The loft echoed with a stunned silence as Blair tried to process what Jim had just said. Standing a couple of feet away, Jim looked every bit the immovable, yet highly uncomfortable, object. Shaking his head as though to erase the bizarre statement out of being, Blair finally found his voice. "You want to run that by me one more time?"

"Carolyn's back in town and she wants to try again," Jim repeated.

"Jim, you told me how bad it was between you two at the end. Why would you put yourself through that again?" Blair asked, trying hard to stay reasonable.

"We've both changed over the years, Chief. And you know that we've gotten to be pretty good friends, too. I'm sure things would be different this time," Jim said, moving to sit on the couch. "We didn't have that the first time around, you know?"

Every inch of Blair was screaming that this was wrong, a really, really bad idea, and not because he wanted Jim for himself. His best friend's body language stated quite clearly, 'I don't want this, but feel obligated to try.'

Taking a calming breath, Blair said, "Friends is okay, Jim. You don't have to do this just because Carolyn has suddenly decided that she wants you back. It's a free country and you're free to tell her 'no'."

Looking even more uncomfortable, Jim said, "I know."

"Good. Okay then," Blair said. "So the next time she calls, give her a polite blow-off."

"Sure. I will."

But the way that Jim wouldn't meet his eyes told Blair that this wasn't over yet.

* * * *

A few days later, Blair was sitting in the living room working on his computer when the phone rang. Irritated by the interruption, he answered it with, "Yeah?"

"Now there's a nice way to answer the phone," Carolyn's cool voice observed.

Gritting his teeth, Blair asked, "What can I do for you, Carolyn?"

"I'm trying to get in touch with Jim, but he isn't answering his cell. When he gets home, tell him that I'm running late and to pick me up at eight."

Not surprised, Blair couldn't keep the disapproval from his voice. "Why are you doing this? You have to know that Jim's not the same man you divorced, let alone the same one you married. Let it go."

"Listen, professor, what Jim and I do is none of your business," Carolyn informed him, sneering over the title.

Grimacing, Blair said, "I'll give him the message, but you really should just get on with your life and leave him alone."

"Look who's talking."

Blair stared at the phone after she hung up, as though it might bite him. It had certainly translated the woman's venom clearly enough. Sighing, Blair hung up and returned to the couch. Jim got home about an hour later, looking more tired than a single day at the office should warrant. Frowning, Blair asked, "What's wrong?"

"Simon had me going over security tapes for that suspect all afternoon. My head is killing me," Jim admitted, collapsing onto the couch beside Blair.

Putting the laptop on the coffee table, Blair knelt up on the couch and ordered, "Turn."

Jim did so, and Blair started massaging the knotted muscles. "God you're tight. Everything else okay?"

"Sure. Why wouldn't it be?"

Knowing that Jim was avoiding something, and guessing what that something was, Blair stayed quiet. Eventually, Jim relaxed under his touch and leaned back against him briefly.

"Thanks, Chief."

"Anytime," Blair replied.

Jim stood and went to the kitchen, getting two beers out of the fridge and bringing them back to the living room. Blair took the bottle Jim offered with, "Thanks."

Sitting on the chair, Jim asked, "What're you doing this weekend?"

Grinning, Blair replied, "Not a damned thing. I'm going to hang out here, do laundry for the first time in forever, and cook. You going to be around to watch this marvel of domesticity?"

Echoing the grin, Jim said, "I'd love to, but I have plans."

"Oh right. Carolyn called to change her pick up time to eight," Blair reported casually.

"Yeah? Thanks," Jim said, taking a drink of his beer.

"Going somewhere special?" Blair asked.

Jim shrugged. "Not really. She likes Italian so we'll probably go to Vita's."

"Nice place," Blair commented.

"Nice enough," Jim agreed.

"What about the rest of the weekend? We could catch up tomorrow or Sunday," Blair pointed out.

"I don't know, Chief," Jim said uncomfortably. "It all depends on what Carolyn wants to do."

"What about what you want to do?" Blair questioned gently.

"You know me, Chief. I'll be fine," Jim answered. He stood and continued, "I'm going to start getting ready."

Blair nodded, raising his glass. "Have fun, Jim. And if you really want this, I wish you all the luck."

Jim nodded awkwardly then headed for the bathroom. It was an indication of how upset Jim was that he took the beer with him. Sighing, Blair downed the rest of his own drink, tempted to drown his sorrows, but something was telling him he was going to need a clear head.

* * * *

Blair woke abruptly when the sun shone on his face through the patio doors. His neck was sore and his back felt like it was broken. Groaning, he muttered, "Time for a new couch."

After rolling slowly to his feet, Blair went through a couple of yoga stretches, immediately feeling better. Glancing at the clock in the kitchen, Blair had to remind himself that Jim was an adult. That it wasn't up to him to tell the other man what he could, and couldn't, do.

It was hard, though. He and Carolyn had been oil and water pretty much from day one and their relationship had not improved with time. If it was any other woman, Blair would be subject to the familiar flare of jealousy, but there wouldn't be this consuming sense of wrongness,. the feeling that he should do something permanent to Carolyn so she couldn't hurt Jim.

Which was ridiculous, because they'd been married.

'Yeah. And they got divorced for a reason, even if you don't know what that reason is,' a snide voice inside his head commented.

'Because she's a cold-hearted bitch,' he thought clearly.

Normally, being so judgmental bothered him but in this case, it was an accurate description. He went through the motions of getting ready for the day. He ate breakfast, showered, got dressed and started sorting his laundry, a la Ellison. He didn't shave for a change, curious as to how much of a beard he could grow by Monday.

All the while he moved around, Blair kept an uneasy eye on the clock. As morning neared noon, worry reared its ugly head. Even when Jim stayed out all night, he always called so that Blair wouldn't worry. When it was almost 2pm, he gave in and called Jim's cell phone.

The voice mail picked up.

Trying to keep his voice neutral, Blair said, "I must be a bad influence on you for you to forget to call. It's almost 2pm on Saturday. Me and my laundry were having so much fun that I thought I'd call to see if you wanted to join us. Call me. Bye."

Hanging up was almost painful.

* * * *

The pier was near empty as Jim walked down it. There were a couple of men with their poles leaning over the rail, but otherwise, he was alone. That wasn't surprising since it was barely 6am on Sunday morning. He'd found that this was the best time and place to think. He could lean on the rail and feel the harsh wood beneath his palms, close his eyes and smell the salt in the air, or keep his eyes open and look out into the water to watch the fish and sea life.

Leaning against the rail at the very end of the pier, Jim did none of those things. He shut down his senses to lower the bite of the winter cold, closed his eyes and carefully didn't touch the wooden rail with his bare hands. Blair would probably be horrified at how he was using his senses, but he really didn't want to feel anything just then.

He'd been seeing Carolyn for longer than he'd let on to Blair. It was the first time since the dissertation fiasco that anything but truth had passed between them. She'd moved back to Cascade six months ago, offered a promotion at the PD that had been too good to turn down. One night a couple of months after her return, they'd had dinner…for old times' sake.

One thing had led to another and he'd wound up in her bed. It had been incredible because this time around, he'd had his senses under control. She'd felt the difference, too, commented on it while he held her in his arms. He'd passed it off as being more open in general and she'd seemed to believe him.

