Low level lighting; the soft sounds of jazz drifting in from a bar a few doors down; the dull, reassuring buzz of conversation drifting in from the pool tables behind him; Jim and two beautiful women sitting around the table with him, seemingly hanging on to his every word.
Blair was in his element.
It felt like such a long time since he and Jim had just chilled out in a bar somewhere, enjoying the finer things in life instead of running around chasing madmen and criminals through the streets of Cascade like a pair of avenging angels.
Or rather, Jim was the avenging angel. In Blair’s more fanciful moments - often when he was stuck grading dreadful papers written by first-year university jocks who were taking Anthropology 101 in the hope that it was an easy subject – he imagined Jim as a strange mix of Superman and Batman, upholding truth, justice and the American way, fighting for the weak and the helpless, but quite prepared to break the rules and become the dark knight when necessary, to avenge when justice failed.
Of course, usually he’d then realize that he’d read way too many comic books as a kid, and the knowledge of just how mercilessly Jim and the others in Major Crime would tease him if they ever discovered what he was thinking would drive that particular idea to the back of his mind for another few weeks.
But it was nice to chill out for a while. No university, no criminals, no insane adrenaline rushes when men with guns and knives were lurking around every corner. Instead, there was just Jim, a beer, some fun, and an interesting conversation. That’s all he was looking for tonight, however much Jim might tease him about being a table leg, only after one thing. The whole mess with Maya was still a little bit too recent for Blair to want to rush headlong into another relationship right now. Even casual dating was too close to the mark. Besides, even a casual relationship with a woman took up a hell of a lot of time, and with Jim’s senses still worryingly unpredictable at times, Blair was loathe to take away time from his research studies. After all, women came and went, and unless he turned a corner one day and ran headlong into The One, in a choice between spending time with a woman and time with his newly-discovered sentinel, his holy grail, there was absolutely no contest.
Although a little harmless flirting didn’t do anybody any harm, right?
Amy, the blond sitting across the table and leaning in towards him as if she was hanging on to his every word, laughed, and Blair grinned back, even though he didn’t have a clue what she’d actually said. Thinking about Jim’s senses had reminded him that Jim had been particularly reluctant to come out tonight, claiming that the constant noise, smells and general bustle of a sports hall was a little much for sensitive senses after the long day they’d had, and although Blair had managed to convince Jim to come out with him, he had made a mental note to keep an eye on his friend.
A note he’d apparently been completely ignoring, if the way that Jim was wincing and rubbing his forehead was any indication.
Suddenly Jim stood up, walking away from the table without a word to any of them. Startled, Blair muttered something vague to the girls about being back in a minute and then hastened after his friend, grabbing hold of Jim’s arm as he awkwardly extricated himself from the table.
“Hey,” he said, stepping in front of Jim to stop him from leaving. “Where are you going man? What’s the problem?”
Jim sighed, his whole body language broadcasting how weary he felt. “You didn't have to pounce on the first two girls who smiled at you here.” Even as he spoke, Jim’s distracted gaze was drifting over Blair’s head.
“Come on, Jim!” he protested with a grin. “That's the way it's done, you know. You just got to hit it, you know?” Had it really been that long since Jim had gone out to a bar to meet women?
“Sandburg, I'm just not really good at this kind of stuff, you know.”
Blair had to consciously stop himself from laughing, the beers he’d had giving him that gentle buzz that always left his emotions running even freer than usual. Surely Jim didn’t really think this was so hard? It wasn’t as if anyone was asking him to marry any of the women he met tonight. Hell, he didn’t even have to sleep with them if he chose not to. It was just about the game, kicking back, spending time with some pleasant company and having a few beers, that’s all. Anything else was just an added bonus. He put up his hands, gesturing idly with them to try and placate Jim. “Just, just relax, man. Take it easy. The important thing is just roll with it…”
Before he could say any more someone bumped into Jim from behind, and as Jim rocked forward slightly with the impact both men glanced over.
“Excuse me,” Jim muttered.
The striking redhead glanced up at Jim and smiled before carrying on, and Blair waited until she’d gone by, unashamedly admiring the scenery before turning back to Jim and raising his eyes in appreciation. “Just roll with it? Oh, man,” he chuckled.
The woman sat alone at the bar, and Blair’s grin widened even further when she immediately turned her head and looked back at them both. It didn’t take more than a second for Blair to realize that her attention was fixed solely on Jim. And, more to the point, that Jim’s attention was solely on her. Blair waited for Jim to head over to her, hell, if it had been him she was gazing so admiringly at Blair would have been offering to buy her dinner already, but Jim just stood there, watching with an oddly fixed expression on his face.
“What is the matter with you?” he asked, exasperated. “I swear to God, if you don't go over there, I will.” He glanced back, taking in the long hair and even longer legs, just in time to notice another man approaching her, his intentions clear.
“Oh, Jim, hurry up, hurry up,” he urged. Jim grinned and shook his head slightly. “You're about to get snaked!” Still Jim made no move to go over there, and Blair made a last-ditch attempt, pushing Jim firmly towards the bar. “Go, go, go, go.”
Jim caved in, and Blair watched as he headed over to the redhead. When she visible brightened on Jim’s approach he couldn’t hold back the grin that threatened to split his face in two. The Ellison charm has done it again, he thought, clapping his hands together in proud satisfaction. All it had taken was a gentle nudge in the right direction from him, though he had to admit that the achievement would have meant more if Jim had actually turned on the charm deliberately.
It was amazing, really, just how nervous Jim seemed to be with women. Blair’s experience had always led him to believe that a guy who looked like Jim – tall, muscular and who must have been a jock in high school – had to be used to all the attention by now, even a little arrogant about it maybe, and yet Jim simply seemed uncomfortable with the whole idea. How the hell the guy had ever been married… not that Blair could say much.
Though he wasn’t insecure enough to think that he was utterly useless with the opposite sex – he’d managed more than his fair share of relationships over the years even if his ‘table leg’ reputation in Major Crime was more than a little exaggerated. But compared to people like Jim he’d always been the ‘short’ one, or the hippy, or most embarrassingly of all - the ‘cute’ one. All through high school Blair had wished he’d been just that little bit taller, or that his hair hadn’t been quite so curly, or any one of a dozen other complaints he had about his appearance.
He used to joke with his closest friends at high school - during one of the rare times he and Naomi had stayed in one place for most of an academic year - that his looks had been one of the reasons he’d discovered he was bisexual. It was simply a case of having to maximize his opportunities, so to speak.
All the same, it was good to see Jim kicking back for a change. The guy was usually so uptight, so serious, and the rare occasions that he actually relaxed and allowed himself to joke around at work or at the loft were a joy to behold.
Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Blair turned and walked back to the two women they’d been sitting with before the redhead and shown up, already mentally working out a reason for Jim’s sudden disappearance.
There was no reason why Jim should have all the fun.
And yet, as the evening wore on, Blair found his gaze repeatedly drifting away from the two women he was with and back over to Jim, who was deep in conversation with the redhead.
He wasn’t even really aware of at first, not until he realized that the others kept following his gaze, looking over their shoulders towards the bar as if wondering what he was looking at.
It looked like Jim was really getting somewhere, though. She certainly seemed interested if Blair was reading the signs right – something he was particularly good at – and he’d never seen Jim get so into chatting up a woman before; leaning in close, running his fingers through her hair, looking intently into her eyes, the works.
Blair, on the other hand, was rapidly losing ground with the two women he’d been talking to, as they became increasingly aware that they only ever had half of his attention. As he pulled himself back to their table yet again, Blair couldn’t help but wonder why he was having such trouble focusing on them. He didn’t usually, meeting women and just ‘hitting it’, as he’d explained to Jim, was easy enough – it was keeping a girlfriend that seemed to be his problem. If he wasn’t careful, he was actually going to lose the game to Jim this evening, and that wasn’t on. Jim would never let him live it down if Jim ended up with a date this evening and he didn’t.
