The nightmare began. No reference existed for the moment before this one, no memory of walking downstairs or coming to stand in the middle of the loft. Jim felt planted, stranded in a body that would not move. Warmth spread across his back, and he knew if he could turn he would see sunlight streaming in from the balcony. His feet were numb, and with effort he looked down. In an instant, his unease became terror as he realized his feet were gone, replaced by roots, tunneling into the floor, binding him to the spot.
His heart raced. Keys rattled in the door and he shot his gaze up to find Blair entering the loft. Jim tried to speak but his lips were frozen. Blair walked into the kitchen, poured a glass of water, then moved to the couch, passing by Jim as if he weren't there. He dropped onto the cushions and began reading the mail, thumbing through it slowly, going about a normal moment in a day where the furnace blew warm air and the refrigerator hummed.
Jim latched onto reason. If this were real, Blair would see him. He took a breath and it whistled in his chest like wind through a hollow core. Not real, not real. He stared at Blair, focused on the beauty of his lover, the glimmer of sunlight in those curls. Blair sighed and rested his head back against the cushions of the couch. He closed his eyes and Jim watched the steady rise and fall of his chest, almost losing himself in the rhythm.
Until he heard it.
Upstairs. A sound he could not place. It reminded him of buried things stirring beneath the earth, creatures tunneling, bones shifting. And the air in the loft grew cold until his breath became mist. Then it was there, at the top of the stairs. A shadow, a black and shifting shape that molded itself into the form of a man with dark and wrinkled skin.
It moved toward Blair and Jim tried to shout.
Move your ass, Chief. Run, goddammit!
Then the shape was on top of Blair, pinning him to the cushions and Blair was... laughing.
"Miss me?" Blair smiled at the creature and Jim felt a wave of jealousy.
"Come here." It spoke and the voice rattled in its throat like gravel down a hill.
Blair lay stretched on the couch as it spread itself on top of him. A wave of nausea rolled over Jim as he watched the entity touch Blair, slide a gnarled hand along his cheek then under his shirt, pushing it up to reveal the flat stomach. A tongue flicked out to taste and Blair moaned. Laughter echoed around Jim as it pulled Blair's jeans off, tugged him forward, lifted his legs onto its shoulders.
"Mine," it said before lurching forward to swallow Blair's cock.
"Oh God!" Blair panted and thrashed beneath the creature.
Sweat trickled down Jim's face as he strained and pushed against bonds he could not see. Blair gripped the cushions beneath him and shouted as he came. Rage burned through Jim, threatening to consume him as the creature swallowed and moaned, gripping Blair's hips, digging its fingers into the soft skin, leaving marks. Jim watched Blair shudder and settle like he always did after sex, sighing as his eyelids drooped then closed and he smiled that soft smile, the one meant for Jim.
Nothing would move and the numbness climbed higher, past his feet to his legs then onward until his whole body grew brittle and heavy. Jim felt the last of his flesh turn to wood as his gaze froze on the creature. It lifted itself and looked at Jim with skin no longer shriveled, but new. And, the face was familiar, the face was Jim's, the expression was victory and Jim would have screamed if he could.
Jim woke with a gasp. He sat up in bed, rigid and aware of the empty space beside him. He pulled his breath under control and listened until he found Blair downstairs. He stood and jerked on sweats, cursing the fumble of his hands as they shook. He leaned on the railing and looked down. Blair sat on the couch, legs curled beneath him, newspaper scattered across the cushions.
"What are you doing?" Jim asked and he heard the accusation in his tone, the hint of anger.
Blair peered up at him over wire-frames and quirked one eyebrow.
"Reading the paper. It's Sunday. You know, day of big sports section, lots of funnies? Don't worry, I folded the sports back just like I found them." Mischief filled the blue gaze. "It's safe now. You can touch them."
"Smart-ass." A wave of relief hit him as he watched Blair sip coffee from his Sunday mug and lean back against the couch with that look in his eyes, the patiently indulgent one that said alright, get your ass down here and tell me what's up.