He still wasn't sure why he hadn't told Blair about it when it had first happened. Probably because he had known that Blair wouldn't approve. Although, the other man had reacted a lot better than Jim had expected. His words had been both reassuring and comforting. And maybe a bit of a reality check, too. Blair was right, it wasn't as though he had to see Carolyn.

Sighing, Jim knew he was going to have to tell Blair everything before it went on too much longer. As it was, he'd already broken one of the most important rules about keeping in touch. He'd called Blair's cell phone last night, knowing that it wouldn't be on. He'd wanted to call earlier, but Carolyn had been keeping a sharp eye on him. Even though they'd only been back together a few months, it felt as though he'd never left, and that wasn't a good thing.

His back twinged, reminding him of the reason he didn't really want to be found by anyone, and the other reason he didn't want his senses active at the moment. She'd gotten in a few good hits before Jim had been able to turn his back to the wall. It was so hard for him to admit the problem, almost harder than it had been the first time around. Not that he'd ever admitted it to anyone else; just to himself had been bad enough.

Stupid to think that Carolyn had actually changed, but the first couple of weeks back together had been just like in the beginning. She'd been attentive, but not possessive; tender and caring, instead of controlling and manipulative. Probably what should have warned him in the first place.

Moving slowly, Jim straightened up, turning his dials back up to normal. A violent shiver ran through him as the cold finally penetrated. With shaking hands, he zipped up his jacket and headed towards the loft. Fortunately, it was a short walk from the pier and he managed it fairly quickly, even with the shudders that kept running through him.

To his surprise, Blair was sacked out on the couch when Jim stepped silently into the apartment. He took a minute to just look at his partner, relishing the warmth and peace Blair bestowed, even while asleep. The loft was warm, Blair had obviously turned up the temperature the night before, and it made the cold emptiness inside even worse. Another shiver ran through him, this time causing his teeth to chatter.

Blair's eyes opened instantly at the noise and for a long, charged moment, Guide and Sentinel stared at one another.

Unable to help himself, Jim made a small, pleading noise that barely made it past his mouth; though he didn't know what it was he was pleading for. Blair rolled off the couch to his feet, moving to Jim. He unzipped the jacket and pulled it off the bigger man roughly. Grabbing hold of Jim's undershirt, he'd left in such a rush that morning, Jim hadn't finished dressing, Blair pulled Jim to the bathroom.

Once inside, Blair turned on the shower then returned to undressing Jim. There was nothing in his manner except concern to warm Jim up. Once Jim was under the warm spray, he just stood there, unable to think past letting the soothing water wash over him. Blair would be able to tell him what to do. He should've listened to his Guide in the first place and broken it off with Carolyn that night.

To Jim's shock, Blair stepped into the shower. He was wearing only his boxer's, the rest of him bare. Jim met his eyes in confusion and a faint smile showed on his Guide's face. Jim relaxed at that and closed his eyes in contentment when Blair began to firmly rub his hands over Jim's chest. Slowly, almost more slowly than Jim could bear, he felt the cold leave him. It was washed away with every movement of Blair's hands on his body. Though the shower was intimate, it was devoid of anything remotely sexual. Jim just stood there, moving however and wherever Blair sent him.

When Blair's fingers lathered shampoo into his hair and scratched over his scalp, the last of the tension and confusion left. Everything was clear as Blair used one hand to shield his eyes from the soap and another to rinse his hair. The only question that remained was why he'd thought that he could have even a sliver of this kind of care with Carolyn.

Gentle fingers trailed lightly over his cheek, bringing Jim's eyes open. He looked into Blair's deeper blue eyes and whispered, "Thank you."

Another half-smile crossed Blair's face. "You're welcome. Let's get you dried off. I don't want you catching pneumonia."

Jim nodded and stepped out of the shower after Blair. His partner pulled out a large towel and moved it in soft circles over Jim. When he was finished, Blair briefly ran the towel over himself then put it in the hamper before ordering, "Stay put. I'm going to get you something to wear."

Jim nodded again and leaned against the sink.

* * * *

Bitch!

That single word ran through Blair's mind as he closed the door behind him. The bruises on Jim's back and side were vivid enough to show exactly what had happened, and it had nothing to do with lovemaking, or even sex. There were a few older bruises along the top of Jim's shoulders, which told him this had been going on for a lot longer than just a week.

Forcing the emotions down, Blair pulled out Jim's comfy sweats and softest sweatshirt. He grabbed the robe and fleece socks for good measure, knowing that once out of the steamy bathroom, Jim would probably go into emotional shock. If he wasn't already there, which Blair suspected he was. It would explain Jim's complete lack of speaking, as well as his staying out of contact. Something really bad must have happened, or chances were that the cop would still be at Carolyn's place.

Never again, he vowed. She was going to get to Jim over Blair's cold, dead body.

Reaching the bathroom, he assumed his Guide-neutral face and stepped inside again. Jim was staring at himself in the mirror as though unable to recognize himself. Wordlessly, Blair held out the clothes and Jim turned around to take them. It only took a couple of minutes for him to get dressed and he followed Blair out to the living room, still silent.

"I'm going to put on some tea," Blair murmured, going to the kitchen.

Jim sat in the corner of the couch, drawing his legs up under him in a strangely child-like fashion. Not that it was child-like in and of itself, Blair did it all the time, but on Jim it reminded Blair of a child looking for comfort.

Blair didn't hesitate. He turned back around and went into the living room and sat right beside Jim, pulling the bigger man into his arms. Jim's face turned into the crook of his throat as his long arms wound around Blair's waist. Stroking up and down Jim's spine with one hand, Blair gently settled the other on Jim's head. He wasn't surprised when Jim fell asleep, even in the somewhat uncomfortable position. It was probably the first time in weeks that Jim had felt safe and relaxed enough to get some real sleep.

Cursing himself silently for not seeing the signs sooner, Blair sighed slowly and deeply. Really, there was no way for him to have known. Jim was exceptionally good at hiding his feelings and had probably used Blair's distraction with the upcoming conference to mask how bad things were. He'd claimed a lot of stakeouts as the reason for his exhaustion and, knowing there were a few open and important cases going on, Blair hadn't questioned it.

That sure as hell wasn't going to happen again.

Blair didn't move for the next hour and a half. He wouldn't have moved even then, except the phone rang. He knew who it was just because of the time of day. None of their friends would be so inconsiderate as to call this early on a Sunday morning. The phone woke Jim, but he didn't move except to tighten his arms around Blair's waist. Blair pressed a kiss to the top of Jim's forehead and promised, "It's going to be okay. I'll handle her."

Reluctantly, Jim let go and Blair stood up, moving to the phone. He picked it up just before the machine and said, "Sandburg-Ellison residence, how may I help you?"

"Very funny, Sandburg. Put Jim on the phone," Carolyn ordered crisply.

"No," Blair answered.

"What?" she demanded.

"You heard me. No. You aren't going to have anything further to do with him or I'm going to see you up on charges for assault," Blair stated flatly.

She laughed. "Right. And who's going to believe that I could beat up Jim Ellison, super-cop?"

Voice growing cold, Blair said, "The same people who know that Jim wouldn't lift a finger to stop a woman from hitting him, especially his ex-wife. The same people who know how much Jim believes in never striking a woman, no matter what she's doing to him. And that pretty much covers everyone in the entire station, if not a jury. Do you really want to work in a place where you'd be known as an abuser? You can kiss your career goodbye."

