Chapter 8

Tuesday Blair went to the dentist to be fitted with temporary caps for his broken teeth. Wednesday they went downtown to talk to Beverly in preparation for Blair’s deposition on Friday. Blair was understandably nervous about the deposition and nervous, too, that Jim’s and Gerard Worth’s depositions would be taken immediately after his. The defendants’ depositions would be taken later, and Blair would be expected to attend those, too.

"It really is a necessary evil," Beverly said, sighing. "The last thing in the world a rape victim needs is to rehash the whole incident with a hostile attorney picking his story apart. But I’m trying to get all this done with as quickly as I can, Blair. Just be honest, be yourself, and we’ve got it licked. And anytime you need a break, just say so. At least I’ve managed to get our depositions set at the loft, so you can be comfortable. Think of it as the home-ground advantage."

Blair looked slightly relieved, and Jim silently blessed Beverly for her foresight. Now he could only pray that Jack and Tim Frain didn’t insist on showing up with the lawyer to help intimidate Blair.

Thursday they went for their second appointment with Gerard. Not surprisingly, the subject of most of the session was the next day’s depositions. Gerard thought they were pushing Blair too hard, that they’d scheduled the depositions too soon, but he agreed with Blair that getting the ordeal over with would be a relief, also.

To Jim’s surprise, Eric Crassner arrived on Friday with Beverly, Simon, the other boys’ lawyers, Gerard Worth, the court reporter, a videographer and four paralegals, but no Frain, junior or senior. Jim had cleared the living room and set up extra chairs, and everyone made themselves as comfortable as they could while the videographer and the court reporter set up their equipment. Jim defiantly sat down on the couch next to Blair, looking Crassner right in the eye as he did so. The court reporter administered the oath to Blair, and the videographer nodded to Beverly.

"I’d like to make a statement on the record," she said. "Eric Crassner, counsel for Tim Frain, made a motion to Judge Flores for sequestration of the witnesses during the deposition – "

Jim froze. He didn’t know what Blair would do if they were separated during such an ordeal. He didn’t know what he would do. He glanced desperately at Simon, who gave him a reassuring nod.

"I contested the motion on the basis that the witnesses’ testimony overlap only concerning matters outside the facts of the incident itself," Beverly continued. "Therefore there’s no reason to believe that any tainting of factual testimony would occur. The judge denied Counsel’s motion for sequestration of witnesses; however, I’ve told counsel for the defense that if they wish to sequester their clients, they are more than welcome to do so." Her eyes sparkled. "Counsel for the defense have declined this offer. Therefore we’ll proceed with the depositions in the usual manner. Mr. Crassner, the witness is yours."

Eric Crassner asked all the background questions Beverly had told them to expect. She’d warned them, too, that he would be interested in Blair’s past psychiatric treatment, his unconventional upbringing with Naomi and their free-spirited lifestyle, Blair’s occasional run-ins with his superiors at Rainier, his "academic fraud," and his discharge from the university, plus of course his time working with Cascade PD and his relationship with Jim. Jim was proud of Blair; he stayed calm, answered frankly and completely but didn’t volunteer information, and didn’t let Crassner put words in his mouth or twist his testimony.

But the time and stress and questions were wearing on Blair. Blair wasn’t quite so calm describing the assault itself, and Crassner, who had seemed somewhat discomfited by Blair’s aplomb during the earlier questioning, pounced on Blair’s vulnerability. Time after time he dug into painful details; Beverly’s objections became more frequent. Jim dug his nails into his palms, grinding his teeth, fairly aching to intervene and knowing that he couldn’t. At last, after Crassner had made Blair describe for the fifth time exactly what Frain had done with the pipe, Blair broke.

"He raped me with the goddamned thing!" Blair screamed. "How else can I say it? You want to know what it felt like? Take a goddamned piece of exhaust pipe and shove it up your own goddamned ass!"

He wheezed in a great gulping breath of air and collapsed on Jim’s chest, sobbing, "Rainy weather rainy weather rainyweather rainy fucking weather – " into Jim’s sweater. Jim folded his arms protectively around Blair and looked daggers at Crassner.

"Enough of this shit," he growled icily. "It stops right now."

"No, it stops yesterday," Beverly said, just as coldly. "Ladies, gentlemen, I’m calling a recess. Not yet, keep this on the record, please. Mr. Crassner, you’ve been deliberately harassing Mr. Sandburg, a rape victim under psychiatric care, for the last half hour. If you ask one more argumentative, sarcastic, hostile or harassing question, the deposition stops while I take this tape before Judge Flores and ask for sanctions against you. You think about that, Mr. Crassner, while we recess. Off the record."

Jim scooped Blair up and carried him into what used to be Blair’s bedroom, the only place they could have a little privacy. Gerard followed closely, closing the door behind them. Blair was shaking all over, his breath coming in wheezy choking gasps, and Jim knew he was hyperventilating. He’d seen only two other panic attacks in his entire time with Blair, and it terrified him.

"It’s okay, Chief, it’s okay, I’ve got you," Jim murmured, stroking Blair’s hair. He was shaking as hard as Blair; rage was a great red tangible presence, so huge that he had to fight to keep from zoning on the anger itself.

"Blair," Gerard said in a firm voice. "Blair, you need to calm down. Slow your breathing down." He bit his lip. "Concentrate on Jim, Blair. Jim needs you. You’re scaring him, he’s getting all angry and upset, and that’s not good for him, is it? He needs you, Blair, needs you to help him settle down."

Blair gave one last great sob and choked it off, peeping out from the damp curtain of his hair.

"J-Jim?" He sniffled hard. "Jim, I – I’m okay, let it go, dial everything down and stay with me, okay?"

Jim buried his face in Blair’s hair, sniffing in his anger and humiliation and shame and fear and love. He groaned, overloaded on all that emotion, but felt a shaking hand gently stroking his back, and once more his Guide’s touch pulled him back from the edge.

"It’s okay, Jim, you took care of me, you protected me," Blair whispered unsteadily. "Be here for me, Jim, I need you, okay? Please?"

