PART II: DEEP WATER

Chapter 5


"Jim, man, I’m telling you, I can’t," Blair complained. "Jesus, it hurts like hell just to sit up."

"Well, thankfully the bottoms of your feet aren’t bruised," Jim grinned unsympathetically. "Come on, Blair. It’s only for a minute or two, and I’ve got a surprise for you when you do it."

"Surprise?" Blair said warily.

Jim grinned again and carried in the surprise – a toilet chair with a bucket under the seat.

"If you can get out of bed and stand up for just a minute," he said, "no bedpan this time. And I’ll even throw in a massage when we get you back down."

"Oh, wow, man, I’m up," Blair said hurriedly, grabbing the bed remote and raising the head of the bed.

"Easy, easy there, Chief," Jim laughed, hurrying to Blair’s side. "Wow, Kerri told me I should plan rewards, but I never thought – so tell me, which was it, the chair or the massage?"

"Well, I’d have done it for the chair," Blair confessed, letting Jim help him to the edge of the bed. "But I’d do just about anything for the massage. Maybe you should have saved the massage for when I have to walk."

"Nah, I got a whole other set of rewards for that," Jim grinned. "When you can walk, you get to sit on a stool in the shower and get your hair washed, and you can also move out to the couch for a little while. Anyway, the massage was a cheat, because it’s part of your therapy anyway."

"Oh, man, I don’t think I can wait till tomorrow," Blair groused. "Can we skip standing and go straight to walking?"

"No, we can’t," Jim said sternly. "Besides, are you that eager to move past the sponge baths?"

"Wellllll, now that you mention it," Blair said hastily, "no need to overdo it too soon." Then he gave Jim a wounded glance. "I thought you said it didn’t have to be necessary."

"It doesn’t," Jim laughed. "Come on, Chief, let’s see how your legs are today."

More to Blair’s surprise than Jim’s, Blair stood easily and with little pain, although Jim had to steady him through a little initial dizziness. Actually, Blair admitted rather reluctantly, it felt good to get up off his bruises and his bottom.

"I want to try walking a few steps," Blair said.

Jim chuckled.

"Let’s not push it, Chief," he said. "You can only fit so many rewards into your day."

"Come on, man," Blair insisted. "Just a few. You can reward me tomorrow, okay?"

"Well – " Linda and Kerri had told Jim to push Blair, that as long as they were careful of his ribs they couldn’t actually hurt him. Okay. Jim pushed the toilet chair a few feet away with his foot. "Okay, then, Chief. Nice and slow, and slide your feet, don’t pick them up, okay?"

"Yes, Mom," Blair said sarcastically. He did lean on Jim quite a bit, but he easily shuffled the few steps to the chair.

"Standing up?" he said hopefully.

"Not a chance," Jim said flatly. Deftly he unfastened the Depends and got Blair turned around, easing him down carefully. Blair didn’t ask him to leave (not that Jim would have anyway); relieving himself was still painful and Blair was usually grateful for a hand to clutch. Today, however, Blair only sighed.

"It’s not so bad today," he said. "Maybe I’m getting better."

"I know you are," Jim said firmly. "There’s less blood in your urine, and I can feel there’s less swelling when I put that ointment inside you. I think you’re healing up way ahead of schedule. Every day’s going to be a little better, Chief."

There were other improvements, less noticeable perhaps to Blair, but significant to Jim. On the toilet chair, Blair attempted to wipe himself, but the twisting was too painful. Still, Jim noticed that Blair was less embarrassed now when Jim cleaned him, and more relaxed when Jim used the ointment.

In other areas there was no improvement. Since the rape, Blair still woke screaming and crying from nightmares; sometimes he’d barely get back to sleep before the next nightmare woke him. Jim quickly discovered that if he lowered Blair’s bed as far as it would go, it was pretty much on a height with his cot; he found further that if he slept holding Blair’s hand, Blair rested peacefully. Jim foresaw a discussion of future sleeping arrangements; he hoped he could persuade Blair to sleep in his bed, but he still wasn’t certain that his declaration of love hadn’t simply come too late.

"Maybe," Blair ventured cautiously as Jim helped him back to bed, "Maybe if it isn’t too much trouble, I could start using that chair every time?"

"Sure, we can try," Jim agreed. Blair had taken the exertion better than he’d expected. "Want to skip this, then?" he added, holding up the Depends.

