Chapter 7


Jim woke slowly, too warm, rather stiff and cramped, but nonetheless better rested than he could ever remember feeling. Even his burned hand had completely stopped hurting. He opened his eyes and slowly took it all in.

He was lying on his back on Blair’s bed with the head of the bed still slightly raised from last night’s TV watching. Blair was lying on his good side curled into Jim’s body, one arm and one leg thrown over the Sentinel, his face buried between Jim’s neck and shoulder, one of Jim’s arms wrapped warmly around him. Blair was still snoring – he snored louder since the broken nose but it was quieting down as the swelling subsided – and he’d drooled a damp patch on Jim’s shoulder. Jim knew he was going to be stiff and sore from sleeping in one position all night. He felt almost deleriously happy.

He craned his neck slightly so he could see Blair. His Guide’s face was utterly relaxed in repose, a slight smile on his lips. The dark circles around his eyes had faded as his nose healed; the split in his lip was gone and only a little bruising remained on one cheek. He looked as peaceful and content as Jim felt; subtract the stubble on his chin and jaws and he’d look like a teenager.

Jim hated to move, but his bladder was bursting, and he could see from the clock that Blair was due for medication in a few minutes – not to mention breakfast. He tried to ease quietly out from under Blair’s arm and leg, but his Guide’s eyes opened immediately, sleepy and for once without the hint of fear and wariness that always seemed to accompany Blair’s awakenings until he reestablished his whereabouts.

"Morning," Blair mumbled drowsily. He rubbed his cheek against Jim’s shoulder, felt the damp patch and grimaced. "Sorry, man."

"It’s okay." Jim stroked Blair’s hair, feeling a wave of warm, wondering love that shook him with its depth. How could he have ever denied this? "Feeling all right, baby?"

"Mmmmm, wonderful," Blair purred, closing his eyes under Jim’s strokes over his hair and down his back. "Sleep a little longer?"

"Sorry, but I need to use the bathroom in the worst way," Jim said apologetically. "And you need your pills before that nice, comfy feeling turns to ‘ouch, I ache.’"

Blair sighed, but he relinquished his human body pillow and rolled carefully to his back, grimacing slightly.

"Ribs?" Jim guessed.

"Uh-uh. Tailbone," Blair said ruefully. "Man, what I’d give to be able to lie on my stomach." He glanced up at Jim shyly. "Thanks for staying with me last night."

Jim chuckled.

"I stay with you every night. But I know what you meant." He smiled. "I loved it. I’m glad you were okay with me there. I was afraid you might wake up and panic."

Blair shook his head, smiling.

"Never slept better in my life. You’re better than all the drugs, you know. I just feel better when you touch me. Always have."

Jim felt a lump form in his throat, caught between that helpless, amazed love and heartwrenching guilt at how long he’d denied both of them this closeness.

"Thanks, Chief," he said softly. "You don’t know what that means to me." He shook his head before he bawled like a baby. "Let’s get you your meds, and some breakfast, and then a little cleanup. Gerard will be here in a few hours, and Simon’s dropping more work by this afternoon, too."

Blair was well enough to toddle around the apartment a bit (with Jim at his elbow, hovering anxiously) but the hard kitchen chairs were still way too much, so he ate in the recliner, house rules suspended indefinitely. He could stand in the shower now, but Jim refused to allow it, or for that matter any assistance in his washing. Blair complained that Jim was babying him, but he smiled as he said it and Jim knew his Guide loved every minute.

As Gerard had advised, Blair took a short nap after his shower, while Kerri helped Jim tidy up the loft and fixed lunch. Kerri had just left when Gerard arrived, briefcase in hand and a little winded. He dropped the briefcase off on the coffee table and joined Jim and Blair in Blair’s room.

"Man, you guys have something of a parking situation here, don’t you?" he said good-naturedly, sitting down on Jim’s cot. "I had to park halfway around the block. How are you feeling today, Blair?"

"Pretty good," Blair said. "I just finished lunch – we’ve got some spaghetti primavera left if you want some."

"Thanks, I just ate too," Gerard said. He settled himself in the chair across from Blair and pulled folders out of his briefcase. "Now, there’s a lot of writing involved here. Would you rather stay in bed, or maybe sit in that recliner?"

"Recliner," Blair decided. "Jim got me a lap desk, and the recliner has massage and vibration and everything. Jim got it for me while I was in the hospital," he added, beaming at Jim. "Along with all the other living room furniture."

"Wow. That’s a hell of a present," Gerard chuckled. "Can you make it out to the living room okay?"

"Yeah, I can pretty much make it around the downstairs," Blair said proudly.

Well, that was true, but it didn’t mean that Jim was going to let Blair shuffle so much as one step without Jim’s arm around him for support in case he got dizzy. Jim situated him comfortably in the recliner and fetched him his lap desk, an afghan and a glass of tea, belatedly remembering to fetch tea for Gerard, too. He looked at the pile of papers Gerard was taking out of his briefcase and grimaced.

"Don’t worry, these aren’t all tests for Blair," Gerard chuckled. "But I think I’ll get him started just the same. Jim, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t talk to Blair or otherwise distract him while he’s taking the tests, unless he needs something, all right?"

That left Jim with nothing to do. He got out Blair’s laptop and worked for a while but couldn’t keep his mind on it. Ordinarily he’d have vented his restlessness in cleaning the loft, but he and Kerri had just cleaned, and besides, that would probably qualify as "distracting" Blair, as would turning on the TV. He picked up a book and lay down on the couch where he could keep an eye on Blair.

The minutes ticked by. Blair finished his test; Jim helped him find a more comfortable position, added a couple of pillows and refilled glasses before Blair started the next test. After the second test a bathroom trip was required, and Jim made a pot of hot tea and a tray of fruit, cheese and crackers so Blair could keep his energy up. Gerard said there were no more written tests; the rest was verbal, word association and the like.

Halfway through the last of the verbal tests, Gerard shuffled through his briefcase and pulled out a palmtop computer. He turned it on and grimaced.

"Damn."

Blair glanced up anxiously.