Jim took the stairs like a runner, then slowed his pace a bit on his walk to the couch. He towered over Blair for a moment, hands on hips, glowering as best he could at his lover's smug expression before taking the cup, setting it on the coffee table, and pulling Blair up into a bear hug.
"Oof." Blair squeezed him back and laughed. "Okay, I give. You can have the funnies too."
"Who needs them with you around?" Jim nuzzled his way past tangled curls to the curve of Blair's neck.
Blair began a smart comeback that trailed into "oh" as Jim nibbled his way to a warm, flushed earlobe. Jim sucked the lobe in, twirled his tongue around it then moved back toward that sweet spot on Blair's neck.
"When are you going to get it right, Chief?" he murmured against the soft skin. "They're called 'comics,' not 'funnies.'"
Blair hummed his dissent and reached down to cup Jim's ass. He leaned back as far as the hug would allow and stared at Jim with a warm glance.
"Good morning," he said.
Jim smiled and dipped his fingers into thick curls. "Good morning." He rubbed his thumbs across Blair's whiskers. "Been up long?"
"Nah. Did I wake you? I was trying to be quiet. You need to catch up on your sleep. Rafe owes you one for taking the stake-out with Henri last night." Blair regarded him with serious eyes. "You look tired."
Jim stalled further comment with a kiss. It began tender as lips brushed together then apart. Blair tasted like coffee and burnt toast, wheat and apple butter. Jim pushed his tongue into heat and chased that other flavor, the one he could never quite name. Blair moaned and Jim tugged him closer, suddenly possessive as a piece of the dream flashed to mind. He pulled back and tilted Blair's head then dove in again, pushing their mouths wide and ruling the pace.
The kiss ended with a gasp and he grinned at Blair's glazed expression and the determined focus on Jim's mouth.
"How about we both go back to bed, Chief?"
Jim took the "mm" as a yes, grabbed the sports page then tugged Blair upstairs with sleep being the last thing on his mind.
They made love and time passed. It felt good not to track it; to let the shifting patterns of sunlight in the room, and a growl from his stomach, tell him noon must be close. Blair had been the one to fall asleep after coming twice. The first time, he proclaimed Jim the master of all things oral. The last, he shouted something biblical as Jim came inside him. Then he wound down, resting back against Jim's chest, murmuring "stay" when he began to pull free, melting any resolve Jim might have had to leave their bed. He was still half-hard inside Blair, arm curled around his shoulders, face tucked into the curve of his neck where he felt most vulnerable and smelled of musk. And as warm breath streamed across his arm, Jim fought the urge to thrust, to begin a rhythm that would change the moment. But soon he had to move and he thrust slowly, groaning at the tight heat. Blair's breath hitched and he came awake in stages, voice thick as he moaned Jim's name and fumbled for his cock. Jim pushed the hands away and thrust deeper, harder, reveling in the sounds Blair made and the pliant feel of his body. His cock began to fill in Jim's hand and Jim worked him gently until thought faded into motion and need and Jim drove them both over the edge again.
"Man, I love Sundays." Blair sounded breathless and he moaned softly as Jim pulled free. "Sunday is the best of all days."
"I thought Saturday was the best day." Jim tugged Blair onto his back and traced a finger across his lower lip.
"That was yesterday, man. Three orgasms ago." Blair's eyebrows climbed. "Three in one morning, Jim. I think that's a record."
"Let's call Ripley's." Jim struggled to keep the self-satisfied look from his eyes as he leaned down for a kiss. "Damn, you taste good this morning."
Blair's stomach chose that moment to growl.
"How romantic," Jim said.
"I worked up an appetite." Blair grinned at him.
"Yeah, well, now you can go work us up some lunch. It's your turn." Jim kissed him again then rolled away, adjusted his pillow and snared the sports page from the bedside table.
Blair stretched with a satisfied grunt but made no move to get up. Jim opened to the second page and started an article about the NBA draft. He made it to paragraph two before Blair's musings began.
"So, I guess you might have been all revved up this morning because you missed having me around last night."
"Uh huh." Jim reread the last sentence, something about the Jags' chances for the number two pick.
