Chapter 2


Jim paced the length of the hall again, then back. Down. Back.

"Jim, sit down," Simon said quietly. "He’s going to be all right."

"How do you know that?" Jim snarled.

"Because if it was that serious, the place would be swarming with specialists and emergency surgeons and they’d be calling in more," Simon said patiently. "Look, Jim, sit down, will you? Sandburg’s going to need you nice and calm and collected, not a nervous wreck."

Jim ignored him; he continued to pace while Simon called the station for a status report, the third such check he’d made since he’d arrived at the hospital.

"Well, they’ve got three suspects," Simon told him. "The officers tracked Sandburg’s path back to one of the auto body shops. Judging from the signs inside, he was assaulted there."

"What the hell was he doing in the auto body shop?" Jim asked, wincing. Oh, God, please tell me he didn’t go there for a handtruck.

"They think he was taken there from somewhere else," Simon said. "They found his backpack between the shop building and the student union building, and there’s signs of a struggle there. The three suspects are students; a campus cop saw them sneaking into their dorm with bloody clothes and took them into custody. He thought he saw another boy run off between the buildings, but he couldn’t ID him. Most of Major Crimes and Forensics are down there, pissed as hell and tearing the campus apart."

Jim felt sick. Three attackers, maybe four.

"Jesus Christ."

Simon had received two more updates from the station when a doctor finally emerged from the room where Blair was being treated and approached them.

"Which one of you two is James Ellison?" he said.

"Me," Jim said briefly. "This is my – our boss, Captain Simon Banks, Cascade PD."

"Phil Atherton. Well, Mr. Ellison, you’re Blair’s medical power of attorney, and since I need to make a police report anyway, just as well you’re both here," Dr. Atherton nodded. "On the good news side – Mr. Sandburg is stable and doing well. He won’t require major surgery and should make a full recovery. Despite a serious concussion he’s regained consciousness periodically and appears oriented, and the CAT scan shows a little mild intracranial swelling but no brain damage. On the bad side. That was a very, very severe beating he took. Besides the concussion, he has a broken nose; two of his teeth are chipped, and we had to put six stitches on the inside of his lower lip. There’s a slight crack in his pelvis that won’t require fixation. Three cracked ribs, extensive bruising to his internal organs and a hairline fracture to his coccyx are the worst of it from a medical standpoint – "

"He was talking about his back," Jim interrupted. "Was that from the tailbone fracture or the pelvis?"

Dr. Atherton shook his head.

"I doubt he’s even feeling the fractures yet," he said. "Mr. Sandburg’s kidneys are bruised and there’s a great deal of soft tissue injury. Judging from the deep external bruising, I’d say he was beaten with a very hard implement, but also kicked and punched repeatedly.

"There’s no doubt that he was raped, probably several times, both orally and anally, and at least once with a large foreign object," Dr. Atherton continued grimly. "There was significant tearing and bleeding; we had to put in twenty-eight stitches. I was able to get semen samples for your forensic technicians, and we think some of the blood around his mouth wasn’t his, so we sampled that too; we’ll probably have the blood and semen typed before you do."

Jim felt the blood drain out of his face.

"If you have any suspects in custody," Dr. Atherton continued, "I’d suggest that when you get blood samples for typing, that they’re tested for HIV immediately. We’ve got Mr. Sandburg’s blood sample in the lab even now, and I should have results back in a few hours. In any event, Mr. Sandburg will need retesting in three months, then at six months, twelve and eighteen."

Jim clenched his hands so hard that he could feel his nails cutting into his palms.

"We’ve got three suspects," he said. "But there may be a fourth who got away. Simon, how soon can we have those samples?"

"I’ll get them," Simon said grimly. "So help me God, I will have those samples within 24 hours, even if you have to scrape it off my knuckles." He turned back to the doctor. "Sorry to interrupt you."

"That’s all right." The doctor smiled faintly. "Just to finish up – my estimate is that Mr. Sandburg will be here a few days for observation, to make sure he’s recovering from the concussion and that the internal swelling is going down. He’s probably looking at a fairly lengthy and painful convalescence – a few of those bruises are as deep as I’ve seen – but I don’t foresee any permanent physical impairment."

"When can I see him?" Jim asked softly.

Dr. Atherton glanced down at Jim’s now-bleeding hands and raised his eyebrows slightly.