Chuckling, Blair had one last glance in Jim’s direction before forcing his attention back to the girls. He couldn’t help but think that it was a shame the redhead had appeared so soon after they’d arrived, though. He’d been looking forward to a laid back evening spent drinking and goofing around with Jim. A night that didn’t involve fighting crime, or tests, or any of the other things that seemed to dominate their lives since he’d moved into the loft.
In spite of what had brought them together, in discovering his Sentinel, Blair had also been lucky enough to find what was quickly becoming a damn good friend, and their social time together was always severely limited by outside pressures.
When, less than ten minutes later, the redhead disappeared out of the building alone, Blair grinned, thinking that Jim might be about to rejoin them. That hope was quickly dashed when Jim followed her seconds later. Sighing in disappointment that their relaxing night out together had been curtailed so soon, and somewhat surprised that Jim hadn’t stopped to tell him that he was going, Blair reached for his drink.
Maybe suggesting they go out to try and meet women hadn’t been such a good idea after all.
The evening out had obviously gone better for Jim than for Blair, since when Blair finally crashed out – alone, sadly – in his room there was still no sign of his roommate, but even those few brief hours spent relaxing had put Blair in a cheerful mood.
A reasonably easy morning at the university had flown by. Even his office hours had been unusually quiet. The cynical half of Blair decided that this was probably because the next paper wasn’t due for two weeks, so the usual trail of excuses and extension requests hadn’t yet started. Whatever the reason, Blair had jumped on the opportunity to puzzle over the latest installment in the saga of Jim’s senses, namely what was causing these strange sensations at the crime scenes. By midday he’d figured out the best way to proceed, and cried off his office hours almost a full hour early to head to the station and get started.
Jim joined him later, walking into the records room as Blair was crouched in a corner, hunting through mountains of papers and files.
Blair greeted Jim with a knowing grin. “I didn't hear you come in last night.”
“It was late,” Jim replied mildly, refusing to look Blair in the eyes.
“Oh yeah?” Blair asked, fishing for as much detail as he could get from his reticent partner. He pulled himself up off the floor, bringing the storage box he’d been searching through with him as he moved over to Jim’s side.
“Yeah, I was driving around by myself. Got halfway to the Canadian border before I realized where I was.”
Oh. Not quite the wild night of passionate love that Blair had been imagining. He frowned slightly, confused by Jim’s comments. How could he have driven that far without realizing? If he’d lucked out with the redhead, why hadn’t he just headed home? Or even gone to another bar?
“So what happened?”
Jim grinned, seeming more relaxed than Blair could remember seeing him in a long time, despite his disappointment the night before. “I don't know. I guess she wasn't interested.”
Clapping Jim on the back, Blair smiled back at his friend before starting to pull things out of the box in front of him. “Hey, man, you know…at least you went down swinging,” he laughed. “I've never seen you work that hard before, man. You going to try to see her again?”
“Nah, she didn't even tell me her last name,” Jim laughed again, seeming much too unconcerned about the whole thing, considering how intensely he’d been hitting on this woman the night before. Of course, there was always the risk that Jim had been giving off mixed signals, interested one minute and then blowing cold the next. Blair was seriously going to have to consider giving him lessons on how to work with sort of thing. “Well, did you ask?”
Jim grinned, staring off into space for a moment before visibly shaking himself and turning back to Blair, drumming his fingers on the table between them. “So, what now, coach? Twenty laps around the field?”
“Oh, man, you...you are hopeless,” Blair chuckled, and the laugh he got in return lifted his spirits. It was nice to be able to relax and mess around with Jim, spending time together and bullshitting about everything and nothing. They might have been thrown together for a single purpose, but for Blair their secret partnership was rapidly turning into a treasured friendship. One that Blair truly hoped was being felt on both sides.
“What's this stuff?” Jim asked.
“Trust me,” Blair couldn’t resist teasing.
“You know, coming from you, those are the scariest words in the English language, now what is this?”
Oops - time for a little obfuscation. “Ah, we checked these out of evidence lockup,” Blair hedged, hoping that Jim wouldn’t pick up on that particular pronoun use.
“We?" echoed Jim. Yep, give the man a gold star. He wasn’t a detective for nothing.
“Well, actually, you did,” Blair confessed, mentally taking a deep breath before continuing. “You see, I've gotten really good at forging your signature. Anyway,” he rushed on, sending out a silent prayer of thanks when Jim let that particular misdemeanor slide with little more than a pointed look. “There's an item here from each of the seven robbery scenes. Now, this was found on the floor by the safe at the Rayburn Tower robbery,” Blair handed Jim the black torch that had been found by the body of the murdered guard – right where Jim had first sensed the strange increase in his senses. “Check it out. Are you getting any of that same feeling again?”
‘Well, like I said, it, uh... it was all very subtle. It went away fast, you know?” Jim shrugged dismissively, returning the torch to its box. “It might have all been in my head. I don't know.”
“No. No, no, no. I refuse to believe that,” Blair pushed, refusing to allow Jim to just dismiss his senses yet again.
This was important – this was what Blair was there for, and even if Jim still didn’t fully trust what his own senses were telling him, Blair believed in them implicitly. He’d spent too many years searching for a sentinel, researching every tiny, seemingly insignificant scrap of information he could find, to let Jim’s own insecurities stand in their way now. Besides, nine times out of ten, when Blair didn’t immediately back off, Jim quickly gave in and talked openly about his senses, as if putting up that token protest was enough, safe in the knowledge that Blair would always call him on it. “Well, believe what you want, Junior. The reality is the thieves are still out there and we still have nothing solid to go on.”
Jim walked out of the room before Blair could launch a second protest, and Blair watched him go in mute frustration. Apparently Jim wasn’t in the mood to play along the way he usually did. Maybe Jim’s encounter with the mysterious redhead last night had rattled him more than he wanted to admit.
Mentally shelving his argument, Blair started to put everything back into the evidence box, mollified in the knowledge that Jim was only delaying the inevitable. There was something important about these minor sensory spikes that he was having. Jim’s senses were trying to tell him something, and Blair was absolutely certain that whether he liked it or not, whatever it was, Jim wouldn’t be able to solve the case without it.
That same evening, Jim and Blair were back where this whole thing had began, standing at a crime scene that had all the hallmarks of their mysterious band of gymnasts.
The night echoed with the sounds of sirens as patrol officers struggled to deal with the crowd of onlookers and media that had gathered at the crime scene. Rain poured down from the skies, red and blue lights from the patrol cars reflecting off the pools of water that were gathering in the street. Blair stared out at the rain, watching the hustle and bustle of police as they worked, and wondered just when this had all become so familiar to him. When this had all started, he’d been almost blinkered in his thinking, interested only in the Sentinel, whatever line of bull he’d spun Simon about the importance of the thin blue line in modern police work, and yet sometimes now he found himself sitting in his office at Rainier, wishing he was down at the precinct instead, wishing he was involved in whatever Major Crime was dealing with that day, whether Jim’s sentinel senses were needed or not. Something that definitely wasn’t on his list of things to mention to Naomi next time she called. He hadn’t yet worked out how he was going to break the news to her that he was riding with the Cascade police force, half expecting to appear on the front steps with her old protester’s placards the minute she found out.
“I'll be damned.”
Jim’s exclamation drew Blair away from the rain, and he turned to face his friend, squinting into the darkness of the room. Sentinel sight might be enough to allow Jim to work the crime scene, but Blair couldn’t see a thing. “What?”
“That...that feeling again. That sensory thing.” Jim stood up and glanced nervously around him, as if searching for something out of place, something that he’d missed at all the other robberies.
“Uh, okay. Uh, use it,” Blair said, racking his brain to try and work out how Jim could use his senses to pin down exactly what it was he was feeling.
Good question. “I don't know,” Blair admitted. “Where is it strongest?”