"Or you could be feeling guilty about something and figured that fucking me senseless was a good way to make it up to me."
Jim dropped the corner of the paper and glared at the man happily sprawled next to him.
"Or not." Blair shrugged and rolled onto his side. He propped his head on his hand and regarded Jim with an expectant look.
"What? I need a reason to want to have sex with you?"
"No." Blair smiled and ran a warm palm down Jim's chest. "I just thought that maybe something was up with you is all."
Jim returned his gaze to the newspaper and considered how to answer that. It was now, with the light of day hitting it, a stupid dream. He had turned into a tree, for God's sake, in his own living room. He fully intended to tell Blair about the dream, but he wanted to wait until after breakfast so it wouldn't seem like the sex had anything to do with Jim needing to prove something. After all, the sex had been great. He didn't need to be admitting that some gnarled up figment of his imagination made him jealous. Who knew what Blair Sandburg would make of that? Jim nearly shuddered at the possibilities.
Blair stuck his finger in Jim's belly button and tugged. He grinned as Jim's cock twitched.
"Tell me," he drawled, "or I'll make you go for four."
Jim tossed the paper aside and pounced. He sprawled across Blair, pulled his wrists above his head and pinned them down. Blair yelped in surprise and laughed.
"Whoa, just kidding, man."
"You don't think I could do it?" Jim tried for humor but the tone veered off into defensive.
Blair immediately lost his smile. His brows knit together and he began babbling apologies and assurances until Jim kissed him just to shut him up. He kissed him long and hard, kneed his way between Blair's thighs and rolled his hips forward for good measure. He pulled back from the kiss and Blair blinked owlishly up at him.
"Jim, I love you. You're the King, the Man, the charge for my battery-- but I've got to tell you, if you want to make me hard again, you're gonna have to rent a balloon pump."
Jim snorted and dropped his face onto Blair's shoulder. Blair chuckled and pulled his wrists free. He smoothed warm palms up and down Jim's sides until Jim lifted his face and grinned down at him.
"You're a piece of work, Sandburg."
Blair shrugged cheerfully. Jim shook his head and rolled off. He turned his face and stared across the distance of one pillow into the smiling eyes of his lover.
"I dreamt you were making out with some shriveled up freak while I turned into a tree."
Blair stared at him blankly for a full five seconds before responding.
"Shriveled up as in old or as in been in the water too long?"
He looked serious, but Jim narrowed his eyes. "What?"
Blair grinned and moved over to straddle Jim's waist. He looked down at Jim and raised one eyebrow.
"Start from the beginning," he said.
It took a long time to tell what with Blair in inquisitor mode. Plus, there were the occasional facts about trees he felt compelled to share: religious symbolism, cultural significance, and, of course, the aphrodisiac effect of some types of bark. But, eventually, the dream was spilled and Jim peered over the side of the bed to retrieve the sports page.
Blair sat cross-legged beside him on the bed now. "It could mean a lot of things. Like, for instance, it could be a warning about your diet. I've been telling you, man; cut out the greasy, fried foods. That stuff will suck the life right out of you."
He illustrated the point with sucking noises and strange contortions of his hands.
"Having fun, Chief?" Jim flipped to the last page of the sports. "How about we focus on your dreams for awhile. I could probably explain the men in white uniforms, chasing you around with a net."
"Good one." Blair grinned. "Actually, I do have a recurring dream. It involves this panther who shows up to give me a tongue bath."
Jim tossed a sideways glare at him, which lost all impact due to the twitch at the corners of his mouth. He finally gave in to a begrudging smirk.
"A tongue bath, huh?" He looked at Blair. "You like that dream?"
"Oh yeah," Blair said.
Monday's bullpen resembled a ghost town. Around-the-clock surveillance of Kennet's warehouses near the wharf had Major Crime spread thin and short on good humor. But Kennet's days as crime lord were hopefully numbered. His latest operation involved the sale of illegal weapons, and it looked to be the one Major Crime had finally caught a break on. Information from a protected witness about plans to sell to the Hawks, one of Cascade's leading gangs, offered enough evidence to put him away. All they needed now was confirmation regarding the next buy.
