist nodded silently. The nurse stood holding the bag a moment longer then said awkwardly, "I could leave them at the desk, if you'd rather, for his family to pick up."

Jim stood and stepped forward. "I'm Detective Ellison," he said. "Why don't you leave them with me. I'll make sure they get to the right people."

The woman looked relieved as she handed over the bag then she turned and smiled at Blair, touching him gently on the shoulder. "Doctor Edwards said to tell you he'll be here in about 5 minutes to cast your arm."

Blair nodded his head against his drawn-up knees but did not answer or look up. "Thanks," Jim offered, "for everything."

The nurse smiled at him and left the room quickly. Jim turned back to his chair but Blair's hand on his arm stopped him. "What is it?" Jim asked the other man. "Do you need something?"

Blair looked at him now, unshed tears glistening in his eyes. "In the bag," he whispered hoarsely.

Jim hoisted the paper sack and held it toward Blair. "In this bag?"

Blair nodded. "There's a small box in there," he went on. "The kind you get at a jewelry store."

Jim's mouth went suddenly dry but he opened the top of the sack and looked inside. Nestled amongst a wallet and pieces of paper, small change and a heavy silver chain that Jim recognized as belonging to Phil, was a small velvet box. He pulled it out and handed it to Blair. So, this was it, Jim thought sadly. Blair had proposed to Phil, he really had loved him all along. Even with Phil gone, Jim knew he could never tell Blair his secret.

Blair brushed his fingertips gently over the rich red velvet and then opened the box. He let out a small gasp that had Jim instantly at his side, then he looked up at the detective, his tears now running freely down his cheeks. "Oh God, Jim," he said. "It's beautiful." And indeed it was, Jim thought. The gold band looked simple enough but a closer look revealed two thin gold bands, one of gold and the other of white gold, entwined around each other, the pattern reminiscent of a puzzle ring. Three small diamonds sat at the top where the strands interlocked. "Phil didn't know I knew about this," Blair continued. "I found the receipt in his pants when I was doing some laundry. I didn't know what it was for, but I kind of figured. I didn't let on that I knew because I knew he wanted to surprise me."

Jim sat down on the edge of the gurney, smiling as Blair scooted over to make room. "You said earlier that you needed to tell Phil that you were sorry but that you hadn't had a fight. What did you mean?"

Blair continued to caress the ring as he spoke. "I knew Phil wanted me to move in with him and make a commitment to a life together. I was going to tell him tomorrow night that I couldn't do it."

"Why not? I thought you loved him."

"I did. I do," Blair answered. "Just not the way he loved me. It wouldn't have been fair to him to let him commit his life to a relationship when I was living a lie."

"Is there someone else?" Jim asked.

Blair looked up at him and smiled sadly. "There has been someone else for the past four years but I didn't think he loved me, at least not that way. I wasn't going to say anything, Jim, unless you told me first. And I didn't think that would ever happen."

Jim reached out and grasped Blair's good hand. "What made you change your mind?"

"Tonight, at the river, you called me sweetheart," Blair said. "Twice. I figured that was a fair indication of your feelings."

"I don't know when my feelings for you changed, Blair," Jim said. "One day, it just seemed to be. I sometimes think, that day at the fountain after Incacha spoke to me, that something happened. By the time we got back from Mexico and you'd recovered, you were seeing Phil. I couldn't say anything then. I knew you were gay, I just didn't think you saw me as anything more than your partner and roommate."

"I did love Phil, you know," Blair said, his eyes welling with tears again as he placed the ring carefully back in the box. "But I loved him for the wrong reasons. Because of how he loved me, I was...grateful to him for filling the void, but I knew it would be wrong to keep pretending."

Though he already knew the answer, Jim asked the question. "What would you have done if this hadn't happened? If you'd had the chance to tell Phil the truth?"

Blair shrugged and kissed Jim's hand. "I was going to leave. I think you know that it would have been the only way to handle things."

Jim leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the top of Blair's head. "I don't think I could have let you leave. I think it would have been the one thing that would have allowed me to confess my feelings for you. I'm so very sorry this happened but I'm glad you didn't go."

"I understand," Blair whispered.

They both started as the door opened again to admit the doctor and nurse. Jim agreed to wait outside while Blair's arm was set and encased in plaster, his relief at Blair's revelation and recovery evident in his eyes.

***

"I just don't believe this shit."

Blair's voice echoed up to the upstairs bedroom and Jim looked over the railing in surprise. "Blair? What's wrong?"

"Phil's parents, that's what's wrong," Blair answered. He lowered himself onto the couch gingerly, his injuries still making him stiff and sore, and began to pick at the edge of his cast.

Jim padded quickly down the stairs and sat beside him, pulling the fidgeting hand into his. "Stop that. Now, what's this about Phil's parents?"

