Written for the Moonridge Auction, Beta'ed by Kitty_Poker1 and Slashpuppy and Jane Davitt (Thanks ladies!)
Jim flipped the television off, leaving the kitchen the only source of light in the dim loft. It was unseasonably warm or he would have lit a fire. Blair sat up and pushed against his leg, and Jim let his hand wander down to the curled hair where he stroked it, letting go of his own frustrations.
When Blair had first asked for this, Jim had hesitated, but seeing Blair finally relaxed, the manic energy drained, Jim let himself smile down at his lover. Blair looked up at him, clearly asking what was next on the agenda even without words.
"Just want some quiet," Jim said as he got up from the couch and opened the balcony doors. Living in this area meant few neighbors and none with a view of the balcony. Of course, Jim wasn't sure Blair would hesitate, even if someone could see him. He leaned against the railing, and Blair crawled to his feet, kneeling down and leaning his weight into Jim's leg.
"Beautiful night," Jim said, not really expecting an answer. He still got one in the form of a heavy sigh and more weight pressing against his leg.
Jim glanced down at his lover—naked, gagged, knee pads on, his hands cocooned in mitts, his ankles attached to his thighs with a short chain, and that puppy tail plug holding him open, the tail part curling up toward his back.
"Don't you think so, Chief?" Jim asked as he reached down and gave a naked side a friendly thump. The puppy tail bobbed a bit as Blair tightened his inner muscles. Feeling a little evil, Jim reached down and caught the tail, tugging at it gently as Blair squirmed and moaned behind his gag.
"Puppy's about to make a mess on the floor," Jim commented as he considered the drop of precum gathering at the end of Blair's hard cock. The sight made Jim start to harden.
Rubbing his own erection, Jim eased up on his own control and allowed himself to really study the body at his feet, to feel the heat grow in his cock. All night he'd focused his eyes on the television and not the curve of Blair's ass or the play of muscle across his shoulders. Now Jim let himself feast on the sight.
Jim groaned, and Blair pressed against his leg in silent encouragement before looking up with wide eyes. Yep, the kid knew that if he could just get Jim hard, he'd get an end to the game. Jim didn't enjoy self-denial the way Blair did. He'd be beyond frustration by now, but he'd learned not to judge Blair by his own preferences. He liked to tie Blair up, and Blair loved to be tied. And Blair loved to be hard.
Jim gave a curl a little tug and Blair dropped his eyes back down submissively. Jim would decide when to end the sensual torture, and Blair's pleading gaze wouldn't change that. Especially since the man needed to let go so badly. The mayor had put Blair on display, ambushing the two of them on the courthouse steps with a horde of reporters as he announced a new push to make the police department more adaptable and responsive to the needs of minorities. In public, Blair had put on the perfect show, dazzling the reporters with discussions of group dynamics and power and rising expectations and cultural respect.
But once they got home, that façade had fallen, and Blair had panicked at the thought of having to deliver on the pretty words, of having to produce papers that actually helped officers change their ways of thinking. He'd spun nearly out of control at the thought of having to give up his work on Sentinels because of this new life with the police that seemed to be sucking him in, but then he'd turned around and nearly hyperventilated at the idea that he wouldn't be able to do enough with the police.
Blair had only settled once Jim opened the wooden chest that now sat in the living room, an antique lock making it look like a piece of art. The command to strip had made Blair drop his clothes and his worries as he focused on following orders. He'd knelt while Jim had first fitted the collar. That one piece of leather defined the edges of their play. Put it on, and Blair dropped the aggression that he carried through the rest of his life, and he became Jim's. When Jim had pulled out the puppy hardware, Blair's heart began to thump as Jim buckled on each item, carefully testing each bond, tightening the straps to avoid rubbing while avoiding making any too tight.
Jim had saved the gag, flipping on a soccer game and ordering Blair to put his clothes into the basket in the bathroom where they belonged. He'd sat on the couch, pulled off his shoes with a sigh, and watched as Blair had traveled between the living room and the bathroom. Crawling with the clink of chain against the floor, he'd grabbed each item in his teeth before crawling down the hallway to drop it in the hamper. And with each trip, Jim had seen him grow harder.
Finally, Blair had come to kneel by Jim's side, unable to really sit with the puppy tail tucked into place, and Jim had held out the gag. Blair had opened immediately, and Jim had pressed the rubber into place. For a second, he'd hesitated, wanting Blair in his arms but also wanting to give Blair the chance to sink into the role and hand over the power. Finally, Jim had ordered Blair to lie down. Jim had felt Blair settle in, his head resting on one of Jim's feet as he watched the game.
Jim had reached down, teasing Blair with a few strokes to his cock that made Blair whimper, and then Jim had spent the rest of the game letting his bare foot travel over Blair's helpless body.
And now, the tension of earlier had vanished under the contentment Blair always got when Jim tied him. Jim gave the puppy tail another tug, and Blair wiggled his ass.
"You know, when I was married, I had some fantasies, but they never went this far," Jim said as he crouched down. Blair looked at him, his eyebrows lowering in concern.
"Oh, don't get so paranoid," Jim admonished him as he draped an arm around Blair's back and ruffled his hair. Blair huffed through his nose and shook his head to try to get the hair out of his face. "I'm not doing this for you, or not *just* for you. I can't believe how much I love seeing you like this," Jim confessed, and Blair's expression relaxed.
"Last week, when that idiot on the scene gave you shit and you ripped him a new one, I was thinking how much I wanted to bring you home and tie you down. You're so strong, Chief, one of the strongest men I know, and to know that you'll lay down that strength for me is incredibly sexy," Jim whispered. He'd quickly learned that words would torture Blair into a state of sexual need about as quickly as a hand around his cock, and he loved watching as Blair's body twisted and humped just from Jim's words.
"Do you need to go to the bathroom before bed?" Jim asked. The kid would never be able to pee with a hard-on like that, but he could offer. Blair shook his head.
"Hungry?" Jim asked. Blair hesitated a second after that question, but then shook his head.
Blair nodded for that one, and Jim stood up, heading into the kitchen. He grabbed a glass and filled it with water before dropping in a straw. Since Blair had hesitated, he grabbed a banana and peeled it, breaking it into chunks and putting it on a saucer. He put them both on the floor and then walked over to Blair, who knelt by the table.
"Hurry up, then," Jim said as he unbuckled the gag.
Blair took a second to rub against Jim's leg like a large cat before he crawled into the kitchen to see what Jim had put down. "When you're done, I'll be upstairs," Jim said before he made a quick detour to the bathroom. When he came out, Blair was already attempting the stairs, slowly inching his way up, and Jim watched the view from the rear.
He moved easily enough, but with each stair, Jim could see the movement make the plug shift, and Blair hesitate as his cock twitched in response. Jim still had the gag in hand, and he kept waiting for Blair to say something, but Blair controlled his mouth all the way to the top of the stairs, at which time he promptly went to the corner of the bed and started humping.
"Bad dog," Jim said as he caught the collar and pulled Blair back from the bed. Blair opened his mouth, and Jim waited for an excuse to put the gag back on, but then he just whined his frustration.
"Up you go," Jim said, lifting Blair and putting him on the bed. "Someone's getting a little big there," Jim joked, and Blair glared over his shoulder.
Jim laughed and gave the raised ass a smack. Blair gave a wiggle and clenched his ass so that the tail bobbed. Jim grabbed it and pulled straight out. For a second, Blair held on to the plug so that Jim had to pull harder until finally it popped out.
Blair let out a low moan, and Jim hurried to shed his own clothing. He still remembered his nervousness the first time he'd done this, half afraid that he wouldn't fit in Blair, no matter what the Internet said. He crawled on the bed behind Blair, and Blair let his shoulders sink to the bed so that his back arched and his ass stuck up into the air.
Oh yeah, that was his little hedonist, Jim thought as he let his hands run over the muscles of Blair's ass. Taking his erection in hand, Jim grabbed a lubed condom and tore open the package, rolling it on before he lined up and pressed slowly forward; he watched Blair's arms slide over the sheets as he twitched in need. Jim knew that Blair wanted it harder and faster; he needed that to come. But right now, Jim enjoyed slowly torturing Blair as he leisurely pressed in and Blair made a keening sound that ended with a harsh panting.
Once Jim was fully in, he let himself lean forward, resting his hands on Blair's shoulders, further pinning him to the bed.
"I could take you slow and easy, and come just from knowing you were submitting to me. I could do it so gently that I left you hard and aching when I finished," Jim threatened, and Blair started grunting, arching his back in clear desperation. And yet, he lay submissive under Jim's hands.
Taking pity on his lover, Jim pulled out and then slammed back in, making Blair throw his head back and struggle back up to all fours. Jim moved faster and faster, letting go of his own control as he felt his orgasm rush up through him. He yelled as he came, and then Blair was there, cursing colorfully as he arched and shook and orgasmed onto the covers.
Jim sagged onto Blair, still holding the base of the condom as he withdrew. He'd barely pulled free when Blair collapsed, and they both fell to the bed in an exhausted heap.
"Fuck," Blair said softly, and Jim smiled. The man had a foul mouth when he was horny, but then he spent so much time gagged that it didn't really matter that much. Jim stretched out and dropped the condom into the wastebasket beside the bed.
"I'm in the wet spot," Blair complained tiredly as Jim unhooked his legs, unbuckling the straps around his ankles and thighs.
"You made it," Jim pointed out.
"You made me make it."
"You loved it."
"I'm too tired to have this fight right now," Blair conceded.
"Funny, I feel like that a lot," Jim laughed. He slipped the kneepads off Blair's legs and then slid up into the bed. Blair still had on the collar and the mitts that kept his fingers curled into a little ball, but Jim wasn't in any hurry to take those off.
"Feeling better?" Jim asked as he lay next to Blair. Blair rolled so that his back pressed into Jim's chest, spooning.
"Still freaking a little," Blair confessed. "I mean, I know I can do good work at the department, but the ride-along is only for a month. Man, the way he talked in front of those reporters, I'm going to single-handedly redefine race and gender for the entire fucking station."
"Don't sell yourself short. I think you're already well on your way to that goal," Jim said as he reached for the smaller toy box from under the bed. He pulled out a length of chain and leather traces. Blair sighed.
"Frankenstein's monster," he said dramatically, putting on a long-suffering expression as Jim started buckling satin-lined restraints around his wrists.
"I have it on good authority that Frankenstein was very fond of his monster," Jim said with a smile, not even pausing as he locked the long leash to the railing. Blair had plenty of room to move, but he couldn't leave the bed. More importantly, he couldn't stroke himself. If he woke up horny, he would have to try to tempt Jim into finishing it for him. Somehow, that felt right. Only once the new restraints were locked in place did Jim start taking off the mitts that made Blair's hands useless.
"He probably was," Blair agreed.
"And if we need to extend the ride-along, we can," Jim said as he settled in, reaching over to flip off the light since Blair couldn't.
"Man, I'm getting great stuff, and I have one paper ready to publish already, but I can't help but think about my Sentinel stuff. I'm feeling like I'm never going to get back to my dissertation."
"Why are you doing that as a dissertation?" Jim asked curiously. The dark and the warmth of Blair's body made him feel secure in a way he hadn't since before the crash in Peru, and he let his imagination play its nightly game with him.
He imagined Blair's heart beating loudly enough to echo off the walls, driving away the other sounds the way a nightlight scares the ghosts. His hands wandered over Blair's body, feeling the hairs slide across his palms.
"From the first time I read Burton's book, all I wanted was to find a Sentinel," Blair said softly, and Jim could hear the desperation in that tone, but this time he couldn't fill that need with leather and a strong hand.
"If there are any left, you'll find them," Jim promised, "but it would open doors if you waited until you were Dr. Sandburg to look. You might find more people willing to listen."
"Yeah, but when I get my dissertation, people will pretty much expect me to keep studying whatever I focused on."
"And since when do you care what people expect?" Jim asked. The question made Blair fall silent, and Jim could hear the links on the chain jangle as Blair tugged at it. "Don't answer that," Jim said as he reached around and let his hands rest on top of Blair's. "Just think about it."
Tucking Blair in closer, Jim draped one leg over his lover and fell asleep.
"Sleeping beauty arises," Jim said as Blair groaned his way to life. It didn't matter how much sleep Blair got, he still woke up a cranky, tangled mess. Blair didn't answer, but he did pull on his arms, confirming that he was still chained to the railing before he rolled over and buried his head in the pillow.
"Oh, no. You have class today. And this afternoon, you are supposed to watch me be my usual, charming self," Jim said as he came over and sat on the edge of the bed. "I have to interview the women over at Swanson's sewing factory, and they all like you much more than they like me, so I need my observer to tag along and informally ask them if the boss was doing anything nasty on the side."
"Define nasty," Blair said, taking the bait as he opened one bleary eye and gave a salacious wiggle.
"I think you can figure that out on your own, Chief. Use those powers of observation."
"Oh, I'm observing a thing or two," Blair confirmed. "I was kinda hoping you would, too." Blair squirmed and Jim could hardly miss the hard-on the man sported.
"You mean this?" Jim teased, running a single finger over the hard flesh, and now Blair was awake. He sucked in his breath, fisting the chains that held his hands up and away from his aching cock as he spread his legs. Jim laughed at the wanton pleasure.
"Oh man, this is not funny. Come on, have some mercy here," Blair begged.
"And here I thought you liked it when I was merciless. Seems like you even called it one of your kinks," Jim said.
"Fuck," Blair swore. "It is. And I'm going to have to take care of that myself, aren't I?"
"Someone slept through the alarm, and I do not provide quickies," Jim confirmed. Blair closed his eyes and pressed his head back into the pillows.
"Operant conditioning," Blair muttered.
"Excuse me?" Jim reached up and unlocked the cuffs, checking Blair's wrists before he wound the chain around his hand and dropped the bundle into the box under the bed. Blair pushed himself up and sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing his face.
"Operant conditioning. Annoying me with lack of sex when I sleep through the alarm, promising sex if I wake up on time. Man, I wish you luck, but not even you can turn me into a morning person."
"I never said I was trying to—" Jim started but he gave up when Blair just padded down the stairs, naked as he'd been born.
"Whatever, just hurry up," Jim yelled down the stairs as he searched for his shoes.
Eventually, Jim found his shoes next to the couch, but not before he was nearly as late as Sandburg.
"Blair, I'm leaving," Jim shouted over the sound of the shower. He didn't get an answer. Jim smiled as he imagined what Blair was doing that he didn't even hear Jim's call.
Spending his morning buried in his old cases, Jim didn't pay any attention to the movement around him. He slammed the Hanson file down with no more answers than he'd had an hour ago. His instincts told him that the wife had done it, but Jim couldn't find any evidence to back it up.
Frustration welled up in him, a familiar companion, but Jim shoved it aside and grabbed the Swanson case. Maybe he'd do better with something a little fresher. The labs weren't in yet, so Jim reviewed the initial interview notes from the uniforms, making notes on which workers he wanted to either track down or send Sandburg after when he showed up after class.
"Jim, we have a problem," Simon said tersely as he passed Jim's desk. "My office."
Jim closed the Swanson file and followed. He certainly couldn't remember doing anything to inspire that dire tone of voice, at least not lately. Hell, he hadn't wrecked a police vehicle in close to four months.
"What's up?" Jim asked as he closed the office door behind him. Simon pushed a piece of paper across the desk, and Jim picked it up. The paper was a photocopy of a typed letter, and from the dark lines going through it, Jim guessed it'd been made on the copier down between Records and Forensics.
He skimmed the first part: general threats against the department and Jim in particular. The part that referenced 'Ellison's little researcher' made him clench his jaw and curse the mayor for siccing the press on Sandburg. Even worse, Blair had smiled and flirted and charmed the reporters until a page twenty story somehow ended up on page three. Blair had obviously hit the wack-job's radar, which annoyed Jim more than the threats to his own life and the insults to his investigational skills combined.
"I've seen dozens of these, Simon," Jim said, confused by the worry on Simon's face. Every threat he got went to Forensics for fingerprinting and then got filed, but he'd never worried about them before.
"It came with this," Simon said. He pushed across a second piece of paper, a map. Jim looked at it and recognized the location.
"The post office in Tacoma," he said slowly. "That's not our jurisdiction." He flipped the paper over and photocopied onto the back was a map with the bridge on the Snohomish circled. The two sites of the bombings had been all over the news. Jim looked at the first letter again. The writer clearly expected him to investigate the bombings, but neither was in Cascade's jurisdiction. The signature at the bottom read 'Switchman.'
"Simon, this doesn't make sense. These aren't our cases; is it some sort of crank just claiming credit for the Tacoma bombings?" Jim asked as he put both papers on the edge of Simon's desk.
"Maybe, but I want you to check this bomber out."
"You're sending me to Tacoma?" Jim asked. "I'm not sure how much help I can be. It's not my territory, so I wouldn't even know where to start working any contacts," Jim pointed out.
"The bomber obviously feels some sort of connection to you, so if you don't go to him, sooner or later, he's going to come here. I would rather not have my city turned into target practice." Simon leaned back in his chair. "This guy is serious, so the faster we figure out his connection with you, the faster we can take him off the street."
"I'll give it a shot, Simon, but who knows how this idiot latched onto me," Jim said as he raised the threatening letter. He still wasn't convinced the Switchman and the bomber were one and the same. "He might just have seen my name in the paper. And he mentions Sandburg in here, so he probably read about that crap the mayor's been feeding the press. Maybe it's someone from a minority group who feels we neglected them and are trying to change too late, or maybe some hate group that doesn't like the thought of the department trying to improve communication with minorities."
Simon shook his head. "No, it's the bomber."
Jim looked at Simon suspiciously. "And what makes you so sure?"
"That was my first thought," Simon admitted. "The problem is that this letter came in last week, before the Snohomish bombing. Someone down in Forensics finally looked at the letter instead of the fibers in the paper and sent a copy up here."
"Shit," Jim cursed as he picked up the threatening letter again. It identified him as Detective Ellison, calling him the lead detective on the case despite the fact that he had never even thought twice about the bombings in the next town over. Either this guy couldn't read a map or he had problems engaging with reality.
Wait a minute. The dates suddenly struck Jim. "Simon, how did he know Sandburg was working with me a week ago?"
"Good question. He's obviously keeping track of you, which is why I'm taking this one seriously."
"How does Tacoma want to handle this?" Jim asked.
"They're willing to work with you. They have two dead and twelve injured, so they want this Switchman pretty bad, and right now, this is the best lead they have."
"Yes, sir," Jim said as he examined the two photocopies again. As far as leads went, he was starting at square zero, but maybe Tacoma had some suspects, some name he might recognize from a previous case. "Forensics has the lab work on these?" he asked as he lifted the papers.
"Yeah, they were clean. Not a print or drop of saliva to be found. Plain grain-long white paper, standard ink."
"Wonderful," Jim agreed sarcastically. The drive-thru breakfast he'd eaten churned unhappily.
"Jim," Simon said seriously, and Jim looked up at his friend. "You might want to consider leaving Sandburg at home on this one."
Jim froze, his anger solidifying into something colder as he watched Simon's impassive expression. The man had on his poker face, and Jim didn't really have to think too hard about why.
"His observer credentials are good for two more weeks," Jim said slowly.
"Jim." Simon took a deep breath. "Most of the guys around here aren't going to say things to your face, not even when they're happy talking behind your back."
"I don't give a shit what people say, Simon."
"I figured that out a long time ago, back when you came in here from Vice all attitude and earring." Simon gave a short laugh. "But if you take Sandburg over to Tacoma, you're going to stir things up."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Like I give a shit what they think in Tacoma. I'm going over there to do a job, and right now Blair's job is to observe me working. If something gets stirred, it's not his fault."
"You can't believe that," Simon said as he pushed himself back from his desk and crossed his arm. "From the first time some poor uniform tried to take his statement in the gay-bashing case, Sandburg has threatened, intimidated, cajoled, or offended every member of this department."
"Oh, he's cajoled you; he got you to take him on an investigation with no proper documentation. I've *never* known you to break basic protocol with such flagrant disregard."
"I was getting written up long before I ever met Sandburg, so don't blame my faults on him." Jim could feel his jaw ache as he struggled to control his growing fury. "And the officers at the scene were lucky that he didn't do more than threaten to sue. They were so far out of line they deserved to get their asses handed to them on a plate."
"He's trouble. And I know he's damn good at what he does. He's gotten information out of witnesses that we never would have, but he stirs up shit. If you can't keep him contained, you have no business taking him into a new situation with officers who will not appreciate his brand of..." Simon paused before narrowing his eyes and finishing with a near-growl, "pugnacity."
"Pugnacity?" Jim repeated, not really sure how to even answer that.
"Inclined to fight, quarrelsome, starting stupid shit because he can," Simon defined the term.
"You think he's pugnacious?" Jim laughed darkly. "Simon, he never starts anything, and if he gets into it with some of the idiots in this building, it's only because he's not going to get walked on by anyone."
"Exactly," Simon sighed, the belligerence draining as he sagged in his chair. "Someone in Tacoma will say something, and Sandburg's not going to let it slide. Jim, he's a liability on his case."
Jim crossed his arms, the paper dangling from one hand as he looked at Simon. Never before had Simon questioned his professional judgment, but he remembered a rather similar discussion when Jim had announced his engagement to Carolyn. Simon had talked about dating and the workplace and the way it cast suspicion and bred conspiracy theories. He considered that Simon was giving version two of that same lecture now. "You're uncomfortable with my relationship with Blair," Jim accused him.
Simon snorted. "Uncomfortable doesn't even cover it. However, it's your life, and at least the kid makes you say good morning to your colleagues, which is why most of the detectives like having him around. However, if attitudes in Tacoma start interfering with this investigation, then we have a problem. People are dying, and I don't want to give this Switchman any advantages."
"And you think Sandburg would be an advantage for the Switchman."
"I think he'd be a distraction—" Simon held up a hand to hold off Jim's objection. "Not to you. You've been professional with him, usually, but your relationship could distract the Tacoma detectives. I don't need that."
"Sandburg gets people to open up in ways we can't. I don't know what he's going to put in that paper the mayor keeps gleefully talking about, but whatever charm he has, he can't teach it to us. He can't teach me to get some witness to open up because that is pure Sandburg charm. But having him with me to do the talking gives me an advantage on a case."
"I know." Simon stood up and moved to the window, staring out onto the city. "Jim, I've seen what the kid can do, and I know he's a lot stronger than he looks. But this relationship stomps all over a lot of people's beliefs."
"Including yours?" Jim asked tightly. He needed to know where he stood with his captain and friend, but for long minutes, Simon just stared out the window.
"I'm questioning a few things I thought I knew," Simon said carefully as he turned around, "and I trust that you're an ethical man."
"And so is Sandburg," Jim insisted.
Simon nodded as he headed back to his desk. "He's ethical, but he has his own style of ethics and enough attitude to frighten most of the uniformed cops into avoiding him, even if they weren't terrified of your caveman impression when someone confronts him. The choice is yours, Jim—he's your ride-along--but if there's a problem in Tacoma, this could be people's lives on the line."
"There are always lives on the line," Jim reminded his captain. Every serial killer, rapist, or ongoing threat to the community landed on Jim's desk. Even when he'd been married, Jim had put the job first, one of the many reasons he wasn't married any more, and he'd pursued active threats with a passion that left other detectives whispering behind his back long before Sandburg had shown up. If the rumors had shifted from calling him a coldhearted bastard who would snap your neck for looking at him wrong to calling him a fag, Jim didn't figure it made much of a difference. He'd still get the job done.
"You get stubborn, Jim. Just don't push people where they're not willing to go," Simon warned before he swung around to his computer in a clear dismissal. Jim left the office, not even sure what to say to that argument.
Since he didn't want to head for Tacoma until Blair showed up, Jim headed toward his desk, where paperwork still waited. Making a quick file for the single letter, Jim just hoped the Tacoma detectives would share what they'd found. Meanwhile, he pulled up a computer file detailing his old cases: names, crimes, dates of arrest and dates for any convictions.
"You get a good one?" Brown asked with a smile that made it clear that Henri was waiting for a reason to laugh. Jim had caught some pretty strange cases in the last week or two. He'd been pulled for dino-duty over at the university when some bones disappeared, and he'd gotten the job wearing his uniform and standing around as the official police presence at some huge Wiccan swapmart.
Jim still wasn't sure what exactly the mayor had expected when he insisted on having a half dozen detectives in uniform at the Wicca gathering, but mostly Jim had just watched women bargain shopping for herbs while Blair bounced from one end of the market to the other, gathering bits and pieces of crystal and herbs until Jim had called him a magpie collecting trash to line his nest.
One of the crystals still sat on Jim's computer, a little purple thing that had no earthly reason for sitting there. Jim stood and picked up the rough bauble. Yep, his cases had changed since getting Blair as an official observer, but this bombing case was something closer to the normal murder and mayhem he'd specialized in before Blair.
"Bombing case over in Tacoma. Looks like it might be connected to something here. Not as much fun as the museum case, that's for sure."
Brown whistled. "Big case."
"I just can't figure out why the kook would think I would investigate a Tacoma case," Jim said as he walked around his desk and leaned against the front of it. "But at least I'm not listening to some ninety-year-old fossil lecture me about the importance of other fossils," he said dryly. The museum case really had annoyed him. He probably would have blown if Blair hadn't been there, both to distract the professor and to yield himself to Jim when they got home, letting Jim exercise all of the control Jim didn't have with the case.
"You only got stuck with that dog of a case because of Hairboy, you know," Brown pointed out with a laugh. "What kind of fruitcake steals dinosaur bones?"
"The same kind of fruitcake who actually bids for them online," Jim countered. "And after that uniform stepped on a finger bone, the museum was bound to demand someone other than a patrol officer with a notepad. You should just be glad I have Sandburg, or it might have been you over there with Mr. Talks-a-lot."
"No way. I would have broken a couple more bones just to get booted out," Brown laughed, even though Jim knew the detective would never do it. "But this Tacoma case… does it look like they're going to hit more targets?"
"Who knows?" Jim shrugged. "I'll head over as soon as Sandburg gets here. One of these days the man is going to be on time, but I'm not sure I'll still be alive to see it." Jim started toward his desk, but Brown's sudden silence made him stop and turn.
Brown's lips were pressed tightly together, and his new partner, Brian Rafe, sat at his desk with what looked like an actual blush.
"Henri?" Jim asked, dropping the file on his desk before he closed in on his friend.
"Hey, I'm sure he'll be here in a sec." Brown turned and just about scampered for his desk. On a man the size of Henri Brown, it was not a pretty picture. Jim narrowed his eyes and glared at Rafe, whose face was now bright red as he studied a piece of paper.
"What the hell is going on?" Jim demanded. Rafe's eyes flicked up, and then he turned toward his partner.
Brown sighed. "Go on, tell him."
"Tell me what?" Jim growled when Rafe hesitated. Just because Brown liked his new partner didn't mean that Jim couldn't beat the information out of him if required.
"Sandburg. Some of the guys downstairs said they have fun screwing with him when he comes every day," Rafe finally admitted. "I just didn't want to…"
Rafe stopped, but Jim could finish the thought pretty easily. As the new guy, Rafe didn't want to stick his neck out for Sandburg.
"Front desk?" Jim could feel his jaw ache as he struggled to hold back the fury that Rafe didn't deserve.
"Hairboy's pretty good at taking—"
Jim spun around and slammed out of Major Crimes before hearing the end of Brown's sentence. Whatever Blair was good at, it didn't matter. He was Jim's, and that meant that Jim would happily take a couple of uniforms out back to the woodshed and teach them a lesson or two if he needed to.
Ignoring the elevator, which would let him out right in the middle of the main floor, Jim chose the stairs. Better position for an ambush. By the time he got to the bottom, he was warmed up and ready to tear someone a new asshole. Even without cracking the door open, he could hear Blair's voice over the general murmur of the crowd.
"Man, I was supposed to be upstairs ten minutes ago, so if you're finished with your grade-school games here…"
Jim couldn't hear the answer.
"Fuck that. Don't give me that bullshit. You want to harass me? Fine. Have the balls to call it what it is."
Jim gently pushed on the door, and now he could hear the desk sergeant. "You match the description of a suspect. Just following procedure. And I'm not interested in your type, so let's avoid discussions of my balls." The sergeant didn't even hide his amusement.
"The way you're playing these grade-school games, I'm not sure you have balls," Blair snorted. "But I think thirty minutes is enough, so let me sign in, or I'm heading upstairs without your precious permission."
"Do it, and I'll arrest you," the sergeant warned roughly. Jim wanted to crash into the room, stand in front of Blair, and rip the sergeant apart, but he tightened his fist on the stairwell doorknob and waited. Blair hadn’t told him about this for a reason. If Jim stepped in, Blair wouldn't ever be safe when Jim wasn't around.
"Yeah, arrest me, and good luck explaining why. Enough is fucking enough, man."
"You're not under arrest; feel free to leave any time, Sandburg."
"Not going to happen. I'm here to stay, so you and your asshole buddies better get used to it. And you know what really sucks, man? If you don't pull your head out of your ass, your career is going to expire before my observer's pass."
The sergeant didn't answer. Jim gritted his teeth against what he was about to do, but the other officers wouldn't have any respect for a Sandburg who needed saving. However, a Sandburg who survived one of Jim's famous explosions might fare a little better. He might even get some sympathy. Jim slapped the door open and charged into the lobby.
"Sandburg! Where the hell have you been?" Jim demanded in his most aggravated voice.
"Jim!" Blair jumped up from the plastic chair where he'd slumped.
"We're supposed to be in Tacoma on a bombing case, and I'm up there wondering where the hell you are. First rule of police work: the work does not wait, not unless we want people to die. If you want to ride as an observer, you follow my fucking rules." Jim crossed his arms aggressively, and Blair flinched back. But then Jim flicked a glance toward the sergeant, and Blair cocked his head. Oh yeah, the kid got it.
"Hey, I just—" Blair started.
"I don't care what the hell you're doing. When you get here, you get your ass upstairs because if I have to come down looking for you again, I will not be happy." Jim noticed other officers pulling away, eager to get out of the path of Hurricane Ellison, as they called him when they thought he wasn't listening.
"Yeah, no problem. Got it," Blair quickly agreed. Jim turned toward the desk sergeant. whose tag said his name was "Carlson." Jim vowed to remember that name. "Carlson, when Sandburg gets here, make sure that from now on he goes straight up. I do not want a repeat of this incident." When the sergeant didn't immediately answer, Jim took two steps toward the desk, just enough to make the man unconsciously pull back. "Understand?" Jim demanded.
"Sure, Detective," Carlson answered quickly.
"Upstairs, Chief." Jim growled as he turned and stormed past his observer.
"Hey you need to—" Carlson started to call, and Jim was well aware that Blair hadn't been allowed to sign in, but that was Carlson's problem. And if anyone noticed that Blair didn't have a visitor's pass, Carlson would have a whole lot of explaining to do.
"Sandburg, now!" Jim barked as he held the door to the elevator open. An officer who was waiting for the elevator suddenly detoured to the drinking fountain, and no one else even tried to get on as Blair grabbed his backpack and just about ran for the elevator.
Jim stood stoic and silent as the elevator doors slid shut.
"Thanks, man," Blair said with a sigh as the elevator bumped into movement.
Jim felt the tension drain from his body as Blair's hand rested against his back. "You could have told me you were having trouble," he said softly as he watched the elevator doors.
"Run to Daddy for help?" Blair asked, and that was the tone he used when he thought Jim was being stupid. Jim turned and glared.
"I run to you for help, and they're all over that. There is not a bigger offense in macho culture than proving you have the one-down position by running to someone for protection. This is agonism, man, a straight conflict to determine who has the right to annoy the other more. And when I put my mind to it, I’m pretty damn annoying," Blair joked.
"Are you capable of saying anything in fewer than 20 words?" Jim shook his head and gave his partner an exasperated smile.
"Nope. And stop distracting. Besides, the very fact that you came in gunning for me tells me that you totally get it. I mean, you're like major alpha dog around here, so I can back down to you the way I can't to Sergeant Fuckwit, and now Fuckwit can't stop me without having to piss you off."
"Maybe," Jim admitted. The light for the sixth floor lit up and the doors slid open. "But you missed the most important part, Chief."
"Oh, what's that?"
"Now they're all so busy being relieved that I'm pissed at you that they'll forget to torture you."
"Create a community organized around avoiding Hurricane Ellison? That's good, man. Just might work as long as they don't figure that if you're going for a piece of my hide it's time for a dogpile."
"No one gets a piece of your hide except me," Jim said as he opened the doors to Major Crime.
"Overprotective much?" Blair laughed as he darted ahead of Jim into the bullpen.
"Hey, Henri, Rafe!" he called as he dropped his ubiquitous bag on the chair that had gravitated to the edge of Jim's desk. Blair turned his smile toward Simon's secretary. "Rhonda, I got that flourless cake recipe you asked for. You'll have to get some almond flour, but I can promise you that your uncle will worship you for this recipe."
Blair headed across the room and delivered a paper to Rhonda with a flourish before rebounding back towards Jim. Two minutes ago Blair had been cursing a storm, but now he smiled at Jim as though the world was perfect and he didn't have a care. For not the first time, Jim decided that he and his partner were just wired differently.
"So, what's up with this new case?" Blair asked with undiminished enthusiasm.
Brown chuckled. "Hairboy, what the hell do you take in the morning to get all this energy? You'd better watch out, Jim. Narcotics is going to be knocking on your door one of these days."
Blair crossed his arms. "No way. Energy is about taking care of the body. You guys shove so much crap in your mouths that your arteries are hardening as we speak. Hydrogenated oils and glycated proteins will kill you as sure as a bullet."
"Shit, you just had to get him going on this, didn't you?" Jim demanded with mock exasperation. "If he doesn't calm down by quitting time, I'm sending him home with you to clear the transfats out of your kitchen," Jim threatened Brown, who backed away with his hands up in surrender and a wide smile on his face.
"You have to keep him away from my barbeque, Jim. Come on, we've been friends for a long time; you have my back, right?" Brown mock-begged.
"Har, har. Some of us still plan on being able to get up when we're forty." Blair put just enough emphasis on 'up' to make the jibe plain to Jim, even if Brown turned away with an amused shake of his head, missing the sexual joke.
"Some of us can, quite well," Jim countered.
"We're still conducting testing on that. We don't want to commit a fallacy of hasty generalization. Good data requires researchers to replicate testing conditions and verify a fact many times." Blair sat on the edge of Jim's desk and smiled teasingly.
"Many times, huh?" Jim asked quietly as he picked up the Switchman file. Blair smiled wider.
"Many, many times," Blair agreed, just as quietly. "So, this new case?" he asked in a louder voice, turning the conversation before Jim could come back with a dig of his own.
Jim handed over the file with the newly printed "Switchman" on the tab. "We're heading over to Tacoma."
Jim flipped through another page of the Tacoma reports, and slid it across the table to a strangely silent Blair. Collins leaned against the far wall, his eyes scanning the list Jim had brought with them. Not many detectives had a list of every criminal they'd ever participated in busting, but Jim had started his as a way to prove to himself that he was making a difference. After the army, he'd felt like nothing he did made an impact, not compared to what he'd done. He'd held the Chopec Pass; he'd saved the tribe.