Blair hoped it came soon. With Major Crime frayed at the edges, no topic or encounter felt safe. Blair was fed up himself. The final straw came this morning when Joel Taggart had actually grunted and cursed in reply to "Hey Joel, how's it going?"
With let-it-end-soon running like a mantra through his head, Blair made a coffee run. He carried two cups back from the break room, mindful of the fact he'd overfilled one of them. He nearly made it to Jim's desk without a spill when Simon bellowed.
"Ellison, Sandburg, my office!"
"Ow." Coffee dribbled across his fingers and onto the scuffed tile by Jim's feet.
"Shit, Chief. Be careful. What the hell are you doing?" Jim took the clean cup and left Blair to wrap Kleenex around the other. "Did you burn yourself?"
"No," Blair groused despite the red blotch forming on his finger.
Jim raised one eyebrow and regarded him with one of the looks in his vast repertoire, the one that made Blair feel all of twelve.
"Like you've never spilled anything." Blair scrambled to come up with a recent example, couldn't think of one, so quickly changed tactics. "Mr. Perfect, Mr. Detective of the Year, Mr..."
"Sometime this year, gentlemen." Simon glared at them from his office door.
"Coming, sir." Jim tugged on Blair's sleeve. "Come on, Mr. Fumbles."
"Ha ha." Blair fell in step beside him.
Simon slipped into his coat as they entered his office.
"We have a double homicide on our hands." Simon searched his pockets and pulled out his car keys. "I'm assigning you."
"Shit, Simon, why is this falling in Major Crime's lap?" Jim asked.
"Don't start with me, Jim. I know we have our hands full right now, but this one is ours. The victims are Dan Hampton and Roger Stone. Their bodies were found in the woods beyond the track at Rainier."
The words landed like a punch.
"You're kidding!" Blair shook his head and looked at Jim, who seemed equally stunned.
Dan Hampton was a track star at Rainier, an Olympic hopeful, and Roger Stone was his coach. Blair remembered reading a feature story about him in last Sunday's paper.
"Do I look like I'm kidding, Sandburg?!" Simon glared at him.
"No, of course not." Blair winced. "Sorry, sir."
"Let's move." Simon led them out of his office toward the elevators.
Press already hung about the campus by the time Jim pulled the truck into a spot near the track. Simon arrived a few seconds later and joined them on the walk toward the crime scene. Blair spotted yellow tape a few yards into the woods. Leaves and twigs snapped beneath his feet as he rushed to keep up with Jim and Simon's longer strides. An officer, who looked to be about Simon's age, met them as they neared the scene. He wore a grim expression, but Blair noticed warmth flash in his eyes as he spotted Simon.
"Captain." He smiled.
"How are you doing, Barry?" Simon returned the smile. "Were you the first on the scene?"
"Yeah." He nodded. "Whoever did this is either a whack-job or someone with an agenda."
"What makes you say that?" Jim asked.
Barry glanced at Jim.
"Sorry, let me introduce you. Barry, this is Detective Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Blair's a consultant for the department." Simon tipped his chin toward the officer. "This is Barry North, an officer who should be a detective by now. I would recruit him for Major Crime."
"Thanks, Simon, but I'm good where I'm at." He smiled then sobered as he glanced at a young officer who stood nearby, looking green around the edges. "Let's start by getting you a look at the crime scene."
Blair took a breath to prepare, but his stomach still clenched at the site of Dan Hampton's body, hanging by the wrists, bound to a large tree. He heard Jim's soft gasp and followed his glance to the base of the tree where roots twisted and disappeared into the earth and blood stained the ground in two large circles, spreading from where Dan Hampton's feet should have been.
"Shit," Jim murmured. "Shit."
For an instant, fear flooded the cool blue of Jim's eyes. Blair gripped his arm and shook gently.
"Jim." He spoke in a near-whisper, pulling calm from someplace inside himself. "We'll figure this out."