"Uh – maybe after tomorrow?" Blair suggested, blushing. "I mean, I’m still not 100% under control here, and I’d hate to have an accident or something. I mean, sometimes I don’t get much notice. I hated it in the hospital when I messed the bed."

Jim nodded and deftly secured the protective garment in place.

"The doctor said you wouldn’t have complete control for a while," he said. "Because of all the bruising, and because of that drug that softens your stools, too. But it’s no problem, Blair. However you want it."

"I hate how much trouble I am," Blair mumbled.

"Hey. Hey." Jim settled Blair comfortably on his side. "I don’t know how to say this any other way than the two dozen times I already have. You aren’t ‘trouble.’ I’m enjoying taking care of you."

"Oh, yeah," Blair sighed. "I’m sure it’s your lifelong ambition to wipe shit off my butt. I can’t believe you can even stand it, with your senses, I mean."

Jim sighed, too, pulling the covers back up over Blair. His senses were the one thing he didn’t want to talk about right now. Blair had troubles enough of his own; he didn’t need to know that Jim’s senses seemed to be spiking and blinking out completely, apparently at random. Thankfully since Jim was at home instead of working, the problem could wait.

"Blair, will it make you feel better if I admit that the particular activity of wiping your butt doesn’t do a damned thing for me? Is that better? At the same time, however, I love taking care of you, I love being involved in everything that makes you feel better, I love fulfilling all your needs, and if wiping your butt is part of the package, then that’s fine, I bought the package deal and I don’t regret it a bit. End of sentence. Now settle down, I’ll bring you your dinner and your pain meds, and then I believe I owe you a massage."

Blair said nothing, and Jim washed his hands and fetched dinner. Tonight’s entrée was a four-cheese eggplant lasagna, courtesy of Kerri. Blair cheered up considerably over the food.

"Man, I don’t remember the last time I’ve eaten like this for three days running," Blair sighed contentedly. "You’re a pretty damned good cook, you know that?"

Jim chuckled, in a pretty good mood himself. He’d gotten past the initial flavor slam as his sense of taste kicked in, then leveled out, more quickly this time. Thank God Blair’s diet didn’t include anything spicy.

"I didn’t make that, I just heated it," he said. "You know, I never cared much for vegetarian food. But this stuff could make me change my mind."

"Yeah, what’s the deal about that?" Blair asked. "Not that I mind, but how come everything’s vegetarian?"

Jim shrugged.

"The way Kerri explained it to me, meat’s the least digestible food there is, and the hardest on your kidneys," he said. "Your digestive system has to work harder to process it, and it hangs around longer in the bowels. Also soft foods are better for your mouth while it heals. Hang on, I’ve got some hot tea for you in the kitchen."

Blair finished his dessert and drank the tea gratefully, then reminded Jim about the massage owed him. Jim had pretty much worked out the physics of it; he knew he couldn’t turn Blair completely over on his stomach because of the pressure on his ribs, but he could turn Blair enough to support himself on the body pillow, and in the end, that’s how they worked it. Jim had warmed some massage oil, but looking at Blair’s still heavily bruised back, he had some second thoughts.

"Um, Chief, I’m not sure this is such a good idea," he said slowly. "You’re still kind of a rainbow back here."

"Don’t I know it," Blair said ruefully. "Please? I’ll tell you if it’s too much."

Jim hesitated a moment longer, then slowly stroked the warm oil over Blair’s back. He slowly, carefully rubbed the sore muscles, cautious of the bruises, relieved when Blair gave a deep sigh of contentment.

"Oh, man, that feels so good," he breathed. "I’ll give you about fifty years to quit that."

"Not enough," Jim chuckled, loving the way Blair’s heartbeat slowed under his touch, the slow relaxation of taut muscles as pain eased. "Make me a better offer."

"Undying gratitude?" Blair added hopefully. "Wax your truck every week for a year? No sensory tests for a month?"

"Nope." Jim continued his slow massage, sensitive fingertips detecting tension, knowing just when and where and how much pressure the sore muscles needed, reading the increased heat of severely bruised areas so he could skirt those places. "I’ll take – hmmm. The rest of your life, your love, and . . . " He steadied his voice. "And maybe you can throw in forgiveness for a stodgy, repressed middle-aged cop with all kinds of bad habits who’s pathetically out of touch with his emotions, but who’s willing to try to reform if given one more chance? Even if he doesn’t deserve it?"

