SVS-13: The Mountie Who Fell to Earth
by Josephine Darcy
Author's webpage: http://www.squidge.org/5Senses/
Author's disclaimer: This story is an episode of The Sentinel Slash Virtual Season (SVS), produced by FiveSenses, Inc. SVS is based on characters and concepts developed by, and belonging to, Pet Fly Productions. This story is intended for private, personal enjoyment only. No money is being made, or will be allowed to be made, by the author of this story or by FiveSenses, Inc. from the writing and distribution of this story. Any original characters introduced in an SVS episode belongs to the episode author and to FiveSenses, Inc. and should not be used without their permission. Due South characters and concepts were developed by, and belongs to, Alliance Communications.
Author's e-mail: JustJosephine@yahoo.com
Author's webpage: http://members.tripod.com/~JosephineDarcy/
Story Notes: Thanks to Maggie for her wonderful work on the first draft! Also, thanks to everyone who offered their suggestions on the FiveSenses list. I'd like to thank the art department for the wonderful job they did on the pictures, Aly for getting me involved in this in the first place, and WoD for all her hard work.
This is a cross-over episode with Due South. I pick up the DS characters shortly after the last DS episode "Call of the Wild."
The Mountie Who Fell To Earth
by Josephine Darcy
"Well?" Blair asked expectantly as Jim cautiously sniffed the brittle leaves.
Five days ago a group of hikers had returned from a trip to the Cascade National Park after having discovered a cultivated crop of suspicious looking plants growing in the wilderness. A report had been filed, but had yet to be followed up with a first hand investigation. Narcotics however had been short two men -- both sick with the flu -- and they were the only men in the division with sufficient forestry skills to make the trip. Fish and Game had been too busy, and the Forestry Service refused to get involved with potential drug problems. The case had been bumped up to Major Crime, and a grinning Simon Banks had sent his two favorite people out into the wilderness to investigate.
Jim had accepted the job almost gleefully -- the cold weather had broken and the forecasters were predicting unseasonable warmth this weekend. It seemed a perfect opportunity to get outside of the city with his Guide. Jim, however, hadn't precisely counted on the fickleness of nature.
"Yep, pretty much what I expected," he told his Guide. Two days out, they'd discovered the plants in question -- a large number of them, badly damaged by the cold, but certainly suspicious looking. Several were propped up by stakes, tied carefully to keep them upright. He could certainly see why it had caught the hiker's attention.
"Marijuana?" Blair asked.
"Oregano," Jim answered.
Blair's eyes widened. "What?"
Jim nodded with his head toward some of the other plants. "And over there we have Thyme, some Rosemary, and some badly damaged Basil."
"It's that damned Italian cooking group again, isn't it?" Blair exclaimed in annoyance.
"'Fraid so, Chief," Jim agreed. "Rather insidious if you think about it." He dropped the leaves and brushed off his hands. "What say we go fishing? I have a great fish recipe and we've got all the herbs we need."
"Fishing?" Blair asked. "You mean ice fishing, don't you?"
Jim just sighed. As a Sentinel, Jim should have anticipated this turn of events. But of late Blair had been distracting Jim from noticing important things like the weather -- all in favor of noticing things like his partner -- his partner's scent, his partner's taste, his partner's... well, just Blair in general.
"Fishing, Chief!" Jim grumbled. "Not ice fishing -- unseasonably warm weather -- that's what the weather report said! There wasn't supposed to be any ice. But as the weather these last few years has turned completely wacky, what am I supposed to do?"
"Wacky? Is that the technical term, Oh-Great-Sentinel-Of-The-City?" Blair teased.
Jim had to smile, though he did his best to hide it from Blair. "As a matter of fact it is," he insisted. "This is the city of perpetual rain -- you'd think it would at least get that part right. Who'd guess it'd start snowing?"
"Well, at least it's not a blizzard," Blair piped in, as if trying to cheer Jim up.
Jim threw his partner a look of horror. "Sandburg, don't even joke about that! You know what kind of luck we have! When I told Megan we were heading into the woods, she got a pool going! Simon predicted an earthquake. Rafe predicted escaped car thieves. And Brown predicted escaped serial killers."
Blair grinned, distracting Jim momentarily with the brightness of his eyes. "What did Megan predict?"
Jim just shook his head. "Rampaging herd of wild badgers. Apparently they gave her ten to one odds on that."
Blair started laughing at that, his eyes filling with mirth. It was good to hear him laugh -- these last few weeks had been hard on them both. "Oh, Jim! Man, we've got to find a badger! I'll take pictures. We'll convince everyone they invaded the camp!"
Jim paused to stare at his Guide, noting the way the gently falling snow coated the young man's hair. In deference to the cold, he wore his hair loose about his shoulders -- apparently it kept his ears warm. And Jim loved the way it framed that animated face. He could so easily zone on the sight of the snow gleaming against those auburn locks as they warmed from the heat of Blair's body and began to melt. Distractions -- so many of them. Blair's description of an 'ever vigilant watchman' had been sorely put to the test ever since the two of them had become lovers. He wondered if he should bother mentioning that to his Guide.
"Better not tempt fate, Chief," Jim told him with a smile -- he'd been smiling a lot more lately too. "You ask for badgers, and you're liable to get a pack of wol--"
The shaggy form that streaked out from the trees caught both Jim and Blair completely off guard. Jim gasped in horror, reaching for his gun even as the silver shadow tackled Blair and bore him to the ground. Blair shrieked, hands rising to ward off an attack as he struck the snow-covered herbs. Jim crouched, lifting his gun, aiming along the sight -- and then paused in confusion as he realized that the fierce, wild, killer wolf that had just attacked his Guide was in fact wagging his tail and licking the young man's face enthusiastically.
Jim slowly lowered his gun. "Uh... Chief?" he questioned.
Blair was no longer screaming, but rather giggling and twisting furiously under the weight of the wolf/dog as he tried to keep that long pink tongue away from his mouth. "Your Spirit Guide, Chief?" Jim took a wild guess. It sure looked a lot like the wolf Jim had seen in that vision so long ago.
"My Spirit Guide!" Blair gasped from beneath his giggles. "Tell me something, Jim. Has your Spirit Guide ever physically tackled you and pinned you to the ground?"
"Overly friendly dog then," Jim guessed.
"Dog? It's a wolf, Jim! A wolf! And it's tenderizing me for lunch!" Blair gasped and began giggling uncontrollably again as the wolf licked happily at his neck. "Call him off, Jim!"
Jim, torn between laughter and concern, patted his thigh with his hand. "Here, wolf!" he called helpfully.
The wolf in question didn't seem to hear him.
"That's real helpful, Jim!" Blair groused. "Why don't you just offer him some herbs?"
"Oh, dear!" The voice was neither Jim's nor Blair's.
Startled twice within the same couple of minutes, Jim turned in shock and raised his gun again, sighting and aiming at the-- Jim's eyes widened in surprise.
A Mountie. A Canadian Mountie in full uniform, red coat pristine in the green and white of the woods.
"Oh, dear," the Mountie said again, raising one hand to scratch a thumbnail across his left eyebrow. "I'm terribly sorry about that. Diefenbaker! Stop that!"
Not entirely certain what a Diefenbaker might be, Jim took a guess that he was speaking to the wolf. "That your wolf?" he demanded, gun lowered but still visible.
"Well, yes," the Mountie agreed with a somewhat pained expression on his face.
"Call him off!" Blair gasped between giggles. "Call him off!"
"Diefenbaker!" the Mountie yelled again. "Diefenbaker, you're embarrassing me!"
Diefenbaker quite happily continued licking Blair. "Not very obedient," Jim frowned, wondering briefly at the wisdom of trying to physically pull a full-grown wolf off his partner.
"Well, actually, he's very obedient," the Mountie corrected. "He's just deaf. If you speak slowly and clearly, I'm sure--"
Before he could finish the ridiculous statement, Blair caught hold of the wolf's ears, looked him straight in the eyes, and stated emphatically, "GET... OFF... ME!!!"
The wolf immediately backed away, sitting down on his haunches next to the gasping young man. The animal gazed adoringly at Blair. Jim went to help his Guide to his feet, holstering his gun as he figured the danger had passed.
"You carrying raw meat around with you or something, Chief?" Jim asked as he helped Blair sit up.
"Not that I know of. Jeeze man..." He glanced up at the Mountie, noticing him for the first time, and his eyes widened in amazement as he took in the sight. Red coat, stiff hat, shining boots, funny pants -- the man was certainly spectacular looking. Jim wasn't entirely certain he liked the gleam of appreciation he saw in Blair's blue eyes.
"I'm terribly sorry, Mr..." the Mountie began.
"Mr. Blair," the Mountie continued.
"No, Blair's my first name. Blair Sandburg."
"Ah," the Mountie nodded in understanding. "I see. Of course it is. I'm Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And this is..." He turned as if to introduce someone else, but frowned in confusion when he realized that he was quite alone. "Ray? Ray? Ray?"
Jim dialed his hearing up a couple of notches and heard the low-voiced grumbling of a second man as he trudged through the snow in the Mountie's footsteps. "He's coming," Jim offered, motioning with his chin toward the trees.
Fraser nodded and took several steps back the way he had come. "Ray, over here, Ray. Ray? Ray?"
"What!?" an irritated voice shouted. A few moments later a scruffy looking blond man, bundled in almost as many layers of clothing as Blair had on, stalked into view. "Do you see this stuff, Fraser? This white stuff? This is snow. Snow! What is it with you and snow, Fraser? Can't we ever go out into nature-like-places without there being snow? If there's any of them ice crevasse thingies around here, I'm leaving."
"It's only a couple of inches of snow, Ray," Fraser said reasonably. "You're hardly likely to find any ice crevasses in a couple of inches of snow."
Ray stopped and stared at Jim and Blair, his face twisting into a perplexed frown. "One of these yer friend?"
The Mountie turned apologetically. "Oh, no. Forgive my manners. As I was saying I'm Constable Benton Fraser, and this is my partner Ray Vecchio."
"Kowalski," Ray interrupted.
Fraser frowned in confusion. "I beg your pardon, Ray?"
"Ray Kowalski," Ray repeated. "I'm not Vecchio any more, remember?"
"Are you sure?" Fraser asked.
"Yes, of course I'm sure. Vecchio is Vecchio again. I'm Kowalski -- just plain ol' Kowalski." Ray Kowalski didn't actually seem all that pleased at the prospect, and Jim frowned in confusion.
"Well, then who's Ray?" Fraser asked uncertainly.
"Whadda you mean, who's Ray?" Ray exclaimed. "I'm Ray! Ray's Ray. We're both Ray."
"Well, shouldn't you be Stanley?"
At that Blair began giggling again. "Stanley Kowalski?" he asked in mirth. "Let me guess, you're married to a girl named Stella?"
Ray 'Stanley' Kowalski gave Blair the darkest look. "I was," he growled. "Until Vecchio ran off with her."
"Look!" Jim growled, getting irritated by the banter. "Ray, Stanley, whatever your name is, what are two Mounties doing in Cascade?"
"I'm not a Mountie!" Ray exclaimed in outrage. "I'm a cop!"
The Mountie looked somewhat taken aback at that. "Mounties are cops, Ray," he reminded his partner.
Ray grabbed briefly at his own hair -- which was sticking up oddly in every which direction. "Yes, I know Mounties are cops, Fraser. But yer a cop who wears bright red shoot-me-I'm-here coats."
"Only when I'm on official business, Ray," the Mountie assured him.
"And you're on official business now?" Jim took a guess.
"Ah. Well. Actually..."
"What's with your wolf, man," Blair cut in, motioning toward the wolf who was still sitting close by gazing at Blair adoringly. The wolf thumped his tail happily against the ground, tongue hanging out. He looked about ready to pounce on Blair again.
"I'm terribly sorry," the Mountie apologized. "Diefenbaker, stop that, you're making a fool of yourself."
Diefenbaker just inched a few steps closer to Blair, tail wagging harder.
"I must apologize," the Mountie sighed. "He's not usually like this. It's just for some reason he seems to think you're his long lost brother."
Blair's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "He's Jewish?"
Fraser tilted his head thoughtfully. "Well, actually he's never really discussed his religious leanings to me. But if he is, he certainly isn't orthodox."
The wolf flicked his ears and glanced back at Fraser. The Mountie just rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Twinkies are not kosher," he told the wolf sternly.
Diefenbaker let out a heavy sigh and dropped down to the ground, placing his chin on his front paws. Blair dusted himself off. "So you're a cop?" he asked Ray. "You local?"
Ray shook his head. "Chicago PD."
Jim stared at the unlikely duo in front of him. A Mountie and a Chicago cop -- wandering around on official business in the Cascade National Park. The cop had that lean hungry, unkempt look of an undercover detective; and the Mountie -- well the Mountie looked like he'd stepped out of the pages of a comic book. Tall, handsome, perfectly chiseled features, not a wrinkle or a speck of dirt anywhere in sight -- the Mountie looked at once out of place in the wild, and at the same time strangely at home.
"What's a Mountie doing partnered with a Chicago cop?" Jim demanded.
The cop sighed heavily and just shook his head as if Jim had done something wrong. The Mountie however answered immediately, almost eagerly. "Ah, you see... I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father, and for reasons that don't bear exploring at this juncture, I remained attached--"
"It's a long story," Ray broke in suddenly. "If you're not Fraser's friends, who are you?"
"I'm terribly sorry, Ray," Fraser looked quite upset with himself. "This is Mr. Blair Sandburg, and this is..."
"Detective Jim Ellison," Jim replied. "Cascade, PD."
Ray raised his eyebrows at that. "Another cop? What're the odds?" He shot Blair an inquisitive look. "Yer not a Mountie by any chance?"
"Anthropologist," Blair replied.
"Ah, of course you are," Ray nodded. "Makes perfect sense." He turned to Fraser. "So where's yer friend, Frase? I'm freezing my ass off here."
Fraser glanced briefly at his watch. "He'll be here, Ray," he assured his partner. "He's very punctual. He's never missed a meeting yet. Always on time. Punctuality is very important to him."
"You're meeting someone here on official business?" Jim demanded. "Bit out of your jurisdiction, don't you think?"
"Nothing new there," Ray mumbled under his breath. Jim might not have caught it if he hadn't had his hearing dialed up, and he frowned at the blond cop.
"Well, yes," Fraser nodded in agreement. "It's not precisely official, you see..." All three of them glanced rather pointedly at the pristine uniform the Mountie was wearing. Fraser glanced briefly down at himself. "Ah, yes, I see... well, he is my superior officer and all. I could hardly meet him out of uniform."
"You're meeting your superior officer out here in the middle of nowhere?" Blair asked.
Perplexed, Fraser tugged at something on his belt -- a small compass attached to a wire. "I assure you, this is not the middle of nowhere. And these are precisely the exact coordinates Leftenant Fontaine gave me."
"Well, it's eleven fifty-nine, Frase," Ray grumbled. "In another thirty seconds yer punctual buddy is gonna be late."
"I assure you, Ray--"
With his hearing dialed up, Jim heard the noise long before he was able to fully identify what it was. When he finally did, he had only a moment of surprise to realize that the Mountie too had heard the sound seconds before he should have. He heard him shout, "Look out, Ray!" as he dove for his partner while Jim dove for Blair. Jim caught Blair around the waist, tackling him to the ground and rolling him body over body several feet as something large and heavy dropped right out the sky, crashed through the interlocked tangle of branches overhead and then struck a pristine pile of snow with a strangely muffled thump before lying completely still.
Stunned, Jim clutched at Blair, letting his senses scan over his Guide -- noting the elevated heart rate, the smell of fear, and the heat from his body fighting against the damp snow melting into his clothes. Assured that Blair was unhurt, he glanced upward -- pushing both sight and hearing to their limit. The heavy cloud cover overhead blocked out his sight, but he heard the distinctive drone of a plane engine as it disappeared off in the distance. Then he climbed gingerly to his feet, pulling Blair shakily with him. "You all right?" he murmured.
Blair nodded, his eyes locked on the snowdrift.
Across the clearing, Fraser and Ray climbed to their feet, both gazing in shock at the same hole in the snow -- the body shaped hole that held a second Mountie, hat still miraculously in place.
"Right on time," Ray commented with a faint tinge of respect in his voice.
It seemed to break the spell the rest of them were under and they surged forward toward the body.
"Where in hell did he come from?" Blair asked in disbelief.
"Three-blade prop plane, from the sound of it," Fraser offered. "Probably a Cessna Caravan PT6A-114A. Heading north."
Blair shot the Mountie a disbelieving look, and glanced at Jim for confirmation. The Sentinel nodded slowly -- that would have been his guess too from the sound of it. But he seriously doubted anyone else could have determined such a thing. He doubted Blair had even heard the plane.
"That yer friend, Fraser?" Ray asked quietly as he dropped a hand onto the Mountie's shoulder in comfort.
Fraser nodded grimly. "Leftenant William Fontaine. He was one of my instructors at the academy."
"Sorry," Ray murmured. Jim and Blair stayed silent out of respect for the man's feelings.
But friend or not, Fraser showed a certain reserved devotion to duty that Jim recognized as a trait universal to cops as he straightened and announced, "I'll need to get his body to the city to determine what happened to him."
Ray nodded, and yanked his cell phone out of his many layers of coats. He opened it, raised it to his ear, smacked it against the palm of his hand several times and then finally put it away in annoyance. "We're outta range," he shook his head. "Can't get a signal. Our camp is about ten miles in that direction."
"It's the other direction, Ray," Fraser corrected. "And it's only about two miles."
