Rafe and Brown stared across the bullpen at the young police observer studiously working on Detective Jim Ellison’s rather impressive pile of paperwork. Ellison himself was out of the office at the moment, running down some lead on one of the many cases he was currently working on. Unlike the rest of the detectives in the Major Crimes Division, he didn’t have to worry too much about his partner not getting their paperwork done. . .his partner was an expert at paperwork. . .actually seemed to revel in it.
It wasn’t fair.
“You really think that’s the answer?” Rafe asked Brown as they studied Blair.
“Yeah,” Brown agreed. “Look, Ellison had a case in that part of town just last week. He didn’t have any trouble getting the people to talk to him. And that’s because he took Blair with him. Blair can get anyone to open up. . .plus he knows all about this cultural mumbo jumbo. Bet he could even tell us what all those weird symbols on the wall in that alleyway mean.”
“Well. . . .” Rafe said slowly, glancing briefly down at the thick file they’d been working on for the last several days. They were involved in a Homicide case transferred to Major Crimes because of the identity of the victim. . .a foreign dignitary from some African nation. The murder seemed to have been ritual in nature, but neither Rafe nor Brown could make heads or tails out of the ritual itself. It involved beads and feathers and archaic symbols and animal’s blood. Definitely not their area of expertise.
“Ellison is out of the office for a couple of hours,” Rafe murmured. He grinned at Brown suddenly. “Yeah, what the hell. Why should Ellison get all the help?”
Smiling slyly, the two of them headed toward Blair.
The young teaching fellow looked up, startled, as they crowded his desk. “Hi, guys,” he greeted. “What’s up?”
“Blair, we were wondering if you have some free time?” Rafe began.
Blair glanced uncertainly down at the pile of folders on his desk. “Well, actually, I’m sort of. . .”
“You see, we really need your help,” Brown broke in before Blair could finish.
That definitely got to the kid. He never could refuse a plea for help. “My help? Really? On what?” They both heard the pleased excitement in his voice.
“This case we’re working on,” Rafe proceeded. “You see it’s just your line of expertise. .. rituals, cultural stuff. . .Brown and I can’t make heads or tails out of it. And since you are an advisor to the Police Department. . .we were hoping maybe you could advise us.” He held out the folder to Blair.
Sandburg took the folder and briefly leafed through it, his eyes widening as he noted some of the photos inside. “Oh, man, is that really a Massai head dress? And look at that! That’s the symbol for the thunder god. . .and. . . jeez. .that thing looks authentic. . .wow, where did this . . .”
Brown and Rafe glanced at each other and smiled smugly. Yeah, they’d hooked him. Ellison could just do his own damned paperwork for an afternoon.
“Come on, Blair,” Brown urged, taking the young man’s arm and pulling him to his feet. “We’ll tell you all about it.”
Blair never even seemed to notice that they were leading him out of the bullpen, his attention still completely wrapped up in the photos inside the folder.
Jim entered the bullpen and headed toward his desk. He’d had a long, frustrating afternoon. The leads he’d been running down on his latest smuggling case had all proven false, and he was at another dead end. Maybe Blair had an idea for him. . .some new way to focus his senses that would help him crack this case. But one glance around the bullpen showed no sign of his Guide.
Jim frowned. That was strange. Blair had said he’d be here all afternoon working on their case files. He could see the files piled on his desk, and from the looks of them, Blair had gotten to a lot of them. But he'd expected his Guide to still be hard at work. Maybe he was getting a cup of coffee?
He extended his hearing a bit, searching for the familiar sound of his Guide’s heartbeat. Nothing. Blair was not in the building. He crossed the bullpen and knocked on Simon’s door.
“Come in!” Simon called, sounding irritated. He usually did after a full day in the office. None of them liked paperwork. “Yeah, what is it, Jim?”
“Simon, have you seen Blair?”
“Yeah,” Simon nodded. “He’s with Rafe and Brown. They needed his help on a case. They wanted to see if he could figure out some weird symbols at a crime scene. They took him out a few hours ago to look at them.”
Simon’s words sunk in, and Jim felt the most unexpected emotion welling up inside him.
Followed swiftly by fear.
"What!" Jim shouted. They’d taken his Guide. . .his partner. . .to a crime scene! Blair belonged to him. . .not Rafe and Brown. Who in Hell did they think they were? And what on earth would possess them to take Blair to a crime scene! “You let them take him?!?”
Simon glanced up in surprise. “What do you mean I let them? He’s a grown man; he makes his own decision. Besides, Blair is an advisor to the Police Department. . . .”
“He’s *my* partner!” Jim growled. “Not theirs!”
Simon stared at him incredulously. “He’s not your property, Ellison. He’s an advisor, and, as such, is required to advise where needed. Just because he hasn’t worked with anyone else prior to this, doesn’t mean it will never happen.”
“But, Sir!” Jim protested. “You know what sort of trouble he gets into. He’s a trouble magnet!”
“He has two cops with him!” Simon scoffed. “Brown and Rafe will take care of him. Good lord, you sound like his mother!”
Jim ignored the mother crack. . .he did not sound like Naomi. “Rafe and Brown are not. . .”
“What? Sentinels?” Simon demanded. “Jim, they don’t need to be Sentinels to take care of Sandburg.”
“This has nothing to do with the Sentinel thing,” Jim insisted. It had everything to do with the Blessed Protector thing, but somehow Jim suspected that wasn’t going to go over very well with Simon either. “But come on! You don’t just steal a man’s partner without asking. I mean, it. . .”
“I’m sure they asked,” Simon informed him. “They asked Sandburg. . .the guy they should have asked! Damn, you’re acting like a jealous husband, Ellison!”
“Jealous!” Jim nearly spit the word out. Of course he wasn’t jealous. . .okay, maybe he was. . .but what the hell did that prove. . .nothing as far as he was concerned. He wasn’t the one in the wrong here. . .that was Rafe and Brown. “I’m not jealous, I’m just saying they shouldn’t take my . . .”
“Property?” Simon finished the sentence for him. “Jim, are you listening to yourself?”
“I was going to say my partner,” Jim snapped. “I mean, hell, Simon, what’s next? Connor’s going to steal him to help her understand American culture better? Or is Lee over in Vice going to take him undercover to all the college raves so he can blend in better? Or maybe the homicide people want him to act as bait for that guy hunting all those young boys? Or. . .”
“You know some of those are pretty good suggestions,” Simon piped up, instantly stopping the flow of words from Jim’s mouth. “Thanks, Jim. I’ll suggest them at the next meeting.”
“Simon!” Jim roared. He couldn’t believe this. He was not letting them take his partner. . .not letting them put Blair into danger. . .especially not if he wasn’t there to watch over him. “You can’t be serious!”
Simon sighed. “Jim, they’ll be back in a couple of hours. If you’re really miffed about this, tell them, not me. It’s not my problem. As far as I’m concerned, if Blair is willing to help out on other cases, more power to him. He’s been a great asset to this department.”
Grinding his teeth in frustration, Jim stalked out of Simon’s office and strode over to his desk. He had the nearly uncontrollable urge to knock everything off his desk. . .and then perhaps to pick the entire thing up and throw it through Simon’s office door. Anything loud and violent. . .to blow off the steam building inside him.
Borrow his Partner. “I don’t think so,” he growled to himself. He’d have a few things to say to Rafe and Brown. . .and even more than a few things to say to Sandburg himself. Just as soon as they walked through that door, he was going to be all over all three of them like an avenging angel.
Jealous husband! Yeah, right. He was not jealous, he was angry. . .and worried. . .what if something happened to Blair? Anything could happen to him. Brown and Rafe wouldn’t think twice about endangering him. . .they wouldn’t make certain Blair stayed in the car where it was safe. They didn’t understand that Jim did the dangerous stuff, and Blair phoned it in. That’s the way it worked. Jim was the Blessed Protector---and Blair was the Blessed Protectee.
Damn! If they harmed one hair on Blair’s head, he’d rip them both apart.
And Blair! God, he was going to have a long talk with that little idiot! The nerve of him going off with Brown and Rafe when he was supposed to be helping Jim! He’d promised he'd be here all afternoon working on *Jim’s* files. . .not helping out Brown and Rafe! Brown and Rafe were just. . .just cops. . .they weren’t Sentinels . . . they didn’t have anything special about them. Okay, maybe Blair liked them, looked up to them, had been trying to earn their approval along with everyone else's in the department. . .but he didn’t actually *need* that approval. He had Jim. Jim was his favorite topic of study. The Sentinel. The Tribal Warrior. . .The Throwback to a Precivilized Form of Man. . . The Totally Fucked Up Cop Who Really Was Jealous . . . .