Blair was silent for a long moment, so long that dread had time to settle coldly around Jim’s heart. When Blair spoke, the tears in his husky voice sent a spear of pain through Jim.

"You’ve got it," Blair said quietly. "But, man, you’re not getting much of a bargain. I mean, you’re definitely shopping in the scratch and dent section here. Heavily used merchandise in ‘as is’ condition, functionality dubious."

"That’s ridiculous," Jim said.

"Oh, yeah?" Blair retorted. "Do you have any idea how long I’ve fantasized about you? I mean, my God, Jim, just the thought of lying around naked while you rubbed warm oil into my skin would have been enough to get me off most nights. And here we are and I’m not even hard."

"Hey, Chief, don’t do this to yourself," Jim said softly, still massaging. "If you could get hard when you were in that much pain and under heavy medication, never mind the rape, I’d be really, really surprised. Do you have any idea just how great you’re doing right now? I’ve met other rape victims, Chief, people who couldn’t stand to be touched at all, people who blotted out whole sections of their past so they wouldn’t have to deal with the memories, people who had to be hospitalized because they were violent or suicidal or catatonic. You were able to give me a cohesive statement, you’ve kept yourself together, and look at the things you’re able to let me do for you. You’re unbelievable, Chief."

"What choice do I have?" Blair said dully.

That hurt.

"Well, I suppose you could have chosen to go to one of those convalescent places," Jim said at last. "They have psychiatrists on staff, people who are trained in dealing with patients with this kind of trauma."

"I wouldn’t have wanted that," Blair said, very softly. "I couldn’t bear for anybody but you to touch me that way. The only way I could stand it in the hospital was all the drugs. And this funny kind of drifty feeling that nothing was real. For a while it was all kind of like a dream."

"That’s called traumatic shock, Chief," Jim said gently. "I’ve seen a lot of it in the military and on the police force too. In fact – "

He was interrupted by a knock on the door, startling him, and Jim swore to himself; what was the matter with his hearing these days? God, ordinarily he’d have heard and identified a visitor long since, and now, with some of Blair’s attackers out on bail and another maybe still on the loose, he could least afford to lose that edge. Jim glanced at the clock and frowned; Kerri was stopping by again this afternoon to let Jim run some errands, but it wasn’t time for her yet. Then his hearing belatedly kicked back in and he identified the heartbeat outside the door. Simon.

"Just a minute," he called, then turned back to Blair. "It’s Simon. Listen, I’ll finish this later, okay?"

Blair smiled faintly.

"Yeah, I’d just as soon cover up in front of Simon."

Jim helped Blair into a clean t-shirt and helped him back onto his back, then went to let Simon in. The tall captain was nearly invisible behind a stack of boxes, bags and Tupperware containers.

"Thanks for leaving me standing here all this time," Simon grunted. "Give me a hand, will you?"

"Uh – " Jim had to survey the stack for a moment before he figured out how to take some of the burden without the rest of the stack toppling to the floor, but at last he managed the transfer and led Simon into the kitchen to put their load down. "Good God, what is all this shit?"

"Mostly get-well presents," Simon sighed. "The Tupperware is dinners, cookies, you name it. I think Major Crimes has gone bananas. And this – " He handed Jim a slim folder. " – is work and logon information. You can dial in on Blair’s computer."

"Thanks, Captain," Jim said, meaning it. "Want to come in and visit with Sandburg for a while?"

"That’s what I came for," Simon said, grinning. Then he hesitated. "How’s the kid doing?"

"Better than I would have thought," Jim said, then corrected himself. "Physically he’s a wreck, Simon. But he’s coping pretty damned well emotionally."

"Well, it’s a good thing." Simon shook his head. "This case is going to get bad, Jim."

Jim frowned.

"Come on in," he said. "Blair should be in on this talk."

"Hey, kid!" Simon boomed as he walked into Blair’s room. "It’s good to see you with your eyes open for a change." Then he hesitated, grimacing. "Uh, Jim – do you mind?"

"Mind?" For a moment Jim was puzzled; then he realized that the toilet chair, used, was still sitting exactly where he and Blair had left it. Jesus Christ, what the hell was going on? A couple weeks before, the presence of that smell only a couple of feet away would have sent him straight into a zoneout – or at least straight to the porcelain altar to puke his guts out. "Uh, sorry, Simon. I’ll get that out of here."