"Ours is a mile that way," Blair offered.
"Well, if we can't get a cell phone signal, we're going to have to carry him out of here," Jim cut in. "It's a day and a half walk to the nearest ranger station. Longer if we're going to be carrying a body with us."
"Wait a minute!" Ray cut in. "Carry him out? Carry him out? Shouldn't we just go down to the ranger station and bring a forensic team back up here?"
"Bears, Ray," Fraser replied.
Ray blanched at that. "Bears? Excuse me?"
"Spring time in Cascade," Jim explained. "The bears are coming out of hibernation -- and they're really hungry. The body wouldn't be here when we brought the forensic team back."
"Bears?! Bears!" Ray turned toward his partner in shock. "You brought me out into the middle of this... this... nature-like-setting when there's hungry bears around?"
"Well, it's not the first time you've been surrounded by bears, Ray," Fraser assured him. "We have bears up in Canada too, you know. Wolves as well."
To Jim's amusement the Chicago cop shuddered violently and visibly, and then turned away from all of them, muttering obscenities under his breath.
"Language, Ray," Fraser admonished before turning his attention back to the body of his friend, and the problem of carrying him out of the woods.
"We could build a travois," Blair suggested. "Would be easier than carrying him."
"Good idea," Jim and Fraser agreed in unison. Fraser frowned suddenly and pried something from the dead man's left hand. He held up a small scrap of white material, stared at it briefly, and then raised it to his mouth. To Jim's surprise, he licked it quickly before frowning at it once again.
"OH! MAN!! FRASER!" Ray exploded in utter disgust. "Don't do that! We do not go around lickin' things off dead people!!"
"I'm sorry, Ray," Fraser apologized. "It's leather though... most curious too."
"I don't care if it's cashmere!" Ray shouted. "It's gross! Do you hear me, Fraser? That is gross! You can't go around lickin' dead things!"
"Yes, I'm sorry, Ray, it's just that this leather--"
Curious, Jim took the scrap of leather from the Mountie's hand, raising it to his nose. He inhaled deeply and discovered the mark of curiosity the Mountie had 'licked' from it. "It's not bleached."
Fraser stared at him in utter surprise. "No, it's not."
Jim stared back at the Mountie, a strange sense of unease rising in him. There was no way the man should have been able to determine that little fact simply by licking it. He shot a swift glance at Blair, and to his alarm his Guide had already come to the same conclusion. He was staring at Fraser with a look of amazement that Jim did not like in the slightest.
"So what if it's not bleached!" Ray groused. "That's no excuse to go around lickin' it. You didn't see anyone else puttin' it in their mouth did ya, Frase?"
"You don't seem to understand, Ray," Fraser turned toward his partner, looking somewhat distressed at Ray's continued criticism. "It's white leather, Ray -- unbleached. Leather isn't typically naturally white in color."
"Those skinny foreign cows are white," Ray corrected him defiantly.
"Wrong kind of hide," Fraser insisted. "This is leather from an albino animal -- a buffalo I'd guess."
Jim saw that that phrase alone distracted Blair from the sudden contemplation of a possible new Sentinel, and he stepped forward to take the leather from Jim's hands. "Albino? My God, do you have any idea what this must be?"
"It's white leather!" Ray snapped still obviously agitated. "Went out of fashion in the 80s! And who the hell wears buffalo hide?"
"It's not a costume," Blair insisted. "But an albino buffalo... to most Native American tribes that's like the Holy Grail, man!"
"A diner? Are we back to that diner thing again?" Ray demanded in surprise, glancing at Fraser for confirmation.
"Grail, Ray," Fraser corrected immediately. "Not grill. And he's quite right; an albino buffalo was born a few years ago in Wisconsin and tribal people from all over the continent flocked to see it. It's one of the most sacred symbols in Native American culture. I can't imagine what Leftenant Fontaine was doing with it however."
"Any idea what this is?" Jim asked as he pulled a gold chain from the small leather compartment on the dead man's belt. Attached to the chain was a jewel-encrusted golden cross, approximately the size of a man's hand. Fraser's eyes widened and Blair let out a low whistle.
"Oh man!" Blair exclaimed. "That looks like..."
"It is," Fraser agreed with a nod of his head. "The craftsmanship and age..." He shook his head in amazement. "Why on earth would he have--"
"You recognize this?" Jim demanded, looking from Blair to Fraser and back again. He was beginning to get the impression that potential Sentinel or no, the Mountie had a certain body of knowledge in common with his Guide. He wasn't too certain he liked that familiarity.
"It's the Cross of Coronado," Blair told him. "Last I heard it was on display at Saint Michael's in Cascade, on loan from the Vatican treasury."
"It's a priceless religious artifact," Fraser added.
"Priceless?" Ray piped in curiously. "You mean like gold and jewels and stuff--buried treasure type priceless?"
Blair shook his head. "No, actually the stones are only semi precious -- the value isn't in the material it's made out of. It's in the object itself. It's sacred -- several miracles are attributed to it. Supposedly people who have touched it have been spontaneously cured of various illnesses."
At that, Ray reached out suddenly and touched the cross still dangling from Jim's hand. Then he glanced curiously down at his other hand, inspecting something intently. The other three men looked at him in bewilderment, remaining silent until he realized he was being watched. At that he flushed somewhat sheepishly and waved his hand in the air. "Hangnail..." He explained. "I had a hangnail... still do... no miracle... anyway, what's a Mountie doing with this stuff?" He quickly changed the subject.
"I don't know, Ray," Fraser admitted. "But his possession of these items might explain why he was murdered."
"Murdered?" Ray looked at Fraser skeptically. "We sure he was murdered?"
"Men don't typically jump out of perfectly good airplanes without parachutes," Blair pointed out with a shudder.
Ray gave them all a pained expression. "Sometimes they do," he insisted. "Especially when there's a Mountie involved. Maybe he just saw a migratin' pack of wild bears and wanted to get a closer look."
"Yes, but Ray, he would have known there was no hope of surviving such a fall," Fraser told him. "It had to be murder. Bears don't run in packs."
"We can worry about all that once we get him back down to the city," Jim cut in. "An autopsy will tell us a lot more. And we can see if we can figure out what he was doing with those objects, and who was flying that plane."
The others agreed, and set about gathering up wood for the travois that Blair had suggested. Jim cut several long branches for the object in question and then watched with some curiosity as Blair and Fraser proceeded to put the contraption together -- discussing various methods as they did so. Fraser seemed to favor an Inuit design, while Blair tended toward a South American construct -- they compromised on an amalgamation of both, and began with admirable efficiency to work together.
Jim watched with a certain degree of jealousy, finding the rapport that Blair and Fraser fell into somewhat disconcerting. He glanced over at Fraser's partner, noting the way the Chicago cop stood off to one side of the clearing near Diefenbaker, arms folded across his chest as he shivered with the cold. He looked distinctly out of place in the forest, and decidedly miserable at the sight in front of him as he watched Blair and Fraser building something he wasn't entirely able to pronounce.
Jim took the opportunity to question the cop further. "You two were here to meet Lieutenant Fontaine?"
Ray glanced up at him, nodding owlishly. "He called Fraser. Said he wanted to talk to him about something important."
"He was working here in Cascade?"
Ray shook his head. "Last I heard he was stationed in the Territories... that's someplace up in Canada. But he asked us to meet him here, and we agreed. Or rather Fraser agreed. I just came along because... well, because I always do." He shot an almost affectionate glance toward the Mountie. "He gets in such weird trouble when I'm not around..." He paused and thought about that for a moment. "Okay, he gets in weirder trouble when I am around, but at least I'm -- you know -- around... to get him out of the trouble -- you see?"
Surprisingly, Jim did see. He nodded and fell silent, thinking that maybe things were all right if the cop and the Mountie were so close. He felt the knot in his stomach ease up a bit -- at least until the blond spoke again. "Yer partner -- he's pretty smart, huh?"
"Yes," Jim agreed apprehensively.
"Yeah, Fraser is too -- knows stuff most people don't want to know, you know? Bugs him sometimes that most people don't understand half the stuff he says." Ray was staring at Blair, and Jim saw something gleaming in his eyes that looked remarkably like envy. The knot in his stomach tightened considerably, and he glanced back at the other two men, watching as they chatted intently together, discussing the cultural ramifications of various weaving techniques of indigenous tribes. Blair had that same glow about him he got when he talked about teaching -- something he sometimes tried to suppress around Jim.
"You almost done there, Chief?" Jim demanded a bit more forcefully than he intended.
Blair looked up startled. "Almost, Jim," he nodded. "If you will help with the body."
Jim nodded and the four of them began the distasteful task of moving the body onto the travois. The back of his skull was caved in, but there was surprisingly little blood -- an effect of the snow, Fraser suggested.
Once in place, the four of them decided to take the body back to Jim's and Blair's camp -- it was in the right direction.
"I'll head back to our camp and pack our gear," Fraser announced. "I'll meet you back at your camp."
"Will it take long?" Jim demanded. "We need to get moving -- as it is, it will be late tomorrow at the earliest that we can expect to get to a ranger station."
Fraser thought for a moment. "Two miles back to my camp, then three miles back to yours, at a six minute mile, factoring in approximately 12 minutes to pack up everything, I'll be there in exactly 42 minutes."
The three of them gave Fraser identical skeptical looks, but the Mountie didn't seem to notice. "Dief, you stay with Ray and--" he began, but the wolf had already moved almost lovingly to Blair's side, once again giving him a look of adoration. Fraser just sighed. "Wolves!" he muttered in annoyance.
"Frase, you want me to come help ya..." Ray began uncertainly.
But the Mountie shook his head. "I can move quicker by myself, Ray," he told the man, then nodded at Jim and Blair and took off at a fast clip through the forest. Jim doubted that the Mountie saw the look of hurt that flashed so briefly through the Chicago Cop's eyes. Ray hid it quickly, and then turned determinedly back to Jim and Blair.
"Well, times a wastin! Let's get crackin'--" he began, reaching down to grab hold of the long wooden poles of the travois. He started to lift, nearly knocking himself completely off balance as it proved heaver than he expected. The poles slipped from his gloved hands. "Uh... I..."
"Why don't I take the travois," Jim suggested mildly, moving Ray out of position and lifting the ends of the poles almost effortlessly. The other cop just glared at him, then quickly backed down, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jacket and hunching his shoulders against the cold. He waited for Jim to move, pulling the travois and the body behind him, then fell into step beside Blair as they headed back to the camp.
Dragging the body behind him on the travois, it took Jim nearly twenty minutes to reach the camp he and Blair had left less than an hour ago. Blair frowned somewhat regretfully at Jim as they began breaking down the camp, rolling up the sleeping bags they'd zipped together last night, and tearing down the single tent they shared between them.
"Well, we knew something would happen," Jim apologized.
Blair grinned at him. "Not quite badgers. I wonder who got Mounties in the pool?"
Jim just laughed. "Don't think it came up."
"You need any help there?" Ray asked from across the camp. He was standing near the remains of the campfire, looking both uncomfortable and out of place. Periodically he glanced down at the watch around his wrist.
Jim, about to reply, was startled, when Blair suddenly stopped what he was doing and approached the other detective. "I wanted to ask -- how'd your partner do that licking the leather thing?"
The question was somewhat vague as questions went, but Jim knew exactly what it was Blair was pursuing. He felt that knot of tension return immediately.
Ray too it seemed knew exactly what it was Blair was asking. He just shook his head in disgust. "He licks things -- dirt, shoes, guns -- it's disgusting. He can lick a boulder and tell you how many people walked past it in the last year. He can smell a twig and tell you which bug crawled across it. It's freaky -- he's a freak..." He seemed to suddenly think better of what he said, and glanced almost defensively at Blair. "I mean that in the nicest possible way."
He was gazing expectantly at Blair, his eyes hard as if waiting for Blair to say something derogatory about Fraser. Jim knew Blair could read the message in the cop's eyes just as clearly as he could -- insults toward the Mountie would not be well received. Apparently in Ray's mind, 'freak' was meant as a term of endearment. Not so in Jim's world and he bristled at the implication.
"What about other things -- his hearing for instance?" Blair asked, dealing with the situation simply by ignoring it. "How could he tell what type of plane Lieutenant Fontaine fell out of? I didn't even hear the plane at all."
Ray relaxed his stance, Blair's manner putting him obviously more at ease. "Me neither. Good hearing -- I think it's a Mountie thing. Gotta have good hearing, good eyesight..." As he spoke, he reached into his coat pocket, yanked out a thick pair of prescription glasses, waved them in the air a few times and then stuffed them back into his jacket. "Me -- I can't see worth squat."
"But Fraser has excellent eyesight?" Blair pressed.
Ray nodded. "Yep, can spot a flea on a wolf ten miles away." At that Diefenbaker whined and Ray just glared at him. "On a bear then -- ya happy?" The wolf wagged his tail and Ray just sighed.
"Really?" Blair asked, and Jim could hear the excitement growing in his voice. If what Ray was saying was true -- that was four of the five senses right there. Shit -- Jim shook his head. Just what he needed -- another Sentinel. Granted, this one seemed a far cry from Alex Barnes, and there hadn't been any weird animal spirit visions yet, but Jim didn't think he was ready for the possibility of running across another Sentinel just yet. Maybe one day -- but things with Blair were just starting to go really well. He didn't want the possibility of anything threatening that -- certainly didn't want to face the possibility of having to share his Guide's attention.
Ray too seemed to hear the excitement in Blair's voice and gave him a strange look. "Why d'ya care?"
"Oh!" Blair smiled brightly. "I'm an anthropologist. One of my fields of study is related to people with heightened senses. I've got hundreds of documented accounts of people with heightened senses -- you know like people who work for perfume companies because of a super sense of smell. That sort of thing."
"Oh," Ray frowned. "You mean there's more people like him out there?" He glanced over at Jim briefly as if remembering something, and Jim stiffened, not liking at all where this conversation was going. The man was a detective after all. "You got that smell thing, right? Cuz you could smell the leather and all. That's a lot better than having to lick somethin' man... that's so disgusting." He shook his head and seemed to shrug off the whole conversation as if unimportant, then he glanced impatiently down at his watch.
"Well, what about his sense of touch--" Blair began.
Ray just raised his hands and backed away. "Hey, guys don't talk about that kinda thing!"
Jim almost laughed out loud at the flush that infused his Guide's face. "I didn't mean--"
"I've seen National Geographic. There's nothing but naked people in there," Ray insisted. "I know what you anthropologists think about."
If anything Blair grew redder at that. "I just meant..."
The Mountie in question chose that moment to return, jogging into the clearing with a full pack on his shoulders carrying both his and Ray's belongings. Ray immediately turned toward him. "Yer late!"
Fraser glanced down at his own watch in concern. "Only by forty-five seconds, Ray."
"That's still late," Ray insisted.
Fraser nodded chagrined. "You're right of course. I apologize, Ray. I'm afraid I failed to factor in wind resistance. It won't happen again."
"Well, see that it doesn't," Ray replied as he went to help Fraser off with the pack so he could separate out his own belongings.
Jim, finished with his own packing, tossed Blair's backpack toward him. "Enough with the questions, Chief," he muttered as Blair pulled the pack on.
"But, Jim," Blair began.
"Later," Jim replied more gruffly than he needed to. "There will be time later."
His Guide turned, his wide blue eyes startled by Jim's tone of voice. "I just don't want a repeat of what happened with--"
Jim didn't want him to say the name. "And you think I do?" he snapped, instantly regretting it as he saw the wounded look that flashed briefly through Blair's eyes before being hidden behind a blatantly neutral expression. Jim cursed silently to himself. He hated that look on Blair's face -- hated that he was the one who put it there. "I'm sorry, Chief. It's just--"
"Yeah, I know," Blair smiled, but the distance in his eyes didn't fade. "I get it. It's the whole trust thing. Believe me, I understand." And with that he moved away to the side of the clearing to wait for the others to join him.
Jim stared after him in alarm, an icy emptiness filling his belly. He didn't think Blair understood at all -- trust might be the issue here, but not trust of Blair. He trusted Blair implicitly; he'd hoped by now in this stage of their relationship that Blair understood that. It was the potential of another Sentinel that he didn't trust. But somehow he didn't think Blair saw it that way -- maybe it was the fact that they were lovers now that made this harder, different. There was so much more at stake here. Blair had meant the world to Jim when Alex had first come between them -- how much worse would it be now that they were lovers?
No, it wasn't Blair Jim didn't trust -- it was the whole idea of another Sentinel looking at Blair as a potential Guide. Selfish perhaps -- the very idea that he didn't want Blair helping someone else out who might need guidance with his senses, particularly if it was a decent law-abiding person, but the whole concept bothered Jim. One Guide, one Sentinel -- he didn't want to think about the possibility that it might be different than that. And the moment they had some time alone, Jim intended to explain the difference to Blair -- in detail.
They gathered the last of their things together, shouldered their packs and prepared to head back down to the ranger station. Jim hoisted up the travois first, despite Fraser's insistence that he would carry it. They agreed to trade off periodically so that neither of them would tire out. Then they headed back down the trail Jim and Blair had followed yesterday morning.
Blair, to Jim's consternation, fell into step beside Fraser, and with his hearing dialed up Jim tracked the conversation. They started where they'd left off with a discussion of the various designs of travois. They jumped from there to stories of the Inuit, the breeding habits of Canadian Geese, the environmental impact of logging in South America, the politics of Israel, basket weaving among various tribes in Africa, the aerodynamics of hang gliding, the battle tactics of Napoleon, and finally ended up discussing ancient mythologies which prompted both to begin quoting source material in their original languages. Jim gave up the thread around then, figuring his ancient Babylonian was not up to par.
