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Tough Love, Part II

As the above heading says ....



It was after ten by the time Blair finally made it back to the loft, and he was beginning to feel that he wasn’t as young as he used to be. Fatigue hung on him like fifty pound weights and he ached with weariness. When he opened the door to the soft light of the fire and the tantalizing scent of a casserole being kept warm in the oven, he stopped for a moment, just inhaling with immense gratitude, so much gratitude that Jim had literally kept the home fires burning for him.

“You look beat,” Jim observed from his chair, where he’d been comfortably reading in the low, flickering light cast by the fire.

“Could be because I am,” Blair admitted as he dumped his pack on the floor and hung up his jacket. “Thanks for having dinner waiting. I’m so hungry I could eat cow.”

Moving lithely into the kitchen, Jim pulled two beers out of the fridge and uncapped them. Handing one to Blair, he motioned toward the table. “Take a load off, and I’ll dish up. Nothing fancy, just tuna casserole and salad, and crusty rolls.”

“Sounds like ambrosia fit for the gods, man,” Blair sighed as he sank into a dining room chair and took a long sip of the icy cold beer. “Ahhh…” he murmured low in his throat. “It’s good to be home.”

Jim set the generously-loaded plate of food before him, along with cutlery, and then brought a basket of bread and butter before sitting down opposite his partner, studying him as Blair dug in rapturously. Shaking his head, he muttered, “You need to take time to eat at more regular intervals, Sandburg.”

Blair just huffed a laugh and smeared butter on a warm roll. Before biting into it, he asked, “You work much later after I left?”

“A few hours,” Jim told him. “Found another three possibles. Still got about ten suspects to run, but I can finish them up in the morning. We’ll start the stakeouts tomorrow afternoon – since it’s Friday, you finish at noon, right?”

“Uh huh,” Blair grunted before swallowing. He took another swig of beer and offered magnanimously, “I’m yours from tomorrow noon until Monday evening.”

Jim quirked his brows and shook his head sorrowfully. “Too bad we have to work.”

His eyes dancing, Blair riposted, “Everyone has to sleep sometime.”

“Sleep?”

“Well, at least go to bed for a few quality hours.”

Nodding sagely, Jim replied with mock solemnity, “Well, Junior, I’d say you’re showing more than your usual good sense with that observation.” Scooping up the empty plate and the equally empty bottles of beer, he smirked at Blair’s low, amused reply, “You’re only saying that because it’s what you want to hear. Usually, you’re not so effusive about my ‘usual good sense’.”

“Ah, but when you’re right, you’re right,” Jim returned. Holding out the plate, he asked, “More?”

Patting his stomach with an air of sated contentment, Blair leaned back in his chair. “No, I’m good, man. Thanks.”

After simply rinsing the dishes and leaving them in the sink, he turned back to Blair who was laughing softly. “Wow. You really must’ve missed me last night.”

“Hmm,” Jim growled low in his throat as he returned to the table and drew Blair up against him, embracing him as he lowered his head to cover Blair’s mouth with his own. Pressing his groin against his lover’s, he observed against Blair’s lips, “Seems I’m not the only one who was lonely last night.”

“Mmm,” he murmured with a soft smile as he looked into Jim’s eyes. “Bed?” he asked, and his tongue flicked out to lick delicately over Jim’s lower lip, the tip just barely, teasingly, slipping into his mouth.

“Bed,” Jim agreed with alacrity. When Blair turned toward the staircase, Jim smacked his ass lightly, and added wryly, “After all, a growing boy as young as you needs his rest.”

Dancing away, Sandburg turned and waggled a finger at him, but Jim just gave him amused look of indulgence. “You didn’t think I’d let that ‘remember what it’s like to be young’ shit slip past, did you?”

Snickering, Blair shook his head. “No, man. I didn’t.” He paused and then added devilishly, “So, come on, big guy, and show me what you’ve still got!” And then, laughing merrily, he was bounding up the steps, Jim close on his heels.

Once upstairs, they made short work of stripping out of their clothing and peeling back the bed coverings. Blair leapt onto the pristine surface, pleased to note Jim had changed the linen in anticipation; more pleased to know Jim had been spending his hours alone as he waited thinking about him, about making love with him. Jim paused only long enough to rummage in the drawer of the bedside table for their supplies, and then he was crawling onto the bed, like a predator stalking his prey.

