Jim crossed the threshold of the precinct with more than a little concern. Last time he was here, the sound of cells slamming and perps yelling their innocence and cops typing up reports had merged into one cacophony that had sent him into a hearing spike that nearly killed him. Now he just had to worry about his fellow cops arresting him and the hippy guide following him and the entire USSP which was going to be happy enough to want to throw them both in a deep, dark cell. And Thumbelina behind him seemed entirely too oblivious.
The officer at the front desk must not have received the memo about Jim being an official nut case because he just nodded as Jim walked by the front desk and Jim nodded back.
"You have a pass?" Jackson asked a millisecond after the man acknowledged Ellison.
"What? Me?" Blair asked in surprise.
"He's with me, Jackson," Jim said as calmly as possible and he promptly pulled Blair to his side so that his own body was between the two men. The minute he did it, Jim flinched, but Blair just let himself be maneuvered without complaint. Not willing to push his luck or Sandburg's patience, Jim hurried toward the elevator. He'd pushed the button three or four times before he realized that he still had his hand on his guide's back. The warmth under his fingers felt so good that Jim was tempted to just let himself enjoy the moment, but he wasn't about to let himself get attached again.
The elevator doors opened, and he dropped his hand and forced himself to keep some distance as Blair stepped in.
"Man, you are going to explode from all that bottled up emotion man, this kind of repression is bad for the soul," Blair said once the doors had slid shut on them.
"Not the time, Junior. Just remember to let me do the talking."
"Yeah. No problem. I don't have any idea how to explain this anyway. I've been studying sentinels for years, and I've never heard of anything like this ever happening before."
"Yeah, I'm a regular freak."
"Oh, man. You are way too hung up on that word. There is no way…"
"…way you are anything like a…"
"Drop it," Jim growled a little louder, but the kid just kept right on talking.
"…freak. You are fucking incredible and totally acting on natural instinct here, which is completely…" Jim slammed his arm into his guide's upper chest pinning him against the side of the elevator car.
"And I'm thinking you want me to drop the subject," Blair finished without even a hint of fear scent coloring the air. Jim stared at his guide, horrified with himself for physically touching his guide in such a way and equally shocked that Blair just gazed back completely unperturbed by such outrageous actions. The two stood locked in this position until the elevator doors rang open to Major Crimes.
"Ellison?" a shocked voice asked. Jim turned his head to see one seriously shocked expression.
"Hey, big guy," Jim backed off and watched as Blair turned a smile to Taggart.
"I thought you were on leave?" Taggart's said uncertainly as his hand reached out and grabbed the elevator doors which had started to close on them.
"Just gotta talk to the captain," Jim said as he quickly pushed Blair out in front of him and started for the doors to the Major Crimes area.
"Hi, Blair Sandburg," Blair stepped away from him and stuck his hand out at Taggart who both returned the handshake and shot Jim a confused look.
"Joel Taggart," the large black man offered, but before they could exchange any more than that, Jim had gotten a hold of Blair's shoulders and turned the man toward the squad room.
"Nice to meet you," Blair sort of shouted over his shoulder and even as Jim pushed him through the door and toward Simon's office. "Well that was rude," he added softly enough that Jim knew it was for him. He immediately dropped his hands off Blair's shoulders and stepped ahead of his guide. He also tried to ignore Brown who had stood the minute the walked in and had an expression on his face like he was about to tackle both of them.
Right, just get to Simon, Jim told himself as he went up to the door and knocked.
"What part of don't interrupt me did you not understand?" a voice yelled from the other side.
"Simon?" Jim yelled back, not wanting to interrupt, but by coming here he really had put a lot of faith in the guys backing him rather than throwing him back in the nuthouse, if the nuthouse would even have him after the incident with the exploding wall. The door suddenly flew open hard enough that the doorknob slammed into the wall and the glass shivered.
"Jim?" Simon stood with his eyes wide and his mouth open, and Jim drew a breath as he tried to figure out what exactly to say.
"Hi, Simon. Boy, you weren't kidding about Jim being a little touchy, were you?" Jim watched as Blair side scooted around both of them to the office and threw himself down in one of the insubstantial chairs waiting for Simon's visitors. Jim had to stomp down on a desire to pull his guide back to his side. Shit, he knew better, but he just couldn't keep his head on straight around the kid.
"Sandburg?" Jim started pushing his way past Simon to get to his guide, but Simon's large hand closed over his forearm. "Jim?"
"Man, are you planning on saying anything other than our names?" Blair said just as Jim found his own voice.
"I'm fine, Simon."
"Fine? You're fine? What about six feet of rubble that used to be a wall at Oak Groves, what about you disappearing into thin air, what about the detectives who've been working overtime trying to find you?" Simon ran out of breath.
"I think we need to talk," Jim admitted and Simon stepped back into his office with Jim following. Jim took a seat near the window, and Simon stuck his head back into the bull pen.
"I don't want to be interrupted and this time I actually mean it," Simon snarled before slamming the door and retreating to his desk. "Okay, I'm hoping you have some answers that actually make some sense. And is there a reason you brought Sandburg with you? In fact, where did you find Sandburg?"
Jim glanced over, but Blair was actually staying quiet. Jim wondered how his guide made decision about when to listen and when to totally ignore Jim's requests. He was starting to think Blair timed his responses for maximum annoyance.
"I want back on active duty, and I want Blair signed on as my guide," Jim calmly announced and Simon's face went through a whole series of emotions from shock to relief to frustration and back to shock.
"Guide? Sandburg? Since when is Sandburg a guide and since when is Jim Ellison, hardass and loner, looking for a guide?" Jim took several deep breaths because there really wasn't an easy answer for that.
"Man, you know how I told you I had this second dis topic? I wanted to look at the possibility that guides were genetically unique? I totally think Jim proved my point because he tracked me down and we totally bonded." Jim flinched at the word bonded, but really Blair couldn't have any idea that was he was saying meant something different to sentinels, and luckily Simon couldn't either.
"You're Jim's guide?"
"Not exactly," Jim interrupted before Blair could say any more. "A guide is a recognized and trained position, and Junior here hasn't been recognized by anyone. I need him to be officially acknowledged," Jim said, and he hoped that Simon understood what he was not saying with the kid in the room. Simon made eye contact and held eye contact with him long enough that Jim thought he'd gotten his point across. Unfortunately for him, his guide was not exactly an idiot, and he got the point too.
"Oh man. This sucks. Until I get recognized by someone we got zero legal protection here, don't we?" Blair blurted, and Jim felt his jaw tighten at Blair's frustrated tone.
"We just need to get you hired as an official guide, and then we're fine," Jim said as he pinned his captain with his coldest stare. Given a choice between his job and his guide, he would protect his guide first. "Meanwhile, I want back on the job Simon."
"On the job?" Simon's voice rose in surprise. "I'm trying to figure out how to avoid having to charge you with destruction of property, endangerment, and illegal use of explosives. And I don't even want to know how you got your hands on explosives," Banks voice was now nearing his full shout, and Jim just stood silent. He had wondered about the explosives too, but he wasn't going to ask Charlie where the man came up with them because he didn't want to have to arrest the one man who had been willing to break him out of the Oak Groves. "You want me to just ignore this whole incident and give you back your shield?"
"He is totally over the sensory overload. Totally. I'm sure he was a little out of hand, but I think the doctors at Oak Groves can prove he has his senses back under control." Jim opened his mouth to contradict his guide because there was no way he was going back in for testing. No Fucking Way. Before he could comment, Simon smiled.
"Done," he said with a slap on his desk that slid a file an inch or two. "You two get over to Oak Groves for testing and make nice with the director, and I'll work on getting Sandburg on the books." Simon leaned back in his chair looking satisfied, and Jim tried to find some counter argument. "Gentlemen, I do believe you have work to do, and I have to get two names off the missing persons' list." Simon turned to his computer and Jim recognized a final dismissal.
"Yes, sir," he said as he turned to leave the office. Tests. Shit. Jim was back through the bullpen and at the elevator before he realized Blair was still at his side.
"No problem, man. Just a few tests. Did you notice how those people in there were staring though? You work with some weird people. That African American dude looked ready to take you down with a flying tackle." The elevator opened, and Blair walked by Jim to get in leaving Jim standing there still trying to find a reason to avoid going to Oak Groves.
"Just tests," he finally groused as he got on the elevator. "You've never been to sentinel testing if you can say that." He stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the first floor.
"Since you're here and not locked up at Oak Grove, I'm assuming things went well," Simon said the next morning in a faintly pleased tone of voice as Jim herded his guide into the office and closed out all the curious stares with a healthy slam of the captain's door. Jim narrowly avoided rolling his eyes. Yeah, if things had gone any better, he might have killed his guide. And somehow he wasn't even surprised when Blair started that enthusiastic manic lecture mode that seemed frightenly normal for him.
"Man, he scored at the top of every scale I've ever studied. He scored a 7.2 on the indexed hearing curve, which is like having a minor league pitcher striking someone out in the World Series. I can only list three other sentinels who ever scored that high, and man, I’m talking about 125 years of keeping records. His control isn't quite as good, but he's getting here. Awesome man, things went awesome." Blair settled into a set across from Simon with a huge smile, and Jim almost found himself smiling. Almost. He still had hours of testing to be cranky about.
"Chief, I think a 'things went well' would have worked," Jim teased a bit. It was hard not to tease with Blair's unbridled enthusiasm reminding him of a hyper school kid.
"Oh yeah, great, man." Blair confirmed. Simon looked over at him, and Jim shook his head at the same time to indicate his own slightly different opinion.
"Any problems?" Simon asked suspiciously.
"None," Blair answered happily.
"Except the part where you volunteered me for a whole series of tests," Jim countered with a slight frown. Yesterday's tests had been almost bearable with Blair's voice there to talk him through the painful spikes that were the inevitable result of pushing his senses, but he had been in the military long enough that he had learned to never volunteer. Blair, however, had taken the director's none too subtle hint and had responded with an enthusiasm that Jim would have associated with winning the lottery. Of course, Blair wasn't the one who had to deal with zones and spikes and the splitting headaches that resulted from pushing his senses.
"Volunteered? For testing? Who are you and where is Jim Ellison?" Simon asked with a fierce scowl toward Jim, but Jim could also see the corners of the man's mouth twitching with amusement.
"Not funny, sir," Jim said dryly. "He agreed to a full series of tests over the next three months covering both range and control."
"Ouch," Simon said with far less sympathy than Jim thought the tragedy deserved and far more than he had actually expected from Simon.
"Oh, man. You could be the holy grail to figuring out how the senses are actually triggered. The USSP put you through the whole program, and your senses still didn't come on line until you went down in that crash in Peru." Jim felt his temper rise as Blair blithely discussed something he knew nothing about.
"Drop it Darwin," he warned, abut Blair ignored his warning.
"If we can identify the real trigger for your senses, we might find a way to help other sentinels. I mean do you have any idea how many sentinels the military is totally screwing up?" Jim grabbed his own wrist as he attempted to force down his rising anxiety as his guide showed concern for other sentinels. He knew better than to get so attached, to let himself lose control. How many times had his other guides warned him, but he couldn't help stepping right up to Blair's chair, and Blair merely looked up calmly. Simon even seemed a little concerned as he stood and leaned forward over his desk, his palms flat on the wood.
"Ellison?" Simon voice had a sharp edge that carried both concern and a veiled threat if Jim couldn't get himself back under control.
"You'll stay away from the USSP and any other sentinels." Jim ground his words out through clenched teeth and Blair just nodded as though Jim had offered ice cream.
"Sure thing, big guy. I think I'd rather avoid the whole mess right now." Jim felt his fury evaporate like frost in the sun. He quickly stepped back before his guide could complain about his physical intimidation, and one look at Simon's face told him just how out of control he had been. Simon's eyes were comically wide, and his lips pressed into a straight, grim line. "So, Simon, how is the job front going?" Blair asked as if his own sentinel hadn't just tried to physically terrorize him. Not that intimidation actually worked, Jim realized. Even before his senses had completely returned, he could smell a suspect's fear when he had turned on that covert persona and moved into their personal space. Blair had just looked up with perfect trust as though believing every child's book he'd ever read on the perfection of sentinels.
"Gentlemen, we have a slight problem," Simon admitted, and Jim felt himself stiffen. If he couldn't get guide status for Blair, he wasn't sure how he could keep the USSP from coming in and taking Blair again.
"I need him, Simon," Jim said, struggling with his need to keep his guide close and his conflicting need to not be so pathetically dependant.
"I got him credentials to ride along. But personnel is not going sign on a guide with no papers. So let's just get his paperwork from Vera so he can go with you, and we'll keep trying to get the higher ups to make an exception. Meanwhile, you've got a case detective." Jim heard the words, but his attention was focused on his guide who sat with his head thrown back and his hair hanging down the black back of his chair.
"Man. No job, no rent money, no clothes, man. Naomi always talked about letting go of the material, but this is too far even for her."
"We'll pick up some more clothes after work, Chief." Jim offered, as he tried to ignore the relieved voice in his head that pointed out that Blair couldn't leave if he didn't have money. Jim took that voice and strangled it with his bare hands. Blair had lost everything, and here Jim was thinking about his own needs. He wondered what it was about guides that brought out the worst in him.
"That's just not cool. I've been on my own since I was sixteen, but the USSP goons didn't even leave me with a driver's license or ten bucks."
"You're helping me; I'll cover it until we get this worked out." Jim stomped down on another surge of possessiveness. He needed to get the kid away from him before he lost control. "Tell you what, you head right out the door and ask for Brown. Tell him you have to get your ride along paperwork and he'll show you Vera 's office."
"It'd be nice to at least get paid enough to eat," Blair grumbled.
"You think I'd let my guide go hungry?" Jim stepped forward, his anger surging up again despite his best efforts. As he stood with his arms crossed, looming over Blair, he expected to get pulled off or yelled at or even given the boot by a guide who didn't want to put up with his attitude. He obviously wasn't used to Blair Sandburg.
"Man, I'm thinking the department shouldn't be getting two for the price of one," Blair pointed out and then he reached up and closed a hand around Jim's forearm in order to pull himself up out of the chair. Blair fingers curled around Jim's crossed arms, and Jim could feel every millimeter of his guide's touch. He could feel Blair's grip pressing into his flesh and slowing the blood flow as Blair pulled himself up right. He could feel Blair's body heat flowing toward him as Blair stood so close that his chest pressed into Jim's crossed arms. He could smell the eggs on Blair's breath from the breakfast they had shared at the loft. He could see a dozen shades of blue in Blair's eyes.
"I can pull my own weight, as long as I don't have modern day witch hunters arresting me as the local heretic," Blair pointed out, and Jim held himself still as Blair pushed back on the chair rather than try to maneuver between it and Jim. Without further comment he left the office closing the door behind.
"Jim? You okay?" Simon asked. Jim took a deep breath and reasserted some of the control that he lacked when his guide was in the room. Of course now he just felt restless and on edge with Blair out of the room, but that was an improvement.
"Yes, sir. I'm fine." Simon just snorted at that. "You said I have a case?" Jim knew he needed something to focus on. Well, something else anyway. He'd been doing a fair amount of focusing lately and none of it was healthy.
"Yeah, we've had an explosion on one of the ferry boats. Twelve killed, mostly by drowning after the explosion and no suspects. Joel and every other bomb expert in the state have said that the bomb components are so common that they can't give us anything. If your senses are on line, you may be our only hope of finding whoever did this." Jim felt a more familiar anger creep up his backbone. This was his territory, and no one could come in and challenge him.
"Given your expression, I assume you're willing to take the case," Simon said with a small chuckle and Jim pulled his anger back.
"Simon, you know I am. Any leads?"
"Other than the obvious terrorist act, no. Rafe has been looking at the usual terrorist suspects with no luck."
"I'll get the file from Rafe," Jim said as he mentally ran through a list of suspects and snitches in his head.
"Just remember to bring the suspects home in one piece. I'm starting to worry about you here, detective. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Just having some adjustment problems, sir. The USSP isn't going to just walk away, and Blair does things that…" Jim stopped. How could he explain to Simon just how much the kid annoyed him at times without making it sound like he didn't like the kid?
"Yeah, he grows on you like mold, but it can still be annoying as hell. I fought like hell to get him recognized as a guide, and I'm worried that without some sort of protection, now you're both going to disappear one night."
"It could happen, Simon."
"Damn it. I don't know who else to go to. He doesn't have guide training or the certificate."
"I tried, Jim."
"I know you did. But I need another favor."
"I think that will depend on what you want," Simon said cagily. "I'm hoping there are no explosives involved this time."
"Call a press conference," Jim asked. Simon froze, searching Jim with his eyes so intensely that Jim might have been convinced that the man was a sentinel himself.
"Are you going to let Blair announce his theory?" Simon asked slowly. Jim let himself consider that option for a moment, but he knew that in the long run, that wouldn't be best for Blair or himself, or for the USSP in general. If they backed the USSP into a corner, things could get very messy, so it was time for some more subtle forms of attack. And despite his colleagues' opinions, he could do subtle.
"Hell no. He'd talk the press to death and then I'd have to arrest my own guide. But if they knew that Blair has been working with me, trying to take the place of a guide without the guide training…. If I tell them how Blair is an expert on guides and sentinels, they might be interested in a way for sentinels to work without a formal guide."
"So make yourself enough of a public figure that they can't touch you two without getting every conspiracy theorist in the state up in arms," Simon confirmed with a small smile. "But at the same time, you aren't challenging their theories… you aren't calling Blair your guide."
"Something like that." Jim dropped into on of the chairs and spent a moment trying to locate his guide. Finally he heard a faint burst of laughter from Blair, and he forced himself to relax. "If they think we're willing to keep our mouths shut in return for being left alone, they may take the offer."
"Will that keep them away long term?" Simon finally asked in the silence of the room as he brought a cup of coffee to his lips.
"I don't know. I’m military, Simon. They have the legal right to recall me, but maybe I can get them to leave Blair alone. But if they figure out where he is and we haven't made any plans...." Jim paused as he considered some of the darker duties he'd been called to do in his covert ops days. "I just don't want them to get their hands on Blair even if they do call me back to active duty."
"I thought sentinels and guide always traveled together."
"I've been through four guides already, Simon. It hurts to separate, but it's very possible. If they come for me, I don't want him getting caught up in the middle. If we go public, the USSP can't take him without making him look important and making people go digging into the kid's past research."
"So this is more about him." Jim looked up and caught a calculating expression on Simon's face that he didn't quite understand.
"Hopefully it will be enough for the USSP to just call a truce. We won't call ourselves sentinel and guide, they won't draft us back into the military. The kid can't take what happens in the USSP, Simon. I don't want him destroyed."
"I'll call the press conference for tomorrow afternoon. Press always eats up the sentinel angle, and they'll love getting you in front of the camera. Every time I have a conference they complain because I can't drag you down to meet with them. So, you get that file from Rafe and go to that sentinel thing," Simon ordered, and Jim gave a little laugh. Simon had always been casual about his sentinel abilities, which was a relief from the hero worship and ridiculous expectations of most people, but Simon had never dealt with Jim when the senses were on-line and he was a true sentinel. Jim just hoped he could control himself well enough to not get shown the door. God knows the USSP didn't put up with him for long.