Normally Blair's brilliance delighted Jim. He'd always been secretly amazed and quietly proud of the young man's mind. But he rarely observed Blair conversing with an intellectual equal -- never really felt so much like an outsider. Jim knew he was no slouch in the brain department --he'd gone to college, had always maintained good grades. He was well-read and kept himself informed -- but the sheer scope of topics Blair and Fraser covered would be beyond the capacity of 99% of society. Seeing Blair with someone who might potentially be an intellectual match for him -- with someone who also might potentially be a Sentinel -- grated in a way Jim had never yet experienced.
The Chicago cop seemed in a similar boat. He walked alongside the two of them for a short while, periodically throwing in a comment or two -- typically something sarcastic that had little to do with the topic. But eventually he grew silent, and finally moved away and fell into step beside Jim. The two of them glanced at each other briefly, smiled in commiseration at each other and then both started chuckling as Blair and Fraser began arguing in Latin.
"Grew up in a library," Ray supplied by way of explanation.
"Blair is a library," Jim responded. And they both just nodded in understanding. They laughed again, and then both sighed, as if deciding that it wasn't really that funny after all. Blair and Fraser remained oblivious.
Eventually Jim gave custody of the travois to Fraser, but even that did nothing to stem the tide of conversation. In self-defense Jim and Ray began talking about the life of a cop in their prospective cities. Chicago, it seemed, was nearly as dangerous as Cascade.
As night began descending, and the temperature threatened to drop lower than it should, they stopped for the night in a small clearing. They secured the body, then Jim and Fraser began quickly and efficiently setting up camp while Ray and Blair gathered wood for a campfire. They scraped together a dinner between their two sets of supplies and ate quickly in deference to the rising wind that was chilling the land so quickly. Fraser alone seemed oblivious of the cold, looking as calm and relaxed as if it were some warm summer twilight. He blithely carried on his conversation with Blair, and if he noticed that the young anthropologist was losing some of his eloquence due to chattering teeth, he politely made no comment.
Eventually irritation and jealousy prompted Jim to put an end to the conversation. "It's late, and Sandburg's cold," he informed Fraser. "And we have a long walk tomorrow. We'll see you in the morning."
"Ah, of course!" Fraser rose to his feet and Jim caught hold of Blair's arm and urged him toward the tent. "Good night, Detective. Good night, Blair."
"Night, Benton," Blair called as he crawled into the tent. Jim spared Fraser and Ray one final glance, noting that Ray had taken the hint and was climbing into the other tent. He too had been shivering rather violently. Diefenbaker stood in the middle of the camp, glancing from one tent to another as if torn with indecision. He crept toward Jim's and Blair's tent, gazing hopefully up at the Sentinel. Jim glared back at him.
"Diefenbaker, don't be rude," Fraser scolded. "You weren't invited." With a shake of his head, the Mountie retired to the tent, and Diefenbaker sighed and lay down near the fire. Satisfied that everyone was where they were supposed to be, Jim crawled into the tent after Blair.
His Guide had already stripped down and climbed into the double sleeping bag. He had his back turned to Jim, his eyes closed, but Jim could see that he was still shivering violently. He wasn't asleep.
Silently Jim stripped out of his own things, pausing only briefly to hunt through his belongings for the tube of lube he'd packed earlier. He spared a brief moment to wonder if perhaps he was being presumptuous, but he quickly pushed it aside. Before running into the Mountie and the Cop, Jim wouldn't have given it a second thought.
He slid quickly into the bag beside his Guide. He wasted no time at all in pulling the young anthropologist into his arm. Blair however did not go as willingly as he had in the past. Jim frowned, his heart pounding nervously in his chest. He felt something hard and primal rearing up inside him, something he tried hard to push down. He wouldn't get angry, wouldn't push Blair if he didn't want to... didn't want to... God, he smelled good! He inhaled deeply, letting his Guide's scent wash over him.
"Damn it, Jim," Blair whispered, Sentinel soft. "You still don't trust me!" He sounded wounded, hurt beyond words. "We've been through this before -- you honestly think anyone, even another Sentinel, could come between--"
"I trust you!" Jim said. "Goddamn it! I trust you -- with my life, with my heart, with my soul. This isn't about me not trusting you!" He buried his face against Blair's neck, nuzzling the pale skin. He felt Blair shiver in his arms, no longer cold.
"Then why did you--" Blair began.
"You want me to explain why the idea of you talking to another Sentinel angers me?" Jim asked. "You want me to explain why watching you so focused on him... watching you and he... the idea of you guiding another Sentinel ..." He was losing track of his words. His body was responding to Blair's nearness, his cock growing hard as heat burned between the two of them. He tightened his arms around his Guide's body. "I can't!" he whispered, feeling that primal thing rising again, desperation coloring all his thoughts. "I can't explain! I don't have the words!" He shifted closer, grinding his hips against Blair's ass, feeling the shudder that ran through his lover's body, hearing the hitch in his throat as he gasped.
"Jim," Blair whispered in protest despite the fact that he pushed his hips back against him, rotating them deliciously. "Jim... they'll hear... He's got heightened hearing... he'll hear..."
There -- that Jim could explain -- that rising sense of possessiveness that reared up to overwhelm him. That and the anger that he must be doing something wrong if Blair could still think clearly enough to worry about what that other potential Sentinel might be thinking.
He slid his hand down Blair's body, thrusting it under his boxer shorts, and grasped his Guide's throbbing erection, stroking it quickly. He heard Blair moan, the sound muffled as his Guide clapped his hand over his mouth to stifle the sounds.
"Good," Jim growled. "Good. Let him hear!" Let him hear so that there would be no doubt at all in his mind of who Blair belonged to -- whose Guide he was... whose lover. He felt a certain degree of satisfaction and lust flare through his body as he saw Blair's eyes widen in shock. He gave Blair's cock several more firm strokes, seeing how Blair bit down on the palm of his hand to stop himself from crying out.
He swiftly rolled Blair over onto his back, yanking his hand away from his mouth. He knew in the dark that Blair couldn't see him -- he'd be nothing more than a shadow looming over him. But he could see his Guide's face clearly -- could see those beautiful eyes wide with surprise and an equal amount of desire and passion. But if Blair was going to stifle his moans, it wouldn't be into his own hand -- it would be into Jim's mouth. He kissed him, hard, demanding, thrusting his tongue between those luscious lips to drink deeply. And Blair responded in kind, his whole body arching up in need as he met Jim's kiss with desperation of his own. And this time when Blair moaned it vibrated through Jim's whole body, setting him on fire.
He shoved Blair's boxers down his legs, yanking off his own in the process and pushing them both down into the bottom of the sleeping bag. Skin against skin, his own cock sliding wonderfully against Blair's, he thrust against his Guide's hips, drinking in another desperate moan.
Blair's arms were around him now, clutching his back, nails digging into hard muscles. Jim arched against that delicious pressure, then thrust down again, groaning himself as his hardened nipples brushed against the fine hair on Blair's chest. He kissed him possessively, hungrily, devouring his mouth and all he had to give. He imagined that tomorrow Blair's lips would be kiss-swollen -- so beautiful; his Guide looked so beautiful writhing beneath him, pale skin flushed with passion, eyes glazed with hunger. Blair no longer made any attempt to stifle his gasps and moans of pleasure -- too far beyond thought to worry about anyone else, let alone another Sentinel.
Jim grasped for the lube he'd set aside, knowing he wasn't going to last much longer. He had to be inside Blair, had to possess him as deeply as possible. Nothing else would satisfy; nothing else would release the terrible grip that primal urgency had caught him in. Unable to spare the attention away from Blair's mouth he frantically searched for the tube with touch alone, closing his hand around it, flipping up the lid and squeezing. As he felt the cool lotion coat his fingers he growled in triumph -- the sound was more animalistic than normal and surprisingly Blair responded with a shudder of intense desire.
It was more than Jim could take, and in seconds he had two fingers buried deep inside his Guide's body. Blair cried out and thrashed his head to one side in a desperate attempt to drag in air. He thrust wildly down on those fingers, urging Jim on. "Please..." he moaned. "Please Jim... now... oh, godddd!"
He thrust harder against Jim's fingers, bringing his knees up to open himself more completely to Jim's touch. The sight of Blair lying like that in the darkness, completely exposed and opened to Jim's every caress, knowing his Guide could see nothing of him in the darkness -- knowing this was an act of utter and complete trust -- nearly undid Jim. No one else, he told himself -- no one else would ever see Blair like this; no one else would ever taste this heaven -- the heaven of Blair's trust, Blair's love. Only him...
He removed his fingers and poised his cock at Blair's opening, pausing only briefly to kiss Blair breathless again. Then he thrust deep inside him, burying himself in that consuming heat. Blair threw his head back, eyes closed, mouth opened in a silent scream -- not stifled this time by fear of who might be listening, but silenced by passion too far beyond sound. But the Sentinel heard it -- deep in his heart he heard it.
"I love you," Jim whispered against Blair's neck as he thrust into him over and over again, his body burning, an explosion rising within him. Blair clung to him, meeting his thrust with his own, his body writhing wildly beneath Jim. He wrapped his legs around Jim's hips, pulling him deeper, more tightly into him.
One word -- one sound only when Blair finally came, his body shuddering violently, uncontrollably as passion took him beyond thought. One word... "Jim!"
And that word was enough to take Jim right over the edge with him.
Benton Fraser paused as he settled into his lone sleeping bag, a sound catching his attention. The wind had risen outside, moaning through the treetops, rustling the tents loudly. But there beyond that sound he heard another moan, a deep, sharp gasp of air. He heard words then -- some he didn't understand about Sentinels and heightened senses -- others he understood all too clearly about trust and hunger and desperation. And then the other words -- the ones without form or meaning -- the ones that spoke of passion and heated couplings in a shared sleeping bag. The ones that spoke of love.
He sighed forlornly as he settled down to sleep. His partner was already tucked snug in his own sleeping bag, and while he was not asleep, Fraser could tell that he could not hear the other sounds beneath the cry of the wind. Fraser was alone in this little bit of reluctant voyeurism, and perhaps that was best. He wasn't certain he could face the snide comments his partner might make -- wasn't certain he was ready to hear what sorts of remarks Ray might have about two partners -- two male partners -- loving each other like that.
He thought briefly then of an underwater kiss shared -- air exchanged when Ray was about to drown and Fraser had known of no other way of filling his lungs. Professional, medicinal one might even say -- and yet for some reason Fraser could distinctly remember what Ray's mouth had felt like, the curve of his lips, the look of desperate shock and confusion and fear that had so briefly filled those clear eyes.
Fraser squeezed his own eyes shut. 'This changes nothing between us, right?' Ray had asked in bewildered confusion once the immediate danger had past.
Yes, Fraser suspected he knew exactly what Ray might say if he could hear Ellison and Sandburg right now.
"Ray?" Fraser asked softly, not really knowing why he was bothering. He knew Ray was irritated with him -- Ray was frequently irritated with him. And his overly long and involved conversation with Blair would have been a source of extreme annoyance to the Chicago cop. Too brainy, Ray would say. But there was a desperate loneliness inside Fraser that prompted him to make the effort -- just to hear his partner's voice once more before he went to sleep. The two of them lying here alone in the dark -- it at least offered the illusion of intimacy.
"What?" Ray groused. Yes, irritated as Fraser had guessed.
"Ray, do you ever get lonely?"
It was a bold question, not one typical of Fraser, and when Ray did not answer at first, Fraser feared he'd gone too far -- stepped across some line that men weren't supposed to step across. He didn't often discuss feelings of any type, had never been comfortable with the subject, but sometimes... sometimes he just wished there was someone who might understand.
"Yeah," Ray replied, surprising Fraser. He hadn't expected an answer -- certainly hadn't expected that answer. "Sometimes. Everyone does."
Ray seemed to accept it as a matter of fact. But then maybe he didn't understand what Fraser meant? Maybe he didn't understand the bone-deep, soul-wearying loneliness that could grip a man when he found himself either hundreds of miles away from the nearest human being in the middle of a frozen tundra or trapped within a crowded city when he suddenly realized that he was utterly alone in the world.
"What do you do, Ray?" Fraser asked. "What do you do when you get lonely?"
He waited breathlessly, still hearing the soft, passionate music coming from the other tent. The pause was longer this time, and he didn't think Ray was going to answer. But then he heard a soft intake of breath -- Ray's this time.
"I dance, Fraser," Ray explained softly. "I dance."
And suddenly Fraser saw again Ray's apartment and the wooden floor with the dance steps painted upon them, and the landlady who lived below him who said that at night she could hear him moving around, clomping above her head, and the sound was so rhythmic, so hypnotic that sometimes she just sat and listened to him for hours. For hours... yeah, maybe Ray did understand after all.
"Good night, Frase," Ray murmured. "Sweet dreams."
Sweet dreams... such a strangely intimate thing to say. Fraser thought for a moment that his heart might burst.
"Thank you kindly, Ray," he responded. He heard Blair calling out Jim's name, and he squeezed back the moisture that sprang to his eyes. Mounties didn't cry after all. "You too, Ray. Sweet dreams."
Dawn found Jim wrapped tightly around Blair's body, both of them content in their warm cocoon that smelt of sex. He felt his body stirring to life again at the scent, responding as always to Blair's nearness. But he also heard the unmistakable sounds of someone moving around outside the tent -- someone lighting a fire, preparing breakfast. He tried to suppress the wave of irritation that took him -- of course the Mountie would be up first, rising with the crack of dawn, preparing the meal; he was a Mountie after all -- too good to be believed... shit!
He slid from the sleeping bag regretfully, dressing as quickly as he could. Then he gently rolled his Guide over onto his back and kissed him awake. Blair sighed into his mouth and smiled lazily up at him, reaching out to stroke Jim's neck. A shiver of desire shot down Jim's spine. He kissed Blair again, pushing his tongue into that heated mouth, taking Blair's breath away. And then reluctantly, regretfully, he withdrew.
Blair pouted, and the twitch in those lips -- beautifully kiss-swollen as Jim had hoped -- drove another sharp flare of lust through his entire body.
"We have to get an early start," Jim reminded him. "Get dressed." He turned to leave, but Blair caught hold of his arm, stopping him.
"Be nice," his Guide warned, and Jim knew what he was talking about. Blair knew him too well -- and despite his inability to articulate last night why he'd been angry, Blair had understood that also. But the warning in Blair's eyes, the realization that he was making an attempt -- granted a necessary one -- to defend Benton Fraser from Jim's 'caveman' attitude, simply set off another spark of possessiveness within Jim. He didn't want Blair defending that man.
He slid his fingers roughly through Blair's hair and pulled him up for another kiss -- this one hard and deep and claiming. Then he released him and exited the tent without answering.
The white blanket of snow shone brilliantly in the morning sunlight, making the red serge of the Mountie's uniform all the more noticeable. Fraser had already gotten breakfast well underway -- pancakes and bacon no less. The mere fact that Jim was hungry and actually wanted to eat the food irritated Jim all the more.
"Good morning, Detective," Fraser greeted brightly, looking wide-awake and fresh. "Breakfast will be ready in a moment."
Jim nodded. "We should get going as soon as we can."
"I agree, Detective," Fraser nodded. "How far is the ranger's station?"
"If we keep up yesterday's pace, we'll reach it by early afternoon," Jim replied. "We can get the coroner to take the body then."
"Very good. I'm sure my superiors will appreciate all your help, Detective," the Mountie replied.
Jim frowned -- his superiors. He remembered then that Fraser had said something about being attached to a Canadian Embassy. He couldn't help wondering if this whole mess was going to turn into some sort of international incident. Simon was going to love this.
Blair and Ray emerged about the same time, both having spent time enough to repack their bags. Ray looked somewhat the worse for wear -- his hair sticking up in every which direction. Surprisingly though, he made no attempt to correct this -- rubbing his hands briskly over the spiky blond locks to send them into even worse order. He sat down beside the fire and dug into the meal Fraser handed him unasked for.
Diefenbaker, returned from some wolfish jaunt into the woods, made his way immediately to Blair's side and proceeded to mooch food from the young man. Despite their rather questionable meeting yesterday, Blair seemed quite taken with the animal and gave in shamelessly to the creature's begging.
Eventually they headed out, packs once more shouldered, Jim taking up the handles of the travois as they proceeded forward. Blair and Fraser were deep in conversation again, though Blair made an effort this time to include both Jim and Ray in their discussion. Neither man however was particularly talkative, and Jim resigned himself to a repeat of yesterday.
It was one o'clock by the time they reached the ranger station. From there it was a simple matter to call in the authorities, handing the body of Lieutenant Fontaine into the custody of the coroner, before the four of them headed back into Cascade. Fraser, anxious to proceed with the investigation into his friend's death and eager to report in to his superior officers, insisted on accompanying Jim and Blair back to the precinct.
Two hours later, the four of them, plus one wolf, emerged from the elevator at Major Crime and headed down the hallway toward the bullpen. As they walked, worked stopped, people pausing to stare at the rather odd sight of a red-clad Canadian Mountie and a silver wolf. The majority of the cops stared bewilderedly until they spotted Ellison and Sandburg, then knowing looks filled their faces as if their presence alone explained anything even remotely out of the ordinary. After that it was largely only the women who continued to stare, all eyeing the Mountie appreciatively.
Simon spotted them almost immediately and the expression that crossed his handsome face spoke volumes. "Ellison! Sandburg! My office," he barked.