“Oh, I love it when you play the hunter,” Blair crooned as he languidly stroked his erection. “So, can you smell how ready I am to be caught? Huh? Hear my heart racing in anticipation? The breath hot in my chest?”

Jim’s growl was more a moan of unfettered desire as he pounced on his lover. Sandburg might be insatiable, but he had staying power on his side.

And over the years, he’d learned just what Blair liked best.

Just as Blair had learned everything there was to know about giving him exquisite satisfaction. In fact, with his constant awareness of Jim’s heightened senses, he’d taught the sentinel a few things about how to enhance his pleasure … and he gave Jim the priceless gift of freedom to let it all go with him, holding nothing back.

And Jim, knowing the gift had value only so long as he held Sandburg in his arms, treasured it and tried not to think about the day it would all be over.

Though he’d loomed over Blair like the panther that guided him, and though they sometimes liked to play rough, he was conscious of his lover’s weariness, and was tender in his love-making. Taking his time, his lips, tongue and hands moving caressingly over Blair’s body, he took pleasure in how his lover responded to his touch. After Blair had prepared him, and when Blair was ready, panting with passion, he knelt over his partner’s body and lowered himself with seductive, maddening slowness onto his partner’s shaft, the powerful muscles of his legs bunching as he controlled the pace of his penetration.

Fighting his urgent need to thrust, giving Jim the time he needed for comfort, Blair’s hands fisted on the mattress and the muscles of his throat and neck tightened. His dark, impassioned gaze held Jim’s eyes, and his mouth was open to drag in gulps of air. Licking his kiss-swollen lips, he groaned with want.

Jim slid down over him, until they were fully mated, and then he slowly began to rise until only the tip of Blair’s cock remained inside. It was their unspoken signal, the moment when Blair could release his tightly-reined desire and thrust up as Jim came back down to meet him. The rhythm of their merging grew faster … and faster. Blair braced the soles of his feet on the bed and grabbed the top of the bed-frame to give himself leverage as he thrust again and again and again, sinking deep and deeper, angling his thrust until Jim threw his head back, breaking their eye contact as he moaned with pleasure, and Blair’s smile was a rictus of effort and pride, that he could do this. That he could give Jim such unbridled fulfillment. He shifted, reaching with one hand to clasp Jim’s erection, pumping with the shared tempo that came so naturally to them, that had always been natural between them, right from the first time.

Nearly overcome by the sensuous joy surging within him, his orgasm so very close, Jim grunted, baring his teeth and clamping his jaw against the urge to let go. It was too soon and he had more planned. Beneath him, Blair was pumping like a piston, slamming into and past Jim’s prostate, sending waves of pleasure through his body, and his eyes were closed as he concentrated on the movement of their bodies, almost losing himself to his own, overwhelming passion. He panted, holding onto control, knowing it wouldn’t be much longer, and then Blair cried out inarticulately as he spurted deep, arcing his body up as if he wanted to disappear into Jim, become a part of him and never be parted.

Even as Blair’s orgasm crested, Jim was rolling them, slipping off and to the side while he turned Blair onto his elbows and knees, his forehead pressed against the mattress, still panting, but his respirations and heartrate were leveling off. As slowly as he had taken his lover, he entered, and made tender love to him until Blair was ready for more. Jim smiled and shook his head, remembering the days when he’d been able to recover as quickly. And then he closed his eyes and let himself go, able now to lose himself in their love-making, no longer having to hold onto any vestige of control.

And this time, they came together.

Utterly, even luxuriously sated, they lay in the darkness with only the dying flames of the fire illuminating the night. Jim drew Blair into a loose embrace, content to feel his partner curl against him, one leg covering his, one lean arm across his chest, and Blair’s head on his shoulder, his breathing deepening as he slid toward sleep.

“Love ya, man,” Blair whispered, no longer quite awake.

Jim swallowed the lump that formed in his throat, and whispered the truth he could only share in moments like this, under cover of the soft, snuffling snores, “I love you, Chief. Guess I always will.” He drew Blair closer, cradling his partner’s shoulders in his arms, and tenderly kissed his brow before letting sleep claim him, too.