Jim hurriedly carried the toilet chair out, then emptied and washed the receptacle. By the time he returned, Simon was sitting comfortably on Jim’s cot, chatting with Blair. Jim brought Simon a beer and Blair a glass of juice, then sat down with Simon.

"So what’s new with the case?" he said. "I’ve been kind of out of the loop for a while." Actually he’d been swallowed up in Blair’s care, but he didn’t want to put it that way. Anyway, he’d made little effort to stay up to date. He didn’t want Blair dwelling on it, which the younger man would have done if Jim was getting frequent updates.

Simon sighed.

"Well, we got Frain," he said. "Got him twice over, actually. His parents took him to the hospital, and we’d have gotten him there, but his father called the police and told them Tim wanted to turn himself in. Smart move on his father’s part; the kid was back out on bail within 24 hours.

"We had to fight damned hard for the blood and semen samples," Simon said, shaking his head. "Jack Frain has the cash for a damned good lawyer, and he’s hired heavy artillery. We finally got the samples under major protest, but they’re a positive match for the blood around Blair’s mouth and the semen in the shirt. Frain’s HIV test was negative too. The other good news is that Mark Kinzer rolled over."

"You’re kidding!" Jim said suspiciously. "Some kind of plea arrangement?"

Simon nodded dismally.

"We were booking Wyman, Kinzer and Edgewood on aggravated assault and battery, aggravated sexual assault, conspiracy and kidnapping, and Frain on all of the above plus attempted murder," Simon said. "We dropped everything but conspiracy and accessory charges on Wyman based on your statement. Kinzer’s agreed to roll over on Edgewood and Frain if we drop the kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault charges. I told the prosecutor not to go for it, that we’ve got enough evidence to push all the charges, but . . . we’ve had a couple of complications come up."

"Complications?" Jim prompted.

Simon took a deep breath and looked Blair straight in the eye.

"Sandburg, I’m sorry to have to just blurt it out like this, but are you a homosexual?"

Blair’s jaw dropped.

"Jesus, Simon, no," he said helplessly. "What, is it the hair thing again, or has everybody conveniently forgotten all the women I’ve dated? I mean, just ask Sam, or Chris, or Liz, or – how many testimonials do you want?"

Simon bit his lip.

"How about bisexual?"

Blair bit his lip, too, and this time a flush suffused his face. His eyes flickered involuntarily to Jim and away again.

"Uh, Simon, what’s this got to do with anything?"

"Look, Sandburg, this isn’t an idle question or curiosity," Simon said flatly. "I need to know."

Blair took a deep breath, and his blush deepened.

"I – uh – have bisexual tendencies," he mumbled. "But I’ve never – uh – acted on them."

Jim felt his own jaw drop. Simon looked poleaxed, but he recovered quickly, his expression fading into one of puzzled relief.

"Never?" he pressed.

Blair shook his head.

Simon took a deep breath.

"Okay," he said. "That helps. Tim Frain is alleging that while he was in your class you were sexually harassing him, trying to extort sexual favors from him under threat of failing him so he’d get kicked off the hockey team."

This time Blair’s flush was pure anger.

"Jesus, Simon!" he said indignantly. "I never approached one of my students, period! I’m not that stupid! My teaching position paid for shit, but man, it was the only paycheck I had. I never had any trouble getting dates. Why would I be desperate enough to throw my job and my Ph.D. over for any lay, much less that jerk?"

Jim grimaced. Blair had thrown his job and his Ph.D. over for him. He supposed that was a sort of backhanded compliment.

"And as far as threatening to fail Frain, man," Blair continued, "I didn’t have to threaten. He was failing my class completely under his own power, and I’ve got the papers and tests to prove it. I went way, way out of my way trying to help him pass, just like I would any of my students. He thought he was entitled to a free ride just because he scored the most goals on the hockey team, and he was pretty damned pissed that I wouldn’t float him a passing grade. I’m sure whoever took over my classes can tell you about his academic performance."

"Did you ever talk to Tim Frain in your office in private?" Simon asked.

Blair thought back for a long moment, then shook his head.

"Uh-uh," he said. "I told him to come to my office once – I was going to talk to him about some extra credit projects he could use to raise his grade – but he never showed. Jesse, my student assistant, could confirm that. The only other times I talked to him one-on-one was the time he came raging up to me after class to threaten me, and there were other students around at the time. Oh, and once in the hall, same thing, he and a few of his steroid chums crowded into my space and told me they could make life real tough for me. After that I talked to his academic counselor and turned the whole mess over to her, figured if he wanted help, he could come to me, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to go to him."