Jim blinked as his memories of jungle and blue light filtering through the thick canopy at night were suddenly superimposed over the Tacoma interview room. The table with copies of the Switchman case blinked away into the jungle floor, and Blair's heartbeat became the drum of a native dance.
Collins made a little snort and passed the list over to Shay. The sound pulled Jim back to the present, where Collins leaned toward his seated partner and pointed to a name on Jim's list.
"You busted Riche." Shay nodded and smiled. The man looked more gangster than cop: shaved head, thin face, a tattoo crawling up his neck and brushing his jaw, so the smile was anything but nice. "We worked his coke business for two years before he moved to Cascade."
"He was slippery. He finally took a belt to his girlfriend, so we got her to turn on him… wear a wire. Busting him was a good day," Jim answered before he went back to reading one of the last witness statements from the folder. So far it seemed like Collins and Shay were living up to the promise of full disclosure, but nothing in these reports looked familiar. High end timers… dangerous for a novice to use, but much more reliable in the hands of a professional. The post office bombing had been the more serious of the two bombings, killing two with a third still in critical condition.
When Jim finished the statement of one of the injured postal workers, he pushed it across the table to Blair, who absentmindedly took it and shoved it in his "unread" pile. He continued to study witness statements and jot notes on a yellow legal pad without a word. Before getting out of the truck, Blair had pulled his hair back into a tight ponytail. With his jacket on and his hair back, he looked more like the professor Jim remembered from the day he'd gone to Rainier than the unconventional observer who'd enthusiastically followed him for the last couple of weeks.
"Nothing rings any bells," Collins growled as he flung Jim's list onto the interview table and dropped into a chair.
"I'm striking out," Jim agreed as he looked at the last three papers in the pile the Tacoma officers had made them. Collins glanced toward Blair, but he just continued scribbling on his yellow pad, silent and oblivious, two things Jim never saw in his partner.
"Can we look at the scenes?" Jim asked when the silence made it clear that Blair wasn't going to answer.
"Two bomb sites, coming up," Collins said as he pushed himself up heavily. Where Shay looked like a gangster, Collins was a strange cross between couch potato and military. He had a buzz cut and the bulky arms and wide shoulders of a body builder, but now a layer of fat disguised that physique.
"Good luck. We found a big zero on scene," Shay snorted, but he got up to follow his partner while Blair scrambled to pull all the photocopied pages into one pile. So, at least Blair was listening even if he had suddenly taken a vow of silence.
"This crackpot obviously wants me involved, so maybe the places have some connection to me specifically," Jim suggested.
"Which leads to the obvious question: why bomb us instead of going and attacking your fair city?" Shay looked straight at Jim, a challenge in his face, and Jim answered it with a stare of his own.
"You'll know as soon as I do," Jim said quietly, his voice a warning. Behind Jim, Blair scribbled on his notepad so that the pen scratches against the paper became a static that hung in the tense air.
"The post office is closest," Collins commented calmly before he headed out the door. Shay continued to lock gazes with Jim for a second, and then he turned and followed his partner. Jim rolled his eyes as the door swung closed on weighted hinges.
"Man, you make me so glad I'm not an alpha," Blair whispered so softly that Jim almost missed the words. He turned and watched Blair slip the now-thick Switchman file into the back of his legal pad, behind the paper.
"No, you'll never be alpha," Jim agreed.
Blair's startled eyes darted up to his face."Oh man, you heard that? You have ears like a bat, but I am so not suggesting that there's anything wrong with being alpha."
"Calm down, Chief. I happen to like being alpha, but I also like you not being alpha," Jim said as Blair came around the table. Watching the vibrant, ebullient personality come out from under the silence made something in his stomach unknot.
"Are you okay?" Jim asked quietly, turning so that his body blocked the exit.
"What? No, hey, I'm fine," Blair said with a smile. Jim would have pursued that train of thought since Blair clearly wasn't fine, but Collins stuck his head back in the door.
"You guys coming?" he asked. Blair fell silent.
"Yeah, right after you," Jim agreed as he considered his partner's sudden personality shift. "We'll follow in my truck if you guys want to head straight for the scene," Jim suggested, as he decided he needed a little private time with his observer.
"Will do. Take the north entrance. Less debris in the parking lot."
Collins left and Jim studied Blair for a second.
"Hey, aren't we going?" Blair finally asked. Jim turned so that Blair could get to the door, and as he passed, Jim rested his hand on Blair's back. Suddenly Blair was all energy, just about chasing after Collins down the hallway of the Tacoma Police Department.
Jim let his hand fall, barely avoiding snapping out something, even though he couldn't figure out why he was so damn upset at such a small gesture. Keeping his silence all the way to the truck, Jim climbed in and unlocked the door for Blair.
"Oh man, this is fascinating. There is nothing like this, except for maybe the Bath school disaster, but bombings are totally a political statement, and yet this seems personal. We so need a profiler in on this case, not that they would be able to help that much because this is breaking all the rules for traditional profiles." Blair's torrent of words broke free the moment Jim slammed the door shut.
"That's what you were taking notes on?" Jim prompted as he started the truck and guided it out of the visitors' lot.
"Totally. The discrepancies are amazing. Sure, bombings are the 'in' thing." Blair made quote marks with his fingers, the restless energy that made him bounce all returning like a rubber band that snaps back to its original shape. "The Animal Liberation Front, the Irish Republican Army, some jihadist Arabs, they use bombings to get attention, but there's no demand or cause here… just a letter to you, and man, that is weird."
"And you didn't say anything because?" Jim prompted.
"I wasn't going to go off on crazy tangents in the middle of your meeting," Blair huffed as though Jim had said something utterly ridiculous, and for a second Jim lost all words. He wouldn't go off? He wouldn't get in the middle of a meeting?
"Okay, who are you and what have you done with my observer? Little guy. Mouthy. Hair like a cocker spaniel," Jim finally demanded.
"Very funny," Blair growled in a voice that didn't sound amused.
"I thought so." Jim smiled, but then he turned serious. "However, you always say what you're thinking, even when what you're thinking makes Simon chew on those cigars of his. I'm wondering what the hell happened that turned you into the shy type. Did one of them say something to you?" Jim held tight rein over his own anger at that thought.
"Chill. I can sit quietly in the corner without anything being wrong."
"Gagged and tied, maybe, but even then you'd make those little grunting sounds."
Blair glared. "Man, I'm an anthropologist."
Jim raised an eyebrow and waited for some other explanation because a quiet Blair did not exist in his universe. A driver in a Volvo slowed, searching for a turn, and Jim slid his truck into the void in front of it.
"Anthropologists are supposed to be as invisible as possible; they try to minimize their impact on the community. *I* try to minimize my impact in the community."
"Chief, don't take offense at this, but you're more like ground zero than minimal impact."
"Yeah, I know." Blair sighed unhappily. "If I thought I was going to be studying you, I totally would have taken another approach. You so would never have known I was bi, and anything even mildly counter-culture, like the job subbing for guys, would have been buried so deep you wouldn't have found it with a search and rescue team complete with bloodhounds."
"But you didn't set off to study us," Jim concluded as he connected the dots. Blair as witness and Blair as anthropologist had very different goals. Reaching out with one hand, Jim let his palm rest on Blair's thigh. "I'm glad I got to know the witness before I met the scientist."
"Man, I don't know. If I had come into the station to do a study, I would have totally tried to fit in. I would have been playing horn dog right up there with H. I would have been smoking cigars with Simon."
Jim outright laughed at that improbable image. "Not a chance, Sandburg. But I prefer you in my bed and smoke-free, so I'm glad we didn't have to find out. Right now, though, I'm a little worried about the pod-person impersonation here. It's not like you to sit on your hands on a case like this."
"Jim, we've only worked five cases together."
"Exactly. On every one of the five, you were in there stealing case notes before I even had a chance to read them and outlining potential new avenues of investigation."
"Yeah." Blair fell silent. "I'm not doing well with the observing part of observer," he said softly. Jim squeezed Blair's leg.
"Which is good," Jim hurried to assure him. "Your insight and your way with witnesses have saved me a lot of footwork. If my hunch is right, this case is going to turn nasty, and I could use your help here."
A comfortable silence filled the cab of the truck, and Jim let his hand wander toward Blair's inner thigh, not missing the way the man always sat close enough for Jim to reach him. But as much as he liked touching Blair, he wanted his partner truly with him on this case even more.
Jim didn't normally like partners. Hell, he'd refused to bring cases home to the loft during his marriage. Carolyn had tried to 'help.' She'd compared his cases to ones that sat unsolved on her own desk or she'd described other cases where some detective had followed the wrong lead. He'd sit, tight-lipped and silent, as she talked and talked, and the more silent he grew, the more she filled that silence with comments that questioned his abilities.
However, Blair's quiet questions and enthusiastic tangents just didn't inspire the same frustration. Of course, a good eighty percent of what Blair said was fascinating trivia that made no sense and led to Simon quietly cursing, but the other twenty percent provided insights that Jim had learned to trust.
"It's funny," Blair said softly into the long silence.
"The police force is like this total closed community, and the other cops keep me at this distance when you're not around, like I'm some stray dog wandering into the AKC show, but you just don't feel it. I mean, I know that not every individual follows the cultural norms of his society, but you don't even seem to notice that I shouldn't be there." Blair looked over with this half-smile that whispered of admiration and confusion and devotion, and Jim let his hand wander to Blair's cheek. He stroked it once with the back of his finger.
"You belong there, Chief. You are more of a help than you can know because you never watched me spend three pointless hours trying to worm information out of a scared witness. You see someone's fear and you come in with your smile and your reassurances and you get them to open up in minutes."
"So I help?"
"Yeah, you help," Jim agreed. "You just aren't helping much on this case."
"Yeah, but there aren't any scared witnesses in there, and I'm just trying to not offend Mutt and Jeff."
Jim considered the Tacoma pair assigned to the case. Collins would definitely accept Blair; Jim knew that already. Shay would likely challenge Blair's ideas, not because Blair was a civilian but because Shay challenged everyone.
"You trust me, Chief?"
"Oh man, I think I've proved I do!" Blair instantly shot back.
"Not just like that. Do you trust me to understand alpha guys in a way that even you, with all your vast understanding of human nature, might not?"
"Okay, that's sounding like you're making fun of me," Blair complained as he crossed his arms.
"Maybe a little," Jim smiled. "But as much as you do know, you don't get alpha guys, not deep down in your gut. Collins will be fine with you giving your ideas. Shay is going to be a shithead, but that has nothing to do with you."
Blair nodded. "He doesn't like us on his territory."
"More than that, he doesn't trust us on his territory," Jim corrected him. "He's a Tacoma cop who is supposed to keep Tacoma safe, and here we come in when, as far as he can see, we have no reason to care about this case the way he does."
"That's why you brought your files," Blair said.
"Yeah, I can't ask him to share without giving him something to work with," Jim agreed. "And he's still going to be touchy because he doesn't know jack-shit about us."
"So, he'll question my theories, but it's just macho bullshit," Blair said. Jim guided the truck around a corner before glancing over. Blair smirked at him.
"He'll listen if he hears the good stuff you come up with before any crackpot theories."
"Hey!" Blair punched Jim in the arm, and Jim caught Blair's wrist, easily holding it captive as he steered with his other hand.
"If the shoe fits." Jim gave Blair a wicked smile.
"My ideas are not crackpot."
"Sure they're not," Jim teased.
Since they were at a red light, Jim looked over when Blair said that, and gave his lover a slow, seductive smile. Blair froze, his face slowly reddening.
"Interesting word choice, Chief," Jim finally said when Blair appeared to have lost his words.
"Dick," Blair hissed, and immediately flinched at that word choice. Jim laughed.
"Let's go catch this Switchman first, okay, Chief?" he chuckled as he let his hand fall on Blair's shoulder.
Jim walked the debris-strewn parking lot; chunks of concrete and twisted knots of metal lay behind the yellow crime scene barriers.
"What a fucking mess," Shay cursed. "Ten dead and injured." He turned to Jim, crossing his arms over his chest. "So, any great revelations?"
"No." Jim just continued to walk the area, studying the pattern of the blast that had taken out one wall of the post office. The two dead had been in the sorting room.
Shay snorted dismissively.
"Maybe something in the neighborhood is familiar," Collins commented, softening his partner's abrasive attitude.
Jim scanned the buildings. A gas station stood on the closest corner, a huge sign advertising the price of gas blocking his view of the street.
"Everything this asshole does, it's to piss us off. I still say he picked Ellison's name out of a hat just to make us jump through a few more hoops," Shay complained as he leaned against a blue drop-off box. One side had a huge dent from a piece of flying building. Looking at the wreckage, Jim was surprised that only two people had died.
"It's possible," Jim admitted. Shay shot him a suspicious look, but Jim ignored that challenge. "If he hadn't mentioned Sandburg, I'd say he was just jerking our chain. I told my captain as much."
"But Sandburg's name in the letter changed your mind?" Collins probed.
"He's only been riding for a few weeks. He isn't exactly high-profile, or at least he wasn't until the mayor put him on display as some sort of proof that he deserves the minority vote." Jim looked over toward Blair, who froze in place as everyone looked at him. Jim shook his head at this new personality Blair seemed to have developed. Rather than demanding attention with his impressive knowledge, he appeared to want to fade into the background.
"No problem. I mean, he's just trying to prove that he has the interest of minorities in mind, and as long as he's not using me to avoid actually making changes, it's all good." Blair smiled and shrugged as his words trailed off. He detoured around Shay toward Jim.
"Politicians. God save us from them and the crazy things they do to get elected," Collins agreed, rubbing his military-short gray hair. "But if this Switchman knows about Sandburg, he must at least have been watching you. Not a pleasant thought."
"No, it's not," Jim agreed as he watched Blair. Psychos were remarkably hard to predict, and Jim suddenly didn't like just how many hiding places lurked on Rainier's campus. Blair's office was separated from the other offices, the old trees and thick hedges had more than enough hiding spots, and the covered walks and pillars created hidden corners even on the sunniest days.
"So, he enjoys fucking with us, he's stalked you, and he blows up buildings. This isn't progress." Shay turned his back on the blasted building.
"Maybe." Blair said the word so softly that Jim almost wondered if he'd imagined it, and the other two detectives didn't respond at all.
"Maybe?" Jim asked. Blair jumped like he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Care to share with the class?"
"Hey, nothing. Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt," Blair quickly started studying the battered mail drop. Someone had cut open the side to retrieve the mail stuck inside.
"You got an idea, Sandburg?" Collins added after a moment, giving Jim a quizzical look, and Jim tightened his jaw.
"Sandburg always has an idea; I haven't heard him this quiet since he saw his first DB," Jim said as he crossed his arms. Blair glared at him, but at least glaring was closer to the Sandburg he knew. Jim raised an eyebrow and waited.
"I'm just the observer here," he said when the glare didn't make Jim back off. Jim narrowed his eyes.
"You're one step away from a PhD and you specialize in observing people. If you're seeing something here, spit it out, Chief," Jim ordered in his firmest tone. For a second, Blair continued to trade glares with him, and then he glanced toward Collins.
"Man, I'm good at throwing ideas out there, but you know I'm not a profiler, right? I mean, I only took one deviant psychology class, so I just might be full of shit. In fact, I'm thinking I'm probably full of shit here, so this is me not sharing crackpot ideas." Blair crossed his arms aggressively.
"You're usually full of shit, but I'm pretty good at picking the good ideas out, Chief," Jim said, frustrated at having this little scene in front of Collins who watched curiously. Shay still wasn't paying attention as he stalked the rubble.
"Ha ha. You're a laugh a minute. You know that, right, Ellison?"
"You bet. So spit out whatever theories your brain is cooking up."
Blair shot Collins a look and then gave a sharp nod. "In the old days, the switchmen assembled the trains, handled the rail traffic, switched cars and tracks. And man, it was a dirty job. Mud and ice and rocks would get jammed between the rails so that the tracks couldn't be switched, and the switchman had to get out there and clean all that."
"So he sees himself as doing a dirty job?" Collins asked with obvious curiosity. The question made Blair stop for a second and look at the man. Jim understood Blair's surprise. Usually this was where Jim simply listened or Simon started making unhappy noises.
"Yeah, probably. Maybe. Man, I'm flying by the seat of my pants here, but a switchman had a lot of respect... the other workers knew that if a switchman fucked up, trains could collide or cars go off the track. It was totally stressful, the equivalent of modern air traffic controllers, only in slow motion."
"So he sees himself as respected?" Jim asked slowly. That didn't feel right.
"Or he wants respect or he thinks he'll get someone's respect by doing the bombings or he has no idea and he pulled the name Switchman randomly out of the dictionary." Blair's enthusiasm collapsed into silence as he squinted his eyes closed. Jim recognized the despair.
"I don't believe in coincidence," Jim said confidently. "Consider it brainstorming, Chief. Just throw ideas out there, and we'll ignore the stupid ones and listen for something that makes sense," he suggested.
"Okay, then my best guess, based on six whole credits of deviant psychology, is that he's convinced himself that he's doing some job that has to be done. It's not pretty or easy, but it's important to keep something on the right track, metaphorically." Blair shrugged at his own pun. "He thinks that if he can put all the pieces in the right order, he'll get what he wants. Nothing is random."
"So why attack these places? A post office and a bridge."
"Transportation?" Blair guessed. Jim glanced over at Blair's face, tight with concentration. "A train, mail in the post office, cars over a bridge--man, it's all about transportation."
"But if he defines the post office as part of 'transportation'..." Jim started.
"No way can we predict him." Blair's enthusiasm caused him to cut Jim off as he suddenly started pacing a section of the drive. "A school is where students travel from ignorance to knowledge. A truck stop is part of the system that hauls goods. And then there's you," Blair turned toward Jim, his face tight with concentration. "How do you fit into this whole theme he has going in his head. Serial killers are meticulous. They don't just make spur-of-the-moment decisions, so he didn't just pick your name out of a book and say, 'Hey, I think I'll torture Jim Ellison for a while.' Which really begs the question of why he picked Tacoma to start his attacks when he wants your attention. And this isn't making sense." Blair's pacing had taken him to near Jim, and he leaned heavily on the chunk of wall near Jim, his shoulder leaning into Jim's side.
Jim raised his hand to Blair's shoulder, and Blair scuttled sideways.
"So, we figure out why he's targeting them. It has to have something to do with you, Jim. I mean, he wanted you involved, so you have to be the key."
"He mentioned you in that letter, too," Jim pointed out, focusing on the case and not his own sudden frustration or the headache that had crawled into the back of his brain and burrowed in.
"Yeah, but I'm just a part-time grad student, part-time teaching fellow. You're an ex-Ranger cop-of-the-year. Which of us do you really think is going to attract the attention of a mad bomber?" Blair said sarcastically.
"He's got a point," Collins said. Jim looked over, and the man looked entirely too amused.
"Oh, you have no idea the trouble Sandburg can get into all on his own."
"Do you have any connection to Seattle?" Blair asked as he ignored Jim's sarcastic comment and perched on the wall. Balancing his backpack on one knee, he started riffling through the papers.
"I lived here for a couple of months, but not anywhere near this neighborhood," Jim said. "I lived near the University of Washington on Blakeley street with a friend after college and before I went for training at Fort Lewis, just south of Tacoma, but that's on the north side."
"I knew it," Blair said in that really aggravating tone of voice he used when he'd just proved a point. "And that totally fits the pattern, man. You were traveling from being a civilian and a college student to being the military officer and hero. There's something about transformation here. I mean, a bridge, a post office, a train, your time here in transition; it's all part of a pattern." Blair's dangling leg bounced as he sorted papers even faster.
"Seeing a pattern after the fact is fine, but what good does that do us now?" Shay interrupted. "Where do we start looking for this nutcase?"
Blair's energy drained in a moment, and his hands paused in their search. "Oh man, I don't know," he said softly. "And the whole idea might be full of crap."
Shay's derisive snort pretty much said everything.
"We need to look farther back than Ellison's arrest record," Collins said after a moment of silence.
"This guy may have latched onto something from my military days. You did find high-quality munitions at the two sites, so it might be worth looking into people I had contact with back then. Anyone with training in munitions or counter-terrorism would have the expertise to set up these bombs."
"If you guys are going to chase straws, you might want to give Fort Lewis a heads up," Shay added unexpectedly. Jim narrowed his eyes as he considered the man who had just verbally deflated Blair.
"What? Just because it's a crackpot theory doesn't mean we should ignore it." Shay shrugged.
"One of these days, someone is going to take that asshole impression you do seriously," Collins teased his partner as he turned toward their car. "But it seems like we have something to start chasing down. We'll call Fort Lewis if you'll get us a copy of your military record. Maybe we can catch a break."
"I have copies at home, and the base should be able to provide the names of anyone with munitions or counter-terrorism training who was on base at the same time."
"Yeah, like that's going to happen," Shay complained. "But at least it gives me someone to harass instead of standing around here staring at this disaster."
"I'll fax you the records tonight," Jim offered as he moved to Blair's side, and used a hand on Blair's back to hurry him into zipping the backpack up. Whatever he'd been searching for could wait until later.
Jim waited as Blair tucked papers back into place and zipped up his backpack, wondering how exactly to deal with this latest problem. He watched Shay and Collins pull away.
"We have a problem, Blair," Jim said softly as Blair stood up. Jim slipped one arm behind Blair and snagged the backpack with the other.
"What?" Blair blinked up, confused, as Jim guided him to the truck, only now Blair didn't jerk away from the touch.
"You told me that you trusted me, that you trusted my judgment," Jim commented while keeping his eyes focused on the truck. Just imagining Blair's hurt expression made him want to back down.
"I do. Jim, I totally trust your judgment."
"No, Chief, you obviously don't. I told you that Shay and Collins would be fine with your ideas, but you were still holding back."
"I just wanted to think things--"
"Would you have waited if it had been Simon and Henri?" Jim interrupted as they reached the truck. He stood by the passenger side, staring over the hood at the passing traffic. Blair's breath caught in his throat.
"Hey, it's a new environment, and every group has its own idiosyn--"
"Would you have waited?" Jim repeated more loudly as he turned and looked down at Blair.
For a moment, Blair looked up at him, his eyes wide as he breathed faster. "Probably not," he admitted weakly.
"Blair." Jim stopped and took a breath. Opening the truck door, he dropped the backpack inside as he thought out his words. "This is important. Why were you so hesitant?" He turned to look at Blair, and the man swallowed heavily, his Adam's apple bobbing over the curve of Blair's neck as he looked up at Jim.
"I'm just not comfortable with them," Blair said softly. Jim cocked his head, and something whispered that Blair was lying. Jim leaned closer.
"If that were true, I wouldn't be upset, but you're lying," Jim said with confidence. Blair stopped breathing for a second.
"Hey, believe whatever you want, man." Blair slipped into the cocky persona that Jim knew well. When he turned to get into the truck, Jim caught his arm and pushed Blair to the side of the vehicle, pressing his own body to the man to hold him still. "Want to play big bad detective and resisting suspect?" Blair asked with a wiggle that made Jim's body react even as Jim tried to hang on to his frustration. Blair smiled wickedly.
"I believe you're lying, and getting yourself in more trouble than you want. So, let's start this conversation over," Jim said calmly, ignoring the innuendo. "I told you that Collins and Shay would listen to your ideas. I told you to trust me. You still acted like a kicked dog, and I hate seeing you doubt yourself." Jim raised his hand and let it slide around the back of Blair's neck, unable to keep himself from offering comfort.
"Hey, I am so not playing kicked dog," Blair protested as he shoved away Jim's arm. "If I'm not rushing in with every idea that crosses my mind, maybe that's a good thing."
"Not from where I'm standing," Jim countered as he crossed his arms. He refused to back up, so the gesture left Blair pinned to the truck.
"They're going to think you're some sort of.... You don't need me ruining your reputation." Blair corrected himself in the middle of the sentence, but Jim could fairly well guess what Blair had been about to say.
"You're defending my reputation?" Jim asked disbelievingly.
"Excuse me for not wanting to ruin your reputation in a second city. I mean, in Cascade, at least the cops think you're stuck with me because I wouldn't back out of the gay-bashing case, but what's your excuse here?"
"I don't need an excuse," Jim said. He raised his eyebrows and waited for Blair's reaction. It wasn't what he expected.
"You stubborn son of a bitch! If they dismiss you as just some fucking queer, who the hell is going to stop this bomber?" Blair demanded, color rising to his face.
"Don't," Jim warned.
"What? You haven't heard the word before? I've heard it plenty, and you can't do your fucking job if that's how they see you. Don't you get that?" Blair demanded, his eyes brightening with tears.
"I've heard the word, Sandburg," Jim said quietly.
"Then don't act like this wouldn't hurt you. Man, they'll just fucking dismiss you if they start thinking of you as a fag." Blair's hands gestured wildly, his energy careening out of control.
Jim couldn't take it any more; he reached out and caught Blair behind the neck, pulling him into an embrace.
"Don't fucking ignore this," Blair said as he struggled to get out of Jim's embrace. Jim held on tighter until Blair finally gave up with a sigh.
"You're a fucking Neanderthal," Blair whispered. "A real throwback. A knuckle-dragging, pull the mate back to the cave by the hair sort, you know this, right?"
"Good thing you have long hair, then," Jim answered without loosening his hold on Blair.
"Holding on tighter doesn't change the world."
"I don't give a flying fuck about the world," Jim confessed. "I've been called everything from a hero to a fag, and it doesn't change who I am."
"But it changes how people look at you. Man, you can't do your job if they look at you like they..." Blair stopped again. Now Jim could hear the real fear.
"Blair," Jim sighed. He wasn't sure how to fix this one. Leaning back, he looked at Blair and could still see the anger in his face, even though he had sagged into Jim's embrace.
"Blair, you don't have to protect me," Jim said, trying a new tack.
"I'm not trying to-- Okay, I am kinda trying to protect you, but you have a job to do. I mean, I keep kinky, gay stuff away from the university, and they are a big old nothing on the homophobic scale compared to the police department."
"It bothers me that you're changing to try and protect me. I don't want you to hide who you are."
"I'm not hiding who I am; I'm just being quieter."
"Which is not you."
"It could be."
Jim finally let go of Blair and crossed his arms as he considered his lover.
"Okay, I'm not usually quiet," Blair admitted. "But I just don't need to be so obvious with them. I mean, the guys in Cascade already know you, but these guys don't. I just don't want them seeing me and..." Blair shrugged.
"Hey, no using the pity voice," Blair threatened, his finger reaching out to poke at Jim.
"That's not the pity voice, that's the 'I can't believe you're such an idiot' voice." Jim turned to walk around the truck.
"Hey," Blair protested.
"I can defend my own honor, Sandburg."
"I never said you couldn't."
"And I told you to not worry about Collins and Shay." Jim got in the truck, and Blair got in next to him.
"I'm not worried. Who said I was worried?"
"Oh yeah, you always act like a pod person when you aren't worried," Jim said dryly as he started the truck. Blair started to answer, but Jim held up his hand. "And we still haven't dealt with the fact that you obviously don't trust me enough to follow my lead. I told you not to worry about Mutt and Jeff."
"I never said I was worried. If you're making assumptions…."
"And we're going to have to figure out how to deal with that because you trying to cover for me is not the way I see this working between us," Jim said darkly. Blair fell silent.
"Hey, I know you're still all pissed over the whole scene at the post office, but I need to talk about limits here," Blair said quickly before Jim could say anything. "And before you even start in on me, yes, I do have limits. Yeah, I crossed some line in that head of yours, but I am not into the discipline scene. That is totally not a turn-on for me, so don't think I'm just going to bend over and take it like a man, because a man does not bend over and take it. Well, men bend over and take it all the time, and in terms of sex, I'm happy to bend over and take it, more than happy, and lots of men bend over and take a spanking, but not this man. Except for when you do the sexy spankings, but you know full well there's a difference between fun spanking and discipline."
Jim waited through the babble, his earlier aggravation quickly turning to amusement as Blair verbally flailed.
"You done?" Jim asked.
"I don't know. Am I helping or hurting my case here because I really don't want to ruin this relationship."
"You done now?"
"You're enjoying this," Blair accused him.
"I always enjoy torturing you," Jim nodded, "but watching you torture yourself is a new experience."
"Har, har. Look, if this is the big breakup speech, you really suck at it."
Jim blinked, completely caught off guard as the conversation darted left. "Blair, this is not the breakup speech. If it makes you feel better, I could chain you to the railing to prove it." Jim could imagine Blair's cock hardening under that threat, so Blair's moan wasn't a surprise.
"Man, you're giving me emotional whiplash here."
"Okay, let's lay things out in a straight line," Jim said. "One, we are not breaking up. Two, other cops will learn to deal with you. You do not change just because they're arrogant assholes. You haven't in the past, and you won't because of me."
"No," Jim said tersely. "I saw how you reacted at the Espinoza scene, so if you're acting like pod-Sandburg, it's because you're trying to cover for me, and I am big enough to handle my own shit."
"Hey, your shit, fine. But you shouldn't have to take shit because of me."
"So, if someone calls me gay, it's all your fault?" Jim asked, confused.
"Okay, Jim, I am awed by your learning curve, but that first time, that was really your first time, wasn't it? I mean, I know my ass is awe-inspiring, but you almost killed me with how much time you took prepping me. I came twice before you actually got in me, and while I am not complaining at all, and that night will always rank right up there with Susan Carmelli letting me touch her breasts for the first time and Frank teaching me the joys of leather, you were not gay before we got together, so if you're getting shit on this front, it is so my fault."
Jim sighed. He couldn't win with words, that was for sure. The kid had him outgunned on that front, and his time in the military had taught him to choose his terrain before engaging.
"Strip," he said as he headed toward the bathroom.
"Hey, did you hear what I said about not being into discipline?" Blair called after him.
"I heard you, Blair. Now don't make me repeat myself," Jim called back before he shut the bathroom door and bought himself a few minutes of privacy to gather his thoughts. Shit, the kid could carry the guilt of ten men, but Jim wasn't about to let him keep carrying that weight. He just needed to shift the debate a little, find a way to really reach Sandburg, who clearly had stopped listening a few exits back.
And the worst thing was that Blair wasn't totally in the wrong. The days of taking a cop out back and beating the gay out of him were gone, but reactions like Simon's, or, even worse, like the asshole on night shift that talked shit about Blair whenever the man walked in the room.... yeah, they weren't uncommon. This wasn't Pollyanna world. Jim sighed as he washed his face and gathered his thoughts.
Jim gave Blair enough time to hesitate, strip, and then worry a bit before he came back out. Sure enough, Blair stood in the middle of the dim living room, his arms crossed awkwardly over his chest as he stood there naked.
"Have I told you lately how much I love the way you follow orders?" Jim said as he closed the distance. Blair was already half hard.
"I think we were working on the way you didn't love the way I didn't," Blair said. Then he bit his lip. Jim could almost taste Blair's need to repeat the limits speech.
"Trust me, Chief," Jim whispered.
Blair froze, his blue eyes focusing on Jim for a half second before he spoke. "Always," he said softly.
Jim went to the toy chest and pulled out a set of padded cuffs with a long center chain. Behind him, Blair breathed harder. Jim climbed halfway up the stairs and draped the cuffs around the stair-railing. Wordlessly, Blair held his hands up, and Jim reached down through the bars to lock the cuffs in place. Only once he had the restraints in place did Jim pull up on the center chain, shortening it until Blair had to stretch and then using a padlock to keep the chain short.
Jim came back downstairs, and Blair was breathing hard, his cock full and needy as he flexed his arms.
"Much better," Jim said.
"Oh man, fuck," Blair breathed, his words stolen by the chains, just like Jim knew they would be.
"So beautiful," Jim said as he considered the sight. He returned to the toy chest and pulled out a large vibrator. He kept his back to Blair as he lubed it up. "Turn around, Chief." Jim listened as Blair shuffled around to face the stairs. "Legs apart."
Jim turned and Blair was facing the stairs, his shoulders corded and his legs spread so far that he stood on his toes. "So very beautiful," Jim murmured.
"This isn't actually solving anything, and as punishment goes, it's not really your best effort. I mean, if this is how you punish me, I'm not really likely to change. In operant conditioning, the punishment should actually be something that the subject..." Blair's words ended with a gasp when Jim pressed the toy to his entrance, slowly pushing as the tip of the toy opened him. "Fuck, yeah."
"It's not punishment, Blair. If I were punishing you, I wouldn't touch you for a week. I'd chain you up and bring myself off as you watched, hard and aching. I'd buy you one of those chastity devices, and lock up that cock of yours until you learned your lesson."
Blair groaned, his head falling back and resting against Jim's shoulder. Interesting. Well, that obviously wouldn't be very good as punishment either. Blair was so hard now that he danced on his toes, trembling as Jim pushed the vibrator in until it slipped into place, the thick bulb buried in Blair's body.
Jim stepped away and considered the sight. "I think that backside of yours needs warming," Jim said softly. He ran a finger up Blair's spine and tangled his fingers in the long hair. Blair made a happy little grunt, so Jim took that as permission.
Going back to the toy chest, Jim pulled out a flogger, running the soft leather tails over his hand before he returned to Blair.
"Such a beautiful body. You'll be even more beautiful with a little color in those cheeks." Jim ran the flogger over Blair's hip and then he slipped his hand around Blair and feathered the flogger over Blair's cock and then up his stomach to his hard nipples. Blair panted.
Backing away, Jim flipped the remote for the vibrator now buried in Blair. Blair squealed and jerked on the chain, and Jim brought the flogger down against his skin before he could catch his breath. Blair rocked forward, gasping.
"Fuck, yeah," he mewled. Jim brought the flogger down a little harder, watching lines of rosy skin pinken under his touch. With a groan, Blair rocked forward with the force of the blow and then pressed back, thrusting his hips helplessly in the air. Jim brought the flogger down twice, matching marks on the right and left hips.
Blair jerked, dancing on his toes and nearly lifting his own body as he fisted the chains that held him in place. Jim draped the flogger over his own shoulder and stepped close, pulling Blair's squirming body to his own.
"Lovely," Jim muttered as he nibbled on Blair's neck. Blair flopped his head to the side, but he couldn't control the squirming, so Jim just held him tighter.
"Man, come on. Just a little more, fuck, please."
Jim reached around and traced the hard cock that bobbed needily in the air.
"Maybe I don't want you to come yet. Maybe I like hearing those noises you make when you're desperate," Jim whispered into Blair's skin as he tasted up the side of Blair's neck and then ran teeth over the sensitive skin. Blair trembled. Feeling the orgasm building, Jim reached in his pocket and turned off the vibrator.
"Fuck. If this is punishment, I'll never do it again. I promise to be annoying. Fuck, I'll be outright obnoxious to every cop I meet. Please, just come on, finish me," Blair begged.
"I like hearing you beg," Jim admitted as he stepped back. With a single movement, he pulled the flogger from his shoulder and swung it in lazy arcs. Right-left. Left-right. He crisscrossed the strokes so that they fell across Blair's back in a lattice pattern of pink flesh against white.
"So very beautiful, and so very mine. If you ever want to leave, you'll have to move out, not give me your address, because I will never willingly give this up. I would follow you and promise you anything to keep this beautiful body under me." Jim admitted his weakness in a whisper that made Blair tremble. Then he brought the flogger down on the warm skin just a little harder.