“Well, right here by the safe.”
“Okay, okay,” Blair said, suddenly recalling the way search planes worked a grid pattern when searching for signs of a downed plane, homing in on mayday signals by moving outward in set patterns to ensure that all the ground was covered. It was a long shot, but just maybe… “Move outward and see if you can pick up any other hot spots.” Jim walked across the room, taking no more than five or six steps before stopping and glancing around him again. “Anything?”
Jim shook his head slightly, turning and moving over to the doorway before throwing his arms up in defeat, his body language making it clear that he wasn’t sensing anything, and probably didn’t even know what he was meant to be looking for. Blair could almost imagine the thoughts of needles and haystacks that must be running through Jim’s head.
Starting to shake his head, Blair suddenly realized that Jim had stilled, his shoulders tensing and turning his head slightly to one side the way he always seemed to when he was working with his senses.
“All right. You’ve got something,” Blair prompted.
Turning, Jim didn’t answer him. Instead, he looked straight up at the ceiling, eyes narrowing as he began to nod.
“Yeah,” he confirmed, and Blair had to fight down a whoop of delight. Seeing Jim working with his senses, watching a real live sentinel in action had been so far beyond his wildest dreams for so long, that sometimes he still had to pinch himself to check that he wasn’t still dreaming. But there was even more to it than that. Blair took as much pleasure in the fact that it was Jim he was working with, and that the man had come so far in just a few short weeks.
Sure, they still had their problems, and Jim’s senses weren’t yet 100% under control, but compared to the defensive, scared man who had shown up at his office in desperation that fateful day at Rainier, they’d both come so far. Jim was so confident with his senses now. Sure, he bitched about them at times, and he wasn’t always quite as eager to spend time to the never-ending barrage of tests as Blair, but when they were working properly, man, Jim was a joy to watch.
Never taking his eyes off the ceiling, Jim reached over with one hand and snagged a handful of Blair’s coat, pulling him over to stand by his side and pointing at the ceiling with his other hand.
“It looks like when they remodeled this place to put in the store, they neglected to attach the new alarm system to the old skylight. And that's how they got in. The guard was added for extra security.”
Blair couldn’t see whatever Jim had; the flickering police lights did little to penetrate the darkness and he could barely make out the ceiling at all, let alone make out the alarm system or skylight, but Jim had seen it, and had used his senses to see it, and that’s all that mattered. “I still can't believe someone has to die for a bunch of rocks, though.” Then another thought occurred to him. “Where did they come from?”
Together they headed outside the jewelers. “There's no roof access on any other building,” Jim commented, before bending down and picking something up from the ground.
“What's that?” Blair asked, squinting to try and make it out.
“Explosive bolt,” Jim replied, glancing up into the night sky as he spoke. “Residue is still fresh.”
“You see something?” Following Jim’s gaze, Blair looked up at the corner of a building across the street from the jewelers.
“There was a cable attached up there,” Jim pointed, keeping his finger pointed at the sky as he turned, following the line of something that Blair couldn’t see back to the roof of the jewelers. The front of that building was white, and Blair could just make out…something… bolted into the roofing. Something that shouldn’t have been there. “The other end of the cable was attached to the building across the street,” Jim continued. “The thieves must have used a remote control device to blow the bolts holding it down and then reeled it in when they got to the other side. With the fire and the party going on, who would notice?”
Then Jim was moving again, summoning over a couple of uniformed officers as Blair hurried to keep up. They headed over to the building where the cable had been attached – a private night club called Chatfield’s. Ducking under the police cordon tape, Blair ignored the crowds of reporters firing questions at them both and followed Jim inside the club.
A violin quartet was playing, and Blair raised his eyebrows at the sight of all the men in tuxedos and women in beautiful dresses. There was serious money here, and if he wasn’t mistaken, the kind of people who wouldn’t react well to the lowly police force crashing the party. Oh yeah, this was going to be fun.
A woman in a red cocktail dress stopped them just a few steps inside the door. Blair’s eyebrows raised – it took a seriously posh party, where everyone was on their best social behavior, to have a woman in a cocktail dress acting as a bouncer. This wasn’t like any of the places he tended to frequent on a Saturday night.
“Excuse me, gentlemen. May I see your invitations, please?”
Jim reached for his badge, and Blair couldn’t stop himself from nervously reaching for his own pockets as she glanced over at him, her gaze taken in his faded jeans and battered sneakers.
“Detective Ellison,” Jim introduced himself. “Cascade P.D.”
As Blair expected, she wasn’t impressed. “I'm sure you do a lot of wonderful things for the city, Officer, but this party is by invitation only.”
“Oh,” Jim acknowledged mildly, then turned and walked away – further into the club.” Biting back a burst of laughter, Blair grinned and followed Jim, turning his attention back to their search.
They moved over to the bar, where Blair couldn’t resist grabbing a couple of vol-au-vent’s from a tray. Waste not, want not, right? “Jim, don't you think the circus has already left town?”
“No, no. They're not, uh...” Jim hesitated, frowning as he glanced around the crowded room.
“What? Are you still getting that feeling?”
“Just as strong as it was before.”
Then the woman from the door was back. This time she brought a man with her, a tall guy complete with tuxedo, British accent and arrogant attitude that Blair knew would get Jim’s back up immediately.
“Ted McCarthy, Chatfield's manager. I wondered if I might I have word with you.”
“Not now, please,” Jim dismissed him.
“In that case, I must ask you and your friend to leave.”
Blair raised his eyebrows in surprise, silently biting into his second snack.
“This is a police investigation,” Jim replied, flashing his badge again.
“And this is a private party. You have no right to come in here and insult my employees and disrupt the evening.”
“In case you haven't noticed, sir, we have a situation across the street. A security guard has been killed. A million dollars in jewels have been stolen and a fire has broken out.”
“Well, that's all very horrible indeed, but it has nothing to do with us.”
Blair nodded to himself at another example of the blinkered arrogance of the upper classes. Even murder was little more than an inconvenience when it got in the way of such an important social event. Of course, if it was their jewels that had been stolen, Blair had a feeling that most of these people would have been on the phone to the commissioner demanding that something be done about it immediately.
“We have reason to believe the perpetrators escaped to the roof of this building.”
“That's absurd! Have you any idea how many important people there are here this evening? I do not want them harassed!”
Jim sighed, trying again to placate Mr. McCarthy. “Sir, our intention is not to harass anybody. We just want to find out who's here so we can question them later on if necessary.”
“Very well,” McCarthy sighed, capitulating with bad grace before walking off without another word.
“Thank you,” Jim called after him, his tone no more sincere than McCarthy’s.
Following Jim over to the bar, Blair watched as Jim searched the crowd, looking for something, or someone, that might tell them where the jewels had been taken. Standing slightly to one side, Blair stayed silent as the Sentinel worked his magic. This, he could never grow tired of; seeing Jim in action, seeing the fruits of their labors right in front of him. The day they’d met, Jim would never have been able to so easily attain this level of control in such a noisy, crowded environment. They’d accomplished so much in just a few short weeks, and even though it might sound condescending, and Blair would never in a million years admit it to Jim, he was proud of the older man.
Jim’s eyes narrowed then, his entire body suddenly focused on a single point the way it always did when his senses latched on to something.
“You got something?”
“You know how many perfumes are in the air here, not to mention colognes, aftershaves?”
So much for control in a crowded environment, Blair thought. “So did you lose the trail or what?”
Jim frowned, openly searching the crowd again. “I don't know. I'm just kind of confused right now.”
Then, suddenly he smiled, raising his hand in greeting. “What's she doing here?”
Following Jim’s gaze, Blair glanced over, as stunned as his friend to see the redhead from the bar smiling back at them.
