Power Play

Jump to part : 1 . . 2 . . 3 . . 4 . . 5 . . 6 . . 7 . . 8 . . 9 . . 10 . . 11 . . 12 . . 13 . . 14 . . 15 . . 16 . . 17























































































































































































Part One

"Man, it is too damn early to get up," Blair complained as the sound of the alarm cut through his sleep. "Too damn early."

"Sandburg, it's the same time we get up every morning," Jim pointed out as he pushed himself up on one elbow and arched his back until it made a satisfying popping sound. Blair just seemed to burrow deeper into the blue sheets, one arm reaching blindly for the alarm on his side of the bed, and Jim felt a flash of guilt at the sight of the white bathrobe tie still around his Guide's wrist.

After a couple of months of working together, he knew Blair would never hurt him. Hell, the man would insanely throw himself between Jim and any possible danger, a tendency that left the Sentinel wanting to lock Blair up somewhere safely out of the way. But no matter how often he tried, he couldn't bond without fear clawing up his backbone and throwing every sense out of balance, at least, not without physically tying his partner down.

"Yeah, yeah," Blair muttered unhappily. "But every other morning I have something I want to do, like that Pakistani Independence Day celebration at the mosque. But am I going? No. I get to do the annual misery of the teaching staff in-service. Fuck." Blair finally pushed back the sheets, and glared at the alarm clock before reaching over and hitting it with far more force than necessary.

Jim had to suppress a smile at the tangled mess of hair and stubble that now groaned and stretched until bones popped. Wrapping an arm around Blair, he pulled the man to his chest, lowering his mouth to the juncture of shoulder and neck so that he could taste his guide. The morning after they bonded, Blair's skin always had a strong, salty musk to it that made Jim's senses snap into focus. Beneath his hands, Blair's muscles relaxed into him, and Blair let his head drop so that Jim could taste more of the skin, lapping up the pheromone-heavy dried sweat that coated his guide.

As he licked and nipped his way over the flesh, the scent grew stronger from the moisture. Working his way around to the front of Blair's neck, Jim felt his Guide's large Adam apple under his lips and he sucked gently at the skin. But he couldn't reach as much as he wanted, so he scooted back a bit, rolling Blair onto his back and then straddling his guide so that he could reach the other side of the neck as well.

Blair obligingly rolled his head to the side and Jim started tasting the new skin. When he reached the fleshy part of the shoulder, he bit down just hard enough to feel his teeth press into the skin, and Blair humped up into him, the smell of new musk and the dried bonding scent blending into a pheromone cocktail that nearly overpowered Jim as he sucked until he knew he would leave a mark behind. Fortunately, Blair never seemed to mind his habit of marking his guide.

When Blair's erection lengthened and hardened under him, Jim could feel his normal morning erection soften in reaction, and he cursed his own screwed up psychology. He released the now purplish skin and rested his forehead against Blair's shoulder.

"Man, we totally have time for a quickie. I will not mind being late for Dr. Edwards." Jim looked up to find Blair holding out the end of the white fuzzy cloth tied around his wrist.

"Blair, I'm so sorry," Jim said as he took the fabric in his fingers, feeling the nubs in the fabric with his thumb.

"Don't even go there," Blair warned him, "I don't have a problem with this. I just have to be careful going into the bath store because terry cloth is becoming an embarrassing turn on these days," he joked.

Jim looked up at his partner's open face, and he couldn't derail the guilt he always felt after having to tie his partner. Yes, he understood that Blair trusted him and, therefore, didn't attach any 'wrongness' to the act, but Jim felt like he betrayed Blair every time he couldn't trust his partner enough to let go of the fear and pain of his past.

"Man, I can hear your guilt. You can't control your body's reactions to certain stimuli, and that's okay. As a Sentinel, your sensory memory is far more developed…"

"Sandburg, being a Sentinel does not give me a right to keep making excuses," Jim said as he rolled away from his guide. Grabbing his robe from off the railing, he headed for the stairs.

"Damn cranky Sentinel," Blair muttered, and Jim couldn't avoid hearing that if he wanted to. The more they bonded, the more Jim found he couldn't give Blair privacy in the loft even if he wanted to. The man's every move registered on Jim's senses any time they were in the same building.

Jim turned the television on as he pulled breakfast steaks out of the refrigerator. Blair would give him shit about the fat and cholesterol, but Jim felt like steak and he didn't feel like listening to Blair's version of the food pyramid which seemed to include Adzuki Beans, Quinoa, Jicama and a dozen other weird foods without including good old fashioned steak and potatoes. Of course, Jim knew that he was exaggerating since Blair did occasionally love a thick, juicy steak, but he also felt cranky enough that his own exaggerated frustration with his Guide felt good.

When Blair finally wandered downstairs, Jim ignored the staggering steps and the wave of lust that followed Blair to the bathroom. Grabbing for the remote, he turned the volume up so he wouldn't have to listen to Blair taking care of his morning erection in the shower.

By the time he pulled the steak pan off the burner, he could hear Blair's frustrated grunts as he fought his hair into a neat ponytail.

"Man, I am so going to cut all this off one of these days," Blair complained as he came out of the bathroom in a blue shirt and dark blue jeans.

"Don't you dare," Jim threatened with a mock scowl, and he still found himself amazed at how laid back Blair could be, laughing at the threat that would have sent any other guide to a commanding officer to file an official complaint about an overbearing Sentinel.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. You don't have to wash the miserable stuff. The only reason I don't cut it is because when it's short the damn stuff poofs out like a Brillo pad."

"Then I *really* don't want you cutting it," Jim said as Blair came over and looked in the pan suspiciously.

"Steak?" Blair asked, a single eyebrow raising.

"You don't have time for a sit down breakfast, professor," Jim answered as though he had chosen out of courtesy rather than a feeling of pissiness that he really didn't have a right to feel.

"Uh-huh," Blair answered dubiously, but a knock at the door proved Jim's point and he left Blair to slap together a sandwich while he went to answer it. He pulled open the door and narrowed his eyes at the nervous man standing there.

"Teller." Jim said the name through clenched teeth.

"Ellison." Charlie tried to use the same intimidating tone, but he failed badly, especially since he wouldn't look Jim in the eye.

Taking a deep breath, Jim checked the various scents drifting off the man. After a moment, he was convinced that any illegal smoke smell was too old to pose Blair any risk.

"So, ready for Dr. Edward's famous threats and intimidations?" Blair asked before shoving about half the sandwich in his mouth so he would have both hands free to shrug into a tweed blazer.

"I can't believe I got suckered into teaching a class. This is monumentally unfair. I have to get up before noon, which is totally not my style." Charlie's self pitying whine left Jim unmoved, but Blair made muffled sympathetic noises through the sandwich as he grabbed his briefcase and then pulled the sandwich out of his mouth.

"Your Arch 105 students loved you," Blair said as he headed out the door, a brief lingering touch on Jim's arm the only farewell.

"That's because I lost their term papers and passed them all," Charlie pointed out as he followed.

"That's crap and you know it," Blair protested as Jim shut the door behind them. He continued to listen to half the conversation as he could hear Blair's voice all the way down to the street even as Charlie's voice became part of the background. For not the first time, Jim wondered why his guide had chosen Charlie as his closest friend, and while Jim did appreciate the fact that Charlie had put his neck on the line for both of them, he worried that a man with as many problems as Charlie could only pose a long term risk. Gritting his teeth, he realized that he just had to trust his Guide to ask him for help when that day came.

And that idea finally made Jim face the fact that he now had to go to work without his guide. He'd served a two week suspension while Blair went to work at the precinct, and he had never admitted how much of that time he spend gripping the table trying not to chase his partner down. And while they sometimes spent hours apart at the precinct, Jim could always track Blair somewhere in the building while he worked. Now he had to try and not let that absence interfere with his work.

The USSP had ranked his ability to work independent of a guide as one of the lowest on record, one reason Jim had been grateful when he finally crashed out of the program. When he had a guide, he clung to them. He found himself increasing agitated without them. But now that he had bonded with Blair, he would have one guide for the rest of his life, but that didn't mean he could ask Blair to give up his entire life for his Sentinel. Nope. Jim clenched his teeth and ordered himself to get through the entire day without Blair. Then, when they both got home tonight, he could bond until his Guide passed out from exhaustion. That was a plan.


Jim walked into the bullpen already feeling irritable, that crawling feeling that something was wrong running down his spine, but if he gave in and called Blair forty-five minutes into his first day at work, the man would know something was wrong. Jim could call his guide many names including annoying, persistent, and salacious, but he couldn't call the man stupid.

He barely had time to sit down before Simon's large shadow fell over his desk. "Jim, I got an official memo from the USSP this morning."

"Wonderful." Jim stabbed his computer with his pencil and fought the urge to break something. Of course the USSP would stick its nose in when he wanted them as far away as possible.

"I'm more worried about how closely they are keeping track of your schedule than I am worried about any warnings they have about your senses." Simon pointed out as he sat heavily in the chair normally reserved for suspects. Jim looked up at Simon, trying to figure out the guarded expression.


"They said that you are likely to become either emotionally unstable or unable to control your senses if Blair isn't at the station with you," Simon admitted in a low voice. Jim felt like laughing. He'd been emotionally unstable and without any control over his emotions for so long that the insult hardly seemed worth the cost of the fax paper. If Simon hadn't already decided he had emotional issues, a report from the USSP sure wouldn't change anything.

"How the hell did they know you were coming in alone today?" Simon demanded.

"It's orientation for all the TA's at Rainier; it wouldn't be hard to figure that out," Jim answered absent-mindedly. The teaching guides wanted to play a psychological game, prove that they could watch his every move, but Jim hardly felt threatened by bureaucratic shit heads when Blair had already made his choice to stand by Jim, no matter how messed up Jim was. And Blair knew better than anyone just how deep his angry, self-destructive streak really went.

"So, what are they talking about with your senses?" Simon finally asked.

"I'm fine, sir."

"Humor me, then. Is this document just made up?" Simon slipped a report in front of Jim, sliding it across the wood, and Jim had to restrain a cringe as he saw the official USSP stamp on it. Glancing through the text, Jim remembered signing this reprimand. It came from his brief pairing with Luis, who had even less patience than Cassie.

In condemning words, it described a Sentinel who became a non-functional liability when the guide removed himself for even brief periods of time. Jim remembered the out of control feeling, trying to keep himself focused on some training task while desperately searching the environment for some sign of his missing guide. He sighed and considered how much to tell Simon.

"No, it's not forged," he finally admitted. "When I was in the USSP, especially at the end, I had a lot of trouble with control. If my guide wasn't around, I had spikes and zones."

"Are you safe to go on the streets, Jim? I don't want a detective who zones in the middle of an investigation." Even though Simon's voice didn't condemn him, Jim still stiffened under the suggestion that he couldn't do his job.

"I'm fine, Simon. Part of my problem was that I didn't trust the guides I was working with. I expected them to disappear and I concentrated on trying to keep track of them instead of focusing on the job."

"And you trust Sandburg?"

"Absolutely. And that's why I'm fine on my own." Jim didn't mention the lingering discomfort because compared to his reactions in the past, he really was fine.

"I hate this sentinel crap," Simon said as he leaned back, but Jim could see the tension go out of the man.

"Yes, sir," Jim agreed. In fact, before Blair, he would have said that it wasn't worth the aggravation.

"So, this is basically an underhanded attack to try and make you uncomfortable enough so…" Simon paused as he waited for some sort of response, but Jim didn't know what to say. "What? So you go back into the USSP?" Simon finally asked.

"Maybe." Jim pushed the damning paper back toward Simon. "Maybe they just want to discredit me in general so that I can't show how successful a Sentinel can be outside of the program," Jim said as he considered the attack. General Kern probably wanted him back inside, but these guides just wanted him gone, and he really resented this political shit.

"I'd rather have a frontal assault than this subterfuge," Simon complained as he thumped the paper that sat between them on the desk.

"I'm there with you, Simon. I'm just glad Blair is handling this better than I am. Do you realize that they still haven't returned his confiscated possessions or replaced his social security card? If you hadn't bent some rules to get him the job here at the precinct, he wouldn't be able to rent an apartment or open a checking account or even get a job."

"Yeah, just as well. If the kid did get a job somewhere else the commissioner would have a fit. The man is frighteningly cheerful when someone mentions Sandburg's name." Simon rolled his eyes, and Jim had to smile at the gesture.

The commissioner had a sour reputation and a preference for ripping subordinates into pieces. Half the department worshipped Blair for taming the man's temper, and the other half resented the outsider who had the commissioner wrapped around his little finger, but then Blair had much of the department enthralled. Rafe turned to him for dating advice; he traded recipes with Taggart, and the man had the patience to listen to Ricardo's ex-wife complaints, which put Blair at the top of the man's will—if the man had anything left once his ex-wives finished.

"So, Blair's handling this harassment okay?" Simon asked. "We might be able to put some pressure on them with some of the paperwork issues, like the driver's license."

"He's amused by it. When I talk to him about it, he goes off on dominance displays and illusionary power bases. However, it still makes me nervous having Teller drive him around, so if you could put some pressure on the Motor Vehicle Department, I'd owe you a favor."

"I can do that. I'm just glad that the kid's handling this well and not trying to take on the whole USSP." Simon stood up, but when Jim didn't answer, his voice grew a little sharper. "Jim?" he asked. Jim kept his head down. He didn't know much of Blair's plans, but his inability to tune his Guide out meant that he heard more than Blair probably realized. "He isn't, is he?" Simon asked a third time.

"Not directly," Jim admitted.

"Is this something I should worry about? You two have given me enough gray hairs already."

"I'm not sure the USSP would worry even if they did know," Jim said as he rubbed his hair and tried to loosen tight back muscles. "He's been working with a woman he knows back east, Victoria Vinstein."

"The writer?"

"You know her?" Jim looked up in surprise.

Simon laughed, "I have a son, remember? You can't officially call yourself a parent until you've bought your kid at least two Vinstein books. She writes historical adventures."

"Well Blair's talked her into writing about Sentinels." Jim watched Simon's confusion and tried to hide his amusement. He probably had a similar expression when he'd heard Blair's scheme.

"And this is his form of taking down the USSP?"

"Just don't use that tone of voice in front of him," Jim warned his boss with a laugh. "I made that mistake, and I spent nearly an hour listening to him talk about cultural mythos and the transmission of values through children.

"So he's counting on these kids growing up thinking that the USSP is doing it wrong because it doesn't match what Vinstein wrote about in some historical fiction book?" Simon didn't even try and hide his disbelief. "Are you sure he's not breathing too much of the air over at Teller's place?"

"Hey, it makes him happy, and it means he isn't leading an anti-USSP parade, so I'm happy."

"If it works for you two...." Simon shook his head disbelievingly before changing the subject. "So, any progress on the Hahn murder?"

Jim felt his back tighten even more at the mention of the unsolved case.

"Don't give me that look. It's my job to ask," Simon sighed, "but Jim, you can't catch every killer. Besides, I have a new case for you. Let's take it into the office."

Jim logged out of his computer before following his boss into the office at the end of the squad room. He already had eight open cases, but three qualified for the cold case files, and Jim supposed he had to give up on them at some point. Maybe some recovered gun or unrelated investigation would give him a lead later on, but from Simon's grim expression, Jim guessed this new case would be taking up a lot of time in the near future. Settling into a chair across from Simon, he took the folder Simon slid across the desk.

A quick scan made his guts tighten. "Vice?" he demanded incredulously. "Come on, Captain. Don't do this to me. Rafe catches the vice cases."

"And if we needed to get into an upscale club or pass him off as an expensive hustler, I'd put Rafe on the case again. These people... well, you know these people, Jim. Rafe wouldn't stand a chance of getting close." Jim studied the names and pictures in the file. A few were familiar, but most were new.

"And what's my story for being gone for two years?" he asked as he tried to avoid growling his frustration. If Simon's glare was anything to go by, he hadn't managed to keep his tone neutral.

"The usual one. You went down south and got picked up for minor narcotics use. It fits with your back story."

"And if I'm on parole for narcotics, I'll avoid them in case my parole officer asks for a urine test."

"Exactly." Simon nodded. "Now the victim was a known breeder for the pit bull fights. He's been picked up three times, but only one cruelty to animals charge managed to stick. He was picked up again two nights ago, and this time vice had the case locked up: video tapes, breeding records, a training ring, and nearly sixty dogs. Fielding was on the verge of talking when his lawyer showed up, a lawyer he shares with Wallace, Hanes, and Esposito."

Jim looked down at the faces in the folder. He remembered Hanes, an insecure man with light brown skin and dark brown eyes. Hanes had handled the receipts for both the pit bull fights and the cock fights when Jim had worked vice before. Wallace and Esposito were new. Wallace was a fat man with dark hair and dark eyes that made Jim think briefly of Jabba the Hut. Esposito was sharp featured and even though he could only see a bust in the mug shot, he could tell the man was muscular from the squareness of his shoulders.

"So we think the lawyer told the other three that Fielding was ready to roll on them." Jim commented as he studied the pictures carefully.

"That's the theory. Vice got the call since it was their witness floating in the harbor, but killing a witness is our territory, and I want to know who ordered the hit," Simon just about growled. "So, since you have history with Hanes, I want you to check out a few of the clubs tonight."

"And if someone saw my news conference a few months back?" Jim asked dubiously.

"Then wait a couple of days until that peach fuzz you call a beard comes in. Trust me, I remember you when you worked vice, and I wouldn't have been able to ID you from the news conference," Simon said confidently, and Jim had to take the man's word since he knew the captain would never put a member of the unit in danger.

He just really hadn't wanted to put on that personality again, the cold, dangerous façade he'd used when working Vice had bothered him more than he had ever admitted. Jim picked up the file and headed back to his desk.

Part Two

Blair struggled to keep his eyes open as Dr. Edwards switched out the transparency on the overhead. This one showed retention from freshman to sophomore year, and he could give her speech from memory. "Reach out to the students… blah… blah… blah…" "Hold high standards… blah… blah… blah…"

Blair sunk a little lower in his seat as Kelly sashayed into the room a good thirty minutes late for the meeting. If that had been Blair strolling in… Actually, if Blair tried walking anywhere in a mid-thigh leather skirt and heels that high, he would have very serious issues even without the twitch in Dr. Edwards' right eye when she was about to blow.

"Ms. Newman, so nice of you to join us," Dr. Edwards spit sarcastically, and Blair flinched just being in the same room with that tone of voice, but Kelly smiled sweetly as she slid into one of the many empty seats in the front row and tilted her head almost as though giving Dr. Edwards permission to continue. For a half second, time stopped as the two women stared at each other and everyone else tried not to breath.

"God that woman has balls," Charlie whispered as he looked up from the video game tucked between the official binder of TA rules and his stomach.

"As someone who has been up close and personal with her genitals, I can promise you, she doesn't," Blair answered. "And I'm hoping you meant Kelly," he added as he watched Edwards and Kelly break eye contact with an almost tangible snap.

"And as someone who is in favor of female genitals any time, any place, and any level of soberness, can I just say that you are fucking insane for going near that one?" Charlie answered about the same time Dr. Edwards frowned toward the back rows. Blair ignored Charlie and Kelly as he tried to at least look attentive. With his new project partnering with the USSP and his new job at the department, he'd managed to crawl up from social pariah to merely annoying in Edwards' books, and he didn't intend to drop back down again.

When the orientation ended, Blair tried to dart for the exit closest to the library where he could hide in the stacks for hours, but before he could reach the double doors to freedom, he found himself eye to breast with a white silk shirt and multiple strands of gold on a perfectly tanned chest. Four months ago the sight of that chest had short circuited every single one of his brain cells, and Blair had a nagging suspicion that he would have fallen back into the whole Kelly-breast worship again if it weren't for the fact that his taste in chests had changed. Like seriously changed.

"Hey there," Blair finally offered with his best not-looking-for-trouble smile.

"Surely you weren't going to leave without saying 'hi'," she said as she stepped closer, and Blair backed up, managing to bump Sarah Ang who specialized in Native American cultures. She shot him a dirty look, and he shrugged an apology.

"Oh, Blair, I just can't take you anywhere, can I?" Kelly laughed, her low voice rumbling with a sexy laugh as she threaded her arm between Blair's body and his right arm, capturing it in a strong hold as she pulled him toward the door.

"Hands off the goods, Kelly. I told you last year that this thing between us over, and I meant it."

"Oh Blair," she laughed, "I've heard that before, and it never lasts. Just give in quickly and we can go for coffee."

"Yeah, but this last time I really meant it," Blair said as he planted his feet, and then nearly fell over as Kelly just kept pulling. He would have been shocked at the woman's strength, but then he'd seen her dripping sweat, muscles flexing as she drove herself to the edge at the gym.

"Kelly, enough is enough," Blair said as he tried to keep some dignity while being dragged down the hall by a woman who stood a good eight inches taller than him. A few of his fellow TA's turned to watch the show, and Blair felt himself blush. Thankfully, he didn't have the sort of fair skin that showed his blushes or he would really humiliate himself.

"Oh, hey, Blair, don't we have to meet that one guy?" Charlie asked as he hurried behind them.

"Get lost, Teller," Kelly snapped, and Blair planted his feet as firmly as he could on the tile floor, pulling her to a stop.

"Kelly, knock it off," Blair demanded as he jerked his arm out of her grasp. In an instant, he could see the anger blaze in her eyes as she put her hands on her hips and glared down.

"Blair," she said, drawing his name out into three or four syllables in a clear warning.

"No, Kelly," Blair insisted even though his stomach twisted at that familiar expression. In the past it might have been a good sort of twist, but now he just felt the twisting nausea without the perks.

"You don't say 'no' to me," she said darkly, and her eyes narrowed. Blair suddenly realized just how ridiculous that sounded. Her attitude might have been a bit of a turn on when they were involved, but now she just sounded like a petulant child.

"Okay, I can say 'no' to you, and there isn't anything you can do except deny me sex, which really isn't a problem for me," Blair shrugged as he watched the color rise in her cheeks. "Really not a problem. Big-old enormous not a problem," he egged Kelly on with a wink to let her know just how not worried he was on the sex front.

Nodding to Charlie who stood there with a slightly shocked expression, Blair headed down the hall toward the elevators. The memo he'd gotten assigned him Artifact Room 3 as an office, and Blair had every intention of taking advantage of finally having office space and a bit of respect, even if Kelly Newman wouldn't be first in line to congratulate him.

"Man, you are seriously soft in the head," Charlie hissed as he dashed into the elevator just as the doors closed.

"Oh please, I've dated far scarier than her," Blair pointed out as he punched the button for the basement. "Remember Svetlana? Oh man, what a pair of legs she had." Blair remembered the blonde in her thigh high boots and plaid skirt, the one she wore when they went dancing.

"Yeah, but she was just intimidating, you know, as in, you were the only man on campus with the nerve to ask her out. Kelly is seriously wacked. Did you see the look she gave you?" Charlie asked, but Blair just stepped out of the elevator and headed down the hall. Two doors down, he found it. Below "Artifact Storage Room 3", a brand new plaque announced "Blair Sandburg, USSP Studies."

"Okay, I could live without the 'USSP' part," Blair said as he pulled out his key and fit it into the lock.

"You have some seriously fucked up priorities, if that's what you're worried about," Charlie commented with a snort as Blair pushed open the door to his very own office, which looked suspiciously like a storage room that someone had pushed a desk into the middle of. "This is it?" Charlie asked as he looked into the crowded room.

"Yeah, isn't it great?" Blair answered as he walked in and dropped the orientation information on the desk.

"If you're suffering from pack-rat-itis, maybe," Charlie answered dubiously.

"All it needs is some cleaning. You go hunt down some paper towels and a bucket of water, and I'll start shifting some of this stuff to clear up some shelf space," Blair said. Turning he found Charlie looking at him suspiciously. "Oh come on, it's going to be great," he defended his space, and really he meant it. The desk was an old, heavy oak behemoth, built like a table only lower, and the shelves had thousands of artifacts, each neatly labeled with a square tag so that Blair felt like a kid who'd found a secret room in some museum. It even smelled of age and respectability.

"Soft in the head," Charlie said slowly as he dropped his own orientation folder and the video game on the dirty desk before heading back out the door. "Soft. In. The. Head," he called behind him even once he was in the hall.

"It's great," Blair yelled back as he eyed the shelves, considering how to rearrange his new office so that he had file space without losing the museum feel by putting all the artifacts in boxes.

Four hours later Blair pushed back a sweaty stand of hair as he looked around his office. Artifacts from a dozen cultures sat on the shelves, but he had cleared two bookshelves for his own research, and the desk practically glowed with layers of dirt and dust scrubbed off. It was almost worth missing the Pakistani celebration.

Glancing up at the clock, Blair threw the soggy grey paper towel onto the mountain of trash sitting in a box top. The office hadn't come with a trash can or a computer or an extension cord long enough for his laptop to plug into the wall or even a cheap stapler, so Blair could see a trip to an office supply store in his future. Well, at least after he grabbed a very late lunch and then caught a bus downtown.

With a smile for his new office, Blair locked up and headed out as he debated between the fish place near the bus stop or the student union. However, as soon as he pushed open the doors to the Anthro building, the shouts of a crowd milling near the admin building attracted his attention away from his grumbling stomach and even that little twitch that made him want to call Jim, which he wouldn't do because he wasn't going to nag the man to death.

Cutting across the manicured lawn, Blair wandered toward a tall girl in a black t-shirt with torn jeans, the sort he might have gone for a few months ago.

"Hey, what's up?" he asked as he squinted up at her sign.

"Didn't you hear about the new program? The university sold their souls to the USSP to get a research project—pigs." The woman shook her sign and whooped as a young man with a goatee climbed up on a brick planter. Standing there in shock, Blair felt his arm grabbed for a second time as the girl pulled him forward with a surge of students who pushed in toward the front of the admin building.

"Are we going to let them turn our university into a political tool?" the red-haired man screamed as he balanced on the brickwork. A lacework of shadows from the tall trees gave his face inhuman curves as the audience yelled their support.

"NO!" screamed the girl next to Blair and the other students standing around. Blair watched in a sort of horrified amusement at the enthusiasm on the faces of the students around him, and a part of him considered adding his own voice since he wasn't a huge USSP fan himself. However, protesting himself seemed rather pointless.

"Are we going to let strong-arming soldiers march through our campus?" the man on the planter screamed, his voice growing shriller and louder as the crowd cheered him on.


Blair opened his mouth to point out that his Sentinel project wouldn't bring Sentinels on campus, but he doubted they'd listen.

"Are we going to let the government continue to erode our civil rights?"

"NO!" This time Blair did add his own voice. As someone who had been hauled naked out of his own bed, he could get behind that one. The girl on his arm smiled at him as she lifted her sign higher. A young man in flannel bumped him, and Blair pushed closer to the girl as he tried to avoid the crowd of students pressing in around him.

"Will we sit by while they turn our civil liberties into a joke?" the man screamed so loud that his voice broke on the word "joke," and he squeaked out the "k" sound.

"NO!" the crowd screamed back, Blair along with them. He'd avoided protests in his early years at the university since he really didn't want to get kicked out on his ass, but he'd grown up in the middle of protests, had been passed around as a baby so that photographers could get a good snapshot of some protester with a 'Stop Nuclear Pollution' sign in one hand and a curly haired baby in the other. Hell, he'd learned his alphabet while helping his mom make signs.

"Do we want the USSP on our campus?"

"NO!" Blair allowed himself to shout out all his frustrations in that one word and he screamed it louder than anyone. The girl next to him bounced some, shaking her sign, and Blair couldn't help but smile at her open enthusiasm. The truth was that he didn't want the USSP on campus; he just had to deal with them to keep Jim safe.

"Are we going to allow the USSP on our campus?"

"NO!" This time Blair didn't add his own voice to the chorus of responses. Bodies pressed in from behind, and Blair tried to turn and complain only to have a wave press in against him, shoving him toward the front of the admin building. The girl on his arm stumbled, and Blair reached down and hauled her up by her elbow before she could fall and get trampled.

"Hell No! We won't go!" the man on the planter screamed, and the crowd picked up the familiar chant as bodies milled into each other, elbows and shoulders shoving, and now Blair could see why. A line of campus police with batons drawn stood in a half circle around the protesters, and now, as the chant of 'Hell no! We won't go' echoed off the brick of the admin building, the campus police shifted nervously.

Blair tried to fight his way up to the planter, to try and somehow derail the coming disaster, but an elbow in his stomach nearly sent him to the ground, and he had to fight just to keep upright. In the milling crowd, he lost the girl, and now he worked around to the edge of the protest, his back up against the brick of the admin building as he watched city police pull people out of the crowd two and three at a time.

Pulling at the glass doors, he found them locked, and as police cars pulled up with their lights flashing, Blair realized that he might be in just a little bit of trouble.


Shifting in the metal chair someone had set up next to a wobbling folding table, Blair rolled his eyes at the officer sitting across from him holding the form he had just filled in.

"I told you I don't have any identification."

"And how do you spell your name?" the officer asked even though he insisted on staring at the form on which Blair had written his name rather than at Blair himself.

"Sandburg: S-A-N-D-B-U-R-G. Blair: B-L-A-I-R."


"852 Prospect, Cascade, WA 98765. Do we really have to keep doing this? I gave you my information, and if you would just call Simon Banks or Jim Ellison of Major Crimes, they'll vouch for me." Blair fought back a desire to rip the forms out of the officer's hands so that the man would at least look at him.

"Right." The officer didn't even bother trying to sound convinced.

"Got a problem?" An older officer with gray at the temples walked up, and Blair bit back a number of answers.

"I'm just trying to explain that my identification got lost when I did some consulting work for the USSP down in California." Blair kept his voice calm and steady, but it wasn't easy considering the new officer had a look of amused disbelief.

"Right, and that's why you're protesting the USSP," the older man nodded condescendingly.

"Blair Sandburg *is* the head of the new program, which is why I'm guessing our joker here isn't Mr. Sandburg."

"You run his prints?"

"Nothing in the database."

"If you'd run the police employee database instead of the criminal one, you might find something," Blair pointed out, and a hand fell on his shoulder, tightening as the older officer leaned over him.

"Son, this protest is nothing more than a ticket. Your folks will be put out when they have to pay the hundred dollars, but they aren't going to be as angry as you think. Just give us your correct information, and you can go on your way."

Blair stared up at the man silently. Really, what answer could he give? It took him a minute to decide on his next words.

