"So, what's on the agenda today?" Jim asked as he snagged scrambled eggs out of the pan Blair was stirring. Jim still felt a little guilty about Blair abandoning his green shake in the morning, but when he had come down the stairs complaining about the sink being backed up and the nauseating smell, he honestly hadn't known it was his guide's breakfast. He definitely didn't expect Blair to give up the drink, but the man had switched over to eggs and toast.
Jim took his plate to the table and looked at the eggs... or what eggs he could spot under the peppers, mushrooms, onions, and various other less easily identified vegetables.
"Going over to the clinic to get an AIDS test," Blair said, and Jim choked, nearly losing his mouthful of food.
"Um, what?" he finally coughed out.
"Hey, if I can't fight sentinel instincts, I need to keep you safe from yourself," Blair said as he dumped the remaining eggs onto a plate and grabbed dark rye toast out of the toaster. Jim felt a moment of utter and undeniable panic as he thought back on the last month. He had fought his instincts, pushing them down into submission so that Blair wouldn't start in on him about bonding needs. But this... this suggested that he had failed in some monumental way.
"What?" he repeated, not sure how to handle his guide's casual attitude toward the bonding issue.
"Oh man, don't even pretend it didn't happen. Brown said you always used to follow procedure to the letter, and I bet if it had been anyone else, you so totally would have been the same rule-happy sentinel as always." Blair dropped into the seat across from Jim and started in on the breakfast as Jim still tried to decipher that comment.
"Sandburg, you're not making any sense," he finally pulled himself together enough to say. Blair snorted around a mouthful of egg and toast.
"Man, I like bled all over you," Blair finally pointed out, waving with his fork for emphasis. "If anyone else had gotten bit, you would have pulled out the gloves and avoided the blood, but you go all protective and end up with my blood all over *your* hands." This time Blair held up his bandaged hand, and Jim found his heart slowing into a more normal beat. Blair looked at him strangely, and Jim dropped his gaze back to his plate.
"Yeah, well I told you to stay clear of the dog, Chief."
"Dogs love me!" Blair protested, and Jim looked at his partner sharply. "Okay, dogs *usually* love me," he amended himself.
"So you're worried? You need to tell me something?"
"Man, I am safe. I am the epitome of safe. I've carried a condom since I was fourteen."
"That thing must be pretty old by now," Jim added, watching so he would see that exasperated expression of Blair's. Bingo.
"Very funny, man. Very funny. Well, actually I did carry that one for three years, but I have *never* had unprotected sex. That still doesn't mean I'm 100% safe. And it's that small chance that makes me worry when you insist on touching my blood."
"You worry too much," Jim said casually.
"Me?" Blair's voice rose nearly an octave and Jim looked up in concern, that tone cutting through to the 'guide upset' part of his brain. "*I* worry?" Blair continued. "I am so not the one who insisted on going to the clinic for a simple dog bite."
"The doctor gave you stitches," Jim pointed out.
"Two. And I think he gave me those stitches because he was too scared to tell you that a Band-Aid would work just as well."
"So, anything on the agenda after that?" Jim asked, anxious to change the topic since he had actually loomed over the doctor a bit, but considering he hadn't grabbed his guide and refused to let anyone touch the man, he was calling the day a draw. Not nearly as bad as it could have been, but still not nearly as in control as any other guide would have demanded.
"I thought I might spend some time with you down at the station," Blair announced. Jim tried not to show how relieved he was because every day the need to pull his guide closer was growing. He recognized the feeling, but living together and working together and spending their weekends hanging out in sweats and shouting at basketball players on television fed his need and allowed him to keep his instincts in line.
Besides, it wasn't his place to suggest bonding, and even if it was, that was one part of sentinel-guide relationships that Jim was not about to admit to or engage in, no matter what his gut felt every time he got a good smell of his guide fresh out of the shower.
"What's on the agenda at the station?" Blair asked.
"Brandis murder, a brewing gang war between the Yakuzas and the Columbians, the rape of those two women over at Western Heights Apartments. If you're available, I'd like to go over the two apartments for any clues before we release the crime scenes.
"No problemo. Shouldn't be more than an hour at the clinic and then I'm all yours, big guy," Blair said between bites. Jim chose to ignore the salacious possibilities in that statement and stick with safer subjects.
"Your social security card come yet?" he asked. The USSP might have accepted Blair's proposal, but they hadn't yet managed to find the grad student's possessions. Simon had bent a few rules to have Blair's paycheck direct deposited into Jim's account, but it meant that Blair didn't have a debit card or driver's license or checkbook of his own. Jim would have ground his teeth down to the nerve by now, but Blair barely seemed to notice.
"Man, I'm starting to think someone's out to get me. The lady down at the social security office told me she can't even find my paperwork in the system."
Jim narrowly avoided pointing out that someone in the government probably was out to get Blair.
"So anyway, Charlie's giving me a ride this morning, so can I have $20 for gas money and lunch?"
"I don't like Charlie driving you," Jim complained as he pulled $30 out of his wallet and slid it over the table.
"He doesn't smoke weed before driving. He's not that stupid."
"He's stupid enough to smoke weed," Jim countered.
"He's had a hard life. But he's not stupid and he knows if he has an accident with me in the car, you're going to make his hard life a whole lot harder."
"Good," Jim answered, mollified that he had at least intimidated the man into being careful with his guide. "I still wish you'd just let me drive you." Jim watched while Blair rolled his eyes, and he bit the inside of his own cheek to avoid pushing the issue. Blair put up with more of his possessiveness than any other guide would... or should. However, even Blair demanded his own space at times, and Jim dreaded the day when the university started again because Blair had already gotten notice that he would be teaching two classes. That was one less than he normally taught, but two more than Jim would like him to teach.
"How much do I have left in the bank?" Blair suddenly asked. Jim mentally deducted the thirty he'd just given Blair.
"About nine hundred."
"Whoa. And that's about five hundred more than I should have. I told you I'd pay my part of the rent. I'm not freeloading here."
"And I'm not letting my guide pay for a loft I already own."
"And I'm not letting someone else pay all the mortgage when I live here too."
"And I'm not treating my guide like some sort of tenant."
"And I'm thinking I have the world's most stubborn sentinel."
"Probably. But you still have no way to make me take the money, chief," Jim said as he got up to wash his now empty plate. "So just give up," he suggested with a playful mussing of Blair's hair.
"Pushy sentinel," Blair suggested under his breath, and from another guide that would have been a harsh condemnation, but somehow Blair made it sound like... well he made it sound not bad. "So, I'll see you at the station?" Blair asked as Jim washed up.
"Deal," Jim agreed as he finished and turned the sink over to Blair. He headed out the door, grabbing his keys on the way so that he wouldn't have to be here when Charlie showed up. Between the traces of marijuana always on the man's clothing and his ability to constantly bring up his own part on Jim's rescue and his guide's desire to spend time with the man, well Jim just occasionally wanted to shoot him. Not kill him necessarily, but shoot him.
"See you at the station, Sandburg," Jim offered as he shut the door and headed to work.
Jim stopped the minute he pushed open the doors to the bullpen. Two men stood near Blair's desk, meaning they stood near his desk, their brown uniforms immaculate and a patch on their arm showing the flexing bicep and eagle eye of the USSP. Jim recognized the taller of the two, a man with sharp features and grey hair at his temples. Major Browning. Jim hadn't liked him during his time at the USSP facility in California, and he didn't like him any better standing next to his guide's desk. The other man had a wide flat face and red hair. Jim just disliked him on general principles since he didn't actually know the man.
Jim started walking toward the pair, catching Simon coming out of his office out of the corner of his eye.
"Can I help you?" Jim asked in his coldest tones. The only help he'd like to give these two was a swift kick in the pants to the elevator, but that would hardly help his position or Blair's position. He reminded himself that his guide had worked for over a decade to get his doctoral degree and now these people controlled whether or not Blair would actually earn his degree.
"Captain Ellison," Browning said with a tight smile.
"*Detective* Ellison," Jim corrected the man just as Simon reached the desk.
"Gentlemen, to what do we owe the honor?"
"Captain Banks." Browning said with as much enthusiasm as one would use to greet a rattlesnake. Jim felt almost reassured that he wasn't the only one these trained guides hated. Simon seemed to catch a fair amount of guide hate as well if the tone was anything to judge by. "We dropped by to see Mr. Sandburg, but he doesn't seem to be here yet."
"I'm sure he'll be here soon. Maybe you'd like to wait in the press room where there are some more comfortable chairs," Simon calmly replied as if the man hadn't just said his name as though it was a dirty word.
"We can wait here." Browning turned his back to both him and Simon, and Jim found himself clenching his teeth. The second guide looked over at him in alarm, and Jim barely managed to wipe his face of emotion as this anonymous guide stared at him as though he would go psychotic any minute. Shit. The man had read his file.
"Jim, is Blair going to come in soon?" Simon asked, and Jim could now hear the aggravation in that deep voice.
"He's stopping by the clinic this morning."
"What?" Browning spun around and Jim could see the open fury on the man's face. "What exactly have you done, *Detective*?" Oh yes, the ever present orders to protect the guide from all harm without becoming overly protective and possessive of the guide. Jim never had managed to navigate that dilemma, and now he just looked at the two encroaching guides through narrowed eyes.
"Hey there, Blair got bit by a dog last week and had to have a couple of stitches. You will not come into my precinct and talk to my people in that tone of voice." Jim watched silently as Simon and Browning had a staring contest that ended only when Browning turned to him.
"So when exactly can we expect Mr. Sandburg?" Browning emphasized the "Mr." just enough to make it clear that it wasn't Guide Sandburg or Dr. Sandburg but just *Mr.* Sandburg.
"When he comes through the door," Jim answered sharply. And at that he had enough. Ignoring the two USSP officers, he went to his desk and sat, determined to finish the paperwork chores he had set for himself this morning.
Blair chased after Rafe just as the detective reached out to grab for the door to Major Crimes.
"Hey man, wait up," he called as he came through the elevator doors.
"Hairboy!" Rafe said, picking up on Brown's favorite term for the department's new cultural liaison. Blair didn't even bother hiding his smile. After a lifetime of being on the edge of every culture he'd ever studied, Major Crime's quick acceptance had left him both stunned and eternally grateful. Of course he recognized some of the acceptance as coming from his ability to help Jim and some from the ever present "us versus them" mentality in closed societies. He just hadn't ever expected to be grateful for the USSP persecution, but with the USSP entrenched as the "them", Major Crimes had taken Blair in as one of "us". Without the USSP to threaten the group, the detectives might have been much more wary of a newcomer.
"So, how'd it go with your lady?" Blair asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
"The art exhibit went over great. I'm not sure I went over as well as Appel."
"What? She didn't fall for the old Rafe charm?" Blair elbowed the handsome detective.
"More like I didn't fall for Appel's charm. I might have mentioned that my five year old nephew could do better work."
"Oh, man. You didn't. She's an art major."
"Sandburg, three fingered stick people with cartoon eyes really do not do it for me."
"And if you said that, the girl's not going to be doing it for you either. I can't believe you said that. Appel's use of color and primitive form…."
"Hey, I put up with that from Cindy last night because I had a slim hope of salvaging the evening and making it past first base. There's no way I'm listening to your lecture." Rafe pushed the doors of Major Crimes open, and Blair's eyes immediately went to Jim who looked back with such a cold stare that Blair froze in the doorway. For one moment he was afraid that Jim's anger centered over the friendly hand Rafe had dropped on his shoulder. Rafe must have thought the same thing because that hand snapped away. But almost immediately two men who had been sitting near his desk stood and Blair spotted the USSP uniforms.
Blair was surprised when Jim remained sitting, the taller guide walking past Jim's desk toward Blair and Rafe. Since Jim wasn't playing hen mother, Rafe took up the banner and stepped in front.
"I'm starting to feel like I joined the army as many uniforms as I'm seeing around here," Rafe said in his normal, jovial tone, but Blair could hear the edge. If Blair didn't know better, he would swear sentinel genes were contagious because Rafe was doing a good job of playing overprotective sentinel in Jim's place.
"We have business with Mr. Sandburg," the man said slowly as if speaking to someone slightly mentally impaired. "I am Major Browning with the USSP Guide Division."
"Rafe," the detective introduced himself. At Rafe's terse answer, Blair rolled his eyes. If he were a sentinel, he suspected he would have been able to smell the testosterone flowing off both men. The second guide with his red hair and wide eyes still waited beside Blair's desk, and Blair walked around Rafe and Browning to go to his desk.
"Jim," he said as he passed his sentinel's desk.
"Blair," Jim replied, and Blair lost a step again at the tone: tight and controlled and utterly on the edge. Okay, now Blair was on full alert. They had both known that guides would show up to look at Blair's research eventually. True, they thought the guides would probably wait until school started and track him down at the university, but still. Since the visit wasn't a total surprise, Blair studied the two men trying to decide what or who had upset Jim.
Standing next to his desk, he immediately dismissed the nearest guide. Jim hadn't even glanced at the man. Browning had turned his back on a still frowning Rafe, and Blair could see Jim's body shift subtly as the Major came back to stand at Blair's desk. Blair hurriedly slipped into his own chair before Browning could claim it again. True, that left him sitting while the two guides towered over him, but those traditional intimidation techniques didn't really work well on him. Face down some Kombai barbed spears and suddenly a frown wasn't so intimidating any more. At least Jim's body language had revealed the threat.
"Mr. Sandburg, we've come to review your current research and discuss the testing standard the USSP expects from anyone working under our authority," Browning said as he stepped around the desk and stood next to Blair's chair looking down. Blair took a pencil and idly doodled on a notepad perched on top of a pile of files. Manila folders for copies of case files, green folders for sentinel related observations and test results, yellow folders for his official work as a cultural liaison. In record time his desk had become a study in controlled chaos.
"So let's make an appointment and we can go over what I've managed to collect as well as my working hypotheses."
"Mr. Sandburg, we are limited in our time as this trip has posed a significant inconvenience. We are already making an exception by allowing your research to take place off USSP grounds, and I certainly hope you are not going to take advantage of that leniency by obstructing our ability to oversee your project."
Blair didn't even blink at the veiled threat, but he did notice Jim's shoulders twitch. A thousand replies crossed Blair's mind ranging from pointing out the inconveniences *he'd* suffered to a nasty comment about them reaching the ineffective threats portion of the day. Unfortunately Blair knew that pushing these people into a corner could very well result in either himself or Jim ending up back in USSP custody.
"Fine." Blair started pulling the green files from the desk. A set of papers escaped the folder and slid to the ground between his desk and Jim's, and the red-haired guide's only response was to step back away from the mess. Blair sighed as he stood to retrieve the papers, but then Jim had swung his chair around so that he could collect the various notes and print outs from the floor. When Jim stood, Blair watched while the silent guide retreated with wide eyes. Fear reaction. Blair filed that away mentally.
"Here you go, Chief," Jim offered as he handed over the notes and then sat on the edge of Blair's desk. Great, now Jim was in territorial mode given the crossed arms and cold stare aimed Browning's way. Rafe hadn't given up either, still standing guard near the door with one hip leaning against Rhonda's desk.
"Thanks, Jim," he offered as he finished collecting his files. He needed to get the guides out of here before he got testosterone poisoning from the dominance displays. "We can use the press room. Unless there's a press conference scheduled," Blair looked to Jim.
"Press room's fine," Jim confirmed.
"Right, press room it is." Blair practically had to push Browning out of the way as he squeezed between the man and his desk. As he walked by, Jim's fingers trailed over the back of his hand, and Blair gave his sentinel a quick smile for the reassurance. "I'll be back in time to go over to the rape scenes with you."
Turning his back on Jim, Blair hurried out of the room, anxious to just get this over with.
The press suite included a large room with a podium for conferences, a work room with internet connections for reporters' laptops and a small room with a table where the police chief often met with his staff before going in front of the cameras. Blair led the USSP guides to the prep room with its round table and four chairs. He would have preferred the larger interrogation rooms, especially since their barren walls and cold surfaces matched his mood better than the pastels and southwestern prints hanging here. However, he didn't want people listening in on this conversation, and every interrogation room came equipped with recorders and cameras.