Blair lost all words now as he groaned and mewled with each hit, rocking with the motion of the flogger. Switching arms without breaking the pattern, Jim reached in his pocket for the vibrator controls, and he thumbed it to high. Blair made a keening sound and broke the rhythm of the flogger as he nearly pulled himself off the ground by the chains.
Jim paused, letting his hand rest on Blair's warm back, and the man just sagged, a half sob escaping when Jim trailed fingers down to the round of his ass. Blair's head hung down, his hair a curtain hiding his face, and Jim pressed himself to Blair's back. Immediately, Blair's head came up and flopped back to rest on Jim's shoulder.
Jim tossed the flogger to the couch and let his hands skim Blair's body: chest, stomach, hips, nipples. He ghosted his fingers over every part but the one demanding attention, but Blair only closed his eyes and trembled and waited with his mouth open and gasping.
Jim reached up and ran a thumb over Blair's lower lip, and blue eyes lazily blinked at him. Oh yeah, Blair was in that place where his body was Jim's, pliant and warm and totally submissive.
"I love torturing you until you bliss out. I love seeing your cock fill with need. I love slipping into you. I love physically overpowering you and watching you just yield." Jim pulled the plug out as he whispered the words. The angle was awkward, but Jim just bent at the knees some as he unzipped his pants.
As quickly as he could, he slipped on a lubed condom and then slid into Blair. Slowly, Blair's eyes drifted closed again, but his fists stayed wrapped around the chain, and his arm muscles strained as Jim slowly angled his hips and moved in and out in small thrusts. He wrapped an arm around Blair's waist, and braced his other hand on the staircase as he continued the slow torture.
"I love that you want to protect me," Jim admitted roughly. That one hurt to admit, but Blair deserved the truth. He leaned forward to get better leverage and thrust harder. Blair gasped and arched his back, one bare foot landing on top of Jim's shoe.
"But more than that, I love being strong enough to protect both of us," Jim said as he finally gave up on words and focused on driving into that warm, willing body. He shifted one arm so that his hand spread over Blair's stomach and then slid down until he could stroke the hard cock. Blair muttered something that might be curse words or Sanskrit and then his whole body tightened.
Jim held on, his own cock screaming for release as Blair tightened and jerked until Jim couldn't control his orgasm and he came. Breathing heavily, Jim now leaned forward on Blair, letting his chin rest on Blair's shoulder as he held the base of the condom and slowly pulled out.
"Fuck. You're going to kill me. Of course, I'll die happy, and lots of tribes believe that how you feel when you die determines your afterlife, and in that case, just go on and kill me because an afterlife of that.... whoa."
"I think you'll survive," Jim said as he took the condom to the garbage. Disarming Blair of his words obviously had only limited success.
"So, are we just going for the delay and distract method here?" Blair finally asked as Jim climbed the stairs to unlock Blair's wrists. Jim paused.
"I think I made my point."
"Okay, if you did, I lost it somewhere between mind-blowing and fucking amazing."
"You don't think I'm gay," Jim said as he reached down and unlocked Blair's wrist from the padded cuff.
"Oh, I think you've proved that you're down with your bad, gay self. You're ready to go out and start earning your own toaster," Blair joked. Jim sat down on the step and looked through the railing as Blair rubbed his wrists and leaned against the stairs.
"That's it," Jim said. "You think you earned your toaster by converting me. And because of that, you think you have to somehow protect me from it."
"Not to brag..."
"You didn't," Jim interrupted. Blair blinked up at him.
"I had more than one hand job in a bunk in the army. Had one guy go on his knees for me, and I think that was the first time I realized that having power over someone was a huge turn on. When he sobered up, he looked at me with these wide, fearful eyes because I knew something that would cost him his career. The army might overlook a drunk guy getting a blow job, but they aren't going to overlook an officer going on his knees to give one and orgasming just from the pleasure of a cock in his mouth. I had the power to hurt him, and when he realized that I would protect him, when he looked at me with this worshipful expression, I seriously considered putting him on his knees again."
"Oh man, but I thought--"
"Before you, there weren't any men who interested me enough to try them out, but I noticed men. Blair." Jim stopped and sighed. "If they give me shit because I'm gay, it's because I am. It's not your fault or your responsibility."
Blair ducked his head, his expression disappearing behind a veil of hair.
"I've seen how the cops down there treat gays."
Jim headed down the stairs and dropped onto the couch. "Yeah, I know. I know some of them have been shitty to you. I know what those cops at the Espinoza scene did was so far beyond reasonable you could have sued their asses off." Blair wandered by, and Jim caught his wrist, pulling the naked man down on top of him.
"No naked butts on the couch or carpet, Sandburg," he play-growled as he held Blair on his lap. Blair rolled his eyes.
"You and your house rules, Ellison. You only have that one so I'll have to kneel on the damn floor."
"Yep," Jim agreed. "That and because I don't want shit on my shit." Blair twisted around and poked at Jim.
"Blair, seriously. If someone has a problem with me being gay, that is for me to deal with."
"Man, you accuse me of being naive?" Blair asked incredulously.
Jim tightened his jaw. "Sandburg," he warned.
"Hey, just because you can sit on me or gag me, and I am well aware that you are very capable of doing both, that doesn't change the facts of life, man."
"But it's not your responsibility."
"I know. But if I can do something to stop the rumors from spreading..."
Jim shook his head. "I'm not saying we should make out in the break room, but I'm not willing to have you act like a pod-person. If someone has a problem with you or me, it's my work, and I'll handle it."
"It'd be easier for me to just do my ride-along time and then fade away, man. I mean, they'll forget about me, and then no one has to wonder why you have the gay hippy riding along, not that I'm actually gay because Susan Carmelli's breasts still occasionally come bobbing through the dreamscape. And I do mean bobbing." Blair mimicked the motion of large, jiggly breasts.
"Should I be jealous?" Jim asked with a smile.
"No way, but we do not have to share that fact at the office. And that means we do not have to go making it all obvious. Hell, I'm sure Simon would give birth to kittens or something if he ever found out, and that would so not be a pretty sight."
"Simon knows," Jim answered. That made Blair stop, his hands frozen in air as he stared down at Jim. Silence dragged out the seconds.
"No fucking way," Blair finally breathed in shock.
"I told him we were together before your house even burned down. I'd be surprised if Brown and Rafe didn't know. And yeah, some of the patrol officers are going to act like assholes, but their opinions don't matter to me."
"But your job--"
"Blair," Jim tried again. This talking business was so much more tiring than just chaining Blair up and tormenting him until he agreed to anything. "Some people don't like me because I was in the army. During my time in Vice, there was this one asshole who lost every requisition I ever filed. It turned out, he'd gotten booted out of the special forces. There's always going to be someone who doesn't like me because of who I am. I'm not going to change, and the idea of you changing drives me crazy."
"I don't want to make your life harder. Oh man, I just..." Blair's words trailed off, but Jim waited. "I just feel like I'm going to end up being more trouble than I'm worth. I mean, yeah, I have all these needs, but what am I doing for you?"
"Blair, you do a lot for me. I don't know anyone else who would trust me to play with their body the way you do."
"Funny," Blair snorted. "I could give you a list of a dozen guys who would pay money to do for you exactly what I do for you."
"People would pay money to annoy me?" Jim fended off the finger that poked him.
"Fucking with me when I'm sated is not fair," Blair complained lazily.
"The military taught me to press the advantage," Jim admitted. "And let's get one thing settled. You do not protect me."
"So, I should go fairying around your desk asking if you're going to give me a good flogging tonight?" Blair blinked innocently, his tone dripping sweetness.
"You really are a little shit," Jim sighed.
"You should be yourself," Jim cut him off. "Your same old pushy, arrogant, spouting weird shit self. No more pod-person impersonations."
"And trust me to be able to take care of myself. The one thing here that is really making me angry is the idea that you're acting like I can't take care of myself. I can. And I don't give a shit what assholes down at work do or say; and I don't like that you're trying to change how we act toward each other," Jim said as he curled his hands around Blair's stomach and pulled him close. "I like resting a hand on your shoulder or watching you rip into some case. And I do not handle change well."
Blair sighed, and Jim could feel the slight movements in the body that now leaned back into him. "You really are an alpha dog. Man, you can't let this go, even if I'm right, can you?"
"You're not right," Jim countered.
"Of course I'm not," Blair answered flatly. He took a deep breath. "Right, so tomorrow Mutt and Jeff get the full Sandburg treatment. Yeah, that's going to be interesting."
"After the shit you gave that idiot at the front desk, harassing them should be easy."
"Man, he started it."
"Yeah, but I came in and finished it for both of you," Jim pointed out.
"You're going to choke on your own alpha one of these days, Ellison. Man, I would love to do a testosterone study on you. I bet your numbers are like... whoa." Blair held up his hands to show just how much testosterone Blair expected to find.
"Yeah, yeah. Right now, I just want to get some dinner and watch a little television."
"Dinner sounds good; I'll do the salad," Blair said as he tried to stand. Jim held on for a second, making Blair surrender and lean back into him before Jim let go and gave Blair a little swat on the hip.
"Go on then, get that salad started, and I'll throw on some stir-fry beef."
"Bully," Blair laughed. Somehow, when he said it, Jim really didn't mind the insult. He stood up and followed Blair's naked ass into the kitchen, admiring the view when he bent down to grab the lettuce. Blair might not believe he did all that much, but Jim couldn't imagine his life without Blair anymore. As Jim watched, Blair wiggled his naked ass in the air.
"And don't even think about sitting on the kitchen chairs without pants," Jim threatened.
"Yes, oh great Lord Ellison," Blair snorted.
"You're the one staring at it, so you'd know," Blair shot back.
"It hasn't changed since ten minutes ago when I didn't know why Collins and Shay were coming here."
"Come on--you have to be just a little curious. I mean, why trek all the way up here?"
"I am curious, Chief. That's why we're here... to find out why they came."
"So, any speculation?"
Jim rolled his eyes. He remembered the recruits back from his army days doing this same thing: endlessly guessing about orders, and they never guessed anything right. "I speculate that I'll find out when we get up there," he said dryly.
Blair didn't answer. "So, we have an agreement?" Jim asked as he pulled the truck into his parking space and switched it off.
"I'm going to be obnoxious to everyone I meet, and if anyone tries to bring that back on you, I'm just stepping back and letting them. Whereupon, you will defeat the entire station, if need be, with your super seekret, one-handed, special ops karate-chop." Blair paused before dramatically adding, "With your other hand tied behind your back." He then nodded wisely.
Jim pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Works for me," he agreed as he got out of the truck.
"That was sarcasm, asshole."
"I recognized it. After living with you for two weeks, I'm pretty damn familiar with it. However, if it gets you to back off the pod-person impression, I'm okay with that. I don't need defending."
"Hey, I am just trying to deal with this whole alpha dog thing you have going on. I mean, what you say does not always make a whole lot of sense to me, and this is me accepting that you have this really weird view on the world."
"*I* have a weird view?" Jim demanded. "I'm not the one who drinks algae for breakfast." Jim rested his hand on Blair's back and steered him around a group of patrol officers leaning against the wall near the elevator. Blair punched the button.
"Yeah, but I'm going to be alive and kicking long after your arteries have clogged and cracked."
"But you'll still be drinking algae, and I'll go out with a smile on my face." The elevator doors opened, and Jim nudged Blair inside. Just as he was following, he could hear one of the patrol officers whisper something about a freak. Jim gritted his teeth.
"Whatever," Blair answered lightly, obviously not hearing the snide comment.
"Face it, Chief, on the weird scale, you're off the chart." Jim hit the button for the sixth floor, his shoulders now tight as he restrained an urge to go back and give the officers a little life lesson.
Blair made a hand puppet of his fingers, rolling his eyes and making the universal gesture for 'talk talk talk.' "Just because I'm not into alpha games and eating enough junk food to corrupt my body and public belching..."
"I've heard you belch," Jim interrupted.
"In my own home. Have you even heard Henri? I mean, why is it that making obnoxious noises in public and scratching makes a male more male?"
"I thought you were the student of human nature, Chief," Jim teased. "Men belch and hit each other and fight for status--alpha dog games, as you like to call it."
"Hey, I am just as much into status as the next guy. I mean, give me a competition and I'm there. I just don't want to be top dog all the time because way too many mutts bite at your tail. But I play a mean game of basketball, and I cheer for my Jags -- and look at my office." The elevator doors opened, and they headed for Major Crimes.
"Okay, I'm not even touching the basketball comment, Shorty, but let's talk about your office. Your office is a storeroom with your name written on a piece of paper and taped under the room number."
"You totally missed the point. Jim, grad students do not get offices. Not even associate professors get an office. Nope, they're all sharing one big, sterile communal space where they have one cubbyhole, access to the copier, and a desk they share with a half dozen others. But me? Oh man, I have my own space with a lock on the door."
"You thought all the TA's got their own offices? They'd need a dozen new buildings for that. It's just me. Just because I'm not all alpha does not mean that I don't do things my own way, which in this case means getting a key from the department chair to do inventory, setting up shop, and then just sort of announcing to everyone from campus mail to the phone directory people that I'm installed in that office. By the time anyone figured out what I had done, they didn't have the time or energy to try and undo it."
"Okay, this actually explains a lot," Jim said as he stopped in the middle of the hall to consider Blair through narrowed eyes. "So, that chair that has gravitated to the side of my desk?"
"Give it up, man. I'm already moving in on you, and I'll be entrenched like crabgrass before you even notice me. I'm telling you, big guy, you gotta watch out for us betas. We're tricky little shits."
The conversation had taken them into the bullpen and Henri stood by his desk, openly smiling at Blair's announcement.
"You better watch out there, Ellison. Sounds like you got some weeds moving in on you. I hear they make a spray for that."
Jim raised one eyebrow and glared at Brown long enough that the other detective at least pretended to hide his smile as he retreated behind his desk.
"Ellison," Simon bellowed from inside his office. Jim glanced over to where Collins and Shay stood by Simon's window and paused as Blair dumped his backpack by the desk and came trotting back.
"Into the valley of death rode the six hundred," Blair muttered under his breath. Jim rested a hand on Blair's shoulder, pushing him gently as Blair hesitated.
"No pod-people or that chastity device is going on the credit card," Jim whispered.
"Someone really needs to explain the concept of punishment to you," Blair whispered right back. Then he smiled and walked into Simon's office with his head held high.
"Jim," Simon offered a brief greeting.
"Ellison, Sandburg," Collins nodded.
"Hey. So, what brings you guys to town other than the wonderful weather we're having?" Blair flicked a glance toward the windows where rain slithered down in sheets.
"It's not any better back in Tacoma," Collins pointed out. "And that's a problem because we have another crime scene, or we did before this rain."
"Where?" Jim demanded as he stepped closer to Simon's desk. Simon handed him a paper, and Jim tilted it to one side as Blair moved close and started reading it over Jim's shoulder.
"Roy, south of the Fort Lewis," Collins answered.
"The sheriff over in Roy is refusing to admit that this is the same bomber," Simon said, "and since the train would have ended up in either Fort Lewis or McChord Air Force Base, the FBI is coming in on this one."
"And no one wants to admit that this is the same signature as the Switchman," Collins added. "I figure we'll get another note eventually or the forensics will come back with the same type of explosives. That should be enough to get us into the Roy crime scene, but until then, we're officially uninvited to the party."
"And when they do link the bombings, we're looking at an official task force, Jim. I'm sorry," Simon added. "I'll pull a couple of strings and see if we can't get you on the task force rather than letting them treat you like a witness."
"Great," Jim said sarcastically.
"Yeah, but we have one advantage they don't," Shay pointed out as he leaned against the windows. "They're all out there sifting through train wreckage, and we have the kid."
"The kid?" Simon asked. Jim looked up sharply at Shay, trying to decide just how to take that comment.
"Me?" Blair asked.
"Hey, you called it. You said it'd be at the fort, and if the bomber hadn't had a stroke of really bad luck, that bomb would have gone off in soldier-boy central instead of taking out a whole lot of trees and peppering some houses over in Roy with shrapnel."
"The engineer died," Jim said as he reached that part in the report. The engine wasn't hauling any cars; no one knew why it was on the tracks at all. However, it was heading straight for Fort Lewis with enough explosives to make a real mess. It seemed wrong to describe it as lucky that the train prematurely exploded just past Roy, Washington. One dead and three injured.
"Man, that doesn't sound very professional. Maybe this isn't an expert," Blair said softly. "Maybe we just assumed that too quickly. I mean, maybe we're making all kinds of assumptions here."
Jim shook his head. "Explosives are tricky. Even an experienced munitions office can get caught by materials that are old or have impurities, and buying on the black market means he's not getting the best quality."
"So maybe the engineer was the Switchman," Simon suggested.
"That'd be handy. Unfortunately, I think it'd be a little too handy. More like wishful thinking," Shay said as he stared out the window.
"I think we should run with the assumption that the bomber wasn't on the train until the FBI can track down the body's identity, and given the shape the body was in, that may take a while. A long while," Collins added. "Which is why we came back to the only lead that has been of any help--Sandburg."
"Sandburg was a lead?" Simon asked.
"He came up with the whole transformation theory, and that predicted the bombing at Roy. If he did it once, he can do it again," Collins explained. Jim could feel Blair press into him for a second, and he could imagine the blind panic rolling through Blair. Before he could open his mouth, Blair had slipped into character and shook his head.
"But the transformation ends at that fort, man. Jim becomes an officer. He's changed, and if the Switchman is focusing on movement or change, that should be the end of the line." Blair started pacing the small space, shoving his hair back away from his face absentmindedly.
"So, it's over? This nutjob is done?" Shay asked, and he didn't even try to hide his disbelief of that one.
Blair shook his head. "No way. I mean, yeah, it's harder to predict now. Where could he go from here? Maybe he doesn't consider the job at the fort done since he missed it, but man, no way is he getting near there now. And he's still fixated on Jim. Focused on Jim's military service, so the next big transformation was Jim's time in Peru. I mean, abandoned in the jungle by your own superiors and going native? That's, like, huge. Transformation central."
"So, you want us to contact the Peruvian embassy?" Simon asked dryly. The tone made Jim glare at his boss, but Blair just shook his head, a frown of concentration on his face.
"He wants to. He wants to go to Peru, but that's too far. He's too into control, and he can't control conditions in Peru like he can here. He's comfortable here. And after the last bomb went off prematurely, he's totally feeling insecure in his manhood."
"Premature going off does that to a man," Shay pointed out.
"So, he can't stop," Blair kept going, ignoring the interruption and the innuendo. "If he does, this is the last thing he does... this is the thing that gets remembered. So, he has to find a new target, and one close enough that everyone who saw him fuck up sees that he can do it right."
"So, something big," Jim said quietly. "Something big, and something connected to me."
"Yeah," Blair agreed softly.
"Maybe we should get a profiler in on this," Simon suggested.
Blair nodded. "Totally. We should totally get a profiler in because this is way over my head."
"We brought everything we have. If we could get a room set up..." Collins suggested. Jim noticed the box at his feet.
"The FBI is going to set up in Tacoma," Simon answered, not exactly denying them working space, but not inviting anyone to unpack and stay, either.
"The transformation is done there. He followed Jim from Tacoma to the fort, but Jim disappeared into covert ops land after that," Blair said quietly. He didn't say more, but Jim could follow that train of thought rather easily.
"If he can't follow my trail to covert ops, he'll have to pick up my trail when I come back. He'll focus on when I changed from a soldier into a cop." Jim's guts tightened at the new targets: this station, the Two-Nine where he'd worked Vice before transferring to Vice at Central Precinct, the loft, the police academy.
"Which would take the nutjob right here to Cascade," Shay concluded. "That sounds like a lead I can work with. So, let's get the stuff set up before the FBI figures out they're all chasing the wrong tail."
"Simon, can we use the blue conference room?" Jim turned to Simon. The man had a slightly bewildered expression, but that vanished under the cold facade of a slightly annoyed captain.
"Don't let me stop you." He rolled his eyes.
"Chief, you mind showing them the blue conference room?"
"The one right next to Sam's office?"
"That's the one."
"Man, you guys better watch out for her unless you enjoy having limbs verbally amputated, because Sam is one seriously scary lady," Blair laughed.
"Some woman cop don't scare me," Shay snorted as he watched Collins pick up the box.
"Oh man, she isn't even a cop. If she had a gun, I would so hide because that forensics lab with all its explosives is plenty scary enough." Blair was still telling the story of Sam and the flash powder and the new officer from Traffic when Blair led them out of the office. Jim watched while Blair grabbed his backpack from Jim's desk. When they headed out the Major Crimes doors, Jim turned back to Simon.
"Sir?" he asked.
"The kid is not a profiler. If you're basing your investigation on his crackpot theories, might I remind you that he is the one who suggested that some people grind bones and ingest them in order to gain the strength of the animal? If you'd believed him then, you would have been running around underground health food stores looking for someone selling ground dinosaur-bone tea."
"It was an idea."
"It was a bad idea."
"Yes," Jim agreed. "It was." Simon stared at him for a second. "It was one of a hundred bad ideas Blair comes up with in an average day. He doesn't have an edit button, so crazy ideas fall out his mouth as fast as he can think them. But he also has some good ideas in there."
"And how exactly do you plan to tell one from the other?"
Jim sighed. "Simon, I'm a detective. If I can't figure out a legitimate lead from just one of Blair's weird ideas, I don't deserve my badge. And this time, he does seem to be onto something."
"Something," Simon repeated.
"Simon," Jim said. God he hated this; he hated not knowing the words that would make Simon understand Blair. "He's helping."
"God, Jim. I just wish I could trust your judgment on that."
Jim stared at Simon for a second. Even in his worst time, right after he'd transferred in from Vice, right after his partner and a ransom had gone missing, right after his divorce from Caro, Simon had always trusted him. Now Jim felt the cold rock in his stomach at the idea that he had lost that trust for a reason that had nothing to do with his judgment.
"If you don't trust my judgment, maybe it's time for me to transfer to another department."
"Fuck. Where the hell did that come from?" Simon demanded.
"If you can't trust me..." Jim stared out into the bullpen, shutting down his feelings.
"I trust you, Ellison. I just think you're thinking with your dick. You did that with Plummer, too. Everyone in this department knew that you two were a disaster waiting to happen, but you went walking right into it with a smile on your face."
"This isn't about Caro," Jim said. He turned to face Simon. "This is about Blair. If you want me to work here, you need to understand that Blair is part of the package."
"Four weeks, Jim. Blair is part of the package for four weeks."
Jim looked at Simon for a second, for some reason surprised by a fact he already knew quite well.
"Then for the next four weeks, he deserves a little respect."
"That's funny, Ellison. I thought you were the one who always said respect had to be earned."
Jim looked at Simon for a second. "He stuck in there with the gay-bashing case, and ever since then, he's done a lot more than observe."
"And he comes up with ideas like grinding dinosaur bones for tea. Jim, you need to consider how much trust you're putting in the kid. If you want to sleep with him, that's your choice. But you keep trying to get him to fit in down here, and he's the proverbial square peg in a round hole. He doesn't fit, Jim." Simon turned away and focused on his computer, the conversation clearly over. Jim couldn't even come up with a response to that, so he just turned and walked away.
"Okay, who pissed in your cornflakes?" he asked as he pulled the seatbelt across his shoulder.
"Yep, that's a mature response," Blair said as he crossed his arms, but at least he did, in fact, drop it.
"Jesus, Sandburg. How much aftershave did you put on this morning?" Jim demanded as he rolled the window down. He coughed as he caught car fumes from the garage.
"How much... what?"
"Next time, use less if you plan to ride in the truck," Jim said as he started the engine and backed up a little faster than he needed to. They were meeting Collins and Shay at Pat's Cafe for lunch, but right now Jim just wanted to go home and nurse his headache.
"What are you doing?" Jim demanded as he steered out into traffic. Blair just stared at him.
"Oh, I'm observing," Blair said after a second of silence where he seemed to be at a loss for words. Jim looked over suspiciously.
"What exactly are you observing?"
"You losing your mind," Blair huffed. "Well, that and your arms. When you get frustrated, you flex your muscles. Man, you have seriously impressive arms."
"You're leering at my arms?" Jim asked as he glanced towards Blair, confused at the sudden turn in tone; Blair had gone from aggravation to sly lust in under one second. Even now, Jim found himself occasionally speechless over some of the things that fell out of Blair's mouth.
"Oh hell, yeah," Blair agreed enthusiastically. "I take any opportunity to ogle your arms. Your arms and your back," Blair corrected himself after a heartbeat. "Man, when you pick something up, those muscles ripple under your skin and that is seriously sexy. It's like a courtship display, like with a Sage Grouse, only instead of ruffling your feathers and puffing out your neck to show how white it is, you're flexing those muscles to show your strength. Very dominant. Very, very sexy."
"Sandburg, I don't even have an answer for that, but if you're comparing me to a bird, you might want to consider that I haven't tried out that new paddle yet," Jim threatened.
"And we're back to the fact that someone needs to explain the purpose of punishment to you because you're obviously a little confused." Blair smiled impishly. He gave his body a little shimmy of invitation before the abandoned topic caught his attention again. "Of course, lots of the guys do it. For Rafe, it's all about his clothes. He's showing off that family money of his. And Simon. Oh man. Do not get me started on Simon."
"Not a topic I want to discuss right now," Jim warned.
"All that shouting? Stereotypical dominant behavior. Like a bull elephant defining his territory by trumpeting. That whole bull pen is like one giant lek."
"Blair," Jim sighed. He'd long ago given up even pretending that he knew half as much trivia as Blair. Jim usually found it amusing how many rare and esoteric ideas the man had floating around in his head, especially when he could be so incredibly naive about other things. But right now, he was just too tired; too tired and too damn cranky.
"A lek: a courtship ground where male birds establish territories and then try to lure girl birds to them with their impressive dances and displays." Blair pushed ahead, ignoring Jim's frustration. "That bull pen is all about you guys showing off your big, bad, dominant selves. Even the name. Bull pen. Man, you could not find a name with more testosterone than 'bull.' Ever since Hemmingway did his whole male-centric writings with all those images of bull-fighters and the running of the bulls, American society has associated bulls with strength and virility. Although, to be fair, the imagery of the bull as strength does go back to Greek times."
"I don't think I'm trying to attract a girl," Jim pointed out dryly. Blair gave him a wicked grin.
"You're not, huh?"
"No, Chief, I can honestly say that I'm not at all interested in any of the girls."
"Not even Sam? Beautiful, strong, intelligent," Blair teased. Jim raised his eyebrows.
"Temperamental, aggressive, and potentially psychotic," Jim finished the list. He had to admit that he was more than a little amused watching Sam make a play for Blair. The man had flirted and smiled and then danced away from her and right back to Jim's side.
"Not your type?" Blair asked.
Jim shook his head. Clearly, he was not getting out of this conversation. "No. I go more for the strong, intelligent, submissive types."
"Really? I never would have guessed," Blair said with a twist of his hips.
"Strong, submissive, silent types," Jim amended himself.
"Whatever," Blair dismissed as he reached down and casually ran a hand over his own thigh.
"I'm driving here, Junior."
"Yeah, and you've got a headache, too."
"You have got to learn to process this anger. I have no idea who pissed in your cornflakes, but you can't keep pushing yourself, ignoring the pain." Blair took another conversation detour, ending up exactly where Jim did not want to be.
Jim narrowed his eyes and turned into the parking lot of the cafe. "I'm fine," he insisted tersely.
"Sure you are, but, man, you would be so much better if we just took a little break. Let's tell the guys that we need to head back to the loft for a bit." Blair reached over and let his hand rest on Jim's arm.
"Sandburg, I have a case to work here, so if you want to get your rocks off, I can drop you off at the loft and give you and your right hand some quality time together." Jim watched as Blair's face flashed with indecisiveness, an emotion he didn't often see on his lover, but then Blair set his face and tightened his hand.
"From the way you're wrinkling your forehead, you have a killer headache that is pounding away behind your eyes, and you aren't going to be worth spit if you don't take care of yourself."
"I'm fine," Jim snapped as he opened the truck door.
"Just keep pushing yourself. Just push until you drop from an aneurysm. See if I care when you're dead," Blair muttered sarcastically.
"You're nagging like a wife, Sandburg," Jim warned. "And since you are definitely not my wife, I might do something about it that I wouldn't have done to Caro." Jim got out and slammed the door. The cafe was crowded, a line out the door, and Collins and Shay stood near the end. Jim took a deep breath and tried to push away the frustration and general unease that had followed him all day.
"Hey, I'm not Carolyn. Whatever you want to do, I'm game for it," Blair said as he followed, obviously not willing to back down, even in the face of threats.
"I do not play when I'm angry, and right now, I'm angry," Jim said as he closed his eyes for a second.
"I've seen you angry, Ellison. This ain't it," Blair said with confidence as he leaned against the truck next to Jim. "This is more like frustrated or maybe you doing the macho stoic thing. Being much saner than all you alpha guys, I'm not really sure why you would hide pain. Or actually, I intellectually get it in a one-upmanship, power-dynamics kind of way; I just don't emotionally get why you would hide the fact that you're hurting."
"Sandburg," Jim said quietly.
"No way, man. You've seen me in so much pain that I'm totally out of control."
Jim closed his eyes and listened to the air, and had one of those strange flashes where he could swear he heard Sandburg's heartbeat just slightly out of tempo with his own. Control. It was fine for Blair to be out of control, but not for him. Jim tightened his jaw as his heartbeat pounded so loudly in his head that he couldn't hear past the rhythm.
Blair fell silent, but a warm hand touched Jim's arm. Blair's hand rubbed a small circle and slowly moved up, tracing a bicep and then stroking Jim's shoulder.
When Blair's hand disappeared, Jim opened his eyes to see Blair staring at the line. Jim glanced up to see Collins and Shay both looking at them. He stood up and put his hand on Blair's back, reestablishing the touch.
"Subtle, Jim," Blair said softly, but at least he didn't pull away from the touch as Jim pushed him toward the cafe.
"I don't believe in subtle; I'm an alpha dog." Jim set his jaw and braced himself for an interesting lunch with the Tacoma detectives.
Despite Jim's fears, which sounded suspiciously like Blair's fears, neither Tacoma cop mentioned the touching as they got their table. The conversation focused on the lack of a pattern, the fact that none of the Tacoma sites were significant to Jim, and their inability to connect the Tacoma sites in any other way.
Blair picked up a piece of fried cheese from the basket. "The city is about Jim, but the places have to be connected to someone else. Maybe we could get the post office's employment records from the time Jim was living in Tacoma."
"You obviously haven't been riding long," Shay dismissed that idea as he shoved an entire potato skin in his mouth.
Jim watched the other diners as he let the case-talk float by him. An overweight, middle-aged woman in a T-shirt with a picture of a bulldog on it kept darting looks towards Shay. Two businessmen sat at a table, each on a cell phone to someone else. Their waitress was hitting on a college kid who had a book on feminist literature strategically placed on his table. Jim had played that trick more than once during his undergraduate days.
"What?" Blair asked Shay.
"The federal government is not good at sharing with us lowly peons," Collins filled in.
Two kids played swords with French fries while their mother cut up food for their little sister. A dark-haired businesswoman in a tan jacket read the menu. Two Indian men laughed far too loudly for the public setting, and the older couple sitting next to them kept looking over disapprovingly.
"But if the FBI is involved, they're the federal government too, so maybe this task force thing could work out."
"You really haven't been riding long," Shay laughed. Jim gave up watching the crowd for a second to focus on the other detective.
"The FBI would have a better chance with the records than we would," Jim sided with Blair.
"Better than ours, sure, but they're still about as likely to get them as I am to make third base with Sister Mary Margaret who feeds the homeless down on South 72nd."
"Even thinking about making out with a nun is like hugely bad karma," Blair complained softly and Shay laughed.
"Not as bad as actually doing it," he shot back. Jim reached over Blair and grabbed one of his fried cheese sticks as he now divided his attention between the room and Shay.
"If it's a task force, we can ask them to look for those records." Jim narrowed his eyes and dared Shay to contradict him.
"Ask away," Shay shrugged. "I just don't think you're getting them."
"Maybe we're asking the wrong people," Blair said quietly. "I mean, people file lawsuits all the time. The post office has, like, hundreds of them filed each year: equal opportunity cases, wrongful termination, sexual harassment."
"Good for them; your point?" Shay asked.
"So, we look for a public record. If there were lawsuits filed against that courthouse, the list of witnesses should give us a pretty good idea of who might have worked there," Blair pointed out triumphantly.
The table fell silent. Jim ignored the trucker ordering a hamburger and focused on the Tacoma detectives. Collins was smiling, and Shay just looked stunned.
"Shit," Shay finally announced to the table. "When I get a ride-along, I get stuck with some snot-nosed kid with acne who wants to play with my handcuffs. You got a good one, Ellison."
Jim nearly choked on his coffee when his imagination provided him with an image of Sandburg and his handcuffs.
"Yeah, laugh away, Ellison, but you have no idea. One asked where we locked up the hookers. He just wanted to have a quick look, and maybe a little privacy."
"I remember him," Collins nodded sympathetically. "That kid was a sex offender in training. Even the hooker in booking demanded that I get him away or make him pay her fee after he ogled her until he was damn near coming in his pants."
"Yeah, exactly. The captain hates me."
"Hate's a little strong. Maybe just... dislikes," Collins suggested to his partner.
"Next time, I'm demanding that I get the ride-along with the college degree who actually has something intelligent to say on the case."
"I could do a search through the legal database on campus," Blair suggested, smiling under the praise. "I know the database pretty well since I did some work on legal access and the poor. Besides, sometimes I just read the Supreme Court transcripts because those guys are incredibly mean for judges."
"If you want to trade," Shay joked to Jim, "I have a good bottle of whiskey and a season ticket to the Mariners I'll trade you for Sandburg."
The wave of emotion that crashed into Jim left him unable to answer the joke. He'd never been jealous, and the feeling now wasn't exactly jealousy, but Jim knew he'd cut off his right arm before he'd trade Blair. He knew a small part of him wanted to cut off Shay's right arm for even suggesting it.
"No deal." Jim frowned as he scanned the room again.
"Okay, I have to ask," Collins said. "What has you so twitchy? When the special-ops trained veteran starts looking at a lunch crowd like he expects to find a terrorist plot in the middle of the room, I get a little nervous."
"It's nothing," Jim said as he forced himself to stop focusing on the other tables. The waitress appeared with their meals.
"Jim?" Blair asked quietly.
"Just a headache," Jim answered as he focused on his hamburger. The talk disappeared as everyone ate, but Jim couldn't keep himself from watching the crowd. Something teased at the edge of his awareness and his headache was getting worse. Eating as fast as he could, Jim waited impatiently for Blair to finish.
"We'll meet you back at the station," Jim said the moment Blair put the last bite of chicken in his mouth. Blair blinked at him in surprise as Jim stood up and dropped a couple of twenties on the table.
"We're on an expense account here; lunch is on us," Collins argued, but Jim just got a hand under Blair's elbow and started pulling him away.
"We'll... um... see you at the station," Blair excused himself as Jim pulled him away from the table.
"What is your problem, Ellison? I mean, yeah, I've accused you of being a caveman a time or two, but this is a little too caveman for even you."
Jim tightened his jaw as he pulled Blair out into the daylight and started a fast walk toward the truck that left Blair trotting to keep up.
"Man, what is UP with you?"