"You guys really are stupid." As Blair watched the man's features twist into something far colder, he decided those hadn't been the best words to use. "Just check the employee database; I'm really Blair Sandburg. I was just cleaning up my office in the next building over."

"Stand up," the older cop ordered, and Blair recognized that tone from a dozen protests he'd attended with his mother.

"Oh man, you are screwing this up. I'm telling you the truth. You don't have to believe me, just take ten minutes to log into the employee datab—" Blair's words ended with a yelp as the man yanked him to his feet sharply enough to make Blair's shoulder ache.

"I have had enough of this crap. Do you kids think we have nothing better to do than babysit a bunch of whiners?"

"I never sa—"

"Terrorism and our boys dying overseas to keep our country safe… Sentinels dying overseas to keep us safe, and you lot have to complain because you think the world is unfair."

"I nev—"

"If you had an ounce of respect for the people who died in the Veteran's Day Bombings or an ounce of respect for the people who are fighting to keep us safe, you wouldn't pull this shit."

Blair would have answered but a strong hand pushed him face first into the side of a police van before frisking him, and the cop's tone of voice suggested that he had passed rational discussion a couple of exits back. When the cop finished frisking him, a cold voice ordered him to put his hands behind his back before even colder steel closed on his wrists. He waited as he heard another officer open the back of the van while Mr. Cranky held his arm like he was going to try and run off handcuffed.

"Get up in there, and next time an officer asks for your name, you'd better give it," the cop ordered as he pulled Blair to the back of the van, and Blair climbed in, sitting on the cold metal seat and exchanging a quick look with two other protesters already in there. Blair heard the metal cage door slam right before the van door closed, leaving the three of them in a twilight as the sun filtered weakly through the thick, narrow windows near the top.

"Hey, man, claiming to be Blair Sandburg and trying to put some of the blame back on him… very cool," one of the others offered in a friendly voice. Blair just sat back and let the back of his head thump against the metal of the van.

"Who's Blair Sandburg?" the other one asked.

"An idiot," Blair answered the student without bothering to move his eyes from the thick glass with the embedded chicken wire type reinforcement, "a real idiot."


Part Three

Despite a lifetime of watching Rockford Files and Miami Vice, Blair found the reality of jail much different from television. Rather than tattooed murders with bald heads, eerily normal people shared his cell. A bleary-eyed business man in a wrinkled suit, one of the students he'd met in the van, and a thin man with a Metallica t-shirt and a face that looked like an extra from The Land of the Living Dead all sat on a low metal bench bolted to the cinderblock wall. Blair shifted on the bench as his ass started to ache. All he could do was wait for Hurricane Ellison to storm in. One day back on campus, and the charges included illegal assembly, failure to follow the directions of a law enforcement officer, and destruction of public property, not that Blair had anything to do with the broken planter or the spray-painted admin building.

Living Dead man sprang up from his spot at the end of the bench and started pacing as he nervously scratched his hair.

"My parents are so killing me," the other protestor complained softly as Living Dead guy scratched more enthusiastically, a look of rapture on his face as he cured some itch.

"I'll trade your parents for my roommate," Blair answered just as softly.

"No way. My parents are going to give birth to full grown Siberian tigers when they find out. I'd totally trade."

Blair didn't have time to answer as the door at the end of the room clanked open and a tall, muscular, completely pissed-off Sentinel pushed past a uniformed guard before stomping down the concrete walkway between holding cells.

"Who the fuck is that?" the protestor whispered in horror. Even Living Dead guy retreated to the end of the cell, his scratching limited to a spot on his upper arm while he watched suspiciously.

"My roommate." Blair flinched as the grey uniforms of USSP guides appeared at the far end of the corridor.

"No trade. I'll take my parents; at least I'll survive," the protestor hissed as Blair stood up and stepped to the locked cell door as Jim waited impatiently for the uniformed officer to open it, the muscle in his jaw practically doing a jig on his face.

"Chief," Jim said, and Blair could feel the anger rolling over him in waves.

"While Major Browning suggested that I prepare myself for some outrageous behavior, I hardly expected to find you protesting your own program," one of the grey uniforms coldly stated as they now moved cautiously down the hall.

"Oh man, do NOT go there. This was a big mistake."

"A mistake," the guide repeated condescendingly, but Blair ignored him and focused on Jim.

"I was leaving my office when I saw the protest, and I was just there when the police showed up. I didn't have any ID," Blair took a second to glare at the USSP guide, "and the cops wouldn't call you guys or check my fingerprints against the employee database. And man, I've been stuck in here for three hours with no lunch; where have you been?" Blair knew he was horribly manipulating Jim's over-protective instincts, but it seemed like the easiest way to avoid a rather public and messy death. Unfortunately Jim ignored his plea for food.

As the officer opened the cell door, Jim stood with his body blocking the exit, arms crossed over his chest.

"I was at your office, investigating a case of vandalism," Jim ground out from between clenched teeth.

"Oh no. Not my new office. Oh man, tell me they didn't get inside."

Jim just looked at him with one eyebrow raised. Seeing that expression, Blair sagged sideways into the bars of the cell. "This just sucks." Blair leaned his head against the cold metal and closed his eyes. A warm hand closed over his upper arm, and he opened his eyes to find Jim with a more sympathetic expression.

"We'll get it cleaned up before classes start," Jim promised, and Blair inched forward, wishing he could take thirty seconds to hide in his Sentinel's arms before facing the world, but the uniformed guides watched with suspicious gazes. Blair had to content himself with taking a deep breath and finding his emotional center.

"How bad?" he asked.

"Pig blood. The university is making some noises about some damaged artifacts, but mostly the blood just got the desk and the floor."

"Great, I'm back on Edwards' shit list, then. So, do I even have an office any more, or did the woman pry my nameplate off the door with her talons?"

"More like the commissioner berated her for not having security on such a sensitive project and endangering *his* cultural liaison," Jim answered, and despite the cell and the Living Dead guy now pulling up his t-shirt to scratch an emaciated stomach and the UPPS guides looking on in disdain, Blair could see the genuine amusement in his Sentinel's eyes. Jim and Simon had both complained of being on the end of the commissioner's sharp tongue, but that obviously didn't stop Jim from enjoying it when it happened to someone else.

"Yes, well, if we could get back upstairs, we do have a number of tests to complete."

"Tests?" Blair asked as he looked around Jim, his hand lingering on Jim's arm. When the USSP guide pointedly glared at the hand, Blair tightened his fingers so that he held Jim's arm tightly.

"We have reason to suspect your testing procedures, so we have come to perform a series of baseline tests on Captain Ellison."

"Baseline tests?" Blair had allowed Jim to subtly keep his own body between Blair and the guides, but now Blair kept his hand on Jim's arm as he stepped around. "You're doing tests without his guide there?" Blair demanded.

"We need accurate data." The taller guide said in a tone that clearly dismissed Blair's records. The scientist in Blair seethed, but the guide in him wanted to kick the asshole right in the shin… multiple times… preferable with steel-toed shoes.

"Testing any Sentinel requires a guide's presence in case of zoning or spikes," Blair hissed through clenched teeth.

"Captain Ellison has no guide, that is the whole reason for your research, so the issue is moot," the man answered in the most smug voice Blair had heard since Edwards turned down his dissertation topic.

"You son of—"

"Chief," Jim interrupted loudly, "let's get you out of back to the university so you can check on your office."

"Like I give a rat's ass—" Blair started.

"You are truly out of your mind," the taller guide said as he crossed his arms over his chest.

"I am acting as his guide, and I am the primary researcher in charge of this project. If you review the paperwork I signed with General Kern, you will see that I have all the legal rights of a guide until the USSP has accepted my dissertation." Blair crossed his own arms over his chest and glared back at both guides. That piece of information made them look at one another in clear alarm.

"Someone didn't do their homework," Blair said to the guides in his sweetest voice before turning his back and heading down the concrete hallway. "I always tell my students that if you don't do your homework, you'd better be able to at least bluff well, and man, you two so can't," Blair finished as he reached the metal door that separated the holding cells from the intake area. An officer pulled open the door, and Blair headed for the elevator.

"Mr. Sandburg," a voice snarled behind him, and Blair smiled as he hit the elevator button. Aggravating tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee almost made hours in a holding cell worth while.

"Hey, you can't leave without doing the paperwork," another voice called, and Blair turned to see grumpy cop from the protest closing in on him. Or at least, Blair did see him until Mount Ellison moved into his line of sight.

"Would you be Officer Gaddis?" Jim asked in a tone that left Blair surprised that it didn't start snowing from the sudden cold front.

"Yeah. Why?"

"Then you would be the one who harassed my partner when he was trying to get around protesters who targeted him." Jim nearly whispered his words, but each was a sharp little stone that hit Gaddis hard enough to make him flinch back. "You would be the one who slammed him around rather than try to confirm his identity." Jim started stalking forward, and Blair could see the two guides freeze in fear as the primal side of Jim reared its head. For a moment, Blair hesitated. If he stepped in, would they think Jim couldn't control himself? Better yet, *could* Jim control himself?

"You would be the idiot who let the protesters get into the anthropology building with pig's blood," Jim finished, and now Gaddis was nearly against the wall, his protruding stomach the only thing that kept Jim out of his face.

"Man, he is so not worth the high blood pressure, Jim. You get another ulcer, and it's going to be cabbage juice for a month," Blair pleaded. For a moment, time stopped as other officers froze and even the incoming suspects shut up long enough to watch Jim lean his hands on the wall on either side of Gaddis' face. Blair could practically feel the aggression rolling off Jim, and for a man who usually prided himself on control, this was not his best moment.

"Don't bother him again," Jim said seriously, and then he pushed away as he headed for the elevator. Blair just stood with an open mouth as Jim caught his arm and pulled him along. As the doors shut, Blair got a good look at a field of shocked faces.

"Okay, what the hell is going on?" Blair asked as soon as the elevator jerked into motion, leaving the USSP guides behind.

"Nothing," Jim said, but Blair could see the tight muscles in the Sentinel's arms raised in tense cords. Despite the cameras, Blair did what he had wanted to do from the moment Jim appeared to rescue him from the cell: He stepped forward and leaned into Jim's body, feeling the stiff body slowly relax as the elevator, for once, moved up without stopping on every floor. Eventually, Jim's arm crept around and circled Blair's waist, and Blair let himself sag into the feeling of security.

"What's wrong, and don't give me bullshit this time," Blair whispered. Jim sighed, his whole frame shuddering for a moment as the elevator beeped its warning. Blair straightened up some as the door came open on the fifth floor and picked up a secretary. Blair gave her a quick smile and nod.

"Not here, Chief," Jim whispered back, and then the doors opened onto the sixth floor. Blair let Jim guide him, Jim's hand on his back and large fingers curled around his arm. He'd long ago noticed that the more upset Jim became, the more he tried to physically control Blair's movements. Blair didn't comment as Jim led him past the desks in the bullpen and right through into Simon's office.

"Jim? Blair?" Simon asked as they came in. Jim started closing blinds without answering, and Simon pulled his unlit cigar out of his mouth. "Do I want to be here for this?" he asked in a low voice that sounded deeply tired.

"Probably not," Jim suggested, and Blair looked over in concern. Jim didn't say anything else, but Blair noticed how he moved in short, jerky motions that lacked all of the grace Blair had come to associate with Jim.

"I'll be… hell, I'll be somewhere else," Simon said as he flipped the monitor of his computer off and pushed himself up using the top of his desk. "I hate this Sentinel shit, and if I can find so much as an unpaid parking ticket, I'm going to shove those two guides into the smallest cell I can find and weld the door shut," Simon muttered as he left the room, pulling the door closed so hard that the blinds bounced and rattled.

"Jim?" Blair asked as he stepped forward. Jim pressed his lips together in an expression that Blair had learned to associate with frustration and pain. "Oh man, what's wrong?" Blair asked as he closed the distance and put his palm on Jim's chest.

"I've lost control of touch and hearing," Jim admitted before he pressed his lips into a thin, pained line.

"Shit." Blair fumbled with his buttons, struggling to hurry as Jim's eyes started dilating into black pools. As soon as he started pulling the shirt open, Jim's large hand rested against the hair on his chest. Jim's thumb slowly rubbed a small patch of skin until it warmed. When Blair let the shirt fall off his shoulders, Jim's arms pulled him into a tight embrace.

"I'm sorry," Jim muttered into the crook of Blair's neck, and the breath flowed over his shoulder making the small hairs stand up as the skin tingled.

"It's okay. Just find your dial for touch. You know what baseline feels like, so just let your skin find normal," Blair muttered as he backed up toward the couch, Jim shuffling forward with him as he held on. "Where's your dial for touch?" Blair asked as he sat, Jim following him down so that they were half-sitting and half-laying with Blair on the bottom. Blair reached up, and ran the back of his fingers over Jim's cheek. He didn't want to press fabric into overly sensitive skin, but he could feel the need to touch as strongly as he could feel his own hunger.

"About a seven," Jim finally admitted.

"Dial it back down to a five." Blair could feel the moment the danger passed because Jim stiffened and tried to pull away. Blair closed one arm around Jim's shoulders, and he put his other hand over the fingers Jim still had on Blair's chest. Jim sagged back down, his weight resting on Blair and feeling right. "Just use the baseline, you don't need to hurry," Blair muttered as the feeling of Jim's fingers brushing over his chest hair made his own body come to life. A thumb rubbed over a puckered nipple, and Blair's whole body jerked as though electricity had shot through it.

"Oh man. Oh man. Shit. Simon will kill us if we do this here," Blair breathed helplessly as his body responded to the feeling of being under Jim and having Jim's hands play with him.

"Relax, Junior. There will be no fluids on Simon's couch," Jim ordered as his hands stopped their random caresses and just rested on Blair's chest.

"Too late for that," Blair pointed out. From Jim's chuckle, he guessed that Jim knew just how quickly he had gone from worried to hard and leaking.

"I've never seen a man who could go from zero to fuck in five seconds," Jim laughed as he shifted, his weight still pinning Blair to the couch. "God, I think a table leg could get you going."

"Nope, just cranky, uncommunicative ex-USSP officers," Blair disagreed. He could feel Jim tense a little. "So, are your hearing and touch back in line?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, they're fine," Jim sat up on the couch and he pulled Blair with him so that they sat side by side with Jim's arm thrown around Blair's shoulder.

"So, what happened, and don't give me any bullshit," Blair said as he leaned his body into Jim's.

"The tests were a little…" Jim stopped. Blair considered which tests the USSP might have given to send Jim's senses out of control.


"Hoffman-Siebert visual acuity testing and a Rist sensitivity cycle," Jim blurted sharply and without emotion. He leaned away from Blair and the arm that had been holding Blair now scrubbed military-short hair. Blair sat in shock, trying to process his feelings before he said something that would add to Jim's burden.

"Those pieces of fucking filth," Blair finally snapped. No amount of processing would make him even a little bit okay with that. The Hoffman-Siebert required recognizing outlines in low lighting conditions with strobes intermittently flashing right into a Sentinel's eyes. It carried one of the highest warnings for spikes and researchers rarely used it any more. Blair certainly hadn't used it. The Rist required intentionally aggravating a patch of skin in an attempt to locate a Sentinel's zone or spike range.

"Where?" Blair asked. Jim didn't need any explanation. He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off. Where a doctor might put a blood pressure cuff, the skin had been worn raw with red welts and white spots.

"I'll fucking kill them," Blair swore.

"Hey, you're supposed to be the calming influence here, Chief," Jim said as he pulled the shirt back on.

"You need treatment, ointment and a bandage," Blair protested, but Jim kept buttoning his shirt.

"I just needed to get the dial back under control. I'm fine," Jim insisted as he stood up. "The tall one is Captain Cohn; he keeps quoting Browning, so it's safe to say he isn't part of the Ellison/Sandburg fan club. The shorter one with the pinched face is Wilke. Do you think they intentionally send them out in pairs where one never talks?" Jim asked as he rubbed his neck.

"Too bad they aren't all speechless; the world would be a better place," Blair muttered as he picked up his own shirt. He had just gotten his arms into the sleeves when someone knocked on the office door.

Jim walked over and opened it to find Cohn and Wilke waiting. Cohn's mouth had been open, and from his expression, he wasn't about to say anything good. Faced with Jim, his mouth closed with an audible click.

"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," Cohn said with snotty innuendo. Blair just kept buttoning his shirt.

"Nope," he answered. "However, I'm glad you're up here because it saves everyone the time it would take to track you down and arrest you."

"Insane," Cohn repeated his earlier accusation.

Jim stepped back, and Blair glanced over. The man who could make suspects tremble and had no trouble slamming him into the side of a truck seemed to shrink away from this uniform. The sight of Jim backing away made Blair want to kick the entire USSP's ass. Unfortunately, he didn't have that many feet.

"You conducted tests which are clearly prohibited without a guide present. So, I can either charge you with assault against an unpaired Sentinel since you risked sending him into a zone with no guide to bring him back or I can charge you with interfering with a Sentinel pairing since General Kern's paperwork gives me the legal standing of a guide even if I'm not one." Blair smiled, but then he could afford to be kind when he held the cards. "Decisions, decisions," he intoned.

"You are a civilian with whom we have agreed to work in order to help you with your dissertation. You do not dictate terms."

"I am the civilian who General Kern gave a guide's rights and responsibilities, and you can go to hell. The USSP has a right to oversee this project, but you don't," Blair insisted. "If you get near Jim again, I *will* press charges."

"This is your pathetic attempt to hide your faulty research methodology."

Pointing at Wilke, Blair asked, "Can you observe and record data without assaulting a Sentinel and endangering his life?" Blair demanded. Of all the USSP guides he'd met, Wilke was the first that didn't set of his internal slime alarm.

Wilke glanced toward Cohn and then back toward Jim who leaned back on the edge of Simon's desk, clearly unwilling to get involved in guide business.

"Yes," Wilke barely whispered.

"This is ridiculous," Cohn snarled. "You will work with whomever the USSP dictates."

"Jim, I want to press charges for assault and unlawful interference with a pairing," Blair said as he crossed his arms. No way would the charges stand, especially since only the military could enforce the laws, but any civilian agency could arrest suspects, and the paperwork would be a nightmare.

"No problem," Jim said with a feral smile. He stood up and stepped toward Cohn. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you." When Jim grabbed Cohn's arm and pushed him toward the suspect chair next to his desk, Cohn literally spluttered his outrage.

"And please, use that right to remain silent because I have been listening to you all morning," Jim said as he pushed Cohn down into the chair. Blair smiled as the Sentinel disappeared and the detective took his place. Jim flicked his computer to life as he rifled though a drawer for the right paperwork.

"You have the right to an attorney…" Jim said without emotion as he found the signature card all suspects signed to show they knew their rights. "Just read this and sign that you know your rights," Jim said as he pulled the buff-colored sheet of paper to Cohn.

"You cannot imagine that I will—" Cohn started to stand.

"Do it, and I will enjoy cuffing you," Jim warned. The man sank back down into the chair. Wilke made a small choking sound as Blair headed for his own desk. He hadn't planned on coming to work today, but he had plenty of work including a culture training for incoming officers. As Blair pulled out the right file, he smiled at the sight of Cohn glowering, Jim typing away on the booking form, and Wilke standing in the middle of the bullpen with his eyes snapping from one point to another like a lost bird. Sometimes life was good.

Part Four

Blair sat in the truck and watched Jim's profile out of the side of his eye. He really didn't need to get caught staring because he did not need a repeat of last night's fight. One nasty round of "I'm fine" "No, you aren't" "Yes, I am" was enough for him.

"I'm fine, Sandburg. Quit looking at me like I’m about to break."

"Hey, I never said—"

"You know they're just going to send someone else," Jim interrupted as the muscle in his jaw tightened. Blair understood the reaction, but it didn't make him any less angry at the people who had left Jim so defensive. He focused on the red car in front of them in traffic: two kids in the back fought over something in the middle, pulling and yanking viciously in their attempts to grab it.

"Maybe they'll just get tired of paying the air fair," Blair suggested. "Hell, they've got to hate airport security these days, so if I can send them through that misery a few extra times, it's all worth it. If we're lucky, they'll get strip searched," Blair laughed. Jim didn't.

"Chief," Jim stopped. He focused on the traffic. "Call me if you have any more protests on campus; I don't want a repeat of yesterday," Jim finally finished.

"Man, you and me both. And as long as we're talking about calling, call if the USSP idiots try anything. They can't run tests without me there. I just hope Cohn is on his way back home because I do not want to have to deal with him again."

Blair watched as Jim slowly smiled. "I don't know; I kinda liked how you dealt with him," Jim laughed grimly, and Blair watched the tension bleed out of Jim like a summer storm that blew through and then disappeared without a trace. Jim smiled wider as he took the turn onto Becker. "When I called in this morning, Simon said Cohn got bail at about 3 am and that Wilke is looking humbled as he sits next to my desk."

"He's waiting? Oh man, I could have gotten a ride from Karen. You did not have to drive me," Blair stopped as Jim's grin widened. "Unless, of course, you wanted to make him wait."

Jim didn't disagree as he turned the last corner and the first of Rainier's buildings appeared. "Do you need help carrying up the supplies?" Jim asked as he pulled his truck into a loading zone in front of Hargrove Hall.

"I'm fine," Blair promised as he pulled the strap to the laptop over his shoulder. He jumped out of the truck only to find the box of office supplies in the back had slid over to Jim's side. Jim got out of the truck and pulled the box out of the back before walking around to the passenger side. Blair noticed for the first time that Jim hadn't shaved that morning as the sun highlighted the tips of hundreds of hairs just poking out of his chin.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Blair asked as Jim closed the distance. He whispered softly enough that passing students wouldn't hear, but Jim's eyes still darted to the young men and women hurrying past in small clumps.

"Look, Sigmund, I'm fine. Truth be told, I'm more aggravated by this new assignment than by the USSP," Jim practically growled as he shoved the box of supplies at Blair harder than necessary. Blair scrambled to get his fingers around the edges as he took a step back with the force of the shove. Oh yeah, he could feel last night's fight circling like a vulture ready to rip into them. Blair went for a change of topic.

"Something big? If you need me down at the station, I can find someone to cover classes." Blair got his hands around the box and stepped forward again.

"No. I just got stuck working a vice case. Every time I have to go undercover for vice, I end up feeling like I went swimming in slime. Give me a good old-fashioned murderer any day of the week," Jim confessed.

Blair stared at his partner as he considered everything that might mean. "So, you're going undercover for vice?" He meant to sound casual, but Blair suspected he came closer to breathy.

"It's just temporary. There's a tough case, and a witness turned up dead."

"Oh man, does that mean I get to see leather pants and sequins?" Blair kept his voice to a whisper, but he couldn't keep the excitement out of his tone or the bounce out of his knees as he moved a little closer to Jim. "I really wouldn't mind that," Blair announced with a wide-eyed, nodding smile.

"Sequins?" Jim choked out.

"Maybe not sequins," Blair conceded, "but tight leather pants, maybe a leather vest, definitely the big leather boots." Blair watched as Jim's face froze in an expression of shock: wide eyes, mouth slightly open. Then Jim blinked quickly and shook his head in disbelief.

"I'm going to be dressed like a thug. Worn jeans, leather boots, shirt with the sleeves ripped off. This is not about looking sexy," Jim said as he crossed his arms.

"So, are you going all out with the scruffy beard and maybe a few earrings?" Blair asked with a smile.

"Probably," Jim narrowed his eyes and searched Blair's face with an intensity Blair associated with confusion. He found that any time he surprised Jim, and he often did, Jim would search him as though trying to decide how seriously to take his guide.

"The bad boy look is definitely sexy. Throw in a leather vest, and I'll follow you anywhere," Blair suggested lasciviously. Slowly, Jim's cheeks reddened as he eyes focused over his guide's shoulder. Blair glanced over to find a leggy blonde watching with open hostility.

"Oh man, I didn't mean to embarrass… shit… look, forget I said anything." Blair started backing away. Jim opened his mouth to answer, and Blair interrupted with one more change of topic. "Charlie's car won't be ready today, even if his cousin actually gets around to looking at it, so could you pick me up at five?"

"Not a problem," Jim answered without moving his eyes from the blonde.

"And give Charlie a ride home too?" Blair threw in. That got Jim's attention.

"I'm not a taxi service, Sandburg."

"It's only one day," Blair tried his best pleading expression. Charlie could get a ride with any number of people, but at least Jim would be sober when he drove—not many of Charlie's friends would be able to say the same.

"You're right—it is only one day," Jim groused before he turned and walked back to the driver's side. Blair focused on watching Jim drive away, shifting the box up onto his hip as he ignored the waves of hate from behind.

"Blair," a low voice said in a dark tone.

"Kelly," Blair answered as he turned toward his office and started walking. A pull on his computer strap yanked him to a stop, and he looked over his shoulder to see Kelly's long fingers wrapped around the strap.

"So, that's why you've thrown me over? You found someone who could do more than just tie you down and take you? You found someone who could fuck you?" Kelly moved closer, using the computer strap to keep Blair in place. "I could tell people such interesting stories about their favorite TA," Kelly whispered. At one point, that might have freaked Blair out, but after surviving real threats, he could only laugh at her hissed words and narrow-eyed glare.

"Oh please," Blair jerked the computer strap free and then glared right back at Kelly. "Look at how you're dressed with the boots that scream domme and the low cut blouse and the leather mini. Anyone who looks at you knows you're into tying up your partners. Therefore, anyone who knows we dated, knows I play tie up games. Did you know that 61% of adults between 18 and 30 either engage in bondage or fantasize about it while having sex or masturbating? I don't think anyone is going to be too scandalized." Blair laughed as he backed up a couple of steps, the box of supplied getting heavier by the second. "The biggest scandal will be that you got dumped, so go ahead and make yourself look like an idiot."

"You little—" Kelly flushed red and took a step forward leading Blair to roll his eyes.

"Oh please, go find someone else to play bottom boy for you because you definitely suck the fun right out of being tied up," Blair said, and several undergrads passing them on the sidewalk froze, heads swiveling around to look, and one particularly short girl blushed bright red before she reversed direction and practically ran for the science building. Freshmen. "Actually, you suck, but not well," Blair corrected himself as he turned and headed up the sidewalk, students clearing a path as he left Kelly behind.

Blair braced himself to be pulled to a halt again, but he reached the stairs without round two of vindictive Kelly. The way his week was going, it surprised him. He had almost reached the doors before he heard a familiar voice.

"Heard you had an interesting day yesterday," a woman said.

"Suzanne," Blair said happily as he turned to see a stunning Asian woman in a guard's uniform. He always thought of her as the one that got away, but it didn't stop him from loving her company anyway; she had a vicious sense of humor once you got past her proper exterior. "Oh man, I had a horrible day, but I'm betting that with the protest and the break in, your day was just as bad." The head of campus security slipped by him on the steps so that she could pull the door open. Blair smiled his thanks as shifted the box and headed into Hargrove. Even the short walk had left him feeling limp and wilted as summer heat and Cascade humidity had turned the whole city into a sauna.

"I hear you had a run in with a couple of the new campus police officers." Suzanne followed him into the building. Blair just snorted his disgust as he hit the elevator button with an elbow.

"More of a walk than a run. It was a giant exercise in miscommunication," Suzanne followed him into the elevator, and Blair braced his box against the wall as he pressed the button. "So, any ideas who did the redecorating job on my office?"

"We have a couple of leads." Suzanne bit her lip, and Blair turned his full attention to the woman, watching as her delicate mouth twisted unhappily.

"Suzanne?" Blair asked. The mouth twisted more as the right side of her lower lip disappeared into her mouth.

"Oh god, please don't tell me something else happened to my office." Blair leaned into the box harder as he felt his legs weaken. He'd expected his biggest problem with the USSP to be the actual USSP. Instead, karma seemed to have a sense of humor, circling back to bite him in the ass for all the times he'd helped his mother protest against 'the man'.

"We got a tip that the stunt at the office might not be related to the protest." The doors to the elevator slid open and Suzanne continued to just stand and look out at the hall for a moment before she seemed to force herself into motion.

"I don't mind telling you, you're kinda freaking me out, here," Blair admitted as he followed her out into the hall. "Suzanne, we've known each other for a long time—"

"Ever since you led your student in a revolt against the campus computer lab."

"I was just pointing out the evils of censorship."

"You called the Dr. Wilson a troll."

"Dr. Wilson is a troll," Blair said as he stopped outside his office. "The man even smells like old dirt, but his theories on what's appropriate use of the school internet would make him a troll even without the smell."

"Blair, we got an anonymous report that you've been propositioning students for sex in exchange for grades. The note suggested that a girl who turned you down vandalized your office after you gave her a low grade." Suzanne blurted the whole statement so quickly that it took a second for Blair to mentally rewind the words and replay them at normal speed. When he did, he froze half way through his office door.

"I…" Blair stopped, his throat tightening around his words until he felt like he might choke on the syllables. "I wouldn't," he finally got out. Stepping forward, he dropped the box of supplies on the newly cleaned desk before he dropped the thing. "You have to know I wouldn't," he said as he turned to face the head of security. For a blink, he could see the doubt and hesitation twist her small features, and then she smiled.

"Of course you wouldn't," she agreed. Blair leaned against his desk.

"Suzanne," he said, searching her face for the lingering traces of hesitation.

"Blair, I can't see you doing anything like this, but the university has to take every accusation seriously. We've opened an investigation, and we'll be interviewing your students from previous semesters." Suzanne gave him a small, weak smile, and Blair sat on the edge of his desk.

"Man, I never did anything like that. Hell, last semester I was dating Kelly who would have cut my balls off if—" Blair stopped in the middle of his sentence. He had obviously suffered major brain damage to miss that connection.

"Kelly," Blair said quietly, rage making his vision darken as he considered just how far she would go.

"I thought of that. We still have to investigate, though. If nothing else, we need to clear you."

"Man, I hope her karma drags her down into the body of a cockroach next time around," Blair grumbled through gritted teeth. Looking around at his new office, he suddenly couldn't find the joy he'd felt just 24 hours earlier. After years of working in hallways and common rooms shared by dozens of TA's, he'd earned a place of his own and the right to work on his Sentinel thesis.

However, now he could only wonder whether any of his students would take this chance to get back at him for a low grade or take a run at trying to get the administration to remove grades from their transcripts. Heck, he'd actually turned down a couple of girls, including one freshman who'd sat in the front row of one class in a miniskirt and no underwear. The woman had spend the first half of the semester randomly opening her legs and giving Blair a free peep show until Blair had learned to not look at that section of the classroom. Would she take his rejection badly and make up some story to get him back? He struggled to even remember what grade he'd given her.