Jim clamped down hard on his emotions and nodded, kissing Blair’s neck through his hair.

"I’m okay, Chief," he muttered hoarsely.

"Me too," Blair whispered. "We’re together, and we’re okay. I’m gonna make that our new mantra. We’re together, and we’re okay. Hey, don’t forget what you’re supposed to say. I remembered, didn’t I?"

For a minute Jim had no idea what Blair meant. Then he snorted with involuntary laughter.

"I’m trying, and I’m helping," he chuckled. "Happy?"

"No, man, actually I’m kind of miserable," Blair laughed weakly. "This position’s really hard on my tailbone and my ribs are, like, chastising me sternly, and I really, really need to pee."

"Okay, Chief, we’ll get you taken care of," Jim said tenderly. He glanced at Gerard. "Thanks. A lot. That was good thinking."

Gerard smiled a little wistfully.

"God, what a paper I could write about you two," he sighed. "Oh, well, better a mute witness to a miracle than no witness at all. Go on and take care of Blair, Jim. I’m going to have a talk with Beverly and lay down the law, so to speak."

Jim helped Blair to the bathroom. He felt the situation warranted a pain pill and fetched one; Blair made no argument.

"God, Jim, I knew it would be bad, but I didn’t know it would be this bad," Blair said shakily, wiping his nose. "And it’s going to be even worse at trial – " Suddenly he looked on the verge of another panic attack.

"No, no, it won’t, Chief," Jim said quickly. "It’ll be better at trial because the judge will be right there to keep the attorneys from that kind of shit, Beverly can get her objections ruled on right away. Can you get through this, Blair?"

Blair wiped his eyes with a shaking hand.

"I’ll have to, won’t I?" he said resignedly. "Sometime or other. I don’t have a choice, unless I want to drop the charges and let those assholes go free, and damned if I’m going to do that. So I might as well get it over with." He gave Jim a look of naked fear. "Jim, how can you possibly touch me after you’ve heard all that?"

"Oh, baby." Jim pulled Blair close and kissed his forehead, his eyelids, his wet cheeks, his mouth. "Blair, you’re strong and beautiful. You’re a survivor, baby, and that’s one of the things I love about you. We’ve got each other and our whole lives to be together. Nothing and nobody is going to take that away from us, you got it?"

Blair swallowed hard.

"Got it, Jim," he whispered. He managed a watery smile. "Hey, what kind of reward do I get if I make it through today?"

"Hmmm, let’s see." Jim pretended to consider. "How about a tub bath, a massage on the air mattress in front of the fire, and call-in Thai for dinner?"

Blair blew his nose.

"Throw in three hours of cuddling and Nature TV and it’s a deal," he said.

"Okay," Jim said cheerfully. "You’ll be asleep before the end of the first hour anyway."

Jim made sure Blair had pulled himself together before he helped his Guide back out to the couch. Crassner was arguing with somebody on his cell phone and looked mightily displeased with the way the argument was going, but Jim’s hearing was wavering in and out and he couldn’t tell who the lawyer was talking to. Simon had made chamomile tea and handed Blair a cup; Beverly sat down nonchalantly on the coffee table despite Jim’s glare.

"Blair, can you go on?" she asked gently. "I’m not going to let it get out of hand again, but it’ll look bad if we stop the deposition."

Blair shook his head.

"It’s okay, I can do it," he said quietly.

Beverly nodded and unthinkingly patted Blair’s shoulder, biting her lip apologetically when he flinched. She retreated to her chair and nodded to the videographer.

"Back on the record," she said. "I’ve conferred with Dr. Worth, Blair’s psychiatrist, and he tells me he’s concerned about Blair’s emotional well-being. Mr. Crassner – and this applies to all counsel present – I can and will call this deposition if Dr. Worth believes we’re harming his patient, and if I do that, I’m going straight to Judge Flores with this tape. With that said, we’re prepared to continue the deposition."

Eric Crassner was still talking on his cell phone; hurriedly he hung up, looking more than a little disgruntled.

"Resuming the deposition, then," he said, taking his chair. To Jim’s surprise, he made no effort whatsoever to break down Blair’s testimony again; his questions were almost perfunctory. He quickly finished. The other boys’ counsel had a few questions for clarification, but those questions and Beverly’s cross-examination proceeded quickly and without trouble. Jim heaved a sigh of relief when Blair’s deposition ended, even though that meant the beginning of his.

Jim frankly didn’t care what Crassner asked him. When Blair got angry enough, he exploded. When Jim got angry, he got cold, and he was very, very cold now. He answered Crassner’s questions in flat monosyllables, making the man work for every answer. Crassner tried to intimate that Jim had had prior homosexual encounters during his time in Vice or in the military. Jim looked Crassner straight in the eye and replied that while like every soldier he jerked off in his bunk or his sleeping bag, if any of the other men heard him and got their jollies from listening, he didn’t know about it and didn’t want to. Nor did Crassner’s questions about his and Blair’s relationship rattle him. Yes, he was protective of Blair and had been from the time they’d begun working together. Blair had been a civilian observing in a very dangerous line of work, and he had no police or military training, which made it all the more likely that he could get hurt – which, in fact, he frequently did. Blair was a good friend and, yes, Jim loved him, even if it had taken him years to realize it. No, they hadn’t had sex of any kind in the past and weren’t having any now, but Jim hoped they would someday.

Crassner gave up on any attempt to rattle the detective, and the other counsel had little to add to the questioning. Beverly’s cross-examination actually got more pointed and uncomfortable than Crassner’s, delving into Jim’s feelings about Blair and the evolution of their relationship minutely enough that Jim worried about talking around the Sentinel subject. At last, however, it was over and Jim was glad to let them verbally pound on Gerard for a while.

And Gerard was a flawless witness. In the battle of wits between him and Crassner it became immediately apparent that Crassner was an unarmed opponent. Crassner spent a half-hour futilely trying to impugn Gerard’s expertise, then abruptly changed tactics.