"Yer boss?" Ray took a guess.
Jim nodded reluctantly.
Ray just shrugged. "Got one just like 'em back in Chicago -- same voice."
The four of them headed into Simon's office, Diefenbaker slipping in behind them unnoticed.
Simon stood before his desk, a file folder in his hands as he gazed balefully at the group of men. He eyed Fraser up and down, noting the way the man stood so formally at attention, not too unlike the way Jim typically stood. Blair and Ray slouched near the window.
"Report said you found a dead Mountie in the woods," Simon said to Jim as if demanding to know why there was a live Mountie standing in his office. He had yet to spot the wolf behind the four of them.
"Lieutenant William Fontaine. Fell out of an airplane," Jim clarified. "This is his associate Constable Benton Fraser." He nodded toward Ray. "And that's Detective Ray..."
"Kowalski," Ray provided.
"Kowalski, Chicago P.D," Jim finished.
Jim saw the faint twitch in Simon's jaw, knew the man had just resisted the impulse to roll his eyes. "Constable, Detective," he greeted. He glared at Jim. "What's going on?"
Jim sighed and gave as quick an explanation as he could. He'd already bagged the two items they'd found on the Mountie's body, the cross and the leather, and he handed these over to Simon while Blair proceeded to explain the religious significant of both objects.
"The cross was reported stolen," Simon informed the four of them as he returned the items to Jim. "Seems it was on display at St. Michael's. Father O'Brien reported it stolen over a week ago, but so far no suspects have been brought in. I don't know anything about the leather."
"I know a couple of people over at the Native American Center of Spiritual Medicine," Blair offered. "I can probably find something out about the piece of leather. If some artifact has been stolen, someone there will have heard about it, I'm sure."
Fraser perked up at that. "Spiritual Medicine?" he asked Blair curiously. "What tribe runs it?"
Blair shrugged. "It's actually a collective organization -- but I believe the main influences are the Puyallup tribe and the Makah tribe. It began back in 19--"
"Thank you, Sandburg," Simon cut in. "I'm sure that's fascinating. Just find out what you can. The commissioner isn't particularly happy about having Canadians falling out of the sky."
"If I may have your permission, Captain Banks," Fraser said quickly. "I'd like to aid in the investigation."
Jim waited for Simon to deny permission -- hoping the captain would send the two men back to Chicago. But to his consternation Simon just nodded. "The commissioner has already spoken with your superior officers, Constable. We've been told to extend our every courtesy to you. Now if you gentlemen would--" He stopped suddenly, the sound of liquid being lapped up catching his attention.
Alarmed, Simon turned toward his desk, staring in shock at the wolf braced up on his forepaws licking contently at the liquid in Simon's coffee cup. "Is that a wolf drinking my coffee?" he demanded.
Jim and Blair both did their best to hide the snicker of amusement Simon's expression prompted.
"Diefenbaker!" Fraser exclaimed in mortification; he reached for the scruff of the animal's neck, pulling him down from the desk. "My sincere apologies, Captain Banks!" he said quickly, and then glared at the only mildly contrite animal. "Diefenbaker, you know you're not supposed to have any caffeine after two o'clock!"
The wolf just whined and wagged his tail.
Fraser seemed unmoved. "I don't care if it is decaffeinated," he stated unconvinced. "You should have at least waited to be asked first."
"Since when did you switch to decaf, Simon?" Blair grinned.
Simon glared at him. "Out! All of you! You have work to do!"
Fraser apologized again and then ushered an amused Ray and a pouting wolf out the door. Blair followed, assuring Fraser that Simon would forgive Diefenbaker in time.
"Why is there a wolf with you, Jim?" Simon demanded before Jim could escape.
Jim sighed tiredly. "Because we couldn't find any badgers, sir." As explanations went, it was poor at best, but it would have to stand. He wasn't certain he could come up with another one. Surprisingly, it seemed explanation enough. Simon Banks just sighed and nodded, and went to make himself a new cup of coffee -- double espresso this time.
By the time Jim joined the others, Sarah, a new secretary from records, had succeeded in cornering Fraser. Jim paused, momentarily taken aback by the effort Sarah was going through to flirt with the man. He'd seen Sarah flirt before -- with him, with Blair, with Rafe and Brown. Hell, he'd even seen her flirt with Simon and the occasional suspect or two. But this -- she'd practically trapped the man against her desk, not simply staring at him -- devouring him.
"So is it true that Mounties always get their man?" she asked sweetly as she batted her eyelashes -- the whole thing came out sounding more predatory than she probably had intended.
Fraser, stiff and uncomfortable, scratched uncertainly at his eyebrow. "Ah well... actually the motto is--"
"I love mottos," Sarah murmured in encouragement, her statement flustering the Mountie all the more. Jim almost felt sorry for the man -- truth was it bugged him somewhat that Fraser seemed quite unhappy about the woman's attention. Uncomfortable even. Not many red-blooded males would turn away from a woman like Sarah -- not unless women weren't really their thing. Perfect. Handsome, a potential Sentinel, and now possibly gay as well -- could his luck get any worse?
"Mottos?" Fraser's voice broke somewhat. "Ah -- then you've probably heard--"
"Come on, Fraser," Ray Kowalski broke in, and Jim could hear the definite sounds of anger in the cop's voice. "Let's get moving. Time's awastin!"
"Right, Ray," Fraser nodded in relief. "I'm terrible sorry, ma'am," he scooted quickly around Sarah, escaping her grasp. "I really must get going."
Sarah smiled up at him, practically purring. "I'm sure I'll see you later."
Jim just shook his head and headed toward the elevator -- out of the corner of his eye he saw Sarah catch hold of Blair's arm, pulling him toward her as she whispered in his ear. Jim dialed up his hearing. "I want the hat as a souvenir. The boots if you can get them," she informed the anthropologist.
Blair just grinned cheekily. "I'll see what I can do."
Waiting for Blair in the elevator, Jim glanced briefly at the Mountie. Fraser was staring resolutely at the floor, his face bright red as if he too had heard Sarah's comment.
At Blair's prompting they headed first to the Native American Center for Spiritual Medicine. They took two cars rather than making the attempt to all crowd into Jim's truck cab. At Jim's insistence, Fraser rode with him -- he suggested that the truck could more easily accommodate Diefenbaker's presence. He knew however that Blair was not fooled at all; the young anthropologist gave Jim an amused smile as he climbed into his car with Ray. He knew Jim didn't want him spending too much time alone with the Mountie. The look in Blair's eyes also suggested that he and Jim were going to have a long discussion that evening. Jim just sighed and climbed behind the driver's seat of his truck.
He followed Blair to the Center, making only a half-hearted attempted to respond to Fraser's overtures of conversation. Rather like Blair, Fraser seemed quite capable of carrying on the conversation with only minimal input from Jim. He mentioned something about the Inuit and then seemed quite content to launch into a story that Jim didn't bother listening to. The Mountie was only halfway through the story by the time they pulled into the Center and Jim interrupted him with the announcement, "We're here."
Without waiting for a response, he climbed out of the cab and went to join Blair and Ray by the door.
The Native American Center was fairly new looking, perhaps built in the last five years. It had the typical touristy type attractions out front that Jim expected -- a brightly painted totem pole, along with a mural depicting tribal life of two hundred years ago. But inside, the building was authentically understated -- hand-carved furniture from a master craftsman, several glass displays of ancient pottery, the walls decorated not with gaudy murals but rather pieces of art done by local Native American children. A long counter was laden with pamphlets and booklets explaining the purpose of the center and various lectures available for further education.
A young man sat behind the counter, and behind him through a large opened archway Jim could see several other people talking. Most noticeable was a tall slender, blond woman who was deep in conversation with two older men in business suits. Beyond them was an opened glass doorway leading to an outdoor courtyard and garden beyond. Within it sat two men -- one extremely old, his long white hair hanging in braids at his side -- the other young, perhaps seventeen or eighteen. The young man -- possibly a grandson, Jim guessed -- was listening intently to the quite murmuring of the older man. Jim dialed up his hearing, but could not decipher the language they spoke.
The man behind the counter looked up as they entered. "Can I help you?" he asked, eyeing them all up and down. The woman and the two businessmen also paused, glancing at them. The woman's brown eyes lingered on the bright uniform of the RCMP.
Jim flashed his badge. "Detective Ellison. I want to talk to someone about the possible theft of a Native American artifact."
Startled, the young man glanced over his shoulder at the woman and the businessmen. The woman stiffened and remained silent, but one of the businessmen came forward. "I'm Brian Mackenzie," he introduced himself, holding out his hand to shake Jim's. "I'm the director of the Center. What can I help you with?"
"A murder investigation," Jim explained.
The man's eyes widened in alarm. "I thought you said theft?"
"That too," Jim nodded. "We found a piece of white buffalo leather on the body of the murder victim. We were wondering if there was anyone here who could help us identify where the leather might have come from." He held up the evidence bag containing the material.
The man eyed it briefly, but shook his head. "I'm sorry, Detective. I don't know anything about it. I don't think I can help you." Surprisingly, Jim heard a faint spike in the man's heart rate. He frowned.
"Surely you have an expert here who could examine it?" Jim pressed.
The man glanced briefly over his shoulder looking not at the woman but at the old man sitting in the garden. But he shook his head. "I'm sorry, Detective. I'm afraid we can't help you."
But even as he spoke the young boy rose and hurried in from the courtyard, crossing the distance to the counter. He motioned toward the plastic bag in Jim's hand. "May I see that, sir?" he asked.
One eyebrow raised, Jim held out the bag toward him. The boy glanced at it briefly then shot a look back at the old man who nodded his assent. "My grandfather can help you," he informed Jim. "But he'll only talk to the Shaman." He stared pointedly at Blair.
Startled, Blair stepped forward. "Excuse me?"
The boy shrugged. "He'll only talk to you. One Shaman to another."
Jim was about to protest when he felt Blair's hand on his arm. "All right," he informed the boy. Then softly, "Let me find out what this is about first, Jim."
Jim just sighed and handed over the plastic bag to his Guide. He stood back with Fraser and Ray while Blair followed the boy back toward the courtyard. He dialed up his hearing, intent on listening in. Surprisingly he saw the old man grin at him and chuckle in amusement -- then he proceeded to speak to Blair in that same language he'd spoken in earlier. To Jim's annoyance, Blair answered back in the same tongue.
Irritated, Jim glanced at Fraser, seeing the look of surprise on the Mountie's face. It occurred to Jim that the Mountie might possibly also understand the language, but for some reason he just didn't feel like asking for confirmation. He'd wait for Blair -- wait to hear the gist of the conversation directly from his Guide's lips.
The two businessmen and the woman moved off, but not before Jim caught the intense scrutiny the woman gave his Guide. He resisted the impulse to smile -- funny how her interest in Blair felt nowhere near as threatening as Fraser's did. She might be female and beautiful -- but she was no Sentinel. Blair had hardly given her a second look. Ray on the other hand eyed her quite closely, and Jim found himself more interested in Fraser's reaction to Ray's antics.
"Ray," Fraser finally insisted softly. "It's not polite to stare." The blond cop had been watching the woman's tightly clad backside as she disappeared down a corridor.
"What?" Ray asked distractedly.
Fraser just sighed and shook his head, looking more uncomfortable than he had when Sarah had cornered him.
A few moments later Blair returned, motioning them all back outside.
"Well?" Jim demanded. "What did he tell you, Chief?"
"It's part of an ancient ceremonial cloak," Blair replied. "It vanished about two weeks ago from the Native American Antiquities exhibit on display at the Cascade Museum. The cloak was part of the costume of one the more famous Shamans -- apparently people have been coming from all over the world to see it."
"Why wasn't it reported stolen?" Ray demanded. "Yer Captain said he hadn't heard anything about it."
"It was reported stolen," Blair corrected. "Just not to the police. The exhibit has been bringing in thousands of dollars -- all largely due to the presence of the cloak. No one wanted word to get out that the cloak had vanished so they dummied up a fake and put that on display while the foundation funding the exhibit hired private investigators to find the real cloak."
"The Burnheim Foundation," Blair explained. "Mr. Frank Burnheim has supported a lot of such exhibits over the years."
"Well, then perhaps we had best have a talk with Mr. Burnheim," Fraser suggested. "Seems he may have already done part of the investigation for us."
In full agreement the four men headed again for the cars while Jim called the precinct for an address. Diefenbaker paused briefly as he climbed into Jim's truck -- the animal stared back at the Center, his dark eyes glaring balefully at one of the windows. He whined briefly, but for once the Mountie took no notice of his remark. He shot a wary look at the Sentinel, but Jim too had his attention turned elsewhere.
Jessica Burnheim watched through a side window of the Center as the four investigators climbed into separate cars to leave. Her gaze lingered on the longhaired man, and she smiled at the animated way he talked to the skinny blond cop. Blair Sandburg -- she'd recognized him from the press conference so many months ago. Anthropologist, writer, teacher, police observer, fraud -- and Shaman apparently.
The shock that had gone through her when she'd heard Tom Blackfire's grandson name him a Shaman had been as unexpected as it was welcomed in light of the set backs she'd recently received. Blackfire was the real McCoy -- a Shaman of the highest order. And he'd named Blair Sandburg a fellow Shaman.
She laughed softly. A Jewish Shaman -- what were the odds? Especially one who looked like Blair Sandburg -- lovely by any description. Made her rethink the whole Sentinel thing too -- if he was a Shaman, wasn't it possible that James Ellison might be something more than a mere cop? It wasn't every day fate dropped such possibilities into her lap.
She slipped a cell phone from her purse, hitting a number. "Jack," she said into the slim phone. "You're not going to believe what I just found. I've got a job for you and the boys."
She grinned as she watched the four men drive away. Yes, fate had been good to her that day.
The Burnheim Foundation, they learned, was part of the Burnheim Corporation -- a business rival of Jim's father it turned out. With offices in one of the high rises of Cascade, the Corporation was a formidable force in the upper echelons of Cascade society -- a fact Simon Banks pointed out to Jim when he called him after discovering the investigation was taking them straight to Mr. Burnheim himself.
"He's a big supporter of the current city administration, Jim," Simon warned over the phone. "Be nice!"
"Yes, sir," Jim sighed as he pulled into the Burnheim parking garage. Be nice -- how often did Simon tell him that? He chose not to fill his companions in on his Captain's orders.
They made their way up to the main offices, bypassing several secretaries with the flash of a badge until finally they stood toe to toe with Burnheim's personal secretary. The woman was in her fifties and hard looking. She glared grimly at the four of them, frowning disapprovingly at the wolf. Her gaze raked over the Mountie.
"Another Mountie?" she exclaimed with a snort of disbelief. "What is this? A Canadian invasion?"
"I beg your pardon, Madame," Fraser responded. "Another Mountie? Do you mean that I'm not the first Mountie to visit these offices?"
She just shrugged and hit the button on her intercom phone. "Mr. Burnheim, there's a Mountie and a couple of detectives here to see you." She listened briefly to her employer's instructions and then motioned toward the double doors to the executive suite of offices. "Mr. Burnheim will see you. Don't take up too much of his time -- he's a very busy man."
"Thank you kindly, ma'am," Fraser replied as the four of them headed through the doors.
Frank Burnheim was seated behind a large cherry wood desk, an unlit cigar in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Middle aged but well-preserved, he possessed the precise good looks Jim associated with many of his father's friends -- artificial in some way. He clamped the cigar between his teeth -- still unlit -- set his coffee cup aside and rose to his feet as they entered. Jim flashed his badge once more.
"Detectives, what can I do for you?" the man asked, nodding briefly to the other men.
"Mr. Burnheim, I understand your corporation funded the Native American Antiquities exhibit at the museum," Jim began.
"Yes," Burnheim nodded. "What of it?"
"There was a theft recently -- a white buffalo cloak of considerable value," Jim continued. He watched from the corner of his eye as Blair and Ray moved casually about the well-furnished room, glancing curiously around.
"Yes, I already explained all this to the other Mountie who was here a few days ago," Frank Burnheim replied. "I explained why it wasn't reported to the police. I have my own people investigating the theft -- the tribes themselves decided they didn't want the negative publicity. I chose to respect their wishes."
"The other Mountie?" Fraser clarified. "Do you mean Leftenant William Fontaine?"
Burnheim nodded. "He said he was investigating another theft he thought might be related to this one. He assured me there would be no problem with publicity."
"Lieutenant Fontaine turned up dead yesterday," Jim informed the man.
Burnheim paled and sat down, his eyes widening in shock. "Dead? Because of this investigation?"
"That's what we're trying to figure out," Jim informed.
"This yer daughter?" Ray's voice caught all of them off guard and they glanced toward the blond detective. He and Blair stood on the far side of the room next to a series of framed pictures that hung on the wall. Ray was pointing to one in particular -- one that showed a familiar looking blond woman standing in front of an old building. Jim's eyes narrowed -- he'd just seen that woman at the Center.
"Yes," Burnheim replied. "That's Jessica."
"We just saw her at the Native American Center for Spiritual Medicine," Jim informed him. "Any idea why she might be there?"
Burnheim frowned at him. "She's heading the investigation into the theft for the Foundation, Detective. I imagine she's chasing down leads just like you are."
"Your daughter's a private investigator?"
"What of it?" he demanded. "What are you implying?"
"I'm not implying anything, Mr. Burnheim," Jim smiled. "I'm merely trying to get all the facts straight. Do you know if Lieutenant Fontaine spoke with your daughter?"