"Thank you, sir," Jim said as he stood and started for the door. He hoped that Simon understood just how many reasons Jim had to be thankful. Taking a deep breath, Jim pulled open the door and faced the detectives who had all picked this morning to catch up on all their paperwork.
The big, black head of the bomb squad stood leaning against a file cabinet. He wasn't officially in Major Crimes, but in today's world of terrorism and suicide bombers, Joel Taggart had become a *de facto* member of Central Precinct's first line of homeland defense. Henry Brown sat at his desk near Simon's office, a piece of paper in his hand and half way to the desk frozen in space. Salvatore Ricardo, the newest member of the main shift despite his salt and pepper hair and lined face, stood by the fax machine and at least tried to look like he was doing something other than staring. Detective Rafe didn't even bother trying to look busy. He sat on the edge of his desk watching with hazel-brown eyes and a growing smile.
"Well you're a welcome sight for overworked eyes," Rafe finally announced and the other detectives added small words of support, Brown's "Hell, yeah" clearly the loudest.
"What, you girls can't handle the workload on your own?" Jim asked with a smile.
"Har-har," Taggart added as he walked up and slapped Jim's arm. "We just got slowed down spending all our time looking for your sorry ass."
"Good thing I came back because you weren't doing such a good job at that," Jim shot back, and he couldn't remember the last time he had felt so comfortable with this group. He had always felt like he was connected to the department through Simon who had recruited him from Vice and acted as surrogate guide when everyone else had started avoiding taking calls with him. Well, to be fair he had broken Brown's nose coming out of a zone once, so he couldn't blame them.
"Hear ya got a guide," Ricardo said, his New York accent still slightly coloring his deep voice.
"Got a ride along who can duck faster than you lot," Jim replied as he went back to his desk. His usual stack of files and notes stuffing his two baskets had disappeared. However, his pictures and knickknacks still waited. He fingered the gooseneck lamp as he looked down at the pictures of his wife and his mother: two more people who hadn't been able to handle having him around too long. Jim picked them up and reverently put them in a desk drawer. It was time to let go of that past. A small plastic Jags pencil holder still waited with its mismatched pens inside. Sitting in the center of his desk were his resignation letter still sealed and a file labeled "MC15147: Ferry Explosion."
Jim lowered himself into his chair and opened the file to Rafe's summary written in the detective's neat, crabbed handwriting. If Rafe hadn't made time to type up his notes, the unit really had been busy. Jim looked up at the bull pen, and most of the guys still watched him. Simon had obviously noticed the lull as well.
"Police work is not a spectator sport, people. Get to work!" Simon yelled from the door, and Jim ducked his head and started reading the meticulous file. He was seven or eight pages in when one sound started rising above the background noise. Jim had to strain to hear it clearly, so it obviously wasn't loud, but he cocked his head in concentration.
"Man, you are going to be in so much trouble. I'm just waiting for my credentials."
"No unauthorized personnel are allowed above the second floor."
"I'm not unauthor… OW!"
Jim stood so fast that his chair bounced off the wall behind him, but he was charging toward the door, roughly shoving Ricardo out of the way without a word as he stormed through the doors to the elevator lobby where some nameless patrolman had Blair handcuffed and pushed up against the wall next to the elevator doors. Blair was still talking, but Jim didn't even hear the words as he grabbed the officer by the back of his collar and ripped him back and away from the guide.
Jim put himself between the officer who now smelled of aggression and anger and his guide who was still making sounds. The man reached for his gun, and a hand fell on his shoulder from behind.
"Don't go there," Taggart advised. Jim stood, only now realizing that he had gone into an aggressive crouch, and Taggart stood behind the offending officer with one hand on the man's shoulder and one hand reaching out palm first in a placating gesture.
"Jim, the kid didn't know Blair was your guide," Taggart pointed out, and Jim realized that the officer he'd attacked was a kid himself. His wide brown eyes and his smooth face registered shock and fear.
"Regulations say that…" he started in a shaky voice, and Jim tensed at the sound of the man's voice.
"Man, I was just getting a candy bar," Blair cut him off and wormed his way out from behind Jim who stood immobile. "Vera was having problems with the new photo I.D. machine." Jim felt Blair's weight against him as his guide got in front and leaned back, his handcuffed hands pressing into Jim's stomach. "So, there's no need for anyone to get testy here. I totally need to bring my chamomile and bacopa leaf tea down here because you are all way too uptight."
"They're both fine." Taggart said definitively, and Jim recognized the face as one of Joel's 'you'll be fine or I'll make you be fine' expressions.
"Yeah." Jim reached in his pocket and got out his handcuff key so he could set Blair free before throwing the cuffs back at the young man who had used them on Blair.
"Um, yeah. Sure," the patrolman agreed as he slipped his cuffs back in place on his belt. Jim looked around and saw all of Major Crimes and half of Narcotics and a couple of uniforms from Traffic all looking at him like he had lost his mind. Jim clenched his teeth and closed his hand around Blair's arm.
"We have work to do," he gritted out as he realized just how many people had seen him lose control. There was no way this little incident would avoid the rumor mill, and he cursed the moron that had put Traffic with all its little rookies on the same floor with Major Crimes. Jim punched the button for the elevator and when the door quickly opened, he pushed Blair inside before retreating from all those shocked eyes. He noticed that Blair had already pushed the button for the basement, so he just closed his eyes and struggled to regain the control that he had just completely and entirely lost.
"Um, Jim. Going the wrong way, man." Blair gestured toward the sign on the double doors that announced staff parking, the sign they were currently going past.
"Nope, we got a job, Chief, and there's no time like the present."
"Really?" Blair bounced a little at a chance to actually get out there and do something. The whole time in USSP he had been allowed to read and theorize and write reports, but he'd never been allowed to actually get in there and get his hands dirty. Well, except for the run that ended with a sentinel nearly dying. Blair wondered how Jamal was doing, but this time he had the good sense not to mention his concerns.
"It's a job, Darwin, not a day at the park."
"Yeah, exactly. Out patrolling your territory, protecting your tribe. This is so cool." Blair followed Jim through a set of doors that said 'Staff only' and he resolved to stay close to Jim this time. He was quickly discovering just how little he knew about being a guide, but he had figured out one or two things like don't go talking about other sentinels and don't put Jim in a position of trying to defend him. Blair had gotten the impression that the traffic cop who had caught him at the candy machine without badge or identification had come very close to death.
"This isn't some movie of the week," Jim pointed out in a dark tone, and Blair could hear the repressed anger. What had that girl he dated called it? Fear-based responses. Yep, dating counseling major had given him a whole new set of vocabulary terms, and if he ever made a dictionary, he was putting his sentinel's picture next to that term.
"Don't expect it to be," Blair said as he put his hand on the small of Jim's back. For one second Blair could see his sentinel's jaw relax and then Jim jerked forward, away from the hand as he walked even faster. For the hundredth time in his life, Blair cursed his short legs as he hurried to keep up.
He shouldn't have bothered because Jim stormed into a glass enclosed office at the side of the garage. The uniformed man in the office was so startled that he half stood and knocked a pile of papers to the floor that he scrambled to pick up and then the slightly overweight officer clearly started yelling. Blair backed up a bit to lean on an unmarked white van. The dominance display was fascinating. The uniformed man clearly considered this his territory, slamming a hand down on his desk as he gestured wildly with his other hand. His sentinel was not backing down though. In fact, Jim stepped forward, looking down at the man with his hands clenched into fists at his side.
Blair shook his head as he tried to figure out what was going on. The car ride back they had been in perfect sync. They talked about what had happened in the woods between them and what had happened to each of them before they came together. Blair still had to suppress a grin at the thought of Charlie getting enough explosives to blast the wall of Jim's room at the asylum. Considering Charlie's normal level of altered consciousness, he was lucky to still have all his fingers, even if he did pass the stuff through for Jim to actually set. Hell, he was surprised Charlie actually followed through with the entire plan without getting distracted half way through and driving around Cascade stoned with enough explosives to take out a building in his back seat.
Blair rubbed his eyes and sat on the van's bumper as he considered the difference between then and now. Even when Jim was angry in the car—and Blair got that Jim had been furious with Charlie—but even then, there was a familiarity and comfort in being together. Now, everything he did seemed to annoy Jim. Like in Simon's office. Blair was perfectly capable of recognizing a dominance display even if he did ignore it. Hell, he'd seen dominance displays where the men shook spears or painted their bodies and chest butted. He wasn't the sort to get bothered by a little invasion of personal space. Unlike the uniformed man in charge of the cars.
Blair watched with amusement as the two men ended up chest to chest. The uniformed cop's gestures against Jim's stillness. Yeah, he was totally glad Jim had shut the door in his face without letting him follow. He definitely did not want to be in the middle of that. Finally the uniformed cop picked up the phone and dialed with short punching jabs.
After some time on the phone, the man reached toward the keys hanging on hooks before practically throwing a set of keys at Jim. Jim just smiled and caught the keys before turning his back to the man who made a rude if pointless gesture to Jim's back. God, he could write a whole dissertation on establishment of dominance except he wasn't sure if this behavior was part of cop culture, sentinel culture, or just uniquely Jim.
"Come on, Junior. We got a ride," Jim held the keys up and jingled them as he walked by, his mood clearly improved. Blair added that tidbit to his growing hypothesis about his sentinel as he followed Jim to a large, brown panel van.
"So, what are we doing?" Blair asked as he climbed into the passenger side seat. He hadn't even gotten the door closed before Jim started the engine. Blair scrambled to get settled as Jim pulled out of the parking space.
"Two days ago a bomb was placed on a ferry near the engine compartment. At 2:17 the bomb went off and within 15 minutes, the ferry sank. Twelve dead, no leads."
"So, if we have no leads, where are we going?"
"An act of terrorism means that someone out there is cheering their success. We're going to see if we can listen in on the celebration." Jim gestured toward the back and Blair slid open the flimsy door between the front seats and the back area of the van. He couldn't suppress a whistle.
"There's enough equipment back there to run a rave," he said, looking over at Jim who was currently watching traffic and waiting for a chance to pull out onto the street.
"Only you, Chief," he commented dryly.
"What?" Blair slid the door shut again.
"This is a police vehicle, not a toy."
"Man, you are better than all those listening devises. I don’t know why you even brought this stuff."
"Because a sentinel's testimony is only as credible as the sentinel, and after my stay at loony central, we need to get the comments on tape."
"Oh, Jim." Blair stopped, unable to even figure out what to say. Jim was a sentinel and the people in his territory didn't trust him, or at least he felt like they didn't trust him. After all the research Blair had done, he couldn't even imagine how painful that had to be.
"Save it, Darwin." Jim snapped, and the jaw once again knotted in frustration or anger. "I didn't have much credibility to start with after being booted by the USSP as unstable."
"But. What? You aren't unstable."
"I've never been able to keep a stable link to a guide, my senses are unpredictable, and I show a significant lack of control." From the bitterness in his tone, Blair guess that the last phrase was one had heard entirely too often.
"Not now. We need to focus on the case." Jim's fingers were so tight on the steering wheel that his knuckles were white, and Blair decided to just drop the issue before the man did lose the control he was trying so hard to maintain. Blair wondered exactly what it was that Jim wanted to control.
Funny, he had so many other things to worry about like his missing computer disks with his dissertation work and the fact that the USSP was still out there looking for him and the likelihood that he would be kidnapped again once they found him and the fact that some bomber had killed twelve people for absolutely no reason and might kill again. He had entire encyclopedias of worry, but all he did worry about was the man who sat driving with white knuckles and a clenched jaw.
Jim pulled up in front of the mosque and parked the van. Beside him Blair made a guttural snort.
"Man, this is just so wrong that I can't even describe the general aura of wrongness around it," Blair complained, and Jim tried his best to ignore his guide's disapproval.
"We have a bad guy to catch Chief, where do you think we should look? The local den mothers' meeting?" Jim unbuckled his seatbelt and quickly slipped into the back of the van before anyone could spot him. He thought for a minute that Blair would refuse to go along, but then Blair followed him into the back, sliding the door shut behind him and Jim switched on the overhead dome light.
"These people are praying, man. There has never been any link between Cascade's Muslim population and any terrorist organization. They even turned down funding for their new mosque because it had some questionable links." Blair threw himself into a technician's chair and faced Jim with crossed arms.
"And how would you know this?" Jim turned wary eyes to Blair who didn't even have the decency to be intimidated by a gaze that had left suspects babbling confessions.
"I arranged to have my Intro to Methodology in Anthropology class come over to have a demonstration against the anti-Muslim demonstrations not long after the Veteran's Day bombings. Does it occur to you that these people fled that part of the world and came here looking to get away from the violence?"
"And lots of suspects have been found in the Muslim community," Jim pointed out as he started flipping switches to turn on the sound equipment and external cameras.
"Suspects as in their visas expired and they stayed here illegally to avoid going back to a country where they would have faced persecution. Suspects in that the pig-headed laws of our country won't allow hard working, law-abiding would-be citizens to make new lives for themselves the way our own ancestors did."
"Chief," Jim used his coldest tone. His nerves could not take fighting with his guide, and yet his guide just went verbally tripping right along.
"People assume that the Muslim religion is violent, and man, there are a few violent cults within Islam, but the imam here has a reputation for being very liberal, so you are so not going to find mad bombers hiding in the basement."
"Chief," Jim said a little louder.
"I'm the cop, you're the observer. I need to find a bomber, and I need to start somewhere. If I was trying to find a drug dealer, I'd start looking in the ghetto. Since I'm looking for a terrorist, I'm going to look where other cops have found terrorists."
"Man, that's what is wrong with the system. One percent more blacks than whites report having used cocaine, but there are so many more whites in the country that three percent of whites using cocaine means that over 80 percent of cocaine users are white. So maybe you should be looking somewhere else for drug dealers." Jim found himself wanting to gag his guide. Of course, he wasn't sure if even that would actually stop Mr. Energizer Bunny. He had an image of Blair gagged and just continuing right along in a muffled voice.
"Chief, I know this is a long shot, and I agree that the people in there are probably harmless, but when you have as few leads as we do, you have to take the long shots. So I'm going to set up some listening equipment and record any conversations going on in that building while you stay very quiet," Jim insisted.
"Recording them isn't…"
"Got it. I understand your position far better than I ever really wanted to." Jim said tersely as he locked his jaw. Every fiber of his being wanted to reach out and grab the guide, hold him and make sure that the guide wasn't going to run away in the face of such conflict. Every fiber of his training and upbringing ordered him to control himself. Jim felt such incredible pain as the two collided that he couldn't do anything other than focus on the equipment in front of him and keep his hands busy.
Blair huffed and moved up to the front portion of the van. Jim thought he heard Blair complaining about USSP tactics, but he focused his hearing on the equipment so that he didn't need to hear any accusations. Technically Jim should get him back where he couldn't be seen from the street, but Jim needed the distance as badly as Blair.
Jim finally got all the wires plugged in and hit the switch to record as he started adjusting knobs to find a conversation worthy of recording.
"… seen you."
"Man, I have missed your Khatti dal. I tried making it on my own and I couldn't get the chili flavor right," an enthusiastic voice exclaimed, and Jim froze.
"And I cannot tell such a valued family secret without making you marry my daughter and join the family." Jim sat in the van in a state somewhere between shock and panic. He moved to the front area of the van where Blair had retreated, and the van was empty, which was logical since Jim could hear his missing guide inside the mosque. Jim gripped the plastic on the passenger side armrest so hard that he heard a cracking sound and had to force himself to retreat into the back of the van. He was not going to charge in there like a madman.
Blair and the other male were still laughing as Jim sat back down in the seat.
"This totally sucks, but the bomb on the ferry, you know people are going to start with the finger pointing."
"This is unavoidable. People are suspicious of anyone different."
"Can't argue with that, man. But I'm working with a cop now." There was a long pause that almost sent Jim running into the building.
"Are you here investigating us then?"
"Totally not. I know you didn't have anything to do with this, and Jim… well he *will* know that before I'm done with him." The second male laughed.
"You are persuasive my young friend."
"Hey, not so young," Blair said, and Jim heard a joy and a happiness in his guide's voice that Blair never used around him.
"Allah has given me sixty three years, to me, you are young."
"Yeah, well you and I also know there have been some people claiming to love Allah who are doing some stuff I don't think the Big Guy would appreciate."
"These are difficult times, and the young are often misled with promises that they are doing the right thing by doing the easy thing, and sometimes dying is much easier than living. Easier and simpler to understand."
"So, I accused Jim of jumping to conclusions by wanting to come here, and I realized I was jumping to some conclusions too. Just because I know you're good people, doesn't mean I can assume everyone here is following the same Qur'an you follow."
"There is only one Qur'an, Blair."
"Yeah, but there are many imams who read that Qur'an and many followers who listen to the words of the imams."
"*One learned man is harder on the devil than a thousand ignorant worshippers*. You are very hard on the devil my young friend." There was another long pause, and Jim found himself holding his breath as the second man considered Blair's request. What if the man had pulled a weapon? Jim strained and could faintly hear Blair's heartbeat through the microphone. It was slow and steady, and Jim tried to use that to try and rebuild his crumbling control.
"I do not want innocent followers of the faith to be driven from the path of Allah out of fear. If I give you these names, these men may not come back and to risk their souls is a great burden," the imam finally said slowly.
"I know what I'm asking, but Jim's a sentinel. He can check out any addresses without going inside, without even bringing the men in for questioning."
"And will their names be put in the computers… put in the system so that their work visas do not get renewed and they are not allowed to fly home and they are questioned every time something happens?"
"Oh boy, I wish I could say absolutely not, but all I can say is that I give you my word that I will do my best to keep their names out of it once we clear them… if we clear them."
"And this 'Jim'? Sentinels are noble warriors, but a man's nature cannot be dictated by his birth. Will he choose to do the right thing by these men?"
"He's a good man, and he's my sentinel. I think he'll do the right thing." In the van, Jim was caught between joy that his guide trusted him and despair at the tentative nature of that trust. Really, considering what an ass he'd been, he supposed that he should take what he could get.
"He kinda picked me to be his guide, man. I talked him down off a major spike and everything." Blair sounded so proud that Jim felt like an absolute heel for keeping the kid at arm's length, but if he didn't he would never be able to control these feelings he had.
"Allah be praised, you have found yourself a sentinel. In the tribes, that is always the way of things, a sentinel chooses the one whose voice speaks to him, but here… Americans make things so complicated."
"Really? No one ever writes about Arabic sentinels. Oh god, that would be a wonderful paper." The man laughed
"The Qur'an says, "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave," and you are a Muslim at heart. Blair Sandburg, you should come to prayers, listen to elders debate the words of the Prophet, consider where you put your divine faith."
"Oh man, that is really tempting, but I think my plate is full with trying to figure out my sentinel and my thesis committee and my teaching and now the police work. And did I mention that the government has put me on one of their lists?"
"No, indeed, you did not. But I trust you to keep Sulayman Al-Tawil Imber and Harun Al-Isfahani from being unjustly added just because they are young and impetuous and very new to the American way of life."
"Man, I promise to do my best because being on the government shit list is entirely no fun." The older man laughed again, and Jim did find himself admiring how calmly Blair was taking all the changes and threats to his way of life. "I gotta go before Jim has a coronary about me being in here alone."