There was silence for a long minute before she snarled, "You can't do that."

"I can and I will. You even look at Jim funny, and you'll be up on charges so fast your head will swim," Blair said. "If I find out that you've been alone with him for any reason, the same goes."

"We work together, Sandburg, you can't stop us from bumping into each other," she pointed out, furious.

"True. But there's no reason for you to be alone together. If you have to interact with him at work, it is always to be in someone else's presence. Is that understood?" Blair questioned, icy-polite.

"Yes."

"Good." And here Blair let his own fury come out. "Because if you hurt him again, I will kill you."

She hung up.

Blair hung up as well and turned back to Jim. He hadn't bothered to keep his voice down, knowing that Jim would hear him no matter how quiet he was. The wondering expression on his partner's face suddenly reminded him that Jim might not have wanted to handle things quite like that. Hesitantly, he said, "I'm, ah, sorry Jim. I should've asked how you wanted to handle that. I was just so, so angry at her for hurting you!"

The tiniest smile showed on Jim's face as he said, "You handled it perfectly Chief. Thanks."

Smiling in relief, Blair said, "Good. Look, why don't you get some real sleep, and when you wake up, we'll talk. Okay?"

Jim nodded and heaved himself up, off the couch, then went upstairs. Blair watched him go, listening as his partner got into bed and rustled under the blankets. He sighed in relief, glad that Jim would be getting some real rest for a change. There was no telling how long the cop had been running on fumes.

Thinking that the best course was to just go about his normal routine, Blair moved into the kitchen and started making his algae shake. It wasn't what he usually had on Sunday, but it would tie him over until Jim woke up, and they could grab a real breakfast. Grinning suddenly at the thought of what now consisted of a 'real' Sunday breakfast, he shook his head and moved into the living room to wait.

* * * *

The loft was quiet when Jim woke and for a moment, he panicked thinking that Blair had left him. Then he heard the quiet tapping of fingers over the laptop keys, and the faint music coming from headphones, and relaxed. Of course Blair wouldn't leave him, Blair loved him. More importantly, Blair was in love with him. And for the first time in his life, Jim truly believed that love didn't really come with a heavy hand or hard words. Over the years he'd grown immune to the physical blows, his size was good for one thing at least. But the words always hurt. He wasn't stupid, Jim knew that, but when faced with Carolyn's anger, it was hard to remember that.

"C'mon big guy, time to rise and shine before the day's gone," Blair's voice came from downstairs.

Jim smiled, knowing that Blair had somehow sensed he was awake before calling up. He got out of bed and pulled on his robe again. He padded downstairs and sat at the kitchen table while Blair started pulling things out of the fridge to make breakfast. Well, brunch anyhow, he amended, looking at the clock. It was after eleven in the morning. "Guess I was tired."

Blair smiled. "Guess you were. I didn't want to leave to get muffins like usual, so toast will have to do."

"Toast is good," Jim said.

Blair continued to cook while Jim started reading the paper. It wasn't long before they were both sitting at the table, eating eggs, bacon, toast and home fries. Jim put the paper away as Blair brought the plates to the table. His appetite suddenly returned and Jim found himself putting away the food like there no tomorrow. He was half done when he realized how rude he was being and stopped eating abruptly.

"Go on, Jim. I can make more," Blair encouraged.

Jim hesitated, then started eating again at Blair's nod. He smiled and tucked into his food again. He was done all too quickly and saw that Blair wasn't even half-way finished. "Sorry."

"Hey, I already had a shake to take the edge off, or I'd be just as hungry," Blair assured him.

"Surprised you're not more hungry, drinking your grass," Jim teased.

Blair grinned and said, "Well it does tend to digest quickly. Stay put while I make some more."

"No, no. Finish you're food, I'll wait while you eat," Jim said.

Arching an eyebrow, Blair asked, "You sure?"

"Yeah."

"Okay."

Blair had his fork halfway to his mouth when Jim said suddenly, "I would hit a woman, you know."

Blair's hand stopped mid-air. "Oh?"

Jim nodded slowly, motioning for him to continue eating. "I've fought women before, on the job. I just can't...it's Carolyn. I was her husband, and husbands aren't supposed to hurt their wives, no matter what. It doesn't matter that we're divorced, because I just, I can't stop her."

"Blessed Protector strikes again," Blair observed sympathetically.

Sighing, Jim agreed, "And then some. It's um, this isn't...she's not the first one to hurt me like that."

Blair put his fork down and guessed quietly, "Your Dad."

"To start. Then I went out with this woman in college. Her name was Sara, and she started hitting me. I was too shocked at first to do anything about it," Jim admitted with a sigh. He leaned back in the chair and said, "I left her after she broke my jaw with a telephone receiver. And then I was too involved with the army and rangers to even think about getting involved with another woman. When I got back from Peru I met Carolyn, and you know how fast we got hitched. When she started in on me, I passed off the bruises and injuries as getting into fights. Damn sight better to be thought a belligerent asshole than a man who won't defend himself from his own wife."

Blair reached across the table to cover Jim's arm with his hand. "It's part of who you are, both nature and nurture in your case. You couldn't hurt someone that you vowed to cherish and care for, even if that meant being hurt in exchange. And your father probably beat it into you at an early age that love and getting hit were one and the same. They're the ones in the wrong here, Jim, you have nothing to be ashamed of."

"Except for getting back into that situation again," Jim said bitterly. The acceptance in Blair's words was almost too much to handle. He fought the impulse to get up and start shouting, just so he could do something, anything, to get Blair to react the way that he was used to people acting.

Blair's grip tightened briefly and he said, "I will never do that Jim. It doesn't matter how much you provoke me. Love isn't something that's accompanied by a fist. I mean, think about it. If I didn't haul off and belt you one over what you said about the dissertation, what on earth could possibly make me? Nothing. Because I love you and will always forgive you, no matter what you think you've done."

Jim crushed down the tears that threatened, overwhelmed by the declaration.

"Jim, look at me."

Jim looked up from the table and saw only love and compassion in his partner's eyes.

"I love you. That means you can rant, and rave, and throw things, even me, at the wall, and I'm not going to hit back. It might get a little loud, because you know I'm not shy about speaking my mind, but never doubt that I love you," Blair said firmly.

Clearing his throat, Jim asked, "How'd I get so lucky in you?"

Smiling, Blair answered, "I have no idea. But if you play your cards right, you'll get lucky in every sense of the word."

Even though he flushed at the double entendre, Jim couldn't help but grin at the wicked smile on Blair's face. "Uh yeah, speaking of which...you know I haven't, um..."

"Done this before?" Blair supplied.

"Right."

"I figured as much," Blair said. "Does it bother you that I have?"

Shaking his head, Jim pointed out, "At least one of us will know what he's doing. But, ah, do you mind if, I mean, can we go slow? All of this is new to me."

Blair nodded and stood, walking around the table. His fingers traced across Jim's cheek and he asked, "Can I kiss you?"

Mouth suddenly dry, Jim lifted his head in mute consent. Blair leaned down and carefully touched their lips together. Jim's tongue flickered out automatically to imprint this last, intoxicating sense into himself. The one thing he'd been denied all these years: the taste of his Guide. Both mouths opened, each tongue seeking the taste and feel of the other.