Grinning, Blair leaned in closer to his friend, patting him on the arm. “Jim, there are no accidents, man. This is a sign from God. You must go. Go forward, man.” He pushed Blair forward, laughing as he did so. But in spite of his words, Blair didn’t actually expect Jim to go over there, or at least not so willingly. They were in the middle of a police investigation – a murder case even – and in Jim’s book, that always took precedence over just about everything, including the basics of life, like eating and sleeping. Surprised at this new, more laid-back side of Jim, and amused to see it in action, Blair couldn’t even begin to wipe the smile off his face, reaching for some of the nuts laid out on the bar. That woman must really have meant something.
“Jim!” Simon’s voice boomed across the room, carrying clear over the noise of the crowd the way that only the Captain could, and Blair glanced up, acknowledging Simon’s approach before looking back in the direction that Jim had gone.
He fully expected Jim to come back over to them, to update Simon on the investigation, and was already mentally trying to come up with ways that explained how Jim had managed to track the jewelers to the club that didn’t involve heightened senses. It didn’t matter for Simon, the man knew more than he wanted to about Jim’s sentinel abilities and took great pleasure in telling Blair so at every given opportunity, but they would need to have a cover story ready for the official report, and it didn’t hurt to start planning early.
Jim glanced behind him and offered a vague, disinterested “hey Simon” before continuing across the room, barely slowing down in his haste to get over to where she was standing.
“Ellison!” Simon shouted after him, and Blair quickly stopped grinning, watching as Jim totally ignored his boss. Suddenly it didn’t seem quite so funny anymore. This was not like Jim. It wasn’t like him at all.
Sure, Jim wasn’t quite the tight-assed, by-the-book cop that so many people at the station mistook him for. Hell, he was quite willing to bend the rules and throw procedure out the window when it suited him, if his reaction to Danny Choi’s death was anything to go by. But as much as they might have joked around in the past about Jim being in desperate need of a healthy love life – hell, any love life would be an improvement on what he had at the moment, this was ridiculous. Jim would never walk away from an ongoing murder investigation because he was interested in some woman. Particularly an investigation that was at such a critical stage – the first 24 hours were vital, and Jim had been known to work 24 hours solid after a murder was discovered, just to be sure that the victim had the best chance for justice. This wasn’t like him at all.
Stunned into silence, Blair watched as the redhead reached up and took Jim’s face in her hands, caressing him gently before taking his arm and leading them down the short flight of steps and away towards the back of the building. Jim went without a word.
Glancing up at Simon, Blair saw the same confusion in the Captain’s face that he was sure was mirrored in his.
“What the hell's going on with Ellison? First, he calls me down here, telling me that he's got the place locked up. Then he walks away from me like I'm trying to sell him a time-share.”
“I don't know, Simon,” Blair began, trying not to let his growing concern show in his voice. “He met this girl, and...” but then he trailed off. For the first time in a long while, he didn’t have the slightest clue what to say.
“Well what the hell is he thinking, Sandburg?” Simon snapped, and Blair just shrugged helplessly.
A commotion over by the main entrance saved Blair from having to come up with some kind of justification for Jim’s totally out-of-character behavior, and both he and Simon looked over to see one of the smartly-dressed bouncers fighting with a couple of the guests of the party. Two men were grappling with each other on the wooden floor, while the second guest brought a beer bottle down onto the head of the other bouncer, shattering the glass and sending the bouncer sprawling to the floor.
“Get Ellison,” Simon snapped, and Blair started moving, glancing back at the fight in time to see Simon wading into the fracas, pulling the two men apart with the aid of a couple of the uniforms.
This kind of incident was not going to get the police on Ted McCarthy’s good books, and in turn, Simon was sure to take his bad mood out on Ellison, unless they could come up with the jewels, the bad guys, or at least a damn good reason for crashing the party. So far, thanks to Jim’s sudden obsession with this redhead, they had exactly zip.
Blair hurried over to where he’d seen Jim disappear, finding himself at the entrance to a cloakroom of some kind, where rows and rows of shirts and jackets were lined up along the walls.
“Jim?” he called out.
Wondering why on earth this woman would have brought Jim here, and why Jim hadn’t heard the commotion and come running out, Blair moved in between the clothes rails, turned a corner, and froze.
The redhead was practically sitting in Jim’s lap, the two of them kissing frantically. Jim’s coat was in a heap on the floor, his shirt unbuttoned and hanging open. Her dress was undone, the zip at the back open down to her waist as they clung desperately to each other.
They broke apart at the sound of Blair’s voice, turning their heads to look at him although Jim kept his arms tight around her. She seemed angry at the interruption, and Jim just stared blankly at him for a second or two before seeming to rouse himself, and sheepishly drawing her dress closed around her back, attempting to cover her from Blair’s stunned gaze.
“Um…” Blair began, raising one finger to ask what the hell Jim thought he was doing making out with this woman when all hell was breaking loose in the club, to tell him that Simon’s blood pressure was about to go through the roof and that Jim needed to get his butt outside pronto, but embarrassment took the words away, and he eventually just gestured outside with an awkward smile before walking back out into the club. Managing to gather his wits so that he didn’t attract Simon’s attention before Jim had composed himself, he waited outside, leaning against the wall by the half-open door. He rested his head against the cold plaster, unable to stop himself from going back over what he had just seen. And Jim called him a table leg? At least he had never broken off from teaching a class to get it on with a woman. Although, if he was truly honest, there had been that one time in the library of the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, when he and Claire Short had been supposed to be cataloguing the latest reports from the Inuleae tribe…
It shouldn’t bother him that much, he supposed. Hell, Blair was the one who had practically pushed Jim over to her at the bar. Besides, Jim was a grown man, and more than capable of making his own decisions when it came to this sort of thing, even if it did seem like a monumentally stupid thing to do when Simon was on the warpath just a few feet away. But then this woman had captivated Jim from the moment they’d bumped into each other, and Blair hadn’t liked it even then.
The redhead appeared first, looking calm and composed, her dress perfectly back in place as if she hadn’t just been half naked in the cloakroom. She swept past Blair without a glance, heading back over to her former table at the back of the club. A moment later Jim came out; his shirt still rumpled and his cheeks red with embarrassment. Blair regarded him quietly for a moment, and a tiny, unpleasant part of him enjoyed Jim’s obvious unease. Especially when he could see that Jim was still unconsciously tracking the redhead as she walked. Even though his eyes were fixed on Sandburg, his body was turning slightly in the direction she walked, as if Jim were chained to her, following her movements out of the corner of his eye. Blair had the distinct feeling that if she stopped and clicked her fingers, Jim would be over by her side in an instant.
He still didn’t like it.
“Um…” Jim began, shifting nervously from foot to foot.
Finally, though, Blair put Jim out of his misery. “Simon wants you,” he said mildly.
“Simon? Oh, right,” Jim said softly. “Right.” Then he quickly located Simon in the crowd and headed towards him, Blair following just a few steps behind as usual, as if nothing had happened. As they approached the Captain, a patrol officer was hauling a prisoner away from the bar, and Simon wiped his hand across his forehead in mute exhaustion, turning slightly at their arrival.
“Oh, nice of you to join us,” he snapped.
“I'm sorry, sir. I...”
“Drop it,” Simon interrupted Jim, unconsciously saving him the trouble of trying to come up with an explanation. He regarded Jim for a moment, an intense look on his face that Blair couldn’t quite unravel. “Take a look at this,” he said finally, reaching for a pile of watches and jewelry that had been gathered on the bar.
Even in just the quick glance that Blair had managed to get, he’d seen two gold Rolex’s, a string of pearls and what looked very much like a diamond necklace, and he’d bet two years of his salary that none of them were fake. Jim gathered the jewelry into his own hands, looking almost as stunned as Sandburg. He turned the stolen property over, examining it quickly before shaking his head and placing it back on the bar by Simon.
“Well,” Simon said, “at least that’ll retrieve something from this mess.” With that he walked away, summoning an officer to pick up the jewelry and heading over to the main entrance to oversee the prisoner transfer back to the precinct.