“Shit!” Jim slammed his fists down on the surface of his desk. The force of the blow sent several of the files sliding toward the floor. Swiftly, Jim grabbed them, and noticed something amazing. . .he could smell Blair on them. Blair’s scent clung to the papers he’d been working on earlier. That sweet, herbal scent that Jim had come to associate with all things wonderful. . .it was here, in small quantity granted, not like at the loft. . .but it was here nonetheless. He inhaled deeply.
So sweet, so perfect, so. . . so not here!!!
Damn!! The rage was back with a vengeance. Just wait till he got his hands on them! All of them! Rafe and Brown were going to die slow painful deaths, and Blair. . .Blair. . .man, he was going to . . .really. . .he would put his hands on him . . .and do something really. . .Crap!
He couldn’t imagine what he was going to do to his Guide. Not strangle him. . .couldn’t do that. That would hurt. Shake him maybe. . .yeah, that was it. . .but Blair would look upset if he did that. And Blair did *upset* so damned well. Those blue eyes of his filled up with sorrow, and that full mouth of his pouted and his body grew tense as if expecting a blow.
Hell! He couldn’t do that to Blair. He’d have to do something different. . .like maybe yell at him. Yeah, he could yell at him. Tell him he was an idiot. . .except that Blair was the smartest man he’d ever met. . .but what did that matter. . .this was yelling, not discussing. . .and it didn’t matter if you lied when you were yelling.
And then Blair would yell back and get in Jim’s face, and they’d end up with Jim’s hands on him again. . .there it is with the hands again. . .his hands on his Guide. Not shaking, not strangling. . .just doing. . . something! Holding him, maybe. Keeping him where he belonged, right beside his Sentinel. It was bad enough that he had to put up with his Guide chasing after every female that came near them. . .not to mention every table leg. . .but now he also had to worry about him finding a new partner. This was not good. Not good at all.
“Jim?” Simon called from his office doorway. Jim looked up, trying to still the angry scowl on his face. The look of concern on Simon’s face immediately alarmed him. Connor was standing beside the Captain, and both of them looked down right uncomfortable.
Jim jumped to his feet, knowing something bad had just happened. His heart flipped in his chest. “What! What happened!”
“We just got a call, Jim,” Simon explained as he and Connor came toward him. “It seems there was a disturbance downtown when three men jumped off a building. From the description it was Rafe, Brown and Blair.”
The phrase ‘jumped off a building’ and the name ‘Blair’ did not belong in the same sentence; but before Jim’s mind could shut down all together Simon hastily added. “They’re all right, Jim! Or at least the eyewitness said that no one was hurt.”
“What?” Jim exclaimed. “How can you jump off a building and not get hurt?”
“I don’t know,” Simon added. “But we’re going to find out. Let’s go.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. Jim grabbed his jacket and he and Megan followed their Captain out of the bullpen.
They drove swiftly downtown to a street crowded with police cars and spectators. Jim searched the area for his Guide but couldn’t find him anywhere. The distinctive lack of his Guide panicked him, and he grabbed the first person he saw, shaking him, demanding he tell him what had happened, where was Blair, what building did he jump off of?
“Jim!” Simon snapped, dragging him off the frightened spectator. “Damn it, man, calm down.” Simon spotted a police officer and motioned him over, quickly questioning him.
The uniformed man pointed toward a pile of blue cloth lying on the sidewalk not far away. “Apparently, Sir, they jumped off that building,” he explained, pointing to the building in front of the blue cloth. The building in question was about eight stories tall. “But they landed on that awning which broke their fall. All three of them apparently walked away. . .well, sort of anyway.”
“Sort of?!?” Jim yelled, prevented from grabbing the man by Simon’s grip on his shoulder. “What does 'sort of' mean?”
The cop frowned uncomfortably. “Well, maybe you should talk to the witness.” He led them toward an old lady who was standing near a squad car. She had a tiny poodle in a bright pink sweater clutched in her arms. The dog let out a sharp, high-pitched yap when they approached. Jim barely restrained himself from growling at the creature.
“Ma’am?” the uniformed officer broke in. “Why don’t you tell the captain exactly what you told me.”
“All right,” she said. “It’s the most amazing thing I ever did see. You won’t believe it. I mean people just shouldn’t go around doing things like this. . .not in this neighborhood. . .why I remember when this just used to be such a quiet neighborhood and we didn’t have no people jumping off buildings and breaking people’s awnings. That awning has been there almost as long as I have. . .and do you suppose anyone is going to bother replacing it?”
“Ma’am!” Jim cut in quickly, trying to stay patient. “What happened to the men?”
“They jumped off the building!” the woman said in exasperation. The poodle snorted at all of them in disgust. “Weren’t you listening?”
“Yes, we know they jumped off the building,” Jim ground out. “I meant what happened next?”
The woman rolled her eyes in irritation. “Young people never listen. I told you already. They broke the awning. Crashed right through it.”
“We know that!” Simon broke in. “We want to know what happened to the men. Did they walk away?”
“Well, no! Of course not!” the woman exclaimed. “They’d just jumped off the building. . .and landed right on top of that strange man, too.”
“Wait a minute!” Jim demanded. “Are you saying they landed on someone?”
“Yes,” the woman nodded. “The army man.”
“Army man?” Megan asked uncertainly. The three of them were staring at the lady in confusion, and the uniformed officer just rolled his eyes as if he didn’t believe a word of it either.
“Well, I’m assuming he was an army man,” the woman explained. “He had a hand grenade and all. . .only army men are supposed to have those, right?”
“Let me get this straight,” Simon growled. “They jumped off the building, broke through the awning and landed on a man who was carrying a hand grenade.”
“Then what happened?”
“Well, that was when the fight and the riot broke out,” the woman insisted. “See the big fellow. . .the one who jumped off the building. He started fighting with the army man. And then the other fellow. . . the nice dressed one, he ran after the grenade since the army fellow had dropped it. And that’s when everyone in the street saw the grenade and started panicking. . .so I guess it really was more of a panic than a riot. . .though when you’re in the middle of these things it’s awfully hard to be certain, you know. They look a great deal the same from a certain perspective. And poor little Snookie here was really so frightened…got his little pink sweater dirty and. . .”
“Lady!” Jim cried. “What happened next? What happened to the other guy?”
“Which other guy?” the lady asked politely. “The big fellow, the army guy, the well-dressed man or the pretty one?”
“The pretty one!” Jim demanded. “What happened to the pretty one?”
She frowned. “Well, this is where the whole story becomes very unbelievable, I’m afraid.”
“Just tell us!” Jim exploded.
Snookie, the poodle, snarled in outrage at Jim's tone. But one sharp look from Jim, the proverbial raising of his hackles, and the little dog's eyes widened in shock. He whimpered pathetically and tried to bury his face in his mistress' arms.
The woman patted him quickly on the head, giving Jim a look of righteous indignation. “Well, if you insist,” she huffed. “You see while the army guy and the big guy were fighting, and the well-dressed man was trying to get hold of the grenade. . .which he did by the way, did I mention he took the grenade with him? Well, anyway, the pretty one was looking a bit stunned. I think he was trying to find something in his pockets. . .a phone or something or maybe a pager. . .young people always have pagers these day, did you ever notice that? Wonder why that is. . .”
“Lady!” Simon, Jim and Megan yelled in unison.
“Oh, right, sorry. Well, anyway, there he was all alone when this bigger guy grabbed him.”
“What?” Jim paled.
“Not the big guy you understand. . .this was a bigger guy,” the lady continued. “He grabbed the pretty one and dragged him toward a car and stuffed him in his trunk.”
“Stuffed him in a trunk!” Megan cried in horror.
“Well, not a trunk like a steamer trunk, you understand,” the lady corrected. “I meant like the trunk of his car. And the pretty guy was yelling something fierce and fighting. And you see that’s where it all gets very strange.”
“Strange?” Simon asked warily.
“Well, yes,” the woman exclaimed. “On account of the fact of what he was yelling. You see he kept screaming for a brown raft. Over and over again, he kept yelling, ‘Brown Raft’! I can’t for the life of me figure out why he would be wanting a brown raft at a time like that. Then he started yelling for a gym. So I’m figuring the brown raft is probably at his gym, and he needs it or something. It could be a very important clue, don’t you think?”
Jim stared at her in shock. He couldn’t believe this was happening. Someone had kidnapped his partner right in front of Brown and Rafe and he’d yelled for help. More importantly he’d yelled for Jim’s help and Jim hadn’t been there. .. .. because that stupid Brown and Raft. . .or rather Rafe. . .had let his partner get abducted!
“What happened next?” Megan pressed.
“Well, the well-dressed man and the big guy handcuffed the army man to that pole over there, and then jumped in their car and raced after the bigger guy’s car. They took off and I haven’t seen them since.”
The uniformed officer spoke up then, confirming at least part of the lady’s story. “The army man is Hector Dermanis. We took him into custody when we got here. He’s wanted in connection with several crimes. We’re still trying to trace the car Detectives Brown and Rafe were apparently pursuing.”