Jim stopped at the passenger side of the truck. "I don't know. I just have this feeling, and it's the kind of feeling I used to get right before someone started shooting at my unit."
"Sixth sense?" Blair asked, irritation vanishing under the fascination that now lit his eyes.
"No." Jim glared. "When you have a lot of training, sometimes the environment will have some danger signals that are too subtle to actually identify."
"So, you're picking up danger?" Blair asked. He looked around the parking lot as though he expected to find whatever had Jim's guard up.
"I don't know. I just know I want you out of here. We'll call the station from the loft, but right now, I want you somewhere secure." Jim opened the passenger side door and started physically pushing Blair to get in.
"Oh, wait, I need to tell the guys that I'm teaching class tomorrow morning. I'll check the legal database right after class."
"Sandburg," Jim threatened when Blair started struggling to get past him.
"There they are," Blair said as he gestured toward the cafe door. "I won't even be out of sight. I'll walk over there, tell them, and come right back."
"I'll tell them when I go back to the station after getting you home safe."
"Man, you are being a completely unreasonable prick. And they're watching you manhandle me, so if you expect me to have any credibility at all, please, just let me say two sentences to them, and then you can do your weird alpha dog thing and drag me away to the loft."
Jim sighed as he glanced over. Collins and Shay were talking near their car, and both men were glancing over curiously.
"You're probably just doing some strange territorial thing because Shay tried to buy me."
"Blair," Jim sighed and then backed up a step, letting him slip by. Blair jogged over to the Tacoma cops, and Jim walked to the back of the truck to watch. A breeze blew, and Jim sniffed the air. He trotted towards Collin's car, toward the sharp smell.
"--get you that tomorrow," Blair was saying as Jim drifted closer.
"Do you smell that?" Jim asked as he walked parallel to the Tacoma car.
"Smell what?" Collins asked as he exchanged a look with his partner.
Jim knelt down and looked under the back of the car. Red numbers clicked off. Nine... eight... seven... Jim stood up and grabbed Blair's arm.
"Bomb!" he yelled as he took off for the truck, practically dragging Blair along with him. Shoving his partner to the ground behind the truck, Jim threw his own body over Blair and waited the half second before the car exploded in a deafening blast.
"Shit," Blair breathed, and Jim could feel him tremble even as pieces of the car fell back to the ground with clangs and thuds. Jim sat up with his weapon drawn as he tried to identify any threat in the area. Blair's heartbeat pounded in his ears, and he could hear the wail as the fire made the metal stretch and bend.
"Jim?" Blair asked, his voice booming in Jim's head. "Collins and Shay?"
Jim pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dropped it on Blair's stomach as he continued to cover the growing crowd.
"Call it in to Major Crimes," he said tersely. Cars had braked on the road, and people stood by their doors staring at the fireball. Jim could hear car radios and cursing and people using cell phones to call 911. He could hear the cracking of glass from the fire. He could hear Shay cursing up a blue streak.
Nowhere could he find any danger. Slowly, Blair's voice went from a bellow in his head to the normal, if slightly panicked tones, of his observer.
"--haven't seen Collins and Shay.... I don't know.... He's right here." Blair held the phone out, and Jim lowered his weapon without putting it away.
"Jim, what the hell is going on?" Simon demanded.
"I think we're getting close," Jim answered as he finally looked back toward the explosion. The side of the cafe was scorched black, and the car was an unrecognizable pile of burning scrap. In the distance, sirens screamed. Looking past the smoke, Jim could see Collins and Shay near the cafe door. Collins was bare-chested, and he was holding his shirt to Shay's side. Blood was soaking into the blue fabric. "I think we're getting way too close for the Switchman."
Jim sat next to Blair in the waiting room of Emergency.
"Exactly. Your pattern doesn't hold up." Simon declared as though winning some victory. "Jim, the FBI is sending an investigator down. The connection between this and the other Switchman cases isn't strong enough to get them to release information on the Roy bombing, but they are interested in looking over our information on this one."
"Great," Jim answered dryly.
Simon took his unlit cigar out of his mouth and tucked it into his jacket. "Some parts of this just don't make sense, though. How did you know the bomb was there?"
"I could smell it," Jim answered for the third time.
"You smelled odorless explosives?"
"Oh man, you were complaining about my aftershave."
"Your hygiene is not the point here, Sandburg." Simon glared for a second. "Jim, this is going to sound strange to the investigators. Too strange."
"It's not strange. It's heightened smell. Man, I study heightened senses, or at least I did before your cops pissed me off so that I insisted on riding along on the gay-bashing case, and smell is the most common manifestation. A lot of people have smell combined with taste, but if Jim had heightened taste, I think I would have noticed something. I mean, we had Thai the other day, and someone with heightened taste would have scraped his own taste buds off."
"Sandburg. Another time," Simon insisted, his jaw clenched.
"If you're right, how do we get this to go away?" Jim asked as he leaned back and really studied Blair. He was almost bouncing, the energy winding him up about as tightly as Jim had ever seen him. For a second, he had a nice little fantasy about taking out his cuffs and restraining Blair until some of the energy drained off. No wonder the guy could constantly eat, not work out, and still stay in relatively good shape. He just bounced.
"Go away?" Blair demanded incredulously. He blinked at Jim in clear horror. "No way. This is important. I mean, imagine a cop with a heightened sense of smell. That could be amazing in the field. And some people have multiple heightened senses, like taste and smell or touch and hearing; that's another fairly common pairing. Probably because hearing basically is a form of touch, it's just the feeling of the sound vibrations moving the structures of the ear, but it's still feeling."
"I could hear things on scene," Jim admitted. Simon had been glaring at Blair, but now he turned that glare to Jim even as Blair's face lit with enthusiasm.
"Really? Oh man, is this the first time? I mean, you must have been in high-risk situations before. Oh man, you said you sometimes got feelings without knowing where the danger was coming from. I bet that was you at least partially processing your heightened senses. Oh, man."
"Stop saying that, Sandburg," Simon interrupted. "Jim, maybe we should get you checked out."
"Maybe we should," Jim agreed tiredly. "I felt like I could hear Blair's heartbeat and hear the metal shrieking in that fire. This isn't normal."
"It's completely normal. Medicine isn't going to help you. Heightened senses are a perfectly normal phenomenon. In the perfume industry, they call people with an enhanced sense of scent 'noses.' You have tasters in the food industry, and some musicians have a fine enough ear to identify one out of tune instrument in an entire orchestra."
"Jim is not a musician."
"Of course he's not, but in Vietnam, the Vietnamese scouts could smell the enemy--"
"The Americans had to change their diet in order to hide their scent," Jim finished. "In the army, they talk about not underestimating an enemy that doesn't have advanced weaponry. Some of them can do some amazing things."
"Yeah, exactly, and you can do some amazing things too. Oh man, Jim, you have to let me do some tests for my dissertation. I mean, I've interviewed thousands of people, but none of them had just figured out that they had heightened senses. This could be really big. I mean, you repressed having heightened senses, or maybe you had them and you just thought everyone else had them too. We have to test now, to see if you're more sensitive than normal or if this is normal for you, and you just didn't know that you weren't normal-normal."
"Chief, not now," Jim said as he stood up. The doctor came walking into the room. Collins had been sitting to one side, his shirt back on, but covered in Shay's blood. When Jim had offered him another shirt, Collins just shook his head and stared at the far wall. Now Collins stood up and closed in on the doctor.
"Detective Shay has a good chance. He's in surgery for a perforated bowel, but the damage appears minimal, and the shrapnel exited without touching any other organs. His vitals are strong. He'll be here for a while, but he has a good chance for a full recovery."
Collins listened to the doctor with a tense alertness, but at the end of the speech, he sank back down into the chair. Jim felt some sympathy. If it had been Blair caught by a piece of flying metal, Jim would have shoved his way right into the exam room.
"My captain wants a report. I should..." Collins just stopped.
"Why don't you go to the precinct? You can use one of the Major Crimes computers to write up what you need to," Simon suggested.
"I'll drive you," Jim quickly added. The man didn't look able to navigate the room, much less drive across the city.
"Jim, I think you need to get checked out first."
"I can drive," Blair offered.
"I'm heading back to the precinct anyway," Jim headed off that suggestion. Right now, he just wanted Blair close enough to keep an eye on. "I'll make an appointment with my own doctor, Simon, but this is not something for the emergency room."
"Are you okay?" Collins asked as he suddenly studied Jim much more closely.
"I'm fine," Jim said as he slipped his hand to Blair's back and started pushing him toward the exit.
"He's more than fine. There's nothing wrong with him," Blair seconded that. Before Simon could answer, Jim held up a hand to stop him.
"I will make the appointment, but right now, I need to write up my report before the FBI descends on us with this task force." Jim hated the fact that the FBI would take over the case and most likely treat him like just another witness. "Simon, just make sure I end up on this task force."
"It won't be easy since none of the bombings were here, but I'll do my best," Simon nodded. Not waiting for Simon to voice any other complaints, Jim headed for the door. Behind him, Collins' footsteps echoed against the walls, and clearly his hearing was still a little sensitive.
Jim used his hand to guide Blair around to the driver's side of the truck, opening the F150's door and waiting as Blair slid into the back.
"Thanks," Collins said as he got in the passenger side. Jim wasn't sure if the detective meant the ride or the incident with the car bomb, but he nodded.
"Shay's too mean to let a little metal keep him down long," Jim told the man as he started the truck.
"No joke. He'll be fine." Collins stared out the front window for a second. The smell of blood was thick in the truck, and Jim cracked the window open and turned on the vents. "So, you're going to look up any lawsuits tomorrow?" Collins asked as he looked into the back seat.
"Yeah, no problem," Blair agreed. "The post office was the deadliest bombing, so there has to be something there. I mean, the bridge could have gone at rush hour and gotten a lot more casualties, but the Switchman set it off in the middle of the night instead. The post office was the first bomb that was really designed to kill. I suppose he could just be escalating, but if that's the case, why bomb just one car just now? It just really feels like the post office was special somehow."
"Obviously, he's okay with killing now," Collins said quietly. He took a deep breath, and even Blair seemed to know that it was a good time to be quiet. Eventually Collins added, "That bomb would have taken us both out."
"And that might have been the point," Blair said quietly. "It's the break in the pattern that I couldn't figure, but the pattern is Jim."
"What are you talking about, Chief?" Jim encouraged him when Blair fell silent. Looking in the rear view mirror, he could see Blair chewing on his lip as he stared out into the street.
"Think about it. He's been slowly building up to bringing this home to you, Jim. From the letter, he clearly thinks you should be in charge of this. Only now he's ready for the grand finale, and you go and bring in these other guys. He wants this to be man to man, but Collins and Shay are in the middle, and because this is technically their case and not yours, he isn't even really engaging you."
"So he wanted us out of the way," Collins said softly. "Maybe. It's an odd logic, but it makes sense."
"In that case, we need to get a guard on Shay at the hospital," Jim realized as he grabbed the radio. A quick call to dispatch had a uniform with a message heading to the hospital. "This still doesn't make it my case," Jim pointed out.
"Yeah, which is why he needs to do something here," Blair mused. "Something big. Something that trumps Tacoma and their casualties and Roy with the dead engineer. The bomb on the train might not have even been a mistake. Maybe he knew that if he blew up the train in the fort the FBI would have crowded you right out of the case."
"Which would imply that he understands interdepartmental politics," Jim said softly. That wasn't a good sign.
"Ah fuck," Collins swore just as quietly. "Something we kept out of the report... the Switchman wrote 10-95-020 (6) at the bottom of that first email he sent."
"What?!" Jim's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"It was our hold back. Our captain didn't even want it in the internal reports, for the obvious reason. And when the Switchman started showing so much interest in you..." Collins let his words trail off.
"You thought it might be me," Jim finished. Anger swept through him when he realized what Collins and Shay had been thinking. Fuck. No wonder they were so quick to share. The whole time they had been feeling him out, trying to decide if he was the kind of sicko who would blow people up to grab a little of the spotlight.
"Hey, someone want to let me in on the secret code, or is this one of those things where you would have to kill me if you told me?" Blair leaned forward so that Jim could practically feel the man's breath on the back of his neck.
"It's the code for a capital crime... specifically the law defining it a capital crime to commit a murder in order to advance your position in a group. It's the gang-killing law. But not many people go looking up criminal codes."
"So it's probably someone who knows criminal code... and who understands department politics. Oh fuck," Blair whispered as he put the pieces together. "But man, you have got to know that no way does Jim fit the profile."
"Yeah, we had our doubts, but sometimes you have to play even the long odds, Sandburg. However, you two didn't have any time to set the bomb in the car, and Jim saved our asses. Even more convincingly, he saved our asses and then ducked all the press who came flocking to the scene like vultures after rotting meat."
Jim snorted. "The day I stick around for the press, someone needs to arrest me."
"Wait, what emails?" Blair suddenly asked before Jim had a chance to ask the same question.
"We have a number of emails that came into our tip line. They were addressed to Detective Ellison, but they were sent to us in Tacoma."
"Okay, this officially doesn't make any sense," Blair complained. "Jim wasn't in Tacoma. And if he wrote a letter to us in Cascade, why email you in Tacoma?"
"Yeah, that's why he's a crackpot. I mean, right now he's building a pretty good case for an insanity plea."
"No joke." Blair fell silent. Jim focused on the road. This was incredibly fucked-up. Jim hadn't been part of anything this fucked-up since leaving the army. In the silence, the normal police chatter on the radio suddenly demanded attention. Immediately, Jim turned the radio up.
"All cars, explosion off 9th and Coastal, slip 198. Ferry sinking in Puget Sound. Multiple casualties. Ambulances en route. All cars west of Madison report."
"Ah fuck! Geez, Sandburg, can't you be wrong just one fucking time?" Collins demanded as he slammed his fist into the dash of Jim's truck. Jim flipped on the lights and did an illegal and dangerous U-turn in the middle of the street. Horns blared, and he drove two wheels up on the curb before getting turned around.
"Oh man, I'm wrong all the time. I blither crackpot ideas. I suggested Jim look for dinosaur bones in tea shops. Ask Simon--I am so not the one to listen to when I get to brainstorming out loud. This being right thing is really starting to freak me out," Blair said helplessly from the backseat.
"Just keep being right until we catch this guy, Chief. A ferry going up in the middle of the Sound? We aren't talking about just property damage or one or two dead, not on something like this."
"Well, this asshole got what he wanted. He brought it home to you, Ellison." Collins' face was devoid of all emotion.
"And I'm going to make him sorry he ever stepped foot in Cascade," Jim growled through clenched teeth.
Jim walked in the loft and dropped the keys on the table without breaking stride.
"You want one?" he asked as he headed for the refrigerator and the beer.
"Yeah. Man, I never want to see something like that again," Blair whispered. Jim pulled the two bottles out and twisted the caps off, tossing them at the sink before heading for the living room. Blair was already perched on the end of the couch, his arms wrapped around his stomach.
"It could have been worse," Jim pointed out, but even as he said it, he remembered the wide eyes of a kid no older than Simon's boy. He'd been staring at the place where his leg ended in a bloody stump wrapped in someone's ruined jacket. He held the second beer out for Blair.
"Okay, this is me not thinking of what worse would have looked like. I feel like I just visited a war zone."
Jim sat next to Blair and reached out to pull the man into a one-handed hug. Blair sprang up and started pacing, the beer dangling from one hand. Giving Blair a chance to run off some of his energy, Jim took a deep drink and stared at the wall. For whatever the reason, this killer had come to Cascade because of Jim. He scratched at his arm as he considered his next move. He had to get ahead of the nutcase.
"I feel like I should be doing something," Blair said as he made a pass from the balcony to the table.
"There's nothing to do right now. Tomorrow morning I'll hit the marinas. If I go in person, I can ask people on the docks if they've seen the boat, and the marina workers may be more willing to take the questions more seriously than they would if I just called on the phone."
"You think that boat that was following them..." Blair let his words trail off.
"It makes sense. Tourists would have stuck around to either grab survivors out of the water or take pictures. That guy took off the minute the fireworks went off."
"How can you do that?" Blair demanded angrily. He was still on the kitchen side, and he planted a fist into the pillar hard enough that Jim could hear the thunk. "How can you just kill people like that? I mean, I've studied killings. The Aztecs took the strength of the enemy and sent their own children to the afterlife to live with the gods. The South African manhood ceremony includes circumcision with an un-sterilized knife, and more boys than I care to think about have died from the infection. And war. Okay, that's big on the senseless scale, but each side clings to this moral certainty. But this?" Blair stopped, his air gone as he breathed heavily.
"Did you see that girl? Did you see her?" he whispered.
"Chief," Jim said softly as he got up to intercept Blair on his next round of pacing. "You have to learn to check the emotions at the door. You can't get this worked up."
"Check the emotions?" Blair demanded. "How the hell do I check my emotions? I'm not some fucking machine," he shouted. Then he shoved Jim away and headed for the balcony where he stared out at the dark city.
"Blair," Jim warned. He wasn't a machine; he had just learned to control those emotions that threatened to rip through him.
"I can't do this. I can't keep the image of that little girl out of my head. How do you do this?" Blair asked, his voice so small and broken that Jim couldn't resist the urge to offer comfort. He walked up behind Blair and wrapped his arms around him. For a second, Blair stood stiff in his embrace, and then he sagged. Jim tightened his hold.
"You can do this. Focus on what you can do, not on what happened," Jim whispered.
"No matter what I do, another bomb is going to go off. If it's another one like this.... How do you do this? What do you say to yourself that keeps you from flying out of your own skin?"
Jim took both beer bottles and reached behind him with one hand to set them on the end table without letting go of Blair. "I focus on what I have to do. I'll track down every marina. I'll find every boat that matches the witness description. I'll have Brian and Henri track down any rejects from the police academy who might have been in the service. I'll do everything I can to make sure I catch him before the next bomb goes off."
"And I'm teaching Anthro 105 tomorrow morning. Not exactly helpful," Blair snorted derisively.
Jim pulled Blair back toward the couch, refusing to let go even as he sat so that Blair ended up on top of him.
"Everyone who goes on the next day is doing something... they're not letting this asshole control their lives."
"I just..." Blair stopped again and shifted awkwardly, but Jim didn't let go.
"I'm not good with words, Chief. I know what you're feeling because I'm feeling the same thing, but all I can do is focus on what needs to be done, and I can't do that if I don't check my emotions."
"Man, I'd suck as a cop then."
Jim could hear the ragged breaths and smell the salt in the air. He loosened his hold, and Blair wiggled around so that he lay with his cheek on Jim's chest.
"I'm not normally this weak. I'm really not. I mean, yeah, I play a mean game of sub, but I've been taking care of myself since I was sixteen."
"You aren't weak," Jim muttered as he reached up and stroked the curly hair. "You were in there with the wounded. You held that little girl and comforted her."
"I lied to her, man."
"You said what you had to. You made her feel safe."
"When she wasn't," Blair argued.
"Every cop at that scene saw how strong you were, Chief. Every single one of them. And crying now doesn't change the fact that you kept it together at the scene."
"Man, for someone who isn't good with words, you have this speech down. I know you're right. I do. But man, I just wish I could..." Blair shivered. "Hey, I could do that search for lawsuits now," Blair suddenly said as he pushed against Jim's chest. "My laptop connects with the school server."
Jim held on for a second as Blair struggled against the embrace. He considered holding the man, forcing the energy and panic from him the way he had in the past. If he got out the chains, Blair would sink into that place where he didn't have to fight. But unless Jim planned to keep Blair chained all the time, the kid would have to deal with the world Jim lived in. After entertaining a brief fantasy of a universe where he could keep Blair on a leash and protect him forever from all the pain the man seemed to feel so intimately, Jim let go.
Blair bounced up and grabbed his bag from next to the door. Faster than Jim could pick up his beer, Blair had his laptop set up on the kitchen table, a cord draping across to the phone jack and the machine clicking away as it started up.
"I'll pull as many names as I can. Maybe you or Collins will recognize someone. Or, we could have Henri and Brian check my list against the background checks you're going to do. He's in here somewhere," Blair said as he anxiously tapped the side of the computer, waiting for the programs to load.
"Until midnight," Jim said firmly. "You have until midnight and then your laptop turns into a pumpkin."
"I should be finished by then, no problem. This isn't even a particularly difficult search. I don't know the legal database that well, but after doing my searches for Sentinels, this has to be a piece of cake. I mean, Burton wrote the one book on the topic, but other than that, I've had to track down a dozen one-line references in a half-dozen different languages. Man, that is a challenge, but this is a piece of cake."
Jim leaned against the table as he watched Blair's hands nervously pick at the edge of a paper as he waited.
"These senses, they're pretty normal then?"
"The senses? Oh," Blair said, his attention suddenly focused all on Jim. "Yeah, man. They're not common, not by a long shot, but they're normal. Some insurance companies will even insure them. You know, if you're a 'nose' for the perfume industry, they'll give you insurance on your ability to smell. So, have you noticed heightened senses before?"
"Not really," Jim said as he scratched his arm. "In the service, I had a reputation for knowing when to duck, but I wasn't the only guy who could do that."
"And the others may have had heightened senses too. An acute sense of hearing could make you a better soldier. Man, that would be a fascinating study: getting the military to allow for sensory testing on officers with a proven track record in active combat."
"I don't think they'd be very interested in letting you add the data to your dissertation," Jim pointed out. "The military isn't good at sharing."
"Yeah, like you cops aren't good at sharing and the FBI isn't good at sharing. You guys just have this whole non-sharing cultural norm going on. Very bad for your karma," Blair huffed as he logged into the university system. "It'd still be interesting."
"Dream on. Besides, I'm having this really funny mental image of you trying to test a bunch of marines," Jim smiled.
"Yeah, yeah. I'll have you know that I had more than my share of guys in uniform." Blair wiggled his eyebrows as he glanced up from the computer screen. Jim grinned back. Obviously, actually doing something was allowing Blair to let go of some of the pain and bounce back to his old self. Blair grabbed a floppy disk and shoved it in the machine before clicking on a number of links.
"There was this one mailman. He wore his uniform the whole evening when he bought time."
"A mailman. You think I'm going to be impressed with a mailman?"
"No?" Blair asked innocently, with that butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth expression that Jim had grown to know and distrust so well. "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor wind, nor dead of night," he intoned in his sexiest voice, which Jim could admit was pretty damn sexy.
"A mailman, Chief."
"Hey, a uniform's a uniform."
"You really believe that?" Jim asked with a smile. "I had been thinking about getting the old dress blues out, but if one uniform is like any other, what's the point?" Jim smirked when Blair's fingers froze in place over the keyboard.
"I wouldn't say a uniform's a uniform," Blair contradicted himself.
"Funny, I thought that was exactly what you said."
Blair shrugged as he returned to typing, his gaze still on the computer screen, but his expression definitely turning lustful. "If you want to try on the uniform, I'm always happy to indulge a kink. A little role play or fantasy is healthy in a relationship. Maybe we could play the captain and the recruit," Blair suggested.
"Got it!" Blair suddenly exclaimed with glee as he clicked the mouse. "Aw, fuck, only six witnesses listed. That's okay, plenty more cases here to go through, and why couldn't they list them by address instead of just by jurisdiction?" Blair frowned at the computer as though it were to blame for the lack of cross-referencing before he started clicking again.
"Captain Ellison in his dress blues taking charge of the raw, new recruit, oh yeah, I'm there for that fantasy."
"Giving him a military haircut," Jim teased. That brought Blair's eyes up from the screen. He studied Jim for a second before going back to focusing on the computer. "Har, har, Mr. doesn't have enough hair to grow it long."
"Oh, you are just itching to get put in a chastity device, Sandburg," Jim warned. Blair's fingers hesitated over the keys again. Jim remembered a day not so long ago when Blair had done the same thing to him. He'd struggled to type up reports on the gay-bashing case while Blair had teased him to a state where his control had been ready to snap. He'd had fantasies about tossing the kid on the desk and having him right there. Turnabout was not only fair but a hell of a lot of fun.
"You know, for a bright guy, you really aren't figuring out this punishment thing very well," Blair teased back. "Knowing that you held the key, knowing that your locks were on me, that you were controlling me, not really feeling like punishment."
"Oh, I think you'd crack," Jim said confidently. "I'd come over and over. I'd slip the plug out of you and use you, and never take the sheath off so that you couldn't even get hard. Then I'd lock it back in place, turn you over and go to sleep. Or maybe I'd lie there while you sucked me off, your hands helplessly groping at your cock and feeling only the hard plastic. How many days of that could you take?"
This time Blair's hands left the computer altogether, gripping the edge of the table. "Oh man, I have no idea, but I've always said that testing and research is the best cure for ignorance." Blair hesitated, and Jim could feel the mood shift in the room.
"Man, I'm joking like nothing happened. Shouldn't someone's death, I don't know, leave more of an impression than that? She was just a kid." Blair's hands fell limply to his lap as he stared at the computer.
"It left an impression. That's why you're working so hard, Chief," Jim pointed out. He reached out and let his hand rest on Blair's shoulder. "Life goes on, but you can't let it destroy you, or all the good you could do in the world is going to be lost."
"Okay, my head knows that," Blair looked up with a crooked grin, but then his eyes darted over to Jim's arm. "My god, what happened?" Blair demanded.
Jim looked down in confusion, but Blair was already out of the chair, tugging him towards the kitchen light. "Oh man, that must hurt like hell," Blair said as he ran a finger over Jim's upper arm. Jim flinched as he looked down at the angry red welts.
"Yeah, it kinda does. It's been itching ever since the paramedics took my blood pressure at the scene." Jim angled his body so that his shoulder was in the light. It looked like a series of bee stings, the skin actually stretched and shiny from the swelling.
"Hold on a sec," Blair said as he turned to the freezer and pulled out a bag of peas. Jim held it to the arm as he watched Blair hustle around the kitchen. "I need to try something. These aren't exactly perfect conditions for a test, but just turn around for a second and don't look. Better yet, close your eyes."
"What?" Jim asked, one eyebrow raised. The whole conversation was making him more than a little uncomfortable.
"Humor me." Blair gave his best pleading expression, and with a sigh, Jim turned around and closed his eyes while still holding the peas to his arm. The microwave dinged.
"Okay, just tell me if you feel hot, cold, or nothing."
"Nothing. Are we done now?" Jim asked.
"Wait until I tell you when. Geez, you're cranky." Blair did something, and Jim resisted the urge to look.
"Okay, how about now?"
"Cold," Jim answered as he felt the cool drift toward the back of his neck.
"Okay, this is getting old now. Cold, Sandburg. You're holding something cold near my neck, and it's more than a little annoying. So do whatever you're going to do back there before my patience runs out."
"Right, right. I'm getting there. Now."
"Hot," Jim answered as the same place on his neck felt the warmth soak in.
"Still hot." Jim turned around and Blair was standing a couple of feet behind him with a cooked potato speared on a fork in one hand and an ice cube in the other.
"Okay, even for you this is strange," Jim said as he waved toward the two objects. Blair dropped them on the counter.
"Man, you have heightened touch. I wouldn't have felt any of those; that gives you three enhanced senses. I only found two other people with three senses after years of testing, and here I am living with you and you have three."
"What?" Jim struggled to catch up with the conversation, but it was just too damn weird for him to process. "Look, Darwin, a potato and an ice cube don't prove anything."
"It was a temperature test. I couldn't have told what I had behind me, but you were off the charts. I've never tested anyone who could feel the stimulus so far away. That's what's wrong with your arm. Your skin is more sensitive, and something on the blood pressure cuff must be irritating the skin, like an allergy. Maybe something transferred from the last patient's skin. I mean, druggies can have all sorts of toxins leak out their pores. Or maybe it's the cleaner they used between patients. Some cleaners are irritants, and in small doses, the rest of us wouldn't even notice, but if you have heightened senses, that would exaggerate the effect. Oh man, have you ever noticed allergies or rashes before?" Blair asked, finally taking a breath.
"I had a few rashes when I was in the Middle East." Jim shrugged. "The doctors said it was environmental and gave me lotion."
"Quacks," Blair muttered. "Okay, we have to get that arm washed because whatever irritant was on the cuff is still on there. Hold on a sec," Blair said as he headed for the room under the stairs where his boxes were stored. Jim could hear him rattling around, tape tearing and paper dragging against paper.
"Blair," Jim called. "If you were standing here, would you be able to hear the masking tape ripping from the box?"
All sound stopped. Then something tiny, like a fly buzzing in his ear, annoyed him into motion. He walked to the room and pushed the curtain back. Blair was pulling a piece of tape from the cardboard one slow millimeter at a time.
"That's an annoying sound of you just tearing the tape. I didn't mean for you to try and be more quiet," Jim said.
"Whoa," Blair breathed. "Jim, I might have heard a faint sound from the tearing masking tape, but I couldn't hear anything when I pulled slow, and I'm sitting right here."
Jim scrubbed his hand over his face. This conversation was going past mildly annoying into outright disturbing. Before he could say anything, Blair held up a box wrapped in white paper.
"Woodsprite organic soap. Naomi sent me some for Hanukkah last year. Let's get that arm washed."
"I can wash myself," Jim pointed out as he held out his hand for the soap. Blair looked at him in confusion, and Jim sighed. "I would love you washing me just because you wanted to, but I don't need a nursemaid." Jim softened his voice. "You have work you want to do on the computer, and I can clean up whatever gunk those morons left on my skin."
"Yeah, I did want to do the search tonight," Blair said uncertainly.
"Exactly. I'm going to wash up and then head to bed, but remember, that computer turns into a pumpkin at midnight," Jim warned with a dire expression.
"Midnight, right, I got it," Blair agreed. "I'll even set my alarm." Blair picked up an old-fashioned alarm clock from the top of a stack of boxes.
"Blair," Jim said, struggling with a feeling of unease that slid around in his stomach. "Thanks for...." He raised the soap.
"The senses are normal, you know," Blair said softly, and Jim knew that his lover understood what he was trying to say. "They saved Collins and Shay today, and probably me too. Hell, they've probably been saving you your whole life."
Jim blinked as Blair's words mutated into foreign, but familiar tones. Someone saying something similar to him, telling him to find his Guide. He shook away the fragmented memory.
"I know," he answered, suddenly very tired. "I'll see you when you come upstairs, okay, Chief?"
"Yeah," Blair agreed. Jim turned and headed for the shower. This was getting just too weird for him. Too damn weird.
"Damn it," Jim growled as he cracked one eye open and looked around the dimly lit room. The alarm would be going off soon, and no way had Sandburg gotten up before the alarm. Jim swung his legs out of bed and padded downstairs. Sure enough, Blair was still sitting at the table, one arm flopped out on the table top, his head resting on it, his other hand still resting on the computer keyboard, and his hair flopped over his face.
Jim picked up the old-fashioned alarm sitting near Blair's laptop and looked at it. The little arm for the bell had been pushed back down at some point. He wondered if Blair had forgotten to set the alarm or if he'd just ignored it when it had gone off. Jim brushed the hair back from Blair's mouth and revealed a sizable drool stain on Blair's arm, dribbling down onto the table.
"Nice," Jim muttered as he looked at it. New house rule: no drooling on the table. Since it was too late--or too early rather--to get Blair to bed, Jim moved quietly to give him a few extra minutes of sleep. Hopefully, Blair had got some rest last night because it was going to be a long day.
"Tonight you're sleeping upstairs in chains," Jim whispered to the sleeping man. "You aren't doing anyone any favors wearing yourself out." Warning delivered, Jim headed for the shower.
Jim bolted out of the showers minutes later when the phone rang. Dripping onto the floor, he grabbed the phone on the third ring, but the sound hadn't interrupted Blair's drooling.
"Ellison," he said softly as he headed back for the bathroom.
"Jim, the task force is official," Simon offered without any 'hello.'
"Tell me you got me on it," Jim begged as he pushed the door shut.
"You owe me. I've been here since five this morning, but you're heading up the Cascade division. Now, don't get upset, but Carolyn is on this one."
"Carolyn?" Jim asked as he frowned at the mirror.
"Collins talked to the FBI, and their profiler agrees with him. The bomber is most likely to focus on Cascade, so Tacoma is sending new two guys, ATF is sending two, and the FBI is sending a special agent. We'll make up the rest of the task force, which means Carolyn is going to be in on this for technical support."
"Working with Carolyn isn't a problem," Jim said dismissively. "But why is Tacoma sending new guys?"
"Shay isn't exactly up for an investigation," Simon pointed out sarcastically. "Besides, their captain does not like the idea that they're being targeted. He seems to think that The Switchman will try to take Collins out again if he stays. That's also why the FBI announced that you're heading up the task force; they seem to think that will prevent The Switchman from targeting other investigators. But, Jim, this also means that if this goes bad, the blame is falling on your shoulders."
"They're buying Sandburg's interpretation of the Switchman's motives," Jim said, trying to keep the smugness out of his voice. From the heavy sigh on the other end, he guessed he'd failed.
"Only because their profiler agrees. They wouldn't just base an investigation on a graduate student's ramblings."
"I didn't either. I simply listened to them as a source of potential leads," Jim countered.
"Fine. But between Collins and Brown, they have the profiler convinced that Sandburg is some kind of wunderkind. I hope you plan on being there to pick up the pieces when he can't deliver the way these guys seem to think he's going to."
Jim stopped, his razor halfway down his cheek when Simon made that comment.
"I'll take care of Blair," Jim said quietly as he finished the stroke.
"Jim, you're getting tangled here, and the longer I know Sandburg, the more I'm getting worried for both of you."
"Simon, I'm not having this conversation again. How many died yesterday?"
Simon didn't answer right away, and Jim focused on shaving with the phone tucked into the crook of his neck. "We were lucky. Only three. The little girl Sandburg pulled out, a Joseph Kirby, age 62, and Darla Simcox, age 43. We have three more still in critical at the hospital, but it could have been a lot worse. If this had happened a few weeks later when it was colder and fewer people were out with their boats, this could have been a disaster."
"So, Blair's right. This guy is ready for the grand finale. He's going to come after me sooner or later, Simon."
"Yeah, well, he can't have you, Ellison. You owe me too many favors. Besides, I deserve a chance to give you some of the gray hair you've given me over the years."
"Just do me one more favor," Jim asked.
"Do I want to hear this?"
"Keep the task force away from me. I'm going down to the marina to try and track a boat owner."
"Jesus Christ, Ellison. You just asked me to get you on the task force, and now you're avoiding them? You're the head of the task force; what exactly am I supposed to say to these people?"
"I'm the head of the task force so that they have someone to blame if it all goes wrong; they'll be just as happy to avoid me as I am to avoid them. I just need a little time to investigate before getting caught up in paperwork, Simon. The feds want requests in triplicate to wipe your own ass, and I just don't work that way."
"One day, Ellison, you hear me? You have one day, and then I want your ass in here playing nice with the other kids on the playground."
"One day, Simon. Got it," Jim agreed.
"Yeah, right," Simon snorted. "Go follow your marina lead." The phone went dead. Jim smiled as he dropped it and soaped up the other side of his face. For all his complaining, Simon was a good man, and Jim wouldn't want to work for anyone else.
Out of curiosity, Jim focused on his hearing, struggling to hear if Blair was up and about yet. The drag of his razor across his face turned into a roar, and the building itself seemed to moan for a second before Jim could hear the steady breathing and slow heartbeat in the main room. Jim quickly finished and then rinsed his face before going out to find Blair still asleep, the steady heartbeat unchanged.