"He does not trust us to even talk?"
"No no no no, it's totally not that. We're new with the sentinel stuff, and I'm lucky if I get to go to the bathroom by myself."
"Sentinels are very territorial about their companions, to the point of strangeness sometimes."
"Yeah, I’m getting that now. So, thanks for the help."
"Walk with Allah."
"You too, man. You stay safe." Jim could hear Blair's footsteps both through the microphone and with his own sentinel hearing. He turned and clicked a few pictures of Blair walking away from the mosque and the people walking into the mosque as a plan formed in his mind. Of course, they may not need the plan because he just might kill his guide. The van door opened, and Blair slid into the passenger side seat as Jim shut down the equipment, carefully erasing the digital recording since his guide had made a promise. Besides, it gave him something to do other than wrap his hands around Blair's throat.
When the equipment was shut down, Jim opened the divider and got into the driver's seat without a word. Luckily Blair seemed to know he had crossed some line because he sat silent for the first time since Jim had known him. Rather than go back to the station, he drove to 852 Prospect and pulled over to the curb.
"Get out," he said carefully despite his urge to yell.
"Jim, I just wanted to…"
"Go to the loft and stay there," Jim interrupted. He couldn't have this discussion now. Hell, he couldn't have this discussion ever. Blair continued to sit in the passenger seat and out of the corner of his eye, Jim could see him looking for some sort of reassurance, but Jim kept his eyes on the passing traffic.
"Right," Blair finally said as he got out of the van and put his hand in his pocket for the key Jim had made him. Blair stood at the open van door for nearly a minute before he slammed it shut and even then Jim waited. He waited until Blair was safely in the building. He waited to make sure Blair didn't come back out of the building. He waited until he could get control of the pain in every cell in his body: the pain that said that once again he was the freak who couldn't form pairing, the pain that said he was separating from his guide and would soon turn back into the half-sentinel freak he had been ever since coming back from Peru.
Jim closed his eyes as he tried to catch his breath and ride through the urge to run up and grab his guide and refuse to admit that he was going to be left by one more person. He only known Blair a couple of days; it shouldn't hurt this damn much. Jim checked the street and then pulled back onto the stream of traffic.
Jim sat typing his report at his desk, and his co-workers had the grace to ignore him. Considering Jim's current state of frustration and anger, that really was best. When finished, he knocked sharply at Simon's door, and the Captain called a short "Come in" before returning to a phone call. That was fine, Jim needed the time to collect his thoughts and calm his nerves. Jim was facing the window when he heard Simon hang up and then start moving papers on this desk.
"How'd it go at the mosque?" Simon asked, and Jim turned to watch the man separate papers into two files before slipping them into a drawer.
"Simon, you should hire the kid as the cultural liaison; he got the imam of the Cascade mosque to cough up two names." Jim almost smiled at the look of disbelief that crossed his captain's face as the man half rose in his chair before settling back down.
"You're lying. You have to be lying because that man has done nothing but fight us on every move. If he filed one more complaint, the commissioner's desk was going to collapse under the weight of all the paperwork." Jim could almost classify Simon's expression as shell-shocked.
"Two names of local hotheads. I'll check them out tomorrow. Blair promised to try and keep the names clear of the system until we had evidence of involvement, and I want to follow through on that. I called them unnamed leads in the report." Jim felt a wave of something pretty close to pride. True, he had wanted to kill his guide for the stunt, but Blair had come through where far more experienced people had failed. Of course that pride only intensified the growing pain as the pairing failed.
"Where *is* the kid? I thought you two were joined at the hip." Simon leaned toward the door as if expecting to see Blair standing there waiting.
"It's not working Simon. The pairing isn't working between the two of us." Jim rubbed his hand over his face and tried to ignore the look of pity on Simon's face. He failed.
"Oh lord. Are your senses going off line?"
"Not yet, but they will. This is happening even faster than it did back in the U.S.S.P., and something is going to snap. Before that happens, we need to make some arrangements." Jim dropped heavily into the chair and propped the heels of his hands up on the wood arms as he leaned forward. It gave him something to physical hang on to as he struggled to regain his control as the guide separation anxiety started. Damn cold phrase for a condition that left a person trembling and screaming. Jim did not look forward to going through it for a fifth time.
"Sweet Jesus, not again. The last time we made 'arrangements' it ended with you blowing a hole in the side of Oak Groves," Simon pointed out.
"You know the USSP is coming after us."
"I thought that the press conference would head them off. I have it set up for tomorrow morning." Jim closed his eyes as he considered having to hold on to his control until tomorrow, but he didn't have a choice, so he would. He closed his hands even tighter around the arms of the chairs.
"Maybe, but I doubt it. As a registered sentinel, you can't stop them from reactivating me," he answered slowly as he tried to think through the possible moves and countermoves while his thoughts kept sliding away into the dark of his mind.
"Okay, if that's your arrangement, I have to say it needs some work." Simon leaned back and gave Jim that look the man had developed that told people they were idiots without Simon ever opening his mouth.
"The arrangements are for Sandburg." Jim paused as he gathered his scattered thoughts. He hated this feeling of sliding down some emotional hill in a car with no brakes. "They're going to try and grab him again, maybe with me and maybe after the pairing fails. Either way you need to hold on to him here until he can contact his people. I did a background search, and if Blair has a chance to make contact with his friends at the ACLU and in the press, the USSP won't be able to touch him."
"So what, you want me to stall? Stall the USSP?" Simon gave Jim an incredulous look and Jim actually did laugh, a dark, malicious laugh that made Simon sit back a little. Jim tightened his hold on the arms of the chair again until he could feel his fingers tremble under the strain.
"I want you to arrest him if you have to. Local law enforcement has priority in terrorism cases, and I took pictures showing Blair coming out of a local mosque with two possible suspects in the ferry bombing. I attached it to the report I filed electronically about five minutes ago."
"Are these the men named by the imam?" Simon turned and typed a few keystrokes to pull up the right file. Another click and the screen showed Blair with a tense expression trotting down the mosque steps and nodding to two Islamic men walking up to the open door.
"I have no idea. Probably not, but in my report I have simply identified them as unidentified Muslims of a mosque where an anonymous source reported two possible unnamed suspects for the ferry incident." Jim knew it was shaky, but the new laws didn't exactly require airtight cases. Simon glanced over to Jim.
"It's not enough to hold him."
"It is under the new terrorism laws, and it's enough to give him time to rally some support if I've been taken out of the picture." Jim considered just how much to reveal. "Simon, he's going to need a friend, and I can't be that. I want to be. God, I really want to help him through this, but I can't." Jim struggled to explain, but he would never have the words to explain to Simon how much the need for Blair and the need to get Blair the hell away from him warring inside until he wanted to rip out his own heart. This time it was going to be as bad as losing his first guide. The thought of Rob still made Jim ache, and now Jim would add one more loss to his already impressive list.
"Have to say, Jim, I never thought you'd hit it off the little neo-hippy. When he wanted to interview you, I told him he looked like a Dead Head who had too much time on his hands now that the Grateful Dead had stopped touring. I even told him he had as much chance of getting you to open up as reading tomorrow's paper and discovering world peace. But I can also see he wormed his way into you the way he did me when he wouldn't stop calling me for three weeks straight about his thesis. Are you sure you can't make this work?"
"It's a sentinel thing, Simon. We're not compatible, and now I have to go home and tell him that."
"He's not going to take it well."
"He doesn't have a choice," Jim said as he stood up and focused on the here and now, like walking across the bull pen without falling. If he started thinking about what he had to do when he got home, he was never going to make it home at all. He'd drive his truck off a cliff first. So, instead he thought about putting one foot in front of the other and ignoring the curious glances and loud whispers as he got into the elevator and pushed the button for the basement.
Blair paced the loft nervously. He could feel things sliding away from him. Naomi always said that it was life trying to tell you to move on, but Blair refused to believe it this time. He and Jim had been perfect in the car, and something in Jim's life was making that comfort impossible to find again. Blair has his suspicions, but really he was working with so little information that he could be absolutely totally wrong. At this point, absolutely wrong was a very real possibility.
Blair threw himself down on the couch and started flipping through the various stations: Ellen, The Nanny, Beverly Hills 90210, Wings. Absolutely nothing good on television. He was making his third round on the television when he heard the elevator doors open. He sprang to the door, fumbling with the locks in an effort to get the door open. Outside in the hall a woman in her late fifties juggled her purse and a briefcase and a bag of groceries as she tried to get the lock open on her apartment door down the hall a bit.
"Would you like some help?" Blair asked with his most charming smile. The woman turned and then gave him a double take. He also didn't miss her death grip on her keys, but considering she had a good three inches and 20 pounds on him, Blair wasn't sure why she felt defensive around him. If they got into a physical fight, Blair was putting his money on the grey haired grandmother type.
"Doesn't Detective Ellison live there anymore?" she asked suspiciously.
"Oh, yeah. I'm just staying with him. I work with him at the station, and I sort of lost my lease." Yeah, lost as in the liberty sucking government had taken it, but Blair really didn't think that the woman wanted to hear that.
"You're a police officer?" the woman's voice rose dramatically at the end in disbelief.
"No no no, I’m actually an observer. Working on a PhD and riding along, that kinda thing."
The woman held out a bag of groceries, and Blair stepped up and took them from her so she could open her door. "Well that's a little easier to believe. I'm Mrs. Denier."
"Blair Sandburg," he answered with a smile. Once the woman had put her purse and briefcase on a table just inside her apartment, Blair held out his hand to shake.
"So, how long are we going to be neighbors, Mr. Sandburg?"
"Oh boy, that depends since I don't have a summer teaching job and there aren't any grants open right now and I’m totally tapped." The woman laughed.
"I have my masters in business administration, and I remember my starving student days a little better than I would like. I'm glad that Mr. Ellison is helping you out." Blair surrendered the groceries with a smile.
"Yeah, well I’m not so sure he's happy. You should have seen his face when I bought ostrich meat at the alternative grocery yesterday. It's a great substitute for red meat with all the preservatives and steroids you get in beef these days."
"I'll keep that in mind," Mrs. Denier replied, and then her face beamed with her first genuine smile. "Detective Ellison! I was just…" Mrs. Denier's voice trailed off, and Blair turned to see stone-faced Jim heading his way. He had to admit that was an intimidating face. Hell, even as Jim's guide that one was intimidating. "…just getting home, I'm very glad to meet you, Mr. Sandburg," Mrs. Denier finally finished weakly.
"Blair, just call me Blair," Blair barely had time to blurt out before Mrs. Denier snatched the grocery bag from his hand and disappeared behind her door. Blair found himself in his sentinel's unforgiving grip being pushed toward the open door to the loft.
"Man, no need to get physical here," Blair complained, and the hands on his arms only tightened.
"I told you to stay in the loft."
"I was just helping Mrs. Denier."
"And how exactly do you know Mrs. Denier?" Jim demanded harshly as he half dragged and half carried Blair into the loft before kicking the door shut with a foot. Blair still stood without fighting in Jim's grasp.
"Man, you are going to give yourself a heart attack if you don't chill out. I heard the elevator. I went and helped the neighbor."
"You came into the hall without knowing who was out here?" Jim had a look of such horror, that Blair actually reviewed his actions as Jim finally let go to lock the door. Yep, even in hindsight he'd been perfectly reasonable. "You left the loft door open and you didn't know who she was." Jim accused him in a low, threatening tone as he stepped into his guide's personal space. Blair planted his feet so that he was face to face with Jim. Okay, he was face to chest, but close enough. He just looked up.
"I was guessing she wasn't an axe murderer," he replied coldly as he crossed his arms defiantly.
"You can joke, but you have no idea the number of serial killers we've found in some middle class church alderman's meeting." Jim had brought one hand up to Blair shoulder, and Blair was caught between wanting to reassure Jim and wanting to beat the shit out of the man. Yes, he understood the protective and territorial instincts a sentinel had to deal with, especially when it came to a guide. He'd read the research. On the other hand, not even Naomi got to push him around this much and he was really not going to put up with Mother Hen Jim for the next fifty years. Not even the next fifty seconds, truth be told.
"Is that what has you going all primal on me?"
"I am not…." Jim started, and now Jim stepped back, the cold, emotionless expression replacing the concern as if someone had thrown a switch. Blair cursed himself for driving Jim even farther away, but he really was trying to figure out an entire instinctive and cultural set of mores without a net, and he had the feeling he was falling fast.
"If we're going to make this work, you have to put some faith in me to take care of myself. I've been doing it since I was sixteen and I haven't lost the ability now that I'm living here." Blair tried for a conciliatory tone, but Jim's face simply hardened even more.
"You aren't." Now Jim crossed his arms, and Blair fought an urge to sigh with frustration.
"Okay, that didn't even make sense. I'm not what?"
"Living here, Chief. This isn't going to work." Jim still had that expressionless face, but Blair knew he had to look like an idiot because he could feel his own jaw hanging. For one second, the pain of being rejected rolled through him threatening to shred every bit of self esteem he owned, but then his anger and his Sandburg stubbornness set in and Blair closed his mouth and put his hands on his hips.
"I'm your guide, and I'm not going to leave," he announced. The flash of anger in Jim's eyes was almost a relief because at least the man was showing some emotion.
"No, you aren't my guide. Face it, Darwin, we don't even know if you are actually a guide. This isn't working and we just need to stay away from each other until the worst of the separation anxiety is over." Jim's voice had calmed, but Blair could still see his arm muscles flex and his jaw bulge slightly as he clenched it. The pain of being denied by his sentinel vied with the pain of knowing his sentinel was suffering and he was doing squat to actually figure out how to help. Some guide he was proving to be.
"You're kicking me out?" Blair asked, confused by Jim's distress and his need for a guide at the very instant he was kicking his guide out. And as the kickee, Blair had no idea how he was supposed to react.
"No, not *kicking* you out," Jim quickly denied. "You're going to pack your stuff and I'll drive you to a nice hotel. I'll pay up for two weeks and hopefully by then we can get your stuff back from USSP."
"You are--you're kicking me out." Blair felt the insecurity and the fear fade under a growing anger.
"I'm moving you out. It's the way it has to be." Blair took a deep cleansing breath before he could make a suggestion to Jim about what he could move and where to put it. Despite Jim's attempts to move him out, Blair knew that Jim needed him, and he was not going to let a little thing like the man's complete and total stupidity get in the way.
"I don't own anything except three pairs of pants and a few shirts that you bought, so I guess they're yours anyway," Blair started, and he waved a dismissive hand as he turned to the living room and started for the loveseat. "But there is no way I'm moving." Blair sat on the arm of the furniture and used every trick he knew about body language to communicate his refusal to move: crossed arms, determined scowl, sprawling legs. Oh yeah, if his sentinel wanted stubborn, Blair could do stubborn.
"Damn it, Chief, I know you can feel the wrongness." Blair almost relented as Jim pulled out a kitchen chair and sat heavily. He propped one elbow on the table and put his forehead on his hand, obviously struggling with some strong emotion.
"Yep," Blair finally admitted. An emotional invalid could feel the tension in the room, so he couldn't exactly deny it.
"Good, so you'll leave." Looking up from the table, Jim flashed an expression of total relief.
"Not a chance, man," Blair announced. Jim retreated back into that emotionless void in which he seemed to live so much of the time, his face motionless and quite frankly intimidating as hell, but once you had faced Dr. Edwards and the dissertation committee, James Ellison had no leverage. Blair just talked on. "You are fighting your instincts so hard that I'm surprised you haven't cracked teeth. But I have instincts of my own. I feel a need to be near you and make sure you don't do something incredibly stupid like toss out the person who's trying to help you. I feel these instincts and unless you plan to call your buddies over and have me arrested, I’m so not moving." Blair waited for the explosion.
"Don't assume I wouldn't do it," Jim threatened.
"You do, and before they finish the arrest paperwork, The USSP will be up here. The minute my name goes into any official computer, General Kern will have me taken into custody and that will be the last you ever hear from me, so if you want to get rid of me that badly, you go ahead and call, but don't expect to find me when you pull your head out of your ass and figure out that I'm not the enemy here." Fear made Blair's arm hairs stand up as he realized that one wrong move, and that could be his future. The loft went quiet. Blair refused to say more and Jim sat unmoving. As the kitchen clock counted the minutes, Blair half expected Jim would make that call. Oh, he knew Jim would regret it eventually, but the man was obviously not working with all brain cells firing today.
"Blair, you have to leave. I'll take you anywhere. Maybe over to Charlie," Jim finally said as he dropped his head back down to his hand.
"There is no way, man. I'm staying."
"Shit, you aren't safe here."
"Oh man, I so totally am," Blair countered.
"Damn it. You act like I’m this knight in shining armor, this ideal hero you have in your mind. I can't live up to that, and if you don't get out, I’m going to lose control." Jim slammed his hand down on the table with the thunderous crack, and now Blair could hear the fear, the panic. "Maybe I should call Simon and have him take you somewhere safe."
"That's it, you think you can't let go of the control. You can't just let the instincts out." Blair said softly as he stood up and took a step closer to his suffering sentinel.
"I just told you that I was a danger to you. My instincts are dangerous. How much clearer of a threat do you need? This pairing is becoming unstable and that's not safe… not for the sentinel or the guide. I'm going to do something…." Jim hands curled into fists, but he continued to face the tabletop, his head now resting on his fist.
"I don't believe you'd ever be a threat." Blair stopped for a second. "Well, okay, you would be to other people, but not to me." Jim glanced over with an incredulous look, and Blair knew he had to reach his sentinel now or lose him. He thought of that first meeting in the woods. "Man, you were in the middle of a psychotic moment and you still stopped when I was scared. You stood there hanging on to a tree branch to hold yourself back. If I told you right now to stop, you would." Blair could see Jim's back muscles tremble.
"Of course I would, but I can't keep that control," Jim almost whispered.
"You don't have to. I'm not telling you to stop. I'm telling you to let go." Now Blair closed the distance and stood beside his sentinel, offering his support.
"Don't. Just don't." Jim physically flinched away, and Blair tried not to allow his own pain show at that small act.
"I've watched you for the past few days. I've studied sentinels most of my adult life. You aren't a danger to me," Blair said as though Jim hadn't just torn his heart out by flinching away.
"You don't know." Jim hoarsely complained.
"Then tell me. Tell me what you're feeling right now."
"No." Jim's voice was once again flat.
"Oh, there's a mature response for you. 'No' isn't fixing anything," Blair snapped in frustration.
"Blair, there's nothing to fix. The pairing is failing, this is about to turn ugly, and I want you as far from the epicenter as possible."
"See, that's what I mean. You're in pain. You're holding on to what little control you have because you're scared for me."
"I'm not scared," Jim said entirely too quickly for Blair to believe him.
"Whatever, man. Fine, you're concerned. The point is that you have never put me at risk and you won't now."
"Four times." Blair thought for a moment that he had misunderstood Jim's words.
"What?" he finally asked.
"Four times I've gone through this and four times I attacked my guide. I had to be physically restrained." Jim took an unsteady breath. "Blair, I need you to get as far away from me as possible. You have to stay clear of me, even if I come looking for you later." Blair froze. He had never read of any sentinel no matter how injured or panicked ever harming a guide, but now Jim was telling him that all that research had been wrong. Blair eyed the door, but he couldn't deny his own growing need to stay, to fix whatever had gone wrong. He wouldn't leave Jim here in pain and convinced of his own worthlessness.