**

Simon stared balefully at the phone, having just hung up after yet another conversation with the Mayor, who was increasingly impatient to see some results in the investigation underway. His lips were thin and tight, perhaps because he was pressing them closed against his impatience that this case had been thrust upon his Unit. Though he didn’t know why the Mayor was so hot to shut down this supposed ring of allegedly student prostitutes, he had his suspicions. The Mayor was … competent. Did a good job. Was ethical.

Unfortunately, her husband was not. Why she stayed hitched to such a sleaze was beyond him and a few other people who knew more than she might be comfortable with. Shaking his head, he decided there was no accounting for taste – or the blinders fashioned by love.

She worked long hours … Simon figured her husband had gotten lonely, and she’d seen something, heard something. Hell, maybe only guessed. Impatiently, he shook his head. No, she’d been too specific. Too sure that the rumored new escort service in town used students. Grimacing, he figured she’d seen her husband with a young woman she’d recognized; or maybe a young man. She’d been clear that ‘her sources’ indicated that the organization that did its business in the shadows was very modern in offering equal opportunity to both genders, both as proponents of the services and as clients.

She knew a lot more than she was saying, he was certain of that. Sighing, he gazed up at the ceiling and then out the window. He supposed it was too much to wish she’d be more candid. If he was right, he could hardly expect her to implicate her husband – and have to contend with the firestorm when the press got wind of the story, let alone the fallout in her marriage – just to make his job easier.

She was ethical, yes. But she was also only human.

Standing, he went to the door and called to Ellison, waving him in. When they were both settled in chairs and had mugs of fresh coffee steaming in hand, he asked, “You getting anywhere on this case?”

“I hope so,” Ellison replied, taking a cautious sip and then nodding appreciatively. None of that fancy flavoured stuff. Good dark, rich beans had gone into this brew. “Sandburg’s idea may be panning out. I finished the last of the employment, financial and residence checks a few minutes ago. Twenty-eight of our possibles list ‘Body for Hire’ as their employer. Eighteen of them pay a higher rent that they could afford on what they’re claiming as income.”

Simon’s brow arched. Leaning back in his chair, he nodded. “That’s interesting.”

“Very,” Jim agreed. Glancing at his watch, he went on, “Sandburg should be here any minute. We’ll grab some takeout from the deli and begin tailing suspects this afternoon.”

“How are you choosing who to watch first?” Banks asked.

Shrugging, Jim replied, “Alphabetical, by gender.”

“Girls first,” Simon assumed.

“No, boys. More of them are showing a discrepancy between income and spending,” Jim told him.

Both brows lifted over the wire-rimmed spectacles as Simon wondered if the Mayor was as ethical as he’d believed. Maybe some kid was putting the screws to her, and demanding more than she could afford to pay to keep the guy quiet. His lip twisted at the unfortunate and unintended pun.

It could still be the husband.

Shutting his speculations away, he asked, “How do you want to play it?”

“Well, if we hit pay dirt, I want to move on to the next one on the list, and then the next, until we run through as many as we can by Monday,” he replied. “If we get lucky … uh, if we find evidence of illegal operations based in that so-called student employment agency, we can do a sweep on Monday and shut them down.”

His lips twisting with sardonic humour, pleased he wasn’t the only one caught in Freudian slips on this case, he nodded. “Okay. You let them run for the weekend and we’ll cast the net when we’ve got enough to prove the connection. Sounds good. I’ll be taking the weekend off, but if something breaks early, keep me in the loop.”

“Will do, Captain,” Jim agreed, finished his coffee and tilted his head. He heard Blair’s voice, and his mouth twisted sardonically as he listened to his partner reflexively flirting with someone on the elevator. “Sandburg’s here,” he told Simon, who rolled his eyes, knowing that Blair was probably somewhere between the underground garage and their floor, but it could be a minute or more before he actually showed up.

“Good hunting,” he said, and waved the detective on his way.

**

The first two kids they tailed produced disappointing results, at least so far as Jim was concerned. Both seemed to be gainfully – and legally – employed in upscale, very popular bars. Chewing on a toothpick left over from their lunch, Jim shook his head. “I don’t buy it. No way could they be making enough money behind the bar to afford the apartments they’ve got.”