Blair followed Jim, a little confused. “What about all those watches and stuff?”
“High-priced pickpockets,” Simon called over to him as he pulled on his coat. “You guys must have spooked them when you came in. Several of the guests have already identified many of the missing items.”
“So these aren't the guys we're looking for?”
“Think about it. If you had just stolen a million dollars worth of jewelry from across the street, would you hang around to snag a couple of extra watches?”
Blair nodded slowly. Jim’s words certainly made sense – the thieves they’d caught at the party were small-time, and definitely not up to putting together a heist as complex as the ones they were investigating.
“It's been well over an hour since the fire. The real thieves must be long gone by now.”
But Jim thought differently. “They're in the building, Simon. Don't ask me how I know. I just do.”
Blair frowned, glancing over at Jim’s troubled expression. So much that was happening here tonight was strange, but Jim’s behavior puzzled him most of all. One minute all he could think about was that woman, and the next he was talking calmly about the case as if this was just another normal night at the office. If any night at Cascade PD could be considered normal, that is. And now he was blithely announcing that he had some kind of feeling about the whereabouts of the thieves, even though he had absolutely no evidence to back it up. Usually it was hard enough to get Jim to admit to uncovering clues using his senses at all, and now he was happily working on instincts that even he couldn’t explain? What was this, some kind of sixth sense? Precognition, even?
“I can't explain away our presence to the deputy mayor and six members of the damn city council by telling them you had a feeling,” Simon replied, and for a moment Blair felt desperately sorry for Simon. The man had never asked to have a Sentinel on his staff, much less a grad student observer, and between the two of them, they must make his life a thousand times more complicated than he ever wanted it to be.
“Simon...” Jim began, but the Captain had apparently reached the end of his rope, because he was having none of it.
“Wrap it up!” he bellowed. “Now, that's an order.”
It never did any good to argue with Simon when he was in this kind of mood, and Blair turned to Jim with his eyebrows raised, hoping that Jim would comply with his boss without any further protest. Maybe if they could go back to the loft and regroup, then they could work out another way to get the information they needed. Besides, Blair desperately wanted to talk to Jim about these strange feelings that he was having, and that was a conversation that they simply couldn’t have in public like this.
But it didn’t seem like Jim was paying Simon any attention. Glancing nervously back at the Captain, Blair was relieved to see that Simon seemed more concerned than angry at Jim’s lack of concentration. It was a concern that Blair more than shared, but at least as long as Simon kept his temper in check things wouldn’t get loud.
Turning back to Jim, Blair opened his mouth to say something, but stopped as he followed Jim’s gaze, knowing even before he looked what Jim was going to be staring at. A sharp pang flooded through him as he saw the redhead standing across the room, talking with a long-haired, dark man with a moustache. For a second, Blair thought that Jim had been snaked, but another glance made it clear that whatever conversation she was having certainly wasn’t a happy one.
She pulled away from him, only for the taller man to grab her arm and pull her back, snapping something at her that Blair couldn’t hear, though from the way Jim tensed by his side, it was clear that Jim was listening in to their conversation. Then she pulled away, smoothly lifting a wine glass from a nearby table and throwing the contents into his face. The action caught everyone’s attention, and there was a chorus of gasps and low whistles as she stormed away, leaving the other man staring after her with wine dripping from his face.
Blair instinctively put out a hand to hold Jim back, to keep the Sentinel by his side and out of whatever was going on, but Jim brushed him off.
“Excuse me,” he muttered, and Blair reached out again, about to ask him to stay, to not go over to her, but stopped himself just in time. What was he thinking? It was none of his business what Jim did or who he spent time with.
Instead he watched silently as Jim made his way to the bar where she was leaning. He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off Jim, more unnerved by Jim’s actions than he wanted to admit, especially when he had no idea why he was so bothered by it. Apart from that ridiculously indiscreet make out session in the cloakrooms, Jim had done nothing wrong, and yet watching him with that woman made his skin crawl, and sent all of Blair’s own senses on alert. He was missing something important here, every mental alarm he had was screaming at him to do something, to put a stop to this, but he had no idea what any of it meant.
“What the hell is with him tonight?” Simon asked, only just managing to drag Blair’s attention away from them. He answered without taking his eyes off Jim.
“You see that girl over there?”
“The one he's going after like he just got out of jail?
“It's the strangest thing, Simon. I mean, he just met her the other night and he's gotten totally infatuated with her.” Even as he spoke, Blair realized how ridiculous it sounded. Infatuation was something that happened when you were a kid, not a full-grown adult.
“What, and now he's acting like some teenager?”
Blair began gesturing uselessly with one hand, trying to find a way to articulate what he was seeing and feeling in a way that Simon would understand when even he himself didn’t get it. “No, no, no, it's different than that. It's like he can't even reason.” And then, in trying to find the words, suddenly he had it. “It’s…he's working on pure instinct,” he muttered, staring over at Jim as realization slowly dawned.
“Like a dog,” Simon remarked wryly.
“Yeah sure. If you want to be crude about it.”
“Works for me,” Simon commented bluntly, before shaking his head and walking away.
Left alone, Blair looked back over at Jim, mulling that short exchange over in his head. “Pure instinct,” he said to himself, trying the words out for size as his mind kicked into overtime.
Like a dog – an animal. And if Jim was working on some kind of animal instinct, then could that explain his absolute certainty that the thieves were here in the club, even when there was absolutely no evidence to support that? Were his senses aware of them in a way that even he couldn’t articulate?
Could Jim’s senses be trusted at all when he was so off-balance, so obsessed with this girl that he could barely think beyond her?
He’d been acting strange ever since the first jewel heist, what with the strange sensations at the crime scenes, and his behavior had only become even more bizarre since he ran into her. What the hell was she even doing here anyway? The same woman showing up in a bar one night and then conveniently appearing again the next night, across town at a crime scene was too much of a coincidence.
Blair had jokingly put it down to fate when they’d first seen her, but in truth he’d only been half messing about. He didn’t really believe in coincidences, instead he had always placed his faith in fate and destiny; a legacy from his mother, but no less valid even if science had always dismissed the notion as fantasy. The scientific community at large had laughed at the idea of a modern-day sentinel as well, but that couldn’t change the fact that Jim’s senses were as real as Jim himself.
No, Jim and that girl were being drawn together. Something about her had captivated him on a primal, instinctive level. And if Jim was right that the thieves were still in the building, then really there was only one way to explain everything that was going on.
She was involved in the heists somehow, and somewhere, deep in the back of his mind, Jim had to know that.
Before the thought had even finished forming Blair was moving, heading for the bar where she had moved after throwing the wine over that other man. Or more specifically, moving for the wine glass she had used, which was still sitting on the bar where she had left it to go off with Jim.
The bartender was cleaning up, clearing away the glass that had shattered along the top of the bar in the brief fight, and Blair reached the empty wine glass at about the same time as the bartender, both of them reaching for it at the same time.
Blair got there just a fraction first, reaching out and grabbing the man’s hand before he could touch it.
“Sorry,” he began. “I need to take this glass away as evidence.”
“Do you have a cloth or something I can use?” Blair asked, knowing that he couldn’t risk getting his own fingerprints on the glass. He wasn’t even sure quite what he was going to do with it, to be honest, since he still didn’t have a fully-formed theory about exactly what was happening to Jim, but this was the only thing he could get hold of that she had used, and it was going to have to do.
The bartender hesitated, glancing down at Blair’s police observer badge before eventually nodding with a sigh. “Sure, hold on a second.”
Ten minutes later, Blair was catching a lift back to the loft with Simon, the wine glass carefully secreted away in his jacket.
He had the glass, and he had a vague idea. Now all he had to do was work out what he was going to do about it.
Blair sighed, glancing out of the car window at the city streets as they sped past. Somehow, he had the feeling that it was going to be a long night.