"No, no, the damned batteries in this thing are low," Gerard sighed. He glanced at Jim. "Jim, I’m not supposed to leave Blair during a test. Would you mind running out to my car and fetching my adaptor for this thing? It’s the white Taurus with the pompom on the antenna. Don’t laugh, my wife put it there."

"Sure," Jim said after a moment’s hesitation, accepting Gerard’s keys. He might have suspected Gerard of trying to get rid of him for a while, but he could see the low battery indicator blinking on the palmtop. "Deadbolt the door after me, okay? The men that attacked Blair are all out on bail."

"Absolutely." Jim waited to hear the deadbolt click when he shut the door; then he hurried downstairs. He located Gerard’s car easily, but Gerard kept his car in about the same state Blair did, and finding the adaptor in the mess of papers, academic journals and books in the back seat took longer than he’d expected.

By the time Jim returned, Blair had finished the last of the tests and looked visibly wearied, and he’d moved from recliner to couch where he could stretch out more comfortably. Still, he was chatting easily with Gerard, and Jim wondered again whether Gerard had sent him out deliberately. Gerard glanced at Jim and smiled, and Jim realized he’d just gotten his answer. Almost defiantly Jim slid under Blair’s feet on the couch, smiling a little himself at the way Blair’s whole body responded to his presence, relaxing relievedly and yet somehow taking on new life.

Gerard fired up his palmtop and took what seemed to Jim a remarkably short and sketchy case history; when Blair appeared surprised too, Gerard said that he only needed the bones of a chronology of Blair’s life; as relevant references and events came up, he’d flesh out those bones. Similarly, he didn’t probe too deeply about the rape itself. He had the case file, which gave him the factual events; what he wanted to do was talk about Blair’s feelings and thoughts about the matter, so there was little need to rehash the physical events. He did probe extensively into Blair and Jim’s relationship, a little more astutely than Jim liked; Jim anticipated some trouble in the future in avoiding the whole Sentinel issue. But Gerard had already candidly admitted that anything they talked about could come out in court, so Jim and Blair had tacitly agreed to omit that topic altogether, issues of trust completely notwithstanding, at least until after the trial.

"Well, I think we’ve laid a pretty good foundation," Gerard said, putting his papers in his briefcase. "Want to come in Monday, say at eleven? Does that work out okay with your doctor’s appointment?"

"Yeah, Blair sees Dr. Atherton at 9:30, so that should be fine," Jim said, glancing at Blair for confirmation. "Will you have somewhere in your office where Blair can be relatively comfortable? He’s still not too good sitting for long periods of time."

Gerard chuckled.

"What’s a psychiatrist without his couch?" he said. "Seriously, I need a comfortable couch because I sometimes work with hypnosis. In the meantime – " He handed Blair and Jim each a card. "That’s my office number, my home number, and my pager. If you have an emergency, use the pager number first; I don’t even go to the bathroom without it. And don’t hesitate to call me any time of the day or night. That’s what I’m for."

When Gerard was gone, Jim fetched Blair another cup of tea and rubbed Blair’s feet slowly while Blair drank.

"So what do you think?" Jim said. "Think Worth’s somebody you can talk to?"

Blair shrugged.

"I don’t know," he admitted. "He’s nice, friendly, I can talk to him. I like the way he works. He’s a lot different from the doctors Naomi took me to for my panic attacks when I was younger. I’ll give him a try."

"But?" Jim asked softly. "I do sense a ‘but’ here."

"This is going to sound really weird," Blair sighed. "But the whole psychiatrist thing sounds kind of . . . I don’t know, redundant. I just feel like everything that really heals me is going to happen between me and you. I mean, I don’t think there’s anything I can talk about with him that I can’t tell you. I don’t think there’s anything I can face with him that I can’t face better with you."

Jim suppressed the automatic flash of pride he felt at Blair’s words, forced himself to think before replying.

"Well, what you say may be true, Chief," he said slowly. "And God knows it’s as true for me as it is for you. But even if it is true – that Worth can’t help you with the aftermath of the rape any better than I can – I still think he’s worth the time for both of us. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot of issues here. I’m starting a relationship with a man after 37 years of heterosexuality. You’re doing the same thing, just not with as much seniority. That alone is going to be pretty damned tough, even without all the added baggage we’re both bringing into the relationship. I’ve got one failed marriage to my credit. You’ve never even tried to commit to a long-term relationship before. Then there’s all the crap with the trial coming up. Rape or no, a little help might not hurt for either of us. Besides, the department isn’t going to let you go on duty until a psychiatrist pronounces you fit."

Blair shook his head.

"Wow, man," he chuckled. "I never expected I’d hear you trying to persuade me that we need a shrink."

"You’re a bad influence, Chief," Jim grinned. "Next thing you know I’m going to be wearing my hair long and getting pierced somewhere revolting."

"Hey, a couple earrings and one nipple ring isn’t revolting," Blair protested. Then he swallowed and all sense of humor fled as he glanced at Jim uncertainly. "Um, do they bother you? I’ll take the rings out if you don’t like them."

"God, no, they don’t bother me," Jim said hastily. "Chief, I was just teasing you. You know, that thing we basically do 24 hours a day most of the time?"

"Oh." Blair let out his breath slowly. "You’re sure they don’t, like, turn you off?"

Jim grimaced.

"You want the truth? Actually it kind of turns me on. Why? Beats the hell out of me. I think that’s why I always teased you about it so much, like your hair. Because I didn’t want either of us to realize that it turned me on."

Blair’s eyes widened slightly.

"You like my hair?"

"Chief, I love your hair." Jim reached over and stroked it softly. "I love how thick and soft and curly it is, how it shines. I love how long it is. And the funny thing is, I think what I love most about it is the way you carry it off. I guess it’s the same as your earrings. I look at you and can tell in one glance that you’re marching to the beat of one hell of a different drummer, and somehow it makes me want to spend the rest of my life dancing to that rhythm."

"Wow." Blair smiled shyly. "That’s a hell of a compliment, big guy."

Jim grinned.