"Doctor, you’ve had time to evaluate Blair Sandburg after the alleged rape," Eric Crassner said. "Is it your opinion that Blair has reacted to the event as a normal rape victim would?"

"I can’t answer that question," Gerard said, shrugging. "There’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ rape victim. That’s like asking what color are a normal man’s eyes. It’s a null question."

"All right, if the word ‘normal’ doesn’t work, how about ‘average’?" Crassner pressed.

"Same answer. There is no ‘average’ rape victim. And if there was, that definition of ‘average’ would be useless."

"Really." Crassner’s voice dripped sarcasm. "Explain that."

Gerard smiled, unrattled.

"Counsel, I could compile a profile of a statistically average man," he said. "Age A, height B, weight C, hair color D, eye color E, skin tone F, annual income G, marital status H, number of children I, IQ J, et cetera, ad nauseam. I could then walk into a full courtroom and find not one single person who matches that profile except in two or three parameters. The more parameters we attempt to define, the more nebulous and useless an ‘average’ becomes. And that’s just talking a purely physical, objective, factual profile of readily measurable parameters.

"When you move into the fields of psychology and psychiatry the whole idea of an ‘average’ profile becomes ridiculous, especially applied to trauma. Where do I find a yardstick against which to measure Blair? Do I go by sex of the victim, sex of the attacker, prior sexual orientation of victim or attacker, number of attackers, his age when attacked, their relative ages? How about the violence of the attack, the amount of physical damage, the environment of the attack, duration of the attack, the number and nature of the acts? Other factors might include the victim’s emotional and sexual maturity at the time of the attack, his psychological weaknesses, strengths, coping mechanisms, support structure, the kind of care he got afterwards, any relevant personal history, the extent to which his assault has become public, his feelings of a continuing threat from his attackers – I could literally go on forever. And once we plug in all the variables, run them through a computer and come up with some kind of norm, it’s already become completely inapplicable to any one victim. There is no average victim, no normal victim, no expected course of recovery.

"There are frequently observed symptoms, if you will, of rape trauma. Some of those symptoms include fear of physical and especially sexual contact; agoraphobia or social phobias; nightmares, panic attacks, recurrent and continuing anxiety, emotional and physical withdrawal, hostility or, in other cases, exaggerated passivity and submissiveness; physical symptoms associated with stress and anxiety such as sleeplessness or lethargy, depression, nausea, headaches, fatigue, elevated blood pressure . . . again, I could go on and on, but those are some of the most common symptoms, again, to coin a phrase. Which symptoms, if any, and to what extent they will manifest in any given victim is absolutely unpredictable. I’ve observed several of those symptoms in Blair, even today during this deposition, and he and Jim have reported others. I believe within a reasonable degree of medical and psychiatric certainty that those symptoms stem from the assault, and that those symptoms that he shows are not at all uncommon given the nature of that assault."

"Doctor, ‘given the nature of the assault’," Crassner said, "has Blair seemed less traumatized than you would have expected?"

"I don’t go into any case with expectations, especially of the healing processes of a patient I’ve seen less than a half-dozen times, and never previous to the assault," Gerard said. "Given the psychological workups of Blair previous to this event, I’d say that Blair is a very well-adjusted, intelligent and clear-thinking young man who’s determined to overcome this trauma. He’s focusing his strengths toward that goal and he’s working very hard. He’s a cooperative patient, very straightforward, very motivated. He makes a conscientious effort to follow the suggestions I give him and, although he’s a very independent thinker, he seriously considers whatever I tell him even when it’s not what he wants to hear. He’s very proactive in his own treatment; in my opinion he pushes himself too hard, expects too much progress too soon, but I can’t fault his motivation. I’m not accustomed to dealing with patients who have their act together so well, I suppose I should say. Blair was a pleasant surprise in that regard, and that speaks well for his prognosis.

"At the same time, Blair consistently minimizes his symptoms, which means he will always show less pain, less anger, less stress than he feels. That’s where his intelligence works against him; he’s very good at hiding his symptoms and very good at talking around his feelings. If he wasn’t completely determined to cooperate with me, I’d find it very difficult to treat him. I have every confidence, however, that he’s been completely cooperative and honest with me, and the consistency of my observations with his test scores corroborates that honesty."

Crassner appeared rather flummoxed by Gerard’s assessment. He asked a few tentative questions about what Gerard thought of Jim and Blair’s relationship, but when that didn’t get him anywhere either, he quickly passed the witness.

"Dr. Worth," Beverly said, "Counsel for the defense brought up the point that many of Jim’s coworkers believed that Jim and Blair had a long-standing homosexual relationship. Based on your knowledge of Jim and Blair, do you have any opinion as to why they might have formed that belief?"

"Yes, I can see why it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that they had a physical relationship," Gerard said easily. "Jim’s certainly haptic."

"Can you tell the jury, please, what ‘haptic’ is?" Beverly said.

"Certainly. A haptic personality primarily expresses emotion through touch instead of verbally," Gerard said. "The classic example is someone who hugs easily on greeting even new acquaintances. Other haptic personalities aren’t that obvious. They may pat you on the shoulder, touch your arm or hand to illustrate a point, ruffle your hair, straighten your collar, brush dirt off your sleeve or so on. There’s nothing particularly sexual about it, and generally they don’t even realize they’re doing it, but it’s easy to mistake frequency of even casual touch for emotional and physical intimacy."

"And you’d characterize Jim Ellison as such a haptic personality?" Beverly asked.

"Most definitely," Gerard said, nodding. "Jim’s a textbook haptic personality. He touches Blair a great deal, yes, but he touches others very frequently also. During the course of our very first conversation he touched me five or six times beyond the obligatory handshake and so on. It’s my understanding that friends and coworkers have often commented on the same phenomenon."

"Do you find that consistent with Jim’s psychological profile?" Beverly asked him.

"Very consistent," Gerard said. "Haptic personalities are most often people who were denied love and affection, or at least expressions of love and affection, during their formative years. They often feel emotionally isolated and unable to express affection or intimacy themselves, especially verbally. They’re starved for affection, both to give and to receive it, but can’t consciously acknowledge that need to themselves or others. This need for touch is simply their need for reassurance, for human contact, if you will, and sometimes their only ability to express their feelings. I find that very consistent with Jim’s history and personality."