"So, how are we doing this?" Blair asked as he dropped the files and turned to face the other two. The mute guide took a metal cone from the case he carried and flipped a switch. Blair raised his eyebrow in a silent question as he sat down.
"We need to make sure we have privacy here. Lieutenant Fitcher, Blair Sandburg," Browning introduced them absentmindedly as he put his own briefcase next to the white noise generator and clicked it open.
"I assume you mean privacy from Jim."
"Exactly." Browning smiled at him in a way that left Blair counting to ten as he tried to detour his own rising anger.
"You could have just asked him to not listen," Blair pointed out. The silent guide made his first noise, a snort of derision.
"I apologize, sir," the lieutenant immediately said as he schooled his face into a more neutral expression.
"Mr. Sandburg, have you read Captain Ellison's file. As his… field observer, you should make yourself aware of the peculiarities in this sentinel's behavior." Browning's stumble in the middle of the sentence made Blair wonder if the man had just avoided calling Blair a guide or if he was simply showing his disdain.
"I know what I need to know about Jim. I'm sure you've heard of the Rosenthal effect where the researcher's previous knowledge and expectations corrupt the observable data. Any additional information would simply taint my observations." Blair schooled his own features into the same impassive mask Fitcher wore.
"And are you willing to risk your life for that concept?" Browning demanded.
"I don't see my life in danger."
"From the reports I received regarding the Kincaid arrest, I believe I have a right to doubt that conclusion." Browning leaned back with a smug look, tapping a file with a single finger.
"Oh man, you are so totally off base. Jim saved my life."
"Captain Ellison broke the nose of one co-worker while attacking several others."
"He was focused on getting me back and a few people got in the way. No one pressed charges."
"He showed a total lack of control, and he has allowed that lack of control to endanger his guides in the past, a fact I'm sure he hasn't shared with you," Browning smirked. Blair thought back to the day when he had first convinced Jim to allow his instinctive behaviors to rule, the day when Jim had admitted to attacking previous guides. While he knew that the USSP and Jim himself considered those incidents 'attacks', Blair was quickly developing theories that suggested Jim had never tried to do anything other than protect his guides, even if the efforts had caused problems. He just wished Jim was more open about the incidents, but he didn't believe that the official reports would give him any objective data. He crossed his arms as he replied.
"Jim told me how he attacked his guides. He also told me that his intention has never been to actually hurt them. Don't try this divide and conquer crap with me because our relationship is stable." Blair watched as Browning stiffened at that news.
"Have you bonded?"
Blair hesitated. He used to believe that bonding was a deeper level of trust between a sentinel and a guide who had made a commitment, but he had watched Jim flinch at that word often enough that he suspected he didn't understand the word as the sentinels and guides used it. He could try to bluff his way through, but this was one piece of information he honestly needed.
"Tell me what exactly bonding entails, and I'll consider giving you a yes or no answer," Blair settled for. Browning and Fitcher exchanged a quick glance.
"If you have to ask, you have clearly not bonded. But then you are not truly a guide so that wasn't really a serious consideration. A more serious consideration is the procedure you are using during the baseline sense tests you've conducted at Rainier. A number of discrepancies have made us question the accuracy of your equipment and your own competence in administering the tests. Let's start with the sight tests you conducted on June 27th."
Blair just avoided groaning as a thick file came out of Browning's briefcase and the man started spreading out papers marked with bright red ink. Well at least he recognized this attack strategy. Blair collected his own file and prepared to do academic battle.
Jim got out of the truck, slamming it harder than he really needed to. An elderly couple leaving Cascade General turned his way, and he ignored them as he hurried around the truck where Blair was waiting.
"Man, you so should have told me your senses were blinking like Christmas lights," Blair said for the third time.
"You worry too much, Junior," Jim shot back as he nudged Blair's shoulder with his forearm. His sense of smell may have gone off-line at a very inconvenient time, but he still had a job to do and he had a witness to interview.
"I so totally have a right to worry when you won't talk to me. Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"You never asked," Jim pointed out as he held open the door to the hospital. They needed to re-interview victim number one, Jane Cassidy, the victim who hadn't come forward until a patrol officer had knocked on her door and asked her if she had seen anyone suspicious around the building. Jim had been startled when their call to the Jane's sister had led to a crying woman's admission that Jane had been admitted to the hospital, and not even Blair's soothing voice over the phone could get the sister to say why.
"Whoa there, big guy. This is not 'don't ask, don't tell' land here. If you have a problem with your senses, you need to say something."
"Chief, I've always had problems with my senses."
"Is that why you left the USSP?" Blair stopped in the middle of the hallway and looked at him, and Jim felt his frustration rise above that nagging desire he seemed to constantly carry now.
"Not the time or place, Darwin," he snarled as he walked past Blair to the information desk where he flashed his badge at the nurse.
"I'm Detective Ellison. I need to talk to someone about Jane Cassidy's condition, and I need her room number." While the nurse checked his identification, Jim zeroed in on the wall of charts on the far side of the room, focusing until he could read the handwriting thirty feet away. Cassidy, J. Attempted Suicide. Damn. Jim was so focused on reading the visible edge of the chart he almost didn't hear his guide's soft words.
"Not over, Jim. So not over."
"Detective," the receptionist said as she handed over the badge and put the phone back now in its cradle. "The doctor is busy right now but if you'd like to wait I'll page him." Jim reached into a pocket and pulled out his card.
"That's my beeper number. I have someone else to visit, so if you could beep me when the doctor is available, I can be back here in five minutes," Jim promised before turning away and heading for the elevator. The receptionist made agreeable noises, but Jim ignored her as he pushed the button and waited for the elevator car.
"We're visiting someone else?" Blair asked in a whisper.
"Yep. That's the story," Jim said as the doors opened and he got in. Unfortunately the elevator was empty other than Blair as Jim pushed the button for the fifth floor.
"So, unstable senses…is that why you left the USSP?"
"You are like a dog with a bone, Chief. One of those annoying yappy little dogs with the shrill barks."
"Nice, Jim, but I'm not that easily distracted. Why did you leave the USSP?"
"Can't this wait until we get home, at least?" Jim turned his own pleading eyes to his guide, but obviously this was not a skill he possessed. Blair just snorted.
"Oh man, you must think I'm stupid because I know full well that the minute we get home you're going to turn on the television and ignore me or go upstairs and refuse to talk."
"Chief," Jim started, but the doors opened, and he gave Blair a quick, desperate look before setting off down the hallway. He strode down the hall to room 531 where he gave a soft knock on the fake wood door. He could hear breathing and a steady heart beat that suggested whoever was in the room was awake, but no answer. He knocked a second time as he slowly pushed open the door.
"Miss Cassidy?" he called through the crack as he continued to push the door open by inches. When the edge of the door revealed the bed, Jim could see wide brown eyes considering him silently. Jim used his arm behind the door to gently push against Blair's chest. His guide must have understood because he didn't follow as Jim let the door shut behind him, leaving Blair on the other side.
"Miss Cassidy?" he asked again, and this time he got a careful nod.
"I'm Detective Ellison. I've been assigned to your case, and I wanted to talk to you." The only response from the woman was an escaping tear running down her face. She was older, a rather plain looking woman in her early fifties, and Jim stayed by the door as he waited for her breathing to calm down. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable, so if you ask me to leave, I will. Do you want to see my identification?" Jim slowly pulled his wallet out and opened it to his badge which he held up for her. He could see her eyes focusing on the badge so he held it steady until her gaze returned to his face.
"Detective…?" Her voice was raspy.
"Detective Ellison. My partner Blair Sandburg is right outside the door. Would you prefer to have him in here? Would you like the door open?" Jim stayed still and waited for her answer. A trembling started in her arm.
"Do I look that fragile?" she finally asked, the rasp in her voice making her sound tired. Either that or she was tired; Jim knew the nightmares that sometimes plagued these victims.
"No ma'am, but I don't want to make you uncomfortable."
"Let your partner come in," she finally said, and Jim pulled the door open to allow a quiet Blair to slip into the room.
"You're his partner?" the woman asked, and for the first time, Jim got a glimpse of the woman under the victim. Blair ducked his head with a small laugh.
"Yeah, I get that a lot. Guess I don't look like much of a cop, huh?"
"No. Not really."
"I'm an advisor for the department. I just put up with Jim because he's so damn good at his job," Blair said in a conspiratorial tone, and Jim was suddenly struck with how often Blair used that voice, that voice that said he shared something special with whomever he was speaking to. He could see the woman's glance slide over to him now as if judging him by Blair's words.
"He *does* look like an officer who could get things done. So, are you a r- counselor?" The woman's voice broke on her attempt to say the word rape.
"Oh man, no. Cultural liaison actually. Um, I'm riding with Jim because he's a sentinel." Blair's words fell easily into the air before Jim even had a chance to flinch. Shit. He could not stand the way people looked at him when told that he was a sentinel, like he could magically cure crime and single-handedly bring down criminal organizations and smell a rapist a mile away. The woman's dark eyes turned to him with that same admiration, and Jim had to force a smile to his face.
"You want me to talk about it," she said sadly.
"I want to catch the man who did this," Jim corrected her. "I wish I could do that without you having to tell your story, but I need your help." He stepped closer and rather than tensing up at his approach, her eyes fell shut. Without prompting or even leaving time for questions, she told the story from the body that pressed against her back as she unlocked her door to the laughing farewell the man offered as he left her shivering in the bathtub after washing her.
Jim jotted down notes as fast as he could since she was telling him so much more than she'd revealed in the previous two interviews. She talked about the smell of fish, about the feel of his calloused hands, about the taste of tobacco when he'd forced kisses on her lips. Jim felt a growing rage that a man would do something so vile, but he kept silent, taking notes the whole time except for when he'd slapped his beeper into silence. Eventually she stopped. Jim could hear the squeaking shoes of nurses passing the door and the heavy breathing as Jane Cassidy tried to hold off tears and the speeding heart of his guide.
"Thank you," he said into the relative quiet of the room. "Thank you for helping me catch this man." Dark eyes opened and then blinked rapidly to fight the tears.
"Catch him for me, please." Looking into Jane Cassidy's earnest and pain-filled eyes, he did the only thing he could.
"I promise," he said. His eyes fell closed and Jim took that as a dismissal as he opened the door and held it until Blair had passed him. Controlling his rage, he closed the door softly and headed for the far end of the hall where a door to a janitor's closet created a small nook on each floor. He and his partner of the day often used the privacy offered by the bend at the end of the hallway to talk over a case, and he needed to have a little talk with his newest partner.
Grabbing Blair by the upper arm, Jim practically dragged the smaller man to the end of the hall where he put Blair's back to the closet door as he leaned into Blair's personal space. His own face a mere inch from Blair's, he growled, "What the fuck are you doing, Sandburg?"
"Whoa, I thought I was helping a victim open up to you." Blair's hand pressed into Jim's chest gently, and Jim felt his anger rise to new levels. How dare this man use touch to try and control him because that is what the touch was intended to do. He got upset, and Blair would use that voice and gentle touches to tell Jim what to feel. Well enough. Jim grabbed Blair's wrist and twisted it so that he forced Blair into the door face first with a heavy ummph.
Pressing the captured hand to the small of Blair's back, Jim leaned his weight into his guide, holding him in place.
"What gives you the right to tell her I'm a sentinel?" he demanded. Blair's free hand was palm down against the wood, but Blair didn't even try to push back.
"Man, I wanted her to feel safe. People trust sentinels. Jim, you've done press conferences, why does it bother you that Miss Cassidy knows?" Blair's left cheek was pressed to the door and Blair watched him with one eye.
"Damn it, Chief. If I can't catch this bastard, how am I supposed to tell her that I failed her? Did you see the way she looked at me?" Jim loosened his hold on Blair's arm while still holding it in place, and he dropped his forehead to Blair's left shoulder where he could escape his guide's expression. "Fuck. Don't ever do that again, Chief. Not if you want to ride with me."
"Deal. I won't tell anyone else. But man, you can catch this bastard."
"Small reminder here, Chief, we went to the crime scene and my sense of smell is worthless."
"Jim," Blair said so softly that only a sentinel could hear even just inches away. "Does this have anything to do with why you left the USSP?"
Jim could feel himself growling even though his hearing kicked off for a moment. He could also feel his guide's heart rate speed up as Jim pressed him into the door harder than ever. Hearing suddenly kicked back on to the pounding of Blair's heart even though the man didn't smell of fear and he still hadn't fought back.
"Do you *ever* give up?"
"No," Blair replied simply, and Jim pushed himself away from the door and the guide. Blair turned slowly, still leaning against the door, and Jim flinched when Blair started rubbing his wrist. Shit. There were days he wondered why his guide hadn't taken off yet; no dissertation could be worth this, not that Blair would ever get his dissertation as long as the USSP held control of it. Jim ran his hand over his face and hair as he struggled with his guilt and his anger.
"My senses weren't under control, and neither was I," Jim finally admitted, treading a minefield as he decided what to share. "Karn ordered me to bond with a guide, and I refused. I was invited to leave the program."
"Make a permanent commitment."
"And exactly how do a sentinel and a guide bond?"
"They just do, Chief. You know when it happens." Jim contained the shiver that traveled his backbone.
"Browning asked if we'd bonded," Blair said, and Jim had to process that for a moment. He honestly hadn't thought that the guides would even believe the story of Blair being a guide without any training, but the question certainly suggested that Browning had an open mind on that score.
"What did you tell him?" Jim asked cautiously.
"I asked him what it meant to bond, and he said that if I didn't know, we hadn't."
"He's right. We haven't bonded, Chief, and we're not going to." Jim backed away another step as if to emphasize his point.
"Why?" Blair asked.
"What has gotten into you?" Jim exploded. "What is with all this sudden desire to know about bonding and my past with the USSP? I thought you wanted to make your own assessments."
"They gave me a file," Blair said carefully and slowly, and Jim could just imagine what kind of file Browning would have been more than happy to share.
"Then you have your answers," Jim answered shortly. He'd been a fool for believing that Blair could stand up against the attitudes of the whole USSP. "So I'm sure you know why I left the USSP, and why no guide would partner with me."
"I haven't read it," Blair answered. "I don't trust the USSP to speak a word of truth, but I trust you. I want you to tell me what happened." The voice that Blair used, the same tone that convinced Miss Cassidy to open up, sliced right through to Jim. He wanted to tell, but he knew full well that his trip into being in a stable pairing would end three seconds later. Even Blair's patience had a limit.
"Drop it," he hissed instead. "A man, even a sentinel, has a right to a little privacy. And while we're on the issue of sentinels, there are two parts of the package I don't accept: bonding and that hero-worship crap you used on Miss Cassidy. If you can't handle those boundaries, maybe you can't handle being my partner." Feeling a tearing in his heart, Jim walked away from Blair as fast as he could. The door of the elevator at the far end of the corridor was just starting to slide shut, and Jim dashed for it, putting his hand out to stop it just in time to get on. Blair was still walking down the hall when Jim pushed the button for the first floor followed quickly by the 'close door' button. As the doors slid closed, Jim watched Blair's mouth open in surprise as Jim left him behind.
Jim shifted in his truck seat again as he tried to focus his hearing. He imagined Blair's voice telling him to focus on the hearing dial and piggyback it onto sight, but his imagination was rather limited tonight. Four hours on stakeout trying to catch Furukawa's guys talking about any conflicts with the Columbians, and all he had was a headache. He would have gone home, but he suspected that home would mean either a long conversation with his guide or the cold shoulder from his guide, and he really didn't need either from Blair right now.
Damn, everything had been working fine before Browning and his smug smile had shown up. Whatever the bastard had said behind closed doors, he had made Blair curious about things that Jim really didn't want his guide looking into. Well, to be fair, he didn't want anyone looking into them.