When Blair drew back, Jim whimpered in protest, his mouth reaching after Blair's in need. His eyes opened, and he shivered at the blatant need in his part...his lover's face. "Blair?"

Shaking himself almost visibly out of whatever thought had held him, Blair met his eyes and said, "I ah, I just needed to stop or this would go a lot faster than you're ready for."

Heat rushed through him as Jim nodded silently.

Blair cupped his face and said, "We go at your pace, Jim. I can wait."

* * * *

"Oh God, I can't, wait," Blair gasped, pressing his forehead into Jim's shoulder as he tried to control his body. Two weeks later and they'd progressed to serious groping on the couch. All he needed was a little push, just a little push of his straining cock against Jim's, and he'd be finished. This was killing him! His jeans felt like a second skin and were cutting painfully into his cock.

"Th-that's what we get," Jim gasped, his hands sliding restlessly over Blair's back.

"For?" Blair asked, his breathing finally slowing down.

"Teasing," Jim answered, chuckling weakly.

"I hope you don't mind me jerking off later, because this is killing me," Blair said with a wicked grin.

Jim groaned as though imagining it, and Blair laughed out loud. The last couple of weeks had been wonderful for him. He found himself on the receiving end of a lot more touches from Jim, even at work, and lived for each and every one. And if Jim was acting a little like a scared virgin, well, he had cause, given his last couple of relationships. He'd meant what he'd said that Sunday. Blair would wait forever if necessary. Of course, that didn't mean he wouldn't take every opportunity to nudge Jim a little further along.

Wrapping his arms around Jim's shoulders, he leaned in for a sweet, deep kiss, thrilling when Jim became a little more aggressive than usual. He found himself flat on his back on the couch, with Jim between his legs as the other man nibbled his way down Blair's throat. Groaning in desire, Blair deliberately left himself open, his legs out to either side, giving Jim permission to do whatever he wanted.

Arching against the hot mouth that latched onto his nipple, Blair's head rolled to the side as he lost control of most of his motor functions. He murmured a protest when Jim stopped and pulled away abruptly. It wasn't until Jim got off the couch altogether that he realized something was wrong. Fuzzily, he asked, "Jim? What's wrong, man?"

"Get dressed! Quick! Simon's here, and he isn't alone," Jim ordered, moving towards the door.

That cut through the haze really damn fast. He got to his feet and rushed to his room to grab shirt, socks and sneakers. He wrapped his hair in a leather tie and by the time he got back into the living room, he didn't look as though he'd just spent Saturday afternoon tooling around with his partner on the couch.

To his surprise, Simon was accompanied by two homicide detectives, Smith and Locke. Jim looked like he was about to explode. "Hi guys. What's going on?"

Looking uncomfortable, Harry Smith answered, "We're really sorry, Blair, but we have to ask you to come in for questioning."

Shocked, Blair asked, "For what?"

"For the disappearance of Carolyn Plummer."

* * * *

Jim alternated between fury that anyone could believe his partner capable of abduction and possible murder, and fear that it was going to get pinned on Blair no matter what. He wasn't the only one, either. Henri and Rafe were both standing nearby, talking in quiet but agitated tones. Megan had gone to get everyone coffee, and even though no one wanted to die of food poisoning, it was better than the Aussie standing and glaring at the interrogation room they'd all been barred from.

The only ones allowed in the room were Simon and Blair's Union Representative, who'd been waiting at the station when he'd been brought in. Alicia McMann, a thirty-two year old woman with a tenacity that put a bloodhound to shame. Jim and Blair had met her the year before when Blair had first come on officially as a detective and there had been some smoke from above. She'd come down firmly on Blair's side and even urged him to sue the publishing house when he'd explained exactly what had happened with the dissertation.

Jim stared at the door as though he could make it transparent, but it didn't work. Unlike Superman, he definitely didn't have x-ray vision. And while he could hear what was going on, Blair had made him promise not to use his hearing to do so.

"What's going on in there?" Megan asked, holding a cup in front of him.

Jim took it without really noticing and answered, "I don't know. Told Blair I wouldn't listen."

"Bloody hell."

"Pretty much," Jim agreed.

* * * *

He'd never been on this side of an interrogation before and it definitely sucked. Smith and Locke were doing their best, and really, even if they hadn't been, the evidence didn't look good. When Carolyn didn't show up for work for the second day and no phone call, one of her co-workers had reported her missing. A unit had gone to the apartment and gotten the super to open the door. It looked like a fight had gone on inside and there had been a good amount of blood on the kitchen floor. They'd immediately called for back up, and Smith and Locke had been sent out to investigate.

In Carolyn's diary, there had been a few ranting passages about Blair and how he'd threatened to kill her. All four passages had been in the last two weeks. Add to that the fact that everyone knew they had never gotten along and he was the number one suspect.

"So, you did threaten to kill her," Smith said.

"Well, yeah, I did. But I would never follow through on it," Blair said firmly. "She hurt Jim and I overreacted a little."

"You two lovers, Sandburg?" Locke demanded.

"Excuse me?" Blair asked.

"You heard me. People have been wondering that for years. I bet Ms. Plummer came back, and when she and Ellison looked like they were getting back together, you flipped out and killed her!" Locke exclaimed.

Keeping his cool, Blair said, "That's not what happened. And no. Jim and I are not lovers. We are best friends and partners, but we've definitely never had sex. Look, it's no secret that Carolyn and I had no use for each other. And yeah, she pissed me off a couple of weeks ago by hurting Jim, but no, I did not kill her. I never even touched her. And as a matter of fact, I haven't even seen her in over a week, Friday before last. And that was here at work, in Major Crimes where there are four witnesses to the fact that she went off on me, but I did nothing in return."

"Cause you were biding your time," Locke countered. "You wanted to make sure the timing was right. Let things die down a little, and then pop her."

Rolling his eyes, Blair said to Smith, "Where does he come up with these things?"

"You have Mr. Sandburg's statement. I suggest that you look for something more than circumstantial evidence. If everyone who had an ax to grind with Carolyn Plummer were a suspect, this room would be booked to overflowing," Alicia said finally. "You know perfectly well that she wasn't a well-liked woman and the only reason you're after Sandburg is because she named him in her diary."

"Exactly," Locke agreed. "She didn't mention anyone else with a grudge."

"If you're going to book him, do it. Until then, you leave him alone," Alicia warned.

Looking disgusted, Locke said, "Fine. But don't go on any trips, Sandburg."

"Right. No problem," Blair agreed, standing up. He looked over at Simon, but the Captain was standing impassive in the corner, where he'd been the whole time. Blair wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

"Ms. McMann, would you give me a minute with Detective Sandburg? And make sure the others stay out until we leave," Simon said, as Smith and Locke left the room.

She looked surprised at the request, but nodded. "Sure thing, Captain. Blair, give me a call if those jerks come back."

"I will, thanks Alicia," Blair promised.

The door closed behind her and Blair leaned against the table, arms across his chest as he waited for Simon to start talking.

Simon's dark eyes just stared at him for a long moment, then he asked, "Did you do it, Sandburg?"

Blair's first reaction was shock, the second was anger. Straightening, Blair exclaimed, "No I did not fucking do it! What the hell kind of question is that?"