"He’s claiming that you told him that unless he came to you for ‘private tutoring’, he’d fail the class and lose his place on the team," Simon said.

Blair grimaced.

"Jesus. No. When he came up to me after class, I did tell him that if he was having trouble with the work, I could probably find him a tutor, but I never offered to do it myself, not with his attitude. God, Simon, when did I have time to do tutoring anyway?"

Simon nodded sympathetically.

"Okay. Then we need to talk to your assistant, copy your appointment calendars and Frain’s records, and I need a list from you of every student you think overheard your conversations with Frain," Simon said. "I could probably use a list of the last women you’ve dated, too, especially around the times you had those conversations with Frain. Are you up to doing that now?"

"Yeah, sure," Blair said distractedly, still obviously angry. "God, Simon, the prosecutor isn’t going to let Frain cop a plea, is she?"

Simon smiled grimly.

"Not a chance," he said. "I think that’s why she let Kinzer roll over, just so we’d be damned sure to get Frain. She took one look at that pipe, and at the pictures the doctors took of your injuries, and said that Jack Frain could hire every lawyer in the state if he wanted, we were going to put that kid away."

"Oh, God." Blair had gone pale. "I’m going to have to go to court and tell all that stuff all over again, aren’t I? With them sitting right there."

Simon reached for Blair’s hand; to Jim’s astonishment Blair flinched visibly. He’d never flinched away from Jim. Simon took it in stride, withdrawing his hand.

"I’m not going to lie to you," Simon said gently. "You’re going to have to tell it several times – to the prosecutor, in deposition, and at the trial, too. But you’re going to get all the support you need, Sandburg, and we’ll try to get a closed court. I know the defense lawyers won’t fight me on that one – the publicity is going to hurt Jack Frain as bad as it hurts you. How soon do you think you could come in to meet with the DA?"

Blair opened his mouth, but Jim interrupted.

"Can we get Beverly out here, Simon, if she needs to talk to him anytime soon? There’s no way he’s going anywhere, not even in his wheelchair, until at least he sees his doctor, and that’s not until next Monday. And there’s no guarantee he’s going anywhere then. He can barely sit. Bouncing around in my truck just isn’t happening."

Simon frowned thoughtfully.

"I’ll see if I can’t get Beverly to come out, then," he said. "Tomorrow?"

Jim hesitated.

"Make it the day after," he said. "Blair’s counsellor is coming by the loft tomorrow."

"All right, then." Simon chatted with Blair and Jim about inconsequential things for a few minutes, funny happenings at the bullpen, interesting cases that came through the office, but he left just as Kerri was coming up the stairs. Jim introduced them before Simon took his leave, and Kerri was shaking her head, chuckling merrily as she walked into the loft.

"Great good god, Blair," she said, winking at Blair. "Is every man you know a veritable mountain of testosterone, or is it just me? D’you ever start feeling like a chihuahua amongst Rottweilers hereabouts?"

"Nah, I think of myself more as the shih tzu type," Blair chuckled, picking illustratively at his wild mop of hair. "Hey, Jim, I know I’m only supposed to get so many rewards at a time, but is there any chance at all for that hair wash today, especially since that counsellor’s coming by tomorrow?"

"I don’t know," Jim said doubtfully. "Today was your first time up, and you only walked a few steps – " He glanced at Kerri. "What do you think?"

"I think it’s a good job he asked while I’m here," Kerri laughed. "Between us we can manage him, Jim, if you’re not going to get too modest on me. You’re going to have to get in with him, you know."

"Uh." Jim felt his cheeks heat. He mentally shrugged off the errands he’d planned on running; this was more important. "Okay. Just show me how we work this."

"Well, first of all forget that shower stool," Kerri told him. "We’ll just take the reservoir out and use the potty chair since it’s got a nice back and arms and all for plenty of support. You get that on into the shower, and I’ll start getting Blair stripped off. We don’t want to have to try to do it while we’re holding him up."

Jim got the toilet chair solidly situated in the shower and quickly installed the hand sprayer he’d purchased; God, he’d better get trotting on the handrails and the toilet stuff, at the rate Blair was going! He quickly undressed, leaving his boxers on, and slipped into a bathrobe; by the time he returned to Blair’s room, Kerri had Blair undressed and also clad in a bathrobe.