"Chief, rise and shine. You have class to teach this morning," Jim said as he shook Blair's shoulder. Blair muttered and smacked his lips with a slightly disgruntled expression. "Correction, you have to wash the table and then teach class this morning."
"Jim?" Blair asked as he cracked his eyes open. He pushed himself up, and Jim could see the wince as his back protested.
"Note to self, do not sleep at the table."
"You can consider that a new house rule," Jim agreed, "right after the rule about no drooling on the table."
"Oh man. Okay, that's actually a rule I can get behind because that's kinda..."
"Disgusting?" Jim filled in.
"Yeah," Blair agreed as he headed for the paper towels in the kitchen.
"What happened to going to bed at midnight?" Jim asked casually as Blair ran a paper towel under the faucet.
"I had to check every case by hand, and I was almost through when the alarm went off. I only needed a few more minutes, but I guess I fell asleep." Blair wiped the table and then stretched his arms over his head as his back popped. "I won't be doing that again. Man, you have one seriously uncomfortable table."
"I wouldn't know; I've never tried to sleep on it," Jim said dryly as Blair tossed the paper towel out and came back to pack up the laptop.
"Okay, I have the disk with all the names I could find, listed by lawsuit and filing date. Hopefully, one will either mean something to you or match with one of the background checks. Just let me change shirts, and we can go." Blair started for the stairs.
"Blair, you have class this morning; it's Thursday," Jim pointed out. "Call my cell phone when you're done, and I'll swing by the university and pick you up."
"You don't need to. I called Kiersten and asked her to cover my class this morning, so I'm all yours," Blair said as he hesitated. "Oh man, I didn't even think about the enhanced smell. I should shower. Can you wait five minutes?"
"You what?" Jim demanded as he stared at Blair.
"I'll be out in five minutes," Blair answered, ignoring the actual question as he dashed for the bathroom. Seven minutes later, Blair came running back out of the bathroom with a towel, his unwashed hair pulled back into a pony tail, dripping water as he hurried up the stairs.
"Slow down, you're going to break your neck," Jim yelled after him. The towel came flying over the railing at him, and Jim could hear soft cursing as Blair got tangled in his own underwear.
"For god's sake, Sandburg, I'm not in that much of a hurry."
"I'm coming, I'm coming."
Jim snatched the fallen towel from the floor and draped it over the back of a dining room chair as he leaned against the pillar and crossed his arms. No way was the kid putting his career on hold for Jim's job. Jim was drawing that line in the sand right now. Blair came rushing back down the stairs, one shoe on and carrying the other.
"Okay, I'm ready," he announced as he sat on the stairs and pulled his last shoe on.
"You're not going," Jim told him. Blair paused in the middle of tying his shoes and looked up.
"Forget it, Chief. I know you want to be involved with this case, but you are not going to put your job in jeopardy to spend time on this obsession. So, you are going to the university and teaching your class, and when you've finished with your responsibilities, I'll pick you up."
Blair stared at him stunned, and Jim stared right back, unwilling to compromise on this point. If Blair wouldn't put himself first in this relationship, then Jim would.
"You know, Ellison, you can really take the cake sometimes. What the hell gives you the right to tell me what to do with my job?"
Jim paused in the face of Blair's growing anger, but then he set his jaw. "I know you want to help, but you can't put this case ahead of your job. You have your own life, Chief. I'll find this sicko."
"Oh, for god's sake. Jim, you have the mothering instincts of a, well, pretty much any wild animal mother. However, I'm a grown man. You want to control my sexuality, and I am there with you, but you do not have control over what I do with my job."
"I control whether you ride with me or not."
"You don't let me in that truck, and I will follow you all day in my car."
"If I use lights, you can't keep up with me."
"I'll arrest you." Jim stepped forward, his arms still crossed.
"God save me from alpha males," Blair sighed. "You just fucking would. Listen, Mother Ellison, I do not owe you an explanation. However, I do not want to stand here and get in a metaphorical pissing contest with you because I already know I'll lose. First, Kiersten owes me because I covered her class for her. And since she's graduating, I either get the favor this semester, or I lose it, man. Second, me taking time off has nothing to do with the case. I have the legal research done, and I could just give you the disk. I'm going along because of your senses."
"What?" Jim had obviously missed something.
"Your senses," Blair repeated. "Once this thing with the police department is over, I'm going back to my research on heightened senses, and this is the ideal time to get some data on you. Three senses heightened--that's as many as anyone I've found. And I have a chance to go along with you and see if the senses make a difference in your investigation now that you're more self aware. I really wish I had baseline data on you, to determine whether the senses were triggered by the danger or just became more noticeable. I mean, have other cops commented on you knowing things when they couldn't figure out how you knew them?"
"My senses? You're coming along to observe my senses?" Jim asked.
"It's my dissertation, or at least it will be after my ride-along ends. Man, I am a big boy. I do not need you to tell me how to handle my job, and I am going along with you if I have to cling to the back bumper of the truck riding a skateboard."
"But." Jim just stopped. He had no way of answering that without losing more face. "The senses are gone," he lied instead. Blair looked at him strangely. "I woke up and everything's back to normal." Jim shrugged as he headed for the door. Blair grabbed his pack and followed.
"Everything's gone? Nothing unusual at all?"
"All perfectly normal," Jim confirmed as he headed for the stairs. That should leave Blair winded enough to just stop asking questions. Now Jim just had to figure out a way to evade Blair's questions in the truck. His stomach clenched at the thought of this conversation, something dark and fetid and bloated bobbing just under the surface of his memory. He pounded down the stairs faster, Blair falling behind as Jim hit the bottom and slammed the door open to the muggy Cascade air.
Blair still hadn't dropped the issue by the fourth marina. "Come on, just try to hear the birds over there," Blair asked as he followed Jim up the ramp. A few boaters were working on the pier, and Jim intended to ask them about the speedboat. Boaters noticed each other, so even if the Switchman had lied on official marina records, someone must have seen something.
"I'm working, Sandburg."
"I'm trying to work. But I have this really grouchy test subject."
Jim turned and glared, but Blair just smiled sweetly and blinked up at him. Rolling his eyes, Jim headed for the first boater.
"Morning. I'm Jim Ellison, Cascade Police Department, and this is a civilian observer with the department, Blair Sandburg. Do you have a minute?"
The older man frowned up at Jim's badge from where he was crouched on the pier adding a new screw to the ladder on the side of his boat. He pulled himself up and stuck the screwdriver in his pocket.
"Sure. This about the explosion yesterday? I wasn't even around."
"Only partially," Jim assured him. People didn't like getting involved in big cases, or at least many people didn't. He shrugged reassuringly as though this wasn't nearly as important as that. "We're just trying to find a witness, someone who drives a white speedboat, a Windy, with green trim."
"No, I haven't seen anything like that around, sorry." The man stood there awkwardly, and Jim nodded.
"Thanks anyway. You do see it, give me a call." He offered a card. The man took it, and looked at it, but Jim really didn't have much hope.
"Yeah, if I see anything like that," the man agreed before climbing up onto his boat.
"Well, this is going well," Blair whispered softly.
"Don't start, Junior; you're the one who invited himself along," Jim warned as he started to the next pier that stuck out into the ocean. Halfway down that pier, he could see a woman sunning on the deck of her ship.
"Aha!" Blair exclaimed triumphantly.
Jim turned and looked at him.
"You shouldn't have heard that," Blair announced, poking a finger towards Jim.
"Sandburg," Jim warned as he started walking again.
"Man, you only *think* the senses are gone. They're right there, just waiting for you to figure out how to use them. This could be huge, Jim. Enormous."
"Legally questionable," Jim pointed out. "Do I have to get a court order allowing me to use my enhanced hearing on a stakeout? If a suspect has an expectation of privacy and I listen in, I'm on some shaky ground in court."
"But the senses are normal. I can give the court at least a hundred cases of enhanced hearing, all documented. I've even written two papers on the connection between enhanced senses and creativity."
"Great, if I need a reason to take up finger painting, I'll have you explain it to Simon. But Chief, this is my job."
"Exactly, and the senses are part of you doing your job."
"You're like a bulldog with a bone," Jim sighed. "I'm starting to wish I had one of your gags here."
"Yeah, yeah, you can gag me later. But listen, Jim, this is a normal part of who you are. It saved my life. It saved Collins and Shay. Who knows how many times these senses have saved someone? You need to learn to--"
Jim reached out, putting fingers over Blair's lips. Tilting his head, he struggled to find what had caught his attention. "I hear something," he whispered. Metal scraped against fiberglass, followed by the softer brush of fibers. Rope or sail.
"What is it?" Blair whispered back, leaning forward so that his hands rested against Jim's back.
"Shhh," Jim admonished, annoyed with how loudly Blair had spoken. Focusing on the pier, he could hear the whorl-whip of a rope zipping through a pulley.
"I.." Blair started, and Jim growled. The man had the good sense to fall silent. A strange feeling of deja vu settled in Jim's stomach as he focused on those faint sounds.
"Damn it," a woman's voice cursed. He heard the faint tones of a dialing phone. For a second, the sound vanished under the crash of waves hitting the side of the boat and the creaking of wood.
"We're moving the final stage up." The woman's voice broke free of the waves and Jim scanned the marina for it. She had to be in one of the nearby boats.
"I don't care. Ellison is going down. I'm going to hurt him as badly as he hurt me when he took my father. So, you can either sell me the stuff, or I'll go somewhere else for the supplies."
Jim strained to hear the voice on the other end, his vision graying out. "Veronica, you're--" The words slipped away and Jim slid into a darkness where nothing existed.
"Jim, come on. No leaving the observer by himself, man. I'm about to call 911 if you don't wake your ass up, and you're totally freaking me out." The worried tone in Blair's voice dragged Jim back into a world where the sunlight threatened to burn out his eyes.
Throwing up an arm, he shaded his eyes and staggered back until Blair's hands at his waist helped balance him.
"Shit. You scared me out of two lifetimes of growth, man."
"Blair?" Jim struggled with his thick tongue.
"Unless someone knocked me out, dragged me off and then replaced me with a doppleganger, yeah. Of course, as out of it as you were, I'm not sure you would have noticed."
"Man, you have been out of it for over five minutes, and in terms of seizures, that's a pretty significant one."
"Seizure?" Jim turned to Blair, leaning on his shoulder when his own legs threatened to collapse. "I don't have seizures."
"And that's the weird thing. I would swear that was a petit mal seizure, but primary generalized seizures, the absence type anyway, are almost always in children. But you checked out on me."
"What suspect?" Blair looked around the marina, slightly panicked.
"I heard a woman. She's moving the timetable up. She's going to make me pay for taking her father."
"Oh shit," Blair breathed. "A few boats left, but I didn't even notice them. Man, I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, Chief. Oh fuck, the light is strong," he cursed as his attempt to open his eyes led him to press them closed and put a hand over them to stop the red flares from invading the darkness.
"Let's get you in the shade. Just lean on me, Jim," Blair said as his arm tightened around Jim's waist. Jim could only stumble after him, his hand still covering his eyes as a drop in temperature told them they'd reached the shade of the small gatehouse near the parking lot of the pier.
"Okay, we need to get your vision under control," Blair muttered, but the sound was almost lost in the fast thumping of his heart. Even with his eyes closed, green light filled his vision, mottled as the sun filtered through the jungle canopy.
"Like a balance," Incacha said as he set a small branch on top of a rock where it tilted but then stilled. "Listen too much and the branch falls." Incacha moved the branch and it tumbled off the rock.
"I can't hear the birds, no one could," Jim argued. He just wanted to go back to the hut. He was here to defend the pass, not listen to this mumbo jumbo about being some kind of freak.
"Do you want them to call you a freak?" his father's voice intruded into the memory.
"Balance," Incacha demanded his attention again. "Allow someone to hold the other end, and you can reach the birds," Incacha explained calmly as he replaced the branch, but this time he held the short end while the long end extended over the rock.
"Fuck," Jim cursed, "not now."
"Hey, I think now would be a great time to get this under control because 911 is still totally an option. Not a good one, but an option," Blair disagreed. "I think I know what's going on, but I'm clueless about how to make this any better, so try and work with me here, Jim."
"Lost my balance," Jim admitted, hating it even as the words escaped.
"With my vision. I lost the balance," Jim repeated.
"Oh. Okay, so that means that you just have to find the fulcrum again. Come on, if you lost your balance, that means you can find it. Find the point at which the light is just normal. Just, I don't know, slide around until you can find it."
Jim held Blair's shoulders and slowly the red glow behind his eyelids faded until he could risk cracking his eyes. Blair was looking up at him, worry etched deep into his face.
"Man, if you ever scare the shit out of me like that again," he breathed, and then he was plastered to Jim's front, strong arms wrapped around Jim, holding him.
"I'm fine," Jim promised as he let his cheek rest for a minute on the top of Blair's head. Then he released his own death grip, and they separated enough so that Blair could look up at him. He did feel fine, but Blair was looking at him in a way that made his disbelief silently obvious.
"I feel fine. And I've never had seizures before. Maybe..." Jim grasped at straws, not wanting to deal with the one explanation that now nudged his memory. "Maybe she slipped me some drug somehow."
"She?" Blair demanded.
"The suspect, Veronica. She was talking to someone on the phone, saying that she was moving the final stage up. She wants revenge because of what I did to her father." The name sounded familiar, but maybe the seizure or the drugs had scrambled his brains. Jim started down the central walk, listening for the woman's voice, but he could only hear sea birds crying through the cloudy sky.
"I don't hear her now. Shit." Jim slapped his hand down on the flat wood rail as he stared across the boats moored here.
"Oh man. It's true," Blair breathed softly. "Can you read that?" Blair asked as he pointed off to the far side of the marina to a white sign with red lettering.
"Mooring costs $7.14 per foot per month, including leasehold tax," Jim read.
"Oh man," Blair breathed again, and this time Jim glared at him. "I can't read that."
"So I have better eyes than you do."
"No, Jim, I can barely see red squiggles on the white, and I have perfect vision with my glasses on. No one could read that from here."
"What are you saying?" Jim asked, his guts tightening. He didn't want to be different. He wasn't a freak.
"Man, you're it."
"Sandburg," Jim growled. "I'm heading back to the precinct."
"A Sentinel! You're a Sentinel. You have four enhanced senses, and the odds of your smell being enhanced without your taste being affected are negligible. And then the seizure. Burton called that a zone out. You're a Sentinel."
"One of your tribal protectors?" Jim asked suspiciously. He wasn't tribal, and right now, he was feeling more homicidal than protective. He crossed his arms, but Blair totally ignored his forbidding body language. Instead, he turned and turned back as though he couldn't decide what to look at. Smiling brightly, he bounced on the balls of his feet.
"It fits. Burton described Sentinels as having a companion who would watch their back because sometimes so much sensory input would come in at once that they just stopped. It makes sense. The brain gets too many neurons firing at once, and a seizure is the normal response. Man, you're a Sentinel."
"Normal response?" Jim demanded. "Freezing in the middle of a crime scene is a normal response? How the fuck do I turn off this normal response?" Jim demanded.
Blair froze mid-bounce, looking up at Jim."I don't know."
"Then use that famous brain of yours, get out your books, and find a way," Jim demanded before he turned his back and stormed back toward the truck.
"But, Jim," Blair protested as he chased after him. Jim ignored the little warning of dread in his stomach that told him not to turn away from his partner. Everyone else knew the cocky, mouthy, indomitable Blair, but Jim knew how fragile that facade could be. "You're a walking crime lab, a living observation post."
"It doesn't help if I can't do my job," Jim growled, ignoring the frisson of fear at the idea that he'd left Blair alone. For those five minutes, Blair had been alone in the middle of pursuing a mass murderer. Alone and undefended. He unlocked the truck door, but Blair wasn't going around to his side.
"Without your senses, you would not have heard that. I have excellent hearing. Hell, my students claim I have bat-hearing because I can hear a sarcastically muttered complaint from 50 feet, but I didn't hear anything out there. You got that it was a woman named Veronica who doesn't like that you did something to her father."
"Without my senses, I would not have left you out there undefended," Jim snapped back as he whirled on his partner. "You're an unarmed observer. If Veronica had come up behind us, what would you have done? I have no business taking you into situations if I can't defend you." Jim clutched the edge of the door so hard that he could feel his fingers strain and cramp.
"Jim," Blair said softly, moving forward and resting a hand on Jim's arm.
"No." Jim narrowed his eyes and turned his back on Blair before getting in the truck. He slammed the door and then waited as Blair went around to his side. "You either figure out how to turn this off, or I'm going on desk duty until we get it sorted." Jim wasn't angry. His hands gripped the wheel until his knuckles turned white, but he wasn't angry--just realistic.
Blair opened his mouth several times before closing it silently. Finally he found words. "Burton talks about what triggers the Sentinel abilities--a manhood ceremony or a time alone in the wilderness. I can see if anything would give us a clue about how to turn it off."
Blair didn't sound happy, but Jim didn't need him happy, he just needed to be able to do his job.
"I know you'll find something, Chief," he said with an encouraging smile before he started the truck.
Jim watched the drama with crossed arms as Simon came into the large conference room. From the unlit cigar stuck in his mouth, Jim guessed he'd just been getting chewed on by one of the higher ups. Now he'd come here looking for answers, but Jim wasn't sure they had any yet.
Someone had pulled two full-sized desks into the room. Special Agent Daniel Nakamura had commandeered one. He sat typing on his laptop and surrounded by stacks of files. Cheryl Meztger and Carlos Avalos from ATF had claimed the other desk, but they stood around the main table right now. Jim stood back some as Blair moved various papers around on the desk.
"No way. Whatever she has in her head, it's delusion. The way she addresses these emails to Jim when he isn't even in Tacoma shows that she is not totally gripping with reality," Blair argued with the FBI profiler, a sun-worn older man with skin like leather.
The profiler, whose name Jim had totally missed, shook his head. "She was trying to get us to put the pieces together faster. By putting Ellison's name in there, she guaranteed that he became a focus for the investigation. It's just one more carefully considered manipulation."
"He got involved the minute she sent that letter to Cascade. We're looking at someone who's just a little wacko," Blair argued, his hands gesturing wildly.
"I agree that she has her own internal logic..."
"That's not very damn logical," Blair interrupted.
"But she must feel like she has some reason for revenge," the profiler continued, ignoring the interruption without showing any frustration.
"Okay, maybe she feels that way, but I know Ellison, and he's, like, so straight that he has trouble turning corners."
"Thanks, Sandburg. You make me sound like I have a stick up my ass," Jim complained. Brown, over in the corner with Bannister from Organized Crime, snickered. Jim glared.
"If you guys are done trying to figure out where she's buying explosives, I'm sure I can find something else for you to work on... something with a lot of cross-referencing," Jim threatened. Brown held up his hands in surrender, but still smirked.
"Sorry, man, but if the shoe fits." Blair shrugged. "But I'm just defending your honor here. No way did you do something to deserve this kind of retribution."
"I never said Detective Ellison deserved this," the profiler protested. "I simply asked if he had any skeletons in his closet. Many female serial killers do focus on righting what they perceive to be injustices."
"Aileen Wuornos, who believed all men were trying to attack her." Blair nodded enthusiastically. "It matches the imagery of a switchman, trying to save people. Man, why didn't I stop and even consider that the bomber could be a woman?"
"Because it defies almost every profile," the profiler pointed out.
"Okay, you have me on that one, but whatever the connection to Jim, it's an imagined wrong. He so did not do anything to actually attract her attention."
Banks chose that moment to cough and get people's attention. Most of the room fell silent; only Nakamura kept working, his fingers clicking away at the computer keys.
"The mayor is looking for an update, so let's hear what we have." Simon looked straight at Jim for an answer.
"We know the Switchman is a woman named Veronica. However, according to the marina, a boat matching our witness description is owned by a John Smith."
"Original," Simon snorted.
"The address given is an old sawmill out in the middle of nowhere, but none of the employees remember who actually rented the slip."
"Could we be looking at two suspects?" Simon asked. Blair immediately shook his head, but it was the profiler who spoke up.
"Everything indicates a single person, obsessive about details, probably unwilling to have a partner because of the risk of the other person making a mistake. She feels like she's addressing some sort of wrong..."
"If that headache hadn't stopped me," Jim growled, repeating the story he'd used for having lost track of her at the marina.
Blair spoke up. "Hey, that is an unavoidable side effect. This one woman I tested got migraines from just a truck backfiring outside her house, and the musician with that perfect ability to hear every instrument at once? If he focused for more than ten or fifteen minutes, he would be so sensitive that even footsteps would bother him. Some people with enhanced senses have those kinds of trouble."
"Are you okay now, Jim?" Simon asked.
"I'm fine. I'm just furious that I lost her."
"Man, you discovered more in that three minutes than everyone else has been able to put together in how many weeks?" Blair protested. "I mean, just the fact that she's a woman is huge. It changes the whole profile. And then there's that bit with her father."
"I'm fascinated by these senses Sandburg is studying. We're just lucky Detective Ellison is on the case because the gender of the subject completely changes the profile."
Simon completely ignored the comments on Jim's senses, for which Jim would have to thank him later. "Any idea who that would be?" Simon asked.
"No," Jim quickly answered. "The profiler and Blair are guessing it's the daughter of someone I knew in the military, or possibly I knew her, and something I did impacted her, which had repercussions for her father."
"Something that is totally not Jim's fault, like not getting her home in time to see a dying father or something," Blair interjected.
"There were a very limited number of women under my command, though, so I don't think that's the best approach. Either way, it does seem like there's a military connection, which would explain why she started her attacks back where I started my military career."
"Not quite. I mean, when you lived in Tacoma you weren't in the military yet," Blair pointed out.
"I had already signed up. I just didn't want to go home until I had to report." The profiler glanced up from his papers, obviously interested in that tidbit, but Jim was not going there. In the last two hours of standing at the edge of the chaos, he'd had way too much time to think about things he had pushed into a dark corner of his mind.
"Oh, hey, you haven't gotten to look through the list of post office employees I pulled," Blair said as he grabbed for his bag sitting on a chair.
"How did you get that?" Nakamura demanded as he stood up and finally came out from behind his desk.
"Public records, man. Public records, a whole lot of caffeine, and not a whole lot of sleep."
"Sandburg's a resourceful little shit," Brown seconded from his own pile of papers.
"And a pain in the ass if he hears one little joke," Bannister added with a pained expression.
"Hey, joking about racial and gender inequity is part of the whole system that makes it harder for minorities to feel like they get equal protection," Blair said as he crossed his arms and glared at Bannister.
"I investigate every crime equally," Bannister defended himself.
"Totally. I know that," Blair said soothingly as he went back to digging out his laptop. "That's why those jokes are so not cool. It's all about perception. You make a joke or roll your eyes or make not cool comments about someone just because he's wearing some leather bondage, and next thing you know, someone is assuming that you're part of the patriarchal system of oppression."
Simon started choking as he yanked his unlit cigar from his mouth.
"I'm telling you, you won't win against Professor Sandburg," Brown laughed.
"I don't know why I bother. And I'm not part of any system of repression," Bannister complained.
"Oppression," Blair corrected him without looking up. He punched the button on the side of the computer to get the disk out. "My batteries are low, but this will work on your system. Let's head out to your desk, Jim," Blair said as he headed for the door.
"Jim, anything more to report?" Simon asked, not moving from the door as Blair tried to leave. Blair crossed his arms and glared at the captain.
"We're cross-referencing everything we have, but it's going to take time," Jim answered.
"I have an appointment tomorrow with the commander at Fort Lewis to request the personnel lists from Ellison's time in basic training," Nakamura offered.
"Well, let's get something before this woman strikes again," Simon said as he finally stepped aside just far enough for Blair to slide through. Jim shook his head as he went to follow, and Simon moved aside for him.
"Alpha dogs. Man, I bet you guys pee on your territories," Blair muttered, but Jim wasn't sure if it was actually loud enough for anyone else to hear. Jim followed Blair into Major Crimes, which had been largely abandoned. Rafe sat at a computer and Simon's secretary sat answering the phone. Blair plopped down in Jim's desk chair, leaving Jim to sit on Blair's chair, which now sat permanently next to his main desk chair. Jim frowned at how hard the thing was, which made sense since Blair had just commandeered one of the visitor chairs.
"I don't think Simon is the type to pee on things," Jim commented. Blair gave him a confused look before smiling.
"I have *got* to remember that you can hear it when I say that shit. But I'm still willing to bet that you and Simon are both like big cats peeing on your territory."
"I haven't peed on you," Jim whispered as he leaned forward and looked at the list of names over Blair's shoulder. Blair started sliding to the side, but Jim used his foot to keep the chair in place and let his hand fall on Blair's shoulder. He tightened his grip just hard enough to let Blair know it wasn't an accident. Blair sagged into the chair.
"Yet," he said dryly.
"Okay, Sandburg, that is one kink which we will not be exploring."
"Come on, you can't tell me that you haven't ever peed on someone's yard or on their stuff, just to, I don't know, prove a point. I bet if I ask a dozen cops, every one will admit to peeing on something, and you have more testosterone than most."
"When I was twelve, maybe," Jim conceded. "My neighbor was an asshole and I peed on his roses. He found the yellow residue on the leaves and was sniffing it for a good five minutes before he figured out what it was. Stephen and I laughed our asses off."
"I knew it."
"So, as a bottom, you've never peed on someone's stuff?"
"Oh man, I totally have. Like I said, I just do things a little differently, like not leaving evidence. I made sure to pee on the grass, nice and low where no one checks it. In fact, after my Master's thesis passed, I got plastered on rum and Coke, and then me and two of the guys went and peed on the Chancellor's lawn."
"Wait. You did this as an adult?" Jim demanded as he shifted his attention from the list of names to Blair.
"Trust me, the Chancellor totally deserved it."
Jim just looked at Blair as he tried to imagine a drunk Blair peeing on some manicured lawn. "You're lucky you didn't get arrested for public drunkenness and indecency."
"Hey, if you think I need to learn a lesson, I'm available for house arrest," Blair smiled.
"No way; you'd probably pee on the couch when I wasn't looking if I even tried," Jim said as he returned to studying the list. He leaned farther in and used the mouse to scroll down.
"With your sense of smell? No, thank you. There's punishment, and then there's what you'd do if I peed on your shit."
"I really wish you'd quit talking about my senses. I do not want this Sentinel shit getting out," Jim whispered roughly.
"I wouldn't!" Blair protested loudly enough that Rafe looked up from his desk. Jim sat up some and looked at Blair. He blushed. "I wouldn't," he repeated in a near whisper. "But you're already on record with two hyperactive senses."
"Two. Just two. And those two will be fading soon," Jim said as he clicked down for more names. Blair fell silent and Jim skimmed through the list. He froze when one name appeared at the bottom of his screen.
"Shit," Jim said as he pushed himself back. The name in black letters on a green screen brought back the image of a face twisted with pain under a green canopy ripped open by the falling chopper.
"I don't need the fucking painkiller. Just give it to Hayworth," Frank had insisted. He clenched his teeth, but didn't make a sound as Jim looked at the twisted leg and the broken ribs that had already started swelling. However, Hayworth was bellowing, his guts bloating as he bled internally. The other men were already dead, their broken bodies scattered.
"He won't..." Jim stopped. Frank might make it, Hayworth wouldn't.
"Give him the fucking drugs, Cap. Neither one of us is going to make it, and he needs 'em more than I do."
Jim pulled himself from that memory, and Blair was still looking from the screen to him in confusion.
"What?" he finally asked when Jim just stared, too shocked to even say anything.
"Frank Sarris. She hates me for letting Frank Sarris die," Jim whispered as he remembered the lieutenant proudly showing him a picture of a little girl with long brown hair. "Veronica Sarris wants me to pay for letting her father die."
Jim walked into the loft, his nerves nearly shot after hours of tracking down Veronica Sarris. Her address led to a spot in the middle of the Sound, her employers said she had taken off for a long weekend, and the woman didn't seem to have any friends. Nope, all she had was a serious obsession with Jim.
The door slammed, and Jim flinched as the sound echoed in his head. He struggled to find the balance Incacha had once explained, and he didn't think the return of his memories had really improved the day as much as made it even more fucking miserable.
"You want to talk about it?" Blair asked as he walked around Jim to get to the kitchen.
"No." Jim walked to the balcony doors and pulled them open. She could be out there right now, watching. The traffic noise swelled until Jim felt like he was in the middle of the street with the engines roaring around him. A hand touched his back and the noise retreated as Blair held out a beer.
"Thanks," Jim offered as he took it. He drank deeply as he tried to wash out the remembered bitterness of burning metal and flesh. Blair disappeared, and Jim focused his hearing out toward the city. He felt off balance, like when the senses had first shown up in Peru.
"Do you want people to call you a freak?" William's voice floated out of the past, and Jim closed his eyes. Okay, so he had the senses earlier than Peru, but that was the first time he'd done anything other than hide them. Incacha had called them normal, like Blair had. Jim weighed those opinions against his father's disgust. Fuck, he was a grown man; he wasn't supposed to care what William Ellison thought about him.
Jim sighed and stared at the water for a second before turning around. Blair stood there naked except for the plastic around his cock. Jim frowned and walked forward, staring at the clear plastic sheath that curved down, trapping Blair's cock inside. Attached to the top was a small lock. Blair held out his hand with a pair of keys sitting in the palm.
"Chief, it's been a long fucking day."
"Hey, I get that. You've had some weird shit hit you in the last 24 hours." Blair nodded. He didn't move when Jim stepped closer and reached down to trace the chastity device. The lock held the sheath to a ring that sat behind Blair's balls, and his ball sac hung down between the two pieces of plastic. Jim fingered the contraption and could tell that Blair wasn't getting it off without either cutting the lock or amputating parts that he was very fond of.
"I don't know that I have the energy to play tonight," Jim commented as he watched Blair's penis thicken in the plastic cage, quickly filling the space until the skin pressed against the plastic. One of Blair's hands came up to rest on Jim's shoulder.
"Hey, that's cool," Blair agreed tightly.
"Does it hurt?" Jim asked in concern.
"Only in a 'I really want to come' way." Blair shrugged. "But you know me; I don't mind that hurt at all. And this thing doesn't require any babysitting on your part. I can pee and wash myself and do whatever I need to do with it on, but you still get to decide when I come."
"Blair," Jim said as he looked up at his lover's face.
"One week. I figure at the end of the week, we can decide whether we want to keep playing this game."
Jim closed his eyes. "I already know my answer to that," he confessed. "But, Chief, I'm not sure you can go a week without coming."
"Hey, you could let me come at any point," Blair pointed out. "In fact, I plan to use copious amounts of begging here." He took one of Jim's hands and dropped the keys into it. "And I used to go days in bondage without ever coming. Most of my clients enjoyed watching me not come. I think you're the first partner I've ever had who actually made a point of seeing that I came."
"Chief," Jim said as he closed his fist around the keys.
"Just put those somewhere that I can't get them because, given the chance, I so plan to cheat," Blair added.
"I'll put one on my keychain, and lock the other in the safe with the important papers," Jim agreed. "But are you sure you want to do this? This is where I went wrong with Caro, you know. She tried too hard, and when she had to back off, I couldn't. I wanted this." Jim let his hands slip down to Blair's hips, and he could feel the keys pressed between his hand and Blair's flesh.
"Oh man, I always want too much. I mean, I'm out there fighting for so much in the world, and I just want to not fight. Man, I trust you, and I want this to be yours."
"Even if I have fantasies of taking you without ever unlocking this?" Jim asked as he tapped the hard plastic.
"Fuck, yeah," Blair agreed. "I can't explain it, Jim. I just know what I like, and I trust you. I trust you like I haven't trusted anyone else."
Jim stood with his hands resting on Blair's hips as he tried to sort through his feelings. He had a little guilt in there at the idea of his lover not coming. He'd spent a lifetime of always making sure his lovers climaxed before he did. But at the same time, he knew how much Blair enjoyed waiting. Decision made, Jim headed for the key basket, slipping the keys onto his ring.
"You do know I'll hear if you so much as touch that, right?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, I kinda figured. I also figure you'll smell it if I work out any other way of coming. But I'm sticking with the begging plan. I can beg really well. I'm told I have puppy dog eyes."
"Yeah, but I'm a hard ass, remember?" Jim asked with a smile as he came back and let his hand cup Blair's face. "So many restraints to choose from. So, what will I do to you tonight?" Jim paused. "Do you have any papers to grade?" Jim suddenly asked.
"I got most graded between Special Agent Nakamura with his Japanese curses and Simon demanding that Gary get Sarris' service records. I mean, yeah, for a DA, Gary's a miracle worker, and I'm the first to sing his praises, but the man has limits. I can grade the rest easy since I don't teach until Monday."
Jim nodded. No way was he going to question Blair's teaching abilities again. "Rambo's on TV tonight," he commented as he went for their toy chest.
"Oh man, you were in the service. How can you watch that commercial drivel?"
"It's an alpha dog thing," Jim shrugged as he lifted the plastic containers holding a variety of different restraints. He found one of the new toys near the bottom. "If you want anything to eat or drink, I suggest you get it now," he commented. They'd had dinner at the precinct, but Jim didn't like to start a session without giving Blair some warning.
"Right," Blair said and he turned to the kitchen. Jim listened to the water run for a second before Blair filled a glass and drank it. "Okay, ready when you are," he said cheerfully as he came back. He sank to his knees next to Jim and let his eyes scan the various toys and restraints Jim had moved around.
"Open up," Jim said. He slipped a ball into Blair's mouth. It was soft enough to fit the curves of his mouth and keep his jaw from getting sore, but large enough to keep him quiet. Jim pulled out a head harness with a wide strap around the mouth that would keep Blair from spitting it out. Blair knelt, his hands on his thighs as Jim buckled it in place.
Jim paused, playing with Blair's nipple ring and watching his cock fight the chastity device. Eventually, Blair's fingers found Jim's shoulders, pressing into them as he threw his head back and squirmed.
"So, what were you saying about begging?" Jim mused as he finally let go of the nipple ring. Blair looked at him and glared.
"Your choice, Chief. You gave me the power when you knew I loved to torture you. There's nothing like the sight of you squirming and helpless to really end the day right." Blair's glare softened and his fingers brushed Jim's jaw. Jim reached in the toy chest and brought out a lock. He slipped it into the gag's buckle, and he could see Blair's confusion in his expression.
"I've had a hard day. I'm going to go get a shower, and when I come back, I want this in you," Jim said as he handed his lover a large plug. Jim knew Blair would normally get hard just from the sight, and now he closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose before nodding.
"Have fun," Jim said as he got up and dropped the lid closed on the toy chest. A quick turn of the lock and Jim headed upstairs for his robe. Through his shower, Jim could easily track Blair's movements. He could even tell how far Blair had gotten in his chore from the whimpers he could hear over the sound of the water pounding the tile. Eventually, though, the sounds stopped, and Blair washed his hands in the kitchen sink.
When Jim came out, Blair was kneeling on the floor next to the couch. Jim stopped near the table and smelled the air. He could see the confused tilt of Blair's head.
"I can smell you," Jim said. Blair immediately looked down toward his body.
"Not in a body odor way," Jim corrected the misunderstanding. "I just realized that I can smell your lust. You're not exactly suffering here," Jim said. From the slight crinkling next to Blair's eyes, Jim guessed he was trying to smile behind the mouth guard.