"You haven’t called me that since before this all happened," he said.

Blair chuckled.

"Yeah, well, I showered with you just this morning," he said. "That kind of reminded me."

Simon stopped by later that afternoon to pick up the paperwork he’d left with Jim and drop off more, plus gifts, flowers and food enough to feed a small third-world nation.

"You know, when this started out I thought I was just making work for you," Simon said, handing Jim a new folder. "But things are going smoother around the bullpen with someone to do the online research for us, free up detectives for the legwork. I may have to hire somebody full-time when you guys are back on the street."

"Hey, does that mean I don’t get drafted to do it for free anymore?" Blair said eagerly.

"One of the many benefits of carrying a badge, Chief," Jim chuckled. "Along with the shitty hours, lousy pay, hazardous duty and minute retirement pension. Not to mention the grouchy boss."

"I resemble that remark," Simon grinned. "Hey, guys, everyone at the station’s been asking when they can visit, and I’m getting tired of lugging all the gifts and food over. You about ready for some company, Sandburg? Poker night’s not the same without you two."

Blair’s smile lost some of its steam and he glanced away; Simon may have missed the fingers that clenched spasmodically, but Jim didn’t.

"Sandburg’s had a real busy few days here, Simon," Jim said. "I think he could probably use a day off. How about maybe just one person on Sunday? Maybe Connor? And after we see how that goes, then we’ll set up visits with the rest."

Blair shot Jim a look of utter gratitude, and Simon nodded understandingly.

"I’ll tell them," he said. "Oh, and by the way, Sandburg, I got a packet from the academy, from Shirley Dean. It’s the last of your written tests. Just let me know when you’re ready and I’ll bring them over. Just between you and me, the tests are just a formality. You’ve got the grades to pass even without them. But Shirley thinks that especially in your case it’s important to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s, and I agree. Besides, glowing scores will help offset some of the special treatment in the brass’s eyes when I push your detective’s app through."

Blair, who had just taken his pain pills before Simon showed up, nodded off not long afterwards, and Simon excused himself. Jim carried Blair back to bed, hesitated only a moment, then crawled in beside him, needing the comfort of their closeness as much as Blair did. Blair curled into Jim’s body and sighed contentedly, and Jim drifted off to sleep on the soft drum of his Guide’s heartbeat.

Saturday Blair seemed quiet and unhappy, and Jim decided a change was in order. He considered taking Blair out for a drive, but Blair’s tailbone was still hurting too much for extended truck travel, and besides, it was raining miserably. Instead, he built a fire, inflated the large air mattress in front of the fireplace, and moved Blair there. They ate cookies, drank tea and watched a Twilight Zone marathon on TV, and Jim gave Blair another massage; Blair told Jim he was getting "so good that it’s scary." Blair discovered to his delight that on the air mattress he could lie on his stomach, and by bedtime he was in much better spirits.

Jim continued to marvel at Blair’s ease with his touch – which was a good thing, because lately he couldn’t seem to keep his hands off his Guide. He’d always been a toucher, okay, he admitted it, and more so with Blair (either because of the Sentinel-Guide thing, or maybe his attraction to the younger man went back a lot farther than Jim realized); these days, though, he constantly felt the need to touch and hold his Guide. It was probably nothing but insecurity, but thank God Blair didn’t seem to mind – no, in fact his Guide seemed to be happiest when Jim was touching him.

Sunday Megan showed up for lunch, bringing containers of Thai food, and to Jim’s (and, apparently, Blair’s) surprise it was a pleasant visit; Blair even gave Megan a hug when she left, to everybody’s astonishment. Jim tucked Blair into bed early, knowing they had a long day tomorrow – Blair’s re-exam with Dr. Atherton, his appointment with Gerard, and, if he wasn’t too tired, lunch afterward.

Monday morning Blair was silent and anxious, not even cheered by going outside for the first time since he’d been home. He sat pale and quiet in the truck all through the drive, and Jim knew he couldn’t possibly be comfortable despite the pillows he was sitting on. Fortunately it wasn’t a long drive, but the inevitable wait in the waiting room was only marginally more pleasant than the examination which followed. This time Jim asked to stay, and Blair agreed with pitiful eagerness, clenching Jim’s hand in an iron grip through most of the exam and almost breaking Jim’s fingers when Dr. Atherton checked his stitches.

Blair heaved an audible sigh of relief when Dr. Atherton withdrew his fingers. Dr. Atherton helped Blair roll back to his back, then drew the sheet back up over him. At last Blair released Jim’s hand, and Jim surreptitiously tried to rub a little blood back into his almost numb fingers.

"Well, Blair, you’re healing up way, way ahead of schedule," Dr. Atherton said, smiling. "I bet those stitches are itching like crazy, aren’t they?"

Blair grimaced.

"You have no idea."

"Well, you have a decision to make," Dr. Atherton said, pulling up a chair. "The stitches in your mouth I’ll take out today. The other ones can either be removed, or they’ll eventually be absorbed by your body. There’s pros and cons to either option."

Dr. Atherton cleared his throat awkwardly.

"I don’t want to get any more personal than I have to," he said. "Until those stitches degrade, their presence causes a certain amount of constriction and irritation of the tissues, so you’d have to stay on the stool softeners for probably another couple of weeks. Additionally the presence of the stitches would prohibit anal intercourse well beyond the normal healing period, probably for about four months versus three weeks, just as an estimate. Removing the stitches is a simple procedure, and from a medical standpoint it’s the option of choice, but it’s invasive and uncomfortable and pretty stressful for a rape victim. So I tend to leave this decision up to my patients."

Blair had turned positively crimson and Jim felt his own face heat. Anal sex. He and Blair hadn’t talked about sex at all. Hell, Jim was far from certain that Blair even envisioned them making love – ever, in any form. Much less anal sex, especially after what had happened to him.

"Take them out," Blair said abruptly. "Please."

Jim took Blair’s hand again.

"Are you sure?" he said softly. "I mean, I was going to say you might as well let it go. I know this is all pretty difficult for you."