“Tips, man,” Blair returned pointedly as he massaged the back of his neck, trying to work out a kink. “Probably not declaring them for tax purposes.” Giving Jim a sidelong look, he asked sarcastically, “Wanna run them in for tax fraud? Could be big news. Maybe they know where Hoffa is buried.”

Giving him a flat look of annoyance, Jim switched on the truck’s ignition. “We’re wasting our time here. Best we can do is check back when they finish their shift, and see if they go home and stay there.”

“Whatever,” Blair yawned. “Not like I had other plans.”

“What? No ‘I told you so’?” Jim pushed, irritated to be coming up empty.

“I told you so, man,” he replied agreeably, though he was well aware that he was only further inflaming Jim’s frustrated anger. “I told you so.”

“Yeah, well, the weekend isn’t over,” Jim retorted, steering into traffic. Drumming his fingertips on the wheel, he muttered, “We’re missing something.”

“The hand-out of job orders,” Blair supplied, sounding grudging. He really didn’t like this case, and Jim’s almost feral determination to hunt the kids involved and bring them down bothered him big time. “Temp agencies usually assign the job of the day or weekend early in the morning. Pain in the ass having to get up at the crack of dawn to find out you’re not working until the evening or all-night shift somewhere.” Again yawning widely, he shivered and sniffed in the cool of the evening. “We should probably stakeout the agency before seven-thirty tomorrow morning, see if any of our best bets show up … and then see where they go.”

“Don’t tell me – you’ve worked for temp agencies at some point in your checkered career,” Jim sighed as he headed toward home, accepting the evening was a bust.

Blair nodded as he stared into the night.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” he complained, frustrated at having wasted the entire evening. “We should probably have staked out the agency this morning.”

Leveling a straight look at him, Blair replied flatly, “We were up a little late last night, Jim – I don’t know about you, but the idea of getting up again after less than four hours of sleep really didn’t appeal to me. Besides, you still had checks to run.”

“That’s not the point,” Jim snapped heatedly.

“Would you just chill out,” Sandburg drawled wearily, wishing belatedly that he’d argued the futility of the afternoon and evening tailing and stakeouts. Sure, he’d wanted to spend time with Jim, and his partner was so hot to do something, anything, to push the case forward, that he doubted Jim would have listened to him anyway. And they might actually have tripped over something. But the evening had been a colossal waste of time, and they’d both been too tired to enjoy being stuck in the confines of the truck for so many hours outside one apartment building and then another, while Jim tuned in to see if he could pick up on anything going on inside. Defensive but hiding it by redirecting, he went on, “If any of these kids are into high-class hooking, you’ll catch them. I know you want to wind up this case in a hurry, but it’s not like anyone’s dying here, Jim. We’ve got all weekend. For that matter, what does it matter if it takes another week?”

Loathing the case and anxious to be done with it, Jim muttered testily, “Let’s hope we get better results tomorrow. When we get home, I want to go over our list of suspects again. Maybe … maybe go by faculty rather than by name. Pick out the ones in the most competitive fields – the ones who need to maximize their study time.”

“Whatever,” Blair agreed, though without much animation.

“You’re still giving me mixed messages about this case, Chief,” Jim growled. “One minute, you’re coming up with great ideas, the next you’re withholding useful information and lacking much interest in the process. Your attitude sucks.”

“Yeah, well, I guess I understand the pressures these kids are under,” he sighed. He knew his mixed feelings about the case annoyed Jim, but they were all wound up with his mixed feelings about Jim himself. When the glare didn’t abate, he felt badly about letting his partner down. Raking his hair back, and scrubbing his face, he said, “I want to help you. You know that. But … but this case, man. It’s not like your usual thing, you know?”

“Doesn’t make it any more legal,” Jim sniped defensively. “Frankly, your attitude since we started this case is beginning to royally piss me off.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I know. You’ve made that perfectly clear.”

“You should have told me about the job order routine,” Jim lectured sternly. “Failure to do so could be considered an obstruction of justice.”

“What? You want to arrest a student so bad, you’ll arrest me to prove your point? Is that what you’re saying?” Blair exclaimed, growing angry.

“I was up early enough this morning to have gotten there in time to stake the place out,” he replied grimly, his jaw clenched.