Jim dropped his robe, draping it over the back of the chair, and he could hear that groan as loudly as if Blair weren't gagged. And as he walked closer, the cloud of lust and hormones nearly knocked him off his feet. He had been planning on waiting, but his cock had other thoughts.
"Up," Jim said as with a bent finger. Blair immediately got up.
"Hands on the arm of the couch," Jim ordered. Blair held up a finger for him to wait one second, and then he dashed to the kitchen counter. Jim watched with a little aggravation as he came back with a pad of paper.
"The whole point of the gag is to get you to stop," he pointed out as Blair handed him the paper.
'No condom' was written in bold letters.
"Blair," Jim breathed. "This isn't something to just decide in a second."
Blair pointed to the paper again and crossed his arms.
"If I do this, neither of us is going outside this relationship. One slip on that front, and the trust we're putting in each other would be gone."
Blair tapped the paper again before he moved to the end of the couch and braced himself on the arm, wiggling the ass that was up in the air. Jim debated for a second before he stepped up behind Blair, his cock already hard. Pulling the plug out, Jim slipped two fingers in to check for lube before he took his own cock in hand.
Bracing himself on Blair's hip, he slid forward into that heat without the plastic between them. He could almost feel every cell as he pressed until he was totally buried in Blair's body.
"God, Blair," Jim said before he pulled out and started thrusting. Blair grunted and pushed back in time with Jim's thrusts. The smell of his lust, and Blair's, swirled around him as he drove forward harder and faster until Blair made a muffled whine and Jim came with a roar.
Panting, Jim let himself lean for a second against Blair's solid back, his cock slowly softening before it slipped out.
"That was a little quicker than I planned," Jim admitted as he pressed the plug back into place. Blair gave a little half shrug, and Jim slapped the exposed butt. "Are you okay?" he asked. Blair immediately nodded.
"Wipe up and then go get the extra comforter out of the closet along with the bed pillows," Jim ordered. Blair stood up, his hands going to the chastity device for a second before he headed for the bathroom. Jim leaned against the back of the couch while Blair cleaned himself up.
"Oh, Chief. I seriously hope you know what you're getting into," he prayed as he turned to the fireplace, getting a small fire started before heading to the bathroom for a little cleaning up himself.
When he came out, the fire had almost died, and Blair had made a nest in front of it with the comforter and pillows.
"Find Rambo, would you?" Jim asked as he turned this attention to saving the fire. Blair made a noise that might have been a complaint, but then the television flickered to life as he flipped channels.
"Yeah, well, Rambo is better than those documentaries that you watch."
And that noise was definitely a complaint.
"Television is supposed to be escapist. If you want great social commentary, read a book," Jim argued. Blair found the right channel and put the remote back on the coffee table.
"Damn. Forgot the oil. There's massage oil on the bathroom counter. Go grab that, and bring me a cold beer on your way back," Jim said as he rearranged the pillows some and lay on his stomach, still nude.
Blair got up and hurried into the bathroom where Jim tracked him with hearing that was suddenly much more balanced than it had even been in Peru. In seconds, Blair came back with the massage oil in one hand and the beer in the other. Jim took the beer and took a deep drink.
"It's been a bad fucking day. I think you can figure out what to do with that," Jim said as he sank back down onto the pillows, his chin resting on his arms.
Behind him, Blair clicked the oil open and warmed it in his hands before he started working Jim's back, pressing into just the right muscles to make Jim's arms tingle as the tension eased.
Blair worked slowly down Jim's body, focusing wherever those talented fingers found knotted muscles. By the time Blair was pressing thumbs to the bottoms of Jim's feet, Rambo was escaping from the cave where the explosives had trapped him, and Jim lay nearly boneless on the floor.
"I'd totally forgotten until today," Jim muttered. Blair ran warm hands up his calves and over his ass until he was just gently stroking Jim's back.
"In the jungle, the tribe that found me had a shaman named Incacha. He called me a watchman. I thought he was nuts."
Blair's hands never paused in their gentle stroking.
"He taught me about my senses. He called it learning to balance them. He said that as long as I was by myself, I had to balance in the middle, near normal. Only when I had someone to balance me could I risk stretching out with my senses."
Blair's hands moved up to Jim's shoulders, but Jim could sense that Blair's tired fingers didn't have the strength to really rub any more.
"I don't want to get the bed oily. Go get some warm soapy water, a cloth and some towels," he told Blair. Blair immediately got up and headed for the bathroom.
"You know, Simon would faint if he could see you following orders. He has the impression that you do the opposite of what anyone asks you, just for the sake of it," Jim called. Blair couldn't exactly answer, but Jim could hear the water running.
Soon Blair came back with a pitcher full of warm soapy water and a bunch of towels.
"I have to do laundry tomorrow," Jim mused as he looked at the pile Blair set down. Blair pulled the washcloth from the pitcher and wrung it out before he carefully started wiping Jim down.
"When I talked to Incacha about coming home, he said I needed to find my..." Jim paused, struggling for a way to translate the term. "I guess ally would be the best translation. It's someone who gives me something to hold on to when I stretch the senses."
Jim knew that Blair's mind had to be going a hundred miles an hour, but he kept washing Jim's back with even strokes of the soft cloth over his skin.
"But if I ignore the senses long enough, deny them, they will fade. I'll go back to just being balanced near normal. The senses are too dangerous in the city, Chief. They were designed for life in the wild. I would hear a snake moving through the leaves as clearly as a car horn, but a car horn would deafen me."
"And if I use the senses, I need you around any time I'm going to use them. In four weeks, you go back to being a teacher and grad student who just lives with this cranky, old cop who never plans on letting you go. You can't be there, and I can't get used to using my senses. I just need to ignore them until they go back down to normal."
Blair's hands paused in their ministrations.
"I've thought about this since the memory came back this afternoon," Jim said firmly. "It's the best solution. This time, I just need to not accidentally repress the memories of my ally and my time with the senses when I repress the senses themselves."
Blair worked his way down Jim's body in the silence that followed, and the fire turned to embers as Rambo blew up a few more things. When Blair finished by washing Jim's feet, he stood up and took the supplies back to the bathroom.
Jim turned his head so he could watch Blair come padding back on bare feet and drop to his knees near Jim's head. Blair reached out and touched Jim's jaw with the back of a finger.
Jim captured the hand and dropped a kiss on the fingers before he released it.
"I love that you worry about me, but I'm a lot tougher than a few senses. This is the best solution, and you're not going to change my mind," Jim said as he stood up with a groan. "God, I feel good," he admitted as he rolled his head from one side to the other. Blair grabbed the pillows Jim had been lying on.
"I get it, you know," Jim said as Blair stood up, all four pillows from the bed hugged in his arms. Blair turned to him with a quizzical expression.
"It's about trust," Jim said. He let his fingers trace the edge of the leather that covered Blair's entire mouth. "You trust me, and you hope that you can show me how to trust you. You aren't quite as devious as you think," Jim said as he smiled. From the blush and the way Blair's eyes dropped to the ground, Jim knew he'd guessed right.
"And you aren't getting this off just because I figured out the game," Jim warned as he reached down and teased the exposed balls that hung between the locking rings of the chastity device. Blair nodded without bringing his eyes up.
"I'm taking the gag off, but you're going to be quiet. I want you to get whatever you need from the kitchen, use the bathroom, and then get up to bed. No more sleeping over your work, even if that means I chain you to the bed every night." Jim smiled when the musk of lust thickened in the air. Blair nodded.
Jim went over to the toy chest and got out the keys that went to their regular padlocks. He quickly had the lock off the gag and Blair was soon stretching his lips.
"Toss the ball in the dishwasher," Jim said as he took the pillows from Blair and headed upstairs. Blair didn't answer, but Jim trusted he was following orders. Jim was sitting on the edge of the bed when Blair came upstairs and sat on his side, groaning as his ass hit the mattress, and that was when Jim remembered Blair still had the plug in.
"Do you want me to..." Jim started.
Blair shook his head and lay down on the bed, holding his hands out toward Jim with an expression that made it clear that he was asking a question.
"You know, you talk pretty well even when you're mute, but I can't tell if you're asking if I plan to chain you or asking me to chain you," Jim admitted as he walked around the bed. "Not that it matters because I do plan on chaining you," Jim finished.
Blair stretched a little and pulled the covers up before he threaded his fingers and waited with his wrists together. Jim slid the chain through the railing before locking the padded restraints around Blair's wrists. He had walked back to his side of the bed before Blair spoke.
"You're only half right, you know," he said as Jim turned the lights out and slid under the covers.
"Which half?" Jim asked curiously.
"I do want you to know you can trust me, but that's not all this is about," Blair said as he shifted around so that he could better see Jim. "I've never met anyone I really trusted. I mean, my mom loves me, and she still left. I was sixteen, and I begged her to get an apartment near the college, and she left. That first year at Rainier, I was like this total jackass, all entitlement and attitude, because I was just so insecure."
"So all this?" Jim asked.
"This is as much for me as for you," Blair said, blinking at the darkness in a way that told Jim he couldn't see anything. "This just reminds me that I finally found someone I trust, someone who I think won't walk out on me."
"You've decided that after knowing me three weeks?" Jim asked.
"Hey, we moved in together after knowing each other one week, so I figure we're on the accelerated track," he joked.
"Not anymore, we aren't," Jim said as he thought about how fast the end had come with Carolyn. "We are officially off the track altogether because this is where I want our relationship to stay," Jim said as he wrapped his arm around Blair's stomach.
"Yeah, I'm good with that," Blair agreed sleepily. He shifted back around, and Jim spooned up to his back, listening to his heartbeat as he slipped into sleep.
Jim woke when the first rays of sun were just creeping into the loft. His arm was still draped over Blair, and he tightened his hold, pulling the sleeping man back into his chest. Blair shifted, and the chain from his wrists to the rail clinked before he settled back into sleep.
Even though Jim could think of a dozen things he needed to do, he settled in and closed his eyes as he waited for the alarm to tell him that he had to get up.
"Your Guide, Enquiri, will lead you to your senses again," Jim remembered Incacha saying as they crouched beside the river, barbed sticks in hand as they waited for the fish.
"I won't need the senses when I go back to the city. They'll be more of a problem than anything else."
"You will always be a Guardian, a Watchman of the tribe. How can you fulfill you destiny if you do not accept your senses and your Guide?"
Jim snorted softly into Blair's hair. He'd told Blair that Incacha's word for the one who helped him keep his balance was ‘ally’. Not even close. Jim remembered that, at the time, he'd vowed to himself to keep the Guide as far away from him as he could if this mythical person ever showed up. The idea of following another person's guidance didn't sit well with him, especially after following orders had led to him being alone in the jungle with only seven graves to remember the men who had followed him.
Shit. And now he had to track down Frank's daughter. Jim remembered Frank Sarris as quick with a smile and always ready to pull a joke. Sometimes, the jokes had gone a little too far, and as the commander, Jim had come down on him, but Sarris would laugh off a weekend of guard duty as just the price to pay for a good practical joke.
Frank loved showing off his pictures of his little girl. Told everyone how she was a daddy's girl. Not long before the Peru mission, Frank had shown them pictures of his little Veronica all dressed up in her cap and gown for high school graduation. Jim remembered thinking he was getting old because he could recall when the pictures Frank shoved under their noses included a little nude girl with pigtails sitting in a bathtub.
Of course, all seven of the men who'd died in that crash had families, families who Jim would have informed of their deaths if he hadn't been abandoned and listed as 'presumed dead' himself. He just never expected this part of his life to come crashing back into the world he'd made in Cascade.
Blair shifted, and Jim realized he had tightened his hold on his partner. He loosened his grip, and Blair settled back into sleep. Unlike his other memories of the senses and the tribe and the determination to reject any potential Guide, his memories of Frank and the others had survived. Jim just didn't like thinking of them.
Pushing those aside for the moment, he focused on the newly-found memories that drifted through his mind. He struggled to recreate a time that had definitely gone missing in his brain. The manhood ceremony where Incacha had named him Enquiri, the day a drug-dealer's bullet had grazed his thigh and Jim realized that he could die out here and no one would ever know, the first time he'd zoned and woken with Incacha's hand on his back: they all slipped into place as Jim let himself remember a life where everything had been sharper and stronger and clearer.
The alarm interrupted his thoughts, and for a second Jim continued to lie in bed, holding Blair as he struggled to pull himself out of the past.
"I'm rubbing off on you," Blair mumbled without opening his eyes.
"What's that?" Jim sat up and hit the alarm clock with more force than absolutely necessary before he got up and walked around the bed.
"You usually get up before the alarm even goes off. You lying in bed through the ringing… face it, man, I'm rubbing off."
Jim unlocked Blair's wrists and dropped the chain into the box before pushing it under the bed with his foot. "You're growing on me like mold, Chief," Jim agreed.
"Har har. So, I'm up with the alarm. I seem to remember someone saying something about there being time for fun and games if I could just learn to get up with the alarm." Blair reached out and ran a finger along Jim's thigh.
"Oh, you remember that?" Jim asked as he sat on the very edge of the bed. Blair scooted back to give him more room.
"I totally remember that. I remember accusing you of operant conditioning, trying to turn me into a morning person. But if you're interested, I could definitely find a good reason to get moving this morning." Blair's palm rested on Jim's thigh, and Jim felt his cock harden in response. "You want some help with that?" Blair asked flirtatiously.
"I wouldn't mind some," Jim agreed as he shifted around. He moved so that he was leaning back against the railing, one leg hanging off the bed, and Blair leered.
"Oh hell, yeah. I've wanted to taste you since you showed up at Espinoza's house, all dominant and commanding and still amused by me ripping those idiots to shreds. And rubber is not my favorite flavor," Blair admitted as he shifted around until he was face to cock with Jim. He slowly licked up the quickly hardening shaft.
Jim gripped the railing to keep from grabbing Blair's head and gasped as his whole body shivered in lust. Okay, definitely no more condoms for them. Blair hummed, his lips tracing the ridge circling the cock-head, and Jim tightened his grip on the rail.
Shifting his legs open in invitation, Jim watched as Blair slowly took the cock in his mouth, looking up at Jim from under his lashes as he sucked. He started gentle and slow, just bobbing a little, his tongue tracing circles. Jim arched his back and let the pleasure build as the warm mouth teased him.
Just about the time that Jim was done with the teasing and considering flipping Blair over and pounding into him, Blair started sucking harder. Slowly, he built up speed, watching Jim as he sucked until his cheeks hollowed out.
"Shit," Jim gasped as he started bucking up into that mouth. Blair braced his hands on the mattress and moved faster, his hair draping down so that it tickled the insides of Jim's thighs. Jim thrust up, and watched as his cock disappeared into Blair's mouth before Blair swallowed, squeezing Jim so hard that he shouted out his pleasure before pulling out of Blair's mouth to just thrust up again.
"Blair," Jim strangled out, struggling to warn him before he started coming, but Blair continued to suck as Jim arched up and came in waves that left him sagging back to the mattress in complete satisfaction.
"Mmm. Finger-licking good," Blair joked as he crawled up Jim's body to lean against Jim's side. Jim could feel the hard plastic resting against his hip. They lay there, limbs tangled, and Jim could smell their scents twining.
"Feel like reciprocating?" Blair finally asked in the silence, and Jim watched as Blair's hand crept down to the chastity device, trailing over the hard plastic without actually touching the cock that pressed against the cage.
"Right now, I feel like lying here with my brains leaking out my cock," Jim groaned.
"You already finished leaking, and I wouldn't want you to feel guilty, you know, with the fact that you're ahead of me in the orgasms department."
"Not feeling guilty," Jim assured Blair as he let his hand stroke Blair's back. Feeling just a little evil, he reached up with his other hand and fingered the nipple ring until Blair gasped and clutched at the sheet. Jim smiled. "I figure that for the last two weeks, you've come every morning in the shower and every night. I usually get ready for work in the morning and I think there were two nights where I didn't come. So, you're ahead of me by about fifteen or sixteen orgasms, which, I don't mind telling you, is pretty impressive. I mean, you aren't a teenager any more."
"Thirteen or fourteen," Blair grumbled as he let his forehead rest on Jim's chest.
"Oh man, if you're keeping track, you just got two in, so that leaves me thirteen or fourteen ahead. Next time, I'm skipping seduction and going for begging."
"I would have called that manipulation, but it was certainly seductive manipulation," Jim said. Blair poked him with a finger. "Okay, now that you're up, we need to get going. You get first shower since it takes forever for that mop of yours to dry." Jim tugged a chunk of Blair's hair.
"You're just jealous," Blair huffed as he pushed himself up.
"Not really," Jim said as he scrubbed his own military-short hair. "I may like that mop on you, but I wouldn't want to take care of it. Oh, and leave the plug out. Trust me, you're going to have enough fun with the new toy, which is definitely staying on."
Blair grabbed his robe and wandered down the stairs, still grumbling. Jim smiled as he stood up and started stripping the bed. Since he had to wash towels anyway, he might as well get a good load. Jim had put a new set of sheets on the bed, filled a laundry basket, and gone downstairs before Blair got out of the shower.
Jim dropped the basket on the couch as Blair came out, wet hair dripping down the back of his robe. "How did that work?" he asked as he stopped Blair from going up the stairs. He pulled Blair's robe open and checked the chastity device. The slots on the side had let the water through, and Blair smelled clean.
"Fine, Mother Ellison, but if you're down there anyway, feel free to take it off and get a closer look," Blair suggested with a honeyed voice.
"Forget it, Darwin. I take that off, and you're going to be so hard so fast that not even ice will get you back into it."
"I can think of one thing that would get me back into it, easy," Blair suggested with a wiggle of his hips.
Jim stood up and put his hands on his hips. "And what have you done to earn it? Like you said, I still have thirteen or fourteen orgasms to catch up, and as an alpha dog, being that far behind brings out my competitive side."
"Man, I wonder if I can pick the lock," Blair said sadly as he reached down and fingered the gold lock that sat on top of the contraption.
"Just don't get something stuck in there," Jim warned.
"Oh man, you did not have to say that. Now I can't even try to pick the lock without getting all paranoid," Blair complained as he grabbed his robe and wrapped it around himself, hiding the contraption from Jim. Jim smiled.
"Hey, while you're showering, I'm going to go downstairs and grab us some fresh pastries," Blair said as he headed up the stairs to get dressed.
"Trying to butter me up?" Jim called.
"Totally, man. I figure a day of placating your alpha dog status with a little metaphorical neck and stomach baring, some creative begging, and I'll get to come… oh, about next Friday, huh?" Blair called down.
"You never know. I might have mercy before the end of the week," Jim said as he headed for the bathroom. "Or not," he finished before closing the door. He smiled as he turned on the shower and listened to Blair make a number of rude comments about Jim's parentage, personal habits and attitude. Jim smiled as he made a mental note of each and every one to use as future ammunition. Blair kept up his quiet tirade the entire time he dressed before heading out the door to the bakery.
Jim was shaving, a towel wrapped around his waist, when something started nagging the edges of his awareness. At first, he thought he just needed a new razor, that the sound and feeling of the dull one was grating on his nerves, but his skin rose in goose bumps that refused to go away, even when he rinsed his face, only half shaved.
Opening the bathroom door, Jim walked into the living room, trying to place the growing unease he felt. Without knowing why, he grabbed his service weapon from the table and pulled his robe on over the towel. When he opened the door, the hall was silent, the elevator still.
"Sandburg?" Jim called. His hearing roared out of his control, and a half dozen televisions and conversations and engines all crashed in on him at once so that he physically fell back, his shoulder hitting the wall as he struggled with the lost balance.
"Man, you do not want to do this. I know your father died, and that is totally not fair, but Jim could just as easily have died. They both got screwed over… Okay, okay, I'm going," Blair quickly changed the conversation. Jim started running down the stairs in bare feet.
"He'll be sorry."
"He already is. They were friends."
"If he was my father's friend, he would have saved him. Get in," a woman's voice commanded. Jim heard a truck lid slam and he ran out into the street in front of the building. A woman screamed, and Jim flinched back as people took cover from the sight of a barefoot guy in a bathrobe waving a gun.
The car engine shifted into gear, and Jim turned and dashed for the alleyway. He reached the entrance just in time to see the rear end of a tan car vanish out the other end. Jim froze for a half second, and then turned to race for his truck, only to realize that his keys were still in the apartment.
"Fuck!" Jim slapped the brick as he realized that even a few seconds meant that Veronica had already disappeared into morning traffic with Jim's partner and Guide locked in the trunk.
"I need an envelope," Jim insisted. Simon sighed and handed down a small evidence envelope. Jim scooped up a small chunk of dirt. "It fell out of the tread of Sarris' tire."
"Jim, this is an alley; there's dirt all over the ground."
"I can see the car tracks, Simon," Jim disagreed as he stood up and handed over the envelope. "Brown, is there any word on the car?"
"Tan Lincoln Town Car, late eighties, last two letters of the plate TL. We have fourteen hits, and officers are trying to track them down, but nothing yet. We have an APB out to all patrol officers." Henri Brown looked up long enough to answer the question, but then he went back to watching the CSI unit work the alley inch by inch.
"Jimmy, are you okay?" Carolyn asked as she left her team and came up to them. "I know Sandburg's been riding with you, and I can only imagine how you feel."
"No, Caro, you can't," Jim said shortly. She snapped her mouth shut and Jim forced himself to turn and face her.
"I'm sorry. I know you're trying your best. Sarris took him because of me, though. This isn't Sandburg's fight, and she's going to…" Jim stopped.
"We have some mud from a tire," Simon said as he held it out. "We need it processed as fast as we can get it."
"I'll do the best I can, Simon. Jimmy, I'm really sorry. If you want anything, call me," she said. Jim could feel her genuine concern, but it just aggravated him even more. He didn't need the sympathy; he needed her to do her job.
"I just need to know what you find out about that mud from the tire," Jim said, struggling to keep his voice even. Carolyn nodded and turned toward her own team. She handed the envelope to a worker who headed for one of the CSI vehicles parked at the edge of the chaos.
"We'll get him back, Jim. We're all working on this," Simon said softly. "But right now, Nakamura and Meztger want to talk to you."
"I don't have time for this," Jim growled as he paced the alley and studied the ground. He could see the tire tracks from the Lincoln, a waffle pattern curving through the dirt of the alleyway, a nail head interrupting the pattern at one point. Jim focused, seeing the round edge focus until it became a fractal of dust, the edges multiplying into landscapes of their own.
"ELLISON!" Simon shouted.
Jim shook his head and looked at Simon, who was standing with his cigar in one hand while his other hand was on Jim's shoulder. Half the cops in the alley were staring, and Jim guessed he had just lost time again.
"I'm just thinking," he said weakly. "She wants to make me suffer, so she won't do anything to Blair until she can make it really hurt. She wants me to feel responsible. That's why she took him from here and not from the university. He was trying to talk to her, to get her to see that I was Frank Sarris' friend," Jim said as he followed the faint tracks to the far end of the alley.
"What exactly did you hear?" asked someone else. Jim turned to see Nakamura from the FBI standing there, notepad in hand even though Jim had already given his statement to Simon. Well, he didn't have anything else to do until someone found a lead.
"I was shaving. I thought I heard something, so I got my service weapon and headed down the stairs."
"In your robe?" Nakamura asked.
"I thought it was probably nothing. I wasn't thinking at all or I would have taken my damn keys," Jim growled at himself. "Then I heard Blair say something about how 'you don't want to do this' and that life wasn't fair because I'd lost a friend at the same time. I realized he was with Sarris when she said that if her father and I had been friends, I would have saved him. I came running down the last flight of stairs--"
"You heard this from the second floor of the building?" Nakamura didn't even bother hiding his disbelief.
"Detective Ellison has... what did Sandburg call it?" Simon asked.
"Hypersensitive hearing. He did a study of people who had one or two senses outside of the normal range," Jim explained.
"Ah. Yes, he said something about that yesterday. That's how you overheard the woman on the phone," Nakamura nodded. "Has this ever been medically documented?"
Jim glared at the agent, struggling against the fury that would have him knocking the man on his ass and then searching the city street by street. Instead he took a deep breath. "Did you check out the sawmill she used on the marina forms?" Jim asked quietly.
"There was no one there. She left behind bomb making materials, some of her father's records, and magazines and clippings from your return to civilization."
"Until you have something more useful, I have work to do," Jim said through a clenched jaw as he walked away. He reached up to scrub his face and realized that he had never finished shaving when he'd gone upstairs to grab clothes.
"Jim!" Brown yelled from the far end of the alley. Jim took off at a run, just about colliding with one of Carolyn's people as his stomach twisted. "There's a video feed coming into the station. It's Sarris. She has Blair."
Jim detoured toward his truck without waiting for any details, but he found a hand on his arm physically yanking him to a stop. Jim turned, ready to fight, and found Simon standing there.
"Not a chance. You aren't safe to drive right now. Get in the car," Simon said as he pulled Jim toward his sedan. Jim hesitated, his need to do something nearly overwhelming his common sense before he nodded.
"Just get us there fast," Jim begged as they got in Simon's car.
Simon pulled into the traffic, the emergency light flashing over the traffic as some cars moved aside and Simon had to detour around others.
"What the hell is going on, Jim?" Simon finally demanded. "You see things that aren't there, you're hearing conversations from the other side of the building, and that stunt in the alley… you were blanked out for minutes. That's not just thinking. I don't know what's going on, but you're about to land yourself a desk job, and if that means you can't work the Switchman case, that's how it's going to be."
"No!" Simon cut him off before he could go any farther. "Shit, you think I don't understand? No matter what I think of this whole whirlwind romance you have going, I know you put your heart into everything you do. I know you care about the kid, but if you can't get your head out of your ass, you'd be better off letting the rest of us find him."
"It's this thing," Jim started, struggling to find the words.
"Try me. At this point, I'm pretty much willing to believe anything from you."
"Blair calls it a Sentinel. When I lived in Peru, they called it a Watchman."
"Called what a Watchman?"
"Me," Jim said, tightening his fingers around his knees as he struggled against a desperate desire to not have this conversation. "I have all five senses heightened."
"What, like some sort of superhero? Come on, Jim."
Jim clenched his teeth as he considered how to best get his point across. He didn't have time for this game. "You had coffee with a hazelnut extract this morning. You stopped at McDonalds and had bacon, egg and cheese McMuffins. You had a breath mint soon after that. You used Polo aftershave and showered with Zest."
Simon drove in silence for several minutes. "Okay, I thought I was willing to believe almost anything," he finally whispered.
"In Peru, that's how I stopped the drug runners with nothing more than the Chopec and their primitive weapons to back me. I could hear their movements from miles away. I heard that conversation between Sarris and Blair from my loft door, Simon. I could see the Lincoln's tire tracks in the alley as clearly as I can see the traffic light. All five of my senses are enhanced."
"The shitty part is still coming. If I focus too much on one sense, it's like I get lost in it. Everything just sort of falls away."
"Like in the alley?"
"Yeah, only if it gets bad enough, there's only one person who's going to be able to call me back, and that's the same person I need with me in order to use the senses--my Guide." A clump of traffic came to a stop, and so did the conversation. Jim stared out the window, fighting an irrational urge to get out and just fucking run the rest of the way.
"I'm not going to like this, am I?" Simon eventually asked.
"Yeah, I knew I wasn't going to like this. So, why can't you make Brown your Guide, other than the man's terrible taste in clothing which probably looks even worse if you have some kind of super-sight?"
"It doesn't work like that, Simon. I didn't even realize Blair was my Guide until the senses started coming back. Without him, I'm normal, but as long as he's around to ground me, I have an advantage."
"Unless he's not around and you do that freezing thing in the middle of a scene."
Jim pressed his eyes closed. "I know, Simon. Shit, I know these senses could be dangerous on the street, but so far, they've been totally under control as long as I have Blair around." Jim considered the incident on the dock, but decided it wasn't worth mentioning. He remembered his training now. He wouldn't make that mistake again. "Other people can't know, Simon."
"I hate to point this out, but a lot of people know, Ellison. A whole lot of people."
"Simon, they know about the hearing. If they know I have all the senses heightened, if they know I'm a Sentinel, there are other consequences."
"Jim, you're putting me in a strange spot here."
"If people know, there are too many ways to use my senses against me, and I need them. Right now, I need every advantage I can get, and my senses are a huge advantage."
"God, please just let that advantage be enough on this case," Simon prayed as he pulled into the station parking.
Jim didn't even wait for Simon to park the car. He got out near the elevator and headed for the sixth floor.
"Jim." Joel met him at the elevator. "We have the screens set up in the bull pen, but you need to see the taped bit first. This way," he said as he hurried next to Jim down the hall to the break room. A television stood in the middle, the blue screen casting an eerie glow over the room. A couple of officers from Traffic stood silent in the corner as Joel hit the play button.
When the image focused on Blair, his arms stretched over his head and chained to some sort of rafter, Jim had to restrain an urge to do something, hit something. A woman walked into the screen. Her curly hair and freckles didn't look like an insane killer; they looked like the pictures of the little girl Frank had shown around the base so often.
"I hope you're getting to see this, Captain Ellison. I thought I would attack your city. Make you remember all the lives lost because you weren't good enough to catch me. But then I thought that really wasn't fair to all those people who would die. And, after all, you're the one who should pay. So I had a change of plans. You took someone important from me, and I'm taking someone important from you."
Jim stopped breathing when she walked out of the screen and then the chains holding Blair's arms ratcheted up so that he started dangling, his legs swaying in the air.
"Come on. I know you don't want to do this. Man, killing some grad student, not really earning any big points from anyone."
Whatever she did outside the camera's range, it made Blair shut up.
"Now here's where it gets interesting. See, my father didn't just die, he participated in his own murder. He followed you, Captain Ellison. He trusted you. Just like Blair here trusted you to protect him. So Blair's going to participate in a little experiment for me."
"Please," Blair said softly. Sarris walked into the camera's range, and shoved the gun deep enough into Blair's stomach to make him swing and slowly turn.
"Please, Blair, just keep her happy until I can find you," Jim whispered.
Sarris disappeared for a second, and she came back with supplies. She started with a wobbly three-legged stool with uneven legs. She put it under Blair and then disappeared. Blair lowered a notch and then his feet were on the stool so that he was standing.
"Curious yet?" she asked as she came back into camera view. She pulled out a clear plastic box, inside of which Jim could see curls of wires and switches and a large enough block of plastic explosive to take out half a city block. There wouldn't be anything left of Blair. She set it under the stool. "Here's where Blair gets to participate." She pulled out string and tied one piece to each of his legs, then tied the opposite end of each string to a lever on the bomb.
"Here's how it works," she said cheerfully, looking like she should be explaining a cheerleading move to a bunch of teenagers instead of calmly discussing murder. "Blair is going to balance for as long as he can. How stable is that, Blair?" She turned away from the camera and looked up at Blair.
"Not very fucking stable," Blair snapped.
"I bet not. So, he's going to balance, and as long as he does, he's fine. But those two strings are connected to the bomb. So, when he slips, and he will, if the stool goes right or left, it'll get tangled in the string and set off the bomb. If it goes forward or backwards, Blair has a chance, but only if he can keep himself from kicking his legs, and kicking is a pretty basic instinct when you fall. Now, let's say he does manage to not kick. He then has another choice. He can either hang there and slowly suffocate from the pressure on his lungs from having all his weight hanging on his arms, or he can take the easy way and pull on a foot and set the bomb off."
Sarris walked over and patted Blair on the leg. Jim tensed and leaned forward as he could see Blair strain to keep his balance. "She's fucking insane," Jim cursed.
"I suppose you could rush in and save him at the last minute, but the odds of that, especially the odds of that given that Blair doesn't look so stable up there, well, they aren't that good." Sarris shrugged. She turned and walked to a chair behind Blair where she sat down and leaned back.
"You comfortable, Blair?" she asked.
"Fuck you," Blair hissed, obviously reaching the conclusion that sweet talk wasn't going to work with this one.
"Jim, we have the current feed in the squad room," Joel said quietly. Jim stared at the screen until Joel reached in and flicked the picture off.
"I'll fucking kill her."
"It that bomb goes off, you won't have a chance. She'll be dead with Sandburg," Joel said. Jim looked at the bomb captain and then headed out the doors and into the bull pen.
When he opened the doors, he was shocked to find sixty or seventy cops crowded into the space. The television was set up near his desk, and people moved as Jim headed for it.
"Where's the signal coming from?" Jim demanded.
"We're working on it. She's bouncing the signal off a couple of commercial satellites, but we're tracking it," some techie Jim didn't know answered. Walking up to the screen, Jim could see the strain in Blair's face as he kept his eyes focused straight ahead and concentrated on balance. His arm muscles were corded, and his lips moved silently.
"Where's the sound?" Jim asked as he studied that familiar face.
"Sarris isn't saying anything," someone answered.
Jim charged up to the television and hit the button to make the volume bars climb to the far side of the screen. A soft hiss of static filled the air near the TV, but Jim could hear something else too.
"Shut up," he yelled. A few people near him quieted, but those along the perimeter kept whispering, their feet shuffling loudly against the carpet, their hands rubbing over clothing with a soft hiss.
"Everyone, shut up. No noise at all, none!" Jim screamed, just about ready to take out his gun and shoot a couple of the louder ones. The room fell silent, and Jim focused on the static from the television.
"Drove an hour," Jim repeated. "Highway, then 20 minutes gravel road." The silence in the room grew deeper as Jim focused on the television. "Drove an hour. Highway, then 20 minutes gravel road. Jim, I hope you're getting this. Drove an hour."
"Blair?" someone asked. Jim nodded, recognizing Simon's voice.
"Get a tape of this down to the sound lab. Isolate Blair's voice," Simon ordered. Jim held up a hand as the pattern changed.
"Old barn near a bridge. Old barn near an old bridge. Old barn near an old bridge," Jim repeated Blair's almost inaudibly muttered words.
"Sound lab, NOW!" Simon bellowed. Techs flew into motion, one racing forward and hitting the eject button on the VCR before shoving a new one in. He made record time racing for the door, and Jim turned to Simon.
"We need maps of the area. We need something an hour away. That should limit the highways she could have taken."
"There's the 542," someone called out. "Or the 9," another voice added.
Jim held up his hand for silence. "Damn tired. Too damn tired," he repeated Blair's words, sorry he had the moment they left his mouth. "How long's he been up there?" he demanded from the room.
"Almost an hour," Rafe answered. "He's tough. He'll hold on until we find him."
"His calves have got to be cramping," someone in the back muttered. Jim whirled around and searched the crowd, but a group was already hustling the man out the door. Part of Jim knew that the officer was just saying what most of the people in the room were thinking, but he couldn't escape the irrational fear that saying it out loud made it real.
"He'll be fine," Jim snarled at the room. Faces nodded or people just slipped out the doors; Jim didn't care either way.
"Where's the trace?" Simon demanded of the room in general.
"We're still working," answered the techie sitting at Brown's desk.
"I have maps," a young uniform called as he came slamming in the doors. Jim practically snatched them from the man and spread them out over his desk, knocking things off randomly.
"Okay, figure an hour out on either the 542 or the 9," one of the guys still left from night shift started.
"No," Jim disagreed. "An hour total driving time. Forty minutes on the highway and then twenty on the gravel road."