Blair took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment then he looked at Jim, sorrow evident on his face. "The phone call was from Phil's sister, Karen. She's very sorry but Phil's parents would prefer I didn't come to the funeral. It seems not many of his family knew he was gay and they don't think it would look good to have his male lover there." Blair's voice broke and a tear trickled down his cheek.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Jim said sincerely. He reached out and engulfed Blair in his arms, allowing the other man to grieve again.

Blair's tears stopped finally and he lifted his face to Jim's. "Thank you for being here," he said. "For not asking anything of me until I'm ready."

"I'll wait for as long as you need," Jim answered. "Forever, if necessary. I love you."

"I love you too." Blair's lips pressed against Jim's and his hands reached up to cup the back of Jim's head. The younger man opened his mouth, pushing his tongue into the blissful heat of Jim's mouth. Jim groaned and fisted his hands in Blair's soft curls, using his body to push Blair back against the cushions. He released one hand to stroke across Blair's chest, slipping his fingers under the shirt to ghost across the short hair on Blair's chest until he found a hard nub.

Blair arched up at the touch, sighing as Jim's mouth left his to travel downward, one sure hand unbuttoning his shirt and then pushing the fabric apart to reveal Blair's broad furred chest. Jim bent his head and licked at a nipple, smiling as Blair sighed with pleasure and cupped his head, steering it where he wanted it to be. Jim took the peaked nub into his mouth and sucked it gently, his other hand stroking and tweaking its twin to hardness. Then he allowed his hand to move lower. He rested his fingers on the button of Blair's jeans then looked up at Blair, seeking permission.

Blair nodded and smiled. "Yes, Jim, please."

It only took a moment for Jim to release Blair's straining cock from its denim prison and he licked the head tentatively. Enjoying the moans he heard from Blair, Jim placed his hands on Blair's writhing hips and took the shaft into his mouth. Blair bucked up and Jim pushed down, holding his lover still as he sucked and licked his way up and down Blair's cock.

Blair's good hand found its way to Jim's chest and he pushed the other man away. Jim looked up, surprised at the action. "Blair?"

"Get undressed, Jim," Blair ordered, his voice sounding strained. "I want to touch you."

Jim obeyed with alacrity and shuddered as he stood naked before his lover, Blair's hand trailing gently down his body from chest to cock. Blair traced a finger along Jim's erection then cupped his balls in his hand. "Beautiful," he whispered. He looked at Jim and smiled. "You look exactly as I imagined you would."

Jim reached out and pulled Blair up from the couch. "My room," he said. "It's a lot more comfortable."

Blair nodded and allowed himself to be led up the stairs and then pressed back onto Jim's bed. Jim lay down next to Blair and lowered his head for another kiss as his hands resumed their slow journey of discovery down Blair's body. He snaked a hand between Blair's legs and pushed against the younger man's thighs, encouraging Blair to open his legs and allow him access. Blair complied with a soft sigh and drew his knees up. Jim drew a gentle finger down Blair's perineum and then stroked softly across the pucker at the center. Blair moaned and pushed down into the touch, so Jim did it again, this time moving his other hand down to pump Blair's already drooling cock.

Moving closer, he enclosed his fist around both their cocks and began to stroke steadily while his other hand continued to ghost across Blair's hole, occasionally allowing his finger to steal just inside the tight ring of muscle. Soon, Blair was thrusting up against his fist, his own hand coming down to encircle Jim's, then pushing back onto the finger in his ass. Jim's actions became faster and harder as he felt his own orgasm approach and then Blair was coming, his semen spurting hotly over their combined fists, mixing a few strokes later with Jim's, as the sentinel cried out Blair's name.

Jim laid his head down on Blair's heaving chest and stroked a hand down his lover's face. "Thank you," he said, his voice slightly muffled. "I hope you were okay with that. You didn't feel pressured into this, did you? I don't want to hurt you."

Blair stilled Jim's words with a finger to his lips, then pulled the other man up to lay beside him. "I wanted it as much as you did. This may not be great timing, Jim, but I love you and I always will."

Jim pressed a kiss to Blair's forehead. "Ditto," he said.

EPILOGUE:

Blair watched as the last car departed, then looked at his lover and smiled. "I won't be long," he said, squeezing Jim's hand.

"Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?" Jim asked. He knew that Blair was still recovering from the accident, both physically and emotionally.

"I'm sure." Blair nodded. He reached for the door handle and opened the car door, his movements still awkward with his broken arm. "I won't be long but I need to do this. I still have to explain to Phil why I couldn't have said yes to him and to tell him that I did love him, in my own way."

"I understand," Jim assured him. He watched Blair clamber down from the Ford and disappear through the ornate gates of the cemetery. His elation at knowing Blair loved him was tempered by sadness that their relationship had been made possible because someone, who had loved Blair as much as he did, had died. He realized too, that if Phil had lived they would both have lost Blair, and with that thought, the words to an old song came to mind.

"To everything, there is a reason and a time for every purpose, under heaven."

The End

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Author’s Acknowledgements: Thanks to Lisa, Patt and Mary. Dedicated to the wonderful team at My Mongoose Ezines and to friendship.