He shifted in the dark cab as he picked up on two of the street level thugs talking right beside a huge open grate where the city's water rushed underneath in a roar. Sitting on the edge of a half wall around the large unit, the skinny guy half covered his mouth with his hand around a cigarette. The techniques would have worked for electronic surveillance, but as a sentinel Jim had more control over filtering out unwanted sounds.
"… those filthy bastards don't…. if we want … docks … crisco will …"
Jim struggled to tighten the focus of his hearing toward the two men. He doubted they were discussing cooking oils, and he needed to hear what they were saying. He was so focused that he didn't even hear the footsteps behind the truck until it was much too late to duck down under the window.
Cursing his luck, Jim turned the engine over and put the truck into gear before even dialing down his hearing. That probably saved his life as the sound of a bullet being chambered echoed through his hearing.
"Shit." Jim swore as he hit the gas as hard as he could and pulled the steering wheel first one direction and then another. One bullet went through his rear view mirror, a second and third missed, and the fourth took out a back tire. Fighting with the wheel, Jim continued to accelerate, the sound of the tire flapping against wheel well distracting him for a second before he grabbed the radio and called in his position.
The tire separated from the rim, and Jim flinched as the metal screamed against the concrete roadway, sparks flying up in his rearview mirror. He didn't see any cars following him, but without backup there was no way he was going to stop. Even though he had to fight the wheel more than ever now, Jim reached down and grabbed his police light. He had just slid it into place and switched it on when he felt the rear end of the truck jolt to one side. Ironically he only heard the sound of metal collapsing into metal after he realized that he had been hit by another car. After that, the world went dark.
"Simon, I'm fine," Jim insisted again for at least the eighth time.
"And I thought Sandburg was going to be a good influence on your driving record." Simon paused. "Actually, he has. You haven't wrecked a vehicle in oh, a good six weeks, which is a record for you."
"I'm the one who got hit, remember?" Jim pointed out as he shifted on the hard hospital bed. Oh yeah, he would have a nice case of whiplash tomorrow if the tightness in his upper back and shoulders was any indication. Thank god for sentinel recovery time.
"You're the one who was out there without backup," Simon replied as he crossed his arms and leaned back in the hospital chair. Jim closed his eyes as he recognized Simon's ass chewing expression.
"Go on then, chew me out and get it over with. I'm too tired to stay awake very long, and I don't want to have to listen to it tomorrow when the pain medication has worn off." Simon made a sound that fell somewhere between a cough and a growl, and Jim just lay there.
"What in the hell were you thinking? Furukawa is dangerous, and he knows you're a sentinel. Of course he had guys watching out for you."
"And I avoided those sentries the first few times they made a pass," Jim pointed out wearily.
"And you missed the sentry on that last pass. I hate to be the one to point this out, but contrary to popular belief, sentinels do not have supernatural powers." Simon's words made Jim sit up, sore back or no sore back.
"Don't even go there, Simon. I have *never* passed myself off as some sort of superhero, and you know it."
"What I know is that you were conducting surveillance on a dangerous organization without backup, without your guide, and without prior authorization. That sounds suspiciously arrogant to me."
"I never get prior authorization, Blair is at home, and I didn't need backup." Jim realized how foolish that last part sounded the moment the words passed his lips. "Sir, I am exhausted. Maybe the second half of this conversation could wait for tomorrow. Or the day after," Jim added as he tried to lie down and his back practically creaked. Sentinel healing or not, he was going to hurt tomorrow.
"Jim, tell me what's going on so I have something to put in my report other than 'Detective Ellison went off half-cocked and almost got himself killed.'"
"I didn't almost get killed. It was a stupid fender bender with a drunk driver."
"It was a shoot out that sent you running into an intersection right in front of a drunk driver," Simon corrected him. "And I want to know what put you in the middle of that shoot out."
"Shoot out?!" Jim's eyes snapped open at the half-strangled sound of his guide's panic. Blair stood next to the curtain that offered at least some privacy, his eyes wide and the stink of fear fairly rolling off him. "Are you okay?" Blair's voice rose another half octave, and Jim quickly felt hands on his shoulder, his chest, brushing his cheek. Considering the thin hospital gown and even thinner hospital sheet, Jim caught Blair's hands in his own before the man could cause any accidental humiliation.
"Oh man, for a cop, you have trouble taking care of yourself." Charlie leaned against the wall by the IV hook, and Jim just shot the blond a single dirty look before taking both of Blair's wrists in his one hand and wrapping his other arm around his guide's waist.
"I'm fine, Chief."
"You're shot. That's not fine." Blair's fingers twitched as if they wanted to explore, and Jim tightened his grip. Blair feeling him up in front of the captain was not going to happen.
"I was shot AT, Blair. I wasn't shot."
"You weren't shot?" Blair gave him a strange look, and Jim shook his head.
"Nope. Got hit by a drunk driver," he explained. "I have some whiplash and the department's truck is pretty banged up."
"Wait," Blair pulled back and Jim released the man's hands while still keeping and arm around his guide's waist. "You got hit by a drunk driver while getting shot at?" Blair had an absolutely charming expression of confusion, and Jim realized that he wasn't the only one who thought that because Simon gave a deep laugh.
"Only Jim here could manage that, but that pretty much sums up the evening."
"I was shot AT, and later I was hit by a drunk driver," Jim explained as he glared at the amusement on Simon's face, which was actually better than the aggravation there a moment ago.
"Who shot at you?" Blair asked with wide eyes.
"Oh, I can think of lots of people who probably want to shoot him," Charlie offered with a snort, and Jim now focused on Blair's friend and recent taxi service. He hadn’t even realized that his sense of smell had come back online until the man's odor drifted his way. Jim pushed himself up off the bed and pulled Blair into a one armed hug that became a one armed push to get the man behind him.
"Tell me you weren't driving my guide," Jim said as he lowered his voice in challenge. Charlie must have figured out the danger at that point because he started backing up toward the curtain in the direction of the main emergency room floor.
"Oh man, Blair, some help here?" Jim felt the pull at his arm, and ignoring his complaining back and his pulling guide he stalked Charlie until the man bumped into a nurse carrying warmed blankets. While Charlie was still apologizing for that, Jim reached out and grabbed the front of the man's jacket.
"Tell me you didn't drive my guide to the hospital," Jim said as he pulled a squirming Charlie toward him.
"Okay, I didn't drive your guide to the hospital." Charlie's heart rate spiked and the scent of marijuana was almost lost under the fear. Of course the man's joking tone of voice and silly smile would have told anyone that he was lying and not even trying to do it well.
"You're lying," Jim accused him.
"Man, I will lie, steal, cheat, whatever it takes to get you to just let me go while I'm still in one piece."
"Jim," Simon's sharp voice commanded his attention.
"Oh boy, Big Guy, it's my fault. I called him and told him if he didn't get over to the loft I was going to carjack the next car that passed our street. I needed to get to the hospital. Come on, you know you don't want to kill Charlie," Blair's voice made perfect sense, but Jim also felt a need to make sure his guide was never put into that much danger again.
"If you ever pull a stunt like that again, they will be pulling chunks of you out of the sewers," Jim threatened, one hand holding Blair in a protective hug and the other trapping Charlie by his coat lapels.
"Ellison!" Simon's hand came down on his wrist, and Jim let go of Charlie's coat as Simon's finger dug into the flesh of his inner wrist.
"Yes, sir?" Jim asked calmly.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"And doing a damn fine job of it, but I think it might be time for me to leave." Charlie flashed his brightest smile toward the group and looked toward the exit sign.
"You take one step toward that door and I will personally arrest you and search your car," Jim threatened in a low voice.
"Detective!" Simon barked.
"Sir, he's stoned."
"I wouldn't say stoned," Charlie protested weakly, and Jim gave a feral smile when Simon's glare moved from him to Charlie.
"And you are?" Simon demanded quietly.
"Charlie Teller, nice to meet you." Jim nearly laughed at the expression of dismay when Charlie's attempt to charm Simon only elicited a suspicious look.
"Guys, um, come on now. I'm the one who called Charlie; let's not get too cranky here. Besides, aren't we all supposed to be mad at Jim here for getting shot at?" Jim looked down in shock and Blair just shrugged his shoulders without trying to move away from Jim's protective hug.
"You put Blair's life in danger by driving under the influence," Jim accused the man.
"Oh, hold on. I showed up at your place because he was ready to explode with worry. It was drive him to the hospital or watch him have a heart attack at the thought that you might need him here. I may think you're a Neanderthal, but Blair kinda likes you." Charlie's words just made him pull Blair closer.
"Simon, please. He really doesn't normally drive when he's been…" Blair's words trailed off. Jim could feel his guide's distress, and while his ability to smell the drugs would certainly stand up in court, he did owe the little shit.
"Jim?" Simon turned to him, clearly leaving the decision in Jim's hands, which clearly meant not running Charlie in because he wouldn't do that to his guide. Then again, he wasn't having his guide put in danger again either.
"You're not going to drive Blair…" Jim stumbled when he felt his guide stiffen. Okay, he could compromise. "…when you've been using," Jim added quickly, and he could feel Blair's muscles relax under him. "So when you pick Blair up or drop him off you will check in with me, and if I catch a whiff of fresh smoke on your sorry ass, I will bury you under the jail, do I make myself clear?"
"Like glass. Man, Blair, your mother here is one cranky dude." Charlie laughed before catching Jim's expression. "Kidding, man. Kidding," he said as he held up his hands in surrender."
"Simon, do you want to find Mr. Teller a ride?"
"Yeah, I can do that. Might have his car impounded at the same time," Simon muttered the rest as he walked away. Finally feeling the effects of the crash, his embrace turned into leaning on Blair as his back started truly complaining.
"Oh man, are you okay?" Blair asked.
"I think I need to sit down," Jim admitted, especially since he realized that his hospital gown left his backside exposed and cold.
"Come on, Big Guy, let's get you back on the bed."
Jim allowed Blair to help him turn around, but the sight waiting for him made him forget all his pain. Browning and his mute assistant stood there in their immaculate guide uniforms, and suddenly the thin hospital gown felt even thinner as Jim met the level, distrustful gazes of the two guides who had obviously overheard the entire conversation. Oh shit, from Browning's expression it was definitely shit hitting the fan time. Jim tried not to react to the assistant's hand resting on the tranq gun in his side holster.
Blair crossed his arms the minute the door to the hospital administrator's office closed.
"Make this fast because I need to get Jim home before the pain medicine wears off," Blair said as he sat on the edge of the large oak desk dominating the room. Browning nodded toward Fitcher who pulled out the white noise generator and set it up on the floor. In the meantime, Browning walked around the desk to take a seat in the large leather chair. Blair nearly rolled his eyes at the obvious attempt to make him uncomfortable. No matter where he sat, he would have one of them at his back, and the other chairs were lower than the administrator's own chair.
Deciding to annoy Browning right back, Blair stayed up and watched Fitcher who quickly started squirming under the scrutiny.
"Have you read the files I left with you?" Browning demanded from behind him, and Blair shrugged.
"I told you I wasn't interested in USSP's assessment; I haven't changed my mind."
"That scene out there should have changed your mind. Captain Ellison was domineering, controlling, and using physical means to manipulate both you and your friend."
"Jim was upset," Blair defended his sentinel as he turned to see Browning. "He's a cop, man. He's going to get upset about someone using."
"Are you so caught up in the myth of sentinels that you have lost all your objectivity?" Browning leaned forward, and the intensity of his stare caught Blair off guard. The man obviously believed every word he said. The guide in Blair insisted that his sentinel's protective instincts had just gone into overdrive, but the scientist in Blair had to consider the possibility that he was too close to the situation to see the truth.
"We all have our own biases. You have yours, I have mine," Blair dismissed Browning's comments with another shrug even though he fully planned on meditating on the subject. Maybe he did need to talk to Jim. Oh hell, he'd been trying to talk to Jim for the past month, but maybe he needed to insist.
"My place is to train and protect guides, and if you are going to play guide with Captain Ellison then I have an ethical obligation to see that he doesn't abuse you the way he has past guides."
"Man, do not give me that crap. I know all about you assholes restraining Jim when he was going through guide separation. You have him so terrified that he's some out of control monster that he doesn't even trust himself. If you're a guide, then you have an ethical obligation to protect sentinels, not cause irreparable harm." Blair wasn't even sure when he'd stood, but now he was the one standing over a seated Browning.
"My obligation is to the vast majority of sentinels who live up to the standards set by the USSP and to their own moral codes. Did Captain Ellison tell you that he nearly killed one guide?" Browning demanded, and Blair took a step back. Browning's anger seemed too real for some sort of deception, but his words simply didn't match the Jim Ellison that Blair knew.
"Jim would have died before putting a guide at risk," Blair shot back immediately.
"He had to be tranqed and taken out of the field by helicopter. His guide nearly died while the good Captain attacked the medics who were trying to save the guide's life."
A small piece clicked into place at the word 'medics'. "He must have gone into a protective mode. It isn't unheard of for a sentinel to perceive strangers as enemies when a guide is injured. Kingsley documented…."
"Kinsley found that sentinels had trouble controlling their aggression when the guide was injured. That doesn't account for Ellison's utter lack of control. His first guide quit the military rather than work with him. And when he was tracking you he attacked and nearly killed two MP's. These are not the actions of a sentinel having trouble controlling himself, these are the actions of a totally out of control sentinel." Browning stood up, and now Blair had to look up slightly as the taller man stood nearly chest to chest with him.
"You are making judgments about Jim without even knowing him," Blair fired back. "He was suffering…."
"And you are allowing your romantic ideals to color your interpretation of his behaviors. If any other person in the universe tried giving you orders about whose car you could get in, would you accept that kind of manipulation? James Ellison cannot make a stable pairing because there is something fundamentally wrong with him."
"That's so not true, man."
"Mr. Sandburg, there are sentinels who go on-line outside of official means, and many of them lack the moral fiber of sentinels even while having the senses. The very fact that Captain Ellison didn't go on line during the isolation and survivalist portion of his USSP training suggests that he was never normal." All the energy seemed to drain out of Browning at that point, and he turned back to the desk where he sat heavily in the deep leather chair.
"Jim has the same protective instincts as other sentinels. He has saved my life, and he is not dangerous," Blair defended his sentinel quietly but firmly. Naomi had always taught him to follow his heart, and he knew that his heart belonged to Jim Ellison. His heart had belonged to the man ever since he had stood there hanging on to a branch trying to control himself in the middle of sentinel psychosis. "I watched him pull himself out of sentinel psychosis," Blair pointed out.
"Tell me, Mr. Sandburg, if you walked into the apartment one day and told Captain Ellison that you didn't want to guide him anymore and you wanted him to stay away, what would his reaction be?" Browning leaned forward slightly, and Blair found his imagination providing a number of possibilities.
"His face would probably turn to stone and he would completely emotionally shut down." Blair settled on the most likely scenario.
"You don't think he would grab you and refuse to let go? Run for the mountains where he could keep you whether you wanted it or not?"
Blair snorted at that thought. "Man, Jim is so law-abiding he would feel a need to arrest himself if he did something like that. I can think of a lot of scenarios, but that one only makes sense if someone had spiked his Wheaties that morning."
"He physically assaulted his guide," Browning suddenly offered.
"I don't believe you."
"I think you need to go home and talk to Captain Ellison. I'll have a car outside your apartment building if you need to leave. We have a helicopter at the airport and you can pick up your work at the USSP facilities." Browning stood up again and walked around the desk toward Fitcher. "I think you have a few good ideas. I think General Karn is manipulating you to try and grab power, but I think you have some theories that deserve researching."
"Man, not going to happen," Blair said warily.
"The guides are not General Karn. The invitation is just that, an invitation."
"Then you can consider yourself turned down," Blair answered.
"Fair enough. I will, however, check on you in the morning. Your naïve faith in Captain Ellison is dangerous and disturbing." Browning nodded once to Fitcher, and the white noise generator was quickly packed up before the two men left the room. Blair waited until he was sure that the two guides would have disappeared and then he slowly walked out of the room. Jim might not want to talk, but Blair decided it was time for some answers.
