Jim paced the length of the hall again, then back. Down. Back.
"Jim, sit down," Simon said quietly. "Hes 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 theyd be calling in more," Simon said patiently. "Look, Jim, sit down, will you? Sandburgs 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 hed made since hed arrived at the hospital.
"Well, theyve got three suspects," Simon told him. "The officers tracked Sandburgs 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 didnt 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 theres 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 couldnt 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.
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, youre Blairs medical power of attorney, and since I need to make a police report anyway, just as well youre both here," Dr. Atherton nodded. "On the good news side Mr. Sandburg is stable and doing well. He wont require major surgery and should make a full recovery. Despite a serious concussion hes 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. Theres a slight crack in his pelvis that wont 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 hes even feeling the fractures yet," he said. "Mr. Sandburgs kidneys are bruised and theres a great deal of soft tissue injury. Judging from the deep external bruising, Id say he was beaten with a very hard implement, but also kicked and punched repeatedly.
"Theres 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 wasnt his, so we sampled that too; well 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, "Id suggest that when you get blood samples for typing, that theyre tested for HIV immediately. Weve got Mr. Sandburgs 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.
"Weve got three suspects," he said. "But there may be a fourth who got away. Simon, how soon can we have those samples?"
"Ill 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."
"Thats 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 hes recovering from the concussion and that the internal swelling is going down. Hes probably looking at a fairly lengthy and painful convalescence a few of those bruises are as deep as Ive seen but I dont foresee any permanent physical impairment."
"When can I see him?" Jim asked softly.
Dr. Atherton glanced down at Jims now-bleeding hands and raised his eyebrows slightly.
"Were 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 hes heavily medicated; its very unlikely that hell be responsive for at least a few hours."
Jim turned to Simon.
"If theres another one of those bastards still out there, I dont 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.
"Youve got it," he said. "Go home and pack a bag; Ill stay here until you get back. Ill talk to Rafe, Brown, Connor and Taggert, and well arrange people to spell you when you need a break. If that blood around Sandburgs mouth isnt 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. Dont worry, Jim. I wont leave Sandburg alone for a minute."
"All right," Jim said reluctantly after a long hesitation. "But Ill have my cell phone with me every second. Promise youll call me if "
"If Blair shows the slightest sign of waking, or if his condition changes in any way," Simon said patiently, "Ill call."
Jim broke every law of God, man and gravity driving home. He threw clothes into a bag, toiletries, snack foods. Simon hadnt called, so Jim risked a quick shower and shave; God alone knew when hed 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 Blairs bedside, one big hand quietly clasping Blairs smaller fingers. He glanced up at Jim and nodded reassuringly, but didnt release Blairs 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 Sentinels nose, he reeked of antiseptic, except for his hair, which smelled like . . . motor oil.
"He hasnt 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 doesnt 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 Blairs face and body relaxed. The frown lines smoothed out of the pale forehead and Blairs 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, Im 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, itll never happen again. I dont care if I have to glue myself to your side for the rest of your life, I will ALWAYS be there from now on. Youll never be alone and unprotected again. I will guard you with my life, my last drop of blood, my soul, my heart. Forever.
Blairs lips moved slightly as if he heard and replied.
"Jim . . . " he barely breathed, although his eyes didnt open and Jim could tell from his slow, regular heartbeat that he still slept deeply.
"Im here, Chief," Jim said, squeezing the lax fingers. "Im 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, Jims tactless, lame reaction made him cringe today. Blair had accepted it quietly, but that day something had died in his Guides eyes, and Jim had let it happen. Jim had let that love scare him away from Blairs side. Admit it, hed been avoiding casual social situations with his Guide oh, for the best of reasons, of course. Blair didnt pressure him, manipulate him, make him feel guilty that Jim couldnt love him back in the way Blair wanted. Blair would never do that, of course, and Jim wasnt afraid of that kind of awkwardness. No, he kept Blair at a distance because he didnt want to hurt his Guide, didnt want to taunt him with the possibility of a kind of love Jim couldnt give him.
Right. Of course. You fucking stupid fool. Youd 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 youre standing on his grave beating yourself up over what you could have done, just like youre doing now? Whats it going to take before you tell him the truth that you do love him, that youve loved him a hell of a long time, but you cant get past the freakout of loving another man? That the idea of touching him that way sends you into a blind panic? He wouldve understood. He would. He always understands. Maybe, who knows, God, maybe he could have helped you deal with it if youd just once trusted him. The way he always trusts you. Although God knows youve never earned it.
A drop of water fell on the back of Blairs 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.
"Im sorry, Chief," he said softly. "All the time Ive known you, its 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 dont deserve it. This time, I promise, itll 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 hadnt been afraid, if I hadnt been thinking about my own selfish fear instead of my Guides needs, my Guides love, if I hadnt been afraid to touch this body it would still be whole and painless and strong and beautiful.
Beautiful? Where the hell had that come from?
Jim reached up and smoothed a lock of hair back from Blairs face. Beautiful. Yes. Even under the cuts and bruises, he was beautiful. Jim couldnt 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 wasnt 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 Blairs hand to his cheek, pressing it against his skin.
"Touch me, Chief," Jim said softly. "Dont ever be afraid again. Ill spend the rest of my life earning your love and your trust back if youll just let me do it."
A soft sigh. Jim gazed desperately into Blairs face, his heart leaping when Blairs eyelids fluttered slightly. Blairs eyes were glazed and dull with the drugs, but they immediately fastened on Jims face.
"J-Jim?" he mumbled.
"Right here, Chief," Jim said quickly, not releasing the hand from where he pressed it against his cheek. "Youre safe, Chief. Youre perfectly safe, and youre going to be fine."
Blair licked cracked, dry lips, his eyes blearily glancing around the room without moving his head.
"Yeah." Jim chuckled, his own mouth bone dry. "You come here so often, theyre going to start charging you rent."
Blair didnt 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, hed lose his hockey scholarship."
"Tim Frain," Jim repeated. "Well get him, Chief."
Blair nodded again.
"Lean on Terry," he mumbled. "He didnt . . . do anything . . . think the others bullied him into it. Hell tell . . . "
Blair was obviously fighting hard to stay awake despite the drugs, but Jim could tell it was a losing battle.
"Its okay, Chief," he said again. "Just rest. Ill call Simon right now, and hell take care of it. Ill get a statement from you later. Theres nothing else you have to do now, Chief. Just rest and heal."
"Kay." Blairs 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 Blairs hand.
But Blair was asleep again.