From Pillar to Post



Many thanks to Mab Browne for beta reading.

Jim eyed Blair's back and wondered just when he was going to see Blair's face smiling again. At some point in the fishing trip, right? Blair couldn't keep up the pout for much longer; it had to be hurting his cheek muscles.

"Why did you still come on this trip if you weren't going to talk to me?" he asked after Blair had pointedly put up a one-man tent Jim hadn't even known he'd packed, way over at the edge of the clearing, with the bulk of the mountains in the distance as dark as Blair's mood.

"To watch you suffer as I ignore you."

"You're not even looking at me most of the time," Jim pointed out. The whole drive up, Blair had stared out of the side window. His hair and the occasional glimpse of light off the frame of his glasses had been all Jim could see of him.

Blair gave him a smile with too many teeth in it. "I can still tell."

"I'm away from work, the forecast is for no rain, the fish are supposed to be hungry as hell, and that means I'm happy," Jim snapped. "Not suffering. Deal with it. And stop fucking sulking."

"Oh, you sound blissed out." Blair was talking, at least. Jim clung to that small shred of comfort and found it made a piss-poor security blanket. "And I'm not sulking."

"Looks like a reasonable facsimile to me, Chief."

"A what?"

Jim flushed. "It's on the cereal boxes, or at least it used to be, back when I was learning to read when I was a kid." Oh, yeah; this was good; Blair's face hadn't softened, but the pout had become an intrigued frown. "You know; if you want a gadget to let you see around corners, send in fifty cents to cover mailing and seventy box tops, or reasonable facsimiles." He shrugged. "Guess these days, when everyone's got photocopiers, they don't do it that way."

"You--" Blair shook his head. "I can't do it. I can't stay mad at you for even --"

"Thirteen hours, nine minutes and …mphm." Jim stopped talking and let Blair kiss him. He made sure he looked suitably contrite when Blair stopped to breathe.

Yeah. Thirteen hours since that phone call. It felt like longer.


***

"Jim, pack some rosemary, will you? I've got this recipe for fish and it swears rosemary makes all the difference."

"It'll end up burned on the outside, raw in the middle, Chief; don't think the rosemary's going to work a miracle."

Considering how much experience they'd both had in living rough, there really wasn't any excuse for the string of failures they'd had cooking fish on recent camping trips. None Jim was prepared to share with the world, that was. If the romantic associations of firelight made Blair instinctively work himself under Jim's waiting, outstretched arm to be hugged, and if Blair plastered against him distracted Jim to the point where warm lips become more inviting than lukewarm beer and recently dead fish, well, whose business was it anyway?

Blair shrugged. "So an open fire requires an adjustment to the way we're used to cooking…"

"You know it's not that." Jim tried not to make his smile fond -- Blair had that effect on him -- but it was too much like hard work and he was on vacation for the next four days. "Simon raved over what you did with that salmon last month at Saltwater Creek."

"Yeah, he did, didn't he?" Blair looked thoughtful. "Do you think we should have asked him to join us?"

Jim considered that. It took very little time at all, much though he liked and admired -- hell, loved -- Simon. "Uh, no?"

"Right answer," Blair said huskily, which was totally put on and Jim knew it and it still didn't stop a pleasurable shiver from going over him. Blair gave the clock a quick glance and moved in close, his intention plain; search and destroy everything Jim was wearing and every inhibition he had left. Not many after a month of sharing his bed with Blair. The man had one hell of an imagination -- and a playful lustiness that combined with an ever present curiosity to make him a challenge to keep up with.

Jim liked Blair's challenges. Mostly. Anything not involving yoghurt, anyway.

"We go back to bed now and we'll never get to the campsite before dark," Jim said. Weak. So weak. His hands toyed with the top button on his shirt. They really didn't have time. Really.

The phone rang and saved him from doing the unthinkable and turning down sex with Blair on a day when they didn't need to be anywhere but on the open road, heading for a wilderness complete with jugs of wine and loaves of bread or their equivalents.

"I'll get it." Blair backed away. "Hold that thought."

"Which one?"

"The one that's making you look like that."

"Like what?"

"Let's put it this way; now I know what a Wonderburger on your plate feels like -- Hello?"

Jim grinned. A burger. Now there was a thought; maybe they could stop for one on the way.

He'd turned away, looking for the tin plates that were hell to scrub clean but impossible to break, when he clued in on the drop in temperature over where Blair was standing. Without too much guilt he listened in on the conversation. If it bothered Blair, it bothered him; end of story.

After five seconds, he frowned. He knew that voice, ripe with mischief, a soft lilting accent making the words sound honey-sweet.

It had sounded that way when he told his men to hold Blair's hand to a blowtorch, the first time they'd met.

Even something as hard as iron will bend like clay when fire is applied.

Jim had known Gustavo had been talking about him, not Blair. Blair had been defiant, unyielding, willing to suffer for that deceptive, deceived girl Jim couldn't think of even now without his mouth tightening. What the man had figured out about him, he didn't know. Back then he and Blair hadn't been lovers -- but Gustavo Alcante was too shrewd a man not to spot a pressure point and Blair was Jim's, always had been.

Gustavo Alcante. Calling here, a month after a slyly smug exit bracketed -- again -- between federal agents who were anything but. He'd saved Jim's life and you couldn't hate him, no, but it didn't mean Jim wanted their paths to cross again, not this soon. Third time lucky? He didn't think so.

"I see," Blair ground out, in response to a comment Jim had missed. "Yeah, I bet."

Gustavo chuckled, disarming, charming. "It's such a small matter."

"We're going fishing today. We were just packing."

"Fishing! Ah, amigo, I envy you! The simple life, eh?"

"I think it just got more complicated," Blair said grimly.

"No," Gustavo said, crooning the word. "Such a small thing I ask you and Jim to do for me, so small a favor."

Jim tried to get the phone off Blair, but got a glare and a fist in the ribs.

"Give me the phone, Sandburg," he mouthed furiously.

"No. Get lost." Blair grimaced as Gustavo gave a shocked gasp, theatrical enough to make Jim roll his eyes. "Not you, Gustavo. I was talking to Jim…"

"Jim? Is he there? Let me speak to him, hmm?"

"Sure," Blair said, conceding to the inevitable with no grace at all. "Why am I trying to stand between you two?"

Jim fielded the phone tossed at him and gave Blair a 'what the hell is wrong with you?' look which wasn't answered by Blair's indignant stab of a finger in the general direction of the kitchen. Giving up on that problem for the moment, he turned his attention back to Gustavo, who was winding down a flowery greeting and inquiring solicitously about Jim's health and well-being.