Blair poured reassurance into his glance. Jim took a breath, nodded then looked away, detaching into a place with thick walls. Blair let him go, feeling the loss as he released Jim's arm, that brief pang he would probably always feel when Jim turned away from him. Then Blair took his own breath and checked his own emotions with a still developing skill.
Jim moved near the body and looked down. He squatted and Blair joined him to get a closer look at a newly planted tree. It looked to be a palm tree, which had been placed with care into the blood-soaked earth.
"What do you make of these, Chief?" Jim pointed to a series of marks drawn in the earth with shallow precision.
"It looks like some kind of old language." Blair took a notebook and pen from his pocket and copied the symbols.
Jim caught the attention of a forensics tech.
"Let's bag this tree and check out what's beneath it."
Blair looked at Jim curiously then felt his stomach flip as he realized what Jim was thinking and knew what they would find. They stepped back to allow the photographer to capture the symbols and the arrangement of the plant to the crime scene. Then the tech removed earth carefully, bagging samples and placing the new tree carefully aside for evidence. A shallow hole remained with Dan Hampton's missing feet resting in the center. Blair nearly gagged as he looked away, glancing at Jim to be sure he had the dials in hand.
Jim nodded and Blair followed him to a fallen tree where Roger Stone's body sat propped like a spectator. He had been bound and gagged, and the knife protruding from his chest left little doubt as to the cause of death. Blair looked at the face and felt a sudden sweat as the blank eyes of a dead man called to him. Wind rushed through the trees, whispering like voices, and Blair tried to look away but the round gaze lured him forward a step, like the knothole in Mrs. Danbush's tree used to do, the one that stared at him from across backyards. Blair shook himself and backed away from the body, but he couldn't break the stare. It followed him as he moved.
"Watch where you're going, Sandburg!"
Blair whirled to face Simon Banks.
"Sorry," he breathed.
Simon considered him for a moment and seemed about to say something when Jim's warm palm suddenly closed upon Blair's shoulder and squeezed. Blair edged slightly closer to Jim, seeking a shield from the sensation of eyes boring into him, and told himself to get a damn grip.
"Your friend's right, Captain," Jim said. "This isn't your garden variety perp we're dealing with here."
Simon snorted. "You are the man to turn to for understatement, Jim."
Blair fought the urge to look over his shoulder. He tilted his head toward Jim instead and watched him bob one eyebrow at Simon's comment and shrug.
"Looks like forensics has the scene under control," Jim said. "Any witnesses?"
Simon shook his head. "None we know of. The story I've gathered so far is that a student found the bodies this morning as he cut through the woods on his way to the track. Barry has a start on some names and numbers for family and friends of the victims. I want you to interview the kid who found the bodies then get started on the track team."
"We're on it," Jim said.
Simon moved away, and Blair felt the warm slide of Jim's palm from his shoulder to the small of his back. He stepped forward after a small shove.
"You okay, Chief?" Jim looked down at him.
"Yeah," Blair said despite the urge to shudder. "How about you?"
"I'll be better when we catch whoever did this." Jim ducked to avoid a low branch.
Blair huffed out a breath of agreement and fell in stride beside him. As they left the woods and walked toward the track, the sense of being watched lingered, hovering behind him, losing focus as it gained weight. They reached the student in gray sweats and a blue windbreaker who had seen the bodies first. He looked like a racehorse on the block, penned up and wanting to run. Blair listened as Jim questioned him, caught the timbre of fear in his answers and gave in finally to the urge to follow the glances the kid kept darting toward the woods. They loomed now with a presence born of secrets, brooding and cheerless, constant in their summons like fingers tapping his shoulder then burrowing in. A shudder coursed through him. He felt helpless against it, as those fingers touched something inside him, something deep and guarded, something essential.
"...We have your address and phone. We'll call if we need you." Jim's voice held the tone of wrapping things up; it pulled Blair's attention back in time to see the kid nod before sprinting onto the track.
"I wonder if he'll outrun his demons." Blair watched the flash of white sneakers.
"Not today, I'll bet." Jim said.