"An appropriate one, considering that my detective has just confirmed threatening to kill a woman who has disappeared," Simon answered calmly.

"Jesus, Simon, how could you even think it?" Blair asked more quietly, as the hurt began to run through him.

Simon walked over to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "I didn't, Blair. But I had to ask."

"You picked a lousy time to remember you're a captain, Captain," Blair muttered, not willing to forgive just yet.

Simon shrugged. "So tell me what happened? You and Carolyn were doing all right, last I knew. Then a couple of weeks ago, it became glacier city whenever you and she were in the same room. Next she reads you the riot act about some trumped up mistake in front of the entire department. Tell me what's going on, Sandburg, because I need to know."

"I can't, Simon, I'm sorry," Blair said. "Not unless Jim says it's all right. All you need to know is she hurt Jim and I gave her a piece of my mind."

Snorting, Simon commented, "Sounds like you did a little more than that."

"Yeah, well, I might have," Blair admitted sheepishly.

"All right. Let's go show your partner that I haven't killed you," Simon said with a reluctant grin.

Chuckling, Blair said, "Probably a good idea."

They left the interrogation room and Blair was pleasantly surprised to see most of the team waiting outside. "Hi guys. What're you doing here?"

"McMann called me," Megan said. "Said a show of support wouldn't go amiss. So I called these jokers, and here we are."

"Where's Joel?" Blair asked, concerned that the older man wasn't there.

"His granddaughter's baptism is today, remember?" Jim reminded him.

"Oh, right, good thing you didn't call him," Blair said.

"Now that you all see that Sandburg's in one piece, why don't you all go home. I'm going to have a chat with my detectives here," Simon ordered.

After a few minutes of Blair reassuring everyone that he was fine and things were going to work out, the other three left. Blair moved casually close to Jim's side as they walked into Simon's office across the hall. He bumped hips with his partner every so often to maintain contact, and when they got inside the office, he sat on the edge of Jim's chair.

Eyebrow raised, Simon said, "Jeeze, Sandburg, sit in the man's lap why don't you?"

"If it wouldn't offend you?" Sandburg teased.

Grimacing, Simon demanded, "You said you two weren't lovers."

"They asked you that?" Jim exclaimed angrily.

"Locke was on a fishing expedition. He was using the scorned lover routine," Blair said negligently. "Personally, I think he was just trying to find out to feed the gossip mill. And to answer your question, Simon, we aren't."

Confused, Simon indicated their positions.

"Yet," Jim said firmly.

"We're taking it slow," Blair confirmed.

Snorting, Simon said, "You take it any slower and you'll die of old age."

"Now that we're past the light banter stage, would one of you care to tell me what the hell they had on Sandburg?" Jim asked pointedly.

"Strictly circumstantial, Jim," Simon reported. "Bad working relationship, and Carolyn mentioned that bright eyes over there threatened her in her diary."

"What, exactly, happened to Carolyn?"

Biting his lip, Blair tightened his hold on Jim's shoulder before answering, "She's been abducted, and I think they're presuming her death given the blood they found in the kitchen."

Unsure what to feel, let alone what to say, Jim just sat there.

"It's okay, Jim, just feel whatever you feel. No one's judging you," Blair murmured, rubbing his partner's back.

Taking a deep breath, Jim held it, then released it. "I'm fine."

"Jim, what did Carolyn do to set Sandburg off enough to threaten her?" Simon asked quietly. "The only thing I can think of is that she put you in harm's way somehow, but you never breathed a word, not to me anyhow."

"You don't have to tell him if you don't want to, Jim," Blair said.

But Jim looked at his other best friend and knew he had to tell Simon, that he should have told the other man a long time ago. "When I first came to Major Crimes, you remember taking me aside and telling me to stop losing so many fights?"

Puzzled, Simon nodded.

"I wasn't getting into fights. Carolyn, she ah...she had a temper and liked to take it out on me. And I wouldn't defend myself against her, so that's where all the bruises came from," Jim explained.

"Oh Jim," Simon breathed. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"Come on, Simon, even today men who get hit by their wives are laughing-stocks, and you know it. How much worse would it have been ten years ago?" Jim demanded. "Anyhow. When she moved back to Cascade six months ago, she decided, for whatever reason, that she wanted me back. We've been sleeping together for a little over two months now. Or, we were, until two weeks ago at least."

"What happened two weeks ago?"

"She bruised a couple of his ribs is what happened," Blair said angrily. "You should've seen the bruises! I'm surprised he wasn't peeing blood for a couple of days after. She called after Jim got home and I told her that she wasn't to be alone with him ever again or I'd bring her up on assault charges. That's when I threatened her. I told her that people wouldn't want to work with an abuser so her career wouldn't be worth shit, and also, that if she ever hurt Jim again, I'd kill her."

Soberly, Simon questioned, "Would you?"

Blair looked down at Jim, almost at the same time his partner looked up. Rubbing his thumb gently over the back of Jim's neck, Blair answered honestly, "I don't know. I might. But I didn't, and that's the main thing. Might haves don't count."

"They would in a court, Sandburg," Simon growled. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he continued, "All right. You two go home and don't tell this to anyone else. Don't suddenly go to counseling, don't suddenly change any part of your routine. Got it?"

"Yes, sir," Jim answered, standing up.

"Good. Now get out of here," Simon ordered tiredly. "And Jim?"

"Yes, Simon?"

With a pained expression, Simon said, "Next time, don't keep something like this to yourself."

Smiling at Blair, Jim answered, "There won't be a next time."

* * * *

It was on Tuesday when things went from bad to worse. Monday was difficult only because of the gossiping tongues that Jim had to listen to, even when he was trying to tune them out. Just after lunch on Tuesday, however, Smith and Locke showed up in Major Crimes looking grimmer than the Grim Reaper. Blair immediately tensed as they approached, and Jim glanced up at his increased heartbeat. Forcing himself to remain light, Blair greeted, "Hi guys. Want another chat, do you?"

"No, Sandburg, not with you anyhow," Smith answered quietly.

Frowning, Blair asked, "Then with...oh no! No you don't! Jim had nothing to do with Carolyn's disappearance!"

Simon came out of his office at Blair's loud exclamation and asked sharply, "What's going on here?"

"Sorry Captain Banks, but we need to question Detective Ellison about the murder of Carolyn Plummer," Smith answered.

"Why?" Simon demanded. "You found her body?"

"We haven't found it yet, but the blood type found on the floor matches Ms. Plummer's and there was a butcher's knife buried in the backyard with Detective Ellison's fingerprints on it," Locke said belligerently.

Blair stepped protectively in front of Jim when Smith reached for the detective. "You're not arresting Jim for anything. No body, no crime."

"The DA's going forward with this," Smith explained. "Don't make this harder than it has to be, Sandburg."

Mutinous, Blair didn't move. Then Jim's hand landed on his shoulder and he leaned close to Blair's ear and whispered, "I'll be okay, they just want to question me. Call Dad or Steven, see if they can loan me a lawyer."

"Okay Ellison, stop whispering sweet nothings to your partner so we can get going," Locke ordered, stepping forward.

Blair turned on the detective with such anger that the taller man actually backed up a couple of steps. "You treat him with respect because he didn't do this, do you hear me?"