Blair turned his head and glanced at the doctor.

"Could you give us just a minute, please?"

"Absolutely." Dr. Atherton patted Blair’s shoulder reassuringly. "I’ll go look in on a couple patients and check back in a few minutes." He closed the door behind him.

"We haven’t even talked about this," Jim said slowly. "I mean . . . I’ve been terrified that I waited too long. That you didn’t want me anymore."

"I want you," Blair said, so softly that Jim could barely hear him. "I just – I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to want that."

"Blair – " Jim blushed. "I’ve never been with a man, but I spent enough time in Vice to know there’s a lot of things two men can do besides that. And even if we really had our hearts set on that one act, it doesn’t mean that you have to be the one." He felt himself turning positively crimson now. He couldn’t believe he was talking with Blair about anal sex. He realized he’d just volunteered to bottom, and the realization stunned him.

Blair looked just as stunned.

"Jim, you can’t mean that," he whispered.

Suddenly Jim realized that he did mean exactly that – that he wanted Blair, yes, but more, he wanted – no, he needed – to make Blair happy. He wanted to earn more of those thousand-watt smiles. He wanted to touch his Guide, taste him, feel that beautiful small body pressed against his. He wanted to make Blair moan and whimper and scream with pleasure instead of pain. He wanted to build a fire between them that would warm all the cold lonely places inside them both.

He brought Blair’s hand to his mouth and kissed the palm warmly, folding Blair’s fingers around the kiss like a gift.

"I want you," he said simply, "any way I can have you. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ll try anything you want to. We’ll puzzle it out together. But there’s no hurry, Blair. We can wait as long as you need to. God knows I’ve made you wait long enough. I can wait forever if I have to." He grinned. "I’ve got my hand, and that’s gotten me by for a long time."

Blair took a deep breath.

"Man, I don’t know what to say," he said softly. "I’m so awed, Jim." He turned his hand to stroke Jim’s cheek. "And I love you so damned much."

Jim turned his cheek into the caress.

"I love you too, Chief," he said. "So you see, there’s no need – "

"No, man," Blair said softly, shaking his head. "It just makes me more sure that I need to get those stitches out. Maybe I won’t be able to do that for a while – maybe never, who knows. Maybe we won’t even want to. But if you can keep your options open, so can I. Besides . . . " He took a deep breath. "I already feel so – so maimed. I don’t want to feel crippled, too."

Jim bit his lip, wanting to protest, but he bit that back. He didn’t need Gerard to tell him that if this was what Blair needed, then that should be good enough for Jim.

"Okay," Jim said gently. "If that’s what you want, Blair. Want me to leave or stay?"

A look like panic flashed through Blair’s eyes.

"Stay," he said hoarsely. "Please?"

Jim squeezed Blair’s hand.

"I’m glad you said that," he said. "I was afraid they’d have to bring in the crowbar to pry me away."

It was bad, as bad as Jim expected despite an injection of tranquillizer and muscle relaxants and some kind of potent numbing cream that Dr. Atherton rubbed on. Blair stood it as well as he probably could have, but he whimpered continuously through the whole ordeal, tears flowing down his cheeks, and once Jim and Linda Riggs had to hold him still – and he knew that restraint was more horrible for Blair than the rest of it put together. Dr. Atherton examined Blair briefly one last time and put his instruments away, pulling off his gloves.

"You’re bleeding just a little," he told Blair, smiling reassuringly. "I’d have been surprised if you weren’t, removing stitches from mucous membranes. It should stop within an hour. I want you to keep up the ointment for another week, but you’re welcome to continue longer if you have any irritation or itching.

"The ribs, pelvis and coccyx are looking good, although I’m sure the tailbone’s going to give you a certain amount of grief for months and the pelvis and ribs are going to sneak up on you now and then. The internal swelling has gone down a lot more than I expected, and frankly I’m amazed that there’s not a trace of blood in your urine or stools. If I could bottle your healing rate, I could buy and sell Eli Lilly. I’m going to want to check you out again in two weeks. In the meantime, you can discontinue the rib wrap in bed, but I want you to keep using it anytime you’re going to be out of bed or off the couch for more than a few minutes, and I’m keeping you on restrictions – no lifting, no bending, no extended walking, no running or jumping, no driving, you get the idea."

"Oh, man," Blair sighed unhappily. "I can’t even tie my own shoes yet?"

"Sorry," Dr. Atherton chuckled. "Believe me, if you tried it, once would be enough."

"How about tub baths?" Jim asked. "And stairs?"

Dr. Atherton nodded.

"Both are okay as of now," he said. "Baths are fine with assistance in and out of the tub. But when I say stairs are okay, I mean a few stairs, like getting around the house, and I mean slowly and carefully. I don’t mean dashing from ground floor to 14th up the landings to catch a crook, okay? If I have to make it explicit, Blair, you’re still off work, even sedentary work – not that you could stand to sit in a chair for long anyway. I see enough of the two of you as it is. Did I hear that you’re joining the PD?"

"I’m just about finished at the academy," Blair said proudly.

"Well, you’re not going to be fit for active duty for a month at least, and a better estimate would be six weeks, miracle recovery notwithstanding. I’m going to refill your pain pills, but you can cut back to twice a day or as-needed, whichever is less."

Blair sighed again.

"I’m getting bored," he complained.

"Be glad you’re feeling well enough to get bored," Dr. Atherton said cheerfully. "Read Harlequin romances and tabloids. Watch the soaps."

"Um – " Blair blushed. "Since the stitches are out, how long would I have to wait before – uh – "

"Anal sex?" Dr. Atherton said. "Probably another two weeks, assuming, by the way, that you’re real, real careful of the ribs and so on. If it weren’t for your fast healing I’d say a month. Put it this way – when your prostate’s healed, you’ll be ready – physically, at least."

"Uh – " Blair frowned. "And I’ll know that how?"

Dr. Atherton’s eyebrows shot up.

"When sensation returns to normal," he said a little hesitantly. Linda’s eyebrows raised too, and she glanced from Jim to Blair, blinking at Blair’s obvious confusion. Her expression went from surprise to realization to gentle chiding as she glanced at Jim.