The morning passed in a blur. They sidestepped the press at the homes of each victim and spoke to the families and close friends. The track team offered a few names of athletes with a grudge and they pulled each one in for questioning. By afternoon, Blair felt exhausted and Jim was in narrow focus mode, the one he fell into when too much swirled around him. In a case driven day of slippery facts, Jim kept a tight reign on the simple things like trash landing inside the trashcan and paper clips loose on his desk: "The cup, Chief. Put them in the cup."
Blair finally moved to Connor's desk, since she was on stake out, and used her computer to research the symbols found at the crime scene. He kept returning to the details Jim had shared of his dream and wishing he could find the key to lock the story together.
"You'll get it, Chief," Jim had said over a hurried lunch. He had looked matter-of-fact and the straight quality of his gaze made Blair's heart clip faster. Faith and expectation tumbled at him and, for an instant, he had felt like dodging but didn't. Blair held the gaze and nodded.
"Sure, Jim," He had said, then proceeded to down a tuna sandwich and two glasses of raspberry tea, knowing his bladder would hound him but not caring. It was great tea; he would remember the flavor for a long time.
Over the next hour, Blair nailed the language from the crime scene and began a search of the net's myriad sites on trees. He lost himself in the task, and started when Jim tapped his shoulder.
"Going deaf, Chief? It's time for our update to Simon." Jim waved a folder at him. "I just got an interim report from Forensics. Let's go."
Blair logged off and followed Jim to Simon's office. Simon waved them in as he finished a phone conversation that sounded unpleasant. Blair sat beside Jim at the conference table and pulled the Forensics report in front of him.
"I understand. I'll keep you informed." Simon ended the call and came to join them at the table.
"I just had a lovely talk with our Chief of Police." Simon smiled with false cheer. "I hope you two have something solid for me to report back to him?"
"Here's what we have from Forensics so far, sir." Jim plucked the report back from Blair. "The cause of death for each victim is being listed as cardiopulmonary arrest secondary to blood loss. No surprise there. Also, there's evidence both men were drugged."
"Any speculation about what the drug was?" Simon asked.
"Some kind of paralytic agent," Jim said.
Simon blew out a breath and nodded. "How about the interviews? What did you turn up?"
"Basically, Hampton had a couple rivals at Rainier, but they don't pan out as likely murder suspects. Both have solid alibis. Family and friends haven't provided anything useful either." Jim rubbed his forehead. "Sorry, sir, but we're drawing a blank so far."
"What do they have on the plant?" Simon asked.
"It's some kind of palm tree. Specifically..." Jim scanned the report.
"Paxiuba palm." Blair pointed to the line on the report. "I just read about it online."
Simon looked at him with interest. "What did you find out?"
"It has a long history with some religions and cultures. There's a legend in South America that it grew from a site where an exalted one was burned at the stake. Wood from this tree is supposed to produce musical instruments."
"Is there a connection that you see, Chief?"
"Yeah, the symbols drawn around the base of the tree match Ogham, which is an old language connected to Celtic lore and druids. It's actually called the 'tree alphabet.'"
"And..." Simon prompted.
"The symbols spell the word 'music,'" Blair said.
Jim sat back and pulled on his lower lip. Simon leaned forward and rubbed both palms across his face.
"So what's the connection here?" Simon pulled the forensics report in front of him. "The victim's feet were planted beneath this palm. I don't get a connection between music and feet and trees."
Blair shook his head, frustration welling up. "I know. I'm not connecting the dots either. But there has to be some significance to the ceremony the killer went through. Maybe a sacrificial offering, or a wish for rebirth."
"Sacrifice and rebirth?" Jim said.
"Yeah," Blair looked at him with a thought forming. "It's as though the killer was using the physical representation of the victim's strength to nourish another facet."
"But why music?" Jim asked.
Blair could only shrug. "I don't know."
"Did Hampton have some musical hobby?" Simon closed the folder and pushed it back to Jim. "What about Roger Stone? How does his death play into all this?"