"Luckily your man’s brawny enough that if you get totally pooped, he can just carry you back," Kerri grinned. "But that’ll hurt like hell, so I’d save your strength, if you can. Okay, Jim, let’s get him up."

Blair was proud to show off his ability to get out of bed – with plenty of help from Jim – and painfully toddle the few steps from bedroom to bathroom. Getting him over the rim of the tub was the most complicated step, and by the time Blair settled himself in the toilet chair, sans robe, he was looking considerably less pleased with himself.

"Oh, man, I hurt everywhere," he groaned.

"I know, Chief, I know," Jim said sympathetically. "If it weren’t for your stitches, I bet a hot soak would do wonders. Well, never mind, we’ll make it a hot shower, and then after you get out you can nod right off."

"I’ll just leave the two of you to it," Kerri said, grinning as she glimpsed Jim’s boxers. "I’m going to change the sheets on Blair’s bed. Just shriek if you need me."

To Jim’s surprise, it wasn’t too difficult; in fact, it was easier than bathing Blair in bed, apart from the necessity of stepping in and out of the tub to get around the toilet chair to move from Blair’s front to his back. Jim shampooed Blair’s hair carefully but thoroughly, then rinsed it out. The wet curling length of it was surprisingly heavy, luxuriant. Jim had thought he’d get a few contented groans out of Blair – he himself was enjoying the hell out of performing this intimate service despite the awkwardness and the way his wet boxers clung to him – but Blair was strangely silent. Then Jim craned to get a look at Blair’s face and realized from his quivering lips that the moisture running down Blair’s cheeks wasn’t dribbles from the spray. Immediately Jim shut off the water and moved around in front of Blair and dropped to his knees, taking Blair’s hands.

"What’s the matter, baby?" he said softly. "Am I hurting you?"

Blair shook his head but said nothing, his eyes closed, the tears running down his cheeks as he fought to hold it in. Then he gave in and sobbed, and immediately Jim gathered Blair into his arms.

"Oh, Blair, baby, what is it?" Jim said, agonized. Had he said something? Done something? Touched him in the wrong way?

"Nothing, nothing," Blair sobbed. "It’s just – it’s stupid."

"Nothing that hurts you is stupid, baby," Jim declared. "Come on, Blair, love, what is it? Let me help."

"You can’t." Blair pushed back slightly, knuckling tears hastily out of his eyes. "It’s just – a counsellor tomorrow, and then the prosecutor, and that means I – I have to tell it all over again, twice, to perfect strangers, I have to look at them while they hear about all those things those guys did to me and – and I don’t think I can stand it – " Blair just crumpled, gave in completely, sobbing helplessly in Jim’s arms.

"Oh, Blair, sweetheart," Jim murmured, feeling the sting in his own eyes. "Shhhh, no, honey, it won’t be like that. Just relax, let everything out, we’ll work it out, baby – "

A tentative knock on the door, and Kerri peeped around the corner, her brow furrowed in concern.

"Is everything okay in here? You got him, Jim?"

"Yeah, I’ve got him," Jim said shortly, damning the intrusion and instantly hating himself for his irritation at the kind woman’s concern. He turned to apologize, but Kerri just gave him a smile and a nod and closed the door, leaving them alone again. Blair wept a little longer, finally pulling himself together, and Jim tenderly wiped his eyes.

"Baby, it won’t be that bad," he said softly. Now that Blair didn’t need Jim to hold him, he could perch more comfortably on the rim of the tub to talk to his Guide. Strangely enough he felt bereft without Blair in his arms. "You know counsellors, he won’t make you talk about anything you’re not comfortable with, especially right off the bat. This is probably just a ‘get acquainted’ meeting anyway. Give this guy a chance. He sounded like a good fellow. Right now you’re all wrung out, and no wonder. We shouldn’t have tried to do so much today – your first walk, a visitor, talking about the case and now a shower. It was just too much. Give me just another couple minutes to give you a quick wash down and rub a little conditioner in your hair, and then I’ll have you back in bed so quick you won’t know what happened. A nice long night’s sleep and you’ll be ready to talk to Dr. Worth. And if after that you don’t think you’re ready to talk to Beverly, I’ll call Simon and we’ll move the whole thing back, okay? I promise you, Chief, and I mean it, nothing, nothing before you’re ready."