"Uh, okay," Blair mumbled, pulling his pants back up hurriedly. "Thanks, Dr. Atherton. Two weeks, then?"

"Unless you have any problems in the meantime. Go on, get out of here, you two."

When Jim and Blair were ready to leave the office, Linda touched Jim gently on the arm.

"C’mere a minute, guys," she said quietly, leading them into the adjoining office.

Jim glanced around the room, raising his eyebrows. This was obviously a sort of study area, full of reference books, diagrams, displays.

"Interns’ room," Linda explained blithely. She pulled down a chart entitled "Male genitourinary system" and took out of a closet, to Jim’s astonishment, a very realistic plastic model of a male torso from navel to thighs. Linda set the model on a counter and pointed to the diagram.

"Here’s the prostate," she said quietly. "Inside the rectum it can be felt as a slightly raised area, not as smooth as the rectal wall. You probably felt it when you were putting the ointment on Blair." She gestured to the model. "Go ahead, see if you can find it."

Feeling incredibly self-conscious, Jim worked his forefinger into the model. He felt the raised area Linda had mentioned and opened his mouth to say so, then nearly jumped out of his skin when a buzzer sounded and a light flashed on under the skin of the model’s buttocks, making the plastic ass glow red.

Linda grinned.

"Sorry," she said. "The interns put that in as a joke. You deserved it for the way you fooled me and Kerri into thinking you two were old hands at this stuff."

"Hey, let me try," Blair said, embarrassed but grinning. He scrutinized the diagram, then probed in the model. He chuckled when the buzzer sounded again. "Hey, I got it!"

"You’re right, I felt that before when I was putting the ointment on," Jim said, trying not to blush any more than he already was. "So – I mean, what’s supposed to happen?"

"Blair had a lot of stitches on that side of the rectal wall," Linda said gently. "Because of the stitches and swelling, whatever he felt probably wasn’t anything good. When he’s healed, stimulation of his prostate will probably put him right through the roof – and I don’t mean with pain. Any other questions?"

Blair was blushing as crimson as Jim felt.

"Uh – no," he mumbled. "Thanks."

"No problem." Linda grinned. "Invest in a copy of ‘The Joy of Gay Sex.’ And invite me and Kerri over for dinner sometime when Blair’s feeling up to it. Keep us posted or we’ll call on the phone and nag, okay?"

"Definitely," Jim said firmly. "God, I can’t thank the two of you enough for all you’ve done for us."

"Yeah, well, thank us by staying in touch," Linda said sternly. "Kerri and I want to be your first double date." Her eyes twinkled, and Jim knew he was forgiven for misleading them.

"I’m with that," Blair said gratefully.

Now that the worst was over, Blair was more relaxed as they drove to Gerard Worth’s office.

"You okay, Chief?" Jim asked quietly, patting Blair’s knee. "If you’re too tired, we can cancel."

"Nah, I’m okay," Blair said, smiling at Jim. "I wish you had a smoother ride, and believe me, after that exam I’m real grateful for the pillow, but – I don’t know, I feel better."

"I told you, a little better every day," Jim said, stroking Blair’s hair gently. "But just to be sure, you’re going up in your wheelchair." He raised a hand, forestalling Blair’s protest. "You may be okay now, but after your appointment you’re going to be even more tired. Give in, Chief. You can’t win."

Blair gave in and let Jim help him out of the truck and into his wheelchair, which they left in Gerard’s waiting room. Gerard Worth’s office was pleasant, panelled, quiet without being somber. A copper fountain sculpture in one corner provided soothing background noise. The furniture was comfortable but inexpensive, and the receptionist’s beautiful wooden desk, to Jim’s Sentinel sight, was definitely sanded and refinished. Jim was impressed.

So was Gerard.

"You’re looking great, Blair," he said, motioning them into his office and standing aside to let them through the door. As Blair passed, edging to the opposite side of the door to put as much space as possible between himself and Gerard, Jim noted the thoughtful look Gerard gave him and made a mental note to ask later. Gerard motioned Blair to the couch, then watched Jim settle him in comfortably with soft pillows and a blanket. Jim debated between the edge of the couch and the floor, but when Blair gave him a wounded look, Jim grinned and took his now-usual place on the couch, Blair’s head on his lap. Gerard offered them both some hot herbal tea – the same kind he’d been served at the loft. Jim was even more impressed.

"So . . . I’ve had a few days to score your tests, go over my initial impressions and think," Gerard said, settling back in one of the chairs. "And you’ve had a few days to think too. I was wondering what your thoughts were after our chat."

"Well – no offense, but I had some doubts afterward," Blair said hesitantly, then outlined his conversation with Jim after Gerard had left last Friday.

Gerard only smiled.

"How about you, Jim?" he said.

Jim shrugged.

"I don’t know," he said. "I’ll be honest here – despite what Blair told you I said, I’ve never really had much faith in shr- -- counsellors, probably because I’m just not the confiding sort. You made a good impression with me, though." Then he hesitated. "I have to say something, though. I keep getting the feeling that there were a whole set of tests going on that you weren’t saying anything about. And that maybe there still is. I’m not real comfortable with that. I can’t trust somebody who’s playing games with me."

Gerard’s smile broadened; he shook his head in wonder.

"Congratulations, Jim," he said. "You’re very astute. I would’ve told you anyway. Don’t worry, no more games. The plain fact is that while I can have Blair fill out every test in the book, and I can squint over past records until I’m cross-eyed, I wanted to get some idea of Jim Ellison, too – and something even more enigmatic to me, the two of you as a couple. Because frankly our first meeting left me with more questions than answers. Give me a minute and I’ll get around to that.