"Gustavo, you saw me a month ago; I haven't come down with the plague since then; I'm fine. What favor? I don't owe you a favor. We're quits."

"I saved your life." Gustavo had perfected the art of larding his words with reproachful dignity. "Is it worth so little to you?"

"And I saved your ass," Jim reminded him. "How much is that worth?"

Blair snorted, and Jim basked in the glow of being thought witty before he realized that Blair was now pacing around the wooden support pillar by the kitchen counter; pacing in ever decreasing circles that left him with his nose practically touching the wood. Even for Blair, that was bizarre.

On a whim, he pressed the speakerphone, hoping that being able to hear the conversation would go some way toward appeasing Blair. Not that he knew what was wrong with him…

"You jest with me, Senor Ellison."

Jim opened his mouth to snap out a curt reminder that to Gustavo it was, and always would be, 'Detective Ellison' but he didn't get the chance.

"Ah, but your sense of humor is what I remember best about you from the old days! That and your nimble fingers, eh? Are they as quick as ever?"

Blair made a strangled sound and Jim glared at him. Old days? What the hell did Gustavo mean? Their acquaintance didn't go back that far. Thank God. "I suppose so," he said as neutrally as possible, focusing his attention on everything he could pick up over the phone. Gustavo's breathing was a shade too rapid, the muted, distant thud of his heartbeat matching it. And there was an odd echo to that heartbeat; Gustavo wasn't alone. And whoever it was, he or she was standing close to the old man.

"I am glad to hear it, for I have need of them." Gustavo cleared his throat. "Jim… when I came last to Cascade, I had an errand to run as well as the, uh, other matter, but circumstances prevented me from accomplishing all that I had intended."

"Circumstances," Jim said dryly. "Well, that's one way of putting it."

"And I do not think it would be wise for me to wander around the city openly at this moment."

"No kidding."

"And yet I have another friend who needs this errand completed, and so I must beg your indul-- ah!"

Jim frowned as a pained moan cut off Gustavo's words. He heard the phone being grabbed and then another voice, thick and rough, began to speak. "This talky shit is starting to piss me off. Look, I don't know who you are, but if you like your pal in one piece, you'll get me the goods, okay? Fuck with me and you'll get him in lots of pieces; my lucky number's five; that work for you? Five pieces of Alcante?"

"Who is this?"

"You need to know that? I don't think you do."

Jim heard Gustavo take a breath, sharp and bitten off, followed by a silence that was filled with pain and the echo of that gasp. He'd been there; hurting so much that there was no breath spare to scream with. Blair was beside him now, his anger gone, his face concerned.

"Fine, I don't. Just tell me what's going on."

"Your friend says you're a thief. A good one."

"The best," Jim said instantly. An NCO, softly spoken until he decided he felt like screaming in someone's ear to wake them up, and a year away from retiring, had told him during Basic that if you were going to lie never hesitate and take big bites. Then he'd cuffed Jim's head, which had hurt, for lying badly and worse, getting caught. Jim had spent a weekend's leave doing every filthy, boring job the man could come up with.

"Is that right? Well, this isn't even stealing. It's getting back what I'm owed. What's mine."

"Which would be?" Blair shoved a pen and paper within reach and Jim spared him a nod of thanks. He picked up the pen and jotted down a few notes about the background noises he could hear; the screech of a gull, the blare of a horn; nothing useful.

"Diamonds. A little bag of them."

"Diamonds," Jim repeated flatly. He thought back, trying to remember any heists in recent years. "Where?"

"My diamonds?" The man chuckled. "Oh, they're safe. Get it?"

"Oh, yeah. Funny. Be more specific."

The man got really specific and Jim clenched the phone hard. "Are you insane?"

"Nope. Just impatient and my blood pressure, well, I don't see me getting them in person, if you know what I mean. Bring them to me at the warehouse on the corner of Third and Franklin. I see a cop, I smell a cop, Alcante dies."

"A cop?" Jim sighed. "Last people I'd go to. Thief, remember. You really aren't all that bright, are you?"

"Hey!" The man's voice went high with indignation. "For that crack, I'm breaking one of his fingers."

"Go right ahead. And for every bone you break, I toss a diamond out the window on the way over to you."

There was a moment when Jim thought the next sound he was going to hear would be the sickening snap of bone. A queasy guilt churned his gut, but the man chuckled again. "Guess you two really do go back, huh? Okay. I'll look after him like he was my daddy. Course, I killed him as soon as I was old enough to hold a gun steady. You've got until three and then I start reminiscing."

The phone went dead and Jim put it down and then turned and gave Blair a baffled look. "You got all that?"

"I got it," Blair replied. "I just didn't get it."

"Yeah…" Jim rubbed his hand across his mouth. "Three. That doesn't give us much time."

"Time to do what?" Blair narrowed his eyes. "Jim -- you can't do it. We have to tell Simon -- go to that warehouse --"

"He won't be there yet. And we can't risk a full scale operation; you heard him. Besides--" Jim hesitated and then sighed. "Blair, think about it; Gustavo's a wanted man; Simon can rescue him but he can't let him slip away a third time, not without looking really bad, and I won't do that to him."

"You couldn't make sure Gustavo stays caught?" Blair asked skeptically. "Because I know he's slippery, but forewarned and all that." He studied Jim's face. Jim made sure his expression was bland, but that never worked all that well with Blair. "You don't want to catch him."

"It doesn't keep me awake nights knowing he got away," Jim admitted guiltily.

Blair was silent a moment, his fingers tracing a pattern on the counter. "He sounded as if he was hurt."

"Yeah."

"Three." Blair said. "On the road by four? Campsite by seven?"

"Maybe." Not likely, but Blair knew that as well as Jim did.

"How are you going to explain it when you haul this guy's ass in and Gustavo's nowhere to be seen?"

"Cross that bridge later, Chief." Jim let himself snatch one quick kiss, Blair's lips parting in surprise, just wide enough to let Jim's tongue dip inside and lick away the words Blair had been going to say. "Diamonds to steal."

Blair shuddered. "Jim. Heights, man. You know how I feel about heights."

An hour later, dangling over the edge of a building on the western side of the city, as Blair's pale face peered down at him, Jim felt the same way.

"Got… nearly… God, why hide them here?"

"I don't know!" Blair sounded as if he was about to throw up. If he did, most of it would end up on Jim, the way their luck was going.