“See!!!” Jim turned on Simon in a rage. “I told you this would happen! Look what they’ve done!” He pointed wildly toward the ruined awning. The poodle began barking angrily at him. “They jumped off a building. . . .Simon, they got my partner kidnapped. . .and hand grenades. . . Simon there’s hand grenades involved!”
“We’ll find them!” Simon insisted, turning a pleading eye toward Connor.
Megan immediately reached out to try and calm Jim. “Jim, we’ll find Sandy. . .don’t worry. . .”
“Don’t worry?” Jim shouted. “Don’t worry? Do I look like I’m not worrying! I’m sooo not worrying here. . .I’m furious, I’m not worried!”
“You’re not making any sense,” Megan offered soothingly. “We’ll find Sandy and I’m sure he’s . . .”
“Sir!” another officer called suddenly, running toward Simon. They all turned expectantly.
“Sir, we tracked the cars,” the man explained. “Apparently they had a rather extensive car chase through the city, but they ended up down on the docks. Someone saw a man drag Sandburg onto a boat. Brown and Rafe apparently boarded it as well.”
They got all the information necessary from the man, and then jumped back into the car. Simon raced toward Cascade’s docks.
There was a huge crowd gathered down on the docks in question, all of them watching the remnants of a burning boat sink into the bay.
“Oh, my God!” Jim exclaimed in horror when he saw the boat. He zoomed in immediately with his Sentinel sight, searching the debris floating in the water for some signs of bodies. But he couldn’t spot any.
“It’s not what it looks like!” Simon assured him. “I’m sure it’s not what it looks like!”
They hurried toward the officer in charge of the scene---an older man with a look of bewildered resignation on his face. “Captain,” he greeted. “We got another wild one for you.” Then he glanced at Jim. “Ellison. . .I would have sworn you’d be in the middle of this one.”
“What happened, Charlie,” Simon interrupted. “Where are my men?”
“Chasing the lion, Sir,” Charlie explained.
“What?” Simon stared at the man as if he’d lost his mind.
“Hey, I don’t have anything to do with this,” he protested. “I’m just repeating back what the witness told me.” He motioned them toward a young man in a pair of roller blades who was busy watching the boat burn.
“This is Stevie Hanks,” Charlie explained. “He saw the whole thing. Stevie, think you can repeat what you told me?”
“Oh, yeah, dude, sure. . .it was so unbelievable. Like way out there, you know?” Stevie exclaimed with enthusiasm.
“Just tell us what happened!” Jim protested. He had to know where Blair was, had to know if he was all right.
“Well, this dude dragged this other dude onto that boat there,” Stevie started, pointing to the burning debris.
“Which dude?” Simon asked.
“This big dude,” Stevie explained. “He dragged this little dude onto that boat, and the little dude obviously didn’t want to go or nothing. And then these two other dudes showed up in a car and jumped on the boat just as it was leaving the docks. And then all them dudes just started fighting, you know, like they was really pissed at each other and stuff.”
Stevie laughed at the memory. “And that’s when I saw this lion. Like right out of Lion King or something. . .totally wigged man! There’s like this lion on the dude’s boat, and it attacked the second group of dudes. And the little dude was like jumping on the lion trying to get it away from one of the dudes when they all started screaming because one of the dudes like dropped something or something.”
Jim couldn’t believe he was hearing any of this. Blair jumped on a lion. No. Not in a million years. Never happened. This was all just some sick joke.
“Dropped something?” Megan asked. “What did they drop?”
Stevie shrugged. “Well, I don’t know man, ‘cause from where I was standing it just look like a ball or something. But they all jumped off the boat like really quick.”
Simon threw up his hands in disbelief. "He dropped the hand grenade!"
Blair, a lion, a fight, and a hand grenade. . .this was getting to be too much for Jim. "Did they all get off the boat….did they all jump?" he pressed urgently.
“Yeah, the little dude, and the big dude and the two other dudes and the Lion King, man,” Stevie grinned. “All like just dropped right into the drink, you know. And then the boat exploded!” He waved his hands in the air as if it was the most glorious thing he’d ever seen. “Man, it was so awesome! Like stuff everywhere, just flying through the sky, and like fire and stuff, and burning debris and shit like that. Totally great!”
“What happened to the men!?” Jim growled, almost afraid of the answer now.
“Oh, yeah, right, well the big dude couldn’t like . . .swim. . .you know,” Stevie explained. “So one of the other dudes was trying to help him and stuff. And the little dude, I think he was hurt because he kept sinking underwater. . .so the other dude helped pull him to shore. But the lion like beat all of them to the shore and like totally ran right past me. Dude, that lion was like so pissed! Because it was wet, and you know that cats don’t like to be wet, right? It totally could have chewed my face off, but it was just running and stuff.”
“And the men!?!” Simon and Jim shouted together.
“Right,” Stevie apologized. “Like the men were like fine. They like handcuffed the big dude to that pole over there and then the other three took off after the lion. Only they all three like looked totally wasted, you know.”
So Blair had made it to shore in one piece. . .relatively one piece then. Jim didn’t know whether to be elated or more terrified. . .now his partner was chasing a pissed-off lion.
“We took the man into custody,” Charlie told Simon. “The one they’d handcuffed. Turns out he’s wanted for questioning in a number of murders.”
“And my officers?” Simon asked.
Charlie just shrugged. “As near as we know they took off on foot that direction,” he pointed toward the warehouse district. “Animal Control is searching the area, but haven’t turned up anything yet.”
The sound of gunfire caught all their attention. It was coming from the warehouse district. In a flash, all of them raced toward the sound. Jim just knew that somehow, whatever was going on, his partner was caught in the middle of it.
His Sentinel hearing led them unerringly through the maze-like constructs of the warehouses, toward a run-down section of abandoned buildings. Squad cars were arriving from all directions, and when they zeroed in on the location, it was the middle of a firefight. Amid broken buildings and abandoned cars, a group of armed men were shooting it out with Rafe and Brown and the newly arriving officers.
Nearby, Jim could see an Animal Control truck, the men inside crouched down behind their seats, unable to move for fear of being shot. Over the noise of the gunfire, Jim could hear the angry roar of a lion and the terrified screams of a man. The screaming man was still trapped in the building. . .the same building the armed gunmen had apparently just vacated. Brown, Rafe and Blair were pinned down behind a large pile of boxes, unable to move to better cover.
There was a foul stench in the air. “Christ!” Jim exclaimed when he identified the scent. “It’s a methamphetamine lab, Simon. If that thing explodes. . .”
“Oh, shit!" Simon hissed. "Could this get any worse?" They needed to take the gunmen out immediately.
Jim circled around, gun in hand, trying to find a good angle to get a shot off. He had to take those gunmen out before they hit Sandburg, or before a stray bullet set off a spark in the lab. There were at least five gunmen, not counting the man still inside screaming in bloody terror. As he searched for his shot, he zeroed in on Blair’s pounding heartbeat. At least his Guide was still alive. . .good thing since Jim intended to kill him when this was all over.
Over the roar of the gunfight, Jim could hear Blair talking. “Come on, guys!” he was protesting. “It’s not so bad! I mean you’ve had worse days before, right? Surely you guys have had days like this. . .Jim and I have them all the time. . .it’s normal, right? Typical day in the life of a Major Crimes detective, right? And we caught the bad guy. . . and there’s only been one explosion so far. And it’s not as if that building was really *that* high. We’ll get out of this, too, right?”
“Shut up!” Brown yelled in frustration. “No, this doesn’t happen all the time! Only to you, Sandburg! Only to you and Ellison! Oh, God, why did I ever get out of bed this morning!”
Rafe was simply muttering something about lions and tigers and bears. . .oh my. Occasionally he whimpered when he wasn’t firing his gun over their barricade.
“He’s going to kill us, you know!” Brown was screaming at him. He shot off several more rounds of fire.
“Who?” Rafe cried. “The lion or the drug dealers?”
“Ellison!” Brown explained.
Rafe whimpered again.
Yeah, Jim thought coldly, keep whimpering. If there was so much as a scratch on Sandburg’s curly head, he was going to tear them both apart.
He reached position and took aim at the drug dealers in question. “Cascade PD,” he shouted, not really expecting any of them to listen to him. “Throw down your weapons!”
The drug dealers couldn’t quite locate him, so they just began firing at random. Jim fired immediately, shooting the gun out of one man’s hand, taking a second in the shoulder. The new angle of gunfire clued the other men into the fact that they were sitting ducks. They immediately raised their hands in surrender, letting their guns drop.
The police swarmed in, taking them into custody. A few moments later they had secured the building, escorting the Animal Control men inside where they found a very angry, very wet lion. He was sitting on top of a relatively unharmed man who was screaming in holy terror while the lion furiously licked at his own fur. The promise of food lured the lion away, and the police were able to take the man into custody as they began confiscating the contents of the well-stocked meth lab.