"Blair, in response to what you and Jim talked about, I think you’ve both brought up valid points. I don’t pretend to be an expert on relationship counselling for same-sex couples, but I have done it, and, I believe, to the benefit of the couples. Most of that counselling has been in the context of rape counselling, but not all. Probably because of my specialty in male rape, I tend to get a lot of gay referrals. I’d estimate that eighty percent of my patients are gay or bisexual. Again, Jim, Blair, I’m here for you. Whatever either or both of you feel you need to deal with, that’s my job. Apart from certifying Blair fit for duty, if you feel you have nothing left that you need help to deal with, then my job’s done. Seeing me isn’t a decision you make once; you make it every time you come in.

"Now, the results of my tests and interview." Gerard held up a sheet of paper, then grinned, folded it into a paper airplane and sailed it directly to the trash can. "That’s metaphorical. I can’t throw those results away because of the trial. Blair, you’re a very well-adjusted, intelligent and insightful young man with a pretty damned good grounding in psychology yourself. I think if you hadn’t been trying very hard to be honest, you could skew those tests any way you wanted to. Part of what I was trying to do in my interview, and in those ‘extra tests’ Jim referred to, was to corroborate the written test results. I think you were, in fact, scrupulously honest for the most part."

"For the most part?" Jim said uncomfortably. Had Gerard somehow seen or sensed their omission of the whole Sentinel/Guide thing?

"Blair’s a minimizer," Gerard said gently. "He tends to downplay his own pain and needs in favor of those around him so that he doesn’t have to confront his own discomfort. Just as an analogy, if he was in a bus wreck and broke both legs, he’d sit there comforting the man next to him with a sprained wrist. His reaction to the rape is exactly the same. His mental focus isn’t on his own pain and trauma; it’s primarily on the effect it’s going to have on your developing relationship, and secondarily a concern about how much inconvenience he’s causing you and others – the university, Major Crimes, etcetera."

He turned to Blair.

"You have to understand, Blair, that while on the surface that kind of altruism looks unselfish and brave, it isn’t a healthy coping mechanism," he said gently. "At least when you use it to avoid dealing with your own trauma. You can wait for somebody else to patch up your broken legs, but that’s not going to happen here. You’re the one who has to confront your issues, and putting them aside endlessly to focus on others simply means your wounds aren’t getting treated." He sipped his tea. "Now on the postive side . . .

"You have one very excellent coping mechanism," he said slowly. "In fact, it’s the damndest thing I’ve ever seen. I read over your departmental and military psych records, Jim, that you authorized, and Blair’s past psych tests, and frankly I would never have believed we were talking about the same people. Jim, your profile clearly categorized you as emotionally insulated and rigid, fearful of intimacy, socializing only on a very superficial and goal-oriented level, completely focused on your career and with almost zero empathy. Not to mention rigidly heterosexual. This is not the man I see sitting comfortably with his male partner’s head on his lap, casually playing with his hair."

Jim glanced down, then grinned self-consciously. He was, in fact, twining a lock of Blair’s hair around his finger.

Gerard grinned too.

"Nor is it the man who takes time off from the job that’s been the focus of his entire life to provide physical and emotional nurturance to his male partner," Gerard said. "In fact, judging from your past profile alone, I’d have believed you to be a person emotionally incapable of a nurturing and intimate relationship. Yet here you are.

"Blair, your tests show somewhat less contrast but are equally puzzling. Your past profile shows a man who socializes well, but on a casual level – extroverted, but disinclined to emotional depth or commitment in any relationship. Your romantic relationships under that profile would tend to be physically oriented. I don’t know which surprises me more – to see you in a homosexual relationship, not because of any rigidity on your part but because your heterosexual love life was rewarding, or to see you in an emotionally intimate, committed relationship, especially one where you’re not getting any sex at present.

"The other thing that shocked the hell out of me was your reaction to the rape. I could hardly believe how relaxed and open you were, unguarded in your responses. It wasn’t until I managed to get Jim out of the apartment for a little while – " Gerard glanced at Jim, grinning apologetically. " – that I realized my mistake. Your body language and affect changed immediately. You reacted to me exactly as I would have expected – discomfort with physical contact, increased need for personal space, defensive attitude, miscellaneous stress and anxiety symptoms. For a while that worried me. I thought that you’d somehow transferred your entire emotional security to Jim, using him as a sort of living tranquillizer to keep your symptoms that much more at a distance. When Jim came back, however, and I tried a few more experiments, I realized it wasn’t that at all. You still reacted typically to me, although you seemed much more relaxed and comfortable generally. After a little more observation, I realized what’s going on. The plain fact is that the two of you have a symbiotic relationship deeper than anything I’ve seen. You are inside each other’s defenses. Blair, you trust Jim a hundred percent physically; I find that almost unbelievable given your degree of trauma, but there it is. Even more astonishing, Jim, you trust Blair emotionally, and given your profile I’d have called that impossible. I could write a paper on just my observations of the body language between you two. I wish all my patients had relationships as mutually nourishing as yours. So back to the concerns Blair voiced – he’s right. Between the two of you, you can do vastly more for each other than I can do for either of you."

Gerard got up and refilled tea mugs, then sat down again.

"What I want to do is to bring the strength of that relationship to bear on what I believe to be the central issues here," he said. "On Blair’s side, there’s fear, yes, but what he suppresses most rigidly is his anger. That’s one factor that’s consistent with his prior tests. From what you’ve told me about your upbringing, Blair, you’ve been brought up to believe that anger is the equivalent of a mortal sin. You believe anger isn’t healthy, that it puts out negative vibes in the universe, that somehow if you’re angry you’re hurting someone else. Also anger is a sign that you’re not well-adjusted or emotionally mature. Anger is destructive and useless, therefore a well-adjusted person wouldn’t become angry. Therefore you aren’t really angry; it’s something else. Moral outrage at a system that doesn’t promptly punish the guilty and effectively protect the innocent. Empathy for all the students at the university who will be afraid to walk between buildings at night and for other rape victims in general. Hurt that after you’ve worked so hard to help your students, several of your students could commit this kind of act against you. Once again you shift the focus away from your own feelings, so you won’t allow yourself to work through your anger at the men who assaulted you. I think that’s an issue you’re going to have to work on in the next few months, especially as the criminal and civil cases progress."

Jim shook his head.