"What about Blair, Doctor?" Beverly asked. "Why do you believe people would make the assumption that he was involved in a homosexual relationship?"

"In an environment like a police station," Gerard said, "Blair’s liberal attitudes, his academic career, and his hair and dress differ radically from the norm. Simply put, Blair doesn’t seem as ‘macho’ as the other men at the station. Other men would tend to view him as not necessarily effiminate, but less masculine than themselves by comparison. That and the intimate friendship between Jim and Blair might lead coworkers to that belief. Considering that Blair regularly dated women who worked at the station, and that he was in fact noted and teased for his numerous female dates, I find the assumption kind of puzzling myself."

"What about his rooming with Jim Ellison for such an extended period?" Beverly asked him.

"Blair was a poorly-paid graduate student," Gerard said. "Nobody would remark on it if he’d spent three years sharing a dorm room or apartment with another male student while he finished out his degree. After talking with Jim and Blair, I find it completely logical that when Blair’s apartment was destroyed, he simply had nowhere else to go. Jim was his friend; therefore he moved in with the intention that the move was temporary. It worked out, they were comfortable together, just as they worked well together; therefore he stayed. Jim probably disliked the invasion of his territory at the outset, but remember that Jim is unconsciously very lonely and hungry for affection. Even before they had any romantic attachment, Blair’s presence in the loft as friend, coworker and roommate gave Jim a ‘safe’ outlet for his need to give and receive affection. Blair’s freely expressed and undemanding friendship let him receive affection; he could express it, too, by giving Blair a home and protection, and by little nurturing gestures – cooking meals, keeping the loft clean, even nagging him."

"Do you find it strange, Doctor, that two previously heterosexual men would develop a strong intimate relationship under those circumstances?" Beverly asked.

"Not at all," Gerard said, shaking his head. "I think it was actually a pretty ideal environment for that to happen. Blair’s presence fulfilled emotional needs Jim didn’t even know existed, and at the same time, Jim was fulfilling emotional needs Blair hadn’t recognized either. Living with Jim, Blair had a home – the first time he’d had any stability or continuity in his life, and a nonsexual friendship that quickly grew more intimate and solid than the casual friendships and brief romantic relationships he’d become accustomed to. He was free to pursue his own goals and keep dating, but at the same time Jim imposed a certain amount of routine and order on him, and the security of their friendship was always there for him. That combination of acceptance and stability would be very comforting and nurturing to Blair."

"Doctor, you make it sound as if Blair would look on Jim as a sort of father figure," Beverly said. "Do you think that’s the case?"

"No, I don’t." Gerard smiled. "Maybe if moving into Jim’s loft had occurred first. However, they’d already established a working relationship and a solid friendship before that. To a great extent they’d already defined their roles in that friendship, set parameters. No, by that point it was too late for Blair to see Jim as a parental figure. By that time and at that stage in their relationship, the increased intimacy of living together would only serve to deepen their relationship as friends and, possibly, eventually as lovers."

"But you don’t think that’s the case," Beverly prompted.

"No, I don’t." Gerard shook his head again. "More because of Jim than Blair, I think. Quite apart from what Jim and Blair themselves have told me, it seems that Blair and Jim both continued dating – women, I mean – long after Blair moved in. Blair had stopped dating about three months before the assault and specifically relates the cessation of dating to his desire for Jim; he wanted Jim, loved Jim and felt little interest in pursuing anyone else even though he believed Jim would never return his feelings. Jim, who never dated as much as Blair, had had his last date about six months before the assault and didn’t consciously stop looking for dates, but admits that his attraction to Blair was more noticeable by that point. Although he continued to deny that attraction, he admits in retrospect that he simply didn’t feel as interested in finding other dating partners, that his dates with women seemed superficial and unsatisfying. But as I said, Jim didn’t pursue casual relationships like Blair did. Despite his failed marriage and despite his difficulty with intimacy, Jim’s goal was always commitment and stability in his relationships. Jim is far too insecure in his emotions to maintain an uncommitted, non-monogamous relationship, period, and even more so if he was attempting a relationship with a man for the first time. Therefore, since Blair was dating women, he and Jim weren’t involved, at least at that time, regardless of what their co-workers may have thought. Their emotional intimacy was undeniably growing, but their friendship was simply that."

"Doctor, have you read Blair’s account of the assault which he gave to the police?" Beverly asked Gerard.

"Yes, I’ve read it," he said.

"Did Blair give you an independent account of that assault?"

"Over the course of several discussions, yes," Gerard said. "I didn’t attempt to get a single comprehensive account at any one time."

"Were the statements that he gave you consistent with his statement to the police?"

"As far as I can tell, yes," Gerard said. "Bear in mind that what he focused on in the police statement were the factual details of the crime – who did what and when. What Blair talked about with me had an entirely different emphasis; he talked about what was done to him and how he felt about it. For instance, his statement to the police went into more detail about times, locations, what was said verbally; talking to me I think Blair expressed more detail about the particular acts performed and how he experienced them. Yes, the factual details were consistent. That isn’t really a concern with me because I’m more interested in Blair’s feelings. But the statements were consistent."

"Counsel for the defense has made the point that Blair gave his first statement while drugged, concussed and in an unstable emotional frame of mind," Beverly said. "Do you believe his statement is reliable, Doctor?"

"I can’t speak to Blair’s frame of mind at the time he gave that statement," Gerard said. "However, I think the fact that Blair had, at that point, been working with Cascade Police, Major Crimes for more than three years is crucial. He’d apparently worked in far more than an observer capacity and had certainly learned to pick out relevant details. This is something I’ve observed in traumatized police officers and the like before – in a crisis, their instinct is to give a clear, concise account and then fall apart afterward. Their emphasis is on apprehending the criminal more than their own well-being. Blair’s statement is clear, sequential and obviously a product of organized thought. I’ve listened to the tape and have no reason to believe that Blair was, at that moment, anything but focused on an accurate retelling of what had happened to him. From the lack of affect in his voice – affect referring to tonal qualities expressive of emotion – I believe Blair was still in traumatic shock and largely numb emotionally. Far from being hysterical or exaggerative, again, that account probably minimizes the enormity of what happened to him."