Jim, however, waded single-mindedly through the crowd of police to find his partner. When he saw him at last, standing beside Brown and Rafe, he froze in shock. They looked terrible! He didn’t really care about the condition Brown and Rafe were in. . .but Blair. Oh, my God!
A purple bruise colored Blair’s right cheek, and a trickle of blood ran down the side of his face from some unseen head wound. His shirt was torn in several places, and there was a nasty scratch running down his right arm that could only be described as a claw mark. And he was limping. . .badly.
All three of them stopped dead in their tracks when they saw him. Jim glared, his heart racing in his chest, his blood boiling in his veins. His Guide was hurt. .. he could smell his blood, smell the lingering traces of fear surrounding him. They’d taken his partner out and they’d hurt him.
“What in hell did you do to him!?” Jim shouted over the noise of the crowd. Simon and Megan were racing toward them. Rafe and Brown turned deadly pale, and immediately stepped behind Sandburg for protection.
Blair caught Jim, all but body-tackling him before he could reach the other two officers.
“It wasn’t our fault!” Brown yelled as he and Rafe scrambled away from the two of them.
“Jim! Jim, I’m okay!” Blair shouted in his ear. “Leave them alone!”
Jim growled and glared down at Blair. The blood, the bruises. . .he wanted to scream. “Blair! Look at what they did. . .”
“They didn’t do it!” Blair protested. “Man, I’m all right. Just a bit of excitement. . . you know how it goes.”
“It wasn’t us!” Rafe cried. “It’s him! He’s a trouble magnet. . .you know that. . . we never have days like this! We never. . .”
“You're blaming this on Blair!?” Jim roared in fury.
Rafe’s eyes widened. “No! Of course not!” He glanced at Brown for help. “We wouldn’t do that. . . would we?”
“No, of course we wouldn’t?” Brown offered hopefully.
“What in hell were you thinking?" Jim demanded, his entire body shaking with rage. “Of all the stupid, insane, inconsiderate,. . .” As he shouted he continued to shake, until Blair’s soft voice broke through his anger.
“Jim, calm down. Leave them alone. If you keep doing that you’re going to hurt me.”
Hurt Blair? Those words snapped Jim out of his rage. He realized then in shock that he had a hold of one of Blair’s arms and was shaking the young man as he shouted. He quickly eased up on his grip, turning toward his partner in concern. He felt the slick heat of blood under the palm of one of his hands as he touched the claw mark on Blair’s arm. “Blair? Damn it! What in hell happened? How badly are you wounded? I should get you to a hospital! What ever possessed you to go with those two. . .”
“Jim!” Blair interrupted him. “I’m fine.”
“Ellison!” Simon groused, stalking forward. “Let’s save the anger for the bad guys, huh?”
Jim glared at Simon. “Look at what they did to him! He’s . . .broken!”
A dozen other police officers started snickering with laughter. Simon just groaned and briskly rubbed his face with his hands, muttering in frustration under his breath. Finally, he took a deep breath and stared Jim Ellison straight in the eyes. “Jim, he’s not a toy. And he’s not broken. He’s just. . .you all right, Sandburg?”
Blair nodded quickly. “Yeah, Simon. Nothing a few Band-Aids and a good night's sleep won’t cure.”
The other cops were still laughing, and Jim turned to glare at them. The look of murderous rage in his eyes shut them all up and they immediately turned away, going back to whatever it was they were doing before this all started.
“See, Sir,” Jim insisted. "I told you this would happen! I told you that they’d get him in trouble. And now look at what they’ve done.”
“Jim,” Simon sighed. “Would you just calm down?”
Jim held out one of his hands. There was blood all over it. “He’s bleeding. They got him cut!”
“No, actually,” Blair broke in helpfully. “That’s a claw wound. The lion sort of got angry when I grabbed its tail.” The men stared at him in horror.
“And the head wound?” Jim asked, touching Blair’s forehead where another trickle of blood was gleaming. “It got you in the head, too?”
“No, that was the grenade. When the boat blew up, something hit me in the head.”
“And your leg and the bruise on the side of your face?”
“Well, the bruise must be from when that guy stuffed me in the trunk of his car. I hit something with the side of my face. And I hurt my leg when we jumped off that building, I think.”
“Sandburg!” Simon broke in exasperated. “Just answer me one question. Why on earth did you jump off that building in the first place?”
Brown answered for all of them, shooting a dark glare at Blair. “Because when we were questioning a suspect about those murders we were investigating, Blair noticed this tattoo on the guy’s hand. And he shouted, 'Hey, isn’t that the demon-god Muwabi’s symbol for blood letting?' The guy panicked and started shooting at us. . .so we jumped off the building to get away from him.”
“I did not!” Blair protested in anger. “It was the demon-god Menowabi, not Muwabi! And I was right, wasn’t I? You thought the guy was just some innocent bystander. . .if I hadn’t spoken up you never would have known he was the killer.”
Brown glared at Jim. “Your partner is insane. . .he’s a total trouble magnet. . .did you know that?”
“You stay away from my partner!” Jim shouted back. “And don’t go blaming Blair for this. . .just because you couldn’t solve your cases on your own. . .”
“Gentlemen!” Simon broke in angrily. “Did we catch this Menowabi guy or not?”
“Menowabi is the demon-god, Simon,” Blair offered helpfully. “The killer is the guy who was on the boat with us. He’s in custody now. Are you aware of the fact that the Menowabi blood-letting ritual actually requires the presence of a sacred yak’s stomach and nine pounds of. . .”
“Jim!” Simon interrupted. “Take your partner home.”
“Yes, sir,” Jim said in satisfaction. . .Simon had said it.. . .`your partner’. Blair was his! Not Rafe’s and not Brown’s, and hopefully after this day no one else would try to question that little fact.
Now that Simon understood, he’d just have to make sure Blair understood. Jim took a firm hold of his Guide’s arm and led him toward one of the squad cars to commandeer a ride home. As they climbed into the car, his Sentinel ears picked up Simon’s words.
“Thank God, they’re both gone. Don’t know who’s worse. The insane roller coaster that is Blair Sandburg, or the crazy, possessive, nut-ball he lives with. Wouldn’t have surprised me if Jim just slung Blair over his shoulder and swung out of here on a vine.”
“Oh, man!” Brown groaned in weary exhaustion. “I doubt Ellison will ever forgive us. And Sandburg. . .it’s a wonder he’s still alive. Trouble just seems to follow him around like a puppy!”
“Can I go home, now?” Rafe asked hopefully. “I just want to go home. You know, a nice quite safe place where there are no lions or hand grenades or Sandburgs or Ellisons?”
Jim tuned them all out and focused his gaze on his partner instead. Blair was climbing slowly and stiffly into the squad car. “You really all right, Chief?”
Blair’s eyes widened and he nodded his head quickly. “Yeah, really, Jim. Just a few scratches and bruises. Nothing that won’t heal.”
Jim just nodded. He had a lot to say to Blair. But he’d wait till they got home. Less chance that Blair would be able to escape that way.
They were dropped off at the station where Jim picked up his truck. Blair attempted to get into his own car but Jim refused to allow it. "Don’t you think you've had enough excitement for one day, Sandburg?" Jim growled at him. "Kidnappings, car chases, explosions, lions, drug-labs…..I'm not letting you out of my sight. Now get in the truck!"
"Jeez, Jim," Blair grumbled as he moved stiffly to obey. "You make it sound like it's my fault."
"We'll discuss this later," Jim stated angrily.
They drove back to the loft in silence. And once there, Jim let Blair proceed him into the apartment. He locked the door behind him as he entered, hearing the lock click with a satisfying little sound.
“Let’s get those wounds cleaned, Chief,” Jim told his Guide. He led him toward the kitchen, pushing him down into a chair. “Take off your shirt,” he ordered while he went to retrieve the first aid kit.
When he returned, Blair was shirtless, wincing slightly as he studied the long scratch on his arm. It looked painful, but not too deep. Still, Jim wasn’t going to take any chances.
He cleaned the wound, and the one on Blair’s head as well. Then he carefully applied antiseptic to both. Nice white sterile bandages followed, and then Jim turned his attention to the small scrapes and bruises decorating Blair’s body. His left ankle was slightly swollen and he applied ice before rubbing it down with Tiger Balm and wrapping it as well.
For once, Blair sat quietly under Jim’s ministrations. When he was done, Jim retrieved a clean flannel shirt from Blair's bedroom, and then watched in silence as the young man slowly pulled the shirt on. Blair fumbled briefly with the buttons, before changing his mind and leaving them undone.
“You should have been in the office doing paperwork. Not following after Rafe and Brown,” Jim told him.
“I wasn’t following after them!” Blair protested. “They asked for my help on a case. I just thought. . .”
“You didn’t think!”
“What in hell is that supposed to mean?’ Blair demanded. “I’m an advisor to the police department. They wanted my advice. What was I supposed to do? Say no?”