When Simon finally dropped him off on the street outside the loft, Blair stayed outside in the cold and watched him drive away. As the car merged into the evening traffic, Blair turned and stared up at the darkened loft windows, his thoughts troubled. In his hand was the wine glass from the bar, carefully wrapped even though he still wasn’t sure why he’d brought it home with him. At least Simon hadn’t asked him what he was holding; explaining why he’d taken someone else’s wine glass probably wouldn’t do much to reassure the man that whatever was wrong with Jim wasn’t catching.
He sighed heavily, his breath twisting away in the cold night air and he shivered, the sight making him realize just how cold he was. Shaking himself out of his maudlin thoughts, he hurried into the building and quickly up the stairs, rejecting the elevator immediately. Tonight, he preferred to keep moving.
The familiar action calmed him, and it wasn’t until he pushed his key into the front door of the loft and turned it, watching as the door swung open to reveal a shadowed, silent room, that he felt the melancholy return.
They’d drawn the blinds before heading out to the crime scene tonight, and the downtown lights from across the bay were muted, a blur that did little more than hint of the nightlife that Blair knew was carrying on without him.
He locked the door behind him without thinking, tossing his keys into the basket on the table before switching on the lights and putting the glass on the breakfast bar. Then he stood still for a moment, looking around him at the loft that had become his home in the last couple of months. He forgot, sometimes, just how lucky he was; how he’d truly landed on his feet after the warehouse had been destroyed. True, he hadn’t quite been in as dire straights as he’d made out to Jim when he’d pleaded for just one week. He wasn’t so pathetic as to have no friends who would have taken him in if he’d shown up on their door that night and pleaded poverty, but friendship only went so far, and Blair knew that he’d have been forced to find something else pretty quickly. $850 a month would have bought him a reasonable – well, livable apartment on the cheaper side of the city, but certainly nothing like this.
Not that he’d actually been freeloading from day one at the loft, either. When Blair had promised to move out in one week, he had actually meant it, and had spent most of those seven days - when they weren’t racing around after Earl Gaines or trying to find Larry before the Animal Control Officers did – looking through listings and trying to find a place he could move in to. But for some reason Jim liked having his company in the loft, and one evening, when Blair had been circling possible apartments in the paper and complaining about the sheer lack of anything decent, had suggested that Blair stay.
At first, he’d been careful to keep his things out of sight in his small room, adhering to the strict house rules and being extra helpful, always well aware that this was Jim’s place, regardless of whether or not Blair was paying him rent. But slowly, things had begun to change. First, Jim had suggested that Blair hang a couple of his prints out in the living room, and then put up a couple of extra shelves for storage space. Then, weeks later, Blair had come home from a long day spent at the university to discover that Jim had hung doors on his room. Simple, wooden doors, bought “for privacy”, according to Jim. Practical to the last, but that simple gesture had said more to Blair than a thousand words could.
From then on, the loft had been a home to him, a safe haven where he could relax, meditate and let go of the stresses of his double lives at Rainier and the station. Whatever was going on outside, when they came home from work, Blair never failed to get that tiny sliver of warmth at the pit of his stomach, that he had a home here with Jim, a place where he could feel truly at peace.
Strangely enough, tonight that feeling wasn’t there. Instead the loft felt cold, and unloved, and it was with a tinge of embarrassment that Blair had to admit to himself that it wasn’t the loft that gave him that sense of belonging. It was Jim. Because most of the time if Blair was working late at the University then Jim was already home when he arrived, kicking back on the couch with a beer and watching the game, or standing up in the kitchen, cooking something with one of his ridiculous aprons. Or if Jim was working late on a stakeout then 90% of the time Blair was there with him, and so they’d arrive home together, both equally eager to be off-duty and to relax in each other’s company without having to worry about criminals, or students, or the unpredictability of Jim’s senses.
It was the company – Jim’s company – that made this place into more of a home than any of the places he’d crashed in over the years. Knowing that there was someone to come home to, someone to share the minutiae of his day with. Someone who had quickly become one of the closest friends that Blair had ever had.
But tonight Blair had arrived home alone, and was likely to stay that way for the rest of the evening now that Jim was with this woman. That meant that Blair had a lot of work to do, because this woman was involved in the jewel heist, he was sure of it. Which meant that Blair had to work out how, and find a way to prove to Jim that he wasn’t really attracted to her, that these feelings were just his senses reacting to her presence and nothing more.
Blair walked into his room and booted up the laptop, trying to ignore the tiny part of himself that was beginning to wonder exactly why he was so determined that she wasn’t what she seemed, that Jim wasn’t really falling in love with her no matter how it looked. He hadn’t liked her from the moment he’d realized that Jim’s interest in her went beyond the casual, and Blair was uncomfortably aware that they’d had no reason to suspect her at all until they’d seen her at Chatfield’s, so he couldn’t even blame his unease on that. He simply didn’t like her, or more to the point, he didn’t like that Jim liked her quite this much.
With a sigh, he decided not to think too much about exactly why it bothered him so much.
The laptop had booted up by now, so Blair opened the internet and headed for Google, pulling a pen and paper towards him as he did so. Then he hesitated, wondering where he was supposed to start looking for evidence to support a barely-formed theory. The blank screen taunted him as the cursor blinked steadily in the search box.
‘Okay Blair,’ he scolded himself. ‘You just have to think this through logically, that’s all.’
His first inkling about that something more than just Jim acting weird had come from Simon’s throwaway comment about Jim going after that girl like a dog, and his own description of Jim acting on pure instinct.
He typed in animal instinct, clicked search, and quickly looked through the search results. A couple of pet shops, an animal therapist and some song lyrics stared back at him. Nothing useful there.
Nevertheless, he scribbled ‘animal instinct’ down on the paper by his side, before trying again, this time searching ‘human instincts’. This was slightly more successful, giving him links to books on human behavior and cognitive anthropology. He didn’t click on any of the links, though, just running down the screen and hoping that something there would spark an idea, would tell him exactly what it was he was looking for.
At the bottom of the page, though, a tiny snippet of the details for a book caught his eye. Advertising a book on Amazon called Human Instincts, just a single sentence was featured under the link.
‘All of these impulses are driven by our human instincts – sexual drive, survival, competition, aggression and our search for knowledge.’
Blair looked at the sentence for a minute, his mind whirling. There was something here. Something he was missing. If humans had instincts for survival, sex and competition just like animals did, then they were fuelled by behavioral patterns that had been formed millions of years ago. The primal instinctive urges to survive and procreate were the reasons why the human race was still around after millions of years, right? He’d called Jim a throwback to pre-civilized man the first day they’d met, and while that probably wasn’t especially tactful, it was true. Jim’s hyperactive senses were perfectly natural, exactly the same senses that everyone else had, only in Jim’s case they had more control over his feelings and abilities. He was more in touch with them, and that meant that they had more power to affect him. It was just like when he zoned out, his primal senses overwhelmed his conscious mind and temporarily overruled Jim’s control over his own body.
But if that was true, then what was it that attracted animals to each other? In primal terms, how did you actually, chemically, choose who was a suitable mate?
Returning to Google, Blair cleared the search terms and this time typed in three words – ‘animal instinct attraction’. Skimming through the results, he found lots of forums discussing human behavior, and scribbled down a few sentences from each, trying to feel his way along his tenuous hypothesis as he did so.
…‘where does animal instinct end and human nature begin?’…
…‘there is some form of animal instinct in human beings’…
…‘instinct of self-preservation taking place in animals when instinctive reactions to danger have been so overlaid by reactions of other kinds that, in the presence of excessive or unusual stimuli, the instinctive reactions fail’…
Still though, there was nothing concrete, no scientific basis for his theory that something instinctive was drawing Jim to the redhead. Of course, he was always going to be at something of a disadvantage, because there weren’t going to be any studies on the effect of human instincts on hyperactive senses that he could use. But surely there had to be something.