"Did you want them hurt?" he asked quietly, fully prepared to start edging toward the exit if he got an answer he didn't like.
"NO!" Jim practically shouted, "of course not."
"*How* did you attack them then?"
"Blair," Jim said in a tone that clearly demanded that Blair drop the subject. However, Blair wasn't anywhere near giving up because he was quickly forming a hypothesis that explained a lot of behaviors that individually didn't make sense.
"Forget it; I’m totally not leaving, so you might as well resign yourself to trying to figure this out. So, *how* did you attack them?" Blair demanded more forcefully.
"I… I really don't know, it wasn't very clear," Jim admitted.
"Okay, how did they react?" Blair needed some evidence he was on the right track because if he was wrong and sentinels actually did attack guides he was not in a good position.
"What do you mean?" Jim asked. "They reacted the way most people react when I’m completely off base. Something like the way you reacted when I dragged you in here."
"Annoyed then," Blair said dryly.
"To say the least." Jim said with a small crooked smile, but then his expression turned cold and dark again. Blair considered the options and considered that he might be totally wrong and about to get his ass royally kicked.
"Jim, you can let go, honestly." Blair put a hand on Jim's shoulder.
"Don't, you're just making it harder," Jim growled in response.
"I'm making it harder for you to fight yourself, yes. Hopefully I’m making it harder for you to throw me out of here because Charlie's place is a biohazard waiting to happen, and it's hard to cook ostrich chili in a hotel room. I'm really hoping I’m making it harder to for you to just say this partnership is over." Blair moved his body so that he was leaning slightly against his seated sentinel.
Then suddenly his sentinel wasn't seated anymore. Blair looked up and saw a near feral look of desperation as Jim's hands closed around his upper arms and held him tightly. Blair prayed his theory was right because whatever sentinel instincts included, he wasn't convinced Jim could stop anymore, no matter what words of comfort he had offered his sentinel.
Blair struggled to keep his balance as Jim half pushed half carried him back to the middle of the living room furniture. At first Blair thought Jim wanted to reach the loveseat and he tried to help by moving toward the small couch, but Jim's grip pulled him up short as Jim used a foot to shove the coffee table out of his way. Slowly Jim sank to the ground, and Blair limply followed. Well, really he didn't have much choice since Jim still grasped him firmly enough that Blair knew he was going to have bruises in the morning.
Blair ended up with his back to the loveseat with Jim straddling his legs and now those long muscular arms wrapped around Blair's back, pulling him in close. Blair could feel Jim shaking, strong muscles trembling minutely.
"It's okay," Blair promised, and he wished he could wrap his own arms around his sentinel, but his arms were trapped within that strong embrace and all he could do was lay his forehead on his sentinel's shoulder and murmur reassurances. "It's okay, just let go, man." Blair felt a shiver go through Jim's body and then he was pushed back into the loveseat, hands fumbling at his shirt.
Like the last time this had happened, Blair tried easing his sentinel's hands away from the buttons so that he could open his shirt himself. Unlike last time, Jim grabbed his wrists. Blair gasped in surprise when Jim pushed his entire weight into Blair so that Blair had to struggle for breath as Jim pressed him back into the furniture. The loveseat scooted back on the floor, and Jim seemed to take personal offense, pushing even harder.
For a second Blair considered trying to fight free, trying to force Jim to stop. However as much as Blair wanted to rip his hands free, another part of him also wanted to pull his sentinel close. Assuming that his first instinct was just his culture's prohibition against male displays of physical affection, Blair ignored his discomfort just like he'd ignored his discomfort going to the bathroom in public when he stayed with the Kombai people. He followed his second instinct and pressed back into Jim's harsh grasp.
Jim's fingers slowly loosened on Blair's wrists, and Blair ignored the urge to rub the circulation into them, choosing instead to take his newly freed hands and slide them around Jim's shoulders. When he pulled Jim into his arms, the trembling beneath his hands stilled and Jim dropped his own face into the crook of Blair's neck, his large hands once again going for the buttons of Blair's shirt.
This time Blair allowed his sentinel to take what he wanted. He focused on his own growing need to pull his sentinel close. His sentinel was in pain, a far greater pain than any physical injury. He was the guide, and he had to fix it. Unfortunately, he also had no idea what he was doing. He felt warm hands inside his shirt now, the front completely open, and Blair dropped his hands to his side as Jim pushed the fabric off his shoulders.
Now Jim pulled him in close so that Blair could feel Jim's heart beating beneath his shirt as the two of them huddled on the floor in front of the loveseat. Since Jim again embraced him around his upper arms, Blair just did the best he could to hold on to Jim's waist as Jim slowly let his weight fall onto Blair's outstretched legs.
"Guide," Jim said quietly, but in a voice rough with emotion. Blair felt his eyes start to sting with unshed tears at the tone of pain and loss and fear he could hear in that one word.
"Sentinel," he answered softly and Jim pulled him in tighter. Blair had to struggle to breathe, but that didn't matter to him. He could feel the harsh edges and annoyance that had lain between them evaporate and something in him... some hole he never knew he had... filled. He didn't need Jim to loosen his hold, he needed Jim to hold him and need him and he needed to hold Jim back and he needed to keep Jim safe.
Blair hadn't realized that his tears had escaped until Jim brought a finger up and traced the moisture from his chin up and over his cheek before gently wiping the tears that escaped when Blair closed his eyes. Blair opened his eyes and looked up to Jim's whose expression now calmed into a look of peacefulness, and Jim's grip now loosed so that he still held Blair close but no longer crushingly tight.
"My sentinel," Blair said, and Jim shifted his weight to the floor. Blair bent his legs, pulling his knees up to relieve the pins and needles that immediately started prickling his flesh as the circulation returned, but he ignored that annoyance in favor of continuing to hold his sentinel close.
"My guide," Jim eventually echoed as he shifted around, putting his back to the loveseat and pulling Blair into his lap. Considering how much larger Jim was, Blair happily allowed himself to be pulled in, relieved to not be under his sentinel's weight any more. Jim never let go of him but instead pulled Blair around as he moved so that now Blair practically lay on top of Jim. In return, Blair just laid his head on Jim's shoulder and allowed his sentinel to hold his weight as large fingers started moving in aimless circles on his back.
Blair's one arm had ended up trapped between their bodies, so he used his one free hand to stroke Jim's shoulder. Putting his hand palm down on Jim's upper arm, he felt the muscles gather and bunch under his fingers as Jim held him and ran fingers up and down his own bare backbone. Blair reached in toward the buttons on Jim's shirt, when the phone rang.
Blair gasped as Jim's grip turned deadly, pulling Blair into a fierce hug. Blair tried to avoid being smothered as Jim one arm grabbed him around the waist and pulled his bare chest to Jim's chest and his second hand gripped the back of his neck. Blair wasn't sure, but he thought that Jim might have actually growled at the second ring. By the third ring, Jim was pushing away from the loveseat, still holding Blair close.
The answering machine went off, and Blair listened as Simon explained that the press conference had been moved to 7am and that Jim needed to be to the station early. The sound of Simon's voice seemed to make Jim even angrier, and now Jim stood up, dragging Blair with him. Blair yelped as the hair on his chest tangled in Jim's shirt buttons and then ripped out, and Blair realized that crying out in pain wasn't the smartest reaction in front of an agitated sentinel. Of course he figured that out after his yell had caused Jim to manhandle him into a corner with a look of pure murder on his face.
"Oh boy, I'm fine. Yeah? Everything's okay. You just pulled some hair there." Blair used his best soothing voice, but Jim didn't answer him. Jim pressed him back into the corner as far from the phone as Jim could get him, back in the corner behind the wood stove.
"Man, I had this professor who theorized that sentinels were more connected to the reptilian brain--you know, the part of the brain that controls instinct. I just had no idea how right he was." Blair could tell that Jim wasn't hearing the words, but he just surrendered himself to Jim and kept talking. He only hoped that his voice if not his words would still reach Jim. "You must be totally in tune with primitive man, the whole throwback to another time. It's totally cool the way you have just freed yourself from the shackles of modern man and find that pure instinctive part of yourself."
When Jim finally backed off and started pacing, Blair thought that his sentinel had calmed. Instead, Jim went from one door to other checking the locks and touching each window. Blair tried stepping out of the corner, but instantly Jim left his rounds and stepped closer to his guide. Blair sighed and leaned back into the corner. Message received.
"Man, if I was watching some primitive culture, I would say that you are trying to defend your territory. But, this kinda sucks. I mean, how long are you going to feel threatened? What if I have to go to the bathroom? And somehow I don't think Simon's going to be amused by Tarzan Jim grunting answers to the press tomorrow. Man, why do I have the feeling he is totally going to blame me for this? I mean, I barely talked the man into tolerating me and now I've sent you off the deep end of bonkers. Not good for my rep, man. Really making me look bad here."
Blair watched as Jim finally stopped in the middle of the room, his head cocked and obviously listening to something only sentinel ears could hear. For one second Blair considered leaving his corner, but some tension in Jim's body told him that Jim didn't consider the territory safe yet. With a deep sigh, he just lowered himself to the floor and rested his back against one wall while tilting his head to the side and resting it against the cool, rough brick.
Jim stood stock still for several minutes, cocking his head and moving a foot or two in one direction only to retreat to his original position in the center of the room. Blair just waited, but at least he wasn't getting kicked out. Blair watched as Jim tilted his head toward the stairs before approaching them slowly. Jim finally stalked upstairs and Blair just waited.
Jim was obviously running on pure instinct now, and Blair had no trouble identifying his sentinel's anxiety. Hell, if they were going into a gunfight, Jim's reaction would be perfectly reasonable: find a safe place, secure the area, and put the civilian in a place that could be guarded. Blair just wondered why Jim had gone so far into his instinctive behaviors now. Of course, Jim mentioned that he had lost guides four times before and had been physically restrained, so Blair guessed that the man was now a bit on the paranoid side. Still, they had to figure out some sort of compromise before classes started because Blair didn't intend to be stalked all over campus by a primal sentinel.
Blair heard a heavy thump from upstairs and he just sighed as he waited for Jim to decide it was safe. Jim had almost returned to his senses when the phone and Blair's own yelp had driven him back into the more primitive state, so hopefully Jim would calm quickly now.
Heavy footsteps came down the stairs, and Blair stood, hoping Jim would be feeling more secure and more willing to have a conversation that went beyond the words 'sentinel' and 'guide'. As Jim came closer, Blair could see the wary glances around the room, and the tension making the muscles of Jim's arm stand out in cords. Jim's hand darted out and curled around the back of Blair's neck, fingers reaching under his hair. Blair simply followed Jim's gentle pull and for one minute they stood with arms wrapped around each other. Then Jim started back for the stairs without releasing Blair.
Blair followed torn between enjoying the physical closeness and intimacy of the embrace and objectively observing the unique behaviors. Kingsley had identified a primitive and violent instinct within sentinels with injured guides, but he had also noted the ability of the guide or of other members of the military unit to control that aspect of sentinel-guide relationships. Blair doubted that anyone would be able to control Jim right now. Blair truly questioned Kingsley's analysis of the situation in its entirety.
When they reached the upstairs bedroom, Blair sat on the bed when Jim did. Jim's arm went around Blair's waist as the two men sat side by side, Jim pulling Blair's body close.
"Yeah, well this time you're not taking my hair with you, big guy," Blair pointed out as he reached over and unbuttoned Jim's own shirt. His sentinel didn't react but instead watched with curious eyes. "So, are you back with me?" he asked as he finished opening the shirt and then pushed it off Jim's shoulders.
"Guide," Jim answered as he allowed the shirt to fall off his arms.
"Man, this is just weird," Blair said. His mother had loved a number of men in her life, but Blair had never been particularly close to any of them. When Jim pulled him into a hug, Blair felt the firm chest under his cheek and the hard muscles close around his arms. It was nothing like laying in the arms of a woman who was all softness and curves. Where women had wide nipples and curving waists, Jim had small dark nipples and a straight line from underarm to hip. "You *are* going to be talking again tomorrow, right? Because, man, if you are like this at the press conference you are so going to make the front page."
"My guide," Jim replied as he pushed himself back onto the bed. Blair quickly toed his shoes off as Jim lay down between him and the stairs, pulling Blair down with him.
"Yeah, yeah, your guide," Blair agreed amiably. One of Jim's hands slid across Blair's stomach and he shivered at the trail of heat he could feel as those broad fingers reached his waist and pulled him closer into Jim's chest so that Blair's entire right side was pulled tight to Jim. "Your cold guide, man," Blair complained as he eyed the comforter at the foot of the bed. He hadn't expected any response, but one of Jim's feet slipped under the comforter and then he pulled up his leg, dragging the comforter up high enough for Blair to grab it.
"Thanks." Blair pulled the comforter up over both of them, and then Jim's one leg slipped over the top of his own thighs, trapping him on the bed, and Jim settled on the same pillow with a cheek pressing into the side of Blair head. Blair bought his free hand up and traced small designs on the arm wrapped around his chest, and Jim's body relaxed under his touch.
"Man, I so hope you don't plan on freaking out in the morning," Blair whispered.
"My guide," Jim answered drowsily, and Blair could only agree.
"Your guide." He just hoped that Jim didn't try pushing him away in the morning because for the first time in his life, a part of him that had always been cold and empty had been filled and warmed by the firm body currently curled around him. Considering how many women he'd chased to try and fill that absence of love that haunted him, he had some serious meditating and possibly a few apologies to make in his near future.
"Well that went well," Blair said as the two of them escaped the conference room where the press still buzzed.
"Sure did, Chief." Jim reached out and tugged on a curl of hair as his guide walked in front of him down the hall toward Major crimes. Some nameless uniform was busy manhandling a thug with piercings sticking out of his head like sprouts popping out of an old potato. When the pair reached them, Jim put a hand on his guide's shoulder and pulled the smaller man back towards his own body as the danger passed.
"I was being sarcastic," Blair pointed out as the officer and criminal passed, and Jim didn't miss how Blair accepted both the touch and the protective embrace without comment.
"What? I think the press conference was a great success," Jim pointed out as he gave Blair a small cuff to the back of his head before stepping around his guide to head into the bullpen. Rafe and Ricardo were already at their own desks, and Jim smiled as he spotted a new desk against the wall. Well, to be honest it wasn't exactly new, but still, someone had gone out of his way to welcome Jim's guide, and Jim found himself smiling even as the guide in question continued to complain.
"When the press asked you how you liked me, your grand endorsement was 'He's okay'. So totally not cool, man."
"Would you rather have me say, 'he's not okay'?" Jim asked with a small smile.
"Har, har, har, man. Still not cool."
Jim slipped his coat off and draped it over his chair before quickly going through the mail on his desk.
"You could have said something nice," Blair pointed out.
"I did, Chief. I said you were helping me. I said that your research had the potential to save those sentinels who couldn't form stable pairings."
"You said I was inexperienced," Blair countered
"Hey, I've done lots of things. I drove a semi truck; I've pounded grain in South America." Blair took a breath, and Jim knew that his guide was about to list everything he'd ever done. Jim had done a background check, so he really didn't want to be stuck in the office that long.
"I know, you've got a varied and colorful background, but when it comes to police work, you have no experience. And your knowledge of sentinels is limited to a textbook."
"Yeah, I know that one too well." Blair's voice lost energy and dropped into a tired near whisper. "Are we ever going to talk about yesterday, man? It's not good to keep strong emotions bottled up." Blair settled in on the corner of Jim's desk and Jim leaned back to better watch Blair's face. All morning he had avoided talking with his guide. He had woken up still curled around Blair, feeling secure because his guide was secure. But talking with the guide always led to bad, bad places, and Jim braced himself.
"If you're not comfortable talking here, we can go somewhere else," Blair said as he glanced around the room. Jim looked at the people walking in the hall on the other side of the glass wall and at the two detectives in the room, but he could tell that no one was paying attention to them. Ricardo was bent over the keyboard of his computer swearing so softly that only a sentinel would know. Jim could easily hear the man curse the computer up one side and down the other in Italian as he tried to attach the photo references to his report.
Rafe was busy talking on the phone, and from Rafe's side, it didn't sound like business. Then again, every time they had to do some joint venture with vice, Rafe was the designated sacrificial victim, so Rafe talking dirty might actually be official business. Either way, the man wasn't listening to Jim and Blair. At least in the squad room the conversation would stay civil, so Jim made his decision to take his medicine and get it over with.
"I have no problem talking it over now," Jim announced unemotionally as he locked down on his anxiety and all his other feelings too. Was this where his guide would finally lose his temper about Jim's out of control behavior? "If you have something to say about last night, just come out and say it, Chief." Jim stared at a lab report with preliminary findings from the ferry bombing as he mentally chanted the little rhyme he'd use when kids at school had accused him of making things up… the one that went 'sticks and stones,' but the problem was that Jim knew just how much words *could* hurt you.
"Man, I have nothing to say. Well, actually it felt nice to not wake up alone with this dull ache in me where I could feel something missing but I couldn't figure out what. I really liked that. I just expected you to be more… I don’t know… furious?" Jim looked up from his report in surprise.
"Why would I be mad, Chief?"
"You woke up with another man in your bed," Blair whispered as he leaned in, and Jim didn't miss how Blair's leg pressed against him as he leaned. "That really didn't bother you?" Blair demanded as he pushed his hair back out of his face carelessly. Jim considered that because honestly he would rather share his bed with a rattlesnake than put up with any *other* man in his bed, but Sandburg was different.
"I woke up with my guide, Sandburg. Different thing."
"Okay, that's what I mean, man. We've got to talk about this. How's it different?"
"It just is." Jim started organizing his mail, which for most of it meant scanning it and then reaching around Blair and pressing into the man's legs as he dropped the mail into the trash can on the side.
"Buddy, you are one piece of work. I can't be a guide if I don't know what the hell I’m doing." Blair protested quietly.
"You *are* a guide, Chief. So drop it."
"You are so going to get ulcers from this repression crap."
"Already have 'em," Jim confirmed and Blair went silent. When Jim looked up, Blair had an expression of shock that made Jim turn around and check to see if something or someone was behind him. Nope.
"What?" he asked as he turned back to Blair.
"No more coffee for you, man," Blair said as he picked up the cup from Jim's desk. The big insulated cup Jim had filled right before the press conference.
"Junior, don't go there. Just hand the coffee over and no one gets hurt," Jim said as he narrowed his eyes.
"Not a chance. Caffeine is like the worst thing you can do for your stomach." Blair stood up and started backing towards the door, and Jim quickly followed.
"Oh no you don't. Give me that cup," Jim darted forward and caught Blair's wrist, but Blair quickly switched the cup to his other hand as he danced backwards holding the cup away from Jim who held on to Blair's other hand.
"Not a chance, man. Not a *chance*."
"Blair," Jim warned with his tone.
"Cabbage juice. It will help the ulcer heal right up." Jim started reeling Blair in by his hand, and Blair twisted to keep the coffee out of reach. They fought over the cup for several minutes until Blair had his back to Jim's stomach. Blair was totally hunched over, and Jim was bent at the waist and draped over Blair's back as he used both hands around Blair in an effort to reach the cup that the guide was protectively huddled over.