“You could have advised them from behind a nice safe desk!” Jim growled. “You don’t go off with two strangers. . .”
“Strangers!” Blair laughed. “They’re not strangers. I’ve known them just as long as I’ve know you!”
Jim felt his heart tightened at that. “You don’t live with them! You live with me! You’re my partner. Not theirs. You do what. . .”
“You sound like my mother!”
“I do not sound like your mother!” Jim exploded. “Why does everyone keep accusing me of that? I sound nothing at all like Naomi, and you know it!”
“All right then, you sound like my father!” Blair corrected.
“Blair, if I were your father I’d turn you over my knee and spank you!” Jim informed him, angry and frustrated.
Blair’s eyes sparked with mischief. “Promise?” he asked.
The little brat was flirting with him! He couldn’t believe this! Whenever Blair didn’t know how to handle a situation, he flirted. He flirted with everyone. . .never meant anything, but it drove Jim nuts. And now to have that tactic turned on him! He rose to his feet and began pacing angrily back and forth.
“Don’t even go there, Sandburg!” he shouted. Strangling was starting to sound much better all of a sudden. Maybe strangling and shaking. Definitely required physical contact. . .Jim was just afraid what would happen if he actually touched his Guide feeling the way he did.
“Don’t go where?” Blair asked, feigning innocent.
“Don’t start flirting with me just because I’m right and you don’t know what to say about it!”
“What in hell do you mean you’re right. You’re not right. And I wasn’t flirting with you. Why in hell would I flirt with you?”
“I am too right!” Jim snarled. “You’re my partner not theirs. They don’t know how to keep you out of trouble. You’re my Guide. Remember the whole Blessed Protector thing? You need a keeper! You get in trouble just walking across the street. And you were too flirting!”
“You’re jealous!” Blair exclaimed incredulously. “You can’t stand the thought that I might have a life in the police department outside of my work with you!”
“I am not jealous!” Jim yelled back. “And you aren’t supposed to have a life in the department outside your work with me! That’s why you’re there. Because of me, remember! And I am sure as hell not going to stand around and watch you get yourself killed because the rest of the detectives are too stupid to handle their own cases!”
“Too stupid! Are you saying I’m stupid now? That any idiot could have solved their case?”
“You’re not listening to me!” Jim exploded. “They’re the stupid ones. You’re just the one that gets in all the trouble! You got yourself kidnapped again!”
“It’s not my fault I got kidnapped!” Blair insisted furiously. “Just because the killer happened to notice me by myself and. . .”
“You were probably flirting with him, too!” Jim threw his hands up in frustration. “My God, you have to go and attract the attention of everyone you meet. Male or female! You drive me nuts!”
“I was not flirting with the killer!” Blair roared. “I do not flirt with psychopaths! And I wasn’t flirting with you! I don’t flirt! And what do you mean I drive you nuts? I thought you liked me. . .wanted me around because I was your partner. . .” He mimicked Jim’s tone of voice. “You’re my partner not theirs, you’re my Guide, remember that whole Blessed Protector thing!”
“Now you’re flirting again!” Jim accused.
Blair’s eyes widened incredulously. “You call this flirting? It’s not flirting--it’s mockery. I am mocking you, Jim! If I was flirting with you, I’d give you puppy dog eyes and throw kisses in your direction. Or hell, maybe because you are a throwback to some precivilized form of man, I’d just grab you *here* and be done with it!”
As he shouted his hand shot out of its own volition and grabbed Jim’s crotch. The contact froze them both, and they stared at each other in shock. A second later they both leaped away, putting several feet of distance between each other, two pairs of eyes wide with stunned disbelief.
Blair couldn’t believe he’d actually just grabbed Jim’s crotch. Couldn’t believe he’d actually put his hands on Jim. . .okay, only one hand, but still. And only for a second. . . but my God, he’d grabbed Jim’s crotch. . .and it had felt. . .oh boy, Blair, don’t go there! His mind was swimming. Had Jim been hard. . .no, impossible. Not a chance. Why in hell did his hand itch to do it again?
Jim couldn’t believe Blair had actually touched him. Not in a million years had he imagined Blair doing something like that. And hell, why did it have to feel so unbelievably fantastic? For one brief second it was as if he’d suddenly discovered the answer to a persistent ache he’d only vaguely been aware of suffering for these last three years. This couldn't be happening! Where were all his denial mechanisms when he needed them?!
“Is that what you did to the killer?” Jim demanded, his anger rising again. “Is *that* why he kidnapped you?” Impossible to imagine Blair touching any other man like that. . .but if he had, Jim was definitely going to have to rethinking his no strangling rule.
“What?” Blair screeched. “You think I would. . .how could you ask if I’d. . . .My God, Jim! I don’t flirt with killers! I can’t believe you just said that I would. . . .”
“You’re flirting with me! Why not the killer while you’re at it? Or hell, why not Rafe and Brown, too! Was that why they took you with them?”
“Are you listening to what you’re saying! You’re sounding jealous again!”
“I am not jealous!” Jim shouted.
“And I am not flirting!”
They were yelling, and yelling implied lying. And Jim realized that lying suggested that it was entirely possible that he really was jealous, and that Blair really was flirting. The mere idea was at once terrifying and totally wonderful. How in hell had this happened?
But then Blair turned away from him, and Jim saw a hurt look in his eyes that totally undid him. And when Blair stumbled on his injured ankle, Jim hurried forward and caught him, helping him over to the couch. “Don’t put any weight on your ankle, Chief,” he said gently. “Lean on me.”
Blair just nodded and sank gratefully down onto the couch while Jim checked his bandage. No damage done, he noticed, but he still felt guilty for having upset his Guide any more. His jealousy aside, Blair had had a really tough day.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you, Blair,” Jim sighed quietly. “I guess maybe you were right. I was sort of jealous.”
“Hey, no, it’s all right, Jim,” Blair said quickly. “It totally makes sense that you would feel responsible for my safety, and I should have thought of that before I left with Rafe and Brown. And you were right. . .maybe I was flirting. I didn’t mean to start teasing you. And I can’t believe I grabbed you like that. . .oh man!” Blair groaned and shook his head, his cheeks flushing bright red. "I'm really sorry about that, you know."
"Forget it," Jim broke in quickly, thinking that he didn't really want to discuss that particular moment for too long. Too many questions were already floating around in his head as it was.
"Right," Blair said quickly, nodding his head in agreement. "It's definitely forgotten."
They sat together on the couch for a while, both of them staring at the balcony doors. Beyond the glass, the sun was beginning to set, sending brilliant streaks of red and orange across the sky.
"I am sorry," Blair said then after a while.
"Yeah, me too," Jim nodded. "I didn't mean to yell at you like that. I guess I was…..jealous or something."
"Yeah, and I guess I really was flirting," Blair replied.
Again they fell silent, both men lost in thought. The evening shadows lengthened.
"So I was flirting," Blair stated.
"And I was jealous," Jim replied.
The words hung between the two of them like a challenge. They both nodded their heads, as if agreeing on something unspoken. Jim waited for Blair to continue, letting his Guide, who was so much better at words than he was, lead this conversation as he had so many others.
"You ever thought about it?" Blair asked then.
"No," Jim shook his head quickly. "You?"
"What do you mean, 'really'?" Blair demanded in surprise.
Jim shrugged. "I just meant….I mean, you're sort of…..well, the way Naomi raised you and all…..guess I just assumed you'd be a bit more open…."
"Me?" Blair protested. "What about you!? I mean you were in the Army and all!"
Jim's eyes widened in shock. "What in hell is that supposed to mean?"
"What do you think it means?" Blair insisted. "The Army….don't ask, don't tell….all those men stuck together for long periods of time….."
"It's called Male-Bonding, not Male-Boffing!" Jim growled. "Where do you come up with these ideas, Darwin!?"
"Sorry!" Blair cut in quickly. "But you started it."
As if realizing simultaneously that they were fighting again, they both fell silent. They turned resolutely away from one another and stared back out through the balcony window. Jim focused his hearing on Blair's heartbeat and discovered that it was slightly faster than normal. So was his own, he realized. He didn't want to think about the implications of that.
"So neither of us has ever thought about it," Jim added finally, as if stating an established fact.
"Right," Blair agreed. Then he added, "I mean, not really."
Not really. That implied that his previous 'nope' was not quite entirely accurate. Beyond that, Jim's mind couldn't fathom the rest of it out.
"I mean, I guess everyone has thought about it at some point in time….as a passing curiosity, you understand," Blair persisted.
"Maybe," Jim agreed slowly. "Just as a curiosity."
"Right!" Blair nodded his head vigorously. "But not actually seriously."
"Right, not seriously." Jim sighed in relief. That hadn't been so bad. They'd mentioned it, discussed it, and now they could put it behind them.