"Don't throw up!" he called.

Blair's face twisted in confusion, the wind snatching Jim's words away. Where had this wind come from? On the ground the air was sultry and still. Up here, a strong breeze, hot and grit-filled, was whipping at him, making it hard to concentrate.

Being on the end of a rope as he edged his way along a ledge too narrow to take his foot unless it was angled sideways, wasn't helping, either.

Jim started to lose himself in the scuff of his shoes on concrete, a dusty scrape of sound, and was half resentful, half grateful when Blair's voice brought him out of it.

"Nearly there, Jim. There should be a --"

"I see it." Jim swallowed nothing in a parched throat. "How did he get it here in the first place?"

"Dropped it over on the end of some string and then let go of the string," Blair said. "Well, it's what I'd do."

"Yeah, thanks, Chief," Jim muttered. He eyed the black velvet bag held in the scoop of stone forming part of a decoration no one would ever look up and see, and knew he was going to have to shuffle a few more steps to be able to reach it safely.

Shame his feet obstinately refused to move.

"Blair. I can't--" Jim took in an unwisely deep breath and fell back off the ledge, Blair's yell ringing loud in his ears.

The jar of the rope pulling taut around his chest as it dug in, was painful but reassuring. Jim clawed a grip on the hard, smooth lifeline, feeling each fibre prickle against his palms as his sense of touch spun dizzily out of control, and tried to calm down.

"Jim, my God -- hang on, no, you are, I can see that -- shit, shit -- Jim, you're heavy, you know that?"

Jim squinted up, wondering why Blair was so agitated, the swing and sway of his body on the end of the rope making his stomach squirm uneasily. Then he got it; Blair had grabbed the rope and was trying to do something.

"Let go," he called. "I can just swing and land back on the ledge where I want to be. Trust me."

"Let go of you?" He could hear Blair's rapid, shallow breathing, but Blair was solid, Blair was reliable. He let go of the rope and Jim slid down a little, which his body didn't appreciate, being aware of all that emptiness below, but which Jim had been expecting. He swung, pushed off the wall with his feet, and smacked back again a few inches over, repeating it until he could grab the ornamental stonework. That gave him a handhold and from that perch he grabbed the pouch. Action helped to calm him; it was that inching along that had worn his nerves down.

No way of checking if the diamonds were in there; he squeezed the bag, feeling the press of small, hard objects, and tucked it awkwardly into his jacket pocket.

Then he began to climb up.

By the time he hauled himself, with Blair's help, up over the parapet after a twenty-foot vertical climb, his body was a trembling, sweat-drenched mess. He fell forward and lay there, panting, as Blair undid the rope and pulled it away from his body.

"Thanks," Jim managed. He rolled to his back and stared up at a blue sky until it was blocked by Blair's anxious face.

Jim hooked his hand around Blair's neck and pulled him down for a kiss, dirty and wet, all teeth on teeth and invading tongues, spit-slicked and as necessary as the air he'd sucked into his lungs when he'd finished the climb.

Blair let himself be kissed and then rolled Jim to his side, landing beside him, his hands roaming over Jim. "God, don't ever -- Jim --"

"That was nothing," Jim said. "Piece of cake." He patted his stomach ruefully. "Though I might cut back on the Wonderburgers. I'm out of shape."

"Right, right." Blair's teeth chattered. "Sure it was. Sure you are. Can we get the hell off this roof now?"

Jim gave him one last kiss, sweet and soft, an apology of sorts, and got to his feet, hauling Blair up beside him.

They were within a few yards of the door to the stairs, Jim's arm looped loosely across Blair's shoulders, when he heard the whine of a bullet from a silenced, or far distant rifle. He hit the ground, pulling Blair down and under him, so that he landed in an untidy sprawl, his knuckles scraped on his left hand because he'd automatically cradled Blair's head to save it from cracking against the ground.

Blair didn't make a good cushion but Jim didn't much care about adding a few more scrapes and bruises to the collection.

"Get off me," Blair hissed. "Dammit, Jim, will you stop with the Tarzan act?"

"You civilian, me cop," Jim answered. He found the gouge the bullet had torn in the door and worked out a possible line of sight. Yeah, the shooter had aimed over their heads, but not by much. "Trained to save your ass. Thank me later when we're not getting --" Another bullet sang overhead, a few feet lower. "Shot at," he finished.

"Okay." Blair wriggled to the side. "Think we can make the door?"

"Maybe." Jim turned his head. "We're the highest building; they're shooting up at us, so if we stay low, we're safe."

"Thanks," Blair said. "I feel so much safer now, Pythagoras."

Jim twisted his head around a bit more, trying to spot the shooter and failing because angles worked both ways. "Head for the door, Blair." Was Blair safer in front of him or behind him? It didn't matter; Blair took off, fast and low, getting to the door in a matter of seconds and, as Jim joined him, Blair reached up for the handle the instant after a bullet hit the door.

Jim got the logic behind that timing, but for all they knew, there were two shooters, or it was an automatic weapon; Blair hadn't really had the safe window he'd obviously thought he had. But he saved the lecture for later; the door was open, they were through it, running down the stairs, and he made sure Blair was behind him now, because who knew who was waiting for them?

"You think it was our guy losing patience or a new player?" Blair asked.

"Don't know." Jim took the steps in long strides, missing some out, his hearing extended as he listened for anything that said this abandoned, scheduled for demolition building had rats of the human variety within its crumbling walls. "I'm guessing with Gustavo involved, we could have half the city gunning for us."

"You want to change the plan?"

"Chief, I just don't know. Let's get back to the truck and get the hell out of here and then we can --" They reached the foot of the stairs and Jim tensed, his eyes scanning the warehouse, dim and dusty.

Nothing.

"They were a long way from us," he murmured, heading for the side door leading out to the alley where he'd parked the truck. "They wouldn't be able to get here in time so I'm guessing there's only one of them, maybe two."

"Why shoot at us from there?" Blair asked. "They could have followed us here, trapped us on the roof and grabbed the diamonds, then killed us."

"No, they couldn't," Jim said shortly, well aware that they could have. He went cold picturing himself dangling helplessly from that rope as Blair fought, struggled, and then was thrown over. "They made sure I got the diamonds. Then they tried to scare us, not kill us. I don't know what the hell's going on, but we stick to the plan."

The truck was untouched and, as far as Jim could tell, unobserved. He kept Blair waiting in the shelter of the doorway as he unlocked the truck and got in, hyperaware of his surroundings, trying to pick up on any hint that someone had been sniffing around.