"Gentleman!" Bellowed a deep, strong voice, and both of them froze. Jim looked up to see Simon standing at the door with a shocked expression while Rafe and Ricardo both watched with far more amused faces.
"Simon." Jim acknowledged as he stood up.
"I thought you had some work to do, detective," Simon said with his eyebrows raised in a look that didn't invite debate.
"Yes, sir. I was just getting my coffee," Jim said as he reached out to grab the cup from Blair who had also stood up straight.
"Not even!" Blair yelped as he held on to the cup and retreated to Simon's side. "Caffeine is so not on your diet right now. I'll just pour this out and get you some orange juice… wait, no too much acid. I'll get you some milk. If I can find some, maybe I'll just get you some water," Blair babbled as he backed out of the double doors, and with Simon in the way, Jim couldn't even tackle him to the ground and pry the coffee out of his guide's hands.
"Jim?" Simon asked once Blair had disappeared, and Jim walked over to Ricardo's desk and picked up a Styrofoam cup. He could tell from the smell that the man hadn't had any yet, so he downed the cup in three swallows. When Ricardo looked at him shocked, Jim shrugged.
"Hey, at least you can get more without that hyperactive bundle of trivia lecturing you about ulcers," he pointed out, and Ricardo gave a short laugh.
"I divorced wife number three over that," he said as Jim tossed the cup into the trash.
"Yeah, well I expect you two to be working leads, not wrestling in the middle of the bullpen," Simon pointed out with his hands on his hips, and Jim gave a wry smile.
"We're on the suspects from the mosque," he said as he went over to his desk and grabbed his coat.
"Detective, this time take a vehicle requisition form instead of just intimidating the car pool officer."
"Right," Jim agreed as he pulled a form out of his desk. He quickly jotted down figures in a few squares and then stepped aside so Simon could sign the form.
"And this time, don't wreck it."
"I haven't wrecked the last three I signed out," Jim protested.
"And the cars before that?" Simon demanded. "The city pays more to fix your cars than it does to pay your salary, so be careful."
"Right, Simon," Jim agreed, recognizing his captain's words as the gruff man's way of expressing his own worry, and Jim had to agree that they all had more to worry about since going public with Blair, but the USSP was going to come sooner or later, and Jim preferred to face his trouble head on.
"Come on, Junior. We've got work to do," Jim said when he found Blair in the hall coming out of the bathroom. "Just drop that on my desk," he said, and Blair literally trotted back through the doors with the empty cup before coming rushing back out and nearly taking out a clerk who happened to be walking by the doors.
"Oh, wow. I'm really sorry," Blair said as the woman stumbled away a bit. "That was totally my fault." Jim had to choke down a laugh when the woman's aggravation turned to forgiveness as she took one look at Blair with his flushed face and wild hair.
"It's fine, you didn't hit me," she said, and before she could say anything more, Jim walked by, grabbing Blair's arm as he went so that he pulled his guide to the elevator as his guide walked backwards still talking to the woman.
"I'll remember to watch those doors. They really should have clear glass on those so no one gets hit," Blair said, but he also walked backwards with Jim rather than fighting Jim's grip. Jim waited for the elevator with his hand still wrapped around Blair's arm. He shifted his hand so that he had the flat of his palm against Blair's back, and Blair leaned back a bit so that Jim could feel his guide's muscles move under the shirt and coat.
"Right, so are we heading down to look at the evidence?" Blair asked.
"Forensics is getting the court order to open the sealed bags for a sentinel inspection. I haven't actively used my senses before, so they may have to explain to a judge how active sentinels work."
"But sentinels have been doing crime scene work for a century," Blair protested.
"Military sentinels with military courts. We're just letting Cascade's courts get used to the procedure before some nutso liberal judge yelling about civil rights throws out one of my cases." The elevator opened, and Jim stepped in. For one second, Blair didn't, and Jim turned to look at his guide who now frowned at him slightly.
"Nutso liberal?" Blair repeated in a tone that made his annoyance clear even as he stepped into the elevator. Jim smiled a little at Blair's injured expression.
"Leftist pinko?" Jim teased back. Blair answered with an elbow in Jim's stomach right as a uniformed officer walked into the elevator and gave them both a confused look. Jim reached over and pressed the button for the basement garage.
In the garage Jim rushed through the paperwork and snagged the keys from the same car pool officer whose career he had threatened a day before. The man seemed grumpy. Quickly he bundled Blair into the large blue truck that had been signed out to him and headed out into the busy traffic.
"So, where's the first place?" Blair asked after nearly fifteen minutes. Jim didn't think he'd ever heard Blair quiet for so long.
"Just right down 75th and Grand," he said as he turned the truck onto 69th.
"Nutso liberal?" Blair asked out of the blue, and Jim really couldn't contain the smile this time.
"Oh, come on. Work inside the force for a while, and you're going to get frustrated with how many people walk because of some bleeding heart judge."
"Judges are supposed to protect the integrity of the system, man. Our country is built on the belief that it's better for a guilty man to get off than it is for a guilty government to get away with crimes against its citizens."
"That's all good on paper, but when you're on the street, you see what really matters," Jim pointed out as he thought on some of the criminals who had gotten away from him. More importantly, he thought of the people who had been hurt because he hadn't gotten some slime off the street.
"So it's okay for the government to kidnap someone in order to protect what really matters?" Blair demanded, and Jim felt his aggravation and anxiety rise in equal parts.
"That's not what I said."
"Everyone has a different idea about what matters. Judges are supposed to protect the system from people who all think they know what matters."
"So if people die while protecting that system? Is that right? The law should be about the people, not the system." Jim felt himself growing angry with his guide for arguing and with himself for being so uncomfortable arguing with his guide.
"Spoken like a true sentinel," Blair laughed, and Jim found his growing anger sidetracked by confusion.
"Oh man, in ancient cultures, sentinels were often second only to the chief in deciding how to punish criminals. Away from the village, sentinels were one person courts, deciding whether people would live or die."
"They were?" Jim turned the truck around another corner and pulled to the curb where he parked behind an old green coupe.
"Totally, man. Didn't you ever learn that stuff?"
"I was a little busy learning covert tactics, Chief."
"Man oh man, you missed some interesting reading then. Bulotta found Greek friezes of heroes who archeologists believe to be sentinels, and they would decide which prisoners of war would be beheaded and which would be taken back to the king and which would be left to farm the conquered land. He theorized that sentinels could tell who lied when they promised to obey the conquering king."
"They could," Jim said as he got out of the truck.
"Really? You mean you can?" Jim walked around the truck to find his guide staring at him with open shock.
"Heart rate increases, body odor gets sharper, the eyes sometimes do this tiny little trembling thing," Jim said slowly as he focused on which actual signals would combine to give him the overall feeling that a suspect was lying.
"Wow," Blair said reverently.
"Yeah, well now I just have to focus on that grey house down the street, so let's get a little closer and be prepared to do your guide thing. I haven't used my senses on the job much and I sometimes lose control," Jim admitted even though he hated sounding too weak to even control his own senses.
"No problem, man. I've got your back," Blair assured him, and when Jim started casually walking down the street, Blair did stay a half step behind to Jim's right so that Jim was between his guide and the suspect's house. As they got closer, Jim casually leaned against a rod-iron fence as he opened his hearing to its fullest. The first sound he heard was the regular beat of Blair's heart and then he focused that sense forward by staring at the house in question.
Music. Unfamiliar music. Jim almost lost himself in the exotic rhythms, and then he felt the heat of his guide's hand on his arm and he pulled back from that seductive sound. Footsteps on a wood floor. The music stopped and Jim could hear a television going on. The volume was much lower than the music, and Jim let that sound fade away as he concentrated on the voice he could now hear muttering. Jim could hear an almost musical lilt to the voice as it went on in some foreign language. Damn. He should have brought the recording van no matter what Sandburg had said.
He focused on that voice until everything else disappeared and all that existed was the voice, but the voice warbled in and out as his hearing started spiking. He struggled to concentrate because there was something familiar here, even if it was in a language he didn't understand. Jim closed his eyes and cut off his sight as he pushed away everything other than hearing as those strange half-musical words filled his awareness. Then he heard something *so* familiar that Jim rocked back in surprise at the heavy accent singing the familiar words.
"Gillian, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife…" the voice went on, but Jim had broken his concentration and now the sound of the entire street flooded in: dogs barking, couples fighting, stereos and televisions from a dozen different houses. Jim fell to his knees and nearly vomited from the pain. His hearing distorted so that the many sounds turned into one roaring spike that threatened to tear his head apart. Then something threaded its way into that pain.
"Come on, man. Relax. Just dial back the hearing until you hear just me." Jim could tell from the tone that Blair was whispering, but the sound boomed in his head, echoing in all the corners of his mind as he struggled to control the hearing. "You know what to do. Just take the dials back to normal. You can do this. Find the hearing dial. It's set way too high, so just start moving it back down. And I really hope I'm doing this right because you're scaring the shit out of me, man."
The voice had gone from booming to simply loud, and Jim reached out blindly, his hand finding some part of Blair and holding on as he attempted to comfort his guide.
"Just come back, big guy. You know you're going to hate yourself for getting your pants dirty on this street."
"Not my first concern," Jim grimly answered as the sounds finally settled into something approaching normal.
"Thank god," Blair softly sighed, and it was actually soft in Jim's hearing.
"I stretched too far, sorry," Jim offered in a rough voice as he let go of Blair's hand and grabbed the fence to pull himself upright.
"*You're* sorry? I'm the one who's supposed to keep you from spiking and zoning."
"It's fine." Jim closed his eyes and did a mental check of his other senses as his muscles finally stopped the shaking that always came with a spike although this one was shorter and milder than most.
"So, did you hear anything?" Blair finally asked.
"Yeah, the man likes to sing the theme song to Gilligan's Island."
"Okay, I totally wasn't expecting that."
"Me neither, which explains the loss of control." Jim brushed his pants off and started walking toward the house.
"Whoa, where are you doing?"
"Chief, just because he likes Gilligan's Island doesn't mean that he's not our suspect. I need to get close enough to see if there is any explosive residue around the house." Jim walked casually across the street and toward the house before stopping to tie his shoe. Blair had stayed with him and now leaned against a nearby tree so that anyone looking out of the house wouldn't see him.
"Stay there," Jim ordered as he straightened up again and started walking toward the house again. He quickly scanned the windows looking for any sort of camera or lookout.
"I told you to stay put," Jim hissed.
"Yeah, but what if you spike again or zone?" Jim ground his teeth at his guide being so near a potential bombing suspect, but if he made a scene here, they would make themselves targets for anyone inside who happened to be near. Jim started back toward the open window with half his concentration on the house and half on the guide who trailed behind him awkwardly.
Below the window, Jim knelt as he focused this time on scent: rotting wood, dog feces, garden dirt, the evergreen-like scent of the bush, overcooked chicken. Jim catalogued and dismissed each smell as his first guide had taught him. The scent of herbal shampoo and coffee and some sort of soft smoky scent Jim put in the part of his brain labeled 'guide.'
Then he began working on the subtler scents coming from the house searching for any of the many chemicals the USSP had trained him to identify with bomb making. He felt Blair moving closer, and he made a mental note to get Blair some academy training because right now they were one big target if anyone came outside. But his guide had promised to try and keep these men's names off any official paperwork, and Jim would do his best to honor that—including avoiding official search warrants.
"Well?" Blair asked as Jim rocked back on his heels and rubbed his head as he got the dials back to normal.
"He's a little more adapted to life in America than his imam thinks he is," Jim offered as he identified only one illegal scent coming from the house.
"What do you mean?" Jim waved his hand toward the street, and Blair turned around and started retracing their steps, still carefully keeping below the level of the window. Maybe there was hope for his guide yet.
"Let's just say that not all of his 'highs' come from loving god, Darwin," Jim said as they reached the fence. Blair had to hop to get over it, and Jim quickly followed, his long legs giving him an advantage.
"Oh man, his imam would be so disappointed."
"Yeah, well that's human nature," Jim added with a slap to Blair's back.
"You are way too young to be so damn cynical" Jim looked at his guide with a raised eyebrow. "You are," Blair said defensively.
"There are times I worry about you, Chief"
"Whatever, man. You are way too --."
"Human nature, Chief," Jim interrupted as they reached the truck.
"So, are you going to turn him in?"
"If I started busting everyone who smelled of narcotics I'd never finish the paperwork-starting with your friend."
"Oh man, you wouldn't really bust Charlie after he..."
"If you mention anything about explosions, I will personally cuff you and throw you in the back of the truck," Jim warned with a mock-growl.
"Yeah, right. Whatever, man." Blair said cheerfully as he opened the door and hopped in.
"You could at least have the courtesy to pretend to be intimidated," Jim complained as he got in the driver's side and started the truck.
"Next time, man. I promise I'll be absolutely petrified. So, what's the next stop?" Jim rolled his eyes as he checked the side mirrors before pulling out.
"We check the next name the imam gave us and then we hope the lab has the paperwork that will give us access to the evidence."
Jim had expected Blair's excitement to quickly die once the man learned of the slow often boring nature of investigative work, but as they pulled back into the precinct garage with absolutely no leads, Blair seemed just as cheerful. And if the man managed to find one more way to say 'I told you so' without actually saying the words, Jim was going to look into buying some gags. He'd worked vice long enough to have an idea where to start. Blair stayed fairly quiet while Jim checked the car back in.
Blair and a young cop Jim knew from vice discussed the band advertised on the shirt the vice cop wore, and Jim had to shake his head at how Blair seemed to just instantly ingratiate himself with absolutely everyone. Jim respected Simon, but he had to admit that the man could be a bastard to people he didn't know well. However Blair with his long hair and non-stop mouth had somehow gotten Simon to trust him. Now this vice cop was telling Blair all about the undercover work he was doing in an underground rave, and Blair was happily nodding and giving the man tips on what to look for and which bands were big with the underground scene. Jim finished up and gave Blair a couple of slaps on the back.
"Time to head up, Junior." Blair wished the vice cop luck as and followed Jim to the elevator. Once inside, Blair stood pressed up against Jim's arm with his right side.
"The imam is going to be really pleased that we managed to clear his guys without having to create a paperwork trail that would haunt them," Blair said as Jim kept his eyes focused on the blinking numbers.
"That's how long you went without telling me 'I told you so' *again*."
"I never said that," Blair protested loudly as the elevator stopped on the third floor to let someone on.
"You have said it a dozen times."
"Those words have never passed my lips, Jim. I wouldn't say that."
"Different words, same meaning."
"Society's expectation of violence from those labeled 'the other.' Sound familiar?" Jim asked as he even made little finger quotes in the air in imitation of his guide.
"I… oh, well, maybe." Jim laughed and playfully pushed against the side of Blair's head. Blair ducked his head in embarrassment.
"Sometimes my mouth gets a little ahead of me," Blair admitted as the elevator doors opened. The other officer hurried away, and Jim slipped an arm around Blair's shoulders.
"Sometimes? From what I've seen, your mouth runs away with you most of the time," Jim laughed as they came through the door. The first thing he noticed was Taggart's grim face. After that he noticed the blinds to Simon's office pulled shut and Ricardo's eyes avoiding his own and a man in a military uniform coming in the door behind them. An armed man. Jim pulled Blair closer to him, and Blair pressed into Jim's embrace for a second before looking up to Jim.
"I think we're wanted in Simon's office," Jim said as he let his hand fall away from Blair and drop to his side. He couldn't show weakness, not now. Not with Blair's life and freedom at risk. Not when his guide needed him to be strong. Jim took point as he went directly to the office at the far side of the bullpen. He didn't need to look to know Blair was following: the sound of his guide's heart pounding wildly was enough to let Jim know that his guide had his back.
"General," Jim said, stopping and giving the man in Simon's office a full salute. Blair followed and didn't even bother containing an eyeroll when he spotted Karn sitting behind Simon's desk.
"At ease, Captain." Jim widened his stance and put his hands at the small of his back, but Blair took the term 'ease' a little more literally, plopping down sideways in a chair and pulling one leg up under him.
"Long time no see," Blair quipped. He was terrified, but he didn't see any reason to let Karn know that.
"Mr. Sandburg, I'm not sure what exactly you hoped to gain from Captain Ellison's press conference, but your claim of guide status is not legitimate without military endorsement, and I assure you that you have none. Your escape is a serious matter."
"I take responsibility for that, sir," Jim quickly snapped out. He also took a step to the side so that Blair had to lean in order to make eye contact with the general, and really the man did take the protective instincts a little too seriously. Of course when Blair was faced with the entire U.S. government, he appreciated the effort. "And the press conference never identified Blair as a guide."
"Captain, that is a lot of responsibility to take on considering that four service men were injured and a truck damaged. That borders on terrorism."
"Hey, hey… wait a minute there, man. That was not terrorism, that was a sentinel trying to reclaim a guide, and the history books are full of sentinels going a little overboard when the guide is physically threatened," Blair interrupted as his panic reached all new levels. Jim glanced down at him, and even though the man's face remained neutral, Blair guessed that Jim could smell and hear his fear.
"You are not his guide, so that defense will not hold, and as far as the medical evidence of psychosis, the military position is that Captain Ellison could not have been psychotic or he would still be psychotic. There is no cure for sentinel psychosis." Karn leaned back in Simon's chair.
"That is bogus. That is complete circular reasoning." Blair straightened up in his seat and might have stood except Jim had planted himself so close to the front of the chair that Blair couldn't stand without having the movement look awkward.
"And someone has to pay for these crimes." Blair watched as Jim's back suddenly went stiff. Oh no, the bastard was *not* going to…
"Sir, I take full responsibility for my actions. Sandburg tried to escape me, and I tracked him through the woods. He has no liability in this."
"Man, you two—" Blair ran out of words to describe the Neanderthals in front of him. "You… you just suck." Blair finally finished, and Karn raised a single eyebrow in either surprise or amusement. "I have a solution to your sentinel problem, and a sentinel strong enough to overcome your crap to act instinctively, and you're sitting there trying to come up with ways to frame us."
"I told you, Mr. Sandburg, that problem is being addressed by others."
"And they're more interested in playing politics than helping sentinels, and you aren't doing anything to help the sentinels you command. You're letting them hurt Jim and Jamal and the other men and women under your command." Jim had given a small unhappy cough noise at Jamal's name, but Blair ignored him.
"Mr. Sandburg, I will not take that…" Blair was standing and he wasn't even sure when he'd done that, but he pressed his side up against Jim's back so that he was half hidden by his sentinel's larger body.
"You will because we are sentinel and guide and there are laws to protect us."
"You do not have guide status," Karn's eyes narrowed and for the first time Blair saw the warrior beneath the bureaucrat.
"Sir," Jim interrupted.
"Captain?" Karn's voice had a sharp edge to it now.
"He *is* my guide, sir, and I would like to request official recognition of that status." The general sighed. Blair bit his tongue as he realized that Jim was sacrificing his own pride to ask for help from the very man who had ordered Blair kidnapped. Blair looked from one man to the other as silence fell in the office. Something existed between these two men that Blair didn't understand, and he waited to see if Jim's quiet request would make any difference. Eventually Karn sighed unhappily.