But if that were the case, why could he still feel the imprint of Blair's hand on his crotch?
*Because you're a Sentinel, you idiot!* he told himself. He could feel the imprint of everyone who had touched him that day, if he focused on it. Never mind the fact that Blair was the only person he ever focused on seriously when it came to touch. . .never mind the fact that the lingering heat of his Guide's hand was making him ache with a want he couldn't bring himself to name.
"Guess that still doesn't really explain the flirting though, does it?" Blair asked hesitantly. Jim saw him glance quickly in his direction before turning his gaze back to the balcony doors.
"Or the jealousy," Jim conceded. Okay, this was getting bad again. They were going to do more discussing. He sure hoped Blair knew where this was going, because he didn't have a clue.
"Right," Blair agreed. He made as if to get up to pace, then seemed to remember his injured ankle at the last moment. He sat back against the couch once again, and began fidgeting nervously. Jim watched him covertly, hearing the young man's heart rate spiking again.
"Okay, this is silly!" Blair announced, and Jim nodded his head in agreement. If Blair said this was silly, then it definitely was. "We're both grown men. There's no reason to dance around the subject. So you were jealous and I was flirting. I'm sure it happens all the time among friends, right?"
"Absolutely," Jim agreed.
"So it probably means nothing," Blair continued. "I mean since neither of us have ever thought about that or anything."
"Unless it means something."
"Right. Unless it does."
"Then it's a problem."
"Right….a definite problem….considering…." Jim motioned to the two of them. "Considering….we're both……right?"
"Right!" Blair agreed emphatically.
The two of them fell silent again. Blair fidgeted and Jim stared. He could almost hear the wheels of Blair's mind turning, mulling over the problem set before the two of them. With anyone else, Jim would just ignore this little problem and go on about his life quite happily. But he knew Blair wasn't one to ignore anything….especially not anything that concerned the two of them. Still, he had full faith that Blair would find some way of dealing with the subject that would set both their minds at ease.
"So….." Blair began slowly. "If it's not a problem at all, unless it's a problem, then we should probably figure out if it's a problem or not, right?"
Made complete and total sense to Jim. "Sounds good," he agreed. Another long pause stretched out between them. "How?" Jim finally asked.
"How?" Blair frowned thoughtfully. "I don't know….I guess we should…..we should do something…." He made a motion between the two of them. "You know….something….."
Jim's eyes widened in shock, and at the look, Blair's eyes widened, equally shocked. "No! I don't mean *that*!" the younger man exclaimed quickly. "I just meant…..something simple…..right?"
Something simple….that sounded all right. "Yeah," Jim agreed. "Simple….very simple…"
More silence. Outside it was growing darker. Throughout the apartment building, Jim could hear their neighbors coming home from work.
"Like what?" Jim asked after a while.
"Like what?" Blair ran his hands through his hair. "I don't know…..like maybe…..um….how about a simple….kiss?" He said it in such a manner that it almost sounded as if he were suggesting they eat tacos instead of spaghetti for dinner.
"A kiss?" Jim felt his heart rate spike, and he swallowed nervously. "I guess."
Uncertainly, Blair fidgeted a bit more, then grew still. The two of them stared at the balcony doors a while longer. Jim could feel the heat rising off Blair's body.
"Okay, just so we're in agreement here," Blair began.
"Right," Jim agreed. "We should definitely be in total agreement here. That's definitely important."
"Okay…..a kiss, to figure it out…..get it out of the way….then it's over….no problem."
Sounded good to Jim. "Right….just do it, get it over with, that way we'll know and we can forget about it and never mention it again."
"Exactly!" Blair agreed enthusiastically. "That way it won't be hanging over us."
"So I guess we just…..just do it." Blair turned hesitantly toward Jim.
"Yeah," Jim swallowed nervously. He couldn't believe they were actually going to do this. "So…..here?" He indicated the couch.
Blair glanced at the couch. Kissing Blair on the couch, where it would be so easy to push him down, cover his body with his own, take him. . . .God! The images that brought to mind shot through Jim, and they both bolted to their feet in alarm. "No!" they said in unison.
"Right!" Blair nodded quickly. "Definitely not the couch. The couch is a bad idea."
"Okay, then…." Jim glanced around the loft. "The balcony?" he suggested.
Blair thought about that for a moment, then shook his head. "No, too many people might see. What about…." He motioned toward the fireplace.
"Too romantic," Jim reminded him.
Blair's face paled. "Good call. Okay, not the fireplace, not the couch….pretty much rules out the living room."
They both glanced toward the open door of Blair's bedroom. For one moment, Jim had a flash of Blair stretched out naked on his bed, his eyes dark with desire, his heated body summoning Jim like a siren's call. They both shook their heads quickly.
"Definitely not the bedroom." Jim announced.
"Okay….the bathroom?" Blair suggested.
The bathroom…..the last place Jim had seen Blair completely naked, his skin flushed from the heat of his shower. "No!" he shook his head quickly to dislodge the image.
"Okay…." They both glanced at the staircase. The staircase that led up to Jim's bedroom, and the large bed, big enough for two men. "Nope, not there either."
"The kitchen!" they both said in unison, both grinning in relief as if suddenly having been given a stay of execution. The kitchen was completely harmless…no erotic imagery, no past memories to contend with. They'd be totally safe in the kitchen. Unless, of course, Jim thought too long and hard about how Blair had grabbed his crotch in the kitchen….? He nearly groaned….no, he was definitely not going there. The sooner they got this totally out of the way, the better off they'd both be.
In quiet agreement they moved into the kitchen. Nervously, they stood facing each other, both of them uncertain what to do next. Jim couldn't remember the last time he'd felt like this. Nervous, excited, frightened, terrified….he couldn't really describe the emotions floating through him. Yeah, they definitely had to put this behind them. He couldn't go on thinking about his Guide this way.
"So….." Jim began. "Which one of us……you know…."
"Oh, right," Blair nodded. He reached out hesitantly toward Jim, then changed his mind, letting his hands dropped to his side. "I guess we should just….."
"On the count of three?" Jim suggested.
Blair's eyes widened. "Oh, man! That's like way too much pressure."
"Let's just…..just do it, okay," Blair urged.
"Okay, Chief," Jim nodded.
They both took a deep breath, steeling themselves, and then moved closer together. It occurred to Jim a moment later that one of them was definitely going to have make the first move here. Blair was always the one who made the suggestions, came up with the ideas, but ultimately it was Jim who took action. He figured there was no sense in breaking a winning pattern now. The objective was to get this over with so they could both get on with their lives.
Just do it, Blair had said. He could manage that….how hard could it be? This was just Blair after all. Just his best friend that he was about to kiss. Not a problem.
He reached out, hesitantly taking hold of Blair's head in between his hands. The look of relief on his Guide's face let him know that he'd done the right thing. Blair had been waiting for him to make the first move. The rest should be a piece of cake.
Strange, but he'd never noticed before how silky Blair's hair felt. The heat from Blair's body seeped into Jim’s hands, making his fingers itch to do more than just provide a grip. He wondered if Blair's lips would feel as soft as his hair did beneath his fingertips? Blair's heartbeat was wild now, pounding out a furious music that harmonized with Jim's own thundering pulse.
He leaned down toward his Guide, hearing the soft catch of his breath in his throat. Blair's scent rose on the heat radiating from him--sweet, and exotic and strangely addicting. He felt Blair's warm, moist breath fanning his face, and for a single instant he froze, breathing it in, their breaths mingling, mouths nearly touching. Then he took Blair's mouth with his own, the lightest of touches, the barest hint of the warm velvet of Blair's lips, and…..
And it wasn't enough.
A simple touch wasn't enough, not by a long shot. Jim needed more. The hunger that slammed violently through his body demanded more….so much more. Demanded that he slip his tongue past those silky lips and taste that dark, sweet mouth. He heard Blair gasp, and fearing he'd pull away, Jim tightened his grip, pressing the kiss harder, devouring that perfect mouth with his own. The taste was intoxicating, and the pounding sound of his Guide's heartbeat was heavenly music….so alive, so powerful, so addicting.
Jim groaned and deepened the kiss, and to his delight and shock, Blair melted in his arms. He licked hungrily at Blair’s lips and teeth, sucking his tongue greedily into his own mouth. The moan that escaped Blair’s throat was ecstasy, the sound of torment and pleasure so tied up with one another neither could be separated.
Blair's shirt was still unbuttoned, and the heat of his body burned through Jim, setting him on fire. He felt his cock grow hard again, throbbing painfully in his suddenly too tight jeans. He needed something more….relief, pressure, a single touch…anything to peak the terrible need. He shifted his body slightly, pulling Blair closer, instinctively seeking out the answering fire of Blair's touch. One single brush against one another, and Jim felt the throbbing heat from Blair's erection against his leg. It was nearly enough to send him to his knees. And God, his mouth was so hot, so sweet, so tormenting with every touch, every taste….he'd never get enough.