When he was satisfied, he beckoned Blair over, ignoring the slightly mutinous line of Blair's mouth. Blair was safe; he could sulk all he wanted to as long as he wasn't bleeding when he did it.

Jim tossed Blair the pouch. "Check them out, Chief," he suggested, starting the engine and pulling off.

He heard Blair's grudgingly appreciative whistle but didn't spare the stones a glance. Too busy checking the cars around them. "Nice. Have to be, uh, let's see, sixteen, seventeen… yeah. Twenty of them. I don't know much about gemstones, but they're big and, uh, sparkly."

"Real?"

"How would I know?"

"They cut glass," Jim offered.

"You want me to carve a heart with our initials on the window of the truck?"

"You want to walk the rest of the way?"

Blair sighed and put the diamonds back in the pouch. "They look real. Why wouldn't they be? Why go to all the trouble of hiding them if they're fake?"

"Knowing our pal Gustavo, anything's possible," Jim said grimly. That got him a nod and he could almost see Blair's bad mood settle back over him. "What?"

"Nothing," Blair said. "I just -- this isn't what I wanted to be doing with our time off, Jim."

"I know."

"If it was Simon, or someone like that, yeah, sure, but Gustavo's just a pain in the ass."

"Yeah."

"Stop agreeing with me," Blair said through gritted teeth. "Not after what you did."

"What I did? What did I do?" Jim took his attention off the road and the search for any cars tailing them and gave Blair an astonished look. "You're not talking about just, on the roof, are you? Because when people shoot at us I don't see me taking time out to ask permission to save your ass, you know. I'm not going to apologise for that."

"It's not the roof."

"Blair." Jim ran his hand over Blair's leg, needing to bridge the gap between them physically, even if on every other level they seemed to be miles apart. "Don't make me play Twenty Questions. I piss you off, I want to know about it, okay?"

Blair opened his mouth, but before he could speak, the truck was rocked as the car behind them came close enough to bump them.

"What the hell?" Jim stared into the mirror and met a dazzle of light as the sun reflected off the windshield. He squinted and managed to get a glimpse inside the car. "It's a woman driving with a gorilla in the passenger seat."

"A gorilla? Really?"

"No. But there's a family resemblance. Hang on, Chief."

Jim took a sharp right into a narrow side street and got a better look at the driver as the car, a beat-up gray sedan, followed them, keeping back a little now. Looked like the car was braking, in fact, the gap between them widening. The gorilla opened his window and Jim's attention shifted to the glint of metal -- hand coming out, aiming -- shit!

He slammed his hand against Blair's chest protectively and floored the gas pedal, sending the truck leaping forward, ignoring Blair's yelp of protest, distantly aware of the leap and thud of Blair's heartbeat.

Then the missile the gorilla had shot at them exploded too close for comfort and words and thoughts were lost in the wave of heat that slammed into them, followed by the crumple and shriek of metal as the truck met a dumpster.

It got quiet after that. Quiet and dark.

***

It was a measure of how deeply fucked-up his life was, that Jim's first thought on coming around and finding himself tied up, slumped sideways against a wall, was, 'not again'.

He didn't bother saying Blair's name; they were tied together, back to back, rope twined snugly around their upper arms, and Blair was coming around, muttering groggily to himself.

Jim blinked until the room came into focus, turning his head slowly as he fought back the urge to spit until the taste in his mouth went away.

Drugged. If he concentrated, he could feel the throb in his arm where a needle had pierced his skin. Not much of a sedative; just enough to keep them under while they were moved from the truck to wherever here was.

A room. High up, from the roof tops he could see through the only window. Dusty. Hot. Empty apart from them. He guessed from the way the sunlight was slanting in that it wasn't much later than mid afternoon.

He thought about the three o'clock deadline and winced.

"Jim…"

"Right here, Chief." He felt for Blair's hand and hooked his fingers around Blair's, smiling when they were squeezed. The way their arms were bound, it was difficult to maintain his hold but he only let go when he realized the same would be true for Blair. He leaned his head back against Blair's, letting the thick, curly hair tickle his neck without complaint. "You okay?"

"Yeah." Blair was silent a moment. "Truck got beat-up."

"Nah." Jim thought back to the crash. "She'll be fine. Just a dumpster."

"And a - what was that thing?"

"Rocket launcher of some sort." Jim frowned. "They weren't trying to hit us, just wanted to make us crash."

"They're being really considerate," Blair said dryly.

Jim flexed his arms, trying to see if there was any give in the ropes. "Remind me to send flowers. Chief, brace against me and let's see if we can stand up. You ready? Count of three?"

"Sure."

It took four counts of three to get their wobbling legs to work in sync, but they got to their feet eventually, Jim crouching, because of the difference in their heights. They were close to the door; after they'd shuffled a few feet to the left, Jim tried the handle cautiously.

"Locked."

"Now what?"

"Get the ropes off."

"I'm way ahead of you," Blair said with an edge to his voice that Jim put down to being well and truly fucking furious with the way the day was going. "I meant how, but continue being funny if it's the way you want to cope with this."

"I wasn't being funny. Oh, save it, will you?" Annoyed, Jim started to edge them over to the window, where he thought he'd seen the glint of a nail.

He managed to take two steps before Blair stumbled, swore, and kicked the back of his ankle hard. "First, tell me before you decide to take off. Second, you're going the wrong way."

Jim paused. "No, I'm not." He nodded and regretted it a second later as the back of his skull collided with Blair's, the knock just a little too much to deal with given the way his head was aching from the drug. "Ow. Sorry. Over there; nail."

"Ow back at you," Blair snapped. "Over here; a -- well, I don't know what it is, but it looks sharp."

Jim shuffled them around and found what Blair had been talking about; a hole in the plaster with a metal plate exposed; the housing for a switch. The edge of the open metal box was jagged and it was at the perfect height for them to use as a makeshift knife to sever the rope.

"Nail," he muttered, but he was already edging them towards the hole in the wall and trying to keep in step with Blair.

They rubbed the ropes against the metal for a few minutes, breathing hard, sweat damp against Jim's back, making his shirt cling clammily. Blair gasped, "Enough. I need a break, man, and I need to… just turn, will you?"

Jim sighed, but let himself get maneuvered. "What are you doing?"

"Scratching my fucking nose. Uhn. God, yes."