"Captain, becoming a guide requires training that your impetuous young friend simply doesn't have, besides every guide on record is in the military. Your announcement of your own return to work with your substitute guide has made life very difficult," Karn said as he leaned forward, leaning on Simon's desk. Blair knew exactly for whom they had made it difficult, and fear sent little shivers up his back at the power of the hornet's nest they had stirred.
"Sir, we have no intention of disrupting the USSP protocols," Jim said. "Blair's work is limited to sentinels who have failed to maintain a pairing, as I said in the press conference."
"And who is going to pay for the crimes committed against USSP personnel?"
"I will, sir," Jim quietly announced.
"Oh not a chance in hell, man," Blair interrupted. He turned his best confrontational stare to Karn. "You touch one hair on him, and I will be staging protests outside USSP gates from now until hell freezes over, and I know just how to make an interesting enough show to get the press and the public and a number of special interest groups involved." Blair may not approve of confrontation in a generic sense, but he did know how males of a tribe used aggression as negotiation. Karn sighed.
"I have read your file, Mr. Sandburg, but I fail to see how that would help you if I simply took you into custody right now." Okay, Blair really didn't have an answer for that. From Jim's unnaturally stiff back, he didn't have one either.
"Cooper, Acheson," Karn called and two uniformed USSP members came through the door. Blair pressed into Jim's side without thinking, and then realized that hiding behind his sentinel was a little stupid since Jim couldn't help. "Relieve the captain of his weapon, please."
"Yes, sir," automaton one said as he stepped forward and reached under Jim's jacket to take his gun, and Jim didn't even move. That stoic silence frightened Blair more than all the general's threats. Then Blair realized that he was being kidnapped for a second time when the first soldier presented the weapon to Karn before closing a hand around Blair's arm. The second soldier stepped forward and took Jim by his upper arm and still his sentinel's only movement was the twitching of a jaw muscle.
"We're leaving. Under the US Patriot and Terrorism Risk Protection Act, I am placing you in custody pending a military tribunal."
"Have any of you heard of the idea of constitutional protections, personal rights, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?" Blair complained as the soldier escorting him followed Jim and his escort out into the bullpen.
"Hang on a second, what the hell are you doing with my people?" Simon stepped in front of Jim and the soldier attached to his arm. Karn, who had been walking behind them, now stepped forward. Blair took the opportunity to try and tear his arm out of the soldier's grip, but the man's fingers just tightened to the point of pain. Remembering the scene last time he'd cried out in pain, Blair decided to skip the yelp and just glare at the USSP officer who held him without even bothering to look at him.
"Captain Banks, I am acting on behalf of the U.S. government; you need to move out of the way," Karn announced when he stood inches from Simon.
"That's not going to happen. These are my people."
"Acheson, call for back up," Karn ordered, and the soldier holding Jim's arm pulled a radio off his belt and spoke a number of codes into the mouthpiece.
"Simon, I appreciate this, but you can't stop them from taking me," Jim said quietly. "Don't turn this into a circus." When Simon stepped to the side, Blair felt shock and betrayal jolt him like he had been punched. The soldier pulled his arm, and they walked through the double doors out to the lobby where Karn pressed the elevator button. That's when Jim's words finally sunk in. Blair was still trying to figure out Jim's use of 'me' in that sentence when Brown stepped into the hallway with handcuffs in hand.
"Blair Sandburg, you're under arrest for suspicion of terrorist threats," Brown said, and Blair almost laughed at the expression of confusion the USSP soldiers shared. Brown walked up and pulled him out of the soldiers grip to handcuff his hands in front of him, which was a little less amusing.
"Captain, I insist you release Mr. Sandburg," Karn said, totally ignoring the elevator which had just opened behind him.
"I'm afraid I can't do that," Simon announced, and now Blair spotted the glance between Simon and Jim: the whole thing was a set up. "We have photographic evidence that Blair met with members of a Muslim group who are currently under suspicion for bombing a local ferry. Two members of the group have been to Pakistan within the last year and until Blair can account for a missing week or two, the US Patriot and Terrorism Risk Protection Act allows us to hold Mr. Sandburg here since both the terrorist act and the suspicious meeting took place in our jurisdiction."
"Simon, I have to…"
"No," Simon barked.
"We can't be separated," Blair started again, desperate to explain this feeling of wrongness at being taken from his sentinel.
"It's not your choice," Simon declared coldly, but the man turned to look at him, and Blair could see the sympathy and the conspiracy. His own sentinel had set this up so that Blair wouldn't have any choice.
"I was only there…"
"Brown, get him into my office, I want to question him myself," Simon ordered, and Blair felt himself being pulled away from Jim.
"No, man, you so totally don't understand. Jim? Call Simon off!" Blair didn't have time for more as the doors to the squad swung shut with Jim on the other side as Brown bodily dragged him back to Simon's office. He hadn't had time to mutter more than a few random curses before the door opened again and Simon came through the door.
"Simon, you can't do this," Blair exploded.
"Sandburg," Simon simply growled as he pushed past Blair to sit behind his desk. Blair started at the window where he peered down onto the street even though he knew he'd never spot the USSP car leaving. Hell, he didn't know what they were driving, but he couldn't stop himself from staring down. He then paced over to the door and pulled the closed blinds back a little as though Jim might come back. Blair hadn't even realized he had moved toward the door when Simon barked out an order.
"Sandburg, you aren't going anywhere."
"Simon, I am not one of your detectives; you wouldn't hire me, remember? So you don't get to tell me what to do."
"You're in custody on suspicion of terrorism, so I do get to tell you what to do. Just sit down and be quiet. I can't think with you pacing."
"You can't just let them take Jim."
"I don't like it, and I'll do everything I can to get him back, but the USSP can legally recall Jim to active duty. Jim knew that." Blair could see the man's features settle into the same sort of cold deadly mask he'd seen on Jim, but Blair wasn't going to let Simon get away with this without fighting. It wasn't in his nature.
"And that's why you set me up?" Blair demanded as he raised his cuffed hands.
"Jim wanted you out of the way. If the USSP has both of you, there's no chance of getting either of you back. This way Karn has to worry about what kind of trouble you could be causing out here."
"Oh man, if I thought causing more trouble would fix this, I would cause enough trouble to get CNN doing a live feed from downtown Cascade." Blair wandered back to the window and stared down at a nondescript blue car leaving the garage.
"I don't doubt it," Simon said dryly. "But right now I have a few people I can quietly call to try to work this out. So, I need you somewhere safe and out of the way."
"Just uncuff me and I'll go home. I even promise to stay there," Blair said as he moved his fingers over his chest in a 'cross my heart' gesture made very awkward by the handcuffs.
"Why do I not trust you?" Simon stood up and went to the office door where he bellowed Brown's name. The detective appeared almost immediately. Even though the blinds were closed, Blair had an image of the entire Major Crimes department huddled around the door like in some cartoon.
"Take him to the safe house on Shed Street, and make sure he stays there," Simon said sharply before stepping back away from the door.
"No problem," Brown said as he leaned in the door. "Come on Hairboy, let's get out of here before the military clowns show up again."
"You can't just push me from one place to another. I have a right to help," Blair protested as Simon pushed him toward the door. "This is so totally not cool," he complained, but Brown just took his arm and started pulling him out of the office and out of the squad room.
"This is an abuse of police power," Blair pointed out as Brown gently pushed him onto the elevator.
"Yeah, better us than the USSP, kid. If they get their hands on you, that's going to be some bad shit. Besides, if we lose you to those clowns, Jim will rip all of us new ones for losing his guide." Blair understood the logic. He didn't like it, but he understood it. These were Jim's friends and they were going to back Jim's plan, and *when* he found Jim, he was so kicking his sentinel's ass for leaving him out of the loop on this one.
Blair was still mumbling about testosterone and bullying behaviors and police powers being abused when Brown pulled his car into the garage attached to a plain one story home.
"Yeah, yeah. We're all horrible people." Brown agreed mildly as he maneuvered Blair though the door, past the kitchen and into a living room that looked like it had been decorated some time in the seventies. Blair wondered if the decor was part of some police interrogation technique. He imagined Jim telling a suspect to confess or he would be trapped in a room with puke green carpeting for the rest of his life.
"Man, we've got to get Jim back," Blair said to no one in particular even though Brown was the only one in the room.
"Blair, just don't do anything stupid. Let Jim and Simon work on this one," Brown said as he walked around the safe house checking the windows quickly and efficiently.
"You do realize that their idea of working on this is to engage in the sort of mutual threats that didn't work at all in Simon's office," Blair complained as he sat on the arm of the horrible floral couch sitting in the middle of the room. He had an itch on his shoulder, but with his hands still handcuffed in front of him he didn't have a chance of reaching it. While Brown checked the other rooms, Blair leaned over awkwardly and rubbed his shoulder against the back of the couch. "You didn't see Karn's face," Blair yelled to Brown.
"So you'll stay out of it," the detective said in a relieved tone of voice as he came back into the living room, and Blair sat up.
"No way, man. Feine did this really interesting work on gangs."
"And is that supposed to fit in this conversation?" Brown asked skeptically as he dropped down into an old, patched brown recliner across from the couch.
"Just listen." Blair leaned forward seriously. "He found that mutual threats inevitably escalated when male dominated subgroups vied for dominance, and the same pattern of escalating violence could be found in everything from continent wide wars as gang turf wars. This colleague at school used to use the same research on dominance and submission in subgroups to predict Senate races. Hell, I did a replication study of gangs in Cascade. If we threaten Karn, he's going to feel a need to prove that he's serious and defend his subgroup's authority. It's going to escalate into violence with Jim in the middle."
"So what are you planning?" Brown scooted forward to the edge of the chair as if prepared for Blair to run and Blair just sighed. Yeah, he wasn't stupid enough to take on an armed cop. Okay, there was the one nuclear protest, but he hadn't been handcuffed at the time and he really hadn't thought that cop could run so fast.
"Do you have a computer here?" Blair asked.
"You are *not* instigating some riot from a police computer," Brown gruffly insisted. "That would definitely look bad on my record."
"Oh ye of little faith. I am not going to be the one to back Karn into a corner where he feels like he has to strike back," Blair answered dismissively as he started thinking through the details of his move. It was like chess trying to predict all the moves and possible countermoves. The only difference was that this time if he lost he was going to lose more than a little pride.
"Then what?" Brown demanded, but truthfully Blair didn't have all the details worked out yet.
"You'll see. Just show me a computer and a printer and maybe I can get us out of this yet. Oh, and uncuffing my hands would help too." Blair held up his restrained hands.
"If you try to escape...."
"Yeah, yeah. You'll handcuff me to the bed, Simon will stuff me in a cell, and Jim will skin me alive once he gets back. You guys really need to learn a communication technique other than threatening." Blair rolled his eyes and then smiled sweetly at Brown who just snorted as he dug into his pocket.
"They're promises, not threats," Brown replied pointedly as he reached out for Blair's hands with the key. Blair held up his cuffed wrists and Brown clicked the cuff off quickly. "The computer is through that door." Blair looked down the hallway at a half open door through which he could see an old desk.
"Thanks, man." He gave Brown's arm a tentative slap and then hurried down the hallway. Nearly 5 pm. Okay, he could probably still catch a few people at the university. Hopefully Eli would still be working. He had a lot of work to do before the sun rose, but at least he had a plan.
Jim focused on the rainbow curving along the inside of the drop of dew sliding down the open window to his room. The violets and indigoes flashed brilliantly as the sun caught the side of the drop and then the drop slid down into the shade of the neighboring building. Jim opened his vision and allowed the shifting colors to command his full attention as the greens and blues became more prominent in the shade.
Focusing tighter, he could see the grain of the wood magnified by the water moving over the surface slowly. Jim knew he was risking a total zone out, especially since his guide was nowhere near, but then he couldn't bring himself to care. If he couldn't fuck up one way, he'd just fuck up another. He'd just proved that. He should have grabbed his guide and run for Canada. He could have disappeared into the woods or applied for Canadian citizenship. Sentinels were rare, and he was fairly sure he could have gotten citizenship for himself and his guide, and gotten official recognition for his guide to boot.
But no, he had to once again let his out of control instincts rule him and demand that he stay in his territory. Blair should have been his first and only concern. But at least now Blair would be able to move on. He was almost glad this happened now because Jim could feel the need to bond starting to curl in his belly like an ache. If they had fully bonded, Jim knew that he would never have walked away from his guide. He would have dragged his guide into this mess with him. Jim watched as the drop reached a part of the wood where the varnish still made the sill slick and then the water quickly slid out of sight below the tall, narrow window.
"Jim," a voice sharply demanded, and Jim turned on his bed and then flew to his feet at the sight of General Karn standing in his room looking very aggravated. Jim could tell from the tone of voice that the general had called his name more than once.
"Yes, sir," he said with a salute held formally in place until the General returned the gesture.
"You were never this formal before," Karn said with a sigh, and Jim glanced up toward the camera used to keep track of him. The room might not be the stockade, but the narrow windows and thick walls and constant surveillance made his status clear. Now he noticed that the red light over the camera was off for the first time.
"Just following regulations, sir."
"This is quite a mess you've gotten yourself into. I didn't expect to see you talking about young Sandburg on television."
"I wanted to..." Jim stopped as he realized just how foolish he sounded to call what he did protecting Blair. Protecting Blair would have been running for the hills when he had the chance. "I wanted to give the USSP a reason to leave us alone, sir."
"After that young man's performance, I don't think even you can make that happen. One sentinel is in a hyperactive state and has to be physically restrained, an inactive sentinel has somehow regained his senses after being hospitalized for psychosis, and the entire foundation of the guide program has been questioned. He's burned a few bridges."
"The same bridges you burned, sir," Jim answered the man, and Karn settled into the straight back wood chair next to the door.
"And look where that got me."
"The big corner office?" Jim responded without smiling at their old banter.
"Exiled from active duty, banned from working in the field with on-line sentinels. And your young friend is now trying to walk over burning bridges." Jim felt an almost physical sensation of cold sink into him at those words. He had been so careful to make it difficult for the USSP to touch Blair. He'd shown the press just enough of Blair's theories to interest them. Just enough so that the USSP couldn't touch Blair without looking like they were trying to cover something up, especially now when Blair had time to contact his protesting friends.
When Jim had first done a background check, he had been horrified at just how many red flags had come up, but now Jim counted on Blair using those contacts. Somehow though he couldn't believe the general would lie to him, not over this. But he couldn't really do anything to protect Blair now and that thought made him want to break out and grab his guide before running for the deep woods. The only reason he didn't try was because he knew Karn well enough to know there would be USSP forces with tazers waiting outside the door. So he waited.
"I have to know, Jimmy. Between you and me, is he your guide?" Jim considered his answer. He knew better than anyone what Karn would do to protect the sentinels under his protection, and he knew what Karn would sacrifice. Jim wasn't going to let Blair be one of the sacrificial pawns, but he couldn't let Karn underestimate either Blair or Blair's research.
"Yes, sir," he finally answered.
"I thought so. In some ways that makes this more difficult."
"Leave Blair alone," Jim stepped forward without even thinking and the lack of soldiers breaking into the room told him that Karn had truly turned off the surveillance.
"Captain," Karn warned with a single word. "Blair is the one who contacted us. He faxed through a research proposal asking to be allowed to do a study of unbonded sentinels as a joint project between Rainer and the USSP." Jim felt his knees weaken, and he stumbled back to sit on the cot, hovering somewhere between fear and outright fury. The USSP had no authority over civilians, at least no legal means, but if Karn was telling the truth, Blair was putting himself within USSP's reach.
"He won't survive the USSP," Jim said quietly, desperate to get Karn to understand the need to keep Blair as far from the USSP as possible. "You can't let him do this."
"He isn't joining the USSP, he's just giving the Guide Program control over his research. It means that the very people who want to get rid of him control his PhD, his academic career, and how his research is or *isn't* released."
"But they can't touch him?"
"That's a fuzzy area. If his proposal gets accepted, he will be working with USSP teaching guides. He isn't joining the USSP, but he will be under the academic staff of the Guide Program at USSP. Looking at the young man's proposal, I would have to say that young Sandburg is better at splitting hairs than any man I've ever known." Jim fought down a half hysterical laugh as he imagined the staid and traditional teaching guides trying to deal with Blair. Of course, the need to laugh also came from his fear about what those same people could do to Blair reputation and career.
"I can't let him do that." Jim looked at his previous commander's face, the commander who had helped him through the loss of his first guide in the field.
"I don't think either of us can stop him now. I could refuse to allow it, veto the whole plan, but short of that…" Karn let his voice trail off and Jim dropped his head into his hands before roughly rubbing his face. Karn clearly wasn't inclined to keep Blair clear, and Jim knew why. Blair's freedom, Blair's life, hell even his own life would always be second to Karn, second to protecting the USSP and its precious sentinels.
"So, what does this mean?" Jim finally asked, aware that his chance to keep Blair clear of this had just ended.
"It means that he's springing you since you are the unbonded sentinel he has requested to work with. Of course, he managed to do it without destroying any property unlike certain sentinels."
"But General," Jim started.
"It was his choice."
"I can't let him give up his doctorate. He's worked for that since he was 16."
"He obviously made his choice, and I don't think either of us will change his mind."
Jim certainly didn't say it, but he had every intention of changing Blair's mind, just as soon as he could strangle some common sense into his recalcitrant guide. Right now all he could do was sit on the edge of his cot and endure the creepy tingling feeling running up his back that he got any time his guide was in trouble because he had a feeling that his guide was in more trouble than he knew. Karn had mercy on him and just silently left, one second ahead of the red light going back on over the camera.
Jim was still sitting on that cot when his hearing spiked sharply and a wave of nausea washed over him so strongly that he had to fight to keep himself from vomiting on the floor in front of him. A sergeant yelling orders to the cadets on the obstacle course, a couple discussing the overseas war, the sound of a cursing soldier all merged into one deafening moment until he could sort the sounds and focus on just the one voice.
"Oh man, that is just not cool. You're paying for that if you break it." The very sound of that voice both calmed Jim's stressed senses and left him with an overwhelming urge to box his guide upside his head in the hope of getting some common sense into it. "Hey! Those books are old. You can't just go tossing them like that. Sheesh, Neanderthals." Jim only half listened as Blair complained his way across the compound.
From the silence, Jim guessed that Blair was with low ranking guards because the general would have ended Blair's explanation on the evils of expansionist military action long before the man started citing historical parallels between the colonization of the South Pacific and the current placement of American troops in the Middle East. As Blair entered the administration building, the white noise generators cut Jim off from the sound of his guide's voice, and the knowledge that he was in there with Karn made the tingling sensation return.
Soon enough, Jim heard the lock turn in his door, and he pulled himself from that place of half-zone where time passed without him noticing. As the door opened and the scent of herbal shampoo and dust and coffee reached him, Jim flung himself off the bed and snatched Blair's arm, pulling the shocked man behind him as he faced General Karn and an equally shocked USSP escort.
"Captain!" Karn snapped, and Jim narrowed his eyes, perfectly aware of the fact that this man saw his guide as nothing more than some political pawn to either use or sacrifice for his own goals.