"You'll have to ask her, now won't you?" Burnheim shrugged. "I have full confidence in my daughter's work. I don't monitor her. I'm sure she'll find the cloak just fine."
"And if she doesn't?" Ray asked curiously. "If she doesn't find it -- you got insurance taken out on it?"
Burnheim's eyes flared with anger at that. "I don't like your implication, Detective. The value of that cloak isn't in its financial worth -- it is a sacred relic!"
"You ever heard of the Cross of Coronado?" Blair asked curiously, his timing impeccable. Jim smiled, dialing up his hearing.
"The what?" Burnheim frowned -- to Jim's disappointment there was no change in his heart rate. He shot a brief glance at Blair, shaking his head no. His Guide understood and just shrugged.
"Not important, Mr. Burnheim."
"We would however like to talk to your daughter if we could," Jim told the man.
"Leave your card, I'll have her call you," Burnheim replied. "She should be in early tomorrow. Now if you gentlemen will excuse me, it's quitting time. I'm heading home."
"Thank you kindly for your time, Mr. Burnheim," Fraser nodded to him. They all headed toward the door.
"Don't leave town any time soon," Jim added before he followed the others out the door. "We may have more questions for you."
The look Frank Burnheim gave him could have peeled paint off the walls two doors down.
Once back down in the parking garage, the four of them paused to decide what next to do. "We need to run a check on Frank and Jessica Burnheim and their corporation -- find out if they have connections to St. Michael's. We can pull the file on the Cross, see if they showed up at all in that investigation -- though I'm certain Burnheim wasn't lying when he said he knew nothing about the cross," Jim informed the others.
Blair was staring thoughtfully down at his feet. "Jim, that picture of Jessica -- it was taken in front of the Archeology department of Rainier -- I recognized the building. I'm going to head over there and see if the Archeology head knows her."
"Rainier University?" Fraser asked curiously. "The Archeology head wouldn't perhaps be Professor George Tarlin would it?"
Blair's eyes lit up, a smile gracing his lips. "Yes, it is. Do you know him?"
"Know of him," Fraser explained. "I've read several of his books on the Paleo-Indian settlements of North America. Why don't I--"
Jim cut in before Fraser could finish his request. "Blair, why don't you take Detective Kowalski with you to the college. I'm sure Constable Fraser should report in to his superiors. You know how the commissioner gets when there's an international investigation going on."
Blair simply gave Jim a long look, his eyes saying he certainly knew a lie when he heard one. "Yeah, Jim," he agreed. "I know how the commissioner gets." He nodded to Fraser. "I'll see if I can get you an autographed copy of Professor Tarlin's latest book, Benton. I'm sure he wouldn't mind."
"Thank you kindly, Blair," Fraser smiled in delight. "I would be most appreciative."
"Then Jim, why don't you bring Benton back to the loft?" Blair suggested sweetly. "He and Ray can stay with us tonight since they haven't had a chance to get a hotel room."
Jim gritted his teeth at the suggestion, glaring hard at his Guide.
"You don't have to do that," Ray protested. "We don't wanna put you guys out."
"No problem at all," Blair assured him. "We'll see you and Benton at home, Jim." Blair waved and headed toward his car, motioning Ray to follow him.
Unable to protest Jim just watched him go. "Thank you kindly for putting us up, Detective," Fraser offered.
Jim bit back the hard retort that sprang to his lips. "No problem," he grumbled as he stalked his way toward the truck.
Professor George Tarlin was more than happy to talk to Blair and Ray. A bookish, little old man with wild white hair, he had an amazingly sunny disposition. Unlike so many others on campus, Professor Tarlin had never commented on Blair's recent difficulty -- had either ignored it or paid it little heed. He had his classes, he had his work, he had his writing -- beyond that he noticed very little else in the world.
"Blair!" he greeted when the two of them disturbed him that evening in his cluttered office. "What's it been? Six months? You got an 'A' if I remember correctly!"
Assuming the man was referring to the last class Blair had taken from him, Blair just smiled and nodded. "Yes, sir -- but I'm afraid it's been closer to four years than six months."
"Really?" the man seemed bewildered momentarily, and then simply shrugged it off. "Time does fly. Well, what can I do for you boys? You having trouble with your term papers this semester?"
"Ah, no, sir," Blair smiled gently. "I was wondering if you remember a student named Jessica Burnheim? I think she might have taken a couple of classes here..."
"Of course! Jessica!" Professor Tarlin smiled happily. "Lovely girl! Quite brilliant. She rather enjoyed my books you know. Only student I ever had who read every single one of my books from cover to cover. Most just read the introduction and then claim they read the whole book -- but I can tell the difference."
"Then she was an archeology student?" Blair pressed.
"A brilliant archeologist!" Tarlin agreed. "Did I tell you she read all of my books? From cover to cover no less. She was fascinated with my work on Paleo-Indian artifacts." He smiled conspiratorially at Blair. "She's promised to try and get me a peek at the Kennewick Man's bones! Wouldn't that be something! Nine thousand year old bones found practically in our own back yard!"
"She's an archeologist?" Ray clarified. "Not a criminal justice major or somethin' like that?"
He shook his head. "Nope, archeologist through and through. One of the best -- her specialty is religious artifacts. I'm afraid she was into that whole mystical study thing for a while -- but luckily she still managed to stick to the provable facts. Some of these young students today are into that intuitive archeology stuff -- but I say there's nothing that can replace honest research and hard work with a brush and trowel."
Ray gave Blair a knowing grin. Religious artifacts -- sounded incriminating to Blair. "Thank you, Professor," Blair smiled. "You've been a big help." He made a brief request to come back later to get Fraser an autograph, then Blair and Ray excused themselves.
"It's always the pretty ones," Ray grumbled as they headed back out toward the parking lot. The campus was nearly deserted, the sun having set over an hour ago.
"Excuse me?" Blair frowned, certain that Ray had not been referring to the professor.
"Jessica Burnheim," Ray explained. "You see a looker like that -- ya think to yerself -- now there's one fine lookin' woman. Must be a criminal. They always are."
"We don't know that for certain," Blair clarified.
"Trust me," Ray shrugged. "I got a sense for these things. You turn yer back on a woman like that and -- bam!" He punched his hand with his own fist. "They kick you in the head every time."
"We'll have to wait to see what Jim and Benton turn up before we jump to conclusions," Blair remarked as they headed across the darkened parking lot toward Blair's car. Both men were startled when a shadow stepped out from behind the car -- a tall man in a black coat.
"Excuse me," he broke in calmly.
Ray had his gun out an instant later, cocked and pointed at the man's head. "Don't move!" he ordered, his body vibrating with tension. Shocked, Blair froze, watching as the stranger did the same. He was about to say something, about to protest Ray's abrupt action when the distinctive sound of a gun being cocked behind him shut him up. Ray froze.
"Put the gun down, Detective," another man ordered from the shadows behind him. Blair had turned. Three men stood behind them -- all armed -- three men who must have been sneaking up on them while they walked. A Sentinel would have heard them of course, but Blair had not been paying attention.
"You put the gun down," Ray growled. "Put it down or I'll shoot yer buddy here!" There was a cold, almost manic sound in Ray's voice -- Blair had no doubt that he'd do exactly what he'd say. He wouldn't have guessed the detective capable of such hardness after seeing the almost goofy way he acted around Fraser.
"You shoot him, I'll shoot you," the second man replied coldly.
Ray just grinned. "Yeah? You might miss. I'm a crack shot."
Blair watched in silence, his heart pounding in his chest as the gunman stepped forward and placed the barrel of his gun against the base of Ray's skull. "I'm not going to miss, Detective," the man replied. "I'll shoot you and then my buddies will shoot your partner here."
Blair saw Ray's eyes shift briefly toward him. "Buddies?" he mouthed to Blair.
Blair just nodded. "Three of them," he mouthed back.
Ray sighed, rolled his eyes and uncocked his gun, lowering his hand.
"Very good, Detective," the man said, and then Blair watched in horror as the man struck Ray across the back of the head with the butt of his gun. He reached out to catch the man as he fell, but arms closed around him from behind and he felt a strong hand holding a cloth over his mouth. He struggled briefly, recognizing the scent of chloroform. Moments later the world began spinning and he felt himself falling, the night growing blacker and blacker.
"Jim," he whispered as he dropped like a stone, his thoughts centered on his absent lover. But this time he doubted even a Sentinel had been able to hear him.
By nine o'clock Jim was getting worried. He and Fraser had finished up at the precinct and then headed home. Jim cooked dinner while Fraser took a shower and freshened up, both men waiting for their partners to return. The wolf, Diefenbaker, had made himself at home on the bed upstairs -- a fact that annoyed Jim to no end. He'd tried to get the animal off -- noting how the creature had made a point of remaining solely on Blair's side of the bed. But Diefenbaker had obviously decided not to move. He simply stared at Jim, giving the Sentinel the same stubborn look that reminded him of a certain black jaguar. Jim eventually just sighed and gave up.
Now, several hours later, dinner was ready and waiting, cooling on the stove. Fraser was pacing somewhat restlessly around the loft and Jim had called Blair's cell phone several times, receiving no answer. He and Fraser had finished up their work at the bullpen -- discovering only that there was no connection as far as they could tell between Frank Burnheim and Saint Michael's church and the theft of the Cross. Then they'd returned home to wait for Ray and Blair, hoping that those two had better luck with the professor.
"Something's wrong," Jim grumbled, getting ready to grab his keys and head back out to look for his wayward Guide.
The phone rang unexpectedly and Jim grabbed it. "Ellison!"
"Detective Ellison?" an unfamiliar voice asked. "This is Bill Palance -- I'm a security guard at Rainier University. I found a cell phone on the ground next to Blair Sandburg's car. I know he works with you sometimes and--"
"Is he there?" Jim asked in a panic, his heart leaping in his chest. He was vaguely aware of both Fraser and the wolf approaching worriedly.
"No sir," the security guard explained. "I was hoping you might know where he is and if he'd accidentally dropped the phone."
"Shit!" Jim reached for his keys. "I'll be right there! Don't touch anything else!"
He hung up and turned to Fraser. "Something's happened," he informed the Mountie. Fraser nodded in understanding and the two of them headed out the door, the wolf whining as he followed.
The security guard was waiting for them in the parking lot. Blair's car was the last one left there that evening. He and Fraser searched the area swiftly, Jim dialing his senses up as high as he dared, looking for any clue that might tell him what happened. A quick scan of the area revealed no sign at all of Blair's presence, but he could see faint marks on the ground -- fresh tracks in the muddy, melting snow upon the asphalt. And there was still a faint trace of Blair's scent in the air. That and the scent of gun oil along with a faint chemical residue that seemed strangely familiar -- a drug perhaps.
"These are Ray's tracks," Fraser pointed out to Jim. Ray's tracks stood right next to Blair's - -and the impressions indicating that perhaps bodies had fallen into the muck on the ground.
"At least four other men as well," Jim said. Fraser nodded in agreement.
"No blood," Fraser offered. But Jim took little comfort in that. Blair was still gone -- someone had taken him. The deep burning anger in his belly was tempered only by the mind-numbing fear he felt. Blair just had to be all right.
He yanked his cell phone out, dialing quickly. "Simon, I have reason to believe that Blair and Detective Kowalski have been kidnapped."
The curse Simon expelled mirrored what Jim was feeling. "I'll put an A.P.B out on both of them immediately," Simon offered. "What else do you need?"
"A search warrant for Jessica Burnheim's residence," Jim informed him.
"What?" Simon sounded surprised. "Isn't that Frank Burnheim's daughter? I thought you said there was no connection between the Burnheim foundation and Saint Michaels."
"Between the foundation and St. Michaels," Jim agreed. "But Blair was here looking into Jessica Burnheim's possible connection to the white buffalo leather. And now he's gone. She's the only lead we've got!" Even as he spoke, he saw that Diefenbaker, who'd been sniffing the ground around Blair's car, suddenly took off across the campus. Fraser, seeing it also, had taken off after the wolf.
"I'll call you back Simon," Jim informed his Captain. "Get that search warrant!" He shut his cell phone down and ran after the Mountie and the wolf.
The wolf led the two of them into the Archeology building, down a flight a stairs and into the main offices of the faculty. He stopped before one of the doors and began scratching at the wood. Jim knew immediately what he was responding too -- he could also smell the faint trace of Blair's scent here. Blair had been here -- probably just prior to the kidnapping.
Professor Tarlin, the sign read. Fraser knocked, waiting politely for an answer but Jim pushed the door open, striding in. He flashed his badge at the startled old man sitting behind the cluttered desk.
"Professor Tarlin?" he demanded. "I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade P.D. Have you seen Blair Sandburg?"
Tarlin blinked owlishly up at the two of them, and then glanced at the wolf. "My word, is that a wolf?"
"Blair Sandburg?" Jim repeated.
"Yes, I know Blair Sandburg," the man nodded. "He was just here in fact. He and his nice young friend."
"What did you speak about?" Jim demanded.
"An old student of mine," the professor explained. "Jessica Burnheim. Blair seemed fascinated by the fact that she'd read all my books. Why I remember one time when she--" He launched into a story about a theoretical discussion, and it took Jim several minutes to get the man back on track.
Eventually he got the man to tell him what he'd told Blair and Ray -- about Jessica's expertise in religious artifacts and items of spiritual significance. He left the man without a backward glance.
Jim called Simon back. "It's her," he informed the Captain, relaying the last piece of information to him. "I'm heading over to her place right now."
"I won't have the search warrant for at least an hour yet, Jim," Simon reminded him. "As it is, it's lucky that the judge owes me a favor -- otherwise I wouldn't even try getting a search warrant on such flimsy evidence. Don't do anything rash."
"Of course not, Simon," Jim growled. "I mean, just because Blair is missing, why would you think I'd do anything rash!" He hung up before Simon could answer.
Jessica Burnheim lived in an expensive high-rise apartment complex. The main building itself required a pass card to enter, and Jim fumed as he was forced to wait for not only the search warrant but also for Simon to find the building manager to open the main doors. While he paced angrily in front of the building, only vaguely aware of the pale wolf pacing alongside him, Fraser stopped to speak to a couple of homeless men sitting on the street corner across from the building. He approached Jim a few moments later.
"She's not here," he informed the Sentinel.
Jim glared at him. "What?"
Fraser motioned toward the bums. "They saw her leaving earlier today. She had a suitcase with her, and hasn't returned."
"And they just told you this out of the goodness of their hearts?" Jim demanded.
Fraser nodded. "Pretty much. They've been there all day, Detective. And Jessica Burnheim is a rather striking woman. They were able to describe her in great detail. I believe them."
The Mountie was quite serious -- Jim could see that just by looking at him.
"Shit!" he turned away. She'd left with a suitcase -- a fair indication that she might not be coming back any time soon. His only lead gone. He turned swiftly toward Fraser. "The plane!" he exclaimed.
Fraser's eyes lit up. "A Cessna Caravan. Should be easy enough to trace."
Jim yanked out his phone, dialing the bullpen. Megan Connor answered. "Megan, I need you to find out if the Burnheim Corporation or any of the Burnheims own a plane," he told the Australian. "Call me back immediately."
Simon Banks pulled up in front of the building just as he hung up, the building manager beside him. The manager grumbled a bit as he opened the front doors of the building, but he let the cops inside, leading them upstairs to Jessica Burnheim's apartment.
A quick search of the place proved out the bums' story -- she was gone. The books on her shelf and the various priceless artifacts decorating her home confirmed her interest in religious artifacts. But beyond that the initial search turned up no incriminating evidence against the woman -- a fact that Simon was quick to point out.
Megan called back as they were searching. "The Burnheim Corporation owns seven planes, Jim," she informed the detective.
"What about a Cessna?" Jim asked.
"There are two Cessna Caravans registered to Jessica Burnheim. She's also a pilot." Jim glanced across the room at Fraser, nodding in confirmation. "Where are her planes hangered?"
"A private airport just outside Cascade," Megan informed him. "But Jim, I already checked. Both planes are gone -- one headed out yesterday. The other took off about two hours ago."
Jim's stomach clenched at Megan's words. Two hours ago -- that was plenty of time for Blair to have been taken to the airport and put on that plane. "Get me a flight plan!" he told Megan.
"I'm working on it, Jim," she promised.
Jim turned to Fraser and Simon. "She has two Cessnas. One left Cascade yesterday, the other left two hours ago."
"You think Blair and Detective Kowalski are on that plane, don't you?" Simon asked.
"Oh, dear," Fraser exclaimed, a look of horror on his handsome face. "The last passenger she had on her plane... fell out."
Megan was waiting for them when they returned to the bullpen. She had the registered flight plan along with a large map of North America. "I spoke with a man on duty at the airport. Jessica Burnheim was seen boarding her plane a few hours ago. He also claimed to see a couple of men carry two other men on board the plane," Megan told them. "Her flight plan was for a small private airport somewhere up in the Northwest Territories of Canada. I've got the coordinates." She pointed to a spot on the map. Fraser glanced at it, a frown creasing his brow.
"What's the nearest city?" Jim demanded. Megan just shrugged blankly.
"Detective, there's only one actual city in the Territories -- Yellowknife. And it's several hundred kilometers from this. The rest of the Territories are made up of tiny communities."
"One city?" Jim stared at the Mountie.
Fraser just shrugged. "We only have about forty thousand people in the Territories. We really only need one city."
Jim glanced at the map. "Then what's out there? Why would she be going there?"
"All that's out there is wilderness -- and ice," Fraser admitted. "But I do know that this is part of Leftenant Fontaine's patrol area. He must have discovered something unusual, and it led him back here to Cascade."