The words were hissed into the air like angry wasps and Locke swallowed uncomfortably. Smith stepped into the breach, raising his hands placatingly. "He's one of us, Sandburg, we'll take care of him, I promise."

Staring at Smith for a long minute, Blair nodded, but he only moved aside when Jim gently pushed him aside. As the two homicide detectives led Jim away, Blair suddenly didn't know what to do. A touch to his arm startled him out of the fog and he turned to find Megan standing beside him.

"Don't worry, Sandy, we'll figure this out," Megan promised.

"Brown, Rafe, you go with them and sit on Ellison. I don't want him getting mixed into the system by accident," Simon ordered quietly. The two young men nodded and took off after the disappearing detectives. "Connor, Taggart, find out exactly what those jokers have for evidence, and check on that presumed death thing, okay?"

"Yes, sir," Megan agreed.

Joel nodded and the two of them headed out of the department.

"C'mon, Sandburg, I'll drive you home to get whatever Jim told you to get," Simon said heavily.

"Simon, what are we going to do if..." Blair's voice trailed off, unable to even voice the horror of Jim being sent to jail.

"One thing at a time, Sandburg," Simon ordered roughly. "We get Jim a lawyer and go from there, all right?"

Thankful that Simon was there to take charge, Blair nodded. He didn't protest when Simon led him towards the elevator by the arm.

* * * *

"So why'd you do it, Ellison? Not like you had to worry about alimony or anything," Locke stated.

"I didn't do it," Jim answered quietly. He could hear H and Rafe on the outside of the interrogation room, and took comfort from their presence. They had really good friends.

"C'mon, we've got your prints on the weapon," Locke snapped.

"Because I was there for dinner," Jim repeated calmly.

"Right. Two weeks before she disappeared. Don't you think she would have washed the dishes during that time?" Smith asked reasonably.

"How would I know?" Jim countered. "I wasn't there to check."

"Here's the theory we're working on right now," Locke said, sitting across from Jim. "You didn't like the flack she was giving your partner. Matter of fact, you hated it. You went to her place to talk to her about it, maybe get her to be a little nicer at work. Things got heated. Tempers flared, maybe you banged her around a little. She fought back and you got so enraged that you lost it and killed her. Heat of passion crime. You know, juries are more lenient on things like that. Just confess and things'll go a lot easier on you."

Jim felt like laughing and a slightly hysterical sound bubbled up within him before he could completely squash it. They had everything completely backwards. Him hit Carolyn? That was so funny it was pathetic. Only they didn't know that, and they couldn't know it, because then they'd have a real motive. "We were sleeping together for the last couple of months when I decided it wasn't working, again, and broke it off. That was just before things at work got tense. After I broke it off with Carolyn, I didn't see her except at work and other people were always present."

"Why is that?" Smith asked suddenly.

"Why is what?" Jim evaded.

"Why only with other people present?" Smith clarified shrewdly. "That's an abuse situation, Ellison. I know because my mother was in that situation and our visits with dear old dad were always supervised."

How did he know that the nicer of the two partners would be the smarter one? Jim wondered tiredly. "It just worked out that way."

"Sure it did," Smith said thoughtfully.

"So give us your time line for last Wednesday again," Locke broke in.

Sighing, Jim repeated, "I was at work until seven o'clock. Got take out from China Moon and brought it home. Sandburg got there about eight thirty from a stakeout with Brown and Rafe. We ate, hung out, and I went to bed around ten. Sandburg was up later than I was, doing some paperwork."

"That's an awfully thin alibi," Locke pointed out. "Sandburg's so protective of you that he'd say anything to get you out of this."

"He doesn't lie," Jim gritted out, his temper finally stirring.

"Oh yeah, right. That whole fraudulent dissertation thing was just my imagination," Locke sneered.

A knock on the door interrupted them and it opened before anyone could speak. Everyone was surprised when Mark Lindburgh, a high-priced, power attorney walked in and stepped right up to the table. "I hope you haven't been asking my client questions without me being present gentlemen."

Jaw dropping open, Jim asked, "Do you have the right room, Mr. Lindburgh?"

"Yes, Detective. I was retained by your brother," Mark explained. "I understand that, so far, no formal charges have been brought against Detective Ellison. How nice of you to continue this highly improper questioning of my client, especially without legal counsel present."

"Just passing time until he asked to leave," Locke said with a false smile.

"Indeed," Lindburgh said. "Well. The next time you feel the urge to pass time with my client, I suggest that you reconsider. Come on, Detective, it's time to get you home where you belong."

Jim followed him out of the interrogation room and found Blair waiting with H and Rafe. Blair's eyes lit up when they met in the hall and it was all Jim could do not to wrap his arms around his partner's shoulders and pull him in tight. He settled for a smile and brushing his hand across Blair's arm. "You all right?"

Rolling his eyes, Blair said, "Yeah, Jim, I'm fine. I'm not the one who was just booked in his ex-wife's murder, remember?"

"Of course I remember. You've never been married," Jim said lightly.

"You guys need a lift?" H asked.

"We're good, H, thanks," Jim said. "The truck's still downstairs."

"Yeah," Blair agreed.

"Detective Ellison, Detective Sandburg, I'm going to head out, but I'll expect you both tomorrow morning at ten, if that's all right?" Lindburgh suggested. "We can go over things in detail then."

"Thank you, Mr. Lindburgh, very much," Blair said, shaking the attorney's hand.

"I'd say it's my pleasure, but I'm sorry this has happened to you, Detective," Lindburgh said to Jim.

"Thanks. For everything. We'll see you in the morning," Jim promised.

* * * *

Sitting on the couch, Blair snuggled as close to Jim as he could. He loved being wrapped in Jim's arms, it made him feel secure and loved, more than he ever had in his life. In this place, he could imagine that there was nothing else in their lives except each other. Sighing in deep contentment, he murmured, "I love this."

Jim kissed the top of his head. "I do to."

"So what are we going to do about the investigation?" Blair asked after a few more quiet moments.

Sighing, Jim briefly tightened his arms around Blair and rested his chin on his lover's shoulder. It felt so good inside to say that. He was starting to seriously look forward to making it a physical fact, as well as one of the heart.

"Jim?"

"Sorry, my mind was wandering," Jim apologized. "I don't see what we can do. They'll either go ahead with what they have, or wait until a body shows up, if one does. Without it, the case is pretty thin. With my reputation and standing in the community, it's doubtful they could get a jury to convict."

"I don't know how you can be so calm about this," Blair commented. "I'm about to jump out of my skin."

Chuckling, Jim said, "That's because you've had too much coffee."

"I'm being serious here, Jim," Blair said flatly.

Jim tensed a little, pulling back at Blair's irritated tone. "I know. It's just, there's nothing we can do about it until the DA makes his move."

Blair sighed and twisted out of Jim's arms to go into the kitchen. "You want something to drink while I'm up?"

His insides curling up on themselves, Jim shook his head and answered, "I'm good."

Jim watched as Blair moved around the kitchen, filling the tea kettle with water, setting it on the stove, turning on the burner, picking out which tea he wanted to drink (chamomile, Jim noted), and then leaning against the counter to wait. There was something almost ritualistic about the movements. Jim couldn't help but compare it to the times Carolyn had made him wait while she decided just how angry she was, and how to deal with him.