"You stay away from Blair," Jim practically hissed, and he felt a near overwhelming need to both stay with his guide and punch the man who had attacked his guide, kidnapped his guide and who now could hurt his guide.
"Um, maybe you guys could give us a minute?" Blair asked from behind him, and Jim had to intentionally relax his hold on his guide's arm before he left a hand shaped bruise on the man.
"Mr. Sandburg, we do not allow such clearly out of control behavior on this base. Sentinels will remain respectful of a guide's personal space at all times," Karn replied, and Jim could feel Blair's hand settle at the small of his back, the heat warming him.
"As you pointed out General Karn," Blair started in a tone much sharper and colder than any Jim had heard Blair use, "we are not guide and sentinel, and we will never have that status. So you cannot enforce sentinel-guide rules on us. This is a conflict between a researcher and the subject of his dissertation, and I will handle it." Jim stood squarely between Blair and Karn aware of the silent battle between the two men, and he squared his shoulder and stepped back slightly so that Blair's entire chest touched his back. His military training screamed at him about just how many regulations he was currently breaking, but he didn't listen.
"Mr. Sandburg, have you read Captain Ellison's file?" Karn asked coldly as he stared Jim in the eye, but Jim's years of training had taught him not to flinch even when hit in his most vulnerable spot.
"No, and I don't care to have my opinion biased by idiots who couldn't tell the difference between a psychotic episode and a natural instinct," Blair answered immediately. Karn stood unmoving with the USSP guards flanking him.
"Fine. You will need to file your USSP paperwork before returning to Cascade. Your escort will be outside the door when you're ready to leave." Karn turned and left, the two guards stepping to the side to allow him out the door before they left as well. Jim found himself alone with his guide. His incapable of listening guide. His infuriatingly capable of getting himself in trouble guide. His trembling guide. He turned to look at Blair who looked up without even the courtesy of looking ashamed of himself.
"Hey, long time no see," Blair smiled tightly, and Jim lost his control. Grabbing Blair by his arms, he pushed Blair into the wall using his own body to trap Blair.
"This is not the time for jokes, Junior. What the hell are you doing?"
"All right, just relax, man," Blair protested, but Jim ground his teeth in frustration.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"Just relax and chill out. I'm here because you're here. The whole separating plan… not working for me." Jim pushed in so that his whole body pressed Blair back into the cool brick wall, and for the first time he realized that Blair wasn't fighting him at all. Blair was on his tiptoes and letting Jim take most of his weight as he hung nearly helpless between his sentinel and the unyielding brick.
"I wanted you safely away. I can't do my job if I have to worry about you," Jim complained, but he pulled back slightly so that Blair was at least standing on his own even if Jim did put a large hand on the wall on either side of his head so that escape would be a little difficult. Blair reached up and curled a hand around Jim's left forearm, not to try and push it away but as if Blair wanted the contact as badly as Jim. Unfortunately, that made other dormant needs surge to the surface, and Jim knew that Blair wasn't ready for that. He struggled to get a hold of his bonding instinct, dropping his head down to look at the four feet below him.
"Just relax. It's fine, I'm not joining the USSP although Naomi is going to have a fit that I'm doing any work with them after the whole bombing the villages by accident incident. She protested at the US embassy in Eritrea for two weeks after that," Blair complained, and for the first time, Jim heard the anxiety Blair normally controlled make his voice tremble. Jim snorted.
"Only you, Chief. You just put yourself at the mercy of a semi-covert group that has no mercy and you're worried about your mother."
"You've never met my mother," Blair said with such a serious tone that Jim nearly cried at the naiveté. How could he protect his guide when his guide wouldn't see the danger? Jim reached out and pulled Blair to him, one hand wrapping around the man's waist and the other tangling in that long hair and pulling Blair's head to his chest.
"We've got a mess here, Darwin." Jim said as he allowed himself to open up his sense of smell. Now he could smell the salt of Blair's dried sweat and the sourness of fear.
"We had a mess before. Now we just have a mess with us together." Blair contradicted him.
"This isn't over and we haven't seen the last of the USSP," Jim warned.
"Oh man, I'm not that naïve. I know what I got into."
"I don't think you do, Chief." Jim pulled back and let himself just look at Blair. The man had dark circles beneath his eyes, and his hair needed washing and combing. Combined with Blair's normal habit of layering clothes, Jim had to admit that his partner looked like he was about to go undercover as a homeless man.
"So, can we get out of here now?" Blair asked. "There is still the matter of the ferry bombing, and I so totally need a shower."
"Yeah, Chief, it looks like we can leave now, but if we aren't careful, we may both find ourselves spending a lot of time in a room like this," Jim warned as he let go of his guide completely for the first time since seeing him.
"As long as we're together," Blair answered with a shrug as he headed toward the door. Jim was grateful that Blair had turned away because he had to clench his fists to keep the urge to bond down to a controllable level.
Jim rolled his head to stretch the tired neck muscles before he opened the door at one more warehouse. The lead he'd gotten from the physical evidence was tenuous at best. The smell of Kale ground into a fragment of pine wood that Taggart and Plummer had identified as coming from ground zero had sent them to every warehouse that had transported kale before the ferry bombing.
Carolyn had openly scoffed at Jim's suggestion that he could smell kale under the explosives and the contamination from the river, but then the woman had only known Jim when his senses were generally off-line and more likely to cause trouble than actually function when needed. Jim rolled his head again to release both the stress of working with his ex-wife and the stress of overworking his senses. Even in the USSP he'd never pushed himself this hard.
"Okay. You ready to go at this again?" Blair asked, and Jim felt his guide's body press up against him. He quickly focused his attention on the warehouse in front of him before his senses could become dangerously locked onto Blair.
"You have to back off a little there, Chief, or all I can smell is you," he said even though the loss of that warmth and pressure at his back left him desperate for more. The hand pressing into his back was enough though.
"I can't believe how many warehouses transport kale. I mean, how much kale can one city eat?"
"I don't think anyone actually eats the stuff," Jim pointed out. "But this is normal police work, Chief. Ready to quit?"
"Are you kidding? What do you think I do all day on a dig? We go through the dirt one inch at a time looking for the smallest fragment so we can put together a picture of what these people are like. Or when I do a cultural study, I may spend weeks watching one child play and recording the societal norms evident in the behavior. Hitting my head against a wall over and over while looking for one clue is familiar territory for me, man."
"You don't have to sound quite so enthusiastic that we've gotten to the head butting stage of police work." Jim laughed grimly. Blair did have this enthusiastic expression that didn't quite match Jim's feelings at having to track down dozens more potential crime scenes.
"Just showing solidarity. Closed societies thrive on it you know," Blair waved his hand dismissively, and Jim aimed a light mock-punch at Blair shoulder.
"Hey, police brutality here, where are all the citizens with video cameras when you need them?" Blair laughed, and Jim felt his dull thudding headache recede into nothingness as Blair pushed his shoulder into Jim in a playful shove. He narrowed his eyes and started dialing up hearing and smell.
"Yeah, yeah. Keep up this attitude and you'll need protection from police brutality," Jim warned, comfortable that Blair would take the threat as a joke. He'd had other guides who had found that humor disturbing, but Blair just snorted.
"Watch out there, buddy. One phone call and I'll have demonstrators picketing your parking place at the precinct," Blair threatened right back. Jim let himself relax into the banter.
"Yeah, well I'll make you do all the paperwork on the places we screened today."
"No problem if you want to type up the dis notes."
"Why do I keep you around anyway?" Jim demanded as he frowned theatrically.
"'Cause I’m pretty?" Blair asked innocently, and Jim nearly choked on nothing.
"Whoa there, I’m not that funny," Blair rubbed his hand in small circles on Jim's back, and Jim had to wrench his attention away from all the wonderful things that was doing to his body.
"Yeah, well you'd better watch yourself or you might end up a little...in over your head," Jim warned and while he meant to make the line part of their banter, Blair shot him an intense look and Jim concentrated on the warehouse as a strained silence now fell between them. He only hoped this was the one because he'd rather face a warehouse full of terrorists than the confused expression on Blair's face.
Focusing his hearing first, he could make out the movement of people and large vehicles inside the building. Metal storage cars scraped against the concrete floor. Vehicles beeped alerts as they backed up. Men called warnings across echoing space. All normal.
Jim focused on Blair's hand and the sound of Blair's heart beating for a second before he turned down four of the dials and turned up scent. He had always hated working with scents, which was ironic since it was a sentinel's most useful weapon. Suspects could hide noises with white noise generators and put contraband out of sight, but there was no way to hide a scent.
The smell of hot rubber hit Jim first, and he struggled to filter it out as the other scents started hitting him one after another: sea kelp, rotting fish, cat feces, diesel fuel. Jim felt his stomach muscles knot as he struggled to identify and dismiss the familiar but nauseating scents that overwhelmed him and made identifying the more subtle smells difficult.
He had almost lost the battle when suddenly those odors were pushed into the background by the smell of coffee and tea and herbal shampoo and natural male musk and that damn incense that made his nose itch when Sandburg burned too much of it. He blinked and saw Blair standing between him and the warehouse, Blair's own scent becoming the dominant one while Jim found and dismissed the more noxious odors. Jim smiled his thanks and put a hand on his guide's arm in gratitude.
Now he was into the smaller more subtle textures with wood chips and melon and sawdust coming through. Jim catalogued and ignored each as he finally stepped around Blair to get a clearer scent trail. There. Jim took a deep breath to be sure. Jim smiled at the scent of ammonium nitrate. This warehouse wasn't rated to handle the agricultural product which in today's world was more closely associated with bomb making than fertilizer. Just in case he kept breathing deeply, searching for other molecules that would confirm his suspicions. When he caught a whiff of silver nitrate, he started backing away from the building blindly feeling for Blair and making sure his guide was safely behind him. Silver nitrate might be common in photography, but no one without a death wish would have silver nitrates anywhere near ammonium compounds.
"Get in the truck," he told Blair tersely.
"Oh man, you totally found something," Blair said as he opened the driver's side door of the truck and got in before scooting across.
"You could say that," Jim said as he flipped open his cell phone and thumbed in the speed dial to Simon. Jim quickly filled Simon in on the warehouse's location and the chemicals he identified and then confirmed Simon's order to sit tight and wait for the warrant and backup. He had no intention of doing anything else despite Simon's clearly suspicious tone because he was not putting his guide into the middle of a gun fight with terrorists. When the other cops got there, Jim would find a safe place with a couple of uniformed officers and make sure the officers understood the need to keep Blair safe. Only then would he go into the building and help find the bomb making materials.
"We're waiting?" Blair asked when Jim finally clicked the "end" button.
"Oh yeah. We have no idea how many of those workers are in on the bombings, but we are not moving from here until we have backup," Jim confirmed. The truck was parked in the shade of a stack of crates ready for transfer to big rigs, and they were far enough away to not catch any suspicion. Even with the distance, Jim could feel a discomfort at having his guide too close to the danger. He reached out and pulled Blair closer while pushing down on his shoulders so the man would hunch down on the seat.
Blair actually did him one better by slipping to his knees on the floorboard so that he was completely below the level of the windows.
"You hear something?" Blair whispered, and Jim heard the sound as clearly as a shout as he opened his hearing to check for anything that might be a threat. The tightness in his back increased.
"Nothing specific," Jim said, but he reached for the ignition anyway, his hearing still set high as he tried to identify a source of danger that would have him this on edge. Silently he cursed his own inability to control these instinctive drives. He should stay and keep an eye on the warehouse like Simon had ordered, but he couldn't have Blair here. His guts knotted at the idea of Blair this close to the suspects. Jim's hand paused on the ignition, and Blair's hand settled on his knee. Jim used at to ground him as he stretched his hearing a little farther to try and decide whether the danger was real or his own instincts hijacking his rational mind.
He still had his hearing nearly all the way open when the sound of a blast horn tore through his ears. The sound so completely overwhelmed him that the sensation spilled over into his other senses setting his skin on fire and making red streaks flash before his eyes as he screamed in pain. In that moment, the warehouse didn't exist, Blair didn't exist, and the two men armed with automatic weapons approaching the truck didn't exist. Only the pain of the sensory overload that had left him reeling helplessly and engulfed with pain existed.
Blair spotted the guys closing in on the truck, and he picked up the police radio whispering as loudly as he dare as he pushed the button.
"Detective Ellison with Major Crimes is down and about to get shot by guys with really big stinking guns, so if there's anyone in the area of Epper's Warehouse, it'd be really nice if you could get over here and save our asses," he said as he stroked the top of Jim's thigh. Jim stopped screaming, and Blair dropped the radio back into the cradle and focused on centering his sentinel.
"Come on, Jim, you can hear my voice, let the pain go. Focus on me."
"You, in the truck, sit up with your hands in sight or we'll shoot the cop," a voice demanded. Blair glanced once at the holster at Jim's side before looking up at Jim who clutched his head, helpless against the automatic weapons pointed at him.
"Okay, okay, chill out," Blair said as he sat up with his palms facing the front and held high. One man stayed in front of the truck with his machine gun aimed at the front window while one man went to each door. The dark haired man with sharp green eyes who stopped at Blair's door beat the window when he found it locked, and Blair carefully reached down to pull the latch even as a brunet in a black baseball cap pulled Jim out from behind the wheel.
"Chill, dude," Blair said as the door opened and a large hand pulled him out of the truck and slammed him stomach first into the hood. Blair knew he had zero chance of actually fighting these guys off so he didn't protest when they kicked his legs apart and gave him an entirely too thorough frisking. "I don't have any guns. I'm just an observer," he said as he was pulled upright and pushed toward the man who had stood guard at the front.
"Ride with the enemy and you become the enemy," the man announced in a slightly southern accent, his dark blond hair blowing as he lowered the weapon. Blair ignored the nut case in favor of focusing on his partner who lay unmoving on the ground. He tried to go to his knees next to Jim, but the goon holding his arm jerked it up behind him, forcing him to his toes.
"Hey, ease off there," he complained.
"Yeah, don't break him before we kill him," the man in the baseball cap laughed darkly.
"Enough, Alton," the ringleader commanded. "You and Morrison move the computers out and let's get moving. The man took Blair's shirt collar in his hand and pushed the end of the machine gun into Blair's stomach so that Blair was afraid to even breathe for fear that it would set the gun off. The two men set off at a trot for the warehouse.
"So you're Ellison's little pretend guide," the man said with a sneer, but Blair kept his eyes focused on Jim. "I saw his press conference a few days ago, the traitor announcing his return to the battlefield."
"What?" Blair asked as he finally looked directly at the madman holding him. "What are you talking about?"
"Sentinels are supposed to protect their people," the man made a face like he had bitten into something unpleasant. "This one works to support a government that has declared war on the citizens of the United States."
"Man, I'm not a fan of the government either, but Jim is so not a traitor to anyone. He protects innocent people, unlike someone who would plant random bombs and kill civilians."
"There are no innocents. And how long have you worked with Ellison here? A week? Two?"
"Six days," Blair admitted. Six days. On one hand, he felt like Jim had attacked that military truck yesterday, and on the other, he felt like they had been part of each other's lives for months now. The guy with the gun was not impressed if his disgusted snort meant anything.
"Ellison and I have been tap-dancing around each other for nearly a year. I know him, and he is not worthy of the title sentinel."
"Man, just let me help him," Blair begged looking down as the skin around Jim's eyes wrinkled in pain.
"He got what he deserved for siding with the pigs who have taken over our American freedoms. If you really don't approve of our government, you understand that."
"I understand that you're letting him suffer," Blair snapped back. The man just smiled.
"Well, Mr. Unarmed Observer, if you want we can put him out of his misery right now." The man swung the machine gun down toward Jim, and Blair lost the ability to breathe. The world stopped existing except for his sentinel and the man who now pointed a gun at Jim's head. Without thinking, Blair surged forward and slammed his body into the terrorist with all his strength. He might not be a well muscled Greek god like some, but trudging through forests with fifty pounds of equipment required a certain physique and strength. Blair's charge took the man totally off his feet and the machine gun flew from his grip and swung away from his hand as they both went into the wood crates.
Blair could hear the man's breath whistle by his ear as he scrambled for the shoulder strap that held the machine gun to the terrorist's side, unfastening the buckle before the man could counterattack. Blair had just closed his hand around the machine gun when he could feel the guy tense up. He brought his knee up hoping for a groin shot that would take the guy down for a while, but the man twisted so that Blair's knee caught the inside of his thigh.
A hand closed over his and tried to pull the machine gun free, but Blair fought back with all his strength. He wouldn't let this man kill his sentinel. Blair's foot slipped on something, and the man took the chance to slam Blair sideways into the crates. As his hip hit the wood with a sickening thud, Blair focused on the getting the gun and not the pain running down his leg. The man had put all his weight into pulling on the gun, clearly expecting Blair to let go after the pain, but Blair held on and threw his weight forward so that now they both went crashing to the ground.
The man landed on the bottom, his head hitting the concrete and Blair really thought he might win.
"I'll shoot him. One more move, and I'll shoot the pig," a near hysterical voice shouted, and Blair looked over to find the other two goons, Morrison and Alton, pointing weapons at Jim who had started to moan softly. The moaning was actually a good sound, but the guns made Blair freeze instantly. He carefully let go of his opponent and raised his hands in surrender.
"Don't do it, man. The cops, they're going to be here any second," Blair said as the man under him pushed him back and climbed to his feet. Blair remained kneeling with his hands up as he felt an overwhelming urge to throw his own body over his helpless sentinel.
"Kid's right. Leave Jimmy there to think about all the ways he's fucked this up," the man said, and then Blair felt a hand in his hair pulling him upright.
"Kincaid? You sure?" the darker haired one asked.
"Oh yeah. I'm sure he'll appreciate his punishment. He can live knowing that he let his little pretend guide get taken. Mr. Natural here comes with us. He's a quick study, and I'm sure I can find a use for a man like him." Blair shivered as he considered all the possible ways he could take that line. None of them were good. Scenarios ranging from rape to becoming the rabbit in some training hunt ran through his mind as Kincaid pushed him toward the water. He bit his lip as he spotted the speedboat that would take him someplace that even Jim would have trouble tracking him. Water didn't leave a clear scent trail. However, at least his move had distracted Kincaid away from killing Jim.
One of the goons scrambled down the ladder ahead of him and started the speedboat's engine, and Blair felt a cold prodding in his back.
"All right, all right. I’m going," he complained as he started down the ladder, stopping with his head at ground level to take one final look at Jim who was just starting to make purposeful movements. Hopefully he'd recover. "Man, I'm sorry. Didn't guide you very well, did I?" he said soft enough that non-sentinel ears would never hear over the noise of the engine. The end of a machine gun tapped him on the head, and he finished climbing down the ladder, letting the goon at the bottom push him into place on one of the bench seats.
Goon two, either Morrison or Alton he wasn't sure which, came next carrying two lap top computers in cases and finally Kincaid. Blair turned to look out over the water as Kincaid sat next to him, the machine gun in his lap pointing Blair's direction. Jim had been a sentinel for years, but one week with him as guide, and he had been taken out by a spike and left helpless on the ground. Blair stung with the failure of it. He hadn't done his job, not by half.