Turning the corner toward the emergency room, he spotted Jim dressed and sitting in hard chairs designed for healthy family members, not injured patients. The man had his head resting on the palms of his hands, his elbows propped on his knees. Blair stood looking at the slumped shoulders until Jim finally turned his head and looked at him. Blair had prepared himself for anything: anger, resentment, fear, betrayal. What he found in that face frightened him more than any of that. He looked into Jim's eyes and saw absolutely nothing.
He walked toward his sentinel, and Jim stood up and gathered a small paper bag, probably full of sentinel-safe medications.
"Jim?" Blair asked, but Jim's eyes just seemed to focus somewhere over his head. No tug on the hair, no slap on the arm, no one-handed hug. Blair stood there for a moment and then Simon appeared in the hall.
"There you two are, get a move on. Some of us still have to be at the station in the morning and I need to get at least three hours sleep or I'll be the crankiest captain at the station." Simon's words made Blair smile a little and he turned to Jim to make a comment about Simon's crankiness. The blank look of the man following him made the words freeze in his throat as he followed Simon out into the parking lot. Oh yeah, this wasn't going to be pretty.
Blair walked into the loft with a subdued and silent sentinel following him, and he was starting to get just a little freaked out by both the silent treatment and the lack of contact.
"I'll be upstairs," Jim said tonelessly as he walked by Blair, tossing the bag of pills down on the table where it slid across and then clattered to the floor on the far side.
"Oh, not even. We seriously need to talk."
"I'm tired, I'm doped up on pills, and I'm hurting, Sandburg. Talk is not on the program tonight." Jim had his first foot on the stairs when Blair reached out and put his hand over Jim's hand on the railing.
"Man, we so need to work something out here."
"Just pack your bags and go meet the car," Jim said in that same toneless voice. Blair froze. Of all the things he expected, he didn't expect Jim to say that. Hadn't the white noise generator been on? "Do you want a check for the money you have in my bank?" Jim asked with the same passion he would have shown for a discussion on the weather.
"Whoa there, I am not going with the USSP." Blair could feel a sense of foreboding snaking up his spine both at Jim's conviction that he would leave and at Jim's lack of reaction to that belief.
"Then have them give you a ride to Charlie's place. Or stay here and pack in the morning. I don't care." Jim started up the stairs pulling his hand out from under Blair's. For one second, Blair was left standing at the bottom of the stairs struggling to even find his voice under all the shock, but then tendrils of anger started weaving through that shock.
"Oh no. No, no, no, no, and once more for emphasis, no. I am not walking away from this. If you heard Browning's offer then you heard me turn him down. So we can have this talk here or I can follow you up to your bedroom, but we are so having this talk," Blair stood at the bottom of the stairs and crossed his arms. Jim stopped on the stairs as his back stiffened for a moment and then his shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Fine. Let's get this over with," Jim said as he came down the stairs far quicker than he'd been climbing them, brushing past Blair and stopping beside the kitchen table. Blair bit his tongue to avoid snapping, and instead walked to the living room area as he mentally chanted a calming mantra.
"Okay. Let's start with the question from earlier," he said once he'd gotten his anger back under control. "Why did you leave the USSP?" Blair dropped cross legged onto the couch and waited.
"Damn it, I gave you that answer. What more do you want? I didn't fit into their program, my senses went from erratic to non-existent and I was asked to resign unless I wanted to face a psych discharge." Jim's body had exploded into motion as the sentinel started some sort of cleaning that seemed to involve grabbing the kitchen cloth and randomly moving objects from one place to another as he wiped various surfaces. Blair could see his muscles tremble, and he yearned to reach out and pull his sentinel into his lap. Right now he was just afraid that would push Jim even farther away.
"Okay. Let's go back some. What happened when your guide got hurt on the mission?" Blair watched Jim drop the rag and clutch at the edge of the table. He started standing up, but then Jim turned to him with a look of utter fear and anger and loathing and rage that Blair froze in place, not even sure whether Jim was seeing him or some image from his memory. "What happened to your first guide, Jim?" Blair asked far more softly.
"Damn it, just drop it."
"No. I don't care if I have to follow you around like one of those yippy little dogs you accused me of being. Whatever is going on is hurting you, and I'm not leaving you alone."
"Talking about it won't change what happened," Jim had returned to the emotionless version of himself and Blair wasn't sure which scared him more.
"Then it won't make anything worse. Your guide was injured and you were afraid to let the medics near," Blair started. Jim just snorted his disagreement.
"My guide was tortured," he corrected Blair. "Tortured and screaming and left chained where I could almost reach him but not quite." Jim walked over and dropped to the couch. A heavy silence fell on the loft, and Blair was struck mute at thought of Jim so helpless and unable to protect his guide. "We were supposed to collect data. They had dug traps, and with the wind and the weeds, I didn't even see them until Rob…" Blair watched as Jim physically flinched.
"You stayed with him," Blair said.
"They came so fast. I waited in the bushes and attacked once they'd pulled Rob up, but there were just too many. I watched him for three days as they stuck rods in him and burned him and…" Jim's voice just stopped like a stereo someone had flipped off.
"God, Jim, I'm sorry," Blair barely breathed the words, but he knew Jim would hear him, and his sentinel's head dropped back against the couch so the man now stared sightlessly at the ceiling. At least Blair hoped Jim's blank expression was sightless because he didn't even want to consider his sentinel using that special brand of sensory recall to relive his guide's torture.
"He was calling for me. He screamed for me. They'd chained my wrist so that I could almost reach him and then they—there are some things you just don't want to know about, Junior. The human body can survive things it really shouldn't. In the end, they had to tie me to a tree because I broke my own wrist trying to pull loose from the chain. I could smell…." Jim stopped again, and Blair realized that he was so far in over his head he had no idea how to deal with this level of trauma.
"You tried to protect him. It's all you could do," Blair said softly, and Jim's body gave a tremor.
"When the rescue team cut me loose, I really did try to kill them. I wanted to kill anyone who touched him because every time the medics touched him, he would make this small whining sound like an dying animal." Jim's voice dropped to a near whisper, and Blair had to lean forward to hear his partner.
He wasn't as naïve as either Jim or Browning thought him. He'd seen Amnesty International photos and videos with prisoners being tortured, and he suddenly had his own Technicolor image of Jim mad with rage as they tortured his guide knowing the agony they would cause the sentinel. Blair's stomach clenched and he felt a physical tightness around his chest at the torture Jim must have endured. Hell, the man had broken his own wrist and probably would have torn off his own hand, but he still couldn't protect his guide.
"They had to hit me with three darts before I went down and Rob nearly bled to death while they tried to get me away from him." Jim's voice still had that emotionless quality and only his breaks and pauses revealed the depths of his pain. Blair could feel his own eyes heat with unshed tears and he considered the pain that must have caused Jim, both watching his guide be tortured and living with the guilt of his guide nearly dying because Jim had tried to fight off the medical team.
"And then Rob left the service," Blair said, anxious to help Jim past the memory of the actual torture.
"He couldn't even be near me. He refused to see me. God, how can I blame him? A more experienced sentinel would have seen the trap. Hell, I would have seen the trap before my senses came on line, but I was so damn distracted with the scent of the enemy on the air and the sound of the enemy camp that I let my guide walk right into that trap. When the officer on duty told me that Rob was leaving the service, leaving base, they had to lock me up to keep me away from him."
"Didn't you ever get a chance to see that he was okay?" Blair asked as he recalled Kingsley's discussion of a sentinel's habit of staying near until the guide was out of physical danger, as if some part of a sentinel couldn't stand down until sure of his or her guide's safety. Jim made a scoffing sound.
"The general before Karn was the real asshole. I was confined to quarters the entire time Rob was in the infirmary. I haven't seen him since the day the medics came."
"Oh god, Jim." Blair stopped, not really sure what else to say.
"Water under the bridge, Junior. It happened; it's over. Problem is that the USSP guides are never going to forget or forgive. A sentinel's first duty is to protect the guide, and I failed on a monumental scale."
"That's it. Your guides after Rob, they held you responsible for what happened, didn't they?" Blair leaned forward, his mind flashing through a dozen hypotheses, only he needed Jim to talk to him before he could determine what had really happened. He needed his sentinel to trust him enough to share.
"Jim, please. Tell me what happened." Jim gave a sigh, but other than that, the large body lay motionless on the couch. Blair had almost given up when Jim started talking again.
"They were always on edge with me. First Cassie and then Luis, guides numbers two and three." Jim stopped there, but Blair had more patience than his sentinel, at least when he needed to have. He settled back and let Jim collect his thoughts. The man wouldn't have brought up names if he didn't plan on sharing more.
"They both insisted that I control my instincts at all times. I wanted to bond with Cassie, probably because I had lost Rob, and she wouldn't even let me touch her on the arm. She had the right to say no, but working with her when my guts were tied in knots and I couldn't even touch her… I lost control." Jim's voice remained emotionless, but Blair saw his eye press shut so hard that wrinkles formed at the corners.
"What did you do?" Blair asked softly.
"Pretty much the same thing I did with you. We were working a simulation and an explosion went off. I manhandled her to the side of a wall and held her there absolutely convinced that someone was going to take her away." Jim stopped again for a long pause. "She wasn't thrilled."
Blair thought back to when Jim had gone primal on him. If he had for one minute believed that Jim was untrustworthy, that would have been a terrifying experience. As it was, Blair had seen it through an anthropologist's eyes. He'd been too fascinated with the behavior and too caught up in his sentinel's needs to think about anything else. He made a guess.
"She wouldn't work with you again?"
"Can you really blame her? I wanted so much to keep her with me that I pushed her completely away. And by that time Karn had come, and he didn't listen to the guides who insisted that I be confined during the separation anxiety, and I lost control again and injured two guards."
"Not the best way to make friends," Blair agreed.
"The next two guides, I just couldn't trust. I couldn't believe they were going to stick around, and I would get either too physically close or I would ignore them and my senses would start spiking." Jim's voice broke with emotion for the first time, and Blair felt his own tears roll down in sympathy for a man who couldn't even cry for himself. Jim sat up straight and rolled his head from one side to the other silently.
"I got rejected a couple more times, and each time my senses became more and more erratic. By the time I resigned, I only had occasional moments where one or two senses would come on line for a brief time. The USSP wasn't for me anymore. Maybe it never was." Jim ran a hand over his face, and Blair's hand twitched with a need to reach out and comfort his friend. Before he could, Jim's voice suddenly took on a far more normal tone even though Blair could feel the tension still rolling through the room.
"And no offense, but you smell like marijuana and Browning, two scents that I really would prefer to avoid having in my house," Jim complained, and Blair was almost grateful for the emotion… at least it was an emotion unlike the flat, automatic responses he'd gotten from Jim earlier.
Blair raised his own arm to sniff at it, and even he could smell faint traces of marijuana, and the thought of Browning smell on his body just gave him the creeps. Right. He wasn't through, but he suspected that if he wanted to bring up the subject of bonding, he needed to get rid of the odors that would just remind his sentinel of the pain he'd suffered. So, shower first, then it was about damn time someone fessed up about the bonding issue.
"Oh man, Browning smell is not good for either of us right now. I'll be right back, so just stay here. And take any pills you need to take for the night," Blair shouted from his room as he grabbed a pair of sweats and went for the bathroom.
Blair took the world's fastest shower, half afraid that he would come out to an empty loft. Instead Jim lay on the couch in the exact lay pose with one exception, his arm was now bent over his eyes.
"Jim, have you ever thought about us bonding?" Blair tried to keep his voice neutral even though he could feel a wave of want/need/crave wash over him the minute the words escaped.
"What? You think you'll get a chance to write a paper on the hidden bonding rituals of fucked up sentinels?" Jim snapped as he took an aggressive step forward, and a little part of Blair suggested that discretion was the better part of valor. A bigger part of Blair reminded him that misplaced aggression was a coping strategy. He stood his ground as Jim pressed up against him, chest to chest, and Blair was suddenly not nearly as bothered. Coping strategy or not, Jim's pissiness had let to touchiness, and Blair suspected that several of his brain cells had just been hijacked by the feeling of Jim's body warmth seeping through Jim's shirt and soaking into Blair.
"Man, research is the last thing on my mind," Blair said as he reached out and gently touched a trembling arm with just one finger.
"Oh, I see. You think I need it. I'm the damaged sentinel, rejected by other guides, so you're going to come in pick up where they refused? Is that what this is, Sandburg?" Jim glared down so fiercely that Blair was actually temporarily startled into silence. He opened his mouth a couple of times before he finally formed words.
"That is so not how I see it."
"How else is there to see it?" Jim demanded. Blair would have given him several alternative viewpoints, but Jim turned his back and stormed toward the kitchen already talking again. "Look, Darwin, bonding is just something that isn't going to happen."
"I know this is a big step for both of us, but we trust each other and we'll get through this."
"Drop it," Jim growled. For the first time Blair considered that Jim might be rejecting him not out of some stoic immovable object crap but because he wasn't attracted or just plain didn't trust him.
"Whoa, I mean, I thought you trusted me," Blair said in a far less sure tone of voice.
"Nice Sandburg. If I don't bond it means I don't trust you? Is that it?" Jim's bitterness colored every word until Blair seriously considered the idea that he had just made a huge mistake. Jim's voice suddenly fell in volume, the anger leeching away and leaving this profound emptiness. "Maybe I just don't want to bond," Jim said as he dropped onto a kitchen stool and repeated that face rub gesture Blair had learned to associate with his sentinel being in pain.
"Riiiight." Blair stepped closer and watched as Jim's nose flared. The black of his eyes widened so that his eye normal eye color became a ring around two black holes that threatened to suck him in. God, he hoped Jim wanted this because he wanted it so badly that he couldn't even breathe easily.
"I'm going out," Jim said as he jumped off the stool.
"No, no, no, no, no. No way you're just walking away from this now." Blair insisted.
"Pulling rank there?" Jim's voice had gone cold, and Blair started feeling like he should have a scorecard because he was quickly losing track of Jim's emotional states.
"Man, you are frustrating the crap out of me in more ways than one. I need to know what you're feeling and unless you intend on drinking cabbage juice for the rest of your life you need to say it," Blair snapped back just as coldly.
"I don't need to say anything, Darwin."
"So do it for me then. Because man, I am feeling like the world's worst guide. You're in all this pain and not only do I not know how to fix it, but I'm standing here thinking about how horny I am. I have instincts too, and I need to know how to help you and knowing I'm absolutely helpless leaves me..." Blair struggled to express his inner pain. "I feel empty. Something that should be in my soul isn't there. *You* should be in my soul, and you aren't because you won't let me in. Man, this hurts more than anything else I've ever felt." Blair started to tremble as his own emotions rose in a tidal wave for which he was totally unprepared. It was as if saying the words had broken some levy and now all the fear and helplessness and pain washed through him.
"Chief, this isn't about you."
"I know that. But it's about you, and I..." Blair lost words again.
"Feel like I'm part of you?" Jim filled in. Blair felt strong arms wrap around him and hold him tight against that strong chest. "Because that's how I feel. But the bonding... I can't do it Blair, not even for you." Now Blair could hear an honest emotion.
"Why?" Blair whispered.
"Can't you just accept that I care about you? You'll always be my guide, but that..." Jim stopped again, his words clearly failing him.
"Jim, man, please tell me. Make me understand why. Give me a reason to believe that I'm in your heart even without the bonding, and I swear I'll learn to live without that last step." Blair felt Jim's chest still as the man stopped breathing. He stopped breathing himself, knowing this was the moment where his sentinel finally let him in or where he would be trapped outside forever. "Please," he added. He felt guilty for pushing when Jim clearly didn't want to tell, but now that he knew the truth, his body demanded more. He wasn't hard although he certain could be on a moments notice if the tightness in his stomach was any judge. No, some deeper part of him demanded the joining.