"Blair, this is going to blow over," Suzanne said softly.

"Yeah. Right," Blair answered as he leaned against the box. "'Cause things always work out for the best," he pointed out sarcastically.

Suzanne didn't answer, but she did rest a hand on his shoulder for a second. Blair gave her a smile and shrugged. The gesture made her hand fall away.

"I'll survive. I always do," he said, and then he focused on pulling equipment out of the box.

"If you need anything…"

"You'll be out questioning all my students about whether or not I traded grades for sex," Blair snapped. The lack of any answer made him look up at Suzanne who watched him with wide eyes and a hand that fluttered between her lips and her neck nervously. "Oh man. That was so far out of line that I can't even see the line from where I am. I'm sorry," he immediately offered. Suzanne's hand finally rested near her neck.

"I'm sorry, Blair. It's just procedure."

"Yeah. I get that. I know you'll do the right thing," Blair assured her. Suzanne gave him a small smile and backed up a step toward the door. Blair focused on his box of supplies, continuing to unpack as he listened to Suzanne's footsteps take her out of his office. Great, day one, he got arrested for protesting and vandalism, and day two he became the center of the sex scandal. At this rate, he'd be arrested for murdering Jimmy Hoffa by the end of the week. When had life gotten so damn strange?


Part Five

Jim scratched his stubble beard irritably as he looked around the darkened interior. Smoke slid past him in thick clots, making his skin itch and the sound of shouting men forced him to set his hearing far too low. The darkness and hollow, distant sounds made Jim feel like he was walking inside a tube sunk far below the ocean's surface: an unreal feeling of pressure wrapping around him.

Irritably pushing aside a drunk who careened into him, Jim focused on the bar. Bar might be too kind of a word for the old plywood door propped on two sawhorses, but Jim shouted a single word to the man behind the bar and then watched as the thin man grabbed a bottle and poured the amber whiskey into a glass. Jim took the drink with a nod and dropped a few dollars on the makeshift bar.

The first taste of the whiskey made Jim's taste flair so that the alcohol burned down his throat and made his eyes water; however, at least the booze killed the germs because Jim sure didn't hear any water sources. At best, the bartender was wiping glasses between customers—not that any of these guys would notice the difference.

A small group gathered around a wire enclosure. Tonight's entertainment included two roosters that flapped awkwardly against each other, silver gaffs, sharpened metal talons attached to their feet, flashed in the low light, and the crowd cheered as the darker bird fell back under a flurry of feather and wing.

Part of keeping cover meant doing what everyone else did, so Jim stood and watched impassively as the losing bird was tossed into a pile of dead animals while still flapping weakly. He took another big shot of whiskey to get rid of the sour taste in his mouth. Part of him wanted to arrest every drunk, pathetic excuse for a human in the place and call the humane society to put the birds to sleep quietly, but he had other orders.

With eyes that stung from the smoke and the whiskey, Jim scanned the crowd looking for Hanes. If he was going to be honest with himself, he also checked the crowd for Wilke's narrow, pinched features. The man might not be trying to shove strobe lights in his eyes, but his ability to follow Jim everywhere was bordering on insanely annoying, and if Jim guessed right, Blair was actually closer to snapping than he was.

A small group of men broke away from the new cock fight, and Jim watched as they found a dark corner where they could trade drugs with at least some privacy.

"You lookin'?" a dirty-blond with a nervous twitch in his right eye slid close to Jim, and he looked down at the dealer.

"If I am, I'll find better shit than anything you have to offer," he dismissed the man and focused again on the cockfight, or rather the men watching the cockfight as they shouted and pounded fists against the rough two-by-fours that capped the chicken-wire enclosure.

"Meth, crack, barrels, crank, Special K—man, I can make you fly," the dealer followed with his sales pitch. Looking over, Jim memorized the man's features: light-brown phlegmy eyes, short hair, spider tattoo under his left ear.

"Not buying," Jim turned his back on the man, ignoring the goose pimples that sprouted along his backbone. Undercover meant doing stupid shit, like turning a back to a threat, because these people were stupid.

"Best prices," the man tried again, and Jim spun back around, grabbing the dealer by his t-shirt and hauling him close enough that Jim could smell the man's sour breath.

"I said I'm not buying, and you're turning into a nuisance," he growled his frustration. The man's eyes dropped, searching the floor with nervous movements that made Jim even more on edge. Every instinct said the man was on an edge and ready to do something monumentally stupid. "Stay the fuck away from me," he said as he pushed the man back so hard that he went stumbling into a pillar. Jim turned his back and pushed closer to the cock fight.

"Oh Peters, you really haven't learned any manners at all."

Jim turned slowly and found himself looking at Ricardo Hanes. Jim nodded as Hanes twisted his hands nervously, reminding Jim of a bug on a hot sidewalk with the way he constantly shifted as though standing on something hot.

"Hanes," Jim offered without emotion.

"Didn't know if you'd come," Hanes said as he moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jim, his eyes focused on the fight. The two birds had sunk their gaffs so deeply into each other's flesh that handlers had waded in to pull them apart. The crowd wanted action: not two animals slowly bleeding to death as metal stuck them together. Jim fought down an urge to flinch.

"Need the money, but if you fuck me over the way you did last time…" Jim let his words trail off, and Hanes twisted his hands even faster. The man would make a horrible poker player. The crowd roared as the newly freed birds attacked each other ferociously. Jim briefly entertained a fantasy of making these men fight for their lives in a cage while the birds watched. His disgust and the smell of dying animals, and bird droppings and blood nearly drove him from the room.

"Let me treat you to a drink," Hanes gestured toward Jim's nearly empty glass. Jim looked down at the whiskey and downed the last bit in a single swallow.

"Hanes, I'm working for you; I wasn't your drinking buddy back then and I'm not now." Jim turned around and headed back for the bar, digging in the pocket of his jeans for the dollar bills wadded into the bottom corner.

"This the man?" a voice wheezed, and Jim nearly lost himself in the wet sound of air rushing through laboring lungs. Even without turning around, Jim knew it was Wallace—the asthmatic. Jim put the money and his empty glass on the bar, watching as the same bartender tilted the whiskey bottle and refilled it. Jim took a drink before he turned back around.

"You the boss now?" he asked as he looked Wallace over. The man's neck had folds that reminded Jim of Jabba the Hut, but his eyes, blue and sharp, made it clear that only the man's body was soft.

"I hear you left Hanes high and dry a couple of years back. Doesn't inspire confidence."

"I remember Hanes getting stupid and blabbing to the wrong people, getting my place tossed by the cops, making me leave town to avoid certain questions," Jim shot back.

"I never… well how was I to know that Pickling was a cop?" Hanes finally stammered. Wallace shot the smaller man a withering look.

"Let's talk," Wallace waved a hand toward the shadows. Jim gave Wallace a suspicious look, not because of anything he saw in the dark corner of the warehouse but because anyone who wasn't a Sentinel wouldn't be able to see past the pool of light formed by a dangling bulb hanging over the far side of the bar. "What's the matter, don't you trust me?" Wallace asked with a rattling laugh.

"I don't trust anyone," Jim answered as he made a gesture inviting Wallace to go ahead of him. Wallace laughed again and then started toward the small table against the wall. Hanes looked toward Jim once and then followed.

"I like you," Wallace said as he settled into a chair with a heavy sigh. He leaned forward and Jim took the chair next to the man so that he didn't have to put his back to warehouse. Wallace glanced at him, and Jim tried to look like a thug and not a special ops trained soldier whose instincts demanded keeping an eye on the enemy.

"I don't want to get too deep into any of the trouble you have with Fielding. I got a parole officer riding my ass," Jim said as he put his drink down on the table and looked away toward the cock fighting ring.

"I heard you got in some trouble down in Arizona."

Jim snorted in response to Wallace's comment.

"Fielding's death made thinks a little complicated," Wallace started, and then he hesitated. Jim listened to the slight jump in the tempo of the man's heart, the muscle thumping a little faster now. "He was in the middle of a shipment, and some merchandise is missing."

Jim looked over at Wallace. "Little stupid to kill a man without knowing his secrets," he suggested, coming as close as he dare to the question of the murder.

Wallace stared back at Jim for several seconds before shrugging. "Tell that to the man who murdered Fielding; I sure didn't." Wallace heart remained steady and his pupils didn't dilate at all.

Jim took another drink of the whiskey. "So, you need me to find something."

"Fifty thousand or the shipment Fielding was going to receive for the money," Wallace confirmed. Jim kept his face impassive as he scanned the crowd. Suddenly, this simple in and out case was looking more and more complicated.

"Thought Fielding handled your dogs," Jim said.

"Oh, Jimmy, for someone who doesn't want to get in too deep, you're asking a lot of questions," Wallace said as he leaned forward, the wood creaking under the weight of the man's elbow on the table.

"I don't want to get blindsided. I got parole transferred up here because of my sister being sick, but I don't have any reason to trust Hanes or you," Jim slammed back the last of his whiskey and stood up to leave. From the jump in Wallace's heart rate and the near rabbit-fast pounding from Hanes' chest, he knew they'd stop him. These people were desperate.

"Peters," Hanes called out as he stood so quickly that he knocked his chair over. When the man came at him, Jim stepped into him, putting a forearm across the man's chest and driving him back into the wall where he pinned him.

Wallace moved slowly enough that Jim could have intercepted him, but winning wasn't the point of this fight. He didn't react until the click in his ear. Then he turned slowly, letting his fingers open so that Hanes could wiggle away as Jim remained frozen with his hands open and away from his body. The gun pointed at a spot just behind his ear remained steady for several moments as Jim studied the arm for those minute muscle twitched that would give him only a fraction of a second to respond if Wallace made the unlikely decision to pull the trigger.

"I don't like people manhandling my employees," Wallace said quietly.

"I'll keep that in mind in the future," Jim answered as respectfully as he could. Slowly the gun lowered and Jim dropped his hands to his side.

"So, you don't want to go stumbling around in the dark? I tell you this, and you're in, whether you want to be or not." Wallace gestured toward the table with the gun, and Jim carefully moved that direction.

"I won't go down for conspiracy," Jim said as he slowly lowered himself into a chair, his hands on the table where Wallace could see them. Wallace laughed.

"I wish the cops were the worst of our trouble. Fact is that Fielding set us up with a group out of Cranbrook. Feds and their damn Sentinels are so busy watching the docks and the Mexican border and the airports that the north border is open game. So, while Hector Carasco twists in the wind and struggles to get shipments into the country, Fielding's new contacts drove down with fifty thousand in crank and E in the trunk of their car.

"You're taking Carasco's territory," Jim said with a leaden feeling that made his fingers twitch. The last thing Cascade needed was a gang war.

"We don't have to take his territory, Peters. The government has shut him down, so he has nothing to sell, but you know the old saying: when a door closes, a window opens."

"And Fielding was the window," Jim finished. Wallace smiled.

"Someone on the inside crossed us. I know it wasn't me, and Hanes doesn't have the balls for it, but anyone else…" Wallace let his voice trail off.

"I really won't go down for murder," Jim said as he narrowed his eyes.

"You don't need to get your precious hands dirty. I guess you got enough of prison food in Arizona, huh? You just find the money or the drugs, find out who double crossed us, and if you can make contact with the connection out of Cranbrook, I'll double your fee." Wallace finally slipped his gun back into his waist and sat down at the table. Jim flexed his fingers and pulled them back under the table where they were closer to his own gun.

"And what would the fee be?" Jim asked.

"Ten thousand," Wallace said with a straight face. Jim blinked.

"We're on the verge of becoming a power in Cascade… of replacing Carasco and maybe even giving Furukawa a run for his money, but we can't count on the government forever, so we need to move now. You help me recover from this… disaster… and I will remember you when I run Cascade's drug trade," Wallace leaned back in his chair and watched Jim.

"This could be complicated," Jim answered slowly. "If Fielding was working drugs, Carasco, Furukawa, or a dozen street-level dealers could have caught wind."

"Expenses come out of your fee," Wallace said as he pulled a roll of bills out of his jacket pocket and slammed them down on the table. Then he pulled out a notebook and wrote a few names and numbers in a cramped, uneven handwriting, adding it to the top of the pile. Jim didn't reach out for it until after Wallace had pulled back his hand.

"I'll get what you want," Jim promised as he took the large stack of twenties. The note he folded and carefully slipped inside his wallet. "Whoever is moving in on the drug trade is going to be very sorry he ever heard of Cascade," Jim promised. Tucking the bills into his pocket, Jim took his empty glass in hand and nodded before heading for the door. Simon was not going to be happy… not at all.

Part Six

"Okay, relax and focus on smell," Blair's voice instructed, and Jim tried to ignore the sound of Wilke's pen scratching over paper. "Starting from the time Hanes approached, describe the smells."

Wilke stopped, and in the blessed silence, Jim allowed himself to drift away from his other senses as he focused on the memory. "Scotch," he said as he isolated the sharp alcohol scent that he hadn't even noticed under the other odors. "Exhaust fumes, like from a truck." Wilke started scratching again, and Jim cracked an eye open to look at the man as he sat scribbling notes as he sat on the edge of one of Simon's chairs.

"Will you knock it off, already?! Man, *I* can't hear myself think with you doing that, and I'm not a Sentinel," Blair exploded. Wilke froze, his pen hovering over the page of his notebook as he looked up with wide, surprised eyes.

"I'm just taking notes," he defended himself.

"Take 'em quieter then," Blair grumbled, and Jim could see color rising to Blair's face. His guide didn't like losing his temper, and Blair's body temperature inched up in response to his own embarrassment.

"Okay, truck exhaust," Blair said as he focused on Jim again. Wilke sat still with a stunned expression, and Jim struggled to not smile. "Focus on that smell."

Jim closed his eyes and tried to find the memory, but the ghost scent of rotting animals and drugged sweat and piss overwhelmed him. With a grunt of disgust, he sat up and rubbed a hand over his short beard. It itched.

"Bad?" Blair asked, moving from the chair in front of Jim to the couch next to him. Jim relaxed as strong fingers rubbed his neck, and then the scratching started from the other side of the room.

"That's it," Blair burst out as he jumped up and started toward Wilke. "Out. Out out out. Get out," he ordered. Wilke scrambled out of his chair and hurried for the door, nearly colliding with Simon as the captain opened the door to his own office.

"Wilke," Simon growled as the man barely avoided hitting him and ducked around Simon to retreat to Blair's desk where he had appropriated a corner and a drawer.

"Oh man, that guy is getting on my last nerve," Blair complained as he returned to the couch and threw himself down so hard that Jim could feel the springs pop and recoil.

"That hasn't been hard lately," Simon pointed out as he closed the door and headed for his chair. Jim listened as Blair's heart rate quickened before the man took a few deep, meditative breaths and pushed his long curls back out of his face. "Anything new?" Simon asked as he quickly scanned the papers from his in-box.

"Maybe if that toad had…"

"Exhaust fumes from a truck, too intense to just be from the street, but who knows if that means anything," Jim interrupted his partner. Simon looked up.

"Should I be worried about you two?" he asked.

"Why?" Blair asked, his heart rate speeding again.

"Because you're acting as touchy as my wife during her ninth month of pregnancy. It wasn't pleasant then, and I'm not liking it any more now," Simon pointed out.

"Oh man, I'm just… I don't like having Wilke here," Blair finally finished. Jim watched the worry lines form at the side of Blair's eyes, and he reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Chief, after you sent Cohn packing, Wilke isn't going to start trouble."

"Oh man, I know that, but I just can't get… you know… balanced." Blair held his hands out in front of him and mimicked the motion of tilting scales.

"Get your balance because I don't want you on the streets if you're going to go snapping at everyone," Simon ordered.

"Yeah, right, like I'd be allowed on the streets anyway," Blair muttered so soft that only Jim heard the words; however, from Simon's expression the man had caught the tone.

"Sandburg, if you have a problem, spit it out." That tone would have sent any other member of the department running to insist everything was fine, but Blair set his jaw and crossed his arms over his chest.

"I should be with Jim," he insisted.

"Sandburg, we've talked about this," Simon said in the tone he usually reserved for his son… and usually used when he was reaching the limits of his patience.

"No way should Jim be in there alone with so many smells and sounds assaulting him. What if he zones?"

"And what, exactly, would be your cover? A Deadhead who fell off the truck during the Grateful Dead's last tour through here?"

"Oh man, this is… this is so patriarchal and stereotypical that it's not even funny. Just because I don't fit into your preconceived little box of masculinity, you think I can't take care of myself."

Simon looked over to Jim in confusion, but he could only shrug his shoulders. He had no idea why Blair seemed so short tempered lately. Simon sighed. "Kid, I think most of the men in this building would have trouble taking care of themselves with this crowd."

"See?!" Blair practically yelled. "Kid! I'm a kid to you! And if it's that dangerous, I should be there to back Jim up. If he zones, no *way* are they going to miss that he's a Sentinel."

"Chief, I'm being careful to not use the senses too much. Your exercises when I get back are working wonders, so I don't even try to focus on the senses on site."

"Man, you are not helping."

"If you think I'm going to help you talk your way into this assignment, you need to think again," Jim said. Blair turned and glared at him.

"Sandburg, Jim's been doing this for a long…"

"Not when he's been on line, he hasn't," Blair said. Jim could see the muscles in Blair's face twitch as the man fought against showing the strong emotions he could so often feel running just under Blair's skin. Even though Blair showed the world all his outgoing enthusiasm, he buried his darker emotions so that Jim could only sense them in the twinge of a muscle or the skipping beat of his heart.

"Blair," he said softly.

"Whatever, man," Blair insisted as he pushed up and headed for the door. Jim watched for a half second as Blair pulled the door open and headed into the bull pen. Then he got to his feet and chased after his guide, his long legs closing the distance just as Blair reached the doors to the hall.

"Back off," Blair grunted as he pulled his arm free of Jim's grip, or at least tried to. Seeing far too many eyes on them, Jim pushed Blair out the door and to the left, past Personnel and the men's room to the end where a glowing sign announced the emergency stairs.

"Knock it off. Let go," Blair complained and squirmed, but Jim ignored that as he trapped his guide in the corner of the hall with his own body.

"What the hell has been eating you for the last three days?" Jim demanded. Blair looked up mulishly and pushed against his chest hard enough that Jim had to brace himself and push back as they engaged in a silent war. Eventually, Blair gave up and leaned his head back against the wall, closing his eyes. The sight of that neck curved out made Jim swallow and struggle against a need to grab his guide and bond until he drove every bit of tension out of Blair's body. Instead he reached up and tugged a curl.

"Talk to me, Chief."

"Man, it's nothing."

"Obviously not. Come on, what's running through that pea brain of yours, Darwin?" Jim smiled as Blair cracked open one eye and tilted his head down enough to glare.

"Man. I just feel so damn helpless," he eventually admitted. Jim could feel Blair sag against the wall, and he tucked his hand in behind Blair's neck and pulled his guide close.

"Chief, these memory exercises are helping me recall information I didn't even know I had, and, without you, don't forget that I'd still be in Oak Groves. You're helping."

"I know. I know I'm being unreasonable. Shit, I really need to meditate and find my center again." Blair leaned forward, and Jim opened his arms for his guide, ignoring the hurried footsteps as officers passed the opening to the hall and then rushed by, pretending to not see the two men embracing.

"Not like you have a monopoly on unreasonable," Jim admitted. "But this assignment is no place for a civilian."

"Man, this is bad on my ego; you know that, don't you?" Blair asked into his shirt, and Jim threaded his fingers through Blair's hair, not sure whether he was trying to soothe Blair or himself.

"You want to go beat up some perp down in South-town this weekend?" Jim asked. Blair answered with a punch to his side just hard enough to make him grunt. Then Blair pulled back, and Jim turned all his senses to cataloguing his guide. He looked tired. Even his smell was slightly sour. "You okay, Chief?"

"Yeah, yeah," Blair answered, and then his heart started pounding faster. Jim opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, but Blair pushed past him, fury barely contained inside a tense body.

"Two words, Wilke, 'Fuck' and 'Off'," Blair started down the hallway toward Wilke who stood, notebook in hand, and Jim grabbed Blair's arm, reeling his guide back and grabbing his shoulders. Blair struggled, his back tight with anger and his face promising murder, but Jim held on as Wilke backed up and disappeared through the door to Major Crimes. "Man, I hate that guy," Blair complained as he finally stopped fighting.

"Chief, what the hell is wrong with you?" Jim asked as he felt Blair's body slowly relax.

"Nothing. I've got to go to the bathroom," Blair said as he pulled toward the bathroom. Jim held on for a second. "I think I can handle this one on my own," Blair said with a thin laugh as he pulled himself free. Jim watched as Blair disappeared behind the door, and then he turned to look toward the bull pen where Wilke had disappeared. Making a decision, he strode down the hall and into the bull pen, focusing in on Wilke who stood near the file cabinets at the back of the room.

"What did you say to him?" Jim demanded as he navigated the room without looking away from the USSP guide. Blair had been happy before Wilke and Cohn showed up, and it didn't take a rocket science to figure out that the current short-tempered and stressed version of Blair showed up at the same time the USSP guides had. Wilke pressed back into the cabinets for a moment, before stepping forward with a mulish expression of his own.

"I haven't said anything to upset Mr. Sandburg."

"Bullshit," Jim said as he stepped forward into Wilke's space. "You've done or said something, and I want to know what." Jim watched as Wilke's eyes dilated in fear and guilt.

"If Mr. Sandburg has a problem with me, Captain Ellison, it's not because of anything I've done."

Jim moved forward, stopping only when his chest touched Wilke, making the man's heart race even though he kept a calm expression. "Detective…. Detective Ellison, and funny enough, I don't believe you."

"Jim?" Rafe's voice called from behind, but Jim continued to stare down at the USSP guide with his starched brown uniform and green patch and shined shoes. He was everything Jim hated about the guides: controlled and controlling and arrogant enough to think they could do anything. "Jim," Rafe called louder.

"Detective Ellison," Wilke said, emphasizing the first word, "I haven't done anything to Mr. Sandburg other than observe his interactions with you."

"And it's time you stopped doing that," Jim said, his jaw aching as he fought the urge to shake the man until he confessed to doing something to upset Blair.

"I'm here officially as part of—"

Jim stopped the man's words by grabbing the guide by the shirt and slamming him into the filing cabinets hard enough to make the wall rattle.

"Jim!" Rafe's hand closed over Jim's forearm, pulling at him, and Jim allowed himself to be pulled away, the stench of Wilke's fear strong in his nose. "Back off," Rafe insisted as he got between the two men. Jim just continued to glare at Wilke.

"You stay away from Blair… clear your shit out of his desk, and keep your distance," Jim threatened, pointing his finger with stabbing motions that made it very clear he'd really rather just take a punch.

"Ellison," Simon's bellow interrupted any Wilke-beating fantasies.

"Sir?" Jim turned his back on Wilke, not wanting to even look at the man any more.

Simon looked from Wilke to Jim and back several times until Blair came through the bull pen doors, the wood doors clacking shut behind him. Simon then glanced that direction before making up his mind. "Jim needs to check out a few locations; Rafe, you drive Blair and stay in close contact in case Jim needs back up or his guide. Wilke, get out of my bull pen," Simon ordered before turning and retreating to his office.

"I miss something?" Blair asked in confusion, but Jim just snagged his guide's backpack on his way past their desks, pushing Blair ahead of him to get his guide away from Wilke. "Guys?" Blair asked again.

"You're riding with me, Hairboy," Rafe said as he followed the two of them out to the elevators.

"Oh man, what'd I miss?" Blair asked with more enthusiasm than Jim had heard for days. If it took roughing up a few USSP guides to bring back Blair's usually bouncing mood and drive the tension out of his guide's body, Jim was more than willing to provide the fists.

"Nothing interesting, Chief," Jim said as he herded Blair onto the elevator.

"You are such a liar," Blair accused him as the door closed. Rafe snorted his agreement.


Part Seven

"Chief, get back in the car," Jim growled as he watched his guide come trotting down the street, closing the distance between Rafe's car and his truck.

"Not a chance, man. Back at Fielding's place, you had a cover, and I'm cool with that… okay, not exactly cool, but whatever. Anyway, you have no business snooping around Carasco's place, so if you get caught, there's no cover for me to blow." Blair slowed to a walk as he got closer to the truck, stopping a few feet away to stand with his arms crossed with a clear 'make me' expression.

"If I get caught, I don't want you anywhere near me."

"I'm going to be with you so you *don't* get caught," Blair shot back. Jim looked past Blair to Rafe who stood near the brown sedan. The man held his hands up in a classic surrender pose and backed up a step. Jim sighed. Leave it to him to pick the world's most stubborn guide.

"This is—"

"Dangerous, police-business, unsafe, yadda, yadda, yadda." Blair made little 'yadda' motions with his hand as he nearly chanted the words. Then he angled away from the road and headed up the hill.

"Blair," Jim nearly growled.

"Look, unless I miss my guess, we've got a good mile, mile and a half hike up to the house, so can we do less complaining and more actual walking?"

Jim started after Blair, grabbing the man's arm. With a yank, he brought Blair back down the hillside and crashing into his chest.

"Geez, big guy. Didn't know you were into exhibitionism," Blair joked breathily as he braced a hand on Jim's upper arm.

"Sandburg," Jim warned him.

"Jim," Blair mimicked his tone. "No way am I staying behind. You're going to have to use your senses up there, and I'm going with you. That's what guides do, and if you leave me behind to sit and do nothing…" Blair stopped, his words failing him, and Jim could hear the tremor beneath the voice. Blair stood still, leaning heavily against Jim's chest for a moment, and then he pulled himself free. Jim studied the body language, the stiff back and narrowed eyes and tight mouth that all screamed Blair's distress.

A flash of Rob in his captain's uniform formed in Jim's memory: the man ordering Jim to back off the testosterone, the man laughingly punching Jim's arm, the man screaming Jim's name in agony as another rod pushed into his flesh so that Jim could smell the burning flesh and blood. A dark part of him uncurled and wanted nothing more than to handcuff his guide to the car where he'd be safe. Jim reached out and grabbed Blair, crushing him to his chest as he fought back the swelling memories and the nausea they brought with them.

"Jim?" Blair whispered as arms went around his waist, and Jim struggled to separate the smell of that distant land and the sound of screams from the present where his whole, safe guide stood in his arms.

"I don't want you hurt," Jim admitted as he rested his cheek on the top of Blair's head. He gritted his teeth to get the next part out. "You stay behind me, and you do what I tell you to. If I say run, you run, and you don't look back."

"I won't leave you," Blair answered as his arms tightened around Jim's waist. Those words echoed in Jim's mind, the promise he'd whispered to Rob as his guide stood at the bottom of that trap, eyes black with fear and sour sweat smell like rotting fish laying on a sea shore. Jim breathed through his mouth trying to escape the scent. He fought with his instincts, reminding himself that the man in his arms was Blair and not Rob.

"Chief, if I say run, you will go get help. You aren't a soldier or a cop," Jim said as he pulled himself out of his memories and straightened up. His rough stubble caught at Blair's hair so that long curls clung to his face. Jim reached a hand up to wipe his face free of the strands that tickled at his lips and cheek.

"God, it's like hugging a cocker spaniel," he complained.

"Hey, you try getting hugged by a porcupine," Blair shot back as he pulled away, smoothing his hair back down, but Jim could still see the concern as Blair studied him carefully. Jim started up the hill, deliberately ignoring Rafe who must have wondered what the hell they were doing.

"You stay behind me and do what I say, or I will give you the mother of all whisker burns," Jim threatened.

"Bully," Blair complained mildly, but Jim noticed the man also waited until Jim got a step ahead of him before following. "Now just remember, keep focused nice and wide with all the senses. Don't let yourself get distracted," Blair whispered. Jim relaxed into the moment as his senses expanded, the sounds and scents from thousands of sources flowing past him.

"I still wish you'd stay at the car," Jim groused.

"Dream on, fuzz boy," Blair answered, and Jim just grunted as he hiked up the hill and kept in the shadow of the trees as they approached the perimeter of Carasco's property.

"What now, oh great god of special ops?" Blair asked as they looked at the wire fence that divided open land from the crime lord's property.

"This would be a lot easier if the feds weren't being such dicks," Jim commented as he eyed the wires and listened to the electronic hum of circuits. Pulling Blair around to the far side of his body, he started walking the fence line with his guide beside him.

"Aren't they always?" Blair asked.

Jim paused, confirming a squirrel as the source of a scratching sound before answering. "Yeah, but they had Carasco under surveillance without informing us. And they could get a federal search warrant within the day."

"But… I thought… do you have any evidence Carasco killed Fielding?" Blair paused, and Jim absent-mindedly pulled him back into motion without taking his eyes off the fence.

"Federal warrant wouldn't be for Fielding, but that doesn't mean they couldn't poke around."

"Man, that's…"

"Chief, now is not the time for a civics lesson. Carasco is the bad guy, and we use the tools we have to use to catch him."

"Still not cool. And if I had a vote, I would call breaking into his property not cool, too," Blair whispered. Jim stopped and considered a limb, mentally weighing himself and his partner before continuing to walk the fence, their footsteps grinding the leaves into the damp soil.

"If I were a cop, yeah," Jim agreed. "But I'm a thug hired by Wallace to break in here and look for drugs or money. If I happen to find evidence of a murder, it's covered under the inadvertent discovery exception."

"Man, bogus. Supreme Court never should have reinstated that exception," Blair muttered.

"Look, can we please have this discussion some other time?" Jim stopped and glared down at his partner.

"Hey, just saying," Blair shrugged, and Jim jerked his thumb toward a tree.

"Can you climb?" he asked. Blair looked at him strangely for a second and then followed the direction of the thumb to the tree.

"No problem. Up and over?" he asked as he headed for the tree in question.

"Yeah, just don't touch the wire," Jim agreed. Blair clambered up the tree, quiet curses the whole time, and Jim followed. "Straight out on that limb, and then drop onto the other side," he said as Blair reached the right branch.

"No shit, Sherlock," Blair grunted, and Jim clenched his teeth to avoid saying something back. As they moved into enemy territory, his stomach tightened, and he could feel something cold settle into his skin… something that made him want to break anyone who came near Blair.

Blair dropped down to the other side, rolling slightly but avoiding the wire at the last second. Jim hadn't realized that he had stopped breathing until he started again, dropping down next to Blair in a few seconds. The trees were thinner on this side, the shadow of each tree falling separately across the hill like bars. Jim stepped into one of the shadows with his back to the tree, and pulled Blair to his chest.