"Hey, um, mind if I go to bed?" Jim asked hesitantly.

Blair barely glanced over at him, obviously deep in thought, before shaking his head. "Go on up. I'll be up later. I want to meditate a while."

Jim nodded and slipped into the bathroom. It was so stupid, hiding in the bathroom like some scared child. It had always been his one room of refuge from everyone. From his father, from Sara, and from Carolyn. He hadn't expected to need a refuge from Blair, well, not so quickly anyhow. But if the other man was angry enough that he felt the need to meditate, Jim could hardly expect a night without at least a couple of bruises.

Taking a deep breath, Jim stripped and put on his robe, shoving his clothes into the hamper before leaving the small room. He moved quickly and silently upstairs so as not to disturb Blair. He slid under the covers, putting out the lamp right away, though he knew there was no way he'd be able to sleep.

It seemed like an eternity before Blair blew out the candles downstairs and turned off the music. Jim used his senses to track his movements, and then suddenly time started to fly and Blair was upstairs getting undressed and Jim wasn't ready for what was to come. He lay flat on his back, almost rigid in his posture, as he waited.

Within moments, Blair slipped under the covers and curled up against Jim. When a few minutes went by and Blair did nothing except fall asleep, Jim winced. He hated it when things carried over to the next day, but maybe Blair needed more time to figure out what he wanted to do. Shrugging to himself, but careful not to move and jostle Blair, Jim closed his eyes and forced himself to sleep.

* * * *

It wasn't until after breakfast was done that Blair noticed something was off with Jim. Granted, he wasn't at his best until after the second cup of coffee, but something nagged at him the whole time, from waking up until Jim started putting the dishes away. He leaned back in his chair, sipping at his second cup of java, with his hair as a partial shield while he looked at Jim.

The other man was stiff and unyielding in his movements as he went about his morning tasks. He also didn't touch Blair once during the whole routine when usually, there were at least five to seven chances that Jim took advantage of to touch him. It was when he saw Jim deliberately side-step him that Blair knew for sure something was wrong.

"Hey Jim."

Blair sighed and thought, 'Shit.' when his partner flinched defensively away.

"Yeah?" Jim asked, almost making it sound casual.

"Want to tell me when I became Jack the Ripper?" Blair asked lightly.

Jim played with the dish towel as he leaned against the stove. "I'm sorry. It's just...I'm not used to waiting this long."

Frowning, Blair asked, "Waiting this long for what?"

Avoiding Blair's eyes, Jim replied, "Punishment."

Astonished, Blair's jaw dropped and he couldn't, at first, find a word to connect to his tongue. "I think I missed something pretty major. What are you talking about?"

Confused now, Jim explained, "Last night. You were angry with me for being so, ah, blasé I guess, about the whole thing. So mad you had to meditate. Usually Carolyn was very quick about, um, releasing the tension."

Pained that Jim would think that of him, Blair reminded himself that it was going to take a hell of a lot more than some kisses and cuddling to get rid of the mindset. They really needed to get some professional help, but that was out until after the mess with Carolyn was cleared up. Pinching the bridge of his nose while he thought, Blair finally looked up, and his heart nearly broke at the miserable expression on Jim's face.

"Oh Jim," Blair breathed. He slowly crossed the room and took Jim's bigger hands in his. "First of all, I thought we had this conversation. I will never hit you. Ever. Period. No matter what the provocation, and no matter if you even think you deserve it. No one deserves to get hit. Don't we tell that to battered women often enough? That rule applies to you, Jim. You're a wonderful, special, incredible man, who deserves nothing but love and tenderness and kindness. If I ever forget that, you have my permission to kick me right in the keister."

Blair paused and brought the hands up to his mouth, kissing each rough knuckle in turn before continuing. "Second. I was not angry with you last night. I was angry with the situation in general, and Locke in particular, because I know he's behind the DA going after you somehow. He's still pissed about you stealing his thunder on the Ackman case last year."

Heat flushed through Jim's face and he looked away. "You must think I'm an idiot."

Blair tugged on Jim's hands and said, "I think you've got a lot of de-programming to get through and the sooner this is over with, the sooner we can get to it. I do not think you're an idiot."

"You're more than I deserve, you know that?" Jim asked with a faint smile.

Grinning outright, Blair countered, "I'm exactly what you deserve, you poor slob you."

* * * *

On the ride to the precinct, Blair's cell phone rang. He answered it, "Y'ello?"

"Sandburg, have either of you seen the paper this morning?"

"Why good morning Simon, and no, we haven't," Blair answered, flashing Jim a reassuring smile.

"Jim's on the front page, so you should just turn around and bury yourselves in the loft until the reporters go away," Simon ordered.

"Ah crap," Blair exclaimed. Glancing at Jim's grim expression, he knew that his partner had heard what Simon had said. "Looks like we're coming in anyhow, Simon."

"Figures. Couldn't make your Captain's life any easier, could you?" Simon demanded with a sigh.

"Sorry, Captain," Blair teased lightly.

"Oh shut up, Sandburg. Just watch yourselves when you try to get in the garage, because I think they've got it staked out," Simon warned.

"Will do," Blair assured him.

"You okay with this? We could go home," Jim offered.

Blair shook his head. "They were going to latch onto us again at some point in time. Really, I'm surprised it took this long."

"All right," Jim agreed easily.

Frowning, Blair took a closer look at the bigger man and tried not to scowl. "Do you want to go home?"

"Whatever you're more comfortable with," Jim replied.

Shaking his head determinedly, Blair repeated, "Do you want to go home? Forget about what I want."

Hesitantly, Jim said, "Honestly? I'd rather spare you dealing with them, and not chance them rehashing the Sentinel thing."

Blair reached over and grasped Jim's forearm. "Then turn around. We've got the appointment with Mr. Lindburgh in a few hours anyhow. We'll relax and head over there when it's time."

At Jim's relieved smile, Blair sighed internally and wished the whole mess was over and done with. Once it was, Blair was going to ask his mother for the best therapist in the state and set up an appointment.

* * * *

"They're like, three deep out there, Jim," Blair announced that night.

Jim sighed. "Wonderful. Doesn't take long, does it?"

Blair shook his head with a wry smile. "Bad news for us is good ratings for them. I'll talk to them."

"No, Blair, you can't. You know what'll happen if you do," Jim protested. "I'll talk to them. It's my mess, I should clean it up."

Blair turned from the window and crossed to where Jim stood by the couch. He wrapped his arms around Jim's waist and looked up at the other man. "With everything else I've faced in my life, rude reporters do not number among the scarier experiences. Trust me."

Jim stared into his eyes for a long moment then sighed deeply, giving in with a nod. Blair grinned and stole a quick kiss before heading purposefully to the door. He paused there and looked back, saying, "If you turn up your hearing, make sure you ground yourself with something. I don't want someone leaning on a horn to send you into a zone."

Echoing the grin, Jim replied, "Yes, mother."

"Okay. You're so in trouble for that remark when I get back," Blair warned with a wink.

Jim grabbed the sweater that Blair had so recently been wearing and fingered it as he turned up his hearing. He listened as Blair walked downstairs and went outside. Instantly, there was the sound of cameras being turned on and a barrage of questions from the reporters camped outside.