"Jim, that's still a lot of ground to cover."
"A barn," Jim said. "She's parked near a barn; that's where she got mud in her tires, at the barn or on the road driving there."
Jim shoved Bannister out of his way and he raced for the door. Ignoring the elevator, he dashed down the stairs and ran down the hall to Carolyn's lab.
"Jimmy?" she asked as he charged in.
"The mud, the envelope Simon gave you at the scene, where is it?"
"The envelope, Carolyn, where's the envelope?"
"Uh, in with the other evidence we collected at the scene," she said slowly; however, she gestured toward a table. Jim went over to the box.
"Hey, you can't get in there. That's violating the chain of evidence," Carolyn yelled, finally sounding sure of something. Jim pulled out the envelope.
"Simon, what the hell is going on?" Carolyn demanded as the captain came into the room.
"We need to check something," Simon offered vaguely. Jim turned his back to Carolyn and shook out the bit of dirt into his palm.
"That's evidence. This is against every protocol," she complained. Jim focused and brought the dirt up to his mouth, letting it dissolve on his tongue, and he reached out until he could feel his balance start to slip.
"Jim?" Simon asked, pulling him back to the present where Blair needed him.
"Mushrooms," Jim said as he looked at Simon. "Morel mushrooms."
The phone rang and Carolyn went to answer it.
"Morels? Those really ugly mushrooms?" Simon asked.
"They must grow near one of those roads. We need someone who knows mushrooms."
"Simon, Jim, they say they need you upstairs right away; it's an emergency." Jim stopped breathing as he considered just what that call might mean.
"We're on our way up," Simon said. Jim forced his feet into movement, standing beside the elevator doors impatiently, but without any desire to go up and see what he might have to see.
"Simon," he said.
"Don't borrow trouble. That kid gets into more trouble than twenty people, but he always comes out."
Jim nodded as the elevator doors slid open. If Blair didn't get out of this one… Jim cut off his own thought, refusing to even consider the consequences of losing Blair.
"He didn't kick once. I would have kicked," someone whispered.
Jim could almost feel his heart regain its normal pattern. He turned to the room. "We need someone who collects wild mushrooms," he called. Faces looked at him in confusion. "The suspect's tires had traces of morels. We need someone who would know where they grow," Jim clarified, annoyed at having to do so.
"My sister's boyfriend does that; I could call him at work?" one of the guys from Homicide offered.
"Then go!" Simon bellowed, and the man grabbed the nearest phone. One of the secretaries who had come up from records grabbed Rhonda's phone and started dialing.
"Detective Ellison," the secretary called out. "My sister's on the phone." She hit the speaker phone and the room went silent except for Sarris' footsteps on the rough wood floor, magnified by the television.
"We're looking for a missing… member of our team," Simon said loudly enough for the speaker phone to catch his words. "We know the suspect took either the 542 or the 9 out of town, about forty minutes in traffic. We also know there's about twenty minutes driving on a gravel road, and that there are most likely morel mushrooms either on the road or at the old barn where they parked." The phone was silent for a bit.
"It's late for morels," the voice on the other end started hesitantly, and Jim resisted an urge to reach through the phone wire and choke the information he needed out of her.
"The 9 is too built up. West of the 542 there's some good morel hunting, especially around the river," she said uncertainly.
"The bridge," Jim interrupted. "Blair mentioned a bridge."
"There's a river southwest of the 542 that has a lot of little streams. It makes for some nice mushroom growing," the unknown woman on the phone answered.
"Thank you," Simon offered. The secretary picked up the phone and turned off the speaker.
"Simon, we need some choppers up in the air," Jim started.
"Jim, slow down. We send choppers up, and she'll hear them. She can set the bomb off any time."
"Get us a chopper into Deming," Jim said. "Have Highway Patrol meet us with whatever off road vehicles they can get there in fifteen minutes. We can take SWAT with us." Jim stepped close enough that they could talk in a whisper, and officers drifted away, trying to give them a little privacy.
"We'll be driving around blind," Simon protested.
"No, we won't. I'll find him. If I have to, I will requisition a car and drive from here, Simon," Jim threatened in a whisper.
Simon's eyes darted to the television where Blair hung motionless, Veronica Sarris circling him like a vulture.
"Rhonda, get two choppers warmed up. Call Highway Patrol. I want off-road vehicles, and officers who know the terrain in Deming, as fast as they can get there. Someone get Captain Standish."
"I'm here, Simon. I'll have five of my best ready to go in five minutes," the captain of SWAT promised before he headed out the door.
Jim clutched his own knees the entire helicopter ride over. He didn't know what he'd do on the ground in Deming, but it had to be better than sitting in Cascade, waiting for Blair to twitch or Sarris to get impatient.
"Rafe? How's it going?" Simon called on the radio.
"He's holding on," Rafe answered from back in Cascade. "The sound lab says they're having trouble getting much, but they did get one additional piece. He said ‘dead trees’, but they couldn't get the whole sentence."
Simon covered the microphone on the headgear. "Do you want them to play it for you?" he shouted over the rotor noise.
Jim shook his head. "Too much noise. And the static of the radios would be too much."
Jim ignored the curious expressions of Joel and Vic Standish.
"We're landing," the pilot's voice came over the radio, and Jim waited impatiently as the machine bumped to a stop on the ground. He was out and running, bent over, before the pilot gave the word, so he beat the others to the Highway Patrol.
"We have four cars," an older man in a brown uniform offered. "We didn't get very clear instructions where we're going, though."
"We're looking for a gravel road that leads into morel territory. There's an old barn near a bridge, and probably pretty close to some dead trees," Jim answered as he scanned the trees, his senses dangerously out of control. He forced himself to focus on holding the balance.
The man raised his eyebrows and stared at Jim blankly. Simon, Joel, and Vic Standish hurried up as the second chopper landed with Standish's SWAT team, Joel dragging his portable disposal equipment. Hopefully, it would be enough. "I'm Captain Banks. Did Ellison fill you in?"
"Ellison described half the territory out here. I'm not sure how you expect to find that."
"Because we have to," Jim snapped.
"Ellison, Taggart, and I will take one of the cars, if you don't mind. Vic, do you and your team want to take another?"
"We'd better take the SUV. We couldn't bring all our toys, but we do have some cargo to carry," Standish said as the black-uniformed team got off the second helicopter, carrying enough weaponry to make even Jim happy.
Jim waited impatiently as the logistics sorted themselves out, but Simon finally got behind the wheel of one Highway Patrol truck, with Joel in back and Jim in the passenger side.
"Go right; I'll check out the woods south of us," Jim said as he scanned the trees.
"This is such a bad idea," Simon muttered as he pulled out and drove down the highway at speeds that would have made a grandmother proud. Even doing thirty, Jim could feel his head start to pound as he scanned every road they passed. He dismissed the well traveled ones. At others, he made Simon stop so he could study the undisturbed grass. Once he had Simon follow a path only to find a couple having sex on the still-warm hood of their car. However, on the second trail they followed, they found themselves driving over an old bridge with one guard rail completely washed away and wood that had turned gray.
"Stop," Jim said as the sounds of the forest yielded to the pained wheeze he could hear just beyond a stand of trees.
The cars stopped behind them, and Jim walked back to meet them. "We have our target," he told Standish. "The barn's right back there."
"We need to take Sarris out. All she needs to do is give Blair a push, and she'll blow that whole place up. And considering that she hasn't left the barn, she's suicidal," Joel suggested.
Jim looked at the bomb captain in surprise. Usually Joel was the last one to even suggest deadly force.
"If we can take a non-lethal shot far enough away from Sandburg to keep him safe, we should, but she'll take Sandburg out if she has a chance," Simon agreed.
"So, we're moving aggressively on this one. Let's go silent. Clark, Sanchez, you have east. Nelson, take point. Lopez and I will go west. Formation Charlie, and watch your crossfire," Captain Standish said, and his team immediately headed for the barn.
"Your people are good," one of the Highway Patrol officers said as he leaned against his car. "I'm amazed you could find this place."
"We're lucky and good," Simon corrected him. "Jim, where are you going?"
"To find Sandburg," Jim said as he turned back toward the woods. Simon followed him several steps.
"Jim, for god's sake, let SWAT do their job," Simon ordered quietly.
"It's not their job. He's my Guide. I need to be in there." Jim paused, struggling to explain it. He finally settled on, "He's my responsibility.".
Simon sighed. "You're not objective."
"That's the best reason to go in. No one has a better motivation for getting the kid back." Jim shrugged and headed for the barn. Turning his hearing up, he could identify every animal in the forest, every twig cracking as SWAT moved around the structure, every pained wheeze from Blair.
Jim ignored all that and listened for the footsteps of the woman he could just imagine pacing around Blair, waiting for him to jerk as his body struggled for air. Step. Pause. Step, step, step. Pause.
Moving in closer, Jim could imagine her location, just from the sharp sound of her shoes against the old boards. Pulling out his weapon, he trained it on the rotting and gaping boards of the barn. God, please don't let Blair jerk when he did this.
Jim focused his sight on a crack between two boards, throwing himself out there beyond any balance as he counted on the sound of Blair's steady heart and strained breath to balance out his vision. The crack seemed to widen, the dark interior lightening as he watched Sarris pace around Blair. She paused, looked down toward the bomb, and then reversed direction so that she was behind Blair again.
"Come on, come on," Jim muttered. She turned to complete her paced circle, coming around the side of Blair, and Jim pulled the trigger, his sight following the bullet as it ripped through rotted wood and slammed into her head. Sarris fell back, her arm coming up and firing by reflex as she fell to the ground, and Jim was running.
He reached the barn, still waiting for the explosion. SWAT came racing around the corner and Jim had shoved his gun into his holster and pulled his knife before he even yanked the door open.
"About fucking time," Blair complained weakly as Jim hurried into the room.
"Just keep still."
"Oh man, I think I'm doing that already. The next time you accuse me of not being able to sit still, I'm bringing this up," Blair complained as Jim carefully cut the string around Blair's legs and let it drop to the ground. Joel could disarm the bomb; Jim just wanted Blair out of here.
"Actually, scratch that. I think I want to forget this whole thing. Just hit fucking rewind and do this day over," he changed his mind as Jim pulled the chair Sarris had sat in closer. He lifted Blair's legs and put his feet on the chair.
Blair groaned. "My arms fucking hurt, and I'm going to complain about that rather than think about all these other things, like the bomb sitting there, because I'm feeling like I'd be pretty justified in having a fucking panic attack right now."
"You would be, Chief. It'd just be a little messy to have it right now, so just hold on a bit, and you can panic all you want."
"I'm holding you to that, Ellison. I fully intend to completely freak out, just later."
The chains started lowering, and Jim looked over to find Simon operating a winch. Joel had on his bomb vest, and he came and stood on the other side of the chair to help support Blair.
"Joel, man, you are my witness. Jim promised me one free panic attack, and I so plan on taking him up on the offer."
"I heard. You've earned it, Blair."
"Oh man, and I am so going to have it. I thought I was dead. I mean, you guys are good, but I have to tell you that you pulled the fucking rabbit out of the hat this time."
Jim unhooked the chains and lifted Blair down from the chair while Joel bent down to examine the bomb.
"Joel?" Jim asked.
"The bomb is encased. We're going to have to clear the area and use a remote charge to detonate it," Joel offered. Jim got an arm under Blair and started helping him to the door as SWAT retrieved the body and Joel placed a remote charge.
"Sandburg, you get yourself in a lot of trouble," Simon suggested as he stepped to Blair's other side and helped Jim carry him from the building.
"Hey, this was so not my fault. And the whole gay-bashing thing? Also not my fault. This time, I'm blaming the woman with the loose marbles rolling around in her head," Blair argued as they half carried him back to the cars.
"And yet, you and Ellison seem to keep ending up in the middle of it all. I'm going to need more insurance on the department the way you two are going."
"Hey, your insurance doesn't even cover me. And, may I say, that kinda sucks."
"I think the department will pick up the hospital visit on this one, Chief," Jim said, his heart finally slowing enough that the pounding didn't fill his ears. They got to the first car, and Jim carefully set Blair on the hood. "Are you okay?" Jim asked.
Blair reached out with a shaky hand and curled his fingers into Jim's jacket. Not even caring about the other officers, Jim rested his hands on Blair's knees.
"Hey, right as rain. At least I will be once the heart starts working again. I knew you guys would come, so I just had to not fuck up before you got here."
"Your heart is fine. Your breathing has me a little worried, though, and you smell like..." Jim paused. "My guess is that's fear, and I don't particularly like the scent."
"You're using your senses," Blair whispered. He didn't need to bother since everyone else seemed distracted by Sarris' body and Joel's request for the local fire department to respond so that he could blow the building. "I knew it. You're a Sentinel; it's, like, hardwired into your brain to protect the tribe. Did you catch what I was whispering to you?"
"Yeah, I heard that. It helped us find you."
"Man, I told you these senses were amazing. Jim, you can't just turn away from being a Sentinel. I mean, look at what you did, and if it weren't for your enhanced hearing, Sarris and I would have gone boom in there." Blair stopped, a shiver running through his frame before he took a deep breath and tightened his fingers on Jim's arms.
"Hearing and taste," Jim said. "I ate a sample of dirt from Caro's lab, and considering how anal retentive that woman is with her paperwork, I might have to transfer jobs after doing that."
"You ate dirt?" Blair asked, shocked.
"I had to find my Guide," Jim pointed out. "He seemed to be in a little trouble."
"Yeah. Any chance you could just keep me chained to the bed for the next month or so? I'd feel a whole lot safer."
Jim froze. Blair must have noticed the reaction because he rolled his eyes. "Man, don't you even start with the angst. You chaining me to the bed is not anything like that. Hell, right now, I just want you to take me home and lock me up until I feel safe again, and yeah, I had better feel better by Monday because I'm teaching class, but that gives me two whole days to freak out and hide in the loft."
"Are you sure?" Jim asked, suddenly very unsure.
"Yeah, I'm totally sure. Trust me, and what do you mean you had to find your Guide?"
Jim sighed. Yeah, leave it to Blair to notice that bit.
"I might have misrepresented Incacha's description a little," Jim admitted. "The person who helps a Sentinel is his Guide, the person who can tip the scales and guide my senses out beyond where I can keep them balanced by myself."
"I'm your Guide?" Blair asked, his voice so full of wonder that for a second he sounded like a five-year-old on Christmas morning. Jim reached up and brushed back a curl of hair.
"Yeah, you're my Guide. Without you, I can only balance the senses if they're near normal. With you, I can stretch them a lot farther before I start having problems."
"Like zone outs and spiking senses?" Blair asked.
Jim nodded. "I don't know how I could have forgotten all this stuff I learned with Incacha." Jim grimaced.
"Hey, that's normal," Blair quickly disagreed. "Sometimes the mind just doesn't want to deal. Cognitive dissonance. You have two beliefs and they totally contradict each other, and you totally believe both, and the brain just can't handle that. Something's got to give." Blair paused. "Oh man, I'm starving. I never got breakfast. I don't suppose any of you guys brought anything to eat?"
"God, Blair, you're worried about food?"
"Well, yeah. Lots of psychologists see food and sex as the basic driving forces behind human behavior, and right now I'd do anything for a burger, or something else."
Jim stared blankly at Blair.
Blair shrugged. "You do repression; I do minimalization and denial. Hell, there were entire years where minimalization and denial were my best friends."
Jim shook his head. He guessed that Blair truly would freak out when they got home, but at least he still had his Guide, and they could handle all the freaking and panic later. Jim tightened his hold on Blair's knees. Just as long as he could hold on to his Guide, they'd figure out the rest later.
Jim walked behind Blair, his senses on alert as he came back to the station for the first time in nearly a week. True to his word, Blair had done his share of freaking, but from the way he bounced into the station now, no one would ever know it.
"Hey, Sandburg," some officer said in passing.
Blair hesitated for just a moment, briefly enough that Jim wouldn't even have noticed if he didn't have all his attention focused on his Guide. "Hey, man," he nodded back as he hit the elevator button.
When the doors slid shut, Jim hit the button for the sixth floor. "You okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, just, like, a major paradigm shift here. I'm totally used to this whole environment of hostility, and they're throwing me for a loop. It's all good," Blair offered.
"Yeah, well, just don't expect me to take off that cage just because you're feeling more centered," Jim teased as he let his eyes creep down to Blair's crotch. Blair put an elbow in Jim's stomach.
"No way I'm asking, man," Blair laughed. "I may be more centered now, but who knows when some psycho's going to grab me? This thing is like a lifeline reminding me that you're on the other end, holding on."
"Oh no," Jim said darkly. "No, I expressly forbid you from getting kidnapped, attacked, or having any contact at all with any psychopath. Don't even try to push me on this one, Junior," Jim growled.
The elevator doors opened, and Blair came out laughing.
"Hey, Hairboy!" Henri called from the end of the hall, hurrying to meet them. "Good to see you back. I was starting to think Jim was keeping you locked in the basement or something, especially after the trouble you got in just going for the donuts."
"Yeah, yeah. That's Mother Ellison for you," Blair agreed. Jim crossed his arms and glared at both of them. "I get chained up and threatened by one little psychopathic bomber and he's been in protector overdrive for a week solid. I had to distract him with offers of Wonderburger just to get out of the loft." Blair poked a thumb in Jim's direction with a laugh.
"You've taught three days this week," Jim pointed out. "I haven't exactly been keeping you prisoner." Mentally, Jim amended that to not keeping Blair an unwilling prisoner. He'd kept Blair in chains more often than not, both to give him an excuse to fuss over his guide and because Blair tended to fray at the edges and flirt with panic when he didn't.
"He sat in on your classes, didn't he?" Henri asked with a smile.
"Oh yeah," Blair agreed. "He blushed through the entire history of circumcision."
"Hey, stop right there. No need to torture me," Henri said as he held up his hands and backed through the door to Major Crimes.
"Blair," Joel called as they all walked into the bull pen.
"Nice to see you back," Rafe added as he stood up and came around his desk to give Blair a slap on the arm. Jim resisted the urge to put himself between Blair and the guys.
"You guys miss me?" Blair asked as he dropped his bag on the chair next to Jim's desk.
"Hell, yeah. I got stuck with some weird ass case about some girl who got killed and half the family is accusing the other half of the family of doing some honor-killing shit, and I don't see anything honorable about it. But if you'd been around, I know I could have dumped it off on you. So you know I missed you, Hairboy," Brown joked.
"Ellison, Sandburg!" Simon yelled from his office, not bothering to get up from his desk as he bellowed through the open door.
"Into the valley of death rode the six hundred, or in this case, the two," Blair sighed as he looked toward the open office. Jim could see Gary Birdsell, the assistant DA, sitting behind the blinds.
"Come on, Chief; it's not that bad," Jim said as he used a hand to herd Blair toward the office. He could feel the reluctance until Gary got up and stepped to the door.
"Gary!" Blair smiled and bounced forward. Gary held out his hand and they started shaking hands but ended up in the sort of one-armed hug men allow themselves in public. Jim still felt like growling.
"I can't believe the trouble you get yourself into," Gary laughed. "And considering that I'm the one who insisted that you ride along for a few weeks, it's a good thing you didn't get yourself killed. I would have chased you down in your next life and sued you for emotional distress."
"Gary, like I keep telling Mother Ellison here, the only one who gets blamed for this is Veronica Sarris," Blair insisted as he dropped into a chair across from Simon. Gary picked the chair on the far side, leaving a chair for Jim, but he chose to swing the door closed and lean against the wall.
"You're a braver man than I am, Blair Sandburg. Personally, I wouldn't call Ellison that unless I was already running at the time."
"And you'd better make sure you have a good head start even then," Jim said as he smiled evilly.
"I know I have work to do today. Maybe we could get to the point of this little get together," Simon interrupted.
"Is there a problem with my statement?" Blair asked.
"This time, for once, I'm actually here about Jim," Gary said as he pulled papers out of his briefcase. "I have to tell you guys that you do make my life a little too interesting. First Blair sticks his nose and the rest of his body into an investigation and then Jim does this whole thing with his senses."
"His senses?" Blair's voice grew strained, and Jim stood up straight.
"What about them?" Jim demanded.
"Oh, just the whole issue of reasonable expectation of privacy and invasion of privacy and illegal surveillance, that's all." Gary waved a hand dismissively. "Come on, Jim. You can hear things that it takes electronic equipment to pick up. That makes things very hairy, legally. That makes things hairy and ugly."
"His hearing," Blair repeated softly, his eyes meeting Jim's, and in that glance, Jim could see the borderline panic.
"I'm ignoring the scent thing because other than really annoying Lieutenant Plummer by snorting her dirt samples, that's probably not going to cause any complications. But being able to hear what he can hear... it's going to be a huge problem if we don't handle this right."
"And what does handling this right include?" Simon demanded. "The last time you asked us to handle something right, I inherited Sandburg and the gray hairs have been gathering ever since."
"I'm actually not the expert on senses here. Soon to be Dr. Sandburg, and may I say that the sooner the better, how normal are we talking about?"
"What? The senses?" Blair asked.
"Hypersensitive hearing," Jim redirected him slightly.
"Oh, yeah," Blair nodded with a slightly dazed expression, and Gary also gave him a strange look. "Right. I have hundreds of documented cases."
"All as strong as Jim?"
"I don't actually know," Blair confessed. "I haven't done any tests since I've actually been doing some freaking with occasional side trips to the department therapist."
"He's got to be thrilled to have a patient who doesn't have to be threatened with suspension before getting some help." Gary shook his head, and smiled with a sort of wry amusement. "But really, I'm glad you're dealing with this. I never would have forgiven myself if riding along had gotten you killed."
"Hey, man, I'm going to be fine. A little minimalization, a little denial, and I'll be back out there chasing down dino bones and bombers in no time."
"No more bombers or psychopaths for you," Jim insisted. "We have a deal."
"But back on track..." Simon said as he glared at everyone pointedly.
"But back on track, how normal is normal when it comes to Jim's hearing?" Gary asked.
"He's one of the stronger cases in terms of hearing faint noises, but I don't know that he can distinguish tones as well, and I had one guy who lived out on the Arizona reservation who was, like, amazing. I don't know that Jim is going to be able to hear as well as he could. And this mountie I tested once... he could hear the deep tones so well that a train rumbling over the tracks ten miles away would warn him that it was dinner time."
"So Jim's not one of a kind?" Gary asked. Blair paused for only a scant second.
"Jim's hearing is amazing, but not unique," he agreed. Jim blessed his Guide's ability to tap dance around the truth.
"That's good. So, we take the legal position that everyone has a different ability level, and Jim just represents one end. If you could do some of that testing so that we have some scientific backing if a defense lawyer challenges us, it would help."
"Yeah, oh man, there's this one test--"
"Gary, you will pay for this," Jim growled at the D.A. Gary shook his head and didn't even bother looking intimidated.
"Hey, it's not bad at all. You might even enjoy it, Jim," Blair protested.
"And we have to deal with the expectation aspect of this. Any chance you could get something published somewhere? If the idea of heightened senses is out there, at least I can point out that someone expects to see them in a certain percentage of the population. At that point, we can argue that it's the defendant's fault for not being educated enough to know any better."
"Gary, I can get into Anthropology or Modern Humanity, but no way can I get something into the mainstream," Blair said slowly.
"You get something into Anthropology, and I'll twist it around so much that the judge and jury start thinking that everyone should have a subscription. But, the more we can get people talking, the tougher it's going to be for anyone to make the claim that they couldn't possibly have known that Detective Ellison could hear them." Gary shifted to focus on Jim. "Now, on the other side, if you go listening in on privileged conversations here at the station, I am leaving your body out for the defense lawyers to strip the flesh from your bones," Gary warned as he pointed a finger.
"Oh, Ellison will be playing fair with his hearing," Simon promised. "So, that's it? We get Sandburg to do a couple of tests and publish something, and we're covered?"
Gary snorted. "Hell, no. This one is going to end up in front of a judge sooner or later. So, we get that testing done, we get a published article or two, and hopefully we get that Dr. in front of that Sandburg, and we'll win once we land there."
Gary shuffled papers together, pulling out a good-sized stapled packet and handing it over to Blair. "You guys look through the court decisions I found on eavesdropping. You need to know we're on very messy legal ground."
"We'll do our best, Gary. We're just counting on you to keep the shit contained once it hits the fan," Simon said, suddenly serious. Gary stood up and put the rest of his papers back into his briefcase.
"Hey, that's what I'm here for, and I am the best."
"Thanks, man," Blair said.
Jim wasn't sure whether he meant for the papers which Blair's eyes were already skimming or the fact that Gary had seemed so genuinely concerned about Blair. Jim knew which one he appreciated more.
"Thanks, Gary," he said as he stepped forward and offered his hand. Gary blinked in surprise for a second and then accepted the handshake.
"You're a good cop. I'll do a lot for a good cop," Gary answered.
Jim nodded and opened the door so that Gary could head out into the bull pen.
"Ellison, I need to talk to you and Sandburg. Close the door," Simon ordered. Blair's eyes snapped up from his reading, and Jim shut the door.
"Okay, this Sentinel shit. Jim, you have given me the runaround all week. I take it you two have talked this over?"
"Good, because you said you'd explain it to me once you two had your conversation, and I'm waiting." Simon leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, waiting.
"Simon, Jim can do amazing things. What he did finding me was just the tip of the iceberg. Sentinels have genetic advantages specifically designed to protect the tribe, and I don't think for a second that it's a coincidence that he became a cop."
"And this zoning stuff?" Simon demanded. Before Blair could answer, Jim let his hand fall to Blair's shoulder.
"Simon, using the senses means that I have to have someone else to rely on, someone to watch my back and who can warn me when I'm going too far. That's what a Guide does."
"And you're sure Brown can't do that for you?" Simon asked, and Jim could see the shock as Blair looked up. He hadn't mentioned that Simon had brought this up more than once.
Jim shook his head and repeated the same argument he'd used before. "Simon, it's not that simple. Some people are compatible. Most aren't. My senses didn't come on-line during the times I've worked with Brown. We aren't compatible."
"But you and Blair are?"
"Yes," Jim answered immediately. "And the minute I had Blair near, the senses were inevitable. Simon, I could have brushed by him in a restaurant or caught his scent outside a Starbucks, and my senses might have started turning active. The Guide makes the senses possible. No Guide, no senses."
"Whoa, hey, that's not what the research I did found, and I've been researching Sentinels for a decade. Burton described the senses being activated by a time of isolation," Blair argued.
"Blair, when you did that study in Saudi Arabia: after three or four days, what did you notice about the body odor?" Jim asked.
Blair laughed. "Oh man. Growing up in America, I noticed nothing but body odor for three or four days. It took me at least that long to stop noticing it."
"That's how Incacha explained it," Jim said. "In a small tribe, a Sentinel doesn't notice his Guide because he grows up around him. If he takes time away from everyone, and then comes back, he can find the Guide because he isn't used to the Guide's presence."
"Oh man, that suggests it's not cultural, but biological. A hormone, maybe. Smell is the most sensitive sense, the most closely linked to the primitive part of the brain, so maybe a Sentinel identifies something the way some animals identify pheromones," Blair mused. "Are you sure it's not just a matter of being comfortable with someone? Are you sure it's one person who has to be the Guide?" Blair asked.
Jim shook his head. "I don't know. I don't know that Incacha knew, but if he did, he didn't tell me."
"Someone just give me the Cliff's notes version," Simon asked, his voice tired and flat.
"Simon, you know I'm a damn good detective," Jim said. "But what I did with Blair, hell, what I did finding the Switchman, I can only do that if I'm functioning as a Sentinel, and I can only function as a Sentinel if I have my Guide with me."
"Define with you," Simon said, his face buried in his hands.
"In the tribe, the Sentinel and Guide are always together. I've done pretty well without Blair here every day, but the more time we spend apart, the more I'm in danger of zoning and dying."
"Great," Simon said as he looked up. "So, the kid's credentials are up in less than four weeks, and at that point, you either have to learn to ignore the greatest investigative tool you have, or you risk freezing in the middle of a scene and getting shot."
"If I don't just stop breathing," Jim added.
"Great." Simon's expression looked like he had just bitten into a lemon. "So, Sandburg, how much do you think the mayor likes you?" Simon asked.
"Me? I don't think the mayor actually notices me," Blair shrugged.
"Yeah, but he noticed the nice publicity you got him over minority rights, and now the papers made you out to be some sort of tragic hero... house blown up, kidnapped, tied up and tortured. I hope you're good at politics, because you're going to use that and a little sucking up to get the mayor to do something drastic."
"What?" Blair asked.
"How the hell should I know?" Simon demanded. "Hire you, give you permanent observer status, adopt you. I don't care, but you're the resident genius, so you have four weeks to figure it out."
"You want me to stay," Blair said slowly, smiling.
"'Want' might be too strong a word."
"No way. Man, I know when I'm not wanted, and this is NOT not being wanted," Blair announced triumphantly.
"That didn't even make sense," Simon growled.
"It does if you're in the Sandburg zone," Jim said with a shrug. He got a hand under Blair's arm and pulled him up out of his chair. "Come on, Chief; I think Simon's had his Sandburg quota for the day."
"For the month," Simon quickly corrected him as Jim opened the door.
"Oh yeah, he wants me," Blair bounced.
"Damn it, Sandburg. For once in your life think before you let words fall out of your mouth," Simon just about roared. Jim pulled Blair out, and Henri was sitting at his desk, smiling from one ear to the other as he pretended to type. Rafe was hiding behind the paper, but Jim could hear the strangled laughter.
"I'm feeling loved, man, totally loved," Blair announced to the room as he headed across to Jim's desk and leaned against the edge. "Okay, what's the next case?"
"You want the honor killing?" Brown asked hopefully.
"No!" Jim just about shouted as Blair's mouth came open. "No way are you volunteering us for any more weird-ass cases, Sandburg. One week without the Sandburg Zone, got it?"
"You'll be bored within two days," Blair predicted as he picked up the little purple crystal from the top of Jim's computer and absentmindedly fingered it. "Face it, I make your life interesting."
"That you do, Chief," Jim agreed. "But I think I could do with a little less interesting right now. No more psychopaths or obsessed killers or dinosaur bones, not for a while."
"Man, what's left, then?"
"Swanson and his sewing factory. We never did find out if Swanson was doing any hanky panky with the women who worked for him. Come on, Chief; we have work to do."
Jim smiled as Blair put the crystal back on the computer monitor and then grabbed his backpack before just about bouncing to Jim's side. Slipping his hand to Blair's back, Jim steered his Guide toward the elevator, remembering what Incacha had once told him, that he'd find his true Guide in the great city. At the time, Jim had doubted Incacha. Not any more. For the first time, Jim felt at peace with his city and himself as he headed out on the trail of Swanson, his guide at his side.
Epilogue One: All Wound Up
"Detective Ellison?" Jim looked up at the older man standing in front of his desk. He looked familiar.
The man stuck out a hand. "Detective Peterson from Homicide."
Jim shook his hand and tried to push aside any frustration at getting interrupted. "What can I do for you?" Jim narrowed his eyes suspiciously as Peterson slowly turned a faint shade of pink.
"Detective, I know you're good with handling a certain kind of witness."
Jim crossed his arms. If this schmuck was about to say something about Blair, Jim was ready to rip him a new asshole. When Blair had first ripped into those patrol officers still wearing the bondage gear from his puppy play, he had made it patently clear that he would not be humiliated into apologizing for being a sexual submissive, and as the man Blair trusted to be his dominant, Jim was feeling more than a little protective. If this Peterson asshole said even one word, Jim was going to put him into a wall and have a few words about respect and tolerance.
"Anyway," Peterson cleared his throat, "I have a witness who is falling apart. She's a good kid, but she's..." he cleared his throat again, "a little...." Peterson collapsed into a chair so fast that Jim sat up in alarm, half expecting that Peterson just had a heart attack or something. "Fuck." He pulled off his thick, black glasses, and Jim could see from the way his eyes dilated that the man was blind as a bat without them.
"What about your witness?" Jim asked quietly. It was a tone of voice he normally reserved for victims, but Peterson was looking like a victim of something.
"She's falling apart, Ellison. She wants to go to some club, but I can't secure the area. Hell, they'll take one look at me and lock me out, and she witnessed a gang murder. She needs to stay under protective custody at all times. But she's telling me that she's going to fall apart if she can't—" Peterson stopped. "Fuck, can you just talk to her or have Sandburg talk to her? I can't have her fall apart this late in the game. The prosecution will have a fit."
The pieces clicked. His witness was either a dominate or a submissive. "What do you expect me to do about this?" Jim asked coldly. If this woman was a dominant, Jim was more likely to cut off her hand than give her an outlet. He did not share well, and the thought of someone touching Blair in a possessive way was enough to set his teeth on edge, and if she was a submissive, Jim wasn't a dom for hire.
"Ellison, please. Just talk to her. Do something. If you don't, she's going to fall apart, and a murderer is going to go free because she's going to look like a tweaker up on the stand. She's bouncing off walls already, and I.... Ellison, please."
Jim sighed. Looking around at the last of his paperwork, he had to admit that he wasn't horribly behind on anything. "Let me talk to my captain," he told Peterson. The man looked ridiculously relieved.
Two seconds after Jim had walked into the safehouse, Jim could see that Raven Gillard was submissive. She was standing by the kitchen door with her long arms wrapped around her stomach, her bright pink hair messy and glossy from not being washed, and her eyes wide and wild and sparking with anger. Not only was she a submissive, but she was on the verge of physically flailing out of control.
In those early days, back before Blair had been Jim's lover, Blair had fallen apart once. His emotions had run so close to the surface that he had raged out of control. He'd even tried to attack Jim, not that he'd gotten far. To this day, Blair insisted he'd been trying to get out, and Jim insisted Blair had been trying to get Jim to physically dominate him. Blair had still been a witness on one of Jim's cases, so Jim couldn't sexually dominate the man, but he'd put him in a hold, put him face down on the couch and tied his hands behind his back until Blair had found enough control to get himself under control.
Right now, Raven had that same expression. She wanted to be tied down so she could let go of all the emotions raging inside. "Give us a second," Jim said to Peterson's partner. The man was nearly as young as Blair, which put him about five years older than Raven if Jim was guessing right. He looked to Peterson for some sort of confirmation.
"Come on, Whitney. Let's check perimeter."
Whitney looked from Jim to Raven. "Are you...?"
"Go," Jim said firmly, poking his thumb toward the door. Whitney jumped and then hurried to follow Peterson outside. Raven watched the exchange with wide eyes. She was basically a pretty girl—brown eyes, a little on the rounded side. Jim didn't personally care much for the bright pink hair, but maybe his Sentinel vision was just overly bothered by the bright color.
Jim crossed his arms and sat on the edge of one of the chairs. "Do you need me to tie you?" he asked.
Raven gave him a double take, her mouth falling open. Jim just waited, watching as her need for that and her obvious embarrassment warred in her expression.
"No," she finally said, aggressively. She might be a submissive, but she wasn't like Blair. She didn't want to submit easily, or maybe she just didn't want to submit to Jim.
Jim nodded. "Fair enough. I prefer to have a solid understanding of the limits before I put my ropes on someone. It prevents confusion later." Jim didn't mention that Blair was the only partner he'd ever tied up. The smell of pain and need just about overwhelmed Jim as Raven closed the distance between them, stopping just a foot or two away. Her hands were at her sides, fists tight and every muscle stretched to a breaking point.