Then he scrolled down a little further, and reading through the last search result was like a light bulb going off in his head.
Pheromones. That was it! The human body produces pheromones, chemicals discharged by one individual that affect the sexual physiology of another. That had to be what was happening with Jim. The pheromones that she was sending out had found a match in Jim, and his heightened senses must have latched on to them, overriding his higher brain functions until she was all that he could think about.
But why her?
Even in the weeks since his senses had come back online, Jim had met a succession of women who were all clearly interested in him including Beverley Sanchez, Isabel Kane, and Blair wasn’t convinced that Carolyn didn’t still carry a torch for her ex-husband. Not to mention the dozens of women that he’d come in to casual contact with during police investigations, and none of them had provoked such a strong reaction. It would be too easy to dismiss it as simply a chemical reaction, that this woman had emitted the right kind of pheromones where everyone else had failed, but there was something else going on here. Blair was convinced that she was involved in the heists somehow, and it had to have something to do with the strange sensations that Jim had been feeling at all the crime scenes – it was all connected somehow.
Putting his pen down, Blair pushed himself out of his chair and headed restlessly into the kitchen to make a drink. It took ten minutes of hunting through the cupboards before he realized that they were all out of coffee, and he slammed the empty coffee jar down on the side in frustration. Terrific. Just when he needed something to help him keep awake while he worked… Still, it was his turn to buy the groceries, so he didn’t have anyone but himself to blame.
He turned to the coffee machine, wondering if there was any chance that Jim had slipped in his cleaning habits and not yet got round to cleaning the machine out. Sure enough, the used coffee grounds were still sitting in the dispenser, and with a resigned sigh Blair filled the machine with water and switched it on. It wasn’t great, but it was better than having to head back out and find a store that was still open. Besides, he’d drunk worse coffee. The grounds might be second hand, but they were still the best coffee brand you could get in Washington state – Jim’s Sentinel senses had no tolerance for the cheaper, more bitter-tasting coffee you could buy.
Waiting for the machine to work its magic, Blair thought back over the visits they’d made to the crime scenes, searching through his memory to try and remember what Jim had said about the things he’d felt. Some days he envied Jim his ability to recall past events with such perfect clarity. Closing his eyes, Blair took a deep breath and forced himself to think back, to try and recapture the exact words that Jim had used. It was back in the high rise building, with Jim kneeling by the open safe. He’d called it a nervous reaction, a subtle shift in his senses as his vision and his hearing both cleared. There was something about his skin as well, that it had started tingling. Jim had described it as tingling like he’d just finished working out…
Blair groaned, barely resisting the urge to bang his head against the cupboard in front of him. He should have seen it then. He’d even suggested to Jim that when the sensation had gone he “hadn’t felt good anymore”, but Blair hadn’t realized exactly what he’d been saying.
Exercise released the same endorphins that people experienced during sex and, to a lesser extent, when they were attracted to somebody. It was the biological explanation behind the old adage that when you're in love, the sky seems bluer. In a chemical sense, that’s exactly what it did seem like. The endorphins magnified the senses, making colors brighter, sounds louder and the world around you seem bigger than it had before. It was textbook, no wonder Jim hadn’t been able to take his eyes off of her. It was just like walking into a party - if the person you were attracted to was there, then the room was bright and colorful, full of possibilities and the promise of things to come, and you could think of little else and the world seemed magical. But if they weren’t there, then no matter how many people were present, the room seemed empty and lifeless.
Just like the loft did tonight.
That last thought snuck in without warning, and Blair froze with one hand on the coffee machine, stunned by the direction his thoughts had taken.
What had he been saying to himself just half an hour before, when he’d come home to a dark, silent, unwelcoming loft? No, surely that was just a coincidence. Only, he didn’t believe in them, did he?
Absently, Blair stirred sugar into his mug, staring off into space. Was he attracted to Jim? It wouldn’t be the first time the suggestion had been made, even though Jim had done his best to keep the rumors away from Blair, the precinct wasn’t that big, and Blair had overheard more than one conversation that speculated on exactly how he was paying the rent every month. The fact that his pleaded-for one week had been and gone had done nothing to dissuade the gossip. But could there really be truth in it? Had he just been too close, too involved to see the situation for what it really was?
That he enjoyed spending time with Jim was a given. He’d known that from the moment Jim had first invited him along to a Jags game, from the first evening they’d spent together that wasn’t a direct result of the need to test Jim’s senses.
But hell, that didn’t mean he was attracted to Jim, did it? Just because they enjoyed each others company? And hell, so what if Blair looked forward to spending evenings together with Jim? It was good to get along with his roommate, right? Even if it did mean that he’d not been quite so actively flirting with the women on campus over the last few weeks. After all, he only had so many hours in the day, and Jim would always come first, even to the detriment of Blair’s social life. In fact, the last woman he’d really spent any real time with was Christine, and he never had taken up Jim’s advice to call her and make amends.
Only, he hadn’t really noticed the lack of female company, either, when pre-Jim he knew he’d have been climbing the walls by now. Even his efforts to convince Jim to go out to the bar the other night had been more about spending time with Jim than any real effort to meet women.
Blair sighed heavily, closing his eyes and hanging his head in defeat. He could justify it away all he wanted, but that didn’t change the facts.
There was definitely an attraction there, whether he wanted to admit it or not. He’d been ignoring it, explaining away the warmth that flooded through him whenever Jim was near simply as excitement that he’d found a sentinel, that his life had taken on this amazing, if bizarre, turn when he’d all but given up ever finding proof of his theories, but he’d been missing something. Jim’s senses were fascinating, sure, and Blair knew he’d never get tired of them if he lived to be a hundred, but Blair was equally as fond of Jim Ellison as he was of the Sentinel, and it was spending time with the man that made his heart race.
Writing it off as some kind of hero worship wasn’t going to work, either. Sure, he greatly admired the man for having the courage to deal with his senses, and for everything he’d gone through in Peru and in his childhood, but none of that could explain how uncomfortable he always felt when Jim mentioned one of the women he’d been casually dating over recent months, and nor could it justify Blair’s intense dislike of the redhead, even back when he’d had absolutely no reason to link her in with the jewel heists. Jim was the one with heightened senses, not him. No, Blair had to face the fact that it was pure, unadulterated jealousy.
And he had to get over himself. He couldn’t fall for his roommate? Not only was it a ridiculous cliché, and pointed to just how pathetic he was, he was chasing after a pipe dream. Jim was straight, for God’s sake, and even if Blair had accepted his own bisexuality long ago, a gay man chasing after his straight roommate? Please. It was never going to happen.
And even if Jim didn’t find everlasting love with this woman, and as long as Blair could manage to convince Jim that this attraction to her was nothing more than a chemical reaction then that was never going to happen, but it wouldn’t make any difference. There was always going to be another woman. Hell, in the few weeks since he’d moved in there had been a succession of women throwing themselves at Jim’s feet, and even though none of them had made more than a passing impression, Jim was a good-looking guy. Sooner or later he was going to meet someone else, and Blair was going to be left on the sidelines.
But Blair knew that walking away wasn’t an option. Even though, if he was thinking purely of his research he should be packing his bags already. Falling for his research subject would blow his objectivity out of the water. He couldn’t write a thesis like this.
Then Blair laughed at himself, the noise echoing across the silent loft as he walked over to the couch, dropping down into it and taking a sip of his coffee. Not that he’d ever really had any objectivity in the first place. His sentinel research had been his obsession for so long, that actually finding one was always going to blow him away, he knew that. The fact that he’d managed to find a friend and a home in the process was just icing on the top of a seriously good cake.
In the meantime, he still had work to do. Jim wasn’t going to listen to his theories on pheromones unless he could prove them beyond doubt, and that was a conversation that Blair really wasn’t looking forward to. Draining his coffee, wincing slightly at the too-bitter flavor, Blair headed back into his room. He had research to do.
