Masks: Part 9

Damn. The hall light was out again. Jim must not know it, or he would have replaced the bulb. There wasn't enough light from the tiny window to see anything. Wouldn't bother the Sentinel, of course. But Guides needed light like everybody else, especially Guides who were so tired they could barely put one foot in front of the other and they definitely weren't thinking straight. There was a lock to put his key into, somewhere. All he had to do was find it. Aha. There was the knob. Now to find the lock.

The door jerked open, nearly taking Blair with it. His heart lurched. Jim stood in the doorway, backlit, looking huge.

"Sandburg, where the hell have you been?"

Blair swallowed his heart back down. "Don't do that, man, you scared the shit out of me."

"Answer the question."

"Or what? You won't let me in?"

Jim stepped aside, and Blair moved past him, pausing to hang up his coat and toss his keys in the basket. Jim shut the door, locked it, and turned to watch him. The skin around Jim's right eye was purple, but there didn't seem to be any swelling.

"Your eye doesn't look too bad, Jim," Blair offered.

"It's fine. Do you know how close I came to having an APB put out on you?"

"What? Why?"

"Don't you know what time it is?"

"Um..." Blair looked at his hands. No clocks there. "No?"

"It's almost midnight. Where have you been?"

Midnight? My God-- "At counseling. I just left Dr. Hawthorne twenty minutes ago."

"Counseling? All this time?"

"Yeah. I--um--had a lot to talk about."

"Is that good or bad?"

Blair shrugged. "Good, I guess. I--um--got a lot of stuff out. I'm sorry you were worried, man, I had no idea how late it was."

Jim sighed. "Sit down, Sandburg, you look ready to drop."

"That's because I am, Jim."

All he wanted was to go to bed, to sleep, if he could. But he couldn't do that yet. He had to ask Jim to go to the next session with him, and the longer he waited, the harder it would be. Blair pulled a chair out from the table and fell into it. He rubbed his hands over his face, trying to wake up enough to think.

"Did you eat?" Jim asked.

His hands stopped. Whoops.

"You can't remember?"

"Of course I remember," he said testily. "I remember that I forgot to eat."

"Sandburg, you can't keep doing this to yourself."

Blair put his head down on his arms. "No lectures tonight, Jim, okay? I had a really bad day."

"What happened?"

He shook his head without raising it. "Can we talk about it tomorrow? I'm kind of talked out right now."

"I didn't think that was possible."

Blair ignored that. He didn't have the energy to answer. He heard the sound of the refrigerator door opening and closing. Something wrapped in paper thumped down at his elbow. "What is it?"

"I don't know," Jim said. "I don't want to know. I stopped at that weird deli you like and told them to give me your usual. Do me a favor, and don't ever tell me what the hell is in there."

Blair sat up and unwrapped the sandwich. Hummus, tongue,

horseradish and sprouts on pumpernickel. That might even keep him awake long enough to eat. "Thanks, Jim." He took a huge bite, and grinned.

Jim looked away. "You want a beer?"

"Yeah, I'll--"

"Sit."

Jim got the beer, opened it, set it beside him, and sat down across from him. Blair shook his head.

"You don't have to watch me, Jim. I'm eating it."

"I'm not watching you, Sandburg, I'm sitting. Is that okay with you?"

Blair winced. Nice going, Sandburg. Make sure you get him good and irritated before you ask him for a huge favor. He opened his mouth to apologize, but took another bite of sandwich instead. Jim was probably just as sick of the words "I'm sorry" as he was.

"Y'know, Jim," he said, and swallowed. "If you concentrated a little, you could smell what's in this sandwich."

"That's exactly what I'm trying not to do, Sandburg."

"Chicken."

Jim shook his head. "There's no chicken in that."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Great. I come home at midnight, and I get punished with bad jokes."

The slightest of grins curved Jim's lips. "Maybe next time, you'll call."

"C'mon, Jim, how was I supposed to do that? Stop in the middle of the session and say,'I have to call my roommate, he thinks he's my mother'? Dr. Hawthorne would get another whole session out of that. Maybe two."

"Blair, is the therapy helping at all?"

He smiled. "It's a little early for that, Jim."

This was the perfect opportunity. He had to ask Jim now. He put the sandwich down, and swigged some beer, gathering his courage.

"Jim, I've got something--"

The phone rang. Dammit! Jim jumped up to answer it.

"Yeah? Yes, this is Ellison." All expression wiped from his face. "What? Was anyone--? I see. What was taken? Uh-huh. Yes. Yes, thank you. I appreciate the call. I owe you one."

Jim hung up the phone. Blair swallowed the last bite of his sandwich.