"Then we're going to have to go out there ourselves and find out," Jim decided.
"Detective, maybe it would be better if I went up there alone--" Fraser began. The dark glare Jim threw him silenced him.
"If Blair is out there, I'm going, and I'm going to find him!"
Fraser shifted uncomfortably. "Detective, it's winter. This time of year we'll only have a few hours of daylight at a time -- and weak light at that. The conditions will be the harshest you can imagine. I grew up out there -- well, several hundred kilometers north of there actually -- but I know the area, and I know how to survive the environment."
Jim understood immediately what the man was saying -- Jim would slow him down. He also knew just as certainly that he wasn't going to remain behind. "I'll match you step for step, Mountie," he growled. "My partner is out there. I'm going with or without you. This won't be the first time I've survived harsh conditions."
Fraser stared long and hard at him, and then finally just nodded in acceptance. "Understood, Detective. I'll call ahead to get some supplies set up for us."
Satisfied, Jim turned toward Simon. The captain was watching him with a resigned look in his dark eyes. "Just go, Jim," he said quietly. "And bring him home safely."
The trip north passed in a blur of images for Blair as he drifted in a drug induced haze. He was only vaguely aware of the plane ride; before they landed he recalled swallowing something -- something that sent him almost immediately back to sleep. He dreamed then of snow, of blinding white wilderness and the loud roar of engines as he raced across some impossibly icy surface. Eventually it was the cold that woke him, the cold and the awareness that someone other than Jim was pressed tightly up against his body.
He stirred, tried to shake off the arm that was wrapped tightly around him.
"Hey," a disgruntled voice protested. "I'm not like gettin' personal or nothin' here, Sandburg. But I'm cold!"
It took Blair a moment to place the voice, and when he finally did, he relaxed. The Chicago cop -- Ray Kowalski. And the embrace, while tight, wasn't intimate -- nothing more than an attempt to share body heat. Aware now of the cold, Blair realized he was also shivering. There was a strange musky scent in the air, and somewhere nearby Blair could hear the oddest mewling sound, like large animals snuffling great amounts of air. He raised his head to look around.
They were off to the side in an enormous room -- looked rather like a warehouse to Blair, save that the walls were thick cement. A corridor on the far side looked wide enough to drive trucks through, and near it Blair could see several large ice-terrain vehicles, along with smaller snowmobiles. Large packing crates cluttered another corner of the building.
Blair searched out the weird snuffling sound -- he stared in bewildered alarm at the animal pen not far from him. Baleful brown eyes gazed back at him from the body of the largest animal he'd ever seen in his life. The animal was missing a heavy rack of antlers, but still Blair recognized a moose when he saw one -- probably weighed close to a half ton, standing well over two meters high. And behind him stood at least ten of his buddies, all watching Blair and Ray coldly.
A quick glance at himself confirmed the sensation that he was well and truly trussed-up. Someone had kindly shoved him into an oversized Artic snowsuit, but his feet and hands were bound tightly. His hands at least were bound in front of him. Ray too was bound -- he must have simply slipped his arms over Blair's head to get them around him. Thankfully, Ray too was wearing a snowsuit; Blair imagined they would both be dead now if they were still in their street clothes. His breath was heavy in the air.
"Where are we?"
"Don't know. Just woke up myself. I think they gave me somethin' -- tranquilizer or somethin'," Ray muttered. "Damned cold though."
A tall blond man stood not far from the moose cage, a high-powered rifle cradled in his arms. He periodically spared Blair and Ray a menacing glance -- obviously a guard sent to watch them.
"Moose?" Blair asked, wondering if Ray knew what the animals were doing penned in.
"No thanks, I'm not hungry," Ray responded immediately.
Despite everything, Blair snickered, barely choking back a laugh. "I meant--"
"I know," Ray replied. "But yer guess is as good as mine. Did I mention I was cold?"
"Yeah, I think you said something like that earlier," Blair nodded.
"Sorry about this," Ray sighed.
"Hey, man I don't mind," Blair assured him, guessing the cop was uncomfortable with the closeness.
"No, I mean the whole kidnapping-dragged-off-into-the-middle-of-nowhere thing. Probably not an everyday occurrence in the life of an anthropologist," Ray explained.
Blair grinned wryly. "You'd be surprised. Besides, it's not your fault."
"I shoulda shot 'em," Ray grumbled.
"You'd be dead if you had," Blair reminded him.
"Maybe," Ray agreed grudgingly. "But I bet I wouldn't be cold. Hey, is it just me, or are those moose starin' at me funny?"
Blair glanced over at the animals in question. "Don't know," he admitted. "How are they supposed to be staring at you?"
"Good point. You don't happen to know if moose are those... herbi... omni... carn... you know those things that just eat plants and stuff?"
"Herbivores?" Blair shrugged. "Don't actually know much about moose. They don't appear to have particularly sharp teeth however. That's a good sign."
"If I get turned into moose-food, Fraser will never let me hear the end of it," Ray sighed in annoyance. "Wonder where he is?"
Blair could hear equal parts concern and longing in Ray's voice as he spoke, but before he could answer the detective, a heavy door nearby opened and a familiar blond woman stepped out into the main room. Behind her were two of the men who'd confronted Blair and Ray in the parking lot.
As she approached, Blair and Ray struggled to a sitting position, Ray releasing his hold on the shivering anthropologist. Jessica Burnheim, looking lovely in a white snowsuit, smiled brightly at the two of them. She stopped in front of Blair, crouching down to look more closely at him.
"Blair Sandburg," she greeted with a happy little chuckle. "Welcome to my home."
Blair raised his bound hands. "Some welcome."
She just shrugged. "Well, I can't have you running away now can I? I've got plans for you -- a Jewish Shaman! What are the odds of someone like you just walking right into my life -- and so lovely!" She reached out to drag her fingernails lightly down Blair's cheek. Blair shifted his face away from her touch. "The spirits do love lovely things."
Blair's heart stuttered at her words, and he shot a wary glance at the woman. "The spirits?"
She nodded placidly, her eyes gleaming. "Surely you've felt the power here?" she asked. "A Shaman could hardly miss it." She motioned to the great warehouse around them. "This whole place -- it's my place of power."
Blair took a blind guess. "You're a Shaman?"
She shook her head. "No, not exactly. I actually have had a bit of difficulty in collecting anything so closely in tune to the nature-cycles."
She smiled again. "Yes, I collect power. Any kind of power -- athames, cauldrons, pentagrams, rune stones, bone-dice, fetishes, totems... and now I've got myself a bona fied Shaman and a... what did you call it in your book? A watchman or something...." She glanced happily over at Ray, studying his face. Her smile slipped and she gazed hard at the cop.
She stood abruptly and turned to one of the men. "You have his badge?" she demanded, holding out her hand for it.
The man nodded and fished the badge out of an inner pocket, handing it over. She flipped it open, staring at the Chicago P.D. emblem, and the name on the identification side. A look of rage reddened her face, and she threw the badge at the man.
"You brought the wrong cop!" she shouted. "This isn't Ellison!" She threw her hands into the air and stomped around in a circle for a few moments. "I should have looked at him more closely before we took off. I should have checked!!" She cursed several times, walked back over to the man and hit him across the shoulder. "You brought the wrong cop!"
"You said the cop with the anthropologist," he protested. "He was with the anthropologist."
"You took the Mountie's partner!" she yelled back. "You kidnapped a Mountie's partner. Do you have any idea what kind of trouble you may have caused us? He won't stop until he finds him!"
"How can he possibly find him?" the man protested. "We're in the middle of fucking-nowhere!"
"Mounties can track a man across the snow by smell alone," she growled. "And, shit! This means the Watchman is still out there too! A Mountie and a guy with heightened senses!"
"Maybe we should just kill them and move on then," the man suggested worriedly.
"You'd be better off if you just let us go," Blair told her. "If you kill us, they'll never stop hunting you."
"Kill you?" the woman stared at Blair incredulously. "I don't intend to kill you, Shaman. And I sure as hell don't intend to leave here -- I told you this is my place of power." She hit the man again. "Get the other men to stand guard -- and keep your eyes open. If the Mountie shows up, kill him! And kill whoever is with him. Go!"
The man nodded, and hurried off. Only the large blond with the rifle remained behind, moving closer to keep an eye on Blair and Ray.
Jessica crouched down in front of Blair again. "Oh, don't worry about dying, Blair," she assured him. "I want you very much alive. At least until the spirits get through with you."
"What do you mean?" Blair swallowed nervously.
She nodded. "The blood of a Shaman -- especially an unusual Shaman like you -- is very powerful. I intend to keep some for myself, for my own little collection of artifacts -- and I intend to sell the rest to various people throughout the world who share my tastes." She reached out to finger a long lock of Blair's hair. "Even your hair and fingernails will fetch a fine price. And when in time the spirits demand something precious and beautiful as a sacrifice, I'll have you to give them. No, you don't have to worry about me killing you -- not for along time to come."
Blair felt the blood draining from his face at her words. There was a gleam in her eyes -- a determination -- she was quite serious in her beliefs.
"You on the other hand," she glared at Ray. "You, I don't need. Any more than I needed that nosey Mountie. Thanks to him I lost the Cross of Coronado and he nearly ruined my medicine cloak."
"So what -- yer just gonna kill me cus I'm not a Shaman?" Ray demanded incredulously.
She straightened and stood up. "Yes," she agreed. "Of course, I'll probably wait 'till after your partner is dead. Just in case I need a hostage. Then I'll just grind you up and feed you to the moose."
Ray swallowed uncomfortably and glanced over at the moose in question. "What are the moose for?"
She smiled at that, her whole expression turning instantly sunny and warm. "Oh, I'm an artist," she explained. "I carve mystic icons out of their antlers. They're really quite lovely -- and they sell for a great deal. Maybe if you're really nice I'll show them to you before I kill you."
With that she turned and walked away, pausing only briefly to talk to the tall blond man. "Ivan, make certain they don't move. If they do -- knock them over the head. But don't kill the short one -- I need him alive." She paused then and glanced back at the two men. "I wouldn't try to escape by the way. We're in the middle of the Northwest Territories -- there isn't a town around for hundreds of miles. This is an old underground military storage bunker -- hasn't been used in forty years. No one even knows it's here. If you did escape, you'd just freeze to death. It's twenty below outside."
Ivan shifted his rifle in his hands and moved a couple of steps closer to the prisoners as Jessica disappeared back through the opened doorway.
"Crap," Ray hissed under his breath. "She's a fuckin' psycho! How does Fraser do this?"
"Fraser?" Blair asked uncertainly.
Ray nodded. "It can't just be a simple theft case. Or simple murder. Or simple extortion. No, it has to be psycho serial killers, or pirate treasure, or ghost ships or nuclear submarines in the middle of the bloody Artic!"
Blair just nodded, able to sympathize. He didn't feel the need to mention however that in his and Jim's partnership, it was mostly he who attracted the weirdoes. "Look, we've got to figure a way out of here before she hurts anyone. She's dead serious about that mystic stuff -- she completely believes it. She'll kill you and she'll drain me dry."
"Where do we go when we escape?" Ray asked. "You heard what she said -- we're in the middle of nowhere. You ever been out here before?"
Blair shook his head. He'd been to Canada several times -- but he'd never been this far out into the middle of the wilderness.
"Fraser and I took a trip out here a few months back," Ray admitted. "Dog sleds and stuff -- he grew up out here. If it weren't fer him, I woulda been dead day one. Out here, if you don't know how to survive -- you don't, simple as that."
Blair fell silent, his thoughts on Jim. He couldn't help thinking about the men out there keeping watch for the Mountie and anyone else he might have with him. If he knew Jim, even now the man was on his way to rescue him -- probably with the Mountie beside him. One or two men would be no problem -- Jim would see them long before they spotted him. But what if Jessica had ten or twenty men here in this complex? What if Jim and Fraser decided to take them all on by themselves -- he wouldn't put it past Jim. And somehow he suspected Fraser was cut from a similar cloth -- larger than life, heroic in every sense of the word -- especially judging by the way Ray spoke about him. What if they got themselves killed trying to rescue them? What if Jim died -- alone out there in the snow -- Blair shuddered, fighting back the emotions welling inside him. He didn't think he'd be able to stand that.
Ray nudged him gently, moving closer to him again for warmth. "Don't worry, kid," he muttered. "He ain't gonna leave you out here."
Blair just nodded. "Does your partner think he's bullet proof?"
Ray grinned slightly. "Yeah, he does. He's not though."
"Mine too," Blair told him, realizing his assessment of the Mountie was right. Two of a kind. "If anything happens to him..."
"You wouldn't wanna go on livin'," Ray finished for him.
Blair shot him a startled look, seeing a gleam of understanding in those clear eyes. He realized then that maybe Fraser and Jim had more than just heightened senses in common. Having partners who loved them had to count for something in the grand scheme of things -- and if this really were a place of power, then maybe the spirits would look favorably on the four of them.
Jim managed to call in a few favors, and in the end he and Fraser were able to catch a ride on an army helicopter to the small frozen airport in the middle of the Northwest Territories. Three hundred kilometers northwest of Yellowknife, the airport really was in the middle of nowhere -- possessing a name Jim couldn't pronounce. There was a small trading post attached to the airport, and a larger structure that seemed to function as a community hunting lodge. All three -- airport, post, and lodge -- were run by the same man, a hairy giant named Bull Pendergast.
As Jim climbed down from the helicopter, he took a moment to adjust his senses to his surroundings -- it was night, but the brilliant fireworks of the Northern lights brightened the area more than enough for Jim to see. Snow and ice in every direction, they were in a semi-protected valley -- near a frozen lake, Fraser had explained, though Jim could see no sign of it. The thick forest beyond was white and eerie under the flickering colored lights -- the sky clearer than anything Jim had ever seen. He found his gaze drawn inevitably upward to those ribbons of light, quickly becoming lost in their dancing rhythms as his eyes focused farther and farther out into space as if trying to see to the stars beyond.
He panicked, feeling a zone approaching and knowing he was Guideless at the moment. He tried to pull back, tried to focus his attention on something else. But those lights were everywhere -- so brilliant, so beautiful...
Sharp pain flared briefly through the fingertips of his left hand, his sense of touch flaring up and momentarily dampening his eyesight. He closed his eyes swiftly, pulling his attention back into himself, breathing hard as he yanked himself back from the zone. Then he risked a glance downward, wondering what had caused the pain.
Diefenbaker gazed angrily up at him, Jim's glove still held between his sharp teeth. He'd bitten Jim's hand -- nipped at his fingers. There was no blood, but it had pinched, and his hand was swiftly growing stiff with cold from the absence of his glove. He checked his fingers out quickly, and then gave the wolf a thoughtful frown.
Diefenbaker just stared back at him, looking thoroughly irritated. Cautiously Jim took back his glove. The wolf made no attempt to stop him. Jim could understand then why it was Fraser spoke so often to the animal -- his expression really did seem to speak volumes. And it wasn't some noble and eloquent communion of man and beast; it wasn't some mystical sending of thoughts, words like 'we must rescue my wolf-brother, I will Guide you in his absence.' No, it was simply a disgusted look that said, "Yo, idiot, Blair's in trouble, pull it together before I bite your ass."
Jim just nodded. "Understood," he agreed, and he headed into the trading post after Fraser.
Bull Pendergast was sadly lacking in conversation skills. As Jim entered, Fraser was attempting to get as much information from the man as he could. The two Cessnas were stored in the hanger, but beyond that there were no other signs of Jessica Burnheim and her associates.
"You must have some idea where they went?" Fraser was asking.
Bull just shrugged and shook his shaggy head. His beard looked as if it hadn't seen a blade in twenty years.
"Did she have a vehicle here?" Fraser asked.
"Yep," he nodded. Then fell silent.
"Well, which direction did she leave in?" Jim asked.
He shrugged again. "Dunno. Wasn't watchin' very closely."
"But you did see her?" Fraser pressed. "Did you see how many men she had with her?"
"Looked to be about four," he replied. "Was watchin' my TV." He pointed to the small television set in the corner of the room. An old rerun of 'Bewitched' was playing.
"Can you describe them?" Jim asked, hoping he might have seen Blair in the group.
"Was wearing snow suits," he explained. "Two were unconscious. That's 'bout all I saw."
Jim's eyes widened in shock. "Unconscious? Didn't it strike you as odd that two of them were unconscious?"
"Nope," the man shook his head. "Figured they were Americans. Probably drunk."
"Drunk?" Jim's eyes narrowed. From the heat coming off the Mountie he suspected the man was blushing in embarrassment.
"Yep," Bull nodded. He motioned to the TV. "Been watching this witch show -- only one I get out here. They drink a lot."
Jim shot a glance at the TV, where Samantha Stevens was serving highballs to Darren #1 and Larry Tate. He shook his head in disgust and headed back outside. The ground was covered in snow; if they had traveled in vehicles of some sort, there would be tracks around. Fraser joined him a few moments later.
"We're about eight hours behind them," Fraser told him. "It was snowing when they left. There won't be any tracks."
"Then we'll track them some other way," Jim replied. He headed toward the vehicle hanger.
The two of them searched the Cessnas, and there Jim confirmed that one of the passengers had indeed been Blair Sandburg. His scent still clung to one of the seats. From the looks of things they'd had two snowmobiles and a larger vehicle waiting for them. But where they might have taken them, Fraser couldn't guess. To his knowledge there were no nearby structures out here.