Jim pursed his lips as Blair moaned. "Well, that sounds familiar. Huh. All that effort I put into making it good for you and I could have just scratched your nose instead of --"

"Jim. Finish that sentence and you'll never hear those sounds from my lips again, unless you walk in on me and my new --"

"Finish that sentence and I'll --"

"What?"

"Shush," Jim hissed. "I hear someone. Shit, we'll never get back over there in time." He twisted around, with Blair's full cooperation, and they frantically chafed the ropes against the sharp metal.

The strands began to part and Blair gave a grunt of pain. Jim glanced down and saw blood staining Blair's sleeve. Adding Blair's injury to the list of grievances he was drawing up against their adversary, he pushed his shoulder hard against the metal, making sure that his arm, not Blair's, took the brunt of the final sawing.

The rope fell to the floor, freeing them, both of them bleeding, just as the door swung open.

Trusting to Blair's survival instincts, Jim moved to the side, out of the immediate line of sight of whoever was entering. It left Blair stranded in the open but it wasn't likely that someone would go to the trouble of bringing them here and giving them time to wake up if they wanted to kill them.

Unless this wasn't whoever had left them tied up…

It was too late to second guess himself; his own instincts, combined with his training, took over and he tackled the woman in the doorway. It was easy to slam the door into her face and chop, with a brutal efficiency, at her wrist, forcing her to drop her gun.

Blair darted forward and grabbed it, aiming it at her, his hand steady and a steely determination on his face.

Oh, yeah. Blair was mad.

The woman shrieked, her hands going up to her face, her voice thick and muffled. "My nose! Fuck, you broke my nose!"

"Could have been worse," Jim said, unmoved. He took the gun off Blair, who rolled his eyes but surrendered it without much reluctance, and gestured to her to come into the room. "Chief? Want to get a piece of rope?"

"No!" She eyed them over her cupped hands. "Don't do that." She lowered her hands, sniffing tentatively and touched her nose with her fingertips. "Is it bleeding?"

Jim studied her. Bleached blonde, maybe forty, shrewd eyes, lush mouth, red, red nose. "No. Chief? Rope?"

"I didn't kill you," she snapped.

"Tying you up won't kill you, either," Jim pointed out. "And it's starting to swell."

"Yeah," Blair said. "You need to put some ice on it, lady." He stepped in closer, putting his body between the gun and the woman, which made Jim give an impatient hiss of rebuke, and prodded her chest, just above an impressive cleavage in a tight black top. "Talk."

He stepped back, just before Jim hauled him out of the way, and the woman gave them a half-hearted sneer and burst into tears. "Fine. Take 'em. Give them to that slimy lowlife and let him -- let him --"

"What?" Jim said between his teeth. "Take what? The diamonds? Where are they?" He'd woken without his jacket and so -- no, Blair had been looking at them, hadn't he? He grabbed her wrist and twisted it so that he could read her watch. "Shit. We've got twenty minutes and we're -- where are we?"

"Corner of Fifth," she answered, giving a watery sniff. "You're taking the diamonds to him?"

"Where's my truck?"

"Where you left it," she said, her voice rising. "Unless someone towed it to the junkyard."

"That's a classic --" Jim stopped himself. "I'm in a hurry. You're coming with us."

"Where?" she asked warily.

"Warehouse," Blair supplied. "Jim, the truck's just a block away."

"Yeah, Chief, I got that." Jim gave the woman a puzzled look. "Why did you bring us here? And what happened to the guy with you?" The woman had a certain toughness but even if this place had a working elevator she wouldn't have been able to drag them from the truck; she had to have had help. He concentrated, listening for a heartbeat outside the room, and got nothing.

She shrugged. "My cousin owns the building and if you mean Vinnie, he had an appointment with his parole officer. I only needed him to get you up here, anyways." She pouted. "You were supposed to stay tied up!"

"And what did you plan to do with us?" Jim asked. He hustled her out of the room and down the stairs, his hand clamped on her arm, Blair behind them.

"Make you give me the diamonds."

"But --"

"Save it," Jim ordered, before Blair could point out that they'd been there for the taking. "Who the hell are you, anyway?"

She glared at him. "Paulette Kelly. You work for my old man, don't you? How come you don't know who I am? The son of a bitch is ashamed of me, is that it?"

"We don't work for anyone," Jim said. "Strictly freelance. Kelly… diamonds… no, not ringing any bells." They got out into the street, getting a few looks because of the way they were dragging Paulette along, her spike-heeled, open-toed sandals clattering on the sidewalk.

"Paul Kelly," she said sulkily.

"Paul and Paulette?" Blair said incredulously. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me!"

"What?" she snapped. "It's cute. Always thought it meant we were supposed -- oh, it doesn't matter."

"No," Jim said grimly. "It doesn't."

"So…" she said slowly, as they turned down the street where they'd left the truck. "If you don't work for him, how come you're handing him a million in gems?"

"He's got something we want in exchange," Jim told her. "How come you don't want him to have them if he's your --"

"Snuggle bunny?" Blair asked snidely.

Her full lip wobbled. "Because he doesn't want them for me, does he? When we got married, he said he'd dress me in diamonds, one day." Her eyes went dreamy. "Nothing but diamonds and maybe a pair of heels, really high heels."

"It's a charming thought," Jim said. He repressed a moan at the sight of the dumpster and a lot of yellow police tape but no truck. "Chief…my truck."

"Well, they did make a lot of noise, with that rocket," Blair said. "It would have been weird if the cops didn't come."

Jim took a deep breath. "No truck, no diamonds, no time. Fuck." He turned and kicked at a pile of garbage bags, sending them flying. "He's going to kill Gustavo and there's no way we can stop him."

"Gustavo?"

"Jim…"

"Yeah, that's who he's holding hostage --"

"Jim."

"What?" Jim rounded on Blair. "Will you stop interrupting me?"

Blair quivered with outrage, head to toe, opened his mouth, and then settled for pointing at the ground. Where a small black velvet pouch was peeking out from under a bright yellow plastic bag.

"Oh." Jim cleared his throat, scooping the pouch up a heartbeat before Paulette could grab it. "Right. Chief, listen, I'm sorry, I just --"

"Later," Blair said stonily. "Okay?"

"No, but --"

"Tick-tock, Jim."

"I know Gustavo," Paulette said in a voice stripped of its earlier stridency. "He was…" She flushed a bright pink that reminded Jim of Pepto-Bismol. "Sweet to me when I was -- when I found out -- Paul likes him, too. He wouldn't hurt him." She bit her lip, smearing the lipstick she was wearing. "Well, he might…Look, can't we haul ass over there?"