"What's wrong? Jim?"

"That was Boston PD," Jim said. "Thomas Wainwright's house was robbed Sunday night."

"What was taken?"

"Some artwork. But it wasn't the really valuable stuff. Either the thief didn't know what he was doing, or he just grabbed the first things he saw."

Jim stared into the distance, his jaw clenched.

"What else?" Blair asked.

"Apparently, Wainwright surprised the guy in the act. He's dead."

"Murdered? My God!"

"Yeah. Blair, where's the mask?"

"In my room. Jim, you think the thief was after the mask?"

"I don't know. He could have been."

Blair shook his head. "I don't understand. There's nothing about that mask to make anyone want to steal it. I mean, aside from the fact that it's worth fifty thousand dollars. It's not worth killing for. It just isn't."

"Well, someone may think it is. And we've got to find out why."

"Jim, I've examined every inch of it. There's nothing."

"Examine it again." Jim slammed a fist into the palm of his hand. "We've got to get that list of buyers. You couldn't come up with anything?"

"No, man, sorry. I'll go back to the gallery tomorrow. There's got to be some way to get that information."

"Okay." Jim looked at him. "You sure you've got time?"

"Sure." He didn't, but he wasn't going to disappoint Jim. "No problem."

"Great. You'd better get to bed, Sandburg. I want you to be awake tomorrow."

"Okay, okay." Blair drained his beer, and tossed everything in the trash. "Um, Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"I've got to warn you. Tonight's session with Dr. Hawthorne was pretty intense. She said--she said the nightmares might get worse, for a few days."

The pale eyes pierced him. "Okay, Partner. Anything else?"

"No. That was it. Good night."

"Good night."

Blair went to his room. He couldn't ask Jim now; his partner was too distracted by the news about Wainwright. Tomorrow. He'd ask him tomorrow.





"Sandburg!"

He jolted awake, heart hammering, and stared into the darkness. Jim. Jim had called him. God, he sounded mad. Trying to get his sleepy brain to figure out what he could have done to cause Jim's anger, he slid out of bed and opened the door of his room.

"Yeah, Jim?"

Jim stood in the living room, wearing only his black boxers, arms crossed over his massive chest. The only light burned in the fireplace, casting shadows and gold on Jim's bare skin. His eyes glittered like pale sapphires. Smiling slightly, Jim beckoned to him.

"Come here."

He went cold. "What?"

"Come here."

He couldn't move. He couldn't go into the living room. He couldn't. "Why?"

Jim moved so fast that he had no time to react. Long strides brought the big man close in seconds. Jim grabbed him by the hair, dragged him through the dining area into the living room, and shoved his head down, stabbing a finger at the rug.

"This is where I found your blood. Right here."

God, the blood was there, he could see it, spreading across the rug, staining the floor. He tried to look away, but Jim wouldn't let him. The fingers tightened in his hair, the other hand closed around his arm, holding him there.

"This is where he did it, isn't it, Sandburg? This is where he fucked you."

"Jim--"

Jim jerked his head back. "Isn't it?"

He closed his eyes, breathing the word. "Yes."

"And you let him do it, didn't you? You didn't even try to stop him. You just lay there and let him shove his cock up your soft little ass."

"No! I--"

"You should have died, Sandburg. You should have died before you let him touch you. But you didn't. You let him fuck you, and you let him do it here, in my apartment. My territory. You think I can just let that go? Do you?"

"Jim--"

Jim forced him to his knees, in the blood, and knelt behind him, whispering in his ear. "You're my Guide, Sandburg. Mine. But he put his mark on you, and he did it in my place. We've got to fix that. And you know how, don't you?" The hand left his arm and slid down the back of his shorts. "Don't you?"

"No! God, Jim, please!"

He fought, but Jim pushed him down easily, ripped his boxers and t-shirt away so that he lay naked in his own blood. Jim wrenched his legs apart and knelt between them. He felt Jim's cock hard and hot against his ass.

"It's the only way, Sandburg. You belong to me, and this will prove it, to him and to you."

"No! Jim, please! Don't do this! Please!"

"Sandburg!" Jim took him by the shoulders. "Sandburg!"

"God, please! Please don't!"

"Blair!"

The hands turned him over, shaking him. He gripped hard-muscled arms, trying to push them away, tried to get up, but he couldn't, he wasn't strong enough. Jim held him down, and all he could do was beg.

"Jim, please! Let me go!"

The shaking grew violent, lifting him up, Jim's fingers digging into his upper arms. "Blair! Come on!"

He twisted desperately, but he couldn't break Jim's grip. "Let...go!"