Blair sniffled and gave Jim a shaky smile.

"Thanks," he said. "You’re right. I’m just tired, and my pain meds are wearing off, I think. I just – it just all kind of hit me, that’s all."

"Hey, it’s okay, Blair," Jim said warmly, giving Blair another careful hug. "You’re entitled to as many breakdowns as you need to get through this, and I’ll be right there with you. Now how about I finish up here?"

Blair nodded, then smiled a little more firmly.

"You know," he said weakly, "That’s about the closest I’ve come to seeing you naked since, you know, the oil rig." He glanced up at Jim. "Why the boxers? I mean, does it make you uncomfortable that I – "

Jim chuckled.

"Oh, no, baby," he said. "To tell you the truth, I was wearing them because of Kerri, and because I thought maybe seeing me naked might make you uncomfortable." He glanced down at his boxers and realized that, wet, they’d become all but transparent. "I guess I might as well not have bothered."

"I don’t know," Blair chuckled tiredly. "It looks kind of sexy, actually, you know, on the wet tee shirt principle." He glanced up at Jim. "Jim, would you – I mean – " He bit his lip. "Never mind."

"Would I what, baby?" Jim asked gently. "You want me to take the boxers off? Is that what you were asking?"

Blair swallowed hard and nodded.

Jim sat down on the rim of the tub again.

"Are you sure that’s a good idea, Blair?" he asked softly. "I don’t want to scare you or anything."

"I’m not scared of you," Blair whispered, his eyes full. "At least – at least I pray to God I’m not. But if you don’t want to, I mean, I know you aren’t real comfortable with – "

"No, it’s okay," Jim said. He took a deep breath and stood, peeling down his wet boxers. Come on, Ellison. When you were back in the military you used to strip off in front of a couple dozen guys without a moment’s thought. Of course, you knew they wouldn’t really be looking, because let’s not forget Guy Rule No. 1, but this is BLAIR. Okay, we didn’t figure on confronting the sex thing quite so soon, but this ISN’T sex, it’s a lousy pair of wet boxers that are pretty much see-through right now and riding up the crack of your ass to boot. Come on, soldier, you don’t have to present wood here, just let him see you.

Jim took another deep breath and stood up straight.

He was a little surprised when Blair glanced up, starting at his face, his eyes sweeping slowly downward. Jim could feel Blair’s gaze moving over him like a light touch. To Jim’s embarrassment (and amazement) he felt himself becoming aroused.

Well, what’s so strange about that? he thought a little defensively. You love him, don’t you? Hell, earlier today you were pretty much asking him for a ‘til death do us part’. So you’d damned well better find him arousing, or you’re both pretty much screwed, so to speak.

Blair sucked in his breath sharply, and Jim glanced down, afraid that he was frightening his Guide. He felt another throb of arousal as he saw the look of wonder on Blair’s face.

"You’re so beautiful," Blair murmured. "So incredible." He glanced up shyly. "Can I touch you?"

Jim almost reeled under the confusion of conflicting emotions – momentary panic, disbelief, relief, desire.

"If it’s not too much for you, baby," he whispered. "Go ahead."

Blair reached out with fingers that trembled violently, and the lightest possible touch ghosted down the underside of Jim’s now full erection, and for a moment Jim thought to his utter amazement that he might come, just from that one light touch, so potent was the sensation of his Guide’s hand on his body. Jim breathed hard, biting his tongue; he might frighten Blair if he came. He glanced down and this time his fear and confusion vanished under relief, delight – Blair’s own cock was slowly throbbing its way to hardness. Blair withdrew his fingers and glanced down, and his breath gasped in again.

"Well, hell," Blair said, his voice unsteady. "Imagine that."

He glanced back up at Jim and his eyes were pleading, pleading for understanding, for forgiveness, for something other than disgust or pity or anger, and Jim’s heart melted. He knelt in front of Blair, not touching the hardening sex, knowing Blair wouldn’t want that, not yet at least, and laid a single gentle kiss on Blair’s knee.

"Good for you, baby," he said tenderly.

Tears filled Blair’s eyes again, a potent mixture of shame and relief.

"Thank you," Blair whispered. "I wish I could – "

"Uh-uh, no way, Chief," Jim said firmly. "Neither of us is ready for anything of the sort. You need time, Blair, and I need time too, okay? There’s no hurry. We’ve got all the time there is. I won’t push you if you won’t push me, okay?"