"Stone doesn't appear to have anyone with a grudge or motive to kill him," Jim said. "He seems to be pretty well thought of. I would lean toward putting him in the category of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Blair nodded. "Could be. Or he could also have been integral to the ceremony."
"I don't know, but he was propped in a good position to watch whatever went on."
"Stone was stabbed in the heart. He died instantly." Jim double-checked the file. "And, the estimated time of death suggests he did die after Hampton." Jim frowned. "It also states that Stone received a more concentrated dose of the drug than Hampton."
"Maybe the killer wanted Hampton to struggle, but he just needed Stone to be an observer. He might have gotten off on overpowering Hampton." Blair shrugged. "Hampton was an athlete. He was strong. The killer may have coveted that strength."
"Sounds twisted." Jim raised one eyebrow. "But plausible."
"Or maybe this murder has more to do with Roger Stone than we think. I want all the angles checked on this." Simon pushed back from the table. "Dig up more facts on him. I don't care how well thought of he was; he probably has a rat in the closet somewhere. And find out if Hampton was some kind of musician on the side."
Blair began to protest but held back at Jim's warning glare.
"Yes, sir." Jim pushed back from the table and tapped Blair's arm. "Let's go, Chief."
When they reached the bullpen, Blair perched on Jim's desk and shook his head.
"I don't think this murder is about Roger Stone, Jim. I think he's just a prop like everything else at the scene. And I'm sure we would have uncovered any musical talent from Hampton in all the interviews and the search of his place."
Jim nodded. "You're probably right, but 'probably' doesn't cut it here. Let's head back to Stone's home and see if we can pull any more information from his family."
Blair sighed and played absently with a pencil, tapping it on the desk until Jim took it away and dropped it back in the holder. He grabbed both their coats off the rack and tossed Blair his before heading out of the bullpen. Blair groaned, pushed off the desk and followed. This day was growing longer and Sunday rested too far in the future to bring any comfort at all.
Jim paid for the pizza and carried it back to the truck where Blair sat, bouncing his knee and fiddling with the radio dials. He reminded Jim of the kid from this morning, vibrating with tension and looking as if he wanted to chase something. It was past nine o'clock and Jim had no idea where energy like that could come from after a day like today. He wanted four things: pizza, a shower, bed, and Blair Sandburg wrapped around him, tossing out the quiet, rhythmic breaths of deep sleep.
By the time they reached the loft, Jim's head throbbed from half hearted attempts to follow Blair's discourse on the Celtic social order, magical obligations and some tangent on the territorial implications of paper clip holders. They divvied the pizza up in halves, Jim's being the normal half, and ate.
"The more I think about it, Jim, I'm sure your dream was a premonition, a warning of things to come." Blair spoke around a mouthful of cheese and other more strange ingredients. "Meditation is the answer here. We get you relaxed, take you back into the dream and find out where music fits into the picture."
Blair did so with effort then scrubbed a napkin across his mouth and stood.
"I'm going to check out the CD's. Maybe a nature based soundtrack would..."
Jim reached out, snared Blair's wrist and hauled him back to the table.
"Look, Road-Runner, you're going to sit your butt back in the chair and finish your pizza. Let's focus a little, shall we? One thing at a time. You're all over the place here, Chief."
Blair shook his wrist free.
"I'm going to what?" His voice rose as he glared at Jim. "I'm going to sit my butt in the chair? Is that what I just heard?" He shook his head. "No, can't be right. Because if it was, that would mean you think that you can tell me what to do."
"Oh for Christ's sake." Jim tossed his own napkin on the table. "Don't turn this into a drama, Chief. I'm just saying you're wound up and you need to settle down."
"Right. I need to settle down. Can't be that you need to loosen up. No."
And Blair was off, stalking to the kitchen where he slapped his palm on the island, scattering mail on the floor in the process. Then he strode to the living room, pacing around the couches, wheeling his arms as he made some point about boxes and how Jim had his ass firmly stuck in one. Jim considered zooming his sight in on Blair's skull to search for a crack.
"What the hell is up with you?" He walked toward Blair, pausing at a safe distance with one couch between them. "Why don't you try sitting down and taking a breath."