By the time morning dawned, rays of light sneaking in through the closed blinds, Blair was so tired he could barely think straight. The old coffee grounds had only managed to stave off his exhaustion but he knew it was still there, lingering in the background of his mind and just waiting for a chance to strike. Even with his glasses on the words on his computer screen were blurring, his mind fuzzily trying to work its way round the mountains of research on human pheromones that he’d managed to find on the net. Eventually he’d abandoned his computer and sprawled out on the bed, continuing to make notes with pen and paper that he doubted he’d be able to make sense of if he ever stopped to read them back.
As the time passed he grew increasingly jittery, counting down the minutes until Jim arrived home, until they had to have the conversation that he was dreading so very much.
When the key finally turned in the lock he jumped, startled, turning to see Jim walking in through the front door. He paused for a minute, trying to calm his breathing and get ready to rip Jim’s heart out – and if this conversation went badly, quite possibly his own as well.
When he finally ventured out of his room Jim was already in the kitchen, pouring coffee into a mug and humming as he moved. One side of Jim’s shirt was untucked, and that not-so-subtle reminder of where Jim had been last night and who he’d been with cut through Blair like a razor. Swallowing, he said the first thing that came into his head, desperate to break the silence.
“I wouldn't drink that if I were you.” His voice came out hoarse and flat, an audible echo of his own emotions.
“Why's that?” Jim asked, turning to face him for the first time since he’d come into the loft.
“We ran out of coffee. I've been reusing the grounds.”
He waited for the complaint that would usually have followed his revelation, that it had been Blair’s turn to stock up on groceries and couldn’t he have gone out and got what they needed last night? But today Jim stayed silent, taking a sip of the coffee anyway. “It's not too bad,” he said, smiling broadly at Blair, chuckling, and there was that familiar warmth, that quiet thrill at being the focus of Jim’s attentions that he’d written off for so long as some kind of Sentinel hero-worship. Sadly, he didn’t have the luxury of lying to himself any longer. “No breakfast?” Jim asked.
“Sorry,” Blair said softly, smiling back automatically even though that was the last thing he actually wanted to do.
“Donuts?” Jim asked, his entire body announcing how relaxed he was this morning, how happy and content. Blair wished briefly that, one day, he might be the reason behind Jim’s happiness, before shutting that wish down as hard as he could. Now was not the time.
“I'm sorry I ran out on you last night. I, well, I guess I got a little preoccupied,” he continued, laughing again and taking another sip of stale coffee before walking away.
“Preoccupied?” Blair muttered to himself. “I think I'd use a different word.” He stared down at the table, picking nervously at the counter top and asking himself, for the hundredth time that day, if he really had any right to put an end to something that was evidently making Jim so happy. His realization of his own emotions had made him start to doubt his theory that the redhead was part of the robberies – could his own jealousy be leading him to see conspiracies where none existed? No, regardless of his own feelings towards Jim, the fact remained that he cared for him, and he was damned if he was going to stand by and watch the man get hurt by some woman that he’d only just met.
Grabbing the wrapped-up wine glass he’d brought out with him from his room, Blair followed Jim up the stairs to his bedroom. Jim was changing clothes, standing shirtless by his dresser as he rummaged through for a tee shirt, and Blair began speaking, nerves making his words tumble over themselves as he paced around the small bedroom in his haste to get this over with. “Hey, Jim, uh...we’ve got to talk about something. This woman...”
“Her name is Laura,” Jim said mildly as he pulled on a shirt.
“Right. Laura. Yeah. Don't you think your attraction to her is just a little bit off scale? I've been watching you, and...”
“Whoa, whoa,” Jim interrupted, holding his hands up as if to ward Blair away. “You've just crossed that line. You can study the sentinel thing all you want, but stay out of my personal life.”
“I have been studying, Jim, all night long, because I was sure that this experience you're having with Laura somehow factors into this thing at the crime scenes,” Blair persisted.
Jim laughed dismissively. “You're nuts,” he said, but Blair was oddly reassured that there was no anger behind his words.
“I just hadn't been able to make the connection yet.”
“There is no connection!” Jim shouted back. “There's just two ordinary human beings that...you know, found each other.”
Blair took off his glasses, wishing desperately that he didn’t have to do this, even as a part of him was selfishly rejoicing that Jim’s reaction to Laura wasn’t quite what it seemed. “There is nothing ordinary about this.”
“I don't want to analyze it, Sandburg, okay?” Jim sighed, doing up his shirt, and the fact that Jim hadn’t yet just hauled off and slugged him only made Blair even more convinced that he was right. Given what Blair was trying to do, Jim was staying much too calm.
“Think about it, Jim. When you saw her last night it was like nothing else on the planet existed.” Including me, he added silently.
“So what?” Jim shrugged. “Why do you want to rain on my parade?”
“Okay, you're going to have to go with me here because this is a little bit off the wall. But I think I know what's going on.” Jim stopped pacing around his room and looked over at him, waiting patiently for Blair to continue. “Pheromones.”
“Pheromones,” he echoed skeptically.
“Yeah, listen to me for a second. Pheromones are a substance manufactured by the body. We've all got them -- it's been proven,” Blair said, dredging up everything he could remember from his frantic research. “Now there are these microscopic receptors in our nose which pick them up. It's kind of like when people say that you got chemistry with somebody. Well, we actually do have chemistry.”
“What is your point?”
“My point is that these feelings you're having at the crime scene are in response to Laura's pheromones. Your sentinel powers exaggerate them to the point of irrationality. It's the only logical explanation for what's going on with you.”
“No, no. I don't buy it.” But he hadn’t pushed past Blair and walked away yet, either, and Blair took that as proof that somewhere, deep down, Jim already knew all of this.
“Pheromones can stay active in the right environment for hours. That's why you were able to pick them up in certain hot spots at the crime scenes and why you could not detect anything that I got out of evidence lockup. But when we were in Chatfield's last night, you were 100% positive that the thieves were still there. And then you zoned out completely...on her. Face it, Jim, she is part of this.”
Jim straightened then, his expression changing from one of resigned amusement at the rubbish his roommate was spouting to a more…cautious attention, as if he was finally really listening to what Blair had to say.
Praying to every God who was listening that this was going to work, Blair handed over the wrapped champagne glass. If this went according to plan, then Jim would get the same feelings from the glass as he had at the crime scene. If it didn’t work, then Blair had probably just blown his only chance at getting Jim to see sense. “I want you to unwrap this and hold it in your hand.
Jim’s movements were quick and angry, and Blair held his breath as he tossed the cloth on the bed beside him and held up the glass. Watching closely, Blair could pick out the exact moment that Jim felt it, as he stilled and his eyes narrowed.
“Feel it?” Blair asked softly.
“Where'd you get this from?”
“Laura put it down on a tray last night and I grabbed it. That's her lipstick on the edge.” Part of Blair wanted to do a happy dance around the room that he’d been right, and even more that he’d actually managed to convince Jim of that fact, but most of him was just so desperately sorry at the defeat he could see on Jim’s face. “I'm really sorry, man.”
“Maybe I'll tell you about it sometime,” Jim muttered.
“Tell me what?”
But Jim just shook his head. “Something Laura said last night. Almost as she was trying to confess.”
“I’m sorry, Jim,” Blair repeated, and Jim mustered up a smile from somewhere, standing and placing the glass on the side.
“It’s alright, Chief,” he said with a sigh. “It’s not your fault.” Then he walked away down the stairs, and this time Blair let him go, watching him disappear out of sight into the room below.
No, it wasn’t his fault. He just wished he didn’t feel quite so relieved that he’d been right all along, whatever his own motives for disliking Laura had been.
And, more than that, Blair wished he had the slightest clue what the hell he was going to do about his own desires.
There was no way he could simply walk away from this. He was just going to have to learn to live with it.
He was already keeping Jim’s secret. Now all he had to do was keep his own, as well.