PART 1: DESCENT
Jim wove through the surprisingly heavy late-evening traffic, glancing at his watch and scowling. Great. He was going to be late picking Blair up at Rainier. He knew Blair didnt care, hell, knew that Blair would probably be late himself, but that wasnt the point. Jim believed in punctuality and hated nothing more than being late. Especially for no good reason.
Less than no good reason. Admit it, hed been stalling over his paperwork at the precinct. Otherwise hed have come with Blair tonight. Blair could have used his help, too he was belatedly sorting through the last of the stuff from his office, which meant heavy boxes to heft around. His student assistant, Jesse no, make that ex-student assistant had kindly moved all of Blairs junk to a storage room so Blair could be out of his office as ordered, but in the bustle of Blairs transition from grad student and teacher to police trainee, Blair simply hadnt had time to sort through the endless piles of papers and books, and the U would have thrown a fit if Blair had taken any of what might be University property off the campus. So Jesse had stored the stuff for him, and finally, now that Blair had completed everything except for a few written tests at the academy and actually had a little free time, hed come to visit with a couple of his few remaining friends at the U and sift through the ashes of his academic life.
And Jim should have been there to help, or at least to lend moral support. There was really no excuse. Well, no, there were two, actually: Blair hadnt asked him, and Jim hadnt offered.
Which had pretty much been the state of things lately since Blair had shot his whole life down in flames, on public television, to save Jim.
Well, no. Not since then, not exactly. More like that evening. More like a couple hours after dinner, when Blair came down off the reaction high from the prospect of being Jims actual police partner in perpetuity and realized that, professionally speaking, hed just taken a dive from the high board without checking to see if there was any water in the pool below. When Jim, hoping to comfort his friend, had told Blair, quietly, how grateful he was for Blairs sacrifice, for his help all these years as Jims Guide, for the thousand risks Blair had taken on his behalf, for his friendship. It had comforted Blair, all right, comforted him enough that Blair had apparently decided why not one more up and down on the days emotional rollercoaster for them both, and announced, without any warning whatsoever, "I love you, Jim. I mean, you know, that way."
And Jim, stunned to the depths of his soul, left reeling and gape-jawed after the earth had suddenly vanished from beneath his feet, had intelligently replied:
And maybe he might have even recovered, come back with something better, if Blair hadnt sat there looking at him so openly, with such vulnerable wistful expectation. Instead Jim floundered in silence with words that were Blairs realm and not his, horribly uncomfortable, watching each second some of the hope in Blairs eyes fade, until his Guides face had just . . . closed down, and Blair had quietly got up and started fixing dinner.
And since that evening, Blair hadnt asked, and Jim hadnt offered.
Blair had attended a few classes at the regular academy, but Simon had gotten him out of most of it, citing the fact that other candidates were given credit for prior police or military experience, and Blair had three years of field work. Some parts of his training were done as private coaching, most of the officers in Major Crimes eagerly volunteering as instructors. The book work Blair did on his own, testing out of most of the course work very quickly. The firing range still gave him the willies, but he got through it with clenched jaws and white lips and moved on to something else as quickly as he could. Simon had even gotten Blair a hair exemption, explaining that Blair had done numerous undercover assignments for Major Crimes and that his unconventional "look" made him a more valuable asset in that regard. Once he graduated, the credit for his prior work in Major Crimes would also let Blair bypass the patrolman stage, providing he could pass the detectives exam. Blair had been grateful, very grateful, for those kindnesses; in return he worked his ass off to excel and pass his courses as quickly as possible.
Nothing changed after that; everything changed after that. Blair worked his training and studies in around Jims duty schedule so he could accompany Jim on jobs as always. He kept track of any problems Jim had with his senses and did his best to help. They took turns cooking supper. Jim watched TV or read or caught up on paperwork; Blair studied or worked on his laptop. Blair remained friendly and outgoing, laughed and joked as always; if sometimes the laughter seemed just a little stilted . . . well. And if Jim found himself touching his Guide less than he had before, that wasnt so strange, was it? If you got right down to it, it would be heartless to taunt his best friend with gestures that might be misinterpreted, that might keep him hoping for something Jim couldnt give. And Blair had seemed to understand; he didnt pressure Jim, didnt bring it up again in fact, seemed okay with keeping their friendship as it was. He didnt date hadnt in some time, and that strangely both bothered and relieved Jim but neither did he retreat or sulk. He was pretty busy with his studies, after all. Hell, Jim hadnt felt any particular inclination to date either lately.