“Well, good for you,” Blair grated, equally sick and tired of Jim’s attitude about the case. “You got a little more sleep the night before last than I did, in case you’ve forgotten. I figure we’re now about even in the sleep deprivation department this week.”

“Even?” Jim rumbled dangerously. “What the hell does being even have to do with anything here? We’re on a case, Junior. That means we do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Turning around, more animated than he’d been all day, he demanded, “What the hell difference does it make if you track them down tonight, or tomorrow, or sometime next week? Dammit, Jim. You’re like a dog with a bone on this case. They’re just kids, trying to earn a fast buck. They aren’t gangsters or drug pushers or serial killers. You act like you resent them personally, man. Get a grip.”

“Get a grip?” Jim argued hotly. “Now you listen to me. You’re the one who pointed out that it’s probably the brightest students in professional programs who are running us in circles here and probably getting their jollies over thumbing their noses at us. They are willfully breaking the law, choosing to do so, because in their intellectual arrogance they think they’re above the law. Well, they’re not.”

“Nothing’s proven yet,” Blair hissed thinly. “Right now, they are still only students looking for ways to get through school successfully without starving to death along the way.”

Jim snorted. “Trust me, Chief. These brats don’t need your compassion. And I’m going to prove that to you, whether you like it or not.”

“Or die trying,” Blair muttered aggrievedly.

“Will you stop siding with them!” Jim raged.

“When you stop convicting them summarily before you’ve got proof that they’re more than what they say they are, man,” Blair fired back, crossing his arms and staring moodily into the night.

The heated irritation between the two of them built in the fuming silence of the rest of their trip home. Once they arrived, their simmering anger continued unspoken but evident in expressions and tense body language. Not hungry, and manifestly uninterested in pursuing their conversation further, Blair headed almost immediately up to bed.

By the time Jim followed a short time later, Blair was already sound asleep. Fuming silently, Jim crawled in to lie rigidly on his side, facing away from his partner and toward the stairs.

**

Tension from their argument the evening before still lingered between them when they woke and hurried through their morning ablutions in time to rush out to stake-out the employment office before seven AM. They’d filled a thermos with coffee and grabbed a couple bagels on the way out the door, and sat sipping and munching in silence. About twenty minutes after they’d parked on the corner of a side street that gave them a clear view, they saw Mark Connolly and Ted Wilkins, the two business students who ran the small agency, arrive to unlock the door and set up for the day.

Ten minutes after that, students garbed mostly in jeans, sweatshirts, jackets and sneakers, began to show up, straggling in singly or in groups of twos or threes. Armed with the photos from the administration files, they watched for any that were on their list. Within fifteen minutes, they spotted their seven male and eleven female prime suspects, several arriving together in groups of two or three. Jim smiled grimly and tilted his head, frowning as he concentrated on listening to the muddle of conversations in the place several hundred feet away. Blair slid a bit closer and lightly laid a hand on his partner’s thigh, to keep him grounded.

Students began leaving, almost as soon as they arrived, shoving slips of paper into their pockets, and hustling off down the street. Before long, only their eighteen were still in the agency. Jim swallowed and pressed his eyes closed, straining to hear. His jaw clenched and he nodded tightly. “Got’em,” he rasped, his posture relaxing.

Blair withdrew his hand and slid back in his seat, and he regarded Jim curiously. “What?”

“I didn’t get it all, but two, Steve and Jason for the boys’ team, and Lee-Ann and Melody, have been booked for afternoon massages, and the others have evening appointments,” Jim replied, all-business, and then gave him the half-dozen addresses he’d overheard clearly, while Blair busily scribbled them down in his notebook.

Switching on the ignition, Jim drawled, “Well, Chief, I guess we were both right. Some of these kids are trying to get by with an honest living – but some are in more of a hurry to get rich.”

“Yeah, guess so,” Blair agreed, his tone bleak. He’d been hoping that he’d been wrong, that his idea wouldn’t pan out. He was sorry so many students, and the student-run agency itself, were mired in illegal activities.

Jim glanced over at him, but didn’t reply as he pulled into traffic. There were far too many for them to tail all on their own, so he headed downtown to arrange for other teams to be assigned to some of the work. Even with help, they wouldn’t be able to keep tabs on all the kids that evening, but he hoped that, collectively, they would obtain enough to break the case open.