* * * *

Blair blinked under the assault of camera lighting and the flash of bulbs, holding up a hand until his eyes adjusted. He also ignored the questions thrown at him from the reporters like he would from unruly students. It took almost ten minutes but finally, everyone was quiet. "I'm going to say this once and then you all need to leave before you're arrested for trespassing. Jim Ellison categorically denies having anything to do with the disappearance of his ex-wife, Carolyn Plummer. Anyone who prints anything different will be sued for libel."

"What about you? Originally it was you who were brought in for questioning," someone called out.

"I had nothing to do with it either," Blair stated flatly. "Look. This is a bad situation for everyone involved. Don't forget that there's a woman missing. That's where you should be concentrating your efforts. Helping to find her, instead of putting Detective Ellison's reputation through the mud."

"How does this affect your relationship with Detective Ellison?" a woman asked.

Glaring at her, he replied instantly, "It doesn't."

"Why isn't Mr. Ellison here to speak for himself?" another reporter demanded.

"Mr. Ellison isn't feeling well," Blair answered. "He won't be feeling well until Carolyn Plummer is found safe and sound and his name is cleared. And that's all we have to say, so good night."

Though there were more questions shouted, Blair ignored them and went back inside, pointedly locking the door so they couldn't follow. It wasn't until he was standing in front of the loft door that he allowed the shaking to start. No one had even mentioned the diss, let alone harassed him about it. No one had questioned why he and Jim were still living together. All they'd been interested in was the current news of Jim being investigated for his ex-wife's disappearance.

The door opened unexpectedly, causing Blair to nearly jump out of his skin. Hand to his heart, he chuckled breathlessly and ordered, "Don't do that!"

Jim grimaced apologetically. "Sorry, Chief. Thought you were having a panic attack."

Blair stepped forward, putting his arm around Jim's waist. Jim closed the door behind them and steered them to the couch.

"No chance, man," Blair assured him. He snuggled closer, pulling his legs up and resting them over Jim's lap. "I was just stunned that no one mentioned the diss, or why we were living together. It was like, I don't know, like they just assumed we were lovers. Does everyone?"

Holding Blair close, Jim breathed in his scent with a smile. "You're the people expert in this relationship, you tell me."

Chuckling, Blair said, "You've got me."

Squeezing a little tighter, Jim commented, "I certainly do."

Laughing outright, Blair exclaimed, "That's so bad, man, I can't believe you said that."

Jim kissed him, effectively stopping the laughter, though there were still rumbles of amusement that echoed through Blair's body.

* * * *

Blair hopped off the couch and looked at the caller ID box, picking up the phone only when the gadget read 'Banks, Simon.'

"Yeah, Simon?"

"Sandburg, get yourself and Jim down here on the double. Someone's come in to confess to Carolyn's murder," Simon said bluntly.

Stunned, Blair stammered, "Y-yeah, sure, Simon. We'll be down right away."

Jim was already up and getting their jackets.

When they were in the truck, Blair forgoing his seatbelt to sit right beside Jim, Blair said, "I really was expecting her to pop back out of the woodwork, you know? That she was doing all this to get back at us."

Jim's hand tightened on his, but the detective didn't say anything.

The reporters had, thankfully, moved onto other pastures since Blair's preemptive press conference so their entrance into the precinct was unremarked at that late hour. Henri came over to them when they stepped off the elevator.

"Hey, guys. They're in interview room four. Simon said you could watch through the glass," Henri informed them.

"Thanks, man," Blair said.

They entered the small observer's room and looked into interview room four where Simon, Smith and Locke, Martins and a state psychologist, Dr. Falsham, were all facing someone neither of them knew. He was pale and unremarkable, save for bright blue eyes that looked suspiciously like Jim's. The man was speaking, his voice in a complete monotone, as he related the events leading up to Carolyn's murder.

"I really thought she was going to kill me this time," the man said, fingers twining and untwining together. "I should've known better than to think she'd changed. She'd already sent me to the hospital three times, broke my wrist the last time by pushing me down the stairs."

"Why'd you wait so long to come forward? Why come forward at all?" Simon questioned softly.

"I couldn't let Detective Ellison take the fall for it," the man said, suddenly animated. "He was with her for a little over two years, so I know he went through hell. I never thought you'd try to pin it on him, not in a million years. I've never broken the law, never even been fingerprinted for a job, so I figured you'd chalk it up to some random thing."

"That's premeditated," Locke said flatly.

The man shook his head."I thought all that after it happened. During...during it, all I could think was that she was going to kill me. My back is still bruised from where she punched me."

Blair instinctively moved closer to Jim, offering him wordless comfort.

"You're a pretty big guy, are you telling me that you couldn't have stopped her without killing her?" Locke demanded.

The man seemed to shrink in on himself as he whispered, "You don't understand. She was, was larger than life when she got angry. I couldn't fight back, just couldn't."

"Mr. Henderson, we're going to discuss the case but Dr. Falsham here is going to keep you company for a while," Simon said.

Henderson nodded, still curled in on himself.

Blair followed Jim out of the observation room, one hand resting lightly on the Sentinel's back as the other man's emotions were obviously all over the map. They met up with the others and heard Locke demanding that the full extent of the law be brought to bear.

"Shut the fuck up, Locke, you don't know what you're talking about," Jim snarled.

That shocked everyone enough so that silence reigned.

"You want to know the reason why I broke it off with Carolyn both times?" Jim continued furiously. "Because she beat the crap out of me. I passed it off the first time around as getting into fights. This time, thank God, Blair was here to help me leave her. You talked about an abuse situation, Smith, well there was one, only it was her on me, not the other way around. This man has been through the wringer and until you go through the same one, you can't possibly understand the humiliation and, and helplessness being in it causes."

"Detective Ellison is right," Dr. Falsham agreed unexpectedly from behind. All eyes turned to him and he shrugged. "Mr. Henderson is clearly displaying signs of battered woman syndrome, despite the difference in gender. It does happen, gentlemen, usually to men who have gone through abuse as children, though there are as many reasons as there are men who go through it.

"In any case, it's going to be my recommendation to the court that leniency be shown in this case. Given the fact that Ms. Plummer was a city employee, the embarrassment it could cause for the city should the details get out could be considerable," Falsham concluded.

"We can't just let him off with a slap on the wrist, he killed a woman," Martins exclaimed.

Falsham held up a hand and corrected sharply, "He killed his abuser. Gender in this case does not come into play. And unless you want to be considered in the press as the insensitive asshole you are in real life, I suggest that you give him a deal of some kind."

There was another awkward silence when the doctor left the area, briefcase in hand.

"Smith, Locke, you two recover the body," Simon ordered.

The two cops nodded and also left. Martins stared at the three of them for a moment longer before scowling and taking off as well.

"Jim, you should take the rest of the week off, process this or something," Simon suggested quietly. "I have to get back to work, but if you need anything, just call me."

"Thanks, Simon, you're a good friend," Jim said.

When they were alone, Blair looked up at Jim and said, "So."

Jim returned the look and echoed, "So."

"Shall we go home?" Blair asked softly.

Nodding, Jim replied, "I'd like that, a lot."

"Whatever you want, Jim, whatever you need," Blair murmured, bumping their hips together as they walked towards the elevator.

Smiling slowly, Jim put his arm over Blair's shoulder and said, "I'm starting to believe that."

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