Jim sucked in a large breath, and Blair started breathing again with him, well, breathing and praying.
"I lied, Chief." Jim pulled him over to the couch and Blair followed, allowing himself to be pulled into Jim's lap. Sensing that Jim needed time to tell the story in his own way, Blair bit back the thousand questions that jumped to his mind and let his body relax into Jim's own. His butt was actually on the couch with his legs draped over Jim's lap and he leaned forward so that he could rest his head on Jim's shoulder as he waited. One of Jim's arms curled around his waist and the other traced designs on the back of Blair's hand.
"The last guide. I rejected him. I disobeyed a direct order and was warned that I would be kicked out of the program and lose any chance of ever having a guide if I didn't obey." Jim took a deep breath, and Blair instantly understood the whole situation. A dozen clues dropped into place to form one seriously ugly picture. He struggled to keep himself from exploding at such a violation of a sentinel's needs and instincts. However, he didn't think Jim could survive such an outburst from him. The man didn't need Blair's pity.
"I wasn't controlling myself. I couldn't stop myself from..." Jim shrugged as he reached up and tugged on Blair's curls.
"You couldn't stop the need to touch," Blair said softly.
"Yeah. Most guides aren't fond of being manhandled in public, Chief. So my last guide, Thomas, said that he could help me control my instincts if we bonded."
"And you didn't want to."
"That'd be the long and short of it."
"The short of it anyway," Blair pointed out, hoping that his prodding would get Jim to open up more.
"The long of it would be him using his own scent to send me into a near zone before starting the bonding while I was checked out. When I broke out of the zone I backhanded him off the bed and away from me."
"Which you had every right to do. I'm surprised you didn't break his neck."
"He was my guide, Chief. Of course, after that I was told to either bond with Thomas or leave the program." Jim's words left Blair trembling in anger. He sucked in his breath in an attempt to head off the profanity that wanted to flow from his mouth.
"Did you report the guides to Karn?" he asked once he could talk without cursing in a dozen languages.
"Karn is the one who gave the order. Hell, he signed my discharge papers. He said that too many sentinels were desperate for guides for me to drive good men out of the program with my Neanderthal impression."
"He... that… what? I am so going to strangle that bastard." This time Blair pushed away from Jim's chest as his back went straight with a fury he couldn't remember ever feeling.
"Relax, Junior. You're supposed to be the calming influence here."
"But that bastard, he... I'm.... Jim, I have never said this before in my life, but I want to see that bastard dead."
"Yeah, so did I for a long time, but he's trying to protect all the sentinels, and if he has to sacrifice a few guides or even sentinels along the way, he'll do it. Just like he was willing to sacrifice a neo-hippy doctoral student with a strange little theory." Jim reached up and tugged Blair's hair again.
"Okay, can I at least fantasize about him with a couple of broken legs then?" Blair asked.
"Yeah, that's fine with me," Jim shrugged amiably, and Blair let himself be pulled back down to Jim's chest.
"Jim, you can't think that I'd..." Blair stopped at saying the words. As far as he was concerned Thomas had tried to rape Jim, sentinel issues or no sentinel issues. But he didn't want to say the word in case Jim hadn't gotten to that level of processing yet.
"I know you wouldn't, Chief. But every time I imagine us, I get to a spot in the fantasy where I just can't do it. It's not you Chief; I can't give myself to anyone like that." Blair lay there trying to bring himself to accept that he would never have anything more than cuddling, not that there was anything wrong with cuddling, but he'd had his heart set on slightly more. He was so lost in his own, well, loss that he didn't catch the phrasing right away.
"Man, after what you've been through, I would never ask that. Just because you can't give yourself to me doesn't mean we can't be together. I'm perfectly happy giving myself to you. Blair felt all movement under him stop as the hand on his back and the hand exploring the shapes of his knuckles froze in place.
"Chief, that's not the way it's done."
"Why? Does it feel wrong to you?"
"No," Jim said carefully and Blair could hear the unspoken caution in the voice.
"Is the thing worrying you something instinctive or are you thinking about something you learned from the USSP?" Blair asked. The more he got to know Jim the more damage he realized the man had taken in his time in the military.
"The USSP really wouldn't approve of reversing the roles," Jim admitted. "Not that they actually have a position officially since officially sex doesn't happen between sentinels and guides."
"Yeah, well fuck the USSP. Or actually, no, don't. I really don't even want the words fuck and USSP in the same sentence. So instead of fucking them, let's just forget them and every rule they every invented."
"I can do that, Chief," Jim whispered, and Blair felt lips skim over the skin of his neck as his sentinel's mouth started tasting his skin. He could feel himself tremble and as he had predicted, in that single moment of losing control, he felt his erection harden in anticipation.
Jim breathed deeply as he nipped along the back of Blair's neck. Wet hair, botanical shampoo, Zest soap, and Blair musk combined into a smell Jim knew he'd be able to track through a stadium full of people. Guide. Blair. The best smell in the world. Jim shivered in pleasure as the taste of Blair filled the last hole he had in his sensory awareness of his guide. The underlying salty flavor was addictive and Jim allowed himself to suck gently as he worked his way up from the juncture of shoulder and neck to the ear lobe. He slipped his hand around Blair's waist and let his fingertips dip beneath the damp waistband of Blair's sweatpants. Within his embrace, Blair started gasping. Jim smiled a little as he tasted his way down to Blair's shoulder causing Blair to clutch at the arm around his waist.
"Oh man," Blair breathed. Jim had to agree.
"Upstairs." Jim opened his arms, and Blair turned and looked at him for a long moment. Jim was just beginning to worry that Blair had changed his mind when the man turned and went for the stairs.
Jim quickly followed, feeling his own heart speed at the thought of being able to have his guide. When he had left the USSP, he had given up the hope of having the joy he had seen on others' faces. Even before his senses had gone on line, he would watch bonded pairs. When they were being watched, they projected military efficiency; however, he had seen them in unguarded moments when they moved into each others' space as though they were part of each other. Even back then he had ached at the need to belong to something as unshakeable as a sentinel guide pair.
Now his guide stood in the middle of the room looking faintly uncomfortable even as his cock strained the material of his sweatpants. Jim took a deep breath and prayed that he wouldn't lose control and go primal. If he hurt Blair, he would never forgive himself. Jim moved forward slowly. He wasn't sure whether Blair had even done this before, but there was no way he'd ask. If it turned out that Charlie had touched Blair like this, Jim just might give in to his desire to shoot the man. Instead Jim vowed to just take it slow.
He hadn't taken more than two steps before Blair moved to him, Blair's hand reaching up to touch his cheek even as Blair's other arm went around his waist. Jim felt just a spark of distress, but the feeling of Blair's mouth attacking a nipple quickly distracted him with far more pleasant sensations.
Jim *thought* he'd felt the bonding heat when he'd smelled Blair pad from the shower to his bedroom. He'd *thought* he'd felt the bonding heat when Blair would stand in the middle of the station leaning into him. No shame, no hiding, just touching. But those flares of desire couldn't compare with the conflagration that now made his whole body burn for Blair. He could feel his cock straining upward.
"Oh shit, Chief," Jim muttered into the top of Blair's head as Jim clung to his guide just to keep desire from knocking his feet out from under him. "Bed," he hoarsely whispered as he used every bit of self control to push Blair away. The only thing making that possible was the knowledge that once he had his guide down on the bed he would have more room to work. Blair just laughed and backed up to the bed and half threw himself backward so that he was half sitting and half laying, his upper body propped up on his elbows, one foot on the edge of the bed and one leg dangling over.
"Got a problem there?" Blair asked with a low chuckle, all signs of nervousness and fear suddenly gone.
"Yeah, a guide with too many clothes," Jim said as he reached out and grabbed the sides of Blair's sweatpants. Blair pushed up with the foot on the bed, and when Jim pulled, the pants slid off easily. Blair worked at kicking the sweatpants all the way off as Jim stripped his own shirt and slid his pants down with military efficiency.
"Oh man, I've wanted this since the day you first called me your guide and I so thought I was having some sort of delayed sexual crisis brought on by the lack of a male role model."
"God, Chief. Most men shut up when offered sex," Jim joked as he pulled Blair's one leg flat so he could straddle him on the bed.
"Ha ha," Blair replied. Jim's guess was that Blair had intended the words sarcastically, but they came out breathy and needy, and Jim could feel an answering need gathering in his own chest. He didn't just want Blair, he needed him. Jim reached out and brushed a few clinging, wet tendrils of hair out of Blair's face. Blair's hand came up and caught Jim's wrist.
Jim staggered back as his hearing ratcheted up to near the top of the dial, and the dim lights from below seemed to flair into brilliance as the whole room brightened. The sudden shift in his senses gave Jim the terrifying and nauseating sensation of falling, and he jerked his hand back from Blair in order to grab at the railing before he fell.
"Jim?" a concerned voice called, but his hearing was now set too low, and Jim had to struggle to hear his guide. Scent was totally gone he suddenly realized, and his body was sending all these panic signals that left Jim holding on to the railing and struggling to control both his own fear and his spiraling senses.
Jim felt a warmth at his back and then comforting words started surrounding him: reminders to breathe and to set the dials back to normal. Jim felt his senses start resetting as he listened to his guide's voice help him out of the overload.
"I'm fine now," Jim said as he side-stepped away from the bed and toward the stairs without turning around.
"Jim, what's up, man?" Blair followed, and Jim felt that warm hand touch his back again, but Jim avoided turning around to face his guide. He just needed to get downstairs.
"I just need to…" Jim stopped as he realized that he had no idea what he needed. Some days he thought he just needed someone to shoot him so that he didn't have these constant reminders of how much of a freak he truly was.
"Jim, come on, man. Talk to me." Blair's voice cracked with such pain and confusion that Jim couldn't walk away from it.
"God, Chief. I'm sorry, I just can't." Jim turned around so that Blair could see just how much Jim couldn't. His completely limp cock hung between his legs.
"You don't need to apologize. Just talk to me, man," Blair said softly, backing up to the bed. A part of Jim missed the physical contact, but most of him just appreciated the space. "Talk to me so I know you aren't shutting me out," Blair practically begged. "I'm afraid of losing you."
"Never, Darwin. You're part of me. Day may come when you won't want this cranky old half-sentinel, but you're still stuck with me because I'll never let you go." Jim forgot his own fears under the weight of causing his guide so much pain. He went to the bed, sitting down next to Blair and pulling his guide into a tight embrace. He could smell the arousal and need, but he just couldn't respond.
"Tell me what's going on." Blair whispered.
"I want you, Blair. I do. I just keep feeling like I'm falling. One second I'm touching you, feeling your muscles move under the skin, smelling your desire and there's nothing I want more, then the next second I feel this sensation of danger and my senses go on alert and I feel like I'm falling." Jim flinched at the weakness in his own words, but if he couldn't give himself to Blair one way, he was determined to give himself to Blair in every other way.
"You feel like you're in danger?" Blair asked softly, but Jim knew his words must have hurt his guide.
"I know you wouldn't, Chief. This is my fault."
"This is *not* your fault, man. I can think of a number of people to blame, and your name is not on that list." Jim waited while Blair's breathing slowly returned to normal even though his cock remained just as hard and needy as ever.
"Can you wait here a second?" Blair finally asked, but then he slid out of Jim's grasp and dashed for the stairs before Jim could even form an answer. Of course he'd wait, but he couldn't imagine that Blair would wait forever. Maybe it was time to get some therapy. Maybe he should just grit his teeth and let Blair take him. His guide was clearly not having a problem keeping his interest level up, and Jim thought he had enough self control to not strike out again like he had with Thomas. He listened as Blair rattled around in his room, slamming drawers.
Bare feet came slapping up the stairs as Blair returned. Jim opened his mouth to share his suggestion when he spotted two robe ties dangling from Blair's hand. Despite his decision, the sight of those ties in his naked and aroused guide's hand sent a stab of fear through his heart. He stood up and put a hand on the metal railing to brace himself. He must have allowed his feelings to show because Blair froze two steps into the room.
"I wouldn't hurt you, Chief."
"Oh man. No. I know you wouldn't, Jim."
"Then why?" Jim waved a hand toward the long strips of fabric.
"Jim, these aren't for you. I wouldn't do that to you, man. Knowing what I know about what they did to you... I just thought you might feel safer if you had more control."
"What?" Jim narrowed his eyes. He thought he understood, but there was no way Blair would agree to that, and there was no way he was going to do that.
"You said that you keep feeling like you're in danger. I thought this might help you feel safe."
"So you want me to take advantage of you the way Thomas tried to take my choices away from me?" Jim felt his anger rise at the very suggestion. No one would ever hurt Blair like that, not even him. And he would never do that to someone else. Never.
"Whoa, chill out man. I'm not suggesting that anyone get taken advantage of." Blair took an instinctive step backwards, and Jim became aware of the tone he was using toward his guide. He worked to loosen his jaw muscle as he tried to regain control.
"And you brought those up here why?" Jim asked in the quietest, calmest voice he could manage.
"Obviously you are really not into the idea, so tying me up is clearly out of the question. It's okay. We'll figure something else out." Blair's expression held guilt and despair as he stepped forward toward his sentinel. Jim noticed that Blair had started softening for the first time since they had touched downstairs.
"God Blair, what would even make you think I would ever hurt you like that?" Jim asked as he pulled Blair to him, resting his cheek on the top of Blair's head.
"Hold on just a minute. I don't think you would hurt me. This wouldn't hurt me." Blair pushed against Jim's chest and Jim allowed the man to back off a step. "Do you think this would hurt me?" Blair demanded as he held up the fabric strips. Jim looked into Blair's confused face.
"Yes," he answered honestly.
"No way, man." Blair walked around Jim to sit on the edge of the bed and Jim just leaned against the railing, unwilling to get in bed and restart the lust which would just turn into one more failure.
Blair ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it back away from his face and Jim felt an almost overwhelming urge to let his fingers do the same. He wanted to feel the damp curls under his fingertips.
"My money. You hold it for *me*, right?" Blair's words caught Jim so off guard that it took him a minute to process the meaning.
"Of course I do. I'm not going to steal from my guide." Jim could feel prickles of annoyance that his guide would say something that would imply otherwise.
"Exactly. You hold it, and if I let someone else hold my money, I'd be a real idiot. But it's okay for you to hold it because I trust you."
"Do you have a point somewhere in here, Chief?"
"Totally, just follow along for a minute here. If I asked for that money and said I wanted to get my own apartment and my own bank account, you'd give me the money, right?"
"Yeah," Jim agreed, but Blair's discussion of moving out made him suddenly feel like he was walking on quicksand about to get pulled under. As fear moved through his belly like a snake, he realized that he would let Blair have his body no matter how much he feared it because that fear was less than the fear of losing his guide.
"So letting you hold the money doesn't mean I have less, it just means I let you hold it, right?"
"Yeah," Jim agreed cautiously. He didn't want to get cornered into some argument where Blair decided it was best to separate.
"Okay, just think about this. What Thomas did was disgusting because he tried to take your power, your control, right?"
"Yeah, Chief, that's what rape is about, power," Jim nearly bit his own tongue as he realized that for the first time in his life he'd called what Thomas had tried to do 'rape.' Not really a word he ever would have thought applied to him.
"Right. Taking someone else's power leaves them with less power. But if I take my power and my control and let you hold it, I don't have less power, I'm just letting you hold it for me."
"Chief," Jim complained, ready to point out all the ways that argument didn't even make sense.
"No, I'm serious. If you tie me up, I'm letting you hold my power and control, but I'm doing it because I trust you. If I asked you to let me go, would you?"
"Of course I would; I would never do something you didn't want."
"Exactly, so I still have power if I want to take it back, but I trust you, so I just let you hold it. If I didn't trust you, this would be so entirely stupid. Monumentally stupid. Dangerously stupid. But I know I can trust you to hold my power and give it back to me if I need it. Same as with the money, Big Guy."