Beverly quickly wound up the deposition, and then the whole horrible ordeal was over. Gerard stayed a little after the others just to make sure Blair was all right, then left them alone, leaving a couple of samples of sleeping pills and tranquillizers, just in case. Blair declined either.

"No, man, I’m wrung out enough already," he said tiredly. "I just want to collect my bath and massage, never mind dinner and nature shows. I’m beat."

The next week passed slowly while they waited for Blair’s next doctor appointment, waited for the boys’ depositions to be scheduled, waited for a trial date. Blair continued to heal rapidly, enough so that he began to get restless, and short walks around the neighborhood or in the park were added to the daily routine. They wrote in their journals; Jim hated the assignment, but to Blair it was nothing new since he’d kept a journal all his life. Sometimes they talked about their journal entries with Gerard or each other or both; more often they kept them private.

Simon came by and administered the last of Blair’s tests from the academy. Blair tried to persuade Jim to go back to work, at least for a few hours each day; Jim refused. Blair was walking around easily now and only needed the rib wrap occasionally, but bending, twisting or prolonged sitting were still painful and he still wasn’t allowed to lift anything. He could dress himself now, except for shoes and socks, and wash himself – with some difficulty and a long-handled bath brush – but never refused Jim’s help. And Jim was always glad to help.

Unsurprisingly his rapid physical progress vastly outstripped his emotional recovery. Despite his new mobility, Blair didn’t like to be around people and avoided acquaintances and neighbors on their walks. He went to the grocery with Jim but didn’t really seem to enjoy the change of scenery; even the produce market didn’t seem to attract him. He declined visits to the library, health food store and even, to Jim’s astonishment, the bookstore. Most of their friends from work had visited, one at a time, and one night Blair even had dinner with Jim, Simon, Rafe and Brown, but on the whole Blair seemed to prefer simply sitting at home quietly with Jim, writing in their journals, watching TV, or, Blair’s favorite, cuddling on the sofa while one read to the other.

Finally, cautiously, Jim brought up the subject of Blair’s withdrawal at their next appointment with Gerard; to his surprise, Blair laughed and said that while he felt a little anxious in public settings, what really bothered him was the thought that they’d run into friends or acquaintances who had seen the news report about the rape and who would insist on talking to Blair or questioning him about it. He loved getting out of the house and missed their friends, but preferred to save his socializing for a time when (a) his attack was no longer recent news, and (b) he was more comfortable talking about it. Jim was vastly relieved.

The subject of sex was omnipresent but never mentioned. Cuddling remained simply that; kisses were gentle and chaste but full of love. Jim especially loved to stroke or brush Blair’s hair. They woke up in the morning curled around each other and with aching erections. One morning Jim was delighted when Blair blushingly asked Jim to, "Uh, leave me alone for a while?" Jim complied, which not so coincidentally allowed him to go to the bathroom, take a shower and do something about his own morning problem, and even before he saw Blair’s relaxed, wondering smile, Jim’s sense of smell told him that Blair had proven to himself that functionality was no longer dubious, although "Man, my dick loved that but my ribs hated it." Jim’s own experience had been a real eye-opener, so to speak – he hadn’t had time, energy or privacy to jerk off since Blair’s assault, and for the first time he could construct a full-fledged ‘legitimate’ fantasy of Blair – the feel of his skin, even his most intimate skin, the warmth of him curled against Jim, soft moist breath against Jim’s skin, the scent of his hair, the taste of his lips, and imagine – no, anticipate Blair as a lover. He hardly had time to imagine, though, because he came hard and fast, embarrassingly fast and so hard that Jim was glad for the muffling noise of the shower and hopefully Blair’s own preoccupation upstairs. Anyway, it had been good for them both and healing for Blair, and Jim was content to leave matters like that for the time being.

Blair got his permanent caps, to his great relief, and several very large dental and medical bills, to his great trepidation. The victims assistance fund was willing to help with the bills but wanted a lien against any award in Blair’s civil suit; since Jim and Blair hadn’t yet found a civil attorney and filed said suit, that put a delay on everything. Jim called the rape crisis center and was forwarded a list of civil attorneys who specialized in rape cases, but didn’t want to leave Blair alone to talk to lawyers, and he didn’t want to make Blair recount the whole thing to possibly several more attorneys just yet. He hadn’t heard from Beverly Sanchez about the progress of the criminal case, and that worried him.

Blair’s second follow-up visit with Dr. Atherton resulted in the doctor shaking his head wonderingly at Blair’s progress and pronouncing the soft tissue injuries completely healed and the bone injuries far ahead of schedule. Blair could come in for a recheck in three weeks, at which time Dr. Atherton would consider letting Blair return to sedentary work. The next morning Beverly called, asking if she could come by that afternoon to talk to Blair. The assistant DA brought her paralegal and a stack of documents, including transcripts of the depositions for Blair and Jim to read and sign.

"Well, I’ve looked over the deposition testimony and talked with defense counsel," Beverly said. "Here’s how I think the indictment will go. Wyman could probably be indicted on conspiracy, kidnapping, accessory to sexual assault, and simple assault and battery charges, but we’re not pressing the assault or kidnapping because of his cooperation and because he was largely intimidated by the others. Kinzer will plead guilty to conspiracy, assault and battery, and sexual assault. Edgewood will probably be indicted on conspiracy, kidnapping, and assault and battery. We can probably get sexual assault but not aggravated sexual assault because Frain was the only one who used the pipe, either during the beating or the rape.

"We aren’t going to be able to pin the attempted murder charge on Frain," Beverly said steadily. "Despite the ‘I’m going to kill you’ comment, the simple fact that they let you go and ran when you were obviously still alive is just not going to support an attempted murder charge, not when your injuries weren’t immediately life-threatening and nothing interrupted the assault or forced their retreat."