"He’s got you pegged, Chief," he said. Blair grimaced.

"Jim, in your case the issue’s guilt, and once again it’s consistent with your prior profiles. I see a lot of this in law enforcement and in the military, especially with people who have seen active duty in life-or-death situations. You’re angry, all right, and you don’t have any problem acknowledging it, but you misdirect a lot of that anger onto yourself, especially since you can’t immediately vent it on the guilty parties. You don’t believe you’re Superman, but you damned well should be. You’re big, you’re tough, you’re trained and skilled and armed and experienced and therefore you should be able to protect everybody around you. That’s your job 24/7 and your personal responsibility. If something bad happens to someone you care about, it’s your fault, regardless. You should’ve been able to prevent Blair’s assault altogether, or better yet, you should’ve come charging in like a white knight at the last possible moment to save him from harm, preferably beat the hell out of the assailants, and slap the miscreants in chains. The fact that you didn’t do either makes you solely responsible for every pain Blair feels. If you’d been in Timbuktoo in a straightjacket and drugged unconscious at the time, you wouldn’t be any less guilty – what the hell were you doing apart from Blair when he needed you anyway?"

Blair chuckled reluctantly.

"He’s got us both pegged," he said. "Jim, I take back what I said. I think this guy can help us."

Jim was silent for a long moment, his mind whirling. He’d had three meetings to monitor Gerard, and everything he’d seen, heard, sensed, agreed that this man was being honest and up-front with them. Blair’s insight was the last clue he needed.

"Chief," he said softly, "I think we should tell him."

Blair’s eyes opened wide; he started to sit up, then grimaced.

"Ouch. Give me a hand here, okay?"

Jim carefully helped Blair up; Blair met his eyes.

"Wow, man, that’s a big step," he said softly. "Are you sure?"

Jim took a deep breath.

"Almost," he said. He turned to Gerard, who was watching them patiently. "If I tell you something about myself that has absolutely no bearing on the rape case, can you keep it completely confidential? A hundred percent?"

Gerard sat back in his chair thoughtfully, not answering immediately.

"Is it something I might be asked about directly in court?" he asked.

Jim shook his head.

"If you are, the secret’s already out," he said grimly. "No. The only bearing it has is on my relationship with Blair. I don’t even know that it’s . . . necessary for therapy. It’s just something it would be easier not to have to try to talk around. But it’s very important to me personally that it stays confidential. As if I talked about something classified that I did during my time in the Rangers, say."

Gerard’s face cleared and he nodded.

"Yes, on that basis I can agree without reservation to keep it confidential," he said. "As I told you before, I won’t make any notes or recordings."

Jim glanced at Blair, and Blair nodded slowly.

"Go ahead, Chief," Jim said. "You tell it better than I do."

By the time Blair had finished, Gerard was grinning wonderingly.

"Fantastic," he said. "Hyperacute senses. How acute, Jim? Do you mind indulging my curiosity?"

Jim took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Smell, at least, usually worked reliably these days. Thankfully, it didn’t fail him; he didn’t want Blair to know about his sensory problems yet.

"You use Colgate Total toothpaste," he said. "Head and Shoulders shampoo even though you don’t have dandruff. You spilled a little coffee on your left shirt sleeve this morning, and you were probably in too much of a hurry to change it so you’ve just kept your jacket on over it. Hazelnut creamer, by the way. Right Guard aerosol deodorant." He chuckled. "You must be starving if all you’ve had to eat today was a bagel with strawberry cream cheese."

"Wow." Gerard shook his head. "Thanks for trusting me with that, Jim. I can see the need for confidentiality there."

Jim let his breath out slowly. He still wasn’t certain that telling Gerard had been a good idea. Still, Gerard had no way of proving it. Jim would have heard any recording devices or cameras.

"Well, that does clear up a few gray spots for me," Gerard said after a moment’s thought. "I read the news account of Blair’s press release about his thesis, and I thought the idea of academic fraud just didn’t fit his profile. It’s a little easier to picture how the two of you became involved, and the development of this symbiotic trust between you. Yes, I think you’re right, Jim; it’s helpful to me in the context of working with you two, and I don’t have a problem keeping that confidential."

He glanced at his watch.

"I think that’s about as far as we’re going to get today," he said. "We’ve all got a lot of food for thought for the next time. I’d like to see you both – let’s try twice a week for now?"

Blair glanced at Jim, then nodded.

"Then let’s say Thursday. In the meantime, I’d like both of you to start keeping a daily journal. Write down anything – events, your feelings, your reactions to each other, anything you think about. You don’t have to show me or each other what you write unless you want to, but I think it’ll help you both to see your progress and solidify in your own minds issues that you want to work on.

"I’ve also got a couple exercises I’d like you to try." Gerard turned to Blair. "Blair, I’m going to give you a code phrase. Whenever you find yourself starting to feel angry – in any situation whatsoever, not just relating to the rape – I want you to say out loud, ‘Rainy weather.’ Since you trust Jim so absolutely, try saying it to Jim if it’s hard saying it to yourself."

"Rainy weather," Blair repeated, nodding slowly.

Gerard turned to Jim, and Jim sighed.

"Do I get a code phrase too?" he said.

Gerard chuckled.

"No, you’re too straightforward for that," he said. "You recognize your own guilt; in fact, I think you even realize how unreasonable it can get. I think you also realize how important it is to your relationship that you learn to express your feelings. What I want you to do is recognize your positive input. So when you start feeling guilty and inadequate – over Blair, over work, you name it – I want you to say, to yourself, to Blair, ‘I’m trying, and I’m helping.’ You don’t have to be all of the solution, just part."

"Got it," Jim said, sighing.

"That’s what I want you to do for yourselves, but I have three things I want you to do for each other," Gerard continued. "First, remind each other. I’m sure you both have pretty good insight into what the other person’s feeling. Jim, in a situation where you think Blair’s angry, if he doesn’t use his code phrase, prompt him. Blair, same thing. Encourage each other to recognize and acknowledge what you’re feeling.