"Blair, I'm really not sure about this." Jim looked at the two strips of terry cloth still held in Blair's hand. The problem was that he could feel the need to bond growing again as the smell of his guide in his bed fed all those same urges and longings, and if they didn't do something different, he was just going to end up making life miserable for himself and his guide.
He hadn't mentioned anything to Blair, but the USSP certainly had horror stories about sentinels denied the ability to finish bonding once it started. Hell, Karn had told him most of those stories again and again as he'd stood in the general's office at parade rest as Karn tried to get him to submit to Thomas. Back then he hadn't believed it because he could have lived without ever seeing Thomas again in his life. But now that he looked at Blair who was hard and needy and willing to open himself to his sentinel... well, Jim could now understand why a sentinel would go nearly mad trying to complete a bond.
"I trust you. I'm just letting you hold the control so you don't have to feel like this is dangerous to you. Please, Jim, trust me on this one. Trust me."
"From you, those are the two scariest words in the language," Jim said wryly as he moved forward. He held out his hand and Blair handed over the bathrobe ties. The fabric of the tie was soft under his fingers, but it wasn't very stretchy. Perfect for tying up a guide. And Jim suddenly realized he did want to do this. The thought of being able to enjoy his guide without having to fear his guide stirred the lust and the need and the nearly painful urge to bond.
Jim stopped at that thought. For the first time he admitted that he did fear his guides. They had so much power over him; they could command him into battle like any other superior officer, but they could also command his senses and his instincts. Thomas had nearly raped him as he zoned on the guide scent, and he had been nearly powerless. To this day he didn't know what had brought him out of the zone in time to stop Thomas, and the fear of losing control like that again had left him crippled.
Jim reached down and ran a thumb over Blair's cheek down to his chin. His sensitive touch could feel the prickles of the invisible hairs on Blair's face and he could smell the increased pheromones at his touch.
"Lay back," he said, and Blair scooted back on to the bed. Jim picked up one of Blair's arms and started making a simple knot around the wrist.
"Oh no. For this to work, you've got to know I can't get free. I can pull that knot loose and you know it," Blair complained. Jim stopped and looked at his guide's face.
"Are you sure about this?"
"Totally, man. I trust you." Blair smiled and Jim felt a warmth that he'd never known with any guide, not even Rob. He pulled the knot out and started again. This time he used a complicated twisting knot that he used to keep a tent anchored to a post even in a windstorm. There would be no human way possible for his guide to get free. Jim pulled Blair's hand up to the railing and tied off the knot to one of the crossbars. Standing up, Jim walked around the bed to the other side. Picking up the blue robe tie he repeated the process on Blair's other wrist.
Now his guide was helpless until such time as Jim chose to let him go. Well, that or until Blair asked to be untied. Listening to his guide's heart start speeding up, Jim suspected that Blair wouldn't ask. The amount of trust his guide put in him left Jim at a complete loss for words. But since Jim's earlier interest had returned, words were not his first priority. As Jim considered what to do with his guide, he gently touched the head of his own cock, gathering the precum at the end of his erection and rubbing it into the sensitive skin.
CHAPTER NINE - Fair warning, graphic sex ahead. Skip to Chapter 10 if this is not your thing.
Jim lowered himself onto Blair's body, straddling the shorter man so that their cocks lined up and Jim arched his back so that he was above his guide as he started a slow rubbing motion. Jim felt his own groin tighten even more, and below him Blair moaned his appreciation. Jim watched in fascination as Blair's fists closed and opened in silent rhythm.
Jim slowly dragged his body along Blair's again, feeling every inch as his desire quickly returned to that slow all-consuming burn that he'd felt before. Every inch of his body tingled in anticipation, and Jim suddenly knew that he would never want anyone one else in his bed. Blair was his, and he belonged to Blair in a way that transcended USSP regulations. The sweat from his own body and from Blair's slicked their bodies so that skin glided against skin smoothly as Jim slowly rubbed.
Bringing his upper body to Blair's neck, Jim returned to his tasting. Now that his guide was squirming and making small incoherent noises, his skin had changed flavor, the sweat that now appeared like a fine mist had a subtle musk to it that made Jim's senses snap into focus, as if everything were a little sharper, brighter, somehow more real. Jim trailed the tip of his tongue past Blair's throbbing jugular and over the collarbone.
He could feel Blair's hairs tickle his face as he sought out the hardened nipples. Blair bucked under him. Jim froze, expecting the panic to run through him again, but the fear failed to appear. Smiling into his guide's chest, Jim renewed his attack. This time he nipped lightly, and Blair arched up off the bed as he thrust up into Jim's stomach. Jim reached down and put a hand on each side of Blair's hips, pushing him down into the bed, and while Blair groaned pitifully, he really couldn't do anything else.
Jim kissed the one nipple before moving over to the other one and offering it the same worship until Blair was making an endless stream of random sounds that didn't even approach language. Jim pulled back, resting his weight on Blair's legs and watching his guide's arm muscles ripple as he fought the restraints.
"You okay?" Jim asked even if his senses did tell him his guide was safe. Safe and horny and excited as every muscle twitch and noise begged for more touch.
"Oh shit, please just fucking *do* something. Please," Blair begged.
"Suffering?" Jim asked playfully despite his own aching need and throbbing cock. He slowly stroked his own cock, feeling the ridge around the head and squeezing the shaft.
"Bastard," Blair hissed as he opened his eyes. Jim laughed. He slid off the end of the bed and got the lube from the bedside table. Blair watched him silently.
"You okay with this?" Jim asked as he rested a hand on Blair's forearm as it lay on the pillow.
"Totally. I trust you with my life, man." Jim bent over and Blair's mouth opened in an invitation that Jim couldn't resist. When he finally stood up, he was lightheaded although he didn't know whether to blame the bending or the kiss or the fact that he had forgotten to breathe there for a minute. Walking to the end of the bed, Jim smiled when Blair threw his legs open in invitation.
"Needing something there, Junior?" he asked as he opened the tube and put the lubricant on his two fingers.
"Oh man, if you don't do something I'm going to explode and you're going to have one strange mess to explain to Simon," Blair shot back, so Jim took the most direct path to shutting his guide up. He slipped one finger inside without warning, the slick helping him slide past the muscular barriers before Blair had time to tighten in surprise. When Blair's muscles clamped against his single finger, Jim pressed upward searching for the prostate as he used his other hand to stroke Blair's hard cock.
A strangled cry told him he'd achieved his goal, and he slipped a second finger inside while Blair was still squirming. This time the hiss was tinged with pain and Jim remained perfectly still as he listened to his guide recover from the surprise. Heart rate, body temperature, the blood throbbing around his fingers, he could feel every part of Blair as if the man were drawn in full color against a black and white background. Jim resolved to never tell Blair that because he didn't want to have to explain something that seemed both so natural and nearly mystical.
As Blair's breathing suggested that the lust was again overriding the pain of penetration, Jim started sliding in and out, tickling the perineum on each thrust. With a wicked smile, Jim bent over and took the head of Blair's cock in his mouth. The salty thick come surprised him both in how strong it tasted and how much it tasted like Blair. He slid the tip of his tongue against Blair's slit to gather another drop and using that distraction, he slipped a third finger into his guide.
Back during his time in the USSP, he had researched the mechanics of gay sex the minute he had been assigned a male guide. He wanted to know what Rob would do to him, and at the time he had been almost relieved Rob would have to do this prep work which he had thought rather distasteful. But now he enjoyed the feeling of reducing Blair to random curses as the man demanded more. Jim bent his finger and intentionally brushed against Blair's prostate.
"Fuck. Oh man, just… fuck. Do it. Fuck me already," Blair panted, and Jim knew that if he didn't hurry both of them were going to finish before they even had a chance to bond. Jim pulled his fingers out and reached up to grab a pillow.
Blair watched with panting breaths and lifted his hips so Jim could slip the supporting pillow underneath. Jim took his own erection in hand and slicked it before guiding toward Blair's prepared hole. He pushed slowly and steadily forward, keeping his free hand on Blair's stomach. Finally pushing through the muscle, Jim felt the head of his cock slip in place, and now he was the one panting with need. However stories of out of control sentinels reminded Jim that he needed to go slow and keep control. He needed to keep his guide safe even from his own need to claim his guide.
Jim listened as Blair's noises turned from discomfort to need and then he started a slow rocking with his hips, moving mere millimeters in and out as he slowly worked his way inside his guide. Jim would have continued his slow and careful approach except Blair's legs suddenly wrapped around his waist, pulling their bodies together. Jim froze in panic as Blair hissed in pain. He smelled the air for any blood and was just about to pull out all together when Blair sighed, arched his back, and tightened his legs even more.
"Fuck man, I’m not breakable, just do it already," Blair demanded, and Jim could feel a heat from within his own soul demanding the same. Jim pulled back, forcing Blair's legs to release him before he slammed back in hard enough that skin slapped against skin wetly. Blair moaned deeply with a soft "yeah" and Jim repeated the maneuver angling slightly up.
This time Blair's moan was anything but soft, and Jim smiled fondly down at his guide. He had found a vocal lover. He repeated the angle and closed a fist around Blair's cock, and this time he elicited a primitive howl as Blair bucked up off the bed, thrusting forward into Jim's hand before falling back onto Jim's cock, and Jim replied with his strongest thrust yet. Blair's legs went stiff and with a screamed "fuck," Blair started coming.
Blair spasmed around Jim almost painfully and Jim gave one last full thrust before he followed his partner. Jim was buried to the root in Blair, but he gave rhythmic thrusts forward, pressing his balls into Blair's butt as he felt the strongest and longest orgasm of his life rip through him. Eventually he finished and dropped his hands to either side of Blair's body and let his head sag.
"Oh man. Fuck," Blair eventually offered, and Jim couldn't even come up with the energy to reply as he let himself sink onto the bed. Blair's calves came to rest on his thighs, and Jim knew happiness. He opened his mouth so he could better smell the new scent coming from Blair. Musky. Pheromone-laden, but heavier than the smell of lust.
Closing his lips around a small patch of skin near Blair's collarbone, Jim tasted his guide, gently sucking the flavor that made his senses sharpen even more. Oh yeah, he felt damn good. Jim felt himself finally slip from Blair's body, and some part of him registered the thought that he had to get a towel if he wanted to avoid a mess in his bed. If that soaked into his mattress, he would never get rid of the smell. A larger part of his brain didn't care.
Jim had almost fallen asleep when it occurred to him that Blair was still tied.
"Shit, Chief. I'm sorry," Jim offered as he pushed himself up and worked on the knots imprisoning Blair's left arm. Once the limb was free, Blair tucked it under his head and watched while Jim worked the second arm free.
"Man, I'm too happy and too tired to care," Blair said amiably.
"You shouldn't have had to do that for me."
"Oh man, I know you're kidding. That was the best damn sex I ever had. I didn't have to worry about making you come first since I was tied and couldn't do a damn thing about it. I got to just lie back and let myself enjoy every second. "
"Hedonist," Jim laughed as he finished untying his bonded guide and lay down on his side facing Blair.
"Fuck yeah," Blair agreed as he turned on his own side to look at Jim. Jim smiled and reached up to brush a strand of hair back. "At least I don't have a hair fetish," Blair suggested as he scooted forward and pressed up against Jim.
"Watch it, Junior," Jim laughed lightly as he rolled to back and pulled his guide with him so that his arm was under Blair and Blair was lying half on Jim's chest.
"Whatever, man," Blair mumbled, and Jim could feel his guide's hot breath across his chest. He pulled Blair in closer, and one of Blair's legs curled up and settled on top of Jim's thigh as Blair's breathing deepened into sleep. Jim fought the fatigue that pulled his eyes closed. He wanted to curl up and live the rest of his life in this moment, but his body demanded rest, and he eventually joined his guide in sleep.
Jim woke in a tangle of sheets and legs and arms and hair. Blair was still dead to the world, but long strands of his hair had gotten into Jim's mouth, and he struggled to pull an arm free without waking his guide. He'd nearly made it when Blair's eyes slowly blinked open. Jim continued wiping his mouth and trying to catch a single hair that he could feel curled at the side of his tongue. He used a finger to try and capture the errant hair while Blair looked at him with a faintly concerned expression.
"Um, Jim? You okay?"
"You shed like a cocker spaniel."
"Well that's a new one for morning after talk," Blair said, and Jim could hear the laughter coloring his guide's voice. His guide. Jim let that thought settle into his awareness.
"I'm a guy, we don't do morning-after talk," Jim pointed out, but he also didn't try to leave the bed. Once he had won the battle with that single strand of hair, he lay back down and pulled Blair to his chest. Recalling his concern from the night before, he realized that his bed did indeed smell rather strong, but the odor wasn't bothering him. In fact, the light from the windows wasn't bothering him either.
"Neanderthal. I give you the best hour of my life and you won't even have a morning after talk," Blair teased in a high voice, and Jim poked the man's ribs. He didn't even consider his own vulnerability until Blair poked his own fingers into Jim's stomach. "Seriously, Jim, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Chief. The dials all set themselves this morning, so I'm actually feeling better than usual."
"Set themselves?" Blair propped himself up on one elbow and Jim sighed in defeat. The cuddling portion of the morning was obviously over in the face of Blair's need to understand all things sentinel.
"When I wake up, the dials are usually just a little off, usually they're set at a six or seven, and I have to consciously put them back to normal," Jim said. Really he didn't want to talk about this; he wanted to just lay in bed with his guide.
"And this morning they weren't too high?"
"They're fine, Chief."
"Is this related to the incredibly hot sex we had last night?" Blair's words caught Jim so off guard that he couldn't contain a snort of laughter.
"Oh man, not nice to laugh at your partner in bed. No wonder you don't have a girlfriend."
"Don't want one," Jim said with a shrug.
"Yeah, since last night, I understand that. So, is the thing with your senses related to the sex, 'cause I don't have guidelines for how to be a guide here, and the longer I know you, the more I think I know squat about sentinels despite three years of research."
"You do better than any other guide I've ever worked with."
This time Blair snorted. "Man, that is not saying much considering the USSP has its collective head up its collective ass. So you're going to have to start talking, Teller." Before Jim had a chance to ask who Blair was talking about, Blair added, "Or is Penn the silent one? I always get those two mixed up."
"It's just that most sentinels and guides *don't* talk about this part of the relationship. When my senses first came on-line, three different trainers had to make about a dozen hints before I finally figured out what they meant when they talked about Rob and me bonding at some point in the future. And that's what they call it, bonding. It's never sex or making love—it's bonding."
"Last night was sex, making love, fucking and bonding all rolled up in one. You have a heck of an opening night to try and beat. However, I'm wondering how long you're going to avoid talking to me about what's different with your senses." Blair punctuated his comment with a sharp poke in the ribs and Jim caught the offending hand before it could poke again.
"They're more focused. The dials move easier." Jim considered how to explain the last part. "I just feel better, like the whole world is sharper."
"Maybe a chemical change caused by orgasm. You know, all those endorphins rolling around your system," Blair said slowly as he thought it through.
"It's you… your smell," Jim corrected him, pulling Blair back down He had a cold spot where Blair had been laying, and he wanted his guide back in his arms. As soon as Blair's weight settled in on his chest, he buried his nose in Blair's hair which still smelled of sweat and musk.
"Shit, that's it. Pheromones," Blair practically shouted.
"Yeah," Jim agreed. "But something else too. Something that smells like pheromones only heavier, muskier."
"Wait, you can smell pheromones?" Blair asked as he started pushing himself up again. Jim curled his arms around his guide and held on.
"We're trained to recognize pheromones the same as ammonium nitrate."
"Man, the USSP sucks. That is not in any of the academic literature. How can they expect people to do valid research if they keep hiding information?" Blair sounded so indignant that Jim couldn't resist a small chuckle.
"I think that's the point, Junior. They don't want people to know the abilities or the limitations of sentinels, and they certainly don't want to explain *why* they would teach sentinels to recognize pheromones."
"They still suck," Blair shot back. "Oh shit. That's why Jamal didn't go after me until I acted like an idiot and tried to do that training run with the potential sentinels."