"Hear something?" Blair hissed.

"I need to listen," Jim whispered back, and Blair froze in place, his heart pounding so hard that Jim could feel the vibrations of it in his forearms as he held Blair around the chest. Using that to center himself, Jim leaned around the trunk of the tree and looked across the grounds to the brick mansion, focusing until he could see through the panes of glass with their white trimmed wood.

Focusing, he caught one heartbeat downstairs. Compared to his guide's heartbeat, the sound was faint and muffled. A second and third beat came into focus, even farther away. Jim struggled to find their source.

"Anyone?" Blair whispered so softly that anyone else would have heard only a breath, but Jim gave a short nod as an answer.

"I can't tell how far they are," he admitted after struggling to focus. In the USSP, he'd learned to use background noise to identify distance and even provide a rough triangulation for location, but he struggled to just follow the faint beats.

"Where?" Blair breathed.

"The house."

Blair squirmed in his arms, and Jim glared down, frustrated at having his concentration broken.

"Oh man, you can hear heartbeats in the house? Oh man. That is…" Blair hesitated. "That's so cool!" Jim almost smiled at the raw enthusiasm.

"Can it, Chief. This isn't some test," he growled instead

"Yeah, but that must be a good 500 yards away. No way can they hear us, and you're picking up their heartbeats. We are so testing this."

"After Wilke leaves," Jim promised as he pulled Blair back to his body, reversing their positions so that he pressed Blair's back to the tree, leaning his own body in to keep his guide still. A burst of pheromones caught him off guard, and he felt his body tighten in response.

"Chief, you have issues," he complained as he loosened his hold. The pheromones faded, but still drifted around him as he studied the house.

"Normal human reaction to stimulus and danger," Blair whispered back, and Jim shook his head as the world suddenly sharpened. The edges of the bricks came into focus so that he could see the pores in the material and follow the grain of the wood trim under the white paint. The heartbeats he was tracking intensified. If someone had ordered him to describe it, Jim could only say that the sounds became somehow shiny, as though they stood out from all the background, their tempo shining brightly in his ears. Since that didn't make sense, even to him, he said nothing. He just leaned into Blair again, focusing as he placed two heartbeats in the house, their sounds echoing through the rooms, and one on the far side of the house.

"Okay, we're clear," he said as he came out from the shadow of the tree, holding his arm out slightly to the side to keep Blair behind him. Without waiting for an answer, he started toward the house in an easy lope that left Blair panting to keep up. Jim kept up the pace until they reached the house. Then he pushed Blair up against the brick and listened for any sounds of alarm.

Beside him, Blair wheezed and leaned over to brace himself on his knees. Jim pushed him upright again.

"You'll catch your breath faster," he whispered as Blair gave him a withering look, about all the man could do as his face glowed red and his heart pounded madly. Hearing nothing, Jim started edging toward the back side of the house, listening as the third heartbeat vanished under the sound of a small engine… a lawnmower or small tractor. The machine moved away, taking the heart beat with it, and Jim reached the corner of the building, glancing around it.

"And what…" pant, "exactly are we looking for?" Blair gasped.

"Whatever we find," Jim answered as he turned the corner and settled in on his knees behind a large bush. Blair moved into the dark space next to him, and Jim draped an arm over the man's shoulder as he focused on hearing.

A maid sang softly to her music, the hum of her vacuum cleaner hiding the actual tune. A television played a rerun of some old mystery movie. A woman's voice spoke in Spanish on the phone. Now that he was closer, Jim could hear two more heartbeats: the one who had driven the tractor/lawnmower back to the garage on the far side of the property talked to someone else about pests in the orchids.

Jim looked around. Sure enough, a greenhouse stood not far away. So, Jim had either heard a code word or was about to investigate some dangerous aphids. Nodding his head toward the structure, Jim carefully eased out of the bushed and hurried to the insubstantial door. He pulled a cloth from his pocket and wrapped his hand before he grabbed the doorknob. Locked. Pulling at it, he easily popped the lock with just brute strength.

Beside him, Blair stood with the red in his face centered into blotches and his eyes dark with either excitement or fear… those two emotions looked the same. Jim took a deep breath and decided that it was mostly excitement with only a few sour wisps of panic. Jim took one look around and then slipped inside the building, holding the door open for Blair who had wisely jammed his hands deep into his pockets.

"Okay, breathe easy, don't get too focused on any one thing," Blair whispered. Jim would have snapped that he knew how to do his job except that the words did his calm his stressed senses, making him aware of even the air moving across his skin.

"Blood," he whispered as he turned toward the pungent smell.

"Oh man. Okay, don't get focused in too tightly, just let yourself follow the smell," Blair said as a hand came out to rest on Jim's back. Jim wandered the rows of orchids lined up on tables, ignoring the damp smell of earth and the tart scent of growing plants. Turning a corner he spotted the chair, red drops patterned in an arch around the feet and a rust smear along the edge of the table.

"Oh man, is that blood?"

Jim ignored his guide as he focused in. The drops bulged at one side, the shape pointing back at the chair, so this blood hadn't just fallen. The pattern suggested a quick cutting motion, a knife swung with enough force to send drops spiraling out into the air. Focusing in on the edge of the table, he could see how blood had been forced into the grain of the wood. Reaching out, he could feel a slight ridge where something sharp had run across the table, making the wood bulge slightly on either side.

"Shit. He killed someone here, didn't he?" Blair asked, the warm hand now leaning more heavily against Jim's back.

"Probably," Jim agreed. The blood wasn't enough to kill anyone, but the caustic fear-scent had soaked into the wooden chair. Jim moved and ran sensitive fingers over the warm grain, feeling tiny furry bits where the grain had been ever-so-slightly broken exactly where ropes would have most effectively tied a prisoner to the chair.

Jim reached in his pocket and took out evidence bags. Using the edge of his knife, he scraped bits of blood from the table and floor into separate bags, scribbling something on each before sealing them and jamming the tiny things into his pocket.

"Let's get out of here, Chief," Jim said. Only then did he hear the heartbeat closing in on them. Footsteps pounded right at them, and Jim felt the panic twist in his chest as he grabbed Blair and pushed him under a table. Damn. No cover. Jim stopped breathing as he knelt down, pulling his gun and putting himself between the door and Blair who crouched under the table frozen and now stinking of terror.

"Oh shit."

Jim put a hand up to his guide's mouth, afraid that even that small breathy curse could attract the enemy. Blair's hand closed over his wrist, holding him, and Jim pushed himself partially under the table, pulling Blair to him as the world darkened. The enemy stood at the door, and Jim focused his eyes on the shadow he could see through the frosted glass. He wouldn't lose Blair, no matter what he had to do. The door started swinging open, and Jim crouched lower as he waited for a chance to attack.


Part Eight

"Father?" a soft voice called. Jim lowered himself into a crouch and rested one hand against the ground. His guide broke his concentration by then punching him lightly in the side. Jim glared, grabbing the offending hand and holding it tightly as they had a silent war under the table.

"Father, are you in here?" the woman called again, and Blair wrenched his arm, only to have Jim tighten his grip and pull his guide closer. Jim opened his mouth to hiss a warning a second too late: Blair's foot kicked the bottom of a rake and sent the handle clattering to the floor. Jim tightened his grip even more, only to have Blair wiggle by him and stand.

Jim desperately pulled at Blair, but Blair rested his second hand on Jim's arm as he looked over the table toward the door.

"Oh, hey. Um. Yeah, I probably shouldn't be here, huh?" he stammered. Jim held his breath, his instinct as a cop and his instincts as a Sentinel warring.

"Who are you?" the girl demanded, her voice now shrill.

"Simon… Simon Yond. I, uh, wanted to see your father's orchids."

"What?" the girl asked, mirroring Jim's own confusion at this particular lie.

"Well, you see, there's this big orchid show coming up in a month, and I've been growing this beautiful Holiday orchid—red with white edges and a deep yellow throat—and I've been toying with the idea of entering the show, but I know your father has some beautiful flowers. I just don't have money to throw away."

Jim was still confused, and the girl clearly was too, but at least she took a small step closer. Jim tightened his grip on his gun and his guide. He wouldn't let her pull his guide away. He remembered when the tranquilizer darts had struck, the sedative making him weave unsteadily as he held onto Rob, determined to not let anyone else hurt his guide. He remembered Rob's hand resting on his, murmuring soft words that had been lies. Jim gritted his teeth as he held on tighter.

"What?" she repeated.

"Entering the show. That takes money, man, lots of money. I just wanted a sneak preview of the competition to see if I had… you know… a shot in hell of winning."

"You broke in to look at my father's orchids?"

"I prefer to think of it as…" Blair laughed briefly, "okay, it is breaking in, but can I plead breaking in for a good cause?" Blair strained against Jim's hold, and Jim clenched his teeth. If he held on, the girl would notice something wrong. He knew he had to let go or risk exposing Blair, but he didn't want to do anything other than wrap himself around his guide and hold him close. Jim felt his heart pounding painfully as he let go.

"How did you get in here?" the girl asked, and Jim stayed motionless and fought an urge to growl as Blair edged slightly away from him, holding his hands up.

"Nothing more nefarious than climbing a tree, honest," Blair said with his most charming voice, the voice that made the commissioner forgive his cultural liaison's constant tardiness.

"To see orchids?" The girl's voice still sounded uncertain, but now amusement colored her voice nearly as strongly as her South American accent.

"Well, at the time, I thought orchids were the only things to see. I would have climbed that tree a long time ago if I thought you might catch me."

Jim waited as a silence fell on the greenhouse, interrupted only by the rustling leaves as the open door let in the wind.

"You're rather bold," she said cautiously, and Jim heard her shuffle forward a bit more. He gritted his teeth.

"Well, I figure, hey, take my chance now because you're probably on the verge of calling the cops," Blair shrugged. "Not that I blame you because I did break in."

"I do not think I need the police. I am Maya, Maya Carasco."

"Nice to meet you Maya." Even from the ground, Jim could see how Blair's smile moved his entire face… the way the wrinkles appear at the edges of his eyes and his teeth showed, and his whole face lit up as he looked at the girl. Jim found whole new reasons to growl, but he reined in instincts that would have him snatch his guide back and fight whatever threatened them himself.

"Do I know you?"

Blair walked around the edge of the table and took a few steps toward the door, a few steps that felt like the length of a football field from where Jim crouched.

"I work over at that coffee place by the university, ever come by there?" Blair asked.

"Yes. I work at Rainier as a research assistant; I must have seen you there."

"Yeah, would you like extra foam with that?" Blair's voice mimicked the droning tone of every fast food worker Jim had ever ordered from. "That's why I just don't have money to waste, and looking around this place, I would be flushing my money right down the toilet," Blair offered in a conspiratorial tone.

"I'm sure you would do well if you entered," Maya immediately hurried to assure Blair, and Jim forced his hand to relax as Blair closed the distance. He couldn't even see the two now, and Jim could feel a tingling cramp in his chest that demanded he protect the guide. His wrist ached and he fought his body's need to reach out.

"Oh man, you're nice to say it, but I am way outclassed by your father. Way," Blair repeated morosely. "Um, not to take advantage or anything, but any chance I could get an escort out the front gate because I am really not looking forward to climbing that tree again. I break my leg, and my health insurance will send me to Haiti for a doctor."

Maya laughed. Jim seriously hated the girl already.

"I think I can arrange that," she said.

"Cool. Oh man, you have one awesome place here. So, what are you studying over at Rainier?" he asked as the two of them went out the greenhouse door. Jim shoved his weapon back into his holster hard enough to make the leather creak in protest, and then he crept to the door, listening as Blair chatted up Maya all the way down the long driveway.

Not hearing any other voices, Jim slipped out the door and ran as fast as he could toward the woods. His foot slipped on the damp ground, and he slammed into the earth with a knee that flared hot with pain. He dismissed it. He kept an ear out for his guide's mindless chatter as he cleared the fence and raced down the hill where his truck and Rafe's car waited.

He had made it half way down the hill before Rafe noticed him, getting out of the car with his gun drawn as he scanned the land. Jim ignored the man, digging in his pocket for his keys as he crashed into the side of his truck without bother to slow down. The detour to find the right tree branch had cost him too much time, and he could hear Maya and Blair wandering closer even as his guide distracted the girl with stories of the state flower.

Jim pulled open the door to the driver's side and shoved the key in the ignition before he turned and ran for Rafe's car. He could hear Blair and Maya's heart beats pass the dull thumps of a third person. The guard. If he spotted anything unusual, he would stop Blair, escort him back up to the house while he checked things out. He would take Blair. Jim felt his stomach push bile up until he could taste the bitterness.

"Back up, back up," he snarled as he pulled on the passenger side door, slapping the roof when Rafe didn't open it fast enough. Rafe didn't even ask as he unlatched the door and threw the car into reverse, backing down the quiet road until he could steer the car into the entrance for a service road where bushes hid them from the truck.

When Rafe opened his mouth, Jim held up a hand to hold the man off as he listened to Blair and Maya chat as they wandered to the truck.

"You are very trusting," Maya laughed after the keys jingled.

"Yeah, well I'm the kind of guy who breaks into people's houses to look at flowers; what'd you expect?" Blair answered with a voice Jim could imagine went with one of Blair blushing smiles.

"I don't know what to expect from you Simon Yond."

"Yeah, I get that a lot, being all unpredictable-guy, but thank you for not having me arrested."

"An interesting way to start a friendship," Maya said so softly Jim had to strain.

"A friendship. I hope so."

"Call." Jim couldn't hear anything else, but he could imagine any number of possibilities as the silence continued until finally the truck door slammed shut.

"Hey, some of us don't have superpowers. Do I need to call back up?" Rafe finally demanded when Jim scrubbed his face with his hand. He truly hated his beard.

"What?" he asked. Just then, his truck drove by, Blair in the driver's side.

"Back up. Do we need back up?" Rafe repeated, starting the car and pulling out on the road behind Blair without any prompting from Jim.

"Yeah, to keep me from strangling him when I get my hands around his neck," Jim agreed.

"Ellison?" Rafe glanced over and then focused on the road as Jim reached out his window and slammed the flashing light on the roof. The brake lights of the truck lit, and the right turn signal blinked on as Blair slowed down.

"Ellison, you're not going to break anyone else's nose, are you?" Rafe asked. Jim glanced over, and the reminder of the day he'd lost all control shamed him into speech.

"We were cornered, so Blair decided to show himself and talk his way out of it," Jim growled. Rafe braked as the truck pulled over to the shoulder, but he didn't comment other than to make an 'o' with his mouth and raise his eyebrows in surprise. Not even waiting for the car to completely, stop, Jim jumped out and closed on the truck.

Before he could reach the door, Blair was out and holding up his hands in surrender. "Whoa there, big guy. I was just—" Blair stopped with a yelp when Jim grabbed him by the belt, pulling him forward and then putting him stomach first into the side of the truck.

"You're under arrest for driving without a license or proof of insurance," Jim growled as he pulled out his handcuffs. He pulled Blair's hands back, clicking the metal in place while using his own body to press Blair to the truck.

"Man, you so have insurance. You probably have insurance on your insurance," Blair pointed out.

"But you don't have the proof of it, Chief," Jim answered as he took Blair by the arm and walked him around the truck. The minute he caught sight of Rafe standing by the open door to his car with his mouth hanging open, Jim suspected he might have gone too far.

"Blair?" Rafe asked cautiously, looking like he was ready to run or call the guys in the little white coats. Jim pulled Blair closer.

"It's okay, man. He's just being cranky."

"I'm just—" Jim nearly saw red at his guide's casual words. "You could have been killed," he snapped as he dragged Blair around to the other side where he opened the passenger side door. He held Blair's arm for balance while the man climbed in and got in the seat. Jim slammed the door as hard as he could and then went around to the other side.

"Ellison?" Rafe tried again.

"Just back off," Jim snapped as he got behind the wheel and slammed his own door. Reaching over he pulled the seat belt over a silent Blair before fastening his own and starting the truck.

"And add driving without a seatbelt," Jim added as he pulled out onto the road, the fury and fear and relief and pain all rolling around in his chest until he felt almost physically bruised. Blair didn't answer.


Part Nine

Blair watched as Jim drove so slowly and carefully that other drivers passed with blaring horns that made his Sentinel's jaw clench. He half expected Jim to carry through with his rather elaborate threat to arrest him, but instead of pulling onto Pender Street, Jim turned on 17th and headed toward Prospect.

Blair shifted a little to ease the strain on his arms, but he stilled when something that sounded suspiciously like a growl came from the other side of the cab. Looking over, Blair could see Jim's fists clutching the wheel so tightly that his knuckles were white and the bones stretched the skin until his hands looked faintly inhuman.

Jim turned onto Prospect near their place and continued driving like an eighty year old woman with a new set of china in back. Pulling into the parking space, Jim got out, and Blair watched him walk around the front of the truck with rolling, graceful motion that reminded him of an angry cat. He jerked the passenger side door open and reached over Blair to unhook the seat belt.

"Jim, I don't think the neighbors will be amused with you dragging me around handcuffed," Blair said softly. Jim stopped, his arm still reaching across Blair's body and a single flickering glance up the only evidence that he'd heard. When hands pulled at him, Blair slid out of the truck without complaint, rolling his eyes when Jim slung a jacket over his shoulders.

"Yeah, a jacket when it's so hot outside plastic lawn chairs are melting," he muttered, but Jim just tightened his grip on Blair's arm as he pulled his guide into the building, and Blair bit his tongue.

The truth was that as much as he wanted to kick Jim's ass for manhandling him, a teeny, tiny, small little piece of him warmed at the possessiveness. Of course, that didn't mean he was going to get his Sentinel get away with handcuffing him and shoving him in the truck every time Blair did something he didn't like. If he let Jim get away with that, he was going to spend a whole lot of time handcuffed… and bondage was not nearly as much fun out of the bedroom as in it.

"I can't believe you," Jim finally spat out as the elevator rose.

"Worked," Blair answered softly with an awkward shrug. The elevator doors opened, and Blair followed as Jim led him down the hall. When Jim trapped him between the wall and his own body to unlock the door, Blair felt the stirrings of suspicion. Jim's focused on the key, his hand gripping the metal tightly as he jammed it at the lock twice before getting it in.

"Jim?" Blair leaned toward his Sentinel, but Jim turned his eyes away as he pushed the door open.

"In," Jim ordered tersely. Blair slipped into the loft and shrugged his shoulders to make the jacket slide to the floor. Then he watched as Jim locked the door before stalking over to the windows where he closed each blind and checked every lock. Sighing, Blair toed off his sneakers, kicking them under the coffee table before he sat on the couch and pulled his feet under him.

Jim gave him a sharp look at the movement, and now Blair could see black eyes ringed in blue as Jim scented the air. A movement caught Blair's eye, and he looked down to see Jim slowly rubbing his right wrist, his hand twisting first one way and then the other.

"Jim, are you hurt?" Blair asked, noticing for the first time the trail of slimy mud down one knee. Without even answering, Jim did a circuit through the bathroom and kitchen, and Blair leaned back, rolling his eyes at the thought of a bad guy hiding in with the color-coded Tupperware.

"You know, you could thank me for getting us both out of there," Blair shouted as Jim went to subdue the evil dust bunnies on the second floor. If they were going to have a fight, he wanted to have it and get it over with; however, his cranky sentinel didn't even bother answering.

Blair closed his eyes and tilted his head back on the couch. "She was a girl looking for her father. She wasn't actually any threat. If you'd done your cop thing with her, you would have been stuck fighting your way past their guards. I took a risk, yes, but it was the best move we could have made. No way would I have done anything like that if Carasco or some random thug had walked in the greenhouse." Blair stopped and gasped as hot breath flowed over his neck.

Opening his eyes, he found Jim leaning over him, black eyes staring down while Jim rested his hands on the back of the couch on either side of Blair's head.

"Man, I was just doing the right thing," Blair said as Jim's eyes moved down his body. Then hands took over, fingers running through his hair, down his face and around his neck. Clumsy hands pulled at the buttons of his shirt, unfastening some and ripping others before hot hands ran along his chest, rubbing over tender, peaked nipples and reaching around to caress his back.

"Oh fuck," Blair breathed as Jim touched every bit of him. The rational part of Blair's brain pointed out that his sentinel only wanted to make sure the guide was whole and safe; however that half of his brain went on strike as Jim's hands moved down, fumbling with his jeans.

"Uncuff me and I'll help," Blair promised, his cock starting to ache with the pressure. Jim ignored him. Finally his jeans were off, and sentinel hands mapped the rest of him. Gasping with need as fingers ghosted over curves and skimmed across his skin leaving tingling trails, Blair arched up into Jim's touch. But for every movement he made, Jim matched him so that he teased without ever giving enough contact for Blair to do more than writhe in need.

"You're killing me here," Blair finally gasped, and that seemed to shake Jim out of his silence.

"You could have been killed," Jim growled, and now hands settled at Blair's hips, holding him so tightly that Blair couldn't thrust up.

"I took a risk," Blair admitted, and now he could watch as the dark iris of Jim's eye widened. "But it was the best way out of the situation," he hurried to add.

"You could have been killed," Jim accused him again, standing up. Again, the left hand started rubbing the opposing wrist, and Blair watched the gesture. Jim's wrist wasn't injured, but he had a pretty good idea why it bothered him. Sentinels had remarkably good sensory memories, able to relive a moment so that they felt and saw and smelled everything.

"I'm safe, and I'm right here," Blair said as he leaned forward, frustrated that the handcuffs kept him from reaching out to Jim.

"Damn it," Jim snarled as he turned away and charged back to the kitchen. Blair watched as he yanked open the refrigerator hard enough to make a take out menu flutter to the floor as the magnet holding it fell. He grabbed a cold beer and then slammed the refrigerator, leaning on it so that Blair could only see his back.

"Man, I'm the guide. You gotta talk to me here," Blair tried. Jim turned on him with such a fierce expression, that Blair instantly shut up.

"You're not a cop, Junior. You're not a cop or a soldier and you have no business pulling shit like that. On the job, I am in charge, and I recall telling you to stay behind me."

Blair took a deep breath as he gathered his arguments; of course, naked and handcuffed wasn't really a good starting point for a serious conversation.

"If some thug had walked in, I would have been totally behind you, probably cowering and praying to at least a dozen gods, but it wasn't some thug," Blair explained calmly. It didn't impress Jim.

"You think you can look at a person and tell if they're dangerous or not? Chief, you have some growing up to do."

"Don't even start that crap. I understand the big, bad world, and that doesn't mean I'm going to flinch away from danger. What kind of a guide would I be if I didn't actually back you up?"

"I don't need your back up," Jim snapped before taking a long drink of beer. For a second, Blair felt as though he'd been kicked in the guts, his stomach tightening until he didn't know if he wanted to cry or be sick. If he'd had a chance, he would have walked out the door, and as he glared at Jim, he could see the smug expression on the man's face slowly turn to guilt. Jim's eyes darted away to the closed balcony door and then to the silent television.

"I'm your guide, and that means I back you up whether you need me or not," Blair finally answered quietly.

"Fuck." Jim leaned against the counter and looked as though he had aged ten years in a single moment. "Chief…" Jim stopped.

"Man, I can imagine that you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed and more than a little cranky right now, but I'm your guide, and that means I am going to follow you into the field."

"I don't want you in the field," Jim snapped back.

"Oh man, you take the cake. You think I don't feel the same way?" Blair finally exploded. "Don't you think I worry every time you go off by yourself and leave me wondering if you'll have a zone or a spike or just get shot in the fucking back like that cop a couple of years ago? Do you really think you have some sort of fucking monopoly on being completely freaked out?"

"It's my job," Jim said as he stepped closer, his voice low.

"It's my job too; I'm the guide."

"It's not—"

"Don't fucking go there. Remember Ms. Cassidy, the rape victim that I reassured by pulling out the sentinel card? Remember how pissed you were because you didn't want her looking at you like you were some sort of Superman? You were right! You were right to slam me into that wall… you were right to call me on that hero worship thing. You aren't Superman; you're just a damn good cop with sentinel senses. So, you need to stop thinking you're Superman and that you can do this shit alone." Blair didn't realize he had stood up, but he found himself chest to chest with Jim, his jeans still bunched around one ankle and his shirt hanging from his handcuffed wrists.

"You are not a cop," Jim repeated, the muscle in his jaw bulging in frustration.

"But I'm a guide," Blair countered. "I'm a cold guide," he pointed out as he eyed the air conditioning vent that sent chilly slivers of air across his bare chest. Jim went over to the chair and grabbed the blanket draped over the back before coming back and sliding it over Blair's shoulders. Then a strong arm guided him back to the couch, sitting him down.

"Chief, there are some things you can't do," Jim started, and Blair leaned back and looked over at Jim who sat next to him.

"Because it reminds you too much of Rob?" Blair guessed as he glanced down at Jim's uninjured wrist. Jim narrowed his eyes.


"Your wrist," Blair nodded toward Jim's hand.

"You lost me somewhere, Chief. You want to lay down a trail of breadcrumbs?"

"Your wrist, you keep rubbing it, but it isn't hurt. You're remembering Rob, aren't you?" Blair asked. He could see the sudden tension in Jim's shoulders.

"This is about you and your inability to follow orders."

"Yeah, and it's about you and your over-protective streak."

"It's instinctive."

"Man, do you even listen when I talk to those USSP creeps? Guides have instincts too, and mine say to protect you and stay close to you," Blair snapped back. Jim had stopped himself from rubbing his wrist, but now he scratched at his stubbly beard.

"I can't lose you," he finally admitted, and Blair's chest tightened at the fear in his voice.

"Oh man, I can't lose you either; that's why I did that. I wouldn't put myself in danger if I had a choice. Not only am I really not into dying, but if I were in trouble, I trust you to come blasting in like the charge of the light brigade."

"I would," Jim said, and fingers found Blair's body again, this time moving more slowly as they crept across his thigh.

"Most of the light brigade died. It was a massacre, which makes it less than poetic in my book," Blair shivered as the fingers moved to the inside of his thigh and ran trails through his fine hairs.

"I'd still charge in," Jim said, and his hand moved to grip Blair's thigh as his other hand found Blair's hair. Blair squirmed as Jim kissed him, claiming his mouth fiercely as the hand on his thigh tightened. Giving up on talking, Blair focused on returning the kiss.

Eventually Jim pulled away, his eyes dark again, but this time with lust. "Shit," he cursed softly, and Blair thought for a minute that Jim was fumbling with his pants, but then the man pulled out a handcuff key. "I'm so sorry," he said as he reached under the blanket. Blair twisted himself to keep his hands out of reach.

"Leave them."

"But—" Jim stopped, truly looking at him, and Blair could feel himself blush. Of course, Jim's sense could probably pick up a lot more… like how turned on he was with Jim looking rough and dangerous and how much he liked being cuffed. Jim smiled seductively, and the hand exploring Blair's back pushed him forward, off the couch.

"Upstairs," Jim ordered, and Blair kicked his jeans off his foot before heading for the stairs. The blanket slipped off him halfway up, and Jim didn't even stop for to pick it up as he followed, his hands lingering on Blair's body: touching a hip, cupping his ass, brushing by an arm.

By the time Blair stood beside the bed, his cock stood hard and aching. Jim brought out the keys again, and Blair opened his mouth to protest.

"I won't hurt you, so let me make a few adjustments," Jim silenced him, and then a hand on his arm turned him toward the bed. He waited silently as Jim unlocked one wrist and pulled the shirt away. But rather than unlock the second wrist, Jim guided him onto the bed, settling him on his back before pushing his hands through the rail and locking the handcuffs again.

Blair squirmed as Jim turned away, slowly stripping his own clothes as he wandered the room.

"Oh man," Blair breathed as Jim stood in the light from the skylight, his muscles defined in shadow as he rummaged in the dresser. Jim turned and smiled, and even with the rough beard and earring, Blair could see tenderness in Jim that made him trust the man.

"See something you like, Sandburg?" he asked as he prowled closer to the bed. Blair swallowed.

Jim reached the bed and ran a finger up the bottom of Blair's foot. The warmth crawled up Blair's leg, leaving a phantom heat behind as he jerked. Jim's hand closed over his ankle, pressing it to the bed in warning before Jim took the other ankle and pushed Blair's legs apart.

"Oh fuck," Blair muttered as he watched the predator smiling down at him with a deadly charm that made his balls tighten. Oh yeah, he might not have been gay before Jim, but Blair had to admit that he couldn't ever think of going back to a woman after being the center of Jim's attention. It was like petting a tiger knowing that he could rip you apart and the only reason he didn't was because he liked you. Jim rested his weight on Blair's spread ankles.

"Got a problem there, Chief?" he asked with a wicked smile, one that promised practical jokes and inappropriate touching. Blair groaned.

"Oh man, don't torture the guide here," he begged.

"Oh, the guide smells like he enjoys torture, and he certainly has earned some," Jim added dryly after a second. Then he started crawling onto the bed, his body weaving as if to some silent music, and Blair lost the ability to speak. He could only stare.

"Well, that's one way to shut you up," Jim commented as he settled his weight down onto Blair, their cocks nestled together between their bodies as Jim reached down and kissed Blair. Eagerly opening his mouth, Blair groaned as Jim slowly arched his back making tiny thrusts that made their cocks brush each other. Blair dug his heels into the mattress and tried to hump up into that glorious warmth, but Jim hooked his ankle with his foot, pushing it back down and trapping Blair flat on his back, all without breaking the kiss.

Only when Blair quieted, his body and mouth accepting Jim's attention did Jim pull back.

"Just lay back and enjoy, Junior," Jim chuckled as he moved his mouth to Blair's neck, still making those tiny thrusts that rubbed Blair in all the right ways. Fisting his hands, Blair twisted and rolled his hips and struggled to thrust up just enough to end the maddeningly slow motion that teased and tortured without letting him come. Unfortunately, Jim's bulk held him down, and when Jim opened his legs, he forced Blair to open even more so that Blair lost his leverage.

Working slowly, Jim tasted and nipped his way from Blair's ear down to his nipple, sliding down Blair's sweaty body, and Blair could only gasp for air as the sucking on his nipple melted all thought. By the time Jim stopped and sat up, Blair could only blink owlishly as he tried to form words from his unhappy whines.

"Shh," Jim shushed him, and Blair panted as he tried to gather his scattered thoughts. He hadn't yet managed to rediscover speech before something cool brushed the head of his cock and then trailed down toward his hole. Throwing his legs open even more, Blair made a strangled sound as a finger circled before wiggling inside.