"Not without my truck!" Jim fixed her with a scowl. "And not in six minutes."

Paulette glanced at her watch. "Oh, this piece of shit always gains a few minutes here and there. I bet we still have fifteen minutes, easy." She cleared her throat. "We can take my car."

"And just where is --?" Jim shook his head. "It's back where we just were, isn't it?"

Paulette gave him a look that might have worked when Blair did it but didn't stand a chance when it wasn't backed up with the promise of a blow job to make amends… not that Jim rated his chances of one of those any time soon. "Oops?"

***

By the time they reached the warehouse, Jim and Blair had been outed and lectured on the need to be honest about love, given a full history of Paul and Paulette's tempestuous relationship ("We met when he held up the diner I worked at. There was something about the way he tied me up, though don't you go thinking he's a pervert, because he's not. Just… imaginative, you know. Do you boys ever…?" "No!") and discovered that Paul's main line of business was arms smuggling, which explained the rocket launcher, and that he had a weakness for blondes.

"And I'm naturally a redhead," Paulette said wistfully. "Well, brown with auburn highlights, but they used to show up real nice with a touch of henna."

"I had a henna tattoo once," Blair offered, ignoring the look Jim gave him, the way he'd ignored every overture Jim had made and the attempt at a hug which had given them away to Paulette.

"Yeah, honey?" Paulette giggled. "I've got one, but it's somewhere you wouldn't be interested in looking, you being that way and all."

"Well, actually, I'm more bi than --"

"Chief." Jim snarled, at the end of his endurance. "She doesn't need to know. She doesn't need to know anything. She needs to get us in, so we can get Gustavo and --" He paused. "Complete the deal," he finished, aware that it sounded lame.

"Yeah…" Paulette said thoughtfully. "The deal."

"Why did Gustavo owe Paul the diamonds?" Blair asked.

Paulette shrugged. "Honey, I look pretty and tell Paul he's wonderful; I don't pay any attention to the business."

"Just spend the money from trading in illegal weapons," Jim said sourly.

"Yeah," Paulette said. "And if you're a thief, where do you get off looking down on me, mister?"

"Got a point there, Jim," Blair murmured.

"Yeah, I do, don't I?" Paulette sniffed. "And I wouldn't want to be you when Paul sees what you did to my nose."

"I thought he didn't love you anymore." Jim parked the car and eyed the warehouse dubiously. "Maybe he'll throw in a bonus."

"You? Are a bastard," Paulette said evenly, getting out of the car with them. She gave Blair a sidelong look. "You could do better, honey. I've got a cousin back home who swings your way, sweet kid, got his own business; Marty's Pizzas. Say the word and I'll give him your number, and next time you're in --"

Jim took three long strides and pushed his face in close to hers. "He's with me. Got that? Good. And pizza gives him a rash." He stared at her until she blinked and then stepped back. He ignored Blair's stifled snort of laughter and the derisive, barely audible, 'Tarzan'.

Though if Blair called him that one more fucking time, he was going to take a banana and shove it somewhere personal.

Maybe he'd peel it first. And then maybe he'd… no, that was just gross… oh, for God's sake.

"Chief, I think you should stay here. You don't have a weapon and if things go wrong, you can call… you can get the hell out."

Paulette dug in the purse she'd retrieved from the car and produced a stick of gum, which went in her mouth, and a small gun which she handed to Blair. "Now he does. And I want him with us." The shrewdness was back. "Not calling, or running away, or anything."

Blair studied the gun and then shrugged. "Has to be three o'clock by now."

Jim tried to catch Blair's eye before they went into what could be a lethal situation as he had no intention of just handing over the diamonds. They belonged to someone - - most things did -- but he somehow doubted their rightful owner was anywhere close. "Chief…" No response. Giving up on the instinct to keep Paulette from finding out Blair's real name, he went with 'Blair'. That got him a grudging, sidelong flick of a glance. "Look, just stay behind me, will you?"

Blair lifted the gun. "Are you sure that's the safest place? For you, I mean?"

"Fine, shoot me in the back," Jim muttered. "Make my day suck completely."

He thought Blair grinned at that, but he was already turning, moving towards the warehouse, Paulette beside him, her eyes sparkling with an anger Jim really wouldn't have liked directed at him.

Even if she was unarmed.

Maybe.

***

The warehouse was empty of everything but stacked crates. Jim assumed they held legitimate goods and wondered what Paul's cover for the arms dealing was. He was about to ask Paulette when she took hold of his arm. "He'll be in his office," she said quietly. "Over there, to the left. You do what you have to do, but he's not getting those diamonds for whatever little bitch he's got his eye on."

"I will do what I have to do," Jim told her. "And you're only here because I want to keep my eye on you." And charge you with about seven different offences…

"Man's got to do…" Blair murmured.

Jim allowed himself a brief, vivid fantasy with Blair in the starring role getting his ass kicked by a whole tribe of monkeys throwing rotten fruit at him. It wasn't as soothing as it should have been.

The office door swung open as they approached and a man, burly, bald, his stomach straining at the Hawaiian shirt he was wearing, stepped out. He was holding a gun in one hand, pressed up against Gustavo's head. "Took your time, didn't you?" His gaze went to Paulette and he frowned. "Babe? What are you doing --?"

The sound of a shot ringing out right by his ear left Jim dazed and deafened but he shook it off, diving sideways as Paul swung his gun around to point it at Paulette whose purse, now Jim came to think about it, had been big enough to hold three guns, four, hell, she could probably have fitted Vinnie's rocket launcher in there, and why he hadn't searched it, he didn't know.

Then he realized that if Paul was aiming at Paulette, he was also aiming at --
 
"No!" Jim yelled, the word loud in his head, lost in the buzz.

Paul lowered his gun, walking towards Paulette. Brave or stupid. Jim was thinking stupid but he didn't care as long as the gun wasn't aimed in Blair's direction any longer. Gustavo, who was wearing cuffs, gave Jim a small smile, inclined his head graciously, and then edged sideways into the shelter of a stack of crates.

"Babe. Honey. What the fuck are you playing at?" Paul asked. He gestured helplessly, looking harried.

"She shot at us," Jim said evenly. "Blew up my truck, kidnapped us, drugged us…"

Paul glared at him. "Shut the fuck up. I'm talking to my wife here." He blinked at her. "Is this lowlife telling me the truth?"

"You better believe he is," she hissed. "You think you can fool me, Paul Kelly? Twenty years and I've put up with the way you play around, but it ends now. I'm gonna shoot off your balls and then see if she still wants you."