"Blair! For God's sake, wake up!"

He stared up into Jim's face, at the ice-blue eyes searching his, the bruises around one eye-socket. The pleas died on his lips. Jim stopped shaking him and pulled back, but didn't let go.

"Blair? Are you awake, Partner?"

Blair tore his gaze from Jim's. He was in his room, in his bed. Not in the living room. Not--God, what had he--He couldn't breathe. He couldn't--

"Jim--please. Let--let go."

Jim held on. "Are you with me, here?"

"Yeah. I'm--awake. I--I can't--" Shudders racked his body, his skin crawling under Jim's fingers. "I can't--please!"

Jim released him, and he fell back, fighting to breathe, to stop the shudders that threatened to make him sick. He closed his eyes, but the dream was there, waiting, and he opened them again, to see Jim standing over him, a look of such helplessness on his face that Blair wanted to reach out to him, to put a hand on his arm as Jim had done so many times for him. He couldn't move. He couldn't bring himself to touch his friend. Guilt twisted inside him, and he turned his face to the wall.

"Blair?" There was an edge of fear in Jim's voice that Blair had never heard before. "Can you talk to me, buddy? Do you need a doctor?"

"No. I'm--okay." Calm. He had to be calm. For Jim. "It's just--just another--an--anx--"

"Anxiety attack?"

He nodded. Relax. God, relax! Breathe. Don't think about the nightmare. Don't think about anything. Just breathe. Breathe. God, he couldn't! His chest hurt so bad it was like a giant hand squeezing him. He couldn't get any air. Oh, God, maybe it wasn't an anxiety attack. Maybe it was something worse.

"Blair," Jim said gently. "Blair, look at me. Listen to me."

He turned his head toward Jim, trying to keep the panic from his face, knew he wasn't succeeding. "Jim--hurts."

"I know, Partner. You have to relax, okay? Listen to my voice. Can you do that?"

He nodded, couldn't speak.

"Everything's okay, Blair. You had a bad dream, but it's over. It can't hurt you. You're safe here. Take it easy, now. Easy. Just breathe, Partner, that's all you have to do. Relax. Breathe. Close your eyes."

Terror flashed through him. Blair opened his mouth to refuse, but Jim shook his head.

"It's okay. You can do it, Partner, there's nothing there that you don't want to be there. Now, come on, close your eyes."

He obeyed, and there was only darkness.

"Good. That's good, Blair. Now, think of--think of our camping trip, last summer. You remember, we went up into the mountains? You found that spot that overlooked the lake, with the circle of trees, and you said it reminded you of some ancient site you'd visited? Remember that? Remember how beautiful it was? How quiet and peaceful? You sat there for the longest time, just gazing at the water, never moving. You looked like you belonged there, like you were some kind of forest spirit and that was your place. And you never said a word the whole time. I said Simon would never believe it. And he didn't, either, remember?"

Blair smiled, remembering the Captain's skepticism. The pain was gone, and the panic. He was breathing normally. He opened his eyes and pushed himself up to sit. God, he was tired.

"You okay, Partner?"

He nodded. "Thanks, Jim."

Jim regarded him steadily. "That must have been one hell of a nightmare."

"Yeah." He suppressed a final shudder. "Guess Dr. Hawthorne was right."

"Guess so. Think you can go back to sleep?"

"Not--for a while."

"Want me to stay?"

Part of him screamed "No!". But a bigger part wanted Jim to stay so badly that he was ashamed. Either way, he couldn't look at the older man. "You don't have to."

"Okay."

Jim pulled the desk chair to the bed and sat down. Blair felt himself blushing, and knew Jim could see, which only made it worse.

"Really, man, you don't have to stay. I'm fine now."

"I know." Jim smiled. "Lie down, kid. Think good thoughts."

He couldn't help a small smile of his own. "Will I be able to fly?"

"In your dreams, Peter Pan. In your dreams."

Blair lay back, staring at the ceiling. After a while, Jim reached over and snapped the light off, but Blair could still see him, a solid figure, motionless in the chair, waiting patiently for him to fall asleep. He should ask Jim now to go to counseling with him. But the image filled his mind of himself as Peter Pan, flying over the streets of Cascade. The image changed to Jim, and he almost laughed aloud at the idea of his friend the cop in leafy tunic and tights. He should ask.

He looked at Jim: the pale eyes were closed, his chest rising and falling in regular rhythm. Blair smiled. Jim could sleep anywhere, under any conditions. Must be his Ranger training.

Blair turned onto his side, and closed his eyes. "Think good thoughts." Heh. Maybe he'd get back to sleep after all.

End Part 9

Part 10