The added pressure from a finger rubbing against his prostate pushed Blair past pleasure to the point of frustrated pain, and he gasped. Sealing his eyes closed, he clenched his fists.

"Hold on, Chief," Jim offered, and Blair could hear the change in tone. Before he could figure out the meaning of the words, something hot and wet slipped over his cock. The sucking threw him over into a moment of rapture where all that existed was one rush of release after another as his body jerked against the handcuffs and the warm hands pressing down on his legs.

Blair felt his body jerk to completion with a detachment that reminded him of floating in the warm pond out back of the farmhouse where Ethan had taught him to ride a horse as a child. The mattress tilted, and Blair laid splayed open, too tired to even bring his legs together.

"Chief, you okay?" A hand brushed away damp curls that stuck to his skin.

"Holy fuck," Blair managed to say, and really, he thought that might just be literal. Jim chuckled.

"Not bad for an old man, huh?" Jim asked, and Blair struggled to get one sleepy eye open. He found Jim standing next to the bed lazily stroking a thick erection of his own.

"Cassanova should take lessons," Blair agreed as he watched Jim roll his head back, making the front of his neck arch out as he stroked a little faster. Eyeing the erection, Blair considered the possibility that his anal-retentive roommate was about to make a sizable mess. Then again, he was handcuffed to the bed, so he could only lie and watch with appreciation as Jim stroked faster, small grunts coming now. Then Jim started, an arc of white splattering across Blair's stomach before the next spasms sent semen onto the bed.

Jim finished and then fell forward, his hands braced on the side of the bed as he caught his breath. Blair looked down and watched as Jim used his thumb to rub the white into his skin.

"Man, you *are* feeling territorial," Blair said as he watched the fluids disappear.

"You're imagining things, Sandburg," Jim said as he sat on the edge of the bed.

"Uh-huh." Blair didn't even bother to fake any belief.

"So I need to go and do some paperwork," Jim commented as he retrieved the key from the side table and reached over to unlock the cuffs. "Do you want me to drop you at the university?"

Blair opened his eyes, looking at Jim sharply before getting control of his body with a few deep breaths. "Nah, I've got all my handouts photocopied, so I think I may take an afternoon to recover." To prove his point, Blair remained laid out on the bed, his legs splayed and his arms resting on the pillow over his head. Jim cocked his head and looked at him.

"No work at the station, Junior?"

"I got ahead with the semester starting, and don't even think about trying to bribe me into writing your reports," Blair laughed.

"I was considering blackmail," Jim answered as he got up, planting a slap on Blair's knee.

"Bully," Blair said as he let his eyes fall closed, even if sleep was the farthest thing from his mind. "So, when will you be back?"

"Not sure. Why?" Jim asked as he pulled clean clothes out of the dresser. Blair cracked an eye open.

"Thought I might have Charlie over," Blair answered as casually as he could. Jim stopped, a blue shirt hanging from his hand.

"If he brings drugs over here, I will personally wring his neck and then hide his body where no one will ever find it," Jim answered in a tone that probably would have sent Rafe running. Blair just rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah," Blair answered as he closed his eyes again.

"And I'll murder him just as quick if you still look like that when he shows up," Jim added darkly as his bare feet padded down the stairs. Blair didn't answer as he lay on the bed and planned ways to use his free afternoon to untangle the mess that had become his life before his sentinel found out and actually did murder someone.

Part Ten

"Tanner." Blair was tying his shoes when he heard Jim's voice at the door. He pulled the last loop tight and trotted down the stairs, anxious to play referee before any permanent damage got done.

"Ellison," Charlie answered. "So, Blair here?" he asked after a second.

"Hey, Charlie, I'm glad you could come over. Jim's just leaving," Blair said, breathing carefully and hoping Jim would put any stress indicators down to his annoyance that Jim and Charlie couldn't stand each other.

"So, just hanging around to sniff me or did you want to make a threat or two before you left?" Charlie asked as he stood in the hallway. Blair watched Jim's back tighten, his jaw muscle bulging as the man stared down.

"I think you know what happens if you do something stupid," Jim answered quietly, and Blair could almost see the shiver go through Charlie.

"We're watching a movie or two. God, we aren't going to go to Southtown and pick up some hookers for S&M play. Chill out," Blair said as he stood next to Jim. He leaned over so that his shoulder pushed into Jim's arm, and the sentinel's gaze went from Charlie down to Blair.

"Hookers?" Jim asked, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth as he raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, you know, a guy's got needs," Blair teased back, leaning a little harder so that their bodies pressed together. Jim stared down at him and then snorted.

"Chief, you'd do a table leg." Jim reached up and ruffled Blair's hair before Blair could defend himself.

"Man, knock it off. You do not know how hard it is to comb this out," Blair complained as he struck out at Jim's stomach with a playful punch. He never connected; Jim snatched his hand midair and pulled forward. Before Blair could regain his balance, Jim snaked his other arm around Blair's neck and bent him over before delivering a serious noogie. Jim's knuckled rasped across the top of his head, and Blair squirmed as he tried to escape. After a couple of seconds, Jim let go and Blair got in a good punch to Jim's stomach before backing off and brushing his hair back out of his face. Then he glared at his chuckling roommate.

"Yep. So stay out of trouble or I'll let my tyrannical self loose to deliver a noogie every hour," Jim threatened cheerfully. Blair glared as he finger-combed his curls.

"Dude, no convincing required. Staying out of trouble," Charlie squeaked and held his hands up in surrender as Jim turned toward him.

"You do that," Jim said, the friendliness of a moment ago frozen under a grim tone. Grabbing his keys off the side table, Jim headed out the door without a backwards glance. As soon as he cleared the doorway, Charlie darted inside.

"Oh man, thanks for coming over," Blair said as he started toward the bathroom. Unless he planned on pulling his hair out by the roots, he needed detangling spray and a comb.

"Hey, no problem. I've seriously missed our munchies and making fun of the movies nights. So, what's on the agenda? We haven't poked holes in the latest Cruise movie." Charlie leaned against the side of the door as Blair struggled to get his hair back in shape.

"Nope, no time for anachronisms and internal continuity flaws today. We have work to do."

"Shit, you are so trying to get my killed, aren't you?" Charlie asked as he leaned his head sidewise into the door jam. "You promised Mr. Forehead we were staying in, and if we aren't staying in that means I'm driving you somewhere, and if I drive you somewhere, I am so getting blamed for whatever happens."

"You worry too much," Blair said as he repaired the damage to his hair and considered just cutting it all off and starting over. Of course, if he did that, Jim would probably stop finding imaginary bits of twigs or paper in his hair, using it as an excuse to run his fingers through the long curls, and Blair stopped that train before he ended up considering table legs with Jim out of the loft.

"Dude, why do you think I get stoned so much?" Charlie pointed out, but Blair noticed that his friend also didn't argue. "So, where am I taking you?"

"You're driving *us* to the university," Blair answered as he put the comb down and turned to his friend with a conspiratorial grin.

"So you can go to your office and stay away from people like, say, Kelly or Dean Edwards?"

"Staying away from those two is on the top of the list," Blair promised as he brushed by Charlie and headed for the kitchen. He needed to grab a sandwich before going to do battle with the lying university bastards. "I don't think we'll run into them at the antro labs," he said with his head in the refrigerator. When he pulled back out, Charlie was looking at him as though he had just grown a second head… one scarier than Jim.

"What?" Blair asked.

"Dude. You've already been accused of vandalizing the labs. You are like persona non grata over there… seriously non with the grata."

"Which is why we aren't going to be seen," Blair answered with smile. He'd be damned if he'd let Kelly bulldoze him out of the bedroom just because he'd let her do a little dominating in it.

"Dude, I'm the irresponsible one. And now? First it's the Neanderthal with breaking out of the loony bin and now it's you with this whole Kelly disaster. I'm telling you, I'm not cut out to be the responsible one," Charlie complained.

"Don't give me that shit, Charlie. I hate it when you tear yourself down like that."

"Yeah, well if you ever saw my GPA, you'd know it's true."

"Right, that's why they asked you to teach—because you're a failure." Blair used his most sarcastic tone as he slapped sliced turkey onto bread for a couple of sandwiches. "You want American or mozzarella cheese?" Blair asked as he wrapped the turkey.

" Mozzarella. Look, I never said I failed, but there is a definite lack of success going on. I'm irresponsible-boy."

"Charlie," Blair sighed in frustration as he slapped the sandwiches shut. "I don't need you to disarm the bomb and save the world from terrorists. I just need you to drive me over to the university so we can do some snooping around in the sensory lab."

"Right, because whoever did sabotage the lab left a big sign that says 'Guilty Person This Way.' Dude, you have been hanging out with the cop too long. And speaking of cops, why don't you have tall, dark and menacing check out campus?"

"Don't bring Jim into this," Blair pointed a mustard knife toward Charlie in warning. Charlie rolled his eyes.

"Right… I'll make sure not to bring a *cop* into a case of destruction of private property. If your lady friend at campus security can't clear you, you're going to have a whole lot of cops involved," Charlie pointed out. However, Blair noticed that his friend was already digging around for his keys in his pocket.

"It's not going to go that far."

"Yeah, right. And who's going to keep it from blowing up in our faces?" Charlie asked, the keys jingling merrily as he pulled them free.

"We are," Blair answered with confidence as he shoved one sandwich toward Charlie and it into the second one. Chewing and swallowing quickly, Blair gestured toward the door. "Now come on, I want to get to the university."

"Dude, you are seriously crazy," Charlie groaned as he followed Blair out the door. "Your Neanderthal is going to chain you to the bed and kill me."


Blair followed Charlie down the hall toward the Anthropology lab. As long as Kelly kept playing dirty, Suzanne was never going to clear his name, so it was up to him to do it, and to do it before Jim got involved and decided Blair couldn't handle one ex-lover with a grudge… and a set of lock picks… and a small psychotic streak.

Blair felt like kicking himself for ever getting involved with the woman, but he firmly believed in not kicking someone when he was down, and he qualified as down. If the university didn't lift his research suspension, he couldn't hold up his half of the deal he'd made with Karn, and Blair didn't even want to think what would happen at that point.

If it came down to it, Blair knew he'd follow Jim back into the USSP, but he really didn't want to go there. As a confirmed non-conformist, working with the police strained his self image. He'd turned into a bureaucrat able to untangle the red tape involved in having a Thai parade or charm the commissioner into taking a meeting with the imam of the Cascade mosque. At least he could tell himself he served the people and not the police. But the USSP… Blair didn't want that life, and he didn't think Jim did either. So, if it came down to them or Kelly, Blair was taking the bitch down.

Charlie turned a corner, and then immediately doubled back so that they collided in a tangle of arms and legs until Blair could back up and away from Charlie who seemed to be panicking.

"Edwards, Edwards," Charlie finally panted, and Blair grabbed his friend's t-shirt and pulled him toward the men's room, where he was almost certain Dean Edwards wouldn't follow. The old-fashioned wood door with the frosted glass cutout glided closed just as heels started tapping down the hall.

"… will pay. The board of regents refuses to submit the claim to insurance, and I support their decision. The person who did this…" Her voice faded down the hall along with the sound of tapping feet, and Blair rested his palm against the cool tile as his heart pounded heavily.

"I can't. I can't. I can't do this. Oh, dude, I so can't do this," Charlie mumbled, and Blair reached over and put a hand on Charlie's shoulder. Despite Charlie's belief that he had some great weakness that made him incapable of doing anything right, Blair knew the strength in his friend. He spoke to that strength.

"We can do this. You and I both know Kelly did this, and we're going to prove it," Blair insisted.

"And the broken knob found in your office? And the fact that you were in that protest? And what about the sign-in sheet with your name they found in the trash? I hate to say this, but she has well and truly set you up. I think it's time to get out the big guns, and by that I mean call the fucking Neanderthal."

"What? You think Kelly's smarter than us?"

"In criminal matters, I'm voting 'oh fucking hell yeah,'" Charlie immediately answered.

Blair glared. "I can take care of this myself." Charlie rolled his eyes, but he didn't argue the point. Blair smiled in triumph. "So, Edwards and whatever crony she brought along today are gone. Who does that leave in the lab?"

Charlie didn't answer immediately. "Blair, does the term 'over our heads' mean anything?" he asked. Blair refused to answer as he crossed his arms and waited. Charlie sighed and then sagged back into the wall with a groan. "Lewis. He was the only other person in the lab."

"Okay, you distract Lewis and I'll check the logs," Blair said as he cracked the bathroom door open. With the term not officially started, only the rare graduate student wandered the campus. When Blair didn't see anyone, he slipped out into the hall.

"Blair, if you get caught in there…" Charlie hissed.

"Yeah, yeah, Edwards will eat my liver with onions. Man, if I don't prove Kelly did the damage, she's going to be eating my liver anyway," Blair said without even turning to look at his friend. He trusted that Charlie was just behind him.

"Shit. Just as long as you know this is a bad idea."

"Bad, schmad, just get in there and start distracting," Blair said with a nod. Despite the evidence stacking up against him, he knew Kelly had left some sort of trail. And unlike Suzanne, he didn't intend to play nice about proving it.

Charlie passed him as and then turned the corner, pulling open the heavy lab doors before greeting Lewis with a loud "Dude." Blair listened as Charlie spun a tale at warp speed, his obfuscations blending with equal parts truth and flat out lie as he maneuvered the man toward the office at the far end. Glancing either way in the hall, Blair pulled the door open slowly and slid inside.

The vision machine lay in disassembled parts across the floor, bits of it twisted and bent and snapped viciously. Blair tried not to think about the fury, and the weapon, it would have taken to do so much damage. Quickly, he scanned the sign-in sheet. Suzanne had let him get a look at the forged sign in sheet campus police had found in Blair's office, so he scanned the page for the same light blue felt tip pen.

None of the pens matched, but on the sheet just under the top one, he did find something interesting. Kelly Newman had no interest in any part of anthropology that involved senses, so her name in her scrawling handwriting came as a surprise. Blair glanced toward the office before snapping open the binder and slipping out the page. It might be only a small piece of the puzzle, but both anthropology and the case work he'd done with Jim had taught him that small mattered. Small solved cases. Small saved his ass and put Kelly on the hot seat. Smiling, Blair crept back out of the lab and hurried outside; he'd meet Charlie over at Hargrove.

Part Eleven

A quick stop at home, a quick listen to a message on the answering machine, and Blair watched out the passenger side window as Charlie drove them through some pretty tough neighborhoods. Empty warehouses crowded the dim streets and garbage rolled down the street as summer breezes cooled the night. Glancing down at the map in his lap and the slip of paper where he'd written the message, he tried to ignore the wiggling fear in his stomach.

Fear was the natural response to danger, and Jim did dangerous work, he told himself right before spotting their turn. "Here, right here," he pointed at a dark corner with a gas station on one corner and empty lots of weeds on two others. The third had a huge, old warehouse that looked exactly like all the other huge, old warehouses on the street. A chain-link fence leaned drunkenly, and Charlie drove in through the gap.

"Shit. Man, I buy drugs at nicer places than this," Charlie whispered. "Let's just go home. Hell, at this point, any place would be better."

"Chicken," Blair said without any emotion. He was too busy watching a girl with bright red lips wrap her arms around an emaciated man who pressed her up against the side of the building.

"Shit, yeah. I'm yellow clear through to my middle, and I would just as soon not have someone slice me open and discover that. This is just a little too wild and woolly for me."

Blair glanced over, but for all his complaints, Charlie drove around to the far side of the warehouse, stopping next to an old Chevy.

"Hey, there's Jim's truck," Blair said as he pointed to the old blue truck. He'd never considered it before, but it fit in a lot better than any of the shiny, new cars sitting in the car pool.

"Great, Jim's here. I'll save him the trip to track me down and murder me. Just do me a favor and make sure my body is pretty when you guys hide it," Charlie muttered.

"Oh man, you are so exaggerating."

"Okay, keeping you out of trouble does not include driving you to a place that's so wild and woolly it has me sweating."

"I've been in native tribes that looked scarier," Blair dismissed it as he pushed the car door open, thumbing the lock down before slamming it closed. A man with a spider web tattoo on his neck turned to look, one shoulder leaning into the building as he watched. Okay, this place was a little iffy, but it didn't rise to the level of wild and woolly no matter what Charlie said. Blair dropped his eyes to the concrete and started toward a door propped open by a large, steel barrel.

"I'm so dead," Charlie repeated softly as they closed in on the door, dim light falling out onto the concrete along with the stench of alcohol and the sharp smell of marijuana. Of course, Blair suspected those were the least dangerous drugs floating around this place. Squaring his shoulders he walked into the weak, yellow light of the warehouse, nearly stepping back as a crowd of men shouted as they huddled around a circle made out of chain link. Two black dogs threw themselves at each other under a slowly swinging bare light bulb.

"Okay, so this might qualify for woolly," Blair admitted as he forced his feet forward despite the fear currently breeding in his stomach.

"This is the whole fucking flock of angora," Charlie corrected him. "I don't think we should be here."

"I need to find Jim," Blair reminded him as he took another step in, searching the crowd with his eyes. A few men and one stoned prostitute met his gaze, and Blair looked away quickly. No way he wanted to challenge anyone here to a staring match.

"Yeah, well I'm thinking that I don't want Jim to find us here," Charlie hissed in his ear. "I thought this was a bad idea before, but now I'm thinking is a fatally bad idea."


"Hell yes. He won't kill you, but I can see him snapping my neck like a twig."

"Jim's not going to hurt you."

"Okay, and what about that guy over there. Are you sure he's not going to hurt me either?" At Charlie's words, Blair looked over and caught sight of a burly, red-haired man with a long mustache who was staring at them.

"Oh crap."

"Yeah, crap. As in we're up to our necks in crap. Let's get out of here before the tide comes in and we drown in the stuff."

"I need to find Jim. This place is dangerous for him."

"This place is more dangerous for me if he finds out I let you come here."

"You didn't let me."

"I didn't stop you. And can we please have this fight somewhere where I'm not seeing my life flash before my face?"

"It would have taken a baseball bat to stop me."

"And suddenly I'm thinking I would have a longer life expectancy if I'd hit you."

Blair just snorted his answer as he searched the crowd. Now, he couldn't see the dogs as the crowd thickened. Cigarette smoke floated in clouds across the stuffy interior of the warehouse, and Blair worried that Jim could have already become overwhelmed. This was definitely not Sentinel-friendly territory. The growls and snapping of angry dogs was nearly lost under the shouts and curses of the audience.

Blair started circling the crowd trying to spot Jim through the forest of unshaven, poorly-dressed men, and Charlie followed close behind still whispering complaints. A huge shout went up from the men around the dog fight, and Blair jerked in surprise. Mentally deriding himself for looking even more nervous and out of place, he walked forward with confident steps to try and undo the damage. Considering that more and more people had started watching with expressions that ranged from suspicious to lecherous, Blair started wondering if he had made a mistake after all.

"I'm thinking hasty retreat," Blair said as he turned to Charlie. Charlie's eyes opened in surprise until white appeared all around the iris. "Charlie?" Blair had time to whisper before a heavy hand fell on his shoulder, fingers tightening on the sensitive skin over his collar bone. Blair instinctively hunched his shoulders and pulled away from his attacker, but the iron hand pulled him back so sharply that he lost his balance and fell back into a body.

"Sandburg," Jim growled softly, and Blair shivered at the raw aggression in that voice.

"And I'm agreeing with the retreat since you found your caveman. So, I think I'll be going now," Blair watched as Charlie started backing up. He opened his mouth to protest, but Charlie turned and darted toward the exit at speeds the man normally only used around free food, free booze, and free drugs.

"Uh, Jim. Hey." Blair winced a little when the hand on his shoulder tightened.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Jim demanded, his mouth right against Blair's ear so that warm breath moved through his hair. Blair struggled to get his cock to understand this was not foreplay.

"I thought you might want company," Blair countered, careful with his words even though everyone else wandered away. Of course, looking up at Jim's cold face and scruffy beard, Blair might have made a run for it too if not for the iron grip holding him still.

"Well, I guess prison really did change you, Peters. You never liked the pussy boys before, but that's a real nice piece of tail you have there." Blair gasped at the speed at which Jim spun, holding Blair in place with one hand so that now Blair found himself tucked close to Jim's back.

"Back off, Hanes," Jim growled.

"Just pointing out the obvious. Of course, if he isn't yours, I wouldn't mind grabbing a handful of that hair myself." Hanes' ugly voice and even uglier words didn't seem to match with the meek appearing man with short brown hair and a slight pot belly. Blair pushed into Jim's back as he realized just how much trouble he might have caused by coming. A huge man with folds of fat supporting his head walked toward them, and Blair curled his fingers around Jim's belt at the look the man gave him.

"Jimmy, Bobby, you boys play nice now." The fat man moved closer to Jim. "Relax, Peters, you're hardly the first man to discover men in prison. Enjoying a tough little bottom who doesn't need flowers doesn't make you a fag."

Blair shot the fat man a confused glance since he was fairly sure that sex with men did make a guy gay. Jim's hand tightened on his arm and persuaded him to keep his opinions to himself. The man had a wheezing voice, and Blair moved slightly so that Jim would be between him and the new man.

Jim snorted. "I don't give a rat's ass what you or anyone else thinks, but when I get him home, he's not going to know his own name for a week. I told you to stay home." Jim reached back and pulled on Blair's arm so that Blair had to come out from behind Jim. Looking around briefly, he noticed that many of the men had given up watching the dog fights in order to watch them. He also noticed they watched from a safe distance, at least everyone except for Hanes and Fatboy.

Blair felt righteous indignation bubble up as Jim manhandled him, but when he turned to reply, he could see near panic in Jim's face. Glancing over at their disreputable audience, he realized just how close Jim was to losing it… he realized how he had put his Sentinel in a position to lose it. "Sorry," Blair said softly, hoping Jim would understand what he really meant. The fat man laughed.

"I like him, what do you call him?"

"Mine," Jim snarled, and Blair ducked his head at the anger he could hear in that voice. "I don't care who the hell you think you are, Wallace, you keep your hands off him."

"Fair enough. The pretty little fuck-toy's yours, Jimmy." Blair didn't protest either the offensive name, or the hand that pushed him toward the back of the warehouse away from the crowd. The men around the ring now turned back to the dog fight since the chance of a more interesting fight had passed.

"Sharing is the polite thing, Jimmy-boy," Hanes said as he followed behind, and the hand that had guided Blair disappeared. It took Blair a moment to realize that Jim had Hanes by the neck pressed up against a square concrete pillar. Hanes' hands scratched at Jim's arms, and Jim lifted until the man dangled a good inch off the floor with a face that was turning beet red. Blair shivered. Even though he'd known Jim wouldn't act like a cop when he was undercover, he hadn't expected this raw rage and malice that flowed from his Sentinel.

"You touch him, and I'll rip your bowels out," Jim snarled dangerously. Eventually, Jim dropped Hanes and spun on his heel.

Blair gave a small gasp at the black eyes that confronted him.

"And you, you stay where I put you," Jim took three steps forward and grabbed Blair by the back of the neck. Jim pulled Blair to his side, and Blair submitted to the manhandling silently. Without another word, Jim stalked back to a table in the far corner before settling back into a scarred wooden chair. Blair stumbled into a second chair as Jim shoved him. Wincing as knee met wood, he quickly settled in, scooting his chair closer to Jim.

"Temper, temper," the fat man said when he reached the table and lowered himself into another seat with both hands braced on the tabletop.

Looking over at the flexing jaw, Blair knew that Jim wanted him anywhere other than the middle of enemy territory, and yet that's where they were, and now Jim was making fear-based decisions… or maybe rage-based decisions. Looking around at the table, the others didn't seem particularly bothered.

"So, let's talk nuts and bolts," the fat man said as he picked up a cigarette left burning in an overflowing ashtray. He sucked at it, and the red end glowed, highlighting his features sharply.

"Rumor is Carasco met with a hood from Cranbrook named Mondell. Could be he—" Jim glanced over, and Blair tried to look innocent. Jim raised an eyebrow and paused, "—he might be interested in your business," Jim finally finished. Then he leaned back and braced one of his boots on the leg of the table.

"Rumors? We're paying you all this money and you come back with rumors?" Hanes practically spluttered, but Jim kept watching the fat man. "I say we cut our losses with this joker and hire someone who isn't afraid of making a few waves."

"Calm down, Hanes," the fat man answered as he flicked his cigarette ash, watching Jim carefully.

"It's all falling apart, Wallace. We need that shipment or we need to close up shop. Carasco and Furukawa… we do not need to have a war with them."

Blair watched as Hanes pounded the table with a closed fist. The more the man lost it, the more Jim relaxed, smiling coldly as he watched Hanes plead with Wallace. Blair sucked in a gasp when Jim's large hand casually reached over and molested his inner thigh. Knowing that this was a dominance display that was part of Jim's cover, Blair struggled to stay still for it. He grabbed the edge of the chair and held on.

"Peters," the fat man, Wallace, addressed Jim, "I'm not impressed by rumors."

"Let's just say I trust the source," Jim shrugged as he continued to kneed Blair's thigh. As much as Blair tried to talk to his cock about inappropriate woodies, the damn thing insisted on hardening under Jim's rough touch. "Now, this is a little less reliable, but word's out that Carasco and Mondell had a small disagreement. Could be that your… merchandise ended up as part of that disagreement," Jim said as he finally stopped rubbing Blair. Blair could only gasp for breath helplessly as his body ignored the smoke and the sour smell of human sweat and the danger in favor of silently moaning Jim's name.

"So, you think you can track down this Mondell? Think he still might sell to us?" Wallace asked.

Jim shrugged. Suddenly Blair made the connection. Mondell and Carasco had a disagreement, meaning it was probably Mondell's blood on the chair in Carasco's greenhouse. Despite the nearly overwhelming heat, Blair shivered with cold as it occurred to him that Jim was using the man's possible torture and death to work his way in farther with these criminals. Looking sideways, he searched for some hint of the protective Sentinel he knew, but Jim's cold expression remained firmly in place.

Jim glanced over and then took a second look at Blair. "Boy, don't go getting curious or I will tie you to the bed for the next week," he growled. Blair jumped, but when Jim gave a small wink, he thought about what it would be like to be tied to their bed, especially considered what Jim liked to do when Blair was tied. Jim added a squeeze of the hand that rested on Blair's knee. Ducking his head, Blair hid a smile as he realized his Jim was still there, under the gruff and cold surface.

"I'm still offering the bonus," Wallace said before he broke down into wet-sounding coughing. Blair grabbed Jim's wrist as a blank expression crossed the Sentinel's face, and zoning here really wasn't an option. He squeezed until he could feel Jim's pulse below his fingers, and then Jim blinked back into motion.

"I assume this can wait until tomorrow. Tonight I have to remind someone that when I tell him to stay home, I mean what I say." Jim stood up, and grabbed Blair's hair. However, Blair noticed that for all of his aggressiveness, Jim grabbed a large enough handful that when he gently pulled at it, it didn't hurt. Of course, Blair couldn't exactly free himself, but that powerful hand pulling close so that he had to lean into his Sentinel told him that Jim was still protecting him, no matter what the other men saw.

"Just be careful with that face and hair," the fat man laughed. "Don't want to damage the goods. Where did you find him anyway?"

"He got in over his head with people he couldn't handle. I had better use for him, so I took him off their hands," Jim said, "but right now he's in a little over his head with me, so I'll look into your… problem tomorrow.

Blair remained silent as Jim pulled the truck into the parking lot on Prospect Place. He thought he might actually be close to his record for staying silent, a record he'd set when he was ten years old and Darien Hoffman bet him two Hardy Boys books that Blair couldn't be silent for a whole day. Blair briefly wondered where the books had gone, but then Jim was out of the truck, standing under the streetlight with his arms crossed, watching the truck.

Blair got out of the truck and followed as Jim headed for the stairs. Great. Stairs meant Jim was pissed and needed to burn off some energy.

"I know it was a little woolly down there, but I really thought—"

"Woolly?" Jim nearly exploded as he unlocked the loft door. "Woolly? That's how you describe a building full of drug deals and pimps and assholes who fight animals for amusement?"

"Hey, Mrs. Denier," Blair offered a smile as their neighbor paused in the hallway, a bag of kitchen garbage dangling from one hand as she stared at Mount St. Ellison. Jim pulled him into the loft before Mrs. Denier could do more than open her mouth to return the greeting.

"Woolly?" Jim demanded again once he'd closed the door.

"Wild and woolly? It's an expression," Blair pointed out. Jim's jaw tightened.

"That was dangerous."

"Oh man, I'm there with you. Dangerous, hazardous, perilous, AND woolly," Blair agreed. He only had a second to enjoy the shocked expression on Jim's face.

"Then why were you there at all?" Jim demanded.

"Because you were," Blair answered softly. He leaned back against the kitchen table and blinked up as Jim glared at him.

"Damn it, you could have been killed."

"Yeah," Blair agreed slowly. "I know it was dangerous, but when I heard Rafe's message about the new warehouse location, I knew you were in danger. Man, if you're in danger, I’m going to be there with you."

The fight seemed to go out of Jim as the man turned to the couch and dropped down. Resting his elbows on his knees, he let his face rest on his open hands.

"Blair, I can't…"

"Can't what?" Blair asked when Jim stopped.

"I can't have you walk into the middle of an operation. I swear, I will tie you to that bed if I have to," Jim answered as he looked up.

"Yeah, but then if there were a fire I'd be tied up and helpless, and what if someone broke in and found me there or if some big hairy spider came walking over me or even if I had to pee. You wouldn't put me at risk like that," Blair shrugged confidently.

"But you would put yourself at risk," Jim pointed out.

"I wouldn't just risk my own life because I know you'd get yourself killed before letting some doped up pimp shoot me. So, I won't risk myself any more than I have to. I won't risk myself because I won't risk you. But if you zone… if you get killed because I'm not there…" Blair let his words trail off because he really couldn’t imagine life without Jim.

"If you aren't trying to get yourself killed, what were you doing there?" Jim asked in confusion.

"Trusting you to keep me safe," Blair answered. "I trust you to keep me safe, and you need to trust me to follow your lead. Because, man, I don't need to tell you that not many people get away with calling me a fucktoy," Blair joked. That made Jim smile.

"I could feel you coming up with an answer for that one," Jim said wryly. Blair sat on the couch next to him.