But tonight Blair was at the University packing up the remnants of his former life, and Jim had left him to do it alone, and now he was fucking late. He was supposed to pick Blair up at nine; now it was after ten, and by the time Jim got the handtruck out of the truck and up to the storage room, it would probably be 10:15. Shit. He hated being late. Worse, he hated feeling guilty about being late, and he did feel guilty, and it didnt take Blairs amateur psychoanalysis to tell him why. He felt guilty because hed been avoiding Blair not altogether, just in social situations but even just a friend would have stayed with Blair tonight, supported him, helped him with what had to be a horrible heartwrenching task.
Jim pulled the truck up to the curb at the back of Hargrove Hall, at the entrance nearest the storage room. No Blair at the curb, surrounded by boxes; Jim sighed with relief. Thank God, his Guide had had the sense not to try to lug all those boxes down by himself. He was probably still up there sorting, sensibly waiting for Jim with the handtruck.
Jim got out of the truck and wrestled the handtruck out of the back. He was halfway up the sidewalk when he frowned and stopped. Something was . . . wait a minute. Leaving the handtruck where it sat, he backed up to the truck and glanced up at the side of the building.
The storage room window was dark.
What the fuck?
Could Blair have had to get into his old office for something, maybe? Okay, that was a possibility. Jim walked around to the front of the building and looked up. No; that entire floor was dark. What the hell was going on? Had Blair decided to hang around with his friends, maybe go out for a drink, or had he given up on Jim and asked someone else to take him back to the loft? None of those choices seemed likely; it wasnt like Blair to change his plans and not call, even if he was pissed off. Jim checked his cell phone, but he already knew it was on. He called the loft; no Blair, no messages.
Wait a minute. Maybe he had to run out to another building to, I dont know, get some boxes or something. Okay, so he turned out the light in the room, but environmentalism is Blairs middle name. If he did that, he probably taped a note to the storage room door or something. Right. I can check that, and take the handtruck up while Im at it.
Jim walked back around to the handtruck, unable to suppress a feeling of real unease now. This whole thing was so unlike Blair, and Blair was such a trouble magnet. Well . . . there was one way he could check the whole building at once. Jim felt ridiculous, but he pushed up his hearing, sweeping the area, searching for his Guides heartbeat.
A moment later he found it, and his entire body tensed. Blair wasnt in the building; he was around back of the adjacent shop building instead, and he didnt sound right. His heartbeat was rapid, his breathing seemed wheezy and labored, and his footsteps
"Jim " The word was so faint, barely an agonized whisper.
Without thought Jim was off at a dead run, truck and handtruck forgotten, gun in hand, his own heart pounding like a triphammer. Something was wrong, terribly wrong, something was wrong with his Guide.
He almost collided with Blair as he rounded the corner. Instinctively he reached out to steady Blair, then jerked his hands away at Blairs cry of pain and fear. Jim pushed up his vision to compensate for the darkness, then froze in horror.
Blairs face was a swollen mass of bruises and contusions, his nose and lips bleeding freely, his sweats bloody and soiled and torn. He stumbled one more step, and Jim barely caught him before he fell, easing him slowly down to the ground. A lightning-fast check revealed no stab or gunshot wounds, but Jim had no doubt whatsoever that his Guide was seriously hurt.
"Hold still, Chief," Jim said grimly, fumbling his cell phone out of his pocket and awkwardly dialing one-handed. "Try not to move."
"My back " Blair whimpered.
There was no question of leaving Blair to search for his assailant, but Jim couldnt hear anyone in the area anyway. Jim tried to find a position he could lay Blair in while the ambulance and the squad cars arrived; blood was trickling from Blairs mouth, and he was afraid to lay Blair on his back, but he could feel that Blairs right ribs were cracked, and sitting elicited a hoarse scream that indicated who knew what kind of internal injuries. Fortunately it was only a minute or two before he heard the sirens wailing their way across the campus. By the time the paramedics reached Blair, he was almost unconscious, but their brief examination roused him. He screamed again once when they strapped him onto the backboard.
Jim was by his side in an instant.
"Its okay, Chief," he said as soothingly as his rage would allow. "Im going to be right here with you all the way."
Blair was fading fast, as if hed used up the last of his energy just staying conscious until he could get help. His eyes were rolling up.
"Jim . . . "
"Just rest, Chief, its all right," Jim repeated.
His eyes closed, and he whispered something just as he passed out that froze Jim where he sat. The paramedic glanced at him quizzically.
"What did he say? I couldnt hear it."
"He said " Jim swallowed. "He said rape kit."