And now he was leaving Jim to suffer guide separation anxiety, which was, he supposed, better than leaving Jim dead. Still, he couldn't quite count that as victory either. And as for himself… well, he really didn't have many illusions about his current life expectancy. And Jim would have to live with the guilt of that for a long time. Of course, he'd have to live with being dead even longer.
Running his finger along the smooth fiberglass, Blair felt the boat start to bump over the waves as it pulled away from the dock. The dark water slid under the boat, and Blair considered his options. The water offered a relatively quick death, at least compared to anything Kincaid offered, but he couldn't do it. He didn't have the energy to push himself up and over the side.
"Just survive Jim, don't let him beat you," Blair whispered into the wind. They were far enough away that even Jim wouldn't be able to hear, but Blair couldn't stop himself from saying it anyway. "Survive, damn it, and fucking stop him before he kills anyone else. That's your job, man. So do it." Blair sent up a prayer to the universe that his sentinel would hear his message even if his words did disappear under the roar of the engine and the distance as the boat sped away from the shore. He prayed that his sentinel wouldn't go under to psychosis or coma or just give up. "God, please, just help him survive."
Blair felt a hand close around his hair as Kincaid pulled his head close to Kincaid's mouth.
"You say something there, Mr. Natural?" he shouted over the roar of the engine.
"Nothing, man," Blair replied staring blankly out at the water.
Jim struggled to calm his breathing as his hearing locked in on Blair's voice. "Man, I'm sorry. Didn't guide you very well, did I?" Blair said in a wistful tone of voice, and Jim tried to decipher that comment as the pain of the spike still rolled over his body. The roar of an engine tore through his head pounding at his temples until he groaned and tried to move away from the noise. He felt himself falling back into the pain when Blair's voice returned.
"Survive, damn it, and fucking stop him before he kills anyone else. That's your job, man. So do it." Now Jim really did struggle to push the dials back into place. Blair's voice was drowning in sadness in pain, the tone was wrong. Jim rolled to his side and started pushing himself up to one elbow. The light still cut into his eyes but he yanked viciously at the dial. Great, now he was in almost total darkness. Jim struggled to get his dial set somewhere useable when he heard the whisper. "God, please, just help him survive."
Jim could feel every muscle in his body tremble with the aftershock of the spike. Sirens now blasted his ears, and he concentrated on vision. The truck stood with open doors, one of the crates had a scuff mark down one side as if something had been dragged along the wood, a strand of long curling hair was caught in a splinter of wood. Jim forced his way to his feet, barely able to keep upright, but he had heard his guide's voice, and it had sounded too damn much like goodbye. That resigned, regretful tone. He remembered that from Rob walking away, the first broken pairing he'd suffered. But now he could feel a need rise up that made that pain pale in comparison.
Shaking his head, he opened his sense of scent and nearly went to his knees at the aroma of Blair anger and Blair fear. And Kincaid. Jim growled at the scent he knew from two different cases where he hadn't been able to nail the bastard. Now Kincaid had his guide. Jim pushed himself to the edge of the dock where a ladder led to the water, and he opened his eyesight to scan the waves all the way to the curving horizon. He could see the boat heading away from shore and he started searching the docks on either side for a vehicle that could follow.
A hand landed on his shoulder, and Jim thrust the person away roughly. Men stood around him, he shook his head again as he tried to figure out it they were tribe or not tribe. A large dark man stepped in front of him, and Jim's guts said "tribe," but the man tried to stop him. Jim growled his anger and pushed by the grabbing hands. Striding through the crowd, he ignored the various calls as he zeroed in on the sound of a motor… a fast motor. Cocking his head to one side he zeroed in on a direction and turned to give chase.
Another hand fell on his arm, and Jim shrugged it off. At least he tried to, but the hand clung to him and he turned to see wide brown eyes and brown hair and fair skin. He pushed the man away, but the man clung to him and he didn't have time. Jim cocked back his arm and backhanded the fair man to the ground before taking off at a steady trot toward the sound of the motor. He had to get on to the water before the boat with his guide changed direction.
Two men stepped in front of him and they smelled of aggression. Jim plowed through them, shoving one off into the water and sending the other into a large crate head first as he broke into a run. The motor was coming closer. Voices called behind him, and he saw a confused man standing next to a car. The man stepped away from the flashing car and Jim grabbed him by his shirt tossing him carelessly to the side. He jumped in the car and pulled the door shut before putting the car into reverse and sending the car backwards through the maze of crates. He could hear the motor idling. He stopped the car and walked to the edge.
Two men stood below him in a speedboat. He walked to the edge of the dock, looking down the twenty feet to where the boat was moored. One man looked up and said something, but Jim ignored him as he ignored the ladder and simply jumped to the boat. When he handed, both men grabbed the edge as the boat rocked madly. Jim stayed in a crouch until he caught his balance and then he started for the front of the boat. One of the men attacked, and Jim easily tossed him from the boat as he slipped the rope from the tie down and headed for the wheel. The second man shrank from him, and Jim could smell his submission, his willingness to give the sentinel what he needed to regain his guide. Jim dismissed him from his awareness.
Jim slipped into the seat and opened the engine and he headed for the place where he had seen the boat with his guide tip over the horizon. Jim guided the boat through the waves for maximum speed until he could see the white water trail behind another boat. Focusing his eyesight farther than he had ever pushed it before, he could see Blair sitting staring blankly as Kincaid pointed a gun at his guide's stomach. Jim slowed until he had the speedboat at 3/4 speed and was pacing the other vehicle in the dying light of the day.
His sight spiked as the red sun reflected off a metal surface, and Jim ignored the pain as he watched the speedboat pull up to a large yacht. He nearly gunned the engine, his desire to grab his guide drove him forward, but he wouldn't do anyone any good getting himself killed, so he turned his boat to run parallel to the coast as though he were a local running the waves.
Focusing in, he could see Blair forced up a ladder. His guide moved slowly, his normal bounce gone, and Jim growled at the sight. They'd made his guide unhappy, threatened his guide, hurt his guide. Blair stood on the deck where one of the men and pushed him with his arms crossed over his stomach. Jim couldn’t tell if the gesture were one of pain or fear, but either way, he felt a fury rise up as he considered what they had done to leave his guide looking so lost.
Kincaid himself reached over and grabbed Blair by an arm, pulling him to the stairs, and Jim gritted his teeth with the need to go get his guide. Instead he focused on the water, watching the particles drift as he tried to calculate the tide.
Checking the gas, he throttled down some as he allowed the boat to wander back and forth seemingly aimlessly. Eventually he cut the engine so far away from the yacht as to attract no attention, and then he waited. The waves lapped against the side of the boat as he watched the sun slowly sink.
By the time the boat had drifted to the side of the yacht, night had fallen hours earlier and the slivered moon cast almost no light. The yacht itself was running dark and it took a sentinel's sight to see the ship. With one emergency paddle, Jim guided the speedboat so that it would connect close to one of the ladders. That way he could secure his boat and get his guide off safely.
The two boats threatened to thud together, and Jim braced himself against the rail at the front of the boat and used his legs to catch the impact silently. His knees complained, but he dismissed that pain as easily as everything else not related to getting his guide back. Catching the end of the ladder hanging off the yacht, Jim pulled the two boats closely together to minimize the noise. The yacht obviously expected someone tonight if the dropped ladder was any hint, and Jim intended to be gone before he had a chance to find out who.
Pulling himself onto the deck of the yacht, he immediately spotted one guard leaning against the rail looking toward the ocean. Jim quickly considered his options and knew he needed absolute silence. There were too many heartbeats here and too many enemies for him to fight alone in an open battle. Moving silently, he came up behind the man and slapped one hand over the man's mouth and the other over the back of the man's head before twisting sharply.
The man's legs dropped and his face twitched as Jim kept his hand over the man's mouth to prevent his last dying sounds. Within minutes the man had stopped moving and Jim took his gun before sliding the body over the deck. He lowered it as much as he could by one hand before dropping it, hopefully without anyone hearing the small splash that thundered in his ears.
Moving toward the stairs, Jim paused, finding the sounds that mattered to him. The breathing was heavier than normal, small sobbing sounds on every third or fourth breath, and the heart beat was faster than normal, but Jim could tell his guide from the others as though a flashing neon sign flashed over Blair's head. Jim moved into the stairway and crept down the corridor.
One heartbeat moved the corridor ahead of him, pacing from one room to another. It was a threat. Jim moved closer and waited for the man to settle into one room for a moment before he moved forward. He slipped his shirt off and waited. Soon enough the man uttered a curse and came back into the corridor. His eyes went comically wide, but Jim had covered the man's face with layers of his own shirt before repeating the neck cracking move from the deck.
The man's eyes widened even farther as his body collapsed, and Jim pulled the dying man into the room he had just left. Computers filled a table and Jim took the dying man to a corner not easily seen from the door. He listened as the heartbeat stuttered to a stop, taking the muffling fabric away only once he was sure the man couldn’t betray him. He slipped the shirt back on and continued his journey past three more occupied rooms with the slow heart beats of sleepers.
At one door he stopped slid the simple bolt back as silently as possible. The guide lay on the bunk shirtless, his back striped with angry welts and his wrists and elbows tied behind him. Jim couldn't be take the risk of his frightened guide betraying them both, so he silently slipped to Blair's side, and covered his guide's mouth with his hand. Blair's body jerked below him, and Jim hurried to reassure Blair.
"Guide, hush. We need to go," Jim whispered as softly as he could right into Blair's ear, and the body under him went limp, the heart slowing almost immediately. Jim took his hand away and started working the knots free as quickly as he could.
"Oh man, how did you…"
"Shhh," Jim warned and the guide fell silent as Jim got his arms free. As soon as Blair sat up, Jim could see the pain in every move. The arms had been bound too tightly, and now as the blood returned, the pain came with it as nerves registered their injuries. But Blair just stood up and swayed a little. Jim put a hand on Blair's back, realizing that Blair couldn’t lift his arms to steady himself.
Silently Jim nodded toward the door and Blair started forward. "Wait," Blair whispered sentinel soft.
"Guide," Jim complained.
"The computers. Kincaid risked the cops showing up to get the computers, man. We need those things." Jim swayed a bit himself. He had to get the guide out, but the guide wanted the computers. Gritting his teeth in frustration, Jim moved into the corridor and gestured Blair down the hall.
"Jim? The computers?" Blair whispered right outside of the door of one of the sleepers. Jim froze as he listened for a change in breathing, but they were still safe. Putting his hand on Blair's back, Jim pushed him forward to the door where the one body was hidden. He swung the door open and Blair turned to him with a huge smile.
"Oh man, leave it to you to find the comput…" Blair started happily and then his eyes focused on the corner. Jim could hear his guide's heart start to race again, so he closed the one computer and picked up the second and third computers off the table before using his hip to nudge his guide back out of the room. Burdened with the computers, Jim felt hampered, unable to quickly use his hands or get to the gun hanging from his shoulder, but he did his best as he nudged Blair forward to the deck.
"Stop," he hissed quietly as he heard footsteps overhead.
"Simmons?" a voice called in an aggravated voice but not a particularly loud one. "Damn that man." The footsteps retreated to the other end of the boat and Jim nodded.
"Go, forward slightly to the left," he said as he pushed Blair toward the stairs. Understanding the urgency, Blair darted up the stairs and ran for the railing. Jim flinched at the noise his guide made, but no one came running, and he quickly and far more silently darted after Blair. He found his guide in the shadow of a table and he moved to the place where the ladder waited. The boat was still moored in place.
"Here," he whispered, and Blair ducked under the guard rail and hurried down the ladder. Jim could hear every hiss of pain as the movement pulled the injured skin of Blair's back and forced him to use his sore muscles. But his guide got down the ladder and Jim tucked all three computers under one arm as he navigated down himself.
No one on the boat had called out an alarm yet, but he could hear the same man still looking for Simmons so he knew their time was limited. He put the computers on the floor pulled the rope free from the tie down. As the boats pulled apart, a wave pushed the speed boat into the side of the yacht with a healthy cracking sound. Jim pulled the key from his pocket and started the motor boat before throwing it into gear.
"Down," he ordered his guide as he pulled up his machine gun and turned around to open fire on the engine area of the yacht. The darkness suddenly lit with the orange light of an explosion as a good quarter of the yacht exploded in the darkness. Satisfied that they couldn’t follow, Jim dropped the machine gun to the floor of the boat and focused on using his sentinel vision to find land.
"Um, hi, I'm Blair Sandburg," he heard from behind him, and he turned to see Blair holding out a hand to an overweight and balding man huddled in the back of the boat. "Jim, are you going to introduce us?" Blair asked when the man simply stared.
"Love to, Chief," Jim said as it suddenly occurred to him that he had stolen the boat. "I'm just not sure who he is. I think he might own the boat."
"You *think*?" Blair turned confused eyes to him, and Jim turned back to the darkness where he could see the distant lights of Cascade. Oh yeah. He had some explaining to do. Hopefully they'd all let him do it before throwing him in the nuthouse again.
"Well Jim, I guess a two week suspension means you get a bit of a vacation," Simon offered along with a slap on the back. Jim had never seen his boss so happy about having to straighten out a citizen's complaint. Of course what was one boat owner's complaint against bringing down the entire Sunrise Patriot organization?
"Man, I'm still not sure you had a right to raid everyone who visited their website. People have a right to think the government sucks," Blair complained, but Jim noticed he didn't complain very loud. Then again they were in the middle of the bull pen with a dozen cops around. Blair might just be saving his best stuff for a lecture over leftover chicken casserole. At least Jim thought last night's dinner had been chicken.
"Kincaid slipped away twice. No way I’m leaving any of his crazy followers around to spring him now that I actually nailed him," Jim pointed out as he ruffled the hair on Blair's head. Blair ducked away and aimed a playful punch at Jim's stomach that Jim easily caught.
"So, I guess that means we can do some of those tests at Oak Groves. The director keeps calling and now that I'm officially writing a dissertation on sentinels, I need some empirical data, even if the USSP is going to bury my research under the biggest mountain they can find," Blair said the last part with such a resigned tone that Jim wanted to pull the man into his chest and promise that everything would work out okay. Unfortunately, he knew better than to make that kind of promise when the USSP was involved. He went for distraction instead.
"No testing," he insisted with his best gruff look. "I've endured all the spikes and zones I'm going to for a while."
"I think we've all endured as many of your spikes and zones as we care to," Rafe added with a nasally tone as he touched his bandaged nose gingerly. "Brown didn't have reason to complain when you broke his nose, but I actually have a face worth looking at. Did you have to break mine?"
"Don't ever get between a sentinel and a guide," Blair offered. "If you want, I have some teas that promote healing: Siberian ginseng, dandelion, juniper."
"I'll skip the tea and take the advice," Rafe said. "Next time you start acting crazy, Jim, count me as one of the innocent bystanders."
"Yeah, you lot just need to learn how to duck faster," Jim shot back even though he flinched every time he looked at Rafe. The man really had been trying to help, trying to stop him and get information to put out a coast guard alert. He couldn't have known just how far Jim had gone into his instincts in just five minutes without Blair. And Jim really tried to push his own fear to the back of his mind. His sentinel senses were truly working better than they ever had… better than any sentinel he knew, which was reason enough for avoiding Blair's tests. But he really didn't need Blair to figure out that his senses were also blinking off-line and that he was struggling to control instinctive behaviors that he had kept under control his entire life. He reached out and tugged a lock of reddish brown hair, allowing the feel of the silky strands sliding over his fingers to soothe his senses.
"Yeah, well you break my nose and I'll return the favor," Ricardo laughed. "I'm not into these initiations and I've broken enough body parts already without you people's help." He said with a laugh.
"I guess that puts Taggart and Sandburg next on Jim's nose breaking list," Brown offered from his place sitting on the edge of his desk.
"Oh no, man. I am so not into pain. So, what are we doing for vacation?" Blair asked. Jim turned to Blair as he considered the many things he'd like to do, some of which were possible and some of which were sentinel-instinct driven fantasies. He opened his mouth to suggest fishing just as a fishing sentinel-instinct driven fantasy flashed through his imagination.
"Oh no. Ellison is on suspension. You are going to be here bright and early tomorrow morning," Simon interrupted.
"Why?" Blair demanded, and Jim wondered the exact same thing. He had plans for his guide and they didn't include Blair being at the station.
"Our new cultural liaison is due for a training session with the outreach program, a meeting with the police chief, and an introduction to the joys of paperwork."
"Our new what?" Jim asked as the bull pen went silent.
"You made the suggestion," Simon pointed out, and Jim panicked at the thought he was losing memories as well as losing self control.
"Right after he got the imam to give us the two names. I told you the department should hire him," Jim finally said, and he found Blair looking at him with such gratitude that he almost zoned on the image of his guide's wide smile.
"Oh man, you suggested it?" Blair put his hand on Jim's arm, and Jim's skin contracted into that warmth.
"Hey, I’m the one who got you the position," Simon complained and Blair turned the smile to Simon even if his hand remained on Jim's arm, a detail Jim didn't miss.
"Cool." Blair said. "Oh man, are you going to be okay with me coming in without you? I could put them off for a couple of weeks." Blair turned to look at Jim, and Jim was temporarily caught off guard by Blair's question. Guides tended to demand things or order things, but this openly pleading expression leaving the decision up to him, this was definitely not a guide tactic Jim was used to dealing with.
"He's staying in the building, right?" Jim asked suspiciously.
"Two weeks mandatory training," Simon confirmed.
"And you guys'll look out for him, keeping in mind that in the last few weeks he's been kidnapped twice, jumped a man with a machine gun, and angered and entire covert op branch of the government." Jim pinned each and every one of the members of Major Crimes with his best 'or else' stare.
"Just don't go breaking noses if Hairboy gets a hang nail," Brown suggested dryly. Jim glared at his friend who glared right back.
"All right with me, Chief," Jim shrugged.
"Yes! I have a job." Blair actually pounded a fist in the air and Jim laughed along with several other detectives.
"Now that that's worked out, get back to work people," Simon yelled. "And you, detective, get out of the building for two weeks and consider yourself firmly chastised. As soon as you're officially back, the chief will be sending down a commendation," Simon added with a kind smile.
Jim nodded at Simon's order. "Yes, sir." Simon retreated to his office, and Jim wondered how much of the rather large stack of paper on his desk had come from yesterday's fiasco, or this morning's fiasco actually.
"So, you're finally employed. I think that means dinner's on you," Jim said as he slipped an arm around Blair's shoulders and guided him toward the elevator.
"Totally, man. I'm employed." Jim laughed as his guide bounced out from under his arm to hit the elevator button only to return to his side and lean against him. "One question."
"What's that?" Jim asked as the elevator doors opened.
"Can I borrow fifty bucks until payday?" Blair turned his pleading eyes to Jim who just laughed as he pulled his guide onto the elevator and pushed the button for the garage.
Go on to Episode Three: Don't Ask, Don't Tell
If you enjoyed watching two heroes take on the government, you might enjoy the Desert World books. The two books work together with book one introducing the world of Livre and two main characters, Shan Polli and Temar Gazer. Then in book two, our heroes have to take on the universe that abandoned their world to die. Check it out, and as a bonus, you're helping to support the writing career of one very hard-working fanfic writer. Oh, and like this story, don't expect the sex to come easy or early. Sometimes our guys have to work for it.