"I'm fucking sick of being in this house. I'm not the fucking criminal."
"No, you aren't," Jim agreed. "You're a woman caught in a very difficult situation who is doing something exceptionally brave. And I imagine this is difficult for you."
"You have no fucking idea." She spat the words at Jim, her anger sliding around just under her skin. "I need out of here." She turned toward the door and took two steps before Jim caught her arm.
"You're not leaving."
"You can't fucking keep me!" Raven whirled around and aimed a slap for Jim's face. It was a slow move, clumsy and awkward, and she clearly intended Jim to intercept it. He did. Then he used her weight to swing her around and then pulled her back toward him so that he trapped her in his arms and used one leg around her thighs to imitate the bondage he suspected she needed.
"Let me go!" she wailed. She flailed, but for all her struggles, she was careful to not fight hard enough to actually break Jim's hold. Now that Jim held her close, he could feel that she was muscled and hard under her punk clothing, far more than he would have expected. If anything, she could give Blair a run for his money, strength-wise, and Blair was a solid man.
"Stop," Jim commanded firmly, but with very little emotion in his voice. The word made her stop immediately. She trembled in his embrace, but she didn't move.
"I can't," she whispered.
"You can't what, Raven?" Jim asked calmly. While he wasn't sexually attracted to her, the more she obeyed his voice, the more Jim could feel a protective instinct, an urge to take care of the one submitting to him.
"I can't turn off the fear. They're going to kill me." She gave a little sob.
"No, they aren't. They are not going to hurt you. You're going to testify and then we're going to find you a new home far away from here where you'll be safe. The killer isn't even high enough in the gang for the leadership to try and look for you." Jim suspected that logic wasn't going to reach her, but he had to try.
She shook her head. "I can't sleep. I can't turn off all these thoughts, and I'm going to fuck up. I'm going to get on the stand and be so strung out that I can't do it. I've heard Peterson. I know what he's saying."
Jim sighed. He knew he was working on limited information. Blair, one officer in the army who'd gone on his knees for Jim, and the Internet were the extent of his knowledge of submissives, but as far as he could tell, being criticized was a pretty big trigger for them. They wanted to serve, to make others happy, and being told she was in danger of fucking up a case was going to set her off.
"The case is our problem, the police and the prosecutors," Jim said firmly. "You are one witness. This case is not your responsibility."
Raven twisted around to look at him. "But Peterson said..." She stopped.
"Peterson is trying to motivate you to pull yourself together," Jim told her.
She snorted. "He's a fucking moron."
Jim didn't bother to contradict her. "Are you more under control now?"
She nodded, and Jim slowly let her go, watching as she retreated to the kitchen wall again. At least this time she wasn't hugging herself, every muscle ready to flee.
"What do you need, Raven?" Jim asked. There were a lot of forms of domination. Blair was pretty flexible. As long as he could feel Jim's control over him, he flitted from spankings to puppy play to bondage to orgasm denial, and each made him equally happy. From Jim's research, he'd found that Blair was actually pretty unusual in that way, so Raven probably had one or two activities that she needed. Jim couldn't deal with this until he knew what those activities were and whether or not he could provide them. If she needed a whipping, they were going to have to figure something else out because Jim did not cause people pain—not unless they were criminals.
"Nothing," she said. She didn't sound quite as angry now, but there was still a defensive wall.
"Do you want me to call my partner?"
"Why? So you two can double team me?" Raven was starting to take on that hard edge again.
"My submissive partner, not my work partner," Jim corrected her gently. This wasn't a part of his life that he normally shared with others, but he wasn't ashamed of it. And Blair... hell, that man would sing ballads to his submissiveness if Jim let him. One thing Jim knew was that if he left this girl suffering because he tried to keep his orientation a secret, Blair was going to justifiably kick his ass.
"Really?" Raven asked softly, and the desperation told Jim just as much as her anger had. Peterson was right that she was going to be worthless at trial if she didn't get a chance to let go of all these fears and focus on finding a better headspace.
"I can call him right now." Jim took out his cell phone.
Raven shook her head and looked toward the door. "They'll give him a hard time."
Jim stood up, his anger obviously slipping into his expression because Raven pressed herself back against the wall. "Did they give you a hard time?" he demanded.
For a second, she just stared at him, her eyes large. "No, it's not that they gave me a hard time as much as..." she stopped.
"They didn't understand?" Jim guessed. She nodded. "Raven, I understand that, but let me tell you, that will not bother Blair. The first time I met Blair, he was still wearing most of his gear from doing puppy play, he was clutching a blanket around him to try and cover up, and he was still verbally shredding four uniformed cops who made the mistake of not understanding. Trust me, he would not mind coming over here and shredding a couple of detectives." Jim laughed and leaned back against the chair again as he considered just how much fun Blair would have doing exactly that. And it never stopped giving Jim a thrill that a man with such a wild streak and so much strength would lay all that strength at Jim's feet. He wouldn't mind calling Blair in at all. "Besides, Peterson asked me to come over to help him with a witness, so I think he understands more than you give him credit for."
"Your partner does puppy play?" she asked. Her anger was gone, replaced with a sort of wary hopefulness.
"He loves it. He works with the department and teaches classes at the university on top of his classes, and sometimes he gets himself wound so tight that he needs a way to turn off all his worries." Jim silently encouraged her to admit that she needed that. He could use some of Blair's older gear, put her in bondage, and let her chew on a rubber toy until she had finally managed to turn off all the little voices in her head. It never failed to amaze Jim how, when Blair was really wound tight, nothing could help him just relax more than becoming a puppy and leaving his human identity and his human worries behind.
"I'm a pony," she blurted out so fast that Jim had to mentally rewind and run that sentence again.
"A pony?" he asked, his voice still calm. What the fuck was he supposed to do with a pony? Jim had immediate thoughts of stables and carts and none of that made any sense given that most play took place inside.
Her whole body was tight as she nodded.
"A pony," Jim repeated. "I don't have as much experience with that." Jim stopped. "I don't have any experience with that," he amended himself. "But we can work something out as long as all you need is the bondage. I'm sexually exclusive with Blair."
She nodded, but she still looked miserable.
"As strong as you are, I should have guessed, huh?" Jim asked her. "Do you have some place private where you can be a pony and pull carts?"
She nodded without offering any location.
"I bet you can pull a lot of weight. That pink hair of yours would look nice against black leather, too." Jim may not know a lot about pony play, but he suspected that she needed to be praised for doing well. Maybe a little praise and a little time relaxing without thinking about the case would get her back on track.
"I can pull two people at once pretty easy," she said, and from her tone, she was pretty proud of that. She was also starting to relax for the first time since Jim had seen her. "I know it's dumb...."
"No, no more than it's dumb that I enjoy seeing people submit to me," Jim cut her off. "I like stroking over flanks and tightening the leather and grooming my partner, and as long as everyone is enjoying themselves, there's nothing dumb about it."
"You'd enjoy it?" she asked softly. "I don't want to upset your partner."
Jim snorted. "Trust me, he's harder to upset than that. If I left you here with Peterson, that would upset him. Hell, he'd probably bite me on the leg and pee on the couch if I even tried." Jim was rewarded with a small smile.
Blair dropped his backpack in the hall as he searched his pockets for the key. "Damn it," he said softly, and was surprised when the door opened like magic.
"Jim!" Blair said happily. He'd thought Jim was working all day. "Man, it's nice to see you home early. Please tell me that no one blew up the station or something because you are not exactly one for taking time off."
Blair grabbed his backpack and headed into the loft. As he came in through the door, he froze in astonishment. What the hell was a pink pony doing in the kitchen? And why was it wearing his black harness like a halter? Okay, pony girl, but still. So not what he had expected.
"Jim?" Blair asked softly. If Jim wanted to go back to girls, Blair couldn't exactly forbid him, but he would have liked a little more warning before getting kicked in the stomach.
Jim reached out and caught Blair by the back of the neck and pulled him close, holding him so tight that Blair had to breathe carefully. "I've been trying to call you for the last hour, Chief. We're on witness detail for a couple of days, and the witness we're protecting needs a chance to unwind and let some of her fears just sort of fade into the background."
Blair's body sagged as he realized what Jim was telling him. "Oh man. Shit. I was having not good thoughts there for a second," Blair admitted, resting his forehead against Jim's chest.
"You're the only puppy I need, Sandburg. Besides, I don't have the energy to housebreak anyone else." Blair looked up and punched Jim in the stomach when he saw the expression on Jim's face.
"Dork," Blair accused him. Now that Blair's stomach wasn't knotted at the idea of losing his partner and lover, Blair took a closer look at the girl. Her bright pink hair fell just past her shoulders and the black harness held it tightly against her head. It was a poor fitting contraption, but Blair knew that a lot of the pony play submissives couldn't get into the part without some sort of halter. She was wearing black panties and a black bra and a long pink tail was attached to a pink ribbon around her waist. With her hands tied behind her back and her halter tied off to the kitchen cabinet, she had to roll her eyes to look at him. Her struggles made the muscles on her back and legs stand out.
Blair whistled. "Wow. She is a beauty. I wish we had some land and a cart," Blair walked over to her side. "Can I touch her?" he asked, looking to Jim. The last thing he wanted to do was freak her out if she was already having trouble, but Blair could see her arch her back, her head going up at the praise. If she'd been a puppy, she would have been wiggling her tail.
"Go for it, Chief. This is Sundancer. She's going to be here for three days."
"No offense, but man, that halter sucks."
"Yeah, we haven't had a pony around, so I'm a little short on pony gear," Jim said. Blair ran a hand down Sundancer's back, feeling the strong muscles. His fingers slid over her satin underwear and squeezed the firm butt.
"She's gorgeous. Do you want me to call a friend of mine? He could run some gear over." Blair looked at Jim hopefully. These things took the right equipment.
Jim frowned and let his own hands run over Sundancer's shoulders before he reached up and ran a finger under the poorly fitting leather. "I don't want your friend in here, and I don't want you discussing Sundancer, understand?" Jim asked.
"Totally. I get it," Blair agreed. If Sundancer was a witness, that implied there were bad guys after her. She didn't need either of them reminding her of that. "I'll call Kenny and have him run a halter and lead and a couple of mitts over." Blair reached for the phone. "Can I groom her? Oh man, I have always wanted a pony."
Sundancer arched her back more and tossed her head. Yep, if she was a puppy, she'd be squirming for a tummy rub right about now. Jim chuckled and let his hands run down her sides to her hips before he reached up and fingered one of her pink locks.
"I think that would be alright," Jim agreed.
"Cool!" Blair said before he dialed the phone.
After making his call, Blair took the leather off and slipped one of his metal choke chains around Sundancer's neck. The chain would survive the water, and Blair didn't want to take all the restraints off when he bathed her. Jim's eyebrow went up, but he didn't comment as Blair urged her into the bathroom with soft words and an apple cut into small pieces. "Come on girl," he coaxed. She took a step forward and reached out to lip the apple off his palm before Blair backed up another step. "Good girl. Oh yeah, such a pretty girl. You need some grooming. Someone isn't taking care of a pretty girl."
Blair smiled, watching the transformation as she slipped under. Her eyes half shut and her movements became more random as she let herself slide from pretending to act like a horse into letting herself really feel like it. Blair had tried to explain it to Jim once, but he couldn't. It was the difference between the sort of actor who pretended to feel an emotion and a method actor who did feel the emotion.
"Such a good girl you are." Blair held out another piece of apple and she took it and then snuffed right into his palm.
"Good girl." Blair rubbed her forehead and tightened the leash just a little so she would feel the pressure.
"You're doing good," Jim offered from behind. Blair smiled. Jim's senses totally gave him the advantage in this sort of play. There were days that Blair could swear the man read minds because he knew exactly when Blair was tired or sleepy or hungry. Blair had played at being the puppy with a lot of dominants, but Jim was the only one where he could let go of himself for extended periods and just be the puppy... no pressures, no thoughts, just total relaxation.
"She's such a well-trained pony. And strong. Man, I would love to see her pulling a cart uphill, all those muscles working," Blair said, and he patted her hip. She pressed into the touch and used the side of her head to push into him. The doorbell rang and there a flicker of awareness returned to her eyes.
"That's your friend with the housecall. After all, our pony needs the right equipment," Jim said, soothing her with a quick pat on the hip before he turned back toward the living room and hurried for the door.
"Good girl," Blair offered another apple piece, not even making her take another step, but this time she was distracted as she picked it off his palm. The voices from the living room were indistinct and then the door closed again. Blair reached up and rubbed Sundancer's forehead, crooning softly as Jim appeared at the end of the hall.
"Special delivery. As soon as you get Sundancer groomed, we'll get her into her new gear," Jim said. He came down the hallway and Sundancer tossed her head up and down with a soft nickering sound. "You're going to look great in your new gear," Jim patted her on the hip.
"Come on girl, you aren't getting groomed out here," Blair said, offering the last of the apple. She reached for it, and Blair backed into the bathroom. For a second, she stopped and made a loud snorting noise and tossed her head.
"Good girl." Jim urged her forward with his hands on her hips, and she took the last step into the bathroom and claimed her bit of apple.
"Underwear on or off?" Blair asked. He hadn't been there for the negotiations, and he didn't know how far Sundancer wanted to go.
"She said she wanted to be the pony. Ponies don't wear underwear," Jim pointed out. Leaning against the counter, he watched while Blair stripped her. Sundancer seemed to have forgotten her arms and hands as she explored the bathroom, nosing at the towels.
"Oh man." Blair tightened the leash to stop some of her explorations. "She really needed this," Blair said sympathetically. It took him at least an hour before he could truly slip into the sort of meditative state where he felt like a puppy, but he was fairly sure she was there already.
"You have no idea, Chief," Jim said. He reached over and stroked a hand over her shoulder and arm, and she turned to butt at him with her head. "She was flying apart at the seams. However, she smells and she's greasy, and if you don't get to grooming, I'm going to take your pony away."
Blair drew himself up. "No fair. I'm working on it. Geez. Someone's feeling pushy." Blair gave the chain a little tug before taking her arm and pulling her toward the shower. "Good girl. You have no idea how pushy he is. Man, if he ever finds out where you're stabled, he's going to drive your cart until you're muddy and ready to drop," Blair said confidentially. He knew there was nothing sexier than a dominant who pushed you to your limits, and Sundancer's eyes rolled as she tried to look at Jim without pulling at the lead.
"I will," Jim agreed. "And then I'll wash her and groom her and make sure she's safely put away in her stall."
Blair smiled at his partner. Jim might not have come into his own as a dominant until recently, but he was a natural. Blair's cock ached just watching him dominate Sundancer, which was not good considering that Blair's cock was trapped inside its cage and Jim was not quick to let him out of it.
"He's a good owner," Blair said conspiratorially as he urged her into the bathtub. Blair stepped back out just as Sundancer started to pee, the yellow running down her leg.
"Ponies are messier than puppies," Jim commented.
"I'm going to remind you of that next time you complain because I chew on something." Blair turned the water on and waited for it to warm up before sending it up to the shower head.
"You haven't had a chance to lately considering how good you look with a gag." Jim moved so fast that Blair didn't have time to turn before Jim caught him and pulled him back into Jim's chest. Leaning in, Jim pulled Blair's shirt open at the neck and put his mouth to Blair's shoulder, sucking gently. Blair squirmed and made a little needy noise at the back of his throat. "I love how you smell when you want to come," Jim whispered in his ear, and Blair shivered. With a laugh, Jim backed up and leaned against the counter again.
"You bastard," Blair groaned, one hand pressing helplessly against his crotch. It didn't help much with the cock cage.
"Yep," Jim agreed with a cocky grin.
"And the worst part is that he knows I love it," Blair confessed to Sundancer with a sigh. Pulling the lever, he transferred the warm water up to the shower so he could wash her.
After the shower, Blair dried her off and led her out to the living room wrapped up in a large blanket. Jim got a fire going and pulled all the blinds while Blair put Sundancer on her knees and took the hair dryer to her hair. It was thick hair and black at the roots with stunning pink that slowly faded at it got to the very end. "She's so pretty."
"Yeah, Chief, she is. I didn't know you had such a dominant streak in you." Blair looked up in surprise and clicked off the hair dryer.
"Me? No way. I do not want that responsibility." Blair frowned when Jim's expression turned confused.
"Chief, you seem to be doing pretty good with the responsibilities." He gestured toward Sundancer.
"Oh no. No, she is your pony. I'm having fun playing with her, but she is not mine." Blair reached over and picked up the halter. It had a detachable bit, and Blair took the bit out. Sundancer was deep enough into her pony self that she didn't need reminding to not talk. She wasn't like Blair who had trouble going under and who needed the gag or he would keep making arguments and talking about projects, even with all the puppy gear on. Getting the halter in place, Blair pulled the blanket away and picked up one of Sundancer's hands, fitting the hoof mitt around it before fastening the second mitt around the other one.
Blair finished up and attached the lead to the halter. "Up girl," he encouraged her. She got up and stepped out of the blanket, dancing back to the end of her line. Shaking her head, she started prancing.
"Watch the lamp, Chief," Jim warned.
"Oh shit." Blair hurried to move so that the line wasn't pulled across the lamp. Luckily, Jim reached out and rescued it, moving it to the floor just as Sundancer went trotting between the fireplace and the couch. "Whoa, girl." Sundancer reversed direction and Blair scrambled to pull her closer before she could get tangled in the other lamp. "Well, shit. Okay, Jim, I'm in over my head here," Blair admitted.
Jim laughed and stood up, taking the lead from Blair's hand. "Stop, girl," he called. She didn't, and he flicked the lead sharply. "Stop." She stopped and looked at him with wide, adoring eyes. "Good girl. Such a good girl. Giddiup," he called and he let the line go a little loose. She started trotting around the room, her knees high, and Jim walked behind her, tugging her right or left to make her choose paths around the furniture where she was least likely to knock things over. "If I knew where your stable was, I'd run you until you were sweaty and panting," Jim said. "Chief, isn't she just beautiful to watch from back here? Those muscles are really beautiful."
Blair pushed himself up and sat on the back of the couch. "Man, her muscles are almost as nice as yours, but she has a better ass."
"Someone's going to get gagged," Jim warned.
Blair smiled. "Oh man, I hope so. I'm getting seriously jealous over here and I think your new pony could use a puppy chasing her heels."
"Whoa girl." Jim tightened the lead until he could pull Sundancer close.
"Chief, you know you're always my first priority."
"Totally," Blair hurried to agree. "I'm jealous of Sundancer's ability to really get into her groove. I really struggle to get into the right headspace. It's like mediation, and Naomi will tell you that I've never been great at meditation. Too fidgety. I’m okay at it, but not great. But watching her? Geez, now that is inspiration to try and do better."
Blair watched as Sundancer nosed around Jim's arm, searching for a pet or a treat.
"Chief," Jim said in the tone of voice that meant business, "Sundancer is new. If you chase her or bite or spook her, you're going to end up in your kennel." Jim rubbed Sundancer's side.
"You are never going to understand the concept of threats, are you?" Blair asked sadly. "One of these days, you will threaten me with something I don't want, and I'm going to faint from shock."
"You know how to shut me up," Blair countered.
"Come girl," Jim urged Sundancer, walking her over to the railing and tying off her lead before he came back toward Blair with a very serious look in his eye. Blair shivered. Oh yeah, tonight he was going to let himself go totally under. He wiggled, happy already.
Jim watched the door to the bathroom. The longest he'd ever kept Blair in his puppy gear was one day, and she'd been under for three days now. He'd even had to clean up a mess in his bathtub that he was not going to think about.
"Man, she's fine. Stop with the hovering." Blair poked Jim in the ribs as he passed.
"I'm just looking out for the wellbeing of a witness, Sandburg," Jim said gruffly. Walking over, he caught Blair around the waist and parted his hair in back so he could nibble at the back of Blair's neck.
"Fuck," Blair said softly. "Man, if you don't let me come soon, it's going to back up and my head is going to explode from the pressure.
Jim thought about it. "You're still ahead of me by seventeen," Jim said thoughtfully.
"Because you cheat," Blair protested.
"I'll let you come tonight in return for five points added to your score," Jim offered.
Blair let his head fall forward in a mock defeat. "Man, this whole contest where you're trying to catch up with me on orgasms? You could have caught up with me by now if you didn't keep giving me really sucky deals."
"Yeah, but then fairness would dictate that I take off the cock cage if we were even," Jim pointed out. He reached down and cupped Blair's crotch, feeling the hard plastic under his clothes. "So, you can come tonight, but your orgasm will take you up to eighteen ahead, and then with five more added to your score that will take you to twenty-three. If you're twenty three orgasms ahead of me, I definitely need to keep you under lock and key until I catch up." Jim went back to nibbling on Blair's neck.
"You're going to come, so that will be twenty-two," Blair pointed out.
"Maybe twenty-one," Jim agreed. He couldn't do twice in a night often, but he was feeling lucky tonight. "Is it a deal?"
"Add ten to my score, and it's a deal," Blair agreed. He turned in Jim's arms and gave him a quick kiss.
"Hey," a woman's voice interrupted. Jim smiled and turned without letting Blair go. "Raven," he greeted her. "Raven Gillard this is my partner, Blair Sandburg."
"Hey, nice to meet you," Blair said, holding out his hand, but he couldn't move toward her without getting Jim to let him go, and Jim didn't feel like it. It was a strange world he'd found since he'd met Blair. Blair and Raven had chased each other around his living room naked until he'd leashed Raven to the stairs and put Blair in a collapsible dog cage, but they were only being introduced now.
"Nice to meet you," Raven returned. "I really appreciate you letting me stay." She was calm, articulate even. Peterson and the prosecution owed Jim for this one.
"No problem." Blair flashed a big smile.
"I haven't seen Blair that frisky in a long time," Jim agreed.
Her smile got a little wider. Suddenly she blushed and ducked her head. "I'm sorry I kicked you."
"Nipping at a pony's tail? I totally had it coming," Blair said. "No problem. And hey, if you ever need a place to crash or things are just getting to be, you know," Blair raised his hands like he was holding something huge and he whistled, "if it's too much, just come see us."
She nodded. "I'll do that. So, am I testifying today?"
"Today is pre-testimony prep. You'll be working with the prosecution, but if you need to come back here, just tell Peterson, and he'll get you back here, okay?" Jim raised his hand to touch her shoulder and then dropped it. He had permission to touch Sundancer, not Raven. "Peterson is in the hall waiting to escort you over to the courthouse."
She nodded. "And this won't get you in trouble?"
"It's my job to protect witnesses."
"But all this... they won't give you shit about it, will they?"
Blair laughed. "Man, you have no idea how much crap I dragged into the station with me. I don't think it's exactly a secret that I’m on the kinky end of the sexual spectrum. They're all weirdly okay with it as long as Jim is the bossy one. Cops are totally into being the alphas, even the ones who aren't. They like wallow in their denial."
"A DA named Gary Birdsell is going to sit in today, Raven," Jim said, ignoring Blair's crack about cops. "He handles a lot of strange things," Jim gave Blair a sharp look, and Blair rolled his eyes. "If Gary can handle Blair, he can help you through anything you need, including a trip back here if you start feeling panicky again."
Raven nodded. "Thank you."
"Like I said, it's my job," Jim pointed out.
Raven shook her head. "Not for that. Thank you for letting me see what you two have. It gives me hope, you know?"
Jim looked down and Blair was looking up at him with eyes dark with desire. He didn't have time to say much because Raven headed for the front door and opened it. Peterson was there, his partner standing back by the elevator.
"Thanks again, guys," she said.
Jim let go, and Blair moved off to the side.
"Thanks, Detective Ellison. I owe you one." Peterson sounded sincere.
"Just take good care of Raven," Jim warned. It bothered him to let her walk out, but she wasn't his. Peterson nodded and pulled the door closed before he followed Raven. She'd already moved to the elevator, her body language confident and calm.
Epilogue Two (the flashback): Good Dog
Blair wiggled as he woke up. His butt was cold, but when he got turned around to put it toward the fire, his shoulder got cold. With a huff, Blair got up and crawled around Mr. Espinoza's wheelchair to the other side where he could soak up more of the heat.
"What's the matter boy?" Mr. Espinoza leaned down and patted Blair's side. Oh yeah. Pushing himself up onto his knees, Blair leaned into the wheelchair and let his head rest against Mr. Espinoza's knee. He was a nice man, but then Blair didn't roll over and play puppy for anyone who wasn't nice. While he loved giving up control, he was not into pain or humiliation. He respected people who were, but for him, he just wanted to let go of the control and relax into the moment knowing that he didn't have to worry about bills or papers or anything else because he didn't have a choice. And Mr. Espinoza loved to spoil him. It was the perfect combination.
Blair moved one paw up to Mr. Espinoza's lap. The leather mitt was roughly paw shaped and clumsy, so Blair ended up hitting the armrest of the chair before he finally settled down with his one paw and chin on Mr. Espinoza's legs.
"Such a good boy you are." Fingers threaded through Blair's curls, stroking him, and Blair arched his back and hummed at the touch. God he loved touch. His cock was also starting to take notice, but that would just have to wait. Blair was not into mixing sex and business. So this weekend, he was going to get all the touching and resting and playing done, and when he got home on Monday, he was going to masturbate until his palms got hairy.
"Here you go, boy. Such a good boy." Mr. Espinoza held out a small chocolate cookie, and Blair carefully took his from his long fingers, munching on it as he slid off Mr. Espinoza's lap. He'd been asleep for a while. Long enough that he was starting to get restless. He stretched, straining against the chains that connected his ankles to his thighs. Putting his front feet out in front of him, he leaned back, sticking his butt up in the air in a classic dog stretch. Clenching his butt muscles, he made the plug inside him shift, and the tail attached wiggled slightly in an imitation of a wag, and then he crawled around in another circle of Mr. Espinoza's wheelchair.
Mr. Espinoza was pretending to still read, the thick book propped on one arm of the wheelchair. The blanket on his lap had slipped to one side so that one thin leg was visible, a pale foot and ankle resting on the metal footrest. Stopping, Blair leaned down and licked the bare skin.
"You and that tongue," Mr. Espinoza complained, but the tone was too happy for Blair to be in any real trouble. Mr. Espinoza flipped the blanket, and it caught Blair on the nose. He shook his head and backed up a step. Mr. Espinoza went back to looking toward his book without actually looking at it. Blair looked around for some trouble he could get into. He was bored. Trouble was a sure way of getting a little attention. If he was lucky, he'd get leashed to the chair and then one little whine and he'd get invited into a lap. He just had to calculate this right or he'd end up exiled to another room, and with the chains and the mitts, opening doors was not going to happen.
He smiled as he spotted the slippers sitting between the wheelchair and the couch. Blair inched closer, and went into another doggie stretch, wagging his tail. Mr. Espinoza ignored him. When he got back up onto all fours, Blair walked around toward the fireplace, trying to look casual. Mr. Espinoza couldn't see him without moving his book, and Blair eyed the distance to the slippers. If he wasn't fast enough, Mr. Espinoza was going to catch him, and that was fine, but Blair liked winning, and right now, the prize he wanted was that slipper.
The kneepads made him a little slow, so Blair inched as close as he dare before he darted in and caught one of the slippers in his teeth.
"Blair!" Mr. Espinoza cried just as Blair backed up as fast as he could, slipper in his teeth. Oh yeah. He'd won. Turning around, he crawled toward the dining room, stopping just under the arch and laying down with his prize between his legs. "Blair, come," Mr. Espinoza said. Blair cocked his head and started chewing on the edge of the slipper. It was one of the footie styles, so the top of it was actually pretty clean, and the expression on Mr. Espinoza's face was definitely worth it.
"Blair, come." Mr. Espinoza unlocked his wheelchair and spun it around to face Blair. Blair stood up with the slipper between his teeth again and did another doggie stretch. "Come here, boy," Mr. Espinoza tried again.
He was a nice man, his dark hair now salt and pepper and when Blair had first show up on his doorstep, his wrinkled face had been pink with embarrassment, but now his dark eyes twinkled with amusement and unless Blair missed his guess, that was lust just starting to show up for the party. Blair wagged his tail and moved forward a step.
"That's it, bring it here boy." Mr. Espinoza patted his lap. Blair considered. If he took the slipper back, he could avoid getting in trouble, but he didn't want to avoid that. He wanted the leash. He wanted to be held close and petted.
Blair laid down again and started chewing on the slipper. "Blair." Mr. Espinoza rolled forward, his chair whispering over the hardwood floor, and Blair got up and crawled toward the dining room table. He'd be safe under there—safe until he got in enough trouble, anyway.
"Blair, come." Blair wagged his tail and squirmed between two of the chairs.
"Oh for god's sake." Blair watched as Mr. Espinoza's wheelchair turned around, and then something squeaked. Blair paused in his chewing. The squeaking returned. "Here, boy. Look what I have." Blair stuck his head out from under the table, and Mr. Espinoza was holding a multicolored plastic bone with oversized knobs on either end. He squeezed it and it squeaked. Blair came out one step. He could really annoy Mr. Espinoza with that. He might be annoying enough to get gagged and then leashed to the chair.
"Here boy." Mr. Espinoza shook the bone and made it squeak and Blair wiggled out from between the chairs, the slipper still in his mouth but largely forgotten as he watched the bone. If he just came up to Mr. Espinoza, there was no way to guarantee that he'd get the bone, and he wanted it.
"That's a good boy. Look what I have." Mr. Espinoza shook the bone and then tossed it. Multiple sclerosis had weakened his arm, and the bone didn't even reach the wall. It fell to the floor near the sofa's side table. Dropping the slipper, Blair happily crawled after it. Mr. Espinoza's wheelchair passed Blair, and out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Mr. Espinoza used a grab-stick to retrieve his slipper. But Blair had his new prize. He laid down and happily bit into the toy.
It tasted of plastic, but that was okay. That just meant it was new and Mr. Espinoza had bought the toy just for him. Mr. Espinoza had been shopping and had thought about what might amuse him. Blair happily bit into the bone making it squeak merrily. While Mr. Espinoza lifted his leg and worked the slipper onto his bare foot, Blair chewed, enjoying the odd music that the toy made.
"I'm going to regret buying you that, aren't I?" he asked with a sort of amused resignation that just made Blair chew on the thing faster. The sound was fun. Actually, the texture was too. Blair tried chewing on the end, but it didn't squeak, and he went back to gnawing at the middle. "You are just full of energy tonight, aren't you boy. You're my pretty boy, aren't you? Come here, boy."
Blair stood up on all fours, wagging his tail at the praise. Mr. Espinoza rolled slowly closer, and Blair spotted the leash in his hand. "Good boy. Come here, boy. I swear, tomorrow I'm getting out the puppy treats, and we are having a little refresher on the basic commands." Mr. Espinoza's warning was delivered in the same overly cheerful tone of voice that he'd used to say the rest, and Blair cocked his head to the side and squeaked his toy again. Too much trouble, not enough, or just the perfect amount—the problem was that Blair didn't know where he was on the scale.
He wanted attention. He needed it even more than he needed the money he was getting for being Mr. Espinoza's weekend companion. But if he went too far, he'd end up exiled to a front room, and Blair couldn't deal with that. He'd had the week from hell, and he was so damn tired of trying to negotiate social rules that he observed and emulated without ever really understanding. Sometimes he missed Naomi's communes where denying a person a hug or a simple touch was considered cruel and unusual. Yeah, Blair missed sex, but his hand could fill in when push came to shove. However, Blair was dying for lack of touch here, and he had to judge this right.
Squeaking his toy again, Blair inched backwards, his eyes on Mr. Espinoza as the other man slowly rolled forward. Blair's foot hit the side table, and he dropped the bone, yelping as the corner caught him. Then everything happened. Mr. Espinoza's eyes went wide, and the table tilted and Blair twisted, trying to catch it or move or do something. Shoving at the table, he kept it from going over, but the bowl of unshelled nuts that had been sitting on the table slid off, the wooden bowl clattering onto the hardwood floor in the middle of a rain of nuts. Walnuts clattered across the hardwood, rolling under furniture. Brazil nuts plopped to the ground, hazelnuts spun on their sides and pecans traveled in lazy ovals.
Whining, Blair scooted away from the mess. Oh shit. He hadn't meant it. He didn't mean to make a mess.
A hand caught at his collar, and Blair dropped to his belly. He opened his mouth to apologize, to beg forgiveness, but he could only whine. Mr. Espinoza had already clipped the leash to his collar, but Blair scooted back away from the chair as far as he could. Shit.
"Good boy. It's okay boy. That's my good boy." The words drifted in like lifelines. "Come on boy, that's a good boy. Accidents happen." The leash pulled, and Blair slowly got up from his stomach, crawling forward unhappily. He'd made a huge mess, and the maid wouldn't be here until Monday, and Mr. Espinoza couldn't pick it all up. Inching closer, Blair pressed the side of his face to Mr. Espinoza's knee, silently begging to not be put in the other room.
A hand found his head and stroked his hair back away from his face. "Such a good boy you are. Good boy. Accidents happen, Blair."
Blair gave a little whine. He was sorry. Mr. Espinoza smiled down at him and took his grab stick out from the tube where he carried it on the side of his chair. Using that, he grabbed the bone that had started the mess. Blair flinched.
"Good boy. You're such a good boy," Mr. Espinoza crooned. He tucked the bone into the side between his leg and the chair and rolled the chair over toward the couch. Mr. Espinoza kept the end of the leash anchored to the arm of the wheelchair, so Blair had to crawl along after him, his face hot with embarrassment.
Locking the wheels, Mr. Espinoza transferred himself over to the couch before unclipping the leash at the wheelchair and pulling on it. "My playful little boy got all rambunctious. Puppies do that. It's okay. Come here boy." Mr. Espinoza patted his lap, and Blair looked up in confusion. He'd been sure Mr. Espinoza was going to lock him in the front room. Instead Mr. Espinoza patted his lap again, and Blair wiggled happily and climbed awkwardly up on the couch, his chained legs making it a hard task.
By the time Blair had worked himself around, Mr. Espinoza had the television on and a blanket draped over his lap. That didn't hide the erection, but that was okay. Blair knew that Mr. Espinoza enjoyed the control, and he knew the man wouldn't do anything until he was in his bedroom alone. Blair moved closer and put his head in Mr. Espinoza's lap.
Mr. Espinoza petted his face and smiled. "Such a good boy. You're my good boy, aren't you?"
Blair wiggled and squirmed around until he was half on his side and half on his back, showing Mr. Espinoza his tummy. Mr. Espinoza smiled, his wrinkles deepening as he reached down to tentatively rub Blair's stomach. Blair sighed and closed his eyes, wiggling to encourage Mr. Espinoza.
"Oh Blair, you make me so very happy," Mr. Espinoza whispered as he petted Blair's side and stomach, his fingers gentle on Blair's skin. When Blair was out of his puppy gear, he was going to have to remember to tell Mr. Espinoza that he made Blair happy too, as happy as a puppy could get when he didn't have a real owner.
Squirming around, Blair reached out and licked Mr. Espinoza's arm before he settled in to watch the movie and just let Mr. Espinoza pet him.
"Okay, that's a little gross." Mr. Espinoza sighed. "That's the thing about dogs, you take the good with the bad, but the good is so very worth it."
Blair smiled and settled in for a good tummy rub.