Letter of the Law

by Jane Davitt

"And you'll let me go?" Hope and suspicion fought on the man's face. "You promise?"

"If you untie Mr. Sandburg from the chair, and leave everything you tried to steal on his desk, I'll stand here while you leave," Jim said, his gun trained at the man's head. Blair's office wasn't that small but it felt airless. There were sparks dancing in front of his eyes, had been since he'd walked in and found Blair tied up and bleeding. Amateurs scared him more than pros; they were unpredictable. And this joker had shit for brains. "You know I haven't had chance to call for backup, and I swear I won't touch the phone for, uh, five minutes after you walk through the door."

"Ten!" the man said quickly, the blade at Blair's throat wavering, a thin line of red welling up, glossy blood against shining steel.

"Ten," Jim conceded after leaving a carefully timed pause.

The man licked his lips, his head bobbing. "Fine, that's fair. Because I haven't done anything wrong, have I? Nothing's left the office, so I didn't steal -- I'm not a thief --"

"Technically, that's true," Jim said, lying easily, agreeably. He would have agreed to anything to get the knife away from the pulse beating fast in Blair's neck. It was all he wanted to listen to, that sound meaning Blair was still alive, and he was finding it hard to focus on this idiot's babble.

"And I didn't hurt anyone. I walked in and this man, he attacked me, you know. He shouted at me. I could sue."

Jim bit back a snarl and smiled instead. The shards of pottery on the floor gave him a good idea of why Blair had been yelling. "I wouldn't push my luck."

"No, no, I won't." The man fingered the mask he wore. "And you haven't seen my face, and I wore gloves, and you promised," he said, the words directed more at himself than at Jim. "It's safe to go. No one will know what I did."

"Once you untie him, I won't stop you going. I promise."

Every time he said it, it got a little harder to force past lips stiff with anger.

Blair's hands were pale, tied too tightly. It was going to hurt when the thin twine binding them came off. His head lolled forward and the barrel of Jim's gun jerked reflexively as the blade bit deeper into Blair's skin. Desperation made his voice harsh. "Untie him now, or the deal's off."

Too much pressure? Shit, had he blown it? No. The man snatched his hand away, knelt down behind Blair and used the knife to saw at the twine. Blair's chin lifted, just a little, and his eyes opened and met Jim's frantic gaze. Bruises like shadows dappled his cheek and throat and the cut on his neck was wet and red. There was a puzzled question in Blair's eyes and Jim knew why, but he didn't care what Blair thought about his negotiating technique, not if it got Blair free and out of danger.

The twine gave way and Blair's hands swung free. How Blair let his hands dangle loosely as he feigned unconsciousness, Jim didn't know. They had to be throbbing agonizingly by now.

The man edged toward the door, his gaze on Jim, who put his gun away and held up his empty hands, and then stood very still. "I promised."

The man nodded, licked his lips nervously again, and darted toward the door.

Blair moved before Jim could get to him, and grabbed an onyx paperweight off his desk, fumbling for it clumsily, two handed. He flung it with a yell of pure fury, the sound bringing the man's head around in a startled jerk. The oncoming chunk of stone connected squarely with his temple. Jim, who'd automatically tracked the missile's trajectory and seen that it was going to miss, blinked in astonishment.

The man dropped in a strings-cut crumple, the mask he wore slipping to the side. Mid-thirties, white, acne scars, Jim noted, adding the details to the others he'd collected as he'd stood and bargained with a frightened man, his own fear an acrid stink tainting every breath.

"He promised, asshole," Blair said, his voice filled with scorn and a little pity. "I didn't." He stood, flexed his fingers, and winced. Without looking at Jim, he said, "Give me your cuffs, Jim. I'm making a citizen's arrest."

"I'll do it," Jim said.

"No. You promised, remember." Blair bit his lip and then said, "Jim, did you ever intend to keep your word?"

Jim started to get out his cuffs and then paused and stared at the gun, back in his hand, though he didn't remember pulling it. "I guess not," he said slowly.

"You promised it wouldn't change anything. That you could still do your job and work with me even if we were --"

"I know."

Bruises on Blair's throat, masking the fading red mark Jim's lips had left the night before after kissing Blair over and over in the same place until Blair had whimpered, twined his fingers through Jim's hair and dragged Jim's mouth down lower -- bruises like dirt on clean, kissed skin --

He pushed the surge of anger back down and gave Blair a reassuring smile.

Some promises he could break without guilt. And some lies he didn't need words to tell.

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