"Oh hell, yeah. And that crap about not being gay if you're the top… who makes that shit up? And while we're at it, why does everyone assume I'm the bottom here? It's not like I need Viagra to get it up; I could top. Not that I'm suggesting I want to," Blair quickly interrupted himself, cursing at his own stupidity as he broached the subject of topping. He expected Jim to get that flash of guilt he got whenever Blair brought up the past, but Jim just laughed.

"I guess we're going to be in a lot of woolly situations, but you need to do what I tell you and no more showing up unannounced. I'll be more open about taking you with me, but only if you never pull a stunt like this again," Jim said seriously.

"Really?" Blair asked. Somehow he'd expected more of a fight.

"Well, I have to admit that with you there, I might have a few new clues," Jim said, a smile slowly transforming his face. He threw an arm over Blair's shoulder and pulled him close. "Do you know any dealers who smell of diesel fuel and orchids? More to the point, any theories about why Hanes would smell of it?

Part Twelve

Jim shifted in the front seat of the truck, casting his hearing out like a net over the hovel he watched. Boards covered one window, but the rain and wind of the summer storm rattled the others so that Jim could hear the dull tinkling of raindrops against the glass. A loose board from the porch swung on a rusty nail with a squeak, and the music from the television inside warbled as the storm pushed at the sound waves before they reached Jim's truck nearly a block away.

The sound of tires hissing against the wet road blended together to a river of sound that he allowed to flow past him. As much as he hated being dependant on anyone, even Blair, he had to admit that he hadn't used his senses so comfortably since Peru… since those lonely months after the crash that he tried to forget.

A car took a corner too quickly, but the whine of the tires simply slipped past him as he concentrated on the sound of something squishing through the mud of the hovel's backyard. It took only seconds to decide that Hanes had let his dog outside. Jim could hear the four feet squelch across the yard, sinking into the muck as summer rains and the heat made it feel more like Peru than Washington.

Beside him, Blair signed and turned a page on whatever book he was reading by the light of the flashlight he held in his teeth.

"Interesting reading?" Jim asked casually. Blair dropped the flashlight into his hand.

"Oh, man, yeah. Susan Anton's new book on biological anthropology and the development of Sentinels. She hypothesizes that Sentinels actually process information differently rather than having different senses. Studies on Sentinels show atypical connections between the primitive brain and the sensory functions of the neocortex.

"In English?" Jim asked. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Blair straightened up and flicked off the tiny flashlight.

"That was the English version. The other version included phrases like the striatum of the basal ganglia and the rapid sympathetic neural responses in the prefrontal cortex," Blair answered.

"You keep talking dirty like that, and we'll have to cut this stakeout short," Jim teased. Blair snorted, but at least snorting was an improvement over the silence or listening to Hanes' dog flop in the mud of the backyard. More and more, Blair fell quiet, leaving Jim suspicious and uneasy. Pushing the feeling aside as paranoia, Jim tried to start a conversation. Usually, Blair filled any time with long descriptions of native rituals or his personal interpretations of Rafe's courting style. Now Jim struggled to think of a topic.

"So, you ready for the snot-nosed brats to show up tomorrow morning?" Jim asked, and then he narrowed his eyes as Blair's heart sped up.

"First day jitters," Blair answered quickly even though Jim hadn't commented on the physical reaction. "I always get like that until I meet all the new classes. You never know when you're going to have some jerk in class who heckles you, or this one time I had a girl who wore a miniskirt and no underwear, and you do not want to know what she did in the front row." Blair's burst of speech ended abruptly, and Jim shifted in the seat, stretching his leg until a stiff knee popped.

"So, are you doing okay with the senses?" Blair asked as the tapping of rain against the truck slowed down to a few random drops.

"Fine." Jim focused on a dirty window and his vision cooperated by zooming in on the broken slat of the blinds. Inside, he could see the flickering glow of the television and a shadow as Hanes crossed the room. "Nothing but Hanes watching Knight Rider, and this man seriously needs to get a life," he reported.

"No joke. Three days and the only thing we have to show are two sore butts, and I can think of better ways to get a sore butt," Blair complained. "You hungry?"

Jim shook his head before it occurred to him that in the dark, Blair probably couldn't see anything as groped the snack box on the seat. "No, I'm good," Jim answered instead. "Rafe should be here in an hour, and then he and Ricardo can baby-sit for a while."

"Man, you think he'd do something by now." Blair's fingers sorted through the box, pushing Kleenex and a package of Life-Savers and some beef jerky out of the way before finally closing over a foil wrapped trail bar. "I mean, if he and Carasco want to move the drugs in from Canada, someone has to do something, right?"

"It's not always high speed chases," Jim pointed out. "Police work can get downright boring. If this case goes right, we'll collect a little information, find the names of the Canadian connections, and then come back with a dozen officers for a nice quiet arrest."

"Uh huh." Blair sounded dubious. "Since I've known you, between us we've had a high speed chase with a military truck, a terrorist kidnapping, a boat rescue with a fiery explosion, a gun battle ending with another truck crash, and a foot chase through an apartment complex. I'm not seeing much of that boring police work you keep talking about."

"It has to get boring some time."

"Keep telling yourself that," Blair shot back. "But at least we ditched the USSP for a while."

Jim froze, his brain refusing to cover for his lie of omission fast enough.

"Jim?" Blair asked almost immediately. Jim flinched. With most people, he could lie even better than his guide who had obfuscations down pat. After all, covert ops with the USSP required more deceit than Jim had ever truly felt good about, but he let down his guard around Blair and the lies just didn't come naturally. He coughed.

"I thought Wilke took off after the whole "incident that didn't happen" you and Rafe dragged me away from," Blair said, confused.

"He's keeping his distance, so it's fine," Jim snapped. The last thing he needed was Blair getting even more uptight because of Wilke or the USSP, and that meant keeping the two guides as far apart as possible.

"Shit, he's here, isn't he?" Blair demanded, twisting in his seat as he peered out into the dim yellow light that did little more than highlight the streaks of rain.

"Drop it Junior. He's not doing anything but observing."

"Oh man, what is *up* with these people. He pisses you off so bad that you chase him out of the squad room and he *still* won't just go away." Blair twisted all the way around in his seat, but Jim trusted the darkness and rain to hide the old seventies Volkswagen bus with Wilke in it.

"Chief, the USSP guides are never going to walk away; you know that," Jim pointed out as Blair flopped his body around the other way and studied the darkness to the north.

"What the hell is wrong with these people? Why don't they just take 'fuck off' for an answer?" Blair demanded of the air.

"Hey, calm down. You're the one who explained illusionary power bases to me for three days. They aren't going to walk away from a threat to whatever power they think they have." Jim listened as Blair's heart skipped quickly in his chest, and again wondered what the hell had happened between Wilke and Blair that his guide got so upset every time his name came up.

"Man, I know all the psyche shit behind it, but who the hell do they think they are to keep pushing and pushing? They're dicks!" Blair pounded a fist into the dash of the truck, and Jim blinked in surprise as his normally calm guide had a miniature fit. Hell, Blair might have resorted to stomping and throwing things if the rain hadn't kept him in the cab of the truck.

"Whoa, slow down there, Chief."

"This totally sucks. What the hell is wrong with people who can't take 'no' for an answer. Hell, they don't even seem to understand 'fuck off' as an answer!"

"Chief, knock it off. We're on stakeout here," Jim barked as Blair reached for the door handle of the truck.

"No way am I going to sit here and not give him a piece of my mind," Blair snapped as he yanked on the door. Jim's hand darted forward, grabbing Blair just he pushed the door open. Humid air rushed in dragging the smell of wet cement and mud and grass into the cab. Unfortunately, the overhead light in the cab also went on, making them a target if anyone happened to look out of a dirty, cracked window.

Cursing, Jim yanked Blair's arm hard enough to physically slide Blair across the seat. Throwing himself across Blair's lap, Jim grabbed for the open door, catching the handle with his fingertips and slamming the door closed again. Under his stomach, Blair squirmed and pushed at him, and Jim sat up.

"What is your malfunction?" Blair demanded.

Clenching his teeth against the answer he wanted to bark out, Jim held Blair's arm as his guide struggled. An elbow caught him in the stomach just hard enough to sting, and Jim caught Blair's second arm, pulling his guide so that he slid over the seat until his back pressed up against Jim's chest, where Jim wrapped arms around him and held him still.

For a second, Blair strained. Then he sagged back into Jim, the fight going out of him with a sigh. "Oh man, I’m just so tired of fighting. Why won't they all just go away?" Blair nearly whispered. Jim held tighter, shifting his arms so that he hugged Blair rather than trapping him.

"They will eventually. We just have to wait them out, Chief."

"Shit." The panic that had motivated Blair seconds ago dissipated so that the body that slumped in Jim's arms panted quietly as the racing heart slowed. "I just want our life back."

Jim could smell the distress in the sharp body odor rising from Blair. "We will," Jim promised. "But now is not the time to lose it. Look out there." Jim used on arm to gesture out toward Hanes' house. "What do you see?"

"A house that a rat would be ashamed to bring a date home to," Blair answered after a minute.

"Exactly. And if Hanes had been looking out the window when the cab light went on, what would he have seen?" Jim asked.

"Oh man. Hanes. Shit. How bad did I fuck this up?" Blair's heart had nearly recovered from the early panic, but now it started speeding again.

"We're fine. He hasn't moved from the television, but Chief, you can't go off half-cocked. We made a deal… remember?" Jim asked as he finally let Blair go. For a second, Blair remained leaning against him, his heart pounding so that Jim could feel the beat through his own skin.

"Me junior partner, you senior partner," Blair said in a tone more sarcastic than serious.

"Blair," Jim said with a clear warning in his tone, at least, he hoped the warning was clear enough.

"Yeah, I know. I fucked up. I broke a pretty basic rule because I wasn't listening to you on the police work part of the job," Blair admitted. Jim could see the red spreading in Blair's cheeks, even in the dark.

"No harm, no foul," Jim let his partner off the hook. "But if you want to back me up in the field, I have to trust you to keep your cool."

"Hey, that's totally not fair. I've kept my cool through kidnappings and murder scenes and more kidnappings."

"Yeah, but whatever happened between you and Wilke, you need to get over it," Jim said. Blair looked away, his expression strangely guilty. "Blair?" Jim asked quietly, hoping to get an explanation about what happened to trigger these moments of fury. Instead Blair settled back into the passenger side seat and stared out into the darkness. Jim opened his mouth, but then Blair shifted so that Jim got a good look at his back.

Jim sighed and cast his hearing out over Hanes' hovel again. He might not know how to reach Blair when he got in these moods, so he would have to trust Blair to tell him if he needed something. Shifting in his seat, Jim just couldn't escape the feeling that he was missing something, something important enough to make his usually gregarious guide silently stare out into the rain. Hopefully Rafe and Ricardo would come soon, and he could try to pry some information out of Blair over a late dinner.

Part Thirteen

Jim glanced at the clock, hearing familiar footsteps in the hall. He had truly hoped Blair would have a license before classes started, and he really wished he could have pried something out of his tight-lipped guide before adding the stress of teaching. He knew Blair snapped at the very mention of Wilke, but he couldn't get Blair to admit to any fight. And now he had to send Blair off with Teller with no better understanding of Blair's moods than he'd had yesterday.

"Blair, you going in to work early today?" Jim called up the stairs. Blair appeared at the top of the stairs, tendrils of wet hair sticking to the front of his shoulders as he buttoned his jeans.

"No, why?"

Jim slipped the pan of eggs over to a cold burner before going to the door and yanking it open with a growl just as Charlie reached the loft. Charlie stood in the open frame, wide eyes and a spreading coffee stain down his striped shirt from jumping in shock. The now-empty coffee cup dangled from one hand, and as the man's heart slowly recovered, Jim had the grace to feel just a little guilty.

"Oh shit, this was my favorite shirt, and I'm never going to get this out now," he complained as he walked in without an invitation.

"Charlie?" Blair asked as he came down the stairs in his bare feet.

"What? You expected Brad Pitt?" Charlie snorted. "Do you have a paper towel or something?" Charlie asked as he held his shirt out away from his body and stared at it morosely.

"I mean, why are you here so early?" Blair asked, and Jim waited to hear the answer to that. For Charlie to be half an hour early, geneticists somewhere had made pigs fly.

"Didn't you... I thought..." Charlie stuttered to a stop and looked up. "Oh shit. I could have slept another half hour, couldn't I? Damn, this is *not* my day."

"Why did you think? Oh, never mind," Blair added. "Let me dry my hair and we can just head to work a little early." Blair hurried down the hall, his bare feet slapping against the floor.

"Hand it over," Jim said as he held out a hand.

"Oh, hey! I am not carrying; trust me when I say I am not insane enough to ever carry around you," Charlie nearly squeaked as he threw his hands up in surrender. Jim looked at the man and used every ounce of self control to not laugh.

"I meant the shirt," he finally pointed out, his hand still held out. "I'll rinse the coffee out before it sets and Blair can loan you a shirt." Jim watched with amusement as Charlie finally lowered his hands and made an "oh" shape with his mouth without actually saying anything. He pulled the shirt up over his head, surrendering it slowly, and Jim rolled his eyes as he turned to the sink. He'd come home covered in crap from the alley often enough that he kept stain releaser under the sink. On his way over, he slid the eggs back onto the hot burner to finish cooking.

"Good to know you don't bring your shit here," Jim said as he turned the water on and thrust the shirt under the flow.

"Oh fuck yeah; I have many flaws, but I'm not suicidal," Charlie answered absent-mindedly, his eyes dancing across every surface in the kitchen without looking at Jim. Even while scrubbing the shirt and watching the eggs, Jim couldn't miss the sudden, nervous shift in Charlie's behavior. Draping the now cleaned shirt over sink divider, he rinsed his hands and then grabbed the pan off the stove, shoving scrambled eggs with mushroom and sausage onto two plates with a spatula.

"So, you two aren't, I don't know, joined at the hip anymore," Charlie said carefully.

"Spit it out, Teller," Jim said as he grabbed a fork and stabbed his eggs as he stood near the sink.

"It's just, is this," Charlie waved a hand toward Jim and then toward the short hall that led to the bathroom, "permanent?" Jim glanced toward the bathroom where the sound of the hairdryer weaved in and out as Blair softly cursed through a tangle. He couldn't contain a small smile at the idea that they truly were permanent.

"I take it from that expression that's a big old sappy yes," Teller chuckled, and Jim cleared his expression and glowered at Teller who suddenly took a step backwards as he held his hands up.

"Kidding. Just kidding," Teller insisted. "I'm just checking. So, have you thought about coming over and surprising Blair for lunch?" Teller asked, crossing his arms over his pale chest in an exaggerated show of casualness that set Jim's teeth on edge. Jim stabbed his eggs with a fork and shoved them in his mouth as he stared silently at the half-dressed man in his living room. Eventually, Charlie started talking again.

"You know, you could just stop by the anthropology department around eleven or so, after Blair's office hours, before that seminar class at one."

"And why would I want to do that?" Jim finally asked, watching Charlie squirm a bit as he looked around the room uncomfortably.

"I don't know. I just thought…" Charlie looked toward the bathroom and for one flashing moment, Jim could see panic and worry shining through.

"Charlie?" Jim put his plate down on the counter and started toward the man who still refused to make eye contact. Jim stopped near the door as he could smell the bitter fear.

"Whatever is going on, you need to tell me if it has something to do with Blair's safety," Jim said quietly. Charlie looked like a beaten dog about ready to run for the hills.

"Oh, no way, nothing like that," Charlie protested, looking at Jim for the first time since losing the shirt, and Jim could see the minute twitches in the man's eyes.

"Teller," Jim kept his voice quiet even as he clenched his jaw between words and tightened his fists. "If something is wrong, and you don't tell me, you are going to get seriously hurt," he warned the man.

"Hey, that's like police harassment… or something," Charlie's voice started strong but trailed off when he looked at Jim's expression. Jim forced himself to change tactics.

"Charlie, I need to protect Blair. I need to know he's okay, and you're seriously scaring me here. You really wouldn't like how much I overreact when I get scared about my guide being in trouble. And if *you* think there's something wrong, I don't doubt there's serious trouble."

"Shit," Charlie looked toward the bathroom again, and Jim suddenly realized the man had intentionally come early so that he would have a chance to tell Jim something. Glancing back toward Jim and then to the bathroom again, Charlie took a deep breath. "Buddy, he has always picked 'em scary. The more psychotic the woman, the more he goes chasin' after her skirt or, more likely, her leather boots."

"And you think I'm one more in a long line of scary," Jim guessed. For a moment, Charlie tensed up, and then he gave a coughing laugh.

"Yeah. But you're different. You look at him and…" Charlie broke off and glanced out of the side of his eye. Jim could guess what Charlie meant.

"And I get sappy?" Jim finished for him.

"Yeah, totally. You look at me and you are one seriously terrifying son of a bitch, but you look at him and it's all different."

"Charlie, listen to me," Jim said in his best 'talk the insane man off the ledge' voice. "You came here because you're a good friend trying to protect Blair. You know I love him, and I will do whatever I have to in order to protect him. He's going to come out of that bathroom in a second, and if you walk out that door without telling me what the hell is going on, I'm going to worry, Blair is still going to be in trouble, and you're going to feel just as bad as you do right now."

"Fucking logic. Never did like the damn stuff," Charlie choked out. He paused as he looked toward the bathroom again before reaching some decision inside his own soul. "There's this girl named Kelly, and Blair dated her last year, and finally had the balls to tell her to take a hike because she was like—" Charlie gave an exaggerated shiver of horror. "She was way past normal scary and into restraining order land, but Blair always said he could handle her."

"You think he can't," Jim said, checking for Charlie's reaction.

"I think he doesn't know how crazy crazy-Kelly can get. He needs someone to watch his back because she's been giving him a hard time, and the more he ignores her, the angrier she's getting, and the weirder stuff is getting at Rainier."

Jim heard the hair drying turn off, and he held up a hand for silence. Charlie instantly froze. "Thank you," Jim whispered before going back to the kitchen. Did he feel like a heel for talking behind his partner's back? Oh yeah, but that didn't mean that he wasn't going to keep a closer eye out. Charlie clearly didn't want to tell him about the girl, and the fact that he still did tell suggested that she might really pose a danger to his guide. Jim expected the irrational panic to rise at the thought of an aggressive woman threatening his guide, but instead he found himself logically considering plans for handling this, including showing up for an unexpected lunch with his partner as Charlie suggested.

"Hey, it'll just be another second," Blair said as he came out of the bathroom, his curls now mostly dry and bouncing as Blair hurried down the hall with a hair tie between his teeth. Blair stopped short when he spotted Charlie. "Oh man, where's your shirt?" Blair asked in horror.

"I washed it," Jim said dryly. He wasn't exactly likely to jump Charlie's bones. "I figured you could loan him one," Jim shrugged as he took Blair's breakfast and tilted it into a plastic container. If his guide wouldn't eat at home, Jim would just send the food with him.

"Yeah, I can do that," Blair said in a weak voice. "Just wait here a sec," he said to Charlie and then he practically dashed at the stairs.

Jim looked at the stairs where Blair had disappeared and then at Charlie, not even bothering to hide his confused expression because some days he didn't understand anything Blair did.

"I don't like to take the shirt off in front of people," Charlie shrugged, but then he dropped his gaze to the floor, and Jim focused in his vision. Faint half moons and circles of smooth, stretched skin littered the bits of stomach not hidden by the crossed arms, and Jim froze at the sight of those familiar scars. He looked up at Charlie with a growing sense of anger that someone would do that.

"Hey, water under the bridge," Charlie quickly said. "If I went around crying over spilt milk, I'd spend a lot more time crying, and what with the classes I don't show up for and the TA job I suck at and all the quality time I spend stoned and watching cartoons, I just don't have time for the crying," he quipped, and then Blair was flying back down the stairs, thrusting one of Jim's black t-shirts at the man. Even though Jim was a lot larger, the t-shirt had been a gag gift from Rafe and Brown—one of those muscle shirts that clung to every curve, so it actually fit on Charlie's smaller frame much better than Jim.

"I'll get this back to you," Charlie said, the brashness and shining humor gone from his voice.

"Don't bother. I'll never wash out the stink of marijuana," Jim casually dismissed the shirt as he leaned against the square pillar, waiting for Blair to finish tying his shoes so that he could give his guide the container of eggs and a plastic fork. He suspected that Charlie didn't want him making a big deal out of what he had seen.

"That smells better than the disinfectant you spread around like incense," Charlie answered, and Jim could almost see the man putting that more confident shell on over the person whose skin carried the marks of cigarette burns… a lot of them.

"It's called clean. If you ever cleaned your apartment, you might recognize the smell," Jim shot back. Charlie gave him a half smile as Blair stood up and took the container of eggs.

"If you two are through sniping, I'm dressed, Charlie's dressed, and we might as well head for work," Blair interrupted. "See you at the station at about three?" Blair asked as he picked up his bag with his laptop and slung it over his shoulder. Jim held out the eggs, and Blair took them with a roll of his eyes.

"You bet," Jim answered, not mentioning his plan for an early lunch. Blair headed for the door, and Charlie followed without any further comment about either his warning or the history he carried etched into his skin.

Part Fourteen

Blair walked the arcade, the grey stone arches creating patterns of shadow and blinding sunlight as he focused on breathing without passing out. Dozens of students rushed around him, hurrying to the administration building with drop-add forms and scholarship forms and work-study forms they needed signed between classes or on their lunch breaks, but Blair clutched the simple note on white paper.

He could feel his heart start pounding painfully, and he almost wished he hadn't turned down Charlie's offer to come with him, not that Charlie could do anything if Chancellor Edwards decided to suspend him or fire him or have him arrested. Blair stopped in the middle of the covered sidewalk and leaned against one of the stone arches that made the famous arcade that appeared on the front of the catalogue of classes every year.

Remembering the first time he'd seen the tall stone arches supporting the curved roof, Blair wondered if he was about to walk the familiar landmark for the last time. Funny enough, his first walk down this path at fifteen had caused him nearly as much anxiety as he faced a world he didn't understand without his mother there to brush off conventional beliefs as "trite" and "naïve." Of course, life had turned out fairly good even after the fearful beginning, and he tried to hang on to some optimism, but a note from Edwards never led to anything good. Shit, it usually came right before the university turned down his dissertation topic or returned his master's thesis for revision or rejected a grant proposal or turned him down on an expedition… not that any of those had the power to do as much damage as 'come see me' note in his hand now.

For the first time, Blair wished he had told Jim that everything was on the verge of falling apart. Then again, maybe he could get another school to honor his deal with the USSP. Maybe he hadn't just completely fucked up his life and Jim's too. And maybe Edwards would have him arrested, and the USSP would come swooping in. And maybe the world would end and save him from all the possibilities swirling in his head. Blair had no illusions about what would happen if he lost his leverage with the USSP.

"Don't fear the reaper," Blair joked to himself, even though it didn't seem very funny as he pushed away from the warm stone and headed for the main entrance to the administration building.

When Blair reached Edwards' office, the secretary waved him through without getting off the phone. Blair straightened his shoulders and took one last look at the clock to make sure he was on time. God, he couldn't even remember what he'd said to his 9:30 a.m. anthro class. Suddenly, Blair wished he could remember his last class as a teacher, but finding the note on his office door had fairly well guaranteed that everything between then and now had been a giant blur punctuated with flashes of speculation and terror.

"Hey," Blair announced as he pushed open the door. Inside, Kelly sat with her legs crossed 'Basic-Instinct' style, her shoe dangling from a toe. Blair flinched. Yeah, that would be why he hadn't told Jim, he suddenly realized. One of his goals in life included making sure Jim never had any idea just how bad Blair's taste had been in the past. Blair would rather not face the disbelief or disgust on Jim's face when the Sentinel got a good look at Crazy Kelly.

"Mr. Sandburg," Edwards offered as she sat behind her desk. Blair noticed that she didn't stand or offer him a chair, but then she wasn't having him arrested as he walked in, either. He stood awkwardly and smiled at the last person in the room: Suzanne. She sat in her police uniform looking grim, even though she returned his smile with a nod and gestured toward the chair next to her. A little voice in his head suggested that she wanted him somewhere close enough to arrest, and the thought made his stomach tighten even as he sat in the wide, comfortable chair next to Suzanne.

"Now that everyone is here, perhaps we can get down to business." Chancellor Edwards leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. Blair stared at her steadily, refusing to show fear even in the face of having his entire life fall into tiny little Kelly-chewed pieces.

"Well, I don't see why I'm here. I've already given you my statement, and I have classes to prepare for." Kelly crossed her arms over her chest in a move that mimicked Chancellor Edwards, only her chest seemed to bulge up and over her arms, making her cleavage look even deeper. Chancellor Edwards frowned.

"Yes, your statement," Edwards said in a distracted voice as she shifted folders from one pile to another until she came up with a thick, red folder with "Sandburg" written in block letters on the tab. She opened it and searched the papers inside for a moment before continuing. "According to your statement, Mr. Sandburg has engaged in inappropriate behaviors, harassed you and other students, and damaged school property. I asked Ms. Tomaki to discuss that statement." Blair glanced over at Kelly, silently begging her to take back the accusations, but from the amused expression, Blair didn't think he had much of a chance appealing to her conscience.

"I understood that statements made to our campus police were confidential," Kelly pursed her lips into a small frown.

"They are. The one exception is when that statement becomes part of a criminal investigation." Chancellor Edwards spoke with sharp, clipped tones that made Blair flinch. Oh yeah, that was the sound of the executioner's ax being sharpened. "As everyone in this room is aware, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage has been done to our campus. This sort of behavior is outrageous, and I will not allow the actions of one person to disgrace this university."

Kelly glanced over, her face a mask of quiet glee, and Blair felt like kicking himself for ever falling head over heels in lust with the psycho.

"As much as I admire Blair's work, I support your position entirely, Chancellor Edwards." Kelly spoke with such a sadness in her voice, that Blair could half-believe that she *was* sorry. Or at least he could if the vindictive bitch hadn't been the one who set him up.

Now Suzanne spoke up. Reaching over, she put a hand on Blair's arm, and Blair tried really hard not to think of that gesture as a cop's way of making sure he didn't stand up. He wanted to think it was Suzanne's last effort at comforting him as a friend. "My department recovered some organic material from the damaged equipment. DNA profiling takes some time, so we have only recently received the report. Based on the results, we can conclusively say that Blair Sandburg did not damage anything."

Silence stuffed the room, and Blair stopped breathing for a half-second as his brain attempted to digest the information. He clutched the leather arms Chancellor Edwards' chair and then looked over at Kelly who had an expression of rage on her face. The minute she made eye contact, a colder, more calculated looked of repugnance replaced the initial reaction.

"Leave it to a cop to screw up an investigation," Kelly huffed her disgust. "A lot of people use that machine. You might find anyone's DNA there. And Blair is smart enough to avoid leaving evidence behind." Kelly shifted in her seat, moving so that her right leg crossed over her left now, and playing with the hem of her skirt as though bored with the entire world.

"Whoa. I'm going to ignore the whole cop insult," Blair shot Kelly a dirty look, "but you're saying I'm in the clear?" Blair turned to Suzanne, and at her smile and nod, he felt as if a weight had been removed from his chest. Hell, he felt like a whole herd of elephants that had camped on his heart just moved on.

"The blood was inside one of the broken parts. It looked like someone tried to cleanup, but once you spill blood, you always leave some evidence behind." Suzanne agreed before looking over at Kelly with a hard expression. "The DNA we found came from a woman. Chancellor Edwards requested that I escort you to central station where the university has obtained a search warrant to allow us to take a sample of your DNA."

Blair watched as the Kelly he knew from their various sexual games slowly appeared. The predator Kelly. She ducked her head and looked up with a slow smile that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up and a cold shiver go through him.

"This is obviously some sort of cover-up. I suppose you are all so anxious to keep your USSP program that you'll allow Blair to get away with anything. Just imagine how it's going to look in the newspaper that the university allows a man with a track record of sexual harassment to continue on his merry little way while the woman he harassed gets dragged down to the station for DNA tests." Kelly shifted her gaze from Suzanne over to the Chancellor. "It'll make for good headline." Blair felt the cold front as the two women considered each other over the wide oak desk.

"Considering the amount of damage you've done, I don't think you want to make me angry." The chancellor returned calmly. Blair tried to shrink back in his seat as the Chancellor and Kelly traded hard expressions. "You're looking at some serious time in jail, and depending on what you do in the next couple of hours, that time might be longer or shorter, but you will be going to jail if your DNA matches the blood inside that machine."

Blair held his breath as Kelly cocked her head, seeming to contemplate the offer. If this hadn't started as some bizarre revenge plot against him, Blair would have considered the fight to be an interesting anthropological study: the two alpha females engaging in verbal battle. However, since he had no intention of becoming caught in the crossfire, Blair sat and stared at the Native American headdress hanging on Chancellor Edwards' wall. It looked Apache, not that he knew that much about Native American art.

"You're making a mistake."

"You've already made one."

"By the time I'm through suing this university, I'm going to own everything in this room, including you."

"Young woman, this is a game you don't want to play with me." Chancellor Edwards stood up, and even though she wasn't the tallest of women, her cold demeanor made her seem larger than life. Kelly stood as well, looking down at the Chancellor with disdain.

"You have no idea what games I play." Kelly's words, spoken in a nearer whisper, caused Suzanne to stand. Now Blair was the only one sitting, and he scrambled out of his seat, eyeing the door is he considered the possibility that Kelly was just nuts enough to take a swing at the Chancellor. He had a better chance of getting to the secretary's phone than he did trying to get past those two in a full-out fight. Suzanne seemed to be thinking the same thing, because she took a step forward even as she rested the heel of her right hand on the butt of her gun.

"You can leave now," the Chancellor said coldly. Kelly didn't move, but Suzanne stepped forward. Against Kelly's tall, athletic frame, Suzanne suddenly seemed nearly doll sized. China doll, flashed across Blair mind even though Suzanne was Japanese-descent and not Chinese.

"If you would come with me, we have an appointment at the police station, and I have a car waiting downstairs." Susanne took another step closer, and Blair held his breath as Kelly considered first one woman and then the other.

"Fine. Let's get this over with so that I have time to go talk to a lawyer." Kelly turned her back to the chancellor, taking two steps toward the door before the room exploded into chaos. Blair saw Kelly launch herself sideways, but then Kelly and Susanne became a tangle of arms and legs. Chancellor Edwards instinctively flinched away from the fight, but Blair dove in. He seized the first limb that appeared and yanked. Someone grabbed his hair and ripped hard enough to bring tears to his eyes, and then Blair found himself examining Chancellor Edwards red carpeting up close and personal.