Blair nodded glumly.

"Here’s where we come to a choice, and it’s a tough one," Beverly said quietly. She pulled out a stack of papers. "I have an offer here from Crassner. Frain’s offered to plead guilty to conspiracy, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated assault and battery, and to accept maximum sentences on those charges. If we can’t back up the attempted murder – and we can’t – the kidnapping charge is what makes the difference between Frain doing his time in a state prison or a federal pen."

"A plea bargain!" Jim exclaimed, outraged. "Damn it, Beverly, you said – "

"I know what I said," Beverly said, holding up her hand. "And I haven’t accepted anything. Blair, I will push this as far as you want me to. I just want you to hear all your options, okay?"

Blair took a deep breath.

"Okay," he said.

"Even if we nail Frain on all counts in court," Beverly said, "we’re going to run into obstacles at sentencing. Tim Frain’s 19 years old with no prior criminal record. He’s a clean-cut college jock, not too intelligent, with absolutely no strikes against him to this point. That’ll certainly work in his favor at sentencing. Once his attorney pleads in all the mitigating factors, even with the kidnapping charge Tim’s going to get a maximum of ten to twelve years – realistically, about five years actually behind bars, probably less. In exchange for that, we go through the whole trial and Crassner does his best to smear both of you in front of the court, he "outs" you both publicly and makes every detail of Blair’s ordeal front-page news. Something Blair’s career really doesn’t need after his recent press exposure with the academic fraud business.

"If we go with the plea agreement," Beverly continued, "Tim will serve his time in a state prison, but he’ll get 15 to 20 on maximum sentencing, probably spend seven to ten years actually behind bars. No court trial, no publicity."

Blair frowned.

"I don’t get it," he said. "Why would Crassner offer an agreement for his client to spend more time behind bars?"

Jim shook his head wonderingly.

"It isn’t Crassner, is it?" he said. "It’s the old man. Jack Frain."

Beverly nodded.

"He doesn’t want the public fracas," she said. "He knows Tim’s going down; the only issue is how many years. So he’s willing to sweep his son under the rug, as long as we do it quietly. Crassner hates the whole idea of the plea agreement, but he’ll go along with it because he’s got a pretty damned weak defense and he knows it; the best he could do is make it as big and messy a fight as he could. There’s more, Blair, but I want to hear what you think about this first."

Blair glanced at Simon and Jim.

"Well – in that case, I guess I could go with the plea agreement," he said. "I mean, what I didn’t want to see was Tim Frain get off with less punishment. Kidnapping’s just a legal term when I think about what he did to me. I’d tell it all in court, go through whatever I had to if that would actually gain anything, but I guess it wouldn’t, would it?"

He glanced at Jim. Jim shook his head.

"As little as I normally like plea bargains, this does make sense," he admitted. "Beverly’s right – I don’t think there’s much to gain by pursuing the court case. As far as smearing me or outing me or whatever – I could care less, Chief. Don’t even take that into consideration. But the thought of Crassner dragging the whole detailed mess out publicly – I’d be glad if you could be spared that."

Blair took a deep breath.

"Well, I won’t disregard the consequences to you," he said quietly. "I couldn’t. But it does seem like the right thing to do. I have to admit that I’m kind of glad that Frain’s dad isn’t pulling the same shit as Brad Ventriss’ father did. I like it that he made Tim take responsibility for his actions. Okay, I guess I’ll go with the agreement." He glanced up at Beverly. "You say there’s more?"

"It doesn’t have any bearing on the criminal case," she said. "If you don’t mind, I’d prefer that we dispense with this first."

Blair signed documents, as did Beverly; her paralegal notarized the signatures and filed the papers away, handing Beverly a new folder.

"Blair, I know you were planning to file a civil suit," Beverly said. "I also know you don’t have counsel yet. Ethically I needed to wait until the plea agreement business was settled before I discussed this with you. Jerry Lydick, Jack Frain’s corporate counsel, sent me this offer of a private settlement. Jack Frain and Duane Edgewood cooked this up together. Basically, in exchange for an agreement from you not to sue, they’re willing to pay your medical and psychiatric expenses, present and projected, including your equipment and your home nurse visits; reimburse you for time off from the academy and any loss of income associated with that; and throw in four million dollars for any pain and suffering claim. The other condition is that you won’t make any public statements, written or verbal, naming their sons or them."

Blair frowned.

"But I already signed an agreement with the Rape Crisis Center to let them use my case history," he said.

"The Rape Crisis Center doesn’t use identifying information," Beverly said. "Nor are you prohibited from giving public accounts, so long as you don’t use Sean Edgewood’s or Tim Frain’s names – for example, if you gave talks or so forth."

"Four million dollars," Blair repeated, shaking his head. "Man. I can’t even comprehend that much money."

Beverly smiled.

"Blair, that’s not a huge settlement for this kind of injury, and it’s nothing to Frain and Edgewood," she said. "To them, this is paying an embarrassing parking ticket. They want the whole mess out of their hair. They also know that if you sue their sons, their sons will simply declare bankruptcy from prison and you’ll get nothing. You have to give Jack Frain a certain amount of credit, since he forced Tim to turn himself in immediately. Again, a civil suit will only drag the whole thing through the courts and the papers and make the civil attorneys rich. It’ll probably hurt you as much as Frain and Edgewood, but they don’t care about that. They want to sign a check and make it go away." She glanced at Blair sympathetically. "Do you want to run it by a civil attorney, get a couple of opinions?"

Blair drew a deep breath; Jim was overjoyed when, thank God, Blair didn’t even look at him.

"No," he said. "I’ll take the settlement. But with one change. They pay four million to me, pay the first year’s taxes on it, and donate two million in my name to the Rape Crisis Center."

Beverly grinned and pulled out her cell phone, dialing a number. After a short conversation she terminated the call.