"Second, give each other permission to feel those feelings. Say to Blair, ‘It’s okay to feel angry. You have a right to your anger.’ Say to Jim, ‘I know you’re doing your best. It’s okay to feel frustrated.’ Then talk about those feelings with each other – if not at the moment, then later. Sometimes just saying these things out loud helps you to deal with them.

"Third, lean on each other and acknowledge what you give each other. Blair, tell Jim that he makes you feel better, that he makes you feel safe. Jim, tell Blair that he makes you feel loved and needed. Acknowledge to each other that you’re getting what you need emotionally. Don’t worry about the sex right now."

"I can’t help worrying about the sex," Blair muttered.

Jim shrugged sheepishly.

"Me either."

Gerard chuckled.

"See, you’re doing better already," he said. "You admitted it to me and to each other. Think about it all you want. Talk about it if you’d like. What I meant was, it isn’t time to work on that yet. Frankly, given the way you two are comfortable touching each other and your degree of trust, I don’t think you’re going to have as much trouble when the time comes as you think you will. Now get the hell out of here so I can eat my other bagel."

They celebrated on the ride home by stopping for pizza at Gambretti’s – Blair’s first meal out since the rape. After two doctor visits and eating out, however, Blair was pretty much exhausted and sitting had become agony, so when they got back to the loft, Jim installed Blair comfortably on the couch.

"Do you want to use the hospital bed for one more night, or would you rather I move yours back in?" Jim said, stifling a pang of disappointment. He’d slept with Blair every night, and he was going to miss it. "Nobody will be by to pick the bed up till tomorrow, so if you want it – "

"Um." Blair cleared his throat. He glanced at Jim shyly. "Any other options available?"

Jim swallowed heavily as he realized what Blair meant.

"Welllll – you could sleep on the couch, I suppose," he said teasingly. "Or – " He found himself trembling. "Or you could come upstairs and sleep with me in my bed. Our bed. And we could turn your bedroom into an office."

"Our bed," Blair repeated, smiling slightly. "I kind of like the sound of that."

Then he flushed and glanced at Jim.

"Uh, Jim – "

"Just to sleep," Jim said firmly. "Nothing else."

"Nothing else?" Blair raised one eyebrow mischeivously. "Does that mean I don’t get my goodnight kiss now?"

Jim rolled his eyes in mock exasperation.

"Okay, okay, you get your damned goodnight kiss. You get any damned thing you want, okay? Jesus, Sandburg, what’ve I gotta do here, beg?"

Blair laughed, but let Jim help him up off the couch, leaning on him as they walked to the stairs.

"Oooh, Jim Ellison on his knees begging," Blair said, grinning. "Now that’s an image to spur my recovery. I think we’ll have to file that one away for later use."

To Jim’s amazement, he found that image – Kneeling before Blair, begging, oh God, begging him to take me, sucking him – stiffening his sex instantly. Oh, man, this is one for the shrink – if I can actually bring myself to tell Gerard about it. Shit. Down, boy. Sit. Play dead. I know it’s been a long dry spell, but Blair does NOT need this right now and neither do I.

But it didn’t go down, and Jim was hard-put to keep Blair from seeing it as he helped Blair into bed (clean flannel sheets, extra blankets for metabolically challenged Guides), protectively next to the wall (which coincidentally avoided the possibility that Jim might bump into Blair’s injured ribs). Jim undressed and put on his robe, which was thankfully long and loose and thick enough to hide his condition.

"Aren’t you coming to bed?" Blair said a little anxiously.

"Yeah. But we’re supposed to continue the ointment, remember?" Jim said. "And I was supposed to make sure you’re not bleeding anymore."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot," Blair said sheepishly. "Hey, Jim? Do you think it would be okay if I jammed my body pillow over here next to the wall, so that if I bump my ribs, it’s only against the pillow?"

"Good idea," Jim said, nodding. "Very good idea. I’ll bring it up with me. Anything else I can get you?"

"No, thanks, Jim."

Jim awkwardly juggled the ointment, the wipes, Blair’s medication, a glass of juice and the body pillow coming back upstairs, but amazingly he made it with all items intact. Thankfully the delay and shift of his focus let his erection subside. Blair took his pills and rolled over, pushing his boxers down, flexing his upper leg slightly.

"You do so well with this," Jim murmured as he carefully worked the ointment into Blair. "I can’t believe how well you do, you’re so nice and relaxed."

A moment’s hesitation.

"It doesn’t hurt anymore," Blair said softly. "I mean, the first few times, even you, even as careful as you were . . . I mean, it hurt before you even touched me, and then when you put your finger inside it hurt more for a while, so I still dreaded it a little. Then the ointment made it feel better, which helped. Now it doesn’t hurt exactly . . . more it kind of burns and itches, you know, like they say hemorrhoids do? And your finger doesn’t hurt at all, but the ointment still feels soothing and nice. So I don’t dread it anymore."

"I hated hurting you," Jim admitted. "I tried to be as gentle and careful as I could, but I knew I was still hurting you, and frightening you, and I hated that."

"You were a lot better at it, though," Blair said, chuckling slightly. "I mean, better than the doctor or the nurses. I guess it’s because of your sense of touch."

"Well, that might be part of it," Jim said gently, withdrawing his finger. "But I think part of it was just that you trusted me and didn’t tense up on me. I noticed that the very first time I did it. Okay. No blood, Chief. You can pull up your boxers and take your pain pill, while I go wash my hands, and then if you want, I’ll rub your back." Massages had become part of the daily routine, a part they both looked forward to, and now that most of the deepest bruising had healed, Jim could more freely gorge his hands on his Guide’s skin.

"Oh, man, I’m with that," Blair said eagerly. He gulped down his pill, finished his juice, and rolled mostly onto his stomach, giving little moans of happiness as Jim rubbed the stiffness out of his back, neck and shoulders. His lower back was still a little tender, and Jim knew the massage hurt a little, but it was, according to Blair, "a good hurt." Before Jim was done, Blair was sound asleep. Jim chuckled and covered his Guide, curling up beside him in their bed.

The first night of forever, Chief.