**

Armed with cameras, directional sound microphones and recorders, and photographs along with the suspects’ names and addresses, Connor, Rafe, Brown, and Jim, along with Blair, each tailed a suspect in the afternoon and again that evening. Just after eleven PM, once they had completed their surveillances, they got together at the PD and went over what they had.

Which was plenty; more than enough to tie ‘Body for Hire’ into prostitution. But they didn’t have evidence on all the players, so they debated moving first thing Monday morning or waiting until they had more of the goods on the other students involved.

“I’ll call Simon tomorrow, and get back to you on that,” Jim finally said, glancing at his watch and deciding he didn’t need to disturb their boss that late on a Saturday night. “I suspect he’ll want to get a warrant for a phone tap on the agency, to lock down the case, so that’ll mean having to let them run for another few days.” Looking around at his colleagues, he smiled as he said, “Good work, everyone. And thanks for being willing to give up a lot of your day off to help out. Really appreciate it.”

They packed up and said their good-nights in the parking garage before each headed home. Jim was in good spirits, having finally cracked the case, and knowing the rest was mostly about tying up loose ends before they made the busts later in the week.

“We got them,” he crowed smugly as he steered onto the street. “I told you I was going to bring that operation down. We’ll have the arrest warrants by mid-week. Can’t wait to see the looks on Connolly and Wilkins’ faces when they’re arrested – thought they were so smart they could be above the law.”

A lot less light-hearted, Blair muttered, “Yeah, you got them, alright. But I’ll pass on being there for the arrests, if you don’t mind.”

“They’re criminals,” Jim retorted defensively.

“They’re kids,” he replied dully, staring out at the night. “Kids that used to have a bright future, but that’s ruined now.”

Resenting the drag on his pleasure at having made a breakthrough, by the time they got to the loft Jim was simmering with irritation. Tossing his keys in the basket and hanging his jacket on the hook by the door, he snapped, “You know, I’ve really had it with your attitude on this case, Sandburg. We caught them in the act. What more do you want?”

“I guess I’d like you to gloat a little less, Jim,” Blair replied angrily. Lifting his hands, palms out, he went on, “I know what they’re doing is illegal. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be arrested. But do you have to get such joy out of it? Every one of them is up against the wall financially, and they made some bad decisions, some really big mistakes getting into this, agreed. But can you imagine what’s going to happen to them in jail, let alone in prison? These are young, good looking kids. God,” he rasped, raking his hair back, “makes me sick to think about it.” Turning away, shaking his head sorrowfully, he murmured, “There but for the grace of God ….”

“What’s that?” Jim snapped, his gaze narrowing, unwanted but unavoidable sick suspicion blooming in their depths. “What do you mean by that? For God’s sake, it’s not like these kids had it all that rough. They’re university students. How hard could it be?”

Shrugging as he wandered into the kitchen to make tea, Blair explained, “I was poor, too, Jim. I know what it’s like to wonder where the rent money is going to come from. I guess I understand the pressures and why they caved into them.”

“Oh, yeah?” Jim replied, his tone challenging as he followed his partner, crowding his space, not wanting to hear it. Very much wanting – needing – to know that Sandburg wasn’t saying what it sounded like. “Is that why you’ve been so reluctant to be involved all week? Because you know how hard it is and you understand their choices.”

Frowning, Blair looked up at him as he waited for the kettle to boil. “What are you getting at?”

Shrugging, his tone one he more routinely used in interrogations than with his partner, Jim taunted, “Guess I’m just beginning to wonder just how well you do understand these kids, and why you’ve been so uneasy, even like you feel a little guilty, for helping me go after them. Guess I’m wondering just how you did pay the bills.”

“What?” Blair exclaimed, his mouth dropping open in shocked surprise and his eyes narrowing in disbelief at the insinuations.

“Well, with a mother like yours,” he shrugged, needing to find excuses for Sandburg in case … in case his suspicion was true. “She may not have taken cold hard cash. I guess you could say she took out in trade. But I can see how growing up in that environment might leave you thinking that selling your body –”

He got no further.