And then suddenly, they both realized what was happening. As if a bolt of lightning had struck, they froze simultaneously….for one single, perfect moment realizing exactly what they were doing…no longer just kissing….but practically devouring one another, rubbing against one another, making love to each other…to their best friend…to another man.
Shocked and stunned, they broke the kiss, gazing in utter silence into the other's blue, blue eyes. Reality took hold of them again, and they both quickly backed away.
"Okay!" they said in unison, as if announcing that they'd finished something. "There….right…well…." They both nodded to each other, each fighting to regain their looks of nonchalance.
"Right," Jim said. "That's…..well, that's that…" What was it they were supposed to do? Do it, get it over with, and then forget about it? Right…..that was the plan anyway.
"Right," Blair nodded in agreement. "That's done….so we just…."
"Exactly," Jim nodded. He backed away another few steps toward the stairs while Blair limped farther into the kitchen. "So, I'm just going to go…." He paused and glanced around in desperation, looking for something to do. "I'm going to go change out of these clothes, and….take a shower…" Sounded perfectly plausible.
"Yeah, and I’m going to start dinner," Blair announced. "Does almond chicken sound good?" He yanked open the refrigerator.
"Yeah, sounds great, Chief," Jim said helpfully as he headed up the stairs. He was halfway up the stairs when the need hit him again. He bit back the gasp that sprang to his lips, and he realized he could still taste Blair. He could still hear his heartbeat, feel the residual heat Blair's body had left behind. He was still hard and aching for the touch he'd been denied.
He grabbed the stair banister; his hands were shaking. Blair's heart was still pounding. From across the loft he could see that Blair's skin was still flushed, eyes still dilated, lips still swollen from his kiss. He saw Blair's tongue snake out and lick quickly at those swollen lips, and the sight nearly undid him. Images hit him…of Blair licking him, of those beautiful lips touching his body in intimate places.
"Blair," his voice was strained, nearly strangled.
Blair turned toward him, eyes wide. "Yes, Jim?" he asked quickly. And Sentinel sight picked up the minute shivers coursing through his Guide's body. He hadn't imagined Blair's reaction. Even from here he could smell the sharp sent of arousal.
"Blair, I know we said…." Jim began….God, what was he supposed to say? He was no longer certain of the rules of this game…or this discussion…or this exercise in avoidance….didn't even know what to call it anymore. "You know… do it and get it over with…out of the way and then…"
"Right," Blair nodded. "Out of the way and then forget."
"Yeah," Jim agreed, trying to find the words to continue. "But we never really discussed what would happen if we actually….you know….liked it?" He let his voice trail off uncertainly.
"Yeah, I know," Blair murmured. "I was sort of thinking the same thing….bit of a flaw there in the whole plan….I guess I just figured that we wouldn't, you know?"
"Yeah, that's what I assumed," Jim agreed emphatically. "Especially since we know that we're both totally…." He made a vague motion with his hand, hoping his Guide would interpret it as the hand motion to indicate that they were both straight, heterosexual men.
"Right!" Blair agreed. "Both of us! Hence the flaw…"
"So?" Jim pressed, hoping Blair would have some idea what to do next. He really wanted to move closer to his Guide, wanted to touch him again. But he was thinking it was probably safer to remain where he was on the stairs. Blair made no move to leave the kitchen, either.
"So?" Blair asked uncertainly.
Jim nodded hopefully to Blair, indicating that Blair was to come up with some explanation to explain away this little problem….just like he always did.
"Oh!" Blair caught on quickly. "Right…well….I guess it's possible that we're both…um…." He frowned deeply, as if thinking intently. "Of course!" he exclaimed, and Jim smiled happily. Blair had obviously just realized what was going on. "It's a Sentinel thing!"
"What!" Jim exclaimed in shock. "You mean this is my….?"
"No!" Blair cut him off quickly. "I didn't mean to imply that this was your fault. I meant it was a Sentinel/Guide thing…..you know because of the life and death situation I'd been in earlier. A territorial imperative and a genetic predisposition toward singular partnerships due to the necessity of sensory isolation from the majority of the tribe for both the Sentinel and Guide."
"That sounds good!" Jim said eagerly, moving down the stairs into the living room. He hadn't the foggiest idea what Blair was saying, but it sounded perfectly scientific and therefore reasonable. "Go with that," he encouraged.
"Right," Blair agreed. "I just meant that it makes perfect sense in a primitive culture for there to be a connection between a Guide and a Sentinel that might manifest in all sorts of different ways….perfectly natural ways, you understand. I mean the Sentinel might be required to remain isolated from the tribe to avoid sensory overload…which would necessitate certain cultural differences in finding suitable companionship. . . .especially since, Sentinel or not, humans are basically social animals. And since the Guide would likewise have to remain isolated in order to work with the Sentinel on a day to day basis…it would only be logical that they'd need to derive a great deal of their social and cultural contact and interaction from one another. And most primitive societies didn't have any sort of prejudice…I mean it would be perfectly acceptable in a partnership for there to exist certain physical interactions between a Sentinel and Guide, especially since there would be no guarantee that either of them would ever have time to socialize with culturally suitable…."
"So what are you saying here, Chief?" Jim asked. He'd been lost somewhere around the first sentence.
"I don't know, Jim!" Blair exclaimed in exasperation. "Work with me here! I'm making this up as I go along."
"Oh, right…so basically you think this just might be some new aspect of the Sentinel/Guide thing. Nothing to worry about, right?"
"Right!" Blair nodded. "Nothing to worry about at all. I'm sure it's perfectly normal."
Jim breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Oh, thank God! You had me worried there for a moment, Chief. If you had any idea what sorts of thoughts were going through my head."
Blair smiled tentatively. "Yeah, I know what you mean. So we're cool with this right?"
"Yeah, totally cool….if you're sure it's…normal and everything."
"Yeah, completely normal."
"And you figure, this will just..…go away or something?" Jim asked uncertainly.
Blair nodded and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess so. Especially if it's just the whole territorial thing…you know, about me going off with Rafe and Brown and stuff….so I like, definitely won't do that any more."
"Great!" Jim grinned, pleased that his Guide had agreed not to run off with any of the other cops. "Then we're all set here. It will go away, and end of problem."
"End of problem," Blair agreed contentedly. He took a step toward Jim then, as if to say something more, but he seemed to have forgotten that he had an injured ankle. He winced in pain as he put his weight down on his sore leg. Immediately, Jim crossed the distance between them and caught Blair, supporting him before he could fall.
"Be careful there, Blair!" he protested, sliding an arm around him. He helped him toward the couch again, sinking down beside him on the cushions.
"Thanks, Jim," Blair said gratefully, leaning tiredly against him.
It took them both a moment, but then they realized where they were and what they were doing. Jim had his arms around Blair, holding him gently against his side. The heat between them had not lessened during their discussion, and Jim felt a familiar ache grabbing hold of him. He wanted suddenly to bury his face in Blair's soft curls, pull in his scent, taste him again. Touch the silky heat of his body. He knew he ought to release him, ought to move away and put an acceptable distance between them, but somehow he couldn't make his arms obey. He realized then he'd always been touching Blair….from day one he'd found excuses to put his hands on his Guide.
"Blair?" he murmured uncertainly.
"Yeah?" Blair glanced up at him, and the deep blue of his eyes devoured Jim's soul.
"Blair, what happens if this doesn't go away?"
Blair slowly shook his head. "I don't know, Jim," he admitted, and Jim could feel the heat of his breath brush past his lips.
Suddenly, Jim didn't care any more. He'd blame it on a sensory spike, he told himself….a momentary lapse in judgment, a brief aberration…anything, just as long as he had a chance to kiss Blair again.
Blair's eyes widened, as if realizing what Jim was about to do. Jim didn't give him a chance to protest. He tightened his grip and captured his Guide's mouth, kissing him for all he was worth. After all, Blair had started this, Jim reasoned….Blair had grabbed his crotch earlier in the kitchen. All Jim was doing was evening the score.
Evening the score….sounded good to Jim. And he thrust his tongue deep into Blair's mouth, seeking out the warm, velvety darkness. Blair's taste exploded inside him, and the moan of shock and pleasure that escaped his Guide fueled the flame consuming him.
He felt Blair's resistance fade, and he pushed the young man down on the couch. He slipped one hand between Blair’s legs, forcing his knees apart so that he could move between them. Grabbing hold of Blair’s hips, he pulled himself tightly against his partner. Through the thick denim of their jeans their erections touched, confirmation enough that this attraction was not one sided.
Blair gasped at the contact, and began moving frantically against Jim. The scent of his Guide’s pheromones was driving Jim completely insane. He had to have more. Blair's shirt had fallen all the way open, and Jim desperately wanted to feel the sensation of skin on skin contact.