"We’re moving Mr. Sandburg to a room now," he said. "You can see him as soon as we have him settled in, say forty-five minutes. But he’s heavily medicated; it’s very unlikely that he’ll be responsive for at least a few hours."

Jim turned to Simon.

"If there’s another one of those bastards still out there, I don’t want Blair left alone for a minute," he said grimly. "I want him in a private room, and I want to be assigned to guard him."

Simon nodded briefly.

"You’ve got it," he said. "Go home and pack a bag; I’ll stay here until you get back. I’ll talk to Rafe, Brown, Connor and Taggert, and we’ll arrange people to spell you when you need a break. If that blood around Sandburg’s mouth isn’t his, then we definitely have a fourth suspect on the loose; none of our three were injured except for a couple bruises that probably happened during the struggle. Don’t worry, Jim. I won’t leave Sandburg alone for a minute."

"All right," Jim said reluctantly after a long hesitation. "But I’ll have my cell phone with me every second. Promise you’ll call me if – "

"If Blair shows the slightest sign of waking, or if his condition changes in any way," Simon said patiently, "I’ll call."

Jim broke every law of God, man and gravity driving home. He threw clothes into a bag, toiletries, snack foods. Simon hadn’t called, so Jim risked a quick shower and shave; God alone knew when he’d have a chance to do it again. He threw his bags into the truck, pulled into a Wonderburger to grab a bag of food on the fly, and turned on his lights and siren on the way back to the hospital.

Simon was sitting at Blair’s bedside, one big hand quietly clasping Blair’s smaller fingers. He glanced up at Jim and nodded reassuringly, but didn’t release Blair’s hand. Somehow Blair looked even worse now that the blood and dirt had been cleaned from his face, letting the cuts and bruises show more clearly. He was shockingly pale. To the Sentinel’s nose, he reeked of antiseptic, except for his hair, which smelled like . . . motor oil.

"He hasn’t woke," Simon said quietly. "But he had a nightmare or something. He was calling for you. As soon as I held his hand, he settled down again. He still doesn’t look happy, but at least he settled down. Ready to take over here?"

Forever, Jim thought.

"Yes," he said.

Simon vacated the chair and left, and Jim sat down, taking the slack hand in his own. A little shock went through him, like a flash of static, and something in Blair’s face and body – relaxed. The frown lines smoothed out of the pale forehead and Blair’s cut, swollen lips parted slightly in a silent sigh. It was as if Blair had recognized his presence and felt safe again.

You are, Jim vowed silently. Blair, Chief, I’m so sorry. So fucking sorry. It was all my fault, my fault for being late, for not being there in the first place. But I swear to God, Chief, it’ll never happen again. I don’t care if I have to glue myself to your side for the rest of your life, I will ALWAYS be there from now on. You’ll never be alone and unprotected again. I will guard you with my life, my last drop of blood, my soul, my heart. Forever.

Blair’s lips moved slightly as if he heard and replied.

"Jim . . . " he barely breathed, although his eyes didn’t open and Jim could tell from his slow, regular heartbeat that he still slept deeply.

"I’m here, Chief," Jim said, squeezing the lax fingers. "I’m right here."

"Jim," Blair breathed again. "Love you . . . "

Jim winced, closing his eyes. There it was, the wall between them. The wall Jim had built. When Blair had first told Jim about his feelings, Jim’s tactless, lame reaction made him cringe today. Blair had accepted it quietly, but that day something had died in his Guide’s eyes, and Jim had let it happen. Jim had let that love scare him away from Blair’s side. Admit it, he’d been avoiding casual social situations with his Guide – oh, for the best of reasons, of course. Blair didn’t pressure him, manipulate him, make him feel guilty that Jim couldn’t love him back in the way Blair wanted. Blair would never do that, of course, and Jim wasn’t afraid of that kind of awkwardness. No, he kept Blair at a distance because he didn’t want to hurt his Guide, didn’t want to taunt him with the possibility of a kind of love Jim couldn’t give him.

Right. Of course. You fucking stupid fool. You’d rather lose him than love him. God, what a stupid fucked-up shit of a Sentinel you are. You abandoned your Guide – again. How many times has he almost gotten killed for you? When will it be enough? Are you going to lie to him and yourself until you’re standing on his grave beating yourself up over what you could have done, just like you’re doing now? What’s it going to take before you tell him the truth – that you do love him, that you’ve loved him a hell of a long time, but you can’t get past the freakout of loving another man? That the idea of touching him that way sends you into a blind panic? He would’ve understood. He would. He always understands. Maybe, who knows, God, maybe he could have helped you deal with it if you’d just once trusted him. The way he always trusts you. Although God knows you’ve never earned it.