"If who still --? Babe, there's only you. No one else. There's never been anyone else, you gotta believe me."

"Like I'll ever believe a scum sucking son of a bitch like you!" Paulette inhaled sharply. "Diamonds, Pauly, diamonds. My diamonds. And you were going to give them to some slut called Sharleen."

"Man, that's low," Blair said helpfully.

"Who the fuck are you?" Paul asked, his eyes narrowing. "Is he with you?" he asked his wife.

"He's with me," Jim said, before Paulette could get Blair killed. "You called us, this morning, remember?"

"Huh." Paul grinned, exposing bleached teeth and a lot of gold. "The one who wanted to go fishing. Heh. Heh. I sent you fishing, didn't I?"

"Oh, yeah," Jim said. "We had fun."

"So hand them over." Paul made a beckoning gesture. "Come on, big guy, toss them here."

Paulette gave an outraged shriek and fired at Paul again. Jim winced, glad he'd dialed his hearing down after the last shot.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Paul roared, prompting Jim to feel a small twinge of fellow feeling. "Do you know how many deals I had to do to end up getting paid with stones? How many cuts in profit I took because no one had the ice and they didn't want to be bothered getting it?"

"Why would I care?" she yelled back. "They're for Sharleen, aren't they?"

"Yeah." Paul nodded, beads of sweat flying off his broad face. "They are. Sharleen, Smitty's niece. The one who made you that bracelet at Christmas. The one who works at Smitty's jewelers. The one who was gonna make them into a real nice necklace for you, no questions asked. That Sharleen." He huffed. "The one engaged to that no-neck boxer and if you think I'd play around with someone young enough to be my daughter, don’tcha think I'd have the smarts to pick one who didn't have a fiancé with a right hook who's backed by the mob?"

"Jesse Coltrane…" Jim murmured, enlightened. Good to have that connection confirmed.

"Yeah." Paul jerked his head. "You know him?"

"Heard of him," Jim said uncommunicatively.

"I lost two hundred betting against him in his last fight," Blair said, which was news to Jim but explained why they'd been eating out of cans for a while the previous month.

Paul gave a short grunt of laughter. "Kid, you're not too bright, you know that?"

Paulette stopped Blair from replying with an elbow to his ribs that left him doubled over. "Is this true?"

Paul spread his hands wide. "When have I ever lied?"

She stuck out her lip, studying him. She must have liked what she saw because she spat out her gum, made her gun disappear, and murmured, "Paul. Honey. Come to Mama, will ya?" before transferring a lot of lipstick to Paul's face.

Gustavo met Jim's eyes and shrugged, then raised his eyebrows, his message plain. Jim patted his pocket and gave Gustavo a bland smile.

"I hate to break this up," he announced, "but I've got a date with a fish."

Paulette snickered, moving back and beginning repairs on her makeup. "That's no way to talk about cutie-pie over there."

Gustavo looked interested but not surprised; Paul rolled his eyes. "A pair of Cousin Marty's, are they? Shoulda told me, Gus; I don't like doing business with them. You never know how --"

"Oh, the hell with this," Jim growled, taking out the gun he'd confiscated from Paulette. "Cascade Police. You're all under arrest. Chief, find a phone and call for backup."

It didn't get him the reaction he'd expected. Paulette snorted and continued applying lipstick and Paul, his gun trained on Jim now, didn't flinch.

"Go ahead and shoot him," Paulette said, making a shooing gesture with the hand holding a mirror. "Neither of them has loaded guns."

"Uh, Jim, I think she's telling the truth," Blair reported.

"Of course, she is," Jim said, not even bothering to check his gun. "You know what, why don't we just go back to the original deal and swap the diamonds for Gustavo?"

Gustavo stepped forward, the cuffs dangling from one finger. "I might have been in less danger than I led you to believe, amigo."

"You are a dead man, Alcante," Jim said with conviction. "I mean that."

"No kidding." Blair sounded very happy with the idea of Gustavo's imminent demise.

"I don't think so," Gustavo said, "but don't worry. I will not let you come to any harm. You give us the diamonds, we leave you here; mi casa es su casa, eh? Remember?" The cuffs jangled in his hand. "And when we are far, far away, we put a call into the charming Captain Banks --"

"Don't bother," Jim said, the buzz in his ears diminished enough that it was no problem to hear the crackle of static from the police car radios outside. "I think he's already here."

Gustavo gave Jim a disappointed look. "There were to be no police. Jim, Jim…"

"I am the police," Jim pointed out crossly.

"I think of you as family, you and Blair, both," Gustavo assured him.

"Well, stop," Jim said.

"You should run." Blair moved over to stand by Jim and brushed his hand down Jim's back in a fleeting, reassuring way. "Seriously. Run fast."

Paul glanced down at the gun he held and Jim chuckled nastily. "You shoot Blair and I'll feed it to you. Shoot me and I'll insert it at the other end."

Paul pursed his lips. "I don't shoot cops. Gus didn't tell me you were a cop, dammit."

He turned to give Gustavo a fulminating look and Jim kicked the gun from his hand, fending off an attack from Paulette long enough to let Blair grab the gun.

When Simon and a group of uniformed cops burst through the door, everything was under control.

Almost.

***

"No, Jim." Simon banged his fist on his desk. "It's not clear to me why you didn't call in backup on this one."

Jim eyed the clock morosely. They were never going to get up to the campsite before it got dark. Hell, by the time Simon took pity on him, it'd be midnight.

Of next week.

"Simon, I didn't want you involved. I was thinking of you."

"Oh, yeah? For your information, Detective Ellison, as Captain of the department, I'm the one who gets to make that call, not you."

Simon was pissed at him, Blair was still in a weird mood, and even for them, it'd been a stressful day. Jim gave up. "I was wrong, sir." He stood and folded his hands behind his back, projecting meekness. "In my defence --"

"You're not on trial." Simon shoved an unlit cigar into his mouth. "Yet."

"We arrested an arms dealer, recovered some diamonds which might be part of that safety deposit box scam Norton was running, and we --"

"Lost Gustavo Alcante. Again."

"I had one gun, sir, and that woman was getting violent. He seemed the least dangerous of the three and I made a judgement call based on --"

"Oh, save it, Jim," Simon snapped. "You let him go. You know it, I know it, half the city knows it by now. Just give me one reason why I shouldn't cancel your leave and keep you here doing the paperwork on this."

"Sandburg would give you hell?"