"I don't want to sit down." Blair raised himself on his toes, arms flung wide. "Maybe I want to stand."
He spoke like it was some novel concept, this idea of standing in the center of the room. Jim closed his mouth and stared, then raised his hands in a "whatever" gesture and walked toward the kitchen and the mess of envelopes and paper strewn across the floor.
"Touch it and I will kick your ass."
Jim froze, bent over, hand reaching for the pile. It was the tone that made him stand and turn. He met the sight of Blair in fight mode: face flushed, eyes sparkling and dark, chest rising and falling with an angry rhythm; sexy as hell, and totally about to win whatever kind of fight this was.
Jim dropped his arms to his sides, his glance to the floor and walked toward Blair, slowly. He stopped a foot away, raised his eyes and met fierce blue.
"Not touching," Jim said.
Blair took a breath and the color of his eyes grew a fraction lighter. Jim moved another step forward, bumped one shoulder against Blair's, and felt heat rise in the air between them. Blair stared at Jim but his gaze seemed inward. Jim thought, if he listened hard, he would hear wheels turning, gears shifting. Blair sighed and dropped his chin. Jim moved one hand under the drape of curls, palmed the warm skin at the nape of Blair's neck and squeezed.
"Fuck." Blair raised his face. The flush still warmed his cheeks but his eyes were no longer angry.
"Is that an order?" Jim made his best attempt at an innocent expression.
Blair huffed out a laugh and closed the final distance, wrapping his arms around Jim's waist and resting his face against Jim's chest. Jim wrapped him in a tight hug. They stood quietly for a moment and Jim listened to the wind pick up outside the loft. He rubbed a palm down Blair's back and kept his eyes focused forward, resisting the urge to glance at the mess caught in his peripheral vision; some mail on the floor, big deal.
Blair moved his face into the curve of Jim's neck and sighed. "It's killing you, isn't it?"
"What?" Jim almost jerked.
Blair pulled back, grabbed Jim's face with two warm palms and stared him down.
"You have exactly two minutes to pick up the mail, tidy your perimeter, do whatever you need; then you are going to meet me on the other side of the shower curtain." Blair quirked one eyebrow. "Do I make myself clear?"
"Crystal." Jim nodded.
Blair walked to the bathroom door and tossed a look of corruption at Jim on his way inside. Jim heard the faucet squeal, water splash tile and the sound of a zipper. He stacked the mail on the table, resisted the urge to separate bills from junk, then bee-lined toward the bathroom. Two out of four wishes falling into place; not bad so far, he thought.
They made love in a rush. All hands and tongues and awkward angles and fast. Blair held him after, as the water pounded down.
"I don't know how the music fits, Jim."
Jim kissed his forehead then his mouth, sucking his lower lip in, teasing it with his teeth until Blair moaned.
"Maybe that's because it shouldn't fit. This is some crazy son-of-a-bitch. If he has a master plan, it might only make sense to him." Jim said.
He watched Blair roll the thought around, watched ideas flash behind his eyes then kissed him again when the crease began to form between his eyebrows. He kissed without mercy, intent on one thing: reeling Blair back from the demons. Jim grinned at the effect as Blair's eyes lost focus.
"Bed," he said, and gently shook Blair's face.
They finally made it upstairs, where moonlight dropped from the skylight in a square, turning white sheets blue. Jim felt warm and comfortable with Blair's head on his chest, one arm curled about his waist, leg hooked over Jim's. Four for four, Jim thought as he began to slide away.
Jim ran toward the moon. Trees pierced it like a silver ball hung too low in the sky. Something about it lured him in, past the field of wet grass into woods where tall shadows fell from trees in silhouette against the light. He ran fast, legs pumping, stronger than any moment he could remember. Barely sweating, he felt his heart thump, heard the thrum of blood through his veins, the pound in his ears like waves hitting shore. He ran faster, air whistled past him, the currents bore him up and he became a thing with blurred edges, a soft sigh in the night, humming through the trees like a melody, strong enough to rattle all the leaves in the wood.
He became the wind.