Fury blossomed in Blair’s eyes, and his face flushed with ire. “You sonofabitch!” he shouted as he hauled off and slugged Jim on the jaw, driving him back against the island. “How dare you say things like that about my Mom!” he yelled, and his fury loosened the reins he’d been holding on his tongue all week. Crowding Jim, snarling in his face, poking him hard in the chest, he raged, “What the hell do you know about living in poverty, man? Huh? About having a kid when you’re barely seventeen and loving him and doing everything you could for him? And what does my background have to do with anything here?” Taking a breath, stepping back, he waved his hands, pushing them against the air as if pushing anything about his mother out of the discussion. Glaring at Jim, he seethed, “We checked the backgrounds of these ‘perps’, Jim. We know they have no financial backing of any kind. They had to find every last dime they needed to survive, without any help past an academic scholarship that maybe paid their tuition and books. What were they supposed to live on? Air? How are they supposed to keep up their grades if they’re slaving away waiting tables or washing windows to make ends meet? Huh? You in your big fancy house, the big jock at school! When did you ever have to go hungry, huh? Yeah, yeah, I know. You had such a tough childhood. Your Dad was so mean and cruel – bullshit, man. I’ve met William. No way could he have been the bastard you describe, who was so into mental cruelty and manipulation! Sure, a man grieving for the death of his marriage, that I can believe. A man who didn’t know how to express love except to help his sons grow up with the toughness of spirit he thought they’d need to survive in this world – absolutely. But don’t you tell me he didn’t love you and give you everything he had in him to give! And in your contempt and resentment for him, when it was time for you to go to university did you turn down his help with the tuition? Did he pay the fees for the fancy frat house you lived in? Because I bet you did live in a frat house – all the rich kids do, unless they have even more fabulous apartments or condos. You hated him, but you took him for what you could get until you got out of that house, and got your degree – and you never forgave him for giving you a safe, secure, indulged childhood. And I bet you took his money without even blinking, figuring it was his job to pay – so who’s the prostitute now, eh, buddy? Well, good for you for having such unswerving principles. Don’t you dare stand in judgment of my mother because you resent the fact that I had a mother and you didn’t. You had everything else, man. Everything else.”

Straightening under the tirade, rubbing his bruised chin, Jim scowled at the furious diatribe. He grabbed Blair and shook him, to make him stop, but Blair twisted out of his grip and shoved him away, too angry to keep holding it in.

“You think I prostituted myself to pay my bills?” he growled. “Is that what you really think? Do you think that’s what I’m doing here? Sleeping with you to make ends meet, absolutely no pun intended! That I’ve been using you that way? Using myself that way? After all this time – you could really think that? Believe it? Well, fuck you, Jim Ellison. I so do not need this. Don’t need you.”

He pushed past and stormed to his room, slamming the door behind him, while Jim gaped after him, aghast at the typhoon of fury he’d unintentionally unleashed. Blinking in confusion, he ran through his memories of all Sandburg had just said, first furious with Blair’s seething commentary about his father, about accepting the money, about not having a clue about being really impoverished. But then, shaking with the effort to contain his emotions, he swallowed hard, and accepted that, maybe, Sandburg had a point.

His shot about Naomi had certainly been way out of line.

And he hadn’t seriously thought Blair had ever prostituted himself – had he? Just because the kid could empathize with the students they’d be arresting, didn’t mean he had – did it? No. No, of course it didn’t. How could he have been so stupid as to suggest ….

The French doors slammed open, cutting off Jim’s struggle to work out what the hell had just happened. Blair strode out, a stuffed carry-all over his shoulder. Alarmed, Jim demanded, “What are you doing?”

“Leaving,” he snapped, refusing to make eye contact. Grabbing his jacket from the hook and heaving the backpack over his shoulder, he reached for the doorknob.

“Wait,” Jim called, striding toward him. “Chief, I didn’t mean –”

But, with a resounding bang, the door was already slamming shut in his face.

For long moments, Jim stood irresolute, wincing when he clenched his jaw and again rubbing it gingerly. He heard the sputter and catch of the Volvo engine, and the squeal of the wheels as Blair angrily gunned the car along the street. And then he was grabbing his own jacket and keys. He couldn’t let Blair go on believing he’d meant what he’d said in a moment of angry irritation. Couldn’t let him go like this.

Couldn’t lose him like this.

**

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Dorian
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