Jim clawed at his own shirt, ripping the buttons free and sending them flying. Then he pinned Blair down, covering his body with his own. The feeling of Blair’s bare skin against his own was wonderful, Blair's silky hair sliding against the smoothness of Jim's muscled chest. His Guide moved desperately beneath him, trying to create more friction, seeking release from the pressure building between them. Jim’s own cock ached painfully, and he didn’t know how much of this he could stand.
He sucked at Blair’s neck, leaving a deep red mark there on his skin, and Blair groaned and called out his name, clutching at his shoulders, still writhing desperately beneath him. Jim risked a glance at the young man, saw that his eyes were still closed, his head thrown back in utter surrender to the sudden desire that had overtaken both of them. He looked beautiful, breathtaking. Then he lowered his head to Blair’s chest, licking at one nipple. Blair bucked beneath him.
“Oh, God!” he cried. “Jim! What are you doing?” Every touch, every taste, every movement. . .Blair responded to it perfectly, his body quivering and shaking.
“Evening the score,” Jim told him, sucking hard at the nipple until Blair was sobbing in response. Then he moved to the other while he swiftly undid the buttons on Blair’s jeans. As his hands brushed over Blair’s cock, his Guide suddenly stifled a frantic scream and scrambled swiftly away from him. Jim tried to hold on to him, but Blair was far too quick, squirming out of his arms and off the couch. Frustrated, Jim glared up at him.
Blair’s eyes were wide with shock, and he clutched at the fastenings of his pants with one hand as he held the other hand out before him in a warding gesture. He looked like nothing more than a debauched virgin, stunned with outrage. “Wait a minute, here!” he shouted. “Jim! What in hell are we doing?”
“I told you. . .” Jim began.
“Evening the score?” Blair protested. “For what? Me grabbing you earlier? You went about a thousand points past evening the score here, man. The score is like SO not even now. . .Oh, my God. . .what are we doing?”
Jim sat back in frustration, resigning himself to the fact that what ever it was they were just doing, it wasn’t going to get finished. Blair started pacing slowly with his awkward limp, his hand still holding his jeans closed. Jim wondered why he didn’t just button them again.
“Okay, man, we got to think about this. . .what are we doing here, where are we going? Did we expect this to happen? This is so not you, Jim. . .so not me.” He shot Jim a perplexed look. Jim just shrugged and tried to look contrite. Blair was right--this really wasn’t like him. But then he hadn’t expected Sandburg to kiss him back so enthusiastically. . .so it wasn’t all his fault.
“You have anything to say here, Jim?” Blair demanded.
"I want you."
Blair froze, his eyes widening in shock. "What?" he whispered.
"I want you," Jim repeated. He felt ready to explode, and he clenched his fist in an effort to keep from grabbing the young man in front of him. Blair's scent called to him. His entire body felt cold and bereft without the heat of contact.
"Jim!" Blair protested. "You're suppose to repress, avoid, deny….remember??"
"Maybe it's a Sentinel thing," Jim offered. "Maybe it's just because my senses have spiked off the chart….I can still feel you, smell you, taste you…." He closed his eyes briefly, breathing hard. "God, Chief," he whispered. "You taste so good…."
"Jim!" Blair gasped, his voice wavering. "We're both . . .I mean you're not…you don't really want….I wish I…." And even though he didn't finish the sentence, Jim could hear the longing in the young man's voice. This wasn't just him…Blair was feeling this, too.
Jim pinned him with a hard gaze suddenly. Blair was trying to protect both of them, trying to hold back whatever force was demanding they change the very nature of their relationship. He was once again trying to guide, but Jim didn't want to be guided any more. He simply wanted his Guide.
"Blair, close your eyes," he ordered.
Blair stilled, and Jim stood up, moving closer to him.
"What?" Blair asked. "You want me to…."
Jim touched Blair's lips with his fingers, silencing the young man's nervous banter. Blair stared at him with wide, uncertain eyes, looking so vulnerable and beautiful Jim just had to smile. “Blair, it’s all right.”
“No, it’s not, Jim,” Blair said shaking his head. “What if you change your mind…what if you decide that I'm not…" And Jim recognized the fear in the young man's eyes at last….the simple, overwhelming, terrifying fear of rejection.
“Blair!” Jim interrupted again. “Close your eyes.”
Blair swallowed nervously, but he did as Jim asked. Blair closed his eyes.
Trust. It was simple as that. The same trust that made their partnership work so well…the same trust they shared through their bond as Sentinel and Guide. Jim had never in his life felt anything even remotely like it--not with any other friend, family member or lover. He'd shared every part of his life with Blair, and in return, Blair had given him his life back. This was a decision that had been made ages ago….he loved Blair….his body was only just now beginning to realize what precisely that meant.
He slid one arm around the young man's waist, then tilted his face up toward him. Gently, lovingly, he kissed him, the softest of caresses that coaxed a sigh of longing from Blair's lips. Blair melted against him, and for a moment they both simply held still, reveling in the simple touch, breathing in the other's essence.
Then Blair licked tentatively at Jim's lips, and the touch was exactly what Jim's body craved. He opened his mouth and welcomed Blair inside, letting the young man explore to his heart's content.
Eventually, though, they drew back fractionally. Blair's eyes were shining, dark with passion and hunger, and beneath that something deeper…something infinitely hotter. Jim helped him over to the couch once again, and they sat together, arms wrapped around one another, each soaking in the heat of their partner.
"What now?" Blair asked. "We can't go back, you know?"
"Do you want to?" Jim asked uncertainly, worried that perhaps after all this, Blair felt regret.
"No," Blair answered quickly, and the certainty in his voice filled Jim with a warmth he could not have named. It washed over him like an ocean wave, leaving him filled and calmed and excited all at the same time. Blair wanted this, wanted him. He'd never have guessed that that simple fact would make life suddenly, infinitely brighter.
"Then I guess we start…..," Jim searched for a suitable path to follow. "Start dating."
"Dating, huh?" Blair repeated, as if mulling over the idea. "Each other?"
Each other? What on earth was he thinking? Jealousy flashed through Jim again…the very same jealousy that had started this whole thing. "Of course each other!" he growled, tightening his grip around his Guide's body.
Blair chuckled. "I was just checking, Jim," he assured him quickly.
"Well, don't even think about any one else," Jim ordered. "You're my partner…remember?"
"Right," Blair laughed. "Your partner. Got it." He settled against Jim more comfortably. "Partner….means something different now, doesn't it?"
Partner. "Yeah, it does," Jim agreed. Friends, companions, lovers, soul-mates--more meanings than Jim had ever before dreamed.
"So," Blair breathed softly. "How long…..?"
"Forever, Blair," Jim murmured, knowing that this feeling wasn't going to go away. Not now, not ever. He loved Blair--in a way he'd never loved anyone else before. He couldn't imagine his life without Blair in it. The thought of this ever ending was inconceivable.
He heard Blair's startled gasp, and quickly looked down at his Guide, suddenly fearing that he was going too fast, putting too many demands on Blair. What if he didn't want forever?
But he need not have worried. His Guide was gazing at him with a look of stunned happiness in his eyes. Blair leaned forward quickly and kissed Jim, murmuring something so softly against his mouth Jim had to dial up his hearing to catch it. "Thank you, Jim," he whispered. "No one's ever wanted forever with me."
"I don't want anything less," Jim told him honestly, reaching up to stroke his hair back from his face.
Blair smiled and nodded as if in consent or agreement. "But actually, Jim, I meant how long do you think we should wait before we….you know….go any farther than…." He made a motion between them. "With the dating and all."
"Ah!" Jim nodded in understanding. "Well, I guess….let's see…I went to that Anthropology Department party with you when we first met. And then there was that dinner for that teacher who retired. And that lecture you gave on primitive hunting techniques. And the Cop of the Year thing, and that dinner Cassie set up…and, well, you've been living here for nearly three years…and we spend most every evening together….that has to add up to easily a thousand dates already, don't you think?"
Blair's eyes widened. "Yeah, I guess so. Never really thought of it that way. So what you're saying is….?"
Jim caught Blair's hand and guided it purposefully toward his crotch. "What I'm saying is--how long we wait depends entirely on you, Chief."
He felt Blair's hand close over his aching erection, and he closed his eyes, his breath catching in his throat. God! It felt so good… Blair's heat, Blair's touch….the gentle pressure turned rougher as Blair caressed him harder.
"You know me, Jim," Blair whispered. "I'm always ready to go. Anything my partner needs."
"Then right now I've got some definite sensory tests in mind," Jim murmured, shifting Blair back against the couch and covering his body with his own.
"Oooh, sensory tests!" Blair purred, arching against Jim as the Sentinel attacked his neck, kissing the reddened mark he'd put there earlier. "Perfect….research…I'll write a paper or something…"
"You do that, Chief," Jim agreed.
And then he kissed his partner into a silence broken only by the sounds of their love.