"You’ve got a deal," she said. "I’ll write in the changes and you initial them. No, not now, Blair. I need you to wait a couple of days, until after I file the plea agreement with the court. Then you take the agreement in to Jerry Lydick’s office and sign it there, and they hand you a check."

Blair seemed relieved, when Beverly left, that the whole ordeal was basically over. Somewhere between lunch and dinner, however, he grew more quiet and looked distinctly worried.

"What’s the matter, Chief?" Jim said softly. "Having second thoughts?" He was. Plenty of them. Blair was young, attractive, educated, and now flush financially. He had every reason in the world for not wanting to let a man touch him ever again. What use in the world did he have for an aging, underpaid, bad-tempered cop?

"I don’t know," Blair said miserably. "Something doesn’t seem right about the whole deal."

Jim forced a grin.

"So, now that you’re a multimillionaire, or at least you will be, what are you going to do? Fund your own expedition to Borneo?"

Blair glanced up, his eyes wide.

"Oh, God, Jim, is that what you think? You think I’d ever want to leave you?"

"Hey." Jim shrugged, looking away. "I mean, you could do a lot better than this loft now – "

"Oh, man, you are, like, so off base here," Blair said fervently. Then he chuckled. "But, hey, at least I can pay you back all that rent I owe you."

Jim felt a flash of outrage – first, that Blair was even thinking about that damned rent, and second – "Jesus, Blair, you think I want any part of that hush money?"

Blair rocked back as if Jim had struck him, and Jim cursed himself for his own clumsy stupidity, but too late; Blair collapsed, simply collapsed, burying his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking.

"I knew I shouldn’t have taken it," he moaned. "I knew it, it’s a fucking payoff, I sold out, I knew it – "

"Oh, God, Chief, no," Jim said helplessly, hurrying over to take Blair into his arms. "No, Chief, it’s not like that. God, don’t listen to me, I’m such an asshole. Please, Blair. Come on, Chief." To his horror, Blair flinched away from him for the first time ever, pulled away hard, got up and stumbled back to his old room, slamming the door behind him and locking it.

Jim stood at the door trying to reason with Blair. When reasoning failed, he pleaded. When pleading failed he started to get angry and seriously considered just breaking the door down. It was the note of fear in Blair’s voice as his Guide once more told Jim to just leave him alone that convinced Jim that that would be a supremely bad idea. Blair, above all else, did not need to feel forced, especially by Jim. Stymied, Jim invoked the final option.

He called Gerard.

Half an hour later Gerard stood outside the door and spoke one sentence:

"Blair, if Jim is causing you this much pain, I’m going to ask him to leave."

The door was open in under a second.

Ten minutes later Jim and Blair were installed on opposite ends of the couch, Gerard in a chair facing them.

"Okay, we’re going to establish a ground rule first," Gerard said firmly. "One person talks at a time. Jim, you go first. I want to give Blair a little time to settle down, okay?"

Jim flatly told the sequence of events, flushing miserably at his idiotic "hush money" comment.

"I didn’t mean it," he said sheepishly. "I was just afraid, afraid that now that Blair’s recovering, and suddenly he’s going to be rich, too, that – I guess that he wouldn’t need me anymore."

"Do you really think that?" Gerard asked. "I mean, do you believe that Blair’s feelings for you would be any less if he weren’t financially dependent on you, physically helpless or emotionally prostrate?"

"I know, it sounds ridiculous," Jim sighed.

"Jim, I don’t care how it sounds," Gerard persisted. "What I care about is how you feel. Do you honestly believe that Blair’s love for you is based on dependence?"

"No," Jim said miserably. "But I guess in a way I feel like – I don’t know, it made me . . . safer. It felt good to feel needed. I mean, from the first day I met Blair, he’s needed me for something – as his thesis subject, and later for a home. He doesn’t need a thesis subject anymore, and hell, he’s got a job now that pays a living wage, now he’s rich too – what does he need me for?"

Blair started to speak, but Gerard held up a hand, shaking his head.

"Not yet, Blair. Jim, you said that you knew Blair loved you before he was hurt. Did you doubt that he really did love you?"

Jim sighed again.

"No. Sex Blair might take lightly. Love, no."

"And that love was enough to keep him with you even when he thought he had no hope at all of you returning his feelings, right?" Gerard said.

Jim felt a few steps lower than a snake’s belly.

"Yes," he said miserably.

"I know it makes you feel good to be needed, relied on," Gerard said. "What makes you believe you aren’t needed, even if Blair is perfectly healthy and financially comfortable? Let me put it another way – You’re physically and mentally in pretty good shape and doing okay financially. Do you need Blair?"

"Of course!" Jim said hotly. "God, when he got hurt I thought I’d – "

He swallowed.

"Okay," he said, more quietly. "I get your point. It was all about my insecurity – feeling like I don’t have anything to offer Blair if he’s not dependent on me in some way."

"Think about that for a minute," Gerard said encouragingly. "Blair, what did you want to say?"

"God, Jim, I don’t know how you could ever think I don’t need you," Blair said, softly but intensely. "You’re the only person in the world I’ve ever dared to need. Nobody’s ever been there for me like you, not even my mother. You’re my life, man. Two years ago I OD’d on Golden and you pulled me back from insanity. A year ago I drowned and you pulled me back from death. A month ago I was raped and you pulled me back from hell. How much more than that could I need you? And as for healing – you are my healing. I’ll never be healed without you there beside me. I could never be whole without you. What the hell does money have to do with any of that?"

Jim felt a suspicious stinging in his eyes; he ground his teeth and swallowed hard, fighting down tears.

"So are you both okay with that, then?" Gerard asked quietly. Blair nodded; after a long moment, so did Jim.

"Okay, then. Let’s talk about the money thing," Gerard continued. "Blair, what got you so spooked?"

"I don’t know," Blair sighed. "It just feels wrong, somehow. Like making a deal with the devil. It seems wrong that I should profit by being raped."

"Okay, let’s break it down." Gerard picked up Blair’s photocopy of the criminal plea bargain. "Didn’t you say that Frain would actually end up serving more time under this agreement?"

Blair nodded.

