Blair leaned Jim against the sink and then started the shower, setting it to a lukewarm temperature. He didn’t know how the water would feel against Jim’s tortured body. He helped Jim undress, careful to keep his hands gentle and neutral, tossing each item of clothing onto the floor. He said softly, “Shower first to wash you, then you can soak in some Epsom salts to help your bruises. Can I leave you to make some soup?”

Jim’s hands grabbed at Blair, his eyes widening with fear.

Okay, it’s all right, I’ll stay here. Let me just have Simon make some for you,” Blair soothed.

Jim slowly released him.

Blair cracked the door and called out, “Hey, Simon? Can you make some broth? We’re going to be in here for a while, but, maybe in a half-hour?”

Simon stepped closer to the bathroom and said, “You got it, Blair.”

Blair closed the door and then pulled off his shirt and stepped out of his pants, but left on his boxers. According to Farrington’s notes, Jim hadn’t been raped, but he still wasn’t sure what the sight of him naked might do. He found Jim staring at him in something like amazement and a shaky hand reached out to pet Blair’s chest. Blair smiled and said, “Yeah, I’m pretty hairy. You used to like that.”

Jim gave him a tentative smile that sent a sliver of happiness through Blair.

Come on. Let’s get under the water. I want to clean you off,” Blair said, cupping Jim’s elbow.

Jim hesitantly stepped into the tub and hissed, pain clouding his face when the stream hit his body. Blair swiftly stepped in front of him, taking the brunt of the water. He adjusted the nozzle to a lighter spray and said, “Sorry, should’ve done that first. Here, that should be better.”

Blair stepped back so the water went mostly over him to spray over Jim, who just stood there for a long moment, eyes closed. Blair let him soak in the warmth and then picked up the soft, organic wash cloth and dampened it. He lathered the soap in it and asked, “Can I wash you?”

Jim’s eyes opened and he nodded, but watched Blair warily.

Blair started with his hands, gently washing the cloth over the knuckles and fingers before slipping up to the palm and wrist. He continued up the forearm and over the elbow and then stepped a little closer to reach the biceps and shoulder before doing the same with the other hand and arm.

He took his time, both to reassure Jim and give himself a chance to really assess the damage. Most of the beatings had left Jim with bruises of varying ages, but were superficial, if painful. The thing that worried Blair the most by the end of it was his obvious starvation and an infected slice across his back.

Blair finally stepped out of the tub, grabbing one of the towels and briefly drying himself. He turned off the shower and plugged the tub, turning the heat up a little more. Looking up at Jim, he asked, “Can you sit down for me?”

Jim nodded and slowly moved into a crouch before sitting. They’d just expanded the bathroom the month before the kidnapping, so Jim could stretch out fully and lie down without any problem. Blair added a liberal dosing of Epsom salts and then sat on the edge of the tub.

Feel better?”

Jim again nodded, but his eyes remained open despite his clear exhaustion. His hair was plastered too his head now, no longer as filthy, but too long around his ears. Blair’s fingers itched to wash it and then cut it off, just so Jim looked more like himself, but stayed where he was.

Do you know why you were taken?”

Jim’s gaze locked onto him and he said, “No, Blair.”

The ‘Blair’ sounded like a replacement for ‘sir,’ which bothered him but he let it pass unmentioned. “The man who took you was completely off the grid. According to the government, he didn’t exist. Jake Farrington. He was a… collector, of sorts. Procurer, is probably more accurate. He was hired to take you and study you and hand the information over to a kind of… cousin to the CIA. An organization that doesn’t exist anymore. Instead of turning you over, though, he kept you.”

What did you do?”

It was the first real question and Blair smiled at it, even as memories of blowing up the group’s base flickered at the back of his mind. It had been a small group, ten in all, and in no real way affiliated with the government, despite all the ‘agents’ intelligence background. They’d been in it for profit and power, just starting out, and had stumbled across Jim thanks to that damned leak of Blair’s dissertation.

Blair said simply, “I wiped them out.”

You killed them all?”

Blair nodded. “I’d do more than that to protect you.”

How many?”

Including Farrington and his men? Seventeen. Eight in the blast that destroyed the group’s base. Three more on the run from me. The last six where I found you, including Farrington. I destroyed his research before going to get you.”

Jim let out a slow, deep breath and sank a little more into the water. Blair startled a bit on seeing how high it was and reached over to turn off the faucet.

So no one’s looking for me now.”

No.”

And no one cares that all those people are dead?”

No one. These were very bad guys.”

Which was how Blair had justified wholesale slaughter to his conscience, but the truth was, he might have killed anyone to get Jim back. He just didn’t know.

Jim reached out and took Blair’s hand, lacing their fingers together and closing his eyes in an astonishing act of trust. “Thank you.”

Blair’s throat tightened. He kissed the back of Jim’s hand. “Anything for you.”