"You tried to keep up with a training run?" Jim pulled his head back to see the expression on Blair's face, and sure enough Blair was giving him a dirty look. In fact, Blair raised his hand to poke Jim's stomach again, and Jim had to catch the hand before it could attack.
"Very funny. I am not some weakling."
"Never said you were, Chief. But if you plan on keeping up with USSP elite troops, you have to be in top form. That takes months of work."
"Yeah, tell me about it. But when I tried to run, I sweated. My own scent could have overpowered the smell of deodorant and shampoo. Strike that, I *know* my own scent was stronger because I remember that even I could smell myself. So if Jamal was a sentinel…"
"The smell of a guide might have driven him to try and reach you," Jim finished. He wondered whether Karn had told Blair about Jamal's fate, tied down and sedated to keep him from going wild. Jim suspected that Blair didn't know, but he also knew that Karn wouldn't listen to anything Blair said now that the guides were involved. Jamal would be one more person Karn sacrificed to get power away from the guides, and while Jim understood the man's motivations, he couldn’t escape the thought that the man's methods made him a cold hearted bastard. A flash of unrelated memory suddenly darted through his brain.
"Oh, shit. Carasco," Jim said as he bolted up in bed.
"What?" Blair had a dazed expression as Jim bolted out of bed and grabbed a pair of jeans. Looking down at his body, he realized that he had to shower before he could go in.
"Carasco. The men I was listening to were talking about guns. I thought the word I heard was Crisco, but it was Carasco."
"I have no idea, but I need to call Simon and get to the office." Jim grabbed his clothes, but a small hitch in Blair's breathing as the man sat up made Jim drop everything else.
"Blair, are you okay?" Jim asked, dropping his supplies on the bed.
"Fine. I'm just going to remember last night for a while."
"Shit, Chief, I'm sorry." Jim squatted down next to the bed and put a hand on Blair's thigh as he tried to judge just how hurt Blair might be.
"I'm not. This is sore muscle type ache, not pain, so go call Simon."
"Man, will you stop treating me like a doll? Go call Simon. I'll hit the shower while you tell him what you remember and then we can both get down to the station." Jim remained squatting as Blair put a hand on his shoulder and used it to push himself up.
"Big Guy, if you say anything that implies that you're sorry about last night or that I'm going to somehow break, I am going to personally kick your ass down the stairs," Blair declared with narrowed eyes.
"Geez you wake up cranky, Sandburg," Jim said with a small smile of his own as he grabbed his clothes and passed Blair. Blair muttered something too quietly for Jim to catch without moving up the dial on his hearing, which he didn't have time to do. Blair was moving slightly faster by the bottom of the stairs, and Jim listened to Blair in the bathroom as he waited on hold for Simon.
"Detective, I thought I made it clear that you have the day off. Even sentinels need time to heal." Simon's voice though the phone reminded Jim that he was supposed to have whiplash and pain. He checked in with his various body parts, but other than a bit of stiffness in his neck he didn't feel any effects from the accident the night before.
"Simon, I'm fine. Last night when I heard those…"
"You already gave a report. If you don't have a concussion you'll remember harassing a nurse into letting you write it out while she tried to get your vitals."
"Simon, I remember a name." Jim could hear a drawer open on the other end as Simon's voice went silent.
"Okay, who?" Simon asked.
"Carasco. One of Furukawa's guys mentioned him when they were talking about the war."
"Any idea who he is?"
"I'll put Brown on it," Simon said in his 'don't push me' tone of voice.
"Simon, I'm fine."
"What you are is off this case. I'll have Brown look into the Carasco angle, and I don't want you anywhere near this station detective. Have I made myself clear?"
"Perfectly," Jim growled back. He didn't just feel fine, he felt great and he wanted to get back to work. Then again, he could take the time to indulge in a little bonding. Jim turned his hearing toward his guide.
"…listening, I'm hurrying and an extra three minutes is not going to be the end of the world. Get yourself some breakfast," Blair commented to himself. His voice became muffled as the sounds of bristles against teeth interrupted. "Better yet, get me some breakfast, man," Blair said with a mouthful of toothpaste and then he went back to scrubbing.
Jim's first thought was a wave of guilt for even considering playing hooky, but his second thought focused on his guide as he went into the kitchen to make a sandwich with all the crap Sandburg liked. His past guides would have thrown a fit over him listening at all, so Jim got in the habit of not listening, but Blair didn’t seem to mind. For the first time in his life, Jim was grateful that he had never bonded with Rob because all the pain he had suffered with his various guides was worth it since the end result was his bond with Sandburg.
He listened to Blair finish with his teeth and then he started to make little grunting sounds of frustration that Jim couldn't quite figure out. He was still standing in the kitchen listening when a knock at the door surprised him.
"Hurry up, Chief," Jim hollered as he went to look through the peephole. The sight of Browning and his sycophantic shadow made Jim groan and lean his head into the door. The morning had started so pleasantly that he had forgotten their promise to come by and save Blair from the evil of Jim's overly-possessive, dangerous clutches. Well, no time like the present. Jim swung the door open and pasted on a fake smile.
"What did Sim—" Blair broke off as soon as he saw the two uniformed guides standing in the living room. "Oh," he offered even though he had no idea what he actually meant by that. Jim's jaw twitched once and then he went back to the kitchen.
"Mr. Sandburg," Browning nodded his head, and Blair reached up to brush his hair out of his face. Since he had just fought his hair into a pony tail, he ended up just running his hand over his head nervously.
"Browning," Blair replied.
"I was hoping to find you packed."
"I was hoping to not see you again." Blair went to drop into a chair, and he couldn't contain a small wince when his butt hit the cushion harder than he intended. Browning's eyes immediately narrowed. Busted.
The minute that thought crossed his mind, he could feel his anger rising. Why the hell did they have to hide their relationship, especially given that the USSP didn't officially recognize the need for sentinels and guides to bond? And that just sent another flare of anger up through his body.
"Mr. Sandburg, we are simply concerned about your ability to control Captain Ellison." Blair opened his mouth and found himself so angry that he temporarily lost his thoughts. Jim must have noticed something because Blair turned to see him standing with a cup of coffee leaning against the wall. He had an absolutely blank expression, and Blair realized that he had no idea how his sentinel was taking this. Was he more confident now that they had bonded, or did he still get nervous around these official guides who talked about him as though he was some sort of unrestrained rabid dog?
"Surely you can understand our concerns, at least if you've read the reports you understand our concerns." Browning was still standing and Blair watched Jim's jaw tighten into a little knot that disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
"I haven't read your reports, and I never will read your reports. You don't know a damn thing about Jim." Blair worked to keep his voice and his anger under control.
"I know he is taking advantage of your ignorance of policy," Browning stepped forward and glared down at Blair while Fitcher hovered nervously near the door.
"I didn't think you had a policy. I thought you were strictly don't ask, don't tell kind of people." Blair watched as Browning's glare flickered over to Jim for a second before returning to him.
"Mr. Sandburg, the very instinctive nature of a sentinel means that the guide has to maintain control at…"
"Oh man, you are so full of shit I'm surprised you aren't leaking."
"Mr. Sandburg." The shock and horror in Browning's voice reflected the expression on Fitcher's face.
"We made love last night. We fucked. Well, actually Jim technically fucked me, but there was ass being had." Blair had to contain a smile as his language did exactly what he intended it to do, it shut Browning up. "We bonded, and I don't mind telling the world that bonding means we had some serious sex in that bed upstairs, and I suspect we're going to have lots and lots more sex. You don't even have to ask for me to tell you that, and now we really won't be separated."
"You have no idea what you have done," Browning nearly whispered in his horror. "There are reasons."
"Oh, man. I am a Guide. A capital 'G' Guide. I am a companion described in the Pompeii scrolls. I am the person whose voice can call Jim back from the void. You? You're just a paper-pushing pretend guide with a small 'g'. This is a job for you. It's a way for you to get power." Blair pushed himself up from the chair and because Browning was already so close, standing left him nearly nose to nose with the officer as he let go with all his righteous anger.
"You don't see just how incredible it is to be part of a pairing driven by instinct to protect the people. You see your rules and your guidelines and your fucking regulations, and that's why no Sentinel has ever chosen you." Blair gave a small smile at the man's flinch. Browning really was more bureaucrat than guide, but he still felt the failure of being rejected by a sentinel. "You know why they reject you?" he asked, pressing the obviously sore spot. "Because you're a guide with a small 'g'. You don't truly understand the bond, and any sentinel who chooses you would be a sentinel with a small 's'. Jim over there, he's the real deal. He's a Sentinel with a capital 'S'."
"Mr. Sandburg, your romantic ideals are dangerous." Browning's voice deepened as the man recovered from the shock of the verbal attack, and Blair knew that he had to win the argument or loose a lot of ground with the USSP, a dangerous amount of ground.
"Don't forget that I've seen how many Sentinels are dying every year and how many are ending up in the hospital. I've seen those numbers, and you need me a damn sight more than I need you. You're so busy worrying about control that you're on the edge of losing it all."
"Is that supposed to be a threat?" Browning tilted his head to the side.
"What is it with you military types? I don't have to threaten you because your whole system is starting to collapse under its own weight. The center isn't holding. How long can you keep that a secret?" Blair gestured widely with his hands before turning and walking a few steps closer to the kitchen. Jim stood there with his unemotional mask and his cup frozen half way to his mouth.
"If you are threatening national security…"
"Buddy, that's the beauty of it," Blair said as he turned around. "We've worked together for a month and people have seen us. You grab us now, and there are going to be people in high places asking what happened. Like the millionaire diamond merchants—they were fascinated with the workings of a Sentinel-Guide pairing and have dropped by the station to visit several times. And then there's that politician that Jim saved from assassination." Blair paused as he considered how to phrase his attack in a way that even these two idiots could understand. Their world was about power, and that's where Blair attacked.
"These people see us and they know we're Sentinel and Guide even if we never say it. So, grab us and those people are going to start asking dangerous questions. A senator will ask questions. The commissioner will ask questions. Simon will ask questions." Blair waved an arm in emphasis, "Hell, the whole department will ask questions, and someone is going to be bright enough to put the pieces together. If you want to keep your secret, then you can just back off the threats."
"How dare you…"
"You'd be amazed at how much I dare," Blair cut him off, and the open mouthed expression on Fitcher's face almost set off a round of hysterical giggles, which he had to cut off with a sharp cough.
"Well you need to be careful, *Mr.* Sandburg because there are still ways to bring you under control even if what you say is true, and I'm not sure I buy the theory about the people of Cascade." Browning stepped forward aggressively, and Blair knew he couldn't take this weapon away from them without the USSP feeling a need to hold a stronger weapon to their heads.
Blair leaned back onto the edge of the table and crossed his arms across his stomach in a defensive posture. "By the time I'm finished, I'm going to earn my degree and leave your guidelines in shreds," he said softly.
"You seem to have an over-inflated concept of your own value, Mr. Sandburg." Once again Browning emphasized the 'Mr.' and Blair let himself flinch. Blair smothered a need to laugh as Browning's posture became more aggressive in response to Blair's admission of defeat on the doctorate. Blair had signed the papers, and he knew that he couldn't transfer his credits anywhere else, so the USSP really did have control of his degree.
"And you seem to have an under-inflated concept of what it means to be a true Guide or a true Sentinel," Blair responded instead. "These aren't jobs, they're callings. Sentinel-Guide pairs don't deserve secrecy and guilt and your fucking mind trips and your totally fucked up guidelines." Blair's words were angry, but his tone remained quiet.
"Sentinels evolved in more primitive ways; their thought processes are too influenced by instincts that are no longer appropriate in the modern world."
"Guides evolved at the same time."
"Only in your mind Mr. Sandburg. Guides are trained, and the fact that a defective sentinel chose a self-trained guide doesn't change that anywhere but in your imagination."
Blair didn't answer, and without another word, Browning turned and started for the door. For a second, Fitcher remained motionless, and then he snapped into motion picking up the ever present white-noise generator and opening the door so Browning could breeze through without stopping. The door closed with a dull thud and Blair breathed out in relief. For several minutes, the loft remained silent as Blair tried to calm his breathing after the adrenalin rush.
"Chief, you may have just kissed away your life's goal," Jim offered quietly, and Blair turned his head to see Jim watching him with a look of guilt and sorrow.
"Man, a piece of paper is not a life's goal. If the doctorate meant that much to me, I would earned it years ago." Blair got up and went over to Jim who instantly opened his arms. Leaning into his Sentinel's large frame, Blair smiled at the thought that someone loved him enough to care about something as silly as a degree. "I love the teaching and I love studying and I love the adventure of going on expeditions, but I got my bachelor's *and* master's degree by 19, and there's a reason I haven't earned another degree since then," Blair pointed out as he looked up at Jim's startled face. "Aren't you a detective? Shouldn't you have noticed something strange with that?"
"But that doctorate…" Jim looked so confused that Blair had to laugh.
"Oh man, you totally don't get me, do you?"
"Most days, no." Jim's arm tightened around his waist, and Blair understood the silent message.
"As a doctoral student I can apply for scholarships and grants and research funds and on-campus teaching jobs. If I get a degree then I can't teach any more because the university will never hire me as a full professor. And the big time grants doctors go after are awarded on the basis of politics as much as academic merit, and I'm just not good at playing their political games. Really a degree is one piece of paper I just don't need, man."
"So when you traded away control over your doctorate to get me back?"
Blair shrugged. "They so never asked me if I cared about that degree, and I just didn't bother telling them."
"Chief, you must be one heck of a poker player."
"Nah, I get all excited when I get a good hand. Charlie accuses me of bouncing when I'm not bluffing."
"I don't doubt it. So this strange in-between land where the USSP guides hold your degree hostage… this doesn't bother you?" Jim's voice held such hope that Blair realized Jim had been carrying quite a bit of guilt.
"Oh man, this is like perfect. I can still teach since I'm technically still working on my doctorate. Dr. Edwards has started treating me like royalty since she gets to brag about Rainier collaborating with the secretive USSP, and it even looks like I may get an actual office this year. And the job at the precinct… that's just cool. I feel guilty when I cash my paycheck. Do you know that the department is paying me to attend a full day Homowo ceremony next month?"
"Homowo?" Jim asked dubiously. "Is this something I need to worry about?"
"It's an African new year celebration with dancing and drumming and eating," Blair said with an eyeroll as he pushed himself out of Jim's embrace. With one hand he snagged the sandwich while looking around for his backpack. "The Ga people take several days to mourn the dead and celebrate new births and share their homes with strangers. The point is the department is *paying* me to go. Man, I would so be there even without getting paid." Blair spotted his backpack and snagged the strap with his free hand as he started in on his sandwich.
"That's the difference. Every other liaison the department hired only went to those things because they had to," Jim answered as he went to pour out his coffee and rinse the cup.
"Yeah, but I figure life is looking pretty good right now. So, since we're set, it's about time to take the fight to the USSP."
"Chief, that's *not* going to happen." Jim's furious gaze caught Blair so off guard that he forgot to chew and swallow for a second.
"Oh man, they are so abusing the Sentinel-Guide relationship. You didn't see the statistics on how many sentinel are injured each year," he replied once he had gotten his mouthful of food down.
"If you push them hard enough, you're going to find out how much abuse they can dish out."
"Oh, so you want me to just forget it and let Sentinels like Jamal suffer?" Blair demanded.
"No. I never said that."
"But you don't want me fighting the USSP. Oh man," Blair suddenly exclaimed, "you don't think I can fight them and win."
"I don't think Attila the Hun could win against those people," Jim shot back dryly. "I worked for them, remember? They play for keeps, and they'll do whatever they have to do to hide their dirty laundry."
"That's why you have to learn how to sneak the socks out when no one's looking." Blair considered any number of tactics. Given his memory for names and dates and statistics, he had a lot of classified USSP data in his head.