"Okay," Blair whispered, still shaky but more relaxed now. "Slow is good. Um. Jim?"

"Yeah, baby?"

"I’m freezing," Blair said sheepishly.

"Oh, Blair, I’m sorry," Jim said contritely. He turned the hot water back on and finished washing Blair and conditioning his hair. Drying Blair was a little more tricky; he got a big fluffy towel and did most of it while Blair was sitting down, then wrapped him in a robe while he combed out Blair’s hair. He’d never known that shampooing, drying and combing someone else’s hair could be so sensual, such an act of love – but then, Carolyn had never shared such intimacies with him.

He got Blair back into bed as quickly as he could and gave him his pain medications, but he could see that his Guide was exhausted and hurting. Kerri brought them both some hot chamomile tea, and Blair nodded off before he could even finish the cup. Jim quietly tiptoed out of the room after Kerri, closing the door so they wouldn’t disturb Blair while they talked.

"He’s doing so well," Kerri said, shaking her head wonderingly. "I’d never have believed it."

"I don’t know," Jim said skeptically. "He’s still in a lot of pain."

"I’m not talking about his body, although he’s healing up awfully fast, too." Kerri met Jim’s eyes squarely. "I’ve worked with other rape victims. Your man in there’s a major miracle."

Jim felt a flash of pride.

"Yeah, Blair’s a pretty special guy," he said softly. "He died once, you know?"

Kerri’s eyebrows shot up.

"What?"

"Oh, yeah." Jim sighed. "Drowned. We don’t even know how long he was clinically dead. The doctors are still puzzling over how he managed to avoid brain damage." He chuckled drily, shaking his head. "And two days later he was up on his feet, following me down to Sierra Verde to catch his killer."

"Wow." Kerri shook her head too. "Sounds like a man who’s definitely found his spiritual center."

Jim chuckled.

"And then some," he said. "He manages to keep me centered too, and you have no idea what a job that is."

"I can just imagine," Kerri grinned, her eyes sparkling. "Look, get out of here for a while."

Jim frowned.

"Huh?"

"Go take a walk," Kerri said gently. "Get some air. Buy an ice-cream cone and a newspaper. Jog around the block. Get out of this loft for an hour before it starts wearing on you too badly. Blair’s sound asleep and I’ll sit with him. If you want to take care of your man, you’ve got to take care of yourself, and you’re starting to look a little frayed around the edges, if you don’t mind me saying so."

"Well . . . " Jim wavered. The thought of a walk, of some time alone, was powerfully tempting, and there was the shopping he’d put aside in favor of Blair’s shower. "I’ll take my cell phone; the number’s on the speed dialer – "

"I’ll ring you if he even rolls over," Kerri promised.

"The men who assaulted him are out on bail," Jim said slowly. "Lock and deadbolt the door after me and keep the drapes closed; the precinct number is on the dialer too." He hesitated. "I could leave you my gun."

Kerri patted her purse.

"Thanks, got one. Linda insisted, since sometimes I work in not-so-nice neighborhoods. Don’t worry, Jim, I’ll keep Blair safe. Go on with you now."

Jim hesitated a moment longer, then realized that Kerri was right. He spent the next hour walking, shopping, breathing the fresh air, looking at the stars – and thinking of Blair. And when he came back, he checked the perimeter around the loft, the alleys, the roof, the fire escapes, every floor, checking for the slightest trace of the scents of those men, the scents he’d smelled on Blair. For a change his sense of smell was cooperating, but he found no trace, no sign. Relieved, more relaxed than he’d been since the rape, Jim returned to the loft. He was gratified when Kerri made him identify himself before she released the deadbolt.

"Slept the whole time," she said, smiling. "You know, strangest thing, I think he could tell you weren’t here. He got a little restless as soon as you left."

"Why didn’t you call me?" Jim asked, upset.

"I held his hand and told him you were coming right back, and he settled down again," Kerri said gently. "He never even woke up. I sat right there by him the whole time."

When Kerri left, Jim looked through the work Simon had sent home, realizing belatedly that he’d never asked Blair about the loan of his laptop. Oh, well, it would just have to wait until tomorrow. Besides, Jim was as wrung out and exhausted as Blair. Wearily he checked the loft one last time, curled up on his cot, took Blair’s hand, and slept.