Jim headed then out to the perimeter of the airfield, scanning the area for anything that might give him some sign of where his Guide had been taken. He dialed his senses up as high as he dared, hating the way the cold stung his lungs as he breathed. But Fraser had been right -- the tracks were gone; sight wasn't going to help him much here. Scent was about all he had to go on.
And then he caught something faint, so faint perhaps only microscopic traces of it were left in the air or on the snow itself -- Jim caught the whiff of engine oil. He followed it briefly, sniffing the air -- it led off to the west in a relatively straight line -- a track, a direction, something at last to go on.
"Fraser!" he yelled, summoning the Mountie who had still been searching the hanger. Fraser ran out to join him. Jim pointed into the trees. "They went that way," he informed the man.
Fraser frowned, gazing off in the direction Jim had pointed. He crouched down in the snow, his eyes roaming over the unmarked snow at their feet. He brushed at some of it with his gloved hand, scooping away several layers. Then finally he scooped some of it up and lifted it to his mouth, tasting it briefly.
His eyes widened and he glanced up at Jim. "Engine oil," he exclaimed. "You can smell it?"
Jim just nodded. "I can follow it too."
Fraser didn't even bother questioning him. He just nodded in agreement and stood up. "I'll get us geared up then."
"We heading out on foot?" Jim asked. He hadn't seen any other snowmobiles in the hanger.
But Fraser shook his head. "I called ahead, had some friends of mine drop by some supplies from the local RCMP station. They're waiting for us in the lodge."
Curious, Jim followed him back toward the lodge. Off to one side of the building he saw two large sleds, and inside the lodge, curled up in front of a roaring fire were twelve thick furred dogs. "You ever done any sledding, Detective?" Fraser asked as he summoned the dogs with a whistle.
"Actually, yes," Jim admitted, catching the Mountie by surprise. The man stared at him in amazement. Jim just shrugged. "My brother and I once thought it might be fun to race the Iditarod when we were kids. My dad sent us to a sledding camp -- that pretty much cured both of us wanting to do the Iditarod, but I did learn how to run a sled team."
"Good," Fraser nodded, pleased. "That will save us some time then." He motioned toward a pile of supplies waiting for them on a heavy wooden table. "There should be weapons, food, clothing and camping equipment in there. Let's get the sleds packed -- we have at least another five hours till the sun's up, but we can get ready." He began going through the supplies.
"It's bright enough," Jim argued, not willing to wait five hours more. Blair had been gone too long -- there was no telling what might have happened to him.
Fraser paused and turned around, studying Jim's determined face. "Just how well can you see, Detective?"
He was certain Blair hadn't actually said anything to Fraser about his heightened senses, nor had he said anything about Sentinels. He was also fairly certain that Fraser knew nothing about the infamous press conference -- it had made the national press wire, but somehow he suspected the Mountie didn't really keep up on media events. But Fraser was a cop, and he obviously had some passing acquaintance with heightened senses himself -- and right now Fraser's knowledge of the area and the environment might be all that stood between Blair and death. At some point, he just had to take a leap of faith.
"It's as bright as day to me," Jim admitted.
Fraser's expression hardened. "There's a thousand different ways to die out there."
"I'm not lying," Jim insisted. "And you know it."
Fraser just nodded. "It's dangerous. But if you're willing to risk it, so am I."
"Then let's get going."
Resolved, the two of them headed out to pack up the sleds.
Beneath the Northern Lights, they followed the trail of engine oil into a dark icy wilderness. Even dressed as they were in heavy Artic gear, Jim found himself dialing down his sense of touch to stave off the cold. He didn't like to think of Blair out here -- couldn't imagine how the anthropologist might be coping with the cold. But Blair had survived so many other terrible things -- he would make it through this too. He had to.
He'd been a boy the last time he'd driven a dog sled, but as Fraser assured him, it was rather like riding a bicycle. The knowledge was there in his bones; it came back to him with practice. But already he could feel pain in muscles protesting against the bizarre use. He had always kept himself in top shape -- but here, between the altitude change, the extreme cold and the effort of traveling across snow and ice, he was pushing his body harder than it was used to. Still he'd promised the Mountie he'd match him step for step, and he wasn't going back on his word.
They paused eventually to rest the dogs, and Fraser quickly lit a fire so they could thaw out their hands and feet before moving on. The Mountie offered him a couple of small cereal bars and some Pemmican, which he ate with a grimace, dialing down his sense of taste. The winter sun was finally appearing and the temperature had risen fractionally. But Jim knew the daylight wouldn't last long. In some respects he was glad of that -- he could see fine, and he suspected Fraser could also. But Jessica's people would be severely handicapped even with the Northern Lights over head.
"How well can you see, Fraser?" he asked the man, finally deciding it was time to put the question of the man's senses to rest.
"Not as well as you, I suspect," the man admitted honestly. "It's bright enough for me. But not like daylight."
"Can you smell the engine oil?"
Fraser shook his head. "I don't think even Diefenbaker can smell the engine oil." He shot a glance at the wolf in question -- Diefenbaker had been leading Fraser's team, and was now curled up with several of the other dogs. "But I could taste a trace of it in the snow. My sense of smell is better than normal -- but not like yours."
"And your sense of taste?"
"Heightened," he admitted. "But a lot of it is also a learned trait."
"Better than Diefenbaker's," Fraser grinned at that. "Of course he's deaf." He shook his head. "Heightened also. But not to the point where I could hear a heart beat or something like that. Can you?"
Jim nodded, and Fraser's eyes widened in amazement. "Do you have a heightened sense of touch as well?" the Mountie asked.
"Yes," Jim replied, surprised at himself at feeling no true relief at Fraser's admission. He wasn't a Sentinel -- Jim ought to be thankful that there was no chance of a repeat of the Alex Barnes fiasco. And yet all he could think at the moment was that another Sentinel would improve Blair's chances of survival.
"The Inuit have a word for people like you," Fraser told him; he stated something in a language Jim did not recognize. "Translates to something like Tribal Guardian."
"A Sentinel," Jim offered.
Fraser nodded. "Yes, a Sentinel. That's what Blair calls you -- what he thought I might be."
Jim looked up at him in surprise. He knew the only time Blair had spoken those words out loud was that night in the tent. He had been right -- Fraser had been able to hear them. He stared defiantly across the fire at the man.
But Fraser just smiled sadly at him, and there was something painful and empty in his eyes that immediately made Jim regret all the anger he'd felt toward the Mountie. "You're a lucky man, Jim Ellison. I'd give anything to be loved like that." He stood abruptly and went to check on the dogs.
But Jim couldn't let it go at that. "Then maybe you ought to take up dancing," he suggested.
Fraser gasped and turned around, his handsome face pale as he realized that he hadn't been the only person who'd overheard a conversation that night. He shook his head in denial. "He wouldn't... he doesn't..."
Jim just shrugged. "You never know unless you ask."
Night had set again by the time they found the underground compound Jessica Burnheim and her people were hiding in. From an overlooking ridge Jim and Fraser stared down at the only entrance into the compound -- an opening large enough for a truck to drive through-- but it was hidden beneath the trees and the snow. Even a plane flying overhead wouldn't spot it. Two men stood on either side of the entrance, both nearly invisible in white snowsuits, both armed with automatic weapons. They stayed just inside the protected entrance of the facility, out of the wind, but they were clearly visible to both the Sentinel and the Mountie.
"I've heard of these bunkers," Fraser admitted. "They were built in the fifties after the war. Supposedly they were supply depots for the military. But they were abandoned -- too much work to maintain."
Jim had his sense of hearing dialed up as high has he could; he was focusing on the compound, trying to weed out all the extraneous sounds. But something odd was interfering. "There's ten... maybe twelve people down there," he announced. "But there's something else... animals I think. Large animals... heartbeats are too strong to be human."
Fraser was staring at him incredulously. "I knew your hearing was better than mine, but do you mean to tell me you can actually hear their heartbeats from this distance?"
Jim nodded, still focusing. He smiled then. "One of them is Blair." He breathed a silent prayer -- his Guide was still alive. The heartbeat sounded steady and strong.
"You can distinguish an individual heartbeat? Can you tell if Ray--"
"I'm sorry." Jim shook his head. "I didn't imprint him. I have no basis for comparison. But Blair's alive and healthy -- I'm sure Ray is fine too." He wished he could offer the Mountie something more than that -- the worry in the man's eyes was painful.
But Fraser immediately focused himself on the job at hand. "So besides these two we'll have eight others to subdue inside the compound. Should be easy enough."
Jim shot a glance at the Mountie. Judging by his expression, the man appeared to be serious. "Piece of cake," he agreed, suspecting suddenly that this man just might actually be crazier than he was.
"Well, then," Fraser nodded. "I'll take the man on the left, you take the man on the right." He handed Jim one of the tranquilizer rifles they'd packed, carefully loading his own.
Jim just nodded grimly and followed suit. Near as he could see, there was only one way into the compound, and it looked like he and Fraser were going to go in guns blazing. Beside them, Diefenbaker practically vibrated with excitement. The two men raised their guns in unison, sighted, and fired.
Huddled together for warmth, Blair and Ray managed to get a couple of hours of sleep. When they awoke Ivan was still standing guard over them, but the man looked somewhat the worse for wear -- tired, and weary of the assignment given to him. Upon seeing Blair watching him, he tossed both him and Ray a couple of granola bars, indicating that they should eat them.
"You know, Ivan," Ray began conversationally as he bit into the frozen bar. "Yer boss lady is completely nuts."
Ivan stiffened noticeably, but made no effort to contradict the cop. Blair took that as an encouraging sign.
"You heard what she was going to do with me?" Blair asked the guard. The man just shrugged and shifted his gun. "He's right, she's crazy -- certifiably. You heard all that talk about power and mysticism. How do you know she won't turn on you?"
"She won't," he grumbled.
Ray nodded encouragingly at Blair and he thought back briefly over some of the things Jessica had said. "What if she decides she wants your blood for something?" Blair asked him. "What if she decides that for some reason some ritual of hers requires the blood of a Russian? Are you sure you don't have any esoteric traditions in your background? Any Cossacks in your family tree?"
"Shut up," Ivan ordered him, his gaze hardening, but he did take several steps closer to the two of them. Beside him, Blair felt Ray tensing up, as if prepared to leap. He did the same, shifting casually so that he could get his weight over his bound feet quickly if he had to.
"That's the trouble with crazy people," Ray explained. "They can turn on you."
The sound of gunfire caught all their attention. Blair stifled a cry of shock when he realized that someone had entered the compound -- two men in dark snowsuits. Jessica's men had spotted them too and had opened fire; they were pinned down now behind the heavy vehicles -- returning fire with equal enthusiasm.
"Shit!" Ray cursed, recognizing at least one of the men. Ivan was standing at attention, caught in a moment of indecision.
Jessica appeared, two other men beside her, all three of them heavily armed. She shot a glare at Ivan. "Ivan! Kill the cop and take the other one to the back room!" Then she joined her men on the floor to open fire on the two intruders.
Ivan turned, eyes wide as he stared at Blair and Ray. But he obediently raised the rifle, hesitating only momentarily. As he cocked the bolt, Blair and Ray reacted simultaneously. They both dove for him, Ray aiming high, Blair aiming low. Ray caught him around the waist -- Blair caught the man's legs. The man went down instantly, his rifle flying out of his hand as he struck the icy floor. While Blair held him down, Ray wasted no time in lifting his bound hands and striking the man hard across the side of the head -- hitting him twice for good measure and knocking him out.
Breathing hard, the two of them looked up -- Jim and Fraser were still pinned down behind the vehicle. Two of Jessica's men were armed with machine guns and were spraying the air so efficiently with bullets that neither man could get a decent shot off. Nonetheless one of the criminals had already gone down -- a bullet in his shoulder rendering him useless.
That still left Jessica and five others to contend with. The sound of the gunfire echoing in the room had effectively covered the noise of Ivan's defeat. Jessica and her men had no idea what was going on behind them. Ray grabbed Ivan's rifle, but as he quickly discovered the bindings around his hands had left his fingers quite numb. He couldn't work them properly -- doubted he could shoot particularly well. Blair in the meanwhile had yanked a knife from Ivan's belt and was busy hacking away at the bindings around their legs.
"You haven't seen my glasses, have you?" Ray whispered to him.
Blair frowned. "What?"
"Can't see worth a damn without them," he explained.
"I thought you were a crack shot?"
"I am -- with my glasses," he hissed. "Without them, I might hit Fraser or Jim."
"Shit!" Blair and he both glanced around uncertainly. They had to do something. Couldn't just sit there and allow their partners to get shot. And Blair wasn't precisely ready to pick up a rifle and shoot a woman in the back.
And then an idea struck them both, and they turned in unison toward each other. "Moose," they said, and then nodded in agreement.
Legs and hands finally freed, they scrambled across the distance toward the animal pen, pins and needles shooting through their numbed legs and hands. The gunfire had already set the animals into a frenzy, their breath hot and steamy in the cold air. They stomped and bellowed in equal parts terror and fury. They might be without their antlers, but each animal still weighed nearly a thousand pounds. Blair unlatched the heavy steel gate, and Ray kicked it open. As it swung open wide, the two men stood off to the side and watched in silent amazement as the animals stampeded.
The moose made a beeline for the compound exit. Unfortunately Jessica and her men stood in the way. They heard the sound behind them, turned and screamed in terror when they saw what was heading toward them. One man tried to shoot them, raised his rifle to open fire. He managed to get off one bullet -- it didn't even slow the animals down. Bellowing and screaming, the moose rode over them as if they weren't even there.
Two were knocked down, trampled beneath sharp hooves. The others ran for their lives -- directly into the waiting hands of Jim and Fraser. It was over in seconds. Battered and bruised, three men groaning in agony on the floor (one shot, two trampled), Jessica and her men were disarmed and hog-tied face down on the icy floor. Diefenbaker and a pack of hungry-looking sled dogs raced in from the cold and stood over them, tails wagging as if utterly delighted by the turn of events.
Moments later Blair found himself caught up in the hard, warm embrace of Jim Ellison. Heedless of who might be watching, Blair threw his arms around the Sentinel and kissed him soundly. Desperately, hungrily, Jim kissed him back, finally burying his face in Blair's hair and hugging him hard enough to make him gasp.
"Damn you, Chief!" he whispered passionately into his Guide's ear. "Don't do this to me!"
"Sorry, Jim," Blair smiled, fighting the tears for fear they might freeze on his face. "I knew you'd come. I knew you'd find me."
"Always, Chief," Jim whispered. "Always." And to Blair's utter amazement, he realized that Jim Ellison, cop of the year, Sentinel of the Great City, Ex-Ranger, was shaking in terror.
"Ah, Jim," he murmured gently. "I'm all right."
Jim nodded against his hair, squeezing him tighter. "I know, Chief." He pulled back fractionally, and Blair could see the emotion in the man's blue eyes. "Let's get you home."
They turned then, arms still around each other and saw that Fraser had made his way over to the three of them. Ray, respectfully, had moved off to one side to give the Sentinel and Guide some privacy, and he was smiling warmly at the Mountie approaching him. No wild hug, no passionate kiss -- just two men gazing in relief and uncertainty at each other.
"Fraser, it's cold!" Ray said by way of a greeting. "Really cold!"
"Yes, Ray," Fraser nodded in total agreement, grinning uncontrollably.
"No, you don't seem to understand," Ray protested. "It's freezing! It's fuckin--"
"Language, Ray," Fraser interrupted.
"Really, really cold!" Ray corrected. "Why is it always so darned cold out here?"
Fraser scratched uncertainly at his eyebrow. "Well, it is the Artic, Ray," he reminded the cop.
"The Artic. The Artic," Ray shook his head in disgust. "Next time we hunt down psychos we're goin' to the jungle."
"Understood, Ray," Fraser smiled.
"Yeah, the jungle," Ray said in satisfaction. "I mean what could possibly happen to us in the jungle!"
Behind him, Blair and Jim burst into laughter.
It took them another day to get Jessica and her goons back to the lodge where the authorities were informed and sent to recover the stolen goods left behind in the underground facility. The three wounded men were air lifted to the nearest hospital in Yellowknife, while the rest were carted off to jail. Despite Jessica's bizarre religious leanings, her operation had also been remarkably lucrative. She'd had a fortune in stolen religious artifacts stacked away in the underground building.
It was Ivan who finally informed them of the fate of poor Lieutenant Fontaine. He'd stowed away on the plane carrying some of Jessica's stolen goods. Before the men on board had spotted him, he'd managed to pocket the Cross of Coronado, and had hold of the white buffalo cloak. He'd been struggling to pull on a parachute when he'd been discovered. During the fight that ensued, the cloak had been damaged, and Fontaine had fallen from the plane. An accident Ivan explained -- murder, a judge eventually decided.
With the large group of men to guard, despite being able to use the vehicles to bring them in, the trip back to the lodge had been almost as grueling as the entire kidnapping itself. By the time they'd handed over the prisoners to the authorities, and been given rooms in the hunting lodge (courtesy of Bull who'd asked the Americans repeatedly if they wanted something to drink), Jim had been about ready to drop.
He and Blair had been given a small room with a couple of rickety old cots. They'd pushed aside the cots in favor of the floor; Fraser had brought in a couple of thick bedrolls and warm Artic sleeping bags for them. It was with a heavenly sense of relief that Jim finally climbed inside that sleeping bag and wrapped his arms around his Guide, breathing in his scent as he settled down to sleep.
"You and Fraser worked pretty good together," Blair murmured quietly as Jim was beginning to drift off.