"Shit, you're bouncing, Junior. Whatever plan you have in your head, let it go." Jim words were emphasized by his arm around Blair's shoulders guiding him toward the front door.
"Oh man, you're no fun."
"Fine, you want fun? We have a crime scene to go over again now that I have my sense of smell back. I doubt I'll be able to pick anything up this late, but I can at least try."
"Oh, wait a minute. I thought you weren't supposed to go into the precinct today," Blair suddenly remembered as he tried to stop. His Sentinel's arm kept him moving right along even without his cooperation.
"Then we'll just have to avoid the precinct, won't we? Let's go, Tiger."
"Focus on moving the dial for scent up slowly. Don't let everything overwhelm you. Use your vision to help you focus on just the scents in front of you," Jim was already doing that, but his guide's voice still gave him the ability to stretch his senses even farther, so he didn't bother telling Blair that he didn't need the coaching. As long as Blair was talking, he could wander farther into the void of his senses and count on that anchor to keep him stable.
Cigarette smoke, cat dander, burnt bread, he identified and dismissed each scent. Walking slowly, he made his way into the bedroom where the rape had taken place. He could smell the musk of release, but only in a generic sense, the bitter odor of all semen.
The bed was still unmade, a blue sheet pooled on the floor and crime investigator's marks circling a dozen spots where trace evidence had been collected. Everyone except Simon had signed off on the scene, so Jim walked forward right over the marks on the floor. The smell of semen was so faint as to be almost non-existent, and Jim's eyes swept the room searching for the source.
Nothing. Not a drop anywhere. Realizing that his vision couldn't help, Jim closed his eyes and let himself fall into the void he had spent his life avoiding. Nothing existed except smells, smells that became so vivid that they took on colors and textures. He found and dismissed a dozen wisps of odor before finding the thread he sought.
Male. Thick and heavy with musk. Sharp and bitter. Jim catalogued the scent and could almost taste the individual scent markers that made this not just semen but the semen of one man, one rapist. Jim could feel his fury rise when he caught the odor of Miss Cassidy's fear. Blindly he reached behind him, his hand searching until he felt the warmth of his guide's flesh under his hand.
He pulled his guide to his side as he backed away from the smell of pain and fear and anger. As soon as he pulled his attention away from that one bitter smell, thousands of scents assaulted him at once, their intensity spilling over so that he could taste them and see flashes and feel their oily tendrils on his skin. Jim fell to one knee, holding on to the only source of input that didn't hurt.
He turned toward Blair and the soft browns and yellows of his guide's scents circled him. Jim took deep breaths and focused on those familiar odors as he tried to find the dial that would make them fade to the normal levels. As he wrestled the scent dial down, his other senses slowly started coming back on line. From a far distance, he could hear Blair talking and he focused on that sound.
"...me out here. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were in a Sentinel psychosis. It'd be really nice if you stopped doing the crazy impression here before someone finds you because, man, I'm not so sure that I could convince them you were okay. But really, this is the fourth time I've seen you go all primitive in the last five or six weeks, so I'm thinking this isn't really a psychosis as much as some instinctive thing. And you are so going to explain this whole episode to me. I seriously hope that you've figured out that you have to talk to the guide, man. If nothing else, talking to the guide will keep the guide from freaking out when you stop talking and go all grrrr." Jim smiled slowly. He'd regained control of the knobs already, but finding himself kneeling on the floor with Blair wrapped in his arms left him reluctant to move.
"Grrrr?" he finally asked.
"Man, you're back," Blair said as he continued to half lie in Jim's lap with his back to Jim's chest and Jim's arms wrapped tightly around him.
"Yeah, I went a little too far into scent. But I got what I needed."
"What?" Blair twisted a bit so that he could look up. Jim loosened his hold to give Blair enough freedom to finish the maneuver without actually letting go of his guide.
"I scented the guy. Now we just need to find a suspect."
"Whoa. Hold on. You caught his scent without a source of semen from a week old crime scene?"
"There has to be a source somewhere, Chief. I just couldn't see it."
"Right," Blair said doubtfully. Blair went silent now, but the look of utter concentration on Blair's face left Jim imagining he could hear his guide's brain working. "So what now?" Blair eventually asked as he remained limp in Jim's embrace. Jim was loath to give up the feeling of his guide's body against his, but he could have this any time, and they needed to get to work. Jim let go and Blair scrambled to his feet.
"Now we start looking for suspects. Miss Cassidy said she could smell fish, so we need to check local places where someone might come into contact with a lot of fish." Jim said as he stood up.
"Oh man, this is Cascade; this is going to take forever."
"Welcome to police work."
"And I thought working with the department was going to be exciting."
"If a detective's job is done right, it *is* boring," Jim pointed out as he held the front door open for Blair before locking it behind them. "Most cops never draw their weapons."
"I hate to break it to you, but you're definitely doing something wrong then," Blair laughed as Jim started down the apartment stairs.
"Yeah, I picked up this annoying observer who always gets himself in trouble. Guys with shotguns, angry dogs, you name it, he attracts it."
"Oh man, that's so not fair. You were like special ops guy, so you are very capable of finding trouble on your own." Blair's words ended when Jim stopped on the stairs leaving his guide to collide into his backside. "Jim?"
"Fish. I smell fish," Jim said as he scented the air.
"It might be nothing. Stay behind me and if I give you the signal, get back to the truck and call for backup."
"And what's the signal?" Jim turned his head at his guide's theatrical whisper. Blair had such and intense expression that Jim had to bit his cheek to keep from laughing at the mix of excitement and fear and enthusiasm.
"Me saying, 'get to the truck and call for backup'," he answered without expression. Blair froze for a second before poking him in the kidneys.
"Very funny, man."
"Who's kidding?" Jim shrugged as he turned toward the source of the smell. He led the way through a line of bushes, keeping close to the fake wood paneling. At the corner, he cocked his head as he moved to the right. One building… two buildings… on the third building Jim stopped as the smell became so pungent that he had to dial his sense back a bit.
"Anything?" Blair asked behind him.
"Yeah, fish," Jim answered as he moved around to the front of the building hoping to find some scent other than fish. Blair followed muttering about getting more fiber in Jim's diet, and Jim held out his hand to keep Blair back as the wind blew toward them.
"Get to the truck and call for backup," Jim said quietly as he reached around for his gun.
"Jim?" Blair whispered.
"That would be the signal, Chief," Jim said as he saw the man coming back from the dumper with his kitchen garbage bin in hand. Some part of Jim's mind registered Blair dashing toward the truck and he stepped out from behind the building.
"Cascade Police. Stop and put your hands up," Jim ordered as he trained his gun on the middle aged, wiry man in front of him. The smell of fish still faintly clung to his skin and hair, and the eyes went comically wide as he dropped the bin and started backing up with hands raised in front of his body defensively.
"Stop. Get down on the ground," Jim ordered, and the man froze like a deer in headlights. As a car came around the bend in the drive, the man glanced toward the van and then took off running, using the van as a shield before ducking between two buildings.
Jim swore as ran after the man, dodging as another car came around the corner. As he reached the corner of the building, he looked both ways. In the end, he had to take an educated guess, and he turned right toward the more open area of the playground and pool.
A quick scan revealed obnoxiously colored slides in orange and blue and redwood benches, but no skulking rapist among the playing children and tired mothers. However, there were enough people here to give the suspect a false sense of safety, and Jim made a silent bet that the rapist came through here. The click of a door shutting caught his attention.
Spotting the door to the main office, Jim took off, pounding through the sand of the play area with gun drawn. Jim ignored the cacophony of screaming mothers and crying children as he pulled open the back door of the office. The scent of fish told him he'd guess right and he flattened himself against the wall. A surprised face popped out of an office, and Jim instinctively leveled his gun before dropping the muzzle back down.
"Detective Ellison, Cascade police. Did anyone come through here?" he demanded.
"Nnno," the voice stuttered back.
"Get in the office and lock the door. Don't answer it for anyone except an officer," Jim ordered as he turned his attention to the multitude of doors: bathrooms, weight room, sauna room, rec room. Jim moved to the first door and pulled it open, moving inside while keeping an ear on the hallway. Keeping his back to the wall, he moved into the bathroom and cleared each stall. He was at the far end when a crash in the hall pulled him back to the door.
He could hear running footsteps, and he pulled the door open ready to dash after the rapist, only to find himself tangled in the fake tree that had been thrown against the door. Cursing, Jim pushed the thing out of his way and ran for the front of the office where the footsteps had disappeared. He turned the corner to the main hall just in time to see the suspect head out the front door. He could shoot the asshole in the back, but he didn't think Simon would be amused.
Jim started running. The man knew the territory, and Jim found himself growling in frustration that the guy might actually get away. Jim could still see the man's back through the glass door when a flash of orange sent the man to the ground. Jim ignored the slight burn in his legs as the sight of his guide's curly hair sent flares of panic through him.
He slammed the front door open as the sound of sirens in the distance announced backup. However, backup didn't really seem necessary. The rapist was rolling on the ground holding his stomach, and Blair stood over him holding an orange and yellow post with a flashing light on the top that no longer flashed since the equipment had been turned from a parking barrier into a club.
"Oh man, I totally took him down. Did you see that? Man, that was exciting." Jim ignored his guide in favor of handcuffing the groaning suspect. As a black and white pulled up, Jim holstered his gun and pulled out his badge which he held up for the arriving units as he gave them the world's shortest briefing on the still groaning suspect.
"Junior, truck," Jim growled as he glowered He waited as Blair went wide eyed and started walking backwards on his own because. Jim stalked after his Guide from a short distance because if he touched Blair right now he was going to do something highly embarrassing in front of the beat cops.
"Now, Jim. Calm down." Blair's words caused one of the uniforms to look over, but Jim simply glared, and the man found something else to interest him. Jim then returned his glare to Blair who continued backing toward the truck.
"Go," he snarled, and Blair turned, and with a single backwards glance over his shoulder, started making pretty good time back to the truck for a man with short legs. Jim made sure to stay close behind without actually touching. As Blair got near the truck, he turned around and started walking backwards.
"Oh man, you just got the last ulcer cleared up, and you so don't want another because you hate cabbage juice."
Jim didn't answer, he just kept walking until the side of the truck stopped Blair, and he couldn't retreat any farther. Jim closed in and pressed his body against Blair and put his hands on the truck on either side of Blair's shoulders.
"You do not put yourself between me and a suspect," Jim whispered hoarsely in Blair's ear, his mouth an inch from it.
"But, Jim, he might have gotten…"
"No," Jim growled as he reached in and physically nipped Blair's ear. "I won't risk my guide. Mine." Jim nipped again to make a point, and Blair's silence suggested it might have been made. "I won't lose you," Jim said as he pressed his body into Blair's, feeling the heat as his need for his guide started uncurling in his stomach and spreading.
"Oh man, you are so not losing me."
"On the street, it happens too fast. I don't care who gets away; it doesn't matter as much as you." Jim lowered his face to Blair's neck and breathed deeply as he tried to regain control of himself. He knew he was losing it, and he vaguely wondered which was worse, losing it so completely as to be unaware or losing yourself partially so that you knew you were acting like a possessive jerk.
"I mean it, Darwin. You stay in the truck or so help me…" Jim was at a loss for a moment. "So help me, I will handcuff your ass to the railing and leave you home where you're safe." Jim horrified himself with that threat, and immediately he pulled back so that he was no longer physically holding Blair in place. He waited for the condemnation, the frustration, hell, he wouldn't blame Blair for taking a punch at him after that threat.
Blair looked at him curiously for a moment, and Jim bit back any number of comments. He'd earned this butt chewing, and damn it, he was going to take it. "I love you too, Big Guy," Blair said, and then he practically bounced around to the far side of the truck where he slid into the passenger seat.
"So, are we going down to the station?" Blair called through the open window. Jim shook his head at his crazy guide. Maybe they deserved each other.
"Yeah, Chief. We have some paperwork to fill out."
"You do know Simon is going to kill you, right?"
"You don't have to sound so cheerful about it," Jim complained as he fished in his pocket for the keys before getting in.
"Oh, man, it was so cool. We went over to Western Heights Apartments, and Jim managed to scent the suspect…" Jim tuned Blair's voice out as he put the finishing touches on the statement before sending it. Blair might type the reports now, but if Jim didn't go through and edit out words like 'olfaction' and 'stymie', Simon would never sign off on the reports. Blair managed to keep Simon so distracted that Jim went through the report one last time before sending it to Simon's computer through the network and printing a hardcopy for the files.
"So, it seems like someone had a busy day," Simon said darkly as Jim stood up from the desk.
"I'm fine, sir. The accident was not serious."
"That's not the car pool sergeant's opinion. Of course, he also suggested that he could assign you to one of the vehicles you've already wrecked so he doesn't have to keep fixing all these cars."
"Sir," Jim started.
"Save it." Simon's voice suddenly softened. "You did good work." Simon gave his arm a quick slap, before turned toward his office. "Now, if I'm not mistaken, I ordered someone to take at least one day off," he called over his shoulder, his voice once again all captain and all business.
"I'm fine, sir," Jim repeated himself without much hope that Simon would actually budge, but he had to try.
"Humor me, detective. Take a day off, and that's an order. Sandburg, make sure your partner actually stays home this time."
Rafe piped up from his desk where he was sorting a number of files. "That's like asking a cocker spaniel to guard a pit bull," he said with a snort.
"Hey, enough with the cocker spaniel comments," Blair complained.
"It's the hair," Rafe said with a shrug.
"At least I have hair," Blair said with sidelong glance, and Jim aimed a slap at that head which Blair ducked easily. "No problem, Simon. Besides, we've got some dirty laundry that someone has to deal with," Blair's words were cut off by his Sentinel pulling his ponytail. Blair aimed an elbow for Jim's stomach, but Jim saw it coming and braced himself so that Blair only hit hard muscle.
"Chief, you're not doing that laundry," Jim said as he caught the attacking elbow in his grip.
"We'll see," Blair answered mysteriously.
"Do I even want to know what you're talking about?" Simon asked as he stood in front of his office. Jim smiled at the expression of amusement and exasperation.
"It's a Sentinel thing," Blair replied with a smile.
"Yep, with a capital 'S'," Jim confirmed, as he started pulling Blair toward the exit.
"Bye, guys," Blair called over his shoulder as he allowed himself to be maneuvered to the elevators. "Oh, hey, Rafe, if you're still seeing that girl, there's an exhibition of South American art at the university in two weeks," Blair offered before the doors to Major Crimes swung shut on him. Jim pulled his Guide out to the elevator which arrived unusually quickly. Slipping his arm over Blair's shoulders, Jim looked at the amused expression on his guide's face.
"What are you thinking?" Jim asked once the doors closed and Blair still had a small smile.
"Just that you're more than welcome to manhandle me in any sense of the word any time you want," Blair said, and Jim could feel his desire rise.
"Oh, Chief. Do not make offers like that in here. There are security cameras," Jim groaned.
"Whoa, can they hear us? That's a little big brotherish."
"No, they can't hear us, but if you make offers like that it's hard to resist taking you up on them. I think security would notice that," Jim pointed out and Blair laughed.
"Oh man, I'm just imagining their faces. It would almost be worth it."
"Blair," Jim warned with his best threatening glare.
"I'm thinking laundry is going to have to wait," Blair laughed, and Jim tugged his Guide's pony tail again. "Oh yeah, laundry is definitely going to wait," Blair confirmed as the doors opened on the garage level. Jim smiled as Blair followed him out to his truck. Maybe he could just keep distracting his Guide out of that laundry, he mused. If nothing else, it'd be fun to try
Go on to next episode: Power Play
If you enjoyed watching two heroes take on the government, you might enjoy the Desert World books. The two books work together with book one introducing the world of Livre and two main characters, Shan Polli and Temar Gazer. Then in book two, our heroes have to take on the universe that abandoned their world to die. Check it out, and as a bonus, you're helping to support the writing career of one very hard-working fanfic writer. Oh, and like this story, don't expect the sex to come easy or early. Sometimes our guys have to work for it.