"And the others? They’re not getting out of anything, are they?"

Blair shook his head.

"Then I guess it depends on what you were hoping to achieve," Gerard said. "Let’s be honest, Blair. Are you wanting the men who assaulted you punished, or are you looking for some sort of public trial by fire?"

Blair flushed and dropped his eyes.

"Some part of you believes that you’re guilty too," Gerard said softly. "So unless you have a jury to tell you that they’re guilty and you’re not, then somebody got off way too easy. Namely you."

Blair gave a short, quiet sob. Immediately Jim pulled Blair close and held him.

"Chief, it’s not – " Then Jim saw Gerard’s gesture and shut up.

"You’re looking for punishment and atonement," Gerard pressed. "Why do you feel like you need to be punished, Blair? Because you were late for your meeting with Jim? Because you decided to take that shortcut between the buildings? Because you didn’t fight hard enough? Or just because you lived?"

"I didn’t want it," Blair sobbed against Jim’s chest. "They hurt me so much, and I fought as hard as I could, I did, I did, I always wanted Jim to be the one, to be the first, and I fought so hard – "

"Oh, baby," Jim choked. For a moment he buried his face in Blair’s hair; then he raised his head, gently turning Blair’s chin up so their eyes met.

"Baby, if and when you ever want to do that, I will be your first," he said with all his heart. "The first man you’ve invited into your heart and your bed, the first man to make love to you. Those men who had nothing on their mind but hurting you aren’t your first any more than a doctor with his rubber glove or your mother when she wiped your butt as a baby. It’s not about touching or penetration or even sex, baby. It’s about making love together."

Blair buried his face in Jim’s shoulder again, but his sniffles were drying up, and slowly he calmed. Gerard said nothing, just let them comfort each other.

"About the money," Jim said softly. "If you don’t want it, then, hell, give it to the Rape Crisis Center or something. But I swear, Blair, no matter how I put my foot in my mouth, I don’t see anything wrong with you taking it."

Blair sniffed.

"It just feels, I don’t know, funny," he said, wiping his eyes. "I mean, I didn’t earn it."

"You deserve it."

"For what?" Blair said, shaking his head. "For being raped and beaten? I mean, where’s the justice in that? Those boys’ fathers didn’t do anything to me unless I want to blame them for their sons’ behavior. So how do I deserve four million dollars of their fathers’ money?"

Jim glanced at Gerard for help, but the psychiatrist only smiled and nodded encouragingly. Jim thought about it for a long moment.

"Well . . . I don’t know about having earned it," Jim said slowly. "But look at it this way. If you went through the criminal trial and the civil suit, as you said yourself, even if all you asked for was reimbursement of your bills, a lot more would happen than those boys being sent to prison. Your whole ordeal gets splashed all over the papers. So do those boys’ fathers’ names. In the civil suit, those same fathers would be spending their money on defense attorneys for their sons, but paying that money out wouldn’t save their reputations, or your peace of mind. It wouldn’t be doing anything but making a couple of lawyers richer. Okay, the boys will go to jail, which is just as it should be. So what’s the point now in ruining their fathers’ lives or making your own more miserable? Where’s the justice in that?"

Blair was silent for a long moment.

"Then I should just drop the suit," he said softly. "Not take the money."

"Chief, you’re getting all hung up on the money," Jim said gently. "You’re entitled to reimbursement for your damages, your medical and psychiatric expenses, the time you’ve lost from work and will continue to lose until you’re ready to go back, things like that."

"That’s different," Blair mumbled. "That doesn’t have anything to do with the four million."

"To those boys’ fathers it’s no different," Jim said. "Look – remember Brad Ventriss’ father?"

Blair shivered.

"At least these men are taking responsibility for their children’s action. Frain made his son turn himself in. They know they can’t make up for the pain and humiliation and fear their sons caused you, but money they can give. It’s all they know, Chief. It doesn’t make up for what happened to you, but it’s all they can do. Is it so bad to let them buy a little conscience balm? Is it wrong for you to let their fathers make life a little easier for you for a while? I sure don’t think so. If you ask me, I say take the money. Take a vacation, buy yourself a new computer, have a little fun, and put back a nice nest egg for your future. Yes, I do believe you deserve those things. And I personally hope those men are going to take every penny out of their sons’ hides."

Blair sniffled again.

"Well . . . there’s that."

"And as far as doing something constructive, I think we should join Gerard’s support group," Jim said softly. "Maybe we can pass a little good on to someone else. Give some talks, maybe do some one-on-one, volunteer at the crisis center. Those are constructive things we can do with all that emotion." Hell, if his senses didn’t start shaping up, he might end up working at the crisis center.

Blair wiped his nose and glanced up at Jim with wet red eyes.

"You’d do those things with me?"

"Just try and stop me," Jim said simply.

"Oh, man," Blair breathed, his lips trembling. "You are just too good to be true, Jim Ellison."

Gerard shook his head, smiling.

"I’m inclined to agree," he said. "So – crisis averted?"

"Crisis averted," Blair said abashedly. "Thanks for coming out, Gerard."

"No problem," Gerard said warmly. "That’s my job. And my pleasure. I’m sure I don’t have to tell a cop what a reward it is to actually see some of the good results of my work."

When Gerard was gone, Jim brewed Blair a pot of chamomile tea and carried it back to the couch, together with a damp washcloth. He poured Blair a cup of tea, sweetened with honey the way Blair liked it, then gently bathed Blair’s face, his swollen red eyes, his salty cheeks.

"It’s time for bed, Chief," he said softly. "And I think you need one of those sleeping pills Gerard left for you. What do you think?"

"I want to argue," Blair said ruefully, shuddering as he sipped his tea. "But it sounds pretty damned good." He glanced nakedly up at Jim. "Will you stay with me? Please?"

"Forever, baby," Jim whispered, taking Blair into his arms.

He helped Blair upstairs, gave him his medication, helped him undress, tucked him into bed. Jim undressed and slid in beside his Guide, pulling Blair close.

"Sleep now, love," Jim whispered.

They both slept.