A naked knee appeared in front of him, and since Susanne had on standard uniform pants, Blair threw himself forward and grabbed Kelly's leg. A dozen times in the past, they had played sexual games, dominance games, and he had given her foot rubs or sat at her feet adoringly stroking her calves. He never knew how strong she was until he tried to hold on. The leg he wasn't holding kicked at his shoulder, a sharp, spiked heel catching the soft spot just above the breast bone. Blair flinched but held on, giving Susanne as much advantage as he could.

Then the room went still. Blair glanced up, expecting to see Kelly in handcuffs. Instead, Kelly held a big, black, ugly gun, a police issue gun, a mere inch from Susanne's face. The air went out of Blair as his heart seemed, for just a second, to stop beating.

"Hands on the floor," Kelly snapped at Suzanne, and for a second, no one moved. Blair felt like he had become stuck in some bizarre post-modern sculpture without time. Then Suzanne slowly put her hands flat on the floor. Blair didn't wait to be told; he let go of Kelly's leg and started scooting backwards. The whole time, he cursed himself silently for not going with his first instinct and running for the phone.

"Stay," Kelly said, swinging the gun toward Blair for just a second before putting the muzzle on Suzanne's head. Blair looked up to Chancellor Edwards who still stood in the corner behind Kelly. Unfortunately, the woman just stared as Kelly got on her feet, casually straightening her shirt as she backed to a wall where she could point the gun at all of them.

"Up," Kelly ordered with a flick of the gun. Blair stood slowly, listening without watching as Suzanne stood up behind him, her pants brushing against the carpet softly.

"Kelly, you don't want to do this," Blair tried reasoning, his hands held up in surrender as he tried to look helpless… not hard since Kelly was armed, a good six inches taller, and strong enough to bench press him.

"Are you telling me what to do?" Kelly's voice rose to a near yell, and Blair glanced hopefully at the door, but the heavy wood must have muffled the noise because the cavalry did not come charging in.

"Hey, didn't mean to. I'm just making the suggestion that this could get you in a lot of trouble," Blair said quietly, backing up a step and promptly stepping on Suzanne's foot, which made the officer yelp.

"No!" Kelly stepped forward and grabbed Blair by the tweed jacket he'd put on for the first day of classes. When she yanked him forward and shoved him face first into one of Chancellor Edwards' framed pictures of Arizona, Blair didn't even fight. "You, pull the phone cord out of the phone and the wall. Sit down, Chancellor Edwards," Kelly instructed the women, but Blair focused mostly on the cold metal pressing hard enough on his ear to sent shivers of pain down his neck. "Okay, tie her hands behind her back. Tighter!"

With his nose pressed to the glass, Blair focused on the spines of a short, fat little cactus as he listened to shuffling and the creaking of the chair. The gun disappeared from his head, but Blair stayed frozen in place. One twitch and Kelly would shoot Suzanne. But since Kelly taking the time to make Suzanne tie up the chancellor, Blair figured he could get her out of the room without actually killing anyone. At the edge of his peripheral vision, Blair could see Suzanne stand up.

"Okay, handcuffs. Get out your handcuffs," Kelly barked. "And the key," she added after a second. "Put the key on the desk."

Suzanne disappeared out of his vision, and Blair could only see the edge of Chancellor Edwards' chair as the officer followed Kelly's instructions.

"Okay, sit on the floor with your hands behind your back, and handcuff yourself." Blair heard more rustling, and then a strong arm shoved him into the picture so hard that he closed his eyes tightly just in case the glass broke. "No, you idiot! Put the handcuffs around the leg of the desk. Handcuff yourself to the leg, both hands behind your back."

"Okay, I'm doing it. We just need to start thinking about the future. What do you want? If you want to walk away, just leave Blair and walk away." Suzanne's voice sounded so calm, that Blair could feel a hysterical need to laugh at the Mr. Roger's Neighbor tone of voice.

"I have what I want," Kelly snapped, and Blair stumbled away from the wall as Kelly hauled him toward the desk. Chancellor Edwards watched with wide eyes, her hands tied behind her big executive chair.

"Hey, no problem. I hear you. I know you have to be a little steamed with me, so let's just talk this out," Blair tried. Kelly jammed the gun under his jaw.

"Steamed? Boy, you have no idea how angry I am," she hissed.

"Kelly, you can just walk away," Suzanne tried again even as Kelly pushed Blair stomach down on the chancellor's desk, a stapler poking into his side and her budget sticking to his face because of the sweat.

"Right. Just walk away. If you had just listened to me when I made the report about Blair, none of this would have happened." Blair watched Kelly check Suzanne's handcuffs and then walk out of sight to check the chancellor. Suzanne glanced up with dark eyes, and Blair put his hand flat on the desk to make his move. Suzanne shook her head and frowned. Blair sighed and let himself sag back down. Funny, Edwards had gone silent, and Blair couldn't remember the last time the chancellor did that. Hysterical giggles bubbled up, but then he watched as Kelly walked back into his view and squatted down by Suzanne.

"You should have believed me. If you had just acted on the report, none of this would have happened," Kelly's voice now came out as little more than a whisper as she pushed the gun into Suzanne's side.

"Whoa. Hey, Suzanne just did her job. You cannot blame her for that," Blair said as he started pushing himself up. He hadn't gotten his face more than six inches off the desk before Kelly was back, shoving him down.

"And you. Remember all that talk about how much you liked our games? Remember when you told me that you had no problem letting me make the decisions? Power in the patriarchal system was outdated? What happened to all that talk?" Kelly demanded, and as she leaned on his back with one hand, she pressed the gun to his head with the other. Blair froze.

"You're right," he finally whispered. "I screwed this up, but you can't blame Suzanne for doing her job. You always said you hated it when women played incompetent, so I know you wouldn't want Suzanne to play dumb for you. If you're mad at someone, it's me."

Blair held his breath, half expecting the bullet and wondering if he would have time to hear the shot before his brain disintegrated into bits of meat that would splash over Edwards. Blair could feel tears threaten as he thought about how sorry he was. He should have told Jim. He shouldn't have ignored Charlie's warnings. He shouldn't have ever slept with Kelly. He had so many should's wandering his brain, that it took him a moment to realize that he wasn't dead and that he needed to breathe again if he wanted to avoid passing out.

"Stay put," Kelly ordered with one last poke with the gun. Blair didn't answer, but he also didn't move as she moved around toward Edwards again. Drawers opened and closed with blunt scrapes and then Kelly walked past him. Ripping sounds came from near the door, and then Kelly appeared next to Suzanne with strips of fabric from the flag.

"Open up," Kelly said in a strangely cheerful tone of voice as she tapped Suzanne's cheek with the gun. Suzanne opened, and Kelly shoved one clump of fabric in her mouth before putting the gun down and tying a longer strip around Suzanne's head. "I almost hope you make a move, Blair of mine. You deserve a proper punishment, and you know I'll give you one if you so much as twitch."

Kelly got up after gagging Suzanne. She repeated her orders for Edwards, and Blair lay on the desk helpless. He just needed to get her away from the campus with the bystanders, and then he would have to try and talk her down. Or maybe if someone checked on the chancellor quick enough, Jim would be able to trace his scent before a thousand students in stinky sneakers walked all over it. Blair focused on mentally estimating the number of students who could walk over his scent trail before destroying it while Kelly finished her business.

"Okay, lover. Here's the deal. You need to be punished, and you know that, right?"

"Yes," Blair agreed with a whisper.

"So, we're going to leave campus. And if you do anything to make people notice us, you'll just have to take your punishment on the spot." Kelly stepped into his vision and pointed the gun so that Blair had a nice view of the entire inside of the barrel. "Understand?"

"Yes," Blair agreed again even though his mouth was so dry that he stumbled over the "s" sound.

"Right, up then," Kelly said as she pulled on his arm. Below, Suzanne made a desperate grunting noise, but Blair focused on Kelly as she wrapped an arm around him under his jacket, the gun pressing into the small of his back.

"Let's go."

Blair followed as Kelly led them out with a story for the secretary about how Edwards needed to discuss legal issues with Suzanne and they weren't to be disturbed. He followed as Kelly led them out into the summer heat, walking the arcade while groups of timid freshman hurried by and grad students trying to score leaned against arches and chatted with girls. They had almost reached the end of the walkway when a familiar outline appeared with the sun at his back.

"Blair?" Jim asked as he stepped forward. Blair felt Kelly grab his arm with one hand while the gun pressed into his back with the other.

"Jim," Blair choked out in surprise as his Sentinel stopped just inside the shadow of the walkway's arched roof.

"If it isn't the great tragic Sentinel," Kelly huffed her disgust and pressed the gun tighter to Blair's back. She pressed close to him, the gun hidden by her body, and Blair had to fight the urge to flinch away from her touch. "Blair, tell your freaky half-Sentinel to get lost. We've got business."

"I… uh…" Blair found himself speechless as Kelly poked him hard enough that the cold barrel of the gun ground against his backbone. He squirmed forward and inch, but Kelly wrapped her free hand around his arm. Blair could only give Jim a helpless look.

Jim stood in the sunlight, his form framed by the arch that formed the entrance to the stone arcade, but he stood absolutely still.

"You'd be Kelly," Jim said quietly, his voice monotone and his face a mask without emotion. Blair glanced up at Kelly whose sneer didn't show any fear or respect.

"I guess my boy's been talking about me," she answered, pulling Blair closer. Around them, students wandered the long, shaded walkway, oblivious of the showdown as Jim and Kelly stared at each other.

"Not so much," Jim commented, his eyes flicking from Kelly over to Blair. Flinching at the tacit disapproval, Blair stood helpless as Kelly tightened her grip.

"Unfortunately, we don't have time for introductions." Kelly laughed.

Jim took a step forward into the shade of the arched walkway, and a short student with green hair dodged around the Sentinel. "No, we don't," he agreed with Kelly. "Let Blair go."

Kelly gave such a dark laugh that Blair felt a cold shiver run up his back even with the bricks radiating back the sun's heat in slow, hot waves. "Oh Blair-baby, tell your broken Sentinel what you told me," Kelly purred, her voice dangerously amused.

"You still have time to just stop. No one's hurt. Things can so totally be replaced, so you can just walk away. Oh man, no way will the university want to press charges and give the newspapers more reasons to put Rainier on the headline." Blair let the words tumble out in a frantic rush, and he could practically hear his own heartbeat accelerate.

"Blair," Jim whispered, and even though his face hid any emotion, Blair could feel the worry floating through the air. Unfortunately, he could also feel the end of the gun jam into the tender spot just to the side of his backbone.

"Oh Blair-baby. He wants me to let you go. Tell him what you said to me the first time I tied you down to the bed and rode you raw. Tell him what you cried out as I made you writhe and beg so pretty." Kelly's voice sounded so soft, gently pleading in a near-whisper as she jammed the gun hard enough to leave a bruise.

"Uh…" Blair had a sudden loss of all memory. His world narrowed to Jim's face in front of him and the gun behind.

"Tell him!" Kelly snapped brutally. Two underclassmen with heavy plastic bags from the campus bookstore paused before hurrying past. Blair swallowed hysterical laughter at the thought that Kelly had scared them off when they hadn't even seen the gun hidden between their bodies. Nice. Why hadn't he seen whatever had scared off those two… whatever had scared Charlie and made Jim stand there motionless. Everyone else knew. The gun pressed harder, and Blair smothered another hysterical laugh at the image of the gun pressing right into him, despite the fact that it really wasn't funny.

Blair scrambled to sort through his memories and retrieve the one Kelly wanted. Blair flushed as he remembered and then looked at Jim who stood motionless and nearly at attention at the end of the walk.

"I, uh," Blair remembered the sharp nylon rope around his wrists, yanking out chunks of arm hair as he shook the metal headboard with his passionate struggled. "I told you I liked being tied up," Blair admitted. Normally he had no problem admitting to non-traditional ideas, but he blushed that he'd ever been stupid enough to let Kelly tie him up.

"That's not all you said," Kelly said, frustration making her spit the words out. "I asked if you *wanted* me to let go, and you said…" Kelly paused, poking Blair with the gun again to prompt him.

"No?" Blair guessed.

"Don't play games, Blair-baby," Kelly warned. Jim's body angled, his right arm bending up toward his waist. Suddenly Blair remembered what he'd said that night.

"I asked you not to let go," Blair said quickly as Kelly's eyes wandered back to Jim's slow movements. As Blair had hoped, Kelly focused on him, gifting him with a smile that made his balls want to curl up and hide behind his kidneys. "I told you I hated how many people in my life had let go," Blair added, forcing himself to focus on Kelly and keep her focus on him. She smiled slowly-a devious smile that a few months ago would have made him ache with need and now just made him ache in the pit of his stomach.

"I knew you were mine then, Blair-baby. When you said how your mother left you here alone at fifteen and how those 'uncles' she would bring home never cared enough about you to stick around after Naomi stopped fucking them and how Stoddard left you behind when you got quarantined…" Kelly took a deep, appreciative breath as though smelling a home-made apple bie. "When you told me that, my heart broke, and I knew you were mine. I won't let go; I proved that." Kelly glanced toward Jim.

"I need that," Blair twisted a little to face Kelly as he rushed to recapture Kelly's attention. "Oh man, I needed to feel like someone was hanging on. I can be a coworker or a teacher or a student or an assistance, but take the role away, and I don't know how to be the kind of person anyone wants to hold on to." Blair stopped, the truth of his words making his chest ache with a pain just as real as the gun pressing into him.

"Now tell your cop friend to back away, and we'll go out to the car. I won't let go of you," Kelly practically crooned.

"I can't just—"

"Do it!" Kelly screamed, the expression of love evaporating like dry ice against the heat of her anger.

"Jim?" Blair glanced toward his Sentinel to had his right hand hidden by the angle of his body. Blair made a small prayer to all the deities whose names he could remember on the spot.

"It's okay, Blair," Jim offered as he sidestepped off the sideway. Following Kelly's pushes, Blair started down the shaded arcade, students wandering past in chatting pairs and small groups as afternoon classes let out.

"If you'd just admitted this earlier and not played your games…" Kelly let her words trail off yet again.

"Kelly, I never lied. When I said that, I meant it, but—"

"Back off!" Kelly snapped at Jim, and the Sentinel pushed farther into the bushes that guarded the opening at the bottom of the arch while he kept the stone at his shoulder.

"But people change," Blair continued, undeterred. "People change—I changed—you changed. OH man, the whole world changes and this—"

Slamming forward, Blair first noticed the pain in his back, a fire that drove him to his knees. Then he noticed the deafness and thrumming in his head that told him he'd recently heard something way too fucking loud. That realization made Blair struggle to turn even though his body seemed inexplicably foreign. The hot concrete under his hands had no texture; the knees that had landed on the sidewalk didn't hurt. Even worse, Blair couldn't coordinate a turn. Instead, he flopped to his side with a hand uselessly grabbing at the bare stone like an upended bug that keeps kicking its legs even though they are pointed straight up.

The way Blair fell, the sun poured down over his face, and he watched with a strange feeling, almost like being high, as students ran across Rainier's green lawns with their limbs flopping and backpacks madly bouncing.

A giant blocked the sun, and Blair flinched, or at least he tried to. Something reached down in his guts and grabbed him—holding him in place. Blair started to gasp, his body fighting him as he struggled to turn.

"Lay still," Jim's voice ordered him, and then large hand touched him—his cheek, his shoulder, his stomach.

"Ow," Blair complained weakly despite the fact that the pain was anything but weak. It rolled through his body making him want to curl up and cry, but every small movement translated into fire, so he just lay on his back looking up at the sun.

"You'll be okay. Just keep breathing for me, Chief. Nice and steady." Blair took a deep, stuttering breath and fire ripped through him, driving it right back out.

"It's okay," Jim repeated softly before bellowing, "Move it!" Blair seriously hoped that Jim meant someone else because he wasn't moving anything anywhere. A hand returned to his cheek, and Blair focused on that as he struggled for another breath. Voices came. Voices whose words made no sense, and whose hands stabbed into him with every touch. Blair struggled away from the pain weakly.

"Just lie still, Chief. You're doing good, buddy." Blair recognized Jim's hands on his shoulders, and he sagged back against the hot concrete as tears slowly trailed down the outside of his eyes, their trails disappearing into his hair.

"And again with ow," he tried joking. He gasped again as hands turned him and gouged at his back.

"You'll be okay, Chief. You have to be okay, Chief."

At first, Blair thought it had started to rain… after all, this was Cascade. But the drops hit him in the same place every time, and rain wasn't usually that precise. Squinting his eyes against the blurriness and darkness that had settled over him, Blair could see blue sky and Jim bending over him. A uniformed arm appeared, putting something cold over his mouth, and Blair finally connected the stabbing hot agony with the paramedics.

Reaching up with a shaking hand, Blair touched Jim's face, feeling the damp cheeks. Blair closed his eyes and took a painful breath.

"Don't you leave me, Chief. Don't you dare leave me," Jim ordered in a strangled voice. Blair's hand fell back to the sidewalk as the darkness squeezed out the last bit of light.

Part Fifteen

Jim held Blair's hand even as the paramedics slid the stretcher out of the ambulance. The only thing that reassured him was the steady thrump of Blair's heart, which he could feel as blood pumped through the limp arm he held in his hands. Unfortunately, that same motion of Blair's heart continued to pump blood out his back. The dressing the paramedics had put over the entry wound had soaked up so much blood that it looked like some bloated organ that had slipped out of Blair's body. Jim dialed down scent until the sharp odor of Blair's blood didn't invade his lungs with every breath.

The paramedics got the stretcher wheels extended and started running; Jim ran beside them. Even as he held on to Blair's warm fingers, he could feel Rob's hand clutching at him as he cried out in pain at every touch. Part of Jim, the logical part, said that he should walk away. He ordered himself to let go of Blair and let the paramedics do their work. But another part of him refused. Even as doctors rushed to Blair's side, Jim refused to move.

"Get him out of here," a voice ordered in the middle of all of the medical jargon: calls for blood typing and shouted numbers that measured Blair's life. Jim held on.

"Sir, you need to move back and let us do our job."

Jim ignored the tugging at his arm as a small, blonde woman fought to get him away from his guide. Dimly, Jim heard the call for security. Jim tried. He tried to let go before someone came and ripped his guide away from him. He tried to let go before he made a fool of himself once again. He tried to move out of their way. He failed.

Now the doctors struggled to move Blair from the stretcher to table, and Jim realized he was the reason they couldn't. Shrugging off the nurse's grasping hands, Jim let go of Blair only to push his way to the opposite side of the table so that he could grab Blair again.

"Security, get him out of here! If you want to help your friend, get out of our way and let us work." Jim recognized the danger in the first statement and the logic in the second, but he held on. Nurses rushed around him hooking IV's into needles and calling out readings as they attached more machines to Blair. One doctor stayed near Blair's head, working tubes and prying Blair's eyes open for inspection. The other doctor poked and prodded at the open gun shot wound until Blair moaned in pain, even though he was unconscious.

"Hang on, Chief," Jim whispered. Stronger hands pulled at him now, and Jim grabbed the side of Blair's bed to keep from getting pulled away. He wouldn't leave Blair. He wouldn't fail Blair the way he'd failed Rob.

Jim continued whispering reassurances to Blair even as new hands, stronger hands, now yanked at him with far more strength. Blair's entire bed shook with the force of each pull.

"We have to get him up to surgery."

Jim nearly flinched back when a doctor's face appeared right in front of him. The doctor had a plastic shield over his face, one that had smudges of Blair's blood across the left side. Jim blinked, and then he nodded his understanding without letting go of Blair's bed.

"If he's your friend, you have to let go." The doctor put a hand on Jim's chest and started to press. Behind him, one security guard had his arm and another pulled his belt.

"I can't--" Jim struggled to explain but he couldn't say more than those two words. He couldn't leave his guide, especially not after shooting him. Jim felt his legs to start to tremble as he finally admitted that truth, even though it was only in the silence of his own mind. He'd shot his guide. He'd shot Blair. Jim set his jaw and pushed back against the doctor who tried to separate him from Blair.

"You have to let go or you're going to kill him. He needs surgery!"

Fear shot through Jim. He couldn't kill his guide. Jim let go of the gurney, and the hands behind him didn't have time to adjust so all three of them went crashing back into a wall, sending a knot of silver cords flying off a cart and to the ground. "Save him," Jim snapped as he pulled himself out of the tangle of arms and legs where the guards still struggled to get to their feet. One security guard had landed on his back on some machine, and now he slid off. The second guard closed on Jim, grabbing his arm while Jim watched the staff rush Blair from the room.

The scent of Blair's blood hung heavy in the room, a thick, bitter smell that made Jim want to vomit. Instead he woodenly followed the pulls on his arms as the guard herded him back out to the waiting area.

"Jim!" Simon's voice called, but Jim didn't react as he focused his hearing on the floors above them, searching for the beat that had disappeared behind concrete walls and the beeping of machines and the sounds of hundreds of other hearts steadily pounding.

The security guards and Simon exchanged information, but Jim didn't bother listening. He focused on the sound of his own heartbeat as he tried to center himself. People slammed past him, running down the hall toward the double doors where another ambulance had pulled up.

Several nurses hurried into the room next to where Blair had just been, pulling supplies out of drawers. Jim only realized who they had brought when the smell hit him. He'd always thought blood smelled pretty much like blood; however, he knew this exact scent. He'd smelled it on the hot sidewalk outside of Rainier. Paramedics rushed the stretcher past Jim; Kelly was awake and moaning in pain as she tried to reach her mangled arm.

Growling, Jim stepped forward, only to find Simon's enormous bulk standing in front of him.

"Stand down, detective," Simon ordered. His voice was low and deadly serious, and Jim balanced between listening to a man who was his friend and boss and pushing past Simon to rip Kelly apart limb from limb. "Stand down," Simon repeated, and Jim could feel the murderous rage slip back down into the shadows. He still wanted to kill her, but he turned his back on the room where the doctors huddled over her arm. If the hospital were an army or USSP unit with trauma doctors who'd saw wounds like that every day, she might have a chance. As it was, Jim was fairly sure his bullet had shattered the arm beyond repair. He couldn't bring himself to care at all.

"Detective, I need your gun. It's standard procedure," Simon hurried to point out as Jim spun on him. Jim's eyes darted to the trauma room when Kelly screamed out in pain, and then he nodded before pulling out his weapon and handing it over to Simon.

"I can't leave until I know Blair's okay," Jim said in a strangled voice. Procedure would demand that he go to the station and fill out a report now, but Jim would rather quit the damn force than walk out of the hospital without his guide.

"I'll take a preliminary report verbally, you can do the paperwork later. Jim, I need to know what happened out there." Simon's voice, which usually sounded decisive or angry or just commanding, now sounded tired. Jim rubbed his hand over his face and backed up to one of the hard yellow chairs the hospital used to torture waiting family members. He just dropped into the plastic as he legs gave out. There were nicer waiting lounges upstairs, but Jim didn't even know what floor they'd taken Blair to. Besides, the security guards hovered nearby, so he didn't think he'd make it any farther into the hospital without having to commit an assault.

"This woman had pulled a gun on Blair and was trying to get him off campus. Blair tried talking her down, but she just got more worked up about Blair belonging to her. Her words suggested that she would kill him before letting him go, so as she pushed him toward the car, I took a shot at her arm. Somehow I managed to shoot both of them."

Jim locked his jaw against any more words coming out. He'd shot his partner, and now Simon knew. Even worse, Kelly was awake and in no danger of dying, while the bullet had gone in just left of Blair's backbone and come out his side. The bullet had definitely perforated the colon, and Jim's mind kept replaying his medic training from his USSP days. That sort of injury would flood Blair's body with toxins that could affect every system in his body.

"Jim," Simon said in a tone that made it clear he'd said the name more than once. Jim looked up. "Jim, he's going to be fine. You did what you had to, and from Wilke's description, you went by the book."


"Wilke called in the minute you stopped Blair and this woman. He gave a second by second report, which is good because he seems to have disappeared now. At least we have the recording, so you're in the clear."

"Simon," Jim struggled to even put words together. His hearing warbled as if he were underwater, and he gripped the arms of his chair just to keep himself from flying past the security guards and searching every inch of the hospital for Blair. "I don't give a fuck about IA or the USSP. I shot Blair."

"You saved Blair from a nutcase," Simon corrected him. "You're lucky you were there to stop him."

"Shit. It wasn't luck," Jim cursed. "Someone needs to get over to Teller and drive him here."

"Teller? What?" Simon sat down in the seat next to Jim.

"Teller warned me that things were going wrong at Rainier. I don't need him having a guilt trip and overdosing or trying to drive here stoned," Jim paused, "again," he added.

"You're worried about Teller?" Simon asked, doubt dripping from his tone.

"I'm worried about Blair's best friend. I'm worried about Blair waking up and dealing with Teller having done something more stupid that usual. Simon…" Jim let his voice trail off. He wasn't good with begging.

"Fine." Simon grabbed his cell phone. "I'll have some uniforms track him down and give him a ride over here."

Jim closed his eyes, focusing on staying in his seat as his body sent jolt after jolt of adrenaline through him. His fingers trembled with the force of hanging on to the chair, and Jim concentrated on that physical sensation instead of the terror that caused his muscles to shake. He'd shot his guide. He just prayed he hadn't lost his guide. Focusing on the clicking keys as the receptionist entered information into her computer, Jim allowed himself to zone.

"Captain Ellison," a voice called. Jim was on his feet and ready to salute before he caught himself. Browning. Jim frowned at the USSP major and sat back down. His ears popped and the room went silent as hearing went off line. Unfortunately, a second pop brought hearing back on line and set so high that Jim felt like he was sitting in the center of a megaphone.

"—with Mr. Sandburg." Browning's voice bellowed. Jim flinched back away from the noise; however, he couldn't get away. The receptionist's typing fingers crashed against the keyboard, a wheel screeched out its protest on some squeaky cart, the room echoed with heartbeats.

Jim shook his head, squinting his eyes tightly closed as he struggled to center his dial. The typing dulled and the heartbeats disappeared as he forced hearing closer to something normal. A man Jim didn't know appeared in front of him, squatting down and taking Jim's wrist in his hand to take a pulse.

"Sentinel, how long have the senses been spiking?" the man asked. He was younger, his blond hair and bright blue eyes focused on Jim.

"I… since they brought Blair in," Jim answered.

"Blair?" the doctor twisted around and looked behind him, and Jim noticed General Karn standing a few feet away from Major Browning. Jim let his eyes fall closed as his worst nightmare came to life. He closed his free hand around the arm of the chair and prayed they wouldn't try to order him out of the hospital. He couldn't go. And when they figured out how little control he had over instincts that drove him to find Blair… well, Jim remembered the feeling of tranquilizer darts hitting his skin, the coldness radiating out in tendrils that reached deep into muscles.

"Blair is Jim's guide," Simon offered. He hadn't even finished before Browning started.

"Mr. Sandburg is a researcher. And I am growing increasingly concerned about his relationship with his subject, namely Captain Ellison." Browning took an aggressive step forward.

"Major, I think the doctor is more interested in Captain Ellison's views than any political grandstanding," Karn broke in. Jim glanced up at the general who had pressed his lips together tightly.

"I am more concerned about a well-intentioned young man seriously damaging Captain Ellison. I'm afraid the captain's judgment really can't be trusted," Major Browning said, his words sliding out like an oil spill.

"My judgment is fine," Jim objected. Ignoring the doctor who still knelt on the floor in front of him, Jim pushed himself up and faced Browning with every bit of control he had left.

"And is that why you shot someone you viewed as a guide?" Browning asked coldly. "Of course, given your previous record, I shouldn't be surprised. I did warn Mr. Sandburg that you did not deserve either his respect or his trust. I think you have proved my point."

Jim stared coldly at the major, not answering since he really didn't have an answer. Any attempt he made to justify the shooting would only sound like an excuse, and the cold truth would still stand, unchanged and naked, in the middle of the room: he shot Blair.

"Detective Ellison acted to save a civilian member of the department," Simon broke in, stepping out from behind General Karn to stand next to Jim. Never before had Jim been so relieved to have someone stand next to him. Now the doctor stood up.

"I can't say I care about any of this. Sentinel Ellison is suffering classic anxiety with sensory spikes and an elevated heart rate. Someone needs to find out where his—" the doctor stopped and glanced at Major Browning, "where Mr. Sandburg is."

For a moment everyone stood still. Jim glanced over and noticed Wilke with his pinched face and the tall USSP officer who had conducted painful tests on him in the station—Cohn. Teller stood in a far corner, watching with wide eyes, and a number of uniformed Cascade police and USSP officers stood around the edges of the room. As he watched, Ricardo and Brown and Rafe started pushing through the USSP officers to reach them. Even those poor souls who just needed stitches or who were waiting for loved ones watched in open curiosity as the battle lines formed.

Teller stepped forward. "He's on the fourth floor, in surgery, but the desk said that no one is allowed on the surgical floor and that we should wait here until they know which floor he'll be sent to for recovery." Charlie stopped near the outer ring of uniforms, and Jim could smell the distress rolling from him.

"That isn't an option in this case," the doctor said as he left the group to go confront the nurse at the check in station.

"Is he?" Charlie stopped. Jim flinched at the pain there. He'd caused that.

"The bullet that shattered Kelly's arm bounced off the bone and went in through Blair's back. He's hurt," Jim admitted. He stopped, fully prepared to take whatever anger Teller wanted to unleash on him. Instead the man sank into a chair and dropped his chin until it rested on his chest.

"I told him to stop hanging with the psychos," he said softly. "Dude, you have no idea how nuts she was. She would have killed him." Charlie looked up, and Jim could see the forgiveness.

"I shot him," Jim said, ignoring Simon and Karn and Browning and even his fellow detectives. Charlie shook his head.

"You shot psycho bitch from hell. The universe turned the bullet. If Blair were here, he'd totally be spouting some bullshit about things happening the way they needed to happen to balance the universe." Charlie's words made Jim smile. That did sound like Blair. "Bullshit. It's just fucking bad luck," Charlie finished.

Jim opened his mouth to reassure Charlie even though his own guts had knotted in fear that their luck would turn even worse. Men died from wounds like Blair's; Jim had seen that too often to ignore the truth. Instead the doctor reappeared, wrapping a hand around his arm and tugging him toward the elevators.