A drop of water fell on the back of Blair’s hand and Jim realized dully that it was a tear. His tear. God, he hated that, hated crying. Especially since he knew he was only crying for himself.

"I’m sorry, Chief," he said softly. "All the time I’ve known you, it’s always been about me – my senses, my job, my fears, my needs. I swear to God, Chief, just give me one more chance, though God knows I don’t deserve it. This time, I promise, it’ll be all about you."

Blair made no reply, of course. He was deeply asleep, escaping for a few drugged hours from the pain of his violated body.

If I hadn’t been afraid, if I hadn’t been thinking about my own selfish fear instead of my Guide’s needs, my Guide’s love, if I hadn’t been afraid to touch this body it would still be whole and painless and strong and beautiful.

Jim blinked.

Beautiful? Where the hell had that come from?

Jim reached up and smoothed a lock of hair back from Blair’s face. Beautiful. Yes. Even under the cuts and bruises, he was beautiful. Jim couldn’t see those eyes now, those wonderful blue eyes that always seemed to look so uncomfortably deep into his soul, but he could call them instantly to memory. Those dark lashes framing the blue pools, the strong cheekbones, the stubborn chin, those beautiful full lips. Blair wasn’t buffed up like Jim, but he was all wiry muscle, compact but strong. And those hands, those quick capable hands, so deft, gentle or strong as the need demanded. Despite his love for Jim, Blair had never been as touchy-feelie as Jim, maybe sensing it might make Jim uncomfortable, or maybe just denying himself, afraid to show his feelings, afraid of rejection. That thought hurt, hurt hard and deep, and Jim carefully raised Blair’s hand to his cheek, pressing it against his skin.

"Touch me, Chief," Jim said softly. "Don’t ever be afraid again. I’ll spend the rest of my life earning your love and your trust back if you’ll just let me do it."

A soft sigh. Jim gazed desperately into Blair’s face, his heart leaping when Blair’s eyelids fluttered slightly. Blair’s eyes were glazed and dull with the drugs, but they immediately fastened on Jim’s face.

"J-Jim?" he mumbled.

"Right here, Chief," Jim said quickly, not releasing the hand from where he pressed it against his cheek. "You’re safe, Chief. You’re perfectly safe, and you’re going to be fine."

Blair licked cracked, dry lips, his eyes blearily glancing around the room without moving his head.

"Hospital?"

"Yeah." Jim chuckled, his own mouth bone dry. "You come here so often, they’re going to start charging you rent."

Blair didn’t laugh, but the corners of his lips twitched. Then the trace of a smile was gone as if it had never been, and Jim saw the pain in those beautiful blue eyes as memory intruded.

"Did you – get them?" Blair rasped.

"We got three men," Jim said. "Sean Edgewood, Mark Kinzer and Terry Wyman. Was there anyone else, Chief?"

Blair nodded ever so slightly.

"Tim Frain," he whispered. "He set it all up, I think. Right before the university threw me out, I was failing him, he’d lose his hockey scholarship."

"Tim Frain," Jim repeated. "We’ll get him, Chief."

Blair nodded again.

"Lean on Terry," he mumbled. "He didn’t . . . do anything . . . think the others bullied him into it. He’ll tell . . . "

Blair was obviously fighting hard to stay awake despite the drugs, but Jim could tell it was a losing battle.

"It’s okay, Chief," he said again. "Just rest. I’ll call Simon right now, and he’ll take care of it. I’ll get a statement from you later. There’s nothing else you have to do now, Chief. Just rest and heal."

"’Kay." Blair’s lips were barely moving now, his eyes closed. Then, just barely audibly, "Love you . . . "

Jim fought down a sob and gave in, gave in to Blair, gave in to himself. All his senses seemed to explode – no, implode, expanding outward briefly and then collapsing inward to focus on a single point. His Guide, his friend, his partner, his soulmate, his –

"I love you too, Chief," he whispered, acknowledging it aloud for the first time, kissing Blair’s hand.

But Blair was asleep again.