"That might work on you," Simon said levelly. "It doesn't bother me; I'm not the one living with him."

Blair was out in the bullpen, leaning against Jim's desk, arms folded, mouth set in a straight line. Jim wanted to get him somewhere alone and fuck the bad temper out of him -- or let Blair take out his frustrations on Jim's ass. Either worked.

"I did find out one useful piece of information," he said casually.

"Mmm?"

Simon was mellowing, Jim could tell. He just needed to be thrown a bone so they could all walk away with honour intact.

Walk away, drive away, get the hell out of Cascade…

"Jesse Coltrane."

"What about him?"

Oh, that had touched a nerve. Maybe it wasn't just Blair who'd lost his shirt on that fight.

"Mob sponsored," Jim said succinctly. "Explains a lot, doesn't it? You might want to pass that on to the person interviewing Kelly."

"No, Ellison," Simon said sarcastically. "You might. I've got some phone calls to make, explaining why one of my detectives has spent the day getting half the city blown up."

"You wouldn't have found us if we hadn't," Jim pointed out.

His truck, now waiting for him in the parking lot, had been recognised by one of the uniforms who'd been called to the scene, and Paulette's prints had been all over it. Tracking her to her husband's warehouse hadn't taken long.

"Just go," Simon said. "Before I really do cancel your leave." He gave Jim a thin smile. "Or invite myself along on your little fishing trip."

"Going, sir," Jim said. "And I'll bring you back a --"

"Out!" Simon thundered.

***

"Going to tell me why you were so mad at me?" Jim said lazily. He took a leaf and a twig out of Blair's hair. Maybe they should move inside the tent at some point. Right now, he didn't want to move an inch.

Well, maybe a little bit to the left. How could there still be a wet spot when they'd just had sex on the grass?

Blair bit Jim's shoulder -- a good bite, a nice one, that sent a pleasant shiver down Jim's back -- and didn't reply.

"Blair?"

"Look, Jim," Blair said, sighing. "You were just being an asshole, okay? I don't like getting tossed all over the place while you do your hero impression. And I really don't like you telling me to shut up."

"Now that I'll grovel for," Jim said ruefully. "I mean it. I was way out of line and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make it up to you."

"You're only saying that because you think it'll involve make up sex."

Jim looked aghast and didn't do a very good job of it, judging by the grin on Blair's face. "I'm shocked you'd think that. Besides; didn't we just do that?"

"True." Blair rolled to his back and swatted at a mosquito. "We should get inside."

"The two-man tent? Or are you still planning on sleeping in the one you put up?"

"Guess not." Blair stood and dusted himself down.

Jim admired Blair's ass from an unusual angle, illuminated by the dying fire, and then got up, too. "Still want to know why you were so bent out of shape," he said as they settled down in the tent.

"I told you."

"You told me why you stayed mad; not the same thing."

Blair was silent so long Jim started to worry. "Blair -- is it us? This thing we're doing?"

"If I said it was, would you want to stop?"

"Want to? No. But I would." Jim stroked the side of Blair's face, his fingers catching in Blair's hair, an ache of expected loss making him clumsy.

"Yeah, I know you would." Blair kissed him briefly, hard. "It's not that. It's stupid. It's so stupid I don't want to tell you and I knew it was stupid the whole time but I was just --"

"Stuck in a groove," Jim supplied. "I know how that goes."

"Yeah." Blair rubbed his face against Jim's hand. "I bet you do."

"What's that supposed to -- no. You're distracting me. Tell me." Jim ran his thumb over Blair's mouth. "I've been off my game all day because half of me was trying to work out what was going on with you. It was something Gustavo said on the phone, wasn't it? You were fine before then." He remembered Blair's seductive voice and smiled at the memory. "More than fine."

Blair sighed and banged his head gently against Jim's shoulder. "You're going to laugh."

"I can live with that."

"What about me?"

"You get to live with me."

"It's scary that you actually made sense there for a brief moment."

"It's been that kind of day," Jim agreed.

"He told me what you did to him." Blair made a sound that reminded Jim of a growl. Thirty minutes before, it might have been, but Jim was smugly aware that Blair wasn't able to pull off a growl. Not after all those ecstatic whimpers and approving, encouraging moans. "So he looks good in your cuffs, does he?"

"Huh?" Jim chuckled uneasily. "Sandburg, you can't possibly think --"

"God, no!" Blair shuddered. "As if." His finger drilled into Jim's shoulder. "And that's exactly why I'm so fucking pissed!"

"Okay, you lost me." Tired. So tired. Sleep was calling, cooing sweetly, looking a lot more attractive than Blair, who was tight-lipped again. Jim didn't like Blair's mouth like that. Liked it smiling. Liked it….

"Jim, you fall asleep and I'm going in the other tent after setting fire to this one."

"Not asleep," Jim assured him, yawning. "Just confused."

"You handcuffed him to the support in the kitchen."

"Yeah. So?"

"Which featured in a lot of my fantasies," Blair elaborated.

"If you get off on me cuffing criminals, no wonder you were so keen to ride with me."

"My fantasies about you. With me," Blair clarified bitterly. "God, it used to get to the point where you'd lean on it and I'd get hard."

"I noticed that," Jim admitted.

"You did?"

"Why do you think I did it?" Jim settled down, pulling his pillow under his head. "Okay, was that it?"

"Uh… yes."

"Fine. I'll take care of it."

"You're not laughing?"

"Too tired."

"What do you mean, you'll take care of it?"

Jim put his hand over Blair's mouth. "Sandburg, I'm going to sleep. When I move my hand, I want you to say, "Good night, Jim" or something similar and then button it."

Blair's lips moved against Jim's palm in an unmistakable, if silent, 'Take care?' and Jim sighed.

"I'm disappointed that you have so little faith in me. Listen up, Blair. Tomorrow you can tell me every one of those fantasies. In detail. Lots of detail. Go to town. When we go home, first chance we get, I'm going to make them all come true and I guarantee you won't be thinking about anything but me when we do."

Skeptical grunt.

Jim leaned in close. "Your choice, Blair. Just bear in mind I've got a few plans of my own for you and that piece of wood."

"Mmm?"

"Very mmm," Jim agreed pleasantly. "Why don't you think it over? Moving my hand now. And then going to sleep."

He let his hand slip away, waited for Blair to murmur good night in a suspiciously meek voice, and then gave him a kiss because he was getting used to the day ending that way.

It wasn't until he woke the next morning to find Blair making notes -- lots of notes -- that he started to have second thoughts.



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