"Sentinel, let's go check on your guide."

Jim forgot Charlie and Karn and the entire disaster waiting to blow up into a battle royale as the Cascade police faced off against the USSP. As the doctor let him toward the elevator, Jim finally lost control of the little voice in his head that had whispered 'mine' ever since he had let go of the gurney and let the staff take his guide away from him. Covering the distance with long strides, he jammed at the elevator button without even paying attention to the doctor now trailing behind him.

Part Sixteen

Jim dozed on the cot Dr. Malain had forced the staff to set up next to Blair's hospital bed. A respirator clicked away and an IV dripped antibiotics into Blair's system, but the surgeon insisted that Blair had good odds. At least, he'd offered that after Dr. Malain had forced the doctor to give Jim a realistic assessment right there in the middle of surgery with the surgeon's hand inside Blair's body.

The surgeon had snapped that it was a grade two trauma with fecal contamination but no devascularization and he was attempting re-anastamosis. Even though Jim didn't understand the technicalities, Dr. Malain had relaxed at the news. So Jim had sat through the operation at Blair's feet, one gloved hand wrapped around Blair's ankle, while Dr. Malain, specialist in Sentinel-Guide medicine for the USSP, assisted the surgeons.

Blair made a noise, and Jim forced his eyes open to take another check. Blair sweated lightly, his body damp and warmer than normal, but not dangerously so. His eyelids flickered, and for a second, Jim thought he might wake up, but then his guide settled back into silence. Jim glanced at the window where the morning sun just now started to make the drawn shades glow. Despite the fact that he had only caught short naps, Jim sat up, taking Blair's hand in his own as he cracked his back and pushed back his need for sleep.

"How is he?" a woman asked from the door as she pulled a cart into the room.

"Still not waking up," Jim said. He tried to not sound worried, but he must have failed.

"That's normal for this level of trauma. His body took a lot of damage, but his tests look good. Is his fever the same?" the nurse asked as she pulled down a nearly empty IV bag and hooked up a new bag.

"Yeah, the same."

"That's normal too," the nurse assured him.

Jim looked down at his partner. Blair's pale face looked distorted with the respirator, and his arms sprouted tubes and wires. Despite that, Blair's heart continued its regular rhythm. "He's strong. From the first day on the job, he has never walked away from a fight, and he'll win this one," Jim said confidently. A little whisper still stabbed at him, but he could hear the steady beat of Blair's heart and his guide no longer smelled of blood and contamination.

"I don't doubt it," the nurse agreed as she smoothed the hair back out of his face. "I imagine he has to be strong being a guide. You Sentinels and guides go into such dangerous places. My brother is overseas, and when Sentinels work the field, he says you can find terrorists even if they're hiding so deep in caves that patrols walk right over their heads and never spot them."

Jim flinched at the hero-worship in the woman's voice, and then something she said registered.

"Who told you?" he asked. She turned to him with a confused expression. "Who told you Blair was my guide?" Jim clarified.

"Oh, Dr. Malain. He tore the doctor down in the E.R. a new one, and he had the hospital call in all off duty emergency room staff for a training on Sentinel-Guide medicine. He told the head of security that physically pulling a Sentinel away from an injured guide was a good way to trigger instincts that could have ended up with people hurt if you didn't have so much self-control." The nurse laughed. "I think Anthony saw his life flash before his eyes when Dr. Malain described how most Sentinels would have reacted to that sort of manhandling."

"Anthony?" Jim asked, his stomach tightening at the thought of people talking about him behind his back. He dialed up his hearing a notch to focus outside the room for the first time since they'd settled Blair into the bed.

"He was one of the guards in E.R. Dr. Malain told him that any other Sentinel would have snapped his arm and explained Sentinel-Guide protocols later. Well, if you don't need anything else—" She stood near the door with her cart, waiting with a warm smile.

"Thanks," Jim offered as he listened to the voice outside the room. "I appreciate how well you're all taking care of Blair."

"Of course, Sentinel," she smiled wider.

"Could you tell Simon Banks to come in here?" he asked as he identified his captain's unmistakable baritone.

"We don't normally allow two visitors," the nurse glanced down at Blair who still lay limply against the white hospital sheets. "But then again, you'll know the minute anything causes him any stress, so I'll let you take care of your partner. I'll get him."

While the nurse only asked Simon Banks to step in the room, Major Browning and then General Karn followed.

"How is he?" Simon asked with a glare in the direction of his two followers.

"Doctor said something about removing a section of intestine and reattaching. He's going to be weak for a while, and they're keeping him in the hospital until the risk of infection is past."

"But he's going to be okay," Simon interrupted. Jim could hear the stress in Simon's voice, and he nodded. He didn't trust himself to talk now that he knew Blair would survive. In the operating room, he'd pushed all the guilt and fear to once side as he concentrated on the sound of Blair's heart, and now his emotions threatened to careen out of control.

"Thank god," Simon said softly.

"Certainly no thanks to Captain Ellison," Browning crossed his arms, and Jim bit his tongue to avoid saying any number of inappropriate comments.

"I hardly think this the time or place," General Karn broke in as he came forward. "The boy is quite the fighter, so I have no doubt he'll be out of here long before anyone expects."

"And that brings us to the salient point," Browning commented. General Karn had stepped forward, and now Browning walked around the man and stepped to the side of Blair bed on the opposite side from Jim. Jim clenched his jaw around curses that would only give Browning more ammunition… not that Browning needed more ammunition after he's shot his guide.

"What the hell are you people talking about? What salient point?" Simon demanded. The man kept his voice well below his normal bellow, but his aggravation came out in every clipped syllable and annoyed tone.

"Yet again, Captain Ellison has shown a predilection for physically harming guides. As the senior officer of the USSP Guide program, I must intervene when I have evidence of a pattern of behavior." Major Browning looked up, watching Jim with a smug expression that made Jim stand up and lock his hand around the railing of Blair's bed.

"I won't leave him," Jim said in a quiet, deadly voice.

"No need. You have obviously bonded, but with a clear pattern of abusive behavior, your time with your guide must be monitored. The law is clear."

"But you said Blair wasn't a guide," Simon broke in. He looked at Jim in confusion, but Jim didn't have any answers either. A quick glance toward General Karn just made Jim even more suspicious because the man had a constipated expression as if he'd just sucked a lemon by accident and was trying to hide the grimace.

"As General Karn's doctor pointed out, medically, guide can only be distinguished by their sentinels' reactions to them. That being the case, Mr. Sandburg medically fits the definition of a guide and is our concern." Browning announced, and Jim spotted the trap as it closed around him. His hand immediately went to Blair's limp arm, feeling the heat as though seeking to make sure his guide hadn't dropped dead at the shock of Browning laying claim to him.

Jim tightened his jaw as he bit back angry words. These people had made Blair's life miserable, and now Browning sailed in and laid claim on Blair as though he had any right. Jim's hand tightened, fisting the blanket that covered Blair's body.

"Since you have gone on record objecting to Blair's status, I doubt your claims would stand up to any challenge," General Karn objected, narrowing his eyes as he considered the major. Jim just wished he could believe the objection meant that General Karn honestly wanted to help. He suspected it had more to do with the political in-fighting between Karn and Browning.

"And I am a big enough man to admit to being wrong. While the garbage about guides being biologically unique is obviously hogwash, your doctor very eloquently argued that anyone who can claim a Sentinel's loyalty and bond is medically a guide. Therefore, the guides have altered our definitions to reflect that irrefutable fact."

"Which would make you not a guide," Simon pointed out. Jim just focused on breathing.

Browning gave a thin, tight smile as he turned toward Simon. "My rank and training are quite enough to prove my abilities as a guide. Dr. Malain has simply shown us that anyone who is able to claim a Sentinel's loyalty also becomes, by default, a guide. And with the attack on Guide Sandburg, Captain Ellison has committed three known assaults and is—"

"No!" Jim snapped. "I will take you to court on this," he practically snarled. He had a sudden vision of life inside a USSP camp under a hostile Sentinel order. One of the few female Sentinel's he'd known before Peru had been convicted under those laws, and the conviction worked as well as a finding of mental incapacity. The USSP would have full custody of him, and any interactions with Blair would happen under supervision.

"Court? The first two assaults are documented, and shooting your guide certainly constitutes a third assault," Browning insisted with a pleased smirk.

"Jim took action during an attempted kidnapping. He will not be found guilty of any assault," Simon insisted as he took a step to the right, effectively blocking the door. Jim wondered whether the man moved on instinct or really meant to take this to a physical fight if he needed to. Given Browning's soft and slightly flabby middle, Jim would bet on Simon taking the man down in one hit.

"I'll challenge the assault against Thomas; I'll publicly claim self defense," Jim said calmly even though his heart pounded erratically. The idea of the guides taking custody of him, of having no rights except what Browning chose to give him, made Jim's stomach knot into a tiny, writhing ball. "And Blair will never support an assault charge."

"Guide Sandburg has been overcome by the responsibilities involved in guiding such a difficult Sentinel, so Guide Wilke will testify about both the assault against him in the squad room, and the shooting."

"We have Wilke on tape. His report clears Jim, and he was never assaulted in the squad room," Simon practically growled. He also stepped forward, his hands clenching in anger. Browning physically twitched and then held his ground.

"In the heat of the moment, Wilke may have left out important details, and you yourself ordered him out of the squad room after he and Sentinel Ellison became involved in a conflict." Browning crossed his arms and glared at Simon. Unfortunately, the man had no hope of winning that contest and after a few minutes of mutual hatred and glaring, Browning dropped his eyes. Jim turned to his last hope, appealing to Karn with a desperate expression. Karn returned the gaze impassively for several seconds before looking down at Blair in the bed.

"You're going out on a limb," Karn finally said without looking up. He continued to watch Blair even though the slow rise and fall of Blair's chest in time with the ventilator provided the only movement. "If that limb breaks…" he let his words trail off.

"Unlikely." Browning practically spit the word.

"I have a right to hear my accusers." Jim tossed the challenge out. Maybe if he could glare murder at either Wilke or Thomas, he could get them to back down. Maybe Thomas would lie about the assault if he knew Jim would be willing to out him as an attempted rapist. Remembering Blair's words about knowledge and power, Jim played his best card. "I have a right to hear there before being taken into custody. And since I don't plan on leaving this room, you'll have to have them come here so I can challenge their versions of the assaults. After all, I have a right to tell my side of the story," Jim said with an aggressive smirk of his own.

"Simon, why don't you call Wendy Hawthorne who's been bugging us for some footage for that True Crime show of hers. I'm sure she'd love to be involved."

"USSP issues are not for public display. In today's world of terrorism, people don't need to get panicked over one out-of-control Sentinel making wild accusations," Browning snapped.

"Captain, the press have no right…" Karn began to agree.

"I have a right to confront them before being taken into custody. So, either back off or I'll make a very public statement." Jim narrowed his eyes, feeling a surge of energy as his fear turned to anger. Browning's heart started accelerating.

"You'd better have the press here quickly then," Browning suggested mildly. He walked to the door, circling around Simon with a wary expression. Simon gave Jim a questioning look, and Jim shook his head with tiny motions. If Browning had the witnesses ready now, Hawthorne could never get here in time.

Browning disappeared into the hall and then returned almost immediately. Jim's body tightened as he faced Thomas for the first time since the man had sent him into a zone in order to bond. Jim mentally snorted. That's what Karn and Browning had called it… an attempt to bond… Jim tended to think of it more as rape. Thomas' skin was darker, tanned and one arm had a patchwork of scars. From the pattern, Jim guessed a fall into something sharp, but who knew whether it was falling into roses when pruning them or catching the far edge of a shrapnel spray.

Jim half-expected himself to feel the protect outrage of someone hurting a guide even after Thomas' betrayal. He also expected to feel fear at being around someone who had turned his senses against him. Instead, he felt nothing. Jim walked around the bed calmly, putting himself between Blair and Thomas.

Behind Thomas, Wilke with his pinched expression stood in full dress uniform. Wilke took up a position beside the door while Thomas stepped in, faced General Karn, and gave a sharp salute. Karn returned the salute without bothering to hide a disgusted expression.

"Captain Mayer, would you care to describe what happened the last time you saw Captain Ellison?" Browning asked, but the whole time, Browning watched Simon. At first, Jim thought Simon had just intimidated the man, but as Thomas told of an unprovoked attack that had left him with a black eye and sprained wrist, Jim realized he'd been set up.

"So, would you care to dispute that?" Browning asked, flickering his gaze toward Jim for just a second before looking back at Simon.

Jim clenched his teeth as he tried to organize words that he truly wanted to avoid. God he was a hypocrite. He'd coached a thousand victims, and yet when it came down to it, he wanted to hide the attack—he wanted to hide the fact that Thomas had put him into a position of powerlessness. Jim looked first at Browning and then over at Thomas. His former guide stood at parade rest, his eyes focused on the wall in perfect military form.

"I'm going on record as claiming self defense," Jim said carefully, holding Blair's slack hand and wishing his guide would miraculously wake. Of course, that though led to more self-loathing since Jim knew, intellectually, that he had to take this step on his own. "Thomas Mayer intentionally triggered a zone and then attempted to initiate sexual contact in order to form an involuntary bond."

Jim flinched as Simon gasped so loudly in the silence that it seemed to echo off the walls and slap at him. Bracing his shoulder, he threw himself into the only defense he had, the truth. "I consider Captain Mayer's actions nothing less than attempted rape, and I do dispute the assault charge." Jim straightened his back and pushed under the blanket until he could feel the warmth of Blair's arm.

Browning opened his mouth, and then closed it without a sound. Thomas just stood motionless with his eyes focused on that invisible spot on the wall. A wet, cold silence filled the room like a fog that seeped into every crevasse.

"I would say that Captain Ellison's description is at least plausible," General Karn finally offered slowly. "His complaint at the time certainly doesn't contradict his current description of the situation, so I would suggest that a full investigation might be warranted."

Jim looked at the general in surprise, but he didn't dare look at Simon. He really didn't want to deal with the shock and pity he knew he'd find on his friend's face. He remembered the way Simon had looked at him when the man had visited him in the mental hospital; he remembered the sympathy and the pain. He never wanted to see that again.

"If he forces a full investigation, this truly might make life more difficult, especially since the medical documentation and Lieutenant Wilke support the USSP position," Browning's words came out in tight clipped syllables that made Jim's head ache.

"You people have got to be kidding. You have one case of self defense, one push, and one righteous shooting, and you think you have the right to come in here and threaten one of my men?"

"He is USSP first and foremost. He is a Sentinel, and as a Sentinel, he owes his country and the military who trained him to use his senses."

Jim had been stroking a small bit of soft skin but now he stopped as he could hear Blair's heart break rhythm.

"Stop it," Jim snarled, holding up a hand to silence the room as Simon started his reply.

"Captain Ellison." Major Browning emphasized the rank.

"You're bothering him, get out," Jim said, turning his back to the room as he reached up and ran a finger over Blair's face above the ventilator.

"I am not leaving without you. You cannot be trusted, especially with a guide who cannot fight back." Browning insisted.

"Jim, it's a trick to get you out of the room. There must be a dozen USSP guards out there," Simon barked right back.

"Both of you, get out," Jim repeated as he reached over and pressed the button for a nurse. He could hear a heaviness, a sluggishness, inside Blair's body. Blair's eyelids flickered, and then the machine made a whining, long buzz as it registered Blair's distress.

"Get out," Jim practically begged as he turned toward the five men crowding the room. Blair shifted restlessly, his body making uncoordinated jerks that threatened to pull out IV's. The door opened, and nurses stood in the opening, shocked at crowd in the room. One of them ordered people out, but Jim focused on Blair, whose skin now started warming slightly.

Jim moved down toward Blair's feet as doctors and nurses arrived. A hand on his shoulder surprised him so that he looked up to find a nurse struggling to get by him. Browning still stood next to the door, his arms crossed defiantly while Simon physically shoved at him. A USSP guard had appeared, creating even more chaos as he stood outside in the hall and tried to pull Simon out. Unfortunately, that left even less room for the nurses who struggled to get in the room, cursing under their breaths and issuing worthless orders for the men to get out.

"All of you out," Jim practically roared.

"Not likely, Captain," Browning snapped back as he closed his hand around a pieced of equipment to try and keep from being pulled from the room from Simon. Blair twitched again, making wet sounds into his respirator, and Jim felt himself tense at the sound. Unfortunately, there were no enemies to fight. Making up his mind, he backed away from the bed. They were bonded. Browning couldn't keep them apart forever.

"If I'm not here, you'll leave?" Jim asked, turning toward Browning and using every bit of control not to charge the man and drive a fist into his smirking face.

"If I know for sure you do not have the freedom to come back here, I'll leave," Browning corrected him.

"Jim, don't do this," Simon threatened. "There's another way."

"Not without endangering Blair," Jim said as he stepped toward the door. "Simon, out. The doctors need to work. You too, Major," Jim bit his tongue to avoid saying more as he left Blair's side. Outside, USSP guards waited, and Jim almost felt relief as hands grabbed him. He couldn't have kept control much longer and at least this way, Blair could get treatment.

Part Seventeen

Blair struggled to open his eyes. A half dozen times, he'd managed the feat only to fall right back asleep, his body checking in with a half dozen pains that he hadn't been able to even catalogue before dropping back into that blue space of dreams. For hours he floated in warm waters lined with giant fronds, feeling fish and algae slide past his naked skin. This time was different.

He could feel his throat burning with a need to cough, but he couldn't seem to get his muscles to coordinate the motion.

"Take it easy, Guide Sandburg, you've been on the ventilator for a while, so you're throat is going to be very sore. Just take normal breaths. Cough if you need to."

Blair would have rolled his eyes if he had the strength because he couldn't have kept himself from coughing if he tried. As something came tugging out of his mouth, he managed a weak cough that burned his throat and then nearly choked on a whole series of them.

Strong hands pulled him up so that he sat in bed as he coughed until tears ran. To him, they felt like he was pulling up a lung, but even he could hear how weak and thready they sounded.

"Is he okay?" And that would be Jim in over-protective mode, Blair realized as he reached out and held his partner's arm.

"It's actually a great sign. He's going to be fine," a woman's voice offered. As soon as Blair stopped coughing, Jim held an ice chip up and Blair nodded.

"No water until the doctor comes in and checks on you in about 20 minutes. Stick to ice," the nurse ordered. Blair looked at her as Jim lowered him back down to the bed. He gave her a thumbs up gesture as his answer and she smiled.

When the door dropped shut, Blair turned to Jim and mouthed the words 'Guide Sandburg' with his best questioning expression.

"You slept through all the fun, Junior," Jim said as he settled in on the bed next to Blair, or cot rather. Blair looked around the room and found evidence Jim had been here a while. A stack of jeans was folded and sitting on a tray by the window and he could smell Wonderburger fries, or at least the empty container that would often stink up their kitchen at home. Despite the electric razor on the window sill, Jim looked just about as bad as he had for the undercover work. Then again, he might still be doing under cover work.

Blair cocked an eyebrow at Jim and waved a hand in a 'go on' motion.

"Well, there's someone here to see you. Wilke would like to talk to for a second."

Blair cocked an eyebrow so hard he actually made his face hurt a little. Reaching up he rubbed his forehead while he watched Jim walk over and open the door. "He wants to apologize, but I already told him you're probably more likely to thank him than demand an apology," Jim said right before he pulled the door open. Blair cleared his throat. Obviously, sore throat or not, he was going to have to ask some questions.

Jim backed away from the door, pulling it open, and both Wilke and General Karn came into the room. Blair looked from the two USSP officers to Jim and then back.

"Mr. Sandburg," Wilkie's voice came out hesitant. His normally sharp features twisted into a grimace as he glanced at the floor. Part of Blair wanted to say something to make it easier for him, but then, he wasn't sure what he was supposed to be reassuring Wilke about. Jim's comment made him think Wilke had done something helpful, but from his guilty expression, that didn't seem very likely.

"I owe you an apology," Wilke finally offered slowly. He stood in the middle of the hospital room studying his own shoes as he shuffled nervously first right than left discussing his feet over the same 2 inches of tile. "I went on record accusing you of harassment and gross incompetence."

Blair looked up at Jim in shock. Strangely, Jim didn't seem very shocked.

"What?" Blair managed to whisper. He didn't have much volume, but it hurt less than he'd expected.

No one answered, but Wilke flinched.

"Man, whatever stupid thing you did, it's not getting any less stupid by putting off admitting it," Blair whispered weakly. General Karn moved closer to one side of him while Jim returned to the side with his own bed set up inches from Blair.

Wilkie's head shot up at that. "I'm well aware my actions have endangered your working relationship with the USSP." Wilke might have continued but Blair gave an amused snort that turned into a weak cough that made his heart monitor beep faster. Jim moved forward, resting his hand against Blair's arm as Blair closed his eyes.

"Ow," Blair whispered, and he heard General Karn's chuckle answer.

"Blair doesn't know anything about what happened," Jim explained.

Looking up at Jim and Karn and Wilke, Blair made an exaggeration wave with his hand. "I would if you told me," he pointed out roughly. Jim held up another ice chip, and Blair sucked it in, letting the cold water drip down and soothe his throat.

"Major Browning lost at his own game," General Karn said. "I brought to bear some resources to get you recognized as a guide, and Browning used that move to claim a pattern of Captain Ellison physically harming guides.

"Oh god. Rob," Blair mouthed as he looked over at Jim. The thought of Browning using Jim's first guide, the guide he'd been force to watch as enemy troops tortured him, the guide he'd never had the chance to see again…. Blair felt a flare of hot anger burn through him.

"Whoa, calm down, Chief. He brought up me decking Thomas and shoving Wilke," Jim waved toward the guide who stood in the room still looking ashamed and uncomfortable, "and the fact that I shot you."

Blair forgot to stop sucking as that last statement sunk in.

"Or rather that bullet that hit Kelly ricocheted and went in through your back. The doctors had to remove a small section of your small intestine, and you're going to be on soft foods for a while." Jim finished and looked down at his hands, which rested on the edge of the bed. Blair reached out and let his own hand rest on top of the nearest one.

"You saved me from her," Blair whispered so softly that only Jim could hear it. "I knew you would," Blair finished. Jim looked up, nodding.

"And I knew you'd say that, but it doesn't make me feel any better about my bullet going through you," Jim answered.

"Son, if you hadn't stopped that woman from taking a shot, you wouldn't have a guide," General Karn interrupted. Blair glanced over, curious about the shifting relationships in the room, but he certainly didn't expect truthful answers until he and Jim were alone. Blair looked at Wilke, waiting as the man watched them silently.

"Wait," Blair whispered. "You accused me? Weren't you working with Browning to accuse Jim?" Blair asked. He'd missed something, but then again, he was starting to feel like he needed a scorecard to get caught up on everything he'd missed.

"Even drugged you connect the dot," Karn offered. "You would have made a great soldier, Guide Sandburg."

Blair did roll his eyes at that one.

"Wilke accused you of ordering me to chase him off, and he suggested that your actions at the university constituted gross incompetence, especially since you allowed a threatening situation to escalate until it triggered my protective instincts," Jim explained.

"The second is true," Blair admitted. Looking back, he could see that he'd been completely and entirely stupid. "The first…" Blair glanced at Wilke and remembered the day in the hall when he'd told Wilke to fuck off. "I was frustrated about Kelly and school. I shouldn't have taken it out on you. And if blaming me kept Browning's claws out of Jim, you made the right call," Blair offered. Jim offered another ice chip, and Blair looked longingly at the whole cup.

"Forget it, Junior. The nurse said one chip at a time and no drinking."

"Bully," Blair mouthed at Jim. Then he blushed as he remembered the audience. And that brought up another issue.

"Oh man, what are they going to do to you?" Blair asked. Wilke stepped forward until he stood at the end of the bed and shrugged.

"I somehow doubt boiling oil is on the agenda, but I suspect I haven't made too many friends," Wilke admitted.

"You'll never get assigned with a Sentinel," Blair muttered. He could see the answering flinch in Wilke's body. Then Wilke shrugged and gave an unconcerned smile, as if it meant nothing. Blair would have been more convinced if the man hadn't physically flinched at the idea of never having a Sentinel.

"I probably wouldn't have anyway. I have a reputation for getting into a little bit of trouble."

"Why do I get the feeling that's a euphemism for you have a brain and are capable of using it?" Blair asked, reaching for the cup again and only getting a single ice chip out of Jim. He took it and crunched it before swallowing the tiny bit of water that produced.

"Possibly," Wilke conceded. "Just like it's possible that my career in the USS PA is going to include long stretches of quality time with some rather obscure paperwork."

"Why did you do it?" Blair asked softly. He remembered his anger when Wilke had followed them, pen in hand, and now his anger felt petty and childish. Somehow, he wished he'd actually noticed that Wilke had a soul willing to sacrifice everything to do the right thing. Wilke remained silent for a long time before answering.

"I watched you two." Wilke stopped, as if somehow that explained everything. Blair looked up at Jim in confusion and then back to Wilke. When no one else in the room spoke, Wilkie opened his mouth again.

"That's the way it should be. The way you to do it... the way you two stay together against the whole world. Even of I'm one of the people whose lives you seem to be making rather uncomfortable, I can't keep myself from rooting for you." Wilke gave a snort and a crooked smile as he shrugged yet again.

"This sucks." Blair complained to the ceiling as he tightened his fists and lay on the bed helpless. He felt as Jim reached out and threaded his own fingers between Blair's until their hands tangled. Then Jim squeezed gently.

"Wait, wait. General Karn," Blair waved his hand that direction.


"Jamal. The sentinel that smelled me and tried to break formation. Where is he now?"

Blair watched as the three men exchanged pained expression. It reminded him of the time José Abarata's parents tried to explain that there was no Santa Clause—they had that same desperate look as each waited for the other to talk.

"His medical condition is stable but not improving," Karn admitted.

"Why do I get the impression that's not a good thing?"

"Chief, once a Sentinel has to be restrained, he rarely recovers." Jim tightened his hold on Blair's hand.

"Not recovering as in going home and having two-point-three kids or not recovering as in a nice corner lot in the cemetery?" Blair asked with a sinking feeling. He remembered Jamal's laugh, and he couldn't help feeling responsible. If he'd figured out the pheromones faster… well, he'd be Jamal Lahad's guide. Blair tightened his hold of Jim's hand. As much as he hated the fact that his bumbling had hurt Jamaal, he wouldn't trade his cranky Sentinel for anything.

"He's not in pain, son," General Karn assured Blair. "In these cases, it's all that we can expect."

"No," Blair disagreed. "Jim pulled out of psychosis," he pointed out. He looked from one man to another as he waited for them to connect the dots.

"Go for a nice long, sweaty run," Blair said to Wilke, whose eyes grew large. "In fact, don't bathe for a day or two before you run," Blair stopped as Wilke put the dots together.

"I could arrange for an inspection that would keep the nurses out front," Karn offered. Blair smiled. Oh yeah, and his Sentinel thought he couldn't fight the USSP. Blair smiled as he felt the foundation of the entire damn program shift two inches to the right.

"Don't get your hopes too high," General Karn warned. "Jamal is not responsive to any stimulus, so it could be too late, but we'll try."

Blair nodded.

"He's tired. He needs to sleep," Jim said. Blair closed his eyes and listened to the soft muttering that he couldn't quite hear well enough to understand words. Whatever they were discussing, it would have to wait until later because he felt like he'd been hit by a Mac truck, well, either that or a bullet.

Jim's hand settled on his arm, and Blair struggled to shift away in the bed. Jim's touch disappeared, and then Blair patted the empty space on the mattress he'd just created.

"I shouldn't, Chief," Jim said.

"Fuck the rules," Blair whispered. He could hear clanging as Jim adjusted the bed. The mattress dipped with the weight, but Jim moved so slowly that Blair didn't suffer more than a little sea sickness.

"Rather fuck the guide," Jim said as he finally settled down, his hand resting on Blair's chest and avoiding the injuries.

Blair chuckled. "I have a headache," he quipped. "Oh, hey, Carasco. What happened?" A fresh ice chip appeared at his lips, and he took it gratefully.

"Rafe and Ricardo had a nice quiet arrest. They nabbed Hanes, Wallace, and one of Carasco's top men, a goon named Vargas. Vargas isn't turning on Carasco yet, but the guys are working on it."

"Man, I missed all the good stuff," Blair muttered.

"Only you would think so, Chief."

Blair opened his eyes at the tone. "Hey, life is good."

"Chief, I'm so sorry. I just keep wondering what I could do to keep all this crap from my past from coming back on you."

Blair stared for a moment, stunned. "Don't you get it? Oh man, they threw their absolute best pitch. They threw their fastest fastball. They threw the curve that they thought would knock us on our ass. They threw the most underhanded dirty, cheating spitball that they could spit on. They threw their absolute nastiest pitch, and we hit a homerun. I have recognition as a guide, Karn knows how to get his people past Browning, and Browning totally blew his whole master scheme to control you. Man, I am so sorry I was asleep when you stuck Browning with his own damn plot. Some time when my throat doesn't hurt, remind me to tell you what that kind of failure does to a man's testosterone levels and motivation." Blair panted a little and coughed as the string of words, even whispered, rubbed his throat raw.

Jim smiled. "God, I really do have a strange guide," he sighed, "a smart one, but more than a little strange."

"That's why you love me, man."

"Yeah, Chief, I do. Of course, as soon as you're healthy, I'm going to threaten to keep you on a leash and collar for hiding the problem with Kelly, but I'll love you even then."

Blair snorted with amusement at that image, and then sleep crept up, covering him in blue as he sank back down into sleep, Jim's body pressed against his side so he could feel the warmth and the tempo of their hearts beating in rhythm.



If you enjoy the drama and the complexities of this story, consider checking out some of my other work, including some of my boy/girl work. Blowback is our two heroes against the universe.


Tom is a soldier and sniper on a ship tracking space terrorists. Despite being unlucky at love, he hopes to catch the eye of a crewmate named Becca. She's smart and strong and everything he wants. However Da’shay, an exotically beautiful alien with her own very strange ideas, keeps ruining his plans. While Tom loves playing trust games in the bedroom, where he’s happy to let a woman take complete erotic control, in real life he never trusts easily. Da’shay is no exception to that rule. Besides, she's strange.

But when danger forces Tom to rely on Da’shay, he finds himself drawn to more than just her body. Her strength and her suffering intrigue him. As the conspiracies and blowback threaten the entire crew, Tom finds his loyalties and his love starting to turn toward the one woman he never would have expected.

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