"Yeah," Jim agreed. "He's a good guy." He was willing to admit to being wrong -- the Mountie had helped him save Blair's life. That ranked pretty high in Jim's book.
"Good cop too," Blair told him.
"The best," Jim agreed.
"Understands about heightened senses," Blair continued.
"Yeah," Jim felt himself drifting contently.
"Practically a Sentinel himself."
Jim made a noise of agreement, hoping it would content Blair.
"You sure you wouldn't prefer having a partner like that instead of someone like me?"
Blair's words finally registered in Jim's brain and his eyes popped open. Despite the dark he could see clearly, and he could tell that his Guide was at least partially serious.
"I just keep thinking about all the things the two of you could accomplish," Blair explained. "I mean your arrest rate would be phenomenal."
"Blair," Jim sighed. "I'd like to point out that despite the fact that Fraser and I made every attempt to ride like heroes to your rescue -- it was you and Ray who saved us. Granted it took you a stampede of moose to do it, but you still did it."
Blair thought about that for a long moment, and then chuckled, settling contently back into Jim's arms. "You're right. We did. You guys would be lost without us."
In the darkness Jim grinned. Nothing kept Blair down for long. He settled back down himself, discovering however that while exhausted, his body had other things on its mind than sleep. He nudged his hips suggestively against Blair's. His Guide opened his eyes in surprise. "Is that a moose in your pocket, or are you just--" Blair broke into snickers before he could finish.
"Definitely a moose, Chief," Jim laughed.
"You know, Jim," Blair remarked. "It's rather cold."
"So?" Jim questioned as he nuzzled his Guide's neck.
"I'm just pointing out that I have absolutely no intention of moving out of this sleeping bag," Blair explained. "Nor are we going to open it up to the cold air."
"We'll improvise," Jim promised, sliding his hands around Blair's body to stroke his hardened nipples. His Guide moved into the caress.
"I'd also like to point out that unless lube is part of standard Mountie supplies, we're somewhat unprepared," Blair said, his breath catching a bit as Jim gently pinched his nipples.
"Oh," Jim paused momentarily defeated. "I hadn't thought of that. What would you suggest?"
"I think I have a solution for both the sleeping bag and the lube problems," Blair informed him.
"Really?" And before Jim could say anything more, his Guide disappeared beneath the sleeping bag, his head vanishing below the opening as he slipped momentarily out of Jim's arms. "Blair!" he protested, wanting the warm presence back along his body.
And then he gasped as he felt hands tugging at the waist of the thermal underwear he had on. He closed his eyes in bliss as he felt Blair pull down the thermals, his warm hands skimming over Jim's thighs. He dialed his sense of touch up, and nearly screamed when he felt the hot mouth of his Guide closing over the tip of his cock.
"They'll hear you, Jim," the amused and muffled voice of his Guide drifted up from beneath the sleeping bags. He moaned as Blair licked hungrily at the underside of his erection.
"Good," Jim groaned. "Maybe it will give them some ideas. Sure as hell beats dancing."
"Dancing?" Blair sounded confused, but not enough so to stop his ministrations. His hot tongue dragged gently over tip of Jim's cock, probing teasingly at the slit while he fondled the heavy sack beneath with his hands.
"Tell you later," Jim promised as he arched into that touch, his heart pounding, his blood rushing in his ears. He shivered, fine trembles racing through his muscles as Blair sucked his cock deep into his mouth. He moaned, clutching at handfuls of the sleeping bag as he thrust up into that mouth, pressure building inside him. With his sense of touch dialed up the way it was, he knew he couldn't last long, but he held on as long as he could -- eyes squeezed shut, mouth clenched in a grimace of pure ecstasy as he reveled in the sensation of Blair sucking so greedily at him. And then the final straw that broke his control -- Blair hummed gently, and the vibrations sent him over the edge.
Later, Jim opened his eyes to find his Guide propped upon his chest, grinning smugly at him, dark curls framing his beloved face. "Passed out, did you?" Blair asked, sounding remarkably pleased with himself.
"Sure felt like it," Jim agreed. He ran his hands up Blair's spine, loving the way the young man arched into the touch like a cat. "I love you, you know," he told him.
Blair's smile gentled. "I know. I love you too."
"I'm sorry I was such a jerk," Jim apologized. "I kept thinking if I hadn't been so jealous, I might have sent Fraser with you to the university instead of Ray. Fraser might have heard Jessica's men coming before they grabbed you."
"Ah, Jim," Blair leaned forward and kissed him gently. "There was nothing either Ray, or Fraser, or you could have done. It was just one of those things. And it wasn't your fault."
"I just wish--"
"Jim," Blair touched his lips with his fingers, silencing him. "Sentinels are territorial. I think we've firmly established that fact. And despite the fact that I really like Fraser and Ray, and I'm sorry we had this misunderstanding, I also kind of like your possessiveness."
"You do?" Jim stared at him in surprise.
"Yeah," Blair admitted. "It makes me feel... wanted, you know?"
Jim just stared at him in amazement. "How could you ever feel unwanted? You're everything to me, Chief." He caught Blair tightly to him, kissing him fiercely, trying to express with his body what he couldn't with words.
"Damn, Jim," Blair gasped, eyes dancing with happiness. "You say the nicest things."
"Got a few more things to say to you," Jim growled, rolling the man over so that he was beneath him. He reached for the waistband of Blair's thermals. "What were the rules -- no leaving the sleeping bag?"
"Yep," Blair agreed. Jim disappeared beneath the bag opening, working kisses down his Guide's body.
"And Jim," Blair whispered. "Next time we go chasing psychos -- definitely the jungle."
Fraser spread out his bedroll while across the room Ray pulled on an extra pair of socks. The small oil lamp burning on the table cast flickering light into the detective's hair, and Fraser found himself momentarily captivated by his friend's appearance. Beautiful, he thought, and wasn't it amazing how dear one person's presence could become to another. The realization of how close he'd almost come to losing Ray pierced his heart -- how cruel the world was to give him someone so precious and yet deny him the ability to express his appreciation.
Unlike Blair and Jim -- even now he could hear the soft noises coming from the room next door as the two men expressed so eloquently their love for one another. Sometimes heightened senses could be a curse.
Ray chuckled suddenly, causing Fraser to frown. The blond detective had his head cocked to one side, an incredulous look on his face as if he too were listening to the sounds next door. Fraser felt his skin flush red in embarrassment as he realized that this time it was thin walls and not heightened senses that made the sounds so clear.
"Damn! Are they doin' it?" Ray asked.
"Excuse me, Ray?" Fraser tried hard to hide his blush, focusing undo attention on his bedroll.
"Jim and Blair," Ray clarified. "Are they... you know... doin' it?"
"It, Ray?" Fraser pretended not to understand in an attempt to buy himself time enough to think of a suitable response.
"It, Fraser," Ray repeated. "It. It! You know -- IT. Are they doing it? The wild thing. The horizontal mambo. The beast with two backs. IT! Are they copulating?"
The heat retuned instantly to Fraser's face. "Ah, it. I see, Ray," he acknowledged the definition. "I'm sure it's none of our business, Ray. Some private matters are best left... well, private."
"It's goin' on right next door," Ray pointed out. "That's not very private."
"Well, under the circumstances, I'm sure it's as private as they can manage."
"So then they are doin' it," Ray exclaimed smugly. "You do acknowledge that based on the rather unprivate sound, it is possible to state that they are doin' it."
Fraser sighed. "Probably, Ray."
"Damn," Ray shook his head and for a moment there was silence between them. Fraser felt his heart clench at the confirmation of his worst fear.
"You disapprove," Fraser stated flatly, wishing immediately that he hadn't said anything at all.
Ray looked startled. "What? No, I just meant, 'damn' as in some people have all the luck."
"Luck?" Fraser blinked in confusion.
"Yeah, you know, here we are millions of miles away from civilization--"
"Hundreds of miles, Ray," Fraser corrected.
"Hundreds of miles from civilization and yet somehow, someway, people out here are still managing to get laid more often than I am."
"Ah." Fraser nodded in understanding. Silence fell again and Fraser relaxed. At least Ray hadn't been critical of the relationship. That had to count for something.
"So..." he broke off, not certain he should attempt to prolong this any further.
Ray looked up expectantly and Fraser found himself feeling obligated to continue. "So, you don't have a problem with... well... you know... Jim and Blair?"
Ray snorted in amusement. "Oh, come on. Those two are obviously nuts about each other. You just have to look at them to know they love each other. If anything I'm envious."
"Envious?" Fraser stared at his partner in amazement. "Of Jim and Blair?"
"Oh, not of them specifically," Ray clarified. "I just meant of relationships in general. You know people who actually manage to find someone to love -- to be loved back. That's rare, especially among cops."
"Ah, I see."
Ray grinned curiously. "So it doesn't bother you -- you know, the whole guy/guy thing?'
"Yeah, I sorted of figured that it would embarrass you -- the mere thought of what they are doin' together?"
Fraser felt his skin heating again.
"Yep," Ray laughed softly. "That's pretty much the color I imagined you'd turn."
"I'm sorry, Ray," Fraser apologized. "But it really doesn't bother me. I mean not in the way you meant. I'm very happy for Jim and Blair. In fact I wish--" He broke off abruptly, realizing in shock that he'd been about to pursue a line of thought that might permanently alienate the cop.
"You wish?" Ray prompted.
"Ah... I meant, I wish... that, well, it would be nice, I suppose, not to be alone anymore."
Ray nodded in agreement. "Of course yer not exactly alone -- you've got me."
Startled, Fraser stared at Ray. "You?" Surely Ray couldn't have meant that the way it sounded?
Ray chuckled. "I realize that I'm no Blair Sandburg, but I'm not chopped liver either."
"No, Ray, you're not chopped liver."
Ray paused and stared at Fraser intently. "We're friends, right?"
Friends. So that's what he'd meant. Fraser just nodded. "Yes, Ray."
"But Sandburg -- you like him, don't you?"
"You know, liked having someone around who's read all the same books and stuff."
Not entirely certain where this line of inquiry was going, Fraser scratched uncertainly at his eyebrow. "I suppose, Ray."
"And he knows all about the whole heightened senses thing," Ray continued. "You know, like when you lick stuff. Ellison is like that too -- has heightened senses. And somehow Blair is able to help him figure out how to use them better or something like that."
Fraser couldn't help wondering just how much Blair and Ray had talked while alone in the wilderness -- how much did Ray understand about Jim's Sentinel gifts?
"Someone like that would make a good partner for you, wouldn't he?"
Startled, Fraser just stared at Ray in amazement. "I have a partner."
Ray ran a hand through his spiky hair and nodded. "I know. I'm just saying... you'd be better off with someone like--"
"I don't want a different partner," Fraser said with some alarm.
"Sure you do," Ray shrugged as he stood and began unrolling his sleeping bag with quick, abrupt motions.
"What?" Fraser's heart pounded in his chest. This conversation had taken a severe turn for the worse.
"Of course you do," Ray continued. "Blair would be a better partner. Hell, Ellison would be better. I can just imagine the two of you out there in the wilderness -- bet he pulled his own weight, didn't he? Wouldn't ever have to carry him up a mountain because he passed out from the cold, now would you?"
"Ray..." Fraser stared at his friend in shock. He couldn't ever remember being critical of Ray, but perhaps he'd said or done something that the cop had taken the wrong way.
"And let's face facts, Fraser. Yer only my partner because Vecchio ain't here. If he hadn't run off with Stella--"
"I'd still be your partner," Fraser interrupted fiercely. He'd thought they'd settled this long ago.
Ray paused to stare at him, searching his face for some answer to a question unasked. Uncertain what exactly the cop was expecting, Fraser moved across the room to sit down beside him. "Ray, look, I'm sorry that Ray Vecchio ran off with Stella; I know that you still love her--"
"Nah," Ray cut in, then seeing Fraser's incredulous look he shrugged. "I mean I love her and all... but not like that any more... you know. I'm happy for her -- if Vecchio can make her happy, then I'm happy for him too. I'm just sorry he left you."
"I'm not," Fraser cut in quickly. "It wasn't like that with us--"
"Excuse me?" Ray's startled exclamation caught Fraser off guard, and he quickly reviewed what he'd just said. The blood drained from his face when he realized that he'd inadvertently implied something he hadn't intended to imply.
"Oh... I just meant..." he wasn't certain how to fix that little slip.
"Fraser," Ray's eyes were wide. "Were you in love with Ray Vecchio?"
"No," Fraser shook his head swiftly.
Ray's expression got even more disbelieving. "Were you in love with Stella?"
"No!" Fraser blinked in shock. "Of course not!"
Ray was studying him intently again as if trying to figure out what precisely he'd meant. The cop seemed at a loss for an answer.
"I just meant... oh, dear," Fraser sighed. "I don't think I'm explaining this correctly. I just meant that if Ray Vecchio is happy with Stella, then I'm happy for him. And I'm happy that you're not upset about Stella. But regardless of them or Jim or Blair or anyone else... well... I wouldn't want a different partner. There's no one in the world I'd rather be with than... I mean... no one I'd rather... no other partner I'd rather..." he broke off, realizing that most of what he was saying could be interpreted many ways. From across the room he could see Diefenbaker staring at him incredulously as if not believing how badly he was handling this. "I'll just stop talking now, I think."
He started to rise to go back to his own side of the room, but Ray's hand on his arm stopped him. Warily, he forced himself to look up, to stare into Ray's eyes. The cop's expression was unreadable and his scrutiny was nearly unbearable.
And then suddenly Ray leaned forward and kissed him.
It was a simple thing really, the brush of warm lips against his own, faint pressure, the hint of a caress against his bottom lip. It was also the most remarkable thing he'd ever felt in his life, and that act so startled him that all he could do was sit there unmoving.
Ray pulled away abruptly. Fraser wanted to protest the loss of warmth, but his mind had gone completely blank. The blond cop was frowning at him and Fraser's heart clenched in sudden fear, not certain what a frown meant after such an amazing occurrence.
"Fraser," Ray said critically. "When someone kisses you -- especially if that someone is yer partner -- it's only polite to kiss them back."
"I'm sorry, Ray," Fraser's heart gave a strange little leap. "Perhaps if you were to try again?"
Ray stared at him mistrustfully for a long moment, and then hesitantly moved forward again. This time Fraser was ready for him. When he felt that warm brush of lips against his own, he responded immediately, opening his mouth beneath that gentle caress and returning the pressure full force. He heard Ray gasp in surprise, felt the tension coil in the cop's body and was once again taken by surprise as the man suddenly surged forward and thrust his hands through Fraser's hair, his mouth devouring Fraser in a frantic kiss. Fraser simply went with it, catching the full weight of Ray's body and letting it bear them both down onto the sleeping bag as his mouth was plundered with a thoroughness that inflamed his blood.
It was beyond imagining -- Ray's hands in his hair, Ray's body holding him down, his mouth hot and hungry, tongue seeking out his, caressing, sucking. And the shocking heat of the man's arousal against his own -- he moaned, clutching at Ray, trying to get closer.
And then abruptly Ray pulled back again, his hands still clenched tightly in Fraser's hair preventing him from looking anywhere other than straight up into Ray's eyes. "Damn, Fraser," Ray breathed in shock. "You go around returning kisses like that and people are liable to get the wrong idea."
His heart was pounding as if he'd run a marathon, and his body ached in a way he only vaguely recognized. "What idea would that be?" he asked, amazed he was able to string two words together. Something was burning inside him -- something that was managing even to overwhelm his lust and his confusion and his heart-pounding need. Something that felt remarkably like hope.
"That maybe you want to go further than just kissing," Ray explained, and despite the teasing note in his voice, the cop was searching his features intently, looking for an answer. "That maybe you want to fuc--"
"Language, Ray!" the response was automatic.
"Jesus!" Ray glared at him. "What in hell else am I suppose to call it?"
The smile that blossomed on Ray's face confirmed that it was indeed hope burning inside him, for he could now see the same emotion in his partner's eyes.
"Damn," the cop whispered in amazement. "Millions of miles in the middle of nowhere, or smack dab in the center of a crowded city... and you've been right there all along."
"Yes, Ray," Fraser said happily, and knew then that he wasn't alone any more.
Jim woke, wrapped in the warmth of their shared sleeping bag, his arms wound tightly around his Guide's body. He'd heard a sound, something out of the normal, and he dialed up his hearing to investigate. Blair's heartbeat was slow and content, his body sweetly covered in the scent of sex. Their door was still firmly closed, their room undisturbed. And beyond that...
Jim frowned as he tried momentarily to identify the sound he heard. It came from next door -- two hearts beating rapidly, skin against skin, soft breathy moans, the gasp of a name, a plea, a blessing. He grinned, listening for perhaps longer than he should have. Looked like Fraser had taken his advice and had learned how to dance.
And the other sound, the one that had disturbed him, the one out of place -- a pitiful whine and a soft scratching at his door.
Amused, Jim carefully disengaged himself from Blair's embrace and slipped silently out of the sleeping bag. He pulled open the door and allowed the pale wolf to slip inside. Diefenbaker stared at him imploringly.
"All right," he whispered in agreement. "But don't hog the covers."
He climbed back into the sleeping bag and pulled Blair into his arms. Diefenbaker circled three times before finally settling on top of the sleeping bag beside Blair. The wolf laid his chin on his paws and wandered off into some wolfish dreamland
Chuckling softly to himself, Jim nuzzled Blair's neck, feeling an inexpressible joy when Blair shifted back against him and murmured his name in his sleep. Then the Sentinel closed his eyes and joined him in slumber.